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.
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.
2008 LA Salute to Supernatural, Part One (Spoiler Warning!)
My apologies to everyone who has been waiting for me to finally get on the stick and write up my view of the LA Supernatural Creation convention. Sorry to be late to the party! I plead an incredibly busy real life and the prior commitment to get an essay submitted in the Ben Bella Books Smart Pop contest. But I’m here now, and I’m not going to leave out any of the details I remember, even though I’m sure you’ve all been inundated with everyone’s accounts, photos, and video clips. I’ve interspersed a few photos in the account, and you’re welcome to visit the broader album. Panns already posted the best of my photos here, along with Schroan’s and Met’s.
Given the length of this, I’m splitting it into two pieces, one covering Friday and Saturday, and the second dealing with Sunday. Here comes Part One! Note there are spoilers in the Kripke section, although I don't think that most people would mind them too much ...
I wish with all my yearning heart that I could say I found the current location for Supernatural during my
I learned that hunting for former (and current) shooting locations can be a great way to see a lot more of a city than an ordinary tourist would ever visit. Given the nature of Supernatural, that included some seedy and disreputable areas that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable walking around (
( Read the rest... ) And to see some of my photos, you can go here: http://s60.photobucket.com/albums/h4/
And to see some of my photos, you can go here: http://s60.photobucket.com/albums/h4/
Hello, all! I know I promised I’d be blogging from the “Something Wicked” Supernatural fan convention up in Vancouver this weekend, and I confess that I’ve been very derelict in my duties in that regard. Apologies, but we’ve been having a blast up here, and frankly, the only times I’ve been in my room have been when I’ve been sleeping and when we had our little TVGuide.com bloggers episode viewing party on Thursday night!
Comic-Con Part Two: Stargates,
Sorry it took me so long to write about the rest of Comic-Con. Clearly, my priority was (and remains!) Supernatural, but I really did mean to write about the rest sooner than this! I plead fatigue and the insanity of work … My focus was on Supernatural, but I found time for a few other things, including the panels on Stargate: SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis,
Consider this a very mild spoiler alert on all of the above shows!
And that’s it for my report from Comic-Con 2007. Next time, I’ll return to my regularly scheduled
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
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
Monday, 28 August 2006: Painted Post, NY to
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
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
Tuesday, 29 August 2006: Hershey and
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,
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
Hershey is indeed
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
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
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
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
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
The museum was started by two brothers, George and Henry Landis, in the 1920s. Their German ancestors had settled in
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Wednesday, 23 August 2006:
We pulled out about 7:50 for the 250-mile run to
We stopped for lunch in
Another wonderful feature of the museum is the Hot Glass Show, in which a
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
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
Our hotel for the night was only a handful of miles west of
Thursday, 24 August 2006: Painted Post, NY to
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
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
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
What a day! With rain in the forecast, we decided to save
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
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
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
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
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
Interesting factoid: the
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:
We drove into
The tour took us back to
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
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
There are four bridges connecting the
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
After a photo stop on the Canadian side of the Falls, right at the head of
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
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
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
Read Part Three
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
Saturday, 19 August 2006:
Mom and Terry arrived at my house from
When we got to Sully, we got a nice surprise: Sully was hosting Civil War Days, with re-enactors in
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:
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
Monday, 21 August 2006:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
We headed back to
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.
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
The sheer mass of humanity that passed through
Something I never knew was the
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
While public access to Ellis Island is limited to the ferry, we did see a bridge connecting Ellis to the
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
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
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:
We embarked on our tour of the Hampton Roads area of
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
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
My personal favorite of those was the private yacht Nice and Easy, out of
Oh – and
Tuesday, 13 September 2005:
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
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
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!
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
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
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
Chincoteague proved to be less tacky-beachy than
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
Thursday, 15 September 2005:
We wound up spending this still completely rain-free day entirely in
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
A lovely and unexpected feature of the
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
Saturday and Sunday, 17-18 September 2005
Mom and Terry got back to
2005: The Biker Babes Cruise the Mid-Atlantic
This year, Mom and Terry rode the bike out from
But enough of the short version – on to the details!
2-3 September 2005:
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
Sunday, 4 September 2005:
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
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
Monday, 5 September 2005:
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
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
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
Tuesday, 6 September 2005: Reston to
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
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
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
Wednesday, 7 September 2005:
Today we rode the first half of the
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
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
Thrown off schedule by the slow pace, we left the Parkway at
We arrived at our
Thursday, 8 September 2005: Mt Airy to
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
We went to church today, since tomorrow is our one big long haul highway driving day, from
Read Part Two
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
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
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:
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
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
We found our hotel in
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
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
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
September 23, Thursday:
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
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
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
We learned that Dick Cheney was campaigning in downtown
After lunch, we headed back south and east toward
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
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
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:
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
We ran past
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
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
September 25, Saturday:
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
There was also more color in the trees we passed. In
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
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
We really luxuriated in this last day of the ride. We reached
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:
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!
September 15, Wednesday:
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
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
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
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
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
September 16, Thursday:
Today was a short run that took all day. We left
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
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
Something I particularly enjoyed was watching the changing play of colors on
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
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
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
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
September 17, Friday:
While we were going through the
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,
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
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
September 18, Saturday:
Not much to say for today: basically, all we did was drive, to cover the 325 miles from
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
An amusing note along the way:
We had lunch at the Cracker Barrel in
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
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
All was not entirely lost at this disappointing
September 19, Sunday:
We started the day with 7:30 mass at the local Catholic church on
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
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
Tomorrow will be a long haul, over 450 miles to
September 20, Monday:
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
It wasn’t until we were almost out of
As we crossed into
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
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.
We stopped on the outskirts of
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
Today we toured Hoover Dam, cruised on
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
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.
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
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
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,
September 10, Friday:
This morning we made an uneventful run to
We watched the land change again as we went through one last stretch of mountains to reach
We checked in at 12:20 and walked to a nearby Denny’s for lunch. Then we came back to the
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
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
Tomorrow we’ll join the cousins in a drive to Pam and Mike’s condo in
September 11, Saturday:
Today was relaxation and talk. Pam picked us up and drove us to the condo that she and Mike bought in
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
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:
We started the day with Spanish mass at the
From church, we hit the road for Brenda’s, about an hour and a half drive north, past
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
Brenda is currently working as assistant director on Girlfriends, the half-hour black sitcom on UPN, shooting at
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
September 13, Monday:
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.
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
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
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
September 14, Tuesday:
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
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
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
After lunch, Mom and Terry humored me and we went to the Arizona Wing of the CAF, whose museum is at Falcon Field in
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
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
The Biker Babes – Grand Canyon and
This year was our biggest trip yet: 5,689.5 miles, covered in three weeks and a day, from
September 3, 2004, Friday:
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
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
We continued on our way to
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
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
September 4, Saturday:
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
Our only tourist stop on the run today was the Archway Memorial at
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
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
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:
Something I forgot to mention about our ride yesterday: we crossed the
We started the day at St. Patrick’s Church in
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
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
Our Hampton Inn was in the suburbs of
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
And we also looked forward to the treat of having dinner with our oldest sister Ruth, who would be in
September 6, Monday:
Today was our day to play tourist in
First stop was
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
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:
This was a first with the bike: crossing the
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
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
We tanked up, drank our water, and then took the last 16 or so miles to our night’s home in
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:
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 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
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
We kept strolling down the Strip to
Read Part Two
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!”
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.
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
The Biker Babes’
Sunday, 25 August 2002: Keystone and
This morning, we went up past Keystone to
On the way down and back from the memorial, we drove through the heart of the
We walked through Keystone after leaving the Rushmore memorial, and then we rode the 1880 Train from Keystone to
Monday, 26 August 2002:
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
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
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
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
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:
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
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
Thursday, 29 August 2002:
This was a pushing day. We left
Friday, 30 August 2002:
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:
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
This entire drive was through the glacial lakes region of
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:
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
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
Wednesday, 21 August 2002: Deadwood
When we arrived in Rapid, the news was full of the
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
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
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
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
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
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
Friday, 23 August 2002:
Another tremendously scenic day in
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
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
In the grand Harley tradition, we took the long way home, driving the scenic highways through
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:
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
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.
Read Part Three
The Biker Babes’
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;
Friday, 16 August 2002:
This was a day to make miles – lots and lots of miles. We left home at about 03:15, and reached our hotel in
A few funnies for the day. We saw our first billboard for Wall Drug while we were still in
We called cousin Mick’s mom in
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
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
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
We went first to the falls in
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
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
As we left
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
We had intended to go to the
Sunday, 18 August 2002:
We went to Mass at
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
From lunch, we went on to the
We went on to the
Monday, 19 August 2002: To
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
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
Wall Drug now occupies an entire block and then some, and still constitutes most of the town of
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
We drove on to
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
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
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
Sunday, 3 June 2001 -
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
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,
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
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
Monday, 4 June 2001 - New Market to
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
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
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
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.
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
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 -
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
We went on to
We laughed, and then hit the bricks, walking the streets. We toured Stonewall Jackson’s home, and then walked on to the campus of
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 -
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
Wade’s Mill was a better bet. Two Washingtonians – the guy who used to head the
Then we hit the road across the mountains. We caught lunch at a Burger King in
We pulled in to
Thursday, 7 June 2001 -
We ate at the hotel buffet, then packed and hit the road a little after 08:00. We reached
What a lovely place! We remain impressed by the National Park Service. They have reconstructed several key pieces of the town, including the
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
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
We stopped for cappuccino at the McDonald’s in
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
As we moved out in the morning, we took a course toward
We wound up our ride in mid-afternoon back in my familiar stomping grounds of
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
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
With that trip, the Civil War experience came to an end, and we returned firmly to the present.