By PEGGY USSERY, Dothan Eagle
DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — Motorcycle riders learn a lot of tricks while on the road.
Plastic shopping bags can keep your socks dry when your boots get soaked. Just slip them over your socked feet and put on your boots. Also, on long road trips pack for the motorcycle’s needs, not your own — especially if riding an antique bike. And never doubt the kindness of strangers. The best stories, after all, are breakdown stories.
When riding an antique motorcycle, Doug Wothke’s favorite tool is a hammer he keeps strapped to the bike.
“If I can’t fix it with a hammer, I’ve got an electrical problem,” Wothke said.
Wothke of Headland and fellow riders Berry Wardlaw and Vivian “Gypsy” Charros of Dothan will join more than 100 other riders from around the country for the 2021 Cross Country Chase. The run is designed to test the speed, endurance, and navigation prowess of riders of antique motorcycles, specifically those built between 1930 and 1960. This year’s ride, dubbed “Secrets of the Ozarks,” will begin in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, on July 5 and will stretch 1,340 miles over five days.
Wardlaw will ride his 1939 Indian Chief while Charros will be on her 1954 Harley Davidson Panhead and Wothke on his 1936 Indian Chief. The group left the Wiregrass on Wednesday.
Each day of the Cross Country Chase, riders will get a map of the day’s route. There’s no GPS and no support crews riding along to help if you break down or get off course.
“It’s not much of an adventure with a security blanket,” Wardlaw said. “We want the adventure.”
The riders all have modern motorcycles, but there’s just something about the antiques that bring out the inner kid, Wardlaw said.
Wothke has a shop in Headland and has ridden a motorcycle around the world on four different occasions – the first time was on a 1948 Indian. His oldest motorcycle was built in 1912. Wothke likes the challenge presented by the older motorcycles and has so many antique bikes, he can’t always keep count. (It’s close to 70.)
“I only need one more,” Wothke said.
Charros is a traveling nurse who has been caring for COVID-19 patients, mostly in California, and who competed in the Discovery channel competition “Biker Build-Off” and won in 2006. She’s also worked as a photographer and columnist for the motorcycle-geared magazine “Thunder Press.”
“It’s challenging as far as the age of the motorcycles – parts not being available,” Charros said of the antique rides. “Everything’s mechanical; there’s no computers on this stuff.”
With antique motorcycles, you need some mechanical aptitude to keep the bike running. You have to be in tune with the machine. But that, too, is part of the appeal for riders.
“You have to be a part of this thing to make it go; it will not go anywhere without you,” Wardlaw said. “You control the timing of the ignition. Sometimes, you control the oil pump. You start it with your foot. If you’re not part of that, it ain’t gonna happen. You’ve got to pull the bell; you’ve got to ring the whistle – all of it. That’s the cool part about it.”
Wardlaw and Charros operate the motorcycle shop Accurate Engineering in Dothan. Wardlaw has been riding since he was 12 – he’s now 65.
Rounding out the Dothan group is Marvelous Molly, Wardlaw’s 16-year-old small rescue dog who is hard of hearing but looks snazzy in motorcycle gear. She rides on a cushioned perch in front of Wardlaw and even has her own sponsors.
Molly wasn’t trained to ride on the motorcycle, and Wardlaw said he never intended for her to do so. But from the time she was a puppy, Molly wanted to ride along. He simply made room for her.
“We’ve been riding ever since,” Wardlaw said.
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