Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Day in the Ether

3:00 a.m.

Jeff and I just finished watching Inside Man. Matt came home at 1:00 a.m. with desserts from Longhorn Steakhouse. "Whoa!"


***

It has been a cold rainy stay-indoors kind of day. It gave me a chance to get notes downloaded to the journal.

Using Jeff’s computer, I tried posting photos to Blogger, but couldn’t format them properly without the Picasa program that I use on my computer. So, (once again) I gave up. I didn't realize getting into this business what an albatross a blog can be!

Jeff spent much of the day on-line. First, he was trying to locate a BMW ballcap to replace the one Frank's gave him, which was subsequently lost. He had grown quite fond of the hat, its quality and the fact that it was "Made in the USA". The only problem is they seem to have discontinued the style.

He found the one he wanted in Houston, and decided he better order two. Then he began looking for rain gear. But he was distracted often enough from this mission that by 5:30, it was clear he wasn’t going to order any gear for shipment today. Which means the soonest he’d have anything would be Tuesday, which means he’s not really interested in traveling with me. (That was my analysis.)

"Decision made."

Out only briefly today - just a quick walk over to P&C Market. Jeff cooked hamburgers and fries for dinner.

Through it all, I occasionally wonder, “what am I doing here?” No answer is forthcoming.

Drew called last night from Burbank, en route to Mary’s. They were going to pick her up and go out for Mexican food. Alana was driving the Prelude for the evening – going to a concert. She wants to take them to a high-end sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills. She already has connections!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Elusive Electronic Emanations

Walked up to "K.C.’s Bagel" to start the day, even though they brew weak "Green Mountain Coffee". I asked where I might find an internet connection, and was told to try the library, a few blocks away.

The folks at the library were very accommodating, but their wireless connection was slow, so I didn't stay.

A very mild day. The weather keeps flip-flopping here!

Went over to "Frank’s" in Essex Junction to have the bike's oil changed. I intended to go on to Burlington afterwards and hopefully work on the computer. while they serviced the bike, Dave suggested I get some lunch at "Hoagie’s", a short distance away. Went over and had a big pastrami sandwich. (Funny. It's something I would never have at home, but being "on the road" changes things.)

A young man at the shop told me about the “Ap Gap”, one of the best rides around. (I learned later this is shorthand for the Appalachian Gap, the 2,356-foot pass through the Green Mountains.) He told me how to get there. I'll have to check it out.

As I was ready to leave "Frank's", I realized I had forgotten my computer, so there was not much reason to go to Burlington. I decided to follow the young man's suggestion, and see about this gap.

I rode over the Gap, realizing I've been here before - back in June 2004, when I visited Jeff, and he, Matt and I took Jeff's bikes out for the day. There is no comparison though between "Ap Gap" and the "Tail of the Dragon"! This road was marred by numerous extensive construction zones, poorly engineered curves and plenty of gravel and debris in the turns.

In Waitsfield, I spotted the "Red Hen Bakery" and pulled in. I've seen their product in stores, and really fresh-baked bread sounded appealing. Inside, I met a fellow campaigning for auditor, I think. A celebrity. After he left, and the commotion subsided, I bought a loaf of bread.

Returned to Jeff's house, picked up the computer, took Matt's dog "Blue" outside for a walk, then headed out for Burlington - again!

***

"Adelphia" (the local internet provider) must suck!!! I'm at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, trying to work on the blog, but the connection frequently gets dropped. Have to re-log in each time.

A librarian showed me a list of other "hotspots" in town. Took off to find another site. The library closes at 6:00 anyway.

I quickly stumbled upon the “Radio Bean”. Yes, they have free wi-fi. Ordered a cappuccino and a cookie and went to get my computer from the motorcycle. Set up, but found the connection was no better than at library. It's probably the same provider. The computer just locked up. I was angered at the growing cost of an elusive connection.

Frustrated, I quickly left Burlington. Or tried to. Traffic was jammed around the University. Returned to Waterbury, stopping at their new “Shaw’s Market”. It reminds me of the “Safeway” chain in California. Bought a few supplies for the road.

Amused to see a checkout line labeled “tabloid and candy free lane.” It was one of the few checkstands closed. I was disappointed at missing out on the free tabloids and candy.

Jeff was already back from Ottawa – he finished the job about 11:00 this morning.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Estate

Awoke at 9:00, refreshed.

Shortly thereafter, Jeff called from Ottawa. “Did I wake you?” Almost.

I noticed on his book shelf a copy of Be Here Now by Ram Dass. Published in 1971. I don’t recall "my teacher", Robert ever mentioning the book, but the teachings clearly drew from the same roots. Was Ram Dass a source of Robert’s teaching? Or was Alex Horn’s teaching a root for both? Or was it just a "Kairos time", as Robert suggested? I perused the now-amateurish looking book, noting the many familiar quotations of Peter Ouspensky, George Gurdjieff, Maurice Nicoll, Rodney Collin, Jesus, the Tao, etc.

Of course, it prompts me to reflect on my own search for truth. And what is it I am doing out here on the East Coast? What am I seeking? The answers, as usual, seem hidden.

***

Cold! 55 degrees in the house this morning. A warm shower helps (as does running up and down the stairs a few times.)

Visited Matt next door, enjoying the warm sun out on his front porch.

Over to "Capitol Grounds" in Montpelier. Their internet connection sucked. Photos of Deal’s Gap from the day I was there riding "The Dragon" are now posted on-line at "Killboy's" site. There are some good ones that I'll probably order.

Still, my main mission was the blog, and having "invested" (in my view) $11.75 for coffee, a bagel, a cookie, parking, etc. (plus gas!) and showing little for the "effort and expense" was frustrating.

Reluctantly drove out to Worcester. Took Minister Brook out to the end, missing the turn onto Hampshire Hill Road. I'm not sure why, but I had to overcome some ambivalence about visiting "my" property. I was uncomfortable going there. As I pulled in, the neighbor's dog immediately started barking and "Julia" came out to see what was up. She just this morning mowed around the camp.

I parked the motorcycle and wandered up the mountain. On the trail, I met John and Sandra ("Sandy") Denner. They had been hiking up in the State Park adjoining the property.

“Are you the new owner of this land?”

I have to admit that it feels very strange to be regarded an "owner", especially as financially insecure as I am.

I learned that they’re the cross-country skiers who, in the sales contract, were given rights to cross the property. We chatted for fifteen minutes, mostly about the hydrology of the land. (John works for the USGS - actually in the same Montpelier Federal Building where Jeff works, though he says they've never met.)

They’ve lived here since 1978, and say the climate’s definitely changing. The last three years they haven’t had the early chill that gives the brilliant autumn colors.

John said this land is former Lake Winooski lake bed. "Water-soaked muds." There is a slow flow of groundwater, but it "always replenishes".

They continued down the mountain, while I walked up to a marker demarcating the property line, then continued beyond. The forest is opened up by an old logging road which makes it easy to navigate up the mountain. Fading light caused me to turn around. I Wish I knew more about what’s growing here. Birches and maples, I recognize, but not much else. I wonder what it was they logged here? Most trees on the property are very small in diameter, and, I would guess, 30 to 40 years old.

There are lots of boggy patches. So, it seems there's plenty of water. The little cabin on the property is livable, but crude.

After wandering for a while, I can admit of just a trace of the sense of ownership – “this is my land!” But, indeed, we are only temporary caretakers.

Left the "estate" and checked out my new hometown of Worcester, filling up at the local mini-market (interestingly run by South Asians).

Returned to Montpelier, about ten minutes down the road, and went to the "Royal Orchid Thai" restaurant for dinner. Good food. And expensive, as most Thai restaurants are: including two beers, $30 in total!

Back in Waterbury, I felt like being around others, so I walked over to the "Alchemist". They were busy, the bar crowded with mostly 20- and 30-somethings. Ordered a beer. This one, a brown, was too hoppy (actually, all their beers are too hoppy for my tastes.)

Back at the house I watched a couple of films from Jeff's library: Jeremiah Johnson and Touching the Void. The former had been one of my favorites when it first showed in (I think) 1972. The latter is an amazing story. But because of the personalities involved - two "moving types" who don't express much emotion - it is difficult to empathize. They’re unable to let down their guard and so the viewer is kept at a distance. It's as much a study of psychology as of adventure.

Hanging with Matt in Waterbury


Research visit to Ben & Jerry's


In the 30s outside this morning, and not much warmer inside. I walked up to the local coffee shop, only to find they have gone out of business.

Once into gear, I spent a couple hours vacuuming the house. Seeing what it takes to keep a house this size is very discouraging. It looks like too much for Jeff, given the amount of time he spends on the road. He needs a housekeeper!

Even if I could afford such a house, I couldn't afford to maintain it.

Kellie called this morning to announce she’ll be ready to move October 11th, so it looks like I’ll stay until then.

Matt was off today, so we spent some time together. Went over to his place about 1:30 to see if he were among the living. Found him watching motorcycle racing. We went up to Stowe, for lunch at Huntington’s, in the former location of “Gracie’s”. A quiet and cozy downstairs (cellar) setting. Clam chowder and chicken Caesar for me, a burger for Matt. Pretty good food.



By the cemetery, "one more cigarette..."


Then I forced him to stop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Surrounded by seniors, I had an ice cream cone. Matt passed on my offer to buy him one, reminding me that they get it too often. (Waterbury property owners get a free case of ice cream each year.)

He came over to the house later and we talked about finances and budgets, 401k funds and savings.

Drew and Susan called from the road, en route to visit Alana, who's attending college in Southern California.

Jeff called earlier from Ottawa. He was having trouble linking to the internet via ethernet. I could suggest a few things to check, but it was difficult troubleshooting over the phone. We discussed taking a ride up to Canada with the bikes next week.


***

3:00 a.m. Wednesday

Just finished watching Muriel’s Wedding, the 1994 Australian film. I still enjoy it, though it’s starting to show its age. (I had tried to watch it about four times in the past couple days, but the interruptions are many around here!)

Got into a real music video binge lately, watching Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, The Band's The Last Waltz and Peter Gabriel’s Growing Up. I was surprised to see that Gabriel collaborated with Daniel Lanois for a number of years (including the “So” album, among others.)

The talent to create wonderful music has a way of inspiring awe. It’s one thing that makes me wish I could start over, and pursue a life in music.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Brew Burger


Jeff and Matt at our favorite local haunt, The Alchemist


Cold, breezy and overcast today. Winter here already? Do I have to re-think the idea of going further north? (I was considering exploration of the Maritimes again.)

Offered to mow the lawn. Jeff was preparing to leave for Ottawa on business.

He gave me instructions on using his big screen TV – four remotes. Four or five electronic units stacked on the living room shelves. It's a bit overwhelming.

Matt suggested we go to the Alchemist tonight. They open at 4:00. Since Ottawa’s only a four-hour drive, Jeff decided to stick around and have dinner with us.



A stroll through Jeff's Waterbury neighborhood


We walked over at 4:00 and got "the" window table. Tried three different kinds of french fries, and their excellent "Brew Burger".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Waterbury, Vermont, via Boston


Jeff and Kellie en route to lunch at Longhorn Steakhouse in Boston


Quite mild at my Connecticut campsite this morning. Foggy, sticky. (It has been some time since I've been under the "marine influence". I was awake at 7:00 and brewed a cup of coffee to have with my Tim Horton’s chocolate croissant and "Hampton Inn banana".

Random thoughts passed through my brain. "I have had 14 years that my father never had. I don’t want to live in a home as an invalid (from a stroke, or other affliction. I just want to sit down under a tree on some mountaintop."

"I don’t know shit. My 'career' was a just a 'big fakin’ it'." But I look at all the gear I have, the motorcycle, and the ability to travel, and am thankful for the effort it took to pay for all this in advance. Thanks to that labor, I can now be care-free...for a moment. But what next? Getting a job at 55 is going to be fun. "Yeah, right. Who's going to hire a 55-year-old?"

The highway was noisy last night, echoing down the valley. Slept poorly. Things quieted down later. Nature's sounds emerged. Black oaks dropping acorns with some impact. Crickets. Birds.

A 1-1/2 hour run into Boston. The weather clearing just a bit.

The "Mass Pike" (turnpike) ended and dumped me onto the city streets just a few blocks from niece Kellie’s house. I surprised her at 11:00 a.m. (As rehearsed, Jeff had told her he hadn’t heard from me.)

Coming from the opposite direction, he was (according to his GPS) due to arrive at 12:15. Kellie and I just sat and talked. I was at first a bit uncomfortable among her housemates.

Jeff arrived, and without wasting time, we were off to Longhorn Steakhouse. Kellie had been craving a steak. She had a four-hour "liberty" to enjoy with us.






Kellie had been craving a good steak. She found it at Longhorn


After taking care of the important stuff (flesh of cow), we took Kellie shopping: Marshall’s, Old Navy (the store was surprisingly "trashed and trashy") and Wal-Mart (the company I love to hate), which offered a better selection of her sizes. The Wal-Mart is in Quincy and, with considerable traffic, it took quite a while to negotiate the surface streets. This only added to the stress of having such limited time with Kellie.

I chipped in $40 for the lunch and another $40 for clothes for Kellie (haven't bought her anything in ages!)

For the three-hour ride to Waterbury, I loaded all my gear into Jeff’s Honda Pilot. In Southern Vermont, we stopped at a rest area that also houses a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It's a lavish structure with a model wastewater treatment plant and greenhouse. ("This kind of extravagance wouldn’t cut it in California.") Rain and a hard buffeting wind crossing the mountains south of Waterbury.

Reached Jeff's house, 65,088 miles on the bike, 5,788 miles traveled from Santa Rosa.

Checked in with my nephew Matt - he showed me around his apartment (right next door to Jeff!) We all took his dog "Blue" out for a walk around the State Hospital grounds.

Cold outside. I was chilled to the bone, and ready for sleep.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hopeville Pond State Park, Connecticut


The best damn pork chop sandwich ever!


A comfy rest for a change last night. Luxurious! Awoke at 7:30. For some reason, feeling achy and run-down. Maybe the body just trying to take advantage of the situation. The hotel's breakfast spread was pretty nice: eggs, sausage, bagel and coffee for me (with banana, apple, and a few individual half ‘n half containers to go.) On the news, "big weather" is sweeping across Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Tornado warnings in Arkansas (and someone said this isn’t "tornado season"!)

Took care of some business on the computer. Logged an accumulation of gas receipts, balanced the check book, paid the "Visa" bill. At 10:30, I called Drew and Susan, using "Skype". We had a good connection (which is often not the case via "Skype".) Offered them my apartment when they travel south to visit Alana early in October. Vacated the room precisely at 11:00. Windy and cloudy but still dry. The forecast called for scattered thunderstorms.


***

10:00 p.m.

Hopeville Pond State Park, Connecticut

Returned to this campground, and the same site I had over a year ago. Quite a bit damper this time around. It rained earlier, but the temperature is rather mild.

Just down the road, in Norwich, I found a "Tim Horton’s"! (I know, it shouldn't be regarded as a "religious experience".) Still, it was the first one I've seen this trip.

Riding after dark, growing a bit chilled and hungry, I thought maybe I’d have to break down and go to a "McDonald's" for some hot (okay, warm) food. The highway left the coast and turned inland to skirt around New Haven. I was running low on fuel as I-395 led off into a dark, and what seemed rural landscape. After a period of growing anxiety, I was relieved to see the glow of Norwich up ahead. Refueled (regular gas $2.489! What happened? Must be a "blue state”!) And just up the street, the "evil McDonald's". I was about to give in to hunger and desperation, when I caught sight of the "Tim Horton's". Saved! (According to an LED sign inside, they just opened their 300th store in the States.)

Over an hour earlier, near New Haven, I had stopped at the “U.S.S. Chowder Pot III” restaurant in Branford. It claimed the distinction “best seafood in the state”. I thought I was pretty lucky to have stumbled upon the place. Inside, it was jammed, with a 1-1/2 hour wait to be seated. But I was told I could get chowder and a drink in the lounge and that actually sounded just fine with me. Took a seat in the bar as a band set up. I noticed an older couple at a nearby table enjoying each other's company. I offered to take a picture of them with their camera. They were from Texas. We discovered we agree on something: "New Jersey sucks."

After ten or fifteen minutes during which the lounge servers never even acknowledged me, I got up and left. Failing to greet a customer soon after they arrive is a big mistake in my book. Even if you know you can't get to them right away, you should at least advise them of the situation.


***

After leaving Manassas this morning, I moved on to "Bob’s BMW" in Jessup, Maryland. Light traffic, good directions and easy connections, made it an easy ride. Still it took over an hour to cross the metro area to Jessup. Windy, weather now blowing in from the west. Warm, muggy, hazy and poor air quality.

"Bob’s" is a happening place. On Saturdays, service is first-come, first served. (They suggested getting there at 6:30, but I said, given that I was paying $100 for a motel, no way was I going to cut my stay in half. Dismounted the rear wheel and handed it to Bill Joshua. A technician got right to it. They appear to take the concept of "service" seriously.



Bill Joshua at Bob's BMW


Saturday is "first come, first served" at Bob's. Bill at first recommended I come in at 6:30 a.m. and join the service line-up. I wasn't about to check out of my motel that early, so he said they'd do their best to fit me in whenever I did show.

I arrived after noon, removed the rear wheel and handed it to him. Ten minutes later, I found the wheel standing next to my bike with a new tire mounted. Outstanding service!



As they said at Bob's BMW, I got my money's worth out of this one


Bill suggested I go have a pork sandwich and coffee while I wait. Outside, at his industrial-sized barbecue, I met Dave Welch. He does catering and frequently parks his rig at "Bob's" on Saturdays. Definitely the best pork chop sandwich I’ve ever had. He wants to buy a restaurant in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. "Exit 123 off of Interstate 80," he said “check it out.”



Dave Welch operates "Dave's Barbecue and Catering" out of Laurel, Maryland. This guy knows his food (and enjoys it too!) On Saturday's, he frequently sets up his barbecue outside Bob's BMW, catering to the crowd that shows up at this busy dealership.


Chatted with a fellow rider, "Luis" from Portugal. On display in Bob's motorcycle museum, I found a never-been-driven blue 1973 BMW R75/5, almost identical to the 1972 model I owned. It was my last motorcycle. (I "loved" that bike!)



In the Bob's BMW museum, a BMW very similar to my 1972 R75/5, the last motorcycle I owned before the R1200GS. This one was never operated.





Returned to find my wheel, with the new tire mounted, leaning against the bike. "Josh", one of the service techs, was studying the motorcycle. He asked if I've experienced any problems with it during my travels. As I went down the list, he commented on each item, noting which ones they’ve seen before, and which are new to him.



New "skin"!


Purchased front and rear brake pads, as spares, then took some photographs to remember Bob's, thanked the staff them for great service and Dave for the good food, and got back to "the ride".


***

On road again after 3:00. It seems my breakfast may have left me with a case of diarrhea. Fortunately, it hit me just as I reached one of those controlled-access service areas with relatively clean facilities.

Purchased the smallest Starbucks coffee available (a "tall"). As with many consumer offerings these days, the portion was too large, and I ended up pouring half of it out. Standing there, sipping my coffee, "Delaware!!!" I suddenly realized it was my second "visit" to this state. Jeff and I passed through this summer. That just leaves South Carolina and North Dakota as the only states I haven’t “visited” (okay, "touched" might be more accurate.)

I decided against detouring west of Philadelphia to drop in on the Grotzes once again. The last time, it was unannounced, and felt a bit like barging in. (And obviously I still haven't learned to announce my intentions in advance.)

New Jersey struck me as "the pits." My nose guided me: the smell of petroleum, unburned fuels, dirty gasoline, solvents, chemicals, artificial flavorings. It is longitudinally bisected by the New Jersey Turnpike. I consider turnpikes elitist, so I opted for the (toll-free) I-295 corridor. A big mistake. This highway sucks, big time. Heavily congested with trucks, poorly-maintained, rough pavement. Obviously intended for use by the "masses". Around Trenton, I was forced back over to the Turnpike for the final leg into New York City. Stopped at the tollbooth, but no one was there. The driver behind me impatiently honked. Guess I wasn't supposed to stop! So I pressed on. When I reached the end of the Turnpike, another bank of toll booths.

"Ticket?"

"Where do I get one?"

"You were supposed to take one when you got on."

"I didn't see any ticket machine."

I was charged the maximum toll, from Delaware to New York.

("I hate New Jersey.")

I stormed across the George Washington Bridge, across Harlem and the Bronx, and on into Connecticut. No thoughts this time to wander Manhattan, as I've done on previous occasions. A little too late in the day, and I hoped to yet find a campsite (pretty inconceivable as one crosses this metro area!)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Hampton Inn, Manassas, Virginia

Cold this morning! No frost, but probably in the upper 30s.

Up at 4:00 a.m. to "pee", then crawled back in the tent. The unusually still night evoked thoughts of “The Blair Witch Project”, a shockingly good ghost story set not so far from here. The occasional rustlings outside my tent became a bit disconcerting. I considered, "maybe I should just stay up, make an early break (and avoid the $17 fee)." I could tell the weather was quickly changing, perhaps for the worse. But I waited to long to decide. Fell back to sleep and didn't regain consciousness until 7:00, too late to execute that plan. Still I complain inwardly about the cost: it's expensive for what I derive as a motorcycle-tent-camper, compared to others who use the same facilities. One consolation, I guess, was the hot shower last night.

Just before waking, I had a strange dream about killing a small, threatening bear with my bare hands. (Must be the Daniel Boone/Davey Crockett Country influence!)

Pay or don’t pay? I could have easily slipped away without anyone even knowing I had been here, but decided to do the "right thing" (though I hardly consider it a black-and-white situation. Something that doesn't usually occur to me is that I could just self-pay a "discounted rate" - whatever seems appropriate - rather than the all-or-nothing approach. Of course, I can't recommend this method, since it's technically "illegal".)

Three Harley riders camped nearby last evening (for a single fee, no doubt!) A couple of them stopped briefly to talk on their way to and from the bath house.

***

Exiting the park, I learned it is 3 miles to the highway in one direction, 19 via the other road (on which I had come in last night.) It turns out, I was very close to town, not in the remote park I thought I was driving to last night. (This explains why the campground was so full.)

I took it easy this morning. I’m tiring of riding the mountains, and the rear tire is dangerously slick. I stop often to check it's condition. "I've got to do something about it NOW."

But the "weather" is coming on strong, or so it looked. Clouds rolling in out of the southwest. My path was northeast, so I hoped to out-run it.

The Appalachians are fascinating: a series of folds or numerous parallel ranges, unlike the Rockies or the Sierra Nevada, where the mountains steadily climb until they reach a distinct backbone, or divide.

Upon reaching Goshen, Virginia, I noticed the unmistakable smell of ozone - polluted air. ("Are you really sure you want to dive in?") Traffic on the backroads increased, suggesting I was getting into "commuter" territory. Three consecutive Virginia drivers hit their brakes as I passed them. It was annoying, and potentially dangerous. ("Is this what they teach drivers here?") I was taught to maintain speed while being overtaken.

Connected with northbound Interstate 81, thinking "I’ll just make a beeline up to Vermont." Oh...but there's the rear tire matter.

In Staunton, at the interchange of 81 and 64, I stopped at the “Cracker Barrel”. All their restaurants seem to be too cool – just as the floor plans are the same, "corporate" probably specifies the thermostat settings for all restaurants: 65 degrees.

About a 15-minute wait for a table. As I’m realizing, I’m traveling with the retirees these days. I'm practicing being one of them. Again, I find myself doing a survey of diners. 75% overweight or obese. Though the clientèle is fairly mixed, the worst cases are almost all women. What are we thinking? Who is going to take care of us as we succumb to the effects of our overindulgence?

Turned toward Washington on I-66. I needed a tire! In Front Royal, I called an information hotline (a useful community service!) and asked about motorcycle shops in town. I was directed to “Stonewall Cycle”. They don't stock any tires that would fit my bike, but they were kind enough to let me use their phone to call a couple other shops in the area: "Winchester Powersports" and "Valley Cycle". No luck. Well, I knew this wouldn't be a repeat of the South America tire fiasco. I finally called BMW’s customer service line.

I asked for BMW shops in the Washington, DC area. The agent referred me to three or four locations...in Washington State. ("Idiot!") I clarified my location again. "Washington, D.C. is on the East Coast."

The nearest BMW dealers were in Jessup, Maryland and two other locations (Roanoke and Richmond, I think) that would require that I turn around and go south again. It looked like, having delayed this long, I’d have to go through Washington (and the other cities on the Seaboard).

Returned to Manassas (where I had stayed before heading south to Mexico), and checked the price at a few motels.

After looking at the "Super 8" ($75) and "Best Western" ($90), the "Hampton Inn" (where I stayed previously) was worth the extra $25 ($100). Leveraged my "returning customer" status and (expired) AAA membership. Can't afford to do this often though.

Once settled, I called “Bob’s BMW” in Jessup and talked with service manager Bill Joshua. On Saturdays, their service department operates on a "first come, first served" basis; no appointments. He suggested I come in at 6:30 a.m. and get in line. “Well, that's unlikely." He told me to just get there as early as I could.

Got electronically connected and found a cryptic e-mail from Priscilla: “answer ASAP”.

"What’s up?"

She wrote back that Drew was worried. (I've been off the grid, up in the hills, for a while now. I think I had actually lost track of how long it had been.) E-mailed Drew to set him at ease.

At 8:00, the hotel served up the traditional milk and cookies. I "pigged out", having 4 cookies! (What was that about obesity in America?)(Actually, I was just trying to compensate for the $25 premium for staying at the Hampton.)

Spent hours posting photos to the blog, a slow and cumbersome process.

In the evening, "made the rounds" checking in with family. Tried calling Drew, but had to leave a message. Called Jeff and then Jessica. (Sergio answered and we talked a while. He wants to take me to Flowers Winery, where his brother-in-law works.) Jess sounds good. They’re both doing well in school, she tells me.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Watoga State Park, West Virginia


"Gearl" drives the tractor as his crew loads up the tobacco harvest. Gearl (pronounced Jer'-all) says they grow "Burley tobacco", which is air-cured. Down south, they grow "flue-cured" tobacco, dried using petroleum-fueled heating systems.


(First day of Autumn?)

Discovered too late that I camped in a handicapped spot.

Tara had suggested I check out "The Old Clark Inn" in Marlinton, West Virginia, just northwest of here, but when I stopped by, the proprietors were away, and a customer said he thought the room rates were $70-80 per night. Under normal circumstances, I'm sure it is worth it, but arriving at this late hour (about 7:00 p.m.), I felt I wouldn't be getting my money's worth. It’s a quaint bed and breakfast in a small, welcoming resort town which in winter caters to skiers.

I didn’t really want to come to this particular campground, but it looked like the nearest one. In the fading light, however, it turned into an aggravating 15-mile back-country ramble over roads strewn with gravel.

It's cold!


***

Back at Panther Creek State Park this morning:

This park featured a "soundscape" of planes, trains, automobiles, garbage trucks and even a nearby sheet metal manufacturing plant! Ah, the peace and solitude of nature.

Brewed a cup of coffee at my picnic table, then found myself collecting beer bottles that had been scattered in the woods surrounding the site.

Emerged from the campground to the "civilization" that is Morristown, Tennessee. This place really "rubbed me the wrong way". I tried to follow the signs to Interstate 81, which is 5 miles from town. As if a conspiracy, the signs led me 5 miles north, the entire stretch lined with fast-food, big-box and other chain stores, then to the right a few blocks, then 5 miles south again, where I finally was able to access I-81. Once on the interstate, I had to go 5 miles north to basically get back to where I had started.

In a two-mile stretch of U.S. 11E in Morristown, I didn’t count them, but there must have been 50 fast food restaurants. Obesity in America? Is it any wonder? This is corporate capitalist morality manifest. Which is to say there is none. "Sell them the rope to hang themselves." It’s a sale. That’s all that counts.

It’s the American nightmare. The dining experience has been reduced to a formula hatched in some boardroom by MBA marketeers. Dehumanized by business pros with their carefully engineered business models and formulated "products". It's little different than the Western Kansas feed lots. Fatten them up on this side of the system and pass them on through to the other side: managed health care, convalescence, and finally, the funeral goods and services industry.

Stopped at a Cracker Barrel near Kingsport, Tennessee. Christmas music playing in the gift shop, and holiday decorations already displayed for sale. The restaurant, with about 40 tables, was full. It's amazing how popular these restaurants are! I should invest. (After writing the previous paragraph, isn't this a bit hypocritical?)

Cold. Tomorrow I’ll need the electric vest, which is odd, since a few days ago I was "dying" from the heat.

Maybe it's obvious, but gas stations along interstates are often priced significantly higher than in nearby communities. Why? Are they merely taking advantage of motorists' laziness? Are costs to lease this land higher? Are there additional taxes they pay for this proximity?

Today, I've been following roads north, many of which Tara pointed out in my road atlas. (She had researched routes to and from Deal's Gap on motorcycleroads.com.) In Bristol, a crazy town straddling the Tennessee-Virginia border, the highway is routed around downtown, wandering residential neighborhoods. Left town on U.S. 421, which leads into a few miles of nice twisty road over a mountain, then down into the beautiful Shady Valley to route 91. 91 carried me north, following a river through forested valleys and parklands.

Turned east on U.S. 58, the “Daniel Boone Heritage Trail” then, at Volney, north on route 16, connecting with the Mt. Rogers Scenic Byway (which passes the 5,729-foot peak.) A most convoluted path! And, it seems the day was spent constantly climbing up and over ridges, descending into valleys, then repeating. Along the winding mountain roads, there was frequently gravel scattered in the curves. I've begun to anticipate it in all right-hand curves. Add to this, some slippery hot patch and I remained alert as possible. And there were lots of nice, tight turns, making it anything but boring.



North of Volney, Virginia mountains are cleared for Christmas tree farms. Millions of these little trees are being grown on numerous farms in the area.


Lots of Christmas tree farms out here! Wandered some dirt roads, trying to get a better vantage point. North of Volney, at the intersection of state highway 16 and route 658, near the "Hoffman's Store", I saw tobacco being harvested. I drove back and forth on the highway several times before turning into the farm to have a closer look and take some pictures. Holding up my camera, I asked the tractor operator "is it okay to take some pictures?"



This is "Dave". He and Gearl (his brother, I think) farm parcels that they lease. They sell to Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Yes, the tobacco they farm is for "cancer sticks" he jokes and, without a hint of irony, says "it's a dying business". Prices are falling, and the government has eliminated controls on how much is planted.

"Is this used for cigarettes and cigars?”

“Cancer sticks” Dave laughed.

“This here’s a dying business,” he said. Prices are falling and the government has removed limits on growth. They rent properties to grow the tobacco and sell to Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.



The harvesters are all from south of the border. As so many employers admit "they're good workers."


Surprisingly heavy truck traffic as I continued north on 16 until I once again intercepted Interstate 81. Continued north on the "two-lanes", making my way to Princeton, West Virginia. From there, I picked up state route 20 north, which soon paralleled the New River, then route 39 toward Marlinton. At Richwood, the "Highland Scenic Highway" begins. It's a 43-mile stretch of beautifully-maintained highway that cuts through the Monongahela National Forest, reaching about 4,500 feet in the Allegheny Highlands.

Usually I don't even remark about route numbers, but traveling in the East is such a different experience than what I'm accustomed to. There are just SO many towns here, and so many roads to connect them to one another. The density of cities, towns and villages here is much more reminiscent of Europe. I commented elsewhere that I suspect that towns in the east grew up at intervals that a person might have walked (or casually ridden on horseback or in a wagon) between meals: breakfast at one town, lunch at the next and dinner at the third.

Trailer homes are a very common sight in West Virginia, though they're often on beautiful acreage - not your imaginary picture of trailer park home.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Panther Creek State Park, Tennessee


The motorcycle resort at Deal's Gap, Tennessee, home of the famous highway named "The Tail of the Dragon".


This campground is less than an hour northeast of Knoxville. I had to finally tear myself away from Deal’s Gap and the new acquaintances I had met. I could just keep playing there forever. But the tires are seriously worn, and the air is growing chilled. If I’m going to make the Maritimes, it had better be soon.

Up between 7:00 and 7:30. Autumn weather has arrived! Crisp air this morning and ragged clouds hanging over the mountains. Actually shaved for the first time on this trip. (Trying to make a favorable impression?) Uncertain if I’d even see my friend. I think she was going somewhere to have tires installed today. Many riders who come to Deal's Gap make certain they have fresh tires, even having them installed at one of the local shops.)

Returned to Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort, where I took the opportunity to photograph the infamous "Tree of Shame", which is "decorated" with the debris of countless mishaps along "The Tail of the Dragon". Many are inscribed with messages from the unfortunate riders. Many comments are humorous. Some riders didn't survive to joke about it.



The famed "Tree of Shame" at Deal's Gap. A sobering reminder of the conceit "I've got it under control".


As I was putting the camera away, Tara arrived with Francois. She had stayed over with him and his girlfriend. I told her I had stuck around because I have to go to the Tellico Plains Bistro she had told me about. Maybe that wasn't the entire reason.



Tara and her friend Francois. He works at the motorcycle resort. (Just can't get enough of motorcycles!)



At Deal's Gap Resort. Photo by Tara O'Brien.


But I set off on my own for the Cherohala Skyway. A perfect day (I use the term often!), though pretty cold up at the higher elevations (over 5,000 feet). Wore fleece under the Aerostich and my winter gloves.

The Bistro was closed today, but their patio restaurant, The Cascades Grille (alongside the Tellico River) was open. A friendly staff consisting entirely of young women. Ordered the "Bratwurst and Wild Boar Sausage" plate. Very good, served with grilled bell peppers. Their use of plastic utensils, however, is ill-advised.

Returning over the Skyway, I came to a scenic turnout and a group of motorcyclists. It was Tara with three other riders. She invited me to join them. Though they were going in the opposite direction, I said "no problem".

She introduced me to Mike Parkinson of Windsor, Ontario, an accountant (controller) by trade, Cindy Bedell of Florida, who works at a prison (and rides an 1150GS) and Kevin Bansfield of Paris, Ontario, a guard at a women’s prison.



Riding buddies relaxing before another assault on the "Tail of the Dragon". Cindy Bedell of Florida (note the great riding boots), Mike Parkinson of Windsor, Ontario and Kevin Bansfield of Paris, Ontario. Cindy works at a Florida prison, and teaches motorcycle safety courses on weekends, Mike's a company controller when not biking and Kevin is a guard at a women's prison.


We rode over the top of the range and back down to Tellico Plains. Returned to The Cascades Grille.

“Hey, weren’t you already here?”

“That was my brother.”

I ordered a soda, while the others had lunch.

Tara led us back to "The Dragon" via highway 360, a winding rural farm road.



Tara gives the boys some pointers on riding "The Tail of the Dragon". I said farewell at this point and continued my ride north.




The Great Smoky Mountains southeast of Maryville, Tennessee. the mountains in this region reach over 6,600 feet.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deal's Gap and "The Tail of the Dragon"


The only tread on that rear tire is on the edges!


9:00 PM

Look Rock Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park (again)

A relay tower stands not far from the tent with it’s red flashing aero beacons. I'm sitting at a picnic table outside the campground office, where there is an electrical outlet and lighting!


***

Last night, due to coffee and the storm, there was little sleep. At 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. I was still looking out at the sky, waiting for some break. Earlier, it had cleared briefly, so I climbed out and removed the rain fly and opened things up to air out. Then the storm came on again with a vengeance.

Slept until 9:30. Thankfully, it was starting to clear. I don’t really like camping in the rain. The tent doesn’t stay dry inside. Moisture gets captured between the rainfly and tent and eventually soaks inside, and also comes up from underneath, despite the plastic tarp I keep under the tent.

(That's probably how that vegetation grows along highways out in Utah!)

Went over to take a “primitive bath” by the restrooms. I was the only camper here and still I found the bathhouse “closed for cleaning”. There was an outside faucet and I proceeded to strip down naked, splash myself with water, soap down and rinse off.

A few minutes later, just as I had pulled on my clothes, a pick-up truck arrived and three young women piled out and hurried into the restroom, chattering all the way. They took little notice of me. A few minutes earlier and we would all have been very embarrassed.

Washed clothes in my folding bucket and rigged a clothesline on which to hang them. The day turning sunny, warm and breezy, perfect, as I had hoped it might turn out.

Everything sufficiently dry, I was finally ready to move on at 1:30. I needed gas, so I headed into Maryville, following a sport bike the initial 11 miles of Parkway. I was keeping up with him, though I suspect he wasn’t pushing it that hard. He made it look so easy.

At the first gas station, I filled up, then asked if Maryville has a Cracker Barrel. It was pretty funny as the owners, apparently South Asian, and new to the area, tried their best to explain to this clueless traveler.

Found the Cracker Barrel on highway 129, across from Wal-Mart. I had a particularly good server. Went for the pancake breakfast: 3 pancakes "smothered" in blackberry sauce, two eggs, turkey sausage and coffee. Their prices seem quite reasonable. About the same as I would pay at a Denny’s for an equivalent meal (about $9.00 with tax). Is the quality better? I think so, but it’s also a different atmosphere, and that influences the "flavor". By the "decor", you’re led to believe it’s not merely a coffee shop. They try to convey a more upscale feel, but it really is not so different. ("I definitely need to do more research!" Thus I'm assured of more pancakes.)

Continuing my evaluation, Cracker Barrel restaurants appear to have a single floor plan: restaurant in the left half of the building, gift shop on the right. The front of the restaurant lined with Tennessee rocking chairs for sale. Dark interiors, brick-colored tile floors, slatted walls partitioning sections, a big fireplace in the dining room. (A vaguely club-like, or mountain lodge-like atmosphere.) Not very cheery.

The walls are "carefully cluttered" with Americana. I wondered if the items on the wall are merely replicas, but the cashier told me there’s a big warehouse in Western Tennessee where this memorabilia is all accumulated. The buyer actually goes out to estate sales in search of this stuff, she said. There are tags hanging off each knick-knack with a small bar code. It’s all inventoried and tracked.

The first Cracker Barrel store opened in Lebanon, Tennessee in 1969.


***

How do you find Deal’s Gap? Simply follow the motorcycles. From Maryville, the most direct path was clear. (And different than the way I had come into town.)



Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort


Rode up through "The Tail of the Dragon" once again and stopped at the primary gathering spot, Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort. While taking some photos, I caught sight of a woman riding in black leathers, a braided blond ponytail hanging from behind her helmet. I wondered if it was the same woman I saw yesterday. Went inside to look around. A pretty basic snack bar, and a gift shop full of t-shirts and other souvenirs. For me, nothing of interest. When I came out, the woman was seated outside. She was not the same person, but was fair, blond, blue-eyed. When I went over to my bike, she asked about my travels.



Tara O'Brien of Toronto, Ontario looking quite stylish in her leathers. It's her sixth visit to Deal's Gap. On my last day there, she led a group of us along some of the area's twisty roads.


She reminded me quite a bit of an old friend, Catherine, and said she was from Toronto (home of my last long-distance romance.) Too coincidental. (All my favorites lining up: Canadian, blond, blue-eyed, very pleasant). She wondered where I was staying. How long I’d be around, where I’m going. (I kept looking at her and thinking "how much like Catherine", one of the sweetest people I’ve known. Not fair to her, but it fascinated me.)

We talked for quite a while, until her friend, Francois joined her. ("Oh, well. Fantasies come and go.") Before leaving, she introduced herself: "Tara O’Brien of Toronto." She was riding a Yamaha R1 YZF. She has visited The Gap numerous times, coming down here specifically to sharpen her riding skills.

She wanted to take a picture of me with the bike, and I automatically asked to take her portrait as well.

Last night I was lamenting the absence of a female friend. Today, I received this unexpected little gift - a brief yet very enjoyable conversation with an attractive young lady. Life is funny that way.

Riding the "Tail of the Dragon" is a humbling experience. I was caught so many times misjudging a curve. The pros demonstrated how it’s done.



Except for the final photo below, all the "action" photos are by "Killboy" (see below)


On one pass, a pick-up hauling a trailer came around a curve hanging over the centerline, into my lane. I was already sweeping wide, and forced to quickly adjust, my new path took me off the right shoulder and into a small ditch. Rode a few yards through the trough then back onto the pavement, just fortunate the bike's momentum carried it through upright.





Made many passes up and down "The Dragon", scraping the center stand often and occasionally my toes, especially if I tried to shift in a left-hand turn. All the while aware that my rear tire had virtually no tread. (Actually, the centerline of the tire was bald, but I knew the sides still had tread, so I was actually more confident the greater the lean angle.)

Noticed photographers at a couple curves, apparently photographing everyone who passed. Late in the day, after eight or nine runs, I stopped to ask one pair of photographers whom they’re doing it for. “For you!” They have a website from which you can order your pictures. See Killboy.com. They take as many as 2,000 photos in a day, then post them to the site. I noticed the husband-wife team both using Canon 30D digital SLRs, a newer version of my camera.

“What speed do you use?” I asked, curious what it took to freeze the action.

“What do you mean?”

“How fast a shutter speed?”

“Well, that depends on the ASA, which of course you can adjust.”

(“You can?”) Embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how, I told them my camera was new. The husband showed me how it's done. When I later had a chance to check my camera, I discovered that it has been set at "ASA 100" (which is great for bright daylight scenes) probably since purchase. Consequently, I was trying to capture speeding motorcyclists at 1/60th of a second! And no wonder it was so difficult to capture pictures in low light, or when using a flash! (Note to self: always read owner's manuals, and make sure you understand them!)



The husband-wife team who created the "Killboy" site charges $5.00 a shot. It may sound like a lot, but they spend most of their days sitting by the roadside, snapping pictures of everyone who passes (and many, like me, who pass repeatedly.) Not the easiest way to make a living. (The only tread on that tire is on the edge!)



Riding "The Tail of the Dragon" (photo by yours truly)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Look Rock Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee


Vincent Yannayon, owner of Powdermill Hill Country Crafts. At one time, he manufactured furniture in an adjacent barn, but since decided to "downsize", let the crew go and focused on this curious store, which he can run by himself.


NOON TODAY

Elk River Coffee Company in Fayetteville, Tennessee

I've parked my tail in this little refuge, enjoying some coffee, listening to 1940s tunes and even the news (courtesy of XM Radio). (Funny, I had 1940s songs going through my head this morning – maybe I was picking up the same radio waves?) I'm all plugged in, charging both the computer and the camera, connected with wi-fi.

But the computer connection is too slow, and it's failing. I've been trying to keep ahead of a weather front that caught me this morning in a heavy downpour. So, I'll be leaving...



Powderhill Mill Country Crafts, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee



East of Lawrenceburg ("Home of Davy Crockett"), I came upon Powdermill Hill Country Crafts, a curious gift shop. It took three or four passes before I convinced myself to stop in. There I met a sweet fellow, Vincent Yannayon. Easy-going, laid back. “Things run at a different pace in California,” he said. His girlfriend is from there. The shop reminded me of a hill country Vidler’s, but with a much quirkier collection of…well, just about anything. Vincent used to manufacture furniture in an adjacent barn, but decided to “downsize” and let all the employees go. "I can run this place by myself.” I bought a few little items, including a bottle of Vincent's "Fire Roasted Habanero Hot Sauce."



Inside Powdermill Hill's gift shop





THIS EVENING

8:45 p.m. I'm my tent at this campground on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

No sooner had I erected the tent, when the rain started pouring down. A little lightning and thunder close by made it exciting. Cooked up some rice and beans (“Zatarain’s”– “A New Orleans Favorite since 1889”) I was having the hardest time just getting matches to work. That’s a problem.

$14.00 for this camp. $17.50 at David Crockett last night – a lot for a slab o’ concrete!


***

This afternoon, I jumped on the interstates briefly to get around Chattanooga. I-24 to I-75 north. After avoiding them across much of the country, what a rat race the interstates now seem. They’re really designed for trucking, for commerce. This metropolitan area has at least four Cracker Barrels! Very tempting.

I sense that business, and the economy is fairly good for Tennessee (as things go these days.) Several major plants were along my route today including Tyson, Frito-Lay and Nissan.

What is it about fireworks in this region? I passed at least two enormous warehouses: "Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks".

Crossed into Georgia momentarily. Does that count? It’s one state I haven’t really visited. I could go south from Deal’s Gap about 50 miles and touch South Carolina too. That would leave Delaware and North Dakota as the last states to visit! ("Touching states" isn't really the point, is it.)

Following the suggestion of a couple I met at the campground this morning, I approached Deal's Gap (home of the infamous "Tail of the Dragon") via the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains to U.S. 129 on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It's a wonderful drive, the broad and perfectly-paved skyway reaching 5,000 feet as it meanders over the Unicoi Mountains. Clouds and intermittent showers detracted a bit from the experience. Descending the eastern slopes, I passed the new Cherohala Motorcycle Resort, where forest was being slashed and burned, apparently for additional cabins.



The frontier spirit endures, as forests are slashed and burned at the Cherohala Motorcycle Resort, near Tellico Plains, Tennessee

At U.S. 129, I headed west, but it sure didn’t seem like any “Tail of the Dragon”. ("The Dragon" is famous for its "318 curves in 11 miles".) I reversed direction and soon came upon the Wheeler's 129 Performance motorcycle shop and stopped in to ask directions. They said "The Dragon" was indeed to the west, about 15 miles. Two riders chatted with me, one a woman having her Aprilia fitted with "new rubber" (she teaches at track days, she said) and a fellow riding a Harley Heritage Softail. He had questions about the GS. He hates the Harley. Says at 80 it feels like it’s going to blow up. According to Harley, they’re not made to cruise that fast. All about looks and sound, he guesses.

Went west on 129, past the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort with its gathering of motorcyclists, and then I found "it". It's an amazing stretch of road. Near-perfect pavement, but THOSE CURVES! It was humbling to have to work the turns and know that a better rider could probably go through (at least) twice as fast. The posted speed limit is 30, but does anyone comply?

Trucks are advised to find an alternate route. I’d hate to meet one here. It’s a dangerous road. Going into many curves, I found myself braking hard, evidence of my initial misjudgment. My rear tread is shot, so I shouldn’t be doing anything extreme, but the competitor in me wants to push it to the limit, "just for fun".

Came down out of the mountains and realized I’ll need gas before going back over, and I MUST go back! Began thinking about a taking a room at a motel for the night. Turned onto the Foothills Parkway toward Maryville, about thirty miles away. Stumbled onto this campground, which I hadn't even noticed on the map. Besides the host (who is in a trailer), I think I’m the only one crazy enough to be camping tonight.

After the rice and beans, I made a small cup of strong coffee (first time on the road – draping a coffee filter over cup and pouring water through.) Not a brilliant idea. I couldn’t sleep!

(Muggy in this tent, all sealed up as it is. I hope the weather clears later so I can open things up! It would be cool enough with some ventilation.)


2:00 AM.

Still awake. Watched the stars come out, then showers again as a cloud engulfed this mountaintop.

Fourteen days, fourteen different camps. Doesn’t lend itself to quiet reflection and introspection. Too busy attending to the daily drill of routine tasks. But this evening I reflected on my nine years at Robert Mondavi Winery. With some sadness, I noted that during that time, with the exception of one brief long-distance romance, I was never really involved in a relationship. My life was so wrapped up in the work, the professional ethics of my position, and the fact that virtually every woman I interacted with was either a co-worker or connected with a supplier, and thus "off-limits" from an ethical standpoint.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Natchez, Mississippi to Lawrenceburg, Tennessee via the Natchez Trace


Lendon Brown, cotton farmer


After crossing a broad reservoir on the Tennessee River, I was somewhere near the Alabama-Tennessee border at sunset, when I walked out to photograph a cotton field. A pick-up truck stopped along the Trace.

"Take some cotton!"

“Is this your field?”

“Yep”

I met Lendon Brown, who said he's been a cotton farmer since he was “a pea in the pod”. He owns 730 acres here that are “rotten”. The heat has shriveled his crop.



Cotton farmer Lendon Brown stands in his fields along The Natchez Trace. The crop has been damaged by excessive heat. The plants should stand twice as tall, he said.


He said California investors are coming in and buying up everything they can, offering $2,000 an acre for land like this, for which Lendon says he wouldn’t give $1,200.

"If they offer me $2,000..." He paused. It would be tempting.

Lendon says all his workers are from Mexico. "They're good workers, and they don't come to work Monday with a hangover like some of the local boys."

He wondered if I were in town for the “Trail of Tears Rally”. I told him I hadn’t heard of it.


11:00 PM

David Crockett State Park, Tennessee

The campground is just a short distance from Highway 64 – hardly the remote retreat I had anticipated. As it was last night, the tent is set up on a concrete slab. No complaints. It stays clean, and my air mattress provides enough cushioning. And, I’ve got my own picnic table, faucet and an electrical outlet, should I need them. I just hope this place settles down for the evening!


For dinner, cooked up a package of "Zatarain's" beans and rice with sausage. Lately it seems I've been living on “Combos”, (“the perfect hunger management snack” brought to us by M&M/Mars!) At the moment, they’ve replaced peanuts in my diet. I picked up the "Combos" and a 20 oz. soda at a nearby convenience store. 20 oz. is too much - I end up throwing a third of it away. But it’s the only size many stores offer, especially now that the vendors are furnishing custom plastic "cooler display systems" which prevent other products being displayed in the space.

Traveled 460 miles today, at a very mellow pace.


THIS MORNING

Began the day at Natchez State Park. It finally cooled off last night, but never to the point where I needed more than my cotton sleep sack.

While at the campground, I replaced the front brake pads, since the old ones were screeching so loudly. (62,500 miles. The old ones still had life in them, but perhaps they’re no longer flush with the disc?)

After I put the bike up on center stand, I found a pool of oil underneath and thought I had blown another seal. After inspecting, concluded I must have overfilled it, and the oil simply ran out the crankcase breather tube.

By the time I had everything packed up, around 9:30, I was already soaked in sweat, clothes sticky. Went up to have a shower before leaving the camp. Washed my t-shirt and underwear in the shower. Packed them on the outside to dry in the air (if that’s possible down here.) It’s so much like Central America, or the Yucatan. I want to get away from this Gulf of Mexico influence as quickly as possible. My camping neighbors said rain storms are expected today.

Had to go into Natchez however to begin my official trek along the Natchez Trace. Quiet on the roadways this Sunday morning. Followed signs to the Visitor’s Welcome Center near the Mississippi River. A beautiful complex with a staff eager to help. I asked one staffer what I should do if only spending an hour here. She told me to wander the downtown streets.

A couple of facts noted at at the center: Natchez has been part of New France, British West Florida, New Spain, the United States’ Mississippi Territory, Confederate States of America, and the USA. The Mississippi flows 3,184 miles from its source in Minnesota to the sea.



Looking north along the Mississippi at Natchez



Looking south along the Mississippi River at Natchez, Mississippi


Drove down to "Natchez Beneath the Cliffs", a touristy area of shops and restaurants. A couple of coffee shops were mentioned by the woman at the visitor's center. I found the Natchez Coffee Company. Not quite what I was looking for, I thought, but it would do. I chose the coffee described as "pleasant". It turned out to be very good. And a chocolate chunk cookie would give me all the chocolate I’d need for a couple days the owner told me.

When I asked where the coffee came from, she said “Seattle - it's 'Caffe d’Arte' coffee." The owners are from California (her husband is from the area originally.)

Outside “love bugs” are in the air everywhere, mating. "They come up from the south twice a year. But lately, it seems worse," she said.

The newspaper showed a big low pressure area sinking through the nation’s mid-section with heavy thunderstorms expected to reach this area tomorrow and storms beginning this afternoon. That set today's agenda: get out of here fast! I didn’t want to be stranded in the tropics. "Been there, done that. And didn't really enjoy it."

With temperatures hovering around 90 and humidity at 80%, I needed to find some drier, cooler air. Returned to the Trace and began my journey north toward Nashville, nearly 500 miles away. As I left Natchez, rain clouds were already moving in. I started to run into a shower every five or ten minutes. It actually felt rather refreshing. I was torn about making any stops at all. With the image of the "monster" storm system engraved in my brain, I imagined any delay could strand me.




The Natchez Trace Parkway parallels the original trail from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Nearly 500 miles in length, there are no billboards, no Wal-Marts, no fast food restaurants or gas stations and no 18-wheelers. (These can all be found by exiting the Parkway and driving to nearby towns.) It's truly remarkable to travel all day through forested and pastoral landscapes and be free of those "unsightly influences". (Of course, it helps to have a perfectly-maintained tarmac and comfortable vehicle.)




Part of the original Natchez Trace, "The Sunken Trace", a trail worn into a deep rut by heavy traffic during the early 1800s.

By the time I reached Jackson, the showers had stopped. There is a break in the Parkway here, and it's necessary to jump on Interstate 220 (an unpleasant shock after the solitude of the Natchez Trace), skirt Jackson, then pick up the Parkway again northeast of the city, where it runs along the shores of the Ross Burnett Reservoir.

The Trace is truly amazing: no advertising, no fast food franchises, no big rigs, no hotels, gas stations, condos, subdivisions, no country clubs or estates, no power or cable lines, cell phone towers, no street lights!

The speed limit is 50, but I usually found others driving faster, then paced them from some distance behind. In this way, I was able to drive at 70-75 mph much of the time. I saw a few police cars on the Parkway, but didn't experience the authoritarian presence I had been warned of.

I just can't get over it! I kept thinking of all the things I'm missing. No Family Dollar, Dollar General, K-Mart! Just forests and farmlands. “Boring” some may say. Enormously refreshing, I would say.

It was essential however that I leave the Parkway in Tupelo to refuel and pay homage to Elvis Presley. The tiny house that was his birthplace is now the focus of many a pilgrimage.



Elvis Presley's birthplace, Tupelo, Mississippi. From here to Graceland is only about 100 miles.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Natchez Trace State Park, Mississippi


In Alexandria, Louisiana, I hooked up with Scott Brown and his fiance Kacy Rhymes ride Scott's Suzuki DZ-650 "V-Strom" to school, about an hour's ride from Alexandria. The day after their December 16th wedding, they plan to leave for Costa Rica.


THIS MORNING


At the Arkansas campground, I used the hook-up spigot and my collapsible bucket to wash the bike, then went over to the bath house to shower and wash clothes in the sink. Rolled them up to strap on the bike behind me. Hopefully, they'd air-dry as I drove.

I'm still grumbling over yesterday's experience. I just don't get it. Across this nation, towns have jake brake ordinances and post warnings at their town limits. Yet Harleys, most of which can easily exceed any jake brake in decibel output, are okay? The insensitivity and the selfishness is infuriating. But, hey! It's just an expression of our freedom, right?  "Bullshit."

On the road at 10:30. Cloudy, and the air felt "steamy". Averaged 60 to 70 mph over beautiful roads. The Arkansas police are considerably more visible than police in any previous state. Entering the state through the Ozarks definitely gives a great first impression. Southern Arkansas, with its “managed” forest resources is not nearly so appealing.




A common sight along the roads of Southern Arkansas and Northern Louisiana: pine forests being cut for lumber. Just as in Washington state, Weyerhauser has created great "agricultural forests" in this region, mono-cropping where diversity once existed. This is near Camden, Arkansas.

I saw the headlines of the Camden News today: citing a depressed housing market and over-production, the Dearborn Lumber Company is closing Beardon Lumber, their local pine mill for 60 days. Coincidentally, another of today's headlines: Ford plans to close two more plants, axing 10,000 jobs.

Crossed to Louisiana, and came to Ruston where I stopped in at the Lincoln Parish Library, a huge modern building with an amazing array of hi-tech resources and facilities. Curiously, I couldn’t connect to the internet. I asked a librarian if their internet service provider is down? No one at the library knew how to check. From their pay phone, I called Scott. We agreed that I'd call again upon reaching the outskirts of Alexandria.

For a possible internet connection, the librarian directed me across the street to Crescent City Coffee, a popular shop with students. Here, I was easily able to connect, and enjoy coffee and a cinnamon roll! Very good.

Reached Alexandria at 5:45 and called Scott from the local K-Mart. Scott Brown and his fiancé Kacy Rhymes arrived soon after, riding his one-month-old Suzuki V-Strom DZ650.



I stopped in Alexandria, Louisiana to meet Scott Brown, a fellow motorcyclist I met through my blog. Scott is currently studying hospitality with hopes of starting an eco-tourism company in Costa Rica.


We went to Gator’s, a sports bar near his house. Scott and I shared some beer, and I munched some chicken nuggets. Scott and Kacy will be married in December and plan to honeymoon in Costa Rica. He's thinking about leading eco-tourism trips in Costa Rica.

They shared some stories about the unique region in which they live. I need to try the “boudin”, they said. It’s a local dish made with a pig intestine stuffed with savory rice and beans.

I also got a little Louisiana language lesson (i.e. Nachitoches is pronouunced "natch-ee-toe-chee" and Cloutierville is "cloo-chee-ville".)

Scott and Kacy warned me about the ride over to Natchez. Their are many deer along that corridor, and they felt I should be on my way before dark. Heeding their warning, I wished them farewell and asked that they keep in touch. I'll be following their adventures as well!

I was on alert during the 60- or 70-mile twilight ride to Natchez. Happily, I didn't meet any deer along the way. Crossed the Mississippi into the city. Noted this park as a good base for a return visit to explore the city tomorrow.

As I was trying to navigate the highways through town, rain showers caught me, and I quickly grew concerned about finding a campsite. Required the staff and clientèle of a gas station convenience store to point me in the right direction.

The rain was brief and I easily found this campground less than 10 miles northeast of Natchez.

350 miles today.