Friday
Jul182008

Sturgis and West Coast Ride

Prepping for Sturgis

A new bike! Traded in my 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic with 65,000 miles on the odometer for a 2008 Harley-Davidson Cross Bones - a springer / softail for those few who might be interested. The Cross Bones isn’t really a touring bike, but the ride is comfortable, and it’ll do for this 6,000+ mile ride. No map, no GPS, strap a big bag across the rear fender, and I’m good to go. I’ll be heading north, visiting friends, my sister Pam in Portland, then meet up with my brother Gordon in Seattle, from there we’ll ride to Sturgis, South Dakota to meet friends and ride for a few days. This will be a great trip

Day 1 Sturgis Ride

Midmorning departure for Sacramento, starts hot, but thankfully cools off north of Bakersfield. Bit of a boring ride between Los Angeles and Sacramento - the next time I choose SR 99 instead of I 5, someone shoot me! 376 miles, 6 hours.

Day 4 Sturgis Ride

Nice ride on SR 16 beginning in Woodland, rolling countryside, no traffic, a gigantic casino in the middle of nowhere. Take a wrong turn on SR 20, road maintenance delays, smoke all around with forest fires burning out of control. Make up some time once I hit US 101, pass Paul Bunyan and Babe at the Trees of Mystery, where I always have to stop and photograph them, even though I’ve done so many times before. This is the first time I’ve heard Paul speak, has a surprisingly tiny voice for someone 32′ 8″ tall. It’s cool as I continue up the coast, hypothermia begins to set in as I wrap up the day’s ride in scenic Gold Beach, Oregon. Stay in a log cabin at Ireland’s Rustic Lodges, with a fireplace, real wood! Great chowder, salmon and Long Island Iced Teas at Spinner’s Restaurant up the street - hadn’t eaten since a breakfast of five cherries - thaw out for the evening reading a book in front of a roaring fireplace. 448 miles, 10 hours.

Day 5 Sturgis Ride

Beautiful crisp and clear morning. Not a typical morning, though, as I see, simultaneously, a Jesus-look-alike, dragging a 12′ cross on one side of the road, and a to-scale Tyrannosaurus Rex on the other side of the road. Frantically yanking the camera out of my jacket - I’m traveling at 60 mph on a two-lane road - I snap a few photos of Jesus, then find a place to turn around further up the road, and cruise back, slowing and waving to Jesus, who smiles and waves back, as I’m snapping more photos. This puts me back to Trex, where I turn around, snap some photos of him, then I head back up the road. Family and friends will likely think I’m deranged when I tell this story, looking forward to perusing these photos on a computer when I get to Gordon’s. At Waldport, head inland on winding SR 34 to meet up with Donna and Graham - friends visiting from New Zealand - who are staying with friend Brian in Philomath. A nice lunch there, including their friends Janet and Jay. All rode out from Philomath to meet me part-way, which was really nice, and yes, we talked about motorcycling for the entire lunch. Over to I 5, head north to stay with Pam and her husband Brad, in Portland. Always fun staying with them! 316 miles, 8.5 hours)

Day 6 Sturgis Ride

SR 503 in southwest Washington winds through the small town of Amboy - the restaurant Volcano Burgers is closed, damnit - and along Yale Lake and Swift Creek Reservoir, where I spent some vacation time with the family as a child. North on infrequently-travelled SR 131 takes me alongside the “backside” of Mt. St. Helens, including a stop at scenic Iron Creek Falls. Road to the Windy Ridge overlook is closed, I circle around via US 12, I 5 and SR 504 to visit mountain proper, at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Beautiful day, unobstructed view of the mountain from Johnston Ridge Observatory, steam rising from the active caldera. After an hour enjoying the view and remembering some summers at [what’s left of] adjacent Spirit Lake, head back, then north on SR 505 where I see several deer alongside and on the road, then to I 5 and north to Seattle. Great to see Gordon and his wife Lori, and also niece Shaina, who joins us for dinner. Oh, those photos of Jesus and Trex…Trex photos came out fine, the photos of Jesus and his cross, well, they’re just photos of the side of the road, no sign of Jesus or his cross, very strange. 420 miles, 11 hours.

Day 8 Sturgis Ride

Another beautiful morning - am I really in the Pacific Northwest? - and Gordon and I head up I 5, catch scenic SR 20, the North Cascades Highway, traversing the Cascade mountain range into central Washington. Gordon rides a Buell - a brand of Harley-Davidson - Ulysses, a tall bike, and considerably faster than most Harley-Davidson’s, including mine. Gordon’s years of experience backpacking and as Scoutmaster in the Boy Scouts were applied to rigging his bike for gear, an elegant and colorful potpourri of straps and bags. SR 156 through the Colville Indian Reservation, stop at Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete structure in the US. Some protein bars and homemade beef jerky - which I really appreciate, since I usually don’t stop to eat when I ride on my own - south on SR 174, connect with US 2, then into Spokane for gas, where the cash register counter rests on a red mid-fifties Studebaker. On to I 90 across Idaho and into Montana, averaging 85 - 90 mph. This section of I 90 is the most scenic interstate I’ve ridden on, twisting through mountains and across rivers and lakes. After sunset we pull into Butte, Montana, stay at an overpriced Best Western. Butte is celebrating Evel Knieval Days, dubbed the world’s greatest celebration for the world’s greatest daredevil! Lot’s of drinking and eating in the streets, and hoodlums on motorcycles, of course. 678 miles, 13 hours.

Day 9 Sturgis Ride

Morning blast down I 90, then south on SR 78 to Red Lodge, a cool western town at 5,555′ elevation, located at the edge of the Gallatin National Forest. From Red Lodge, up US 212 to Beartooth Pass at 10,947′. There’s snow on the ground! Cross into Wyoming at the summit, stop at a small roadside field for snacks, watching for bear who might want to join us for a meal. SR 296 takes us into Cody in the late afternoon, it’s blistering hot. For the flat haul on US 14 from Cody to Greybull, we trade bikes, Gordon moves ahead. As I ride over the next rise, there’s Gordon and a Wyoming State Trooper huddled alongside the road - it seems that riding 80+ mph in a posted 65 mph zone is frowned upon. By virtue of being the first biker that day who didn’t argue, Gordon gets off with a warning, which is very cool, though this causes us to ride at slightly lesser speeds while in Wyoming, at least for the remainder of that day. From Greybull - it’s 97F at 5:30 pm - a wonderful twisty high-speed ride up and over the Bighorn Mountains, landing for an early evening in Sheridan. There’s an odd mishmash of bronze sculptures on the street corners, as if someone had recently come into a sum of money, and attempted to beautify the streets, without thinking about a theme or message. Our Best Western room - more reasonable rate this time - is adjacent to the Dairy Queen drive-thru, apparently a popular destination in Sheridan. Blizzard, Arctic Rush and Buster Bar were the favorite items that evening, all evening… 488 miles, 10.5 hours.

Day 10 Sturgis Ride

A short distance to Deadwood, but strong cross- and head-winds make for a tiring ride. Exit i 90 at Spearfish, South Dakota, head south on US 14a, Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, and it is scenic. US 84 north into Deadwood, early arrival at Deadwood Gulch Resort, our home while in the Sturgis area. The employee at the check-in desk was almost superhuman - she knew that our room would be ready for occupancy precisely at 3:00 pm (and not a moment before) and she didn’t even have to consult her computer or place a phone call to the cleaning staff. So we rode into Sturgis to kill a couple of hours while our clean and ready-to-occupy room sat unoccupied. Back at 3:00 pm, our room was ready for check-in (she was right!), showers, then friends Jana, Bill and Dan ride up. Ride 1.5 miles to downtown Deadwood, drinks, discourse and dinner at Kevin Costner’s Diamond Lil’s, planning the next days’ rides, walking around town, then back to the hotel for a reasonably early evening. Our room faces a creek, away from the road - a big deal if you don’t enjoy the sound of under-muffler’d Harley’s all night - it’ll be nice not to have to pack / unpack for a couple of days. 235 miles, 4 hours.

Day 11 Sturgis Ride

Exciting day! First stop is the South Dakota Air and Space Museum at Ellsworth Air Force Base east of Rapid City. Several vintage and modern aircraft, including a Mitchell B-25 and Douglas C-47 (DC-3 in civilian guise), my dad flew both of these aircraft. Also toured a Minuteman II ICBM missile silo, interesting and sobering. Then to Keystone - quaint western town at the base of Mt. Rushmore - for lunch, then up the hill to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, always impressive to me, though I’ve seen it several times. George Washington’s nose is 21′ tall (and I thought my nose was big - ok, it is). Then riding the Iron Mountain Road - it’s like riding a motorcycle on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain - into Customer State Park. Wild asses abound in the park, like being fed by tourists, reminds me of a convention I went to… North on Needles Highway, my first time on this stretch of road, which is very curvy and scenic, and like Iron Mountain Road, has several narrow tunnels to ride through, which is always fun. Something about honking your horn when you’re in a tunnel… Ride up scenic US 385 to Deadwood, showers, then off to Sturgis for the evening. Drinks at the Full Throttle Saloon, the world’s largest biker bar as claimed. It’s quiet, since we’re here a few days before the official opening of the Sturgis Rally. Then off to the Loud American Roadhouse for dinner, and a really great band whose name I can’t remember. We missed the action later that week when an off-duty police officer shot a Hells Angels member in that same bar - another reason to attend early and leave early.  Attendance to the 68th Anniversary Sturgis Rally was estimated at 300,000, a light year in comparison to 500,000+ each in 2004 and 2005. This thing has been going on since 1938! 207 miles, 14 hours.

Day 12 Sturgis Ride

Nice morning ride down US 385, SR 44 into Rapid City, where I lose my way and lead our posse of riders back towards Sturgis instead of to our target of Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City. Route corrected, after many miles, we arrive at the dealership, shop, tour the exhibits. Gordon and I get fitted for Big Ear ear plugs - I’ve worn custom ear plugs for years (when riding), swear by them, at them - I need a new pair, as my old ones are wearing. As is the wide tire on my bike, I get a new tire installed - expensive! - while everyone splits to do their own thing. Meet up again for dinner, back in Deadwood this time, have a great steak at a restaurant whose name I don’t recall. This is our last evening together, as Gordon and I will return tomorrow, while Jana, Bill and Dan will stay an additional day. We’ll still ride together tomorrow, though. 156 miles, 9 hours.

Day 13 Sturgis Ride

I’m cracking the whip this morning, want to get on the road as Gordon and I plan to cover lots of miles today. Head down Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway to beautiful Roughlock Falls, with nice walkways and viewing platforms along Little Spearfish Creek. Two motorcycles with little dogs riding in pouches behind the riders show up. Of course we all descend on them, questions photo requests, hope they enjoy their celebrity status. North on US 385, west on SR 34, SR 24, through Aladdin, population 15, elevation 3,740′, other small towns. Road crews are painting new centerline stripes, at about 10 mph, backing up traffic. We scoot around on the right shoulder to pass, likely angering the automobilotorists who can’t do the same…but hey, we’re past! Arrive at 1,267′ tall phonolite porphyry Devils Tower National Monument - where the aliens landed in Close Encounters - stop and watch two climbers begin a long ascent to the top. Gordon and I say goodbye to Jana, Bill and Dan, we head west, they head back to Deadwood. it was great to spend time with them in Deadwood, hope to do so again. SR 24 to US 14, then on the I 90 slab again, heading west. Once in Montana, we’re not shy about riding 85 - 90 mph - Gordon doesn’t have a speeding violation warning in this state - and the riding is uneventful…until evening arrives. I pull over to squeeze some dust and sweat out of my eyes, which are tearing up. Gordon notices that one of his exhaust header pipes is loose and leaking, the fastening nuts missing. And his bike won’t start either. We push him, he gets it started, and we limp along the highway for a few more miles, exciting near Cardwell, 34 miles east of Butte. At this point his bike has given up the ghost, we push it to the Cardwell Store RV Park. For the next three hours, Gordon talks with various insurance company representatives until he secures a tow to the nearest Harley-Davidson dealership, located in Belgrade, 44 miles east of Cardwell. In the meantime, the Big Sky mosquitoes are feasting, Gordon gives me serious mosquito lotion that he refers to as “nasty”, implying its very effective, but not necessarily pleasant. After I rub it on my face, he mentions that one of his assistant Scoutmasters told him this same ointment had turned his beard white for three years… A more immediate challenge was an incredibly drunk woman - driving her equally drunk but passed-out husband in a dilapidated Jeep Wagoneer - who kept driving by and asking us if we needed help, which we politely refused. She insisted that we drink, Gordon finally good-naturedly took a swig out of a bottle to pacify her. She drove by so many times, I thought she’d either run over us, or her husband would wake up and shoot us in a drunken rage. She did buy a case of beer at the store next to the campground, the store clerk carrying the case out to the car for her, as she was too drunk to carry anything. The store closed at 10:00pm, so I ran in and purchased some beef jerky, chips and disgusting meat sticks (and a Rock Star for Gordon). The tow truck arrives around midnight, we head back to Belgrade - the trailer was big enough for both bikes - me happily in the back seat, so I don’t need to politely listen to what the amped-up driver is going on about, though Gordon did a good job of appearing attentive, even if it had been a stressful day. We got the next to the last room at the Super 8. 571 miles, 17 hours.

Day 14 Sturgis Ride

Gordon is over at the dealership first thing in the morning. By the time I wake up and mosey over to the dealership, he’s enroute to picking up a U-Haul - he’ll truck his bike the remaining 600 miles home, deferring repairs until he returns to Seattle - so rather than riding to Seattle, I head towards California. US 191 along the Gallatin River is beautiful, skirting into Yellowstone National Park. US 20 at West Yellowstone, into northern Idaho (lots of State Troopers!) towards Idaho Falls. Slab I 15 south, west on I 86 at Pocatello, west on I 84 - monotonous…zzzzz…freeway…zzzzz… - US 93 south at Twin Falls. At Wells, Nevada, take I 80 west, stop for gas in Burley, the gas pump lever won’t release, once the tank fills, gas fountains out, drenching me and the bike, hopefully providing some entertainment for other travelers gassing up. After I rinsing my eyes out in the restroom, back on the freeway until I run out of energy, exit at Elko. Check in to a very nice Holiday In Express, styled as a mountain lodge, with a really comfortable bed. Eat at a bar across the freeway, with cute waitresses, good drinks, mediocre food. Early to bed! 511 miles, 9 hours.

Day 15 Sturgis Ride

An all-slab day, I 80 all the way. While passing through Patrick, I craned my neck to both sides of the freeway to get a glimpse of the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel, but no luck. Nevada also seems to be a popular place for prisons, of which I passed many, before reaching Reno. After cresting at Lake Tahoe, I 80 traffic moved at 80 - 90 mph, making for an early arrival into Sacramento. 429 miles, 6.5 hours.

Day 17 Sturgis Ride

Ditto. I 5, but no prisons or brothels like Nevada has. 396 miles, 6 hours.

A great ride! My first distance excursion with no rain, nice! And it was great to see friends and family along the way, and Jana, Bill and Dan in Deadwood. But most of all it was great to ride and travel with Gordon, our first ride together, and I had a blast - looking forward to the next one!

Wednesday
Feb202008

Photo Trek to Patagonia

Day 1 Patagonia

Manhattan Beach to Buenos Aires Where’s Patagonia? To many norteamericanos, it’s a place that can be described as: I-know-the-name-and-I’d-like-to-go-there-because-it’s-beautiful-but-I’m-not-sure-where-it-is. Patagonia is expansive tundra, mountains, lakes, rivers and hearty people, spanning southern Argentina and Chile. Home to wildlife, huge ranches, livestock and genuine cowboys. It’s also headquartered in Ventura, California if you’re thinking about outdoor clothing.

It’s raining, storming during taxi ride to airport. No upgrades, sorry. Scheduled 45 minute connection at Chicago to Buenos Aires reminds me of several frantic O’Hare Concourse G to K sprints I made in the 1990’s, just like the Hertz-era OJ commercials. Plane buttons up at LAX only 10 minutes late, so I’ve a reasonable chance of making the connection. Unfortunately, there isn’t any ground crew available to back the plane from the terminal. Finally, we’re backing out, 40 minutes late. Assuming no headwinds, that leaves me five minutes to deplane, race across O’Hare’s Terminal 3 and board the plane for Buenos Aires. And my checked bag? The tail-wind God is smiling, though, and we make up much of the time, Bag and I make the connection.

In Chicago, two dozen people on the stand-by list, it’ll be a full flight. My American seat mate, a petite, mature woman, asks me if I’m American. Yes. She says: “You don’t look American; you’re not fat.” Even armed even with a sleeping pill, I’m wide awake, which is typical. Listening to Marvin Gaye, The Doors, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mozart, Weather Report, Bob James, Crosby Still, Nash & Young and other artists makes the trip go faster. Watching the monitor on the wall as it shows our progress inching towards the southern hemisphere - altitude, time to destination, outside air temperature…we’re over Cuba, hope there’s good things in store for that island in the near future.

This is a domestic airline - service doesn’t quite match the international airlines, in my humble opinion - with one very matronly, very angry cart driver, wounding seats, elbows and ankles as she careens up and down the aisles. After 11 hours, touch down in Buenos Aires. Yeah!

Day 2 Patagonia

Buenos Aires Arrive at Ezeiza International Airport, to be met by Malena, who is coordinating our transportation and lodging while in B.A. She’s a former professional tango dancer, and in really good shape.  Some of the crew show up in the next hour: Mirjam, professional photographer and principal of PQA, the company arranging this excursion, and; Tom, the principal professional photographer, has shot for National Geographic, many adventure magazines. Were off to the beautiful, early 1900’s Hotel Royal Dandi, in historic cobble-stoned San Telmo district, where I meet Marcelo, our Argentine guide, and Lisa, Mike, Carl and Rodrigo, fellow trekkers. Walk to Plaza Dorrego, photograph tango dancers, very physical! Imbibe a rusty nail - the drink, not the thing you hit with a hammer - as the bartender was unfamiliar with margaritas. Dinner at Esquina Homero Manzi, two hour tango show, a big production with lots of dancers and singers, accompanied by a bandoneon - like an accordian, buttons only - grand piano, violin, bass and guitar, all styles of tango. They DO have margaritas here, along with tasty Argentine wines. Some of us off to local wine and beer bar, where I have a beer for the first time in 10-something years. The bartender kicks us out at two in the morning. I’ve been up for 30 hours. Sleep in tomorrow? Nada.

Day 3 Patagonia

Buenos Aires At 7:25am, classic Argentine music BLASTS from the ceiling speaker so loud that it hurts. I wake, completely disoriented, no clock radio in site. Maybe an Argentine holiday / special way to start the day? After the third song, put on clothes, shuffle down three flights of narrow and steep stairs, the receptionist tells me there is a rheostat - known as a “knob” for you luddites - that controls the volume on the wall. I trudge back up, find it, turn it off. How did it get turned on?  Is my room haunted? Breakfast of prosciutto, fruit and pastries, then off to La Boca district and Caminito Street in the old port area, more tango dancers, brilliantly colored buildings, lots of dogs with distinct personalities roaming the streets. I’m reluctantly photographed with a [female] tango dancer, hope those photos never see the light of day. Rain off and on. Photo workshop in the evening on a variety of techniques, including off-camera flash. Cool! Fantastic dinner of young wild boar at La Brigada, one of B.A.’s better known eating establishments. And we celebrate Tom’s birthday for the second time in 24 hours; he’s aging fast. Drinks afterwards in an elegant and quiet pub across the cobblestone street.

Day 4 Patagonia

Buenos Aires to Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten / Fitz Roy Morning, back to La Boca, no-show for two tango dancers we’d hired to model for us, but hire two others, all get some great photos. Off to airport, board an Aerolineas DC-9 with [too] many cycles on it. I’m in the last row, which is narrower than the others, incredibly, and next to the lavatory, which is convenient, I’ve been able to at least make eye contact with every person on the plane. Three hours later we land in El Calafate, Argentine gateway into Patagonia. Tom’s luggage, which was missing, took a different van to the airport and a different flight to El Calafate, but eventually they reunite. We meet Jorge, our very gracious bus driver for the trip. Two and a half hours to the steppes village of El Chalten, along River Santa Cruz, near Lago and Glaciar - lake and glacier - Viedma, and stunningly right at the base of the Fitz Roy chain of peaks. The native Tehuelches named Mt. Fitz Roy “Chalten”, meaning “smoking mountain.” We stop on the way into the village to photograph Mt. Fitz Roy at sunset, awesome. The few restaurants in town all seem to be…pizza parlors. It’s like an Italian Alps village. Out until 1:30am, looking forward to finally getting some sleep….

Day 5 Patagonia

Los Glaciares National Park …except that I’m up at 5:00am to catch our ride out to photograph sunrise on Mt. Fitz Roy. So we’re all wondering why it remains dark until 7:30am…perhaps our motel proprietor thought it was funny to have us get up early. Not much materializes, except clouds, but tomorrow may be better. Sun eventually comes up, clear, warm, and we stage a photo shoot of gaucho Rodolfo and his horse, wonderful to photograph. Work with reflectors and off-camera flash to get some great shots! Then up the Santa Cruz river valley to an incredible vista of Mt. Fitz Roy. Can this get any better? Off to Rio Salto - waterfall - beautiful, work on soft water scenes using filters and low shutter speeds. Back to motel, write a few postcards. Marcelo and Jorge craft a delicious Argentine barbecue of beef and lamb. Off to a restaurant that we discovered the night before for a margarita, turn in around midnight.

Day 6 Patagonia

Los Glaciares National Park Up at a more reasonable time, drive out to catch the sunrise, beautiful pinks, but did not bring a tripod - stupid - here’s the math: Hand-held camera + slow shutter speed = blurry photo. On to Lago Viedma, 45 minute boat ride to incredible Glaciar Viedma. Hike up over beautiful orange and brown glacier-scraped rocks onto a glacier that’s only 40 years old. We mount crampons, up onto the ice, hiking over ice ridges and between ice valleys, beautiful. Walk into a shallow two-week-old, ice-blue cave - things move fast around here - incredibly brilliant. Ice trekking is a blast! Ride back across the lake. Back at hotel, workshop @ using PhotoShop software, dinner, then margaritas at small, quaint log cabin restaurant. Patagonians seem to like their buildings really warm inside, even when it’s warm outside, perhaps to compensate for being cold in the winter? [it’s summer here right now].

Day 7 Patagonia

Los Glaciares National Park to El Calafate Up for another sunrise, it’s UNBELIEVABLE. Have tripod this time. Sky turns from deep, dark gray, to dark blue, to purple, to pink, to gold, to brilliant blue. Venticular clouds around the peaks are fantastic! Between shots I munch on leftover pizza - I seem to the only one interested in leftover pizza - for the second morning. Head out from El Chalten, Marcelo and Jorge invite me to participate in their ‘mate’ sipping ritual; an honor! Mate - pronounced “mah-tay” - or yerba mate, is an herbal drink, drunk from a carved, hollow calabash through a silver straw called a bombilla. It’s a bitter espresso on steroids, producing enough caffeine to power our bus across Patagonia and back again. The preparation is precise, the sharing amongst friends a ritual. Imagine what fun for me, given that I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 20 years. I like it, though, and purchased calabash, bombilla and yerba - with the guidance of Marcelo and Jorge - to bring home. Does your Venti Brazil Ipanema Bourbon Espresso sprinkled with crushed Organic Shade Grown Mexico beans topped with whipped cream not do it for you anymore? Check this out:

http://www.travel-amazing-southamerica.com/yerba-mate.html

Back in El Calafate to shop, eat at a restaurant named Casablanca, roam the main road, window shopping - meaning I didn’t buy anything - for two hours. On to El Gapon del Glaciar, an estancia [ranch] located on Lago Argentino, half an hour from El Calafate. Catch a sheep shearing / herding demonstration, walk the adjacent wildlife preserve. Quietly walking on my own along the shoreline, several horses with riders gallop out of the thicket. I move to the side so they can pass, because size does matter. One big-eyed woman - apparently with no riding skill - and her big-eyed horse take aim for me as I dive for the sand, camera flying. Seconds later, a gaucho - with riding skill that would impress Roy Rogers and Trigger - stampedes down the beach and rescues the run-away rider. Cool! Dinner features an enormous array of meats plus lamb, roasted Argentine-style over an open pit. Guitarist / singer and two dancers - traditional Argentine dance rather than tango - perform for a bit longer than necessary. After dark, we conduct light painting…you’ll have to see the photos, not sure how to describe it.  Stay in a nice wood-paneled room with a really comfortable bed, a step up from our accommodations in El Chalten. Get my first real taste of infamous Patagonian wind that evening; batten down the hatches!

Day 8 Patagonia

El Calafate Morning starts with shooting [camera] a gaucho and his horse - the duo that rescued the runaway tourist-on-horse-that-almost-trampled-me - working off-camera flash again, nice shots! Off to Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park. Beautiful, huge and active, it’s constantly calving, watch a few slide off the glacier face. Back at the estancia for dinner and I have THE BEST THING I’VE EVER EATEN, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME: COPA PATAGONIA. So good, I can’t do it justice in writing as it requires one to vocalize yummy sounds, you’ll have to ask me. Stay up drinking wine with others, while we catch up on a week’s worth of emails in the bar - they have a wi-fi / internet connection here, something we didn’t expect, but really appreciate - until late. Three of us were going to ride bicycles into El Calafate - on a dark narrow road, late at night, perhaps 20 kilometers each way - but fortunately a storm blew in, relieving me of the burden of whimping out on the ride - I’m pretty sure we would’ve been run over - and keeping my fragile male ego intact.

Day 9 Patagonia

El Calafate to Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile Up at 6:30am, several hour bus ride across the tundra. We want to make the Chile border before the tourist buses behind us, otherwise, we could be stuck at the border for hours. There’s no bathroom at the Argentina border station…argh! 30 minutes later we’re on to Chile border station - the 10 or so kilometers between the border stations; what country were we in? - they have a bathroom. All bags are inspected, we eat lunch at a small store on the Chile side. Really good hamburger, which I mooched as leftovers from the others. While they were ordering, I was busy, um, struggling with something I hadn’t been able to do for the last two days. [Note to self: Remove prior sentence].

Approaching Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile, guanacos - similar to llama’s, and they spit too - alongside the road, reasonably tame, approach within five meters, photograph. Further on, we stop and four tiny Patagonian gray foxes approach us, major photo op. On to our hotel, which is on an island on Lago Pehoe (pronounced pay-way), walk across a long wooden pedestrian-only bridge to get there. And right in front of us are the fabulous Cuernos [horns] del Paine, incredible! Meet some senior Brits in the bar, they’re touring the entire length of Chile, just come from Easter Island. Behind the bar, Andreas makes an excellent from-scratch margarita, though he only has enough tequila for three. Disaster! Have cameras ready to go to photograph the Cuernos at sunset, but the weather doesn’t happen. Cap off the evening sipping Baileys Irish Cream in the lounge upstairs, talking [photo] shop.

Day 10 Patagonia

Torres Del Paine National Park Up at 6:30am to photograph the sunrise on the Cuernos, but it’s cloudy. Only Mike and I are out, the others intelligently still in bed. A very modest breakfast - perhaps it’s hard to get food (and tequila) delivered this far out in the countryside - then off to Salto Grande Falls. As we’re parking, a pair of beautiful crested caracara’s (peregrines) are right there in the trees, un-intimated by lenses, regardless of length and girth. The waterfall is a beautiful green, photograph using the afore-mentioned technique to dial down light and lengthen exposure for silky smooth water. Then an hour hike up near the base of the Cuernos, past a lake, feel like Bilbo in the Misty Mountains. On the road again, periodically stopping to chase guanacos, condors, geese and ibis. Spot some horses, poised before background mountains, which would make a beautiful photo, but as we’re walking across the field, a rainbow appears, horses forgotten. Further down the road, another dozen horses off in the distance, in front of a lake, with mountains behind, great photos! As had happened innumerable times, Jorge stops the bus, Tom yells “disburse” and our tightly coordinated squad of photocommando’s stealthily disembark and fan out across the topology in pursuit of prey. There were many incredible things to photograph and we’re all exhausted. Except Tom, who has the energy and enthusiasm of an eight-year old.  And Mirjam, who constantly re-energizes herself by yelling: “UNBELIEVABLE.” After dinner and drinks, walking back to room after midnight, stars in the sky, could it be a great sunrise tomorrow morning?

Day 11 Patagonia

Torres Del Paine National Park It IS a great sunrise! The wind is howling, though, have to hang onto camera / tripod so they don’t blow away. The Cuernos are out in glory. Another modest breakfast. On the road again, we seem to stop every few minutes, shooting [camera] guanacos, solo or in groups, silhouetted against the mountains. We’ve become adept at group stalking of guanacos, they’re shy, but walk away, don’t run. Several Andean Condors soar above us, Mike has a long lens to capture some great shots, and Marcelo also grabs some wonderful photos on his point-and-shoot. Why don’t I have any shots of flying condors?  I was busy making excuses. Stop at a small lake, beautiful aqua color, surrounded with what looks like a white ring of salt, but it isn’t salt, it tasted like dirt (I had to). Cuernos and the Torres (towers) in the background. Arrive at Lodge Cerro Guido, located on 300,000 acre Estancia Boutique. 45,000 head of sheep, 100 horses, lots of herding dogs. The various buildings of the lodge are beautiful, luxurious and tasteful, architecturally consistent with the many working buildings of the estancia. Waldo, a teething sheep herding puppy, adopts me and chews on my shins [I’m the only one wearing shorts] while I’m trying to shoot. For dinner, lamb roasted in pit with a three meter-diameter range hood, gigantic! Tastes extraordinary. Our waiter, nice but persistent, repeatedly comes by with a steaming plate of delicious lamb, ignoring our “no thank you, we’re full” muttered in both espanol and anglais, dropping hunks of lamb on our plates. The first two times, I smiled and ate what I was served, the third time, Marcelo saved me by eating what was dropped on my plate. If our waiter had come around one more time, I might’ve wrestled him to the floor and disarmed him of his plate of lamb. Lisa took bones and scraps outside for Waldo and his lamb-loving kitty friend. Perhaps Waldo will now chew on Lisa’s shins instead of mine.

I’m dragging by this time, lots of activity and little sleep is catching up. A few drinks in the quiet restaurant / bar on the hill, our small group are the only guests. Too many clouds to create star trails - really long exposures where you photograph the motion of the stars - tonight. Tonight would be a good time to practice light painting, but instead I pass out, as everyone else does. Where’s Waldo?

Day 12 Patagonia

El Calafate to Manhattan Beach Wander around El Calafate, shopping - not my favorite activity - all morning. Our flight to Buenos Aires has been delayed a few hours, meaning I’ll miss my connection to Chicago. So I head out earlier than the group to catch the last seat on an earlier flight [thank you, Marcelo], connect in Buenos Aires, have time for a 15-minute massage in the terminal, load up for 11-hour flight to Chicago. The American sitting next to me has disturbingly yellow and brown teeth. And a peculiar odor. He’s been riding horses for 10 days in Patagonia.  Regardless, he was a nice guy. People probably look at me and wonder why I don’t get a haircut, or shave more diligently.  I was able to sleep off and on, perhaps my best sleeping performance on a long distance flight to-date. Likely because I was exhausted, a busy two week trip, up for most sunrises, out late, always active in-between. We land at O’Hare before the gates are open, wait at the gate, then stampede immigration and customs at 5:00am. I appear to be the only traveler at O’Hare wearing shorts. Connect for four-hour uneventful leg to Los Angeles.

Fantastic trip! Learned lots of new photography skills, made new friends, pestered those friends with questions about photography, experienced a people and countryside I’d wanted to experience, and was not disappointed in any way. Patagonia is beautiful, both sides of the border. The people are wonderful, the Argentinos perhaps a bit more gregarious and outgoing, the Chileans more reserved, but both friendly to and tolerant of norteamericanos. And my traveling companions made it the best!

Tuesday
Jul242007

West Coast Ride

Prepping for Ride

Prepping the bike, my gear and myself for west coast ride. Change engine, transmission, chaincase oil. Adjust suspension for extra load. Test everything I can think of. What to pack with limited space? How often will I camp versus motel? How many days do I want to travel before I have to visit a laundry? Do I really want to pack all this camera gear? (There’s something to be said for a simple point-and-shoot). And then there’s the unknown - weather, schedule, routes, destinations (ok, I know a few destinations). There will be stuff I should’ve packed, and stuff I should’ve left at home. Life.

Day 1 West Coast

Nice morning weather, packed bike, headed up Hwy 1 through Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo. At Morrow Bay, coastal fog and clouds…cold! At Ragged Point, north of San Simeon, the clouds broke, final 70 miles to Big Sur was beautiful. Set up camp, dinner at Nepenthe (best view in the world). It gets dark early when you’re camping under redwoods, so I turned in. Every so often, I go camping to remind myself that camping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  No sleep! Between a too-thin inflatable mattress and an insomniac infant with healthy lungs in the next campsite…ah, the beauty of nature.

Day 2 West Coast

Yawn…it’s satisfying to pack up an entire campsite and have it fit on a motorcycle. It’s beautiful as I leave Big Sur. As I head up towards Carmel, major wind and clouds…it’s freezing! Rather than head inland where it’s warm, I’m bone-headed determined to stay on the coast. Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay - the scenery is beautiful, but I think hypothermia is setting in. Now over the Golden Gate, about 20 minutes north, and the sun breaks through! Warming in the sun like a lizard, I start to peel off the layers (five of them), and when I reach Ukiah, it’s broiling. (I opted to stay warm on I-101 rather than continue up Hwy 1). Begins to cool in the evening, enter Humboldt State Park - there’s six exits, so after two false starts, I find the exit for my campground. The sign says five miles, “rough road”. The pot holes have pot holes. Five miles of five miles per hour through beautiful redwoods later, I arrive at the campsite. Is there any food available? (All I have is two or three peanut butter cookies, left over from my breakfast and lunch of peanut butter cookies). No, nearest food is 20 miles back. Ok. So I ride through the campground, to find my campsite - a scorched piece of earth 50 yards from the trees, next to the garbage facility. And the site is sloped(!), which is really nice for tent camping. Ok, I can stay here, starve or beg other campsites for food (kids, don’t feed the animals). Hmmm…I motor back out, negotiate five miles of land mines, back to I-101. It’s cold, so I’ll layer up. Unfortunately, the zipper on my leather jacket has jammed (have you ever had the zipper below the zipper head-thing separate, so you can’t unzip?). The zipper is industrial strength. Ok, so I can’t layer up…I stuff a turtleneck-thing down the top of my jacket, and ride 40 teeth-chattering miles to Eureka, where I find a Best Western with one room left, for $169 (sir, it’s our king suite). Numbed from the cold, I’m just thankful for a warm room. I’m now standing in front of the mirror, with the heat full on, wondering if the fire department will have to cut me out from my jacket with the jaws of life. With feeling returning to my fingers, I eventually unzip the zipper, tooth by tooth. Then a shower to remove the dirt from my ears. Isn’t traveling by motorcycle glamorous?

Day 3 West Coast

Fine breakfast fare at the Best Western, head north up the coast. It’s foggy, clouded over and cold, but beautiful. I-101 eventually starts to weave in and out of the redwoods, incredibly beautiful, and very little traffic. Around the next quarter, a herd of elk grazing (they’re big animals), with huge antlers. I stop and photograph, and slowly approach the herd for close-ups. Nothing attracts a crowd like a photographer…soon, several SUV’s and RV’s stop, and their occupants scare the elk away. At Crescent City, take Hwy 199 (a stretch of road I’ve never taken before) and soon the sun breaks out again! When you’re cold, a patch of blue sky is incredibly uplifting. The road snakes up through the mountains adjacent to various rivers. Twisty mountain road, incredible scenery, sunshine and moderate temperatures…this is one of the reasons I ride - it’s just not the same in an automobile. Eventually hit Grant’s Pass, where I “slab” (in biker-speak, ’slab’ refers to a freeway, usually in a derogative tone) up I-5 to Portland, just in time to participate in Friday-evening rush-hour. Hot and dirty, I hug my sister and visiting niece and her sons, and shake hands with my brother-in-law. Shower, home-cooked dinner and great conversation. It’s been a good day!

Day 5 West Coast

After stopping in at Longview, WA, the town I grew up in, the sky opens up…I’m soaked…what’s with that? I’m optimistic that it’ll blow over soon, and it does. The rain precludes a visit to Mt. St. Helens today, so I head on up to Seattle [to stay the night with my brother and his wife], drying off with 75 mph I-5 wind. (Had a great day yesterday with my sister, her husband, my brother and my niece and her two boys).

Day 6 West Coast

Beautiful Seattle morning, take the Edmonds-Kingston ferry across the Puget Sound. My jacket zipper completely self-destructs, so I stop at a hardware store in Sequim, buy some web straps and plastic buckles, so when it gets cold, I snap the straps around my chest to keep my jacket shut. Very stylish. Not that riding is a fashion show… The Olympic Peninsula is beautiful, along with the weather. Crescent Lake, La Push Indian village on the coast, Hoh Rain Forest… I speak with an elderly gentleman, Gene, at the gas station in Forks. He moved to the area in 1928, starting driving a logging truck in 1947. Put more than one million miles on his last logging truck. He appears to be in better shape than many 60-year olds. ‘Hope I look like him in my 80’s. Incredibly white dentures (if those were his real teeth, Tom Cruise would be jealous). Stop at Lake Quinalt for the evening, stay on the lake. The room is pre-60’s rustic, but the view from the restaurant of the sunset over the lake is incredible (you’ll see photo’s when I return home). And they have a full bar, and make a decent Long Island Iced Tea (just what I needed after a day of no food). I sit at the edge of the lake as the sun goes down…what a contrast to urban life.

Day 7 West Coast

Watch fog creep across the lake as I eat breakfast in the same restaurant. The attorneys-just-retired-and-now-traveling couple from Las Vegas at the next table tell me about waterfalls further along the lake. Before the pavement runs out, I come across one and take some photos. As I head back along the lake towards the motel, I stop at the world’s largest Spruce tree (per the sign). It’s big. A warm sunny day, continue down the coast, then head inland towards Olympia for an unscheduled meeting with the attorney that’s helping settle mom’s estate. Scowls from the office staff as I stroll in wearing biker gear (this is a stick-up!) but even bikers can be charming so they dismantle the barricade to the attorney’s office. Then head east for Mt. Rainier (that name has a pleasant sound), ride up to Paradise, at 5,000 feet on the mountain (photos soon). Fantastic weather. Head back down towards Portland, where I’m staying at my sister’s tonight before heading to Bend and Crater Lake tomorrow. After a week in the saddle, mon derriere argues for a shorter trip than originally planned. I’m considering the suggestion.

Day 8 West Coast

Sunny, cool morning, head east from my sister’s house (no freeway) and I’m en route to Mt. Hood. Ride up to Timberline Lodge, a works project during the depression. Beautiful, huge timbers, vaguely remember skiing here (the slopes, not the lodge) as a kid. Amazingly, people are skiing today, this is one of the few year-round places to ski in the ‘States. To the south, Mt. Jefferson is visible, and the Three Sisters. Out of the mountains and onto the high dessert to Madras, Bend (now a very trendy place). A fire south of Mt. Jefferson shrouds the lower half of the mountain in smoke. Crater Lake, or rather the view from the rim, at 7,500’, is initially impressive, then fades rapidly as I circumnavigate the lake. Difficult to find an inspiring photo, take some shots regardless. Add 80 miles to my ride by exiting the park the way I entered, rather than take the southern exit. Ride through Klamath Falls (yawn) into California, partially circumnavigate Mt. Shasta, stay in the town of the same name. Really good meal at a family-owned Mexican restaurant, and excellent margaritas! The motel owner, an architect from India, designed and built the establishment, raised three children to become doctors and lawyers…who would’ve thought there was such $ to be made in running an independent motel!

Day 9 West Coast

Slept in this morning, didn’t depart until 9am. Great weather again. Take Hwy 89 through the Cascade Range. At tiny Old Station, I stop at the only store to buy some water and my first-ever can of Red Bull (I’m a bit sleepy). A few years ago, the owner moved with her family from a coastal community to run the store and adjacent B&B. It’s hard work, they’re snowed in during the winter, but she likes it, has pasture out back for her daughter’s horses. No regrets. Next is Lassen Volcanic National Park. Beautiful. Stop by a few streams and small lakes for photos. A deer eating near the road at 8,000’ ignores me as I ride by, then stop for photos. You can hike from the road summit to the peak, but I don’t recommend hiking in riding gear (from experience). Descend from the park, ride through various small towns, then into Truckee and Lake Tahoe. Stay in Kings Beach at a rustic ‘50’s motel, which they’re trying to convert into condo’s, eat down the road at Spindle Shanks, a nice restaurant. Eating at the bar, the bartender says she traveled the globe growing up (her father was in the military) and landed in Lake Tahoe to pursue year-round extreme sports. The guy next to me is a construction contractor, with a home 15 minutes from the lake, where he and his wife stay during the summer, and a home in Carmel. And I thought the money in software sales was good! A couple of well-crafted Long Island Iced Tea’s, and a long walk back to the motel/cabin, where I pull down the Murphy bed (which you can’t walk around when it’s down) and watch 30 minutes of CNN. Exciting!

Day 10 West Coast

Up early, then around the west end of the lake. There’s a Harley-Davidson store in South Lake Tahoe, just what I need, as I’d like to replace a burnt-out passing lamp on my bike. Park, remove gloves, helmet, goggles, ear plugs, dismount…and it’s a clothing-only (no parts) store…crap. H-D should put a no-parts-here sign on these stores. And no, I didn’t buy any clothing, so their strategy didn’t work this time. Up the Kingsbury Grade, down into the valley to Minden and Hwy 395 for the 400 miles to home. Those of you who’ve driven this know that some parts are scenic, but some parts… It’s ok through Mammoth Lakes, but it’s 101° at Bishop, same in Big Pine, 103° in Mojave, and the nice western gale that slaps me in the face from China Lake to Palmdale. Air conditioning looks pretty good right now, I’m just on the wrong side of the glass as I peer into the cars I’m passing. Traffic’s running 80 mph from Palmdale to I-5, so I make good time, and I don’t really have to slow down until I reach The Getty on I-405, not bad for Friday evening rush hour. Ahhh, home. Unpack the bike, trudge up the stairs, and a really long shower. Sun screen + heat + sweat + wind + vehicle exhaust + dirt + bugs, nicely mixed, likely aren’t good for one’s complexion. It’s nice to be home.

And yet I’ll be ready for another ride soon. Riding is not convenient, but it’s sometimes thrilling, and mostly fun. What did I learn this trip? Well, I’ve been reminded of some things:

It’s always good to see family. At least it’s true with my family, which makes me very fortunate.

When I ride, I’m too cold, too hot, or just right.

My exhaust pipe is too loud. I may be ready to trade some performance for a quieter ride. A sign of maturity, or just advancing age?

Regardless of how grimy/disgusting the bike gets during a ride, it always cleans up nicely afterward.

It’s exciting when I start out on a new ride. Every time.

Look for photos soon. This was my first trip with a digital SLR. It was inconvenient, having to stop, dismount the bike, unpack the camera every time I wanted to shoot. Prior, I just kept a point-and-shoot in my pocket, which was very convenient. Let’s hope the quality of the photos have improved!

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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