A story about life, liberty, and riding motorcycles, written by guest author Brian Kohl:
You ever plan the way something is going to go, and it blows up in your face?
Like most people, I have faced a few life-changing decisions in the past few years. I exited the military after almost 8 years of service, worked in a shithole dive bar making $15 a night in tips on a good night, sold Harley Davidson Motorcycles, changed careers again, began finishing my degree (for a second time), helped my wife make a beautiful baby girl, then went back to selling Harleys. Not bad for two years time.
Today, however, was different. The grass still needed cut, I had a paper due by midnight, still had to go into work, get the kid ready for Nana’s, feed the dog, let the dog out, play with the dog, clean the basement, clean the garage, fill in the holes in the yard…well you get the idea. But I decided today to do something I hadn’t done in a long time, just take a back road. Hell, I was happy to get a chance to just get out on the bike.
You see, the past 18 months of my life have been a blur. Not because of drugs or partying; those days are long gone. That career change I mentioned before has ruled my world and my family’s world for the worse.
I landed a job in the oilfield here in PA as a wireline engineer. Long story short, I don’t remember much except that is all I have done for 18 months – sleep, eat, work.
I do know a few things, though. I have neglected my wife, my family, my friends, and possibly most important, my dog. But I was rich. I had all the money my family would ever need. I had a big ass truck, a company credit card, a laptop, a cell phone; I could buy whatever firearm I wanted, drink the best scotch, the craftiest beer…I had it all, or thought I did. Over time, text messages started becoming more and more scarce; first from friends, then from family, then not at all; something I didn’t realize until just now. Facebook notifications were no longer there, and invites to social gatherings ceased to exist. Hey, who cares, right? I can buy friends and I can buy toys. My family has everything they need.
Then something amazing happened. Somewhere between 4am on March 9th and 3:01am on March 10th my daughter, Madilyn was born.
People always told me it changes you. It’s the best thing that will ever happen to you. You won’t ever regret you did it. Yaddy yaddy yadda. Well, I’m here to tell you they’re right. I’ve been hit pretty hard in my younger days; jumped out of airplanes, got hit with an IED in Iraq, got into motorcycle wrecks, got too drunk and ran into walls and fell down icy stairs…pretty standard stuff for a fit, twenty-something wanna-be country boy from PA.
None of that could have ever prepared me for seeing my kids face for the first time. A purple haze and screaming, she was the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on.
Forgive me for getting slightly off topic. You are reading this to eventually hear a motorcycle story.
Anyway, so I walk into my boss’s office and talk to him about my new situation. Before, I was required to work 16 days straight then I was rewarded with 6 days off, if I ever got my 6 off. I told Joe* that I needed him to guarantee my days off. It’s going to be hard enough on my wife for 16 days without me, so I need the 6 to get home, help her, and fix the house.
He said, “That’s a problem.” I said, “No it’s not, goodbye.” I turned in my 2014 F350 truck, laptop, credit card and cell phone, and had my wife and daughter pick me up.
I quit on a Monday and was back selling bikes on Thursday. It’s an easy job selling motorcycles, especially Harley’s since they basically sell themselves. My work ethic didn’t leave me however, and I hit the ground running trying to sell my heart out.
That was 3 weeks ago.
So today I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I left my house and my dog and just went riding. I fed the kid, got her to Nana’s, played with the dog, fed the dog, cut the grass, wrote a paper, then I called my boss and told him I can’t be in at 2, and would be there when I could.
I got on the bike. I turned on my iPod to my bike mix and with AC/DC blaring in my ears, I took a hard left and headed south. I went down Route 51 expecting to make it the five miles to Elizabeth and turn around, but decided to keep going. At the fruit stand I made a right onto PA 136 toward Monongahela and continued across the Mon River to town. I stayed on 136 until I reached 43, and continued on. Low and behold, I get behind an oilfield truck, taunting me with his slow speed.
So I do what any “true” Harley rider with class would do and I pass him, on a double yellow, around a bend.
Then I passed the next guy.
And the next guy.
It was wonderful. Past Rolling Green golf course on 136 tearing up the curves rekindling a feeling I’ve not felt in quite some time. Pollen and helicopter seeds were smacking my face at 50 mph. Sneezing and eyes watering because my allergies are a bitch in late spring, but not having a care in the world. The cows whip by me like small black blurs, and the rolling fields give off the scent of fresh cut grass mixed with the unmistakable smell of horse shit. In my mind Hunter S. Thompson dares me, “Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death” and I abide! A sharp right up ahead and a yellow 15 mph suggestion sign, I enter at top speed and lean into the turn, roll the throttle feeling my floorboards scrap the pavement, imagining the sparks of steel meeting fresh asphalt.
No acceleration, no more wind, no more speed and Hunter S. Thompson burying his head in shame as he takes a final drag of his cigarette and fades from my mind like his final ashes fizzle to grey.
As I drift to a stop at the top of a hill overlooking a field I can see in my mirror the silhouette of a train of cars and one white oilfield truck chugging slowly up the hill, no doubt occupied by a few pissed off individuals. I step off the bike, open the tank and smile. No gas. I laughed, and watched the white pickup drive slowly by, the passenger giving me the bird as I laughed at my situation again.
Fortunately for me fuel injection is a wonderful thing and I was able to restart it after only a few tries. I babied her going down the hill, keeping the RPM’s as low as possible. There was also a gas station right at the bottom of the hill. Fueled up on premium, I decided to take another direction home.
I coasted through turns, used my signal, and waved to every other biker out that day. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed life. I had visited a part of me that I knew was still there, but was misplaced for a long time. My thoughts run to the old saying, “my heels are getting cold here,” meaning it’s time to move on. I have been in one place long enough.
Fast forward to today, August 21, 2016. When most of the above was written, it was barely May 2015 and I was just starting to figure out what to do with my life post-military. Since that ride, I have completed my degree, quit Harley-Davidson, and started a career with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. My beautiful daughter is nearing 18 months and it seems like just yesterday that I was wondering what she would look like and what color her eyes would be.
To wrap this thing up, I’d like to share one last little story. I heard a preacher once say at a wedding to the bride and groom, “Everyone who is here today is here to give you advice. Advice on marriage, kids, your life, what you should eat for dinner, and what Netflix series you should watch next. Well forget all of it. But remember this, each and every one of those people are here because they love you and want to see you as happy as they are.” I always thought that was funny, but the point was there. Your friends just want you to be happy.
To anyone who has taken the time to make it this far know this: I too want you to be happy. I want one of you, just one, to close your laptop, shut off your phone, or put down the iPad and go throw a leg over your bike. I don’t care what brand it is, how long you’ve been riding, or how many miles you have under your belt, I just want you to go. Take the time and be true to yourself and go get lost on a back road, just don’t pass on a double yellow in a curve; that’s just dumb.
Oh, and may you run out of gas.
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