Thursday, November 8, 2007

AMA IBET Point Count

Points to date: 123
AMA Tour is complete!!

All of the IBET photos can be seen here in this SmugMug album.  

Locations "bagged:"
Black Rock
Dodge City
Grand Lake
Little Rock
Santa Fe

Quick Trip to OK and KS - Or So I Thought

There was a small time window in early November - before the cold weather, before the end of the contest, and before my visit to Norfolk to see the new grandbaby - when I thought I could scoot out for a quick 1700 mile loop to grab a number of bonus point locations. Some work in S&T showed a potential 22 points could be had by traveling up through eastern OK to Kansas City then back down through Wichita then home.

Route mapped and GPS programmed, I headed out Sunday morning, first to the weekly BMW breakfast at Goode Co. Taqueria, then over to Reliant Hall to spend a couple of hours at the International Motorcycle Show, then onto US 59 northward to start my trip. Weather forecasts were for cold night-time temps up in northern OK and Kansas City, so I had my Gerbings packed, along with my super-heavy winter gloves. My objective was Mount Pleasant for the night, which would get me 250 miles up the road before dark, with a good headstart for the next day.

Monday morning temps were still quite moderate as I left the hotel and headed for my first AMA point location of the day: Reno TX. This turned out to be a larger town that it appeared on the map, and I had no trouble getting a photo.

I would be on US 271 for much of the day, a route I'd never traveled on before. It looked to be an interesting road on the map, passing through Antlers OK, then Clayton, and then along the western edge of Ouachita National Forest after going through Talihina. As it turned out, it was a terrific road, with hardly any traffic. As I came into Poteau I was "treated" to a small herd of deer running along side the road. Fortunately they had the good sense to cross well ahead of me and disappear into the brush.

Shortly after the deer sighting, I spotted a motorcycle rapidly approaching in my rearview mirror. He slowed as he came along side me, and I could see it was a fellow on a K1200LT. He waved, then pulled in front of me and slowed to the posted speed limit. We stayed together as we passed through several stop lights in town, and at one point he motioned me to pull along side him so that he could chat with me. The last red light before heading out of town, he asked if I wanted to join him for lunch. I politely declined, he turned into a shopping center, and then he disappeared in my rearview mirrors as I continued north on 271, intent on getting to my next AMA photo opportunity.

Next stop was Panama OK, just up the road. Since there was a very nice welcome sign along the side of the highway, I didn't need to search out the pre-planned locations and could continue north toward I-40. I would need to get on a tollway to make good time to Tulsa; it was the only way to get there from where I was.

I would be getting a photo of University of Tulsa, so the only problem would be finding a suitable photo opportunity. I'm learning that this is hit-or-miss with universities. Some seem to proudly proclaim their existence with very nice, visible, and easy to find signage. Others seem to hide the fact that they exist. Tulsa seemed to be one of those universities that assume everyone knows who they are. Every building had its name proudly displayed in giant letters, but not one had "University of Tulsa" indicated anywhere. Just as I did at Tennessee University, I wandered around the campus seeking a suitable sign. At the university website there was a photo of what looked like the perfect marker, but nowhere could I find it as I wandered about. Finally! I found something that would work. Much time was lost here, and I needed gas and something to eat, so that mission accomplished, I got onto I-244 and headed north out of town, hoping to make Kansas City before dark.

At a gas station north of Tulsa, I noticed for the first time some oil leaking out of the oil filler cap on my BMW. Just a little oil, puddled in the filler cap well, and a thin film of oil coating the left valve cover. It's fortunate that this had happened to a friend's BMW not too long ago, so I was able to immediately diagnose the problem as being not too serious, but certainly one that would bear watching. I went inside the gas station to get a snack and to call said friend to pick his brain about the problem. After some deliberation, and given other circumstances such as the sub-freezing temps forecasted for the Kansas City area, the fact that I had a brand new grandson - less than a week old - and I'd be driving to Norfolk the end of the week to visit them, I decided to cut my trip short and start heading home to Houston.

So I backtracked to Tulsa and picked up the tollway that would take me to Oklahoma City. I knew there was a BMW dealer in The City, so had possible help should the oil leak get any worse. I would be leaving many AMA points on the table: Kansas City, Argentine, Oskaloosa, Ottowa, Toronto, Hennessey. A total of 17 points. But I did manage to add 5 points before aborting the trip and find another great road, so all was not for nothing.

As I rode toward The City, I watched the oil leak, which did seem to be getting worse. I would check the oil level once at the hotel, and make my decision in the morning. In the meantime, I flipped the o-ring on the filler cap over in hopes it would find a new sealing surface and the leaking would slow or cease.

In the morning, I made the decision to continue south, knowing there was a BMW dealer in Plano TX if things got worse. It was an uneventful ride south on I-35, the oil leak continuing but getting no worse than it had been. Just a tiny rivulet of oil burbling over the top lip of the oil filler cap well and running down the side of the valve cover. I had to keep reminding myself that I was doing the right thing. Get home, go to the BMW dealer the next morning and buy a new cap and o-ring. Run some errands. Take care of some personal business before leaving for a possible 2-week trip to Norfolk to visit son's family.

So...AMA tour is completed, photos are burned to a CD, and the package is in the mail, off to AMA headquarters.

AMA I've Been Everywhere Tour? What better way to get me off the interstates and into the real U.S.A., on the smaller highways, through rural America's small towns. What's next for 2008?

Monday, October 15, 2007

AMA IBET - Sweeping Up a Few More Points

There's a Houston in Florida? Who knew?! I learned this while working with Microsoft's Streets & Trips as I prepared for what will most likely be my last road trip to finish out the AMA's I've Been Everywhere Tour for 2007. This is the much-anticipated trip over to Tampa, where the Florida coast to coast ride - or FLC2C - begins. This event is in its third revival year, raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I have worked as a volunteer for FLC2C for the past two years, this year hosting the website for the event.

A straight shot east on I-10 Thursday morning (Oct 11) gets me as far as DeFuniak Springs FL for the night. The next morning I continued east to pick up Highway 90 at Live Oak. There's a tiny dot on the map east of Live Oak that is supposed to be the location for Houston FL. Of course, if there proves to be nothing there, I have Houston TX as my backup plan. The city limit - and the green city sign - are just three miles from my house. But a Houston in Florida will be worth three points. So I exited I-10 onto Highway 90, a convenient and scenic alternative to I-10 and the I-75 interchange.

Just as Jill, my GPS, told me I was approaching "Houston," I spotted the green sign marking the town limits. I put my flashers on to warn the truck following behind, and pulled over. Highway 90 is a very pretty road through this part of FL, rolling countryside, its ancient Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss. That photo complete, I continue along this lovely road to I-75. A dreadful 18-wheeler accident early that morning had I-75 completely stopped just 4 miles before my planned exit. After a 3 hour delay, I finally made it to the next exit where I got off, got gas, took a break, and then headed west a few miles in search of a sign that would mark the location of Cadillac FL. The GPS location came and went, with no sign marking its location. Oh, well...

Back onto I-75, my stop for the night would be the host hotel for the start of the FLC2C ride in Tampa. The next morning saw the parking lot of the hotel and the restaurant next door filled with motorcycles of every type, as riders arrived to sign in for the event. I told the event organizer that I'd see him at the end point in Daytona, and I headed out to bag a few AMA points on the Gulf coast side of FL. First stop was University of Tampa in the downtown area. Tampa is beautiful! And so is the University campus. I turned into the campus and rode the brick-paved streets just to admire the buildings. I exited back out, stopping long enough to pose the photo of bike and AMA flag in front of the University sign. Next stop: Sarasota.

I had the post office flagged in my GPS but on the way, I passed the perfect fire station, complete with circular drive that let me park my bike beneath the lettering on the building without blocking the firetrucks (although my red BMW next to their red firetrucks would have made a nice photo). Photo done, I retraced my route back north to get onto I-4 east toward Orlando. The next town will be Davenport, which lies a few miles south of I-4. Urbanization doesn't extend much beyond a narrow corridor on either side of the interstates in FL. Davenport is a tiny little town surrounded by farm country. The tiny municipal square seemed like a good opportunity, but they were having some sort of festival and the parking lot was blocked off. So I let Jill guide me to the post office which was surprisingly big and new for such a small town.

Back onto I-4, I headed toward Daytona, taking a lunch and gas break along the way. I was being passed by packs of sportbikes and I was pleased to see that most of them were riding responsibly and all wearing full or nearly full gear. One group of 6 or 7 bikes caught up with me and the lead bike pulled along side of me, waved, gave a thumbs up, and flipped open his visor. I did the same as we rode along for a couple of miles this way, the remainder of his group on either side of me or behind me. Judging from their lean and trim bodies, these were all fairly young men...and the lead rider is flirting with me! How fun! Little does he know I'm old enough to be his mother, maybe old enough to be his grandmother! Kinda made me wish I'd sucked it up and ridden my FZ this trip. They tired of this after a while and took off, leaving me to proceed at my own leisurely pace.

The event having concluded Saturday night, I headed off towards home Sunday morning and made it to Lafayette LA for the night. The next morning I would continue my ride home, but not before seeking out my last AMA tour points on this trip: Grand Lake. This is another of those tiny dots on the map and I wasn't sure there'd be much out there in the swamps and waterways south of Lake Charles LA. But I let Jill take the lead, wary the entire way of the possibility of bad or nonexistent roads. But it was a pleasant surprise, as the road led me through marsh lands, past large tanker ports, and over pontoon bridges spanning the Intracoastal Waterway. The last pontoon drawbridge was raised and as I waited for the boats and barges to pass, I suddenly realized that this bridge was marked the Grand Lake ICWW. So there would be a photo opportunity after all! After getting this shot, I proceeded over the pontoon bridge and immediately on the right was the sign marking the town line. There was virtually no traffic on this road, so I stopped and took this photograph as well.

From here I could either continue on this road, which would take me back up to Lake Charles eventually, or I could do a U-turn and backtrack the way I came, which would be about 15 miles shorter. I opted for the U-turn, headed back to Lake Charles and I-10 and towards home.

The tour is nearly over, just one more short month to go. This has been an incredibly enjoyable adventure!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

AMA IBET - Tiniest Post Office and Ol' Sorehead

With Black Rock photo and Charleston photos complete, I continued on I-57 north, where I got onto IL 13 to head east to Pittsburg and Eldorado. Google Earth told me there was a Pittsburg town services building just off of County Road 3. The little town of Pittsburg is nothing more than a very small crossroads, with a filling station and a few homes clustered on 3 or 4 side streets. I turned onto E. Avery which, according to Google, would be the location of the town services building. And there it was, a small tidy aluminum and brick building with an elaborate monument arching over the sidewalk at the street. I set up for the photo, took the shot, then headed down the side street, working my way back toward the main road. These tidy little towns are so much more fun to scout and visit than their large city named counterparts. Pittsburg PA would have been an entirely different experience!

Now it's on to Eldorado. According to Streets & Trips, this would be a significantly larger town or small city with several possible photo opportunities. As I headed east on IL 13, I spotted a motorcycle on the shoulder, its rider down on his hands and knees working on something under the gas tank. I pulled over and stopped and walked back to see if he needed help. Just as I got to him, he stood up, gave a big smile, and said he thought he'd solved the problem. A loose vacuum line. We chatted for a bit, there on the side of the highway, with cars, trucks, and a surprising number of motorcycles whizzing by.

When he learned I was from Houston TX, he was all questions: where was I going, do I ride a lot by myself, and so on. He and his wife ride Harleys, and he was headed to Cave In Rock for an event called HOG Rock, apparently an annual motorcycle rally for the cruiser crowd. I told him that I was doing the AMA tour and explained the rules of the contest, saying that my next stop was Eldorado. he offered to come with me, since he lived in nearby Harrisburg, and offered to show me the smallest post office, which was on the way to Eldorado.

We took off, me following him toward Eldorado. In the tiny little town of Muddy, he put his turn signal on and we turned left down a very small little street past small homes to a deadend right turn where he slowed and U-turned into a small turnout area next to a pre-fab building housing a post office. Shoot! That's not that small! Boston KY post office was smaller than that. But then I parked my bike, took off my helmet and he pointed across the street to the building I didn't see. Easy to miss, it was that small!

Before we went our separate ways, he told me about a sign in Eldorado that would make for the perfect photo for the AMA Tour. So as I headed into Eldorado I kept my eye out for it, not sure what I was looking for or how big it would be. As it turned out, I couldn't miss it! It was billboard-sized and conveniently there was a dance hall right next to it, with a large open parking lot, so that I could get the photo easily without fear of traffic. The billboard welcomed me to Eldorado and informed me that their town boasts 4,536 friendly people and one ol' sorehead. The folks of Eldorado clearly have a great sense of humor!

AMA Tour points collected for this trip, I pointed my front wheel south on IL-145 toward Metropolis and a weekend spent with over 100 of my closest friends!
Next entry: Is there really a Houston in FL?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

AMA IBET - Sweeping Through AR, MO, IL

No need to travel to ND to get a Fargo, or PA to get a Pittsburg! These and four other towns were pretty much on my route to Metropolis IL, where I was headed for a motorcycle group event the first weekend in October. Just a little work on the GPS gave me a route that would pick up 15 AMA points and add just a little over 200 miles to the trip, not to mention take me off the interstate and onto some great little riding roads through cotton and rice country.

My first stop would be Jacksonville, just a few miles northeast of Little Rock. I had waypoints in my GPS for two potential photo opportunities: the post office and a military museum. As it turned out, the post office was a tough camera angle, with the letters on the building facing a busy street away from the parking lot, helpful for folks looking for the post office, not so convenient for those of us who want a photo of our motorcycle and a little white flag! The museum was just across the road and down a side street. Now this is more like it! Big circular drive around an obelisk monument, great southern mansion-style architecture!

Jacksonville in the bag, I could now head back down to I-40 for a short distance east to Brinkley AR, where I exited to begin heading north toward Jonesboro and my night's stop. Along this route I would be going through a tiny dot on the map called Fargo. My research showed no businesses, no schools or other structures that might provide a photo opportunity. I could only hope that there'd be a sign marking this apparent ghost town. The GPS let me know when I was getting close, so I slowed down and hoped that the truck that was riding my tail would just go ahead and pass me, which he did. I spotted something green on the side of the road and there it was! Not only a green "official" town sign, but a "Welcome to Fargo" sign, both looking a little derelict and worse for wear.

Now the tricky part was going to be getting the photo without having to park the bike on the nonexistent shoulder of this steeply crowned country road. I fiddled a bit with the flag and camera angle, rolling the bike a bit to fine tune the shot. It didn't turn out bad at all!
When I first planned out this route, I was a little concerned about making it to Jonesboro before dark. After all, it would be 600 miles with the photo stops in Jacksonville and Fargo along the way. My original plan was to leave Houston after the morning rush hour but I woke up early enough to get on the road at 6:30 AM, early enough to be at the front end of the really heavy traffic headed from the south side and through the downtown. This was a good thing, getting me into Jonesboro at 6:00 PM, still in daylight.

The next morning I headed northwest toward Black Rock, a tiny little town perched on a bluff overlooking the Black River. I turned right immediately after crossing the bridge over the river onto a pretty little road that dipped down near the river then climbed up into the town. My destination for Black Rock was the post office, but this little road brought me straight into the center of town where I spied the perfect sign. Did you know that Black Rock is the home of the Zebras? I did pass the post office and pulled in for the photograph as back-up, but the Zebra sign is so much more interesting.

A little backtracking brought me to the fork in road where I picked up U.S. 412 through fields of soybean, cotton, and rice. The land is flat here, fed by streams and rivers branching off the Mississippi River. This road took me to I-55 where I headed north toward Charleston MO. The post office was my destination in this small city. As I headed into the quaint historic downtown area, I spotted a Welcome to Charleston sign. But I continued on to the post office which was a very old brick building nestled under giant Live Oak trees. I pulled up in front but could only see bits of the lettering across the front of the building above the door. It didn't seem to say the word "Charleston." I circled the post office block and pulled back up in front again. No signs anywhere. But I had fortunately seen that welcome sign on my approach, so returned to that spot and got my photo.
Now I'm pointed in the right direction to continue heading east toward IL and my ultimate destination.

Next entry: Smallest post office and ol' sorehead

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

AMA IBET - Return from Maine, Tour is 2/3 Done!

Today I'm getting on the road toward home, my trip to Maine complete, my IBA National Park Tour Silver completed, and just a couple more AMA photo stops to make on this trip. Sunday morning I would get a nice long run in before departing Marlborough MA and heading south. I got a very late start for this reason, but made it to Harrisburg for the night. Along the way I stopped in Chicopee and Springfield for AMA points and Jill took me straight to the Chicopee District Court building with no problems. From there she was to take me to the Springfield Civic Center in downtown.

Along the way I spied a Springfield YMCA but after wandering around a bit, could not set up the photo with the bike and flag, due to one-way streets. So I continued on into the downtown area and Civic Center. There was no "Springfield" in the name on the building! Drat! I wandered around this area for quite a while, looking for a building with "Springfield" on it. No such luck. I rode past the publishing headquarters for Springfield's newspaper, The Republican, and still no luck. I was losing patience. So I settled for a "Keep Springfield Beautiful" type of sign on one of the medians.

Next morning in Harrisburg I got a good early start and was determined to make it to just north of Chattanooga by nightfall. By golly, I was going to redeem myself by getting this AMA location after failing to do so in June.

I had researched what I thought would be two good AMA photo locations in Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Choo Choo tourist attraction and the Chattanooga National Cemetery. They were within a couple of blocks of each other and were easy to get to off of the interstate. So the next morning I let Jill lead me to the first of the two locations, the cemetery. As it turned out, it was an excellent choice and the photo came out good. I went ahead and rode by the Chattanooga Choo Choo site, afterward, but did not stop, content with the results at the first location.

Back on the interstate, I headed south on I-59 to Gadsen AL where I would pick up US-278 west to cut over to I-65. Just south of Cullman off of I-65 is a town called Dodge City. On the map it looks to be barely more than a crossroads, but Google Earth says there's a school and a post office, so I'm headed there to pick up some more AMA points. Once I got to the exit, I could see that Dodge City sat just west of a major interchange with gas stations, chain restaurants, and a hotel or two. But once I got a little ways west on the secondary road the commercialism petered out and I began looking for either the school or the post office. But behind a bank I caught a glimpse of a red brick building with Dodge City Town Hall painted above the entrance. I did a U-turn through the bank parking lot and went down the little deadend side road and into the town hall parking lot. This would make a perfect AMA photo!

The next night was spent in Brookhaven MS. It would then be an easy ride west to get a photo of bike and AMA flag in Ferriday LA before continuing toward home. Only a few more attainable AMA locations remain on my list and I'll be able to pick up most of these on a trip to Metropolis in early October.

Next entry: Visiting Superman

Saturday, August 4, 2007

AMA IBET - Upstate NY to Acadia ME

After a productive day and a good rest in Ashland OH, I was ready to head east through upstate NY to continue my AMA tour quest and gather the last remaining national park stamps of the IBA National Park Tour.

My thoughts were to get a couple of national park stamps in OH - Cuyahoga and James Garfield NHS, but checking the visitor center hours at the national park website I realized to my dismay that they did not open until later that morning. I could be out of the state of OH and into NY by then, with intentions of getting well into Massachusetts by nightfall. So I packed up and headed out, with my first AMA stop 2/3 of the way across NY. Prior to departing on this trip, I set up an EZPass account through the Massachusetts Transportation Authority. I could have ordered the EZPass from any of the participating states but felt some allegiance to MA since I lived there for so many years. Having this toll pass made the trip across upstate NY, MA, through NH and up through Maine EXTREMELY painless. I had bad memories of previous trips through various toll booths in these states in less than ideal conditions - in the rain, in heavy rush hour traffic - and would not do that again.

First AMA stop would be Waterloo, NY, a tiny town about 5 or 6 miles south of I-90. I took the Dobbins Corner exit so that I could spend a little more time on the local roads before getting into Waterloo. I rode past a couple of potential photo opportunities, making note of them in case I had to double back. But soon enough I found a classic green "Village of Waterloo" sign, so stopped and got my photo with tour flag. As it turned out, the town of Seneca Falls was just a few miles further east on this same road. Seneca Falls is home to the Womens Rights National Historical Park, where I could get a national park stamp and add NY to my list of states for the IBA tour.

Jill got me back onto the road that would take me to I-90 and I pressed on, really hoping to make it to Springfield MA before dark. I was getting a little concerned about this, since I knew that the interstate between Albany and Springfield runs through a sparsely populated (and deer infested) area. One of the reasons I don't mind using the toll roads in the northeast is the food and gas plazas. They sure do make those stops easy and fast. I made a stop to fuel up and get a snack, but stupidly put my sunglasses back on out of habit. I didn't get too far down the road and realized my mistake, as it was dusk, the sun was at my back anyway, and I would unfortunately be arriving in Springfield after dark. I waited for a rest area to pull over, since I can't get them off using only one hand, losing time and daylight to do it.

As soon I exited the toll plaza, the ramp dumped me onto a local road where traffic was backed up to a stop. It was now dark, the road was a minefield of big potholes, cracks and ruts, and I was putting every bit of my concentration into keeping the bike upright on this rough road in the creeping traffic. I did finally make it to the hotel (thank you again Jill, and I mean it sincerely this time) and got checked in and crashed for the night.

My original plans were to get up the next morning, get two AMA photos in the area - Chicopee and Springfield - then head toward Maine. In the morning, however, I was too eager to get on the road to spend time fighting weekday morning traffic in the city, so got back onto I-90 and continued east. I made really good time! Next thing I knew, I was in Brunswick Maine, hoping the hotel would let me check in early...very early. My son is an officer in the Navy and as luck would have it, his Norfolk-based ship would be dropping anchor at the Rockland Lobsterfest and giving tours to the festival attendees. We had made plans to meet up and spend the day together at the festival, so as soon as I could get checked in and changed out of riding clothes and into shorts and sandals, I called my son and he and his dad, who lives in MA, came and got me at the hotel and we headed over to the LobsterFest in Rockland ME to have lobster and corn on the cob. We spent a wonderful day together.

The next day was Saturday, and my plans were to ride further north and ultimately to Acadia National Park. The national park stamp from Acadia would guarantee my earning the Iron Butt Association Silver certificate for the National Park Tour. Along the way I would collect four AMA IBET photos. So I headed north toward Bangor, with several waypoints programmed into Jill, my GPS. The first of these was Winslow ME. I was in Winslow AZ back in May and unfortunately had not received my AMA tour package in time for that trip. I say unfortunate since it meant I would not be adding Mountainair to my AMA list. But Winslow ME was a charming, tiny little town up on a hill looking down over the Kennebec River. I had decided to use the post office for my photo, so I let Jill direct me to the spot. I turned in where she told me to, but wasn't sure at first until I noticed the post office sign over the door to the little gas station/convenience store in the center of town. As best as I could tell, it was the only store in town.
I backtracked down the hill and over the river into Waterville. I had chosen the post office as my photo location in this town, as well, and Jill took me right to the spot. It was the post office, but nowhere on the building did it say Waterville. Well, heck! So I turned right to go around the block and it was then that I noticed that the word Waterville was carved into the granite wall that faced away from the post office. Too late to stop, I circled the block again and pulled up in front for the photo. I was sitting smack-dab in the middle of the intersection but traffic was light, so I didn't care. Since starting this tour, I was getting much more laizzez-faire about where I stopped.

Waterville was such a pretty little town, that I explored it a little bit before leaving. Some of the downtown streets were red-brick paved and it had that really old New England look about it. Eventually I headed out, taking a road that would get me onto I-95 for the short hop to Pittsfield, where I snagged a photo of a tiny train station. then it was on toward Bangor. I had identified an AMA photo spot in Bangor but decided to wait until after going to Acadia, so I took the bypass and headed to Hulls Cove and the entrance to Acadia National Park for my park stamp.

I had to make a difficult decision at this point, whether to take the park loop road and then stay in Bangor that night, or to forgo the park in the interest of getting down to Marlborough MA for the night. In the end, I chose to leave Acadia park loop for another time and start heading back toward Bangor. I had a hotel reservation in Bangor, so when I stopped for a late lunch in Ellsworth, I called and cancelled the room. Before heading south to Marlborough MA and my stop for the night, I made my photo stop in Bangor, getting a good shot of my bike with the flag in front of Bangor State College.

Next entry: Reprising Chattanooga

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

AMA IBET - Bound for Maine, Some Stops in Ohio

On tap for my second full day on the road will be a zoo, a distillery town, the home of the AMA, and lunch with two MTF folks. After leaving Bowling Green, My GPS will lead me to Lincoln Memorial National Historic Park in Hodgenville KY. From there I took back roads to Boston KY for my first AMA tour photo of the day. 

The center of this town consisted of a gas station/general store and a very tiny post office building tucked in behind it. I nearly missed the post office building, pulling into the gas station parking area to get my bearings. Where the heck is it? I was craning my neck to try to see around the gas station, when I saw a car come out of a little narrow drive. 

At first I thought it was a private driveway, until I noticed the street sign above it that said Post Office Road. I pulled out of the gas station and turned down this narrow one-car wide lane which wound down a hill and behind the gas station to – what else? – the post office!

I continued on the beautiful little country roads that would eventually lead me back to the interstate. I had been running more or less parallel to I-65 since getting off in Hodgenville. This road took me over what seemed like an awful lot of railroad track, all of which abruptly ended when the tracks entered a chain link fence. Looking up, I noticed the name on the top of one of the buildings: Jim Beam. Well, of course! Now I made the connection. But this was way out in the middle of nowhere! I immediately thought of distilleries, prohibition, and moonshine. Could that be how Jim Beam got its start?

The Louisville Zoo would be my next stop. Jill’s directions were flawless and I zigzagged my way into the city and pulled into the entrance to the zoo without difficulty. Photos taken, I just as easily made my way back to the interstate and pressed on to my lunch engagement with my MTF friends at a Bob Evans restaurant just east of Dayton OH. Between Louisville and Dayton, the road took me through Cincinnati and I was reminded yet again just how beautiful this city is. Access to the city from the south is quite scenic, the road dropping down quickly toward the river, with the city laid out ahead as one crosses the bridge.

Our lunch complete, we said our goodbyes and I continued on toward Cleveland, with just a couple more stops to make before calling it a day. There’s a Baltimore in Ohio, a very small town east of Columbus OH. I headed east on I-70 a short ways before getting off and dropping south on a small roller-coaster of a road that took me to Baltimore. A giant water tower with the town name painted on it loomed ahead, and was a potential photo candidate. I zigzagged through the town trying to find a place where I could park the bike and get an unobstructed view of the tower. I finally gave up and headed for my original pre-scouted destination, the library. It was the quintessential small town library and I half expected to hear songs from The Music Man start playing at any moment.

As I headed back toward the interstate, I determined that I still had enough time to make one more stop along the route toward Columbus. I noted the signs for Pickerington as I headed east on I-70, so on my way back I took the exit and headed to the AMA headquarters, which were just off the interstate. I wasn’t sure if the museum would still be open, but I took a chance anyway, because I wanted to see the buildings. I was not disappointed. The grounds were gorgeous and as I wound my way up the driveway, I thought how heavenly it would be to commute to work here every day on two wheels. To the left was a large parking lot, straight ahead was a large multiple story building, but as I approached, the sign pointed me to the right to the AMA museum. Up a short, steep hill and the drive led me into a red brick courtyard and circular drive. I immediately realized that it was closed for the day, but I parked in front of the museum anyway and took a photo, complete with rally flag.

This was a very productive and satisfying day. I only had 80 miles to my pre-determined stopping point for the night: Ashland OH. Tomorrow I should make it to Massachusetts.

Next entry: Womens Rights and Waterloo

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

AMA IBET - Headed to Maine, First Two Days

A trip to Maine in late July-early August will put the finishing touches on my National Park Tour Silver and will present many opportunities to collect some major AMA IBET points. My previous trip, to the Northwest, taught me how to use my new GPS and nicely proved out my pre-scouting theory. These two tools will be severely tested in the next 10 days as I head north on Highway 59, headed for Texarkana and my first AMA photo of the trip.

I have tinkered with the route in Streets & Trips, enough so that I can pick up 18 AMA locations for a total of 48 points on this trip. Many of these will be tiny towns, just little dots on a map. Only research using the Google Earth and other internet sites could confirm that there would indeed be at least some population, a town large enough to support a post office or school, anything that would bear the name of the town. The GPS will be of enormous help, and after “flagging” the locations of these photogenic landmarks in Streets & Trips, I entered each of them into the GPS.

My plan that Sunday was to leave early afternoon, get up to Texarkana, find the city hall on the Arkansas side of the city, then get a hotel room for the night. This was my lucky day because when I took the exit that would take me into the downtown area, I immediately passed a brand new fire station on my left. I did a quick U-turn and pulled into the adjoining driveway and got my first photo of this trip. It was perfect! It said “Texarkana, Arkansas” on the building which would guarantee my 2 points for this location. If it had been Texarkana, Texas it would only be worth 1 point. I now had enough experience with the GPS to figure out how to shut Jill up and get her back on-route without insisting that I proceed to my waypoint.

The next day would be a long one. I would be covering close to 600 miles, while making several stops along the way to get AMA photos. I’d better get busy, then. Believe me, having the GPS programmed for these stops really streamlined things! My first stop of the day would be Little Rock. I’d scouted a National Cemetery on the internet, and the GPS led me right to it. It was gorgeous! I pulled in through the gates, making note of the sign on the gatepost which would be perfect for my photo, and then parked the bike. I couldn’t help but get off, remove my helmet, and pull out my camera. The cemetery was immaculately groomed, the white headstones going out as far as the eye could see under canopies of live oak trees. Shaded benches beckoned me, but I needed to press on. I pulled back out through the gate, pausing long enough to get my AMA photo.

There is a Jacksonville just outside of Little Rock, a town on the AMA tour list, but I determined that I’d wait and get it on my way to the Founders Feast in October, or get Jacksonville FL which is on my way home from Daytona in October. I pressed on to Nashville then, and headed toward Nashville Technical College. The photo opportunity was better than I’d hoped for. A suspicious campus policeman cruised by slowly, but he went on by. Probably figured I was either a proud alumna or scouting the school for future attendance. In any case, I got a good shot, rode through the campus to check it out, and then headed back toward the interstate.

Next stop would be Tennessee State University. What I thought would be the easy one proved not to be so. I had to navigate a bit of city streets to get there, and once there, spied the perfect sign, a large brick wall set in a landscaped garden with the name of the college prominently displayed. Only problem was that it sat at a busy intersection with no place to pull up and get the shot. So I continued onto the campus looking for any sign that said Tennessee State. I wandered through parking lots, past buildings, around dormitories, up and down the narrow lanes of the campus and … nothing. Nearly ready to give up and go back to that first sign and to figure out a way to photograph it, I happened to look up the hill to my left and saw it. Across the top of an archway over a curving set of stairs were the words Tennessee State University in large block letters. I turned left and headed up the hill. There was a circular driveway passing in front of this edifice and I pulled up and parked, got off the bike, and immediately realized the problem. While this was visible from the bottom of the hill, it was not visible from where I was. If I backed up enough, I could get most of it in the viewfinder, hopefully enough for the AMA folks to get the general idea that it says “Tennessee.”

From Nashville I only had a relatively short ride to Bowling Green where I planned to stop for the night. Tomorrow the “dots” get very small as I pass through OH and NY, and I meet a couple of MTF members for lunch.

Next entry: connecting those tiny dots

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

AMA IBET - Getting Home from the Great Northwest

I had already determined to change my route home down through Colorado and across Kansas in order to re-take an AMA photo of the Oklahoma state line This new route would take me south on Nebraska 71 and into Colorado. I was mesmerized by the miles and miles of golden wheat along this road, glowing in the early morning sun, interrupted only by the occasional farm road that disappeared into the horizon. I was so taken by this early morning beauty that I failed to stop for gas when I passed through Brush, even though I had over 150 miles on the odometer by this time. Further down the road my low fuel light came on, jolting me into the here-and-now.

I was about to become fast friends with Jill. I apologized to her profusely for yelling at her and calling her names earlier. I begged her forgiveness and asked her to tell me where the nearest gas stations were. She obediently threw up a list of gas stations on the screen…all of them 30 miles back up the road where I just came from. My feeble memory conjured up the name of the town at the I-70 intersection and in the “near to…” field I typed in Limon. Jill showed me the list of gas stations in Limon, 40 miles ahead. I should JUST make it, but it didn’t allay my concerns by very much.

Now, instead of watching the scenery, I was slavishly watching the trip odometer and the GPS, waiting for Limon to appear at the top of the screen. Finally, with that near-catastrophe averted, I headed east on I-70 along what is possibly the most crushingly boring 350 mile stretch of interstate in America. The monotony was only momentarily interrupted by the appearance of flashing blue lights in my rearview mirrors, and the incredibly polite, blue-eyed, uniformed specimen of a man who appeared along side of me and who handed me my first-ever speeding ticket.

Finally arriving in Wichita, I stopped at the same Comfort Inn I’d stayed at a week earlier as I headed north on this trip. The parking lot seemed alarmingly full as I walked inside to get a room. I was informed that they were indeed full as were most hotels in Wichita. There was a chemical plant explosion earlier that day in a town just north of there (“didn’t I see the plumes of black smoke?”) and the entire town had been evacuated. She thought there might be a room left at the Comfort Inn on the south side, and a call ahead confirmed it and I had them hold the room for me.

The next morning, I made a brief stop along the side of the interstate to take the photo of the Oklahoma state sign. The morning sun illuminated the stone wall for a perfect shot, and I was on my way again in minutes. I would be home in Houston that evening.

This leg of the AMA IBET taught me some additional things. I learned how to use a GPS and how valuable it will be in my upcoming trip to the Northeast. I also learned that pre-scouting photo opportunities was a tremendous help, and become even more of a help on the next trip, where the bonus locations will be much smaller and further off the major highways.

Next entry: tiny dots on the map

Monday, July 16, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Conclusion of the Trip

I'm in Cheyenne tonight, on my way home to Houston after several wonderful days of ridng throughout the Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington states.

I arrived in the Missoula area last Wednesday evening. The off-road riders would not arrive until the next day, and I wasn't sure who else would be getting there who wasn't doing the off-road ride. Thursday morning, I was tired and did not feel up to riding the 550 mile roundtrip to Washington state to get the national park stamp, so opted to take a local ride, going out highway 12 towards Lewiston. It's a beautiful twisty road that follows Lolo Creek and also follows the path that Lewis & Clark took through this area. It goes over Lolo Pass, at 5200 feet. This is deer-infested deep woods and had a couple of "brake-and-swerve" incidents. I went 100 miles west on this road, then turned around and returned to Missoula, not wanting to commit to the entire route, which I would have had to do in order to get gas, as there are no settlements along this route until Kooskia. But it was enough. I returned to the hotel and had a late lunch and waited for the rough riders to arrive.

That evening, the group assembled in the parking lot and began to make plans. Some of the off-road riders were leaving the next day for home, their participation in the event being over. The remainder decided to ride a loop suggested by one of the organizers: South on 93 to 43, toward Wisdom, then north to Anaconda where we'd pick up the western half of Pintler Loop. This was a fabulous route. 93 climbs steeply into the Bitterroot mountains, going over Chief Joseph Pass and the turn onto 43 put us onto high chaparral. Along this route, we stopped at Big Hole National Battlefield, where the Nez Perce Indian wars took place. The road north out of Wisdom was a pleasant winding road going past marshy bogs where we saw a moose standing in the water. It turned to gravel for three miles, but fortunately we turned off onto a fine little gem of a road, SR-274 up to Anaconda. Here we got onto SR-1, the Pintler Loop, which took us past Georgetown lake and down a nice twisty descent. This got us back to the hotel with an hour or so to get ready for dinner at Jaker's in town.

Many decided to head for home on Saturday, rather than stay another day to ride. The heat was suffocating and many were eager to get back east where the temps were more moderate. My friend Claye and I chose Saturday to get over to Washington state; I needed the national park stamp, and she had plans to visit friends south of Seattle, so this worked out well for both of us. I-90 west of Missoula becomes a terrific mountain road, climbing into the mountains, then descending, more than once as it passed through Fourth of July Pass, Lookout Pass, and national forests. West of Spokane, we headed north out of Davenport WA toward Fort Spokane and the national park there. The small two lane road rolled over miles and miles of fields, which were gorgeous! Miles and miles of rolling fields of golden wheat, brilliant green barley, and fluffy canola.

I departed Sunday morning for home, taking 93 south all the way to US 20 where, first I headed west to Craters of the Moon national park, then backtracking east toward Pocatello for the night. Even though we'd ridden a small part of 93 on Friday, it was only a taste of what the entire route was like. Coming down the other side of Chief Joseph Pass, I saw a deer and two fawns in the middle of the road. I slowed way down, yet they still would not move. I was quite close to them, and was nearly to a stop, and could get a good look at this beautiful, little family standing there in the morning sunshine, looking at me. I finally feared for their safety, and honked my horn to disperse them, and they scampered off together. I hope they found safety, and was glad that the road was nearly deserted. As the road continued south, it varied from being a flat windy road along side the Salmon River to racing through a deep gorge, climbing mountains, rambling through farmland. 200 miles of never-ending scenery and continuously changing terrain.

Monday morning, I rode just a short ways on interstate to get onto US-30 headed east. This was yet another fantastic secondary road...smooth, well-maintained, and out in the middle of absolutely nowhere! The landscape changed from prairie, to volcanic rock, to rolling hills, and around every bend I never knew what I'd find. About 3/4 of the way to I-80, I came to Fossil Butte national park, and stopped here for a visit, to get the national park stamp, watch the film, and take some photos. Very cool! Once on I-80, it was 290 miles to Cheyenne, much of it the same, stark landscape of rocky, lava-bed hills covered in scrub. But as I got into eastern WY, the landscape changed dramatically as we gained altitude. Across the Continental Divide at 8,900 ft and the temperature plummeted and the land changed yet again to high plains.

Now I'm in Cheyenne and will be leaving in the morning and heading south through far eastern Colorado. I should make it to Amarillo for the night, then Houston on Wednesday nite.

AMA IBET - Beartooth Pass, Yellowstone, Lolo Pass

The mid-point of this trip was highlighted by my ride across Beartooth Pass and into Yellowstone National Park, and by the weekend spent with fellow riders in Lolo MT. There would be plenty of riding, even some National Park stamp collecting, but only two AMA Tour photos, taken at Kingston ID and at the Washington state visitors center. This past weekend would mark the second time I left AMA points on the table, when I rode through Davenport WA and completely forgot to stop and take the AMA photo. It was eating at that great little drive-in burger joint, Edna's, that had me sated and nearly comatose with satisfaction! I blissfully rode away, not even giving the AMA tour a thought.

The first week of the trip finished, I left Lolo MT Sunday morning to start my trip home. This day would be spent nearly entirely on secondary roads, as I headed south on US 93 out of Lolo, through Idaho to head toward my day's rewards. I would be picking up AMA Tour photos at the Idaho state line and at Rexburg and taking a slight detour to get a National Park stamp at Craters of the Moon national monument. The highlight of the day would be the fantastic and ever-changing scenery along US 93.

First stop of the day was at the Idaho border, to get an AMA Tour photo of bike and flag and the Idaho sign at the top of Lolo Pass. Coming down the backside of the Pass I was treated to a beautiful doe and two fawns standing in the middle of the road. Since I had been coming around a hairpin turn, I was already moving at a slower speed, and there was absolutely no traffic. I braked and slowed down to a crawl and was able to get quite close to the deer, before the doe moved on across the roadway to the shoulder. She looked back at her two fawns, who stayed frozen in the middle of the road. By this time, I had come to a near stop. Had I needed to come to a full stop, I would have pulled my camera out of the tankbag. But finally the two fawns sprang into action and skipped over to the shoulder to join the Doe. What a beautiful moment! I was thankful that there were no other cars, which allowed me to savor this moment for awhile.

I stopped for gas in Challis, and a good-looking fella in a Jeep Wrangler pulled along side my bike as I was preparing to leave. I took my helmet back off and we chatted at length. He asked if I was headed across Sawtooth toward Stanley, where was I from, and so forth. He seemed very reluctant to leave. And I swear he was flirting a little with me. That big white smile of his! He eventually pulled away, but I noticed that he paused long enough to watch me ride off.

I did not go through Sawtooth NRA - though I really wanted to - but doing so would have gotten me to the Craters of the Moon National Monument too late in the day. I would just have to save Sawtooth for another trip. So I continued down 93 to Butte City, made the slight detour to Craters of the Moon, then backtracked to head toward Rexburg and an AMA Tour photo. I can't help but feel that there won't be too many photos of Rexburg submitted for this tour. But I could be wrong.
I'd never heard of Rexburg until this AMA Tour thing. It's a decent-sized little city and I was glad I'd done my "virtual" research beforehand, as it's a surprisingly sprawled out metropolis. But with photo successfully completed, I headed toward the interstate for the few short miles south to Pocatello. Such a neat name: Pocatello. It conjures up visions of the railroad for some reason. It's a name that belonged in Johnny Cash's song lyrics. I picked it as my stopping point mainly because I'd always been fascinated by the name.

I'd ridden nearly the entire day off of Interstates, and would get up the next morning and continue that trend as I headed toward Fossil Butte National Monument. There would be no AMA Tour photo opportunities this day, as I headed along US 30 toward the national park and then onto I-80 for a non-stop blast toward Cheyenne where I'd be stopping for the night.

The afternoon spent droning along the interstate gave me time to think about my progress with the AMA Tour, so far. My first conclusion was that the GPS has been a big boon and aid to the endeavor. Despite getting lost a couple of times, Jill proved her merit several times on this trip. She would prove her value even more so tomorrow. The other conclusion I made was that seeking out the smaller towns that bear the same name as large cities is infinitely more fun. I already had a trip routed out for the Northeast, which I would be taking in late July, and there are a number of AMA Tour locations on that route. But clearly, I could spend more time with it, make a few changes that would improve my travel efficiency while at the same time eliminating some of the larger metropolitan areas.

That night in the hotel, I got to work on the route to Maine, and also had some second thoughts on my route home. Organizing my photos taken so far on this trip, I was not pleased with my Oklahoma photo. The "sign" at the state line is actually a stone wall and the angle and light were all wrong, making the sign completely illegible in the photo. This photo is worth two points. My original route was to take me south through Colorado, get the Old Bent Fort national park stamp, and then head southeast across Texas, where I'd be spending the last night in Amarillo, and getting an AMA Tour photo of that city. That photo would be worth one point. I thought it best, then, to drop down through Colorado to pick up I-70 then head east through Kansas, spend the night in Wichita, and get the Oklahoma state line photo again, headed south.
Next entry: Re-routing on the fly, and a performance award

Friday, July 13, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Day 5

Yesterday was a very long and tiring day, riding south out of Billings on Beartooth Highway and into Yellowstone, across the northern portion of the grand loop and then out and north, back to I-90 and west to Missoula.

Beartooth Highway was incredible! But very technically challenging. It has many very steep and sharp switchbacks on a very steep road over Beartooth pass, then down the other side. It was only about 60 miles or so from Billings to Yellowstone park entrance, but I had to be mentally "on" the entire way. I have a fear of heights, more specifically a fear of falling. This road is narrow, bumpy, with the right track in each lane potted and in poor condition in some areas. There is no guardrail in most areas, and the plunge off the side is immediate, with no shoulder. It was nerve-wracking in places, as cars were often careless about drifting over the line in the hairpins. But, for the most part, I was able to enjoy the pass, and not freak out too much. Descending on the WY side, the views were spectacular!

Once on somewhat level ground again, I could continue into Yellowstone park and ride what's probably the drabbest part of the park, although I did see large herds of buffalo grazing in the meadows along this section of the park road. At Mammoth Hot Springs I grabbed my national park stamp at the very crowded visitor center and fought the crazy, clueless drivers to get to the upper terraces, where a tiny, steep, windy one-way road took me past some awesome travertine hot springs. A very elderly couple were standing in the little road taking each others' photos so I stopped to let them and dug my camera out of my tank bag and asked the man to take my photo, too. He got a really good one (see my photos).

I left the park out the northwest entrance, headed toward Livingston. I had stopped outside the park and bought some water and snacks to take with me, and lucky me, I found a great little rest area with picnic pavillions right on the Yellowstone river. Once in Livingston, I got onto I-90 and had over 250 miles still to ride to get to Missoula and it was already 3:00. Fortunately it gets dark very late this far north, and I got to the hotel around 8:00 PM, with the sun still quite high in the sky.

Tomorrow I'll go for a ride along Route 12 through Idaho and then spend the next two days with MTF folks before heading home.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

AMA IBET - Buffalo, WY and Custer's Last Stand

I was really looking forward to this next leg of the journey. I would be collecting both AMA tour points and National Park stamps, which would take me to two highly anticipated locations.

My first stop, before heading north on I-25, was Fort Laramie. I had been here last year, when I was doing my first National Park Tour, but it was another of those parks that I really enjoyed and didn't mind returning to. This one, like Fort Davis TX, really fires my imagination! Out on the extreme edges of the frontier in those days, the lives of the soldiers who lived at these posts had to have been hard and desperately lonely.

The landscape really opened up as I headed north on I-25 toward Buffalo WY, another town name on the AMA tour list. My research of this town uncovered the fact that there is a really cool mural downtown, painted on the side of one of the oldest buildings. I simply had to get a photo of that mural! As I came into town from the south, there was one of those standard green signs marking the city line. Just in case, I stopped there first, and took the AMA tour photo with my little flag on the bike.

I proceeded on into the little downtown area to look for the mural. What a cool little downtown! It wasn't hard to imagine this town 100 years ago. The buildings were in fully restored condition, with businesses, shops, banks, cafes filling the storefronts.

I had no trouble finding the mural. The problem was where to park to set up the photo. All on-street parking spots were filled, so I went around the corner where I thought I might be able to get a shot across a little park, but part of the mural was obstructed by a tree. So I did a U-turn and got back onto the main street and headed south a bit in hopes of finding a spot across the street from the mural. Aha! Just as I passed by, a woman was getting into a car to leave. It would be the perfect spot, right in front of the mural. I did another U-turn and ... even better... another car pulled away, leaving two adjacent parking spots.

I was giggling and whooping with glee as I jockeyed the bike into position and got the little flag set up for the photo. I had been anticipating getting this photo for weeks! Mission accomplished, I headed north up the main street through Buffalo and exited out the north side of town onto the interstate, which was now I-90, to continue my trip north toward my next stop, Little Bighorn. I was thrilled by the fact that I had successfully snagged that photo, but even more so by the fact that I was headed into "virgin" territory for me. Until now the furthest northwest I'd been on the motorcycle was the national parks of western SD.

We traveled extensively when I was growing up. My dad was a career Navy officer and we crisscrossed the country many times. He always made sure that we made the most of those travels, seeing anything of the remotest interest along the route. Consequently, I had been to many of the national parks already. But there were a couple in the north-northwest I had not been to and that I'd always vowed I would get to in my lifetime. One of them - Mt Rushmore - got checked off of my to-do list last year when a friend and I took a trip up through CO, WY, and SD. The other one is Yellowstone. I had butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of my ride through the park tomorrow morning.

But for this afternoon, Little Bighorn - Custer's last stand - awaited me. Doing the National Park tour last year converted me into a huge US history fan. There's not an historical national park that I've visited that didn't make a contribution to my library at home. One story in particular has interested me for the last couple of years, the story of the battle between Custer's small army and the Lakota and Cheyenne indians. I can't help but see similarities between this battle and the one lost at the Alamo. The bravery of these men against such overwhelming odds squeezes my heart and tears at my emotions. But so does the story of a displaced people, pushed off the lands they'd hunted and lived on for centuries.

I spent quite a bit of time at this national park. A park ranger gave a talk in a little outdoor patio area about the history of the lands, the political events leading up to the climactic battle. I walked up the hill to the monument and the sloped field where headstones mark the locations of the fallen soldiers at the conclusion of the conflict. Across the hill, sloping down into a valley, lies the cemetery with its neat white crosses marching in even rows.

It was with some reluctance that I headed out of the park towards the interstate and Billings MT where I'd be stopping for the night.

Next entry: Ride of a lifetime

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Day 4

This was going to be a busy day for national parks and AMA "I've Been Everywhere" photo opportunities. Fortunately, once I get onto I-25 I'll be able to make some good time. So far I've covered almost 1200 miles (Nearly 630 miles the first day and 570 miles the second day). This morning I'll be off the interstate, ridiing north out of Sidney, NE to US 26, and taking it west all the way to WY and I-25. The adventure started when I took a wrong turn 30 miles after leaving the hotel. How the heck did I manage to do that? I found myself on SR-88 heading due west. I needed to be on US 26 headed northwest. Well, it was a nice road and the view to the north was of high bluffs the entire way. I zoomed out on the GPS and could see that it would ultimately run into US 71, which goes north to Scott's Bluff.

I had planned to get Chimney Rock national monument, but this little unexpected diversion will mean I'll miss it. But there's another national park - Scott's Bluff - at the intersection of US 71 and US 26, so all was not lost. I headed straight for the cancellation station (I'd already been to this park before, ridden to the top of the bluff) and there were two older women standing there, wondering what it was. So, I pulled out my passport, showed it to them, and explained how it works, how people collect the stamps. They were enthralled! We chatted for quite a bit. One was from CA and used to work at the Yosemite national park many years ago. She now lives in OH, but really misses CA. I'll bet that before they left, one of them bought a passport.

Back on US 26, again, I could continue on track. Once in WY, this road was spectacular. Hilly, fast sweepers, very little traffic. I stopped in Fort Laramie and got the multiple national park stamps.there, and then got back on the road to continue west to I-25.

This part of the day was all about getting the miles done. The road is unremarkable and the scenery doesn't change much all the way to Buffalo WY. I needed an AMA photo of my bike, the little flag, and the town name of Buffalo clearly visible. I had researched the town on the internet, looking for something unique or unusual to use for the photograph. As luck would have it, there's a wonderful painted mural on the side of one of the buildings in the downtown area. Now, all I have to do is find it. As I entered town on Business 25, I passed a typical city limits sign, with town name, populiation, and elevation. I stopped to get a photo, just as back-up in case I don't succeed with the mural. A few blocks later, and there it was, on the right side of the street. I pulled over into a parallel parking spot, but the angle was not good. So I rode up the little dead-end side street, but trees blocked the key part of the mural, the word "Buffalo." Doing a U-turn, I stopped and thought a minute. In the meantime, one of the two cars parked in the parallel spots pulled out and drove away, leaving me a good spot to pull in and get a better angle. So I pulled out of the side street, and pulled into the spot headed the wrong direction, then jockeyed the bike so that it was more or less backed into the spot. Perfect!

Now it's back onto I-25 and head for Little Big Horn national park. More interstate, but there's a definite change in the landscape, as the elevation continues to increase, and there's more vegetation, even pine trees here and there.

Everyone told me I must ride SR-14 or 14A to get to Billings, avoid the interstate, but I really wanted to see Little Bighorn. Custer faced the same situation that Travis did at the Alamo. Both Custer and Travis and their men fought bravely to the end, in the face of overwhelming odds. I get goosebumps thinking about such bravery in the face of such terrible fighting. I was not disappointed when I arrived at the park and could see the battefield first-hand.

Now it's only 60 miles to Billings, so I have an easy remaining ride, and I arrive at the hotel at 6:30 PM. . Total for the day: 560 miles. This morning I ride down to Yellowstone, though, judging from the crowds I'm already seeing at the other parks, and the tour buses at the hotels, I'm worried about heavy traffic. We'll see.


It's late in the afternoon and I'm finally on I-80 headed west toward Sidney, NE where I have a room reserved for the night. But I can't resist a short detour. I'm so close and there's no telling what my return trip might bring. So I took advantage of this opportunity and took the left fork onto I-76, which would take me in just a few short miles over the state line into Colorado.

The dreaded orange construction barrels appeared very shortly after getting onto I-76 and we were all routed across the median into the opposite lanes. Just as I feared, there went the "Welcome to Colorado" sign, off to my right, made inaccessible by the construction going on in the right lanes. The town of Julesburg was coming up and there was a sign beneath it saying there was travel information at that exit. This was my only hope.

The travel information turned out to be a major visitor center. Merci! I pulled into the parking lot and just as I did, my eye caught something sitting precariously on top of the rather large rock outcropping in front of the visitor center. It was a motorcycle. More than that, it was a dual-sport bike and that was a very knarly, rocky hill it was sitting atop. I pulled over and got my camera out of the tank bag to get a photo. It was actually quite intriguing. Just as I did, an Aerostich-clad rider came around the side of the promontory and I waved at him. He clambered down and we chatted for a bit. He was from Montreal, riding the U.S., and was headed toward the Tetons and Yellowstone. I jokingly asked him if he would ride my bike up there for a photo. We wished each other safe travels and I pulled around to the entrance to pose my shot before departing.
I was able to cut through this very small town, where the main street was gravel (thank you, Jill), and pick up a road that would take me back up to I-80 very near to Sidney. I was quite thankful that I had booked my rooms ahead, as many times on this trip I arrived at hotels that were turning walk-ins away. Sidney was no exception.

The next morning would begin a day that would be largely off of the interstates. It would also be a day when Jill got lost....AGAIN. Poor girl!

I headed north from the hotel on a very pleasant secondary road that would take me to U.S. 26 and two national parks before crossing into WY. One of those national parks was not to be, and Jill and I are arguing about it to this day. But Jill and I are still new to each other at this point, still learning each other's idiosyncracies and bad habits.

I swear Jill told me to turn left, so I did, and no sooner did I straighten the front wheel and Jill started re-calculating. What the h---? For a while she kept directing me to turn left...onto gravel roads. Then when I ignored her long enough, she started telling me to turn right....onto gravel roads. Zooming the display out a little, I could see that I was running parallel to US 26 and would miss Chimney Rock National Park. But I knew where I was! I was here last year and if I continued straight, I'd run into NE-71 which would take me to Scott's Bluff. This was okay by me. It wasn't the park I was intending to visit, but it was still a National Park in Nebraska and, besides, I really liked Scott's Bluff and would enjoy getting back there.

I pulled into the visitor center parking lot, got off the bike, and collected the things I needed to go inside to get my stamps. Two women were standing at the cancellation station: a woman about my age and another woman who was clearly her mother. They were trying to determine what this cancellation station was for, so were glad when I walked up. They asked me to tell them about it, so I showed them my passport, the stamps that were already in it, and a little bit about the National Park Tour I was undertaking. The younger woman wandered off, but the elderly woman stayed with me, comparing notes with me about other national parks we'd both visited, and we learned that we'd been to many of the same. I was surprised that she didn't know about the stamps.

When I finished stamping my passport, she and I walked to the front door and she stopped there and bought a passport book. Good for her! We walked outside together and it was then that she truly realized that my mode of transportation was a motorcycle. She became very animated and was sincere when she wished she were young enough again to do such a thing. She gave me a little squeeze and wished me safe journeys.

That was a lovely encounter and it had me glowing for miles, so many miles that I completely forgot to stop in Glenrock WY for the AMA tour photo, leaving the first 3 of several points on the table through stupidity.

Next entry: Buffalo and Custer