One Last Ride in the Hoosier Revisited
This is the second in a Series by Tim Weaver. The first story is “One Last Ride in the Hoosier”
Chris Johnson unlocked the door, hung his coat on a chair and noticed that the answering machine was flashing. Hitting the “Play” button he found a message from his doctor’s office reminding him of an appointment he had the next afternoon, another from the veterinarian’s office telling them that the medication was in for their aging cat and another message that caught him by surprise. “Chris, Greg Hessman, gimme a call at my office tomorrow.”
Chris hadn’t seen Greg in a couple of months, since Christmas. He’d invited Chris and his wife to a party at his house during the holidays and it was the first time they’d gotten together in almost a year. Greg, now a senior partner in the law firm he’d been with for over a quarter century lived the upscale lifestyle of a successful attorney on Geist Reservoir with his wife whom he met not long after he graduated from law school. Initially unimpressed with his degree and cocky manner they met when she was an Indy 500 Princess and presented him with the biggest challenge of his lady chasing life, holding out until she had him wrapped around the ring finger of her left hand. In turn she had either blessed or cursed Greg with two daughters, depending on the point of view. Blessed in that the two were equally as beautiful as their mother, cursed in that Greg became the Father From Hell whenever any young lad came seeking his daughters’ attention. He assumed that every one of them was the same way he was when he was a hot-blooded youngster out sowing his wild seeds and very few of them survived his personal vetting process. Fortunately two of them did, though and in turn not only managed to marry his daughters but gave him five grandchildren as well.
Chris returned Greg’s call the next morning. After a few minutes of catching up Greg got to the reason for his call. “Rob wants you and I to come down Sunday night for dinner. He said he has something he wants to show us.”
“Any idea of what?”
“No clue. I haven’t heard much from him lately and couldn’t get anything more out of him other than he wants us down there around six. Can you make it?”
“I don’t have anything going on and the wife’s working that night so yeah, I’m free,” Chris replied. “Wonder what he’s up to? I haven’t been to his place since around Thanksgiving when I stopped by after a ride. Last I talked to him was at Christmas and I haven’t heard squat since.”
“He wouldn’t tell me anything. Want me to drive? I’ll come by and pick you up a little before five if that works for you.”
“Thanks, I’ll see you then.”
Chris hung up the phone, wondering what Greg’s brother Rob wanted to show them. Rob now lived in what had originally been the Hessman family cabin near Helmsburg but had greatly expanded the original primitive three room structure into a cozy house, more than tripling the floor space and adding indoor plumbing. He’d lived there since the deterioration of his marriage and his wife filing for divorce in the late ‘80′s. This had been the last in a series of life changing events for Rob that eventually drove him back to the cabin where he’d found sanctuary after returning from his service in Vietnam.
Rob had stopped riding enduros in the mid-‘70′s after realizing that working as a motorcycle mechanic was a sure-fire way to live in poverty the rest of his life. Using the G. I. Bill he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and while in college worked on the dock part time at the same trucking terminal where his dad worked at as a mechanic. After graduation he took a job as the assistant terminal manager on the night shift and when the terminal manager’s position became available he was promoted into it. He married a girl ten years younger than himself he’d met and dated during his days at IUPUI, bought a house and seemed to be living the classic American Dream which left no time to ride dirt bikes. He sold his last bike to help pay for another electric guitar and music replaced enduros as his passion.
Unfortunately for Rob a combination of the deregulation of the trucking industry, the closure of the terminal and subsequent loss of his job, his divorce and his father’s death not long after drove him into a depression that eventually led him to buy the cabin from his mother and he retreated there as he had some twenty years earlier. This time rather than motorcycles that kept him sane it was his music. He started playing guitar with several local bands in area pubs and lived in near poverty until he had a chance encounter with a well known rock singer from the area who saw him play in a bar one night. This meeting led to a steady stream of session work at the singer’s recording studio and eventually a referral that led to the opportunity to tour nationwide with a band whose lead guitarist was seriously ill. His work on that tour led to others and between that, local gigs, some song writing and later work he did in the “big” Nashville touring with several country singers left him financially comfortable and able to live in the woods he loved so much.
His mother had given him the ‘68 Electra-Glide that the senior Hessman had purchased new to celebrate both his fiftieth birthday and the safe return of his son from Vietnam. Other than riding his dad’s old Shovelhead to keep it running and in good condition along with a trip during Rolling Thunder to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C. for the most part motorcycling remained a memory from his distant past.
After Chris graduated from high school a factory job with GM and later an apprenticeship into the skilled trades as a toolmaker provided the income to continue to enjoy motorcycles although like Rob he stopped riding enduros and for years only had a street bike. A visit to a local Yamaha shop in the mid-eighties led to a spur-of-the-moment purchase of a leftover TY-350 which in turn led him to a new interest in observed trials competition. He rode trials throughout the rest of the decade but the driving required to attend the events got tiresome and the release of Suzuki’s new line of “dual sport” motorcycles caught Chris’ attention. A new 350, big enough to ride right out of the garage to the woods but small enough to still be able to ride on trails came home to share space with his trials bike. It was like coming home again, memories of his ‘71 Yamaha 175 Enduro flooding his mind whenever he rode in the Brown County area. Over the next twenty years he owned a series of dual sport bikes leading to the WR-250R he now owned that served him for everything from highway riding to single-track trails.
On the other hand Greg left motorcycles behind until the early nineties when it became fashionable to ride Harleys. Going in a different direction from the other associates in the law firm who rode Milwaukee iron he bought a ‘93 BMW G/S. Running into Chris at a childhood neighbor’s funeral he mentioned to him what he now rode and off the cuff mentioned that he thought it would be fun to ride to Alaska on it. Chris agreed, purchased a secondhand Paris-Dakar G/S and before long the two were planning their trip north. Although Chris had a preference for smaller and lighter bikes and sold his Beemer after the trip Greg remained a fan of the big G/S, buying a new one every three or four years and using them as a street bikes.
Sunday dawned as a clear but cool late February morning but had warmed to the high fourties when Greg came by in his BMW X6 to pick Chris up before heading to Brown County. At Helmsburg they went south to the narrow gravel road that led back into the woods to Rob’s cabin and arriving early they parked behind the house, knocked on the door and were surprised to have a pretty brown haired girl who looked like she might be in her thirties answer the door. “Is Rob here?” Greg asked, trying not to appear shocked at seeing her.
“Yeah, he’s in the den. C’mon in.”
The two went in and Rob greeted them both with a hug. Chris spoke first, asking “how’ve you been?”
Greg was less subtle, quietly asking “who the hell is that?”
“Oh, that’s Stacey–she followed me home a couple of months ago after a gig,” Rob replied nonchalantly. “She said she’s from California. I guess I should have introduced you.”
“I guess. She’s young enough to be my daughter,” Greg replied, still in a state of shock.
Rob had on a flannel shirt and jeans and certainly looked much different than he did when he first came to live at the cabin in 1969. The long blond hair of his youth was now replaced with a balding head and what remained was graying and cut short. His once clean shaven face now sported a goatee and mustache giving him a very distinguished appearance. Despite the lack of hair he looked at least ten years younger than his sixty five years of age probably because of his good health and his daily walks through the hills around his home.
Chris looked at a picture on the wall next to the fireplace. It was a picture of he and Rob taken on a beautiful sunny day at the start of the ‘74 Burr Oak National Enduro just before Chris graduated from high school. This was the first event for Rob as an “A” rider and it remained strong in Chris’ memory because of the fact it was the last enduro they attended together.
“Remember that run? I broke my chain around 130 miles and ended up houring out trying to get it back on,” Rob said, looking over his shoulder.
“Oh yeah. If you remember I didn’t do much better. I quit and went looking for something to drink,” Chris replied, remembering how hot and dusty that particular event was.
Greg, still a bit overwhelmed by the age of Rob’s house guest, asked if he and Chris had been invited down just to show off his young girlfriend. “No, but I do have something to show you. Let’s go out to the garage.”
Rob unlocked the side door to the two-car garage and turned on the lights. They made their way around stage equipment that took up half the garage’s space and sitting in front of the workbench on a homemade work stand was a mid-‘90′s Yamaha XT-225. “A guy in a band I play in bought this for his wife to learn to ride on but she lost interest and it got shoved into a corner of his garage. He got tired of it being in the way and gave it to me.”
Chris glanced at the odometer and noticed that the bike had less than two hundred miles on it. “How much did she ride it?”
“It had 39 miles on it when I brought it home the first of the year,” Rob replied.
“So you started riding again?”
“I’ve been riding it a little around here and a day trip once to Bloomington for lunch. The tank was full of dead gas and it took awhile to clean it and the carburetor so I could get it running again.”
Greg was singularly unimpressed. “You asked us down here to look at a girl’s bike?”
“No, but I have an idea of what to do with it. Let’s go back in the house. I made a pot of chili and we’ll talk about my idea after we eat.”
Stacey cleared the dishes away, refreshed their drinks and excused herself to go watch TV. Rob left with her and returned with a shopping bag. “I’ve been doing a little research,” he explained, dumping a load of maps on the kitchen table.
Chris picked up a couple of them. One was a current official Hoosier National Forest map and the other a generic map of the county roads of southern Indiana. Others lying on the table include some trail maps of the forest as well. “So exactly what do you have in mind?”
“I never rode any farther south than the area just south of the lake and I thought it might be fun to check out the rest of the forest all the way to the river.”
“The entire forest is closed to dirt bikes,” said Greg, “and we can’t ride any of the trails. They’re only legal for horses, hikers and mountain bikes.”
“I’ve ridden a couple of events that were organized by Stoney Lonesome that went to Tell City through the Hoosier but that was twenty years ago. Some of my buddies and I have ridden around down there but it was mostly paved and gravel roads. All the dirt roads Stoney used are pretty much closed now,” Chris offered as he studied the Hoosier map.
“Yeah, I know that. Stacey and I took a drive south a month ago and looked for some of the dirt roads on the map. Almost all of them were gated, turned into trails or so grown up we couldn’t find them.” Smiling, Rob added “but that doesn’t mean we can’t ride them.”
“So you’re thinking about breaking the law? As your attorney I highly recommend against that. I have no idea of the penalties but since it’s Federal ground they’ve gotta be pretty stiff,” Greg stated flatly, folding his arms against his chest.
“You’re probably right. But what’s the odds of getting caught especially if we do it in the middle of the week? It’s not like we’d be going in circles where they’d be more likely to catch us. We’ll be through and gone before the cops could get there,” Rob replied with a mischievous grin.
“Another problem–all I own is that heavy ass Beemer. There’s no way I’d take that down anything rougher than a gravel road.”
“So you’d have to buy a bike. Pick up something cheap, ride it and then sell it afterwards. There’s lots of stuff out there that would work. All you need is something light and quiet.”
Chris was deep in study of the map of the Hoosier. Although he regularly rode around the Brown County area on the backroads and pretty much knew it like the back of his hand anything south of the immediate area near Lake Monroe was pretty much unknown territory to him. The Stoney “Story Rides” had given him an overview of the area but how much of it had changed? Was there anything worth riding down there? He’d spent a lot of time in Colorado and the Appalachians riding but had dismissed southern Indiana as being a boring waste of time. “Just how much off road riding do you think might be down there?”
Rob took the map and pointed out a few possibilities. “Besides the trails there were some roads that were too rough and muddy for the truck here southwest of Bedford and that’s as far as we’ve gone,” he replied, pointing to the map, “and I’m hoping to go down and scout farther on south before we ride.”
“So just when were you planning to do this? The woods are pretty muddy this time of year and if we get much more snow or rain it might be pretty tough to get through unless we wait until summer,” said Chris “and by then it’ll start getting overgrown again.”
“I’m thinking mid April,” Rob replied, “just before the turkey season begins so the hunters won’t be in the woods.”
The gears were already turning in Chris’ head. “Well, that gives us about a month and a half to get this thing together.”
Greg was in a doubtful pout and obviously questioning the wisdom of such a ride. “I’m not so sure a ride done illegally on public property is such a good idea,” continuing “I need to look into the penalties if we get caught before I commit to anything silly like this.”
“I know a guy who got caught coming out of the woods on an old county road that had been gated and his fine would have only been $125. He beat it in court by proving it was still a county road,” Chris countered. “I’ve heard the penalties for getting caught in the Hoosier are pretty stiff but no one has ever heard of anyone getting arrested or getting their bikes or quads impounded. Mostly they just get tickets. That amounts to paying rent.”
“I still need to get a bike and that doesn’t leave much time,” Greg continued to protest, “and I’m not sure what would happen to me if I got caught.”
“You’d do what you do best–open your mouth and let the bullshit flow,” Rob countered. “It’s been over forty years since the three of us went riding together in the Hoosier. Let’s do it again before we’re too damned old to do it.”
Chris was already sold on the idea and his mind was in high gear thinking of what needed to be done before they started on this adventure.
Over the next month and a half Chris spent almost every spare minute working with Rob on the proposed route and transferring it into his Mapsource program to in turn create a route they could follow on their GPS. Rob, who’d never used a GPS and had no idea of how to operate one was going old school and creating a route sheet by measuring the map with a mileage tool. Between the two systems and maps they figured they shouldn’t get lost and ought to be able to stay relatively close to the route they were preparing.
Finding a bike for Greg wasn’t so easy. Normally dual purpose bikes were a dime a dozen but suitable ones seemed to be almost impossible to find for whatever reason until one day Chris called Greg and told him he’d found a potential bike on Craigslist. It turned out to be a Honda CRF-230F that the previous owner had gone to the trouble of licensing for the road with a Baja Designs lighting kit. It had limited use as it had been built for an extended trip to Colorado with what was now his ex-wife and it’s sole liability was worn out tires from riding on the rocks. Greg bought it and found the little Honda to be amazing fun. After horsing around big BMW’s for almost twenty years it was like riding his mountain bike and a day at the Badlands riding with Chris stoked him even more. Taking it to his older brother Rob checked the valves, cleaned the carburetor, changed the oil in the forks and engine, greased the rear suspension and spooned on a fresh set of Cheng Shin knobbies as he also did to his own XT.
Chris picked up a fresh set of Dunlop 606′s to replace the worn Kendas he had on the WR but otherwise mechanically it was ready to go with nothing more than an oil change.
With the route and bikes prepared only the date needed to be set. A three way telephone call settled that–they’d leave from Rob’s on the morning of April 17.
After spending the night at Rob’s the three were up before daylight, had breakfast and went out to the garage to load up for the trip. While Greg and Chris wore Aerostich pants and jackets Rob wore a Carhartt jacket and camo Gore-Tex hunting pants. Although it wasn’t raining at sunrise it had been predicted for the day with a cold front moving in later. With an early start they hoped to be at least in French Lick before it rained.
With a kiss from Stacey Rob put his XT in gear, the others followed his lead and they left the area around Rob’s cabin via an old downhill road that had become too rutted and overgrown for anything but motorcycles. Riding west on the twisting Lanam Ridge Road to Indiana 45 they went less than a quarter of a mile before turning left on the gravel Tulip Tree Road. When Rob had first ridden here in ‘69 it was a winding dirt two-track that went all the way to Indiana 46 some seven or eight miles later. Now there was a cable blocking their access only a mile and a half from where they’d left 45. Rob went around the gate, looked back at the other two and said simply “Here we go.”
They found it relatively easy going. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources maintained the road for access and logging and although it had become severely rutted from four wheel drive use in the late ‘70′s it had been repaired and was now a two track, mostly graveled with the occasional muddy spot. They could easily maintain a twenty-five or thirty mile an hour pace and only slowed down when they came to intersections and needed to confirm which way to go by scanning their GPS units. This pathway had traditionally been known as Scarce O’ Fat Ridge Road and during a trip to the county government center Rob had found it had never been formally abandoned and was still on their road inventory despite being cabled off by the IDNR.
They continued to ride south until they came upon another cable gate that Chris almost ran into and after going around it the road turned to gravel, dropped down a hill and into a small subdivision before coming out on Indiana 46. Turning east on 46 they went a couple of miles and turned south on Crooked Creek Road. After going just over a mile and up a hill they came to another gravel road on their left with a sign that said “Handicapped Hunter Access.” Again skirting the gate they rode about a mile before turning south on another fairly well maintained gravel pathway. Rob had learned that despite the access being blocked this, too was still a legal Brown County road and although it was west of the Brown County State Park boundary in the Yellowwood State Forest it was a part of it’s horse trail system. Marked as the “D” trail it went south across Miller Ridge, the same two-track that he and Chris had ridden on their last ride in the Hoosier some forty years prior. It eventually came to an old iron gate where it turned into a single track horse trail at the Hoosier National Forest boundary. It received far less maintenance here with the occasional downfall to bull their way around and horse traffic had created deep mud holes. The old road bed was evident much of the way as it was below the existing forest floor but was mostly now only a single track trail. The trail left the road bed, turned to the left and then switchbacked down to Blue Creek Road where Rob came to a stop and shut off his motor. “Ain’t that a bitch?” as he pointed across the road to several hundred feet of cable authorities had hung to keep vehicles from continuing on down Blue Creek Road to the south. “The last time you and I were here we came across the ridge from the bottoms on the other side.”
“It’s really changed a lot back there. I didn’t recognize it,” Chris replied.
Pointing to the center of the turn-around Rob pointed out where the old road bed went off into the woods. “If you follow that old road it’ll take you up to where the trail we were just on turned left.”
“Hey, I hate to break up the party but I think it’s prudent that we keep going in case anyone saw us going in,” Greg pointed out while sucking a quick drink from the bladder in his ‘Stich’s pocket.
They fired up but instead of taking Blue Creek Road to the south they went east figuring it might be a bad idea to go that way anyway because of the locals that lived near what remained of Elkinsville. It would have been some serious work to heave the bikes over the guard rail at the old iron bridge at the Middle Fork of Salt Creek, anyway. Instead they followed Blue Creek Road east to Elkinsville Road and turned right, crossed the wooden bridge and before the switchback turned left into the Nebo Ridge trail head. This section of trail had been constructed in the early ‘90′s to connect to the existing trail at the top of the ridge. At one time there had been a network of old county roads and trails up here but for the most part now there was only one, the USFS blocking off the rest. A three way trail intended for hikers, horsemen and mountain bikers Greg had ridden this one on his mountain bike a few times. Eventually the trail came to parallel Berry Ridge Road for a few hundred yards before turning right and back into the woods. Well maintained and heavily used even the downfalls that hadn’t been cut out yet had neat little ramps made of piles of limbs for easy crossing by bicyclists. They also made it easy going for motorcycles as well although when Chris was crossing one of them the pile fell apart and hung him momentarily on the log. Taking only one dab he rocked the bike to one side, the rear wheel caught traction and he motored over it.
The trail continued on south and came to it’s trail head on the road between Houston and Maumee. They turned right, stopping up the road at the three way intersection next to the bridge. Pointing to the right Chris said “That’s where the road goes north back to Elkinsville but the sumbitches have gated it, too. It used to be a lot of fun.”
“That’s okay. Stacey and I hiked it and it’s not nearly as good as the trail we were just on. I found out it was only supposed to be a temporary five year closure, too, but they’ll probably never reopen it.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I need to make some phone calls and see if we can stir up some shit about that,” Greg said, flexing his legal muscles.
While they were talking a light rain started to fall. “Better hit it if we’re going to make any progress before it really opens up,” Rob suggested, unstrapping an old rain jacket from the rear of the bike. Advancing his roll chart he continued “we’re going to be hitting some trails up the road so ride fast and quiet.”
Crossing the bridge they went up the hill and took the second road to the right that led towards the Maumee Boy Scout Reservation but before they got there they turned right on Trail 20, taking it a short ways before turning left on Trail 18 and headed west. This was the first trail the three rode on that Sunday morning so many years ago but this time they were riding in the opposite direction. The rain had really started coming down and Rob’s rain jacket was doing a miserable job of keeping him dry. Eventually they came to Hickory Ridge Road, crossed it, continued on 18 and down the ridge into the valley where it switchbacked up the hill before it came to a “T” intersection at Trail 4. Going left the three followed #4 to a gravel road and came to a stop. By now the wind had increased, sheets of rain were coming down and as they came out of the woods Rob stopped, opened his new modular helmet and declared that he was soaked.
Greg squeezed out his watercraft gloves, which while working well in the wet didn’t keep his hands dry or warm and suggested that they go find shelter somewhere.
Chris, who had been hitting the buttons on his GPS and looking ahead told them “Unless we want to head back north to the Paynetown area I say we hit the highway, head to Bedford and stay closer to our route.”
Greg, who’d been furiously tapping the keys on his GPS as well said “It’s about eleven miles as the crow flies, probably closer to fifteen total. Let’s do it.”
It was another four miles or so of gravel and tarmac road before they came to Indiana 446 and turned south. It was raining so hard they could barely see where they were going and between that and chilled hands their speed slowed to around twenty-five miles an hour. A couple of miles of riding on the shoulder got them to Indiana 58, a winding snake of a road that was fun in dry weather but between the pouring rain, dropping temperatures and knobby tires it made for a hazardous combination that turned the ten mile ride west to Bedford into a miserable survival run that took almost a half-hour.
After riding through town they almost came to Indiana 37 before Greg led them down a side street to the Super 8 motel and pulled in front of the office out of the rain. Rob came to a stop and promptly dropped his bike from being too cold to remember to put his feet down. Chris rescued him, took off his own backpack and jacket and went to the front desk to get a room. The brothers came into the lobby leaving the bikes at the door unlocked figuring no one in their right mind would steal them in that kind of weather and went directly to their room.
“Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into,” said Greg, doing his best Oliver Hardy impression and throwing his wet gloves into the sink.
Rob said nothing. His face had lost all it’s color and he was shaking uncontrollably. “Get your shit off and get in the shower. You need to warm up right now,” Chris told him. He’d been in a similar shape on a trip in Colorado and knew the warning signs of hypothermia. They helped him get his backpack, pants, boots and jackets off and pushed him into the bathroom.
Chris turned on the TV and flipped through the stations trying to find the Weather Channel. Finding it the local report called for sunshine but cooler the next day with morning temperatures near 40. Greg unzipped a pocket on his jacket, got out his iPhone and started checking messages. “It had better stop raining otherwise I’m renting a U-Haul and going home.”
Despite the fact it was still pouring down outside the radar map showed the rain ending just west of there. “As hard as the wind’s blowing I’ll bet it’ll be done raining before dark. We need to find some warmer gear, too,” Chris said as he left to go lock up the bikes.
A half-hour later Rob walked out of the shower wrapped in a towel. “That’s about as miserable as I think I’ve ever been.”
“The temperature’s dropped almost fifteen degrees since we left your place and it’s gonna be close to freezing tonight. We’ve gotta get your stuff dried out and maybe find some warmer clothes for tomorrow. My wife is gonna laugh her ass off at me when I call her,” the younger Hessman replied to his now-warmer brother, who had regained some of his color.
Using the motel’s dryer they got Rob’s gear dried and Greg, using his ever-present iPhone found a cab company in Bedford and called for one which first took them to the K-Mart for some thermal underwear and then to a nearby steakhouse that featured live entertainment where Rob had played once. The rain had stopped when they arrived so they paid the cabbie and sent him on his way gambling that it wouldn’t be raining when they finished eating. With wind and the temps in the lower forties it made for a brisk walk back to the motel.
Back in the room the three were preparing to crash for the night and after all had checked in with their respective ladies Greg’s curiosity got the best of him and began probing Rob for information about his young girlfriend. Eventually it came out that she’d come to Bloomington with her boyfriend who played drums in a touring band, gotten into a fight with him and had been left behind with nothing more than her purse and the clothes on her back. She’d gotten temporary lodging with a barmaid who worked where the band had played and had started working there as well to earn her keep. The barmaid rapidly tired of her being in her tiny apartment, though and after a gig at the bar one night after Christmas Rob got to talking to Stacey, she telling him of the need to find a place to stay and he offering her his couch. Initially it was a totally platonic relationship with her sleeping in the den for the first couple of weeks but eventually they’d grown closer despite the difference in their age. “She’s a free spirit and it wouldn’t surprise me if I got back and she was gone,” Rob said with some resignation.
“You actually trust her at your house? What’s to keep her from pawning all your guitars and taking off in your van?” Greg asked, knowing from his legal experience how some of these May-December relationships ended up.
“That’s the risk I took. If it happens it happens.”
Chris, who worked the day shift and was usually in bed early, responded with a snore. The brothers laughed and turned off the lights.
Chris was up before the brothers, checking the oil and lubing the chains on the bikes. The ride to Bedford in the hard rain had pretty much washed most of the mud off the bikes so there was no tell-tale evidence of what they’d been doing. Coming back to the room the Hessmans were up and getting dressed and ready for the day’s ride.
“It’s a cold one out there,” Chris informed them.
“Yeah, the pweather says it’s thirty seven,” Greg replied, iPhone in hand. “Hope we’ve got enough clothes to be comfortable.”
“We’ll stay on the back roads and keep our speeds down. We don’t have far to the first woods section and that’ll warm us up,” Chris replied, putting on his jacket and backpack. “The Hoosier National Forest office is right next door. Maybe we ought to go spin some donuts in their grass to let ‘em know we were here.”
The room’s heater had dried out their gloves but left them stiff. None of them had anything resembling cold weather gloves and were wondering how far they’d get before their digits would be freezing. “I’ve got an idea,” Chris said and left the room, returning with some cardboard boxes he’d gotten from the receptionist. “We’ll cut these up, make some wind deflectors and zip tie ‘em to the bars. They ought to last long enough until it warms up out there.” Out at the bikes with a handful of zip ties they fabricated some crude wind deflectors using Chris’ Swiss Army knife. While not particularly stylish they figured it was better than leaving their hands out in the wind to freeze.
A few minutes later they were gassing up and riding south through Bedford to avoid using the interstate-like Indiana 37 and it’s high speeds required to keep from ending up someone’s hood ornament. They left town, crossed the river using the four lane, immediately got back on the secondary roads and found that while it was cold wasn’t unbearable especially with the morning sun warming things up. The headwinds that had made the previous day so miserable were now gone and it was a quick fifteen minute ride southwest to the Tincher Hollow area. They entered the woods on an ungated dirt road and went a few hundred yards before stopping. The road was slippery from the previous day’s rain but a quick stop to air down the tires greatly improved traction on the old dirt road as it wound through the woods before coming to it’s end and then on to a paved backroad south to Indiana 60. Crossing it they continued southwest to the Shirley Creek horse trails.
Rob had scouted the entrances and exits to the trail system here and they entered it just east of Bonds Chapel directly off of Orange CR 910. The trails weren’t anything like Chris had ever ridden as they were well groomed and covered with limestone gravel. Heading south they dropped into a valley and rode to the west of Luke Knob before forking to the right and entering Felknor Hollow. A left turn took them up to a ridge trail that took them east to CR 775.
Turning right and exiting the Shirley Creek trails they followed the road south, crossed U. S. 150 and rode into French Lick on IN 56 for a quick break and gas stop. While there Greg returned a call and walked to the other side of the lot, pacing back and forth and animatedly waving his hand in the air as he talked. He finished his call and walked back over to the bikes with a disgusted look on his face where Rob and Chris were sitting in the sun having a drink.
“I can’t believe it. The owner of a business in Terre Haute we represent got drunk last night and crashed into a house. He’d just gotten elected state senator last fall and they need me up there right now to do damage control and get his ass out of jail. I need to ditch the bike and rent a car.”
Chris immediately responded “Why don’t you take my WR? It’ll cruise all day at 70 on the road–air up the tires and I’ll take your 230. If you leave right now you can be up there in a couple of hours. You’re gonna owe me a set of tires, though–those 606′s are brand new.”
Greg gave it about a half-second of contemplation, accepted the offer and they rolled the WR over to the air hose, bought some time on the compressor and switched GPS units. “Thanks–I really owe you one,” Greg said as he saddled up on the WR and extended his hand to Chris.
“I’ll send you a bill,” he replied, shaking his hand. “You’ll do about anything to get out of going for ride with us, won’t you?”
“Believe me this is not going to be fun. I’d rather get caught and go to jail than make this run. You guys be careful and call me if you need bail money.” Greg hit the starter button on the WR, spun it to life and he headed back north.
As Greg rode out of sight Rob turned to Chris and said “I have an Army buddy down in Perry County I want to try to find while we’re down here. He’s got a St. Croix address and lives close by. All I’ve got to go on is this map he sent me last year,” withdrawing it from his pocket. “I haven’t seen him in over twenty years and I promise we won’t stay long.”
Chris looked at the crudely drawn map on the dog eared notebook paper and compared it to Rob’s Hoosier National Forest map. “Doesn’t look like it’d be too hard to find. Want to call him and let him know we’re coming?”
“I tried to call him before we left but the number had been disconnected. Hopefully we’ll catch him at home. Finding him is all part of the adventure, right?”
Chris was skeptical and didn’t really want to waste time on a wild goose chase but kept his opinion to himself, climbed on the 230 and the two of them rode south out of French Lick.
They used Indiana 145 as a fast way to get by the Patoka Lake area and to Indiana 64 and a quick stop at Eckerty to look at the hand drawn map led them south into the woods. Rob stopped frequently to double check it as they looked for the landmarks marked on the crude map. They were looking for a driveway in a heavily wooded area and passed one that looked like a possibility. Turning around they came back and found large hand painted and misspelled “No Tresspassing” signs hung on both sides of the entrance and it appeared whoever lived here was not only inhospitable but didn’t take care of his driveway, either. There was no mail box and it looked like an unmaintained woods road full of mud holes. As they rode up it they saw several old cars and trucks parked alongside the drive in the woods quietly rotting away, likely sitting right where they’d been towed or pushed after they died. The further they went up the primitive roadway the more uncomfortable Chris got, something telling him that maybe they shouldn’t be back there.
Entering an opening in the woods with a pasture behind it they came to what appeared to be a residence, the central part of it an old mobile home with a lean to addition on the right side sitting on what had been at one time the slab foundation of a house. A crude shed to their right covered piles of firewood, an old bulldozer, what appeared to be portable concrete mixers and other rusting pieces of machinery, appliances and tools. A late model mud-covered four wheel drive Ford diesel pickup stood out like a jewel among the rusting hulks. Other unidentifiable piles of rusting metal were scattered here and there in the weeds. A wisp of smoke came out of a chimney in the lean to but otherwise there were no signs of life.
They turned their bikes around, shut them off and Chris spoke first. “Think we’re in the right place?”
Rob pulled the map from between the seat and tank where he’d left it and gave it another careful examination. “If the map is right this could be it but I’m not sure…”
The unmistakable sound of a pump shotgun racking a round into the chamber behind them immedately raised the hairs on Chris’ neck and he slowly slid his hand closer to his jacket pocket where he could access his .380.
“Whaddafuck are you doing back here?” a voice asked them from behind. “Can’t you read the fuckin’ signs?”
Rob slowly and calmly replied “Sorry if we’ve come to wrong place but we’re looking for Daniel Enlow. ”
“Since you’re trespassing you’d better tell me who the fuck you are and why you’re back here,” replied the voice.
“If we’re in the wrong place we’re sorry to bother you and we’ll be happy to leave,” Rob replied, slowly turning around.
Chris had already turned around to see who was holding them at gunpoint. He was a big guy about six feet tall with a long, ragged grey beard and dressed in a tattered army field jacket and muddy boots. He had a wad of tobacco in his cheek and spit on the ground.
“You still ain’t told me who you are yet.”
Raising the front of his helmet Rob replied “I’m Rob Hessman. This is my friend Chris Johnson. Is that you, Danny?”
The gunman’s eyes suddenly softened. “Rob?” he asked, squinting and carefully looking at him. “You son of a bitch, you almost got your ass peppered with birdshot!! What’s it been, twenty years? Damn, is it good to see you!!” as he laid down the shotgun, came forward and put his arms around him. Rob returned the bear hug and Chris was relieved to see that they weren’t going to end up in some kind of Deliverance nightmare. “Whydafuck didn’t you call and tell me you were coming?”
Climbing off his XT and removing his helmet Rob replied “I tried but it said your number was disconnected.”
“Aw shit, I ain’t had a land line in a coupla months. I forgot to pay the bill and they cut the fucker off. The cell’s cheaper in the long run, anyway and I only have to pay when I use it. What the hell are you doing down here?”
Rob told him they were out for a ride and again introduced Chris. “Anybody that’s a friend of Rob’s a friend of mine,” he said, shaking his hand. “You guys want something to drink? Let’s go inside and sit down. Damn, it’s good to see you.” He put his arm around Rob’s shoulder and led them into the lean to, maybe twenty feet long and ten feet wide. A wood stove was in one corner of the room and next to the trailer was an old chrome legged kitchen table from the sixties. Daniel cleared away some dirty dishes and a Sunday Louisville Courier-Journal from the table, got three Walmart brand colas from a refrigerator sitting against the outside wall and sat them on the table. He then got Chris a stool from inside the trailer to sit on and he and Rob sat in a pair of mismatched kitchen chairs.
As Chris quickly learned Rob had met Daniel right after he arrived in Vietnam. It was a classic case of polar opposite attraction, Rob the big city boy and Daniel from the backwoods of Perry County and they became close friends. “Hillbilly” had been in country about a month and a half before “City Boy” arrived and it was the knowledge he’d acquired during that time and his country common sense that he shared with Rob and it probably kept them both alive.
Danny went into the trailer and came back with an old album full of faded pictures from their days in Vietnam with a yellow and black shoulder patch from the 1st Air Cavalry Division glued to the front. As they flipped through it they talked of the young men on the pages within it. “I wouldn’t be here today if’n it hadn’t been for Rob,” Daniel said, putting his hand on Rob’s shoulder. “We were about ready to get overrun near Dak To and I got all shot up. Instead of jumpin’ on the bird to get the fuck outta there this crazy sumbitch runs back through the fire Charlie was puttin’ down, grabs me by the nap of the neck and drags my ass into the Huey.”
Rob lost his smile and went quiet. Tears welled up in his eyes, he looked down at the floor and quietly said “But I didn’t get ‘em all.”
Daniel took Rob’s forearm firmly in his hand and spoke sternly to him. “Damn it, Rob, we’ve been through this a hunnert times. Another ten seconds and Charlie woulda been all over us, shot the bird up and we’d all been dead. You shoulda left me and got the fuck outta there.”
Rob didn’t say anything.
Daniel went on. “There weren’t anythin’ you could do, man. The guys on the ground were close to bein’ dead, anyway and odds are they wouldn’ta made it even if you got ‘em aboard.”
Rob stayed silent.
“Damn it, Rob, you did the best you could!!” Daniel said as he tightly gripped his friend’s arm. Softening his tone almost to a whisper he repeated “you did the best you could…”
Rob finally broke his silence, blinked and tears ran down his face as he said “I still see ‘em lying there on the ground…I still see Jon-Jon looking up at me as we took off…”
A cold silence filled the little room. Daniel continued to hold on to Rob’s arm and patted him on the shoulder with his other hand.
“Rob, somebody had to make it that day an’ somebody had to die. Their number was up. Ain’t nothin’ you coulda done.”
After what seemed like an eternity but was likely only a minute or two of dead silence Daniel suddenly changed the subject and asked “You guys had any lunch yet? Wanna run up to Schwartz’s and grab a bite? They’ve got great food and ice cream although the doc says I ain’t supposed to eat it.”
“Yeah, that sounds good,” Rob replied, blinking his tears away.
They removed the balance of their riding gear, went out and got in the Ford with Chris sitting in the jump seat. Daniel continued to talk about what had been going on in his life, telling them first about the passing of his wife Sarah, what he’d done since his retirement from the Ford plant in Louisville and the death of his brother who’d previously been living in the trailer. “He’d been makin’ a good livin’ doin’ masonry work and pourin’ concrete when times were good but he never could shake his drinkin’ habit. First he got drunk and burned the house down and then flat drank hisself to death. After he died I sold the house in town–I couldn’t stand bein’ there anymore for thinkin’ about Sarah–and moved back here to the farm. Ain’t nothin’ or nobody here for me anymore so I’m thinkin’ about sellin’ out and buyin’ a boat in Florida to live out my days. We thought we had it licked but from the last x-ray the doc thinks the cancer might be back. While I still feel good I wanna go down an’ see the ocean again.”
Rob rode along quietly, looking out the window as they rolled down the twisting country roads. Out of respect for the two Chris had remained quiet and not said anything until Daniel asked him what he did for a living. When he found out he was also a factory rat the two talked about the state of the auto industry, whether or not they’d actually get their full pensions and a brief debate into which politicians were going to be most beneficial to the industry which allowed Rob time to collect himself. By the time they arrived at the cafeteria he was mostly his old self again.
They had a brief skirmish over who was going to pay the bill with Danny managing to pay it before the other two could get their wallets out and over dinner Rob brought Danny up to date on what else had been happening in his life since they’d last talked. The two veterans continued to talk of those in their company who’d survived the war and what had become of them as well. They finished their meals with pie and ice cream, got back in the Ford and headed back to the trailer.
It was now nearly six o’clock and at least according to the route they still had quite a ways to go to get to Tell City. Danny told them of a short cut through the pasture behind the trailer that would take them to a dead-end road to the Anderson River that passed under the interstate and then on to Indiana 62. The two verified each other’s contact information, promised to stay in touch and after another bear hug and handshake with Daniel Rob and Chris refired their bikes and headed south across the pasture.
The rains the day before had left the pasture soft and the fresh grass was starting to get some length after the winter. On the far side of the rise in the middle of the pasture it sloped down towards a gate at the road and created a natural bowl. Instead of heading directly for the gate Rob suddenly turned left, went up high on the side of the bowl and circled around. Chris followed him and noticed that Rob was upshifting and picking up speed, the little Yamaha screaming as it went back down and headed up the other side. The CRF had the horsepower advantage over the XT and after they went around Chris decided to pass him as they went back up the other side for a second lap. Coming back down the hill Chris saw that Rob was still within a few feet of him and held it wide open hoping to maintain the advantage. As he made the corner to head back down he was surprised to feel the front wheel of the Yamaha against his leg. Rob was trying to push him out of the way and regain the lead!! No longer was Rob sixty-five years old–he was nineteen and his old hot shoe self again, fighting for the lead at a scrambles. Chris backed off and Rob dove inside of him before again going full throttle down into the valley and up the other side, this time pitching the XT into a perfect feet-up powerslide as he rounded the corner, throwing mud and grass into Chris’ face as he tried to repass. Instead of going all the way up the opposite side of the hill this time Rob did a bank shot to the left about a third of the way up and headed towards the road with Chris in tow.
As Chris caught up with him at the road he found Rob with his helmet up laughing like a maniac. “I could do that all day!!” he laughed as Chris picked a wad of mud and grass off his faceshield and threw it back at Rob, all the dark memories that had haunted him a few hours ago now gone.
“Yeah, that was fun all right but we’ve got a long way to go if we’re going to make it in before dark,” Chris observed as he opened the old wooden gate.
“Let’s try Danny’s route and see if we can get under the Interstate,” he replied before dropping the clutch and getting the little Yamaha sideways in the gravel.
The road dead-ended but they could see where the old roadbed made a hard left and continued on into the woods. Following it and an ATV trail to the Anderson River which at that point was nothing but a small creek they came to I-64, went around the fence, into the river and under the interstate bridge that spanned it. Once on the other side all signs of the road had pretty much disappeared back into woodlands. Going here was rough as they had to bull their way through the thick woods and downed trees. The woods were starting to darken in the late afternoon sunlight and it limited their view of the old roadway ahead. Leading the way Rob nearly rode off into a deep ditch where a short bridge that previously spanned it had been removed. Backtracking a bit they found a way down the embankment into the surrounding woods, crossed the ditch, pushed their way through to the right-of-way at Indiana 62 and up on to the highway. “We’ve only got about an hour of light left,” Chris hollered over their idling bikes “so we’d better blow off the rest of the route and take the roads in.”
Nodding in approval Rob moved to the shoulder and got out the Hoosier National Forest map from his jacket pocket. Chris joined him and seeing a road that headed south just west of where they were that appeared to flow southbound towards Tell City they refired and headed that direction. Although it bypassed their intended route to the west of Indian Lake the faster gravel county road offered a much quicker way to their overnight destination. When they reached a point near Indiana 37 with the impending darkness they decided to jump on the highway and ride into Tell City. Once in town they turned into the road leading to the Ramada located at the top of a long, steep grassy hill and instead of using the driveway Rob attacked it wide open, the little Yamaha screaming as it clawed it’s way to the top. Chris shook his head in disbelief as he took the driveway up.
After registering and carrying their gear to the room Chris decided to check his phone for messages with the last one from Greg. Chris returned it, found out Greg was in a motel in Terre Haute and had finished up his business there earlier than he thought. They decided that Greg would ride southeast and call him at ten the next morning as Rob and Chris rode northward to arrange a rendezvous point.
After showering up the two walked down the hill to the nearby Mexican restaurant and over multiple Tecates toasted the day’s adventure.
Full of Mexican food and beer they staggered up the hill and back to their room where it was Chris’ turn to interrogate Rob about his young girlfriend. Rob repeated the story he’d told Greg the night before while Chris was asleep, adding “I came in one afternoon and caught Stacey singing along with the radio. It embarrassed the shit out of her but as it turns out she sings really well and has great range. I took her over to the studio and recorded her so she could hear what she sounds like, too. Since then she’s been singing with the band at rehearsals and I think she’s got real potential. She doesn’t know it yet but she’s gonna sing at a show we’re doing in Nashville in a few weeks.”
“Think she’ll do it?”
“Not gonna give her a choice. The plan is I’m gonna tell her that the regular singer can’t make it and she’s gotta fill in.”
“I gotta ask how the difference in age affects you two.”
“It doesn’t seem to be an issue,” Rob replied, adding “if she sees me as an old man it doesn’t show.” Continuing and answering Chris’ unasked question he said “Stacey’s almost thirty nine and has been around the music industry her whole life. Her dad was a record company exec and she married a producer but divorced him after she found out he was banging one of his clients and then hooked up with a drummer who was ten years younger than she is.” Rob laid back on the bed with his hands behind his head, closed his eyes, hesitating for a moment as the Tecates loosened his tongue and he went on. “Chris, the loneliness really got to me at times and to be honest I never thought I’d ever find anyone again. You can count on one hand the number of ladies in my life since the divorce but none of them have made me as happy as Stacey has. The last few months have been some of the best of my life and I sure hope they don’t go away.”
Rob turned on the T. V. to a movie channel but both of them watched only a few minutes before they were sound asleep.
Chris woke up thirsty with his lips stuck together. Sunlight was coming in around the curtains and he got up, went to the bathroom and splashed some cold water on his face. I sure can’t handle beer anymore, he thought to himself as he flushed the toilet and went back into the room. Rob was still snoring, one pillow partially covering his head and deciding to let him sleep Chris quietly got dressed and went down to the lobby for some much needed coffee. Sitting and watching the TV for a few minutes the local weather was streaming across the bottom of the screen and called for sunshine and a high in the upper sixties. By the time he got back to the room Rob was sitting on the edge of the bed with his head hanging, looking like he might puke. “Don’t ever let me drink that much beer again,” he moaned, shaking his head.
“You and me both,” Chris replied, sitting his coffee down and laying back on the bed.
“What time is it?” Rob asked, looking around for his glasses.
“Just after seven. The weather looks good today–at least 65 for a high.”
“Hope you’re not in a hurry. I need to take another shower just to feel human again.”
“Greg’s not going to call until ten so we’ve got plenty of time. I’m going to go check on the bikes.”
Chris went out, checked the oil on both of them and looked at the chains which while dirty looked okay. O-ring chains are the best invention ever, he thought to himself as he unlocked the bikes and headed back up to the room.
Rob had just emerged from the shower and was looking a bit better. Chris flipped on the TV and got a morning show with what appeared to be models reading off of a teleprompter. He hit the remote button and changed to Fox News figuring it was better than listening to the crap Ken and Barbie were putting out as he gathered his gear and put it in his backpack.
Inside of a half-hour they were down at the bikes saddling up for the day. Their revised route had them heading east to what was supposed to be a long section of gravel road in the southernmost end of the forest before they were going to try riding the trails in the German Ridge area. The cool morning air cleared whatever fog that remained in their heads and they were soon riding in the forest. The gravel road wound it’s way north through the hills in a roller coaster fashion before coming to a “T” intersection at Indiana 66. Directly across the road was a USFS gate and they went straight, around the gate and picked up a multi-purpose trail that mostly went north for eight miles before coming out at Gerald Road. Crossing it and staying on the trail it went on north before coming out on Tiger Rd. and then a left took them north on a fast paved road to Indiana 70. Originally they’d planned to head east on 70 and run a three mile segment of trail through the Mogan Ridge area that would have deposited them on Old Indiana 37 but since they needed to be in the French Lick area to meet up with Greg instead decided to bypass it and went west, picking up old 37 and riding it north. Turning east towards Leopold they used fast paved and gravel roads to Indiana 62 and then east to the West Fork area. Staying on gravel and paved roads in the interest of making time they again bypassed a possible two-track in the Hemlock Cliffs area, rode to the community of Mifflin and then north to Taswell. It was all paved roads here as they went into the backwaters area to get around Patoka Lake and then stopped to take Greg’s call who was sitting in the Subway in French Lick enjoying a sandwich. A few more minutes of winding paved road and they pulled in and parked next to Chris’ WR250R.
Since neither Chris or Rob could stand to eat earlier food was starting to sound good and they both ordered up footlongs and took a seat next to Greg who was kicked back sipping on a Diet Coke. As they ate Greg told them about the soon-to-be ex-politician and how he’d managed to launch his Caddy XTS up an embankment and into a house. Fortunately no one was hurt but both the car and house were writeoffs as were any of his plans of running for governor. “That WR is sweet, though. I may have to get one of those for myself.”
Hitting a gas station up the street they topped off their tanks and headed back north to the Shirley Creek trails. The game plan was to use the trails on the east side of the road from where they’d come out of the woods the previous day. Turning down a road that led to a vacant horse camp they picked up a trail at the east end of it that went down a sloping ridge and headed north through a valley before coming back up a ridge that led them back out to CR 775 about three miles later. Across the road from their exit point was a manned county drop-off point for garbage and they gave a friendly wave to the attendant who waved back with a puzzled look on his face.
Turning right as they left the woods the three headed west to Huron, crossed U. S. 50 and again rode north on paved roads since there weren’t any trails in this area to ride. They had just turned left on to Indiana 450 and were preparing to jog right on the road to Silverville when they saw an Indiana Conservation Officer in a white SUV headed the opposite direction. They’d barely gone a few hundred yards north on the Williams-Silverville Road when they heard the whoop of a siren behind them. Pulling to the side of the road the officer exited the vehicle and came up to them.
“License and registration,” he sternly demanded without so much as a how-do-you-do.
“Why certainly, officer. Would you kindly give us the reason for this stop?” Greg asked, removing his license from his wallet.
The C. O. responded “you’ll know soon enough. License and registration,” he demanded again. A message came through on his radio and he responded into his microphone with his location. Soon two more C. O. vehicles were pulling up in front and back of them.
We’re in deep shit now, Chris thought to himself. After they gave the C. O. their paperwork and he went to his truck Greg, sensing his compadres’ worry told them “Be quiet and let me handle this.” The other two green uniformed officers came up and stood near them, one with his hand on his sidearm. “Good morning,” Greg said cheerily to them. They said nothing, remained emotionless and stared at the three as if they’d just committed a murder.
It took a few minutes for the C. O. to call in and check their licenses and registrations. Rob had never received a traffic ticket in his entire life and it had been almost twenty years for both Chris and Greg since they’d both been ticketed for speeding in Illinois during their trip to Alaska. Climbing back out of his truck the C. O. came up and asked “Where have you been riding?” as he slid his thumbs into his gun belt and pulled up on his pants. His gut hung over the top of it and between the weight of the belt and his paunch he was having a tough time keeping them up. “We had a report of three dirt bikes riding the Shirley Creek trails yesterday.”
“These two gentlemen met up with me this morning in French Lick. I was in Terre Haute yesterday with a client,” Greg responded, handing him a business card with his firm’s name on it. “Perhaps you heard the news of the state senator who crashed his automobile into a house. I was there representing him yesterday and you may have seen me speaking to reporters about it on TV. My companions rode up this morning on the backroads from Tell City where they stayed overnight on their way back from a trip to Kentucky.”
Reading Greg’s card he asked “Do you know that it’s illegal to ride off road vehicles on Federal land?”
“Well, officer that’s good to know but I’m afraid that we’re a little too old for that kind of fun even if we wanted to. Our old bones simply won’t let us do that kind of thing. At our age riding the back roads is about all we can handle.”
The porky C. O. and his buddies walked a few steps away and held a quiet discussion before they returned and faced the riders. Handing their paperwork back to Greg the fat one sternly told them “you be sure and keep them bikes on the road. If we catch you off the road we’re going to own those mo’sickles and you’ll go to jail.”
“Will do, officer. You gentlemen have a nice day,” Greg responded, smiling and nodding to them. He handed Chris and Rob their paperwork and licenses as the C. O.’s got in their trucks and drove away. “Well, that’s a fine way to start the day,” he said as he put his registration back into his pocket.
“Oh man, I just knew we were busted,” Chris said with a sigh of relief. Rob just smiled.
“I could see they had no proof that we’d been on the trails short of taking plaster castings of the tire tracks and comparing it to our tires,” Greg replied. “I was afraid that the dump attendant might have called us in but they didn’t even mention we were there today. If they’d tried to write us up I’d have questioned their right to stop us in the first place without justification. The Fourth Amendment isn’t dead quite yet. They probably suspected it was us but I could see they didn’t have a witness and had nothing and no right to stop us. They were probably hoping they’d just intimidate us into confessing.”
“I knew we brought you along for a reason,” Rob said as he zipped up his jacket.
“Regardless it would probably be prudent for us to stay on the road on the way back,” Greg replied.
“I’ll take that under advisement, counselor. In the meantime let’s ride,” Rob replied and the three saddled up and headed north and east back towards the Lake Monroe area.
They had almost twenty miles of twisty paved roads through the hills of Lawrence County before they got to the southern edge of the Pleasant Run unit of the Hoosier near Bartlettsville. Continuing east they crossed Indiana 446 where they’d left off two days prior and Rob suddenly jumped into the lead and went down Henderson Creek Road. As he slowed down to make the turn on to Trail #5 of the Hickory Ridge trail system his brother raced up beside him and was yelling at Rob as Chris pulled up.
“Damn it, we almost got popped back there. We need to just stay on the roads and go back.”
“Hey, we came to ride and if you want to go back on the road, go ahead,” Rob responded.
“Are you crazy? They’re probably out watching for us right now.”
“Probably. But what’s the chance of us…”
“I’m not gonna go to jail just because you’re being an idiot!!!”
“Fine. Have it your way,” and Rob rode off down the trail. Chris looked over at Greg, shrugged his shoulders and followed Rob leaving Greg at the road. Trail #5 was a short connector to Trail #2 where they turned left, dropped down into a ravine and back up the other side and rode an easy ridgetop trail to where it intersected with Trail #6. Here they went left, again dropping down into another valley and up again to run more easy ridgetop trail to Trail #7. Continuing to follow Trail #2 it dropped down a steep hill into another ravine that connected with Trail #8 at the bottom. #2 followed the creek to a fork, turned right and then upstream to where it went up an easy hill to the left and eventually came out just west of the Hickory Grove Church. Since the trail was in eyeshot of the road they took the gravel road instead east to the fork in the road and turned right towards the Hickory Ridge Horse Camp. Before they got there they came to Trail #11 and were surprised to find Greg waiting for them.
“Thought you were gonna ride the roads back,” Rob asked with a grin on his face as he lifted the front of his helmet.
“What the hell, somebody’s gonna have to be here to talk your way outta jail,” Greg replied, hitting the starter button on his CRF and taking the lead. The three headed east on #11, taking #13 at the four-way intersection and riding it to a steep uphill with switchbacks that was a bit of a struggle to get up for all three. At the road they turned south, rode to Trail #15, turned left and almost immediately dropped into a valley with a small creek before heading back up for a run down a ridgetop. Turning left at #16 they went back down into the creek valley they had just been in, crossed it, went up the hill and the followed the twisting trail to #22 where they forked to the left. Again they dropped into a valley before heading up the other side and a fast ridgetop trail that led them back to the road. They turned right, went down the hill to a three way gravel road intersection and a gas line right-of-way that headed off to the right. Despite the passing of over forty years Chris immediately recognized the location and the memory of he and Rob coming the opposite direction on the trail to the right, now know as #21. Up the trail they went, a relatively short connector that took them to a paved road where they turned left and went to the bridge over the South Fork of Salt Creek at Maumee and stopped.
“Think we oughta take the trail back again?” Chris asked, taking a quick sip of Gatorade.
“Let’s go up Combs Rd., tie into the Nebo Ridge trail before we get to Elkinsville and then go back the way we came across Miller Ridge,” Rob responded, pointing to the left. They followed the road up to a brown metal gate that could have stopped an Abrams tank, went around it and followed Combs Road north. It was easy riding, a well-beaten trail worn smooth by the multiple mountain bikers that used it. Towards the end they turned right on a trail with a USFS road number on it, rode over to the Nebo Ridge trail, made a left and followed it back to the trail head at Elkinsville Road. From there it was a short ride across the bridge to Blue Creek Road and back to the dead end and the horse trail that took them up on to Miller Ridge. A wrong turn accidentally put them into Brown County State Park on the “D” trail a few hundred yards before they retraced their path and followed a horse trail west down into the valley to the trail head just south of Indiana 46 on Crooked Creek Road. Instead of going back to Scarce O’ Fat Ridge Road Rob turned on Yellowwood Road at Knight’s Corner where he stopped, swapped bikes with Chris and wound their way back north to a four way intersection. With their adventure almost over they raced north on the winding Dubois Ridge Road going as fast as their bikes would go, Rob easily running away from them on the more powerful WR. Back at Lanam Ridge Road it was a short run east to the gravel road that led to Rob’s house. As they pulled in front of the garage Stacey came running out of the house and threw her arms around Rob, nearly knocking them both down into a heap.
“I was so worried about you!!” she said, tears running down her cheeks. Rob put down his kickstand, got off the bike and lifting the front of his helmet maneuvered into position for a kiss. Greg and Chris exchanged high fives, climbed off their bikes and removed their helmets.
“Looks like we cheated death again,” Greg said with a smile. Chris went over and slapped Rob on the back. “So whaddya think of my WR?”
“I want one,” Rob replied, pulling off his helmet.
“You guys hungry? I made ham and beans if you want ‘em. There’s cornbread, too,” Stacey offered, leading them towards the house. They kicked off their muddy boots, left their gear on the patio table and went inside to eat.
A few weeks later on a beautiful Saturday in May Chris and his wife drove to Nashville to hear Rob, Stacey and the band play at a local bar. They played a mix of classic rock, blues, modern country and a few covers of songs getting air play on the local alternative radio station. Wearing a flat tan cap and a collarless white shirt Rob played both acoustic and electric guitar as well as his Yamaha piano. While nervous initially Stacey proved to be every bit as good a singer as Rob had promised and the crowd was loving every minute of it. The first set had everyone up on their feet dancing but towards the end of the second it was more laid back and geared more towards the serious music listener. Near the end of the set she had the place nearly in tears with her rendition of the Allman Brothers’ Melissa with Rob immediately following up, hammering on his acoustic guitar to open Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue.
Stacey prefaced the evening’s closing song by telling the crowd “I talked the band into learning this last song for me, it’s one of my favorites,” before Rob again launched into the acoustic opening to Oasis’ Wonderwall. Instead of singing to the audience part of the way through the song Stacey slowly walked to where Rob was sitting, changed a few words, looked down and sang directly to him:
“…I don’t believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now.
And all the roads that led us here were winding
and all the lights that lit the way were blinding.
There are many things that I would like to say to you
but I don’t know how.
I said maybe
you’re gonna be the one that saves me.
And after all
you’re my wonderwall…”
Rob continued to play his guitar but his face had a stunned look to it and his eyes were fixated into Stacey’s as she continued to sing to him:
“…I said maybe
you’re gonna be the one that saves me.
And after all
you’re my wonderwall.
I said maybe
you’re gonna be the one that saves me.
You’re gonna be the one that saves me.
You’re gonna be the one that saves me…”
Rob finally broke eye contact with Stacey as he turned to his piano to play the closing notes of the song as she walked back to the front of the stage but the band members could see he was visibly shaken and his face had taken on an ashen color. The crowd came to their feet as the song ended and gave the band a rousing round of applause with each member of the band acknowledging it in their own way, the drummer with his hands over his head, Stacey just smiling and other members giving nods of appreciation. Rob remained in front of his piano where he had been since he played his last notes, looking down at the keys and appearing to be in shock.
As Stacey came back to Rob Chris and his wife walked up behind her and overheard their conversation:
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking down at him.
He hesitated for a moment, took a drink of water before looking up and saying “yeah, I’m alright.”
“What’s wrong, didn’t you like the way I sang?”
As he stood up Rob replied “No, you were great. Awesome, in fact. I think they liked you.”
“Then what’s the matter?”
He hesitated again and asked “Why’d you come and sing to me?”
“In case you haven’t noticed I’ve become pretty fond of you and I think the feeling is mutual,” she replied, putting her arms around his neck. “Have you ever considered making me an honest woman?”
Rob cocked his head, gave her a puzzled look and said “You mean marry you?”
“Well, duh. You mean you never thought about it?”
“Yeah, but I was afraid if I asked it would scare you away.”
“Do I look like I’m afraid of you?”
“Well maybe you ought to give it some serious consideration,” and put him into a lip lock.
Chris and his wife remained quiet and just looked at each other, stunned at what they’d just witnessed. Rob picked up a towel, wiped his face, looked over at them and said quietly “I guess we’re gonna get married.”
Stacey slapped him on the chest and said “You could show a little enthusiasm about it,” as Chris came forward to shake Rob’s hand and instead ended up hugging his old friend.
“You wouldn’t mind standing up with me, would you?” Rob asked as he let go and took Chris’ wife into his arms.
“Man, you know I’d be honored to do that.”
“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m hungry. Wanna come over to the house for some breakfast?
Chris and his wife responded affirmatively to the invitation, Rob put his arm around his wife-to-be and led them all to the door, opening both it and another chapter in his life.
The Hoosier National Forest was temporarily closed to off-road vehicles October 11, 1971 and was never reopened despite the efforts of John Buffaloe and other riders. A permanent ban on ORV use was enacted in 1987.
This is the second in a Series by Tim Weaver. The first story is “One Last Ride in the Hoosier”