The Misadventures of Ian Heller

Make No Little Plans.


2017 Bike Tour

2017 Tour Day 9: A Long Fast Run to the End of the Trail. With Dinosaurs. 

I’ve heard a couple of grumbles about my light-hearted shots at my riding companions, so I’ll start this post by stating that the word “dinosaurs” in the title does NOT refer to Clive and Dale. Now, I’m not saying it COULDN’T but it DOESN’T.  We saw actual, honest-to-god, best-in-the-world dinosaur bones today and it’s fascinating and I’ll get to it.

But let’s start in Pocatello, where we decided to leave at 7:30 and actually left at 8. Dale is always the first one ready and I’m usually next — just barely before Clive is set to go, which is my goal. Dale spent considerable time on this trip sitting on his bike, geared up, engine idling, watching my brother and I snap our jackets closed or jump off to close a latch on the luggage or (in my case) remove the key from the trunk so I can use it to start the bike.

Full disclosure: Not once but TWICE on this trip, I left the key to my bike in the trunk only to be rescued by (in one case) a hotel employee and (the other time) a guest who found it and turned it in.

I just checked and it’s on the dresser, by the way.

Anyway, we left Pocatello right on time (30 mins late) and hit the Interstate southbound briefly before exiting onto Highway 30, which is the old “Oregon Trail” (now paved). Given my commitment to taking more pictures today, it wasn’t long before I pulled over to take a scenic shot. Here it is:

Highway 30 was a lot of fun to ride and — once again — we saw no sign of law enforcement. Not that we were speeding.

I tried out a new navigation app on my iphone and it was the best of a sorry lot so far. The problem with nav apps is that they are all designed to get you from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. As recreational motorcyclists, we want to go the scenic, curvy, away-from-traffic route. It’s hard to find an app that does this well AND is easy to use and see while you’re riding. “InRoute” has some glitches but it outshone its awful competitors by a wide margin. It’s the thinnest kid at fat camp.

We eventually crossed into Wyoming (state slogan: “Forever West” — as if bordering states were relocated east) and paralleled the Green River (a river that is, in fact, green)  for several miles before reaching Green River (a town which is mostly brown). Although we generally avoided chain restaurants during this trip, in Green River we lunched at the Grand Daddy of All Chains, McDonald’s.

After restarting our hearts (and bikes), we rode south on highway 530 until we crossed back into Utah — the same state we rode on our first day of this adventure (it’s big). We soon reached the “Flaming Gorge,” so named by John Wesley Powell (famous explorer) in 1869. Although Powell was thinking of the spectacular red sandstone cliffs, apparently the guvmint thought he was referring to actual flames because they built a dam to stop the flow of the Green River and create a huge reservoir to put out the fire.

We rode down to the Visitors’ Center and dam. In the Visitors’ Center, they told us that in order to access the walkway where you can take pictures of the dam, you must pay for a “Guided Tour.” I told them that I only go on “Misguided Tours,” and they laughed, although I was seriously talking about this motorcycle trip in which I am generally leading, meaning we are often misguided. Bottom line: no dam pictures!

But we did take some shots around the reservoir:

I am particularly proud of this shot, which may be the best candid photo I’ve ever taken of my brother:

Dale smiles all the time, so this one was easy:

We also witnessed this scene. I’m calling this picture, “The Reluctant Dog,” because this poor pooch REALLY did not want to go into the water. Or maybe he’s afraid of tennis balls.

But the big finish to our trip was ahead of us: Dinosuar National Monument, a unique and amazing place. I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived in Colorado for 23 years of my life and never made the effort to visit this historic and awesome destination. I’m even more embarrassed for Dale and Clive, who have lived here much, much longer and have never visited either.

We parked at the Visitors’ Center and hopped on a short bus (appropriately) for the ride to the Quarry Exhibit Hall:

See that rock on the right? It is exposed on the interior of the building and it’s chock full o’ bones.

Here’s the short version of the story:

In July, 1909, a paleontologist named Earl Douglass (no relation) was instructed by his employer — Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh — to look for dinosaur bones east of Vernal, Utah. By August 16th, he hadn’t found much and he wrote in his diary that he “Felt rather discouraged.”  On August 17th, he changed his search area a bit and found “eight of the tail bones of an Apatosauros in exact position…it was a beautiful sight.” He spent the rest of his life in Utah, most of it running the dinosaur quarry at what soon became Dinosaur National Monument.

That rock wall used to be several times larger — it was excavated over the years and many full skeletons were removed and are on display across the US and a few other places as well. The current Quarry Exhibit Hall protects and displays a 150 foot wall still containing an estimated 1,500 dinosaur bones. Here’s what it looks like:

Note that it’s TWO levels — here, you see visitors looking at the upper portion while Dale and Clive (right) are walking down the ramp to the lower level.

A few perspectives:

Here’s how the current wall compares to the original (before they started excavating. You can see why they call it “a quarry.”)

Now some detail shots and exhibits:

There’s a lot more to Dinosaur National Monument, including many artifacts from ancient civilizations and some amazing petroglyphs (which are carvings; the ancient cliff drawings I photographed at Capital Reef earlier in the trip are pictographs). But, it was time to go. We decided to take snapshots at one overlook in the park before hitting the road:

We rode Highway 139 south over Douglas Pass; it was a narrow, winding, rough and sometimes harrowing but wildly fun ride to I-70. Douglas Pass’ speed limit is only 25MPH for long stretches and that’s well-deserved. Clive called me before we reached the narrow part and warned me to watch for deer. As if they had been notified, two deer showed up in a corner, one jumping across my path about 20 feet in front of me. It wasn’t close because I was being careful. Thanks, Clive.

We are, at last, in Grand Junction and we enjoyed a great dinner at one of my favorite restaurants here, Bin 707.

Now the bikes are tucked in for the night and Clive and Dale have probably been slumbering for a long time. We’re meeting at 7:30 for breakfast and then, regretfully, splitting up as Dale heads for Del Norte, CO and Clive and I ride to Denver. I’ll get to spend some time with my son Blaine and see Gwen, Clive’s wife, too.

I’ll add one more blog post about this remarkable motorcycle adventure soon and upload all of the photos in full resolution to flickr. But for now, I need to get some rest and prepare for one more day on two wheels before flying back to Atlanta, my wife, my job and my life.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this and (as we are told at virtually every stop):

Stay safe out there!

2017 Tour Day 8: Pendleton to Pocatello, Pedal to the Metal

We thought today would be all about interstate riding, but that was only half the day and less than half the story.

Instead of droning on cruise control in (relatively) straight lines for nine hours, we instead spent the first half of the day on some incredible motorcycling roads. Frankly, the Oregon mountain passes from Pendleton to John Day (that’s a town) offered well-maintained roads with countless sweeping turns through canyons and forests for 120 miles of two-wheel bliss.

We saw no police officers on this route, meaning Clive and Dale’s plan of putting me in the lead as cop bait failed again. There were very few cars. We did, however, see hundreds of other motorcycles and there were two oddities about this:

  • At least 90% of them were BMW’s
  • They were all coming towards us — in other words, on the other side of the road and thus, out of our way

This struck us as curious, so tonight I googled a bit and found this online:

Aha! We were watching the Chief Joseph Rally of the BMW Riders of Oregon, which was based in John Day, solving both riddles.

I plead guilty for not taking many pictures today. I was frankly having too much fun to stop, so I only snapped pics at gas and meal stops. The first of these steps was in Mount Vernon, Oregon, which if you think about it, really belongs in Washington. We did not buy any quilts.

We thought the fun was over after this memorable stretch of road, but were delighted to find the next 115 miles to Nyssa, Oregon were nearly as good.

Along the way, we stopped in the very interesting town of Vale, Oregon, which phonetically sounds like it belongs in Colorado. I checked Yelp and even in this little burg, I found a restaurant that had terrific reviews: Chabelitas Taqueria, which — in addition to the Yelp ratings, enjoys a perfect 5 star Google rating, albeit with just 25 people weighing in.

The ratings are well-deserved. As is often the case with Mexican restaurants, the quality of the food is inversely correlated to the quality of the interior design. The place is rustic and you pay at the register when you go. But wow — those taco’s. Delicious, soft shell, corn tortillas and perfectly prepared. As Clive said, “The cilantro really makes it,” and he was right. It was fantastic.

As we walked back to the bikes, Clive looked at this building and said, “Vale’s got a real termite problem, I guess.”

Since this is a motorcycling blog, no entry would be relevant without a gratuitous shot of the bikes and (in this case) two of the three riders. So, here are Dale and Clive, to whom I must credit with never seeming to tire of my incessant photo-shooting:

From Vale, we made a dash to the Interstate and quickly crossed into Idaho (old state slogan: “Famous Potatoes.” New state slogan: “Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations.” I am not making that up).

We discovered two wonderful things among the potatoes and destinations: An 80 MPH speed limit on the Interstate, which made for a fast pace and a cooler ride, as well as this t-shirt:

In case you’re curious, this is the ride summary from my GPS app:

We are almost done with this ride, which all of us have described as the best motorcycle trip we’ve ever experienced. I’ll reflect a little on it at the end, but I’m sad it’s nearly over while very excited to see my wonderful wife soon. As an added bonus, I will get to spend several hours with our son, Blaine, before I fly back from Denver to Atlanta (I’m shipping the bike).

Somewhat ironically, while I’m with Blaine in Colorado, Penny will be with our other son, Austin, who flew to Atlanta from Chicago. He made a spur-of-the-moment special trip to be with her because she had to put down one of our cats earlier this week and was really upset about it. We have great kids.

We expect to make it to Grand Junction, CO tomorrow and I will provide another update from there before wrapping this up early next week. Thanks for reading and more soon.

2017 Tour Day 4: From the Prairie to the Mountains to the Ocean (White With Foam)

Variety is the spice of riding and it was a day full of variety — a great way to cross 3,000 miles on this trip.

We left Truckee, CA early this morning and crossed Donner Pass, legendary for its beauty and famous cannbalism episode of 1846. The Donner Party, traveling by wagons, became stranded in a blizzard and wound up spending the winter on the mountain. 45 of the 81 settlers survived by eating the other 36.  In contrast to our trip today, the Donner Party had no variety (same food day after day) and no spice (what’s a good seasoning for bicep?)

The view was spectacular — you’ll have to take my word for it because I didn’t want to stop in case a blizzard stranded us and my riding partners decided I should become the first entree on the survival menu.

Next came a long, long trip across the state of California. Granted, making your way east to west is a fraction of the challenge vs. riding north to south but it took us awhile to get to Fort Bragg — which I envisioned as a hardcore military community and was surprised to find a coastal paradise. But getting there took us across vast valleys and plains, with the temperature hovering in the high 90’s for hours.

The last 35 miles on highway 20 were spectacular — endless numbers of sweeping curves, the road undulating up and down valleys and mountains, much of it through dense forests that canopied the road for miles. This is one of the most incredible motorcycle roads I’ve ever enjoyed. Adding to the pleasure were reasonable speed limits (i.e., not too slow) and dozens of “turn outs” for slower vehicles — which the motorists used frequently and freely to let us swift but sane bikers pass them safely and easily.

On this trek up and over the mountains to get to the coast, the temperature plummeted into the mid 60’s; it was breathtaking to feel cool air rushing by after the long, hot heat of the afternoon.

Exhilarated by this experience and given that we’d finally reached the Pacific Ocean, we decided it was time to stop and memorialize our arrival:

We then picked up Highway 1 and took it along the coast for several miles. In this part of California, there are relatively few cars and bikes to contend with and the coastline is nearly completely undeveloped. It’s rugged, beautiful and rocky, with the road often cut into large cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Then Highway 1 turns inland and we rode the curviest road any of us ever rode. By comparison, there’s a “bucket list” route in the southeast called, “The Tail of the Dragon, which is famous for its 318 turns in 11 miles. We didn’t count the turns as we rode Highway 1 for 22 miles from Hardy to Leggett, but I think several dragons contributed to building this road because it was incredibly tight, twisty and intoxicating — almost hypnotic. This map gives you the general idea but there are curves within curves all along the route.

Tonight, we are in a Best Western in Fortuna, CA. (I texted that information to Penny earlier and she replied, “How FORTUNAte!” That girl knows how to get to me 🙂 As a side note, Best Westerns are noted for being motorcycle-friendly. They usually have great places to park and often have security cameras to keep an electronic eye on your steed as you slumber.

We are still in the “no planning” part of our vacation — we don’t have to do any serious map-plotting until we are within a few days of Denver — I fly back the afternoon of June 27th and my brother Clive will help me ship my bike back to Atlanta. I don’t mind the long ride back across the country but if you have limited days on the road, it’s better to spend them in the mountains.

I do know that tomorrow we will continue north and ride along the Oregon coast. I haven’t visited there since I was 9 years old and even in that long-ago memory, it’s rocky and gorgeous. I can’t wait to see witness it again and will report on the experience tomorrow night. Watch this space.

2017 Tour Day 3: A Doctor and Two Aliens Ride the Extraterrestrial Highway

We rode today from Caliente, NV to South Lake Tahoe, CA.

Along the way, we covered the entire 98 mile stretch of Nevada State Highway 375, which is officially called “The Extraterrestrial Highway” by the state. This highway and others we covered in Nevada today are incredibly barren — the little gathering of buildings you see in the picture above (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) counts as a major population center in this part of the country. We went more than 140 miles between gas stations at one point and saw wild ranging cattle, hundreds of munitions bunkers, several rabbits and two snakes. But alas, no aliens. Well, except for this one where the road starts on the east end:

Area 51 is close to this road and experts debate the origins of the many strange objects witnessed in the sky by travelers. We rode many miles without seeing other cars and we saw only one Nevada State Trooper along the way — and he just stopped to check on us when we pulled over to take this picture.

In retrospect, I should have asked him if he’d had any strange encounters since he no doubt drives this road more than just about anyone. I was frankly preoccupied thinking that if we hadn’t stopped for the fake metal alien photo op, we’d have crossed paths with this officer several miles down the road when the only mystery would have been whether or not he caught us speeding before we saw him coming.

For yet another day, the topography was indescribable. The vastness of this country overwhelms you when you spend hours and hours traveling through empty lands where you can see nothing manmade but the road in every direction. Further, where you’re traveling is, by definition, the most-developed part of the land that’s visible towards every horizon.

No surprise: it was hot today. Traveling hundreds of miles at a steady speed, on long, long straights of highway, immersed in simmering heat, makes it difficult to stay focused on your riding. Every motorcyclist knows you must maintain “tactical awareness” at all times but no one can do this perfectly. Inevitably, your thoughts wander or you get distracted on the song or radio show in the bluetooh system in your helmet.

At times like this, riding just above the speed limit actually helps you stay alert for the simple reason that you’re scanning the environment for cops. Our law enforcement professionals provide a great assist here because they show up randomly, with little warning and they typically drive vehicles much like the other cars on the road, meaning you regularly get a little shot of adrenaline when a Tahoe suddenly approaches from the horizon. It’s a game and assuming you don’t drive at a dangerous pace, it probably makes you safer, all things considered.

We reached Minden, Nevada around 2PM and rode up Daggett Pass, crossing into California at the end. In just a handful of miles, we ascended from 4,700 feet of elevation to more than 7,300. It was as though we were rising above the oppressive heat of the desert and punching through to a cooler layer of air blanketing the mountains. We emerged in South Lake Tahoe and took the western route around the lake, stopping just once for a few pictures — unlike yesterday’s post, today’s photo offering is meager. We also took zero selfies today since I kind of overshot with those yesterday.

Tonight, we are in Truckee, CA, a gorgeous, western-themed town, which is appropriate since we are staying at a Best Western. We walked to a microbrewery for dinner where none of us ordered beer despite this sign:

Tomorrow, we’ll take highway 20 to the coast of California — Fort Bragg. Then we’ll work our way up Highway 1 towards Oregon. Maybe. We have left our planned routes behind us — it’s an 11 day ride and we only planned the route for the first day.

In case the title of this post interests you, allow me to clarify in my closing remarks. My brother and I are the aliens (he was born in the UK; I was born in Canada) and our friend Dale Berkbigler is the doctor. And even though the Extraterrestrial Highway was only 20% of the miles we covered today, it’s an interesting hook for a blog post, don’t you think?

Goodnight from Truckee, California.

2017 Tour Day 2: From the State of Saints to the State of Sinners — One Group Selfie at a Time

We woke up in Utah this morning, the most religious of states in America. Utah is relatively dry in more ways than one — my co-travelers insisted we stop at a liquor store in Colorado prior to entering the Beehive State.

We took off from our hotel and rode into the town of Capitol Reef — which I slighted in last night’s post. It’s actually a fascinating little village in southern Utah and it’s blessed with a fantastic little restaurant, The Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe, which doesn’t look like much on the outside but boasts an appealing interior and even more appealing food.

After breakfast, we remounted our iron steeds and I learned as we entered it that Capitol Reef is also the name of a national park. In addition to some mysterious pictographs (for example, why did Indians thousands of years ago draw four-fingered characters wearing helmets?) we also found a great place to park the bikes, climb a little hill and take a couple of snaps, including our first group selfie of the day. This time, I perched the camera on a little pile of rocks I built; I predict that in 1,000 years, some future archaeologists will wonder at the religious significance of this tiny shrine built by the foolish and superstitious people of our era.

After departing Capitol Reef, we drove up a pass and pulled over again to a vastly different landscape. We met a couple of elderly brothers from Detroit and offered to take pictures of them in exchange for their services in snapping shots of us.

Later, we spotted a fascinating landscape by the side of the road and pulled over to see a gorgeous desert below us with a river running through it. If you look closely, you’ll see the greenery thriving thanks to what is really a small amount of water in what is paradoxically a gorgeous wasteland.

It then occurred to us that only one thing could possibly improve the beauty and grandeur of this scene, so we took another picture — with us in front of it.

We then toured Bryce Canyon National Park — a favor to me as both Clive and Dale had seen it just last year.
The pictures will give you a sense of what the landscape is like but (you know what’s coming), you have to see it for real to “get” the breathtaking scope and scale of this unbelievable topography. It’s just stunning. I added a series of photographs below; in the last one, I zoomed in so you can see the people hiking on a trail to the bottom of this canyon. This is an 18x zoom and yet the people are still tiny little figures in the frame.

In the heat of the mid-afternoon, we left Utah and entered the land of sin — Nevada. We rode for a few hours across vast deserts, over a mountain pass and across an enormous plain ringed by mountains on three sides that reminded all of us of the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where we began our journey.
We ended today’s travels in Caliente (Spanish for “hot”), Nevada, where it was — thanks to a permanent municipal ordinance, I believe — exactly 100 degrees when we arrived. According to the menu in the “restaurant” (not recommended) where we ate our dinner, Caliente thrived during the steam locomotive era as a place for trains to stop to take on water. These days, the train station is the town hall; as you can see below, two Union Pacific logos still flank the edifice.

Caliente is part actual village, part misdirection and part ghost town. The Exxon sign here is an illusion — this establishment does not sell fuel. The J&J Mini Mart is part of Caliente’s ghost town persona; the faded sign offers long-ago travelers a list of staples and indulgences to sustain them in their treks across this vast desert.

We’re staying at what is likely the nicest establishment in Caliente — The Shady Motel.

When we checked in, the desk clerk told me the wifi password is, “shadyguest.” I replied, “What a coincidence — that’s what I am!”
She looked at me seriously and said, “Everything in Nevada has two meanings.”

This is a complex and diverse state. Mountains and deserts, ghost towns doubling as working villages, huge cities and glamour along with illusory riches and, I’m sure, despair for people who came to “make it big” but now just try to make ends meet.

The desk clerk is right. Everything in Nevada has two meanings.

2017 Tour Day 1: Mountain Air, Desert Heat and a Mesa on Fire

I wrote this blog entry on Saturday night but couldn’t post it until Sunday. That’s because I have no wifi or cell access here at the Rodeway Inn in Capitol Reef, UT. Interesting name, since there is no water anywhere and thus no “reef” — and it doesn’t appear to be the capitol of anything except, perhaps, desolate but beautiful desert.
We left Dale Berkbigler’s mountain home this morning bound for Del Norte airport, where Dale stores his planes and, for one night only, my motorcycle (his was there too). After just a few miles driving down Pinos Creek road, we came across an honest-to-god Colorado cattle drive. This was a bona fide, genuine movement of beef cattle on the hoof — not dude ranch fakery.

After a brief delay, we completed the drive to the airport where I started packing up my bike while Dale washed the cattle drive mementoes off of his car. Finally, the four of us — Clive, Dale, Laurie Anne and me — climbed on our motorcycles and hit the road. We headed west over Wolf Creek Pass (subject of a “semi”- famous trucker-themed song from the 1970’s; I still know the words), through Durango, past Mesa Verde National Monument and into Utah.

We took turns leading because my riding partners have not yet learned that if you give me that kind of control, I’m going to stop the group so I can take pictures. Our first group picture was by the side of the road in the middle of Utah — it was spectacular and nearly barren of traffic. To get this shot, I perched my camera on my helmet across the road, set the timer and ran back into the frame. I also took many other shots and during this elapsed time period of perhaps 15 minutes; not one car passed from either direction.

We then rode on to an overlook where you can see a little bit of Lake Powell. It was obviously time for another group shot, so I used the trusty camera-on-a-rock-straightened-by-twigs method and snapped a decent photo. The scenery there was amazing.

So was the heat. During the subsequent leg of the journey, we covered about 150 miles and the temperature was well over 100 the entire time, topping out at a toasty (but not steamy; no humidity here) 107 degrees.

We refueled at the Hollow Mountain convenience store, where an angry-looking man, accompanied by his embarrassed-looking wife and disinterest kids in a large pickup truck pulling a large boat on a trailer honked at me while I took this picture:

Which brings me to the Rodeway Inn in Capital Reef. It’s not fancy but it’s very clean, quite updated (except for the intermittent wifi) and the sunset is spectacular. The picture of the butte across from the hotel is straight out of the camera, with no retouching at all. This is the full glory of sunset in the desert, as though nature is giving you a small reward for tolerating the wicked heat of the daytime.

Tomorrow is supposed to be even hotter, but I genuinely don’t care. This is a fiery paradise but a paradise nonetheless. It’s a humbling thing to witness the vastness, the majesty and the unique beauty of this landscape and the heat is part of the experience — a character in the drama.

More tomorrow and thanks for reading.

Traveling 500 Miles and 36 Years in One Day

I departed Enid, OK this morning for the long trek across a long state towards New Mexico and then ultimately, Del Norte, CO, a little mountain town of 1200 people (counting dogs and chickens) where I went to high school 36 years ago. 

There aren’t many interestates in this part of the country, so I rode most of my miles on four lane and two lane state highways.  There also aren’t many places to fuel up, either:  At one point, I clocked 100 miles between gas stations. I finally came across this little gem in Slapout, OK, where there were four pumps — only one of them actually in use and none of the people parked in front of any of them was in a rush to let me in for my turn. I whiled away the time by taking pictures:

As you can see, we customers temporarily doubled the population of Slapout, OK today. 

When I finally had a chance to fill up, I learned that in Slapout, you can have any kind of gas as long as it’s regular:

I will not forget the moment the snow-capped peaks of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountains (“blood of Christ” because of the spectacular red they turn during sunrises and sunsets) came into view. I thought, “Home.” Home to me will always be the San Luis Valley — an enormous plain nestled in between two mountain ranges, one of which is the Sangre de Cristos.

When I was a kid, we lived in the valley, in Del Norte, for five years, which was the longest I lived anyplace until I was 40. So if I have a hometown, Del Norte is it. My friends and I were good kids but there’s not a lot to do in Del Norte, and so we did what teenagers do: we got into trouble. I was reminded of this when I rode my bike and parked it actross from the house where we lived. It looks much the same and I bet there is still a basement window in the back that’s perfect for sneaking out in the middle of the night in pursuit of mischief.

After this brief but unexpectedly moving stop, I rode out to the Del Norte airport and met up with my old friend, Dr. Dale Berkbigler, whom I hadn’t seen in some double-digit number of years. He has a hangar there where he parks his bike (and, of course, airplanes), so I pulled mine in beside his and he drove me to his very lovely mountain home for the night. Later, my brother, Clive, met us there and we cleaned up and headed into town for dinner. The three of us will be making the 10 day ride that starts tomorrow.

We wound up at the Windsor Hotel. This hotel was originally constructed in the 1870’s and was known as the “Old West Hotel” when I lived in Del Norte. It was shuttered for many years and was eventually saved from destruction when an old friend of mine named Barbara Culp came across the demolition crew by accident and literally stepped in front of the wrecking ball and refused to let them proceed. She then persuaded her husband to purchase and donate the hotel for renovation and it is now a first-class property unlike anything that has existed in Del Norte for many decades. 

Dinner was fantastic. As we ate, I told the group that when I was a high schooler, my friend Ben and I used to sneak out at night, climb to the top of the hotel and throw water balloons at passing cars. We did this many times and were never caught — we simply waited out the cops who drove around the building with spot lights, never considering that someone had climbed on top of it. Our slogan (I am not making this up) was, “They hardly ever look up!”

On one of our “bombing missions,” we noticed that in the courtyard of the old hotel, management had installed a fountain and populated it with several large fish. This presented a new challenge and we responded by returning the next night with a “Pocket Fisherman,” a Ronco gadget sold on late night television in that era. We spent more than an hour trying to cast into the fountain and could not catch a fish despite our best efforts. We finally fled when we noticed a woman peering out at us from one the windows of a room across from us and, once again, were not caught.

I decided to visit the courtyard to see how it had changed and it’s now beautiful — live music, crowds of people and no fountain. But I did come across my friend of 36 years ago, Kevin Off. Kevin and I worked in the local lumberyard one summer and rode our motorcycles like crazy people. Kevin still lives there and is a very highly-regarded and well-liked local artist and craftsman. He was always the type to march to his own drummer and he frankly hasn’t changed a bit. 

I asked him to take a selfie with me and he said, “Sure — this will be my first one.”  So, world, I present to you the wonderful Kevin Off’s first-ever selfie:

It’s late here and I must rest up for the ride. More from the road tomorrow. 

Mission Accomplished But the Journey’s Just Started

Professional pictures forthcoming but this gives you the idea: Steve Buscher, a Safety Program Manager for HD Supply White Cap and our primary liaison to Folds of Honor, stands on the left. That’s me on the right. In the middle is Major Dan Rooney, the CEO and Founder of the organization. 

The day started out much less auspiciously: 

Lots and lots of rain. Which is fine — I ride in the rain. I pulled over at this gas station because of the plentiful supply of nearby lightning. As I fueled up, a driver heading east (I was going west), told me they’d just driven through hail — a particular problem on a motorcycle. So, I waited for 20 mins before heading out again. 

I had a chance to tour our branch in Tulsa, courtesy of Caleb Long, our manager there, and meet his great team. The place looks great and I bet that group provides great service to our customers in the Tulsa area. Then we headed off to the Folds of Honor party, which was held in a set of tents near the lake where their new offices will be built — courtesy of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Tulsa; this group is donating all of the labor and construction management for the project and coordinating many of the material donations as well. That’s an awesome contribution to a great cause! 

Here, Major Rooney stands next to a rendering of the upcoming building — which will sit on land that has been donated as well: 

Soon after I shot this picture, eight of the largest celebrities I’ve ever seen in my life showed up and it was majestic:

Note the Dalmatian, who travels with the team; his name is “Clyde.” Budweiser is a huge supporter of Folds of Honor — Major Rooney cold-called their corporate offices every six months for three years and now they’ve donated millions of dollars to the cause. 

As soon as the ceremony wrapped up, I hit the road again. I stayed in Enid, OK last night and am writing this as I prepare to head out to Colorado, where I’ll meet up with my brother Clive and another friend and head to California and then, who knows? We have about 12 days to wander the west and I can’t wait to continue the journey. 

Speaking of the “Journey Just Starting,” that’s not only literally true because my ride continues now. I’m also referring to supporting Folds of Honor. It was my honor to contribute to this cause. I will continue to use my position and resources to keep supporting this charity because it’s run by such terrific people and they do such important work. 

I’ll keep you posted on both journeys if you keep checking this space…

2017 Folds of Honor Ride – Day 1

Me — at Zero Miles

I’ve been planning this trip for months, so of course I was scrambling like mad the last two days to get ready to leave. Anticipating my long time away from home, my wife Penny headed to New Orleans with her sister. They left a couple of days ago — to avoid getting in my way, she said. I think this is code for, “You’re going to be distracted and slightly annoying while you pack, so I think I’ll leave town.” Probably a good call, although I’m always more lonesome at home by myself than I am in a lonely hotel by the highway, for some reason. 

They seem to be having a great time, which validates her decision — although we are at an age where the temptations of even legendarily fun destinations like New Orleans lose some of their appeal: Just as I checked into my hotel in Conway, AR, tonight, she texted me for my Netflix log-in credentials, so I think their evening is about as wild as mine, despite the party reputation gap between the two cities. 
After heading west from Atlanta to Birmingham, AL, I took I-22 northwest to Memphis. Unbeknownst to me, that road turns into US Highway 76 as you get close to Memphis and — after hours cruising at 70MPH — everything slows down and you come upon a long series of stoplights over the course of several miles. Worse, a fender-bender somewhere in the middle of this resulted in a very long, idle-speed delay, so I cooked in my helmet for a good 45 minutes, watching the temperature gauge hold at 98 degrees. I finally exited, navigated by “dead reckoning” (an old sailor’s term for “guessing”) and somehow wound up where I was supposed to be — on I-40 West, bound once more for Tulsa!

I came across a quiet and pristine (ignoring the major interstate nearby, of course) rest area in Madison, AR, where I let the bike cool and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few minutes. 

During last year’s long, cross-country ride, I experienced no rain at all until the last couple of hours before I arrived home — in other words, it was dry weather for about 6,000 miles. This year, I experienced rain off and on for about an hour on my very first day. Just like last year, I kept right on going — I welcomed the cool relief and left my rain gear in the saddle bags. 

I tend to be very mission-focused (some might say obsessive-compulsive) when I ride, so meals are just fuel for me. In that spirit, I stopped at a McDonald’s in Lonoke, AR, for a “lo-carb” burger and a Diet Dr. Pepper. Outside, a minor drama played out as a family studied the engine of their minivan until a tow truck came to fetch the stricken vehicle to be looked at by a qualified professional. This close to Memphis, FedEx trucks are simply everywhere.

My iPhone is mounted on the handlebars of my bike and as I cruised along, it occurred to me that it was poised to take a photo of the setting sun. Daring myself to capture this shot without unmounting the phone (or crashing), I took several snaps, not sure what I’d find when I could finally look at my pictures. I got decidedly mixed results, as you can see. At least it’s artsy. 

I’m now at a Holiday Inn Express (“Express” being the retail term for, “less to offer than our better establishments”) and will depart in the morning for Owasso, OK, a suburb of Tulsa. As I parked the bike here, a man stopped by to chat (that happens constantly when you ride a motorcycle) and asked me where I was headed. When I told him about Folds of Honor, he proudly told me that he just retired from a “great, 22-year career” in the Arkansas National Guard and thanked me for raising money for such an important cause. I thanked him for his military service and we shook hands. It was a very nice, though brief, conversation. 

At 4PM tomorrow, I will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Folds of Honor headquarters expansion. I will hand over a big fake check representing actual funds in the amount of $30,000 to Major Dan Rooney, the founder and CEO of the foundation. Once that ceremony is completed, I will hit the road again — I am heading to Colorado to meet up with my brother Clive and another friend, so we can ride to California and points beyond. It’s a long way from Owasso to Del Norte, CO, so I will need to ride into the night tomorrow. But that’s a good thing: Oklahoma is mighty warm in the summertime and a long, evening ride will be fun and cool. 

So far, the bike is running great and I’m great enjoying my latest adventure. I can’t wait to head out again tomorrow and see the fantastic team at Folds of Honor!

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