Old Man Harley Camping

Well, shit! As a shakedown ride, I really felt ‘shook down’!” These were my thoughts as I wearily pulled the Harleyi back into the shop were I stored it. It was past 9:00pm, and I was bone-weary tired and drained. I’d put in nearly eight hours of riding on the Harley. Probably more exhausting was the high anxiety I felt this morning as I was packing my gear on the Harley. This shakedown trip had been to the nearby (140 miles) Congaree National Park just southwest of Columbia, SC.

It had been a long time—25 years+—since I had put in those kind of miles and time on a motorcycle. I used to regularly do 500-mile days on my long trips. Now it looked like 300 or so was my limit. This getting old sucks! But, it’s like my dear old Dad used to say, “It beats the alternative.” Yep.

I was thinking of another trip out West this fall. Looked like I needed to rethink that for around 300-mile days, not 500 miles based from what I had learned today. I wanted to go to Navajo country in New Mexico’s Four Corners area and visit the Navajo/Anasazi National Parks per my interest in Plains Indian culture and spirituality—background research for another book project. It was 2000 miles out there and then another 2000 back, plus maybe 500 while out there. Instead of five days to get out there, now we were talking more like seven days. I would be camping all the way, with a motel room only every few days.–a budget issue. Sigh. At this age, was I really up for such a long, hard adventure—and on the Harley? On the other hand, why not? I was retired, spending my time gardening, do projects around the house, doing Zen and Unitarian Universalist stuff, and course, writing. These with an occasional adventure thrown in.

Adventures were the spices in my life: life without adventure was bland and boring; a dull meal indeed! To be clear, my adventures were not of the adrenalin-junkie type—i.e., high octane stuff like mountain climbing, sky diving, or high speeds. They were long trips out into nature on Harley, bicycle, and camping; or intense Zen meditation retreats, Native American Vision Quests and sweat lodges. All with a spiritual twist. I was always glad to get back home when they were over and slip back in to my more Clark Kent, everyday lifestyle of chopping wood/carrying water. As for writing, I was working on my third book now and had three others on the drawing board.

What can I do, adventures call me, even as an old man. My Old Man reasoning (and daughters) said, “Dad, take shorter trips around here. There’s all sorts of places to go.” True, we have all kinds of state and national parks within a few hundred miles, many in 100 miles or less. BUT, my inner voice protests, “That’s not our desert!,” then scowls and growls. My heart and inner-voice (subconscious) are called to the desert mountains of the West. Sigh. What’s an old guy to do?

I was trying out my daughters’ suggestion on this trip, which was a shakedown for one for my 75 birthday I wanted to do to the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, some 321 miles away. My daughters are my ‘check-in’ voices of rational reason and common sense, along with my old horse therapy buddy, Carl. All three of them are very practical and down to earth. None of them are called to adventures. They are the stay-at-home types like their mother. Although, Carl, in his younger years, was quite the adventurer on both bicycle and motorcycle. He outgrew his though. My trip this time was a test of their hypothesis—as well as a shakedown ride. It been such a long time since I had done one. Packing for camping on a motorcycle was a lot easier than for a bicycle, as I had done last year. It was also a way to test the waters, so to speak, for the longer trips to Okefenokee in two weeks, and perhaps, New Mexico in the fall—could I still do them?

It seemed every time I turned a corner these days, I was reminded that I couldn’t do what I used to do like I used to do it when I was younger. For example, riding/driving at night now. I hated riding the Harley at night anymore. I could still do a car okay. My cataracts made the glare from the oncoming headlights uncomfortable, and my eyes didn’t adjust as well to the bright lights. On a motorcycle you really needed to be able to see!

That said, the ride in tonight after dark hadn’t been that bad. A pleasant surprise, especially considering how fatigued I was. I had no trouble getting through Greenville or Easley. Divided highways most of the way so that the oncoming headlights weren’t right in my face.

Then there was my decreased stamina and endurance. Despite my best efforts, working out, and active physical and mental lifestyles, I could only slow aging down a little. That said, I could still do most of what I have always been able to do. It is like Tobey Keith’s song says, Not as good as I used to be. But I’m as good once, as I used to be. I was in good shape for an old guy.

Other than that, the trip had been a great ride. A great day even. I mean, the Harley had performed beautifully, the weather had been good (cool but no rain), and I was still alive and kickin’(a.k.a., alive, unhurt, walking and talking, etc.) It had definitely been a shakedown ride—and adventure! I had learned a lot. Stuff you couldn’t figure out without getting out and doing it. An experiential approach.

I’m big on the experiential side of life: Times running out, Old Man; the Clock’s ticking. Experience what you can before you can’t. Try it and see. Even my mental health counseling approaches had been mostly experiential: horse (equine-assisted) therapy, hypnotherapy, eco-therapy. I quickly got bored in sit-and-talk office therapy sessions. Often we would go for a walk out in the woods and talk—walk-and-talk in nature sessions.

As I processed the experience from my trip over the next few days, I realized in that one nine-hour period, I had learned several critical things, none of which I could have thought/reasoned my way through. I felt more confidence about being able to make the Okefenokee swamp, canoe-camping trip. It was to be my 75the birthday present to myself. Last year’s 74th birthday present to myself had been my bicycle tour, and I had done that—well, more-or-less.ii

After riding a bicycle-only for a year, having sold my truck, and upon returning from my bicycle tour out in far West Texas desert mountains, I came back and bought myself another Harley, a used 2017 Heritage Softail Classic, with less than 8,000 miles on it. This was instead of a more common-sense (and boring) car or truck.iii Much to the chagrin and disdain of my daughters, but cheered by my son and my eldest granddaughter who said, “Go for it, Dad/Granddaddy!” At 74, I figured it was my last “hurrah” on my ‘beloved’ Harleys.

For this trip to Congaree, I had left out at noon as it should have been only a 2.5 hr ride—according to Google Maps app and my own past experiences. Granted, it had been several years (1998) since I had driven to Columbia, SC. Google Maps said it should only take me 2.5 hrs and was only 140 miles. The app got the miles right at least. It took me nearly four hours though, after having to fiddle-fart around with my full-face helmet and first, with using my hearing aids, then switching over to bluetooth earbuds, so that I could adequately hear the GPS directions. Then, there were stops for lunch and refueling. It was pressing 4:00 by the time I stood looking at my camping site at Congaree.

Just for reference, for future trips, I have since ordered a set of bluetooth earphones that fit inside my helmet. The helmet is setup to accommodate such. Between the exhaust pipes and wind noise, hearing the GPS audio is a real challenge—much less music.

My reserved camping site was some 600 ft from the parking area. I was already dog tired from the ride. My lunch that I had finally stopped and had around 3:00 was just kicking in. I realized not for the first time that, in my old age, I needed to not wait till I was hungry, but pull over sooner to eat. My appetite drops off on adventures like these, and I forget to eat or keep putting it off until I get hungry. This results in my energy dropping, and I get fatigued and fuzzy headed. Then I start having difficulty thinking and problem solving. I remembered this as I stood looking at the mud puddles at my camping site. I would be camping in mud! On top of this, I would have to carry all my camping equipment out here by foot. But the plot thickens–

I had realized 2/3 of the way down that I had neglected putting my long handles in my gear. Yikes! It was going to be cold the next two mornings, and I would need them. On the way through Columbia, I kept my eyes out for a Walmart or camping store to buy another pair. But, alas, it was not to be. However, I had passed right by my favorite restaurant in Columbia, Lizard Thicket. I stopped and had lunch. I realized as I took my first bite from my late lunch that I could barely taste the food. I was so tired. Bad news! I’d done it again: kept pushing when I needed to take a break, get some more sugar and caffeine in my system.

Sitting at the picnic table at the park, after a few minutes, my brain started kicking in. I guess it had gotten enough sugar and caffeine from my lunch. I thought, “No way, Jose! I’m not camping in this!” So what’s next then? Decided to call my youngest daughter, Amy.

A lot of time just verbalizing a problem to someone will yield a solution. Amy said, “Dad, get a motel room for the night.” Of course, I thought, I knew that. That particular thought had passed through my mind fog, which was finally beginning to clear. She also reminded me, “Dad, it is still an adventure!” Oh yeah, I consoled myself, knowing she was 100% right. No matter, it was still an adventure—and no adventure ever goes how you envision or plan it. That is part of what makes them adventures.

Pulling out my old trusty iPhone and opening my favorite hotel booking app, it told me it couldn’t locate me. I was too far out in the boonies. Okay, I’ll head back into town. So, I did. However, riding was easier than thinking. I liked riding. Before I knew it, I was back on I-26 headed home. Three hrs later, I was pulling into my shop. Trip ended.

What did I learn? What insights did I have from this experience? A lot, I would realize over the next several days. I processed the adventure with some of my friends and daughters the next day. It took me a couple of days to recover.

First, I had pushed things a little to much—again—as is my MO. I keep forgetting, I’m getting too old to do that anymore. Have to pace myself better. I’m working on that.

Second, make a checklist and don’t forget to actually look at it! I had made a preliminary one but didn’t even bother to look at it when I was packing. My bad. Want to expand and put in a spread sheet so can check off stuff as I both pull it and pact it. I had one for the bicycle tour, but couldn’t locate the file. Probably didn’t try hard enough. Try to see if I can find it on my laptop again.

At this point, another interesting part that I didn’t realize until a couple of days later popped up: As I was unpacking the cycle, not only had I gone off and forgotten my long handles, but sitting on the workroom table I had also left all my cooking gear—and the three entree dinners I had purchased to fix while camping. Even if I had decided to stay and camp, I would have quickly learned that I had forgot them. I couldn’t have cooked anything! Gees! Cold mornings, no breakfast, and NO coffee! I would have been a very unhappy camper.

Third, get bike packed the night before. Don’t wait till the day I’m leaving. My anxiety was so high as I was packing it is a wonder I didn’t forget more.

Fourth, an unexpected realization: my trips: my Harley, bicycle, truck, etc., trips out west to the desert was my version of a Zen intense meditation retreat (sesshin) or Native American Vision Quest. They were part of my spiritual practice and path. This is HUGE! Very non-linear. This would never have occurred to me if I hadn’t had this experience.

Fifth, all of my trips have been solo. This is part of what helps makes them spiritual for me. Even though I like the comfort and safety of having someone with me, I usually can’t find someone to go with me that is compatible. When I go on one of these adventures, I need time, space, and solitude to just sit out in nature or the desert. That is, just to let myself be. Not doing.

All this said, I couldn’t have gotten these insights if I hadn’t taken the ride. Okefenokee here I come! 😊

iHarley-Davidson motorcycle.

iiYou can read about that adventure in my blog where I gave daily posts. Just follow the #BicyleTour2022 on   https://darrellyardley.com/

iii  https://darrellyardley.com/harley-resurrection/