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Coast-to-Coast Wrap-Up: Wherever you go, there you are. July 31, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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When I read Blue Highways, I was enrolled in the documentary feeling of the book.  I related to the author’s style of travel writing, and found the book inspirational, adding motivation to my own coast to coast journey across America. 


Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Blue Highways, but plan to, you may want to skip over the next paragraph….

As I neared the end of the book, I kept wondering if or how he would build to a climax and pen a dramatic or poignent conclusion.   I wondered whether there would be some sort of epiphany or cosmic realization to tie the whole works together.  As I finished the book, I had mixed emotions as the trip wound to an end with only the slightest reflection.  On one hand I wanted a strong take-away thought or message, but on the other, I knew that in the real world, trips just end without a Hollywood production finish. 

End of Spoiler Alert.


I have traveled enough to know that the best adventures come when you are not looking, and that epiphanies that are sought are rarely found.  It is by putting yourself into the circumstances for a great adventure, and then letting go of all expections, that the adventure finds you.

Many people travel with the prime intention of seeing new things.  They seek to contrast the lives of those in far away places to their own.  They travel to see the landscapes, architecture, history, and attractions that are not found in their own backyards. 

On this trip, I definitely experienced that.  I saw extraordinary vistas, which I had no way to really anticipate, that left me redefining my own limitations of beauty, awe, and inspiration.  Seeing so much of America in such a short time allowed me to compare what was before me, not only to a memory of other places, but to a RECENT memory of what I had seen only a day before.  And, traveling by motorcycle allowed me to experience both the sublety and abruptness of the transistions as I was immersed in the environment.  The continuity of experience afforded by the openness of the bike was so much more revealing than the digital transitions of stepping into and out of airports while flying across the country. 

I found a new appreciation for the diversity of land and culture that our nation has to offer.  Living so near the concrete ribbon between Balitmore and DC, I was heartened by the grandeur of our National Parks, preserving the natural beauty of our country.

But more powerfully than the diversity, it is the sameness that I found to inspiring.  When I was in Wheeling, West Virgina on the last night of the trip, I was asked many questions about my ride:  Where is the best food?  Where is the most beautiful landscape?  What was the most interesting thing you saw?  Where are the nicest people? 

It was at that moment that one of two journey epiphanies found me. 

These superlative-seeking queries were unanswerable.  I had seen incomperable beauty across the nation.  Nearly every stop possessed something new and interesting, even if only in an oddity sense.  And nearly every interaction with other people was a friendly, hospitable, and at least once, a life-saving exchange.   There was no triage to find the “best of”; the “best” is everywhere. 

So what are the odds that my house (or yours) is located in an extraordinarily rare part of the country that is devoid of great people, interesting sights, and great food?? Pretty darn slim.  While it should be obvious, familiarity with our own locales can desensitize us to the fact that our town is an exciting, adventure-filled destination for someone else, and we have the fortune of living in it.

The other realization was a more subtle, more reflective, very personal understanding that slowly evolved riding through the small communities of America.  While I am reticent to explore its full depth in this forum, its point is too important to remain completely tacit.  The upshot is that in this world of “have-to’s”, “need-to’s”, and “shoulds” the quality of “importance” can be externally thrust upon what we do, turning life into the constant fulfillment of obligation, rather than the encouraging the self-authoring of a life story.  We are in danger of being stuck by circumstance, and forgetting what makes us happy.

The importance of Atomic Days in Arco was not an imposed community ethos.  While it may have been to some, for the people I spoke to, the event was theirs.  They owned it.  They made it important, and they derived great happiness in its anticipation.  From Howard Hughes’ manure spreader, to Austin’s Spam Museum, to the Silver Dragon in Vandalia, to Cadillac Ranch, all these things were made important by the people to chose to make them so.  I was reminded that we should not lose sight of our freedom to choose what is important to us.

Being on the road for such a long time provides the opportunity to clean the slate, to forget the mundane, and live for the next adventure.  We have the chance for re-invention of self, if we choose to take it.  In travel, we can learn how to appreciate whatever comes next, whether it is having a good meal, taking a slow ride through a small town, or enduring a story-worthy adversity.  

So, now my goal is to carry these lessons back into “normal” life, and to remember to exercise my freedom to choose what is important, and to approach each day open to experience to whatever adventures may find me, because I know the chances of living in the only adventure-free part of the country are pretty small. 

And, if I find that I am “not having any fun”, it probably means I have been “on the interstate” for too long “pressing for miles”, and should find a less-traveled route to regain the ride.

Thank you all very much for following the ride.  I have truly appreciated and been inspired by your comments, tweets, and posts.  It was great to be kept company by your thoughts and well-wishes on the trip.



C2C Day 7: Atoms for Peace July 8, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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A late night of poker led to a late start getting out of Cody.  I lugged my gear back down to the bike, got packed up and continued to head west.  I had hoped to have reached Yellowstone the night before and didn’t, but was determined to not push myself too hard to make up time, and to enjoy the the park regardless of what my schedule looked like.

I headed west on another beautiful riding day, again cooler than I expected July to be, but getting used to it by now.  The land west of Cody took on yet another character of the rolling hills, small mountains, and bluffs of the west and proved to be some of my favorite scenery so far on the trip. 

West of Cody, WY

West of Cody, WY

Progressing west to Yellowstone the land again gradually changed to the alpine mountains well-photographed by Ansel Adams and others.  Nearing the east entrance of Yellowstone, I stopped by a well-placed sign for my ABCs point for a national park, and continued on to the gate, where I paid the $20 entrance (for motorcycles) and rolled in. 

The main roads through Yellowstone loosely form two stacked loops with the route between the east and west entrances forming the lower one.  Hitting the loop, I kept on US20 taking me long the north edge of Yellowstone Lake (windy!) to Fishing Bridge (which ironically was closed to fishing), then south (still along Yellowstone Lake) past Bridge Bay and West Thumb, then west onto Old Faithful.  Traffic became painful with slow-moving RVs and cagers.  It is not that I wished to race through the park, but staring and waiting for spurious brake lights on the back end of a fifth-wheel was not a relaxing ride, and the slow pace made it worse.

Inside the east entrance.

Inside the east entrance.

I finally arrived at the Old Faithful rest/shop/dining area, parked in the corner of a packed lot and walked toward the Geyser.  The geyser was scheduled to blow in about 20 minutes (plus or minus 10).  Given that the average period between eruptions is 91 minutes, I really couldn’t have arrived with better timing. 

The Geyser viewing area was much different than I expected.  For some reason I had envisioned a smaller and more intimate experience, but the geyser was out in the center of a safety zone looking more like a small mound than what one may have envisioned from forming one’s imagination from cartoons some 35 years earlier.  I stood among the crowd and awaited the display, watching in earnest at the start of the 20 minute window.  A nearby onlooker commented on the absurdity of several hundred people standing around staring at a rock waiting to watch water come out.  And the constipated chaos which would follow as all those people would leave at the same time to get back on those slow mountain roads,

Near the middle of the window the there were a few spits and spouts rising a few feet into the air.  After a few minutes, I was beginning to wonder if that was it when the actual eruption started. Pulsing in a series of surges, the geyser shot a tower of water in the air building higher with each crescendo.  It reached a peak about a minute after it started, and continued to erupt with diminishing intensity for a few minutes after.  (no pics – shot only video that I need to edit for upload)  The crowd (predictably) moved en masse toward the parking lot.  I headed for the restaurant for a cheeseburger letting the rest funnel out.

By the time I got out of the restaurant, the sky was starting to look a bit ominous.  I got on the bike, gassed up, and got back on the loop.  Within a fraction of a mile I hit the tail end of a backup.  The sky grew darker and it started to rain. I knew I only had 19 miles to get out of the park and sensed that the rain would clear as soon as I did, but that was 19 miles of stop, go, pass, and twist on slippery roads, proving to be a miserable ride.

As I entered the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, the rain broke as I expected, but the roads and I were both quite wet, and I was cold and tired.  I parked the bike, laid my soggy gloves on my gear to dry in the sun now streaming down making a heavy mist in the streets, and headed to a bar for a cup of coffee.  I met up with a couple of bikers from Alaska who came down to ride Montana.  They had set out for Missoula but turned back in high winds and decided to just spend the night there in West Yellowstone.  The idea of stopping was very tempting, but I had made so little progress that day, I chose to press on into Idaho.

The winds really picked up getting into the open expanse of Idaho along US20.  The sun was very low in the sky as I raced along the Snake River basin headlong into the wind.  With my throttle fully open I was only able to get to 85 miles and hour, and kept losing power in little 1-second decelerations.  I was beginning to worry that my new fuel pump from Florida was failing on me, but couldn’t really isolate the power losses from the intense wind guests.

This section of Idaho was one of the most desolate I had ridden so far on the trip.  Even in South Dakota, you’d see a distant farm or ranch off in the distance…  but in Idaho there was nothing.  About an hour outside Idaho Falls I came upon the Idaho National Lab, or rather the sign for its main entrance.  The low sun ahead of me made things a little tough to see, but passing by I saw nothing.  I knew some of our national labs and such were remote, but this was invisible.  I pressed on thinking that if I broke down here, it wouldn’t take long to be “found”.

The wind never let up and I was exhausted (but well dried).  I pulled into the tiny town of Arco, Idaho.  Seeing the Lost River Motel (with wifi) on the east edge of town right across from Pickle’s Place (home of the Atomic Burger) – I figured I hit the jackpot.  I checked into the second to last room they had, unloaded the bike, and rode into town.  After riding up and back all three major streets, I stopped at the Sawtooth Club just as a biker couple and their dog showed up on a Yellow Softail. 


Entering the bar I was inundated with dogs checking out the new visitor, until they found I had nothing to eat.  As they raced back to a fellow dolling out Cheetos (the bar keeps a bag just for the dogs – they call it Doggie Dope), I found a seat at the bar and had a beer and enjoyed the free popcorn (a mid-western bar staple that I see less and less)

The patrons of the Sawtooth were some of the friendliest I had met on this journey and are fiercely proud of their town.  Arco (population 982) has the honor of being the world’s first nuclear powered city.  Powered by an experimental reactor at the Idaho National Lab in 1955, Arco was the first large scale representative of “Atoms for Peace”.  The town boasts of its atomic heritage in its shop signs, burgers, and the annual Atomic Days celebration. 

Everyone at the bar was very friendly and I was invited to the table of Koz and Mamma Koz who planned to move to Idaho when they retired, but, looking to be in their late thirties, decided there was no sense in waiting and love their Arco home.  I was regaled with the town’s history and the conspiracy theories about what goes on at INL.  When I mentioned I wanted to head out to try an Atomic Burger, Mamma Koz grabbed her cell phone and called in the order for me. 

picklesI rode to Pickles to pick up my burger and found another social center of Arco with the group of young waitresses alternatively complaining about having to work and not having enough hours of work.  Momma Koz had apparently ordered fries with my burger, and I was asked if I wanted “fries sauce” with that – which of course I had to accept.  (Turns out that is a very special local recipe consisting of equal parts of ketchup and mayonnaise.) 

I rode back to the Sawtooth with my Atomic Burger to find a cold beer waiting for me, compliments of the Koz’s.  Enjoying my burger (which surprisingly was not a peppery hot sandwich as one would expect – rather with mushroom and onions – named solely for the town, not the heat) I heard more stories of town, and we spoke of rides and coincidences. 

We were joined by two revelers, Howard Hughes and Baseball Bob (who used to play for the Minnesota Twins).  They were quite excited about their plans to enter their manure spreader truck in the crappiest truck competition in the upcoming Atomic Days.  It has no battery (not worth the money to replace it).  It starts by pouring 18 ounces of ether into the carburetor, pulling it with a tractor and popping the clutch, sending billows of black oil-laden smoke into the air.  The truck burns 2 gallons of oil per hour – eliminating the need for those pesky oil changes.  (They literally stop work every hour to add two gallons.)  They joked(?) about the paramedics that would follow the truck in the parade to pass out oxygen. 

I kind of wish I stuck around longer to get Baseball Bob’s story, but with night well underway, I headed out.  I gassed up the bike just as the station was closing down and headed back to the Lost River Motel.  The last room had been rented and the No Vacancy sign shown brightly lighting my way to my room.  I worked on my route and blog for a while stopping occasionally to stand out in the night air.  I had set out to find real small town pride and Americana and found it here in Arco.

Arco City Hall

Arco City Hall