Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Austin, Texas (continued)

At 11:00 this morning, Governor Rick Perry of Texas called a news conference to announce actions he and his team are taking to support the hurricane victims. It was a compassionate, impressive speech. They are going to move victims to Houston's Astrodome.

Driving through Arkansas the other day, I passed a caravan of school buses headed east. Somebody else was taking initiative. These are the times when people show their real strength.

On a much less significant level, I moved out of the hotel and down the street to Lone Star BMW in Austin, where Josh, Tim, Steve and Jessica, and the rest of the gang got me in and taken care of on short notice. A 6,000-mile service (at 25,930 miles now), replaced the rear tire and rear brake pads (again! The brakes are proving a real weakness on this machine, but then I'm putting them to the test, riding fully-loaded most of the time.) Conveniently, my headlight low beam burned out last night, so that's getting replaced as well. (I seem to be going through an excessive number of lamps!)

The temperature about 100° here, with prospects for more of the same going south. Sitting in my Aerostich suit at a couple of long traffic lights just up the road, I thought I was about to keel over. So, I bought a light-weight mesh "First Gear" riding jacket. I'm not about to ride like many here: no helmet, and just t-shirt and jeans. But, I have to compromise a bit to avoid expiring from heat!

4:45 p.m. and they've finished up. I've been able to relax here and use their wireless service, so the time has felt productive. Josh has some parting advice for crossing into Mexico: "don't even stop in the first 100 miles. Gas up on this side, cross and just keep riding. Stick to the main highways. Don't stop until you've run about three-quarters of the tank." Not encouraging, but he says it's "realistic".

CNN just announced regular gasoline selling for $5.57 per gallon at a BP station in Atlanta. Prices are expected to escalate dramatically throughout the Gulf region.

Now, to load up my horse and look for a place to camp. (I wish I HAD a horse right now. It would be a lot cheaper!)

Austin, Texas

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Watching the news stories coming out of Louisiana and Mississippi this morning, the devastation from Hurricane Katrina is unbelievable. The harrowing tales of survival and the psychological trauma so evident in victims interviewed, makes this little journey of mine feel so trivial and full of conceit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Visiting my buddy in Crawford, Texas

11:00 p.m.

Wingate Inn, Round Rock, Texas

Breaking camp this morning, it was already "baking", even in Mother Neff's shady glade. It was a short ride north to Crawford, little more than a crossroad on the Texas plain. But a billboard with the smiling faces of George W. and Laura welcome each and every one (regardless of political, or other orientation.)


Welcome! Now go home.


The "Coffee Station" seemed the place to be, a row of cars across its front. A convenience store, gift shop and restaurant all rolled into one. The restaurant was full. I took my place in line, noting the strange mix of farmers, farm workers, and then there were all these OTHER people: clean cut, smartly-dressed, men and women who looked quite out-of-place in a western ranching town. Could they be...REPUBLICANS???


Inside the "Coffee Station", Crawford, Texas. Western White House staff, reporters, Secret Service, foreign dignitaries or even the President and First Lady; you never know who's going to show up.



I really felt I had infiltrated enemy lines. Do you think they noticed? (As if the California license plate didn't stand out here.) The waitress asked if, since I was alone, I'd like to share a table with another fellow she had just seated. First I said, "I don't think so." But then I changed my mind. "If you want to ask him if it's okay..."

I sat down across the table from Billy Garrett, a husky thirty-something fellow; VERY clean-cut ("I get my hair cut every two weeks."). I learned he owns a bed and breakfast in Waco, and also runs a pool-cleaning service. In fact, he cleans the President's pool. He was just out there this morning. He said the President's pool is pretty ordinary, a simple 20' by 80' pool.

Billy was able to bring me up to date on the Cindy Sheehan drama playing out near the President's ranch. Clearly, Billy felt she is being bank-rolled and manipulated by powerful liberals.

"The press says she's been sleeping out at 'Camp Casey' (her protest site.) It's not true. She's been staying at a motel in town."

He also took exception to all the Bush-bashers who criticize his time spent at Crawford. "Every President takes vacation in August. When you're President, you work all the time, 24-7. When he's here, he's working. He can do here anything he can do in Washington."

Billy said it's easy to spot the liberals, "they have a certain look," and we looked each other in the eye. We talked about the war. He said it is right that we went into Iraq because of the way women were treated there. (Were the rights of Iraqi women high on the White House agenda when they planned this invasion? I doubt it. And it remains to be seen if women's rights will truly improve in Iraq.)

I told him I have opposed the war from the start (even BEFORE the start.) There is virtually no difference between this affair and Vietnam. America was deceived then, and we have been deceived again. The only ones who profit are militaries, manufacturers of military hardware and munitions, contractors who rebuild what has just been destroyed, those providing services to the military, consultants who assist in rebuilding destroyed nations, etc. Jeez, I think I have just made a case FOR war! It doesn't matter where, or on what pretext. War is GOOD for the economy! (And this is the thread that unites Vietnam and Iraq. Economics and the control of resources.)

After a burger with fried jalapenos (Billy recommended them - excellent!), I visited the "Yellow Rose" gift shop across the street, browsing all the Crawford and Republican souvenirs. Having a President in your backyard is really good for business! One display rack holds framed photographs and biographical sketches of some of our heroes: John Wayne, Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He's a cowboy, and they absolutely love it here.



Downtown Crawford. Preaching "The Ten Commandments" and war.


I don't quite recall this phenomena, this cult of personality, when Nixon's "Western White House" was in San Clemente, CA, or Reagan's was near Santa Barbara, CA.

I have to admit, it was both fun and very interesting being here at the center of the Republican universe. Thousands of signs around Crawford and the surrounding country read such things as:
This is Bush country
These colors don't run
Support our Troops
God Bless America (but NO one else!)
Smoke 'em out 43!
IM4W
And my favorite:
Liberals are more dangerous than terrorists

Behind enemy lines in Downtown Crawford. There is a clearly-expressed belief that war is the only path to freedom. This, juxtaposed with Christian principles and "The Commandments" is quite mind-boggling.


Crawford has a new post office. (The volume of mail must have increased exponentially when George W. and Laura bought the ranch in 1999.)


And don't you forget it. I guess I'll pass on that withdrawal.


Followed directions out to the Western White House. Several miles out, I came to "Camp Casey II", one of the protester encampments and, directly opposite the counter-protesters' camp, then a little further beyond, a road block.


"Camp Casey II"


At the road block, I stopped to speak with the officers sitting in their car. The passenger climbed out to see what I wanted. He was wearing a "Secret Service" tag.

"Do you know where Cindy Sheehan's camp is?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know where Cindy Sheehan's camp is? That's one of the main news stories out of this area, and you don't know?"

"I don't know."

"Is it down this road?" I asked pointing to the barricades.

"This road is closed."

A female officer, a state trooper, I think, now got out of the car and approached, remaining several paces back.

I continued my inquiry with the Secret Service agent. "Do you know where George W. lives?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know where the President lives?"

"No."

"Do you know who you work for?"

"I know who I work for."

"Do they teach you to be ignorant?"

"If that's what you want to call it."

"Do they teach you to lie?" I was taunting him now, irritated by his automaton-like behavior. "It's un-American to lie, you know."

He remained expressionless.

Finally I thanked him for the information.

"How do you keep cool out here?"

"Think cool thoughts."

A culture of cool. Chillingly cool.

Returned to "Camp Casey II" to learn if they had any better information. They told me to go back and turn left at the barricade, "don't even stop." I would find "Camp Casey" a few miles beyond.


"Camp Casey" and a road leading into the Bush compound.


It was not difficult to find. The site is marked by a huge white tent. (The tent, I'm told, was purchased from a group that had used it for a George W. Bush fund-raising event.) A rancher apparently donated the use of one acre of land, right at the corner of a drive leading to the President's ranch. Cars were lining one side of the road for a quarter mile or so. Things were winding down here after a big weekend of events. The "Bring Them Home Now Tour" is leaving tomorrow and is scheduled to rally in Washington, DC on September 24-26. They have three routes to Washington: north, central and south, with rallies planned in cities along the route. See the website ( http://bringthemhomenowtour.org/ )

I wandered around under the "big top" for a while, listening in on arrangements being made for the tour, and a radio interview being broadcast live. Watched as the boots of fallen soldiers were collected into black plastic bags, to be laid out once again in Washington.


Broadcasting from "Camp Casey"


Returning to "Camp Casey II", took a closer look at "both sides of the fence" visiting first the counter-protesters' exhibits, then the protesters'. White crosses (and some white markers with crescents) lined this country lane. Billy said there had been some heated discussions about certain crosses appearing in this "demonstration." Some families opposed the name of their fallen soldier being used in such a way. They had the crosses removed. Some were re-located to a pro-Bush site in Crawford.


Across the road from the protesters' "Camp Casey", the counter-protesters. It was over 95 degrees out here.



Along one road into the Western White House, crosses for each soldier killed in Iraq. On the opposite side of the road, "Support Our Troops" signs.



With god on our side...

1 comment:

Drew said:

Great job of photojournalism, Tim! It's awesome to see the camps and the people and get your very poised and succinct observations. I think I see your post-wine-industry career jelling here!


It was scorching out here on the nearly treeless plain. I talked with a sheriff who had a temperature gauge in his car. "It's 95, but with the 'heat factor' (humidity included), it's 102."

Three veterans were sitting with a fellow who, from his close-cropped hair appeared to be "active duty". Another person was recording the interview. I moved in to hear what was being said. The soldier, who is in the Army, was describing the chaos of street fighting in Iraq. It was totally out-of-control, he said.

He then described shooting at a child who "looked like he had something. I'm pretty sure I hit him...it's not right." At this point, his rigid features started to shake, and he broke down crying. The three veterans knelt close and embraced him. "It's okay. It wasn't your fault."

I wish every person could have seen war through this young man's eyes. It would bring shame to our chest-thumping, flag-waving, shoot-em-up adolescent behavior.


On the right, an active duty soldier, who has served in Iraq, relates his experiences to veterans. As I passed by, he was talking about a chaotic street fight in which he shot at a child. "I'm pretty sure I hit him...it's not right."


Back at the "Yellow Rose", I bought a couple of post cards to send to family. Outside, Garlene Parris walked over and introduced herself. A real character. In her youth, she was a trick rider and showed me pictures of her as a child, riding in an arena, standing on a horse; and another, where she's riding along doing a hand stand, her hands planted on the horse's hind quarters. Her mother, Velda Tindall-Smith is in "The Cowgirl Hall of Fame", and has been nominated for the "Cowboy Hall of Fame".

She was on a mission to collect cowboy hats, visiting ranches in the area. Regarding the protests, she says she tries to remain neutral. Then she called over a gentleman about my age (whose name I missed); "you have to meet him." He is planning to be the first foreigner to walk the entire length of The Great Wall of China, hopefully next year.

In Newfoundland, Jeff and I failed to notice the "friendly people" we had heard so much about. Here in Texas, I'm struck by how friendly people are (though my politics may be at odds with most here.) I don't recall this from my experience in Texas many years ago. It's refreshing.


In downtown Crawford, crosses that families requested be removed from the protesters' display.


Before leaving Crawford, I stopped in at the "Crawford Peace House", a "permanent" effort to bring an end to the war in Iraq. They coordinate many events from here, including the "Camp Caseys". In the kitchen, two women worked in extreme heat to prepare free meals for those who have come to support the effort.

It's definitely grass roots, but they are having an impact, as witnessed in the press.

The heat was taking its toll on me, and riding towards Austin, I was thinking "air conditioned motel tonight, definitely."

Mother Neff State Park , near Crawford, TX

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Slept long, until a passing vehicle woke me at 9:00. Guess I needed it. Over 650 miles traveled yesterday, under varied and difficult conditions. This morning it’s incredibly humid, my clothes damp and sticky (and not too pleasant-smelling.)

I was just talking with the ranger. He said that at least they got a north wind out of this hurricane, which cooled things down!

Last night I followed the Hampton Inn desk clerk’s recommendation and went to “El Conquistador” for dinner. Located in a strip mall across the freeway, the building was nondescript, but the food was excellent. I’ve been craving Mexican food, and this was the real thing.

After dinner, I went on an 85-mile trek to find a campsite. There are three state parks within about a 30-mile radius of Waco, and lightning in the direction of each. I had passed a KOA about 10 miles north, in the town of West. Tried that first. It was right off the highway and the roar of trucks was horrific. They also wanted $24, unacceptable for what would certainly be a difficult night.

Turned northwest toward Lake Whitney and rode out the dark country highway. Except when lightning flashed, it was difficult to tell how close I was to the storm. A moonless hazy night, I watched the few stars up ahead. But gradually they disappeared. After about twenty minutes on this lonely stretch, there was a brilliant flash of lightning directly ahead, and very close. I didn’t want to deal with riding in a storm in the dark.

So, I turned around and drove back to Waco. Looked for possible turn-offs, where I might inconspicuously camp, but all the property fences were discouraging. Back in town, I looked at all the trucks parked in almost any available spot, and envied truckers’ ability to just pull over and crawl into their sleeper. No one hassles them. If I were to pitch my tent there, it would be a different story.

I ended up camping here, about 30 miles southwest of Waco. I may be the only camper in this secluded campground, full of wonderful tall old trees.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Waco, Texas

7:30 p.m.

The folks here at Hampton Inn were kind enough to let me "continue my internet session" that was interrupted by my hasty departure from Memphis. They even set me up at a small table in the dining area and furnished me with ice water. I have to say, I've been pretty satisfied with the people at Hampton Inns!

Turned on the TV as soon as I woke this morning, to confirm whether my plan to drive west were still advisable. Just north of Louisiana, Memphis was expecting to be hammered by Katrina late today. When I left at 8:00, the sky was solidly overcast, but it was not raining, mild winds blowing out of the east. Waved to the city on my way out. "Graceland" would have to wait (but Paul Simon's song still played in my head.)

I felt I had a good jump on the storm. Rode west on Interstate 40, crossing the Mississippi into Arkansas. Soon I started to hit bands of rain, which had me confused. They must have been crossing south of Memphis and then intersecting highway 40 in eastern Arkansas.

At first, I refused to accept these weren't just isolated storm clouds. So I didn't put on my Gore-Tex gear, since it adds bulk and the air was too warm.

Driving toward a wall of dark gray brown cloud, there was an almost ill feeling in my abdomen. I didn't know what I was in for. Clearly the clouds were massive and the potential for lightning had me on edge. But I stubbornly (and naïvely) pushed on, hunkered down and gritting my teeth.

Consequently, I was drenched once again, as wave upon wave swept across the highway. Between waves, the sky would grow lighter and I would hope I was finally breaking through. This went on for 150 miles. Needless to say, below my helmet, my front side was soaked to the skin.

Several times, trucks pulled into my lane to pass other trucks, even though they must have seen me about to overtake them. When this happens, I would suddenly be engulfed in a swirling cloud of rain, spray and buffeting winds, momentarily unable to see the truck, the road, or anything else, for that matter. I'd love to put their drivers in my place!

Around Little Rock, the rain diminished, though it didn't stop. That took another 50 to 100 miles. Throughout the day, my focus alternated between sky and highway. Not much else mattered.

I had to laugh (and take a photo) when I saw a historical landmark sign proudly proclaiming the Arkansas town of Hope is President Bill Clinton's birthplace.



It was a really big sign.


Roughly 400 miles after leaving Memphis, it appeared I had left Katrina's clouds behind. But the wind had turned to the north and building thunder clouds were now crossing my path. But these I could deal with. They are distinct clouds. You can see their limits. No problem. With the sun, came heat, lots of it. In the 90s as I reached Texarkana, Texas. So, what was I doing at Starbucks ordering a coffee? Pure habit.

Whenever I stopped, I could see Katrina's clouds sweeping out of the east. A strong wind was pushing bands westward. I didn't stop long, as I had no idea how far this storm might reach. I was on "auto-pilot" as I plunged into the Dallas labyrinth. I was watching for a Hampton Inn, so I might use their wi-fi. (Of course the momentum carries me on. If I find the motel, it's purely by accident.)

I had spent about 15 months in Dallas 27 or 28 years ago. Apart from downtown, nothing looked familiar. Found myself in South Dallas, "not a place I should be." Finally consulted the map and saw that I was not too lost. Easily found connections to the interstate leading to Waco. (I thought I would drop in on President Bush at his Crawford Ranch. Good bet he's there, I'd say.)

If you have any messages you would like delivered, please let me know.

Well, you asked for some exciting weather...


NOAA satellite image from 8:45 CDT this morning

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hampton Inn, Memphis, Tennessee

Monitoring the progress of Hurricane Katrina, just south of New Orleans. A little too close for comfort. I will leave Memphis in the next two hours to avoid any serious weather. Moving west should take me out of harm's way.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hampton Inn, Memphis


NOAA satellite image from 11:15 CDT today showing weather bands in advance of Katrina

10:00 p.m.

Back at Grayson Lake this morning, I awoke to the sound of rain. Looked outside and found it was just the dew dripping from overhanging trees. A fog covered the land and everything appeared soaked. My boots and socks were still saturated from yesterday. I would just have to wear them that way.

This campground at Grayson Lake is a bit unusual, as it borders a golf course. Fellow campers departed on their golf carts to go play in the fog. That's dedication, or something. The landscape is carefully manicured. It's actually quite a nice facility, in all respects.

On the road at 9:30, cutting through the warm, heavy atmosphere. As described by my internal dialogue, "this sucks." I thought about Jeff. "He would definitely be hating this!"

On a motorcycle, you sometimes have to create your own entertainment. Today's playlist includes John Denver's "Take me home, country roads" (a carry-over from West Virginia), Paul Simon's "Graceland" (a preview of Tennessee) and Boz Scaggs's, "Just go" (not sure why that one's in there - I don't pick 'em; they come uninvited.)

And then I'm thinking about the Rolling Stones. Who writes their songs? I never thought about that before. And I recall a 9th-grade concert. A band from the nearby high school played a new Rolling Stones song, "Everybody needs somebody to love". Wow, that was a long time ago! And they're still out there performing. That's staying power.

70 to 80 mph all the way into Lexington, about a hundred miles. Noticed a Waffle House and decided to check it out. It's a Georgia-based chain, I learned. (I was searching for a Starbucks, but this doesn't seem the right demographic out here.)

This place was doing a brisk business. Here, they shout the orders to the kitchen, so it not only looks busy, it sounds busy! Had to try a waffle, some hashed browns and sausage. Not bad, and reasonably priced, though their tableside manners are a bit eye-opening. My waitress bussed a neighboring table, then she set the stack of dirty dishes in front of me and just started piling mine on top. After wiping down the next table, she flung the towel over diners to the kitchen area. Maybe that's part of the charm.

Too hot and humid for my riding suit, so I strapped it behind me. I have held pretty firm to wearing that suit at (almost) all times. This weather was just too much. So, today I was in jeans and a long-sleeved cotton shirt (and still too warm!)

Lexington bills itself as the "horse capital of the world." The ranches are everywhere, white-fenced and rolling grassy hills. They're crazy about their Kentucky bluegrass here. The economy runs on it. (Though that little distillery business contributes, I'm sure.)

Riding south, some clouds appeared through the haze. Up ahead, I could see vehicles engulfed in spray, a downpour. Figured I wouldn't get THAT wet going through one cloud. I got soaked. Emerging into the sun, my saturated shirt and jeans actually provided some welcome cooling.

Further on, more clouds. This time, I decided to put on the suit. It could handle a short downpour. I was amazed at how quickly the sky closed in and I was engulfed in torrential rain and lightning. Traffic slowed from 80 to about 20, or slower. Many cars and trucks pulled off onto the shoulder. Visibility was perhaps 100 feet. Lightning came fast and furious, every 15 seconds or so, and all around. My Aerostich suit was completely saturated, as were gloves and boots. I had to crack the helmet visor open, because it was fogging, so rain was coming in. It felt like going for a swim with the motorcycle.

I followed about 50 feet behind a truck creeping along with his flashers on. But I didn't know if was safer to be closer, or further away. If he was struck by lightning, would I be likely too?

For a long time, no exits or overpasses; absolutely no place to take shelter. We seemed to be on a ridge. When suddenly I saw an overpass come into view, it was crowded with vehicles taking refuge. I kept on going, the lightning and thunder was virtually simultaneous and we were in the center of it all. I was very concerned for my safety. I didn't know what action to take. Pulling over in the open would not lessen the risk of a lightning strike. (I kept watching for that rumored sense of static build-up before an imminent strike.)

Another overpass appeared and though it too was lined with stopped vehicles I pulled right in alongside the cars, barely outside the traffic lanes.

15 or 20 minutes beneath the bridge, water pouring from the pavement above, most vehicles were staying put. It sounded like one thunderhead was moving off to the right, but another one approaching from the left. (It was impossible to see what was happening). The rain was now steady, but not torrential. I decided to make a run for it. Only a few vehicles were moving down the formerly-busy interstate.

Within ten miles, I was coming out of the storm. Looking back, I wanted to see what had created such violent weather, but the atmosphere was too thick with rain, mists and cloud.

I was able now to settle down and enjoy the calm, assessing the damage as I rode. I just started to catch a glimpse of clouds towering behind, then noticed two more dark masses ahead, an area of light between, toward which the highway was tracking. Moved at fast as I could, hoping to break through between the two storms, but I was amazed as the sky just closed up into a solid wall of dark gray. I exited the highway and veered off in the direction I last observed clear sky.

A few miles on, lightning was dead ahead, and very active, but now also back in the direction of the interstate, so I was at a loss. Fortunately, I came to a crossroads with businesses. Took shelter under a gas station awning, next to the pumps.

Within minutes, the storm was on top on this town. I watched helplessly as rain poured down. A young man attending the station shouted to me from the door. I went over to see what he wanted.

"You can come in here if you would like. It's better than sitting out there."

I stepped inside, and asked if this weather was connected with the hurricane. He said that it was. The air conditioning sent a chill through me because of the wet clothes. I thanked him, but stood outside, where the air was actually warmer.

He came outside and we talked a bit. I learned that he's from Bombay and works with relatives in this business. I told him about my trip and he came back out with his uncle, who owns the business. "Shah" moved here about five years ago from Bombay. He wanted to live in a small town where "everyone knows each other." They said I need to visit India. "I hope to some day!"

The rain slowed, but wasn't stopping, so I decided it was time to move on toward Nashville, only about 45 minutes away. Pulled on my Gore-Tex jacket and pants (over my wet Aerostich), changed to some dry gloves, and said farewell to my hosts. They wished me luck.

Returned to the interstate, continuing southwest toward Nashville. Again, I was facing a solid wall of gray cloud and steady rainfall. From the lightning, I could tell another thunderstorm was approaching from the left, but this time I was able to out-run the worst of it.

Once through, there were traces of thinning cloud cover, brighter patches ahead. Approached Nashville and saw the skyline, but didn't stop or even slow; there were more thunderstorms still moving up from the south. Turned west toward Memphis. Rain turned to intermittent showers, and traffic picked up to 80 mph again. I kept up, eager to find some drier climate (hopefully) to the west.

Confident I wouldn't run into another deluge for a while, took off the rainsuit, to give my Aerostich a chance to dry out as I rode.

Not much sightseeing under these conditions, and it's with mixed emotions that I passed many historic places without stopping: Lincoln's birthplace, the Shiloh battlefield, Nashville, the Natchez Trace Parkway, Lexington, Fort Knox, the Loretta Lynn Kitchen and Dude Ranch! There is so much here!

Reaching the Memphis suburbs, I was eager to check into a motel and have a look at The Weather Channel to see what I had just been through and what the forecast would be for the ride ahead.

For days now, I've just been moving, with little social contact. Spoke to few people in West Virginia, fewer in Virginia. Mainly service people.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Grayson Lake State Park, Grayson, KY

11:00 p.m.

Just crawled into the tent after a long, and somewhat grueling ride. About 460 miles today, much of it on the twisting back roads of West Virginia.

A Starbuck’s stop an hour back was welcome (near West Virginia’s largest shopping mall, which is oddly located between Charleston and Huntington.) Coffee and a coffee cake constituted dinner. About the only social contact all day occurred here: a couple from Huntington asked about my trip.

***

Left Manassas at noon heading west on Interstate 66. It was completely overcast, and had rained earlier. In Front Royal, I left the interstate to travel south on the famed “Skyline Drive”, but just a short time in a line of cars convinced me this was not the day to go that way. Returned to 66 and jogged over to West Virginia route 55.

Rain started soon after leaving Front Royal. Thick mists rising from the forests, it was like being submerged; the air I was breathing tasted like water.

I was reminded that rainy pavement can be slippery, especially painted surfaces (i.e. lines, arrows, “stop” signs). Impatience is dangerous. You can't be in a hurry.

I was so disoriented by the twists and turns of this highway, and the continual climbing of mountains then dropping into valleys. When I finally looked at the map, I couldn't believe it. I had been convinced I was driving north or northwest much of the time. I had actually driven much farther south than intended.

I had missed a turn onto highway 33 (33, 55, 66 – what’s the difference?) I should have picked up the interstate an hour or two earlier, but instead was running somewhat parallel, though far south.

Still, it was curious wandering this pristine near-wilderness of West Virginia. Even in foul weather, it looked incredibly lush and ancient. It was not difficult to imagine the frontiersmen and the Indians wandering these forests. But then there were the Ferraris. Red ones. On this isolated road, I passed more Ferraris this afternoon than I’ve probably seen in my entire life. It must have been a rally (though none were riding along “together”, and they all seemed to be driving at roughly the speed limit!)

There are signs that change is coming to this remote corner of the country. A modern interstate system is being engineered through these mountains and forests, with dramatic bridges spanning many deep canyons, and huge cuts slicing hillsides, so that the traffic will flow effortlessly (and obliviously) through this magical landscape. The system is named for Robert Byrd, the senior Senator from West Virginia, who has been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

The atmosphere was so heavy and it was about 65° in the highlands; I was getting quite chilled, as my riding suit had soaked through in numerous places. But now, dropping down in elevation (and out of a cold front?) it grew quite warm. And after five hours in the rain, I saw a glimmer of sun.

Hampton Inn, Manassas, VA

Saturday, August 27, 2005 11:00 a.m.

A continental breakfast was quite satisfying.

And last night, I was happy to stumble onto a tradition they have here: milk and cookies at 8:00 p.m. The cookies were freshly-baked and excellent! And it's the first time I've had a glass of milk in MANY years!

Asked for some extra time and was allowed to stay until 12:00 today.

For some reason, all last night’s work disappeared. I have no idea what happened. I just know I was very tired!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Denny's Restaurant, Manassas, Virginia 5:30 a.m.


Lincoln Memorial at 1:00 a.m.


During the night, I spent over three hours looking for a motel, riding around the DC suburbs, a bizarre night. Hotel rates from $89 to $229, many fully-booked, others not allowing early check-in. Reached the limit of my tolerance, my mind numb and body chilled. At one point I just pulled over in Rockville and sat on my bike. I could have slept right there.

Finally tried the Hampton Inn. In order to avoid an extra day charge for the time between now and their official check-in time, the gentleman said I could check in at 7:00 a.m., no earlier. I tried to get him to bend the rules.

“The computer won’t allow me.” A common excuse that supplants our humanity.

I’m ready to leave the East in search of the wide-open spaces out West. It can't be healthy to live and work under such inescapably crowded conditions as are found on the Eastern Seaboard. I debated whether I should even stay at a motel. Why not just keep riding? The hurricane threatening to come ashore in the south is providing motivation to move west sooner rather than later.

***

The last twenty-four hours has been one of those surreal odysseys. From Philadelphia, out to Gettysburg, then down to Washington, it has been such a rush of impressions!

I awoke at 7:00 Thursday morning. Aunt Clare had breakfast waiting. Bob joined us, but had to leave for work (at the Philadelphia Eagles' stadium, where he reports on the team for delcotimes.com.)

I told them I wanted to visit Walt Whitman's house, across the river in Camden. Bob cautioned me, "it's a war zone."

Before leaving, I wanted to take a photo of Aunt Clare for the blog. It felt like I was imposing, but another part of me said "she must be included!"

Following Bob's directions, I had no trouble finding it, but the Walt Whitman House was not much. In a small row of old houses bordered by vacant lots, it was obviously not open to the public. Several people sat on the steps of the sealed-up houses. There was no sign of any memorial or visitors center.

The weather was changing. It was cooler, but also more humid.

Went down to the Naval Yard (passing the "Eagles" and "Phillies" stadiums along the way) to see if I could get a closer look at the "ghost fleet". At a secondary entrance out at the west end, I asked a security officer if it's possible to get any closer. He told me "you can drive by the ships, but no photography." Once inside, I wandered the base for half an hour or more, heedlessly going well into areas clearly marked "restricted" or "authorized personnel only". I guess no one regarded an overloaded motorcycle as an unusual sight on base.

I felt just like I did many years ago, "sneaking" onto Naval bases to photograph and map the ships in port. As a high school student, I was even picked up on the San Diego Naval Station on suspicion of espionage. The Shore Patrol confiscated my maps and film, then called my "U.S. Naval Sea Cadet" commanding officer to confirm my identity. Fortunately, he vouched for me. (Okay, so it's weird, but I've changed. Really.)

It was very strange, and a bit sad to see ships that were brand new to the fleet when I was in the Navy, now rusting before me. Even ships that were commissioned much later are here. The heavy cruiser "Des Moines" (commissioned just after the end of WWII) is the most interesting relic here (apart from the U.S.S. New Jersey, now a memorial over in Camden.) But there were other familiar ships: the Forrest Sherman and Edson, both destroyers similar to the Turner Joy that I was on; the frigates John Hancock and Stark, a submarine, a gunboat, and numerous auxiliary ships.

After this brief drive down memory lane (and reminder of the smelly, junky "Super Fund" clean-up sites that Naval shipyards represent,) I moved on toward Gettysburg, wondering if the theme of this ride has become "war"?

Crossing the Pennsylvania countryside, I was surprised at the things I just ran into: an Amish village and surrounding Amish farms (with the large embossed gold stars on the barns), the Harley Davidson plant in York (where I was nearly nailed by a Harley employee coming out of the parking lot, into my lane), President James Buchanan's "Wheatland" home. This land is so rich in history and American culture.

About eight miles east of Lancaster, I spotted "Java Joe’s" along the highway and stopped to have a look. Decided to stay for a burger. I was the only "sit-down" customer. It was very good.

In Lancaster's downtown district, I had missed a turn and was looking at my map, when a passing motorist asked if I needed help. I told him I was looking for the interstate, and he just said "follow me."

Reached Gettysburg late in the afternoon. It's a town overrun with tourists. I was too late for the battlefield museum, but found a kiosk with maps for self-guided auto tours. From the many historical markers throughout the battlefield, one slowly pieces together the events of those three days in July of 1863.


A statue of General Warren surveys the Gettysburg Battlefield from "Little Round Top". The fields in the background were the site of "Pickett's Charge".


Wandering from the "Devil's Den" to "Little Round Top" to the scene of "Pickett's Charge", the battlefield was not having the profound impact I expected. Maybe it was the crowds, or fatigue. Or perhaps the commercialization, the "McDonald’s" and the "Pickett’s Buffet" right outside the cemetery gates?


Gettysburg National Battlefield. A Union cannon is trained on the treeline where the famous "Pickett's Charge" began. Pickett Pettigrew led 12,000 Confederate soldiers in a desperate assault on the Union lines. The cannon is at the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." The battle's (and the war's) tide turned when the Union soldiers repulsed this attack.



Monument to the 2nd Brigade of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, which helped repulse "Pickett's Charge."


I felt emotionally numbed. I had overheard many conversations; Civil War buffs arguing the strategies of various leaders, tour guides walking visitors through the events of the day, people explaining, each in their way what transpired here, others listening to recorded tours. Too much talk. Too much chatter. There was no peace and tranquility, which is somehow a prerequisite for absorbing such a profound event.

As dark approached and fireflies appeared, and the extraordinary fragrance of grass and forest wafted by, I wondered, were the evenings like this in the midst of that nightmare?

I figured staying near Gettysburg would be costly, so I drove south toward Washington, intending to stop at a state park somewhere along the way. But I kept driving. All the way into Washington.

Found my way down to the Mall; one of my primary goals in coming here was to see the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, near the Lincoln Memorial. For several hours, I walked among the monuments and took long exposure photographs, occasionally chatting with other visitors. A photographer, using the same camera as mine, provided some useful tips on shooting pictures at night. It was wonderfully quiet, and even walking in wooded areas of the Mall, I felt completely comfortable.


The Vietnam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall") reflecting Washington Monument. Inscribed with the names of over 58,000 soldiers who perished, The Wall powerfully conveys this war's tragic waste; each name a life senselessly stolen (and this doesn't even begin to consider the millions of Vietnamese casualties.)



Vietnam Veterans Memorial



Korean War Veterans Memorial


Emerging from the trees at 1:00 a.m., I began to notice there were no cars parked along the street. None. I began to worry about my bike. I felt comfortable with it “concealed” among a long row of cars. When it came into view, it was the only vehicle along the curb. No ticket, no one slowing down to check it out.

I find it fascinating to drive through large cities at night. It’s such a contrast to the daytime chaos. There is a sense you can go wherever you want, a sense of freedom. But Washington is not like any other city. At night, I saw police cars parked throughout downtown, at intersections, outside buildings, beside the barriers restricting access to the Capitol and White House. Officers sitting in the dark; parking lights on. It is like a city under martial law, and it’s sad that it must be that way. I couldn’t even see the White House from the surrounding streets; it’s so cordoned-off. If this is how it will be from now on, the terrorists have won.

From 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 a.m., I drove about 400 miles "today", 300 yesterday and 150 the day before. I see a pattern developing!

The bike's brakes are starting to get "jerky" again. In a crisis, your first thought should not be “oh, no! I don’t want to use the brakes!” I'll have them checked out soon.

"Denny’s" today is pricier than I recall: $9.64 + tip for a waffle, some sausage and coffee. Manassas is a fascinating town. In just the short time I've been here, I've seen whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians (or Pakistanis), Chinese. A colorful community!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

West Chester, Pennsylvania


With barely a brief warning that I was headed her way, Aunt Clare still had a place set at her table and dinner waiting. It was my first visit to her West Chester, PA home.


This suburb is much farther into the country than I expected, though sprawl is bringing the city ever closer. Found my way out here just after sunset. Aunt Clare has a nice two-story home in a meticulously-maintained subdivision. She says they’ve been here 17 years now.

Clare had a place set for me at her table; chicken and salad waiting. Cousin Bob arrived home from the "Jersey shore" a short time later and Cousin Missy left a dinner engagement early to stop over. I'm uncomfortable being treated to such attention.

I began to realize how much catching up there is to do; many years of it. I have only seen them a few times in the past 45 years!

Since Uncle Bill passed away after our 1997 family reunion, Clare has been doing volunteer work with her church, including caring for elderly nuns. We talked quite a bit about Uncle Bill.

Missy is working with Delaware County Youth Services and also QVC. On the side, she is writing poetry and children’s stories.

Bob covers the Philadelphia Eagles football team for the local press.

I enjoyed Bob’s teasing Clare about President Bush being always on vacation. I think this household has been in the Republican camp "forever".

***


In Pennsylvania, my reputation precedes me.


Much of the day, I followed the Delaware River south. Highway 611 provided an interesting cultural cross-section from the pastoral landscapes, through the suburbs, past the Porsche dealer, into the predominantly-black urban neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. Here, I bogged down hitting virtually every signal. A black fellow in a neighboring car asked if I was hot in the riding suit. “Yes!” He then asked about my travels, and was amazed I had come so far on “that thing.”

Driving the ripped-up streets of downtown Philadelphia, past Independence Hall (and also last night in New York City), I think some urban driving is not unlike off-roading. The cobble stones of old Philly are a new twist. I have a new respect for what European riders must endure in their old cities.

Made my way to the waterfront and Penn’s Landing, where a Navy salvage ship was tied up. Down river, docked at the opposite bank, is the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, now an historical exhibit. From a nearby payphone, I called Aunt Clare to ask directions to her house.

Returning to where I had parked my bike, a young woman approached.

"Can I ask you a question? Aren’t you worried leaving your things where anyone can come up and rip you off?”

“I believe people are by nature, good.”

“I admire you for that.”

After she walked away, I wondered “how naïve am I?”

Jumped on the interstate to expedite reaching Clare's house. What a relief from earlier stop and go driving. I'm not sure if I agree with those motorcyclists who avoid using interstates because "you don’t see anything." It's probably the safest roadway to drive on, and sometimes you just need to connect the dots in a hurry.

Skirting around downtown, passed the Walt Whitman Bridge stretching between Philadelphia and Camden, and then south of the city, the mothball (or "ghost") fleet caught my attention, just as I was crossing a high, hazardous bridge. Unable to stop and look, I may try to visit there tomorrow.

Tonight, I'm grateful to have a bedroom that's usually used for one of the granddaughters. Quite cute! I barely fit in the bed, but it's luxurious nonetheless.

Easton, Pennsylvania: Home of Crayola

3:45 p.m.

Quadrant Bookmart and Coffee Shop (just off the town square). Seated at an antique marble-topped "Singer" sewing machine stand, my laptop connected to the local wi-fi network.

I've been more or less following Highway 611 south through the gorgeous rolling hills and rich farmlands of Western New Jersey and Northeastern Pennsylvania. A beautiful day for a ride; about 80 to 85°, scattered clouds, and great backroads.

Entering this relatively big city, the internet bug hit and I easily found this welcoming shop. They offer free internet access, good snacks and draw an interesting clientèle.

Awakened early this morning, a squirrel on my tent outside, obviously aware of the peanuts lying next to me beyond his reach. I went out later and noticed the puncture marks in the tent from his claws. Slept fairly late, rising well-rested around 9:30. Clear, cool, almost chilly, with a fresh breeze. The sound of cicadas and the wind in the pines and maples filled the air. The campground was virtually empty. Took some time to record thoughts from yesterday, then have a leisurely shower.

By daylight, I could see this park is set high in the hills (called "mountains by the locals", a view northwest to a cleft mountain, the "Delaware Water Gap". Seeing the mountains of the eastern U.S. helps me understand the fantastic, idealized Western mountainscapes of Albert Bierstadt and others in the 19th century. If all you have known are these hills, the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada would indeed be unbelievable.

Down the mountain and into the little town of Hope ("settled by the Moravians in 1769"), I found the "Village Cafe". It's in a house built in 1911, across from the local grist mill. A look at the menu prices had me reconsidering, but I didn't have nerve to walk out. I tried to piece together some kind of lunch. $18.32, plus tip for a soup, cappuccino and cheesecake.

Jumping back onto Interstate 80, it was a wild awakening. I couldn't even keep up with the flood of semis doing 80 in a 65 mph zone, following cars and other semis less than a cab’s length behind. And the cop is pulling over a car! Incredible.

It finally occurs to me this is the same Interstate 80 that I have ridden so often in California.

Connecticut to New Jersey, via Long Island


On the ferry crossing form New London, CT to Point Orient, Long Island. A glimpse of a different world.


Jenny Jump State Forest, New Jersey

9:00 a.m.

Throughout the night, the truck traffic from the interstate was incredibly loud though I drove for 15 or 20 minutes, through the countryside and up into the mountains, to arrive here.

Woke early this morning, a squirrel on my tent outside, the peanuts lying next to me beyond his reach. I went out later and noticed the puncture marks in the tent from his claws.

***

A long day yesterday (Tuesday), beginning in Connecticut. The insects that were so loud the previous night, by morning were silent. In daylight, I could see the large pond that is the focal point of this popular campground.

Drove down to New London and checked on the Long Island ferry schedule. The next ones were at 11:00 and 11:30. I wanted to have a look at the U.S. Navy Sub Base across the river in Groton before crossing to Long Island.

Driving over to the base, I found everything is now hidden from view, unlike when I visited here with Drew in 1971, I think. On the bay, big black floating booms surround the sub base, to thwart terrorist attacks. The U.S.S. Nautilus, the World's first nuclear submarine is docked at a museum just off the base, but it was closed to the public today.

Returned to the ferry terminal, purchased a $22.00 ticket, and was directed to the head of the line with my bike. It's an hour and a half cruise over to the harbor at Orient, on the northern tip of Long Island. Out here along the waterways, I glimpsed a different world, with its beach homes and yachts. As private boats, some quite large, sped by the ferry, I reflected in amazement at how much we require to "recreate."

Arriving at Orient, there's a sign along the road "welcome to the Long Island Wine Country." I'm tempted to visit a local winery or two. Fresh produce stands abound, as small farms market to the passing motorists. But I can’t bring myself to stop.

Sag Harbor is nearby; I decided to see what makes this such a familiar name. My route took me via Shelter Island, which is accessed by ferries at the north and south ends, a $6.00 fare for each. To reach the north end, I was squeezed onto the back of the small boat along with a couple riding another motorcycle.

They told me singer Billy Joel has a shipbuilding shop on Shelter Island. Apparently, he's a motorcycle enthusiast and can occasionally be seen out here, riding his Russian-made "Ural" motorcycle with side car. These folks were from Glen Cove, in close to NYC. When I mentioned I wanted to visit Walt Whitman's birthplace, they looked surprised. "The Vanderbilt Estate is more interesting." Not in my estimation.

Sag Harbor is a very up-scale seaside resort, with a few really BIG yachts dwarfing most of the boats in the harbor. Driving around the streets of Sag Harbor, past restaurants, boutiques and rows of expensive cars, I see affluence worn like a badge.

Despite the heat, it seemed important to take some time to explore these places I've heard about throughout my life. "The Hamptons" were next on the trail, a land of massive estates, but navigating through the chain of towns in horrendous traffic was grueling. And gas was selling out here for $2.85 per gallon, the highest price I've seen in the States. The residents pay in more ways than one for the privilege of living here.

Somehow, I find the designation "POW/MIA Memorial Highway" for this route through some of the most affluent communities in the World a bit cynical. Is this what these soldiers fought and died for, to preserve the wealth of a few?

Extreme wealth creates many service-sector jobs, and in The Hamptons, one sees armies of Hispanic workers maintaining landscapes and building new mansions. The residents here are probably the same elites who argue for sealing our borders against illegal immigration. Their cost of living would be even greater, if they actually had to pay fair wages, including social costs.

I went for a drive out West Hampton Dunes Road, where obscenely extravagant homes crowd out any view of the shore. There is absolutely no street parking permitted on this ten- to twelve-mile-long strand. So, even though the public is entitled to beach access, and there are numerous access paths between the homes, there is nowhere to park a car. The community has technically provided beach access, while in reality, excluding everyone except homeowners and their guests parking in their driveways.

I stopped at a couple parking lots that provided beach access, but they were reserved for residents. I asked a young lady attending one of the lots “so you can’t go out and see the ocean unless you live here?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“That sucks.”

I know it's not her fault, but maybe my reaction would help her see the injustice (but probably not.)

Near the end of the drive, I found a "public" lot charging $15.00 per day. Increasingly angered by the afternoon's aggregate impressions, I approached the young, very tanned fellow, sitting in the security booth. "So, I can't even walk out on the beach without paying $15.00???"

To my surprise, he said "you can go out there. The $15 is just if you're going to park for the day."

Walked out onto the sand and had a look behind "the velvet curtain," at the sea, the families playing, women sunning themselves in their bikinis, lifeguards lounging together, and as far as I could see, massive homes rising behind the dunes with private walkways leading out onto the beach. "This is the privilege so many are driven to acquire."

Relieved to be leaving this Fantasyland, I headed for the town of Stony Brook, where our family was all set to move in the late 1950's, when an auto accident changed our plans. My father had been hired by a company in the area, but during a visit to search for a home, his car was broadsided, resulting in a hospital stay. His new employer was forced to fill the position with another manager. And so we ended up moving to California.

Finding my way on this island proved frustrating, even though many of the highways run parallel toward NYC. It seemed crazy that it was so difficult, but traffic was a major factor. Stony Brook is still a quaint, attractive community, though hardly as remote as it probably was in 1958.

Next on the tour was Walt Whitman's birthplace, in Huntington Station. The search for this historical landmark was even more nuts. I used a map to get me close, then relied on locals to help me find the house. A mistake. First, I stopped at a coffee shop and asked the two girls behind the counter. I felt like I was "Jay Walking". They were as clueless as the people Jay Leno interviews on the streets of L.A.

I then tried inquiring at a gas station. The man there had no idea, but wisely asked his wife. She gave excellent directions that got me very close, right up to Walt Whitman Drive. But I couldn't find the house on the short street. At the gas station at the end of the block, I asked the manager. He had never heard of Walt Whitman's house. Then I stumbled onto it, about a hundred yards away. The gate was open, though it was about 7:30 p.m. I parked and walked in through a tall wooden fence, and stood looking at the old two-story house. A large portrait of Whitman hangs in the interior yard.

A fellow about my age emerged from a cottage in the compound.

"Can I help you?"

“I was just looking at the house.”

“You can’t be in here. You’ll have to leave.”

"I just drove 17,000 miles. I can't even look around for a little bit?"

"I'm sorry. You'll have to leave."

Interacting with people in the Eastern urban corridors, I've sensed what I can only describe as a weariness people have; the toll from dealing with the sheer mass of humanity. There seems to be an indifference or numbness in people here.

Outside the compound, inscribed on the visitors center wall, one of my favorite Walt Whitman quotes:
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

The house sits on a side street, backing up a strip mall. Across a main thoroughfare is the Walt Whitman Mall. I stopped to snap a picture. I don’t think he would mind that a plaza was named for him; he so loved people.



I spent an hour or more trying to find Walt Whitman's birthplace. When I saw the mall, I knew I was close! He loved people so much, I doubt he'd mind having a mall named in his honor (though I could hardly picture him having someone's car towed.)


The sun setting, I made a run for the city, the amazing skyline growing ever larger. Soon I was competing with taxi drivers who felt entitled to share my lane. Took the Mid-Town Tunnel to Second Avenue, then over to FDR Drive, down through the Battery Park tunnel and up to the World Trade Center site.

Rode round and round the brightly-lighted construction zone, sweating in the mid-80° heat. Parked on Liberty Street next to a fire house and the 40-story, former Deutsche Bank building, still shrouded in black mesh, concealing the damage inflicted by the World Trade Center collapse. According to a sign on the surrounding barricade, the building is being cleaned and dismantled, from the top down.

It took a while for me to work up the courage to walk away and leave the bike. I watched people walking by for about ten minutes. Eventually, I felt comfortable (though I returned several times to check on the bike.)



Behind the construction site is The World Financial Center


Around the perimeter, there are still a few traces that something horrendous happened here. Mementos left hanging on fences, inscriptions written on barricades - dedications to the city of New York, or to a loved one who disappeared that day; photos stuck to plywood walls, U.S. flags. Even at this hour, many visitors slowly moved along the steel viewing fence which the Mayor ordered erected around much of the gaping pit.



At the site of the World Trade Center is a timeline of the events of September 11, 2001


Very slowly, life is returning to this part of town. The subway stations demolished in the Trade Center collapse have been rebuilt, fresh, shining and brightly-lighted, and for now, exposed to the open sky.



Outside the World Trade Center Viewing Fence, a tribute to the fallen


From the WTC, drove uptown to the one “Ray’s Pizza” I could easily find. I couldn’t leave the city without a slice of pizza. Ordered one with “everything.” It turned out to be the strangest pizza I’ve ever had (I think it included clam strips and maybe even octopus!) But it was good, and huge! For $6, that and a tall ginger ale was quite satisfying. Asked cops about 30 to 40 police cars I saw heading down Westside Highway to lower Manhattan, lights flashing.

“It’s a new detail. They do it every day,” I was told.

Beyond seeing the World Trade Center site, I had no plan, but obviously I would have to get well beyond the city limits to find camping. The map showed a couple of campgrounds in Western New Jersey, so it would be a long night.

Took the Henry Hudson Parkway up the west side of Manhattan and crossed the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey. My wrists were getting tired from all the clutching, through endless signals and traffic. Across in "Jersey", I stopped for gas and to clarify some directions. The station attendant didn't even know what highway the gas station is on. “I’m new here.” I was on my own.

Driving west into the countryside, it was dark, chilly and signs warned of deer along the highway. "I shouldn’t be riding."

Taking the turn-off for this rural park last night, I saw that the road leads to Blairville as well. Of course, I'm thinking "Blair Witch Project" (which was set in New Jersey) while I drive out the dark winding road, through thick forest.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Intra-Mission Ends

11:00 p.m.

Hopeville Pond State Park, CT

What a nice name for a place!

In my tent. It has been a while! The woods here are filled with the sounds of insects, perhaps frogs as well; it’s difficult to tell, but the sound is almost deafening! Still, the highway a few miles away is remarkably audible with the roar of heavy truck traffic. We have come to accept this as normal.

This morning, Jeff woke me at 10:00. I guess I was avoiding reality. I don’t look forward to leaving the comfort of Vermont. But I start hauling my things out to the bike, hoping my spirit will follow. Jeff looked after me. Coffee was ready. He put on a Boz Scaggs CD. I paused to hear “Sierra” and “Just go”, songs that have held special meaning for me in recent years.

He doesn't want me to clean up after myself. “I’d prefer it if you don’t; you'll probably do an inadequate job."

Packed up a can of “Tim Horton’s” coffee to ship off to Jessica. I wanted to share the experience! Also boxed up a bunch of stuff for my storage unit out west. Jeff handed me bags of sour candies and peanuts to snack on. He can’t do anything until I’m safely off.

I know it has not been easy having me here. He has patiently put up with my obsession with this blog, and the resulting anti-social behavior. Now his life can return to normal. But it has been fun, and I'll miss the camaraderie (and steak dinners!)

We said our "good-byes" and I was on the road at 2:00 p.m. By my calculations, it's my 91st day on the road. 22,859 miles on the bike, 16,660 of them on this journey.

A few blocks away, I stopped at the post office to mail the parcels. When I came out, an older gentleman was gazing at the bike. I met Doug Finlay. He was once the Commanding Officer of the Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in California, retiring in 1968. I told him I probably flew into his base when he was there. He moved to Vermont, where he became Waterbury's Town Manager for five years, then manager of neighboring Moretown. He wished me well in my travels.

Around the corner from Jeff's, I stopped by "The Alchemist" to purchase a t-shirt. The two shirts I have are starting to look pretty tired! They were closed, but I went to the kitchen door and explained my situation to one of the chefs, offering him $20 for a $10 shirt. He tried to get me one, but reported back that the office where they are stored was locked. He was as disappointed as I. "I could have made an extra $10," he lamented.

A chilly ride south. The miles slow in clicking off. I had become used to kilometers. My mind was rather quiet. No chatter, no songs coming; just appreciating the rich forests of Vermont. Though Jeff said the state was completely logged long ago, the forests now look mature and varied. I saw no traces of logging. New Hampshire was less pristine, with obvious thinning being done just beyond the highway's buffer.

As I drove south on Interstate 89, I was passed by many cars from Massachusetts. They seemed in a big hurry and you could almost feel the nervous, impatient energy.

I had to stop and zip up my suit; it was becoming rather cold. But reaching the New Hampshire coast, the air warmed 15 to 20°. Now it was too warm. Everyone here was dressed for the beach. The coast cities are packed in right up to the shore; row upon row of large beach homes, squeezing in for some piece of ocean view.

Salisbury Beach State Park has a campground that I considered a possible stopping point for tonight. But it's an enormous camper city! I took a quick ride through the park, and seeing that any spot I chose would be surrounded by many other campers, I quickly moved on.

Just off the beach, the Seabrook nuclear power plant was incongruous with the landscape. Boats! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many small boats. Every inlet, river mouth or bay is filled with them, many riding at anchor.

Riding highways 1 and 1A, "progress" was pretty slow. The northern approach to Boston was lined with some huge, bizarre restaurants. The highway carried me right into the center of the city. I could see the U.S.S. Constitution, dwarfed by the waterfront buildings. Dropped down onto the northside streets and found my way back across to Charlestown to have a closer look at the ship. It was too late though, the Navy Yard closed for the day. Followed historical markers up to Breed's Hill (Bunker Hill). It was here that the first engagement of the Revolution took place, on June 17, 1776. The British won the battle, but this action, with the famous command “don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes,” mobilized the colonists' resistance.

Charlestown, with its closely-spaced old brick homes, townhouses and apartments is clearly a highly-desirable, affluent address. And a popular jogging area! Drove back into North Boston. This area smells wonderful with the aroma of Italian food and fresh baked breads filling the air. Many, many tourists are out walking in the warm evening, lending a festive atmosphere to the neighborhoods. I actually enjoyed wandering aimlessly down narrow streets and alleys, getting around where cars could not. Turned down one alleyway and voila! There's the Old North Church. And then Paul Revere’s house.

Having the motorcycle down here was also a burden. I wasn't comfortable leaving it parked somewhere. Consequently, I kept driving: out of town, past Fenway Park, and on out the Massachusetts Turnpike, or the "Mass Pike", as those "in the know" call it. I telephoned Jeff just to say "I'm on the Mass Pike" – being “cool”. Went to "Dunkin Donuts" for a coffee and bagel. (I figure I ought to try it once in my life. Now I never have to again.)

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A week around Waterbury, Vermont


According to Jeff, Montpelier is the only state capital without a "McDonald's".


For over a week, I stayed in Waterbury, recuperating from the ride through the Maritimes, preparing for the journey south, and enjoying my brother’s company and hospitality. A re-cap follows.



Sunday, August 14, 2005

Spent virtually the entire day working on the blog. In the evening, we went out to the “Longhorn Steakhouse” in Burlington, where I had to try the “bleu cheese encrusted fillet of beef” and a glass of 2001 Chateau St. Jean “California” Cabernet Sauvignon. (What’s with the California appellation now? Sourcing cheaper – and inferior – grapes from around the state now?)



Monday, August 15, 2005

The postman left a card showing the attempted delivery of a parcel. Assuming it was my glasses, I was at the post office first thing, waiting for them to open. With my progressive lenses restored, it will be much easier to read maps, menus and such along the way. Feeling it my responsibility to sample the wares at all boutique coffee shops, I tried the "Full of Beans” coffee shop in downtown Waterbury. They brewed the local “Green Mountain Roasters” coffee so weak, that I didn’t even finish it. Instead, I went to the “Bagel Café” and bought two "Everything Bagels" with cream cheese “to go” for our breakfast.

Jeff and I washed our bikes. Later, delivered my bike to “Frank’s” so that they could repair the fuel gauge (fuel sending unit) and charcoal canister. Lester said he has seen both problems before. Regarding the canister, he said it’s located in such a position that the frame can impact it, and snap the inlet (or outlet) nipple. He said there would be no problem taking care of both under warranty.

Joined Jeff in the Pilot for a run to “Costco”, “Shaw’s” market (stocking up on energy bars), “Staple’s” (where I bought some notepads to attach to the tank bag) and “Eastern Mountain Sports” (where I picked up a larger toiletry kit – so I could consolidate stuff scattered throughout my bags).


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Jeff was considering moving his Honda 1000RR (Race Ready) motorcycle inside the house for the winter. He talked me into taking it out for a spin. What a strange feeling, to sit on a racing bike. It was like being the warhead of a guided missile. Its handling is very different. So quiet and fast. And absolutely no buffeting from the wind. Took it down the interstate a few miles, driving no faster than 90.

I saw another blue bike following behind me. I finally realized it was Jeff. He had pulled out his "Blackbird" and easily caught up with me. My bike was apparently not ready; no call from “Frank’s” today.

I lobbied for dinner at the “Alchemist” again. It was very busy tonight, and we had to wait, which makes Jeff quite uncomfortable. In the full house, we were eventually seated next to a group with five small children. How inappropriate, I thought. I resent it. “This is a brew pub for chrissakes!”

Making slow progress with the blog, wrapping up much unfinished business. Perhaps 12 entries lingering in draft form, yet to be completed (not that this are highly-polished literature, but I try to at least make it readable!)



Wednesday, August, 17, 2005

(See separate post below)


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Watching golf tournaments on TV and seeing the pros with logos emblazoned all over their garments, I am repulsed. No logos for me. “You have to at least make the effort to learn who I am and what I represent, not read it all over my clothes.” Okay, I know it’s virtually impossible to be logo-less these days, but there are degrees of submission!

Fuel prices are up to $2.51 per gallon. I don’t think I accounted for this! But a quick calculation makes concern unwarranted: if I’m going to travel 40,000 miles, that’s 1,000 gallons. If I assumed $2.00 per gallon average, and instead it’s $3.00, then my expenses will be over by $1,000. That won’t bankrupt me.

Jeff and I rode our bikes out to visit Bob Moshinski in Plainfield. It felt weird, heading back toward Maine! I’ve heard a lot about Bob, a real character who also happens to be an outstanding mechanic and former champion drag racer.



Bob has unquestionably the cleanest shop I've seen. I asked him, "do you do any work here?"



You may be wondering what I've been up to the past few days. Today, Jeff and I went out to see his irreverent friend Bob Moshinskie in Plainfield, Vermont. Bob's quite the character (and a major Beatles fan, as evidenced by his Beatles commemorative plate collection on display in the shop.)


Bob said he is about to head off to do some “stripper fishing in Porno Bay” (translated, striper fishing in Portland Bay.)



Bob, like most Vermonters, is armed and dangerous. Jeff, well...he's into wheels.


Following Bob’s mentioning the restaurant, I told Jeff we HAD to try “Positive Pie 2” in Montpelier. Just down the street from his DOT office, the trendy new establishment serves up outstanding thin-crust pizza. That and some Wolaver’s Belgian Wheat beer made me a happy fellow.

Drew in rare form tonight as we had him on the speakerphone and I related my phone company “customer service” experience (see separate Wednesday, August 17th post below). He then launched into an hilarious rendition of an imaginary Indian customer support representative. (Actually, it’s not so rare. He is always a bit whacko.)


Friday, August 19, 2005

The early morning sounds outside my window: of those driving in to work at the nearby state offices, the chirping of crosswalks on Main Street, service trucks driving through the neighborhood, sirens (as the local police pull people over for minor infractions). This is quite different than living on Sonoma Mountain!

At 8:30 I went over to “Green Mountain Coffee Roasters” again. Cappuccino and cream cheese bagel. Read the local paper. International Paper wants to experiment with burning tires for energy at their New York facility just over the Hudson River. It’s causing an uproar in up-state Vermont.

Gave my helmet a thorough cleaning, inside and out. It’s first such bath. Getting ready to go! Every day, I’m getting more impatient to leave (though the time is certainly not being wasted here.)

Jeff reminded me that we had a “date” for lunch: we were meeting his assistant Judith for lunch at “Sarducci’s” in Montpelier. She came ready to hear about our travels, armed with a mental list of questions.

On my blog, I’ve now begun getting advertisers using the “Comments” section to promote their products. Now I have to go in and individually delete their comments. It’s really sucking my life! Trying to find a solution via “blogger.com.”

Late in the day, I discovered about 12 more entries that were left in draft form and needed to be fleshed out – from Canada and Alaska! Finally stopped at 8:30 p.m. after losing my mysterious downtown wireless connection. I have become quite an anti-social creature because of this damn thing! (Just ask Jeff.)

Tonight we walked downtown to “Arvad’s” for dinner. Surprised at the number of young people out. Many attractive women (or men, if you’re so inclined)! Waterbury (just down the road from “Ski-Mecca” Stowe) is becoming quite THE place. “Arvad’s” is less pretentious and a little more comfortable than “Alchemist” (though I still prefer “Alchemist”!)



Saturday, August 20

Awakened by the sound of rain, rather than "rush hour” traffic this morning. Much better.

Wireless connection restored, plunged into the (damn!) blog again.

Then I started to uncover entries from a journal that I had never entered into the blog, primarily from May and June. This is never-ending! Added a counter to the site, so I can view the number of visitors, but it’s clear by the ticker that I’m my number one fan! Worked all day long on this stuff.

Though I wasn’t enthused, Jeff convinced me we should just eat in tonight. God knows he has a very well-stocked pantry and freezer! But soup, salad and steak fries proved quite satisfying. “Why don’t we do this more often???”

The anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival; watched the movie on TV tonght. Quite an amazing historical event.

Also watched another movie, understated and quirky, Off the Map.


Sunday, August 21, 2005

At 8:30 this morning, it seemed very warm. I went downstairs to check Jeff’s weather station. It was only 70° outside, but the humidity was 90%!

Another day on the blog and for a little variety, laundry too.

Clearing and cooler later, turning very nice.

Forgetting yesterday’s lesson, we went to “Longhorn Steakhouse” again. It was easy to justify “one last steak”!

Not only was Woodstock running non-stop, there was a Bill Murray marathon on TV as well. Had to watch Rushmore and Kingpin! Another very late night! (Common in our family!)

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Customer Service in the 21st Century

My daughter Jessica reports I received a phone bill from Cingular. "That's strange. I thought I paid everything before leaving." She gave me all the details and I called the phone company.

After navigating an automated system, I was finally connected to a customer service agent, somewhere in the World. After fifteen minutes of searching, unable to find my account, I let her go. It was too difficult trying to search for a solution with someone you can't even understand. I asked the agent,

"Where are you located?"

"At the Customer Service Center."

"Where's that?"

(Long pause)

"India."

"Oh." (Of course!)

I tried again later. Maybe another agent could find my account. I was relieved when I reached "Destiny." Her pronounced southern accent was genuine. But Destiny was having trouble finding the account as well.

She put me on hold and sought help from a supervisor.

"I'm going to transfer you to Steven Davis. He is going to take care of you."

I thanked her for the effort.

"Steven" came on the line, and he was incomprehensible.

"Where are you located, Steven?"

(Pause)

“I’m not allowed to give that information.”

“It’s a secret where you’re located?”

“It’s against company policy”

“You’re in India, aren’t you?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’m not allowed to give that information.”

Okay, let him take a shot at it, I thought. But Steven gave up after a while. In the end, he suggested “just wait until you get a call from collections, then you can explain it to them.”

"Great. Thanks, Steven."

A call from "Frank's" to advise me the bike was ready. Jeff and I walked around the block to pick up his '97 Honda Prelude which had been undergoing its state inspection. We then stopped at the "Bagel Café" downtown for coffee and a bagel.

Jeff took me to "Frank’s". They replaced the fuel pump under warranty. That should take care of the fuel gauge problem.

We tended to some domestic duties today, Jeff cutting the lawns, while I did a bit of hedge trimming and weeding.

As we had discussed, Jeff took the mud guard off his motorcycle so that I could use it. "Frank's" will then replace his under warranty (when they finally get one. There are apparently only two in the country.) He also gave me a special oil cap removal tool, which "Frank's" will also replace.

Before I could mount the guard, I realized there was a broken bolt that had to be extracted. Called Lester at "Frank's" and explained the situation.

"Can you do it if I bring it right over?"

“I’ll take a look at it as soon as you get here.”

My Aerostich suit was hanging out to dry, so I borrowed Jeff's “Joe Rocket” mesh jacket (which I found to be very nice in this warm weather) and drove over to catch Lester before day's end.

Lester, without saying a word, took the bike into his shop and worked on that bolt, even though it was now after working hours. He noticed my sidestand was binding, so he crawled under the bike and lubed it up. No charge for any of this, and he refused my offer of a tip. Old fashioned customer service.

Back at the house, Jeff’s friend Dave came by. He was on his way to do some dirt riding on his KLR 650. I think he was hoping we might join him, since we have these beefy dual sport bikes now (which we abhor getting dirty.) Dave talked about his trip to California. He rented an R1150GS in San Diego and drove all around the state. He wants to do it again and asked if Jeff wanted to go the next time. Perhaps.

A can of "Progresso" split pea soup for dinner; we're eating less now that we’re “home”.

Watching a bit of TV (pretty unusual for me since I haven't had TV at home for much of the past 25 years), I'm so amazed by all the homicide and crime shows. Are our lives so dull these days that we need this stimulation, this artificial danger? I think it's unprecedented in its all-pervasiveness.

Worked on the blog later. I continued to get a good wireless signal in the upper northeast corner of his house, so that's where I worked. Jeff got into proof-reading on his computer downstairs. He kept coming upstairs with comments and corrections.

I heard the loud bark of a dog downstairs and went to investigate. It was “Kaya”, a big black Labrador come to beg for a treat. Jeff loves the big dogs (not the "rat dogs"). He brought Kaya inside and gave him three or four "Milk Bones" before sending him on his way down the street. Pretty cute.

I don't want to move on until the entire backlog of journal entries is complete.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Closing the Loop

After a driving blitz across the Northeast, Jeff and I arrived in Waterbury around 6:00 p.m. A hot, humid day, temperatures in the 90's throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Crossed on U.S. #2. Heavy weekend traffic, hundreds of motorcycles. Drove about 300 miles each, yesterday and today. Since leaving Vermont, we rode a total of 3,500 miles, really more than I had anticipated. 22,709 miles on the bike, 16,610 since leaving Santa Rosa, California.

We had lunch in Gorham, New Hampshire, in the shadow of Mt. Washington. An artsy-looking cafe caught my attention, but when we tried the door, found it had closed at 2:00. We had passed a strange-looking restaurant with lots of cars in front so we tried it. "J's Corner Restaurant" appeared more like a real estate office or bank building. "Award-winning clam chowder" they claimed, so I had to try it. It was outstanding. The secret ingredient our server confided, is the Worcestershire Sauce. Steaks, not so outstanding. Flavorful, covered in garlic and mushrooms, but tough.

We decided to pass on paying the $18.00 to drive up 6,288-foot Mt. Washington, the highest point in New Hampshire. Supposedly, the World's strongest winds, 231 mph, were recorded here in 1934. Jeff's been up there before, and since it was rather hazy, I wasn't too interested.

Up at 9:00 this morning, Dr. Wayne Dyer, fund-raising on PBS, was giving an inspirational talk. Called Drew (a Dr. Dyer fan) to thank him for inspiring us to read as kids. Checked out of the Holiday Inn at 10:30. It was already hot. No breakfast, just hit the road. Jeff said he was looking forward to being among friends again: "my bed, my refrigerator..."

With sights set on Waterbury, the myriad small towns along U.S. Highway 2 became more of a nuisance. Those bumper stickers that state "I brake for yard sales" were certainly inspired by the highways of New England. There are yard sales everywhere and drivers don't hesitate to slam on the brakes to catch one, even when other vehicles are following close behind.

The landscape along the highways is littered with collections of junk, many labeled "Antique Shop". I'm amazed at how much space is devoted to vehicles: salvage yards, repair shops, new and used car lots, equipment dealers, tractor dealers, etc. Perhaps it has more of an impact when they're carved out of the woods, as most are here.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bangor, Maine


More popular than McDonald's in Canada!


11:18 p.m.

Holiday Inn, Bangor, Maine

Checked out at 10:30 this morning. An important stop at "Tim Horton’s"; this could be the last one I visit on this journey! Took a photo of their sign to add to the blog (since the restaurant chain has been so vital to the trip's success thus far!) Bought a can of their coffee as a souvenir, and had a last "Tim Horton's" meal: an "Everything Bagel", toasted, with cream cheese, coffee and a "Tim's Coffee Cake" (too rich!).

Jumped on the highway, heading for the Maine border. Passed through St. John without stopping. Suddenly the landscape turned rural, with no service stations for a long time. I was becoming concerned that I'd run out of gas for the first time on this trip. Got down to a range of 15 miles when we saw a fuel pump icon indicating gas at the next off-ramp. Leaving the highway, there was no sign of services, but markers led us to a town a mile or so away, with a busy service station and convenience store.

At the border with Maine, we passed through St. Stephen, "Chocolate Capital of Canada"! Customs traffic was backed up into downtown. We joined three Harleys in line, slowly walking our bikes forward. We complained to each other about cars and trucks cutting into the line up ahead from sidestreets and business parking lots. It was over 90° on the pavement. Quite a different experience standing there in motorcycle gear versus sitting in an air-conditioned car. It took over half an hour to reach the crossing, but once there, we were quickly allowed through. I was just asked what I was bringing back. I declared my "Tim Horton’s" coffee. The heat affected both Jeff and I, creating abdominal cramps. We had to find a restroom, and quickly!

Maine proved a big disappointment, at least the areas I saw. On the Coastal Route, we didn’t actually see the coast, but saw plenty of dilapidated buildings and houses, junkyards and derelict vehicles. Struggling communities everywhere. Jeff said Maine is one of the poorest states. I saw little regard for the land and environment.

After witnessing the same thing in town after town, we agreed to leave U.S. Highway 1 and cross over to state highway 9, hoping to avoid some of the heavy coastal traffic. I noticed a "softee" stand that was doing a brisk business and pulled over to check it out. "Pleasant Valley" was a curious business. A sign said that they were tired and near the end of their season. They had little patience for rude customers. We ordered some food and raspberry milkshakes. People waited in their vehicles for their name or number to be called. It took a long time.

Sitting down with our food on a little screened patio, we asked each other "is this a joke?" Jeff's burger came with nothing but a bun and meat patty. Completely dry. My Fish and Chips was like no other. Mystery food. The shakes were flavorless. "I guess at this point they don't give a shit..."

Driving north on highway 193, we passed large swaths where the forest had been cleared, replaced by scrubby fields. Then, a huge complex that turned out to be a migrant labor camp. Not very inviting conditions. These are the "Jasper Wyman and Sons" blueberry farms. The farming of these berries seems very destructive. "Couldn't they have found another place to grow these, rather than in the middle of the forests?" Further up the road, I pulled over to have a closer look at one of the fields. A semi was following us closely. Jeff pulled onto the shoulder before reaching the dirt road I had turned onto. He hit thick sand and his front end started to "wash out" (oscillate uncontrollably from side to side.) In my mirror, I saw him trying to stabilize the bike, legs outstretched. Then I turned around and saw him pointed back across the road, half-way out into the right lane.

We tried to analyze what happened, walking along the shoulder, following the snaking tire path. He dissected his reactions and how he might have acted differently. There had been a woman in a small car following the truck, whom I had not even seen. Jeff said that, had she not been paying attention and quick to respond, she would have nailed him.

The sand was very deep, six inches in places, I’d say; a real hazard that should have been indicated. Driving on, I became aware of the sandy shoulders all along this highway, not just at the location we had stopped.

Growing dark, we settled on Bangor as the day’s final destination. Jeff has been there before and knew the motels, but with road construction, we had some difficulty finding them. “No more ‘Comfort Inns’", we searched for the “Holiday Inn”. They had a room for $119.

To celebrate the end of our travels, we went down to the bar for a drink. A curious scene. Some were obviously tourists passing through, but others looked like "regulars"". What kind of person hangs out here? Bars are great places to observe human mechanics, especially the exaggerated act of "having fun". Jeff and I don't have to act. We're always grumpy. (Just kidding. We're actually the life of the party. It's just that we can never find the party.)