Reflections – Two Weeks Across the USA

•May 29, 2011 • 5 Comments

I made it home from our ride safely on Friday – flying from Cincinnati. This
will be the last entry into this travel blog and provides a summary of the
last couple of weeks. It is divided into sections for the ease of reading.

Final Stats

The trip covered some 5291 miles thru 11 states during the 14 days of
riding. I estimate about 600-700 miles were traveled on Interstate Highways
(including the Kentucky Parkways), 1500-2000 miles on 4-lane divided
highways with at -grade intersections, 1000-1500 miles on 2-lane roads with
shoulders and 1000 miles on 2 lane rural and narrow “farm” type roads. The
amount of Interstate travel we did is typical (generally like it at no more
than 10%), but we travelled more 4-lane divided highway than we’d like. This
is my 4th time across this country and have concluded that there’s not much
you can do to get across in certain states (e.g. TX) in an efficient manner.

A little less than 120 gallons of premium fuel was burned. The lowest we
paid for premium grade was $3.77/9 a gallon in a remote area of eastern KY
and the highest was $5.21/9 just outside Death Valley. Most of the fuel was
between $3.80 and $4.00 a gallon on this trip. It’s interesting that premium
grade in the eastern half of the country is 93 octane and only 91 octane in
the western half. Hmmm….anyone know why?

Our hotel of choice was the Holiday Inn Express. About half the nights were
at this hotel with a couple nights at Hampton Inns and at Best Westerns, one
at a Days Inn, one at a full service Marriott and then that great hot
springs resort outside of Death Valley. You can imagine which was the worst
and the best. The hot springs ranks in my top 5 worst hotels I’ve stayed at
in my life as I’m still trying to get the sulphur smell off me today.

Best Scenery

This country has just awesome scenery and everywhere we traveled has its own
special beauty. The best of the best is a tie between TN and KY with an
honorable mention to southern OH. The scenery was just spectacular. Green
and rolling terrain – changing constantly from relatively open farm land to
densely wooded areas within just a few miles of travel. Lots of rock
outcroppings and many awesome distant vistas of valleys and mountain peaks.
And the roads were winding with lots of topographic relief.

The least desirable scenery was in TX, but that’s probably not fair as we
did not scoot down to the hill country in Austin which is really great. The
views in the far west were enjoyable as always with distant mesas dotting
the landscape – but just doesn’t hold up to those views in TN and KY…

Friendliest People

The basis for this assessment is just the casual conversations we had at gas
stations, hotels, restaurants, attractions and when asking for help or
directions. Of these 11 states we rode in, the award again goes to KY and
TN. This time with an honorable mention to rural MS. The folks in this part
of the country are friendly, courteous and go out of their way to be
helpful. This region of the country is clearly well grounded. They remind me
of the USA of old where patriotism and faith is built into everything they
do and how they act – with beliefs and qualities the 2 coasts and big cities
have seem to forgotten. And what made this country the best on earth. You
don’t see kids and young adults sitting next to each other texting. They are
actually talking with each other and talk AND with their parents.

There is also a leadership lesson here for all you in a position of leading
people that is reinforced in this part of the country which I also see in
the great companies I’m working with. The lesson is that you need to
communicate in person with your people and clients. We’ve gone overboard
with all this electronic form of communication and if your business is
relying too much on email, intranets, memos, and even “tweeting” to get
information out – you are missing the boat. All generations still need and
will always need that personal touch that you care about them. You only get
that thru one-on-one conversation.

US Infrastructure

We directly experienced the highway and observed portions of the surface
water infrastructure on this trip. As reported in various sources, we can
safely say the US highway infrastructure is in pretty bad shape. Especially
if you’re on a motorcycle! We were pleasantly surprised that many of the
secondary roads were actually in better shape that the interstate and
divided highways. The worst roads seemed to be either the narrow farm roads
are the interstates. There were many miles of recently paved roads and in
several spots we saw the ARRA signs proudly displayed about putting America
back to work. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw these, as in each case
they were on a stretch of road that was the equivalent of a 3 to 5 day
paving project. I thought to myself that the folks that worked on it didn’t
go back to work for very long. And many of these projects were in very
isolated areas with virtually no traffic. Meanwhile the interstates are
taking a pounding and are deteriorating.

I was impressed at the infrastructure that was built a generation ago. With
the exception of the Hoover Dam bypass, our highway and water infrastructure
is not the result of this generation. The Hoover Dam itself, the many locks
and dams along the Mississippi we saw and the TVA project are the result of
the vision and resolve of a past generation. Could these be funded today?
Could these be permitted? I’m not sure we have the vision or resolve to make
these happen. We certainly have the bureaucracy and red tape to slow them
down or kill them.

I’m not sure how we will be able to keep up with the revitalization and
maintenance of what we have – let alone build for our future. We do have too
many roads in this country. The countless miles of road we were on with no
traffic makes suggests that perhaps we have too many roads in this country
to maintain anyway.

The Economy

The condition of our economy is just based on conversations with people and
the activity in the various establishments/places we visited. There’s no
real factual data I used to comment on. I have a sense that the economy is
improving in many areas. We did get a definite feeling that areas in of MS,
LA, TN and KY are still slower than elsewhere. If you lived in the oil and
gas areas of NM and TX, it’s pretty apparent that you’d be saying “what
recession”. The economy in that area of the country is booming and has been
virtually unaffected by the economic downturn. There was more than one
person we spoke with that indicated they were buried in work and their
employers couldn’t find enough people.

Fun Facts (or not)

We had some fun with the differences between what people say and do in this
country and you can experience it within a matter of days on a trip like
this. For instance, there are no “landslides” in the east – they are “Land
Slides”. And as I pointed out before, there are not “Laundromats” – they are
“Laundry Mats”. They go out of their way in rural southeast to point out
that the burgers they have are Angus and not that frozen filler stuff you
get elsewhere (meaning McDonalds etc) to differentiate themselves. Speaking
of fast food, Dairy Queen rules most of middle America. There’s one in every state?
town and you actually see more of them than McDonalds, Burger King, etc.

Then there’s the Pawn Shops in TN. Did you know they only have “Guns and Pawn” in that state?

A fact that many don’t realize is that as big as TX is – if you cut AK in
half, TX would be the third largest state in this country. You never get
that impression when looking at weather and other maps of the US because
they shrink AK to fit the entire country.

What Went Well – Didn’t

More went right than didn’t. the routes were generally the best ones we
could have taken, the accommodations were good and the places to eat were
the best we could have picked with what we knew going into an area. If we
had to do this trip over, I would cut a night out between Silver City NM and
Shreveport, LA and ride longer days/more miles because the scenery isn’t
that great. Or, I would have added a day to dip down into central TX, around
the hill country of Austin to enjoy the scenery more. I also thing we had a
couple of days in TX and KY where we rode too many miles and went too late
in the day. Restructuring could have been done to accomplish that, including
cutting out some of the areas over others.

This blogging stuff is hard and I’m not sure I’ll do it again! It takes an
hour or more out of an evening – time that could be spent out and around. It
was fun though…

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this trip. This is a great country with so much to see. One
could do this for years and never see everything. And the diversity in
scenery, terrain and culture is just amazing from state to state. I also had
a great time with my good riding buddy Bruce Beverly. He and I enjoy similar
things so it’s easy to ride with him.

This is most likely my last cross-country trip for a few years. I have now
been across this great land 4 times on routes in the north, middle and
southern portion of the country. These trips are great to experience the
scenery and culture of the country but are taxing in some areas with the
long stretches of “not much different”. I have one more cross country trip
on my list – the “Oregon Trail”, which follows old US 20 from Portland OR to
Cape Cod, MA. Perhaps this will be on my list for 3-4 years from now.

In the meantime, I will concentrate on “surgical” type trips that take me to
specific areas where we can take shorter day trips and get the local scenery
and culture. For example, I’m already contemplating another southeastern US
trip for next year, perhaps built around the cities of Nashville, Memphis
and Atlanta – thus riding is southern TN, AR and GA.

Thank all of you for watching the journey. Hopefully you remembered
something from the past in the readings, learned something new or a smile
was generated by the photos or text of this blog.

Here are some final photos to enjoy. Take care until next time…

20110529-082600.jpg

20110529-082621.jpg

20110529-082645.jpg

20110529-082703.jpg

20110529-082724.jpg

20110529-082747.jpg

20110529-082812.jpg

20110529-082922.jpg

20110529-082934.jpg

20110529-082955.jpg

20110529-083009.jpg

20110529-083030.jpg

20110529-083044.jpg

20110529-083059.jpg

20110529-083125.jpg

20110529-083142.jpg

20110529-083202.jpg

20110529-083221.jpg

20110529-083245.jpg

20110529-083304.jpg

20110529-083324.jpg

20110529-083348.jpg

20110529-083426.jpg

20110529-083607.jpg

20110529-083647.jpg

20110529-083706.jpg

Advertisements

Day 14 – Twisters

•May 27, 2011 • 2 Comments

Note: I will be posting a summary in the next few days.it will have the vital stats on the trip, observations of the USA, reflections of experiences, lessons learned, things i will and wont do again, trivia, fun stuff and some more photos. Don’t miss it!

Today was the last day of this journey. We had a packed 14 days covering over 10 states and 5000 miles.

I again woke up to thunder and lightning at about 4 am. It rained some – but not like we had with the other early morning storm. It had pretty much cleared when we got ready to leave, however the roads were wet and the skies were dark in the distance. AND, there was a tornado watch advisory for the entire day. In fact one had touched down in the location I was heading today. Thus the title of the day – Twisties.

Bruce and I headed north on an obscure route in the backcountry of OH that turned out to be one of the better stretches we’ve seen. As traditionally done at least every other day, we got off track a bit. It was worth it today as we got to see more of these roads. They were narrow, twisty and had lots of topographic relief. Just what we like. The only downside is the roads were not in the best of shape with some gravel, debris and mowing grass along the way, especially in the turns. So we kept our speed in control.

We arrived in Zanesville just before 10 am and Bruce and I parted ways there. I headed west towards Cincinnati. We said our goodbyes, took one last group photo and I headed west on Route 22 and he headed east on the same route. The routes I was on the rest of the day were outstanding. From 22, I headed down Route 159 to US 50 (which I was on last year in my cross country trek) to 41 and then 52 into Cincinnati. Farms and more farms with small cities dotting the landscape. And I saw the birthplace of General Sherman while passing thru Fairfield.

I was making pretty good time scooting along the Ohio River now seeing the cable stay bridge west of Aberdeen, several large manufacturing facilities and another nuke plant. Then I was stopped cold because a high power line went down across the road a few minutes before me. so on to a detour which turned out to be a pretty nice ride and only cost me about 15 minutes. As I neared Cincinnati one of those dark clouds turned into a downpour for about 6-7 miles. I probably could have waited the thunderstorm cell to pass but decided to just push thru. Luckily it didn’t last long and was only moderate rain at best.

Pulled into the HD dealer to have them ship it. A quick oil change and a new front tire will be put on before shipping so I can be ready to ride when it arrives back in Truckee.

Te last day was a great ride and not very eventful. And no tornados in sight. Timing is everything!

Look for my summary in the next day or so on the trip….

In the meantime, I’ve attached a few more pics.

20110526-063339.jpg

20110526-063426.jpg

20110526-063444.jpg

20110526-063505.jpg

20110526-063655.jpg

20110526-063710.jpg

Day 13 – Scooters

•May 26, 2011 • 4 Comments

First, some may wonder where and what the heck the Dragon is. I posted a link on a comment…and here it is again – http://www.tailofthedragonmaps.com/maps_ridemeposter.html

Also, I posted a question yesterday about a single wide that today I discovered was not the only answer possible. There is another alternative to the question of what’s bigger than a single wide but is not a double wide. Well besides a 2 story single wide we discovered there is a single wide with a travel trailer attached to form an L-shaped home!

So another question for y’all is what do you call the place you go to do your wash (or wersh as they say in TN)? Answer at the end.

Now for today’s ride. This is the last full day Bruce and I ride together. We will part ways sometime tomorrow morning. It may be sooner than later as we just got the news our area is under a tornado watch. We’ve been able to skirt all the bad weather many of you have heard about. Hopefully we can accomplish that tomorrow also.

We did start off in the fog today although it was only the first 10 miles or so. The weathr cleared and the ride was great. Today was I would call a “scooter” day. We rode some nice windy, twisty roads all day thay we could scoot along with ease. Today may have been the best day of total ride yet. We’ve had some awesome rides in sections with tremendous views. Today though had the most constant riding yet. We were in the back country of KY thru mid afternoon and often didn’t see a car for miles. Our Route headed north from Middlesboro on 25E to Route 412, which was the first of many great narrow and twisty roads today.

Much of the day was ridden in coal country. We passed a major mine and signs at the local stores proudly stressed the importance of the use for coal.

I had a first for me today. We went thru a one-way tunnel that was not lined that was a few hundred yards long. It was very a different driving experience. We continued up thru the mountains of eastern KY where the scenery was amazing. There isn’t a lot to report tonight other than the fact we had just a great day of riding. We had a decent but not spectacular lunch at Hatties Home Cooking in West Liberty KY. By now we were on Route 7 and would stay on this pretty much the rest of the day. We headed to Grayson, KY and then east slipping into western WV before heading north along the Ohio River on the OH side along Route 7. The river is another great wide waterway of this country. We don’t see rivers of this size in the southwestern US. The sights included a steel plant, a nuclear power plant and a dam….

We made our way to Athens OH for the night. Had a great dinner at a local sports bar.

Tomorrow, I plan to do a summary of the trip. The sights of this great country, some final thoughts and even things I’d do differently. I will include more pics of the trip also.

So the answer to where do you take your clothes to wash? Well it’s called a “Laundry Mat”. Not a “Laundromat”. See the photo!

I’ve attached some scenery shots and fun photos of the day. Enjoy!

20110525-073858.jpg

20110525-073930.jpg

20110525-073955.jpg

20110525-074012.jpg

20110525-074030.jpg

20110525-074044.jpg

20110525-074132.jpg

Day 12 – Such a Deal

•May 25, 2011 • 5 Comments

The trip is winding down now but the experiences keep coming. Day 12 was no different.

For those following this blog, what in TN is larger than a single wide but not is not a double wide (answer at the end)?

We left Cleveland and headed east on Route 64 which was later joined by 129. The ride was great with similar beautiful scenery along the way. We stopped at Ocoee No. 1, a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dam just east of Cleveland. This is a massive network of dams and hydroelectric facilities that were built on the heels of the Great Depression to improve the very hard hit TN Valley. It’s pretty impressive.

Our first stop of the day was Deals Gap, gateway to the “Dragon”, an 11 mile stretch of road with 318 sharp switchback curves that tests and rider. We rode this down route 3 years ago and now we were going to do it in reverse. There were swarms of bikes at the DG Resort. We got our pic taken as customary and took pics of the tree of shame – a large tree adorned with bike parts. There is about 1 motorcycle death a week riding the Dragon. It is a pretty difficult ride, especially on a hog. The sport bikes just cruise up or down the route with ease and hold the record at just under 11 minutes. Wow!

We then took the ride and I made it safely enough to write this update tonight. I still believe Devils Highway in AZ that we were on earlier in our trip is more rigorous. Longer, more turns and the curves were flatter – more difficult to get a good turn at speed.

We continued northeast after the Dragon on Route 411 and then north on Route 25E. The riding today was superb and the roads were all in excellent condition. We had a mix of small narrow twisters and some divided highway. All of it with plenty of topographic relief and passing several large lakes. The scenery was dotted with mostly rural farm houses (actually single and double wides for the most part) and the many of the towns are like being back in time. Something we’re not used to seeing as much out west.

I may not have mentioned this before, but this has been a dangerous wee since hitting MS and even more so while in TN as I’ve been traveling with a yankee. Everywhere we go, Bruce is cited as being one of them yankees. Us in CA were (and are) a non-issue in terms of southerner vs. A yankee.

We went to a not local lunch place today – a Subway! The second most excitement of the day besides the Dragon was our race to the hotel in Middlesboro, KY to beat a very fierce thunderstorm. About 2 blocks from the hotel it started sprinkling. And, it started pouring only about 4-5 minutes after we pulled under the portico. Whew….this was close. So our current score is only about 15 minutes of rain in over 4500 miles of riding.

In the last 10 minutes of the ride we were also able to pass thru the Cumberland Gap tunnel. Just a tunnel, but hey – I can add the Gap as one of the places I’ve seen on this trip and in my life.

So day 12 is in the books….

The answer to the trivia question above: a 2 story single wide in bigger than a single wide. Yes, we passed a 2 story high trailer, complete with dormers!

The pics today include the TVA plaque explaining the system, some scenery, Bruce and me at Deal’s Gap, the tree of shame and shot of Phil’s second homesite (a trailer each for Phil, Judy and the pugs)

20110524-060645.jpg

20110524-060635.jpg

20110524-060620.jpg

20110524-060553.jpg

20110524-061844.jpg

20110524-062209.jpg

20110524-063535.jpg

Day 11 – Staying Dry

•May 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I woke up at about 4 am to some pretty fierce thunder and lightning. The rain was pounding with a bit of hail mixed in. After our brief bout with a thunderstorm yesterday, today was starting pretty gloomy. I went back to sleep until 6 and the bulk of the storm had passed but it was still pretty wet and black outside. We loaded the bikes and left by 8:30 wearing our full rain gear with a few sprinkles coming down.

Our first destination was a Harley dealer in London KY because Bruce had an oil light that came on intermittently yesterday and wanted to have it checked to be safe. At worst, we figured we could hold up at the dealer and let some of the weather pass. We got down the road on another one of the KY Parkways and the sprinkles stopped about 5 miles after we left the hotel! What a miracle…we never saw rain again today.

We took the Parkway to Route 80 to the dealer. It was a pretty big dealership and they were able to get Bruce in right away and fix the problem. A bad indicator sending unit.

Since we lost part of the day, we headed south on the 75 for a few dozen miles to make up some time. We typically don’t like riding the interstates and go out of our way to avoid them. This trip we’ve hit about 400-500 miles of true interstate. If you include divided highways where your speeds are up there for stretches, but still slow down and go thru small towns, our total miles are much higher.

We got off the 75 and got on our favorite type of road….the 2 lane windy and twisty pavement with lots of topographic relief to get some views and the thrills of riding. We headed west on Route 92 before stopping for lunch at the “Ole Country Diner” where I had the best hot roast beef sandwich I’ve ever had. It was called a “Manhattan Roast Beef”. It was great. These small town restaurants are much better than eating at the chains.

I did notice one stretch of recent paving the proudly displayed an ARRA sign with the tag line of “Putting America Back to Work”. I figure it was a 3 to 5 day paving job. Not much was done with putting people to work was done on that project.

We continued on Route 92 then headed south on Route 27 and west on Route 70 and then south on Route 111 which was very scenic with some high and long vistas. One thing pretty interesting along 111 was a highway widening project. A construction technique was being used that would never fly in CA. They removed trees and brush and burned it in place. Yes, no pollution control worries, just an open fire to get rid of the vegetation before the earthwork operation begins!

From the 111 we went back up north on Route 27 to Route 60 to our hotel for the evening. A great 325 mile day of riding with no rain.had a great dinner at Roma which is in downtown historic Cleveland TN. For those of you that don’t recognize it, it’s the home of Lee University. Nearly everything down south is named after some southern general from the civil (also known here as the war of northern aggression by many southerners). The food was great at Roma. Had the scallops and topped it off with a visit to the DQ on the way back to the hotel.

We are now at about 4500 miles total.

The pics are mostly scenery shots with one of them showing the burning trees on the highway widening.

20110523-073657.jpg

20110523-073711.jpg

20110523-073724.jpg

20110523-073734.jpg

20110523-073805.jpg

20110523-074022.jpg

Day 10 – Make the Mark

•May 23, 2011 • 6 Comments

Today’s blog will also be short because it’s a Sunday and the highlights were not as significant as other days.

We headed north today along “The Trace” that lies in a north south direction in a large recreation are called “Land Between the Lakes” or “LBL”. The lakes are the Barkley and Kentucky and are tucked up in the very northern most part of TN. We took Route 80/68 to the east and went over Barkley lake and then turned around and headed west over Kentucky lake before getting back on the Trace. The scenery was again unbelievable!

After getting some fuel we headed east in the 24. Or at least we thought we were heading east. Somehow we missed the interstate we thought we were on. We didn’t pick it up on the map because the one we needed had no route number listed! It is called the Western Kentucky Parkway, one of 9 such parkways in KY that were constructed in the 60’s and 70’s to augment the interstate system. They were originally toll roads but the tolls were lifted when the construction bonds were paid off. Anyway, we were cruising along and missed the exit since we were looking for route numbers and thought the route we were looking for was the 24. Not! So we ended up taking a 15 mi plus (30 mi total) detour before we realized it. That cost us a bit of time!

We then got back on track and headed thru the Mammoth Caves Park on Route 70. Nice little scoot and reminded me to the Natchez Trace. We had lunch at Laura’s Hilltop Cafe. Pretty good place. Not the best meal but far from the worst. We met Laura too!

The weather was turning bad fast as we continued to head east and then north to another distillery – Makers Mark. We ran low on fuel and had to stop as the raindrops started and lightning was lighting the sky to the south of us. We continued to head north racing away for the storm. My weather band station was saying this storm was packing 45-55 mile an hour winds, heavy rain and some hail. Well…..it finally caught us just a dozen miles from the distillery. So we had to gear up and ride in with rain gear. Luckily we were just on the fringe of the cell and it didn’t come down too hard.

We landed at Makers but missed the last tour of the day. With the time zone change (we’re in the ET now) and the time we lost in our “detour”, it cost us the show. I’ve been to so many wine and whiskey tours before so it wasn’t the end of the world. I did pick up several bottles of Makers that are not sold in stores. Nice! And best of all, I got to sign and date the bottle and dip my own trademark red wax on the bottle. Very nice!

That’s it for the day. The photos include some riding scenery and Makers Mark grounds. By the way, yes I’m taking photos while riding including over the shoulder rear shots….

20110522-055855.jpg

20110522-055914.jpg

20110522-055923.jpg

20110522-055943.jpg

Day 9 – Just a Daniels Day

•May 22, 2011 • 5 Comments

It’s a Saturday night and I’ve decided to keep this summary a bit shorter….

The day started with a cruise along the Natchez Parkway. The morning was humid so riding was pretty pleasant. The scenery was more of the same, including another much smoker area of woods ravaged by a tornado. We too the Trace to near it’s end and then bailed out to enjoy a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg TN.

On the way to the distillery, we stopped at another gas and eat place. Another great find! I had an awesome salad….but more importantly, the best banana pudding I’ve ever had. Ever!
The roads continue to be in great shape in this part of the country. We made great time. The countryside was now rolling terrain with plenty of farming driving this economy.

The tour of the facility was pretty awesome also. This whiskey has been produced since 1866 and is the oldest in the US. The process they use is pretty amazing. They burn maple wood to make their own charcoal for filtering and they make their own oak barrels to control the quality of the oak taste. It seems like a fairly low tech process to make this product yet they have a central control room with enough monitors to make it appear like its the Kennedy Space Center. So they have this process pretty tied down.

It was pretty interesting that there’s not a tasting room. Why? Well it’s a dry county! In fact, they got the state legislature to pass a bill allowing them to produce whiskey in the county and can sell only specialty (not found in stores) whiskies in their gift shop. So of course I bought a bottle of the single barrel….

We then headed back north to Clarksville TN for the night. Again some nice roads with the last 30 miles (Route 48) being a pretty cool cruiser with great twists and up and down gentle hills. You could zip along at 65-70 with no effort. we put in about 375 miles today putting the entire trip now over 3500 miles.

Had a great dinner at the Catfish House. Mike Metts would loved this one. Catfish in TN….doesn’t get any better than that!

That’s it for a Saturday…. the photos include some countryside shots (one with a great barn), Bruce and me next to Jack, a distillery building, and the Cumberland River crossing at dusk in Clarksville.

20110521-081601.jpg

20110521-081617.jpg

20110521-081630.jpg

20110521-081803.jpg

20110521-081823.jpg