Sunday, August 31

State Capital, Underground RR and a dollop of Mark Twain

Notes from a two-wheeled historian wannabe...

I haven't visited my state's capital in years. So after scrapping my plan to circle Lake Erie this weekend, I headed south for central IL. My plan was to ride around Springfield, IL do a bit of sightseeing and head west for Jacksonville, IL, about 38 miles west of Springfield, where I would learn more about its role in the Underground Railroad history. Jacksonville is important for many reasons not the least of which is its close proximity to MO, a former slave state. Jacksonville is home also of Illinois College, whose first president happened to be Henry Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and brother to theologian Henry Ward Beecher. The Congregational Church, founded in 1833, preached anti-slavery sermons and filled the church with like-minded parishioners. Eventually, The Congregational Church became known as "the Abolition

For much of the ride, the temperature was around 78 degrees. Everywhere the roads were lightly traveled--a perk of leaving early in the morning. Once beyond the Aurora area, the roads were downright desolate! I arrived in Springfield nine minutes shy of my estimated arrival time. My last visit to Springfield occurred on a weekday. It reminded me of a bustling, mini version of downtown Chicago, with traffic congestion, people rushing around and evidence of Illinois' rich history everywhere. But on this Saturday, much to my utter amazement, Springfield was dead. I felt as if I were riding through a ghost town! The GPS led me to two Thai restaurants, both were closed for the day. I parked and walked along a main street only to find that the overwhelming majority of restaurants were closed. The one or two I found open were the kind of places I'd eat at only if I were famished--and I'd still have to be forced. The occupants insde cars looked like tourists as they slowed down and peered blankly from the windows. People were on the street, but most of them looked like tourists too. I expected far more action from Springfield. After stopping at a train depot visitor's center, I head west.Well, Jacksonville wasn't much better. However, I was on a mission there so the desolate streets worked for me--some of the underground stations were difficult to find and I roamed up and down some streets repeatedly. Earlier this season, I had visited Princeton, IL to see the Homestead of Owen P. Lovejoy. His brother, Elijah Lovejoy, a minister and abolitionist had lived in Jacksonnville, IL and was affiliated with the Congregational Church. During slavery's reign, many in Jacksonville blindly followed prevailing notions about slavery. The Lovejoys and other local abolitionists tirelessly tried to spread their humanitarian, anti-slavery gospel. They encountered considerable resistance and I'm sure their close proximity to slave state Missouri made their preaching particularly dangerous. Jacksonville was literally surrounded by slavery sympathizers and slave owners who did not hesitate to cross state lines in pursuit of their runaway "property" and to deal brutally with those they believed wanted to destroy their human chattel investments. High on the hit list were abolitionists like Lovejoy, and a host of religious leaders and institution that dared advocated the abolition of slavery.Jacksonville has seven house I wanted to see and is home to Illinois College, whose first President, Edward Beecher, was the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Henry Ward Beecher, famous abolitionist and renowned theologian. Some of the homes have historical landmark designation that document their UGRR station status, while others have what they feel is unequivocal evidence of being an UGRR stop, but lack landmark status. Like Woodlawn Farm. Tucked far back off a narrow road on gravel that requires careful navigation. The road is narrow and shoulderless. It is easy to envision a horse and buggy traveling this old farm road. The path is gently rolling and winding in spots that make seeing what is coming at you impossible. I looked for animals, animal droppings, and cars that might want to use this road as practice for the Indy 500. At one point, I thought of turning around, but the road was so narrow that a u-turn was impossible. It was downright scary in parts. I cut my speed to navigate the sometimes wet, freshly mowed grasses that covered huge sections of the road. Relieved that I had finally reached Woodlawn Farm, I pulled into the small gravel filled lot and parked.A personal opinion here about landmark designation for recognition as a "true" underground railroad station (UGRR). I get why it is important to acknowledge the real deal and disallow any old house to claim UGRR status. Still, the requirements to meet certification is a Catch 22. On paper, it makes sense that the process remain a careful one. But it's a little paradoxical too. By definition, the stations were highly secret locales and involved in intricate webs of clandestine networks around the nation and Canada. These were dangerous endeavors for both runaway slaves and the families who sheltered them. People were killed for housing slaves and slaves were killed in failed attempts to recapture them. Thus, it makes sense to me at least that some of these houses would not have the tangible documentation to prove they were part of this secret society to combat slavery. Getting these runaways to Canada or places outside of the slave South depended on people keeping secrets. Word of mouth, messages embedded in quilts and human memory was often all anyone had to pass down. Stories passed on with some tangible evidence found in homes are often all that now remains. Still, the committees that confer the UGRR stamp require far more hard evidence than stories, crawl spaces and secret underground passageways in old houses.

I arrived at the Woodlawn Farm just in time to be greeted by a small boy, who looked to be around 6 years old, with a basket of apples and pears. He kindly showed me where to sign the book and invited me inside the house where the final tour of the day was just beginning. This is one house that has no confirmed designation of being a UGRR. In fact, they've been turned down twice. The UGRR evidence seems convincing, to me. The oral history handed down by the family is gripping and some written documentation exists. The farm was settled in 1824 by the Huffaker family and never suspected then of being a "safe house for 'freedom seekers'" It is now under the ownership of Illinois College and is used as a service project. The highlight of the Woodlawn Farm tour was the mention of the Lovejoys. In Princeton, on the Owen P. Lovejoy Homestead tour, there is considerable mention of his brother, Elijah Lovejoy, minister and abolitionist who was murdered for his anti-slavery beliefs in Alton, IL.Now, in Jacksonville, I'm listening to the story of Elijah Lovejoy. Later, I visited the Congregational Church in which he preached. The little boy who acted as a tour guide assistant was another trip highlight. He assisted the elderly tour guide who appeared to be any one's doting grandmother. She donned period clothes and reminded me of Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife. I swear, I felt this way before I saw that her license plate read, "M. Claus"!! (Dang, I should have taken a picture!). Her little helper was black. He called her "Grandma." He's must be adopted. He couldn't have been a better helper. I wanted to take him home with me. He was professional, articulate and gave a heck of a demonstration of one of the dolls reminiscent of the past. Cute, patient, and clearly a sharp kid. He'll understand more when he matures how valuable his experience was hanging out with Grandma and absorbing all the rich history stored in her brain and poignantly shared with those lucky enough to visit Woodlawn Farm.

I spent the next hour or so riding around Jacksonville looking for the other underground railroad stations. Some are now private residences, others have been turned into museums or organizations (all of which were closed). I looked for two important places on the grounds of Illinois College but never got close enough to the interior campus to see the building and plaque. When finished, it was nearly 7pm, which meant I had been on the bike for 10 clock hours but probably only 8 of it was actual riding. Still, I was nearing exhaustion but it took another 30 minutes to find the hotel when it should have taken 10. I slept soundly with the bike right below my second floor window.Sunday, I was on the road by 8 a.m. U.S. Highway 36/Interstate 72 was devoid of traffic! I mean NONE! This on a holiday weekend?! I went miles without seeing another vehicle heading west--and this was true too for the eastbound lanes. It was actually rather spooky. In the 70 or so miles it took to get to Hannibal, I probably saw a dozen cars MAX. The closer I got to MO and the nearer to the Mississippi River, the more beautiful the terrain. Deep verdant trees and grasses, sandy and iron colored cliffs and increasingly winding roads made the journey pleasant.Hannibal, MO is Mark Twainville! His essence is everywhere! That's both good and well, bad. I loved feeling transported to the past but only for about two hours. After that it became too much. In high school, I hated Mark Twain but admired his writing and story telling. I now realized I just hated reading Mark Twain in my classroom and in the school I attended. I'll leave it at that. This town's love for Twain is in your face obvious and they maximize all things Twain. Like, Mark Twain fried chicken? Mark Twain vending machine? American capitalism hard at work. My two hour stay in Hannibal didn't do it justice and I will return some day.I headed back to IL and traveled U.S. highway 36/Interstate 75 East--again, no traffic to speak of. The sparsely traveled roads encouraged me to try out the Throttlemeister--I love it and used it a few times. It's far easier than all the forum discussions I've read on how to activate it. In a few spots, I also tried out Jesse's speed. The bike flies! I'll leave it at that! Didn't see many policemen out but I did see one totally cool looking motorcycle police office--now that's a job to have! Traffic picked up on I-55 North and I was on heightened alert by the time I reached the Aurora area. It got crazier and crazier the closer to the city I came. A few trip highlights: I met up with some elderly women (on separate occasions), who looked to be in their mid-80s. Their eyes twinkled as they eyed the bike. One said, "You're lucky to know how to ride that thing," Another commented that she was happy to see women having fun. A third gave me a huge smile and a thumbs up. It made me think of how restricted some women must have felt about their lives in 1920s--then again it was the "Roaring Twenties"--hopefully, a few were flappers and in their day and in bold acts of independence they wore "slacks" and marched to their own drummers.

Mileage: 650
Fun factor: 8/10

Wednesday, August 27

Oh, Happy Sunday

I hemmed and hawed so much last Sunday before finally getting out of the door to ride that I exhausted myself. A ton of overdue work has been dragging me down and in response, I have been stubbornly, silently rebelling and wasting far too much time daydreaming about the next ride. I’ve accepted that riding for me is not only a focusing outlet, it is also an excellent excuse for avoidance behavior of all sorts! On Sunday, I was done with denying myself! Sitting glued to the computer, resisting the halloo of the road requires super human strength that I lack. The day was magnificent! Clear and perfect for riding. In my humble opinion, to resist such ideal conditions, puts one at serious risk of an aneurysm! So, to protect my health, I geared up and prepared to leave. Destination, unplanned. By the time I stepped in my boots, I decided on a compromise. Take a quick ride, keep it to 200 miles max and return, hopefully recharged and renewed and ready to work. I decided on Woodstock and the nearby Rockford, IL area. Woodstock is a familiar ride. It’s an old town with an interesting history of its own. It probably, however, is known more for its Hollywood connection. It is also the site on which the movie, “Ground Hog Day” was filmed and the town, judging from the plaques marking certain locations, is clearly proud of that fame. In the center of downtown is Woodstock Square, an attractive space with two gazebos, a beautiful lawn, and ample benches for taking it all in. The morning started off cool, around 67 degrees F and gradually warmed to the low 80s—just gorgeous—with prodigious puffy clouds dotting a robin’s egg blue sky. I arrived feeling exhilarated. I parked on the old brick street with the bike pointing slightly down (later I had to struggle to back the bike out, which required me to dog paddle backward and uphill—ugh!)
I walked along the periphery of the square and snapped a few pictures. I was tempted to stop for lunch but decided to take a Starbuck’s break—they make a mean strawberry cream frozen thingy. While sitting there and flipping through a couple of the books I bought at Read Between the Lynes (that’s not a typo) bookstore, a woman approached me. She introduced herself and looking at my helmet asked me if the bike outside belonged to me. A candy-apple red cruiser sat in front of the store window. I said “No” and pointed in the direction of my bike. She told me that her sister rode a HD, had locks (hair) like mine, and resembled me. Her sister is also a photographer and we are around the same age. Similarities continued until it got downright eerie—like, their mother’s maiden name is Hicks—my surname. Her young teenage son was with her and confirmed that I did indeed look like his aunt. \We exchanged info and promised to “be in touch.”When I left, I saw a couple near my bike. As I got closer, the man turned and asked me if it was mine. I answered and he asked me how I liked the bike. We talked bikes for some time and he told me he rode a BMW K1200GT, which just before I was leaving, he and his wife road the bike to my spot and presented it. It’s an attractive dark blue with impressive features. Actually, the bike resembles my ST but it is bigger and replete with creature comforts missing on the ST. It, for example, has an automatic suspension. He demonstrated how it works—amazing! The bike doesn’t look mammoth—I mean it looks a machine even I could handle. The windshield is automatic and its height can be altered significantly. Cruise control is built into the bike and the final drive is shaft. His wife said the Beemer is comfortable and judging from their long distance trips, it must be. Oh, and the pillion has her own bun warmer control! And, I thought heated handle bar grips reigned supreme—imagine being able to ride with a heated seat! We continued easy conversation about helmets, roads, and rides. They reside in the Barrington area so they know the insider roads well. Another nice encounter where we did not part until we exchanged emails. This doesn’t come about glued to the computer, feeling guilty about work I’ve yet to complete. Outside is where life happens in the oddest places, when least expected.That’s part of the fun of riding. Even though I ride solo—or maybe even because I ride solo, I meet the nicest people (and some of the worst). I do think and have been told by others who do not ride solo, that solo riders are easier to approach. People may feel that they don’t want to interfere if you are a couple or with a group. Had I not gone out, had I sat in my small office space on Sunday, grumbling and whining and feeling sorry for myself, I would have missed out on a little living. I can expend huge amounts of time reclining with a book and surrounded by magazines. But the chance to ride is a chance to step foot outside my cocoon. I safely navigated the many tree lined roads to Woodstock and back. I came upon a car show and stopped there as well. Yes, I’m now paying for it because I’m even farther behind in my work than before. But it is a small price to pay. It was a good and necessary adventure, a chance to honor the beauty of the day, the hour, and all those small moments that can only be appreciated and felt, an honor of those times when one meets and greets good people, to not only smell the roses but to walk or ride among the fields. Even though I ride solo, I know that no “[wo]man is an island” and on any given ride I might be privileged to connect to others in affirming ways. I need huge doses of such to counter the dark side. I felt full and rejuvenated.I stuck to the mileage and returned with a ton of desire but skimpy will. I didn’t fight it. I did some reading and called it a happy day.

Tuesday, August 19

Vermont--"Green before it was cool"--and "Don't Trash" it!

Note to the reader: (Unfortunately this is not a motorcycle report on riding the sweeping, twisting, rolling roads in Vermont. I was caged for six days, wishing each mile that I was on my bike. Lessons learned: 1) three hours in a car feels like nine hours on a motorcycle; 2) I possess a high threshold for multiple levels of discomfort; 3) I still love Vermont; 4) come hell or high water I'm riding to Vermont next season.)

I first visited Vermont in the late seventies. It was somewhat of a delayed honeymoon trip to Ludlow, Vermont. We stayed in a wilderness community that consisted of trekking our gear along a footpath to climb a lofty tree to our three-sided tree house. I fell in love again--despite the fact that there is relatively little racial diversity in Vermont. Still, I ended up loving the place. I then devised other reasons to visit Vermont, like the time I participated in Professor Charles T. Morrissey's Oral History workshop--one of the best workshops ever offered anywhere. It met in Montpelier, the state capitol. Although there were many workshop highlights, the side trip to Hope Cemetery in Barre, VT was among the most memorable.

On my first trip to Vermont, we bicycled along hilly roads and to this day I can recall my labored breathing and thundering heart from ascending endlessly rolling hills and studying the grandiose Green Mountains. I remember inhaling deeply as if for the first time and the air filling body parts never before filled with such clean air. I remember thinking that inner city children needed this kind of sensory experience to feel just how alive one can be sans the supersensory drain that living in some urban areas exact from their souls.

I recall too not seeing any people who looked like me for many days and when I did eye one, I had to restrain myself from waving and smiling like an idiot. Judging from the double takes I too received, those feelings of relieved recognition were mutual. I remember most Vermont's unequivocal love, respect, and protection of the earth, which was obvious almost everywhere I looked. And today, signs like, "Do not Trash Vermont," still profess that same passionate stance and esteem for the earth we inhabit and too often neglect.

For those who might wonder why diversity matters and what possible relationship it has to motorcycling, my quick response reminds me of the adage: "If I have to explain it, you probably won't understand." But allow me to try to explain. A little experiment might help. Here is a favorite thought experiment to try as it might yield an insight or two into what I'm talking about. (As I write this, I think I have written about this before here. Well, forgive me. It's on my mind again given my trip).

Imagine traveling, not to some foreign land but somewhere in your own country. Now imagine that almost every place you venture--and it must be alone, by the way--every restaurant you enter, every hotel, every fuel station, and 98% of the rest stops, you are the only person who looks like you. If you are a woman, imagine that everywhere you go you are the lone woman--cute and fun for a while--but I'm talking about all the time. Seeing only raised toilet seats and wet spots--from sloppy aim, I guess--on the floor around the base of every toilet. If you are male, imagine that your terrain exists almost exclusively--putting aside some male fantasies--within a female milieu, nary a reflection of you or what is important to you and your kind in sight.

It is easy to respond with, "Such things wouldn't matter to me at all." I'll even concede that this might not matter one or two, perhaps even a dozen times that one finds him or herself in a situation in which they are the only one. Slumming for sport and adventure doesn't count. You might even have convinced yourself that you're above such matters. Up the experiment for a minute. Reduce things down to the issue of race and race alone while recognizing that such reductionism isn't ever fully possible. Still, imagine yourself traveling in circles where you are the one and only. Time and time again. I'm not referring either to the time you were in college or the time you visited that church where they sang the best gospel music and you drank lemonade and talked about broadening the circle, yada, yada.

I'm talking about a deliberate and conscious insertion of one's self in situations where he or she is the visibly distinct one. Sorry, but for this experiment it doesn't count if you're the only German American, for example, among the Irish or the only Irish American among the Polish American--not that those experience aren't relevant. I'm talking about reducing things to visible distinctions. Blending is fine if you can get away with it. If you're the only Asian among the Irish--it counts. I can hear the protest that "We're all American and thinking of ourselves as hyphenated is the problem." I wish it were that simple. I see myself as fully American; it's other people who seem to want to call my otherness to attention.

After you've executed your experiment tell me the results. Is the movement of your feet along this earth as certain? Tell me if your dinner on the restaurant's patio feels as carefree or if your hike through the deep, dense thicket of a secluded woods is the worry and stress-free respite you've saved your hard earn dollars to enjoy. If you're honest, you'll admit that your striking appearance in a sea of others presents some interesting multi-level challenges for your travels, which by the way, should never prevent one from going where s/he pleases. After all, it is adventure we ultimately seek, right?

As I traveled through Vermont this past week, I was reminded of what it takes me to get mentally ready to go, to just get on my motorcycle and go. I don't want to make it sound like some loathsome process each time I leave. Still, there is an intense mental, physical, and mechanical preparation that is requisite and each must be in place before I feel the call of the road, so to speak. This may also be why I ride alone. For me, the answer to "When is it time to go?," evolves over time and is rarely instant. What group wants to wait around until the feeling is right for one of its members? Weirdness in any one of those prep areas is evidence that I need to reconsider my plans and deal with the inner stuff before heading out. I envy those who do the normal planning and then leave. I need to take the time to disentangle what is pressing on me. Is it the normal nerves that one can encounter before any trip? Or, given my history and daily realities, is there something deeper lurking beneath the norm preps? What do I ignore/silence and what do I pay close attention to? Most often I prefer to ignore or silence the clues I mysteriously receive through my antenna (that I am convinced stem from centuries of lived realities now etched on my DNA, or so it seems). These hints can scream at me to "DO NOT GO THERE!." When I distrust that, I always regret it.

I've only received good vibes from Vermont. So, no matter who is or is not in Vermont, it is a place I feel as whole as one can. In some ways, Vermont reminds me of how I feel whenever I visit Canada. I'm not naive. I know that neither place is perfect. I would be foolish if I didn't prepare along those same multiple dimensions I mentioned for every trip no matter the destination. Still, my trips to Vermont--so far--are journeys where I feel almost home, that place they say folks are supposed to always take you in.

Thus, despite being caged for nearly a week and envying every motorcyclists I spotted, I had a great re-visit to Vermont. Had I the time, I would add a two wheel fall trip to Vermont to see the colors that are already showing evidence of change. Sadly, I'll need to wait until next season.

After being told about the sign, I finally saw it in a store window: "Vermont was Green long before it was cool." It's really true. I swear, I think they invented recycling! Vermont isn't just a haven for artists, flower-children, environmentalists and nature lovers, it is an all-around great place for anyone wanting to inhale and exhale deeply. Sorry if it sounds like too much romanticizing of a place. This is my outsider's experience, admittedly myopic and filtered through the lens of gender, race, age, experience and SES, etc. Still, I love Vermont.

Perspective is everything. When I returned into Illinois, I rode my motorcycle in from the south suburbs. A man seeing my gear said, "You're brave to ride a motorcycle in Chicago." I've heard that before. It doesn't take bravery to ride in Chicago. This is home and for me and as such, it is the most normal thing to do. A while back, another man told me that he got rid of his motorcycle when he moved to Chicago. That made me sad for him. But I understood it from his perspective. He didn't grow up here. That was his outsider's viewpoint. I did grow up here. It's my comfort zone and reference point. It's when I stretch beyond the narrow confines of my universe that I grow. That's where motorcycling enters and that is what motorcycling allows me to experience.

For me to go where I'm not naturally inclined to venture, is probably the only brave thing that I do. Next season on that definite trip to Nova Scotia is now added a definite side trip to Vermont. Or, should I say, on my trip to Vermont, I'm making a side trip to Nova Scotia. Either way. I'm going!

Tuesday, August 12

A "Welcome Back" Ride Report

On Saturday, I went for a motorcycle ride with Dave. He is the proud owner of Queenie, my former '01 Suzuki SV650. Other than the recent motorcycle safety classes and subsequent parking lot practicing, he hasn’t ridden a motorcycle in more than 25 years. In the late seventies, he purchased a red and black Honda CB360, which he learned to ride when the dealer gave him a lesson after he purchased the bike. This was long before MSF classes. That Honda was a cool little number and soon after acquiring it, Dave taught me to ride. I rode many miles pillion on that 360cc bike but nothing compared to the times I rode it alone. After riding that bike for a year of so Dave bought a greenish-blue Suzuki GS750. I remember the bike looking mammoth, heavy and aggressive compared to the gentle little Honda. I think I may have attempted to ride that bike once and decided it wasn’t for me.Seasonal changes didn’t seem to phase Dave. He rode that Suzuki all the time. I remember brutally cold nights of him coming home from Illinois State University, wet, cold and exhausted from the nearly 300 miles round trip he made each week. Dave and a friend took their motorcycles on a trip to Colorado, where they camped, rode up Pike’s Peak and returned safely with a lot of tall tales.

Dave was ATGATT before we called it that. I remember the heavy leather jacket, the pants and the Frye boots. I remember that his Bell helmet closely matched the color of the GS.Then one day when I was home sick with the flu, I got a call from a hospital, telling me that he had been in an accident. I felt loony from the bug and had a hard time understanding what the voice on the line said. I think someone from the police department called too and said the same thing. Evidently, some teenagers in a car were goofing off and hit him—the driver had no insurance—I remember that part well. In that accident, one of Dave’s tall, snug fitting Frye boots flew off—never could figure that out. He broke his collar bone and the opposite leg, very badly. When the local policeman, who was a motorcycle officer, showed me Dave's helmet, it looked like an explosion had occurred underneath the shell. The glass pieces were completely shattered and splattered like billions of tiny pieces, still encased within the helmet shell. Without a helmet, that would have been his skull atop his definitely dead brain.
Surgery cleaned up the leg break and more than 25 years later he sports a slight limp as a reminder. Having a broken collar bone on the opposite side of the leg break, prevented him from being fitted with crutches. So he sat in a wheel chair until the collar bone healed. The cast on his leg extended from his toes to his upper thigh. If he had "average" healing bones, they predicted he'd be casted for six months. He was out in about four months, which his doctor attributed to fast healing bones. I credit the extra calcium and bone meal I gave him and the exercises a physical education professor suggested he do inside the cast. That was more than 25 years ago BC (before child). Even then, he must have harbored the thought that he’d go back to riding at some point for he never allowed his "M" license to lapse.

Last month, he took the MSF class and is officially riding again. He is cautious, studied, and eager to learn. I know he’ll do all he can to ride safe and smart. On Saturday, he didn’t initially feel up to the 60 miles round trip to Kankakee River State Park that I suggested. Instead, we road quiet, scenic back roads, passing farms of cornfield, soybeans, horses and cows. Most of the roads were smooth and some recently blacktopped. One road was downright ugly, replete with gravel, rocks and holes that we slowly navigated safely over. The ride allowed us to cover speeds from 15 mph to 55 mph so Dave was able to get through all the gears. There were turns, curves, and straight-aways galore. I watched him closely, noticing how easy it was to keep that red helmet in view. For the most part, he did all the right things. I reminded him to stay a little left of center at strategic times, particularly when oncoming cars are present (be aware of that left hand turner I reminded him). Be careful of tucking in behind a truck or a bus--that driver coming in your direction will not see you. You want to increase your chances of being visible. One good thing about my old bike is the headlight modulator I had installed. It's noticeable. In fact, a fireman who was out collecting for Muscular Dystrophy told Dave that his headlight was flickering. Dave also noticed that at least one car seemed to take extra notice. Dave probably didn't need my reminders but it doesn't hurt. When you're just getting back out there, there's a lot to remember.

After four hours of riding, with many stops to discuss the ride and a much needed lunch break at Peotone Bier Stube, a German restaurant, we returned to our starting point. We covered approximately 84 miles—far more than a trip to Kankakee would have entailed. This was proof that he had a good time. The only thing I saw that he will need to work on is doing a complete head turn/check before changing lanes. Even if you check your mirrors, which he always did, before changing lanes a head check is mandatory to assure lane change safety. If one doesn’t have time to do a quick head turn after checking the mirrors, then one shouldn’t make that change IMHO.I made a couple of mistakes that I should confess. We switched leads often. Once when it was my turn, I rode too far ahead of him—actually, I think I did it more than once. I should have waited and had him tuck in closer behind and to the right of me. I kept thinking he’d catch up. But when he fell behind he just rode on his own. At those time, I should have slowed down. I kept my eyes glued to him when he led. Second mistake: while he was leading I watched him do correct lane checks before proceeding onto a high speed roadway. When it was my turn, I looked both ways. Then I looked right again, the direction in which Dave was traveling. I should have looked left again. I did not. I then pulled out and as soon as I entered the lane, a car came barreling down on me from around a bend. The car had to brake and back off to remain at a safe distance. Unless that driver is a saint, I know s/he uttered some choice expletives at me. This is one reason I ride solo. I can keep distractions to an absolute minimum by worrying about me, myself and I.
All in all a fun ride. Dave is on the road to re-discovering his rider within. Soon he will be the safety conscious, magazine hoarding, uber-motorcyclist of old. I sent our daughter some photos of the ride. She was unimpressed. In fact, she said we look like a couple of renegade Power Rangers. Fourteen hours of labor, a year of breast-feeding and this is what I get. *sigh*

Welcome back, Dave.

Monday, August 4

SaddleSore 1000 Report--Rough Draft

Last week I toyed with the notion of doing a SaddleSore., a sort of baby Iron Butt Rally Association ride of at least 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. I needed something to restore my confidence after receiving some medical news that I prefer not to detail here. I felt myself allowing it to constrain me and detract from doing the things I want to do. Seriously long distance riding, starting with a SaddleSore has been on my mind from the beginning of my re-entry to motorcycle riding.

Each day, for the past week I watched the weather in IL, IA and NE as these were the states I'd travel through. Things were looking good for a straight west trip to Lincoln, NE, about 522 miles west. I thought of a hundred reasons not to do the ride and none of the excuses made sense. Then on Thursday I saw the moto-documentary Long Way Down, the second adventure ride of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. This time they were riding from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa. I left that movie feeling inspired.

On Friday, the weekend weather report looked great—I had run out of excuses and if nothing else, it would get me out of the house dwelling on my dis-ease. Sometimes I use childbirth as my litmus test on the relative difficulty of something. If it's harder than that, I take pause before acting. If it isn't, I am not intimidated in the least by the challenge. Surely doing 1000 miles in less than 24 hours can't be more difficult than pushing out from your uterus what feels like a bowling ball for 14 hours, some of which is gut wrenching pushing.

By Friday night I had decided to take on this personal challenge. First, I retrieved my owner's manual and read about the oils and things I needed to check on the bike before leaving. On Tuesday, I had had a Throttlemeister installed on the bike just in case my right wrist bothered me on future long rides. On the SaddleSore, it never did and I never had reason to use it. When I shattered my wrist five years ago, according to the doctors it will “always” be weaker than it was before. Five years later, the injured wrist (non-motorcycle related injury), is fine and extremely strong thanks to many wrist curls and hand exercises. The bike checked out. Now the excuses were completely gone.

Second, I printed out the forms I would need to document my start and finish time. I was in my Chicago apartment, so I could use the concierge as my start and finish witness. Then, I packed my goodies: Odwalla bars, water and GORP. I've thought of this ride for a couple of years. So preparing myself to leave didn't take long. Stupid things took me a long time, like which jacket and pants to wear. For someone who doesn't like shopping or spending money on clothes, I must say, I have a pretty nice motorcycle wardrobe! Mesh or textile? Rain gear or textile with rain proof material? Color to match the bike, or colors for maximum visibility? One thing I know is that what bothers you a little at the start of a long ride, will make you insane after 400 miles. The pants I wanted to wear have a little scratchy part at the knee where the knee pad inserts into the pants. The Velcro's edge is scratchy there. They don't bother me on errands but after a 1000 miles, I'd be nuts. After way too long trying on tops and bottoms, I decided on mesh and textile pants and my FirstGear short jacket that is proven water proof. I then gathered up several very important pieces: the BMW Anonymous book, listing all those who have graciously given their numbers should a fellow rider need assistance and the towing service number, which I didn't feel I'd need but it reminded me of an Arab saying, “Trust in God, but tie your camel to the fence”--or something like that.

By 11:00 p.m., the bike was inspected and packed, forms printed and my witness selected. If I waited longer than 9 a.m. to leave, this would be a difficult journey for me. As an early riser, a 4:30a.m. departure sounded great. I wanted the bulk of the riding to be done in the daylight and the dark times to be done on familiar ground. I woke up at 3a.m. ready to leave. It was pitch black out and I felt I needed to wait a bit before leaving. By 4, I couldn't contain my readiness any longer. I reviewed my goals: stop every 90 minutes. Never go over 120 minutes without stopping. At each stop of 10-15 minutes in length, walk around, drink and drink some more and munch on something healthy (although I did stop for a 30 minute lunch/rest where I consumed french fries and a milkshake). This was the only “long” stop I would allow myself. Any stop longer should be explained and documented.

The IBR folks don't seem as strict on the SaddleSore in terms of the documentation they require. The most important items are some sort of electronic/paper of your official start time (and finish) and a witness. My witness was curious about the ride, which I had explained to him long ago. I made sure we talked this time BEFORE he signed his name and noted the time. I ended up not leaving until 5:01a.m. First requirement: get a gas receipt with the time and location stamped on it. I also stopped at a nearby ATM machine for money and for a second, optional “start” paper documentation.

My beginning route was going to be a little unorthodox as I planned to ride out of my way to avoid I-88 to reach I-80. Leaving downtown Chicago I took the free and longer route to avoid the tollway. I detest paying tolls and avoid them when I can. I would add about 40ish total miles to the trip by taking the long way: Lake Shore Drive to I-94 to I-57 south to I-80 west. I travel these roads frequently and it was nice to be on familiar ground for the start of my journey.

The morning weather was surprisingly cool but promised to warm up with the hottest weather in Nebraska. Within the first 20 miles I began to doubt that I'd selected the best clothes. I was cold and aware of the wind on my neck. A brief insignificant drizzle started. I turned on the heated grips and hugged the tank of the bike and felt a little of its warmth.

Leaving early always means having the roads almost to yourself. It also means that deer might be out searching for breakfast. Early on, I embraced the practice of scanning with full head turns to each shoulder. It's a great exercise to keep the neck flexible and a great way to be watchful or critters. To those around me I must look like I have some sort of Tourette's tick. Oh well...

One has considerable time to think of everything when on a long ride. Once I settled in, I started thinking about the ride and what was before me. I thought, this time tomorrow, I will be done and can think of myself as a successful long distance (LD) rider. With many long trips under my belt, I wanted this designation, that of being able to go safely for many miles. Any frequent reader of this blog knows that I love and admire Ardys Kellerman, a great- grandmother who has been a LD rider long before she was a great grandmother. A couple of years ago, she won BMW's distance award for amassing over 70,000 miles in one year!! She has completed more of the mother of all IBR rides--the 11,000 miles in 11 days--than most (at least four). Her last one occurred when she was in her seventies! I thought, surely, you can handle 1000 miles in 24 hours. I accept the IRB's definition of safety, that is, a time that has nothing to do with speed, a ride that is managed safely to the very end.  I told very few people about my attempt. I wanted the freedom to try it and end it on my terms. But I know me well. If I announce that I'm going to do it. I will die trying. That's a residual of the old competitive part of me that I have long since buried but it only takes a little external pressure to unearth it. I promised myself that if at any point of the ride, I had had enough, I would suspend the ride and try another time. With that mindset, I felt absolutely no pressure.

One of the reasons I selected the Chicago to Nebraska route had to do with the sun. This would allow me to have the sun rising at my back (cutting out glare) and the sun setting at my back as I headed home east along I-80. This was a smart decision, if I say so myself. I was thinking of something else when I caught a glimpse of something bright, red and purple and entirely brilliant in my mirrors. Ordinarily when I see the sun rise or set, I am looking at it—face-to-face. Looking at it from behind me in the mirrors created an new sensory experience. I couldn't help staring at it. Thank goodness the road was devoid of traffic! I think it ignited the Star Wars theme in my head too. It was beautiful and made me feel as if I had just received a special gift to launch my ride.

Once the sun came up, the day warmed, I forgot about being cold. Other than farms, silos and more farms, there's not much to see along I-80. I enjoyed it nonetheless. The bike just hummed, like it was finally in its element, finally allowed to blow its nose. The speed limit ranges from 55 to 70 along I-80. I stayed within 10 of the limit but there were a few times when Jesse hit 90. I was forced to do this to pass the plethora of trucks that dominate this road to haul stuff across the nation. Truck were ubiquitous and sometime they looked to be all traveling together, in closely knit packs. At times I took it personally that they seemed to delight in boxing me in. I always steer clear of trucks. I make sure I can see them in their side mirror but I don't always think that works. One time I had my eyes on a trucker, I could see him in his mirror. I saw him look in that mirror and he still came over into my lane. I was just in the process of passing him. I swear that move seemed deliberate to me. I backed off with ample space to let him have that left lane. That was the closest call I had and it really wasn't that close as he had plenty of room to make this abrupt lane switch.

My first stop hardly seemed necessary as I was feeling great, but I stuck to the plan. I drank some apple juice, stretched my legs, munched half an Odwalla bar and hopped back on the bike. Took about 10 minutes—the program was working.

By the time I reached Davenport, I was determined to do another trip to this area. I've ridden here before but I've never given the Great River Road a try. I made a mental note to upgrade it to my short list. On the Great River Road trip, I would travel west to Dubuque, IA and follow the river south.
I stopped at the visitors center in Le Claire, IA. It was a neat little place but I spent about 20 minutes there—too much time! Stops at such places would eventually eat up more than an hour total, It took me three such stop before finally realizing I couldn't afford this time. It dawned on me: this is not one of my tours. Get busy riding!

As motorcyclists know, riding ignites all the senses. I wore ear plugs that didn't block all the sounds around me. I could hear the trucks bellow and boats blast their horn as they moved down the Mississippi. Iowa's farms ranged from deep verdant to pale greens. So many times I wanted to stop to snap a picture of an interesting silo or a decrepit old barn. And smells, oh the smells. On a bike you just can't get away from being reminded of living and dead things. At one point, I wondered why women couldn't have the skunk's ability to emit a really noxious odor when they feel threatened. Wouldn't that be amazing?! Women would never need to worry about being out and about alone. I imagined someone getting fresh with a woman, and she gets really funky--literally-- with them. And the scent would stay on the guy (it's usually a guy) for a week. Everyone would know that he had recently, seriously crossed the line with a woman. No matter what he did, it would last seven days. The world would either reek or men who bother women would get a clue.

To create the least amount of wear on my aging form, I decided to monitor my body during the ride and at every stop. Major goals for the ride: safety and fun. Riding is also a focusing experience. With this ride, I had ample time to focus on the road and my body. Even with all the focusing required to ride safely, once my head is in it, I can relax and enjoy the pleasure riding creates. It was amazing how many problems I solved along the way. By the time I had reached Davenport, IA, I had solved the nation's economic woes; figured out my motorcycle route to Nova Scotia; started two new businesses; and decided how I'd spend my money should reparations ever become a reality.
When I saw signs to Iowa City I resisted the urge to stop. It is a place I like to visit. Park of the campus suffered serious water damage during the spring floods and I wanted to ride around the downtown and along the main streets and hope for no visible evidence of the damage. After my Visitor's Center stop in Le Claire, I made a stop 128 miles later in Grinnell. I once had a job offer from Grinnell College, a strong liberal arts college where the center of social life outside of campus—at that time—was the new Wal-Mart. At the rest stop in Grinnell, Jesse (the bike) attracted a lot of male attention, from an 8 years old to some great-grand Dads. When people admire the bike, I must remember to just say, “Thank you.” Instead, I too often say, “Yes, it is beautiful, isn't.” I can't help myself.

In route to Des Moines, I couldn't help notice all the towns that began with the letter “A” and wondered: coincidence or deliberate? I later checked the map and yes, there were a lot of “A” towns bunched nearby: Adel, Anita, Atlantic, Avoca and Audobon. I made a mental not to do some research on these places. Des Moines came and went quickly. It was Council Bluffs that I had my mind set to. I started playing with the name. Councils Bluff, Council Bluff, Councils Bluff and Councils Bluffs. In any case, Council Bluffs is a stone's throw—approximately 5 miles—from entering Nebraska. By this time, I had already been on the road well over six hours. This was all feeling too easy.

A key stop for me before leaving IA was the small town, Walnut, IA. I have no special reason for selecting that place, it was simply time for me to stop. A huge BP gas sign loomed in the air and next to it is a McDonald's. As I pulled in I saw at least a hundred motorcycles. All cruisers with a bunch of riders in similar uniforms, if you get my drift. I looked for one, just one non-cruiser motorcycle and the only I spotted was the iron horse I rode in on. The lot is massive. I see a parking spot near by on the edge of the other bikes. I don't want to invade their space. When I pull in it was like watching dominos fall. Heads all turned toward me. When I remove my helmet, I suspect more heads will turn. This sort of thing can make me nervous. It always leaves me with more respect for zoo animals. This is also when I try my hardest not to make one single mistake because I know I am being watched and any mistake is likely to be attributed to either my gender, race or both. I pull in safely, find that dang side stand in one reach (its location is tricky!).

The McDonald's was replete with tourists and bikers. When I entered, I felt like a tourist attraction. For many reasons I stuck out. I guess people just don't get out much. I tried to make eye contact with a some of the motorcyclists nearby but they seemed embarrassed and would turn away-they had eyes only for each other, I guess. I ordered my french fries and milkshake and settled for a back table and ate surrounded by doo-rags wearing riders who stole glances at me every now and again. When I'd see them out of my peripheral vision, I'd look around and their heads would snap in the other direction—that part was fun. As I was leaving, a man and his SO were eating at a table facing me. When I passed he said, “So is that white motorcycle out there yours?” He was motioning to a bike. He had to be kidding, I thought. That thing looked like a truck on wheel! It was a massive cruiser with a more massive fairing,, with streamers and chrome and baubles and bangles. I politely said, “No” and left it at that. I wanted to school him on how my dress clashed with that bike but decided against it as the owner just might be at one of the nearby tables. Then the man says, “I was just kidding, I saw your keys so I figured you ride a BMW.” Now, I liked him and wished I'd had time to chat. I talked briefly about the bike, the color and my love for it and left the restaurant a positive note.

When I aimed toward the bike, it looked like another hundred riders had pulled in. Still not a single sport bike among them! The lot was filled, eating tents were assembled along the grassy periphery. More domino reactions as I walked to the bike. I admit to being nervous. I had to not only back out the bike, I had to maneuver around some closely parked HDs. I envisioned them killing me if I touched one. I also had to either paddle the bike around or make a U-turn. I yelled silently at myself for parking this way! This was my one long stop. I had to eat and be out within 30 minutes or I'd have to document this stop. Still I took my time preparing to leave. I was hoping they'd get bored blatantly staring in my direction. Stall tactics: I checked stuff and opened my bags enough to hush my nerves. It could be that folks were just admiring the bike, but it felt way deeper than that. My built-in antenna picks up on these things. The bike fired up and its throaty sound turned the remaining heads in my direction. I peddled the bike back and carefully around the glistening—no, the blinding—chrome bikes.

Next the u-turn. Remember, turn your head and use the back break. Ok...but there was a fancy luxury car near the curve of the outer curve of the U. Briefly, I thought of hitting that car and falling and having all those people staring at the dumb, no-riding black city woman. I definitely have issues! Literally, I shook myself of this foolishness. I execute U-turns all the time. With the weight of Black America resting on my shoulders, with every woman who rides a motorcycle donning full gear and a non-cruiser, with every solo riders sitting perched on my back, I revved my engine, made my U-turn and smiled at the Lexus sitting on the outside curve as I passed it. And, I must say, I did a nice lean during the U-turn and the head turn would make my instructors at Ride Chicago proud. I did a primal scream in my helmet as I left the BP/McDonald's lot. It's not easy being a minority!When I saw the big sign for Nebraska I did a hoot and holler in my helmet. I felt downright gleeful! From Walnut, IA to Lincoln is approximately 105 miles. I made my last stop to a Visitor's Center at 1212 Bob Gibson Blvd., where I talked to the clerk and hung around too long collecting travel brochures. I reached Waverly, the outer edge of Lincoln in no time. The odometer showed roughly 550 miles. The only significant traffic I'd seen so far was in Omaha through Lincoln. None of it compares to Chicago traffic, however. I had reached the half way point feeling absolutely pumped and I just couldn't image the turn around to feel any differently. I found a gas station (the return gas receipt is important) and filled up. I inspected it and it wasn't obvious that there was a time stamp among the numbers on it. I asked the clerk to note the time and initial it. He did and figured out I was in some sort of “ride competition.”

Approximately 2 hours later, I was back at the same BP/McDonald's stop. Believe me, had I bombed that U-turn, I would not stop there! It must be a popular meeting place for 'cyclists because the group of riders had grew larger with bikers constantly flowing in and out. This time I parked behind the McDonald's, where the big campers parked—far away from the bikers. I didn't go inside the restaurant; instead, I drank water, stretched, snapped a picture of some old farm equipment and left. It was 4pm when I left Lincoln. I felt late, two hours behind my estimate to be exact. All that stopping at visitor's center had eaten up nearly two hours! Still, there was plenty of daylight left to do some serious riding.

I continued to ride and stop every 90-120 minutes. One thing I noticed and it sort of warmed my heart was the huge numbers of motorcyclists who waved across the highway. I'm talking from way across I-80! At first it caught me off guard and I didn't think they were waving to me. When I got it, I was impressed that so many were so faithful to the wave. I tried to wave back to many of them but I'm afraid I missed most. I just wasn't focused on what was transpiring on the other side of the highway. I would often just forget until I'd catch someone's arm swing out as they zipped by. “Dang, missed another on...” I sure hope they understand and all is forgiven. I like to wave!

Around the 650ish mile point, I checked all body parts. Nothing seemed bothersome. My butt must be made of iron because the stock seat was treating me kindly. I had a Throttlemeister (TM) installed the previous Tuesday and so far felt no need to use it. I wanted to note the point at which my right wrist might need some relief. It's a damaged wrist that has a 6 inch titanium implant holding it together. I've been told to expect all kinds of “issues” with it but five years later, it has not been a bother. Of course, I do lots of wrist curls and ball squeezes with it. The injury, btw, is non-motorcycle related. Still, I'm glad I have the TM on the bike just in case.

Again, not much scenic along I-80. I made my stops and each one was strictly 10 minutes or less. I experienced no leg cramping (something I've been bothered by before). I continued to feel alert, sharp and eager. As the sun began to set, and the sky darkened I realized that I'd do at least five hours in darkness. The setting of the sun occupied my mind until it was entirely tucked away. The colors in my mirror were deep red, purple with splashes of orange, yellow and gold. Watching the sun rise and sun set in my mirrors--definitely among the highlights of this adventure. After the sun disappeared, I felt like I had witnessed something rare when the only rare part was that I was seeing the transformation from a different perspective. Challenges to one's perspective is good thing to experience and even deliberately create now and again.

At 800ish miles it had already been dark for a while and although I wasn't fatigued by any measure, I was feeling the need for some greater mental stimulation. The roads were sane and manageable and the billboards held little interest. I did see two places that excited me. One was Cabela's an outdoor, sport equipment place I saw back in NE. My friend, Brent Miller, of Sojourn Chronicles, ordered a bag from there, told me about it and I ordered one too. I wished I'd had time to stop, the place looked massive. Then I saw PayPal. I have an account but I've often imagined them as some small operation in some secluded place with no real address. Well, they have a an impressive building and look seriously legit—at least from the outside.

Around 900 or so miles, I felt the need to listen to music. At my next stop I hooked up my ipod and put it on shuffle. I have nearly 600 song, poems and speeches in there and felt that it would entertain me the rest of the way. Upon reaching Davenport I had what could only be described as a spiritual experience. Although I was far from the end, I had only 175 miles before reaching home. This was also the most challenging part of the ride.

At night, things look differently than they do at any other time. Every risks is heightened. Moto Lights are my next purchase for Jesse. Both me and the bike are highly visible at night (I'm told) but I can do more and will. Some trucks literally glow at night, no only is their size phenomenal, their lights impressed me. Trucks at night posed a particular concerned. I felt downright miniscule next to them but I didn't feel that way during the day. I hope they weren't offended but I used my bright lights to get by and away from them. Their presence at night seemed more threatening than it did during the day. Then there was the strange mental challenges. When there were no vehicles behind me, looking into the mirror and seeing nothing but blackness has never bothered me. But with less than 200 miles to go I think I was beginning to imagine things and some of it could have spooked me if I allowed it. Like the white lines, they looked to be moving sideways and some of the large bushes along the road appeared to be buffalo waiting to leap in front of me. These things felt like I was loosing focus. It didn't last long but still it was weird.

Thanks to Aretha Franklin, Eva Cassidy and Jackson Browne, I got me through. I sang badly with them. For most of the day, I had seen, perhaps two police cars but their presence was ample Saturday night. I stayed around 5 -10 miles above the limit and over that only to get away from trucks—a difficult thing to do as they seem to own I-80.

The sign welcoming me to Illinois never looked so inviting! I still had many miles to go before reaching home, but these are roads that I travel frequently. I know the turns and lane shifts and the rest stops and I used it all to my advantage. I was still feeling fine but definitely bored. Still, I was almost home.

My Garmin Zumo GPS estimated my arrival time as 1:29 a.m. Before pulling into the garage, I would stop at my final gas station on 12th and Roosevelt Road.

When I reached I-57 I got emotional. I can get like that over the smallest things. But to me this was big. I've been told to consider giving up motorcycling by doctors who don't mind speaking from a point of ignorance. They would never tell someone to stop riding in cars. I've sold my car; this bike is my sole—and preferred mode transportation and I'm not giving it up. Psychologically, riding has made me feel better than the narcotics these drug pushers have prescribed for chronic spine pain (to be honest, I did ask for something to ease the pain...STILL). I have a bone disease, which I now know can, in some cases, be improved, maybe even reversed—supposedly not in my case. To me, however, I'm the case in which it will be reversed! And, the first thing for me to do is NOT to automatically and blindly follow the advice of physicians. I need and want someone who will work with me and understand my wishes and not feel threatened when I question every single procedure or demand absolute involvement in my own treatment. Ok, that's way TMI. But you know, this ride taught me a few things about myself that I needed to experience again. It's not like I don't know these things about me. Sometimes I just need to remember who I am, to pause and exhale.

As I left Lake Shore Drive toward the gas station, the bike felt wobbly. Really wobbly. I even thought I'd lost the rear breaks? Breaking was soft and weak. I was momentarily freaked. When I got to the gas station, I checked the bike. Everything seemed fine. I was less than a mile from home. I then remembered Ewan McGregor's admonition in Long Way Down, that the final leg, those last few miles of a journey are the “most dangerous” because you know you're home, you let your guard down and you are likely to have an accident. What I was feeling about the bike was really about me. I was clearly letting my focus and fortitude wane. I was home. I was tired. I filled up the bike and the machine said to get a receipt from inside. Only the station wasn't admitting people inside. The guy at the window said he couldn't give me a receipt because their “system” was “down.”

I was no longer tired. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck salute. I said, “Look, just write it out.” He said, “I can't, I don't have anything to write it with.” I moved closer to the window. “You don't have a piece of paper and a pen to write with?” He said, “No.” I narrowed my eyes. “Look, I need a receipt for money I just spent—it is the law, you know.” He seemed befuddled. I imagined the headline, “Successful SaddleSore Rider Breaks into Gas Station and kills clerk.”

“I'll get you some paper but you need to write a receipt for the gas I just bought!” He started searching and came up with a scrap of paper and wrote the amount. He handed it underneath the window through a metal slot. I looked at it and put it back. “You need to write the time on it.” He looked more befuddled. I've been to this gas station before and it is always a dramatic or traumatic experience, which is why I never use. I made a mental note to write to the manager. Their machine are always out of paper! So paying at the pump is a joke! What is the freaking point if you still have to go inside. Once when I asked an inside female clerk this very question, but the way she looked at me told me that I didn't want to hear her answer. It was something like, “If it's broke, it's broke, I'll report it to the manager NEXT! She could have taught the Seinfeld character, the Soup Nazi a thing or two about customer service. I left the station quick, fast and in a hurry—as we say on the south side of Chicago. On this early Sunday morning, I left the gas station feeling I'd made myself clear.When I mounted the bike, this time I paid extra attention to everything I did. The bike still felt strange but I knew it was me. When I pulled up, to the building, my witness was at his station. He looked out, saw me, smiled broadly and waved. He's a nice man and I made a mental note to get him a nice gift. When I entered the building, he congratulated me and said, “Well done, you've returned.” I gave him the sheet and he filled out the end report. It was exactly 1:42 a.m. A few hours later than I estimated but who cares?! It was under 24 hours. And, I had a lot of fun spending the day with Jesse. Just like that, I became energized. When I walked into the apartment, I couldn't stop smiling. And, I didn't settle down to go to sleep until a wee bit after 4a.m. When I opened my eyes again, it was 8a.m. and I asked myself, “Did you really do a SaddleSore or was that a dream?” But when I got out of bed, I felt, for the first time, evidence of my ride in my stinging butt—so much for being made of Iron. Still, it felt rather good.

Ride total: 1,076.5 miles

Sunday, August 3

SaddleSore 1000 Success!

Finally, I have bagged an Iron Butt Association ride, a SaddleSore, the baby ride of 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. Took approximately 20 hours--over my estimate by two hours, which I'll explain in the next post. I'm currently operating on four hours of sleep and I'm satisfyingly exhausted. 

Specifics to come... 

Chicago to Lincoln, Nebraska (with some side trips)
Mileage: 1,076.5

Friday, August 1

Long Way Down--Review

Disclaimer: I am a sucker for motorcycle flicks. I’m prone to love them more often than not.

Last night I saw Long Way Down. I was going to miss this as I wasn’t feeling my old self. Then I figured, I can feel not well while being entertained by McGregor and Boorman’s antics! It was just what the doctor ordered! I loved every second of the movie. My analytical abilities could not be invoked as I was sucked into it quickly. The friendship between Ewan and Charley is part of the appeal for me.

The duo rides from Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa on behemoth BMW R1200GS, bikes that make my ST look scooterish! My bike weights a bit over 400lbs; the maximum permissible weight of the GS is nearly 1000lbs and theirs were loaded with gear and easily topped over 800lbs. All drops—and there were many—required two men to upright.

What I truly loved and appreciated was the scenery and the diversity of the terrain and its culture and people—not to mention the rich differences in language. Botswana, Libya, Egypt, Sudan—very different places. The visuals are stunning. The various grades of sand, I found striking. I just think of sand as, well…sand. The roads, as diverse as the people, made the journey endlessly exciting.

There are many moments when Charley and Ewan’s hold diary chats. They wax poetic about their day but I would have liked even more. Inherent in their exchanges are really interesting nuggets of wisdom. Like when Ewan talks about why one goes on an adventure. You go to see what will happen and how you’ll deal with it. An excursion can be overwhelming—even scary—but you go anyway and you remain fully open to the experience and if you’re lucky you might learn a little about what you’re made of.

Another memorable moment for me was McGregor’s speculation on the kindness of strangers. He says that people sense that you’re out there on your own, that you are more vulnerable out there in the elements, you’ve come from far away. Most people want to reach out to you, to offer friendship, food and shelter. This motorcycle documentary poignantly brought home the kindness of strangers. I hope it helps demystify Africa to those who know nothing about the country beyond the headlines of war, torture and famine.

Near the end of the film, Ewan talks about the importance of being particularly careful near the end of a journey. Think about it: you’re almost home, you’ve just covered—in their case—15,000 miles and you’re feeling comfortable knowing that you made it. The problem is, this is a false sense of security. Ewan calls this the “most dangerous time” of a journey because of the propensity to let your guard down. Lurking nearby is an accident waiting to happen. In reality, the journey doesn’t end until you pull into the garage, shut the engine off and safely dismount. Be mindful of this always.

Long Way Down had many thoughtful moments, many of which were sad. Despite facing considerable trauma, children are children and they posses a resiliency that is amazing and optimistically hopeful. Meeting orphans, street children and children in impoverished families obviously touched the pair, as it did me and served as a reminder that while most of us live in relative safety and comfort and retire each evening with a full belly, people--particularly children--suffer every second somewhere on this earth. Something as simple as pencils and writing tablets are luxury items that bring joy to children who don’t have these resources.

(Skip political rant paragraph here, if you want). There is a point in the film where one of the riders mentions that Bill Clinton said that not acting on Rwanda was one of his major regrets. I won’t get too political here. After all, I voted for him his first go-round. His failure to act on Rwanda is inexcusable! He was told, he had every opportunity to do something. Guess he was too busy staining a blue dress! Sorry for that little digression).

Back to the film. I love Charley and Ewan’s whining! In some regions their struggles with sand that appears as if it could easily swallow the bikes with them on it are funny and frustrating—you feel for them. But there is a scene when they are on a particularly arduous road, replete with rocks, sand, and just plain old, bad. Along comes a skinny guy on a fully loaded bicycle who had been riding a gazillion miles on those same roads. It’s a funny and humbling experience for the tough motorcyclists. It is a great scene for the viewers too.

I enjoyed Ewan’s wife joining the group for a bit of the ride. They implied that she was “off” learning to ride so that she could join them. To me, she looked really newbie. Lots of falls—proof about good gear and how well it can protect you. I must say, I was ready when she departed for the film seemed to slow down when she joined the team. Yet, I think this was an important segment to add a different take on the journey. If nothing else, she was great with the townspeople and must clearly now have a deeper, more meaningful understanding of Ewan and Charley’s passion.

The ride into Cape Town is beautiful and I must admit to getting a little misty eyed. The duo are surrounded by other motorcyclists and I think they are all Beemers. It's quite a striking scene.

Did I like it as much as the first one? I don’t really know. But that’s not what’s important. I loved this enough to order my personal copy the second it becomes available here. Then, I’ll have “Long Way Round,” “The World’s Fastest Indian, and “Long Way Down” to get me through the winter.

I hope their next adventure brings them to the Americas.