Cruisin' the Fireball Freeway

This week I’m pondering all the Fireball whisky bottles the mules and I are encountering on Indiana’s roadsides.

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Some of the Fireball whisky bottles I’ve come across on the roads between Sulpher and Monroe City, Indiana.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge

Mules Cracker, Brick and me: on the road looking for adventure and roadside trash. (Tracy Smallwood photo)

Traveling America’s back roads by mule lets me absorb life at 3 miles per hour. How the bottom of a hill is cooler than the top. How starling wings swish flying by and how the joints in the guard rails are lapped in the direction of traffic.
Traveling with mules gives me a real sense of a place. I spend all day looking closely at the land I’m in, right down to the litter.
You know how they talk of terroir? How Napa wines taste of dust and Hotel California with an aftertaste of San Fran Tech? Okay, I just made that up but you know what I’m getting at.
Well, I’m finding that the garbage has its own terroir -its own geographic peculiarities.
Take last week. I rode the mules across the Ohio River from Kentucky in to Indiana and headed West from Sulpher to Birdseye to Jasper. The roadside was littered with the usual trash, corporate rubble from the Big Three of Trash: Bud Light cans, MacDonald’s cups and Marlboro cigarette butts.
But between the butts and cans, I found lots of small plastic bottles with bright red tops.
Fireball Whisky bottles.
No, not full-sized bottles. But the single shot size.

fireball, fireball whisky, fireball whisky bottle

Fireball bottles thrown out along the side of the road.

And I’m not talking a few here and there. I’m talking dozens of them.
The heaviest density was between Sulpher and Bird’s Eye. There were so many tiny whisky bottles lying on the side of the road I started calling that stretch of road the Fireball Freeway.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge

The eastern part of the Fireball Freeway is hilly and quite heavily forested. If I looked closely, in addition to whisky bottles, I spotted….

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge

…. blooming tulip poplars.

On Fireball Freeway it was bottles on the roadside and bottles in the ditch. Bottles in the gravel and bottles in the grass. Bottles by the guard rails and bottles by the signs. So many tiny bottles I sorta went crazy photographing them and had to cut myself off after a dozen because I am, after all, heading toward Idaho with 2 mules making 300 miles per month. I’ve still got 1,500 miles to go.

There’s only so many times I can whoa the mules, grub my camera out of my pommel bag and fire off a shot. Then you’ve got to stuff the camera back in to the pommel bag before the next car rushes by. You need both hands to travel by mule across America – one hand to steer the saddle mule, the other to lead the pack mule.

fireball, fireball whisky, fireball whisky bottle

For a crisp whisky bottle photo, you need to get close to the bottle. Really close. I shot this from my saddle, keeping one eye in the viewfinder, the other on traffic. Not relaxing.

In all fairness, not all the Indiana roadsides were paved in tiny empty whisky bottles. I found none between the outskirts of Jasper and Ireland.

fireball, fireball whisky, fireball whisky bottle

Brick enjoying a lunch time snooze outside Jasper. Not a whisky bottle in sight.

I chalk this up to the area’s strong German roots. This the land where the Buschkoetters, Schnells and the Eckerts took root. Yeah, you know that Teutonic reputation for tidiness.

I witnessed it first hand.

Clip clopping through Ireland, I saw a stern lady stride across her severely clipped lawn to retrieve a plastic cup that had landed there in the night. She picked it up with disgust and carried it pinch-fingered to her garbage can. Like she was hauling off a dead mouse by the tail.

fireball, fireball whisky, fireball whisky bottle

Welcome to Ireland, home to all the Germans – and a few Irish. You don’t see any garbage, do you?

I started musing on patterns among the Fireball bottles. What struck me first was that all but one of the bottles had the cap screwed on it. With tossed out bottles, that’s not always the case. Lots of Gatorade, water and juice bottles get tossed out topless.

Is it paranoia that makes an automotive Fireball drinker screw the cap back on the bottle before he chucks it out the window? Is it even a he that does the tossing? I’m pretty sure it is.

More questions.
Because the passenger side of a car is closer to the curb, were these all passengers’ bottles I was finding? Or does a whisky bottle tossed out the driver’s side window at 55 mph skid across the highway and mingle with the passengers’ refuse?

Then there are the darker thoughts. Of how many thousands of empty beer cans I pass every day. Of how, at any time of the day as I’m riding up the road, some body is driving along drinking a beer or taking a shot of Fireball.

That’s not cute. That just pisses me off. I’ve witnessed too many oncoming cars run off the road, over correct and cross the center line coming straight toward me. Mostly it’s texting. I’m sure is drinking, though.

These are the things I ponder riding through Indiana on my mules. Aside from the empty Fireball bottles littering the roadside, it’s been a glorious ride through Indiana. Highlights have been amazingly generous folks and beautiful scenery, especially along the Ohio River.

I’ve even had my fair share of whisky and bourbon. Mostly Jim Beam. No, I haven’t tried a Fireball yet. I sure would if offered one.

Yes, I’ve picked up more than a few of those tiny bottles on the side of the road. No, not to get a whiff, but for proper disposal.

PS: In the mood for something more…natural? Check out my collection of Road Kill Tiger Tails or the Dead Animals of Kentucky.


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