Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Along The Right Coast

The sky was cloudy and foggy as I approached the North Carolina Coast in the morning, a storm seemed to be trying to come in but was stalled just off the coast. As I rode over the bridge to Nags Head the clouds suddenly opened up and poured rain down on me, not cold rain, big warm drops like a summer storm in Hawaii. But wet is wet and I pulled over first chance I got and put on my new rain suit, I opened the lid for the few seconds to get the suit and everything in my trunk got soaked, lesson learned. By the time I got geared up and back on the road the storm had become a trickle. I arrived at the beach in full rain gear and with the sun beating down, hot as hell -looked pretty silly too.
More cool stuff along the road
Finally, the Atlantic!
What's the point if you don't get in the water!

But I was not there to make a fashion statement, I had a mission. Somewhere in California a small boy was about to turn 8 years old and I was determined that on this birthday he should have a bottle of fresh (not so clean) Atlantic Sea Water. Water that would hopefully remind him of his fathers travels and inspire him to visit the East Coast himself. With great enthusiasm I stormed the beach at Nags Head, lifeguards and swimsuit clad vacationers wondering what the hell I was up to. I celebrated my Coast to Coast ride with a little dip in the Atlantic waters and secured my prize.
Evidence secured!

North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwich!
Just up the coast was The Wright Brothers National Memorial, I had been there as a child, but it was just a hill and memorial back then. I only stopped in to get a couple of trinkets for my son (he wants to design spaceships when he grows up).  I will look forward to really visiting it with Tommy sometime soon.

I was off like a herd of turtles, making very poor time and enjoying every minute of it. I headed out of North Carolina and into Virginia on my way toward Maryland. This area is full of history, some of our countries most important battles and historic events took place along these roads. I watched the wooded landscape along the roadside, imagining the soldiers fighting for our countries freedoms, these battles shaped and defined our country. It is a moving experience to stand or be in the same places that our forefathers stood. Given my schedule I had little time to stand and since I knew I would be visiting the area with my son in the near future, I pressed on.

Along the roadside outside Washington DC, I saw man maybe 70, standing beside his car. His front tire flat and with crowbar in hand, he looked frustrated, sad and defeated. Having a clear shot, I threw my bike across 3 lanes to and pulled to the shoulder to assist him. Getting off my bike and removing my helmet, I could see the look of fear on his face -he had images of bad 1960's movies running through his head. "Looks like you could use some help" I smiled and removed my glasses before approaching him. His look shifted from fear to relief. In the process of changing his tire, I learned that he taught Architectural Preservation at the University of Maryland. We had a wonderful discussion and by the time I had him packed up and ready to go, I had made another friend. When he offered to pay me, I refused, asking instead that he help a motorcyclist some time in the future.
The views from my guest suite
in the East Wing

Old farms, abandon buildings
and winding roads  
Maryland is a beautiful state with long curving country roads, winding through hillsides, spotted with farms and country estates. I (of course) got lost, trying to find the home of my friends Brian and Alisa Smith. Brian and I used to ride together in Southern California back in the early 90's. I introduced my friend Alisa to Brian and they have been together ever since. I did find their beautiful home (I should call it an estate) after much exploring. Alisa had prepared a wonderful dinner. Wine, beer, great food, and reminiscing about the old days, I must say it was hard to go to bed knowing that I would miss them all that much more as I pulled out of the driveway the next morning.

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Bryson City, NC. I have a grin implanted on my face that just won't go away. Yesterday I departed the City of Atlanta and headed East and north into the Smoky Mountains.  It was a pleasant enough drive along the tree lined freeway to get to the small town I had a wonderful breakfast at the Waffle House. I exited the freeway just after the boarder and chased hwy. 11 into the hills. That is when the world of the south changed for me. I was taken through twisting roads through small towns and into the mountains, life slowed and I became entranced with sights, sounds and the wonderful scents of the Smokies. I went past vegetable stands by farms, boiled peanut stands and folks just sitting on the porch watching other folks go by. I may have even seen Andy and Opie going to the fishin' hole. I relaxed and felt a whole new sense of calm (one that had really been missing earlier) these hills are full of motorcycles, I was constantly waving at other riders on my way to find Deals Gap. 

Deals Gap is a motorcycle destination that sits at the beginning of what is called the Dragons Tail an 11 mile stretch of US 129 Going from NC to TN that boasts 318 heart thumping curves. Through distractingly beautiful forests. It's a bit of a race course. I pulled onto the road with some trepidation but soon found that Ellie, fully loaded with gear at approx. 1000 lbs. was up to the task. We fell into a wonderful rhythm and the metal soon began to disappear from my floorboards. Thanks to Michelin for the amazing grip of my Commander II's. 

After Taming the beast, I returned to Deals Gap and enjoyed the comradery that is so common with us motorcycle types. Making fast friends with some of the locals I was pointed to a Campground called 

Kickstand Lodge motorcycle campground.

This is what a motorcycle campground should be. Clean, friendly, almost commune like in it's sense of community and work. Everyone pitches in and gets the cooking, dishes, laundry etc. done. many riders spend weeks there and the owner "Mo" is almost a deity amongst these people, with good reason. This place is a real destination.

I left Mo's early, (well 10:30am) and am headed for the Blueridge Parkway. I can't ride the whole thing but I'll take what I can get. If I can ever get back here without the ordeal of going through AZ, TX, NM, OK, ARK... etc. I will in a heart beat. Well, I'm off to more curves and meeting new friends.

Ivy grows everywhere here.

No Parking. Violators will be engulfed.

Now this is a Prep School! 12 more buildings, including Stables.

View from Deals Gap Peak.
Friendly Folks everywhere.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Into The South

Even in Arkansas, the way to start your moto-day!
The Ozarks are beautiful, but there is only so much time before I have to get on the road if I want to make Memphis by this evening. I set out on a short tour of the Ozarks which turns out to be much shorter than I expected, the road basically makes a wide loop around and connects me back to the freeway. The path I chose not only followed some of the battles from the Civil war  but led me to The Choctaw Indian Casino. I am part Choctaw and this is the only time I have met any "real" Choctaw Indian's, nice people. Oddly enough, the woman at the gas station bears a striking resemblance to the drawings of my great grandmother. Riding through the countryside, I saw a lot of Turkey houses. The Arkansas area was once a huge producer of poultry, the landscape is littered with the remnants of old farms. These have special meaning to me since this was one of the areas my father traveled to a great deal when he was in the turkey industry. I thought of our own farm (now a school and development) and I could not help but wonder if my father had been to many of the old places I saw, I wished I could have called him to ask.

Sometimes "God" gives you a little nudge in the right direction. In this case it was timely since I had miscalculated how much time it would take to get to Memphis. The road to Memphis was a Freeway and uneventful save a small near argument with a local over the English speaking ability of "gooks", sometimes (when out numbered) it is a good idea to just keep your mouth shut.

My Tribe doing me proud.
Memphis is larger than I expected and well, not the romantic little 'burg' of Elvis fame. I was planning to stay at the local city park/campground just off the freeway. The directions led me through construction zone after construction zone and each filled with detours. Yes, I got lost. I found myself in a neighborhood where I obviously did not belong, dressed in my jeans, t-shirt and my head covered in a black and white bandana and sunglasses. I looked "white boy wanna be" thug-ish and the locals -were the real thing. I stopped briefly to check my GPS and high tailed it out of there, followed by a couple of lowered Cadillacs.

I found the park around 10:00 pm, was set up by 11:00 pm and so tired I skipped the plan to hit Beal Street. Sad, I really would have enjoyed some wild party type folks to watch. I did go there the next morning for a Starbucks coffee and judging by the acrid smell of vomit in every gutter and the staggering patrons still trying to find their cars, maybe it was just as well I missed it.

I swore I was going to hit some small highways and I did. I ended up following the path of the civil rights marches across Mississippi, Alabama and into Georgia. This was a beautiful ride. History everywhere, I looked for every old shack and run down store I could find and saw a few, I kept hoping I would see people sitting on the porch and hear blues coming from a small bar, but no. 

The road crossed into an area called the Natchez Trace Parkway a a 444-mile drive through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history from Indians to Colonial Plantations. I was in a bit of a hurry since I was going to try to meet a friend in Atlanta, so I skipped the tour and stuck to looking at the few remaining "old South" relics along the highway. As I drove the same path that the marches had followed I could not help but think of the courage and amazing restraint the early civil rights movement had shown. The History of mankind was changed by so many events along these roads, it is a shame that more is not done to preserve these sights. 

so many pretty lakes.

Little place off the road, great food, very crowded.
I had not had Okra since I was a child.

still open for business, just not now.

an old turkey ranch.

new turkey ranch, they live better than the farmers.
Big A/C units on each end.

Beal Street

Beal Street

Starbucks! at the end of Beal Street. Across from the Forum.

remnants of the night before. 
people are so friendly in the south.

I was about half way across Alabama and had pulled into the town of Birmingham for a bite to eat. I passed a couple of police officers arresting a man and another giving a ticket, suddenly a pickup swerves up next to me and a guy leans out the window tapping his head, yelling Helmet law!  I pulled over and had to laugh, I had driven nearly half the state without one and no police had noticed. Really should have checked that out in more detail.
Tom Houck and Steven Houck

Atlanta was every bit the beautiful city it is made out to be and at the same time it is hit me as a sad reminder of how slowly some things change. For the most part people in Atlanta are wonderful and warm and make you feel right at home. I found a motel by the airport and although it was a bit seedy for a brand name motel, I was happy to have a place to rest. I was excited to finally get to meet my friend and possible cousin? Tom Houck. (I was an hour late because I had not kept my clock on the bike moving forward with the time changes, sorry again Tom!) I have been friends with Tom for several years over facebook and some phone conversations, but we had never actually met. Tom Houck has a unique place in history, he was Dr. Martin Luther King's driver during the civil rights movement and was close to not only Dr. King but also his family. He is currently working on a book about those times, as well as constantly being very influential in the background of national politics and civil rights issues. Tom and I had a great time drinking and talking at a local eatery/bar he introduced me to some of his friends and we solidified what I'm sure will be a long and eventful friendship. I look forward to his book and his next visit to Los Angeles.  Upon returning to my motel that night I was surprised to be blocked from entering the parking lot by the local pimp, who thought that maybe I needed a passenger for the back of my bike. After some discussion, I assured him all I needed was some sleep. Thankfully, I was allowed to go to my room free of escort or further charges. I slept quite well and was off the next morning to chase twisties in the hills of North Carolina.
Atlanta at night.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I've got to be honest, I planned this trip, so it's my fault. Not that I didn't do a good job planning, just that I planned it at all. I really prefer to be lost, most of my greatest discoveries have happened that way. Let's face it, anyone can plan to go to what is known as "the greatest restaurant in town", but to discover it; some small hole in the wall, only a select few have ever heard of (outside it's regulars) is a wonderful experience.

Tommy, waiting for Father John
at St. Luke's Episcopal Church
to Bless Ellie and I for the trip.
Thanks, Father John!
 The roads were dry, no rain until just outside Arkansas, but man oh man, they were rough. New Mexico's were the worst, I think they just put up "Slow for Road Construction" signs where ever the road surface was particularly dangerous (about every 10 -15 miles). I almost never saw evidence of work, just huge bumps and potholes. Ellie took a real beating on these roads and I've promised her a new suspension system when we get home. Despite all the rough road conditions, I managed to make the stretch in about 36 hours as planned (I took 4 - 1 hour catnaps at rest stops).

Stopped along Rt. 66 for cofee

You'll never hear anyone say, "I missed seeing so many things, by not taking the interstate". Those slabs of concrete were made to get us from point "A" to point "B" quickly, not introduce us to the beauty of the countryside. And, to be honest, that is exactly what I wanted. I needed to get from the West, to the East Coast quickly. So when I set off I planned on taking freeways most of the way. It's roughly 1600 miles from L.A. to Arkansas, (24 hours of driving at 70 mph.) in order to complete this trip in 3 1/2 weeks I needed to get that section out of the way, I've been through it before and knowing that temps would be well into the 100's, I decided to just "Haul Ass". To be fair there are some beautiful places along this route, the area around Flagstaff is amazing and should be explored. New Mexico has some fantastic scenery, and sections of Texas and Oklahoma are truly beautiful. This is the route of the famous 66. The people along this route are particularly colorful and fun to talk to, except in Texas. For some reason people in Texas (just the majority I've encountered at gas stops etc,) don't like me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact they sell hokey religious paraphernalia in their convenience stores, at the Gas Stations. Perhaps they can tell I don't go to Chick Fil-A or maybe it's that I am on a motorcycle?, or it could be my cologne. I never get smiled at, hear nasty conversations about others and -even got called a hippy by a group of farmers. -Oh well, their loss. 
More of these still open
the further south you go.
The clouds threatened
but never produced.

I rode out of the sunset...
Houck AZ. a tiny little place named for
the original Sheep King of AZ.
Cadillac Ranch, TX
Ellie turned 50k miles!

When I came about 100 miles from the Arkansas boarder things really changed, the trees were greener (the whole stretch of this route is in severe drought) the roads took a winding route up the mountainside and the weather welcomed me to Arkansas with one of the most spectacular lightning storms I've ever been in. I wish I had my Go Pro mounted at the time, but I didn't and I was not about to stop to  set it up. The rain was not bad, but the lightning ran around the clouds in 360 circles and scared the hell out of me. I was exhausted and considered that perhaps the lightning was a hallucination (it was not) I ended up skipping the nearly empty KOA campground because they wanted $22 for a tent space and I could get a clean motel room for $32. Really can't understand the cost of KOA spaces on this trip, insane. I slept nearly 10 hours and arose the next day to a beautiful sunshine soaked Arkansas day. Ellie fired right up, lurched into gear and we took off to see the amazing Ozark mountains.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Watching the world slide by

When I was a young boy, my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. My father was a corporate VP for a Co-op poultry company, and constantly would have to travel to meet with growers and processors across the country. Every Summer, rather than fly to these destinations, he would hitch up our 23 ft. Open Road travel trailer and with my mother as navigator, they introduced my brother, sister and I, to America. 

My father loved to drive and often completed amazingly long drives in a day. My mother would read to us from 'Names on the Land' by George Stewart, giving us the history and flavor of the sights and towns we drove through. As I watched the world slide past the window of our car, my imagination ran wild. I contemplated what it was like to live there, to explore the forests, and get to eat or stop at all of the brightly lit neon signs that would lure passers by to restaurants and tourist traps. I would see chimneys, standing in the middle of plowed fields, houses sitting abandon and children playing in exciting looking playgrounds. This was when I began to draw anything that came to mind and become lost in my own imagination.

My father was always on a tight schedule, so often the only stops were to eat, gas up or see something of great historical importance. Each night after we “made camp” my brother and I would "borrow" some quarters and go to the recreation hall or the fire pit of the trailer parks we stayed at. These were our playgrounds, our social clubs. There, we gathered with other traveling kids, all of us exploring the countryside with our parents. We made fast friends, just for a night, maybe two, and learned what we had in common. We would play pool and talk about what we had seen, where else we should visit. So many wonderful places, so many nice people. 

State and National Parks were and still are my favorites, they were spectacular. They were the 'treasure' of every trip. Nature and the unspoiled beauty. The rangers were our friends, always happy to talk, explain and help us explore, help us appreciate. 

By the time I was 14, I had seen every State in the U.S. buy car and trailer, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska. 

Edith and I headed to Laughlin River run 1994.
A change of clothes, water and lots of tools and spare parts.
While I was in college, my father retired and my parents purchased a large motorhome. My mother loved to prepare food while they drove, or catch a nap on the bed in transit. They drove from state to state, visiting my siblings and I. It was amazing to watch them fall in love all over again, like a couple of teenagers traveling the roads, exploring, and seeing America, without a schedule.

After I graduated from college and secured my first career job as an Art Director, I bought my first Harley. A beat up 72’ Shovelhead I named Edith. I rebuilt her 3 times over the course of the next 5 years and 60,000+ miles. I quickly realized this was much more than just a motorcycle. I met wonderful people I could not have met any other way, saw nooks and cranny's of the country that I had driven past in those early car bound years. I stopped when I wanted to, talked to starangers and made wonderful new friends.

My first cross country putt was to Sturgis SD. for the Motorcycle Rally. I planned to go with 15 other friends, that reduced to 5, then 3 and when the time came to leave, I ended up heading out alone. Very alone, or so I thought.

Remembering when she had
a  Harley Davidson Bicycle as a child.
It was amazing, I faced my fears, had great adventures and bonded with myself, nature and my God. You are never alone on a motorcycle, especially going to Sturgis. I met new people from all over the world, made friends that have lasted my lifetime and felt a freedom that only a motorcycle can bring. 

One evening, after coming down off the Teton pass highway from Jackson Hole, I called my parents. They were traveling in their motorhome, visiting friends in Idaho just a few hundred miles away. I excitedly told them about my adventures and the places I had re-visited from my youth. They listened with delight as I described my travels. 

At our family Ranch in Clovis CA.
My mother makes my Dad ride "bitch"

Every August I ride for 3 weeks, no real schedule, I pick a destination, some roads and go. Edith was stolen and I now have a newer FLH. My parents have both passed and often I will talk to them as I ride, sharing with them, thanking them. Traveling is in my blood, it’s part of what made me an artist. The beauty I see, drives my soul and the freedom I feel when I ride, keeps me sane. In a world of walls, signs, computers and deadlines the windowless view from my bike cleanses me of all the pressure, all the restrictions, and allows me to once again become the facinated child traveling across a landscape letting my imagination run wild.