Geoff Heeren, President of The ’82 Project, recently completed a fundraising Harley ride from his Georgia residence to sweet home Milwaukee. Collecting dollars for each of the nine states he hit resulted in a $189 contribution. Geoff’s Journey kick started The ’82 Project’s drive toward holiday season and our first gifts to classmates in need.
I thought it would be worth a few minutes to share some of my ride with you all. There are some photos that accompany this blog but I’m not sure how I can explain them in such detail as to what I saw and experienced during those several days….but I’ll try anyways.
I started out on Monday with a loaded bike and a full tank of gas. Since I had misplaced my “back rest luggage pack”, I went out and bought a $17 duffel bag that I strapped onto the back of my bike with bungee straps.
Although it wasn’t the best arrangement, it worked well and held everything I needed (or thought I needed) for the trip. It also provided a much needed back rest for me as I rode. My saddle bags held all of my rain gear, tools and chaps as well as extra gloves, glasses and first aid kit. I brought a flashlight thinking I might be traveling later in the evening than I actually did. Better safe than sorry I thought. My “sound system” worked as well as I had expected and my playlist was worn out by the time I hit Milwaukee (more on that later).
My first stop was about 65 miles northeast of our home in Suwanee at a place called Tallulah Gorge. It is a very scenic spot with an overlook that peeks down at a beautiful waterfall and river that divides Georgia and South Carolina. This is also the spot that Karl Wallenda made a tightrope walk across the gorge. One of the pillars that held his line was still visible, although damaged from years of weathering and visitors climbing on it. I was there early enough in the morning to see the sun shine down on the valley and it was quite enough to hear the rushing waters below. A great first stop and my first encounter with a part of the country that made me feel as if I were the only one in it. The place
was deserted and the silence around the overlook was crisp as anything you could imagine.
Soon I was off to make a stop in South Carolina. I had mapped it out and according to my calculations, the road that led into it was about 25 miles to my northeast. I made all the right turns and found myself on a winding road that led through a spectacular forest and eventually to the bridge that separated the two states.
Thinking back, I would have risked a little bit and taken a picture from the middle of that bridge but only snapped a shot from the SC side of the river and the SC welcome sign.
As I crossed over into South Carolina I could see about a half mile down the river.
There was one of those old paddle wheel mills off to the right and some ruins of what looked like it might have been a bridge in some years past.
It was a picture stuck in time that made me think again about what it must have felt like to have been around when the old mill was operational. Another amazing sight and thoughts running through my mind of the history of our country. I didn’t stay there long but wished I had. History!
The next leg of my journey took me up into North Carolina, through Franklin and into the Smoky Mountains. If you’ve never seen them, you should make the time to visit. The colors on the trees were just beginning to turn and the morning fog hadn’t quite burned off. It was still cool as I made my way into the foothills so I kept my warm gear on. I had to make a decision at this point as to whether or not I would be crossing the mountains here (through Cherokee) or take my ride farther east and toward Asheville. I chose the Asheville route and I’m glad I did. I passed a sign that said “rest area 1 mile” and decided to stop for a bit to enjoy the (still) morning air. It just so happens that this rest area was conveniently placed at one of the entrances to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I re-saddled and made the quick u-turn. Before I knew it I was on a road with several dozen other riders. This roadway was my favorite of the trip. After looking back at my map that night, I wished I had entered the parkway earlier and rode on it longer. Pictures don’t do it justice. Simply free on the road and smack dab in the middle of the mountains. I kept close to an older couple that were in their 70’s. He was atop a silver and black Ultra Classic and she was sitting snugly in the sidecar attached to his right. I knew then that I wanted to talk with them and hear their story so I stayed close and stopped when they did. They were from Alabama and had started out the day before. He, a retired Marine and she a retired school teacher. Their plan was to ride the entire parkway and then up to Milwaukee by Thursday. I took a picture of the entrance to the parkway but forgot to take any while on it…again, another missed opportunity but hopefully my memories of that couple and that road will last for many years.
I came off the parkway and turned onto “25E North,” which was my path into Tennessee and Kentucky. The road was busy but everyone seemed to be respectful of all the bikes. Many were stopped on the side of the road enjoying the vistas and others were just cruising at about 55 mph with no sense of urgency.
My playlist kicked in for a second round and Aerosmith belted out “Sweet Emotion” and then “Roll with the Changes” by REO. “Breakfast in America” by Supertramp and Kid Rock’s “Amen” followed. Those four songs were perfectly timed. I rolled the throttle back, put my feet up on the highway pegs and eased it up to about 65. Rita likes it around that speed. Her engine growls like a lion wanting more to eat, so I rolled the throttle back again and brought her to 75 where she purred like a kitten. My lovely Rita….making it easy to relax and enjoy my surroundings.
I came up on the Cumberland Gap from out of nowhere and missed my turn into Virginia. No place to turn around before the tunnel so I just kept moving forward. As I entered the tunnel I could see the lights inside, hundreds of them. I had made sure that Rita was clean before I hit the road that morning so she was shining like the sun. Just as I entered, something amazing happened. Something I hadn’t seen since I danced at Park Avenue back in the 80’s in Milwaukee. She turned into a mirror ball and started shooting off beams of light like fireworks lighting up the sky. It freaked me out for a second and was a little distracting but so VERY cool. I could feel myself smiling as I rode that mile or so through the tunnel, wishing it would last longer. When I came out the other side I sneaked a look in my side mirror to see if anyone else coming through had the same happen to them. No such luck. I eased into the first gas station and parked alongside a few others. I had to ask. “Did your bike turn into a light show?” Amazingly, everyone else said the same thing happened to them. We laughed and thought back to the days when mirror balls were all the rage and we were drinking whiskey sours or Harvey Wallbangers. Good times entering Kentucky, my friends, good times! I rode my way up to the Daniel Boone Forest and along the highway named after him. Another place that takes you away to a time long ago, thoughts of how things used to be. How things were harder back then. Thoughts of how much less complicated they were. “Oh, for just a day.”, I thought as I rode solo through the trees.
By now it was getting to be time to put something in my belly. I had brought along water and enough snacks to tide me over until this point and I wanted, needed, to get off the old girl for a spell. I found a great little bar/restaurant just south of Lexington and bellied up to the bar for a burger and a beer. It was almost 6 pm by the time I had gotten there and I thought that it was enough for the day. Just as I eased into Lexington, I spotted Horse Farm and took a couple of pictures of my horse among the fences and rolling pastures. She felt at home as I let her stare off at her kin-folk. Rita was a good girl today…resting easy now as we took a break there.
I’m not sure how, but I think the hours that day passed slower than normal hours, allowing me the time to see what I saw and meet the people I met. The only way it could have been better would have been if Kathy were with me to experience it as well. She says that she’s the “smart one” by taking a flight to and from Milwaukee for the Harley Anniversary Parties we’ve attended but I’m not so sure……
I got up early the next morning and decided that I would put the hammer down and get into Milwaukee that day. I couldn’t imagine trying to duplicate the day I had previously so I wasn’t going to try. Little did I know what I would see as I pulled out that morning. After about 15 miles on the road I caught a glimpse of a sign at an exit. It read “Northern Kentucky Veterans Memorial Cemetery”. Something pulled me onto the exit ramp and within minutes I was kneeling beside the grave of a soldier that had lost his life protecting the freedoms we all enjoy. I said a prayer for all those who are still fighting to protect the freedoms we all have. The day before I had seen a gorge that a man walked across on a tightrope, a broken down Mill on the side of a secluded river, a couple traveling together on a journey that neither would have imagined in years past and parts of this beautiful country that makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs to everyone who can hear…that you are alive…and well…and thankful for what we each have as an opportunity to enjoy. I said a prayer for my family and my friends and asked that they don’t take all of this for granted. That they appreciate what those before us did to secure this country and our rights to live free.
Back on Rita. North into Cincinnati and along the river, over the bridges and down into the city where I snapped a picture of the Bengals stadium and the park where the Reds play. I’m not a fan of either but thought it was time to take another picture or two, so I did. A quick bite to eat just west of the city and I was off again. This time toward Indianapolis. Whoever said that Indiana was flat hasn’t seen the far eastern side of the state. Picturesque rolling hills flanked the freeway for miles and reminded me of some of the parts of Kentucky I had seen the day before. I hooked up with a serious pack of riders that morning. There must have been 50 of them riding together. The only thing to do is let them pass and then see if you can tag along for a bit. We rode together all the way to Indy…great feeling being in that group knowing that they all, at one time or another, had thought the same thoughts I had thought earlier that morning…..free!
Grey highways and white stripes was all I saw for the next three hours. Flat and grey. Hot and sunny. Parched, so I stopped for a beer.
Into Chicago around 4:30 in the afternoon really isn’t the ideal time to be trying to scoot through there but I did it. Had to flip the bird at a Honda Accord driver who stared right through me and merged within a foot of me before swerving back into his lane. Checked my surroundings and found I was all in one piece and still upright, moving along as I had been prior to my “spaced” invader trying to de-horse me. The rest of the way in was uneventful with the exception of the $2.80 toll I came across before entering Wisconsin.
First stop, Whitefish Bay High School. I parked Rita on the side street in front of the school and took out my phone for a photo op.
It turned out to be a pretty good picture but again I think I should have included Rita in it. I stood there for a minute thinking about what it was like all those years ago walking through that front door into the social experiment we called High School. All the people inside it everyday. The Friday night football games, eating lunch in the hallways leaning back against the lockers, the Snake Dance (yes, the Snake Dance), the old gym and the Field House, the old pool, the tunnel beneath the field house connecting the new locker room with the old, the cafeteria and graduating with exactly enough credits. From Coach Albrightson to Earl Zamzow and his “chemical machine”. All those things ran through my mind in that minute. They were memories stored somewhere in my brain that I thought I had lost along the way…but they were clear as day to me now.
I rode through the village down Marlborough to Henry Clay then weaved my way through some of the other streets until I reached Silver Spring. I turned right and hit Lake Drive and then north past Klode. It was just about 6 o’clock when I passed Doctors Park and thought of the picnics we had there…..kidnapping Mr. Zitlow came to mind. I spoke with him several years ago. He called me out of the blue and asked how I was. I didn’t remember his voice but knew after speaking with him for a few minutes that it was him, the one and only. He has since passed from what I have been told. Good memories for me.
I made my way up to Beth’s house in Mequon for a quick check-in. I was greeted by Jack and “Wishy”. Both from Florida and had ridden in a day or two earlier. They were camped out in the basement with all the comforts of home and each gave me warm welcoming hand shake. Beth arrived in the next few minutes and we shared some stories of my ride in and her past several days with her guests. One thing that stood out for me during those conversations was that she told me she missed the friends from The ’82 Project and that she couldn’t wait to get back online with them. Funny how after such a long time apart, we rekindled friendships and acquaintances. I miss them too, Beth. We will all get online again sooner than later.
Wednesday I had breakfast with my mom, Carol, at Chuck’s Place in Thiensville. Ted was there and to my surprise, remembered both my kids’ names and asked how they were doing. What a nice guy he is and has been over all these years. I got on Rita and made my way down to Conijitos for lunch with my good friend Tom then over to the Harley museum for a quick look around. There were several hundred bikes there already and the air was buzzing and thundering with the sounds of my brothers and sisters on their machines. It was here that I started to get “that” feeling….butterflies in my stomach and goose bumps on my arms. I was actually among “them”! Two days on the road, over 900 miles and I was ecstatic!
On my way back north I stopped at RC’s and snapped a couple of pictures for old-time’s sake. Same as it ever was, dark and the smell of beer soaked floors penetrated my senses as my mind wandered back to the early 80’s. I stopped that in its tracks as I knew I didn’t want to go there…too many memories that I’d rather keep hidden for now.
My wife and daughter landed that evening and I, of course, met them at Conijito’s for dinner. The look in my daughter’s eyes told me everything I needed to know at that point. She was excited to be there and even more excited about having the chance to see her Grandma and then her Granny. She and Carol had plans to go up to our cabin in Lake Tomahawk for the next few days and Jenna couldn’t wait. She loves the lake, horseback riding and kayaking by herself in the peace and quiet of the north woods. We arrived at my mom’s place where Kathy made a quick change into some comfortable riding gear. Soon we were off to visit with Beth and her friends. Heidi Ziegler and her children were there. Wow! What a great group of girls that pack is. We caught up for a few hours, talked kids and college, painted signs and had a cold beverage. I have to take a minute here and point out how lucky I am to have Kathy as my wife.
First of all she accepts me with all my oddball behavior and quirky issues. She comes with me to meet with old friends she’s only met a few times and blends in like she has known them forever. I can’t count the times that I’ve looked over my shoulder and see her fully engaged in conversation, laughing and smiling with people she hardly knows. Shame on me for leaving her side so many times as I wander off and tell stories with people like Heidi and Beth. She is truly one of a kind and I am thankful she chose me. Love you wife!
Thursday morning came and I had another great breakfast at Chuck’s, this time with my beautiful daughter Jenna. Before I knew it, Jenna and Granny were off to the cabin. Kathy and I were off to meet Adam and Leah (our riding buddies) for lunch on Downer street. Café Hollander is a great little spot on a corner where you can sit outside and “people watch” for hours. Bloody Mary and a beer chaser with some great bruschetta for a light lunch was perfect. A visit to see Kathy’s mom and sister was next. They live in a great little house on Lydell, very close to the old school over there. We chatted for a while and were off again, this time to the Summerfest grounds…Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing and Kathy promised her friend Mary Grace she’d give a shout out to “Sweet Home Alabama” with a “Roll Tide Roll!”. Thursday afternoon at 4:30 with a cold beer and Skynyrd playing all their hits in a crowd of Harley riders. Does it get any better than that? The answer is “yes, it does.”
We ventured to The House of Harley that evening and then over to Brady street to see what trouble we might find. Brady street was incredible. I can’t even describe what we witnessed. Talk about people watching…this was definitely the place. Everything you could possibly imagine was going on here. Music, bikes, smoke from tires squealing, smoke from other things and free flowing beverages at “The World of Beer”. Kathy’s sister Mary Kate met us there and somehow we found ourselves with a perfect roadside table with five chairs. Perfect viewing and close to the beverages. We ended the night with a trip up to the Village Pub to see Dennis Cox and then another stop at The Centennial in Mequon before getting home at just after midnight.
Friday was here and you guessed it, I had breakfast with Kathy this time at Chuck’s Place. After some coffee and eggs we rode over to Suburban Motors to check out the merchandise they had for sale. We found a couple of things to take home with us but kept most of our money in our wallets for future purchases at the Fest grounds. We left the Harley store and met Adam for a slow ride out to Kathy’s brother’s farm and then to Milwaukee Harley Davidson to witness their party and listen to a little local music. Friday was HOT and we didn’t last long there. We got back ion Rita and headed for WFB to see if we could find a lemonade stand or two. Lots of school kids set up stands for the riders and take donations for the MDA. Just north of Pandl’s we found a group from Holy Family Church and School that had set up a couple of tents where they were serving coffee, donuts and lemonade. Soon after we arrived I was approached by a young girl who asked if I wanted some “Angel Wings”. Not knowing what they were but trusting that I couldn’t get in any trouble I replied with a “You bet I do.” She was no more than three years old and was very soft spoken. She reached up for my hand and led me to a chair under one of the tents. I was soon joined by 2-3 other riders and similar little girls leading them to their chairs. One of the parents brought over a bucket of water and each of the girls reached in. I was waiting for a water balloon or cup of water to hit my face but instead, out came a sponge in each of their hands. The one that had led me to the chair asked politely “where do you want it mister?” By now I had seen the others getting tiny tattoos on their arms. The tattoos were tiny little Harley wings with a heart in the middle. She went on to tell me that as long as I had the wings on, that God and His angels would watch over me as I rode. She ended up putting two tattoos on my right arm. This might have been the best part of my whole trip. When she was finished soaking my arm, shirt and blue jeans she led me to a map of the United States that the parents had set up under another tent. She handed me a pin and asked my where I was from. I spent the next few minutes showing her where I lived and pointing out the path I took to get to Milwaukee. She smiled and listened intently. When I was finished, I place my pin on the map and told her “Thank you for my Angel Wings”. As of today, they are still intact. Faded but intact.
Kathy and I had lunch with her mom that day at The OakCrest Tavern in Shorewood. My good friend Rick Schmidt (yes, from RC’s) owns the place and we enjoyed a terrific perch fish fry, complete with potato pancakes. We stayed a bit and chatted with Rick then took off towards the Iron Horse Hotel. It looked like rain so we took a quick route down, parked the bike and headed to the patio.
This is another spot that you MUST visit if you are in Milwaukee. Harley Davidson motif and a great “yard” out back with couches, fire pits and a great view across the river to the Harley museum. We stayed a short while and bought a couple of great T-shirts in the little shop
Saturday I thought I would take a break from Chuck’s Place and since Cooper wasn’t with us, I didn’t have anyone new to go with anyways. Adam helped me put some new grips on Rita in the morning and I met Kathy back at my Mom’s place to get ready for the day. She and I took the time to go to the Harley Museum together and then cruised out to Wauwatosa for lunch at Café Hollander out in the village. Another great meal. This time a perfectly grilled sandwich with bacon, cheese and tomato. Since we were in the area we stopped to visit our friend Julie Crawford at Donna and Matt Johnson’s lighting store called “Filiment”. What a great little shop right in the village of Wauwatosa. After a great chat with Julie we were off again, back to the Fest grounds to meet up with our riding buddies and meet Bob Crawford for a little listen to ZZ Top at the Harley stage.
Unfortunately, we had to leave before they started…we were going to see Kid Rock at the Amphitheater and had general admission passes so we wanted to make sure to get a good spot for the show. It was our second time seeing him and we weren’t disappointed. He is pretty crude (definitely not a family show) but is an amazing performer and entertainer. John Fogerty played four songs with him and we learned that he had a new album out where Fogerty plays with several different artists including Kid Rock. I can’t remember the name but Kathy has already downloaded it on to her phone.in the lobby. Friday afternoon and evening were more Fest grounds, music and riding through the backroads of Milwaukee. Simply amazing. We found ourselves back on Brady street gawking at the crowds that night as well.
We ended the night with yet another visit to Brady street. This time it was curb to curb PACKED with people. We found a great parking spot and settled in for about an hour or so of mischief. Whew! What a couple of days. Kathy and I were done at around midnight and headed out for home. Of course we stopped for a late night snack at a little place on the way but made it home by about 1am.
Sunday morning came early and after a couple of hugs and kisses I was headed for Atlanta, leaving behind some great memories and wishing I had another three days to spend with my new brothers and sisters in Milwaukee. The ride was uneventful and no real scenery to speak of so I will leave that part out.
Overall I have to say that the week was one of a lifetime……I hope you enjoyed riding along with me.
The ’82 Project