"Alice doesn't live here anymore."
Bear with me a minute ... I have a personal demon to wrestle aside.
An overworked idea currently
on the mental landscape of America is "closure". Not to trivialize any
of the recent emotional occurrences, but after almost any event that has
any significance these days, there is a cry and a 'need' for "closure".
It seems we are required to achieve some specific yet undefined acceptance
- some punching of our societal ticket for us to regain our normal insignificance
in the greater scheme of commonality. Real closure for truly significant
personal events is more elusive.
Two years ago when I was packing the night before my original Wanderlust trip, Max watched me with tired eyes. I wondered, then I promised her I would return if she would be there to meet me. She said without speaking "You better hurry". Two weeks later, while I was traveling, she had her first heart attack.
As fate would have it, this time I left San Francisco for the renewal of my Wanderlust exactly two years to the day of her heart attack. It is not closure. It is an opening of the future. I carry her memory with me, and I addressed her remains as I left saying I would return if her memory would remain. This time I need not hurry.
And so it is in her honor that I 'resume' my Wanderlust, picking up with the next number after her illness shortened the previous trip. We are not seeking closure. We are seeking whatever we may find.
For various reasons, it was
a later than usual start. Most people start the day in the morning. Maybe
it is indicative of the relaxed rules this trip will try not to adhere
to ... but I left at 4 pm. And then only covered 190 miles.
How much do you want to hear about droning California freeways? What wonders can be explained about metropolitan rush hour traffic that have not already been shared, absorbed, digested, and excreted? Let's just say that despite San Francisco being one of the most wonderful places to live in this country ... going for a memorable ride means you have to first get out of the Bay Area. My overnight stay was in the forgotten town of Oroville.
Which, of course, put the fabulous Feather River Canyon at my feet after breakfast. California Route 70 is one of those roads that make you wonder why anyone would drive a car when they could ride a bike (at least while it is not raining ... which is anytime between, say, April and September). Seventy five miles of sweepers, painfully pretty scenery, and canyon walls so steep that the GPS could not find a satellite except directly overhead. There are many good reasons to put up with the hot flat expanse of central California ... and this is an exceptional one.
Getting to Oroville, one has to pass through the part of California that would make a Japanese farmer cry. Around Colusa there are more rice fields than anywhere else in America. Abundant Sacramento River water floods the fertile flatlands and grows the long-grain rice against which the Japanese government has been trying to protect its national heritage. Ride through this area and you feel the weight of the moisture from the flooded paddies in the air. It makes me wonder - most 'country folk' are meat and potatoes people. Do rice farmers eat rice?
While riding up the Feather canyon, I saw I most amusing sight. Off on the bank of the river there was a man lounging under a wind break "half tent" while his automatic dredger chewed at the current. Either American ingenuity, technology, or just plain laziness has evolved to where it was necessary to develop a personal sized flotation device that sucks up river current and pans it against sediment while its 'overseer' sips a brewski beneath a polymer sunshade. What would a 49'er (the gold diggers, not the football players :) think?
Georgia and New Mexico have
a similar color to their dirt. It is an ochre red, almost a brilliant orange
brown that stands out to the eye to be noticed. Some parts of the California
gold country have a similar redness to the land, but never before today
have I seen PURPLE rocks and dirt! North of Susanville I passed a road
construction site where the hillside was being regraded and filled with
rocks and gravel. The rocks were grape colored. Not red, not brown, not
ochre. Grape. And the gravel glistened like bad velour from the 1970's
... and I didn't even have any mind bending spirits for breakfast - honest!
We joke in San Francisco that it is where all the surplus purple paint
ends up (have you seen some of the houses in the Castro district?), but
purple dirt is beyond even my expectations.
What is a trip if not a discovery ...
My little quote book, The Quotable Traveler, begins: There is a big difference between travel and a vacation. We choose the itinerary for our vacations, but our travels lead us on an internal journey.
Bar-Be-Que. BBQ. Q. Good golly, the smell makes me hungry. Stopped for a minute in the barely-there town of Adin, California. Small sign beside the general store says "BBQ today". Heavens! Well, more like purgatory, because the smoker was closed for another hour and I couldn't wait, but what those carbon laden pheromones were doing to my appetite has probably changed the focus of this trip. Anyone want to guide me to their favorite BBQ shack? I'll even offer to buy the first sandwich.
Ok, that's enough for now. Reports from this trip will not be coming every day as on past trips. I expect to be on the road for 30 to 40 days, and writing every day takes an enormous effort. Plus, I need time to encounter the observations that you might find interesting ... so I'll take a break while I attend the Chief Joseph BMW Rally, here in Klamath Falls. After that Idaho? Montana? Who knows? See ya ...
San Francisco I80 I505 I5 CA20 CA45 CA162 Oroville
Oroville CA70 CA89 CA147 CA36 CA139 OR39 Klamath Falls
"He that is a traveler must have the back of an ass to bear all, a tongue like the tail of a dog to flatter all, the mouth of a hog to eat what is set before him, the ear of a merchant to hear all and say nothing ... "
- Thomas Nash (1567-1601), English writer
Maybe travel used to be that
difficult, but these days it is only as difficult as you wish to make it.
I had an easy and most enjoyable day, although I saw many who were less
pleased with their plight. But then ... I was on a motorcycle :)
It was a beautiful day to ride. The morning was slightly crisp in the Oregon air. Although several of us chose to "motel camp" at the rally, we all still appreciate the cool start of what will be a broiler for those who head south or east. I stayed around the rally grounds for a while after my companions left, just to see the wrap-up of how a small city of 500 disappears overnight. By the time they left, you could not tell anyone was there - except for the worn path in the grass where the entrance was. As I left the grandstand parking lot I had to stop to let a family of quail cross the road. The permanent residents were returning.
By the way, I have been remiss in neglecting to mention my special personal escort of the first two days. My 'significant other', or to use the Official U.S. Government Term: POOSSLQ, Rebecca was riding to her first out of state BMW rally and was guarding my backside along the way. In old Japan it was polite to escort a guest to the door, but it was the utmost honor to escort to the compound gate. Beyond that, she saw me to the edge of civilization - the California border (You decide whether it is the starting edge or the ending ... :).
If I neglect to mention anyone else, just go ahead and beat me up. I have sentenced myself to 30 days of solitary confinement in a helmet, and that takes its toll on social awareness. I must say, though, that I do at least recognize friends - I got another hug from Voni. BMWs make the world smaller and larger at the same time. She and I have put on maybe 75,000 miles since we met a year ago in Branson, and now we meet by chance in Oregon on separate summer sojourns.
Leaving Klamath Falls I noticed
few bikes heading East. Later it was apparent why. You can't really get
anywhere heading East. The steep ridgeback hills keep shuttling the roads
and the rivers southeast, then a pass jumps north and the hills do their
work again. Whereas southwestern Oregon is lush and green, so different
from the brown California hills only an hour away, the further east you
go, the more arid and desert it becomes. The entire southeastern quadrant
of the state is a desert. Quite different from what the emigrants must
have expected when they crossed the magic border on the Oregon Trail. Western
Oregon, yes, was the land of their dreams, but even today the maps show
less than a dozen paved roads in all of southeast Harney and Malheur Counties.
Now I've said many times before I am not a farm boy ... but I do pay attention to the farms I pass. The Oregon farms have a local custom in fencing that I can't figure out - and one I have not seen anywhere else. Someone explain this. At frequent - but IRREGULAR intervals along a barb wire fence there will be a rock cairn - a column of rocks roughly the size of a 55 gallon barrel, wrapped with a single turn of barb wire strands. Occasionally they are at a break in the fence, like a driveway - which I can understand, but more often they are just somewhere along the fence line. Too close for the start/end of a wire spool, too tall to be a step-over for crossing the fence, and always round, like a barrel. Beats me?
Beautiful downtown Lakeview,
all 1/4 mile of it, was my breakfast stop. As soon as I rolled up in front
of the bakery, a small crowd of boys on bicycles appeared. The bravest
among them said "Hey, is that your motorcycle?" A great conversationalist
in the making here ... but I said yes, I think so, is that your bicycle?
They all, including him, found that hilarious. So we all talked bikes for
a while. After they looked mine over, I insisted they show what was different
between their various bikes. That was obviously a thought that never crossed
their minds, but each went away with something 'special' in mind. I kept
One of the boys asked where I was going. I wrote it down and said it was a small town somewhere in the west, have you heard of it? - Hunose
Guess I was in a slow mood, with today being the real start of the trip. I held to the 55 mph speed limit and noticed after the 100 miles to breakfast that the FuelPlus said I still had 170 miles remaining in the tank. For a bike that usually goes on reserve at 175 miles (at freeway speed), that seemed incredible, so I decided to take a chance and pass up the 'last gas', then the next last gas ... then I stretched it out until the reserve light came on at a new record for my K75 - 222 miles, with 54 remaining. The mpg calculation at refill was another record for me - 56.05. Unbelievable. Whatever BMW of Marin did during that last tune-up is golden.
Eastern Oregon is scenic
in a desolate way. Or maybe it is desolate in a scenic way. Either way,
it is a long way between stops. Another record set for me was the longest
distance "last gas" sign I've seen on a US route system - 68 miles on US20
between Burns and Harper. Anyone know of a longer one?
Finally, after 300 miles of straight and flat that could rival West Texas, at last I came to a road recommendable for bikes, the 56 miles between Juntura and Vale tightly follow the Malheur River. I don't do French, but I can tell you Malheur does not mean Bad Ride! Following my usual plan to stay in a small town near but not on the Interstate, I intended to stop in Vale. There was only one motel (I kid you not): The Bates Motel. Since I needed a shower and it looked like Mama hasn't been taking care of it for a while, I decided to pass. But in passing, I also noticed a block long historical mural painted on the sides of several buildings on Main Street. This is something that was rare but has really caught on in small western towns, am I am pleased to see it. This mural was a depiction of the emigrants on the Oregon Trail crossing the Malheur River in Vale. Nicely done. Perhaps their somewhat stern facial expressions were from having seen those Oregon deserts they didn't expect.
In the next few days I'll be heading up into Idaho toward Sandpoint, then diagonally through Montana to Wyoming east of Yellowstone. Wave if you pass me.
FuelPlus: 376 miles, 7:27 hours, 51 mph average
Klamath Falls OR140 US395 US20 Ontario
"The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first mile."
So signs Will Lee, a Long
Distance Rider from San Francisco. Although we live in the same city, Will
and I have never met closer than 300 miles from home - last time was north
of Seattle. We travel. Will is the only person I know crazy enough (and
capable enough) to actually believe his Harley is a serious long distance
bike, but he has proven it. Being a true LDRider, he is also crazy about
good/big food. The last time he was "passing through" Idaho he wrote about
the world's best chiliburger he found in the tiny town of Horseshoe Bend.
Guess where I found myself.
The Riverside Restaurant does indeed have the best open-face, half pound, completely covering the 8-inch circular plate, 3-inch tall pile of chili-cheese-salsa-with-chopped-olives-and-scallions-on-burger that I have ever had for breakfast. Urp. My timing wasn't so good, but I wasn't going to pass this up no matter what! Will gets the burgermeister gastronome award. (Note to chili purists: this is not Texas chili ... it has beans.)
Yesterday I mentioned the
rock cairn/piles in the fences in Oregon. As soon as I crossed the Idaho
border I noticed there were no cairns in the fences. Beyond just custom,
isn't it curious that what is so ubiquitous as to appear necessary a few
miles away simply does not exist over here ... but then Oregon requires
motorcyclists to wear helmets and Idaho doesn't, so maybe piling rocks
is written into the law. Just one of the mysteries I shall leave unsolved
Who would have though the width of a river could effect such a difference. On the west side of the Snake, every Oregon field I saw had "functional" vegetables growing - spinach, squash, tomatoes, even potatoes. Immediately east of the border, there was nothing but spices - green onions, dill, some feathery plant whose smell I recognize as a spice but can't identify. How complimentary, but how strange.
North of Horseshoe Bend,
the wonderfully sinuous ID55 follows the Payette River. The curves are
wonderful for motorcycles, but it seems a lot of them have their vivid
reminders of what can happen when a vehicle doesn't make the curve. We
have all seen the crosses at the side of the road, usually small and white,
occasionally with plastic flowers or a wreath. Some states allow if not
encourage their placement as a cautionary reminder to others of the dangers
of the road; some states are now removing them as 'unauthorized' distractions
and unsafe places to visit. No matter what you think, one I saw today was
a heart grabber.
As I flew past (55 in a 55) concentrating on looking through the curve and scanning the road camber to set up for the next apex, the corner of my eye caught large purple writing on the K-rail lining the road edge near the white cross. (K-rail is what DOT calls those concrete barriers used to divert lanes in construction areas.) I turned around and went back to see. The whole family had written an individual message to the man who died at this spot. The large purple was from Tiffany, who I surmise is a teenager by the handwriting style. There was another, from son Ryan "Hope the fishing is good up there, Dad". A lovely message from his wife, which I shall leave private. Another long message from an indecipherable name, looked male. And at the bottom, about 6 inches above the dirt, in the uneven scrawl of someone who just recently learned to print, done in what looked like crayon "Happy Fathers Day. Me"
As Sergeant Esterhaus used to say, let's be careful out there.
"Any road named River Road"
says a friend of mine. So right! The Payette River and the Little Salmon
and the Salmon make for a great day in the saddle. Central Idaho is incredibly
rugged and the roads have almost no choice but to follow the rivers ...
which, by the way all seem to be higher and faster than I expected this
late during the runoff. The Payette in particular was only a foot or two
from flood and very rapid. Roads to consider are ID55, US95, and a sleeper
of a peg scraper from Grangeville to Kooskia that I've never found before
Today is the first day of summer. Idaho doesn't know that. Why, pray tell, was I wearing my electric jacket and heavy gloves only one day after watching ice cream cones melt faster than kids could lick them? Then, suddenly, the answer was presented to me on a large roadside sign: YOU ARE HALF WAY TO THE NORTH POLE. The 45th parallel crosses Idaho (and perhaps nowhere else :) here and the good folk of the town of New Meadow have seen fit to startle passers by. Considering the cool temperatures and grey skies, I'll just call this the Lower 48 Version of the Arctic Circle.
I played dance with the clouds most of the day, and sometimes they stepped on my feet. But each of three times I closely approached a big black wetbelly that meant I'd have to stop and suit up my luck turned with the road and I passed just ahead or behind of the squall. Despite the frequent sprinkles, I count today as a no-rain but not dry day. But three times is enough. Rather than start the Lolo Pass late in the day and chase storms to the summit, it's an early stop.
FuelPlus 253 miles, 5:20 hours, 48 mph average
Ontario US30 ID72 ID52 ID55 US95 ID13 Kooskia
Plans (subject to change) Bozeman, then Belle Fourche
"I always wanted to see Montana."
- The Captain of the Russian submarine Red October, played by Sam Neil.
First, some belated follow up from my previous musings. Despite some inventive suggestions about the rock piles I saw in Oregon, no one provided as precise an answer as Michael Hunt (repeated here for the benefit of those not on the LDR list). Strange, though, that he commented they are also in Idaho but my immediate observation was they weren't ...
"They are called 'stone bucks'
or 'stone buck' for the singular.
They are usually used in rocky ground where it can be difficult
to set a fence post. Some use them as the corner marker for
a section (1sq. mi.). They also come in square, rectangular
and triangular form.
You will also find them in Idaho and other states w/more than
their fair share of rocks."
And my call for long distance "last gas" brought this from Bob Hole.
"I saw a next gas sign east of Tonopah, NV, saying next gas 91 miles."
Now picking up where I left
off in Kooskia - I have always been driven by curiosity, and I am still
a most curious fellow (no matter how you interpret that :). If ignorance
is bliss, why aren't I happy? I seem to question everything that does not
need questioning. Kooskia, for example. I asked at the gas station, what
does it mean. "No idea", said the woman. "Been here a dozen years and no
one ever asked that. I do know it is a Nez (Perce) word, though, and it
is pronounced koo-SKY-ah, not koosk-ee-uh."
This morning at breakfast in the Rivers Cafe (hint hint), I asked the waitress/manager/owner. She gave me gave me a look like I had just asked her why does she breathe air. She said "I've been here 40 years and I have never thought to ask that question." Ignorance is not bliss when you realize you were ignorant of your ignorance.
The man in the first booth never looked up and never stopped shoveling eggs. "Koo-shky-yeh means 'where the rivers meet'."
"No", says a woman at the counter. "It means 'two waters together'!"
By which time I had paid my bill and was leaving. Two minutes ago in the Rivers Cafe (hint) the subject had never been discussed and now there was an etymological argument of the finer points of Nez. By the way, Koo-whatever is at the confluence of the (South) Clearwater and the (Middle) Clearwater. Clear?
Motorcyclists are often chased
by dogs. Some dogs even do it for fun. As I started up Route 12, I was
fun chased by a horse. Traffic was slow, about 30. We rounded a bend that
ran close to a fence. The horse probably saw my headlight, then he took
a couple steps toward the fence and started running along side me. He wasn't
spooked, and he didn't turn away - he kept up for about 100 yards. Wow,
talk about iron horse. This was a long distance STrider!
It was a good day for a ride (what day isn't?) The smoky mists were steaming out of the trees and cascading over the cold air above the rushing water. Combined with the spray from the many rapids, it made a fine layer of natures whipped cream swirled over the open spaces. In some places the mist was thick enough to drip. In San Francisco will call this "fog fall", but even though it was cold enough for me to plug in and turn on the electric jacket, it wasn't enough to make the road slick.
And there, around the first bend north of Lovell was THE SIGN. The sign most often photographed by motorcycle travelers. Yellow sign. Big letters. "Winding Road next 77 miles". Can't help but smile when you know it is for real. The pavement is clean and smooth the whole way. There are plenty of passing zones. There are few driveways or other distractions. What a nice way to spend an hour ... err, an hour and a quarter ... err, an hour and thirty five minutes if you believe in the speed limit (50).
OK, next "rock pile" question! To make a writing note, I stopped in a paved pullout area just past THE SIGN. Painted on the ground in those official huge stencil letters only DOT uses was the admonition DONT ... BE ... A ... GUBERIF. Man, I looked at that like it was a 7th grade essay test. Guberif. Yeah, that's how it was spelled. "You might be a guberif ...?" OK, Mr. Idaho, what the $#@% is a guberif? (I am not making this up - go look for yourself!)
Two hours, or ten days? US12
follows the Locsha River along what we now call the Lewis and Clark Trail.
Almost 200 years ago they came this very way, and I am relieved to say
that the other side of the river still looks like it could have then. Rugged.
Original. Too rough for foot traffic. I thought about them floating in
their boats as I floated along the pavement. On a good day traveling upstream
they could make 10 miles. The 100 miles to the top of the pass took them
10 days. It took me less than two hours.
How fast is too fast? Not too fast to travel, but too fast to see what you are passing. Our mode of transportation today would stun Lewis and Clark. But we travel at just about the limit for still being able to "see" where we are. Will travelers 200 years from now think the same as they step out of the beam transporter? A bullet train gets there fast, but what do you see of the flowers along the way? I could go faster ... but I choose not to. I hope we never get automatic vehicle controls "for better service" such that we can't go as 'fast' as we want.
My day for playful animal chases. A no-horn sheep munching at the edge of the road was startled by the bike bursting out of the forest curve. (It would have been a big-horn, but it was a female.) It leapt up the rocky incline and started running parallel to the road. I slowed to match it's speed. Being up on the ledge, it could not jump in my way, and I wasn't close enough to spook it. From my thoughts of "speed" above, can you imagine running at 25 mph over rocks that appear to have no flat surfaces. The sheep was effortless, graceful, and amazing.
The top of Lolo Pass is the
Montana border. When did Montana become a gambling everywhere state? Later
I would see "casinos" in supermarkets, gas stations, and even a pharmacy
(risk your aspirin money and get a bigger headache?), but some of them
must have been in a rush when the law changed. The first sign past the
border was for Lucky Diamond Casino - NEXT RIHGT.
All my motorcycle friends know of the other recent legal change in Montana ... there is a speed limit now. For a while, there was no set limit because of a challenge to the former law which was: "Reasonable and Prudent". The challenge was not successful, but the R&P law was ruled unconstitutionally vague. Now the limit is 70. 70 on 4-lanes, 70 on 2-lanes. 70 in driveways ... but rest assured R&P is still the practice anywhere off the Interstate. I would be rolling along at a Reasonable 70 on some backroad and a pickup would Prudently pass me, again and again.
Passing through Helena reminded me of my last visit there 20 years ago. While we were gassing up the van, a drunk spied the Massachusetts plates, then wobbled over to Rebecca and said "Shay shumpin to me in Massashushits". Not being one to take advantage, she tried to explain we all spoke English ... but I don't think he understood the language. I always thought the best answer would have been to look him squarely in the unfocused crossed eyes and say "cranberry bog". Forget official state symbols ... say something to me in - hmmm, California: Duuude.
My tires have not tasted Interstate pavement since California, duuude, but finally there is no other choice. So it's off again with the truck fumes and the fuming families in minivans as I race off to meet Duner in Bozeman.
FuelPlus 369 miles, 5:48 hours, 62 mph
Koo-whatever US12 MT200 MT141 US12 US287 Indian205 I90 Bozeman
Dinner with Duner was decidedly delicious and doubtlessly delightful, despite delaying both the detailing of discussions and delineating descriptive definitions in my daily diary. Darn. But Danke! Duner :)
"What is the feeling when
you are driving away from people and they recede on the plain until you
see their specks dispersing?"
- Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) American writer
Montana is an amazing place
geographically. Nearly 2/3 of the state is rolling prairie, with all the
rough stuff scrunched up on the left side. You think of Montana and you
think of mountains. Funny, the name almost says that ... but you probably
do not think of Missouri, as in River. Did you know there is more length
of the Ol' Mo in Montana than any other state? The Missouri officially
starts here, just a few miles from Bozeman, at the town of Three Forks
where the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin (he was a president?)
Rivers come together. Oh, pleeeeze, not Koo-koo-kooskia again - enough
of that. There is a wonderful little state park at the Missouri Headwaters.
And the town of Three Forks isn't bad. I wonder if it is the custom in
the town cafe to set 3 forks at the table. I would. :)
The three rivers were again faster and higher than I expected for this time of year, causing the park to be almost inundated. As I rode away from Bozeman and followed the Yellowstone River, it was fast and muddy. This has been a hard year in the high country. But it makes beautiful scenery. Following the river, chasing the clouds, with the snow capped Absoroka Range filling both my mirrors, it almost made up for the fact that I had 150 miles of Interstate ahead. There are no east-west paved roads through the Beartooth Range.
Then, of course, it is summer. What does the state do when the highest number of people are on the roads? Close lanes for construction. I wouldn't mind if there was a reasonable buffer of lane closure around workers on the road, but when you ride through 8, 12, 16 miles of one lane behind a RV driver who can't think if his foot is off the brake - well, I wonder why there is so much closed road when they are only working on a bridge every 2 miles. I know the answer ... it is easier for THEM. Who is the 'customer' here anyway? I'd like to see lanes restricted only where there is current work - not where they will start ... in the fall.
So, after a 20 mile stretch of construction west of Billings, I had enough with being on a 2-lane 4-lane. I looked for a real 2-lane. And I was rewarded magnificently in the unmarked 'old' US87 from Billings to Hardin. Follow the signs off the Interstate for Chief Plenty Coups monument which leads you to 87 (then it bears south and away). US87 climbs up a rise that gives a panoramic view of Billings. This road is actually too curvy for the posted limit - 70.
Approaching Hardin I saw a sign for "Custer Fight Reenactment". On June 25 every year the locals stage the entire battle as an entertainment event. I was thinking of sticking around ... but I know how it ends. Bv. Major G.A. Custer (he was *not* a general) plays the title role in the Sioux version of Groundhog Day. Hardin is close to the real battleground, so I dropped in to see how it has changed. While I was in the lot, a troop of Buffalo Soldiers in reenactment uniforms piled out of a white Ford van. Somehow that sight was ridiculous. Makes me wonder what the Indians would use ... Jeep Cherokee?
As I expected, commercialism has shown its hand. Here on the land that should be a monument of pride to every descendent of those warriors, here there stands across from the entrance ... The Little Big Horn Casino.
At least the white "penny soldiers" are still losing the battle. This time to greed instead of ego.
Continuing east through the Crow and Cheyenne reservations to Powder River County, I was greatly impressed at how much this area of Montana is like the Black Hills, especially around Lame Deer. I thought all of eastern Montana and Wyoming was flatland, but this is rugged and yet peaceful. It made me wonder about the nomadic life of the tribes. It made me wonder further if somehow today a tribe were "discovered" way back in the wilderness, still happily living the 'old way', would our society be capable of allowing them to remain happy? Would it be civil to 'civilize' them? What about their 'civil' rights if they didn't want to change? No, I am not a romantic about life on the plains in buffalo skins, but I wonder. Have we learned enough to leave well enough alone.
A chicken in every pot, a dirt road in every trip. Hasn't failed so far. Every trip I take there is one unexpected dirt road, although I'm not sure this counts because Duner waned me about it. There is 10 miles of no pavement on US212 just west of Broadus. It wasn't bad until about a mile before it ended ... when the three 18-wheelers passed me doing the speed limit - 70.
Ok, so it is the end of a
long, hard, hot day in the saddle and you drift into some nondescript prairie
town with a crossroad intersection, a stop sign, and a single side street.
The motel looks like it could have been ready for being designated a former
glory preservation museum, but it is clean enough, and you settle in. Next
up is hunting for comfort food - something that will help you rest and
maybe relax. In most towns like this that means choosing between the Country
Cowboy Cafe or the Broken Spur Bar and Edibles on that side street. In
most towns ... but not in Broadus, Montana.
In many of my travels I have had luck in finding good food where it would not be expected - even in some of those plastic curtain cafes. How about this for the 'comfort food' I enjoyed tonight?
Salad: roasted sweet red peppers with pine nuts and niccoise olives over mixed greens including *crisp* arrugula, fresh beet leaves, and red butter lettuce sprinkled with a house made balsamic vinegar.
Entree: seared chicken breast in a sauce of Khalula reduced into heavy cream, sauteed potatoes with fresh herbs from the house side garden, vegetable mix of asparagus tips, zucchini and celery braised in white wine.
Dessert: puff pastry carved then filled with fresh whipped cream, toffee pudding and bananas, resting in a bed of caramel sauce with raspberry decorations, drizzled with chocolate and dusted with powder sugar.
House made bread rolls, glass of wine, and cappuccino.
Well ... as I said to the waitress, I know good food. THIS is good food. In San Francisco the entree alone would cost more than this entire meal. She admitted the owner really doesn't make money from the business, but he does well in Los Angeles and has "roots" here - he wanted to have a nice place to bring people for dinner when he kicked back ... so he started the restaurant 4 years ago. The place is in a quality restored home that was the residence of the presiding judge in this county seat ... which is why it is called The Judge's Chamber Restaurant. Oh, yeah, the price? $22.80. Yes, that is the *total*. Eat here. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Broadus, Montana. Whodathunkit?
FuelPlus 323 miles, 5:37 hours, 58 mph
Bozeman I90 old US87 US212 Broadus
Repeating once more for those
not on the LDR list, "Mr. Idaho" Michael Hunt comes through again ... "Just
reverse the letters. GUBERIF becomes FIREBUG." Along with him is champion
explainer Bob Hole, "Read Guberif backward and you'll see why it's important
to not be one." And new to the answer pack is Jon Diaz, with "Firebug.
Took five trips across the country in the last seven years to figure it
Obvious (but rhetorical) question, guys ... why? did the highway worker put the stencil upside down? Is this supposed to be read in a mirror (on the ground?)? Do Idahoans like things, uh, delleps sdrawkcab?
Beyond Broadus the terrain
rapidly dropped to the rolling grasslands of the endless treeless prairie.
Here the rivers were relaxed, but very muddy. Here the antelope and the
cows shared fields, seemingly standing guard for each other. I stopped
on a rise to watch a buck antelope resting in the grass. They have become
inured to the thundering trucks that roar past making their own wind, but
as the bike coasted to a stop with the engine already silent, he became
alert. Thirty seconds later he pranced away, perhaps to see if I would
follow. We each returned to our routine.
Skipping here and there to avoid the Interstate, I ended up going through Deadwood which I intended to avoid. I am pleased to report that Deadwood is not Deadspirit as it had become. When gambling was voted in, Deadwood instantly went from being a quaint, true to its history, old west town to plastic and neon. On my last visit I lamented the change from how it really looked to how it "should" look. It isn't quite back to real, but it has softened somewhat. Now it looks merely slick instead of plastic.
The best route through the Black Hills for a motorcycle is not the marked tourist roads ... unless you are going to the tourist destinations, of course. Been there, done that. The best route is the unmarked (no route number) Nemo Road from just south of Deadwood into Rapid City. If you have play time in this area, ride this road. It is full of reducing radius turns, off camber curves, blind intersections, and all the things you learn to fear (and then learn to control) in an Experienced Rider Course. It is fun at the signed speed limit ... whatever that was - because I was paying *all* my attention to the road. This is one of those roads that if you ride it well you can look straight down during a curve and see the *side* of your bike. You won't find a better 35 miles in all of the Black Hills (because the tourists don't take it).
Had my first self induced stupidity gas shortage today. I guess it is a 'male thing', but some of us have a tendency to push the limits of physics even when we know physics always wins. I should gas up in Rapid City ... 79 miles remaining in tank. I should gas up at the edge of town ... 62 miles remain. Well, maybe there is a station at the Regional Airport ... 54 miles remain. How about that small town ahead. Fuel light on, no gas in 'town' that consists of a barn and two houses. TURN AROUND STUPID. I know that towns near Indian reservations actually list the population for the surrounding miles and there is rarely a business center ... but I push. At least I didn't have to push the bike. The FuelPlus was showing single digits when I got back to 'the edge of town'. Stupid as it sounds, sometimes a rider just doesn't want to stop.
In a previous segment I wrote about roadside accident markers. South Dakota has official markers. Dorky, but official. It is a black and white sign with a large red bent X (not a cross ... that's 'religious') and the large block lettered question WHY DIE drive safely. It has all the charm of a memorial designed by the guy that dreamt up guberif. Why die, indeed.
Before I end with a little philosophy, I want to contrast tonight's dinner with last night. The Budget Host Motel in Interior is a combination motel/campground. They have a dining area serving campers meals - tonight was all you can eat beef stew made with chuck roast and fresh vegetables - $3. Breakfast is AYCE buckwheat pancakes with fruit - $2. Simple food, decently made, but another good find!
Have you noticed how curvy, involved roads, like Nemo call for all your awareness and at the end you haven't really thought about anything in your fore-conscious, but somehow you can reach a decision about personal matters. It works for me. In general, it seems there is a demonstrable 'terrain thought effect' in riding. City traffic with lots of intersections, does not let the mind go in a single direction. Curvy roads allow the mind to meander back and forth across its centerline seeing both sides of the question and reaching the endpoint with no side roads. When you get to the open rolling prairie, the thoughts roll on and on and on and can't seem to get away. The horizon never gets closer. The decision is never made because it is always in front of you. For me, this is mental torture. What if I had married this one instead of that one. What if I had stayed there instead of moving. What if I had ... it is not so much dissatisfaction with the results as it is comparing what might have been. And seeking the meaning of life.
"So they take off after each
other straight into an endless black prairie. The sun is just comin' down
and they can feel night on their backs. And the one who's chasin' doesn't
know where the other is taking him. And the one who's being chased doesn't
know where he's going."
- Sam Shepard (b. 1943) American playwright
But it is I who am chasing myself.
FuelPlus 270 miles, 4:56 hours, 55 mph
Broadus US212 US85 SD34 St. Onge Road US85 US385 Nemo Road SD44 Interior
Plans (subject to change) Aberdeen, southern Minnesota, Great River Road?
Whew, this day is going to test my wordsmithing abilities ... how much can you say to describe a day that is complete in three words: straight, flat, hot. Well, I'll try.
My special friend Maddie
once suggested that lasting love could be found in a donut shop in Elko.
Trouble is, she never said which one. Can't say about love, but I will
say that if you are looking for "real people", any donut shop will do.
Maddie is right about one aspect of donut shops - they are the congregation
point for the natural emotions of America.
There is a Sunrise Donuts shop on the main street of Kadoka, South Dakota. Kadoka is one of those towns where the main street is a side street off the main road, which passes the town. Kadoka is one of those towns where people just park their pickup in the middle (centerline, if there was one) of main street, get out and go about their business. Some even leave the truck running. No one goes to Kadoka by accident. I went there on purpose - one, to have donuts - duh, two, to listen to the people.
The couple in the booth behind me chatted with each of the locals as they came in. One visitor with them lamented that when going on an organized tour of Mexico or Europe, the tour bus took the them to "tourist places". They wanted to go to see the 'real' people, but they wanted to know where to go and not have to find the 'real' places on their own. I had this image of a tour bus pulling up in front of the Sunrise Donuts in Kadoka and 50 tourists from some foreign country, like Los Angeles, settling in to listen to these real people ... as I was. Look folks, you can't have packaged adventure (that is called Disneyland rides), you can't have rehearsed spontaneity (that is called television) in 'real' life. You have to take the chance of going down that side road to see what is in town, like I did.
" ... people don't take trips - trips take people."
- John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
When they eventually got around to asking me where I was from, etc., I just said that I had come all the way to Kadoka just to see 'real' people. I thanked them and left.
Straight, flat, hot. Hot,
about 95F. Cloudless, treeless, curveless. I was thinking about the new
Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle that can do 188 mph and wondering if I was too
quick to discredit the bullet train back in Idaho. But no, the Great Plains
are something everyone should see once. Once. This is my someteenth transversal.
Unfortunately, the Great Plains were great pains this day. The wind was
a constant 40 or more mph from the south. Riding sideways when the wind
skews the bike is tiring after several hours. All day long I dealt with
those well known "plains fighters" ... Major Buffeting and General Bluster.
The wind kept up *all* day, even into the farm land around Aberdeen. Passing through one small town with an airport, for the first time ever I saw a 'full sock' on the wind vane. The orange cone was standing straight out. About a mile later I passed a farmhouse with laundry on the line. Well, some was still on the line. And the rest (including a few socks) were in a line across the yard, like a bread crumb trail.
Straight, flat, hot. Flat
but long distances between anything. What if you have a problem. Many people
today carry cell phones, but out here coverage doesn't quite match the
television advertisements. Some long distance riders have digital/analog
combos that seek a particular network, but I don't know of any that offer
true nationwide coverage. Maybe if those satellite launches hadn't blown
up a few billion dollars worth of shiny reflectors, we'd be able to afford
Iridium phones today. My point is you must think about your 'link' if you
are going to go this far off grid. I do.
Speaking of phones, you should see the looks I get from some motel owners in the American outback when I ask if I can use the office line to send email if the room doesn't have a phone. Everyone! has heard of the Internet now. It is amazing how much awareness there is (even if there is little understanding).
Straight, flat, hot. Straight.
I am using a Garmin GPS III Plus on this trip. Handheld GPS devices were
originally based on seaborne navigation ... where there are few curves
or hills, so most, as does the III Plus, still use straight line distances
between waypoints. (As an aside, did you know there is really actually
is a "hill" in the ocean east of Barbados?) Anyway, today I noted this
is the first time the GPS distance to the next town precisely agreed with
the map distance. It was that straight, flat ...
Speaking of GPS, I use Street Atlas (Version 6) to plot and load routes. Each night I download the actual track from the GPS and save it in a map segment. If you have Street Atlas, and you would like to see my actual track, I can mail you the SA6 file (about 20 kb), which when you open it will invoke Street Atlas and display the route. There are some breaks where my track log wrapped over itself, but what is there is pretty accurate. It might work with SA version 5 if you rename the file to SA5, and it should work with Map'N'Go version 4 if you rename it to MN4, but I don't have them with me so I can't test that.
Ridgeview is a small town
like many others where there is a graveyard, more than just a junkyard,
for discarded cars. Ridgeview is unique in my experience. Approaching from
the west I saw the long line of vehicles like so many before, parked in
the tall grass facing the road. Many years ago, someone parked a dead car
beside the house, then another beyond that, then as the years went by ...
the first (furthest) car out away from the house was a early 1980's. Then
there was a string of '70s, then 60s, then 50s!, then 40s!! ... and the
last few were either early 40s or late 30s. Rust across the decades in
Ridgeview - a progression of American motivation in decommissioned vehicles.
This could be a museum, except it is 'real'.
The northeast quadrant of South Dakota is farm country, not plains, so it time for another farm question, eh? Like regional differences in names for soft drinks (soda, pop, fizz ...), carry conveyances (bag, sack, poke ...), and sandwich rolls (submarine, grinder, hoagie ...), farms across America have a colloquial method for baling hay. Some are the familiar brick shape, some are double bricks, some are huge (8 or 10 feet) rolls, some are bread loaf shaped piles. NE SD subscribes to the roll and loaf approach. I saw both in the same fields. So I question, what are the obvious advantages to each that someone would do both?
Evening brought the most
enjoyable pleasure of dining and chatting with LD Rider Mark from Aberdeen.
He took me on some local (straight, flat) roads to a great roadhouse in
the tiny town of Columbia (pop. 120ish). I like a small town with a sense
of humor ... sign: Entering Columbia, next 10 exits
Mark told me wondrous things about Aberdeen. Imagine that this is the place perhaps most distant from every mountain (and ski slope) in America. So where was snow making machinery invented? Yup, you betcha.
Straight, flat, hot. How'd I do describing the day?
FuelPlus 334 miles, 5:16 hours, 64 mph
Interior SD44 SD73 oldSD16 SD63 US212 SD45 SD20 US281 Aberdeen
Immediately east of Aberdeen,
I mean like 10 feet past the city limit, the land looks like Minnesota.
It is not surprising that state boundaries were situated according to some
geographical delineations, like rivers or mountain ridges, but it is surprising
how untrue those boundaries are to the similar aspects of the land. At
times like this (remember, now, I am still locked inside a helmet ...)
I imagine what the US would look like if the state lines were redrawn according
to geographical similarities. Obviously, MN would extend into SD, and SD
would take the non-mountainous area of MT. LA would take part of TX, TX
would become two separate states, CO would start at Denver and end at Salt
Lake, NV would be unchanged.
Hey, this idea is no worse than the gerrymandering that occurs with each census? Remember, Thomas Jefferson thought there should be a revolution every 20 or 25 years just to keep government honest ... geez I hope I get to a curve in the road soon. :)
On an impulse I turned quickly toward the Scenic Byway sign just over the Minnesota border. Minnesota isn't kidding when they say "byway". It was by way of every direction except the one you want to go. All the roads in the little river valley were somewhat circular. If you saw my GPS track, you'd think I was duck hunting.
This is where the GPS really came in handy. Does anyone NEED one? Of course not, but this time when I knew I was lost - I knew exactly where I was. With that and the area detail on the built-in map, I could decide the best direction to head to recover without backtracking ... and that only led to one dead end. :)
Ah, you have to expect some surprises when you are wandering.
Some interesting aspects
to the language difference in Minnesota carry over to their signage. On
the byway there were signs that said "Trucks must not meet on bridge".
Where I come from, that sign would say One Lane Bridge. One is a fact,
the other is sorta saying "you'll be sooooory, you betcha".
How DO Minnesotans draw ooout their "o"s like that? No one thinks they have an accent when they are among their own, but the Minnesotan language even has its own structure. Every sentence is cushioned with a opener and a closer. The clerk at the gas stop said, "Sooooo is it gonna rain on ya then?" And if you are comfortable enough with the structure, you can even leave out the substance and open a conversation with "Soooo then?" I love it. I don't speak it, but I love it.
Coursing through southern Minnesota, it seems this is the Capital capital of America. It is not unusual for towns to have a slogan, indeed it seems every town in central California is "Gateway to ...". Here, the basis is "The ___ Capital". I saw The Cooperative Capital, The Corn Capital, and Watson, The Goose Capital. However, not seeing any birds in Watson ... is that a noun or a verb? Later on I observed Northfield is not a Capital, but an alliterative collection, so said the serious sign sitting silently as a sentinel on the side of the silo: Welcome to Northfield - Cows, Colleges, Contentment.
One of the things about motorcycling
I have described before is the enhanced opportunity to smell the environment.
(Leaving aside the cows for a moment ...) The terrain and its use is much
more varied in Minnesota than in South Dakota. As I rode along I could
smell the fresh turned dirt (what is that 'other' smell? like cabbage?).
As I passed through the shadow of a large tree I could smell the 'greenness'
and the moisture difference in the shade (what IS that other smell? like
sauerkraut?). Then I slowed for the downhill into Henderson, Minnesota.
And all I can say is what luck I have. In the Minnesotan language, that
would be: Soooo, am I lucky or what, then?
I found myself in the middle of Sauerkraut Days - parade, sauerkraut festival, crowning of the Sauerkraut Queen. Ah, what a bright fine day. Sunshine, beer and brats FREE KRAUT!, and a polka band oompahing away in the shade tent. What Minnesotan wouldn't be happy? I asked for a little more kraut on my brat and you would have though I announced I was going to settle here and marry the Sauerkraut Queen. People were excited that a stranger (my "o"s gave it away) liked kraut.
Ah, you have to expect some surprises when you are wandering.
Burping brats (and what IS that smell? :), I rode east until I could smell the countryside again and decided to stop at the next town. It was another pleasant surprise to find the town I had long known of but never visited. Yes, the original First National Bank of Northfield building still stands at 4th and Division, but the museum was already closed. Nonetheless, I think it is fitting that I - a Long Distance Rider - bunk down for the night in the town featured in the movie The Long Riders.
Soooo, goodnight, then?
FuelPlus 319 miles, 5:59 hours, 54 mph average
Aberdeen US12 lost MN7 US212 MN22 MN19 Northfield
Plans (subject to change) Great River Road, diagonal Iowa, Kansas City
"The healthy wayfarer sitting
beside the road scanning the horizon open before him, is he not the absolute
master of the earth, the waters, and even the sky? What housedweller can
vie with him in power and wealth? His estate has no limits, his empire
no law. No word bends him toward the ground, for the bounty and the beauty
of the world are already his."
- Isabelle Eberhardt (b. 1933) American writer
Into every life some rain
must fall. So it finally happened to me today. I rode in the rain for all
of about an hour. Big deal, you say. Of course, for most riders rain is
just another aspect of being involved in the environment - not just observing
it. Some riders are more adept at this particular involvement than others.
For example, Jon Diaz, one of the earliest members of the Internet BMW
Riders, became known as the Rainmaker because it rained at every event
he attended ... for more than a year. Jon is reputed to have had difficulty
finding riding boots to fit his webbed feet ...
My karma is from the dry side of the force ... the hour's worth of rain is the first time for me since January, on the return from Death Valley. And since then I've been to Seattle and New Mexico without wet. In fact, the last time I can remember spending a full day in the rain was around 37,000 miles ago! (The first Wanderlust trip was 9,000 miles from SF to Maine to Texas, having only one rain day - the day I was stopped and visiting in Cincinnati.)
Was I out of practice, no. Did it feel different, yes - but because of the cars, not because of the water. What is it about the synapse challenged among those who drive cars that makes them think turning on their lights in the rain creates a force field around them - and they can drive as though it were dry? As soon as the rain hit and the lights came on, I backed off and gave more space between vehicles. Yet in about 10 miles around Red Wing, I saw three almost-accidents among the prevailingly docile Sunday morning drivers. Being prepared for changed road conditions makes all the difference ... hmmm, maybe I answered my own question in that drivers today do not have to think much. Cars practically do that for them. Riders have to constantly predict, think, act.
By the way, someone wrote to say it seems I am opposed to or have denigrated people who choose cars. That is not my intention, but as we swim through our sea we should be most aware of the fish most likely to bite us. A prevailing cause of motorcycle injuries has been cars turning or 'blending' into the bike's right of way.
Sunday morning in farm country
is slow. Especially when the little old ladies who *really* only drive
the Buick to church are out in force, death grip on the wheel at 30 mph.
I almost hate to pass them even though the limit is 55, because my 'zooming
by' (even at 40) is going to add to the 'those damn bikers' theory. If
they are really slow, I occasionally wave as I pass ... confuses them just
enough to wonder if the person knows them.
Without starting another discussion of who waves and who doesn't, let me observe that some drivers out on the county roads subscribe to the index-finger wave method of greeting as they approach. I associated that with being a Texas custom ... I'll have to notice as I head south.
Passing through small towns, it has gotten to where I can almost tell the denomination of church by the manner of congregation of the crowd after service. If the largest group is orderly, almost in line, and oriented to the front of the church: Baptist. If the groups are spread all around the front lawn, children running everywhere: Catholic. If there is no group, but clusters of people around various cars in the lot: Lutheran.
So many days on the road makes me analyze too much ...
One thing I noticed right
away in the rain was all the other bikes on the road had helmeted riders.
Minnesota does not require helmets, and only the toruing-oriented bikes
seem to have owners who choose them. But in the rain I saw not a single
"wind in the hair", "helmet laws suck", or sleeveless leather vest. As
soon as the sun came out though ... they were everywhere like bugs out
from under a rock. Well, it is Sunday afternoon now, and there are images
to be upheld and burnished. In any case, it is nice to see bikes on the
The Great River Road was a bit of a disappointment. I was under the impression that the roads along the Mississippi were designated as scenic because of their views in following the river, but for most of the time I followed it the river was "over there". With Adam Wolkoff's suggestions I did ride some very nice roads, but broke off after the marked route became a 4-lane. Away from the Mississippi, Minnesota and Iowa farmland is placid and peaceful, but unremarkable for riding. It is not because of the land, like in South Dakota, but because of the farms that the roads are all straight and right angled.
Well, it is a long way yet to Kansas City where a new rear tire is waiting for me (I hope) at Engle Motors. As it approaches 25,000 miles, I'd say this tire has lived a good life, leaving bits of itself across the continent. But for now we have enough of Iowa to absorb (to last a lifetime).
With the late start and the rain ... a shorter day today.
FuelPlus 244 miles, 4:44 hours, 52 mph average
Northfield MN19 US61 MN43 MN16 US52 MN139 IA9 v58 b16 v56 IA24 US63 Waterloo
Slightly longer today ... last report for a little while.
Yawn. Time to get going again.
Another 300 miles to get to Kansas City for the tire appointment tomorrow.
May as well get started. It's riding time ... oh - look! I can't believe
it! The name on the sign of the first street past the motel in Waterloo!
No kidding! It is: Riding Time (Street).
O man, what an omen. :)
But darn, you know sometimes
the luck just doesn't meet your expectations even when you have no expectations.
Here I am passing through Waterloo on the one day of the week the John
Deere tractor assembly factory tour does not run. What luck. I may never
know what I am missing.
Mark, from Aberdeen, wrote to tell me I misunderstood him about the snow making machines. They were not invented there, but they are manufactured there ... and the child in me wonders how are they function tested in summer?
My inner child has much to wonder about on this trip. Not the least of which is how the Internet makes this a live event for me as well as for you. I never met Mark before arriving at his place, and yet it is a meeting of old friends for the first time. The Internet has really only begun to change the way we interact, both with people and institutions. Despite the anarchy and inconsistency of the net, the ability for direct communication to anyone AND everyone at the same time is making a community out of those who wish to be in it. You/we are no longer limited by geography, politics, or history ... this freedom to join or leave a group is unparalleled in former social experiments. (My thanks to all who are still with me.)
Then I start thinking again about how future technology might intrude on our current enjoyments. My laptop can take natural speech dictation, which is amazing enough. What happens when we have a net interface in the helmet? Look at what cell phones do to the average driving "skills" today ... I sometimes wish I could write my thoughts *as* I am traveling, but the thought is frightening.
At my first gas stop in Iowa,
I mused over the sign proudly proclaiming "This station has pumped over
40,000 bushels of corn in the form of Ethanol." Ingenuity and business
development aside, you know, when it gets to the point that we have to
start squeezing it into gas to get rid of it, maybe it is just time to
stop growing so much corn! Ethanol burns, but it produces less energy/mileage,
rots some fuel systems, and needs an added stabilizer to even stay mixed
in the gas. Tell me again why we are pumping bushels? (ok, rant off)
(no, rant on again) Warning - sexist observation follows. I think young female drivers have the potential to be more dangerous to motorcyclists than young male drivers. Three times this morning young females came to an intersection with my road. Each of the three looked in my general direction, then looked away. One of the three allowed the car to roll forward while looking away. Four times young males made a similar approach. Each time they looked at me and held their gaze to watch the bike go by. The females (maybe) see "bike", think nothing of it and go on to whatever is next on the mental agenda. The males see "hey, there's a bike", think about bikes and give focus to the rider for a moment. We need more women to ride motorcycles so more young women pay attention!
(now, rant off)
The welcome sign says "Wind
up in Traer" and it is mounted on a spiral staircase. Traer Manufacturing
is a name that's, um, on an upward spiral in the stair business. There
was even a two story external spiral staircase in front of the office on
Main Street. If this were Minnesota ... Traer would no doubt be the "Spiral
Iowa is the quintessential picture of Americana in the morning. Young boys out of school for the summer "caught" in the chores of cutting grass stop pushing the mower for a moment to watch a motorcycle drift past. Baskets of flowers hang on the front porch swing gently as the woman of the house stretches to reach them with the spout of the watering can. Old men in overalls and tractor caps, long retired from the fields, sit in the shade of the storefront, waiting to see what the day brings. Early summer in middle America is tranquil.
But it occurs to me something is missing in farmland. Back in the western ranchland, every pickup truck had one or more dogs installed. Few to none hereabouts are so. Farm dogs don't travel?
One small town (forgot which) had a lawn 'museum' display of "farm progress since 1920" with various forms of tractors and wagons. That made me think of some of the truly weird equipment I've seen beside the road. If aliens ever want to hide a spaceship, they could park it in any Iowa farm implement lot and it would be weeks before anyone questioned it. One 'device' being driven toward me on the 2-lane road must be used for inspecting full grown corn stalks from the top. Four wheels roughly ten feet apart, and a platform about eight feet high with a cab on top and various trailing deeley-boppers made this mechanical dragonfly look hungry. For the briefest moment that inner child thought it would be fun to zip into the other lane and under through its lane-wide belly. Of course I didn't - for all I know it is the Iowa bike bailing machine ...
Side observation - the tractor may be the farmer's mechanical workhorse, but the new mule is the 4-wheeled motorcycle, the ATV. Every farmer has one!
Amazingly enough, my dry luck hasn't dried up. The morning weather report said a line of severe thunderstorms was pounding Kansas City, moving northeast, and more storms were in Minnesota, moving southeast. I am in the middle moving southwest. Yet, the worst I saw was wet roads where the rain had just ended. When one dark cloud started sprinkling, I stopped for coffee, having a less demanding schedule than the prevailing westerlies.
The conversation often stops
when I enter the cafe. It is not *me*, of course, it is the helmet swung
up and open like that of some riot squad. When a face appears from under
the helmet and behind the glasses, general breathing resumes. Some will
occasionally ask about the riding gear, but a good softener is to unfold
a map at the counter. Almost always, someone asks where ... Today the older
gentleman listened to my loose plans and shook his head. San Francisco
to Louisiana by way of Minnesota? Hey, last time it was San Francisco to
Texas by way of Maine. He gave me a serious look and said, "Boy? WHY do
you even bother with a map!?" I didn't have the heart to tell him about
the GPS ...
(By the way ... try the Garbage Salad in the Albia Cafe, in Albia, of course. It is a garden salad piled with chopped steamed tenderloin steak. Looks just like a steaming garbage heap, and that's what they call it.)
Speaking of the GPS, I found a base map error! Routes 63, 23 and 137 south of Oskaloosa, Iowa are mislabeled. Since I'll be within a parsec of the Garmin home planet in Olathe, Kansas, I may just stop in and let them know.
Centerville centerpunch: Unplanned as this route is, some of the places I 'choose' are vivid surprises. Centerville, Iowa was recently visited by tornadoes. I suddenly found myself crossing the path of destruction. What is most startling is not the intensity of the violence, it is the randomness. On the right, a business which was no longer identifiable was being rebuilt. The building sat with only a few dozen feet separating other buildings - which were untouched. On the left a block long warehouse was exploded from the inside out, gaping and disgorged into its parking lot like a disemboweled 'birth' in the Alien movies. But only the center of the building exploded - the office at the end did not have a window broken. The unpredictability of a tornado must be as frightening as its ferocity.
With geographic precision, immediately after crossing the Missouri border, the road found hills and curves. How do these hills know not to cross the border ... like how does smoke know to not stray into the no smoking section? (Quiet, child!)
Sixth sense in a fifth dimension:
the accident that didn't happen. Good motorcycle riders (or at least those
who ride without crashing) develop a sixth sense. Even more than 'they
do', they must develop it - to survive. (Hmmm. Is it actually a 6th sense?
... can't say I've used 'taste' much while riding, but I digress.) The
sixth sense is awareness, the fifth dimension is probability. Seeing 'what
is' - is not enough. Seeing 'what is' might become is the leverage that
moves the event across reality. I applied the 6th awareness against the
5th probability and created a negative accident - one that had it happened
easily could have been fatal.
Scene: uphill left curve, blind intersection at the top with unseen road angled to right (like an upside down Y). Sunny day, clear dry surface, low traffic. While riding up the hill, leaned over and watching for the end of the curve, the furthest corner of my eye caught a glint, then another. Motion. A car on the now discovered blind road. Quick triangulation predicts similar time arrival - mentally prepare to slow (but no action yet). Now I see the intersection. Now I see the side road has no stop sign. Now I see an oncoming truck just passing the intersection partially in my lane and behind the truck a car (who can't see me) preparing to turn left. The driver of the car from the right is concentrating only on the approaching car. They each cross my path without looking - had I not been ready, both lanes would have been blocked. Unprepared, a panic stop *might* have worked, but seeing something was going to happen, when all the components came into view all it took was a relaxed wrist to control the situation. A slight roll off the throttle (the bike stands up away from the truck) and the drivers never know their carelessness set up a death trap.
Finally reaching the central
river valley, I again meet my old muddy friend from Montana (no, not Duner
:), the Missouri River. I am surprised to see the river road here is marked
Lewis and Clark Trail (along the same route which is also the Santa Fe
Trail). Yes, I know they had to travel to St. Joseph somehow, but it doesn't
seem fair to "trail" the land that was already settled.
Well, enough for a while. I'm going off the air for a couple of days as I visit a frequently frenetic but fully felicitous friend Phyllis, a former fence-news neighbor.
FuelPlus 334 miles, 6:56 hours, 51 mph average
Waterloo US63 IA137 IA5 MO5 MO139 US24 MO7 Blue Springs
"It is well and good to be a seeker, but eventually you must become
a finder ..."
- a quote on Phyllis' wall, from Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Friend Phyllis fed me full of fine food, fabulously fixed, and framed with fancy fixins. Not to mention the Mt. Herman Yummy Bag packed in the saddlebag. (How many people do you know who own their own church?)
On the road again, making
time to Texas, heading for the first annual Avinger Blueberry Fest and
Motorcycle Rally, courtesy of the gentleman blueberry farmer, Herb. Despite
Street Atlas telling me the fastest route is 500+ miles, I am going to
somehow stretch it out to about 650 miles. Perhaps that man back in Iowa
was right about me and maps ...
Again I am holding the bridal train at the wedding of the rain gods - close enough to see everything, but not part of the ceremony. The day before I got to Kansas, Phyllis woke up to the sound of missiles being thrown against her house. She looked out and said the sky was green. It wasn't quite a tornado, but the 80+ mph winds made some new toothpick sculptures out of barns and trees near her. Yesterday, my rest day, it rained enough for frogs to buy boots. Today, I was tailing the trailing edge of the cloudline, never quite wet, but never on dry roads. The one time it started sprinkling, it was suddenly time to delve into the Yummy Bag. Say this should be interesting ... Jon Diaz and me at the same event. Suppose it will rain on one side of the campground?
Because of all the moisture still in the air, a thick damp fog had settled on the bike, coating it with a wet gloss. When I rode away, I saw something I've never heard any other BMW rider talk about. There is a large 4 inch circular "watermark" of the BMW Roundel in the plastic windshield. (The K75 RT has the same windshield as the K1100LT.) I've never seen it in any side light, but it was quite visible in the damp gloss. When the windshield dried from air flow, the watermark disappeared. I rode along trying to look at the windshield from every angle, probably making watchers think I was doing aerobatics on the seat, but I could never see it again.
Speaking of the bike, the tire for which I had called ahead at Engle Motors was not there. Herein lies a tale of good customer service, and no customer awareness. When I walked in and said I had come for the tire, the young man at the parts counter said, "Didn't come. Maybe tomorrow." And went back to his conversation about the weekend with his buddy. I'll spare you the rest of our exchange ... you've probably played Hangman and recognize what happens when someone uses up all his letters - if I had a rope! Then Rick, a BMW rider himself and a man who knows why riders come to his business, talked to me and realized "tomorrow" was shall we say inconvenient? He arranged for another vendor in town to sell the tire I needed, and he saw to it the tire was mounted pronto. He even found it at a significant discount over what he could have sold it. Thank you Rick.
Riding along the gentle rises
of southeast Kansas, every time I crested a hill, I could almost reach
up and touch the clouds. They are so low and they have such flat bottoms
that they are like atmospheric packaging material. Then in Missouri, the
land texture changed with more hills and river valleys, pushing the clouds
higher and roughing them up a little. One thing about the farms around
here surprises me a little. There are quite a few that have llamas in pastures.
I've seen a few large llama ranches out west, but not a small number of
animals on several different farms, like here. Was there a vogue trend
of llama raising that I missed? I haven't heard about them being used for
anything special ... and there sure as hell are not any Himalayas or Andes
in THIS area that need them!
Crossing the border into Arkansas was another magic boundary. Although the Missouri roads are very pleasant, suddenly in the "mozarks" there are twists, turns, and drop offs like the Sierra Nevada foothills. Route 23 south from Eureka Springs is a wonderful road that I found (and was later recommended to me) when I went to the IBMWR Blast To Branson. This was my second passage over it, and yes I still like it, but I did not remember how plastic and tourist-trappy Eureka Springs is. Skip it.
Rolling south on 23, I noticed a turtle crossing the centerline of the road. Thinking first "what a hazard that would be for a bike wheel", then wondering if it was going to make it across, I stopped about 1/4 mile down the road and turned around. One pickup truck had passed in the opposite direction during my deceleration. When I went back to the spot ... there was no turtle. Not on the road, not squashed beside the road, and not visible in the grass. Did it get hit and propelled? Or was it fast enough? We won't ask why did the turtle cross the road.
Dirty, dirty bike. I hope Herb can come through with those cheerleaders he promised would perform a benefit bike wash ...
Blooberries here I come.
FuelPlus 295 miles, 5:53 hours, 51 mph average
Osage City KS31 US59 US54 MO43 MO86 MO37 US62 AR23 Huntsville
Plans - Blueberries, Cajun Country down to Port Barre
"Better far off to leave
half the ruins and nine-tenths of the churches unseen and to see well the
rest; to see them not once, but again and often; to watch them, to learn
them, to live with them, to love them, till they have become a part of
life and life's recollections."
- Augustus Hare, 19th century English writer
It surprises me that I would
remember that passage while traveling through rural Arkansas for only the
second time on a motorcycle. I intentionally repeated a section of AR 23
that I enjoyed when I went to Branson two years ago, but this time I went
further, seeing the same again and learning new at the same time. This
has been great fun. This section of backwoods Arkansas has a ungentrified
ruggedness to it, but not feeling so remote that you worry about finding
necessary amenities. I recommend if you find yourself having to vertically
transverse Arkansas, consider 23, 27, and especially 309 over Mount Magazine
which passes near the highest point in the state. Adding a nice touch,
the edge of the road in many of the valleys are carpeted with "miniature
sunflowers" - small very bright yellow daisies with brown button centers.
In general riding in Arkansas can be described in three ideas: great roads, slow drivers, no passing zones. Ok, there are some passing zones, but not many. Certainly not as many as there are slow drivers. And what's more weird is a line marking system unique to Arkansas. In many places there is a double yellow line with yellow stripes *between* the doubles. So what is it? Left over from a former passing zone that has been 'closed'. Do they mean it is ok to pass if you ride between the double yellows (but officer ...!) ? Are they some kind of 'emergency' passing zone? (I don't think they are leftovers because in some places the stripes are too few to have been a real zone, and the stripes are not aligned where they would have been if the doubles were painted later.) Whatever ... I finally did what I dislike doing. Passed over the line - following at 40 mph in a 55 zone is a safety exposure.
As an aside - a food related note. Huntsville has a nice little local legend in the form of food - Granny's Kitchen. The breakfasts are large and well prepared, but the notable mention is the sweet potato french fries that come with dinner ... I was half hoping for sweet potato hash browns, but (can you believe it?) they never thought of that.
Some passing observations:
apparently this is GoldWing country. Hardly a Harley happened upon the
highway, yet half a dozen times I saw GWs stopped at intersections (talking
to each other on their CBs ... isn't this a bit like using the telephone
to talk to someone in another room of your house?).
How wonderful it is in youth we forget that work and fun rarely mix. I saw four young boys thrilled to be riding on the side of the tractor mowing the great lawn. Chores for them have not yet become chains around their freedom.
With this time being near the American celebration of Independence Day, fireworks are being sold everywhere. Amusingly, one entrepreneur named his stand Black Market Fireworks. Likely true. But as with any competition in supply and demand, the innovations for enticements to get you into the tent are pushing any button they can. Everybody has 'lowest prices!' and many have 'buy 1 get 1 free' (marked up, of course). I saw a new (to me) trick on this theme ... buy 1 get 5 free. Ripping by the stand at 60 miles per hour it was nonetheless clear that they were only sold in 6-packs! (and at that speed I couldn't see the price 'adjustment').
In a small town there is the Memory Lane Cafe ... the street sign said Forgotten Road. I appreciate a sense of self-humor.
A shop advertises "custom slaughtering". Turns out it is a game animal butcher ... but still a surprise to the unexpected.
A man-made lake (bulldozed with a piled berm) has an island in the middle. On the island is a sign liberated from some gas station ... This is a full service island.
Murfreesboro, "The site of
America's Only Diamond Mine" is where I stopped for gas. Upon paying I
was asked by the ladies at the counter if I had been to the mine yet. They
had trouble believing I had taken the road to there without intending to
visit the mine. What do you mean 'it is a nice road'? ... you only use
roads to get somewhere, and the only reason to get here is the mine. Now
I'm not much of a betting man, but I'd bet they have never seen life from
between the handlebars. Behind a steering wheel, every curve is flat, gravel
on the road just makes a funny sound, and you don't consider where to put
your feet when you stop. On a bike you notice the road as much as where
it takes you.
Anyway, I chatted with them about the mine. It costs a few dollars to get into the area ... "mine" is a loose description. You can dig, but it is more a field and rock face. You get to keep whatever you find, and the local paper publishes the finds each week. Most are yellow diamonds, and most are less than 1/4 carat, but some have been several carats. I still declined, saying I'd wait until I needed another wedding ring, then maybe come back. They were aghast. "What if you never need one?" Then I don't need a diamond, do I. The road away from Murfreesboro was as fun as getting there.
One habit of Arkansas drivers
has come to greatly annoy me. When being passed (even legally), these same
slow pokes almost always speed up during the pass. It is not an aggression/prevention
reaction, but it seems more like being passed drives home the message they
were going too slow ... so they rectify that, but at the worst possible
time. Then they tailgate for a short while before falling back to their
habituate molasses pace. In response, I modified my 'pass attack' to be
a rapid acceleration behind them, then a swoop out and back, instead of
pull out, accelerate, pull in. It worked, and as soon as I crossed the
Texas border, the universe rotated ... the drivers let you pass uncontested
and even pull half onto the shoulder without slowing.
This gets to my social philosophy thought of the day. How many times have we heard "driving is a privilege, not a right" ? Bullwheels. Self motion, self transportation from place to place is a right in this country. It comes under the liberty of free association - to go anywhere and be with whom you choose. Some will argue that the 'privilege' is actually the permission to use the public road. Bullwheels. You do not have to earn and hold the privilege to walk on the road, nor to ride a bicycle on the road. If someone were to invent an anti-gravity conveyance that did not touch the road surface ... would this intersect with the 'privilege'? No, folks, I am not going to rant against government like Jan Hofman does in his Luddite Screed, but after seeing so many poor drivers and so many great roads that have been limited to speeds and uses guaranteed to not rattle the dentures of the worst driver, I'd like to see the 'privilege' extended and enhanced for those who can prove they earn it ... have multi level driving/riding skill tests, and let those who prove themselves run higher speeds, pass on shorter 'no zone' stretches, and go to the head of the line. We should all have equal opportunity to prove our skills, but we do not drive/ride equally ... we should not be treated equally.
Finally, clearing Texarkana, the last 50 miles went poof in Texas style. This is Texas, where pizza deliveries often go farther than that. The tiny town of Avinger is home to huge hearted Herb and Wilma, who grow friendship along with their business on the Texas Blueberry Farm (and it is also a 'two wheels only' motorcycle campground). If you find yourself anywhere within a 'Texas distance' of Avinger in June or July when the berries are ripe, you must stop and pick some. Where else have you ever been that you are *encouraged* to sample as you walk through the field, so you can be sure you are getting the taste you want from the four different bush types? Herb and Wilma are real people, and I thank them for this crazy event ... even the blueberries and grits for breakfast.
FuelPlus 316 miles, 5:55 hours, 54 mph average
Huntsville AR23 AR309 AR10 AR27 AR355 US67 TX8 TX155 Avinger
Two thousand one hundred
eighty seven blueberry plants produce a lot of berries. We didn't stand
a chance. We ate and ate and ate until Robert's beard turned blue (really!
there are pictures!), but still they ripened faster than we could pick
them. I thought Herb was going to be cleaned out when he offered "all you
can eat or carry". Not a chance.
The First Annual Texas Blueberry BlastRallyBlowout is history, and so are around 100 pounds of berries. About 60 or so people showed up - the many dogs running around didn't sign in, but it was a fun, festive, and feisty time. Thanks again to Herb and Wilma, and to Herb's brother (I hate it when I forget names, but I did) who cooked a 20 gallon pot of jambalaya stirring with a canoe paddle.
An impromptu awards ceremony gave me the 1st prize as the longest distance rider to attend. Since there were no actual prizes, we decided I could keep myself as the prize. But then the next four (impromptu) prizes were awarded to women ... and *they* decided they would keep me as the prize also. It was fun for a while, but when they started arguing about which order they would take 'their prize', then started making a schedule ... I admit I did get a wee bit concerned. I could envision the scene from the movie Little Big Man where a proud Indian boasts "I have a wife and four horses". Little Big Man, bemused at himself for this is a monogamous tribe, responds "I have a horse and four wives". Thank you Helen, Cissy, Julie, and Karen for the best night that never happened :)
One more anecdote to show how laid back a group this was, about 10:30 at night Herb got a message from one of the campers. "Herb, one of the toilets is stuck. And, oh, by the way, my wife went for a walk in the blueberries about an hour before sundown, and she isn't back yet ..." Shortly after the blueberry rescue squad raced off in a golf cart, the Avinger police pulled in with the 'missing person'.
It is getting to be that
when I am more than two days off the bike I start feeling withdrawal pains.
Maybe it is just my bottom readjusting to non-saddle shaped chairs ...
but ride I must and so I did. A short hour later (less if I had been 'driving
Texan' but it was too pleasant to rush), yet another magic state boundary
was crossed. A quarter mile past Welcome to Louisiana, there were greenwater
swamps with broad bottom cypress interspersed with oil derricks. Maybe
these state lines do make some sense after all.
The AAA tour book description of California starts "California is a state of mind ...", but I've seen that apply time and time again to many states. And minds. Texas is up, active, moving, happening. Louisiana is laissez faire, happily slow, relaxed. Rolling down the Texas 2-lane, you pass enterprising men setting up trucks full of bulging watermelons on a hot holiday. You pass a teenage girl in short shorts and white bobby socks (I didn't know bobby socks were still popular) energetically washing the family car. You even pass a dozen vultures roosting on a deer carcass, having their own food festival.
Luzian, by contrast, is not only listening to a different drummer, it is a slow drum roll. Old ladies sit on porches fanning themselves. Patrons at the gas stop saunter along the shaded path to the clerk rather than the direct route in the sun. Even the vultures have dragged their find into the bush to avoid the heat. Time is graceful here.
Business road signs remind me of a common southern practice, but one that I associate with Louisiana. Some men here have initials ... but no name. The sign says C.L. Smith, or W.B. "dub" James (dub, short for double-u). The manager at one of my first jobs was W.L. Jacobs, also known as Dub, who was from Baton Rouge and really had no name, just initials.
With all the moisture in
the air, afternoon thunderstorms are common. It was fun to sprint through
a couple of small cloudbursts, picking up the feet and tucking the head
behind the windscreen, not dressed for water but not getting wet. If you
go fast enough on a bike, especially a BMW with a fairing, you only get
wet when you stop. But sometimes the clouds sneak up on you. I was looking
up at a dark cloud while riding to gauge whether I should stop and let
it pass, face shield slightly open, when suddenly it cut loose with thumb-sized
rain drops. The first one went right up my nostril and liked to wash out
my ears from the inside. (Good thing I wear ear plugs. :) I mean I almost
choked trying to woof that back out. I've heard that turkeys are stupid
enough to drown while trying to drink in a heavy rain ... all I was doing
was looking, but I felt like a turkey anyway.
Louisiana road sign: It is illegal to track mud on the highway.
So here I sit at the edge of a channel to the Atchafalaya River, in the heart of Cajun country, at the home of Bud - another IBMWR long rider, watching small green puffer lizards blow red sacks on their neck, tropical birds competing with singing insects for claim to the quiet. What a long strange trip this has been. It is life by motorcycle. It feels good.
"Going up that river was
like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation
rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great
silence, an impenetrable forest ... The broadening waters flowed through
a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in
a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel
until you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything
you had known once - somewhere - far away - in another existence perhaps
... I got used to it afterwards."
- Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) Russian-born English writer
Mine is the river of the black ribbon of road.
FuelPlus 273 miles, 5:19 hours 52 mph average
Avinger TX49 LA2 LA1 US71 LA1 US71 LA29 LA182 US190 Port Barre
We are so foolish in believing
we can control nature. Temporarily redirect it, perhaps, but mostly it
is merely a delay in the long patient cycle of time the planet will follow
with or without the "carbon based units" on its surface. Whut? I am talking
about the futile attempt of Louisiana and the Army Core of Engineers to
keep the Mississippi River in its current channel. It is only a matter
of time before New Orleans (currently at 7 feet *below* the river bottom)
becomes New Atlantis, and the Mississippi becomes a tributary to the Atchafalaya.
Riding up the levee from Batchelor, it is obvious that the 6th Great Lake
is just waiting to happen ... all it will take is for one gate to fail
under pressure ... and when that happens, Bud is going to have a prime
perch for viewing the birth of the new Louisiana from his dock and deck.
The area between the great rivers is called the Morganza Spillway. Doubtless it has seen many floods, but it is poised to be sacrificed in overflow in an attempt to appease the river gods when they become angry. Along the fertile flatlands, there are many old and stately homes. I stopped in the shade of huge old moss covered tree to study the worn boards on the unrefurbished but still functional great house of the Taylor Plantation, built circa 1830. It looked content, though tired. It looked as though little could impress it from today's world. It looked annoyed at having the satellite TV dish hanging off its side.
This area of the west bank of big Miss is just across from the Angola State Prison, where there is an annual prisoner rodeo unlike any other in the US, indeed if any others even have rodeos. It is the inmate version of "x-games" and is billed as the ultimate testosterone test ... such as having four men sit with their hands on a red table. An angry bull is released into the pen. Last man with his hands on the table wins. I'd like to come back sometime to see the events, not for the bloodsport, but to see how men who believe they have nothing to lose push themselves to win.
Anyway, the Louisiana correctional system still uses road work to occupy idle hands. It was a eerie encounter to pass the Inmates Working sign on what was otherwise an idyllic backroad and slowly roll between two rows of men working the shoulders of the narrow road. They were not physically chained, but the difference is merely semantic. One of the men paused to watch me approach. He waved a slow open palm sweep that was a combination greeting, entreaty, and recognition of my ability to pass. I wondered how the winding out of the exhaust note as I coursed up through the gears might have drawn at their spirit, like a train disappearing into the night. For much of the day I thought: What is freedom?
(One thing I know for certain ... if California used the same sign with road crews, they would all be stolen. "Inmates Working" would be a prize in most of the offices where I served time.)
A hand lettered sign in the
window of a convenience store deep, deep in the bayous, obviously showed
the excitement with which it was written. Large, unmissable neon color
paper, giant letters, many underlines and exclamation marks - even an asterisk
or two ... We NOW have CRICKETS!!! It makes me consider whether the bait
is more successful getting the fish into the bucket or the fisher into
Go west, young man. So shall this older man. The turnpoint came in a town that tells in its name what it is as where it is: Frogmore, Louisiana. Surprisingly, Frogmore Farms does not grow more frogs, but more cotton. The 1800's cotton plantation there has a guided tour of the preserved buildings.
Louisiana gets the (whump) unchallenged award for the consistently worst road surface (whump) condition. In (whump) New England we knew them as "frost heaves", but I can't (whump) imagine it stays cold enough here for them to be caused by (whump) frost, so are they heat heaves? All over the (whump) state, on major highways and backroads, these (whump) bumps/lumps are randomly (whump) spaced, ground off in an attempt to smooth (whump) them, and annoying as hell. Louisiana politics is legendary (whump) for 'special consideration' in the award of contracts, but (whump) I'd like to devise some special (whump) torture for the construction owner who profited from this (whump) incompetence in road building. Everytime your (whump) attention strays from choosing a (whump) line through the surface to gaze at the scenery, you get (whump) whumped.
It amazed me how quickly the land changed from swamp to forest in the northern half of the state, and more amazing were the righteous peg scrapers that do exist here! LA126 from Jonesville to Grayson sashays and sways through a pine forest like the skirt on the hips of a southern flirt and gives a welcome relief to the pressure on the center of your tires. None of the LA riders I've talked to so far have mentioned this ... maybe they need a little discovery tour.
All of the list members who have given me information or met me along the way have been warmly friendly and helpful, but my reputation preceded me when I rode into Ruston - the Marshall was waiting for me! Luckily, though, the man behind the badge and under the cowboy hat was IBMWR President Mike Hilton, who had been corralled by LD Rider Steve Wilson & Son (Chris) to meet me for dinner. Thanks guys ... and from the look on & Son's face, I'd say the urge toward the long ride is genetic.
FuelPlus 233 miles, 4:48 hours, 49 mph average
Port Barre US190 LA88 LA77 LA10 LA1 LA418 LA15 LA565
LA129 US84 LA126 US165 LA4 LA146 Ruston
For some reason, despite
the pleasantness of the scenery and the whumpless condition of the road,
my mind never captured specifics about the day's travels. Lots of mental
road debris kicked up and pelted the windshield of my mind, but nothing
stuck. Maybe that's not so bad after all ... cleaning bug splatters on
the bike is bad enough.
Perhaps I am subliminally affected by the new direction - the sun is in my mirrors in the morning. It means I am headed somewhere familiar.
"The road was new to me, as roads always are, going back."
- Sarah Orne Jewet (1840-1909) American writer
Yesterday I reported about
the heat heaves in Louisiana roads. From whump to whump I kept thinking
"get me outta this state". I eagerly watched the state line get closer
on the GPS ... and wouldn't you know, the last 6 inches of LA pavement
had a final farewell whump. And not another one since. I would have said
it sure isn't the weather that is a difference ... but as soon as crossing
into Arkansas I noticed there was no standing water and the humidity dropped
perceptibly. Even though the temperature increased through the morning,
it felt less palpable at 99F-Arkansas than it did at 89F-Louisiana.
When you spend hour upon hour, day after day doing the same thing, unless your brain is burned out by repetition, you - or at least I - notice the slightest anomaly in the continuum. Wise riders do not let sleeping anomalies lie, but in retrospect it is amusing to watch my own mind attack, recoil, and counterattack something obscure simply for it's difference: when I started the engine both turn signal arrow lights came on at the same time - but only when the starter button was pressed. Now, I've been on the BMW mailing list for many years and I have never heard this discussed (and believe me every screw, washer, and nut on a BMW has been discussed at some time).
Panic, of course. I had just stumbled upon the first new electrical failure warning signal found in the 14 years since K bikes were introduced ... so I analyzed as I rode. And analyzed and rode. The mechanics mantra is: check first what you last 'fixed'. What had I done? Nothing. Even as incompetent as I can be, checking air in the tires is not going to cause lights to go wonky. What? What? Hmmm. Noticed that as soon as I turned on the turn signal it shut off. Aggg. It is falling apart! No - wait. All it seems is the shut off switch is stuck. Ah ha. The last 'fix' was to wash the bike (never do that again! ... just kidding). Soap must have gunked the switch. But now I know a new trick ... hold in the shut off switch when you start or stop the engine and both the turn signals will energize. Ungunk is one of the few things I do not pack ... oh well.
Other small things stand out today. I pulled up to the head of a line waiting on the grade for a closed train crossing. Although it is reputed to be 'unaccepted practice' in this part of the country, for safety sake I didn't want to be the only vehicle waiting in the middle of the road, and if I had to cut in somewhere, it may as well be the front. So I stopped beside the first car. The window was open. I said hello to the driver and asked how long the wait usually was. She said "Not long. Air Force?". Excuse me? She made a motion like putting on a glove. Ah. In summer I wear military pilot gloves for riding. She noticed that small detail, but the gates were up before we could continue - so I "flew" away.
Life in small town America
is romanticized by city dwellers as the missing past, the innocence of
simplicity. Yet while it is peaceful compared to the aggressive bustle
of urban density, the people I have observed are not romantic peasants
playing, planting, and praying in some predestined pageant. They are scraping
to put together a comfortable condition in difficult circumstances. Many
of the smaller towns, the kind that dot the roads I favor, have lost population
as small scale manufacturing was lost to the economy of mechanization and
the economics of mergers. Those who are left are not desperate, but are
determined to made the best with what is left. I doubt they would trade
their lot for a cramped condo and a congested commute in the big city,
but neither would the romantics find solace in their idealism should they
have to trade places.
We are lucky to have the ability to choose for ourselves. We are luckier still to have chosen something satisfying to our self. Just be careful what you ask for.
Traveling north and west
in Arkansas, the roads subtly become increasingly involved until what seems
suddenly, they abound in curves. Being lulled into inattention is dangerous,
but I responded to the subtle alerts when my continuous road handling feedback
loop noticed I was having to make mid-curve corrections in angle or speed.
All sensors were realigned (Captain Piccard would only have demanded a
Level 2 Diagnostic for these discrepancies) and the voyage continued.
Someone else wasn't paying attention, though. Within 15 miles of each other I saw two 18-wheelers that failed to make a curve. One was a box trailer on its side, accordioned into a hillside. It must have happened a while ago because there was little activity around. But the second was fresh. A logging truck slipped off an outside edge. The load was thrown like matchsticks, and the cab was ground down from being dragged by the load. Police were everywhere. The driver was sitting beside the road with a neck brace. Oil was slowly seeping across the road.
A little girl watching from her yard ran up to me when I stopped. She said "you can go through. bikes are ok!" Thank you, kid, you got the right idea ... but she meant bikes could fit past the wreck. Despite the frantic waving of the officer in dark camouflage with *two* hip pistols, I refused to follow his directed path through the seeping oil. I rode on the most extreme edge of the shoulder grass. He was, shall we say, not pleased. I cared more about remaining vertical than his, uh, line of authority.
A service appointment is
made for my bike in Lubbock, so why am I now in Arkansas? Because after
zipping through this area three times in a hurry to be somewhere else,
it is time I rode the Talimena Trail from Talihina OK to Mena AR. (Actually,
I will be riding from Mena to Talihina, so does that make it the Menahina
Meander instead? :) After all, I am on a 'wander', so what's a couple hundred
more miles. Well, it was not to be today. The weather which has let me
enjoy dry travel decided it would claim the mountains this afternoon. Seeing
I could not see the peaks of my passage subsumed into the line of darkening
thunderheads, I circled the wagons early.
Arkansans are rightfully proud of their state. The steak house menu said "Arkansas strip steak 10.95, New York strip 99.95". I asked what would happen to the price if Hillary became the Senator from New York. The cashier said "How do you think we are paying for the campaign."
FuelPlus 226 miles, 4:38 hours, 49 mph average
Ruston LA146 US79 US371 US286(was AR4) US59 Mena
Way down yonder on the Indian Nation ...
These short days are killing
me. Having been a marathon runner, I always hated doing sprints - not because
I couldn't do them decently but because it seemed a waste of energy to
put so much effort into covering such a short distance. So it is now when
I only grind out little more than 200 miles in a diurnal period. Does the
oil even get hot if I use less than one tank of gas in a whole day? Yeah,
I know ... stop and smell the roses. But a nostril can only take so much
before it wants to "put the petals to the metal", so to speak.
My "normal" mode of preferred travel would zip off between 750 and 900 miles. Nice round destinations ... San Francisco to Tucson - 850, SF to Salt Lake - 765, SF to Seattle - 810. All in a day's ride. But at the end of 220 miles, why am I so bedraggled? It must affect the male body like the way women's shopping patterns fatigue most men. Has anyone done a study of female riding patterns to see if there is a correlation?
Well, I can't really complain. The foot dragging is because Lubbock isn't getting any farther away, and my appointment is set. But at least I did have a surplus of wonderful places to stop. The Talimena Scenic Byway (more commonly known as the Talimena Trail, although the road actually follows the Ouachita Trail) is everything the Blue Ridge Parkway (BluRP) should be, but isn't. The BluRP is one of those 'mystical' motorcycle roads everyone (who has not ridden it) dreams of riding. Everyone should ride the BluRP once - to get it out of your system. Then ride the good roads like the Talimena.
The Talimena, unlike the BluRP, has views as you ride along, not just at stops. The Talimena, unlike the BluRP, is signed for greater than granny speed - 55 instead of 35. The Talimena, unlike the BluRP, has frequent passing zones. And most importantly, the Talimena, unlike the BluRP, does not have a federal revenue collector behind every tree. This is a fast road that, unlike the BluRP, you don't *have* to ride fast for it to be interesting.
The road surface was playing
tricks on me, though. Because I was enjoying the scenery, I kept getting
mental warning jolts while doing abbreviated scans of the road surface.
It appeared to be moderately strewn with sharp, pointed, black triangular
stones and my automatic reaction was to avoid each one. Good thing. They
were dark wing butterflies with their wings up and together after alighting
on the road to feed on something. Hundreds of them. The passing wind of
the bike would swirl them up and spiral them out behind me, undamaged,
to float away.
Somehow crossing the border from Arkansas to Oklahoma made me feel like I was in "the west" again. I associate Arkansas with being an eastern state while Oklahoma is 'Indian Territory', place of the great land rush, and source of the dust bowl migration - all things which root in western history. There is no obvious demarcation, but it felt real enough. And the melodious names of the towns called from native languages: Talihina, Kiowa, Wapanucka, Tishomingo (the Capital of the Chickasaw Nation). The land between the mountains began to clear into horse plains as I continued west, and the oak trees resumed their stately staggered staccato across the hillsides which I found reminiscent of California.
Talihina High School is the well marked "home of the golden tigers". Unfortunately, whoever painted those giant yellow paw prints along the road into town, and up to and onto the building, should have consulted a local tracker - or perhaps there are no golden tigers to study ... the paw print outline used is that of a canine, not a feline. The pads are arranged differently. Ooops.
Like that 'one unexpected dirt road' in each trip, it never seems to fail that I always encounter at least one roaring 18-wheeler way out in the boonies where you would think it would not fit. I took a secondary state highway toward Kiowa. It was so narrow that all the bridges were marked one lane, had no center line, and most even had wooden cross-plank 'tracks' for the tires. Where the road was straight it was more like one and a half lanes wide. Bingo. Chugging around the bend comes this monstrous cab-over. Wasn't nearly as much fun as the time a logging truck did a locked brake drift around a corner into my lane on the Lost Coast ... but this was fun enough. After that I tried hard not to think about the bridges I was about to cross (from whence he had come) that specified a load limit: Maximum 5 tons.
FuelPlus 220 miles, 4:17 hours, 52 mph average
Mena AR88/OK1 AR63 US69 AR131 AR31 AR48 AR7 AR99 AR199 Ardmore
"Welcome to Wilson Oklahoma,
the Home of Chuck Norris"
Son of a gun, you mean the Texas Ranger came from across the Red River? Is nothing sacred anymore? Well, at least the river is really red. So red it looks like blood when the morning sun glints on the wind waves. And the wind. The wind! Yes, this is Texas again. Where the wind blows whether it suns or snows. If 'prairie schooners' had been invented here, they definitely would have developed sails. As it is, the wind always blows south to north, and my Texas travels are always east-west or west-east, so other than wearing out one side of the tires, it doesn't affect mileage much.
Animal observations this morning: big black buzzards brunching on broken bodies (roadkill). Why does one *never* see a dead vulture? Are vultures cannibals? Or just immortal?
On a more pleasant thought, I have seen many horses seeming to have private conversations. They usually stand with their back to the wind, but with heads close and low, as if whispering. Often they face in different directions, neck to neck, again appearing to whisper to each other. Contrast this with cows who cluster in a klatch to chat 'n' chew. Cows must be gossips. Horses are so much more discrete.
North central Texas is fairly heavy with Mesquite trees. These wizened wind warriors are squat against the land, and well dug in with incredible roots. I once saw a mesquite growing on the hillside that had been washed away by a creek, exposing the root. The hill was 50 or 60 feet high, and that root extended down a good 40 feet. Want to give a nasty assignment to someone? Tell them to dig out the root of a mesquite ...
Texas has recently returned to allowing motorcyclists to ride without helmets. Many people consider this aspect of motorcycling an elemental issue of freedom of choice ... and in a way so do I. I have always espoused the choice: Let those who have a brain protect it. :) Even if you never have an accident, I can't imagine riding without facial protection. If you had seen the look on that grasshopper's face - you would have understood. He wasn't wearing a helmet; I was. I survived. He didn't. . . . but what a mess. Things are bigger in Texas, even the grasshoppers. Man, I've seen birds smaller than that! He hit my faceshield with such force that it bent in and popped out of my helmet. Go ahead, if that is your choice, ride without a helmet. Just keep your mouth closed.
Well, that's it. The west
Texas plain has finally bested me. There is nothing to write about. 70
miles an hour for an hour and you are looking at the same sky, the same
farmland, and the same towns floating by. Towns where "The Last Picture
Show", a movie about small towns dying in Texas, never played because the
town died first. Towns where no one even bothers to put up 'available'
signs on the boarded fronts, if they bother to board them at all. Towns
where the speed limit no longer slows for passing through. This area is
so sparse, it appears the entire 30 mile by 30 mile square Kings County
has only one town in it - the 'country seat' of Guthrie. (My map shows
the dot of Dumont on the Dickens County line, but where in the dickens
it really is doesn't matter. 900 very empty square miles are still very
After a lifetime on the motorcycle seat, the plains begin to break into buttes and arroyos. The land is slowing climbing and drying. My GPS altimeter claims 3000 feet. I see no other motorcycles out here and have seen precious few since leaving the middle of the country. I can understand it being too hot here or too humid in Louisiana for local casual riders, but neither are there tourers about. Have I succeeded in taking the proverbial 'road less traveled'? Lubbock finally lurks into view. This is the beginning of the high plains, and the location of the day's target, aptly named High Plains BMW, where my faithful steed will enjoy a day's rest and pampering after happily humming past the 60,000 mile mark.
Sometimes I wish there was a way to reward an inanimate object for exemplary service. In the case of a motorcycle, I think the reward is to use it.
FuelPlus 314 miles, 5:19 hours engine, 60 mph average
Ardmore US70 AR79/TX79 US82 TX114(forever) Lubbock
Plans? across New Mexico to US666, north through Cortez to Paonia
Happy bike. Very happy bike. Primped and pampered by professionals, it rejuvenated itself and was growling to run again. High Plains BMW is a hidden jewel in the vast expanse of the delta quadrant of Texas. I highly recommend them for their precision, their friendliness ... and their donuts (on Saturday, anyway). I mean, really, what can you say about an exclusively-BMW shop with four employees who have titles instead of names. There are the two owners - The Janitor and The Safecracker, and their helpers, The Padre, and The Grandpa. This is the kind of place where a crowd shows up to sit and watch whatever work is being done. Fun.
Just after punching 'send'
on the Lubbock segment, I moseyed across the corral to the steakhouse,
walked in, and heard the opening strains of a familiar country song ...
"And the wayward wind is a restless wind,
a restless wind that yearns to wander ..."
Yes, I still have the yearn, but I have yet to learn what makes me want
to. So I ask you, when is a voyage of discovery complete? when it discovers,
or when it ends? Whatever .... there is no end to the plains. West of Texas
is more of what should have been Texas. East New Mexico is gas fields,
oil fields, and plain plains. Eau du sulfur, extraordinairre! At least
it is fast.
Watching the weather channel as I travel, I have been expecting to get my 'comeuppance' regarding rain. But no. This trip is still charmed. There was a band of gully whumping thunderstorms in northern New Mexico, and enough rain to raise the Gulf of Mexico in southern Texas ... and this tiny leeetle band of dry in an arc between. Bisected by US82, which I randomly chose to enter New Mexico. But with my late start after the service at High Plains, it was getting dark after only 150 miles ... which happened to correspond with the gathering storms. A safe ensconcement in Artesia, New Mexico let me watch it rain all night. (And 'enjoy' yet another steak house. Oh what I would do for sushi ... that actually came from the ocean.)
Lubbock TX179 US82 Artesia (NM)
Sunshine awaited me yet again
when the forecast was for scattered disgruntlement. On this bright Sunday
morning, every church yard was parked to overflowing into the highway ...
of course this is the *only* highway for 50 miles north or south ... so
the churches have somewhat of a captive audience. Motoring though Cloudcroft
(a crafted name if ever I heard one), it was cool enough in the clouds
to croft on some heavier clothing. Cloudcroft is celebrating its one hundredth
year - and it surprises me for the next several days to see the towns in
this area were only settled within the last 100 to 120 years.
Sixteen miles west of Cloudcroft the road has dropped 4,500 feet into Alamogordo. That's a 6% grade, and about a 20% rise in temperature. In Alamogordo, I arranged to meet IBMWR President Karen, who laments being between hither and yon that few come this way to ride. We rode. We rode to aptly named Sunspot, the location of the helioscope solar observatory. Selected for its location because of almost always sunny days and being away from air pollution, on this day Sunspot was lost in the clouds ... and they were burning forest cuttings, making the air murky. What irony.
Karen is a self proclaimed Tome of Triviality ... but she is nonetheless a fountain of fun, if frivolous, facts. She told me Alamogordo means Fat Cottonwood. Leading me, she pointed out the only vehicle tunnel in New Mexico ... the highest elevation golf course in North America, and a real treat ... the original home and museum of Smokey Bear (who was a real bear found after a forest fire) in Capitan, New Mexico. I'm glad to see Capitan has built itself to honor its claim to fame and not become a commercial concentration ... as Smokey would say, "Remember, only You can prevent tourist traps."
On the way to Capitan I mused that I am getting quite good at targeting the 3-inch wide binding strips that hold cattle guards together. If you aim for the middle, like most riders do, the girders can be quite a jolt. I've been learning to line up my wheels with the off-center binders, and take them smoothly. It was here that I saw a cattle guard with an -open- gate beside it. The sign over the gate said "For Emergency Use Only". It was enough of a shock to surmise that cows can read (Gary Larson / Far Side ... where are you?), but for the next hour I pondered what constitutes a cow emergency that the bovine bypass would require?
I really have to applaud riders like Karen who are committed to a brand of motorcycle despite the odds. The closest BMW dealer is over two hours away, and the preferred dealers are more like 300 miles away. It makes me feel lucky again to know that within 100 miles of my house there are *eleven* BMW dealers. (Although, unfortunately, the closest one in San Francisco is one I would not recommend to even my worst enemy. If they are your only choice ... sell the bike.)
FuelPlus 311 miles, 6:26 hours engine, 49 mph average
Artesia US82 Alamogordo (then Sunspot, Ruidoso, Capitan, Carrizozo, and back)
In a segment of my WanderLunch
trip, I opened by saying New Mexico backroads are the reason I ride motorcycles.
That was written about northwestern New Mexico, but southwestern NM is
equally a land of enchantment riding. From FatCottonwood, I passed the
secret everyone knows, Holloman Air Force Base where the stealth 09r49049lkcoi)*?)&(&^^$#llnjcdojr
... (we now return you to your regularly scheduled story), and the white
sands of (what else?) White Sands National Monument which mark the edge
of the flat basin terrain below the Rockies. Here the mountainous west
rises, and here so do my spirits.
Across the Rio Grande and a right turn sent me north along the river into chile. Not the country ... the pepper. Chile farm after chile farm ... from Las Cruces to Hatch (The Chile Capital) is where those trademark sun dried New Mexico strands of red death to taste buds come to life. Riding along between the fields is like throwing a handful of crushed reds into the air. It brought a tingling warmth to the nostrils. How wonderfully enveloping it is to ride through!
Just north of Radium Springs,
tight between the hills and the river, is a Border Patrol checkpoint. This
being the only paved road running north (other than the Interstate) it
is a perfect location for interdiction barely 30 miles from the border.
As I slowed, I couldn't help but think how the field workers just over
there felt working in the shadow of La Migra. There was one young officer
on duty. He asked the typical simple but probing questions, which I must
admit were difficult to answer.
"Where did you come from?" Well, that depends. Alamogordo this morning, before that, Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana ....
"Uh, ok, where are you headed?" Well, I'm not sure. Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada ...
He stepped back for a moment, looked me up and down, and said, "If you don't mind me asking, what drives you to do this?" Tough question. For a second, but only a second, my mind was blank. Then I answered: I am a traveler. It doesn't matter as much where I go, but that I go.
He shook his head and waved me on. But it brought to mind an item from my traveler's quotes.
"The journey not the arrival matters."
- T. S. Elliot (1888-1965) American born English poet
Yesterday I mentioned Karen
thinking she was in the middle of nowhere. She is close ... but here in
the western foothills, at the intersection that carries the name of a nonexistent
town of Nutt, there is the Middle Of Nowhere Bar. And as a final touch
from the kiss of desolation, it is abandoned.
Been watching the weather lately? The southwest is under a monsoonal air flow. Las Vegas is issuing water wings to all residents, and desert lakes dry for years are being eyed by speculators for dockside marina condos ... it is 85, sunny, and clear. A beautiful day to run through gorgeous country on the Geronimo Trail - one of the twistiest roads I've ever met. In the 22 straight line miles from Hillsboro to San Lorenzo, NM152 covers 33 road miles. That is 50% squiggle factor! And it makes for 100% giggle factor. These curves are so tight, I was watching the GPS indicator spin in 180 degree increments. It usually notches its way around a turn, but some of the turns were less distance than the GPS precision measurement, so when it next sensed itself - it was traveling in the opposite direction.
Next on the moto-vational agenda was NM35, the road to the Gila Cliff Dwellings, which is about 40 miles. The beginning of the route is marked "2 hour travel time, monument open 8-5". In a car, or an RV, those two hours up and two hours back are a marginal trade for the result of touring the dwellings. But on a bike, oh joy, those same 45 minutes :) :) each way are an exquisite trade for the time - whether you tour the dwellings or not. The road climbs and twists along the Mogollon Rim with look-down-on-the-world views that rival Blue Canyon in California. The road surface is gloriously clean and even, and its curves are as tight and smooth as those on a Las Vegas showgirl. To paraphrase a Seinfeld shopping commercial, Do I like riding? Oh Yessssss.
In keeping with the good travel omens received so far, my motel selection for the night in Silver City just happened to be: The Drifter.
FuelPlus 293 miles, 6:07 hours engine, 48 mph average
Alamogordo US70 NM185 NM26 NM27 NM152 NM35 NM15 Silver City
Ah, jeez, what kind of penance am I going to have to do after this trip? Another brilliant sunny morning when the forecast called for Noah to book the entire Princess Cruise Lines fleet. Oh, well, you expect it, so off I go.
First act is a donut shop. Scene1 - Traveler enters left.
No one at counter. Woman in floured apron comes from back.
Woman: "Mornin'. Whatcha want."
Traveler: "I'd like a coffee and a couple of donuts."
W: "We don't have any donuts. Got some eclairs, fritters, and pastries."
T: "A donut shop without donuts?"
W: "They don't sell, so we stopped making them."
Traveler now sees a tray of donut holes and decides to have fun.
T: "Where are the donuts you took those holes from?"
Woman, perplexed, looks at donut ... err, donutless case. Turns and shouts.
W: "Hey Martha, we got any donut dough left?"
Mumbled response comes from in back. Woman realizes what's up.
W: "Sorry, we only make holes. Have a pastry and I'll put a hole in it."
A current business homily says - when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Barely beyond the Silver
City limit, the Continental Divide passes between Bear Mountain and Burro
Mountain. When I cross the divide, I always feel a rush, like I am in the
'real' west, my west, the west I know well (although there is much yet
to see). Knowing now that the rivers I see will flow with me to the Pacific
gives me a feeling of being pointed in the right direction. There is no
significance to it, of course, but there is no significance to any of this
trip ... a trip really takes place only in one's mind.
" . . . once you have traveled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers . . . the mind can never break off from the journey."
- Pat Conroy (b. 1945) American writer
Proving again that civilian
handheld GPS devices are not quite accurate enough to deliver wartime arsenal,
I went off the end of the world, then went around the edge of the world
later. I found two more base map errors. One has NM78 ending at Mule Creek.
(If you stop there you will miss a wonderful descent through the pine forests
into the copper canyons of Arizona.) The other is in the copper canyons,
where the track I followed (i.e. staying on the pavement) went west of
the mapped road by about two miles. You see, there is this little obstacle,
known as the mile deep Phelps-Dodge open pit copper mine. An awesome sight,
and a monument to the hubris of man. Not only did they literally move the
mountain, but they rerouted the road over to the undesirable digs. I have
seen what I remember is or was the world's largest open pit mine in Bisbee,
but this is even more impressive because you see an entire mountain sliced
in half from top to bottom.
The trucks used to port the ore are the incredible 60-cubic-yard(?) haulers with wheels 20 feet high. Traffic is stopped at the highway when they approach (lotsa momentum there!), and to keep others out of their roadway, there are "fences" of several rows of tractor truck tires laid out on the ground. Even a off-road 4-wheel drive would have trouble hopping them. The haulers cruise over the tire fences like you would over a garden hose. Just crush and roll. (Rock n roll? :)
A disturbing trend is appearing.
New Mexico on that wonderful Geronimo Trail, and Arizona on the Coronado
Trail (US191) have marked the speed limit at absurdly low numbers: 35 or
even 25 mph. These speeds may be appropriate for RVs (maybe), but placing
an artificially low limit only conditions drivers to ignore them. It is
not a revenue generation issue ... some of these roads are so remote I
doubt they are patrolled at all. Again I call for vehicle variable limits.
With no traffic in sight I felt cautious and even conservative in taking
some of these curves at 50. 25? Get real! That's hardly different from
the earliest days of automobile travel when a man with a lantern was required
to precede the vehicle. On foot.
Incidentally, speaking of maps, conservatives, and trends, it is true that the conservatives have triumphed in Arizona. The mark of the devil has been removed from the highway system. What was marked as US666 is no more although it still shows on some maps. Instead, other route numbers share the same road, mostly US191. We'll soon see if New Mexico shares the superstition.
Tracking the continuing "storms
deluging the southwest", I expected to encounter afternoon thunderstorms.
I did race two rain clouds across the Little Colorado Valley, but they
chose not to follow, preferring the high country. During this stretch I
noticed a different genus of tar snake on the road. Instead of the dreaded
black snake, these were a mixture of brown and black, with the newer ones
appearing to be all brown. Is this the new formula we have heard some states
are trying, to make them less gooey and less dangerous for motorcycles?
The road surface wasn't hot enough for me to feel the black snakes slip,
so I didn't notice any difference with the browns.
With the storms close behind me, there was a lot of wind turbulence between hot fields, cool dips, and wind ridges. I got hit with a sudden wind shear on the crest of one rise, but it was just like a slap from each side. Then ahead I saw a new sight in my motorcycling experience ... at the top of the next rise a tumbleweed was crossing from left to right, then it was crossing from right to left, and back and forth. As I approached, I suddenly realized it was not moving laterally, it was rapidly going in a circle. This was a mean mother of a cyclone sitting on the ridge, and that was a tumbleweed warning. I quickly lowered the windscreen for a minimum flat face, tucked myself in as tight as I could, and braced. Even prepared, that wind hit like a hammer. The roar inside the helmet hurt even with earplugs, and I could feel a pressure pop as I blew through the center. It was all of 40 or 50 feet wide ... but it was like a small clear-air tornado. Sure glad I saw that tumbleweed (and paid attention!).
FuelPlus 348 miles, 6:37 hours engine, 53 mph average
Silver City US180 NM78/AZ78 US191(US666) I40 Gallup
The star of the story today
is the road. Have you ever just looked at a road. Not to see where it goes,
but to see what it is? I did. In one of the several construction zones
through which I waited for passage, I put the bike up on its stand and
turned to watch the crowd gathering from out of the cars. Most everyone
goes to the side of the road and looks "out there" to see the world they
forgot was on the other side of the window. Instead of following the crowd,
I looked down.
Now, I'll admit the reason I looked down was to make sure my stand was not sinking into the freshly compressed surface, but then as so often I do, I looked again with a quizzical eye at what I have been scrutinizing for 30something days. Road. Blacktop, asphalt, macadam, bitumen, hardpack, hotmix, whatever you call it, it is mostly crushed rock and viscous petroleum ... otherwise known as tar and gravel - which is roofing material! The road surface is the roof of the vehicular domicile. No wonder I feel on top of the world when I travel :)
Imagined conversation: "Mommy, why is that man staring at the road and smiling?" "Come, Junior. Let's go look at the trees and leave the man alone ... motorcycle people are not like us."
Lest we forget the ease the
road brings us in addition to pleasure, I will remind you this epiphany
took place at a construction site. One of the sites was on the Navajo Nation,
where the (temporarily returned to dirt) road passed an enormous round
rock butte. The butte has been dissolving over the last few hundred centuries
... and the ground hereabouts is a fine flaked clay. Clay and rain do not
make good traction. Some bikes are good off road, but my K bike is like
a dainty damsel in the old west, wanting to pick up the petticoats at each
puddle. This Navajo mudslide formerly called Indian Route 12 would have
had more traction if a layer of grease had been put down. It took me nearly
an hour to cover the 7 miles of no pavement. I learned today that ABS does
not engage when the bike is sliding *sideways* ... but somehow I managed
to keep the day vertical.
Go back? Who, me? No way? Besides ... there was this big black cloud spitting at me from behind. Yes, all homage to Neptune - there was finally what we'll count as a rain day. (Now don't write to tell me Neptune isn't the rain god ... he eventually gets the outflow, so that's good enough.) We'll count it as a rain day, but it was more like scattered showers and mist all day. Not enough to dampen my spirits. Considering the drenching that drifted in after I galloped out of Gallup, I still feel like I am riding with my head above the clouds, so to speak.
Speaking of spirits, a spirit
guide appeared for me today. On the long straight of US666 (yes, New Mexico
still has it signed) approaching Shiprock, I was staring at the bindu point
of nothing in the great distance. A figure streaked across the road fast
and low. It was a "traveling dog" in Indian lore - a coyote. Thinking it
has disappeared into the bush, I casually glanced where it had gone as
I passed - but it had stopped, turned, and watched me. As soon as we locked
eyes, it was gone. I'm sure I received a message, but what I don't know.
In an obscure way the roadside signs to preserve the 'pride of native america' reminded me of a boss I had (from Texas, of Scandinavian stock) who railed at ethnocentrism. Whenever asked for his 'race' he always checked Native American, saying he was born in this country - and so were 7 generations of his family. How MANY generations are necessary to be native? he would ask. Didn't the Indians come from somewhere else too? If the first humans came from Africa, aren't ALL Americans 'african americans'? The man was, at least, amusing.
The contrasts of the southwest
are astounding. In one day I went from massive smooth red rock formations
of the Navajo reservation, to open flat prairie plain near Shiprock, to
verdant river valley near Cortez, to extreme mountain terrain near Telluride.
This is a day I would really like to share, even with the rain. Rarely
are reservation roads recommendable for riding experiences, but there is
one hidden jewel in the northwest corner or New Mexico. Route 134 from
Indian 12 to Sheep Springs transects the Chuska Mountains in the manner
I have come here to find. Try it on your way to Canyon de Chelly.
But the road I really want to sing of praises is the most scenic hundred miles in one of the most scenic states. There are not many areas of Colorado I haven't seen ... and having been a tour guide for Edelweiss in Colorado last year, I "had to" (awww :) ride most of the common destination routes - Rocky Mountain Park, Aspen, Gunnison, etc. They are good ... but this is great. Routes 145 and 62 from Cortez to Ridgeway have it all - from ridge road cut in the rock above the rushing river, to pine forest so dense the trees look eager for snow, to alpine meadow with beaver bungalows in the ponds, to the most incredible pointed peaks swirling in their mists almost close enough to touch, to literally "gorgeous" massive multi-canyon vistas, to the open mesas of the incomparable Uncompahgre Plateau ... oh yeah, and throw in Telluride for a tickle. In my opinion there is no better than the ride over Lizard Head Pass.
Ah, Colorado, where the yuppies won't admit they are. It has been weeks since I saw even a "coffee shop" instead of a cafe. Here each small town boasts 'gourmet coffee, espresso, and bakery'. Yup. Works for me :)
FuelPlus 320 miles, 6:37 hours engine, 49 mph average
Gallup I40 NM118 Indian12 NM134 US666 US160 CO145 CO62 US550 Montrose
The Colorado sky fought its
own civil war all day, with the grey and the blue battling for supremacy.
Great columns of grey soldiers attacked in wave after wave from over the
top of the hills, but the blue reserves threw in artillery from beyond
the mountains and left gaping white puffs in the grey line of advance.
Slowly the blue clusters gathered into a solid defense, and swept the grey
from the battlefield. Grey won several of the battles, but as in the other
great conflict, it looks like blue will win the war.
Despite the sun and its warmth, it is just barely spring in the high country. The roadside blue and white wildflowers are still blooming as though in a hurry to beat the frost. Mornings are cool enough to require a warm jacket. Yet again it is a good day to ride.
Up around the Blue Mesa and above the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I climbed through the aspen forests past spectacular views of central Colorado. Rounding one corner, I was reminded in a uniquely western way that this was indeed "spring". The woman on the horse in the middle of the 2-lane road waved me to slow down ... for I was about to be face-to-snout with a cattle drive. I shut off the bike because of the obvious wait it would take for the 100 or so cattle to pass (and so not to be the cause and the target of a stampede). Being driven by half a dozen herd dogs, the cattle eyed me warily as they squeezed past taking up the entire road. First time I ever had a cow throw a full head back mooooo inches from my face. Wow. Get horns like that on a bike and traffic sure would notice.
The dogs were confused because I would not turn and follow the herd despite their barking at my tires ... ok, so a BMW is sometimes nicknamed a "rubber cow", but come on ... :)
The dogs weren't mad, but only a few miles down the road from Black Canyon is the Mad Dog Ranch Fountain and Cafe. Joe Cocker and wife Pam liked the area so much, the rumor is they bought the entire town of Crawford. The food is decent, but it is a namesake destination more than a culinary one. It is, however, very motorcycle friendly. If you tell them you arrived on a bike you get a free gift - usually a souvenir scarf.
Only a hundred and fifty
miles to the wonderful little sophisticated but unspoiled town of Paonia
where the Top Of The Rockies Rally is held. This is a near perfect location.
The city park is completely covered with shade trees, the entire town gets
involved in the rally ... and yes, they have a gourmet coffee shop and
organic bakery :)
No report for the next several days as I take a break, talk bikes, maybe catch the annual softball fiasco between the Beemers and the always victorious Paonia Fire Department, and just enjoy the rally.
Montrose US50 CO92 CO133 Paonia
"I think maybe we do not
climb a mountain because it is there. We climb it because we are here."
- Jon Carroll, 20th century American writer
After two and a half days
of not being on the bike, I was itching to go. Quite literally ... one,
because I couldn't bring myself to take a shower at 2 am ... the only time
they seemed to be open, and two, because the callus on my throttle hand
was beginning to soften from lack of use - and it was itchy. However my
anxiety was not the same as the others at the rally who began packing up
at first light as the sound of their idling engines warming began about
5 am. They had states and time zones to cross in one day. They had to hurry.
I had adventures waiting in unknown times and unseen places. I wanted to
For years I had been saying the Top Of The Rockies Rally was one of the best small rallies in the west. That statement is changed now, and I'm upgrading it as the rally has grown ... To'R is THE BEST *large* rally in the west. Over 750 people attended this year, and you would never know it wasn't the same small gathering that it has always been. Very well organized, excellent location which can accommodate that number in the city park next to the peonies for which Paonia is named, and the joyous participation of the town. Great fun all around ... although I am just a little miffed that they wouldn't even give an honorable mention in the long distance category to the fellow on a K75 who traveled 6,963 miles to get there. (They use direct route. Obviously, I don't. :)
A couple of observations from the days: as more of us gizmo geeks get GPS, we find new uses for them. On the message board was a note: Butch, we are at N38.... W107.... . (If you remember my experiences with GPS accuracy, let's hope Butch didn't select a tent in the middle of the night based on his GPS.) Although Herb never got the Texas cheerleaders to do a bike wash at the Blueberry Rally, there were band members doing a benefit bike wash in Paonia. Considering they had to deal with 30 days of intracontinental dirt, an extra contribution to the band uniform fund was called for - especially after one washer commented that he had never seen bugs (squashed on the front) like that in Colorado. We surmised they were the remains of those two pound Minnesota mosquitos.
The unclear on the concept award goes to the person who hung a used tire for sale on a fence post. The attached note gave details of its usage and an asking price ... The attached note was affixed by a thumbtack into the sidewall of the tire. It would have been a good deal ... without the hole in the sidewall.
As the bikes streamed away
from the town, impromptu riding groups formed by necessity as other traffic
was overtaken. It was interesting to see the automatic rules of the road
that motorcyclists follow fall into place. Riders would form staggered
formation without needing direction. Groups would pass vehicles in coordinated
bursts. Faster riders would restrain their urges long enough to establish
polite deference to slower riders ahead, then pass in a friendly line dance
- and the slower riders would know to "right side" their lane (ride on
the right to allow passing with crossing the centerline). It all worked
so well, even when the rally departees came upon other motorcycles who
had no idea where the crowd came from. I happened to be behind four slow
GoldWings (following while waiting for a turn off shortly ahead) when an
impromptu pack came from behind, bunched up behind the Wings, then blasted
past like an express train. The Wingers all looked, pointed, and pulled
over to talk about it.
Colorado is a landscape that shows in another way how we depend on water not just for sustenance, but also for travel. All the major roads, and many of the others too, follow a water course around and through the mountains. This is not a "let's go that way" map, like the open desert. Even in the northwestern corner of the state where plateaus and mesas are more prominent than mountains, rivers and creeks make the map. And following them can be fun even on an Interstate, believe it or not. I70 through Glenwood Canyon is probably the nicest Interstate this side of West Virginia. Here, though, the rock formations have been left uncovered because of limited rain, and you can see the muli-layered colors cut and carved on angles that make rock look swirled like a parfait after its glass bounced a couple times.
Through the town of Rifle, where the streets Colt and Shotgun intersect with Remington, which parallels Winchester ... a town of high caliber, undoubtedly, I rode north looking for a road I noticed on the map that just had the right feel for my wandering. "Blue highways" are too big for my taste. They attract RVs, trucks, and minivans. Piceance Creek Road, unsigned Rio Blanco County Road 5, meanders through a valley, nearly circumnavigates a ridge, and is only a thin black line on the map, but it has the magic words that called to me - Trucks not recommended. While not in the league of other venues in Colorado, it was the perfect ride for my needs this day. It got me back into the groove, Stella. And there was one sign posted near a picture perfect ranch in the valley which at first seemed amusing, but on second look was "painted like it meant it". Bold, serious, letters: Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be prosecuted.
Passing through more northerly
towns I began to see 'dropouts' from the rally, bikes who got an early
start and were now parked at small motels to break from the growing heat.
It is definitely bike vacation time in America. All brands and all ages
are represented now, unlike during the first part of this trip.
Within a couple miles of the border, Utah reclaims the terrain from Colorado cowboy country, now showing open, arid, barren rock mesas in desert colors of seared sienna and muted magenta. There still are places in America where there are no fences beside the highway - and no fences visible for as far as you can see. This is one of them.
FuelPlus 292 miles, 5:36 hours engine, 53 mph average
Paonia CO133 CO82 I70 US6 CO13 county5 CO64 US40 UT121 Roosevelt
It has been a strange day.
All day long I had felt slightly out of step with the routine of my travels.
The various items I had packed every day for a month would not fit in their
normal snug spots. Breakfast was delayed because I knew it was to be a
longer distance day ... but the delay was not expected to be 205 miles.
The curves just weren't clicking right either, and on two occasions I had
to brake like a rookie to recover from poorly chosen entry angles. I even
asked myself out loud, what is wrong today?
The answer came when a stranger complimented me on the bike at a gas stop, then asked the question most do ... where are you going? Without thinking it came out: San Francisco. So that's it. No more is it in my mind that I am on an open unplanned wander. I am headed home. Even though the turnback point came long ago in Louisiana, and I sensed I was really headed west after Paonia, something triggered in another part of the mind. Why now, why here? The best I can guess is because I know and feel I am within a "normal" day's ride of home. It was about 800 miles away when the conversation took place. There is a phrase about animals "smelling the barn" on the return trip ... if it's true, well that's quite a snout I have there.
And yes, after the thought threshold was crossed, with all the attendant "to do" lists being mentally prepared, the rest of the day clicked like a Hasselblad. Leaving Delta, Utah, I began the race across the great western basin. Ahead were two massive thunderstorm clouds with trailing veils of rain dappling across the mountains. What the heck. It may be intense for a short time, but I decided to play the odds (hey, I was headed to Nevada after all :). Not even bothering to put on rain gear, I scanned the map and the directional speed of the clouds and decided if I were fast enough I might beat both storms to the border. Woulda worked, too, except ... just as I was about to snip the advance edge of the first storm at a rather elevated speed, the most dreaded of all road signs flashed by - Fresh Oil, Loose Gravel. Damn. Road resurfacing. No way I'm going to do that at this speed! Hydroplaning is bad enough on wet surface, but gravel-planing is not on the agenda. So I just stopped in the middle of the desert and waited to be drenched. But by about 20 minutes later the storm had passed and I only felt a few sprinkles. Shortly after that I came to the stopped traffic and a highway crew flag man who told me he and some of the crew had to take refuge in travelers vehicles because the squall that passed was so strong they couldn't stand up. I lucked out again.
When most people think of
Utah, the Salt Lake or the southern desert national parks come to mind.
I was surprised to see how different the northeastern corner of the state
is. It is made verdant by the rain shadow of the Wasatch Range, and is
a series of high wilderness, national forest, and farm land. Crossing the
Wasatch is a zig zag event if you are trying to head west or east. This
gives a good feeling for how distinctly it divides the center of the state.
To cover a lateral distance of about 40 miles between Colton and Nephi,
I had to travel 78 road miles, including vertical climbs to passes over
Eventually, having put the details of the end of the trip aside to occur in their own time, I was able to regain the synergy of man and machine in motion. The expanse of eastern Nevada melted away. Sacramento Summit heralded the beginning of The Loneliest Road in America, and as the loneliest rider in America passed through, rabbits scampered out of the way, chipmunks played slalom in the road, and a deer stood on the rise watching all.
So into Ely, crossroads to nowhere, I found myself wanting to do something different. Rather than another bargain motel, I wanted to try the come-on for the Hotel/Casino in town. What a hoot. It turns out (yet another lucky draw) that the Nevada Hotel is a grand old hotel with history of housing high society (who were passing through, of course). My room is just down the hall from the Wayne Newton suite (he used to perform here early in his career), has a oversize king bed, and includes a discount at the hotel restaurant - all for the princely sum of $19.95. They expect me to gamble, of course. But as I said ... I already lucked out for the day :)
Instead, my enjoyment is repairing to my room to reconstruct and recount the rapidly receding recollections of the day. I confess I will miss sharing experiences when the trip ends. Exposing one's thoughts day after day is a difficult task, but one that rewards the writer perhaps more than it entertains the reader.
"This was the moment I longed for every day. Settling at a heavy inn-table, thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy and my papers, books and diary all laid out; writing up the day's doings, hunting for the words in the dictionary, drawing, struggling with verses, or merely subsiding in a vacuous and contented trance while the snow thawed off my boots."
- Patrick Leigh Fermor (b. 1915) British writer
FuelPlus 361 miles, 6:09 hours engine, 59 mph average
Roosevelt US191 US6 UT96 UT264 UT31 US89 UT116 UT132 UT125 US50 Ely
If I have to be alone, I
can think of no better place to be alone than in the desert. The desert
swallows up the lone traveler, yet allows him to exist in glorious, unbounded
isolation. I am glad the desert separates California from the rest of the
country ... if all one had to negotiate to get there was the New Jersey
Turnpike then the treasure of the Sierra would be less unique. Not that
negotiating the desert today is an onerous as it was for the traveler of
100 years ago. My humming BMW makes short work of the 320 miles across
Nevada in a manner that lets me truly enjoy the passage.
Some people hate the desert for its 'sameness'. Perhaps there is little variation, but there is much difference if you take the time to look at it - time which you are going to have to spend anyway in crossing. In the brilliant morning sun, the aroma of sage mixed with the pungency of a broken creosote bush. There were also scrub pines, various small cedar, and even an occasional oak. White wildflowers, like poppies, on the road's edge danced in the wind of my passing. Cactus of all shape and size vied, unmoving, for their position, crowded together in clusters amongst the wide open surface. And even the wild grasses, of which there were several obvious varieties, showed their Darwinian dedication to survival by seeking just the right nook or cranny. Passing by the sand bottom of a dry lake, I was amused and entertained to watch multiple dust devils form and dance together, then stray over the edge of their sand dance floor and collapse.
If you see your crossing of the desert as no more than a chore to be done, you are missing a subtlety of nature that is as deep as the visual 'imperceptibility' of the great canyons ... that is, you see them but they don't seem real. The desert feels real, but you almost don't see it.
Previously I have commented on the vastness of traveling in the west. If you have not been there, it is difficult to fathom. Consider the feeling of drifting down this long plain into a valley that will take nearly an hour to cross. It is 50 miles to the next ridge. You can look to the left for maybe 30 miles. You can look to the right for 40 miles or more. You can look around and see no manmade artifact other than the road you are on, and you are the only human in the space visible to you - a space not much smaller that the size of the entire state of Rhode Island! Then you crest the distant hill ... and enter another valley ... only larger.
"The desert, like a powerful
magnet, changes those who come within its field. Many travelers have felt
it to be an almost mystical experience; others, a challenge to their humanity,
to their very survivability. Some have found peace, some despair. Others
have created from inner resources monuments of literature, philosophy,
and religion. Perhaps the desert is no more than a magnifying lens, something
that enables man to write large whatever he truly is."
- William Polk and William Mares, 20th century American scholars
The first half of my crossing
went almost too fast. A planned gas stop in the dying-since-it-was-born
midpoint town of Austin was stretched into a longer rest while waiting
for the gasoline delivery tanker to unload. A walk around the town convinced
me that if those aliens, who so many people have claimed they encountered
in the desert, really did land in Nevada, our planet is listed on the intergalactic
travelers map as 'previously inhabited, now abandoned'. Abandoned, but
very well protected. As I prepared to leave, four Nevada Highway Patrol
cars pulled in to the restaurant next door for lunch. That's more police
presence than I have seen in the last dozen states, and this is nowhere
near an Interstate ... That tells me two things: lunchtime is a good time
to speed (if you are so inclined), and the Toiyabe Restaurant must have
pretty good food. On the other hand, it is the *only* restaurant for 116
miles to Fallon.
In an earlier segment I commented about the composition of the road. In much of the west, chip seal is the preferred material. It is roughly half inch round gravel which is poured over and pressed into a layer of tar-like oil sprayed on the road. Unlike asphalt which is more like putty, chip seal is less prone to cracking in the extreme changes of temperature - because it wasn't 'solid' to begin with. Chip seal has one significant deficiency, though. Because only the stickiness of the tar-oil is holding it in place, the gravel tends to dislodge in heavy friction areas, like where there are skidding tires - like on very sharp curves ... I turned off US 50 to take the old route through the Desatoya Mountains. It had a sharp right turn. The surface of the turn was darker than the road. My road survival training immediately kicked in and alerted me to slow down. That dark surface turned out (no pun) to be only tar with all the gravel peeled out. Going across it - even as I was prepared - my back wheel slid out and I had to abort the curve all the way to the other edge of the road to keep upright. Had I hit this unaware, I would have been very aware of hitting the ground in a hard lowside. Yes, some lessons need to be learned over and over: when the appearance of the road surface changes rapidly - caution!
Slightly east of the one-building
'town' of Salt Wells (the one building is the Salt Wells Cat House) a salt
lake bed lines both sides of the road. As pioneers did so many years ago,
modern travelers who felt more with the desert than just the heat against
their air conditioned windows have left their names in perpetuity. For
more than five miles along the roadside, rock words have been written in
dot-pixel letters with dark stones against the white salt sands. Most are
only a name, some are a salutation or an amorous proclamation, a few are
illegible symbolic cryptics. You can tell some started with great intention
- the first few letters have 30 or more stones, then as the words progress
the letters have fewer and fewer until the last are 4 or 5 stones tall.
Hot stones on a hot day tend to shorten creativity ... what looked like
a fun idea became a burning desire to finish as quickly as possible. (Of
course I would also notice ... why is it that everyone 'rock prints' in
a block sans serif arial font ?)
As the Sierra Nevada loom closer, a comfortable familiarity settles over me. These are the roads that make up the 'back yard' of my riding. Tomorrow I will savor the final tankful of passage that could have been squeezed out of today. The trip is coming to its end, as must all things, but the final day must not be rushed, for even a single day can be a journey of a lifetime.
FuelPlus 320 miles, 5:25 hours engine, 60 mph average
Ely US50 NV722 US50 Carson City
On yet another bright, cloudless,
and cool (for the desert) morning the magnetic attraction of the end of
the trip was again luring me to rush - but I resisted with all the might
of a practiced traveler. Some of the most awe inspiring scenery, even though
well known to me, was yet to pass under my wheels ... and what is the point
of rushing to get to the far side of heaven?
At a bakery in Carson City a couple stuck up a conversation about my motorcycle. As most well meaning car occupants do in such a conversation, they told me about the difficulties which people whom they know experienced on motorcycles. Invariably there is an accident mentioned. One son suffered a fall and decided to never ride again. Ok. At least they didn't come on with the normal rubric of bikes - instead of riders - being the cause. Their other son, however, represented their expected image of a motorcycle rider. He rode from Indiana to California, once, and his journey was the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Idiotic Oddity all in one. Some riders, as is obvious by the description of this otherwise normal man, believe that positioning one's posterior on a motorcycle automatically projects a force field of masculinity - or at least a macho toughness that must not be diminished by creature comforts or even by compliance with ambient conditions. This rider crossed the desert in the heat of summer without benefit - excuse me ... without need - of helmet, faceshield, arm covering, gloves, or water.
The couple told me when he arrived his lips were swollen and cracked, his arms were badly sunburned, and he was near delirium with dehydration. They celebrated his survival, although not his intelligence. And then they asked why I did not look bedraggled "all the way over here in Nevada - several days from home". Huh? Oh, he only traveled about 100 miles a day, and even they might have to take two days to get home in their car. Well, I have to admit I like the facial expression of someone who is experiencing incomprehension when they hear I have been on the road for 33 days, traveled almost 8,000 miles, had no disasters, actually enjoyed it, and was still fresh. Although I supposed I could have told them of being abducted by aliens and gotten the same reaction.
US50 is lonely no more, being
the main route through the Lake Tahoe area. Climbing nearly 4,000 feet
in 10 miles west of Carson City, even in July it affords peeks of snow
covered peaks, and offers a burst-into-view panorama of Tahoe that makes
one think it is a sighting of the ocean. It is still stunning, although
it must have been cruelly teasing for late season pioneers unable to pass
through snows piled in unheard of depths, where four *feet* falling in
a single storm is not uncommon.
"Lake Tahoe", by the way, is one of those redundantly repetitious :o phrases, like PIN=Number, ATM=Machine, and CHIMSL=Light. "Tahoe" means Lake in the local Indian language. Ah, so what's wrong with a little cross cultural obliteration? We do it frequently ... as with "The La Brea Tar Pits" in Los Angeles ... La Brea means The Tar Pits, which makes it The The Tar Pits Tar Pits. :)
Well, back to Tahoe. The California state line at Stateline, Nevada always amuses me. You can not walk across the line from California without stepping on a casino. The property line is the state line is the edge of the building for massive casinos on both sides of the street. Before that breath in your lungs is exhaled you can have your hands on a slot machine. Such convenience. What is California's answer to casinos? Why, T-shirt shops and souvenir stands of course. Disneyland, Pier 39, South Lake Tahoe, it is all the same. Good thing there is still the little matter of the Pacific Crest yet to come. Serenity awaits in the high country.
California's state colors
are blue and gold. On a day like today it is apparent they were adopted
from the environment. Crystal azure lakes, still cold from ice blue streams
of melted snow, reflect the golden sun in a pastel blue sky. Purple paintbrushes
intermix with golden California poppies, and bright blue spruce glisten
on tawny granite hillsides sparkling with glints of fools- or maybe real
gold. Even the blue van in front of me has a golden retriever hanging out
the window chewing the air in great gulps of sniffles.
Near the top of Carson Pass there is an oblong pile of rocks beside the road recognizable as a pioneer grave. It even has an official historical site designation as Maiden's Grave. At one and a half miles above sea level, the view from this spot on the ridge is of unspoiled, rugged mountains. For the modern traveler, the word is exquisite. For the pioneer, excruciating. For the maiden, eternity. A marker is inscribed:
Broken dreams and hope carried 2000 miles through scorching deserts and over lofty mountains. At last ... the sight of the promised land. Laid to rest on a cold and frosty October 4, 1850.A mere thirty miles later begins the Gold Country of the foothills.
Rechall Melton, native of Iowa.
Now the changes and the scenes
are predictable to me for their familiarity, but still enjoyable. From
alpine, to pine, to plains the vegetation changes in visible layers with
the elevation. Eventually we descend past the 4000 foot level and I switch
off the high-altitude plug for the first time in two weeks. The rolling
hills of the Sierra slopes have seen no rains for months, and the grasses
have returned to the golden summer slumber, which is to me the natural
and comforting color of the countryside. Even taking another intentional
detour through West Point to Mokelumne Hill just to ride a favorite, CA26,
can't hide the fact that the end is near. There are the sprawling fields
of grapes in the new wine country of Amador County (excellent Zinfandels
and Syrahs), there are the feathery flexing fronds of the asparagus fields
in the delta around Stockton, there are the outreach signs of the metropolis
... congestion and rushing traffic.
It is here I must remind myself to tune down the relaxation attitude and crank up the awareness to sub-agressive levels, after all it is said the majority of accidents happen within 25 miles of home :). Time to trade two-lane touring tolerance for four-lane-freeway frenetics. And just before the postcard image of The City, tethered by bridges and collared by fog, consumes my thoughts of the present, I flash back one last time on the pleasures of the past month. Memories made of miles. Faces of friends. Promises in private and in public. Life and longing. Wondering, and Wanderlust.
"It began in mystery, and
it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in
- Diane Ackerman, b. 1948, American writer
34 days, 1 hour of light rain and 1 drizzly afternoon
Sam Lepore, San Francisco