bardicvoice: (Default)
Random association meme.
Ask me to associate you with five things. When I do this, post this meme and an explanation of your interest in those five things in your journal.

No one has to play, and I'll caution that it may take me a little while to get around to associating you if you do choose to play, but any comments are welcome!  I decided to play in [livejournal.com profile] raputathebuta's sandbox, when she posted her tag here.

[livejournal.com profile] raputathebuta associates me with the following five things:
1. Supernatural (of course)
2. Fanfic
3. Freakin' awesome episode reviews
4. Road trips
5. SPN University

Read the rest ... )

And we have season five on Supernatural: best Mardi Gras celebration EVER!



bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
Okay, this is another one of those real life posts, the ones that have nothing to do with Supernatural.  So, if you're just into my Supernatural writing, feel free to pass this one by. (And I promise faithfully to write about the boys Very Soon Now. Really. You think you're going into Winchester withdrawal? Me too. Why else do you think I'm suddenly so focused on family?)

Some of you who know me already know that from 2000 through 2006, I took my big vacation each year with my sister Terry and our Mom, riding on the back of my sister's Harley with Mom in the sidecar. On every one of our trips, I kept a journal of what we saw ("We saw the second-largest ball of twine in the continental U.S.. Awesome!" -- sorry, little Sam-moment there ...) and what we did, road-tripping across America in helmets and leathers on three wheels. I'm finally loading those trip journals into my LJ, and you're welcome to read them.


 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 Sunday, 27 August 2006:  Amherst to Painted Post, NY

 

Well, our original plans went by the wayside, because all it did today was rain. We suited up in raingear right from the start and set out on our trek to Erie, Pennsylvania, where we intended to pick up scenic Route 6 for our run east. At first, we ran through patches where it occasionally seemed to be clearing, but as we went further along, it just got wetter. Ultimately, we opted to quit the scenic route through the Alleghenies and just take the highway for two reasons: we were getting so wet that even our boots were soaked through and the whole area was under the same weather, and the fog on the mountains was so thick that we wouldn’t have seen any of the scenes anyway. So instead we hit the highway and made a beeline for Painted Post, where we spread everything out to dry and introduced the insides of our boots to the hair dryer. Still, given that we’d tried for the scenic route, it took us six hours to cover what would have been a two-hour straight line run.

 

We had very few observations about the day, except that it was wet and that the Allegheny River appears to wind around as much as the North Platte, given how many times we crossed it. Our only wildlife sighting was one turkey.

 

Monday, 28 August 2006:  Painted Post, NY to Ephrata, PA

 

This was a travel day with a delightful surprise in the middle which was enabled by the GPS, since local signage was lacking. The day was mostly heavily overcast, but we had no rain, and the sun did peek out occasionally. The temp got up to 82.

 

We saw lovely scenery again, more low mountains and lots of cornfields. The vistas from the mountains were gorgeous, even in the early morning’s misty fog and the later day’s low overcast. Courtesy of the GPS, we ran some neat back roads we likely wouldn’t have gone otherwise, since knowing where they went would have taken a far more detailed local map than we had.

 

We took our morning break at McDonald’s for cappuccino and apple pie. While we were there, Terry looked at the map to spot the high points along our way, and found a gem: the Millersburg Ferry across the Susquehanna River. It wasn’t precisely on our way, but who cared? It was in the general vicinity, which made it fair game for a ride. Besides, the new bike hadn’t been on a ferry yet, so this would be a first. It took a little bit for Terry to figure out how to program the GPS in order to have it take us on the ferry route, but eventually we heard the welcome words, “Caution: ferry on route!” And a good thing it did too, because without the GPS instructions, we’d never have found the ferry access. Even with the GPS, we drove past it twice. Who would have thought that the “Campground” sign was really a clever disguise for a ferry landing?

 

We followed the campground road, and eventually came to a steep asphalt ramp leading down to the river. It was the ferry landing, but there was no ferry in sight, and no other vehicles were waiting. Looking around, Terry saw a white-painted door – an ordinary house door – attached to the trunk of a tree. Painted on the door were the words “Swing door out to call ferry.” So, Terry unlooped the rope around the doorknob holding the door closed against the tree trunk, and opened the door wide – which meant that the door became visible to the far bank of the wide river. After a bit, the ferry, moored at the far bank, began to make its slow way across the river toward us. The ferry itself was a very low structure, a long, low rectangular red box with a narrow barge attached alongside. It moved with stately slowness, and only when it got close did we realize what we were seeing:  a true wooden sternwheeler!

 

The ferry platform could only hold a couple of cars, or a car and an Amish buggy. According to the locals, the ferry isn’t busy during the week, but does a brisk business on weekends. There was one car on board as it came across to us, and Terry repositioned the bike to leave the ramp completely clear. As the ferrymen warped the ferry in to dock at the ramp and unrolled the folded wooden slats that extended the ferry’s carrier deck to the ramp, Terry swung the white signal door closed again, and then went to talk to the boatmen about passage and how to board the bike. The ferry trip for all of us totaled $7:  $3 for the bike and driver, and $2 each for the passengers. The three boatmen were as taken with the bike as we were with the ferry!

 

The car and its family came off, and Terry drove us carefully on, stopping where the older boatman signaled. We got off the bike to ride in the little open cabin and chat with the crew. We learned from them that the Millersburg Ferry is the very last surviving wooden sternwheeler still carrying passengers! It has two small stern paddle wheels, and the bulk of the length of the boat itself is taken up with the engine and drive mechanism. The wheels provide all the motive power for both forward and reverse. The pilot handles the wheel amidships, and the other two boatmen fend the craft off from shore with poles. Coming in to a landing, they use a three-pronged hook on a pole to gaff up the mooring rope attached to a beam extending out into the river, and they use the snubbed rope as a fulcrum to swing the boat around so that a vehicle is facing nose toward the landing shore. The oldest of the three boatmen was giving direction to the youngest, but nothing they were doing had likely changed in a hundred years – the craft had simply been passed on to successive generations of ferrymen. As of last year, the ferry is listed on the National Historic Register.

 

The course across the river was a slow, beautifully flowing trip. We tacked along several angles marked by buoys, shifting shallows, and small islands. It was a great experience, and one that most people, except for the locals, miss entirely. It was the highlight of our day!

At the far bank, Mom and I walked off the ferry, and Terry eased the bike off. Then we waved to the ferrymen, suited up, and went in search of a late lunch in Millersburg. The town has a central square, and we drove all around it to scope out the available restaurants. A place called the Wooden Nickel – “Fine Casual Dining” – had the best look and several cars, so we stopped. Boy, was that serendipity! This was the best meal of the trip so far. Terry had the crab cakes with mashed potatoes and broccoli; Mom had the broiled salmon with the same sides; and I had liver and onions with mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Everything was delicious. The veggies were fresh, perfectly cooked, and abundant, and the mashed potatoes were magnificently from scratch. It was great! And there was one decoration in the restaurant that I really loved:  an etched glass pane depicting the ferry.

 

From Millersburg, we ran back roads and small highways – including Peters Mountain Road, which was as much fun as an amusement ride, what with its ups, downs, curves, and hairpin corners! – back to the main drags, heading toward Hershey and Lancaster to our stopping point in Ephrata. The sun came out in earnest during the run, and it was a wonderful ride, even if I probably was the only one able to appreciate the views from Peters Mountain!

 

The Hampton in Ephrata (which is pronounced EFF-rah-tah, by the way) will be a year old in September 2006, and it is very nice. It stands on a hill above the historic Main Street, with a lovely view of distant mountains and a quaint town. We walked down the hill to the local Laundromat and did our laundry while looking through the AAA tourbook to plan our next two days of activities in Amish country. With rain in the forecast again, we decided to plan on mostly indoor things, including the Hershey tour, riding the Strasburg Railroad, and touring the Strasburg Railroad Museum. A fellow traveler earlier in the trip strongly recommended both the Railroad Museum and the ice cream at the Strasburg General Store, so those are on our list.

 

Tuesday, 29 August 2006:  Hershey and Strasburg, PA

 

We really lucked out today. The forecast predicted rain all day, but we only got sprinkled on twice, and it wasn’t enough even to force us into rain gear. The second time, we weren’t even on the bike, but were just walking back to the hotel after dinner.

 

We started the day with an hour’s drive to Hershey. That turned out to be a neat place! We went to Hershey’s Chocolate World and took the free tour on their little ride that tells you all about the chocolate-making process. That put us, of course, into their gift shop, where we saw varieties of Hershey candy products that we’ve never seen in stores, including dark chocolate, caramel, and even coconut creme Hershey Kisses: and something called Extra Dark, in varieties that included mint, raspberry, and one with macadamia nuts and cranberries! Terry shipped chocolate gifts back to work and to our sister Ruth, and we learned that it’s a lot cheaper to ship chocolate during the winter, because in summer they tack on special high speed, refrigerated shipping that makes the shipping cost more than the chocolate!

 

We took the 45-minute trolley tour of Hershey, and it was worth every penny. Our conductor Fred and our motorman John were both hilarious. Fred had a stand-up comic’s impeccable timing on his delivery of really bad puns as the punch line for jokes. For example, Chocolate Avenue in downtown Hershey really has street lights in the form of Hershey Kisses, alternating between wrapped and unwrapped forms. Fred’s joke was that, when one of the lightbulbs burns out, it’s dark chocolate, and when one of the lights gets stolen, then it’s hot chocolate!

 

We learned a lot on the tour. Did you know, for example, that there actually is no Hershey, PA, except in the local US Post Office? The town isn’t incorporated. Instead, it is simply the township of Derry, ruled by a town council. So, Derry Township is where people live, and their children go to the Derry Township public schools. But their mail comes to Hershey!

 

Hershey is indeed Chocolate Town. It owes its existence to Milton Hershey. We learned on the tour all about the life of Milton Hershey. I never knew that he was  Mennonite, or that his first six candy business ventures failed, done in by the price of sugar. His last venture, the one he began in Lancaster, proved the charm, but it didn’t involve chocolate:  he became famous for caramels, which he had learned to make with milk in Denver. The strange thing was, he couldn’t sell them in the US because there just wasn’t a market, but as he was ready to go under yet again, a candy company in England bought everything he could produce and ordered more. He went to England to find out why, and learned that the Brits were coating his caramels in something brand new:  milk chocolate. He figured that if they could do it, so could he, and he figured out the process of making milk chocolate by trial and error. The recipe he created between 1900 and 1903 is still the same one used today. He sold the caramel business, plowed everything he had into chocolate, and the rest is history.

 

I had known that Hershey was famed as a philanthropist, but I’d never understood just how far his philanthropy went. He built beautiful housing for his workers. Throughout the Depression, he was determined that his town should not suffer, so each year he planned and funded another major public building project to keep people employed. Community center, theatre, arena – you name it, he built it. The story goes that when he was building the Hershey Hotel, his foreman proudly pointed to the new steam shovel and said that it could do the work of 40 men, to which Hershey’s response was, “Good! Tomorrow, get rid of it and hire 40 men.”

 

Hershey and his wife Kitty learned after a few years of marriage that they couldn’t have children of their own. It was Kitty’s idea to open a school for orphan boys and have children by proxy. The Milton Hershey School still exists as a private residential academy, now with 1,500 students. In fact, the School, through the Hershey Trust, owns and benefits from the entire Hershey empire, because before he died, Milton Hershey turned his entire $60 million fortune to the Trust to endow the School. The Trust has executed its mission well, and its assets are now valued at around $80 billion. The school accepts both boys and girls who meet stringent financial hardship requirements and maintain good grades and good morals. Students are accepted as young as 4 years old, any must be under 16 to be admitted. Once a student is accepted, all of his or her needs are met:  clothing, food, full health care. Students live in group housing segregated by sex, with surrogate parents in the form of a married couple running each house as an extended family. Our conductor, Fred, had just retired after 17 years of being a house father.

 

Graduating students are given traditional gifts:  a $100 bill (which commemorates the money given to Milton by his mother in order to buy him out of having gotten snookered into silver mining in Denver with his perennially rainbow-chasing father, and from which he learned that if you’ve got $100, you can get out of just about any problem); a full wardrobe of clothing; and a new set of luggage. Graduates intending to go on to college are also presented with a laptop computer, and if they maintained at least a C average throughout high school, they are given $67,000 toward expenses at any college or university in the world. Wow! Nice to think that the money spent on chocolate is going toward such a good cause …

 

Oh – and the Hersheypark amusement park was originally built as a recreation spot just for Hershey’s workers. Cool.

We went from Hershey to Strasburg, in the heart of Amish country, to tour the Railroad Museum and take a ride on the steam-powered Strasburg Railroad. Once again, both proved fun and educational! I learned something I had never known. Steam train tenders would run out of water long before they would run out of coal, and stopping to take on water from a tower was inefficient and time-wasting. So, in the heyday of steam engines, they developed water pans and scoops. The pans were basically large shallow water troughs set in the center between the rails on long, straight, flat stretches of track. The tenders were equipped with a metal scoop that could be lowered into the pan trough, and the forward speed of the train would force water up into the scoop and through a pipe into the tender’s reservoir, refilling the tender with water on the fly. We saw such a pan within the tracks of the Strasburg Railroad.

 

The museum is loaded with engines, cars, and artifacts. It’s a railroader’s dream, too packed to really take in. The main building is large, and there’s also a five acre outdoor area that you can arrange to tour, although we didn’t. The museum currently has additional construction underway.

 

One particularly neat thing about the museum is that it exists principally because the Pennsylvania Railroad itself, at the turn of the previous century, started deliberately setting out to keep and preserve some of the historical cars and engines as they were retired. It’s unusual for a live industry to recognize the historical value of its old, everyday things, and still more rare to the industry to spend money to keep things that no longer earn their keep. In the 1960s and 70s, when the industry started to tank, the Penn Railroad donated its historical collection to the Commonwealth to found a museum, and the state legislature approved money to build the museum building and open it to the public. Good foresight!

 

The Strasburg Railroad is a separate entity from the museum, kept running by healthy ticket sales. The rail run is a 9 mile round trip from the East Strasburg station to the little community of Paradise, PA. The run goes through scenic farmland. At this time of year, it passes the Amazing Maize Maze, an expansive maze cut into a large cornfield, in company with a harvest festival. It also passes the Red Caboose Motel, a unique place which consists of a collection of many railroad caboose cars, each of which has been turned into an accommodation. If you stay at the motel, your room is a caboose!

 

Many of the farms along the way are owned and operated by Amish or Mennonites. On our trip, we saw an Amish farmer out with this horse team. We also passed tobacco barns, with their unique construction including side panels with broad slats that could be pushed out from the walls to increase air circulation through the barns where tobacco leaves were hung in bunches to dry.

 

We’d ridden steam engines before – the 1800 Train in Keystone, SD comes immediately to mind – but this time, we rode in the first class car, an elegant thing designed as a parlor with upholstered chairs and settees, small tables, ceiling lights and fans, and decorative colored clerestory windows high in the car. Talk about class – this was comfort! Beat the pants off the wooden bench seats we’d ridden before.

 

After the train ride, we went back to finish off the museum. When we left, the sky was sprinkling, but the skies all around us were clearing, and by the time we had geared up in our leathers, the rain had stopped, and we had a clear ride home to our hotel.

 

Back in Ephrata, we decided to have dinner at a local gem of a restaurant called Lily’s on Main. Wow! This turned out to be a five-star gourmet wonder. I had the turkey breast, which arrived on a bed of soybeans, wheatberry, and cranberry, garnished with roasted mango and drizzled with a chipotle sauce. Yum! Terry had calves’ liver, similarly in fancy dress. Our dinners included small salads of baby greens, and were accompanied by grilled asparagus spears and delicious homemade breads. Mom had the Cobb salad, which had appeared in the “Lite Fare” portion of the menu but turned out to be easily twice as large as either Terry’s meal or mine!

 

It was sprinkling as we left the restaurant, but it was only a third of a mile to the hotel, so we simply strolled while being asperged. No sooner had we gotten into the hotel, however, than the sky positively opened up. Heavy thunderstorms were forecast for the night, but good weather for our planned tour through Amish country tomorrow.

 

Wednesday, 30 August 2006:  Amish Country

 

The day started solidly overcast, but we had no rain, so it was a good riding day and we put it to good use.

 

We’d thought about booking a van tour in Amish country, but before we left our hotel, we weren’t able to reach the tour operator by phone. We opted instead to run on our own, and started at the Landis Valley Museum, a living history village of Pennsylvania German and Dutch life in rural America from 1750 through about 1920. This was a gem! The museum has nearly 30 buildings. Some of them are original Landis Valley constructions, some were moved from elsewhere in the Lancaster area, and some are recreations of structures that no longer exist.

 

The museum was started by two brothers, George and Henry Landis, in the 1920s. Their German ancestors had settled in Lancaster County during the early 1700s. realizing that the Industrial revolution was changing the way of life that was part of their culture and traditions, the brothers started collecting artifacts in the late 1800s, everything from knick-knacks to millstones to farm equipment to buildings. We were told that when the state acquired the museum, including the Victorian house that the brothers had grown up in and returned to share as adults, the house was so chock-full of their boxes of collected items that there were only skinny pathways through the boxes piled in all the rooms!

 

The buildings include a complex of log farm buildings representative of a German farmstead from the 1750’s – a pretty prosperous one – and there we learned about the differences between German and English building at the time, which gave the comfort advantage decidedly to the Germans. Where the English tended to single room log houses with a hearth against one wall, the Germans went for two room styles with a central fireplace that directly heated the kitchen, and would put a stove in the other room backing up to the same flue. With a door between the rooms and the house entry door leading into the kitchen, cold winter air wouldn’t invade the whole house, and the kitchen would rapidly warm up again. German cabins were decidedly warmer in the winter than English ones!

 

Other buildings include a print shop; a leatherworking shop; a blacksmith shop, a woodworking shop; the original 1856 Landis Valley House Hotel; the Maple Grove school; a tin shop; the Landis brothers’ house and stable; a pottery and craft shop; a tavern; and a gun shop. Various different craftsmen do living history displays in the different locales, similar to the arrangement in Williamsburg, VA. Which buildings are staffed will vary from day to day, and will determine which buildings are open. The blacksmith demonstrated how to make a nail, and gave Terry the nail he made in front of us as a souvenir. The wood carver gave Terry a tip about a really good magazine for carvers, with lots of carving patterns and advice. The man at the country or general store showed off its wares – all part of the 100,000 separate artifacts collected by the brothers. The tour guide in the Landis brothers’ house took pains to let us get to know the whole Landis family. The Landis parents were unusual for the time in that they sent all three of their children, including their daughter, to college. Our guide guessed that Landis senior really wished that he could have been something more exciting and momentous than a farmer. His guess was based in part on conjecture, and in part on the 50 years of the man’s diaries that remain part of the museum collection.

 

We had such a good time that we spent three full hours roaming the grounds and talking to the staff. We followed the recommendations of two different people to the Oregon Dairy for lunch, just a couple of miles away. The restaurant is connected to a grocery store, and both are clearly linked to a neighboring farm. It’s a very popular and busy local eating spot, with an extensive menu featuring Pennsylvania Dutch items as well as good solid country fare. Most folk were grazing off the lunch buffet. Plain and basic, but good.

 

From the Oregon Dairy, we decided to visit the Mennonite Information Center. That proved interesting. They have a reconstruction of the original Tabernacle constructed according to Biblical description. A guide provides an introduction, and explains all the features of the construction and the activities that were constructed there. They also run a film called, “Who Are The Amish?” that was really interesting, because it explained the origins of the Mennonites and the Amish. They were the Radical reformists who thought that Martin Luther hadn’t gone far enough in his Reformation, and particularly wanted a return to even earlier Christian practices. One of their key precepts was adult baptism on a confession of faith:  that children would not be baptized into the church as infants, but that people would only enter fully into the church as adults by free and conscious choice. Both the Mennonites and Amish are thus Anabaptists – the “re-baptizers.”

 

The Amish were the followers of a man named Amon who felt, in turn, that his Mennonite brothers hadn’t gone far enough in separating the religious community from the state and from other groups. The Amish are still more strict in their discipline. Both the Mennonites and Amish were heavily persecuted, and most went to the New World, particularly to William Penn’s holding with its promise of religious freedom.

 

Old order Amish are the most strict in keeping to ways that resist change. The Mennonites span a wider range, from old order folk not much different from the Amish, to contemporary folk little different from modern Baptists or Methodists. Their key precepts are still following the teachings of Christ; service to others; community within the faith; avoiding violence and seeking peace and mediation; practicing humility; practicing perfection in the faith; and being content with life. Modern Mennonites endorse higher education, which the Amish do not.

 

Following our comparative religion education, we headed off to Strasburg for ice cream at the Strasburg General Store and Creamery. It was every bit as good as our earlier acquaintance had said! Yummy stuff, and it served as dinner.

 

Since we had missed out on the motorcoach tour through Amish farmland, we proceeded to take our own tour, relying on the ability of the GPS to figure out where we were on the back country roads and eventually get us on course back to our hotel. It worked a treat, although one of the GPS’s choices made us laugh, because it put us onto a tiny lane that rapidly ran out of pavement and turned into a rutted, gravel track that did indeed eventually connect to a road. We figured that this thing had to be in the GPS database as a road, despite its lack of paving!

 

The farm country was truly beautiful, and the Amish and Mennonite farms were all neatly groomed. We definitely knew we were in Amish country:  when you see horse droppings along the shoulder of the roads, you know you’re in buggy territory!

 

Thursday, 31 August 2006

 

We didn’t have far to go to return to my house, so we decided to continue our tour of the previous day by taking the byways rather than the highways. Terry programmed the GPS to exclude highways and toll roads, and we wound up taking a delightful tour through the Pennsylvania and Maryland countryside. By judiciously programming in a town near the marking for a dam on our map, we wound up getting a great view of the dam from a bridge along the way. By the end of this trip, Terry had become a GPS wizard, able to figure out how to get it to take us where we wanted to go by whatever means we preferred to use to get there. And for all that Maryland and Virginia are familiar territory, we saw pretty backwaters that we never even knew existed. GPS is definitely the way to travel!

 

Once we made it to my house, the trip was over for me. We visited with relatives on Friday, 1 September 2006.  On Saturday, I waved goodbye as Mom and Terry headed back to Wisconsin.


This concludes my stories of our big trips. On each of the last three trips we made, Mom's Alzheimer's gradually got worse, and it became clear that we couldn't count on her being able to do a long trip. She rode through 2007 on her good days, taking short day trips here and there in good weather, but the long trips are history now. Mom still enjoys talking about them; when I talk about our travels, she often remembers bits and pieces of them. They are memories I'm very glad we made!

I hope you enjoyed reading the tales as much as we enjoyed living them. G'journey!


bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

Wednesday, 23 August 2006:  Elizabeth, NJ to Painted Post, NY

 

We pulled out about 7:50 for the 250-mile run to Corning, NY. We had another gorgeous day for a ride:  the temp was in the 70’s, the sun was high, and the scenery as we ran west from New Jersey into Pennsylvania and then north into New York was gorgeous. You don’t usually think of New York as having lovely countryside with steep hills, but it does!

 

We stopped for lunch in Binghamton at the Cracker Barrel, which did its usual good job. Mom and I had the chicken pot pie, while Terry had chicken and dumplings.

 

From Binghamton, we went on to Corning, and arrived at the Corning Museum of Glass at 15:00. Normally the museum closes at 17:00, but it was staying open today until 20:00, so there was no rush. We stayed for three hours, and still couldn’t see it all. Again, we recommend the audio tour. The museum takes you through the entire human history of glass, which the museum boasts is the first man-made substance. One of the joys of the museum is that you learn about all the various techniques of glassmaking, and you can compare glass from different times, styles, chemistries, and manufacturing techniques. Did you know that Victorian plate glass was blown into seven-foot-long cylinders, which were then cut in half or more pieces lengthwise, put back into a flat-bottomed furnace, and heated until the curving edges slumped down flat? The wavyness in the blown glass remained in the final flat sheets. The men who blew the cylinders for plate glass did their blowing on elevated platforms, to allow the glass cylinders to expand to their full seven foot length. Could you imagine the weight of a seven-foot long, one foot to eighteen inch wide glass cylinder, and the muscles (and lungs!) those glassblowers had to have? Wow! Glass could also be blown while being twirled to form a flat circular disc, and could then be tapped off the iron blowing rod as a flat, round piece, with just a circular scar in the center to mark where it had been connected to the blowing iron. Take a look at the next Victorian window you see and figure out which technique was used to produce it.

 

Another wonderful feature of the museum is the Hot Glass Show, in which a Corning glass artist creates a work while you watch, with an assistant narrating the process. They work on a stage with a glass furnace stoked with molten glass, and with an even hotter “glory hole” furnace where the blower constantly reheats the glass that he’s working. I guarantee you won’t get chilly watching this particular show! During the show we saw, they were making a bowl, which started as a fist-sized glob of molten glass that was rolled in colored crushed glass to add layers of color, reheated in the glory hole, spun and shaped, reinserted into the glass furnace to pick up more glass, and then put through the whole process again and again to add color and mass until the artist was satisfied with the size it would be. Then his assistant snagged and colored more fresh glass, which the artist dripped onto his work-in-progress in three evenly spaced lines of molten glass. Then they added another glob of glass to form the base, inserted an iron into that newly shaped glob, cracked the glass off the original blowing rod, and then used a cone-shaped piece of wood dipped in water to widen the hole at the top. They added another drip of molten glass to become a lip, heated it in the glory hole again, and then made magic:  spinning the rod quickly with the glass pointing first sideways and then straight down made the glass just open up and flatten out into a disk, at which point it suddenly fluted and dipped, pulled into a wavy-edged pattern by the extra glass stripes that had been dripped down the sides! They tapped it off the iron into a pre-heated fork-shaped holder, used a hand torch to smooth away the scar from the iron rod, and then put the piece into another cooler oven to gradually cool down  to room temperature over no less than 10 hours, since faster cooling would cause the glass to crack. What a show!!!

 

As if the show wasn’t neat enough on its own, the special feature ends with them raffling off to someone in the audience a finished piece of art glass made at a previous show. There’s no charge for the raffle ticket – attending the show (as many times in a day as you want!) is included in the museum admission price. And someone at each show walks away with a unique piece of Corning art glass! Alas, we didn’t win the lovely green vase that went at our show.

 

We ate at the museum’s Coffee Bar – a yogurt parfait with strawberries, blueberries, and a granola topping. Yummy! Then we took a stroll through the very dangerous Glass Market gift shop, where we successfully avoided buying anything.

 

If you ever come to Corning, plan on spending serious time here and learning a lot. (The earliest glass vessels were made by coating a clay mold with molten glass, letting it cool, and then chipping out the clay – did you know that? I didn’t!) (Rome was the first place to really mass produce glass: they built furnaces that would make 9-ton slabs of glass!) You can also make a reservation to participate in their “Walk-In Glass Workshop,” where you can get to make an ornament, a flower, a bottle, a mirror or picture frame or plate, or one of any number of things. Cool!  Or rather, very hot – a glory hole runs at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit!

 

Our hotel for the night was only a handful of miles west of Corning, in a little town called Painted Post. It had a nice pool but alas – no laundry. Terry checked, and found that our next hotel, in Amherst (near Buffalo) also lacks a guest laundry. There’s a Laundromat less than two miles away from the hotel, though, and since our run to Amherst is only 125 miles, we’ll have time to do laundry tomorrow. Terry did hand laundry so we’d each have fresh undies and socks, and we turned in.

 

Thursday, 24 August 2006:  Painted Post, NY to Amherst, NY

 

We didn’t have a long way to travel today, but we decided to travel it a different way. We started out on highway, still through lovely countryside. Near Bath, NY, we added the sighting of an eagle’s nest, complete with eagle, to our list of biker trip wildlife. A bit further on, we decided to stop at a McDonald’s for a cappuccino, and that’s where our detour began. It turned out that the McDonald’s was several miles off the highway – something not apparent from the blue highway “Food at Exit” sign! – in Geneseo, NY. Geneseo is a college town, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, and the students were returning. The McDonald’s actually had a real cappuccino maker, not the usual machine. It was still fully automated, but it produced a far superior drink to what comes out of the typical McD machine. The price was a lot higher, too, but once we got over the sticker shock, the flavor was worth it. Hey – they’ve got to compete with Starbuck’s for those college student coffee dollars!

 

Since we were already well off the highway, we decided to stay with the back roads. Between having taken a gander at the map while at McD’s and running with the GPS still programmed for our ultimate destination for the day, we had a delightful ride. We learned how well and quickly the GPS could recalibrate as our location changed. If we chose to go a different way than the GPS directed, it would offer another option further along the route you were running. It was really cool! We spent a few lovely hours riding through countryside that reminded us very much of Wisconsin:  cows, cornfields, neat farms, and even a cheese factory.

 

We reached Amherst later than we had intended – a bit after 13:00 – but we were well content. We were able to check into our Hampton Inn early, unloaded the bike, and found our way, via GPS, to the Taste of India, a restaurant with a delicious lunch buffet. After lunch, we came back to the hotel, sorted our laundry, and went to the coin laundromat in town. Mom and Terry sat outside in convenient chairs and read the newspaper, while I plugged in my iPod nano and listened to my tunes while babysitting the laundry. This was the nicest, cleanest, and best maintained laundromat I’ve ever seen, and when I met the guy who ran the place, I told him so. He invited me back any time, but I don’t think I’ll get there!

 

We came back to the hotel and festooned our room with damp undies and other non-dryer clothes items. Then it was time for a swim and a soak in the hot tub.

 

Friday, 25 August 2006:  North Tonawonda and Lockport, NY

 

What a day! With rain in the forecast, we decided to save Niagara Falls for tomorrow and to do indoor things today, starting with the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. We did indeed have our first rain of the trip, but it was minor, and despite the rain, we had a great time. We suited up in raingear for the half-hour run to North Tonawonda, and by the time we arrived, it wasn’t really raining any more. We were a bit early for the museum, so we stripped off our raingear, locked up the bike, and went for a little stroll around the neighborhood. We returned to our starting point just in time to see a man opening up the gate:  perfection! On the way in, we walked right past the roundhouse that contains a 1916 carousel, and saw the horses going around. When you buy admission to the museum, you get a wooden token for a ride on the carousel. We saved that for last and I’m glad we did, because we rode with educated eyes.

 

Allan Herschell started things back in the 1870s with a company called Armitage Herschell. They built very simple horses mounted on rocker mechanisms, so the riders could rock forward and back as the ride went around. The “jumping” mechanism that let horses go up and down hadn’t been invented yet, but carousels were still considered dangerous adult entertainment! Once the up and down jumping mechanism was invented in the early 1900s, everything started becoming more complex, including the carving on the horses. Horses also started getting bigger, at least for the stationary carousels. Most carousels were traveling portable ones that could be taken apart, moved from town to town, and reassembled to take advantage of new customers in new places.

 

In the early 1900s, Herschell partnered with the Spillman brothers (and also married their sister!) to create the Herschell-Spillman company. In 1912, Herschell retired due to ill health, only to decide in 1915 that he wanted to get back into the business. He created the Allan Herschell Company, and Herschell-Spillman changed its name to Spillman Engineering, and the former partners became fierce competitors. Both Herschell and the Spillmans made other types of rides, especially “kiddie” rides like the Little Dipper roller coasters. I remember one of those from Muskego Beach!

 

The museum is in the building acquired by the Allan Herschell Company in 1915. On display are vintage horses and other animals; the woodmill shop, with equipment run by overhead drive belts; and the technology behind the Wurlitzer organ, made famous as the musical heart of most carousels.

 

The woodmill shop was educational. Exhibits on the equipment illustrate how wood was planed smooth and the planks glued together into carving boxes with hollow centers to reduce weight and decrease the chance of the wood cracking as moisture from the center gradually worked its way out. Patterns were traced on the wood blocks and the animal parts were cut out on bandsaws. Then the pieces went to the carvers for finishing. Apprentices were called “legmen” because they mostly carved legs, which were the simplest pieces. Journeymen did the bodies, and were expected to complete a horse body every two to four days. The master carvers worked on the horses’ heads and also came up with the designs for horses, other animals, chariots, and the so-called “rounder boards” that decorated the round framework of the carousel canopy. The museum hosts wood carving classes to encourage the preservation of the art.

 

Completed animals received three to five coats of white primer before any colors were painter. The horse bodies were painted first, then the saddles and tack. After all the paint dried, the horses got five to seven coats of varnish. No wonder they gleamed!

 

As the years passed, manufacturers turned to metal – principally aluminum – in order to make horses more cheaply by mass production, and more sturdy. The first pieces to be made from metal were legs, which were often broken by riders resting their feet on legs and hooves or were damaged when carousels were taken apart and moved. After a time, the horses’ heads began to be molded from metal as well, and for a period it was common to have metal legs and heads bolted onto wooden bodies. The former machine shop where metal parts were cast is now the home of the 1950 Kiddie Carousel, a scaled down machine with child-sized all-metal horses.

 

Herschell carved menagerie animals as well as horses, although the horses were always the most popular animals on carousels. Unique to Herschell was the frog. Other figures included the pig, kangaroo (ironically enough, the kangaroo was never designed to be a jumper, but always appeared as a stationary stander!), ostrich, running rooster, cat, dog, and sea monster. The dog typically followed the cat on the carousel, so that it would look as if the dog was chasing the cat! Zebras were also popular, and the funny thing about the zebra was that it was always carved without a saddle, but because people were nervous about riding an unsaddled beast, some operators painted saddles onto the zebras in order to encourage people to ride them! I rode on the Herschell-Spillman Noah’s Ark menagerie carousel in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park years ago, and still have very fond memories of that merry-go-round. And I rode the zebra with no saddle, thank you!

 

The roundhouse with its 1916 #1 Special three abreast carousel is really the heart of things at the museum. At any time, half the horses on the carousel – every other row – are “resting” and not to be ridden, and their jumper mechanisms are actually isolated and won’t function. They really intend to preserve this ride for posterity!

 

This was one of the first three carousels made at this specific factory, and it is unique among all the carousels I have ever seen. Talking with the operator, we learned why. After having seen all the museum displays showing the history of carousel carving styles, Terry and I had both noticed that the inner horses were of an older vintage than the bigger horses in the outer ring. Turns out that the carousel had been built for a man who already owned a Herschell-Armitage carousel of the Victorian kind that pre-dated the jumper technology. With more competition from fancier rides, the owner wanted to upgrade to a bigger, flashier carousel with the exciting new up-and-down jumper motion, but asked if he could re-use the 24 horses he already owned in order to keep the cost of the upgrade under control. Herschell agreed, so the original horses were modified, drilled for jumper poles, and mounted on the two inner circles of the new carousel. Bigger horses in the newer style formed the outer ring. You can clearly see the difference in the old horses, with their round noses, sweet expressions, glass eyes, horsehair tails, and upstanding ears, as compared with the ears-back, longer-nosed, more actively posed and wilder-looking new horses. The old horses were designed to look friendly to overcome the sense that carrousels were dangerous rides, while the new horses emphasized the elements of wildness that would overcome the 20th century perspective that carrousels were old-fashioned and staid!

 

The gift shop had gorgeous stuff, especially the models, but I’ve got my horses and managed to be a good girl, only buying one post card. I might still be bad someday at www.carrouselmuseum.org.

 

We went from the museum to the town of Lockport to take a cruise on the Erie Canal. That was cool! We had sandwiches at the Canalside Café, and then boarded the Lockview IV. The two-hour cruise doesn’t go very far, but it includes really neat stuff. You pass under what’s known as the “Upside-Down Railroad Bridge,” so named because all of it supporting ironwork is below the tracks, rather than above them. You pass under the widest bridge in the US, which actually has an intersection on it. Neatest of all, you go through two locks, numbers 34 and 35, which raise you 49 feet going upriver and lower you 49 feet going back down. This pair of locks can actually handle simultaneous traffic in both directions. Transiting both locks takes only ten minutes. In each lock, you can go up 25 feet in 5 minutes, and heading downstream, if no one is in the lower lock going up, you can drop 25 feet in 3.5 minutes! Wow! We did bigger locks in the Kiel Canal in Germany and in the Panama Canal, but Erie had a human scale and intimacy that made it easier to appreciate.

 

Perhaps the funniest bit of the canal transit were the two lift bridges. These are bridges normally very close to water level which go up like elevators, lifting the entire bridge structure up into the air, still in its horizontal configuration. If you’re tall and on the upper deck of the boat, you may have to duck going under those bridges. What makes them funny is that there is only one operator for both bridges, there not being a lot of traffic on the Erie Canal these days, since only pleasure boats use it. Boats on the canal call the operator on radio and alert him while they’re traveling. The operator will raise the first bridge, let the boat pass, lower the first bridge, and then leave the bridge house, run down the stairs, jump into his car, drive down to the second bridge, run up the stairs to the bridge house, raise the bridge, let the boat through, and then lower the bridge again. Whew! The poor guy does nothing but go back and forth and up and down all day. It’s probably a good thing that there’s no longer any commercial traffic on the canal.

 

Traveling the canal is also free these days. There used to be tolls on river traffic, but the tolls were finally discontinued in the 1990’s when the authority realized that it cost more to collect the tolls than the tolls were bringing in!

 

We learned a lot on this little cruise. The Erie Canal, at 363 miles in length, is still the longest man-made canal. It connects the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean, at sea level, with the Niagara River and the Great Lakes at 570 feet above sea level. The original shallow and narrow canal was dug by hand from 1817 into 1825. One stretch of it – the three-mile-long Rock Cut – was blasted out of solid stone with powder left over from the War of 1812. A towpath eight feet wide ran along both sides of the canal throughout its length. When the original canal, which was only four feet deep, was deepened and widened, the towpath along one side was eliminated. Part of the remaining towpath can still be seen, especially along the Rock Cut, but it’s entirely overgrown with brush and trees. Deepening the canal meant that powered craft could handle the draft, so barges no longer needed to be towed by animals. The cruise still plays music from the canal’s heyday, though, so people will long remember Sal the mule and will sing, “Low bridge / everybody down / low bridge / cause we’re coming to a town.”

 

Interesting factoid:  the Erie Canal employs one canalwalker who does nothing but walk the canal, doing 12 miles every day, watching for any signs of erosion or impending problems with the banks. There are spillway areas along some of the canal’s length that provide an opportunity for the canal to overflow and drain without flooding any of the towns along its length.

 

We headed back to our hotel, still dry, and caught the hotel shuttle to the local Red Lobster for dinner. A yummy end to a full and satisfying day!

 

Saturday, 26 August 2006:  Niagara Falls, NY and Ontario, Canada

 

Today was Niagara Falls day, from both the Canadian and US sides. We booked a six-hour tour with the Bedore Tours company. Our tour guide was German-born Asi, who was a stitch! She laughed that she met her future husband at Niagara, in days when she knew virtually no English: he said he was Rich, and she laughed that she thought she was set for life, until she realized that was his name, not his financial standing! We laughed a lot on this tour …

 

We drove into Niagara Falls early, since the tour didn’t start until 10:00. we took a walk from the Howard Johnson’s that was our pickup point over to Niagara Falls State Park, and went to see the American side of the Falls from the top. Wow! I took the one obligatory photo of Mom and Terry against the backdrop of the Falls. We walked back, and were the last folk picked up by our bus tour.

 

The tour took us back to Niagara Falls State Park, and we learned from Asi that it is the oldest state park in the US, and that the police force up here was the first formal US police force. Our first bus stop was the Three Sisters, three small islands right beside the rapids above the US side of the Falls. The Three Sisters are linked by small bridges to each other and to Goat Island. The views from the Sisters are spectacular. They were named for the three daughters of a man who crossed the ice dams temporarily linking the islands during a winter long ago. The islands are too small and too low lying to be inhabited, but they make for great photo opportunities of the rapids.

 

From the Three Sisters, we went on to the Cave of the Winds and our first Falls shower. The Cave of the Winds was behind Bridal Veil Falls, the smaller of the waterfalls on the US side. The cave itself no longer exists; it collapsed in the 1950’s. But although the cave behind the falls isn’t there any more, there is an elevator down to nearly the bottom of the Falls, and you walk wooden steps and decks – which are dismantled every Fall and rebuilt every Spring, because they wouldn’t survive the pressures of the Winter ice – right beside the base of Bridal Veil Falls. Before you go down, you’re issued cheap slide sandals, a bag for your shoes, and a plastic poncho, and you need them! Even having rolled up our jeans legs and donned our ponchos, we got soaked from the knees down, and the spray defeated our poncho hoods to douse our hair and Mom’s hat. And we didn’t even go up on the Hurricane Deck, which extends into the worst of the spray. The decks we were walking were sometimes under a couple of inches of swirling water for short stretches, depending on which way the wind was blowing. But it was squishy fun, and the power of the water thundering past was incredible, defeating any attempts at speech. Pictures can’t do it justice, but I tried. I was very glad that my camera was an all-weather digital, because anything less well sealed against the elements wouldn’t have produced even the photos I managed to get!

 

Mom, Terry, and I kept our sandals on, knowing that we would later be riding the Maid of the Mist, and that turned out to be a good move, since we got soaked there again!

 

Anyway, once we were back up the elevator from the Cave of the Winds, our tour took us across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada. The Customs check is a lot more involved than it used to be, and we were surprised at how many of the folk on our bus hadn’t realized that they needed a copy of their birth certificate or other proof of US citizenship. Because they were surrounded by the tour and circumscribed by the schedule, folk were allowed to enter, but not without admonishment on both sides of the border.

 

There are four bridges connecting the US and Canada in the area across the Niagara River, from Buffalo on up. The Rainbow Bridge was one example of the construction of all of them. Every one of the bridges has a rainbow-shaped central arch support under the roadway, a symbol representing both the rainbows that are almost always visible at the Falls, and the peace that exists between the US and Canada.

 

We saw the big dam that controls the water flow over the Falls and the diversion of water to the hydroelectric power generators in both countries. The water flow is agreed upon by treaty, with the requirement that neither country divert more than the other.

 

On the Canadian side, in the rapids above the Horseshoe Falls, a barge is stranded. It’s been there since 1918, when it ran afoul of the rapids with a cargo of booze. The two men who stayed with the barge when the rest of the crew abandoned it, realizing it was caught in the current and headed toward the Falls, stove holes in the hull so that it would ground on the rocks. The ploy worked: there it grounded, and there it stayed, right to this day. The men were rescued by a famous riverman from the Canadian side, who got a line out to the barge from the old (well, then current) power station on the nearest bank. The cargo of hootch was a write-off, though.

 

After a photo stop on the Canadian side of the Falls, right at the head of Horseshoe Falls, we went for lunch to the Fallsview Restaurant in the penthouse level of the Sheraton hotel. The Canadian side, unlike the US side, is commercial rather than government-owned (apart from the small Queen Victoria Park), so businesses run nearly up to the bank of the river, and some of the best views are commercially owned.

Lunch was a tasty buffet, and we could go out on the tiny 23rd floor balcony to take great scenic pictures of the Falls from the Canadian side. The views from Canada are the really dramatic ones, where you can see the entire set of Falls from top to bottom and from left to right. Wow!

 

After lunch, it was time for the Maid of the Mist cruise. The cruises are a family-run operation, and operate from both Canadian and US shores. The boats on the Canadian side are bigger, holding 600 people each. They have people-moving down to a science. Again, we were given rain ponchos. These fell all the way down to our ankles, but I can attest that they didn’t stay down there, not when the wind was blowing: I still wound up soaked from the knees down!

 

The boat first sidled up close to the American Falls, and I got good photos of the Falls and of the pathway we’d walked on the Cave of the Winds tour beside Bridal Veil Falls. Then came the real fun:  pulling in close to the base of Horseshoe Falls, where the boat simply fought to hold station while we were all immersed in the pounding thunder of the water and the rainfall of the mist from the spume at the base of the Falls. Looking up, we could see the people who were lined up for the Canadian Adventure Behind the Falls, where people can walk into a chamber behind Horseshoe Falls and see the water falling past them.

 

It was surprising how long we stayed in the spume. The sheer power of the Falls was incredible, something you could feel in your bones. It went beyond sound to a tangible pressure, and simply overwhelmed you. Words fail.

 

I didn’t try to take photos in the spume, but had my camera out again as soon as we pulled free. I just kept on clicking, because it was unbelievable. I know that the photos just won’t do it justice, but I couldn’t resist trying, because it was all I had.

 

Our adventure over, we got dropped back off at the Howard Johnson’s, and then took the bike to church at Saint Gregory the Great, not far from our hotel. The parish must have been huge, judging from the size of the Church, the Ministry building, and the parking lot. The church itself was built in 1968, with a very modern altar. It had a separate little visitation chapel that was always open. The service was pleasant and the parishioners extremely friendly. We had to dodge the usual attempt to get us to present the gifts. The organist was good and people sang, which was fun. The celebrant, Father Mike, had marked us out – we were kind of obvious, wearing our Rushmore flag shirts – and paused in his recessional to tease Terry, who was on the aisle, that this three-in-a-row thing wasn’t accidental. We had fun.

 

Mom was feeling a little peckish, but observed that we could just do ice cream and that would be enough. We’d seen a Friendly’s in the vicinity of our hotel, so that was dinner.

 

From there, we headed back to the hotel to dry our things and get ready for tomorrow’s long scenic haul. Because the big Little League meet is happening where Terry had originally wanted to stop in Pennsylvania, we’re actually going to jog back up to our hotel in Painted Post, NY for the night.


Read Part Three


 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 2006:  The Biker Babes At Liberty

 

Our trip this August took us from the Civil War in Virginia up to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; then across the southern part of New York to play at the glass museum in Corning; up to the Buffalo area to see the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda and to be awed by Niagara Falls; and then down into scenic Pennsylvania to see Amish country, visiting Hershey and Strasburg. We really enjoyed our liberty, visiting Liberty!

 

Saturday, 19 August 2006:  Chantilly, VA

 

Mom and Terry arrived at my house from Milwaukee on Friday. Saturday was an unprogrammed day, except for Mass at 17:00. Terry hadn’t yet played with the onboard Global Positioning System (GPS) on the bike and wanted to test it in safe circumstances where we would know the territory and could overcome any issues, so I suggested a visit to historic Sully Plantation in Chantilly, VA, a house built in 1794 by Richard Bland Lee. Terry figured out the instructions for the GPS, programmed in the location, and we hit the road. The GPS performed well, even when we threw it a couple of curves by making wrong turns as we got used to the way it provided directions. It got us where we wanted to go, and that set the template for us using it throughout the rest of the trip.

 

When we got to Sully, we got a nice surprise:  Sully was hosting Civil War Days, with re-enactors in Union and Confederate camps and with special exhibits in the house of artifacts from the Civil War period that weren’t normally on display. It was fascinating! During the Civil War, Sully was owned by the Haight family, Quakers originally from New York who were ostracized as Unionists by their predominantly Confederate neighbors. The men of the family fled north at the beginning of the war, but the Haight women and children stayed. With women and children still in the house, the buildings survived, because the women cared for the wounded of both sides as the war swept across the land. The land changed hands often between the North and South.

 

We saw a skirmish between infantry units (we were accidentally on the battlefield for part of that, because we followed other people looking for a vantage point, and nothing was roped off – we were told very politely by a Union officer on horseback that we should move because we were on the field, and the cannon were pointing our way!), a demonstration of artillery supporting the Confederate infantry – two really loud cannon! – and most fascinating of all, a demonstration of cavalry training with troopers “running at the heads.” Two sets of poles were on the field, one topped by balloons (okay, not the traditional targets!) and the other by padded, head-sized bolsters. A trooper would ride at speed down one side of the field discharging his (or her; we had a woman in the group) pistol at the balloon targets, then holster the pistol and draw saber to ride back up, slashing at the “heads.” That was neat to watch! We learned that, in order to be able to fire “blanks” from their notoriously sloppy black powder percussion revolvers, the re-enactors pack the revolver’s chambers with cream of wheat, because it won’t flame or spark in the adjoining chambers when the tiny cap of fulminate of mercury in the firing chamber is triggered. Egad! We were watching cereal killers!

 

We also saw a little demonstration of how they trained horses to put up with this kind of strangeness. To keep an inexperienced horse running in a straight line down the course while guns went off and riders swung at targets, a second rider on an experienced horse would run the course beside the greenhorn, both to prevent the first horse from breaking away from the target run and to give the new animal the calm example of a herdmate being unfazed by the loud noises. Horses being herd animals, a young horse finding that another animal wasn’t bothered by weirdness would learn to accept it.

 

I also learned something I hadn’t known before. I’d known for a long time about Minie bullets being common ammunition in the Civil War, and that they were the first cylindrical rather than round ball bullets, but I hadn’t known why. Turns out that the Frenchman Minie invented them to take advantage of the increased accuracy that a rifled barrel imparted to the musket ball by making it spin, while also increasing the speed of loading and firing over what had been achieved before with rifles. At the time, musket balls were basically the same size as the gun barrels, so they had to be rammed down the barrels. If the barrel was rifled, having spiraling ridges on the inside of the barrel to impart spin and stability to the bullet being fired, it was even harder to force the ball down into the barrel, making a rifle a slow weapon best suited only to a sniper, not a common infantryman. A Minie bullet was a smaller diameter than the gun barrel, but the bottom end of the cylinder had a small depression scooped out of it. When the percussion cap triggered the powder charge in the gun beneath the bullet, the explosion expanded into the little hollow at the base of the bullet and forced its edges out wider. This made the base of the bullet actually expand to fill the rifle barrel, so it would be shaped by the rifled ridges and take on a spin as it left the barrel, making it more accurate. Now I understand!

 

Church had its own unusual little wrinkle:  the Mass incorporated a baptism. That made for a neat service, and the singer had a gorgeous voice.

 

I had a late night doing laundry, so that we would all start with clean clothes. Good thing we weren’t leaving early, since I didn’t finish until 23:30!

 

Sunday, 20 August 2006:  Reston, VA to Elizabeth, NJ

 

We left my house around 9:30 for an uneventful roughly 4.5 hour ride north. We had lovely sunny weather and good roads, making for a very pleasant run. The neatest part to me was being able to use my little SmartTag/EZ-Pass device to pay every single toll along the way, just holding it up at about the same angle it would have been in a car as we approached toll gates. The transponder read the signal from my little white box and flashed the “toll paid” sign; we never even had to stop. Pretty cool! Now all I have to do is figure out a way to secure the little flat box to my glove so I don’t need to hang onto it all the time …

 

The GPS worked very nicely to bring us to our hotel, at least when we gave it sufficient direction! It really likes having specific addresses, because if you only give it a street name, it figures you’ve reached your goal as soon as you reach the street. That’s not entirely helpful when the addresses on the street don’t run in a logical numerical sequence to let you figure out whether or not you’re going in the right direction to reach your destination … Still, we got there.

 

Our Hampton Inn was across the street from Newark Airport; not exactly the best neighborhood, but boasting the kind of winged scenery that I really don’t mind. Unfortunately, it turned out not to have a swimming pool, but the Doubletree next door – also part of the Hilton family of hotels – was grudgingly willing to let us swim there, since Terry is a Hilton Honors member. We had a pricey dinner at the indifferent restaurant in the Doubletree: bland baby back ribs with baked beans and coleslaw. Not a patch on Tumbleweed!

 

Monday, 21 August 2006:  Liberty Island

 

Not knowing the roads and being concerned about rush hour New-York-bound traffic, we pulled out before 7:00 this morning to go to Liberty State Park in NJ, where we would catch the ferry over to Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty. The GPS took us most of the way without incident, until it told us to turn left by a shipping transport terminal when we could see flags in the distance directly ahead of us. We followed our eyes into the park and found the terminal. The fellow manning the parking lot gate had us park right next to his kiosk in what was marked as a handicapped spot, but would be visible to him in the kiosk. He was really into us!

 

We followed the path to the ferry terminal, which is housed in an historic railroad terminal. The building is impressive, and the internal tile and exposed metal gridwork supporting the roof vault reminded us of the old natatoria, especially since the ground floor was open all the way to the roof, while there were two balcony floors above that ran all around the open rectangular interior.

 

Jose, the fellow at the information desk setting thins up in preparation for the terminal opening at 8:00, turned out to be a biker and a family man. He and Terry had a fine old time talking sidecars and the age at which a kid could ride. When Terry told him about the onboard GPS and its final faulty directions, he showed us on a map the way that the GPS was trying to bring us in. He said that all the mapping services use a different road along the edge of the park, rather than the scenic drive through the park, so it seems that the GPS wasn’t wrong in how it tried to send us, even though it didn’t look right.

 

We went through security before boarding the ferry, just as if we were going to fly. Given their metal shanks, Terry and I both wound up having to take our biker boots off, and I was better off in that than Terry:  my socks were black, so walking around on the floor in my stockinged feet didn’t leave nearly as much evidence behind as on Terry’s white socks!

 

The ferry ride on the Circle Line ferry Miss New Jersey was a very pretty one, and I went a little crazy with the camera. The sky was absolutely clear, without any of the pollution haze that normally hangs over the New York skyline, so I absolutely couldn’t resist shutter clicking. The ferry from the NJ side stops first at Ellis Island, and then goes on to Liberty Island, while the ferry from New York runs the opposite way.

 

We had tickets for the first timeslot for touring the Statue of Liberty, so we stayed on the ferry until its second stop. And if we thought going through security at the ferry terminal was fun, you should see security at the Statue! Your stuff gets x-rayed while you walk first into a GE puffer/sniffer detector – a machine that puffs jets of air at you and sniffs for traces of any forbidden or hazardous chemicals – and then you walk through the classic magnetometer. We took off our boots again – Terry’s poor white socks were taking a beating! We’re wondering now when those puffer/sniffers are going to start showing up at airports …

 

Inside the pedestal under the Statue, we were met by a funny and personable (and very cute) Park Ranger named Steve, who gave us the tour of the museum in the pedestal. In the antechamber stands the original torch from the Statue, which was replaced in the 1980’s renovation. The original torch had been modified to contain electric lights just seven years after Edison invented the incandescent light bulb. The original copper torch had pieces cut out of it to allow lights to be inserted, and stained glass panels were inserted, but rain came through the holes and ran down inside the statue, rusting the steel framework. By the time of the 1980’s restoration, the interior structural damage was so bad that replacing the torch entirely with a once-again fully enclosed flame was the only option. The new torch was built by French artisans from the original blueprints.

 

Electrifying the torch had caused another unanticipated problem. The Statue stands in a migratory bird pattern, and when the light went on, birds flew into it in the thousands. In one day, the staff picked up over 1,300 bird carcasses! It took many years before the birds began to adjust and the deaths started to drop off.

 

The new torch is gilded, and light reflecting off the gilding makes it brighter now that it ever was with electricity. The original designer of the Statue, Auguste Bertholdi, had opposed the initial electrification of the torch as an abomination, and told people at the time that if they wanted it to shine, they should just gild it – so 100 years later, we finally did.

 

The museum has many neat exhibits illustrating how the statue was built and includes a copy of the lady’s face and one of her feet, graphically demonstrating the size of the whole. Her left forefinger is eight feet long! There’s also a cutaway model that displays the internal structure throughout the Statue.

 

From the museum, we took the elevator up to the observation deck at the top of the base of the pedestal holding the statue, which is as high up as anyone can go any more, since the crown was shut down on 9/11/01. From inside the top of the pedestal, you can look up through large glass panels in the ceiling to see the innards of the Statue, including all the inner supporting structure and the two spiraling helix staircases that people used to climb. Then you can walk out onto the observation deck and get a 360 view of the harbor. With the perfection of the day, I kept going nuts with the camera. Then came the part they didn’t tell you about when describing the tour:  while you take the elevator up into the pedestal, you’re expected to walk the 10 stories down on the interior staircases! We didn’t have any trouble, although the lighting was a little dim, so we stopped on the occasional landings to let faster groups pass us by. We definitely got our steps in for the day …

 

At the base of the pedestal, you have the opportunity to go all the way around the Statue again, this time by walking the circumference of star-shaped Fort Wood, the 18th Century harbor fort that was selected as the site for the Statue. I took advantage of the vantage to take yet more pictures of the lady and the harbor.

 

We learned a lot from Ranger Steve about the symbolism in the Statue, as well as about how it was affected by historical events. The torch holder incorporates things intrinsically associated with America, including corncobs, tobacco leaves, and arrowheads. Liberty herself is dressed in classical Greco-Roman style, in a toga with a stola draped over her shoulder. The tablet in her left hand – which serves very practically as the counterweight for that torch, and her left hand and arm are actually bigger than her right, to help with the stability of the whole – is inscribed with the date of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, a tribute to the rule of law. Liberty, in taking her one step forward, has broken her shackles, which lie in pieces at her feet. Since you can no longer go up into the Statue to view the sculpture from above, her broken shackles are now visible only to people in aircraft.

 

People were once able to climb up all the way into the torch, although the last 42 feet were a narrow ladder that was always dangerous to climb. The torch was closed to the public in 1916 because of an act of German terrorism – called sabotage in those days – when the German government hired recent immigrants to blow up a munitions factory and shipping wharf that stood in what is now Liberty State Park in NJ, our ferry departure point. The resulting explosion was colossal and actually damaged the Statue with its shockwave, shifting the torch arm slightly at the shoulder. The reason that the crown was closed on 9/11 and will remain shut is that the narrow spiral staircases make it impossible to evacuate the Statue quickly if there was ever an incident or threat, so that makes twice that acts of terrorism have affected public access to the Statue.

 

We ate tasty but overpriced pastrami sandwiches on the island, and then took the audio tour around the base of the Statue. That one was pretty disappointing; although it added a little more information, the Rangers do a much better job. Save your money on that one.

 

We took the ferry back, and scrounged a couple of photos of the bike with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Then we went back to the hotel and went swimming, and caught the hotel shuttle to a local Portuguese restaurant. The food was good, but came in massive quantities:  the three of us could probably have split a single entrée and been happy. We took the leftovers back to our hotel room fridge and microwave for dinner the next night.

 

Tuesday, 22 August 2006:  Ellis Island

 

We headed back to Liberty State Park to catch the ferry again, this time to Ellis Island. Terry wore black socks in anticipation of the security screening!

 

We had another gorgeous day with temps in the low 80’s and very low humidity. There was a bit of haze and cloud cover, though, so I was glad I’d gone overboard with the camera on Monday.

 

Ellis Island was excellent! We had purchased the audio tour, and this one was more than worth the money – way better than the one on Liberty Island. You get a headset connected to a little hand control, and you enter the appropriate number into the handset to hear the recording for each room or area. It’s the same system that the Biltmore Estate uses down in Asheville, NC, and it works really well. The audio tour walks you all the way through the museum in the main building, and it is chock-full of information.

 

The Ellis Island facility was closed in 1954 and was abandoned for 40 years. The restoration of the derelict buildings is nothing short of spectacular, and it’s still going on; there will be more to see in years to come.

 

The receiving room on the second floor, where immigrants first assembled, is huge, with a gleaming red tile floor and a cream tile vaulted ceiling. We learned that the tile ceiling was a late addition to the structure, which came about because of the same German terrorist/sabotage attack that we’d learned about at the Statue. The 1916 explosion of the munitions factory at Black Tom Wharf was so massive that the shock was felt 90 miles away in Philadelphia. On Ellis Island, the shockwave broke virtually all the windows, and caused the original plaster vaulted ceiling to collapse. No one was killed, but the damage was extensive.

 

The sheer mass of humanity that passed through Ellis Island boggles the imagination. The staff processed over 3,000 people per day. From 1890, when Ellis Island was designated a point of entry, through 1924, when immigration laws changed to require the screening of prospective immigrants at their embarkation points, over 12 million immigrants came through Ellis. From 1925 until its closure in 1954, Ellis still served as a quarantine and detention facility for inbound immigrants suspected of illness or evil intent.

 

Something I never knew was the Ellis Island itself was actually enlarged three times by landfill techniques. The original Oyster Island was first fortified as a harbor fort, and was expanded to hold the initial processing facility. Then they built an entire second island to hold hospital facilities. Years later, they built a third island to hold a quarantine facility for contagious diseases. Finally, they filled in the space between the second and third islands and created a grassy mall.

 

So far, only the main building has been fully renovated. The hospital and quarantine buildings, which are extensive, have been stabilized and major structural repairs have been done where essential, but they can now hold in their current sealed state for another 15 years or so. Workers are currently stabilizing the New Ferry Building, the low building that connects the first and second islands. I’ll be curious to see how the full restoration progresses, and what the buildings will ultimately be used for. Part of the grassy mall boasts an obstacle course used to train guard dogs.

 

While public access to Ellis Island is limited to the ferry, we did see a bridge connecting Ellis to the New Jersey shore along the Liberty State Park coastline. Presumably staff can park their cars on the mainland and use the bridge. Access to Liberty Island and the Statue is by boat only, for all purposes.

 

After our tour, and eating lunch on the premises, we went into the theatre and saw the 45-minute video on Ellis, which was very well done. Then Terry treated us to fudge (yummy!), which we ate out in the sunshine on the patio dining area in order to warm up after the chillingly air-conditioned theatre.

 

We caught the ferry over to Liberty Island in order to buy, write, and mail our postcards with the special Liberty Island cancellation stamp. We had been disappointed by the paucity of postcards in the Ellis Island gift shop, and we were similarly dismayed by the meager choices at Liberty Island. Each place limited its collection to the subject of the Island – so, no Ellis cards at Liberty, and vice versa – and each had only four to six designs each, of which only a couple were attractive. Still, we spent a pleasant hour at a wrought iron table under the trees on Liberty writing out our cards, and we mailed them before catching the ferry back to Liberty State Park.

 

When we arrived back at the parked motorcycle, Terry and I had the same thought:  there was a better vantage at the end of the parking lot for getting a shot of the bike with the Statue of Liberty in the background right there than we had found at the spot where we stopped for pictures yesterday! Terry drove the bike down to the end of the lot, she and Mom posed while I snapped pics, and then I got in with Mom and gave the camera to Terry. Voila! Proof that we were there!

 

We came back to our hotel to relax and cool down. We rented a movie – Antonio Banderas in the little high school dance movie Take The Lead – and really enjoyed it. Then it was time to reheat our leftovers from Valença’s for dinner. Terry realized that she had three microwave-safe dishes handy, because she had packed ice in three of the Ziplok round containers to keep essentials (like our chocolate Tads!) from melting. So, we had containers for reheating, and fetched plates, utensils, napkins, and apples for dessert from the hotel’s breakfast area. Worked like a charm!

Read Part Two


bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 Sunday, 11 September 2005: Asheville, NC to Virginia Beach, VA

 

There’s not much to say for today: it was our one pounding day on the highway. We got a late start at around 9:00 because we hadn’t really gotten to bed the night before until 23:00, due to laundry issues. That meant that we didn’t reach our hotel today until 19:30. The day was perfect for driving, but a thick haze on the mountains demonstrated that we had done things in the right order: we had the clearest days of the trip when we were coming through the mountains on the scenic drives.

 

Most of the scenery today was pretty boring – divided highway lined with trees – but as we got close to the Tidewater area, we saw lots of cotton fields dotted white with cotton bolls.

 

Monday, 12 September 2005: Norfolk, VA

 

We embarked on our tour of the Hampton Roads area of Virginia by spending the day in Norfolk, one of the busiest harbors in the country. “Roads,” by the way, is a nautical term for safe intracoastal places for ships, so the name describes the cluster of harbors and rights-of-way around and including Norfolk. We found out a little late that Nauticus, the maritime museum, was closed on Mondays after Labor Day, but we wouldn’t have had much time to tour there today anyway, because we booked two cruises in the harbor. We had to do two to experience everything we wanted, because the tall ship cruise in the fall doesn’t go down to the naval base, which we definitely wanted to see.

It was perfect weather for cruising, bright and sunny with a nice breeze. The first cruise, a two-hour tour of the harbor and the naval station aboard the motor cruiser Victory Rover, was educational, relaxed, and very enjoyable. We got the three seats right in the bow: the best view aboard. The civilian and military harbors in Norfolk were both amazingly busy. One Aegis cruiser was in the Speede dry dock on the civilian side, while another massive floating dry dock, appropriately named Titan, stood empty, allowing us to compare them and see their structure. At the naval station, there were a lot of Aegis cruisers in port, as well as several little frigates, four Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear submarines, and three aircraft carriers, two of them nuclear-powered and the third the John F. Kennedy, eponymous flagship of the last non-nuclear design. We saw two massive separate container docks – one of them with eight cranes! – and a third dock under construction. Each container crane can load a container onto a ship every 90 seconds. Container ships haul the bulk of freight these days, and their numbers are growing with the world economy. Did you know that 100 freight-truck-size containers are lost overboard in rough seas every year?

 

In the afternoon, we took a second two-hour cruise of the civilian harbor only, this one on the wooden tall ship schooner American Rover. We were truly under sail for this cruise! We picked up some sailing tips from the senior hands instructing the junior crew. Crew consisted of four sailhands and the captain, and they were fun to watch. At this season, the Rover does only the civilian harbor cruise, but in the summer and on weekends, they do a three-hour version that goes down to the naval station as well. The deck is covered with chairs, and there are also beautifully appointed cabins fore and aft below, with a little souvenir shop amidships.

 

Being on the schooner led to a bit of unscheduled excitement, because on both our way out and our way back, while at the mercy of the wind during raising or luffing sails, we stayed on a heading that brought us too close to the drydocked Aegis cruiser, triggering the alarms and an automated warning that proclaimed, “Alter course immediately. You are entering restricted space. Alter course, or we will fire on you.” An Aegis against a schooner would be a bit of overkill ... The crew didn’t seem too concerned about actually being shot at, although they did ensure that we put about as soon as possible!

 

When we arrived in Norfolk, we learned that there had been a huge boat expo over the weekend. All the boats were still parked on trailers on the grass or moored in slips and in one inlet that had been created by anchoring a barge across the mouth of a recessed berthing area. While we were waiting for our morning cruise to depart, we saw the crane on board the barge raising the two massive anchor pilings that had locked the barge in place: they had to have been over twenty feet long, coming to a point on the bottom, with the diameter of big telephone poles. Wow! We didn’t see the prices on most of the boats for sale, but we did see tags on two pretty small motor launches: one was $135,000 and the other was $179,000, and the only apparent difference between them was that the pricier one had a permanent hard roof over the pilot house. I shudder to think what the cruisers and yachts were going for!

 

My personal favorite of those was the private yacht Nice and Easy, out of Georgetown in the Cayman Islands. She was fully as long as the American Rover, with a grand staircase leading down from her upper cabin to her bow. I’d love to know who owns her. The crew was madly scrambling to clean and polish. Terry settled for trying to heft the massive anchor from the WWII battleship U.S. Antietam.

Oh – and Norfolk has mermaids! As Chicago had Cows on Parade and DC had Party Animals, Norfolk had mermaids, who showed up on pedestals all along the waterfront.

 

Tuesday, 13 September 2005: Portsmouth

 

Today was our first really cloudy day, with the weather news full of threats about approaching hurricane Ophelia, and we took the bike in for its 55,000 mile service at Bayside Harley-Davidson in Portsmouth, VA, across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk. Because they had two police bikes in with priority, they said that we probably wouldn’t be able to get the bike back until about 15:00. The dealership was on High Street and the Hampton Roads Transit bus route 47 ran right past, so we called HRT to check on how to get into downtown Portsmouth. Turns out that the 47 is the bus to downtown, so we took about a three-mile bus ride into the heart of town. Portsmouth has two visitor centers and the bus dropped us near one, so we picked up the little tourist book and a walking tour map of the Olde Towne Historic District, and stepped outside to orient ourselves. We encountered a very pleasant man on the sidewalk who asked us where we wanted to go, and said that he lived in Olde Towne and would enjoy walking with us and showing us some of the sights. Turns out that he used to be the director of the public library system, and he knew his town’s history and loved sharing it. He gave us more information than was in the walking tour guide book. For example, he told us the story that the first man whom Lafayette embraced when he reached Portsmouth in 1824 was a slave who had volunteered during the Revolution to spy on the British forces. He had worked in Benedict Arnold’s headquarters in Portsmouth, and later for Cornwallis. When he reported the decrease in British forces in Portsmouth and the absence of key senior officers, that was the clue for Lafayette to realize that the British were clustering their forces at Yorktown, where they could be cut off. The slave took Lafayette’s surname for his own, and Lafayette wrote him a letter setting out what he had done. The state legislature, reviewing the letter, granted the slave his freedom.

 

Our former librarian also described the interior of what are called “English basement” style homes, which are common in Olde Towne. In these house, the family rooms are accessed by a door at the ground floor, but the grand entry to the public areas of the house where guests would be received is a stairway leading up to a porch on the second floor. Someone who wanted to avoid guests could sneak out below while they waited above! He was a delightful guide, and left us at his own historic house.

 

We continued our walking tour with the printed guide. For the first time on this trip, we were gently asperged with occasional sprinkles of rain, but they weren’t even enough to get us wet. We stopped for lunch at a place recommended by someone at the Harley dealership, a European bistro named Brutti’s. The food was delicious, and we would recommend it in turn. When we left the restaurant, it was raining in earnest, so we simply sheltered under a handy awning while I read aloud from the tour book on Portsmouth’s history and architecture. By the time I finished, the brief rain had stopped, and we walked down to the waterfront in search of the only first order Fresnel lens displayed outside a museum or functioning lighthouse (cool!), as well as the Portsmouth Shipbuilding Museum and the Lightship Museum.


Before we got there, though, we got an eyeful from the harbor. A massive cruise ship, the Fantasy, had been ensconced in Titan, the floating drydock that had been empty yesterday, and was gradually being lifted out of the water by the drydock. All of the ship’s lifeboats had been taken off and were parked in the water all around the drydock, like an escort. At the same time, Speede, the other floating commercial drydock that had contained the Aegis cruiser that threatened to fire on us yesterday, was nearly entirely submerged in order to refloat the cruiser, which was steaming gently out of the dock. An unexpected treat – drydocks in full operation!

 

The Lightship Museum, a permanently moored lightship now renamed Portsmouth (by tradition, lightships were given the name of their station, painted in huge white letters along the hull), was unfortunately not open, but the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum was receiving visitors. It’s a small museum, but includes some magnificent models and a diorama of the original town. It also had a very nice film on the lightship, so we got to see it even without being able to see it, so to speak. Lightships were basically portable lighthouses that could be moored wherever needed to provide warning or control water traffic, and the men who crewed them lived onboard for weeks at a time.

 

As we were finishing the museum, my cell phone rang: the bike was finished. We hopped back on the bus to return to the H-D dealer and reclaim the bike. It was close to 15:00 when we were on the road again, so we just took a three-wheeled cruise over to the beach part of Virginia Beach to see the sights. It looked just as tacky as every other beach town we’ve seen, and nothing called to us to dismount from the bike and walk around. The sky was totally overcast, the wind was up, and the surf showed whitecaps, but it was still hot.

 

Before we actually reached the beach area, we passed Oceania Naval Air Station, which was invisible in the local fog. As we passed, we were saluted by a pair of what looked like F-15’s that took off and disappeared into the solid low overcast too fast for me to be entirely certain that they weren’t F-22 Raptors instead. Visibility was nonexistent above about 1,500 feet.

 

We returned to the hotel and went for a swim in the very chilly pool, which actually felt quite good in contrast to the 80 degree air and 80% humidity. While we were in the pool, we met Rick Davis, the new manager of our hotel, who gave us recommendations for eating when we hopefully go to Chincoteague tomorrow, hurricane Ophelia willing. Then we finished off our 10,000 steps by walking to Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner.

 

Wednesday, 14 September 2005: Chincoteague and Assateague

Our luck with the weather held: hurricane Ophelia stayed far enough south that we had no rain at all during the day. We pulled out after breakfast to drive the 105 miles to Chincoteague. Passing the Navy’s amphibious base on the way, we took Highway 13 over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, one of the seven structural engineering wonders of the world. This structure consists of man-made islands linked by long bridges, with two long tunnels under the bay to allow major shipping traffic to cross above. This thing is so long that you can’t see one end from the other. I don’t think we ever managed to see more than two islands ahead, and while the haze was part of that – yesterday and today were both very humid – I don’t think we’d have done much better on a clear day, assuming that there ever are any here ... From one of the islands housing a tunnel entrance, we saw a coal collier on the way out, and a container ship on the way back, sailing through the open shipping channel above the tunnel.

 

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is incredibly flat, even flatter than Illinois, and not far above the water level. I don’t think I’d been expecting quite as much farm land as we saw, and we certainly weren’t expecting all the big trucks as we found on the bridge and the road north. The route was busier than we’d anticipated.

 

Just before reaching Chincoteague, we passed the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Wallops is a favorite home of model rocketry, and the Flight Facility had major radar and radio telescope facilities visible from the road, as well as runways. NOAA shares one corner of the NASA facility, and we saw an airplane both coming in and going out. It didn’t occur to me until later, but the aircraft looked like a P-3 Orion, and I’m wondering if it might have been a NOAA hurricane hunter, staging out of Wallops instead of Florida to investigate hurricane Ophelia on its way north.

 

Chincoteague proved to be less tacky-beachy than Virginia Beach, coming off as quaint instead. We had a delicious lunch at Bill’s, one of the restaurants recommended to us by our hotel manager, and then walked around a bit. Our waitress told us how to find the local Department of Commerce, where we drove to pick up maps. From there, we drove across onto the neighboring island of Assateague, and used Mom’s Golden Passport to gain admission to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor center was lovely, with nifty displays not only on the local flora and fauna, but on how the center itself was constructed to be ecologically sound, using geothermal heating and a/c, and being surrounded by its own wetlands to process the center’s water waste.

 

We cruised the driving trail around the refuge, looking for wildlife. Because the weather was so hot and humid and the speed limit on the circular drive was so low, we rode without jackets for once. We saw a lot of birds, including egrets, ducks, and hawks. Alas, we didn’t see any ponies – they were doubtless being intelligent and staying in the shade of the trees, instead of being out in the hot sun grazing on the marsh grass. From the photos in the center, many of the ponies look bloated, and we learned that it’s because they eat grass with a high salt content and then drink a lot of water; they retain it just as we do!

 

After making the full circuit, we drove back to the mainland and our hotel, warily watching the foreboding skies and wondering whether we’d need to break out the rain gear. It looked dubious as we drove back into Chincoteague, but the further south we went, the less threatening it looked. By the time we reached our hotel, we actually had sunshine. We walked to our neighborhood Denny’s for dinner, and got home dry.

The forecasters were saying that the storm should blow in tonight. Hopefully most of the rain would come in the night, but in any case, we’re figuring on a largely indoor day tomorrow, visiting the Nauticus Museum and the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin tied up beside it. Depending on time and the weather, we may also visit the Jamestown Settlement.

 

Thursday, 15 September 2005: Norfolk, VA

 

We wound up spending this still completely rain-free day entirely in Norfolk, and had a delightful time. We drove into town and parked in the same public garage on Plume Street that we’d used before (we hadn’t been able to park in the first garage we’d tried, because the bike somehow didn’t trip the weight plate to print a ticket and open the gate!) and walked right across the street to the waterfront. We saw ample evidence that many preparations had been made for Ophelia, although she had ultimately fizzled: a massive flood gate closed off street access to the inlet where the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin is berthed, and a business office just across the street had sandbags piled two feet high in front of the door. Even as we began our walk, though, workers were preparing to open the flood gate as the concerns about Ophelia retreated with the diminishing storm, and the sandbags were absolutely dry, not even damp from rain.

 

Since we were early for the museum, we took our morning constitutional along the waterfront, admiring two lovely ships moored there from opposite eras of the age of sail. One was a gleaming modern steel, chrome, and aluminum twin-masted vessel all dressed in silver and white with mechanized sails that would go up and down at the touch of a button. The one crewman I met and complimented answered in a Kiwi accent. The other ship, equally beautiful in its own way, was the schooner Virginia, a symphony in black and polished teak.

 

A lovely and unexpected feature of the Norfolk waterfront is a green pagoda surrounded by gardens, and when we reached it, we discovered that it is the Taiwan Thanksgiving Pavilion, a gift from the container shipper Maersk. It was built in Taiwan, then disassembled and shipped Stateside, and reconstructed here. The pavilion stands in an exquisite oriental garden, and houses a teahouse and gallery that can be rented for meetings. We met the retired horticulturist who had, years ago, volunteered to build the garden and who now dedicates part of his time to assist in maintaining it, when he isn’t volunteering at the Botanical Gardens or working on the French Renaissance garden he designed for the waterfront condo where he lives. That garden was private, but we could see from the public walk four little ornamental trees pruned into mushroom-cap shapes, like things I remembered from Versailles. We also learned from him that a couple of the big private yachts we had seen tied up in the inlet (and which looked smaller than the beautiful Nice and Easy I’d admired on our first visit) were $5 million yachts from the Cayman Islands, sitting out the hurricane season in safer waters.

We went on to tour the museum Nauticus and the Ohio-class battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin, and discovered that the two of them really were an all-day event. We bought the 45-minute audio tour of the ship, which was well worth the price. It walks you all around the main deck of the ship, and describes what you’re seeing. The Wisconsin is one of only four Ohio-class battleships ever built, the biggest gun ships in the world. The massive 19-inch 50-caliber guns throw shells the weight of a Volkswagen Beetle! Parked next to the museum, the battleship forms part of the Navy’s ready reserve, and could be reactivated in jig time if the Navy felt the need of her.

 

Nauticus itself had more than we could take in. We never even got into the naval museum section, although we did cover most of the third floor. We saw the nifty (and timely!) film Stormchasers in their main theater, which was an experience in itself. When you walk into the theater, you’re looking out a huge window onto the Elizabeth River. Waiting for the movie to start is hardly boring, when you have all of the busy traffic on the river to watch! The motorized film screen moves on tracks to cover the window from left to right when it’s time for the movie to begin.

 

Another exhibit takes you aboard an Aegis cruiser, and gives you a taste of having to make judgment calls and react to potential threats to your ship by pressing the right buttons to trigger the response you think appropriate. It moves way too fast for you even to hit the buttons, once it ratchets up to combat speed, and helps to explain the level of automated computer controls that the ships rely on. Having come close enough to a docked Aegis to trigger the warning alerts, I could really appreciate this exhibit!

 

One gallery of the museum is given over to temporary exhibits, and the current one was Powers of Nature, all about weather and earthquakes and volcanoes. It was all excellent, with a lot of opportunities for hands-on experiences. And to make things amusing and educational wherever you went in the museum, there were While you’re here, did you know ...? factoid posters related to the touring exhibit in all the bathroom stalls and on the bathroom walls! I didn’t find two identical posters in the different bathrooms we stopped in. The signs were clearly designed to be replaced from time to time, so they might be different every time you visited.

 

Just outside Nauticus, on the opposite side of the museum from the inlet housing the U.S.S. Wisconsin, the city is building a new terminal for cruise ships, hoping to lure tourist traffic away from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. People will be able to walk right off a docked cruise ship into downtown Norfolk and all its attractions, starting with Nauticus. We didn’t see any pictures showing what the final structure would look like, and I’m wondering how much of the view from the museum will be blocked by the new terminal, but only time will tell.

 

At the end of the day, we stopped for dinner at Surfrider West, a seafood place not far from our hotel recommended by our hotel manager. It was good food, but Terry and I both agreed that Coastal Flats in Fairfax was better.

 

We went back to the hotel to do hand laundry on undies for tomorrow, and to pack for the run back to my house (where real laundry work is definitely in the picture – the Virginia Beach Hampton had no laundry facilities!). We plan to visit Jamestown Settlement along the way.


Friday, 16 September 2005: Jamestown to Reston, VA

 

The last day of the ride for me dawned mostly sunny again, making this trip a perfect score for rain-gear-free riding. We reached Jamestown Settlement a little before it opened, and were among the first to get tickets. The ladies welcoming us graciously let us leave our leathers and helmets in the store room behind the counter, since the bike was loaded with our luggage and had no room for our usual routine of locking our kit in the bike.

 

Something to understand, here. Jamestown Settlement and the historic site of the original Jamestown are two different things. The historic Jamestown is a national park and the site of an archaeological dig exploring the original 1607 settlement. Jamestown Settlement, just a few miles away, is a recreation of that original colony, complete with a Powhatan Indian village; the wooden palisade fort and its buildings, including the governor’s home and the church; three replica sailing ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery; and fields and craft areas along the riverfront where crops are grown and tools and structures are built as they would have been back in the day. The Settlement welcomes you with a large and beautiful visitor center that includes a theater, museum display galleries about the colony, its people, and their cultures, and a cafeteria. The Settlement is in the throes of expansion in preparation for the quadricentennial celebration in 2007 of the founding of the colony. If you want information on activities at the Settlement, they have a lovely website at www.historyisfun.org/jamestown/.

 

After watching the introductory film and browsing some of the museum galleries, we embarked on a tour of the Settlement. The tours are conducted by costumed interpreters, who are dressed appropriately for each area and who hand off the tour groups from one area guide to the next. Our guide to the Powhatan Indian village was a woman in deerskin who explained the structure of the village and some of what is known about the culture, crafts, and beliefs of the Indians. Some things, the Indians themselves have never explained, including the ring of wooden plinths carved with different, distinct faces that forms a ceremonial dance circle in the village. Other interpreters were engaged in crafts, demonstrating how things were done.

 

Our guide handed us off to another woman at the docks, garbed as an English colonist, who described the four-month voyage in what seemed to us cockleshell vessels before turning us loose to explore the largest of the ships, the Susan Constant. The three ships are all seaworthy, and one was even disassembled, taken to England, reassembled, and sailed back to Virginia, recreating the original journey – although with a few safety backstops the originals didn’t have! We learned that all three of the ships were rented recently to a Hollywood film company making a movie about the Jamestown colony, called The New Land. When it comes out – sometime early in 2006, I think – we’ll have to go and see those ships under sail, and compare the fictional film version of the colony to what we learned during our visit to Jamestown.

From the docks we went to the riverfront crafts area, where we learned about the crops the colonists grew and could check out the dugout canoe that the Settlement is building, using the technique of burning out a tree trunk. Our guide was a young woman who had just come off a stint of picking off by hand the cutworms that like to decimate the tobacco plants. She was happy to take a break from field work to play tour guide, in company with another guide who was learning the script for this area. It’s a little ironic that the female interpreters we saw outnumbered the males, given that there were no women at all in the colony at its start.

 

We walked up from the river to the fort, and found a lot to see. A wooden palisade encircles a number of buildings, including a church, the governor’s house, the armory, the blacksmith’s shop, the guard house, and more. Periodically during the day, the interpreters – and there are more men here – demonstrate muskets and cannon, and talk about the distinctions made between the soldiers, the craftsmen, and the political leadership of the colony. Church attendance was mandatory, so it’s appropriate that they use the church as the location to provide your overview of life in the fort, before leaving you to explore on your own.

 

Jamestown Settlement was well worth seeing. The same folks behind Jamestown have a similar living history setup at Yorktown, and I will have to go back on my own sometime and visit. And when all of the expansion is completed for the big 2007 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first permanent English colony in America, I can only imagine what the experience of a visit will be like!

 

We had lunch at the Settlement (the bread pudding was a HUGE serving!), and then hit the road to pound our way back home to Reston. That was some of the worst traffic of the trip, given that we wound up on the infamous I-95 headed toward Washington, which is notorious for bad traffic. But we eventually pulled in at my house without incident. The funny thing was, the sky was cloudy and threatening rain, but nothing happened until we were within about 10 blocks of my house, when the sky did start to fall on us. We just parked the bike and scampered into the house, and within 20 minutes, the rain had stopped. We offloaded the bike, and I did laundry so that Mom and Terry could go home clean. For me, that was the end of the ride.

Saturday and Sunday, 17-18 September 2005

 

Mom and Terry got back to Milwaukee without incident – at least, nothing they told me about! – and did our traditional end-of-ride stop at Leon’s Custard. This time, we couldn’t get a precise mileage for the trip because of the time we spent without a functioning odometer, but the ballpark estimate for the Mid-Atlantic Tour total is 3,900. The end!

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

2005: The Biker Babes Cruise the Mid-Atlantic

 

This year, Mom and Terry rode the bike out from Milwaukee, WI to pick me up in Reston, VA, and we went on from there to play tourist in the mid-Atlantic region. After catching some sights in the vicinity of Washington, DC, we took the wonderfully scenic run down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway to Asheville, NC; rode the twisty Tail of the Dragon; toured the Biltmore Estate; ran across to the Virginia coast and toured the Hampton Roads area; crossed to the Eastern Shore to visit Chincoteague and Assateague; and stopped in Jamestown Settlement for a history lesson on our way back to Reston. Then Mom and Terry rolled back to Milwaukee, and our 2005 trip was over.

 

But enough of the short version – on to the details!

 

2-3 September 2005: Milwaukee, WI to Reston, VA

 

I can’t say much about this bit since I wasn’t along, but Mom and Terry pulled out of Milwaukee on Friday, 9/2/05, overnighted just past Columbus, OH, and reached Reston without incident on Saturday, 9/3/05. We ate an early dinner at a favorite place of mine called Coastal Flats, in Fairfax. It’s dolled up to look like a beach place, even though there’s no beach remotely close, and serves the absolute best lump crab cakes that I’ve ever had. These things are the size of your fist, and are solid-packed crab. Terry also discovered the joys of cauliflower mash. This place serves absolutely delicious food. Fortunately for me, it’s close to the newest set of movie theaters in my area, and I sometimes stop for lunch/dinner before or after a matinee show.

Sunday, 4 September 2005: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

This was the one day we let the motorcycle rest. Instead, we took my new convertible – a 2004 Chrysler Sebring Touring that I call Skywise, which I bought back in February when my Olds died – and went to the National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located out at Dulles airport. The Udvar-Hazy Center is a marvelous place, a giant hangar into which you could drop the entire Air & Space Museum from the Mall without touching the walls. It was dedicated on 11 December 2003, so it’s quite young. It’s home to such aircraft as a Concorde, the B-29 Enola Gay, the original Boeing 707 Dash, the bright yellow Northrop Flying Wing, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and the SR-71 Blackbird that still holds the air speed record for crossing the US from sea to shining sea (under 68 minutes!). Aircraft stand on the floor and are suspended at two levels above ground, allowing for inspection from multiple angles. Aircraft suspended in midair are in configurations appropriate to the specific machine, so the little aerobatic Pitts Special Lil Stinker is flying upside-down and Leo Laudenslager’s Beautiful Obsession is hanging from her prop, while the F4U Corsair is crabbing for a carrier landing, with arresting hook deployed. Between the floor and the observation ramps, it’s a great place to get your walking in! It’s less than half-stocked so far, not that you’d notice the gaps. One delightful feature is that computer monitors are scattered around, stocked with 360-degree photos from inside the aircraft, allowing you to see the cockpits and other key internal features of the ships. The museum has an IMAX theater, and so-far-exclusive rights to the IMAX film Fighter Pilot, which does indeed put you in the cockpit of fighter planes. Another feature not to be missed is the Engen Tower, a seven-story structure topped by a 360-degree glass observation floor. Since the museum is located between the two major runways of Dulles airport, that means you’re located in the midst of traffic to and from the airport, almost all of which is flying right past the tower either on its way in or on its way out. The floor immediately below the observation level includes a nifty display on air traffic control.

 

Two cautions, if you plan to visit. The museum, like the rest of the Smithsonian, has free admission, but the ground it sits on doesn’t come free, so – there’s a $12.00 charge for parking. A cute trick that the locals know, and something that can save money if you have several days across which to spread your visit, is that parking is free after 16:00. Since the museum doesn’t close until 17:30, you can digest it without charge in one-and-a-half-hour bite-sized segments, or just go there at the end of the day when you’re looking for a nice way to wind down. There’s also a shuttle service that runs between the Udvar-Hazy Center and the Museum on the Mall for a round-trip fare that’s about the same as the parking cost, so if you’re starting from town with no transport of your own, you can still get there. The other thing is that the food concession at the museum went to McDonalds, alas, and there’s absolutely nothing else in the way of eateries anywhere close. Once you leave the museum, you’re not far as the roads roll from multiple restaurants, so if you’re starving when you’re finally ready to leave, succor is near.

 

Monday, 5 September 2005: Washington, DC

 

We took the bike into DC for Labor Day, and parked it in the garage at my office. That prompted some fun because of security at my Federal building. I’d warned Mom and Terry that they’d need photo IDs handy, and I had my work one, which is coded to admit me to the garage without charge (I carpool to work, so we pay a monthly fee) – but the guards couldn’t see enough of our faces through the helmet visors to be satisfied that we matched our ID photos, so we had to take off our helmets before they’d let us in. Then Terry had to drive us down the curving ramp while I balanced my helmet on my thigh and Mom juggled two in her lap! Fortunately, there was plenty of parking available right on the first level, so we locked up our gear and went to play tourist.

 

This was the first time any of my immediate family had been out east since EPA moved in November 2001 from its hideous old offices down at Waterside Mall in Southwest DC to our beautifully  renovated quarters right on Constitution Avenue in the heart of scenic Washington, so the first stop wasn’t on any of the usual tour agendas: I played host to a quick look inside EPA East, the former Interstate Commerce Commission building, one of the classic, elegant federal buildings from the 1930’s that line the National Mall. It also made for a convenient place for a pit stop before serious touristing ...

There were two things new since Mom and Terry last came to town that I wanted to show them: the World War II Memorial, which is on the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, and just opened this past Spring; and the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum, at the other end of the Mall between the Air & Space Museum and the Capitol building, which opened in September 2004, while we were on the California ride.

 

The World War II Memorial is an easy stroll from my office, just past the Washington Monument. They finally completed construction on security measures for the Monument itself this past Spring, and I’m happy to say that they are unobtrusive ones. The major bit is a walkway around the Memorial that’s set into the slope of the hill, and bordered upslope by a stone wall just the right height for weary walkers to sit on for a bit of a rest while taking in the view. It’s no accident that the lovely wall is also too high for vehicles to jump. Welcome to the post-9/11 security mindset in Washington, DC.

 

The World War II Memorial is an expanse of brilliant white stone walls, pillars, and arches around a fountain. Bronze sculptures and bas reliefs in the walls bring scenes from the wartime years to life, and there’s a solemnity to the place that feels right. The only drawback to it is that, being out in the open, it offers no shade, so it’s a hot place to visit in summertime Washington.

 

In contrast, the American Indian Museum, a good long walk away, was built to evoke the natural environment. The building is all brown curves and surrounded by gardens of native plants, including a marsh and a cascading waterfall. The central area where you enter is intended for ceremonial use, and can host dancing and storytelling. We took in only a few of the galleries, which are organized to display all of the individual native cultures with both historical and contemporary materials. If you visit, don’t miss the introductory film, which is presented using holography in a unique theater that surrounds and involves you.

 

The American Indian Museum is also the best place on the Mall to catch lunch. The Mitsitam café serves food from the different cultures represented, and you can browse through the café taking bits and snippets from every area, or simply focus on one. We opted for items from the Pacific Northwest, and had cedar-planked juniper salmon sandwiches with sides of watercress salad, honey-baked golden beets, or green beans with wild mushrooms. Delicious! I will definitely have to go back and try dishes from the Plains, the Southwest, and South America.

 

Tuesday, 6 September 2005: Reston to Waynesboro, Skyline Drive

We started our trip by going back into DC. I’d gotten permission and security clearance from the General Services Administration, which manages our building, to park the bike down in the loading dock courtyard for EPA East, so my co-workers could come down to see the bike and meet Mom and Terry. I’d gotten permission – but the gate guards hadn’t quite gotten the word, so I had to do some fast talking and pull out the copy of the permission email that I had, with some good foresight, printed out and tucked into my jacket pocket. The sweet talk and the email copy worked, though, and we were able to park out of the way under an arch while non-stop deliveries kept coming in to the loading dock. We spent about an hour there and had a blast with all the folk who came by to visit. Terry – bemoaning the various lacks in my kitchen – had baked chocolate chip cookies for the guards, so they were not terribly disturbed at all the human traffic heading down through the loading dock doors. A few of my mates even got their pictures taken sitting on the bike, much to their amusement. A merry time was had by all, and we didn’t hit the road until nearly 10:30.

 

We ran 66 down to Front Royal, where Skyline Drive begins. A funny on that drive: we passed a car that had a small dog in it, and that dog went absolutely nuts at sight and sound of us, leaping up and trying to get through the back window of the car! Fortunately for a dog with more spirit than brains, the car window, although open a bit, wasn’t open quite enough to let him through, but he just wasn’t going to stop trying. We leapfrogged with that car a few times, and the dog never stopped trying to get at us, barking his head off all the way. We laughed about him for miles afterward.

 

We entered the Drive after catching lunch at the China House Buffet in Front Royal, and spent the rest of the day cruising gently down to Waynesboro, stopping at every scenic pull-out to oooh and aaah and take pictures.

 

What a beautiful drive! We stopped at the ranger station at Dickey Ridge to pick up our map, buy Sean some presents (you’ll just have to wonder about them until you see them!), see the little Park Service movie, and marvel at the view and take our first photos. Lovely! The weather was perfect, and the park nearly empty. We encountered very little traffic moving in either direction. The rangers remarked that we could see farther than usual for the season, because the humidity had dropped and it was extraordinarily clear, lacking the usual haze of summer.

 

We took our fun “we were here” establishing photos at Mary’s Rock Tunnel, 32 miles into the drive. But we hit our high point even before that, when we encountered a young black bear! The bear was ambling across the road ahead of us, and stopped in the other lane to stare at us as we approached. Terry slowed, but then kept up a steady pace, and the bear just watched us come. We were less than 30 feet away, wondering what we should do, when the bear finally decided that maybe we were scary and not just strange, and took off loping into the trees with a sudden burst of speed. Wow!

 

Some time later, we passed a deer grazing at the side of the road. The deer never even raised its head to look at us, despite us being in the near lane. We laughed about the deer being less spooked than the bear! Terry saw another deer later on in the day, equally calm about our presence.

 

We also saw red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soaring over the hills, and saw a big bird on the ground – a pheasant or turkey, maybe? – hopping off one of the CCC-built stone walls that line stretches of the road. It was glorious! And did I mention the views from all those scenic turn-outs?

Given our very slow pace – the speed limit was 35, and stopping at every view added to that – we didn’t reach our Hampton Inn room until 19:30. Bit late for us, but it was a spectacular day! We caught dinner at a Cracker Barrel, where we ran into two young men who were so impressed with our Mount Rushmore flag shirts that they took a photo with us. More pictures of us roaming the wide world ...

 

Wednesday, 7 September 2005: Waynesboro, VA to Mt Airy, NC

 

Today we rode the first half of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and found it to be very different from Skyline Drive. Civilization and private property are much closer to the Parkway than to the Drive: for much of the southern half of today’s run, we saw farms to either side of the road. The first half of the run was still quite mountainous and wild, but that changed – although not before we saw three deer and a groundhog, to add to our wildlife lists. The first deer was running away from us very early in our ride; the other two, an hour or so further in, were still young enough to have spots! The two young ones were right by the side of the road, and were less spooked than the big adult who fled from us.

 

At the beginning of the run, we stopped and walked around the frontier farm at Humpback Rocks. That was a nice little break from riding. Mom pointed out tools she remembered growing up with as a child, back on the farm. We woke up the chickens in the weasel-proof coop; we were the first visitors of the day, even though we’d waited to start until most of the morning fog had burned off. When we first approached the coop and the cackling suddenly burst out, we thought we’d tripped a recording on some proximity sensor, but shifting shadows inside the structure eventually told us that those chickens were real and just protesting the wake-up call!

 

Yesterday, we pulled off into every overlook and marveled. Today, we started skipping them as the day wore on. We often saw better views from the road, because in many spots, the trees had grown so large since the Parkway was built that they actually blocked the view from the overlooks! Also, few of the overlooks had much descriptive information – a clear difference from the fee-based Skyline Drive, which had more interpretive signs. In addition, we felt how the slow pace – the speed limit on the Parkway is 45 – was affecting the length of our day, and we chose to arrive in Mt Airy earlier than we had reached Waynesboro.

 

That’s not to say that there weren’t things to see along the way. The mountains were still cooperating with great views, although we could see a little more haze in the air than we’d had for the Skyline Drive run. We took more establishing pictures at mile 169, Rocky Knob. We also saw Puckett’s cabin, which had belonged to a woman who lived to 102 and worked as a midwife delivering babies from age 50 right up to her death. Wow! Ironically, since she reputedly never lost a mother or child to any fault of her care, none of her own 24 children survived infancy.

 

Thrown off schedule by the slow pace, we left the Parkway at Roanoke in search of a late (14:00!) lunch, and lucked into the Cornerstone Grill, where Mom had a chicken quesadilla and Terry and I had veggie burritos with no peppers. Yummy!

We arrived at our Hampton in Mt Airy at 18:00. The pool was outdoors and pretty cool, but we went swimming anyway, and then walked next door to dinner at a Chinese buffet. I wasn’t hungry, but Mom and Terry grazed the abundant buffet. Tomorrow, we’ll finish the Parkway and pull into Asheville. Don’t think we’ll pause at many overlooks, though.

 

Thursday, 8 September 2005: Mt Airy to Asheville, NC

 

We had another gorgeous day for traveling, once the morning fog burned off. We pulled out of Mt Airy a bit after 8:00 and got back on the Parkway for the next 200 miles. Wildlife today included a couple of small flocks of wild turkeys (and Ruthie, we saw these, so we know they’re real!).

 

Along the way, we took the run up to Mount Mitchell, at 6681 feet the highest point east of the Mississippi. What a view! I took the graveled pathway up to the lookout tower, and the little hike was worth it. While the skies weren’t as clear as they would have been many years past, the conditions were nearly optimal for viewing. I only hope that the photos do it justice.

 

Before taking the climb, we got off the Parkway at Blowing Rock for lunch, and had a delicious meal at a charming Italian place called Pssghetti’s (yes, like “spaghetti” mangled by a little kid). We each had a bowl of soup, and split a single yummy entree serving of veggie lasagna.

 

We saw one spectacular sight along the way that I wasn’t able to capture with the camera: the Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain. This is best seen coming down from the north, as we did the route: that way, you get an incredible view from below of this ribbon of concrete wrapped around the side of the mountain, hanging suspended in the air. They built the viaduct, supported on piers, in order to avoid the environmental harm and structural difficulties of blasting a roadway on the mountain itself. Instead, they built a facility to cast the concrete road sections on-site, and then started laying sections, building the bridge by using the bridge. It’s a jaw-dropping feat of civil engineering!

 

Oh – a little note. In the wake of Katrina, gas prices have been all over the map. Perhaps the surest sign of how far off the modern beaten track we are is that many of the gas stations we’ve stopped at have old pumps that can’t be set for a price higher than $1.99 per gallon (which must have seemed positively forever out of reach in the 1950’s!), so they’re labeled with hand-written signs that the prices shown are per half-gallon. And since these same pumps are also so old that they can’t accept credit cards at the pump, the stations require payment in advance.

 

Friday, 9 September 2005: The Tail of the Dragon

It was seriously foggy when we left the hotel this morning, bound 120 miles away into the Great Smoky Mountains to ride the Tail of the Dragon, Highway 129, crossing between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Smokies lived up to their name, heavy and roiling with smoke-grey fog, but the highway was easy to travel and by the time we reached the beginning (or end) of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap, the fog had lifted and it was bright and sunny.

 

The Dragon is an 11-mile stretch of two-lane road with 318 curves. Technically, we did it backwards: most folk run it in the other direction, in order to stop and celebrate at the biker resort at Deal’s Gap. When we passed the resort on our way in, the place was crowded with bikers evidently preparing to make the run, and we realized that there were two Harley rallies underway in the vicinity, near enough to tempt riders to take the additional trip to do the Dragon.

 

We ran it alone, happily. There was one biker who came up fast behind us and passed us, but apart from that one idiot, we ran it at our own pace. Dumb bikers try to see how fast they can do it; intelligent ones know that accuracy and precision are the true tokens of a tamer of the Dragon. One guy on a crotch rocket learned that the hard way: taking the ride in the opposite direction from us, he was going too fast and lost his line through a curve, coming into our lane as we were going up. Terry stopped us fast and smooth. Since we’d just exited a right-hand turn, she was already on the clutch and brake, and she was riding with an eye out for fools, having been warned by John at the House of Harley to beware of oncoming traffic. The other guy braked hard and managed to skid to a stop just barely in front of us, still vertical. Behind his visor, he was definitely a lighter shade of pale. He gave us a very embarrassed apologetic nod, got back into his own lane, and we both continued on our way. I’m betting he paid a lot more attention to his cornering line for the rest of the ride.

 

Apart from our close encounter of the biker kind, I don’t have many clear images of the ride. Of course, I spent at least half of it sideways, since I was doing the leaning thing on every right-hand twist!

 

We finished the Dragon without any other event, and stopped at the bottom for lunch at the Home Place café. What an overlooked gem! This little place seemed to be missed entirely by the biker crowd, but they served the best cheeseburgers I’ve had in a long time. Then we stopped at a little souvenir shop, and Terry came out with our commemorative shirts for the trip: ones depicting on the back the map of the Tail of the Dragon. We did it!

 

There’s a photographer who makes his living by selling photos of bikers doing the Dragon’s Tail, but unfortunately for us, he either wasn’t quite fully set up or was taking a break when we came through. Terry said she spotted him, but he wasn’t at his camera, and there weren’t any photos of us up on his website afterward to prove that we made the run. Sigh. Too bad. There definitely wasn’t any way I could have taken any pictures!

We took the scenic route back home to our hotel in Asheville, curving up through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. More gorgeous views! To get into the park, we went through the tourist trap of Pigeon Forge, TN, only to find that the town was also playing host to a massive auto rally. There were antique vehicles and roadsters aplenty, all parked on display on either side of the main drag for at least a good mile. Judging from all the camp chairs set up on the curb, the cars were going to form up in a parade at some point, but when we went by, they were just parked on display in every lot adjacent to the street, many with hoods up and doors open to invite inspection. I have NEVER seen so many old cars so brilliantly restored and shown off. Apart from the car rally, Pigeon Forge seemed very much like Branson, MO: a rolling madhouse of tourist attractions laid end to end for a couple of miles.

 

We went through two other tourist traps along the route as well, on our way out of the Park: tackily picturesque Gatlinburg, and Cherokee, part of the Indian nation. We didn’t stop, though, and rolled right past the grounds of the Harley rally at Cherokee.

 

We needed a Harley dealer by then, because about the time we entered the Park, we lost the speedometer and odometer when a cable connection at the front wheel broke. Not wanting to pay a $35 entry fee for the rally, we went on by to the nearest Harley dealer in Waynesville, hoping that the other drivers were doing something approximately close to the speed limit, since they were all we had to go by. After a few false starts and delays, the dealer managed to fix us up and sent us on our way again at 18:00. We learned from the guy at the Harley front desk that the auto rally at Pigeon Forge happens a couple of times a year, and goes by the name of Rolling Rods or Rocking Rods, or something similar. Car nuts of the world, take note!

 

We had veggie wraps at the local Waffle House, and got back to the hotel too late for the laundry I had planned. We did hand wash instead, and decided to wear our new Tail of the Dragon t-shirts for the tour of the Biltmore Estate tomorrow.

 

Saturday, 10 September 2005: Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

 

We spent the day at the Biltmore. Wow! The mansion, built in six years by George Vanderbilt from the 1889 ground-breaking until the opening party on Christmas Eve1895, defies description, but what really got us is that the estate isn’t just for show: it’s a working farm and a working winery. The restaurants serve produce from the gardens and meats smoked on site.

The house itself – all four indoor acres of it – is magnificent, and paying the extra six bucks for the audio tour is well worth it. The audio has a lot that isn’t in the little guidebook, and it does very well at evoking the flavor of a time and place. In most of the rooms, beyond the main narration are additional sidebar recordings that you can choose to listen to, if you have time. Some of these explore the music and entertainment of the period, some detail the original artwork that hangs on the walls (Renoir, anyone?), others describe from letters what visits at the mansion were like, and more explain details of life either above stairs or below stairs that would never occur to people like us who hadn’t been born yet when the house was in its heyday. Some recount amusing anecdotes about the renovation of the house, such as the story about the gold and purple silk and velvet bed covers and chair cushions in Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. The original fabrics had worn and frayed with time, and of course, identical replacement fabrics couldn’t be found. The restorers, looking at the books and records for the house, found the name of the textile mill in France that had produced the fabric originally, and learned that the company was still in operation. When they approached and rather diffidently asked if it might be possible to get more of this fabric, the mill informed them, rather haughtily, that of course it would be possible; they had done it the first time, hadn’t they? The mill still had the loom on which the original had been woven, and produced the identical pattern for the restoration. About the only thing that the recording didn’t tell you was how much it cost ...

 

The whole time I was in the house, I kept having flashbacks to the Robert Altman film Gosford Park – except that the Vanderbilts were more generous to their servants (even the servants’ rooms had windows, and the servants had sitting rooms as well). If you haven’t seen the film, you should: it’s a murder mystery that isn’t about the murder at all, but rather dissects British society at the beginning of the twentieth century, with all its class distinctions and societal expectations. But all the business exposed during the Biltmore tour about running a house at the turn of the century, including the separation of the sexes among guests as well as servants (you couldn’t have a female servant entering a gentleman’s bedchamber to attend to the gentleman’s wife, so of course the wife needed her own room!), and the absolute essentials of dressing properly for each separate activity of the day, making it necessary to travel with multiple steamer trunks of clothing even for a weekend visit, took me right back into that Gosford Park world. Seeing the laundry and valeting rooms for real, after seeing them in the film, was enlightening.

 

The basement of the mansion – which includes a bowling alley, a gym, and an indoor swimming pool with underwater electric lighting and individual changing rooms (you couldn’t walk through the house in a bathing or exercise costume or robe, what a scandalous thought!) – houses a display on how the estate was designed and built. It is amazing to consider that the mature forests on the grounds didn’t exist before the house was built, but were planted in order to perfect the setting. The house was designed to be as fireproof as possible, with no wooden beams and with a complex fire detection and alert system that divided the house into sections, something very advanced for the time. From the very beginning, the house was wired for electricity, and included both lighting and refrigeration systems. The grand main staircase is built out of stone, and is cantilevered. The sheer immensity of the project boggles the mind, and putting it into the context of the time makes it all the more astonishing.

 

The extensive gardens in the 250 landscaped acres surrounding the house are beautiful as well. Even this late in the season, the rose garden was magnificent (with 2,300 roses, it should be!), and the conservatory was blooming with growing things of every type and description. We didn’t see all the gardens because we didn’t have time, and some of them – like the Spring Garden – simply weren’t in their best season. During spring and early summer, the grounds must be a riot of color. Each of the gardens has its own different character, from excessively mannered Italian and French designs through more casual collections of flowers and shrubs. Words can’t do the gardens any more justice than they can the house.

 

We saw the winery, which didn’t even exist until 1970, proving that the estate is a living entity that changes with the times. The building that now houses the winery used to house the Biltmore dairy. Given its location, this winery is the most-toured one in the country, even beating out Napa Valley wineries in California, but at this time of the year, most of the equipment is idle. It still makes for a fascinating tour, and provides a lot of information on the process of wine making.

 

We all decided that you can easily spend more than a single day at the Biltmore, because you can’t possibly see everything in one day: the place is too huge. I will definitely come down in Skywise during convertible weather sometime in the not-too-distant future, and maybe I’ll even stay at the luxurious Inn on the premises, so I can really sample the wine before I buy it and take it home!

 

We went to church today, since tomorrow is our one big long haul highway driving day, from Asheville, NC to the Hampton Inn between Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA. But we’ll arrive clean: it’s laundry night tonight.


Read Part Two

 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 September 21, Tuesday: Solgohachia, AR

 

Mom actually let us sleep in until 6:20 this morning – a new record!

 

We took the two hour drive east and a little north to see Mom’s brother Reuben (called Shorts) and his wife Jackie in Solgohachia. We spent the bulk of the day with them, catching up on family and a home-cooked dinner of chicken and dumplings (Terry was watching carefully to record the recipe!), green beans, Shorts’ trademark corn bread, and a cobbler made with wild muscadine grapes. Yum!

 

Both Shorts and Jackie looked great. He’s bounced back well from heart surgery, and she came through chemo with flying colors. Their son, Beau, who’s restricted to a wheelchair, lives in his maternal grandmother’s house a few miles away, and Shorts and Jackie spend a couple of hours each day helping him out. Their daughter Vickie, an artist living in Dallas with her husband John, has been having some intestinal troubles and will probably be having surgery soon. Vickie had been disappointed that we hadn’t brought the bike down to Dallas this trip, but it was just too far south for the time we had, and we’re planning a Texas run one of these days. Their other son, Chris, shares a house in Florida with his helpmate Fred, and Shorts had just gotten back on Sunday from helping Chris and Fred with cleanup and minor repairs after the hurricanes this season. Chris has been living with AIDS for 23 years now and needs crutches to walk, but he’s a brilliant cook who really should have been a chef.

 

We had a great visit and a lot of laughs. They still have the black poodle named Belle whom we met on our first biker trip, although at 8 years old, she’s fatter, slower, and more grey. Their other dog is a young yellow labrador whom Jackie rescued as a stray, named Canyon for Fremont Canyon, where Jackie found her. Canyon was exiled to the yard because she was just too excited to listen to or obey even simple commands, but Belle was a sweetheart who was fierce in defense of Jackie. If you went to hug Jackie, even if you’d just been petting Belle, the dog would bark fiercely on the automatic assumption that the hug was an attack. Maybe it was a good thing that Terry and I were wearing chaps!

 

We left about 16:45 and got back to our hotel at 18:45. Mom and I went for a swim and a spa session while Terry decided just to rest. We had a good laugh on the highway from a John Deere advertising billboard: the billboard showed a picture of a piece of Deere equipment, with the caption, “Here, kitty, kitty ...”  One in the eye for their big competitor, Caterpillar!

 

September 22, Wednesday: Fort Smith, AR to Kansas City, MO

 

It was another glorious day for the ride, bright and sunny with a steady breeze that kept it from getting too hot. The 540 North from Fort Smith was a beautiful highway with gorgeous scenery. The hills of the Arkansas Ozarks deserve their reputation for being scenic: every time we topped a hill or rounded a curve we saw another expansive vista.

 

We picked up 71 when the 540 ran out, and spent most of the day on it. It was a funny road, sometimes a divided interstate, and sometimes a one-lane-each-way. Right on the outskirts of the pretty community of Bella Vista, a major project is under way to widen the highway. They are doing some serious blasting, but fortunately for us, the blasting delays weren’t due to begin until at least half an hour after we’d gone by.

 

By 11:00, we knew that we were only about two hours out of Kansas City, and since we knew that the bike was due for an oil change, we decided to press straight on to our hotel, offload out luggage, get to the Harley dealer, and then look for food in the vicinity.

 

We found our hotel in Lee’s Summit without any difficulty, but the Harley dealer proved a little trickier because construction on the highway closed a key ramp and threw us off. Still, we got there a bit after 14:15, to find that the Blue Springs dealership was celebrating a birthday, complete with a decorated sheet cake topped with a little toy Harley! We didn’t have any cake, though – there were no restaurants in walking distance of the dealership, so we decided to go for dinner to the Outback Steakhouse next to our hotel, and that meant keeping big appetites.

 

They finished the bike around 15:30. As we were suiting up to leave, my helmet ate my glasses; the left earpiece broke clean off the temple stem. We went in search of an optical shop, and found Glenn Optical in Independence, MO. The shop optician was a sweetheart. Because my lenses are no-line bifocals, he guessed that trying to put my current lenses into new frames would be a bad idea even if he had frames that would fit them, because the angles and height might be wrong. He suggested trying to replace the temple piece instead, and went hunting in his store for an old one that might do. He came up with a solid tortoiseshell piece that actually works quite well; I’m a little lopsided, but not enough to cause any difficulty. When I asked what I owed him, he waved me off, saying that it was just an old piece. We thanked him profusely and gave him a big wave when we drove off.

 

That had killed enough time for Outback to be open, so we went back to the hotel, dropped off helmets, jackets, and chaps, and went out to dinner. We split the Bushman mushrooms, and Mom and I split a salmon dinner while Terry had the Rockhampton ribeye steak. It was yummy as always, and we headed back fro a swim.

 

As we walked in the door, however, the lady desk clerk, seeing us, jokingly asked when she was getting a ride; she said she’d never been on a motorcycle and had always wondered. That was all Terry needed to make the offer, and the next thing the clerk – whose name was Sonia White – knew, she was sitting in the sidecar wearing Mom’s helmet and a huge grin. Terry took her around the neighborhood, and halfway through the ride, transferred her to the back seat. I took pictures, and promised to email them to her. She told me to send them to her boss as well, so they could be included in the Hampton newsletter. (Sent them, by the way: never did hear back, though.)

 

We had a lovely swim and a nice time in the hot tub, and then planned tomorrow, when we’ll do all the sightseeing we kind of missed today. We’ll go to the Harley plant to take the tour and raid the gift shop, and also visit the Pony Express National Memorial in St. Joseph.

 

September 23, Thursday: Kansas City, St Joseph, and Independence, MO

 

Today was our day to play tourist. We started out with the Harley-Davidson plant at 8:00, went on to the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, and finished off with the National Trails Historical Museum in Independence. It was a day for learning!

 

The KC Harley plant was something to see. This is the newest plant, which assembles Sportsters, Dynas, and V-Rods, and which also assembles the Revolution engines for the V-Rods. Jobs at the plant are coveted: for the 20 openings they had last year, they had 8,000 applicants.

 

There are a lot of differences between this plant and York, the only other one I’ve toured. The only chain-driven line is the automated one that carries frames and parts into the painting booth. The actual assembly lines have the structures riding on frames that the workers can adjust with a foot pedal to raise or lower the assembly, so they don’t have to bend or stretch to add parts. If they need to lift heavy pieces, they can use ergonomic assistance devices that reduce the weight of a part from 79 or 80 pounds down to 8 to 10 pounds. The amount of robotics is astonishing, and watching the robots work – from laser cutters to die presses to welders, sanders, and buffers – is amazing. One sanding robot working on gas tanks pauses between the various grades of sandpaper to take readings on whether the finish is within the required tolerances for the next operation, and will continue the current level if it’s not ready to go on to the next. Wow!

 

There were a lot of statistics thrown out that I don’t remember, including how many pieces are involved in the assembly of the different bikes. Some things that I do remember are that the V-Rod has only a four-gallon tank – I know a few places we were in the desert on this trip that someone shouldn’t take a V-Rod!

 

We picked up pretty American flag/eagle tour shirts to commemorate our visit, and then headed up the road around 9:50 toward the Pony Express museum in St. Joseph.

 

That was another neat one! The museum is in the actual building used as the original Pony Express station. The barn even has a hand-dug well, which archaeologists discovered in 1991, and which has been restored to working condition (it had been filled in with cinders and rubble after a city municipal water system was installed many years ago). There is a short film about the 19-month duration of the Pony Express service, along with other displays about the men who started it and those who rode for it. You can even transfer the special mail pouch they used from one saddle to another, and hop on board to feel what it was like to sit a saddle with 20 pounds of mail packed into four pockets draped over it. A tableau eternally captures a rider about to depart. This is a very small museum, but well worth the $4 admission (even less with AAA).

 

We met a retired couple also touring the museum, who told us that they had sold their house, distributed heirlooms to their kids, bought a motor home, and spent the last two years on the road seeing America. Way to go!

We learned that Dick Cheney was campaigning in downtown St. Joseph today, so we planned our course to avoid downtown like the plague as we headed one stop further north to eat lunch at Cracker Barrel.

 

After lunch, we headed back south and east toward Independence and our last museum of the day, the National Frontier Trails Museum. We didn’t get all the way through this one before it closed for the day, for two reasons: first, AAA seriously miscalculated when they said that 30 minutes to an hour was sufficient (we decided that whoever wrote that one doesn’t actually read exhibits they walk through, or listen to recordings in the exhibits!); and second, AAA didn’t mention the availability of a wagon ride. We took the ride, which was short but fascinating. The wagon was a simplified modern version of a prairie schooner, pulled by two Missouri mules (did you know that the first mules up here were actually brought from Mexico, when Santa Fe still belonged to Mexico?) named Harry A. Truman and Edward – well, I missed the last name, but he was Truman’s business partner. Harry and Ed stepped out briskly on rubberized hooves, drawing us along a stretch of the Santa Fe trail. The town has paved the road, but has left it as close as possible to its original state – it’s a single lane (ironically enough, however, one way going the wrong way!) which occupies the swale worn down by the all the wagons heading west. A wagon swale is, literally, the path worn down by wagons going west, and the Santa Fe Trail is fully five feet lower than the land to either side! Tens of thousands of wagons left Independence every month.

 

Our driver was full of stories about not only the trail west, but also the pre- and post-Civil War period, with the virtual war that was waged between Kansas and Missouri for years both before and after the major conflict. Both sides were brutal and guilty of atrocities, and many of these explained why, in the post-war years, Frank and Jesse James were considered heroes in Missouri for stealing from the mostly Union banks and trains. When they stole the money, they also took the rest of a bank’s notes, including liens and mortgages, making it impossible for the banks either to sell liens and mortgages or to foreclose on them. Is it any wonder that, when Frank James was arrested and taken to Independence for trial, he was greeted with a parade and acquitted of all charges? Bit of a biased venue problem ...

 

The museum itself relies a lot on firsthand accounts from letters and diaries to convey the experience of traders along the Santa Fe trail and pioneers along the Oregon (and related Mormon) trail to Oregon and California. The museum splits its exhibits to run separately down those two different tracks.

 

The gift shop had some really neat-looking books, not that any of them would have fit on the bike!

 

An afterthought on the Pony Express: I hadn’t realized before the importance of the Civil War to the southern and central trails west. The South was able to control the Santa Fe trail, with all of its trade potential. The Pony Express used the shorter but much more difficult central route, risking snowstorms and Indian attacks, and the North used that route as well because it was more secure for their purposes.

There’s also an apocryphal story that attributes the development of the doughnut to the Pony Express. As the story goes, the young ladies flirting with handsome Johnny Fry, the first Pony Express rider to depart Independence, would bake cookies and pastries to give him along the way, but since he couldn’t slow his horse, they baked them with a hole in the middle so that he could grab them, hold them, and eat them at the gallop!

 

All day we flirted with the cold front that was marching storms from west to east, but we got nothing more than mist, and that all of twice: as we pulled up at the Pony Express stable, and just before we reached the Frontier Trails museum. We didn’t really even get wet.

 

September 24, Friday: Kansas City to St. Louis, MO

 

We made the four-hour or so run to the Gateway to the West. We were following the front that had passed east yesterday, and the weather was delightful for riding. We started with the fleece, but shed them at our MacDonald’s morning stop. Up until the last gas stop before that morning break, we rode with a particularly lovely sky: the sun rising amid clouds, bracketed by parenthetical rainbows at our 11:00 and 1:00 high positions. It was as if the sun were surrounded by a complete circle of rainbow, of which we could see only the two opposing arcs. On the right, it ran, left to right, ROYGBIV: on the right, it was reversed. It stayed consistently in the sky for over 90 minutes. Wow.

 

As we approached St. Louis, we saw the opposite side of the highway entirely shut down, and then saw what looked suspiciously like a Presidential motorcade speeding down it, heading the opposite direction from us, praise be – the backups we could see on the ramps and the feeder streets we huge. We figured it had to be either Bush or Cheney.

 

We ran past St. Louis and the Gateway Arch on our way to our hotel in Collingsville, IL. The traffic in St. Louis was nasty, but we kept with our original plan to do the Arch after a lunch at Ruby Tuesday.

 

Getting back in to the Arch was simple and relatively painless. There’s a parking structure right near the Arch and we parked on the top level, getting a couple of shots of the bike with the Arch in the background.

 

We walked to the Arch, getting a little additional treat in the fly-by of three B-1 bombers. Alas, but I just wasn’t quick enough to get the shot of the three planes framed within the curve of the Arch. It stands alone, with a pretty good-sized museum build underground beneath it. The museum was running an exhibit on the Lewis & Clark expedition. There are two movie theaters, but we didn’t buy tickets for either of them. We chose to buy tickets for the 15:00 tram to the top of the Arch, and then for the 16:30 riverboat cruise.

The tram is a trip! A combination elevator, rack railway, and cable car, it’s divided into seven tiny cars like minisubs, with 5 seats crammed inside around the not-quite-circular car. The cars are oblongs rather than spheres. There are small windows in the narrow, 4.5-foot high doors, through which you can see some of the Arch’s internal structure as well as the switchbacking stairway that also goes all the way up. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t take this ride! The cars sometimes tilt on gimbals as the track runs partially sideways up the curve; sometimes they’re going straight up. It’s weird.

 

At the top, the cars leave you off near the top of the staircase, and you walk up into the top of the curve, which is lined on both sides with small, long, narrow windows. The walls slope up to the windows and are carpeted to that you can comfortably lean right up against them to get a good vantage through the windows. The view is incredible: on a clear day you can see 30 miles. We weren’t quite that bright and clear, but it was still neat. And the ride was a kick! We went down the opposite side from the one we came up.

 

When we came down, we spent about 20 minutes exploring the lovely museum, and then made our way out of the Arch and down the granite steps to the Mississippi River and the riverboat docks. The riverboat tour was an hour long, and very interesting. We got to see grain barges being loaded, and another barge being filled with scrap metal. We got the history of the bridges across the river – the Eads bridge was built in 1874 and is still in use, and has been put on the roster of historic places. We also got great vantages from the river of the city and the Arch, and I kept my fingers crossed that some of those pictures would turn out despite the lowering light as clouds moved in and the sun went west.

 

After the cruise, we came back to our hotel for a swim and a dip in the hot tub. Last night’s hotel won best bathroom fan: this one won best spa of the trip. This spa had air jets absolutely everywhere, so no matter where you sat, every part of you got massaged.

 

Tomorrow, we ride home.

 

Oh – as we departed the Arch and hit the MLK bridge over the Mississippi, the odometer on the bike clicked over to 50,001 miles!

 

September 25, Saturday: St. Louis, MO to Milwaukee, WI

 

Well, we’ve done it: 5,689.5 miles is the official record for the trip. The final odometer reading was 50,390.6.

 

We pulled out at about 7:30 for the run home. Yesterday and the day before, as we traveled, we noted that a few of the farmers along the way already had their corn in. Today, as we ran through Illinois and Wisconsin, we saw every farmer who hadn’t already finished this corn harvest out in the fields, taking advantage of the fine weather to bring in the crops. There was furious activity on all sides.

 

There was also more color in the trees we passed. In Arkansas, we’d seen the color in the hills; here we saw it even on the flat. Fall has definitely arrived.

The ride was gorgeous most of the way, once the sun got above the early clouds, but we never took off our fleece shirts and that proved a blessing as we drew near to Milwaukee, because we saw from a long way off the clouds that brewed above Lake Michigan and the eastern part of the state. It would have been a chilly ride at the end under the clouds if not for our lovely black fleece Harley shirts!

 

But most of the day was sunny, and perfect for riding. We saw a lot of other bikers on the road, including some obvious large groups out for the Saturday morning ramble. Perfection!

 

The day had several amusements and echoes of previous rides in it. Our morning MacDonald’s apple snack and gas stop was in Springfield, waving distance from our very first trip hotel enroute to Branson. Lunch was at Delaney’s in La Salle, IL, the place we ate last year on the way to Rockford, where Mike and Mary’s bike wouldn’t start again once lunch was done. (Just to be safe, we parked our bike in a different spot than the one they had used ... <grin>) Our last gas stop before Milwaukee was the BP in New Rochelle beside the Iron Skillet where we’d eaten our first road breakfasts on both the Branson trip and this one. We’re establishing Illinois traditions for our trips west and south!

 

We really luxuriated in this last day of the ride. We reached Milwaukee in time to offload the luggage, grab a potty stop, and go to church for the 4:30 anticipatory service. Of course, we went to church on the bike in our leathers. After the mass, Father Turner, Mom and Terry’s pastor, was really funny: standing outside the church chatting with parishioners, he crossed himself when he saw us coming! We had a good laugh.

 

We stopped to gas up and buy milk (and 3 powerball tickets, but no joy), and then went on to the official, traditional last stop of the ride: Leon’s custard. Terry had her customary jumbo heavy chocolate marshmallow malt, while Mom and I had hot fudge sundaes. And with those, the ride was over.

 

After all the miles we did, Terry will need new tires on the sidecar and the front wheel, so the bike will be going back to the House. It spent almost the entire month of July there with engine trouble, so our totally trouble-free trip was a very fortunate thing. I think the bike likes taking trips as much as we do!

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

September 15, Wednesday: Phoenix, AZ

 

This was a slower day. We got up, ate breakfast, went swimming, and then called the hotel manager up to the room to look at Terry’s bed, with the stuff still sticking out. The manager arrived with her head of housekeeping. Turns out that, as part of the hotel’s conversion to all of the Hampton chain’s new amenities, they had ordered new bases and queen-sized mattresses. The bases arrived and were installed, but the new mattresses and box springs for the second and third floors didn’t arrive, and wouldn’t be delivered until next Monday.

 

They offered to move us to a converted room on the first floor, which we accepted – but we couldn’t help but wonder about all the other people who’d be sleeping on the second and third floors!

 

We killed the major part of the day at the Heard Museum, which displays the history and art of Native Americans, particularly of the American Southwest. This was a lovely museum, separated into multiple galleries that were small enough not to overwhelm, but full of information and interest. One display covered the experiences of children taken to the Indian boarding schools, where they were, for most of the schools’ existence, forcibly separated from their families, cultures, native languages, and beliefs. Another gallery provided information on the 21 separate, recognized Indian nations in Arizona.

 

Other galleries explored how cultures use images to tell stories in pottery, weaving, jewelry, and paintings. In one display was a large collection of Hopi katsina (or sometimes, katchina) dolls, representing the spirit figures that dance in the ceremonies of the Hopi calendar year.

 

There were many exhibits aimed toward children and designed to be hands-on. Simple puzzles in pictures accompanied narration in which key words were spoken in native tongues: you would guess the meaning of the word from context, and could lift the appropriate image from the puzzle – a horse, a yucca plant, a child’s mother – to see the native word written below. There were stations where kids could learn braiding and beading techniques, or make figures from pipestem cleaners. In the Indian boarding school exhibit, children were urged to take a composition book and work through entries and exercise, starting with being given a new “American” name. Very well done!

 

We had lunch at the museum’s trendy Arcadia café, which served very original and tasty sandwiches and salads. We ate out in the courtyard beside the long pool and fountain, under the pleasant shade of trees. The museum is laid out with colonnades that reminded me of the design of the Franciscan monastery in DC. It was a lovely place. And the gift shop was full of gorgeous and fascinating things, even if we didn’t buy any of them.

 

We headed back toward our hotel, but ran into unexpected traffic that led us to abandon our plans to find a laundromat before dinner (this Hampton didn’t have a laundry room, alas). Instead, after a water stop, we headed out to this evening’s restaurant, the almost legendary Someburros (Terry talks wistfully about going there for dinner even when she’s in Milwaukee) where we were supposed to meet just the “inner circle” of Terry’s Emtek friends – only to discover that it had closed for renovation on September 12! There was another Someburros across town, but when Terry used her cell to call Cindy about changing plans, both decided that it would be unrealistic to have folk going that far, so they settled instead on a kicky take-off of a train depot near the university, the Depot Cantina. I had a great time while we were sitting in the outdoor area waiting for the rest to arrive and watching all the airplanes flying directly overhead on final landing approach to Sky Harbor airport. The fun continued when we got to our table and discovered that our indisputably male waiter was wearing a nametag that proclaimed him to be “Melissa”! The food was good, and the company was the same: Cindy, Greg, and the two Kim’s.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention a couple of salient things. One is, we drove back to the CAF museum to take pictures of the bike somewhere distinctively Arizona. The other is that the temperature in Phoenix has been about 105 each day. It doesn’t seem to be bothering Mom much, but Terry and I are sweating out fluids about as fast as we can put them in – and that’s without wearing the chaps!

 

September 16, Thursday: Phoenix to Flagstaff, AZ

 

Today was a short run that took all day. We left Phoenix around 8:30 on 17 North, but took a scenic detour onto 89 to see Cottonwood and Clarksdale, because at dinner last night, Cindy had told us about a scenic railroad that offered a really neat tour. We got to the Verde Valley railway depot a little after 11:00, and Terry put us on the standby list for the train, which would pull out at 13:00. Meanwhile, we had mesquite-grilled cheeseburgers at the depot café and browsed the gift shop. After a while they called our names, and we were able to buy coach tickets. (The difference between coach and first class is a buffet luncheon served on board the train.) The ladies behind the counter in the depot kindly let us leave our chaps, jackets, and helmets behind the counter, since we couldn’t lock them in the bike because of all our luggage.

 

We boarded at 12:45 and pulled out on schedule. The train alternates closed coaches with open cars covered by sun shades. Tickets are sold only for the closed cars, and each closed car has its accompanying open car, so people can choose whether to ride indoors or out. Needless to say, we spent most of our time outdoors in our open car. Our onboard guide, Marlene, was the woman who had initially put us on the standby list. She stayed out in the open car most of the time, augmenting the CD narration and pointing out features of the landscape, including blue herons in the Verde River and turkey vultures and bald eagles on the cliffs and riding the thermals. Guides in each car were equipped with radios so that creature sightings could be reported all along the train.

 

The one thing I didn’t get pictures of (for which I’m kicking myself now) was the slag heap from the copper mine that once dominated the district. The slag heap was fully 40 feet high and covered many acres of land. It looked as if a very peculiar solidified lava flow had created a butte across the valley. When the smelter was running, people down in the town saw burning rivers of slag creeping and flowing across the pile. A corrugated steel retaining wall held the molten slag away from the railroad line, but in the years since the mine and smelter closed, much of that retaining wall has rusted and fallen away, leaving the pattern of corrugation impressed into this bizarre layering of successive slag flows. Very strange.

 

Also along the way were caves used by various native tribes long ago, which can be spotted sometimes by the soot stains on the cliff walls from their ancient fires. The eagles’ nests can be spotted because the bird droppings paint a white smear across the cliff around the nests.

 

The train ride takes four hours – two narrated hours up, and two quiet or musical hours back. The train runs along the course cut by the Verde River, so always running beside the train is a veritable oasis of green. The river valley contains a riotous mix of species, ranging from prickly pear cactus, ocotillo, yucca, and mesquite to cottonwoods, black walnut, white sycamore, and oak. It is positively lush. One interesting sidebar is that parasitic mistletoe lives on many of these tree species, and because mistletoe incorporates the DNA of its host, it looks different on every different type of host tree. Its leaves will ape the shape of its host’s leaves – heart-shaped on a cottonwood, feathery on mesquite – but it will always be a somewhat different color than its host. In the winter, if this host species drops its leaves, the tree will be bare except for the clumps of mistletoe.

 

Something I particularly enjoyed was watching the changing play of colors on Black Mountain. The top is volcanic black basalt, but lower down, it’s streaked with grey and red. Gorgeous.

 

The train goes through a tunnel, which is neat – the walls are only a few inches from the sides of the cars, so they warn you very strongly to keep all your limbs inside. There are no lights on the open cars, so while you’re in the tunnel, it’s black as pitch, but you can still sense the close bulk of the walls slipping past just inches away, even though you can see nothing at all.

 

The train pauses on its longest, highest trestle, which offers a great view back up the river valley. When the train is rented for weddings, the service is conducted on that trestle, and after the vows are spoken, the train’s horn sounds to announce the happy news!

 

Along the way, we saw a house for Sean, except that it’s probably out of his price range – it’s up for $650 to $750,000, a lovely house on seven acres with a Verde riverfront. That may not seem like very much land, but the house is entirely surrounded by the Coconino National Forest. There’s only one other house nearby. Of course, there’s also a rail line across the river, with tourists going by every day ... The midpoint of the ride is the Parker ranch, where the train is stopped on a siding, uncoupled from the engine, and left standing while the engine and power cars swap ends – the last car out of the main station is the first car back, and that one was ours.

 

Once we got back to the train station, we reclaimed our gear, said a cheery farewell, and got back onto 89 heading the other direction, bound for Flagstaff via Sedona. Sedona was pretty in a trendy, Southwestern yuppie kind of way, but it really was the gateway to a spectacular set of canyons that signaled yet another dramatic change in the landscape. As soon as we entered the canyons and started to climb, we were cut off from the sun by the steep cliffs, and the temperature dropped at least twenty degrees like a stone. Suddenly, we were in the midst of towering evergreens. The deciduous trees we’d seen in the Verde valley were nowhere to be found here – just tall, dark pines and firs. The air was cool and moist, and the desert we’d been traveling through for days on end seemed impossibly far away, even though it lay just on the other side of the mountains we were crossing through.

 

This was definitely a scenic route – very twisty ups and downs and breathtaking views – but I’m sure Mom and I saw a lot more of it than Terry did, given the challenge of keeping the bike on the road. We passed an accident where a biker had apparently gone down and slid on a curve not long before we reached the spot. There were many people on hand, and as we continued on, three cop cars passed the other way enroute to the scene.

 

We came out of the canyons as abruptly as we had gone in, to find ourselves nearly on the edge of Flagstaff. Flagstaff appears to have much more in common with the forests and the canyons than with the desert lower down, curtained with a preponderance of evergreens.

 

Tonight was another laundry night – two loads, this time! – and wouldn’t you know, despite this being among the larger Hampton Inns we’ve stayed at, they had only a single guest washer and dryer? For the first time, I had competition for the machines, but I lucked out by getting into line behind two gentlemen who were just finishing their respective washer and dryer loads. I’ve definitely seen Hampton guest laundries on this trip; I should do a laundry guide!

 

September 17, Friday: Grand Canyon, AZ

 

While we were going through the Flagstaff end of the Sedona canyons, we had noticed a woodsmoke smell. We learned today that there’s a programmed burn in progress. Well, the fires were actually started by lightning strikes, but they were in a remote spot due for a controlled burn, so the fires are being allowed to burn freely within a carefully maintained perimeter.

 

Today we drove the 30 miles to Williams, the home of the grand Canyon Railroad. this was great – a 2-hour train ride up to the Canyon, followed by lunch at a lodge and a motorcoach tour along the rim of the Canyon. But even before the train ride, there was the Wild West show.

 

This was a hoot!  We had four cowboys working the crowd: Buck, Shiloh, Deacon, and Grady. Buck was the principal, wielding a bullwhip and teaching children to snap the whip and flick a drinking straw off a post. The setup was a blatant act: false wooden fronts through which you could see a parking lot. Three horses were tied to the fence rails, and when Terry asked about petting the horses, Buck told her to go ahead. They were sweet animals. The one in the photo with Terry was a true character. He was standing in the sun, clearly bored and dozing off. His head would start slowly nodding down toward the ground, until he reached the end of his rope; then he would startle, stumble a half-step backward, and his front end would go down as if in a cat-stretch while his rear end went up as he caught his balance on his hind hocks. It was hilarious, and it happened repeatedly while we waited for the show to start. The horse never actually fell over, but it kept looking iffy!

 

The Wild West show setup itself was hilarious. Buck warmed up the crowd with smart comments: to ladies wearing capri pants, for example,  “You know, if you washed them pants in cold water, they wouldn’t ride up on you like that.” Deacon took ladies’ hands, blatantly admiring their jewelry, and making no bones about being a train robber “because that’s what I do.” What a scream! the four eventually started the show by trying to figure out what to eat for breakfast, what with “Ma” being in jail and all of them being broke. Eventually, they decided to try to sucker a tourist from the audience into playing poker with them, while all of them were cheating with cards up their sleeves. They picked on a big, heavy-set guy in Bermuda shorts and carrying a flowered tote bag. When Grady claimed to win, boasting a hand containing five aces, the other three all shot him. Of course, the sheriff arrived, and the cowboys tried to blame the killing on the tourist. In the end, the marshal dropped them all, although not without much silliness and many laughs, including Deacon being told to do his death scene again to let the tourists get pictures, and on his second fall, catching himself before he would land in a pile of horse manure, scooting instead a few feet off to the side to collapse dramatically onto clean dirt. Afterward, all the cowboys got back up, brushed themselves off, and posed for pictures with their horses.

 

This same bunch later on “held up” the train on its return trip to the station, with all the same hilarity. Why did the train stop to take on the robbers, you ask?  “Because none of ‘em would jump from a galloping horse to a moving train for minimum wage,” our dome car hostess, Birdie, sagely observed. Birdie, by the way, was the mother of Amber Rose, our hostess in the different dome car we had going up.

 

Anyway, on the ride up, we grazed on a continental breakfast of fresh fruit and bakery. We were serenaded by Colonel Jim Garvey, a cowboy singer, from whom Mom bought a CD during the afternoon ride back. He was offering a special deal for riders on the train today: a flat $10 instead of the usual $15 plus tax, in honor of the railroad today celebrating the 103rd  anniversary of the first Grand Canyon railroad’s founding by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, and also the 15th anniversary of the re-creation of the current railroad company by the couple who bought the track and derelict rolling stock after it had lain abandoned for 15 years. During the summer, the train runs with restored antique steam engines; the rest of the year, including now, the engines are diesel.

 

We reached the Canyon at noon, just in time to transfer to a bus and be ferried to lunch at the Matewas lodge. The food was tasty, the logistics of handling the crowds were impressive, and then it was onto the bus for a tour around the rim.

 

First stop was Hermit’s Walk, with its view of the Bright Angel Trail and the stretch of the Colorado River qualifying as Class Five rapids. Next stop was Hopi Point, with the “lucky seven” inscribed in the rock. I don’t know the name of our last stop offhand (or maybe the last stop was Hopi, and I’ve forgotten the middle one ...), but the view was the most panoramic of all. Photos simply can’t capture or convey the sense of immensity, nor can they capture the voice of the wind crying over the rocks and through the Canyon pines and junipers. Looking down from the rim at tiny sprigs of green far below, it was hard to realize that those green dots were 80-foot-tall mature cottonwood trees, or that the Colorado River was 300 yards wide at one point that looked like a thick piece of yarn. Off in the distance was the smoke from the ongoing burns.

 

Our bus driver was a good guide, explaining the plant and animal life and the ideas behind the formation of the Canyon. Time, land movement, water, and erosion – and what results!

 

Several of the folk on the train were staying overnight or longer at one of the rim resorts, so passengers shuffled around for the trip home, with amusing consequences. We learned as we were disembarking that the Biker Babes had already become legend in several cars on the train, with the story of us and our cross-country trip traveling with the passengers on our first train dome car and on our bus to spread through the other cars where those folk rode for the trip back. What a stitch!

 

On the ride back, in addition to our galloping bandits, we saw cattle spooked by the train (which runs through unfenced range, meaning that the cattle freely cross the tracks), as well as very un-spooked pronghorn antelope and even a family of four elk. Wow!

 

All in all, it was a great, fun, majestic, silly, and memorable day.

 

For the next three days, we do nothing but drive: tomorrow to Albuquerque, NM, then to Amarillo, TX, then to Fort Smith, AR. We start our last week of the trip with tomorrow’s ride.

 

September 18, Saturday: Flagstaff, AZ to Albuquerque, NM

 

Not much to say for today: basically, all we did was drive, to cover the 325 miles from Flagstaff to Albuquerque. We left Flagstaff about 8:00, under a threat of – gasp! – rain.

 

The theme of the day, carrying over appropriately enough from the past two days, was trains. We saw at least 12 long freight trains paralleling or opposing our course. Our highway, 40, was also a major trucking route, so we really saw freight moving across America.

 

An amusing note along the way: Winslow, AZ – where we paused for our customary morning treat of water, apple juice, and apple pies at MacDonald’s – capitalizes on its fame through the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy.” One billboard along the highway proclaimed: “Stand on this corner in Winslow, Arizona ...”

 

We had lunch at the Cracker Barrel in Gallup, NM, and then hit the road again. Only about half an hour later, we pulled into a truck stop for gas and to put on rain gear. Mom and I went inside to dress while Terry tanked up. By the time the two of us came back out, rain was slashing down and sideways with the wind. We decided to wait it out a bit before hitting the road again, particularly after hearing from a lady trucker who’d come out of Albuquerque that they’d traveled the last 7 miles in a horrible storm that pushed their semi constantly sideways. After a short wait, the worst of the rain and wind passed by, and we took to the road again for the last couple of hours to Albuquerque. We hit intermittent rain along the way, but saw the worst of the storms off to the side. We were apparently running along the back end of the storm.

 

We hit some construction along the way, a stretch that lasted for miles with traffic shrunk down to a single lane. After that, however, we had clear sailing to our hotel for the night. We pulled in at 16:45 local (we crossed into Mountain Daylight Time when we left Arizona), too late for anticipatory mass at the local Catholic church. We unpacked and walked across the street to Rudy’s Texas Bar-B-Que, a pretty unique place that reminded me of crab houses back East. You ordered your dinner meat by weight (we opted for the pork ribs), and it was wrapped in coated paper and dropped on your tray along with 2 slices of bread per person. You picked up your drinks and whatever quantity of cold sides you wanted, and then you were given as many large sheets of coated paper as you had people in your party. You found an empty table, spread your paper placemats, dumped your food onto them, and ate. It was messy but fun and tasty, although it definitely wasn’t the best barbecue we’d ever had.

 

This Hampton proved something of a disappointment. The outdoor pool was cold and dirty, not just with leaves floating, which you’d expect, but with loose stones, plastic, and something that looked like dryer sheets on the bottom of the pool. The spa looked inviting, but proved to be way too hot, far above the 104° F maximum. When we told the front desk clerk, a heavy-set, dark-haired young man by the name of David – who had earlier been reluctant to call the church for Terry to learn the mass schedule – he flat-out said that there couldn’t be any problem because the spa needed to be a certain temperature, and people had been in an out of it all day without any complaints. We ultimately dumped ice and water from the pool into the spa, which cooled it off enough for Mon and Terry to spend a few minutes in it, but I couldn’t even keep my feet in for a full minute. Another woman who had been sitting on the edge with just her feet in the spa – like us, because it was too hot for her to sit in it – had red feet and calves when she pulled them out, and they were still red when she and her husband went to their room 15 or 20 minutes later.

 

Tomorrow morning we’ll catch the 7:30 mass, return to the hotel to check out, and drive the 283 miles to our next stop in Amarillo, TX.

 

All was not entirely lost at this disappointing Hampton: Terry made 30 cents off the place by using the pool scoop to bring 3 dimes on the bottom of the pool to the steps, and picking them up with her toes. That’s what they get for not cleaning their pool!

 

September 19, Sunday: Albuquerque, NM to Amarillo, TX

 

We started the day with 7:30 mass at the local Catholic church on Claremont. Big difference between this church and the Hispanic one we were at last week:  white folks don’t sing much. Last week I just blended in, singing (oddly enough, since we kind of stood out visually!); this week, I stuck out – people were turning to look for the big, trained voice. Hey: it was fun. especially at the end of the service, when the organist turned around, obviously scanning, and gave me a big “OK” hand sign when I gave her a nod.

 

It had been raining at breakfast, so we suited up in full rain gear before church. We wound up wearing it all day, because we kept going through bands of rain and sun. We had a nasty crosswind smacking us from the right for virtually the entire trip.

 

We stopped for lunch at a Denny’s in Tucumcari, and then hit the last stretch to Amarillo. Just before we arrived, we passed Cadillac Ranch, the sculpture of cars upended in the ground, which proved disappointing enough viewed in a quick pass that I told Terry not to bother planning on swinging back this way tomorrow for the photograph I’d intended to take.

 

The last stretch saw some accidents. First, we saw a car flipped at a rest area: how the driver managed that one, on flat ground, no less, we haven’t a clue. Then there was the semitrailer that had burned just where a ramp ascended to the highway. we could still smell the smoke, although everything had been put out before we got there. The third was the worst: a semi off the road on its side, with a crushed SUV. That one caused a long backup for us.

 

We made it to our night’s Hampton Inn at 17:00, counting the time change from Mountain to Central as we crossed from New Mexico into Texas. Alas, the pool was unheated and there was no spa, although it was so windy that we might not have been able to use it anyway. We walked to a nearby Schlotsky’s deli for supper, and were charged by the owner to go to the West Allis Schlotsky’s, inquire for Dave Pepke, and if he was still there, to tell him “hello” from the folk in Amarillo who trained him. Small world ...

 

Tomorrow will be a long haul, over 450 miles to Fort Smith. And I will need to do laundry again. Hopefully we won’t need to ride in rain gear again. Who would have thought that we’d hit rain in the high New Mexico desert and the Texas panhandle, places known for being dry? Just our luck to be here for that rare occurrence.

 

September 20, Monday: Amarillo, TX to Fort Smith, AR

 

It rained very lightly as we were getting ready for breakfast, but it stopped before we finished eating. The weather forecast showed a lovely day shaping up further east, and since that’s where we were heading, Terry and I decided to ride in leathers, although we had Mom put on her all-weather pants, just in case.

 

We saddled up at 8:15 and proceeded to spend the day galloping east on 40 through Texas and Oklahoma. We started out under solid overcast with gusty winds.

 

Texas was pretty much flat, with an occasional hill to break the monotony and give the wind a real chance to howl. One of those hills was our gas stop in Alanread, TX – this place was so small that the gas station was also the local post office, convenience store, sandwich and snack shop, laundromat, and motel! It was also solidly George Bush country.

 

It wasn’t until we were almost out of Texas that we saw our first oil well pumping. We were starting to wonder if we’d missed them all!

 

As we crossed into Oklahoma, we marveled at how little traffic we’d seen along the way. We’d met and been part of a constant procession of trucks all the way through Arizona and New Mexico, but from the time we started this morning, we had a nearly private highway through Texas. No telling what caused it, but traffic didn’t wake up until around noon, as we began to approach the Oklahoma City area.

 

As we ran east, the sky began to lighten, and we knew that our luck would hold. It was pleasant running under the overcast with the assurance that it wouldn’t fall on us: the clouds kept the sun from hitting us full in the eyes as we headed straight for it, and kept the air pleasantly cool.

 

When we crossed into Oklahoma, still under light clouds, we had to laugh that Oklahoma was more welcoming than Texas had been. Coming in on 40, the Texas welcome center was 76 miles inside the state – past our night’s stopping point in Amarillo! – while the Oklahoma welcome center was just before the 10-mile marker. We haven’t stopped at any of the state welcome centers this trip, I don’t think.

 

Anyway, we pressed on. The sky cleared steadily, and we were running in full sunshine and unlimited visibility before noon. That was all the better to appreciate how much the country was changing again. Texas had been mostly flat, with red, red dirt; Oklahoma started out flat, but then began to roll. After the days of desert driving we’d done, it was refreshing to the eyes to see cultivated land and acres upon acres of crops. Two things caught our eye: something like really short corn (some particular variety of maize, perhaps?) and something else that was really tall, with a stalk like a cattail and a feathery top. We haven’t a clue what that stuff was.

 

We stopped on the outskirts of Oklahoma City for lunch at a Cracker Barrel at 13:00. We were on the road again at 14:00, running for the Arkansas border. The skies were sunny, blue, and cloudless: perfect riding weather. We hit a lot of construction, but all of it was painless. It shrank us down repeatedly to a single lane, but with so little traffic volume to deal with, that slowed us down just to the 55 mph work zone speed limit. We saw no incidents and no accidents, and everything was smooth sailing.

 

Past Oklahoma City (I took a pass on going through the city itself to see the memorial), we saw increasing numbers of oil and gas wells pumping more of what we had expected to see in Texas. The ride was uneventful but thoroughly enjoyable, although portions of the road were so rough that my knees are looking forward to the hot tub tonight!

 

We crossed the river (and it finally looked like a river, with lots of water in it all the time, not like the Salt River in Phoenix and similar “rivers” elsewhere in the desert states that are nothing but dry sandy gulches until the very occasional rain turns it into a temporary flash flood zone!) and took the Roland-Fort Smith exit to run the five miles or so into Fort Smith. This turned out to be a quite sizeable and very attractive town. And the Hampton Inn was the plushiest yet! They actually have more than one guest laundry, and the one on our floor had two washers and dryers. (You can see that this trip has definitely affected the basis on which I rate hotels ...) I was able to do laundry, swim, and loaf in the spa, and all the amenities were totally delightful.


Read Part Four

 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 September 9, Thursday: Las Vegas, NV

 

Today we toured Hoover Dam, cruised on Lake Mead, and dropped in on my old neighbors, Ron and Ruth. Oh, yeah – and I did more laundry.

The Hoover Dam tour was spectacular! Instead of being just a huge engineering project, it’s an art deco masterwork. They are again taking tours down inside the dam structure to show off one of the two monstrous generator rooms. The displays set up in both the new and the old exhibit centers tell the story of the dam’s genesis and construction. We walked across the dam from Nevada to Arizona and back, and I took multiple pictures. A funny: we stopped in the ladies’ rest room atop the dam (you go into an art deco door and up a staircase to the loo) and met a Brit lady who joked that she’d had to come up to the loo even though she didn’t really need to go, just to be able to say that she pissed on Hoover Dam!

 

We ate barbecue sandwiches at the High Climber’s snack bar, which were much tastier than the appetizer ribs at Harley. We bought postcards, and then went on our way. We left behind yet another good parking spot, too: the area right on the first level of the garage, near the attendants, is reserved for motorcycles.

 

We headed off to Lake Mead Cruises for our afternoon trip. We were early, but we used the time to write out our postcards for mailing back at the hotel. The nice bartender we chatted with (we were over an hour early, and were the only folk around) even gave us free popcorn to feed the fish.

 

Two things really struck me as we waited. One was that the lake’s level was really low. Nevada’s in a five-year drought, during which there simply hasn’t been enough winter snowpack up in the Rockies to feed the Colorado River. Despite that, growth in the area has been explosive, with an ever higher demand for water. It shows. The docks had clearly been moved down to meet the shrinking water.

 

The second impression was the desolation. In that regard, although no other, it reminded me a bit of the Great Salt Lake, when I saw it in Utah way back in the early 1990’s. Lake Mead was the first national recreational area – as distinct from a national park – but in part what that means is that there is no community around the docks. Bare dirt and rock shore, commercial dock for the two cruise boats (the larger, the Desert Princess, was built in La Crosse, WI!), and a whole series of piers and slips comprising the Las Vegas harbor; but no real buildings, no shops or services, just bare boat docks. Weird.

 

Anyway, the cruise was both pleasant and informative, and was not dampened by the thunderheads shot through with lightning that we could see all around us. We got a very different look at Hoover Dam from a new angle. It was a slow cruise, very relaxing.

 

Afterward, we drove back up the dirt road and parking lot (“When we got it serviced, I’m glad I told them not to wash the bike,” Terry observed) to take the road to Henderson. We found Ron and Ruth’s place without incident, although nothing looked familiar to me until we got very close – new construction had displaced landmarks and totally changed some streets even in just the couple of years since my previous visit. Ron and Ruth looked good and we had a fun visit. Mushroom the dog is now nearly deaf. She was much more cautious of us than she used to be, but once she got my scent and accepted my touch, she settled right at my feet for some serious petting and scratching. She still followed Ron everywhere he went; a one-man dog, and no mistake.

We’d meant to eat dinner with them, but the time got a little away from us, so we just headed back to the hotel. Not before Ron got pictures of us suiting up and riding away, though! We’re going to be on the Internet ...

 

It was drizzling when we left, and we got dripped on in desultory fashion all the way home. It was just enough to cool us off without really getting us wet. We called out to eat in, and I got that laundry done. Tomorrow, California.

 

September 10, Friday: Las Vegas, NV to San Bernardino, CA

 

This morning we made an uneventful run to San Bernardino. Not far outside Las Vegas, at our gas stop, we saw evidence of the previous night’s storms: the most unusual sight of long stretches of desert under water. It looked exactly like your classic mirage, except that the thin skin of water was real. Both sides of the elevated road were bounded by flooded desert.

 

We watched the land change again as we went through one last stretch of mountains to reach San Bernardino. Our Hampton was in Colton. This one had an outdoor pool, which proved wonderful. My only disappointment was the whirlpool: exposed to full sun, it was no place for my skin!

 

We checked in at 12:20 and walked to a nearby Denny’s for lunch. Then we came back to the Hampton and spent the afternoon loafing in the pool. After days of travel and looking, taking a rest felt good.

 

Come the end of the workday, around 16:30, Pam returned our call to invite us to dinner. We drove over to Pam and Mike’s house, met the dogs, and had a great visit with the two of them and daughter Jen. Because the house was quite warm – the power company can shut off the AC during peak use hours – Pam decided not to cook, so we went instead to a local Mongolian barbecue place. The food was wonderful, and the company was better. Before dinner, Pam, Mike, and Jen took us on a driving tour of the area of the big San Bernardino wildfire a few months back, which burned quite a few homes on the hills.

 

After dinner, we went back to their house for more talk. We didn’t leave until after 22:00 – long past Mom’s usual bedtime! Pam can certainly talk up a storm. No mistaking that she’s part of the family.

 

We came back to the Hampton to find a message from Brenda. Terry called her back, and arranged for us to drive up to her place on Sunday after church. She was excited that she would finally be able to show off her house and have us swim in her pool.

 

Tomorrow we’ll join the cousins in a drive to Pam and Mike’s condo in Oceanside, where we should be able to rendezvous with Jen and her husband Brian, and with Kristen, who’s staying at the condo. Should be fun!

September 11, Saturday: Oceanside, CA

 

Today was relaxation and talk. Pam picked us up and drove us to the condo that she and Mike bought in Oceanside about a year ago. Oceanside is beside Camp Pendleton, so it has a flavor of military courtesy about it. The drive up took about 90 minutes. The condo isn’t on the beach – that kind of property comes with impossible price tags attached! – but is only about a ten-minute drive away. The community seems very pleasant.

 

We spent the bulk of the day at the condo with Pam and Mike and their daughters Jen and Kristen; Pam’s brothers, Fred and Bill; their wives, Melissa and Caroline, and daughter Mallory; and Jen’s husband Brian. We nibbled veggies, chips, and dip, and Mike fired up the grill for burgers and hot dogs. It was a day for telling tales and laughing out loud, and we did quite a lot of both, all the way around. There was way too much going on for me to process individual bits and pieces; I just enjoyed it all.

 

In retrospect, we realized that we shouldn’t have accepted Pam’s offer of a ride: everyone there was disappointed at not getting the chance to have a ride on the bike. The only one who got a ride was Pam, when she dropped us off again at the hotel. She’ll have photos and bragging rights, but the rest will have to wait.

 

On the way back, Pam showed us Jen and Brian’s new house, which isn’t quite finished. The place is huge! As we drove, I couldn’t help but take pictures of the sky, because it was magnificent and painted with clouds. Pam was ecstatic, because clouds aren’t all that common in southern California, and she was looking for cloud pictures she could use in her teaching. I promised to email her the good ones, along with the family shots.

 

This was a satisfying day in many, many ways, and a happy time all around. And tomorrow – Brenda! The virtual fourth daughter in our family, just with a different last name ...

 

September 12, Sunday: Chatsworth, CA

 

We started the day with Spanish mass at the church of San Salvador. We did kind of stick out – Anglo bikers in a Chicano neighborhood! – but at least I remembered enough Spanish to catch the hymn numbers so I could join in. It was definitely a singing parish!

 

From church, we hit the road for Brenda’s, about an hour and a half drive north, past Los Angeles. The ride was uneventful except for an unexplained delay in Rialto, just a couple of minutes up the road from San Bernardino, that closed the two right lanes, and another odd detour that totally closed 118 west for a couple of miles. But we found the place just fine following our Mapquest directions.

Brenda’s home is lovely. She had a lot of damage in the Northridge earthquake several years back, but the place has been fully restored and then some. The earthquake insurance enabled her to do modifications to the house that she otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford for years, so the earthquake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Evidence of the quake remains in the master bedroom and master bath: Brenda incorporated many of the broken pieces of her belongings – dishes, glassware, vases, pitchers – into the new mantel of her bedroom fireplace and into an accent wall over her indoor Jacuzzi.

 

The living room boasts a new baby grand piano that Brenda hasn’t learned to play yet, as well as a carved antique wooden horse smaller than mine, which Brenda teasingly envies. A large painting on the wall, done by a friend, depicts Brenda with some of her previous pets, who have heavenly aspects. Her master bath includes a fog and steam shower as well as the Jacuzzi. Her backyard boasts a garden and a large swimming pool with a spa built up at the deep end. The overfill from the spa waterfalls down into the swimming pool. The backyard also includes a spacious chicken coop, complete with chickens! Two of her hens are “movie chickens” – they’ve been used in films or TV shows. They’re gorgeous birds, and keep Brenda in fresh eggs.

 

All the house floors are polished concrete, some with tile patterns. She’s laid down rugs in some areas, but most places are bare floor, which is amazingly comfortable on bare feet. It also helps her keep up with cleaning in a house with three medium to large dogs (antic piebald Jack, placid golden Charlie, and crazy black Chloe) and a cat.

 

When Brenda remodeled, she turned the kitchen entirely around and put in an island, and then transformed the wall to the backyard into a series of sliding glass doors. You can go into the backyard from the kitchen, the den (fittingly equipped with a very large-screen television, suitable for someone in the business!), through the laundry room off the master bedroom, or from the master bedroom itself. Basically, the back wall of the house is mostly glass, and the backyard view is an absolute delight.

 

There are some large pine trees in front of the house, defining the walk from the driveway and garage to the front door. All in all, Brenda’s is one of the nicest and most welcoming homes I’ve ever been inside.

 

We had a great time loafing in the pool and spa (I got careless in the spa and wound up with burned shoulders – having too much fun to pay attention to the moving sun). The spa includes a deep section that you can stand in, with jets playing all the way up and down your spine. A friend of Brenda’s named Carol – a former lawyer turned Hollywood assistant director turned reference librarian – joined us for fun and nonsense. We reminisced about old times, and Brenda even cued up a videotape conversion of some of her family’s old Super 8 movies, showing off one from 1961 or ‘62 in which we’re playing ball in our backyard. (I was singularly inept, and wearing a pair of downright embarrassing pedal pushers.) The tape cut to additional footage capturing us visiting the horses and ponies that used to live out on Loomis Road: particularly the beautiful and feisty Welsh Prince, tossing his heels in irritation that he couldn’t get at the carrots that Brenda offered and then carried at a run just outside his paddock! I’d forgotten all about horses being that close to home, but seeing the tape brought it all back.

Brenda is currently working as assistant director on Girlfriends, the half-hour black sitcom on UPN, shooting at Paramount. She loves it, and laughs that she’s getting paid the same for a lot less work than when she was doing one-hour dramatic shows. They only shoot for two days a week on the sitcoms, one of those days with a live audience, and only rarely need effects experts doing their thing. She laughed about dropping by the Angel set, where she used to work, during their last shooting season this year, teasing them by pointing out that she was on her way home from work, leaving the lot when they were only beginning their shooting “day,” which ran from 16:00 until the early morning. And after all the stunts and explosions and general effects craziness on Angel, she chuckled over needing an effects guy one day on Girlfriends – for the tricky task of opening a mock elevator door!

 

We had a marvelous time, and Brenda served a Mexican dinner mostly ready to heat and eat from Trader Joe’s (ah, woman after my own heart!) – tamales with black beans and rice. Yummy!

 

We drove back to the hotel at the end of a very full and satisfying day, arriving about 18:00 in good time for laundry. Tomorrow we haul the 312 miles to Phoenix.

 

September 13, Monday: Colton, CA to Phoenix, AZ

 

Well, our trip was only supposed to have been 312 miles – not all that long a run, and not taking very much time – but we didn’t count on a major accident shutting down the interstate.

 

We left Colton at about 7:30 in fog – not a common occurrence in this part of California, where the humidity is normally quite low, but the non-standard weather was continuing. We rode out of the fog pretty quickly.

 

Anyway, we were only about 40 miles down I-10 East when the traffic came to a virtual standstill. Terry switched from intercom to eavesdrop on the CB radio, and we learned from truckers’ chatter ahead of us that there had been an 8-car pileup several miles ahead of us. Things were moving at a bare crawl, when they were moving at all. The one upside was that we were stalled in the midst of a huge wind farm. These massive windmills were spinning on both sides of the road, hundreds of them, covering acres upon acres of land. This was an area where high wind warnings were posted, where the road ran in a canyon and the wind just came pouring through. Wow!

 

We crept forward inch by inch, and as we approached the junction with 111, we saw the road shrink from four lanes down to two, and then to nothing as all of the eastbound traffic on I-10 was diverted to 111. As we made the cutoff, we could see the traffic still solidly blocked on 10, beyond the exit they were pouring us through. We pitied the folk who were stuck on 10 beyond the diversion exit.

The shift onto 111 carried us on an impromptu tour through beautiful downtown Palm Springs, after which we finally made our way back to 10, beyond the accident scene. How many miles this diversion added to the trip, I don’t know, but we must have lost fully an hour and a half to the delay and detour. And we’ll likely never know anything about the accident that caused it.

 

The rest of the journey was mostly uneventful, although we did wonder a couple of times if we were going to find a gas station before we ran down to fumes. Once, the bike took 4.599 gallons; another time it was only around 4.2.

 

We made it to Phoenix about 15:00, and checked into our Hampton Inn for the night. we walked over to IHOP for dinner (cheese blintzes – yum!) and then went into the pool after we got back. The pool was in sunshine most of the day, making it problematic for me (warm pink shoulders after the time in Brenda’s spa ...), but later in the day the sun hid behind the neighboring hotel and put the poolside in shade. The pool was about the same temperature as Terry and Mom keep theirs, mostly because of the radiant heat from the sun. It was delightful swimming. The hot tub proved a disappointment, because the jets didn’t work: we reported it to the front desk.

 

We found another reason why this hotel was cheaper than some of the others along the route: we got only a bare handful of TV channels. We learned that the hotel had just changed owners, and the previous owners had obviously made some very poor choices.

 

Tomorrow we’ll go to the Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park (hey – an attraction that opens at 7:00; made for us!), catch a light lunch, and then go to the Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing museum in the afternoon. We’re unlikely to see the star of the Arizona Wing’s collection, because I’m betting that the beautiful CAF B-17 Sentimental Journey is still on tour. We’ll end the day with dinner with Terry’s old crew from Emtek.

 

September 14, Tuesday: Phoenix, AZ

 

This was a long day, but also a good one. We started off at the Desert Botanical Gardens, got lunch at one of Terry’s favorite restaurants, Sweet Tomatoes, went to the Arizona Wing CAF museum, and then wrapped up with dinner at the New York Uptown Brewery with a slew of Terry’s coworkers from her Emtek days.

 

The Gardens reminded me of the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson. It’s a great place to walk in the morning before the day’s full heat. The main path has several branches. One leads to a garden of flowering plants. There are gardens devoted to attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. One walk highlights the uses that desert dwellers make of various plants, including yucca roots for soap and leaves for weaving into baskets. Shelters built by contemporary Native Americans in the styles of their ancestors demonstrate the Pima and Apache ways of life.

 

The displays include saguaro forests on hillsides and cattails growing in a lowland oasis. The variety is surprising, although some plants, like agave, palo verde, and mesquite, turn up in many places and microenvironments.

 

One unexpected exhibit was a house in the heart of the Garden. This house was built to incorporate energy and water-saving technologies, and to show them off. To learn how well they work in practice, the builders put a family into the house to live. Sensors throughout the house record temperature and water and energy use, and visitors to the Garden can see the readouts and the positions of the sensors. What would have been the garage of the house is an exhibit area with information on the house’s architecture, materials, appliances, and power systems. Cool!

 

We stopped for a fruit smoothie (well, since the day’s flavor was strawberry, Terry opted for an iced mocha) at the little patio café and watched the local birds. Hanging out in the vicinity of crumbs were desert wrens, thrushes with long curved pointy beaks, a couple varieties of doves, and the stars of the avian show – an extended family of Gambrel’s quail. They were a riot! These quail have a topknot of feathers on their heads that sticks up like a bent finger pointing forward. When they move, their heads all bob in unison, and those little crests flutter like crazy. They’re also very talkative birds.

 

Elsewhere in the Garden, we saw round-tailed ground squirrels, antelope squirrels, and lots of lizards. This Garden, in the heart of Phoenix’s Papago Park, does not appear to have any large wildlife comparable to the javelina and coyotes of Tucson’s more outlying Sonoran Desert Museum.

 

From the desert, we went to lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, which turned out to be a salad bar place also offering a line of soups, salads, pastas, baked goods, and deserts. Yummy! All the big salad bar places out my way died long ago, and they’ve been disappearing from Milwaukee as well, ostensibly on health concerns for those long open “serve yourself” bars.

 

After lunch, Mom and Terry humored me and we went to the Arizona Wing of the CAF, whose museum is at Falcon Field in Mesa. (Driving in Phoenix, you’re very likely to find yourself crossing into Tempe or Mesa – the “cities” just blend into each other.)

 

The main stars of the attraction – the B-17 Sentimental Journey and a Heinkel 111 bomber – were away on tour in Kansas City, but the rest of the collection, including a half-sized (but flyable!) P-47; a replica Jenny; two B-25’s, one undergoing restoration; two Mig 15’s, ditto; an A-26 and a B-26; a Piper Cub; a Cessna O-2; and F-4 Phantom; and vintage ground vehicles were on display. There are two hangars, one display hangar that’s air-conditioned and lined with exhibit cases, poster displays, models, and World War II memorabilia; and the other, their restoration hangar, which opens onto the tarmac. The restoration hangar had some fun set dressing, including a room labeled “Combat Damage Repair” and another named “Hangar Queen Parts.”

 

It was a small museum that doesn’t really take too long to go through, but it was nicely done. It was particularly nice to see almost all the aircraft under cover, which beat the South Dakota air and space museum. The nice gentleman manning the front desk told us that they’d recently expanded to acquire the second hangar. I was particularly happy to see, among their souvenir collection, jewelry from Port to Port Air. Nothing I didn’t already own, however.

 

Outside the museum were a couple of warbird replica windvanes, which were really lovely. Terry was very partial to the F4U Corsair, and even picked up a copy of the brochure for the company that makes them. They didn’t have a P-51 on display, but I know that’s what I’d go for!

 

Also on display outdoors was one four-bladed prop from Fifi, the CAF’s B-29 – the only plane of its kind still flying anywhere in the world.

 

From the CAF, we went to the restaurant to meet with Terry’s friends. It was something of an old home week reunion, because all the folk there – with the exception of Mom and I, and the young daughter of someone else – had worked once upon a time for Emtek/Eclipsys, although several no longer did. I know I’m missing some names, but they included Cindy, who’d set it all up; Greg, whom Mom and I remembered meeting on our very first biker trip to Branson; two Kim’s; Alex; Tony; Jamie; Tom; and Barbara (with the young daughter newly acquired to marriage to the girl’s father). we had great food and a fun time, so much so that we didn’t get back to our hotel until 22:30.

We came home to discover an uncomfortable oddity: there were supports for larger mattresses and box springs sticking out from the bases of the beds. Terry banged her leg on one, and promptly called the front desk. The offered pillows and blankets to pad the extrusions, but when Terry collected the stuff, she realized there simply wasn’t enough to pad all the things sticking out, which we would definitely hit getting out of bed. She brought up her toolkit from the bike and disassembled the base extensions from the bed Mom and I shared, and just padded hers with the blankets and pillows.


Read Part Three



 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

The Biker Babes – Grand Canyon and California Dreaming, 2004

 

This year was our biggest trip yet: 5,689.5 miles, covered in three weeks and a day, from Milwaukee, WI to San Bernardino, CA, and back. Along the way, we visited history, spectacle, friends, and family, and had a great trip. Come along for the ride ...

 

September 3, 2004, Friday: Milwaukee to Des Moines

 

We started out at about 3:15, with one last stop to mail a letter. Then we hit the highway. Apart from a lot of chilly fog, the ride was delightful. We stopped for breakfast at the same Iron Skillet in Rochelle where we had our first day breakfast on our very first big ride to Branson back in 2000. Once again, we had fun with the truckers!

 

We continued to push on to the Amana Colonies in Illinois, and we reached the visitor center at 9:30. Come 10:00, we made it to the Woolen Mill in Upper Amana.

 

Alas, the Colonies were not worth the visit. They were much more commercialized than Mom and Terry remembered from a previous visit several years ago, and places that used to have informative tours were reduced to a few signs, no guides, and no interpretations. The woolens were beautiful, the signs told small parts of the story of the Colonies, but the overall impression was a disappointment.

 

We had some particularly fun moments along the way to Des Moines.  How’s this for a sign of the times: as we approached a rest area in Illinois, we saw a new sign on top of the usual blue “Rest Area” sign listing the amenities, which proudly proclaimed, “Wireless Internet.”  There’s no escape!  On the back of another highway sign in Iowa, Terry spotted a bluebird house, painted bright yellow. Might as well make those highway signs do double duty, hey?  And finally, along the way we passed the self-proclaimed “World’s Biggest Truck Stop,” with space for 800 trucks, on what was the very first interstate highway in the country, Highway 80.

 

We continued on our way to Des Moines, arriving about 13:30. We checked in to our Hampton Inn to leave our luggage, and then backtracked down the highway to Zook’s Harley-Davidson. Zook’s was unique: the place is built as a massive barn, with a silo that houses an elevator between the floors. Zook wasn’t in, but Terry left him a note on behalf of John, one of the guys back at the House of Harley in Milwaukee. I got my first photo of the trip: Mom and Terry pointing up at the huge banner on the silo that proclaimed, “ALL TIRES $99.00!!” This will be a good joke on the House, when Terry goes in to negotiate her next tire change!

From Zook’s, we went on to the Living History Farms. Unfortunately for us, we arrived a little after 15:00, so we missed the last cart to the “300 year walk” through the three period farms themselves, the 1700 Ioway Indian Farm, and the 1850 and 1900 Farms. We were able to walk around Walnut Hill Town, an 1875 Iowa frontier town. This place was really neat, and judging from the town, the Farms must be spectacular. The Living History Farms bill themselves as “hands-on history,” and they deserve more time than we had to spend there. We chatted with a woman sewing doll clothes in a lovely house true to the period (Terry loved the chimneys, the parlor wallpaper, and the room mouldings from which pictures were hung); with the blacksmith, making a knife; with a woman making straw brooms; another woman making fancy hats; a man at the farm implements store; and women in the general store/post office and in the pharmacy. The bank was unstaffed, but had everything set up ready for a teller to handle your business.

 

Terry also had fun in the gift shop, finding creamed cinnamon honey to ship home as gifts for friends. We were sorry to leave, especially without having seen the Farms, but I’m betting that we’ll be back someday. It’s not so far a trip!

 

Back home at the hotel, we took our swim and then planned for tomorrow – an eight-hour push to North Platte, NE.

 

September 4, Saturday: Des Moines, IA to North Platte, NE

 

This was mostly a pushing day, covering about 400 miles. We left our hotel – which, again reminiscent of our very first trip, was largely inhabited by Shriners! – about 8:10. We stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel in Lincoln, and then kept going. Crossing the Missouri wasn’t as dramatic here as it was up in Chamberlin, SD – the character of the land didn’t change nearly as much nor as quickly this much further south.  The further we got into Nebraska, the more the hills gradually flattened out until we rode on a seemingly endless plain.

 

Our only tourist stop on the run today was the Archway Memorial at Kearney (pronounced CAR-nee). That was different!  The attraction is quite literally an archway built over Route 80. You’re met at the door by a costumed historical figure, who explains the setup to you. Ours was Curly, a grizzled, bearded mountain man in fringed buckskins and moccasins with a wooden staff. He explained that, once we bought our tickets, we would collect headsets and ride up the escalator to the arch. Once we were at the top, the narration on the headsets would activate and play as we walked all the way over the highway on one level, and then back across on the second floor. That’s right: the arch over the highway is a two-story museum structure!

As you go up the escalator, you’re climbing a steep, rocky pass, and you go through the arch at the top even as the wide-screen film that’s running around you makes you feel as if you’re riding up in a prairie schooner. At the top, you’re in Fort Kearney, a starting point for wagon trains to Oregon, California, and Utah. The headset recordings, activated by each room along the way, play on continuous loops, so when it reaches the point where you came in, you can progress to the next chamber along the way. The journey takes you past a young couple with their oxen and wagons, the flood of Forty-Niners in pursuit of gold, and the westward pilgrimage of Mormons, with the tale of a rescue of a group of handcart pioneers who set out too late in the year and were caught in snow. You stand in the middle of a buffalo stampede, see a Pony Express rider swap mounts at a way station, hear of Mark Twain’s stagecoach journey, and listen to the account of the Golden Spike being driven to connect the two parts of the Transcontinental Railroad. You see the “Lincoln Highway” (sometimes called, in the earliest days of motor vehicles, the “Lincoln No-Way” for the unpaved roads that swallowed 1920’s cars in mud) and the very first growth of the automotive movement crossing the West. Then the archway takes you through automotive development, including outdoor drive-in moves and ‘50’s diners, and brings you in the end to a diner with a wrap-around mural covering two walls, spanning the history through which you’ve just walked, and with two windows onto Route 80 below you, complete with radar guns tracking the speed of the unsuspecting cars. Really neat! The narration, by the way, combines straightforward descriptions of events and places with excerpts from letters, speeches, news stories, and the like.

 

As we were collecting our commemorative photo (shades of our cruising days: they take your picture in front of a map of the Great Platte River Road before you start up the escalator into the arch!), the young fellow selling us the pictures commented on our chaps (since we were making this stop on the fly, with the bike still fully loaded with our luggage, we couldn’t lock our gear in the bike; the ticket-selling lady kindly stored our jackets in the ticket cage, so we at least weren’t burdened with them). Turns out someone else at the Arch had recently acquired a sidecar outfit, so Terry wound up talking sidecars, first with the young man, and then with the sidehack owner. Terry was only the second sidecar driver the man had ever met, and he really appreciated the tips she passed on.

 

From the Arch, we ran another 90 minutes to our overnight home in North Platte. As we rode, we saw clouds building and starting to chase us. The wind kept trying to push us off the road, and tugged so constantly on my helmet that my poor ears felt rubbed raw, even though the new helmet fits better than the old one did. Yank on it enough, and it will still chafe.

 

We reached our hotel around 19:00. It was still dry, but all signs pointed to a likely ride in rain on the next day.

 

At our hotel, I took a couple of irresistible pictures for my car-crazy carpoolmate John: side-by-side vintage Austin-Healys. The red convertible (a 1956 or 57; hey, old as I am!) had the license 1REDCAR, while the black convertible was RDUMCAR. Not hardly! They were both magnificently restored.

 

September 5, Sunday: North Platte, NE to Denver, CO

 

Something I forgot to mention about our ride yesterday: we crossed the Platte River – or pieces thereof – at least five times before we reached our hotel, and we made all those crossings on the very same highway. The Platte has got to be the most meandering river I’ve ever seen!

 

We started the day at St. Patrick’s Church in North Platte, and gave yet another parish something to talk about.

 

We started the day wearing our rain pants. It had rained in the night, although not a lot. While the bulk of the storm had gone past us, we saw clouds building on the road ahead. It looked a lot better ahead of us than behind, but it still looked like rain. The poor Austin-Healy drivers were heading east, and needless to say, their rag tops were up.

We hit the road and found that we were running directly into the wind. That cut our speed and put our gas mileage in the dumpster. We made more gas stops than we would have needed under normal conditions.

 

We ran 80 until we reached 76. As soon as we reached the new road, the road quality dropped, and so did the volume of traffic. In Colorado, civilization dwindled. The only signs of habitation for miles on end were fences and power lines, and the smell of cow manure. Interstate 76 was the deadest stretch of road yet, even though it rolled more than Nebraska did, providing at least a bit more visual interest than Nebraska’s flat, flat, and flat.

 

At an early gas stop, we put on the rest of our rain gear, and it was a timely choice: the raindrops were falling by the time we pulled out. It never fell very hard, but it was cold under the clouds and we were happy to have added our black fleece shirts along with our rain jackets.

 

The wind, the rain, the chill, and the stress of riding in rain gear made the run seem longer than it was. We caught lunch at a little Sinclair station with a small diner called The Overland Trail café, a fleck of humanity in the middle of a lot of nothing. At our last gas stop before Denver, we shed the rain jackets because we were running in bright sunshine. By the time we reached Denver, at about 15:50, I was very glad that I’d opened all my jacket vents, because it was getting positively warm.

 

Our Hampton Inn was in the suburbs of Denver, near Cherry Creek. Once we checked in, we took a walk along Cherry Creek into Four Mile Historic Park, getting in most of our 10,000 steps. Then we returned to the hotel, took a swim, and settled in for the night. Terry did our hand laundry while I was tasked with checking out the Tour Book to figure out what we’d see during our one tourist day in Denver.

 

Some things we’d meant to do were off the table because of the Labor Day holiday. The Botanical Gardens and Art Museum were both closed, as was the Harley dealer where Terry had intended to take the bike for an oil change. But the Nature & Science Museum, the Colorado History Museum, and Colorado’s Ocean Journey all sounded good, as did the Wings Over the Rockies Museum (my first chance at airplanes along the way ...). We knew we wouldn’t be able to do them all, but we wouldn’t lack for choice.

 

And we also looked forward to the treat of having dinner with our oldest sister Ruth, who would be in Denver on business. Happy coincidence!

 

September 6, Monday: Denver, CO

 

Today was our day to play tourist in Denver. We slept in, ate breakfast, and then went out to see the sights and find our way to the attractions we planned to see. We were a bit early for our first one, and killed time taking a short walk along the riverfront.

First stop was Colorado’s Ocean Journey. That was neat! In this land-locked place is a museum containing huge tanks full of fish and other underwater creatures. The museum follows two major river journeys: the Colorado River, from its beginnings in mountain snowmelt down to the Pacific; and the Kampar River in Sumatra, from its rainforest beginnings all the way to the Pacific Ocean. This was a wonderful place, well laid out and with many knowledgeable and friendly docents happy to provide information. Many exhibits are hands-on: you can pet stingrays (whose stingers, being made of essentially the same substance as human fingernails, can be kept clipped to protect human hands without injuring the rays), sea urchins, and other river and sea life. In addition to the fish, the place has Sumatran tigers (the smallest of the tiger species, with thinner skins than the others, all the better to tolerate the humid heat of the rainforest), multiple types of birds, and both sea and river otters. The otters were a hoot, since the river otters in particular spent most of their time in play. We saw a teaching session with the male sea otter (who weighs 70 pounds and eats 12 pounds of food a day – talk about a high metabolism!). They train the otters to give them stimulation and hold their interest, and also to display behaviors that help the staff to be able to check all aspects of their coats and physical condition.

 

Did you know that an otter has as much hair in one square inch of hide as a human – well-endowed! – has on his or her entire head?

 

There was a lot to do and see and learn and enjoy. Even though the tigers were being quiet at the moment, they had a hilarious video running showing them playing with balls, logs, and a bobbing watermelon in the water. These cats love to swim, and the staff gives them toys to keep them from getting bored. We all agreed that this museum was time and money very well spent. If you’re heading there, take your AAA card; there’s a discount.

 

We went down to the civic center area, near the capitol building, to catch lunch at the special event we lucking into, the Taste of Denver. What a crowd! You could buy 9 tickets for $5, and then trade the tickets for food at the various booths. We ate at the tent of the Lemongrass Grille, a Vietnamese place that took first place at the Taste this year. Meat eggrolls and either pork and shrimp or veggie spring rolls to dip into a delicious sauce topped with ground peanuts – yummy!

 

We went on to the Colorado Historical Society Colorado History Museum. They had a special exhibit running of Pulitzer-prize winning photographs on the main floor, with their standard history exhibits one floor down. The photos, which included the stories of how they were shot, had great impact. The regular museum featured multiple dioramas built during the Depression with WPA funds. There were also exhibits of mining equipment and a spread of Cheyenne ledger art. The Cheyenne painted events in their own history on paper in ledger books, and many pages from one such book were on display, with descriptions and translations of the events depicted.

 

I was a little disappointed in the museum overall. The Ocean Journey made much more of an impression on us all.


Back at the hotel, we met up with Ruth and her co-worker Pat, and went out to a little Mexican restaurant practically across the street. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, not to mention good food. Getting a chance to see Ruth was great.

 

Tomorrow will be a seriously pushing day, from Denver over the Rocky Mountains to Richfield, Utah, about 475 miles, I think – and they had snow in the highest pass last night, according to the morning news. We’re definitely traveling in turtlenecks and fleece under our leathers!

 

Oh – Terry made a young boy’s day. We met this young father in the swimming pool last night, coping with two infants plus this youngling. Today, while we were waiting for Ruth and Pat, Terry saw the family out at their van, parked beside the bike, with the little boy ogling the bike for all he was worth. Terry went out and invited the kid to hop onto the bike. He didn’t need much encouragement! He tried out the big driver’s seat, but decided that the sidecar was the best! Wouldn’t get any argument from Mom ...

 

September 7, Tuesday: Denver, CO to Richfield, UT

 

This was a first with the bike: crossing the Rocky Mountains. We pulled out of Denver a little after 7:00, and found ourselves in rush hour traffic. That didn’t last long, though, and then we were running west on 70. In a short time, we were starting to climb. At a gas stop in the morning, Terry called ahead to the Las Vegas Harley dealer, and was told there should be no problem with getting an oil change and a new rear tire when we get to Vegas tomorrow.

 

Terry worked hard today, getting the bike around lots of curves going both up and down. Ironically enough, we got the best mileage per gallon of the trip so far, courtesy of drafting semitrailers (trust me: when a big 18-wheeler blows past you, you can feel the bike leap forward, easily gaining 5 mph from the wind-tow off the truck!) and lots of freebie downward runs. About halfway into the upward climb, we had to stop at a rest area to change gloves because it was getting really cold, and although the rest of our bodies were well bundled in fleece and leather, the normal leather gloves just couldn’t provide any warmth. Terry plugged in her heated ones to the bike’s electrical system, and I felt a lot better in the big Gore-Tex storm gloves she’d passed on to me last year.

 

While we were tanking up in Eagle, Colorado, partway through the Rockies, we ran into a woman who was so excited about seeing us that she insisted on taking a picture of us – and since she didn’t have a camera, she borrowed mine. She just couldn’t get over seeing us, but in all her eagerness and delight, she didn’t leave me with her name or any way to send her a copy of the picture. She just seemed thrilled to know that a photo would exist! People are fun. That’s my only photo from the entire day. We didn’t really have the leisure to stop, and I can’t snap on the fly from the bike, so all the mountain images just stay in our minds’ eyes. Someday, a helmet camera ...

We caught lunch at a Village Inn in Grand Junction, and then kept pushing on. It was amazing to see how dramatically the country changed as we climbed, even over short distances. We did see a little white stuff on the ground off the highway at the highest points, but it was nothing more than dust.

 

Particularly spectacular was the transit of the Eisenhower Tunnel, up at the 11,013 foot elevation. I don’t know how long that tunnel was, but it was a marvelous piece of work. It was irresistible: Terry revved the engine once to bounce the sound off the walls, and we all had a good laugh.

 

Once we hit Utah, we hit high desert, and a surprise. We had tanked up about 25 miles before Green River, and as we passed the Green River exit, we saw the ominous sign: No services next 106 miles. Yipes!  Quick decision: buy what little gas would top off the nearly full tank, or go for it? Terry chose to go for it. As we drove on across desolate high desert, we saw the gas gauge going slowly down. It was reaching the nerve-wracking point when we saw the most welcome sign: Steep downgrade next 7 miles. As we passed that sign, the gas light came on. But courtesy of that lovely long downgrade, we made it to the first gas stop. Assuming that the gas tank actually does hold precisely five gallons, we made it with four-tenths of a gallon to spare!

 

We tanked up, drank our water, and then took the last 16 or so miles to our night’s home in Richfield. The town is well named: all around is arid countryside, but the Richfield valley has water and soothes the eye with growing things.

 

We caught a small dinner at a Taco Bell across the street, came back to the hotel, and tossed our t-shirts and jeans into the laundry while we went for a swim. This hotel took best pool of the trip thus far: large and immediately warm, close to the temp Mom and Terry keep the pool at home. There was also a nice circular whirlpool.

 

September 8, Wednesday: Denver, CO to Las Vegas, NV

 

We said goodbye to the nice pool and hit the road for Vegas. The drive was great again. We kept marveling at how abruptly and often the country around us changed. I actually missed seeing our big laugh of the day: there was one place where, amid highway construction, a prairie dog was sitting up right in the middle of the lane, as if he owned the road and had no concerns whatsoever about the traffic on it. Mom and Terry got a good chuckle, if a somewhat wry one, given the limited life expectancy of a prairie dog that bold (or that stupid).

 

By midday, it started to get really hot as we rode. We’d started out wearing the fleece because the morning was chilly, but by noon we were sweating. It wasn’t too bad while we were moving, but slowing down and sitting still were enough to start you panting like an overheated dog.

We reached Las Vegas at around 13:30 local, having crossed into Pacific time along the way. Finding the hotel was a little bit of a challenge, simply because Mapquest got one piece of the directions wrong; it said to take the exit for east Tropicana, toward UNLV. Wrong! To get to the hotel, you needed the westbound Tropicana exit. We took an inadvertent mini-Strip tour getting to a spot where we could stop and Terry could call the hotel for a clarification. Fortunately, she managed to find some shady trees in the Monte Carlo’s drive to keep us from cooking our brains while she called. We were set right and on our way in no time, and got a nice surprise at the Hampton: one of the hotel shuttle drivers told us to park right beside the front portico, next to the place where the shuttle buses park, where the drivers – who work 24 hours providing service to the Strip as well as to the airport – could keep an eye on it for us. Reserved parking, under guard, right beside the front door! Not a bad deal, especially for Vegas.

 

We caught a quick lunch at a Jack-in-the-Box right up the street, and then took the bike in to the Harley dealership (which boasts to be the world’s largest) for the oil change and new rear tire. Pulling in was fun, as usual, and provided a few laughs, especially when one of the service guys mounted the bike to drive it into the service bay. It was painfully obvious that the guy had never driven a sidecar rig before, and hadn’t a clue how to make tight turns. Terry debated offering her services as a ferry driver, but the fellow eventually got it turned around and aimed for the service doors. Then came the next funny: the doors, opened normally, weren’t wide enough for the outfit! They had to open a third, normally fixed panel to get the thing inside! Once inside, though, the service bay was huge.

 

It took about two and a half hours from start to finish, but that gave us time to plan our next day. I called my former neighbors Ron and Ruth, who live above Vegas in Henderson, to switch our get-together to tomorrow after our Hoover Dam tour and Lake Mead cruise, and we looked at the maps to get a sense of where we’d be.

 

When the bike was finished, we parked it back at the hotel, shed our leathers, and took the shuttle over to the Bellagio. We walked through the place (which was used during the filming of Ocean’s Eleven), lost a few bucks in the slots, missed the dancing waters show, and walked on. We stopped for dinner at the Harley-Davidson café. Terry and Mom decided that their barbecued ribs, which we’d split as an appetizer, weren’t nearly as good as the food at Tumbleweeds, their favorite barbecue stop in Milwaukee. The veggie wraps, though, were very tasty; the portabella mushrooms set off the roasted squash and whatnot very nicely.

 

We kept strolling down the Strip to New York, New York, and called for our ride back to the Hampton. A good day, even if not what we had originally planned back before Labor Day in Denver disrupted our bike maintenance schedule. 

Read Part Two

 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

Thursday, 21 August 2003

 

The Rider’s Edge group riding class this morning was a trip and a half – the crowd was lively and thoroughly into both the topic and having fun. We really enjoyed the class, and I learned some things. We all learned – quite accidentally – a new hand signal made up on the spot: the thumb and forefinger held in a circle, while the other fingers flutter like a wing as the arm moves in an arc – the symbol for a “flying asshole!” That will be a hilariously enduring memory for everyone who was in the class! I wonder how far that hand signal will spread, as the class members carry it on with them?

 

We bought our first t-shirts of the trip. The dealership had done up a truly colorful design to commemorate the opening party of the Ride, “Thunder on the River.” Available in either black or white, the shirts sported a winged crawfish rising from a fleur-de-lis, draped with Mardi Gras beads. We were delighted with them, and looked forward to finding other themed shirts for each of the main stops along the Ride, although we did wonder where we’d find room to pack them all ... which turned out not to be a worry, alas. More on that later.

 

After the class and the shopping, we drove out to Nottoway, the largest remaining antebellum plantation mansion. The house wasn’t the most opulent or the largest ever built, but it is the most magnificent still remaining, after 144 years. The tour was marvelous, and our tour guide provided a sample of the gospel music being conserved by historians at the plantation. She had a glorious voice and a passion for the music, the history, and the house that made the tour a delight. If you want, you can stay at Nottoway: the plantation operates as a bed and breakfast.

 

It also has an excellent restaurant in Randolph Hall, a building separate from the house, and we had a delicious lunch there. Mom and Terry spilt a succulent prime rib, while I had a chicken breast with mushroom sauce and the chef’s special jambalaya.

 

We rode back to Baton Rouge and dropped in on some clients of Ruthie’s at a local clinic, bearing gifts of Arizona herbal teas – Energy, Stress, Health, and Memory. We really freaked out the place, showing up in our leathers, and everybody had a really good laugh. Linda said that they were starting to think that Ruthie – whom they always viewed as a live wire – maybe really was the sedate one in the family! Terry was quick to set her straight, that Terry – biker babe extraordinaire! – is nonetheless the quiet one. (Hmm – she lets her Harley do the talking?)

We headed off to Thunder on the River, the official party kicking off the South Central Ride Home. Just as we arrived at the Mississippi River party site downtown, it started to pour again – a rerun of yesterday’s ferocious 16:00 thunderstorm. We parked the bike by the levee and dashed for the cover of the portico of an abandoned hotel, and reached the overhang before being thoroughly soaked. We spent the next half-hour chatting with other damp refugees, watching the vicious storm sweep over. We were lucky that the portico was deep, because the wind blew savagely and kept changing direction, bringing the rain slashing in sideways. The thunder and lightning were literally right on top of us – it really was “Thunder on the River,” although not the way Harley intended!

 

The storm passed after about 40 minutes, and we emerged to lock our jackets in the bike and walk the party grounds. The storm had really done a number on the party: the artisans had all packed up, the band hadn’t even gotten to set up, and the vendors had lost power for their cash registers. Only cash sales were going on, because they couldn’t clear credit card charges. But the pig roast had finished before the rain hit, so we picked up wonderful free “cachon au lait” for dinner. We bought official Ride shirts styled for ladies, in grey with the four routes’ cities listed on the back (and we later learned that those shirts were available only at the official stops on the Rides – if you weren’t there, you missed them!). All of us picked up free green Mardi Gras beads with an alligator pendant, and Terry and I got temporary tattoos with the Thunder on the River symbol, the winged crawfish fleur-de-lis draped in Mardi Gras beads.

 

While we were on the grounds, we were approached by a poll-taker asking questions on behalf of Baton Rouge, researching doing events such as this. We had fun answering her questions, although the weather had rendered some of them problematic. She gave us temporary tattoos to take home (I’ll wear mine when I go back to work, and to the Red Cross!), and a plastic Baton Rouge pin.

 

We ran into Vince and his crew, doing interviews. We’d seen them at breakfast in the morning – they were staying at our same hotel. We swapped stories of the day. Vince told us that, if we were down early for breakfast again, we might see him off, since he was planning to move out around 6:30 to get to Memphis early enough to file his first live report of the trip; Fox had no live broadcast capability from Baton Rouge.

 

We roamed around for a while longer, and then headed back to our hotel, getting home a bit after 19:00. When we left, it looked as if things were picking up at the party, but nothing was happening on the stage yet, what with no electricity, and we always knew that we wouldn’t be around for the official fireworks show, which wasn’t scheduled to start until after 22:30, especially since we were anticipating a 394-mile haul to Memphis tomorrow. It was a little disappointing not to get to hear the official welcome from the Harley execs, but we figured we’d have other opportunities.

 

Friday, 22 August 2003

 

Today, we did almost nothing but drive on the 400-mile haul from Baton Rouge to Memphis. But the ride was fun!

We left around 7:30, about 20 minutes after Vince and the Fox 6 van pulled out. As we rode, we passed another biker in fringed leathers, who fell in behind us. Some miles down the road, a third biker fell in behind him, running in a properly staggered formation. When we pulled off at the Mississippi welcome station for a potty stop, they pulled off along with us, and we met Jim from Gainesville, FL and Mike and Mary from Atlanta, GA. They liked the pace that Terry was setting, and we rode as a group all the way to Memphis, sharing lunch and water breaks along the way. We arranged to meet again at the local dealership the next morning at 8:00, to ride together to Nashville, our next stop. We got to put our brand-new Rider’s Edge group riding training to good use really quickly after having taken the course! Jim and Mike were both great group riders – Jim kept a comfortable distance behind us, and Mike had a sixth sense about when Terry would want us to change lanes, using his 100th anni edition Ultra Glide to anchor our back door so that all three bikes could move smoothly as a group. Poetry in motion!

 

As we rode, we started seeing more and more bikes on the move. Sometimes when we stopped for water and gas breaks, we saw much larger groups than our breeze by, even as many as 20 bikers at a stretch, all waving at those of us off on the side. I’d not like to ride in a group that large, but it was something to see, especially knowing that all of us were part of the larger group on the road for Milwaukee.

 

We reached Memphis around 15:00, and went straight to the local dealer. It was a wonderful ride, bright and sunny, with mostly good roads and no real traffic until we hit a humongous backup in Memphis due to a traffic accident on the freeway we had to use. The bike was heating up, and Mike and Mary’s dresser actually did overheat and die on them, although Mike got it started after only a momentary stoppage. We were briefly separated in the traffic jam, but we came back into our customary formation before we reached the exit for the dealership.

 

The dealership was a bit of a zoo, with many bikers already parked and more coming in. Water, watermelon, and some other refreshments were available, but this dealer, unlike the one in Baton Rouge, had not done a unique shirt for the Ride. We were disappointed. We did have a few laughs and cheers, though, especially for the stunt rider, Bubba Blackwell, who performed in the parking lot. He did wheelies and headstands and burned rubber donuts, but the cutest trick was his tractor jump. Understand, this guy nearly died on July 4, 2001, trying to jump 22 cars. He asked the audience if they wanted to see him jump again, and the response was unanimous. He explained that it would take a little time to set up ... and his crew brought out and set up a short ramp maybe ten feet long and two feet at the high end, and then drew out a toy train of about ten linked toy tractors, little plastic John Deere models about eight to ten inches tall! He did indeed jump a Buell Blast over the little tractors, to much laughter. On a serious note, he announced that he was planning on doing a real jump again in Milwaukee on 30 August, because he wasn’t going to end his career jumping Harleys with the failed jump that had nearly killed him. Bubba Blackwell, madman.

We headed off to check into our hotel, which was the very first Hampton Inn, currently undergoing major renovation. We found a coin laundry a couple of blocks away, and rather than go to the Beale Street party (us not being party animals), we stopped for a soup and salad dinner at Ruby Tuesday and then did our laundry. At the time, I was sorry to miss Beale Street, especially since there wouldn’t be a general Harley street party in Nashville, and Beale Street would have been the only place where we might have found Memphis-exclusive merchandise. But Beale Street didn’t begin until 18:00, and our laundry wasn’t done until 20:20. In the end, however, I learned that I hadn’t missed anything in the merchandise line, because – unlike Baton Rouge – the local dealers hadn’t done anything unique.

 

Saturday, 23 August 2003

 

We rendezvoused with Jim, Mike, and Mary at the Memphis dealership in the morning, but we started later than we had intended because so many chatty people were around. Members of the Christian Motorcycling Association blessed the bike and us, and then we were finally on our way. The run to Nashville took only a few hours, and was uneventful: the weather was wonderful (after a truly vicious storm in the night that had tumbled one of our new acquaintances – in his tent – a good 30 feet from where he’d gone to sleep!), the water/gas/potty stops were congenial, and the traffic was unremarkable.

 

C&S Harley in Nashville looks like a 1950’s diner. They had their act together, this dealership: they had planned for the volume of traffic, had parking areas scoped out and flagmen directing, and moved people with commendable speed and efficiency. They were serving lunch, too: baked beans, chips, and pickles with a choice of either roast chicken or a pork barbecue sandwich. Yummy! They had set up tables in part of their service floor, so you could eat indoors, and the decor was pretty unique; the ceiling above our heads was part of their storage area, with bikes and parts visible through the grating. We chowed down, then wandered through the dealership’s store. Like Memphis, there was no unique t-shirt for this city on the Ride. Our best guess was that only the Rendezvous cities may have special shirts, so we started looking forward to Indianapolis and the Harley Rendezvous there.

 

We listened to the live band for a little while, and then headed off to find our hotel and a church. This Hampton proved to be the ritziest yet, even fancier than New Orleans (well, only maybe – New Orleans was pretty fancy ...). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to take advantage of the whirlpool and the outdoor swimming pool, because by the time we got back from church, it was already 19:00.

 

Still, on our way to find a church – the third cathedral of the trip, the Cathedral of the Incarnation (the first cathedral was St. John’s, in Milwaukee) – we took a brief cruise through downtown Nashville. I can’t prove it, because we didn’t stop anywhere and I couldn’t take pictures, but Nashville has an interesting skyline and an immediately recognizable character. All I can say is, this is Music City. Helps to explain all the guitar decorations on buildings.

 

This trip just hasn’t left us much time for touring in the places we stop on the Ride. We saw nothing at all of Memphis, and virtually nothing but a drive-through of Nashville. At least we’ll have two days in Indianapolis – not that there’s all that much to see in Indy, according to the guide books.

 

Sunday, 24 August 2003

 

We rode in to Indy in absolutely perfect weather – bright skies and wonderful temperatures. The road was good and the traffic fine, and some of the scenery was very amusing, particularly a Harley dealership at which we didn’t stop in Louisville, KY: they had a huge inflated birthday cake in their parking lot next to the highway, complete with too many candles to count. We stopped for lunch just after clearing the construction at Louisville, and pulled in to Indianapolis a little after 14:00. There was a gathering at the Southside Harley dealer, where we stopped briefly before checking in at out hotels. We met up with Mike, Mary, and Jim again at our hotel at 15:00, and headed into downtown Indy for the Harley Rendezvous in Military Park, the Circle City Pit Stop for the Ride Home. We parked on grass with a few thousand other bikes, and roved the dealer tents only to be disappointed yet again. The dealers had done a “Circle City Pit Stop” shirt for their event volunteers, playing on the racetrack theme of the city, but they hadn’t done any to sell to participants in the Ride. All we could do was shake our heads at the marketing opportunities that all these dealers were missing. Every other rider we talked to was involved in the same hunt that we were – t-shirt remembrances – and all were disappointed.

 

The party was fun, though. We saw a lot of uniquely customized bikes (the iridescent purple-blue eagle paint job with the eagle claw kickstand was particularly notable), took in a display of historic machines, listened to the bands, drank lemonade, and heard a few Harley execs speak, along with city officials who welcomed us to Indy. That was pretty much it for the day.

 

Monday, 25 August 2003

 

What a day! Perfect weather yet again, a cool museum – the Hall of Fame at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and two laps around the Brickyard track, topped off with a delicious buffet dinner on pit road and photos taken on the finish line. Mike and Mary didn’t attend this one, but we had Jim for a companion, and we enjoyed every minute. This was a special event totally worth the price, and a ride we’ll all long remember. Terry will certainly never forget the strain and challenge of holding the car and bike steady on that banked race track, and I won’t forget juggling Jim’s professional Nikon and my little APS, taking pictures facing both forward and aft during the track laps. One of the Indianapolis police riders, staying on the bottom strip, rode standing up on his bike’s seat for long stretches, even into the turns! Sometimes he had his hand on his hips, sometimes he waved at the bikers and the many photo-takers. What a hoot!

 

There was also a true nut of a biker in a kilt and sporran with a voice sounding more Aussie than Scotland, but whatever his origin, he was a trip! Another biker came costumed as a late-stage Elvis in gold-trimmed white jumpsuit and cape, riding a bike to match.


If anything got said officially there, we didn’t hear it, but we did meet some Harley execs courtesy of Jim, who recognized them and pointed them out to us. While we were waiting in the queue for them to open the gates into the track, Terry got to talk to one of them about the oil dipstick problems she’s had – oh, yeah, the day began with the breakage of the third temperature sensor dipstick, and a quick visit to the local Harley dealership to get the stuck piece pulled free and to buy and install a replacement. She also got to talk to the fellow who now heads up the fiberglass works at Tomahawk about the desire often expressed by other sidecar enthusiasts for a bumper package like the chrome on Terry’s bike (which is a European trim not available in the States), as well as her problem with a stripped screw on the sidecar windscreen and with speckling appearing on the vinyl fairing on top of the bike’s dash. It was fun to see these execs poring over the bike and taking suggestions. I’ll be really tickled if I hear that Terry’s sidecar trim package is being made available in the States sometime.

 

There was a dealer party starting that day, but apart from a pretty impressive collection of bikes, a truly hilarious balloon in the shape of the headlight, gas tank, and handlebars of a bike, and food we didn’t eat (except for ice cream) because of concern about spoiling our dinner, nothing at the party tripped our triggers.

 

There was one cool thing, though: the dealership prominently displays a family photograph of the owner’s family, all on Harleys, from grandma and grandpa with a sidehack down through kids and grandkids. Great picture! Terry and I met the patriarch himself in the buffet line at Indy, and complimented him on the picture.

 

You meet the nicest people on Harleys. A young couple – Hugo and Laura – who had ridden up from Monterey, Mexico, shared our table and their story of their ride, which had been the first long motorcycle trip for them.

 

This was the best of days. Tomorrow we’ll make our last stop, in Rockford, IL.

 

Tuesday, 26 August 2003

 

We had another wonderful day of driving, with fine weather that got a bit hot by midday. We stopped in Minock for lunch, and afterward, Mike couldn’t get his 7-month-old Ultra Glide to start; it cranked, but the engine wasn’t getting any gas. Mike, Jim, Terry, and a few Harley bystanders pored over the bike, but in the end, the best they could figure was that it needed work only a dealer could do. Terry pulled out her HOG book and located a dealer only a few miles away, and Mike wound up calling them for a tow. With help on the way, Mike and Mary told the rest of us to ride on, and not to wait for them.

With Jim still in our rearview mirrors, we rode on to Kegel’s, the dealership in Rockford hosting the party. As we got close, we started seeing groups of people on bridges over the highway, watching and waving at the arrival of all the bikes coming in. We learned that they were expecting 25-30,000 bikes to arrive during the day. Kegel’s was a madhouse, loaded with bikes. The cops were out in force to direct traffic, but the congestion was still major. In the dealership, Jim found that they’d already sold out of dealer pins and their dealership’s 100th anniversary shirt, even though it was only 15:30. Once again, no special Ride shirt was available. We walked the rest of the grounds, which had tents with food and crafts. We each took chances on a classic Limited Edition Corvette, beautifully restored. We laughed to see a fellow from Sturgis who had his bike done up as a bison, complete with hide and horns, and we also saw our hilarious Scottish friend from the racetrack at Indy.

 

When we were ready to leave the dealership for our hotel, we said farewell to Jim, since he was heading up to the Riders Ranch campsite outside Milwaukee. We’ll miss him.

 

Wednesday, 27 August 2003

 

Well, today we finished the official Ride to Milwaukee in true Harley fashion, by taking the long way home getting our passports stamped at dealerships across southern and central Wisconsin. The weather stayed perfect. It felt odd to be riding with no other motorcycles holding formation in our rearview mirrors, but it was a great ride, and we were far from alone; every time we neared a dealership, the number of motorcycles on the road increased.

 

But the most amazing thing were the crowds not on motorcycles. All along the highways heading toward Milwaukee, from all directions, there were impromptu gatherings of people on overpasses and beside exit ramps, waving at all the motorcycles going by. Many had large signs:  “Welcome Home, Milwaukee Iron!” said one, and there were others with “Happy Birthday, Harley!” or “Happy 100th!”  or  “Welcome, Bikers! (or Harley Riders!)”  Most common of all, though, were the ones that simply said, “Welcome Home!”

 

And that’s really what it felt like. All of Wisconsin put out the welcome mat for Milwaukee’s most famous noisy children, who came home from all over the world, and it wasn’t just the organized events; it was the ordinary people who, on their own, decided to stop by the nearest highway and watch the steady stream of arrivals, and wave and cheer. Imagine a parade of ordinary people that wound its way all across the state, gathering crowds everywhere; that was today, and the next several days that followed. It was extraordinary.

 

And I knew that I’d come home to Wisconsin when I saw the first sign that said, “Buy with ease – we’ll SHIP your cheese!”

 

The Party

For days on end, both at home in Milwaukee, and up north at the HOG XX Rally, we saw literally hundreds of thousands of bikes parked at every Harley venue through the end of August. The line of parked bikes extended for miles along Lakeshore Drive, the Lake Michigan coastline. At the block party at House of Harley, home base for Terry’s Baby, main drag Layton Avenue was closed for five blocks, which were given over to vendors and displays. Every time we approached an intersection, we saw bikes at all cardinal points. Biker etiquette says that you acknowledge other bikers when you cross paths – which explains why you see hand signals and small waves exchanged between passing bikers – but there were so many bikers on the roads that you’d have had to have left your hand permanently in the “wave” position to swap the customary greeting! Folk gave up on hands and contented themselves with small nods – which meant that we saw a lot of living “bobblehead” toys with nodding helmets!

 

On Sunday, the parade of 10,000 Harleys rode down Wisconsin Avenue, stopping all activity in the city that wasn’t Harley. What made this truly unique was the parade of HOG chapter flags, because the flags celebrated chapters from all over the world and were carried by riders who had come incredible distances to be part of the Ride Home. It was also a bit of celebration for us, because we saw our road comrades Mike and Mary in the parade – our first opportunity to learn that they had overcome the difficulties that had incapacitated their bike and had made it to the Party.

 

What can I say? It was all good: the huge gatherings at the Summerfest grounds and the lakefront Veteran’s Park; the special motorcycle art display at the splendid Milwaukee art gallery (which posted its largest-ever attendance records during the Party); the massive HOG XX rally; the monster Reunion Bash out at State Fair Park – wall-to-wall fun with people from everywhere in the world sharing the joy of the biggest, longest party I’ve ever seen in my life.

 

Believe me: It’s not true that you can’t go home again. Not when home is Milwaukee, and the way that you get there is Ride.

  
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

The Ride Home – August 15-30, 2003

 

In 2003, Harley-Davidson celebrated its 100th anniversary by sending out the word to all Harley owners and riders to “ride home” to Milwaukee for the party of the century. Four organized rides headed toward Milwaukee, originating from Washington, DC; Baton Rouge, LA; Portland, OR; and Las Vegas, NV. Mom, Terry and I joined the South Central Ride by heading down to New Orleans and playing tourist, and then starting back from Baton Rouge. It really was one long party on wheels, and here is our story.

 

Friday, 15 August 2003

 

We started the Ride a hair after 3:30 in the morning, and pushed straight down to Marion, IL. The weather was gorgeous – hazy and humid in the very early morning, but bright and sunny throughout the day. We spent a large part of the run on Hwy 57, which proved to be a lovely road, not too crowded. There was a lot of road construction going on, but it didn’t hold us up at all.

 

First fun thing along the way: We stopped for breakfast at an Iron Skillet, and on our way back to the highway (which proved to be a very convoluted and not well labeled route) encountered another biker, who pulled up beside us, took in the rig, and exclaimed, “Cool!” He also applauded our helmets.

 

We got to Marion at 13:00, after way too few hours of sleep, so we started out our Marion stay with a nap. The Hampton Inn had a pool just the right temperature to refresh us after we woke up, and we took a walk to Red Lobster for dinner. Mom took a stumble along the way, but wound up with only a few scrapes that our resident nurse quickly treated.

 

We had fascinating company at the Hampton: on our return from dinner, we found a tiny little bright yellow and white Bandolero-class race car, which literally fit in the load bed of a pickup truck, parked at the motel. We learned that the owner was selling the racer to a fellow in North Carolina. That mini-race car was my first photo of the trip.

 

Saturday, 16 August 2003

 

This was another pounding day, burning up the miles with a run down to Jackson, MS. We went through bits of multiple states, from Illinois to Missouri to Arkansas to Tennessee to Mississippi. The loser was Arkansas – the roads in that short stretch were in the poorest condition, and neither Arkansas nor Missouri were big on telling us much, like how far it was to the next city. Guess they really wanted you to wonder where you were and how long it would take you to escape.

 

My thrill of the day was seeing a crop duster at work. We saw this small plane swooping down on a field ahead and to our left, and then we saw the spray engaged. He finished just before we reached the field, and banked sharply up and over to fly right over us not sixty feet off the deck on his way to the next field. Wheee!

Just as we arrived at the first exits for Jackson, the clouds that had been building during the afternoon dumped their load in a cloudburst. We were so close to our exit, but just not quite close enough – we got thoroughly soaked in record time, especially when some bloody van went whipping past us and doused us with a roostertail of water from a huge puddle in the road. We pulled into our Hampton Inn, squished our way upstairs, and started stripping off and draping things to dry.

 

We decided to head off to church, since we couldn’t do much else in a thunderstorm and the service was only 45 minutes away. This time, we called a cab. Of course, by the time the cab dropped us at the cathedral, the rain was over and the sun was back out ...

 

Mass was a treat; we had the Bishop as our celebrant and the music was delightful, with a really gifted female cantor. We walked back to our motel, taking in the sights between the Capitol and our new home away from home, including the Governor’s mansion and the state fair grounds, which were the scene of a hunter-jumper horse show. We didn’t have time to drop in and watch, though.

 

Jackson was having its own version of Chicago’s “Cows on Parade” and DC’s “Party Animals” – the city had been taken over by catfish! The downtown area had a whole school of them, including a grilling chef catfish reading his recipe book, a groom catfish in a tux, a waiter catfish snootily proffering a tray, and even a catfish with the most amazing Snidely Whiplash-style handlebar moustaches! Alas, I didn’t have my camera handy to catch any of them, nor did I see anything in print describing this fishy situation.

 

Sunday, 17 August 2003

 

This morning, we did a quick load of laundry a bit earlier in the trip than we had planned, to deal with all our soaked stuff, and then hit the road for Vicksburg to tour the battlefield. Wow! The opening film wasn’t nearly as good as some of the presentations we saw a couple of years back on our Piedmont/Shenandoah Civil War tour, but the 16-mile driving tour was gorgeous. The battleground was incredible, all steep hills and deep ravines that must have been a nightmare for the armies to fight across. All we did was go up and down and up and down in 95-degree heat. It was beautiful and the monuments were impressive, seemingly numbered in the thousands; much like Gettysburg, only greatly more contained. The grounds include a museum built around the raised remnants of the ironclad City Class river gunboat Cairo, which is really something to see. All that’s left of Cairo is a wooden skeleton with boilers, engines, and guns, but they’ve built a ghost of the ship around what’s left of her, so you can see what she looked like.

 

We passed on taking a Mississippi River cruise when we got a look at the boat, which was a fair bit less than appealing. Instead, we cruised historic downtown Vicksburg – which was pretty much closed for renovations. We headed back toward the highway and found a late lunch at a Cracker Barrel, and then rode a 60-mile stretch of the lovely, historic Natchez Trace back to Jackson. The Trace is a two-lane road with virtually nothing along it except trees, crops, bayous, rivers, creeks, and lots of beauty. Also, absolutely no traffic. The Trace began life as an Indian trail, and then became the major transportation route between Nashville and Natchez. Interstate highways have taken over the burden of traffic, but the route of the Trace has been preserved as a truly scenic drive.

 

Monday, 18 August 2003

 

We took on the bit over 4-hour run from Jackson to New Orleans, and our newest Hampton Inn home in the Garden District, with the St. Charles streetcar running just outside our front door. We had another hot, bright day, and although we got rained on a bit, that didn’t happen until after we’d parked the bike and gone walking.

 

Lunch was at Copeland’s, a Cajun steakhouse about eight blocks from our hotel, and it was magnificent. Mom and Terry split a ribeye, while I had a teriyaki sirloin. We split our two sides, garlic mashed potatoes and a huge head of broccoli. Yummy!

 

After lunch, we stopped at the hotel for essentials, and then headed out in spitting rain to take the streetcar down St. Charles to Bourbon Street. We strolled down Bourbon Street – which is even seedier that I remember it being back in about 1984 – and stopped at the Cajun Seaport for a Coke and a few dry minutes. We continued on our way to the Place du Armes, and stopped at a praline shop and had fun with the clerk while Terry and I shipped sweets home. By the time we came out, the clouds were gone and the sun was pouring down. Terry read the map and we took an informal walking tour of the French Quarter, past the Convent of the Ursulines and other landmarks. All of the building tours were either over for the day or didn’t run on Mondays, but we saw all the famous old houses from the outside and peered in through gates at gardens and hidden gems. We finally made up for a lot of missed walking from the days we spent pounding on the motorcycle!

 

We wound up our French Quarter tour at the famous Café du Monde for beignets and frozen café au lait. It’s a good thing there were three of us, because a single order of beignets has three big pastries in it!

 

After our snack, we strolled along the river Moonwalk, and then rode the Riverwalk street car all the way around its loop, ogling the traffic on the Mississippi River. We got off at Canal on the way back and invested a few bucks in the slots at Harrod’s, and then walked back to catch the streetcar back up to our hotel and home for the night. Cheese and iced tea were laid out in the lobby, so we had yet another tasty snack before going up to our room and doing our hand laundry. Our entertainment during teatime was the hotel’s resident parrot, named Antonini.

 

Tuesday, 19 August 2003

 

Today we headed down to the Riverwalk and bought tickets on the Cajun Queen for a cruise down the Mississippi to the site of the Battle of New Orleans. The cruise was pleasant, and the amount of shipping traffic on the river was impressive. Hopefully, I got some good pictures of the New Orleans skyline.

 

The battlefield tour began with a house that had nothing to do with the battle: it was a summer house built in 1835 by a wealthy family escaping yellow fever season in the city, and the U.S. Park Service maintains the house simply because it stands on the property where for three weeks in 1813, the campaign for control of New Orleans raged as the last major conflict of the War of 1812. They use its empty rooms as staging areas when reenactors come out to replay parts of the battle.

 

There is little to see on the battlefield itself, but the Park Service tour guide was entertaining. Basically, the British failed to make it all the way across a winter field with a ditch – the Rodriguez Canal, separating the fields of two different families – to dislodge the Americans from behind their makeshift rampart. The Brits had rowed 60 miles in from the Gulf in freezing rain, losing over 200 men to hypothermia before the battle even started. The Americans had flooded the field, turning it into a sea of freezing mud. They had the river on one flank and a swamp on the other, and the Brits couldn’t beat both the terrain and the Americans. The Brits succeeded on the other side of the river, overrunning and capturing the American artillery, but too late to affect the main battle.

 

We had a tasty Cajun lunch on board the ship – jambalaya, red beans and rice, and a wonderful bourbon bread pudding – and sailed back to the city. Then we caught the city bus to the New Orleans Museum of Art to see the special display “Jefferson’s America, Napoleon’s France,” celebrating the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase. It was a good show. There were many artifacts and works of art on loan from France and the Smithsonian and Monticello, and even one artifact – a carved stone Natchez Indian ceremonial tobacco pipe in the shape of a kneeling man – on loan from the Milwaukee Public Museum. Small world!

 

We caught the bus back to Bourbon Street, bought postcards on the way to the streetcar stop, and finished the day with a Baskin Robbins stop. Yummy!

 

Terry checked out the bike for tomorrow, and thought that the front brake pads might be wearing unevenly. To deal with that, we changed our itinerary, deciding to bypass the causeway over Ponchartrain, to stop at only one plantation – Nottoway – en route to Baton Rouge, and then to take the bike in for service at the Harley dealer in Baton Rouge.

 

Wednesday, 20 August 2003

 

Today began the official Ride Home, as we arrived at Baton Rouge and gave an interview to Vince Condella, the Fox 6 weatherman from Milwaukee who is making the Ride his feature story opportunity. Whee!

 

The day didn’t go quite as planned. We had intended to tour Nottoway plantation along the scenic route on the river between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. What we learned, however, was that state roads in Louisiana are not particularly well marked: signs were sometimes spotty, and never provided an indication of direction. Somewhere along the way, we took a wrong turn on Hwy 1, and wound up making a large circle in the wrong direction. We saw a lot of petroleum refinery docks! Oh, well. We gave up on plantations and set a direct course for Baton Rouge and the local Harley dealership to get the brakes and rear tire checked out.

 

Now, this will require a little bit of backstory. The day before we left on the Ride, Terry got a voicemail message from Vince Condella, the Fox 6 weatherman. Vince said that he was going to be doing the Ride himself and sending back stories along the way to Milwaukee, and that he’d learned from Mom and Terry’s postman – who does professional photography on the side –  that Terry and Mom would be doing the Ride and might make good interview subjects. Terry called him back and left a message on his voicemail, explaining just a bit about the “Biker Babes” and saying that we’d be happy to be part of his story. She also left him information about when we would arrive in Baton Rouge and where we’d be staying, since it was clear that, because we were leaving so early, we wouldn’t be able to connect with him before we were all in Louisiana.

 

Anyway, as we pulled in at the dealership, I saw a guy offloading a large, professional video camera from an unmarked white van. Mom and I dismounted in our usual involved production, attracting the usual amount of attention, and Terry wheeled the bike into the service bay just as Cary, the Fox 6 producer, came up and asked if we were the ones who’d spoken to Vince Condella. Turns out that Vince had shipped his purple Harley down from Milwaukee, and was looking it over right next to the service bay. We laughed about the exchange of voicemail messages, got introduced to Vince and his cameraman, and then just settled in for fun. We chowed down on jambalaya and garden salad dished up gratis by the dealership, chatted with a lot of nice people, and ultimately stood in front of the camera with Vince for our interview. It was fun! Of course, we didn’t get to see the story until well after we got back from the trip ... but we heard about it almost as soon as we hit home, since all the neighbors had seen it.

 

We signed up for a free Rider’s Edge class being offered the next day, about riding in groups, and Terry bought oil and ride pins. Baby checked out fine – the tire and the front brakes will need to be replaced when we return to Milwaukee, but would be fine for the rest of the trip. We hopped back on and headed out to find our motel, and once again, our timing was exquisite: we checked in, brought in all our luggage, started checking over our itinerary – and saw the sky absolutely open and dump. For the half hour from 15:45 to 16:15, we were under a severe thunderstorm warning, and it poured. We sipped Dr Pepper and watched the sky fall.

 

Close to 17:00, we headed out again to Casino Rouge, a steamboat permanently moored beside a large land structure, for a bit of slots and a dinner buffet. The rain had stopped and the ride was fine. The slots were cold, but dinner was good. We cruised a bit of downtown, where we’ll party tomorrow, and then went home.

Read Part Two

 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
The Biker Babes’ South Dakota G’Journey, Part Three


Sunday, 25 August 2002: Keystone and Mount Rushmore

This morning, we went up past Keystone to Mount Rushmore. Gorgeous day, expansive blue sky, and the memorial – awesome! I can’t figure why we never came here when we were kids, but ... it’s a great show. Realizing what went into bringing it about, and all without any fatalities or serious accidents, was humbling and amazing. The visitor center has a good film, museum displays, a cafeteria (I had the buffalo stew!), and a nifty gift shop that provided the three of us with matching patriotic red, white, and blue shirts. We walked all the trails providing views of the memorial and stopped at the sculptor’s workshop and the generator house. Wow! Hopefully the pictures will come out – especially Mom and Terry adding a couple of faces to the memorial, and the picture of the three of us on the bike in front of the sign. Terry spotted the sign in Keystone with a family doing the picture thing in front of it (the kids had lined up all their beanie babies on the stone plinth!), and she pulled the bike around in a turn to ask if the folks would be willing to take a picture of us. If that one comes out, we’ll have something to send to Hog Tales ... (Contemporary note from me:  It worked, and that’s now my icon for these stories!)

On the way down and back from the memorial, we drove through the heart of the Battle Creek fire area. The fire is fully contained and now almost totally out, but the tent city of the firefighters is still beside the highway at Rockerville. At its worst, the fire had actually jumped across Highway 16, and we drove right through the burned-over part. That was amazing. You could see where the fire had been, and the road was stained red in spots where fire retardant dropped from helicopters had hit the highway as well as the trees. Whole hillsides were nothing but charred poles of tree trunks, marked at the fire edge by trees whose foliage was fried brown and others whose trunks showed char but whose needles were untouched.

We walked through Keystone after leaving the Rushmore memorial, and then we rode the 1880 Train from Keystone to Hill City and back. The 1880 Train is an old steam engine with historic cars that runs on old rails up and down the mountain. We’d seen mountain goats up at Rushmore: from the train, we saw lots of white-tail deer and some wild turkeys. Sights along the way included views of Harney Peak, the tallest point between the Alps and the Rockies; the ghost stop of Oblivion, an appropriately named and long-abandoned town once used in the filming of Gunsmoke, and more recently in the film Orphan Train; and tracks off to now-abandoned tin, tungsten, and gold mines. One of the richest of those mines, the Holy Terror, brought a funny story with it; the tale is that the miner named it for his wife, who had been upset that he’d never named a venture for her. Apparently the gold that came out of this one sweetened her temper! Hill City is the main train depot, where I finally saw in person something I’d only ever seen in Western movies – a steam locomotive taking on water. The train is a great ride.

 

Monday, 26 August 2002: Crazy Horse Mountain, Custer; Big Thunder Gold Mine, Keystone

 

Crazy Horse is a memorial more monumental than Rushmore: a carving of Crazy Horse mounted on a horse, showing Crazy Horse from the waist up, and the head, neck, and one lifted foreleg of the horse. In fifty years, the only feature that has been completed is the face of Crazy Horse. All four of the heads on Rushmore would fit in the head and flowing hair of Crazy Horse! The family sculpting it is working now on the head of the horse, which will be 22 stories tall. It’s impressive, but I wonder how much I’ll see completed in my lifetime, especially since the final complex is supposed to incorporate an airport, a university, and a hospital as well as the existing museum. The project accepts no government or taxpayer funding, but relies entirely on donations.

 

From the memorial, we took a trip through Custer State Park again, but this time on the Needles Highway. The Needles are striking granite spires, many with rocks precariously balanced atop columns. Wow! The scenery was spectacular: too bad I can’t keep a camera clicking while I ride. Helmet-cam, where are you? There are far more images in my mind’s eye than in my camera. We saw more deer on this trip, and one more bison. We never saw bison in herds; we’ve always seen them either solitary, or in a group of two. Makes you wonder about those herds ...

 

But we saw more than did the two unfathomable men who dug the Big Thunder gold mine in Keystone. Of all the mines available to tour, this one had the easiest access. Unfortunately, it also had the poorest guide of the trip. The Big Thunder is a drift mine, which means it is a hole dug mostly straight back into the side of a mountain. Well, it’s not actually straight back; the tunnel has one slight kink in it, so that someone blasting at the face would have a place to shelter if the charges went off before he could make it all the way out the mouth! (The other mine types are open pit mines, which are simply excavations stripping off the surface of a mountain, like the Homestake Mine, or shaft mines that drill straight down into the ground and then have tunnels opening off of them, like the Holy Terror.) Anyway, this particular drift mine goes 680 feet into the side of a hill. The two men who owned it spent 32 years digging it out, and after all that time and effort, it netted them a grand total of 10 ounces of gold, worth about $50 at the time. They were digging right next to one of the richest drift mines in the area, but the rich veins that they were hoping to intersect petered out before reaching their tunnel. Our question was, what idiocy kept them hoping and digging for 32 years? You’d think that anyone with a brain would have given up long before then!

 

By the time we left the mine, the weather had turned, so we put on our gear in the rain and rode home wet. Didn’t dampen our spirits any!

Tuesday, 27 August 2002: Devil’s Tower, WY; Hulett, WY; Spearfish, SD

 

In the morning we made tracks for Devil’s Tower, crossing the state line into Wyoming. More beautiful country! The Tower was really impressive, especially when you saw the fallen columns up close and realized just how huge each of those formations really was. We walked the 1.25 mile Tower Trail in a little over an hour, with frequent stops to look up and look out. Looking up was enlivened even more when we realized that we could see groups of climbers on their way up. Yipes! We all decided that wasn’t for us.

 

We also saw our first honest-to-Pete herd of bison – as opposed to single animals – grazing in a pasture below the Tower along the Belle Fourche river, but from as high as we were, they were just specks that could have been cattle or horses. Only when we drove past them later on en route to Hulett for lunch and the long scenic route home could we confirm that they were, indeed, bison.

 

Hulett was a cute little town where we opted to hit the Pizza Plus Café for lunch, and wound up with a yummy veggie pizza. There’s not much at all to Hulett, but it’s cute!

 

The scenic drive through Wyoming was beautiful. All of the country out here is full of abrupt changes, with sudden painted rock escarpments jutting up from grasslands. The soil was very red, and so were the lowest layers of most of the little cliff faces, shading to gold above. Pretty.

 

We returned to Spearfish to buy tickets for the night’s performance of the Black Hills Passion Play and to kill time until the show. The layout reminded me a lot of the Shepherd of the Hills production in Branson – an amphitheatre built into a rustic hillside. We saw some of the cast – six white horses and one brown were grazing in the pasture by the parking lot.

 

The “killing time” part turned into a real treat, because we visited the D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery, and that was an unexpected delight full of fascinating information tidbits (did you know that the U.S. government shipped fish eggs and fry by train in specially built Fish Cars?) and the fun of feeding fish and ducks. The preservation of the place is remarkable and largely the work of volunteers, although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came back to this location once it had been restored to locate a museum here. The grounds are gorgeous, the historical renovations and displays are spectacular, and hey – you can feed the fish! It’s no longer an active hatchery – the hatchery had to move ten miles away when increasing progress diverted more and more water from Spearfish Creek and the local aquifer (including the Homestake mine establishing a hydro power plant you can still see when driving through Spearfish Canyon), but the active hatchery keeps the ponds and runs at D.C. Booth (named for the first superintendent) stocked and active. Wild to realize that trout fishing in the West exists only because of hatcheries: until the white men brought the railroad, all those cold, pure, perfect-for-fishing Western streams were bare of trout or any other fish beyond suckers and chub!

We decided to do a real steak dinner here in the heart of cattle country, so we dined at Mad Mary’s Steakhouse. Okay, each dinner was enough beef for a week (well, slight exaggeration on my part – the sirloin tips weren’t that huge a portion, and Mom’s 7 ounce sirloin wasn’t that bad a violation, but Terry’s 14 ounce ribeye came close!), but it was tender, perfectly cooked, and delicious.

 

The Passion Play was pretty well done. It is a 63-year tradition in the Hills, with a huge cast (we wondered how much of the total population of Spearfish was showing up on stage) plus animals (the sheep were hysterical – they didn’t want to go where they were herded!). Rain threatened and sprinkled a few times, but the thunder and lightning proved hollow and didn’t stop the show.

 

Wednesday, 28 August 2002: Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore Gold

 

Terry wanted to do two more of the scenic drives in Custer State Park – the pigtail bridges (heavy wooden framework bridges that carry the road in a tight spiral over itself), which include tunnels through which you can see the faces of Mount Rushmore, as in a frame; and the wildlife loop trail. The curvy pigtail bridge road was a blast, with spectacular views. The wildlife loop finally delivered the one western sight we’d so far been denied: large herds of bison, roaming free. A few hundred head had passed the ranger station in the early morning, we were told, and we saw ‘em – scattered into several large groups were bison of all ages and sizes, including a bumper crop of calves. Most seemed unconcerned about cars and motorcycles; animals crossed the road with impunity. Wild! We also saw the park’s famous begging donkeys, several of which had pretty thoroughly mobbed a small car in search of treats, sticking their noses right into open windows. A couple of other bikers who had been watching before we arrived advised us that we’d missed the main feature of the show – that the black donkey had been mating with the grey one, which was what caused the now-mobbed car to stop for pictures in the first place! We eased on by and kept driving, marveling at the monster size of the bison bulls and rapidly losing count of the animals we saw. We also saw quite a few pronghorn antelope scattered around too, including one who posed very prettily (too bad I couldn’t get the camera out!), and lots and lots of prairie dogs.

 

We lunched at Red Lobster, and then went to take the tour of the Mt. Rushmore Black Hills Gold Company, right on the outskirts of Rapid City. That was fascinating, from what it takes for a piece of jewelry to bear the designation “Black Hills Gold” (it must be made in the Black Hills and incorporate a design with grape leaves; most is 10-karat, with 12-karat leaves and other features appearing in rose gold – which has more copper in the alloy mix – or green gold, which has more silver in the mix), to actually seeing many of the steps in the process from design to finished piece of jewelry. All of the steps and the detail and the tedium of the work: I’ll never look at Black Hills Gold jewelry the same way again. I bought a simple but classy dress watch.

 

I sat for the last time with our laundry, making my journal entries; from here on, we’ll be heading home.

Oh, and for any bikers who read this: in the vicinity of Rapid City, get your gas at the General Store, on the intersection of  N. LaCrosse and E. North Streets. 93 octane at the lowest price anywhere! We tanked up every day before starting off on our adventures.

 

Thursday, 29 August 2002: Rapid City to Watertown

 

This was a pushing day. We left Rapid City at 04:53 – and two exits down the road, we ran into rain accompanying the incredible lightning show we’d been witnessing. We pulled off at Box Elder – one exit before Ellsworth AFB – and changed into rain gear under the handy canopy of a Conoco station. Once we hit the road again, of course, the rain passed on, but the gear was handy anyway to shed the spray from passing trucks. We headed east, then north to Pierre, the state capitol, which the locals pronounce as “peer.” Going from Fort Pierre to Pierre itself, we crossed the Missouri again, and watched the land change back from grasslands into rolling farm fields.  Lunch was the Turtle Creek Saloon in Miller, a popular local spot, judging from the patronage. We pushed on east again through familiar DeSmet to Watertown, and rested.

 

Friday, 30 August 2002: Fort Sisseton

 

Note on last night’s news: you know you’re staying in a sportsman’s small town paradise when what’s biting where and which bait and tackle are working best are a regular part of the evening news!

 

We headed north to Sisseton in wind-driven, pouring rain. It was so wet and blowing so hard that my leather gloves soaked clean through: I wrung them out like cleaning rags when I finally got to a dry place. Couldn’t wring out the boots, though, so those got shown to the hair dryer for a few minutes when we finally got back to the hotel.

 

Well, when we got to Sisseton, north up 29, we got a surprise: Fort Sisseton State Park is 35 miles west of the town, on highway 10. The AAA tourbook hadn’t even listed the fort – we’d decided to go there based on a throwaway description in the South Dakota state tourism book – so we hadn’t a clue where it was relative to the town.

But it’s the journey we’re in for anyway, so we headed west on 10 in the rain – and 25 miles before we would reach the fort, we found 10 closed for major work! The road surface simply vanished into greasy red-brown clay being shoved around by earth-moving equipment. Fortunately for us, the woman stationed in a parked car at the start of the closure was able to describe a route to take us south and west to clear the construction area and return to 10 to complete our journey to the fort. I say, fortunate, because there were NO detour signs marking any alternate route! We thanked the lady, who returned to the shelter of her car, and headed in the direction she described ... and the second turn put us onto a road that abruptly transitioned from blacktop into rural gravel! At least we were on three wheels, and this time, unlike our Wild Horse Sanctuary visit, we wouldn’t get dusty ...

The next turn continued the gravel country lane motif, and the fourth turn back to pavement left us wondering which direction to go. We turned right, to head back north toward 10, but found that we hadn’t cleared the construction yet. The guy there, who really got a chuckle out of three insane women out in the rain on a sidehack rig, gave us the more complete instructions that the first woman had missed, and we got back onto the detour. A few more miles down the way, we finally encountered our very first “Hwy 10 Detour” sign, and were able to hook up with the road again and find the fort, although it was a fair bit later than we’d intended!

 

About 15 minutes after we reached the fort, the rain stopped, so I did get a few pictures. This place is really neat! It is the best example I’ve seen of a preserved fort from the 1860’s through 1880’s: the original stable, barracks, hospital, officers’ quarters, commanding officer’s house, armory, guardhouse, library, blacksmith’s shop, and several other buildings have been marvelously restored, and some totally vanished buildings, like one of the corner wooden blockhouses, have been reconstructed. You can walk the grounds, which are gorgeously maintained (including the berm and defensive ditch circling the fort – this one never had a palisade, because there wasn’t enough timber), and then view the exhibits in the north barracks. You can request a guided tour from the ladies in the barracks, and there are a few regularly scheduled guided tours as well as interpretive tours by costumed guides.

 

I have no idea how or why AAA missed including this gem in their tourbook, but I’m planning on sending them a tip to check it out and put it in next year’s book. Visiting costs only $5 per private vehicle, or $3 per person. There’s also camping available right at the fort. The fort was originally built in 1864 in response to an Indian uprising, but it wound up never seeing any hostilities itself, instead just serving as a garrison to keep the peace.

 

The ladies in the barracks gave Terry good directions about how to get to Hwy 25 south, which got us to 212 heading east back to Watertown. Our return was rain-free, but as we approached home base, we realized that the rain had been there just before us, and we learned that it had never stopped raining in Watertown until we got back. Good for us that we rode the rain to Sisseton!

 

This entire drive was through the glacial lakes region of South Dakota, and we couldn’t get over how much water was everywhere, and not just falling down on us. I lost count of the times that we drove between lakes or sloughs, and many of them had warning signs: “Deep water beside road. Reduce speed.”  The drive was rough on Terry, with narrow passages between deep water to navigate while being battered by brutal crosswinds.

 

We also saw lots of birds, including what looked like storks, egrets, and herons as well as many types of ducks. I added one more deer sighting to my total, and we saw one monster pheasant statue that looked like it wanted to compete with Huron’s “World’s Largest Pheasant,” which we saw on our drive to Watertown yesterday. The farms here are big, and very far apart – you could travel miles to take coffee with your neighbor.

 

Saturday, 31 August 2002: Watertown to Milwaukee


Once again, we hit the road simply to eat it, loping across the miles to wind up back home. Along the way, we had several of our major impressions reinforced, like the size differences in farms even between South Dakota and Minnesota, not to mention South Dakota and Wisconsin. We watched the countryside change again. By the time we reached the vicinity of the Wisconsin Dells, we encountered more traffic than we had seen in our entire jaunt across South Dakota, and the ever-increasing number of cars as we approached Milwaukee was astonishing to eyes that had grown accustomed to wide vistas and sparse populations. The weather was gorgeous, bright and sunny, and the ride was easy, for all the miles we covered.


This trip solidified my resolve to get a pair of chaps, though. More than once on this ride, we ran into swarms of grasshoppers, and I really do mean we ran into them. These things were fully two inches long and there were a lot of them, and when we smacked into them at highway speeds, they hurt. I looked at my legs when I was getting dressed one morning and realized that I had lines of little bruises running down both shins from grasshopper impacts at 60+ mph, and that was despite my wearing heavy jeans! Terry not only had chaps, but also the front fairings on the bike to protect her, and Mom had the windscreen on the sidecar, so I was the only one getting mashed by hoppers. Yeesh!

As has become a tradition, we ended the trip by stopping at Leon’s custard for a totally unbalanced end-of-trip supper. It was definitely a good journey!


 
bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 The Biker Babes’ South Dakota G’Journey, Part Two

Wednesday, 21 August 2002: Deadwood

When we arrived in Rapid, the news was full of the Battle Creek wildfire between Keystone – where Mount Rushmore is – and Rockerville. We could see the smoke on the horizon, and could never be sure how much of the morning fog was moisture and how much was smoke. With the wildfire closing highways south, we decided to head west and north instead for a while to give time for the fire to be brought under control. The fire actually jumped across Highway 16.

We spent the day in Deadwood, a part of the wild, wild West. This was the home of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, a mining town turned tourist site. The entire town is designated as a national historic landmark. There are only a couple of streets that fit on the level ground of the gulch; the rest of the town is built hanging on the sides of the hills. We saw the evidence of a major wildfire – the Grizzly Gulch fire – that had menaced Deadwood at the end of June: from the upper town, you could see the burned hillsides covered in tall, naked black trunks. The Deadwood campground is just at the very edge of the burn line. And the fires were followed by flood, since rain down the burned slopes sent a flash flood through the town, miring everything in mud. The flood damage was all gone, but the skeletons of the trees remained on the hills.

We rode the trolley all around town to get our bearings. It costs only fifty cents, and while the driver doesn’t narrate the way the tour bus guides do, and it doesn’t go up to Mount Moriah, the cemetery also known as Boot Hill, the ride is definitely worth the price.

We lunched at the Franklin Hotel, whose dining room – 1903’s Dining – is the oldest eating establishment in South Dakota. Their shepherd’s pie was yummy. After lunch, we walked uphill to the Adams House and then back down to the Adams Museum. The house is a magnificent Victorian, brilliantly restored. The Museum covers not only the history of the town, which is definitely colorful enough for anyone, but reaches out to the surrounding area, including a section on the Lakota Sioux.

 

Everywhere you look in Deadwood is gambling: there are 80 gambling halls in this tiny town, and the tourists definitely outnumber the residents. You should understand that there are “casinos” – by which they mostly mean places with slot machines and video poker – everywhere in the state, even in some of the gas stations. With the exception of the tribal casinos, gambling joints are small, because state law limits each license to something like 15 machines and limits each building to holding two licenses. So, gambling joints are everywhere, but they are by and large dinky, smoky places with a handful of machines and a coin vendor. Even so, Deadwood felt like a tiny version of Las Vegas, because to get anywhere inside a building – say, from a lobby to a restaurant – you had to walk through the gaming floor. Still, I did better in Deadwood than in Vegas: I made all of $2.75 on a slot machine, and that was my gambling for the trip.

 

It started to rain around 15:00, when we were getting ready to leave, so we changed into our rain gear and drove through the drizzle. But our timing was good once again; the deluge didn’t hit until after we were back home in our motel room!

 

Thursday, 22 August 2002: Sturgis and Spearfish

We headed off this morning for the Fort Meade Cavalry Museum in Sturgis. Another good little museum! Custer had noted that the grasslands near Bear Butte would provide a good base for a cavalry troop, but the discovery of gold by his expedition – which one strongly suspects was really looking mostly for that in the first place – officially changed the priorities of his scouting mission. No fort was sited or built until after Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn. Fort Meade was built by the survivors of Custer’s command on the site of a temporary camp named for one of Custer’s officers, a Lieutenant Sturgis. A “scooptown” – so named because the purveyors of goods and oftentimes dubious services to the soldiers were so good at scooping away the troopers’ cash – grew up on the outskirts of the fort, and was later replaced by a town called Sturgis.

 

The fort is no longer a military installation, but it does house the VA hospital and provides some services to the SD National Guard. Some of the original buildings still remain and are actively used, although not for their original purposes. Three of the nine stables still stand, and they are massive: each barn – built of stone with a second story! – could stable 86 horses. They’ve been converted from stables, of course, but they still stand.

 

The museum is very nice, and covers the complete history of the fort. A curious footnote is that this Fort Meade was the first Army post to adopt the “Star Spangled Banner” as the de facto anthem for the United States, and to use it as the closing music for every ceremony and as the theme of retreat, played at day’s end. The commander adopted the music at the suggestion of his wife, and took up her cause of spreading the idea that the country needed a “national air.” When other dignitaries visited the base, the custom of using the music was explained to them, and it spread across Army posts everywhere. Finally, in 1931, Congress adopted it as the national anthem. See what you can learn on vacation?

 

We stopped at the Sturgis Harley dealership, but picked up no souvenirs; Terry just wanted to check the feasibility of the northern route she had planned to follow on our way home. We’d run into a lot of places where the highest octane available was only 91, or even 89 – and it takes 92 at least to make Baby really happy. The lady at Sturgis warned Terry that she likely wouldn’t find high octane on 212, a rural highway, so she started refiguring our course back east to still hit the places we wanted to see but to maximize the octane at the same time.

 

From Sturgis, we rode further west to Spearfish and our second wonderful museum of the day: the High Plains Heritage Museum. The museum is a striking building on a hill with a spectacular view. Gazing out from the front of the museum, you can see Lookout Mountain in South Dakota. If you look to the left of the mountain, you can see on the horizon a distant mountain range in Wyoming, and if you look to the right, you can see a line of mountains in Montana.

 

The High Plains Heritage Museum has a lot of gorgeous western artifacts, including paintings by Charles Russell (I loved the funny and magnificently alive In Without Knocking, depicting overeager cowpokes storming into a saloon without bothering to dismount from their horses!), saddles from everywhen, wagons and stages and even a sleigh, a monster collection of barbed wire, and tributes to cattle ranching, sheep farming, logging, mining, and the Indian nations. It is beautifully done and well worth a visit for both the history and the art. Some of the saddles qualify as works of art, including one made for a Tom Selleck movie, which was magnificent. The museum grounds harbored live animals, among them several sheep and ducks, a couple of goats, and two longhorn cattle and two bison. Those bison are huge!

 

We closed off the day with a scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon, carved ages ago by Spearfish Creek. The scenery was breathtaking, similar to the Wisconsin Dells – limestone cliffs rising from sheer slopes dressed in pine trees – but bigger. Bridal Veil Falls was barely more than a trickle, however, stripped of its postcard beauty by the long drought. The drive was still gorgeous. We came down through Lead (pronounced “leed,” a mining town named for the discovery of ores that indicated that gold was present – a “lead” to the gold) and Deadwood to home.

 

Friday, 23 August 2002: Hot Springs, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park

 

Another tremendously scenic day in South Dakota! We chose to forego our morning swim in order to get an early start on the drive down to Hot Springs to take the 10:00 tour at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. The drive down showed off the rolling high plains grassland. We never actually got close to the Battle Creek fire, but even miles away, we could smell it.

 

We reached the sanctuary a bit over an hour early, but we were glad of it: it was breakfast time for the horses that stay close to the administration buildings, mostly registered paint horses but also some mustangs. Since they were all occupied with lipping up their oats, we were able to get very close to say hello.

 

The tour was great. It was a two hour ride in an ancient school bus over very bumpy dirt trails through the sanctuary, with stops for picture-taking and history. Back in 1995, for example, a TBS film crew making Crazy Horse used areas in the sanctuary for filming, and the few buildings they threw up to stand in for the fort where Crazy Horse was killed are still standing, down in a valley. The old man who owns and runs the place even wound up with a short role in the film: he hitched his team to the film’s covered wagon and was filmed driving out of Hell’s Canyon near the close of the movie.

 

The sanctuary has about 300 head of horses on 11,000 acres of land. Most are mares that were acquired from BLM as “unadoptable” mustangs – they were caught as older animals, not the younger ones folks like to adopt, and many of them had flaws or scars. Now they run free, with one stallion to service them, and many drop foals every year. Most years, the colts are sold while the fillies are turned back out to continue the herd, but because the area has been in drought for over four years now and hay is ruinously expensive, they are selling all the foals in order to keep the numbers on the range manageable. They figure it takes 50 acres to graze each horse.

 

Anyway, the bus stopped by one group of horses, and we were all allowed off to take pictures, with the caution not to get between a mare and foal or to get behind a horse. The horses watched us, particularly wary of the dog in our group (a well-behaved Husky named Bojo, who arrived riding behind his master on the man’s Honda Gold Wing motorcycle!), but they weren’t afraid of us. Some of the more curious came very close to the people and the bus, although most kept their distance. A few of the most aggressive mares came close with the evident intent of taking on the dog and serving him the way they do coyotes, so Bojo got sent back into the bus. A lot of the mares had foals at side, and a lot of the foals showed the mark of their sire: glass-blue eyes. The stallion was a small off-white speckled with molasses-colored flecks, who looked as if his face had been dipped in blackstrap – which would have been appropriate, since the way that the staff keep herds in tour-bus-accessible areas is to leave tubs with molasses in them out in the grasslands along the bus trail! One mouse-gray grulla mare stayed stubbornly by her sweet spot the whole time we were there, ready to defend her place at the tub against all comers.

 

These horses were demonstrably wild, and being that close to them was exhilarating!

 

The tour continued to caves with petroglyphs from 10,000 years ago, in cliffs lined with cliff-swallow nests made of mud. In that same cliffside was the cave where the man who originally homesteaded this land in the 1880’s spent his first winter – a narrow run about 25 feet straight back into the rock.

 

Our guide pointed out flora – including sage, juniper, cactus poppy, and stinkweed – and fauna, including prairie dogs and wild turkeys. It was a harsh but beautiful land, and the horses were glorious. We saw a mare and foal off on their own down by the caves, who were heading back up toward the main herd we’d seen.

 

The tour also stopped at a sacred circle built by the local Sioux on sanctuary land for their sun dance ceremony in June, at the solstice. The ring was deserted now, but our guide explained that each year, tribes gather here for young men and a few young women to endure piercings and dance around the split-fork tree planted in the center, which was adorned with beads and flags representing prayers. Each year, a new center tree pole is selected, and the old one is burned to fuel the sacred fire. It was a fascinating and unexpected add-on to the horse part of the tour.

 

We stopped for lunch just inside Hot Springs, at the Elk Horn Café. The food was good (beef liver and onions, yum!), and the decor was eclecticly amusing, a mix of taxidermy and quaint signs. Fun!

 

We went on from there to the Mammoth Site. Talk about a neat museum! The building encloses the entire top of a hill, which built itself up from a sinkhole that over time trapped at least 52 mammoths some 26,000 years ago. Inside, there’s a huge open room with a walkway all around it that lets you look down into the excavated pit, and beyond that room is a whole area of museum exhibits relating to what’s been found. Each July, archaeologists and volunteer assistants excavate a bit more of the site, leaving most of the bones in situ to be observed as history left them. Amazing! Only two of the skeletons uncovered so far are wooly mammoths; all of the others are the bigger (much bigger!!) and not hairy Columbian mammoths native to the Americas. Other creatures were trapped in the sinkhole too, including a short-faced bear (bigger than a polar bear!), a wolf, a coyote, a variant of a camel and another of a llama, and lots of smaller critters, like rabbits and early prairie dogs. What a fantastic place! If Ruth and Mike haven’t been here yet, they must come to see this! One chuckle was that the mammoth skeletons found at the site were almost all of young male mammoths – we all laughed that the females were too smart to go swimming in a ditch they couldn’t get out of!

 

In the grand Harley tradition, we took the long way home, driving the scenic highways through Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. In addition to providing dramatic mountainous scenery, these were great places for checking off your mandatory Western wildlife sightings. Right beside the road, we saw three bison – two on a lower plain on one side of the road, the other placidly chewing his cud just off the shoulder on the other side a ways on – a group of four or five bighorn sheep, two groups of pronghorn antelope to either side of the road, and prairie dogs by the hundreds. A pair of mule deer – a doe with a fawn young enough to still have spots! – flitted across the road just ahead of the bike. It really is too bad that I can’t ride with a camera ready to hand ...

 

Oh, and we saw another wild turkey, also bolting across the road, but that was after we’d left the parklands behind! Seems they don’t pay much attention to boundaries!

 

Saturday, 24 August 2002: Rapid City

 

After the picturesque and scenic drive yesterday (translation: lots of twisty up and down to really tire Terry out!), we stayed close to home today for two museums, the Journey Museum and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology Museum. We rounded things off by visiting the Berlin Wall display and the rose garden in Memorial Park in the Civic Center, and by going to church at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

 

The Journey Museum was beautiful, and splendidly done. The gardens around the museum serve many functions: one is an Indian medicine garden, while others speak in native flowers and plants that take you all around the state.

 

Inside, the museum starts with the Big Bang and the Lakota creation myth to walk you through the journey of life, seen as the song of the universe to which we all add our individual notes. Through most of the museum, the artifacts and written displays are augmented by audio recordings broadcast to soundsticks that you carry and hold to your ear when the white lines on the floor tell you that you’re within a transmission range. There are touch screens you can play with, artifacts you are invited to touch (the displays don’t even light up unless you stick your hand inside the case), a holographic Indian storyteller, drawers you pull out to see more exhibits, and even a place on the floor that triggers the shot that killed Wild Bill Hickok if you step on it. (Did you know that aces and eights are called the “dead man’s hand” because that’s what Hickok was holding when he was shot?) The different approaches to life that marked the whites and the Indians and contributed to the American shame are detailed and explored through both white and Lakota voices – and you can hear everything in the museum spoken in both English and Lakota, if you choose. Sometimes, I read the English while listening in Lakota.

 

The museum provided an incredible experience to carry away. You know, for all occasions, the Aussies say “g’day” – after visiting this place, I’m tempted to replace that salutation with “g’journey.”  After all – it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

 

The geology museum included some great fossils, including a long-necked plesiosaur, a T-rex, and a mausosaur. The gem collection was pretty cool, too, especially the local samples from mines like Homestake and Holy Terror.

 

The Civic Center includes a lovely park with rose gardens and a couple of sections of the Berlin Wall. It was a good place to relax after our adventures and to wait until time for Mass.


Read Part Three

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

The Biker Babes’ South Dakota    G’Journey                                                                                 

 

On this trip, my sister Terry, my Mom (then 78) and I rode my sister’s Harley-with-sidecar from Milwaukee, WI all the way across Minnesota and South Dakota, getting as far west as Devil’s Tower, WY. It was a great journey; South Dakota has a lot to see!

 

Friday, 16 August 2002: Milwaukee, WI to Sioux Falls, SD

 

This was a day to make miles – lots and lots of miles. We left home at about 03:15, and reached our hotel in Sioux Falls at about 14:30. We didn’t push; the day included a leisurely breakfast at a Denny’s en route, and an even more leisurely lunch at a Country Kitchen (Mom and Terry both recommend the pot roast sandwich!), but even so, we arrived in good time. Most of the day was pleasant, but in the early afternoon, we rode into clouds, and an hour outside of Sioux Falls, we started getting intermittent rain, but not enough to prompt bringing out the rain gear. Our timing was perfect, though: as we brought our stuff into the hotel, the thunderstorm let loose. We had talked on the way about possibly seeing the falls that gave the city their name today, but postponed that for tomorrow morning and hopefully better weather.

 

A few funnies for the day. We saw our first billboard for Wall Drug while we were still in Minnesota, and not very far into the state, either. As soon as we hit South Dakota, the billboards started multiplying. I can’t wait to see the place for real.

 

We called cousin Mick’s mom in Buffalo Center when we were in Austin, MN (home of the Spam Museum! – which no, we did NOT see) and realized how close we were. We knew that Mick had been visiting home, but it turned out that he had left the day before, so Terry talked to Priscilla and we had a good laugh about what she would say the next time she called Mick!

 

When we got to our hotel, we found that we were sharing it with a huge group of Shriners, including the Kem Shrine’s musical troupe. Their president’s limousine was parked outside, and it was a stitch – it was a huge white Caddy with front ends at both ends. They also had a group bus that was really the way to travel in style: it was tricked out like a lounge, with small tables set with quaint fringed-shade lamps among curving upholstered loveseats. The bus windows even had fringed shades to match the little table lamps. This explained why we hadn’t been able to get a room for two nights in Sioux Falls, even though we were planning to stay on in the area. The whole town was hosting a Shriner convention!

 

And finally, we waved a lot at the river of bikers going the opposite direction – people departing from Bike Week in Sturgis, which had ended on 11 August. One man, traveling with his wife, their son, and his son’s wife, all from Milwaukee, took our picture, just as we were pulling out of our last gas stop and the rain was beginning to spit.

 

Saturday, 17 August 2002: Sioux Falls to De Smet, and south to North Sioux City

 

We made arrangements to leave our luggage locked up at the motel while we played tourist during the day, but contrary to all expectations, the weather stayed so cool that we were glad to be wearing the leather jackets and never needed the luggage space to lock them up. So much for all the people who told us that we were going to cook in our leathers in August in South Dakota! By the end of the day, we decided that we now understood the stories in pioneer diaries about settlers being driven insane by the incessant wind – it really did never seem to stop.

We went first to the falls in Sioux Falls. Falls Park is a lovely place, and does a good job of illustrating how settlement and business changed the Big Sioux River and the Falls. The Falls are much smaller now than they once were; the lower falls were pretty much blasted out of existence to improve the flow from the electric power plant. The upper and middle falls were also shortened, and the lovely wooded island that once divided the upper falls was denuded of trees by the railroad (the Milwaukee Road, no less), which also connected the island to the western bank of the river in order to build support facilities for the railhead.

 

The old power plant and the not-quite-two-story-tall walls of the ruined Queen Bee Mill are now on the historic registry of places, and will be at least partially restored. I made note at the time to look up the term “screanings” when I returned home, because one of the displays about the Queen Bee, which was a monster seven-story flour mill, had a now-vanished outbuilding labeled “Screanings” without any explanation of the term. Mom’s Webster’s didn’t have the word with that spelling, but did include “screenings,” with one meaning being refuse after screening (sifting through a screen), as in cleaning wheat, rice, and barley. So perhaps the “Screanings” building was a storage site for the grain refuse until the mill could dispose of it, and that spelling was used before the current spelling became standardized. I’ll check my Oxford when I get home.

 

There were some marvelous ironies in the power plant and the mill and the changes they wrought to the river. The power plant was obsolete and insufficient within four years of being built, and the Queen Bee Mill was never a success because it was oversold from the start: the falls didn’t have enough water volume to drive the mill machinery (the originator conned investors by having a temporary dam built upstream, and broke the dam just as the investors arrived on-site to impress them with the copious water flow!), and the surrounding countryside couldn’t produce enough high-quality wheat to keep the mill working. Of the industries that changed the river and the falls, only the railroad endured.

 

Oh, and we also learned why many of the highways in South Dakota are more than just slightly pink. The lovely pink quartzite (also called jasper) bedrock that forms the Falls and much of the land around is still quarried, although not much for building any longer – instead, it is crushed and used in concrete and as gravel. Pink roads! Me, I’d rather build with the stuff, because it is really pretty. A number of early rich men’s homes were built using the cut stone, but it was pricey stuff because it was harder than granite and therefore difficult to cut. But it has a lovely color and a beautiful way of catching the light.

 

As we left Falls Park, the Shriners were coming in, and we realized that we were once again just in time, because the city was gearing up for a parade that would be going through, and had we delayed, we’d have been caught up in it. Folk were starting to line the streets and set up their lawn chairs to get a good view as we pulled out. We made one last stop in Sioux Falls at the local Harley dealership so that Terry could replace her broken oil cap (the top with the temperature gauge broke off from the stem) and have the broken unit sent back to Harley. That proved to be the only bike maintenance on the trip, apart from the usual gas and oil checks.

 

We drove up to De Smet, and took the prairie tour at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead. We had so much fun out there that we never even got into the town to take the major tours run by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Society through the town’s homes and streets. Instead, we rode in a modern covered wagon drawn by a pair of old-style Halflinger horses, looked into a dugout soddy, toured an exact replica of the Ingalls’ cabin and hay-roofed barn, pumped water at the well, went to school in the one-room schoolhouse (which had actually been in use until 1963!), and learned about tying hay twists to use for fuel on treeless plains and using a clever but simple machine to braid cord into rope. It was well worth the $5 per person charge.

 

One thing we marveled at, driving through this region, was the immense quantity of water. Everywhere we looked there were small pocket lakes, which we learned were made by chunks of ice broken off and embedded in the ground when the glaciers passed. Indeed, the little town of Arlington we passed through called itself the “Gateway to the Glacial Lakes.”

 

We had intended to go to the Prairie Village in Madison, but we bypassed that after all the time we spent on the Ingalls’ prairie. Instead, we drove back to Sioux Falls to pick up our luggage, and then continued south to North Sioux City, SD to spend the night, since we hadn’t been able to keep our room in Sioux Falls.

 

Sunday, 18 August 2002: North Sioux City, SD to Mitchell, SD

 

We went to Mass at Sacred Heart Church in North Sioux Falls, creating the usual stir. The church was very modern and starkly plain, but the service and the people were very pleasant.

 

We headed out in the morning to the Adams Homestead and nature preserve, but discovered that they didn’t offer tours until 15:00. We figured we’d gotten our homestead tour at De Smet, so we hit the road. We had initially intended to stop in Elk Point and Yankton to check in on Lewis & Clark festival activities, but we decided to give them a bye and go straight through to Mitchell. We hadn’t been able to learn anything about what specific events might be going on in Elk Point and Yankton, and we knew that we had a lot on our plates for Mitchell. It was the right choice.

 

We made three stops in Mitchell, besides the lovely Hampton Inn where we spent the night. The first essential stop was the Twin Dragon Chinese restaurant, which looked interesting on billboards precisely when we were starving, and which turned out to be wonderful! Crab rangoon appetizers and reasonably sized lunch portions, not huge servings that would go to waste, and everything delicious; this was a winner worth mentioning.

 

From lunch, we went on to the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village and its Archeodome. That was fascinating! The site was inhabited 1,000 years ago by farmers who probably were the ancestors of the Mandan tribe, when tribes formed 500 years later. Dips in the land show where lodges were located. Two of the lodge sites are completely enclosed within the Archeodome, a big open structure erected in 1996-7 in which archaeologists can work year-round, despite the bitter South Dakota winters. Visitors can watch from a ramp circling around the inside of the walls and up to a balcony level, and the archeologists can assess the artifacts they unearth in the lab that’s also part of the structure. Visitors are invited to participate by helping to wash artifacts, and there are a lot of hands-on learning routines to let you learn about bones, stone weapons, pottery, and whatnot. Cool!

 

We went on to the Corn Palace, which is a kick! This is a combined arena/stage where both basketball teams and entertainment acts play. Like the combined gym/auditorium facilities in some high schools I’ve seen, one of the walls of the playing floor opens as a proscenium arch and extends back into a stage. But what makes the Corn Palace unique is that, inside and out, it is decorated in murals constructed entirely of corn grown for the purpose in eleven different colors, along with native prairie grasses and grains. All of the colors come from nature, and none from paint. Each year, the building is redecorated to fit a new theme. Inside on the playing floor when the local colleges aren’t competing and no entertainers have been booked is a large gift shop featuring every possible corny thing, and all around the lobby and outside aisle hallways is a display of photographs of the different decorations on the Corn Palace all the way back to its beginnings in 1892. Wild! And quite a reflection of the changing times ...

 

The Corn Palace billboard advertising, by the way, often brought a chuckle for its creative use of puns. “Ear-chitecture,” proclaimed one of our favorites.

 

Monday, 19 August 2002: To Rapid City via Wall and Badlands

 

Today we saw how abruptly the country can change. The seemingly endless alternating pattern of flat corn and soybean fields ended abruptly at Chamberlain, where we crossed the wide Missouri. On the western bank of the river, the land rolled, forming sudden deep creases and folds. A bit further on, the land went flat again, but in place of soybeans and corn were wide expanses of hay, acres of sunflowers, and then grass with cattle grazing.

 

The growing season is so short and resources are in such demand that we saw even the grass along the highway cut and baled, as were the crops in the fields.

 

Our next stop was the famous Wall Drug Store, where we caught lunch. Wall Drug began during the Depression, when the wife of the pharmacist got the bright idea of posting signs on the highway offering free ice cold water to travelers as a way to bring in business. It worked brilliantly, and is still working today. Throughout South Dakota, you see billboards advertising Wall Drug; we started seeing them in Minnesota, and often saw multiples within a single mile of highway. They used to blanket the country, until the roadside beautification programs did away with a lot of billboard advertising.

 

Wall Drug now occupies an entire block and then some, and still constitutes most of the town of Wall. We’d beaten the lunch crowd since we’d gained back an hour on the clock when we crossed into Mountain time after crossing the river, but even so, the place was crawling with more people than we’d seen in any one spot since we began the trip. Their dining area alone can seat over 500 people, and then there are the multiple stores into which the place is divided. After lunch, we prowled the premises and got more than a few laughs. This is a place to buy almost any tourist tchotchki imaginable, and to get photos in impossible circumstances: the Wall Back Yard, for example, has a saddled seven-foot-tall jackalope (that’s the mythical cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope, for anyone who’s never been exposed to that particular tall tale!), and a bucking bronco forever frozen in mid-leap – and behind each of them is a ladder to allow people to climb up into the saddle and have a friend snap their photo! The ladders, of course, are perfectly positioned to be invisible from the front ... Wall even has a tyrannosaurus rex behind a Jurassic Park-style wall, which animates and menaces people every 12 minutes on the dot. What a howl! This is a place which truly has to be experienced to be believed.

 

Oh, one more funny. There was a piece of roadside sculpture along the road to Wall that made us all laugh out loud. Out in the field on the north side of the highway was a perfect, life-sized skeleton of a T-Rex – which was wearing a collar and being led west by the equally perfect skeleton of a human!!

 

From Wall, we decided to take the 240 loop through Badlands National Park. The contrasts were amazing: seemingly endless, table-flat grasslands dropped off suddenly into ragged chasms horizontally banded in colors including greyish white, pink, purple, sulfur-yellow, and hints of copper-ore green and iron red. Words cannot do them justice, and unfortunately my pictures won’t, either. We were there at midday, so there wasn’t a lot of contrast and shadow to help define the rock shapes, and the brilliant sunlight washed out a fair bit of the color. But it was gorgeous, nonetheless.

 

We drove on to Rapid City, our home base for the next ten days, and got the best welcome possible: as we approached Ellsworth Air Force Base, just ten miles east of Rapid City, a B-1B Lancer bomber took off and did a lovely bank and turn, showing off for us. Whee!

 

Our new home away from home was a Holiday Inn Express that turned out to be a really good choice. It had a marvelous pool (with adult-only swim hour from 06:00 to 07:00, when we always had the pool entirely to ourselves!) and two spa pools with a waterfall between them. It also had a guest laundry, which we promptly used (ten pounds of luggage only goes so far ...), and an Outback Steakhouse quite literally out back for fresh steamed veggies. If you need a place to stay in Rapid, that’s a good one, and breakfast is part of the deal.

 

Tuesday, 20 August 2002: Rapid City, SD Air & Space Museum, Ellsworth AFB, Black Hills Caverns

 

After all our pounding time on the road, we played close to home in Rapid. We started off with my personal interest, going to the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, which is located just outside the main gates of Ellsworth AFB. We saw the museum exhibits, but started out with the tour of the base, including a Minuteman II silo. Fascinating! The open silo was a training facility, so there were stairs going down, not just a ladder. Inside the silo was a dummy missile, but everything else was real, including the maintenance cage they would attach to a track that ran all around the circumference of the silo, that would let crew lower themselves all the way down the length of the rocket; and the aiming device, which let them use the light from the North Star, shining into mirrors, to align the missile. Just thinking about all the engineering that went into conceiving that system was amazing.

 

The base tour was interesting, but they aren’t allowed to do the best part any more: they used to go to the flight line where the B-1B’s are parked, but now they stay clear of the entire operational area. The closest we got was across the street and beyond a fence from a couple of maintenance hangars with “Bones” (the official designation may be “Lancer,” but the long, slender shape with the phonetic “B-one” name got christened otherwise by the people who work with it, as usual ...) parked outside. I had to take my picture through the windshield of the bus, which fortunately for me was clean!

 

Back at the museum, we had a treat. See, the AFB was having a graduation ceremony, so a couple of B-1’s were launched and did lovely fly-overs of the base, and since the museum is just outside the main gate, we had a good view. Pictures!! (Doubtless more than Mom or Terry would ever need, but hey – I’m the one with the camera!)

 

The museum is small, with a good collection nonetheless – including B-29 Legal Eagle, a B-52, and the B-25 that had been converted from a bomber to a high-speed transport for Eisenhower. The unfortunate thing about the museum is that virtually all the aircraft are on display outdoors, and South Dakota weather is brutal, especially the winters. Pigeons are living in the B-52 engines. Sigh. But they take what care of them they can. They were painting the props on a B-26 while we were there, part of the never-ending round of fighting against decay.

 

In the afternoon, we went to Black Hills Caverns to take their cave tour. The whole Black Hills area is full of caves, many of which are open to tour – Crystal Caves, Sitting Bull Caves, Wind Cave, and Jewel Cave, just to name a very few – but this one was the closest to us. In retrospect, it may not have been the best choice: Terry announced at the end of the tour that caves were more fun and prettier when she was a kid, and that she didn’t need to see any more caves. This one admittedly wasn’t spectacular – mostly calcite, with small, pebbly crystals and a couple of bacon-like wave formations, but no really striking features – and one of the other caves might have done a better job of persuading Terry that caves could still be beautiful and fun. But at least we got our exercise with all the up and down and ducking, and our tour guide was a bona fide spelunking nut. To borrow his favorite expression, he was really whack!


Read Part Two


bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 Biking Through History: The Biker Babes Cruise the Civil War, Part Three

Sunday, 3 June 2001 - Winchester to Cedar Creek to New Market

 

The Wingate Inn fed us a free breakfast – cereal (well, yogurt, in my case), juice, and French vanilla cappuccino – and then we drove into historic Winchester to take the walking tour. That was a nice start to the day, and the old homes are really beautiful. One house in particular had chimneys with an obvious curve, due to the mortar drying out faster over the years on the sheltered side. We learned that Winchester was also the place where the protected noncombatant status of doctors was established during the Civil War; with the town changing hands so often, there were always casualties from both sides being cared for, and it was a Winchester physician who argued successfully to both camps that doctors didn’t belong to the forces of either side, but would care equally for both.

 

We returned to the hotel for another cappuccino, and then checked out and hit the road for New Market, after a lunch stop at the local Cracker Barrel. En route to New Market, since we were too early to go into the visitor center at the privately owned Cedar Creek Battlefield (which didn’t open until 13:00 on Sundays), we backtracked a bit to visit the New Town Festival going on in Stephens City, which we’d ridden through a few miles down the road. That stop brought the biggest laugh of the day, because sitting outside a craft shop on the main street were two large dolls, a grandma and grandpa biker pair all in Harley attire! The dolls had porcelain faces and hands, and everything else – the leathers, the boots, grandpa’s braided grey hair (combed from the biker wanna-be husband of the artist!), the dog chains on the boots – were all done from scratch. It was amazing workmanship, and funny as the dickens! Grandma’s nails were even polished and she was wearing tiny Harley earrings, and grandpa’s shades were custom-tinted. It was a howl!

 

We went on to Cedar Creek and watched their fifty-minute video on the battle. The film was shot locally in 1999 during the annual reenactment, which is the only reenactment that actually takes place on its proper battleground – Cedar Creek is not a federal or state park, but is maintained by a non-profit organization that believes that the historical reenactment on the real ground of the fight is the appropriate way to commemorate the past. Other reenactment events take place in areas close to their original sites, but the original sites themselves are protected by authorities who do not want the sites defaced.

There’s nothing really to see at the Cedar Creek battlefield itself, although the historical organization hopes to be able to fund some markers in the fields themselves. There is one historic building on the overall grounds – the Belle Grove mansion – which we decided not to tour, although we drove around the impressive grounds.

 

We went on to New Market, Virginia, our stop for the night. We checked into the Quality Inn and then went to the nearby Civil War Museum, which we reached an hour before its 17:00 closing. We went through the museum, which is mostly on the Civil War but has pieces of every other war mixed in, in somewhat haphazard fashion, and concluded that this place was not big on organization. We didn’t have time to see their 35 minute film, but we learned on the way out that our tickets would allow us readmission the next day.

 

We had a naughty dinner at Burger King (hey, this was the first Burger King I’d ever seen with a cannon out in front of the place!), and then took our evening constitutional through the historic district, which runs just a couple of blocks in each direction from the town’s main intersection. New Market was no Winchester – it seemed much less well kept, although there were several houses with work being done on them.

 

Back at the hotel, we checked out the pool, but decided not to swim; the pool was outdoors, and the wind off the mountains had been sharp and cool all day. So we went to our room, did our reading for the next day, and made some changes to our planned itinerary to work in a visit to Appomattox. Finally, we called our cousin Brian in the small community of Weyer’s Cave, and set up a visit for the next day at 16:30 or so.

 

Monday, 4 June 2001 - New Market to Dayton to Staunton

 

We had breakfast at the Johnny Appleseed restaurant connected to the hotel. Good omelettes, but too much cinnamon in the baked apples.

 

We packed up, checked out, and returned to the New Market Civil War Museum to see the movie we’d missed the day before. It was a concise history of the Civil War campaigns, a narration presented over still images of sepia-toned, line drawing artwork.

 

From there, we went just a tiny bit further down the road to the Hall of Valor museum maintained by the Virginia Military Institute, VMI. Wow! We all agreed that this was absolutely the best museum we saw on the tour. It is a small museum, but it lays out in a simple circle the history of the war in Virginia in the context of the progress of the war everywhere. You turn to the right as you enter and find yourself in 1861, and as you walk slowly around, the years advance. Virginia information is presented in the foreground, while the background supplies the events going on at the same time in other places. The presentation is concise and beautifully organized, and I came away with a much better understanding of how the events in Virginia related to simultaneous action in other theaters of the war. The museum includes a very well done live action film that dramatizes the story of the VMI cadets – boys aged 15 to 18 – who marched from VMI in Lexington to fight in the battle of New Market. Ten of the cadets were killed.

The museum grounds provide a walking tour of the portion of the battlefield that most featured in the VMI’s part of the fight. Like the Manassas battlefield, the walking path is laid out by cut grass in an otherwise wild-growing field. The self-guided tour is a mile-long walk that includes the Bushong farm and the Field of Lost Shoes, so named because during the fight, the ground was so muddy that it sucked the shoes right off of the feet of the soldiers and cadets trying to run across it.

 

In addition to the standing exhibits, the museum presents lecture demonstrations to the many students who visit it each year. While we were there, a man was displaying a musket to a school group and engaging in a very lively question and answer session that got into how armies of the time functioned and what all the basic gear was like. He had things that the kids could handle, peer into, and around, giving them a tactile view of history that was obviously bringing it all much closer to their reality than any sterile display.

 

From VMI’s Hall of Valor, we drove to Dayton to find the monument to Turner Ashby. Boy, was that a disappointment – poor Ashby got only a stone block, not even a statue, in a tiny off-road lane in the middle of nowhere that looked like it might now be the meeting place of people engaged in questionable activities. Skip that one on your tour!

 

We headed on to Staunton, detouring just to locate cousin Brian’s house along the way to make certain that we could find it easily for our 16:30 meeting. Brian lives in the rural countryside on a road you would never find without very specific directions.

 

At Staunton, we checked into the Holiday Inn, and then went into the town. We drove through the grounds of the Mary Baldwin College, which were impressive, and then went to Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace. We toured the small museum there – the Pierce Arrow car alone was really worth seeing! – but didn’t have time to tour the house itself. The charming people there invited us to come back the next morning on the same tickets, and we did.

 

We then headed out for Brian’s, arriving on time. We had a wonderful visit, and Brian gave us the full tour of his glorious house and six acre grounds. Lovely! The house is bright, airy, and large, with five bathrooms all with double sinks – it was at one time intended to be an elder care facility.

 

Brian left teaching when he left Milwaukee, and he is now doing writing and web design work. His wife Jane teaches psychology at James Madison University. She was away for ten days working on standardized testing, creating the questions, so we didn’t get the chance to say “hi.”

 

We went to the hotel and swam in the best pool yet! This one was shaped like a number 8, with one loop outdoors and one loop inside. Room to stroke!

 

Tuesday, 5 June 2001 - Lexington

 

We found a Waffle House for breakfast in the non-historic part of Staunton, passing a cute sculpture along the way – a huge watering can on one side of a bridge, with a couple of monster flower pots (one “accidentally” tipped over!) on the other. Fun!

 

After breakfast, we returned to the Woodrow Wilson house to tour the manse. Very elegant for the time, and big! Then we checked out of the hotel and hit the road for Lexington. Along the way, we stopped at the farm where Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical harvester. The farm is now an agricultural research center for Virginia Tech, and the original water-driven grist mill and blacksmith shop are open to see. Above the workshop is a museum display including an early full-size replica of the original reaper, plus a whole case full of small working models of a whole string of later versions of the reaper. The models were amazing, even though they aren’t currently connected to power and thus aren’t actually operating on display.

 

We went on to Lexington, to start by checking in at our hotel – only to learn that their pool was closed because of a leak. Terry called the Best Western across the way and got us reservations there instead. We had lunch at the Golden Corral, then checked in, dropped off our stuff, and went into Lexington.

 

The Welcome Center is lovely, and one of the women working there provided us with a map of the historical district and sketched out a suggested walking route. She also shared with us a very funny story about her great-grandmother. It seems the lady was married to a doctor in Winchester, and their home and yard were used as a hospital for the injured of both sides as the running battles kept sweeping across the town. According to letters preserved from the time, the lady was pretty formidable, and when healing soldiers from either side started getting feisty, she would hit them on the head with a wooden spoon, saying “Not in my yard, young man!”

 

We laughed, and then hit the bricks, walking the streets. We toured Stonewall Jackson’s home, and then walked on to the campus of Washington-Lee University. We toured the Lee Chapel and its underground museum, and saw the box stall that the builder of Lee House had built right beside the house for General Lee’s beloved horse, Traveler. The stall is in a building now used as a garage, but the stall is still preserved. Traveler himself is buried in a grave just outside the Lee Chapel, where his master lies. The Washington-Lee campus leads directly into the campus of VMI, and we walked along the parade ground toward the historic barracks – from which the cadets had marched to New Market – before turning back to end our walk.

 

Back at the hotel, we went swimming in the very chilly pool, and timed things very well: we finished our swim just as lightning began to flash. They closed the pool about five minutes after we climbed out of it. We did laundry, and then it was bedtime – in a room festooned with drying underwear and socks ...

 

Wednesday, 6 June 2001 - Lynchburg

 

This was a lazy day. The hotel provided a hot breakfast buffet, and then we packed up and headed out. We figured to go to Natural Bridge, just 15 miles outside of Lexington, then backtrack 30 miles to catch Wade’s Mill, an operating grist mill, before crossing the Blue Ridge mountains to Lynchburg.

 

Natural Bridge got us our walking exercise – 137 steps down and back up – but was otherwise a bust: they wanted $10 a head for a glimpse of the rock arch. We went down, we opted not to pay, and we went back up. We drove over the top of the Natural Bridge, but from that vantage there’s nothing at all to see; you almost aren’t even sure when you’ve done it. This is one natural wonder that’s been tightly sewn up as a commercial enterprise.

 

Wade’s Mill was a better bet. Two Washingtonians – the guy who used to head the National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, and his wife, a former budget analyst with the Office of Management and Budget – bought the historic mill in 1991, and have made a go of a stone-ground wheat and corn business. You can see all the works within the mill, although they never run the wheel when people are at the mill because of the danger of injury. We had fun, and Terry shipped flour and other goodies home to friends.

 

Then we hit the road across the mountains. We caught lunch at a Burger King in Buena Vista, and then did our up-and-downs. The highway was good and the Harley handled it well, but Terry and I got a workout, especially on the downhill right turns!

 

We pulled in to Lynchburg at 13:40 and checked into our hotel, a Marriott Courtyard. We considered going on to visit Appomattox, but decided instead to make this a lazy day and do Appomattox tomorrow, since it’s on our road to Culpeper. So we went swimming instead, and the Courtyard took “best trip pool” honors – a good size, a perfect temperature, and wonderfully clean. The spa was big and hot and well maintained too, and afterward we went outside into the courtyard and sat on chairs in the sun. When the clouds came up and the wind shifted, we went inside – and just in time, because when we looked out of our room window as we got dressed, we saw the rain come pouring down. It was just a quick, hard shower, though, and ended just about the time we went down to get dinner at the Outback around 16:00. The sun stayed with us the rest of the day, and it was lovely.

 

Thursday, 7 June 2001 - Appomattox to Culpeper

 

We ate at the hotel buffet, then packed and hit the road a little after 08:00. We reached Appomattox a little after their 08:30 opening.

 

What a lovely place! We remain impressed by the National Park Service. They have reconstructed several key pieces of the town, including the McLean house where Grant and Lee agreed upon the terms of surrender, the Courthouse, which burned in 1892 and marked the death of the town (the rebuilt Courthouse is now the Park Service visitor center), the tavern, the general store, a law office, and the jail built in 1870.

 

We had a bit of fun in the McLean House. The young Ranger on duty in the house chatted with us about the level of visitors to the park, and laughed that in having to deal with all of the busloads of kids brought in by schools, he was finally getting his payback for all the problems he had caused at the park as a kid, because he was a local Appomattox boy who spent a fair amount of his time at the park making a nuisance of himself.

 

The McLean House also marks an historical irony. The McLeans originally lived in Manassas, and their farm was overrun by soldiers and fighting at the very beginning of the Civil War, in the first battle of Bull Run. Mr. McLean decided that he had to move his family, and that he wanted to go somewhere the war would never come – so he bought land and built a new home in the tiny community of Appomattox Courthouse. It seems the war followed him, and as it began on his land, it also ended there.

 

We spent a couple of hours in all at the park, walking and looking, and could have walked more. Pity we weren’t going to be around on Friday or Saturday evening: there’s a man who does a living history tour describing the events in the town from the perspective of Mr. Pears, who was the clerk of the court at the time.

 

We hit the road for the nearly 90 mile haul to Culpeper, our stop for the night and the longest run since the ride to Philly. We spent most of the run on Highway 15, which was a really pretty ride. Like Highway 11, which we ran on from West Virginia through much of the Shenandoah Valley, 15 doesn’t see much traffic, and it follows the lines of the old original roads. We were riding through forest and farm land, and it was beautiful.

 

We stopped for cappuccino at the McDonald’s in Orange, Virginia, and then finished the run to Culpeper. We checked into the Holiday Inn, and ate a 14:00 lunch at the Golden Corral. We came back to the hotel and went for a swim. The pool was outdoors and cool, but not as cold as the one in Lexington. We sat out in the sunshine for quite a while, reading about the history around us. We planned to drop in on some of the surrounding places the next day, including Brandy Station, because all that remained of our planned trip was the 90 mile ride to Reston.

 

We nibbled on vegetable chips from Route 11, a potato chip maker on Route 11, the wonderful highway we’d followed through the Shenandoah. The chips were really good, and unusual: sweet potato, carrot, beet, taro root, turnip, and other veggies, all turned into snack food. Want to try them? You can buy them on the web – just go to www.rt11.com!

 

Friday, 8 June 2001 - Culpeper to Chancellorsville to Reston

 

As we moved out in the morning, we took a course toward Fredericksburg that ran through Chancellorsville. It seemed that everywhere we went, we were crossing battlefields, lines of march, and historical markers. The sprawling Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park covers over 5,000 acres and includes pieces of the battlefields from Fredericksburg, Salem Church, Spotsylvania Court House, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. We stopped at the visitor center at Chancellorsville – the place where Stonewall Jackson lost an arm after being accidentally shot in the dark by his own forces – and took their short walking tour, then climbed back on the bike and took a crisscrossing ride following the driving tour directions. Riding on the highway, we were going right through the Wilderness battlefield, where the running fight took place in forest. There were many more possible places to see than we had time to visit, although in many places – like Brandy Station – all that remains is a historical marker.

 

We wound up our ride in mid-afternoon back in my familiar stomping grounds of Reston, Virginia, where the Bardicvoice hotel, alas, offers no swimming pool or spa facilities.

 

Saturday, 9 June 2001 - Monocacy

 

We decided to make one last foray into the Civil War past in the final day before Terry had to go to work up in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, and headed up to Frederick, Maryland to visit the battlefield at Monocacy Junction. Monocacy is not a well-known battle, but it was an important one: Union forces fought a costly delaying action in July 1864 to stop a daring strike by Jubal Early’s forces that were marching on Washington, DC. But for the fight at Monocacy, the Confederacy might have taken Washington, which had largely been stripped of troops for the assault on Petersburg and Richmond; troops were being rushed back to protect the capitol, but would not have made it in time.

 

The Monocacy visitor center is a tiny gem, complete with an animated light map that both narrates and displays the progress of the battle. The walking tour of the battlefield, a simple circle around a field, shows the key spots from the combat, including the two bridges across the river that the Union forces fought to hold and then destroy (the contemporary bridges are in the same places and serving the same functions as the original ones – one is a road, and the other a railroad), and lets you get a real appreciation of how the battle was fought. We gave Monocacy the “underrated historical site” award from the trip.

 

On our way back to Virginia, we decided to “take the long way home” by seeking out the one ferry still operating across the Potomac, rather than doing the usual highway bridge routine. We followed a very scenic course to join the queue of cars, bikes, and motorcycles parked waiting for the ferry. Don’t do this if you’re in a hurry, but if you want to take time to smell the flowers, luxuriate in the sunshine, and watch a guy with a combine working in the field across the road, Whites Ferry is a pleasant way to cross the Potomac River. It was Baby’s first ferry trip, amusingly enough on the “Jubal Early” – but I think the ferry boat gets closer to Washington than the Confederate general did.

 

With that trip, the Civil War experience came to an end, and we returned firmly to the present.

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
Biking Through History: The Biker Babes Cruise the Civil War, Part Two


Wednesday, 30 May 2001 - York to Gettysburg

 

We left our hotel at 07:00, bound for Gettysburg by way of York. We stopped for breakfast at a Roy Rogers in a rest area on the turnpike – meeting a couple of bikers out from Kentucky – and then exited toward Lancaster, arriving in York at a few minutes after 10:00 – just in time for the 10:30 tour of the Harley final assembly facility! Can you say, good timing continues? The tour was fascinating. We saw the lines for Softtails and the big cruisers, like Terry’s. There were monster three and four ton presses, robotic units, and lots of hard-working people. We bought pins and our signature t-shirts for the ride: dark navy shirts with a lovely pastoral landscape reflected in the polished gas tank of a Harley, with the caption, “Take the long way home.” Yeah!

 

We stopped for lunch at an Old Country Buffet, and discovered that they had the same weekday menu as their counterpart in Milwaukee – Chinese breaded chicken livers. Yummy!

 

We rolled into Gettysburg at 14:00, and checked into the Colonial Inn. Terry called Battlefield Harley, a large dealer in town, and arranged for the oil change due on her baby. They told us that they could take the bike right away, so we cruised on over and shopped in the store while the work got done. We only bought pin locks and oil, but Baby got his oil change, and the dealership took a Polaroid photo of us to add to their Harley family album.

 

Back at the motel, we dropped off the jackets and helmets, and then walked in the town. It was about 16:00, and we decided to opt for the two-hour bus tour if we could get one. We lucked out – the next and last tour of the day was set to depart at 16:15, and we were on it.

The bus tour was wonderful, narrated by a registered tour guide who laid out the three days of the battle across the actual ground that it covered. The lines of battle are marked with memorials all down their lengths – cannon, statues, plinths – in lines like soldiers extending as far as the eye can see. Names I’ve known for years – Cemetery Ridge, Round Top, Little Round Top, Seminary Ridge – are all real to me now. The most real, I think, was a stretch between Little Round Top and Cemetery Hill, the infamous Cemetery Ridge, where Pickett’s charge failed. The tour guide evoked the spirit of the place; I could almost see the past. The fields are farmed by local farmers who rent the land, and must plant the same crops that grew there in years past.

 

Being on the battlefield gives you a perspective you can’t get anywhere else, not from books, not from films. The land itself was a key player in the battle. At one point on the tour, when we were on Seminary Ridge, the tour guide was pointing out the positions held by the various forces at one point in the fight, and then drew our attention to another tour bus that we could see going along a road ahead of us, one that led across the battlefield. “In about twenty seconds, that bus is going to disappear,” he said, and sure enough, as it continued on its way, it vanished behind a little ridge we hadn’t even known was there, reappearing further along the way a couple of minutes later. Looking out from our vantage, you would have sworn the ground ahead was open and clear – but the land concealed a dip large enough to hide a division full of men from observation, and in the past, that is exactly what happened. You can read about a general surprised by the sudden appearance of an unsuspected army, but until you can see the ground they were on, the account seems somehow unreal. Once you see the land, however, the events suddenly make sense.

 

We returned to the motel after a stop for post cards. We were really looking forward to a swim and got suited up – only to find the pool a total turn-off. The water had a greenish tinge and wasn’t clear; I could barely make out the outline of the drain in the bottom when I was really looking hard. Mom ran one foot over the top step, and found it scummy. The nearby hot tub was loosely covered by a ratty bubble plastic sheet, and when we drew it back, that water was also greenish, and wasn’t even warm. We went back to our room, after stopping by the front office to inquire when the pool had last been cleaned. The front desk clerk said that the manager had checked and approved it that morning. We questioned his eyesight and his judgment, and as soon as we were back in the room, we pulled out the AAA tour book. We found another motel with an indoor pool – the Hampton Inn, just back down Highway 30 more on the outskirts of Gettysburg, and reserved a room there for the next night. We told the front desk at the Colonial Inn that we would be leaving a night early because the pool did not meet our standards for cleanliness and acceptability. We dinged them badly on their response card, too. Hey – everything else was wonderful, the room was lovely, housekeeping good, and the location perfect – but the pool was downright disgusting, and the pool was the reason we’d come. Sigh.

 

But Gettysburg is lovely, and I want to go back. I think that touring the battlefield on horseback would really be an experience for a history buff!

 

Thursday, 31 May 2001 - Gettysburg

 

We ate breakfast at the Avenue Restaurant, then checked out of the motel and hit the road – for all of about 600 feet, to the gates of the National Park Service Gettysburg Welcome Center!

 

We started out with a tour of the Eisenhower farm, which adjoins the battlefield. The farm has the loveliest view, and is preserved exactly the way that Ike and Mamie left it. The farm is beautiful, and the tour is definitely worthwhile. You can stay in the vicinity of the house, or walk out along the fields to the show barn. I was amused to note the changes that had been made to accommodate the presence of the Secret Service when the Eisenhowers had been in residence; those poor guys in suits, having to deal with a barnyard!

 

Back at the National Park Service center, we viewed the electronic map display, which uses lights on a massive topographical map to demonstrate how the tide of battle progressed over the three days of the fight. Then we walked from the center over to the “High Water Mark” – the northernmost point that Confederate forces ever reached – beyond Cemetery Hill: the place where the Union forces broke Pickett’s charge and turned back both the Southern advance and the entire tide of the war. That spot, where the statue of Meade on the ridge faces across toward the statue of Lee down at the edge of the woods, is my favorite place on the battlefield, with Little Round Top a close second. The voices of the past seem particularly close in those two spots, as if history stands close enough for you to reach out and touch it.

 

We walked across the street from the center to the Lincoln Train Museum, where we saw a lovely collection of toy trains and “rode” a simulation of the train ride Lincoln took to Gettysburg. The train simulator adjusts itself to the weight of the people on board to make certain that the motion of the train will properly track with the film of the trip that you’re viewing on the screen “windows.” It’s a very minor museum attraction, but nice all the same.

 

We had lunch at General Pickett’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, which we strongly recommend. The food was varied and delicious, and the carrot cake, highly recommended by our server, was yummy! Pickett’s charge may have failed, but Pickett’s buffet triumphs ...

 

We headed out of town to find the Land of Little Horses, which breeds and shows miniature horses. Not ponies: true miniature horses, with real horse-type conformation bred down to tiny size. In addition to the herd of charming miniature horses, the farm has llamas, dogs (including three eager-beaver border collies), goats, guinea pigs, ferrets, and heaven only knows what else. For future reference, though, make this a mid-morning to mid-noon trip – the performances mostly occur between 11:00 and 14:00, and we missed them all by arriving at 14:40. We saw one not-quite-show – a training session for the border collies, who were set to chase and retrieve a soccer ball. The funniest part of that little show, apart from the dogs themselves, was the younger of the two llamas. The ball was going into the llama pasture, and this brown llama was convinced that it, too, was a border collie, so it gamely tried to gallop for the ball and play soccer with the dogs. The older white llama looked on snootily as if the antics of the younger one were an insupportable affront to llama dignity. What a hoot! Even though we missed the shows, the place has a lovely layout and is sweet to see. The little stallions are mostly bundles of energy, always in motion, while the mares are much calmer. There were three new foals, two of them just born in May. Lovely!

 

We drove back to Gettysburg and checked ourselves into the Hampton Inn, and then went to Friendly’s for dinner – Cappuccino Dream sundaes, coffee ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, and a cherry. Not nutritionally balanced, but yummy!

 

Back at the hotel, we went for a swim. A clean pool and a great whirlpool – heaven! Even if the pool itself wasn’t a heated one ...

 

All the time we were in Gettysburg, we had been seeing a lot of antique cars, and we learned that there was going to be a car show on the upcoming weekend. The cars were really something. Many were done over as hot rods. Funniest so far was an old white Ford Deluxe convertible in absolutely perfect shape, with a cartoon on the trunk of Bugs Bunny holding up a bra, beside the caption “Going topless!” Hilarious!

 

Friday, 1 June 2001 - Antietam

 

The Hampton Inn in Gettysburg provided a sort-of continental breakfast – we had cereal, orange juice, banana, and milk. Then we hit the road to Sharpsburg, Maryland, to learn about the battle of Antietam.

 

We’d been on the road only an hour when we pulled under the roof of a gas station to pull on our rain gear. It was a timely stop, because ten minutes later we rode into rain, and played tag with it all day. For most of the day, it didn’t actually rain, but it dripped for at least a few minutes every hour. We got intimate with our rain gear! Terry swears that she’s going Gore-Tex next time; our current gear traps humidity and doesn’t breathe, so you may be dry from the rain, but you’re soggy from your own sweat by the time you peel it off.

 

We reached Sharpsburg, and decided to ride on through to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, ten miles on, where we’d be spending the night at the Clarion Hotel. We checked in and dropped off our stuff, and then returned to Sharpsburg/Antietam, reaching the battlefield at about 11:00. The bike made a hit with the Rangers, as usual. We spent the first couple of rainy hours indoors, because the Park Service has two back-to-back films. The first one was the half-hour “Antietam Visit” about Lincoln’s journey to Antietam after the battle and his decision to use the “victory” – well, it was a draw, really, but the South did pull back across the Potomac, so the Union technically held the field – to issue his proclamation of emancipation, giving the South 90 days to recant or lose all slaves. The second film was an hour-long documentary on the battle narrated by James Earl Jones. Both films made a lot of use of re-enactors to bring scenes to life in harrowing fashion. The recreations of the Sunken Road (also called Bloody Lane) and Burnside Bridge were particularly compelling.

 

After the movies, we took the driving tour of the battlefield, and the rain held off until the third from the last stop, the Burnside Bridge. There is a tall brick observation tower at the end of the Sunken Road, and I took my only picture of the day from the top of that tower, looking roughly back north along the Road, back toward the visitor center. Antietam felt like a smaller Gettysburg, still marked with many memorials to individual combat units, but was not nearly so large and overwhelming as Gettysburg. The Sunken Road, however, still held echoes of terror from the past.

 

After the tour, it was past 14:00 and more than time for lunch. We learned that there aren’t a lot of good places to eat at odd hours here: every place pretty much stopped serving at 14:00, including the very classy Bavarian Inn (where the maitre’d did not look thrilled anyway to entertain three women in damp Harley rain gear!). We weren’t in the mood for a pizza restaurant, which is about all that Shepherdstown can boast, so we hit the road for Martinsburg and found Chinatown, a Chinese restaurant right by the approach to Highway 81, right at 15:00. They stop serving their lunch buffet at 15:00, but they welcomed us anyway and we ordered off the menu. Terry did a vegetable stir-fry, I had my veggies mixed with a bit of shrimp, and Mom ordered the Hunan chicken. The food was good, but not great, and abundant – we had too much to finish.

 

Then we went back to the Clarion Hotel to do our laundry, read up for our next day of adventure, and settle in for the night. I had stayed at the Clarion before – it’s attached to the East Coast training facility run by the federal Office of Personnel Management, offering one and two-week residential training classes to higher level federal employees, and I had taken the two-week Science, Technology, and Public Policy course there in February 2000. We had planned it for our laundry stop because I knew that the guest laundry facilities there were good. The Clarion is also historic, because it was the home of all the delegations during the Mideast peace talks in 1999. When Shepherdstown is used as a retreat for diplomatic missions, the State Department takes over the training facility and the hotel under a special arrangement. So – we might have been sleeping in some high mucky-muck’s room! The Clarion is pretty much the only hotel in the vicinity, and is very nice, but alas – its swimming pool is an unheated outdoor one, and hadn’t yet opened for the season, not to mention that the weather was definitely not right for a dip.

 

Saturday, 2 June 2001 - Harpers Ferry to Winchester

 

We ate breakfast at the Clarion’s buffet, and then rode to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. That was neat! We stopped at the park station and left the bike, and took their free shuttle down to the Lower Town, where we walked around for a couple of hours. There’s a lot to see: many of the buildings contain museum exhibits on industry, black history, the geography and geology of the region, and the impact of the confluence of the rivers (Potomac and Shenandoah) on the town. A number of the Park Rangers working the site are dressed in period garb and provide demonstrations of businesses and crafts. Much of the town – including all of the mills, heavy industry, and houses on Virginius Island – no longer exists, having been swept away by floods in the late 1800’s. There are many buildings for which only the foundations or front steps remain.

 

Much of the major history of the town focuses on two events: John Brown’s insurrection in 1859, and the total, explosive destruction of the U.S. Armory by Union forces in 1861 to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands. When the Armory was destroyed and never rebuilt, the town’s industrial importance came to an end, and the town itself started to die as people moved elsewhere in search of work.

 

A narrow strip of the town is down close to river level, and floods during any year when the waters rise a bit. The park service people point out the high water marks from various floods that you can still see in each of the lower town level structures. The rest of the town is built into and on very steep hillsides, leading to an up-and-down walking experience reminiscent of San Francisco. I took the steep climb up to Jefferson’s Rock, from which Tom J. had said that the view was worth crossing the Atlantic to see, and concluded that the view must have been better in Jefferson’s day, before the highway was put in and the trees grew high enough to make both the town and the confluence of rivers disappear. I took pictures, and then rejoined Mom and Terry to visit old St. Peter’s Church.

 

The only unpleasant aspect of the visit was that the gnats were out in force, which meant that we spent most of our time outdoors doing the Aussie salute to wave the gnats away!

 

Leaving Harpers Ferry, we caught lunch at a Golden Corral and grazed off the buffet – good veggies! Then we continued on to Winchester, Virginia, which is a lovely old town with an extensive, well preserved historic district. Winchester is famous for having changed hands more times than any other town during the Civil War – it changed hands over seventy times, and went back and forth thirteen times in one day! It wasn’t badly damaged during the war precisely because both sides kept using it as a headquarters location. We found our hotel – a Wingate Inn, the best accommodations of the trip so far! – got directions to the church (Sacred Heart, which is a HUGE complex, including an academy, with Saturday services at 17:30), and learned that Winchester Harley Davidson was hosting a block party on the mall in the historic district that evening, complete with a biker wedding! The things we fall into ...

 

We went to the visitor center, where we saw an introductory video on Winchester (“the heart of Virginia’s apple country!”), and then toured Abram’s Delight, a mansion built in the 1830’s. The tour guide was absolutely determined to give us our money’s worth, and went into major historical detail on every aspect of all the contents of the house. (This was one place where we could have done with less ...). The grounds also include a log cabin, which is the oldest dwelling anywhere in the vicinity.

 

By the time we escaped from Abram’s Delight, it was too late for us to actually visit any of the other museums in town – which include George Washington’s headquarters during the French and Indian War and Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign – but we were able to pick up the walking tour brochures for the next day. We located the church, and then did our own little impromptu driving tour to get familiar with the city. Then we went to church, and afterward drove over to the mall to park on the pedestrian walkway with over a hundred other bikes – three full blocks of motorcycles! The double line of motorcycles was our introduction to the historic mall – bit anachronistic, that! – and a double biker wedding (two couples at once!)  was our introduction to the steps of the historic courthouse. What a lark! Terry observed that the brides were wearing dresses that wouldn’t allow them to climb onto their trusty steeds. The vows were written, “Do you take this biker ...” rather than “man” or “woman,” and all the bikers in attendance were called upon to be witnesses. The wedding reception was the Harley block party, complete with loud music, that hadn’t even gotten into full swing when we left.

 

We returned to the hotel for a swim and a dunk in the whirlpool – boy, that hotel was great! – and then went to bed. All in all, it had been a lovely day with just a few tiny sprinkles of rain that weren’t even close enough to warrant pulling out the rain gear.


Read Part Three

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)
 

Biking Through History: The Biker Babes Cruise the Civil War            
26 May - 9 June 2001

 

A Harley is the perfect vehicle for touring Civil War battlefields, and we proved it this year. Starting in the Washington, DC area of northern Virginia, my sister Terry, our Mom (who was 77 at the time), and I cruised up into Pennsylvania, and back down through Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia, following the Piedmont and Shenandoah campaigns. We got to know all the generals on both sides pretty well, but especially Confederates Stonewall Jackson and Jubal Early, because we kept cutting across their tracks everywhere we went. We made some history of our own, too, because we rode in Rolling Thunder with 250,000 other bikers remembering our vets from all wars, but especially Vietnam. That’s a ride we won’t do again (Terry hates driving in formation with other bikers who don’t know how to give enough room to a sidecar), but it was quite an experience doing it once!

 

Saturday, 26 May 2001 - Manassas

 

Mom and Terry arrived on the 25th, having ridden in rain for most of the trip from Wisconsin. As usual, the weather followed them, so our first official day on the road was a rainy one. Starting from my house in Reston, VA, we decided to make my reintroduction to riding an easy one by taking in the Bull Run battlefield at Manassas, VA, less than an hour from my house. We set out under cloudy skies in full black and orange rain gear, and we were glad of it when the rain started falling while we were on the road. Lucky for us, it stopped some time after we arrived at the park station at Manassas, just in time for us to take our own little walking tour of the main part of the battlefield. The U.S. Park Service cuts the grass in a swath that defines the route you should walk, and there are markers along the way that tell you what you’re looking at and what happened at the various places during the two separate battles that took place here, known as the First and Second Battles of Bull Run to the Union side, and First and Second Manassas to the Confederates. Most famous, perhaps, is the statue that marks the place where General “Stonewall” Jackson got his name – “There stands Jackson, like a stone wall,” another officer called, when trying to rally his men, and the inspiration worked.

 

At the park station, we ran into another set of bikers with whom we played tag for the rest of the day. These guys – from Indiana, if I’m remembering right – had come in for the Rolling Thunder ride, and were taking in the historical sites while they were here. The funny part about the recurring encounters was that they ignored us when we first met in the park station, but they waved at us each time we crossed paths on the road as we went from site to site on the bike around the whole battlefield, which covers a large area of land. We finally managed to chat with one of them when we found them at the Manassas Museum – which is a gem of a small community museum, with a gift shop stocked with surprising things, including very attractive and unusual jewelry – and he and Terry compared notes on the very wet ride they’d all had so far. We all laughed about the discomforts and inconveniences of living in rain gear (Hey – you have to plan your pit stops in advance, because it takes so long to get the danged gear unfastened and out of the way of doing business!!), and we teased them about having missed the tour lunch stop, because the only place we didn’t run into them was our lunch break at the local Cracker Barrel.

It rained on and off for most of the day, dripping on us as we made the rounds of the battlefield driving tour. We got into the mode that we would follow for the next two weeks: we stopped to read every notice board and marker, usually with Terry and I taking turns reading the information aloud. And this is one area where the bike definitely beats a car for battlefield touring: most places, we didn’t even have to get off the bike to read the marker information, because we could pull right up to it! If we’d been in a car, we’d have had to park and walk, and that would have been less than fun in the rain. We made good use of ziplok-type bags to protect the maps and little historical review pieces we picked up at each location; we’d fold them open, stick them in the bag, and then read the information for each site in succession without the paper getting wet. Not bad!

 

We got home in time to go to church at the anticipatory Mass, because we knew we’d be on the road early the next morning to join Rolling Thunder. We and the bike got a lot of looks from the congregation – my church isn’t used to being visited by Biker Babes!

 

Sunday, 27 May 2001 - Rolling Thunder, Washington, DC

 

The weather on Sunday started out fine, with the promise of being hot and sunny, but not as killer-hot as some other years. Following a quick stop at the Safeway to pick up water bottles, since we knew we’d be out in the broiling sun in the North Pentagon parking lot for hours on end, we rode out to Patriot Harley in Fairfax – my local Harley dealership – to join their “Ride of the Patriots” into the Pentagon lot. Over a thousand bikes (including the guys we’d seen in Manassas the day before!) converged on Patriot to form up into a motorcade, with police escort and all. We wound up in about the middle of the pack. We walked up and down the line while we were waiting for the 09:30 start time, looking at bikes and meeting people (the woman whose bike was right behind ours was grateful that she’d have an easy marker to use to find her bike again!), and we picked up commemorative pins and hit the portable potties that they had in the dealership’s parking lot. The ride started on time, and that was quite an experience for me; cops on motorcycles rode ahead of us to block traffic from side streets (and then went roaring past us again after the end of the line had passed, playing leapfrog with the parade to get ahead of us to be able to block for us again), and there were people lined up all along the road through Fairfax, waving hands and flags. When we got onto the Beltway, 495 heading south and east, we found that the police had shut it down entirely for us: we had a stream of motorcycles rolling two-by-two down the far left lane, with the other three eastbound traffic lanes entirely empty. Squad cars blocked each access ramp, and we saw people in the stopped cars getting out to watch us cruise on by. That’s not a sight I’ve seen before out here!


We exited at the Pentagon and just kept following the line of bikers into our parking spot, awaiting the real Rolling Thunder ride slated to begin at noon. We were almost exactly in the middle of the North parking lot at the Pentagon, which put us in the middle of the total pack of 250,000 motorcycles. I know I’ve never been around that many bikes before. Trying to mark your position in order to be able to find your bike again was a real trip, even with a sidecar to help; imagine a sea of bikes, over half of them Harleys, parked nose-to-tail and side-to-side over acres and acres of asphalt with only infrequent light poles to provide landmarks. Yipes! Fortunately, everybody was very friendly and happy to be there, so the atmosphere was positive all around. We picked up pins to commemorate the ride from a vendor in a tent at the side of the parking lot.

 

The only thing that wasn’t positive was the staggeringly paltry number of portable johns available for use by this crowd of over 400,000 people. On the side of the parking lot closest to us – which was the eastern side, by Colombia Island (bet you didn’t know there’s an island in the Potomac next to the Pentagon, hey?) – there were a total of three, count them, THREE whole portajohns!! These people seriously need to take a lesson from the folks at EAA on how to set up for the comfort of a massive influx of people! I understand that there were a lot more potties elsewhere on the field, but they weren’t anywhere that my area could see. We followed the advice of a friendly cop who told us that the marina on Columbia Island had restroom facilities, if we could last long enough to walk that far, so we got our basic needs seen to in nicer surroundings than a portable potty.

 

The potty situation gave rise to the funniest moment of the day. When it was getting close to time for us to join the main ride, Mom decided that another visit to the potty might not be a bad idea, at least if the line was shorter than it had been earlier – she knew we didn’t have time to walk all the way back to the facilities on the island. Well, she and I walked back to the three potties, where the line seemed to be as long as it had been before. One of the bicycle cops who was working security on the grounds looked at the line, which was about half male and half female, queued up along the wooden eastern fence along the steep slope down toward the river and the island, looked at the three whole potties available for use, and said casually, “You know, my boss won’t be passing by again for a few minutes at least, and if I were to turn my back for a bit, I wouldn’t notice at all if anyone in serious need of relief was to make use of that very convenient fence right there.” He winked, ostentatiously turned his back, and pedaled a few feet away – and most of the guys in the line exchanged looks and then made a mad dash for the fence, where they promptly lined up, unzipped, and let fly. If I’d have taken pictures I might have gotten busted by the morals squad when they were developed: there must have been at least thirty guys all in a row with their equipment dangling in the breeze! Everybody in the vicinity was practically rolling with laughter, and the line for the potties suddenly got a lot shorter. Not three minutes later, the cop’s supervisor came by, noticed the amazing attrition in the line, and asked what was up, clearly knowing the answer; the bicycle cop piously reported that he hadn’t seen a thing. What a scam!

 

Even with that help, though, the line still wasn’t short enough to guarantee Mom would be through before our bike had to join the parade; she decided that she wasn’t in that great a need, and we scouted our way back to the bike. It was fortunate that I had triangulated the bike’s position using the light poles and the marked lanes, though, because the tents that had been pitched by the vendors were being taken down, and other folk who had keyed off the tents were suddenly clueless about where their bikes were!

 

To give you an idea of how BIG this ride is, the parade of bikes into DC from the Pentagon started at the stroke of noon. We were near the middle of the pack, but on the forward side of the middle, and by 13:00, we hadn’t even started our engine! We cranked it up at about 13:30, and maybe ten minutes later, followed the bike ahead of us out from our spot and into the ride. The ride goes from Pentagon North across the Potomac River on the Memorial Bridge, east up Constitution Avenue to just before the Capitol building, then south across the Mall and back west down Independence Avenue. The ride concludes down at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, with speeches and a concert, but many riders elect to curve to the left instead of the right and go back out of DC across the 14th Street Bridge. That’s what we did. It was bright and sunny, the thunder of the engines really was rolling across the city, and the people were out in force lining the Mall to wave at the riders going by. It was the first (and, I’m betting, the last!) time in my life that I was part of a formal parade through the nation’s capitol! Ever done the “Miss America wave” in black leather gloves from the back of a Harley??

 

When we went back across the river and headed out toward home, we went right past the Pentagon parking lot, and it was still half full of motorcycles waiting to join the parade! It takes a solid three hours for the full group to pass any point along the way, so they were still filing across the bridge by the time we got home to my place.

 

We definitely made the right choice in leaving when we did. We stopped at the Burger King near my house for a drink and a potty stop (both absolutely vital!), and just as we left there for home, it started to rain – a passing thunderstorm was heading on its way east into town. When the rain shower passed, we went to dinner at the Outback Steakhouse in Herndon, and then came home again just before the rain started one more time. We were really picking good timing!

 

At home, we did some reading on Philadelphia, our next stop, from the tour book, so we’d be ready. That set the tone for the rest of the trip; we would do our homework on the route the night before. Philly isn’t really a big stop on a Civil War tour, but we thought we’d take a slight detour into the Revolutionary War, since it was so close.

 

Monday, 28 May 2001 - Philadelphia

 

We left home at 05:00, and pulled into our motel – the Holiday Inn, Cherry Hill, NJ, just across the bridge from Philly – at 08:40. Rather than taking the bike into town, we decided to scope it out first by taking a cab in to the National Park Information Center in the historic district. What a beautiful place! We walked around outside, becoming both audience and part of the show when a troupe of costumed actors put on a street play about the city’s reaction to the passage of the Stamp Act. Lunch was at the City Tavern, a place we highly recommend, which serves traditional colonial American cuisine in historic surroundings with appropriately garbed staff. Where else can you get braised rabbit with squash, zucchini, red cabbage, and mushrooms on egg noodles? It’s worth taking a walk through all the various rooms just to see the building and the artifacts it contains.

 

We went on to tour Independence Hall, Congress Hall (the Senate met on the second floor, and the House on the first), the Liberty Bell, and then – jumping from the past into the present – the U.S. Mint. The presses weren’t running, since it was the Memorial Day holiday, but we read all the display information and got a good look around. I found out that my bronze and silver medals from EPA were all struck here at the Mint; in addition to coins, the Philadelphia Mint does all of the government-issue medals and awards on truly massive presses.

 

Something about the Liberty Bell, by the way: the obvious separation that most people think is the famous crack, isn’t – it’s the mending job from an earlier crack in the bell. The second crack that ended its ringing career is hard to see, but extends upward from the mend. A cracked bell is mended by opening a finger-width slot along the entire area where the crack formed, so that the edges of the crack don’t continue to vibrate together and spread the damage along with a soured note. Learn something new every day! We closed out our first tour day with a buggy ride around the historic area of the city. Terry made friends with McTavish, our horse, even though she wasn’t carrying any carrots in her pockets. We caught a cab back out to the motel, and closed out the day with a swim.

 

Tuesday, 29 May 2001 - Philadelphia

 

Having scoped out the territory the day before, and knowing the location of a parking garage, we rode the bike into town in the morning and found a place for breakfast after locking all our goodies in the bike. We decided to head over to the Mint to see the coin presses actually running, and that was neat! They were pressing quarters, pennies, and golden dollars while we were there, and you can look down from the observation windows and see the whole process. It’s well worth a visit. The one really funny thing, though, was that you couldn’t get golden dollars in the Mint gift shop unless you bought them in jewelry: they didn’t even have them to provide as change for a purchase. We asked the gift shop clerk how the Mint could expect anybody to use the golden dollars if even the place that made them didn’t use them; they didn’t have an answer for that one, and I had to wait on actually using a golden dollar until I got back to Reston and specifically asked my grocery store for them!

 

We revisited the Liberty Bell for some pictures, because there was no one around it except for the Park Rangers in the early morning. As we left the building, though, the busses began to arrive, one after the other, all queuing up to disgorge their cargos of school kids. We spent the day leapfrogging around bunches of kids and their chaperones, while we visited the Betsy Ross house and Franklin Court. The Court is the site of Ben Franklin’s home, which no longer exists, but the Court still includes the original tenant’s house and the book binding and print shops, which are operated as architectural and archaeological museums, along with a post office and a lovely garden. The spot where Franklin’s house stood is enclosed in a skeleton steel framework outlining what the room and roof structure looked like, with carved markers in the ground displaying excerpts from the letters Ben exchanged with his wife describing all the details of the construction, since he was abroad while it was being built. A museum dedicated to Franklin is located underground, and is well worth a visit.


We walked further to Elfrith’s Alley, a two-block long, perfectly restored pedestrian street that still looks as it did in colonial times – well, except that there are contemporary child’s strollers in some of the yards, and the houses all have electricity! Two of the homes are a museum, while the rest are all private property. One was for sale – we wondered about the price while simultaneously concurring that we would not like to live in a steady tourist attraction!

 

We did lunch at Old City Pizza, and can heartily recommend the veggie stromboli with cannoli for dessert. From there, we went on to Declaration House, the place where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence – that was a favorite of mine – and then walked through the Rose Garden and the Magnolia Garden. We passed the Todd House, with its magnificent garden yard, on the way back past the City Tavern and toward the garage with the bike. We got to the garage just as the sunny day dissolved into rain and started pouring onto the city. We stood in the garage and watched it pour for about fifteen minutes; then the storm passed, we put on our leathers and helmets, and rode back to the hotel for a swim. We did our evening reading, because we planned to leave early the next morning for Gettysburg, going by way of York and the Harley Davidson plant.


Read Part Two

bardicvoice: (Rushmore Babes)

 The Biker Babes Do Branson, Part Two

10 May 2000, Wednesday

 

Did you know that there are 21 breakfast shows running in Branson?  Red, Hot & Blue is one of them, although we did only the show, not the breakfast.  (Hey, they didn't start serving until 8:30, and we ate ours at 7!)  Still, it was dynamite!  The six young singer/dancers served the breakfast in pajamas and robes – a cute touch – and then disappeared for a quick change backstage.  Then they came leaping back out in the most high-intensity, non-stop show in town!  This joint was really jumping!  The costumes were lush, the changes frequent, and the music ran up through the century (a common theme in the Branson shows we saw, most of which were new and honoring the concept of the millennium).  All six had excellent voices (I was partial to Scott, the baritone who had sold me the tickets!), and just incredible energy.  They thoroughly enjoyed getting the crowd involved, too, coming offstage during several numbers to play to audience members and, in one number, to pick out boogie dance partners from the audience.  It was great fun well done.

 

We had the rest of an absolutely gorgeous day to play outside tourist, since our next show wasn't scheduled until 8:00 at night.  With the sun pouring down like honey from a clear blue sky, we went to Table Rock Dam and toured the dam and powerhouse.  At $3 each, it was the cheapest tour on the trip (well, the Lincoln house up in Springfield was free, except for the parking...), but fascinating.  We actually walked inside the dam near its base, with thirty-two feet of concrete between us and the 200-foot deep level of Table Rock Lake.  They weren't running the big generators, because Table Rock is only a backup system used to augment the regular power grid when demand is high – as it had been on hot Monday, when everyone was running air conditioning – but we could see the big generators as well as the small one that powers the dam systems themselves.  Neat!


From the dam, we went to the Shepherd of the Hills homestead to tour the grounds and go up Inspiration Tower.  SOH is *the* book that made Branson a tourist stop in the first place, back in the very beginning of the century.  Harold Bell Wright, a young minister traveling through the Ozarks and benighted at the Ross cabin, turned his notes about the people he had met into a melodramatic novel called "Shepherd of the Hills."  The book became the first American novel to sell over a million copies, and supposedly remains the fourth most read work of historical fiction.  People wanted to see the places and people Wright had written about, so Wright effectively created Branson tourism.

 

At the SOH homestead, we took their tour, which includes a guided trip on a wagon pulled by a jeep, a chance to ride a Clydesdale-drawn wagon, and a ride to the top of Inspiration Tower, which provides a spectacular 360-degree lookout over the countryside.  It's well worth the price of admission.  The guided tour takes you through the real cabin that belonged to the Ross family, although the tour guides slip back and forth between using the real names and the fictional ones from the novel; sometimes the name comes out as Ross, but most often, it's Old Matt and Aunt Mollie.  The tour also goes right across the "stage" where, every night for the past forty-odd years, the SOH story has been re-enacted with the biggest cast in any Branson show:  23 speaking roles, at least as many extras, 20-30 horses, a hand of mules, a herd of sheep, and a kerosene-fed fire extinguished by the actors in a bucket brigade.  At intermission, which happens during a square dance in the story, the audience members are invited to "c'mon down" and join in the party, learning to square dance if they don't already know how.  We didn't see SOH because it doesn't start until 8 or 8:30 (and runs past Mom's bedtime!! <grin>), but that would be a fun thing to do if we get back there again and can plan for it.

 

The homestead itself is pretty and makes for nice walking.  The tour is fun, even including someone from the tour group getting roped into "blowing up" a moonshine still.  Hilarious!

 

After the tour, we rode the Clydesdale-drawn wagon up to Inspiration Tower and caught the glass elevator up to the observation decks over 200 feet up.  There are two levels:  one is glassed-in, while the deck right below it is open to the very windy air.  The views are spectacular.

 

Wednesday night, we went to our one late (but not terribly long) show, featuring the incredible acrobats of the New Shanghai Circus from China.  These people were amazing, including a fellow who juggled a 35-pound ceramic pot, even catching it on its lip edge on his head; a contortionist who put herself into and through a tube only 12 inches wide and 36 inches long; a couple who did a pair lifting routine with the woman balancing a pagoda of bowls on her head; a woman who balanced twelve filled liqueur glasses and thirteen candles on a full champagne glass which was, in turn, balanced on her nose; a team of male acrobats who dove through hoops; and the current gold medalist gymnast in China, a small young girl who did an aerial acrobatic routine, suspending herself through a long series of maneuvers on just one hand, occasionally changing hands but never using more than one at a time.  They were astounding!  After the show, they formed a receiving line in the lobby to greet people, and Mom couldn't get over how tiny they were.

 

11 May 2000, Thursday

 

We started off with the Lennon Brothers (yes, the younger brothers of the Lennon sisters!) show at the Welk Resort at 9:30 in the morning.  We met Dan Lennon before the show, while we were sitting in the theatre lobby; he was drawn by the Harley shirts, and told us about some upcoming events that the Welks are trying to plan, in part because their general manager – a fellow named Bliss, whom we also met – is a Harley fan and the local HOG (that’s Harley Owners Group, for you non-biker types) group president.  They're hoping to have a HOG event in 2002, or so.  Quite apart from Harley things, they are having a huge event this Labor Day, when 40 of the old Welk stars will be coming to participate in a show being taped by PBS.  There will be special shows featuring most of these folks over the entire week, so that would be Welk fan heaven!   Might even be worth planning a flight out...

 

The Lennon Brothers consist of three of the boys we used to see on the Christmas specials of the Lawrence Welk Show, plus Gail, the wife of Bill Lennon.  They put on a wonderful swing music show, and did it without an intermission.  Their band was excellent in its own right, and the Lennon Brothers added style, loads of humor, and superb close harmonies arranged by Gail.  The show had perfect timing and flow, running from energetic to quiet and from sentimental to nonsensical.  We were sitting in the second row, and Dan Lennon played some things directly to us.  It was a blast!

 

In the early afternoon, we took a ride on the Ducks (shades of the Wisconsin Dells!) around Branson and onto Table Rock Lake.  It was fun and damp, and gave us more good views of the beautiful countryside, including The Chateau (a famous resort and restaurant on the Lake), and both Table Rock Lake and Taneycomo Lake, from some different perspectives.  We saw the mooring for the Showboat Branson Belle, a big sternwheeler that sails every day with lunch and dinner show cruises.  There's a lot of trivia about the Belle:  she's the biggest ship built and launched on an inland lake, and she was built just above where she's now docked.  When she was first dedicated and slated to be launched, well, they couldn't use any petroleum products to grease the skids and slide her into the lake – hey, Table Rock Lake is the local water source, and pollution is a no-no – so they greased the slides with bananas and linseed oil and slipped her into the water on banana peels!  I forget the staggering number of pounds of bananas which were crushed in the effort, but it was impressive!  Her dramatic slide sideways into the water also remains her record speed:  she can sail at a maximum of about 12 mph, but her sideways maiden voyage reached the breathtaking speed of 14 mph.  She was faster going sideways than steaming straight ahead!  If she were ever to lose engine power, she would be towed by the Ducks; they've actually done it once, in a test requested and observed by the Coast Guard to make certain that the idea would work.

 

Our Duck (or, more properly, our DUKW, to give it its military designation – the Ducks were amphibious landing craft in World War II ) was the very Duck used in John Wayne's movie about Guadalcanal, so it proudly bears the name "The Duke."  We were all equipped with Wacky Quacker duck-call noisemakers to help quack the Duke up hills and to generally make nuisances of ourselves (as if we needed the help!).

 

Our last show stop in Branson was the wild and wooly fun of the Dixie Stampede, a meal with a horse show.  Mom ate a meal with no utensils at all!  All that they give you is a plate, a bowl, a cup, a Mason jar, and a bunch of napkins.  Dinner – which was excellent! – started with soup and a biscuit (you drank the soup out of your bowl and cleaned the bowl with the biscuit), and then progressed to a whole small roast chicken, a slice of pork chop, wedges of herbed potato, a hunk of corn on the cob, and an apple turnover for dessert.  Your beverage choices were coffee, iced tea, or Pepsi, and you indicated which you wanted by how you arranged your cup and Mason jar.  The entertainment was pretty unique, starting with the preshow – a trick roping and whip demonstration by Vince (whose last name I can't recall), a cowboy from the wilds of west ... London, England?!  Okay, so his accent made his "Yee-HAW!" a little funny, but he was something to watch with lassos and with bullwhips!  The main show was styled as a competition between North and South (gee, guess how they had the audience split?  You guessed it; half designed to root for each side!), and included trick riding; a chuck wagon race (shades of "Ben Hur" in a *much* smaller arena!); barrel racing; spearing rings on swords at the gallop; chicken herding (yes, you got that right; two pairs of kids from the audience were brought in to try to herd their side's chicken over a finish line down at the far end of the arena from where they started; what a trip!), pig racing (yes, that's right too); the ostrich derby (ever seen two ostriches running with riders?  Hint:  the riders can't do anything to actually control them!); and stickhorse racing.  That last takes a little explaining.  The setup was that, the most often heard request at the Stampede was that people wanted to be able to ride the horses, and tonight, for the first time ever, members of the audience would get to do just that!  Eight high school kids were brought in, in boy-girl teams, and the boys were told to pick their horses.  Of course, they made a beeline for the gorgeous beasts still standing there from the previous act, only to be halted in their tracks by a different selection:  toy horses with stuffed heads on long stick bodies!  Each team was "mounted" on a horse, and then had to race around a track of barrels.  We were laughing too hard to eat!  Of course, during the competitive events, we yelled and screamed to cheer our team, and we stamped our feet if our hands were full; proper Southern wild west manners!

 

Between "competitive" events, we were treated to feats of horsemanship including a square dance on horseback and a courtship between a man and a woman exemplified by haute ecole dressage danced by the man's horse.  Lovely!

 

The Dixie Stampede was the source of our only Branson souvenirs:  Terry and I both bought t-shirts with horsy themes.

 

I closed off the day by going down to downtown Branson and shooting pictures with the last of the light in the day.  In the morning, we would leave.

 

12 May 2000, Friday

 

We hit the road by 5:00, this time sticking to highways rather than scenic routes.  The trip up to Springfield, IL was uneventful, and that's saying a lot:  we skirted the edge of a moving storm front, and stayed in sunshine all day.  Even in Springfield, hours after we'd settled in, we didn't see much in the way of storms:  they split around us, north and south, and hammered every place except where we were.  Our trip continued blessed!  We drove, we swam, we lazed in the sun, and that's all we did for the day.

 

13 May 2000, Saturday

 

We hit the road about 5:15, and made it to Milwaukee at 12:30.  In many ways, this was the most challenging travel day:  we had a sharp crosswind out of the northwest, and it was COLD!  Next time I ride in something like that, I want long johns and a pair of dancer's leg warmers – I thought I could hear my knees creaking every time I managed to step down off the bike.  We finished things off with a trio of goodies:  lunch at Ned's Pizza, church on Saturday so that we could sleep in Sunday, and finally, Leon's custard.  Perfection!

 

When we reached Leon's Custard, the official end of the road, we had logged a grand total of 1,800 miles for our Branson road trip.  The Biker Babes made it!

 

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