Me — at Zero Miles

I’ve been planning this trip for months, so of course I was scrambling like mad the last two days to get ready to leave. Anticipating my long time away from home, my wife Penny headed to New Orleans with her sister. They left a couple of days ago — to avoid getting in my way, she said. I think this is code for, “You’re going to be distracted and slightly annoying while you pack, so I think I’ll leave town.” Probably a good call, although I’m always more lonesome at home by myself than I am in a lonely hotel by the highway, for some reason. 

They seem to be having a great time, which validates her decision — although we are at an age where the temptations of even legendarily fun destinations like New Orleans lose some of their appeal: Just as I checked into my hotel in Conway, AR, tonight, she texted me for my Netflix log-in credentials, so I think their evening is about as wild as mine, despite the party reputation gap between the two cities. 
After heading west from Atlanta to Birmingham, AL, I took I-22 northwest to Memphis. Unbeknownst to me, that road turns into US Highway 76 as you get close to Memphis and — after hours cruising at 70MPH — everything slows down and you come upon a long series of stoplights over the course of several miles. Worse, a fender-bender somewhere in the middle of this resulted in a very long, idle-speed delay, so I cooked in my helmet for a good 45 minutes, watching the temperature gauge hold at 98 degrees. I finally exited, navigated by “dead reckoning” (an old sailor’s term for “guessing”) and somehow wound up where I was supposed to be — on I-40 West, bound once more for Tulsa!

I came across a quiet and pristine (ignoring the major interstate nearby, of course) rest area in Madison, AR, where I let the bike cool and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few minutes. 

During last year’s long, cross-country ride, I experienced no rain at all until the last couple of hours before I arrived home — in other words, it was dry weather for about 6,000 miles. This year, I experienced rain off and on for about an hour on my very first day. Just like last year, I kept right on going — I welcomed the cool relief and left my rain gear in the saddle bags. 

I tend to be very mission-focused (some might say obsessive-compulsive) when I ride, so meals are just fuel for me. In that spirit, I stopped at a McDonald’s in Lonoke, AR, for a “lo-carb” burger and a Diet Dr. Pepper. Outside, a minor drama played out as a family studied the engine of their minivan until a tow truck came to fetch the stricken vehicle to be looked at by a qualified professional. This close to Memphis, FedEx trucks are simply everywhere.

My iPhone is mounted on the handlebars of my bike and as I cruised along, it occurred to me that it was poised to take a photo of the setting sun. Daring myself to capture this shot without unmounting the phone (or crashing), I took several snaps, not sure what I’d find when I could finally look at my pictures. I got decidedly mixed results, as you can see. At least it’s artsy. 

I’m now at a Holiday Inn Express (“Express” being the retail term for, “less to offer than our better establishments”) and will depart in the morning for Owasso, OK, a suburb of Tulsa. As I parked the bike here, a man stopped by to chat (that happens constantly when you ride a motorcycle) and asked me where I was headed. When I told him about Folds of Honor, he proudly told me that he just retired from a “great, 22-year career” in the Arkansas National Guard and thanked me for raising money for such an important cause. I thanked him for his military service and we shook hands. It was a very nice, though brief, conversation. 

At 4PM tomorrow, I will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Folds of Honor headquarters expansion. I will hand over a big fake check representing actual funds in the amount of $30,000 to Major Dan Rooney, the founder and CEO of the foundation. Once that ceremony is completed, I will hit the road again — I am heading to Colorado to meet up with my brother Clive and another friend, so we can ride to California and points beyond. It’s a long way from Owasso to Del Norte, CO, so I will need to ride into the night tomorrow. But that’s a good thing: Oklahoma is mighty warm in the summertime and a long, evening ride will be fun and cool. 

So far, the bike is running great and I’m great enjoying my latest adventure. I can’t wait to head out again tomorrow and see the fantastic team at Folds of Honor!