bardicvoice (bardicvoice) wrote,

2004: Biker Babes' California Dreamin', Part Four

 September 21, Tuesday: Solgohachia, AR


Mom actually let us sleep in until 6:20 this morning – a new record!


We took the two hour drive east and a little north to see Mom’s brother Reuben (called Shorts) and his wife Jackie in Solgohachia. We spent the bulk of the day with them, catching up on family and a home-cooked dinner of chicken and dumplings (Terry was watching carefully to record the recipe!), green beans, Shorts’ trademark corn bread, and a cobbler made with wild muscadine grapes. Yum!


Both Shorts and Jackie looked great. He’s bounced back well from heart surgery, and she came through chemo with flying colors. Their son, Beau, who’s restricted to a wheelchair, lives in his maternal grandmother’s house a few miles away, and Shorts and Jackie spend a couple of hours each day helping him out. Their daughter Vickie, an artist living in Dallas with her husband John, has been having some intestinal troubles and will probably be having surgery soon. Vickie had been disappointed that we hadn’t brought the bike down to Dallas this trip, but it was just too far south for the time we had, and we’re planning a Texas run one of these days. Their other son, Chris, shares a house in Florida with his helpmate Fred, and Shorts had just gotten back on Sunday from helping Chris and Fred with cleanup and minor repairs after the hurricanes this season. Chris has been living with AIDS for 23 years now and needs crutches to walk, but he’s a brilliant cook who really should have been a chef.


We had a great visit and a lot of laughs. They still have the black poodle named Belle whom we met on our first biker trip, although at 8 years old, she’s fatter, slower, and more grey. Their other dog is a young yellow labrador whom Jackie rescued as a stray, named Canyon for Fremont Canyon, where Jackie found her. Canyon was exiled to the yard because she was just too excited to listen to or obey even simple commands, but Belle was a sweetheart who was fierce in defense of Jackie. If you went to hug Jackie, even if you’d just been petting Belle, the dog would bark fiercely on the automatic assumption that the hug was an attack. Maybe it was a good thing that Terry and I were wearing chaps!


We left about 16:45 and got back to our hotel at 18:45. Mom and I went for a swim and a spa session while Terry decided just to rest. We had a good laugh on the highway from a John Deere advertising billboard: the billboard showed a picture of a piece of Deere equipment, with the caption, “Here, kitty, kitty ...”  One in the eye for their big competitor, Caterpillar!


September 22, Wednesday: Fort Smith, AR to Kansas City, MO


It was another glorious day for the ride, bright and sunny with a steady breeze that kept it from getting too hot. The 540 North from Fort Smith was a beautiful highway with gorgeous scenery. The hills of the Arkansas Ozarks deserve their reputation for being scenic: every time we topped a hill or rounded a curve we saw another expansive vista.


We picked up 71 when the 540 ran out, and spent most of the day on it. It was a funny road, sometimes a divided interstate, and sometimes a one-lane-each-way. Right on the outskirts of the pretty community of Bella Vista, a major project is under way to widen the highway. They are doing some serious blasting, but fortunately for us, the blasting delays weren’t due to begin until at least half an hour after we’d gone by.


By 11:00, we knew that we were only about two hours out of Kansas City, and since we knew that the bike was due for an oil change, we decided to press straight on to our hotel, offload out luggage, get to the Harley dealer, and then look for food in the vicinity.


We found our hotel in Lee’s Summit without any difficulty, but the Harley dealer proved a little trickier because construction on the highway closed a key ramp and threw us off. Still, we got there a bit after 14:15, to find that the Blue Springs dealership was celebrating a birthday, complete with a decorated sheet cake topped with a little toy Harley! We didn’t have any cake, though – there were no restaurants in walking distance of the dealership, so we decided to go for dinner to the Outback Steakhouse next to our hotel, and that meant keeping big appetites.


They finished the bike around 15:30. As we were suiting up to leave, my helmet ate my glasses; the left earpiece broke clean off the temple stem. We went in search of an optical shop, and found Glenn Optical in Independence, MO. The shop optician was a sweetheart. Because my lenses are no-line bifocals, he guessed that trying to put my current lenses into new frames would be a bad idea even if he had frames that would fit them, because the angles and height might be wrong. He suggested trying to replace the temple piece instead, and went hunting in his store for an old one that might do. He came up with a solid tortoiseshell piece that actually works quite well; I’m a little lopsided, but not enough to cause any difficulty. When I asked what I owed him, he waved me off, saying that it was just an old piece. We thanked him profusely and gave him a big wave when we drove off.


That had killed enough time for Outback to be open, so we went back to the hotel, dropped off helmets, jackets, and chaps, and went out to dinner. We split the Bushman mushrooms, and Mom and I split a salmon dinner while Terry had the Rockhampton ribeye steak. It was yummy as always, and we headed back fro a swim.


As we walked in the door, however, the lady desk clerk, seeing us, jokingly asked when she was getting a ride; she said she’d never been on a motorcycle and had always wondered. That was all Terry needed to make the offer, and the next thing the clerk – whose name was Sonia White – knew, she was sitting in the sidecar wearing Mom’s helmet and a huge grin. Terry took her around the neighborhood, and halfway through the ride, transferred her to the back seat. I took pictures, and promised to email them to her. She told me to send them to her boss as well, so they could be included in the Hampton newsletter. (Sent them, by the way: never did hear back, though.)


We had a lovely swim and a nice time in the hot tub, and then planned tomorrow, when we’ll do all the sightseeing we kind of missed today. We’ll go to the Harley plant to take the tour and raid the gift shop, and also visit the Pony Express National Memorial in St. Joseph.


September 23, Thursday: Kansas City, St Joseph, and Independence, MO


Today was our day to play tourist. We started out with the Harley-Davidson plant at 8:00, went on to the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, and finished off with the National Trails Historical Museum in Independence. It was a day for learning!


The KC Harley plant was something to see. This is the newest plant, which assembles Sportsters, Dynas, and V-Rods, and which also assembles the Revolution engines for the V-Rods. Jobs at the plant are coveted: for the 20 openings they had last year, they had 8,000 applicants.


There are a lot of differences between this plant and York, the only other one I’ve toured. The only chain-driven line is the automated one that carries frames and parts into the painting booth. The actual assembly lines have the structures riding on frames that the workers can adjust with a foot pedal to raise or lower the assembly, so they don’t have to bend or stretch to add parts. If they need to lift heavy pieces, they can use ergonomic assistance devices that reduce the weight of a part from 79 or 80 pounds down to 8 to 10 pounds. The amount of robotics is astonishing, and watching the robots work – from laser cutters to die presses to welders, sanders, and buffers – is amazing. One sanding robot working on gas tanks pauses between the various grades of sandpaper to take readings on whether the finish is within the required tolerances for the next operation, and will continue the current level if it’s not ready to go on to the next. Wow!


There were a lot of statistics thrown out that I don’t remember, including how many pieces are involved in the assembly of the different bikes. Some things that I do remember are that the V-Rod has only a four-gallon tank – I know a few places we were in the desert on this trip that someone shouldn’t take a V-Rod!


We picked up pretty American flag/eagle tour shirts to commemorate our visit, and then headed up the road around 9:50 toward the Pony Express museum in St. Joseph.


That was another neat one! The museum is in the actual building used as the original Pony Express station. The barn even has a hand-dug well, which archaeologists discovered in 1991, and which has been restored to working condition (it had been filled in with cinders and rubble after a city municipal water system was installed many years ago). There is a short film about the 19-month duration of the Pony Express service, along with other displays about the men who started it and those who rode for it. You can even transfer the special mail pouch they used from one saddle to another, and hop on board to feel what it was like to sit a saddle with 20 pounds of mail packed into four pockets draped over it. A tableau eternally captures a rider about to depart. This is a very small museum, but well worth the $4 admission (even less with AAA).


We met a retired couple also touring the museum, who told us that they had sold their house, distributed heirlooms to their kids, bought a motor home, and spent the last two years on the road seeing America. Way to go!

We learned that Dick Cheney was campaigning in downtown St. Joseph today, so we planned our course to avoid downtown like the plague as we headed one stop further north to eat lunch at Cracker Barrel.


After lunch, we headed back south and east toward Independence and our last museum of the day, the National Frontier Trails Museum. We didn’t get all the way through this one before it closed for the day, for two reasons: first, AAA seriously miscalculated when they said that 30 minutes to an hour was sufficient (we decided that whoever wrote that one doesn’t actually read exhibits they walk through, or listen to recordings in the exhibits!); and second, AAA didn’t mention the availability of a wagon ride. We took the ride, which was short but fascinating. The wagon was a simplified modern version of a prairie schooner, pulled by two Missouri mules (did you know that the first mules up here were actually brought from Mexico, when Santa Fe still belonged to Mexico?) named Harry A. Truman and Edward – well, I missed the last name, but he was Truman’s business partner. Harry and Ed stepped out briskly on rubberized hooves, drawing us along a stretch of the Santa Fe trail. The town has paved the road, but has left it as close as possible to its original state – it’s a single lane (ironically enough, however, one way going the wrong way!) which occupies the swale worn down by the all the wagons heading west. A wagon swale is, literally, the path worn down by wagons going west, and the Santa Fe Trail is fully five feet lower than the land to either side! Tens of thousands of wagons left Independence every month.


Our driver was full of stories about not only the trail west, but also the pre- and post-Civil War period, with the virtual war that was waged between Kansas and Missouri for years both before and after the major conflict. Both sides were brutal and guilty of atrocities, and many of these explained why, in the post-war years, Frank and Jesse James were considered heroes in Missouri for stealing from the mostly Union banks and trains. When they stole the money, they also took the rest of a bank’s notes, including liens and mortgages, making it impossible for the banks either to sell liens and mortgages or to foreclose on them. Is it any wonder that, when Frank James was arrested and taken to Independence for trial, he was greeted with a parade and acquitted of all charges? Bit of a biased venue problem ...


The museum itself relies a lot on firsthand accounts from letters and diaries to convey the experience of traders along the Santa Fe trail and pioneers along the Oregon (and related Mormon) trail to Oregon and California. The museum splits its exhibits to run separately down those two different tracks.


The gift shop had some really neat-looking books, not that any of them would have fit on the bike!


An afterthought on the Pony Express: I hadn’t realized before the importance of the Civil War to the southern and central trails west. The South was able to control the Santa Fe trail, with all of its trade potential. The Pony Express used the shorter but much more difficult central route, risking snowstorms and Indian attacks, and the North used that route as well because it was more secure for their purposes.

There’s also an apocryphal story that attributes the development of the doughnut to the Pony Express. As the story goes, the young ladies flirting with handsome Johnny Fry, the first Pony Express rider to depart Independence, would bake cookies and pastries to give him along the way, but since he couldn’t slow his horse, they baked them with a hole in the middle so that he could grab them, hold them, and eat them at the gallop!


All day we flirted with the cold front that was marching storms from west to east, but we got nothing more than mist, and that all of twice: as we pulled up at the Pony Express stable, and just before we reached the Frontier Trails museum. We didn’t really even get wet.


September 24, Friday: Kansas City to St. Louis, MO


We made the four-hour or so run to the Gateway to the West. We were following the front that had passed east yesterday, and the weather was delightful for riding. We started with the fleece, but shed them at our MacDonald’s morning stop. Up until the last gas stop before that morning break, we rode with a particularly lovely sky: the sun rising amid clouds, bracketed by parenthetical rainbows at our 11:00 and 1:00 high positions. It was as if the sun were surrounded by a complete circle of rainbow, of which we could see only the two opposing arcs. On the right, it ran, left to right, ROYGBIV: on the right, it was reversed. It stayed consistently in the sky for over 90 minutes. Wow.


As we approached St. Louis, we saw the opposite side of the highway entirely shut down, and then saw what looked suspiciously like a Presidential motorcade speeding down it, heading the opposite direction from us, praise be – the backups we could see on the ramps and the feeder streets we huge. We figured it had to be either Bush or Cheney.


We ran past St. Louis and the Gateway Arch on our way to our hotel in Collingsville, IL. The traffic in St. Louis was nasty, but we kept with our original plan to do the Arch after a lunch at Ruby Tuesday.


Getting back in to the Arch was simple and relatively painless. There’s a parking structure right near the Arch and we parked on the top level, getting a couple of shots of the bike with the Arch in the background.


We walked to the Arch, getting a little additional treat in the fly-by of three B-1 bombers. Alas, but I just wasn’t quick enough to get the shot of the three planes framed within the curve of the Arch. It stands alone, with a pretty good-sized museum build underground beneath it. The museum was running an exhibit on the Lewis & Clark expedition. There are two movie theaters, but we didn’t buy tickets for either of them. We chose to buy tickets for the 15:00 tram to the top of the Arch, and then for the 16:30 riverboat cruise.

The tram is a trip! A combination elevator, rack railway, and cable car, it’s divided into seven tiny cars like minisubs, with 5 seats crammed inside around the not-quite-circular car. The cars are oblongs rather than spheres. There are small windows in the narrow, 4.5-foot high doors, through which you can see some of the Arch’s internal structure as well as the switchbacking stairway that also goes all the way up. If you’re claustrophobic, don’t take this ride! The cars sometimes tilt on gimbals as the track runs partially sideways up the curve; sometimes they’re going straight up. It’s weird.


At the top, the cars leave you off near the top of the staircase, and you walk up into the top of the curve, which is lined on both sides with small, long, narrow windows. The walls slope up to the windows and are carpeted to that you can comfortably lean right up against them to get a good vantage through the windows. The view is incredible: on a clear day you can see 30 miles. We weren’t quite that bright and clear, but it was still neat. And the ride was a kick! We went down the opposite side from the one we came up.


When we came down, we spent about 20 minutes exploring the lovely museum, and then made our way out of the Arch and down the granite steps to the Mississippi River and the riverboat docks. The riverboat tour was an hour long, and very interesting. We got to see grain barges being loaded, and another barge being filled with scrap metal. We got the history of the bridges across the river – the Eads bridge was built in 1874 and is still in use, and has been put on the roster of historic places. We also got great vantages from the river of the city and the Arch, and I kept my fingers crossed that some of those pictures would turn out despite the lowering light as clouds moved in and the sun went west.


After the cruise, we came back to our hotel for a swim and a dip in the hot tub. Last night’s hotel won best bathroom fan: this one won best spa of the trip. This spa had air jets absolutely everywhere, so no matter where you sat, every part of you got massaged.


Tomorrow, we ride home.


Oh – as we departed the Arch and hit the MLK bridge over the Mississippi, the odometer on the bike clicked over to 50,001 miles!


September 25, Saturday: St. Louis, MO to Milwaukee, WI


Well, we’ve done it: 5,689.5 miles is the official record for the trip. The final odometer reading was 50,390.6.


We pulled out at about 7:30 for the run home. Yesterday and the day before, as we traveled, we noted that a few of the farmers along the way already had their corn in. Today, as we ran through Illinois and Wisconsin, we saw every farmer who hadn’t already finished this corn harvest out in the fields, taking advantage of the fine weather to bring in the crops. There was furious activity on all sides.


There was also more color in the trees we passed. In Arkansas, we’d seen the color in the hills; here we saw it even on the flat. Fall has definitely arrived.

The ride was gorgeous most of the way, once the sun got above the early clouds, but we never took off our fleece shirts and that proved a blessing as we drew near to Milwaukee, because we saw from a long way off the clouds that brewed above Lake Michigan and the eastern part of the state. It would have been a chilly ride at the end under the clouds if not for our lovely black fleece Harley shirts!


But most of the day was sunny, and perfect for riding. We saw a lot of other bikers on the road, including some obvious large groups out for the Saturday morning ramble. Perfection!


The day had several amusements and echoes of previous rides in it. Our morning MacDonald’s apple snack and gas stop was in Springfield, waving distance from our very first trip hotel enroute to Branson. Lunch was at Delaney’s in La Salle, IL, the place we ate last year on the way to Rockford, where Mike and Mary’s bike wouldn’t start again once lunch was done. (Just to be safe, we parked our bike in a different spot than the one they had used ... <grin>) Our last gas stop before Milwaukee was the BP in New Rochelle beside the Iron Skillet where we’d eaten our first road breakfasts on both the Branson trip and this one. We’re establishing Illinois traditions for our trips west and south!


We really luxuriated in this last day of the ride. We reached Milwaukee in time to offload the luggage, grab a potty stop, and go to church for the 4:30 anticipatory service. Of course, we went to church on the bike in our leathers. After the mass, Father Turner, Mom and Terry’s pastor, was really funny: standing outside the church chatting with parishioners, he crossed himself when he saw us coming! We had a good laugh.


We stopped to gas up and buy milk (and 3 powerball tickets, but no joy), and then went on to the official, traditional last stop of the ride: Leon’s custard. Terry had her customary jumbo heavy chocolate marshmallow malt, while Mom and I had hot fudge sundaes. And with those, the ride was over.


After all the miles we did, Terry will need new tires on the sidecar and the front wheel, so the bike will be going back to the House. It spent almost the entire month of July there with engine trouble, so our totally trouble-free trip was a very fortunate thing. I think the bike likes taking trips as much as we do!

Tags: harley, motorcycle diaries, real life, travelogue

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