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One for the Road: Home in the heartland

By Shadow

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is always a lot of fun, but my time on the road to and from the rally is when my internal batteries get recharged. A lot of motorcyclists ship or trailer their bikes when they have to travel far distances, but I consider my time on the road, well, my time. While others might complain about the long riding days, sometimes having to brave bad weather, backed-up traffic, and never-ending construction, I look at it as a reinvigoration, a cleansing, a time to ponder the past and plan for the future. And if I’m lucky, I can hop over to a back road, enjoy the passing scenery, and start to unwind, not thinking about anything at all. A rolling meditation, if you will.

And such was the state I found myself on the second day of my journey. Because of an extended rain delay in Pennsylvania, I’d only traveled 580 miles the first day, stopping for the night in western Ohio. Trying to make up for lost time, I rode as quickly as I could through Indiana and Illinois, finally crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa. Although I was still traveling the Interstate, the corn stalks and tall grasses that swayed gently in the wind began to invoke the calmness I sought. And with that came the realization that I would be able to make it all the way to Green Mountain while there was still plenty of daylight left.

Earlier this year, my good friend, THUNDER PRESS contributor Amy White, relocated from Arkansas to Iowa. Her husband Bob had passed away last November, and although still mourning her loss, she decided it was time for a new start in a new place. Green Mountain resident “Clean Dean” Shawler, retired editor at Paisano Publications who’d been friends with Amy ever since she started freelancing for Easyriders two decades ago, had found a house nearby that he thought would be perfect for her, so the next phase of her life was soon to begin.

Amy packed up all her belongings, along with her dogs and Bob’s kitties, and made the move to the Hawkeye State. Bob was a Vietnam vet serving in the U.S. Army as a cook and, for part of his Armed Forces career, a chef for a general. Bob always wanted a restaurant much like a home where you sit down and eat a dinner around a family table. And Amy learned that Dean, a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Navy, had always wanted a rest home for old vets and bikers, and he even had a name for it—Laid Back Manor. So Amy decided to combine his dream and Bob’s and bought that house in Green Mountain, fixed it up and converted it into a bed and breakfast.

May 14 of this year was the grand opening of Laid Back Manor, and it was quite the celebration. Amy cooked up a storm, serving a picnic brunch while our dear friend Jasmine Cain performed acoustic jams. I’d really wanted to attend, but it just wasn’t in the cards. But here I was, not far from Amy’s new home, so while refueling at a gas station I called her to find out if she had a room available. “Yes, I’d love for you to visit!”, was the response.

So I left the Interstate and headed west on US-30, a historic road that was originally a part of the Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental highway in the U.S. Farmlands and small towns dot the route, and turning north off the highway brought me onto smaller county roads. I’ll never understand why so many people think that the miles of rural roads are boring. This is middle America, with a beauty and a sense of peace to be found if I can just stay in the moment, enjoy the scenery and savor the slight breeze as it ripples through the fields. And since I live in the most densely populated state in the nation, the sparseness of both buildings and people is, to me, a continuous breath of fresh air.

After a short series of back roads, I turned into the tiny town (population 126 at the last census), pulled up to the Laid Back Manor and was immediately charmed by Amy’s lovely home. And the town itself was like nothing I’d ever seen—six square blocks that supported homes, a church, cemetery, community center, a few businesses, and a farmers’ co-op complete with grain silos that formed the backdrop to the eastern edge of Amy’s property. And, of course, Dean’s domicile—a decommissioned bank that he’d purchased and converted into a comfortable home.

Back at the Manor, Amy had cooked up a huge, delicious dinner, after which we played with her and Dean’s sweet, new pit bull pups, and then enjoyed the hot tub and sauna in a renovated creamery—the oldest structure in town—adjacent to the house. Along with the lovely sleeping quarters in the main house and the house next door she just acquired, Amy had also converted other small structures into bunkhouses with inside bike parking. As a tribute to both her late husband and to Dean, Vietnam vets can stay at the LBM at no cost, and other vets pay only the amount of the year of their birth converts to dollars and cents. There are special rates for members of motorcycle clubs and motorcyclists’ rights organizations as well. I have to say, though, that Amy’s and Dean’s hospitality was delightful, and I only wish I had time to spend another day there.

Sleep came quickly—I don’t know when I’ve ever experienced such quiet—and I arose early to enjoy a bounteous breakfast before I hit the road. But before I traversed the Interstate again, I was able to enjoy another 80 miles of backroads, relishing the rural flavor of the Hawkeye State. Rejuvenated, I was ready for my 15th year of joining up with a half-million other riders at the Sturgis rally. And now I know where to find this little piece of heaven on the way.

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