Charity Motorcycle Ride and Entertaining Strangers

About a week ago when I was walking across the parking lot at Hardees restaurant in Adairsville, Georgia a man stopped in his pickup truck and told me about a charity motorcycle ride on August 22nd. Well, that’s today. I showed up on Big Red at the 9 am registration time and I was the second rider there. They welcomed me like a lost son.They were getting nervous. It was the first benefit ride they had done for the North Bartow Community Services and they were hoping riders would show up. They were worried they hadn’t done enough publicity, or the right kind. One organizer told me she hadn’t slept the night before anxious that no one would come. She was standing next to a table filled registration forms and tee shirts they had printed to commemorate the ride. Under the covered picnic area I could see raffle prizes, a coffee stand, some coolers and three tables full of food. Scattered around them were various men and women who had shown up to help. I decided at that moment that I was gonna ride regardless of whether anyone showed up. I conjured a scene up in my mind of me and the other rider being escorted by the three motorcycle cops that showed up, along with a police car from one of Adairsville’s finest, through the back roads of northwest Georgia. Yeah, that would be fun!
After thanking me profusely for coming the woman told me about the services her nonprofit provided to the community. There was a whole string of them and the ones that stuck in my head were a food pantry, help with the cost of medical prescriptions, clothing, baby products like diapers and formula, emergency assistance, and some free meal programs. They also ran classes in jewelry making, basket weaving and line dancing. I love to support programs such as these where they show compassion, help, and “entertain” strangers. Somewhere in the Good Book, probably every religion’s good book, it talks about showing hospitality to strangers, that you might not know it but that you could be entertaining angels. Emerson called them: “Disguised and discredited angels”.
I grabbed some coffee and began talking to the only other rider there. As the minutes ticked on it looked like we were going to become close friends. He was taking his fourteen year old grandson along for the ride. Then another rider strutted in, disappointed with the turnout and said he might leave if no one else showed up. (Wrong thing to say!) Then a few others trickled in. Over coffee, sitting at various angles on the picnic tables we swopped stories about favorite rides we’d been on – up in the Smokey Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Tail of the Dragon, animals and other objects we had hit, or nearly while riding, other bikes we had owned. Then we switched to talking about weather conditions and I was about to tell my story about the time when Big Red and I were caught up late one night on a snowy pass in the Rockies, must have been zero degrees, no, make that 20 below and if it hadn’t been for my heroic “Nanook of the North” courage and abilities, well, I shudder to think what would have happened. Somehow, I managed to save myself, Big Red and some stranded, pioneer Quaker women, including one who was eight months pregnant. I heard tell later that a red haired child born to the woman was named in honor of me and my motorcycle. He was called Big Red.
A few other riders trickled in and we were up to about eight now. I wandered around and glanced at the raffle items which included: The Patsy Cline Collection (in cassette tapes), a floral candle set, an authentic (?) Jesse James pocket watch, a handsaw, a million candlepower hand held flashlight (“torch”) powerful enough to illuminate pretty much everything that the Dali Lama hasn’t. Also good for signaling UFO’s and changing tires at night, which was handy because there also was a Slime Standard Digital Tire Inflater right next to it. There were also a couple of embroidered leather vests and other items.
Finally, as the time for “kickstands up” rolled around we had about 14 riders, many with passengers. The organizers were happy and soon we headed off in our police escorted cavalcade. We rode about 60 miles through the beautiful countryside of northwest Georgia, past yard sales, car washes, fruit and vegetable stands, places selling boiled peanuts where you could see the steaming pots hanging on tripods, past log cabins, mansions, double wide trailers with porches, ramshackle leaning barns, buildings with weathered grey tin roofs that looked like they had been crying rusty tears. At almost every intersection we had a choice of any kind of Baptist Church one could imagine, like Abundant Holiness Baptist Church (As opposed to what? Churches without abundant holiness? Meager holiness?) Signs proclaimed that “Jesus Loves Us”, that “Son Screen Prevents Sin Burn”, and that “A Lot of Money is Tainted, Taint Yours and it Taint Mine”. (Okay, I admit the last two I’d seen somewhere else.) There were fields splayed with buttercups, cows and trotting horses, blooming mimosas and small towns with flowering  crate myrtles. The sky was hazy blue with wispy clouds.
After the ride we had some barbecue, cole slaw, potato chips and some Little Debbies cakes. The raffle started and folks were eager. A woman won the hand held flashlight and shouted: “We’re going frog gigging tonight!” Another one, a healthy sized woman, won one of the vests and somebody shouted: “Your boobs won’t fit in that!” Folks laughed and she held it up and acknowledged that it might be a challenge. As the auction continued I slipped out.
As I rode home I realized three things that I knew for certain: first, that Jesus clearly loves me, that there’s nothing more beautiful than a speckled brown horse romping in a green field filled with buttercups and that people can be amazingly kind and loving to strangers, or angels, whichever they may be. Who knows?

A Motorcycle Ride Against Cancer; Because No One Should Journey Alone.

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Yesterday, along with around 60 other bikers, I took part in a motorcycle ride in memory of Darlene Bagley, with all the proceeds going to Cancer Navigators of Rome, Georgia.
Big Red and I had to leave early in the morning to get to Adairsville in time, especially, since it included a stop at Hardees first for a biscuit and coffee. It was only 74 degrees when I left (It would reach 96 later) and patches of mist were still ghost hovering over the Oostanaula River. The farmer’s market at Ridge Ferry was open, walkers were sauntering down the path along the river and folks were already trickling into yard sales. A veil of blue grey mist hung on the hillsides in the trees. A breeze rippled across their tops making it look like the trees were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.
After fueling up on coffee and a biscuit I headed to the park in Adairsville and found bikes, cars and police escorts in a lot near a large covered area.
I went in and registered, bought a tee shirt and took stock of the gathering. Men, women, children, a St Bernard and a black kitten meowing in a travel box. Most of the riders were men though I saw at least two women bikers. Folks wore Harley shirts, some sleeveless so you could see their upper arm tattoos. Others wore black and pink Cancer Navigator shirts and other tee shirts. Heads were adorned with Harley and American flag skull caps. A number of men had leather vests stitched with the names of their organizations: Missionaries on Bikes, Cruisers for Christ, Biker’s against Child Abuse and OBK – which I found out later, stood for Outrageous Beardsmen Koalition. I kid you not. Since my biker name is Monk (Long story –not that exciting) I thought about creating a group called Monks on Motorcycles. The logo could be a hooded monk on a Harley Road King and above it M.O. M. Okay, maybe not.
After a brief speech on the amazing supportive work of the non-profit Cancer Navigators, and a few testimonials and a prayer it was almost time for “kickstands up.” I ran into a friend Carol, herself a cancer survivor, who said she would love to go on the ride with someone. I usually ride without a sissy bar and an extra helmet but before leaving that morning “something” told me to put one on the bike, so I did. She hopped on and the big procession began rolling slowly over the speed bumps out of the park. I love these police escorted and intersection-blocked rides. We zoomed down the highways enjoying the thrill of running red lights! We cascaded over the shadowed, narrow back roads and the wind created from our bikes caused the trees to shake in support. Almost looked like they were waving at us. Okay, not the whole tree waving in support, maybe just a few branches. Carol did her fair share of waving to folks who had parked their cars on the sides of the roads as a sign of respect. We did about 85 miles through the foothills and forests of Northwest Georgia, passed farms, ranches, fields, wet bottomlands, lakes and thick forests of pine, oak and maple. Pink flowers from Crape Myrtles, yellow dandelions, blooming Mimosas and purple flowers dotted the countryside. The sky was blue with wispy white clouds. It was beautiful. After about 1 ½ hours of riding we were back, hearts soaring even though many butts were sore-ing. A great ride.
Afterwards there were soft drinks, burgers and hot dogs and the fixings. Camaraderie, hugging, back slapping, jokes and folks telling stories ensued until the auction for donated cakes and baked goods began. (An Italian Crème Cake went for 80 bucks!). Then the raffle began. I watched for a while and then skedaddled with a lot on my mind.
For me this wasn’t just a charity ride. It was a big reminder about some important things.It reminded me about how a small group of people can change things. How a group of professionals gave up large salaries and started a non -profit for the sole purpose of supporting cancer victims and their families, folks usually abandoned to find their own ways after the diagnosis has been given. How one man started a benefit ride for his wife and kept it running every year to raise money. How folks and businesses contributed their cakes and their prizes to help raise even a bit more money for the cause. How families were brought together, families of friends, supporters and bikers. It was more than just a charity ride. All these people felt good about having an opportunity to show their compassion, to be a part of larger cause, to contribute in their own way. It was a beautiful thing!
I rode home overwhelmed by the heat and the gratitude in my heart. I can’t contribute much, but I can ride.