The Promised Land

I’m guessing that people don’t ever get to sleep late at Harley Rallies.

This is an informed guess directly resulting from empirical observation.

Every motorcyclist that stays in hotels on the road has got a different system for ensuring the security of their ride.

In this case Biketoberfest Dude’s Ultra, his system was to leave the bike under the hotel portico, right where it could be seen by the folks working the front desk. Setting aside for the moment that this placement puts it right in the line of fire for exhausted or inebriated people who are looking for a room, it guarantees that when said tired/drunk people run your bike over, at least you’ll have a witness.

Everybody has a different response to real or perceived risk.

Anyway, more importantly, this location placed said Ultra directly under the window of my room.

103 Cubic Inches of Basso Profundo, viewed objectively, are probably a better Biker Alarm Clock than a lot of things that have woken me up in the past.

When that bad boy went “Wheeeeeee- potato-potato…” there was no going back to sleep.

I went over to the window to check conditions, now that I was awake, and saw that my Black Van Security Force had already departed under cover of darkness, leaving my KLT unprotected. My best guess is that they were FEMA auxiliaries — CERT stands for Citizens Emergency Response Teams — and they were heading towards the flooding that was now afflicting much of South Carolina.

Things looked much cloudier out than my recollection of the weather report had led me to expect.

No matter though, it’s not like pressing on was somehow optional.

Nothing to do but hose off and gear up.

***

Down in the misty parking lot, I took my towel out of the topcase, and dried off the saddle, grips and windshield.

A nice fellow who was policing the parking lot and I performed the ever popular, beautiful and evocative “Wow! I never saw a BMW motorcycle before…” ballet.

Its steps are familiar to many of you.

Straight out of the parking lot had us on I 59 beating south through the mist towards Birmingham.

It even sprinkled in a few places.

Rain only exists, though, to allow one to appreciate one of the finest fairings in all of motorcycling. Dial the windshield height in with the power adjuster, adjust the wind deflectors under the rearview mirrors, and nothing short of Noah could dampen you or make it seem less than perfectly natural and just that one should be riding in this stuff.

Of much more concern was that the weather wouldn’t clear off and it might affect events at the Park.

I needn’t have worried.

***

I live in a green place. I’ve travelled to green places. This fall, Central Alabama had to be the greenest, moistest place I can remember.

I’d seen lots of pictures of the racetrack at Barber that hinted at it, but being there was another thing entirely. Between the pine forests, the grassy areas it was just a symphony in green.

It felt like if you stood in one place too long, the cracks in your skin would grow moss.

I had about an hours run to get The Barber, which isn’t even far enough to warm the brick up, but it is a lovely way to start one’s day.

I kept expecting to see armies of bikes headed in my direction.

They never did materialize.

If this was rush hour in Birmingham, that never showed up, either.

After a lovely quiet hiss in the mist, and brief jogs down I 459 and onto I 20 the sign for Leeds and the Barber rolled up.

***

Rolling up the ramp, it was clear that this part of Leeds was pretty compact, efficient.

There was a large gas station and convenience store, which was good, cause my reserve light came on coming out of the light.

There was the Hampton Inn, there were some unpaved parking lots, a few office blocks, a sign for a Bass Pro shop that I’m pretty sure was back there but was completely hidden in the woods, and The Barber’s Entrance and Signage.

As a sometime victim of overdeveloped Mid-Atlantic Urban and Exurban sprawl, it actually felt a little sparse, like what was coming here hadn’t shown up yet.

If you’re a guy that wants to open up a motorsports themed roadhouse tavern with a decent tapline, there could be an opportunity here.

After taking on another fuel load, I went over to the Hampton, where I managed to get them to check my Aerostich and my Shoei full face.

I took a denim jacket and my old Bell 500 out of the top case — figuring if I even saw 2nd gear for the next several days I’d be fortunate, and headed left out of the parking lot up the short shot of highway and made the right into the Barber.

***

The mist never did clear off, and it still felt like it might rain again any minute.

I’ve been to a lot of large rallies and motorsports events — inevitably one ends up on traffic backups, running stop and go, wondering why you ever wanted to get stuck in this mess.

That misty Friday mid-morning in Birmingham seemed as far from that as I can probably imagine.

That right turn was a turn into something that seemed almost unreal. The Barber’s driveway is a winding country road — sweeping lefts and rights with changes in elevation — an idealized amalgam of a million other riders’ roads and a perfect way to arrive at the Park. In the deep green and eerie quiet of the pine forest, swapping from one side of the tire to carve the other, with only one other rider in sight, it all seemed almost like I was imagining it.

Until I arrived at the gates at the top of the hill, where I was enthusiastically flagged through when I flashed the band on my left wrist, and was then directed to the left into the Park’s Perimeter Ring Road.

Abrupt change in gears.

This was where everybody else was.

***

Poof!

We’d gone from nobody and no bike to every bike in the universe. The Barber Ring Road looked a little like Hanoi rush hour.

Well, that is if in addition to a gazillion scooters and small bore tiddlers, you were willing to stir in a wild admixture of early to late sixties Hondas, prewar Nortons, Velocettes, 1920s Vintage Indians and I’m pretty sure I even saw someone riding a small bore Douglas opposed twin.

I decided to just take a sighting lap of the place to try and figure out what was where.

Barber from space

Off to my right was the Stainless Steel Monolith of Museum itself, with its parking lot filled with motorcycles of every ilk.

Up the hill took us past the Barber Performance Driving School, with a few Porsche Track Cars scattered out front for flavor.

I rode under the Checkered Flag Gateway that normally marks the entrance to the racetrack complex proper. I had to stay focused to keep the swarm of Honda Z50 Monkeybikes running on all sides of me to keep them from getting stuck between my teeth. Off to the left was clearly the Mother of All Swap Meets — it appeared to stretch off towards the horizon. Now I’ve been to the swap at AMA Vintage Days, and that has claimed to be the Biggest Swap ever. I’d need to rely on Satellite Imagery to settle this score, but suffice it to say this sucker is huuuuuge.

Running up the hill we went past the Fan Zone and vendor areas. On the right was the entrance to Ace Corner — a VIP area with food, adult beverages and the site of the custom bike show. Then it was past the Proving Grounds — a test track that KTM had converted into a closed course New Bike Demo. Then it was down the long straight that ran on the high ground above the track — past the extensive racing pit area, across the ridge that had a commanding view of the track, then back down hill to the right, past campgrounds, past the Japanese Vintage Motorcycle Club Campout, and back down to the facility entrance where the tour had started.

Since I had an Ace Corner pass, I figured I would get off this bike and start to look around. I looped another half a lap around the perimeter road, and made the right turn into Ace Corner.

***

It was then that I found myself on the wrong side of fashion.

As I rolled toward the tunnel under the track and into Ace Corner, a gentleman I can only call Hipster stepped into my path, palm outward in the Universal Police Sign to “Stop!”.

Now what constitutes a Hipster is a subject of much animated debate. Is it descriptive? A form of adulation? A pejorative? No matter.

If you are wearing Darkest Green Ray Ban Wayfarers on a cloudy day, and your hair style, with help of much pomade, sits even taller than my Bell 500, then regardless of what it means, you are most certainly a Hipster.

Me, I only know that the purpose of hair stylings are the avoidance of helmet head, and the two approaches — mine and Hipster’s — are certainly incompatible.

“Stop!” Quoth the Hip One. “You can’t bring that thing in here. It is much too new. Only customs and cafes can come in here. You will need to park that …somewhere out there.”

The Hip One motioned dismissively with his finger toward the vast expanses of unimportant stuff back over my shoulder, spun neatly upon his pointy boot, and strode determinedly away.

Now this was kind of a shock to the system.

Most folks that behold my LT for the first time express wonder and admiration, not scorn and disdain.

This was clearly a different universe than the one in which I normally voyaged.

***

So, thusly relegated to to the great unhip out there of unimportant things, I looked for a place to park Darkside where she would be safe from the ravages of gravity on wet, soft ground, and where she would be inconspicuous among a group of motorcycles of similar size, shape and mission.

I must admit, at least in the realm of the second concern, I failed utterly.

DSCN2442

My neighbors in the parking lot made my LT took even bigger, chubbier and more massive than it already does. And these Honda Groms were the first sign that utterly adorable cute micro sized motorcycles were the perimeter road ride of choice here at the Barber.

Adorable, yes.

Hip enough to be allowed entrance into Ace Corner? No.

How about fast?

DSCN2444

I think you have your answer.

***

Any way, now riding only Shank’s Mare, I hoofed it through the tunnel and into Ace Corner. On the other side of the tunnel was a small show ring with two lines of bike show entrants, a few vendor EZ-ups, and a refreshment hut and small stage. It was biker cute, with scooters and small bikes almost everywhere.

The first bike inside was a beautiful Honda 250 GP replica — a lovely custom mash-up of all of the most visual cues of early Honda GP racers — insanely long, low tank, red and silver paintwork, bum stop long saddle and … a dustbin fairing!

Did any Honda GP racer ever have a dustbin fairing?

Anyway.

DSCN2447

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Beautiful eye candy.

Until you find yourself reading the info sheet on the saddle and find that the builder is 11 years old.

Then its brain candy.

***

I find myself drawn to a beautiful 50cc Aermacci.

DSCN2449

There’s a fairly tall and leathery dude hovering nearby as I photograph.

“Yours?”

“Naah. My girlfriends. Everybody always takes pictures of hers.”

“Well, Ya gotta admit, it is cuter.”

“Yeah.”

***

I walked up the steep grade towards where I could hear the sound of racing engines.

At the top of the hill, they were setting up for another show, which, while sparse now, looked to be shaping up nicely.

I walked over the hill, where some bleachers and folding chairs were set up under the shade of some pines, with sightlines to about 5 of the corners on the Barber Circuit.

There were caterers grilling burgers. They had standing fridges full of cold micro brews for the beer snobs and PBR tallboys for the beer not-snobs.

We were gonna watch some racin’.

Hard to see how any of this could hurt.

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