Saturday, December 17, 2005

Blue Belt

United Studios of Self DefenseToday was my first USSD headquarters test - I passed and now hold the rank of Blue belt.

At United Studios, all rank tests of blue and above for SoCal students are held at the school's HQ in Lake Forest CA, down in south Orange County. Master Taylor presides there, and it is serious business. In addition to the respect we give him for his rank, he has the sort of voice where if he snaps out an order, you can't help but jump to attention at the sound of it.

Headquarters tests are large. There were, I don't know, sixty? seventy? eighty? students there. There were quite a few more of the purple and blue belts (who are testing for blue and blue/green stripe, respectively) than the blue/green and green belts (who are testing for green and green/brown stripe.) As one of the low ranks in this crowd of students, my place is the back of the room, but of course I couldn't hide out there. The various masters who run portions of the test will unerringly spot slackers and then there's hell to pay ;)

Everyone worked out together for a while, then the greens and blue/greens split off to do their thing in the small room, we blues and purples kept the large room and now have room to do our forms. When I get called up to do my katas, I am in an unlucky position next to one of Master Taylor's fu dogs Boo is now a blue belt(impressive Chinese statuary) and he's rather protective of them. Oh great, now he's gonna be watching me extra-close and I'm gonna have to make sure the spear-hand poke in Kata 2 doesn't hit the statue and break my fingers, LOL. I make it through without damage to myself or the fu dog.

Five hours later, the test was over, and I had passed. I am now one step closer to my goal of black belt, a goal that is going to take a long long time to accomplish. I think I've gotten to the part where these tests are harder than two-a-days in football. Whew.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Winter Tournament

Much to my surprise, I won a trophy at the USSD tournament! I took 2nd place in Sr Women's Sparring, Purple Belt division.

I am pretty resigned that I'm never going to be a star student in karate - my mobility problems, my age, my lack of speed and general klutziness mean I'll always be sort of a plodder, and I measure excellence personally, not against others.

However, I got a little lucky at this tournament, and won an early match in my sparring division, and ended up with a pretty easy path into the finals. (Matchups are not exactly random, they try to pair you up by size in the early rounds.) Then, somehow all the work and drills and practice I've been doing has finally sank in, and I remembered to move my feet like my sensei always tells me (and tells me, and tells me, and tells me ...) I fnally lost the final match to a quick little thing, since I was tiring by the end of the rounds by now, and took second.

2nd place, how about that. It's a pretty damn cool trophy too :)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jetting the wee beastie

I got my scoot back in the middle of last week, she's running well & all fixed up from the balls-up job I made of my last wrenching attempt. So what do I do this weekend? Start taking her apart again ;)

Before you say I am just a glutton for punishment, I'll tell you how this got started. The kill switch had gone bad & needed to be replaced. I don't trust part of the electrical system that isn't behaving predictably. While it never died on me while running, sometimes it wouldn't start up without a bunch of jiggling, and it usually wouldn't stop the engine so I have been using the kickstand to kill it when I stop.

The shop would have charged me yet more labor (at $85/hr) to install it while they were doing all that other work. By now I was into them for so much I said, no thank you, just order the new handlebar switch for me & I'll install it myself.

So Saturday morning I drag out my tools, my manual, and the shiny new part, and get to work. It's fairly easy to replace the handlebar switch ... except that you need to remove the throttle cables. And in order to remove the throttle cables, you must first loosen them (a lot) at the "major adjustment" points, which is at the carburetor. And in order to reach THOSE, you must remove the entire airbox assembly & pretty much lay the carburetor bare. After that, installing the switch went easily.

Here I am, looking at the carburetor, thinking, "y'know, it's just a clamp & three hose connections to get this thing off of here." So I decide to remove the carburetor & go ahead and do the jetting.

I am pleased to report it went well. In case you did not know, you can take the carb off the engine, bring it in to the living room, and watch football on TV and drink iced tea while working on it. Cats do not like carburetors and will avoid them ... it's probably the smell. Loosening the tiny little screws that hold the vacuum chamber cover and the float cover without stripping them is a challenge. Also, no matter how well you think you've drained the float bowl, there's still gas in there & you WILL spill it on yourself (or possibly your living room table) eventually. This is why you are never supposed to smoke while working on a carburetor. I am glad I knew this in advance.

I installed the new needle, the new main jet, adjusted the pilot screw, and put everything back together successfully. Put the carb back on the bike (those three hose lines are a b**** to reinstall, Honda crams a lot of stuff in a very small space) and got the throttle cables adjusted right. Put the airbox back on, which is more tedious than complicated, since it breaks into five separate parts. Put the tank on, and a new clamp for the fuel line, the old one is just about shot. Put the seat back on, and I always have a hell of a time getting those screws to thread, it's the one really badly designed thing on the bike. Finally, pop the neck covers & the mirror back on, and she's good to go. It's well past dark by the time I finish all this, so I don't take her for a test ride, but she fires up, idles well, and sounds good when I crack open the throttle in the driveway.

Sunday morning I check the garage floor under her and there are no new leaks, so that's a good sign. Pre-ride check, fire her up, and take her on a nice long shakedown ride.

She runs perfectly! I'm now running a stock size main jet (125) with a Dynojet needle set on the third groove, and the pilot screw out 2-1/2 turns, for those who want details. There's a small but noticable difference in the throttle response from about 1/4 throttle up. She travels well at freeway speeds again (70-75mph for me.) She got up to 80mph without too much effort.

The test ride was one of those where I set off down the road and forgot to turn around for a few hours, so I ended up going 250 miles & getting back after dark again. Damn, it got cold, and I didn't bring my chaps because I didn't think I'd be out that late. ;)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

2005 Day 21

Start: Coleville CA (37574)
End: Sherman Oaks CA (37959)
Miles: 385
Total miles for trip: 6597

Day 21 - Coleville CA to Sherman Oaks CAWe are up darn early and out the door, hitting the road before 7 am. This is how the cliffs looked in the morning sun, as we got ready to leave. Spectacular.Hwy 395 climbs into the Sierra Mountains from here, and the morning is quite chilly as we ascend. The two major passes on this part of the road, Devil's Gate and Conway Summits, are at 7519 and 8138 feet, respectively. Brrr. We stop for gas at the town of Lee Vining CA, and the gas prices are so eye-poppingly jacked up that Jen takes Can you BELIEVE they are charging this much for gas??a picture of the sign. $3.19 for regular. Egads! Well, you just gotta pay the prices you find sometimes. We hang out at the station for a little while to warm up, drink a cup of hot chocolate, and enjoy the spectacular view. Lee Vining sits up on a plateau with a magnificent vista of Mono Lake.

Continuing on, we pass through more beautiful California mountain country, which is all national forestland until we get to Bishop. (The next two passes, Deadman and Sherwin Summits, are at 8041 and 7000 ft. Still brrr.) After that, it's just a long straight shot down the Owens Valley. We warm up, and click off the miles.

South of Ridgecrest CA, just as we're entering Red Rock Canyon State Park, we pass a guy in a loaded pickup and then move back into the right lane in front of him. He doesn't like this, so he floors it and passes us, pulling in front of me too close. Whadda jerk. I don't like the look of it, so I throttle back to put space between him and us, and seconds later I am glad I did. Sure enough, the load in the back shifts (there can be lots of crosswinds in this area) and I see a large Hefty bag filled with who-knows-what gracefully lift up, then catch the airstream and come flying out of the back of the truck straight as us. It hits the freeway and explodes, and suddenly Jen and I are playing dodge-'em with sneakers and clothing everywhere. Swerving practice does pay off, I'll assure you, and we both negotiate our way safely through the hazard. Just another day on the road, with drivers who don't realise the things they're doing are putting motorcyclist's lives in jeopardy. It's our reality, and we are always on the lookout for it.

That's the last of the adventurous moments, which is a fine thing when you're coming back home after a long trip. I drop Jen off in Acton and head on into the city, pulling into my driveway mid-afternoon. I spend ten minutes looking for my housekeys because I've forgotten which special pocket I stashed them in (saying to myself, 'now don't forget!') three weeks ago. It's good to be home. Ah, THERE are my keys!! LOL.

Friday, July 08, 2005

2005 Day 20

Start: Boise ID (37070)
End: Coleville CA (37574)
Miles: 504

Day 20 - Boise ID to Coleville CATime to head home! Jen and I saddle up and head out early, wanting to make good miles. We have about 900 miles back to Los Angeles, and I am looking to make at least half of that today.

Here's the thing. I really like traveling with Jen; she and I ride together well and we get along famously, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that we couldn't be more opposite in many many things. It's a boon to have a road pal who likes to ride the same speed you do, doesn't take too long or too short a time at gas stops, and who tells good stories at lunch and listens to your stories too :) That's my friend Jen. So, today's a long day with a good companion, headin' home. A pleasant set of circumstances!

Heading out of Boise, we pass the amusingly-named Chicken Dinner Road. Someone was telling us the story yesterday about how it got that name: back in the 1930's, a local (who wanted her poorly-maintained road improved) invited the governor to dinner. A chicken dinner, natch. And the governor returned the favor by getting the road paved the following week. Apparently, it's a true story.

Leaving the outskirts of Boise's satellite cities, we pick up US-95, which travels across the great empty spaces of eastern Oregon on the way to Nevada. There is a whole lotta nothing out here, and we mostly have the road to ourselves. I was warned that (a) Oregon's speed limit is 10 mph lower than Idaho's, and (b) the OR Hwy Patrol will be lying in wait for those who do not heed the posted limit. However, it's hard not to speed out here, with the wide-open empty highway rolling out in front of you. Sure enough, I am zipping along at 75 mph or more when I crest a small hill and spot the waiting cop car in its hidey-hole. Oh crap, he's got us dead to rights and we are SO nailed. However, by some small miracle he lets us pass, and I can hardly believe I don't see him in my rearview swinging onto the road and flipping on the lights. Throttle down, throttle down. I continually reminding myself to keep off the damn gas, at least until we get to Nevada.

Hwy 95 is the site of one other dramatic event, involving a motorcycle, and empty road and one small, stupid avian. I spot the stupid little bird hopping along the double yellow in front of me. Move it, I think, I don't want to run you over. Instead, the dumb thing just keeps hopping along the road. Hop, hop, hop. Mind you, this all happens in a second or two. The poor dumb thing realises far too late that perhaps it should fly away, and attempts to do so. It gets approximately three feet off the ground before coming into rapid and fatal contact with my remaining running lamp ... the thing wacks off my headlight, making a bigger splat that your average bug. Ai yi yi. The small critter kills always happen so fast that you can't do much about it, but they still make me feel bad. (Later, Jen tells me that she's never seen a bird explode QUITE that way before. She said it just disintegrated and all that was left was a bunch of feathers flying. Thus does my bike earn yet another new nickname: BirdStrike. Later still, when we stop for the night, when I unzip my duffle bag a single downy feather comes wafting out, causing Jen to fall into more fits of laughter. That was one DEAD birdie.)

We make it to Nevada without further incident, have lunch in Winnemuca NV, and spend the afternoon crossing the state. It's stark scenery for most of the way. We start approaching cities by late afternoon, and reach Reno around 4:00 pm, hitting rush-hour traffic. It stays that way pretty much through Carson City. We've made our 450 miles now and we start talking about where we want to stop for the night. Remember how I said Jen and I are opposites? Well, here's one thing where we are completely different: she prefers to have a destination and a hotel reservation at the end of the day, whereas I like to ride without a schedule, going until I don't feel like riding any more, and then find a place to stay. I've convinced her to try it my way on this trip. So, I decide that I'd like to get past the cities and traffic, and we both are feeling good to go a little farther, and there's still plenty of daylight left. I'll be on the lookout for hotels after we get a few more miles on the odo.

However, my no-schedule style comes back to bite me in the butt today. Pulling into hotels in Minden NV, and then in Gardnerville NV, no one has any vacancies. Apparently there is some major bike race in town and all the hotels are booked SOLID. There's nothing you can do but shrug and say, "Oh, well," but after the first couple of times it really starts to SUCK to put your helmet back on and head to the next town hoping for better luck. Now, we've gone all the way to Topaz Lake and I spot a brand spanking new Best Western with an empty parking lot - oh, they've gotta have a vacancy! Sure enough, they do ... their only available room is the honeymoon suite, at $175/night. Trust me, at this point we quite seriously considered taking it, but ultimately decide it's just a bit too pricey for us and we don't really want the teasing that would inevitably follow staying in the honeymoon suite, LOL. I say, "C'mon, just one more town. We'll find something."

Dusk at Meadowcliff Lodge, Coleville CAThe next spot is just over the border in Coleville CA, and I take a chance and pull into the lot of the Meadowcliff Lodge. This is a spectacular little old-style resort hotel nestled under a huge cliff on Hwy 395. What a beautiful setting. Might be OK pricewise, might be out of range, but now the sunlight is starting to run out and we are getting into mountains, where the long shadows might hide deer or other unpleasant road surprises. The room turns out to be $88 a night, a little more than I like to pay but certainly better than the honeymoon setup. We take it, settle in for the night, and have dinner at the restaurant on site, good home-cooking style. The extra miles today mean that much fewer tomorrow.

Next: Day Twenty-One

Thursday, July 07, 2005

2005 Day 19

Lowman ID and the Idaho State Penitentary
Miles: 147

Day 19 - Boise, Lowman, and Idaho City IDJen and I feel like riding a little more distance today, and make a jaunt up to Lowman ID. Overlook near Lowman IDState Rte 21 is a fine road through spectacular Idaho mountains, and we stop a couple of times to take in the views. The town of Lowman (and believe me, I'm being generous calling it that) is nothing but one rickety-looking outbuilding that may or may not have sold gas, and SERIOUSLY. We choose not to stop, 'cause it looked just a bit too weird. (Cue banjo music.) The happenin' main street of Idaho City IDInstead, we have lunch at Idaho City, a little former mining camp that survives as a historic tourist town. We stop at Diamond Lil's Steakhouse and Saloon, which turns out to have a pretty decent burger. Jen poses with Diamond LilThe friendly likeable waitress is offset by the drunken local guy who apparently does not posess the slightest ability to read body language and non-verbal cues, and cannot figure out on his own that the two biker chicks who just walked in are in fact NOT dying to talk to him. (I think the owner finally took him aside and told him to stop pestering us.) Lunch improves after that. :)

Oh, sure, I love dogs. But not nearly as much as Jen does.After lunch, there's a Lab lazing about on the sidewalk in front of our bikes, and Jen happily makes friends with him. She misses her three Labradors when she travels, and this dog is pleased to be today's stand-in. His name is Buddy, according to his tag.

To me, it looks like The Shawshank Redemption. Except, you know, it's in Idaho instead of Maine, and all that.On the way back, we stop and walk around the old Idaho State Penitentiary, which is actually pretty interesting. Jen's hubby just recently completed his training as a correctional officer and started working at a California facility a few weeks ago (which is why he's not on this trip.) She wants the joke look-at-me-I'm-behind-bars photos, My best Carol Merril impressionand we horse around in the Criminal Women's wing, and stuff like that. Built in 1870, the Old Pen is typical of prisons of that era, which equated security with massive blocks of stone for construction. The main building and yard are hulking granite walls, brooding at the base of the mountains.

We return to the hotel mid-afternoon and there's more parking lot chatting and checking out bikes. There are some really pretty customs and mods here - these women love their rides. :) We're standing under some shade trees and I point out to Jen, "Hey, those women over there are checking out your bike." She replies, "No, I think they're checking out yours." We wander over because I am now dying of curiosity. Approaching, I call out, "Hey, I'm just wondering, out of all the bikes in this parking lot, why are you looking at the VLX?" And the woman replies with a straight face, "Well, from a distance we thought it was a custom glitter paint job, but when we got close, we saw it was just the bug splats." Jen just about falls on the ground laughing, and immediately bestows a new nickname to my bike: GlitterBug.

Next: Day Twenty

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

2005 Day 18

In and around Boise ID
Miles: oh, about 40

Arriving at the Bogus Basin Ski Area above Boise IDSix of us take a short putt up to the Bogus Basin ski area above Boise, a nice little ride. However, today is mostly hanging out and chatting with the attendees of the WOW Ride-in. I do a little parking-lot wrenching on my bike, giving it a good once-over. In spite of the fact that it looks like hell, with headlamps falling off and whatnot and grimy from so many days on the road, the wee beastie is running well. Jen has taken to calling it the Alien Bike, due to the crazy cockeyed look of the missing headlight and the exposed wires.

Next: Day Nineteen

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

2005 Day 17

Start: Arco ID (36672)
End: Boise ID (36882)
Miles: 210

Day 17 - Arco ID to Boise IDToday is a short day. I take Hwy 20 across the stark and empty parts of Idaho. The Craters Of The Moon National Monument is well named, the black lava rocks appearing to support no living being, until you take a closer look. Only the two-lane ribbon of road divides the featureless hillocks and horizon in two.

Eventually I reach Interstate 84, and turn back northwest, and the empty spaces give way to small towns give way to city outskirts, and then I am in Boise, which is large enough to get lost in. I have no idea what's the address of the hotel, but remember it's close to the river. I had looked it up on a map before leaving home. Somehow that's enough to find it :)

I know hardly anyone here at the WOW Ride-In. I'm rooming with Jen (who shows up a few hours after I do) and Blue's here, so at least I'm not totally on my own, LOL. Blue graciously lets me stash my stuff in her room, and use her shower to clean up. There is nothing quite so satisfying as taking a nice hot shower & putting on clean clothes when you know you're going to be off the road for a little while.

Next: Day Eighteen

Monday, July 04, 2005

2005 Day 16

Start: Gardiner MT (36345)
End: Arco ID (36672)
Miles: 327

Day 16 - Gardiner MT to Arco IDI dress in full leathers again this morning, still pleasantly surprised at the northern chill in the air here. I guess I got used to how stifling the South is in summertime.

I re-enter Yellowstone, determined to explore the geothermals that I didn't have time to see yesterday. It is a perfect day for sightseeing. The weather is lovely, it's the Fourth of July, and I have a map, a good road, a full tank of gas, and one of the gems of America in front of me. Life does not get much better than this.

Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone NPFirst, I stop at the post office to drop off postcards for my family, earning them a genuine Yellowstone postmark. :) Then, the first big stop in the north part of the park is Mammoth Hot Springs, where I walk around for a while, admiring the spectacular colors and the sheer size! Steaming water cascades down the terraced cliffs, really an amazing sight. The air reeks of sulphur, and the yellows, blues and reds sparkle in the morning sun.

I head on down the road, stopping next at Roaring Mountain. Here, the entire side of a largish hill is covered with fumaroles and vents and steamholes, and there used to be so much geothermal activity here it gave the mountain its colorful name. It died off twenty or so years ago, when a lot of geysers changed their behavior patterns. Geologists suspect that some event happened deep underground that shifted stuff around in ways they do not yet understand. The cauldera lives, but Roaring Mountain no longer roars, just quietly steams. Water trickles out of numerous vents on the hillside and collects in a streamlet next to the road. I quickly dip my fingers in the water, wondering how hot it is ... it's not. All the heat has been given up to the atmosphere and it's now an icy mountain rivulet running at my feet. A park worker, picking up trash, glares at me ... guess I shouldn't be testing the waters like that! Tsk, tsk.

Heading south, I detour off the main road on Firehole Canyon Drive. This lovely little road travels a deep-cut gorge, following the river that's born near Old Faithful and drains the various geyser basins, flowing north. The river is reknowned for its trout fishing, and swimming holes are marked at some of the turnouts.

Crossing the Lower Geyser Basin, I see a park ranger frantically chasing after the tourists who are walking right up to the bison to get a good picture. Yep. People are that stupid.

Hot pool on Firehole Lake DriveAnother geothermal side road is Firehole Lake Drive, offering a nice drive around the Middle Geyser Basin and some up-close walks around very active vents. I stop at a wide place in the road right next to a small pool; it's amazing to walk right up to the jeweled edge and peer down into it. The picture I take does not do the deep reds and tourquoise justice. I dip my fingers in this pool as well ... this one is QUITE hot. Later, I stop in the main parking lot, and spend some time walking around the big geyser complex. The roar and sputter of the geysers is constant; what a noisy place! Geysers at Firehole Lake DriveAs I am walking back to my bike, a raven lands on my duffle bag and busily tries to get in, perhaps thinking I have something good to eat. Heh. I am too amused to yell at her. She gets some of the velcro open, but is stymied by the cargo net. Those birds are damn clever.

Yellowstone Nat'l Park - South EntranceI ride on, eventually exiting the park at the South Entrance, yet another lovely spot for a photo. The road leads me on through the Grand Tetons. The four great peaks stand amazing and jagged against the deep blue sky. It's a truly spectacular part of the country.

I head south through Jackson WY (or Jackson Hole WY depending on who you are listening to) which has an air of rich snootiness that reminds me of Santa Barbara. Heh. From there, I turn west & the road takes me through Idaho Falls. Hwy 20 crosses the Snake River right by the cascades that gives the city its name, then crosses I-15 and forges due west, and after that it is pretty much the MIDDLE OF FRIKKEN NOWHERE. But it's not empty. For miles and miles and miles and miles, a tall chain link fence stetches along the north side of the road, electified wire running along the top, marked intermittently with small plain placards stating GOVERNMENT PROPERTY - NO TRESPASSING and even more infrequently broken by large gates guarded by sentries in little air conditioned huts, set back from the road. I start to get seriously creeped out. It reminds me of nothing so much as the last few chapters of The Stand, where Trashcan Man goes into the desert and into the bowels of gov't nuclear facilites, bringing back a strange dark treat for his hero Randall Flagg. I halfway expect to see him come shambling forth, my life for you!!! and I am getting quite freaked out by my whole train of thought here. I pass a turnoff for Atomic City, and see a few signs telling me I am passing the Idaho National Labratory (formerly Idaho Energy Reseach Labratory.) Oh my god I AM in the middle of a government nuclear facility. Worse, I've been running on reserve for a while and I haven't seen any cars for a while, much less a gas station. Nothing to do but keep going & hope to make the next town. The sun is lowering, but the wind is not too bad here.

USS HawkbillThe next town, which is Arco ID, finally hoves into view as I am getting fairly worried about my gas situation. I fill it, all's well again. This seems like a good stopping point for the night, so I cruise down main street (still Hwy 20) looking for likely lodging. And ... whaaa? There is a submarine conning tower in the middle of town. Now that's just ODD. Across the street from the submarine, there's a cute little mom & pop motel. It looks nice and neat, so I check it out. It's more than suitable, it's a score! Good friendly people, a decent room at a great price, and LAUNDRY FACILITIES! I'm happy as a pig in mud! (If you ever find yourself needing a room in Arco, go to the DK Motel, I recommend it!)

The young lady running the hotel is friendly and chatty. After I get settled in, I go back to the front desk to ask her for quarters for the washing machine (she helpfully gives me some laundry soap as well) and I ask her, what's the happs around here on the 4th? And by the way, what's up with the submarine? She tells me that the 4th isn't the big deal in Arco ... their big summertime thing is "Atomic Days" later in July. Arco is famed for being the very first city in the US that had electricity entirely supplied by nuclear power (back on July 17th, 1955, for about five minutes. Hey, a first is a first. LOL) The conning tower is from a decommisioned nuclear sub. She doesn't know much more about it, but tells me there's a display over there, go check it out. (I do walk across the street later, and read the flyers posted under glass, telling me about the USS Hawkbill, decommissioned in 2003.) For the 4th of July festivities, they'll be shooting off fireworks at the high school, and she says that they sit out on the front lawn of the hotel to watch 'em. She invites me to join them.

And I do. As the sun goes down, a collection of nice folks drifts onto the lawn: a couple from Utah, young newlyweds from British Columbia, the hotel family (the chatty front desk woman, her sister, her sister's husband, and their young son) and me. The high school sits under tall cliffs (called "Numbers Hill" because each high school class paints their graduation year on it), and their bowl shape enhances the boom of the big charges until it sounds like old artillery thunder! We ooh and ahh, happily chat into the night, and applaud the final orgy of fireworks that lights up the sky. Best 4th I've had in a while!!

Next: Day Seventeen

Sunday, July 03, 2005

2005 Day 15

Start: Gillette WY (35916)
End: Gardiner MT (36345)
Miles: 429

Day 15 - Gillette WY to Gardiner MTI wake, dress, and get ready to hit the road. The young man at the hotel desk tells me the winds were gusting up to 60 mph last night. "Well, yeah," he allows when I ask him, "it's always windy here, but that was pretty bad yesterday." I am glad that I stopped when I did.

It's a nice morning today, however, and I'm soon rolling into Buffalo and looking for a gas station. Brr! It's actually cold! This is the first time I have been chilly on this entire trip, LOL, up 'til today it's been sweltering heat and humidity. Here, the air is bright clean and crisp, and I am only at the foothills of serious mountains, and the Tetons are ahead of me today. I break out the chaps (I had actually started to wonder if I was silly for bringing them on this trip, but at last I have a chance to don 'em) and get myself a nice big cup of coffee. Ahh, that's so much better. I study the map, examining two roads that look equally good on paper, and finally give up trying to divine the better route and ask the lady at Chevron. Should I take 14 or 16? Swing north, or south? Which is better? She tells me 14 is closed, which makes me chuckle. Well, that makes the decision pretty easy.

Leaving I-90, I travel west on a good highway through lovely, lonely country. Hwy 16 climbs rapidly and it gets colder fast. Having lost my heavy gloves on the first day of the trip, I make do as best I can ... I put on a pair of latex gloves under my lightweight leather gauntlets, which actually helps make the chill a bit less biting. Climbing. More climbing. Summer flowers dot mountain meadows around me, looking very scenic and alpine. Finally, a pullout and a sign announce I have reached Powder River Pass, at an elevation of 9665 feet. Brrr! No wonder I am freezing! The road is equally scenic on the descent to the town of Ten Sleep, and I am happy to start warming up again.

I gas again in Greybull, and get in a gas-pump chat with a couple riding two-up. She asks me, "Are you going to the rodeo?" Me: "Ummm, what rodeo?" Heh, I can be so clueless. Apparently I am riding straight toward the greatest rodeo in the U.S. of A., the Cody Stampede Rodeo. It is THE happening in Wyoming and I'm gonna pass right through town! This is so cool. I am reminded again why I love to travel this way, encountering happy unplanned joys along the road. The Rodeo is roaring for the 4th of July holiday long weekend; in fact, the big parade will be held today on the 3rd, in order to fall on Sunday.

Glorious indeed is Cody, "The Rodeo Capital of the World." The parade has just ended an hour or two previously, so the main street is open to traffic again but the sidewalks are still busy with families strolling along. Buildings are strewn with bunting; red, white, blue everywhere the eye turns. It's the sweet part of Americana & it's making me smile. The big rodeo arena is on my right as I pass through the west end of town. People are starting to gather and they'll be starting up in a while, looks like. I am glad I came through here, especially today. Sometimes I just get lucky like that.

Now, after Cody, I am treated to the most magnificent road I may have ever seen. Breathtakingly beautiful mountains and gorges surround me on my way through the Shoshone Nation Forest up to the East Entrance of Yellowstone. Oh, wonderful, wonderful! After the entrance, it's a perfectly wretched five miles to Lake Elenor, a treacherous mess of gravel, mud and single lane. How quickly conditions can change, LOL. They are repairing the roadway here and there is no way around, so I can do nothing but grit my teeth and ride it out. The cars that are stuck behind me (I must travel more slowly than they can in these conditions) can just kiss my big white happy butt. I breathe a sigh of relief when I reach the end of the construction zone, and pull off for a little while to take in the scenery. Welcome to Yellowstone, our first national park.

... almost ...
... there it goes!!
Old Faithful, July 2005
I stop at the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, pretty much in the dead center of the park. I browse the visitor center, buy some postcards, and have my photo taken with some Buddhist monks in the parking lot. Their interpreter shyly asks if one of the monks can stand next to me while he snaps the picture, and I readily agree ... but almost commit a great faux pas when I step too close and make as if to put my arm around him. He shies away and even though he has no English, makes it perfectly clear that it's, ummm, not cool. I apologize, and we take the photo standing about three feet apart. Then, I bow to him and apologize again, and he bows and smiles, and demonstrates that he does have one word of English after all, "OK." I'm not entirely sure what happened there (I think maybe they are not allowed to touch women?) but it seemed to turn out all right in the end.

I ride the park, swinging south around the lake, and stop at Old Faithful. The next eruption won't be for forty minutes or so, but the crowd is slowly trickling in to wait for it. It's easy to spot the women heading to the WOW event in Boise. There are loads of women motorcyclists in the crowd. I hang with a group from Sacramento, chatting and making friends. Old Faithful blows. We all cheer.

An Amazon visits Old FaithfulI head north thru the park, just meandering. The critters are enormous! Buffalo, deer, a bear across the river ... any animal sighting causes a huge traffic tie-up, especially if they are close to the road. Good heavens, I grow to hate these animal-jams. The cagers drive like idiots (even worse than usual.) I eventually run out of time, and I haven't even stopped at the hot-water springs and geysers, and it's getting late. Dusk around here is pretty nerve-wracking, and I am even more watchful than usual as I ride out via the North Entrance. Dusk = Critter Time, and there are plenty of them here and they're likely to be on the road. I drop down into the town of Gardiner and get a room for the night so I can ride the park again tomorrow, just too much to see in one day.

They SERIOUSLY roll up the sidewalks after 8:00 pm in Gardiner MT. By the time I went looking for food, the only place open was the bar, and I content myself with noshies from the gas station. Hmm.

Next: Day Sixteen

Saturday, July 02, 2005

2005 Day 14

Start: Wall SD (35531)
End: Gillette WY (35916)
Miles: 385

Day 14 - Wall SD to Gillette WY, with a few detoursA storm blew through South Dakota last night, mostly gusty wind and a little rain, but I'd stashed the wee beastie snug and secure under her cover. I peel it off and fold it back neatly into its place in the saddlebags, thinking it's nice to have a dry seat after a rainstorm. :)

I am near one of the most spectacular areas of the country, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and I intend to take full advantage of it today. I pack up and get out of the parking lot early, and backtrack a little ways on I-90 so I can enter Badlands Nat'l Park from the east entrance. (This way, I can ride through the park with the sun at my back, instead of squinting the whole way.) The air is still cool, almost enough to think about breaking out my chaps, but I know it will warm up soon and turn into another lovely summer day.

I take the 31-mile scenic loop road through Badlands and it's a spectacular ride. The park is a combination of preserved grassland and canyons carved by wind and rain and eons. The earth's colors glow softly in the morning sun, the road dips in and out of the landscape, The Badlandsand I am awed by the place. This was once the great hunting grounds of the Lakota, and the scenery has been made famous by "Dances With Wolves." Words simply cannot do it justice. Go see it. I encounter no bison on the road today, for which I am thankful. I hear that they can be nasty-tempered and do not particularly like motorcycles. The loop road eventually puts me back in Wall, and I pick up the interstate heading west.

Approaching Rapid City, I see billboards, not only for a Harley-Davidson dealership, but for a Honda-Suzuki-Yamaha outlet as well. I start juggling plans in my head; it would be a good thing to take advantage of parts and repairs while they're available, because there's not a whole lot between here and Boise, my next big stop. Mainly I need a new rear tire. (It's the same one I had put on in Virginia last summer; that's how long they last.) The dwindling tread has been making me a wee bit nervous for the last few days, and I was hoping to nurse it to Idaho, and it seems like less and less of a good idea to do so. I find my way to Rice Honda (heh) and pull in to the service bay, which is crowded. Not a good sign, even though it's what I expected. The guy with the clipboard tells me they just had an appointment cancelled for 2:00 pm and pencils my name in that slot. OK, I have four hours to kill. See ya in a while, guys!

I head south on US-16, into the Black Hills and the complex of roads around Mt Rushmore. It is the 2nd of July, a holiday weekend, high summer and fine weather, and the roads are crowded with RVs and families and tourists all doing the See The Greatness Of America crawl. I don't mind -- I am doing the exact same thing, and I haven't yet run into any rude or clueless drivers, and everyone is smiling and happy. There are many, many, many motorcycles on these fine roads. The machine hums happily up the mountain, and the air cools as I gain altitude. As I come to Mt Rushmore, traffic slows to a crawl. There is a long line to get into the sole parking area, and it costs $15 to any vehicle to get in, whether it's a car or a motorcycle. I pass.Mt Rushmore, profile view of George Washington Instead, I pull over at the first (non-concession) area where I can take a photo, a place called the Profile View. Here, I get into a conversation with a Texan mother and her pre-teen son (who is painfully shy in that young-boy way, but likes my motorcycle), a couple of Swiss tourists, and an older gentleman from Pittsburgh PA. Everyone is indeed in a happy holiday mood.

After seeing Mr Borglum's carved heads of dead white guys, I wander further south in the Black Hills, and see the Crazy Horse monument under construction, which is still a century away from completion. It doesn't look like much yet. Might be cool to go see it in twenty years to see if it looks any different. I keep wandering, rolling into the town of Custer, looking for a likely place to stop for lunch. They're having their Independence Day festivities: one street is closed for a downtown block party (this is a significant fraction of the entire Custer metroplex, btw) and there are kids with their faces painted and people in costume and burgers and dogs on the grill and balloons and bunting everywhere. Small-town Fourth of July festivities are their own special, sweet phenomenon. I get a dog and a soda, and enjoy them from a good shady people-watching spot. A handsome English gentleman shares my bench and tells me stories of a motorcycle he owned when he was in his twenties. He is utterly charming and entertaining, and I think that he is the sort of guy my mom would completely swoon over. This makes me laugh. I ask him if he's from the north of England, because his accent sounds like Manchester to me. He tells me I'm close, that he's originally from a town called Chadderton. Nice guy.

As I'm gearing up to hit the road again, I notice a four-year-old boy staring at me, his eyes round with wonderment. I try my standard line that I use with most four-year-old boys, saying, "Do you like motorcycles?" He remains mute, but his mom rescues him, saying, "He likes the Power Rangers." I must look confused at this point, because she continues, "I think he thinks you look like the Yellow Ranger in that jacket." Ohhhh. And here I was thinking I looked like a tough biker, LOL. Laughing at having been taken down a notch by a toddler, I ride off.

The road back to Rapid City takes me through Hill City, another small town with a bustling downtown block party, but this one features fewer cowboys and more Indians. Specifically, it appears that a Native American powwow is going on, and I see lots and lots of folks walking the streets wearing magnificent native clothing ... feathered headdresses, beaded tunics, all colorful and splendid. Somehow it has a whiff of authenticity; these clothes aren't "costumes" worn for tourists, or at least I hope it's so. I drive past an open area, a park/plaza set up with tenting, which seems to be the center of the powwow. Well, cool. Wish I could stay and watch for a while, but it's time to get back and get new rubber for the wee beastie.

When the guy with the clipboard comes out to write down my information, he doesn't say anything at the California plate on the scoot (boring blue-on-white) but he does remark when he writes down the odometer reading, "Whoo, you put some miles on this thing, doncha?" Heh. The California plate is your first clue, dude. They only have the stock Dunlop tire for the VLX; it'll do. I'm overdue for an oil change as well, so I have them put in fresh oil and filter while they're at it. It takes them a little time to do all this, which I spend making a few phone calls. By the time they have everything ready, it's after three o-clock. I see thunderheads to the west, and contemplate how far I want to go in potentially foul weather, deciding to head into the dark clouds and make some miles. I made up half a day yesterday, but have lost time today.

The weather turns out to be no big deal; I get rained on going through one squall line and I've emerged into sunshine on the other side of the storm before many miles pass. The western part of South Dakota is truly lovely. The towns here are Sturgis, Deadwood, Whitewood, Spearfish. I of course have to stop for gas in Sturgis, just to say I did it. It is weeks before the annual bacchanalia of Bikefest, and it looks like any other small town as I drive through it. I spot some of the famous taverns - the Knuckle, the Broken Spoke. What a zoo this place must be in August. Hundreds of thousands of bikers, all stuffed into this small town, looking for a high time ... for some, it's the biggest event of the year. But I dislike the mega-rallies and generally avoid them.

Passing into Wyoming, I make a spur-of-the-moment decision to take the long road in to Devil's Tower, and get off the interstate at Hwy 111. As I am descending the off-ramp, another piece of my crappy lightbar decides to break. The welded stem that holds the light itself onto the mounting hardware gives way, and my left driving light does a slow nosedive forward ... plop! ... and hangs there, dangling by its wire. I just look at it and laugh, and pull over at the bottom of the offramp. Stupid thing. I disconnect it and take all the pieces off that side, stowing them in the bottom of my saddlebags, and find a little electric tape to tie off the now-useless but still live wire.

I like the road through here, except for the one curve I came around to find myself face-to-face with an ENORMOUS wild turkey, right in the middle of my lane. Luckily, I wasn't going too fast. I had no idea those birds were so huge.Devil's Tower, from Hwy 24 The highway takes me up and over to the town of Hulett, and then comes at Devil's Tower from the north. It stands there, weird and lonesome, in the middle of nowhere. Strangely, I don't think of "Close Encounters" when I look at it. Instead, I remember the Native American origin legend, which I read somewhere ... the Tower was a great tree onto which children climbed to escape a bear. The deep grooves on the side of the rock were created by the bear's clawing and scoring of the tree trunk while trying to get the children on top. The children were eventually borne into the sky and became the stars of the Pleiades.

I've been skirting a storm for a while now. The sky is dark and wicked-looking to the north, clear and sunny to the south, and the line of demarcation is as straight and sharp as if someone had drawn it with a ruler, and I seem to be directly under this line of demarcation and can't get away from it! I get back to I-90 at a town called Moorcroft, where I stop for gas and a soda. I'm standing there drinking it, and something catches my eye moving in the empty lot next to the gas station. It's not a deer, it's an ANTELOPE. Are there enough of them around here that they hang out at the edge of town? It's been quite a day for wildlife, I guess. I'm thinking that I have enough daylight left to get to the town of Buffalo WY. Suddenly the wind comes up. Seriously, it's like someone flipped a switch, and it goes from still to swirling choking dust devils in no time at all. I chuck the remains of the soda and hop on the scoot, heading westbound on the interstate.

It's a mistake. I should have stayed in Moorcroft (I think I could have gotten a room there) because this wind is AWFUL to ride in. It's pushing me all over the road, I have the bike heeled over a good ways to the right (the only good thing about this wind is it's pretty steady) and it's biting cold, the gusts feel like they're coming straight from the North Pole. Jeeeez. Nothing to do now but get myself to the next place I see that I can stop for the night. Unfortunately it's thirty miles before I spot a sign for a motel, and I pull into a Choice Hotel in Gillette WY and say oofdah, that's enough of THAT. I'll try to pick up a few more miles tomorrow.

Next: Day Fifteen

Friday, July 01, 2005

2005 Day 13

Start: Warrensburg MO (34807)
End: Wall SD (35531)
Miles: 724(!)

Day 13 - Warrensburg MO to Wall SDBack on the road!!

I say my goodbyes to my family; it'll be awhile until the next time I see my sister (jeez, I am so not used to that.) I head out through Kansas City, stopping near the airport for gas, and strike out north. New ground! I am traveling into the great northern prairie states, on I-29, and it's a fine, fine morning.

Oh, I know. I said I wasn't going to travel on interstates unless I had to. What am I doing on I-29? Well, it turns out to be a pretty decent road. There are trucks, but not as nasty as I-57 the other day, or I-5 which I'm used to. Traffic moves well, and remains Friday-morning light. Yesterday's storm has set me back a day, so might as well make some miles while I can.

The highway roughly follows along the Missouri River, staying on the east side. Soon I am in Iowa, looking across the water to Nebraska. Wow, it sure is pretty along here, in a wide-open sort of way. Long ridges, drifting along the horizon, break the great flat sweep of the country. Sometimes the road comes close to these features. I get a very good look at the cliffs that give Council Bluffs their name, gently looming up on my right where I-80, a major east-west route, crosses the highway. I wish I had a little time to explore around here, but that'll have to wait for some other day, some other trip. I keep pressing north.

I finally get tired of the interstate, and cross the river into Nebraska, when I am a few miles short of Sioux City. US-20 takes me to Nebraska SR-12, and now the road follows along the Missouri River valley as it makes its great bend to the west. I'm on the south side of the river, and road markers tell me I am following the Lewis and Clark Trail. Oh how cool. The country has become truly magnificent; I am passing through gently rolling land that offers grand sweeping vistas of the river and endless grasslands. Again, I wonder why I love the prairie so much. There is something so ... American ... about it, I can't help but think of hope and endless possibilities looking at it. There should be Aaron Copeland music. Instead there is only bright sunshine and miles of road and endless cropland and the song of engine and wind, which is just as infinitely satisfying. It is a wonderful day to be alive.

I gas up in a small Nebraska town called Crofton. I always like getting gas at these single-pump stations in small towns, with their dusty driveways and mechanics wiping hands on shoprags and the entire relaxed feel of being off the main road. This one happens to be a Sinclair Oil station. The price is $2.259 per gallon, which has been pretty average for this trip.

I stay westbound on Nebraska SR-12 for a while longer. I've found my way into pretty remote country, I think, there are few outbuildings and even fewer farms, only miles and miles of fields. I've passed out of corn country; I think this is all wheat, or some other shortgrass crop. The best thing about being off the main highway is that you can smell the prairie. It smells faintly of baking bread, and of wildflowers, and of sunshine. It is heady and intoxicating and I am entirely enchanted by this place. I smile my way across the gentle rolls of the land. Finally, I turn back north and cross into South Dakota at a little town called Bonesteel. Why the heck would a place be called Bonesteel, I wondered when I was looking at my map earlier, and rolling into town, I spy a plaque and pull over to read it, and lo and behold find the answer to my question. (There was a Joseph Bonesteel who founded the town, and unscrupulous land developers waaay oversold land in the area, until the town of Bonesteel found itself crowded with far too many "undesirables" and the powers-that-be essentially rounded them up and ran them out of town, causing a near-riot, an event that is remembered as The Battle Of Bonesteel. The population is currently 297 souls, a far cry from the 30,000+ who once lived there.)

Now I'm traveling west along US-18, and still thoroughly enjoying myself. I have covered a LOT of miles today, but just don't feel like stopping. The day is perfect, so may as well keep riding. I'd forgotten how long the days are, this far north and this close to midsummer, and my sense of time is all screwed up, and I really don't care. This is the reason I don't wear a watch when I am on the road. Time becomes meaningless; all that's important is if you want to stay in the saddle, or you want to stand and stretch for a bit, or if you need to stop and sleep. I have light and I have good weather. I feel good. I know if I keep heading north, I will eventually hit I-90. What else matters?

I eventually do reach I-90, near the town of Murdo, and turn once again into the now-lowering sun. Back on the interstate, I am seeing families on vacation, which reminds me that it's the start of the 4th of July holiday weekend. There are lots of kids in backseats to wave at, which always tickles me.

The famous Ice Water fountain at Wall Drug, SDThe quintessential Roadside American Weirdness town of Wall, SD is within striking distance so I decide that's where I'll stop for the night. I pull in a little before the sun goes down, locate the world's smallest hotel room for a pretty cheap price (seriously, a twin bed barely fits in the room, but who cares, I just need a clean place to sleep) and after I clean up, I walk over to Wall Drug and the town's main drag, to get some dinner and wander around the tourist shops and buy some tschokesCome see the JACKLOPE at Wall Drug! and drink in the experience of the Mecca of American road trips. If you've never been to Wall SD, you must go at least once in your life. Heh.

I am amazed when I write down my mileage for the day. I did over 700 miles?! It sure didn't feel like it.

Next: Day Fourteen

Thursday, June 30, 2005

2005 Day 12

Warrensburg MO
no miles

The sky is only kinda dark and vaguely threatening in the morning, but there's supposed to be a wicked front coming in later today. I had originally planned on leaving Missouri today, to head up to South Dakota and visit with Lindy, but weather is always a consideration on a motorcycle trip, and flexibility is a virtue. :) Besides, it feels like too short of a visit with my sister. I'm staying put one extra day.

My sister indulges me, and we decide to do one of my favorite things, a little Civil War sightseeing. Kay, the kids and I pile into the minivan and head north to Lexington MO, site of a battle which occured early in the war. (Kay wrote a nice entry in her blog about our visit, if you'd like to check it out.) It's now a state park. In the 1860's, Missouri was considered to be pretty much the far western edge of civilization, with only frontier expansion and post-Gold Rush California lying beyond. Most of the wealth in the state was concentrated along the Missouri River, and in these places, many of the great families lived in the old Southern style, plantations with slave labor, etc. In the days before massive railroad development, rivers equaled commerce. Most of the political sentiment by the ruling powers of the day was firmly Confederate-leaning. In fact, while only eleven states seceded, there are thirteen stars on the Stars and Bars -- it's Missouri and Kentucky who were expected to join their sister Rebel states, eventually, but that's a whole different story ...

The museum is a good little one, as these things go. It's a little short on artifacts but long on interesting displays with lots of history to read. I love it. The kids are BORED. I think they go from humoring their nutty Auntie Boo to barely tolerating me to eye-rolling and 'can we just GO' but I refuse to be hurried, at least not much. At one point, my nephew is quite literally grabbing my arm and trying to drag me along (he's only seven, he can't budge me, but ohh he wants to.) I stop reading and hunker down a little, so I can talk to him not towering over him, and tell him that everyone enjoys doing different things, and that looking at stuff in museums is my idea of fun, saying "I really like this. This is like Nintendo for me." He gets it (even if he thinks the notion is somewhat loopy) and says, "OK" and skips off to be bored & find a little trouble elsewhere. My niece (who I am sure also gets what I'm saying) thinks that it is quite possibly the most insane statement she's heard in a while. "But Auntie Boo, how can this be like Nintendo for you? This is like history and dead people and stuff," she gasps as only an exasperated pre-teen can. I swear, that child is gonna hurt herself if she rolls her eyes any farther ;)

The Anderson HouseWell, I'm not that into torturing the kids for too long, and we all agree to watch the visitor's center video. It is fifteen minutes and predictably cheesy. I am surprised by the pro-Southern bias of the piece, but the story is told as a first-person POV based on a planter's wife's diary, and anyway Kay and I have a good laugh about it afterward. The Unpleasantries Between The States has been over for 140 years, and people are still strange about that war. Walking out of auditorium (a generous name for a room with four rows of folding chairs & a crappy combo TV-VCR set up on a rolling cart) Kay asks, "What do we do now?" I say, "We go on the walking tour, of course." I explain to her the parts of the Historical Battlesite Visit. There is ALWAYS a museum, even if it's a room with a couple of dusty displays. And then there is ALWAYS a video, and it is ALWAYS cheesy. And then there is ALWAYS a walking tour, usually with a badly xeroxed sheet of paper with varying degrees of accuracy, and you do it last because what you've seen in the museum and in the film give you a much better idea of what you are looking at. Sometimes, there's a driving tour as well. Here, there is also the option of touring inside the Anderson House, and the 45-minute guided tour is just about to start. Sounds interesting, but we knew the kids couldn't take it, even though they said they wanted to ... they would have been bored stiff after ten minutes. So it's off to the walking tour with the bad Xerox, and it's an interesting little hike over the battleground. The Anderson House still stands, bricks scarred by minie balls and artillery. Walking around the house, locations are marked: here is where the carriage house stood. This is where the slave quarters were. Looping back 'round to the east, the garden has been restored - soldiers charged through here - and beyond that, The garden - this photo was supposed to look a lot artsier than it does ;)what remains of the earthworks lie on the rolling hills. We walk through, and I am fascinated by the terrain. Trenches that were dug in 1861 have been almost completely smoothed by time's passage. You really have to look to see where they were. The rain, which has been threatening all day, gets quite serious with its threats as we get towards the end of the walk. In fact, Kay and I decide to cut it a bit short. It looks like it's gonna rain like heck in ten minutes or less and there's thunder and lightning getting close, and we thought that the path along a small ridgeline would be best avoided. We turn and walk back to the car, not exactly hustling but not dawdling either. I can smell the approaching storm in the air.

We make it back to the parking lot as the first few tentative drops start sprinkling down. The air is so heavy that it's hard to tell exactly when it starts raining, but the temps are dropping and it is getting awfully dark. We pile in the van, Kay gets us pointed the right way and headed back home, and within minutes it's coming down in buckets. Woo, we made the right choice back there, hightailing it for the car when we did. Now, on the highway, the rain keeps coming heavier and heavier and the winds are kicking up too, enough that it's making Kay incredibly tense behind the wheel as she fights the elements. She snaps at the kids when they are noisily horsing around in the back seat. I watch the rain come down in sheets, and the wind whipping through the corn, bending the stalks over, making the fields look like stormy wave-tossed seas of broad dark green leaves. Oh, this is a bad one, the wind is pushing the van all over the road, thunder and lighting crashing around us (but not as close as what I rode through in Tennessee.) Am I ever GLAD I decided to stay that extra day! This would have been horrible to ride in.

Kay gets us safely home, thank goodness, and we spend the afternoon hanging out, talking, playing with the kids, and doing a whole bunch of nothing. Mike, who has been working with the builders out at the dome site, returns saying that they'd sealed a second row of seams but the concrete didn't have time to set before the rain hit ... it'll probably have to be redone. We go out for barbeque that night, one of those funky little local places that has scarred linoleum tabletops, plastic forks, and exquisite ribs. You know the type. Yummm. The rain really doesn't let up much for the rest of the day, continuing all the way past dinnertime. This wasn't one of those hit-and-run Midwest storms, but an all-day deal. I wouldn't have been able to wait out this one for half an hour under a gas station canopy somewhere.

Now, I'm a day behind to get to Boise, but the Weather Channel is predicting a good day tomorrow, and I hope to make up some of it. I'll try to get an early start.

Next: Day Thirteen

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

2005 Day 11

Warrensburg MO
no miles

Today is Hanging Out With My Family day. Basically this involves sitting around and talking up a storm with my sister. We have the twin thing going on, ya know, where we complete each other's sentences and go off on conversational tangents that no one else could ever possibly follow. Then I realize I'm being rude to Mike and the kids, and try to bring the conversation back to someplace where it will include everyone. Repeat ad infinitum.

Mike, like me, is concerned about the small oil leak the bike has sprung yesterday. In the morning, we drag out the tools & start going over the wee beastie. He does most of the work because A) they are his tools, B) he knows what he's doing and I only sort of know what I'm doing and C) he's That Guy. You know, That Guy who knows how to Fix Anything. He tells me what he's doing as he goes along, and I always learn lots from him. The oil leak is confirmed to be a gasket problem on the front valve cover. He shows me how to look at it to see the trouble -- this o-ring here? See how flat it is? It's supposed to be round, look how far from round it is here -- and then he gets out the phone book & we start calling around for a replacement Honda o-ring. There is none to be found. This is the point at which I would become frustrated, but Mike is That Guy and That Guy always has a Plan B. He runs out to the local auto parts store, gets automotive silicon sealer, and fixes the leak using that. He tells me it's not a long-term solution but will probably keep me going for the rest of the vacation, at least, and I can replace the o-rings when I get home. Mike rocks :) Also, as we are going over the bike, he spots where the mounting plate for the light bar has cracked again. He welded this up for me last year, after it broke on the last day of my Virgina trip. Now it's cracking in a different place. What a piece of shit part. (Big Bike Parts/Show Chrome Spot Light Part # 1-231. My recommendation: avoid.) So he hauls out the welding equipment and goes to work and fixes it up for me again. While he's doing this, I change the spark plugs. I'm getting very good at doing the little things like that. We eventually get everything swapped out, bolted down, or sealed up, and put the bike in the garage because it looks like there's going to be a little rain later today. The silicone sealer needs at least a few hours, and preferably overnight, to set up.

Satisfied with the impromptu repair, I wash up and get some laundry started. Now, it's time to See The Sights In Warrensburg, Missouri. My sister is ready to show me the ins and outs of her new town. (I have to say she's taken to small-town life quite well. The kids, on the other hand, miss Orange County, but they are starting to make friends here. The process will accelerate greatly once school is back in.) The dome is starting to go upFirst, we all head out to the dome site, to check out progress on their new home. My timing is pretty good. The first of the panels have started to go up this week, so I get a good look at the scaffolding up top and the cement walls along the lower course. Right now, unenclosed, it doesn't feel as enormous as it will once the exterior walls get finished and the framing goes in. The site is extremely nice, and has a GREAT view. Their land is a little farther outside of town than I imagined, but they're really just a hop skip and a jump from town according to my Los Angeles-tuned sense of location. Not a bad commute at all. The only problem is, EVERYTHING is in town, there is no such thing as a "run to the corner store" from their place. All in all, I give an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the new Dome Home.

My sister takes me on the tour of downtown Warrensburg next. Boy, she wasn't kidding when she said it was all of three blocks. The courthouse is a fine example of Midwestern monumental public architecture, massive blocks of granite trying to impress a level of importance upon everyone. By the courthouse stands the monument to Old Drum, one of Warrensburg's most famous citizen who is, strangely, not even human. Old Drum was a hound dog shot dead in a dispute between neighbors in 1870. A lawsuit ensued, which eventually went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court, where the dog was eulogized as "the one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world ... " by future senator George Graham Vest, a lawyer in the case, and thus enhanced our world and the English language by contributing the phrase "Man's Best Friend." So, the good citizens of Missouri erected a statue of Old Drum, so that people like me can visit it on a road trip, and marvel at the zillion tiny sweet oddities in the land.

We walk around downtown a little bit, visit the library, go take a look-see around the university, get ice cream, and generally have a relaxing day. It does indeed rain in the afternoon, so I am glad Mike suggested I get the scoot under cover. We go out for dinner that night, and kick back for the rest of the evening. The Weather Channel shows a big storm coming in tomorrow, and Kay talks me in to staying an extra day.

Next: Day Twelve

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

2005 Day 10

Start: Antioch TN (34265)
End: Warrensburg MO (34807)
542 miles

Day 10 - Antioch TN to Warrensburg MOI am itchy to hit the road in the morning. Literally. I think Isaac has fleas.

I've got a long day in front of me, weather to beat, more heat and humidity to endure, and a lot of miles to get to my sister's in Missouri. So, I want to blow out of Nashville in a hurry, and am barely polite to Nancy in my haste to get underway. I decline her offer of hanging out for a leisurely breakfast, in fact I don't even shower, knowing I'll just get grimy on the highway. Sun's up and time's a-wasting. I am northbound on I-24 through Nashville proper in time for the Tuesday morning commute, which is a drag. In fact, I detour around a few of the hub highways, getting on SR-155 for a time, before finding my way out of traffic and heading back north on the interstate. Cars are bumper-to-bumper in the opposite direction, coming into the city. It is good to be on vacation and getting out of the big towns once more.

Today is a superslab day, in the interest of making miles. I-24 takes me through western Kentucky, which is corn country, flat and neat and pretty. There are a few hills when I am skirting around an area called The Land Between The Lakes, and I also see a sign that tells me I am close to Murray State University, Amy's alma mater. I'll have to remember to tell her that. The road crosses over into Illinois, and more flat featureless land. Small cities are separated by miles of corn. A lot of folks are bored by the heartland, but I love it. I don't love the herds of eighteen wheelers on the road, though. I-24 turns into I-57 for a while. I am on a major trucking route. It's hot, I'm relaxed, just stopping for gas every hour and a half, riding. Lunchtime hunger finds me in Mt Vernon IL, where I stop at a Steak & Shake. It is surprisingly good, I equate the burgers with In-and-Out level of tastiness, and it's a comfortable enough place to cool off. I think today is my hottest day so far, and I'm starting to feel it. Coming out from lunch, I see that there is oil all over the front cylinder. Uh oh. Closer inspection shows that it's not a huge amount of oil (and it only takes a small bit to grime the bike) ... the level on the dipstick is still OK and nothing is puddling on the ground under the frame, but it's still worrisome & bears careful watching. On with the Joe Rocket gear, pick up I-64 westbound, and head into Missouri.

The Gateway Arch, St Louis MOApproaching St Louis from the east is entirely different from coming in from the west. From the East, the Arch stands in magnificence over the city and the riverfront, glorious in its size and sweep, welcoming you to the hugeness of the land. The first time I saw it, I was creeping up behind it, sideways and with ruined sightlines, by the buildings that crowd around I-70 eastbound. That was last year's trip. This year, I see the Gateway as it is meant to be seen. Again, I grin broadly as I cross the Mississippi, wondering if I'll ever lose the feeling of specialness for seeing America's great rivers. I don't think so.

Now, it's just a straight shot across most of Missouri on I-70. The heat is really wearing me down, enough that I am starting to worry about my ability to continue. Breaks get more and more frequent. If you start feeling fuzzy, you GOTTA get off the road before it's too late to think any more. Through the afternoon, I end up stopping for ice every hour, or even every forty-five minutes. Some places will give you a cup of ice for free, some will charge you a quarter. I take most of it and roll it into my buff, making a neckroll. This cools the blood heading to my brain, plus the meltwater drips onto my shirt for a while and I get a little evaporative core cooling. It feels good for about twenty minutes, which is how long it takes for the ice to melt. Then, I keep going until I start feeling fuzzy again. I tell myself not to be a hero, that my sister will understand if I end up late or delayed today, that I can finish the ride after dark or even tomorrow and that would be infinitely better than killing myself. But, all the stops and ice and hydration keep me going, and I roll off the interstate and into Warrensburg before dusk.

I arrive at about the worst possible time, when the family had just piled into the car to head down to the restaurant for birthday dinner. We resolve it thusly: Kay stays behind to let me into the house to shower & clean up, while Mike & the kids will zip down to the restaurant to get a table (there are friends & friends' kids dining with us, so it's a large party.) Ahhh, the shower feels so good, even racing through it. Scrubbed & wearing clean clothes, my sis and I head out for good Italian food, and my visit with my family begins. (I miss them. I still find it strange that they are now so far away.)

Happy Birthday to my nephew. I did not bring you anything, because I am on the bike. Christmas is coming, though.

An aside: Who knew? The little place at which we eat, a three-generation family run joint, miles from any ocean, has the BEST calamari I have EVER had in my life. (Including when I was in Italy.)

Next: Day Eleven

Monday, June 27, 2005

2005 Day 9

Start: near Tallassee TN (33739)
End: Antioch TN (34265)
526 miles

Day 9 - The Tail Of The Dragon to Antioch TNToday, the Dragon.

The bunch of us staying at Roxanne's place wake and start moving around fairly early. It's a beautiful sunny morning. We get fresh eyeballs on CherryLady's bike, figuring what needs to be replaced to make it roadworthy (and non-ticketable.) It's rideable, no problems, just needs some of the lighting fixed. Roxanne calls around to find a repair shop that will be open on a Monday. It's located down on the North Carolina side of the Dragon, which is where we are heading.

When we saddle up and get going, I am a bundle of nerves heading down the driveway that did me in last night. Man, that is one steep puppy. And, I hate steep downgrades (I think everyone does) because it always feels like the bike is going to tip over or go off the edge. I make my wobbly way to the bottom with my heart hammering, and breathe a sigh of relief when I finally get down to the highway after what seems like half an hour. Left turning onto the highway, I just about drop it again when the engine coughs and stutters, I don't have the choke set right & the beast isn't warm yet. Sheesh. It's got to get better than this.

It does, but slowly. We only go a short ways, maybe a mile or two, before the road narrows, enters a heavily wooded area, and begins to seriously twist. Welcome to the Dragon. We stop at the first overlook - a popular spot to take photos - and commemorate our incipient Dragonslayer status.Jo, Bud, Scorch, Della, Boo, Rox and Vicki From here we'll ride the eleven or so miles and have lunch at Deal's Gap on the North Carolina side. The group agrees that everyone should ride at her own pace, and arrange ourselves by speed. Again I'll be at the far back of the pack - only Bud will ride behind me. Della and Rox to the front. We start out, and I actually go slow for a little while, to completely lose the rabbits in front of me. I don't want to see them, and be tempted to go just a little faster than I am willing in order to keep up with them. It doesn't take long before they are out of sight. Then, I open up a little bit, and start to feel the flow of the road.

The Tail of the Dragon is a lovely, lovely road. It is packed on weekends, which is why we've chosen to ride it on a Monday, and I can see why it would be crowded with Sunday heroes. Everyone wants to claim she's a Dragonslayer, even me. The twists are numerous and tight, a sportbiker's paradise, heaven for those who like to flick over and grind and drag knees and push the envelope as far as possible and then push just a little bit farther. I am not that kind of rider, especially with the jitters I've had of late. I enjoy the road, but at first I feel like I am working rather than flying. Dragon lore is filled with horror stories of double-line-crossing cagers and even loaded semis who attempt to cross the mountains here, seeing the line on the map and thinking it a fine shortcut without knowing what the heck they are getting into. Thankfully, there is none of that today. The road is empty and I cruise through the cool shade, winding through turn after turn after turn. It's mostly second-gear speeds, and I even drop it to first now and again (admittedly, my first gear is taller than most riders' on a 4-speed.) I relax. I remember to lean, and to lean farther that I think I can, and feel the bite and swoop of my tires carving properly through entry and apex and exit, and THAT'S what I've been looking for. The Dragon redeems me. Now, I've left Bud behind, trusting her to follow at the pace she wants, and let my wheels flow and dance, and before I know it, it's over. Resort on the left, intersection in front of me. End of the road.

Well, that was a bit of a letdown. Eleven miles of even the twistiest road is ... not that far. Here I was just getting warmed up. I guess I am spoiled by California highways and canyons, I can choose between ACH and AFH, Ortega, Lockwood Valley Rd, Boquet, Francisquito, Topanga, Mulholland, and PCH ... or numerous others ... and none of those run out in under half an hour. Many people claim this is one of the most outstanding motorcycle roads in the East. All I can say to those folks, come to California.

Oh, you gotta get the patch(Nonetheless, I get a patch.)

A requisite visit to the Tree of Shame, lunch, more gabbing, and final goodbyes with this group. Jo, Bud, and Scorch are heading for Virginia. (Ask them about the pee pee dance sometime, if you get a chance.) Della is on her quest to fill in DA MAP and is southbound, looking for Florida. Rox and CherryLady are heading down to Robbinsville. And I am turning back west, going back to Nashville & hook up with my friend Nancy one last time while I'm here. She'll put me up for the night.

So, I'm on my own again, and boy howdy, I am ready for it by now. Have I mentioned I like riding by myself? I take the Cherehola Skyway westbound, another road of great repute in this part of the world, and completely LOVE it. This is the type of road I prefer - big wide sweepers that fly through rolling mountains, the scenery beautiful, the pavement good, the traffic sparse. Hot and humid. It'll be another day of many breaks. I'll take those opportunities to frequently haul out the map and ride backroads on my way back to the greater Nashville area. No superslabs for me today.

Coming off the Cherehola and stopping for gas at Tellico Plains, I am rather dismayed to see just how dark and thunderous the clouds in front of me are. Well, not much to be done about it now. Lightning flickers distantly.

I've found a good highway, TN-68, and it's taking me westbound through rural Tennessee, and I am having a grand time. I really don't know how to describe the pleasures of back-road riding, except that it's all interesting to my eye, and I enjoy every little thing I see, whether it's the carefully tended flowerbed set off the roadway by a picket fence & a six-foot-wide ditch, or the names of the towns on the signs I pass, places I'll never visit but am now wondering look like, or the people who hear my engine & raise their heads like dogs perking their ears at the sound of freedom. Oh, it's simply grand to travel this way. Well, grand except for the weather which is growing darker. I'm gonna get rained on soon.

And yes indeedy, I get rained on. It goes from "starting to rain" to "and the heavens opened" in about thirty seconds. Wow! Now THIS is a deluge. Water rolls off the pavement in sheets. Ditches fill and tumble with water. My boots fill, too. My right boot in particular is whatever the opposite of "waterproof" is, and I can feel it sloshing around my toes. Yuck. My visor fogs, and I have to ride with it cracked, plus I have to keep wiping the drops away with my sodden gloves about every three seconds, and still I can barely see. Not good. I am desperately looking for a place to pull off and there is nothing, nothing, nothing. I can't believe how dark it's gotten. And then, BAM!!!, a huge crash and flash WAY too close to me, I am in the middle of the lighting storm and I am REALLY desperate now, that was everything but singed hair & smell of ozone and I need to get out of this NOW and there is still NOWHERE to turn off. With little other choice, I keep going down the road in the fury of crackling lightning around me, for about another five miles. Oh, it is loud, loud when it booms. I pray for cover, and safety.

And thank the Goddess, she delivers me to a Shell station at the intersection of TN-68 and TN-58, if you'd like to look it up on a map. I gleefully pull under the canopy where three other motorcycles have already taken refuge. I strip off my sodden outergear, buy a Coke and settle in for rain-delay chatting with the other riders: there are a couple of fellows from Georgia, and a husband and wife from Alabama. It takes about half an hour for the thunderstorm to pass. The rain, which had been beating on the pavement so hard that drops were leaping back toward the sky, tapers off to a steady light patter, then fades away entirely. About five minutes later, the sun comes out. About another minute, and steam is rising off the road, ghostly wisps wafting a foot or two off the ground (for some reason this fascinates me, we don't have rainstorms like this in California) and the humidity hits like a hammer. The Georgia boys take off. I wait a few more minutes, and seeing that most of the water has drained from the roadway, continue my journey west.

I guess I could have waited a little longer, because it's not too far at all before I hit another little raincell, and any amount that my jacket had dried out, forget it, we're starting over with that process now. But this rain, while still hard, is not quite as much of a downpour, and it's not as dark, and there's no lightning in these clouds, apparently. I do stop briefly, to clear my visor which is badly fogged again, then continue on my way. It's not so bad, and this bit of rain starts tapering off as well after a short time. I am coming up on the Tennessee River, and seeing a major waterway is always a little thrill for me. Hmm. I am passing by the Watts Bar nuclear power plant ... I see the structure brooding on the riverbank to my left, towers looking vaguely malevolent, but no steam rising from them today. Once past the river, the highway bears little signs marking this as a "Watts-Bar emergency evacuation route." If you live near a nuclear facility, it behooves you to know how to get the hell out of Dodge FAST.

Rain ends, humidity rises, and I keep making my back-highway way toward Nashville, without major event. I get lost in small towns looking for gas stations, and generally have a good day. When I try to call my friend Nancy to get final directions to her place, I realize my phone's battery is dead; it got drained crossing the mountains, searching for a signal when it was out of range. D'oh. A very nice lady at a tiny general story in a tiny town lets me plug it in for a little while, and I get enough battery and signal to get me through the rest of the day. (The name of the town is Pleasant Hill TN, and it is tiny enough that the fellow I chatted with at the gas pump was surprised they were on my map. "That must be a new map," he remarked when I showed him. Heh.)

Nancy gives me bad directions, telling me to go north on the main interstate in Nashville, when she should have said south. Worse, I have to get off on something that says "Old Hickory something-or-other" and that's like saying to get off on "Peachtree" in Atlanta ... they are ALL named that. ("Old Hickory," by the way, is Andrew Jackson, native to this area, one of Tennessee's most famous sons, yadda yadda. The big loop highway around Nashville is named the Old Hickory Road. That's why there are so many exits bearing that name.) Long story short, I am halfway to Springfield before I figure that this CAN'T be right, and worse yet, it's raining again and lightning is licking these hills. Oh dear. I pull off, call Nancy (and get voicemail), and have a lively conversation with the attendant at the BP where I am parked. She can't sell me any gas because they were struck by lightning about five minutes previous, and their computers are all down & will take half an hour to bring back up. I ask her where she is from, because her accent is not Tennessee, she speaks in flat could-be-from-anywhere tones. Turns out she moved from Anaheim CA about six months ago. Heh.

I finally get Nancy on the line, get improved directions, and fight my way through Nashville traffic as darkness falls and the rain tapers off again. I had been WAY off course, but now I'm on track. I finally land in Antioch, the suburb for which I was searching, find Nancy, and I'm able to clean up & put on fresh clothes before she and I head out to a late dinner at the local Cracker Barrel (yeah, I can do with some comfort food at this point.) It is kind of a strange visit. I don't know if she was expecting to go clubbing or partying, or if we'd stay up all night talking, or what ... but I am really too exhausted to do much besides tell stories of being on the road for a week and half, and then my eyelids are drooping badly, and I have GOT to get some sleep. She sets me up with a foldout futon on the living room floor, and even Isaac the Jack Russell terrier doesn't bother me enough to stay awake. I'm thinking I'd like to make it to my sister's tomorrow, in time for my nephew's birthday, but that will be a long haul, and I will need to start early.

Next: Day Ten

Sunday, June 26, 2005

2005 Day 8

Start: Murfreesboro TN (33739)
End: near Tallassee TN (33930)
Miles: 191

Day 8 - Murfreesboro TN to the head of the Tail Of The DragonIt's Sunday, and getaway day from the RSBS Annual. Some are heading home. Others (like me) are starting the touring legs of their summer vacations. Murfreesboro has been the big stopping point between the first third and second third of my trip. I am looking forward to getting on the road again. I especially look forward to riding solo, and I'll be doing that for most of the way to Boise, but today I have one more day of riding with Rumble Sisters. Hoot will be leading a largish group to Fall Creek Falls, a fantastic road and scenic state park in eastern Tennessee. We'll have a lunch stop there. Then, Roxanne has graciously invited a bunch of us to stay at her bed & breakfast right next to the Tail Of The Dragon. Six of us take her up on the offer. We'll get up early tomorrow, ride the Dragon, and finally scatter to the winds from there.

Ears, the big softie, is crying in the hotel parking lot as various groups of sisters saddle up, wave goodbye, and gun their engines down the road. :)

It's about two dozen riders going to Fall Creek Falls. Yeesh, I don't know what's wrong with me sometimes, but I just DID NOT feel like riding in a group that large. The thought of riding through traffic ... trying to keep everyone together through stoplights ... it sets my teeth on edge, so, no thanks. I manage to negotiate a deal with leader Hoot, I'll set out on my own & meet up at the next gas stop once we get out of heavy traffic. It takes some doing to persuade her but I am insistent, and she gives me directions. She also tries to talk me into swapping bikes; she wants me to try out her VTX which is for sale, and she thinks it would be a fantastic bike for me. She's right, and a VTX 1300 will probably be my next bike. But I'm not going to ride hers, on unfamiliar roads, on a day that I am not feeling 100% comfortable. Some other time, I would have taken her up on the offer. But not today.

I really have picked up a lot of bad habits over the winter & now am feeling quite squirrelly about my riding skills. I need to work on improving them, and blasting down interstates is not the way to do it (anyone can point a bike in a direction and twist the throttle ... it's the slow-speed & curvy stuff that separates the skilled from the wannabes.) Here, at the RSBS Annual, I've had the pleasure of meeting and riding with a LOT of very good riders. It is, after all, kind of a self-selecting group. The down side to this, however, is that feelings of inadequacy now gnaw on the edge of my mind.

Well, when you're feeling like you're not a good enough rider, the solution is to work on getting better, which is what I do today. Once I've rejoined the group forty minutes outside of Murfreesboro, we split into a fast group and slow group. I volunteer to ride tailgunner on the fast group, knowing that I will be slower than all of them, and they'll lose me and I'll essentially have a solo ride to work on my twisties. Then we ride into the Tennessee hills, climbing up into fantasic forest scenery for many miles until reaching our destination at the Falls. Predictably, I end up well behind the fast riders, and I am just not feeling the flow today, which is kinda frustrating. We stop for one final photo, a little time to ooh and ahh at the falls themselves (the tallest east of the Mississippi), and have a good Southern-cooking lunch at the park's cafeteria. From there, it's side-of-the-road goodbyes and well wishes, cheerful to have met with so many fabulous Rumble Sisters.

Now, it's Roxanne, Della, Bud, Scorch, Jo eh?, CherryLady and me who head east toward the North Carolina border. Rox leads us on a back-highway route to her place, and it'll take us most of the rest of the day to get there. It's hot and humid, better than rain but the kind of weather that just wears you down. At one point, I am fairly sure we've missed a turn and am wondering if I should somehow pass the information up to the front of the pack (I am riding in the middle, following Jo) when I see something strange flutter past me. What the heck was that? Are Jo's tires kicking up some paper road trash? About when I whiz past the third whatever-it-is flickering in the air, my brain finally registers ... it's green ... it's money. Jo's wallet has fallen out of her pocket, it's now hanging on its chain and dumping its contents on the road. I pull over to the shoulder just as others following me do the same; they've figured it out pretty much the same time I have. Now we have seven bikes scattered over a half-mile of shoulder & we start walking up and down looking for the bills that have gone flying. I don't find any. Regrouping, Bud and Scorch walk up each holding up six fingers ... I hope/guess they're saying they've recovered $66, but alas, it's only $6 they found. Poor Jo! Most of it is gone. Complete bummer. The good news it, since we've stopped, we get ourselves turned around and back on the right road.

We stop for dinner about an hour later at a Mexican restaurant (and let me tell you, there's a reason that Tennessee isn't reknowned for Mexican cooking. It was entirely ordinary.) I dig a ten out of my wallet and toss it on the table, saying it's a small contribution to the Replace Jo's Vacation Fund. She says, don't do that, I have lots of money. (I say, then you give me ten dollars, dude! LOL) Turns out she's entirely smart and didn't have all her money in one place. She figures she lost about forty dollars total. Coulda been a lot worse.

After dinner, it's a straight shot to Rox's place, and it's getting dusky by the time we leave the restaurant. Roxanne warns us that the driveway at her house it quite challenging, steep and twisty, and tells us that we need to stagger ourselves and go up it one at a time. Going through small towns in the twilight, we see fireworks vendors setting off samples of their wares, which makes me smile. We turn off the main highway onto secondary roads, twisting and turning our way into remote hill country. Darkness is falling and we are miles from the nearest streetlight, and the dusky indigo sky peeking through the dark canopy of arching trees is a pleasure to see, though the deepening blackness beyond the reach of our headlamps does intimidate me a little bit. And then ... I SEE IT. It looks like a little spark in the darkness, and my brain can't figure out what it is. A dust mote lit by Jo's headlamp? Another. Another. Another and that one was clearly not in Jo's beam. They are FIREFLYS. More and more and more of them wink in the darkness, until they seem to be hanging thick in the air around us. I have never seen fireflys before this, and I am entirely charmed by them. I can't stop smiling, feeling like I am flying through a magic forest filled with enchanted little lanterns. I have to remind myself to watch the road, not them.

It is entirely dark by the time we pass through one final little town, make a left & travel along a lakeshore road, and then turn left for the steep climb up Roxanne's driveway. I bet you can guess what happened next. Of course we had forgotten her admonition to stagger ourselves going up, and we all putt steadily up in first gear. Rox, in the lead, pulls all the way up through the flat cement pad up top. Della, following her, pulls in behind her on flat ground. Jo, following Della, pulls in behind her on flat ground. I'm following Jo, and I pull up behind her, run out of momentum and have to stop when Jo stops, and I'm the one that isn't on the flat part. Annnnnd ... down she goes. I drop the bike for the first time in a long time, a slow-speed tip that at first I think I'm gonna be able to save and then realise there's nothing I can do to keep it up. I sorta lay the bike gently down on her left side, and end up standing and straddling the beast, and make a big circus bow to mock myself and let everyone know I am alright. That's when I realise that no one is looking at me, because CherryLady, who was following me, had to veer off onto the grass to the right when I came to a standstill, and has dumped HER bike as well, and she's cursing up a storm. (Bud and Scorch, following this mess, correctly chose to avoid it ALL and found the flat parking pad on the right side of the driveway, and have come to a safe landing.)

Well, this is f'ed up. I am exhausted-tired and not thinking entirely straight so I try to pick up my bike using all muscle and no technique, which is never gonna work on a sidehill, and can't do it. Eventually Della and Jo come over and help me lift it, and we get her out of the way. She's undamaged, thankfully. CherryLady is not so lucky. She has broken off the left front turnsignal, the engine won't start, and as we're picking it up and fiddling with it, the headlamp suddenly clicks off. Of course it does this when I am touching it. I am feeling like the kiss of death now. I am torn between wanting to help & really needing to back off, because CherryLady is really pretty mad and she's got every right to be mad at ME. We figure it's probably a fuse that blew as I was monkeying with the bulb ... now we're looking for the fusebox, which is notoriously hard to get to on this kind of Harley. CherryLady is pretty worked up, still angry and cursing, and she has her guy on the phone now and he's apparently being Mr Unhelpful Guy, and we're trying to get her to calm down and maybe try to replace the fuse in the morning when it's light and we're not all tired and punchy, but she needs to do this and get it fired up and I just decide to get entirely out of the way and go be miserable over here by myself and whaddaya gonna do? Engineer Scorch eventally figures out & replaces the fuse, CherryLady gets the motor started, and we all calm down after a while. Well, THAT'S something I don't want to do again anytime soon. Lord, I am so sorry all that happened. I feel perfectly awful. It's my fault, I did the totally wrong thing at the top of the driveway and started this chain of events, even though everyone in the group had a little piece to play in the drama. We'll figure out how to make CherryLady's bike roadworthy again tomorrow. She has to get it back to Minnesota, ya know.

We get our sleeping arrangements all sorted out, and take a little unwind time. We eventually all end up in Della and Jo's room, looking at maps, and talking about DA MAP. This is a Delphi forum thing, where a lot of people have taken a state map that you can color in states where you have visited, and put it in their signatures. Della is planning her day tomorrow to maximize the number of states she can color on her map. It's the insidious call of DA MAP! We all laugh because we know it's true. DA MAP has a hold on most of us. I finally figure out that I am REALLY tired and I oughtta go to bed, but I find it hysterically funny that we're staying up WAY late like teenage girls at a slumber party, talking about motorcycles and maps as if we hadn't been doing exactly that for the past four days!

Next: Day Nine