Archive | July 2016

Day 5: By the Numbers

Much of today can be summed up with numbers.  Hence, 520 miles on the boring Interstate, 96 degrees according to the weatherman,  108 degrees according to the thermometer on my bike, 15-25 mph winds,  34 mpg because of the winds, 9.5 hours on the road, 2 hot and tired riders who arrived in Aurora just east of Denver.  This was, I think, the most miles we’ll cover in one day on this trip, and it was planned well in advance so I knew it was coming.  The faster we get to Alaska, the more time we spend there.

We said goodbye to Jon and Ulla in Andover (Wichita) at 7 a.m. after taking an obligatory family photo.  Except that when I gave the camera to Mark I had set it on the wrong setting.  When I looked at the picture tonight I had nothing worth using.  Damn.  But if you could have seen it you would see three smiling people.  Mark and I enjoyed our time at what Jon refers to as his “compound” and we certainly ate well and in great abundance.  Ulla and Jon are great hosts.

Riding north out of Wichita we had the wind at our backs and I didn’t even realize it was blowing.  But when we tacked to a westerly course in Salina,  strong winds out of the southwest buffeted us most of the day.  We’ve both ridden in worse, but today’s Adventure included some unintentional weaving when gusts kicked up to 25 mph. Nothing dangerous but it did get our attention.

IMG_0823After two days at Jon and Ulla’s neither of us was real hungry at lunchtime, but we chanced upon a Village Inn and today was Wednesday.  Know what that means?  FREE PIE!  So we had a lite lunch followed by large FREE slices of “Red, White and Blue” pie in honor of all the political activity in July.  Red = cherries; White = apples; Blue = blueberries.  Delicious.  Just a note:  Last winter Mark and I led six Wednesday rides from Orange Park to the Village Inn in St. Augustine.  Free pie attracts bikers and other moochers.

DSCF6789.jpgNine and a half hours on the road put us in Aurora at 3:30 since we changed time zones again and we had plenty of time to kick back and catch up on things before heading out to dinner at a nice little Mexican restaurant.  On the walk to dinner we went past a prairie dog  town — well not really a town, more like a village.  Well, really more like a prairie dog hamlet populated by sociopathic outcasts from some real prairie dog town somewhere.  Since I blew the only other picture I was going to post today, I went back to the holey ground (really full of holes) and shot several prairie dogs.  I offer the attached one for your enjoyment.  I’m hoping for grizzlies later in the trip, so this is just a warm up.

Each day we get closer to Alaska and tomorrow will take us to Cody, Wyoming.  Here’s hoping for good weather and multiple photo ops.


Day 4: Final Bike Preparation

I knew as this Alaska Adventure drew near that I needed some service on my bike, but wanted to put it off for a while and get as much mileage as I could out of previous services.  So, after more than 1,000 miles on the road since leaving Maggie Valley, I spent much of the day without my bike as Alef’s Harley-Davidson in Wichita had it on a lift in one of their service bays.

Service item number one was a rear tire.  I probably could have gone another 2,500 miles on the tread I had, but decided I didn’t want to look for a tire in the Yukon and didn’t want to take a chance it wouldn’t last until we reached Alaska and the Harley dealer in Fairbanks.  So with 3/32 of tread left and 7/32 scattered on roads between Florida and here, I replaced the old Dunlop tire with a new one.  Now I have 10/32 of new tread and that should easily get me back to North Carolina.

Item number two was a complete fluid change and general “5K” routine maintenance service. They drained the old AMSOil and put shiny new oil in the engine and chain case.  Then they drained the old transmission fluid and put in new.  Unfortunately they didn’t have the transmission oil I usually use, but the brand they put in should be adequate to get me to Alaska and back.  I’ll replace it with Severe Gear when I’m back in Florida.

Item three was unexpected. The service writer called about an hour after I surrendered the bike to their care and told me that my rear brake pads were worn to about 1 mm,  well below the point where they should be replaced.  Did I want them replaced since they already had the rear tire off?  Easy answer.  Yes.  I don’t know for sure but I think this is the first time the rear brakes have been replaced in nearly 70,000 miles, so I got my money’s worth.  Last year, the same dealership found a rear wheel bearing needed to be replaced before I circumnavigated the Rockies, so I think they’re doing a good job watching out for me.

Total damage today:  $750.  One round piece of rubber, some slick stuff, and some skinny brake pads.  The price of riding a Harley-Davidson is high, but it’s a price I’ll pay for a while–at least as long as I can keep riding.

Mark also replaced a rear tire, but he had already had major routine service before leaving Orange Park.  Both of our front tires bear watching, but they still have more than half the tread life left and should be good enough to get us back home.  If not, we’ll replace them when needed.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out at my brother’s place, enjoying his hospitality. Other than telling lies about growing up Frobish, we didn’t do much.  Nice to just relax a little.

Nothing caught my photographers eye today, so no pictures tonight, but I’ll try to find something of interest tomorrow.  We’ll get an early start in the morning–about 7 a.m.–and try to get to our Aurora, Colorado, destination 500+ miles away by 3 p.m. so we don’t have to spend another long day baking in the hot Kansas summer sun.

The day off was good, but I can’t wait to get back on the road again.

Day 3: Early Start, Hot Finish

DSCF6759Knowing that the afternoon temperatures in Kansas would approach the century mark, Jon, Mark and I were up at 5 a.m. and on the road an hour later, headed north on Arkansas Scenic Highway 7 and climbing quickly into the Arkansas mountains.  Thermometer readings in the upper 60s felt good as we guided our bikes on mostly deserted roads for the first two hours.

DSCF6756There’s something special about watching the sun come up over the mountains, breaking through the dark forest trees, and casting stark shadows on the road in front of you–especially if you’re on two wheels.  We made several rest and observation stops as we traced our way through the twisting mountain roads.  The brief stops gave us an opportunity to safely take in the grandeur of where we were.  Trying to peak through the trees to catch a glimpse of the valleys below or the sun rising above the horizon can be downright dangerous and there’s never enough time to fully appreciate what lies on either side of the road when you’re trying to keep your ride between the white and yellow lines.

DSCF6767We stopped at one of my favorite places in Arkansas–the Clifftop House Inn–but it didn’t open for breakfast until 8 a.m. and we arrived at 7:15.  The Clifftop House Inn has in the past provided extremely tasty pies as well as stunning views of the Grand Canyon of Arkansas, but this time we had to settle for the stunning views.

DSCF6765When I plotted this year’s route through Arkansas I made sure to include roads I hadn’t ridden on during several previous trips through the northwest part of the state.  I’m glad I did. As we worked our way west and north on a half-dozen triple-digit numbered state and county roads our meanderings treated us to ever-changing gorgeous views and the most challenging roads we’ve seen since we left the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee.  Add in a spooked doe that bolted across the road in front of me as I charged up a mountainside that forced me to test my ABS brakes, and you have the recipe for an energetic morning ride.

By 11 a.m. we crossed into Missouri and two things happened:  the land began to flatten and the temperature returned to the 90+ range with 150 miles of hot straight Kansas asphalt waiting for us.  But we slogged on.

IMG_0450The journey across the Sunflower State to Wichita was marked by three things:  miles of orange-cone dotted construction zones, an enormous slice of peach pie and ice cream for lunch for each of us, and a singularly idiotic pilot of a four wheeler who decided it would be a good idea to pass three motorcycles on a two-lane road on the right shoulder of the road.  No harm was done, fortunately, but the event did pucker our posteriors as the moron motored by.

DSCF6774We made one final stop at an historic hotel and cafe in Beaumont, Kansas, that, beginning in the 19th century, had served stage coaches, steam railroad passengers and now motorcyclists and small plane pilots who land on the road next to the hotel.  Unfortunately, the place was closed on Mondays, so after a brief and dry look around at the historic site that included the original water tower for the steam locomotives, we climbed back on the bikes and finished the last of today’s 420 miles.  A cold beer at Jon’s house and a warm hug from my sister-in-law made for a good end of the ride.

Tomorrow is an off day and Mark and I will each have a rear tire replaced and I’ll have all the fluids changed on my bike.  The rear tire that will come off was added last year at the same Wichita Harley-Davidson dealer who will do tomorrow’s work.

Early morning starts make for tired riders, so a drink with my brother and I’m done for the day.


Day 2: Is it Hot Yet?

DSCF6754By 3:30 when we reached our Russellville, AR, destination the official temperatures had climbed into the mid 90s, but our unofficial thermometers on our Harleys were reading well over 100 degrees.  A dip in the tepid motel pool and a couple properly chilled Coronas helped bring things into a livable equilibrium and restore our failing senses.

For the first two hours this morning from 7-9 as we rolled westward on Tennessee back roads, we both remarked repeatedly on what a great ride it was.  Temps in the upper 60s and low 70s, almost completely empty roads as saints and sinners alike slept in this Sunday morning, and the occasional turkey, doe and buck by the roadside made for a memorable ride.  If we had only stopped after 100 miles, it would have been perfect.

But, alas, by 10 o’clock a blazing sun beat down and began to heat up the roads and the increasingly weary travelers thereon.  And, to make matters worse, steely-eyed and determined church people began arriving by the hundreds at the hundreds of small churches dotting the Tennessee countryside. I’m sure they’re all basically nice people, but I’m always afraid one of them might be awash in the throes of religious ecstasy, not paying attention to heathens on motorcycles, and inadvertently pull out in front of us.  Seriously, I do watch carefully as church parking lots fill up and then empty on Sunday mornings because automobiles with drivers nearing rapture pose a great hazard to two-wheel wayfarers.


Cardboard pie in a cardboard container.

I was afraid finding pie today might be difficult since many Mom and Pop cafes close on Sundays.  Consequently, when a piece of apple pie made an unexpected appearance at a Burger King attached to the gas station where we refueled at 9 a.m., I broke down and got one.  I know, I know.  Burger King pie is to pie what a shopping catalog is to great literature, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  As it turned out, it was the only pie I would see all day.

We crossed from upper west Tennessee into the Missouri boot heel about 11 a.m. and what few rolling hills had engaged our ride in the morning were now behind us and before us were straight roads and flat, green fields of soybeans, corn and, ultimately, rice.  And heat.  By 11:30 the temperature was at 90 degrees and all the small towns we went through seemed to have gone on a shopping spree at the end of the fiscal year using left-over tax funds to buy unnecessary traffic lights that turn red at the barest hint of approaching motorcycle traffic.


A Dairy Queen and a ride to Alaska.  Who could ask for more.

After about the 10th red light in Jonesboro, Arkansas, I’d had enough and pulled my hot bike and frazzled self into the first Dairy Queen I saw for a badly needed cool down. The frozen alabaster delicacy, which I learned was first made available at a DQ store in Joliet, Illinois, (my Dad’s hometown) in 1940, slaked my parched throat and provided sufficient energy to get me through the rest of the broiling ride to Russellville.

Mark and I left Dickson at 6:50, nearly an hour after my brother Jon left Wichita this morning.  But the timing was perfect since we pulled into our hotel within five minutes of each other.  A dip in the pool for Mark and me, Jack on ice for Jon, and then off to the steakhouse next door.  The food was adequate, the service marginally better, but the Coronas–oh, the Coronas–were just as kindly Hispanic brewmasters south of the border had created them to be.  Even without a lime (which the waitress embarrassingly admitted they were bereft of), the Coronas made the meal a satisfactory ending to a very hot day.

Tomorrow?  Probably hotter than today, but at least we’ll spend the first four hours going through the mountains and traversing the long and winding roads of northwest Arkansas before running the fiery gauntlet that will be the Kansas highways leading us to Wichita.


Day 1: …and We’re Off

DSCF6745.jpgMy return to Alaska officially began this morning with a parade lap around Raven Ridge, to the cheers and well wishes of a dozen neighbors who emerged in the rain on their porches in various states of dress at 8 a.m. to wave flags and cheer loudly.  I’m pretty sure the message was “good luck” not good riddance though I couldn’t hear specific words over the two-cylinder thunder.  At any rate, they were all smiling and in good spirits, which matched Mark’s and my pent-up exuberance.

As we packed the bikes at the bottom of the driveway, clouds began to build and at five minutes before KSU, the heavens opened up.  We quickly donned recently-patched and untested rain gear and made our 8 a.m. departure on time.  After one lap around the neighborhood, we turned onto the road in the rain.  The good news was the rain only lasted for the first 20 minutes, though the roads were wet and slick for the first hour and a half as we motored west and south to today’s first mini-destination:  Deals Gap and the Tail of the Dragon.
DSCF6749.jpgFor those not familiar with the Dragon, it’s U.S. Highway 129 from North Carolina into Tennessee.  318 curves in 11 miles.  I’ve ridden it a dozen times or more, including the first day of last year’s Great Rocky Mountain Adventure.  But Mark was a novice at Dragon slaying.

After a short stop at Deals Gap (the end or the beginning of the Dragon depending on which direction you’re going) where we paid homage to fallen dragon slayers at the Tree of Shame, we headed up the North Carolina side, leaning hard into curves and taming the fearsome Dragon.


The Tree of Shame: Failure on the Tail of the Dragon lies in wait around each of the 318 curves.

My floorboards kissed the dragon’s lair a dozen times on the ride; not enough to constitute an aggressive ride but enough to get some early morning adrenaline flowing to mix with the obligatory pre-ride caffeine.  Loaded with full packs, Mark asserted his authority over the Dragon but admitted later, after only a little thought, that he’d like to try it again with a lighter load and the experience of today’s ride under his belt.  Still, he earned his dragon sticker, which is now dutifully and proudly affixed to the windshield of his beautiful Ultra Classic.

Good weather held as we rolled across the valley separating the Great Smoky Mountains from the Cumberland Plateau.  Visions of freshly baked pie for lunch at Sweet Thang’s Cafe in Spring City, TN, danced in my helmeted head, but the vision was dashed when we parked in front of a darkened Cafe and read the “Closed” sign.  This was the same Cafe I stopped at last year after my Tail of the Dragon Start to begin the first day with pie.

Menacing clouds and flashes of lightning, along with a check of internet weather radar, drove us to another eatery for lunch, but despite a menu that promised home-made pie, they had none.  Still, we needed to kill an hour and wait for the drenching noon deluge to pass through, so we ate a filling but pieless lunch.

Then we immediately began a climb of several thousand feet to the rain-soaked roads at the top of the Cumberland Plateau as we made our way across the hilly part of Middle Tennessee.  When we rolled down off the Plateau, the gray clouds turned to blue sky dotted with soaring thunderheads, the damp pavement dried and what had been a comfortable, high-elevation temperature increased about 30 degrees until it reached the mid-90s as we passed through Murfreesboro, home of my long-ago alma mater.

Nine and a half hours after splashing down the drive at Raven Ridge, we pulled into our night-time destination in Dickson, Tennessee, where we enjoyed a cool room at the hotel, a cool beer at a steak house, and, at this very minute, a cool glass of Jack Daniel’s.  Life is good.

Tomorrow, another repeat ride for me as we race across the flatlands of west Tennessee and east Arkansas on the way to meet brother Jon who will join us on the road for a day.  Nothing particular planned for tomorrow’s ride, but you never know what you’ll see on a two-wheel adventure.

Ready for the Road

Today, like all “final” days before the start of a Great Adventure ride, was mostly spent waiting impatiently for tomorrow’s sunrise, the throaty roar of the v-twin as it powers up, and the spring-powered snap of “kickstand up” that sounds like what a green flag looks like to a Nascar driver.  I’ve been ready for weeks and Mark was on the road yesterday from Florida via South Carolina, so he was also ready.


Loaded and ready to go in Orange Park.

He had a mostly uneventful four-hour ride from the flatlands of eastern South Carolina to the misty mountains of western North Carolina today, coasting down our driveway about 1 p.m. this afternoon.  The flatlands didn’t heat up until after he was out of them, but by the time he started his climb into the Smoky Mountains the 10 degree drop in temperature was welcomed.  Tomorrow we’ll start in the cool mountains, but by the time we finish in middle Tennessee we expect temperatures registering in the mid-90s.

DSCF6742While he enjoyed his morning ride I was smoking ribs on the grill–one final try at perfect baby backs.  (Close but no cigar.)  Marilyn did her part to make sure the 2016 Great Alaska Adventure got off to an appropriately tasty start by baking a beautiful cherry pie–a 10 on a 10-point pie scale.  Add a little Jack Daniel’s in a chilled glass with two cubes and the result was a culinary delight.

DSCF6738In the past, friends and neighbors in Maggie Valley have gathered to send me off with best wishes and today’s happy hour at the neighborhood pavilion was another example of the caring people at Raven Ridge.  Mark and I appreciated their interest in our crazy adventure and their best wishes for an adventuresome but SAFE ride.  Tomorrow morning we’ll make a parade lap around the neighborhood and many of them will drag themselves out of bed early to be on their porches urging us onward and northward.

I made some final adjustments to my bike this afternoon, adding some badly needed air to the adjustable air shocks (they’re supposed to have 30-40 lbs and mine had 5 lbs) to better carry the 50-60 pounds of gear stashed in saddlebags, the tour pack and the rear seat pack.  I plan to add a new rear tire and replace all the fluids in a few days during our Wichita stop, but neither the rubber nor the oil needed to be serviced before we left.  I’m trying to squeeze as much value out of replaceable parts as I safely can.

DSCF6741After 10 years of doing long-distance motorcycle trips, some things begin to be routine.  I know how to plan.  I know what to pack.  I know how to pack.  The tightly-packed packs are scattered on the floor and the furniture, waiting to be loaded in the morning in about five minutes.  But still, the night before the Alaska redux journey begins, a tingle of anticipation, an itch of impatience, a hint of expectancy fills the final hours.

Yes, once again it bears repeating:  I’m ready to get “on the road again.”

Alaska Redux

Welcome to 2016.  Once again the siren song (not related to the annoying wail produced by pursuing Law Enforcement Officers) of the open road  calls and in two days I’ll be “on the road again.”  The 2016 six-week, two-wheel Great Adventure will return me to Alaska, this time riding with a new accomplice in adventure–the recently retired Mark Stevens.

For readers joining in for the first time, I’m glad you’re going to follow along.  I’ll try to offer something each day to read with your A.M. java that’ll put a smile on your face and envy in your soul.  For returning readers, it’ll be more of the same– great roads, awesome pies, amazing views, new pies, interesting people, perfect pies, wondrous wildlife, and, of course, pie.  As always, please feel free to comment, to leave your mark on the blog.  It’s nice to know someone’s actually reading my digital scribbles.

Mark has been one of the most faithful followers of my blog for the past four years. Our riding history together, though, goes back 10 years when I first joined a HOG club in Jacksonville.  Mark has done long-distance riding on his own, but this 12,000-mile jaunt to the 49th State will be a new experience for him.  I suspect he’ll enjoy six weeks on the road as much as I have.  At least I hope so.

DSCF6622Three years ago when Marilyn and I rode to Alaska, we started by going first to Key West and then heading north.  Mark thought that would be a good way to start this trip, so at the end of March he and I made a three-day quick trip to the southernmost point in the United States and back to Orange Park.  It was a good precursor to the (much) longer leg of the ride destined for Fairbanks and back.  We had rain part of the time; we had hot sunshine part of the time; we had great ocean views;DSCF6632 we saw some local Key West sights; we made lists of what we forgot to pack; and we had pie.  Key Lime pie, of course, at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West.  Best of all, we confirmed our compatibility as riding associates.

As I post this, Mark has begun his ride from Orange Park, stopping overnight at our mutual and envious friend John’s house in South Carolina before finishing his two-day ride to our Maggie Valley cabin tomorrow.  Saturday, we’ll load up and hit the road for 43 adventuresome days.

Adventuresome?  What’s in store?  Can’t say for certain, but we’ll be on great mountain roads in Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta, before heading up the Alaska Highway beginning at Mile Marker 0 in Dawson Creek.  Once we get to Alaska, we’ll cover more than 2,000 miles on our Harleys, we’ll see some of that beautiful country by air and some of it by sea as we fly across Cook Inlet in search of Silver Salmon one day and try our luck with Atlantic Halibut sailing out of Soldotna another day.  I’ll return to places I’ve visited before, but I’ll also add new ones to my cruising catalog of motorcycle destinations. Not everything is or should be planned on a Great Adventure and the unplanned parts often seem to make the most memorable memories.  There’s usually something interesting around the next bend in the road–maybe a moose, maybe a museum, maybe a mountain, maybe a mystery.

Three years ago, when I blogged the Great Alaska Adventure, I said repeatedly I would return to the Land of the Midnight Sun.  I even thought it might have been the very next year.  But I’m fulfilling my pledge this year for Alaska redux.  Alaska year-round is not for everyone, including me.  But Alaska during the summer should be on everyone’s to do list, especially if natural wonders, multiple cultures, amazing wildlife, and a peak at the last frontier hold any interest.  I don’t subscribe to the idea that it was “folly” when Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska for 2¢ an acre in 1867.

We’ve planned and plotted, purchased and packed, and now we’re primed. One final check of our gear tomorrow, a toast or two with our good friend Jack Daniel, a few more goodbyes and the Alaska Redux Adventure that’s been a year in the making begins in earnest.  If you’re on two wheels, stay alert.  We will.

I can’t wait to get on the road again.

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