Monday, June 8, 2009

day twenty-nine: there and back again

Our own Blue Ridge Parkway
Our last objective
Michael, the youngster, constantly needed rest . . .
Highway 50 in West Virginia
Amazing beauty is everywhere!

We left off last in Nebraska on day 26 and much has happened since our last visit. The first thing to mention is that we reached good ole’ South Carolina about 10 AM. Mike and I both did simultaneous fist pumps to have made it back to our home state. This is especially true since we slept (or at least spent time trying to sleep) in a Virginia rest area somewhere above Roanoke last night. I mean that it’s especially true that we’re happy to be back in our state and that we’re happy to be alive after riding the last 5 hours in a “fog.” (Literal, coming down Hwy 81 and figurative, from sleep deprivation- I know those are not adverbs but they’ll do for this post!)

Here’s the short version of what happened over the last few days. We left North Platte, NE early on the 4th headed for Kansas and Missouri. We did a repeat of the previous day in that we rode a lot of miles without taking many pictures. (That is definitely relative since by my estimate we have about 1500 pictures of this trip) We spent the night in Columbia, MO at what turned out to be the best RV park we stayed in for the trip. It was really neatly laid out, the hosts were helpful and polite and it was peaceful, quiet and restful. From Missouri, we traveled through St. Louis to Illinois, Indiana and finally Kentucky before settling. There was not much to see with the routes we chose through these states but we were trying to cover ground rather than sight see. St. Louis was a disaster. Hwy 64, the route which allowed us to largely by-pass the city, was closed. The detour led us through the worst part of the city and cost us about an hour of travel time without much gain in mileage. After St. Louis we tried taking Hwy 50 as a more scenic route but it was a little too scenic with a small town every 7-10 miles. We abandoned 50 for Hwy 64 east through Illinois and Indianapolis before arriving in Kentucky. We enjoyed riding through Lexington horse country but once again, took no pictures (My bad) That night we stayed at what turned out to be the worst RV park for the trip. It was poorly laid out- everyone seemed to park where they wanted. There were dog fights, people arguments, carried on in public, no peace and no quiet. If someone had started to play the theme from “Deliverance,” I would not have been surprised. Neither would I have stayed to spend the night! Mike and woke early to the protracted hacking from a guy who clearly suffered from emphysema trying to light a cigarette. I wanted to say, “Here let me light that for you. You just take care of that coughing. I don’t think you should multi-task in this case.” One alarm clock is as good as another I always say as long as it gets you out of bed! From Kentucky, we did another version of what the military calls a “forced march” again attempting to cover as much ground as possible. This, we did passing through the remainder of Kentucky, West Virginia and into Virginia. We wanted to accomplish two goals. The first was to catch up with the Tingles, our special friends who were in Pennsylvania for a graduation. The second was to see Gettysburg. As it turns out, we didn’t accomplish either of these- the first, because of delays in getting to the area and the second, because of the beginnings of chain failure on Mike’s bike. It seemed that cutting the trip a little short was the best and most discreet course. We did reach the Blue Ridge Parkway before the end of the day and were able to ride down about 50 miles of its course before switching over to Hwy 81. We rode as far as I could go last night and, as I mentioned above, did time in a Virginia rest area. In a car you may be uncomfortable but you can lay the seats back, lock the doors and attempt some form of rest. On motorcycles our version went something like this- lay out your Thermarest pad on the ground (in our case, the parking lot since we needed to watch the bikes and equipment), cover up with your coat and sleep . . . Oh, and wake up every time some new car or truck rolls in! It probably goes without saying (have you ever noticed that whenever a person uses this literary device, he always goes ahead and says it!) but we were only too happy to get up at 5 AM and get moving.

As I said at the top, we are home and resting. There will be some time for deeper reflection later about the trip. Another description of the Platte River, I spoke of a few days ago, is that it’s a mile wide and 2 inches deep. That fairly accurately describes the depth and focus of my thinking! For me, it is enough to know that the trip was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done and the time with Michael was something I will never regret. There is a Longfellow quote which goes like this:

Let him not boast who puts his armor on,

As he who puts it off, the battle done.

Don’t read anything I’ve written as any form of boast. For me, though, there was genuine concern that I might not be able to complete this trip- that my mind might write checks my body couldn’t cash! As it now stands, the trip is done and there is, in my heart, a certain pride of accomplishment- a month well spent with someone I enjoy and admire a great deal. For these I can only give thanks.

Friday, June 5, 2009

day twenty-six: Our First 600 Miler

The day dawned with Mike and I not far behind it.  We rose early to put some miles behind us before the day was old.  The morning was gorgeous.  The first few miles in Nebraska reminded me of farm living.  The smell of horses, cattle and newly baled alfalfa hay were too much.  The feelings these smells evoked were, of course, mitigated by the smell of composting manure but even that wasn’t all bad. (Something only a veterinarian could say!)  Mike and I stuck to main roads today and the picture taking was very sparse.  This was necessary though to be able to cover the ground.  Before today we’ve been motivated by seeing everything and recording it satisfactorily for  our extended family who have been following along on our ride.  Today the pictures were taken only when we stopped and that occurred minimally.

Tonight as I sit waiting for the laundry to dry I am stirred by a familiar theme from a few days ago.  Mike and I have talked about the rivers we’ve encountered throughout the trip.  In most cases, if a river has a name, it has earned it and could be said to deserve it.  Today we crossed the Platte River multiple times in two states.  The Platte has the dubious distinction of having some old-timer say about it that it is “too dry to swim in and too wet to plow.” (That’s a close approximation of what someone actually said, anyway).  The Platte meanders and probes and oozes and eddies.  I think the best thing that can be said of it is that it is persistent.  If I had to do all this to call myself a river I’d just give up and become a lake.  I do give the Nebraskans credit for creativity though.  A sign today said, “Platte River Channel.”  Usually in a lake or large river or in an ocean harbor the channel marks deep, navigable water.  This sign with reference to the Platte means something different. Translated it means, “if there were water here this is where it should be.”  As we passed into Kansas we received other river naming surprises.  One was called the “Big Blue River.”  It was about 15 feet in diameter and muddy brown.  You’d have to use your imagination and some of the “wacky weed” the Tingles mentioned in their post from yesterday’s blog to call this body of water big, blue or river!  The best and most aptly named for the day was the “Little Sandy.”  There was no water but lots of sand.  There’s a lot to be said for total honesty.

The last thing I’ll mention today is a new-found occupation of mine on these traveling days.  I call it “driving off the map.”  I mentioned the other day that I was a little OCD (that’s what people who are OCD say of themselves- “a little.”)  It has been very motivating for me to make sure that I cover enough miles to drive off the section I’ve labeled as the day’s goal.  After a few days are strung together you find that you actually do drive off the map you are using and have to get out another map.  How exhilarating!

Michael and I rode a total of 625 miles today and are fried.  Our total miles went over 8000 today also.  Great numbers for a goals freak!  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

day twenty-five: From Custer, SD to North Platte, NE

Prairie dog babies talkin' trash
Michael going in to Rushmore
Driving into Rushmore
Black Hills National forest
Sand hills of Nebraska
The Sand hills are too pretty for one picture!

The morning dawned with no rain.  This was a great improvement over yesterday’s cold, wet finish.  We rode a short twenty miles to Rushmore to see the four presidents (did you remember their names?).  As we came up to the mountain there were signs which said no standing or stopping pre-sumably because the faces are visible from the road.  Mike and decided  after spending $20 a piece for the privilege of riding through Yellowstone that we’d recoup some of our expenditure on this park.  So, I walked up to the face of the mountain toward the road and snapped a few shots.  I don’t know but I thought Lincoln looked tired.  After the viewing we rode back down the mountain to Custer.  Here we planned a short stop to look at the map before traveling on.  Before traveling on as I said, I decided to get one of the falls I owe to Bud Shevick out of the way.  I chose the street in front of the town’s courthouse as the place and that time seemed perfect.  I was once again standing still- not even moving at low speed.  Anyway, that’s over!

We left Custer via Hwy 385 headed south.  About an hour later we crossed into Nebraska, our 20th state.  Mike and I really had no idea what to expect of Nebraska.  My preconceptions were flat and boring.  I was wrong in spades!  We rode through 200+ miles of rolling grassy hills called the Sand Hill area by Nebraskans.  Meredith and I had a debate just for argument’s sake about my usage of the word “wasteful” regarding God’s creation we’ve experienced going out and now coming back home.  Mere’s disagreement with my term was based on its connotation of wastefulness or the idea that something better could have been done with what was wasted.  A better word is maybe the word “extravagant.”   This word can also have a negative connotation but I mean it in the profusely exaggerated, decorative or showy sense.  He seems to be extravagant in spreading the beauty, not only in national parks, but everywhere, even in common places like today.  I did some math while I was riding (I know, dangerous!) and Mike and I could look in any direction at numerous times during the day and see over a million acres of land with no town, city, burg or village.  This land is beautiful in a large and lonesome kind of way.  While there were no towns for miles in any direction, there were numerous “grass-conversion-units.”  These come in many shapes and sizes and are called by many names- Hereford, Angus, deer, antelope, etc.  If you want company out here, these are your choices.  We saw a great variety of animals today.   We saw more buffalo as we came through the Black Hills National Forest, with antelope, prairie dogs, deer, coyote (1) and a snake.  We took many pictures of wild flowers as we watched trains pass an old roadbed where we took a break.  This was a great day for riding.  Tomorrow we plan a “ground covering” day.  As a matter of fact we plan to repeat this for the next three days to get us closer to home.  Between here and there we have no big sites to see until we get to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  If we have time, we may try to see Gettysburg.  Even though I’m a big Civil War fan I’ve never made it to this battlefield- we’ll see.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

day twenty-four: Cody, WY to Custer, SD

Entering Big Horn National Forest
More forest land
Shell, Wyoming at lunch!
Wide open view of Wyoming
Leaving Wyoming and entering South Dakota

Michael and I woke this morning to rain and today we never saw the sun.  Driving a car in the rain is no fun and it is even less so riding a motorcycle.  By now, you know my propensity toward whininess but, hear from my own lips, that I am not unhappy about the rain- anywhere!  I have prayed for rain for three years to fill our lakes and streams and water our crops so I say, “Bring it!”  Today, two songs kept coming to mind.  The first was "Listen to the Rhythm of the Falling Rain."  My helmet sounded like something was frying from the continuous patter of the rain.  The second was Chuck Berry's "Maybelline."  Why, "Maybelline?"  There's a line that says:

                                "Rainwater blowin' up under my hood,

                                  I know that was doin' my motor good."

                                 (Or words to that effect!)

I was sincerely hoping that the rain was benefitting my engine because it was not helping me!  Our ride started on Hwy 14/16/20 east from Cody where we left off yesterday.  We caught the tail end of Bighorn Canyon National Forest and what started out beautiful turned foggy and cold.  By the time Mike and I were through these mountain pass roads, we were cold and wet and ready for a break.  That break came in two forms.  First was a short lunch break in the town of Shell.  Mike and I had a bowl of chili each and I had a great big, fresh cinnamon roll.  I asked the lady who set them on the counter, “Are those for anyone in particular or did you want to share them.”  She told me to have one and I was glad to comply.  The second part of our break came about 60 miles later in Sheridan.  We rode into town, found the nearest Laundromat and dried everything we could, in good decorum, take off!  This proved to be the best idea of the day.  I asked the manager to give me a plastic laundry bag (the kind you get from the cleaners and wrap up and pop) to put in my shoes to keep my socks dry.  When I finished forming them around my feet, lacing up my boots and cutting off the top of the plastic, I looked like the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.”  Hey, it worked!  From Sheridan, we jumped back onto Hwy 90 east for about 25 miles to Moorcroft before taking Hwy 16 again through the towns of Upton, Osage and Newcastle before entering our 19th state of South Dakota.

Our picture line-up today is a little sparse owing to the rain and the lack of will on my part to stop and pull out the camera on such a cold, wet day.  I know, I’m sounding whiny again!  See what you think.

Tomorrow, we plan to get up early and ascend the hills to see the presidents (can you name them?) on Mount Rushmore.  After this we will come down the hill and spill out onto the plains of South Dakota headed for Nebraska and Kansas.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

day twenty-three: "big sky country" and Yellowstone

Well, we’re back.  A long day in the saddle has allowed us to end up in Wyoming, our 18th state!  Wyoming, you may ask (a little play on words!)  For one reason, there are many famous people who originated in this great state.  Jackson Pollock, the famous artist, Curt Gowdy, the AFL/NFL commentator and Patricia McLachlan, the writer of  Sarah, Plain and Tall, to name a few.  Then of course there’s my favorite Wyoming native, Bud Shevick, a cultured, sophisticated, man about town.  If I came all the way out here and didn’t see Wyoming with Michael, neither of us could show our faces around the Shevick household ever again!


We planned a long ride today and a long ride is what we got.  The temperature this morning was about 40 degrees when we left Great Falls , MT at 7:30.  We headed south on Hwy 89 and were rewarded with another beautiful ride.  Almost immediately we headed into the hills and draws and small canyons I mentioned yesterday.  We descended through a series of small canyons to the towns of Monarch and Neihart crossing and re-crossing Belt Creek, which flows out of the Little Belt mountains into the town of, well . . . Belt!  You see, this saves having to come up with different names so frequently.  You simply attach a modifier like little or leather or suede or brown (you’ve got the point) and re-use that name as often as you need.  Mike and my bike’s have heated grips but these were largely ineffective today.  My palms felt like they were burning but a scant two cell layers deeper and both my hands were freezing.  From Neihart we headed through the towns of White Sulphur Springs, Ringling, Wilsall through Livingston on our way ultimately to Yellowstone Park.  This is just an aside but all through the day at Yellowstone people kept coming up to me and asking how they might be able to have neck muscles as huge and rippling as mine.  They didn’t always use the specific words “huge” and “rippling”; some may have used words like tight and twitching but the effect was the same.  I was gratified to be able to help them.  All they needed, I told them, was to ride their motorcycle from Neihart to Livingston in the prevailing gale-force winds the area is known for and they too could have huge and rippling neck muscles just like mine.  I just hope their cervical vertebrae don’t feel like mine as a result of the one-day workout.  Back to the story.  About 10 AM clouds began to fill those draws and small canyons I spoke of and pour over the surrounding mountains.  We were OK as long as they didn’t pour over us.  This was not to be the case and by 10:30 it had begun to rain.


Mike and stopped in the little town of Gardiner, MT for lunch at a local bar/cafĂ©/casino (ever establishment out here has “casino” attached to it, e.g.- hotel and casino, bar and casino, hospital and casino, etc.).  We ordered a great pizza, ate half of it and packed the rest for later.  We headed into the park about 1 PM and began our tour.  The park was even colder than the towns we had passed through this morning and there was snow in the trees and along the side of many of the roads.  Michael and I saw some neat animals and got some great pictures.  I saw Elk outside the park as well as inside but the coolest pictures we took were of the Bison, which roam the park at will.  Free-range Bison cause the same concerns as the free-range horses and cattle I mentioned yesterday.  Also, they are not inclined to move away and prefer to stand in the road and chat with each other.  Mike and I had to get off our bikes and allow the Bison to inspect them.  Predictably, they found nothing of interest and eventually moved off.  Michael and I were surprised that we saw no Grizzly bears in the park.  We were fairly certain that the leftover pizza we took into the park would draw them out and that we would have a sizeable herd of Grizzlies loping after us as we rode.  We did see a young Grizzly after leaving the park.


One last note and I’m done.  I know this has been long!  Today for me was like an Oreo cookie.  It was great on the top and bottom with a delicious inside.  We began the day on Hwy 89, which was beautiful.  The park was the great inside.  The last part of the day we rode through the Absaroka Range (ask Bud Shevick how to pronounce it!).  This was, in many respects, the prettiest part of the whole day.  The Absaroka area has tall spires and chimneys and caves of a red color surrounded and partially covered by the greens of cedar and sagebrush. (Bud, is this making you homesick!?). So, I guess you could say that the Absarokas were the “icing on the cake.”  I know that I’m mixing metaphors but don’t they sound great!  See you tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2009

day twenty-two: Hello Montana

Crossing into Montana- number 17!
Kootenai River
More Hwy 2 Vistas
Wild flowers
Coming out of the mountains

Mike and I woke ready to rock and roll after a great night’s sleep at the Bear Creek Inn in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho.  We took Hwy 2 East and covered about 100+ miles heading toward Kalispell and Whitefish, Montana.  If you’re keeping count with us, this makes state number 17!  Yesterday at a rest stop a nice guy, named Vick, suggested we take another route with more twisting turns.  Hwy 2 to Whitefish caused my eyes no pain but after this small town, Hwy 2 turned absolutely beautiful.  I think I said this earlier, but my supply of superlatives has dwindled.  After you’ve described things you’ve seen as stunning, awe-inspiring, unique, pre-historic, etc. what else can be said.  I will say that this was my favorite road we’ve ridden.  Hwy 2 climbs its way across our most northern states all the way to the Great Lakes.  I won’t have the opportunity to see its many faces for that distance this trip but today’s portion was a treat.  We followed it past the Kootenai River, which, in itself was stunning in its power. I like to canoe and raft but I would think multiple times before voluntarily getting on this behemoth.  Our intention in following Hwy 2 was to enter Glacier Park and take the “Road that Leads to the Sun.”  (That’s actually its name!)  Or, as I like to call it, the “Road that Leads to the Avalanche.”  The locals told us that this road almost never opens before June 1st and our proposed trip was not to be owing to this fact.  This year there was an avalanche, which blocked the road with snow and rocks and other debris.  Something I’ve finally put into words is that when you are riding a motorcycle it’s not only what you see, but the ride itself.  And for me, that still doesn’t completely describe the feeling.  I freely admit to being a little OCD (OK, a lot!) and I have a goal to reach on the ride.  I can’t be troubled with small avalanches and free-range cattle and tsunamis preventing me from getting to my appointed destination!

It was really interesting to me today that when we left the mountains, we did so abruptly.  One minute we were in them, we passed through a small town called Browning and we were onto the plains.  The plains themselves almost immediately changed to draws and coulees and small canyons (which is probably what a “draw” is).  Mike and saw some either wild or free-range horses beside the road and got some great pictures.  For Michael, this was not enough and having a dual sport bike he decided to convert to off-rode mode and give chase.  The stallion of the small herd took offense and briefly stood his ground.  When he decided to flee with the rest we decided to stop the chase lest we herd them into the road.  I have not experienced the difference but suppose that there is a great one between hitting a free-range chicken and a free-range horse.  Mike and I had planned to camp in Choteau, Montana but pushed on another 50 or so miles and are staying at a ratty Super 8 for the night.  Our plans tomorrow are to rise early and cover around 400 miles.  This we have done before but tomorrow includes about 120 miles in Yellowstone.  We’ll see how that goes and give you the report tomorrow evening.  Until then . . . adios muchacha/chos!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

day twenty-one: on the road again

Mt. Ranier (14,700 ft.) from the Ferry at sea-level.

A view of the Seattle skyline from the auto-deck of the Ferry.

Eastern Washington flatlands...much different from the WA I've gotten used-to.

One of the many Idaho mountain lakes that we passed.

Hey guys and girls. Michael and woke early this morning ready to get back on the road after four great days with Mere and DP and a couple of days with Megan. I’m not certain but Megan seemed sadder to see me leave than Michael. I have that effect on people. We were not eager to leave our special people in Bremerton but we left early to bank some time against the need later on if we begin to run short. We boarded the ferry this morning at 9 AM. Mike and I noticed that the ferry made a strange but consistent rhythm which reminded us both of “River Dance.” We began to clog and jump and pirouette and pretty soon they had signed us up for Washington state ferry entertainment! By 9:50 we had disembarked the ferry and were moving through the streets of Seattle headed for Spokane. We rode through the day covering about 350 miles and ending up in our 16th state, Idaho, and poised to blow into Montana sometime tomorrow morning. We were in what Louis L’Amour calls a “ground eating gait” today. Of course he was talking about a good horse and I’m talking about our motorcycles.

We came through some incredible contrasts today. We started the day at sea level and ended near Sandpoint, ID at @ 4500 ft. We started in what can almost be described as a rain forest with abundant water and greenery and transitioned to dryer and browner areas with little or no water and stands of sage, cedar and grass. In fact, you could say the first area needed drainage and the second, irrigation. This leads me to a comment I’ve been contemplating for the whole trip. I have found that, in the west, they are very loose about naming rivers. We passed rivers today (Snoqualmie, Cle Elum and Columbia) that were bank-full, rapid flowing, blasters. These are rivers! In other places (the worst was Texas but other states abused this as well) their rivers are potential. They could be called a seep, a spring, even a creek; but a river . . . my suggestion is that if you could throw your fishing line and cork in these “rivers” and the water flow is not sufficient to float the cork, you are not, in fact, a river and do not deserve the name. Maybe it’s just me.

The other thing I noticed today is that the roads we took were terrible. They were old concrete roads, which I generally love, but these were old and in disrepair. There were signs which said “Grooved road-motorcycle riders be especially careful,” and “rough road ahead’” and “abrupt drop off.” Their were also these three parallel grooves on both sides of the right lane, where car tires would usually ride, which were spaced about 8 feet apart. Presumably these were to let you know that you were still in the lane. I don’t know about you but I don’t require assistance to recognize that I’m on the road. When I’m off the road (and I have some experience here) there are branches whipping by my face and abrupt undulations in the ground covered by grass and other assorted debris. I am clear when I have reached “off-road” status. You may think I’m overreacting to the grooves and bad cracks and abrupt drop-offs I’ve detailed. In my defense, there were a few times, because of these hazards, that I thought I might get “jiggy” with the pavement. Maybe I’m a little whiny. Hey, those who know me best know that when I’m complaining, I’m feeling great!

Anyway, that’s my perception of the day. With you, I am interested in Michael’s perspective. See you next time.