Tuesday, May 26
Monday, May 25
Saturday, May 23
Wednesday, May 20
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.
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.”
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.
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
Saturday, May 9
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.