Archive | September 2017

F&F Day 20: End of the Road (For Now)

After two full days with John and Sue, I said my goodbyes and gave them my heartfelt thanks for being part of this year’s F&F tour.  Then I fired up the V-Twin and hit the road for home.   Most days on this trip were warm enough to border on hot, but today, the final day on the road,  I wore leather for the first time since leaving the mountains almost three weeks ago.   It wasn’t cold–temperatures rose to the mid 60s–but at 75 miles per hour the air feels about 10-15degrees colder and my well-worn, 13-year old, scruffy motorcycle jacket warded off the fall chill in the air.

As I cruised contentedly along the asphalt for the final four hours and 260 miles of this year’s journey, I thought about who I had seen and what I had done.  By the numbers, it looks like this:

  • 2 daughters and 1 son-in-law
  • 5 granddaughters
  • 2 brothers and 1 sister-in-law
  • 2 nieces
  • 13 friends
  • 3,920 miles on a 4-year-old Harley-Davidson with more than 85,000 miles on it
  • 1 motorcycle museum with 400 motorcycles in it
  • 1 civil war battlefield with 13,000 monuments on it
  • 2 worn-out motorcycle tires that will have to be replaced soon
  • too many smiles and laughs to count
  • about 75 solitary hours in the saddle

By just about any set of metrics, this was another good ride.

I had thought about skipping a long ride this year after booking the Grand European River Cruise for two weeks in July.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I haven’t spent enough time watching my grands grow up, and this helped make up for that neglect.  I don’t spend enough time talking to my girls, and this provided special communicative opportunities.  And I’ve lost touch with too many once-dear friends over the years not to take time to visit people who have helped make my life special when I can.  So here’s a shout-out to all the wonderful people who contributed this year to my memorable motorcycle meanderings:  THANKS!!

While I’m already planning a 7,000 mile trip to explore the adventures of Lewis and Clark in 1804 during the summer of 2019 and a 10,000 mile ride in 2020 stretching across Canada from St. Johns, Newfoundland, on the eastern-most reach to Victoria on Vancouver Island where the sun sets each day on Canada, I don’t have a ride planned for next year though I do have an Alaska fishing outing in the works.  It will be hard to keep me out of the saddle, I think, and it’s likely I’ll find a reason to go somewhere.  Maybe it will be F&F again.  Maybe it will be history related.  Or maybe I’ll just make a pointless peregrination with no destination in mind.  There are still a lot of roads out there I haven’t ridden that deserve my two-wheel attention.  At any rate, to all those who followed along again this year, thanks for joining me.  I hope you’ll come back for the next ride.

F&F Day 19: Fire Breaks and Ditch Work

Day two at John and Sue’s place provided all the activity I needed and time to relax as well.  As I noted yesterday, bush hogging was the primary activity for this morning and I was like a kid with a new Tonka toy driving that tractor, dragging the bush hog and even learning to use the grabber thingy (that’s as technical as I get with farm equipment) on the front of the tractor.  Following the last hurricane, there were a couple of trees down on the fire breaks I was mowing and I had to move the logs off the road.  Up, down, forward, back, down, up, back, forward, grab, move, dump the log in the woods.  Lot’s of fun for a city boy.  After about two hours of bush hogging and planting, we headed back to the house for a little lunch and a rejuvenating nap.

More work in the afternoon as we worked on a ditch and culvert that had been washing out for several years and was beginning to encroach on the entrance road to an area where John grows trees and hunts.  It wasn’t a big job, but it needed to be done before the erosion got worse, so we both felt as though we had accomplished something with our afternoon.

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John finishes up the ditch/culvert repair after driving about six stakes into the ground, adding some rock and about 300 lbs of concrete.  That ought to stabilize it for a few years.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sue tended to her livestock, making sure that Aragon and Ruger stayed cool in the late fall heat and had plenty of hay in their clean stalls.

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We showered, grabbed a couple of books and settled down to read for an hour or so before dinner, but, work for the day wasn’t done.  A friend of John’s called and said he could come pick up a sprayer attachment for his tractor and twenty, 60-pound bags of corn, so we hooked up the trailer, drove over and loaded up what he had.  Then finally the work day was over.

I really love coming to John and Sue’s retirement place in South Carolina.  The work isn’t hard (even at my advanced age) but it’s rewarding, and time spent with John and Sue is always good.

Tomorrow morning early I’m headed back to Maggie Valley.   I’ve been gone three weeks and covered nearly 4,000 miles.  I’m ready to see the mountains and Marilyn again.

F&F Day 18: Working My Way Home

I’m finishing day one of a two-day stay with special friends John and Sue just outside Walterboro, SC.   They’ve gone to the barn to feed the “boys,” Sue’s two beautiful horses, Aragon and Ruger, so I’m going to take a few minutes to write a short blog post.

Like many (most?) of my friends these days, the friendship with John and Sue started with a common love for riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but grew to be much more and much more important than that.  They have now retired to a beautiful farm in South Carolina, though I think retirement for them involves far more work than most people who hold a paying job do during a day.

Fortunately for me, John lets me share the work when I visit.  I don’t think I could keep up with John full-time, but there is always something to do on the farm and I always enjoy working here.  I’ve trapped coyotes and other varmints, I’ve cleared brush, I’ve helped with minor repairs, and today John and I put out some corn for the resident deer and then he planted a small field and mowed the pasture while I went rode around on a small tractor bush hogging fire roads.  Not terribly hard work, but at the end of the day I was both satisfied with my productive output and ready for a small glass of Mr. Daniel’s extraordinary Tennessee elixir.  Tomorrow, more bush hogging is on the schedule and whatever else John will let me do to help out.

Like our new home in Maggie Valley, John and Sue’s place in South Carolina is peaceful.  Even when I’m working here or there, I seem to be relaxing.  There is no pressure, no boss, no deadlines, no quotas, no performance reviews.  Work without stress is the best way to retire.  And, if you get tired of working, you can always go for a motorcycle ride. Or read a book. Or fish in Alaska.  Or hike in the woods.  Or enjoy music with friends.  Or any one of thousands of pleasant diversions.  I’m glad most working people don’t know how good retirement is, because they’d all quit and nothing would get done.  Hmmmm.  Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, either.  Sometimes nothing is better than something.

Visits with friends like John and Sue, in addition to the family contacts along the way have made this short ride (hey, I haven’t even gone 4,000 miles yet) a great trip.  I didn’t get to see all my friends scattered about and missed a couple of family members, but there will be other rides and I can go 1,000 miles out of way for a visit if I need to.

I’ll try to make one more post tomorrow night and then a wrap-up on Saturday after I get back to Maggie Valley.

 

F&F Day 16: Florida Memories

When we decided to move full time from Florida to North Carolina this year, there were a few reasons why the move was difficult.  It wasn’t the beach; we’re not beach people.  It wasn’t the weather; too damn hot.  It wasn’t our house; it was just average.  No, it was leaving friends behind.  Here are five of the reasons why the move wasn’t easy:

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Mark, Ski, Brian

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Steve and Ruth

All five of these folks, as most readers know and everyone else has guessed are motorcycle friends.  I’ve ridden with them since I got my first Harley in 2003.  In fact, I’ve probably ridden more than 100,000 miles with them, about half the miles I’ve put on all my bikes in the past 14 years.  In each case, I’ve ridden not just short, lunch rides with these folks (though we’ve done plenty of that, too), but long, multi-thousand mile rides.  You get to know folks when you spend that much time on the road.  And I like these folks.

Yesterday, a ride to eat at an old haunt in St. Augustine, turned into a 4 1/2 hour lunch that helped everyone catch up with each other, to reminisce about rides past and layout future plans.  We left vowing to do it again.  Will we actually get the group together?  Who knows.  But it would be nice to make it an annual event so we don’t lose touch.  I expect our paths will cross again.

My two-day stay in Jacksonville is over and I don’t know when I’ll get back again.  All my friends here know the door to our house in Maggie Valley is open to them; I hope they take the opportunity to visit.  Soon.

F&F Day 15: Triple Threat

Today was a good day.  Here are three reasons why:

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Back on the road again tomorrow to Jacksonville and more friends.

F&F Tour Day 14: Good Family Time

Sometimes when you’re old and in your dotage, you forget how active kids can be.  I was reminded today that children have much more energy than the elderly.  It’s now been more than 14 hours since the first little one woke up this morning, and activity has been pretty much non-stop since then.

But I’m not complaining.  I can’t keep up with them, but I’m not complaining.  I actually went outside and mowed the lawn so I could rest a little.  The 12-year old was doing a school project with a classmate building an atom and I was afraid they were going to try to split it as well.  The seven-year old had a gymnastics class this morning, and the three-year old was frequently seen riding her tricycle through the house yelling something that apparently only other three-olds can decipher.

In the meantime, I got to do something I haven’t done in a decade:  hit golf balls with the 38-year old.  I never was much good and now I’m worse, thanks to arthritis and other infirmities of age.  But Hilary still has the nearly perfect swing she had as a teenager and was outdriving most of the men today at the driving range even though it was the first time she had swung a club in more than a year. I spent many years teaching her how to perfect her game, but fortunately she ignored me and listened to the professionals and coaches she worked with instead.

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A trip with all three girls and Hilary to a Barnes and Noble store to shop for more books to add to their juvenile libraries that already overflow bookshelves and closets occupied some of the afternoon with the rest of it taken up pushing  the little one in the swingset and throwing a frisbee to an adolescent border collie who consistently failed to return it to my feet, making me get up every time to retrieve it so I could throw it again.

As I write now, an almost erie quiet has settled over the house as the two littles get their baths and the senior sibling slid out the door to go spend the night with a friend.  It’s quiet.  Too quiet.  Something’s probably brewing as the littles plot their next indoor misadventure.

Life for adults with children seems to be lived in 60-second seriocomic segments as one crisis is solved and another youthful enterprise begins to unfold.  But that’s life lived in an active family.  And that’s good.

F&F Day 13: Some History and More Family

I had two non-F&F side trips planned for this tour:   The first was the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa; the second was the National Military Park at Vicksburg which commemorates the battles and siege of Vicksburg in 1863.  Other than F&F, I’m all about motorcycles and history, so this trip is working out well.

Given my career as an historian, I’ve visited several dozen Civil War sites, and I have to admit I was impressed with the one at Vicksburg.  In the early 1920s, the federal government secured much but not all of the land involved in the battle/siege of Vicksburg as part of several land swaps.  As a result, visitors today can drive a loop road that covers more than 16 miles and traces both the Union and Confederate lines of battle and several battle sites.  Having read about the 1863 events on the the Mississippi River, I was familiar with the general outline of the siege and its importance, but actually covering the terrain–sometimes on foot–turns out to be crucial to understanding why things unfolded for General U.S. Grant as they did and why he was the driving force behind most of the military victories that preserved the Union.  All this is really only important, I guess, to historians and other foolish people but I just wanted to mention that I enjoyed it.

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General U.S. Grant

The statue of General Grant (above) was one of about 1,300 monuments and statues on the National Park Service site, pretty much equally divided between Union and Confederate memorials.   Seeing all those memorials brought to mind the current debate over the appropriateness of Confederate memorials throughout the south.  I think all the memorials on the battlefield are perfectly acceptable because they commemorate the bravery and selfless commitment soldiers and officers on both sides displayed during battle.  They DO NOT commemorate a “Lost Cause” or a racist ideology and they are correctly placed in the location where the action took place.  That’s a far cry from erecting monuments 50 years or more after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to celebrate the lives of racists who fought to destroy the union and preserve the congenital defect of slavery with which this nation was born.  All Civil War memorials are not created equal.

In addition to the battlefield, the site also contains the only preserved ironclad ship from that period:  The SS Cairo (pronounced like Karo syrup).  It was one of seven such ships built for the Union for service on the Mississippi and was the first to be sunk in 1863.  But the good news is that it rested on the bottom of the Yazoo River in Mississippi for more than 100 years before a historian discovered its location and ensured that its remains would be raised from 36 feet of water and several feet of mud.  The sunken ship also contained hundreds of day-to-day artifacts that reflected life aboard the river vessel and are on display at the Cairo Museum.  The ship’s remains were meticulously restored and displayed in such a way that visitors can even walk where Civil War sailors once trod.  Pretty cool.

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The SS Cairo.  Three of its 13 cannon jut menacingly from the forward gun room.  The black plating is 2″ thick iron.  Unfortunately, the ship’s iron armor (all above water) didn’t do any good when it struck an underwater mine and sunk in about 12 minutes with no loss of life.

After my tour of the battlefield and the ship, I set off from Vicksburg on a hot four-hour, mostly boring ride along I-55 until I arrived in Kenner to spend the weekend with Hilary, Peter, Annabella, Juliette and Eleana.  In the rush of getting ready for this trip, I apparently forgot to tell Hilary exactly when I was coming in, because when I called her last night she was surprised to say the least. But everything works out well and I’ll get to be on the sidelines for several grandkid activities for the next two days.

F&F Day 12: No Friends, No Family.

The title of today’s post sounds like the recipe for a major case of depression, but it really only refers to today’s ride, during which I neither saw any friends nor visited any family.  Today the F&F Tour was just about riding.

I rolled down the same highway this morning that I ended with yesterday afternoon:  Arkansas Scenic Highway 7, aka “Scenic 7.”   The quickest route to today’s destination of Vicksburg, Mississippi, would have taken me along Interstate 40, but that was never a real choice.  Scenic 7 wound its way through some small, south-central mountains to Hot Springs where I departed its scenicness and headed east toward Pine Bluff then southeast to Louisiana before crossing the Mississippi River and coming to an afternoon stop in Vicksburg.

I had been on Scenic 7 to Hot Springs once before, so I knew I was in for an enjoyable ride.  Pretty good surface, not too crowded (only had to make two double-yellow-line passes), and challenging enough to keep me focused on the road.  But I also suspected the remainder of the day would not be nearly as enjoyable and I was right.

From Pine Bluff to Vicksburg, the scenery was flat and covered with soy bean fields and acres and acres of blooming cotton, giving those fields the appearance of a snow-like covering.  Farmers along the way were making their final harvests and mowing the brown stumps that remained after the harvesters had their way with this year’s crop.

Checking the weather forecasts last night and this morning warned me I was in for another blistering hot fall day.  The air temperature registered once again in the mid-90s but the heat rising from the asphalt was even higher.  Sleeves to protect my arms from the sun and extra water were the order of the day.

But the weather forecasters neglected to mention that a plague of unidentified large insects were prowling the highway south of Pine Bluff in search of hapless motorcyclists.  I could see the kamakazi bug bombs coming at me but unlike the occasional varmint there was no way to avoid them.  So, for about a 10-mile stretch I  was peppered with a staccato drum beat of bug bodies smashing into my windshield, fairing, face shield and occasionally my hands and legs.  No damage done.  (The deceased bugs may have begged to differ during their final squishy moments.)

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Tomorrow morning I’m going to explore the National Military Park at Vicksburg where during May, June, and July 1863 General U.S. Grant attacked and besieged the pivotal Mississippi River town, inflicting a crucial wound on the Confederacy’s attempt to rend the union.  Then tomorrow night it will be family time again, this time in Kenner with Hilary and her trio of youthful Amazons.

F&F Day 11: Goodbye Family, Hello Friends. And Twisties.

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Early this morning I bid adieu to brother Jon and sister-in-law Ulla in Andover (just east of Wichita), headed east on U.S. highway 400 and watched a lovely peach-colored sun rise in a nearly cloudless sky before me.  A few hours later the extremely bright sun made seeing the road and other vehicles rather difficult, and by noon the sun made the air coming off the asphalt pretty damn hot.   But at 7 a.m. it was still lovely.

The time with family was good.  Ulla and Jon fed me way too well, and I wish we could have had a few more days to chat.  But Jon didn’t work me too hard and he provided five bottles of Jack Daniels.  (A selection of small single serve bottles, but it was a nice gesture).  I won’t give up the verdant mountains of North Carolina for the wind-blown plains of Kansas, but it would be nice to spend more time with Jon and Ulla.

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Mike, Diane and an old biker

The primary reason I fired up the V-Twin at sunrise this morning was to ensure arrival in Rogers, Arkansas by noon, so I could spend a few hours with good friends Mike and Diane from our days in Tullahoma.  Mike was a golfing buddy, a work colleague, and our daughter Hilary’s introduction to playing saxophone in a bar band.  Mike and Diane are two of the hardest working people I know and have the enormous talent it takes to work in many different industries in a changing economy.  They also raised two beautiful daughters who are repaying them with very special grandchildren. As I discovered again today, they’re also capable of remodeling houses into beautiful homes.  They have been important to Marilyn and me for nearly 25 years and they will continue to be.  We only had about two hours to catch up, but that brief time was another vital link in the F&F tour.

After more than a week of riding in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas I was ready for something a little more challenging.  Following a wonderful quiche and salad lunch expertly prepared by Diane, I headed east across Arkansas into the Arkansas mountains. I had in mind the road I wanted to ride because I’ve ridden it several times before, including during last year’s Alaska trip with Mark.  Arkansas Highway 7 runs north to south through the middle of the Arkansas mountains and is correctly identified as a “Scenic Highway.”  The road surface is good, though I scraped it up a little with my floorboards as I raced up and down the hills and around the curves.  On the ridge top straight aways, panoramas seeming to stretch hundreds of miles reveal forested mountains and canyon-like valleys, offering something much more pleasing to the eye than desiccated Kansas fields.  I wish the temperatures had been a little cooler, but at the higher elevations it was a pleasant ride.

Family, friends and twisties.  Yeah, it was a good day.

F&F Day 10: Working Vacation

I don’t always get as much exercise as I would like when I’m on the road, what with pie stops and long hours in the saddle, but today was an exception.  Before the flat, windy plains of Kansas got too hot (95° this afternoon), I walked 2.5 miles with my sister-in-law, Ulla.  That wouldn’t be too remarkable except that Ulla is currently finishing six months of cancer chemotherapy.  We walked at a fairly brisk pace and chatted the whole way.  I was pleased and impressed.  So was she.  It was a great way for both of us to start the morning.

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Jon’s Firepit

Brother Jon usually has half a dozen house repair/remodeling-related projects underway at any give time–painting, plumbing, building a room in the basement, laying paver stones for a fire pit, buying and repairing a cement mixer–you get the idea.  This morning’s task involved laying flagstones at the foot of the deck he built next to the swimming pool.  And he graciously said I could help!

My first assignment was to bring several wheelbarrows of crushed rock from the pile in the front of the house to the backyard to serve as the leveling base for the flagstones. That, of course, meant shoveling the crushed rock from the pile into the wheelbarrow; it doesn’t just get there by itself, you know.  OK.  Load the wheelbarrow, wheel it through the grass to the backyard, dump it and smooth it out.

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Finished Flagstone Project

Then lay down the flagstones.  Not once, but several times, because flagstones don’t have even edges and you have to figure out the best pattern to keep the joints between the stones as small as possible.  So bend over and lay ’em down, bend over and pick ’em up, bend over and lay ’em down again.  Apparently moving stones adds to their weight because they got heavier each time we realigned them.  But finally, they were all laid.  Done?  Nope.  Then I had to get more crushed rock to fill in the cracks and even the edges.  And then it was done.  And so was I.  But, my kid brother (65) and I rocked.

I think I’m going to cut back on all this physical labor when I turn 70.  So, if anybody has any work for me to do, you better get your requests in during the next two months.

Having completed the morning’s chore, we took the afternoon off and went man-shopping at Menard’s for paint and hardware, walking reverently through aisles of tantalizing tools, alluring lumber and fabulous fixtures.  That completed, we took a mid-afternoon break for tiramisu and coffee at the Metro Cafe.  It wasn’t pie, but it was good.

Tomorrow it’s OTRA (on the road again) and kick stand up at 7 a.m. to begin a five-hour ride across eastern Kansas to Rogers, Arkansas, home of the Walmart Waltons, but more importantly home to good friends Mike and Diane from Tennessee days.  It will be great to see them again and to spend a couple hours catching up before I finish the day’s warm, windy fall ride to Russellville in the middle of the state.

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