I flung the Bravetown door wide open to a wall of beards and teeth all grinning over at me. Phil Lynott was belting out about being a cowboy, and there was a funky familiar smell wafting about the garage. I looked around the room to see all too familiar scenarios of last-minute packing, late-night heckling, and a lot of people standing around playing that game. Not a sad face in the pack; everybody pumped, excited to see each other, and hyped for what tomorrow was about to bring. Laughing and joking about last year's 15-man rolling sideshow parading around like a pack of two-wheeled degenerates, and swearing "I'm taking it easy this year, man." It was like a high school reunion of all the sleezeballs you've come to know and love over the last couple years. It was Chicago. It was Bravetown. It was The Country Mile.
Man, 1,000 miles never feels so short, and yet so long over the four-day adventure. This was the fourth year, and it would be my second time making the annual trek around Lake Michigan. I opted this year to pack heavy by adding a tarp to my usual "bedroll and sleeping bag" regimen. The old pre-party formula sure didn't change from last year: Drink heavy, sleep light.
It was the first morning, and everyone's two shakes from tossing up last night's pizza and Miller High Life combo. The early morning departure turned into a delayed mid-afternoon liftoff with bellies full of Chicago dogs. The keyed-up throttles wound up on the LSD (Lake Shore Drive), and all were swiftly out of town. We quickly were into Gary, Indiana, where we watched Cody's bike do the truffle shuffle down the freeway. He was riding Harlen's "McQueen Machine," and the swingarm shaft was getting sloppy, causing the tire to scrub on the chain. Rather than push a loaned bike to the point of a breakdown, Cody opted to drop out early and head back to the Windy City, leaving us in a pretty "hood" section of the reputed number-two murder capital of the United States. Gas, ignition, kick, and get the hell outta Dodge.
We met up with the rest of the group and got rolling toward Wolf Lake. A pit stop at a Sunoco, and this one dude looked all too familiar. Apparently we looked all too familiar to him. He remembered a lot of our dirty faces because he was the same local who donated his clutch plates to the cause last year when Johnnie's failed. Bet he didn't think he'd be donating a regulator to Bobby Metalhead, almost a year to the day later in a gas station a half a block away from the last place he helped us out.
We got moving again and boogied to the lake where our favorite convenient store was stocked with booze and machetes. Warren would later introduce me to his "nacho" trick as we sat around the campfire stuffing our bellies full of food and laughs. The laughs turned into grumbles over the next morning's coffee as the sky was looking dark, and anyone who didn't Scotchgard their jeans was making raingear out of any trash bag in sight.
What we were all hoping was a light sprinkle turned into a full day's worth of drizzling, miserable, cold, nasty rain that didn't let up. Charging issues with Bobby's Panhead and starting issues with Warren's Knuckle meant we would spend the better part of the day at First Kick Cycles in Kingsley, Michigan. Bobby was turning wrenches while Petey was doing his best to squeeze into a nice new pair of leather dungarees. After a few generator swaps, Bobby left with a running Panhead, and we were off to everybody's favorite campsite just this side of the Mackinac Bridge. Full of sand and not really a legal campsite, it makes a perfect spot to munch down some fungi with your canned delicacy while Mitch entertains all with various animal calls.