Harley-Davidson couple finds journey is the most interesting

July 25, 2005|by DON AINES


The posters for the 1969 film "Easy Rider" advertised it as a tale of "A man who went looking for America and couldn't find it anywhere."

When Jerry and Shirley Stout straddled their 2004 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic last month, they went looking for a redwood tree in California and found a lot of America along the way.

That tree, or rather its stump, is pretty famous, having an arched hole cut through the base big enough for a car to drive through.


"I wanted to see that tree," said Jerry, who had to pay about $1.50 to pose in the arch of the well-weathered stump.

The journey, however, is often more interesting than the destination, and in 22 days the Greencastle couple traveled 7,448 miles through 18 states. Along the way, they braved 107-degree heat in the Nevada desert, rode through the smoke of California wildfires and outran a few thunderstorms.

"You can outrun most storms at 85 mph," Jerry said.

Jerry and Shirley have little in common with Wyatt and Billy - the ill-fated protagonists of "Easy Rider" - other than riding Harleys. Married nearly 50 years, Jerry, 72, has been a barber in Greencastle for almost that long and Shirley, 69, is a retired restaurant hostess who also worked at a local radio station.

"We met on a blind date," Shirley said.

"And we're getting blinder and blinder every year," Jerry said.

"We thought about it for a year and we figured, at our age, if we were going to do it, we'd better do it," Jerry said. Besides visiting a daughter in Virginia and Jerry's brother in Texas, the itinerary for their journey to find the tree was limited, riding as far as good weather and daylight would take them.

Along the way, they stopped in Mount Airy, N.C., the inspiration for Mayberry on "The Andy Griffith Show" and "paid our dues" in Las Vegas. They crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and traveled the two-lane blacktop of America's midsection through towns that withered in population if not charm when the interstate passed them by.

Going through Oklahoma, Jerry said there were stretches of empty horizon before and behind them, and parts of Nebraska where there rarely saw another vehicle. Riding in the passenger's seat, Shirley passed some of the hours reading and finishing two books.

There were some white-knuckle moments along the way, such as negotiating five lanes of Dallas traffic at 70 mph and narrowly avoiding a board that flew off a tractor-trailer and landed in their path.

Unimpeded winds across the deserts threatened to push the cycle over at times and temperatures dipped to as low as 36 degrees in Arizona, they said. Even on a big bike such as the Ultra Classic, the couple had to pack light and Shirley at times regretted having to leave behind long underwear.

Perhaps the most unnerving moments came on the return leg as they took a road through the California mountains. A sign warned them of excessive curves the next 73 miles "and they weren't kidding," Jerry said.

"I swear it was a logging trail," Shirley said. The winding track gave them little room for error with rock walls on one side, sheer drops on the other and no guardrails to obscure the view, they said.

As interesting as the sights were the people. They met a forest ranger who also was a fight referee and worked several matches on "The Contender" reality show. A woman they befriended in the Midwest was headed for Waynesboro, Pa., and got an escort from the Stouts.

Motorcycling is no youthful passion rekindled in Jerry's senior years. It was only about 25 years ago that he got his first bike, a Yamaha, by default.

The cycle was bought for their youngest son and "it dumped him two or three times and he wouldn't ride it," Jerry said.

"He started with a Yamaha with dreams of a Harley," Shirley said.

Although the trip had its anxious moments, Shirley said traveling with the wind in your face is a far different experience than touring in a car.

"Everything is instant. It's right now," she said.

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