Cross USA Motorcycle Trip – Reentry Problems in Rome, Georgia; 1973 BMW r60/5 and a 2004 Harley Road King Classic. The Rally That Wasn’t; A Car Driver’s Awful Confession.

You get used to things on the road and when you get home it can be disorienting. For days after I returned from my 5700 mile trip I would come downstairs where I live expecting a hot breakfast, or at least a poor continental one. That didn’t go over very well. Some days I found myself trying to figure out the motel check out time. Or I’d awaken in the middle of the night and run to the window wanting to make sure my bike was safe.

It would have been easier if I’d had some life to jettison back into but I’m a teacher and I don’t work in the summer. (And I don’t get paid.) So, it has been a struggle and everyday since I’ve wanted to hop back onto the bike and go somewhere. And on most days, I have.

Since I returned from my 20 day trip, I decided to give, Big Red, the Harley a break for a while and instead I’m riding my old 1973 BMW. I call her Rocinante – named after Don Quixote’s horse.  Being 46 years old she has, rightfully, a few complaints, but she tends to keep quiet about them. Her speedometer is broken, as is the rpm gauge but the odometer works just fine. So, most of the time I’m riding around not knowing how fast I’m going, unless I use my phone app, which is a hassle. Her stand’s a bit wonky and tends to sink into the hot asphalt. The neutral light doesn’t come on and so I have to guess when the bike’s in neutral, which I’ve mostly gotten used to. She doesn’t have a self-cancelling turn signal, so the blinking lights stay on until you notice them and turn them off. When I’m not looking, she’ll sometimes leak gas (petrol) out of one of her Mikuni carburetors. I have to turn off the petcocks before I set her on her wonky stand to avoid that. But she runs beautifully, is nimble and at stop lights you can barely hear her putt, putt, putt. I can say that the little thumper has great torque, four speeds and can get up to 100 mph but we won’t say how quickly. I can’t say, however, that I’m not waiting for something new to happen to the bike. The other day on a trip over to Alabama I hit some railroad tracks hard and the headlight popped out and was dangling by a few wires. That was easily fixed. I think. She also doesn’t have much storage ability – just a small tank bag. Still, I love riding her. She weighs around 450 pounds (around 210 kg) as opposed to the Harley’s 750 lbs. and because her engine sticks out, is horizontally opposed, it has a low center of gravity, which makes for better, easier handling. On the bright side she gets over 50 mpg, whereas the Harley struggles with 35-40. Here’s the two of them:

Two days ago, I got up early to head over to be a part of a charity ride for cancer patients. I was right on time, but no one was there. Then I figured it out that it was the following weekend. To not waste the time I awarded myself: Best Looking Bike and Most Handsome Rider awards. Anyway, I decided it was a great day for a ride and so I took the route the ride usually takes. (140 – 411 to Cartersville, Ga. )I stopped at the Harley dealer and looked at vests to replace the one I’d lost. Sitting outside in front of the shop a man’s shadow came close to me. I looked up and it was Carl, the mechanic I always ask to work on my bike. He was scanning the parking area and said: “I was confused because I don’t see Big Red.” I laughed and explained, but it may not be such a great thing that the repair staff there know me and Big Red so well.

On the way home I took highway 411 and then 293 which is twistier and prettier. I had hoped that the old man who sells boiled peanuts might be selling them in the parking lot of an auto parts store. He was!

I stop there a few times a year and buy a bag and listen to his stories. This time he was telling me that he was now 75 years old and the heat was getting to him. (It was 99 degrees). He could hardly breathe sometimes though he’d had surgery to try and fix that. We talked further and then I walked over to get on the bike. He came over to me and said, roughly:

“I hit one not long ago.”

“Hit what?”

“I biker.

“Really, that must have been awful.”

“Never had an accident I caused in my life and I just didn’t see him. Saw the white car in front.” His face reddened. “I have nightmares about it.”

“Is he all right?”

“Had to get a rod put in his leg – bone was sticking out – I was crying and apologizing to him and he was apologizing to me. Imagine that.” He glanced away. “He’ll be in rehab soon down here. I’m toying with going to see him. What do you think?”

“I think that would be good.”

He turned and started to walk back to his truck and then turned back to look at me. “Every once in a while, I just have to tell someone.”

“I’m glad you did. I’m so sorry.” I hesitated. “God bless you.”

He stared at me: “God bless you too. Be careful.”

I nodded.

Day Twenty: Huntsville, Alabama to Rome, Georgia; 5708 Total Trip Miles; Concluding Thoughts.

My 2004 Harley Road King Classic now has over 118,000 miles on it and did beautifully on the trip. Fortunately, I didn’t drop her once. She weighs over 700 lbs, without baggage, and believe me, it ain’t fun trying to lift her. Though once, on a previous trip, I dropped her and a Russian named Igor in Deadwood, South Dakota lifted it and set it on its side stand by himself. There’s always someone around to help.

As with most riders I had to watch out for slippery gravel on the road and in parking areas. Parking on hot asphalt – the side stand can sink into it. You always have to think about how you’re going to get out of a parking space before you go in. Do you back in or is there a slope so you can roll out? My bike, like most, doesn’t have a reverse gear. You also have to watch out for road gators- bits of tires broken off on the road – some have steel in them, and tar snakes – tar patches on the road that get slippery when hot. Then there are grooves in the road, steel road plates, potholes, construction, debris that has fallen out of, or off of vehicles and animals. I wrote about the dust storm that permanently damaged my windscreen and the cold and snow I encountered. I mentioned the winds but not how you often have to lean your bike into them at 10-30 degrees just to stay upright. Passing trucks on a two lane can give you a slamming blast of wind in their wake. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I don’t listen to music and I don’t have a GPS device. This makes for lots of solitude and riding on unknown roads. It was scary at times leaving my destination up to chance (Divine Providence). At the same time, it made me aware of all the little expectations I had and letting go of them and trusting was so freeing and relaxing. If you don’t have to be anywhere, at any specific time, then you’re never lost or late. Despite the challenges, I always found myself smiling in the morning when I took off and thankful to Divine Providence for the chance to ride again.

We’re all on a journey, even if we never leave town.

And what about this attempt to abandon myself to Divine Providence?  A quote from Amazon partially summarizing the book Abandonment to Divine Providence, an 18th Century spiritual classic, says: “God is to be found in the simplest of our daily activities and especially through total surrender to whatever is His will for each of us. It encourages us to ‘Live in the present moment, accepting everyday obstacles with faith, humility and love’…” Sounds very Zen too.

If you want a more contemporary view the Reverend Barbara Brown Taylor says in a recent book:
“There is a sense in which if I will trust that what comes to me is for me (now that’s the hugest faith statement I can make to you), if I will trust that what comes to me in my life is for me and not against me… what I find is that it breaks my idols, that it breaks my isolation, that it challenges my sense of independence, it does all kinds of things for me that I would not willingly do, that are for me, that are for my health.” 

So – no great dramatic epiphanies for me– what I found out is that it’s all about trusting what comes to us in life and living in the present moment, accepting everyday obstacles with faith, humility and love. I can live with that answer. Well, at least, I can try. But that’s the best I can come up with for now.

Thanks for riding along with me and Big Red. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. Ride safely.

By the way – if you want to read two of my novels that have motorcycle trips in them here are the links:

Hope Bats Last

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Bats-Last-American-Irish-Philosophical-Romance-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00UNVATA2/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Gene+Powers+Hope+Bats+Last&qid=1561135331&s=books&sr=1-1

Hope

https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Adventures-Buddhist-Ninja-Detective/dp/1090295529/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=Gene+Powers+Hope&qid=1561135267&s=books&sr=1-4

Day Nineteen: Hayti, Missouri to Huntsville, Alabama – 252 miles; Almost Home (Rome, Georgia); Divine Providence Where Art Thou?

I had a great night last night at a Drurys Hotel. I’m definitely not used to fancy places to spend the night, but I’d gotten a good rate and I thought I’d treat myself. They had free food, and beer and wine when I arrived and a hot breakfast in the morning.

Today, I thought I might be able to make it all the way back to Rome – 360 miles. I took 155 out of Huntsville to Jackson and then took the backroads – 45 and 72 to Huntsville. But I decided not to go farther. I’d spent too much time talking to people when I stopped for breaks. Plus, it would be dark by the time I’d get there, and thunderstorms were in the forecast. So, I hunkered down at a nice Clarion, walked across the street to a sports bar and watched the Atlanta Braves lose on TV.

As fatigued as I am from this ride, part of me doesn’t want it to end. I’m enjoying it. Another part of me kept thinking: Okay, Divine Providence, is this it? No great revelations or epiphanies for me? I did abandon myself to You after all! So other than welcoming the wonderful birth of my first grandchild – and not implying that was not enough – what else was this trip all about?

“The underlying message of this work [The book – Cloud of Unknowing] proposes that the only way to truly “know” God is to abandon all preconceived notions and beliefs or “knowledge” about God and be courageous enough to surrender your mind and ego to the realm of “unknowingness,” at which point, you begin to glimpse the true nature of God.” (Wikipedia).

Whoa! I didn’t glimpse the true nature of God, but I have had one hell of a ride.

Stay tuned for my next post as I wrap things up.

Day Eighteen: Springfield, Missouri to Hayti, Missouri – 253 Miles; Rain; The People You Meet; The Roads You Ride.

Things looked ominous when I finally dragged myself downstairs at the motel for breakfast today. It wasn’t the food choices I saw; it was the pouring rain. I ran into some bikers who were heading out toward St Louis. “Somehow, she got my bottoms [rain suit] and I got hers.” One woman biker was saying to the other. We wished each other a safe ride. They went out toward the bikes and I went for breakfast. Since the rain was falling, I had no other choice but to go up to my room and go back to sleep. Ha ha! Any excuse. When I woke up an hour later the rain had stopped.

Folks are always stopping to talk to me about my motorcycle. Some reminisce about their old bikes and experiences. I stopped at McDonalds yesterday and a 75-year-old man just came up and sat down and started talking about his days riding motorcycles. He asked me about my bike and my trips and believe me, you don’t want to get me started on that. He was surprised that I had ridden from Georgia to Alaska. (See this blog.) He always wanted to visit there – but with some buddies in a motor home. He had a friend up in Anchorage. We talked for a good half an hour. When he was leaving, he told me to ride safely. I said – see you in Alaska.

Another man today came up to me when I was sitting on my bike. He used to have a shovelhead (a Harley made from 1966-1983) and he loved it. Then, for some reason he started talking about his ex-wife who divorced him and “took everything”. “Came one day with a truck and took two of my motorcycles – brought the grandkids to make sure I wouldn’t act up. She met some guy on the internet. 28 years we were married, and I never saw it coming. I guess the cardboard boxes around the house should have tipped me off.”

“Yeah, I reckon.”

I took backroads again today. Highway 60 was my main road, but I was much happier when I was able to turn on a two lane – Hwy 53 -for the last part of my journey. The corn in the fields were the highest I had seen anywhere. “Knee high by the 4th of July” my old pappy used to say. These stalks were easily five feet high. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s lace and wild orange day lilies dotted the roadside. This was my kind of road: small towns – churches, convenience stores, signs for bail bonds.

I treated myself to a stay at Drury’s Hotel tonight and a phone call to my daughter and grandson. Goodnight. Ride safely.

Day Seventeen: Chillicothe, Missouri to Springfield, Missouri – 239 Miles Plus 89 Miles Trying to Get Over a Flooded River; The Whims of Divine Providence.

Yesterday, the Weather Channel showed a wall of rain and thunderstorms blocking my way east. No problem, I thought, I’ll just head south. Hwy 65 south looked good, so I headed out on it from Chillicothe. I managed about 20 miles before there was a barricade and a sign saying: road closed due to flooding. The Missouri River had overflowed its banks. I checked my map and figured there was another road across to the east. Took that road for 10 miles until I saw the road closed ahead sign. I checked my map. If I went back to where I had just been and headed west, I could catch another route across the river. I stopped at a McDonalds and took a break. When I was leaving an older woman offered suggestions as to how I could get across. It involved going to the town square and taking highway E, then to make a left on W and a right on K – she had already lost me. Then she added the fateful, dooming words: “You can’t miss it.” I’m guaranteed to not find something when anyone says those words to me. But I tried it anyway. This is what I ran into.

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Every time I started to get frustrated, I remembered that I had turned my route over to Divine Providence and so maybe I was supposed to go this way. True or not, it calmed me down and helped me just enjoy the journey without expectations.

Finally, I headed north and then west and found my road which I took across the swollen Missouri. I set my sights on Springfield, Missouri where I spent the evening catching up on the sports news and contemplating the whims of Divine Providence.

Day Sixteen: Beatrice, Nebraska to Chillicothe, Missouri – 200 miles; Happy Father’s Day to all Fathers, and to the Mentors of Young Men; Nebraska – Missouri Backroads; Divine Providence; Traveling Mercies.

Yesterday, the Harley and I road lonely Highway 36 as it made its ways through the Midwest. Little towns, some under 100 population, where people have tried to make them look pretty and inviting, despite the difficulties of dwindling populations and closed businesses. God bless them. From a distance, a water tower usually signals you’re coming up to one. When you get to the prettified town you have the grain silos and elevators, seed and feed stores, maybe a gas station, along with a few churches competing for your attention. The fields were rich and verdant, but the roads were empty. I love it.

I started late yesterday morning, having stayed up a little too late watching the England women win a world cup match. I was at a sports bar connected to the motel and the excitement was palpable! (That’s just a joke because I was the only one watching.) But folks were friendly, and a few came up and told me their life stories. As today wore on, I found myself growing wearier and finally set my sights on Chillicothe. I wasn’t getting any nudges from Divine Providence (DP) otherwise.

Shortly after I arrived, the heavens let loose and the storm I had been trying to outrun finally struck. The winds started gusting and old Zeus was throwing his lightning bolts.

Today, Big Red and I plan to continue heading east, since I’ve had no course change suggestions from DP. Unfortunately, there’s a whole wall of bad weather ahead of me.

But it being Father’s Day, I want to give a shout out to all the dad’s out there. Love your children. Don’t hurt them. Teach them to respect women. The shout out also goes out to the many men who are not fathers but who serve as role models or mentors. Men like these unselfishly played a huge role in my upbringing.

So Big Red and I are heading out now. Wish us luck. Traveling mercies to us all.

Days Fourteen and Fifteen – Total Trip Miles 4549; Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Beatrice , Nebraska; Crossing the Rockies.

Day Fourteen: Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Sterling, Co. – 279 miles; Amazing Ride -Beautiful Highway 14 Across the Rocky Mountains; Bad Luck -Lost Vest; Subaru – State Car of Mountainous Colorado.

My free day in Steamboat Springs was primarily spent sleeping. Later I wandered around the town and walked by the fast-flowing river. I could live here.

The scenery on Day Fourteen was incredible! I took highway 14 and cut through the Rockies, crossing Cameron Pass at 10, 276 feet. Snow was still on the ground and the road was lined with conifers, pines and quaking aspen. A rushing, whitewater river ran alongside the highway. This was hands down my favorite ride so far. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief over the beauty of the countryside, and feeling immense gratitude. The road was challenging as well, with lots of sharp curves and switchbacks.

Somewhere along the way I lost my nice Harley vest. It was a present from my old riding partner, El Jefe. Called the restaurant I had stopped at and the place I topped up the air on the tires but no luck.

Subaru appears to the state car of the Colorado mountains. Jeep seemed to come a distant second.

Day Fifteen: Sterling, Co to Beatrice, Nebraska – 402 miles; Fate vs. Destiny

I took Hwy 6 out of Sterling and eventually switched to 34. I’m still trying to avoid the interstates. With rare exceptions, interstates are just soul-less roads to help you get through places quickly with meeting as few people as possible. Sometimes that’s what you want. But you’re not really ‘there’; you don’t get a feel for the place. The goal seems always to want to ‘be’ somewhere else, as if this place isn’t good enough for us. Often, it seems we do this with our lives as well.

I’m not great at staying in the present. I focus on the smells – lilacs, cattle, sheep, roadkill, water from a long armed irrigation rig (reminds me of drinking out of a green hose when I was little), something cooking (BBQ!). The meandering streams, the flat prairies, the way the deep cloud shadows drift across the rolling hills. The colors! But I can only do this for so long before I drift into the past or the future,  into praying and giving thanks, into just thinking about things.

Yesterday, it was fate vs destiny. What do you think?

Days Thirteen and Fourteen: Wendover, Ut to Vernal, Utah – 287 miles; Vernal to Steamboat Springs, Colorado – 164 miles; I found Colorado!; Tired.

I decided to take a day off in Steamboat Springs and I’m staying at the Nordic Lodge which is right on the edge of town within walking distance. I had been thinking of spending another day here when I went for breakfast this morning and the man behind the counter said he had heard I was spending another night. That was enough for me.

Leaving Wendover the other day was amazing because the Interstate went past miles and miles of pure white salt flats. And nothing else. Well except for the ponds from all the rain. No animals and no birds. It was eerily calming in a way, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I ducked under Salt Lake City on Hwy 201 and then re-caught the interstate and rode it down to Hwy 40 and Heber City. Had a wonderful banana milkshake at Dairy Keen – Home of the Train. Besides pictures and stories about trains there was a toy train running about the ceiling from room to room. I’m a sucker for trains.

Made it to Vernal and knew it looked familiar. I had been here five years ago on a cross country trip. I looked it up on this blog to remind me what I had done and remembered it well, especially Little B’s bar. This time I just went to a sports bar, Wingers and watched a basketball playoff game. I continued the next day on Hwy 40 and I finally found Colorado! Most of the countryside was empty but the flora was beautiful in its own way. There were yellow, purple, and peach red wildflowers. Faded jade green scrub brush and the grass was various shades from jade to peridot green to ocher. There were confers, quaking aspen and cottonwood trees, the latter with their cottony seeds flying all around like snowflakes. The hills were undulating, and in the distance the mountains, some with snow, were misty, as in a Chinese watercolor.

I had been through Steamboat Springs on an earlier trip and had thought it was beautiful. I couldn’t wait to kick off the boots, change out of the Joe Rocket Ballistic motorcycle trousers and stroll about town. Of course, don’t worry, I did put on some jeans and some Saucony running shoes first.

Tomorrow, I hope to take Hwy 14 across the Rockies and the Continental Divide, but hey, anything can happen.

Days Eleven and Twelve: Bishop, California to Wendover, Utah; I Wasn’t Supposed to go This Way; Where Did Colorado Go?

Day Eleven -Bishop, CA to Eureka, NV; The Loneliest Road in America -279 miles.

I took Hwy 6 out of Bishop and headed toward Ely, NV. The sky was Carolina blue and the mountains tops were iridescent with snow and shadows. I was thankful to be alive and be on the bike again. I stopped in at the Tonopah, NV Brewing Company for some barbecue and a brew. Both were brilliant. Afterwards, I headed out toward Ely when I came upon a sign that said: 163 miles to the next gas station. I have a five-gallon tank that on a good day can do 175 -180 miles. I had already gone 10 miles and the wind was picking up. So, I decided to turn around and take 376 east. I took it to Hwy 50 – nicknamed “the loneliest road in America”. Then I headed toward Eureka and stayed at a lovely hotel: The Eureka Gold Country Inn. I moseyed down to the Owl Club Bar and Steakhouse. I met a guy there who was a few years older than me who was sad and for the next two hours shared his sadness with me. It was an honor. When leaving I said: God bless you. He looked startled: God bless you too, he replied.

We all need to bless each other more.

Day Twelve: Eureka, Ca to Wendover, Ut – 197 miles; How Can You Get Lost if You Don’t Know Where You’re Going? Ely – Nevada Northern Railway Museum; Trusting the Road.

Here I was on The Lincoln Highway, nicknamed The Loneliest Road in the USA, and all I had to do was go straight a couple hundred miles- don’t change roads- and I would be in Colorado. Pending no revelations or nudges from Divine Providence I had decided to head for Durango, Colorado. I wanted to take the road from there up through Silverton to Ouray. It had been labeled: One of the 12 most dangerous roads in the world. Why was it labeled that? Because It winds its way through three 11,000 ft mountain passes, with some 180 degree switchbacks, 500 ft drop offs and has no guard rails. But the route wasn’t meant to be for me this time.

My change in direction started in Ely when someone recommended the Flower Basket for coffee. There I met two gentlemen who told me their histories. As I was leaving one suggested I go to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum which was just down the street. When I’m in the Abandonment to Divine Providence (DP) mood I go where people suggest. Once, someone suggested I go up to Glacier National Park and I did it. It was only 1000 miles away. This suggestion was less than a mile. I got there as a steam engine was pulling into the station. I toured the interesting museum for about an hour and then hopped back on my trusty Harley, Big Red.

Now I was back on Highway 50 and heading for Durango. Except somehow, I got on a different road. Highway 93. I thought about stopping the bike, pulling out the atlas and seeing where I was going but I didn’t. Instead I thought that I’d just trust the road and DP. Next thing I knew I was on Alt 93, fully expecting Alt -Alt 93 to be next. The scenery changed from valleys to areas with bright white hard sand. After a while I realized I was next to the salt flats in Utah. I had missed Colorado! How do you miss Colorado? I mean, it’s a really, big state. Well, you can’t really say that I took the wrong road or that I was lost because those presume a destination I was deviating from. When you are in DP mode you give up choosing your destination. I thought about how in my life I’ve given myself such headaches and heartaches because I thought I was on the wrong road. Somehow, without questioning, I had accepted that there was this right road in life – right job, right salary, right town- right girlfriend- right weight- right whatever and wherever it was, I wasn’t on it. So much unquestioning misery followed. I do better when I challenge my assumptions and my expectations. Even if I can’t find Colorado, it’s better for me to just let go and trust the road.

Day Ten: Heading Thataway; Abandonment to Divine Providence; Hwy 395 California; Sierra Nevada Mountains; Ask Rocinante; Bishop, Ca. 267 miles.

Since this is my fourth round trip to California and back to Georgia over the years I’ve hit all the roads I’ve wanted to – mainly the blue highways. I love the Pacific Coast Highway, but I have a soft spot for US. Hwy 395, mainly because of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Here’s a picture of what you can see for mile after mile. Takes my breath away.

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Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet (1448 meters) is the highest in the lower 48 states, but there are also 12 other peaks over 14,000 feet along this road.  I just glance at the mountains as I ride and can’t help but smile. I’ve written about my journeys on this road in earlier blogs. If the mountains are too high for you, you can head east over to Death Valley and Badwater Basin, where it sits at 282 ft/ 86 m below sea level.

I am leaving my direction and roads up to Divine Providence, or God or the Tao, whatever term you want to use. I’ve done this before and you can read about it in previous blogs. Weird to set off in the morning and not know where you’re going. You rely on hunches, words from people you run into, various signs and portents. Sometimes I just ask Big Red, my Harley, which way I should go. I know this sounds a bit quixotic but what the hell. I figure its kind of like what Don Quixote did when he asked his horse Rocinante:

He now came to a road branching in four directions, and immediately he was reminded of those cross-roads where knights-errant used to stop to consider which road they should take. In imitation of them he halted for a while, and after having deeply considered it, he gave Rocinante his head, submitting his own will to that of his hack…