My Adventure Story
(5 June 09) A week has gone by and it is time to wrap up the write ups and put the the trip in its final resting place on SpotAdventures...
It all seems anti-climactic now but we are home. We spent the night in our own bed for the first time in 5 weeks and I must say it feels good!
We had an absolutely wonderful ride to Glen Ellen over the past few days from Glacier National Park--a ride we want to do again. Mostly, the roads hugged the banks of wildly rushing rivers so were scenic as well as fun to ride. We continued to meet interesting and wonderful people: from the couple who served us homemade fixings for lunch in Lakeview, Oregon at their Antique Store and Deli ("You have to make a living somehow and more people eat than buy antiques."), to the man and woman Harley riders making a run up to Washington to register his new bought bike. He was the spitting image of my brother, Quentin, from the beard to the physique to the special mannerisms that I thought only Quentin had. Eery! We also ran into thunderstorms and wet and windy weather. My favorite memory of that is Ann speaking to herself but triggering the intercom so that I heard: "Big wind... big truck... big trouble..." Her bike is light enough that a strong wind pushes her around and that plus the bow wave of a big semi rig is enough to push her across lanes. Of course, she made it through! We spent our last night on the road in Susanville, California up near Mt Lassen with forecasts for scattered thunderstorms the following day. But, in fact, they were wrong and as we descended into the Central Valley the sun broke through and the temperatures rose and we rode into Glen Ellen on a balmy Spring afternoon.
Thinking back across the epic journey here are some Best Of lists in no particular order:
1) Tail of the Dragon
2) Cherohala Skyway
3) Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway
4) Lolo Pass -- Hwy 12 to Kooskia, ID
5) Oak Creek Canyon -- Hwy 89a to Sedona, AZ
1) Dan from Texas who met us in Las Cruces, NM on his way home. He made some suggestions for places to camp and routes and then later in the day back-tracked to find us in a little town in Texas. He said when he talked to his wife she had asked if he had invited us to visit and he came back to find us and do so! Unfortunately, our schedule did not permit it but we did find a nice place to stay at a State Park near Del Rio because of his suggestion.
2) Denny and Gary who we met at the hotel bar in Warren, Pennsylvania. Denny was riding a BMW K1200 LT and, among many other things, restores old Austins and rides an early 20th Century bicycle with an oil lantern headlight.
3) Mike from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan whom we met in Iron River, Minnesota. We got a very late start that day because we chatted with him and his friend Kevin about riding, life, and the world.
4) Grandma of Grandma's Dog House (Pine Hill, NY)
5) The waitress at Dee's Roadkill Cafe in White, Georgia
6) Jane, with whom we reconnected during this trip. We will stop next time. Ann promises.
7) And, of course, our special friends in Tucson, Toe, Alan (in absentia), India, Jerome and the little Manly Man. But that goes without saying, they are always the best of characters.
1) Birdbath and Beyond (selling you know what)
2) Since Jan 1 we have served 1372 happy guests and 1 grouch (Frontier Motel and RV Park along Flathead Lake, Montana)
3) No Parking on the Sidewalk (municipal sign in Glacier, Montana planted firmly in the grass verge with no pavement in sight)
4) EZ Mark Casino on an India Reservation in North Dakota
5) 4100 (on our house as we drove up)
Most ironic moment of the trip:
When Alex threw away a slightly damaged bungee cargo-net (evidently he thinks you can have too many bungees) just before he took off and lost all his valuables off the back of his bike in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic. Would another bungee have really helped or is it that I disturbed the bungee balance of the universe by throwing one away? (He asks.)
Greatest surprise of the trip:
Getting the lost bag back via a network that spanned the whole country and ran a gamut of friends and strangers.
Sweetest moment(s) of the trip:
Watching Juliana graduate and getting to meet her wonderful friends.
(31 May 09) We visited Mackina(choose one of c, k, w--it doesn't seem to matter as it is all pronounced the same way anyway) Island. You take a ferry over and once there you either walk, ride a horse carriage or a bike--no motorized vehicles. We rented a bicycle built for two to tour the island. Suspiciously, Ann was very eager to try this mode of transport. However, the free ride concept didn't apply which was proven on our joint effort to make it up the hills... The island is very beautiful and perfectly sized for a few hours visit. It started to rain as we left to get back to the campsite. It continued on throughout the night so we had to break camp in a cold drizzle. Not very romantic after all. We pushed on westward on Route 2 which would be our road for the next set of days. We touched Wisconsin and then back again into Minnesota and finally into North Dakota. Last night we reached Montana. The scenery has been fantastic: in Minnesota and Wisconsin we drove on long corridors through mixed forests which eventually petered out into the prairie. Here the winde really picked up and since there are no trees for hundreds of miles there is nothing to stop the breeze. Ann met another rider who told her that this is where the wind lives. And he was right. We only saw one wind turbine however. There could be thousands. Once we reached Montana we were in Big Sky Country. All during the mile after mile I kept pondering why this "Big Sky" idea is true--I think it is partly because the air is so clear that you can actually see the far distant horizon and partly because the prairie is a rolling landscape so when you are on the top of one of the hills you feel like you really can see forever. We have passed through lots of Indian Reservations and each seems to have its own character but are united by one thing: they all seem to have casinos. My favorite so far on the Fort Peck Reservation was this one: EZ Mark Casino. Now who would want to gamble in a place called EZ Mark?
Today we will reach the Tetons and Glacier International Peace Park. Unfortunately the Road to the Sun is closed at Logan Pass so we will ride in to the closure and then turn around and retrace our route back. I still haven't managed to replace my U-shaped camera (we haven't passed through too many well-equipped towns on this particular stretch of road) so the Black Berry will have to suffice.
(25 May 09) Dear Enthusiastic Readers (the rest I assume delete immediately, or at least after the first line or two...),
Much to tell and since I am sitting at our campsite in the north woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula on a rather cold (bracing) morning I will make it brief before the fingers freeze up. (Philosophical Question #1: is it really camping if there is Wi-Fi?)
The Main Goal of the entire journey was successfully accomplished--we did, in fact, witness our daughter's graduation ceremony and we did, in fact, examine carefully the diploma. The name was spelled correctly. She is a graduate! Ann took a day off as J and I went into Boston to join up with Cousin Chuck and his daughter to attend a Red Sox game (that's baseball, or rounders, for all you Old World people--and, no, you didn't invent it along with all other ball sports...). It was a home game in fabled Fenway Park and it was truly magnificent: $7 beers and $4 peanuts and not an empty seat. The next day we split off from J and made our way to East Hartford to get our bikes serviced and prepped for the ride home. Another great BMW dealer (but you guys at Santa Rosa are still the best). As we rode onto the highway to begin the return leg, Ann saw my black helmet bag blow off the back of my motorcycle--she mentioned something about it to me over the intercom but I didn't really understand her. We quickly got off the interstate and into some great small back roads and after a few hours pulled over at a tea shop beside a lovely brook in Webatuck, NY. As I got off Ann asked if I wanted the good news or the bad news. Bad news first, of course. It was that the helmet bag I had always hated for being too tight fitting that it takes extra effort to do a simple thing like put the helmet inside it, well it had blown off. I think that was supposed to be the good news, too. I turned white because I knew that the dreaded bag was safely packed away but my newly purchased black carryall was not. Yes, it is called a carryall for a reason: wallet with all my cards, $800 in cash, two checkbooks, home key, drivers license, cell phone, camera, gum, glasses case. Cancelled the cards and phone, cursed myself for an idiot. Ann, nicely, did not curse me for an idiot. Within minutes of canceling everything Ann got a message from Suzanna from Santa Rosa BMW saying a wallet had been found. At first we thought, what an incredible coincidence--somebody else lost a wallet at the same time as me! But then we realized that it was my wallet she was referring to. Turns out the pack had been picked up by a road crew, returned to the E Hartford BMW dealer who called the insurance company who called Suzanna who sent Ann a message. I found out that you can't UNcancel credit cards. We drove on to the campsite and I returned to E Hartford the next day to retrieve the items: no cash, glasses case smashed flat, cell phone in pieces and camera in a lovely U-shape. But all the now unusable cards and license, and other sundry items were there. The BMW folks were great, laughing with me (probably only because I was laughing, too). I managed to replace the cell phone and when I turned the new one on there were 5 more messages from people trying to connect with me about my stuff. (Philosophical Question #2: with so many wonderful people in the world, how come it is such a mess?) Using Ann's cards (which she has entrusted to me--hello?) we are back on the road!
We met some great people from Michigan who told us about a route through Pennsylvania called the Grand Army of the Republic and another leading up to the Mackinak Bridge (famous for winds) and the Upper Peninsula. The route in PA was fantastic and it lead us through the Endless Mountains. It was easy to see why they were called that. I kept thinking that around this next corner it would open up but I was always wrong. Near one little village we saw a large stationary object in the middle of our side of the road. We swerved to avoid it and saw that it was Mr. Turtle who was probably "running" across the road and had already made 3/4 of the way. (Philosophical Question #3: --No, not THAT one; this one: if Mr. Turtle doesn't make it home to Mrs. Turtle, how long does she wait before she gets worried?)
Yesterday we drove up from Ann Arbor and the wind was incredible--we were worried about crossing a bridge famous for being windy. We met a family -- Mom and Dad each on their motorcycle with child behind -- at a stop to take a breather from the wind. They told us don't even think about crossing that bridge if it is windy. Now the other thing that turns out to be true is that as you go north it gets colder. We didn't bring our heated vests--oh, I don't know why--because it was hot when we left? Anyway we passed the 45th Parallel and it was 54 degrees Fahrenheit. But as we got to the bridge it got warmer and less windy. In fact, crossing the bridge was a breeze. (Groan)
Today we will visit Mackinack Island where there are no motorized vehicles. It is supposed to rain later. We think it is beautiful now but let's wait and see what we think in the cold rain.
(13 May 09) When last we left you I think we had just holed up in Eastern Tennessee. The next day was Mother's Day in the US so I let Ann sleep in until at least SEVEN THIRTY! As she was packing up she met some Scottish people who were in town to celebrate their son's graduation from the local university. They were proud that he would be wearing a kilt to accept his degree. We rode into Virginia and camped out that night. We saw on the internet that the local forecast was for rain at 4 AM and were pleased that when we woke at 6 it was still dry. I was just about to tell Ann that I had the best night's sleep in a long time camped out beside the river when she said, rather sternly, that I had snored all night long. I didn't bother to ask whether she slept well. As we were dressing the motorcycles to go it did start to pour so we put on our rain suits and took off. We had decided to ride a portion of the Skyline Drive (part of the Blue Ridge Parkway) to Fort Royal. We did and it was absolutely lovely: breath-taking views and wonderfully curvy roads. One of life's little truisms that we have noticed is that Harley riders just aren't as friendly as others--many do wave and, of course, there was the one who waved to us in White, Georgia using mostly his upraised index finger (still it WAS a wave). So when we pulled over at a lookout that was already filled with a group of them we didn't know what to expect. Ann went over to talk to them and soon we found out they were from Upstate New York and were on their way to Deals Gap to ride the Dragon. They gave us a suggested route through the Catskills which we have just completed and what a great tip they gave us because we rode through some of the prettiest scenery we have seen in a long while. And best of all we got to stop at Grandma's Doghouse where we loaded up on hotdogs and hamburgers cooked especially for us by Grandma herself. I had thought to say that as we went North the weather and the people got colder and in general that is true but there are always exceptions. It is still the case that at every stop somebody comes up to us and strikes up a conversation. We are now only a few miles from the goal of Stage 1: tomorrow we will be in Hadley, Mass. near Juliana's college. Ann has been hearing in her head the refrain "I'm working my way back to you, girl" and last night it was played over the PA system in the hotel where we stayed--coincidence?
(10 May 09) Just a quick note to say that we rode the Cherohala Skyway and the Tail of the Dragon yesterday morning. The Skyway sent us up into the clouds -- literally! -- thick fog combined with the twisty curves and steep drop offs kept us at a moderate pace. As we came over the mountains into North Carolina to pick up 129 and the Tail of the Dragon the fog lifted and we pulled into Deals Gap (the start) with wet roadway from a just finished rain. This was actually good news for us as the biggest danger seems to be getting ripped up from behind by boy racer types with big gonads and small brains. I guess they have big enough brains to figure out wet was no good. But for us ex-residents of Wales this was actually what we would have called a dry day as it wasn't actually raining just at that moment... It is quite a scene before you set off: rows of motorcycles lined up and the heavily male riders eyeing one another's equipment. (now, now you know what I mean -- although the one does seem to be a surrogate for the other, doesn't it) All eyes were on Ann as she roared off to conquer "318 curves on 11 miles". We had the road to ourselves and it was truly fun and now we have the t-shirts to prove it! We drove on through the Smoky Mountains in Eastern Tennessee, called it an early day and got a surprise by eating a fabulous prime rib dinner at the restaurant across from the hotel. The best meal so far -- not counting the ones we had at our friend's house in Tucson, of course.
A special note for all you 11:11 freaks (like me). I had one score and one near miss!
Score: At exactly 11:11 we passed over a moving train! I honked.
Near Miss: Ann filled up her gas tank in Texas and it came to... $11.11. The time? 12:11 ;( and we had just crossed over into the time zone earlier that day so it could have been a score...
(8 May 09) Well, faithful followers of foot-looseness, an update is in order! We are in the Tellico Plains KOA campsite. TP is the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest and the setting off point for our attempt to ride the "Tail of the Dragon" (watch a YouTube video of one of those nuts who specialize in riding it and you will see what I mean. Even better watch one of the many video-taped crashes...). I've just fired up some charcoal to cook the steaks and while that is burning down I will begin where I last left off. We left Texas by riding some smaller and older roads to Baton Rouge, LA. We also parted from Cousin Chuck who wanted to go a different route and touring style from us. I tried out a martini at a rib place across the street from our hotel--I was excited to be in Louisiana and cognizant that I was not in New Orleans but I hoped for the best. Hope was dashed after the first sip. The olives were good, though. The next day saw us driving the back roads of Northern Louisiana into Mississippi and then on into Alabama. Everywhere we stopped in the little towns to get refreshed or refueled we struck up conversations with interested locals. At some of the places I couldn't understand a word that was said, the accent was so strong. In one little place in Mississippi I met "Joe". I thought he said Joe but he kept correcting me by saying "Joe" then I finally figured out he was saying John. Mostly, I just guessed at the meaning based on context and answered back. Probably the same in reverse for John as there seemed to be a lot of sage shaking of the head and ummm! ummm! ummm! noises. But we smiled and shook hands on parting. We crossed over the border into Alabama later in the afternoon and passed through Cuba. Since neither one of us had ever been to either place that was two birds with one stone... We spent the night in Tuscaloosa at a hotel. It so happened that it was "Customer Appreciation Night" with free catering (catfish and ribs, yum) so we indulged. Today we drove up through Alabama and into Georgia and then Tennessee. Stunning scenery -- wonderfully twisty roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stopped for lunch at Dee's Roadkill Cafe in White, Georgia and had the 4 veg plate. This was breaded okra, squash, mushrooms and sweet corn deep fried in fat. I drank gallons of sweet iced tea to cut through the fat. I polished off a large piece of delicious fried sweet potato pie for dessert. The waitress told us that three years ago she used to weigh 315 pounds and now was down to 131. I asked her how she got so fat and she basically pointed to the food we had just eaten. I could believe it! I think I am up to about 300 just today alone... We rolled into Tellico Plains at the end of the day intending to camp out in our tent but there are tornado warnings and thunderstorms so we chickened out and rented a cabin. This is a dry county so I have paired the steak with a nice little 2009 lemonade. Should be perfect!
(5 May 09) We left Tucson Sunday morning in beautiful weather: clear and sunny, not too hot. We had an excellent ride through the Gila National Forest in New Mexico on endlessly twisty roads. Amazing to me how nimble these big, heavily loaded motorcycles can be! A special treat was to drive through Tyrone, New Mexico as that is the name of our grandson. We looked for a postcard -- nothing. We had to choose whether to stay the night in Truth or Consequences or Las Cruces. For very obvious reasons we chose the latter. We then had a bit of a long slog through Texas ending up at the Seminole Canyon State Park where we set up our tents as the sun went down. There was a burn ban so no steaks on the fire just cold hot dogs. But, you know, they sat out in the sun and if you put mustard on them they kind of worked out alright. I smuggled in a 40 ounce bottle of beer to wash it all down with (alcohol ban) but, you know, it sat out in the sun so it kind of didn't work out alright. But I drank it anyway. Today we managed our earliest start so far and had coffee and donuts in Del Rio before heading off towards Houston. Cousin Chuck decided to camp out again but Ann and I are in the lap of luxury in a Super 8 motel in Sealy, Texas. Free Wi-Fi. Great Barbecue next door. Our incredibly smelly motorcycle gear has been freshly washed. Life is good!
(3 May 09) Hello, fellow enthusiasts (don't you regret responding to my original email as that placed you in this rather select group who will receive these little updates; and those of you who are already moaning that you didn't actually reply--you are family and have no choice).
We are in Day 5. I still don't know how we got everything done in time to leave from Bay Area to Bakersfield last Tuesday. Well, in time should be read while holding two fingers on both hands up and making crooking movements, as we didn't get to Bakersfield until 11:30 at night. Then an early start to Needles. Well that isn't true either as we had a number of last minute items to procure but finally after much swearing on my part (using VERY bad words) as one thing after another of what I was trying to do couldn't be done I said " it, let's just leave". So, we did. And it was very good to get in the routine again. Things went smoothly until we decided to leave the interstate to ride Route 66. Turning onto that famous old road, Cousin Chuck didn't spot the patch of gravel and went down hard, banging himself and his bike up pretty good. Nothing irreparable but it sure put a damper on things. Later on Ann ran out of petrol in the middle of the Mojave Desert (I asked her over the intercom when I saw the sign NEXT GAS 55 MILES whether we should stop but her gas gauge lied to her--or she did and won't admit it). I had to leave the bleeding and limping Cousin Chuck with Ann to go get some fuel. I finally tracked some down in a fly-blown station but when I asked for a jerry can to carry it back in I was told that environmental regulations prohibited their sale (what?). So, I bought a gallon jug of water for $4 (more expensive than petrol but, hey, this is the desert) dumped it out, filled it up and took it back to Ann. Given all the drama we decided to stay in a hotel rather than camp out on the banks of the Colorado River, mainly so that Cousin Chuck could rehabilitate himself. We set off again the next day determined to camp out in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona and it near came a cropper when I had a rear tire go down from a large nail but because of the experience watching Matt plug my tire in Africa I was back on the road in 15 minutes. The camping was memorable: steaks flopped on the grill over the fire washed down by a nice California red. The ride down to Tucson was beautiful and included a 20 mile stretch of gravel road through the back country finally arriving on time (for real) in Tucson. We've spent the last day with our friends here and have had a wonderful time. And, most importantly, we have had the bikes down to the BMW shop here. I've got a new rear tire and Cousin Chuck has put the banged off bits back onto his bike and bashed out his pannier so it is more or less square again. In a few minutes we are off again--well rested and eager for more adventure!