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