TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
A Family Affair On Indians
Icould see him in my mirror, his arms waving above his head—the universal signal that something has gone wrong. Just as quickly as I had seen him, he was gone, back behind the two-story brick colonial we had rented on Airbnb. Those few moments earlier, my fiancée Kyra and I had exited the small parking area in front of our rented accommodation. We pulled up to the stop sign just around the corner and were waiting patiently for my father to join us so we could continue our journey up the East Coast. Clearly something was screwed up. Over our headsets, I said, “Shit, he must have dropped his bike,” and then I put the kickstand down on my Chieftain and walked casually back toward where my father was last seen, hoping that my leisure would allow him enough time to right his Springfield and get back in the saddle.
What I saw when I rounded the corner, however, was about as far from what I anticipated as I could imagine. Sticking out the side of a yellow Chevrolet Aveo was my father’s Indian. The only words I could muster were, “What the hell did you do?!”
This story doesn’t start in Nashville, Tennessee, where the incident occurred. Instead, this story starts in Baja, about two years ago, when my father accompanied Kyra and I on a month-long dual-sport ride. That was the first time he had been on a bike since 1972, what some might consider a rather serious hiatus. But in his defense, when he decided to get back on a bike, he went all in, outfitting a brand-new Suzuki DR650 with all the bits and pieces required to ride around the world. Then he hit the road, explored Baja with us, and proceeded to participate in the LA-Barstow-to-Vegas ride, a sort of serious offroad adventure from La La Land to the City of Sin. And he survived all of it, with a shit-eating grin on his face and dirt in his beard.
But then the bike went back into the garage, and his hiatus resumed, until I called with a plan to ride a trio of Indians up the East Coast from Daytona Beach to the Big Apple. And once again, my father geared up and got serious about his motorcycling.
We hit the ground running. Kyra and I arrived a day ahead of my old man and grabbed all three bikes from the Indian Motorcycle dealer in Daytona Beach. We parked them three-wide in the driveway of our friend’s rental house. My father didn’t know what bike he’d be on, only that he’d requested a Springfield and that I told him he’d be happy. When he arrived the next afternoon, he was greeted by a 2017 Indian Springfield clad in Steel Gray over Burgundy Metallic paint. A beautiful bike. And he was,
as predicted, happy. He had not, however, ridden a motorcycle of this size…ever. A practice ride around the neighborhood was deemed a necessity. My father’s a big man at 5-foot-9 and a solid 250 pounds. He’s strong too—lifting weights since I was a child and practicing Muay Thai most weekday mornings. So the bike didn’t feel too big for him, and he handled it well. The next morning, we bid our friend farewell (thanks, Trish!) and hit the road—my father on his Springfield, myself at the helm of a two-tone 2017 Chieftain, and Kyra behind the bars of a 2016 Scout. Our next stop? Savannah, Georgia.
Riding through the South in September is a gamble in regard to the weather. We knew this. And tried to pack appropriately. But nothing can prepare you for 90-plus-degree temperatures mated to 90-percent humidity. It’s the kind of hot-and-sticky people write about in books. Where your clothes soak through in sweat and standing still feels like sinking into a warm bath. And that’s exactly what we encountered, and what we rode through, logging slow miles and avoiding the interstate from Daytona Beach to Savannah, the quaint Southern town that left us wanting more. Save for the sticky heat, our ride was uneventful, albeit beautiful. Riding along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean provides a motorcyclist with spectacular views in all four directions. The salt air fills your helmet, and windswept sea off your right shoulder remains ever present and inviting, teasing you with its cool comfort.
The first few days of this endeavor were centered around our arrival in Atlanta, where we’d planned a visit to our friend
Steve West’s shop. Steve, better known as Silver Piston, makes jewelry that the motorcycle industry finds most appealing, a combination of Depression-era hobo art and careful craftsmanship. We had arranged for Steve to fit my father with a ring that would match the two Kyra and I already owned. Again, the ride from Savannah to Atlanta the day prior was uneventful, if not hurried. But our visit to Steve’s shop was everything we had hoped for! He took a custom-crafted coin, heated and hammered and affixed it to a cigar-style band, and test-fitted it on my father. Then, he proceeded to polish and deliver the final product. The process was nearly as beautiful as the final product. And so the remainder of our time in Atlanta was spent pointing our three fists together like a scene from the Captain Planet cartoon.
The next day Steve showed us around the city: the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes his grave, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached. We finished with a few beers before we went to bed.
Subsequent days were spent hammering down the highway miles between Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama—home to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum—what we might consider the holy grail of motorcycle monuments. Honestly, I had a spiritual experience walking into this museum— motorcycles of all shapes, sizes, and vintages hanging from the ceiling, climbing upward in a spiral, lining the walls, and filling the floor space as far as my eyes could see. It was a glorious moment! We spent all day inside the museum. We watched as the motorcycles went from antiquated engines attached to bicycle frames to the four-cylinder, 200-hp monsters that make quick work of a lap around Daytona Speedway. We ogled old Indians and Harleys, looked in astonishment at a hand-crafted bike built by Britten, and wondered what else they had hidden inside this museum of motorcycle amazement. But alas, we had many more miles to tread. So once again, we headed north (ish).
The Indians, for those wondering, performed flawlessly throughout our excursion. The Chieftain with its new Ride Command system helped us navigate the crowed city streets of DC but also pointed us in the appropriate direction when we wandered off the parkway. I listened to music plumbed into the sound system via Bluetooth and utilized cruise control at every opportunity.
Aside from a complaint about limited visibility through the tall windscreen adorning his Springfield, my father was smitten. His bike, with remote-locking saddlebags and a keyless ignition, proved to be a perfect companion for a man who doesn’t desire the accoutrements that come with 2017 technology. It was more than enough motorcycle for my father, and he walked away wanting one—bad.
Kyra, a seasoned veteran on the Scout, did not like the factory floorboards but was otherwise without worry the entire time. She was faster than us, could handle the curves better, and didn’t have to think too hard about how she parked her bike. It, too, was the perfect pairing. Yes, we could have accomplished this trip on other offerings from American, Bavarian, and Japanese OEMs, but the Indians, like they had in our previous experiences, were everything we wanted: American made, modern, reliable, and beautiful to boot.
My father isn’t always the easiest guy to get along with. He’s stubborn like his son
and has been single since the ’90s. But unlike any of the planning or preparing issues we may have had in our previous trip to Baja, this time my father made his desires clear: He wanted to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Blue Ridge Parkway is America’s longest linear park. It runs for 469 miles through 29 of Virginia’s and North Carolina’s counties, mostly along the Blue Ridge—a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. What it lacks in speed and sweeping turns, the Blue Ridge makes up for with an endless supply of scenic vistas and landscapes littered with oak, hickory, and tulip trees disappearing into the distance. It’s a sea of green and mist that’ll make the delayed pace worth every extra minute. Turning onto the parkway from the tourist trap of a town, Gatlinburg, we rode it. But before our Blue Ridge ride would begin, my father would unintentionally park his sparkly Springfield in the side of an Aveo…
My father’s accident was more of a tip-over gone wrong. While Kyra and I waited at a stop sign, my father mounted his Springfield and attempted a rather tight U-turn so that he could exit the parking area where the Aveo was waiting, unknowingly, for a proper skewering. As he rounded out his U, the Springfield leaned herself over, landing firmly on the crashbars. At that very moment, from what my father told me, he lost his grip on the bars, to include the clutch. The 111 Thunderstroke motor took full advantage of this mistake and grumbled beneath him, muscling itself forward with my father all but grasping, unsuccessfully, for brake or bars or anything that could stop this train of momentum from continuing its trajectory. What happened next is not entirely clear, but evidence suggests that as my father tried to fight the inevitable tip-over and ensuing slide, the Springfield righted itself, flung my old man from his seat, and then dived itself head first into the side of a yellow Chevy. This, of course, occurred almost instantaneously and left my father with a scraped-up elbow and rather bruised ego. But shit happens. And it can always be worse. The bike was without much in the way of damage. The lit Indian ornament that lives on the end of the front fender was cracked and broken and sad, and the fender itself was crumpled inward ever so slightly. But when we righted the bike and removed its front wheel from the side of the Chevy, she stood upright and tall, her wheels pointed straight, and she turned and stopped like she should. The Chevy, however, was another story. I suppose they don’t make them like they used to? Insurance documents were exchanged, apologies were professed, and then we hit the road, finally. Although the accident delayed our departure from Nashville by a few days, Indian requested that a dealership check out the bike and make sure it was roadworthy. We were headed toward the Blue Ridge within 48 hours of the incident. Perhaps a little humbled.
Two days on the Parkway might be one too many when the pace is so slow and you’re trying to make up miles. But it’s beautiful, and you should enjoy every minute of it! Or you’re not doing this motorcycle thing the right way. Our exit, however, was coming up, and we needed to hit the highway hard in order to spend more than a moment at Monticello. We spilled off the Parkway in unison just east of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and set our cruise controls for Charlottesville, Virginia. We saw some other things between Tennessee and Virginia—the Biltmore, bachelorette parties in the back of pickup trucks, and a life-size Titanic-themed hotel—but we would spend the next few nights in a nowhere town and then finally, on the following day, at Jefferson’s home on the hill, just as my father had hoped. With a day or two still available in our schedule (the Aveo incident didn’t slow us down as much as we’d expected), we decided to visit Washington, DC, somewhere else my father had not been.
We drank whiskey at the Round Robin, a bar that every president since Zachary Taylor has attended, then saw the traditional sights of our nation’s capital. We stayed outside of town and departed a few days later, happy to have had the time but feeling a little unfulfilled. There’s so much to see in that city, and a few days are far too few! Our next stop? Gettysburg.
Our trip culminated in a tiny town outside of Newark, New Jersey—an uneventful ending to an otherwise lifealtering trip with my father and future wife. We parked our bikes and walked back slowly, wondering when our next multi-thousandmile adventure together might take place. Yes, traveling with family can be infuriating. But if you play your cards right and plan for the inevitable—even if that includes the skewering of a small Chevrolet—you’ll have a lot more to look back on…and maybe even more to put on your calendar moving forward.
Loving the old iron at the Barber Museum.
Stopping off at the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC.