… aka The Value of an Awesome Riding Partner
July 4th weekend my bestie Melissa and I took off Friday and headed north on our bikes with a destination and a rough weekend plan in mind. And what would transpire looked nothing like our plan.
It’s hard to over-emphasize the value of a travel buddy who’s in sync with you. Someone who generally likes the same things as you, is flexible and fun, and is generally pleasant to be around even when things get uncomfortable or plans change. Someone who goes with the flow, will try something new, and doesn’t get overly stressed out when things don’t go as planned. Because they never do!
Melissa is my ideal riding and travel partner. We’ve been hitting the road together for 20 years now, some years more than others as work and men and other life events got in the way. But this spring, with the coronavirus bearing down, has been unlike any other. The silver lining has been that with everything else closed, there’s simply been nothing else to do but ride. I feel so incredibly fortunate that riding and camping – our two favorite activities – are relatively safe from close contact with people. And so, this spring we put more miles on our bikes than in many years past.
And so last weekend started out with a plan… and then nothing went as planned! We first rode up to the mountains to our favorite camping location, Two Wheels of Suches. We arrived Friday afternoon and pitched our tents, so giddy with the idea of a long weekend of riding ahead of us that neither of us pulled up a weather map. We decided on a destination to ride to on beautiful mountain roads, and to a place to safely get some dinner. Heading north on 60 right out of Two Wheels, within about 20 miles, clouds started darkening the sky. And before we knew it we were being pelted with fat mountain raindrops. No rider likes being wet but Melissa especially has a tendency to get very, very cold and I always worry as when we get wetter with each mile that she’s going to get frigid, but luckily it had been hot all day. At some point, she made the hand signal for riding through it, and I nodded and hit the throttle. It looked like there were clear skies up ahead, so sometimes it’s just best to GO! And on this mountain road there were no places to park or turn off and no shelter to be had anyway. The rain finally broke as we emerged into the sunlight, and when a small abandoned corner store came upon on our right, Melissa put on her blinker to turn.
We pulled into the small semi-circular driveway and immediately started peeling off layers, all the while laughing. You know that travel partner that finds the humor, even when confronted with the unexpected? That’s Melissa. We giggled as we wrung out our socks and compared how much water we could pour out of a boot. We laid our clothes out on the ground in the sunlight to dry, and jumped the fence behind the building into a cow field to take a break and wait for the sun to dry us out. We had packed a couple drinks, and it really was not a bad Plan B.
About 30 minutes into our reprieve a car passed on the side street and drove slowly around the corner, and then turned into the store. Melissa and I were sure we were busted. Instead a spry woman with gray hair nearly down to her waist in a tie-dye shirt popped out of the van and waved enthusiastically. She asked if we were OK and we shared our wet journey. She immediately offered her dryer even though she was headed away from her home just up the road on a 70 acre piece of land where she lives with her dog. We declined her kind offer but chatted for a while before she hopped in her car waving – “if anybody gives you shit for being in the cow field, ‘you just tell them Dancing Bear said it was OK’.”
About the time we were ready to suit up again, a motorcycle pulled over in front of the building and it turned out to be a friend of ours. We chatted with him for a while and then before we could get going again, a clap of thunder hit and the rain came down once more. We tried to salvage as much gear as we could under the tiny awnings and pressed ourselves against the building with our backs against the wall trying to save at least the clothes on our backs. It was pretty futile. But again, we cursed our luck, all the while laughing.
So, plan C. I wanted to go back to the campsite to dry out and take a shower, but Melissa convinced me that the sun was going to stay out THIS time and that we should continue on and enjoy our dinner and the rest of the evening sunshine. I’m so lucky that my bestie is smart and has great ideas like this, because we ended up at a cute pizza place where we sat alone on the porch and enjoyed the last bits of sunshine over the Blue Ridge Mountains. We headed back to Suches, bellies full, and peeled off our now damp clothes, hung them on trees to dry and enjoyed our evening by the campfire.
Saturday morning when we woke, we had learned our lesson and checked the weather immediately. And more rain was coming. There was no way around – big dark thunder clouds moved across the radar toward both our current location and our planned route for the day.
So, plan D. We decided to escape and head south. Melissa and I both love any body of water, and so I picked a lake south of Athens and we headed in that direction with no plans of a place to stay but knowing that something would work out. About halfway there, we stopped to put air in Melissa‘s tire which had shown signs of a slow leak. At the same time, I pulled up a KOA campground on my phone and miraculously a camping spot right on the lake had opened up because of a cancellation. We had a new destination. Plan E! As we continued on to Greensboro, Georgia, the beating sun didn’t stop our our enjoyment of the lush countryside and the relatively clear roads. We pulled into the quaint town and stopped at a gas station to grab some provisions. Melissa got some quarters and proceeded to fill up her tire again. But when I came out of the station, she had a look of disgust on her face – I followed her gaze to the rear tire… it was completely, totally flat. We stood in the waining sun considering Plan F. We decided that she would stay at the gas station and I would proceed to the campground – luckily only 6 miles away – unload my gear, and come back to get her.
When I arrived at the KOA I shared our sob story with a nice young guy who led me to our campsite on his golf cart. Jeff could not have been nicer and before I could finish lamenting our luck, he handed me his truck keys and said “go get her.” I dropped off my bike, hopped in Jeff’s truck and swooped to pick up Melissa and her gear. We left the bike at the station locked, just hoping that the people of Greensboro would leave it alone overnight. It was too late in the day to wait for a tow and honestly we just wanted to be in the lake. And so we set up our campsite at the KOA, hopped in the lake, toasted our friendship and our flexibility and enjoyed the rest of our evening with a live band on the field and fireworks over the lake. I truly can’t imagine another companion who would hang for this many unplanned events, still smiling.
This weekend was Melissa’s birthday. The story of last weekend’s trip is just one of hundreds that she and I have collected together over the years, most of them around motorcycling. I feel so incredibly grateful that a woman that I admire and love so much enjoys the same hobbies I do and is as flexible as I am, to go with the flow, look for opportunities, explore new things and always always have a great time. I love you Melissa – here’s to many, many more years of riding and exploring all the way to Plan Z.