Rolling south on Indiana 135 in Rob Hessman’s ratty old Econoline van, the AM radio scratching out a monophonic version of Lee Michael’s “Do You Know What I Mean” and a pair of gold Yamaha CT1-C’s keeping time bouncing over the joints in the road on the little trailer behind it Chris Johnson climbed back into the passenger seat with a couple of cold Dr. Peppers and said “Man, it just doesn’t make sense why the Forest Service wants to close the Hoosier to dirt bikes.”
Taking a bottle opener hanging on the dash and handing it to Chris Rob shook his shoulder length blond hair out of his face and went quiet for a moment. He did this a lot especially when subjects unpleasant to him came up in conversation. “Mostly I think it’s because people just don’t like us very much. Everyone wants the woods for themselves and there aren’t enough of us to stop them from doing it.”
Chris handed Rob an opened Dr. Pepper–Rob’s favorite soft drink that he bought only in bottles–and asked “So how are we hurting anything? You’ve said yourself that you never see anyone down there when you ride.”
“I guess just knowing we’re out there having fun is enough to piss ‘em off and some people just hate seeing others having a good time.”
“But how can people complain about something that they never see?” Chris asked, looking out at the south central Indiana cornfields in the warm mid-September sunshine. “Most of the people against us have never been to the forest but think we’re down there destroying the woods. Even the deer use our trails.”
“The tree huggers have the advantage of being organized and we’re not,” Rob replied, “and they’ve got the ear of the Forest Service. Word is that the Forest Supervisor is right in there with the environmentalists. They even came out, tore down the arrows and blocked the trails Buffaloe had laid out for his hundred miler last fall. They couldn’t legally stop him but they did everything they could to do it. John’s been fighting them but the word is they’re going to slam the door on us soon.”
It was Chris’ turn to go quiet. He’d spent the past summer in the greenhouses cutting cabbages on his knees to come up with the money to buy the new 175 on the trailer behind them, replacing the old Ace 90 he’d ridden the year prior. The Hodaka had been his first bike and he’d learned how to ride in the woods along the creek near his house with Rob’s guidance. His new Yamaha sharply contrasted with Rob’s veteran bike despite the two being the same year. Rob bought his late the year before to replace his DT-1, set it up with a 21″ front wheel, high front fender and replaced the tail light with a tiny unit he’d gotten from one of his Army buddies who was into choppers. Almost a year of riding enduros and the occasional hare scrambles along with frequent trips trail riding had left it battle scarred but was still in excellent mechanical condition thanks to Rob’s fanatical maintenance.
As they approached Trafalgar the radio began to fade out just as “Maggie May” came on and Chris twisted the dial trying to tune it in. “I’ve got that on tape in the case,” Rob told him. “Dig it out and pop it in the eight track. I’ve almost got the guitar intro mastered.” As it began they turned southwest towards Morgantown, the late afternoon sun burning dots into their eyes and both going quiet lost in their own thoughts. Rob was the big brother Chris never had and despite the eight years difference in age the two were almost inseparable. Chris spent almost all his free time hanging around the nearby Hessman garage watching and learning through the years as Rob maintained his motorcycles and he was the driving influence for Chris to buy a bike despite his parent’s initial reluctance. Cutting grass in the neighborhood paid for the non-running old Ace 90 and with Rob’s instruction the youngster brought it back to life and learned to ride. Now following his “big brother’s” lead he was hoping to learn how to ride his new Yamaha well enough in the woods to try an enduro as soon as he got a driver’s license which was still a couple of months away.
Morgantown came and went and they soon entered Brown County but before they headed to Bloomington to pick up Rob’s brother Greg they needed to stop at the Hessman family cabin near Helmsburg to pick up some camping gear. Heading west on Indiana 45 at Bean Blossom they went a few miles before turning south into the woods.
Rob, the first of Robert Hessman’s two sons, was born in 1947 into a motorcycling family. Prior to WWII the senior Hessman had been bitten by the motorcycle bug and ended up at Pine Camp, NY in training as a motorcycle dispatch rider. After the war he continued to ride when he wasn’t working as a truck mechanic. He started racing locally in scrambles events initially on a war-surplus Harley 45 he built into a racer and later on a new “K” model. Eventually family responsibilities and a knee injury drove him from racing but as soon as his first born was old enough he had him riding on a small homemade bike powered by a gasoline motor from a washing machine. Later he brought home a couple of Harley two-stroke singles that were lying in the back yard of the Harley shop for Rob that they rebuilt together and he learned to ride on. Eventually this led to him to follow his father’s footsteps and enter scrambles competition on the old 165. Rob proved to be a natural and his dad, excited at finding that Rob shared his talent on a bike talked the shop into a semi-sponsorship consisting of a bike-at-cost, a new Harley 250 Sprint scrambler. When it held together it was a formidable weapon and Rob collected more than his share of local event wins. At one west-central Indiana scrambles the bike quit with a bent valve during practice and he was offered a ride on one of the first Bultacos in the area owned by an egocentric local dealer who could spend money like a drunken sailor on his bikes but couldn’t ride well enough to win. It took only a few laps of practice for Rob to figure out the pipey two-stroke and he dominated the 250cc class that day. After that he continued to collect wins and in turn sell bikes for the dealer who had visions of his young rider climbing into the professional ranks.
Unfortunately this new ride also created a rift between Rob and his father, a die hard Harley man who also felt that Rob should go to college and not pursue a career as a racer. During Rob’s senior year of high school his father finally gave him an ultimatum that he quit racing and concentrate on getting into college–or he’d have to leave the house after he graduated. Rob, who’d just turned eighteen and as stubborn and strong willed as his father packed his things and left immediately, eventually ending up in a tiny apartment owned by the shop owner and working for him as a mechanic. Although he continued to attend high school and graduate his father refused to attend the ceremony.
Rob’s racing and winning continued but despite this his father refused to make amends with his eldest son, the Sprint sitting idle in the garage as a painful reminder of what had happened. He never made any attempt to contact Rob until one day a letter arrived from the Selective Service for him. Taking the day off work and going to the bike shop he personally delivered it to Rob and, after he opened it and seeing it to be a draft notice, took him to lunch where they talked for the first time in almost a year.
Within a matter of months Rob was sent to Vietnam. He initially wrote home a lot but the letters became fewer and farther between and then trickled down to none at all. His parents became worried about the lack of response to letters they wrote pleading for him to write back but the communication went silent. Rob was nearly finished with his overseas tour when the Communists sprung a surprise upon the U. S. forces on what was usually a time of celebration by the Vietnamese people. Rob returned home not long after the Tet offensive but came back a far different person than before he went into the army. He moved back into his parents home–his father welcoming him back after his service–and the shop owner he’d been riding for had a new bike waiting for him to ride.
The fire to race was no longer there for Rob, though and he failed to achieve the results he’d had prior to his military service. He went back to work as a mechanic in the dealer’s service department but just didn’t have the desire to win anymore and the relationship between him and the shop owner soon deteriorated. Eventually an argument between Rob and the shop owner got physical with the owner ending up against the wall with Rob’s hands on his throat–only intervention from other mechanics kept him from being choked to death. Rob got on his newly purchased ‘69 DT-1, went home, packed up a few things and rode off to the primitive family cabin in Brown County. He spent the balance of 1969 there by himself, picking up occasional employment with loggers or other day labor in the area. Although his mother was concerned only his father, a veteran of combat himself, seemed to understand and allowed Rob to have his space visiting only occasionally to help him with the repairs at the cabin and to bring him his guitar and winter clothing.
When he wasn’t working, hunting or making repairs around the cabin Rob spent his time exploring the woodlands around Brown County on his Yamaha, eventually coming to know the area well. The Yellowwood and Morgan-Monroe State Forests near the cabin provided endless two-tracks and trails to explore and he came to love the feeling of riding his bike through the trees. After ending up south of Lake Monroe by using a network of unmaintained roads around the backwaters area of the lake he’d discovered a maze of trails through the Hoosier National Forest, some being old roadbeds and others that had been cut by John Buffaloe and his crew laying out trails for his annual Buffaloe 100 cross-country races. While at Fox’s Cycle in Bloomington buying parts he spoke with the owner and a close friend of John’s who told him about the runs and eventually talked Rob into giving the April 1970 Buffaloe run a try. He enjoyed the race but more importantly met some of the area’s serious woods racers who encouraged him into going along with them to an enduro that spring in southern Ohio. While the seemingly bottomless mud, tight trails and steep hills caused a lot of riders to quit early he not only finished the run but came home with a trophy simply from being too stubborn to give up. Eventually he learned the art of timekeeping and enduros became his new motorcycling obsession. By this time Rob had left the cabin and returned home, taking employment as a mechanic at a different bike shop. Later in the year he bought the lighter 175, selling the 250 to his younger brother Greg and began to hone his riding talent in the woods.
Rob steered the old Ford into a narrow two track, down a hill and into a small valley with a partially drained lake in the center, surrounded by cabins that dated back to the thirties. Parking in front of the Hessman cabin he reached up into a narrow opening between the porch’s roof and an upright, retrieved the cabin’s key and opened the door. The old three room cabin was now in good repair thanks to Rob’s efforts and he and Chris gathered a Coleman stove, some utensils, a fry pan and a pot. A slightly moldy smelling canvas tent in an old duffel bag along with a couple of old army cots were retrieved from the shed next to the outhouse and loaded into the van as well before they started out of the woods and headed to Helmsburg and the winding highway 45 to Bloomington.
Arriving there in the waning daylight they made their way into the Indiana University campus area and after turning into an alley parked behind an older house which had been subdivided where his brother Greg shared an apartment. A Honda 175 street bike and Rob’s old gold tanked DT-1 sat chained to a telephone pole, it’s already well used appearance made worse by weathering from it sitting outside.
Greg was born almost three years after Rob and shared the same blood but otherwise couldn’t have been more different. While Rob was quiet, almost to the point of being introverted and musically inclined Greg was always outgoing, a top student and athlete in high school and seemed to relish the spotlight. Girls were always drawn to him but he never seemed to be satisfied with just one leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake. Now in his second year of pre-law at IU his real major was the hunt of his next conquest. While he’d shared Rob’s interest in motorcycles he never took it as seriously as his older brother and saw it as just another recreational activity. At IU the DT-1 mostly served as transportation and more importantly another way to pick up girls.
Rob and Chris climbed the stairs to the second floor apartment and after a long wait and a couple of knocks Greg finally answered the door, dressed only in a pair of IU gym trunks and wet hair. “Sorry about that,” he said, reaching for a dropped towel, “you caught me in the shower. Whaddya say, punk?” “Punk” was one of a number of endearing terms he used to refer to the four years younger Chris who while growing up suffered much abuse at the hands of the younger Hessman. He ignored the verbal smear much as he’d learned to do his whole life and only got upset when Greg decided it was time to physically teach the youngster another lesson. Fortunately Chris had gone through a growth spurt over the last two years and was no longer easy to push around. Whether from maturity or a fear of a possible retaliatory beating Greg now limited his assaults to verbal ones and rare ones at that.
“Why aren’t you ready to leave? I told you I wanted you to be ready to go as soon as we got here,” Rob said as he surveyed the disaster that masqueraded as Greg’s apartment.
“Change of plans. There’s a party tonight and I’ve gotta be there,” his brother replied, pulling a crimson polo shirt over his head. “I finally got to know this chick in one of my classes and she wants me to meet her there. You guys can come along if you promise not to embarrass me.”
“So you don’t want to go riding?” Rob retorted, looking disgusted and growing angry. “We drive all the way over here just to pick you up and you want to go chase pussy?”
“No, I still want to go,” Greg replied defensively. “You guys can crash here tonight and shower up. I’m not sure I could stand to smell you for two days and besides you might just end up having a good time tonight in spite of yourself. My room mate went home this weekend and one of you can have his bed.”
Although Rob had planned to have camp set up that evening and be ready to ride the first thing in the morning by the time they would have driven to the forest they’d have been setting up in the dark. Reluctantly he accepted the idea and took Chris down to help him unhitch the trailer, push it into the back yard and chain it and the bikes to a gas pipe. Returning upstairs as they entered the door Greg threw an IU sweatshirt at Chris, delivering a direct blow to his face. “Put that on and if anybody asks you’re a freshman at ISU who’s gonna transfer in next year. Hopefully nobody will notice your ass and see you’re just a punk high school kid.”
Greg went back into the bathroom, emerged smelling of Brut, grabbed a windbreaker and asked if anyone was hungry. Answering in the affirmative Rob replied “Yeah, I could eat. Whatcha got in mind?”
“How about pizza at Nick’s? You can order a beer for me.”
“Yeah, and get my ass arrested. No thanks, but pizza sounds good.”
Chris was oblivious to the banter. He was deep into an article in the new September ‘71 Dirt Bike magazine that he found lying next to the couch. It was a new magazine from California that he’d heard about but not seen until now. It was totally devoted to the dirt bike scene and didn’t have anything in it relating to street bikes or worse yet, choppers like all the rest of the magazines on the market that seemed to be almost legally required to put into print. Every page of Dirt Bike was devoted to off-road riding and he was almost spellbound by what he read. He was halfway through an article about a Yamaha billed as “The World’s Fastest 125″ when he was jarred back to reality by a kick from Greg.
“You gonna go eat or sit here and starve?”
Chris was actually perfectly happy to sit and finish the magazine but he got up, put on the IU sweatshirt and followed the two brothers out the door.
A short walk down Dunn St. to Kirkwood and around a corner led them to Nick’s English Hut, an IU institution for over forty years. They went in, took a booth and Ruthie, an employee who’d been there half the time it had been open asked “Hello boys. What’ll it be tonight?”
“Hi Ruthie. Bring us a pitcher of Bud and we’ll give it some thought.”
“Maybe after you grow up.”
“Don’t I look 21 to you yet?” Greg replied, opening a menu.
“I don’t think you’ve aged a year since last week,” she countered “so I’ll be happy to bring you all the Coke you can drink in the meantime.”
“Do you have Dr. Pepper?” Rob asked, looking at some faded picture of an old IU basketball team on the wall behind her.
“No, just Coke, Diet Coke and Sprite although you look like you’re old enough for a beer.”
“Coke’ll do.” Chris nodded his head in agreement.
After Ruthie brought out their drinks and they ordered a pizza Rob asked “So what’s the big deal about this chick you’re chasing now? Her daddy rich?”
Taking a long drink Greg replied “She’s a vision of loveliness. A goddess. And she’s got huge tits.” He’d been a tit man since discovering what was underneath those training bras in fifth grade by sweet talking a girl into showing them to him.
“So we’re not going to get to the woods tonight so that you can try to suckle your way to happiness,” Rob said, continuing to look at the pictures on the wall.
“Trust me, when you see her you’ll understand.”
“I probably won’t stay long, anyway. It’s not my thing.” Rob had encountered protesters from the local college when he returned from overseas and being called a baby killer had left a sour taste in his mouth for spoon fed rich kids who could avoid the draft by going to school.
Ruthie brought out the pizza and within minutes the three had it consumed and were washing it down with a second round of Cokes. “So what about riding tomorrow? Where’re we headed?”
“I’d like to make a big loop and just see as much as we can. Nobody knows how long the forest might be closed and Chris needs to put some easy time on his new bike before we go do any serious trail riding so I figure we’ll ride up towards Elkinsville, do a loop on the jeep roads and then head towards Story for gas. Then we’ll ride back across Nebo Ridge on an easy ridgetop trail I found and then head south across Buffalo Pike out of Houston. After that we’ll see how we’re doing on time and decide from there. Sunday I’d like to ride trail all day.”
Belching and with a nod of approval Greg looked at his watch, threw down a couple of bucks on the table and said “Time to go, my lady awaits me.” Chris and Rob did the same and out they went into the cool night air.
It was a short walk to 3rd Street and past fraternity row when Greg led them down a street to the right. About a block down the street they came to a big house with little groups of people standing in the front yard and a stereo blaring from within. Greg turned and headed towards the house, leaving Rob standing on the sidewalk. “C’mon, you’re gonna be fine. Nobody is going to make you feel like a dork unless you act like one. This means you, dork.”
Chris was too overwhelmed and nervous to hear what he said. He was going to a college party? He started to tense up at the thought of doing something that might embarrass himself. Seeing his apprehension Greg softened up somewhat, told him to relax and just remember what he said about transferring in next year. “But what’ll I say if anyone asks what I’m studying?”
As they approached the porch Greg popped a breath mint and told him “Just say you’re a major in political science. Half the idiots down here are and they have no idea why. You’ll fit right in.”
They went in just after a big guy who looked like a linebacker walked out of the house. There was a banner on one wall that said “Go Hoosiers–Beat Kentucky,” a table with various munchies and a lot of people milling about. Chris felt like a fish out of water and was having just about as much trouble breathing when a large hand grabbed him on the shoulder. He tensed until he saw the other huge claw was on Greg’s as the giant spoke.
“Greg, my man!! Glad you could make it!” said the big guy, as Greg turned to shake his hand. “Told you I’d be here. You think I’d miss this?” Big Guy turned out to be named Ron who went to Southport with Greg and had been on the wrestling team with him. Greg made with the introductions with handshakes all around, Chris hoping that his sweaty palm wouldn’t be noticed. “Is Jan here?”
“Naw, I haven’t seen her yet. She said she was coming and bringing friends. Hopefully they’ve got big honkers like hers.” Obviously Ron shared Greg’s love of large mammaries.
Rob was already looking bored and ready to leave. He walked over to the table, got a handful of pretzels and asked “Any Dr. Pepper?”
Big Guy/Ron cheerfully answered “I bet we do. Go through that door and look in the ‘fridge–there’s a guy who lives here from Texas who usually keeps some in there if there’s none in the cooler. There’s a tapper on the back porch if you want beer.” Emerging with a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper Rob’s attitude seemed to improve immensely and he strategically leaned against the wall near the munchies to quietly oversee the activities. Chris decided he’d get a beer figuring he might look older if he was swilling one despite the fact he didn’t drink much. As he returned to the room the sudden appearance of two seemingly unattached females immediately attracted the attention of the lone wolves in the room.
Greg immediately walked towards them, said something that left them both smiling and led them over to Chris and his brother, who had moved and were now looking at a stack of record albums lying next to a stereo. Greg introduced the pretty light brown haired girl to them as Jan and her blond friend as Jennifer. As promised Jan not only had a healthy rack but so did her friend who quickly caught Chris staring at them. Embarrassed Chris quickly took a drink of his beer and turned back towards the albums that Rob was thumbing through. Greg continued to make small talk, mentioning that the three of them were going to be headed over to the forest to go riding that weekend and offering to get them both something to drink. Beer was their beverage of choice leaving Chris in an awkward moment with nothing to say.
“You go to IU?” asked Jennifer, in an effort to overcome the sudden silence between them and, realizing she was talking to him, Chris managed to mumble something about transferring from ISU.
“A freshman?” she continued to probe and Chris started feeling flush, nodding his head as he took a nervous gulp of beer. Greg thankfully returned at this point and he and Ron took over the conversation, leaving Chris to get a second beer and return to assist Rob in his examination of the albums.
Getting to the bottom of the stack Rob suddenly asked Chris “Had enough?”
“Yeah, I’m afraid some other college chick is going to come up to talk and I’ll dummy up or spit beer on her.”
“Let’s get outta here. I was up late last night in the garage and I’d like to get a shower and hit the sack.”
Greg and Ron had moved to the other side of the room with the two girls so Rob and Chris made their departure and headed back to the apartment. Chris cleared some boxes of papers off the end of the couch, kicked his feet up and resumed his reading of the magazine, falling asleep before Rob had finished his shower.
The apartment was dark when Chris woke up and found Rob opening the door and heading down to the van. Finding his shoes in the darkness he went outside and down the stairs where Rob was unlocking the trailer and muscling it on to the trailer hitch.
“You’re up early,” Rob observed, twisting the trailer wiring plug into it’s mate on the van.
“What time is it?” Chris asked, rubbing a sleep booger from his eye.
“It’s around six-thirty. You gonna shower?”
“Yeah, I guess. Won’t it wake Greg up?”
Rob pulled on a safety chain and looped it around the van’s bumper. “That stupid sumbitch came stumbling in around four o’clock this morning. You didn’t hear him?”
“I guess not. I pretty much died after we got in.”
“Some drinker you are. I think Greg got pretty blasted last night and I’ll bet he won’t go with us.”
Heading up the stairs Chris looked back and said “I gotta go whiz. Need any help?”
“I’m good. Go ahead.”
Chris returned to the apartment, went to the bathroom, found what appeared to be a clean towel and got into the shower, the immediate rush of cold water bringing him fully awake. After drying off he found a can of deodorant, sprayed himself and got dressed. Noticing his lip had a bit of a shadow forming he picked up a razor and scraped it, his throat and the sides of his face dry leaving a tiny dribble of blood on the side of his neck. Heading back down to the van he found Rob was checking the tension on the tie downs. “You want to go try to wake him up and see if he’s going?”
“No way. He might come up swinging and I’m in no mood to fight this early in the morning,” Chris replied, using his hand to scrape the morning dew off his seat.
“I’ll go wake his ass up just out of meanness. I know he won’t come with us.”
Chris found a five gallon can of water, spilled some on his toothbrush in the fading darkness, brushed his teeth and went back upstairs in time to meet Rob coming the other way with Greg’s sleeping bag and gear. “He said he’ll ride out later and meet us. I’ll bet he doesn’t.”
The two got into the van, headed down the alley and a couple of turns later were on the bypass heading east. Bloomington was just coming to life for another Saturday morning with a home IU football game scheduled for that afternoon and the Econoline got into line with the boaters headed towards Lake Monroe. Turning south on IN 446 they left the majority of the boats at the Paynetown area as the sun burned off the early morning fog over the lake. A few stragglers followed them across the causeway before turning off to other launching points leaving them with the road to themselves for a few miles before turning east on Tower Ridge Rd.
Just past the fire tower they turned on to Hickory Ridge Road and south through the woods another mile or so before they came to their destination. Fortunately no one else was camped there–Rob had been afraid that by not being there on Friday he’d lose his favorite spot–and pulled into the clearing next to a blackened hole in the ground surrounded on one side by Virginia pines. Rob shut the van off, got out, looked around and took a deep breath before declaring “Damn, I love it here.”
Chris loosened the tie downs, untied a notched plank, put it into the end of the rail that held his new Yamaha and rolled it off the trailer. Moving the ramp Rob did the same and rolled his bike over to a nearby tree while Chris unloaded and started setting up the tent. After realizing that they were a tent peg short and remedying the problem with a tire iron they topped off their tanks, put on their jackets and helmets, fired up their Yamahas and headed back north.
The damp early morning air was chilling but at least the dew helped keep the dust down as they rode back to Tower Ridge Road and headed east. Rob led, keeping the speeds down to both allow Chris’ new motor to bed in and look for the trails he planned to ride on Sunday. They came to the Maumee area and turned left on Combs Road for the ride up to Elkinsville. After the lake was put in the road was starting to see less use and in turn less attention from the county highway department, already starting to get rutted on the hills and washouts forming at the culverts. Most of the Elkinsville area had been part of a forced abandonment by the Corps of Engineers in anticipation of the flooding of the Salt Creek valley but no one knew the reason why as the area remained pretty much as dry as it was prior to the creation of Lake Monroe. What it did do was turn the area into a ghost town with only a handful of people still living there and most of the cabins and remaining houses used only part time. The two Yamahas went west along the far eastern shore of Lake Monroe and at one point were forced onto higher ground to get around the lake that now covered the road. A right turn at the Crooked Creek boat ramp and another right at the first two track immediately put them back into the woods on another deteriorating Brown County road. This road wound through the Yellowwood State Forest to the top of Miller Ridge just to the west of Brown County State Park where another two track, this one also used as a part of the park’s horse trail system, could either take you north to IN 46 or south back into the Salt Creek bottoms where they’d just ridden from. Rob went south and led them to another ridge top woods road that eventually led them back to the bottoms and the road they’d previously been on from Elkinsville. Rather than just riding back the way they came Rob turned left on Blue Creek Road before the iron bridge, went up and over a ridge and eventually connected to a winding road to the village of Story.
Chris marveled at the huge increase in power over his old Ace 90. Hills that would have had him in first gear and screaming were easily taken in second or third on the 175. It was a lot heavier with all of the street equipment and Autolube system that eliminated mixing the oil into the gas but Rob assured him it was worth the weight and the bike would foul far fewer plugs. The bike ran clean and crisp and seemed like the perfect combination of power and weight. He’d considered a 125 but Rob talked him into the bigger bike despite the two being visually very similar. The 125, with it’s electric starter/generator setup, added weight and a much larger battery and Rob didn’t much care for the battery/coil ignition, either much preferring power over what he called a “girl’s bike.” Whatever the case Chris was happy that he’d spent the extra money and gotten the 175 instead.
At Story they topped off their tanks, had a coke each to allow Chris’ new motor to cool down, checked over their bikes and after a quick chain adjustment on the new bike rode back up the road, made a left at an iron bridge and headed back into the woods. Rob had mentioned an easy trail he’d found and they were soon on it. It was little more than a well beaten deer trail with an occasional small downfall to cross but nothing overly challenging, almost like a roller coaster ride through the woods. Occasionally it intersected with other woods roads but for the most part appeared to be a user made trail that was shared with the wildlife. Eventually it led to a tarmac road and Rob turned east this time and after a few miles it brought them to the town of Houston, pronounced by the locals as “howston.” Here Rob stopped and shut off his bike.
“John Buffaloe told me that during one of his hundred milers Bobby Schulteti and another guy had just hit the gas stop here, raced out of town on Buffalo Pike fighting for the lead and then got disqualified when they missed the arrows in the dust. John said both of them missed a turn that led to a checkpoint on a trail at the top of the ridge.”
“They were racing on the road??” Chris asked incredulously.
“Yeah, back then no one seemed to give a shit. John said people actually asked him if he was going to run his race through their property and would invite their families down to watch.” Rob got a disgusted look on his face before saying “things have really gone to hell in just a few years.”
Rob suddenly started his bike and raced off leaving Chris in his dust and to almost miss the turn south on to Buffalo Pike. The road got steeper and made a few tight turns in the forest, coming out on top of the ridge before beginning it’s descent into the open valley below. Crossing it headed west they eventually came back into the forest to an opening in the woods with an easy trail and Rob took it, carrying the front wheel for a bit before sitting it down and coming to his feet on the pegs. Chris followed without the wheelie and at first tried to keep up with Rob’s increased pace. He decided that rather than crash on an unfamiliar trail he’d back off a bit and hopefully not go down. He’d no sooner processed that thought when he entered a gas line right-of-way and a rain rut took his front wheel away, throwing him to the ground. He’d not bothered to put on his knee pads since it was “only” going to be an easy road ride and now he had a rip in the right leg of his jeans and a bloody knee to go along with it.
About that time Rob came riding back to see what had happened. Chris was on his feet examining his bike which now had the ball missing from the brake lever and the front wheel pointing in a different direction than the handlebars.
“You okay?” Rob asked meekly, expecting anger from Chris. Instead Chris was angry at himself. “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and the rut caught my front wheel. I hope I didn’t bend anything.”
Rob got off and looked at the bike. “You just tweeked the forks–let me put my knees around the front wheel and you push it back straight.” Chris did so and after a couple of attempts finally got it all in line again. “That’s why you need a fork brace when you get a high front fender. The stock fender isn’t strong enough to keep it from tweeking.”
Chris made a mental note of one more item to be saving up for.
Rob went back over to his bike, fired it up, spun it around and again blasted off down the clearing with a much more careful Chris in tow. He came out of the gas line at the junction of three dirt roads, saw a whisp of dust on the southbound one where Rob had gone and gave chase, catching him at the top of the hill where his guide was pointed down another easy two track. “Feel up to something a bit rougher?”
Chris barely had time to nod his head before Rob unicycled off again, this time turning west on a network of trails and dirt roads that eventually led them to the Hickory Grove Church area and then back to camp.
They arrived back late in the afternoon and were surprised to find Greg holding down an old folding lawn chair, rolling a cool bottle of Dr. Pepper on his forehead, his eyes closed and his “Easy Rider” replica helmet lying beside him.
“Y’know, it’s a lot better if you open it up and actually drink it,” Rob said after hitting the kill button on his bike. “Nice to see you could join us.”
Apparently Greg had arrived at camp just before they did and the ride over hadn’t done him much good. “Man, do I have a killer headache.”
“That’s what tapper beer will do for you. Always drink out of a can or bottle if you don’t want to feel that way. Want an aspirin?”
“Or a dozen if you think that’ll help. I’m never, ever going to drink again.”
“So you got blasted, eh? What happened with your love life?”
“Well, if you’ve gotta know we hit it off great and she’s going to come by tonight with a few friends,” Greg replied, swallowing the two aspirin and chasing them down with a big swig of Dr. Pepper.
“What? No way, compadre. We’re out here to ride, not to entertain your sleazy ladyfriends. If that’s all you want to do go back to Bloomington.”
“Trust me, big brother. This is going to be a night to remember.”
While the two brothers were doing their verbal joust Chris had gotten himself a Dr. Pepper and had pulled up his pant leg to examine his knee which by now had mostly stopped bleeding but had swollen into a nice walnut sized lump. He got up from his seat on the tongue of the trailer, limped around a bit and determined that he could still walk.
“So what happened to you? Fall down, go boom?”
Rob came to his defense. “As a matter of fact he was just about to pass me when he found out that those little eighteen inch wheels just don’t like ruts.”
“They’re coming out here??” Chris asked, a half-step behind in the conversation and showing a sudden interest in this new development. “Who’s she bringing along?”
“Ah, so the dork now has an interest in girls. You’ll be happy to know that she’s bringing her fair-haired friend Jennifer and another lady and will be here sometime later on for your entertainment pleasure.”
“Like they’ll ever be able to find us,” Rob replied, spraying some lube on his Yamaha’s chain.
“With the map I drew for her it won’t be a problem so you scrotes had better be cleaned up and ready to be perfect gentlemen tonight.”
“Are you serious? They’re coming out here??” Chris asked, feeling both giddy and nervous at the same time.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Rob replied, figuring that his brother was simply feeding them a line of his usual excrement. “Shit,” he said, opening the cooler, “we’re almost out of ice. Anybody want to ride up with me to get some more?”
Greg offered to ride along while Chris said he’d stick around and guard the camp, figuring he ought to clean up a bit in the event that Greg wasn’t bullshitting them about the ladies.
Chris had just finished washing up and was stripped down to his underwear in the tent when he heard a vehicle pull into their campsite. Throwing on a fresh pair of jeans he stuck his head out and found that an old green International Harvester Travelall had pulled alongside the tent and three girls were in it–Jan, Jennifer and another girl. Jan greeted him with “Where’s Greg?”
Pulling a faded Hodaka T-shirt over his head Chris told them “They went to Paynetown to get ice. They’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“You’re Chris, right? You met Jennifer and this is Cindy.”
Cindy had exited the ancient Travelall with a bottle of Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill in her hand. She was a big girl with glasses who stood half a head taller than Chris and was wearing a ground-dragging peasant skirt to cover her ample frame. “Hippie” was Chris’ first thought upon seeing her and her long, stringy hair. She greeted him by drunkenly waving her bottle of wine at him.
Ugh. I sure hope they didn’t bring her for me, Chris thought to himself.
“We brought some stuff to make sandwiches to eat tonight. Thought you guys might be hungry after riding all day,” Jan said, bringing a styrofoam cooler out of the back of the Travelall.
“Actually Greg never made it out here until about an hour ago. I guess he got pretty drunk last night.”
“Must’ve done that after we left. We went home at midnight.” Jennifer remained quiet during this exchange and Chris noticed that she wasn’t a small girl–definitely a bit heavier than the usual skinny chicks he was drawn to–but when she looked up at him he noticed she had soft blue eyes to go along with her light blond hair. She caught him staring at her and smiled.
Damn, I bet she thinks I’m a pervert for sure now, Chris thought.
“So is this a party or what?” Cindy asked, stumbling over a rain rut next to the ashes. “You gonna build a fire?”
“Yeah, I guess I can if you want one.”
“Cool, I’ll help you get some wood together.” Chris noticed she was walking barefoot, seemingly oblivious to the rocks on the ground as she started gathering some downed timber. He also observed that she might have even been pretty if she worked at it.
The other two girls unloaded a couple of grocery bags, sat them on the hood of their car and Jennifer finally broke her silence. “Did you hurt yourself?”
Chris looked down and noticed that blood had returned and soaked the knee of his clean jeans. “Yeah, I took a tumble trying to keep up with Rob. He’s really fast.”
“You really ought to let me take a look at that. You don’t want it to get infected.” Moving closer and sensing his tension she said “Sit down and pull up your pant leg–I’m not gonna bite.”
Chris obliged her request and she took a paper towel, dribbled some water on to it out of the jug and expertly washed the wound.
“Are you a nurse or something?
Getting a fresh towel she replied “Maybe someday. First I’ve gotta finish high school.”
“So you’re not a student at IU?”
“Not yet. And I’ll bet you’re not a student at Indiana State, either.”
“So what are you?” Chris asked, defensively.
“A senior at Bedford High School. Where do you go to school?”
“Southport. I’m a sophomore.”
“Oh really? I have a friend who goes there. Do you know Tracie Adams? She’s a senior. We grew up together in Bedford before her dad transferred up to GM in Indy.”
“Naw, Southport’s a huge school and I don’t know everyone in my class, much less anyone older. How do you know Jan?”
“She’s my next door neighbor. Cindy’s her cousin.”
Cindy dropped a big armload of wood on to the ground, sending up a little cloud of ashes as they hit. She went back over to her bottle of wine, took a big hit of it and asked “So who’s got some fire?”
“If the cigarette lighter works in your car we can start it with that and a paper bag,” Chris opined from experience.
“I don’t know if it works or not but you’re welcome to try.”
About that time Rob and Greg pulled in, parking on the opposite side of where Chris was trying to start a fire.
“Ladies, glad you could join us. Who’s your friend?” Greg asked, climbing from the van with a grocery bag in his arms. “I’m Cindy,” she replied “and who the hell are you?”
Again Greg made with the introductions before going to Jan and giving her a hug. Rob busied himself with putting the ice in the cooler and dug out some sausage and a box of Minute Rice from the van.
Seeing Rob preparing to cook Jan said “Hey, we brought out some stuff to make sandwiches so you guys wouldn’t have to go hungry. Why not save that for tomorrow and make it easy on yourself tonight?”
“My brother’s actually a great cook. Let him impress you with his epicurean skills with a skillet,” Greg said, taking a lawn chair next to Jan. Rob was an excellent cook–during his time alone at the cabin he grew tired of eating out of cans and thanks to the help and advice of the lady at the store in Helmsburg he’d learned the art of food preparation. His one-pot meals were a big hit with his enduro buddies.
“We can always make sandwiches for lunch tomorrow,” Rob said, breaking his silence. “I need to cook up this sausage before it turns green.” After firing up the Coleman stove he heated up a pan of water, dumped the rice into it and began cutting up the sausages and stirring them in along with his own mix of spices.
Greg and Jan had sat down in a couple of lawn chairs and immediately went into their own small talk. As Rob cooked Chris went into the van, dug out CCR’s “Cosmo’s Factory,” turned up the stereo and opened the doors on the right side. As he folded the side doors open against the side of the old Ford Jennifer came over and sat down in the van next to him. “You like Creedence?” she asked, leaning back against the bed in the van.
“Yeah, they’re a great band,” he replied as Cindy threw yet another pile of limbs on the fire between pulls on the Strawberry Hill. Obviously this hippy chick was a bit of a pyromaniac, he thought to himself but in a short while she had a nice fire going as the evening faded into darkness.
“Food’s ready,” Rob announced, “get it while it’s hot.” Greg got up and took a couple of paper plates of food over to where he and Jan were sitting along with a couple of Dr. Peppers. Rob served Jennifer and Chris while Cindy absent-mindedly began to dance around the fire to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” “Somethin’ to drink?” Chris asked, sitting his plate down next to Jennifer.
“I’ll have a Coke if you’ve got one.”
“Dr. Pepper okay?”
“That’d be great,” she replied and added after a bite of Rob’s concoction “this is really good.”
“Yeah, Rob’s a great cook and will make someone a great wife.”
Rob ignored the comment, got himself another Dr. Pepper and sat down on the cooler, took a bite and immediately judged “it needs a bit more paprika. It’s tough to tell how much to put in ‘cause you never know how spicy the sausage is.”
“I dunno, I think it’s pretty good as it is.”
“Taste the cayenne pepper?”
Taking a drink of Dr. Pepper she replied “Oh yeah. It sneaks up on you.”
Rob finished his food, went to the van and changed the tape. A live tape recorded at Filmore East immediately an announcer proclaimed “The Allman Brothers Band” to the cheers of the audience and they went into their own version of the classic “Statesboro Blues.”
“I just picked this up the other day. A buddy of mine saw them live and told me I just had to hear this,” as he dipped out another ladle of rice and sausage. “You gonna eat?” he asked Cindy as she continued to dance around the fire. She turned and gave him a seductive smile.
“She can be such a slut,” Jennifer confided to Chris as she finished up the last of the rice. “When she gets loaded she’ll screw just about anything.”
“Well, maybe this is Rob’s lucky night,” he whispered.
Greg suddenly got up, threw he and Jan’s plates into the fire and said “We’re gonna go for a ride. Can we borrow a helmet?”
Rob nodded, saying “Be careful out there. If you’re not back in awhile we’ll send out the dogs to look for you.” Jan gave Rob a wink while Greg kicked over the DT-1, firing up on the second kick and changing the smell of the campsite from wood smoke to burning Yamalube. He flipped on the lights as she mounted up behind him and they wobbled out of the campsite and into the darkness with the popping two-stroke’s noise fading away into the distance.
“Since they’re not gonna use the chairs I make a motion we go use ‘em,” Chris said, throwing his plate on the fire. He and Jennifer made their way over to the chairs as the first chords of “Whipping Post” came hammering out of the speakers. Cindy continued her fireside dance, finishing off the balance of the wine in one swig. Rob cleaned up the pot and utensils before moving over to the remaining lawn chair and began rhythmically moving his head up and down with the music. “Whipping Post” went on for over twenty minutes including a track change and Chris found himself lost in the long jam. As it wound to a crescendo he found himself rocking his head to the dual pounding guitars and organ. When it was over he found himself chilled–maybe from the cool night air, maybe from the music–and he said “Damn, that was awesome.”
“Wow, that was great,” Rob replied, nodding his head “I almost didn’t want to go riding this weekend so I could go see ‘em play live at Dayton. I’ve gotta see Duane Allman play–he’s one of the best guitar players ever.”
After a track change the instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta” began followed by another long one called “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” About halfway through dreamy instrumental Jennifer suddenly leaned over and asked “Wanna go for a walk?”
Chris swallowed hard, stammered out “Yeah, okay” and they got up, walking out towards the road.
As they reached the road Jennifer gently reached out and cupped Chris’ upper arm in her left hand. They walked quietly for a few minutes, the music fading away behind them before she broke the silence.
“Where’d you go last night? I turned around and you and Rob had disappeared.”
“He wasn’t really comfortable there. He’s not much of a party guy.”
“I wish you’d stuck around. I wanted to get to know you.”
“You looked like you were already having a good time.”
“To tell you the truth I was scared to death. I didn’t know what to expect at a college party.”
You and me both, Chris thought to himself. They walked a bit farther in silence before she asked “Think Rob and Cindy will hit it off?”
“I dunno. The hippies didn’t give him much of a welcome home when he came back from ‘Nam. She’ll probably remind him of that.”
“He’s a Vietnam vet? Wow, I’d never have guessed that.”
“Yeah, he was over there a few years ago. It messed him up pretty bad mentally.” He went on, telling her about his time alone at the cabin.
“Has he ever talked about what happened over there?”
“Only to his dad. I’ve never asked and he’s never said anything about it.”
“Cindy lost a brother over there. I think that’s one of the reasons she’s the way she is now. She’s never really gotten over it.” Pausing, she added “Sometimes when she’s drunk she’ll break down and cry about it.”
“Wow, that’s really sad. Were they close?”
“Yeah, she absolutely adored him. Their parents were killed in a car crash when they were just kids and he always looked out for her. Jan’s parents took custody of them and she seemed okay growing up. After he was killed it just crushed her and she says she’s all alone now. I think that’s why she’s so easy with guys.”
Suddenly she stopped. “Ow, I think I bruised my heel.”
“Yeah, those moccasins aren’t exactly the best thing for walking around at night.”
As she hopped around on one foot she feigned anger and said “Maybe I ought to be wearing your motorcycle boots.”
Turning towards her to help her balance as she rubbed her foot suddenly he found himself face to face with her. The moon, which had been playing peek-a-boo through the clouds, suddenly lit up the woods. They found themselves face to face and in an instant their lips met. As they parted Chris asked “How’s the foot?”
“Hurts. Let me let it rest a bit before I try to walk on it.” She reached up and put her arms around his neck and kissed him again, this one longer and deeper.
He felt her breasts against his chest and his adolescent urges soon took control as he tried to slide his hands around to touch them. She gently stopped him before he could do that, though and pulled them back to her waist.
“Sorry,” he whispered, holding her close.
“S’okay,” she replied and kissed him again. They stood there for a moment wrapped in each other, the soft breeze filling the air with the smell of the nearby pines.
“It’s really nice down here, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Yeah, it is. I grew up in Bedford but I’ve never been here.”
“Really? If I lived this close I’d be here every day on my bike.”
“Well, when you’re down here again sometime you’ll have to take me for a ride.”
Chris paused, looked up into the sky and told here about the potential closure. “If it closes I hope they get the trails reopened. Some guys are working on getting a trail system for bikes going but Rob doesn’t think it’ll happen. If they close it we probably won’t be back until it reopens–if it happens.”
The night air was getting cooler and she tucked her head down against his neck and pulled him closer to her. Chris wrapped his arms around her in a vain effort to keep her warm and gently kissed the top of her head through her soft hair.
Gingerly putting her full weight on her bruised foot she said “I think I can walk now” and the two started walking back towards the camp site, arms around one another.
Not realizing how far they’d walked it was a good ten minutes or more before they saw the light of the dying campfire. The eight track was off and Rob and Cindy were sitting next to each other in the lawn chairs sharing a package of Chips Ahoy cookies. He’d gotten his guitar out and was gently strumming, randomly playing bits of various songs. Cindy’s wine buzz was apparently wearing off and she sat quietly staring into the fire’s embers.
“The lovebirds aren’t back yet?” Jennifer asked, rubbing her arms in an attempt to warm up.
“Not yet. Hope they haven’t run off the road or got lost. Greg doesn’t know his way around here that well.”
Chris had sat down in the van with his back against the bed and Jennifer came and sat down between his legs, leaning back into him. “Are ya cold?”
Chris reached over and got Rob’s Barbour jacket, draped it around her and held it closed with his arms, resting his chin on top of her head.
About a half hour later they heard a motorcycle idling along and into camp pulled Greg and Jan. “Damn, it got cold!!” he said after he shut the bike off. Jan was obviously well chilled as well, shivering with her headlights on high beam.
Stopping his play for the moment Rob admonished them for being silly enough to go out riding without jackets and sympathetically told them there was a blanket in the van. Greg got the old wool army blanket and the two wrapped up in it, leaning against the Travelall.
“I guess we could build the fire back up,” offered Greg, hoping someone would volunteer with no takers.
Rob continued to play for awhile before he suddenly stood up and said “I want to be able to get up in the morning so I’m going to hit it. It was nice to meet y’all.” As he got up Cindy did, too, looked him in the eyes and gave him a big hug. “You take care of yourself,” she told him before going over and getting into the back seat of the Travellall.
It was already past one in the morning and only a few hours left to catch some sleep before daylight. On one hand Chris didn’t want the evening to end but realized if he was going to be any good at all the next day he was going to have to call it a night. The girls took Rob’s action as a hint and Jan turned to Greg, quietly said something to him that got her a kiss in response. Jennifer slid out of the van and Chris walked her over to their car. “Can I call you sometime?” he asked, not really expecting her to say yes.
“I don’t have anything to write my number on. I’ll have Jan get it to you through Greg.” He looked into her eyes, gently kissed her and with one last hug she opened the door, handed him the enduro jacket and got in. Jan gave Greg a playful squeeze on his butt and got behind the wheel. Cindy had slouched down with her head on the top of the seat with her eyes closed, already asleep. After reviewing the return route to Bloomington with Greg Jan started the old wagon, backed out and with a wave the ladies disappeared into the darkness.
The early morning sunlight came streaming through a partially open vent in the old tent, making Chris pull the sleeping bag over his head both to shut out the light and try to retain a bit of warmth. About that time he heard Rob open the van door and get into the cooler. Steeling himself he quickly threw open the sleeping bag, put on his denim jacket and boots and headed out into the early light of day.
“There he is,” Rob said to him, withdrawing a package with eggs and some patty sausage in it. “Sleep good?”
“Okay I guess. You stay warm?”
“I got a little cold but yeah, I slept pretty good. Fall’s definitely creeping up on us.”
Chris fetched a small bottle of orange juice from the cooler. “Want me to wake Greg?”
“If you think he won’t attack you yeah, go ahead.”
About that time the tent door opened and Greg emerged, blinking at the increasingly bright daylight. “Damn, it’s early out here.”
“Mornin’ stud. How you want your eggs?”
“Works for me,” he replied, picking his Buco helmet off the ground. Jan had left it upside-down on the ground and it not only had dew in it but a spider had started a web during the night. Cleaning the worst of it out with a paper towel he sat it where the sun might dry it a bit. He got a can of chain lube out of a milk crate, balanced the bike on the sidestand against his leg and with one hand turned the rear wheel and sprayed the chain with the other. “Jennifer wants you to relay her phone number to me through Jan.”
“Forget her. You’ll never see her again.”
“How’s that? She said she wanted me to call her.”
“If I’m lucky Jan will drop out and I won’t see her again, either.”
“What, you guys didn’t get along?”
“Naw, I got what I was after.”
Rob looked up from the skillet with disgust at Greg. “Man, that’s just cold.”
“So how’d you and Cindy hit it off?”
“Nice enough, not my type. Builds a nice fire, though.”
Chris went quiet at the prospect of not ever seeing Jennifer again. He’d had some bad luck with girls over the past year and finding someone who seemed genuinely interested in him–and the thought of never seeing her again–made him feel a bit sick inside.
“Eat up,” Rob said to him, handing him a plate of eggs and sausage and bringing Chris out of his own thoughts and back to reality. “We’ve got a long day ahead.”
Chris got a quart of milk from the cooler, opened it, poured some in a paper cup, sat down in a chair to eat and tried to focus on the day’s ride.
With breakfast over the three broke down camp and got ready for a day in the woods. Rob put on his enduro jacket, putting a new plug and some paper towels in it. Chris topped off their tanks while Greg duct taped a pair of catchers’ shin guards to his legs. It was a few minutes before nine when Rob fired up his bike and asked the other two “Ready?”
Chris fired up his bike, Greg put on his helmet and did the same and the three left camp and headed south on Hickory Ridge Rd., turning left on a trail that headed east. The early morning sun created almost a strobe effect making it difficult for their eyes to stay adjusted to the changing light. An easy trail, it mostly followed a rolling ridge before it dropped into a valley to follow a dry stream bed. There were lots of rocks here but the trail went around the worst of them, occasionally going up on the off-camber sides of the narrow ravine to do so. It was easy riding, though if you kept your feet on the pegs and let the bike work underneath. The trail went up on a ridge to the left and at a “T” intersection Rob turned left, coming out on Tower Ridge Road about three-quarters of a mile later. Turning left they went maybe a mile or so before Rob turned left at a small creek with standing water in it and went down next to the culvert, splashing through a ditch that fed the creek. Chris followed him down but when the splash hit his rubber footpegs his right foot slipped off and he kicked a rock, sending a wave of pain through his foot. He winced, corrected his line and went on, not seeing Greg fall down when his front end washed out. There wasn’t much of a trail here and it followed the creek upstream although almost immediately it went dry and became extremely rocky. Occasionally there were rock steps in the creek and it was a workout to get up them. Chris tried to keep Rob in sight but he easily motored away, feet on the pegs and riding loose and easy. Stalling his motor for an instant he flipped out the kickstarter and restarted just about the time Greg came pulling up, totally out of breath. Unable to say anything they exchanged glances and Chris continued motoring up the creek with Greg trying to keep up on the bigger bike. Eventually the trail went up the left side of the ravine on an off-camber and joined an easier trail that again followed a ridgetop, intersecting with the road just north of their campsite. Rob was waiting at the road when Chris arrived a few minutes later. When Greg came out he passed them without saying anything, turned south and headed back to camp, the others following him in.
As Rob and Chris pulled in Greg had already removed his denim jacket and was pouring some water out of the jug into a styrofoam cup. Rob killed his motor and asked “Are you okay?”
Greg sat down in a lawn chair, his helmet still on and looking flushed. “Man, I don’t know how you ever raced that heavy pig. It beats me to death,” he wheezed.
“It’s not the bike–you’re dehydrated and out of shape. You need to start slacking off on the beer and start drinking more water,” Rob replied as a matter-of-fact.
Chris sat astride his bike, saying nothing and trying to not show how out of breath he was as well. “That’s a pretty tough trail. I don’t remember being on that one.”
“No, I don’t think you’ve been on it. I accidentally found that connector trying to find a way to get to the last section of trail we were on without riding too close to some dope dealer’s property at the east end of the trail. I was afraid he might have his place booby trapped or something.”
“Yeah, supposedly he’s a big supplier in Bloomington which is how he got the money to buy that place. Neat trail, eh?”
“It might be going the other way. Going uphill was a bitch. I almost busted my balls when my foot got wet and slipped off the peg right at the start.”
“Yeah, you need to dump those rubber pegs and get some steel ones. We’ll make a set out of your stockers when we get home.”
Greg’s color was starting to return to normal and he’d finally removed his helmet, sweat coming down his forehead. “I think I’m gonna sit a few minutes if you guys want to go ride some.”
“I want to take Chris on a loop up the road–we’ll be back for you.” Rob refired his bike, Chris did the same and the two again headed south on Hickory Ridge Road back to the first trail they rode but this time Rob turned right on another trail across the road. It went across a wide ridge top before it dropped into a ravine, back up on the ridge and then downhill into a clearing. Rob went left on an old two track until it petered out and went up a dry streambed. A left turn took them through some deep ruts and then up and out of the valley on another old two track that deposited them back on Hickory Ridge Road a few minutes later. Coming back into the campsite they found Greg cleaning his face shield and looking remarkably refreshed from the condition they’d left him in.
“Ready to go again?” Rob asked over his idling motor.
“Yeah, I feel a lot better. Lemme get my brain bucket on and we’ll head out.”
This time Greg left his denim jacket in the lawn chair and rode in just a T-shirt. The three headed back north to the fire tower and up Axsom Branch Road, taking a right at a gnarly old tree that was probably one of the few remaining that survived the mass cutting earlier in the century that had left the landscape bare and rutted. The Great Depression had brought Civilian Conservation Corps workers to the area that had replanted the native hardwoods along with the fast growing Virginia pines that dotted the forest. While not native to the area these pines were one answer to the erosion that was washing the area down into the Salt Creek basin.
This was an easy trail that followed the northern edge of what had probably been a farm field before being replanted. Now it was mostly oak, hickory and beech trees, none of them more than fourty years old. Rob suddenly made a hard right and picked up a trail on the other side that followed a narrow ridge, in places barely wide enough to be single track. At this point it went downhill for perhaps a half-mile before coming to a shallow creek. Rob turned right, occasionally dropping into axle deep water holes before it dried up. At the end of the ravine they were met with a steep uphill that switchbacked on the way to the top. Chris stalled on the way up, went back to the bottom, turned around and made it on the second attempt. Greg bypassed the switchback altogether, finding a line that while far steeper made for a direct shot up the hill that got him to the top ahead of Chris.
“Cheater!!” Chris hollered over his motor.
“Yeah, but it’s the easiest way to get this heavy monster up the hill.”
Chris and Greg made it out to the road and Rob asked them if they were interested in going to Buffaloe’s original cabin site. Nodding affirmatively Rob turned north again on Axsom Branch Road but this time turned left at the tree, following the old road bed downhill and into the lake bottom. Although dry now and John’s cabin long-gone the area went underwater anytime the lake went above normal pool level. On the ridge above John had started the first cross-country race he organized, the last running of the annual “Ground Hog Derby.” Here Rob stopped, shut off his motor and repeated the story Buffaloe had told him about it being held on a day when an ice storm had left the roads so slick most competitors had to leave their tow vehicles near Indiana 46 and ride back to the start. The race conditions were so bad it was called before it was over due to impending darkness eight miles before the end of it’s 55 mile length despite starting at one o’clock that afternoon. A fellow from northern Indiana named Jim McCabe had won the event and took home the traveling trophy, a ground hog made from welding wire.
After the brief history lesson they restarted, turned around and headed south following a creek for a mile before taking a trail up a hill that left them at a camping area within eyeshot of Tower Ridge Road. Here they followed another well-beaten woods road across John Grubb Ridge out on to a peninsula that offered a beautiful view of the causeway and the lake to the west. Pausing a moment to take in the view they turned around, retraced their tracks and took a trail to their right that eventually again dropped into the bottoms and a flowing creek. A trail went up to the right out of the bottom and Rob took it. This trail was considerably tougher than anything they’d been on that day with many fallen trees and thick briars wherever there was an opening for light to get in. Despite it being only a mile or so in length it took them the better part of a half-hour to make it through, eventually ending up on a trail that paralleled Tower Ridge Road not far from where it intersected with Indiana 446. Regrouping at the road Greg pulled up and was bleeding all over his arms. A red stripe went across his neck, apparently from either a limb or briar and sweat was again pouring down his face.
“I’ve had enough–you guys are trying to kill me,” he wheezed, unable to catch his breath. “I’ve got a paper due tomorrow and need to get back and finish it, anyway so I’m gonna split.”
“We’ve got a cooler full of lunch meat and food back at the van–c’mon back and have lunch with us,” Rob suggested, wiping off his goggles with a paper towel.
“I’ll do that but I’ve gotta get back to town so don’t try to take me down another killer trail.”
“Race you back?” Rob said as he put his goggles on.
Chris came down on his kickstarter first and the three raced back east on Tower Ridge Road in a cloud of limestone dust.
Back at camp, refreshed after sandwiches and cold drinks Greg strapped his sleeping bag and gear on to his bike using some borrowed bungie cords, put on his helmet and extended his hand to Chris. Accepting it he replied “Thanks for putting us up Friday night,”
“No big deal. C’mon down sometime and I’ll show you around the campus.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Gimme a call tonight and let me know you made it back okay,” Rob told him, slapping him on the shoulder. “Let us know how your VD test results come out, too.”
“Blow me, big brother. You guys have fun.” Greg restarted his Yamaha, dropped the clutch, spun a half-donut and left them in a cloud of dust.
“You about ready to hit it again?” Rob asked Chris as he gave his bike a once-over and refilled his tank.
Rubbing his wrists Chris replied “Yeah, I think I can handle it. Man, I must really be out of shape.”
“It’s the bend of those handlebars. You need something more straight across,” running his hands across the top of his bars. “I dunno who in Japan thought a bend like that was a good idea.”
“Huh, I never thought about that.”
“It takes awhile to get the bike set up. If I were you that would be about the first thing I’d change. Well, that and get some knobbies on it.”
The two put their helmets on and Chris wiped the worst of the dust and cobwebs off his goggles. Rob refired first and they headed back out the way they’d come in to Tower Ridge Road. More riders had come out and they’d seen them parked along the road on their way back. At one place a couple of kids on Honda Mini Trails had set up their own little track and were doing laps around what was probably their mom, sitting in a lawn chair, engrossed in a paperback and enjoying the beautiful early fall weather while dad and his buddies were out hitting the trails.
The sun had gone away, hidden by high clouds that marked an approaching front but the temperature remained warm. Rob turned left down the driveway that led to John Buffaloe’s cabin where several trucks were parked although no one was around. During Chris’ only other visit to the area he and Rob had spent most of their time riding the beaten trails that left the cabin area and hadn’t gotten out as far as they had today. Rob led them around a loop of the area where they encountered a couple of riders going the other way before he started working his way farther away from the cabin site, using the beaten trails to make his way to little offshoot trails that occasionally dead-ended. For Rob there were no dead-ends, though–when he encountered resistance he’d simply pick a line through the woods and find a way out. Chris struggled, stalling his bike occasionally but Rob would always be waiting within eyeshot before blasting down another deer trail. They continued working their way west through the woods, occasionally using a bit of trail here and there but mostly riding cross-country on wisps of trail that only Rob seemed to be able to see. His pace was increasing as well and Chris was starting to sweat inside of his helmet as the limbs continued to whip against him. Rob went down into a hollow where no trail existed and worked his way down the dry intermittent streambed. There were several downed trees blocking their progress and at one point Rob made a ninety degree corner, picking up the front wheel with a blip of throttle and a plant of his right foot to motor up the steep bank to get around it. Chris tried to just turn up the bank, his attempt failed and the bike stalled before it rolled backwards down the slope and into a tree on the other side, exploding his tail light. Angered he got off the bike, lifted it up for a straight shot, restarted and launched up the bank, this time going too far up before falling down again. Seeing that Rob had already almost ridden out of sight and fearing he’d get left behind he righted the bike, restarted, went down around the tree and started trying to catch his quickly disappearing leader who seemed to be getting faster the rougher the terrain got. As Chris tried to stay with him his reactions to the obstacles in front of him became more and more automatic and he found that momentum became the key to maintaining his forward motion. Rob exited the ravine to the right and started riding even faster when he got to the top of the ridge. Chris stayed with him for a bit before losing him, now having to follow broken limbs and the occasional tire track to determine where Rob had gone. Throttle, brake, throttle, upshift, downshift, brake, throttle, the process repeating itself as Chris increased speed and picked his way through the woods. Now there was almost no sign that Rob had ridden through here but Chris had developed a rhythm and was flying through the forest regardless of where he was going to end up. The trees around him became a blur and it became a motorized slalom through the woods. There was no consciousness of pain as the limbs and briars left whelps over any exposed skin. Debris on the forest floor was ignored as it came up too quickly to be reacted to, the bike bouncing over it as he looked farther and farther ahead to find the fastest way through the dense woods.
Suddenly he launched out into the light and a grassy area overlooking Indiana 446. Rob was nearby astride his bike, helmet off and in his lap as the occasional car passed by. Chris rode up next to him, shut of his bike and for the first time realized he was soaked in sweat under his Levi jacket.
“Wow, was that intense. For a few minutes there I was riding like a madman.”
Rob remained quiet for a moment before he replied. “Yeah, once I really get going it’s like everything goes on autopilot.”
“Been here long?”
“No, I rode in just before you did. You did good back there.”
Chris remembered that he’d destroyed his tail light and looked back at it. “Guess I’ll be putting something else on it.”
“Yeah, it was only a matter of time before you mashed it.”
The adrenaline that had been pumping through Chris’ body wore off, fatigue set in and he got off his bike, removed his helmet and laid down in the tall grass.
“Add some arrows and that’s what a lot of enduro trails are like,” Rob told him, looking off into the distance.
Chris wiped his forehead and shook his head in disbelief. “You guys run twenty-four miles an hour through stuff like that?”
“I didn’t say we did that. We just go as fast as we can and try to stay on time.”
The high clouds had totally shut out the sun and the temperature had started to drop. Rain had been predicted for that afternoon although none had fallen yet.
Chris closed his eyes, continued to catch his breath and said “Y’know, that was no fun at all until I got into that rhythm. Then everything, I dunno, just started happening.” Taking a deep breath he added “That was really cool.”
Rob took a watch from his jacket pocket, looked at it and announced “It’s almost five o’clock. Better head back to the van.”
“Going back the way we came?”
“Naw, we’ll ride the easy trails back. Watch how fast you go, though–after riding through the tight stuff you tend to go too fast on the easy trails and that’s when you crash.”
The two riders fired up, rode the grassy right-of-way back to Tower Ridge Road and rode it and some trails that mostly stayed within a few hundred feet of the road back to the van.
Rob and Chris had finished loading the bikes on the trailer, changed clothes and were enjoying a few minutes of quiet, each sipping on cold Dr. Peppers.
Breaking the silence first Chris asked “How quick do you think they’ll get this all figured out and let us ride here again, if they do close it?”
Rob remained quiet for a moment, looked up into the pines and replied “I’ve got a bad feeling that if they close it this might be the last time we ever ride here. The majority of the guys who ride down here have never done anything to stand up to the Forest Service, figuring somebody else will do it. When it’s all gone they’ll be the first to bitch about it, though.” Continuing he added “Who knows? John and his buddies might be able to get something done. All we can do is write letters, go to the meetings and stay involved.”
A few raindrops began to fall leaving wet spots on the dusty bikes. They went over to the van, got in and Chris noticed a piece of paper under a wiper. Fetching it from the windshield he opened it up, got back in and by the yellow glow of the dome light saw that it read “ (812) 275-5987 Jennifer” with a smiley face. “Check this out,” he said, showing it to Rob. “Wonder when she came by?”
“There ya go, stud,” Rob said, handing the paper back to him. Chris folded the paper and put it into the watch pocket of his Levis. Rob cranked up the Econoline and headed west down Tower Ridge Road, turned north on 446 and as they crossed the causeway Rob said “Midwest is doing their annual two hour team motocross at Fortville in a few weeks. It’s not a motocross so much as it is an easy hare scrambles with deep creek crossings. Want to partner up for it on my bike? You’ll have to get an AMA card but you’ll need one to ride enduros, anyway.”
“Yeah, that sounds like fun. We can bring my bike as a spare,” Chris replied, fingering the paper in his pocket. It had been a great weekend and regardless of whatever the future held in store for him he had a feeling this was one he’d never forget.
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.
Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia Oct. 29, 1971.
This is the first in a Series by Tim Weaver. The second story is “One Last Ride in the Hoosier Revisited”