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Southern Rail: Unintended exploits

By Robert Filla

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Tooling along a deserted stretch of pavement in southeast Texas, I came upon another rider on the side of the road headed the opposite direction. So I did the right thing, made a U-turn and pulled up beside him. He was aboard one of those fancy dual-sport machines, a tall bike with huge aluminum panniers, stickers covering everything, a mountain of gear and every damn electronic gadget you could imagine. The bike was turned off with him hanging over an overstuffed tank bag and fiddling with some type of GPS doodad. I killed the old Shovelhead next to this world traveler and gave him a nod. He nodded back and explained that he was lost. And he couldn’t understand how that could have possibly happened. He’d programmed the entire day’s route earlier that morning, had every point of interest mapped out and every stop timed to stay on schedule. So while some satellite miles overhead kept sending him the message “Redirecting,” I fished around in my saddlebag for my own personal GPS system: a well-worn state road map and my compass.

The map was covered in notes and scribbles, certain roads I had highlighted, warnings about livestock along sections of open range, locations for cold beer and good barbecue, a few names and phone numbers. I showed him on the map where we were presently located, just a small blue squiggle with no marker or name. He became even more flustered when he couldn’t find even a hint of the road with any of his impressive array of equipment. But that didn’t matter since all he had to do was continue in the direction he was headed for another 12 miles or so and he’d hit a road that did show up on his electronics.

“But… if you’re willing to set aside your schedule for a bit, you see this creek on the map? There’s a wooden one-lane bridge there and as soon as you cross it, a dirt road to the left. Take that left, go about three miles and you’ll find a cool little honky-tonk. Good people, great burgers and icy beer for a buck a bottle. If ya ask nice, they’ll probably even let ya camp behind the place. There’s a grassy spot with some good shade and that creek runs right past it. I’ve bathed there on occasion.”

He thanked me and gave a wave over his shoulder as he motored up the road. Whether he would deviate from his original plans, he didn’t indicate. I hoped he would—the best adventures are unplanned and unscheduled, a happenstance experience.

Back in the early 80’s, I was following a riding partner through the Northeast. Off the coast of Cape Cod is Martha’s Vineyard, an island retreat that my buddy used to hang out at during summer breaks from school 10 years earlier and back before he started riding motorcycles. As soon as we got off the ferry, we planned to race to the west side of the island to see the sunset. And it was as spectacular as he promised. Then we started searching for a place to spend the night. After riding around in the dark for a while, we discovered the only two campgrounds on the island, which was fortunate considering we had been on the road for over a month and funds were low. Unfortunately both campgrounds greeted us with similar signage at the gates, “NO Motorcycles Allowed!” We even asked if we could leave our bikes on the road and drag our tents in to a campsite. Apparently the sign should have read no motorcycles or bikers allowed. So we rode back to port to take the ferry back to the mainland. But unfortunately the ferry that had brought us to this wonderful vacation oasis was the last one until morning. Checking around we quickly realized that this island had gotten “really” popular with most accommodations being in private homes and cottages with prices well beyond biker pay grade. And then the cops came by and told us that we better not get caught camping anywhere illegally. They’d be on the lookout.

So we did what any self-respecting biker would do… we didn’t get caught. We did split up to better our odds, my buddy hiding out with a sleeping bag behind some boats and myself skirting a locked entrance to a state forest and putting up a tent. I was on the windward side of the island and a nasty storm waged war with my camp all night. Next morning, my bud and I were first in line to get on the ferry. Cold and wet, frustrated and pissed, our stay had been one of the worst of the entire trip. It is also one of my fondest memories—unplanned, unscheduled, a happenstance, seat-of-the-pants experience.

A few days later I was headed back down that same road where I met world traveler, and thought I’d stop at the honky-tonk I recommended to see if he had taken my advice. Saying howdy to the gal behind the counter, I ordered my favorite Texas brew and a burger. Then looking out the rear door I spotted a familiar tall dual-sport with giant panniers parked on the grassy knoll next to a tent.

“Better make that two beers, barkeep.” I said as I headed out back.

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