Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Track of Entire Trip

This image displays the actual GPS track of the entire trip:

This is the actual GPS recorded elevation profile of the entire trip:
Total Distance Traveled: 8902
States Visited: 21 (WA, OR, ID, UT, WY, CO, KS, MO, IL, KY, WV, VA, NC, TN, AL, MS, AR, TX, NM, NV, CA)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Day 47 - Tuesday, Oct. 20 - The Very Best Road

After 8902 miles in 47 days (164 hours in the saddle of the motorcycle), I found the most beautiful road: my driveway:

It's great to be home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 46 - Rain and Cold: California Prepares Me For the Northwest

First -- a warm family connection before leaving Reno. After that, the route out of Reno was the most cold and wet I've experienced on the entire trip.

Little did I know that when I added the Google "Latitudes" feature to my blog site that it would be more than just entertaining to readers. Yesterday, when a first cousin observed that I was in Reno, she left a voice mail message which reminded me that one of her sons, whom I had never met, lived there. I reached him at home and we arranged to meet at his nearby work location this morning. It was fun to connect with him not only because he is also an avid motorcyclist not too many years younger than I, but also because he reminded me alot of his grandfather, a favorite Uncle of mine who had inspired me with his work as a crop duster pilot and his sailing adventures. I think I was under 10 when this Uncle completed what I now realize must have been one of his bucket list trips -- sailing his 30-something foot sailboat from California to Hawaii.

It was great to start the day with this warm family connection -- because the rest of the day stayed a bone-chilling 39 to 41 degrees as I rode in the most intense rain I've ridden in during the previous 45 days on this trip. Thankfully my new rainsuit worked perfectly (again) and adding a second pair of socks and some extra layers kept me somewhat comfortable. The route was very straight (395 north through eastern California), traffic was not overwhelming and the rain was not constant. In fact at one point I had blue skies (though it wasn't warm) for part of the ride -- but that didn't stay long.

As planned, I put in about 275 miles and ended the day at a pre-arranged condo in Klammath Falls, Oregon -- now within about 320 miles from home -- tomorrow's destination. I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day 45 - The Biggest Little City

The first 225 miles of the "Loneliest Road: (Route 50) yesterday were enough for me -- but this morning I was "treated" to another 230 miles as I traveled westbound from Eureka, Nevada. It was more of the same. I finally left Route 50 on Route 341 through Virginia City on my way into Reno, Nevada. Route 341 was delightful as it is a spectacularly curvy and beautiful descent into Reno where the few cars I encountered immediately moved out of the way. I could tell from the number of motorcycles sitting along the street in the historic Virginia City on this Sunday that this is a popular local ride destination.

The condo I had arranged was just 3 blocks from the main street of Reno, so I enjoyed a leisurely stroll,
took in one of the buffet troughs and got a suitable amount of entertainment from losing about $15 in the machines. Later in the evening I was treated to some company from home -- I connected up with a couple who are great friends from my hometown who coincidentally happened to be traveling through Reno to a business conference in the Lake Tahoe area. The connection rendered the "Loneliest Road" here just a fading memory.

Random Thoughts - Why I Pass You

For most of the trip I've had this subject on my mind as I ride -- particularly when I get stuck behind some driver. I'm hoping that for those of you who don't ride motorcycles, I might provide a little insight into the problem -- so that you might be inspired to be a more thoughtful driver next time a motorcyclist ends up behind you.

I try to legally pass EVERY car/truck that gets in front of me -- and here are some of the reasons why:

10. I have seen a large number of cars/trucks have either one or both brake lights and turn signals that don't work. It's no fun and dangerous to try to figure out when you are braking or turning. When is the last time you checked your rear brake/turn signal lights?

9. I have seen a large number of cars/trucks with unsecured loads that are a bump away from flying into a motorcyclist's face, or worse, under a tire at 60 mph.

8. I have seen a huge number of car/truck drivers who are preoccupied with cell phone conversations or texting. I even saw one woman on this trip with a minicomputer perched between her belly and the steering wheel. [Remember, I sit high where I have excellent view into most all cars -- and I have great fun when I've found myself next to a driver who is on a cell phone, dialing or texting, by blasting my horn. It's fun to watch the offending driver's instantly come out of their distraction, trying to figure out what's going wrong.]

7. For optimum safe riding, I must enter each corner at a speed where I can continue to accelerate through the entire corner. Car drivers and many untrained/unskilled motorcyclists slow in the corners.

6. My life depends on my ability to correctly assess road condition and avoid road debris. When following a car/truck, my sight distance for road condition is severly limited. That piece of tire or metal that might just cause your car to bump, can kill me.

5. I have seen some car/truck drivers with pets sitting in their laps and therefore obstructing their steering while they drive. I'm giving 100% attention to driving my motorcycle, my life depends on it -- I wish you would drive the same way.

4. I have had several car/truck drivers spray their windshield washing fluid when I'm behind them. The drivers do not realize how much of the spray overshoots their window and hits my glasses or face shield.

3. My safety is great enhanced when I have nothing blocking my vision in the path of travel.

2. The wind disturbance created by the car/truck traveling in front of a me is significant, creating a buffeting of my head/helmet.

1. Because I can. Just kidding, of course -- but it is true. I've only ever been in one car that has acceleration approaching that of a motorcycle (Dave!).

Please note as well that none of the reasons is because I need to travel faster. In fact, often times the car ahead of me is traveling an acceptable speed -- and I'll still pass for all the reasons stated above. It is also true, though, that I will NEVER slow traffic behind me -- for even I will move or signal to the right if I perceive a vehicle behind me is moving faster than I am.

Generally, I can usually immediately tell if the car/truck driver ahead of me is either a motorcyclist or educated in motorcycling as those driver's will signal that they are moving to the right to allow me to pass immediately upon seeing me in their rearview mirror. I great appreciate their thoughtfulness -- which can be executed at any time, including when their is a double yellow that would otherwise prohibit my passing. If the leading car/truck just gives a brief signal, it allows me the opportunity to explain that my passing on a double yellow is permissible because the leading car/truck was signaling that they were either turning right or pulling over to allow me to pass.

I hope you'll think of some of these reasons next time you see a motorcyclist in your rear view mirror.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 44 - "A Whole Lotta Nothing That Way"

I'll definitely be coming back to Utah both with Deb in a car and hopefully someday again on a motorcycle -- another bucket list item. But today it was time to move on. I was up early and readied the bike while chatting with another Goldwing rider who had stayed at the same motel.

I had plotted a route over a nearby 10,600 "Brian's Head" peak (the local ski resort) to the town of Parawon and got started at my usual 8-ish. I was well underway on the route when I checked the temperature. It was only 30 degrees and I still had 3000 or more feet of ascent to the summit. Not certain if the roadway would have ice, I debated with myself about returning to motel until later in the morning -- but chose, instead, to just slow my pace and continue the ascent. It made for a less fun ride (the "pucker factor" was pretty intense as it was impossible to determine whether the many tar snakes might have a frozen surface). However, in short order I noticed a lakeside country store and decided to kill about an hour there with a cup of coffee to allow time for the sun to warm the roadway.

Some of you may enjoy comparing this photo that I took just before stopping at the country store with the Google "Street View" of the same spot that you can see my clicking here. In fact, you can actually take a virtual "ride" of the entire route (and lots of other routes I've been on) using the "Street View." But like most things -- pictures may tell 1000 words but there is nothing like the personal experience.

Near the summit, I took this photo from one of the overlooks -- definitely not a Kansas "overlook."
After exiting the town of Parawon, the landscape changed dramatically to a very flat farming valley as I proceeded on State Hwy 21. I searched the first town I came to, Minersville, for a meal stop but found nothing and almost bypassed the only restaurant in the second town, Milford, because the parking lot was empty (it obviously didn't meet my "trucks" standard). But I was hungry and needed a restroom, so I pulled in. It turned out it was a lucky break to have stopped because the breakfast was delicious and the staff friendly. As I was the leaving, a cashier with smiling eyes cautioned me, when I explained my direction of travel, that "there's a whole lotta nothing that way." Indeed she was right, immediately upon leaving the restaurant I saw a sign that said "next services, 83 miles" and I was back onto Texas-like straight roads as I headed to Route 50, the so-called "Loneliest Road in America."

About 90 miles later, there was a Visitor's Center for the Great Basin National Park located where State Highway 21 meets Route 50. I briefly stopped there and enjoyed some interesting conversations with other visitors. I haven't decided whether it the fact that I'm traveling by motorcycle or just the fact that I'm alone that people seemed more willing to engage in conversation. Perhaps a little of both. I decided to forgo the one hour detour it would take to travel to the actual park and continued on the "Loneliest Road."

The "Loneliest Road" is rightfully named as there virtually no traffic and, but for a very few towns, nearly no houses or structures of any kind in sight. Just miles and miles a straight roads on desert landscape. Now I must explain that the road was NOT uninteresting nor lacking in beauty -- as it felt like I was traveling through a continuous series of large craters. But the straight riding does get monotonous regardless of the beauty of the scenery. By the time I had gone 225 miles through this "whole lotta nothing," I was in a small, run-down town of Eureka, Nevada where I found an acceptable motel for the night.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Day 43 - Oh What A Day!!!

Idaho Sawtooth, Colorado Rockies, West Virginia & Virginia Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Smoky Mountain's "Tail" and Skyway are yesterday's loves -- today I fell in love with roads in Utah.
Click here for larger image

Just outside the ho-hum town of Blanding, UT, I picked up Highway 95 (known as the Bicentennial Highway) through the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area expecting it to be just another "scenic" desert pathway. I couldn't have been more wrong. Immediately I was on wonderfully curvy canyons between dramatic cliffs and crevices that evidenced the power of water over millions of years. Pictures will never do justice to the magnitude of the beauty that surrounded me on this route but it gave the feeling that I was in a video game on a roadway near the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Several times I stopped the bike to take in the vistas -- and the only sounds were a few birds in the otherwise silence of these red-rock canyons being illuminated by the dawning sun against a bright blue sky. The ride had a truly magical feeling with a perfect mix of exciting curves and enjoyable straight-a-ways. In the 133 miles (about 3 hours with my stops) to Hanksville, I did not see one vehicle going the same direction I was going -- and only a few traveling the other way.

The route crosses the Colorado River at the point that the man-made Lake Powell begins, and since I had never seen Lake Powell before, it too was a treat of beauty along the way.

After a fun, conversation filled breakfast in Hanksville, I turned first on Highway 24 and then Highway 12 which collectively National Geographic calls "Scenic Byway 12." First off -- the route needs a better name like "Tail of the Rattler" or some such catchy slogan. But what may be lacking in its name is definitely made up for in its beauty. I've included a map of the entire route(above), but this part of the route traverses the Capitol Reef National Park, the Dixie National Forest, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park. National Geographic gets it right when it says "this highway snakes along narrow ridgetops, carves through red-rock canyons...ascends 11,000 foot Boulder Mountain for breathtaking views."

Again I was treated to a general absence of other vehicles and landscape that included the bright yellows that can be seen in earlier pictures I've posted. I could go on and on -- but you get the picture -- I loved this route and, as previously mentioned, believe it to be the most fantastic of the entire journey. Is it just because it is the most recent beautiful ride? Perhaps. Is it because I caught it on a day when motorhomes and other tourists didn't plug the route? Certainly. Is it because it was a crisp October day with the leaves in the peak of their brilliant yellows? Of course. All the right reasons came together today and made for a wonderful day. My only disappointments would be (1) that Deb wasn't along to share it with and (2) Utah uses tar stripes to patch it's roadways and these tar "snakes" can be treacherously slippery to motorcycles -- keeping me slightly more tentative/cautious than usual. The first one is easily fixed -- I'm already thinking about when I can bring Deb back. As for the tar -- well, maybe it's a good thing that something slowed me down a little.

I guess I should also mention that I'm aware that I didn't even get to see ALL the scenic beauty this area of Utah has to offer in that I didn't even make it to the Moab area that includes the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Of course I'm adding those roads to the bucket list as well!

I treated myself to a nice motel in Panguitch, UT and briefly thought about doing the same route in reverse the next day -- but, alas, I'm starting to feel the common homing instinct that often sets in towards the end of a trip. John Steinbeck's words (that I quoted at the beginning of this blog) are even more true now: "... my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly desireable and my dear wife incalculably precious..."

Tomorrow my planned route includes Nevada's "The Loneliest Road in America." We'll see whether that road lives up to its name -- but for now I'm renaming today's "Scenic Byway 12" as the "Best Ride Of This Trip."
This is the only picture I'm going to post -- just as token reminder of the day. None that I took truly show magnificence of the day's ride.

Day 42 (Thu., Oct 15) - Great Start - Crappy Finish

Two nights in Santa Fe were not enough -- but it was time to get on the road again and the first 100 miles of the day were spectacular as I took Highway 4 through the Bandelier National Monument and close by to Los Alamos (the "birthplace" of the atomic bomb), through the Caldera National Preserve and the Santa Fe National Forest. The temperature was a crisp 54 degrees with beautiful blue sky as I ascended the 8,800 foot roadway with not one vehicle slowing my ride.

Going Up
Coming Down

However, the next 200 miles were back to fairly straight, high speed travel through unremarkable desert landscape and the strip-mall looking town of Farmington which had been my initial destination for the day. I arrived there around 1:30pm and instantly decided to keep moving to the Four Corners Monument -- at the intersection of the states of NM, AZ, UT and CO.

The "Monument" is on Navajo controlled land for which the Navajo's charge a $3 entry fee to view a brass marker surrounded by what looks like a dilapitated flea-market of T-shirt and trinket vendors. I wasn't impressed -- but did find some humor of my seeing this microeconomic example of unregulated capitalism on the same day that we learned of bigger AIG bonuses. And, I learn tonight from my reading on the internet, the "monument" isn't even in the right spot anymore based on current technology. A mile here, two miles there -- who really cares -- I doubt anyone including the Navajo toll collectors and vendors really cares where in this flat desert landscape the true "corner" exists.
Admittedly, my bleak assessment of this spot may be clouded by the fact that I almost dumped my bike there as I was leaving -- just crawling along in the thick gravel. It was one of the moments that passes in a flash but haunts every memory of it. As much as I would like to forget this very forgettable sightseeing gimmick, I will forever remember the Four Points Monument as where I almost dumped my bike.

I finished off the day with a bunch more straight and ended up in Blanding, UT -- which was about as interesting as Farmington. I took a chance on a $25 a night motel room, the cheapest of my trip, and got about what I paid for. Good news is that the sheets and towels were clean, and I know I didn't bother my neighbor because I could hear him snoring.

Little did I know, as I drifted off to sleep, that Blanding would turn out to be a most excellent place to begin a day long ride that will be a contender for best ride of the trip -- and among the top rides of my life. Stayed tuned.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Update: Rider Adds Our Meeting to His Blog

Some of you may find it interesting to see what my friend/fellow rider/blogger from Brazil added to his blog about our meeting yesterday. Select "Day 9" after going to this link. He also included the picture of both of us that I mentioned yesterday.

Just reading his blog posting for today (his "Day 10") -- he got a unrepairable flat tire from road debris. I definitely feel for him.

Day 41 - 151 Miles Just For Fun and Beauty

I had already planned to stay in Santa Fe a 2nd night both because of the many nearby motorcycle roads and the lovely weather. The pictures tell the story better than words -- taken on a 151 circular route over the "High Road to Taos" -- isolated mountain towns surrounded by 13,000 foot mountain peaks in the peak of fall colors.

Yes, those are fly fisherman in the river in that last photo.

During the ride, the keylock to one of the storage pockets (where I store my sunglasses) failed to open the pocket. This pocket had been removed yesterday when the Honda parts guy replaced my headlight so it was a pretty good guess that the cable from the key to the latch had not been refastened correctly. Thanks to some excellent guidance on on exactly how to fix the problem, I got it fixed easily after the ride though it did take some disassembly of plastic and parts -- and a borrowed piece of wire from a local maintenance guy.

A great, relaxing and easy day in superb weather and tomorrow looks like more of the same as I head for the northwest corner of New Mexico to the "Four Corners Monument" where NM, AZ, UT and CO all meet.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 40 - First Honda Malfunction -- Meeting Fellow Biker/Blogger From Brazil

The rain was supposed to pass through overnight, but there was still plenty of it, along with fog, this morning. But I was anxious to get out of the rain and I knew I had about 325 miles to go to get to my Santa Fe, NM destination. So, I used the new "Frogg Toggs" rain outerwear that I had purchased at the motorcycle store at the Tail of the Dragon. I ended up riding about 2 hours in the rain and now understand why many long distance riders (and hunters and other outdoor adventurists) like Frogg Toggs. The outfit kept me completely dry without the heat build up of conventional nylon-type fabrics and it was easy to put on and take off. Make no mistake, it is still no fun riding in the rain as every movement needs to be calibrated for the reduced traction; distances from cars/trucks must be calculated both for safety and water spray; and, air flow over the face shield needs to both clear the droplets and reduce inside fogging (no wipers, no defroster!).

Riding in the rain is the only time I love straight roads -- so I was glad I was still on the boringly straight roads of Texas and, when I got there, eastern New Mexico. Shortly after the rain stopped, I did my usual look for pickups and found another good breakfast stop: When I started the bike to leave this restaurant, I could see by my reflection in the glass that one of my high beam lights had burned out -- the first Honda malfunction of the trip!

When I started through the very next town (Clovis, NM - population 30K), I pulled over and checked a booklet I carry that lists all Honda motorcycle dealers. The book showed a dealer within one mile of my stop. I was delighted when the parts person assured me that he had the bulb and when he agreed to install it (I didn't know how). So, $22.50 later I was on the road with my first malfunction repaired.

Once the Honda parts guy knew what I was doing and after listening to my complaint about Texas straight/boring, he suggested an alternate route to Santa Fe that he said would be more scenic. I immediately headed on the routing he suggested and when a beautiful sky that opened up before me I got renewed enthusiasm for the day's ride.At the next gas/restroom stop I was getting ready to leave when another biker parked next to me -- and so began the dialogue I have written about before: where you going? where did you start? However, unlike the resulting answers from many other such common interactions -- this guy's answers were unusual and interesting. The young rider was from Brazil and had flown into New York City, rented a BMW GSR1200 for a one way, two-week ride to Los Angeles from which he would fly home. He had started on a northerly routing but dropped down to get away from cold weather. In Colorado he experienced snow for the first time in in his life. I learned he had a blog (in Portuguese -- but somewhat readable by using Google's web translation tool) - click here for his original blog and here for Google's translated version. Of course we exchanged emails and took pictures of each other -- and he even enlisted a nearby traveler to take our picture together (I'll post it when he sends me a copy). Unfortunately we weren't headed the same direction (he was going to Albuquerque). Hopefully our paths will cross again. Although our ages were quite different, our motivations seemed the same -- neither of us knew when, or if, we'd ever get a chance again for such an adventure.

The scenery on the rest of the ride into Santa Fe was greatly improved -- but still too much high speed (75 was the limit in NM) and flat/straight for my liking. But I arranged great accommodations, the weather is superb (even though Santa Fe sits at over 7000 feet elevation) and there are so many good motorcycle roads nearby that I decided to stay in the same place for two nights.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Days 38 & 39 - Texas: Friends Are Better Than Curvy Roads

If you believe in creation, then certainly God must have started with a rolling pin in Texas -- and if you believe in the big bang, then someplace had to start as flat lake bottom! I gotta say, if I lived in Texas (or Kansas or eastern Colorado), I wouldn't even be interested in motorcycling because most of the roads are flat and straight, and well, from a motorcycling perspective -- boring. I get little pleasure from riding straight and flat even if I can fly along above 70mph. But, many things in life are much better than fun motorcycle roads -- and friendships are among them.

Early in my planning I set Fort Worth as an enroute stop both because I knew I would be traveling a southernly route (October weather patterns) and because of an enduring friendship with a former co-worker and his wife. Then coincidentally just a week or so ago, I got an email from another former co-worker I'd lost track of -- now living in the Fort Worth area. So, while Day 38 didn't add any fun roads -- it did add some wonderful stops and a home for overnight accommodations. Having home-fixed lunch with one couple and then a home-fixed dinner with the other -- made traveling Texas' straight and flat so "worth it."

Interestingly, Texas treated me to some very northwestern-like weather with low-hanging clouds and some light drizzle now and again. Of course I had to comment that I traveled to Texas for sunshine and got weather I could have gotten most of the year at home! But from a motorcycling perspective, the cooler weather was nice when the roads were dry.

I wasn't sure how long I would stay in Fort Worth -- but in watching the weather patterns, I decided to only stay one night and get back on the road to avoid another dose of Portland-like weather. So, Day 39 (Monday, Oct 12), I aimed the bike west and ended up the day riding out from under the cloud cover for the first time in 4 days, stopping for the night in Lubbock, Texas on my way back to some mountains and curved roads in northern New Mexico.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 37 - A Fog Detour Turns Fun

After spending yesterday cooped up in the motel room watching the rain, I was delighted to get back on the road this morning on a planned route of all mountainous backroads including over the Arkansas' Talimena Scenic Drive.

The ride was delightful and interesting but as I approached the scenic highway turn-off, I could see the now-familiar low hanging fog at the mountain tops. I stopped at a fast food place in Mena, AR where I noticed about 40 or more bikes with lots of riders visiting in groups. I approached one group and learned that they were locals from Little Rock, AR on a "Bike for Cancer" fundraiser and headed on the same scenic highway. When I asked about the apparent fog -- they assured me it would be completedly fogged and many degrees colder, but invited me to "fall in" with them as they were going anyway. With memories of the Blue Ridge Mountain fog still very unfoggy in my mind, I declined and sought out an alternate route. My Blue Ridge experience reminded me that scenic routes in the fog are not scenic!

I then routed myself to a nearby town of De Queen, AR and using my usual indicator for a good restaurant (lots of pickups in the parking lot) I found another great place to eat. And, as I studied the maps, I realized that I wasn't far from Texarkana, AR which I thought to be close to a "cabin" owned by one of my younger brothers and his wife. I called them to learn that I was within 24 miles of their place. I had only ever seen the place in photos -- so that gave me another fun destination. They offered to let me stay -- but I wanted to get some more miles in today. With their directions and my trusty GPS, it was an easy find and I took some photos, including this one.
I've made a mental note to see if Deb and I can stay at the place when we get a chance to do a cross-country car trip which is also on the bucket list. It looked like a great get-a-away spot.

I then did some fast figuring with my plan to visit friends tomorrow in the Fort Worth, TX area and finished out 292 miles before finding a convenient motel.

Another fun day even if I didn't get to see the "scenic" road.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Days 35/36 Oct 8/9 - River Crossings, USA's Underbelly & A Rain Delay

First I want to mention that I love crossing rivers. I've crossed lots of them, but particular highlights on this west bound trip have been the James River out of Williamsburg, VA, the Tennessee River which I crossed on the Natchez Parkway in Mississippi and of course the mighty Mississippi which I crossed yesterday when I crossed over into Arkansas. As I have written before, every river crossing brings to mind Neal's words when we motorcycled over the Columbia River several years ago: everything looks better from the seat of a motorcycle.

I've also motorcycled through some places where my reaction has been: what the hell was that? Cairo, IL was one that I already wrote about. Yesterday I had a similar reaction to another town.

There are only a few places to cross the Mississippi (MS), so I picked a crossing/routing that took me directly though the region of MS called the "Delta." On the way there, I happened to
stop to take this picture which I thought would be fun to show the insignificant size of my "Bus" compared to the farm equipment sold throughout the area.

Little did I realize at the time that this machinery would figure into the story of the rest of my trip for the day.
I then took an out-of-the-way backroad to the River crossing at Helena, MS through Jonestown, a destitute looking rural slum that can best be described as third world-like squalor. The town and the many people milling around gave me that "what was that?" moment and I made a mental note to research the town on the internet later.

Just before I crossed over the Mississippi, I traveled through lots of cotton fields and added this picture to my collection.
While I had planned to make it to Hot Springs for the night, some inviting-looking motels just outside Pine Bluff, AR captured my interest when I stopped for a snack. It had been an interesting day, but the heat/humidity and the bumpy road surface along the portion of the Arkansas' scenic "Great River Road" had taken their toll so I parked the "Bus" at 239 miles for the day.

My research on Jonestown reminded me that the Mississippi Delta region, romanticized as the birthplace of our jazz, blues and rock and roll music, continues to have many communities which remain part of an underbelly of the USA with huge problems: unemployment, poverty, illiteracy -- some of which have their history in slavery and mechanization (remember my pic of the John Deere) that eliminated the need for workers in agriculture (remember my pic of the cotton fields). I'll spare you further social commentary -- but do offer that Michael Moore's latest movie "Capitalism: A Love Story" does add his usual provocativeness to the discussion.

The motel I picked was nice -- and I'm glad it was because I ended up deciding to stay a 2nd night when a major rain storm was pushing through the area when I awoke on Friday, October 9.
I caught up on some laundry, reading, writing and mapping -- and generally enjoyed a day off the road even if my "scenic" view for the day was only the drive-through of the area McDonald's next door which had a line of traffic all day long.

Days 34 Oct 7 - The Secret Parkway

Once again, rain moved through overnight -- but the morning brought a wonderful day for motorcycling on the exact kind of roads that I envisioned as "backroads" when I made plans for this trip. The rest of Tennessee was a wonderful combination of curves, scenery punctuated with delightful small and interesting towns, and perfect weather. The kind of riding that refreshes rather than stresses, and I was still feeling like I had lots of miles left in me when I reached the stopping point near the Natchez Trace Parkway. Haven't heard of it? Well, I hadn't either until I started planning for this trip.

As one of the welcome center hosts told me, the Natchez is one of the best kept secrets considering it's a route which has been traveled for 8000 years. Today it is a 444 mile, limited access, top rated scenic roadway that runs from 17 miles south of Nashville, TN to southwestern Mississippi town of Natchez, MS. Managed by the National Park Service, it is devoid of all commerical traffic and signage, and provides a very straight, level and beautiful pathway amongst lots of trees and pastoral settings.
Interestingly, I had been "warned" by some Alabaman motel tailgaters (in Kansas) not to even consider taking the Natchez on a motorcycle because of the abundance of wildlife. But other motorcyclists and an area Deputy only confirmed that it had lots of wildlife, including plenty of turkeys, but it wasn't any more dangerous than any other road I had already taken. Their consensus was that in some respects, the Natchez was much safer because its heavily patrolled 50 mph speed limit, lack of traffic, and good visibility along the roadway.

Its lack of curves and flatness doesn't make it a particularly fun motorcycle roadway, but with the lack of traffic and the scenic beauty, I set the cruise control at 50mph and was lulled into such a state of wonderment over this oasis of beauty that I gobbled up 109 miles before I could convince myself that I really should quit for the day. I exited in Tupelo, MS (birthplace of Elvis Presley) with 366 miles for the day. Oh, and the only wildlife I got to see were a few suicide squirrels. I think Idaho still holds the record for showing me the most animal carnage.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 33 - Slaying the Dragon - Action Photos

Tonight I learned of two web sites that post (and sell) photos taken of riders on the Dragon. Click here for photos taken there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day 33 - Slaying the Dragon - Twice

It's 636 curves in 22 miles when you ride the "Tail of the Dragon" both ways -- and that's what I did today. The "Dragon," (aka: Deals Gap) is in the heart of the Smoky Mountains and is a worldwide destination road for motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. It's a destination that I have read about regularly in motorcycle publications, so I was excited for the opportunity to ride it.

I was awake to watch the dawn arrive -- and shrugged in disappointment as I noticed the low hanging fog. I decided to slow my departure and continue on my original routing to the "Dragon." As I loaded up the bike, I visited with several other riders who had stayed at the motel and who ride the area frequently. They noted that the area fog, that is the "smoky" part of the Smoky Mountains," was common and there was no predicting when or if it would lift. Sure enough, as we loaded our bikes, the fog began lifting. My hopes for riding "The Dragon" were resuscitated.

The next obstacle was about 10 miles from the motel on a mountain road. I came around one corner to find this:
My instant reaction was renewed disappointment in yet another obstacle. But the disappointment didn't last long as I discovered another route to my destination (thanks to the GPS and some lucky guessing).

Thereafter, getting to "Tail" part of "The Dragon" was on such a fantastically fun route that I actually thought I had "done" the "Tail" when I arrived at the starting point. And, by the time I got there, the day had become a beautiful, sunny 65 degrees with beautiful autumn leaves falling in my path.

After a little conversation with some other bikers, I headed out. The ride was exciting as the tight corners required my undivided attention. Now I personally understood why the road was famous -- and how some riders have made it infamous (in my motel room tonight I learned from a news report that the 5th rider death this year on the "Tail" occurred today from injuries in an August accident.)

The end of the "Tail" came so quickly that I decided to turn around and take it back -- after all, I still needed to pick up a trophy T-shirt, patch and photo! 

The ride back was equally exhilarating but also more complicated as there was more car and bike traffic -- including about two dozen Plymouth Prowler roadsters like this one I took a picture with.

After the "Tail," I proceeded over a nearby, well-regarded, often-written-about scenic road called "The Cherohaha Skyway." The Skyway climbed high into the Smoky Mountains with spectacular vistas on a roadway that was actually more to my liking than the "Tail" -- sweeping curves rather than short, tight ones.

I've included below my actual GPS track of the Dragon and the Skyway. You may notice the "head" of the dragon where the yellow track starts on the far right. The "tail" is the point at the center top of the image and the Skyway is the long track that ends on the far left.

At the end of the Skyway I happened upon a beautiful, inexpensive creek-side cabin in Tellico Plains, TN where I relaxed my sore muscles. The news reports that I may well be riding in rain tomorrow on my way through Tennessee -- but I'll do so knowing that today I was blessed with perfect riding conditions and fantastic roads. I am already looking forward to reading future magazine articles about this motorcyclists' paradise with a certain smug satisfaction.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 32 - Oct 5 - Little Switzerland?

The bike's cover was wet from the overnight rain, but the morning just brought wet roads and lots of low clouds and fog. I headed straight for the Blue Ridge Parkway at Fancy Gap, NC and enjoyed the peaceful beauty of lots of curves at 45 mph (the Parkway limit). The trees were full of early fall colors and I got to take in a few of the many beautiful overlooks down into the North Carolina flatlands on either side of this route that is perched on the mountain tops. The picture taken here was early in the ride. As the morning progressed, the fog started to obstruct the views -- initially intermittant, but eventually constant.

I arrived in the tiny town of "Little Switzerland, NC" at around 12:30pm and stopped into only restaurant in this hamlet for some lunch. While there I enjoyed some conversations with some locals who told me that the town really does give the feeling of being in Switzerland WHEN it's not foggy. As you may see in the photo, even the nearby post office was somewhat blurred by the fog -- which is about as far as one could see.
The locals also advised that the route was headed to a higher elevation which would also be fog covered and complicated by road construction on the Parkway. So, I hatched a new plan after learning that only the top of the mountains were fog-shrouded. I headed off the Parkway on a lowlands route to my destination -- Maggie Valley, NC about 55 miles from the Tail of the Dragon. Tomorrow's weather looks encouraging for some pleasant and fun riding but I'm already changing routing plans thereafter to try to skirt some of the expected rain still moving this way.

I'll be back to visit "Little Switzerland" again -- as the area certainly has plenty of scenery that I missed. But another visit to the real Switzerland and the Netherlands remains higher on my ever changing, always growing, bucket list.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 31 - Oct 4 - Signs-Signs-Everywhere Signs

What a day to start the trip home! Perfect weather (65 to 72 all day), perfect roads (great little communities, fun curves) and a perfect start (Neal's house is just a few minutes from the free ferry from the first settlement in the USA - Jamestown - across the beautiful James River). Towards the end of the trip today (289 miles), I was on some wild, curvy backroads through dense trees just beginning to change colors as I approached the famed Blue Ridge Parkway. I didn't get on it today -- but ended my trip poised to ride it all day tomorrow from "Fancy Gap" -- a point in Virginia about 15 miles from the border with North Carolina.

All during my trip I've enjoyed funny and interesting signs -- some unusual, like these. I got a kick out of one town's sign that I didn't get a picture of -- it read something like this: "We're not much yet, but we're getting bigger!" My focus on the signs today made me think of that old 1960's rock and roll song about signs. If you have some extra time and want to enjoy a fun youtube video to that old song, check out this.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On The Road Again

Tomorrow, Sunday October 4th, I will climb on the motorcycle to begin the return trip to my home -- exactly one month since I started this adventure. My original plan was to begin the return trip one week ago -- but today we (Neal, Anna, Debbie and I) flew back to Williamsburg from three nights in Phoenix, Arizona where we attended the funeral of Ryan Job. There is not much that can be said about the funeral -- it was/is incredibly sad. I was thankful that we could arrange to attend -- together.

I have added a few more motorcycle miles since my arrival in Williamsburg and before we flew out for the funeral including getting the bike serviced. The service was just for routine fluid changes but I also learned that I needed new rear brakes. In addition, I was happy to finally make contact with another former boss whom I hadn't had contact with in over 10 years -- and enjoyed a 3 hour lunch that passed way too quickly when we coordinated a meeting at a half-way spot in Richmond, VA. I made the ride to and from on another spectacular scenic VA backroad - highway 5.

As I previously noted, I wasn't sure whether I would continue with the return trip. However, the weather looks acceptable and I have gotten renewed inspiration from a blog of a motorcycle rider who is in his 6th month of a 5 year motorcycle journey -- taking leave from a 14 year career as a chiropractor (he is 45 -- my daughter Staci had met him in Seattle and told me about his blog). My adventure certainly seems like child's play in comparison -- but I suspect we share some of the same motivations and are learning some of the same things.

I do feel like my "bucket list" item has been already completed by the east bound trip -- so this west bound trip will be just for fun and because the timing/opportunity seem to work. I start with the same expectations -- avoid adverse weather, stay off interstates, route on as many scenic backroads as possible along the route. Initially I hope to take in some of the well-known Blue Ridge Parkway into North Carolina/Tennessee -- and visit a few roads that are like mecca to motorcycle riders and sports car drivers, including "Tail of the Dragon" with its 318 curves in 11 miles.

As Willie Nelson sings, tomorrow "I'm On The Road Again."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Itinerary Changes - An Untimely Death In Our Extended Family

It is with great sadness that we learned Thursday (September 24) that Neal's best friend since 2nd grade -- a guy who felt like another son to Deb and me -- died following facial reconstructive surgery required by Iraq war injuries that had left him blind 3 years ago. More details than I have time to write are in this news story . What can't be overstated is his incredibly inspiring resolve in dealing with his blindness -- dealing with his new challenges with an amazing upbeat/positive attitude as exemplified by his climbing Mt. Rainier. After returning from Iraq, he quickly adjusted to blindness, went on to marry his girlfriend and settle into a meaningfully productive life in Phoenix, AZ. They just announced her pregnancy a few weeks ago. The surgery was another in a series he has needed to deal with the complications of the injury in his facial and sinus areas. We only have incomplete information about what went wrong.

So, this blog will be interrupted for a week as Debbie, Neal, Anna and I have made plans to travel to Phoenix for the services. Further consideration of this motorcycle trip will be delayed for the week -- and I'll be assessing both the weather and personal needs/desires as to whether to continue the trip after the week delay and consider one of the many other options (leaving bike here, shipping it home, continuing as previously planned, etc.). For right now -- whether or not to continue the trip seems like the most unimportant thing -- as it should. I'll update the blog when I know more -- probably not until Saturday, October 3.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 19 (Sept 22) - East Bound Trip Completed

My only goal for the day was to end the east bound portion of trip across the USA in Williamsburg, VA -- and I accomplished that along with a lunch in Virginia Beach, Virginia with friend and priest that married Deb and I. It took a bunch of freeway travel to accomplish it -- as Virginia Beach is about 55 miles beyond Williamsburg on my route from the Richmond, VA area -- but by early afternoon I arrived in Williamsburg. Here are a few stats of my entire trip:

Total Distance Travelled: 4145 miles
Total Moving Time (in saddle): 80 hours, 49 minutes.
Number of States on Route: 12 (WA, OR, ID, UT, WY, CO, KS, MO, IL, KY, WV, VA)
I haven't figured the gas bill up yet but the bike averages 40 mpg -- and assuming a $2.50 per gallon average - the total for gas should be around $260.

Following is the actual GPS track of the entire route along with an altitude profile of the trip -- with links to larger images of each:

Click here for a larger image of this map.

This following chart shows the actual elevations of the route. Reading left to right, it shows that the trip started out at about sea level -- and as I traveled, I continued to climb -- reaching the highest elevation above 12000 feet at Independence Pass, Colorado. Thereafter, I was back pretty much at sea level until reaching the hills of West Virginia and Virginia.

Click here for a larger image of this chart.

I'll be staying here in Williamsburg with Neal/Anna for a few days. I haven't yet decided when I'll begin the return trip, but I have a service scheduled for the bike at a nearby Honda dealer. It should be mentioned that the bike had no problems or issues -- the service is just for routine maintenance. The only equipment failures during the trip were:
1. In my search for what felt like a bug in my helmet, I pulled a speaker wire in my helmet loose (fixed as noted in the blog for around $14)
2. The lock on the cable lock used to secure my helmet to the bike failed. A better replacement cost $10.
3. The handheld air compressor I brought on the trip failed (after 9 years of use). I found a similarly sized replacement on special for $7.
4. A piece of tape came loose from inside my helmet (where it secured a microphone wire) and attached itself to my forehead (as blogged about!)

Day 18 (Sept 21) - Almost Heaven West Virginia and Virginia

After a couple days off the road enjoying family in WV, today I got to a few of the many wild, wonderful motorcycle roads that WV and VA have to offer. I got a little wet early in the ride, but before long I was enjoying great rides -- wonderful curves in tunnels of beautiful fall colors with almost no traffic. The route I took doesn't look efficient for getting from A to B -- but it wasn't intended to -- it was just fun and beautiful. I even added in a section of the well-known Skyline Parkway in the Shenandoah National Park. After most of the day on curves, I jumped on an interstate for the final 60 or so miles to stay at Deb's sister/brother-in-law's place in the rural suburbs of Richmond, VA.

The most humorous moment of the day was my lunch stop in a small Virginia town called Monterey where I found a great little cafe. When I walked in, a few folks looked at me a little oddly -- and I just dismissed the glances as disapproval of either the big yellow "School Bus" that I just parked -- or my obvious motorcycle apparel. When I sat down, I rubbed my forehead and off came a piece of black tape that had previously been holding wire INSIDE my helmet. Instantly I knew the reason for the odd looks. It had to be the motorcycling equivalent of leaving the restroom with toilet paper stuck and trailing from your shoe. It did give me a good laugh wondering what the restaurant folks must have been thinking. After all, it's not everyday that one sees black electrical tape used for a forehead injury!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Op-Ed On Group Riding

This morning I learned about an motorcycle accident in the Oregon that wiped out around 26 motorcycles on Friday. Maybe some of you have heard about it as well. A link to a news story is here. I have a couple opinions/thoughts/reactions I'd like to share: (1) Although I participated in some large group rides when I first got back into biking and enjoyed the social part of the outings, I never enjoyed the riding part because I consider them unsafe unless the riders were adequately and properly separated in a staggered formation -- something that seldom happened in practice. In fact, many groups ride side by side rather than staggered -- which in my opinion is a recipe for the kind of disaster that happened in Oregon. (2) In my experience, motorcycle riders tend to not "ride their own ride" when riding in large groups -- and let group dynamics (peer pressure) dominate decision making in all ride issues (speed, spacing, alcohol use). Of course I don't know the exact circumstances of this 26 bike accident -- but I can make some reasonable guesses, given the time of day and other judgment failures in spacing and speed. Reading this article reinforces my view that group riding is not for me and reminds me of a posting I made last year about some of the many differences among motorcyclists. The news article seems to indicate that these were "chopper" riders -- not sport or touring riders.

Days 15, 16, 17 - Kentucky Rain and Family Time In West Virginia

Day 15 (Friday, Sept 18) brought the first serious rain of the trip, and as expected, the rain put a definite damper on the fun for for a while. Although the cover that I carry/use kept the bike pretty dry overnight -- I still had to load up and depart the hotel in the rain. It did cross my mind to just wait out the rain -- but I was committed to arriving at Deb's Dad's house in West Virginia in time for a family reunion of her relatives. So, I put on all my rain gear and headed out into the dreary morning with plenty of ground level fog.

I stayed on my planned backroad route for quite a while -- and learned quickly that neither my gloves nor my overpants (complete with the rain liner but previously untested) were adequate for the drenching. The going was slow and challenging. In addition, the backroad routing kept speeds down (as cars around me slowed) and that added to to the discomfort as sometimes there wasn't sufficient speed to keep my helmet visor clear. So, it didn't take long before I routed myself onto an interstate where I could gobble up miles safer and faster.

I ended up doing about 100 miles on the interstate as the weather finally started to clear and when it did I decided to go back to my original plans when I crossed into West Virginia. I quickly found alternate backroads and enjoyed the last 70 miles on some fantastically fun, curvy WV backroads.

It was great fun to arrive in WV and be with Deb again after 15 days apart -- and that evening Neal and Anna arrived for the family reunion on Saturday. Saturday and Sunday were full of lots of fun family time and good food.

Current plans call for me to continue on toward Williamsburg, VA in the next day or two -- but it looks like I'll be riding in more rain -- which means more freeway time. The adventure continues.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 14 - Skirting the Rain in Kentucky

The little Wickliffe Motel was a perfect place for this weary traveler and it's $35 rate (tax included), free wireless, comfortable recliner and parking within an arm's reach of the door -- well, it was my kind of place when traveling by motorcycle. So, with a great night's rest, I was ready for today -- the first day of the trip that weather dictated a major change in plans.

My first stop though was to get a picture of city hall of the Kentucky city with the same name as my Washington hometown - La Center. Both cities share this history -- incorporated in early 1900's when founders believed they would continue as centers of commerce in the area. Neither one did. I happened to arrive at the city hall and was taking a picture when the Asst. Clerk of the City arrived at work -- and she graciously agreed to take my picture.
I had originally planned to visit the nearby scenic Land Between The Lakes and then proceed across the top of Tennessee however rain forecasts for southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee prompted me to have backup plans for more northernly routing after taking the scenic "Trace." And that's just what I did but not before running into a road/bridge closure that would require my second use of an interstate during this trip. I even stopped and tried to figure out an alternate routing -- but there was none and so I ended up taking another 4 miles of interstate.

I did ride though some light rain today in a couple different sections -- but nothing uncomfortable or serious (didn't even need to use my rain gear). The only other challenge I faced was in routing as there seemed to be no end to wonderful motorcycling backroads in every direction. This was also the first day of the trip that I had not pre-arranged where I would rest my head -- and that led to the condition that I've experience before --not knowing where to stop because I don't want to stop the fun of the roads. The GPS track of my routing certainly doesn't look like I took the most efficient path to my stopping point - Springfield, KY - but I sure enjoyed many wonderful roads as I put 311 miles on the bike today.

Tomorrow I set out for another stopping point - Deb's childhood home in West Virginia where her Dad, three of her sisters and a brother live. Plans are set for Deb to be there tomorrow as well -- she flew to Richmond, VA yesterday and is driving in with one of her sisters. Neal/Anna are arriving also as Deb's family has a reunion scheduled for Saturday.

Unfortunately, the forecast for tomorrow is for significant rain from where I am in Kentucky -- on in to West Virginia. I'm already making plans that may require me to jump on the straighter interstates in order to make the motorcycle travel easier in the rain. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Days 12 &13 - Loved Missouri and Crossed The Mighty Mississippi

My second day in Osage Beach, MO (Tues., Sept 15) was spent just loafing and studying maps.

Then today (Wed. Sept 16) I put on another 293 miles on some wonderfully fun backroads across the rest of Missouri. Roads were curvy and in excellent condition and the day stayed sunny and warm (70's and low 80's). I was surprised at the cheap gas prices in Missouri -- as low as I have seen them at about $2.30 -- some 60 cents less a gallon than at home. I'd love to know why the huge price differences in gas -- it can't all be tax differences -- though it did cross my mind that gas companies just know they can get more in Oregon/Washington than in Missouri.

I have still been able to avoid Interstate freeways for all but the short ride crossing the Columbia River my first day -- and today I was particularly pleased to have routed myself over a Mississippi River crossing that was not an Interstate. The bridge connected Missouri to Southern Illinois where I jumped on the Great River Road scenic route and rode parallel to the Mississippi
to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and into Wickliffe, Kentucky. Interestingly, I am about 10 miles from the Kentucky town of "La Center" which I will pass through tomorrow.

Just before leaving Illinois, I went through a very depressing slum-like town called Cairo, IL that made me wonder what had caused the city and it's many business buildings to appear abandoned. In my internet search tonight I ran across another person's impressions that seemed to fit my feelings exactly when he/she wrote:

"Cairo Illinois is the strangest city on the river. It feels like you're visiting a motion picture set from the 1950s and all the actors, save a few strays, have cleared the streets to hide from some impending doom. You glance back over your shoulder expecting to see the alien spaceships begin their attack or a six story high praying mantis chewing on the power lines.

Cairo is a sad place. It really feels abandoned. The population is roughly 3000 which on face value seems like a healthy number, but the city was built to sustain a population five times larger. The buildings are still there, large stone banks, churches, and government buildings; grand in design, but with their promise unfulfilled. They look sad standing their abandoned."

More explanation and pictures are at the web site: -- it turns out that this once important city of 20,000 is now just a depressed slum in part because it is a "victim of the racial hatred its citizens could not overcome." The web site and wikipedia entry are interesting and sad. A sobering reminder that not all of the USA is scenic backroads and thriving communities with multiple Starbucks. Of course I knew that -- but this town is an "in-your-face" reminder.

All in all, another interesting day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Day 11 - Making Kansas Fun and Back in the Curves in Missouri

It is said that Albert Einstein gave the definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." And to keep myself from going insane, I decided to figure out some other way to proceed across the final stretch of flat, straight Kansas other than doing what I had been doing. My different plan was to plot a hand-picked route along backroads that proceed through small towns. The current state of GPS devices and mapping software presumes that we want to travel "fastest" or "shortest" -- and I wanted neither -- I just wanted a meandering route that would be interesting and "scenic" over the remaining 120 miles of Kansas into Missouri.

It was labor intensive to plot but the reward was definitely worth it. I not only enjoyed the interesting towns and the pace of the trip, but I was also treated to unexpected curves even if they were primarily just 90 degree turns as one east/west road would connect to a north/south and then again to an east/west. All in all, a very satisfying way to finish off Kansas on another perfect motorcycling day (mid 70's all day and overcast). I also got lucky again on my breakfast stop in one of the tiny hamlets and enjoyed 60 cent coffee and $2.60 for a pile of hashbrowns and eggs. Gotta love small town prices!

I was excited to see the Missouri state line where I was soon back to the fun roads. At first, most of the "curves" were just where the road went up and down like a rollercoaster. But even those were more interesting than flat/straight. The roads soon returned to curvy and fun the closer I got to my destination, a condo on the shore of the massive and beautiful Lake of the Ozarks.

Once again I had arranged to stay off the road a day here in Osage Beach, MO -- and when I saw the view from the condo, I wished I was staying a week or a month!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Day 10 - More Kansas: Not My Kind Of Ride

A summary: I'm having fun, seeing interesting people and places, and had another day of pretty wonderful weather BUT Kansas is no place for the kind of motorcycle riding that I like to do. For me, the fun, indeed the thrill, of riding a motorcycle is only in the curves. Sure I can and have written about the view and the smells but my own reality is that without the fun of the curves, I would not be riding a motorcycle. And, since the parts of Kansas that I'm traveling through do not seem to have ANY curves (or at least none that I can find), today was another day of garnering the fun from things OTHER than riding.

I did choose to ride one of the two "Most Scenic" Roads in Kansas (according to Reader's Digest) along the old Santa Fe Trail and greatly enjoyed a stop at Ford Larned National Historic Site, a preserved and reconstructed site of one of the original military posts to protect the commerce and travelers on the heavily used Trail.

I also passed through Kinsley, KS which claims to be the midpoint between San Francisco and New York:

This stop prompted me to do a little checking on how I'm doing on my trip between my home and my destination, Williamsburg, VA. As of tonight, in Emporia, KS (southwest of Kansas City) I am 1443 miles from home with 1066 miles to go (as a crow flies). The actual number of miles I've ridden so far is 2,386; Total Moving Time (time in seat): 45 hours, 18 minutes.

I've also uploaded a map that includes that exact GPS track I've taken so far. You can see it by clicking here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day 8 and 9 - The Best and the Worst

September 11, 2009
Dear Ms. Colorado:

Thank you for the many pleasures of caressing the lovely curves of your beauty. Every moment I got to spend with you was exciting as you took me to new heights of pleasure. Thanks too for wearing such stunning colors that accentuated your beauty. I'll look forward to the very next opportunity that our paths may cross.
The School Bus

September 12, 2009
Dear Ms. Colorado:
Yesterday is only a faint memory. Today I learned that you can be just as gloomy as my usual girlfriend, Ms. Washington. And no, I don't think I needed to take a shower last night. The most positive thing I could say about our very hum-drum time together is that at least you smelled lots better than Ms. Kansas whom I visited this afternoon.
Moving On,
The School Bus

And least that's what I think School Bus would write. For my part, I now know first hand how different western and eastern Colorado are -- much like eastern/western Washington! There are so many fantastic motorcycle roads in western Colorado (west of Denver) that it was difficult to decide how to route myself through the state. I finally settled on a north/south route called "Top of The Rockies" and was treated to fantastic roads on a fantastically beautiful day. I even added an extra 60 miles to my route to take a well-worth-it round trip to the top of Independence Pass (especially appropriate considering the 9/11 day, I think) and the Continental Divide.
I awoke on Sept 12 to find my bike wet from an overnight shower and with forecasts of adverse weather for the now very straight ride through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. There seems to be no avoiding the boringly straight roads to get through Kansas and though I have continued to successfully avoid interstates, today it was the riding equivalent to interstates except for the tremendous air pressure visited on the bike by every semi passing in the opposite direction. Although the ride was straight and boring, I found much to be entertained by in the towns that I passed through and stops that I made. My favorite was watching a woman at a rest stop set her burning cigarette on the walkway into the restroom and picking it up again when she exited, continuing to smoke it. I also got a good laugh out of the only "Overlook" in Kansas that I've come across -- and the pull off was so one could "overlook" a stock yard. And there is no need for an overlook for just one -- there are MANY on the route -- the smells of which were with me most of the day.

My second equipment malfunction started the day when my handheld air compressor decided that it had reached the end of its life (not bad for a $15 purchase 9 years ago when I got back into biking). And if the cold, gloomy weather wasn't enough punishment, I also happened to pick a Mexican place for lunch that turned out to be a bad choice. But hey, I knew every day wouldn't be like the day in the Colorado Rockies or the Idaho Sawtooth. And, thankfully, I only got a light dusting of rain early in the ride even though it looked threatening all day.

Tonight I am in the famed Dodge, Kansas -- but just as I had read -- the days of Matt Dillion and Kitty have given way to an ugly strip of fast food and motels. One day of crummy for all the beauty that has gone before is acceptable. But wait -- I still have another day in Kansas tomorrow. Where is that Yellow Brick Road?

Day 7 - A Day Off The Road - Well Mostly

As previously noted, I purposely scheduled today as a day of relaxation. But what started as a 1/2 mile ride to the grocery store turned into a 70 mile round-trip ride to the Steamboat Lake "just for fun." It was a beautiful day and, as those readers who are motorcyclists will tell you, short errand trips often take much longer on a motorcycle. The road to the Lake and back was fun and interesting (lots of lovely cedar and log homes along the way) -- with plenty of surrounding beauty. I did take a swim and make myself a pretty delicious dinner later -- but the ride was definitely the highlight.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Random Thoughts/Encounters: The Awareness Test

If you haven't seen the "Awareness Test" on - I recommend that you follow this link and take the test now BEFORE reading the rest of this blog. Some of what I have to say will make more sense AFTER you've taken the test.

Yesterday during the ride into Steamboat Springs, CO, I happened to take a break to get some gas and replenish my water supply at a "general store" and gas station in Maybell, CO (click here to see a Google Street View - but give your computer a little time to bring in the actual photo). When I pulled into the pumps, I noticed three Harley Davidson touring bikes (Ultra Glides) sitting in various shady spots around the store and a group of riders sitting at a nearby picnic table. After taking care of the gas/water, I engaged one of the riders with the usual "where you headed?" When he answered with a proper British accent that the group was headed to Steamboat Springs, I followed up with the usual "where you from?" He initially said "a long way away" to which I guessed "Canada?" based on the accent. He answer was -- "no, the UK."

Over the next 15 or so minutes and as the other 5 (3 couples) gathered around, I learned that they flew into Denver from the UK and rented the bikes. They were nearing the end of a nearly two week circle tour that had taken them through lots of Colorado and Wyoming (Yellowstone). It was the second time they had made such a trip, the last one being down the California coast -- and while they were riding Harley's here -- one rode a Honda in the UK and another owned a couple of bikes including a Norton. When I expressed amazement at their undertaking and told them that I had just assumed they were local Harley riders, one of the women pointed out that each of their Harley's displayed a St. George's Cross flag upon which "England" had been printed. I had not even noticed the flags when I pulled in. It's so true that one doesn't see what he/she isn't looking for.

It was a brief but fun encounter as I learned about their trips, and I encouraged them to make their next trip to the northwest -- and gave them one of my cards, encouraging them to call or email. It'd be fun to cross paths with them again either in the northwest or the UK. Unless rushed for time, I always try to take time to engage other riders I meet along the way -- and have only occasionally felt like the effort was wasted. More often it leads to interesting encounters that are part of the fun of riding a motorcycle -- another part of the special comaradarie that I've written about before.

And while I'm on the topic of awareness, it's worth mentioning again that I enjoy the fact that I chose a bright yellow bike to ride. Some studies have reported that failure by other drivers to see motorcycles in heavy traffic contribute to 70% of the motorcycle accidents. The bike's color gets lots of fun comments: "I guess you really want to be noticed." "If you paid a little more, they might have been able to make that yellow brighter." ... and the like. My co-workers used to call it the "school bus" -- and I often incorporate that moniker in my response. Sometimes I tell the true story that my co-workers put a ticket on my bike stating that the parking spot was only for motorcycles not school busses. Similarly, I usually respond to comments about the bikes large size with the comment that "some people think it's half of a Honda Civic." In that regard, I couldn't help but snap this photo of where I parked at the condo here in Steamboat Springs.

Day 6 - Suicide Varmits and Violating My Own Goal

I got underway by about 7:15am from Bear Lake and was treated to a spectacular sunrise over the lake as I sped along the empty roadways in the cold. And cold it was. The bike's air temp guage hovered between 32 and 35 for the first couple hours as the road straightened beyond the lake. I've made a mental note to consider heated gloves (or perhaps just better gloves) for any such future trips as the heated grips only served to keep my palms warm at these temperatures.

As I rode, I repeatedly noticed vultures feasting on the remains of varmits without being able to discern what the roadkill might have been. The feasts seemed to be going on everywhere -- two or three in every mile -- and I was amused by how the guests would know to take flight just moments before I interrupted their breakfast. As I cruised along, the straightness of the road allowed me to hold the handlebar with just one hand while putting the back of my other hand's fingers against the heated grip. This helped ward off the chill but turned out to by a bad idea when I had the opportunity to witness first hand how the many feasting tables had been set. In the blink of a moment, a furry varmit decided that our paths should intersect and darted directly into my front wheel. I had no time to react -- and the bike shuttered with a thump. In the moment it looked like a rabbit and in my rearview mirror I could see that another table had been set for my feasting, feathered friends. Later I was told it might have been a prairie dog. Whatever it was, I was glad it wasn't a deer or an elk -- and I was better about keeping both hands on the handlebars while the memory of the encounter was current.

As the droning on straight roads continued for longer than I like, I wondered why such varmits choose to run across the road at precisely inopportune moments. I had witnessed the behavior before with what I termed "suicide squirrels" in the Parkfield area of California on a motorcycle trip with my older brother. Is it possible that they gather in groups on the side of the road urging "your turn, your turn" to play the adolescent game of "chicken?" Probably not. But whatever instinct drives it, I'm certain of one thing -- the vultures must be pleased.

The roadside was not without plenty of interesting sites -- if not the typical fare of travel guides. I was fascinated with wonder at who would have decided to make Carter, Wyoming their home when all I saw was delapidated buildings, abandoned cars and a couple of trailers. I would love to explore the history of the little bump in the road -- but my quick internet search at the end of the day only confirmed that programmers forgot to exclude tiny towns with a population of 8 when they dissect the demographics. See wikipedia's entry here -- the section on demographics should be a case study of worst practices for statistics majors. And for those with plenty of time on your hands, did you know that you can travel through Carter, Wyoming yourself and make your own assessment using Google's Street View. Check it out here.

The straight roads finally descended into one of the areas that all guides consider to be one of the most beautiful drives: the Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area.
I was not disappointed. I even took a 10 mile side-loop road that National Geographic advised was "not to be missed."
All beautiful even if the roadway on the side road left lots to be desired for a big touring motorcycle (several areas were only gravel).

After that I was treated to more wonderful roads: what's not to like about a road that advises "8% grade - 10 switchbacks in the next 10 miles" when you're on a motorcycle? But the roads finally brought me to Vernal, Utah and the dreaded State Route 40, a flat, straight pavement for too many miles to get me to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where I had a condo waiting for me -- complete with washer/dryer and where I had arranged to spend two nights so I could have some downtime off the road and get some laundry done. But even the long, straight ride turned out to be fun by some people I met. I'll post about that next time as I have an extra night off the road.

If you remember I set my goal of about 250 miles a day -- but today I knew would violate that goal because I knew there would be plenty of straight roads -- and I wanted to get to my Steamboat Springs destination and take a day off the road. So, I put 382 miles on the bike today -- just under 7 hours in the saddle/moving time.