This article was originally printed in the Moto Guzzi National Owners Club monthly newsletter.

Looking for Jerome, by Tom Chipley

Into every life a little madness must fall. Or not. If you're lucky. But I suspect, if you're anything like me, your life sometimes crests a hill at speed only to find the road has taken a turn for the worse; you're left with the choice of standing on the brakes and hoping the grass is softer than it looks, tossing the machine sideways and exploring firsthand the traction limits of street tires and aging reflexes or, the ace in the hole we keep for special occasions, being beamed up by Scotty from the engineering deck of the Enterprise. You've been cruising along, letting the imagination run with the idea that everything's just hunky-dory and the world is working pretty much as it should, even though you know, deep down, that that condition's pretty unlikely given your track record when...BANG...things change.

In July of this past summer, Caroline and I were stunned to find what the insane real estate market had done to the value of our little home. Sumerduck (yes, the name's funny, and yes, it's spelled correctly) is between Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Warrenton, Virginia, off Route 17, and close enough to the nation's Funny Farm (D.C.) that thousands of people are willing to commute to and from there, banging tempers and fenders with other upwardly bound souls in their tumbling scramble for the elusive Golden Eagle. In fact, the market was so insane we figured we better take advantage of it before, in the event it was a dream, we woke up.

So, the Sumerduck place was sold and we found a smaller, less expensive place to call home outside the little community of Mt. Jackson, Virginia, about seventy miles due west of our old digs. It's a beautiful part of the country: the Shenandoah Valley. And, I admit to having been totally unaware of its existence before we found this little house. Funny how that happens. Oh, I'd read about the Shenandoah Valley and knew it was somewhere west of us, but never bothered to run over there to check on it. My mistake. It's agrarian, quiet, undeveloped, cheap, and pretty far from any large cities. Our neighbors are sheep and the people who own them. The roads are gravel, the grades are steep and winding and, if you consider these liabilities as opposed to assets, then you're thinking like the majority of folks think. Bless your heart.

But the change had one severe drawback: the MOVE itself. I hate to move! I really hate to move. We made a mistake of hiring a local moving company I refer to alternately as either The Flying Fellini Brothers or as The Keystone Kops; the difficulty with either of these names, however, is that they imply something funny, as if these guys were entertaining and amusing as they scurried about their business, competently packing, carrying, and shipping your valued possessions from one place to another. This implication would be wrong. They were incompetent, inconsiderate, impatient, uncaring, on drugs, and not at all funny. And those are their good points. It's a longer story than you need to hear, but as we work to settle into this new life, we continue to find boxes missing, their contents lost to the great whirling chaos of Brownian movement that dissipates both gasses and prized possessions. Our loved old photos, recipes, kitchen tools, addresses and phone numbers are probably circling slowly in orbit around Saturn, lost deep inside one of the great rings. Someday, when Voyager finally returns this way after making the great circle of the universe, it'll most likely have my grandmother's photo plastered on one of its solar panels. Shame I won't be there to say some more rude things about the dysfunctional Flying Fellini Brothers Moving & Storage Company.

Anyway, the move aside, the motorcycle roads around here have got to be one of the nation's best kept secrets. However, the big difference between the roads here in Shenandoah County and the roads of Fauquier County, where we moved from, can be summed up with one word: money.

Fauquier (say: faw-keer...please) County, especially the northern part, is home to an awful lot of wealthy folks who indulge themselves with huge estates; great rolling well-trimmed pastures; expensive well-maintained fences; and lots and lots of race horses, any one of which is worth more than my entire estate, the Moto Guzzi included. Both county's roads offer vast vistas bordered with modestly majestic purple mountains; grand rolling farmlands; small, narrow, winding roads that climb up, over, and around rock formations; elegant, well-doctored wine vineyards; and grazing livestock. The difference is that the houses by the side of the road vary astonishingly from the affordable (Shenandoah County) to the absurdly unaffordable (Fauquier County). There are some countries in Africa that are smaller and with a smaller gross national product than some of the Fauquier County estates. Econo-Socio-Political views aside, it's darned nice of those folks to maintain their places as well as they do so we can ride through there and enjoy the scenery, even though some of the larger places do block a considerable portion of an otherwise fine skyline. I'm just glad they don't charge admission.

So, Shenandoah County is the low-rent district. That's fine. That's why we're here. And, the roads themselves are still a delight and the vistas of mountain ridges are even larger and closer than they were in Fauquier County. I'm making it a point to learn them as soon as I can. I almost said, "I'm making it a point to learn them as FAST as I can," and that would have been a mistake. Speed is not wise on these roads. At least not until I know them a lot better. For two immediate reasons. One: the scenery is so fine I keep looking at the mountains and not at the road. And two: like any rural road, you never know what awaits around the next blind corner. In fact, I was lecturing myself inside my helmet last weekend about just that thing as I explored a new road. I told myself to never crest a hill at a speed which would put me in immediate danger were the road suddenly to drop away, make a sharp curve, or simply end and become a gravel trail (something that rural Virginia roads are want to do, as they say). Of course, the thought was no more out of my brain and swirling around inside the helmet when I crested a hill...and the road not only dropped suddenly away, but it dropped away steeply to the right and made a really tight turn in the process, like a fish hook. I was off balance. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic. Whatd'ya do? You brake firm, push the right handlebar down and forward hard, and hope for adequate clearance under the right foot-peg. It's not often I drag a peg. With age comes an imagination better able to picture all the harm that would befall on old guy were he to tumble along the pavement. Of course, the downside to not dragging a peg occasionally is the lack of practice and experience with staring the Devil in the eyeball to see who blinks first. On this occasion, he blinked. Actually, he winked! "I'm lettin' you off this time, sukka', but don't count on no favors."

At the time, I was looking for Jerome. I knew a guy named Jerome once. He was a bright kid with a great sense of humor and a family whose roots were obviously in Africa, but I often wondered if those roots had been pulled up against their will. So, a few weeks ago while riding one of the Shenandoah County roads, I saw a sign saying JEROME and was reminded of my old buddy. I turned and followed the road to JEROME. The road meandered indirectly up, over and around hills and curves, past old trailers, some obviously abandoned, others I wasn't too sure about. Past some nice sheep and cattle farms. Past some not-so-nice sheep and cattle farms. All the while, rolling like a small boat on a troubled sea. Seemingly, in no hurry to get anywhere any time soon. Through groves of trees where the road could suddenly make a sharp turn with little or no warning...some marked by the state with warning signs, others not so. Then, out on the crest of a ridge with vast valleys on either side and pastel purple mountains beyond on both sides. The day was nice, but the sun was getting low in the November sky. Another intersection and another sign for JEROME. Another turn. More meandering. Creeks and rock formations with spindly pines impossibly clinging to the rock surface. Tough little plants, determined to cling to life. You have to respect that. I had long ago lost track of where I had turned and knew I couldn't find my way back by the route I had come. After two more signs for JEROME and more miles of rambling, seemingly getting nowhere at a very leisurely clip, I saw a sign for Route 42, which I knew headed more or less home. At least once on 42, I knew I could find home. And the sun, by this time, was almost in the tree tops to the southwest. And, so to home.

Never found JEROME. I doubt it really exists. I believe somewhere in the bureaucracy of the Virginia Highway Department there's some joker who makes up signs for imaginary places and sticks them up on seldom used county roads. Jerome always did have a strange sense of humor. That would be just like him. I wonder what he's doing these days.

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