Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 28 - End of the Road

Sunday, September 23, 2007 ------------- Day 1 of this log is here

John and I arose just before 7am, got our stuff together, and headed out for our final day on the road. I wanted to get home in time to meet Terry for lunch after church, and John agreed to run the freeways today to make that possible. The weather was beautiful - blue skies, a few clouds and just crisp enough to make riding with the leather jacket comfortable. No hassles at all today. We pulled over just before reaching I-270 at Columbus to shake hands and bring the trip to an official end.

We had clocked just over 8,000 miles in 28 days, and stopped for gas 57 times. I'd guess we spent something like 200 hours in the saddle, and yet rode in only one serious rain (in Yellowstone), and one other drizzle (Austin) that caused us to put rain gear on. Rain followed us in many places, but we rode pretty much the whole trip in the sun. Few bikers will experience a stretch of good weather like this.

As I was taking the bags off the bike upon arriving home, I was reminded how I thought several times during the trip that the daily ritual of uncovering my bike, untethering the security cable, and mounting the bags, which includes cinching up various straps and buckles, is much like the process of getting a horse prepared for a day's ride. In the evening, you reverse the process. This routine connected me in some small way to the pioneers who got up every morning, saddled up their horses, and took off into the unknown. John said I won't know how to act tomorrow when I can get up and go without packing clothes into bags and bags onto the bike. Probably a little like those folks from the past when they said "This place will be our home."

One of the most special aspects of this ride was getting to spend a month with big sister Pat and her husband Buss. Motorcycle riding is an interesting activity in that you spend the entire day together, yet you are alone in your thoughts, as it is all but impossible to communicate while riding. We'd have a flurry of conversation when we stopped for gas, but wouldn't really get a chance to talk until we stopped for meals, and in the evening. This trip wasn't really about talking -- it was about sharing an experience -- one of a kind that very few are lucky enough to have. I'm really glad I got to share it with you, BS.

And special thanks to long-time riding partner, John Bennett. This trip was John's dream and idea. It is the second long trip we've taken together - the other was a 5,500 mile outing in 2001 which included Sturgis, Colorado, New Mexico and back on Route 66. We've also gone to Milwaukee a couple of times, and to Rolling Thunder in DC. And on scores of shorter rides. My guess is that we've probably ridden something like 20,000 miles together. We share many of the same interests (ships, trains, bikes), and can ride together for days without getting on each other's nerves (too much). Such friends are rare. Thanks JB

Terry, my wife. You are a blessing to me every day, and I love you. Thank you for allowing me to be gone for a month, and for taking care of all the stuff here at home. Next time take in a boyfriend who will mow the grass...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 27

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our first objective of the day was to run across Tupelo and take a look at the house Elvis was born in. It is about the size of a two car garage. You can pay a few bucks and go in, but we weren't that interested...

Then we jumped in the Natchez Trace Parkway to run the remaining half. While the road is smooth, pretty level, with easy curves and therefore very easy to ride, it's mostly a tree tunnel. Because today was Saturday, there were more folks on the road, but we could pretty much ride at our own pace. We finished off the picnic supplies for lunch, and within a couple of hours, reached the northern terminus at Nashville.

From there we jumped on the interstate. We started the day in Mississippi, touched a corner of Alabama, crossed Tennessee, and ended the day in Elizabethtown KY, south of Louisville.

We grabbed dinner at the Crackerbarrel, then said so long to Pat & Buss, who wanted to camp tonight, and tomorrow will head east to Charleston while John and I go north to Columbus.

Hard to believe tomorrow is the last day of this incredible journey...

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 26

Friday, September 21, 2007

New Mexico gets my vote as having the smoothest roads. Louisiana has the worst. It was a constant thumping and jumping as we ran the 50 miles north on I-55 from Hammond, LA. It was a welcome relief to cross over into Mississippi and hit smooth pavement.

We jumped on the Natchez Trace Parkway at Mile 0 in Natchez. The first big chunk of the ride was very cool, with our three bikes running pretty much alone. The speed limit is 50mph, and the curves are all so gentle that John said he never had to kick off his cruise control (yes, you can get cruise control on a motorcycle). As we came close to larger towns, such as Jackson MS, you could tell that the locals used the Trace as their own freeway, and they pretty much ignored the speed limit. It sure broke the mood.

The hotel was a little hard to find in Tupelo, but we made it about 8pm after running half the Trace. We ordered pizza and had a nice planning session for our last couple of days. It looks like we'll ride with Pat & Buss until Lexington KY, then they'll head toward Charleston while John and I close out the trip in Columbus.

Enjoy the movies from the Trace!

DAY 27

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 25

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Our journey today was a short 287 miles, but it felt like more. We started out from Westlake LA after spending a restful night at the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel. The first 150 miles or so was an easy ride on the I-10 freeway. Then we reached the causeway over the southwestern edge of Lake Pontchartrain and traffic came to a halt. Turns out the DOT was striping the road. Seems like they could have found a better time.

After a quick stop at the HD dealer on the outskirts of New Orleans, we headed into the city. John served as our tour guide, taking us to the St Charles district as well as the French Quarter. For some reason, they don't let bikes park around there, so we just rode around taking in the sights. It was hot and humid, and we soon decided to get out of the city.

When we got back to the previously mentioned causeway, traffic was stopped again. I thought it was incredibly bad luck to get caught again by the stripers, but after a half-dozen police cars and a couple of squad trucks roared by on the berm, we knew it was an accident. We were stuck for a good while - maybe an hour.

Then when we finally got to move, the shifter peg fell off my bike. I pulled the bike over, and since traffic was still moving slowly, I could walk back, stop traffic, retrieve the peg, and reinstall it. However, John and Buss were now far ahead with no place to pull over to wait for me. We had already communicated our next stop, and I could run down the freeway with confidence that eventually I would catch up with them. It's good to ride with experienced and trusted friends.

Dinner was special tonight. Besides the fact that we actually had a dinner (last night was peanuts and crackers), we connected up with John's friends, Noel and Joyce Binder. Noel was a crewman on the USS Kearsarge (CV-33), the ship on which John also served, and both are members of the ship association. They took us to a place called Catfish Joe's, where we had what we all thought was the best meal of the trip. I even had gator as a starter. They were great company as well. Good to have met them.

We have now officially started the final side of the square, and are heading towards home. We had a group discussion last night, and decided to forgo Mobile and Pensacola and instead run the Natchez Trace from Natchez MS to Nashville. John had long wanted to do this, and Buss heard it was a good run as well. We also have some serious rain coming in from the Atlantic to the Gulf that would likely intercept us in Florida if we continue east. So we'll be heading to Natchez in the morning.

Total mileage for the trip is now just over 7,000, and we are less than 1,000 to home according to my mapping software. My rear tire, which was installed new before we left, is now down to about 4/32nds of tread.

My butt feels the same way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 24

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We left our motel in Columbus TX at about 9am to make the 60 mile ride into Houston and the NASA Johnson Space Center. To save time, we took the outerbelt, called the Sam Houston Freeway, around the south side of the city. We knew the Sam Houston is a toll road, and the normal strategy is to have the lead bike pay the toll for everyone. So John got the job today.

Little did we know that there is a toll booth every few miles. Apparently the charge is by the axle, so John and Buss had to pay for three axles each, and two axles for me. It made for lengthy stops at each booth. Paying tolls is a real pain on a bike, and I think the USDOT should just say bikes get to go through for free. During the Harley 100th Anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, the tens of thousands of bikers coming through Chicago clogged the toll booths on I-94 for hours. This is a good assignment for the American Motorcycle Association.

The Johnson Space Center visit was interesting, but also a little disappointing. The visitor center is a little too commercial for me. You have to pay $5 to park, and $18 to get in, plus another $5 if you want the audio tour devices. Then if you want to play with the lunar lander simulator, it's another $10 or so. They run a tram tour through the center, and before you get on they tell you they have to take your picture 'for security purposes.' Of course, when you return from the tour, they offer to sell you the picture for $15 (wallet sizes also available).

But at least you get to see a couple of very interesting things: a) the Mission Control Center where all space missions through Apollo were managed; b) the mock-up center where all the segments of the International Space Station are set up for training; and, c) an entire Saturn V vehicle.

Then we rode over to the USS Texas, the only surviving World War I era battleship. This was the highlight of the day. Bummer that the engineering spaces were closed for refurbishment, but we had a blast touring the rest of the ship.

We then headed east on I-10, having made hotel reservations in Lake Charles. But when we got to the hotel, it was in a bad neighborhood, our room had a chirping smoke detector, and the door handle came off in my hand. We bailed out, and after a couple of tries, we found some nice rooms in a hotel attached to a casino.

By our planned route, we are now 1,500 miles from home. Seems like a lot, but seems like a short hop now.

Off to New Orleans in the morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 23

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We made it to Columbus!

Columbus Texas that is. We're 70 miles east of Houston, having ridden a solid 400 miles today from Big Spring TX.

First thing out of the chute, Buss noticed that a tire was going flat on his trailer. Fortunately he carries a spare and it took only a few minutes to change the tire and get on the road. The first 3/4ths of the trip was classic Texas ranch country, gradually turning from desert to grasslands.

We stopped for lunch in Fredricksburg, a little slice of Germany in the middle of Texas. Some folks were even conversing in German in the bier und brats place were we ate. Didn't even have a Texas drawl to it.

It was hectic getting across Austin, especially since rain clouds boiled up and prompted us to pull on the rainsuits. Although it poured for a couple of minutes, we probably could have hidden under a gas station canopy for 10-15 minutes and avoided getting wet altogether.

You can tell that we're getting into a more heavily populated area. I suspect we've seen the last of the wide open prairie as we transition into the Gulf coast region. One thing is for sure, the humidity is back!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 22

Monday, September 17, 2007

Today was a big shorter than yesterday, but still challenging. We left Alamogordo NM in overcast conditions, so I pulled on the pants of the rainsuit just I could stay dry if a storm brewed up. At the beginning of the trip, it felt pretty comfortable as we crested a 7,000 ft pass through the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. At that point the terrain ceased being desert and turned into pine trees other flora of the Rockies.

Our lunch stop was in Roswell NM, site of an long-rumored alien spacecraft crash in 1947. We grabbed some HD shirts with aliens on them of course. Roswell is not really the quaint little tourist trap I imagined. It's a small city of which the alien stuff plays a minor part.

I was leading today, and made a mistake at Roswell. None of us thought about getting gas, and we ended up leaving town with partially filled tanks, a big no-no out here. The stress level went up every time we crested a knoll and saw another 10-20 miles ahead of us with no evidence of humanity other than ranch entrances and oil wells. I thought it would be very ironic to run out of gas in a middle of a large oil field (all were pumping by the way). We'd see town names on mileage signs, but when we got there the town might be nothing more than a couple of shacks. Finally, with about a gallon left in my tank (it holds five), we hit Tatum NM and gassed up.

As we rolled into Texas, the terrain became flat rangeland with nary a tree, but plenty more oil wells. Our stop point is Big Spring TX, with a refinery ahead of us, and a ridge full of wind turbines behind us. Opposite ends of the energy spectrum...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 21

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The day started with a quick 30 mile ride to the site a retired Titan Missile Launch Complex south of Tucson. I had always wanted to go down into one of these things, and I'm quite sure I'll not be close to one again for some time. After the tour, I told John that this thing was like a "land submarine" in that the crew went down in a hole and stayed isolated, but self-sufficient, until the order came to launch their nuclear weapon. As our tour guide - a former launch crew commander - said, "the order never came." And that was the victory. He also said that this kind of warfare works only when the parties have rational governments. I guess that was his two cents worth on today's global situation.

After leaving the missile museum, we ran through the eastern edge of Tucson to see the aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The boneyard is huge, and you can't see much from the fence. Google Earth is the better way to see what's there.

Our goal was Alamogordo New Mexico, and we made it, but had to ride about an hour in darkness. Along the way we transitioned from the Sonoran Desert, which is pretty green with all the rain of late, to the broad high plain of southwest New Mexico. Leaving Tucson, we dodged some impressive thunderstorms. Because you can see for miles here, and the sky is so clear, it's hard for us to judge how far away they are. Nonetheless, we encountered a fairly small amount of rain. But the clouds blocked the sun for most of the day, making temperatures very comfortable.

Even the ride in the dark from Las Cruces to Alamogordo was nice. The road was straight, smooth, and without a single pothole. Lots of times it gets cold quickly when the sun goes down, but in this case, it remained warm. The only bummer about riding in the dark was that we passed through White Sands Missile Test Range, and I'm sure there was some cool stuff to see.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 20

Saturday, September 15, 2007

This morning we said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean, which had been our constant companion for eight days.

The variety of weather we faced today was pretty comprehensive. We started out in the cool foggy conditions of the Pacific coast. I wore my leather jacket and leather gloves. In less than an hour, we were getting into the California desert, and I could lose the jacket and gloves. The trick we learned riding out here in 2001 was that a long-sleeved white shirt is the best, as it protects you from the sun and wind.

It wasn't enough. By the time we got to the Arizona border at Yuma, the temperature was well over 100 and we were suffering. We were consuming lots of fluids, but still working our way toward dehydration. So at the first roadside rest we found, we dumped water all over ourselves, and took advantage of the evaporative cooling. This worked great, and we stopped every 25 miles or so to soak down again.

Along this part of the route, we noticed these things that looked like segments of a tower that had been laid on their sides and connected by short lengths of chain. They formed a fence, but I had never seen a fence like this. Seems like overkill for cattle, and not much good for keeping anything else from crossing. We finally realized it was the Mexican border after we came to a Border Patrol inspection station.

Then we came into an area of overcast clouds, and the temperature dropped probably 20 degrees. We could see that it was storming -- BIG lightening -- all around us, and that there were mudpuddles in the fields alongside the road, but we stayed dry -- for a while at least. It made for great riding conditions.

As we came to Casa Grande AZ, we stopped for a brief break at a Starbucks, and noticed the winds starting to pick up. We hopped on the bikes to try to get ahead of it, and ended up in a full-blown dust storm.

And finally the rain caught up with us. We caught a few raindrops, but jumped off the first available exit and holed up in a nice convenience store for a few minutes. It poured for a while. The locals said it hadn't rained around here like that since Spring.

The last 20 miles was easy to the hotel just northwest of Tucson. After grabbing dinner at the Denny's next door, we crashed for the night. Total miles for today, about 407.
We are now officially on the third leg of our ride -- the ride back east. The distance between here and home is diminishing every minute.
That feels good.

The Great Bike Ride – Days 18-19

Thursday-Friday, September 13-14, 2007

Sorry for not posting yesterday. The internet connectivity at this place is wretched, so I knew it would be an exercise in frustration to try to upload anything. Today, I found an alternative source of connectivity, and things are much better.

These past two days have been spent in San Diego, so no route map is warranted. My main goal for Thursday was to tour the USS Midway (CV-41), an aircraft carrier which served in the fleet from 1945 until 1992, forty seven years. We spent close to four hours on the ship, touring all the areas open to the public.

Then, at John's suggestion, we took a trolley tour of the city, and I got to see many areas with which I'm unfamiliar.
In the evening, I connected with Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob, and rode up to their place in Rancho Bernardo to have dinner with them. They have a beautiful home on a golf course, and it was great to spend a couple of hours with them.

Friday morning, we took the bikes to the Harley dealer in El Cajon to get oil changes before we start the trek across the desert tomorrow. We had lunch at a great BBQ place in El Cajon, and then returned to San Diego to ride out to the end of Point Loma, again at John's suggestion. This national park is hundreds of feet above the city, and gives a great view of the city, the harbor, North Island Naval Air Station, Coronado and the Pacific Ocean. Lots of things are happening in San Diego this weekend, including something called Yachtfest, sailboat racing trials for the Olympics, and the beginning of Fleet Week by the Navy. We wish we had arrived next week.

But tomorrow we begin heading east, and start the process of shorting the distance to home...

DAY 20

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 17

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Our only real objective today was to reach San Diego. We ran the Pacific Coast Highway from Ventura into Santa Monica, giving everyone a chance to gawk at the houses in Malibu along the way. Unfortunately, there was a traffic jam through much of Malibu, making the trip more tedious than enjoyable.

We stopped in at Bertel's HD in Santa Monica. Nice place but stupid prices - $32 for a decent T-shirt. I don't need another Harley shirt that badly.

We lost John and Diane almost immediately after leaving Bertel's, and we ran about 5-10mph under the speed limit hoping they would catch up. We had set a rally point in San Clemente in case someone got separated, so Buss, Pat and I pulled in as planned. There I found that John had left a message saying he was going to scout around Long Beach a little, his home port when he was in the Navy. He said he found his old apartment.

So the three of us had a nice lunch and made the short run to San Diego and checked in. I'm sitting in the laundry as I write this, waiting for three loads to get done.

We plan on staying three nights in San Diego, checking out the USS Midway, taking a harbor tour, and hopefully connecting up with Aunt Betty and Uncle Bob Lanterman, who live here.

The Great Bike Ride – Day 16

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Everyone reported having a good night's rest at our motel in San Simeon. We packed up the bikes and headed directly to the Heart Castle to spend the morning touring this fantastic home of William Randolph Hearst. Our tour guide was informative and entertaining, as was the movie we watched prior to the tour of the grounds. I was surprised to learn that the family fortune was first created by his father, who after discovering a substantial silver lode, used the money to buy up hundreds of square miles of property on the central California coast for use as a ranch. William Randolph took it from there with his publishing empire, generating the money for not only the Hearst Castle, but six other significant estates around the world.

We decided that we had experienced enough of the tight curves of the coastal highway, and stuck to US 101, a four lane expressway, from San Luis Obispo to Ventura. While the traffic was in heavy in places, it was mostly an easy trip.

We stopped at a rest stop mid-afternoon, and pulled over next to another Harley rider. As I went past, I noticed he had Ohio plates. It turns out that he was from Grove City, another Columbus suburb (where brother Jeff lives), and was doing a very similar trip to us. Small world.

Tomorrow we face the gauntlet of getting through LA and on to San Diego.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 15

Monday, September 10, 2007
We took a leisurely pace getting up and going this morning as there was no use trying to fight rush hour traffic into San Francisco from our motel just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Our first stop was the scenic overlook on the Marin side of the bridge. This overlook was once a gun emplacement for batteries that protected the entry into the Bay.
Once we saw that the traffic had subsided, we crossed the bridge and John led us to a tour of the Presidio (a former Army post), and over the neighborhoods of the western edge of San Francisco, overlooking the ocean. We dropped down onto the beach road, and followed it until we connected with California Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
We stopped at Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay to meet old friend, coworker and boss, Peter Van Camp. The trouble is that we mixed up days, and thought our meeting was tomorrow. Nonetheless, he hustled over from his office (he's the Executive Chairman of Equinix - EQIX), and we got to spend a few minutes together. Thanks Peter!
We headed south on the PCH with no other goal than to reach San Simeon by dark. But the traffic in Santa Cruz was miserable, and the PCH, while incredibly scenic, once again returned to being a twisty two lane road upon which it is impossible to make good time. We never get tired of looking at the Pacific Ocean and the terrain, but these roads are wearing us out. Between here and Cayucos, there is about 25 miles more of these roads, then it becomes more freeway-like for the remainder of the run into Los Angeles.
The evening ended with the sun setting while we still had about 15-20 miles to go. It gets cold, and tonight the fog was rolling from offshore toward land fast enough that we thought it might envelope us. Fortunately the lights of San Simeon came into view and we piled into the motel about 8:30pm. After a fine dinner in the place next door, we crashed for the night.
Oh, and we heard from Jeff today. He stayed in Big Sur last night, and made it to San Juan Capistrano today. Jeff is a retired US Navy Senior Chief Corpsman who spent most of his career with US Marine units. San Juan Capistrano is just north of Camp Pendleton, one of the two major USMC bases in the US. We expect he's connected up with some old Marine buddies and having a good time. Not sure if he'll rejoin us on the run back toward home, but we're relieved he's okay.

The Great Bike Ride – Day 14

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Today marks the end of our second week on the road.

John and Diane were in the parking lot at the Motel 6 when I went out to load up the bike at 8am. Actually, it was more than just loading up the bike. As we were hitting the sack last night, two police cars pulled up, answering some disturbance call in the motel. Feeling a little concerned about all the stuff that can be easily removed from my bike, I decided to remove the windshield and the saddle bags for the night. So in addition to strapping on the T-Bag and two other small duffels I've used all week, the windshield and bags needed to get put back on.

We couldn't raise Jeff this morning, and decided he had elected to go it alone from here on out. John has left him several messages, but he has not responded yet. We have to get Diane to San Diego, so we left town as planned and have continued to try to reach Jeff.

The run down the Pacific Coast Highway began in earnest today. While the view was spectacular, the many curves and hills exhausted us. We ran about 300 miles today, but it felt like much more. We barely made it back over the mountains to US 101 before dark. Fortunately, the Holiday Inn Express in Mill Valley had rooms - great rooms in fact - and we are expecting a much better night's sleep.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 13

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Our journey today was from Coos Bay, Oregon to Eureka, California.

The day started off with a nice breakfast in a little place in Coos Bay, followed by a visit to the Harley dealer to buy some T-shirts. It was pretty foggy when we got up at 7am, but by the time we left the dealer, the fog had burned off. Nonetheless, it was pretty chilly and we all wore layers of clothing to stay warm.

Much of the run this morning was along the spectacular Oregon coast, but we turned up CA state route 199 towards Grant’s Pass as this was recommended to our by our friend and Harley dealer, Carl Becese. He was right. The first hunk of the climb put us in a redwood forest, a new experience for all of us.

After a short run up 199, we returned to US 101 south, and entered the Redwood National Park. The highway runs right through groves of redwoods that tower above you. There is also a more scenic byway through the park, so we of course took it. After losing Jeff, who ran ahead of us, we jumped off the bikes at a trail head and walked a little piece into the redwoods just to get a feeling what it was like to be around them on foot.

It’s pretty humbling. As you can tell from the pictures above, some of the trees had trunk diameters approaching 15 feet, making the circumference close to 50 feet, and stood over 100 feet tall – many much more.

On the south end of the park, we stopped at a nice Mexican place at about 4pm for a late lunch or early dinner.

Once last stretch on to Eureka and we arrived at our hotel, a Motel 6 that I had reserved while in Coos Bay. Jeff had gotten here well ahead of us and checked into a Super 8. John took an immediately dislike to the place and went down the road to stay at the Super 8 with Jeff. At least that’s where he was going when we last saw him. Pat, Buss and I stayed at the Motel 6. Hope we reconnect in the morning.

The next planned stop is the Bay Area. Probably in Marin County.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 12

Friday, September 7, 2007

The day started with a short run up to the Evergreen Aviation Museum. While there are many nice planes on display there, the star is the Spruce Goose. John and I paid a couple of extra bucks to get a private tour of the flight deck. There we got to sit in the very seat where Howard Hughes piloted this giant aircraft on its one and only one mile flight.

Then we headed for the Oregon coast. Shortly before lunch, we saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. After working our way through the coastal villages with all their shops and touristy places, we hit what we had been anticipating: long stretches of road with the Pacific on our right side and the evergreen mountains of Oregon on our left. It was spectacular. The pictures above tell part of the story.

Our stop point tonight was Coos Bay, Oregon, for no other reason than when I was on summer duty while in Navy ROTC in 1972, our ship pulled in here on a good-will stop. I don't remember much about it except a mental picture of the harbor with the paper mill at the north end, and the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers piers across the river. Freighters tied up at the paper mill to take pulp and other products to the Far East.

Well, the paper mill is gone, and a casino is in its place. The Coast Guard pier seems to be in the right place, but that would put the pier we tied up to on the wrong side of the river from downtown. There were no ships at all in the port any more apparently.

Tomorrow we cross into California. We need to push a little to get everything in we want to do and have Diane to the San Diego airport in time for her 6am Thursday flight.

DAY 13

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 11

Thursday, September 6, 2007

This was an odd day. Our main objective today was to gather up Diane at the Portland airport and head towards the museum where the Spruce Goose is displayed. Her plane was arriving about 1pm, so that meant we had the morning to catch up on laundry and sleep.

When Diane arrived at the hotel about 2pm, she quickly changed and we jumped on the bikes for the short run to McMinnville, Oregon - a distance of 53 miles. We thought we might be able to make it in time to visit the museum this afternoon, but the road from Portland to McMinnville was very congested and we arrived at 4pm, leaving only an hour to visit this extensive facility.

I thought maybe the folks at the museum would let us buy tickets ($20 each), look around a little before closing, then come back tomorrow on the same ticket to really look things over. But there were a couple of young kids at the desk who said that would be against the rules. So I asked to speak to a manager. The manager was another young person who said that rules were rules, and that we should just come back tomorrow.

Note to any young folks who are reading this: these kids made a dumb business decision. We weren't asking to get in for free. And it wasn't like were were going to consume something that would cost the museum money. We weren't going to give our tickets to someone else who would then get in for free. If they were worried about that, they could just write our driver's license numbers on the tickets and require us to show our licenses before we get back in tomorrow. I'm sure there was some easy way to accomodate our wishes.

Compare this to the guy who owned the little resturant we walked to last night night in Portland. It was near his closing, but he invited us in anyway, and asked his server if she would stay for a few minutes to take care of us. We had a good meal, and left generous tips in appreciation.

I'm fortunate to have grown up in a company culture where we felt some degree ownership in the enterprise, and therefore tried to find a way to say "yes" to reasonable requests from a customer. For that, we were rewarded with great customer loyalty. It's much cheaper to keep a good customer than find a new one.

Maybe these folks at the museum never have to think that way. Their customers visit once, and likely never come again. And they have a unique product: the one and only Spruce Goose. They'll find out that this situation rarely exists in the real world. Treat a customer badly, and the competition gets the business.

Good dinner tonight in a little pub next door to the hotel. Tomorrow we go back to the see the Spruce Goose and then head for the PACIFIC COAST!!!

DAY 12

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 10

Once again, the weather was beautiful as we pulled out of Richland WA. The first leg of our day was a run west on I-182 through the orchard country of the Yakima valley. It's almost picking season, so the crates were piled up at the ends of the orchards row ready to go.

From there we took WA 221 south through arid and mostly treeless farmland (again). After about 30 miles, we reached the Columbia River Gorge. Rather than run on I-84 on the south bank, we stayed on WA 14 on the north bank all the way into Vancouver. There certainly wasn't much traffic, or any gas stations either. And the views were spectacular.

We did stop at a little roadhouse along the way for a break and something to drink. It looked like it would be fun place at night. The restrooms had very unusual wallpaper, at least in the men's room. Pat reported a similar theme in the lady's room as well.

The Columbia is a formidable river at this point, the better part of a mile across. We were surprised by the amount of wind that blows upstream - enough that at one point I thought that something was wrong with my bike - as though it were losing power. I was put at ease when we stopped for lunch and both John and Buss said they were getting tired of fighting the headwind. However, the scores of windsurfers we saw must have loved it.

We stopped at Bonneville Dam, about 40 miles from Vancouver. We got to see the generator gallery this time, but could not go down on the generator floor -- post 9/11 security tightening again.

One of the coolest things at the dam was the fish ladder. At some point as these dams were being built, folks figured out that the migration paths for salmon to their spawning grounds were being cut off. So structures were added to the dams so the salmon could work their way around. At Bonneville there is a viewing gallery below water level so you can see the fish making their way through the ladder. Some of the salmon were huge - probably 24" and 15-20 pounds?

I was surprised to see a bundle of lamprey clinging to the windows. Lamprey are parasitic fish that spend their life in the ocean attached to larger fish. But they spawn in the freshwater of their birth, just like salmon. Apparently they don't swim as well as salmon, and have to take a break by clinging to the glass, as they cannot get a grip on the concrete in the ladder.

Diane arrives at the Portland airport around 1pm tomorrow. John is going to ride the shuttle over to pick her up and bring her back to our hotel, where we will load up and head southwest, ever closer to the coast.

DAY 11

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 9

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

After a good night's sleep, and a fine breakfast, we ran over to the Visitor's Center at Grand Coulee Dam to take the tour. Unfortunately, the special inclined elevator they use to take visitors down into the Third Power House was down for repair, so no tour. With a little disappointment, we hit the road.

My main drive for coming to this part of the country was to visit the Manhattan Project sites where my granddad, A.G. (Tom) Lambert worked during World War II. The key site was the Hanford Engineer Works, which was run by duPont. From its construction in 1944 until just a few years ago, this was a top-secret facility, where the plutonium for nuclear weapons was manufactured. Today, it is being decommissioned. However, twice a year they give tours of the facility, and it turns out tomorrow is one of those days. I called the tour office and tried to beg my way onto the tour. They said no way – the list had been closed for security reasons.

The ride from Grand Coulee to Richland was beautiful, following the shores of Banks Lake for about the first 60 miles. With the black rock buttes around us, it felt like a scene from a cowboy movie. As we came out of the canyon, we hit some strong crosswinds which stuck with us for about 50 miles. Fighting against these take a lot of steam out of you.

When we got to our motel in Richland, I saw a flyer for jet boat rides on the Columbia River, which include a run past the Hanford reactor sites. I was excited again! So I called the number to get reservations on the trip tomorrow morning, only to be told that there weren't enough reservations and they had cancelled the morning trip. Not a good day for satisfying my interest in the Manhattan Project. At least we visited the little museum here in town.

Tomorrow we had planned to run into Portland to pick up Diane at the airport. But her flights are actually on Thursday, so we're taking our time by riding the Lewis & Clark trail into Portland. Should be beautiful.

So after a great Mexican dinner at a place next door, we're crashing for the night.

DAY 10

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Great Bike Ride – Day 8

Monday, September 4, 2007

Today was the first day of our second week on the road. Once again we were blessed with clear blue skies and temperatures from a pleasant chill in the morning to a hot afternoon.

The intention was to take US 2 from Kalispell MT to Spokane WA, but the GPS (not mine!) directed us south on US 93 toward I-90, and none of us figured it out until we were far enough down the road to make it not worth going back. Nonetheless, we ended up on a couple of great roads, virtually alone through the ranch country along Montana state route 28. At Thompson Falls, we found a cool local place for lunch, and got a recommendation from a couple there to take the road over Thompson Pass. This meant we missed going past Lake Pend Oreille (pond-o-ray), the site of the 1969 Boy Scout National Jamboree, which I had attended. Oh well. It was still a nice road.

After crossing over the Thompson Pass, we ended up on I-90 to run through Coeur D'Alene Idaho and Spokane WA before heading north on US 2 and WA 174 to the site of Grand Coulee Dam. The terrain changed from the green forests of the Montana Rockies to the arid prairie of western Washington.

On that 1969 trip to the National Jamboree, we flew into Seattle and rode buses across Washington to the camp grounds. Along the way, we stopped at Grand Coulee Dam, and I've always wanted to come back, particularly once I came to understand the role of the dam in the Manhattan Project, and my granddad's connection to all this. One of the neat things about this dam is that water actually flows over the top of the dam, as a sort of man-made waterfall.

So I was little disappointed that there was no water going over the dam when we arrived here today. Maybe it's because conditions are very dry out here this year, or maybe because with the third powerhouse operational, they use all the water spinning the turbines.

At 8:30pm, after it becomes dark, a laser light show is displayed on the face of the dam. Interestingly, they release water over the top of the dam during the show to create a white screen on which to project the lasers. Of course it's dark, but you can hear the rushing water. After the show is over, they shut it back down again.

Tomorrow we plan to tour the dam, then head to Richland WA, another key Manhattan Project site. Jeff is heading to Seattle for a couple of days to see friends, and will rejoin us in Portland on Wednesday evening.

Oh, and we now have ridden about 3,000 miles.