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Saturday
Apr172004

28 Day Ride Across America

Day minus 15 America

Welcome to my America Ride blog!  

“America Ride” is an unimaginative title for an upcoming ride on my Harley around the US and Canada. Starting on June 1, 2004, I’ll depart Manhattan Beach, heading south and east. I’ll ride the border states and provinces, camping, staying in motels that don’t offer frequent guest programs, occasionally staying with friends. My guess is 4-6 weeks, but who knows?

“Why do this ride?” you may ask. Because I can, it’s just something that I want to do. “Thanks” to family and friends for your encouragement. I hope to have lots of pictures to show and interesting stories to tell from this ride. This is a solo excursion, though I may have riding company along the Blue Ridge Parkway and also in New England, perhaps spontaneously sharing the road with others as well.

I’m traveling with technology (though the Harley may vibrate it into small pieces) - you can email me at “raynman@mac.com” or call me at 310 629 9708 - I’ll respond when I can.

Day minus 14 America

Two weeks until I start my ride. I’ve been ready to depart since early May, but commitments keep me home through Memorial Day weekend. Even with a GPS (global positioning system) device, I’ll be at the mercy of the only dependable source of information (in my experience) on rural roads - the gas station attendant. If you’ve traveled cross-country on two-lane roads, you may have discovered that your map (or GPS software) was missing a few roads or that the road sign you were looking for to indicate your turnoff was knocked down by a snowplow in 1978 and never re-erected. I’m avoiding the Interstates and Provincial Autoroutes whenever possible to make my ride more enjoyable and navigation more challenging.

Day minus 6 America

This is a rough estimate of when I’ll be where, subject to weather, road condition, personal choice (I may decide to do something different):

Week of June 1 - CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, AL, FL
Week of June 7 - FL, GA, NC, VA, MD
Week of June 14 - DE, NJ, NY, CT, RI, MA, NH, ME, VT, QC, ON, MI, MN, ND, MT
Week of June 21 - AB, BC, WA
Week of June 28 - OR, CA

Day minus 5 America

Have you ever packed for a six-week motorcycle ride…with camping gear? Two decades of business travel with carry-on luggage does not prepare one for this task. So I’m procrastinating, though I think about it at least twice a day. On May 31, I’ll lay everything out on the floor and figure it out. ‘Tough choices…PC or the first-aid kit? Can I get by with one pair of jeans? How do I maintain the level of personal hygiene that I (and others) expect? It’s a challenge when your absolute-must-have-bare-minimum stuff fills up all your available space. At least dental floss doesn’t take up much room.

Day 1 America

Manhattan Beach, CA - Grand Canyon, AZ. 615 miles, 11-½ hours. Left home at 6:00am to beat the traffic; instead, I was part of it. Very exiting to pull away from the garage on the hawg, ‘hope I didn’t leave anything running at home. Exited the “slab” (bike speak for freeway) north of Palm Springs, rode through Joshua Tree National Park – it’s worth seeing if you’re visiting Los Angeles or Palm Springs. 105+ in Lake Havasu City, AZ, (home of the London Bridge, seriously), took a wrong turn, eventually arrived (dehydrated) at Grand Canyon at sunset, set up my tent.

While walking to the canyon rim, I passed within 10 feet of three deer, they didn’t even spook, they’re so tame. It’s one thing to see pictures of the Grand Canyon, another to stand on the rim and watch the rocks change color as the sun sets, feel the wind. Huge moon (and clear, I’m at 7,000 feet). Four or five coyotes (or were they wolves?) howled at the moon during the night, very cool (though it didn’t make for ideal sleeping conditions). One day down. Sunburned.

Day 2 America

Grand Canyon, AZ – Las Cruces, NM. 623 miles, 11 hours. Rode east along canyon rim to 89, then headed south. Few tourists take this route, rather they drive back down 64 south. Lots of places to stop and look out at the canyon, but the sun was already too high (harsh lighting) for good pictures.

Once south of Flagstaff, another blistering hot day. Visit the giant meteor crater east of Flagstaff. Well, it’s a big crater.

A beautiful ride through forest after passing through Show Low, AZ (the main street is called Deuce of Clubs). Once in Salt River Canyon, road drops 2,500 feet, crosses Salt River, then climbs back up, breathtaking. I would not have considered this route, but I received a book of scenic rides from a friend – worth the detour. After reaching Globe, AZ, head east through San Carlos Indian Reservation (one of many I’ve ridden through in Arizona). The squalor along the road is disheartening, makes one wonder how long the American Indian communities will survive; those that I’ve seen are certainly not prospering. Once through the reservation, pass through some towns that are barely hanging on, most buildings boarded up, yet a few hardy soles walking the streets. 70 eventually empties out on to the slab (I-10), which I take until sunset, check in at a motel (need to charge up my electronics, update the blog).

Even though I’ve been wearing a baseball cap under my helmet, my face is sunburned and wind burned. I frighten some mini-mart cash register attendants when I walk in to buy water because I look a little wild (leather jacket, wild helmet hair [it’s been growing], boots); everyone else is wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the heat. But I smile; some smile back, others look like they’re ready to reach under the counter to press the ‘were-being-held-up’ button.

Day 3 America

Las Cruces, NM – Kerrville, TX. 616 miles, 12 hours. Morning news says record temperatures yesterday, 111. I head south towards El Paso. It’s warm, but nothing like yesterday. Road sign says dust storms for next 10 miles, which explains the brown wall ahead of me. Fortunately, it dissipates before I get there. A bandana would’ve been good to have, so I stop at Barnett’s Harley-Davidson in El Paso, claims to be largest dealer in world. It is big. I buy a yellow bandana; have an epiphany that this can keep sun off my face as well.

Ride up desolate road for 140 miles to Carlsbad Cavern, cross open prairie. Seems like forever, start up into mountains, beautiful, clouds forming, looks like rain. Running low on gas! On reserve, have about 5 miles of gas remaining, at turnoff for Carlsbad Cavern, there’s a small unmanned Shell station the pump authorizes my card (most pumps in AZ and NM haven’t). If it didn’t work, I would’ve been stranded. Enter park, park bike as it starts to sprinkle. Meet two couples just leaving, on BMW motorcycles. They are from Minnesota, heading to Santa Fe on return trip. Enter the cave; tour the “Big Room” (it’s 700’ below ground, size of 14 football fields). It looks like Disneyland at Christmas.

It’s still sprinkling when I return to my bike, decide it’s too early in the trip to don rain rear. Ride north, then east, then south. No rain, sky becomes lighter, then sunshine. Very windy. Cross back into Texas, ride through Pecos, TX (site of the first rodeo in US). Desolate. Eventually hit I-10, slab it east until I hit Kerrville, TX, almost run out of gas for second time today. Continue riding after dark, it’s a beautiful evening, first time I’ve been cool (even had to place insulated liner in my leather jacket) on the trip. It’s late, only food available is at McDonalds up the street – another healthy meal.

Day 4 America

Kerrville, TX – Baton Rouge, LA. 603 miles, 12-½ hours. My ears are really red after three days of wind and sun, so I wear a not-cool-looking beanie under my helmet that covers my ears. Humidity has arrived.

Blast down I-10, stop at Javelina H-D in Boerne, TX, 50 miles west of San Antonio, to pick up a memento for one of my riding buddies. In the parking lot, I talk to Scott, who looks very conservative (clean shaven, short hair), except for the tattoos that cover all of his arms and shoulders. He asks if I’m going to the rally, which he explains is the three-day Republican rally which starts today in Austin, TX. He’s excited because they cordon off 6th Ave (main party street) just for bikers as part of the rally. I indicate that I’m heading east, so can’t make the rally.

Uneventful ride through San Antonio, get stuck in Houston traffic, lot’s of freeway construction (what’s new?). It’s only 90, but the humidity is brutal. 50 miles east of Houston and I’m finally off the slab, ride through Port Arthur and across the bayou into Louisiana.

Ride the Creole Tail for 100 miles across coastline and bayous. It’s incredibly lush and green. Major lightning and thunder, real fire-and-brimstone stuff, but it only sprinkles for a while. I pass a huge number of churches; there’s usually a bar (often in a mobile home) close by. Convenient. The cemeteries are right next to the churches, on the road. Everything’s above ground…you can’t bury people if most of Louisiana…they’ll float back to the surface because the ground is so wet. Stop in Johnson’s Bayou, last coastal town before I head inland. It’s kind of a resort area for the financially challenged, has real character, though. I just miss the ferry that crosses the channel. While I’m waiting, another beautiful lightning and thunder show. This time, though, it drifts over me and I get soaked. It’s still humid, so I don’t feel like donning rain gear. Actually, it feels great to cool down. When the ferry arrives, I ride over slick, oily steel decking, but I keep the bike upright. Once on the other side, the rain stops in about 15 minutes and I’m (air) dry in another 30. Ride through another rain shower, then dry off again. The scenery and wildlife are fantastic, the highlight of the trip so far.

Riding towards Baton Rouge on I-10 on a bridge/elevated roadway that spans 20+ miles of swamps, rivers, bays, bayous. Beautiful. It’s dark, eventually cross the Mississippi at Baton Rouge across a bridge that looks like it’s lit up for some holiday. A great riding day.

Day 5 America

Baton Rouge, LA – Eastpoint, FL. 487 miles, 15 hours.

Wake to rap music in the parking lot, followed by screeching children. Eat next door at Waffle House (first breakfast I’ve had this trip). The five waitresses and two cooks say “hello” (all at once) to everyone who walks in! Very friendly, and I like the way they talk. The weather starts pleasantly, then gets hot and humid quick.

Take I0 to New Orleans, exit on 90 to continue along coast again…whoops, it looks like Watts (suburb of Los Angeles). I ride for five miles, wonder if I’ll make it out alive. Turn around, back to freeway, then exit on 90 farther up. Ride over lots of 1 ½ lane bridges, along waterways, very nice. In Mobile, AL, stop to look at USS Alabama battleship, then get on 89, which I take through Alabama and into Florida. Very nice Alabama communities like Daphne and Fairhope. Talk with older woman in Magnolia Springs, AL.; she’s lived in San Diego and North Carolina as well as Magnolia Springs. Says she’s envious of my trip, though I can’t see her riding a Harley or any motorcycle. I think sometimes people say they want to do what you’re doing (when they really don’t).

Cross into Florida, ride through Pensacola, many Florida coastal towns on panhandle, Destin is nice resort community. Ride through Panama City at sunset, a port town, very seedy. Completely dark, I show up in Mexico Beach, check with every motel, all full, attendants say no rooms anywhere. Head down beach, watching lightning on the horizon, visions of spending the night alongside the rode. Ride 30 miles to next town, same story, no rooms. Next town, stop at the ‘Gibson, a very old, very elegant hotel…it’s full too. But the very nice and southern attendant calls a motel she knows of across the bridge, reserves me a room.

Hopeful, I ride across the bridge, reach the shore…it looks like the Bates Motel and Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Perkins are the proprietors. [It’s not a place you’d stay at if you had a choice.] The lobby is their living room with a registration desk near the door. I say “hello” several times (it’s 10:30pm), no answer. So I walk through the living room, find them in the kitchen. Mr. Perkins has a sporadic assortment of teeth, none of them white. Mrs. Perkins charges me $60 for a room that would normally sell for $19.95, but I’m happy to have it. It’s not just the only game in town – it’s the only game in any town within 100 miles. [It’s Saturday evening in the middle of nowhere; I didn’t consider the scarcity of accommodations]. I inquire about food, there happens to be a Mexican restaurant ¼ mile up the road (I think the only restaurant in the town). The 15 people who are there are all family of the proprietor. I order a beef quesadilla and a Sangria to go. Turn the TV on, watching the walls for moving things, go to bed at 1:00am.

At 2:00am, awaken to thunder, then room turns bright white from a lightning strike and thunder cracks after an imperceptible pause; I think it’s hit the building. More thunder follows. Then the rain starts, pounding the roof. I’m wondering if the thunder might’ve triggered my motorcycle alarm. It’s parked on the other side of the motel; so I pull on some shorts and Chuck Taylors, sidle along the motel under the eaves. It’s raining so hard, I can barely see through the wall of water cascading off the eaves (no gutters). Forgot my key fob, sidle back to my room, come back and disarm the bike. There’s a cover on the bike, but it’s sitting forlornly in the rain. A nice, stress-free day.

Day 6 America

Eastpoint, FL – Naples, FL. 489 miles, 10-½ hours. Its morning, hot and muggy. Head down the coast. After an hour, I see a storm squall ½ mile ahead, stop and put on rain gear. Ride through it for 20 minutes, then remove rain gear off. The only thing worse than putting on rain gear is putting in on multiple times.

After an hour, blue-black wall of sky ahead, stop and put on rain gear, as does a group of 10 Harley riders that I passed. It starts raining, hard. Goggles fog up. It’s now raining so hard, I can’t see, 2 inches of water on road and I’m doing 65. All the cars are pulled over. As I slow down, I hydroplane, manage to keep bike upright by holding my breath. Find a cross over, turn around, ride back to last town at 15 mph, find cover at gas station. Make a few calls, and after 45 minutes, the storm passes.

Detour on 19, pass through several beach towns, then Clearwater, St. Petersburg. Stop off in Sarasota and Venice on way to Naples. Beautiful orange clouds at sunset. It’s night again, lightning in the distance, check-in at Best Western in Naples. Louis, at the desk, rides a Honda Shadow, offers to let me park my bike in the lobby! I decline. Dinner at Burger King next door. [I’ve been eating healthy the last few months, but my diet has gone to hell-in-a-hand-basket on this trip]. ‘Looking forward to the Florida Keys tomorrow.

Day 7 America

Naples, FL – Key West, FL. 300 miles, seven hours. OK, I’m being easy on myself…only 300 miles, but you can’t ride any further than Key West. Crossing the Everglades, I try to dodge what appear to be small orange crabs crossing the road. I stop and look – they are actually giant orange grasshoppers. I bend down to take a picture of two grasshoppers who are squaring off (are they going to mate, fight? Can’t tell the gender). One runs off, the other turns toward me and appears to give me the finger, then poses for a nice profile shot. I take care not to run over him or her when I take off. After awhile, I stop trying to dodge them, my jeans below the knee look like an orange and black surrealistic painting. Then Florida Turnpike south, then onto 1 south across the Florida Keys. The ride through the ‘Keys was brutal – hot, humid, heavy traffic the last 40 miles. Once I arrived in the historic section of Key West, I was ready to take anything that looked cool and refreshing. There are thousands of two-cycle scooters buzzing around like flies. The locals drive OK, but the tourists think they’re in Disneyland – they’re not sure if they’re moving vehicles or just pedestrians with tires, so they drive on the sidewalks, against traffic, etc. I feel like I’m driving a bus in comparison. The “Banyan Resort” looks inviting, a cluster newly modernized historic-register buildings under a grove of banyan trees. It’s expensive, but I take it, a sanctuary from the heat and scooter-mounted tourists. The room is awesome; I head to the pool and relax for the first time this trip.

You’re surprised that I haven’t been relaxing? Riding a motorcycle all day is fun, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes boring, occasional moments of near panic, but it demands all your senses. Prior to this evening, I’ve ridden well into darkness, then grabbed something to eat (late), documented the day, then fallen asleep (typically after 1:00am).

Today is different, I arrived @ 4:30pm. Hit the small swimming pool in the garden; lay on the lounge chair for a while. The woman sweeping the deck is talking with my neighbor…they both went to Kent State in Ohio. Upon graduating with a Masters degree (she didn’t say what), she bought a van, lived in it for 1-½ years, just driving around. Then lived in Newport Beach, CA for a while. Came to Key West 25 years ago, never left. Her skin looks like it’s been in the sun every day for 25 year (something you can do here, I’m told) - a nice durable leather-like quality that any alligator would be proud of. Shower, collect my dirty clothes (all my clothes), the washer and dryer at the Banyan Resort are in use, so I go to laundry mat three blocks away. After laundry, think about dinner (I haven’t eaten anything today, it’s 9:00pm).

I’m ½ block of off Duval Street, the party street. ‘Reminds me of Bourbon and Royal streets in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Nicole, the bartender at Bagatelle, where I’m eating and drinking at the bar, says this is a slow night? This is my first quality dinner in a week, raw ahi steak tastes unbelievably good. The three Long Island Iced Tea’s didn’t hurt either (at least not tonight). Rachelle, a friend of Nicole’s, arrives. She’s just gotten off work at a high-end jewelry store across the street (gives me her card, suggests I stop by tomorrow to buy gifts). She’s from Colorado, recently lived in Sarasota, moved to Key West three months ago. Party girl. She smokes, as does most others I see, but is considerate and asks me if it’s OK to light up. ‘Lives at mile marker 25, which means she commutes 25 miles to Key West for work. I ask her about Ernest Hemingway, where he hang out. She says Sloppy Joes’s, but that bar used to be at another location (I forgot where). Actually, I pester Rachelle with Nicole with questions: Are there really panthers in Florida (passed “Panther Crossing signs in Everglades)? Yes. Have you seen one? No. What are Key Deer (there’s a Key Deer sanctuary on one of the Key islands)? A small deer, size of large dog. Have you seen one? Yes, often. Why did you move here, what’s it like to live here, what do people do here for income, what’s it like in season, etc.? I think I’m starved for someone to talk to in person. I pay the bill; walk back up Duval Street, which is in full swing at 11:00pm.

Day 8 America

Key West, FL – Daytona Beach, FL. 472 miles, 10-½ hours. I had planned to stay in Key West a day and rest, but I need to ride out today to meet up with folks. I take a walk down Duval Street this morning – it’s like the aftermath of a college kegger. The street is lined end-to-end with beer trucks, stocking up for another day and night of partying. It’s muggy and hot and I’m ready to head to cooler climes.

Worst part about ride out of Key West is that it’s the SAME ride I had yesterday, just a different side of the road. Two different rainsqualls, like gray jellyfish suspended from the sky, try to cut me off, but our conga-line of vehicles manage to outrun them. It’s not as humid as the ride in, but still uncomfortable. Stop at “Shell World” to graze for genuine local ‘Keys products to ship for family gifts. The attractive shells I pick up say “Made in the Philippines”, so I purchase a bottled water and leave.

I pick up a bottled water at most gas stops, which is pretty often, as my bike has a range of about 190 miles if I’m riding up to 70 mph, a lot less if I’m riding 80 mph. I can only drink ½ the bottle, so I cram it in a saddlebag so I have something to drink if I (the bike) break down. By the next gas stop, the water in the bottle is hot, so I dump it and put the new bottle (is it half full, or half empty?) in the saddlebag. One of many mundane rituals I perform. This bottled water diatribe is boring; I don’t know why I’ve even documented it. Hit the Florida Turnpike again, this time heading for Miami.

I don’t mind paying the tolls, but I do mind paying it every few miles. It’s simple in a car, complicated on a bike. Stop, hold bike upright, say ‘hi to bored booth attendant, put transmission in neutral (sometimes it’s difficult to do), now that both hands are free, struggle to get right glove off, unsnap right jacket pocket, remove wallet, hold wallet in left (gloved hand), extract $ with right (ungloved hand), drop glove when reaching over to pay booth attendant, stoop, pick up glove without tipping over, put wallet back in jacket pocket, struggle with the pocket snap, struggle to put sweaty glove back on, smell the radiator of the tractor/trailer rig impatiently parked 12 inches off my rear fender, accelerate out of the booth without sliding out on the slick metal plates strategically placed to facilitate a slippery exit for motorcycles. ‘Looking forward to the next tollbooth.

Brutal traffic jam through Miami, lot’s of road construction. Now that I think about it, the freeways have been torn up in every major city I’ve been through. Traffic continues to be heavy through Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, finally opens up at Jupiter.

I’ve had enough of Florida coast, so blast up I-95, bypassing A1A up the east coast that I had planned. Exit at Cape Canaveral, visit Kennedy Space Center, it’s closed, as I expected, since it’s evening, but still, cool to look at outside exhibits. Drive north on 1 through Titusville, other communities, back to 95. Nice sunset of blues and grays, get some pictures while riding. Exit at Daytona Beach as it gets dark. “Daytona USA” (what I remember as “Daytona Speedway”) is a huge complex, ‘would like to visit for a race. Ride miles past the “new” Daytona until I get to the “old” Daytona, then over the bridge to the beach. Lot’s of cool bars, with motorcycles of all manufacture in front. Also, lots of motorcycle shops – Harley, BMW, Arlen Ness, other customer bike shops. Check in to Super 8 (I splurged last night in Key West, time for a more modest accommodation). It’s on the beach; room faces the ocean, though it’s a bit steamy inside when I open the door. The door opens outwards, reminds me of a mobile home on the inside, but it does the job. Go next door to the Ocean Deck, have first healthy meal of my trip (steamed tuna and steamed vegetables), though I augment with two Long Island Iced Teas. Back to the room to update my journal, make some calls.

Day 9 America

Daytona Beach, FL – Macon, GA. 426 miles, 10 hours (including oil change). Woke up at 5:00am, took some pictures off the balcony of the pre-sunrise over the beach, beautiful blues and grays. The digital display on the camera only registers black, though. Called Dayton Beach Harley-Davidson dealer, spoke to Karen in service, could they do oil change? Sure, bring it in. I’m ecstatic, particularly after my experience at a H-D yesterday. When I arrive, Karen and Johnny write a service ticket, say it will be ready in 1 hour, even though all their mechanics are busy, have some breakfast at their diner. After breakfast (the second one I’ve had this trip), I root through the dealership for a gift. Come back in one hour, the bike is ready. Karen indicates that the dealership has a policy to do oil changes for travelers quickly, even with a discounted labor rate. The mechanic, JP, comes up, he talks about roads, synthetic versus regular oil, all three are interested in my trip. Even when I’m saddling up outside, Bob, another dealership employee, and Bob #2, a customer ask about my bike, trip, etc. Fantastic customer service.

In contrast, I visited the H-D dealership in Pompano Beach, yesterday. I ask for an oil change and the service writer laughs and says, “what week do you want to bring it in?” I explain that I’m traveling, need a quick oil change as I’m well over the recommended 5,000-mile service interval. He says they don’t do “ride up” service. Then what does he suggest that I do? He says find an “independent” (local mechanic). “Service Department”? He’s given me the “service” - what an asshole.

These two dealerships are only 150 miles apart, located on the same coast, in the same state, but are worlds apart. I purchased my gifts at the Daytona Beach dealership.

Ride north on 1 and A1A, visit St. Augustine, a beautiful town (and the oldest city in the US, if I recall). Stop at an old lighthouse, very graceful. The city has beautiful buildings and a bridge. It’s hot and humid, lots of tourists in and traffic, so I don’t have the desire to stop and take pictures.

I break free of tourist traffic and ride over a graceful bridge to the beach, there’s a refreshing breeze on the bridge. This trip has been this way – periods of physical discomfort (heat and humidity) followed by exhilaration; the breeze feels wonderful. If I’d have taken the same route through St. Augustine in a car with the air conditioning on (and it would’ve been on), I would’ve missed the great sensation (and contrast to heat) of the breeze on the bridge – a dull, flat-line, space of time, looking out at the world from inside an insulated steel and plastic box. I suspect there’s a story, or at least a significant analogy, to life here, but I’ll leave it to explore later.

Upon exiting St. Augustine, ride through several beach communities, including Sawgrass, beautiful homes, very nice. Ride up the beach through Jacksonville Beach and Jacksonville (not very exciting). Take pictures of beautiful cable bridge as I pass over it. Back on 95, cross into Georgia, hit rain, get soaked, but not concerned, as I’m about at Savannah, where I’m staying per recommendation of Melody, a friend in Atlanta.

It’s raining when I arrive and the international G-8 Summit (remember Seattle?) is in process here, the hotels are all booked, streets are barricaded, police and National Guard are everywhere in vehicles and riot gear – they’re expecting some trouble from protestors. I don’t see any protestors, just a lot of very bored law enforcement personnel.

I head out towards Atlanta, optimistic (as salespeople are, whether it’s revenue for next quarter or the weather up ahead) that the weather will improve. It does, and I dry out after 30 minutes of freeway wind. Hit a few rain flurries on the way, but not worth putting rain gear on. Arrive at Macon (bacon) GA, check into to Best Western. First motel I’ve stayed at with pink sheets. Great steak dinner at Texas Cattle Co. next door, served by just-graduated-from-high-school Megan, who will go to local community college for two years then transfer to one of two Georgia colleges I’m not familiar with. I asked her what Macon is known for and she doesn’t come up with anything. That’s understandable, from what I’ve seen of the town. She grew up in a smaller town 20 miles distant; Macon is where you went to do anything. It reminds me of the logging town I grew up in, traveling to Portland, OR to do anything. Just like home.

Day 10 America

Macon, GA – Dallas, GA. 166 miles, four hours. Stay at the motel until checkout time, catching up on email, blog. Head up to Dallas, GA (countryburb of Atlanta) to stay with my friend Dan, his wife Cindy, and Lucy, the black miniature poodle who runs the house. It’s a beautiful house on four acres, adjacent to two small lakes.

Getting to their house was an experience. Instead of following Dan’s directions, I decide to follow the route that my GPS device calculates. Since their house is on a new street, it’s not in the GPS database, so I settle for a generic Dallas address, thinking I can find their house from there. GPS has me exit the freeway 40 miles from their house and I ride surface streets for two hours. Once arriving at Dallas city hall, I’ve no idea how to get from point A (city hall) to point B (the house). I’m too proud to call for directions, so I wander around for another hour until I stumble across it. Yes, typical male. I now know it’s dangerous to mix high technology (GPS) with low technology (verbal instructions).

It’s nice to relax for a couple of hours. When Cindy arrives home from work, we head out for a great dinner at Charley’s. Dan and Cindy are very nice people, southern hospitality at its finest. Dan and I talk bikes all during dinner and bore Cindy silly. Back at the house, Lucy lets me go to bed after I scratch her tummy for 15 minutes. Lucy and I are instant buddies.

Day 11 America

Dallas, GA – Burnsville, NC. 354 miles, 10 hours. Dan and I head up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, passing into North Carolina. Dan rides a H-D Dyna Wide Glide, which he just had painted in House of Kolor “Tangelo”, a beautiful orange color. With flames, of course. The bike looks great – it’s flashy, just like Dan. The weather is sunny-but-not-too-hot. Just over the North Carolina border, in the mountains, we eat at the Rainbow Restaurant. They have a trout pond beside the restaurant, which they allow you to fish in, and if you catch something, they’ll cook it. That’s ok if you’re not too hungry and you have lots of time. We select something that had already died to eat.

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along the ridge of the Smokies through North Carolina and Virginia. It’s a beautiful, well-maintained two-lane road. The views are stunning. Lots of tunnels and overlooks with places to stop and take pictures. Around 8:00pm, it’s getting cold and we exit to find a place to stay. We stop at a closed gas station in Burnsville to figure out where to go next. William, the good-ol-boy who owns the station, asks us if we need gas, we say we need to find a place to stay. He recommends Albert’s Inn just up the road and insists that we tell them that William sent us.

Ride up to Albert’s Inn, Sylvia, the proprietor, is leaving for the evening, but she opens the office back up to register a room for us. She has a strong accent, and I cleverly ask her where in Scandinavia she’s from. Munich.

Sylvia asks us if we’ve eaten, we say no, she calls the dining room of the Mount Mitchell Lands and Golf Club next door and asks them to keep the kitchen open for us. We decline the dinner, but go to the bar as she suggested. Drink a couple of Long Island Iced Teas on the balcony outside the bar, overlooking the golf course. There’s a nice breeze and the fireflies are at full wattage. The bar closes at 9:00pm, but Teo, who runs the food and beverage operation for the country club, invites us to join him, Gayle and Bobby in the bar, where he mixes up margaritas (on the house) until, well, I don’t recall when he closed the bar.

Teo is from Basel, Switzerland. Gayle, his wife, from Grand Rapids, MI. Bobby, who works part-time for Teo, is from Jacksonville, FL (I don’t know how I remembered all this). Two and Gayle work seven months a year, then take off five months (during the snow). They are extremely hospitable, and Teo insists that we come back for breakfast and it’s ok to park our bikes in the no parking zone right in front of the clubhouse. And we did. The golf course is rated 4 ½ stars, it’s a beautiful course, if you golf, and happen to be in western North Carolina, you should visit.

I think we were so well accepted because Dan is a good-ol-Tennessee-boy himself. He understands what southerners are saying, can speak back in the same language, and translates for me. I had a blast, I’m grateful that Dan took the time to ride with me, and grateful that Cindy and Lucy allowed him out of the house for a couple of days.

Day 12 America

Burnsville, NC – Roanoke, VA. 268 miles, eight hours. Dan heads south back home (it was great to see Dan and Cindy again), I head north. Sunny-Soggy-Foggy-Cold. Started fine, then rained hard enough for me to get out the rain gear. Fog seats in like a curtain, sometimes limiting visibility to 10’. Had a near-hit with a pickup when I went down the mountain to find gas, then back up to the top. I’m determined to ride the parkway the entire distance, so I tough it out for 50 miles, then the fog lessens.

Cross into Virginia, scenery is still spectacular, though it looks different than North Carolina. Get a nice picture of Mabry Mill, an old mill with a waterwheel, located on the parkway. I’m freezing by 5:00pm, exit at Roanoke, check in to a very-poorly-maintained Days Inn. No restaurants within walking distance, so I settle for sub sandwich at the “Blimpie” counter at the gas station. The woman smoked while she assembled my roast beef sandwich, though she did wear elastic gloves.

The maximum speed on the parkway is 45 mph, sometimes dropping to 35 mph. It’s not a road to take when you’re in a hurry, which may explain why I saw so few vehicles. It’s worth every minute.

Day 13 America

Roanoke, VA – Chestertown, MD. 400 miles, 10 hours. Wake up with headache, leave Roanoke, starts to rain as I depart, perhaps this city isn’t as dreary when the weather’s nice. Finally have to put on rain gear. After an hour, rain stops, but it stays cold as long as I’m in the mountains. Sometimes I’m above the clouds, sometimes below, sometimes between, sometimes it’s sunny. Regardless of the conditions, it’s beautiful country. Nice brunch at park-run restaurant on the parkway.

At one of the overlooks, meet two couples from Minnesota on H-D Electra-glides, one with a sidecar. Sidecars look cool, but I don’t know how one corners in them. The Blue Ridge Parkway ends, followed by Skyline Drive for another 130 miles. For the last two days, saw dear, rabbit, pheasant, squirrel (but no bear). Finally drop down out of the mountains, ride through Washington DC, lots of road construction, turns, exit in bad part of town (this is becoming a habit), get back on freeway. At sunset, exit and ride past the Naval Academy in Annapolis and visit a WWI monument, very nice.

Head over a long, creepy, tall, narrow, swaying-in-the-strong-wind bridge (the guardrail is below my knees) and land on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Ride through countryside until I reach Chestertown, where I rent a room at the only motel I can find. As I cross the bridge and enter Chestertown’s tiny downtown, I get smacked with a water balloon, which fortunately hits the windshield and not me. I don’t have to wash the bugs off the windshield tonight.

As I pull the bags off my bike to take to my room, Elmer stops and talks. He’s an older (a lot older than me) gentleman, riding with his son and daughter-in-law, all on H-D motorcycles. They’re from Michigan, visiting friends on the Eastern Shore. His family rides for two-three weeks every year, they’ve traversed the country. We talk about places we’ve been, our motorcycles, families. ‘Hope I look as good as he does when I get that old.

Day 14 America

Chestertown, MD – Boston, MA. 432 miles, 10 hours. CNN Headline News says storms in DC and NJ, but I don’t see a drop all day. Stop at Mike’s Famous (H-D dealership) in Wilmington, DE, to purchase a small part (the front wheel) that vibrated off my bike while riding the Blue Ridge Parkway. Actually, it’s the cover to the trip odometer switch, not the front wheel. I can ride without it, just a minor irritation that the bike doesn’t look right. They don’t have one…they have 310 motorcycles on the floor, but not the part I need. This is the third H-D dealership I’ve visited that claims to be the largest. These dealerships are suffering from delusions of grandeur or I’ve cross between parallel universes and coincidentally visited the largest dealership in each universe.

Had planned to ride through Manhattan, but Mark (a friend I’m going to stay with in Boston, who also rides motorcycles) suggested that I avoid the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan and instead ride up the Garden State Freeway, which I did. Lot’s of toll stops, all oily and wet (slippery). Thought I went past my exit (I hadn’t), exited in a particularly bad part of Newark. Got back on toll way in opposite (but wrong) direction, exited, back on toll way in correct direction… After crossing Tappan Zee Bridge north of Manhattan, miss my turnoff. Come back, make another wrong turn, pay toll, exit and turnaround, pay toll again, finally on my way north, through Connecticut, finally into Massachusetts, lots of road work in process. My favorite is a 10 mile stretch on 90, where they’ve heaped new pavement on 2 ½ lanes, leaving a large lip (uneven lane) that I can’t cross over at 70 mph because I’d probably crash, so I’m stuck riding on the remaining ½ lane on pavement that’s been gouged out so the new pavement will stick (motorcycle front wheels tend to follow the gouges, which of course are not straight, but undulate back and forth as if the gouge machine operator was drunk). A nice finale to a relaxing day of riding.

Mark (my scuba diving buddy when he lived in Los Angeles) meets me on his motorcycle near the freeway, as the route to his place is complex and my inability to follow even simple directions is now well established. A quick shower (necessary), we have dinner with his friend Terry, and Wizard, her 95 lb golden retriever. Wizard demands attention, I find myself spending another evening scratching a dog. Yahoo, a golden retriever puppy, will arrive next week to challenge Wizard for house alpha. Terry cooks a fantastic dinner, serves a nice merlot leads a tour of her nicely refurbished 100-year-old home, very entertaining company. Terry says her title is “Partner Party Princess” (Partners is a healthcare company); she has a great job, loves it, it’s nice to meet people who love their work.

Day 15 America

Boston, MA. No riding today! Mark and brother Rob host a six-hour walking tour of Boston, fantastic. Mark and Rob are electricians, have worked in many public and private buildings in Boston and have interesting stories to tell about Boston places and people. We go to the “Big Dig” (freeway system transitioned from above-to-below ground downtown). It’s amazing to be downtown and no longer see and hear the loud and ugly green freeway system – a $14B project. Walk along Charles River (across from Harvard and MIT), stroll down Newbury Street, beautiful day. For dinner, crab cakes at Legal Seafood. Mark and Rob took time off to show a tourist a city that they’re proud of, and I’m very appreciative.

Day 16 America

Boston, MA – Niagara Falls, NY. 563 miles, 12 hours. Up early and on the road. Beautiful day, sunny but cool. Blast across Mass Pike, which becomes NY Thruway. Detour up to Saratoga Springs to see my friend Tom. He’s playing in a charity golf event after lunch (I arrive at lunchtime), so he drives me around in air-conditioned comfort for a 45-minute tour of Saratoga Springs (my first visit). A nice town, known for their springs (water, not shock absorbers) and horse racing. ‘Drank out of a couple of natural springs situated around town. I’ve known Tom for 20 years, haven’t seen him for 10, it was great to catch up on him and his family.

Back down to Thruway, try unsuccessfully to find H-D in Rochester, NY, before closing time. It’s sunset, starts raining, ride into Buffalo, NY, can’t find a motel so I head up towards Niagara Falls (just a few miles away) stay in Red Roof Inn. Order a pizza from the only restaurant within walking distance, then sit down to update three days of blog - this is a working vacation. Thunderstorms are forecast for tonight and tomorrow, which may mean another beautiful, sunny day.

Day 17 America

Niagara, NY - Chicago, IL. 610 miles, 13 hours. Forecasters were right last night – it’s raining (as I get off to a late start), but lightly, so I leave the rain gear packed. Two miles later in a drenching downpour, I stop and put the rain gear on. Pay toll to cross a bridge (that’s lost in the clouds), park at Niagara Falls for $10, ride elevator to bottom of falls for $11.25. Take lots of pictures. I thought that the falls were a lot bigger.

Really starts to downpour when I return to bike. My goggles fog up, so I remove them and squint hard against the rain so I can at least get through the border crossing. Pay another toll (!) to cross bridge to Canada, go thru Canadian immigration. It’s pouring hard, goggles still too foggy to wear. The streets are flooded on the Canadian side. Miserable ride for 1-½ hours, then rain slackens. Stop in London, Ontario, at Rocky’s Harley-Davidson. They have the $3.00 trip odometer cover that I’ve been seeking. When I pay for my stuff, Paul, the parts counter guy, gives me a “dip dot”. I say “thanks”, but he sees the blank expression on my face. He explains that all H-D dealers have them, and give them to travelers for the asking. Dip dots display the dealer’s name, and H-D logo, about the size of a quarter. People collect them. I’ve visited dealers all over the US, but have to go to Canada to learn about this. Paul’s into dip dots in a big way, and hands me a self-addressed envelope, would I please send him a dip dot from one or two other dealers I visit on my trip?

More rain squalls. Wait 45 minutes on the bridge back to the USA at Port Huron, MI. I’m steaming, literally. The sun is out; I’m sitting on the bridge in my rain gear. My clothes were damp when I put the rain gear on; I’m now steaming like a dumpling. I finally get to immigration/customs. The 40’ motor home in front of me, which could potentially contain 20 terrorists, with their tools of trade, in luxurious comfort…the immigration official doesn’t even glace in the window, and they’re off the pad in 30 seconds. I, however, get to bond with the immigration official for the next 10 minutes.

Citizenship, where do you live, how long were you in Canada, what did you buy there, who do you work for, what do you do for a living, license, please (disappears in his booth for a minute), do you know your license tag number (I don’t know, he walks to back of bike, writes it down), what state is your license tag, where were you born, birth certificate, please (I don’t have it), do you know your license tag number (I still don’t know), what state is your license tag (again), how many miles is your trip, how many miles have you traveled so far, how many miles do you have to go, where have you been on your trip, what states/provinces have you visited so far… I’ve trained diligently to be a US citizen, so he’s finally convinced. I sleep better now, knowing that no terrorist posing as a USA citizen, riding an American-made motorcycle, will enter the USA under his watch.

Port Huron was considerate enough to place a rest stop just outside the border crossing, so I stop to peel off my rain gear. Parked next to me, an elderly couple and their daughter, on the way to a family reunion in Grand Rapids, MI, say they saw me ride past them in a downpour two hours ago in Ontario, were surprised that I made it this far. He’s concerned that the food will be gone before they arrive at the reunion. I can’t think of anything appropriate to say, so I smile and go back to stuffing my hot, steaming rain suit into my luggage.

Weather is nice for a while, hit another rainsquall, stop on the side of the freeway (not a smart thing to do) and put rain gear back on. Weather gets nice again, then cold, exchange rain gear for chaps and jacket liner. Beautiful ride through light fog and mist down the west coast of Michigan. Truck traffic gets heavy as I ramp onto freeway at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, riding towards Chicago. Toll way into Chicago is torn up, it’s dark, traffic is heavy, haven’t eaten for 26 hours, riding for 13 hours…a riding zombie.

Stop in Skokie (Chicago suburb) at 10:30pm and pay $152 for a room at Hampton Inn (a bit pricey for this motel chain, considering other Hampton Inn’s I’ve stayed at ranged from $40 - $65). Local restaurants are closed, order a pizza from pizza parlor down the freeway (arrives at midnight).

Where are the electrical outlets? They’re behind the headboard and behind the credenza and chest of drawers that won’t budge. Are motels concerned that guests will steal too much electricity if several electrical outlets are made available? I’m left with one usable outlet in the bathroom – I need three. Cell phone battery and digital camera battery need recharging, plus my PC. And each charging power cord is designed to cover up both plug-ins on a typical double electrical outlet. Perhaps I’ll just buy postcards next time and leave the electronics at home.

Day 18 America

Chicago, IL – St. Cloud, MN. 510 miles, 10 hours. Decent AM weather, stopped in Milwaukee, WI, just to see what it looked like. Ok, now I’ve been there. Continuing northwesterly, a few sprinkles, but not worth getting rain gear on. I now understand why Wisconsin is the dairy state. A gaggle of tractor/trailer rigs must be molting up ahead, as I encounter a debris field of tire retread carcasses and their offspring. The cars in my pod, and me, are dodging the larger pieces. A neighbor kicks up a small piece of tire, which bounces off my helmet; glad I’m wearing one.

Speaking of helmets, I wear one, even when riding in states where helmets aren’t mandatory. I learned the value of a helmet from a motorcycle accident when I was 11 (12?). My helmet for this trip isn’t DOT-certified, but it’s a strong, light carbon fiber half-helmet (stops above the ears) that’s very comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. And, most importantly, it looks much cooler than a typical mushroom-looking helmet. Vanity.

It gets cold as I near Minnesota; stop to put on another layer. As I approach St. Paul, freeway narrows down to one lane…after 90 minutes, I’m free of Minneapolis/St. Paul area and heading north. I find out later that evening from my friend Tracy that it’s best to avoid this area on Friday afternoons/evenings in the summer, as that’s when the locals head out of town to the lakes.

Minor frostbite when I remove my gloves, thaw out in the Jacuzzi. The motel clerk says it’s unseasonably cold. Good timing on my part.

Missed going to a concert tonight…I didn’t retrieve my message until too late (I’m 60 miles past Minneapolis) – Tracy and her friends are going to a Prince (the-artist-formerly-known-as-formerly-known-as) concert, I’m invited, but I don’t stop to check messages until I check into my motel in St. Cloud. I’ve missed several friends on this trip in this fashion…I’ve either checked my messages too late; I feel compelled to blast by where they live because I’m on a mission to reach the next city; or they’re unavailable due to work/family commitments. I’m fortunate to have friends to visit in many places in North America, but I’m also anxious to keep moving. I’ve been 18 days on the road, the novelty has worn a bit thin; but I’m still having a blast.

The bar I’m having dinner in this evening…they’re playing country tunes. And then a Prince song! Seems a bit out of place in this hunting/fishing country, but then Prince lives just 60 miles away in Minneapolis, so I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s just funny to hear guys in flannel shirts and hunting boots singing along with “Purple Rain”.

I’ve ridden 8,000 miles so far this trip, saw odometer pass 40,000 miles while I was riding through a tunnel in Minneapolis. Cool. Purchased the bike new three years ago, so I’ve racked up a few miles. It’s not a garage queen (low miles, only ridden to local biker bar on Sundays), many Harley’s are.

My relationship with the bike is similar to the relationship a rider has with her/his horse, but without the droppings.

Day 19 America

St. Cloud, MN – Glasgow, MT. 758 miles, 12-½ hours. Started the morning with an alarm clock buzzing at 5:30am (I didn’t set it). Pushed buttons until the noise subsided. It came back in 10 minutes (snooze button). This time, turned on the light, found the Auto-On-Off button, put it out of its misery. This is the second time this trip that I’ve awoken to a rogue alarm clock. What are confusing are the alarm clocks that just have Auto-On (no off).

Great riding day. Beautiful morning – blue water, blue sky, white clouds, green prairie. Blast across Minnesota and North Dakota, into Montana. I stop and take a picture of a billboard in Fargo, ND that says “Be Polite”; one of several I encounter today. Perhaps the people in North Dakota need to be reminded.

Crossed North Dakota and Montana on a small two-lane, Highway 2. Yes, it’s flat, but it becomes rolling hills west of Minot, ND. It’s one of those days where I just ride, no distractions except for the occasional stress when I’m low on gas (the tank holds five gallons) and I don’t know if I’ll encounter a town with a gas pump in time. When I enter Montana, the road really narrows.

Arrive in Glasgow, MT at 9:00pm. I get the last room at La Casa Motel. The proprietor is the nicest person, says her son rides a Harley, but calls it a “piglet” (it’s a Sportser, the smallest of the Harleys) instead of a “hog”; sorry, “hawg”. All that’s open is a McDonalds down the street. I’m waiting for my #4 meal, (no cheese), on the wall is a map that shows all 29 McDonalds in the state of Montana; a good indicator of the size of the population.

Riding into the sun (westward), combined with a northern latitude, provides additional hours of daylight riding. This makes it easier to put in long rides.

Day 20 America

Glasgow, MT – Calgary, AB. 541 miles, 10 hours. Up at 6:00am. Walk 15 minutes across town to (the only) laundry mat. The bank sign says 50 degrees, I’m wearing a t-shirt, shorts and Chuck Taylors (all that I have clean); it does seem a bit brisk. The only other person I see is an elderly gentleman wearing winter boots and gloves. It’s great to have clean clothes again, particularly with my meager traveling wardrobe.

While the clothes are spinning, I eat breakfast at Johnnies. Sitting down brings tears to my eyes…everyone else has at least one cigarette going. I think this is where the Marlboro man dines. Excellent omelet. Next door to Johnnies is the Montana Bar, established in 1899. Many of the towns I’ve passed (including this one) have boarded-up buildings, but the bars seem immune to downturns in the local economies.

The first 150 miles were sunny and brisk, the next 100 rainy and brisk, then the clouds part and the wind slowly dies down as I ride north into Alberta. I’m comfortable, though, because I’m layered. “Layered” – long underwear, jeans, leather chaps, rain pants…no longer Michelin Man, but rather Goodyear blimp. Ok, it’s no longer a style thing when the rain gear goes on.

It’s sunny when I approach Calgary. I find a motel downtown near the H-D dealer, tomorrow AM hope to talk them in to changing my oil (the bike’s) with no appointment before I head up to Lake Louise in Banff National Park (some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen).

Driving across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana in a car would’ve bored me to tears, but I enjoyed it on the bike. There’s a lot to see if you look…you just have to look harder than a lot of other places.

I mention the weather a lot in this journal, with good reason. When you drive a car, you’re not in the weather, you’re in the car…it’s your car that’s in the weather. On a motorcycle, you’re “in” the weather. It becomes an integral part of what you’re experiencing. Changes in temperature, humidity, light, direction and force of wind, scent, sound…they influence how you react to whatever you’re experiencing at the time. It’s highly visceral, stimulating; perhaps this is why I actually enjoy a 12-hour butt-numbing ride.

Day 21 America

Calgary, AB – Kelowna, BC. 419 miles, 11 hours. Beautiful day. Ride 10 minutes to Kane’s H-D, ask Doug (service writer) if he can do an oil change. The phone is ringing off the hook (it’s riding season in Calgary, the snow has melted), yet he says he’ll have my bike done in an hour, suggests that I have breakfast at their diner across the street. Kyle, a mechanic, stops what he’s doing, rides my bike into the shop. An hour later, I ride out with five quarts of new synthetic in motor, transmission and primary chain case; another wonderful customer service experience. “Tattoo Service” seems a more colorful description for exceptional customer service than “Six Sigma”,”TQM”, “ISO 900X” and an endless list of other boring-sounding quality initiatives…

Crisp and beautiful, cloudless blue sky. Head out from Calgary on Trans Canada 1 towards the Canadian Rockies in the distance. On the way, pass Canada Olympic Park, constructed for 1988 XV Winter Olympics, take some pictures, people are actually launching off the ski jumps onto some sort of Astroturf.

Banff is beautiful resort town; Banff National Park rivals the Alps for beauty and charm. Arrive at Lake Louise, hike around, take pictures of the lake and the elegant Chateau, take lots of pictures. While I was at the H-D dealership this morning, a guy waiting on his H-D ’04 V-Rod to be serviced talked with me about Lake Louise. When he graduated high school in the 1970’s he moved to Lake Louise to be a bellman at the Chateau, made lots of money, (massively) skied at the ski resort across the valley. He also suggested that I exit the TC1 at Banff, take 1A (two-lane rode, used to be the only road before TC1) to Lake Louise. It was a great ride.

The lake and Chateau seem different, perhaps a bit smaller – I’d visited here at age 14 when I played guitar for a church-sponsored choir. We toured part of Canada that summer, toured the west coast and Mexico the following summer. The place is still beautiful.

I’d planned to camp near Banff or Lake Louise, but I get restless, hate to waste terrific riding weather, so head westward.

In front of a small store on 1A where I stopped to buy some water, I meet Marlene (very cute). She and her friends Dawn and Kate are riding their bicycles across the entire country! They’re representing “Violence Against Women”, speaking at shelters as they travel. Eastbound, they hope to arrive in Halifax by early August. Her knees are skinned up, has already taken a couple of spills. Their bicycles are loaded up with everything they need, including camping gear. The bikes look unwieldy. As I head westward and see the huge climb into the Rockies they’ve already completed, I have even more respect for them

Back on TC1, I see fantastic rivers, streams, waterfalls, forests, mountains. It’s stunning…take several pictures, but they don’t convey the magnitude of the Canadian Rockies. During the ride I see two black bears foraging along the road (I didn’t stop to take pictures, perhaps a big, black, noisy Harley would be seen as a threat). As I turn south on 97A into the lake-filled Okanogan valley, a large red fox skitters off the road as I rumble by. The valley is filled with fruit stands; almost anything that grows and can be eaten seems to be for sale. I end the evening in Kelowna on Lake Okanogan. I stayed here with a friend’s family when I was in junior high school, the place seems vaguely familiar.

Tomorrow, I head for Seattle area to stay with my brother and his family, then down to Olympia to see my mom and sister and her family. It’s great to be back in the west.

Day 22 America

Kelowna, BC – Redmond, WA. 375 miles, eight hours. Beautiful weather through Okanogan valley, hundreds of fruit stands. If you’re a connoisseur of fresh fruits and vegetables, you wouldn’t want to leave; cherries, plums, apples, apricots, peaches, asparagus… The winery and vineyard industry in the area has grown spectacularly in recent years, become a popular wine tour region for Europeans. The area is part of the same vertical slice of geography as up and coming vineyards in eastern Washington State, home to some $100+/bottle wines.

It’s sunny and warm, cross back into USA at Oroville, WA; I’m the only traveler at the border crossing. There is one customs/immigration agent on duty, seems glad to have someone to talk to. Two minutes later, I’m on my way.

When I mention I’m from Washington, some people think of rain, Seattle, rain, Nirvana, rain, Pearl Jam, rain, Starbucks, Bill Gates, occasionally the Seattle Supersonics (good seasons only). East of the Cascade Mountains, though, it’s arid and hot. Add good soil, plentiful irrigation via the Columbia, Snake and other rivers, and you have a fruit basket. The big, red apples that Washington is known for grow here, not in the soggy west. At Wenatchee, head west into and over the Cascade mountains, not far from where I grew up. Stop at Snoqualmie Falls [‘Ever watch the cool TV series, “Twin Peaks”? Many scenes were shot at the lodge perched atop Snoqualmie Falls], take some pictures, ride a back road into Redmond [home of Microsoft, located on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, across from Seattle] to stay with my brother Gordon, his wife Lori and my niece Shaina. It’s great to see them again.

Day 23 America

Redmond, WA – Olympia, WA. 80 miles, one hour. Ride south, it’s great to see mom, my sister Pam and her husband Brad. Everybody in the family (Redmond and Olympia) looks great, though they’ve been as busy as ever. This is the second night in a row that I eat a fantastic Pacific Northwest seafood dinner.

Pam and Brad are leaving for vacation at Canon Beach, OR. It’s on my route down the west coast; I’ll stay with them on Friday evening.

Day 24 America

Olympia, WA. It’s AM, I’m scraping the NC –VA – MD – PA – DE –NJ – NY - CT – MA – ON – MI – IN – IL – WI – MN – ND – MT – AB – BC - WA grit off my bike; it’s dirty. ‘Last cleaned it in Georgia. The bike transforms from muddy brown to shiny black and chrome. Mom says from the doorway (she has the Weather Channel on) that I just missed 29 F in Fargo, ND and tornadoes across Wisconsin. I’m feeling pretty good about the weather I’ve encountered on this trip, perhaps I’ve overemphasized the rain and heat and cold in this blog. I’ve had many beautiful riding days and even the intemperate ones have been enjoyable. It’s that visceral thing (again).

Olympia is a scenic town; mom’s kitchen window looks out over Puget Sound with a straight-on shot of Mt. Rainier, which is always impressive to see (unless it’s hiding behind the occasional clouds that western Washington gets). A relaxing day, eating too much and too often, no pressure to be somewhere by when. And the second day in a row of no motel room charges.

Day 25 America

Olympia, WA – Cannon Beach, OR. 270 miles, eight hours. Head south in the AM, ride up to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It’s an emotionally charged day, for a lot of reasons.

Dad’s ashes are spread on a hillside overlooking Mount St. Helens; he loved the mountain and adjacent Sprit Lake, where he led Boy Scout Troop 334 as Scout Master during summer camps. I cried (not something I do very often, not too masculine, I know) as I started up familiar Hwy 504 towards Spirit Lake and the mountain. I haven’t really thought about dad for quite awhile, the crisp mountain air and the smell of fir trees bring back the memories in an avalanche.

As I enter the blast zone, the clouds part, and ten minutes later I see Mount St. Helens in unbelievable splendor, with just a thin wreath of clouds circling a third of the way from her summit. You’ll see a picture or two when I post photos on the website during the coming weeks. I can’t find the precise location of where we placed dad’s ashes, but I sense that I’m close, and I pull over the share the view in silence.

The mountain, and the surrounding area, are very different from my childhood. I spent some summers (YMCA camp, Boy Scout camp) at Spirit Lake at the base of the mountain, and our family would visit the mountain in winter to ride inner tubes. Spirit Lake was a beautiful lake for hiking (around, not in, unless you could walk on water), swimming (cold!), canoeing, sailing. It’s now 200 feet higher, an enormous log mat of 20,000 dead trees deposited from the blast, with an unrecognizable shoreline. Directly in the blast zone, the camps were vaporized, any remains now underwater.

At 8:32 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted, something she’s done at least 33 times in the past. The north face of the symmetrical mountain collapsed in a massive rock debris avalanche, then exploded, blowing down 230 square miles of forest. Mount St. Helens started the day at 9,760 ft in height, ended the day 1,235 ft. shorter.

Subsequent eruptions continued for 9-15 hours (depending on who’s statistics you read). The initial eruption was estimated to be the equivalent of 20 million tons of TNT or 1,500 atomic bombs. Combined with the subsequent eruptions, the total energy expended was estimated at 400 million tons of TNT or 30,000 atomic bombs. Mom and dad, living in nearby Longview, WA, were fortunate that the prevailing winds blew the massive ash cloud east rather than south, so they were spared from most of the abrasive ash that seized automobile engines and clogged just about everything where it landed.

Wow, that was a trip down memory lane and a history lesson you likely weren’t looking for…I’m jolted back to present day as I gag in a noxious smoke cloud streaming from a late model Jeep Wrangler that’s engulfed in flames at the intersection of Hwy. 504 and I-5; even the tires are burning. A State Trooper and apparently the Jeep’s owner are watching the show from 50 yards away. [No wreck, the Jeep was just parked on the off-ramp]. In deference to the forlorn-looking driver, I declined to photograph the incident.

Thirty minutes later, I’m riding past the house where I lived from ages 5-18. The driveway is full of small-framed bicycles, so another generation of children are being raised in the same house, yard and woods where my sister, brother and me lived many years ago. Down the street, I ride past Pat’s house, my best childhood friend. He’s on vacation in Canada this week, ‘hope to see him and his wife Karen on a subsequent trip.

Pat is the friend that got me interested in motorcycles as a kid. I remember the day that Pat got his first motorcycle; I lit up like a Christmas tree. Dad must’ve seen my enthusiasm – even though he viewed motorcycles as dangerous (his father and mother both rode motorcycles for many years, but admonished my dad never to ride one!), he agreed to split the cost with me for a motorcycle. I saved my money from paper route and mowing lawns and soon had a new Honda. Can’t recall exactly how old I was, perhaps 11?

If you’ve moved away, it can be odd returning to the town you grew up in. Some people “hate” their hometown (I don’t); I’ve a couple of theories why it’s so uncomfortable for so many to return.

What You Were And What You Are. You can go back, sort of. When we grew up, we may have behaved in ways we’re not proud of. For, example, not sticking up for a good friend when we should’ve. When we return to our hometown, we’re confronted with those past behaviors and the people who observed those behaviors. We’ve matured (hopefully) since childhood, but we return to our hometown with the dual personality of whom we were growing up and who we’ve become. The people we haven’t seen since childhood don’t know the “new” you, but they remember the “old” you. It’s the proverbial “facing your demons”. Could any situation be more appropriate for the senses of humility and humor?

What You Are And What You Were Going To Be. Astronaut, Fireman, Rock Star. Perhaps you haven’t yet ended up where you thought you’d be. In my case, I’ve not yet recorded or produced a platinum album (or any album) or written a bestseller book (or any book, but one is in process). Has one of your childhood friends eradicated world hunger and now owns a jumbo jet and a private island? This is one of those times when you look in the mirror and determine if you’re happy with where you are in life – you’ll be telling the story of your life to those who know your youthful aspirations and you’d best be at peace with yourself. Humility, humor, sense of well being by recognizing that it’s your own choices, not the choices of others, that determines where you are and how happy you are…

I’ve digressed from travel log to history and philosophy, sorry, won’t happen again in this blog.

Beautiful weather riding along the Columbia River to the coast, visit the Astoria Column (you’ll likely see a picture of it when I post photos), then down the Oregon coast to Cannon Beach. It’s a resort town, full of artists, some of which have emigrated from Laguna Beach, CA, over the last 50 years. My sister Pam and her husband Brad have booked a hotel room on the beach; it’s a beautiful view. We eat the best pizza I’ve had in years, sip some tequila on the balcony. We see several whales, then, when they haven’t moved after an hour, determine that they’re rocks. [Tequila]. Fantastic sunset.

Day 26 America

Cannon Beach, OR – Garberville, CA. 513 miles, 11 ½ hours. Breakfast with Pam and Brad, then down the rugged and beautiful Oregon coast. Coves where rivers meet the Pacific, beaches, rocky cliffs, old lighthouses, very scenic. It’s sunny but cool. Once in northern California, ride through lengthy groves of redwood trees, unnaturally straight and tall. This is the current home of lumberjack Paul Bunyan (it took five giant storks, working overtime, to deliver him to his parents) and his blue ox Babe (twenty-four axe handles and a plug of tobacco wide between the eyes and as a snack would eat thirty bales of hay…wire and all). They’re standing by the roadside, look the same as when I saw them 40 years ago (maybe some fresh paint). I end up in Garberville at a motel where you wouldn’t want to take your family, but it’s Saturday night and available accommodations are few. Surprisingly, there’s a nice restaurant in town that serves a great filet mignon and some nice California wines.

Day 27 America

Garberville, CA – Healdsburg, CA. 171 miles, four hours. Hwy 101, Hwy 1, Hwy 128 weave through groves of towering redwoods. I pay $3 to ride through the Leggett Tree (a tree that you drive through) – “tourist” with a capital “T”. And there’s the “One Log House”, a room carved out from a single log lying on its side. As I head inland, a vineyard’s on fire (I like that smoky taste in a merlot), fire crews are working to extinguish the blaze. Meet my girlfriend at a B&B in Sonoma wine country. Chocolate-covered strawberries! Wine tasting at Ferrari-Carano, the just-released-today 2004 cabernet is particularly good.

Day 28 America

Healdsburg, CA – Manhattan Beach, CA. 525 miles, 11 hours. Another day of great weather, final leg of the ride. Ride across the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s always beautiful when it’s visible (another toll, but I’ve become very adept at ungloving-paying-regloving), ride through the City (Hwy. 101 is a surface street in downtown San Francisco), then south towards Los Angeles. An uneventful ride today, allows me to reflect on the trip. When I arrive home, my neighbor asks if I’ve been out of town lately and does the “For Rent” sign that she saw on my building last week mean I’m moving? I open the apartment door and my stuff is still there, so the answer is “no”. Christine has thoughtfully brought over the shopping bags of mail along with a box of Dulcinea Truffes (truffles) from her recent vacation in Spain and Portugal. The truffles make a tasty dinner.

The car battery is dead, so I’ll be calling AAA tomorrow. I check email, some friends have inquired where I am, if I’ve returned home yet – I’m behind on updating the blog, which I’ll do tomorrow. It’s great to sleep in my own bed again.

Epilogue I

11,586 miles, 28 days, 254 hours in the saddle, 30 states and provinces, infinite # of refueling stops, dry and wet, hot and pleasant and cold, wonderful times with family and friends, much-appreciated calls and emails, two oil changes, occasionally good but mostly questionable diet, luxurious, mediocre and nasty accommodations, exhilaration and boredom and anxiety and contentedness, 506 photographs, a motorcycle that performed flawlessly, not enough electrical outlets, good hygiene, deserts, mountains, plains, canyons, oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls, tourist attractions, two-lane and mega-lane roads, too many bridges with low guard rails, good and bad pavement, thousands of tractor/trailer rigs (trucks), surprisingly courteous drivers, high-speed impacts with bugs, phenomenal moonrises and sunsets, deer and bear and birds and squirrels, phantom whales, road kill, friendly strangers – an adventure! No regrets, a good choice.

“Thanks” to everyone who joined me on this trip, your calls and emails, providing me with a place to stay – I felt that I was traveling with a large, extended family.

What’s next? Check back at this site over the next week or two, I’ll post pictures and some additional observations about the trip. A book later this year.

Thank you again for your interest and thoughtfulness.

Epilogue II

Pictures are now available on the website.

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