The Blue Ridge Parkway

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blueridgeparkway07One of the most easily assessed and spectacular field trips in the country isn’t too far from here. The Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s longest National Park, meanders from Virginia to North Carolina, a distance of almost 500 miles. The pre-start of the ride begins in Front Royal, Virginia and is named the “Skyline Drive” down as far as the Waynesboro area, 109 miles where it turns into the BRP from then on. The Skyline Drive isn’t all that great but it’s the most direct lead-in to the BRP so it’s just as well you start there.

The “real” BRP connects Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It begins at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro. You can easily do the entire length of the BRP and get home in about a week. It usually takes three days to traverse the entire length because you can’t go very fast. There are several lodges actually on the BRP road and they are about equidistant from each other and you can easily get off and back on for food and lodging along the entire route.

http://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/upload/BLRImap1-1.pdf

By history, the construction of the BRP began as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Work began in 1935. The Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps camps performed most of the work. During World War II, conscientious objectors were pressed into this construction. The parkway took over 52 years to complete, the last portion opening in 1987. 2015 marks the 150th year anniversary of the last Civil War shot fired east of the Mississippi near present-day Waynesville, NC.

The BRP is considered by many to be the gold standard of American touring trips. Many bikers and sports car clubs congregate to run all or part of the BRP. Most of the road consists of what bikers like to call “twisties”, tight corners and switchbacks in heavily forested areas with very little if any traffic. The elevation also varies dramatically from lower areas to over 6000 feet, changing the weather patterns from warm to downright chilly. The BRP is amenable for family sedans and SUVs, but of course not nearly as enjoyable as in a small open-air vehicle.

The traditional pinnacle of bikers’ rides, further west where Tennessee meets North Carolina is the “Tail of the Dragon”, an 11-mile stretch of US 129, an incredibly twisty road sporting 318 tight hairpin corners. However, the Tail has become overcrowded, especially with novices riding it much too fast and getting hurt pretty regularly.

If you follow the BRP on the map down to it’s near end where it makes a right turn toward Cherokee land, you’ll see a little town called Waynesville, NC. In that area, the crème de la crème of spectacular and sometimes challenging tours occur. Rides in this area are named and mostly bikers come from all over the world to access them. The “Moonshiner 28”, “Devils Triangle”, “Diamondback 226”, “Six Gap North Georgia”, “The Rattler” and the “Copperhead” to name a few. These roads were built long before Interstates and surveyors were forced to build them around the mountainous conditions with many twists and turns around obstacles. There is virtually no traffic on any of them anymore except sports car clubs and bikers.

http://www.motorcycleroads.com/75/1335/North-Carolina/The-Copperhead-Loop.html

I’ve been riding these areas for over ten years and I know all of it by heart. Last week was a time slot with nothing much to do and the weather was good so I decided to do it all again. I also decided to just ride down there on my venerable BMW R1150GS, the Rock of Gibraltar on two wheels, because having to deal with a trailer on several motel overnights would be a time wasting problem.

From my house to Waynesville, NC is about 560 miles. This is the area of all the fabulous rides so I decided to forego doing the entire BRP again as I’ve done it stem to stern in the past and didn’t have the time this trip. So I rode the Interstates to the area of interest and did it all in four days. I did do parts of the BRP in North Carolina this trip. On the return trip, I was weary of motels and so decided to ride it straight, 560 miles in about 11 hours. I wasn’t sure I could do it and so had the option of stopping along the Interstate anytime, but I did OK.

I’m now wondering if maybe I might try the “Saddle

sore 1000” put on by the Iron Butt Society (1000 miles in 24 hours). Would be cool to have the “World’s Toughest Motorcycle Riders” badge on the back of my Beemer. If you recall, former Chief CCM Fellow Erik Diringer did this ride successfully a few years ago but I was engaged elsewhere at the time and I couldn’t try it with him. At any rate, here are the photos of the trip, giving you some idea of the beauty of the area. Even along the Interstate. You’ll notice one photo with a red arrow. This is one I didn’t quite get showing two huge Confederate Flags on the porch of a home. Enjoy if you have an interest:

Hombres MC visit some American Civil War National Battlefield Monuments.

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flagHombres MC visit some American Civil War National Battlefield Monuments. Many located between Washington, DC and the Confederate Capital in Richmond, VA.  We had five days and we put on about 700 miles. Then we went up part of the Blue Ridge Parkway toward home (in the rain and fog)

Most of the landmarks within the battlefield areas are not well preserved after 150 years.  The farmhouse named “Chancellorsville” is no longer there and the crossroads where the battle was fought is now a four-lane highway. The Fredericksburg site is in the middle of a housing project.

The National Park Service has constructed exceptionally interesting sites containing films outlining the events, artifacts and on-site lectures from park rangers. All well done, and I might add limited now because of the “sequester” so if you go, be sure and put some cash in the pot to maintain this essential American history.

Naturally, it would be impossible for me to delve into much of the history of the American Civil War as very notable authors have spent lifetimes trying to understand it. Ken Burns filmed the progression over 12 hours.  There are, however, a few issues of personal interest to me I can scratch the surface of.

Some of the famous battles are remarkable not so much for what happened as what might have been.

The first major battle to take place on Union soil occurred on Sept 17, 1962 at Antietam creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland. Union Maj. Gen. George McClellan launched a frontal attack on the Confederate Army led by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker in and around a cornfield used for cover for both sides.

After the brutal battle in which over 23,000 young men lost their lives in one day, was fought to a brutal draw, but advantage lay with the Union as the Confederate troops were outnumbered and disorganized.  Lee ordered the Confederate troops to withdraw and re-group. At this point, a further push by the Union Army might have decimated Lee’s meager residual forces before they could re-group.

However, McClellan was a notoriously cautious General and fearful of ordering his men into actual battle unless victory with minimal casualties was a virtual lead pipe cinch. McClellan refused to pursue Hooker, even with the assistance of reinforcements from Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside’s fresh troops lingering outside the action. He simply didn’t think he needed to. The Confederate Army was conceptually doomed and would collapse soon anyway with no additional loss of his troops. This allowed Hooker to safely retreat back south of the Potomac to re-constitute.

In terms of military strategy and tactics, McClellan fatefully failed to bring the full brunt of his forces to bear as a “Force Multiplier”, to make a given force more effective than that same force would be without it. Essentially, to cause disproportionate losses on the enemy, and therefore destroy the enemy’s ability to fight.  Sherman notoriously used this strategy that came to be known as “scorched earth” in his “march to the Sea” in 1864.

This lapse allowed Hooker to shift his forces to meet each encounter with the best possible efficacy using fewer men. Some historians believe that Lee’s army could have been wiped out at Antietam and had that occurred, the war would have been dramatically shortened or over.

The battle at Fredericksburg, VA occurred on December 11-15, 1862 between the Confederate Army commanded by Robert E. Lee and the Union Army commanded by Maj. Gen Ambrose Burnside. This battle is remembered for one of the most spectacular tactical blunders in the history of warfare, resulting in Union casualties twice as heavy as Confederate.

Burnsides plan was to cross the Rappahannock River on pontoon bridges to meet the Confederates south of the village of Fredericksburg. However, on arrival at the riverbank, Burnside found no pontoons (due to bureaucratic blunder) and was assured they would arrive in a day or two. So Burnside camped out and waited.

Meanwhile, Lee’s forces wondered where the Union Army was, so Lee sent scouts up who reported the situation. This allowed Lee to move up to meet Burnside in and around the town of Fredericksburg and more importantly, occupy the high ground south of the town with a stone wall for cover.

When the pontoons arrived, Burnside was forced to endure withering fire moving his troops across the river. On finally arriving on the opposite bank, Burnside ordered multiple frontal assault against 3,000 Confederate infantrymen lined up in multiple ranks behind the stone wall for about 600 yards and another 3,000 with artillery behind it. The Union troops were repulsed with heavy losses. It’s said that a walk along the entire of the killing field would not allow a boot to touch a single blade of grass. Only bodies.

Burnside stubbornly continued these assaults until he essentially ran out of manpower, following which he attempted to blame his subordinates. The following day, Dec 14, Burnside asked Lee for a truce to attend to his wounded, which the latter graciously granted, but ultimately proved to be a tactical mistake. The next day Dec 15, the Federal forces retreated across the river, and the campaign came to an end. The Union army suffered 12,653 casualties in three days of fighting. The Confederate army lost 5,377 men. Burnside was relieved of command a month later.

Again, as at Antietam, the military strategy and tactics are remarkable. For the entire battle, Lee’s forces needed only maintain their position and thin out assaulting Union forces from a position of relative safety. By the evening of Dec 14, the Union army lay decimated and extremely vulnerable, trapped between a superior confederate force occupying protected high ground and a river. For unclear reasons, Lee decided to wait out the night before actually assaulting the Union forces the following morning. This allowed the residual Union forces time to escape back across the river and eventually regroup on Union soil. Lee is said to have regretted this decision bitterly.

The Union Army (of the Potomac) then went on to another defeat at Chancellorsville in early May of 1963, followed by a series of smaller but cumulative losses. Ultimately, the loss of the Confederacy became a self fulfilling prophesy ending with the ill fated Appomattox Campaign and the evacuation of Richmond that culminated in Lee’s surrender on April 9. 1865.

A neutral spot, The McLean House (a private residence near the Appomattox Courthouse) was selected for the two Generals to meet and discuss terms, which were exceptionally generous. Roughly 175,000 Confederates remained in the field were allowed to keep all the possessions except arms and flags.  Each was issued a signed “parole” document guaranteeing free passage back home (avoiding potential charges of desertion).

Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, commander of one of the major Union brigades was a stirring figure responsible for one of the most poignant scenes of the era. He had personally directed 20 battles, was cited for bravery four times, had six horses shot from under him and was wounded six times.

Chamberlain ordered the line of Union troops to “order Arms” as the Confederates passed by as a measure of respect.  Observing this action, surrendering General of the remaining Confederate troops, Gen. John Brown Gordon wheeled his horse around, drew his sword placing the point against the toe of his boot and decreed similar respect for the Union troops. This order was carried out and the two movements proceeded silently and mournfully.

Thus ended the bloodiest battle in American history.  A total of 214,938 deaths in combat. At least 500,000 deaths from disease and ultimate wounds for a total death count of ~ 625,000. WW II yielded 405,000 deaths and Vietnam a paltry ~58,000 deaths in eight years. 23,000 men died at Antietam in one day and ~50,000 at Gettysburg in three days.

An interesting medical aside is the story of Dr. Jonathan Letterman, a Civil War surgeon said to have developed the concept of “triage”. Born in Canonsburg, PA, he was named medical director for the Union Army of the Potomac in May 1962. He initiated forward first aid stations, devised systems where fallen soldiers would be classified as to urgency of treatment while attending casualties at Antietam. He also refined ambulance systems and distribution of supplies.  He was light years ahead of his time.

Interestingly, there is a note on EBay (and a mention on “Pawn Stars”) flatly stating that any Confederate Flag that might be found on any Internet auction site is virtually guaranteed to be fake. There are simply none left that aren’t in museums and the chances of finding one, however unlikely, would bring tens of thousands of dollars. Virtually all Confederate swords and other hardware are expert fakes.

In my photo gallery, you will see his portrait, the barn where the “enlisted” troops were treated (Naturally- officers were treated up at the mansion) and some of the accouterments of his trade.

Here is my photo journal if you have an interest:

http://youtu.be/aI_sEAIAkog

(Click the HD icon and full frame)

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Further Study:

I think Mississippian Shelby Foote writes the definitive history of this era and it’s as complete as it gets. His trilogy contains over a million words.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0679643702/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0394749138&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=14ZA0Z6DJS0HAPSWXTAH

For the visually inclined, Ken Burns’ twelve-part documentary of the era on PBS (1990) is a masterpiece.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098769/

Hombres MC revisits Highway 61

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The original objective of the ride was to explore the “Natchez Trace”, a historical path extending about 400 plus miles from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. Early European and American explorers and traders used it in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition met his death while traveling on the Trace and his gravesite is marked about halfway down.  As it turned out, the Trace was interesting for about an hour, then it turned out to be a long boring road through endless, unchanging forest much more suitable for a Miata Club rally than bikers looking for challenging terrain. It was only after we departed the Trace that things started getting interesting.

Our first diversion was the Vicksburg Civil War battlefield, a fascinating slice of history. The Confederate States outpost at Vicksburg, Mississippi was termed the Gibraltar of the Mississippi river, virtually impenetrable. The Union had tried to take it for months and had been repulsed every time. Union warships ruled the Mississippi above and below but could not penetrate the high ground.  Ultimately, Grant decided to starve the city into submission be blocking both ends of the river beginning on May 25, 1863.

Holding out for more than forty days with no reinforcement and dwindling supplies, Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4, 1863 rather than continue to see his men literally starve to death. This action yielded command of the Mississippi River to the Union forces that would hold it for the rest of the conflict. The coincidental fall of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 in which Lee suffered over 27,000 casualties signaled the end of the South’s potential to win, although the Civil War dragged on for two more years.

The tour of the battlefield was by vehicle along an annotated road, with many stopping points showing what happened at those junctures. It was all otherwise beautiful rolling hills, with sobering statistics of the carnage that happened there. 10,142 Union and 9,091 Confederate boys were killed or mortally wounded. (29,495 surrendered). At one point, a section was pointed out where opponents fought to a draw literally hand to hand for 26 consecutive hours.  At the surrender, Grant, not wanting to feed 30,000 hungry Confederates in Union prison camps, ordered open-ended release all dejected and starving Confederate prisoners, exhorting them to avoid similar circumstances in the future. Some actually returned to the war later.

Moving north up the famous “Route 61” to cotton country, we were reminded of this and other highway legends. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles was immortalized in song and legend (TV series “Route 66” from the early 60’s and “Get your kicks on Route 66” (Chuck Berry, 1961).  Then a legendary route from Atlanta to Macon, Ga. “I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound Bus, rollin’ down highway 41”,  (Allman brothers, 1970)

Ultimately however, “Highway 61 Revisited” by Bob Dylan (1965), immortalized as a top ten album of all time by Rolling Stone, leads the list.  Dylan’s ability to combine driving, complex, blues-based rock with the power of his poetry made “Highway 61 Revisited” one of the most influential albums ever recorded.

Technically, U.S. Route 61 runs 1,400 miles from  Minnesota to New Orleans, generally following the course of the Mississippi River. The highway has been called “The Blues Highway”, because of its course through the Mississippi Delta and the “Chitin Circuit” inhabited by black musicians in a line from Louisiana up to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Most if not all of the “Delta Fathers” blues musicians were born somewhere near this road. The intersection of US 61 and US 49 near Clarksdale, Miss is said to be the “Crossroads” where Delta bluesman Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to master the Blues at the price of his soul.

On entering Clarksdale, Miss, we had previously researched a fascinating place to stay overnight. The “Shack-Up Inn”.  Virtually unchanged from when it was a working plantation post Civil War, we stayed in an authentic sharecropper shack near where the original cotton gin and seed houses were located. We wandered into town and caught some authentic “Juke Joint” music, a lone laptop guitar and blues harp player entertaining a whopping total of eight well-lubricated patrons.  It was absolutely magnificent.

The entire trip covered four states, 1200 miles in four days. We saw and did as much as we had energy for in the time allotted.

See clips I have made into a YouTube movie at:

Remember, you can increase the screen size by clicking the enlargement icon on the bottom of the screen.

Next ride up:

Death Valley, California (Dec 2012)

Bike trip Northwestern Pa 9/15-16/2012

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Riders:
Dave Crippen (BMW R1150GS)
Frank Barber (Suzuki cruiser)
Bill Lewin (Harley FXR)

Nice ride up through the Allegheny National Forest to Bradford, Pa, a sparse area frequented by sportsmen.  Very nice scenery, lots of streams and woods.

We visited the Zippo Lighter Museum in Bradford and it was fascinating. Zippo has been making lighters for 80 years and still going strong. The museum is set up like the Rock & Roll Museum with lots of alcoves full of history. tTe owner once shut down production for months when he learned some of the abrasive wheels were failing sooner than expected and spent US$300,000 to create new ones that would never wear out. Conservatively, I think there were at least a thousand lighters on display, memorializing every person, place or thing famous for more than 15 minutes. Zippo will fix any lighter, anytime, for any reason free.  Found a book of lighters from Vietnam and there were hundreds of them with some great quips: “If I had a house in Hell and a house in Vietnam, I’d sell both”. “If I die in Vietnam, bury me on my stomach so the Army can kiss my ass”. Incredible photos, a real keeper.

Then over to Titusville, PA to spend the night in my buddy Frank’s cabin. Very nice place out in the middle of nowhere, about a mile of grass trail to get to it. Many creature comforts and very quiet. Frank has two “Quad” four wheel all-terrain vehicles one of which I got a chance to run around the woods. 480cc fuel injected engine, five speed. Very quick and seemingly stable in the woods. I asked frank how likely this beast was to stay on four wheels. He said he never tipped it over. So armed with that security I took off through the woods with Bil Lewin behind me.

I immediately noticed that the “quad” didn’t have any woods sense at all. The more the throttle opened the faster it went, disregarding all real or potential obstacles. Who was supposed to instill common sense into this beast?  Surely not me, a veteran of much off road riding in the 80s. As a younger dog, I had been known for a few competent if not inspired full throttle runs through the bush on dirt bikes. What could possibly go wrong?

What went wrong was a sudden onset of a deep gully after cresting a small hill at speed, enough room on either side but too deep in the middle. Too fast to decide, up the side of the right hoping I’d been living right. The beast that had never tipped before flipped me out the left side like a flapjack and came to rest on it’s side on my right leg, pinning me like a lab frog.  Lucky for me the ground was soggy and it just squished my leg into the bog but it was too heavy for my other free leg to push it off. So in the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai, “no matter where you go, there are you are”. Finally, Bill came up behind me and pulled the thing off me. No damage done, just a few sore muscles.

Beware vehicles that have never tipped before.

Brief 1.5 minute YouTube video of all the above all at:

http://youtu.be/ROew5war_8I

Hombres ride West VIrginia (April, 2012)

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West Virginia roads are a motorcycle riders dream. Not much traffic, plenty of curves, switchbacks and beautiful scenery. Rivers, mountains and friendly people if you run into mechanical problems. Gil lost a bolt on one of the headers of his aging Harley Road King and this caused one of the mufflers to come loose down the mechanical line. He’s covalently bonded to that thing and I suspect he’ll be riding it even though most of it is duck taped together.

So he strapped it together with baling wire and we pull into an isolated gas station/eatery to get something to drink and some munchies. Next thing, several locals come out to talk about bikes, followed by some interest in looking at this header problem. Lots of solutions tried, none worked, then the lady that owned the place called a friend who knew Harleys and in 15 minutes he was there with tools and supplies. Thirty minutes later the problem was fixed. They refused offers of payment and bid us a safe further journey. Brothers of different mothers. Salts of the earth.
A new rider with us, a guy from Chicago who was once Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partner in a series of Gyms for body builders. Arnold long since sold his share, but our guy came away with lots of resources. He’s a vintage bike nut who has 50 vintage bikes warehoused in varouls spots, and he intermittently rides most of them. He has a ground-up restoration of a “Vincent Black Shadow”, probably the most famous and valuable vintage bike in existence. Imortalized in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream” (Hunter S. Thompson, 1971).

At any rate, he was a good rider and a great guy to have along. We put on 1000 miles and as always we had a great time

Riders:

Dave Crippen:  ’04 BMW R1150GS

Jim Clark:  ’11 BMW R1200RT

Gil Ross:  1995 Harley Road King

Erik Diringer:  2000 Indian

Al Phillips:  2011 Triumph Rocket III

Next ride:  The Natchez Trace, Nashville to New Orleans.

Tres Hombres MC does the south shore of Lake Superior

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Departed Pittsburgh to meet up in Cincinnati with Jim Clark (up from North Carolina), then the both of us proceeded to Chicago to collect Gil Ross and we headed North by the west coast of Lake Michigan to the southern shore of Lake Superior. 2200 miles round trip for me.  More notes on the logistics of the trip and photos later.

First stop is the venerable Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, a really fascinating tour even of you have little interest in motorcycles. The exhibits are as high tech and modern as it gets. They have representative models of all the famous and infamous Harleys through the years, all restored to perfection, including the first one ever manufactured (by hand), serial number 001.  Looks more like a bicycle with a sewing machine motor amidships.

One of the most interesting is the engine evolution exhibit, showing each iteration of Harley engines through the years, the flathead, F-head, knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead, the Evolution and finally the Revolution designed by Porsche, one of the highest tech engines ever built. Push a button and you can hear how each one sounds, and they all sound different. This tour highly recommended even if you aren’t an enthusiast. There is something for every interest.

Next stop the Maritime Museum in two Rivers, complete with a tour of the WW II submarine the USS Cobia.  The museum is loaded with history of maritime shipping in the Great Lakes.  The submarine tour was guided and very interesting as to how the sailors that manned it lived in such cramped and dangerous quarters in a usual ambient temperature over 90 degrees F 24 hours a day. No one noticed body odor, they all smelled like diesel fuel and cigarette smoke (yes, the smoking lamp was lit while submerged).

Then on to the south shore of lake superior, where we quickly figured out the best sightseeing was from a boat rather than the road. So we undertook a three-hour tour of the beautiful shoreline (Pictured Rocks National Seashore). Superior is by far the most interesting of the Great Lakes, on of the largest in the world, one of the deepest (1300 feet), coldest, clearest (100 foot visibility in places) and most dangerous (as befell the Edmond Fitzgerald in 1975). There is enough water in Superior to flood all of North and South America to a depth of one foot.

We did all this in four days, which is typical of us, biting off more than we can chew, and therein lies some interesting asides about motorcycle touring.

We (Tres Hombres MC) all have big bikes that are stable on the road, two big BMWs and a Harley Road King. My BMW R1150GS is Gibraltar on wheels. But we found out quickly how dangerous this can all be on Interstate Highways when integrated with fast moving cars and impatient drivers, many chewing the fat on cell phones.  There are only two ways to go north from Chicago, along the lake with a town every three miles, each with ten stoplights, or Interstate 94.  If you are on a time budget, there isn’t really much choice.

The Interstate corridor from Chicago to Milwaukee is quite possibly one of the most dangerous I have ever experienced. There are probably others but this one was impressive. Eight lanes (four in each direction) with bumper to bumper traffic all doing 80 to 90 miles per hour, and each jockeying for position, literally risking their lives to gain ten feet advantage over the car next to them. Put motorcycles in this mix, all at the same speed, and you have a really fast video game in which the players are trapped.  Small mistakes generate great destruction. It wasn’t Hanoi by a long shot, but it was plenty scary and none of us will ever do it again.

Next trip will by Idaho and Wyoming.

The video of some of the photos follows.  Here’s a narrative of what’s what from the beginning.

1.      Map of the route for me round trip from Pittsburgh.

2.      Fearless Leader the Tour Nazi doesn’t use a GPS (but I have one for backup). He uses copious, detailed notes under plastic on top of his tank bag. A glance downward gives the data to keep on track.

3.      The three of us gearing up to depart Gil’s home in Chicago.

4.      What I see from rider’s position, tank bag, GPS to the left and “Spot, a satellite tracking system, to the right.

5.      Few slides of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee including a reproduction of the classic bike ridden by Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”. There were two originals in 1968, one was wrecked at the end of the film and the other was stolen and never recovered. It resides in some rich guy’s trophy room somewhere.

6.      Tour of the USS Cobia WW II Submarine.

7.      Boat tour of the Pictured Rocks National Seashore, the rim of Lake Superior.

8.      Finally the National Shelby Car Club had an exhibit at Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI) that we dropped in on. All of the Shelby Cobras were copies of the original, which is worth about a million dollars apiece if you can find one.

Enjoy if you have in interest.  Here’s the URL:

Motorcycling in Europe

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Arrived in Frankfurt, rented car, drove to Colditz, toured Colditz Castle, “escape proof” detention area for RAF and American pilots shot down in WW II. The inspiration for the great 1961 flick “The Great Escape” featuring a cast of big league actors, including Steve McQueen. 144 successful escapes and 30 home runs to Switzerland and home to England. The castle is interesting and the museum of escape attempts is fascinating. The tunnels are long since collapsed, but many of the artifacts are preserved, including a two-man glider built behind a false wall that never flew because the camp was liberated before it had a chance. Subsequent models actually flew successfully. The Steve McQueen character is said to be modeled after real life multiple escapee Michael Sinclair ultimately shot dead by Colditz guards during an escape attempt.

Back to Frankfurt to meet pal Gil Ross and pick up rental bikes. Mine was equipped with a GPS system, the Tom Tom “Rider”, specifically designed for bikes, removable and weatherproof. I was able to dial in locations down to street address. Trust me, there is no longer any alternative to GPS for riders. Tank bag maps are simply too difficult to interpret and require too much attention while negotiating roads. Occasionally we were sent on a wild goose chase, usually because of my inexperience in reading the screen, but in the aggregate, it was irreplaceable. I will never again tour without one.

Off to Andermatt, Switzerland for some riding in the alps. That involved riding on the Autobahn, an interesting situation. My rental bike was a BMW R1200RT, a magnificent beast, engineered like a SR-71 Blackbird fighter. All weather, all conditions, high speed touring bike that delivers total performance without compromise. Then comes……the autobahn, in retrospect, a terribly frightening and dangerous experience. Three lanes. The far right lane for a steady stream of trucks and slower vehicles averaging about 60 mph. Middle lane is inhabited by “moderately’ faster vehicles cruising along about 80 – 90 MPH. Then the infamous “left lane”, inhabited by Porsches, big Beemers, Audis and the occasional Ferrari and other exotics. These guys are seriously fast. At least 120- 140 miles per hour, up to what I estimate around 160 mph for the exotics. All these denizens co-existing, more or less. As much as a 100 mph closing speed between the fast and slow lanes. Getting in the left lane requires thought and planning, as does getting back to the middle lane.

This situation is radically different than the “usual” American highway scenario with housewives yakking on cell phones and swatting at kids in the back seat, rubber-neckers and lollygagging idiots in the left lane at 50 mph. I think European drivers are “better” than American motorists because they have to pay attention to what they’re doing. Driving on the Autobahn is like a video game, where making a mistake not only takes you out of the game; it takes out at least ten outer vehicles in your area as well. It’s like a concert in which each player must know his role and play it flawlessly. There aren’t many accidents on the Autobahn but when one does happen, it’s a doozy.

Motorcycling in Europe is much more pervasive and creative than here I think. Usually circles of friends traveling in packs. Full leather. They all look like “The Gimp” in “Pulp Fiction”. Bikes packed to the rafters with camping gear. Long distance riders, two weeks at a time. I met one group on its way to tout Dracula’s castle in Transylvania. It’s a culture and when we all meet at stops or rest points, its instant bonding, with any kind of help or advice needed. We tangled with a group of about ten of them who had inside information that a high pass over one of the Alps was closed, so we followed them to a train passing through a tunnel under a mountain, 20 miles as I recall. Back end of the train opened up, riders and a few cars lumbered on to flat beds, then 100 mph open-air train ride beneath the mountain holding on for dear life. Front gate opens and we’re on our way. Back up to Munich and we toured Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, which was an intense experience to say the least.

Motorcycling Arizona

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Motorcycling Arizona

Five days of tough riding, 300 miles per day for a total of 1500 miles to get in everything we wanted to see. Rented BMWs in Phoenix, first leg was 300 miles up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Temperature in Phoenix on departure was a balmy 107 F degrees. We rolled up highway 17 parboiling at speed trying to get some altitude and lower temperatures. We had gotten out of Phoenix a little late and didn’t arrive at the hotel until after dark which was plenty scary as that’s when all the creatures come out of the desert to cross the road in front of us. We managed to get there in one piece, and the temp at midnight was 31 F.

Next morning we rolled around the North Rim, which not many visitors get to see as it’s plenty out of the way. It was a variation on the theme of the South Rim where most visitors go, but it was interesting. Then another 300 miles up through Southern Utah through Bryce Canyon and into Monument Valley which was absolutely spectacular. It rained cats and dogs the afternoon we arrived and we were in full rain gear. Lightning all night long and the following morning was spectacular with fog and low clouds, quickly clearing to a beautiful sunny day.

The hotel (and the Valley) is on Indian (Navajo) land and they built a nice hotel with each room facing out toward the valley with a spectacular view. This place is booked up four months in advance so it’s a good thing the Tour Nazi and Maximum Leader Jim Clark had anticipated that and a lot of other things before the trip. There is no way to get into the valley without a guide because the roads are all just cow paths and require Jeep/4 wheel drive. We got a young Navajo kid that took us out for over two hours and we saw everything. It was beyond spectacular. Some of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Out on the road again next day through Canyon de Chelly and other similar sights, then over to the Meteor Crater near Winslow, AZ, then over to what turned out to be a highlight of the day, a fry-it-yourself cafe at a local Harley shop East of Flagstaff. They supply Angus patties, you sizzle them on their bar-b-que grill with 20 or so flavorings to pick from. Best burger I’ve had for ages. The Harley place, riddled with grizzled Harley veterans is right off a mile or so stretch of the old Route 66. They bought up the land and so the road is more or less protected as a nostalgia event and photo op. Memories of my childhood; my dad and I driving that road long ago.

On the way back to Phoenix we had some time so we decided to divert to Sedona, AZ, a place that neither of us had ever visited. Turned out to be a waste of time. Sedona is a big, high end tourist trap set in the middle of some nice scenery. Then back into the furnace and outta there for home.

I have sorted out 45 photos that I think represent what we saw, and made a high resolution video of it. There is an eight second space between photos. he whole thing runs about six minutes. The photos came out darker than I would have liked, but the resolution is pretty good. The photos are pretty self explaining. The final few slides are of us on the old Route 66.