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

Saturday, June 25, 2005

2005 Day 7

On the Natchez Trace

Day 7 - on the Natchez TraceIn the morning, the Rumble Sisters hold their member meeting. It's held like a town hall meeting, with the usual attagirls and gripes, but this is the first-ever RSBS gathering and the turnout has been quite impressive, and it's pretty cool to have so many sisters sitting in one room, talking about the club. Della at one point stands up to say something and she starts, "For those who don't know me, I'm MagentaMomma from Oregon..." and everyone starts applauding, 'cause she's like totally our long-distance touring HERO. That woman rides like nobody's business. Also, Worm gets all choked up when she reports on the fundraising efforts for Kathleen, who was badly injured in an accident earlier this year. And of course we all start crying too, because it is just amazing how these women responded in a moment of crisis, and then we all start laughing at ourselves, a bunch of tough biker chicks sitting here sniffling. It's really an awesome group.

After the meeting, it's riding time. Today is on-your-own day (as opposed to yesterday, with the organized jelly bean ride) and I think I want to run down the Natchez Trace. Everyone is standing outside chatting in little clumps, figuring out who wants to ride where. Eventually there's a small group who's settled on a Natchez route: me, Bryna, Della and Tam (RedFox). A little more farting around, and we saddle up and take off.

What a strange, ecclectic little bunch of riders we are! Here's Della on her massive Gold Wing 1800. Tam rides a large touring BMW (sorry, I don't know Beemer models.) Then me on my little 600cc VLX. Then, just to prove we MEAN it when we say, "it's not what you ride, it's that you ride," here's Bryna on a 400cc Burgman scooter. Boy, that little machine keeps up with the big boys just fine. It's really a great solution for people who have trouble with a clutch. I think Bryna has some post-surgical hand strength issues, or something like that, and she was just thrilled to death where she discovered the "megascooters" that can do highway speeds and have automatic transmissions. It's kinda fun to watch her ride the thing. The mechanics of steering are the same for her, of course, but the drive train is set up different from a chain-driven or belt-driven standard motorcycle & the rear of the scoot lifts up under acceleration, and lowers when she rolls off the throttle ... it's just a little different, that's all. She will NEVER scrape pegs on the Burgie. Nothing on that bike will touch pavement, it all sits up high.

Della, on the other hand, regularly scrapes on her 'Wing. She does it on purpose, and if you think she doesn't know exactly what she's doing, she'll invite you on to the back of her bike, and then make left- and right-hand corners, scraaaaaaping the pegs the whole way, until you wimper for mercy. (We saw her do this in the hotel parking lot with Air, and had a good time laughing at it.) On our way to the Trace, I am behind Della in line, and we're making lefts and rights through some small Tennessee town, and the first time I hear this gawdawful noise of Della dragging bike parts on the pavement, I am so startled that I almost drop my bike. She knows exactly how far she can lean, and has magnificent control of that machine.

On the Natchez Trace - Bryna, Tam and BooWe make about a 200-mile loop around Tennessee, heading south for a ways on the Natchez Trace. It's green, a controlled highway with no commercial development, and has a speed limit that's STRICTLY enforced. Big wide sweeper turns. Nice riding. Very parklike, though I don't believe this road is part of the Nat'l Park Service. At one point, we see a police cruiser pulled off into a wide meadow on the opposite side of the road, his lights flashing.Sharing a laugh with Della/MagentaMomma The law enforcement officer is out of the vehicle and on foot, standing next to a guy who is holding a motorcycle helmet. They are talking and looking around. There is no motorcycle anywhere in sight. Where did it go? Did he crash and it went down an embankment or something? Did the rider have to dump it for a deer? It was a strange little mystery we could not solve as we zoomed past them at 50 mph. The next rest stop, we take a little break to water up (it is very hot and humid) and sit around and talk some more. It's sorta funny ... both Della and Tam are taller than I am (which is mildly unusual in itself, I am on the fairly tall sideTamRedFox towers over me ... how often does _that_ happen? but they are both over 6 feet) while Bryna is sufficiently vertically challenged that she is known in our online forum as "the Short One." So there is the requisite joking around about the land of giants, and Munchkins, and whatever. Eventually we head east off the Trace (on the same road I travelled after visiting Shiloh, Hwy 64) then north again back to Murfreesboro, stopping for lunch near Pulaski. We get back to the Doubletree around the middle of the afternoon.

Late afternoon, and Jo and I decide to do a run to the Wal-Mart down the street. RSBS is collecting canned goods for a local food bank, but most travellers have donated cash ... seriously, you want me to cart bulky items from California? Nah, better to buy it here. So we gather some money from a few folks & head off to see how much food our funds will purchase, and whether or not we can fit it into our saddlebags. (Jo also needs to purchase a new digital compact camera, since her old one has died.) We manage to buy a surprising amount of food & set ourselves to the impossible puzzle of how to get it back to the hotel half a mile away.After Jo and I went on the canned goods run. Wolfie Jr (attached to my handlebars) is traveling from New Brunswick to California via Tennessee. Seriously, we bought way too much and it's never going to fit. It takes a lot of arranging and rearranging ... "No, dude, put the big can of peaches on this side, then you can get the tomato sauce in here" ... and we manage to get everything zipped up, strapped down, or otherwise secured without a dangerous balancing act. I tell Jo to follow me, I'm going to find a road back to the hotel that doesn't go through this particularly dangerous intersection where a bunch of people have already had near misses. Then I promptly lose her in the parking lot. (We're both riding weird with our loaded-down bikes, the balance is strange enough to make me very paranoid. Plus, the sun set while we were in Wal-Mart, and it's fully dark now.) In my mirrors I spot the single headlamp of a motorcycle following me, and turn left down a service road that takes me past the Wal-Mart automotive center, through what appears to be a deserted alleyway, and all the way behind the hotel, thus avoiding the intersection I've grown to hate. The bike behind me now passes me, and it's some rangy-looking dude with a fender bunny on the back, and they give me a strange look as they zip past. Oops. Guess that wasn't Jo back there. I hang a U-turn, go back and look for her, can't spot her anywhere, and give up, figuring she can find her own way back perfectly fine. Sure enough, she's in the hotel's pull-in area unloading cans when I pull up, and starts teasing me about getting lost on the way back from Wal-Mart. (This is because I was telling her I never get lost. I always know where I am or can find a road that gets me where I'm going; it's my special mutant skill.) I try to 'splain that I found the super-secret back way in, but give up, because she's having too much fun thinking I got lost. Ha.

Dinner. Drinks. More kareoke. I sing two perfectly wretched songs, best forgotten now ... sometimes what you think will be a good song turns out horrible, and not in a so-bad-it's-funny-and-therefore-a-little-good kind of horrible. But I cover myself in drunken kareoke glory with a slightly in-tune rendition of "Like A Virgin" which features the DJ guy holding up signs behind my head, saying things like "Will Sing For Sex." I don't know what he's doing back there but I know everyone is laughing their heads off. So of course I ham it up even more. ;) (But the Crotch-Grabbing Award still goes to BudGirl. Heh.) Jo, using her brand-new digital camera, captures a thirty-second video of the spectacle. Then she promptly deletes it, because she hasn't yet figured out how to use all the camera's features. For this, I shall be eternally grateful.

Tomorrow we leave the gathering, and we'll scatter our separate ways. I plan to head over to the Tail Of The Dragon with a small group, but I'm using the word "plan" in only the loosest sense. We'll keep on figuring out everything as it comes along.

Next: Day Eight

Friday, June 24, 2005

2005 Day 6

at RSBS Annual in Murfreesboro, TN
no miles

The Rumble Sisters are taking over the DoubletreeI wake up at a decent time & straggle down to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast. A lot of Rumble Sisters arrived yesterday, four or five dozen; more are coming in this morning. After coffee and a little food, we get registration underway. It's not very formal, but we pretty much need to keep track of who's here, who's paid the nominal fee that will go toward the meeting room in the hotel, and who's signed the waiver/emergency contact form (stupid legality, but an unfortunate requirement for any riding event.) Also, there are nametags, and a few goodies & freebies to hand out, stuff that sisters have brought for everyone. Oh my heck. We don't have a clue what we're doing, and are pretty disorganized. We sort of figure it out as we go along, and it's less and less of a charlie-foxtrot as the morning goes on.

A few of the Jelly Bean Run ridersMost folks are going on a Jelly Bean run today (sort of like a poker run, but different) except for those of us who don't feel like riding. Having just come from 2000+ miles away, I'm firmly in the "my butt needs a break" group. Mid-morning, riders thunder out of the hotel parking lot (drawing curious looks from other hotel guests ... we'll be getting this response all weekend) and the rest of us retire to the bar/restaurant. Ears, Rob and I get involved in a game of darts,Darts, anyone? but no one takes it seriously. Unfortunately, it was Ears holding the camera, so I don't get a photo of her highly unusual dart throwing technique (I've never seen an underhanded delivery before, LOL. Her accuracy using this? Well, let's just say we all made sure we were standing WELL back on her turn.)

In the afternoon, a few of us borrow Froggi's car and go to the laundromat. How exciting, huh? It's a fact of life that on a long motorcycle road trip, you're going to have to do laundry a couple of times. Ears, RoadPattie and I run into Lindy at the local Suds'n'Duds. She arrived yesterday and is thinking along the same lines as we are, but she rides a sweet trike, and thus has LOADS of storage space and didn't need to borrow anyone's car! The hour spent on wash, rinse and dry cycles passes quickly with this good company. We look at maps, talk routes and roadtrips, a happy time. We all head out to the parking lot and Lindy shows off the features of her ride ... it's very cool. Chores done, we head on back to the hotel.

The Jelly Bean riders get back, most of them late. A couple of groups got EXTREMELY lost.

Gabbing, hanging out, gabbing, dinner, gabbing. Then, the general meeting, and everyone who's arrived gathers around the pool area (we had a meeting room for this, but it turned out too small to hold everyone. We have almost 90 people here.) The Jelly Bean Run prizes, door prizes and mileage awards are given out. Turns out I'm 2nd place - Honorable Mention - of the riders that have ridden here by direct route. Kathy from San Diego has me beat by a hundred miles. LOL.

One way or another ... After the meeting, there's more hanging out and gabbing, and the early birds head off to bed. The rest of us end up in the bar, where it's ... KAREOKE NIGHT! Oh, my, this is sounding dangerous. ;) Well, we now outnumber the handful of locals, so we sort of take over the bar and have a blast. The Rumble Sisters as a group sing "Delta Dawn", BudGirl sings "Macho Man", and I have apparently gained some reknown with my perfectly awful version of "One Way Or Another." My theory about kareoke is this ... you're going to suck, so you might as well suck with GUSTO.


Next: Day Seven

Thursday, June 23, 2005

2005 Day 5

Start: W Memphis AR (33190)
End: Murfreesboro TN (33513)
Miles: 323

Day 5 - W Memphis AR to Murfreesboro TNIt's morning, and everyone is in the parking lot hauling out maps. It's an easy day's ride from here to get to Murfreesboro, so we're all looking for alternate routes, small side trips, interesting roads to take us to our destination. Marsha and Marion are eyeing a Mississippi highway, US-72, they've heard it's a good two-lane to take for a ways east before swinging north again into Tennessee. I peer at the map with interest. I, of course, want to do a little Civil War sightseeing. Hwy 72 will take me to Corinth, the site of Beauregard's withdrawl from Shiloh, and from there I can cross the state line and go to the Shiloh Nat'l Battlefield itself. I'm on my own today, no other Civil War geeks. Everyone takes off, waving and hollering a cheery "See you in the 'Boro!"

I-40E to I-55S to I-240E to SR-385E to US-72E takes me out of Memphis and into the Mississippi countryside. It is here that I become a convert to The Church Of The Backroads. Most of my long-distance travelling to date has been on interstates, because they let me cover a lot of miles in a day. But the road here is so pleasant, so entirely different from riding the superslab, I resolve to travel this way whenever I can from now on. It's on the secondary roads that the character and flavor of the locality really shine through. I'm no longer seeing only major gas stations and fast food chains; instead, I see mom-and-pop stores, private residences that also serve as restaurants ('Elmo's Catfish And BBQ - Open Thurs-Sun!!!') or groceries or beauty salons or auto parts stores or anything else you can imagine in small-town life. I see front yards converted to five acres of corn, a clearing left unplanted for the kids' swingset and the tractor parked next to the pickup truck and the old Buick Riviera in the drive. Mailboxes on back roads are an art form. They're wonderful. Very, very few of the driveways are paved. I imagine how treacherous the gravel would be on a motorcycle. US-72 is a four-lane highway that soon dwindles to two, and it's a pleasant morning's ride. Soon I am in Corinth MS, where I get gas, then head northward on SR-22 towards the battlefield. I begin seeing signs marking points of interest.

Large monument, to Ohio regiments. (For scale, there is a statue on the steps at the bottom of the monument - it is life-sized.)Reaching Shiloh Nat'l Battlefield, I ride slowly along the good park roads. The land is wooded, with numerous small clearings. Markers are everywhere, blue, red and yellow. I am tempted to stop, but I don't know yet what I am looking at, so I keep going to the Visitor's Center, which is located a good ways inside the ground. Some of the monuments raised here are very impressive. Large stacks of cannonballs mark the headquarters locations of various commanders. Finally, I reach the Visitor's Center, which is within sight of the Tennessee river and Pittsburg Landing. Details of history snap into place in my head. Union artillery position, end of first dayParked in front of a line of cannon, I realise that I am at the Union's final line of defense, where they had been driven back to by the end of the first day's fighting. I go inside the center, to pay my fee and get my map, and to watch the video that's always available at these places. It's about 25 minutes long and pretty low-quality ... why are these things typically cheesy? Heh. But, I'm in luck. Immediately after the film, a park ranger puts on his period costume and gives a little demonstration of The Equipment Of The Civil War Soldier. He explains what he is carrying, Load in nine times: Firethen gives a demo of "load in nine times," the procedure for loading and firing an 1860's muzzle-loading rifled musket. It's a good little speech he gives, and he ends it on a somber note, saying, "Remember as you walk these grounds today, that it was Americans. Fighting Americans. Good day." The group stands in silence, respectful of these words. It's as though a spell has come on us, and the meaning of the battle here lies deep on us all. I turn and walk away, blinking back unexpected tears, as the spell is broken by Mr Tourist In His Tourist Shirt, who starts asking Stupid Tourist Questions. It's time to see the rest of the battlefield.

Shiloh National CemetaryFirst, I walk through the Shiloh National Cemetary, which is on the bluffs just above Pittsburgh Landing. Union soldiers were removed from gravesites on the battlefield and re-interred here with military honors in the Union dead at Shiloh1890's when the brand-new National Park Service took over the battlefield site. About a third of the soldiers can not be identified. Their markers sometimes bear a company or regimental identification, a simple "unknown", or sometimes just a number.

Then, on to the driving tour. It's a beautiful warm day, and I tie down both my jackets on the back of the bike, Looking down the Hornet's Nestand ride in shirtsleeves. The tour has about eighteen stops, and I spend time walking around many of them. The Hornet's Nest, a pivotal place in the battle, is particularly moving. Here, Benjamin Prentiss's two brigades held firm while the rest of Union army was driven back in disarray by the fury of the Confederate charge on the first day. Prentiss understood Grant's order to "maintain that position at all hazards" and held up the Rebel advance for six hours. Massing and firing from a sunken country road, the Federals threw back a dozen separate charges, until Dan Ruggles massed, at Confederate artillery fired down on the Hornet's Nest from the top of this small hillpoint blank range, all the artillery pieces he could find and command on the field. 62 cannon shattered the Union position, but too late in the day for a Confederate victory. During the night, Don Carlos Buell and his army arrived to reinforce Grant, and the Union was able to sweep the field the following day.

Ghosts walk here.

Somber and moved, I finish the driving tour. (The Peach Orchard has been replanted with actual peach trees and will once again be an orchard, I am pleased to report.) Then, I leave Shiloh behind me, and proceed onward through the Tennessee countryside, once again heading for Murfreesboro on the back highways. I'm still in my t-shirt, which feels strange since I hardly ever ride without full gear, but it's wonderful on this lovely day. Eventually, however, I realise I've given myself a wicked sunburn, along with strange tan lines from the gauntlet gloves I wear. D'oh. I pull on my jacket at the next gas stop, and resort to main highways again, and get myself to Murfreesboro. I arrive at the RSBS Annual by late afternoon.

Registration? I only LOOK like I know what I'm doingFolks will be arriving today and tomorrow. I'm handling some of the registration duties, but it's not ramped up to full speed yet, so it's mostly meet-and-greet time. There are far too many names and faces for me to remember, but I know most of the Rumble Sisters from online forums even though I haven't caught on to who's-who in real life yet. This is going to be a GOOD event. Everyone is happy and elated to be here. My roommates, Shanon and Cindy, won't be arriving until late, so I get myself checked in to the room, then spend the rest of the evening just hanging out in the lobby and attached restaurant. My friend Nancy, from Nashville, drives down to have dinner with me tonight. I'm feeling tired after my five days on the road, so even though I wish I were more energetic, I have to say goodnight & tell her I'll catch up with her more later. I plan to spend at least one night in Nashville while I'm here in Tennessee.

BTW: the girls don't arrive until well after midnight, and I've been asleep for two hours when they sneak into the room quiet as mice. This I did not expect. I thought they'd come in noisy and boisterous. Miz (Cindy) said she didn't know if I slept armed (LOL) but she didn't want to risk waking me just in case. Jeez, they're nice. Like I said, this is going to be a GOOD weekend. :)

Next: Day Six

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

2005 Day 4

Start: Shawnee OK (32760)
End: W Memphis AR (33190)
430 miles

Day 4, Shawnee OK to W Memphis ARI am up early and on the road from Shawnee, after bidding Carrie farewell and a safe trip back to Texas. Another interstate day. After so many days of heat, it is wonderfully cool on the road this morning, fog hugging the valleys and swales of rural Oklahoma. I ride into the glare of the morning sun, admiring the scenery and the impossibly red clay earth. Apparently this part of the country is home to lots and lots and lots of turtles, the kind kids keep in aquariums, ya know? They are all over the road here, like little stalled Volkswagens on the shoulder of I-40. I don't actually run over any of them, they seem to be mostly out of the roadway. Thank goodness. I prefer to leave them in peace.

Oklahoma highways are bad. Thump, thump, thump. I hate roads that are patched over and over again instead of properly repaved.

I've left Shawnee with better than half a tank of gas, and reading mileage signs and doing the math in my head, figure my next stop to be in Henryetta OK. Well, I'm not sure if I was daydreaming or if I missed it in the construction (and there is lots of it here) but I ride right past Henryetta. Oh well, I'll just stop at the next gas I see. I keep riding. Nothing. Now I've gotten into a middle-of-nowhere patch, and there are NO gas stations, though I never did see a blue sign telling me how far until the next services. I start to worry ... I've been on reserve for thirty, forty, now FIFTY miles and I must be running on fumes by now. Worse yet, I'm in the middle of another stretch of construction work, the sort where they shut down one side of the freeway and run both directions, single lane, on the other side. There is NO shoulder so if I run out of gas, there is NOWHERE to safely pull off. Time to pray. Keep me safe, dear Goddess, and please don't let my little scoot quit on me. At LAST I see a Citgo sign to the right! I don't breathe easily until I pull up to the pumps. Whew, that was way too long to run looking for gas. My tank holds 2.9 gallons, according to the specs. Today I put 3.197 gallons in it. Oh my goodness. Three-tenths past the maximum capacity. I think the tank was about as empty as you can possibly get and still have the motor running. My angels are watching out for me. :)

I cross over into Arkansas, which is hilly and pretty in this western part. Gas again in Clarkesville AR, this time not waiting until I am just about run dry. ;)

Coming into Little Rock, I get caught in nightmare traffic, and the worst and stupidest construction cone job I have EVER seen. Many lanes of traffic get pinched into a single lane. It's city traffic, so people are getting aggressive and pushy and not letting cars in ... I jump past a bunch of cars by riding on the ill-defined shoulder, cutting into the lane at the last possible minute. The fellow in a battered pickup behind me is quite unhappy about this. He scowls and shouts, and tailgates me much closer than reason and safety allows. I can see him in my rearviews, gesturing angrily. Let it go, dude. I am happy to get away from him as soon as I can.

Meeting the Texas ladies in Little RockJust past Little Rock is the designated lunch stop and the meetup place for the Texas riders joining us for the rest of the ride to Murfreesboro. After a little circling and an assist from Rob, Janelle's husband, I find them in the parking lot of an Iron Skillet. We exchange greetings and hugs - Suzanne (Ears), Janelle (NavLady), Camellia (CC) and Janet (RoadPattie) are here and waiting! It is wonderful to meet these ladies; they are fabulous beyond words!! We go in for lunch and fall into happy road camraderie, telling stories and laughing our heads off. I dig the deck of playing cards out of my pocket and toss 'em to Suzanne, saying, "I got a little present for ya." She thinks the cheesy Route 66 cartoon on the back of the deck is great, and she beams. She's our local cardshark - poker, Texas Hold'Em is her game. I resolve to not play for money against her. We have a great lunch, then head out to hit the road again. While everyone is tanking up, Marty, Kathy and Bob pull in. More greets, more smiles. We decide to keep the groups mostly the same as we've been in all day (and I'll ride solo) and gather again at the hotel in West Memphis. I'm too hot standing around in my gear, so I take off down the road.

From here, it's just a straight shot down I-40 into W Memphis AR. It's beastly hot and humid, and mostly boring and uneventful. I pull into the hotel first, but Sue and Turbo are only a minute behind me. Time to get cleaned up and take a small nap. We'll go out for dinner in town tonight.

Bike Night on Beale StreetA group of eight of us head into Memphis looking for a barbeque joint that apparently no longer exists, and end up in a parking lot of a Kentucky Fried Chicken wondering what to do. Asking a passerby, we're directed to Beale Street, of course. So off we go, RoadPattie in the lead. We get to Beale Street, looking for parking which is nowhere to be found in the heavy street traffic. Stopped at the next red light, she turns around and shouts back, "Where do you think we should park?" Everyone laughs at her, saying, "Why didn't you pull in where all the BIKES were?" We've lucked out, it's Bike Night on Beale Street, but Janet was concentrating on the road so much, she entirely MISSED seeing it. Turbo, Sue, Janelle, Suzanne, Janet (k)(I have to say, I was concentrating so much on not hitting her, I missed it too. LOL.) Three right turns get us to the proper place, and we ride into the slow parade of a Bike Night.

Woo, party time in Memphis, a town that knows how to throw a great party! We wander the street for a while, drinking in the sights and sounds, enjoying ourselves thoroughly.Having fun on Beale Street, Memphis Blues blares from every doorway. There are hundreds of bikes, more arriving every minute. We select Pig On Beale for dinner and sit down to superb barbeque. Dinner is one of those fabulous ones where everyone is in a wonderful happy mood, and these Texas ladies are hysterically funny ... they'll have you in stitches the whole night. I laughed so much my face hurt.

Wait, is this New Orleans? Heh.Afterwards, more wandering to see the sights of Memphis, before we finally straggle back to the west side of the Mississippi to get sleep for the last leg of the journey to Tennessee tomorrow. We accidentally get on the riverfront road heading back, which is perfectly wonderful, the lights shining across the dark water of this, the greatest river in America. I am entirely happy.

Next: Day Five

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

2005 Day 3

Start: Tucumcari NM (32356)
End: Shawnee OK (32760)
404 miles

Day 3, Tucumcari NM to Shawnee OKToday is an uneventful day, and still extremely hot. We head out of Tucumcari fairly early, knowing that there will probably be a lot of breaks due to the heat. I am riding by myself again, since this is an arrangement that is working well for everyone.

In Vega TX, I jump off the interstate to explore a little Route 66 silliness in Oldham County. Somehow I had googled to Dot's Mini Museum a few months ago, and even more amazing, remember it today. So I detour briefly off I-40 and manage to go right through the happening town of Vega (population 200-something) without ever spotting Dot's digs. I did see the Vega Motel, an original Route 66 motor lodge that is still open for business. This stuff is kinda fun, and you can waste a bunch of time poking around in flyspeck towns like this, but I hop back on the interstate instead, and keep heading east.

Amarillo TX is my sole gas stop in the Lone Star State. Traffic is not too bad. It's a quick trip across the panhandle, and I'm in Oklahoma by midmorning. I get gas in Erick, then my next stop is at the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, OK. (I stopped here last year, but had forgotten ... pulling into the parking lot and recognizing the place brings a smile.) I buy Suzanne a cheesy deck of cards at the museum gift shop. I love road tchotskes. More road junk shopping at one of those hysterically bogus "Indian Trading Posts" at some forgotten town on I-40. I think it'd be nice to get Miz and Bloody some gifts; they've offered last-minute to let me room with them. The whole problem with the bike is you're very limited in space and therefore any gifts you pick up must be SMALL. I end up selecting pocket knives and shot glasses, emblazoned with 'Oklahoma' and 'Route 66' stuff. Hope everyone will like their baubles.

I stop for gas in El Reno OK and find that I've caught up with Marty, Kathy and Bob. We chat for a while at the pumps. I think they left an hour or two before me in the morning, so I'm making pretty good time even with a few extra stops. They said they had run into Della (MagentaMomma from RSBS) at their previous gas stop ... she was on her way from Oregon to Plano TX before heading to Murfreesboro. Small world, huh? She had spotted the Rumble Sisters sticker on Kathy's windshield and had rolled in to the station hollering "Rumble Sisters rule!" Of course they all knew who SHE was immediately. Not too many six-foot-one ladies running all over the country on a 1800cc Goldwing painted metal-flake magenta. Heh.

Carrie (and Harry) and BooI am first to arrive at the hotel in Shawnee, OK, and that's the real highlight of the day. Carrie from TX had ridden up to have dinner with me, and I had never met her in real life before, so it was a true pleasure to meet & get to know my Amazon sister. Here in Shawnee, Marion and Marsha (from Utah) join our group heading to Tennessee. Also, RoninK9 and Mel from RSBS - sort of locals - join our group for dinner, so I get to meet them as well. It's a great evening, convivial and happy. Carrie and I stay up late talking about life, the universe, and Amazons in general. We head off to bed after 10:30 pm, a late night for a road day.

Next: Day Four

Monday, June 20, 2005

2005 Day 2

Start: Flagstaff AZ (31854)
End: Tucumcari NM (32356)
502 miles

Day 2 - Flagstaff AZ to Tucumcari NMOur group meets up at the designated gas stop in Flagstaff AZ bright and early. Today is planned to be a long day, we have reservations to stay in Tucumcari tonight, which is a long haul across desert interstate. Today will be on the boring side.

For our ride to Tennessee, we have Kathy and Bob from San Diego, Marty from Quartzsite, Sue from Phoenix, Turbo from Flagstaff, and me. We have riders that like to go fast and riders that like to go slow, so we decide to split into two groups. Marty, Kathy and Bob nominate themselves as the slowpokes/lots-of-stops group. Bob is pulling a trailer on his Valkyrie and you lose stability over 65 mph with that setup. Sue and Turbo like to go fast; they have big bikes just made for this kind of travel. I'm the tweener. My bike is the littlest and has the smallest tank, so I go a little slower and need to stop for gas more frequently than they do. It's decided that I'll ride tailgunner with Turbo and Sue, and I tell them if I fall behind, not to worry, I'll catch up with them sooner or later.

The Road Crew, leaving Flagstaff: Bob's right leg, Sue, Marty and KathySo off we go. It's a beautiful morning and a glad thing to be on the road. A couple miles outside of Flagstaff, there's a dead deer on the side of the road, just a reminder to me to be cautious. An hour or two into the ride (I think it was after our gas stop in Holbrook), Turbo starts doing this thing that freaks us out. She starts drifting to the right, catches herself as she's about to run onto the shoulder, a whole bunch of times. Girl is obviously sleepy on the bike. Finally she pulls off for a little rest break. She says this happens to her sometimes in the mornings, and she'll be OK with a twenty minute stop, and do we mind? We tell her by all means to take as much time as she wants!!!

There's billboard outside of Winslow, promoting the town, which says "Stand on the corner in Winslow, Arizona." Heh. There's also lots of "Historic Route 66" markers along the way. I don't stop and do any side-road detours along here. I've seen a bunch of it before.

Crossing the great flat desert brings us into Gallup NM, where we stop for gas. A headwind has sprung up and while it's not fierce, it knocks enough off my top speed so I can't do 80 mph any more, and now I can't keep up with the big girls. While the VLX is a great little bike, lightweight and manuverable, my big butt on top of a loaded-down 600cc is not a great recipe for speed. The wee beastie labors to stay at 75 mph, the speed limit out here. I drop further and further behind. After a while, the girls are out of sight.

There's a whole lot of nothing to the west of Albuquerque, and my tank is getting low. Where the heck are the gas stations? I've been on reserve for over thirty miles when the next gas finally appears, a casino/rest stop just west of Albuquerque. Yay. I was just bording on "getting nervous." Turbo is waiting for me on the off-ramp, and I follow her in to the pumps. Turbo says, "I thought you must be pretty low on gas by now." I tell them, "I didn't know if you were stopping, but I was going to whether or not you were here." We proceed to the designated lunch stop on the east side of Albuquerque, thinking to have a leisurely lunch and wait for Bob and Kathy and Marty to show up. I have a pretty lousy salad bar and the world's saltiest chicken soup. After an hour, we're still wondering where our slow group is. I'm not particularly worried, but I hope they haven't run into any mechanical difficulties. I think Sue is a bit more worried, though. We call and leave messages on cell phones, but phone contact is always sporadic in these situations. You can't answer while you're riding. Finally, we decide to continue on, and I take off first. The girls, who didn't tank up at the casino, need to fill up here. They'll probably catch me down the road somewhere.

So, I'm on my own through eastern New Mexico, which is no problem at all. I love solo riding ... back roads, interstates, whatever. It makes me happy and whole. There's an old saying that you never see a motorcycle in front of a psychiatrist's office. Wind and freedom cures the anxieties of 21st century life, or at least I've found it so. I enjoy the countless small pleasurable sights of the road: a pretty mesa, an interesting-looking bird, a town with a funny name, a kid in the backseat to wave at. The headwind still dogs me, so I don't worry about blasting down the road, just patiently make my miles. Another gas stop, in the middle of nowhere. With the load and the wind, I am stopping pretty much every 100 miles.

Now, about 60 miles from Tucumcari NM, I notice the thunderhead that's been way off in the distance all day suddenly appears to be quite close to me. Heh. It snuck up on me when I wasn't looking. I can see the dark streaks underneath the cloud, it is definitely raining in there, and looks like I am heading right into it. Oh well. Since losing my raingear yesterday, I am resigned to the fact that if I get wet, I'll get wet, and not much to be done about it. It's bloody damn hot anyway so it won't be a horrible thing. Gusty winds start to kick up a bit as I get close to the squall line, but not too bad. Then, just as I appear to be about to plunge into the rain, the highway takes a northward veer, skirting around a mesa, taking me around the thundercloud. Hey, looks like I may have luck today! I see some lightning to my right, but don't hear the boom. I wonder if it's too far away to hear, or if the noise is being swallowed by the roar of wind and motor, muffled by the earplugs I'm wearing. It's hard to judge distances out here in the wide-open spaces.

Just when I think I have gotten past the dark clouds and avoided all the rain, it catches me, outside of Cuervo NM. It comes down suddenly and heavy, a real desert cloudburst, and the temperature immediately drops a good blessed twenty degrees. It feels so great, I don't even mind the wet. I slow a little out of caution, but the road is a good straight shot with no construction, and the rain doesn't last for very long. By the time I roll in to Tucumcari, I'm dry and the temp has risen again. I get a little lost but finally locate the hotel, a Travelodge, in a run-down looking part of the old Route 66 road through the town proper. It's around 7:00 pm and I am surprised to be the first one to arrive; the girls never did catch me on the road. Walking to my room, I see motorcycles pull in so I head over to greet my friends ... oh, wait, too many bikes (six), this is some other group! Turns out it's a CMA group from Texas, heading for the Grand Canyon. We chat for a bit, and wish each other a good ride, then I head to my room to shower off the day's grime. Clean and dressed in fresh clothes, I walk out and find Sue and Turbo just pulling in. They tell me they had a couple of long breaks (the heat, ya know) and that's why they never did pass me on the road. We try to get dinner at the next-door restaurant but they don't serve beer, and Turbo sort of had her mind set on having one, so I volunteer to run down to the Circle K up the street and pick up a six-pack and noshies. We content ourselves with conversation, cervesas, chips and salsa, and chicarones for dinner. Heh. Glad I had that salad for lunch.

The slower group doesn't pull in until well after dark, around 9:30. They'd taken lots of heat breaks, too, and it's been a long day for them. We're glad they've landed safe and sound for the night, but we're all ready for bed by now.

An aside: here in Tucumcari, I've become a curbhopper. Arriving at the hotel, I somehow managed to miss the two driveways and jumped the curb that was only three or four feet in between them. I blame the glare of the setting sun, heh, but I am glad I hit it straight-on! That could have been a pretty stupid spill. A four-inch curb makes a pretty good jolt anyway. Then, guess what I did as I was leaving the Circle K? Yup, missed the driveway again and went right off the curb. (They're a lot easier going down than going up.) I don't know why they seem to be so hard to spot in New Mexico. LOL.

Next: Day Three

Sunday, June 19, 2005

2005 Day 1

Start: Sherman Oaks CA (31362)
End: Flagstaff AZ (31854)
492 miles

Day 1 - Sherman Oaks CA to Flagstaff AZ
Up early, loaded up and out the door for my three-week vacation. The Official First Odometer Reading is 31362.3 miles. Sunday morning traffic is light. I am heading to Barstow to pick up 1-40, to head east to my first destination, Murfreesboro TN.

Of course I didn't eat breakfast ... I managed to clean just about everything out of my fridge before leaving so there was nothing to nosh at home. So I stop for a quick bite in the Cajon Pass, a couple of chicken soft tacos at Del Taco. It's the start of Weird Road Eating, I guess. Thus fortified, I continue on.

Just past Barstow (in Nebo, actually) there's one of those brown signs saying "Historic Route 66" and I think, why the hell not, and pop off the interstate. I've been on parts of this stretch of old 66 before, parts of it not, but never on a motorcycle. Might as well start the adventure now! The road parallels I-40 for a little while, passing through towns now made dusty and deserted by the interstate, and then swings south through the middle of the California desert. Closed gas stations and motels are markers of motor history. The Bagdad Cafe, Bagdad, CaliforniaLookie there, it's the World Famous Bagdad Cafe, ratty and run-down yet still open for business, apparently. It's worth stopping for a picture. Just outside of Amboy, I see a bunch of tennis shoes hung up in a smoke tree ... urban legend holds that tennis shoes hung on telephone wires mark a drug dealer's location; I wonder what it means out here? LOL. Then, past the Cadiz road, what I imagine to be the local kids have taken stones and spelled out messages on the highway berm, like the coral on the lava beds of the Ironman Triathlon in Hawai'i. This amuses me. Most of the messages are of the "Jenny + Greg 4Ever" variety. Speaking of lava beds, there's some really impressive ones out here, and a couple of craters, that I have never spotted from the interstate.

I stay on old 66 as far as it will take me. The road is not good, very full of potholes in places. The day grows hotter. 66 finally runs out about 23 miles before Needles and the Arizona border, and I am forced back on to the interstate. Gas costs a LOT in Needles, the middle-of-nowhere price this week is $2.999/gal for unleaded 87. Yikes. Again, I bless my small tank, it never costs very much to fill it.

I fill up again in Kingman AZ, and again in Williams. Oh, crap! In Williams, I am switching gear and as I go to tie down my jacket, my brain takes a few seconds to parse what is wrong with what I'm looking at ... hey, there's something missing from my bike! Where is my sissy bar bag? It's flown off somewhere between Kingman and Williams, and that means it's gone gone gone. I'd had it tied on with zip ties, but they were the little ones, and obviously not sufficient for the job. In the bag was my rainsuit, my winter-weight gloves, and a couple of tools. Well, I didn't like that rain suit anyway. I'll pick up a cheapo replacement at a Wal-Mart somewhere. Yeah, everything is replacable, but still a pain in the butt. You'd think I'd learn, but for me it's not a road trip if something doesn't go flying off the bike at least once. At least I'm getting it out of the way on day one. Heh.

I pull into Flagstaff and check in to my room for the night, a Motel 6. It'll do. I call Turbo, who lives here, and who is having dinner at her house for the gang heading out tomorrow. Marty, Kathy and Bob have already arrived. Sue will be coming in later. Turbo hops in her car and comes down to pick me up. It's burgers and brats for dinner, and shrimp, and coleslaw and potato salad and some really fabulous cheesecake. Yum. This will be the last home-cooked food for a while.

Eventually we say our goodnights, Turbo gives me a lift back to the hotel, and everyone beds down early for our 7:00 am start tomorrow. We want to beat some of the heat through Arizona.

Next: Day Two

Monday, June 13, 2005

More road stories, coming soon ...

I am leaving in a week for the Next Big Summer Vacation. Plans, what plans? As far as I have 'em, here they are:

1) Riding to Murfreesboro, TN, for the RSBS Annual. I am meeting up with a few of the Rumble Sisters in Flagstaff and riding in with them. These ladies (unlike me) are the planning types & they even know where they are stopping for GAS on the way. Me, I just prefer to get up in the morning, point the bike in whatever direction I want to go, and ride until I am tired. When the tank goes on reserve, I look for gas. When the sun goes down, I look for a motel. LOL not these ladies. So ... I know I am staying in Tucumcari NM, Shawnee OK, and W Memphis AR along the way. I even have hotel reservations ;)

2) After the Rumble Sisters annual, I'm think I'm going to shoot over to Deal's Gap with Jo, Scorch, et al, then back to Nashville to visit with my friend Nancy for a day or two. Then, it's over to Missouri to visit with my sister & fambly, check out the new dome, etc.

3) From there, who knows. I might zip up to South Dakota. I've always wanted to see Mt Rushmore, the Badlands, all that. The original plan was to head to Boise ID for the WOW Ride-in. Maybe, maybe not. Depends on money, time, and how I feel. Today I am leaning towards yes.

I'll be home in July, just not sure when.