Tuesday, May 26

Erie, PA to Sweet Home, Chicago (draft)

By Sunday night, it dawns on me while I am studying the map and the many "must-see" places that I have way too many things to see and do and not enough time in which to do them. So, I make a note of the places I'd love to see but can't and vow to return to those places at another time. This is difficult to swallow. A pal from the F800riders forum has given me a ton of interesting things to see and do while in Cleveland. Those places new to me, I vow to return to. Fortunately, these parts of Ohio are easy to reach and return home in a day's ride. I settle on collecting a couple of stamps and taking the long route, that is, following the coast as far as I can yet still make it home by Monday night--no if ands or buts. 

I agree with William Murphy in his book Motorcycling Across Michigan, that the whole point of a lake circle tour is to travel as close to the lake as possible, seeing it from all its various perspectives. With this in mind, I prepare to do a lot of riding, accepting that at some point I will need to hop to the interstate to save time and make my way home. Traveling is a trade off. At times, some things get tossed; tough choices may be made. Whatever. I'm just glad I'm in a position to travel via two wheels.  

I sleep well Sunday night. I wake up a bit too early, however. I do more mapping and eventually leave around 9am-- a little late for me but I'm a prisoner to the national parks visitor centers. Many open at 9 or 10. I learned that one of the places I want to visit won't open until noon--or so I thought.  Like the other lake trips, this one is cold.  No matter the inland temperature, which was gorgeous, lake temps tend to run from cool to cold and require dressing appropriately. Well fed, packed and jacket liner in, I head towards Conneaut, OH.

I make my way to State Hwy 5 and follow its southwesterly path as it embraces the lake. Often, the road takes on another name in a small town, like Lakeshore Drive, but if one just stays on the road closest the lake, the rewards eventually come in the form of gently rolling dips and turns, gradual climbs uphills and steep downward swoops. Pennsylvania has some great roads many of which Steve, from Scooter in the Sticks, presents beautifully in both words and pictures.  As I travel today, Lake Erie is on my right.  At times, the view is open an the space clear. I can see Erie's vast blue waters that blend so well with an azure sky. Most times, I must peek through the openings between the many house and cottages that lined the shore.
"Lucky people," I think. "What do they do to afford such prime land?"  
Looking at the lake is one of the joys of these trips but also one of the inherent dangers, in my view.
The speed limit on such roads tends to be between 35 and 45 mph. Occasionally, it will reach 55mph but that's not the norm particularly through the small towns.  Although the going can be slow, it is best experienced at a leisurely pace. Some of the views are breathtaking enough to be distracting. One runs the risk of taking too long a view and forgetting what is on the road ahead.  Many of these roads are surprisingly lightly traveled. I had no problem doing the speed limit--much to the ire of others following behind me.

I leave Pennsylvania behind and cross into Ohio and enter the town of Conneaut. Despite its cheery and welcoming appearance, I do not wish to stop; the ride is that lovely.  I have three stops in Ashtabula. If I am efficient I can do them quickly and continue the long ride along the coast. Timing is everything. I start humming Bob Dylan songs trying to come up with the one that has Ashtabula among the lyrics.  I never figure it out but have fun, happily motoring and sneaking looks at the lake.

I think of one huge difference among the other lakes I have circled. Lake Erie is modest not just in size; Lake Erie is humble in its presentation. One will not find as many pull-off places. These spots allow you to park and take a closer look, which can mean climbing for a "on-high" perspective. It allows one to relish and contemplate the landscape.  One must access the water via its natural habitat (e.g., beaches, trails, marinas, parks, ports, etc), or, trespass on private property. Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, on the other hand, are boastful in their presentation. Each is brazen in displaying its beauty, showing its colors, breath, and diversity. The pull-offs are ubiquitous, each special place is offered up as if with a grand sweep and turn of the hand as if to say, "Here I am, adore me, love me, sink into my essence."  The Michigan side of Lake Michigan is a piece of heaven. Lake Superior is heaven at its ultimate best. This is not to diminish Lake Erie, it is after all a great lake too! In fact, Lake Erie is a come back lake after being declared virtually dead about a decade ago it's rebirth is nothing short of a miracle that shows no traces of its earlier demise. 

I reach the Ashtabula's harbor area and stop at the Great Lakes Marine and Coast Guard Memorial Museum.From there I should be able to see the lighthouse far off into the distance and stare at the newly finished, more people-friendly harbor area. A huge bonus is that the Marine and Coast Guard Museum is down the street from Hubbard House, a terminus on the underground railroad for sheltering escaping slaves. I pull into the parking lot and notice a small group of "mature" men talking to one another.
When I dismount, a fast walking man approaches his vehicle. I see him and what seems almost like an afterthought he walks over to me and introduces himself. I'll call him Jack. He is tall, thin and immediately tells me his a "bullheaded blue fin." At least, I think that's what he said. He extends his hand and tells me that he was a former "seaman" as are all the guys milling about. 

He is a fast talker too who tells me he was a "Harbor brat." "I grew up right here in this harbor--been here all my life. I've seen the changes..."  Jack tells me that he used to be quiet and reserved until he married his wife, a "Irish-German-Italian woman." We start talking all things under the sun. At one point he is chatting about music and asks me if I know what a dulcimer is. I give him an "Are you kidding me look!" But I'm thinking, "What am I, a dolt?! Of course, I know what a dulcimer is!"

When I tell him what it is, it is he who now looks astonished. He quickly tells me that most people don't know what it is. I tell him how much I adore string instruments and especially the sound of a dulcimer.  His face brightens. I guess it is my lucky day. He returns to his truck and brings me a dulcimer that he practically remade from a kit. I am unable to contain my excitement. It is a fine instrument and he and his wife are seriously dulcimer students. 
I must confess, I had not planned to tour this museum. I had wanted only to get in, buy a trinket for my godson and leave. After talking to this man for a long time, and hearing about the dangers of seamen, and this being Memorial Day, I couldn't say "No" when he asked me to be a guest of his at the museum. I just couldn't resist this kind gesture.

 So I did but first the museum had to open and the men had to hoist flags.

Then, I take Jack's private tour. When he is asked if he wants to take a couple on the same tour he responds, "No, I'd rather do this separate."  

The tour is long, interesting and I learn a lot--did I say long. I also make a new friend. Jack tells me that whenever I return to Ashtabula, I must stay at his home, that his wife would be "thrilled" to meet me. I am glad I took the tour but when it ends, it is now almost 2.5 hours since I rolled into the parking lot. "Dang!" I do some yoga breathing and release it.  

Before leaving, one of the women in the gift shop tells me that my second stop, which is down the street, is closed on holidays--UGH!! I go to Hubbard House anyway for a photo op. This house was a major stop along the underground railroad. Ohio is so important to the history of this period. The influence of Quakers in OH--especially-- can be seen everywhere in these "underground stations" for runaway slaves. Also, OH has important waters, like the Ohio River and Lake Erie that made clandestine escapes more possible. 

I am now realizing that I need to be home TODAY! I am now hungry and behind schedule. I think of my stop in Cleveland. It is huge. Lots of things to do and see. I decided to shelve it all. I've seen a lot of Cleveland but will add the new places when I return next month.  I decide that I still have time to get to Mentor, OH. I do so and am glad I did. This time, I tell myself, I can't take the tour. Get the stamp watch the customary short video and that's it. 

The mostly interstate ride toward Cleveland is mundane. In Mentor, OH I reach President James A Garfield's home, aka "Lawnfield" by reporters.
This National Historic Site is located in an easily reachable location, 8095 Mentor Ave.  I watch a compelling video that inspires me to take the tour. I resist, however, and reluctantly move on.            
But I do walk through the exhibit. In the end, I spend more than an hour there. Now I am really behind schedule. But I talk myself into ignoring the clock--a little. And to prove that, I decide to take the scenic, lakeshore route to Cleveland. It will be slow(er) going but the ride promises to be sweet. I will make a determination after that on getting home. 

One rather confusing feature of this lake trip that I did not experience on the other two is the relatively poor signage--at least to me. On the Lake Michigan trip you can travel without a map. Just follow the green and white signs and you'll be directed all the way around. Same is true for Superior. On a few occasions one might think they've lost the trail but just when you think this, a sign pops up to light the way.

Lake Erie, once you get back on American soil, has a lot going on. I think this is good and bad. It's good because all along the way there are tons of things to see and do.  It's bad because the signs posted to follow the Lake Erie Circle Tour can seem to disappear for long stretches--miles, in fact--and can cause confusion if one is dependent on it. The circle tour also follows much of the Seaway Trail in OH. Also, the OH Coastal Trail is part of this route. So, what does one follow when one sign wants you to go one way and another signs wants you to go another and you haven't seen the Erie sign in miles?  Signage colors can be a tad puzzling too. In PA, I think the signs are blue and white; they are green and white in OH, with some blue ones thrown in too (if memory serves me well).  It pays to have a map as well as a GPS. Eventually, I ignore many of the OH Lake Erie signs and follow the Seaway Trail. Eventually, somehow I always ended up back on the official route. Instead, I tried to follow Murphy's map and my own notes. It's difficult to get lost with Murphy.

Around Cleveland, I see that the GPS has me arriving home at around 10pm. It will be much later as I haven't had lunch or dinner yet. Hmmm... It's hard to believe it will that late given this bright, sunny, shiny day with hours remaining before the setting sun. I am tempted to do more touring... Unfortunately, the Interstate does become my home for the next seven hours! Near Cleveland, I see a motorcycle post-accident. Don't know what happened but one badly damaged bike is sitting off in the grass, with policemen blocking off one lane.  Another rider has his bright yellow and black sportsbike parked near an underpass. He appears rather forlorn and I wonder about the other rider.  Right before this spot in the road is a large, ostentatious sign that warns drivers so slow down to 35mph for a curve ahead that appears to be an extremely sharp curve. Perhaps, the missing 'cyclist didn't slow down enough.

While riding along, I decide that before the ride season ends, I shall return to Geneva-on-the-Lake, which is southwest of Ashtabula, and follow the Ohio Coastal Tour through Toledo.  

I roll into the garage at 11:34p.m. It is after midnight when I finish unpacking the bike and removing all my gear.  I thank the heavens above for all the good things under the sun.

Lake Erie proves that it can stand up to its big cousins not by competing directly with Michigan or Superior but by being a lake with its own resilience and beauty. Three down, two to go. Go around any of these three, and you'll know why these lakes are called "Great." 

Home, safe and sane

Dear family and friends (that includes any and all readers!)

I arrived home after midnight last night. Yikes!  Lots to share but for now just a note to acknowledge getting home whole. I will post my last day draft ride report later today.  Lake Erie is beautiful! How does it compare to Lake Michigan and Lake Superior? Hmmm...interesting question.

Had a great time! Put 1300 miles on the new Roadsmart tires. Love them. I am preparing to head out again this weekend. So, let the planning begin!

A belated, meaningful Memorial Day to all those who felt the calling and acted on it.

Monday, May 25

London, Ontario to Erie, PA & a very drunk man (Rough draft)

(Note: Sorry for the off the top note and unedited pics. I'm far more exhausted than usual but I plan to write a full ride report at a later time. Here, I'm just letting you know I'm okay).

I am behind schedule but "Johnny crack corn and I don't care." Why did I think of that...the brain is an amazing matter.  

 Sunday was special on so many levels! Even this confirmed solo rider spent a part of the day riding with a great friend. My pal Lucas, who lives in Niagara on the Lake, rode down to Port Dover, Ontario to meet with me and ride. We made no concrete plans except to "try" to meet.

Port Dover is the motorcycle mecca of Ontario--at least in this part of the universe.  Every Friday the 13th hundreds and hundreds of motorcyclists converge on this motorcycle-friendly little port town. Although it was not the 13th, a plethora of bikes, many of them loud and shiny--if you get my picture--filled the small, picturesque lakeside village. Quaint shops and quirky characters are omnipresent.

Lucas said we were each about an hour from Port Dover and should get there around the same time. I tried to stick to the GPS but didn't and it cost me probably 30 minutes. But as I pulled into town, I made a turn that put me a block away from the action. When I rode around the block, I spotted the backside of a hi-viz yellow jacket out of the corner of my eyes. I decided to follow it because Lucas wears one. As he pulled into a parking space, I pulled right behind him. It was Lucas! We arrived at the exact same moment! 

Lucas rides a Kawasake Versys, a beautiful bike that reminds me of my beloved Suzuki SV650. Lucas has farkeled that bike beautifully. 
I'd love that bike but it is as we say in Chicago, "A tall drink of water." I would be on my tippy-toes.  It's a "do it all bike,"--made motorcycle of the year in '08. It's a standard yet able to handle off road. It was so great seeing Lucas. He's a skilled rider and I love learning from him. We talked bikes and riding for a while and then had a wonderful perch dinner. I was hungrier than I thought and didn't think to take a "food picture." When people are around, I enjoy eating a meal, when they are not, I don't always think about eating--my proof that eating is a social event to me more than a survival issue. The meal was like a drug. I felt great afterwards and it lasted a very long time.

We had a great gathering.  But the ride together back to the states was the best! Lucas knows some amazing backroad stretches. Everything was perfect. Let's just say, he's a spirited rider, who loves curves and loves a little pep in his step--his wheels roll! Lucas is an American living in Canada and will soon be a Canadian citizen--Yay!!

Lucas rode with me all the way to a very nice park from which we watched the Peace Bridge and we stared across the way to Buffalo, New York. Lucas gave me some ride instructions and we parted company way too soon.  I made the border crossing and toured a bit of Buffalo, which struck me as  sad. Very sad, which I'll write more about at another time.  I got to Lackawanna, which is also economically depressed on many levels too. Yet, people find joy no matter where--even if that joy is artificially stimulated.

I wanted to go to the building on Wasson Street in Lackawanna. It's the setting of a movie called Lackawanna Blues. I reached it, thanks to Lucas knowing the address (he went there and I've wanted to go there since). A overtly drunk man was sitting outside. I stopped the bike a ways down (not wanting to deal with the man) and tried to get a decent picture. He was yelling to someone across the street to give him money. I snapped a picture and he turned and waved to me. I nodded. He spotted the camera (I had the G10--something small). He motioned for me to take his picture and I said to myself, "Dang, I was hoping to avoid this."

From there I took the picture and he motioned for me to come over. Reluctantly, I dismounted the bike and walked toward him. I knew that some drama would ensue. I just knew it. I'm for drama. I'm just not for dealing with drunks. He was not just inebriated, he was sloppy, sloppy, walking sideways two steps then forward one step and backways several steps, drunk! He had the tubescent(sp?) features of a drunk-- that puffy "hyper" look to one's pores that always makes the person's face look swollen. When I did my dissertation work, I became an expert in spotting such characters and many of them had more than their share of drama. 

He said, "I'm Sunny Hall" (which was his street name) and I'm the one who kicked the devil's ass and sent him on his way." I nodded and smiled. "Take my picture beautiful." I took his picture. "Come here, talk to me. I'm looking for a nice girlfriend, I need somebody." I smiled and said I was married. "I don't give a damn 'bout that--where he at now?"  I didn't answer. He motioned with his hands as if to say, "Where is he?"  He posed for me to take another picture. I did. I said, "Isn't this the place they made a movie." He smile at recalling it. "Yes, I was the one who kicked the devil's ass." I tried to recall if that was a scene in the movie or only in the movie playing in this guy's head. I couldn't remember...

I took a few pictures of the building. And, finally Sunny asked me for money. I reached in my pocket and had four coins--all Canadian. I gave him the seven dollars and asked if he could use that. "Sure, I can, I'm trying to get money to get home." (This is the same line I hear in Chicago all the time, and there too, I try to keep coins in my pocket and give a bit here and there). He proceeded to ask me, no press me, for my number. I told him I wasn't from around there. When he learned where I was from it seemed to attract him more. "Damn, from Chicago, all the way on that bike, damn, see you're the kind of woman I need in my life. I want to get to know you. You could help me...I want to get next to you. What's you name?"

I was deliberately vague and only gave my first name. He then gave me his real name. He felt that any man deserving of me would not "let" me out. I thanked him for the pictures. "Will you call me? When you gone let me get to know you?" It amazes me that he would even think he's be love-worthy. I admired his confidence!  I stressed being unavailable but thanked him again for the pictures. He then asked for some American money. I told him I couldn't really help him I had no small bills, which I didn't hesitate not to say to him.  Men like him are not violent; they are typically harmless. They're just drunks. Often talkative and friendly.  I could tell this was alcohol not any of the shooting up, sniffing or smoking drugs.  I told him I might have a dollar, which he said would help him "a lot." 

He followed me to the bike and as we walked there I hoped that the large bills I had placed inside were not showing. I told him I had no small bills and he eagerly said he could get anything changed in the store. I gave him the $1 I had and with the Canadian coins I told him he had more than enough to get home. He smiled and said, "You're smart too. See I need someone body like you in my life--I could love you. God sent you. You could help me straighten out" He went on and could forever. He insisted I take down his number. "I want you to call me. I stay with my mother. Now she's particular about people calling her house but she'll be okay with you. I don't really live there, but I stay there." Translation: His mother's house is the place he receives mail, messages and can occasionally get a meal or two. I took his address and promised to mail him a picture, which he thought made him look handsome. I will do that. We parted and he tried to kiss me a couple of times and thank God for helmets. Each time he tried, I lowered my head and blocked him with my helmet. "Please, I'm married and don't..." He responded each time, "I don't care about that, I want to get to know you." Another good reason to ALWAYS wear a helmet.

The ride to Erie, PA was beautiful. I followed 5 southwesterly all the way, catching glimpses and full views of Lake Erie. I made a stop or two to take it all in but mostly I rode.  The smooth ride put me in a nice zone  where everything seemed on auto pilot. For miles and miles of curvy, sweeping roads on relatively lightly traveled ground, I reached Erie, PA way too soon. I had an urge to moto on to Cleveland, but Lucas said there was a Panera's in Erie right on 5 and when I saw that, I stopped and had dinner. The hotel, which I selected just because it was a Comfort Inn downtown, was a couple of blocks from the Panera's. I got in around 9pm, belly full, tired and ready for my Memorial Day outing. Memorial Day...uh oh, parades. It might be slow going...

I'll ride in honor of what the day really means and thank those who risked and gave their lives for others...

Hope your day has meaning...  

Saturday, May 23

The Circle Begins--Lake Erie

Friday, May 22, 2009  (very rough draft)

My third Great Lakes trip is underway. HOMES--that's how I learned all the great lakes as a child. HOMES  stands for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. I always wondered about those lakes. Even Lake Michigan, the one I'm live near. What's on the other side? Who are the people who reside over there? What do their towns look like? I didn't know much about Lake Michigan except that it is vast and beautiful and really looks more like what I imagined an ocean looks like. As an adult, I can now say having completed Michigan and Superior, that while people are just about the same no matter where you go, place and the importance of space is quite different and how people use and treat places and space differ. That the fun part--being about toe see new places with different eyes; of course, via two wheels, which alone, creates a different sensory experience than traveling via car.

So this long Memorial Day weekend seemed like an ideal time to circumnavigate Lake Erie.

So here I am in Amherstburg, Ontario.  It is the sort of place one goes out of their way to reach. I love this small, historic town. From my very first visit decades ago, I knew there was something special about it. Not only was Amherstburg a major stop on the underground railroad for escaping slaves, it is the site of some very important battles on the Canadian side. Here we get the other part of the history of the wars, such as the war of 1812. Amherstburg has continued to have a long and close history with the United states. It is south of Detroit, the only place in North America where you must go south to reach Canada.  

I highly recommend the Bondy House B&B to anyone who visits this area.  The house has a wonderful history and is situated in a peaceful, friendly town that just makes you want to pull up a chair, park your bones and wear out your welcome. I'm here only for one day but as I circle Lake Erie (the Memorial Day trip to myself), I'm planning to meet up again at the Bondy House at the finish. 
Prior to reaching Amherstburg, I made a stop in Monroe, MI to see the River Raisin Battlefield. The Visitor's Center closed before I arrived--even though I called and even though it 4:45 when I arrived--not 5:00 like their signs states for closing time. Oh well...but it's one of those annoying things that makes getting a stamp sometimes out of your control.

I am heading to Point Pelee--for my first Canadian stamp!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Had a wonderful Friday evening with Carolyn and Merv. They fed me like royalty. Merv did something to salmon that could make him rich.  Corn, mushrooms, brown rice and green beans topped off the meal. 

After being fed an excellent breakfast by Carolyn, I got a late start on Saturday--I am unhurried about leaving my friends. But I do. First I head to Fort Malden, aka Fort Amherstburg to get my first Canadian stamp. Fort Malden is a National Canadian site but the young person manning the desk has no idea of what I'm talking about. He looks all of 18. But he helpfully calls around and is eventually told, "We don't participate in that anymore." He takes it harder than I do. 
We decide that his signature, date, and time should be sufficient proof of my visit. The added his phone number in case someone needed to call him. I also bought a cheap memento as proof of my visit and take pictures of the Fort with the bike visible.

My next hope of a Canadian stamp is Point Pelee National Park, which is in Leamington and situated at the banks of lake Erie. I head there on long, isolated backroads that carry me through small towns. I finally remember to set my GPS to kilometers (duh!) so that I can cease with mentally converting kilometers into miles--that little step made travel so much easier. 

Point Pelee National Park is not a simple journey. It's a fun journey but sits way out and the travel through some of the towns is slow. The young man at Fort Malden called ahead so I knew I'd get a stamp there. Well...they still had the stamp, but not one with a date.  Date is important.  The young ranger looked all of 15 (I can't help but accept getting older as the world is beginning to all look really young).  Oh well...Finally, a more mature woman appeared and interjected herself into the conversation. She explained that Canada used to participate in the Passport Parks program but "unfortunately" no longer. She lamented about that lost and said she wished they would reinstitute it because school children loved collecting, as did she when she was a child. So, I get my first stamp without an official date. I buy another souvenir as proof, and I date the book. The mature ranger told me that "If you get the right person at a national site, they'll know where to get the stamp--but some of the newer personnel won't even know what you are talking about." I know that's true!

The ride through small towns like Wheatley, and many port towns like Port Alma and Port Glasgow, is peaceful and scenic--and, at times, a bit too leisurely. It is also cold as one travels along sections of county road 3, it puts the rider right on the edge of Lake Erie and the breeze stemming from the lake was downright cold! Eventually, I pulled over somewhere near Palmyra to put on my heated jacket, which without the heat on kept me comfortable the rest of the way.  Speaking of the weather, it has been gorgeous, clear blue skies, bright warm and sunny and just enough wind to keep things interesting.

After hours on 3, I began to tire and found "The 401," a high speed highway with a maximum speed of 100km, but few followed that command. I love the crown on the highway signs-it seemed so British (interesting the next major place was called "London.").  I took the 401 to a Service Center, (equivalent to Rest Stops) where I tried to call (with a phone card), someplace to make hotel plans. Using a public phone has been humbling to say the least. It was a long and arduous process. I met a high student there who talked more than my friend Jacob from West Branch, IA. This kid was a sport nut and shared good news with me when he learned I was from the Chicago area. THE BLACKHAWKS WON! he told me.  I tried to show interest and great enthusiasm. I learned that his parents ride HD and have traveled on it to the "states." We talked at least 30 minutes--totally unplanned on my part; yet, I think I needed that break as I hadn't taken one the whole day.  It was getting late, near 7 and the backroads will be pitch black within a couple of hours. I decide to stay on the 401 (although the lights seem rather lacking on this too) and find a hotel. Having lost my BlackBerry the day befor I left (which has been found since). Lacking easy phone accesschas made this trip far more challenging than is my desire.

I bought a "pay as you go phone" before I left IL only to learn that it doesn't work in Canada. More on this later--I don't want to start the day on a bad note. But the good news is my BlackBerry will be waiting for me when I return home. Yay!!

I'm heading out now and plan to reach Cleveland or somewhere near before the end of the riding day.  My lovely SV got lots of attention wherever I rode--it's a great looking bike IMHO! But Jesse Owens is a looker. The conversations never stop about the bike, what it is, how it rides, where am I going and why?, etc. At a gas station, I ran into another woman rider on a BMW.  I waved to her. She walked up to me and said, "We're anonmalies, aren't we?" I agreed and we chatted very briefly about riding and our bikes. One meets the most interesting people when traveling on two wheels. When traveling alone in a car I can count on one hand--with multiple fingers left over--the number of people who come up and start a conversation. Two wheels brings out the talk in folks, the vehicle becomes an instrument of and for communication across many lines.

Well, I'm off two-wheeling it.

Wednesday, May 20

Bruised, battered and beaten to Nebraska!

By mid week I’m looking at the maps and weather channel for a place to go, especially a destination that will also have a stamp or two to collect. This time, the west looked best. What made that sweeter was the chance to see my friend Claye would also be heading in that direction.

Saturday’s ride.

I was on the road by 6:30 a.m. Destination: Omaha, Nebraska. Round trip would mean nearly 1000 miles on the OD, which was a nice bonus. I needed to reach 12,000 miles ASAP because my plans to circle Lake Erie were only two weeks away and the bike needed its check up.

I think it was joy at being on the road that made me ignore the wind. You’d think I’d learn from the St. Louis trip. I wouldn’t know until 11pm Saturday night that the winds were 32mph, including wind gusts of the same velocity. Traveling along I-88 West, a road in dire need of some patching, I eventually noticed the snarling winds. The winds swirled the cool air with such force that my helmet kept being whipped back or snatched to the side. Eventually, my neck hurt from trying to keep my head and neck attached to my body.

Two hours into the trip and I was really looking forward to West Branch, IA where President Herbert Hoover’s childhood home site stands. Getting a stamp there plus the one in Effigy Mounds, Harper Ferry, IA, would complete my Iowa stamping. West Branch is near Iowa City, a town I always enjoy. Interstate 80, like I-88 was tough going too. The winds were far stronger than any I had ever encountered. I felt my spine contort to a “S” shape as I tried to keep Jesse under control and in its own lane. That sideways feeling, that feeling of being at a 45 degree angle got old fast. I stayed in the right lane but many times, too many to recall, I was pushed into the left lane. This happened often in curves where I had to lean a little. Each time it happened I gasped for air. I did not like this at all.

West Branch was a welcomed stop. When I pulled into the lot for the Hoover Museum, I saw a skinny kid who looked like a white version of Steve Urkel. I noticed first his large glasses and that something was clipped to his belt. I found a parking place and as I turned off the bike, I noticed that the kid (whom I learned was really a young adult) was running in my direction.

I sized him up and immediately thought I could take him easily if I had to. But he was smiling. When he got to me he started talking a mile a second, pointing to my bike. I tried to read his goofy expression. “I’ve only seen one bike like this on the road—I want one—either that or a Honda VFR.” He went on to talk about the day he visited Gina’s BMW in Iowa City and checked out the bike. “I saving for one now. First I’m going to get my license. I’m an EMT.”

His name is Jacob; it should be Chatterbox.

I remained seated on the bike as I watched, listen to, and talked to this fireball. His mother isn’t keen on the idea of him getting a motorcycle but his dad is cool. Jacob has traveled extensively throughout the US because his father is a Ranger; in fact, he’s the Ranger for the Herbert Hoover site.

Before heading inside the Visitor’s Center, Jacob gave me a run down of the motorcycle accidents he’s seen and helped, the fires he’s helped put out, and the evils of riding a Hayabusa and the importance of riding gear.

When I dismounted the bike, I asked Jacob if he wanted to sit on it. I barely finished the offer before Jacob was on the bike, grinning like it was Christmas Day. I think Jacob can forget about that Honda. He seemed in love!

Jacob told me to take Main Street into Iowa City. It turns into Herbert Hoover highway. It is a fun road with rolling hills, farms, and some nice twisties. It is a one lane road into Iowa City that made me forget about the wind and my now aching left shoulder and neck. I lunched in Iowa City and came close to thinking I should get a room there stay overnight. But I wanted to see Claye and hear about her travels.

I forged on and very soon regretted it. I began thinking of my trip in 50 and 75 miles blocks. If things didn’t improve in 50 miles, I would end the trip. At each point, I stopped and took a break, frequent breaks, which I think helped relieve my aches. Finally, Des Moines, IA became the point at which I would get a room and call it quits. Getting there was not fun, I will admit to that. It’s difficult to admit about myself that I have a hard time letting some things go.

Claye and I left messages for each other. My messages whinned about how battered and beaten I was feeling, and how I doubted if I’d make it to Nebraska.
I didn’t like leaving such messages but giving voice to my situation was cleansing in a way. I had come pretty far to give up. While I didn’t feel the riding was dangerous, I felt I was aggravating the collar bone and my back of previously cracked ribs. The whole area felt hot.

I-80 does a strange thing near Des Moines. It drops and heads a bit southerly. The winds were still strong but considerably less aggressive. So I forged on. I was beginning to feel that Nebraska was within reach if the winds stayed right where they were in Des Moines. This wasn’t meant to be. They stirred up but I stopped at every rest stop and took a five minute break. My goal now was to reach Nebraska before nightfall. The GPS estimated my arrival at around 8:47pm—assuming I didn’t keep piling on the stops.

I-80 takes a deeper southerly shift around Neola, IA and from there, it was an easier journey. I pulled into the Sleep Inn that Claye reserved. I arrived before nightfall, bruised, battered and beaten. I was hungry too but felt too exhausted to walk across the street to get food. That night, Claye and I stayed up and talked and made plans for Sunday’s ride to IL. I munched on rice crackers, GORP, and the joy of having made it to see my friend.

Sunday's ride.

Claye was in definite need of new tires (her more than month long trip put on over 8000 miles) but our plans to ride together back to IL so that she could get new tires, fell through. We would go our own way. Claye had been on the road at least a month and beginning to feel the call for home. First, she had to reach Cleveland, where she would have new Tourances put on her BMW F650GS. Thus, there was no need for her to hit the road as early as I wanted to depart. Oh, and the two queen bed suite that we had planned to share? Turns out that the hotel made an error that involved smoking rooms and we were upgraded to two single, nonsmoking rooms. Thanks, Claye!

In the morning, I texted my goodbye to Claye, who kindly dressed and met me in the lobby to say hers. I was on the road by 6:30 am. No wind to speak of. The Weather Channel said the winds would be 6mph—baby stuff! The sky was clear and the temps were in the 40s. I tuned on the heated jacket to “Low” and settled in for a nice ride.

I stopped only for gas and visits to the bathroom. I rode straight through to IL. Somewhere near Geneseo I acknowledged my hunger and stopped for a hour long lunch. On so many levels it was refreshing. My shoulder ached but because I didn’t wrestle the wind, I didn’t aggravate it further. I was fine. I was in the house by 5:15pm. While Sunday’s ride didn’t quite make up for Saturday, it came close.

Was it all worth one stamp? Probably not. But it was great seeing Claye. And really, Saturday made me appreciate Sunday. Isn’t there some adage about if you embrace the light, you also must accept the dark? The ying-yang of life, perhaps?

Ride total: 994 miles

Sunday, May 10

Jesse's warning, getting out of Dodge, and a new daily record

I packed to stay overnight. But by the time I reached St. Louis yesterday I qualified as a battered woman! Upon leaving, I noticed the wind but optimist that I am, I believed if it did not worsen, I could handle it. It's one thing to deal with wind for a few minutes--even an hour. It is quite another to deal with it the entire trip! I said somewhere else on this blog that I didn't mind the wind. Ignorance will make us say things we only think we believe. An "assault," is the only word to describe how these winds treated those witless enough to ride a motorcycle in it.

Battered around and around, I kept hoping I was just traveling through bad spots and it would eventually die down; it never did. I admit to feeling challenged. I recognize that I have issues with letting go. So, I applied my training and counter steered and it did make me feel more able-and confident. Still, robust wind gusts, most of which were unpredictable and some of which whipped the bike in a way that made me feel it would swirl; several times, the ambush snatched my breath away. A clarion call to the ancestors was answered. After two hours, and no tangible end in sight, I settled down and concentrated on getting first to Springfield, IL and if there I had had enough, I would end my trip for the day, get a hotel room and return home on Sunday.

I stopped for gas and munching but remained on course. In Springfield I had a refreshing break at Oak Ridge Cemetery, where I visited the Lincoln Tomb. Getting off the bike for more than a few minutes, was the diversion I needed. I then made my way to the Lincoln Home NHS and collected my stamp. The slow speed required to navigate these locals streets seem to make the wind invisible. At the Visitor's Center, I spotted a Lincoln Harley-Davidson, called the "Circuit Rider" Lincoln Bicentennial Motorcycle. It's designer and builder, Kim Shirley created it in honor of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday.

About the wind...I was duped! The wind hadn't disappeared, it was there lurking, waiting to exert itself sharpest at speeds over 30 mph. Thus, my journey to St. Louis continued the previous beating and before getting out of Illinois Jesse, for the first time, got a warning. I'm not a speed demon--it just doesn't appeal to me on any consistent level. I will confess to having tried out Jesse's horse power but that was on an isolated, wide open road in the early morning hours and no one else was present and Jesse was newly broken in and frisky for fun. That thrill is memorable and I've had little desire for a repeat performance. Speed is not easy to manage in the wind, I learned. A steady speed slowed considerable when bucking a headwind. Wind that butts from behind requires an adjustment too. A sideways wind slap made me handle the throttle differently too. It is no wonder that my previously broken clavical throbbed more than usual. Probably the worst part of the trip was the beating I took from trucks. I stay away from trucks. Trucks on a windy day--there's nothing like it. The wind they stirred made me feel as if I would be sucked underneath or blown off the road. I shoke and rattled in their space. I stayed away even more than usual.

As I was watching their loads sway and passing on the left, I came to the crest in the road. Once beyond the trucks, I slowed and switch lanes. It was then that I spotted an Illinois State Patrol car sitting on the side of the road in one of those spots for "Authorized Vehicles Only." I continued to slow down. The posted speed limit is 65mph. I checked the GPS and I was doing 67. I looked in my mirror and saw the patrol car pull in behind me. No pulsating red and blue lightsnthat accelerates your heart when you see them in your mirror. He rode behind me and I rode on. Minutes later. I mean many minutes later, he turned on his light. ??? I figured he needed me to move to the next lane so he could pass me and get whatever criminal he'd had just been radioed to pursue. But when I pulled over, so did he. It finally dawned on me that I was the culprit he was gunning for. But why?

It took him seemingly forever to exit the car and tell me he had made a horrible mistake. When he approached me, he seemed hesitant. Then he said, "Sir, do you know why I stopped you?" In my most polite voice, I said, "I'm not a sir and I don't know why?--I wasn't speeding." He apologized rather profusely and said he was confused by the bike-- "even though I saw all the hair--"Is that your hair?" I told him the hair was mine. He smiled and apologized again. His eyse traced the bike from front to back. Motioning his head toward the bike, he said, "That's a nice bike you have." Again, he asked if I knew why he stopped me. I said I didn't and again said I wasn't speeding. "I was doing 67 mph." He said I was but "back there as you were coming over the hill, I clocked you at 76."

I said, "Way back there?" I put an emphasis on "Way" to indicate that it was some time ago to just now put your lights on me. "Back then, I was trying to get away from the trucks, I slowed as soon as I passed them." He agreed that I did. "Nice bike. Let me see your license and registration, please" Momentarily, I didn't know where it was. I check the luggage--no find. I checked another place on the bike--no find. I wasn't worried about not finding it, just where. I knew I had it. I found it in a bag I had on me. I turned over multiple papers. "Where are you going?" I told him I was headed for St. Louis. "I wouldn't be out here, it's windy." I agreed and told him that I was being battered by the wind and trucks, which is why I was trying to get away from the convoy." He said, "I'm not going to give you a ticket, just a warning. Let me check these and I'll have you on your way in no time." At every point, he was polite--even friendly. Still, I was pissed. It took him a very long time to return to the bike and sitting there, I was getting chilled.

When he finally returned to my bike, he said words that stunned me. "Ma'am, this bike doesn't show up on the computer." Huh? "There is no record of this bike when I put in the VIN." "Huh?" I had turned over the vehicle registration, BMWMOA membership number, insurance card, title info--everything--including the bill of sale (I carry everything with me except the dealer who sold me the bike--I am that paranoid, especially riding anywhere south of Chicago!). "I don't know why that's the case, this is my bike and it's legit." He said he believed me and suspected that it is an error at the Secretary of State's office. Still, he looked for the VIN on the physical part of the bike. We found it and it too checked out against all the other papers. Yet, the state's computers failed to bring up any info on the bike--as if it didn't exist. "I swear, this is my bike." He said, "I agree, Ma'am. Seems like a clerical error in the Secretary's office--just give them a call and have them fix it." He complimented me on having so much paperwork with me and said had I had any less, he would be suspicious. He gave me a written warning and told me to "be careful out there and have a safe trip." He was a kind, friendly trooper and I appreciate the questionably deserved warning Jesse received. ;-) In my dark hours, my greatest fear of solo riding is a town like this. I imagine being stopped in such a place never to be heard from again.

By the time I reached St. Louis I felt depleted and famished when I got off the bike. I munched and drank the whole way and had consumed a hearty breakfast at 6:30am that morning. My GPS led me to what was to be the Visitor's Center but it wasn't there--at least I didn't see it. I rode around the maze that is downtown St. Louis and wound up too far east of the city. I pulled into a gas station and after talking to several people, a man who first told me he'd take me but didn't have time, insisted in the end to escort me. "I'm going that way, just follow me," he said. He led me to the parking facility of the Arch along Memorial Drive where I parked and learned I'd have to pay $6 for what I should be a five minute visit to collect the stamp.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a magnificent site. But getting to it is a huge pain in the gluts! I had to hike to The Gateway Arch, where I expected to get info about the stamp. I enjoyed taking pictures of shiny arch. A gorgeous azure sky with puffy clouds made the walk to the arch lovely--if I didn't have to haul my tank bag, jacket and helmet, which I had to since I left the lock behind that would have allowed to keep these items on the bike. Two rangers stood at the foot of the arch and told the crowd that the access was close and to get in required walking to the other leg of the arch. We hike there. That's when I felt my blood begin to boil. I got in line (stamping my Passport book takes seconds, literally) and waited. We were instructed to remove jackets, empty pockets of metal objects and prepare for purse and bag checks. A sign said they apply airport security techniques to get into the Arch. I stood in line for way too long; I started sweating. Someone, several people ahead of me, kept tripping the machine's siren. They searched him several times but couldn't figure out what prevented him for passing through. Eventually, they snubbed the machine and waved him in.

By the time I reached the Visitor's Center Information desk, 45 minutes had elapsed. It would take a miracle to reach Grant's National Historic Site before it closed. The Ranger said I could but probably had only 5 or 10 minutes to spare. I couldn't get my GPS to locate the place with an address. The Ranger said it's a tough one to get to. He gave me what he felt were good instructions--and it's really NOT in St. Louis as the Passport book states. I left the Arch without seeing anything of historic value about St. Louis. It's not my first trip to St. Louis, but seeing anyplace from the seat of a motorcycle always makes it a novel experience.

As I walked back to the garage I came to another Ranger. As a check on what the first one said, I asked how far the Grant site was. He estimated 15 minutes, 10 minutes LESS than his co-worker. I decided to call the site and wade through the annoyingly automated phone system before being able to select a live person. When I reached one, she told me that I would probably pull in five minutes before they closed and, "We close right on time." She gave me detailed instructions, which differed dramatically from the first set of instructions. This was a longer route? but more direct. She doubted that I would make it there on time and her instructions seemed to guarantee it. That was all I needed as I too had reached a similar conclusion. While inside the Visitor's Center, I had stamped my book a second time for the Louis & Clark National Hist. Trail. I don't know if this will count, but my goal was two stamps for St. Louis. I decided to scrap any notion of staying overnight. I'd seen enough of St. Louis--I wanted out of Dodge. The wind's beating and hunger had made me a tad moody. I needed to slow the pace.

I hit "Go Home" on the GPS and made my way across the Martin Luther King Bridge and found I-70E and I-55N, which I took to IL. It was now 4:45 pm and would mean arriving home around 10pm. I didn't care. If I ate a decent meal, I'd be good the rest of the way. I rode for 90 minutes before finding a place to eat. I had a light, good meal and relaxed for about an hour before leaving. The GPS said I would arrive home at 10:59. Times like this make having music a good thing. I dug out the Ipod, stopped only for gas and was in the house at 11:15pm. The miles peeled away. With the exception of the SaddleSore I completed (over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours), I set a personal daily for myself. Knowing I can go the distance--even under challenging circumstances, will serve me well should I decide to finish this National Parks Tour.

I had planned to go to Indiana this morning--there's an easy stamp in Chesterton. Instead, I'm going to hang around, read the newspaper, finally finish Levitt's book, Freakonomics, and celebrate my commercially expropriated holiday, Mother's Day, any way the mood strikes.

Saturday ride total: 620.3 miles

Saturday, May 9

Three stamps and a ton of riding fun!

Last Saturday, I left early as I had approximately 500 miles to cover before the St. Croix Falls, WI visitors center and the Upper Mississippi River Valley visitor’s center closed in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Interstate would be my friend for much of the trip, but I’d planned on riding state highways and some local roads for large sections of the journey.

The weather differed dramatically from the previous weekend, which rained virtually the entire weekend. This Saturday already seemed wonderful in comparison. Still, I put the heated jacket on low and felt comfy cutting through the crisp, cool morning air. I would be covering some of the same ground from last week having ended that trip empty handed –not one national park stamps to show for my efforts. This was a new day. Saturday morning traffic was light, just the way I like it. I had packed some snacks and had a light breakfast before departing. On this trip, I would focus on riding one. Being a tourist would have to wait for another day. If I’m going to make a valiant attempt at the Iron Butt National Parks Tour, I’ve got to accept some realities. I need 50 stamps from 25 states in one calendar year. Now, I’ve tried to work this out mathematically and I keep coming up short. I know the obvious things like concentrating my trips in the east. But still, time to enjoy some of these beautiful roads is a huge desire too. My heavy riding is restricted to weekends. I figure I can get in about 1000 miles for a weekend ride. So far, I’ve fallen short, with 616.7 for the first weekend and 948 miles that I will log for this weekend. This means that I’ll use the superslab for these quests more often than not. Fortunately, some of these locations are remote enough that one has to do some heavy mileage away from the interstate as I would learn about getting to St. Croix Falls, WI.

The trip out was uneventful and just plain enjoyable. Jesse Owens hummed the entire way. Seems like the more I ride this bike, the better the ride gets. I do feel one with this bike. I feel that it fits me perfectly; I sink into it and we blend together. On the SV650, after about 350 or so miles my legs would often begin to feel a bit cramped. A stop and a stretch usually did the trick. On the ST, this just doesn’t happen. The leg is extended just a wee bit more and it makes a mammoth difference.

The roads to St. Croix Falls are scenic, remote and actually breath-taking in parts. State highway 35 that follows the Mississippi River is quite wonderful. When I arrived in St. Croix Falls, WI I had planned to rush inside the Visitor’s Center, get my Passport book stamped and be on my way back south to St. Paul. But the Ranger there had other plans. He was a nice gent that reminded me of Barney Fife on the Andy Griffin show. We chatted about the Passport program and given that this was my first stamp, I felt compelled to buy something to celebrate. I settled on a lovely blue heron pin. As I was leaving, he asked me if I wanted to see a video of the St. Croix River. I really didn’t. But not only looked forlorn, he looked rather lonely there all by himself. He made the St. Croix River sound important. I didn’t have the never to say, “I just want the stamp.” I really did need to get to St. Paul before that visitor’s center closed and it was supposedly closing in a couple of hours. I asked the Ranger if it was possible to get to St. Paul before it closed. I could easily go on Sunday as I was staying in St. Paul for the evening. But that would mean waiting for the place to open on Sunday and getting a later start than wanted for my return trip home.

In his most Barney Fife voice, he told me that it closed at 9pm. I was stunned! The website said it closed around 5. He volunteered to call them to check and sure enough they were open late. I had no reason now to rush out. In fact, this slowed down the whole trip in a good way. I felt myself relax.

Besides, if I’m going to visit all these places, I should at least spend a few minutes learning a few things about these historical sites. I sometimes think that the folks who work and volunteer their time in these places do a lot of waiting around for visitors to show up and when they do, they’d like to introduce them to what the center is all about. I watched the movie. Fabulous! Well done, replete with wonderful scenery and many interviews of local legends, geologist, historians, and other experts who make the St. Croix River come alive. I must confess my ignorance. Before this movie, I possessed less than a thimble full of knowledge about the St. Croix River. I knew only that it met up with the Mississippi at some point. The movie taught me a lot about the river and the local’s love for it and determination to keep it clean and protect its native inhabitants. Before leaving, I hung around and took some pictures of the area.

With plenty of time to get to St. Paul, I took a scenic route--what a pleasure to ride free of the onus of getting there before it closed. I arrived around 5:15p.m. Two Rangers dressed like Smokey the Bear managed a booth inside the Science Museum. They were friendly and seemed to know immediately why I was there. The woman said, “Are you one of those….?” She couldn’t think of what to call me. The guy said, “Yes, one of those….” He was stumbled too. I explained that I was collecting stamps for a national parks tour. The guy, “Yeah, yeah the, the… “ He was still thinking. I mentioned the Iron Butt group and they both perked up. I asked if they get a lot of them coming in. “No,” the guy responded, “Not a lot but when they do come in they are memorable—they are a unique group.” I didn’t ask him to elaborate. I could tell from his expression that he thought them to be an odd bunch. “They are a determined group,” he said—or something like that. We all chuckled. I chatted with them and they told me what to visit in St. Paul, where Rice Park was (almost right outside their front door) and that I should take in a meal at Minnehaha. The name struck me as hilarious but I contained myself.    

I walked around St. Paul for a long time and I had an interesting encounter. I was taking a picture of the Landmark Center, an ancient, huge gray stone building downtown. I glanced at an African American woman across the street waiting at a bus stop. Before I could take more than a few pictures, she was at my side. “Hi, are you a photographer?” I said, “Well, I’m visiting and just taking a few pictures.” She said she found it interesting that I was taking pictures of that building, which she thought was a fine building but not something she’d probably take a picture of. She said that when she visited Europe, she noticed that they had many such pictures in architectural books she thumbed through and that’s why she thought I must be a photographer. I asked and she told me a little about the social history of St. Paul, which she prefers over Minneapolis. “St. Paul is more family-like, it’s more like a small community . Minneapolis is more like a big urban area. You see a lot of black there but they are poor, not like here where you just don’t see much of that on the streets.” When she learned that I was from Chicago area, her face flashed instantly. “I lived in Markham—I was born there and lived there until about 20 years old.” Markham is a suburbs close to where my suburban home is located. When she learned I had ridden a motorcycle to St. Paul, she was incredulous. I had to assure her that it could be done by me, a lone woman. She was like meeting a long lost cousin. We had surely walked some of the same Illinois ground. We talked nearly 30 minutes--what a small world.

I found my hotel easily—only four miles from the Science Museum. When I reached it, I realized that I hadn’t had a meal all day. I had my usual GORP, water and juice but that was about it. I was starving. The hotel clerk recommended a Thai restaurant next door. I tried it. I left it happy and with a full tummy. As I walked to the hotel, I could feel the effects of the day slowing my steps. It was now nearly 10:00pm. I prepared for bed, turned on the weather channel and I remember turning on the Kindle to read ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday morning

I wanted to leave early. The weather channel said it would be another great day—even better than Saturday. If lucky, I was going to capture two stamps. One in Harpers Ferry, IA (Effigy Mounds National Park) and another in West Branch, IA (Herbert Hoover National Historic Site). This amounted to more than eight hours of riding and roughly covering 382 miles to reach these sites. And, this didn’t include getting home! The day’s total would be approximately 594 mile and 11 hours, 40 minutes of riding. I decided to play it by ear.

The ride to Harpers Ferry, IA was only 190 miles but it took a bit over 4 hours. I went the scenic route. Rode to La Crosse and moved to the WI side to follow the river. On the previous trip, I rode WI state highway 35 heading north. This time I was heading south. The river looked anew, bright, lively and inviting, and not the gray, misty and cold place of the previous week. Rt. 35 is simply beautiful. One passes through small towns like, Red Wing, MN, (yes, home of the Red Wing shoes that many motorcyclist swear by) and Winona, MN, Genoa and De Sota, WI. Speed limit is greatly reduced in these small towns and from the looks of things, I strongly recommend not going a mile over the limit. Besides, it allows one a good, long look at towns were time seems to have stopped. It is easy to understand why I feel like a tourist attraction here. There just isn’t a lot of diversity so folks are curious, which brings me to a few interesting people I met along the way.

I stopped at a visitors center in Prairie du Chien, a town I felt a tad more comfortable in given my previous stay there. I was directed on how to get to Effigy Mounds—it’s a bit tricky. The direction seemed a bit confusing so I programmed the GPS to take me to Marquette, IA where I’d surely see signs for the Mounds, which I did. My breakfast had worn off and I was beginning to tire. When I reached the center, I hung around some but had no energy to tour the mounds, which is really sad as I’ve been planning a trip here for years. This made me realize a hard truth. Collecting the stamps really is mostly about collecting the stamps when all I have are weekends. The way I see it is the parks and sites I visit will be noted as places to re-visit when I’m not on a clock so to speak. On some trips, I’ll surely have an opportunity to hang out as I did in St. Croix Falls. But given my limited weekend window, I can’t tour like I want to. I started thinking of my priorities. I had now collected three stamps. A fourth stamp would add approximately another 4 hours and getting home, another 4 hours. As I searched for a place to eat after leaving the Mounds, I thought of how satisfied I was already with the ride and how if I didn’t have pressing work due on Monday, I would take the day off and extend this trip.

I ate again at Culver’s (a restaurant that a week ago wasn’t even on my radar). Fries and milkshake—both are excellent here. The manager swore he had seen me in the restaurant before. I finally agreed with him even thought the Culver I ate in last time was in Rockford! We really don’t all look alike but I was too hungry to disagree. I ate while peering over a map and fiddling with my GPS. If I had a nickel for every double take someone did when seeing me there, I could quit my job!

Outside the restaurant, I fiddled with my GPS. I turned when I thought I heard someone call out. I looked and saw a couple walking in my direction. When they approached the man told me his name and introduced his wife. They said, “We’re photographers.” The man said, “I’d like to take your portrait.” Inside my head, I thought, “Yeah, right, I’m not falling for that.”
They said they were “watching” me in the restaurant. While they were talking to me, others left the restaurant and I guess because they say me talking to the couple, they felt okay about talking to me too. It felt as if the couple broke the ice for others. I don’t know. I just found it interesting that folks were coming to say something to me or comment on the bike or the GPS.
The couple and I exchanged pleasantries for some time and they told me where they lived in Prairie du Chien. They want me to stop by on one of my visits. Nice folks. Both are artists (photographers) and belonged to several organizations devoted to the arts. We traded contact info and later the woman sent me some links on their photographer friends and photography happenings in the area.

I left Prairie du Chien, feeling like I knew a little more about the place, having visited it now for two consecutive weekends. I took the scenic route home, traveling along US Hwy 18/52 south into IL. Quite scenic with long, quiet, lightly traveled roads. Because it was Sunday, I encountered many Amish families trotting along in their horse-driven buggies. In one, a kid waved at me. Once I reach St. Hwy 64, a very familiar rode, I always feel that home is near and I never mind that there are quicker ways to get there. I like 64.

At a rest stop, I sat on a park table, away from my bike and sipped ice tea and munched on trail mix. A car load of guys parked next to the bike and when they exited they eyed it closely. When they went inside the rest stop, I prepared to leave. Before mounting the bike, the guys had returned and we struck up a conversation after one complimented the bike. Turned out that they are all riders who live in Chicago. They were returning from a weekend of camping in the UP. One of them had just bought a used BMW and said it was a great bike. When I answered their inquiry on where I had ridden, one of them laughed and said to his buddies, “Hey, we’re going to have to step up our game. We need to catch up.” One of the others said, “I could ride that much if I didn’t have to work.” I resisted the temptation to tell him that I worked too. I understood his point. Working is the one thing that bothers me about the National Parks Tour. Work means freedom comes only on the weekend. How am I going to manage riding east and back in time for work on Monday is going to be difficult.

Given this, the “Tour” has shown me that it really is about the stamps. There is some great riding near these sites but I don’t feel like I have enough time to do justice to them. Yet, I’ve learned that it makes sense to hang around the visitor’s center a bit. It is strange, almost rude to burst in these places, collect the stamp and exit. I’m not certain if I’ll finish the tour or not. For now, that’s not the point. Don’t they say, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, that matters most? Having a structure to my weekends has been fun so far. If I tire of it, so be it.

Well, it’s already Saturday. I need to go to bed for today I’m heading to St. Louis, MO. If I leave early, I can gather a stamp in Springfield, IL ( Lincoln Home National Historic Site (NHS) ) and a couple in St. Louis (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and the Ulysses S. Grant NHS). If I’m feeling really up to it, I can also zip over to Vincennes, IN and pick up the George Rogers Clark National Historic Park (NHP) stamp. I will play it by ear for there are also some great riding roads in MO, like state highway 19 and 21. Hmmm….I just might skip Indiana altogether and check out those Missouri roads.

Ride Total: 948 miles