My apology for a late blog; I became occupied with a family matter, then time was critical.
Its 351 days to Memorial Day. The status of Harley Tracks Tales is the only factor to determine how I will attend the next Rolling Thunder. My hope is to join the NVAR riders in California for the full ride. The ride across America and gathering in Washington D.C. are powerful events. I was honored to be counted among those in attendance demanding our government account for, and retrieve, POW’s and MIA’s from all wars. Its also a time to acknowledge and pay respect to all veterans. Sunday’s Protest Ride rolled out of the Pentagon parking lots for four hours. A message carried on the soulful beat of thunderous motorcycles filled the atmosphere of D.C. – over half million people together for the same reason is a humbling, and encouraging experience.
On Monday morning (Memorial Day), Mike and I saluted the departure of the remaining group we had grown close to on our ride. Then, I called my parents, and thanked Dad for his service. I bid Mike farewell and left on my solo ride north. The air was crisp, but the sunshine was brilliant for an enjoyable ride to NYC. After squeezing through a traffic jam before the Holland Tunnel, I rolled, without further delay, through Manhattan, Brooklyn, and right up to my friend’s office in Queens. Not bad for a first time entry. (Kenny Lee was working overtime on this sacred holiday.) Other than a little grey on each of our heads, he looked no different than 13 years ago when we worked together in South China. After two nights of visiting, with a rainy day trip to Ground Zero and Central Park in between, I left with the intention to blog from Boston.
On a stop in Cape Cod, I returned a missed call from my brother. My Dad died. I caught the first morning flight out of Boston to join my family in Fargo. Following days in grief and celebration, I returned to my ride. It was now important to make a swift journey home. My planned route was still practical, but only a fraction of time would be available for leisure. In a five hour blur tour of Boston, I met with first responders, visited the North Church, walked on the Freedom Trail, got close to the USS Consititution, and boarded Ryan’s 87 foot Coast Guard Cutter. The “Flying Fish” is a high tech vessel, and I’m sworn to secrecy regarding its capabilities. One bit of de-classified techonology is a surprising new piece of equipment on board; a vacuum cleaner now relieves some of the laborious tasks of swabbing decks.
Early Tuesday morining I laid my first tracks across New England’s trails. I sailed north, past Londonderry, and Derry, into New Hampshire for a pass through Laconia. Vendors were busy setting up for Bike Week, to begin the following Saturday, and they will no doubt have a good time without me. The high impact site is actually at Weirs Beach, between Laconia and Meredith. A great location, and I will return. After a short howdy-do at the H-D shop (where I met Arron at the parts counter – who is waiting for a reply regarding his re-enlistment and entrance into SEAL training – go with God Arron, but fight like the devil.), I followed a great two-lane highway southeast. I roll through forested hills, dotted with clear blue lakes recently cleared of winter’s ice – a fantastic ride.
Good friends, Billy and Kelly, of my good friend, Howie in California, invited me to stay at their place in Ogunquit, Maine. It was a perfect afternoon for our ride out to the old lighthouse, and grilled steaks that evening were delicious. On my return to Laconia, we will enjoy more time together. Highway 201, leading to the Canadian Border is definitely a joy in 6th gear. Sunshine illuminated the forest and crystal clear waters. Stunning scenery was endless along rivers and across a vast expanse of mountain wilderness. The Fat Boy ran like a Milwaukee clock, and I was in my element. It’s a great day for this ride, but as Billy warned, and highway signs confirm, moose and deer rule the night, and bears will scavenge road kill, or the wounded rider!
Canada welcomed me with few questions, and I was soon crosssing a new super-structure spanning the great St. Lawrence Seaway. (Alongside, and slightly lower is an equally impressive iron structure of an earlier era, still used to carry traffic and rail service.) I’ve dreamt of seeing this natural wonder since childhood, and I was not disappointed. From an observation deck on the Quebec City side, I gazed across a wide flow originating near my friend’s home along the St. Johns River in Fond Du Lac, Wisconson – south of Duluth and Superior. For my enjoyment, a vessel riding high on the water easliy crusied past into the strong current against a heavy headwind. She clears the bridges with room to spare. I wanted to spend the afternoon watching the river flow, but time refused to stop and I was determined to put Montreal behind me before dark.
The next day was a long ride with a handful of throttle – in a cold rain to North Bay. This Canadian trail cuts through a lower expanse of North America’s greatest wilderness. A course due north from along this trail could reach the Arctic Circle without proximity to civilazation. As the east fell behind me, it got drier and more enjoyable. Scenery changes from wilderness to farmland, rolling over hills, past lakes and rivers, and into more wilderness. Gas stations are spaced “conveniently”, but I would not push reliance on reserve (remember the bears.) I stopped for lunch in a remote town built with historic character, and all the amenities for the tourist and sportsman. At its center, with the lake behind it, is a small memorial for WW I, WW II, and Korean War Veterans. We hear so little about Canada’s involvement, yet, Canadians gave, and many gave all for our shared freedom.
That evening, with over 500 miles behind me, I think I crossed back onto American soil in Sault St. Marie. I had stopped so often in so many places in the past weeks that days and locations became irrelevant – it was whatever time it was, and I was wherever I was at. Since leaving Washington, if I wasn’t riding, I was visiting with friends or sleeping. Any late night attempt to focus on a computer monitor was useless.
In the morning, I checked out the Soo Locks where vessels to 1,000 feet in length are raised or lowered in minutes for onward passage. In conversation with three tourists from Lower Michigan, I was invited to join them for a special walking tour of the international border bridge. It was a generous offer, but they were understanding and gave me a rain check. Back to the empty street, I find a yound man about five years old checking out my bike. A young woman is explaining to him in sign language how the big machine rolls on. I introduce myself to Gabe and offer him a sit in the saddle. His mom hoists him in place for a special treat. I point out the start button and he brings the bike to life. Then, I show him how to twist the throttle. Engine vibes send a smile to his face that melts my heart. Who knows what dreams might come from that moment?
Michigan’s northwest shoreline is a sailor’s paradise with plent of open water and safe harbor. Some of these guys sharpen their skills on winter ice boats to become rock stars on the summer E-scow sailboat racing circuit. At national events, I have been humbled by their expertise. Over the highways, lone riders, pairs, and large groups were heading to a party somewhere, and they’ll likely have a good time without me too. After a stop at the Mason County Vietnam Memorial, I arrived in Muskegon to meet up with Doc and Bao Anh, good friends I met on their wedding day in Vietnam. Their campaign for awareness to Agent Orange has its own chapter in my book of Trail Tales. Unfortunately, we only have the evening to catch up, but any time together is cherished. In the morning I take the express ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee.
Of course I stopped at the Harley Davidson Museum to gander, and drool, at all the vintage iron. Encased in nuclear proof plexiglass is a 1903 model with #1 stamped on many parts; I dropped to my knees in homage. Farther along my walk, I bowed in praise to the Flattys, the Knuckles, the Panheads, and most reverently, to the first year of the Fat Boy. The replicas of the Easyrider bikes of Wyatt and Billy were equally impressive.
In the parking lot of the Museum I met an Aussie, and sorry mate, but I already forgot your name. In typical fashion, he’s full of jolly trail tales. He hails from Perth and visits the US frequently to buy a bike each time for another motorcycle adventure. Alaskan Park Rangers, and the threats of bear or wild truck drivers, do nothing to deter his direction. He inspires me.
At 4:30 p.m., I leave on the final leg of my journey; home is just seven hours up the road. The ride is a little chilly at times, but hot chocolate at each gas stop brings relief. As remaining miles get lower, the speedo needle climbs higher. After 24 days on the road, I rolled into Minneapolis at 11 p.m.
This ride across America in the spirit of freedom was filled with emotional ups and downs. I had no expectations, but found fulfillment and plenty of surprises. It was a fitting climax to an awareness some years earlier on a remote trail in Vietnam.
Now, I look forward to concentrated time in re-writing drafts of my Harley Tracks manuscript. I’ve enrolled in a workshop that could possibly prepare it for print within a year, but is not relevant. A proper presentation is the priority.