8 Days and 41 Gas Stops

August, 1994

I only had one week off from work, and desperately needed to take a trip someplace. I had thought I was going to get 2 or 3 weeks, but some equipment at work was arriving sooner than expected, so I couldn't take that much time. Originally, I had intended to go to Colorado in those three weeks; I wonder if I could do it in one? A long session with Automap and the Rand-McNally convinced me it could be done. I wouldn't get to stop much and smell the flowers, but I could see the Rockies.

I kept a journal during the journey, and what follows is a pretty direct translation from that. Without the journal, I think my comments would have been limited to wow and beautiful, nothing much more specific.

This trip contained:

Day 1 - New Jersey to Grayson Lake, KY 630 Miles

Got all packed the night before: tent, sleeping bag/pad, clothes, toiletries, camera, film, tools, chain wax, raingear, etc.

Woke up on Saturday at 6 (ever notice how much easier it is to wake up when you want to go someplace, as opposed to waking up for work?) to a chilly 51 degrees, some 20 degrees cooler than it's been lately. Better bring a sweatshirt and some thermals, just in case. Packed up the bike (a '91 Zephyr 750), bungied what needed bungiing, and took off around 7. A spectacularly uninteresting ride down I-95/I-695/I-70 brought me to Frederick, MD by 9:30. Stopped in McDonald's for some hot tea and a bathroom break. Originally, I was going to continue on I-70/I- 68, but a check of the map showed Rt 340 and 50 through Harper's Ferry to be a possible way to go, so I headed in that direction.

Harper's Ferry seemed to be a popular place for tubing/rafting, similar to Delaware Water Gap. I know there's a lot of historical importance to the place, but none that I could see at speed.

I met Bob at intersection of 50 and 29 in West Virginia. He looked like me - interesting standard bike (SRX-6), good helmet, jacket, gloves, boots and tank bag - checking out his map. Obviously not a squid. I pulled in and we chatted for a bit, he was doing his usual weekend tour of WVa's twisties. He said he was going to head down 29, and I joined him. 29 is a nice route, some good twists and turns, but nothing extra-special. He rode well, not too fast but at a good corner speed for me. It's nice to have someone in the lead to help set corner speed. Also a good confidence builder - if his bike can make that, so can mine, hold on. We were going to cut over on 55 to 220, but got mixed up and ended up back at 50 and 29. We rode on 50 until we reached 220, and then headed south. Now 220 is a nice road. Very nice. A bit of traffic, but this was a Saturday afternoon. Chatted a bit in Moorefield, and his AAA map of the area was much better than my Official State Map. The twisties actually looked like twisties on his map. We split up there, he headed for Goshen Gap (my personal favorite road of all time), and me for Huntington.

I took 55 and 28 through the Dolly Sods area. Seneca Rocks are very interesting, just jutting out of the top of the hill. Saw a sign for Blackwater Falls SP, someplace I've wanted to visit for some time now. Maybe on the next trip, as the day was beginning to slip away. 33 though Elkins and Buckhannon then on I-79 slab. Damn pretty slab, though. The twisting highway through the mountains makes for an interesting ride. Using the mileage markers and my newly purchased $2.19 stick-on clock I noted that the Zephyr's speedo registers about 10% fast - 80 is really 72. Cruised about 80-85 (indicated) through to Huntington. Got a little lost on Rt 60 trying to find Camden Park, not a very nice area.

By the way, the other purpose of this trip, beside seeing the Rockies, was to visit some amusement parks along the way and ride some roller coasters. I chose Denver, CO as my destination because Elitch's Gardens, one of the two parks in the area, is moving at the end of this season, and razing the two classic wooden coasters at the current location. I wanted to get in a ride on those before they're lost forever.

Finally found Camden Park, paid my $.25 admission(!), bought ride tickets and rode the 3 coasters that were running.Left at dusk, and crossed over to Kentucky. I had started to collect state sign pictures back in Virginia (goofy shots with my bike in the foreground, sign in the background, 'proof' that I was there). Kentucky's sign is on the middle of a bridge, preventing my getting a shot of it. I'll have to remember to get one on the way out the other side then. Made my way to Grayson Lake SP, and set up camp for the night (cost $10.50). There was a guy playing a guitar a few sites over, and that was a very pleasant way to while away the evening.

Day 2 - Grayson Lake, KY to Arrow Rock, MO 653 Miles (consistent, eh?)

Got up with the sun, grabbed a long hot shower, and slowly packed up. Hit the road by around 8:30. There was a wicked fog around the campground and the road back into town. The park ranger who I passed on the way out said it should be clear once I get to Morehead or so. Almost lost it pulling into a parking lot to wax the chain - gravel on the entrance made the bike squiggle a bit.

Took I-64 across a lot of Kentucky, got off to take Rt 460 around Lexington. 460 is a very nice road, lots of high-speed straights with elevation changes (hills) peppered with 35 and 45mph turns, with little to no traffic. Back on I-64, and slabbed it through Louisville. No luck getting the KY state sign, as it was in the middle of the interstate on the other side of the divider. Surprisingly, almost zero cars on the highway through Louisville. Even though it was a Sunday, I expected a lot more traffic (NY/Philly is my reference).

Got off the the interstate soon after crossing into Indiana, and took IN 62, the Lincoln Hills Scenic Highway. Not to be missed! This is a great 60+ miles of deserted forest road, very curvy (not really twisty) and hilly. There was a short detour back on the slab, then back to the woods. Passed Siberia IN, Santa Claus IN, then back on the slab. I-64 all they way through Southern Illinois. Illinois looks like southern New Jersey, only flatter(!) and less interesting(!).

Took I-70 through St. Louis. I expected the arch to be really big, but it's REALLY BIG. Quite impressive. I had no intention of stopping in St. Louis, leaving my bike and belongings unattended to check out the arch. Maybe the reputation is undeserved, but I've been told St. Louis (and East St. Louis) is not a very nice place to be. I also couldn't get the Missouri state sign, as stopping on that portion of interstate would be tantamount to suicide. I-70 West of St. Louis for about 30 miles is really crappy - very crowded, lots of merging, inner-city drivers. The kind that swoop across 3 lanes of traffic while going 20mph faster than everyone else. I've only really seen this on the Belt Parkway in NY and the Schuylkill Expwy in Philly. Nothing gets my attention quicker than someone in my mirror making a 3-lane change and getting larger very quickly. But I digress...

Continued on I-70 to Arrow Rock SRA, MO. Nice view of the Missouri River from the park. I passed on I-70 the 'Elvis is Alive Museum' (and restaurant), 'Itchy's Stop-and-Scratch', and 92 custom cars going the other way. All the cars were 30's and 40's, 32 Ford Coupes and the like. I guess custom cars are really big out in the midwest, I hardly see any here in the East. I had tried some 89 octane earlier in the day, and found that my gas mileage dropped into the lower 30s, where usually it's around the lower 40s. Hmmm. Probably doesn't help that my unfaired bike with saddlebags is only a little less slippery through the wind than say, El Capitan.

Also passed a beautiful blue BMW K75s, with hard bags and a top box, loaded onto a trailer. Saw signs for Mexico and Paris. A little while after I got to the campsite, the campground host came over to collect the fee ($6), and he wanted to talk for a while. Unfortunately, I had neglected to purchase any bug spray, so I got eaten alive until I could take it no longer and crawled back into the tent. The bites gave me something to itch on the long days that followed.

Day 3 - Arrow Rock, MO to Burlington, CO 635 Miles

Took Rt 20 through Marshall and eventually wound my way back to I-70 and towards Kansas City. I had noticed before I left NJ that my front brake pads did not have a lot of life left in them, and now it seemed they were throwing in the towel - nasty dragging sound when brakes were released. I saw a m/c dealer (Stroud's?) from I-70 that looked open, so I swung in. To my surprise, they had 2 sets of brake pads for the Zephyr. They were also kind enough to install them immediately, ahead of other jobs in the shop. I was in and out of the dealer in about 45 mins, with my wallet only $60 lighter (actually my AmEx card $60 heavier).

Stopped in at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, used my ACE (American Coaster Enthusiasts) card to get free admission (still had to pay $5 for parking, sheez, even Great Adventure lets motorcycles park for free!), and sampled the Timber Wolf and the Zambezi Zinger . I spent more time there than I had planned, and I had also lost time at the dealer, so I was way behind schedule for the next leg of the trip, Kansas. I didn't get out of Missouri until 2:30 or so.

"They can send you to Leavenworth"
"Leavenworth...that's in <sound of disgust> Kansas!" -- Major Charles Emerson Winchester III

Passed into Kansas on Rt 73 through Leavenworth, right by the US Penitentiary, which looks grand enough to be the State Capitol from the outside. I suspect the inside is not quite so elegant. Continued on 73/7 north into Atchison, then headed West on 73 until I picked up 9. 9 was great. Really small towns separated by 10-15 miles of nothing. I had visions of the Isle of Man as I blasted between the towns at 100-110, then putted through through the towns at the posted limit. Some of the towns had some really nice Victorian homes which looked somehow out of place. There was no one on the roads at all. My bike was getting terrible gas mileage at 100mph, but who cares? I was hunched over with my chin resting on the tank bag, trying to hide my body behind the speedo and tacho. What hedonistic fun. Occassionally, the straight road would be broken by a series of 2 25 mph right ninety degree turns to skirt someone's property. These were terrific in helping me learn to turn faster, as the sight lines were completely open, and there was no traffic. My steepest lean angles of the trip so far were occurring in Kansas, of all places!

At Frankfort I figured enough was enough, and I headed north on 99 until I picked up US 36. I had heard through the net that 36 is a good way to get through Kansas. I settled down on the speed to about 70-75, figuring the speed limit was 65. I was not on 36 for 5 minutes before I got nailed by a Marysville cop. Seems that the speed limit is 55 on two-lane, and I was clocked at 73. I was pissed off because I actually was trying to behave myself, and thought I was being close to legal. On the other hand, I figured this was payback for my super-legal trip on 9 that went unnoticed. Balancing the speeding Karma scales, so to speak. The cop was actually very nice, and we chatted bikes for a bit. Actually, he chatted, I just grunted yes or no while cursing myself for getting busted. Fortunately, the ticket amounted to $68 ($21 for the fine, $47 for court costs!), and I don't think it'll show up on my NJ license. Anyone know for sure?

Continued along 36, never exceeding 65, for many hours. I started to experiment with riding positions, as my butt was beginning to seriously complain. I had the sportbike-wannabe position: toes on pegs, butt back and up, chin on tank bag. I had the cruiser-wannabe: butt all the way up, back edge of heels on outer edge of pegs, hands on bar-end weights, back straight. Sometimes I would vary the s-w position by draping my left arm across the tankbag and resting me head on my forearm. Serious boredom leads to serious ouchies. I also noticed that people in cars were beginning to wave at me, something I've never experienced in the East.

Somewhere (maybe near Belleville, maybe not), I pulled over to take some pictures of barren Kansas and stretch my legs. In a few minutes, a couple on a Heritage Softail pulled up. I assured them that I was OK, but they wanted to chat for a bit. They asked me if I was on my way to Sturgis, like them. I had no idea that Sturgis was that week. That explains a lot of the loaded bikes I've seen headed West. I immediately began to covet his fairing, although I'm amazed he could see through the Jackson Pollack-like bugfest on it.

He was a typical(?) Harley guy, bearded, tattooed, grizzled looking. Wearing shirt, chaps, boots, and a bandana around his head. She was wearing a blue bikini, I can remember it as if it were yesterday. She was definitely going to be one of the best looking women in South Dakota in a few days. Small tattoo on her left breast, not that I was looking :-). Like him, she had a bandana on her head. He commented that he had a CBR1000 also, and did I want to ride with them for a while? I suited back up, and took my position 1 sec back and to the right (for some reason, I always fall into that group-riding position automatically when I'm near another bike).

For the next hour or so, I got to watch the bikini girl sun herself, occassionally leaning forward to smooch with her man. Suddenly I felt very far from home, and very alone. He was a good ride leader, pointing out hazards and also pointing to the few interesting sites along the horizon. Around Phillipsburg they pulled into someone's driveway and waved goodbye. I was sorry to see them go.

I continued on 36, until hooking up with 383. Originally, I had thought 36 was boring. Ha! 383 took me through the middle of nowhere, even worse now that it was dark. I stopped once or twice to look up at the stars and take in the emptiness. The first time I was ever in the desert at night, I was absolutely amazed at the clarity of the night sky - it was hard to find black spaces between stars. This Kansas night was pretty close to that, but there was some cloud cover forming.

I want a freight-train headlight. 383 parallels train tracks for a while, and I noticed a light shining along the tracks into the distance. I looked behind me, and saw the train coming, way way in the distance. His headlight was lighting up the tracks in front for what seemed like miles. That kind of candlepower would be very useful.

After about 50 miles of dark emptiness, I crested a hill (what passes for a hill in Kansas anyway), and suddenly I could see the string of lights that is I-70, from left horizon to right horizon, like an immense run of Christmas lights spread out before me. Got back on I-70, figuring I'd either motel it in Goodland, KS or camp it in Burlington, CO.

As I rode West on I-70, I could see lightning flashes off in the distance to the north. I didn't hear any thunder, but the storm looked pretty intense, so I picked up the pace. Stopped in Goodland for gas, and the motel situation was pretty pathetic, so I decided to head into Burlington. It was about this time that I started to notice the constant wind from the South. It wasn't gusting at all, like I'm used to, just a constant stream like someone had an enormous fan on. Although I had to ride with the bike leaned over a bit to the left, I prefer that kind of wind to the blustery, gusty any-direction-next stuff we usually get around here.

Crossed into Colorado about 11:30pm. I-70 from CO border to Burlington is Highway from Hell. One lane each direction (due to half the roadway being closed for construction), lots of trucks to temporarily block the wind, and poles sticking out of the road to act as a center divider, similar to the entrance to the NYC tunnels. Yucko.

In Burlington, I headed for the nearest campground, which the book lists as Bonnie Lake SRA. The storm still seemed to be raging to the north, and it was getting around midnight. I was beat. Word of advice: when you're beat and it's dark, stay away from places that have directions like this: From Burlington, 23 miles north on 385, then 3 miles on CR 2. There is nothing on 385 for 23 miles, just me heading north into the storm clouds. When I finally reached CR 2, it turned out to be a dirt road. Okay, I'm in the middle of nowhere, half an hour from civilization. I can handle some dirt. Somewhere along the way, the dirt turns to sand, and I come very close to dumping the bike. I fight my way through the sand, wondering how much longer this Road of Death is going to last, and how much longer until the rain descends upon me.

I finally reach the campground, and the place is practically deserted. I pick a suitable site, and start to unload and setup the tent. The wind has substantially picked up, the storm appears nearer, my flashlight chose that moment to die, and one of my tent poles broke a shock-cord. Also, the ground is too hard to stake the tent down. Joy! After getting the tent setup and chucking all my belongings into it, I finally begin to relax and try to sleep. The wind is blowing the walls of the tent pretty hard, and I'm concerned that I will tumble down into the lake. I arrange my saddlebags/tankbag/helmet into the corners of the tent for maximum advantage. Sleep comes fitfully.


Day 4 - Burlington, CO to Denver, CO 217 Miles

I woke up before the sun, and packed up and left for town, conveniently skipping out on paying. I felt bad, but I was only there for a few hours, didn't use any of the facilities, and had a terrible night anyway. Rode the Road of Death again on the way out, and it was much nicer in the early light than in the gloom of night.

Did my laundry in downtown Burlington, which is not a thriving metropolis. Started talking to someone who was passing through on their way to Cheyenne Wells, and I mentioned the lightning and storm that never quite got here. He said that the storm was in Nebraska, some 150+ miles away! I have no frame of reference for sightlines that immense. I can barely see a storm coming from a town away around here, forget from the next state.

Took I-70 (again) into Denver, not the highlight of the trip. Eastern Colorado is pretty barren. I had hoped for tantalizing glimpses of the Rockies in the distance, but I couldn't see them until I was almost on top of them. Checked into my crappy Motel 6 (didn't want to try and camp near downtown Denver), and grabbed the shower I missed at Bonnie Lake. Ah, much better.

Rode squiddly (shorts, t-shirt, helmet) the 2 miles to Elitch's Gardens, and rode the coasters, Mr. Twister and the Wildcat. Very crowded park, not very clean, not much appeal. Left there and rode the 2 miles to Lakeside Park (Denver is very lucky to have 2 amusement parks so close to each other). Lakeside is an absolute gem, the most beautiful traditional AP I've been to. Their coaster, the Cyclone, is a treasure. The park was practically empty - Denver locals give it a bum rap, and prefer Elitch's - they don't know what they're missing.

Slept like a log that night.

Day 5 - The Rockies!!! - Denver, CO to Kimball, NE 338 Miles

Stopped at K-Mart for more film (the Rockies, ya know), batteries for the flashlight that died, and some industrial- strength bug spray (100% Deet, dissolves small children on contact). I looked for EAR brand plugs, since I had dropped my last set when I got into Denver. I've been carrying multiple sets of EAR plugs in different cases for some time now, as I'm always dropping some, and occassionally dropping the whole little blue case. Unfortunately, K-Mart did not have any.

Took I-25 to 6 towards Central City/Blackhawk. These little gambling tourist traps were not my destination, but they seemed a good starting point for the Peak-to-Peak scenic biway on my way to Rocky Mountain National Park. I figured I'd get gas in Golden, but I didn't see anything. OK, I'll just gas up in Central City. I asked a road worker when I got there where to get gas, and he just shook his head. I had about 15 miles to empty, and told him so. He mentioned that there was a KOA about 10 miles away that he thought had a gas pump.

After the longest 10 miles of my life, I finally found the KOA, which indeed did have a lone gas pump. Unfortunately, it was 87 octane. Remembering how poorly the Zephyr did on 89, I was not looking forward to 87 octane at 12,000 feet for the riding highlight of the trip. Not much choice though. Filled up amongst 6 Wingers with Iowa plates (who did not so much as utter a word at me, sod them), and headed for the mountains. BTW, as I passed several KOAs during this trip, I noticed that each one was dumpier than the last. I will not be heading for any KOAs in the future. Anyone had good/bad experiences with that chain?

Rode up 119/72 to RMNP, saw sign for Rollins Pass, saw lots of FJs, lots of lazy dogs that showed zero interest in my passing, and lots of cyclists. I can't imagine cycling through mountains like that, the speed bumps at the local ACME nearly do me in (well, not quite). So far, this is easily the most beautiful scenery of the trip. The road is good, not great, but the mountains and valleys are awe-inspiring. Stopped near Long's Peak for a chain wax and rest, and just sort of stared at the mountain for quite some time (actually, 15 mins for the parafin to settle). I even doodled the peaks into my trip book. There looked to be some dark clouds coming over the top of Long's Peak, but I hoped they might pass me by.

Rode through Estes Park, extremely busy with pedestrian and auto traffic. This was on a Wednesday afternoon, I can't imagine what a Saturday must be like. Eventually made my way to the entrance of RMNP. I should mention that once I hit Estes Park, I started debating whether or not to do the park. Maybe the road is just like the surrounding roads, just free from buildings? The traffic nearly discouraged me, but I decided to see for myself. It looked like $5 to get in, which I thought was disgustingly cheap, but when I got to the ranger station, the young lady said "Motorcycles are $3". I jokingly told her that was outrageous, I wouldn't pay. She followed my lead and pleaded that the pass was good for the whole week. I paid my money and rode in.

Oh. My. God. Beautiful beyond words. The road twists and turns its way to over 12,000 feet, through lush forests and alpine tundras, getting colder and more breathtaking with every scenic overlook. The road was fairly crowded, but I was in no rush. Almost every overlook was full, but bikes can sneak into the smallest of places! After stopping for the nth time to take pictures (which required removing gloves and helmet), I started riding with the camera around my neck, which was a first for me. I took the road as far as the Alpine Lodge Visitor's Center (where I was directed to park on the sidewalkAlpine Visitor's Center Parking), and then doubled back.

The storm I had seen coming was now starting to hit - there was patchy areas of rain along the way down, some just misting, some pouring. I battened down all the hatches and soldiered on. Maybe on another trip I will take the Old Trail Ridge Road (gravel switchbacks uphill), but not this time.

I exited the park and set off for I-25, which I could pick up in Loveland. Route 34 leads out of Estes Park in that direction, and it is a terrificly twisty and scenic route. There were two things that prevented me from really enjoying this road: one, it was pouring out, and two, this was the ONLY road so far in Colorado that had tar strips on it, millions of them. Some of the tar strips were more like tar acres, covering the whole lane and lasting for 20 feet. The bike was squiggling all over the place, making me mighty nervous. As I got to the end of the twisty section, the rain let up, and I picked up the pace quite a bit (for me). There's a section of that road that is bordered on both sides with sheer rock walls with a river running right next to the road on the right. Magnificent.

Got on to I-25, where I could watch the storm to my left. Hardly anyone going North, but bike after bike after bike coming South. Oh, that's right, Sturgis is up that way. I got tired of waving after the 300th bike or so. Most of them did not wave back, so I gave up. Stopped at a sign that said "Point of Interest". How could I pass up an invitation so tantalizing? Turned out it was a natural fort that was the site of a fierce Indian battle some time ago. Pretty interesting, actually. I also began to regret not searching harder for earplugs, as the 80+ speed was beginning to give me a whopper of a headache (the fact that I really hadn't eaten that day probably didn't help).

Crossed into Wyoming, and stopped for gas at the first available exit. Although there were hardly any people on the road, that service station was _way_ crowded. I decided not to gas up (still had at least 75 miles in the tank), just get a quick beverage and be on my way. Chatted with the rider of a Bandit who was heading up to Montana, sleeping bag strapped to the back. He mentioned that he's regretting not having a helmet with him.

Moved over to I-80 when I got the chance, and headed for the end of the day in Nebraska. Stopped before the state line to get some dinner, and saw a Gold Wing outside with solid oak trim, and a solid oak trailer attached. The owner came by, and said he loves the looks of the trailer, but it's really heavy, even when empty.

Another hour or so brought me to where I could get off I-80 and onto Route 30. Route 30 is one lonely road. I found Oliver Reservoir SRA, and pulled in. Uh-oh. Sign says you need a camping permit, which is not available on-site. I could obtain one 1 mile ahead, or 12 miles ahead in Kimball. Zipped ahead, and the sporting goods store 1 mile away was long since abandoned. By this time, my head is pounding from the wind road, and the sun is starting to go down. I really want to set up camp before dark. I zipped _very_ quickly into Kimball, and asked a gas attendant (actually, I asked the person at the register - outside of NJ, there are no gas attendants anymore) where I could get a permit, and was told "Woody's Liquor", 1 block away. Sure enough, Woody's Liquor was the purveyor of $2.50 camping permits. Really fast ride back the Reservoir, and set up camp on the shore. Quite nice, actually, and not many other people.

I had just finished setting up the tent, when I noticed a kid casting off the dock about 20 yards away. This was turning into a very nice evening. I'm in the middle of nowhere, extremely quiet, and a young boy silently casting for fish. Maybe not a Norman Rockwell image, but it almost seemed like a moment from another time. I walked over to the dock and sat down, and the minute I did the boy, whose name turned out to be Jason, hooked a fish. Before he could get a hold of it, though, it slipped the hook and got away. He was not very happy at all. Seems he's been at the reservoir all day, and his grandfather's caught a bucketful, but he's been striking out. We talked for quite some time, of the fish that got away and other things, as the sun set and the evening sky began to darken. We could see the storm that was in Colorado move East, fortunately to the South of us. At one point his dad came over to tell him to start finishing up and come roast marshmellows and play Yahtzee. I found this to be very peaceful and restful. Just as he was about done ("one or two more casts"), he hooked another big one. He reeled it in, and got it up on the dock. As he was taking the hook out, it squirmed out of his hands and dropped back into the water. Jason fell to the dock, pounding his fists on the boards. Fish 2, Jason 0. He took this as a sign and packed up.

I retired to the tent, wrote some in the journal, checked out the maps for tomorrow (whole lot of Nebraska), and finally turned off the light and put my head down. At that very moment, someone not 20 yards away fired up a gas generator. Ouch. My headache was back in full swing in a few seconds. This went on for a few minutes, so I used that time to re-check the maps, as there was no way I was going to sleep with that racket going on. After about 30 minutes, I had had enough and got out of the tent to see what was going on. There were a bunch of other campers also standing around near the generator. One finally knocked on the door to the owner's trailer, and he seemed surprised (and annoyed) that it bothered anyone. He assured us that it would only be on for another hour. Ack! I took a long walk around the campground, and when I returned all was quiet. Sleep came in seconds.

Day 6 - Kimball, NE to Des Moines, Iowa 618 Miles

Woke up to sunshine and Jason fishing again. While packing up the tent, I noticed an abundance of ants in and around it. Shook them out best I could, then noticed that the ground cloth was on a half-dozen or so anthills! I looked around, and everyplace was anthills - how did I miss all this last night? Couldn't find any hot showers, so I hit the road.

It didn't take long for the rain to start, and it couldn't have been more than 65 degrees or so. For the next hour, I counted 3 cars and 5 freight trains in either direction. The people in cars waved to me, I waved back. Route 30 parallels I- 80 for a long way, only 2 or 3 miles north, but it really gives you a look at Nebraska. Lots of nothing between towns, and not much in most of the towns. You can tell how far away the next town is by the sight of their grain elevator. Also, how big the town is - more height and/or elevators.

Stopped when I saw a K1100LT loaded down with camping gear in front of the L&L Cafe maybe in Chappell, maybe another small town. Figured I'd stop in for breakfast and see where this fellow (I assumed it would be a fellow, while I've seen a bunch of female motorcyclists, I've yet to see one travelling alone) was going or had been. He had DC tags, and a lot of duct tape (fresh-looking) on the right side of the bike.

Turns out he was on a 3 week tour of the country, with Glacier Nat'l Park being a primary destination. He's cutting the trip a few days short because of a fall he'd had a couple days earlier - seems a group of birds alighted in front of him, and he got distracted and hit the shoulder at about 15mph, dumping the bike and grinding up a good portion of his knee. He can hobble around some now, and is only good for about 250 miles before he has to stop for the day because of pain. Ouch.

Breakfast was excellent, one of those cafes you read about in touring stories in the moto rags. Service was extra-friendly, portions were generous and well-prepared, and other customers friendly and talkative. It seems for every one of these I find 3 places like the Main Street Cafe in McArthur, OH, where the food's greasy, the service stinks and the locals are discussing the best way to hunt and kill turkeys. I was glad for the breakfast.

Finally found an open drugstore in Ogallala, and bought 2 packages of EAR plugs (3 per pack, one of the long-distance rider's best friends). I still think about that girl behind the counter in Ogallala, Nebraska. But that's something else.

Got on I-80 at K___ for the run into Lincoln. Earlier in the day, I remembered that Kawasaki has a huge factory somewhere in Nebraska (they've been running ads to that effect lately). I stopped in at a motorcycle dealer (who was open at 8:30 in the morning, suprise, a positive side effect of serving the farming community, I suppose), and asked about the whereabouts of the Kawasaki plant. On I-80 I saw an authentic diner on a trailer being pulled West, 3 Ducatis on a trailer, and a motorhome pulling a full-size camper/trailer.

Soon after joining I-80, I wanted to pass a pick-up truck who was going just about 65. As I pulled along, he motioned out his driver-side window for me to slow down, and pointed 3 fingers at the horizon. I was confused, for a minute, then I thought I figured it out. He got off the road, and I watched the odometer. 1 mile later, another pickup was going to pass me, and I relayed the gesture, this time with 2 fingers. He slowed down next to me. Sure enough, 2 miles down the road was a police car waiting on the embankment to snag somebody. I silently thanked the guy in pickup #1, and I got a thumbs-up from pickup #2.

Found the K plant in Lincoln, but couldn't find a road in. Plus, it was after 5 and I doubt they'd be doing tours after that, so I continued on. The 60 miles or so from Lincoln to Omaha on I-80 is filled with some FAST drivers. Median speed (average speed, not speed of the people on the median) moved up to 80-85, and I sailed into Omaha.

Another friend of the long-distance rider (not that I'm really long-distance, I'm not in the same league as iron-butters et al): Gas stations with attached convenience stores and ATM machines. Pulled into some gas station near Omaha, filled up, got some snacks and a Fruitopia (awful commercials, good drink), and grabbed some cash from the ATM. Terribly convenient. I also made use of the windshield squeegee at these gas stations, doing my faceshield and the bike's headlight. Later in the trip, when it got really buggy out, I would quickly zip in to roadside gas station, squeegee the face shield with the helmet still on my head, and ride back out again. The cagers looked at me very strangely.

Finally hit Iowa. Originally, I thought Kansas was going to be the tough state to get through. That was before I contemplated Nebraska. I laugh at Kansas. Nebraska made Kansas feel like Delaware. I can't imagine what Texas must be like.

A couple of hours later I was in Des Moines, at Adventureland. I pulled into their campground, and noticed a sign that said 'No Motorcycles'. Oh no. I had run into this once before, in Thurmont, MD, and since then I've avoided privately-owned campgrounds. I decided no way was I going to be turned away after 600+ miles of Nebraska and Iowa behind me. I went into the office, helmet in hand, and politely asked it they were going to have a problem with me. As long as I left my bike in the parking lot near the office, they had no problem. Fine with me. They set me up on a hill overlooking that lot, away from all the motorhome sites (fine by me), and I setup my house in no time. Took the long hot shower I had missed that morning, made some phone calls home, and passed out.

Day 7 - Des Moines, Iowa to West Lafayette, IN 455 Miles

Woke up to rain. Sometimes light, sometimes pretty hard, but still rain. I wanted to hit the coasters in Adventureland before taking off East again, and the park didn't open until 10, so I had some time to kill. Read a lot of maps.

Eventually the rain tapered off, I showered and dressed, and caught the way-cute trolly to the park from the campground. There were about 20 other people milling about the entrance at 9:45, a far cry from the thousands massing in front of Great Adventure on any given day. The rain was off-again, on-again, leaning towards on-again. Rode 3 of their 4 coasters (the one that I really wanted to ride was down for some reason), and even almost blacked out on one (a first, which I blame on hunger and trying to close my eyes to the rain). By the time I get back to the campground, packed up, suited up for the rain and headed out, it was almost 2:00. I had hoped to do the park and be on my way by 11:00 or so.

Rode in and out of the light rain through Ottomwa (hello, Radar), then it cleared up. Rode through Pella (home of the Window manufacturer), which turned out to be quite a nice town. Formal town square, lots of well-kept and large homes, lots of trees.

The bike started acting up about 10 miles out of Oskaloosa. If anyone read about my trip to Ohio and Kentucky, it was the same thing. The bike stumbled as if needing to go on reserve, so I switched to reserve (mileage was about right), but it kept on stumbling. I could not accelerate at all, and could barely keep an even throttle. Solution was to put the choke on almost all the way, and then I could accelerate some, but never past 7000 rpm or so. Also had to watch it when coming to a stop with the engine screaming at 5000 rpm on full choke. After about 5 miles it sorted itself out. It did this to me on the last trip for about 400 miles (100 miles ok, 5 miles crap). I attributed it to a batch of bad gasoline, and went my way.

Took 163/63/34 to Burlington. Very picturesque bridge leading into Illinois from Burlington. In Illinois, rode 116 and then 9. Route 9 was completely deserted, no people at all. There was, however, lots and lots of corn. I had not seen as much corn as I thought I would previous to this, and I had been sort of disappointed. This was beginning to even the corn- scales.

Not paying enough attention to the map lead me into south Peoria. AH! Get me out of here! Passed Peoria stockyards, lots of abandoned (and abandoned-looking) factories, warehouses, and other nasty places. Once outside of Peoria, it was back to the corn (and a light rain and twilight). The darkness and bugginess came on fast. This was the buggiest portion of the trip yet, that half-hour before full dark in the cornfields. The density of dead bugs on my faceshield and headlight was truly exceptional.

Coming into Iowa yesterday (I forgot to write aboutit before), there was some excitement. I had just left Nebraska, where everyone on I-80 was moving fast, so I carried that speed into Iowa. Maybe 5 miles later, I saw an Iowa Trooper car entering the highway from a ramp directly next to me, and he pulled in a few cars behind me. I started to slow my speed down, and watched as the cars between he and I found other places to be, and then he was behind me. Damn, damn, damn. No lights yet. So I'm watching my mirror with my main vision, and scanning the road ahead with my peripheral (not smart). What's this? Suddenly there's a riding lawnmower-tractor thingy crossing the lane in front of me, towing a little trailer of something. I'm on the brakes hard, and miss the suicidal farmer by a few feet. The trooper pulls out to the left lane and comes up next to me after we pass the rolling roadblock, and wags a finger at me and blasts off up the highway. Took me a few minutes to remember to breathe.

Travelling alone on a deserted arrow-straight Illinois back road in the dark lets one's mind wander.

Once I got into Indiana, I took 41 to 52 and into Lafayette. Both of these roads were completely deserted, until I got near Lafayette. Major crowds, lots of rowdies in cars (this was about 10pm on a Friday night). I was pretty beat from riding, and just wanted a motel for the night. I checked my Citi-Travel listing, and the Days Inn there was listed as a member hotel. I got there, and they said they didn't honor it on weekends (the book said they did), and that the rate was $58. For a Days Inn! Next one in the book was the Holiday Inn up the road a piece. I got there, and the older couple checking in in front of me said that their deal was $40 if they mentioned the 'Wolf Park'. Which they mentioned, and which price they got. When it was my turn, I did the Citi-Travel thing, and he said they had no rooms left at that price, and the normal price was $60. I asked what if I mentioned the 'Wolf Park', and he slowly said he'd have to give me the $40 rate. Sold! The room was enormous, the bed was just right, and the TV had Comedy Central (Joel and the bots doing 'Earth vs. The Spider'. A luxury night.

Day 8 - West Lafayette, IN to Zanesville, OH 380 Miles

Rode north to Indiana Beach to ride their coasters, and the bike did it's dying act again, fortunately for the last time on the trip. Indiana Beach is a nice lakeside amusement park and resort, reminded me of the Jersey Shore piers.

The weather forecast for the day was supposed to be showers, heavy at times, but so far so good. I continued East on Route 24, a nice road at times. Passed the first 'Chew Mail Pouch' barn on the way East, and I tried to remember where I saw the last grain elevator. Somewhere in Illinois, I think. I wonder if the two can co-exist?

At one point Route 24 dived down through a group of trees that overhung the road and formed a canopy of leaves. I stopped there for a minute, and realized why I was so impressed: this was really the first time I'd seen a bunch of trees (or shade, for that matter) in days. Passed the Mr. Happy Burger, complete with 30+ foot fiberglass smiling cow wearing a chef's hat. I couldn't stop laughing.

Passing through Logansport, IN (hometown of Dan Quayle, that's what all the signs said), I spotted a sign that said 'Dentzel Carousel in Park -->'. I followed the sign and was simply stunned. Most carousels are uncared for, and certainly not made a big fuss over. Here's a town that puts signs up in town, even mentioning the fact that it's a Dentzel. The carousel itself is very beautiful, complete with a working ring machine (grab for the brass ring, ride for free), one of less than 6 in the country.

Found out what a bee sting feels like for the first time in my 30 years. There I am, just happily riding along, and suddenly someone's sticking a white-hot poker into the back of my neck. I stopped the bike in an instant, leaped off and started removing clothes. Checking the mirror, there was a stinger coming out of my neck and a bee carcass (I hope it was just a carcass) sitting on my shoulder. Son of a bitch, that hurt. So there I am, standing shirtless on the side of a cornfield in Whereami, Indiana, remembering every allergic reaction story I've ever heard. I sure hope I don't start swelling up, as I don't even know where the nearest person is, let alone the nearest hospital. Rode along for a while, and the pain diminished, and I was OK. Nasty little buggers, bees. They'll hurt you even though they know it will kill them. A bit too much pride, if you ask me.

Continued on 24 to 224 and then 33 into Ohio. Before leaving Indiana, I saw a sign that read '<--Peru Chili-->'. Really. Also, there were signs reading 'Watch your speed, we are'. Didn't like that one at all. Saw a sign for 'Erie, Indiana'. Back in Nebraska there were signs on I-80 that read 'Watch for Wind' - sorry, never saw any. You know it's a hot day when you think of the 8 or 10 drinks you've had (non-alcoholic), and realize you haven't made a bathroom stop yet.

In Ohio, passed the enormous Honda facility in Marysville, including the TRC (Transportation Research Center). Very boring ride into Columbus to do Wyandot Lake. Nothing special.

After Wyandot Lake, continued around Columbus on the slab. Why is there a sign for 'Hoover Dam' in Columbus, Ohio? Checking the campground listings, the nearest thing was a KOA at Buckeye Lake. Tried unsuccessfully to find it, but I was happy to be off the highway and back onto the smaller roads. The next nearest campground looked to be Dillon Lake, in Zanesville, about 30 miles away. The sun had pretty much set, twilight had arrived but the bugs had not. And I was about to have the most bonehead moment of the trip.

Riding along Route 256 (?), I was passing through a bunch of small towns, and watching my speed through them. I was going through one town and noticed a patrol car sitting on a railroad embankment. I checked my speedo, and I was within the limit. I watched my mirror as I passed him, and he didn't move. Cool. Apparantly, I must have thought town ended before it did, and sped up to around 55 or so. I did not see him behind me at the time.

So there I am, riding happily along, with a patrol car right behind me, lights flashing and sirens wailing. The combination ear plugs and wind noise must have masked his siren, and I wasn't checking my mirrors every 10 seconds in rural Ohio on a twisting road. The road had a couple of nice bends, which I leaned heavily into (for me). A car was coming the other way, and I motioned for them to slow down as there was a cop ahead. I can't imagine what they thought of me telling them to slow down with a police car on my ass in full lights/siren mode.

Finally, about 5 miles after leaving town, there was a blinker light at an intersection, so I stopped. That's when I noticed him. Oh no. He was out of the car in a jiffy, and 'didn't you see me behind you' out of his lips. I told him that until that moment, I hadn't. We discussed my ride through town, and he confirmed that I sped up before I was out of town, and he had me at 55 in a 35. I'm glad I didn't decide to race through the Ohio countryside after leaving town. He also mentioned that he caught the signal to the other driver. I don't think my face has ever been more red.

He asked for my license/registration/insurance, and I made sure to tell him that it was in my jacket pocket before reaching in for the documents (always a good idea). He was not impressed with my non-photo NJ license (neither was the Kansas cop), which is why I also carry an expired photo license with me. We talked for a bit, and he said that if my license came back clean, he wasn't going to write me up. Which it did, so he didn't. We talked about my trip for a few minutes, and he told me of a shortcut to Zanesville. I went on my way. Slowly.

Got to Zanesville in the dark, and found my way to Dillon Lake through the bugfest. Turned out to be a nice place, as best as I could tell with no light. Set up tent, staked it down nicely, and stashed my gear. Rode back down to the camp store to pay my camping fee ($13), and upon returning there were a group of little girls painting my parking spot with colored chalk, all flowers and sun and grass. OK by me. I was asleep in no time.

Day 9 - Zanesville, OH to Home, NJ 460 Miles

Uh-oh, there's a day 9. I guess I forgot this one, or wish that I could. Basically, I woke up, got on I-70 where it started pouring rain when I got to Wheeling, WVa. Temperature was about 65 or so. From that point on, it came down in buckets all through Pennsylvania and into New Jersey and until I got to my driveway. 6+ solid hours of heavy rain on the Turnpike was not the highlight of the trip. I stopped every hour or so for a few minutes to ward off the ouchies.

Very convenient are the gas pumps that you just slip your credit card through and pump your own gas - maybe impersonal, but quick and efficient. I passed someone who looked even more miserable than I - a guy in a custom car with no roof, huddled up against the steering wheel trying to duck the rain. We waved at each other.

By the time I got to Jersey, I couldn't stop giggling at the rain and the puddles. I was zipping along on I-295, and a car would pass me in a puddle, showering me for 5 seconds with water spray. I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Finally arrived at home, 4,400 miles total travelled in 9 days. The bike was completely filthy after the rainy ride, and I was kind of damp myself. The saddlebags leaked a lot of water in, but all of my stuff (with one exception) was stored in zip- lock bags. The tank bag stayed dry, as did the tent/sleeping bag in the river duffel. Sorry Sanjay, but 0 bird encounters.

Thinking back, the best moments of the trip were:

The worst moments:

Thanks for reading my (probably too) long account of this trip. I'm not sure if I would do another trip this long in the same amount of time - all day in the saddle every day gets old. Maybe next year I'll take the northern route and see Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.