Taking the scenic route

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. — Jay Anderson spends about half the year on the road as a service technician for Mercury Marine. Thousands of miles are driven in the cab of a diesel truck, towing a trailer loaded with parts and the tools of his trade.

Anderson easily qualifies as a million mile driver after 31 years on the job. The drive to the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair marked a first for the veteran road warrior.

Anderson got here seated on his favorite mode of transportation. His Harley Davidson motorcycle. The trip began in a suburb outside of Nashville and ended on the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, a distance of 639 miles. From garage to service yard, he covered the miles in about 8 hours. That included driving through the path of totality for the solar eclipse.

The ride up was justified even though not as long as he would have liked. Anderson had planned to take the month off after spending all of July on the road. He was put on call due to a family emergency of a co-worker. The corporate office called and Anderson was sent to Michigan.

"I didn't know I was coming until the last minute," he said. "I figured it would take about the same amount of time to drive as to fly, after making connections and everything else."

The bike came out of the garage just in time to hit the road for the eclipse. Traffic was unbelievably light as he crossed the path of darkness through Kentucky. Everyone had reached a final viewing destination.

"To drive through the path of totality, and on the bike, was amazing," he recalled. "I would definitely do it all again."

He would do it again, even with the hiccups coming along the way. The exhaust pipe came off on a busy interstate. Anderson waited for traffic to clear, grabbed the hot tail pipe and immediately burned his hands.

The 12-volt system didn't work so he improvised. He went old school without GPS navigation, a cell phone. He bought a road atlas in case heavy traffic dictated a detour.

"That made it even more fun, you know, the spirit of adventure."

Laugh if you want but spending hours in an airport, waiting on an airplane to arrive and endure long layovers made it all worthwhile.

Anderson only had two regrets. He couldn't carry all of his tools in the sidecar. Timing was off for a lunch stop in Toledo, Ohio, at Tony Packo's. The hot dog café was made famous by M*A*S*H TV series cross-dressing character Corporal Maxwell Klinger.

Anderson rode in style with a 2001 Harley Davidson FLHTCI Electra Glide model. The bike is tricked out with a Stroker kit and Liberty sidecar. Anderson, who already owns two Harley Davidson motorcycles, had a back-story about the latest addition to the collection.

"The bike was a gift from my best friend," he added.

Last year that friend won the cash lottery and gifted Anderson with the bike, throwing in the sidecar as a bonus. Anderson personalized it with a vanity license plate inscribed with the letters TTRTOT, an abbreviation for tator tot, a favorite food.

Anderson will be joined on the ride back by a fellow biker. Before then much work will be done. His formal title with Mercury is field service engineer for tournament support. Like all service crews across the brands on hand at the tournament, he is subject to call without notice.

The trailer is fully equipped with full dress power heads, complete lower units, propellers, small parts and lots of tools. There isn't a task too big or small for the crew to handle.

"Most of the work happens in about a three-hour turnaround after the weigh-in concludes," he explained. "We can change out a power head in under 45 minutes."

That task takes much longer at a dealership. But the short turnaround is a must as the minutes tick away during a competition day. The "engineering" part of the title translates to useful feedback.

"We report back to the engineers how certain parts are functioning," he added.

After three decades and counting he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Seeing the sport progress has been the greatest reward," he recalled. "Back when I started a so-called pro needed another job to make ends meet."

Now they can do it full time, which is pretty neat considering where the sport has come from since I started."

Anderson was among the first of his kind. When he started, only two service techs were on the road. Now there are more than a dozen service rigs providing service and support for freshwater and saltwater tournaments, big and small.

"It's the only life I have ever known," he added. "I have totally enjoyed it and wouldn't trade it for anything."

Anderson was asked if he'd accept a free, non-stop airplane ticket back to Nashville. Load the bike on a truck and ship it home for free.

"No way," he answered. "The truck will be waiting for the next trip."