A friend determines to make lasting memories while in the fight of his life.
My friend Mike Hinton is a fighter and a survivor. A retired career uniform police officer, a loving husband and father of three, and in recent years a proud grandfather, Mike has faced many challenges in his life, each making him stronger and more resilient. A man of deep faith, with a great love of family, friends and travel, Mike knows the value of shared experiences with people you care deeply about. Currently battling an aggressive cancer, Mike has accepted the challenge and like every other occasion in his life, has endeavored to navigate it with faith, courage and resolve. An avid motorcyclist since his teen years, Mike has chronicled some amazing adventures in his life, and I’ve been privileged to share some of those with him. In his own words, “As young men, we seek out challenges in our lives then savor the victory of the conquered challenge. As we get older, we may still seek out challenges that fit our age and health, but the memories that we look back on and those that we still are creating become more important than the challenges and their victories.”
So we wanted to share a memorable road trip Mike chronicled with his younger brother Doug earlier this fall, illustrating his perspective on accepting challenges and making memories.
Mike and Rob at Cadillac Ranch during a cross-country road trip, September 2010.
“Deep in his heart every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue”- John Eldredge, Wild At Heart.
I’ve always loved a good challenge. When I was about 13 years old, I bought a brand new Sears 3-speed bicycle with money that I had earned from working a summer part time job, a whopping $2.50/hour in 1971. I also bought a mechanical bicycle speedo/odo for it. After only a month or two, I challenged myself to ride this bicycle one thousand miles in one year. This would be an average of just under 3 miles for every day of the year. Many days I rode in scorching heat or bitter cold. As the year concluded I had actually surpassed my goal. This is my first recollection of any challenge to myself. When I was about 18, while working 2nd shift at a food processing plant in Tucker, Georgia, I clocked out at 11:30pm and rode my motorcycle to the Alabama state line and then home, just to challenge myself and say I’d done it. I would occasionally ride 1-4 hours after work like that, into the early morning hours. Not the wisest thing to do, but the good Lord watched over my youthful, if at times unwise, enthusiasm.
The cover and some photos from the scrapbook Mike’s wife and daughter assembled for him when he completed all 159 Georgia counties.
In February of 2002, following the horrific events of September 11 the previous year, I thought of a new challenge for myself. I had purchased a dressed out 1980 Yamaha XS1100, ironically back on 9/11, and decided to ride that bike across Georgia, through all 159 counties, by the end of the year. I would document each county by getting a photo of the county sign as I entered it. I completed the challenge in December, and my wife and daughter put together a scrapbook of the trip, which included not only the photos of the county signs but other interesting sites I had snapped along the way. I also wrote a narrative of each day trip or weekend trip to summarize that portion of the goal.
I recently read through some of those trip entries from 19 years ago, and came across this reflection- “I am realizing that this is becoming more of a race than a casual ride. Each time I ride to cover the counties, I find myself racing to cover the maximum distance and number of counties on a given riding day. Maybe after this is over, I can go back and stop at different sights without having to look at my watch or map.”
Off to the Texas Hill Country.
A New Challenge
Fast forward to the recent past: I had owned two Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classics from 2010 to 2020. Several years ago when I was still riding the big Harley regularly, I kicked around the challenge of riding out to Luckenbach, Texas and having my photo taken in front of the Post Office sign. Why Luckenbach, Texas? If you’re not into classic country music, Google Luckenbach. Time passed, cancer reappeared after a seven year absence, the Harley was traded for a smaller bike, and the dream of this ride faded. Then after a recent hospital stay, I decided to resurrect that challenge ride. Only now, I would have to tow my Indian Scout motorcycle out to Texas. When my brother Doug heard of this, he asked if he could join me. He would fly out to San Antonio from Florida and rent a bike. Of course, I happily agreed to this. I looked forward to the memories to be made with my brother! This “challenge” ride changed to a ride to make memories for the both of us.
The Thursday night before I left for Texas, I loaded up my truck and hitched up the trailer containing my Indian Scout. Before leaving my residence around 4:45am the following morning, I re-checked my ratchet straps securing the motorcycle to the trailer. It didn’t start getting daylight until after I was in Alabama. It was then that I looked back and saw the motorcycle was leaning at a nearly 45-degree angle. I carefully pulled off at the next exit to find the cause of this “challenging” problem. The ratchet strap that held the bike’s front tire securely into the chock had developed slack in it. This allowed the bike to slide back enough in the chock for it to lean over. I immediately straightened the bike upright, rolled it forward, and retightened all my ratchet straps. I thanked God for allowing me to observe the leaning bike before it fell! The next set of “challenges” was driving through road construction areas with narrowed lanes, no shoulders, and extremely rough pavement. Needless to say, I did a lot of rearview mirror driving while watching the bike from there on out.
Upon our arrivals in Texas, we set up camp at a KOA Kampground in Kerrville. There, I learned a lesson about unloading a bike from a trailer. Up until now, I have always had the trailer hitched up to the truck when loading or unloading. But since I had to drive to the San Antonio airport to pick up my brother on Friday night, I unhitched the loaded trailer and left it at the campground. Saturday afternoon I went to unload the bike from the unhitched trailer. I was doing fine as I slowly rolled the bike backwards. But when the bike’s center of gravity rolled past the trailer rear wheels, the trailer’s front end suddenly shot skyward to about a 30 degree angle. Luckily, my bike’s rear tire was just reaching the bottom of the ramp so I was able to keep the bike upright. Doug then jumped onto the front of the trailer and forced it back down. Scary moment!
Doug chilling on the front porch of their KOA cabin, before Mike’s mishap with the trailer.
The Indian Scouts that my brother and I both rode have small gas tanks. About the best I’ve ever gone was 125 miles before the “low” fuel light comes on. The employee where my brother rented his Scout told us to start looking for gas stations at about 100 miles since fuel stops in the Texas Hill Country can be few and far between. On Sunday morning, I picked out a town on the map to ride toward as we ventured out to the Three Twisted Sisters Ride. Since I already had some miles on this tank of gas, a town called Mountain Home was within my range and there we would fill-up. As we travelled down this state route, I got the sneaking feeling that we should have reached Mountain Home by now. Eventually, I pulled over and checked my map. I had missed a turn. I checked my phone for any nearby open gas stations. I also learned that Mountain Home had no open gas stations. The nearest gas station was 18 miles further up the interstate. The only problem was that I already had 108 miles on this tank of gas and the speed limit on this section of interstate was 80 mph. But what choice did we have? 18 miles later we arrived at this gas station with my bike running on fumes. Again, God was watching over me and my mistake. This was my last “challenge” to overcome on this trip. Let the memories being made continue.
We eventually rode parts of all Three Twisted Sisters. While we were in Leakey, TX, we stopped at the Bent Rim Grill for lunch. Almost all the tables surrounding us had motorcycle riders and passengers enjoying lunch, except for one table that had three older ladies occupying it. By their nice Sunday dresses, you could tell they had just come from church. With Leakey’s population of 425, I guess there is not much selection for eating out Sunday dinner.
Finally in Luckenbach, population: 3
After learning from my earlier fueling mistake, we stopped at the first gas station that we came across after riding down from the hills and small mountains near Vanderpool, Texas. After gassing up, I again broke out my paper map to set a route back toward our campground. On the map, one of the roads that I was looking at seemed to change tints at an intersection as if it went from an improved road to maybe a gravel road. Since our Scouts are street bikes, I wanted to avoid any gravel or dirt. A man then pulled up in a truck. Figuring that he would know all the local roads pretty well, I showed him my map and asked about it. He replied that he lived on that road and that it had just been repaved. He told us to look for his house when we passed by; it would be the one with boots on the fence posts. Sure enough, about a half hour later we passed a house that had upside down boots on fence posts. Not just a handful of boots; but boots on about 1000 feet of fencing, spaced every 20 feet or so!
The next day our destination was Luckenbach. What is the allure of Luckenbach? It is the title of a Waylon Jennings song, Luckenbach Texas – Back to the Basics of Love. The song is about returning to the simpler things of life. We passed through Fredericksburg on the way to Luckenbach. As we were leaving Fredericksburg, we encountered a county deputy in a high-speed vehicle pursuit. Knowing how busy Fredericksburg is with pedestrian and vehicular traffic, I prayed that God would protect everybody in its path. About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the unincorporated town of Luckenbach. There are signs in “town” that state the population is 3. If this is true, I saw 2 of the 3 residents sitting on a home’s front porch next to the Luckenbach Music Hall. After eating lunch from an on-site food truck, my brother and I then enjoyed some music from a gentleman giving a lunchtime show. Before leaving Luckenbach, I had to get the obligatory photo of me looking for “ Waylon and the boys”.
Even though Fredericksburg and Luckenbach are considered to lie in the Texas Hill Country, the terrain is generally flat with small rolling hills. This is in stark contrast to the areas of Leaky and Vanderpool, with plenty of mountains and valleys. Each of these areas are beautiful in their own right.
Love the Old West architecture of this part of Texas.
The next day we rode back to Fredericksburg for some shopping and sightseeing in downtown. Many of the buildings along the main road are well over 100 years old. They have now been remodeled and repurposed for other uses on the inside, but the exteriors still have that Old West look. I went inside one of the gift shops to make a purchase. While there, I asked the lady behind the counter if she had any knowledge of the police chase the day before. Her eyes lit up and she proudly proceeded to tell me that she was a member of a “U.S. 290” social media page. She then spent the next 20 minutes telling me all about the perpetrators, the route they took to try and elude the deputy, how 3 perpetrators were apprehended at the chase termination spot, and how the perpetrator driver was apprehended a short distance away after stealing a bicycle. Who needed Google when this lady had all the facts?
After our sight-seeing time in Fredericksburg had ended, it was time to return my brother’s rented bike to the dealer and prepare for his flight back to Florida the next morning. Early Wednesday morning I drove my full-size crew cab Ram pickup towing a motorcycle laden trailer, and dropped my brother off at the San Antonio Airport. Even with Google Maps, I still made a couple of wrong turns. Eventually I found my way to the correct street and started my two-day trip back to Georgia- just me, my truck and Indian Scout, Pandora, some podcasts, satellite radio and the new memories that I brought back from Texas, shared with my younger brother. #brothertime #nottodaycancer
*Thank you Mike, for sharing your journey with us. Here’s prayers and hopes for many more.
Road Dirt crew
Just had to share a photo of this “Fredericksburg Or Bust!” sign. Check out the print at the bottom.