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Southern Rail: International itch

By Robert Filla

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I was born in Texas and started riding dirt bikes at the age of 14. I took my first “long-distance” ride (80 miles one way) at 15 when I rode to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a two-week summer vacation. When I graduated high school, a riding buddy and I took off for a week’s worth of camping in the Texas Hill Country. Since we were both 18 and pretty stupid, we ended up across the Mexican border looking for fun. (We ended up paying for that fun later with several visits to the clinic.) By the age of 21, I was the VP of a bike club based on the Texas coast and ended up tramping over most of Texas, living the life of a bike bum and exploring every bit of the Lone Star State that would allow me access. I’ve lived in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Amarillo, all along the Rio Grande Valley and numerous small burgs.

Now I have ventured forth, north beyond the Red River, east past the Sabine. I’ve conducted plenty of rides to the Black Hills and Daytona Beach, and even to the shorelines of Cape Cod and Maine. But since I’ve always felt that one should explore their own backyard fully before concentrating on the remainder of the planet, and since Texas is such a big chunk of territory, I was always quite content to return, restraining the majority of my travels to my home state. That was until recently.

Back in June, I hopped on a plane and took a little trip to Canada (see page 62 for the start of my ride report) for a tour of British Columbia and Alberta. What I experienced has left me with mixed emotions, a possible feeling of malaise, an unsettling sensation that my world is slightly off kilter, listing at an angle. And despite being back in my familiar Texas haunts, something’s not quite right… it almost feels to a small degree like discontent. Me, a die-hard Texan not happy to be in Texas? Hell, I was birthed just a few miles down the road from the Spoetzl Brewery, the oldest independent brewery in Texas and home of Shiner Beer. I went to Texas A&M, had a dog named Austin and never owned a motorcycle that wasn’t sporting Texas plates. You cut me, I bleed red, white and Lone Star. How could I possibly be discontent?

My trip to Canada was magical. I hate to refer to it as the “Ride of a Lifetime” but… those words have actually clouded my mind when asked about the journey. It was cold in June. They had glaciers, stunning scenery and some of the most beautiful highways I’ve ever experienced. I got to pan for gold and wave at bears that sat along the roadside watching the bikers. Yes, Canada is magical. And… Canada is evil.

After a week’s worth of riding, on my last night in the great white north, I stood on my balcony trying to breathe it all in, trying to take in the magnitude of my surroundings, trying to not forget one damn moment of the experience. But of course, you do forget—at least some of it. The crispness of the morning air that can actually jolt the lungs of a Texan, the smell of the fir and pine that tops any store-bought perfume on your favorite lady, the sweeping curves, the majestic panoramas—yes, Canada is evil. It convinced me that there is more to life than Texas.
There; I said it. Go ahead; send in your hate mail. I can handle it; I’ve been to the Canadian Rockies and… it’s pretty damn cool. But therein lies the rub. I’m discontent. Instead of satisfying any desire for exotic locales, quenching my taste for new destinations, that trip has only added high octane to the fire. I want more.

Thomas Edison said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” So maybe this can be used to the good, this weird-ass discontent thing. I turned 60 a few months ago and just celebrated 10 years as the South editor of this magazine. And just about the time you think that maybe it’s time to start slowing down, I want more.

While in Canada, I received an invitation to ride the Alps. Me? In the Alps? I also was extended an invite to ride 500cc Royal Enfields in Nepal. The guy making the offer said, “Yah, it very cool when you hear that big bell clanging ‘Doonnngggg’ in the morning. You know it’s time for Cheerios.” And then there’s my friend who owns a plantation down in Colombia (yeah, that South American Colombia). He’s been bugging me to come down and ride BMWs for a week in the jungles. That’s it; that’s what I want. I want more. New Zealand sounds interesting. And maybe Hawaii. Africa?

With everything my abundant life has already blessed me with, I’d hate to think my tombstone might read, “I thought I’d have more time.”

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