Ever since I got into motorcycling a few years ago, I find myself looking all over for excuses to ride. Unlike car travel, which can get monotonous, hitting the road on a bike almost invariably leads to memorable adventures. So when a bunch of my cousins got to chattering about a reunion in Dallas this summer, I got to daydreaming about two-wheeling through the Lone Star State.

In the past, such a flight of fancy likely would have remained just that. I mean, I live in New York City, more than 1,500 miles away, so riding down there for essentially a long weekend is not exactly what you’d call “realistic.” But these days, this kind of dream can come true, thanks to the geniuses at Eagle Rider. Founded with just a few bikes in San Pedro, California in 1992, the company now provides motorcycle rentals and tours through 100-plus US locations and in more than 30 countries around the world. Additionally, an exclusive partnership with Harley-Davidson inked last year means Eagle Rider customers can grab gleaming current model year Harleys at numerous dealers and even drop them off at far-flung destinations.

The brand has six locations in Texas alone, so I had my pick of starting points. After calculating way too many logistics, I settled on Austin, a couple hundred miles south of Dallas, unless you take the scenic route (heh heh). Having ridden a growling Low Rider into Mexico last year, I switched things up, straddling a gorgeous Heritage Classic at Cowboy Harley-Davidson on a sun-soaked Thursday afternoon. And here are a few nuggets of knowledge I procured on what turned out to be a pretty epic little road trip…

The sun was shining, the road was long and empty, and the Classic was itching to eat up some asphalt. I leaned back, eased her up to sixth gear and felt the air fly past as the speedometer ticked ever higher. I felt like I was riding the wind, and it was glorious.

The Best Austin BBQ Might Actually Be in… Manchaca
After a long day of travel just to get to Texas, the first thing on my mind was food. With a bit of help from Google, I rode over to little Manchaca, about 10 miles southwest of Austin, and grabbed a brisket taco from Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. Topped with salsa and fresh guacamole, it was just melt-in-your-mouth delicious. And believe me, I took them up on the free sweet tea refill, a godsend with temps in the triple digits.

Revival Cycles Knows Bikes—and Where to Take Them
Hunger sufficiently curbed, I cruised over to a local motorcycle shop, Revival Cycles on South Congress, to get the lay of the land. Revival not only does incredible mod work on bikes, they also make and sell a lot of sharp-looking gear, including some they craft themselves. I asked the guys behind the counter, Josh and Scott, where I could head for some wide open roads, and they suggested riding west, to a tiny little town and hard-to-find hangout with great live music some 70 miles away. I took it as a challenge, bought a killer pair of deerskin gloves and fired up the Harley.

There’s Nothing Like Riding Into a Texas Sunset
Once I got out past the city limits, things really opened up in the best possible way. The sun was shining, the road was long and empty, and the Classic was itching to eat up some asphalt. The bike is a real beauty, boasting an updated, aerodynamic Softail frame, Milwaukee-Eight Big Twin engine, high-performance shocks and a feature I thought I’d never use but came to love, cruise control. I leaned back, eased her up to sixth gear and felt the air fly past as the speedometer ticked ever higher. I truly felt like I was riding the wind, and it was glorious.

You Don’t Have to Be a Big Town to Have Great Nightlife
The hangout the Revival boys recommended was indeed out of the way, but I knew I was in the right place when I pulled up to a large wooden structure, cut the engine and heard the plaintive strains of a well-traveled guitar. Making my way out to the back I found a small but lively crowd enjoying the promised live music. The whole aesthetic called to mind Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and as the two-man crew played everything from CCR to Seger, I was utterly charmed. I won’t say exactly where I was, but the truly curious can suss it out…

There’s Much More to the Branch Davidians Than Most of Us Know
After a challenging night ride up to Waco—boy, did the Classic’s ultra-bright LED headlights come in handy—I slept hard and woke early. After all, there was something I needed to see before zipping up to Dallas and joining my cousins: the Branch Davidian scene, some 14 country miles west of Waco in Axtell. Having listened to Last Podcast on the Left’s engrossing account of what went down there in 1993, I had to check it out.

When I first cruised through the gates, I encountered only barking dogs, a small building, a couple of motor homes and a well-constructed memorial to the 82 Branch Davidians killed that spring. I was just about to leave when a man named Eddie strolled up and started talking to me about the tragedy. We both lamented the loss of life, especially so many innocent children, and then he encouraged me to roll down the road and check out the church, which formed one corner of the area that was besieged by the ATF and FBI.

I had no idea the Branch Davidians were even still worshipping, so I headed over. Inside I encountered a pretty rather set-up (see photo below). Toward the back, I found makeshift tributes to the seven major leaders the Branch Davidians have had since the 1950s (who knew?) including one to David Koresh—as well as more political propaganda (pro-Trump) than one usually encounters in a church.

On my way out, I encountered a Davidian named Alexa, who was very sweet and told me more about what happened, even pointing out the remnants of the school bus that got destroyed during the siege. Outside, everything was so quiet and beautiful, it was difficult to imagine the violence that took place there 25 years ago.

I can’t lie: My desire to see this place sprang a bit from a sense of the macabre, but I ended up leaving with a lot of new insights, such as:

>> The church is way, way out there. It’s hard to believe the government cared so much what they were doing in the first place, even if that gun business was pretty sketchy.

>> The Davidians prefer that we not call the place a “compound,” Eddie says, because it connotes a militaristic feel they don’t really embrace.

>> The current Davidians do not appear to be big fans of David Koresh. But he’s a part of their history they can’t ignore, either.

>> Before he was famous, Alexa says, one of the biggest forces helping to rebuild the church was… Alex Jones.

>> There are still Branch Davidians. (Seriously, I had no idea.) Regardless of your political views, they are God-fearing people who generally seem to be minding their own business, a small, devoted group carrying on long after an undeniable disaster.

Wow, sorry if I got a bit heavy there, but you have to go into the dark every once in a while to appreciate the light, right?

Dallas Does BBQ Way Better Than Dallas BBQ
That’s a bit of a New York inside joke, as we have a chain here called Dallas BBQ that’s not all that convincing. Meanwhile, the cousins’ dinner at Smoke was nothing less than a carnivore’s delight. This pic of one “family-style” platter pretty much says it all.

Kids Love Bikes
There were nine adults and 12 kids at the reunion. Naturally, much alcohol was consumed, loads of fun was had and many, many photos were taken. But this shot of my youngest niece and one of my cousins’ daughters is easily a favorite.

Elm Street in Deep Ellum Seems Cool AF
While in Dallas, I simply had to make a pilgrimage to Elm Street Tattoo, which is owned by Oliver Peck, Ink Master star, tattooist extraordinaire and the man responsible for my first few pieces. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in, and I didn’t have time to get any new art, but the shop was buzzing with activity, as was the whole street, full of bars and eateries and music venues. With any luck, I’ll get to return and spend much more time there one day.

You Can Find Damn Good Mexican Off the Beaten Path
My return trip to Austin was much more direct, as I had a plane to catch, but I did manage to take a bit of a detour on some lovely country roads around the town of Moody. Needing a pit stop, I stumbled onto a bit of an oasis in the form of México Lindo, where I got the “light” lunch plate below for $6.99. It was predictably delicious, and for a New Yorker that price is damn near loco. I’ll never forget the friendly waitress’s words, either: “You out on your bike today? My daughter’s ten months and has already been on two bikes. I’m so proud of her.” Ah, Texas.

Riding Can Bring Us Together…
The most memorable moment from the voyage home took place when I pulled over to change my socks (there was a minor rainstorm in Dallas), and a fellow motorcyclist named Danny stopped to check on me. That really warmed my heart, and we had a nice little chat about life—turns out he’s an auto repairman, so he probably could have helped if necessary–before riding several miles together. Then he took an exit toward his sister’s place, gesturing toward Austin as we parted ways. Good dude. 

…But Some of the Best Memories Can Be Solo
Some 500 miles later, I was back at Cowboy Harley-Davidson, reluctantly dropping off that beautiful bike. But I left it behind with loads of pleasant thoughts, including a universal one for riders: When it’s just you, your wheels and the open road, life can be pretty sweet.