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

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Days 2 and 3

I found myself riding past fields of emerald-green corn and thinking about my new friend Dave and his untimely demise. It raises all sorts of questions for me about motorcycling and egos, skill sets and equipment. I never did come up with any answers that would make me feel any better about losing a friend.

My day started yesterday with a successful backtrack to Wichita State University and a perfect photo opportunity. It cost me very little in time, and soon enough I was headed back north on I-135. In Salina, I turned west on I-70 for a little ways, then got off the interstate and spent much of the day on back roads riding through KS and NE. I rejoined the interstate on I-70 100 miles east of Sidney NE and my stop for the night.

Along the way, I stopped at Nicodemus national historical site. It sits on the south side of the road, and is the first freedman settlement during the reconstruction period post Civil War. Several buildings still stand, including two very old churches, dating back to the early 1880's, an old hotel, school house, and other buildings.

Further along, I turned north on a beautiful little road that took me into NE. I found a skinny little ribbon on this otherwise shoulder-less road to stop on and get a photo of the Welcome To Nebraska sign at the state line, for the AMA "I've Been Everywhere" tour. I should tell you that on some of these roads my GPS got totally lost and could not find me. I had a white question mark displayed on the screen for quite a distance. Nice to get lost!!!

Before getting to Sidney, I took a little detour down I-76 to get the Colorado state line sign, but was stymied by construction which sent traffic over to the other side of the divided highway, and I watched the sign as I passed it by, too far away and no place to stop. But all was not lost! At the exit where I intended to get off anyway, was the Colorado Visitor Center, and a perfect photo opportunity. I rode through the visitor center parking lot just to check it out, and there, parked way up on the hill in front of the welcome sign, was a KTM or KLR (not sure which) dual sport bike. As I rounded the sign, there was its owner taking photographs. I parked in front of the sign, and he walked over for a chat. He was from Quebec (wonderful heavy French accent) and is headed to the Rockies and then beyond, to do some riding. He's really a long ways from home on a bike not terribly suited for long distance riding. Nice young man and we had a great chat.

AMA photo of Colorado in the bag, I continued north on yet another pretty little road to join back up with I-80 and the short 40 miles to my exit and hotel in Sidney. Today I head west a little ways and then turn north toward Billings MT.

AMA IBET - Headed to the Great Northwest

Another major motorcycle trip, up to the Northwest, begins this week, and I have refined my strategy considerably. I learned a lot on my last trip, out to Asheville NC, and have had a month to do a better job of researching the possibilities. I've also acquired a GPS, which should make a major difference in my willingness to get off the highways, and venture down some much smaller roads.

Another tactic I developed prior to this trip was to utilize Streets & Trips and Google Earth to identify potential candidate locations for the photo opportunity. I learned this after wandering around the streets of Shreveport looking for a building that: a) was an official building, not a business; b) had a visible sign with city name on it; and c) had a place to park in such a way to set up the camera shot. By doing some virtual "scouting" before hand, these locations - fire stations, post offices, schools, cemeteries, parks - can then be entered into the GPS as waypoints.

This trip was going to collect nearly half of my ultimate total of AMA points. I routed myself only a little out of the way, in order to maximize the bonuses. I headed north on I-45, collecting Oklahoma, Ardmore and Wichita before stopping for the night. These were relatively easy points, Ardmore being a very small town with a Post Office a block off the main street. I collected the Wichita photo, but wasn't as happy with it as I'd have liked. that night I got onto Google Earth and found that Wichita State University would require only a little back-tracking and was reasonably accessible from the interstate.

Pleased with my decision to re-do the Wichita photo, I continued north and west, collecting a National Park Stamp at Nicodemus along the way. This was actually a relief, as it got me off of the interstate and let me ride more than half the distance to that night's stopping point on secondary roads. This was also to be my first of several "adventures" with Jill, my GPS companion.

Road construction had my route detoured onto a road that took me due west, at right angles to my northerly direction. It was a long detour, and the road got smaller and smaller, until there was only a dashed center line, and no shoulder. Jill kept recalculating, and kept telling me to "in 0.2 miles, turn right." The problem with those instructions was that each of those turns was onto a gravel road. Worse, my little motorcycle icon on the GPS display suddenly turned into a large white question mark, and Jill stopped talking to me. She also stopped showing me where we were. In fact, she had no idea where we were.

My ultimate stop for the night was Sidney, NE, which I knew would be west, but north of my location. When I got to the next detour sign, it took me north, which was fine. I could zoom out and see where my ultimate destination was by the little orange flag. So I merrily cruised along, pleased that I was getting close to the Nebraska state line, where I could stop and collect a photo and more AMA points. But this is a very small and narrow road.

I despaired when I saw the giant "Nebraska" sign looming ahead, as there was absolutely nowhere to pull over, and it was on a fairly steep incline. As I neared the sign, I had pretty much given up hope but to just stop in the middle of the road. I would not have another opportunity to get a NE state line, since my route on this trip would take me home through Colorado. But as I reached the top of the hill and just at the state line, a narrow little shoulder appeared. I pulled over, stopped the bike, arranged my little flag, then walked back down the hill to snap the photo.

Well, that Nebraska state sign was huge and to complicate that, was quite a ways off of the roadway. In order to get it all into the camera's viewfinder, I had to get pretty far back, to the point that the motorcycle was tiny and the AMA flag a mere white dot. What to do. I walked back up the hill and retrieved the flag, then pondered how to get it all in the shot. I walked back down the hill, stood there with camera in one hand, flag in the other...if only my arms were about 10 ft long! Then I could get it all in. Well, to heck with it. Daylight's burning, and I have to pee. So I did the best I could with it. Later that night in the hotel room, I thought it came out good. Sort of artistic, if I do say so myself.

Back on the bike, I continued north on this deto
ur, Jill STILL not knowing where the heck we were. Then I came to a T in the road where the detour sign said to turn east. But I needed to go west. But I also still have to pee and I can see that turning right will take me into town. I answered nature's call, and thankfully learned that just a little further on I'd be able to get onto I-80 whereas if I headed west I'd have a long ways to go to the next opportunity to catch the interstate. Since the afternoon shadows were getting kind of long, I decided to get on the interstate and boogie.

Next entry: A dip into Colorado

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Western Mountain Ride - Day 1

I left the house this morning before 8:00 AM (not sure of exact time) and made my usual first stop at exit 91 off of I-45 in Conroe. It's the perfect distance from the house to make a pit stop, top off the gas tank, and get a breakfast snack. From there it's precisely a tank's worth of gas to the Love's Truck Stop just before the I-20 Interchange outside of Dallas, the last easy off-easy on gas opportunity before the Metro-Mess).

As I was gearing up to depart the Love's near Dallas, a fellow walked by, and pointed to the black clouds off to the east. "Better have your raingear handy." I wear textiles when I ride, so don't need rain gear, but thanked him anyway.

As soon as I got onto I-30 it started to rain. By the time I took the 35E exit it was raining hard. So hard, I missed the split at 35/635 and ended up headed east on 635. I realized the mistake before the GPS so kindly pointed it out to me, but had to let an exit go by before I could work my way over into the right lane in heavy traffic and heavy rain. Oh Joy! The intersection at the underpass was under about a foot of water. But even as I sat at the light to turn left to go through that mess, the rain had let up and the water was receding rapidly.

Back on track, it was an uneventful ride up 35E to 35 and to the Oklahoma border. I saw the state welcome sign and slowed to pull onto the shoulder for my AMA "I've Been Everywhere" photo op. Got it, then pulled back onto the interstate to continue to Ardmore, the next AMA photo op stop.

My Ardmore goal was the post office one block off the main street in the little downtown area. Being new to the GPS, I had written my usual "cheat sheets" and put them into my tank bag. But my GPS gal, Jill, hasn't been wrong yet, so I'm growing to trust her some.

"Turn right at Avenue B." Correct. I turned right. "Turn right at 1st Street and then turn left." Well....I can see the old post office there on the corner, and I'm not too sure about that turning right part, but I obey, and turn right and see a small driveway tucked behind the post office building. I turned in, and find myself in the back of the post office, with loading docks and mail trucks....and parking spots. This is definitely not what I need. So I exit the post office, but I'm trapped in a maze of one-way streets and must go around the block, back onto the main street and back to Avenue B. Jill, my GPS lady, is going nuts trying to recalculate, because Ithese are small town blocks, so the turns are coming up quick. Back to the intersection fo Ave B and 1st Street, I park right in front of the post office in a no parking area (heck, it's Sunday and there is virtually no traffic) and get my photo with the Ardmore, OK name clearly visible behind the motorcycle and little AMA flag.

That done, I head back toward I-35, getting gas and grabbing a quick Burger King before hitting the highway again. I will need one more gas stop before reaching Wichita, and find a Love's just before the KS border. Next stop, a photo op in Wichita, before heading to the hotel.

I had researched and found a post office just two blocks off of I-135 on the south side of Wichita so, finding my exit, I head to the designated location, only to discover that nowhere on the building did it say "Wichita". It said United States Post Office, and it said something about a station, but not the word "Wichita." Okay, on to plan B, only there is no plan B, so I decide to just continue up the interstate until I get near the downtown area and then get off and cruise looking for a municipal building or similar. As I neared the downtown area, I spied a Kansas University Medical Center facility, but too late to take that exit so continued to the next exit and worked my way back on local streets. The parking lot was deserted, the sign was right there next to the entrance, so I pulled in, did a U-turn, and parked right at the sign and took the photo.

The hotel I'd picked out was just 4 exits up from there, so I was pulling into their lot at 6:30 PM. Not bad for 625 miles and 10.5 hours, with some dilly dally AMA photo op stops along the way. Tomorrow I head toward Selina, then onto I-70 for awhile, before getting off to ride local roads north, past Nicodemus NHS for a national park stamp, and continuing north to I-80, where I'll stop for the night in Stanley, NE.

Post-script to today's ride: The Oklahoma welcome sign is not in focus, but the flag and rearview mirror on my bike are in sharp, crisp focus. Not acceptable, as the word "Oklahoma" is not legible. I will have two more opportunities to get an Oklahoma welcome sign (here's hoping for good results!). The word "Wichita" on the medical center sign is kind of small, even though it's mostly in focus. I noticed, when I got back onto the interstate after taking that photo, that the Wichita State University campus was the next exit up, just 8 miles of backtracking from the hotel tomorrow morning and should result in a better photo.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

AMA IBET - Some Local Point Gathering

Okay, I'm really diggin' this now, getting the hang of this "tour" thing, and figuring out how to maximize my time and the locations. The way this works is that every location within my own state is worth one point, an adjoining state is worth 2 points, and states beyond that are worth 3 points.

Many of the names in the song lyrics have more than one location in the U.S. There are some places I'll never get to in the time limits of the contest, regardless of their location, so I can scratch these off the list right away. Where there is a choice of locations, I can gain the most points by choosing the location furthest away from TX. And there are those places where there is no chance I can get to the higher point locations between now and end of November, when the contest ends. Pasadena and Santa Fe are two examples of these.

I headed out with a friend of mine for a lunch ride to east Texas where we picked up Pasadena and Dayton TX. She's doing the H.O.G. ABC's of Touring contest and needed a "P" and a "D" along with a few other letters, so we had fun scouting and riding to collect these locations.

The next day, a fellow BMW rider and I headed down to Galveston for an early morning ride and breakfast. Along the way, we passed through Santa Fe, and stopped to snap a photo of my bike and flag in front of the beautiful historic Santa Fe School District building. It was a rainy day, but it didn't matter. We had the whole day with each other, doing something we both enjoyed doing. We continued down Highway 6 toward Galveston and had a delightful morning watching the seagulls, sipping fruit smoothies and getting to know each other.

We reluctantly began heading toward Houston, running into heavy rains along the way. We pulled into a gas station and stood huddled together beneath the overhang, dripping wet, but laughing at our plight. As we got further north on Highway 288 and close to my exit, I moved to the right lane, and he pulled up along side me and we waved to each other, made the telephone hand signal, telling each other to call and report that we'd each gotten home safely. Sadly, this will be my last memory of him. He died the following Sunday in a tragic motorcycle accident. I will forever see his smile and wave in my memory.

Next entry: Collecting major points in the northwest.