Four Corners of the US
This journal is dedicated to my bride of forty three years.
These are the musings of a motorcycle enthusiast. I created them to offset a memory that is in retrograde and for my amusement. If I misspoke or dented someone’s feelings, I can assure you it was not intentional.
During 2007, my wife, Margaret, and I booked a river cruise down the Rhone River in France. The river cruise was loads of fun with great food, booze, and sights to see. The trip back to the US, however, was a dream from Dante’s Inferno.
In France, the right to strike is enshrined within their Constitution. Just as we began our return trip to the US, a portion of the employees of Air France exercised that right. The outcome for us was a four day stay in Charles De Gaulle Airport and an education in the personalities of the Parisian French. Neither of these two subjects were found rewarding. The details of this delay in our travel plans would seem petty and frivolous, but it was a wound of a thousand cuts and remains fresh in my mind today.
On our ultimate return to the land of the free, I called the company with whom I had scheduled a motorcycle tour of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps the following year and canceled the trip. The dollar to Euro exchange rate was also high on the decision to back out of the motorcycle trip. The catalyst for this chemical reaction was derived from a conversation I heard at one of the Harley Davidson dealerships in South Carolina. During this conversation, one of the participants was expounding on the merits of a trip to the four geographic corners of the forty-eight contiguous states. I found the idea appealing and began what amounted to almost a year of planning and preparation.
I knew from the outset that this was not a trip I would take by myself. Not because I could not ride the routes by myself but because much of the joy of trip like this comes from sharing the experience with those who have similar predispositions for long distance motorcycle riding and its in-your-face relationship with nature and machine.
My first call was to Rex Decker in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Rex once lived in the same subdivision that I do now, Cedar Creek. We came to know each other through resident golf matches and short distance rides through out Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. Rex and I were also members of a very loose knit group of motorcycle enthusiast residing here in the Cedar Creek subdivision. As participants within the Cedar Creek motorcycling community, we made several trips to the Honda Hoot in Asheville, NC and Knoxville, TN. But our first ride of substance was when we rode to the Sturgis, SD bike rally in 2005. This ride was about 4,600 miles in length. Our second long trip was to the west coast and took place after Rex returned to Oklahoma to take care of family matters there. On this trip, we road through Oklahoma, the panhandle of Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. We picked up our wives at the SeaPak airport in Seattle, WA and road the coast roads through Washington, Oregon and California. Our wives flew back to their respective homes from California and Rex and I returned via the bikes. This trip, for me, was 9,600 miles in length and took about 24 days. This trip could easily be the subject of some future epistle. With this history, I put the idea of a four corners trip to Rex. He had just finished building a new house and was probably ready to hit the road. This turned out to be true, but he was not able to get away for the entire four weeks a trip like this would demand. So, I now have one rider who will ride part way with me.
My second call was to Stu Schippereit. Stu was a retired Navy Commander living in Key West, FL who, at one time, had been a customer of mine when I was a project manager for two firms, ATI and PRC domiciled in Crystal City, VA. Stu was a naval intelligence officer and for reasons that still seem weird to me today, we struck up a relationship that was something just a little more than customer/vendor. After I left the government support business, many years went by before I ran into Stu again. This time the contact was made via a mutual friend, Ed Moore, who advised me that Stu was a Harley rider. I have no idea why after almost four years of seeing Stu every work day I did not pick up on the fact that he was a motorcycle rider. Must be my acute sense of observation. In any event, I contacted Stu and we agreed to meet at a friends house just outside Jacksonville, FL and then ride to Daytona for Bike Week. Since that time, Stu and I have had a few opportunities to get together on our Harleys and enjoyed the experiences. On one of these trips to the Honda Hoot, Stu introduced the Cedar Creek gang to Mike Sena a former Navy/Marine spook and current Gold Wing rider. Mike fit in just like he had been with us for years. When I put the four corners trip idea to Stu months later, he seemed hot for the idea from the very start. In addition, Stu was fairly sure that Mike Sena and his brother Steve, a Honda Valkyrie rider, would also be interested in the trip. Stu had ridden several long distance rides with Steve and Mike. When the idea of four corners was presented to Mike and Steve by Stu, they also demonstrated a keen interest in the trip. Now we were five. None of the riders in the Cedar Creek group were interested in a trip of this length. Some, however, demonstrated a potential interest in riding the first day with me through the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Now my planning began in earnest. The goal was to touch and record our visits to Madawaska, Maine, Blaine, Washington, San Ysidro, California and Key West, Florida. All the potential riders agreed that we wanted to stay off of the Interstate Hwy system as much as possible. During the planning, I solicited input from all riders to ensure that all had an input and that each contributed ideas about where to visit and routes to take based on their past experiences. I was very apprehensive about this issue. Although the trip was an idea that I had pirated from another rider, I did not want it to be my trip. You would have to ask the other riders if we was successful at this or not.
First challenge, when to begin the ride. Rex and I, based on our experiences, thought that August would be a good month. In that way, our trip through the northern states and Canada would not occur at a time when snow or ice was a possibility. Clearly, the price you pay for starting in August is that the southern states are breath robbing hot and humid during August. Mike Sena had a scheduling conflict which made commencing in June or July a non starter. So it looked like August was the date. Now when in August? It turns out that the Sturgis bike rally would be ending on Sunday, 9 August. Rex could leave Broken Arrow, OK at a time that would put him in Sturgis on the 9th. This meant that all the rest of us would have to put together a plan that would get us to Sturgis on the same day. Stu’s family was planning a holiday in Vermont at a location just a couple of hours south of a proposed route through Montpelier, VT during the first week in August. My fellow Cedar Creek riders declined the ride on the Parkway, so I planned to ride it alone.
Mike Sena’s scheduling conflict turned into a trip out of the country and put him outside the window to join us for the trip. Back to four riders. I coordinated departure dates with Rex, Stu and Steve though email and we came up with a plan. Stu would leave Key West during the last half of July and stay with me over night on his way north and then proceed on to his family in Vermont and their holiday. I would leave Aiken on the 31st of July and spend the night in Asheville, NC. This is a pleasant four to five hour ride that would be a good work up for the rides to come. On the 1st of August, I would depart Asheville and proceed via the Blue Ridge Parkway to Afton, VA and spend the night. The following day, the 2nd, I would ride Skyline drive and meet Steve Sena in Front Royal, VA. The two of us would then ride to Hancock, NY and spend the night. The next day, the 3rd, of August, on to Bethel, ME with a stop in Montpelier, VT to pick up Stu. From here, the trip was timed to meet Rex on the 9th. Strangely enough, it all happened just that way.
Through out the trip, I suffered, unjustly I might add, the slings and arrows of my fellow riding companions over my reliance, trust and commitment to my digital wonder the Garmin, Global Positioning System (GPS). What my fellow analog troglobites failed to comprehend was this marvel of technology does precisely what you ask it to do. It does this even if you don’t understand what you are asking it to do. So if there was a fault in navigation, I don’t recall any, the fault was mine not the GPS. At some point during the trip, Rex asked me over the CB if the GPS had a name. “You know”, he said, “like some are called Tom Tom’s. What do you call yours”? I told him my marvel of engineering required no such identification but was high on respect for its capabilities. As you might imagine, this did not satisfy Rex the troglobite and he pressed ahead by saying he thought “Sue Sue” was a good name. Realizing that this was going to come to an unhappy resolution, I peered into my GPS’ display screen seeking guidance from its binary conscience. Instantly, digital stuff is fast, there flashed before me a subliminal message, a fractional second of the word Sue. I smiled back at my wonder and announced to Rex and the world that my wonder was now Sue.
Sue has a helper. The helper is the software that is loaded on my pc on which you can create routes and then download them to Sue. I have been using the helper for years and have never had a problem. This trip was different. I spent months going over road maps, using a US Atlas, researching scenic rides, etc. The end result was a string of 27 routes that took us around the US and ended near Tallahassee, FL. These routes were used to calculate route times, hours on the road, starting and stopping points etc. When the time came to download all 27 routes into Sue’s memory, she had a fainting spell and began to flash some disturbing messages via her LCD. Sue was unable to absorb all of the data I was trying to pass to her. There were hours on the phone and chat rooms and emails with “technical” support, but none could find a cause for this conundrum. After my problem had been escalated to higher and higher “technical” bubbas, one finally came up with the answer. Sue was perfectly capable of absorbing 27 routes, but her creators never accounted for the number of via points that might be associated with the routes. Although no one ever said it, I think that I might have been the first person to create this many routes and try to down load them all at one time onto a Sue like device. The bubbas came up with a work around that would cause some small concerns later in the trip. I would need to find a pc that had a user with administrative permissions to download grouping of routes to Sue. Although this worked, kind of, it was not as clean as downloading routes from the helper to Sue.
In preparation, I had had the bike completely serviced to include a change of all fluids to including servicing of the front forks. I replaced the Metzler rear tire with a Dunlop Elite 3. I had, over the previous months, purchased a replacement tire repair kit, a tire inflation bottle, a set of metric and SAE hex wrenches, a bottle of LockTite, a bottle of Super Glue, multiple electrical tie downs, five motorcycle tie down straps and a variety of bungie cords. In addition, I carried two bottles of Novus plastic windshield cleaner and several microfiber cleaning cloths. The Novus in conjunction with the microfiber cloth are the best combination for cleaning a windshield of bugs and road grime without scratching the soft windshield. Because of the added weight, I also pumped up the rear and front shocks to 5 psi below their maximum pressures. (I had to repeat the procedure on the rear shocks once more during the trip.) With a final check of the GPS, XM radio, CB radio and iPod Nano the bike was ready to go.
It’s instructive to remember that with the exception of the motel in Sturgis, SD our group had intentionally planned to avoid making motel/hotel reservations. We did this for two basic reasons. First, it would take a lot of the spontaneity out of the trip and second, it would force us meet time lines that might deter us from stopping and smelling the roses.
Stu arrived at my place on the 22nd of July as planned on his way north to Vermont. I had arranged for the guys from our Cedar Creek motorcycle group to spend a little time with Stu over beer and burgers at O’Charlies. We spent the evening remembering previous cycle trips and telling lies about our experiences on and off the bikes. Stu got a chance to pick up on some of the engineering experiences of Jim Bloomquist in the process. The following morning, Stu accomplished a quick check of his bike and his gear. I must confess it is a miracle of man’s ingenuity over gravity and vibration to view Stu’s tie downs of his T-Bag and other assorted sundries on his rear seat, luggage rack and sissy bar. It is a continuing mystery that all of his stuff did not depart the bike at some time on this or any other trip. He maintained a consistent and justifiable disdain of our concern for his packing techniques.
Although we did not anticipate any really cold weather, I packed my cold weather upper and lowers, the heated vest, upper and lower long undies and my heated gloves. (I never used them.) I wore my ventilated leather jacket and packed my unventilated jacket and my rain gear. With three pairs of blue jeans, seven sets of socks, skivvies and T shirts, a water cooling vest, a dop kit, medication, first aid kit, road atlas, 1GB flash memory with routes, cell phone, digital camera and charging equipment for all the electronics, I was ready to hit the road.
On the 31st of July, I had a scheduled appointment with my dentist to have my teeth cleaned. I rode my packed bike to the dentist. When finished at the dentist, I began my journey with a pleasant unhurried ride to a motel on the western outskirts of Asheville, NC. My stay was less than pleasant because I was so strung out about the trip. I did not sleep very well and gave up trying around 5AM. I packed the bike and found an open Micky D’s and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of sausage biscuits and diet Coke. I tried very hard to read a paper because at this time of the AM it was pitch black outside and I needed to wait for a little day light. My wait lasted all of ten minutes and I could not stand it any longer so I hit the road.
When I entered the Blue Ridge Parkway, I stopped the bike and took a pic of the sign entering the parkway. It was so dark, you can hardly tell what the pic is. Oh well, onward.
It is hard to explain just how alone I was on the parkway. For almost 400 miles of riding, I passed three cars and was passed by none. I rode for hours and never saw another vehicle. It was very weird, but wonderful. The get-going-early event had many rewards, but mostly it was the sunrise. I had a dozen views over and between mountains of a most glorious sunrise. As a bonus, the classic air quality that gives the Smokies their name was in abundance. There were valleys that had a combination of fog and smoke held in place by the inversion layer and painted umber by the refracted rays of our nearest star. There was a single valley whose fog layer had a scalloped top that made it look just like a down comforter lying on a four posted bed. Sights to behold! These visions, the rhythmic vibration of the big twin coming through the throttle to a loosely held grip, the smell of clean mountain air, the lingering taste of Micky D’s sausage on my tongue and Don Williams’ “ Lord I Hope This Day is Good” in my headset, stimulated all five senses. I thought, “Man, this is one hell of a start”. It just does not get any better than this and it’s going to be hard to beat this portion of the trip.
The Blue Ridge Parkway west of Asheville is a superbikers dream. Lots of tight turns with climbs and dives stimulating the soul, IV pushing adrenalin and challenges to one’s riding skills.
North east of Asheville the Parkway smooths out a little and is a touring bikes dream. Soft corners that allow star gazing while carving the turn. There are farm and mountain vista that drug you into a zone of pleasure and relaxation. In the background and between your legs…the rumble of 88 cubic inches of American history. What’s not to like?
The Blue Ridge Parkway ends in Afton, VA. I spent the night nearby and slept really well that night.
Hit the road the next day at 6AM and started my second day immediately on Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive is just over 100 miles in length and is a wonderful experience. A lot of the riding is bracketed on three sides by the hardwoods. These trees make a tunnel of the road and generate almost permanent shade. This riding condition does not give you the same grandiose views offered by the Blue Ridge. It does, however, have lots of wildlife in the form of turkeys, deer and black bear. All of which I saw. I was sad when it ended in Front Royal, VA, but I was gladdened when my rendezvous with Steve Sena took place as planned. This was the first time we had met but we did not have much time for pleasantries and we hit the road on the way to Hancock, NY. The country roads of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania were pleasant and relaxing but held little in memory stimulating views or events. However, at the end of our days ride we pulled into Hancock, NY expecting to find a place to lay our heads. When we asked a guy for a place to stay in Hancock, the answer reminded me of the Bob Dylan song sung by The Weight. “He just grinned, shook my hand, and no!, was all he said”. Undeterred, Steve and I pulled out of Hancock and headed north west up highway 17 that parallels the west fork of the Delaware River. After ten or fifteen miles, we came upon the hamlet known as Deposit, NY. Steve found a quaint motel situated on the banks of the river.
At first, the owner told us he did not have any rooms but when he checked a family of four into their rooms, he recalled a room that had just been cleaned. Cool, a clean place to sleep. We unpacked the bikes and covered them for the night and enjoyed a libation in our room and then strolled next door to The Pines of Deposit Restaurant. This place was the first of a long string of classic home town restaurants we visited during our trip. The waitress was also one of the cooks and cashier. I don’t have a clue what I ate, but I was introduced to the culinary habits of one Steve Sena. Steve is a slave to rabbit food. This guy will eat a full meal of anything and then follow it up with a huge salad. To keep his world from getting boring, he will some times reverse the order but there is always a salad someplace in his food order. If I were to guess, I would put Steve at six foot two and pushing past 200 pounds. His size belies the fact that he eats enough to sustain the middle three guys of any NFL defensive line. You might be surprised to find that Steve does not plow through his grits like some porker in an Arkansas swine farm. Just the opposite, he savors his chow with the élan of Julia Childs. So when you sit down to partake of some repast you can not be in a hurry. Steve can not and will not be rushed through his meal. Double this time if wine is part of the menu. I thought the ride was enough to put me to bed early, but after watching Steve do justice to his food order I was completely exhausted. We crashed early.
We arose the next AM to a threat of rain. We suited up and hit the road. It was just a short ride until we entered the Catskill Mountains and were treated to a variety of scenic pleasures even though it was overcast and rained off and on. After an hour or so of riding we stopped for gas and were rewarded with a café next door. The East Branch Café was a prize. Inside was a small bar that was open before 10AM and had a fellow biker parked on one of the stools wading though a huge omelet. We selected a table next to a group of five locals and ordered breakfast. This far north it is a waste of time to ask for grits so I ordered a couple of eggs and hash browns with a diet Coke. Steve ordered the omelet with enough eggs to supply the White House Easter egg hunt, mushrooms, bacon, ham, cheese and some other mystery ingredient. While he attacked his plate, I struck up a conversation with the locals. All had two homes, one here in the Catskill for the summer and one in Florida for the winter. They were a friendly group and were fascinated with the trip we had planned. Steve was not much help with the conversation because he knows it’s impolite to talk with your mouth full. We were both reluctant to leave because of the friendly atmosphere, good food and interesting conversation, but we had to press on to meet Stu.
Once Stu, Steve and I hooked up in Montpelier, we found a place to have lunch and catch up on how everything was going. This is a college town with its share of young coeds strolling around even in the summer. The town may be one of the smallest capital cities in the US.
Back on the road, the weather gods decided that we had had too much of Ole Sol and greeted us with a constant drizzle. Our destination for our first night was Bethel Maine. I was leading at the time close to the New Hampshire/Maine state line when I decided I had had enough of the slick roads and rain. I turned off at a Town and Country Motel. After checking in, we shucked our rain gear, called home and relaxed with a little Blue Elixir. We were just leaving for supper in the motel restaurant when we started a conversation with a middle aged couple who were motorcycle enthusiast and quite knowledgeable. I don’t remember where they called home but I do remember that they had a home in Florida that held matching rice rockets that they only used when they were in Florida. It must be nice. Finally we were off to the restaurant. We were the last folks seated and the wait staff was cleaning up before we finished eating. There was a party of six or more folks who were already deep into their cups when we arrived and they continued to crank up the decibels as time went on. They finally left and we had a few minutes of peace and quite before we had to pay our bill and head off to the arms of Morpheus.
Its eye opening. The impact geography and weather have on things some of us take for granted. For example, here in the south, the condition of the roads, for the most part, is good if not great. Now, when I say roads, I am referring to the US highways and the state and county roads. I have no interest in the Interstate highway system when it comes to motorcycle riding. Most riders don’t. But the good road conditions here are, to a large part, due to the fortunate mild weather that we have in the south east. As you motor north, beginning with Pennsylvania, you will note a gradual decline in some of the back roads of the north east. It’s not because our northern brethren don’t care, it’s because the damage to their road systems is a continuing thing brought on by inclement weather and the damaging cycle of rain, snow and freezing temperatures. The ability of the locals to keep up with this damage is a function of political will, money and priorities. This phenomenon was in evidence in abundance as we traversed Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Mind, all the roads and all segments of the roads are not in poor condition but many have sections that are under repair and this is where the cross country biker had better be on his toes.
Our group of three was well aware of these hazards and I hope we demonstrated good head work and motorcycling skills as we traversed these dangerous parts. These construction sites normally will have a combination of gravel, steel plates, metal grills, narrow bridges, diverted road ways and any other device that can reach out and bite a biker. Add rain and you have a soup that can swallow an upright bike. I can not speak for my fellow riders, but these conditions give me the creeps and make for adrenalin generating moments.
It’s a rule that when you think you have a thing mastered that the thing jumps up and bites you in the butt. I know this rule so I expect something to happen. The problem is I lack the ability to figure out when it’s going to happen. I try to stay very focused on riding in these conditions but after a while, this condition of focus becomes tiring. I don’t mean boring tiring, I mean exhausting. So, you unwillingly start to lose you intense focus and that’s when it happens! It’s always so simple. Something you have done a hundred times before now takes on the difficulty of a moon shot. For example, we were riding on small gravel that was inches deep in mud and water and we were crawling along just barely able to maintain headway because of the backed up traffic in front of us. We were forced to stop in this mess because a flag man had stopped the whole lane of traffic. Panic, I don’t want to stop. I have 900 pounds of metal and me balance precariously on two small patches of rubber. Stopping means putting my feet down in nasty stuff that may cause my boots to slip out from under me. Did I say I did not want to stop? Well, we stopped anyway and without disaster and now I have the added chore or metabolizing pounds of adrenaline. I keep asking myself, “What’s the big deal”? “Are you a girly man or something”? I don’t have a clue why I get so up tight about these conditions, but I know that most of my “moments” on a bike occur at speeds less than five miles an hour. This biking stuff is fun. On we go in the rain. It’s off and on all day to our first corner of Madawaska, Maine.
It’s on this leg of highway 11 that Stu exhibits a riding characteristic that will remain for the rest of the trip. Stu has this thing about any vehicle in front of him. He must pass that vehicle. The only salvation from this riding quirk is for the vehicle in front to be pulling away at a substantial rate. It is of no consequence what the speed limit is, how fast we are going, how fast the vehicle in front is going, we are going to pass. Now passing vehicles in a pack of riders is not the same as passing in a car or even on a single bike. If you want the pack to stay as one, you must pass and maintain the passing speed long enough that you create enough room between you and the passed vehicle for you and the following riders to fit. Additionally, the following riders must generate speeds in excess of your speed to catch you and pass the subject vehicle. So if you, as lead, pass a vehicle and do not maintain the passing speed until the pack is together again, you will have the pack crawling up your back side as they attempt to slow down to your speed. It’s a riding skill that every pack leader must master. Stu is an expert at this maneuver. To his credit, he never once passed a vehicle that put him or his following pack in a dangerous position. To accomplish this maneuver repeatedly, however, we, as a group, achieved some pretty amazing velocities that gave me pause. But, perhaps we are back to the girly man thing again.
Madawaska, ME is the northeastern most town in the US. It has a strong French influence because New Brunswick Province is just across the Saint John river and Quebec Province is just a stones throw from there. There is actually a sign in the town announcing that it is one of four towns representing the four corners of the US. But it is short on motel rooms especially when there is a major construction project in progress.
I must regress. Earlier, we had passed through the town of Ft. Kent, ME and had stopped to photograph ourselves in front of the sign documenting we had visited the northern most end of US Hwy 1. We would do this again at the southern end of the highway. When we found no rooms in the inns of Madawaska, a friendly lady in one of the motels called around and found us rooms in a motel. Where? Back in Ft. Kent at a motel, the Northern Door Inn, that was in the background of the pictures we had taken earlier that day at the end of US Hwy 1. These events and coincidences make the bad roads and rain all worth while. I can still feel the smile that came across my face as I turned into the parking lot to realize we had returned to the same motel we had visited earlier.
We had breakfast at the Ft. Kent motel’s breakfast bar and hit the road to pass through customs into Canada. Since I was leading at the time, I made a bad decision based on the GPS and was immediately going the wrong way into New Brunswick. Stu pulled me over and we discussed the bad turn. We made the correction and were soon back on track. Almost immediately, we ran into a closed road sign and a relating detour sign. We made the turn. This detour cost us at least two hours of time and put us behind in our schedule. But, like a lot of unplanned changes, it turned out to be for the best. The roads on the detour were wonderful. Lots of scenery, no traffic, no gendarmerie, great roads and a perfectly sunny day. What a great detour! The detour ended on to what Canada calls a freeway. Most of these freeways in Canada are two lane roads with many three lane passing areas. However, we enjoyed the comforts of well maintained four lane highways all the way to Quebec City. With Stu in the lead and Steve second, I was dragging up the rear as we began the odyssey through down town Montreal using their freeways. It depends upon who you ask, but just after we crossed the St. Lawrence River into the city, we were supposed to exit south west toward our overnight spot, Pembroke, Quebec. According to my story, Stu missed the turn and Steve turned where we should have turned and I followed Steve. This is a classic mistake made by pack riders. The unspoken rule is, always follow the leader no matter how hosed up he might be. We had never talked about this before but managed time at the motel to give it a good review. It’s about four in the PM so traffic is intense. Steve and I pulled off the road about a mile from our exit and waited on the side of the road for about 45 minutes hoping Stu would do a U turn and retrace his route to us. No such luck. After what we thought was an appropriate time we pressed on with the planned route but become uneasy when we do not see Stu down the road. We exit the road in a town, unknown, and decide to call Stu’s wife and tell her what has happened and to give Stu Steve’s cell number. Remember I said earlier that Stu was an analog bubba and does not own nor will he carry a cell phone. So, as Steve is calling Marianne, my cell goes off and it’s Margaret my wife. Margaret advises me that Stu just called her and said he was proceeding to our new destination of Ottawa, would get a motel room and would call Steve’s iPhone when he could tell us where the motel was. You could not make up this story, it his was too bizarre to be true. Oh well!
Steve and I pressed ahead to the destination, pulled off to check voice mails. Steve had a message from Stu telling us where he had acquired rooms. Steve did a good job of finding the motel. We unpacked the bikes, stored them in a garage, the only time they would be covered the entire trip, and retired to our rooms. This was a good time to relax from the day’s adventure, tell lies about who did what and partake of the pale blue liquid. Since we spent close to an hour relaxing, we decided that riding the bikes to dinner was unwise. We got a lead from the desk person and started hoofing it to the restaurant. It was about a half mile away. On the way, we passed a night baseball game that was probably AAA or semi-pro type. The fans were having a good time.
The restaurant was a Lone Star type steak house and after a huge but average rib eye and a glass of red vin ordinaire, we hiked back to the hotel. On the way, we passed the ball park again and stopped for no more than ten minutes to watch the game when a pitch was knocked over the fence and drove in several runners to end the game. How cool is that! We all slept well that night.
The next day proved to have some excitement. Under normal conditions, I would guess that Stu can go farther on a tank of gas than Steve and I. Perhaps I can go just a little farther than Steve. We were headed WSW on Hwy 17 toward Sault St. Marie and I was already below a quarter of a tank remaining. I was not concerned because Steve was in the lead so I figured that he would stop at the first station since he had to be lower on fuel than I was. This turned out to be only marginally so. Twenty to thirty miles outside of Mattawa, Ontario, Steve slowed down to 55 and we all knew that he was in a gas saving mode. We rode this way for some time until we reached the outskirts of Mattawa where a gas station appeared. Steve was sucking fumes and began to fill up. When Stu and I pulled up for gas, they did not have any premium which our Harley’s require. I was now in the same condition as Steve, my gauge was two needle widths below the E, and I was prepared to let the Hawg drink a little 87 octane for a leg when the attendant told us their was a gas station just around the corner that sold premium. Stu and I cranked up and drove the three blocks to the station.
Two things happened at the station that I found of note. First, the attendant came out to every car and bike, removed the nozzle from the pump and lifted the leaver to start the pump then handed the hose to you so you could do your own refueling. He spoke not a word to me during this process. You still had to pay inside. To this day, I have no clue why he used these procedures. Second, after refueling, when I tried to start my bike, the starter solenoid just clicked and the motor did not turn over. Stu recommended that I let it sit for a while then try again. Sounded good to me so I went inside and purchased a Coke. When the Coke was finished, I tried the starter and the bike cranked right up. This event was to surface again later in way that did not end so easily.
All this excitement and the time of day required a stop for lunch at Myrt’s Family Restaurant. This was an eclectic place with a wooden statue of a mountaineer in the parking lot and the replica of a guy paddling a birch bark canoe on the roof. Cool. English was the first language in the place and we had a very nice late breakfast. Steve’s salad was huge as always. While waiting for our food, Stu and I noted it had been a day or two since Steve had shaved. With just the lightest of pressure, we encouraged him into letting it grow. He made the commitment to produce a mustache and goatee similar to ones Stu and I now sported. I documented its growth in pictures as the trip progressed. Steve used my mustache trimmer to keep it neat. Stu was working on the unkempt mountain man look. To no one’s surprise, this unkempt look was no challenge for Stu.
Back on the road, we rejoiced in returning to the US by getting two motel rooms then striking out to the down town of Sault St. Marie to enjoy a meal. For those of you who do not know someone from Michigan, you may not have heard of the expression “Upper”. This word is not pronounced upper as in upper thigh, but “youper”. This is a derogatory contraction for those folk who chose to live in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Like “cracker”, “sand lapper” or “hick”, it presupposes that everyone from the upper peninsula is ignorant, stupid or maladjusted in some form or another. We all know that generalizations of these sorts are almost always overstated and untrue. That said, we entered the combination pub/café and waited for a table to be assigned. There were two very young men seated on stools at the bar who immediately started what I would define as smart mouth banter with the three of us. I don’t recall what series of events lead to have one of these young guys pull his T shirt over his head but this he did more than once. I am sure alcohol had something to do with his actions. Or perhaps there is something to the “Upper” thing after all!
The next morning we departed Sault St. Marie and worked our way west and south until we intersected US Hwy 2. We followed Hwy 2 until it intersected US Hwy 8. Hwy 8 took us west through Wisconsin and halfway across Minnesota to a small town called Forest Lake just north of St. Paul. Here we bedded down for the night. We had some pleasant riding across the upper peninsula and Wisconsin but nothing sticks in my mind as memorable.
Not so the following morning. I hit the road with the intention of transiting St. Paul on a series of interstates. Stu had mentioned that he would prefer to use the bypass but I held tight to my route. Since Sue had been told to take the shortest route, she took us off the interstate at one point and then put us back on again a mile or two later. I could sense that this was going to come up at a later time and that I was due some heat for Sue’s literal translation of shortest route. To keep this issue alive and as the gods would have it, the interstate we were on came to a dead end for construction. There was nothing to indicate where we should go to detour around the construction. I pulled over and instructed to Sue to recalculate the route. While she was working on this problem, Stu, with an understandable degree of irritation, took the lead and we were off back down the same stretch of interstate to find and turn onto the bypass. By this time, of course, Sue had a solution but we were off on a course that would do as well if not better. Sue and I both felt like we had let the pack down, so we brought up the rear with our tail between our legs. We circumvented St. Paul and drove south on I-35. Stu took a sort cut from I-35 to US Hwy 14 via state road 80. We took fuel on and Stu wanted me take the lead again. Sue had a route to return to Hwy 14, but it did not initially head west. More derision from the pack.
We finally headed west on US Hwy 14 towards our destination of Pierre, SD. I suppose I should have remembered from grammar school that Minnesota was a true plains state. I had no idea it was so flat. For me, this was the beginning of the best part of the trip, less the Blue Ridge. I love the straight roads, endless horizons, fields of wheat, barley, alfalfa, and hay. I also love the smells associated with these bounteous fields of agriculture. The sense of peace and relaxation on these roads bids me to return again and again.
This wonder was soon replaced by awe as we neared the South Dakota border. On the horizon on both sides of the road, there appeared as though a mirage, hundreds of glossy pale white wind turbines. I know not their size, but they are huge. Their size makes the slowness of rotation of their majestic wind foils seem out of place somehow. Majestic they are and they remained with us for 10 to 15 minutes before we left them behind to endlessly spin electricity. Contrary to some reports, I found the turbines perfectly at home in their place on the prairie contributing to the view without distracting the natural beauty of the plains landscape.
The roads in South Dakota were a continuation of what we had seen in Minnesota and led to an interesting town call Pierre, (pronounced pier)SD scheduled to be our bed down spot for the day.
We checked in to the motel and endured the two surliest attendants we experienced the entire trip. They were good for one thing, I must admit. They recommended the Cattleman’s Club about nine miles out of town, claiming it had great steaks. We had heard this before. Nonetheless, we hopped on the bikes and made the trek and were rewarded with a restaurant with a beautiful view of the Oahe Lake. This is a strange looking lake because it appears to be more like a wide river than a lake. The lake takes its name from its name sake the Oahe River that flows into South Dakota from North Dakota and joins the Cheyenne River north of Pierre. There is a dam just north of Pierre that creates a reservoir/lake that backs up into the Cheyenne and Oahe river valleys. There is a second dam down steam, Ft. Randall Dam, in Pickstown, SD which creates the lake in front of the Cattleman’s Club.
The place was packed with locals. It was festooned with walls and a ceiling of pine paneling that looked quite new and fresh and gave it warm and comfortable atmosphere. I asked the lady behind the register if we could eat at the bar because there were three empty stools next to the wall and we would not have to wait for a table. This was allowed. Sitting next to me and next to the cash register there was an elderly gent who seemed to know everyone who came by the cashier and was shown clear deference by the wait staff. There was a minor delay and a young man with the name Austin, he had a name tag, asked if he could help us. At this point I must confess that attending the cash register there was a mature woman with knockout proportions and a handsome face to boot. I found it hard not to stare. The three of us conferred with each other and confirmed that this was one heck of a looker. Austin took our drink and food order and then returned to chat. When we asked him for a short history lesson of the restaurant, he told us that his grandfather had started the place and that his grand dad was the elder statesman sitting next to me. This explained a lot about why everyone knew him and spoke to him. Some where during our discussion, the grandfather spoke to one of the female wait staff and ordered his evening toddy. The poor girl put a shot of vodka in a glass the size of an old fashioned Coke glass and filled the rest of with tonic water. The grandfather quickly told his grandson to rectify this error and Austin balked. He probably balked because the family might have been concerned the pater familia was consuming too much alcohol. A word from the honcho and Austin poured out the drink and filled the same glass with ice and gin half way to the top. Some toddy!
Austin also advised us that it was a family run and operated business and that his mother was the business manager and did double duty on the cash register. Boy! I dodged a bullet here because one of us was bound to ask Austin who was the looker behind the register. The food was a little long in coming but when it arrived it turned out to be, in my personal experience, the best piece of beef I have ever put in my mouth. No exceptions. Stu and Steve would not go that far but they thought it was a superb repast.
We took pictures of everything and then set out to town and the motel. On the way, Stu, I believe, spotted an antique car display in the parking lot of a McDonalds. We pulled over and took pictures and spoke with some of the car owners. It’s these little unintended detours from the planned trip that make our journey such a joy. Stu struck up a conversation with a particular owner who, in my judgment, was the biggest con guy around. He told one story after another about the car he had created that simply did make any technical sense. I think he just lied. We were there about 30 minutes and Stu spent most of that time with the con artist attempting to glean truth from BS. I am sure it was a waste of his time but interesting nonetheless and typical of Stu,s attraction to the unique and bohemian aspects of life.
The following day was going to be a short ride day to Sturgis, SD and rendezvous with Rex so we decided to get oil changes and Stu was to get a new tire. We rolled out early to get in line for service at the Harely dealership, Petersen Motor Co. We managed to have breakfast in the motel’s restaurant and were on our way out when we began to see a bevy of middle age women dressed in the most bizarre ways. Neon electric purples, reds, orange and lavender dresses, costumes and hats. Hats, hats and more hats. Hats of every size, shape, and creative design option imaginable. It was our incredible luck to have stumbled onto the ladies of South Dakota’s Red Hat Society’s convention in Pierre. Seldom will you see a more affable bunch of ladies having more fun than this group in Pierre. Smiles everywhere and all eager to leap to have their pictures taken with the likes of us skuzzy road warriors. We took the time to speak to some of the attendees and I was struck by the universal attitude of well being, camaraderie, and suppression of inhibitions. This overall good feeling by all these wonderful ladies attended me as we set out to the Harley dealer. What a stupendous way to start the day!
We were first in line for service at the HD dealership and all three bikes were swallowed into their mystery pit of mechanical Voo Doo. We eyeballed the bikes in the show room to pass the time. It was the first time I had seen a Harley Davison authorized three wheel trike on display at a dealer. It was not made by HD and the details of the conversion of a motorcycle to a trike were evident by the poor fitting bodywork. Steve’s Valkyrie and my dresser were both done in about and hour but Stu’s tire change was going to take longer than planned. After consultation with Stu, Steve and I headed back to the Red Hat girls to wait for him to join us. We checked out of the motel and had all of Stu’s gear with us as we waited for his return. An hour or so later, Stu pulled up, packed his bike and we were off for Sturgis on a gloriously clear sunshiny day!
We had breakfast at the City Café in a town I don’t recall. I love these places. The combination of plastic plaid table cloths, locals at their regular table, a friendly, folksy wait person, decent food and always a history give them a universal appeal. I am always amazed at how these little restaurants can survive with such a small customer base. They thrive by the thousands and we are enriched for their continued contribution to another piece of the Americana pie.
Again, the open vistas, good road and weather made the time fly by and before I knew it, we were outside of Sturgis on I-90 headed for our motel and the rendezvous with Rex. There was one place along Hwy 14 that struck my interest. It looked like a manufacturing plant of some sort but it had a replica of a Pheasant cock that must have been three stories tall attached to the roof of the building. Makes you wonder what happens there everyday.
Sue found the motel with ease and we were soon shaking hands and patting backs as Rex was introduced to Steve. There was little time to waste, so we mounted back up and headed to downtown Sturgis.
Sturgis is most famous for being the location of one of the largest annual motorcycle events in the world, which is held annually on the first full week of August. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world flock to this usually sleepy town during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
This from Wikipedia: “The first rally was held on August 14, 1938, by the "Jackpine Gypsies" motorcycle club (who still own and operate the tracks, hillclimb, and field areas where the rally is centered). The first event was called the "Black Hills Classic" and consisted of a single race with nine participants and a small audience. The founder is generally considered to be Clarence "Pappy" Hoel. He purchased an Indian Motorcycle franchise in Sturgis in 1936 and formed the "Jackpine Gypsies" that same year.
The focus of the motorcycle rally was originally racing and stunts. In 1961, the rally was expanded to include the Hillclimb and Motocross races. This could include half-mile track racing (the first year in Sturgis, there were 19 participants), intentional board wall crashes, ramp jumps and head-on collisions with automobiles.
The Sturgis Rally has been held every year, with exceptions during WW II. As an example, in 1942, the event was not held due to gas rationing.
In recent years, there has been a revitalization of motorcycling and a new group of fans that are interested in the old rallies. This has led to huge attendance numbers for classic rallies such as Sturgis. Attendance was estimated at 514,951 in 2004, 525,250 in 2005 (this is close to the population of South Dakota) and 754,844 in 2000. Many of the new attendees of the Sturgis Rally are families, bringing their children and driving trailers and campers to the rally, riding their motorcycles the last few miles. This has prompted several of the attendees to start wearing patches and shirts saying "I Rode Mine to Sturgis" with the date instead of the traditional patch stating that the wearer attended the event in that year.”
Well, we rode ours to Sturgis. Our arrival was on the last day of the rally so the crowds were much less than you would find earlier in the rally. It would be fair to say that every walk of US life is represented within the leather clad crowds of Sturgis. If I were to guess, I would estimate that a huge majority of attendees are over forty. Over the years, the Harley Davidson crowd has morphed from outlaw bikers to outlaw look alikes, to professional folks and retirees that can afford the cost of the HD. If you take time to talk to some of the folks you will find this true, but you will also find the rider who has more invested in his hawg than he does in his 40 foot double wide. Hence the cardinal rule of motorcyclist: NEVER touch another riders bike unless given permission. At one time Harley riders used to have brass plaques made and attached to their bikes stating: “If you love your life as much as I do this bike, don’t f__k with it”. It is interesting to watch bike riders look closely at other bikes and go way out of their way to avoid brushing an article of clothing across the observed paint job. This is a form of respect as well as fear of accidentally damaging the motorcycle. So… the main street of Sturgis presents four lines of parked bikes ten blocks long, long gray pony tails, tatoos galore, denim and leather in abundance, choppers, baggers, rice rockets, fat boys, soft tails, trikes,V-Rods, street Rods, trash bikes, beer, burgers, equipment and clothing vendors, drunks, police and hundreds of thousands of biker enthusiast. It’s a see and be seen mecca. Many of the “be seen” crowd lost their physical attractions decades ago and should review their decisions to expose so much flesh. Finally, as you might imgine, straight pipes, max decible rock and roll music, and the constant cacaphony of conversation make it one of the noisiest places on earth. It’s a wonder every time I go back.
For me, the allure is the equipment vendors. All the rest is back ground noise that gives broad strokes of color for the entire scene. The vendors show the latest in gadgets, technology and clothing. It’s a rule that you must buy a Sturgis Rally T Shirt. Once this is done, I am ready to get back in the saddle. But I am not against sitting down with a beer and burger and taking in the scene as it passes by the front of the pub. Sadly, this was one of only a few times during the trip that all four of us were together and could sit down and BS at length. Part of this was my fault because I had an element of my sound gear go out prior to Sturgis and the vendor who sold it to me at a Honda Hoot was scheduled to be at Sturgis. So I left the group looking for the vendor promising to meet at the motel. I drove all over the landscape looking for the vendor and never found her. Discouraged, I made my way back to the motel and found the motel managers had provided a water hose, buckets, detergent and old towel rags for its customers to use washing their bikes. I spent about 30 minutes trying to get the big chunks off and had just finished when the rest of the gang rode up and also took advantage of the motel’s generosity. Strange, I rembember eating lunch on Main St. in Sturgis, but have absolutely no recolection of what or where we had dinner. Stu told me later that we ate in.
I was still huffy at the lack of respect tendered Sue so I passed the baton to Stu and Steve to lead us out of Sturgis. They spent an hour or so huddled together putting finishing touches on their planned route through a portion of the Black Hills.
The two of them did a superb job and Steve led us through the hills missing only one turn that he managed to fake. It was well done and I enjoyed the leisure of taking up the rear and smelling the roses.
If you have not visited Mt. Rushmore, the Chief Crazy Horse Monument and ridden Needles Highway, you are missing truly one of the loveliest places in the contiguous US. Everyone in our group had visited Mt. Rushmore on previous trips so we agreed to pass it up this time and spend time at the Chief Crazy Horse Monument instead. The monument is a huge undertaking financed without government help. It will take decades to finish. The original sculpter, Korczak Ziolkowski, has the third generation of his family working the project and there is little doubt that it will take several more generations before it is finished. When finished, the monument will pose the chief astride his horse pointing to the horizon. The museum on the site is beautifully paneled in natural finish pine that gleams with the light from copious windows positioned around the outside walls. There is a special viewing room that has floor to ceiling windows with a terrific vantage point to take in the project. We spent about an hour in the museum checking out Indian artifacts as well as the remains of equipment used to sculpture the monument. Of note to me was a gate that was constructed at the exit of the museum. This seemed strange. I thought the gate should be at the entrance but this did nothing to distract from its artistic beauty. To put this picture in perspective, the gate was large enough to enclose a five car garage. The frame and cross support members were cast iron and painted black. In between the cross members were dozens of silhouettes of wood land animals. They were painted gold. I guess it was paint, but the silhouettes themselves seemed to be constructed of a very soft and pliable metal. It was a striking peace of art that seemed incongruous in its setting but more appealing because of its somewhat bizarre location. I took several pictures of the gate but none did the art justice.
Speaking of incongruous, in the parking lot of the Crazy Horse Monument was a Harley Davidson 40 footer with a half a dozen historical bikes inside. The display was only mildly interesting and took less than two minutes to see it all and depart. Oh, while I am on the subject of departing, as we exited the HD display, a rider with a brown padded leather helmet that rose to a point like an upside down ice cream cone on his head with huge aviator goggles astride a 60’s vintage panhead cranked his motor and rode off into the hills. He was a sight! You meet the weirdest people on a Harley.
Steve lead us out of the monument and guided us through the Needles Highway. This highway is a good road with pleasant twisties that winds its way through prolific formations of granite that rise in parallel rows to points like needles. Hence the name. The highway is also home to many a view of grandeur from its shoulders. All four of us drank this in and then reluctantly departed toward Montana through Wyoming.
We stopped to get gas at the intersection of I-90 and Hwy 585 close to the town of Sundance. We also stopped at one of the very few fast food places on the entire trip. This place was a Subway. The place was packed.
After lunch, we were mounting our steeds when a very surprising thing happened. Steve announced that he was going to have to leave the group and head south to Colorado to be with his daughter. He said that he had been in communication with his family the previous day and he felt obligated to make this detour for his family. We were all very disappointed, but understood. Steve noted that he might try to catch up with us in California some place but he was not sure how long the family matter might take. We wished him good will and safe riding and he departed south.
Stu assumed the duties as pack leader and we headed out north on a surprise visit to the Devils Tower National Park. Thus begins one of the strangest and scariest days on a motorcycle I have ever experienced. Given the nature of the park and its role in the movie “Close Encounters of a Third Kind”, our experience was nothing less than “otherworldly”.
Like most of these things, everything seems normal with little warning of what is to come. The ride to Devils Tower was fun. The roads were terrific and Stu appeared to be successfully dodging thunderstorms along our route. We were not dressed for rain. There is a trading post just at the base of the tower and we stopped for a pee break, butt rest and the opportunity to suit up for what looked like a high percentage encounter with rain of some sort. I mentioned to Stu that he had been really lucky avoiding the rain. Although he will deny it now, he then harrumphed at my denial of his cloud avoidance skills and opined that luck had nothing to do with it. He assured me it was all experience and an in depth knowledge of meteorology salted with some Key West VooDoo that he doo so well. I, on the other hand, stung by this obvious rebuke of my opinions, noted that he would probably rue these comments at some time in the future. I would soon learn just how prescient my comments were to be.
I must digress. While we waited for a squall to pass over, we struck up conversations with several of the bikers who were also waiting out the rain. Of note were two really hard looking guys who were keeping separate from the others. This was too much to let pass. I asked them where they were from and was surprised to hear that they were from down under. Their accents were thick as maple syrup and just as sweet. I love the Aussies and Kiwi’s. These two guys were Harley owners back home but found that it would be too expensive to ship their bikes to the US compared to renting. That may be true, but the last time I looked it was $450 for five days. So, the duo were on a seven week tour of Canada and the US and had just left Sturgis and were headed into British Columbia. We spent some time talking bikes and trips we had been on until it was time to go. In the mean time we noted a white HD touring bike that looked like it had been in a mishap. On closer inspection, remember the rules, the bike was from British Columbia and clearly had been rear ended. There was a group of bikes with BC license plates and one of these guys approached me as we were checking out the bikes. He was really friendly and told us that when their group was leaving Sturgis, the white bike had stopped at a stop sign after one of his guys in front had stopped and then proceeded through the intersection. One of his fellow riders hit him squarely on the rear fender with his front wheel and did a job on the fender. The rider dropped his bike but was not injured. All were tail dragging at this show of amateur riding skills. This group set off just as the rain started to slack off.
As the rain stopped, Stu, then Rex then I set off toward Montana. Again we danced around thunderstorms for perhaps an hour. I could just hear Stu!
Did I mention that Stu has little patience for things electronic. I’m pretty sure I did. This lack of patience has special focus regarding cell phones and two way radios. As we progressed, it became clear that there was a storm of alarming magnitude stretching 170 degrees across the horizon in front of us. This thing was huge and was black from the ground to infinity. We traversed what would have otherwise been a beautiful scene of rolling hills with a single road, straight as an arrow, darting its way to the opposite horizon. Instead, the road led to the very center of this gargoyle of low pressure and cyclonic winds with its attendant rain, hail and lightning. Rex is not one for excess words over the radio but at this singular sight he was compelled to state: “Gus, we are descending into the abyss”. Had Stu a radio, I firmly believe we could have talked him out of continuing into the abyss. No such luck. As we raced to our doom, lightning was striking the ground all around us with the most disturbing display of fireworks I have ever seen from lightning. Just as the arc of fire raced from the ground to the cloud above to create its state of electrical homeostasis, a huge fire ball was ignited on the ground that lasted just slightly longer than the arc of fire to the cloud. This was highly disconcerting and would have prompted anyone with a modicum of intellect to stop and turn around and flee this monster of nature. Not so the stupid three musketeers. The three of us demonstrated little if any appreciation for the forces of nature. At this moment, I will confess that Stu and Rex would have been in there by themselves if I had it to do over again.
As we got closer, the lightning continued but was now invisible due to the darkness that was surrounding us. Then the rain came. Sheets and sheets of it blowing sideways from left to right. The combination of darkness and rain made Rex’s bike disappear from my sight. I was scared silly I was going to plow into him from the rear. I was already at a crawl but blind to the road. I could not see the road. What I mean is, I could not see the road below my feet. I tried to stop several times, but every time I thought I was going to be able to put my feet down, the wind, at approximately 70+ knots, would gust and almost blow me and the bike over and I would have to continue to stay upright. I was finally able to bring the bike to a stop and get both feet on the ground. I still could not see my feet. I turned my windshield and fairing into the wind to protect myself from the stinging rain when we were assaulted with nickel to quarter size hail. Since I was still holding the bike upright, I was committed to holding on to the left handle bar and my hand withstanding the beating from the hail. I have no idea how long the worst of the storm lasted, but it seemed to go on forever. In reality, the worst probably lasted no more than several minutes. As the wind slackened slightly, I looked around and saw that I had miraculously missed Rex and he was a bike’s length behind me and to my right. Stu was also to my right but a bike’s length in front. The hail continued to blast us until I noticed an 18 wheeler slowly coming in our direction in the apposing lane. He stopped next to us serving as a shield that protected us from the worst of the storm. We will never know if this was intentional or just coincidence. I like to think he was helping us out. The truck gave me an opportunity to put the kickstand down and dismount the bike and turn my back to the storm. With my helmet on, leather jacket and rain gear on, hands in front of me, I could weather the elements without much discomfort.
About this time we noticed a Montana State Patrol truck had pulled up behind us and had turned on his flashers. His truck protected our rear. We stayed like this until the storm was just rain and some mild wind. The patrolman opined we should get moving to make sure we did not get struck by any residual lightning. We were only too willing to do his bidding. Off we rode with one bad mother in our mirrors. Guess what, the rest of the ride was in some of the clearest skies I have ever seen. It was just gorgeous. Later that evening in the motel at Miles City, Montana, Rex and Stu both discovered multiple hail strikes to the left side of their faces. For 12 hours, they looked like they had chicken pox.
Two lessons here: Don’t screw with mother nature, and there is no fool like an old fool.
This is a neat tale to recount but I was personally embarrassed that I had demonstrated so little respect for weather that I knew was dangerous. What’s more, I did not press my fellow riders, who are close friends, to pull over and wait the storm out. Only luck separated us from a possible preventable injury. Thank the sages I did not have to live with the memory of an injured friend. Never again!
We settled on a Holiday Inn in Miles City, Montana. It was at this motel that we began to sleep three to a room with a rollaway bed. As usual, we checked with the locals on a place to eat and were guided down the road to a restaurant just a few blocks away. It happens we were out of the blue elixir so we pulled into a combo casino, road house and liquor store on the way to supper. These places are great! It was smoky and there were only three or four customers to be found with one bellied up to the bar. It was Rex’s turn to buy, so he picked out a bottle and was paying the lass behind the register. The guy on the bar stool was tall and lanky and from Texas. I know he was from Texas because our ambassador at large struck up a conversation with him while Stu and I listened as the Texan, Rex and the bar maid got to be old friends. I have said it before, but it’s pure enjoyment to watch and listen to Rex do his thing. There is no person regardless of gender, race or station in life that Rex can not find some intersection of his life with theirs. It comes to him as natural and easy as drawing his next breath. What a wonderful personality trait to possess.
Chow time! The restaurant was classic small town, but they had Specials of the Day and today’s special was chicken fried steak. I have no recall of what Rex and I ate, but I sat across from Stu and watched him place forks of the damnedest concoction of batter fried Salisbury steak invisible under a comforter thick layer of colored flour gravy in the opening on his face surrounded by a straggly gray beard. I do remember that I lost most of my appetite at the specter. Girly man again! I was sure he would have a coronary on the spot. You know what? I probably ordered the same thing and Stu was having the same visuals. Nah… never happen.
It’s a brand new world the next morning. Target destination is East Glacier, Montana, 450 miles and some of the greatest plains country in the world. We headed north on Hwy 59, then west on Hwy 200 then 87 to Great Falls, Montana. From the start of this leg, we encountered substantial head winds but gave them little notice as our sturdy steeds were well capable of handling this weather. The plains were a combination of agricultural grains and cattle sustaining grass lands. A wonder to the eye these vistas stretching to the horizon. We made our first gas stop and I was rewarded with a traveled leg in which I made 24 miles to the gallon. This was down from approximately 40 miles to the gallon on previous legs. Rex and Stu were also down but just a couple of miles per gallon. I wrote the phenomenon off as the result of riding at 70 plus mph for long stretches on the last leg. It was the same story at the next fuel stop and I began to worry that there was something amiss with the steed. If this continued, the trip was going to be a lot more expensive than I had planned. Worse, however, was the paucity of gas stations in this part of the country and we would need to stop every hundred miles or so just to ensure I could make it to the next station down the road.
At this station, Sue found a HD dealership in Great Falls, Montana and she provided the phone number. I called the dealership and made an appointment for them to check out the bike. I was bummed. This stop was probably going to make us miss East Glacier that day. I would be more bummed as the day wore on.
We pulled into Great Falls and the Sky High Harley Davidson shop. The dealer was pretty good and took my bike right in but I had to wait for a technician to return from lunch. One hour gone. The technician arrived and began work. Two hours gone. Rex and Stu were really great about this delay and busted my chops only mildly. At the three hour mark, the tech determined that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my bike. How come the mileage thing then? He had no clue except to relay complaints from some of his customers who faulted the winds and how they affected their mileage. Times awastin. We hit the road with a thanks to Sky High.
On a previous trip to East Glacier, Rex and I had been warned by some locals at a restaurant that we should avoid Browning, Montana if we could. The locals explained that the town was mostly native Americans and that they had a very high crime rate with pale faces being their targets on occasion. We took this to heart then and rode through the town without stopping. Rex and I shared this story with Stu but when we got to Browning, I HAD to stop for gas.
I believe it was an Exxon or Esso station and it was mobbed with customers and lots of other folks just milling around. I gassed up and moved the bike to the road side away from the crowd. While I waited for Rex and Stu, not more than 10 minutes, two separate police cars on two separate occasions pulled up to the station, put someone in hand cuffs and took them away. This was a rough place and we hurried out of town towards East Glacier.
The ride from Browning to East Glacier was smooth and a visual pleasure but the fact that the sun was setting and giving beautiful vistas also announced the onset of darkness. When we arrived in East Glacier, there was not a motel room to be found. At one of the motels, there was a very pleasant young woman with toddler who called all over the place trying to find us a room. She called every place within a 50 mile radius with no luck. It looked hopeless. I was contemplating catching some shut eye on the couches in the East Glacier National Park Lodge. We decided to try the lodge and get some chow. We parked outside the lodge. It’s huge and beautiful. I went inside to beg. There was a young Asian woman behind the counter who nicely informed me there was nothing available for the three of us. I put it another way. Was there anything available? She looked again and found a cabin with two single beds in St. Mary, 45 miles away. I took it! Because of the failing light, I hustled out to the bikes to get us on the road. No such luck.
While I was gone, a woman named Tommy had seen the Iron Butt Association plate holder on my bike and asked Rex about it. This was terrific for Rex. A person to talk to about a subject over which he held perfect command.
This person was a strange apparition. She was taller than I and had me by at least 20 pounds. I was introduced but continued to mount my steed. Rex told me he had offered to buy the person a hamburger inside and that we all needed food. I tried to beg off because of the failing light but it was a hopeless effort. The café was crowded but we managed to find a table in a corner and to get a waiter to help us with our hamburger order. Tommy was not eating! Why were we here I asked silently to myself? With the order placed, Tommy regaled us with stories of multiple motor cycles and Porches she owned. She revealed that she was on a long distance solo bike trip on her way to meet some friends. I took an almost instant dislike to this person because I believed her stories to be untrue and meant to impress. The stories included events during which she outran cops on her Suzuki Hyabusa 500 HP rice rocket. Her description of her life seemed to me out of context with her gender. A pig I may be, but this person fit none of the attributes I associate with a woman. I immediately jumped to the irrational conclusion that she may not have been a she. Later that night, Stu intoned that he felt the same way. Our judgment may have been unfair but this person climbed way pass the weird index on the personality meter.
We finally managed to eat, pay our bill and hit the road leaving Tommy to return to her life. The sun was well passed the horizon and the streets were dark in the “shade” of the trees lining the road. It was 45 miles to St. Mary’s and another five to the cabin. The way was mountain twisties with no shoulder markings and passing through free range cattle country. I lead the way and Sue advised me when turns were upcoming and how sharp they were. She was a life saver. After about 10 minutes of night mountain riding, I became cold with my summer gear on and began to shiver. While I was trying not to bite my tongue from my teeth banging together, I rounded a turn and there in the road were several BLACK angus cattle with many more on the shoulders and even more grazing within a few meters of the road. There was never a real threat of hitting one of these cows, but it was very disconcerting and added to the overall apprehension of this night ride. With teeth chattering, we pressed ahead and finally found St. Mary’s and then the cabin. To my fellow riders credit, they did a superb job of hanging on and even saw a sign to our cabin that I had missed.
I don’t recall the exact time of night, but I believe it was between nine and ten PM when we pulled up next to our cabin. Finding the cabin was no easy chore. It was dark as the inside of a can of fishing worms and the cabin numbers were nailed to the side of the cabins and were about the same color. Once located, we discovered that the cabins were actually duplexes and that we had neighbors. There were no street lights and not one cabin had a light on in a window. There were no telephones or TVs in the cabins so I guess everyone hit the hay early. I was sure we had awoken the entire community with our Harley pipes but no one complained or even turned on a light. We stumbled around in the dark trying to find a place to park the bikes and then unload them. Once in the cabin, the first order of business was to partake of a little pale blue elixir and unwind from a long and hard day of riding. Rex had gotten some ice while we were checking in at the lodge. While this was happening, each of us took turns using the shower and I shaved. This done, Stu agreed to sleep on the box springs of one bed and I would sleep on the floor using the mattress. Rex got the other bed. I was so tired, I slept like a log until sunup.
Stu was missing from the cabin when I awoke. It was weird. I probably should have been concerned, but I was not the least. He had not had a good night on the box springs and had arisen early and departed for the lodge so as to not disturb his riding mates.
Rex and I got dressed and walked down to the lodge called Two Dog Flats. Inside was Stu having coffee and writing notes for his journal. Rex and I joined him and had breakfast with a beautiful view of the Glacier Mountains.
After breakfast, we started up the hill to the cabin when Stu noticed the gift shop was open. Stu went in to buy a copious number of post cards. He writes to all of his family and even creates poetry for some of the cards while he travels. It’s one of his more enduring traits and I am jealous of his discipline to continue this throughout the journey.
Rested and fed, we started out again. There are two motorcycle navigable roads into Glacier Park. The northern most is a dead end that starts at St. Mary, MT and passes Lake Sherburne to terminate in a hikers terminal with a general store, showers, toilets, etc. This is also the road our cabin was on so we turned toward the dead end. We decided we would stop and turn around at the lodge on Lake Sherburne and take some pictures of the beautiful setting of the lodge on the lake. There is something about the air… It’s so clear that everything seems to be viewed through a dream crystal making all in your vision sharper than normal. This notional crystal gives colors and contrast acuity not seen in other climes and places. It’s breath taking.
The second road is referred to as the Rainbow Highway and bisects the park from St. Mary to West Glacier. The reference to a rainbow escapes me because we saw none. We did see lots of road construction, gravel repair sections and stop and go traffic. It was tiring and no fun but there more than a few beautiful sights to snatch between all of the above distractions.
Because of the traffic, this leg added an hour or more to this days riding so when we arrived at Three Corners, Idaho we were ready for a break. We gassed at Three Corners but there was no inn. With instructions from the friendly natives, we headed south to Bonners Ferry and the Kootenai Wildlife refuge. We found refuge at the Best Western Kootenai Travel Inn and Casino situated on the Kootenai River. Checked in but there were no no smoking rooms available. The helpful staff advised that they possessed a system whereby they fumigated rooms with some inert gas but it would take about an hour to do and for the room to clear. We immediately bought in to this wonderful technology and sought directions to the bar. The bar was a combo restaurant, but its salient feature was approximately forty feet of floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the Kootenai River. It was the perfect place to unwind, and we did with a couple rounds of hootch. The room was announced ready and we schlepped our stuff to the room. Since we had imbibed, we avoided the bikes and ordered pizza and began doing some laundry. With food and booze in our tummies and the clothes folded and repacked Rex and I watched a little news on the tube while Stu settled in on the veranda with a cigar and his writing stuff to document the day’s events. It had, overall, been a great day!
From this northern location in Idaho there are no roads west that cross the Kaniksu Forest and the Kootenai and Priest rivers. So the next morning we headed north up US 95 into British Columbia to revisit our northern neighbors. We continued north until we hit Hwy 3 in BC then put the sun to our backs and head west until we have crossed the Kootenai, Priest and Pend Oreille rivers and its south back into the states. We enter Washington state and continue south until we find Hwy 20 west.
Now begins, perhaps, the most scenic leg of our trip. Hwy 20 runs the entire width of Washington state and crosses the northern Cascade mountain range. But, before you get to the Cascades, you are entertained with natures warm up band of the Kaniksu Forest, the first of two crossings of the Columbia River, Okanogan National Forest and the Pasayten Wilderness. All terrific examples of natures wonder.
It’s the Northern Cascades however that are the cyclist dream. The ride is the only route that competes with the length and beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The road is a majestic combination of sweeping turns and surprise vistas that include dramatic shear walled canyons that are all green. The road has frequent passing lanes and bikes can carve the turns at 60 mph with ease. Just when you think it can’t get any better you round a turn and there is Diablo Lake in the windshield. We make a quick exit to the overlook and take a break to enjoy the sight and photograph this lake perhaps a thousand feet below the turnout. The lake appears to possess a shade of azure but when you turn and look 90 degrees up a separate finger of the lake the color shifts to a deep aqua. It’s the green of the trees that grow right down to the waterline that cause this visual. That’s my guess anyway. It’s terrific.
Back on our mag wheels, the large sweeping turns are replaced with gentle twisties that follow the banks of the Skagit River all the way to our transition to a northern trek to Blaine, WA. Wow! Make Washington’s Hwy 20 one of the ten things you see before you die.
Its been a 500 mile day as we arrive at our second corner, Blaine, WA. Blaine is a small sea port town on Boundary Bay that may have been a fishing village but is now mostly tourist. Rex spots a likely motel and we drop kickstands in the parking lot.
It’s the Motel International! The desk gentleman is a resident of the motel and goes out of his way to find facilities that hold all three of us. While we are waiting for the rollaway, the three of us enter into a routine that we all enjoy. It’s the PM call home. We share experiences with our wives and listen to the happenings of the day back at the fire side. For a significant portion of the trip Stu is busy with the cell coordinating with Marianne the myriad of chores necessary to prep for the hurricanes bearing down on Key West from the southern Atlantic. All goes well with this Key West price of admission to this small eclectic berg on our southern most tip of the US. With the home updates accomplished, we consider food. It’s agreed that we will try the TexMex chow hall across the parking lot. Its called Paso del Norte Family Restaurant and Lounge. Like most Mexican restaurants, the food is “fit for human consumption” , cheap in price and plentiful. We depart completely satiated and happy.
When I dwell on the memories of this or any other bike ride, I return to the following with a wonderful sense of satisfaction: The ride, new experiences, eating excitement, the companionship of good friends, and the occasional toddy all combine at the end of the day to produce a sense of comfortable fatigue. I cherish and crave this fatigue. I thank the alignment of the stars and the fickle finger of fate that permits these experiences of retirement.
The following AM we head out to the Blaine Post Office to photograph ourselves at the second corner. Without hesitation, Stu rides up on the sidewalk with Rex and I in trail and promptly blocks the entrance to the post office. It’s ok, we will be less than a minute. As I hop off the steed to take the photo, a police officer gets out of his unmarked car in front of the mailbox as the three of us put on our sheepiest faces. The officer smiles and trades good mornings with Rex, who else? No worries. We are off to Widby Island. The first highlight of this days travel is a relatively short section of Hwy 11 that passes through a grove of California Coastal Redwoods. What can you say? Huge and ancient tall examples of conifers that form a tunnel effect shutting out all sunshine and allowing little ambient light. Cathedral is the one word that I conjure. Humble and small my sensations.
The ride across Widby Island was uneventful. This was a disappointment because I was hoping it would be scenic. The ride back to the mainland on the ferry boat Cathlamet was fun but too short. We had time to get a drink and a readymade sandwich and it was time to mount the bikes and exit the ferry. (Oh, did I mention that I was asleep at the helm and missed a turn on Widby Island after Sue warned me! Probably not. We lost twenty minutes while I screwed around trying to get back on track.
Off the island, we head south east on US Hwy 2. Hwy 2 transits the Cascades which are nice but not the same as the northern version. The highway is also busy with traffic which always ups the state of focus and tension for me. Once we get off of Hwy 2 and on to Hwy 97 south, the traffic thins out nicely and we press on towards our rendezvous with I-82. The second highlight: I plan to gas up close to the intersection of 2 and 97 and pull into a station that has multiple motorcycles parked around. I pull up to a pump that does not appear to be operable. Strangely, there is a somewhat attractive blonde sitting on the concrete a few feet way painting a sign of some sort. I try to ask her what’s with the pump. She has an iPod head set stuck in her ears and only looks up at me out of curiosity. I mouth the question again. She rises from her sitting position and pulls the iPod ear plugs out. The music is so loud I can hear it through my helmet and my ear plugs. She leans in close, puts on a pretty smile and says “There’s no gas”. I look around again and then it hits home, this “used” to be a gas station. It’s now a place to sell bikes and scooters. I drag out my sheepish face again, thank her and pull the group back on the road. OK, Hwy 97 is a large road and we will get gas at the next station we come to. I have less than a quarter of a tank but that will get me about 50 miles at a gas saving speed. No sweat. Off we go. Forty miles later and no gas I pull over and discuss gas with the guys. Its 13 miles to the interstate but that is not a guarantee of gas. So I ask Sue, “Where is the closest gas station.” She points to a place ten miles away down a fork in the road. Sue never lies. Neither Stu nor I are confident we will make the station. Thank the stars its mostly downhill and we go to max conserve and make the station with out mishap and gas to spare.
A strange thing happens now. After filling the tanks we enjoy a Coke in the store next to the pumps. (First gas station I have visited that used port-a-potties full time.) While inside, Rex and Stu begin a verbal crusade deriding me and Sue for almost running us out of gas. This derision of my leading skills is hurtful to the max. It also demonstrates a lack of upbringing during their childhoods to publicly demonize the lady in our group. If that was not bad enough, they were universally critical of my defense that “almost ran out of gas” is a non sequitor. Either we did or we did not. To no effect, I explained that they had just experienced the results of perfect planning and execution. This was followed by a series of derogatory comments most containing some combination of the words “lucky” and “bastard”. Good thing I am comfortable in my own skin or I might have been scarred by this exchange.
Off to Maryhill, Oregon.
This portion of the route is marked by high deserts of brown and ocher with accompanying heat and high winds. The vastness of this desert is awe inspiring but not pretty in my eyes.
The third event: As we rode, Stu was in the lead and pointed out a dust devil at our 11 o’clock position. As we watched this phenomenon, it moved inexorably toward us. The dust devil was full of all sorts of flotsam including sage brush. Stu was able to speed up and the devil passed behind him and hit Rex and I square on. After passing through the winds, I noted that I had sage brush imbedded in the nooks and crannies of my bike. I also had a piece lodged in my helmet, but I could not see it at the time. So, what is it with Stu and cyclonic winds? Cloud boy had done it again.
We rounded a switch back in Hwy 97 and immediately were greeted with a view of the huge Columbia River and bridge to match. The bridge terminated in the town of Maryhill, OR. Maryhill seems to have one function, service the multitude of trucks that cross the bridge. Just off the bridge, we located a motel suitable to our tastes, first grade sleeze. The office was open but there was no one there. I walked outside and found two worker types fighting off the heat with a couple of super sized Buds. They informed me the single employee of the motel was around back painting one of the rooms. Yep, that’s where I found her. She was working hard and drenched in perspiration. She seemed very happy to see someone who could give her a break from her toil. We went to the office and did the paperwork.
Once our credit cards had been returned, we solicited the location of an ATM and places to do breakfast and supper. Our new friend advised that a convenience store, Denties, across the street could provide the ATM and breakfast. Supper could be had at a restaurant nine miles down a county road that paralleled the Columbia Rive. We drove the bikes across the street and I loaded up on cash while Rex, of course, and Stu engaged the very abundant woman behind the counter in a conversation regarding breakfast. As it turns out, breakfast was pre-made sandwiches in combinations of egg, sausages, ham, bacon and cheese. The special, however, was home made biscuits covered in beef flour gravy. Yum! They had two tables in an alcove in the rear so we decided to try the place the next AM. I inserted myself in the conversation by asking when the store opened. The hefty woman responded that the store opened at 0530 but that the only way she was going to get up that early was if she awoke in our motel room with the three of us. Whoa…. I was out the door with Stu in close trail. But not Rex, he was doing his, “let’s find an intersection in our lives”, thingy and seemed to miss the point of her conversation. Add this event to the “Tommy” debacle and Rex took deserved heat for the rest of his time with the group about his choice of conversation mates.
Mean while back at the Motel, I pulled a Rex and began a conversation with the two guys cooling their heels in front of their room. When I asked them where they were headed, they responded they had no clue but were waiting for a phone call with the hope of getting work. These guys were itinerant construction workers. One was a licensed boiler worker and the other a union iron worker. This is skilled labor and they spent their lives going from one job to another all across the US and Canada. If they had families, I have no idea how they made that work. They seemed quite satisfied with their way of life and the idea that they were out work was only a part of the fabric that was their robe of existence. They were friendly and interested in our bike odyssey and even had some recommendations about routes we might want to take to maximize our viewing pleasure.
I stood in awe at the character traits these two gents possessed. Traits steeling them effortlessly to accept the trials and tribulations of their chosen way of life. To each his own I guess. I wished them both good luck and departed their company with a new vision into the endless vagaries of life.
That evening at sunset, we traversed the county road along the Columbia River towards a steak house. The road bisected a narrow piece of land situated between the Columbia and a vertical bluff wall. Call it a quarter of mile wide. Call the bluff wall more than three hundred feet high. The space held a few mobile homes attached to small vegetable truck farms. Some of the homes were protected from the sun by clumps of scrub vegetation which made the sight depressing for my taste. In the middle of this scene of poverty, arose a home of staggering proportions. It was built of red brick and positioned right up against the wall of the bluff with large glass windows everywhere. It’s hard to imagine a structure more out of place. It bordered on anachronistic. Out of place perhaps, but they had one bodacious view of the river and the daily sunset. After we reached the steak house, I asked my mates what would stimulate a person to build such an edifice in such a remote and bizarre location. Surprisingly they both contributed multiple plausible explanations. I remained dubious.
The food at the restaurant was unremarkable in my view but we had a relaxing meal. By the time we exited the restaurant, it was night dark on the road but the rays of the sun were still alive on the horizon and produced just enough of a golden glow to provide a sweeping back drop to the lighted bridge over the Columbia. Chalk up another unintended goodie from our trip.
We were up early the next AM and revisited Denty’s for breakfast. True to her word, our ample physique conversation mate of the previous day was absent. Whew! As we sampled our biscuits and gravy, we were joined by two elegant members of the Native American culture. These two guys had been members of the Wakima tribe and had lived on the reservation at one time. They both had seen the dead end of remaining a reservation resident and had booked for challenging and prosperous careers in the culture outside the reservation. Both of these gents were retired and were in great physical shape. The tallest of the two had to be at least six four. We chatted pleasantly for some while then they had to depart to meet a tee time some where. I would loved to have taken their pictures but resisted because I thought they might find it degrading. These gents were so confident and successful I held out hope for others. What an uplifting start to a day of riding.
Our next place to visit was Crater Lake National Park in south central Oregon. The park entrance was several miles of a straight road that was bordered on both sides by a beautiful forest of conifers. There were two surprises. First, the forest stopped abruptly like it had been slash cut by a sick group of loggers. This was not the case, rather, the forest naturally terminated on an elevated basin desert. It was a bizarre transition. The small desert was a thing with its own character and charm. Both the forest and desert were quickly superceded by the second surprise which was a blizzard of millions of small yellow butterflies. These insects soon coated every surface of our bikes with a disgusting coat of bug viscera. Although I washed my bike twice after this event, I still found small elements of these butterflies wedged into crevices two weeks after the trip was over.
Crater Lake is not a crater at all but is a caldera created by the explosion and collapse of Mt Mazama 7,700 years ago. The caldera is six miles wide and is partially filled with snow melt water 2000 feet deep and has 22 miles of roads that circle its circumference. Although we did not see it, there is a full sized tree bobbing up and down in the lake called the “Old Man of the Lake” It’s been floating in the lake for over a hundred years, preserved by the ice cold water.
It’s a really nice ride through groves of hemlock, fir and pine with the deep blue of the lake almost always in view. We stopped to smell the roses and take some pics of the lake and each other.
Stu had been in contact with Steve and Rex the same with his wife. The outcome of these communications was an agreement to put all of us together again in Vallejo, California. To make this happen, we had to forgo our visits to Mt. Shasta and Lassen National Forest. With a short stop at the Annie Creek Restaurant for some butt rest and lunch, we pressed the ride from Crater Lake down Hwy 97 where it intersected I-5. The heat was unbelievable. By the time we reached Redding, CA, the temperature was 117 degrees. When we got off the bikes at the Redding Harley Davison dealership we were beat and you would get burned if you touched any metal part of the bike without gloves.
There was a Motel 6 next door to the dealership and Rex got us rooms while I checked my bike in for an oil change and a new front tire. I also used this time to purchase a new pair of boots to replace the ones that had split at the heels. I FedEx’d my old boots home so I would not have to find a place on the bike for them. Rex took a dip in the motel pool while I got ice and settled in with dame Saphire. We ordered in that night and slept well.
Day 16 and 17
The next day, while I waited for the dealership to open, there were a group of HOG members assembling for their monthly ride. I find it fascinating that HOG members seem to be the same nation wide. Most seem to be over forty and come from disparate backgrounds but share the same love of the outdoors, denim, leather and the Harley Davidson motor company.
I retrieved my bike and we were off down I-5 to Vallejo. This was a hot slab fest that I detest. Oh well! We located the motel in Vallejo where Debra, Rex’s wife, Steve and Steve’s brother Pat had gathered to meet us. All of us exchanged greetings and began to get to know one another. Pat had ridden with Steve from the San Jose area on a vintage Gold Wing and it was the subject of much discussion. Stu began to put together arrangements for a trip to the Napa Valley the following day. Because Margaret and I had lived in Marin county back in the early seventies, I had experienced the wine tasting and thrill of the Napa country side many times. So, I begged off and planned to do some laundry and goof off while they visited the wineries. To be candid, I was fatigued from the heat of the I-5 ride and wanted a respite as well as some time to my self.
That night we supped at the Olive Garden because it was in walking distance. Now the four of us were together again for the first time since the Needles Hwy in South Dakota. Steve remarked that he was glad he had taken the time to visit his daughter in Colorado and noted that it had taken much less time than he had estimated. We were glad to have him back and to add Debra for a few days to our nomadic group.
The next day, all except me, departed for the Napa Valley and enjoyed themselves immensely. I, on the other hand, cooled my heels, washed the road off my cloths and my motorcycle and ate at a Mexican place just down the road from the motel. The food was surprisingly good and they made a fair Margarita. I took a couple of needed naps and was completely refreshed when the Napa travelers returned and regaled me with tales of gastronomic delights and the fruits of Dionysus. Debra was especially effusive with her praise and pleasure. I am sure they all slept soundly.
The Napa group did not exactly spring out of bed the next AM. So, we each attended the motel breakfast as we arose in turn. The ride that day to Monterey was a short one and there was no need to hurry. Stu had called ahead and made reservations for us at the Navy Lodge in Monterey. Stu and I both had attended schools at the Navy Postgraduate School (NPS) during our military careers. Stu for his graduate degree and I for graduate courses in metallic stress and stain as it relates to aircraft accidents.
Monterey is a beautiful place but there is no pleasant way to get there from Vallejo. We did the slab again and arrived in time for lunch at a restaurant next to the bay’s marina. The weather was terrific and we ate on the patio and drew in the sights, sounds and smells of this historic location. The slab ride faded into long term memory.
Made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, Monterey Bay is, at once, beautiful and nostalgic. Cannery Row, once a sardine fishing village, is now famous for its dining. We planned to take full advantage of the cuisine but we needed to check in to the Navy Lodge first. This turned out to be more difficult that one might imagine. I managed to find the entrance to the NPS but the Navy Lodge was else where. Although we received instructions from a gate guard, they were confusing to me and I botched the job. Stu took over and tried to find the place and he failed. So we returned to the gate guard and went through all of instructions again. This time, we were able to find the place due in no small part to Stu’s good memory. We checked in and Stu and Steve left again. I don’t remember why. But time went buy and they did not return. Later we received a phone call telling us where they were on Cannery Row and provided an address. They instructed us to hurry as they were already into a bottle of vino. We put ourselves together as fast as we could and let Sue guide us to the address. We get to the address and find no restaurant. It turns out there is more than one address with the same street names and numbers, but they are in different “towns” along the bay. Found a helpful tourista and set off to the new address. In my focus to find the new place, I did not notice that Rex and Debra had been caught at an intersection and were not behind me when I turned into the parking lot of the restaurant. I called on the radio but got no answer, so I started to back track my steps. Out of the blue I hear Rex calling me on the CB advising that he is right behind me. Go figure. We turn around and join Steve and Stu at the Latitudes Restaurant. Whew!
Latitudes has a beautiful view of Monterey Bay framed by some of the area’s famous Cypress trees. It delivered another post card moment. The restaurant’s fare and service were pleasant and presented with a classy professionalism. Debra loved the place and Stu and Steve regaled her with stories of another place, now defunct, that served flaming deserts with the house lights turned off. Based on the look on Debra’s face, she was having the time of her life. It made all of us feel good.
We retired to the Navy Lodge where I had time to make reservations at the next Navy Lodge in the Navy Ship Yard at San Diego.
The following day, based on some noise coming from the rear end of his motorcycle, Steve and Stu visited the nearest Honda dealer to determine the problem. The rear wheel bearing was going to have to be replaced and it would be two to three days before the bike would be rideable. Because he had family in San Jose, Steve decided to stay with them while the bike was being repaired and he agreed to meet up with us when and if he could. We departed ways for the second time and wished him the best for an early fix.
That morning, after we said our goodbyes, we are off to Point Lobos State Park. According to its website, “the park gets its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland.” I don’t know about the sound of the sea lions, but the place is a wonder to the eye. A stew pot full of hidden coves, wind carved and sun bleached cypress, flora and fauna of endless variety simmer to create a wonder of nature preserved by the citizens of California. When he was going to post graduate school here, Stu used to bring his family on weekends to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of “the crown jewel of the California park system”.
To put a cap on the morning’s doings, we rode the two-lane from Los Lobos toward Carmel Valley Village and back. The road is a good twisty with classical California scenery. The road surface had its moments but the thing that caught my attention was the lack of development in this most popular of states. It was mostly farm and grazing land browned by the sun and lack of rain. The farms are far from fancy. In fact, most of the homes I saw were humble in origin and the entire place lacked an air of prosperity. Perhaps it was just me.
We joined the Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH) south towards Los Osos. What are the best words to describe the vast arena that is the PCH? The highway is long. Our stretch is Hwy 1 from Monterey to Santa Barbara but this is only one segment of the phenomenon called the PCH. It has wide sweeping turns that suddenly expose shear rocky cliffs that fall hundreds of feet to the sea. Or, slide around another turn that will deliver beautiful rock and sand beaches that stretch for miles. It’s possible to have all these sights obscured by the marine layer, that’s fog to the rest of us, for days at a time and drop the temperature to an uncomfortable level for bike riding. No fog this trip. We enjoyed sunshine and beautiful views.
There’s more. In the community of Big Sur, there is cliff side restaurant called Nepenthe. As you might imagine, it has a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean and rock beaches stretching north and south. Like most California eateries, there is a wait to get a table. This does not bother the locals who sun bathe themselves on an elevated piece of grass covered ground. At one time the ground may have been designed for a flower garden but it has been taken over by the worshipers of el Sol. It’s a sight to behold. Customers with cold drinks in their hands, lying on their backs, knees up, eyes closed, drenched in sun light. These relaxing souls appeared to have little need for a table nor sustenance to make their day complete. They already had it all.
Feeling the need, I adjourned to the men’s room and almost got ill as I entered the place. It was painted in some sort of psychedelic camouflage design and matching colors. I was immediately struck by a sense of vertigo that made me feel oogy. After that experience, my food tasted bland. I don’t know if it was the food or the men’s room but it was a disappointment I suppressed until now. Stu, Rex and Debra enjoyed theirs. Overall, Nepenthe was a lot of fun and a beautiful sight.
We continued south on the PCH and took in the sights and smells. To put it all together, I played the Greatest Hits of Fleetwood Mac from my iPod and welded the entire experience into a tableau of sensory pleasure. My riding partner and good friend would wrinkle his nose at such a departure from a more purist form of pleasure. It’s Nirvana. We simply reach the state of bliss through different heavenly paths.
Our time at Nepenthe and the late hour necessitated passing up a visit to Hearst Castle. This may be just as well as it will give me something to see when I return to the area. Our destination was Los Osos (The Bear) where my sister in law and her family domiciled. Los Osos is situated 12 miles east Moro Bay which is on the Pacific Ocean and about an hour south of the Hearst Castle.
There are nine rock formations that run from Moro Bay to Los Osos and they are called the Nine Sisters. These formations are the product of a long dead volcano that created them 21 million years ago. The largest of these forms part of Moro Bay and can be seen for miles as you ride south on the PCH.
We pulled into the driveway of my sister in law and her husband, Gary Bartel, about an hour before sundown. My sister in law was baptized Floride Anderson but is called Flo by her friends, Sister by her family and Gaga by her grandchildren. The Gaga name is interesting because it is the same name my children called Sister’s mother.
We were joined for supper by my niece, Sally, her husband, Bill, their son Billy and their daughter Reese. There were few boring moments but the grown-ups managed some conversation. We discussed the trip, the price of gas and the latest on family doings. All seemed quite normal to me and I retired early. Sister and Gary were the ultimate good hosts and they made our short stay very comfortable.
The next AM, Sister fixed a wonderful breakfast prior to our departure. We said our goodbyes and expressed our gratitude and hit the road toward San Diego. I had made reservations at the Navy Yard’s Navy Lodge and we would hold up there until we took Debra to the airport around ten the next day. It’s queer. I have no memory of how we got to Hwy 1 at Ventura. However, we followed Hwy 1 from Ventura through Malibu, Venice, El Secundo, Redondo Beach and rejoined the 5 at Long Beach. This stretch of road encompasses farm land, beaches and sardine packed eclectic homes. There are more cars and people than I can stand. Its allure completely escapes me. We simply ate up the miles on the 5 and there was little to see except miles and miles of pastel colored stucco homes. Of interest to me was a surprise new structure on the right side of the 5 just south of Camp Pendleton USMC training center. It was a large set of grandstands facing the ocean with its own exit and entrance ramps. I saw the word Navy on the back of the grandstands, so I assumed it was a viewing area for the Blue Angles when they do their yearly show from Miramar Air Station. This may be the safest and neighbor friendly spot to watch the Angles in the world.
Since Stu and I had not visited the San Diego Navy Yard’s Navy Lodge, we did not know its location so I just followed Sue to the address of the Navy Yard. Sue got us to a gate, but the gate was now defunct and we could not enter from this spot. I got off the steed and called the Navy Lodge. The desk clerk had a very strong Philippine accent and I had difficulty getting instructions. We were saved by a very friendly security guard who arrived at the scene and put us on the right track to the lodge.
The lodge was beautiful and very reasonable. Debra wanted to shower and freshen up so the three of us passed the time in the company of some Blue Saphire. By the time Debra was ready, we all had consumed too much booze to get back on the bikes. There was a food mall and liquor store within the compound of the lodge so we bought some wine and two or three pizzas and supped in our room. It would be my guess that Debra would have rather visited a decent restaurant vice sitting in a motel room with three guys smelling of the road. In retrospect, we were less than thoughtful of her presence that evening. My apologies Debra.
I believe during that evening, Stu made contact with Steve and they agreed to meet in Albuquerque, NM., three days down the road at Steve’s sister’s house.
We had a leisurely get up and some coffee at the lodge office. Packed, we headed to the San Diego airport. Debra and Rex had a very brief goodbye because we were in the Departing Flights unloading area and needed to move for other departing passengers.
Down the 5 again toward San Ysidro. The town was sleepy. We could not find a sign announcing it was one of the four corners so we tried to find the post office. Although we asked a security guard and half a dozen citizens, no one knew where the post office was located. We settled for a sign in the middle of town to document our arrival at corner three. This was the only corner in which we did not spend the night so it was a little “Slam bam thank you Mame”.
It was back on the 5 again. North, this time until we found Hwy 94 east toward Arizona. Once free from civilization, Hwy 94 was a thing a beauty. The highway was bordered on both side by huge round boulders of rock that universally were of a rust brown color. Rex noted the rocks looked like a giant dump truck had unloaded them from some mysterious source. Regardless, each turn brought a different combination of shapes that challenged the imagination to match them with something familiar. The road surface was great and we were enjoying the ride when from above another apparition! Skydivers. A stick of about seven individuals in multicolored parasails were descending from a crystal blue desert sky into what appeared to be one of the rockiest places on earth. As usual, the next turn always provided a surprise. Here in the middle of this garden of rock mushrooms was cleared a small airstrip. The skydivers were headed for a target on the airstrip. Some had already landed and others were on their final approach and the rest circled majestically awaiting their turn to touchdown. Our position on the road allowed us to watch this choreographed ballet from 400 feet above the airstrip. They were the best seats in the house. We would never have seen this from an interstate. Sated with another visual from our trip, we pressed ahead looking for gas. Sue found a place about ten miles down the road and we pulled into a remote gas station at Campo. Oh, I forgot to mention that Hwy 94 runs most of its length parallel to the Mexican border less than a mile a way.
After I had finished filling the tank, Stu and Rex were taking their turns at the pump when I asked a gentleman where was a good place to eat. He pointed to an eatery that was all but invisible from our vantage point. He noted we could find a name brand next to the interstate, but this was the place all the locals use. Nuf said. The man walked away and got into his truck. A minute or two passed and the man got out of his truck and approached me. He asked where I was from and how old I was. I thought all this unusual, but harmless, so I provided the information. He told me he was a member of the Minutemen Organization working alongside the Border Patrol to prevent illegal immigration. He pointed to the horizon and asked if I could see the fence along the border. With some squinting, I found what he was describing. With obvious pride, he said the Minutemen had funded and constructed a mile and a half of the fence I was viewing. He told me to go home and tell my children and friends that I had witnessed an act of patriotism in the works. I found it impossible not to admire this individual’s concern for his country and its borders. I never would have met this man riding the slab.
The eatery was as described. We ate a combination of lunch and breakfast. Not brunch. The food was great with an ample supply of grease for all courses. The staff cooked, waited tables, bused tables and rang up sales on the register. The atmosphere was thick with a friendly and welcoming aura. We left with regret.
To get through the passes of the Coyote Mountains, it was necessary to rejoin I-8. We did this and exited the slab just as quickly at Hwy 98 where the town of Ocotillo sits. The town is named after a variety of cactus that grows in the Imperial Valley desert. The cactus is a plant of multiple stems emanating from a common root system. The stems, at maturity, are as large as a baseball bat grip that narrows to a point. The stems may be twenty feet in height and are festooned with triangular barbs that cut the flesh with ease. I share this factoid with you for reasons that have long ago escaped me.
Hwy 98 parallels I-8 all the way to Yuma, Az. The road is flat with few turns and not much of interest. All statements have an exception. On the border side of the road, some group has provided large blue plastic containers every thousand meters or so filled with water. At least the containers had “agua” painted on them. The containers are also marked by long poles with fluorescent orange flags attached. I don’t know why I remembered, but each container had some sort of cover, wood/plastic, with a large rock on top of the cover to keep the wind from blowing it to El Centro. Connecting the containers was a dirt track that was obviously visited frequently. I assume that some of the visits must have been by the Border Patrol. I ponder who put this water out. Clearly, the water has no purpose but to sustain illegal immigrants making their way into the US across the border. Is this the misplaced (my opinion) humanism directed toward criminals entering our country? Whether it’s done by those sympathetic to the illegal’s cause or by our own government, it seems to be complicity in the act of a crime.
Midway between Ocotillo and Yuma is the community of Calexico. Although this town is on the US side of the border the only US presence is the Border Patrol. With that exception it is identical to its sister, Mexicali which is just across the border in Mexico.
Another feature of Hwy 98 is its proximity to the multiple pumping stations that lift water from the All-American Canal system and provide it to the farmers of the Imperial Valley. These pumping stations require huge quantities of electrical power and each station has its companion electrical substation. The magnitude of the All-American Canal system is staggering in its engineering and its efficiency. It is the largest irrigation canal in the world. The All-American canal system is politically contentious because it leaves little water in the Colorado as it flows into Mexico.
When we reached Yuma, AZ, we were hot and tired. We gassed the steeds and took refuge from the heat in the connected food court of the gas station. With Cokes, water and iced tea, we hydrated our depleted bodies and had a good rest. We departed this oasis to find the local Motel 6 which was less than a block down the road. The rooms were cheap enough so we got two.
As my room mate and I settled in, I pulled the shades aside and noted a Mexican restaurant across the street. As I gazed out the window, I asked my riding mates if Mexican was alright for supper. There was a unanimous assent.
While still absently looking out the window, I noted the name of the restaurant which had completely escaped my attention when I first saw the eatery.
The name was Chretin’s. This is a name known to thousands of Marine Corps and Navy aviators. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), Yuma is home to the Marine Corp’s AV-8 and F-18 Replacement Air Groups (RAGs). These squadrons accept newly minted aviators fresh out of flight school, and teach them the ins and outs of these specific aircraft. When they finish the RAG, they are posted to active Fleet tactical squadrons on the east or west coasts. Hundreds pass through this training center every year. Additionally, all Navy and Marine Corps Fleet tactical squadrons deploy at least once a year to Yuma for weapons training in the many restricted air spaces around Yuma. These air spaces allow for the delivery of live ordnance and unrestricted flight to include supersonic speeds. With few exceptions, each of these aviators makes at least one pilgrimage to Chretins during his time in Yuma.
The current Chretin’s is the third location since Jose and Engracia Chretin opened the business as an open air dance hall in 1930. Their offspring, Joe and Winne Chretin took over in 1946. The first Chretin’s was located in the barrio of Yuma and was a very small restaurant whose customers were universally Mexican. At some time during the sixties, Joe built a second restaurant on the main drag in “downtown” Yuma. He continued to serve his regular customers in the barrio but was building a new clientele of Navy and Marine Corps pilots, navigators and bombardiers.
It became a right of passage for these aviators. When a squadron deployed to Yuma someone would make a reservation for the squadron at Chretin’s. I have seen parties over a hundred strong eating and drinking in the place. Eating only one thing, Chretin’s Nachos and drinking only Margaritas. The Nachos are served by the dozen. None of this pile of Nacho Chips with a blob of melted Velvita and jalapeños on top. At Chretin’s, each plate had a dozen chips with a square of cheese and a slice of jalapeno on top of the cheese. The whole thing is put in an oven and heated until the cheese melts and is then quickly served to the customer. The Nachos were served quickly because the eating event was a contest. Everything is a contest to aviators! In this case, how many dozen Nachos could your squadron eat? Who could drink 8oz of green and red hot sauce the fastest and live? Who could drink the most Margaritas? The all time champ was my squadron, VMFAT-101. On 11 July 1974 we ate 3040 Nachos and First Lieutenant Jim Segars ate the all time individual record of 126 on the same night. Segars became an instant hero but was not to bee seen for three days.
The Chretin family had infinite patience with these scenes of vulgarity and debauchery. Their business prospered. Chretin’s was, in my family’s minds eye, one of the best experiences we had together in Yuma. Alas, nothing remains the same. After Joe and Minne turned the business over to their kids, the food quality and service went slowly down hill. So, when we ate there on this trip, the Nachos were OK but the rest of the food was mediocre and the service less so. This disappointment notwithstanding, my memories are of Chretins in the seventies and eighties when it was a place to die for and more. With a full belly and some chemical depressants, we wandered across the street and hit the hay.
We had an early start the next AM. Black outside and cool. Rex took the lead and we were off headed north on Hwy 95. The first hour, I was pleasantly chilly. The desert is an amazing place. It gives off heat into a clear sky at night and heats up to the Devil’s Anvil in the day. Dawn. It’s my favorite time of day to be riding. (I probably have already said this.) When the landscape is flat with mountain ranges between you and the sun, you are blessed with multiple sun rises. The sun comes up over a mountain then sets again if the range gets higher and then rises again as your view passes through a valley. You get this effect until el Sol gets high enough to blaze over all the highest peaks. The road has only a few turns and the asphalt surface is terrific. Your only concern is the occasional varmint in the road and the INS road blocks. This must be a busy part of the desert because the INS had a small tethered sensor blimp keeping watch over these vast spaces.
I am unaware of all the variables needed, but this one and a half to two hours of riding puts me into a state of bliss that is like a habituating drug. A Zen like state. Relaxed yet alert. Quiet to the mind, even with the rumble of the big twin in the back ground. It is this state that I seek in all my rides. It’s not always there but it is the goal of every ride.
We hit I-10 and head east for a few miles then exit to head north east toward Flagstaff, AZ. We find a gas stop in Hope, AZ. From all appearances, there is little hope in Hope. Hope is a single building at a “T” crossroads with nothing stretching in all directions. At this time of the morning, there is no traffic and no customers except us. The place is weird and has a unique affect on the three of us. Normally we would gather and exchange pleasantries at a stop. Not here. After gassing up, I stand in the middle of the intersection and take some photos. Rex is singularly meditating on the personality of the cow from which his boots were constructed. Stu is sitting alone on the bench of a picnic table under a sun canopy playing with a bug. Its true. I have a picture to prove it. What has happened here? Maybe we over did the Zen thing?
Back to the bikes. The flatness continues until we start to climb the ranges of the Prescott National Forest. The road, Hwy 80, climbs in large sweeping turns that fit our pleasure and expose the desert looking toward Mexico over a hundred miles away. Close to the mountain range, we spy acres and acres of solar panels. I believe this was a research facility developing new technology for solar energy. They picked a perfect place to gather the rays.
We stop for breakfast at a lone building on a mesa of the Prescott Mountains in the vicinity of Wilhoit, AZ. The place is run by two young and somewhat attractive women. At least half of the customers are bikers. A single twenty something male sits by himself at the bar and hits on one of the girls every time she passes by. The attention is welcomed with a broad smile and the occasional coy look. It’s fun to watch. As we take our seats, Rex and I give greetings to a single Harley rider sitting alone. He responds with two or three monosyllables and withdraws into the comfort of his solitary existence. This is the only experience I have had with a fellow rider who was not openly gregarious and pleasant.
We take our time with a wholesome breakfast and enjoy the atmosphere of the place. Marlon Brando leaves and we hardly notice. A new set of riders joins the group as we are heading out. A guy with a brand new Gold Wing intercepts Rex to seek advice about some metric bike thing or another. You don’t want to get to close to these conversations because you never know what metric thing might rub off and infect your inner ethos.
The rest of the ride from breakfast to Flagstaff is a beautiful and scenic wonder. The most interesting was the artistic community of Jerome, AZ. Once a silver mine built right into the side of a mountain, the place is now a Mecca for artisans of all stripes, roads that have turns so sharp that you put your feet down because you have to go so slowly, and a staggering view of the valley leading to Sedona, AZ I don’t recall seeing sidewalks. The buildings are right up against the road like some of the towns in Europe.
Then there is Sedon, AZ. I get queezy just thinking about Sedona. The town is located within the red rock mountains of the Kaibab National Forest. The landscape is a burnt red as far as the eye can see. The city council must have decreed that all man made structures within their jurisdiction would be built to match the color of the surrounding landscape. Some environmental movement I would guess. They succeeded beyond my imagination. The houses, condos, fast food places, malls, rock gardens, mulch, roofing tiles, everything is the same color as the background terrain, burnt red. To my eye, this was ugly and beyond. Everything ran together with out form. I could not wait to leave this place behind. Rex and Stu did not share my opinion of Sedona.
The rest of the ride was friendly and scenic. We cooled off in a Taco Bell within Flagstaff. After almost an hour, Stu had communicated with Steve and it was clear that he was not going to be able to join us in Flagstaff that day. We agreed to get a room in Flagstaff that night and then set off the next day and join Steve in Albuquerque at his sister’s house.
Almost every setback seems to have its silver lining. After we checked into another Motel 6, had a couple of toddies and generally relaxed, we set out to sup at a local steak house. It was a sports bar with TV screens everywhere and the decibel level at the deafening point. The only seats were three at a table occupied by single thirty something male. We asked permission to join him and he, with good humor, invited us to be seated. We ordered drinks and burgers and discovered that our eating mate was himself a biker and rode both metric and Harley’s. We shared riding stories and became quite comfortable with each other over about an hours time. Encounters like these continually reinforce our belief that bike riders are a friendly and gregarious species willing to establish momentary relationships and share experiences with complete strangers.
The next day was a boring ride along I-40 to Albuquerque. At some time during the ride I notice what I thought was a spongy feeling in the rear break. Sue gave me directions to the local Albuquerque Harley dealer and we went there prior to meeting Steve. The dealership was having a some kind of party and there was free hot dogs and soda and little teenage girls washing bikes in bikinis for a local charity. I am pretty sure the bikes did not get washed very well, but the girls seemed to be having a good time and the guys were having a good time watching. Back to the breaks. The service department was a mad house but I managed to get the attention of one of the service techs and tell him I was an itinerant and had a break problem. He strolled outside, stood my bike, pumped the break a dozen times and said, “There, try it now”. I did and the break was fine. The tech told me that on long trips dirt and grime accumulate on the master cylinder’s piston and all it needs is a vigorous pumping to clear the piston’s rod. I lavished praise on the tech and we left the party to hopefully join Steve.
Stu took us right to Steve’s sister’s house. As we pulled up into the driveway, we could see Steve’s Valkyrie. He had made it!
Steve introduced Rex and me to his sister, Barbie, his brother in law, Leo and his nephew, Peter.
We were given a tour of the garden and house and settled in to rest and relax. The house had a cooling device that I had not seen since I was stationed in Yuma. The device is named, in some places, a swamp cooler or evaporator. Its design is simple and efficient. It is a box about four feet square and has four sides lined with a woody fiber like hemp. There is a water pipe that runs along the top of the fibers and drips water onto them. The water is collected in a sump at the bottom and circulated. There is a sturdy electric fan that draws air in through the fibers, cools the air through evaporation and forces it into the house. It will not cool a house like an air conditioner, but it will clearly make the house comfortable and is a lot cheaper to purchase and operate.
Leo won my heart when he asked if anyone would join him in a gin martini. Leo, my new best friend.
Steve and Barbie spent most of their time putting together a wonderful Italian meal.
Now that we were back with Steve again, this naturally included a huge salad. (Tomato sauce, basil, oregano, cheese and pasta. It matters not what kind of pasta is used or how it’s combined. Heat it until it bubbles, serve with a hearty red wine, Chianti if you got it, oil and vinegar drizzled over fresh garden greens, a Baggett of bread with virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar to dip it in. I’m in heaven.) Barbie made it all happen and it was an enjoyable meal with Steve filling us in on his saga of motorcycle maintenance and a hectic trip from Monterey, CA to Albuquerque, NM. It had been a tiring day and we were still not checked into a motel yet so we regrettably offered our sincere thanks to Steve’s kin folks for their hospitality and set off to check in to another Motel 6.
While unpacking, our bikes at the motel, a hefty man in bib overalls began a conversation with Rex and I about our trip and motorcycles in general. Turns out he was a past resident of South Carolina and we warmed up to the game of “Do you know whatshisname in whatshistown?” We did not have a lot in common but it’s always interesting to meet these people and share your experiences with them. It’s never boring.
This was a sad day because this was the day Rex had to depart our company and return to Broken Arrow, OK. He must have set some land speed record, because he rode 704 miles in one day without having to ride at night.
Steve joined us at the motel and we set off to try and make up the lost days. I am not sure I picked up on the fact that Steve had a commitment to be back in DC by the second of September before we started the trip, but it is what it is. Given my hateful memory, I chalked it all up to senility. It was now clear that we would not be able to ride the back roads, spend two nights in Key West and return Steve to DC by the 2nd. So… it was the dreaded slab to make the timing come out right. We hit I-40 east and started eating up the miles until we could make our way south east to I-20. We managed to get in some two lane riding on the way though. Sue found a route just north of I-10 that paralleled the slab and we rode it the rest of the way to Baton Rouge. I did not take a single picture on this leg of the trip.
We holed up in another Motel 6 and spent a lot of time with Steve trying to remember the name of a seafood restaurant in Baton Rouge that he had visited earlier in his youth. He made some calls and finally made a reservation at the eatery. I plugged the address into Sue and we were off to downtown Baton Rouge. We were about two blocks from the address when Steve blew his horn and took the lead and turned in the opposite direction we “needed” to go. We all followed, of course. Remember Montreal, Canada. Steve immediately pulled into the parking lot of another restaurant. It turns out that Steve had made reservations at the wrong restaurant and realized this when he saw the “real” place as we exited the freeway. We were seated at the “real” restaurant and Steve cancelled our reservations at the other restaurant via his cell. I left off the pre dinner booze because we were riding and made do with sweet tea. There were a variety of fish entrees on the menu from which I selected the blackened flounder. The blackened flounder was out of this world. The only better was at the Pink House in Savannah, GA. The place was a hodgepodge of add on rooms with lots of sea side atmosphere. The wait staff was young, cute and efficient. What more could you hope for? When we sat down, there was a table of eight or more just next to us. They had not been served yet, but soon were enjoying their evening repast. These guys finished, and the table was bussed and another large group sat down to order. This group received their food before we finally decided to be on our way. I guess that means we savored the food, scenery and atmosphere more than our fellow diners. It was a completely enjoyable experience and worth the mild hassle to find it.
On the ride back to the motel, I relearned why I don’t like to drive a bike at night. The road was unfamiliar with lots of turns and possible exits and bridges to cross with lots of traffic coming in the opposite direction. I was getting multiple glares from the windscreen, my goggles and my glasses. Each car, each stoplight, each street light had multiple halos and made situational awareness really hard. Don’t even think about looking into the rear view mirror. We still made it home safely.
The following day we hit I-10 and followed it across the top of Lake Ponsitrain through Mississippi, Alabama and into the panhandle of Florida. We took two lanes south to Pensacola, Fl and entered the Naval Air Station at Pensacola to visit the Air Museum there.
I have visited this museum many times but it never fails to impress me. This is especially true when I make the visit with folks who have never been there before. Stu and Steve really enjoyed the experience. We sat at the bar that had been rescued from the O’club at Cubi Point in the Philippines. The bar is an eclectic mixture of squadron plaques, flight helmets and memories. Memories for those Naval Aviators who served in the far east from the 60’s to the 90’s. The collection of aircraft and memorabilia is huge and diverse. If you flew or are interested in Navy aircraft, you will find something here that strikes your interest. Perhaps there is one exception. When Stu was in the tactical Navy, he was a member of an RA-5C Vigilante squadron. This aircraft may be one of the most beautiful supersonic jets ever built by anyone. Its clean lines and swept wings with a large vertical fin make it look fast from any angle. There is an RA-5C on static display outside, but there is not one inside the museum. There should be because it represents a historical step in aeronautical engineering technology and served the Navy well through out its short career. Alas, the intelligence community does not hold the same glamorous position in the Navy as do its fighter and attack counterparts. I am not sure which service initiated the motto of the intelligence air crews but the one I remember is: “Alone, unarmed and unafraid.” Nuf said.
The road awaits and tempus fugit. We take a bee line for I-10 and head east. I must confess that I fell victim to one of my own personal failings during this leg. I think that Stu was suffering from pain in his right shoulder/arm/wrist and found it uncomfortable to make throttle changes. (What follows is a guess/assumption on my part that I am not particularly proud off) To help his condition, Stu would use his throttle lock so that he would not have to continually make wrist movements that caused his pain. One of the results of this procedure was that our group would slow to 55 mph on a 70 mph freeway which I felt put our safety at risk. The risk, in retrospect was not worth my worries. So, lacking the restraint needed, I confronted my fellow riders at a gas stop in an attempt to fix what I thought, at the time, was a serious flaw in our group riding. To make matters worse, I lost my cool and showed my ass by expressing my emotional frustration. I don’t know if Stu and Steve felt this expression, but I owe them both a heartfelt apology for my lack of maturity. If I make more of this than the reader might think is appropriate, it’s because this guy’s ego hates the demonstration of a weakness in his character in front of those he respects. That’s enough self flagellations!
We finished this leg in Tallahassee. Checked in to a motel just off I-10 and completed our daily routine of checking in at home while relaxing with a cocktail. That evening, we walked several blocks to a Bar-B-Q place and partook of a giant meal of pulled pork, ribs, and chicken. Although I am not an expert on Bar-B-Q, I thought the sauce was good, but must of all I like their version of cole slaw.
It’s a little strange. I was born and raised in the south, yet I find that Bar-B-Q is one of my least desired food groups. Unlike some folks, I am not one to take sides on the long standing controversy regarding the sauce and meat. You know the issues. Should the sauce be mustard based, or vinegar based, hot/mild, oak/hickory/mesquite smoked, pulled or sliced, pork/beef/chicken? The battle of the sauces is amusing, but I find it matters little in my apathy toward the entire food genre. I can enjoy a meal of the stuff, but I would not select Bar-B-Q over another type of food.
The following morning, Steve visited a Honda dealer for an oil change and I did the same at the Harley dealer just off of I-10. It took less than an hour to finish the work, so I boogied down to a Mickey Dees and had a sumptuous breakfast. A short drive back to the motel to join up with my biker buds and we checked out of the motel not knowing that we would be back.
We drove through a morning fog for about twenty miles and then exited I-10 onto Hwy 27 south. As we exited the slab, I checked my mirror for Steve, who was last in line, and noticed he had pulled over to the side of the road. Since Steve and Stu do not have radios, I did a 180 and retraced my steps until I pulled up next to him. The shoulder was not very wide so I pulled into a driveway of a Wendy’s restaurant and gas station that was right there.
Steve advised that when he pulled off of the freeway and tried to shift gears, he was greeted with a terrible grinding noise and the bike would not accelerate. He had pulled over and waited for me to arrive. We discussed the problem for a few moments and tried to shift the bike into gear but it was hard to tell if the transmission or something else was causing the problem. The only thing that was clear was the bike was making a horrible grinding noise and was going nowhere. About this time, Stu arrived. More discussions on what to do. We agreed that the bike was hard down and would require some kind of professional help. The three of us pushed the bike clear of the road and onto the parking lot of the Wendy’s. Steve began making the necessary calls to towing services and the Honda service shop. I took some pictures of the busted bike for future discussion of metric versus Harley reliability. Stu and I, for now, were the poster children of empathy, understanding and mothering hen sensibilities. Chop busting would have to wait. Stu is better at waiting than I.
The impact on our trip was not yet clear so we put off any discussion on that subject, but told Steve we would hang tough with him until we got a definitive analysis of his problem. I believe we waited for about three hours for the tow truck to arrive. In the interim, we partook of the fine cuisine offered at Wendy’s. During the wait, Steve had set up an appointment with the same Honda dealer that he had visited that AM. The dealer was back in Tallahassee about a 40 minute ride from the Wendy’s. The bike was loaded onto the tow truck without incident and Steve rode in the truck to the Honda dealer. A few minutes later, Stu and I took off on the bikes to join Steve at the dealership. The way to the dealership seemed a simple thing but Stu and I managed to get lost and had to consult a map to find the place. This was not a problem because we had plenty of time in front of us at the Honda dealer.
At the Honda dealer, we passed some of the time by checking out the new bikes. This review included a new 2008 Gold Wing that was loaded with extras. I tried to convince Steve that if the repairs to his bike were substantial, then he should seriously consider dumping the Valkyrie for whatever he could get for it and ride out with a serious touring machine. During a discussion with his wife about how things were going, Stu put the question to her about the new bike and she was all for it. What more do you need? But Steve has developed a loyalty toward this piece of iron and put the idea away even before we knew what his repairs would cost. This loyalty I find strange considering that the bike had experienced two major mechanical breakdowns on our trip and had put Steve to much inconvenience. Notwithstanding my opinion, loyalty is a superb virtue.
The mechs approached the three of us and announced they had found the problem which was a spun drive shaft. This means the splined teeth on the drive shaft had spun in their female receptacle. Both would have to be replaced and it was a two day job perhaps less if a part could be overnighted to the dealer. Steve authorized the work and we set about organizing how we were going to get the three of us back to the motel. With some creative readjustments to our luggage, I made a space for Steve on the back of my bike. There was still not room for Steve’s stuff so I volunteered to return to the dealer and pick it up after delivering Steve to the motel.
Steve is a big man and his weight and excess baggage put the bike way over its max gross weight and made it squirrlly (sp) to drive but most of all made it difficult to stop and stay upright. Stu made a stop at a grocery store to pick up a bottle of wine and I pulled over on the shoulder next to the curb. This turned out to be a very bad idea. First, it took Stu much longer to get the wine than anticipated and second, cars on their way home passed really close to us as we waited. If I had not had Steve on the back I would have moved to a better place but I chose this option to avoid having to pull into small places with Steve two up.
Stu joined us and I dropped Steve off at the motel and immediately returned to the dealership to pick up the rest of Steve’s gear. When I returned, Stu and Steve were settled into two rooms. It was good to get off the bike this day. I think we ate in that night.
Given that Steve had to be in DC on the second of September, he made the unhappy choice of abandoning the balance of the ride and heading straight for home after the bike was fixed. When we left the next AM I looked back and gave a final wave to Steve standing in the doorway of the motel room. He looked terribly forlorn and lonely and I felt a tinge of guilt leaving him, but we had to continue.
With Stu in the lead, we again made the leg down I-10 and turned off on Hwy 27 south. The highway was pretty good, but its transit through the city of Ocala was a grind. I don’t recall if it was Ocala or not, but when we fueled up, Stu spotted a café across the street and smiled and asked if I was up for breakfast. It was my time to smile. I am always up for breakfast. We took a seat in the place and were greeted by a very perky waitress. She engaged us in a mindless banter that was just up our alley. She kept this up each time she visited our table, which was several, and delivered a huge pancake for Stu and my normal scrabbled eggs, grits and toast. It was fun and delicious.
Back on the road, Stu lead us to Taylor Creek which is just north of Lake Okeechobee and we entered the north rim to view the lake. Stu was struck by how much the lake had risen as a result of the two hurricanes that had passed through earlier. It was pleasing to see a lake that was rising and not falling like so many across the south. We continued around the east border of the lake and passed through a village called Pahokee. To use Stu’s expression, it was a town that time forgot. He was right. It looked like it was stuck in the 50’s.
We continued around the southern border of the lake and stopped in Clewiston for gas and a motel. At the gas station, my battery was barely able to turn the engine over but I did get it started. We drove across the street to a motel that was also out of the fifties. Stu and I liked these kinds of places for their seediness and their architecture. Our room’s architecture was early bordello. It had been another long day so I had a toddy while Stu went out for take out and we ate chicken in the room. Calls to home as usual.
The next day I went out to make sure the bike would start before loading and discovered the battery dead. Well, it was five years old and had seen 55,000 miles of service. It was its time.
I removed the battery and Stu headed out to Advance Auto to get a replacement. He was back in about an hour and I started to install the new battery when we discovered Stu had left cable connectors in the store. This discovery generated an understandable blue streak from Stu. He was off again to get the hardware. When he returned, I finished the installation and… the engine would not turn over. Another blue streak and a direct order from Stu, “Gus, get that god damn bike started.” While I cogitated on what deities to implore for this miracle, I gave the starter another courtesy try. A miracle! It started right up. With the engine still running, we finished loading the bikes and hit the road for the Big Cyprus Seminole Indian Reservation.
The Seminole Reservation is a surprise. Unlike the Apaches of the west, this reservation seems to be a model of government largess that is well maintained. Although they may be present, I did not see the slums of mobile homes that were so prevalent out west. The community centers appeared clean and well kept. The roads were in good shape and there was no trash to be seen on the highways under their responsibility. It left a very positive impression and I enjoyed the ride through their nation.
As we worked our way further south, we connected to Hwy 997. This is an interesting road. It’s a two lane that runs due north and south, bypassing Miami, and ultimately connects to US 1. On the lower portions of this road there are tens of tropical nurseries growing all sorts of stuff that we plant in our yards. The nurseries make for interesting viewing because you find yourself attempting to name the plants you see. It’s a hopeless job because of the incredible variety of plants available. Also, there is a stretch of this road that is bordered on the right side, headed south, by thousands of dead bleached white trees. I have no idea what kind of trees they were or what caused their demise but they are a stark contrast to the flora growing on the other side of the road. I have driven this road two or three times and the trees have always been there. There is another element to these trees that also captures me. I am yet to ride this road and not observe the majestic immature and adult Bald Eagles in the tops of their branches. This trip was no exception.
When I submitted the draft of my journal for review to Stu, he was kind enough to supply the following information on the dead trees and the Bald Eagle: “I have some other stuff about your journal that might help with things that you were seeing down here in Florida. One is the trees that you see along route 997. They’re called Melaleuca trees that were brought in from Australia to control the flooding and hopefully dry up the swamps. Big effing eco mistake like kudzu. It’s a listed noxious weed since it is highly flammable (due to high oil content) and rapidly crowds out native vegetation and destroys key threatened species habitat. Florida has a massive campaign to eliminate these trees. What you’re seeing is the dead remains of trees killed during the past five years.
The reason you see so many eagles on these trees is that this area is along the main flyway for raptor semiannual migration. The flyway narrows way down in Broward, Dada and Monroe counties as the birds use the Keys as a short cut to Cuba and then to Central America.” My thanks to Stu..
Just below Florida City, there is a county road, Alt 905 or Card Bridge Road, that strikes off south east from Hwy 1. A couple of hundred yards from a toll bridge on the right is the Alabama Jack’s restaurant. It’s a couple of floating barges attached to the coral based road that caters to Key characters, like Stu, weekend bikers, like us, and the occasional misdirected tourist. It has a cool view of the mangroves and its wildlife and the food is good solid sea food fare. It has tons of character and I love to visit. Oh, it closes at 7:00 or 7:30 cause that’s when the skeeters come out. Were it not for Stu, I would never have experienced this really fun place.
We pay our toll, cross the bridge that separates the Card and James Sounds, and enter the island of Key Largo. In my mind, this short ride on Key Largo to rejoin Hwy 1 is the nicest of the trip to Key West. As you might guess, there are some beautiful scenes, especially at dawn and sunset, from many of the long bridges that connect the keys, but much of the ride is slow and passes through one tourist town after another. Still it’s a stimulus to the senses.
That PM, we finally arrive at the fourth corner town of our trip, Key West. We put off visiting the exact site until the next day and head directly to Stu’s condo on the north shore of the key. The condo complex is privately owned and is tucked back into a grove of tall trees that provide shade all around. The ground floor of the condo consists of the car port and a small enclosed area that contains the washer and dryer, a storage facility and the spiral stair case that leads to the second floor kitchen, dining area, and living space. A second spiral stair case leads up to the master and guest bed and bath rooms. There is a narrow deck that has a terrific view of the ocean and allows Stu to smoke his occasional stogie. Stu, his wife Marianne and their long haired cat come together to make a warm place to live.
After a quick shower on the third floor, I join Stu and Marianne in the living area for cocktails and Poo Poo’s. The long married couple put together a terrific meal and invited their widowed neighbor, Jani over to join us. We are discussing cooking when I reveal that Margaret and I have long ago separated the chores of cooking and cleaning up. I do the cooking and Margaret does the hardest job of cleaning up. This arrangement suits us both and has for decades. Jani finds this all unbelievable. During our discussions, I ask Marianne what are her opinions on some Roman Catholic dogma or another. I continue by telling her I am not interested in Stu’s opinion but hers. Again the ladies seem amazed that I would actually be interested in their ideas. Then, when I tell them that my interest in feminine ideas is what drew Margaret to me they both scoffed. Oh the non-believers. I gave them my telephone number and had them call Margaret to confirm my statements. Margaret, God bless her, backed me up a 100% and left the Key West ladies with jaws on chests. I am still smiling.
The following morning, we ate brunch at a Key West restaurant with a group of local friends of Stu and Marianne. Seems they meet regularly at this watering hole. Nothing organized just show up if you can.
The residents of Key West, are a nation unto themselves. The Conch Republic. If they had a flag, it would be the yellow Gadsden Flag with a coiled rattle snake and the caption at the bottom, “Don’t Tread on Me”. They are militant in their individualism, but generous and hospitable to all.
We spent the rest of the morning taking pictures of ourselves at the end/beginning of US Hwy 1 (Remember way back in Fort Kent, Maine) and touring the southern most plots of land in the US. While walking thebeaches, we were buffeted by the winds left over from a previous hurricane that whipped the surf and sand at a good clip while standing the fronds of the palm trees out parallel to the ground.
There was a football game that afternoon and Stu, Marianne and I visited friends of theirs, John and Janet Van Tyule, in their new house and watched the game. John and Janet were in the process of moving into this new house with boxes all over. This did not seem to bother John at all. He just sat on the couch, watched the game and allowed Janet to do all the work with the movers. It appeared that this was OK with Janet. It kept John out of the way. We had terrific take out sandwiches and wine for lunch. After the game, we went shopping for the evening meal.
Here, in Stu’s words, is the recipe for our evening meal. “The salad was made with Romaine lettuce stalks, washed, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise. Garished with fresh cracked pepper, grape tomatoes quartered and then halved, along with browned candied pine nuts, topped with a 50-50 mix of blue cheese and poppy seed dressing and shaved pecorino romano cheese.
The steaks were 1 inch thick 1 lb ribeyes. Moderately seasoned with fresh cracked pepper and sea salt, placed on a grill at 550 degrees twice per side for no more than 2 minutes each time to cross hatch mark the sides. Put crumbled Maytag blue cheese on top of each steak and place in oven preheated to 350 degrees for no more than 5 minutes or so until cheese is melted. This delivers a medium rare steak. For medium and medium well done steaks, they should be started first on the grill before the medium rare steaks (or cooked a bit longer there) and not in the oven since that dries steaks out rapidly.”
Stu invited, Jani, Janet and John to their place and we had a wonderful gathering of food, talk and companionship.
The stay in Key West and the non stop hospitality made for just the beak I needed to start my final two laps home.
Marianne got up and fixed me breakfast and she and Stu saw me off around 7AM. There are no words except, “Thank you” that express the appreciation for the warm stay at the Schippereit’s.
My ride east on Hwy 1 from Key West to Miami was just as the sun was breaking the horizon. The view over the bridges was spectacular and the traffic was minimal. My plan was to ride as far as Jacksonville to spend the night. Somewhere on the outskirts of Miami this plan was modified by my bike. Before I reached I-95, the bike suddenly dropped out of cruise control. The cruise control would reengage, but would almost immediately disengage. At the same time, I noted the speedo cycling up and down between 0 and 65. After several miles of this, the speedo dropped to 0 and stayed there and the cruise control would not reengage. So now I am without a speedometer, cruise control and an odometer. Because the bike has cruise control, there is no need for a throttle lock. This means keeping your right hand on the throttle all the time. This is not a show stopper, of course, but it is a pain. Were it not for Sue, I would not have a clue as to how fast I was traveling.
So, I change my plans and stopped at Bruce Rossmeyr’s Destination Daytona Harley Davidson dealership in Ormond Beach, FL. This is the largest Harley shop in the world. There is a Motel 6 across the street from the dealership and I check in with the intent of immediately taking the bike into their service department to get it fixed. When I come out of the motel’s office, the bike would not start. It’s Clewiston all over again. After I finish my blue streak, I try again and this time it cranks. A short ride across the street and the dealership, as usual, takes me right in. It’s late afternoon so they will be able to start work on the bike first thing in the AM. I’m in no hurry, so I unpack the bike, drag my gear to a local eatery, Friday’s type, and have supper. I hate eating alone.
Now it’s back across the street to the motel for a shower and call home. Margaret tells me the Tuesday riding group from Cedar Creek has planned to use this day to meet me on my way home. I check in with Jeff VanSyckle and we coordinate a meeting place in Georgia
I have a restless night worrying about the bike. I arrive at the service department and wait for the doors to open. The bike is in work. I kill some time wondering the multiple floors of bikes and biker clothing. The place is amazing. It is filled with people spending money. They even have a small eatery where I get some coffee and a couple of breakfast biscuits. Time just drags when I have a schedule to meet and no control over the events in the bowls of the maintenance department. At about 10AM, the guys come out to tell me they have cleaned the speedo sensor but can find nothing wrong with the battery or starter system. Not good. I pay them and by 11AM I am back on the road again. Five miles up the road, the speedo goes out again with no cruise control. It is what it is. I press ahead and finally meet my buddies in Nahunta, GA. We had originally planned to meet in Jesup, but my delay in Ormond Beach allowed them to ride farther south to meet me earlier.
The ride home was accomplished in perfect weather surrounded by my friends. What a terrific end to a terrific adventure. I do wish Steve could have been with us for this leg.
This has been a work of months of writing and I believe I have said all that needs to be said. Except, Stu, myself and a fellow Cedar Creek rider, are planning a trip to the Arctic Circle in 2010.