The ride is the reason.
This is a story about a tour across America – as it happens.
With this email, I am removing myself from the various mailing lists to which I subscribe, and I am beginning a carefully unplanned trip. I know I am heading East because, after all, I am starting in San Francisco (where I live). I know I will head South when I get to Maine … after that who knows. You are invited to come with me, electronically that is.
You are receiving this because either you asked to be on the copylist or I decided you might be interested in a slice of life on the road as it happens. Alone. On a motorcycle. Not knowing where today or tomorrow will end. If you decide you do not want to come along … speak up. Although, I might not hear you for a couple of days, because, remember, I *am* on the road.
(Cue background music: Willie Nelson – On The Road Again …)
Just so you know, this is not a mid-life crisis thing. My mid life is over. That crisis came way early. This is about enjoyment and not about escape or searching. You will hear me say this often – the ride is the reason. There is no “destination”, other than I intend to attend the BMW Motorcycle Owners Of America (once a year) national gathering which this year happens to be in Texas during the last week of June. San Francisco to Texas – by way of Maine? Yes, I have a map. No thank you, I don’t intend to look at it much.
Having already been to all 48 of the ‘lower US’, there are no more ‘must see’ spots. But there are many ‘must ride’ roads left. That’s where I’m going. Oh, yeah, and maybe a few visits with friends along the way.
This series of email reports is primarily being written for two motorcycle communities – the Internet BMW Riders and the Long Distance Rider mailing lists. There are some crazy people among us … but we all are driven by the “need” to ride. One of the participants on these lists has a signature that says something like ‘only motorcycle riders truly understand why dogs HAVE to hang their head out a moving car window’. The ride is the reason. Don’t ask why.
So, what about the ‘wanderlust’. It seems to be the closest one word description for what I am about to do. One of the more (in)famous writers among our group did a similar trip during a summer and wrote about it every day. I was communicating with him through email recently and said to him he is the vanguard of our mindset. Wither he leadeth, however, I hope not to follow. Neither in the philosophy and angst he sought to resolve, nor in the uneven pavement edge he recently found with his front tire. (Heal quickly, Bob.)
This is a trip to enjoy without pressure. Those who may remember my story of a week long trip to Mexico in January (The Permanent Vacation) recall I am no longer encumbered by having to work. Now I am going to use some of that most valuable resource – time – just to see what is happening ‘out there’. This is the trip to nowhere for no reason. The ride is the reason.
I have two BMW motorcycles. One an “airhead” R100RT, now with over 110,000 miles on it, and a water-cooled K75RTA. For this trip, the K is my choice because it is the more comfortable long distance bike. (IBMWR and LDR readers, pardon me. There are many on the copylist who do not know …) The K has a 750cc 3 cylinder engine that can run all day at speeds fast enough to get a ticket even in Montana (where the speed limit is only ‘safe and reasonable’ during the day), but at normal highway speed is as smooth as a sewing machine … and kind of sounds like one (thanks, Tom! 🙂 It has a full fairing, an adjustable windshield, and a custom (Russell) seat that ‘grabba-la-bunza’ like a masseuse. The K “only” has 20,500 miles so far, and is now just barely broken in. These BMW bikes are amazing. I expect it to perform flawlessly. (Some say BMW stands for Best Motorcycle in the World.)
For personal fare, I am travelling quite light. Two changes of clothes (jeans and flannel -yes- flannel shirts), leather (half high) work boots, camelback, rain suit, tent, sleeping bag, toiletries, and pc. That’s about it. I will pack a medium weight jacket and an electric vest for the high country, but (although this will incite the righteous) I don’t wear a riding suit or leathers. (I do wear a helmet even in the states that do not require it.)
I will try to write a report every day, but I may not be able to send it if I camp out. Each night that I stay in a motel I will upload whatever notes I have collected. So this is going to be an uncertain thing. Don’t plan your morning constitutional around me 🙂
OK, now. While I want to keep this open and free in style, I don’t want to get too long. So I’ll stop now and pack the pc on the bike.
I leave at 10 am, Sunday June 1. The first day will be one of the longest stretches (have YOU ever ridden across Nevada?). I am aiming for Wells, Nevada, because that’s where the two-lane road leaves the Interstate heading for Promontory Point. I’m going to see the golden spike that completed the transcontinental railroad … and is starting my transcontinental road.
I’ll be in touch.
I suppose I should appreciate Nevada. It does keep Utah from bumping into California. I suppose I should also appreciate my driveway. It does keep the street from bumping into my house. But geez, Nevada is an awfully long driveway. It seems I spent half the day staring at a straight flat driveway in front of me. At last, the driveway has ended in the dusty parking lot of a truck stop motel. Dozens of diesels doze, idling in a quiet cacophony of their rattling snore. The lot full of trucks practically undulates in rhythm as you walk past. Day 1 is ended.
Quote for the day:
” … all any of us need is a very light suitcase.”
Oswald Wynd, Scottish Writer born 1913
I thought that getting ready for this trip would be a breeze. Two changes of clothes and ‘incidentals’, which should fit with room to spare in the two cavernous BMW sidebags. Right. Plus toiletries, plus camping gear, plus rain suit, plus bike cover, plus jackets, plus shoes, plus plus plus
I spent almost two hours just arranging things on the bike, only to forget I had yet to pack the pc which (expletive) did not fit in the sidebag after all. Grrr. Oh well. At least I’d get a good night sleep and finish in the morning. Right. To bed at 2 am because I was finishing up email and private letters. Yawn.
You will not once hear from me “the day dawned …”. I have no idea – the sun was up long before me. I did finish packing and miraculously left less than an hour after plan, about 11 am. San Francisco was truly beautiful in a shimmering Sunday slumber. The bay waters bounced with whitecaps from the wind through the Golden Gate, and I could clearly see the peak of Mt. Tamalpais only a dozen miles away but rarely unfogged. This is one of the “many Californias” that exist so close together. The oceans, the cities, the valleys, the foothills, the mountains, and more. As I rode, I pass through at least 4 Californias. By the way … I spend the entire day on Interstate 80 which has one unmarked end in San Francisco. Do you know where the other end is ? It isn’t marked either. At least not like that wonderfully campy sign just this side of Sacramento: US 50 begins here. 3,017 miles to Ocean City, MD
The ride to Sacramento and through the central valley was uneventful and not nearly as hot as I expected – maybe only 90F 32C degrees. An hour later as I crested the Sierra Nevada at Donner Summit, the air temperature was 55F 13C degrees. What an amazing difference. Traffic was light except for the caravans of Reno-bound busses. After Reno, I could have had a picnic in the road and not been bothered.
The K is running better than ever. I think this thing is really settled in now. People have often said that a BMW doesn’t really break in until 20,000 miles. I think there’s some truth there. Mileage at speed is better now also. I prefer to cruise at 5200 rpm, which happens to be 72 mph. Mileage during break in was around 40-42 mpg. Already on the first leg of this trip, mileage is showing at 46-48. The FuelPlus computer indicates a tank range of 252 miles – more than I’ve ever seen before. I think this bike *wants* to travel.
Incidentally, I have never been one to name machines like some other riders name theirs. If you must have a name, call the bike Katie. That comes from my slurring the model names of my two bikes … the R-RT is “Artie”, so the K-rT must be “Katie”.
72 mph is just a bit faster than most traffic in the Bay Area, but once past Sacramento traffic was a little faster and I was “in the flow”. It was most amusing later in the day, past Reno, to still be cruising at 72 and be the slowest on the road. You see, the posted speed is 75 mph.
Ah, the West. When there is sooooo much open space, speed seems relative – and relatively unimportant. You can go 70 and see so far across the landscape you can almost see tomorrow. You can go 100 and still see the same view. It is so big it doesn’t change with speed. And straight. And flat. Do you ever get ‘highway hypnosis’ from staring at the road? How about landscape languor.
I do like Nevada and it is very scenic. But again, how many times do you stop in your driveway just to admire the view? I’ve crossed Nevada so many times I just wish it would shrink.
Two observations: This is the land of no bridges. Yes there are overpasses for the Interstate, but other than that, none of the roads cross over each other – they intersect. Just like in the ‘old days’ everywhere else. Second, “prison area, do not pick up hitch hikers”. Why do they put the prison so close to the highway? Presumably the prisoner transport vehicles could have driven another mile or two down a road. But no, the yard is a stone throw from the road. Is it a form of mental punishment to make the prisoners watch the constant flow of freedom in which they can not partake? I can not imagine how I would miss being able to ride.
So yes, all day it was: RIDE. Stop only for gas and go – as though I were in a competitive event. The FuelPlus said 8 hours and 17 minutes engine runtime. I left at 10:55 and arrived at 8:05. That is 9 hours and 10 minutes.
The first day on the road is always a ‘get used to it’ time. So it was. The hands are now sensitized to the feel of the grips. The feet have found the comfortable tuck on the pegs. The buns have made friends with the saddle. The bugs are smeared all over the bike. Whoever thinks the desert is ‘dry’ needs to ride with an open mouth for a couple of miles. What a mess! Rather than clean it tonight I just laid some toilet paper of the windshield. The morning dew collect on the paper and soak the bugs soft. What a yummy thought. 🙂
To bed now for a good rest. Tomorrow morning I want to change the oil before I hit the hot country. I change oil at twice the recommended interval – 3K miles instead of 6K. Then it is off the freeway and into the ‘groove’ of riding. Let the trip *really* begin!
FuelPlus statistics: 546 miles, 8:17 engine run, 66 mph average
Background music: … and the skies are not cloudy all day.
Today I did something I’ve never done before and it felt good although it seemed strange. I just sat and waited, stretched out on the bike, parked under a bridge at a Ranch Exit (an exit but there is no road) off the Interstate, watching a thunderstorm pass over the valley I wanted to visit. Normally, I would have been in such a hurry that I would have suited up and grimaced through. Today I had time. Today I got ‘a round tuit’, and I just sat and enjoyed the weather.
Yes, first rain. Don’t you hate the first rain of a trip? You know you are going to have to do it, but somehow you wish it would be clear the whole way. Well, I didn’t expect to see rain in the Great Salt Desert, but I did. There was this one cloud that kept following me across northern Utah. Sprinkles, stop and get out the rainsuit … but wait – it stopped. 20 miles later, sprinkles, stop, suit … but wait. Then when I turned south toward Promontory, there it was. Dab smack in the middle of the valley. Hah! I’ve got time. *I* can wait. You, Mr. Tstorm can’t wait. You gotta move.
Sitting on the bike watching the lightning and the drifting tendrils of showers drag from the main cloud like a sea anchor trailing a scow, it reminded me how much children like to watch storms from a safe place. My bike is my safe place now (although I didn’t have my nose pressed against the screen :).
Never did change the oil. No one had 20-50 weight. Mostly trucks hereabouts. Trucks like 30 weight. There was some 10-40, but I expect very hot weather by the time I change again, so I’ll try tomorrow.
The morning ride was peaceful. Two lane roads in Nevada and Utah sometimes have speed limits posted, mostly not. Here where I could go as fast as I wanted … I cruised at 72. Away from the Interstate it seemed faster because there was more to see. Another benefit of that cruising is I don’t ever have to worry about Officer Friendly. Come to think about it, I haven’t seen more than 3 troopers and one county mounty since San Fran. The roads have been ‘quietly enforced’. Nor has there been a Bozo count. All the drivers have been remarkably behaved.
So, for what may be my one and only National Park/Site on this trip, I visited the Golden Spike Memorial – about in the middle of what on a map hangs down into the Great Salt Lake like that ‘hangy down part’ in the back of your throat. (Dr. Terry will probably have to educate me on the proper medical name and personal hygiene of that body part, but I digress.) The Golden Spike site taught me a lesson I have had to learn several times recently, that being: If my cynicism has taught me anything, it is that I should be more cynical.
History is not so much preserved as it is recreated. So often that happens in America. I wondered when I saw the monument that said “… the replica spike is positioned within inches of where the original …” They don’t know? How many inches – 12,000? Why don’t they know for sure?
The reason they don’t know is because the railroad was abandoned less than 10 years after it was built when a shorter route was laid around the lake. Then in 1942 all the tracks for 200 miles were ripped up and melted for the world war metal needs. It was only in 1979 that 2 miles of track were laid for the ceremonial locomotives that sit there today. That spike was somewhere around here, or maybe there, or … It is worth a visit if you like reconstituted God’s Destiny (I mean American History) complete with 20 minute video of Americans overcoming the travails of nature and natives, representative faux artifacts, and related unnecessary souvenirs. Thanks. I left with refreshed cynicism.
It is soooo good to be back in “the country”. I have my own definition for country: Country is where the elevation is higher than the population. YMMV (For the benefit of the non-moto readers, that means ‘your mileage may vary’, like the standard disclaimer with advertisements.) but I have found that the size of a community doesn’t unilaterally affect its country nature. Even a big town up high retains a country feeling. Like Kemmerer, Wyoming, population 4,300, elevation, 6,700. Country is where people talk to you because you are there, not because they have to. Country is where when someone asks how are you, they are interested in the answer. Country is where Chicken Fried Steak is at the top of the menu.
‘Elevations’ reminds me. Recently there was an Internet BMW discussion about K-bike high-altitude plugs. I have one connected to a dash switch, thus I was able to experiment at different elevations. I saw no difference in gas consumption or idling until 6,000 feet. I believe the BMW manual which says ‘over 4,000 feet’, but the effect is very subtle. Here in Kemmerer, the bike won’t idle smoothly with the switch off.
From Promontory, I rode through Logan, Utah, a pleasant town where there must be a law that everyone has to shower just before going outdoors. Everyone looked so scrubbed and clean, so I got out of town. If you ever get the chance, ride Logan Canyon, route 89 to Bear Lake. Those who are familiar with the Feather River Canyon in California will recognize this as a closer, tighter version of the same, with clean sweeping curves that let you test center-of-gravity theories over and over again. Superb! The whole northeastern corner of Utah has some wonderful roads that just don’t get much attention. ‘This is the place’ _to ride_ 🙂
“A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from.”
Lin Yutang, Chinese Writer 1895-1976
Well, I know I’m good, but I must be close to perfect. The roads I took through Blue Creek, Howell, Thiokol, and Penrose are not on the map. (Neither is Thiokol, where the NASA rocket motors are made. Ooops. Is that supposed to be a secret?)
I forgot to tell you yesterday how I touched a personal part of my past in Elko, Nevada. 10 years ago, the first time I took my dog on a cross country RV trip, we stopped in Elko for the first rest. The dog was convinced ‘the pack’ was on the move and she would never see home again, so when given a snack she took one milkbone and buried it in the crusty dust of the desert parking lot – in case we ever came this way again and needed food. It is a dog thing. Yesterday I stopped at that spot. I didn’t need food, so I didn’t try to dig it up.
Tomorrow I have to decide which fork to take to cross Wyoming. North through Shoshoni or south along the Oregon Trail, aiming for Lusk (home of ‘red beer’). So I will follow the wisdom of Yogi Berra: If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
FuelPlus statistics: 351 miles, 6:47 engine run, 52 mph average
Better than a picture, these are more than a thousand word days! When I started this daily report, I intended to try to keep to 1000 words so you wouldn’t mind reading everyday. I can’t. The days have so much to say … I’d have to stop travelling about mid day. And that wouldn’t make sense, would it?
Kemmerer was a refreshing rest. After the second one, I never heard the freight trains that passed the motel every hour. My, this is a chilly spring in the high country. 36F 2C was the overnight low. At last the oil was changed (even though I had to buy the 20-50 at the hardware store), and I settled into the Busy Bee Cafe for breakfast. Among my many talents (modesty not included 🙂 is the ability to find the best places to eat with just a glance. It’s been called my ‘Cafe Eye’. It worked again. How can you go wrong with a place that has cowhide tablecloths? (No, they are not leather. Can you imagine how messy that would be? Ewww)
The nice waitress answered my question why Kemmerer, although a reasonable sized town, has a relatively large, very old J.C.Penney store still operating. Most like that were closed years ago. She said “Because J.C. Penney himself opened his first store here. This is where the company started.” Corporate shrine?
About 40 miles east of Kemmerer I met and started following the Oregon Trail. I wondered as I travelled ‘against the tide’ whether the trail guides followed the same trail back to start another wagon train. You only ever read about westbound travelers. While at my one historical marker stop for the day, South Pass, which happens to be the Continental Divide, I remembered a phase told to me by someone who has seriously studied the Plains Indians. One of the medicine men observed that the people who could be seen in a line stretching to the horizon must be returning by a different route and coming around again. These must be the same people over and over “For surely there can not be that many people in all the world”. I looked at the trail marks and realized these emigrants invented the traffic jam! The original rush hour! The long commute! (Get back on the road Sam.)
Over the high plains, past snow drifts still several feet deep behind the wind fences, past the southern end of the Wind River Mountains still covered with snow half way up, I thought I could see the purple mountain majesty – and just then a plane flew high over the range … so I started singing the Fractured Fairytale version of ‘America’: “Oh Beautiful! For spaceship skies. For amber brews of grain. For purr pull mountains magic ring. Above, the flying plane.” Etc. (Is this riding getting to me?)
Just when I think *I* am too silly I see Wyoming Highway Dept warning signs about this being ‘open range’ and animals on the road. HUGE sign – life sized drawing of a steer. Large letters: ‘Caution, slow traffic ahead.’ Cute. 2 miles later, another HUGE sign – life sized elk: ‘Caution, heavy traffic merging.’ And again, life sized antelope, running: ‘Caution, antelope entering highway at 55 mph.’ Ah. This is a state that takes itself seriously with humor.
The Twilight Zone Moment of the day occurred when I stopped for gas in Jeffrey City. After filling up, I walked into the Split Rock Cafe and Bar (the other side of the same building) to see about getting something like a fruit juice or gatorade. Well, neither Snapple nor Odwalla has discovered Jeffrey yet. Beer will do. There was no one in the cafe. There was one old cowboy at the bar. So I nodded hello (He touched his hat with one finger. It’s a cowboy thing.) and I sat further down the bar. After, oh, 3 minutes with nothing moving – not even the dog asleep under the pool table – I asked old cowpoke “Do I help myself or do I have to ask someone to get a beer.” He said (in local dialect) “Wuna beer? Ahl git y’wun.” He walked behind the bar, grabbed one without looking and said “Ha zis?” Fine, whatever, it’s cold. I took a sip, set it on the bar, and went to the men’s room.
Barely a minute later I walk back into the bar … and there are 3 guys at the bar, two others playing pool, and a female bartender. The bartender asks “Zat yur beer?” Yes. “Buk7d. Ha’ja git it?” Now I look around and both the dog and the cowboy were gone. “Sorry, ma’am, there was this older cowboy at the bar …” (and I’m thinking I’ve just been set up) but she just laughed and said “Luks lahk Charlie been playn bar agin!” Whew. But where WERE these people? Was there a time warp in the bathroom?
At Casper I had to get back on the Interstate. There is *no* other road through some parts of this vast state. Before the interstates there were either excruciatingly slow dirt roads – or some areas had access from only one direction. Off again and through the ? town of Lost Springs, population 4. But Lost Springs has 6 buildings? Looks like 3 houses, the requisite bar, an old grange or town hall, annnd I’m past the town before I can decipher the last.
Finally to Lusk. Or, return to Lusk. Or, Wander Lusk? 🙂 I was here 10 years ago and was waiting to meet someone coming from Nebraska. While waiting I wandered into (appropriately) Sam’s Bar and had a beer. A couple of the patrons were discussing whether ‘red beer’ really did work as claimed. After a while I asked what’s ‘red beer’. Seeing either a virgin or a sucker, one of them said “You never had a red beer? I’ll buy you one.” And kerplop there was a beer glass in front of me with what looked like the red swirling clouds of some planetary atmosphere. Gulp. No – I mean I took a gulp … and it was beer. With tomato juice. Apparently this is the local cures-what-ails(ales?)-you for hangovers. Not having a hangover, can’t say it worked.
Anyway, you gotta love a town that makes fun of itself. Three t-shirts in the local dry goods store: “I have Lusk in my heart” “Lusk, Wy. (I often ask myself)” and my favorite, a picture of a road sign “End of the world, 12 miles. Lusk, 15 miles.”
Here I will rest early. The wide open spaces were gorgeous, but being so open I was drawn to ride farther than I want to. I have to be careful not to overdo it simply because it can be done. There will be more road tomorrow. No rush, remember? Instead I can still see in my mind that one perfect moment of the day when I crested a rise and had a 270 degree panorama of mountains, ridges, buttes, snow capped mountains in my mirrors, and a view of the plains so vast that you could see the curvature of the earth. This is one of the loveliest places. Come wander Wyoming.
Observation: I’ve been wearing earplugs for three days. Do you suppose they work like shoehorns? Will my ears expand? (See why it’s time to rest? 🙂
Quote for the day:
How much a dunce that has been sent to roam Excels a dunce that has been kept at home.- William Cowper, English Poet
(Cowper <== how’s THAT for an appropriate name for today!)
FuelPlus statistics: 388 miles, 6:29 engine run, 60 mph average
P.S. An obvious reminder. I am signed off all mailing lists. Comments (welcomed) or questions should be mailed direct to me.
On the Yankton Sioux Indian Reservation
In general, state lines were established along political boundaries with natural features only loose guides. Sometimes it is surprising how marked the difference is between the natural features, and sometimes the boundaries are visually indecipherable. Both experiences were at hand at the beginning of this day. Lusk Wyoming is very near a three state boundary, which is invisible if you look at the land the way the Indians did. Yet it is also at a three nature point, which is impossible to miss. Here, within the space of a mile from the west to the east, the treeless arid sage scrub gives way to the rolling grassland. Here within a couple of miles from south to north, the rolling flatland becomes the pine covered rugged rock outcroppings that are the beginning of the Black Hills. It is easy to see why this wide area was sacred to the Plains Indians.
There isn’t much left to the way the original plains were before the settlers took over. I remember reading a newspaper item a couple of years ago that ‘archaeologists’ had discovered a square mile of untouched prairie somewhere in Indiana. But that sod was nothing like the Montana/Wyoming plains. Parts of the Thunder Basin National Grassland, just west of Lusk, are being allowed to grow as they used to be. The Indians called it the ‘greasy grass’. It grew over six feet tall and thick as a cornfield.
Probably wouldn’t make good motorcycling.
Rolling east … let’s talk small town again. Node, Wyoming. No population sign, just a horizontal arrow pointing to a building – the Node Post Office. The *only* building. It is a small almost shack, with nothing else in sight for miles. I suspect some civil servant just didn’t want to give up the post (so to speak) when the town vanished?
More self appointed humor is apparent in the town of Harrison, Nebraska. Remember how when you are approaching a metropolis on the Interstate there is usually a sign “Metropolis next 17 exits”. By the way, what good is this … are we supposed to count them? What if one is missing? Anyway, on tiny, undivided, uncontrolled access, two lane Route 20, in the extreme northwest nearly uninhabited corner of Nebraska, there is a sign “Harrison, next 4 exits”. So I counted. Yup. Two driveways on the left, one driveway and one T intersection on the right. I am reassured. 🙂
So far during this trip the usual banes of travel have been remarkably absent, hence the remark. Only one more LEO (law enforcement officer) sighting today. He waved. And today saw the first construction zone encounter. It wasn’t bad. Only 20 miles of ‘milled pavement’ waiting to be resurfaced. Milled pavement is like rain grooves, except that the ridges are about two inches deep. It is very wobbly to ride a motorcycle on. The bad part was the pilot truck going 55 mph. Way to fast for my concentration on the surface – so I dropped back in the caravan and started riding on the unmilled shoulder. More specifically, on the 3 inch wide white line that marks the 6 inch shoulder. At 55 it still required as much concentration, but it was much easier on the shock absorber nerves.
Speaking of waves, I am now in the land of the one finger wave. No, you nasty nasty. I don’t mean that finger. Hereabouts, almost everyone drives with a hand on the top of the steering wheel. Almost everyone “waves” as they approach by raising the index finger. So, I started doing the same. I wonder if they knew where to look on a motorcycle?
Now that I’m out of the high country, the heat is back, although it is not too bad. I have to say this Camelback is tremendous wonderful. If you plan on hot or just long trips, get one! It is a no-taste poly.something.or.other plastic bag in an insulated thermolite carrier. It has shoulder straps like a backpack (which I looped over my seat packs) and a long plastic tube with a bite-valve. You squeeze with your teeth and the water flows easily. It is so refreshing to be able to safely drink while riding. I have the 2 liter size, and there is still a bit of the San Francisco water in the bag from 4 days ago – it doesn’t taste ‘plastic’ yet. Also, for those who like cold drinks, the filler neck is big enough to take ice cubes. Fill it with cubes and it will stay cold all day. Best Christmas present in years!
Ok you farmboys. Answer this. That it is mating season among the ungulates is obvious. But today I saw a _cow_ (no bull, it was udderly apparent it was a _cow_) attempt to mount another cow. Too much testosterone in the enhanced growth feed? Or is this something that happens on the farm? Well, I’ve never seen it. Being from San Francisco, I am used to seeing, shall we say, alternative attractions. So what’s this called? Bovinism? (P.S. I was on the mooove, so I didn’t witness the conclusion. 🙂
This has been one of my longer trips taken on heavily trucked two lane roads. I realize I have automatically developed a safety habit to adjust. These roads are posted at 65 or 70. Trucks do that uphill. The approaching trucks throw such a blast wave of air that my ears actually hurt from the pressure if I am too close. So I found myself doing the ‘truck weave’. Normally I ride just left of center in a lane (that’s where the least tire damage is to the pavement, and it is smoother across joints). As trucks approach, I drift to the far right of the lane, then swoop into the vortex as the truck passes. I don’t remember this being taught in the Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes, but it should.
Lots of Indian country today, various Sioux nations. Through Fort Robinson, where Crazy Horse was murdered by one of his own people. Through Pine Ride and the Rosebud Indian Reservations … many easterners (like myself, from another Indian-named state: Connecticut) think of reservations as the dusty, isolated hovels seen on arid windswept plateaus. There probably are still some, but many reservations today are active, involved communities (and I don’t mean casinos). The Rosebud, for example is very lush farmland. Although if you do travel through a res, don’t believe any signs you see …
A story. In 1979 I visited Pine Ridge for the first time. It appeared on the map as a relatively big dot, so there ‘must be a city there’. Wrong. A town-dot on the res includes all the people who live half way between the next dot. Can be very misleading. Also, there were prominent signs advertising the Slow Dog Cafe. I was hungry, so I tried to find it. Back and forth. Eventually a local ‘lowed as how the Dog closed ’bout 5 years. His quote still rings true to life on the res: “We just haven’t gotten around to changing the sign.”
Today’s story. I stopped at an Indian store to browse. At 3:10 pm the cashier said (the Lakota language is very ‘direct’, but done politely) “You have to leave now. We closed 10 minutes ago.” But the sign on the door said they were open until 4:00? “We are. It is 4.” Huh? Ok, so the Central Time Zone begins only 25 miles to the east, but this is Mountain Time, no? No. Why? Because, she said “We use central time so we can leave earlier. We just haven’t changed the sign.” !!!!
Well, since I am now leaving the West, I’ll leave you with this quote from Louis L’Amour: Too often I would hear men boast only of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.
FuelPlus statistics: 375 miles, 7:00 engine run, 54 mph average
Two miles shy of two thousand.
Notes for later: three bozos, a beemer, and bouncing birds
Although no place in America is truly ugly (even New Jersey has some lovely spots), the Great Plains can be Great Pains. The people who live here obviously do not ride motorcycles. Or, the motorcycle riders do not live here. This is a land the face of which only a mother could love. Now perhaps I am being too harsh, but I just spent two days riding in a straight line. My steering head could be rusted solid and I wouldn’t know it … why, just this morning at the South Dakota – Iowa border I came to a curve and I didn’t know what to do, it has been so long since I have seen one. The old high school bleacher cheer came to mind. Do I: Lean to the left? (Counter-) Lean to the right? Stand up (on the pegs)? Sit down (hanging off one side)? Fight! Fight! Fight (the countersteer)? Naw. As the instructors say, I just ‘looked where I wanted to go’. So how did I end up in Minnesota?
You know, I didn’t intend this to be the all states Indian tour, but some things keep coming back. I tried to camp tonight on the shore of Green Lake, near Spicer, but they wouldn’t let me use the house phone to send this to you, so I decided to move on. Leaving the campground I saw a sign that said burial mounds near the lake indicate the Sioux camped here for almost 200 years (before zoning laws :). Did you know the name Minnesota is Sioux? Pronounced ‘m-nee sho ta’ it means ‘smoky water’ for the steam that rises off the lakes in the morning.
Yesterday I mentioned Connecticut is also an Indian word. Let’s have a contest … first person to guess the correct meaning wins the contest. No prize, but you win. Yankees and their families are ineligible. Ok, ok, you get a prize: your name published.
Despite my false disdain for the ‘flagrant flatland’ (thanks, Moncia!), it is classically pleasing, in a white bread sort of way. (Who ever wants a peanut butter sandwich on pumpernickel?) And this afternoon, I had another ‘perfect moment’ on the flats, of all places. I didn’t define a ‘pm’ last time. To me, a pm is that essence of time when you feel that everything is just right and just magic in its completeness – like looking into your lover’s eyes and seeing the love reflected – like holding a newborn (insert option here: puppy, baby, idea …) and seeing the potential of its future. Real pm’s don’t come often, so today’s surprised me. It was on a northbound two lane, early in the afternoon, the sun was warm, the clouds were lined up overhead like cotton puffy ducks in a blue shooting gallery marching one after the other to the curtain of the horizon, the farmhouses and sentinel silos were standing off at a distance – each seemingly in its own corner of the world. The air felt of new growth and smelled of fresh earth. Not another human was visible, yet the hand of humanity was omnipresent in the contours of the land, the order of the road, the manicured perfection of the fine machine under me. The road and the engine sang a harmonious duet. Even on straaaaaight roads, this is why I ride.
Air feel, by the way, is one of the most un-understood aspects of riding that non-riders have no concept of (not ‘misunderstood’, because they don’t know it at all). Riding through morning shadows you can feel the air temperature change and smell the undisturbed moisture from the dew. Riding past a bakery, or a diesel repair shop, you just get more and deeper sensory stimulation. And, it can be a safety feature. Like the time on another trip when I said to myself “hmmm, that smells like hot tire” so I backed off from the truck ahead. Kablam. Tire shreds.
This morning I got a strong whiff of transmission fluid and backed off the throttle even thought the car ahead was more than 1/4 mile away. Yup. He started weaving and clamored to the side spewing something I didn’t want to ride through. Thanks, snout.
Leaving South Dakota, I almost stopped for a rest in the town of Menno, but I realized it would have been a Menno pause, and, well, I just don’t have the right plumbing for that … but wouldn’t you know, right after that I was wondering is it hot out here today or is it me? 😉
Small towns are wonderful places to visit. I visited for a couple of hours with a 92 years-of-age (I won’t say ‘old’) woman I had never met but had spoken to several times relaying messages for a mutual friend. So why not stop and say hello. Yes, and why not invite the town newspaper to take a picture of the “motorcycle man from Cal-i-fornia who came to see Elma”. Big news in Little Rock (Iowa), but it made us both happy to make a small thing fun.
One dramatic change to the land in the vicinity of the Big Sioux River that borders South Dakota. Trees. West of there, the farms were wide fields with no trees between. East is where trees windbreak the fields and huddle around the houses.
Crossing the Minnesota border I must have missed the sign “There be Bozos here!”. Sorry, MN friends, but within a couple of miles the bozo count went from 0 to 3. First was a female of the species. She was approaching and slowing for a left turn. The pickup in front of me slowed and signaled left – so she just went ahead THEN STOPPED dead in the middle of my lane. I saw it early enough. Bozo 2 was a male of the species, also approaching me, who decided he didn’t want to drive through the big dust cloud drifting across the road caused by a truck that just pulled into a lot. So he drove in my lane around the cloud. Now remember it is about a minute between these incidents. So my fragility factor was heightened. Bozo 3 was a geezer of the species. I am now on a 4-lane divided highway. He is now approaching me in the left lane of my divided side. I went way wide just in case and saw him catatonically proceed as if … well, as if.
I haven’t actually been counting motorcycles seen, but there have been fewer than I expected. I realize I am riding during ‘working hours’ for most, but still, I remember only 2 in Utah, a couple in Wyoming, and hardly any since. A few more (mostly Harleys) this close to the parts factory … but only today I saw my first recognizable Beemer – a red R100. He gave an all fingers wave.
And the birds! I don’t know what kind they are but they like to play in the traffic. They cross the road usually in pairs at about 1 foot off the ground, then rapidly change course to go over vehicles or back to their side. I winced a couple of times thinking I would have feathers on my helmet, but they always missed and the Road Kill Cafe does not have fricassee on the menu. I named ’em bouncing birds for the way they play the air currents.
* DeVern wrote to confirm my observations about Logan. They wash.
* Mike wrote HE does stop to browse in his (750′ long!) driveway.
* Dozens of people have written they are ‘envious’ of me. Maybe you can’t take a month long ride. Why can’t you take a weekend ride? Just go someplace you’ve never been. If you have been everywhere, take a week. I’ve gone 2,000 miles and the week isn’t over yet.
Offer to IBMWR/LDR list members: If you are going to sign off to go to the MOA or other rallies and you would like to receive Wanderlust while you are gone, tell me a few days before you leave and I’ll add you to my blind copy list.
Gotta have a quote!
“… the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.”
– William Least Heat Moon, 20th Century American Writer
FuelPlus statistics: 335 miles, 6:26 engine run, 53 mph average
On the road to Lake Woebegone
The ride is the reason. The ride is the reason to travel, but is that all there is to ‘travel’? No, there are many sidelines, rest stops, and interactions that make travel a trip. Taking a trip becomes at once an adventure and a new routine. We are generally creatures of habit, yet we seek the different. Trips, then become habitually different events every day, and that is the lure.
“I have wandered all my life, and I have also travelled; the difference between the two being this, that we wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”
Hilaire Belloc, English Writer (1870-1953)
So today’s report is like all the others. About ‘differences’ that are new to some and familiar to others. Take regional “hellos” for example. Back in Nevada, everyone who didn’t live there was passing through. The common hello is ‘Where ya headed?’ Destination locations, like Florida, ask ‘Where ya from?’ In the farm country, like where I was in Iowa, it is ‘How’s the weather for ya?’ And in Minnesota, it is (in my best Frances McDermond imitation) ‘So-o-o, ya come for the fishing, then?’
Minnesotans are so loony for walleyes they buzz on about them like mosquitos when they aren’t actually fishing. There! I managed to get all three Minnesota icons in one sentence. The loon is the official state image, the walleye is the official state holy grail. And the mosquito is the state (attack) bird. If you don’t like fishing, you are out of place in Minnesota. I, by the way, am out of Minnesota. In my opinion, fishing is the least efficient way to waste time ever invented.
But I respect their right to be different as they see fit. Up to a point, that is. And that point was the sign at the Muskie Snack Bar and Bait Shop: Jumbo Leeches! … I am really not sure and I don’t want to know which side of the shop was offering.
Signs in rural Minnesota have a clipped efficiency about them. Few words are wasted, like one I saw near Sandstone for “Litter control on this portion of highway by: Federal Prison Retirees”. Retirees? That’s not what they called it when my Uncle Joe got out. 🙂 On the other hand, conservatism can be overdone. Billboard ads are noticeably chaste. I saw one for a home hotspa with a woman reclined. All you could see was her smiling face and a shoulder, but that shoulder was over prominent with a painted very wide halter strap. Wouldn’t want to think she was …
Some terrain observations. The trees are decidedly deciduous now. They’ve stopped clustering around houses and now take any space not otherwise occupied. Looks natural enough. There is a surprising amount of granite and quarries in the center of the state. It makes me wonder where the rest of the mountain went. Although there’s not much corn in the northern half of the state, Minnesota has thrown in with the corn belt ethanol faction.
The unleaded midrange (89 r+m octane) always has 10% ethanol, which I always avoid. Although a K75 will happily drink anything from 85 Mexican to 100 racing fuel, it does not like ethanol (and I believe it is not healthy for the fuel rails and tubes). I accidentally put just under a gallon in my tank today (because the pump hoses were crossed and I didn’t notice). After filling the rest with premium, I was curious to see if it made a mpg difference. The FuelPlus said yes. Mpg dropped from 48 to 43. So I ‘ran the piss out’ of the K75 using only up to 4th gear for 100 miles. The next tank was 92 premium, and FuelPlus showed 49 mpg.
Earlier in the day, for a quick rest stop to stretch and to refold the map, I pulled up next to a park near a lake. The father of the family having a picnic was curious and came over to see the bike. He asked some typical questions. What kind. How many cc’s. How far can it go. And some surprising ones. Why is it so quiet? (Because it has a muffler. Oh.) If the engine is ‘flopped’ on its side, how does the gas get in? (Fuel injection. Oh.) So I regaled him with the fine features of a touring BMW – and when I mentioned the heated hand grips, he asked Why? I said for winter riding. In a flat monotone he asked “Why would you ride in the winter?” and a look of honest perplexity came across him, as though I just said ‘so you can eat sand’. It thunderously occurred to me that winter in Minnesota is ‘different’, but occasionally I am fast enough to recover … and I said “for those days when the roads are clear – just think of it as a snowmobile with wheels!” Oh. He liked that.
After following a swooping arc from the middle of the state, route 23 joins the Interstate for 9 miles, then splits off again. What a painful difference the Interstate is. Even though I was NOT going any faster (65 on both roads), riding I35 seemed louder, more buffeting, and more exposed. Getting off on SR23 again, I really appreciated the ‘old road’. The two parallel each other only in direction. The old road goes through forests, fields, and a couple of swamps. I35 goes to Duluth. The old road passes through towns so relaxed they don’t even bother with speed zones. I35 passes exits. The old road has no traffic at all, and because it follows the contour of the land there are 1) curves, 2) rises/dips, 3) bumps. It was lovely for 45 miles. It really should be marked scenic. We should seek the old roads when we travel for ourselves.
My intent was to visit the Aerostich factory in Duluth. Arriving around 2:30, I hoped they wouldn’t be closing early for the weekend. Turns out the showroom is open until 8 pm most days. This is a fantastic place. Visit it if you can. The showroom is an alcove off the factory floor – and if they don’t have what you want on display they will wander the factory to find it! ‘Stitches of every imaginable color, plus all the goodies in the catalog. (For the non-moto readers, an Aerostich is a full body riding suit made of high-abrasion-resistant goretex, designed specifically for motorcycle use. Expensive and worth it.) DARIEN JACKET wearers, TAKE NOTE: I picked up a comment from one of the workers which I hadn’t heard before: ‘later this year’ Aero is going to make an electric insert for the Darien.
This was my first visit to Duluth, and I must say I am impressed. Built from the lake shore up the ridge of a palisade, it has the appearance of terraced habitation. The downtown has a recently refurbished look and a feel of vibrancy. Nice place (in summer:).
Finally, and not surprisingly, the largest feedback so far has been about my observation of Lesbo-Bovo. Thank you one and all. Some of you folks need to ride more and watch cows less …
FuelPlus statistics: 288 miles, 6:16 engine run, 46 mph average
It’s in the genes.
So there was this rather small 10 year old boy who loved to investigate and explore. He had just inherited the hand-me-down of his cousin’s three speed English bicycle because Cousin Mo got his driver’s license and was done with ‘childish things’. Now Mo could cruise up and down main street all night. But the boy was fascinated by the freedom the 3-speed offered. It could go down hill without wobbling like the old Schwinn. It could actually be shifted -while riding!- to go up hills easier. The World lay open before him.
The next Saturday morning he decided to go. Early in the morning he told his mother he was ‘going for a ride’. And he set out … exactly for where he wasn’t sure. His parents always went somewhere and came back by precisely the same route. They never took a different road. He almost didn’t know where to go. So he stopped at a gas station, but they wouldn’t give him a map. “You know where you are you dumb ****!”. “Ok, sir, would it cost me just to look at it?” The man relented. The world not only lay open, now the boy could see where it went.
He set off. He went over the bridge and down the roads he had only ever been driven on. He actually went “all the way to hell and back” as his Aunt described the little town down the river. He crossed back over another bridge his parents never took because that’s not the way they went to get there, and he came up back roads he thought he remembered but wasn’t quite sure of … he got home in time for supper, covering all of about 50 miles.
His mother was unpleased. “Where the **** have you been. I’ve been looking for you for hours!”. Proudly, “Well, Mom, I went over to ___ and down to ___ and back.” “Don’t lie to me, no one would go that far on a bicycle!” Personal triumph was unrequited.
Wanderlust sets in early. Either it is understood or unbelieved.
It occurred to me sometime today that I actually could be making all this up and you never would know the difference. Hello? Any cynics out there? Do you realize the what the tie is that binds us to believe this is true? The tie, surprisingly enough, is not motorcycles, and it is not having traveled. It is the Internet. I’ve said this before at a couple of other Internet BMW Riders gatherings (Death Valley, Alpine Texas, Lost Coast) but I want to repeat it. The Internet is molding the shape of our society. Some see it early, some don’t, but the Internet has become the town square where we meet those alike us to share our common understandings. The basic good nature of the human species now has a ‘road map’ just like that little boy. And it is being used to explore people that would otherwise never be found. The Internet has restored my _very_ cynically repressed trust in people. I can’t believe how well we react to each other having never really met.
Ok, ok, I said I wasn’t going to go philosophical, like Bob Higdon did in his summer tour. But I am astounded by the offers to visit, stay overnight, sleep with the wife (JUST KIDDING!) that I’ve received simply because I’ve told people I’m travelling. It seems at last I have a family who understands. Thanks. (If Mom were alive, I don’t think she’d be pleased. 🙂
It has actually been a quiet travel day. After staying up way too late answering all the cow comments, I got a late start and forgot the time zone changed only 10 miles down the road … so I was even an hour later. Normally, it would have been a problem. But (rub it in) when you don’t have a schedule, you’re never behind. Anyway, I did get to traverse the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the first time. This is one of the few regional areas of the US I haven’t seen before. My observations are: it could be a part of Canada and no one would know (not even the Canadians). Remote. It is at once over developed and undeveloped. It is lovely, and hidden from view. There are hundreds of miles of roads within a stone throw of a beautiful shore … but for the dense woods you don’t know that. The north shore reminds me of a mini-Maine coast: rugged, rocky, and treed to the waters edge. The south shore reminds me of Cape Cod in the ’50s: Soft curving beaches, gentle slopes to the water, and clusters of motels interspersed with inaccessible waterfront. I like it. I think? But the roads are not inspiring.
I blasted through Bessemer, but it was not a furnace today (pun pun). In fact, it was damn cold. I even stopped to put on my IBMWR sweatshirt and my heavier jacket. There was a dense fog off the Lake, so I can’t really say how scenic anything was beyond the berm. Although I haven’t talked much about the weather, this June has so far set records for ‘lowest highs’ in a lot of areas. I kept seeing signs “Bridge may be icy” … and wondering.
As it turns out, I am riding under the protection of Greek gods. The Weather Channel tells me there is a very unusual “omega block” hovering over the central US. It is so called because the path of the jet stream resembles the shape of the letter Omega.
Omega, as I remember is the end of the alphabet. It represents completion and perfection. Just to be on the safe side, however, I hung out in a coffee shop for an hour this morning to give the storms their chance to play. Thus with heavenly arrangements, time zones, and fog, it was a short travel day.
But getting back to Bessemer, just outside town there was a sign about the “all city garage sale on May 17”. Can you just picture it? What friendly, help-your-neighbor people. Everyone goes to someone else’s garage and cleans it out … of course they take the stuff back to their own to store it until next year. Nothing actually changes, it is all just rearranged. Ah, Americana.
Then it was on to Michigamme. This is Boris and Natasha country, because the topic on everyone’s lips is “Where is moose?”. Moose hunting is the thing here. I stopped for gas and fell into conversation with a lovely, petite, 20-something Yooper. (Oops, better explain. The Upper Peninsula is the Yoo P. The people call themselves the Yoo-Pers … Yooper.) She was telling me how she got her well developed biceps from carrying her own 30-06, 10 days of rations, and camping gear on her annual hunt. She also kindly explained why the vanilla ice cream with squashed peanut butter cups in it is known here as Moose Tracks. You see, moose eat light grass and their, um, err, ah …. is sorta orange-ish with a little brown. Ah, Americana.
It is black fly season in Michigan. Except for the time inside with Ms. Moose, I made this an Iron Butt competitive gas stop. No wasted motion and nothing done standing still that could be done rolling. Maybe 3 minutes from key off to key on.
Finally, Moosie was surprised that I would travel so far alone. (*She* hunts 2,000 pound animals for a week in the Michigan winter and thinks *I* take chances ??) She asked “Are you alone!?” I said, “No. My motorcycle is my friend. We are travelling together.” Although I do not anthropomorphise machines, it does seem there is a spirit to a bike that is treated well and asked to do only what it can. Also, I didn’t think she could take the truth that I am really travelling with 2,000 people looking over my shoulder and one special friend who says she is ‘hiding in my computer’ and riding just behind me along the way.
P.S. I heard from my Sioux-Lakota advisor. I have now earned the name Shunkmanitu (shoonk-mah-nee-too), literally ‘dog in the wilderness’, but it translates to what we call the Coyote – what the Lakota call the: Travelling Dog.
FuelPlus statistics: 320 miles, 5:47 engine run, 56 mph average
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”
John Steinbeck, American Writer, (1902-1968)
First let me redeem the reputations of Michigan roads. The sinuous stretches and invigorating inclines of the northwestern Lower Peninsula *are* inspiring. All it takes is the gracious services of a local tour guide to expose the best of the hidden treasure.
This morning I had the distinct pleasure of meeting IBMWR President Tom Barnhart who generously gave up his Sunday and rode up from his home in Traverse City just to escort me down the coast. (By the way, I forgot to ask Tom if the people hereabouts would be called Lowpers or Ellpers in context with Yoopers? I don’t think so. But he did write to me once that “in the lower peninsula we’re all trolls, because we live below the bridge”. 🙂 Never having met, it was nonetheless simple for us to recognize each other. His was the only brown K100LT and mine was the only black K75RT at the appointed place … in fact ours were the only vehicles in the lot. This “old new” friend stuff really works. We greeted for the first time as one would for a frequent encounter – – and then *together* immediately fell into answering questions for a fellow who came up to say he used to have a 78 R100 … where are the cylinders on these BMWs?
In the best sense of exploration, we followed some roads Tom had never ridden in his own ‘back yard’. There is still some gravel in the corners from the winter, but the “tree tunnel” of a well surfaced, unlined “narrow winding road next 14 miles” worked out beautifully. It allowed glimpses through the trees to beaches and coast as it hugged a ledge along the lake. Very nice. Tom told me the road from Cross Village to Harbor Springs is one of the most scenic in Michigan – and I am not going to dispute it. Then dropping off the marked route, we went around Torch Lake, which should be marked scenic but isn’t.
My compliments to Tom for showing only the best of his turf. He is a capable rider, a pleasant person, and a certified devotee to BMWs – even if he’s only had his for a year!
Although … I may remember this as Tom’s Turkey ride. 🙂 Early in the ride and again nearly at the end we passed a passel of wild turkeys crossing the road. That got me to wondering (uh, oh, not again) what the proper collective noun is for turkeys … and then what would be the proper collective noun for a group of motorcycles? For example: one could speak of a ‘blatt of Harleys’, or a ‘clatter of Ducatis’ (desmodromic valves make quite a racket at idle), or perhaps a ‘puddle of Nortons’, or an ‘accessory of Gold Wings’ – but what would you call BMWs? How about (borrowing from the German Autobahn) a ‘bahn of Beemers’?
Leaving Tom in mid afternoon, I dropped south to keep a promise to visit a friend. Although I know many of the various General Motors vehicles are named the same as towns in this area, I wonder what the story must be behind choosing a particular town name. For example, I happened to be passing Cadillac, so I veered through to see if it matched the image of the car. Hmmm. Why that name and not another town nearby … imagine: Look at this year’s new model Dinca … or, Here’s the 1998 Loxley. It doesn’t make sense, so it must be marketing. (But in scanning the map I also notice Remus is nowhere near Romulus.) Road tharn was setting in.
Central Michigan is a pleasant agricultural terrain that belies the congestion and industrial concentration lurking in Motor City. It almost appears the center of the state serves only to keep the lakes apart. Even though this was a sunny, quiet Sunday, everyone on the road was in a big hurry to get somewhere else. I had no velocity exposure holding 70 on roads posted at 55.
(Discretionary reader warning: product endorsement 🙂 This is where the FuelPlus really came into its value for me. I am not selling anything, but as I told Tom, who is about to install his own F+, it is the second most important feature you can add to a K bike after a comfortable seat. Whereas there are style and construction differences in seats to make it a personal choice as to which is best, there is no competition, literally or figuratively, for a F+. I’ll give detail for those who ask, but the value it offered is that it let me precisely measure the effects of my speed and gas consumption variables so I could match my arrival time against the distance to cover. I covered the 197 miles from gas-up to my friend’s house, arriving precisely on the estimated time, and knowing confidently there was 32 miles-worth of gas remaining even though the fuel warning light had been on for 27 miles. This is ‘a good thing’ which gives ultimate truth to the phrase YMMV.
After arriving at my friend’s and catching up on old times, we discussed some of my stories so far. She told me one of her own about the Internet affecting lives. A relative of hers and the relative’s spouse, who ‘met’ each other on the Internet, actually met for the very first time in real life _at_the_altar_ for their wedding. “To keep the relationship pure.” Seriously.
I am reminded again of small town charm. This is a typical American scene of a modest downtown at a crossroads, an expansive lawn around the central bandstand, and the soft-swirl ice cream stand with garish neon lights glowing brightly in the fading sunset and attracting a long line of lingering lickers. The simple little police station sits overseeing the town square … except this police station, housing a staff of only two, has a sign on the door: “If the door is locked, use the pay phone around the corner to call 911 and a deputy will be sent to assist you.” Have we come to self-service emergency?!
A final administrivia comment. Having been on the road for 8 straight days is not in itself tiring because the bike is commendably comfortable, however staying up to midnight or beyond to write the report and read comments is draining. Don’t be surprised if I skip a day or two occasionally … that’s why the reports are labeled by number and not by day (which just happen to match so far).
FuelPlus statistics: 395 miles, 7:32 engine run, 53 mph average
Like a Klingon cruiser under full cloak, the K-bird … I mean the K-bike Katie cruised quickly and quietly through the central city of the home planet Romulus (Michigan). Romulans in native dress went about their business unaware of the timeless traveler from the future home of Starfleet Headquarters who observed them. I silently whispered the only Klingon phrase I remember (phonetically): Luke tak louk cha-pole. (Where do you keep the chocolate.) After a single sweep of the civic surface for memorable activity, the whine of the K engine built steadily as the matter/doesn’t-matter thoughts mixed together. Engage! the transmission, and warp speed for exit was achieved with a flash of light. (Translation: The traffic light changed to green and I accelerated onto the Interstate. 🙂 It is apparent why the Enterprise avoids Romulan space – it is only 20 miles from Detroit.
Before leaving Michigan I heard from a number of people about its uniqueness. I agree. It is the only Michigan we have. Nonetheless, there are some interesting geographical trivia items to pass along. What state of the US has the most number of lighthouses? Not Maine. Certainly not California where most have become Bed & Breakfasts. You guessed it. And what three states have a greater percentage of their linear borders bounded by water than by land? You guessed one, I’ll tell the other two later.
Well, I did have to pass through Detroit. I’ll try to not upset any Detroit readers, but some cities excite me. Detroit doesn’t. Every time I look at the city, I get the mental image of the back of an old truck with the letters “wash me” scrawled in the grime.
Crossing the bridge, a feeling of warm friendship came over me. Katie has gone from being a bi- to a tri-. The K75 has now carried me from Mexico to Canada in the same year. It may be a minor achievement to the those who ride the Three Flags race every year in a single weekend, but I feel good about it. (By the way, I wrote a two part report of my week-long trip to Mexico and back. It is stored on the https://www.ibmwr.org web pages, or I can mail it privately if you are interested.)
“To be sure that your friend is a friend,
You must go with him on a journey,
Travel with him day and night,
Go with him near and far.”
– – Angolan Proverb
Recently there was a mailing list discussion about border crossings. This one was simple and pleasant. Where do you live? What is your purpose in Canada? Do you have any material items that will remain in Canada? Have a safe ride. That’s all.
Just across the river, in comparatively clean Windsor, the speed limits get both higher and slower (and ignored) at the same time. Of course Canada uses metric measurement. The speed sign said 60 (kph) which is 38 (mph) whereas a similar street in the US would be 45 (mph). Higher/slower, and ignored. I tried riding at the limit, but was getting passed by trucks, so I went with the flow. Even in the country later, the limit was 80, which is 50 where it would have been 55, but flow was 105 which is 65. Got it? Good.
In English, every sentence has a subject, a verb, and an object (which may be implied). So a simple, yet succinct descriptive sentence might be: Ontario is flat. In Canadian, I’m not sure. Canadians seem to use nouns and adjectives as verbs, ending with a common modifier. So, going with the flow of the dialect, I guess I’d have to say: Ontario flats, eh? 🙂
Yes, it is flat, but once again when you get off the four-lane divided road (Interstate equivalent), it is an amazing different view of the same area. The ‘old road’ from London to Buffalo is the two-lane Provincial 3. It is not straight-and-boring because it wends back and forth to connect all the larger small towns just inland from the coast. Where you only see field, field, overpass, field on the freeway, the simple road shows simple pleasures. Going slow and close past the fields, I could see how deep the furrows really are, and identify the pattern each farmer prefers for encompassing his field. (Dragging a tractor around the contours is like drawing a maze. You don’t want to cross your tracks and you do want to cover it all. Ain’t easy in an irregular field.)
There are so many things invisible from the freeway because they take time to look at. Like the greater thickness of the bark on the north side of the trees. That winter wind must quite convincing if it can cause the woodies to grow an extra coat. You can see the things that people do on this ‘old road’. Like children without shirts rolling in the grass under a lawn sprinkler in the still thick heat of a late afternoon. Like the ‘putterers’ planting flowers in artistic arrangements beside the house – and you see what the flowers are (not that *I* know them). You can see merchants flipping the closed sign and locking the front door, only to sit on the stoop with a passerby and talk and laugh. Ah, Canadiana (well, it’s not America, you know 🙂 !
I suppose there are many reasons for success or failure of a business, but travelling the old roads I wonder why some are closed and abandoned between certain towns and not closed between others. What is the dynamic that causes people to stop or not. Is it only that the fickle finger of fate flinched and fortune followed or forced a failure from where it finally fell?
There were three especially amusing items. First, there are ‘drying barns’ of some crop that are build in rows of 6 or 7 together. The barns are precisely alike, and cubic shaped, about 30 feet high with a pointed roof and exactly two boarded windows on each side. The trim and the roof are painted different from the walls. I kept looking and saying ‘they remind me of something, but what?’. Then it hit – think rows of Monopoly houses. Had to suppress the urge to look up and see if there was a biiiig hand about to move the parked cement truck that looked like a game piece. 🙂
Second amusement was in the town of Simcoe. At the edge of town is a company that hand manufactures dog houses. Riding past the front lawn, I quickly counted a segment of the lot and estimated there were over 200 dog houses lined up – several different sizes, and every imaginable color. The business was closed. But … there was one unattended dog casually jaunting from dog house to dog house, looking in some, sniffing others, and inspecting the lot. What fun! What confusion! Was it a) building inspector, b) a potential customer checking the lot for a business visit tomorrow, c) an itinerant selecting a home for the evening … wish I could speak dog.
Last, I passed a meticulously manicured golf course which came right to the edge of the road. There was also a little country church at the corner of a road bordering the golf course. You know how sometimes you pass a sign and read it but don’t really pay attention? I passed the beautifully carved sign with gilded letters right in front of the church and saw in my mind: Hagersville Golf Church. Whoa. I know some people practice it like a religion – but I gotta see that again! So I turned around. Alas, my brain must have burped. It did say Course. Ah, well. (Interesting, though. There are no stained glass windows on the Course side.) This, by the way, is right near the town of Cheapside. Somehow I doubt that name was chosen by a developer.
Oh, yes, the coastline: the other two are Florida and Delaware. After the morning visiting, I got the latest travel start yet (3:00 pm) but I still managed to get in a reasonable distance riding right to sunset.
FuelPlus statistics: 287 miles, 5:24 engine run, 54 mph average
(This is a little longer because it’s the last for 4 days.)
The red South Dakota dust finally was scrubbed off the edges of the tire tread today. Some was even scrubbed off the edges of my boots too. 🙂 Today was the happiest day of the year. I enjoyed it also, but as mothers everywhere know, today is the day schools release the swarms of children for the summer. Aspirin sales are probably heavy today … every school yard I passed before noon seemed to be vibrant with joyous screams. Every school yard I passed after noon seemed as though the yard itself was heaving a sigh of relief, now deserted and left to recover like a pack horse at the end of a hard day on the trail.
This being a somewhat reactionary ride, I reacted to an urge to see Niagara Falls again. It’s been about 20 years since my last visit, and how much could have changed, right? Lots. I remember the hotels and the overlooks, but (maybe I missed it) I don’t remember the casino being the only place road signs lead you to. It took me three circuits of the downtown to find the entrance to the bridge to the US. And downtown! Have you been to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco? Wax museums, T-shirt shops, Dracula’s house of horror, etc. Tourist dollars sure do have a way of plasticizing a place. But the falls are still beautiful. The beer-foam cloud of mist swirled and floated in the morning sun creating the promised ‘rainbow bridge’ across the river. Close your eyes to the ‘support services’ and the area is still lovely.
While waiting in the line for US Immigration inspection, I leaned back on my packs and rested, engine idling, helmet flipped open in the warm air, face to the sun, relaxing. Suddenly a roaring growl from the engine area startled me. I jumped and nearly fell off the bike. I had forgotten about the radiator fan. It rarely comes on, but when it does geez is it loud. And that’s a reminder to K-bike riders. With hot weather here, you should reach up under and make sure your fan still spins. Sometimes they get ‘gunked’ in place from not being used often enough.
The land is changing again. Even in far western New York you can see the tend toward rolling terrain which will lead to the foothills. It is like those tiny wrinkles on the edges of a well worn face that all fall into place when the face smiles. It all fits. Here again the tree carpet is different. In the west trees seem to grow more in unitary societies. Not exclusively, but mostly the same kind together. In the east, all kinds of trees have mixed closely for a long time. As in any society, when the density gets high it leads to pushing and shoving. That’s apparent in the ‘tree swath’ cut for the highway. All those at the boundary cut are elbowing each other and stretching into the open space to get the best view they can. Like a packed parade route with little kids straining under the ropes and some teens climbed on mailboxes. Being the parade, I waved to the trees occasionally. A few of the branches waved back in the breeze.
Noticing schools as I was, I found some of the mascot choices amusing. Some are chosen to be fierce. Some are to underscore local lore or history. Few are as whimsical as the University of California Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, but one really made me wonder what image was being offered: The ___ High School Lady Mules ?
How long has it been since you passed someone on the road? Stupid question? Not if you’ve just ridden across the country on secondary roads. I actually had to start passing vehicles again and it seemed ‘strange’. In the west and in a lot of farm country either there is no one on the road, or they are really short haul trippers. As the road headed east toward the increasing density of the coast, towns were closer and traffic was more likely to be going to the next one. No big deal, but it is surprising how certain riding road skills need refreshing when not used. Timing of acceleration, lane changes, cutbacks, and keeping aware of emergent conditions all require some attention.
Now I don’t know about loud pipes, but I do know sipde saves lives. “Sipde” is an acronym taught in Motorcycle Safety Foundation classes. <Preach> Take a MSF class. No matter how long you’ve been riding, you’ll learn something. </Preach> Sipde is the constant awareness of road conditions: Scan for signs, Interpret the danger, Predict the likely occurrence, Decide how to react, Execute the action. (Apology to the certified instructors … even if my words aren’t the official script, that’s the idea.) Sipde is one of those non-negative consequences. You can never tell that it worked as long as you don’t have an accident. If you have an accident, you probably didn’t sipde. Like some jobs … if you do it right no one notices – if you do it wrong everyone notices. Sipde may have saved my life, but I won’t know because I did not have a crash.
The controlled access highways in the east are quite beaten from too much use and too little repair. Surfaces are dangerous for motorcycles in some areas. I was taking a 3 mile stretch of an Interstate between two rural routes. Traffic was tight and fast. A car was accelerating hard up the entrance ramp to join the flow. I could see his timing was going to be close but my scan noticed a series of potholes and broken pavement right where the ramp joined the slab. If that truck to my left slowed, I would have no place to back off, so I switched lanes early. Sure enough, the driver saw the pavement at the last second and swerved out into the travel lane across the shoulder. The car he almost cut off slowed, the truck hit his smokers, and I safely watched it all from behind. There are many thrills in motorcycling. Living to tell about it is the best one. Do sipde.
Actually, after riding for almost 30 years I had developed my own survival skills before learning about the MSF. I even have my own style of riding that is a four point mimic of sipde – I ride SEXE (pronounced ‘sexy’). My approach is Scan, Extrapolate (I was a science major), eXecute, Evaluate the results. The first three are just like sipde, but I add a review of what I just saw/did to capture and catalog an understanding that will help with problem recognition next time. It’s easy to keep my points on the mind, just think SEX … who doesn’t? :>
I had an exquisite day rolling through the increasing slopes and curves leading to the Adirondack Mountains. Passing through Fulton, I saw a sign that introduced ‘Hereyouare, the home of xx’ like many towns have. Fulton is the home of the chocolate festival and damn if it isn’t only 3 days from now. Maybe I ought to stay? Then I saw the banners “Fulton Children N Chocolate”. Nope. I like children, but I think they would dilute the chocolate, so I’ll pass. Across the palm of the finger lakes and along the ‘thumb’ of Oneida Lake. (Hold a map of New York out at arm’s length and you’ll see why they are called the fingers.) This is where the roads really begin to curve and riding is fun again! From Rome to Old Forge to North Hudson – it’s hard to believe this is the same state that harbors the great metropolis.
Passing ice cream and burger stands, I kept seeing signs for “Michigans here”. Since I don’t remember any special item by that name in Michigan, I finally asked what’s a Michigan. In New York, a Michigan is a hot dawg with a sweet tomato/meat sauce (chili?) on it. Didn’t try one. What’s tomatoes got to do with Michigan? Another American tradition is that the ‘unusual’ always has to be named for some other place. Who here would eat an “local upstate NY style dawg” ?
They say all roads lead to Rome, and sun of a gun, I passed through Rome. Oh, wrong one? Not entirely. It occurred to me that the phrase about roads is true because the Romans themselves built most of the roads that crossed Europe. That road network had a major, though slow, effect on society. It made ground transport of goods and news more dependable. The economy and therefore the development of civilization on the continent was affected. So it is near Rome, New York. The Erie Canal passes the town. The Erie Canal was one of the first major technological conquests of natural resources in America. It changed American economy and civilization the same way. Better commerce, easier expansion, but it did something else. It molded the mindset of American business that mountains, rivers, and the land itself was a tool that could be used. The transcontinental railroad, the bridges, the great damns – all possible because the Canal succeeded. America would have been conquered eventually anyway.
As I travel, I have received many email comments from people who are amazed at the different things I see to write about, and how do I remember them? My little secret is a foldover notebook I keep clipped to the fairing. One time I stopped for a rest near a car in a view area. I’m fairly definitive in the way I move, so in a smooth but quick manner I pulled in, snapped out the sidestand, dismounted, flipped up my helmet, unsnapped the notebook, flipped it open, and began making notes. This guy shoots up from sitting with his family and comes racing across the grass … “Hey! What are you giving me a ticket for!?” 🙂 I could tell stories about the number of times I’ve been mistaken for police, but I’ve learned it is better not to be too strong in denying the image. I don’t pretend, I don’t impersonate. I just don’t say “Dummy, look at me, look at my bike. I’m not …”. So I said to him. “Not a ticket. This is just surveillance.” Finished my note, checked the pack on the bike, mounted, said “Enjoy your day.” and left him standing looking at the back of his car.
Writing about these events has been both easy and hard. There is a lot to mention, but it takes a lot of time to keep the notes trim. Every morning I start with a clean sheet. By noon I have one or two notes and I panic every day ‘what am I going to do if I have nothing by the end of the day?’ Then every day some time in mid-afternoon I realize I *have* been collecting thoughts but not writing them down. That’s when the ‘ticket stop’ happens and it all spills out. After that I ride much easier. All, in all, I’m having almost as much fun telling the story as living it. But for the next 4 days I am going to be off the net. I will be riding the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the BMW Motorcycle Owners Of Vermont, and while it is not ‘off the record’, I won’t be recording. By the way, you may notice the Club initials are MOOV, they call themselves the MOOVers. Hence they were especially interested in my moooving experiences. 🙂 🙂
Wanderlust 11 will pick up when I leave Maine for … wherever.
FuelPlus statistics: 328 miles, 7:16 engine run, 46 mph average
He leans forward from inside the computer and raps on the glass of the display monitor … tap, tap, tap. “Hellooooo. You still there?” 🙂
“The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
– Samuel Johnson, American Philosopher, 1696-1772
Ah, yes. ‘Tis I again. After a few days of down time, it certainly is good to be back in the saddle again.
Cue the music (the kind Terry hates)
…I’m back in the saddle again,
Out where a friend is a friend,
Riding all day just to pass the time away,
I’m back in the saddle again.
This segment isn’t so much about travel as it is catching up from a weekend campout, and a chance to drop a few names.
Well I have just had the most wonderful couple of days with the wilds of New England. I mean, _in_ the wilds of New England, although some of these folks certainly are wild in their own way. As you may know, the middle of June is Bike Week in Laconia, New Hampshire. The AMA national championship races are held on Sunday, and the motomania national extremism is held for the week proceeding. I am not much of a race fan, but it is enlightening and frightening to witness the subculture event that surrounds the races. Many readers will know about this, having been to Daytona for the similar spring bike week, but it is still quite a sight. My imagination is sufficiently regulated now, thank you.
Part of my purpose in aiming for Maine was to pass through this area and meet someone I’d been corresponding with for a year – President Judy, who is MSF, EMT, ARR, and lots of other letters. For most of the weekend I was riding in the fractiously friendly company of a group of MOOVers, led by WunderBud, the long distance wrench, and his trusty pillion Sue. (For the non-riders, ‘pillion’ is a motorcycle word you won’t find in most dictionaries. No, I didn’t just call her a lozenge. 🙂 You just have to admire anyone who tours two-up fully packed on a K1! There was also everybody’s little brother Steve, and the other (unrelated) Steve who claims they are twin brothers by different mothers. Then there was Laydown Layton (don’t ask!) and finally President Dean who is partial to power slides. My kind of riders all … just strange enough to like being together even if they’re not sure where they’re going. Proud to be self-made principals of the Anti-Destination League.
Although I previously referenced the Motorcycle Owners of Vermont, the happy crew which took me in is a combination of two clubs – that and the Yankee Beemers. In fact it seems that almost everyone is a member of both, and the clubs participate in each other’s events in such interdisciplinary bliss it would make the mothers of twins blush. One shall-remain-unnamed said of both clubs “They may be better riders in the twisties, but we ride farther for better food.” Isn’t rivalry with oneself fun?
The gathering was at the Pemigewassat River only a few miles south of Woodstock and the state symbol of New Hampshire, the Old Man in the Mountain. This actually was almost a mini Internet BMW gathering. There were so many Presidents wandering about (every member of the IBMWR is President of the club) that I should have thought of reserving the official banner. On second thought … it was weird enough already.
Probably missing some names, I tried to remember all those I met even before getting off the bike. There was Phactory Phil, DC Mike on the red and gold bike, Reid from Manhattan, the evil punster himself Yankee Dave, the rest of the Sled Dog Touring Team, even Cy came down to say hi. A warm welcome from all – who at one time or another unanimously agreed that I didn’t look at all like what they pictured. ? Duh. Since I never described myself how would they know? Anyway, the Internet wins again. Meeting old friends for the first time is a unique experience.
A little later I was cowed in the presence of Der Heiffermeister Ted. What I mean is I was honored with ‘cows’, not ‘cowering’ – although I could see how some would do that. Ted is big. Ted is also the enterprising one who thought to emblazon the MOOVer’s namesake in Scotchlite colored tape which is almost invisible in daylight and reflects brilliantly at night. I now have a herd of ‘stealth cows’ and even negative stealth cows (silhouettes) riding on my tail. Either I am going to be safer at night for being seen … or I am more likely to have a personal bovine encounter. We shall see.
Some technotalk. As I arrived in Vermont, the K bike passed 24,000 miles which is a major maintenance service point. I called ahead for a ‘travellers visit’ with Frank’s Motorcycles in Essex. They were able to take me in and do the 5 hours work for which I thank them. The cuddleable curmudgeon owner Lester did his best to be gruff, but he does have an image to uphold. He and Kenyon are as entertaining as they are talented, and I recommend a visit. Alas, the bike which I expected to be perfect needed an unscheduled part. The clutch cable was sticking and had to be replaced.
The bike finally feels like it is broken in. The engine is running smoother now after continuous days on the road, it stopped using any oil at all between changes, and on the back roads I am getting over 50 mpg.
No FuelPlus statistics today because it was not a destination day, but several people have said they are following my trip on a map and would like to know the routes I take. So from now on I will end with the routes ridden since the last report.
Long Lake NY28N NY8 NY9 NY74 NY9N VT17 VT100 VT100B VT2 Montpelier US302 VT25 VT10 VT112 US3 Thornton
Right turn at Rockport. 4,275 miles.
One of the days during the campout, the road crew took me to “weird beach”. Otherwise known on the map as Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee. Being naive, I actually put on my bathing suit. There is a beach, but no one from the Laconia race crowd uses it. Weirs is where the hundreds of sideshow vendors set up to attract the crowds that are there to attract themselves. I must have missed the call when ‘cruise up and down’ genetic instructions were handed out. Here is a pleasure I’ve not yet learned. People sit in chairs on the side of the road to watch the people who ride back and forth to see the people who came to watch them. (How did I start writing in a circle?)
All I can say is I have seen and heard enough Harleys to last the rest of my life. Granted some of them are exquisite, but enough already. I just can’t appreciate the ‘special’ aspect of Trailer Davidsons as one of the spectators called them. Call me elitist, but motorcycles are supposed to be ridden farther than around the block. Twice.
Later I began to think of Harleys as the black flies of motorcycles. Obviously, they are all dressed in black, it is impossible to have a conversation when they are constantly buzzing around, when you shoo them away they only go a short distance, and they all disappear in a week or two until next year at the same time. At least they don’t bite.
Ok, ok, the show was worth one visit. But I kept missing the mistress dressed in white thong tatters (how do you tatter a thong?), 6-inch white spike heels, white fur collar, and led on a leash by a bearded gentleman who allowed his belly to proceed himself. My loss, I guess. But the brothers Steve were excited.
When the combined clubs went to the races, I raced to the hills alone doing what they call the ‘notch hop’. Here again is one of those interesting regional differences. In the west they are canyons, in the southwest they are draws, in Appalachia they are hollows, and in the northeast the river valley cuts are notches. I passed through three, Franconia Notch past the Old Man, Crawford Notch past the Road Kill Cafe, and Pinkham Notch past Mt. Washington.
The Old Man is a rock face that looks like a man face. Popeye after too much spinach, perhaps, but it is a beautiful valley. The Road Kill Cafe is more imaginative. There really is such a place in Glen, NH. Their menu is a laugh … among others – Probably Pork Ribs, The Chicken That Didn’t Make It Across The Road, Potato Pelts, and various burgers “served with nightcrawlers (french fried potatoes) and what appears to be either a pickle or a very old tadpole”. I am reminded of a quote:
“Road food is always neutral in color and taste. It only turns exciting a couple of hours later.”
The last Notch was cold and windy for June, which is the same as it is all year. There is a dirt road that climbs to the 6,288 ft (1,917 m) summit of Mt. Washington. I would not recommend it if you like your bike. Yes it is passable, but that’s the problem. People like to drive a little too energetically on it and if you get passed you get rocks spit at you. If you do go – and many have – dress for winter even in the summer. There is an interesting meteorological phenomena here. It is the spot on the planet where the jet stream comes closest to the surface. High winds are a bit of a redundancy. 🙂 “Weather” changes rapidly here, rarely for the better. It can be cold enough to freeze water on top while it is hot enough to melt chocolate in the valley.
Finally into Maine! And at the border there is a sign: Maine, life as it should be. I quickly found myself saying “A-yup”. Maine people are proud people. Maniac is probably not the sanctioned descriptive derivative, but it is close. 🙂 Somehow the mountains know to stop at the border. Almost immediately the land seems to begin to slope down toward the ocean, changing to pine forest, then to shorter trees and soon showing glacial deposit rocks. Even miles from the shore it seems the smell of the ocean is in the air. This trip is convincing me of what I already know – my breed must be part ‘water dog’. I feel better near the sea.
Almost 20 years ago I was on another wander through this part of the state. I happened upon the town of Mexico, Maine. In it my ‘cafe eye’ hesitated on the overly festooned facade of The Chicken Coop diner. It might have been the plastic chicken wearing a crown, standing between pillars of a fork and a knife, proclaiming “I’m King Here” that made me pause. But I went in anyway. Let me tell you not only was that one of the best seafood diners I enjoyed in Maine, but the homemade 3-inch shortcakes covered in strawberries and buried under whipped cream are a major glorp. Twenty years later the glorp is just as good.
The old road through the backwoods of Maine rolls though many small towns. I noted something which I had forgotten is common in old New England. The very old houses, 100 years and more, are all built within a few feet of the edge of the road. I never understood why. Today there is hardly room for a sidewalk between the house and road, and it is obvious the road has not been widened in all that time.
At the beginning of this travel story I said I would turn south when I got to Maine. And so it happened. Reaching Rockport without my walking shoes, at 4,275 miles into the journey I made the right onto the longest road no one likes to drive – US 1 which follows the coast from the top of Maine to the tip of Florida. When I was in college many years ago, I collected some unnecessary items as college students are wont to do. My collection was of US1 road signs from every state through which it passes. At least in this part of Maine, the road still is close enough to show those picture postcard views of harbors (pronounced ‘hah-bahs’, a-yup) and the lahb-stah boats bobbing at the docks. Oh such minor things. Now riding south into the sun means I have to use sunglasses.
Heading ‘down east’, US 1 eventually delivered me to many a yuppie’s mecca. Freeport is a small town overrun by an idea. The L.L. Bean company and outlet store is located here. Later I learned the store is open 24 hours a day. !? Wonder how many people just have to rush in for expedition gear at 2 am? Anyway, the idea of an outlet store has been carried a bit far. The entire town, as much as I could see, is all outlet stores. Not just a mall, but everything everywhere is outlet … that is except for one road which ended near the shore and had a sign ‘no outlet’. 🙂
What would a trip to Maine be without a battle with the culinary crustacean. President Judy met me one more time in Portland for her traditional rite of spring – a claw wrestling match. (Her and the lobster, not me.)
Thornton US3 US302 VT16 US2 ME27 ME17 ME90 US1 Portland
FuelPlus statistics: 321 miles, 10:04 engine run, 46 mph average
I am not superstitious, so it is just a coincidence that my luck seemed to run out in Wanderlust 13. All is better now, but in addition to covering 1,017 miles in 20.6 hours of riding time it has been a tense and trying ordeal.
“Even disasters – there are always disasters when you travel – can be turned into adventures.” – Marilyn French, American Writer
Even when the only reason to ride is The Ride, it is nice to have someplace to go. Otherwise you have no idea where you are in the progress of the ride. So why Maine? Not because it is ‘over there’. Because it is where DeLorme Mapping Company is. When DeLorme was preparing the new version of their Map’N’Go program I was selected as one of their customer beta testers (because of all the problems I reported in a previous program). In return for testing this version, I received a free copy. In return for the free copy, I told them I would use it to navigate across the US on a motorcycle. I may be the first person crazy enough to do so.
So, Freeport, Maine, N43 degrees 48.384′, W70 degrees 09.830′ was the target where the front wheel of the bike touched at 10:00 am. The new headquarters building is still being finished inside, but soon there will be an interactive media center for the public to try out the products and to play with the 1:1,000,000 scale world globe. Foreshadowing how my luck would turn, neither of the only two people I knew in the product test area were available. So I left unheralded.
The next stop was supposed to be the BMW dealer in Falmouth. Yesterday the warning light for the Antilock Brake System started flashing and wouldn’t reset. It is more an annoyance than a problem, but it does mean that if I needed the ABS in a panic stop, it might not work. The warning first came on a few days ago in New York when I had to brake hard and speed shift to avoid someone changing lanes. The front wheel slid a little while the rear was still spinning, and the mismatch in speed tells the ABS it needs a stop-and-reset to get coordinated. Except that the light was ‘fluttering’ like it had a loose connection. Eventually it went out on its own, but I thought the dealer should see it. Lost luck. The dealer is closed on Monday. So I rode nearly 700 miles with that flash flash flutter stop, flash flash … over a hundred years since electricity has been in common use, a RED LIGHT has come to mean danger, stop, warning. It is in our psyche. Try staring at one for 6 or 7 hours and telling yourself to ignore it. Mind over matter. Or perhaps more appropriately, mind over doesn’t matter.
“Go West, young man.” Horace Greely, giving advice.
“Get out of here, go out west or someplace …” Mom, telling me to go play.
And so it was I headed for the west again, but by an intended somewhat southerly route. Maine to California by way of Texas? Having grown and lived in New England, there was little I wanted to see there again. As painful as it would be, it was turnpike, interstate, and controlled highway or get nowhere slow. In so doing, I was reminded of an old Massachusetts joke. It is said that the state is the only one ever to name three towns for one governor. The highways took me near one, through a second, and into the third of the towns: Lowell, Peabody, and Athol. 🙂 (That’s a joke, folks, but there really is a town of Athol.)
Even when you have your eyes closed to the ‘known’ things around you, a traveller can learn. Marcel Proust said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I have been through Leominster more times than I can remember. I don’t remember ever having seen the sign I saw this day: The Birthplace of Johnny Appleseed. There really was such a dude. I suspect he was an early release from the Fitchburg State Hospital … but that’s just my cynicism again.
Again, I grew up less than 1/4 tank of gas from here, and it seems, as in the story of the Purloined Letter, what is always in front of you is unseen. I had been noticing the dates on the town boundary signs. Surprisingly, some of the towns in New Hampshire weren’t settled until the 1850s. In Massachusetts and Connecticut he towns were dated in the 1600s and the 1700s. What was musing, though, was the different word used to denote the date. “Settled”, “Incorporated”, or “Inhabited”. One wonders at the specific or subtle distinction. Then I came into Simsbury – “Named 1740something”. Named? People had been living there how long before they decided where they were? How could they even call a town meeting if they didn’t know the town name?
By the way, speaking of Connecticut, only one person ever responded to the meaning of the name, and she got it from her Yankee relatives, so it is a technical foul. But being the only contender I’ll give Anne Lescher her moment. Connecticut means long tidal river. The significance is that the Connecticut is the river which has the longest tidal affect upstream, some 40 miles from the ocean.
In Simsbury, luck struck again. Just as I was laughing to myself about territorial anonymity and picturing someone ‘getting a bee in their bonnet’ about it – power of suggestion ? – I was whacked in the side of the faceshield by a bee that then fell inside my helmet. Picture this. A man on a motorcycle in moving traffic, *standing* on the footpegs (to be in the airstream), ripping off his helmet, shaking it violently, catching his sunglasses as they somersault over the tail, and then putting it all back together in less than a block to screech to a halt at the stop light. No sting, but I certainly depleted a chunk of my adrenaline reserve. I was very tired for the rest of the day.
After following a wonderfully sinuous road from the Connecticut border to the Hudson River, I crossed into the great wasteland of the confluence of New York and Pennsylvania. To me, this is the Nevada of the East. Just get through it. Been there. Done that. Looking as hard as I could for something to mention, all I could find is that Boalsberg Pennsylvania is the “Birthplace of Memorial Day”. Wow.
Portland US1 I95 I495 MA2 US202 US44 NY199 NY308 NY9G NY199 US209 I84 I81 I80 US11 Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania for the night.
FuelPlus statistics: 518 miles, 10:13 engine run, 51 mph average
The next day’s travel was unremarkable. So I won’t remark on it. Although this may have been the most pleasant crossing of Pennsylvania I ever suffered, it is like saying that was the best root canal I ever enjoyed. I have personally never been in Pennsylvania but what I have been trying to get out of it. Some people actually live there, so it might actually be nice. I had many miles to cover – and the state was in the way again.
Luck struck suddenly around Smyma, Ohio. I went to downshift and it seemed the gear stuck a little. A moment later it stuck again. Then the transmission was locked in 4th gear and I couldn’t get it up or down. Even coasting to a stop and turning off then engine didn’t help. Being the careful and understanding type that I am, I thought about it for around 14 milliseconds, then I bashed the shift lever with my foot. The gear broke loose. As I rode I began experimenting with all the variables of throttle, clutch, acceleration, gear loads, and engine lash. Remembering the many discussions about splines and such on the Internet BMW list, it appeared to me that either I had a relatively simple alignment problem, or the entire transmission was disintegrating. Now the gear lock problem had spread to 3rd, 4th, and 5th – downshift only. Pre-loading the lever didn’t help, but either declutching before decelerating or blipping the throttle with the clutch disengaged allowed a smooth shift. Still, it looked like touring for the day was over, and Cincinnati was the closest dealer.
Luck struck again. If this wasn’t enough, I arrived at a friend’s to get the news to call home immediately. The old dog had gone into heart failure and was in intensive care with questionable prognosis. But the good news later was that the treatment worked and she pulled through. I’m not as sure I did.
In a manner of speaking, my luck ran out in one more way before things turned back to normal. Since I left California on June 1, I have not ridden in any real rain. There were a few sprinkles in New Hampshire but not enough to suit up. Nearly 5,500 miles, across the continent and half-way back and not a drop. So, in the half hour and 30 miles it took to get to the dealer, it rained almost an inch. Frogs were wearing scuba gear. Fish were drowning. I was not happy.
Luck tried to throw one more zinger. Greg at the relatively new Tri-State BMW dealer near I-275 north of Cincinnati told me his only K-bike experienced mechanic left for the Texas rally a week ago (he travels like I do?), but Greg would ride my bike and help me figure out what to do. Somewhere right about here something clicked on the luck meter. The sun came out. Greg came back and said “Classic detent cam gear problem. You can ride it all the way to California and back without worry. Just blip when you shift.” I’ll get it fixed when I get back. The other mechanics in the shop are as relieved as I am … they were worried about a trial by fire on tearing apart their first K. I quickly came to like them all. They are enthusiastic, friendly, and know their limits. That spells trustworthy to me. Nice place. Visit them.
But now I’ve lost a day. Everything is wet. I am dirty, sore, and tired. So I took the day off and combined these two reports into one to contain the ‘luck’. The Weather Channel tells me if I wait until late morning, I can head south to the gulf keeping my unbroken string of not _travelling_ in rain.
It is at a time like this I must remind myself that travelling is supposed to be a challenge…
“I might be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I’m enjoying the ride.”
– Bob Weir, American Songwriter
Bloomsburg US11 PA54 PA45 US22 Cincinnati
FuelPlus statistics: 499 miles. 10:22 engine run, 49 mph average
Lady Luck got in one last lick while I was sending Wanderlust 13. I had a communications error, so if you didn’t get all of it let me know and I’ll send another.
Starting the morning in Cincinnati in the company of friends, I failed to follow my normal routine eating pattern, and it nearly brought me down later. My at-home pattern is unusual to begin with, but I have adapted to all day riding by fueling myself with sugar while fueling the bike. I don’t actually recommend this to anyone else, it is just what works best for me. Years ago I got used to not eating any lunch so I could run a few miles during mid-day (being nocturnal, and too lazy to get up early). Now, any mid-day food leaves me very sleepy, which is not a good thing during the most prevalent heat of the riding day. So I usually start with a pastry and coffee to build a good sugar high, replenished 3 hours later at the gas stop. This day I foolishly skipped the starter and suffered hypoglycemia and drowsiness after 2 hours on the road. The “low brain” warning light came on quite brightly when I almost rode straight off a sharp left curve. Fortunately, my macho bull-through-it forces are well tempered by self-awareness safety concerns, so I did stop early and I did ‘refuel’, but it is a reminder to us all that the body is an engine too. If you haven’t thought about how to change your eating/drinking pattern for a long ride, especially a long summer ride, give it a careful study. It may be a good excuse for eating sweets. 🙂
Another macho standard is not asking for directions. Unlike many males, I am not pride-restricted in asking – but I do rather prefer to ask someone who may actually know the answer. I had the, uh, opportunity to exercise directional interrogation this day … which is to say it was the first time I got thoroughly lost. Better yet, I was lost in what looked like Deliverance County, Kentucky. After the sugar low, I was still a little spaced out and flubbed a map reading where two interstates crossed. Forty miles later I realized I was almost to Louisville (pronounced ‘Loo-vul’ by the locals) instead of southwest of Lexington. No problem … I’ll just take what the map shows as the second exit from here. Ah, but the paper map does not show all the exits. The second exit dumped me somewhere between Okolona and Zoneton (could I make these up?) in Bullitt County.
How do you know you are lost? I know by the number of digits in the route number. A one or two digit road, like US1 or CA25, is easy to find and means you are not lost. When you get to three digits, you are near the edge. Finding KY480 or KY155 would have been nice, but instead I found myself on KY1819, which lead to 1319 and then – I actually saw a 5 digit road. Lost. Definitely.
Eventually, KY44 decided to rescue me. Except for one thing. Not knowing where I was, I wasn’t sure whether to go east or west (since my target for the day was actually south). Ah, there are two men sitting on the roof of a house, nailing shingles. Good, all I need to know is which way is Shepherdsville. I ask. Without looking at each other, they simultaneously point … in opposite directions. Then seeing themselves, THEY get into an argument about which way is shorter or faster. I don’t think they even noticed I left. A more simple approach succeeded. It appeared most of the traffic on the road was headed east. So did I. When I got to the unsigned crossroad where my next route should be, I tried asking one more time. An older gentleman in farm attire was sitting in the well worn pickup beside me at the traffic light. “Excuse me, is this 31E?” He looked slowly in both directions (what did this clarify?) and said “Suh, Ah don’t rhatly know. Where are you going?” “South” was an insufficient answer. So he offered “If you want to go to Bardstown this road will take you there.” I didn’t, but it did. And that’s how I make a lot of ‘decisions’ where to go on this trip.
Bardstown, as it turns out, has a hidden meaning in its name. It is the home of My Old Kentucky Home, right there on Stephen Foster Way. I declined to visit for fear it would take days to stop singing Foster songs if I started. And I don’t sing well. 🙂
The next route through a lovely narrow valley taught me something about American history. Although I knew he was born elsewhere, I thought Abe Lincoln grew up in Illinois. Nope. Abe’s first school and his ‘boyhood’ farm are on the road to Knob Creek, ’bout ‘leven mahl (i.e. 11 miles) from the Birthplace historic site. But somewhere deep down inside me the old cynicism bell started clanging. Sure. He probably attended school 2 days and then left for the farm – where he helped a neighbor pull weeds. I know I should feel more reverence to these icons, but why? It wasn’t the farm and the school that made Lincoln a strong character. We too often look for the circumstances and not often enough for the substance. I can attest, however, that Abe lived in a fine area for riding motorcycles.
Just a few miles from the Lincoln sites, the time zone boundary follows the county line. Of course the line has to be drawn somewhere, but can you imagine how it must affect the lives of the people who live right there? For most Americans a zone is something you only cross occasionally. In this case, as I rounded the corner I saw two houses barely 100 feet apart, separated by an hour. What if there were two children, one in each house? Come over to my house at 2:00 to play! What if a Central Timer is dating an Eastern Timer? I’ll pick you up at 8:00 sharp! If there were a store nearby open 24 hours, would it have to be open 25? There must be a simple way to live with all this.
“A good holiday is one spent among people whose notion of time are vaguer than yours.”
– John Boynton Priestly, English Writer
Riding south I was approaching the lower lands of the gulf states where “popcorn thunderstorms” are frequent afternoon occurrences. They are called popcorn because their clouds suddenly poof and expand. I had the visual experience of following one from cloudbirth to cloudburst. There was this one cumulus ahead of me which caught my eye. (Hey, after umpteen hours on the road you look at anything – even clouds. 🙂 It had just a bit too much roundtop fluff. As I watched, during less than one half hour, it grew three times taller, darkened to near black on its flat bottom, and suddenly dumped its charge as though someone flipped a switch. It reminded me of the ‘summer storm’ film everyone has seen on PBS but it was more enjoyable for my being on the bike. One of the special aspects of motorcycle travel is full participation in the air around you. You get to smell more, like the change from heavy vegetation to earth aroma when you pass from a wooded area to a field, or the dry flavor of concrete and buildings as farmland gives way to city. This storm took me through several changes of air temperature and moisture content that were as much tactile as sensory. And in its wake, the mist steaming from the road had a refreshed softness to it, like the smell of fresh laundry. Motorcycling rewards the senses as much as it demands their attention.
Because of all the heavy rain in this area in recent weeks, the streams are full to overflowing, and chocolate brown with runoff. At a rest stop I chatted with a farmer who was taking a break near a creek at the edge of his field. He noted the “crik’s gone floody muddy”. His observation was much like his life, simple yet complete.
Cincinnati I75 I64 I265 (cr=country road) cr1819 cr1331 cr1319 KY44 US31E Nashville
So it is with me and planned events. Other than visiting the map company, riding the Natchez Trace was the only preselected route I looked forward to before the BMW Rally. From my knowledge of American history and the exploration of the frontier, I remembered the Natchez Trace was an important trail built into a commercial thoroughfare for the early settlers. Farmers in the Tennessee Valley looking for new markets floated their goods on flat boats down rivers to New Orleans where they sold everything – even the boats were sold for the lumber. Then they had to walk back the 500 miles to Nashville. The Trace was developed from various Indian trails through the wilderness, following natural geography using ridges and the narrowest water crossings. I expected a nice flow of following the original course. The Natchez Trace *Parkway*, however, is not what I expected. Cynicism alert!
The National Park Service has decided for us that original route is perhaps too curvy and too dangerous. It has carefully sanitized the route to eliminate any and all dangers. Like curves where you can’t see half a mile ahead. Like hills or dips where you lose sight of traffic to the horizon. Like any views through the trees that might distract the careful driver. This road is optimal for an octogenarian odyssey in an Oldsmobile 88. On a motorcycle it is less that orgasmic. The pullouts are perfect for pausing those plush portable palaces (RVs) we bikers call road barns. Plus, like the golden spike in Utah, the original trace is “nearby”. There are a couple of places in Tennessee where you can walk the old trace and one where you can drive it for a mile, but otherwise the closest you get is a few miles. Oh, yeah. The road is limited to 40 mph at the northern end. What a waste. This quickly became a tree chasm where all you could see on both sides was the organic sound wall … Mark Twain’s words called me away.
“Your road is everything that a road ought to be … and yet you will not stay in it half a mile, for the reason that little, seductive, mysterious roads are always branching out from it on either hand, and as these curve sharply and hide what is beyond, you cannot resist the temptation to desert your own chosen road and explore them.”
Mark Twain, American Writer, 1835-1910
Giving the benefit of many doubts, I peeled off after 100 miles of scenic see-little. Now the tiny towns in northern Alabama showed the character that had been suppressed on the Parkway. Even the trees here showed more character, obviously changing from the shadegivers of the landscaped highway to the water movers of the lowlands. In the muggy afternoon, with the wetland swamps ringing the edges of fields, the trees seemed well fit to their environment where it rains like a Chicago voter votes, early and often.
On a long straightaway where I was the only vehicle, I saw a dark piece of debris ahead in the road. There have been a few branches fallen off logging trucks, so I set a mental path to pass close but avoid the stick. The stick raised itself up about two feet on one end. ! The stick then hurried to cross the road. It was a black snake about 8 feet long, covering almost one entire lane of the road. It and I equally desired to avoid each other, but I wonder what sensation caused it to raise up. Was it the sound of my approach or the vibration though the road surface? Either way, that was one sensitive slitherer.
In the small, steamy town of Moulton, a mid-teen boy came out to work the gas pump. He really liked the bike and asked a number of questions. We chatted as I cleaned the bugs off and checked the oil, water, and tires. Then we went inside. I asked “Do you ride?” He does, a small bike, mostly off road. “Think you’d ever be interested in a long road trip like mine?” His answer surprised me, “No. I don’t want to travel much. I know people who have travelled and they are never happy with home here again. I like it here. So maybe if I stay I’ll keep liking it.” Somewhat self denying, perhaps, but a thoughtful approach.
His older sister had been listening to our conversation. She was selling the beer, so presumably she was 21, but didn’t look a day older. Large almond eyes in a slightly round face, long thick ringlets of sandy brown hair, face and lips done in a ‘come hither’ look, she was wearing jeans so tight that as Mr. X would say – if she _could_ get a dime in the pocket you would still be able to read the year … she showed everything but ‘man trap’ across her forehead. I asked her if she felt the same way about travel. She looked at me, looked at the bike, and sweetly drawled, “Honey, if I knew ya’d treat me rhat, I’d leave with ya rhat now.” Then she took a long drag on her Virginia Slim and let it seductively swirl out around her.
The road lead quickly away from Moulton.
The afternoon thunderstorms began building again. As the day wore on I raced two storms crossing my path. The first slowed, but the second won. Only 20 miles from the town selected for the night, I was forced to pull up under the awning of an abandoned gas station. Rather than suit up, I decided to wait. The cloudburst was quite strong, and I repositioned twice to get the bike under the least leaky overhang. It was wonderful in the noisy silence of the storm. The droning rain on the tin sheet roofing drained away all other sounds. Several loose sheets squeaking on rusted nails flapped in the wind, like casually clapping hands. Occasionally a board in one of the missing windows groaned. The dripping splashes in puddles under the awning played competing single note tunes. After the worst passed, I waited another half hour, lounging back on the bike to keep out of the 3 inch lake that formed under me. A mouse came out of the weeds and wandered to the edge of the water. The smell of ‘stranger’ must have wafted from me, for a local dog appeared around the side of the building and barked ‘I see you. I see you.’ with his head high in the air.
The remaining ride was easy. When I stopped for gas a man asked what kind of motorcycle I had. BMW, just like the car. The most common response is “Really? I didn’t know BMW made motorcycles.” So I hit him with the full story, how BMW was prohibited from making airplane engines after WW1 because theirs were so much better than the Allies. (The Red Baron’s plane had a BMW motor.) The company tried a number of metal-working alternatives, including making cooking pans. Then in 1923, Max Fritz, chief engine designer, created a two cylinder engine for a motorcycle, the basic design of which is still used today in “R” bikes. Motorcycle sales saved the company, as they did again after WW2. Without the success of the bikes, BMW may never have made cars. He was impressed. “Do they cost like the cars?” I just smiled.
Nashville I65 I265 I440 TN100 Natchez Trace TN13 AL17 US72 AL157 AL33 AL195 AL69 US82 Prattville
FuelPlus statistics: 367 miles, 7:32 engine run, 49 mph average
After a quick morning visit to the Hank Williams memorial in Montgomery, I aimed for the sovereign state of Reed’s Landing, surrounded by Perdido Beach, and ruled by the benevolent dictator Corky Reed and gracious Joan. In what seemed the rally-before-the-rally, IBMWR Presidents showed up from all over: Pat, Linda, John, Mike, Rich (Dickhead #1), Miles, and Tom. What do Presidents do when they are not riding? PARTY! Along with local artist-hostess Deborah, the group held the traditional toast to absent and spiritual attendees (and to T-Mia who is _always_ “enroute”). Miles fell off the dock. I fell asleep in the boat 🙂
Prattville US82 I65 cr26 AL21 US31 cr61 AL112 cr87 US98 cr97 Perdido Beach
FuelPlus statistics: 232 miles, 4:22 engine run, 54 mph average
“If an ass goes traveling, he’ll not come home a horse.”
– Thomas Fuller, English Clergyman, 1608-1661
Five trepid individuals (well, they weren’t exactly intrepid 🙂 set out from L.A. (Lower Alabama) at oh-bright-thirty. It was supposed to have been oh-dark-thirty, but the sun got a jump on us. Or we were slow in reaching critical road mass.
After more than three weeks of travelling alone I was suddenly part of a destination group. Choosing companions for travelling by motorcycle can be difficult and dangerous. Forming a group by happenstance rarely improves the odds of success. Not that there was any discord in the agreement to ride together, in fact it seemed to be ‘the right thing’ given the common interest and common intent.
But the danger of cobbling a group is in the different mix of road personality and riding style. Motorcyclists by their nature tend more toward individual expression rather than compromise and accommodation. Finding someone else with your riding style and pattern is not easy, and having to adapt to someone else’s can cause you or them to ride beyond a skill level – either too fast or too slow. It is usually advisable to try riding a short to medium distance with a partner or group to come to understanding. We, however, said “pleased to meet you” them jumped on for a two day sprint across four states.
We did well for a while, but due to style differences we chose to split up and meet at the end of the day. Everyone else went to a more northerly route to the Interstate. I stayed my course of the old road to New Orleans. Everyone else got rained on and fought heavy cross winds. I had clear skies, no rain, and saw the big storm clouds ‘over there’. While I was lounging in Jackson Square sipping a cafe au lait and munching beneigts, they were pushing through truck blasts. We all arrived at the night’s destination within an hour of each other. I was the only happy camper. 🙂
The start of the trip was a study in contrasts. Georgia is noted for it’s red dirt, but all of lower Alabama is also landed in reddish orange dirt. It makes quite a contrast against the lush green vegetation. Then as we got closer to the shore of the lower peninsula, the white sand of the gulf coast took over. White and red mixed to make almost a pink surface. We took a ferry from Fort Morgan, site of the “Damn the torpedoes” famous quote in the Civil War battle for Mobile Bay, but as it was jokingly reported, it was more likely a statement of concern than bravado. Place the emphasis here: “Damn!!! The torpedoes!! Full speed ahead!” (As in ‘Let’s the get flock outta here’.) There are still wrecks of the fleet in the bay. There are now also visual serenity wrecks of gas derricks in the bay – a dozen or so visible like destroyed but not sunken derelicts.
Passing though the corner of the Alabama coast, we went through Bayou La Batre, which I remember as the town in the movie “Forrest Gump”. If the movie wasn’t filmed on location, someone did a great job of building a set. I half expected to see Forrest on a park bench somewhere. Not long after that we passed a sign that I unintentionally misinterpreted in a Forrest Gump sort of way. There are often road signs warning of entrance to a manufacturing plant to caution about turning trucks, etc. In close succession I saw ‘Plant Entrance’ followed by ‘Gulf Shores Baptist Assembly’, and I said to myself “I always wondered where they were made.”
The travelling group separated in the commercial clutter of Waveland, Mississippi, which had been continuous strip malls since we joined US 90. About one half mile later the road went to wilderness and soon became a two lane swamp skipper. These are the real lowlands of the US. In many places the water is only inches below the road level. If the oceans ever rise, we will have to form our own version of Holland’s dikes or lose half of two states. I noticed the houses here near the swamps are built on stilts several feet above the water line. Along the beaches they were on stilts to protect from storm surges, but I suspect in the swamp they are built up just to keep the critters out.
After passing through the heart of the French Quarter, I paused for a coffee break along the riverwalk at Cafe du Monde, where I was simultaneously approached by three strata of people who wanted my money. A street dweller tried to strike a conversation about the bike before asking for a little money. At the same time a meter enforcer enforced me to move lest I give up quite a bit more money. And while pushing the bike across the street, I was propositioned by a lady who wanted a lot of money for her service. Ah, life in the big city again.
There is only one route marked scenic in the area around New Orleans. It is a road that offers time travel in addition to distance. LA18 follows the west bank of the Mississippi River through a dozen small towns, past fields of sugar cane interspersed with above-ground crypt cemeteries in the old wrought iron fashion. It leads to preserved and some still working plantations with white picket fences, great oaks, and Spanish moss draped everywhere. It both evokes and delivers the Old South. Young children play shirtless and shoeless in the dusty side streets. Old men in coveralls sit in the shade of an outbuilding porch and watch whatever passes. Life is slow.
The humidity literally hangs in the air in the summer. After I rejoined I-10 it passed through the Achafalaya Swamp. The entire road is built on a causeway for miles because there is no solid land below. As the parallel bridges converge in the distance, you can see the steam rising off the swamp in the late afternoon sun, hanging like a mist and drifting like a fog but being not as damp as either. Visible but not present – like an ethereal veil.
The motel left the light on for us … and as we recounted our day we agreed to get an *early* start the next morning.
Perdido Beach cr97 cr20 AL59 AL180 AL193 AL188 US90 I310 LA18 LA77 I10 Orange
FuelPlus statistics: 461 miles, 9:24 engine run, 50 mph average
It would have been an early start if the phone had rung for the wakeup call. It appears the phone wasn’t hung up correctly, and so we assembled late again. Timing was going to be off all day.
As we flew down I10 I noticed the swamps quickly give way to fields after Beaumont, and the fields began too show the sparse dispersal of trees which spoke of the coming west and the open plains. Within miles the trees shortened to scrub stature and even the roadside grass began to show the solid stalk of plains hay that would dry in place, unlike the soft wideblade grass of the wetlands. Corn jumped to be the predominant crop, and it was shoulder high here whereas only two weeks ago I was discussing the shoots pushing up through the dirt in Iowa. Even the clouds seemed to spread out and take the stance of cattle on sparse grazing land – separated by an understood self-imposed distance.
Well, we split again. It was a semi-accidental event (in a double meaning sort of way). An accident on I10 blocked the only bridge over the lower Trinity River. We turned back to a side road, but I stopped to read a map. They didn’t. They took a short cut that took longer than the long way I followed and I passed them unknowingly. Trying to race to catch them, I put myself so far ahead that I just selected my own route and avoided the Interstate the rest of the way to the rally. They returned to the Interstate … they were rained on. I had a sunny sideroad ride.
And so I arrived at the BMW Motorcycle Owner’s of America 25th annual national rally. There were already several thousand BMWs in town. The locals were verbally inquisitive about what was happening – it did look odd to see three times as many motorcycles as cars on the road, at each stop light, parked along the streets, lined up in front of every business.
For me this will be the largest gathering of friends who have never met. The Internet BMW Riders will have a face-to-name gathering one night, and we will have to look at the email ids written on our badges to recognize each other.
I’m going to take another break here for a couple of days, since unless you like rallies there isn’t much to report. Wanderlust will pick up when I leave Fredericksburg. When I signed in at the rally, I listed myself for the North American Tour award with exactly 7,300 miles since leaving San Francisco.
Orange I10 TX562 US90 TX1960 US290 Fredericksburg
FuelPlus statistics: 399 miles, 8:00 engine run, 50 mph average
There is illness at home. I have decided to end the wander. Although it pains me to do so, it is only because the world of normal reality is grasping at me with the gravity of its closeness. We all know “it” must end sometime. Better to choose.
“Your travel life has the essence of a dream. It is something outside the normal, yet you are in it. It is peopled with characters you have never seen before and in all probability will never see again. It brings occasional homesickness, and loneliness, and pangs of longing … But you are like the Vikings who have gone into a world of adventure, and home is not home until you return.”
Agatha Christie, English writer, 1890-1976
Unfortunately, I am fortuitously close to the Eisenhower Interstate System – the blessing and bane of American travel. Are you aware the network of highways is named for Dwight not because he was President, but because it was his vision to build them for military transport. It is said that while he was a young officer, he was sent on a road convoy trip across the country. It took months. He saw the need for more direct routes linking major population centers by limited access roads to maintain speed. When he came to political power, he pursued that goal. (Necessary cynical commentary: To say nothing of the good it brought to construction and real estate interests, of course. 🙂 The good news is the I-system worked well beyond what anyone could have guessed, becoming almost a modern day equivalent of the transcontinental railroad (see how my stories run in circles?). The bad news is that in order to be consistent, they roads must be consistent – ad hypnotism if not ad nauseam. There may be one or two stretches of Interstate somewhere marked “scenic” but you’ll never find one marked “motorcycle”. And so I became one of the ants in the parallel streams of flow across a never varying path to the nest.
According to Map’n’Go it is 1,692 miles to my house. Easy two days for a trained long distance rider. But nonetheless, this is going to be a completely different mindset of travel. Yes, some more stamina will be called for, but it will be a greater mental fight against boredom. You want to really get to know yourself? Point a motorcycle down Interstate-xx and don’t get off for a day. This form of motorcycle travel isn’t for everyone – some are too uncomfortable to be alone with themself for that long.
Just admitting the pull of gravity made it stronger. So I set out from the rally after the evening awards ceremony. Three hours could get me 200 miles closer. It’s just time and distance now.
Fredericksburg US290 I10 Ozona
FuelPlus statistics: 183 miles, 3:25 engine run, 54 mph average
The waning light of nightfall kept most of the visual pleasures of the hill county hidden. That’s too bad because this is one of the few areas where the raised level of the highway lets you see the rolling expanse of the land. This morning I would begin the focus-wrenching flats of the west Texas plains. It can almost hurt the eyes to gaze on the vast spaces without concentrating on a visual object. It feels like your eyes disconnect and want to move in different directions, like a fish. Or perhaps it is because the mind is swimming in a sea of uncertainty … is there really an end to this emptiness? Our European friends, and many of those from the Eastern US megalopolis, can’t imagine the distances I am talking about. You can see for 50 miles, often more, and see nothing above the height of your shoulder – just scrub oak or mesquite. No buildings. No people. Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles. It strains credulity to mentally contrast this with the cheek-on-jowl terrain of the inner city.
“This world is only tolerable because of the empty places in it – millions of people all crowded together, fighting and struggling, but behind them, somewhere, enormous empty places. I tell you what I think,” he said, “when the world’s filled up, we’ll have to get hold of a star. Any star. Venus, or Mars. Get hold of it and leave it empty. Man needs an empty space somewhere for his spirit to rest in.”
Doris Lessing, British novelist
Back to the concept of being alone. During the rally I attended a panel discussion by and about Women Who Ride, represented by some of the female luminaries in our endeavor. Beyond the physical demands of riding, women also have to be prepared to handle a segment of the sport which is not a common element for females in our general society. A frequently incredulous question asked of the lady long riders at a rest stop is “Are you doing this ALL BY YOURSELF!?” The implication is not always that they can’t do it, but often that they _would_want_ to do it. Again, it can be frightening to know that the only voice you will hear for the next so many hours is – the one (or ones 🙂 in your head. You may be only a few feet away from other people, but they are encapsulated in their cages while you are literally out of touch in the elements that touch you deeply.
Some, like me, are drawn to the intentional isolation. While the Interstate road is no fun, the mental exercises are like spending a day in the attic looking through boxes of memories you haven’t opened in years. None of the mess has to be clean out … but it sometimes helps to rearrange the piles. Occasionally, like in the attic, you drop something heavy.
One thing I resurrected out of an old memory box is the dirt between the plants. Growing up in the Northeast, where the ground vegetation is like a blanket, it never occurred to me that groundcover would be different elsewhere. I first visited the Southwest when I was 7 years old. I remember being stunned that there could be just dirt between the plants, and them being maybe 5 feet or more apart. No grass. No weeds. How different than ‘normal’. My observations of the land started early.
As I approached the cities in the Southwest, I again felt the sense of emptiness. 50 miles out of Phoenix you see nothing but open desert. How different from San Francisco, where 50 miles south is the larger city of San Jose. How more different from Los Angeles, where 50 miles out – you are already “in” LA.
Hour after hour, the miles droned by. When you have to do an impossible task, it is best to break it into possible pieces. El Paso, the New Mexico border, 365 miles. A ‘short’ hop to the Arizona border, 165 miles. Only 395 miles to California. Except … this is through the increasingly arid desert. It may be a tribute to the tenacity of man to make the uninhabitable merely inhospitable. Except … on a motorcycle it is intolerable.
It was a relatively mild 106F 41C in Phoenix. In the shade. In the deserts south of Phoenix it was hotter. In the sun. This is not a time to play test-of-strength. The Camelback was a life saver. Between gas stops I would drink the entire 2 liters of water, then down another liter of fluids at a stop – and barely have a few drops to urinate. That is a danger signal, and I knew it. At each stop my vocal cords would be so dry it was difficult to form sounds. Drenching my clothes with water before starting out would give me an hour or so of evaporative cooling – then the drying sweat would crust the fabric like over-starched laundry. I’ve ridden in hot weather before, but this was one of the toughest days I can remember. Although, you know, once you commit yourself to a course of action, the mind can make the body do things you know it shouldn’t try.
Yet, the mind is resilient and adaptive when necessary. As the day wore on I saw fewer and fewer BMWs returning from the rally. Either they were getting home before me or I was outpacing them. One other man on exactly the same model bike as mine passed me 3 times. He would ride faster, then stop sooner. I was gauging my speed for maximum time-distance-mpg performance. The last time I saw him he was stopped under a bridge. Instantly alert to his condition or need for help, I saw him rubbing his arms – probably putting on sun lotion. Approaching at speed with the engine coasting, I gave him a thumbs-up then thumbs-down then open-hand. There is no ‘official’ motorcycle sign language, but he saw and understood. He gave thumbs-up and I re-engaged cruising speed.
I crossed two time zone boundaries, and reached the Golden State in the “cooling” darkness. Stand at the edge of the motel parking lot and hold your hands waist high, one over the dirt, one over the pavement. Feel the thermal difference. Now a mild 95F 35C.
The shortness of today’s route speaks loudly against the stats:
Ozona I10 Blythe
FuelPlus statistics: 925 miles, 13:36 engine run, 68 mph average
My last day on the road is not my last day of wanderlust. Even if this trip had not been shortened, I don’t think my lust would be sated. The goals never set were achieved, yet the objective remains – to ride. To travel is to seek. I sought to travel.
” … I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish writer, 1850-1894
There will be other trips. I hope I can enjoy them as much. They may not be as grand an adventure, but they need not be less of a celebration of motorcycling. To the many of you who know what I mean, take the time to be one with your machine. Even a weekend trip or a day ride to nowhere can bring surprising rewards just waiting to be enjoyed.
“After all, the grand tour is just the inspired man’s way of heading home.”
Paul Theroux, American writer
This has been a set of amazing contrasts and unpredictable opportunities. I feel fortunate to have seen and met and been. I set no records and discovered nothing that was not already there. My wonder is at being part of it all … to say nothing of having just circumnavigated the United States from (Pacific) coast to (Atlantic) coast to (Gulf) coast to (Pacific) coast and not ridden in rain *once* while travelling! Take THAT, Jon Diaz!
The time of my story is over. Sweetness and sorrow await. As I finish the course of the city streets, I see the familiar and foreign sights mixed into the ongoing images of life. I am no longer a traveller, I am now a local. My ride could have been around the block and the man on the corner would not know the difference. Of course I am different for it, yet I am the same. Or am I?
“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
George Moore, Irish novelist
Blythe I10 I5 I580 San Francisco
FuelPlus statistics: 596 miles, 9:56 engine run, 60 mph average
Total trip 9,012 miles. The ride is the reason.
Thank you for reading/riding/reasoning with me.