Monday, September 21

The Two-wheeled historian visits Iowa's UGRR

While still fussing with the Nicodemus and Topeka, KS post, other road trips have come and gone. As part of my ongoing Underground Railroad project, I headed out on Sunday morn, September 20th, for southern Iowa.

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I had huge riding plans for the weekend but everything changed when I lost my wallet Friday night and discovered it missing as I was packing at 3:30a.m. for my trip. The restaurant, where I knew I left it didn't open until noon! They didn't even have an answering machine set up. I started calling at 6a.m. and by 9a.m I still couldn't get through. What business doesn't have an answering machine?! I called throughout the morning, hoping someone would pick up. No one picked up until noon! The wallet was there and a dear friend (thanks, Cindy) retrieved it for me as I dared not ride the bike without having my driver's license. That would be the day I'm stopped for some reason. Isn't there an old Blues song that goes..."if is wasn't for bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at all." By the time I got my hands on my wallet, with all cards and money intact, it was way too late and I was way too stressed to begin a trip. Missed another gorgeous day.

Sunday, I was ready to leave at 5 a.m. In one direction the weather gurus predicted a 20% chance of rain; in the other, 40%. I took the road statistically less rainy--southern Iowa. The two sites there that I wanted to visit didn't open until 1pm, which is late for my taste. First stop, Salem, IA, a once all Quaker town in the 1830s, and onto the Keosauqua, IA. Like Ohio, Iowa had a large number of UGRR (Underground Railroad) stations given the Quaker presence there. Unlike, Ohio, most of Iowa's are now gone, some through fire or deliberate demolition after falling into disrepair.

In Salem, stands the Henderson Lewelling House on Main Street, just a stones throw from the old Quaker cemetery down the road. I like getting to the place I want to explore, so I took the Interstate, knowing that some pretty nice county roads awaited me, which are always a treat. I like too old two lanes highways. The only thing I don't like is too often there are too few places to pull off for a photo op. Fortunately, many of these roads have very little traffic so it's not impossible to get a picture of a beautiful old barn or grazing cows and horses. I was in a riderly mood and didn't plan to stop much. I would have been fun to have Dave's GS on this trip as it would have better handled all the gravel encountered on this trip. I recall a U-turn I executed and a slight wiggle of the back tire on gravel--oops!

Temps in the 70s, the weather was ideal until I got near Galesburg. The sky turned angry and gray and opened. It rained from 1:20 until 2:00p.m--a hard, heavy downpour! So much for taking the road less rainy! After a good soaking, I checked the GPS for the nearest gas station where I headed to find a shelter to don my rain gear. By the time I reached Burlington, IA a blue sky with nary a mean cloud in it welcomed me. I stopped at the Port of Burlington to set the GPS for Salem and poke around a little.

I was doing badly on time but I didn't care. I just needed to ride and if I arrived and the UGRR sites were open, fine; if not, I would at least see the structure. I passed far too many old barns without stopping, which is plenty of reason to return to this area.

Ugh! Time is always an issue. I realized that I was later than I thought! Oh well...I was now on course to arrive in both Salem and Keosauqua after the UGRR stations were closed.

I arrived in Salem, and immediately found Main St. Nicely placed signs lead right to the Henderson Lewelling House. I observed two cars in the gravel lot and one was leaving. According to my watch, the museum should already have been closed for fifteen minutes. But opened back door beckoned me in and after parking the bike, I made a beeline inside.

Once inside, I walked to the front of the house and startled a white-haired old lady who was sitting in a rocking chair going through some old newspaper clippings. She said they were closed but that she would quickly take me through, "since I'm not busy." I signed the book but didn't have two dollars in exact change for the donation. She didn't have change. I dropped a five dollar bill into the jar and told her to keep the extra three (am I a big spender or what?!). When she checked my sign in and saw that I was from Illinois, things changed. "Oh, since you're from Chicago, I'll do a tour for you--that's a long way." And tour she did! We had a most lovely discussion of the Underground Railroad stations in the Midwest. She beamed when she told me she had attended the recent conference in Springfield, IL, which I had so wanted to attend. She picked up some new titles on the subject and shared stories she had heard about various stations throughout the Midwest. She kept interrupting her tales with memories of stories related and unrelated to the UGRR--I was loving each minute!

The Henderson Lewelling House was a safe place for runaway slaves. Lewelling, was a staunch abolitionist and member of the Quakers who believed that they should become actively involved in resisting slavery's evils. It is a myth that all Quakers were anti-slavery to the point of activism. Salem's Quaker activity is a good example of the split that fractured the Quakers in one small town. Quakers shared that slavery was an abomination but some felt strongly that they should obey the law and not get involved in anti-slavery activism. I guess, they were the "let's just pray about it" faction. Another group (thank God!) felt that they had no obligation or responsibility to follow unjust laws and felt it their moral and religious duty to help put an an end to that "peculiar institution" called slavery.

In his travels, Henderson Lewelling never forgot seeing humans shackled and vowed to do what he could to put an end to such human suffering.

Several areas inside his house--all built beneath the floor--provided temporary shelter for escaped slaves. This secret network of transporting fleeing slave to safety was efficient and orderly. Runaway slaves were hidden until they could be carried safely--only at night-- farther north until they reached Canada. Inside the Lewelling house these clandestine places were kept out of sight by throwing a rug over the space and putting a bed or table over the hideaway. Looking down into these dark, small, cramped holes is pretty frightening but I would imagine nothing is as awful as being owned and kept in involuntary servitude where beatings and selling off "stock" were frequent.
(The railing was put in place to protect tourist. The trap door would be closed and covered by a rug and a table placed over the area.)

Lewelling sounded like a real character. He was the father of a big brood. He lived in Salem for years and then moved on to Oregon. He's known for more than his anti-slavery work. He is also acknowledged for almost single handily bringing fruit trees to Salem. He carried many fruit trees on to Oregon too during a particularly difficult journey west and planted them. There he also established a fruit production industry. In fact, Fruitvale, CA is named for Lewelling's fruit production in that area. Today Lewelling is know as the "father of the Pacific fruit industry" and credited with permeating Iowa, Oregon and California with his gift for fruit production. I applaud this too but it is his work as a devout and activist Quaker that captures my heart most.

Salem, Iowa is in a location that benefited its anti-slavery efforts. It is in close proximity to the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers, both providing escape routes for slaves.

The problem is that Salem is close to Missouri, a slave state. My favorite story is when a Missouri slaveholder named Daggs came to Lewelling's door, bring with him a cannon that he placed in Lewelling's front yard, aimed at Lewelling's house! He threatened to use it if Lewelling didn't return his human property. Lewelling didn't scare easily. He claimed not to know what the man was talking about. News travels fast in a small town. Let Rachel Kellum tell the story of the Daggs' slaves and the cannon. I couldn't help think of the terrorist behavior of the Missourians who, as Kellum describes, bogarted their way into people's homes, searching for slaves and threatening to level an entire town. These terrorist acts are repeated throughout every states suspected of helping slaves escape bondage.

The Underground Railroad was an efficient network of people and houses that worked in the dark of night, moving slaves from one safe house to the next until there was no more clear and present danger. Their work was deliberate, methodical and quick. Secrecy was key. To make it work, the cooperation of many people was mandatory--even children were trained to not discuss their parents' nighttime activities.

Slaveholders were suspicious and befuddled. Slaves would flee and all roads seem to lead to Salem. But once there, the slaves seemed to vanish. Word would spread that a slaveholder was in town demanding his property. In one incident, the Salem authorities were summoned and the "owner" was asked for names and descriptions of his property. Eventually, because he was able to identify his "property" he was able to have several of his slaves returned to him but some were not returned. I'm hope they ran away again the first chance they got for they knew that once they crossed the Des Moines or Mississippi river, safe house in Salem would shelter them until they could move "up yonder."

Of the safe houses in Salem, only the Lewelling house still stands. If you are ever within 100 miles of this area, go there. Hear history come alive. Revisit the timea. Feel inspired by the abolitionists, the resisters, and the unsung heroes (and she-roes) that our history books either don't mention or gloss over.

I heard so many stories while at the Lewelling House that I left there riding a cloud. I already knew I wouldn't get to tour the Pearson House in Keosauqua. Still, it was only 25 miles away and the ride would be lovely beneath an azure sky with mash potato clouds. The bright sun had already dried out my wet gear and soaked gloves and my bike, Jesse Owens, purred along.

The ride to Keosauqua did not disappoint. The roads swoop and curve and roll along. Dodge Street in Keosauqua is easy to find, just look for the courthouse. The Franklin Pearson House is a big structure with many windows across the second level. The area around the Pearson House looked rich in history and I wished I had come early enough to hear the activities that transpired at the Pearson house. I took a couple of pictures and headed for home. I was feeling great and thinking I would abandon my plans to stay overnight somewhere nearby. According to the GPS, if I didn't stop, I would arrive home at 11:30pm but I needed to eat and take break soon as I now heard my stomach complain.

I enjoyed the roads for another hour before stopping to eat. I passed through many small towns that were cute and begging to be explored. I would have if I were sleeping over but I was in a ride mood and just wanted to keep going. I definitely felt moved to pause in Fort Madison. I passed by their "rebuilt" fort and wanted to know more about it. The town looked inviting. There were signs announcing the history of this and that--little towns all claiming their place in the regional and national history pages. I've never heard of Bentonsport or Bonaparte, but they both claim a national historic district that I'd like to visit.

Roads of note. Many places along US Hwy 34, 67 and 61, as well as State Hwy 2. Fun! Lots of big swooping curves, hilly with travel along a several state parks, preserves, and wildlife areas.

Both homes are on the National Registry of Historic Places and worth a visit. The Henderson Lewelling House may soon be made a National Historic Site, which is a huge accomplishment.

Sunday mileage: 620 miles
Fun factor 8/10--the rain was a bit much...

Tuesday, September 15

Part I: Saddle Sore #2--best so far...

I had wanted this season to end with a Bun Burner, 1500 miles in 36 hours or less. In fact, I had a route tentatively selected that would send me to Minnesota with a brief sleep over and then head back home. That will need to wait for another season.

Friday, Sept. 4 was a day at work I'd rather mention than give power to by talking about it. I will say that it left me needing something to do to obliterate the evil thoughts I had--some of which had I acted upon could land me in prison. Alas, nothing de-stresses me like a long ride.

So, at the last minute, with little planning, I decided to go "West young (wo)man!" My earlier plans to do a quick Saddle Sore (SS) that would coincide with the WIMA (Women's International Motorcycling Association) and AMA Women's Conference in Keystone, CO. I had a conference participant all lined up to sign my finish form (thanks, Marsha) but that didn't happen as I was needed at home during that time. As a backup, I had contacted a forum member who lived in CO, near Denver in the event I later rode in that direction. But until Friday, things looked dim for a westward journey to stretch my ride muscles, which had suffered three consecutive long trips. Then came the agony of Friday.

While trying my best to scrub off Friday, the thought of riding farther west than I've ever traveled before on two wheels popped into my mind again. A quick check of Google maps and I was determined to go. I had enough time to figure out an easy route and pack. But I did pause long enough to ask myself "How can I make this trek different from the first SS, which I think was a good first Iron Butt ride but most things can be improved upon. I recall in SS#1, I felt tired--in a spirited way and a bit wobbly when I dismounted the bike at the end; I recall too a tightness between my shoulders. This SS would be driven by the question, "How can I complete this 1000 miles plus adventure feeling as if I could ride another 500 miles after a 5 hour break?" The answer would tell me if I were prepared for the coveted Bun Burner.

Here are my little secrets that I feel helped make SS#2 an easier undertaking than the first SS.

Food--ya gotta eat!

Before retiring for the evening, I packed my food. On the first attempt I only packed a few snacks, thinking that stopping for food would be a good excuse to relax and get off the bike. But buying food is not only a time robber, it is expensive and the choices typically are dismal--unless you're a junk foodie, which I'm not.

I packed oranges, bananas, GORP (granola, oats, raisins and peanuts), cheese 'n crackers, water, Kashi and Odwalla bars. Keeping the blood sugar level normal is critical. A drop for me can mean light-headedness and foggy thinking. By the time I feel it, it's too late. And it difficult to recuperate from quickly. Thus, it's best to never let it drop below normal. On the other hand, one doesn't want to load up with sugars either; extreme highs or lows can wreck havoc (no pun intended). This brings me to drinking.

I usually prefer water to stay hydrated. Especially, in hot weather. But water is only one part of keeping hydrated. In hot weather, it is definitely important to have drinks that offer a bit more. But beware of those sugary drinks--some of them are loaded with both simple and complex sugars. I prefer good old, no sugar added OJ, grape or apple juice. I also recommend taking two water bottles to dilute even these juices if you've been drinking them all day. This may sound like a lot but it really isn't. For me, too much undiluted OJ and I'll need to spend time flushing--if you get my drift.

While it may be best to sip from a CamelPak throughout a SS, this doesn't work for me because of my fussy, microscopic size bladder. On other rides, where time is not an issue, the CamelPak can't be beat. To manage my liquid intake on the Saddle Sore, I consumed water at almost every stop. But on other stops, I ate liquid-heavy fruit like kiwi, grapes and oranges. This is an excellent way to get more liquids in but at the same time, slow down the absorption rate of the liquids. It helped me stretch the bathroom breaks. This method of balancing the water with water-heavy fruits helped me stick to my "stop" strategy.

On SS#1 I stopped for lunch in a crowded fast food joint. I vowed never to stand in line again for an order of fries and a drink--not worth it. I avoided this on SS#2. My stop for lunch was a pleasant respite where I consumed my own food. It was relaxing, quiet and refreshing--and it required far less time too. Eat light is my recommendation. Riding with a load in the belly can't be comfortable.

Stops--you just have to do it and the more, the merrier

In Saddle Sore#1, I started off planning to stop at regular points. The reality is I didn't always do this. If I didn't feel the need to stop, I didn't. In hindsight, I believe this had a cumulative effect for the ride's end. After 700ish miles, I was beginning to feel some physical tension that I pretty much ignored. On this, the SS#2, I vowed to stop every 90-127 minutes regardless of a felt need to do so--even if the stop only was to dismount from the bike and walk around it, get back on and go, I would stop without fail. I confess, in the early riding stages this became annoying, really annoying... but I stuck to it. At times I stopped right at 90 minutes; other times, I stopped nearer the 127 minutes mark. I learned that even five minutes off the bike can do wonders for the body, such as shaking out the limbs and letting the blood flow therein. Straightening and bending one's aging back after being positioned on a sport tourer is a welcome relief and your back will appreciate it. Stopping is a great time to stretch the muscles, flex the ankles, rotate the wrists, and hold an exaggerated curve in the spine for a few seconds.

These stops do not necessarily coordinate with stops for fuel. That's fine. I don't believe one can stretch too much--but I'd imagine if one isn't accustomed to stretching, something might pop--so be careful if stretching is new to you. I know that my back is an issue even when I'm not riding. So, I took extra care this time not to allow too much discomfort to settle there. Another point, stretching while riding is something I also encourage. For example, scanning from side to side was not just for watching for deer or other critters and bad drivers. It was also a great way to keep my neck loose. I always make full head turns when changing lanes. I moved my head a lot. I'd get the chin part of my helmet aligned with my shoulder. In fact, I did a series of head turns and neck rolls. Recommended only when road/ride conditions allow.

During stops and while riding, I routinely did body checks. I used to be prone to leg cramps. On my SV650, I typically had cramps after 300 or 400 miles. Some were so painful and paralyzing that I'd have to stop, message my legs and wait until the discomfort subsided. The ST doesn't have as tight a tuck of the legs as the SV, which is one reason the SV doesn't make as great a long distance tourer as the ST. Low potassium may also be a culprit in leg cramps so I've added more than a few bananas to my diet. Bananas don't travel well, but fortunately, they are easy to buy on the road.

I believe regular stopping precluded muscle tightness, leg cramps, and any of the tensions I felt creep in on the first Saddle Sore. In retrospect, I can see how in SS#2 I was far better at managing my physicality over the 1000+ miles. In other words, I was able to spread out my energy better. I think I gutted out the SS#1 and had to dig deeper at the end, which didn't detract from the joy and fun I had on SS#1. However, in SS#2 it was even-steven the whole way. The only "push" I encountered on SS#2 were mental (more on that later).

Darkness--Unavoidable on a SS

Unless you do your SS in Alaska, some stretch of your SS will occur in the dark. I don't mind night riding and I accept the extra risk involved. My bike is equipped with lights that hopefully make me more visible. I've added Martin Fabrication lights, which Steve at Motoworks fixed for me (thanks Steve!) and I also now have hyper lights and a 3 in 1 LED license plate that does all sorts of flashing and pulsating when brakes are applied. My Martins light up the sides of the road amazingly well. While there's no guarantee this heightened illumination will save me, these extras give me some peace of mind knowing that I've done my best to be most conspicuous.

My thoughts on the night riding portion of the SS is to try to always do the dark parts on familiar ground. In my first Saddle Sore this worked. I did an out and back route. I left in the dark, so I traveled roads I know well. My return was on those same roads. Even when a tad tired, I knew every curve, every dip in the road and which lane to avoid because of that huge gouge in the left part of the lane. Had I left on SS#2 at the time I had planned, I would have left in the dark and arrived in CO just before blackness. Well, this didn't happen. I did leave in the dark but several hours later than planned so I arrived in pitch darkness, which made the last 188 miles an interesting mental challenge of having to focus extra hard on unfamiliar, pitch black roads. You might also want to take note of the sun's direction as riding into a sunrise or sunset can be a challenge--but I wouldn't let it stand in the way of a great route.

The loneliness of a long distance rider...

Not another soul, it seemed, rode I-76 after midnight. Before reaching I-76, I had spent considerable time on I-80. It too was dark and rather isolated. Truck, however, were omnipresent. Normally, I avoid trucks. But I found on I-80 that the sight of a truck filled me with joy. I still stayed far enough away to avoid surprises but I found one ahead of me and I gladly settled behind it and rode in the comfort of its lights and presence for many miles, approximately 40 happy minutes. When he turned off, I shouted in my helmet for it not to leave. Oh well. The isolation on I-80 paled in comparison to the total blackness and absence of vehicles on I-76 heading into Colorado.

It's spooky looking into the mirrors and seeing nothing. Total black nothingness. It's surreal. I recall shivering a couple time, not from cold but from the spookiness of it all. Less than 200 miles from Golden, Co and I was seriously alone. The moto-type lights beautifully illuminated the side of the road where I kept searching for death wish deer, angry bears and rabid mountain lions. It didn't help that at a post midnight stop at a McDonald's to get a Coke, a man came up to me and said, "Hey, be careful out there, there's been a lot of deer spottings." I thanked him. "You being on a bike, you better be careful." I thanked him again. "Last week or so, they had to air lift a man off the road 'cause he hit an elk." I thanked him again. Then the clerk behind the counter chimed in. "My uncle hit a deer and his car caught on fire--totally destroyed his car--he was hurt too." I thanked him too. "Just be careful, 'cause there's a lot of deer out there." I'm sure they meant well, but I left feeling that McDonald's was about the most dangerous place for me to be!

The mind is a strange thing and vulnerable to suggestion. My normal scanning for animals took on paranoid dimensions after that stop. Every twinkle of a reflector embedded along the side of the road appeared to be the eyes of a deer waiting to dash out at the precise point of impact. It took me many miles to shake off the "helpful" advice from the late night McDonald group. I remained vigilant but settled down to enjoy the lonely black road to Denver, CO. Another place that spooked me: rest areas, advertised with the blue and white road signs. I've visited many rest stops at night. Some are fine, some are downright terrifying. I stopped at one somewhere along I-76. Not a car in sight but packed with trucks. Inside the building, men who looked sleep deprived including a few who looked this side of deranged, made me wish I'd taken my switch blade with me into the bathroom. Before entering the slightly opened bathroom door, I bent down to see if anyone was inside any of the stalls. I consciously used the first stall, figuring it was closest to the door and if necessary, I'd have a shorter distance, if attacked, to fight my way outside. When I left the bathroom, I stood inside the building to make my phone call to my contact, Robert, in Golden, CO. I told him that I would be arriving way too late for him to sign my form. He provided me with much helpful info for getting to a police or fire station to get the form signed and directions to the hotel.

I settled back into the dark, lonely ride west until I could see signs of Denver way in the distance. The sky twinkled in the massive congregation of lights and tall structures. As if I were being propelled by a giant magnet, I moved tirelessly toward those lights. I realized that it wasn't the dark road that bothered me most, it was the pitch blackness that permeated the entire sky and the lack of light in air space. I'm talking absolute nothingness. The lights shining in Denver gave the jet blackness much welcomed sparkle. It made the world seem alive and it made me a tad emotional. I was almost there and I immediately remember the ending of the motorcycle documentary "Long way Down," where an accident occurred near the end of the journey. It's true, the ride isn't over until it's over. I hadn't made it yet but I was getting closer. I did my body check and realized that I felt great, not good, great!

Contacts--activating your network

After hanging up with my Golden CO contact, I called Claye, who had been my hotel checker, weather reporter and general "call a friend" person on the road. I could call her for any reason. Her best delivery was the AMA code for hotel discounts (Thanks, Claye). A few times, I was able to call or text her to check something for me. Two hours later, I could call her for the answer. Gosh, how did I get along before text messaging and email. On my first SS, I called no one and only advocate it if you have a need. It was great having someone who could look something up for me. No offense Dave, if I had called you, it just wouldn't have worked so easily. Call a computer savvy person. It saves time and beats having to drag out your computer or fiddle with the Blackberry.

When I reached my hotel in Golden, I got lost. The GPS kept trying to steer me correctly but for the life of me I couldn't find the turn. Claye had warned me that it was tricky to find and was tucked behind an Outback steak joint. While being lost, I found my last gas station from which I needed a time stamped receipt. This was an unmanned station and I prayed that the machine would give me a receipt. On SS#1, the printer was broken and I couldn't get a receipt. I forced the clerk to get a piece of paper and sign it, which he reluctantly did. I had to return to the station the next morning to ask for a better, more formal receipt. On this SS, success! An accurate receipt popped out. Now if I could only find the hotel. I passed the restaurant again and turned in where my mind told me not to. It's tough getting lost at the end of a ride. My goal was to check in, find the police or fire station, and get my form signed.

I snaked my way around and behind the structure. I saw one hotel but not the one I was booked in. I continued riding around and there it was: Comfort Inn. After parking the bike, I looked at the time it was about 1:40a.m. I decided to ask the clerk to sign the finish form but first I had to wait at the front desk until the clerk appeared. Finally, another guest went to retrieve her. The clerk returned; she was cordial, apologetic and willing to sign my form. Evidently, she knew motorcyclists in Chicago and that seemed to give me some street "creds." She wanted to chat with me about motorcycles and rides she's taken on the back of bikes. Form was signed at 1:45ish a.m. so I didn't mind chatting with her a bit.

Later, I unpacked the bike, checked into the room, checked my body signs and I felt great. Not tired at all. No tension in the shoulders, ankle rotated without noise--I felt giddy and had to force myself to settle down and go to sleep. Although I hadn't had a real meal since the day before, the ongoing munching had kept stomach growls away.

Were I not meeting a dear friend later in the day in Aurora, CO, I know this for sure:

If I follow my common sense secrets, a Bun Burner is not far away...wonder if I can fit one in before the snow falls. Hmmm....

Saddle Sore#2 -- 1,054 miles (21 hours)

Stay tuned...
Part II--The Return and Riding the Great Plains of Kansas

Sunday, September 6

Second Saddle Sore Success

I'll write more about it later, but wanted to report that I just completed my second Saddle Sore (1000 miles minimum in less than 24 hours). This one was far more fun than the first for some very excellent reasons that I'll share when I return home.

I left the Chicago area around 5 a.m. (two hours later than I had planned). This, by the way, was a totally unplanned Saddle Sore. I started toying with the idea a day or so before I left. I arrived in Golden, Colorado around 1:45 a.m. The last two hours were very interesting. I was NEVER tired on this trip--I'll share my secret, which does not involve anything artificial and certainly NOTHING illegal. Hey, it doesn't even include coffee!

Covered 1,054 miles.

I plan to see a friend in Aurora, CO and then head to Nicodemus, KS, a historic rural town founded by African Americans. Hardley anyone lives there now but it is a national historic site. Then it's on to Topeka, KS, to view the national site of Brown vs the Board of Education at Topeka.

Stay tuned...