The 1969 Dodge Travco That Started it All

Two years ago we started the Baby Boomer Adventures blog based on the purchase of a 1969 Dodge Travco we found on craiglist in Tennessee. It was turquoise blue and white, both classic and a little corny, with a lot of rough edges and even more potential. It was the perfect throwback to the baby boomer generation and the launch pad for new careers as the “voice of the boomer generation”. We had visions of plastering our web address down both sides, loading up the dogs, some video cameras and editing equipment, and traveling the U.S. in our awesome new “Boomer Mobile” chasing baby boomers and their adventures from coast to coast.

It took six months to get the Travco registered after we discovered it had no vehicle identification number, then Michael left for the RV Training Center in Florida for nine weeks. Two weeks after he left, I broke my ankle so severely that I was in bed for two months and have only recently become mobile enough to tackle the interior restoration, and our grand plan to conquer the world in a 1969 Travco was replaced by the inescapable realization that a 27 foot Dodge Travco was never going to accommodate two adults, two cats and three dogs no matter how grand our dreams.

Because Michael has been working almost non stop as a mobile RV technician when he isn’t working as a whitewater raft guide on the French Broad River, it fell to me to begin the restoration myself. I pulled up all the old carpet, cleaned and refinished all the wood work, cut and stained new wood panels and all the baseboard, reupholstered the banquet seats, made new curtains, and with the leftover fabric, made a quilt and matching throw pillows, and replaced all the carpeting. We will be putting the Travco up for sale just as soon as Michael has had the chance to test all the operating systems, including the generator, water pump, heating and air conditioning.

We hope someone out there sees in the “Boomer Mobile” what we did, and they can put it to good use on some awesome camping trips around the U.S. We haven’t given up on the dream of becoming the voice of the boomer generation, but we need to do it in an RV that has room for our menagerie, a Harley Davidson, an editing bay, and a future big enough to accommodate all the living we have left to do.

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You’re Never Too Old to Become a Biker Chick

My husband and I come from two entirely different worlds. He  grew up on a ranch in New Mexico, and has been  a dive master, a jump master, a professional photographer, a glass artist, an aspiring drummer, a motivational speaker and last year, became a whitewater raft guide AND a ski instructor.  He has also been riding Harley’s since he was 19. I like black and white movies, preferably the kind with subtitles, or without sound. I collect old books.  I am a painter, a gourd artist, a handbag designer, and my idea of a really, REALLY good time, is sitting on the back porch with the dogs and a glass of  red wine watching the sun set.

Shortly after we met, we went to Turks and Caicos on our first vacation together. I wanted to lay by the ocean and have a waitress bring me a cocktail every hour or two.  He wanted to go “exploring”. We wound up walking five miles in the blazing hot sun our first day with no food or water, no suntan lotion, no idea where we were going and no way to get back, because there was no bus service from where we were, to where we needed to be.  We were so sunburned by the end of the day that it hurt to lay on the cool cotton sheets back at our hotel.  The next morning, we rented a scooter, and drove from one end of the island to the other, a decision that beat both “The Forced March”, and cocktail hour by a wide margin.

I am amazed by how quickly and how deeply I fell in love with riding, having previously only been on the back of the dirt bike my uncle used to own when I was a kid.  I think I still have some gravel in my knee from the time we went down hard on my grandmother’s driveway.   I am still in the passenger phase of this newfound affair, but I am so inspired by the unparalleled joy of exploring the world on the back of a bike, that I am eager to pursue as many adventures as I can.

Last October, we decided to head to Maggie Valley, North Carolina for the first annual Kickstart Classic, a joint venture created by the Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum,  American Iron Magazine, and Baker Drivetrain.  Designed to celebrate vintage bikes of all kinds, the Kickstart Classic was little more than a thinly veiled excuse to ride amazing old kicker bikes through some of the most breathtaking country on the planet, on two of the most beautiful fall days you could ever begin to imagine.

(I am just above the n in American and Michael is just above the I in Iron)

Everything from a 1933 Harley, to a 1936 Indian, to a motorcycle and sidecar rig that cobbled together from bits and pieces of two or three different bikes from four different time periods were already parked and waiting, while the staff of American Iron assembled everyone in front of the museum for a group photo.  Dozens of riders from New York to Connecticut to Tennessee brought their vintage bikes to life one after the other in a cacophonous roar, and then we were off.

Because we were on Michael’s 1988 Heritage Softtail Classic, we were supposed to ride in the back of the pack to give the kickstart bikes center stage, but within minutes, were separated by traffic lights, vehicles and a questionable set of written directions, coupled with a well-meaning but uncertain tour guide who brought the entire flotilla to a screeching halt to go back to the gas station we’d just passed to double-check our next turn.  Approximately half the riders went the wrong way on Highway 28 and headed south when they were supposed to be going east, but by the end of the day, we all pulled into Panhead City, a treasure trove of vintage bikes and biker memorabilia tucked away in a narrow glen outside Rome, Georgia, where ice-cold beers, hot homemade stew, and a spontaneous awards ceremony spearheaded by Burt Baker of Baker Drivetrains awaited us.

      (Michael’s picture was featured in the April 2012 issue on the 2011 Kickstart Classic in American Iron)

Several riders elected to stay on the property at Panhead City under the open starlit skies that night, while the rest of us packed up and headed into Rome and the comfort of a nice, warm bed at the Days Inn Hotel.  Following a breakfast of bagels, waffles and bananas, bikers splintered into two groups; the ones headed for Leeds, Alabama, and the continuation of the Kickstart Classic, and those headed for home.  We fell in with a lone rider on his way back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, intent on retracing our steps back to Maggie Valley and then  home to Mars Hill just north of Asheville, but when we made a pit stop in Tennessee for gas, we were invited by another group of riders to join them on their first visit to the Dragon’s Tail.

We’d been on the Dragon’s Tail twice before, but this group was as different from the group we’d ridden in with the day before, as night is from sunrise. We thought we would go along for the ride, if for no other reason than to see the Dragon’s Tail through the eyes of people who were all relatively new to the whole biking experience The riders we joined had new bikes, new helmets, new leather jackets and chaps, and most hadn’t ridden together before, if they had ever really ridden at all.  As we wound our way alongside the Ocoee River on Highway 64 past whitewater rafting outposts and zipline adventures, we realized that these weekend bikers, most of whom were salesmen or teachers, weren’t even remotely interested in the camaraderie that comes with the true biker lifestyle. The riders we’d left with in Maggie Valley had at least a hundred of years experience between them, and most were dressed in whatever clothes they had available.  One rider looked like a henchman from Wicked Witch’s Army in his elbow length black fur gloves, while another had a yellow ribbon tied around his leg in tribute to all the riders who couldn’t be with us that day, and still another was dressed in jodhpurs and a wide leather belt.  There were no airs and no affectations, just a sheer love of riding and the true pleasure of each other’s company.  There were no strangers among this group, even though most of us had just met minutes before the ride began.

We decided to part company with the group we’d joined up with once it became clear that our presence wasn’t really appreciated, and stopped in Bryson City for a buffalo burger, fries and a beer at Jimmie Mac’s before heading home on Highway 19, on a day that was the perfect blend of amazing weather, lush fall colors, clear blue skies, and an unforgettable first group ride with some of the most beautiful bikes, and some of the most enjoyable riders, I may ever have the opportunity to meet in my lifetime.

The Importance of Adventures Both Big and Small.

I come by my wanderlust naturally.  I remember hearing stories growing up about how my grandfather would come home from work back in the 1950’s and find a note pinned to the front door of the house.  My grandmother would find a house she liked better while she was out running errands, rent it, pack the old house, and move in with the help of my mother and her brothers in the space of just a few hours.   When I was a kid we moved every four or five years like clockwork.  I started fifth grade one year at one school and ended it nine months later at a school across town.  I hated it at the time of course, because I was always the new kid in school, and every time we moved,  I would concoct an elaborate plan to start fresh with a different accent, or a different name so I could at least be the most interesting new kid at school.

Moving frequently however provided me with a burning desire to see something different as often as possible that has stayed with me all my life, and working as an artist for most of the past fifteen years has sated that wanderlust pretty nicely.  Shortly after I began working as a full time artist and was exhibiting art  all over the country, I developed a passion for two lane highways through the middle of nowhere, and would often find myself, on the top of a mountain in the days before GPS and cell phones, wondering if I had enough gas in the car to make it to the next station, because the gypsy in me would suddenly decide on a whim to take the path less traveled from here to there because it looked “shorter”.  I cut across New Mexico from Cuba to Los Alamos once because  it looked like it would save me at least another 100 miles on the road, and while the scenery over that mountain pass was sublime and I saw my first herd of wild elk, I also coasted into the next gas station on fumes.

With the economy still struggling to recover, and little time or money left to travel they way we used to, Michael and I have gotten creative in our approach to our frequent adventures.  We joined a group of about two dozen motorcycle riders on vintage bikes last fall for the first annual Kickstart Classic.  The ride began in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and wound up in Rome, Georgia at a motorcycle museum/repair shop and grill known as Panhead City.  We were balloon handlers at the Macy’s Day Parade thanks to cheap airfare and a friend who traded us points at a Marriott Hotel for some artwork, and last week, we headed out for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with the “circus”  (we have three dogs; a bossy 2 year old Shih Tzu we rescued from a snow bank, a 6 month old Pit Bull/Pharaoh Hound mix who’s turned the inside of our truck into a giant chew toy, and an ancient Pharaoh Hound who can’t hear, can’t see and can’t control his bladder) for a relaxing getaway.

We stayed in an inexpensive hotel that allowed dogs, and spent about 15 minutes turning our room into a palace with some things we’d brought from home;  a featherbed, flannel sheets, extra pillows,  candles, wine, with a cheese and crackers plate, and extra towels.  We let the dogs run around in a park across the street from the hotel, then loaded everyone up and went exploring.  We went to Knife City and the Lodge Logic factory store, then gorged ourselves on all you can eat sushi.  We also brought a DVD player and watched a movie called 50/50,  and after sleeping  late the next morning, had breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant before driving through the Great Smoky Mountains Park back to Cherokee, and Bryson City.  It wasn’t the  most exotic getaway in the world, but we came home feeling rested and ready to tackle the world.  And it didn’t cost a fortune.  Just some planning and ingenuity. A stay at the Hyatt wouldn’t have been much better.

And any adventure, no matter how big or small, is a great adventure to have.  I plan on making them a part of my life until the day I die.