The tale of the “tail”

 

 

The “Tail of the Dragon” is one of those must do events for bikers. I’ve ridden several challenging roads like Needles Highway and Iron Mountain in South Dakota’s Black Hills and Bear-tooth Pass entering Yellowstone National Park to name a few.  Any road with an “I survived” patch calls our names.

AJ and I plan a longer ride every year to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  This year took us to a stretch of Hay 129 on the Tennessee /North Carolina border. The Tail is famous for its 318 curves in 11 miles.   Safe to say you get to use “all your tire” on these curves.

I want to send a shout out to Smokey Mountain Harley Davidson in Maryville, Tn for a damn nice looking shop complete with the nicest customer lounge ever. It’s what man caves dream of.  The staff was top notch as well giving us the local scoop on the best routes.  We barley scratched the surface and need to return for more.

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We rode “the Dragon” on a fall Tuesday in October and it was nothing short of spectacular.  Enough bikes and sports cars to be interesting but I never felt “pushed”.  This was our first time and I wasn’t seeing any speed records.  Turn offs were easy to find if a faster biker or cager was behind me.

I’m still sorting through the pictures that US129COM  and Killboy took.  For less than 10 bucks a pic they are great souvenirs.

Lunch was at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort for a “catch all” burger with cheddar cheese , bbq sauce and onion rings.  This northern boy had to try the Sweat Tea too.

Finally we paid homage to the Tree of Shame grateful that we had no parts to hang from it.

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Update 10/18/2017   Photos from US129COM .  Love ’em.

 

 

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Whitewater rafting on the Lower New River

 

Our first time white water rafting!  I’d heard that West Virginia was the place to go! With everything from calm water to Class 5 rapids and a fascinating history of coal miners and their struggles to boot.

Kudos to River Expeditions for a great trip.

Zip Lining In West Virginia

 

Our second zip lining experience at River Expeditions in Oak Hill, West Virginia. This time we did some of our own breaking and steering by use of heavy gloves.

Our guides, very pleasant and professional,  took us on a “basic training” line to teach us “the ropes”.

Four zip lines took us over camp grounds and through the woods.

 

A museum to the “Last of the Gladiators”

For a lot of us who grew up in the 70’s, there was no one cooler than Evel Knievel. I remember watching him jump 10 Kenworth trucks from my grandparent’s house and watching other many other jumps with my dad on Wide World of Sports. I watched every special and collected many of his toys. I’d be sitting on a small fortune if I still had them.

Did you ever wear a homemade jacked up Halloween costume as a kid? Especially when you were too young to know it was jacked up? My mother made me an Evel Knievel costume for a scouting talent show when I was in second grade. Mom made that Evel Knievel jumpsuit “from scratch” out of red, white and blue felt. I took a Minnesota Vikings football helmet, covered it in aluminum, and had my own crash helmet.

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I felt so cool in that foil-covered helmet. I set up many ramps and jumped many “cars” in the alley behind my house. I felt like I was bulletproof. I bought a costume of my own a few years ago and last Halloween I did my best impression of Evel’s son Robbie Knievel, goatee and everything.

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When I saw the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Kansas was having its Grand Opening during the last weekend in June I was as excited as that 7-year-old kid again and thought, “ We really have to go.” We had prior plans, so we moved the museum trip to mid June.

Always game for a road trip, AJ had only one request: Chicken George. That meant that the trip would include returning through Clinton Iowa, but more about that later. I think she was just trying to get us a longer more scenic ride. She does that sometimes, especially if the actual destination doesn’t grab her.

It’s summer in the Upper Midwest so we decided to leave the leathers at home and travel with raingear as our outer layer. Worked out well, as we got rained on twice. Our rain pants never made it out of the saddlebags. Not worth the bother, I thought, besides dry jeans are in the saddlebags. The weather reports called for heat in the mid 90s and some rainstorms. A sure guarantee for rain on a bike trip is forgetting your rain gear.

I love getting on the road and leaving our cares behind, but sometimes just getting going can be stressful. Last minute packing, wondering did I pack this or that?? Packing the day before helped us get an earlier start on Friday morning and we were able to have a chilled breakfast at home and finish some last minute work assignments and still be on the road by 10 AM.

We rode over 1500 miles in three days, no time for the luxury of all back roads, this trip would have lots on freeway. We rode Minnesota 21 south to New Prague and East on Minnesota 19 to Interstate 35. I 35 took us through Albert Lea and Des Moines to Kansas City. In Kansas City we picked up Interstate 70. I 70 is part of the Kansas toll way.
The I-Pass we picked up in Illinois and used on our trip to Rolling Thunder did not work here. A five-dollar toll to Topeka, no big deal, but it would be nice if these toll roads could get on one system. It was a 526-mile day by the time we got to Topeka.

We’d been on the road a good 8 hours and so we decided to get dinner BEFORE checking into our hotel. We had reservations at the Hampton Inn (less than two blocks away) and it could wait, we on the other hand were sweaty, dusty, hot, tired and bordering on “hangry.” Dinner was at the Texas Roadhouse, and in our bedraggled condition we were glad to see the rest of the clientele dressed very casually. We’ve been known to wander into some of the nicest restaurants looking all rode hard in the past. We enjoyed steaks and veggies to “try to eat healthy-ish”. Their dinner rolls should be illegal they are so good.

Fed, we dragged our rode-hard, weary carcasses over to the Topeka Hampton Inn. We’re finding that Hampton Inn’s are very accommodating in letting us park the bike under the overhang by guest registration. I find it nice to come down to breakfast and see the bike safe and dry. The desk clerk had his motorcycle parked out front too, and we chatted about riding as we registered. Nothing like having a kindred spirit behind the desk.

Saturday morning brought a Hampton Inn breakfast, nothing fancy (scrambled eggs, sausage, yogurt, fruit, cereal and waffles) but more than the carb rich Danish and coffee offerings other places have. Hunger satisfied for the moment, we drove the 15 minutes through town to the museum.

We arrived just as a tour bus with seniors was going in so we took a few minutes to let them get ahead of us and took a few outside pictures and chatted with a retired Air Force Vietnam vet. He pulled up in a shiny red classic Oldsmobile. We talked for some thirty minutes about where we served, experiences with the Veteran’s Administration, and life. We must have made an impression on him as his daughter found us on our FACEBOOK page about and told us about he dad recalling our visit during their Father’s Day Brunch.

Admission is $20.00 with various discounts for military, AA etc. I also picked up a ticket for the virtual reality experience called “THE JUMP”. You simulate an actual motorcycle jump. I’d seen this on YouTube and had to try it.

The crowd was ahead of us as we entered so we got an private tour in the initial section of the museum. Our guide explained the connection between Topeka and Evel Knievel that include Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, Joie Chitwood and Robert Craig Knievel. Chitwood, a Topeka native, inspired Knievel to become a daredevil after the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show appeared in Butte, Montana.

I was in absolute awe seeing the jumpsuits and bikes I seen on TV so close I could have touched them. On display were many of EK’s jump bikes and leathers from Dec 31st 1967 Caesars’ Palace jump to May 26th 1975 Wembley Stadium jump and so on. We also got to see his restored travel semi and the Snake River Canyon X-2 Skycycle.

“The Jump” is fabulous and much better than I expected. My brain knew I was on a static motorcycle but I still leaned with what I was seeing and feeling. I even stood up on the pegs during the jump. Best five dollars spent that day!

Having paid homage to my childhood hero it was time to made good on the promise to AJ for the Chicken George. Back on the toll way we paid another 5 dollars leaving Topeka for Kansas City. The quickest route had us back on I35 north to Des Moines where we picked up I 80 East towards Davenport.

We were making good time but some ominous clouds lay ahead of us. The weather alert interrupted our “road music” warning about a storm (just ahead of us) travelling at 50 mph with 70 mph wind and hail with the potential for property damage and injury to anything out doors. That was enough for me to look for a pull off location.

We’ve often ridden in the rain but weather alerts, torrential downpours, hail, and nearby lightning strikes get our attention. We pulled into a gas station awning and put on our raingear tops before we got dumped on and quickly realized this was no spring shower. We were wearing half helmets and even with their integrated visors, my visibility shrank to almost nothing. We pulled off just in time to check out the World Biggest Truck stop in Walcott, Iowa. We waited out the storm and let it get well ahead of us before riding into Davenport. We rode north on Hwy 61 and east on Hwy 30 into Clinton.

Clinton, Iowa is a charming little Mississippi River town, a favorite of ours on the Great River Road and home to the Candlelight Inn and their special “Chicken George.” AJ and I found this place a few years ago while riding through western Illinois and eastern Iowa on a 90 degree day. We were hungry and she saw this place. I wondered about how a couple of road weary bikers would be seen at a marina. AJ said “they look just like us- hot and sweaty” and in we went. Boat people are not that different from bikers.

From the Candlelight Inn website http://candlelightinnrestaurant.com/about.html

The Story of Chicken George
In the early 1970s, Bob Prescott, founder and father of the current Candlelight Inn owner, Matt, was busy serving his guests at the Candlelight Inn in the 100 block or West Third in downtown Sterling. One of his regulars, a gentleman named Roger Young, came in to dine. Roger asked Bob for “something different.” Immediately, Bob thought about his fry cook George’s new dish. George was de-boning and cutting up chicken breasts and lightly battering them. He then fried them up and served them – to himself. Even Bob hadn’t tried them yet! Bob asked George to fix some up for Roger, and the rest is history.

Roger loved them, and asked Bob what he should ask for when he came in to eat the next time. Bob told him to ask for “Chicken George” because that was the name of the cook who made it. The news of this new chicken dish spread with people coming in requesting it before it even made it on the menu! Word of mouth had made Chicken George famous.

Named after the cook who brought it into the restaurant, the three Candlelight Inn Restaurants now serve an average of 6,000 pounds of Chicken George each week.
After dinner, with enough left overs for tomorrow’s breakfast, we crossed the Mississippi into Illinois and rode north on Highway 84 to a legendary biker bar in the area called Poopy’s Pub and Grub. Still full on Chicken George we decided to skip the restaurant checked out the live band playing out in back and pick up a few souvenirs in the gift shop. A few years back there was also a tattoo shop in the gift shop but they had expanded into their own place just up the road. We enjoyed the bonfire and band, danced to a few songs then headed back to the hotel.

Pulled in for the night at another Hampton Inn (I really liked these places and I get points) and joined two other bikers under the overhang. Sunday morning after breakfast (enjoying the Chicken George for a second time), we backtracked on Highway 30 again and headed north on Hwy 61 to Highway 64 and then west into Anamosa and the National Motorcycle Museum. The National Motorcycle Museum, founded in 1989, displays over 450 motorcycles, showcasing over a 100 years of motorcycle history and culture. I could again pay homage to Evel Knievel and both the CPT America and Billy bikes from Easy Rider. I’m always amazed at the antique flat track bikes. Riding 100 mph in the early 1900’s with NO BRAKES.

Leaving Anamosa we headed for Austin, MN and our last stop on this road trip, the Spam Museum. As luck would have it, the most direct route kept us mostly off the freeways. Continuing west on Hwy 151 we veered north Interstate 380 and onto Hwy 218 in Waterloo. Needing a gas and lunch stop we found the Dirty Dog American Bar and Grill in Waverly, IA. My mango chipotle burger was delicious and AJ’s salad had so much meat you couldn’t see the greens. Now that’s healthy(ish) eating biker-style!
Back on Hwy 218 we rode north towards Austin and got caught in much less perilous rainstorm, than yesterdays. Once in town, AJ navigated turn-by-turn, necessary, as the museum would close in 30 minutes. We pulled up to the museum (relocated since our last visit) now in downtown Austin, and found a pop culture bonanza. We saw a homemade employee-built SPAM rocket, walked through displays of SPAM around the world, saw how SPAM supported the troops overseas and watched Monty Python’s spam skit as well as scenes from the musical SPAMALOT. We closed down the gift store with our must have purchases.

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Just as we were about to leave one of our friends from Rochester, MN, commented on our post that he too was in town supervising a softball tournament. We rode over to visit and make future plans and worked our way back to I 35 and back to Jordan.
Three full days, over 1500 miles, old and new attractions and time spent with my best friend and riding partner. That’s packing a lot of adventure into a weekend.

Hints from the road –
If there’s any chance of rain, pack the rain gear
Pack the night before
Before leaving one meal, have a plan for the next
Have a plan even if you don’t follow it

Adventure in our own backyard

We love adventure. And we love to explore and travel. Sometimes we just can’t get away. But adventuring doesn’t demand a long road trip. Other plans kept us close to home for the weekend but we still needed to get the pulses racing.

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We decided to check out Sand Creek Adventures just south of Jordan, MN.

Sand Creek offers experiences for individuals and groups for teams building, confidence building or just plain thrill seeking.

Zip line Adventure

Exhilarating and beautiful, experience our three canopy zip line tour. Spanning up to 1700 feet (combined) across the Sand Creek bluffs, with a 100 foot vertical height over the water, you are in for a thrill.

High Ropes Challenge

The high ropes challenge course will test the confidence and determination

of every participant at every level.

Low Ropes Connection

The low ropes course focuses on unifying your team by stimulating

mind and muscle to work in unison to solve complicated maneuvers.

Designed for 5 or more people.

We had such a fun day on Saturday, even though it was windy and blustery it was still a fabulous time. Paying attention to the request on their website we arrived 15 minutes before our scheduled time. Friendly staff invited us to look around for a few minutes while the other party was still arriving.

Once we were all together we suited up into our harnesses. So much more comfortable than the rope Swiss seats we wore while rappelling with our ROTC group in college. Once our seats were on and we were given a safety briefing on the handling of our “life line” it was time to climb the first tower. AJ volunteered me to go first. Thanks pal. I hope I’m well insured. ( You are 😉

There were four of us in our group. AJ and I, and what looked to be a younger grandfather and his granddaughter. The girl was fitted with a weighted belt to ensure that gravity would bring her all the way to the next platform. The rest of us would need no such assistance. Being well into adulthood we, we had already added weight to our middles.

The first zip line was a straight shot down along the bluffs of Sand Creek. We were told, “don’t jump, just step off.” I did so and felt a drop unlike anything I’ve felt since Jump School in the Army, not as dramatic as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, of course, but still a rush. Trying to be braver than smart I stepped into a great big nothing. A sudden drop, the zip line catching, I felt wind whizzing past me, I heard the high-pitched scream of the zip line or was that me? This leg, I was told by the receiver or “brakeman”, is usually the fastest leg and people can be surprised by the speed of that first descent. Today strong cross winds would slow me down a bit, but just a bit, mind you.

On the second zip line they told us “get a running start”, and I did! I did a nice full spin and a half sailing down the zip line and I came in “hot” to the platform. The staff was on it and those brakes do their job! The fastest zip of the day! Now this is adventure!

The final zip line is a bit shorter but gives you the chance to swing back and forth a few times at the end before coming to a stop. A children’s slide gives you the chance to slide or “ski” off the launch platform. Giving me a chance to try to show off.

We had so much fun together and only a ten-minute drive from our house. We will be back again. Sand Creek Adventures will be great for entertaining visiting friends and family. Next time we’ll try the high ropes adventure. We’ll be sure to blog about that as well.

Hints from the road

Come 15 minutes early but no earlier.

No sense trying to get anything from your pockets once the seats are on.

Valuables should be locked up (if it falls from your pockets on the zip line …it’s gone)

Bring a GoPro, they have mounts on the helmets or you will have a free hand for a selfie stick.

If you drop your phone it is pretty much lost, and there’s no good way to secure it. AJ passed hers off to a mom from the other group who kindly took some snaps for us.

 

Running my own race

9:45 June 5th 2017

I made the break from the rat race. A break from fulfilling someone else’s dreams and ambitions to start chasing my own.

One month ago my days were taken up with soul crushing corporate nonsense; this morning I was instead in the garden with my wife AJ planting Roma tomatoes, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, gourmet lettuce and two types of sunflowers in the raised flower beds I had built with my son last weekend. I also filled my bird feeders and planted grass seed to repair a trail my German Shepherd made while running back and forth in our yard.

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PTO day you ask? On a stay-cation? No, this is now my “new normal”.

My job was paying the bills, but crushing my soul. One month ago at this time I was prepping for my morning purchasing team stand up meeting, bracing to hear what electronic parts were now moving from a reasonable 8-12 week lead time to an unrealistic 26 weeks or 52 weeks or longer. You know, “Do the impossible.”

Everything was high priority. We’d hear about how despite our heroic efforts to meet “our numbers” last month/quarter even more was expected now.   I’d listen to impassioned pleas to control inventory while trying to tell those non purchasing types that “ demand is demand” in my system and we REALLY don’t want people “gaming” the system it must be accurate and trustable. Really guys? We make widgets.

I’d been a Soldier for 31 years, on Active Duty for the last 14 years. I’d prepared Soldiers for war. I’d trained for war myself and deployed to Iraq in 2007-2008. I’ve worked with grieving families over the loss of loved ones. I had dealt with my own issues over separation and distance from family, isolated on a base outside which, for $25.00, people would lob mortar shells in on us. Now that was serious business.

I’m not asking for sympathy as my brothers and sisters outside the wire endured much worse and performed their duties with courage and honor.   I’m just saying I was there, and now back in the civilian world my managers wanted me to be excited over the manufacturing of widgets???

It seemed so ridiculous.

My managers were workaholics, devoting far more time and energy to the company than to their own families and lives, demanding more than I was willing to emotionally offer, but I had been playing the corporate game along with them, but becoming like them looked more like a nightmare than the American dream. They couldn’t imagine as they sat me down to break the news that inside I was feeling a weight lift from my shoulders. My employer, “after conducting a white board exercise matching personal with required skill sets” determined that my position was no longer required. And they we were falling all over themselves to tell me that it wasn’t me, they were happy with what I had been doing, everyone liked me, yadda yadda, but they would not be needing someone in my current position anymore, due to a restructuring.

My boss was promoted a few months back and I discovered that tasked three of MY buyers had been tasked to interview her replacement, without telling me. Well, that was all made clear when I sat down with my boss, her boss and the HR VP. My position was being used to pay for her replacement. And they felt really bad about it. Really they did me a favor.

My wife had suggested several months earlier that we develop a plan to free ourselves of our wage-slavery and start some kind of venture of our own. We had tossed several ideas around about doing things that we found meaningful and important for our lives. So as they were breaking the news I was trying not to show my relief.

Really I’m not whining. I’m actually glad, because we had been talking about working a plan to better our lives, but every night after work we were too worn out to do more than talk about it.

So now instead of working for the widget makers, I’m working the plan. Creating a life of more meaning and excitement that we call The Adventuring Project. In addition to the planting, in last month:

We have focused on healthier eating and are already seeing positive results. I’m down 14 pounds.

My son and I built those two raised flowers beds and now have an intimate appreciation for what three yards of topsoil weighs.

We rode 3000 miles to ride in the Rolling Thunder demonstration ride in Washington DC. We also visited the Flight 93 Memorial on the way there and the Antietam National Battlefield , scene of the bloodiest day on American soil, on our return trip.

We cleaned, de-skunked, (a story just on its own), and sold my parents cabin in Ladysmith Wisconsin. This sale makes possible purchasing land for a scaled down energy efficient home we want to build.

I took a long-needed refresher course for motorcycling including a skills range in the rain with AJ as my passenger on the Road Glide.

We rode to Central Wisconsin for the Honor the Fallen Ride in Ladysmith, a memorial ride benefiting local medical education and honor local men and women who lost their lives in service to this country.

We moved my son back to college and his own apartment, starting our de-cluttering project.

Now I finally have the time to learn something about social media and blogging. I’m still a newbie when it comes to Instagram and hash tags but we now have a Facebook page, an email address, this blog and soon will be adding videos to a YouTube page.

Most important of all, my soul is being filled and nurtured again. I’m growing more confident with each new phase. It’s so exciting to be venturing off the treadmill.

There are many lessons to be learned ahead but we are blazing our own trail now.

I made the break from the rat race and now I’m really living my life, not merely existing.

The Apple Blossom Trail

Riding our way from the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis we tooled along country roads passed farms fields and those “blink and you miss’em” small Midwestern towns.

ab # 1After spending the last fifteen years on active duty with the Army Reserves it was time to retire back in Minnesota. One thing about Minnesotans, we are fanatical about our summer hobbies because our warm seasons are so short.   Some of us ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles and some swing a club at a little white ball but those are stories for a different kind of magazine.

We hit the road, fortified with coffee and leathers on, as soon as the ice is off the lakes and hopefully after least one good thunderstorm to wash away the sand and salt.

My loving bride, Antje, and I took advantage of a warm May Sunday to roll down the Mississippi River just south of our alma mater in Winona, Minnesota, to tour the Apple Blossom trail. The Apple Blossom trail starts where U.S. Highway 61 meets County Road 3 in Winona County and ascends through the bluff country of southeastern Minnesota to meet up with County Highway 12.

Riding our way from the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis we tooled along country roads passed farms fields and those “blink and you miss’em” small Midwestern towns. Minnesota Highway 19 is just one such road, a peaceful two-lane road that begs to be ridden on two wheels. We passed through Northfield, a quiet little town with a “Mayberry-like” charm and home to two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton College.

After passing through Cannon Falls, Highway19 meets up with US Highway 61, the Minnesota portion of the Great River Road, just north of Red Wing, Minnesota.US Highway 61, like its sister road on the other side Wisconsin 35, shows off its spectacular views of the Mississippi river and bluffs and offers the traveler small town attractions like antiquing, ice cream, apples and wineries. Down US Highway 61, south of Red Wing, we passed through Frontenac, home of the Whistle Stop Café, featured in Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt.

As we neared Winona, we stopped for gas and a quick drink of water.   We had just gotten a text that our friends from Chicago, Kathy and John, had just crossed the river into Minnesota to stay a few days in Winona before coming to visit us. We quickly invited them to join us in Winona, to view the apple blossoms on the trail. They eagerly agreed and offered to trail us taking photos and video.

Continuing down 61 we passed the Harley Davidson Shop of Winona, could only wave as it was closed and they were no doubt out enjoying the fabulous Minnesota Spring weather as we were.

It’s easy to miss the northern part of the Apple Blossom Trail if you don’t keep a sharp eye. You’re only clue is the Winona County Road 3 sign; if you see signs for Dakota you’ve gone too far. Country 3 climbs from river level to the scenic bluffs that rise above the Mississippi. At Highway 12 we saw our goal, the sign pointing us south down the trail.

Once on Highway 12 we cross under Interstate 90 with its cages and semis, grateful for the refreshing Zen-like moments we were enjoying smelling apples blossoms and leaning into the curves of the road.The road’s seductive curves, with the fragrant aromas of the apple trees and beautiful bluff-top vistas of the valleys below invites a stop to take it all in from one of several outlooks.

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We were sorry to see the Trail’s end after 17 miles of farms, orchards, and breathtaking views of the river below as we arrived in a final river town, La Crescent, MN. We thanked our videographer/photographer with some darn fine pizza at Corky’s Pizza.

After dinner we said our goodbyes and started back up the trail, since you can never get enough of scenery like this. This time we hoped off on Interstate 90, cause now it was time to eat some miles and get home to let the dog out.

We’ll be back this fall when the blossoms have turned to apples. By then it will be time for the fall colors, Apple fritters, caramel apples, and maybe some hard cider.

All in good time, there’s a whole lotta summer riding ahead first.