AS ULYSSES EVERETT McGILL once said, “Well, at least you boys’ll get to see the old manse.” (Like me, he calls his place a manse.) “The home where I spent so many happy days in the bosom of my family. A refugium, if you will, with a mighty oak tree out front and a happy little tire swing.”
Where’s the happy little tire swing?
Maybe we’ll get one now that I’m home. Home after 83 days on the road and 11,341 miles. Not my longest ride in miles but it beats the old days-out record by 5. I loved every minute of the trek to Alaska and back, and its many happy detours along the way. I never wanted to be anywhere else but where I was; never wanted to be doing anything else but what I was doing.
Here we are in Alaska on June 8…
… and left-lane-ing it up the highway in Rhode Island yesterday…
… and riding up the brick walk to the humble manse.
It felt good to roll east out of Chicago on new skins Monday. As heavy as she is, the iron piggy is surprisingly maneuverable on new rubber. She’s like that dancing Disney hippo in ballet shoes. Braiding the highway at speed, she responds nicely to positive counter-steering pressure on the grips; rolls up one side of the tread and then back down through the center and up onto the other.
We made it home from Chicago in two sleeps, both in my birth state of Pennsylvania. After a short second day between here and the Windy City, only 317 miles, my eyes were heavy indeed, despite that I had napped under an oak tree only 100 miles earlier.
This tree. I snoozed quite happily with my back on a bed of acorns, in shirtsleeves. Poor man’s shiatsu massage. I sleep wonderfully on the road, under all conditions. On gravel, in soaking wet clothes, boozy neighbors hootin’ & hollerin’, I’m out, C ya, Zzzzzzz…. off to the dreamless oblivion of the lone motorcycle rider far from home.
So here was the itinerary of borders crossed, in the order in which the piggy and I crossed them. This is with all the zigging and zagging I can recall, out of one jurisdiction, into the next, and then back into the first one: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Yukon, British Columbia, Yukon, Alaska, Yukon, British Columbia, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island.
No wonder my tires were worn out. It was a smart move getting new ones in Chicago. Even if I did ride a few thousand miles trying hard not to be that smart.
While the piggy was on the lift at Illinois Harley-Davidson, I noticed a novelty helmet that appears to be some kind of memorial to guys who ride on worn out tires. I’m not planning to join this revue any time soon, thank you very much.
Ron the Harley tech almost “took a hot” when he drew the tire-changing duty on the piggy. (“Took a hot” is Rhode Island lingo for having a heart attack). Ron thought he was gonna have to wash the bike, too. Then Jason the service writer told him, No, piggy’s owner (insofar as piggy has one) specified no washing whatsoever, not even the windshield. Ron’s color returned and all was well.
New sneakers and I was on the road, headed east out of Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin’ town.
Here was my first clue that I had missed the I-94/I-80 split. Michigan? What am I doing in Michigan? I notice they have a lighthouse. So ships don’t crash into the Welcome Center.
I wandered the local roads in Berrien County, found my way south and east to the Indiana line and Interstate 80. Rode 484 miles that day and made my camp in Mercer, PA. I’d had kind offers of hospitality from friends in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Akron, but the weekend was over, I couldn’t go knocking on someone’s door in the dark when they have to get up for work in the morning.
On Day 2, I was riding north on US 209 in the Delaware Water Gap. Had about 250 miles to go when I saw a KOA sign and pulled in. Made coffee, a pot of lentils & pasta and enjoyed an early night’s snooze. In the sack at 8, up at 4.
An easy and nutritious feed made in the 1-quart pressure cooker: lentils, high-protein Barilla pasta, olive oil, salt, pepper, set it down in the dirt on the alcohol burner, dinner in no time.
Coffee gets made in the jetboil. I say “coffee,” it’s actually some kind of industrial waste product. A disposal worker named Folger accidentally tasted it one day and declared it weirdly “coffee-like.” Got a big promotion, no doubt, for figuring out how to market it instead of dumping it in the river at night.
Speaking of rivers and dark of night, we had rain in the snoozing hours on the banks of the Delaware, and I heard something I hadn’t heard since Alaska and Idaho: A wolf. And not far off. Just one wolf, not a pack. Dunno if it was on the Pennsylvania side or the Jersey side. It howled five or six times and stopped. I assume it’s a captive animal, or maybe a wolf-dog hybrid. There are no wolves in the wild in the East.
Did I dream it? Anything’s possible, but it was vivid and I don’t dream on the road, or don’t remember my dreams if I do. Maybe it was my spirit guide. Yeah, that must be it. He was mourning the end of our journey.
On that same rainy night I heard a horse gallop by. I know for a fact there were horses in the pasture behind my campsite the previous evening.
Riding across the Dakotas last week was a hoot. I got the funniest looks from oncoming bikers headed to Sturgis. They rode by me in ones, in pairs, by the dozen and in endless convoys. Their expressions were astonished, puzzled. Most could hardly respond to the down-low biker wave I offered.
Look at him, he’s lost!
Hey, buddy, you’re going the WRONG WAY!
That’s what you think, brother.
Zuzu the girl cat was overjoyed to see me home again. Overjoyed in… her own quiet way. She sniffed and said, Oh. It’s you.
Big Bully Boy Felix showed me his teeth and turned away. I may have described, in this space, how Felix is an archvillain of the feline world. You may know him as Big Pink Maw, his nom de guerre. When he hissed and turned away in disdain, he seemed to say, I hiss and turn away in disdain. For I abhor violence. Heh. If you must know, I relish it. Still, I turn away.
I accomplished a fair amount of work on the road. Interesting and fun work with my friends at King Features Syndicate, in New York. It would have been nice to get 30 percent more done but I’ll take it.
I also advanced two spec projects I’m working on, a screenplay and a novel. Will say more about that in a future post. But for now…
… meet two Montanans who are helping me out on those projects. They, and others, have agreed to read the material for authenticity. Jed and Annie Evjene manage the 40,000-acre American Fork Ranch, in Wheatland and Sweet Grass counties. You can learn more about the ranch on Facebook. Go ahead and Like them. I certainly do.
Jed and Annie were so generous in opening their home to me. I’m sure I took them away from work that needed to get done.
There are two ways to get to the American Fork Ranch. One is scooting over 7 miles of gravel after the blacktop ends, the other is 20 miles of gravel. I rode the 7 miles on the way in, the 20 on the way out. It was big gravel, coarse and slippery under those worn-out tires I was running. It’s a wonder I didn’t flatten them both before I got out to the blacktop again. And then I rode those worn-out skins to Chicago. Lordy…
Gorgeous land with a view of the Crazy Mountains.
On one of the two fieldstone pillars at the front gate.
You’re crossing that cattle guard, iron piggy! I know you don’t think you are.
Go for it, girl! Be bold!
Plaintive oinks… plaintive oinks… blah blah… now I’m losing my patience…
Piggy was just nervous. Asked me to hear her confession first. She did all right after that.
Ride through the gate and follow the road and the American Fork headquarters is down below, in that little valley. If you ever get lost in the West and need to talk to a human, look for a line of trees. That’s where the water is, and where the people are.
Here’s a 3-minute video the Evjenes made for the Stockgrowers Association. I happened to find it online earlier this year, sent Jed an email out of the blue and got invited out for the grand tour!
Piggy and I ride back up to the gate after our visit with Annie and Jed.
While in Wheatland County I should have grabbed a snapshot of another local reader of mine, the curator of the Upper Musselshell Museum, in Harlowton, MT. She’s about Daughter #1’s age, Robyn Lode, an Olde English name pronounced LO-dee. Robyn has much in common with the heroine of my story, but I didn’t know that when I asked her to read it. I was just hanging around town killing time, sleeping on the ground by the rodeo arena while waiting for the bride to send my passport, so I could cross into Canada and get up to Alaska.
Robyn gave me a tour of the museum one day. All I knew, from casual conversation, was that she had been raised on a ranch like Cora Bowen, my fictional character, and had graduated from the high school Cora attends. Cora rides motocross from an early age. For her senior project she documents her grandfather’s life on video. I find out last week that Robyn rode motocross, and that her senior project was a photographic essay on her grandfather’s life. Whoa! Einstein called that Spooky Action at a Distance.
Robyn’s up front, too, like Cora. She’ll tell me if and where the story rings false. I can’t have local people rolling their eyes at this yarn if & when it ever sees the light of day.
Okay, to wrap up… As you know, I posted to the blog here and there from the road, but I’m not sure I consider these on-the-fly dispatches the actual road report. Maybe so, but I took plenty of notes, filled up an entire composition book; maybe I’ll reflect, as time allows, and see whether I have anything interesting or useful to add. Maybe I’ll get to it this winter, when we’re all cooped up and have cabin fever.
I’ve hardly begun to go through the photos I took, or the videos. Dunno if any of the video is worth watching. I’ll run it through a stabilization program to get the shakes out of it. Even securely mounted, the camera gets knocked all over by the road, the wind and the engine. Especially the engine on an “A”-powered Harley. But if you’re touring America, what a great motor to have under you. That said, I’m not a brand fetishist by any stretch. I’m happy to ride any maker’s bike anywhere at any time. And I may own one or two of those others before I’m done. But on the Blue Routes and the backroads and on Main Street, no other bike sounds so much at home in the country you’re seeing. That’s a fact. Nothing feels or sounds as American as a Harley at the lope or the gallop. How I love to feel the iron piggy’s big heart firing as we go down the road. She’s breathing in, breathing out. She’s talking to me. I’m just hanging on.
I’ve got all kinds of ideas about the next time, some other journey to other places. How to do things better, easier, strive for efficiency and more in-the-saddle hours.
Most of my gear is shot. Just from hard use. Everything I unloaded yesterday is about as shot as those tires I left in Chicago. I broke one of my cameras this time out. The laptop is just about done, too. It’s six years old and probably has 60,000 motorcycle miles on it.
My rain gear has had it.
Same for the ratty old helmet. The liner is cracked and about to fall apart. You can see how badly the shell is scarred. This helmet should have been tossed years ago for that alone; impacts affect the integrity of the bucket. (It fell off the piggy while underway in Kansas once. No, my head wasn’t in it at the time. Probably should have been.)
I’ll invest in new gear before I travel again. Travel for distance, anyway. I might even invest in a new bike. The iron piggy is about ready for a stable mate. I always said I’d strip the piggy down when her long-distance days were through; give her a respectable retirement as a local ride. After the misfortune of Spokane, she’s proved once again she can cross the continent the long way and come home on her own two wheels. Maybe now’s the time to put the old girl out to pasture.
But I don’t mind if you tell me what you think about that.
I see her minus her front fender. No more passing lamps, no walrus tusks, no crash bars, no saddlebags, trade the two-up seat for a solo, maybe bob the rear fender…
I could ditch the cast wheels. Get her original spoke wheels powdercoated a sexy-piggy red…
Scrap those heavy mufflers while I’m at it. Run a pair of short Big Radius pipes…
Tony DePaul, August 8, 2013, Cranston, Rhode Island