Retracing His Roads, Remembering His Legacy
I awoke Saturday to the sound of sizzling on the stove and the aromas of scrambled eggs, venison sausage, and fresh-brewed Sumatran coffee. Several of my riding companions were already up, helping themselves to the morning feast. Its mid-October in Georgia, the sun was poking through the trees, the waves across the lake gently lapping against the dock and shoreline, and the world was stirring, shaking off the a.m. chill of 48 degrees.
It’s going to be a perfect day to ride, I concluded.
After my father’s passing on September 1st following a nearly year-long losing battle to a debilitating stroke, Phil suggested, “You should put together a little road trip with some of your closest friends who knew your dad, and ride a bunch of the roads he and your mom rode for years around Georgia.” What a great idea, I thought, so here we were, a small cadre of my close and long-time friends, preparing to set out on a few of Dad’s and Mom’s favorite day rides across a weekend. There was no way we could ride them all in our short time here, as Mom and Dad traversed so many miles of back country routes across central Georgia, but we could hit a few of their favorites, then keep coming back to discover and ride more.
Dad and Mom aboard their trusty 2003 H-D Heritage Softail Classic in Rutledge, Georgia.
Dad grew up riding, as I’ve recounted in other tales of his adventures, and raised my brothers and I around motorcycles. He and Mom returned to riding once again back in 2005, bought a Harley Super Glide followed by a Heritage Classic, before hanging up the gear and selling the Heritage back in 2018 due to age and health concerns. But in those years, they (and I often with them) rode countless miles around the state, often getting lost then discovering new priceless gems of tarmac they’d vow to ride again. They thoroughly loved riding in their sunset years, and we even made multiple road trips across the South, logging miles and making memories I’ll cherish now and into eternity.
For my “ride of remembrance” I’d invited, along with Phil, several close friends who knew my dad, and who welcomed the opportunity to ride his old roads: Lyle Branton, my best friend since we were both 12 years old; his son Darin, MotoQuest guide and mechanic whom I love like a nephew; Jimmy Jimmerson, a close friend I made in 10th grade and whom Lyle and I often take epic road trips with; and Steven Kent, Georgia rep for Law Tigers and dear friend/kindred spirit I very much wanted these guys to meet. We had all made our respective rides to get here on Friday, each enjoying his own day trip of sorts to arrive at this Oconee lakeside retreat of my parents by nightfall, save for Steven, who would join us on Sunday. Mom had left us a huge batch of homemade brownies, and we imbibed on the back porch with snack and drink into the late night.
The crew and me in Gray, Georgia.
Our goal for Saturday was to take a winding, circuitous route from our locale on the southern end of Lake Oconee down to Juliette, Georgia, the map dot of a town made famous in the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” for their restaurant The Whistle Stop Cafe. Our rides consisted of one Harley, two Kawasaki cruisers, an 80s era BMW, and my Bonneville. Our route would take us through small Southern towns like Flat Rock, Haddock and Gray, via off-the-beaten path roads with names like Oconee Ridge, Pea Ridge, and Twin Bridges, then up by Dames Ferry and into Juliette. This was a path I’d trodden with my folks some 10 years prior, when they led me to my first sampling of true, deep battered fried green tomatoes at the now famed diner.
We set out through the wide open countryside of Georgia’s dairyland and lake country, amidst the rolling hills and largely deserted winding roads of this serene region of the state. The sun warmed us as it rose and we rode, relishing the peace, tranquility and camaraderie of riding together through such beauty. The pines filtered light through to us, and the floating leaves of Fall often showered us in color as we sliced through their flurry. It was as if Dad himself were riding with us, leading our entourage through the Autumn wonderland, smiling over his shoulder as we throttled to keep up with his unseen steed. I felt a Presence, a pleasure, whispering in my soul, “This is for you, My gift to nourish your tired, hurting heart.”
Parked up by the old grist mill, the Whistle Stop Cafe, waiting our turn across the street.
We made a short stop in historic Gray, in front of their impressive, old South-style courthouse for some photographs, then continued on toward Juliette. I had prior loaded my iPhone’s GPS with several not-so-direct roads Dad enjoyed years before, making our ride northwest out of Gray a bit more remote and empty. We passed farmland and cattle ranches, traversed old railroad tracks and bridges, finally jumping on States 18 and 23 to McCrackin Street, arriving in the tiny town after 1pm.
Apparently, everyone else in this part of the state had the same idea we did.
The town’s main drag was lined with cars end to end, people were filtering in and out of the gift shops and storefronts up and down the street, and a sizable crowd awaited outside the now popular Whistle Stop at the other end. “Well,” Lyle surmised, “We’re here, we’re hungry, we’ve got no other destinations for the day. Let’s get on the list, explore the town, and get us some good grub when they are ready for us.” So we signed the little dog-eared book outside the front door, and figuring we’d be here awhile given the huge crowd and limited capacity (they’ve got seating for about 45 at a time), set out to walk the town. I think we entered each open door, chatted up each store owner (which was quite enjoyable really), and sampled more than just a few local chocolate turtles, pralines and regional honey, when we finally got the nod an hour and a half later.
But oh, was it so very worth it.
Heaven on a platter, Whistle Stop Cafe rustic interior.
The ample fried green tomatoes were off-the-chain delectable, as was everything we each ordered- deep fried onion rings, battered chicken strips, homemade corn bread, fried catfish, country fried steak, fried okra, cream corn, you name it. Geez, I’m not gonna be able to ride home with an impending food coma, I mused to myself. It’s rare to both wait that long for a meal, then be so completely satisfied with it that everyone in the group states, “That was worth it!” Before we mounted up to keep riding, we stocked up on some previously sampled choc turtles, pralines and local honey, then realizing we might run out of daylight before we ran out of roads to ride, decided a more direct route back to the lakeside cabin was in order.
Turned out, the roads we took back were Dad and Mom’s routes also, as they often took the shorter route home for fear of melting their chocolate purchases into sloshing liquid as well. The setting sun now at our backs, we hurled ourselves back northeastward arriving a bit before sunset, and spent the evening on the back porch overlooking the calming waters, munching on dessert treats and sipping some spirits in the gathering dusk. Later that evening, we circled up around the dining table and recorded a Road Dirt podcast, discussing our fathers and their impact on our lives.
A most perfect day.
Chillin’ in Sparta, Georgia.
Sunday morning brought cooler temps, more eggs, venison sausage and Sumatran brew, and our friend Steven astride his amazing 2018 Kawasaki Z900RS. He instantly fell in with our menagerie, and we stoked him with hot coffee before setting out on our day ride. Sunday’s goal was to traverse Dad’s roads roundabout to Greensboro by way of Sparta, White Plains, Siloam, and Union Point. As Pops once put it, “Ya ride around ya elbow to get to ya nose.” (Imagine a Bostonian accent when you read that)
The crew lit out for Sparta via State 16, a small Georgia town nearly forgotten by time, and now being rebuilt and revived. Long abandoned buildings and gutted storefronts are being restored and reopened, and their neglected courthouse looks beautiful and classic again. We rolled north up State 15, the sun high and the temps warming, enjoying open tarmac with little Sunday traffic. We rode through White Plains, passed through Siloam and Union Point, before swinging west over to downtown Greensboro. This Southern town is brimming with Southern charm, up and down its “Mayberry RFD” look and vibe. And in typical old South fashion, most establishments were closed- kind of refreshing actually, a throwback to the days when Sunday was truly treated like a day of rest, family, and worship.
A Bonneville, a Vulcan, a BMW (mostly) that we dubbed, “Frankenstein”, and our stop in Greensboro.
We did find a small family-owned Mexican restaurant open just off the square, Los Torres, and enjoyed a delicious meal and their warm “service with a smile.” Following lunch we roamed the downtown until we found an “antique mall” open and wandered their halls, two stories of ancient collectables of every kind. Soon it was time to ride again, but now each toward his respective home, being mid afternoon by then. Monday’s “punch the clock” would arrive soon enough. So we said our goodbyes, each rolling out in a different direction: Jimmy toward north Atlanta, Steven for west Atlanta, Lyle and Darin toward south Atlanta, and Phil up to northeast Atlanta. I returned to Mom’s lake house to reset the place, clean up and pack up myself for home.
Before launching out north for my domicile in Dacula, I sat on the back porch, where for 33+ years my parents spent countless days and evenings overlooking the waters of Lake Oconee. Memories flooded back of long conversations on that porch, of laughter shared, and the family love experienced there. My father is gone, Mom has moved off the lake, and who knows if the place will be able to stay in the family or not. But for a few brief moments I relished the years, and gave thanks for the joys and stories I’ve experienced down here. I packed up, locked up, and rolled north in the gathering dark and chill, via more routes Dad would use to ride up the 90 minutes to my home on his Harley. I arrived home shivering and a bit numb in the knuckles, but warmed in my heart.
A shot from the dock before I rolled for home.
Relationships are everything. I cherish the decades of fond memories with my beloved father, the love and courage of my mother as she carries on without her childhood sweetheart, the companionship of these men and others who share the roads and this love of motorcycling, and my own lovely wife of so many years, waiting at the door for me as I rode up, with a hot cup of tea and a warm kiss welcoming me home.
Next year around this time, we will gather again to ride more of Dad’s favorite roads, in what Phil and Lyle dubbed the annual “Bob Brooks Memorial Ride”.
*photos by Rob and Phil.
Check out our trip video, without ever leaving the page.