Starting out on the first day of cross-country trip, especially on a
motorcycle, would be for many the beginning of the journey a lifetime. If that
is true, then I am on my 15th or 16th lifetime. This morning I rolled out of
the cool gray fog of San Francisco across the Bay Bridge onto "the continent"
and began what I will call for lack of a better name the "Finishers Wander".
If you remember any of my previous stories, the last time I wrote while traveling was somewhere in Texas in 2002. I was on my way back to the West Coast and I just suddenly felt like enough was enough. I did make it home, only silently. And since then I've taken two or three other long trips on which I have not written anything. (Do I hear the sound of one hand clapping back there in the corner?) But maybe it's time to finish the series with the finishers wander.
But finishing what?
Without intending to establish a pattern, it seems I have been attending the IBMWR Branson gathering every other year. This is an other year. So sometime last winter I got a crazy idea that I would go to Branson and then go on to do an extended ride to the 16 Corners of America. I had been looking at the traditional Four Corners ride and decided that those were not really the four corners. For example, the Northeast so-called corner in Madawaska ME is neither at the northernmost nor the easternmost point in United States. The similar is true of the Northwest "corner" in Blaine WA. So I sat down with the map and tried dividing the country into four quadrants, and then eight sections, and then sixteen chunks ... and I found that the corners really don't make any sense at all. If you divide the country into four quadrants the westernmost portion of the southern United States is Davenport CA, barely 70 miles from my home in San Francisco. And the southernmost portion of the western United States is Brownsville TX. So I kinda had to give up on the idea of getting the 16 Corners to work, combined with the fact that I have already been to most of them, it lost appeal. And considering that the weather in Texas this week has been torrential, it was an easy decision just to head to Branson.
Ok, but finish what?
Looking more at the map I saw there are only 4 of the 49 states that my K bike has not been in. That, and I have never been to the true northernmost or westernmost road in the contiguous 48. That's what I am going to finish. Hey, it's as good an excuse for a 10,000 mile ride as any, no?
So here it is I find myself wending down the Central Valley of California
following what may be the world's longest fake river -- the aqueduct that
sucks Sacramento River water into Los Angeles. A faux flow of epic proportion,
this river goes south when the real ones go north, it manages to flow UP over
the Tehachapi Range, and its level in its banks never ever changes.
These first four days are going to be 500 miles each to reach Branson by Thursday night. Again because of the weather, my departure was delayed a day and that means no casual wandering in this segment of the trip - all freeway and little human contact. Immediately on the road I fall into the familiar patterns of the mental set of a longer trip, reading the environment and watching for dangers. Thinking little of what is to come, and focusing on what is coming at me. Long days on the road are best viewed one horizon at a time.
It is fun, for my warped mind at least, to reexamine the familiar. Have you ever noticed the "clusters" of traffic that travel together? In no time at all, a small group will settle into being like a family. There's that one who just has to be at the head of the table, those several in the middle who won't take the lead even if accidentally in front, the occasional kid who keeps quickly changing seats at the table (often without warning), and always the oblivious one who doesn't realize there is anyone else around. Me? I'm the dog under the table silently moving from seat to seat checking for scraps. No one sees a motorcycle.
The wind over the Altamont Pass was surprisingly strong for morning, and later I noticed there were more windmills spinning in Tehachapi Pass near Mojave than I've ever seen active before. (Speaking of Mojave, now that the Route 58 bypass is open, will Mojave dry up and blow away? You can't even see the town from the new road. I always liked stopping at that diner with the collection of medal pedal kiddie cars on the shelf above the walls.) Anyway, wind is one of the adversities you have to consider when on a bike. And that made me wonder if the real reason we choose to travel by less comfortable means is *because* of the adversities. Sure the first few times a long trip is adventure, learning, and exploring the unknown. On the 15th or 16th time, it is at least partly to see how I will handle the challenges.
And so, challenge #1. First gas stop, barely 3 hours into a month long trip, that blasted ABS will not reset. It's been fine for a couple thousand miles since a major repair, now blinky blinky for the next 10K? Nope. Duct tape.
Would you believe me if I said traveling only a few miles down the road
would save you $1.00 a gallon for gas? Would you believe me if I said the
cheaper gas was $1.89 a gallon? Expecting to stop in Needles for the night, I
felt 'hungry' for more miles, but I needed gas before going on. Now one of the
reasons I don't mind traveling is because gas is less expensive almost
anywhere than San Francisco. Or so I thought. $2.29 for regular was common
when I left. I was stunned to see regular in Needles for $2.89! (Although I
managed to find an off-brand for "only" $2.39.) Ten miles later in Arizona,
regular was $1.89. Another major shift hit at the AZ border - the truck speed
limit in CA is 55 (must be frustrating for truckers!), the speed limit for all in AZ is 75.
You want to feel some wind, get passed by a convoy doing 85.
Just more of the adversity that makes a trip interesting.
These messages might not come every day. 12 hours in the saddle doesn't leave much for writing.
San Francisco I580 I5 CA58 I40 Kingman
("Editor's Comment": Ok, some smarties have already noticed the sending dates on these messages do not match the current date. Branson was the weekend of April 11. The messages were held until I was sure I would continue the trip, otherwise 3 days out and 3 days back wouldn't have been much to write about. By the time you read these I have already moved on ... currently waiting out the snow SNOW! in Jackson Tennessee. Now ... where was I?)
Yesterday on I40 I kept having the eerie feeling of suppressed memory
returning. I've been on this road literally dozens of times, but maybe the
"finishing" aspect of this tour led to remembering the first time. As you
probably know, I40 closely follows historic Route 66 and parts of the old road
are still marked. What I was remembering was my first cross country trip from
Los Angeles to Connecticut on almost all of the original Route 66. In the mid
1950s my parents and I flew to a family wedding and returned by car with other
relatives. Four adults, an impressionable 7 year old, and a parakeet in a
Buick Roadmaster with a block of dry ice hanging above the dashboard to
mentally ward off the June desert heat. Physically, it did nothing. I swear I
recognized outcroppings and turns in the road that I have seen many times but
not really noticed. Today, coincidentally I turned into Ash Fork for gas and
saw the old railroad station where I'm sure we turned off to get gas nearly 50
years ago. And I recognized the old Indian Trading Post at Continental Divide.
Restrooms for travelers were not quite as savory back then - I remember my
Uncle Louie saying he wanted to stand on the Divide and pee in both oceans at
once. Aunt Dina was not amused.
Not much human contact when the only stops are for gas. So why do I always seem to encounter those who can't think for themselves. (Answer: part of the adversity of travel in which to revel.) Last night I went to a corner 'convenience' store to buy a beer. This store obviously has had legal age enforcement problems. There are signs all over the place that everyone must show id for everything. Alcohol, tobacco, use a credit card? Id, no exceptions regardless of age. (Me, gray hair.) The clerk said "Obviously you are old enough but I still have to see ..." so I showed him my California id. [Side note, in case you don't know, CA will issue a separate id card on request with a license. Often places will want to hold an id as security for something and people are reluctant to give their license. The id card is an exact duplicate except it says "California ID" not "California License".] So, Him: "That's not a driver license, it is an id." Me: "Same thing." Him: "Nope, I gotta see a license." Me, without intending to be mean: "But the sign says 'id', it doesn't say 'license'. Do you want to change you mind or do we change the sign?" Faced with the concept of having to make a decision, he was so startled he couldn't figure out what to do. I went across to the other corner store where no id was required.
In years of traveling through the desert I have never seen fog there.
Mist after a rain, yes, but not white heavy suspended droplets fog. Today in
the mountains around Flagstaff, there was a dense swirling fog dancing on and
above the roadway. Even though no vehicle had just come through, it would jump
and spin in some current pressed and squeezed by the hand of a thermal
barrier. The fog lay in a swath across one valley as though it wasn't sure
which way to go. If only we could see the forces of nature the way an animal
smells the air, I'm sure this would all make sense.
Climbing a long rise near Winslow, I saw each vehicle ahead of me hit the brakes as it cleared the crest. Cop, of course. But this car was in the right lane doing 70 in a 75 zone. Everyone was "cautious" about passing him. As I moved up the line, I made sure the limit was 75, made sure my GPS was steady at 75.0, and passed him. I waved as I went by, he gave a one finger wave (lifted his index finger on the steering wheel), and off I went. Four cars followed me. One less than brilliant driver then went flying past me. A few miles later he was wringing his hands at a curbside confessional. Honestly, I didn't really want to go any faster than 77 or 78. That is a sweet spot in the power range for my bike, and I can still get around 44 mpg at that speed. I've noticed that even a few mph over 80 will drop the mpg. Must be the fairing design.
Is it me or are there fewer alligators in the desert these days. When I saw one, I realized I hadn't seen any all day. Truck tires must be made better than before.
As I was sipping my Gatorade outside the gas stop in Sanders, a tiny town on the tribal lands, two old Navajo women came out holding onto each other for stability. One was about 5 feet tall, with a nicely weathered, aged face, and looked to be maybe 70-75 years old. The other was not much over 4 feet, and could have been her mother - 95 would have been a kind guess. Her face had seen many more winters. They slowly wobbled toward a beaten up nondescript reservation pony of an old car. I busied myself with getting packed to leave. As I waited to exit the lot the old car came clanking slowly by - the 95 year old was driving, looking through the steering wheel. You go, girl.
Kingman I40 Albuquerque
P.S. The BMW dealer here was unable to reset the ABS. Blinky blinky. Gray duct tape has been replaced with official BMW black electrical tape. Much better.
Reality is a harsh mistress.
Not that I mean that euphemistically, but it is sad and startling to be
reminded of how dangerous society can be these days. Or, more accurately, how
cautious we must be about the dangers of the edges of society. I do not have
any solution, only observations.
After writing last night's segment, I went to a fast food restaurant with one of those multilayer children's playhouses. Waiting for my order, I saw a 3-4 year old girl with her mother. She was obviously eager to go play. Her mother gave her the ok, but just before she entered the play room someone left by an outside exit. Her mother called "Wait, Taylor. There's another door." A 3 year old can't be let out of sight because there is an outside door in a child's playroom through which she could be snatched. I understood she was trustworthy, but what might come through that door was not. Was life really so much simpler when I grew up? Or were we just not as aware.
Immediately east of Albuquerque are some of the biggest round
weather-buffed boulders you will find anywhere. They are not so much mountains as they
are massive piles of geologic BBs. This is the tail end of the Rocky
Mountains, and are they ever rocky! Then barely 40 miles later begins the
american pampas, nearly a thousand miles of slightly sloping flatland leading
down to the center of the country. This is the true High Plains through which
I am drifting. Still over 6000 feet altitude and flat as my cheeks after three
days in the saddle. The pine begins to give way to chaparral, then later
mesquite. I applaud the people who live in eastern New Mexico, betwixt and
between. I'd call them the Taints. Taint Texas and taint the west. Considering
the (lack of) population density, you have to like being alone to live here.
And considering the windsock to gauge crosswinds on nearly every overpass, you
have to have a calm personality to live in these blustery conditions. Today's
windsocks could be used as smiling Bob in a male enhancement commercial ...
(when traveling, you have to endure the weather channel and its incessantly
At the Texas border, I40 drops from 75 to 70, and the trucks drop from 80 to 77. I continue my GPS indicated 78. About 30 miles outside Amarillo, I noticed a solo headlight behind me. This is the first bike I've seen in my direction, although there have been a bunch headed west. The bike slowly catches up to me. He eventually pulls even and waves. I wave. He keeps waving some kind of weird signal. After all my years of motorcycle road travel, I can figure out most signs, but this is beyond me. I drift ahead, still at 78. He makes another lunge to get even and points ahead, then lifts a handheld walky talky from the seat between his legs, waggles it, and points to slow down. Ah, nice of him to care since his and my speedometer show well into the 80s, but again my GPS tells me true. I point to the GPS. He shrugs his shoulders and in so doing almost flips the radio over his head. But he manages to catch it just before he knocks off his loose beanie helmet. Combine those loud pipes of his with his lack of earplugs and I doubt he ever heard anything about what's ahead. He dropped back. I never did see any enforcement.
Saw the first redbud tree in full bloom in Amarillo. This is a sure sign I am in the east. But there is no getting around how boring it is to cross Texas on an Interstate. Riding IN texas is a taste of fine, riding ACROSS Texas is a waste of time. Then a sure sign of something, left to be deciphered, was the BMW Motorcycle demo truck headed west just as I crossed the Oklahoma border. Remember my comment about one horizon at a time? Their ever changing enticement slogan painted on the side of the truck has taken a zen turn with me: Become one with the horizon. Ride with us.
The K75 engine was a koan across Oklahoma. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Albuquerque I40 Midwest City
After 1600 miles of straight Interstate it was a pleasure to see some of
the sexiest curves ever packed into a tight set of soft rises and snug valleys
(I'm talking terrain, of course) and a bit of a surprise to see how quickly I
forgot how to read the curves before entry. When I finally got off the limited
access roads at Muskogee and picked up US 62, it was easy to overcook the
corners until I did a mental reset and began watching the tree line, the
condition of the centerline, and the cut of the pavement edge. These are three
quick indicators that give clues to help dial in the right speed. When the
centerline disappears over a hill before you can tell how sharply it turns,
the convergence of the tree lines is a decent second source. If the left and
right lines have relatively equal depth and meet "somewhere around the bend",
the curve is not likely to be sharp. But if it looks like one wall runs into
the other, tight times a'coming. Also, if the entire curve is not visible, I
always glance at the centerline near the apex. If it is dirty or more scuffed,
that could be a sign where trucks have cut a tight curve. Finally, a ragged
pavement edge especially in a right turn means trailers have often drifted
over, and even if the curve is not tight there could be dirt after the apex.
There's much more than this, but it is easier to read a road when you pay
attention to what you see. That makes curves fun.
It didn't seem possible there could ever be a road with a speed limit too high. US 62 in eastern Oklahoma is such a road. The two lanes twist through the Illinois River Valley, rising and falling with the rocky ledges. The speed limit is 65. Even feeling ripe and ready for the curves, I wasn't comfortable going much over 60. And I certainly wasn't comfortable finding 18 wheelers in the middle of a curve with the back wheels a foot over the line. As fun as it was, and I have the boot scrapes to prove it, I was relieved when the limit dropped to 55 at the Arkansas border ... so I could still go 60 but not worry.
A kindly older gentleman standing beside a pickup at the motel last night watched me unpack and started talking about travel by bike. He used to have one many years ago and enjoyed it but gave it up for unspecified reasons. Now his wife died a couple years ago and he was thinking of getting either another wife or another motorcycle. He missed the companionship, but he missed traveling and his wife didn't care to travel. He mused a bit about having to do maintenance on bikes, then commented "Most women are high maintenance too, but at least with a bike you know when the maintenance is done." I don't think he had quite decided which he wanted yet ...
Okie no latte. That could mean something in a native language, but to me
it means there are no coffee shops in rural Oklahoma. Or so it seems. My
normal practice is to ride 50-70 miles before breakfast. This morning 70
became 90 because of sparse exits, then 90 became 100 because I would need gas
about then anyway, then 100 became 120. But the town where I stopped was so
small the station was just that, with no associated food store. I asked if
there was a coffee shop nearby. The look I got told me I could have just
ordered a double-caf-no-whip-with-foam - and gotten the same look.
Once back on the bike I didn't want to stop soon again ... so come 12:30 pm and not even a cup of coffee yet. At last there came a small cafe/restaurant in Westville. I stopped eager for even meager fare. But my "cafe eye" told me something was amiss. I have a difficult to explain knack for recognizing good cafes. This was all wrong. Maybe it was the location across from the high school. Maybe it was the chef in his apron changing the marquee out by the road. Maybe it was because this was the only place I'd seen for many miles and not a customer was there. Anyway, I rearranged my map while the chef and waitress watched me the way a funeral director watches mourners, then I mourned my choice and moved on.
And I am so glad I did. Ten miles later in Lincoln, AR, Appletown claimed to be the largest orchard in Arkansas. The Appletown Restaurant had the right look. I ordered, ummm, Apple! pie. Sorry, no apple pie. "But we have apple dumpling". Ok. What I got was a 6 inch personal apple pie made of two entire halves of one huge apple, covered in a sweet syrup, and steaming from the oven. Breakfast AND lunch. Man, that was good. While I took a moment to digest, the owner came out from the kitchen for a break. A jovial man, he struck conversation about all sorts of things with everyone he did not know. After my compliment on the dumpling, someone ordered one to go, with ice cream. He hollered "I like that man! All the rest goes to pay for lights and labor but the money from ice cream is minnnne!" When the man joked "You mean you pay these waitresses?" the owner responded "No, they work here for free. I just pay them to be pretty." At which the waitress walking by said for all to hear "Then you don't pay me enough!" Laughter. A few minutes later a man came in asking to place a poster for the coming circus. The owner read it and said "Knife throwing contest? You don't have to go to the circus to see a knife throwing contest. Just watch me when I get mad in the kitchen!" He likes his work. And it shows in the food. Good place.
Northwest Arkansas has some outstanding roads. Ridges, hills, valleys, swoops, and twirls - later stories at the gathering told how riders would cover 250 miles when starting out from a town only 50 miles away. I revisited some old favorites and found some new ones, bringing a satisfying close to the first goal of the trip. Arriving in Branson mid afternoon, one of the first friends I met was long distance rider and four time Iron Butt finisher Ardys Kellerman, up from Texas on her new R1150RT. Ardys mentioned she had three new great grandkids she hadn't seen yet and might go up to New England to see them, on the bike of course. In case you don't know, Ardys is in her 70's and is a more competent rider than some I've seen who think they are good. [Photo of Ardys and Helen Two Wheels]
only 314 miles but more curves than that
Midwest City I40 US69 US64 US62 US71 AR45
AR12 AR23 US62 AR21 MO13 MO86 US65 MO248 Branson
(downtime until Sunday when I have to decide if the weather sends me home)
What an amazing weekend. Wind and rain and cold, and 180 BMW riders
converged to celebrate the Year of the Woman BMW Rider, approximately 40 of
whom were present. Ironically, the woman who unintentionally was the genesis
of the theme was not there. A few months ago Jill, a psychiatrist in
Pennsylvania bought a BMW, joined the IBMWR list with some technical
questions, and asked if "any other women rode BMWs". The resultant discussion
invited her and all other BMW women to Branson. More would have come had it
not been truly horrible weather for "spring" in most of the country - and
Sunday was Easter. Another truly amazing thing: I have known Voni for 10 years
or so and this was the first time I've seen her in a skirt. Heck, this is one
of the few times I have *not* seen Don in a skirt ... but then he IS the
Kiltmeister. Maybe he just did not want to distract from the theme.
Saturday morning I was standing in a group chatting when suddenly most of the men quickly exited into the lot and disappeared around the corner. When they came back a first time (female) guest at our gathering asked "What did you all rush to?". One responded we are all serious about riding and when a bike goes by laying down on a trailer, we have to see it. True, we are drawn not like sharks to blood, but as empaths to pain. And those who look do not gawk to tisk at other's misfortune, but seek to learn some lesson from it. How did it happen, what could I do to avoid it. A beautiful blue K1200RS lay in mangled punctured pieces.
News came in that the rider took the first curve down the hill too fast with cold tires, in the rain. He leaned over and the bike kept going straight, sliding. Bob was ok, with lots of bruises and only a chipped wrist. Bob who? I asked. Oh, that Bob. He didn't get the nickname Bouncing Bob for nothing.
Good fun (except for Bob), good food, good friends, more good food, and good conversation, then ... good food. I noted a lot of the conversation was about places we've visited and meals enjoyed. BMW riders seem to talk more about how far they went, not how fast they went to get there, and then what they got when there, not what they got away with getting there. Then it was time for ... food. I'd say after 4 pieces of fried chicken, 2 halves of fried catfish, a piled plate of salad, about 15 peeled shrimp, a mess of green beans and bacon, and then 3 whole lobsters, I got my $20 worth. Oh, yes, blackberry cobbler too.
What I like most about the awards at the Branson Blast is they are loosely defined. A good story is better than a number. The Hard Luck award was about to go to the wife who had to endure Bob Smith, but then as it was being presented a rider walked in the door having just arrived on a bike that suffered a broken shift lever 100 miles away. Cold, tired, wet, and almost too late, he said an RT doesn't like being nursed through slow traffic in 5th gear. Instant award! Best Protected Rider was about to go to the Cycle Gadgets guy who said he rode in a 32,000 pound motor home, but then a young woman simply held up a fully chrome plated helmet! Winner. Paul Glaves ALWAYS wins the Highest Odometer award when he rides his 375,000 mile K75 (yes, you read that right), but not this year. Remember, loosely defined. Someone stood up and said he measured Paul's bike. The odometer was 47 inches from the ground. His own GS was 53 inches so he had the "Highest" Odometer. Winner! There were three contestants from California for Long Distance Gentleman West, but we had to prove we were "gentlemen" by hugging Voni and letting the women rate the hug. Ahem, thanks ladies.
By Sunday morning the entryway looked like a hotel again instead of a
swarming ground for metal locusts. Several of the non-motorcycle guests could
be seen giving cautious berth to the GS beaks clustered near the door. I was
off to the East aiming for Tennessee before the approaching storm got there.
The first of my "not yet this bike" states is North Carolina, and what better
way to get to NC than Deals Gap? But not in the rain, if avoidable.
Thanks again to Jim Hair for helping with arrangements at Branson. He also knows practically every road in Missouri and is The Source for riding info. Except ... I chose one he said he didn't know. Jim, if you're reading this, MO142 parallels US160 in direction, but not in deflection. MO142 has not been "gentled", it is full of first class woop-de-doos that make your stomach hit the roof at even a sedate 65. Add it to your list!
Floating through the Missouri countryside on Easter morning I noted the churches were doing a good business (pun?). The grass around them was filled with cars angled in all directions, easily mistaken for Honest John's Used Car Lot. It was also easy to tell when services were over. The road was suddenly full of pickups pulling bass boats toward the lakes.
It does seem every trip of mine has one unexpected dirt road. Hopefully, it is out of the way now. County Road 320 appeared to be paved on the map. To be accurate I should say it appeared to HAVE BEEN paved at one time. But it wasn't now. And I can see why the locals probably even helped the road to retrogress. Some nice houses out there and this would be a prime trucking shortcut. However, it was 5 miles of gravel on a K bike dancing around like a drunken Tiajuana bar girl. Dunlop tires do not like dirt, and neither experience is pretty to see.
(Would an aside semi-snide comment be considered an Asnide?) I wonder if the people who choose locations for McDonalds ride motorcycles. They have the uncanny ability to place a McD where I need to P. Ok, too much information, sorry. But have you noticed how you never pay attention to a particular item/brand/name then it is "everywhere". Learning to ignore stimuli is actually a skill to be cultivated on a motorcycle. There is so much to process in situational awareness that distractions have to be weeded out without active thought. Riding a motorcycle is the world's best reality video game. The hand/eye/brain coordination is constant, continual, and critical. Oh, and there's another McD ...
Wow. At the Missouri Tennessee border the elevation of the Mississippi River is only 325 feet above sea level. That is nearly 500 straight line miles to the mouth, and probably twice that in river miles. That is a slooooow flow.
Think I'll stop here and wait a day for the storms to pass, in the motel right next to Bubba's Bagels.
Branson MO76 US160 MO101 MO142 US160 MO158
MO142 CR320(dirt) MO53 MO25 US412 Jackson
Three days later ...
Ah, adversity, the driving force of adventure, comprised of the twins of
purpose and promise, to tempt and to torment. After three days of good but
stationary times in Branson, I wanted to be moving again. The weather in
Jackson called for possible heavy rain next day, so I waited until morning and
looking out the window decided not to play adversity's game. I would stay in
the motel an extra day. Adversity won, however. The NEXT morning I looked out
my window and saw what can only be called a "Tennessee spring".
[Photo out motel window]
I now have the honor of having been in Jackson during the latest recorded
snowfall, and the deepest snowfall in April - 3.5 inches ... so I stayed
another day. So much for moving. But at least Bubba's Bagels next door had the
right attitude - when life gives you lemons, make ... well, see the photo.
[Photo of Bubba's]
What seemed like forever later, the world turns and comes up with sunshine. But as I pull out of the valley from Jackson, there is yet much snow unmelted in the shadows, and some unmelted in my psyche. I feel a chill all day, like age not wanting to let go of youth. The roads are good, the traffic is light, the dogs are laying in the sun - I have to shake it off and go. I feel I have to make myself learn to ride again.
But some skills never leave. One such is to act without thinking. On a motorcycle, if you have to take time to think, you may not have time at all. The scrap junk, open top 18 wheeler came around the downhill curve a little too fast. Without thinking, I saw the load leaning a little more than the trailer. Without calculating, I envisioned the trajectory that top piece would take if he hit the brakes and it slid into the airstream (all those years of zen racquetball helped envision the bounce). Without waiting, I put myself somewhere else. Brakes, whoosh, clang. It all really happened before I could think about it. And the truck never stopped.
About an hour later I was thinking. Thinking that being last in line in a slow group of traffic on a two lane road is not good. Not because it is boring and frustrating, which it is, but because the end of the line is the beginning of the passing zone for the bored and frustrated drivers in the other lane. Whether it was prescience or awareness, it was a call to action. I ratcheted up the aggressiveness and forced a pass so I was no longer last. The car now behind me dropped back a little, and on the very first blind uphill curve, some hot shot in the other lane thinking he had a clear opening barreled out from third position behind a truck. How he missed that car I'll never know. It is definitely time to take a break.
I'm guessing I must be close to the Great Smoky Mountains, because I have already found the great smoky restaurants. Oh how you miss something when you are used to it not being there (if that makes any sense). All work places in California, including restaurants and bars, are no smoking allowed. Restaurants here may have no smoking sections, but not one has a no smoke section. If smokers could smell anything they'd be amazed how much it stinks.
Ok, I'm back in the zone now. Despite the minor excitement earlier, the day is going smoothly. The air is finally warming, and being on a motorcycle, I can feel the differences as I rise a hill or corner in a shadow. The hills in central Tennessee are smaller than I expected. The same longitude in central Kentucky is much more rugged. This east-west road crosses most of the state and there is hardly a ridge anywhere. But then I noticed I crossed the Tennessee River at the beginning of the day and again at the end of the day, so I may not have been one with geography today.
Route 30 is a wonderfully scenic road though country and towns. The dogwood are happily in bloom and you can almost see the new leaves straining to become forest canopy. Route 30 has a sad history, though. It is The Trail of Tears road. It has taken me a long time to get here from "Indian Territory", and I am traveling in some comfort. The 'great relocation' was not one of the better moments in our nation's history. Speaking of history -
It just happened that I pulled over to stretch my legs and refold my map right in front of the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee. I had forgotten all about it, but the plaque said here stood the Scopes Trial in 1925, when charges were brought for teaching evolution counter to the law. Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan battled, truth lost, the law won. Hard to believe that only 80 years ago faith based initiative was allowed to modify the law and facts did not matter, that those who stood for what they believed was the truth were prosecuted for it, and that the government would label scientific thought as tyranny. So unlike today ... or at least it will be as soon as we get rid of the current administration.
Slower wandering delivers great mileage, 211 miles before my reserve came on, or a little over 48 mpg. And I've "finished" another aspect in this wander. I must be living the good life Loretta Lynn sang about, because now I've been to Paris, Rome, and Athens. Paris Texas, Rome Georgia, and Athens Tennessee.
Jackson US412 TN99 Unionville Rd US41A Deason Rd US231 TN82 TN64 US41
Noah-Gnat Hill-Pocahontas-Shelbyville Rd TN55 US70S TN30 Athens
Enter The Dragon.
Today would give me the first of the 4 states missing from the right to call my K75 a "49 state model". And what better way to enter North Carolina than through Deals Gap at the top of Route 129, known throughout the motorcycle kingdom as The Dragon. 318 curves in 11 miles (as opposed to Kansas, where as Voni likes to say: 11 curves in 318 miles :). Want to ride The Dragon with no traffic, no squids? Do it at 9 am on a cool Thursday morning. The road was MINE ALL MINE! And a fine road it is. The pavement is baby butt smooth, at least until you cross to North Carolina where it looks like it was recently combed with a claw grader. But you know, I've ridden better. I would rather ride Route 26 into West Point CA, or Forest Route 25 out of Randle WA. Both have their curves, but they also have scenery. US129 is one of those places where the road IS the scenery - you can look at nothing else. 318 curves are nice, but half of them are 15 mph 2nd gear switchbacks. Having to gear down that much breaks the flow of the road. I like to moderate both my speed and lean to keep a nearly constant smooth pace. This road requires screech and zoom, braking and acceleration. Not my style, but then ... I am not a squid.
The pantheon of motorcycle roads is supposed to be (in no particular order) the Lolo Trail in Idaho, Sedona / Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona, Durango Silverton Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, Route 1 in California (not "PCH", it is called the Pacific Coast Highway only in the L.A. area), and of course, The Dragon in Tennessee. Now, another 'todo' has been completed on this finishers wander.
Actually, the roads in North Carolina offer just as much challenge and more scenery than crossing the gap. I chose Wayah Bald Road to come down to to Franklin, and it was faster and more fun than US129. By the way, Carolinians ... what is the difference between a "bald" and a "knob"? (Raunchy jokes not necessary.) "bald" seems obvious - rocky top, no trees. But I passed some "knobs" like that too ... so what do the locals think?
The town of Highlands looks like a summer get-away for moneyed folk from the hot flatlands. It would have been nice to stay and look around, but even though this was going to be a short day miles wise, it was taking a long time to get anywhere. Speed limits on the twistiest parts of the hills drop to 35 mph, and for many drivers that's waaaaay too fast. Highlands also represents its name. It surprised me to be over 4000 feet elevation according to the GPS. I didn't expect to see that in the east.
At the border with South Carolina is a sign for the "eastern continental divide". Um, I don' thin' so, Pancho. Even if you allow as how one side goes to the Atlantic and one side goes to the Gulf of Mexico, technically, the latter is part of the former. So no wash. And we won't even guess about the sign I saw but didn't report a few days ago: The Arkansas Divide.
When I started out the day, I thought the 250 miles to my destination would be easy in 6 hours. Didn't count on the switchbacks, and didn't figure in granny doing 20 in a no passing 50 zone. So when I finally got to the Foothills Parkway, I was beating feet to get to the BMW Zentrum in Spartanburg for the 3:15 pm (last) tour. The first 150 miles of the day took 4 hours 30 minutes. The last 100 took ... well, let's just say I checked in at 10 minutes before 3, giving plenty of time to see the museum before the tour.
Of course they only make cars in Spartanburg, specifically, only the Z4 and the X5, but at least they acknowledge the existence of motorcycles in the museum. There on display is Ed Culberson's R80G/S Amigo, the only bike ever to have traversed the gap in the Pan American highway. Partly by canoe, since there is no road of any kind. Ed wrote a fantastic chronicle of his several tries and ultimate success in Obsessions Die Hard. I chatted with him as he autographed my copy at the MOA rally (in Flagstaff, I think), and told him - in admiration - he was one crazy fool. He responded that sanity is overrated. Rest in peace, Ed.
Note: Later I was informed by an email responent that Ed may not have been the first, but I personally have not seen documented proof.
The BMW factory tour is quite fascinating for how much of production is hands-off automated. About the only tasks left to humans are the aesthetic decision points, like tig welding to close arpetures of variable depth. It is a long walking tour, especially in riding boots, but we got to see the whole thing from parts priming soup to torquing lug nuts, after which each unit is dyno road tested to 145 mph ... on only the second startup of the new engine. Break in? Wazzat?
Incidentally, when I called for the tour reservation (required), I was told there is a discount for BMW Car Club of America members. I said "what about BMW Motorcycles Owners of America?" Sure, nuff, even though it's not official, they took that for asking.
Alas, though the tour guides mention "the history" of the company (and even still give the erroneous explanation that the BMW Rondel is an airplane propeller), they never once mentioned motorcycles. Later I commented privately to the guides that BMW made motorcycles before they made cars and they could at least mention them ... 20 minutes later *I* was done giving *them* a history of how the bikes saved the corporation at least twice.
You learn some culinary rules when traveling. Never order lamb rare in a Greek restaurant, probably not good to order Italian food on the menu in a Chinese restaurant, and don't order barbecue in Carolina. They call this Q? Well, ok, the meat ain't half bad, but that sorry excuse for a sauce is no more than vinegar with red pepper - Tabasco would be better! Yech.
Athens TN39 US411 TN72 US129 US19 Wayah Bald (NC1442)
US64 US276 SC11 US25 SC290 SC101 I85 Spartanburg
Some days are difficult to write about because essentially nothing
happens. Actually, 'nothing' is good. You've been there, you can relate. You
start out the day all refreshed and ready, and maybe one or two things make an
an early impression, set the tone, get you going. And perhaps at the end of
the day you have a good - or bad - experience, but the middle of the day is a
void. Let me write about the middle.
Traveling itself is an act of constant attention. Traveling by motorcycle is a constant application of attention. You ride, you watch, you process, you pass. If it is a good day, you remember little. The more you get to do 'nothing' the better the day flows. I can remember little about the day except I saw a lot of land, and it was a good ride. What more could anyone ask for? The Ride is the reason.
Ok. Details. I left Spartanburg on two lane back roads. These state highways are not even in the base map for my GPS. I was in "uncharted territory". Finding my way to SC9, I began a general track toward the ocean, passing foothills, then bench land, then pine forest, then cotton fields, then low black swamp toward the coast. It has been three days since a rain in these parts, so of course everyone is cutting grass. As I pass a swath left by the mower going up the lawn, I clearly smell wild onions cut from the shaded edge of the hill. Spring has arrived in the South.
A few miles later I come upon a 3 foot tall licorice dot in the middle of the road. As I approach, the dot erupts and a half dozen wings spread for flight. Turkey vultures are dining at the road kill cafe. These birds are slow to launch, and you must give them deference (Flight 1-Bird Heavy cleared for takeoff, runway 0, straight ahead). One good thing about vultures is they always angle away from a straight path. Watching which way they point makes it easy to guess where they will go. Remember the cardinal rule of motorcycling: never hit anything you can't eat in one sitting.
With the prevalence of the piney woods, there is a pestilence of pine log trucks. Log trucks are not of themselves a problem, but pine trees have loose bark. Following a pine truck is like watching a beehive. There's all this stuff buzzing around, and occasionally something comes at you that would sting. Playing miss the missile while jouncing for a place to pass is a game of too close - too far. Sometimes you just have to ignore the color yellow ... as in line paint.
Lines and laws are, after all, made for cars. Even a halfway competent motorcyclist can safely pass in a quarter of the space a car would need. But laws were not written to be logical. Still, I was relieved the county sheriff did not react as he popped over the ridge when I was just getting back into my lane after "safely putting a danger behind me", or so I would have claimed. :)
One of the pleasures of unplanned travel is the surprises it delivers. Never would I have guessed that I would traverse the birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie: Cheraw, South Carolina. But since I don't like jazz, it was not likely I'd know that anyway. Nonetheless, there is a magnificent statue in the town square of the man with basketball cheeks, on the banks of the Grand Pee Dee River. (How'd that get its name?)
Soon thereafter I had to take a 20 mile jag on I95 to get to the next lateral highway. Why are speed limits even posted on Interstates? "65" may have been the average age of the drivers on the road, but to keep from being passed you had to be octogenarian. Now it is hard to believe I did three continuous days at this speed only last week.
Fate works in mysterious ways. Or, as I told the waitress, I come from a place where good food is commonplace, and excellent food is not unusual. This was excellent. Because of getting stuck in the snow earlier this week, I am at least a half day behind where I hoped to be, not that I have a schedule to keep. But that meant I arrived at the west end of the Orcacoke ferry late in the day - too late to make it to Hatteras before dark and with no reservations on a Friday, that was chancy. So I quit early looking for a motel. Except, there are none. I had to backtrack 20 miles to Morehead City to find one, and the least expensive was $70. How could there be no motels on the lower outer banks? Ah, as was explained, no one stays for one night. Beach properties rent by the week or month. My loss became my gain. While looking for a motel, my "cafe eye" did a double take. Mrs. Willis Steak and Steam Pub had all the right look. So that's where I went. (I do so appreciate that "eye".) Mrs. Willis started serving meals literally out of her kitchen window in 1949. The place soon became a business, and grew and grew. Her daughter Mona runs the place now and any of 100 children, grand children, great grand children work there. But the food is the draw. I had flounder filet stuffed with crab meat. Usually this is a flat display of a few ounces of crab. They brought this bulbous delicacy that looked more like a puffer than an flounder. I swear it had half a pound of crab. REAL crab. Real fresh, with home made sauce and baked sweet potato. The string beans I ordered came "flat and fat", looking like cut stands of green ribbon and tasting like bacon, slow cooked the southern way. Desert was real key lime pie, only served in season. Yes, limes have a season, unlike Sara Lee.
The best compliment I can offer is to say I believe I have found the east coast version of Duarte Tavern. Duarte is the best road house you will find anywhere for fresh fish. Where? Even the location says "fish" - Pescadero, CA. Mrs. Willis is that good.
Now to sleep to make the 7 am ferry through 50 miles of pre-dawn Atlantic shore.
Spartanburg US176 SC9 I95 NC72 NC41 NC111 US70 Morehead City
Dark cloud or silver lining? Dark of night or golden sunrise? Adversity
again. Bad enough it was Saturday, but there was also some kind of reunion
taking place on a nearby island, and a Native Pow Wow in Hatteras, so the
morning ferries to the outer banks would be full. Except for the 7 am run.
Except that I am more than an hour from the ferry slip and I have to be there
30 minutes before sailing. So I found myself getting out of bed at the same
UTC that I would normally go to bed at home: 5 am Eastern, 2 am Pacific.
A few years ago Warren Harhay wrote a magnificent short story about watching the sun rise from a motorcycle on the road. I won't try to describe it. The transition from night to day is magical on its own. The transition of motorcycle from creature of the night to prowler of the day is something to be experienced. It was a silver lining to awakening in the dark. The nightbirds were still whispering softly, the air was moist and still, the night desk man was excited to have someone to talk to ... but I wasn't there to visit. As I rolled through each successive silent town, the features of the day took shape. Soft mists rose from the warm drainage channels along the road. If a bird flew through the mist, it rent and bent in the passing, as though reaching to be taken along. Finally 6:29, one minute early, I reached the gate, and the sun burst over the horizon, glowing gold on everything.
Interesting, of all the ferries around the country, these are the only I've known to load motorcycles last. Usually bikes go first.
The outer banks are like any other seaside resort - too many T-shirt shops, too much clustered in one place, too many people not watching where they are going, and only one small road down the center. It must be hellish in summer. But now some 4 hours after getting up, I can finally stop for breakfast (close to lunchtime) and I see signs for Orcacoke Style clam chowder. I'm from New England. CC is white. Folks in New York think (Manhattan style) CC is red. What's Orcacoke style? Clear broth, made primarily with clam juice. As the chef said, clam chowda should taste like clams. Yum, I think.
Actually, I'm glad for the early start because 3 hours of ferry rides would have blown a hole in the day's mileage, but here it is 11 am and I about as far into my miles as I normally would be. A little later I come to the Wright Brothers National Monument at Kill Devil Hills. Decided to pass the traditional canned packaged presentation for people who think important places are a visitor center. Instead, I spent a minute or two on a dune, face into the wind, wondering what Orv and Wilb would think of today. Ironic, here is the place of first sustained flight and there is no airport anywhere nearby. I suppose it is a matter of perception - Dr. flash says of old Orville and Wilbur: They weren't the first to fly, they just were the first not to crash.
(Later I was told there IS a local airport nearby. My erroneous information came from the gate guard at the Wright Monument!)
Speaking of "first flight", Kill Devil Hills and neighbor Kitty Hawk both claim to be "it". And so do a lot of other things, like First Flight Ice cream, First Flight Car Wash, First Flight Harley Davidson. (bite tongue. bite harder.) Is it really necessary to 'me too' totally unrelated items? I mean, is First Flight Ice Cream really going to taste better than Second Flight?
The outer banks eventually give way to the shore plantations, then in no time it is Virginia. The southern portion of my trip is over, I am headed north. At least this time I got out of Virginia without anything unpleasant. It seems every trip through Virginia has had some one thing go wrong, but maybe the finishers wander ended that. Perhaps the problem has been of the different language spoken there. As mentioned, I am from New England, where if you ask "Do you have <item>" the answer will be a curt yes or no. Fully responsive, no waste. Whereas in Virginia, the answer is "I'm terribly sorry, we used to have a complete stock but yesterday Bubba's aunt Tillie came in to buy 7 of them for Junior and we haven't reordered yet, but I can assure you we will get them as soon as Mabel gets back from her trip to the convention in Covington where they are displaying the new model. Yall come back." Full of information I don't need or want and never directly answered. (Rebecca keeps telling me that's Southern politeness.) So - I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled to the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel toll booth and asked how much. No wasted effort, "Tin" (10). No smile either. She could make it in New England.
On the Virginia side of the Maryland border there is a large dixie flag sign emblazoned with THIS IS DIXIE The South Stops Here. What's all that about?
Speaking of signs, since it was only 6 miles down the road, I went out of my way (this is a wander after all) to go to the end of US50 in Ocean City. Then I turned around and looked for "the sign". It is there! I can't tell you how many times I've passed the sign "Ocean City MD 3073 miles" in West Sacramento where US50 begins and wondered about the other end. It's there! "Sacramento 3073". You know how you keep saying to yourself 'one of these days I'm gonna ...'. This wander has finished another gonna.
And finally, 2 down, only 2 to go. Delaware was the second of the four missing continental states my K75 hasn't seen.
369 miles, plus about 50 miles by ferry
Morehead City NC12 US158 NC168 I64 US13 US113 US50E US50W MD589 US113 Georgetown
A man was admiring the bike as I went about my morning packing routine.
In the small world department, his brother also rides BMWs and recently moved
to a town only a dozen miles from my home. I gave him information for his
brother to consider about the local motorcycle clubs. Then in discussing my
trip he asked, "Couldn't find anyone to ride with you?" Spoken like a true
There are bikers and there are riders. Bikers have to ride with someone because their purpose is to be different ... just like everybody else who is different like them. They flock. Riders sometimes ride with someone, but they each ride their own ride. The longer the distance the rider is interested in, the less likely it will be with a co-rider. Distance riders don't flock, they fly. They gather when the flying is done.
It is very difficult to find someone with a compatible riding style when the trip will cover multiple days, and especially multiple adversities. You can adapt relatively well when the ride is a day long, but when you expect to be across the continent in 4 or 3 or 2 days (yes, it is possible in under 50 hours - many have done it) then you can not afford the time or the attention to adapt.
I myself do not like to ride distance with someone else - it is too much work unless that person has the same habits: saddle time, road speed, stop breaks, food needs, shopping/tourist/visiting vs. riding/riding/riding. For example, I do not eat lunch. That usually means no stop except for gas until motel time. No museums, no sightseeing, no feet up on the beach wall. I ride.
So, my answer to the man in the morning was: "I didn't look for one".
Mama often told me: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything.
Well, I spent most of the day riding through the cities of Wilmington,
Philadelphia, Newark, and New York ... so I have nothing to say.
Had it not been Sunday, I would have stopped at Lepore's Hand Made Chocolates in Hoboken. With a name like that, they have to be good. But even never expecting to find myself in New Jersey again, I had to pass.
I did, however, notice the trees north of mid-Delaware don't know it is spring. Yet from just above Philly, the forsythia are rampant in bloom. Entire hillsides are shocking yellow where the backdrop tree line is winter gray. It makes an odd juxtaposition where the eye, enticed by the yellow, looks for burgeoning life and finds only stillness in the trees.
Last week when my ABS went bad I put out a wanted ad on the Internet BMW
Riders marketplace. The units are fairly rare so I thought it would take a
while. Got a quick answer from Richard, and after exchanging a few emails
found his home was only about 30 miles off my planned path through New York.
With arrangements made to meet him later, I had an hour to kill. It has been 23 years since I lived in Poughkeepsie. Thinking about the roads, I could not remember how to get cross town from the east to the old house. So I just went on autopilot and found the way by thinking about something else, letting the subtle "turn here" markers work that you use every day when you know the route and are, of course, thinking about something else. Amazing how that stuff hides in the vast empty resources of the brain. Then I sat for a few minutes in front of Building 706, remembering. The thought I left with was - be careful what you ask for, you might get it.
Unfortunately, Richard's ABS unit did not work in my bike (different version), so I am still blinky blinky. And now off through the rolling rocky hills of western Connecticut to spend a night with relatives. (Actually just an excuse to meet the new dog Scout.) Maybe it is because I am from this area, but northwestern CT has just about the perfect mix of town and country, farm and field, mountain and river, and scenic history. It is so lovely ... if it wasn't so damn cold!
Georgetown US13 I495 I95 US1 Garden State, US22 I78
Holland Tunnel, Houston St, FDR Drive, Willis Ave, I87
Sprain Brook, Taconic, US44 NY343 CT4 US202 Weatogue
Scout is one big lovable slobber. Golden Retrievers are born to please,
but this is one of the most enthusiastic I've seen yet. Not just please, more
like oh please! oh please! oh please!
Bill and Mary Kay (not the cosmetics lady) took me to a pretty good steakhouse called Dakota, done in the theme of the Plains Indians with some real and some realistic artifacts. Rebecca would have been apoplectic and we probably would have had to restrain her before she rearranged the displays. Even I, who learned a little through her interest in Indian culture, recognized glaring errors. The plaque above said Sioux War Jacket, the curator's tag said Cree winter coat. Then there was the Sioux Warrior Skull Cap ... which was tagged Crow. The Crow and the Sioux were mortal enemies. May as well have labeled a jewish yarmulke a "Palestinian War Bonnet".
Of all the areas of the country - and I've seen them all - New Englanders are the most passionate about ice cream. I remember many an evening sitting on a freezing curb outside (the original) Steve's in Cambridge. I always thought Steve's was the only chocolate better than I could make myself. Until last night. After dinner we went to the just opened for the season Tulmeadow Dairy. This is the quintessential old summer evening hangout. Four outside windows for service, a row of hay bales for seats, a couple old farm wagons full of flowers and plants for sale, and half the population of the county drifting in and out on a warm night (which this wasn't). The chocolate chocolate chip was outstanding.
Gosh the states sure are small here. When I was a kid, it was a big deal to go all the way to the next state to visit grandma. Now I think nothing of riding three times that distance for a club breakfast. Here it was barely 50 miles and I was about to run out of home turf. Then I had to stop for some utility line construction and I was sadly reminded of an accident that took the life of a friend. The crew had stopped traffic to string a line across the road. After they pulled it up, they waved traffic through, but as soon as they turned around the line came loose and dropped to within a couple feet off the ground. Horns blew and cars screeched. No one was hurt here. The circumstances are different, but a line across the road snagged and killed a friend on a motorcycle last year. In teaching the motorcycle safety class, when we discuss where to look in scanning, I always ask if they think they should look up above too ... danger can be anywhere.
Whoa! Was that a State? Geez, about 3/4 of the entire state of Rhode Island could fit in the 5 mile magnification view I normally ride with on the GPS. I swear the Tejon Ranch in California is bigger. Oh, well, the 3/4 is significant, because passing through about half of RI gave me the 3rd of the 4 states needed to finish this wander. 1 more to go.
Angling my way up toward I495 for a circuit around metro Boston, I passed through Hopkinton one day later than originally hoped. Yesterday was the running of the Boston Marathon. I would have loved to see it again. The first two marathons I ran were Boston 69 and Boston 79 (before you had to qualify). The story I tell of running in 69 was doing it on a lark with a friend. We both had run cross country athletics and were "sort of" trained. Standing in the back of the pack, we decided to squeeze through the crowd to see what it was like up front. We were in the second row, turned around to head back, and BAM! the starting gun went off. It was either turn and run with the seeded runners or get trampled because spectators lined the street and ropes kept them out (and us in). We turned. We ran. It was the fastest 5 miles I had ever run in my life before I could break out of the pack. And then there were only 21.2 more to go. I finished. Friend did not.
Weatogue CT185 CT178 CT218 I291 I84 I384 US6 CT66 CT14 RI102 RI100 RI98 MA146A MA122 MA16 MA85 I495 NH107 US1 I295 Portland
What would you do if you had no demands on your time? Most people think
when they retire they will do A and B and C and ... I had no such plans
because I never intended to retire. And I haven't, officially. Everyone
understands what self-employed means. I prefer to explain that I am
self-unemployed. What I did was to take my pastime passion and make it a
prominent purpose. The ride is the reason. First year I became a motorcycle
tour guide. Next year a motorcycle messenger. Next year a motorcycle safety
instructor. Next year I began the application process to become a motorcycle
police officer, until I regained my senses. None of these were "jobs", they
were exploration of the motorcycle applied to everyday life. Then there were
the clubs for which I have over-volunteered. Officer in two local clubs,
webmaster/admin for three internet based groups, and coordinator for a
national club. Too much. Too much. I've pared back to only two involvements
now, one of which is editor for a local club newsletter. It was this task that
kept me in a motel room in Portland Maine until nearly noon. The rest of the
club will never know they are reading a transcontinental publication, sent
from the local Kinko's. (Want to see my handiwork? Newsletters online at
So that late start and a raw April day sent me looking for warmth and comfort. Comfort food is called that because it reminds you of "the way it was". I was comforted by something not available where I live now, Dunkin Donuts. But I was discomforted to find they no longer have (and the staff thought I was crazy describing) a dunkin donut - one with a protrusion like the letter Q to use as a handle to dunk into coffee. Dunkless Dounts now. Sad.
Mary Kay pointed out to me a series of bicycle trails in Connecticut called Rails To Trails, made from abandoned railroad beds. Must be a popular thing in the east because I've seen similar signs in Massachusetts and several here in Maine. This is yet to catch on in the west.
Oh, my, I had forgotten how much fun a traffic rotary can be. This is something else not common in the west, but I so enjoyed them in my Boston years. You can get into one and get caught in the vortex like a whirlpool. The first one I came to in Maine was a 6-pointer - roads in all directions. I went around twice just for the halibut. (The kid is easily amused.)
What is not amusing is the decreasing comfort factor as the wind kicks in from the Maine coast. It is steady and biting, with the temperatures only in the 40's ... a bit cooler than I expected for late April. To make more miles and make up for the later start, I stayed away from the coast road until Augusta where I have to head due east to my next target. The state capital building is reminiscent of San Francisco City Hall, except city hall is bigger. Then rolling along the rocky shoreline I can think of only two words to simultaneously describe the coast: friendly and inhospitable. The people here have taken the best of the worst and made it livable. It is a harsh terrain, and its harshness has made the people supple. Like many places where the environment is unforgiving, Maine is a land of contrasts which are rewarding for the inquisitive observer.
The traditional 4 Corners motorcycle ride sends riders to Madawaska, Maine, which is neither the northernmost nor easternmost point in the contiguous 48. THIS is the easternmost point! Quoddy Head, "down east" Maine, N44.81579 W66.95180 [Photo of Quoddy Head]
or, if you would rather see it without the road obstruction, [Photo of Quoddy Head Lighthouse]
And with that, the eastern part of my trip is finished. I am headed next to the northernmost point you can go in Maine. But, as they say, yeah cahnt git theah frum heah. I'll explain tomorrow.
Some people come to Maine for the lobstah, I came for the halibut, or just the heck of it. But the restaurant next to the motel was out of halibut (they only serve fresh) so I haddock another dinner instead. Fresh fish chowdah can do strange things :)
Portland US201 US202 ME3 US1 ME189 Quoddy Head, US1 Calais
It is pronounced cal-us, not cal-lay.
Well, so much for the gentle spring breezes. A nasty weather front that
made a mess of the south is encroaching on the coast, and I finally have to endure a cold and
wet Maine morning to avoid getting socked in. So for the first time this trip I resort to the
electric socks. And for the first time since they were a gift, after carrying them for about
20,000 miles of rain avoidance, I become a pumpkin in a set of bright orange Froggs Toggs. Every
experienced rider has his or her own set of best choices for gear and clothing, but I strongly
recommend Toggs. They are made of a tyvek material, paper thin yet nearly tear proof. Despite
their breathing holes, they are windproof, and of course waterproof. My size large set easily
fit over the bulky North Face down coat I am wearing and still packed into a 8 by 8 inch square.
Just wearing the Toggs let me avoid using the using the electric jacket most of the day.
I was running literally just ahead of the storm. An 8 am start got me out of the increasing drizzle until I stopped for gas and coffee. Twenty minutes later, it was drizzling again as I readied to leave. Cold I can handle. Wet is a nuisance. Cold and wet is no fun at all. So it was boogey up the boundary on the straight arrow road to Blaine Maine (coincidentally, the traditional 4 Corner NW point is Blaine Washington) and then through Presque Isle. There's just something a college does to a town to make it invigorating, even in the dreary expanse of the north woods. I could sense it was a college town before seeing the school. But one wonders why here, so far from anywhere but here.
Stopped for gas in Madawaska, I was asked if I was doing "the corners". They said I was the first bike this season. The town takes some pride in being a motorcycle destination. But to get to the real northernmost point in Maine, you have to go through Canada. There are no public roads to the northwest corner of the state. There are private unpaved roads for which permit to pass is difficult to get - they are logging company roads and the company does not want observers. The customs crossing into New Brunswick was easier than I expected. A few simple questions and the guard wanted out of the cold. Then somehow I missed the road that would take me back down to the northwest Maine border. The mapping program gave me a precise location ... but there was no exit there, and the GPS did not show the provincial highway at all. Doubling back, I saw a small sign toward one of the towns on the road I wanted, but the GPS showed me going in a circuitous approach. Thank goodness for the GPS. When I got to Riviere Bleue I could see the road I wanted barely a kilometer "over there", and found a turn to get to it. By the way, resetting the GPS to metric was a great help in not having to constantly calculate kph to mph.
Finally reaching Saint-Eleutherie, I was able to turn left under the railroad tracks and set foot in the northern most point in Maine. There are a few houses here and one is precisely ON the border. (The man is not hiding, it is raining.) Wanna bet both countries demand taxes? [Photo of boundary house]
The road in front of the houses is still in Canada, but you are expected to present yourself a half mile away (sign is in US measure) for inspection. [Photo of customs sign]
I went down to take a look, but stopped while still on the Canadian side to take a photo. You can see from all the rules, this is not one of the more friendly crossing points. A sign not visible beyond says PRIVATE! KEEP OUT! [Photo of Estcourt Station Customs]
Right after I took the photo a US border guard came out and motioned me toward him. He did not seem any more friendly than the mood of the building, so, realizing as soon as I crossed the line I was "in custody" to do with however he pleased, I declined. "No, I do not intend to enter." He snapped back in a commanding tone, "You can not take pictures. Come here." Oops, this was not going well. Going to him would surely 'not be a good thing', as Martha would say. "No, I am in Canada. I choose to stay here. Sorry, but I am out of your jurisdiction." He responded even more stridently "I said come here. Failure to obey could subject you to imprisonment." Obviously this conversation was not going to end on amicable or even neutral terms, so I ended it immediately. He asked if I was an American citizen. I did not answer and did not look at him, but went about my business bundling up to leave. I made sure my license plate was not visible as I left. He said something else which I could not understand over the sound of the engine. Sorry, but short of extradition, one can not be forced to cross a border. Luckily, there was no Canada Customs at the border to create a "DMZ" between them. Canada Customs is near the boundary house and it is honor system reporting to present yourself for inspection. Since I did *not* just cross either border, I reserved my honor and did not report, but I did stop a minute in front just in case the US guard called them about an orange terrorist. No one came out. The rain softly fell. I softly left.
Canada is a different country. No surprise there. Quebec is a different country within Canada. Surprising how much so. Much of Canada is bilingual. Quebec is NOT bilingual. All the signs are in French only. Personally, I dislike the French language above all others. It is the one experiment gone wrong in the petri dish of Latin based languages. You may think otherwise, but to me it is a waste of good letters. Too much inflection, not enough content. So, I was frequently lost. Lost in Quebec City, and lost in translation.
Cold and tired after finally breaking out of the rain, I spied a reasonable looking motel and went to the office. A sign said something in French. With this being just off the Trans Canada Highway, a lot of non-French speaking travelers come through and one kindly soul had hand written under the French: If you want a room, go to the bar, eh? As I said, Canada is a different country, more European in many customs and mores, particularly in regard to what the US would consider display of sexuality. The girl at the bar eventually concluded I could not parlez vouz, so she motioned me to follow back to the office where she pointed to the costs and we did a silent pantomime to complete the registration. In following her, I determined she was wearing purple, frilly, lace panties under her slit-to-the-low-waist shorts and nothing under her one-shoulder, fashion-shredded blouse. It was impossible not to see. Canada is different.
Later at the restaurant across the road, I asked the waitress for a non-smoking area. She looked quizzically at me then took a long drag on a cigarette. A patron seated nearby came to my rescue and said "non fume". No English spoken here. The same customer translated the specials board for me, and I actually got what I ordered (poulette avec jambone et frommage). But he left before I got to dessert. Having lived with a pastry chef for quite some years (and having carefully watched the other customers), I did know one phrase that would work: gat-toe shok-o-lot.
Calais US1 TransCanada2 QC232 QC289 TrCan20 QC116 QC132 QC271 Station Laurier
The great east west skid.
Another cold morning, electrics at the ready, I started from the motel to get back on Trans Canada 20. Looking for the entry sign I saw Est. Then just as I was passing through the crossroads intersection, I remembered Ouest is west and pulled the clutch as I braked for a turn. Up to now, the lack of the blinky blinky ABS has not been a problem. I am a 'gentle' rider and brake easy. But the tires were still cold, and there was sand in the intersection from spreading on winter snow. The rear locked up and because I was starting a turn it instantly swept out to the left side. In a tiny fraction of the time it takes to describe, and in no time at all to think, I felt the bike beginning to fall into a low-side crash which would happen when the rear came even with the front, sideways. This was already well past the point where the MSF teaches to "stay on the brake in a skid". I wasn't skidding, I was sliding. The back end was out almost to 45 degrees. If it passed that, all was lost. So, tensing for the whiplash, I popped the clutch and rammed the gas. The tire caught, luckily the sand was only in the center of the intersection. As the rear came back around I gave full throttle. The burst of acceleration broke the lateral pull of the snap that was trying to throw me off in a high-side. In a second it was over. I throttled down, braked carefully, and stopped to let the post adrenaline wave of shakes and dizziness pass over me. It took a minute to figure out what had happened and what I actually did in response - no, in reaction. All I could think was "Holy hell, gotta get the ABS fixed."
It has been a little over 5,000 miles since I left home. K bikes need regular service on 6,000 mile intervals, but after Montreal and then Ottawa, there are no dealers on my route for the next 3,000 miles. So I tried calling the dealer in Montreal. Montreal is in Quebec. Quebec is in French. After 5 separate calls and no luck in trying to get a service representative I gave up and headed toward Ottawa. In Ontario. In English.
In most cases, a motorcycle dealer will recognize that travelers can not easily make prior arrangements for service. In most cases, dealers will make allowances for 'quick service' for minimum maintenance for travelers. In all cases, the first face a company presents to a potential customer can decide how that customer will remember the experience and think of the company. The telephone receptionist at the Montreal dealer spoke to me 5 times. She recognized me on each successive call. At one point I told her "I am on the side of the road and need service" - not as though it was an emergency. She continued to connect me to the numbers that would not answer, and then to voice mail, despite my plea to talk to a real person. The "face" of the company she presented was not good. Now while I did not truly have an 'experience' with this company, I would rate them as a negative. They (she) were uncaring, or unable to handle a slightly different customer need. It is for reasons like this I maintain a web page for the motorcycle groups I belong to, to rate experiences with vendors and dealers:
Since entering Canada I wondered what the local custom is for interpreting speed limit signs. The TC (Trans Canada) was signed 100 kph. Most traffic seemed to be doing a sedate 110. My normal routine is "8 to 10 over" in the US ... but how does that translate to metric? The answer came with a large advisory sign listing fines starting at 120 - $100, 130 - $150, 140 - $200. So I motored on comfortably at 115-118 passing provincial police peacefully. Strangely, while the top ambient speed was about 115 in the great openness of backwoods Quebec, when in the city of Montreal I had to do 120 to keep with traffic, and 125 to avoid being passed. Canada is different. Another thing I noticed here is the kilometer markers in Quebec count up going west. Every other place on the continent counts west to east. Quebec is strange.
Motor Sports World, in Nepean (Ottawa) Ontario, gets a positive rating. Thankfully, the BMWMOA Anonymous Book contains GPS coordinates for all the authorized dealers. Plugging that into my unit, I easily found the dealer on a side street with no other map. The service writer, Dan, could not squeeze the schedule for a full service, but took me right in for a oil and filter change. That would do fine. While I waited, Dan told me the best route to take from here through Thunder Bay. Coming to Ottawa meant I would have to forgo the route I planned to take through Val D'Or. Little did I know this would be the beginning of many "reconsiderations". Dan also said the Val D'Or road would have been very rough, so I lucked out. Thanks Dan. This company knows how to face a customer.
With the bike service eating a chunk of the afternoon, I settled into a quaint little motel in Pembroke, run by a woman from England. Ah, from no English to English English. What a jump. Then a surprise on the weather channel reminded me of what the New England forecasters used to refer to as "our cool Canadian friends". The Montreal Express was getting ready to track south again. Snow and cold was predicted for the route Dan gave me. Time to reroute south yet again. If I am lucky and make 600 miles to Michigan and another 500 to Minnesota in two days I just might slip under the storm as it wends south east. (This is when I sent the 'stories will be delayed' message.)
Station Laurier TransCanada20 QC25 QC40 ON417 TransCanada17 Pembroke
Cool Canadian friends, indeed. At 7 am it was -2C but I had miles to go.
Electric socks on high, electric jacket liner on medium (two Heattrollers
hanging off my belt loop). North Face down-filled car coat that Frank made fun
of in Branson - "you packed THAT?" Yes, Frank, and frankly I'm glad I did.
Wish I had brought my long underwear, but instead I wore the Froggs Toggs as
an overlayer to break the wind chill on my legs. Half mask 'dickie' to further
seal the neck, cover the ears and nose. Nolan helmet faceshield fully sealed
with nose guard breath deflector in place. This is a great helmet for weather
protection. Winter guantlets with the heated grips on high. Knees tucked
behind the fairing where the notorious "K heater" vents blew engine warmth. At
road speed I was actually quite comfortable. People in cars would look at me
like an aberration, but I was probably warmer in my full swaddling than they were.
About cold weather riding, I can only offer ...
An Ode To GordonYears ago during one of my previous trips, some Canadian readers made fun of my penchant for morning pastries and referred to me as Tim Horton material. Tim Horton's is a Canadian chain of donut shops where geezer gravity is extremely high. Despite that, I stopped at the one in Sturgeon Falls. Even with my gray hair I was but a minnow among the sturgeons. Wow, if this isn't the retirement village of Canada, Tim Horton's sure has some magic for attracting a particular demographic. That demographic does not include good drivers. In the span of 15 minutes in the shop I saw three near collisions in the lot, and held my breath watching one matron back her panel van into the spot beside my bike. It took her 6 backward and 5 forward movements. Relief, no contact made.
There is one man to whom I owe more
Than anyone else you can stand before.
'Cause the ability to ride would be fraught
With the pain of cold were it naught
For the work of Gordon and his kin
In the little Washington town of Union.
As a snowmobiler he said one day,
There surely must be a better way
To warm the body, hands, and feet
With a more direct source of heat.
He laid out the clothing to wire his own
And very soon as a legend was known.
The jackets, the liners, the gloves, the socks,
All work together glowing warmth that knocks
The cold out of your thoughts along the way,
Making any temperature a good riding day.
Thanks to Gordon, this ode to you I bring:
If warm you want to go riding, go Gerbing.
The long day was flowing smoothly until somewhere between Thessalon and
Bruce Mines. That black smoke in the distance which I assumed to be another
farm field being charred turned out to be a wreck burning. When I stopped, the
traffic line was about 1/2 mile (1 k?). When I stopped, so did my electrics.
This would not stand, and neither would I. The truckers close by had no idea
how long the road would be closed, so I walked to the scene to get an idea.
Randumb observation: Do people of limited intelligence gravitate toward law
enforcement, or does the procedural nature of law enforcement induce them to
not use their intelligence? At the scene, traffic was stopped in both
directions with about 100 feet clear between them. The truck had gone
completely off the road. The ambulance had left minutes ago as I arrived in
line. Everyone was just watching, including the police.
I asked an officer when they were going allow traffic, since the road itself was clear. He did not know, saying "the accident scene had to be secured". The scene sure looked secure to me, the accident is off the road. This is the ONLY east-west highway in this part of Canada - and traffic flow is not important? Thinkers need not apply.
Luckily, one of the drivers stuck in line was a local. She gave instructions for a road around the backup. Left, left, straight, left. A whole bunch of us turned around and began to follow ... but she wasn't going that way! Somehow I ended up leading whither not I knew where. First left was a dirt road that was fairly smooth but with a lot of kicked up loose gravel in the corners. I had to slow dramatically for the gravel. But the car following me was about 10 feet off my tail the whole way. After a couple turns where I was sure he was going to hit me, I pulled over and waved him by. He pulled over behind me. I got off and went back to ask him not to tail gate because I have difficulty in the gravel. He said he did not want to get lost so would stay close. Next corner he was right on my ass again. I stopped, went back and picked up a handful of rocks right in front of him. "I'm going to put these rocks in my pocket. If you get that close to me again I'll start tossing them back at you. You can either stay back or lose a windshield, your choice." No more problem.
Border crossing at Sault Sainte Marie was more friendly than the Maine woods. I guess they hadn't sent an orange alert for a terrorist in an orange suit. The border guard asked me fewer personal questions than I expected and seemed interested in my route. He asked if I was going across Da Yoo Pee. I responded he must be a Yooper. How'd-ja-no? Only someone from Da (U)pper (P)eninsula would say "DA" U. P.. He smiled.
After scoping the motels in Marquette, I rode into one lot. The hand written, well worn sign on the office door said "back in 15 min". A few minutes later, a man got out of a car and said he had been waiting almost an hour. We rang the bell again, I looked around back. Nothing. He left. How long do you wait when you don't know "15 minutes from when?" Human nature would have you believe no matter how long you wait, the response will come a minute after you leave. I waited exactly 30 minutes during which others came and left. While waiting I wandered into the laundry area, found a marker, and attached a sign to the door. In big letters, I wrote CLOSED, GO AWAY. Then in smaller pen I wrote: Dear Motel, if you care so little for your customers, you do not deserve them. Accuracy counts. Your 15 minutes was up hours ago. At least 5 customers have been turned away. Can you really afford to lose business? Signed, Frustrated Waiter P.S. I WILL BE BACK IN 15 MINUTES TO DISCUSS THIS WITH YOU.
Suppose he or she looked suspiciously at whoever came in after the sign was found?
Pembroke TransCanada17 ON17B I75 MI28 Marquette
Arrgh! Enough with the adversity already!
Settling into the warmth of my motel room in Michigan, I thought I had circumvented the storm, or at least circumcised it. :) Unfortunately the weather channel had another idea. Marquette would start the morning with showers, turing to snow by noon. Unless I wanted to ride at night (not a good idea with temps in the low 20's and many deer seeking a front fender) I had a small window of opportunity between sunrise and snowfall. So, up at 6 am, temp at 34 degrees, don all gear again, and go for the gold - that is, the sun at the other end of the clouds 400 miles away.
About 85 miles of moderate showers and pounding gusts of wind later, the rain began moving slower as it fell. I started seeing the drops in the air ... wait, those aren't drops, they are flakes. Big, huge, silver dollar sized flakes that splat when they hit. It surprised me to see on the GPS I had been climbing and was now at over 1600 feet elevation. This band of snow was predicted to stay on Da Yoo Pee for the next three or more days. The window of opportunity was swinging shut, but I had leveraged the time fulcrum correctly, and less than 20 miles later the flake size and density diminished as the dark gray clouds gave way, but the temperature was still only around 36.
Sure do get some strange looks when you walk into a convenience store wearing motorcycle gear in a snowstorm. Always do get the question about cold. But one wild eyed small boy asked about the electric cord hanging out of the pocket of my orange Toggs. In the most metallic voice I could muster I said "I am robot. Must plug in. Drink electricity." He shrieked. Everyone else laughed.
The snow turned back to showers. This was not a good time to find out the waterproof boots aren't. A quick check showed everything was still covered and sealed but the left foot definitely felt wet. Either there is a weakness in the folded flex point in front of the ankle, or my feet were sweating so much that moisture was collecting. At least with the electric socks it was a warm wet. By the time I got to look later, there was nothing to be seen. As I do not plan to ride in any more rain, I will have to set up a test when I get home. Prolonged exposure to a garden hose may tell the truth.
As promised the clouds broke and the sun appeared shortly before Grand Rapids. Sun, oh glorious sun! How nice it is after so long without. Beyond the weather front the temperatures were in the 50s. What was "a bit chilly" when I left California now felt like the warm hug of a long lost friend. I stopped at Squaw Lake for a rest and some rays. A local Minnesoooootan approached and complimented my fine loooooking scooooter. When he saw the miiiiiiilage, he said youuuuuuu suuuure like to riiiiide, but youuuuuuu are a braaaaave oooone to be this far noooorth sooooo earrrrrly! An old homily came to mind: never ascribe to malfeasance what can be explained by mere stupidity. Same goes for brave. Then he asked which way ya headed? North. He wouldn't understand this adversity thing.
Two days of hard riding were taking their toll. Baudette looked like a good stop. But the first motel had a sign: office closed until 5:30. It was 3:30. I didn't feel like waiting. At least it didn't say 15 min. And just down the road is the Walleye Inn. Ok, I've felt like a fish in the rain for a couple days. If that's not inviting, what is ...
The Baudette welcome sign says
Walleye Capital of the World
Walleyes have their own government?
Marquette MI28 US2 MN46 MN1 MN72 MN11 Walleye Inn
Asking a traveler where he is from is natural. It seems to me when I say
California, there are more occurrences of the small world syndrome than when I
named other places I used to live. The Walleye Inn desk clerk just moved here
from Oakley, in the SF Bay Area. Small world.
Something has me baffled. The regular grade of gasoline here is 89 octane. In most of the country regular is 87 (and at high altitude it may be 86 or even 85). This is not ethanol laced, which often raises the octane even though there is less energy in ethanol gasoline. This is not an unusual altitude. Why would "regular" here be the same as "mid range" every where else?
Human nature is a flexible structure. Like religious faith, confidence is based on doubt. It is natural to doubt a decision, and a wise planner will at least 'critically review' each chosen course of action. So when the forecast called for one more day of cold weather before the high pressure moved in, I resigned myself to a later start and full electrics. At 9 am it was 30 degrees. At 10, 34. At 11, 36. Hardly racing toward the predicted 40s. Dejected, I went out to load the bike and was hit by a brutal wind pushing stinging flurries. Doubting, I went back to arrange for a late checkout, then studied the maps again and trusted my own ability to read weather patterns. I left at 12. The flurries stopped in 10 miles. Adversity is a persistent pursuer. Confidence can not be learned, but it can be self taught.
My target was the northernmost road in the contiguous United States. To get there, you have to go through Canada again ... just like Maine. Crossing at Sprague, Manitoba, I pulled to the customs stop and saw two border guards strip searching a car with South Dakota plates. The driver was standing aside. The guards were as dogged as a truffle snuffler. Every piece of clothing taken out of a suitcase had its pockets turned out. Each scrap of paper was being studied like a recipe. The driver's face was ashen white and I don't think it was from the cold. I waited patiently. Best not to rouse the pack when they already have a carcass. A few minutes later, the female officer approached me with a big smile like she had just been enjoying her favorite pastime. (Maybe she had?) Simple questions, who, where, why, etc. Then she surprised me by asking if I knew how to get where I was going. An odd change. As she asked, she stepped around the fairing and stood very close. Too close. I said, yes, I have a map and a GPS, pointing. Ah ha! She was in grabbing range of the GPS. Radar detectors are illegal in Manitoba ... she was ready to acquire. Instead she turned and went back to the car, still smiling. The other guard was looking intently at each individual pill in a prescription bottle as I passed.
Manitoba is environmentally conscious and has nicely decided to saturate the utility poles with a green colored preservative solution instead of the black tar common in the US. This would make the poles blend into the forest scenery unobtrusively. Except, all the forests in southern Manitoba are white. Aspen, or white spruce, or white birch, I'm not sure, but bright white. The poles stand out like a floater in a punch bowl. Nice idea though.
A few miles later is the unguarded border to cross back into the US. I scrunched together two photos of opposite sides of the road. Somehow, I think they could have chosen a better acronym than nWANGLE. [Photo of border signs]
Signs along the road then indicate you must report to a video phone at Jim's Corner to identify yourself to US Customs. Signs also indicate when returning to Canada, you must use the same video phone to notify Canada customs. What if you are coming and leaving at the same time? When I got to Jim's Corner, it was clear from the lack of tracks in the dirt that these signs are roundly ignored by the natives. I decided to pass. Meanwhile, the GPS loaded with data from Mapsource had each local street to guide me. Incredible device. Another mile down the road, right, left, right, there is the finishing point for this part of the wander. N49.35801 W95.09202 [Photo of Northenmost point]
The northern part of the trip is over, now I am headed west. On the way back to Jim's Corner I reconsidered what might happen if asked at the border where I had been. Saying "the Angle" might entice another smiling guard to check notification records. Rumor has it, it is not nice to lie to border guards. So I stopped. But which button applies? I have come into the US, I should notify US, but I am immediately returning to Canada, I should notify Canada. Pushing both at once seemed like a good idea - but no. Things that "seemed like a good idea at the time" are often called disasters later. US button first. Telephone call on speakerphone. "US Customs". Yes, I am calling in from Jim's Corner as required. "Name. Date of Birth. Citizenship. How long are you staying." I'm not - I am leaving now to return to the US. "You just got there and you are leaving?" Yes. Looooooooooooooong pause. Hello, are you still there Customs? "You have to call Canada Customs to let them know you are entering Canada. click."
Well, that was rewarding. Push the Canada button. Telephone call on speakerphone. "Hello". Is this Canada Customs? "Yes, why?" (Thought to myself, does ANYONE use this thing?) I am calling from Jim's Corner as required. "Where?" Jim's Corner. Angle Inlet. "Oh. Ok. Name. Date of Birth. Citizenship. Vehicle plate. State. Color." ... "A motorcycle, really? What kind?" And she gave me a 'case number'. Curious, I asked if I needed that back at the border. "No, but occasionally the RCMP stop people and ask. They can get really upset." After the smiling guard in Sprague, I'd hate to see a sour Mountie!
The next border crossing was uneventful despite the long pause at Jim's Corner. The guard did want to look in my saddlebags, but more to see my compliance than my contents. Thus far no one has asked for even a driver license to establish identity, let alone the birth certificate which is claimed "you MUST" have with you because license is not proof of citizenship. Grandpa used to say: having is not needing; needing is not having.
Finally, at last, and fini ! The 4th of 4 states precipitating this wander falls under the tires. North Dakota finishes the map for my K75. Adversities overcome, goals achieved, scenery seen. It is time to rest, then return west.
One more amusement. While standing waiting for a table at Grandma's Kitchen, I noticed a man eyeing me suspiciously. It happened that I was seated across the aisle from him. After a few more looks he finally asked "why is there a wire at your waist?" This was the Y cord from my socks to the thermostat which I had not bothered to remove after taking off the thermostat. Thinking about the block heater plugs outside the motel and how all the local cars have this little wire plug hanging out the grill, I said: you plug your car in at night to keep the oil warm, right. That caught his wife in mid slurp. She nearly choked on her soup.
Baudette MN11 MN313 MB12 MB308 MB525 Angle Inlet
MB525 MB308 MB12 MB/MN310 MN11 ND66 I29 ND17 Grafton
78 and sunny in San Francisco. What the heck am I doing here?
Although the day is starting out cold, hot temperatures are promised for
later. Steeling myself, I forgo the extra wraps, then pare down to less each
time I stop. Unbelievably, for the first time in a week I am riding without
electrics. I am reminded of someone I knew who lived in Toronto. She said the
winters were so harsh that as soon as the sun came out, no matter the
temperature, everybody stripped to nearly naked to absorb it. So too today.
The human spirit is resilient. Passing a town called Starkweather leads to another called Cando. Optimism to say the least. Actually, my impression is the local farmers are a fairly optimistic bunch. Despite the supposed decline of the small family farm, farms are not in decline. Freshly turned ink black earth stretches to the horizon, full of promise, waiting for purpose. Massive operations are active here, with enormous machinery I can't begin to describe except to say they would not look out of place in a Star Wars movie - multitudinous arms with all sorts of grasping devices. I passed one eight wheeled tractor whose wheels were at least 10 feet tall. Not small time stuff.
The farmers are funny and friendly too. These icons of America still exist in small town cafes. While enjoying breakfast of home made strawberry rhubarb pie at Grandma's Kitchen Cafe, I was listening to the regular group at the next table. One was dispensing the daily wisdom: My wife keeps telling me where to go - I just wish she gave better instructions - she has no sense of direction. On fishing: It doesn't matter what side of the lake you go to, you always have to go to the other side to catch anything. And: They say the walleye never bite when you go on Wednesday, so I went to the lake on Tuesday and stayed overnight. While trading lies, each in the group was tossing a cooler of bar dice to see who would not have to pay today.
In the center of North Dakota is Rugby, the geographical center of North America. How could I have come so far and yet be only at the middle? Oh well, the east-west sign is prophetic. It tells exactly where I have been and where I am going: [Photo of Geocenter]
No matter what the map says, there really is no North Dakota. Heading west from the center, ND immediately looks like the rolling stagecoach hills of the west, Montana. East of the center, it is now apparent that I was merely seeing an extension of the 10,000 lakes, Minnesota. ND is the conjoin of MT and MN. I can not say it has an aura of its own.
Despite having just passed the center of the continent, crossing the Montana border feels like I am halfway home. If pressed, a time zone is only one day's travel. I am now only one zone away from my own. Eastern Montana is one of the least sparsely populated regions of the country. Seeing all this empty land makes me envision what it might have been like when 100 million buffalo roamed the plains. It really is a shame they are gone. I like the flavor of bison much better than beef.
Just after passing the border I glimpsed a sign for Rolling Hills Winery and Car Wash. Montana wine? Gotta see this, so I went back to chat. The owners were friendly and showed their best. The best seller is the raspberry wine, followed by blueberry, but their specialty is chokecherry wine. Thank you. Good bye. No really, thank you ... I have to go.
Traveling through the rural west takes on its signature rhythm. Fifty miles of nothing. A small town. Fifty miles of nothing. In some way it is peaceful, because it does not require concentrated attention. My mind wanders even more so than my travels. Successes are remembered, difficulties are reconsidered for how they might have been. Loves are recalled, sadnesses are allowed to pass though the mind focus without invitation to linger. How can anyone listen to a radio on a motorcycle when there is so much commotion already inside the helmet? Time and terrain blend together, mutually changing from passage to past. Eventually another small town presents itself, and here I take refuge. It's been seven days of rough times. I need a day off. Coincidentally, it is due to snow here tomorrow.
Oh, and the temperature? It started at 34 degrees when I left Grafton. It ended at 84 degrees in Glasgow. A greater change in one day than I saw total in several of the last few put together. In a car you might have noticed, maybe, when the automatic climate control changed from heater to air conditioner. On a motorcycle, you notice. That's why I ride.
Grafton ND17 ND3 US2 Glasgow
P.S. A good place to eat in Glasgow is Eugene's Pizza. An old fashioned place in the same spot and same family since the 60's, they make pizza by pulling dough off the one mother rise, weighing each chunk for the right size. They also serve steaks, ribs, and sandwiches. A 12 oz rib eye was $11.25, complete with salad, rolls, coffee, ice cream ... and tomato juice (?)
The last best place.
Private thoughts all day.
507 long, long Montana miles
Glasgow US2 Libby
After a very long day of always approaching the mountains in the
distance, which seemed about to arrive but never did, I suddenly found myself
past the continental divide. I am back in the west. It feels right. It feels
like home. It feels weird that the snow melting a few feet behind me will find
its way to the Missouri River system, then the Mississippi, and travel
thousands of miles to New Orleans before finding the gulf, but the snow right
there on the side of the road will become part of the Snake, then the
Columbia, and find the Pacific. So near, yet so far. Nature is amazing, if
Only a few miles out of Libby, near Troy, I was approaching a railroad overpass at the same time a freight was thundering toward a crossing. Between the road and the railroad was a fenced pasture, and in the pasture a roan pony was racing at full speed toward the conflux of the fence, the rails, and the bridge. Its mane was shimmering brightly in the morning sun, nearly flaming red, its muscles rippling with each stride. I don't know whether it was racing the train or frightened by it. An instant before it would have crashed into the bridge, it shuddered to a stop - perhaps it also saw my headlight closing on the same point at the same time. Magnificently, it rose on its hind legs and pawed in the air. The flesh horse saluted the iron horse. Then it turned and raced back across the field.
Some moments can only be captured in the mind. Even the same person riding the same ride a second time would not experience the same point in time.
What is it with apostrophie's? Why doe's it seem most people were asleep when they were taught in school's? The apostrophe either indicate's a possessive or it indicate's the absence (contraction) of missing letter's. Thus, every prior use of apostrophe in this paragraph is INCORRECT! It's hard enough keeping usage straight between "it is" (it's) and "it owns" (its). But it's annoying when its usage is abused. There seems to be an apostrofever rampant in Montana: the food store advertised Hunt's ketchup (the brand name is Hunts), the movie theater did not accept pass'es for some shows, the gas station sign said Restroom's. I don't want to know what they possess or are missing.
One other rant - why in the world are there "wildlife viewing areas" in the wilderness? I can understand it when there is a limited area preserved in an otherwise urban area, and the view area might offer a particular vantage. But in the middle of the Kootenai Forest? How do the wildlife know they are supposed to gather there for viewing? Come on, folks, wilderness is not supposed to be orderly. There is no mathematical abstract of controlled chaos!
It was a gorgeous day and a welcome change from the pressure to cover
miles. The weather is no longer the adversity it should never have been. The
wide spaces of Montana gave way to what little there is of the panhandle of
Idaho, then the forgotten corner of Washington. Montana is bold, it is brassy,
it is brazen. You are pressed to go farther, do more. Idaho is sedate,
reserved, almost reticent. There is no hurry here. The pace is less frantic.
Idaho has not been 'discovered'. Potatoes take their own time, and so do the
people. Of all the places I've been, Idaho is the most individual.
Again last night I stayed in a very pleasant small motel run by a private family. These are gems to find because they generally do not advertise. My skill at finding good food (the 'cafe eye') seems to be working on motels too. My practice is to choose a small town that is either a county seat or at the intersection of two significant (state or US) highways. That means there is likely to be some competition for travel service. Then I buzz the town, all the way through to the opposite boundary, and right and left if there is a crossroad. Good marks go to a well maintained property, but beyond that I look for simple decorations around the front space or around the office - things that are not necessary for business but indicate someone cares about the property, not gaudy eye catchers. Last night's choice caught me because of the little fenced yard near the office for PJ, the schnauzer. Yes, I like dogs, but the fence was high enough to keep PJ in and low enough to let him interact with guests. It was HIS fence, not A fence. They cared. It showed. Sometimes the name alone is enough to pique interest ... early today I passed a place that I would have considered had it been time to stop: Meandering Moose Motel.
Have you ever seen a sign trying to whisper? So it seemed with a small sign a near Cusick WA. Near an unnamed road, it stood with small letters on a short post, maybe a foot off the ground. Almost like "shh, here, but don't tell anyone". The sign said: USAF Survival Training School
Two observations. The trees here have leaves. What a concept. This is something I haven't seen since, oh, Maryland. And there still are drive-in movies in America. I thought they had all pretty much closed, but the one in Coleville is open this weekend. Bravo.
On a previous trip I stumbled on the gem of WA20, the North Cascades Scenic Highway. I enjoyed it so much from west to east through half the state, that this time I resolved to follow then entire road, from border to border. It is wonderful, rising from the Columbia River at around 800 feet elevation, it crosses several passes (pass'es?) at about 5000 feet and a mixture of terrain from pine forest to snow covered mountains to sage covered desert - and this is only the "other" half. I've chosen to stay in the town of Twisp where the last time I found the most wonderful bakery which makes its signature nomenclature: Cinnamon Twisps. And on my motel reconnoiter through town, the 'cafe eye' woke up. Nondescript on the outside, something looked 'right' about the Twisp River Pub. They make their own brews. The cream stout and the porter are superb. Rebecca and I often joke there is no good food outside California. There are exceptions. The daily special was shrimp and scallop scampi (sauteed in garlic, butter, white white), served with avocado, feta, and fresh basil mixed over properly cooked linguine. And for the benefit of the wildlife, I saved the Chocolate Mousse.
Libby US2 WA20 Twisp
When in Rome ....
When in Twisp, do as the Twisps do and eat at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery. It seemed the whole town was there. A cinnamon twisp is a twist of cinnamon bun wound into and around itself, similar to a chignon hairstyle. A delightful way to start the day and guaranteed to keep your stomach anchored for a while.
The North Cascades Scenic Highway is closed in winter and barely open in spring. Even with the 80+ degree days recently, there is much snow melt drooling across the road. Climbing toward Washington Pass I felt a slight unease about the grip of my tires. The road appeared to be generally clear except for the occasional cross flow of snow melt, but when I would heel into a lean, the transition from up to over felt itchy. The tires would grab but with a fraction of hesitation. Tires are not supposed to do that. Then I realized the twitch was happening each time I would cross a wheel track on the "dry" road. The road was dry, but the wheels of vehicles before me carried a little of the snow melt along the track. It was frozen. There wasn't enough of a layer to really be ice and slippery, but just enough so the asphalt was icephalt, invisible, and itchy. Staying in the center between the tracks solved that, but made for slow and ungainly flat apex corners.
Still, this road is one of the best you will find in Washington. With the snow on the peaks and the streams rushing full, it is an incredible view. Here are two photos of the east ascent to Washington Pass, the first showing where you will go [Photo of Washington Pass - uphill] and the second showing where you were. [Photo of Washington Pass - down valley]
I sat a moment, stunned that mere days ago I was watching the waves lap on the bare rock of the Maine coast. What an amazing country.
After the pass, the road continues to run down the canyon past the dams built by Seattle City Light. Just past the dam a sign says "flood evacuation route". The handiwork of the government is obvious and ridiculous at the same time. Of course it is the route, there is no other road whatsoever in any direction! And good luck, it should read instead "race the flood down the valley route".
From Maine to Blaine was a bit of pain, but like the NE corner, the traditional NW 4 Corner destination of Blaine WA is not the most northwesterly point. That is Point Roberts, and to get there, again, you have to go through Canada. With the Saturday afternoon customs backup on I5 stretching more than a half mile, and remembering Canadian gas prices, I jumped off to fill up at the very last exit in Blaine. Recognizing a local resident by the groceries being loaded, I humorously asked "I don't suppose there is a secret road known only to locals that will get me in line closer to the border?" He said sure. Go down here, left, right. The route through the residential area took me along the border barrier and joined the line at the back of the customs lot. But I still had to wait a good 30 minutes to get through. To keep the bike from overheating while idling, I shut it off and paddle-pushed each creep forward. When I finally pushed up to the window, the female officer said "You know, pedestrians are supposed to use the other side." Oh ho, a guard with a sense of humor! She asked the usual questions, and did ask to see an id, then looked at the entomologist's nightmare on the front of the bike and said "With all those bugs I should have you report to ag(ricultural) inspection." Are guards allowed to enjoy their job? Hmm. Canada is different.
Barely a half hour later I am back at the border to enter Point Roberts. The US border guard asked "And what might your citizenship be today?" I thought better of asking what day it was, but replied "US, same as it is every day." That's all he asked. This is almost too simple.
On the US border a hand lettered sign reminds "NO BEEF. All beef is still banned. This includes hamburger for your grill." This must be odd for the residents. There are no shopping centers in Point Roberts. Except for a small market, all the shopping is across the border. How "un-American" to prohibit hamburgers on the grill! Well, it is an odd place anyway. It uses Canadian money and gas is sold by the liter but at American prices (54 cents, in Canada it is 94 cents).
Finally I made my way to the intersection of Roosevelt Road and Marine Drive, the northwestern most point you can drive to in the contiguous US. The obelisk is engraved LAT 49 0 0 LONG 123 3 53 [Photo of NorthWestmost point]
Only one more target to go ... the western most road, so back to the border into Canada, and back again to the US, the 11th crossing on this trip. Never being asked for any id until today, I had packed my birth certificate securely in my luggage. Of course the guard at the last crossing wanted to see it in addition to my license. When I told him where it was and offered to pull aside, he snarled. Instead he asked "Have you even been fingerprinted?" Yes. Like a trout rising for a fly, he was suddenly intent. "What were you charged with?" The assumption is criminal. I said "I was charged with protecting millions of dollars of computers for Wells Fargo Bank. All federal bank employees are required to be fingerprinted." Have you ever had someone SNARL at you 'Have a good day'?
Headed for Seattle to visit with Dan (and see their new dog April), I noticed the HOV lanes are marked without times. They appear to be 24 hour permanent, like LA. Unlike everywhere else, however, the HOV lanes approaching the city end just where the backup begins, right at the city limit. Well that's useful if your intent is to get to the backup as quickly as possible.
Seattle sure is a pretty city when the sun is shining.
Twisp WA20 I5 BC99 BC10 BC17 Point Roberts BC17 BC10 BC99 I5 Seattle
Some days you just don't expect much. Some times those days are the most
Perhaps it is the beginning of the changing of the guard. My mindset is beginning to recognize the nearing end of the trip. After all, I am "only" a thousand miles from home. This is when it becomes most difficult not to just say the heck with it and be home tomorrow. But no, there is one more target, and geez is it ever tucked out of sight.
Be it laziness or travel weariness, I didn't move when the alarm went off. Didn't move for almost another hour. Then a lingering breakfast with Dan at the Barking Dog Pub, and I was not underway until after noon. Foolish decision when there is so far to go before the rains return to the Great NorthWet.
The Edmonds Ferry is always a pleasant ride, and unlike North Carolina bikes get to load first. I sat right in the prow watching the GPS in nautical units as we skimmed over the water. Dang, I forgot it would add nearly an hour to the day for the ferry. The target was getting later. Dang, a few miles later the Hood Canal Bridge was closed and the waiting line backed up for a mile to me and miles beyond. That target was receding even more.
At last, traffic moved and I began to peel off the vehicular 'obstacles', passing one by one until I was past the towns and into the center of the Olympic Peninsula. Mount Olympus was magnificent as a throne among its minion forests. It was making its own clouds while the day around me was bright and sunny. The clouds danced around the summit like jesters around the dais.
One of the more-than-expected delightful surprises was WA112, the road to Neah Bay. With excellent pavement and little traffic, it dipped and twisted along the very edge of the coast for 30 miles. This gem is as good as anything you will find in North Carolina too. It may well be my new favorite "road to nowhere", because the way out is the only way back. Neah Bay is a pleasant little place, secure in its remoteness. The locals could tell I wasn't, and were friendly to let me pass or turn first at intersections. I must have seemed in a hurry - or at least I must have seemed to have somewhere to go. They were neither. I happened to be in Neah Bay on one of the probably few sunny days it sees. The fog out in the channel reminded me of San Francisco in summer, just waiting to pounce.
A left here, a right there, following the detailed map loaded into the GPS, I finally found the turn around the back of the Indian cultural center. And there, on a back road on the Makah Indian Reservation, on the way to Cape Flattery is an otherwise nondescript curve in the road, except that this spot is the farthest west you can drive in the contiguous US. N48.37440 W124.72278 [Photo of Westermost point]
It is about as 'middle of nowhere' as you can get ... which I suppose gives new meaning to the old phrase "Flattery will get you nowhere" :)
The Finishers Wander is now complete, except it is not finished. The western part of my trip is over, I am headed south and home. Like ET in the movie so long ago extending a finger and intoning hooooooome, I point toward California and mentally see every road entering the state. There are only seven paved highways into California from the north, and I have ridden each one more than that number of times. There are no new things to report. There are no new roads to take. This time I opt for a leisurely approach down the coast and will follow convoluted 101. US101 is the only road I know of where you can continue "straight" on the same road and reverse directions of travel, kind of like a paved mobius strip. US101 North becomes US101 West becomes US101 South.
And in no time the coast road presents the incomparable Pacific Coast. It doesn't matter if you ride Washington, Oregon, or California, the coast knows no boundaries on beauty. It is breath taking with crashing waves, cliffs falling to the sea, and clandestine clutches of beaches clinging between them. All this is bracketed with sweeping forests and mountains that likely still have places humans have never seen. Here the "smaller" trees lining the road are 120 feet tall. The occasional big brother redwood looks down from twice that height. A lone motorcycle navigating the thin ribbon of pavement that cleaves the solitude feels so insignificent. Add to this a nearly full moon risen over the hills with the sun plunging into the sea's horizon and there is nothing left but to ride and enjoy it. How bad is that. Much more rewarding than expected.
Interesting how the letter Q is prominent among the Indian names here: Quillayute, Queets, Quinault, and Hoquiam all pass by. Then there is Humptulips ... don't wanna know. By the way, I found the first ever additive error on the GPS base map in 6 years of traveling with it all over the US. It shows WA109 going from Queets to Taholah. There is no such road, and neither does it appear in Mapsource or Street Atlas. Most unusual.
Seattle WA99 WA104 US101N-US101W WA112 Neah Bay WA112 WA113 US101S Aberdeen
When did you first notice signs of aging? "You're gettin some aaaaage on
you.", Rebecca's father would say. Some people 'look their age'. Some people
never act their age. In most cases, age has nothing to do with how old you
are. Age is all in your mind. You are only as old as you think you are.
I was sitting on the bike at the edge of a gas station in Gold Beach, folding the Oregon map to put away. A man in a pickup pulled along side and asked "where you looking to go?". I said home, and we chatted. He commented he used to ride a bike "many" years ago, but no longer has one. When he heard I am 'about 9000 miles from home', he paused and got a far away look in his eyes. He said when he had a bike he always wanted to take a cross country trip like mine but it just never happened. Now he was 'too old' to do that. How old are you, I asked. Fifty two, he replied. Hate to tell you, friend, but I am 55. His reply was better than I could have said myself: "Well, then, I guess riding keeps you young."
Since entering Oregon I was looking for a bakery for breakfast. There are a bazillion drive-through espresso kiosks, but nary a bakery for a hundred miles. I counted only four in the entire state along US101, and one was out of business. I finally stopped at a pancake house in Rockaway Beach against the better judgment of my cafe eye. Bad sign, the tables had liquid coffee mate for 'whitener'. Worse sign, the pancakes came with a plastic surgery perfect breast equivalent dollop of margarine which I pushed aside, and which was still surgery perfect and unmelted 45 minutes later. Sorry, I prefer the real thing. When asked at the register if all was ok, I said the pancakes were great but it is a shame they are served with margarine here only miles from Tillamook, one of the most lustrous dairy areas in the country. She said "Butter is bad for you." Never one to be stunned into silence, I said butter has milk and butter fat in it. Margarine has unnatural vegetable oil, diglicerides, transfat, homoginizers, preservatives, and color that never saw the inside of a cow and you say 'butter is bad'?
When I arrived in Coos Bay, I did my normal pass though town for motels
and eateries. There is a Motel 6 here, but I've found when they are in a small
town there are usually bargains to be found nearby. They are the "big name"
competition despite the low ball prices they hold compared to business
traveler properties like Holiday Inn, Best Western, etc. Since all I care
about is a clean bed and bathroom, a lower amenity family run motel is fine
with me. I'm talking sometimes 'quaint' sometimes 'funky' locations where the
Motel 6 rate is half again as much! (Funky is the motel in Aberdeen with a
sign that said 'tell the motel if you want us towels' [sic], and 10 minutes
after I settled in two police cars screech into the lot to serve a warrant.)
Often in a place like this the phone system remembers working with Ernestine,
the operator portrayed by Lily Tomlin. Sometimes I ask whether I can make a
computer call, and this time I got a flat no computers allowed. Huh? The woman
claimed the phone system is 'hard wired' and can't be used with a computer.
After hesitating for a minute, I asked to see a room. As soon as she opened
the door I saw a normal phone with a modular plug - and even a data port on
the phone. She then claimed the owner doesn't want people using computers. I
said I would use it for no more than 15 minutes late at night. She gave me the
room, but a few minutes later as I was settling in the owner came by and said
no computers. What's the problem, buddy. What do you care if I make a voice
call for an hour or a computer call for 10 minutes? Ah, the answer is they
only have one outgoing line, which they also use for credit card approvals.
The average computer jockey is used to constant connection and leaves the
thing plugged in all night. I promised him I would only use it after the
office closed at 11. Ok, so a 'bargain' in dollars can cost you in other ways.
It worked fine.
I suppose to make up for his sternness, he told me about a local restaurant I never would have found on my own. Wanda's is a real dive, but they serve incredible baby back ribs. The home made Q sauce is huckleberries reduced in marsala with a touch of jalapeno for heat. It is slightly sweet and nicely dense, not at all like that vinegar juice on the other coast.
Aberdeen US101 Coos Bay
May 4 - Ukiah, California
There hasn't been much to report these last days. I find memories around
almost every corner as I get closer. I occasionally catch myself thinking
about things I will have to do when I get home, things to fix, people to
contact. Then I force those thoughts away and watch for more memories. The
southern Oregon coast gives way to the California border, and suddenly it just
feels 'right'. Crossing back into "my California" is like turning into the
long driveway at grandma's house on Thanksgiving morning. Of course it is
raining slightly in Crescent City. I don't think I have EVER been in Crescent
City that it hasn't rained. But on I go and by Eureka the skies are beginning
to clear. My California is bright sun, a blue sky you only see in travel ads,
and unhurried stillness in the Avenue of the Giants redwoods.
The beginning of the Mayacmas Mountain range marks the transition from rugged national forest land to cultivation (not counting the cultivated forest, wink wink). Here is the finest vinicultural area in the world, and these two valleys, Sonoma and Alexander, produce my favorites. The hillside vines are settling into their business for the season. The wine cellar names are all familiar, many of which are in my cellar. So close to home. So close. But it is a long enough day. Hey! There's a Motel 6 :)
Coos Bay US101 Ukiah
May 5 - home
The Indian warrior would mount his steed and embrace the battle shouting "Today is a Good Day to Die!". I mount mine and embrace the last day of travel with: Today is a Good Day to Ride.
Slowly, now ...
Ukiah US101 San Francisco
Sam Lepore, San Francisco
9593 miles total