Last year, my brother Wayne and I motorcycled the full lengths of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, visited some museums and rode the Cherohala Skyway between North Carolina and Tennessee. We spent 7 nights together, 4 in tents, and the weather was good throughout. It’s been the longest time I’ve had alone with a brother in many years.
The best parts of retirement are often adventures we never had time for in middle life. Both Wayne and I motorcycled in our youth, then we gave it up because of the risks and costs. Retirement offered us each a few years when we could again experience the constant accompaniment of wind as we rode with somewhat modest abandon through mountain roads.
Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway combine to make a 574-mile dream road of curves, high-elevation vistas, and beautiful farms and forests. We saw elk, turkey, fox, deer and plenty of smaller creatures, along with hundreds of fellow cyclists. Those roads are high enough to avoid the South’s early summer heat—it was like riding through New York or Pennsylvania in October, but with a different set of colors. We saw wild flowers: mountain laurel, flame azalea, rhododendron, and many others we couldn’t name. It was like riding through a fairyland of scents and colors.
Nevertheless, we ended up more or less vowing to abandon long-distance motorcycle camping. We’re both retired and love to roam the U.S. looking for stories, scenery, and people. But motorcycle camping is tough—with heavy loads, the bikes handle like big trucks, yet there isn’t enough room to carry stuff that would make camping more comfortable. We decided there was nothing left to prove, nothing at stake. In the future, motorcycling would mean motels and camping would mean cars or trucks. Wayne was 71 and I was 66.
One remarkable aspect of the trip was our relationship as brothers. We didn’t spend much time together as kids. Wayne was 5 years older, which meant he had a different set of friends and activities. Then after high school we went separate ways, seeing each other every few years as paths crossed at family events. A few years ago, we decided to try a motorcycle trip. We planned one three years ago, then two years ago, only to have life’s events force postponements. Last year worked.
We spent most of our time on practical matters: where to camp, where to get gas, where to have lunch or dinner. We pitched tents, prepared our beds, packed the bikes, and talked with fellow travelers. We laughed at stories from our childhood and shared some new problems. Much of the time was on the road. Nothing we did seemed that important.
Now, a year later, we are back to our routines. Wayne has been busy with his family—one son was married since our trip, and his wife has had an auto accident—hurt, but not seriously. I’ve taken scores of walks in our neighborhood, delivered many meals as a volunteer, and started this blog. The mountains and parkways, with Wayne and the bikes, are memories, but each time I think of the trip, the memories grow more valuable, more vital.