Valks of Little Egypt: First Ride of 2003
It was a little cool this morning, so I decided to wear the leather jacket and chaps on the way to Carbondale, Illinois for the first ride of the season. It didn’t matter, because the leather VRCC vest looked like a part of the coat, and the dragon patch above the embossed shield draws a lot of attention. I decided to stop for gas and take my time this morning. The forecast had said partly cloudy and high near 70. It was a nice 25-mile ride to the starting point, no pressure, little traffic, and I was aboard the Valkyrie.
I have loved the Valkyrie since the very first test ride. I have never ridden on a bike with so much to offer. It has speed, torque, beauty, and many accessories. In fact, some of my friends refer to "The Quickening" as a work in progress because I cannot stop tinkering with it. I have been riding motorcycles for forty years, and I have ridden many brands and many types, but the Valkyrie combines the very best of them all. I have no desire to have any other motorcycle.
I will admit that Honda also holds the number 2 spot in my heart, since it was the CBR 1100xx that made me try the Valkyrie. I had never had a motorcycle that was so dependable, so unbelievably quick to accelerate and stop. But the "Blackbird" was not the bike I wanted to take on long trips. I have tried many V-Twins – Harley’s, Yamaha’s, Honda’s, Triumph’s, BSA’s, Kawasaki’s, etc., and they were great rides all. In fact, several times I remember thinking that the present bike was the ultimate motorcycle, . . . before finding the new ultimate ride. I had been riding the "Blackbird" for about a few months as my second bike. I grew tired of the youngsters who I taught MSF classes with calling me "Sparky" because I would scrape the pegs on the big cruiser as I took the tight turns as we rode back from lunch. The "Bird" was flawless. Yet, the Valkyrie beckoned.
The local Honda dealer had two Interstates, so I decided to check them out. I had seen a Valkyrie do a burnout at a stop sign in Sturgis, South Dakota in 1999. It was a black and chrome. It was impressive, but I believed that the bike "looked" too bulky. I remember thinking that it probably handled like a log wagon. I suppose this is the biggest problem Honda has with the Valkyrie – preconceived notions about the Valkyrie handling abilities. After my first test ride I was hooked. I immediately bought the Valk. Regarding the handling abilities of the Valkyrie – nothing is further from the truth. A few minor changes (adding Avon Venoms was a big cornering improvement), and she handles very well. In fact, once she starts to roll, the Valkyrie is one happy surprise, even in it’s stock configuration.
I had done the unthinkable – I had traded in a 1997 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic (Emerald Green and White Pearl). Everyone I rode with thought I had lost my mind. That Vulcan had been the show bike in the area. I rode it everywhere. In fact, I ride every bike I own everywhere, to the tune of 20-30,000 miles per year. However, since that moment, for the first time in my life, I find myself in an enviable position – I cannot imagine ever wanting another motorcycle – unless it is another Valkyrie. I guess you could say motorcycles, especially the Valkyrie, are my drug of choice. I am addicted to the Valkyrie, but I digress.
I took the time this brisk morning to "smell the roses." Usually, I am in a hurry to get somewhere, believing that it is the same road I travel daily. Well it technically is the same road, but every time I travel that road, there is something unique about that road on that day that is memorable. Today it was the sweet scent of spring blossoms that assailed my sense of smell. I also delighted in the herd of whitetail dear grazing in the pasture – usually at 2:30 AM, they very thought keeps me on my toes – but today was different. Today was the first VRCC ride of the season for the Southern Illinois riders.
I arrived early at Phillips Pro Cycle, hoping to be the first to arrive. Phillips is not a Honda dealer, but he too is a Valkyrie addict, and a kindred spirit. I was the first to arrive, but not by much. It would seem that everyone was as anxious as I to get started. I think Zuke was the next to arrive. What a sight. Two "Super Valks," (Interstates with removable trunks). They caused quite a commotion and everyone from inside quickly made it outside to view these Valks. Then Gilligan and Navigator from Indiana arrived on their 1999 Red/White Interstate, then Tony and Susie (2000 Black and chrome Interstate and a Black/Chrome Valkyrie Trike). Interesting comments were heard from the gathering multitude. How could the same bike have so many different looks? When I explained that my "Super Valk" had four distinctive looks, they could not believe it (trunkless with single seat, trunkless with double seat and sissy bar, with trunk and standard I/S seat, trunkless and w/o saddle bags with single seat).
It was a great turn out for the first ride. No cruises yet, so we can’t advertise for new riders. But they kept coming. First, a Harley Road King (all bikes welcome on our rides because we just love to ride with folks who love to ride), and then another red/ white tour model. Many from the CMA sent regrets, but it was the weekend to "Ride for the Son," but next month, they will be there. I had shed the leather coat because the day was warming quickly. It was difficult to get to the saddlebags because of the many that had gathered to admire the flat six beauties.
As 11 AM approached, a biplane circled overhead. It was Richard, a friend from high school who wanted to ride with us on his Kawasaki Drifter – looks so much like an Indian it is often mistaken for the real thing. Once, while sitting by a real Indian in a show, everyone thought the real Indian is was the Kawasaki. Note that Richard prefers a biplane to all others because it too harks back to an earlier age. Anyway, Richard chose this method to send his regrets. It was his first fly day of the season. He had gone with me to scout the ride a few weeks ago, and we pretty much ride together at least three weekends per month, so I could not find fault with his desire to fly today. However, it was a fine touch, as the plane circled overhead adding to the overall spirit of the day.
We gathered in a circle, joined hands, and Susan Beard led the prayer that all on the ride would be safe from harm and enjoy the beauty of the earth and the wondrous Valkyrie. It has become a staple of our tours, and those who choose not to take part are not discriminated against. You see, motorcycling is all about freedom, and that includes freedom of religion too.
Soon the mighty Valks, and one beautiful 1992 Harley, were purring as we proceeded from the lot. We rode through Carbondale, then Murphysboro, and on to the open countryside. We started from Carbondale today to head up the Mississippi River – the West side of Southern Illinois. The destination was two French forts set above the bluffs of the "Father of Waters." With their commanding view of the mighty river, these forts could virtually control every vessel that traversed the flowing body of water.
Soon, the blossoms in the trees aligning the road assailed our senses. The prairie was also resplendent with various hues as roadside wild flowers blended their colors to those of the sprouting crops along the way. A coyote loped across a field in search of food, and hawks circled overhead. We paced ourselves, enjoying the moment. As we hit the road, the partly cloudy skies opened up and revealed the bright blue backdrop hidden from view by the curtain of clouds.
Photo courtesy Gilligan and Navigator
The first stop was Fort Kaskaskia. Only the foundation remains, but the view of the river is awesome. We gathered for a picture, and a gentleman offered to take the photo so we could all be in the picture. You meet the nicest people when on a Honda. We maneuvered through the twisty hills to Fort Du Chartres in Prairie du Rocher (prairie of the rocks). Most had never been there, and all were pleasantly surprised. The fort had been restored to its original configuration. What they saw was a stone fort restored in 1997 based on the original plans. The first fort was a wooden structure built centuries ago. They soon discovered that the humidity and moisture from the river below would rot the wooden foundation. The limestone bluffs presented a new idea and materials. Some of the original stone foundations can still be viewed centuries later, a testament to the skill and planning that went into building the original fort.
Photo courtesy Gilligan and Navigator
We were also surprised to find a large gathering of boy scouts camped around the fort. The scouts were involved in teamwork building exercises, and they was enjoying the outing as much as we. You have no idea how many youthful “nice bike” comments we received. Two of the leaders were camped in a teepee, and as I posed for a photo next to the teepee, one on them suggested I put on the headdress. Gilligan delighted in this one, calling me “Chief” from that point forward. We stayed at the Fort for over an hour, discovering its heritage, and reveling in its history.
It was decided that we would ride along the bluffs in the distance on the way back to Chester, IL. It was a good decision. As we traveled along at the base of the majestic limestone bluffs, everyone’s attention was drawn skyward. Various wild flowers peaked from the nooks and crannies creating a kaleidoscope of abundant colors. Eagles circled overhead, perhaps protecting their nests from our rude intrusion into their world. And when we passed openings in the bluffs, temperatures plummeted as the cool breezes flowed from the caves.
I saw the red-wing blackbirds perched on the long weeds extending from the ditch at the side of the road and I thought of Parsig and Phadrus. All was right with the world for this brief moment of Zen. Ahead, was the tiny village of Prairie du Rocher. As we passed an ancient gas station, it beckoned to us, but fought the impulse to turn in and passed by the tiny garage with two glass-topped pumps. We were hungry. Perhaps, next time. That is the beauty of motorcycling because everyone knows they will definitely be a next time. We continued through Modoc, to Chester, finally, to Reid’s Harvest House Smorgasbord. It was a perfect respite from the ride. Everyone was seated at the same table and we talked about the ride and what we saw this day. This too adds to the lure of the Valkyrie. But the adventure was not yet over.
Photo courtesy Gilligan and Navigator
As we left Reid’s, we rode a few miles to the Mary’s River Covered Bridge on Rt. 150. We posed for a picture, crossed the bridge on foot, admired its workmanship, and rested. It was decided that Zuke would take the group southward back to Herrin and Marion, and Highlander would take the Northern route to assist Gilligan and Navigator on their homeward trip. If the truth were known, Navigator really did not require any assistance, sine she knew exactly where she was going; but Highlander provided company for the first stage of their trip home. He did however take them on a detour around highway construction through the Captain Mine road. I doubt that either realized that the beautiful sights along the road were actually reclaimed lands from the Arch Coal Company’s reclamation project that was a milestone in such technologies. Anyone who has watched a space shuttle launch would also remember the huge apparatus that brings the giant rocket to it’s mooring. Every inch of it was copied from the plans for the huge dragline that was used at this mine when it was in operation. I rode with them to Route 14, then, reluctantly waved good-bye as they continued home. A few hours later, as is the custom, everyone posted that they were home safe. Now, how do we top this next month? It should not be difficult because we are in Southern Illinois and we are The Valks of Little Egypt..
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