Strap in for a cross-country adventure with three locals who live for the feeling of the open road.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
Those who hold a passion for the open road know that it’s not just about the road. That strip of asphalt is nothing compared to where that strip of asphalt can take you. Small railroad towns where the march of time seems to have taken a detour, verdant natural parks where it’s easy to pretend the whole of the continent is still untamed, long stretches that offer little but the chance for quiet contemplation.
It’s all waiting just down that road. And those who live for finding out what surprises await next are legion. That desire to explore is part of the American DNA, woven into our national character by forebears who came here in search of that next horizon. In capturing that spirit, we flagged down three locals who live for the ride.
This avid camper hits the road with a 1969 Shasta.
If you’ve been inside ArtWare, the Shelter Cove shop of Hilton Head’s queen of quirky, Jennifer Megliore, it should come as no surprise that one of her prized possessions is a vintage Shasta camper. After all, apart from the camper façade inside her store, each carefully curated item reflects an inspired blend of post-modern nostalgia and unfettered funkiness. It would almost come as a shock if she didn’t own a vintage camper.
And for years, she didn’t. Instead, she pored over Shasta message boards, tracked down leads and backroads and bought one car after another with a tow hitch just in case. “You never know when you might find a camper sitting in a field somewhere for a couple of hundred dollars,” she said of her relentless optimism. It was this optimism that led her to reach out to a gentleman in Wilmington, North Carolina, who was selling a vintage Shasta, and this determination that led her to press on after finding out it had been sold.
It turned out the buyer had been too tall for the Shasta. Adding to the serendipity? Megliore planned on naming the camper “Jenny Wren” after a storybook a family friend had written. Impossibly, the man selling the camper had a boat by the same name. The camper was hers to claim.
“After spending 18 years chasing a Shasta, you just have a euphoric feeling,” she said. “I’ve been road-tripping ever since.”
As the self-proclaimed steward of the Shasta, she put in no small amount of elbow grease in fixing up Jenny Wren. Replacing windows and gaskets and repairing water damage are no small tasks in themselves; harder still when replacement parts have been out of production for decades.
“It’s never an easy process, but it’s a labor of love,” she said. Of course she put her own artistic spin in Jenny Wren, adding custom-made curtains representing all 50 states, adding vintage maps to the cabinets and even tracking down the camper’s missing “wing.” In yet another act of serendipity, the wing came from the dealership where the Shasta was originally sold 50 years ago and was sold to Megliore by the grandson of the original salesman.
“To get old stock wings 50 years later, to me that’s one of my camper dreams come true,” she said.
And in her travels she has found camaraderie as Sister No. 2609 in the female-led camper club Sisters on the Fly. “For me, it’s like a rolling sorority,” she said. “I can use that directory, be in a local city and meet up with a sister and feel like friends. It’s a wonderful support group and so much fun; just to have time exclusively yours to laugh with like-minded women is wonderful.”
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Mark Piekarski & Lennel Stroud
These high school sweethearts reconnected through a love of cars and road-trip adventures.
The romance story of Mark Piekarski and Lennel Stroud begins, appropriately enough, with a car.
It was a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda that Stroud first noticed gliding into the parking lot of her high school. As a young fan of vintage cars, she wondered who it belonged to, never suspecting that its driver would later find his head similarly turned spying her in the hallways.
“She was a transfer student, and I spotted her on the first day being escorted to her first class by the principal,” said Piekarski. “I said to myself, ‘I gotta meet this girl.’”
Like so many teens, they would find a brief yet fiery romance together that would end not with a harsh breakup but with a gradually widening drift away that happens over time. For 30 years, each remained little more than a very fond memory held by the other.
“I went to college in New Hampshire, she went to college in North Carolina, so we just drifted apart and married other people,” said Piekarski. “After 30 years of marriage I was going through a divorce and looked her up on Facebook. Turns out she was just finishing her divorce.”
Decades removed from the day Lennel Stroud first spotted that Barracuda, the couple picked up where they left off. And once again, their shared love of cars cemented their romance. Piekarski had spent the intervening years collecting some antique fire engines, his lone passenger car being a Mustang Cobra that he only drove under ideal conditions.
“I told him, ‘Why have this car if you’re not going to drive it?,’ and ‘firetrucks are only in parades,’” said Stroud.
Soon, the Mustang and several of the fire engines went up for sale. Around the same time, Stroud spotted two ads that would define their budding relationship: One, a classified ad selling a 1931 Model A. The other, a splashy full-page ad in Hemmings Motor News for “The Great Race.”
That year’s major antique rally event would see 110 cars racing from Maine to Florida over nine days. Rather than a typical road race, The Great Race is a test of precision driving and difficult navigation rather than pure speed. Motoring along routes that can stretch for thousands of miles, racers must stick to a precisely planned route with meticulously outlined directions, hitting checkpoints at exactly the right moment.
As the navigator, Stroud was tasked with keeping the Model A on route and on time. “A lot of states, you don’t even know where you are,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun, but you really have to watch the road. We missed one sign in Iowa because the sign was behind a bush; we even missed it the second time we went back.”
The couple did not take the grand prize that year and finished 72nd, even with a day and a half breakdown with the Model A. The unofficial slogan for the race is, “To finish is to win,” but they had enough fun to return for the next four years, swapping the Model A for a 1947 Ford convertible and then a 1971 Mustang they took across historic Route 66. “We only brought the Mustang because we wanted air conditioning going through the West, though it broke on our way to the starting point,” laughed Piekarski.
In the future, they’re still looking for a better finish or even a win in The Great Race. But ultimately the best prize is one that they’ve already won: a renewed love affair between them and the collector car hobby. As a side note, though Stroud and Piekarski are not entered this year, The Great Race is finishing at 1 p.m. June 27 in downtown Greenville.
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This passionate rider has ‘the coolest job in the world.’
It’s a sight that can take your breath away and have you reaching for the car-door locks. Picture yourself driving along, minding your own business, when a roaring pack of motorcycles suddenly surrounds your car. Seeing the blur of tattooed arms, weathered faces, leather and chrome fly past your car, your first thought might be that a horde of outlaws has you cornered.
Relax. Behind those tattoos lies a positive force for good.
“After all these years, there’s still this stereotype that bikers are scary, when in fact we’re very philanthropic,” said Kim Flenard. And she should know. As general manager of Savannah Harley-Davidson, those frightening philanthropists are some of her best customers and employees.
She points to clubs like Bikers Against Child Abuse who raise money to protect children and aren’t afraid to show up in court to voice their support. Or the Savannah chapter of Harley Owners’ Group (H.O.G., get it?) who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for MDA, gathering toys for local hospitals and collecting food for area at-risk families. “And they’re not alone. A lot of clubs are like this.”
Fighting stereotypes and selling Harleys are all aspects of a passion for cycles Flenard said was first kindled by an ex but has been fanned to a roaring fire by her husband of 16 years, Earle of Sandwich Pub owner Jeff Flenard. “He’s an old-school biker,” said Kim.
While her duties at Savannah Harley-Davidson have kept her largely confined to the Southeast, like any biker she has her share of stories from the road. One trip took her down the winding embankments of the legendary Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile snarl of U.S. 129 high in the Appalachian mountains. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” she said. “There are 368 hairpin turns — and motorcycle parts in the trees. But it’s a beautiful ride if you take your time and just enjoy it.”
One memorable trip came during Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary celebration, when she took a homecoming trip to Milwaukee with the dealership’s owner and parts manager. “We stopped the first night in Paducah (Kentucky), and the whole next day was tough because we rode in driving rain, thunderstorms and lightening from Paducah to Rockford. That’s all part of riding motorcycles, but by the second day I was ready to stop.”
Thankfully, they made it to the centennial celebration where Flenard was reminded of how deep her passion for motorcycles runs. “For this particular meeting, people came from all over the world,” she said. “We were all sitting in this big convention center, and all of a sudden you hear this rumbling throughout the whole convention center. The hair stood up on my arms. I had butterflies, and I thought, ‘I really have the coolest job in the world.’”
And the perks aren’t bad either. “Right now I’m riding my husband’s 2002 Electra Glide classic. But I get to ride every single bike in the building.”
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