The Special Ingredient I recently rode my motorcycle to attend the annual Southern FJR Owner’s gathering (SFO 2019). The weather this year was challenging. On Thursday, I rode 500 easy miles to the event under beautiful skies. Friday and Saturday were rainy, so I parked the bike and sniffed around with others that had 4-wheeled vehicles. Sunday, the weather cleared for Nate and I to ride home. So it was a thousand miles for me on the weekend, and as usual – I enjoyed every single one of them. A long-standing tradition, SFO has developed over the years into quite the Fall event. My good friend Turk Bence, his lovely wife Jana, and their friends and family have got this thing down to a science. Historically, this event has been held all over the region, but over the past 4 years, Turk has graciously hosted it at his “camp” property in Jemison, Alabama. If you are looking for the quintessential definition of southern hospitality, look no further than SFO, I tell ya. It has all of the required ingredients. It has delicious food, wonderful spirits and drink, incredible music, great temperate weather for the season, and a laid back and relaxing atmosphere that is so welcoming. Deep down inside, everyone wants to feel welcome. Maybe that is why SFO is so successful. All are welcome, and they know it. This comes from a very special ingredient – the people. I hope you enjoy the pics. Day 1: Lafayette, LA to Jemison, AL, approx. 500 miles. Route: https://goo.gl/maps/jEcTM5f9eJ3JPT8C9 With my horse packed the night before, I set out at dark thirty on Thursday morning. I’m laser focused on my first objective – get through Baton Rouge without dying. Thankfully, the idiots… er…commuters in our capital city played fair, and by mid-morning, I’m on the back side of it with good tunes in my ears, and clear roads ahead. David lives in the DFW area and we have been communicating for a few days about getting together for the ride. I pick him up in Brookhaven, MS, and off we go. Earth to Major Tom!!! (shameless Bowie plug….) Recently, I’ve developed a thing for courthouse buildings. When you ride the roads less traveled, they take you to the cities and towns less traveled to. And in some of these towns, the courthouse is usually the biggest and most majestic building. I liken it to a symbol of the law of the local land. And I like the architecture of these structures. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Smith County, Mississippi Courthouse. David and I had fun riding together. The roads in central Mississippi are in good shape. Some are curvier than others, and we enjoyed the solitude. We reached Philadelphia, MS about lunch time. Yelp said this place was good, so we gave it a try. I ordered the Pineapple Steak Fajitas for like, $8 bucks. Oh my goodness…. David got concerned about the upcoming weather for the weekend and decided to turn back and head home shortly after lunch. I was having way too much fun that day to worry about tomorrow. So I pressed onward and eastward. In the village of Gainsville, Alabama, I stopped at this little store. Nuff said…. The swamplands of central Alabama look a lot like home. I rolled over the Tombigbee River in the afternoon. There are several locks and dams along the river and I wanted to go check one out. Turns out each one is separated by about 5 miles of very loose gravel road. So I doubled back toward the highway, enjoying the floodplain along the way. Wandering where the good stuff is …. “I could go east. I could go west. It was all up to me to decide.” (With much respect, Mr. Seger…) The Perry County courthouse is looking quite sharp this afternoon. Marion, Alabama. Small town, USA. I get to the hotel in Clanton, Alabama about 5 pm, and there are already a few hooligans stirring about. The shuttle service (courtesy of Turk and his peeps) brought us over to the party so that we could imbibe without worry. Make no bones about it – these people know how to run a shindig….. Turk and Jana prepared what they call “3-way Chili”. It was very good. Wherever 2 or more gather in friendship, all is well in the world. Well, in a matter of speaking…. Well done, Ms. Jana!! Day 2: Zero miles, weather too crappy. After good breakfast at the Shoney’s next door to the hotel, a bunch of us didn’t feel much like riding all day in the rain. So we loaded up in a few cars and took a road trip. I don’t care how much you do it, riding in this is crap. Much drier in the cage. We went to the world-famous Barber Motorsports Motorcycle Museum just outside of Birmingham. I’ve been here before, but like any HUGE museum, this is better taken in multiple visits. There is so much to see, after a few hours, it gets to be overloading to your senses. The displays there are done incredibly well and it gives the viewer a chance to let his or her imagination run wild. These board racers from the early 20th century were awesome to look at. Get this…. NO BRAKES!!! This off-road display was incredible. At the beginning on the bottom of the exhibit are the old V-twin flat track racers. Then toward the jump, we are treated to the progression and evolution of the off-road motorcycle. The mono-shock bikes appear, followed by water cooling, and then ending up with the modern 4-stroke wonders we have today. Absolutely brilliant. It takes a special kind of genius to come up with this. Not just people with passion for motorcycles. It takes people that are both technical and creative – people who have the ability to engage both sides of their brains and minds. I am so envious on so many levels. I chose a few bikes that are particularly special to me for photographs. When I was a kid, the Honda Trail 70 was immortal to me. The 1969 Honda CB750 – this is an early “sandcast” model. In my not so humble opinion, this bike started it all for many of us. When I was in high school, a buddy had a Mach III. One day, he let me ride it and on that day, I learned what true power feels like. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since. This Crocker is absolutely gorgeous. It is pure sex on two wheels. I just love this motorcycle. I’ve always like scooters for their utilitarianism, if that is a word. The Cushman scooters are nice to look at too. When Yamaha introduced the V-Max, I was in love and in lust. Since then, I’ve ridden a few of them and have been hugely disappointed. It’s like sitting on a HUGE roman candle. After the candle is lit, there is a big blast, followed by…. Poof. Looking back, I’d rather have not ridden this bike and would prefer to just stare at it in awe of the sexiness that it really is. Finally, this is what is wildly regarded as the predecessor to my beloved FJR1300. I can see the pedigree clearly. There is something for everyone here, ya’ll. Seriously, if you haven’t already, put Barber firmly in your bucket list and don’t pass it up. From the Museum, you can walk out over the race track. This weekend, a local club was having a race – today was qualifying. These riders bring new meaning to the term “trust you tires”. A lot of goodness right here. Here too….. We popped over to the Bass Pro Shop. Blue Bell Happy Tracks…. Then it was back to the hotel to get gussied up for the evening festivities. And herein lies the secret ingredient for SFO – the people. As a lifelong southerner, I’d like to offer an observation regarding our people. Down here, we do things differently without pride. We do it slowly and with intention. Time is our most precious commodity, and most of us are lucky enough to know it. Now rest assured, we have the hustle and the bustle of modern life like everyone else. But for the consummate southerner, at least with respect to matters of time, quality will always take precedent over quantity. And you need look no further than SFO to witness the epitome of this special ingredient. For years now, Turk, his family, and his friends have selflessly invited us into their lives. They prepare delicious meals for us. They provide world class entertainment for us. They make arrangements for our comfort and wellbeing. They share their talents and they share their love for one another. And nothing is left out. It’s contagious and over the weekend, I felt the love from our brothers and sisters pouring in and pouring out. The shrimp boil was delicious, and I ate until I could no more. Then I sat down with the others and listened to some terrific music. Day 3: no riding (rain rain rain) – Road Trip with the ladies. I got a bit carried away with the shampoo last night. Shoot – I got crap faced out of my mind! I sure hope I didn’t embarrass myself too badly. Anyhoo – this morning, I’ve got an ole-fashioned hangover. It’s been a long time since that happened. Man, am I dry. Holy cow…. The rain is still hanging around and I’m in no condition to ride. So I asked Wanda, Lisa, and Tyler if I could tag along with them for the day, and they said “yes” (cha ching!!) Mid-morning, we drove over to Selma. Many of you know that Pants has a thing for bridges. I’ve always liked highway bridges. Bridges are built to connect one side to the other. They are designed to bring people together, and when I look at bridges, that is what I see. I have this idea of taking a cross-country motorcycle tour with the expressed purpose of seeing as many bridges as I can find. One day…. I’ve always wanted to visit the bridge in Selma, where the civil rights violence occurred. I’m not proud of the circumstances that led to this event, or any racial tensions for that matter. But as I get older, I realize that history is so important, and that Santayana was a genius. Indeed, those that forget will repeat it. The old bridge operator’s house is so cute. We walked across the street to the interpretive center and were lucky enough to meet an interesting woman by the name of Lynda Blackmon Lowery. As a child of just 14 years old, Ms. Lowery was beaten by the Selma police during the bridge incident and was subsequently jailed nine (9) separate times by the police for peacefully demonstrating. She shared her story to us and others, and we listened attentively. This is not the kind of history you get in the classroom. Not the kind of history that is shielded by the television screen. It was raw. That’s really the only way I can describe it. She opened up emotionally for us and told us her story as she remembered it. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. Sometimes, people just need to listen. That morning, both were in good supply. It was a memorable experience for me. Not at all pleasing, but certainly memorable. We grabbed a snack and took a short ride to Cahawba. The first permanent State capital of Alabama, Cahawba is now a ghost town. You can learn more about it here: https://cahawba.com/ It’s a cool place that allows you to bring out the archeologist inside of you. As you wander through the old town sites, your imagination takes over and you think about what life was like back then. This old church looks cool, with its weathered boards. An old school house for the children of color. Now getting late in the afternoon, we turned toward Clanton to get ready for another party at Turk’s barn. Meanwhile, some of the gang decided to ride today. Turk made arrangements for a simple Rally, with points awarded for riding to local attractions. Five riders gave it a try. Taylor (Uncle Hud) edged out the victory by a very slim margin. All day, Turk’s buddy was BBQ-ing in the rain cooking what can only be described as a small farmhouse of meat for us. We had pulled pork, ribs, and sausage, along with plenty of fixings thanks to Ms. Jana, Ms. Babette, and the others. I ate like a starving pig and although I don’t have any pictures, it was delicious. Turk arranged for some after dinner live music, and while that was playing, we all had quite a time kidding around, shooting the bull, and what not. I was out of shampoo from the night before, and that was telling enough. Uncharacteristically, I behaved myself on Saturday night. After all, I’ve got to ride 500 miles home tomorrow. Day 4: Clanton, AL to Lafayette, LA, approx. 500 miles. My buddy Nate decided to ride with me home, and he popped over from Turks camp to meet me about 8 am. I basically took the same route home as I enjoyed the roads so much the other day, why mess with a good thing? We stopped when we felt like it, usually at some one-horse town somewhere on the route. I did cross a milestone on the way home. 60,000 miles of pure happiness on this motorcycle. I’ve had quite a few, but to date, this is my favorite motorcycle. I’m counting on many more miles from this gem! Nate is good friend and a great rider. He had a serious fall not too long ago, and I was thrilled that he is riding again, and riding with me again. Peace be with you, my brother. Nate broke off to go home north of Baton Rouge, and I suffered the last 50 miles like the first, slogging the dreaded and deadly Interstate 10, with my arse clinching the seat, and my head on a swivel. I made it home safe about 6:30 pm. As she always does, my wife rushed out of the door to greet me with her loving smile and hugs. For sure, I’ll never grow weary of that. So another SFO gathering is in the books. I’m quite certain that Turk and his family are worn out after slaving over us for the better part of a week. I have no doubt that we’ll do it again next year somewhere, and the year after that. If I were you, I’d look out for the 2020 announcement, and mark your calendar immediately. No special sauce is worth a darn without the special ingredient. For Pants, I’m learning in my maturity that the special sauce of this little thing we call life has a very special ingredient. And that ingredient is the people. People that will go the extra miles to gather together. People that will cook for you and sing for you. People that will stand on a bridge on a matter of principle. People that will ride with you. People that will open up their home and their family to you. Special ingredient, indeed! Stay thirsty, my friends…..