Countdown Story #3: Gilmer, TX

Twice I notice the same thunderous motorcycle with a trailer attached. It goes toward Gilmer, TX and then away from it. The third time the rider flashes me a peace sign then turns round. Slows on the shoulder beside me. 

“Name’s Huey. Like Baby Huey or Huey Lewis,” he says. “My dog is usually sitting on the trailer, but today I left him at home. Sorry you can’t meet him! Got a second to talk?” 

Huey says I’m the second person he’s met on this stretch doing something like this. The other was a Japanese guy riding a tiny motorcycle across the United States. 

“That dude was nuts!” Huey says. 

I field Huey’s questions about the walk while he writes my answers with a permanent marker on the underside of a plastic dog bowl. 

“Don’t want to forget this,” he says, then repeats it all back. “Started in Santa Monica, forty-six years old, ending at the Atlantic Ocean, today is day one hundred thirty-two days. I think I got it all!” 

During a pause in our conversation, Huey adjusts the gray bandana on his head. 

“Tom,” he says like a secret, “I was meant to meet you today. I haven’t been a good person my whole life. But lately that’s all I’m trying to do.” 

Huey tells me he likes the idea of moving through life at a pace that allows him to better absorb important moments. 

“Slowly, you know?” he says.

He then gushes over his wife and daughter. 

“I want to do right by them,” he says. “I don’t want to regret anything. Not anymore, man. Not anymore.” 

Huey says he doesn’t want to slow me down. But he’ll keep an eye out for me if I happen to make it to Gilmer. 

“I’ll find you and bring you a hot plate,” he says.

An hour later, Huey roars up again. This time he’s got two large fountain sodas and a couple Snickers ice cream bars tucked into a bag of ice. His ability to ride a motorcycle while carrying the giant styrofoam cups is impressive. He shrugs when I say so. Says he’s been doing this kind of thing for years. Later, Huey finds me for a third time. Just as I’m starting to think about a place to crash.

“I’d love to put you up, but we’re already pressed for space with some company,” he says. “Pretty sure my old lady wouldn’t be thrilled if I brought home another mouth to feed.”

Huey has already contacted the local sheriff to brainstorm where I might camp without issue. Top choice is a baseball dugout a ways ahead—a bit of a detour from my planned route. 

“It’s only four miles, man!” he says. “And I’d be happy to haul you out there if you want. Shit, maybe I’ll even crash with you. And then in the morning I could ride you back here.” 

“But what about the company at your house?” I say. “Don’t you have to be there with them?”

Huey exhales audibly and sits deep into his seat. Mumbles something under his breath. 

“I think I’m gonna just stick to the plan and find a stealth spot a bit later,” I say. 

“But there ain’t much up that way,” he says. “Me and the sheriff couldn’t come up with anything.” 

I assure him there are always more places than we realize.

We chat more as dusk turns Gilmer into a painting. Huey’s phone buzzes. 

“Guess I better get on,” he says. “You head on up that way and I’ll be back to check on you later. And don’t worry, man, I’m not weird or nothing. I just want to bullshit some more.” 

Huey tears into traffic and peels away with his fist in the air.

I keep on past Gilmer, then stay on my route when the highway splits towards Huey’s suggestion. I do a satellite search for nearby wide open spaces, then unexpectedly happen upon an RV park. It looks well-maintained, so I call the number on the sign. 

“Well, we don’t usually do this sort of thing,” the manager says. “But there is an empty meadow just adjacent to the property. You could camp there if you’d like.” 

I thank her a dozen times. 

“And I’m not going to charge you,” she says. “But I might come out later to say hello.” And when she does, the first thing she does is apologize for questioning whether I’m a good person or not.

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