It is 1901. Dirt roads are evolving from indian trails and wagon routes to connect a country in the midst of a technological revolution. George M. Hendee and Carl Hedstrom have just completed their first 1.75-horsepower prototype of the Indian Motorcycle in Springfield, MA.
More than 114 years later, narrow remnants of those early roads still wind through the woods and bayous of Northeast Texas, many paved with aging asphalt, and the Indian Motorcycle has been reborn. The new 111-cubic inch Chief Vintage thumps beneath me while my friend, James Pratt, and his lovely wife, Kay, grace my rearview mirrors on a black Indian Roadmaster. A century ago, this road might have been merely a trail used by the Caddo tribe of Native Americans who called this place home.
Tall Trees and a Big Breakfast
Today’s destination is the Big Pines Lodge, where we hope to catch a boat ride into the lair of the great bald cypress. It is early November and fall is in full swing. This is the perfect time to be here, as the rich greens of a wet summer give way to vivid red and gold foliage. Our machines, graciously provided by Scott Conway of Indian Motorcycles of Oklahoma City, seem fitting mounts for such an excursion.
After a tasty breakfast of individual egg casseroles, toast, and homemade jam served by our hosts at Captain’s Castle Bed and Breakfast, we head southeast from Jefferson on Highway 134 toward Caddo Lake, home of the largest cypress forest in the world. These majestic giants lurk among the swamps, draped in Spanish moss and befriended by alligators.
Motorcycles & Gear
2015 Indian Chief Vintage and Roadmaster
Helmet: Nolan N104
Jacket: REV’IT! Oxford with Powerlet Microclimate H1 Liner w/G1 Remote and Garment Controller
Pants: BMW City 2 Pants
Boots: Sidi Adventure GORE-TEX
Gloves: BMW GS Dry
The Swamp Tour
As we swing into the Big Pines parking lot, a tall smokestack captures our attention. It belongs to The Graceful Ghost, touted as the world’s last remaining stern paddle-wheel, steam-powered tour vessel. The classic lines of these historical icons, the ship and our Indian motorcycles, harken back to a bygone era of kick-starters and external combustion engines. We are approached by a tall, square-jawed, stout-looking young man who might have just walked off a movie set. A 21st century renaissance man, Byron Aldridge is a business owner, historian, Indian aficionado, and as luck would have it, an accomplished river guide. The next two hours are spent chugging through the shadows in a fascinating front row history lesson of Caddo Lake, the first over-water platform oil wells, and the near-demise of an ecosystem before cooler heads prevailed and began to revive this primeval wilderness.
Back on the bikes, we continue our counter-clockwise circumnavigation of Caddo Lake with a new appreciation for those who traveled by river during the 19th century. Skirting Shreveport, LA, we turn north and arc west back toward our home base in Jefferson.
At Captain’s Castle, we change out of our gear and go downtown. After poking our heads in a few potential eateries, we settle on the Austin Street Bistro. It proves to be an excellent choice with fresh salads, soups, and breads served in a quaint European setting.
The Table of Knowledge
Our second day, we step out into a cold, rainy morning with plans to ride south towards Nacogdoches. In preparation, Kay fusses with her electric vest, finally giving up with the stoic statement, “It will warm up. Let’s go.” Tough gal. We roll south on Highway 59 through Carthage to put a few miles behind us before tackling the twisty backroads. An hour south we stop at Wanda and Renee’s Café where an old fashioned breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs is served with that rare “good” coffee demanded by locals, truckers, and travelers who remember where a satisfying brew can always be found. We decide to hunt down a shop nearby that can solder a broken wire on Kay’s harness. Five elderly men at the next table offer as many directions to a computer shop where we might find a technician. They jokingly call themselves “the table of knowledge.” However, we decide they are instead the table of confusion and agree among ourselves to look elsewhere for someone with a soldering iron.
A few blocks down the road we spot Cycle 17, a biker-style repair shop with two helpful souls eager to tackle our small project. When asked about the shop’s name, Jason Lee, aka “Leebo” and his pal, Rex Wall, tell us about the 17 miracles that led them to finding and opening their business. They consider their work a ministry and refuse to give us a price for the repair. In keeping with their theme of service and gratitude, we leave a fair offering in appreciation for their help.