If you enjoy riding long distances and spending time with other people who enjoy riding long distances, there’s nothing else like the Moonshine Lunch Run (MLR). For many, the ride to southeastern Illinois takes days and covers hundreds or thousands of miles, and folks don’t ride there for the twisty roads.
So what is it about the MLR? Terry Hammond first invited riders to join him for a Moonburger at the Moonshine Store because he wanted to meet other long-distance riders before the start of farming season, which would keep him on his tractor—and off his bike—until mid-summer.
Jerry Waggener of Morganfield, Kentucky, and Kreis Weigel of Knoxville, Tennessee, both rode to Moonshine that first time in 2004. Neither has missed the MLR since. Your humble scribe has ridden to Moonshine six times, every year since my first. It’s become part of me, in large measure because getting from my New England home to southeastern Illinois in early spring always involves a challenge. It teaches life lessons.
Terry said it was “never too cold, never too far, never too wet” to ride to Moonshine. He knew weather would be a factor in early April. Winter cold can linger. Summer heat can arrive early. It’s tornado season. My first run to Moonshine took two days. In Pennsylvania, temperatures reached the 90s. That night in Ohio, a violent storm shook our motel with calamitous thunder. By morning, temperatures were in the 30s and stayed there all day.
Another year, bellies full of Moonburgers, we began our homeward trek east in rain. As any long-distance rider knows, weather systems in North America usually move west to east, so we knew the cascading, drenching, frog-strangling rain would be with us all day. For 400 miles. With commitments back home, we pressed on.
Weather factors in when you ride to Moonshine, so be ready for it. Getting through it is part of the reward that Moonshine riders understand. Life Lesson: BE PREPARED.
Weather isn’t the only Moonshine challenge. This year our route turned right off U.S. Route 50 in Aurora, West Virginia, onto Aurora Pike. The map showed a nice winding mountain road, but as we gained elevation the road deteriorated. Going downhill, the road narrowed, then turned to mud, then gravel, then rocks. Even if we could turn around, we’d never get back up the mountain on big sport tourers laden with a week’s gear.
Steve Efthyvoulou of Ledgewood, New Jersey, was up front. As Bob Fortuna of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and I reminded Steve for days after, he got us into this predicament. His leadership, honed by 20 years of Air Force service, got us out. Steve once told me when he faces something he’d rather not do but has to do anyway, he focuses his attention on the task and gets it done. That’s how he went down that mountain, and we followed his lead.
Time stood still as we inched our way down that washed-out excuse for a goat path. Off the high side was a ditch; down the low side, a cliff. Small streams crossed our path. Sharp turns, including one treacherous switchback, kept things dicey. Eventually we reached a maintained road and pulled into Rowlesburg. The crud on our bikes would have made a Kawasaki KLR rider proud. We laughed, realizing what we’d accomplished without damaging our bikes or ourselves.
Google Earth listed that road as State Route 80, but how it rated a route number is beyond me. That evening, the hotel maintenance guy brought us a hose and we washed away small quarries of sand, gravel and stones from our bikes’ nooks and crannies. This’ll be a good story to tell the grandchildren someday. Life Lesson: FOCUS ON THE TASK.
The direct route from my place to Moonshine tops 1,000 miles. No matter how you look at it, that’s a long ride. In some respects, though, my easiest Moonshine run was 18 hours, straight through. In 2014, three riders joined me in Massachusetts and together we completed the Curt Gran Memorial Moonshine SaddleSore 1000. That’s how I earned membership in the Iron Butt Association, the organization of riders who enjoy safe long-distance riding.
Our ride (officially “1,045 grueling miles in less than 24 hours”) included several hours before sunrise with temperatures in the 20s, brutal crosswinds throughout the day and highs in the 80s by afternoon, but we rode and rode without incident. Planning made it happen. We were mentally and physically rested. Our bikes were prepared. The route was set. Fuel stops were planned and brief. Protein snacks and hydrating drinks were packed. We were prepared for darkness, cold, sunshine, heat, rain, wind, detours, breakdowns and fatigue. As I pulled into the final checkpoint to have my time and mileage validated, my butt was officially “Iron.” Life Lesson: HAVE A PLAN.
One morning, our ride to Moonshine began in pea-soup fog along southeastern Ohio’s quintessential rollercoaster road, State Route 555. This fog was ahead of storms racing across the Midwest that we were riding into. By late morning, we saw cloud-to-ground lightning and felt thunderous shock waves. There’s often little shelter in rural parts so we took cover in the first place we found, under the portico of a church in Stockdale.
Standing under a metal roof supported by metal posts beneath a steeple topped by a cross made of iron pipe with no visible ground wire probably wasn’t ideal shelter as lightning sizzled around us for an hour, but it beat being human lightning rods on motorcycles out in the open. When blue sky revealed the front’s trailing edge, we continued, out of harm’s way, toward Moonshine. Life Lesson: ANY PORT IN A STORM.
Until my first ride to Moonshine, I had not experienced personally the scale of agriculture in the nation’s midsection. Venture onto southeastern Illinois’ county roads and the scene is dominated by mile after mile of fields where corn, soybeans and other crops are grown.
The idea for the Moonshine Lunch Run came from a motorcycle-riding farmer, and MLR takes place at the Moonshine Store, which on a typical day serves a clientele of mostly farmers. As MLR has become part of my life, I’ve gotten to know more farmers than I’d known in all my years before. Talking with them, checking out their equipment (big tractors are cool), and learning what it takes to bring a crop to market, I’ve come to admire the work they do and the risks they take to put food on other people’s tables. A farmer is a gardener, mechanic, venture capitalist, meteorologist, human resource manager, accountant, conservationist and more. They surely have much on their minds, yet nearly all return a wave to a motorcycle rider. Life Lesson: RESPECT FARMERS.
MLR involves many family connections. The most direct are Terry Hammond’s sisters, Vicki Gee and Carol McMillan (both farmers), who venture from their Tucson, Arizona, homes for Moonshine each April. “I was the first in the family to ride a motorcycle,” Vicki recalled, “but I got hurt and that was it for me. For the longest time I didn’t like motorcycles because I didn’t know them. But I knew that motorcycles took Terry away for long stretches when he took his trips, and he always came back happy. Seeing what motorcycles did for him helped me understand.”
“We knew Terry as a brother,” Carol said, “but Moonshine got us to know him in a new way. He rode far on a motorcycle, he meant to ride far. It mattered to him and to his friends. Terry was never afraid to approach anyone and it wasn’t until after he died that I came to realize how far and wide his motorcycle community had grown. I have so many questions for Terry that I can’t ask him now.”
The father and daughter team of Pat and Breann O’Bryant ride to Moonshine each year from Chillicothe, Ohio. “Having known Terry,” said Pat, “I know that you have to live your life because you don’t know when it’ll end. Moonshine is a wonderful experience and I will continue to go as long as I can. We meet great folks and my daughter has come with me and grown up experiencing it.”
Breann agreed. “It’s a good bonding experience for my Dad and me, and it’s like one big family gathering where maybe you don’t know people when you get here but you get to know them. And you can get a double Moonburger with bacon and cheese.”
There are brothers who ride to Moonshine including Steve Elliot of Kansas City, Missouri, and brother Kevin of Monford, Wisconsin. Kevin was at his third MLR in 2015, Steve his seventh. Steve said Moonshine is about camaraderie and meeting new people. Kevin likened it to a family reunion, which in his case, includes real family. “It’s a good way to stay in touch,” Kevin said. “You may even realize your older brother knows more than you.” Life Lesson: INVOLVE YOUR FAMILY.
Ever since Terry Hammond died in 2010, his best friend Jason Garver has stepped up to keep the Moonshine Lunch Run going. Jason avoids the limelight, but the simple fact is the MLR wouldn’t still be happening without Jason organizing it each year. And 2015 was another banner year, with 3,061 Moonburgers sold and close to $10,000 raised for charity. (Thank you, Jason.)
And get this: the guy who does the most to keep Moonshine going doesn’t ride a motorcycle. What’s he think of us who do? “You guys are crazy.” Why does he keep MRL going? “I always wanted to help Terry, so when Moonshine started taking off, I asked him ‘What can I do to help?’ Terry said ‘Do anything you want to do, as long as you have fun and you want to do it.’ So that’s what I did. And that’s what I’m doing.” Life Lesson: BE TRUE TO YOUR FRIENDS.
What life lessons can you learn riding to Moonshine? Ride there and find out.
For more information, visit: moonshine-run.com