On September 9th, in Locust Grove, Georgia, at 5am, I left my house. I had originally planned to make Baton Rouge, Louisiana my destination, but due to a hurricane rolling through Baton Rouge the day that I planned to head out, fate had a different plan. Acting on the fly, I figured that the opposite direction of a Hurricane is probably where the better weather is. That being the expert deduction that it is, I set my sights on South Carolina.
A little-known fact about me, is that I thrive and flourish on spontaneity. I had been planning to go to Baton Rouge for weeks and as the weeks passed on, growing closer by the day to my departure, the less interested I was in seeing swamps and marshlands. I was grateful that I was forced to change my plans and it turned out to be a healing adventure filled with renewed vigor and reunions that were put off for too long.
Planning the trip on the fly, I knew that I wanted to see some cool sights, ride for a long duration, and link up with a couple of long lost brothers that I hadn’t seen in a decade. I did some research and found some stuff that I wanted to see, a few places that I wanted to eat at, and made a few phone conversations with old friends, and we set into motion. I set out for Pooler, Ga as my first destination. I was fortunate enough to start my trip, with breakfast with my friend
Sam, at the almighty Cracker Barrel. Sam and I met in the School of Infantry in the Marine Corps. For anyone who isn’t familiar, the School of Infantry is the meanest place on Planet Earth, where they teach you the doctrine of the Marine Corps Infantryman. A place filled with sleep deprivation, hazing, forced marches, drinking, fist fights, and a surprising number of written tests. People think that boot camp is the hard part, but it’s really SOI. All of your instructors have combat experience, often with awe inspiring medals of valor, a lot of time in the Marine Corps, and a special kind of disdain for you. I paint this picture to illustrate how important friendships are during hardship. It’s been 12 years, and out of roughly 150 guys, I can’t remember most of the names of anyone I was there with, but I remember Sam and maybe three or four others. We hung out on weekends during SOI, checking out Jacksonville and when we hit the Fleet Marine Corps, we hit separate companies but in the same battalion. We hadn’t seen each other in ten years, but after having that killer cracker barrel breakfast, that we all know and love, and my usual morning regimen of four cups of coffee, I got to hear about his career, and wife, and children, and the home that he has grown his family in. Some friendships pickup right where they left off and I look forward to linking up more in the future. I couldn’t have chosen a better way to start the day. Lookout for that beach trip coming up soon, Sam!
Sam and I parted ways and I pushed up the Georgia coastline into South Carolina. I had been reading about this cool place called the “Sheldon Church Ruins” and I had to see it for myself. Though the history of this church is long, I’m going to hit the highlights that are interesting to me. This church was built in 1757, one of the earliest attempts to build a church in temple form in the United States, and then the church was burned down
by the British, but the pillars refused to fall. They rebuilt it and then General Sherman burned it down and it was never rebuilt. I walked the property, filled with headstones, the church ruins, and the striking beauty of the hanging moss in the trees, in a cool fall breeze, with the smell of someone burning wood on a distant property. I couldn’t help but think about how this structure and all the ground around it has seen some of the earliest settlers of our Nation and bore witness to so much turmoil. This structure has stood the length of our history and walking next to it, in the middle of the woods by yourself, it almost feels like it holds memory and chronicles your own presence as one of its many visitors. I left the property in reverence and plan to bring my children here as a lesson. I got on my bike, turned the music to my headphones back on, and left out back on the road.
As I took off down the road, I hit that point in riding long distances, where 80 and 90 feels like you’re barely moving. I kept having to reel myself back in, because daddy isn’t made of money, and tickets add up. Though, I can’t say that this didn’t aid me in my goals of reaching my next destination as I feel like I reached my next point in no time.
The UFO welcome center was everything that I hoped that it would be. I pulled up to the saucers and it sat behind a gas station in a desolate town. There were hand-built gadgets, a rocket propped up, a written invitation to the alien travelers mixed with conspiracies, little green men, and giant saucers sitting on top of each other. I spoke to the owner of the gas station and he told me that he has been there for 20 years and has watched the owner build it out of his own pocket. I set out to take a closer look and to see if I could tour the property, but seeing as how this structure isn’t public and is basically just in this guys back yard, I couldn’t just walk in. I walked around to see if I could find him but unfortunately to an anticlimactic end, he wasn't home. I took a few pictures, slammed some water, filled up my tank, popped my headphones back in, and tore down the road to the city of Columbia, South Carolina.
Now upon entering Columbia, the best way that I can describe it, is Atlanta, but not super terrible, or congested with limitless traffic, and it seems to be a better laid out city. I did not spend a ton of time there, but I will say that my initial impression is that I am a fan. I am, however, as a personal blessing to myself, super easy to please, so it could be a big piece of garbage for all I know. Anyways, I came to Columbia with one intention – to see the busted plug! What is the busted plug, you may ask? It is, in fact, the worlds largest fire hydrant, in all its splendor! Water sprays from its broken base, at all hours, as some irreparable public work and it weighs in at roughly 675,000 pounds. Why build it? Your guess is as good as mine, but being the ultra-tourist that I am, I give it 5 stars. I had a few other places that I intended to stop, but due to time constraints, I took off down the road to my final destination, Chester South Carolina.
I have only been in Chester once before, and at the time, I was just trying to make it there. I feel like this also was in an era of my life when I didn’t appreciate anything half as much as I should have. This time around, I wanted to give it my complete attention. Most of what I saw was beautiful farmland and well-maintained homes coming up to the city. People were burning their land, as most do in the fall, and things felt a lot like home. When I got to the city, though it looks much like my own hometown, I could see why people would want to live there. Though it is a small town, everyone that I met was kind and welcoming. I grabbed a few beerskies and headed to my good friend Hayes’s house.
Hayes and I were also in the Marine Corps together, but instead of meeting in SOI, we met in the fleet. I got to my unit and we have been together since day one. We eventually served in the same squad/fire team and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan together. I visited Hayes about 8 years ago on another motorcycle ride through North Carolina, but in all honesty, I think we were both still adjusting to civilian life and hadn’t had a ton of time to make our steps to grow. We were both slamming beers and talking about the careers that we were getting into. Ten years later from our time in the Marine Corps, I met Hayes at the home he had bought for his family.
I pulled up next to Hayes’s Heritage Soft Tail, and just like Sam, as soon as we started talking, it was like we saw each other yesterday. We immediately started talking about our families and work, as Hayes and I both work in the piping industry, and he introduced me to his Wife and Children, and we talked about motorcycles and old friends and far off places. Hayes and his Wife, Marky, were probably the most accommodating hosts that I have ever stayed with. When I got there, he had steaks marinating. He gave me a tour of the place off the rip. His extremely kind Bride brought us beers periodically. His lovely daughters kept bringing us their holiday pumpkins that they painted, that were absolutely precious and also showed us their myriad of pretty shoes. It’s a special gift to be a dad of girls. To be honest, it made me homesick for my own children. We spent the rest of the night drinking beers and sharing stories.
What I didn’t know, is that Hayes has spent the past decade playing around with BBQ competitions, and it shows. Hayes cooked, hands down, the greatest steak that I have ever eaten in my 32 years on this earth. It is the kind of steak that I will tell my children about for years to come. We ate and drank and continued to have a good time. Hayes’s built a fire, and his friend Chad and his wife, came over. Chad and Hayes work together, and yet again, it must be a South Carolina thing, was a super cool dude. We all shot the shit and drank a few beers and told stories of the largest piping emergencies that we have ever fixed, which to be completely honest, was exactly what I wanted to talk about. I love talking shop when I’ve had a few drinks.
As the night went on, everyone dwindled away and it was just Hayes and his wife Marky and me, all sitting around a fire. I got to hear more intimate details about my brother’s life at this point. I got to hear his wins and his losses, joys, and heartbreaks. I got to hear the love story of their marriage from both of them at the same time, finishing each other’s sentences and filling in each other’s gaps. I got to hear where it all started, up through the point of the current life that they have built together, two kids in tow. It was an especially enjoyable experience, and I can’t wait for the next time that we all link up. Next time I will bring my own Bride, to introduce to one of the greatest friends of my life, and we can sit around another fire exchanging new stories.
I will say that from talking to Sam and Hayes, I can’t get over the amount of work that they have both done in the course of a decade. I loved hearing about where they started out, and where they worked their ways up in their careers. I loved hearing about their families and the lives that they have built for themselves. 12 years ago we were just some dumb kids who joined this gun club, and now we’re the adults. Now we all have two kids apiece, wives, homes, careers. Protecting, loving, and leading those in our care to bigger and better things. I didn’t know before I left out, how healing that reuniting with these good brothers would be for my spirit. Now that I know it now, I’m going to make it a more regular occurrence.
The next morning, I woke up at the crack of 9am and slammed a couple of cups of coffee. Hayes and I talked while we knocked off the cobwebs. I really enjoyed getting to see him be the loving father that he’s grown to be, to his two daughters who just woke up. Immediately rushing over to their favorite dude and stealing part of his breakfast. I love this development; I love this growth. Were not dumb kids anymore, were the ones to take care of those in our charge now. I packed my stuff and strapped it to my bike. I said my goodbyes to Hayes, knowing that this is only the beginning, and took off down the road.
Spending the whole day riding and the evening with Hayes and his family made me surprisingly homesick for my own. When I left to go back home, I was overwhelmed to see my family again. I screamed down the road. I was a bullet, tearing across the landscape. I was a wave of motion, rolling over each passing city, and I would not be denied any longer from seeing the ones I love most. Speed and aggression were my embodiment, while soaking in the sights on the way out were my intent, I had only one goal on the way back; to get there fast! If it was not 100+, then it didn’t feel like I was even moving. I just wanted to hug Nicole and wrap up on my kids and show them all my pictures. No wind nor rain or any force of nature could keep me from my goals.
I pulled into my driveway and It felt like I just conquered my white whale. My Beautiful Wife and Children, filled my front porch, awaiting my return. I was welcomed with big hugs and kisses. My spirit was renewed after 16 hours of riding and I’m chomping at the bit to get at it again. This idea started out to find some hidden places and see some sights, but now its taken a turn where I am very interested to link up with my old friends and Marine Corps buddies throughout the southeast, and eventually the Nation, not that we can’t do both.
I had a great time. I got to see some awesome things, and really get down on it. I got to see long lost brothers that I have realized just how short of a drive that it truly is, and the future is filled with nothing but promise.
Be excellent to each other. Forever two wheels.