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RUTLEDGE: A crazy adventure with Dad is the path to a son’s heart

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Mark Rutledge

Saturday, June 17, 2017

We’re vacationing on Florida’s beautiful Anna Maria Island this Father’s Day weekend, which is perfect. Traveling through Florida always brings to mind the only two trips I made into the Sunshine State with Dad during his lifetime.

Those trips were clear through to Miami. The man never did anything halfway.

A family vacation when I was five was the first trip. I have three shadowy memories from it: Repeatedly asking when we would get to “my momma’s ami”; eating my very first pimento cheese sandwich at a roadside picnic table; and a wire clothes hanger held above the ocean by a girl who asked my sister and me to count how many seconds she could hold her breath under water.

The second trip was in 1975 and I remember most every detail. I was 13 and Dad was in the throes of a glorious midlife crisis. He decided it would be great if we doubled on his motorcycle from Johnson City, Tenn., to Fort Lauderdale — where we stayed for his convention meetings in Miami.

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating every few years. Fathers should be reminded that a crazy adventure is the fastest way to a son’s heart.

Ours was on a 1970 Honda 350 Scrambler. Designed for street or trail, Dad had it outfitted with a sissy bar and luggage rack. We strapped two suitcases to the rack and hit the road.

He was going to let me do some of the driving, but it rained all the way and the bike was not exactly well balanced with our luggage and me on the back. Dad had to lean forward to keep the front tire on the pavement.

When I say it rained all the way, I mean all 830 miles.

Riding that far on a motorcycle that small meant no feeling at all in my lower extremities for most of the trip. I kept checking every few minutes to be sure my feet were not dragging the road from vibrating off the wet pegs.

We stopped in Statesboro, Ga., and holed up in a motel hoping the rain would pass. Dad rolled the motorcycle into the room, as if parking it in the rain was detrimental in some way that riding in the rain was not.

Racing through the steamy and flat landscape past orange groves and pine trees, Florida was a strange and exciting frontier. The fresh orange juice really did taste better than the stuff at home. Everything tasted better.

We stopped at each convenience station along the toll road, where a dollar would fill the tank for another 100 miles, but the vending machine prices were criminal.

Shortly after we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, the sun came out and Dad was astonished that I was not too exhausted to make a few solo laps around the motel parking lot. The bike needed to be tested without all that weight, and a group of young girls by the pool needed to witness my cycling skills.

Dad and I bonded on that trip in a way that I’m not sure we could have without it. He knew it would be that way and he was a genius.

I’m just glad he wasn’t into little sailboats or hot air balloons.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutlede@reflector.com or like him on Facebook at Mark Rutledge Columns.

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