George McConnel's "Guardian Whale" Flag Exchange Ride

There's a lot of history behind this story that goes beyond what is told here. If you want to learn more about the "Roo Flag Relay" and the "Guardian Whales", you can go to the Roo Flag Relay Page and find out all about it. The following report is one I posted to the Wings On The Internet (WOTI) email discussion list about my participation in this event.

This ride occurred on Saturday, October 31, 1998.

I got up early Saturday morning and engaged in the futile task of cleaning and polishing ol' Bulldog right before a 100+ mile Interstate ride. Needless to say there were plenty of Kamikaze bugs sprayed in a random pattern over all front surfaces of my bike by the time I arrived in Crossville to meet up with Stan Bise. As I had left myself with about 45 minutes of extra time before our appointment, I ate breakfast at the "Bean Pot" restaurant. All I can say is, "Go there." It's just off I-40 at exit 322 in Crossville TN. A GREAT place to stop for a (very affordable) bite!

When I finally saw Stan (who was running a few minutes late) I had just finished cleaning my windshield again. Stan pulled into the Exxon just across the street to top off his fuel (which I had done before stopping at the Bean Pot) so I rode across to wait for him to complete his fueling task. Then we hit the super slab because we were pressed for time to meet Lewis (and his lovely bride Carol) Preston at a Waffle House just outside of Knoxville. Stan and I had ridden together before, and as before, Stan made great company on the CB as we rode over.

We had no sooner than gotten our bikes parked when Lewis and Carol came rolling in. "Das Wing" made an interesting sight, as I had never had the opportunity to see that particular style of Gold Wing. A dark maroon color, this bike featured a windshield only about 10 inches tall in the center. But certainly the most interesting feature of this model is the low "tour box", so short that it doesn't even reach the height of the lower edge of the faring mounted mirrors. As I rode behind them later I kept getting the feeling I was looking at a Pacific Coast.

Lewis and Carol were a delightful couple to get to know. They are full of life and effervescence that make their company a great pleasure. They led us down highway 129 until we ran into the snakiest bunch of curves a feller could imagine. There were hills and valleys and twists, oh my. We finally pulled off at this little filling station called the "Crossroads of Time". There we got the 'Roo Flag out and took a few pictures next to the "Deal's Gap" sign. (I was just yanking yer chain, I've spent so much time riding "The Gap" this Summer they done started chargin' me rent).

Now it was Stan's turn to carry the flag. Stan was decked out in his colors, with his snazzy GWRRA vest, complete with pins and patches galore. It looked like a parade bike with all the flags bedecking the touring box on his black machine. And his mascot, a fuzzy white teddy bear, wags his head up and around the entire time he's riding. You can always see the little kids pointing at Stan's mascot when he passes a cage.

I led the troupe back over Deal's Gap. As we emerged out the North end of the coil a large group of female lady women folk were milling about near their bikes of various makes in the gravel area just off to the right. And I recognized most of 'em because they were the "Road Angels" club that meets regularly at Sloan's of Murfreesboro. So I deftly rode through the gravel over to talk to them for a few minutes whilst the others (Stan, Russell, Lewis and Carol) parked nearby. Lewis and Carol were in a bit of a hurry to get back home, so we said 'bye' and they went on. After I had a chance to congradulate these girls on what for many of them was their first ride through Deal's Gap, we pressed on. Of course I was VERRRRY careful in the gravel area. Nothing would have been more embarrassing than to lay my bike down in the gravel with all these ladies that I knew looking on.

Stan carried the flag on to Kingston, TN, where we pulled over and did another "official" transfer, allowing Russell to carry it for awhile, until we got to Crossville. As Russell was trying to squeeze the flag and associated package into the rather tiny saddlebag of his CBX, I overheard him say, "Suck it in, Erold."

Finally it was my turn. All alone on the Interstate in the dark of the moon on Halloween night. It really felt like I had a ghost riding the bike with me. Kind of eerie. For over 100 miles we rode that way, the suddenly cool air finding ways to get through my protective clothing. I was almost home, crossing the Percy Priest Lake Bridge on Hobson Pike when I saw a disabled car off to my right just past the bridge. Scarcly 100 yards from the car was a woman with two young children dressed in their halloween costumes. There wasn't a light in sight except for the tiny flashlight they were trying to use to light their way. I knew that they were at least a couple of miles from the nearest house. So me and Erold made a U turn and pulled up to this small group. I'm sure she was frightened at first, but I asked her if I could offer her some help. She asked if I had a cell phone, which I did. She used my phone to call her husband as her children giggled and pointed at my bike with all its lights. Her little boy asked me "What's that?" as he pointed to the neutral light on my console. I told him what it was, and although he surely didn't understand, you could see in his tiny face that he felt like he'd just touched Superman's cape.

They had had a flat tire. I escorted them back to their car and waited until her husband arrived, then rode off. They never learned the name of the large bearded man who looked after them that night. As I sat there, it occurred to me that the terrible price Erold paid had set off the chain of events that resulted in my being there to help these two children and their mother. There is no way of knowing what might have happened to this small family on Halloween night out in the boonies that way, but I'm glad to know that I played a small part in giving them a measure of comfort during a frightening experience.

I went to bed cold, tired and happy that night.

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