Dwight Spencer McBain - San Diego to Pennsylvania
What follows was originally posted as a series of mail notes to a private website that connects me to family - cousins and our children, mostly not bikers - who live all over America. It was my way of keeping in touch as I took a slow solo bike trip from San Diego to a small farm in Northeast Pennsylvania. The mail notes became the numbered sections here.
Thanks go to Robert Persig, (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) who inspired me decades ago. It finally bore fruit. Like Persig's work, what follows has only a little to do with motorcycling.
It came out longer than expected. I hope you enjoy the story enough to get to the end. /DSM
I lied to you all - there is an Internet connection. And room on the bike for my laptop. A trip that was supposed to provide solitude has already taught me that I'd rather be in touch. I'd never have made it at Walden. Unless of course, I had email.
Way back when Hector really was a pup I had a couple of small motorcycles. Did a lot of silly things, mostly at low speed. I remember riding down the middle of railroad tracks. When the stone between the ties gave out, I tried to go fast enough to keep from bouncing on the ties. I tried to drive deep water too. Got pretty shook up on the railroad tracks. And that was before I heard the whistle and looked over my shoulder to see the locomotive roaring down on me. Truth.
Sometimes He does look after fools.
The most common accident that a biker faces, happens when a car comes from the opposite direction and makes a left turn in front of the bike. No malice here, they just don't see you. It's never a very fair contest. The biker loses. Every time.
"Act like you're invisible", suggested cousin Dwight the other night at dinner. Good advice! Or as someone else put it, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. "
Maybe if I'd had that advice many years ago I would have avoided an accident exactly like the one I've described. Alas, I woke up with a sweet little old lady looking into my face and asking if I was all right. She was the driver of the other car.
The good news is - I woke up.
A few days later I decided that God had warned me, and that I ought to heed His advice the first time. I sold the bike and committed to stay off them so long as I had family responsibilities. And so I did.
What I didn't give up was the love of the sport. There was never a time when I didn't want, "One good long ride". No surprise then, that when life moved along, and the opportunity presented itself, I plunked down my pennies, and bought the biggest bike I could fit.
It's four months later and the journey has begun.
I'll drop you a note as the spirit moves me. If you're lucky it'll be informative, or maybe entertaining, or maybe provocative. Not likely it'll be politically correct. My heroes were not politically correct. I belong to the "just spit it out" crowd.
Like some of the rest of the family, a pulpit and a nearly captive audience are irresistible. And, um, uh, no they weren't all preachers by trade. So if I don't gore your favorite ox right off, just wait a bit.
I'll close today with a bit of advice from my Mother :
"Don't encourage him, he only gets worse."
1. When the student is ready
The ride up out of San Diego is about as good as it gets. Especially in the early spring. It's a short trip to Yuma today, so there's time for some back roads. Following Otay Lakes Road to SR94 and then on toward I8 is a bikers raison d'etre. Clear warm sun and nearly continuous esses each one a little different provides continual interest. Slow down, roll in, power up on the way out then lean the other way and do it again. Each one teaches me a little more about rhythm and feel.
The hills, green on their western slope, tease my senses. I've been over this road before. It was difficult the first time. The bike, some 700 pounds dry, was five times heavier than the bikes I rode years ago. For the first few hundred miles I rode with a pretty tight grip. As confidence grew, my grip relaxed.
Today for the first time I've got full saddlebags and a large heavy pack on the sissy bar. The feel is different and this road will be a fine training ground.
It all goes more easily than I expected. The curves blend smoothly each one into the next. Time to relax and enjoy. Hog heaven.
The Dulzura Cafe is a great place to stop. Time warp to the 60's. Faux log cabin exterior, rafters hung with "collectables", and a counter waitress who doubles as the cook. Probably not listed in the Michelin Guide, but warm, unpretentious, and inviting. Bikers are welcomed with reserved parking. The coffee does the trick.
Moving on down the road I'm headed into Barrett Junction. The road is suddenly steep, the turns precipitous and without guard rails. My lack of experience breeds a little fear. I feel the sweat on my palms! Two minutes later it's history and I'm back in the esses. Heady stuff.
A bit further on, there's a sign for the Harris Ranch Road. If you've had a really good steak recently, it might have come from here.
This is a touring bike. Windshield, saddlebags, meant to be ridden sitting up. There's another kind. Little or no windshield, and no storage. Meant to be ridden in a crouch. Built for speed, they lean incredibly well into a curve and invite you to press the envelope. Some people call 'em Jock Rockets. Guys who ride them usually wear something that looks like a space suit on a Saturday morning cartoon character.
I look in the mirror and see one coming fast behind me. He'll be passing me in two seconds, and there's no way he can see around the curve. I tighten up and tuck it in. He screams by.
I've over corrected and slipped into the gravel. The bike bobbles, but comes back onto the pavement. Sure glad these big bikes like to go straight!
Two miles later I notice I'm still in a death grip and try to loosen up. Ten miles later I decide I should be just a hair less generous with the road next time I run into that guy.
Coming over the top of the hills at 4000 feet, the air is cool and comfortable. I pass under a late nineteenth century railroad trestle 150 feet in the air and wonder at the courage of the men who built it.
On the way down the other side, the hills turn rocky and brown. At the bottom of this grade is the Imperial Valley. It's twenty degrees warmer down there and if you find anything green there, it's because somebody watered it.
At two thousand feet I can smell the fertilizer. At a thousand feet I can't smell anything else.
Splat...splat...splat splat splat. Big yellow ones, little black ones, some just clear and gooey. The bad news is, I forgot my Bowie knife. The good news is, this bike has a windshield. Otherwise, I'd need the Bowie to pick 'em out of my teeth.
This is desert. It comes with cactus. I like cactus - barrel, Joshua Tree, Saguaro, but here we get Ocotillo. Long bony finger like stems that angle a dozen feet into the sky. Ugliest things I ever saw. But give them a little rain and they put out blossoms of incredible beauty.
For those of you who wonder what Southern California does with all that water they get from everybody else, the answer is that 90 percent of it is used grow vegetables. Here in the Imperial Valley and further north in the Central Valley. They grow alfalfa too. And feed it to those beefers over at the Harris Ranch.
Some folks complain about Southern California thieves who take all that water from the Colorado, and Northern California. Maybe next winter when you see one of those complainers settle down to a fine prime rib dinner with fresh vegetables and maybe an artichoke heart appetizer, tell 'em to send it all back to California and just have a nice glass of water.
Splat splat. WARNING: Don't stick your head above the windshield. Them suckers smart.
2. Yuma or If that was Hog Heaven back there what are all them Hogs doin' here.
Sometimes a state border makes geographic sense, like when it lies along a river. Other times it looks pretty arbitrary - just a straight line from nowhere to nowhere else. Sometimes it takes on a life of it's own.
A lifetime ago I passed thru Yuma. It was a dusty little desert town about to go extinct. Couldn't figure out why it was there. Didn't hang around long trying to find out.
Today's Yuma looks more prosperous. This time I'll hang around and see if I can figure out why.
From the cost of a room, it looks like high season is February. And everything else is low season.
Settle into my room. Clean the day's bug collection off the bike. There's a steady rumble up and down the street. Mostly in ones and twos. Looks like half the town lives on bikes. Mostly big Harleys. No one is wearing a helmet.
The border has become a cultural divide. On one side there's California where the government takes care of everything including protecting me from myself. On the other side, Arizona, where the responsibility for looking after me starts with me. And maybe stops there. But I'm getting ahead of the story.
I don't know much about the wisdom of safety helmets, so I'll just pass along the rumors.
Rumor #1 - Some time ago, and over time, there were a number of scientific studies that clearly demonstrated that wearing a safety helmet while riding a bike reduces the number of deaths due to head injuries.
Forward looking states like California quickly adopted helmet laws
Rumor #2 - Some more recent studies by some other scientists confirmed rumor #1. Then they looked around and noticed that deaths from neck injuries went up about as much as deaths from head injuries went down.
We haven't heard the end of this.
I've just started settling into the motel, when a couple of Harleys roll in and take the next room. "I'm Chris"' says one rider sticking out a hand, "and that's my ol' lady" nodding toward the door where the other rider has disappeared.
The conversation continues for a while, mostly about bikes. "Where you from?" "Las Vegas. Lookin' for a party tonight." I decide to pass on that one. "I'm just looking for a good night's sleep."
Rumor #3 - There is overwhelming evidence that wearing a helmet while driving a car will reduce both deaths and the seriousness of many injuries.
So how come we don't have laws requiring safety helmets to be worn in cars?
Rumor #4 - The scientists are at it again. This time they tell us that there is a clear correlation between helmet laws and fewer bikes on the road.
Hey, I think I've got it. Maybe the purpose of helmet laws is to get those damned bikers off our California roads. Send 'em to Yuma.
Now that we've got a President from Texas, I suppose you might want to know what Texans do about all this. Wanna leave your helmet at home? Just have $10,000.00 in medical insurance. Go bust your head if you want to. The Great State of Texas is not gonna pay to fix it. Cool huh?
That said, I think there are two good reasons to wear a helmet. 1. When it's the law. 2. When it's cold, it'll keep your ears warm.
And two more options. 1. If you don't like the law, go to work and change it. One state at a time. 2. Go live somewhere where the laws are more to your liking. America was founded by people who voted with their feet. But before you jump, see if you can get those rumors straightened out. As Agent Moulder puts it, "The truth is out there somewhere".
While all this helmet business has been going on, I think I've got some insight into the new Yuma. There are an awful lot of RV parks. And several very prosperous looking RV dealers.
Looks like Yuma is for the 'birds. Snowbirds. And bikers.
3. Yuma to Tucson
On the way out of Yuma I successfully pass thru a border check. Guess they're not here to keep Californians out after all.
Two hundred fifty miles. There's a lot to see in Arizona, but it's not here.
A sudden burst of 85 mph traffic and I'm getting nervous, so I tuck in between a couple of big rigs for awhile. Most of those guys are way more protective of a biker than your average four wheeler.
By the time I get to Gila Bend, the Ocotillo has given way to magnificent Saguaro. Now that's cactus! 'Course the ones out here in the desert don't have sombreros painted over them.
So what's this place about? Solitude. Open road. Warm sun. The feel of freedom. Guess I'll work on getting rid of that tan line on my forehead.
Rounding the corner from I8 to I10 for the last of the day's ride I see a mountain that strikes me as familiar. From here it seems to have two peaks, one just a tad lower than the other. Picacho Peak turns out to be every bit as beautiful as Half Dome in Yosemite. Gotta get out more!
Anything you learn about Tucson from me is purely accidental. I'm here for dinner and some sleep.
Still all is not lost. Dinner at a nearby hash house is illuminating. I've crossed another cultural divide, and discover that here the quality of a steak is in how big around it is, not how thick it is. A ten-ounce T-Bone can cover your turkey platter.
There's an opportunity for a bit of vicarious education at the counter, too. The local gentry sum up a series of one-liners with, "You never really know a woman until you meet her in court."
Hey, don't shoot the messenger. Things might pick up tomorrow.
4. East from Tucson
I'm rolling a little slower this morning. Enjoying the desert smells. Patches of wildflowers, yellow and gold, Yucca in early bloom. Is all this more beautiful because it's Easter? Communion is where you find it.
From I10 take SR90 south for about 10 miles and find one of Arizona's best-kept secrets, Kartchner Caverns. Probably not in your guidebook yet. Proper name: Kartchner Caverns State Park.
Though not as large as Carlsbad, it's still pretty impressive. But the view alone is not what makes this important.
From the time of its discovery in 1974 until it's partial opening to the public in 1999 the singular theme has been preservation. The discoverers, the private landowners, and eventually the State of Arizona have collaborated to one end. These are living, growing caverns and they will be preserved that way for generations to come.
That's no small feat. Mess with a limestone cave very much and the odds are you'll kill it. That's what's happened to most of them. Growth stops, colors change, trash accumulates, and somebody makes a buck. This time it looks like they got it right. Go see for your self.
Time warp to the eighties - the eighteen eighties.
This is the home of America's most famous gunfight. The OK Corral, the gunfight, the wooden sidewalks (boardwalks), its all preserved right here. Re-enacted at 10, 12, and 3. Sure it's a bit touristy. So's Disneyland. This is American history, man. And I found a great T-shirt shop too.
The sign at the door of the Crystal Palace is instructive. "No firearms permitted." It's no joke. This is where I discover another culture difference: The local attitude about guns is just like their attitude about helmets. Want to run around town with a gun on your hip? Feel free. Here's the limit. Guns and alcohol don't mix well. At the Crystal Palace, check your guns at the door.
Morning in the desert always gets me. Clear, cool, dry air. Warm sun. You don't need a Zen Master to tell you to breathe deeply.
I'm out looking for my morning coffee. Most of the shops won't be open for hours, but the OK Cafi is going strong. In the back room - the smoking section - a lone woman in her forties sits quietly with her coffee and a cigarette. In the front room sit 5 or 6 guys. The conversation runs: Illegals - Think we could hire some Border Patrol Agents that could run a little faster? Fences - The illegals just go under 'em. It's the damned off road bikers that don't close the gates. Solar collectors - Thirty thousand dollars and we could sell the power to California this summer.
The topics might change, but some things about a small town are universal.
On the way back to the motel I pass the Fire Department, the Marshall's Office, and the all-important City Hall. All still closed. No need to open today boys, the big decisions were already taken care of by 7am, over at the OK Cafi.
6. Las Cruces
Clean wide streets, a robust economy, and a university mark Las Cruces. Nearby in what, on the map, could be mistaken for the 'burbs lies Mesilla. It's not your average suburb. Back before Las Cruces got its crosses, before El Paso got to be a pony express stop, Mesilla was a busy place. First Mexican, then American. Mesilla was the capitol of New Mexico when Arizona was still a part of it.
Around the square lies a church and many well preserved 150 year old adobe buildings, most of them on the historic register, now home to small shops and restaurants.
As I look thru the door, I'm intimidated by the mess inside. Bookcases over full, piles of books on chairs, tables and stools. Courage. Enter. Discover that crowded it is, disorganized it isn't. Books are sensibly grouped. Stacks make it easy to read the spines. Content is way above average. This is a browsers dream and I'm hooked.
An hour later I leave with three books. You'd think a guy who's got to live out of a backpack for the next month would show a little more restraint.
Later I head out thru the university district looking for an Italian restaurant. Past the rows of Greeks: TDK, KAK, PBK, KKK (only kidding), BSU (Hold on! They're not Greek.).
Eating out alone is troublesome for many. Men hate it. Women hate it more. "What's the matter with you? Can't you find a...?" is the message they hear. It oozes out of the walls. The newly unmarried hate it most.
Sometimes the message is a little more subtle. Like when the first words you hear are, "Just one"? "JUST one", my mind screams. "What do you mean JUST one?" As you can tell, I've never quite gotten over that one.
There are crutches to be sure. If you're on an expense account, pick an overpriced eatery where the staff is more likely to coddle you so much that there isn't time to feel alone. A book is another one. "I'm literate, I don't need a dinner companion", it says. The modern favorite is to get a prescription for one or another SSRI from your friendly local MD. It'll help you babble even in the most uncomfortable moments.
"Get over it!" is the current in-your-face advice. It's accurate, but about as useful as a case of the mumps at a love-in.
The trick is to get outside of yourself. Most of the people you meet, particularly in a service environment, are bored to tears by customers who don't really see them. The idea that they are servants, not to be noticed, is an idea whose time ought to have passed long ago.
"Get curious" is better advice. About people. About things. "Hi, How are you?" "Looks like you're running pretty hard tonight." "This is a nice bread, what's it called?"
At the bookstore, I'd brought the middle-aged proprietor up short with, "You know, you're trouble." And then quickly explained to her that I hadn't the faintest idea how I was going to pack those three great books she had just sold me. We had a good chuckle. She offered to mail them. The cute young gal at the register got in on the act when she noticed the titles. Ah, to be 20 years younger I thought to myself.
Entering the restaurant, a young woman buzzes by. "Be with you in a second". When she returns: "One?" ... I think I'm going to enjoy this meal.
Oh, it was called Pizza Dough bread.
Alone and lonely are two very different things.
7. Passing El Paso.
Americans sure are a strange bunch. Label somebody a redneck in San Francisco and you'd get him dropped from the "A" list. And over in Oakland you could get him shot faster than a saloon girl in Tombstone could drop her jewels. But here - here it's a compliment. " Red Necks and Long Necks" said the bumper sticker with pride.
That's Texan for men and beer.
Everything I learned about El Paso was stuck to the bumper of a pickup truck.
A few years ago "West of the Pecos" was to Texas what "beyond the pale" was once to Ireland. A place where only the very brave or the very foolish would venture. A place from which you might not return.
Well time has passed, and civilization has arrived. Today's West Texas cowboy is more likely to pack a cell phone on his hip.
I'm an hour or so down the road past El Paso when I notice that my windshield is still clean. No bugs around here. Come to think of it, not much of anything else around here either.
Pecos (the town) is a dusty little burg just west of the Pecos (the river). I'm here because it's an easy day's ride from Las Cruces. I find a place to eat. Next door to the Federal courthouse, the sign says "Tejano Steakhouse". Maybe somebody in that courthouse is a judge of good food, I think whimsically as I wander in.
The Tejano Steakhouse is dusty old wood, rifles, saddles, ropes, boots, and branding iron burns on every available square inch of space. Cowboy kitsch to the max. Hey play along, I think as I order the "Gunfighter Special".
I'd like to string you along for another few paragraphs, but my conscience says, "Cut to the chase". The Gunfighter Special arrives. Ground round, cooked a little past well done, covered in fried onions, brown gravy (a la Early Gringo), and a fried Jalapeno pepper.
I guess the fried pepper was the Tejano part.
The next morning I'm walking down a long corridor to the dining room. I flash back to a similar corridor some years ago. There was an attractive, well-dressed woman a dozen steps ahead of me. I picked up the pace a bit, and arrived at the door just in time to open it for her. "Why thank you", she said in a soft Southern voice that ran goose bumps all the way down to my heels. I've been opening doors ever since.
Gentlemen are made, not born.
Scene: In the dining room.
Conversation here is pretty muted. Sort of like a church, just before worship services start.
I've barely got my eyes open, content to practice the Zen of Coffee, when I become aware of polite but raised voices from a couple of nearby tables. The waitress returns to table #1 to discover that she has delivered the juice to the wrong place.
"What is this?"
"I'll keep it", says the lady at table #1.
Silence. The tomato juice moves toward table #2.
"I guess I'll have the tomato juice too", says the guy at table #1.
"But wait", he continues -- the juice halts in mid air half way on its return trip, -- "That's his juice", he says pointing to table #2.
By now the whole room, including the waitress, is roaring with laughter.
8. Bikers (a bit of history) or Life Imitates Art or Exactly what is a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Before the United States entered WWII, there were American aviators in England (The Eagle Squadron) and Indochina (eventually known as the Flying Tigers). The Tigers flew P40s, an aircraft whose shape was especially well suited to the sharks teeth painted under the nose. Of the three Tiger squadrons, one added a most interesting design. Start with a shapely female form (the sort you see on truck mud flaps), add wings, a halo, and paint it all red.
Now fast forward to the end of the war. A lot of guys who had been exposed to them during the war wanted to own motorcycles for the same excitement we've all come to love. They rode, and they formed clubs. One of those clubs took the name of that Flying Tiger squadron. They called themselves, "Hell's Angels".
About that time, some bikers converged on a small California town - Hollister - and partied it up. The national press covered it. Life magazine carried a now famous photo of a drunken biker, beer bottle in hand, on his bike amid a crowd with a lot of broken glass. The message was clear.
The press talked about bikers - the 99 percent who were good guys and the 1 percent who were "outlaws". Hollywood got in the act, and Marlon Brando made a movie - The Wild One.
Never mind that the Hollister incident was way overblown. Never mind that the photograph was staged. Never mind that the movie was pure fiction. The world had an outlaw image and soon enough there would be one-percenters to fill it.
Historical Postscript: Ft Lauderdale had a biker problem a few years ago too. They were quick to make the bikers unwelcome. The bikers moved to Daytona Beach. Daytona saw it differently. Today bike week in Daytona is a rite of passage. A celebration of life. Doesn't hurt the local economy either.
9. East of the Pecos
It's less than 100 miles down the road, but Midland is a world away from Pecos. Things are green here. Some is vegetation, some is the folding type.
The three things you should know about Midland:
1. "Theys awl unner them heals", as they say in Texan.
2. This is where our current President put a fine hone on his language skills.
3. Midland is the headquarters of the Confederate Air Force.
There's enough fodder in all of this for several days worth of socio-political comment, but I'm not here for that. (And Brutus was an honorable man, too.)
The Confederate Air Force is a non-profit group whose name is a lighthearted reference to their Southern beginnings in Harlingen, Texas. They have the finest collection of operational World War II aircraft in existence, including the only flying B29. They have equipment in 27 states and 4 foreign countries, but the cream is right here.
The hanger has operational aircraft and work in progress. The museum is a world famous collection of WWII artifacts, well organized to help visitors understand the significance of airpower during that period.
And then there's the nose art, especially the sexy girls that appealed to the mostly male pilots and flight crew. The US Air Force was beaten into political correctness a few years ago and got rid of the nose art. (Come to think of it they screwed up the music too. What ever happened to, "Off we go, into the wild blue yonder .?")
The CAF sees its mission differently, and is now working actively to preserve the few remaining pieces of nose art.
Like most non-profit, privately-funded, volunteer-operated organizations, contributions are appreciated. But unlike the others, make a nice contribution to the CAF and these folks will make you a Colonel in the Confederate Air Force. Even a Yankee.
10. East Texas
The difference between West Texas and East Texas is about like the difference between a porcupine and a pussycat. One of them invites you to hang around. Rolling hills, lush green grass, patches of woodland. Horses and cattle grazing, picture perfect, in a king size setting.
I've spotted an interesting looking bird. Black, a little smaller than a crow, the male has distinctive tail feathers that don't quite fold up when he's on the ground. This being spring, the guys are very busy trying to impress the gals with the beauty of those tail feathers. All to some good end, no doubt. They're called Grackles.
Along the road, hawks circle lazily in the sky, watching patiently for lunch. Small blue flowers grow in patches. Blue Bonnets. I'd have missed their scent if I'd been in a car.
I've stopped here to visit with an old friend. Although Roy lived in Dallas and I, near Los Angeles, business put us in many cities around the world together. Now both retired, we find time to reminisce about those experiences. We keep our hands busy making repairs to the fresh water system on his favorite project - his boat. There's time to talk about retirement. To wonder why some of us continue in a life that's joyful and others seem to drift into a much less satisfying pattern. Lots of questions. Few answers.
A couple of days 'down time' and I'm ready to be on the road. I'll miss Roy and look forward to seeing him again.
Back on country roads, the miles fly by. Seems like I barely cleared Dallas and I'm passing Beaumont. Then, the border and into Louisiana.
11. Cajun Country
Today's run includes a 100-mile byway called the Creole Nature Trail. It winds from I10 south to the gulf, along sandy white beaches for a while, and then back to I10. The flat land, which supports incredible wildlife - fish, shellfish, birds from as far north as Alaska, reptiles, and mammals, is often marsh. Raise the land a foot and livestock graze; lower it a foot and you're in a waterway.
The road is twice broken by the inland waterway. Each time, the bike soars on an open bridge high over the water. I feel like I'm flying. Small houses dot the waterway, often with a dock and maybe a rowboat that suggests a pretty laidback way of life.
In the middle, the road gives way to the deep-water channel that serves Lake Charles. As I roll onto the ferry, the operator offers me a front corner so I can park the bike and take in the sights. Egrets stand quietly in a few inches of water waiting for lunch. Gulls wait patiently for the engines to start. Then excitement rules as the water becomes turbulent and they frantically search for treasures churned up from the bottom.
Ten feet away, a hand rhythmically taps the dashboard of a van. The driver, relieved of his duties for a few minutes, sits in an enclosed world of his own. The sound of birds drowned by the music on his radio, the smell of the sea isolated by an air conditioner. Suddenly I feel very fortunate.
Along this road, fishermen - you need a beach chair and a pole, and a farmer - plowing the field, waves as I pass, engine purring. This is the rural America we read about. People - strangers - are valued for their presence. How different from the urban environment I left a few days ago, where people are all too often reduced to objects of annoyance. Just someone in the way - be it on the freeway, on the sidewalk, or in a long line at the grocery store.
There's roadwork ahead so I slow, and then stop. The young man directing traffic walks over and wants to trade places with me. "I'll even throw in my pickup truck", he offers. "Do I get the blinkin' light on top?" "Yup, I'll throw that in too", he grins and waves me ahead.
Three days in the region and I stuck pretty much to things Cajun. Gumbo, Boudin (pronounced bow-dan), etouffee(shrimp, crawfish), seafood au gratin, I tried everything I didn't recognize. I can't recall when I've had so much fun with food. Three days didn't do it. Three weeks might make a good start.
A Cajun history in two paragraphs.
From the early 1600's the French settled in Eastern Canada. They called the area Acadia (Acadie), and themselves Acadians. Driven out by the English in the mid 18th century, some Acadians moved further west into Canada, some returned to France, and some moved to the relative isolation of the bayou country of Louisiana, seeking mostly to be left alone. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's mid 19th century poem 'Evangeline' chronicled the lost love of two young refugee Acadians separated forever.
With the discovery of oil around 1900, the isolation of the bayou country was ended. The influx of mainstream America put heavy (and heavy handed) pressure on the culture, and especially the language. In the last couple of decades the Louisiana Legislature has become more supportive. French is now taught in schools and the culture, music, and food of the region are enjoying a revival. The word 'Cajun' derives from 'Acadian'.
Loosen up, enjoy the food, dance to the music, share the laughter.
12. New Orleans
By now you've figured out that this is a 'see the countryside' trip, not a 'see the cities' trip. The plan was simple, anything that's big enough to have more than two stray dogs is gonna see my tailpipes before it hears the rumble. Still, I felt a twinge of guilt as I blew by New Orleans and settled in for the night - 30 miles east.
There, I broke a pattern, turned on the television, and watched the news. The next morning I turned around and hightailed it for town. JazzFest is not as well known as their little pre-Lenten bash, but don't tell that to the 200 thousand people who show up here for a couple of 4 day weekends.
It's here that the cultural diversity of New Orleans expresses itself in music. English, French, Spanish, African, American Indian, Cajun, Creole, Country, the musical soul of the Big Easy is all here. And more of that fun food than you could sample in a week.
Laissez les bon temps rouler! C'est bon. C'est bon!
(Yes, of course, I bought another T-shirt.)
13. New Orleans to Pensacola
Four states, one day. An easy ride. Less than 200 miles. What made it especially interesting is that I got off I10. Just as I picked up US 90, there were several signs offering alligator swamp tours. Though about it. Decided to postpone the excursion until my Sweetie was along. It just makes common sense to have someone tastier than you are - with you when you get in the boat.
There's a particularly nice stretch of US 90 thru Mississippi. It runs along the Gulf Coast. Beautiful white sandy beaches that go for miles on one side of the road, stately 'Old South' mansions on the other. Further along there are nice, modestly priced motels. I'm tempted to take one and go barbeque my body for a couple of days, but the call of the road is strong. Gotta see what's around the next bend.
There are roads that ought to be driven just because they are there. If you're old enough, nostalgia puts Route 66 at the top of the list. On the West Coast, California One, running nearly the length of the state is my favorite. I've driven it several times and always feel inspired. Do it in a sports car with the top down if you can.
Add US 89 across the Florida panhandle to the list. Miles of pure white beach without a footprint. Patches of condos shoulder to shoulder, sometimes motels, casinos, and amusement parks, sometimes a quiet bay full of sailboats, or a bridge soaring over a deep water port that's home to commercial fishing boats. Whatever your idea of a coast, you'll find it somewhere along this road. Wonder what's a little further inland? Pine trees. Lots of them. When the road went in, it cut a perfectly straight swath a couple of hundred feet wide thru a forest of tall skinny pine trees. I rode thru them for miles without seeing a car.
If you want to waste away for a few days, or even a few years, bring the Margaritas, put your feet up, the Florida panhandle might be the perfect place to do it.
14. Hang a left at Jacksonville
'Hang a left at Jacksonville' was all there was to the plan when this trip started. As I rode thru the last leg in Florida the trees gave way to farmland. Cows, hay in huge round bales, things a country boy can understand. Back behind me the signs had said, "Tree farm". Now I know what a tree is and I think know what a farm is, but 'Tree Farm' still seems like a contradiction in terms.
Savannah, thanks to the foresight of a Confederate general who vacated the city rather than have it destroyed by war, is one of the few cities of the 'old south' to have preserved so much of it's antebellum history. It was saved again in the mid twentieth century, from an economic boom that nearly did what the generals had so carefully avoided, by a strong preservationist movement.
It's one of the most romantic cities I've visited. Have dinner on River Street or at one of the nearby outdoor cafes. Go for a walk along the waterfront. Take your best friend. Hold hands. Whisper, "I love you".
15. Heading North
I'm on the last leg. The easygoing attitude that has carried me from San Diego to Savannah evaporated with this morning's mist. I'm getting anxious to get to the farm.
The Carolina Coast
Beautiful beaches made for beachcombing, miles of waterways that beckon recreational boaters, and more golf courses than I'd ever imagined. No wonder so many people from the Rust Belt retire here. But where is everybody?
They're here! Or will be very soon. This well-known party town is ready when you are. Shoulder to shoulder motels, hotels, resorts, campgrounds. Myrtle Beach is ready for the summer ritual.
Morehead City, NC
Breakfast on the front deck at Salty's Steamer, brought as pleasant a morning as I could hope for. Like the great Maitre'd that he is, Salty greets all of his guests personally, makes them feel welcome at once, and then passes by periodically to make sure all is well. He politely accepts tips, but makes it clear that he's there for all, gratuities not required. Still, I couldn't resist sharing my bacon. Salty is a black Lab mix. He wouldn't dream of imposing, but if he's invited, he may join you for a minute, before moving on to attend to his other guests.
16. Island hopping
Much of the east coast is protected by the 'Outer Bank', a string of islands that can be 20 miles or more from the mainland. It takes a two-hour ferry ride, to reach Ocracoke Island - once the hideout of Blackbeard the pirate, a 12-mile bike ride, and then another 40-minute ferry to get to the south end of Hatteras Island. The north end of this narrow island is a 72-mile ride. Beautiful beaches along the eastern side, harbors and marshes on the inland side, most of the island is either National Park or wildlife preserve. Still there's enough land for the few hardy souls who would live here. Many of the houses are on stilts, raised a dozen feet above the land, and then rising for 2 or 3 floors, affording their occupants magnificent views of the shore and the ocean beyond. Cape Hatteras had a well-known weather station here for many years. Kitty Hawk is on the northern end of the island.
I've been over so many, that I'm getting jaded. Even so, crossing the Chesapeake from Virginia Beach by a combination of bridges and tunnels that extend more than 13 miles is impressive.
I'm truly ambivalent this morning. A couple of days ago, I couldn't wait to get to the farm. I'll be there in a couple of hours. There's sadness too. The adventure is coming to an end.
Cherry blossoms, apple blossoms, lilacs in a day or so. Home!
There were many experiences along the way that I'll never forget. The cool still morning air of the Arizona desert, the ocean gently lapping on the sandy white beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, waterways that so invited exploration along the Chesapeake, the joyful atmosphere of a Cajun restaurant, casual conversations with people everywhere that happened because a bike doesn't insulate you from your surroundings. One stands out above the rest. It was the culmination of all the feelings that happened along the way.
As I rounded the turn from I10 eastbound to I95 northbound near Jacksonville I broke into song. There I was, doing 70 mph, feeling higher than a kite, singing at the top of my lungs, "This land is your land, this land is my land..." At that moment I knew that the reality was more than the dream.
Thanks for putting up with my musings.
Dwight Spencer McBain
February 2003: It's nearly two years later. I'd planned to buy the bike, take the trip, and then sell the bike. Yeah right! I'll be on the road again as soon as the snow melts.