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Monday, August 29, 2005

Trip Report

This past weekend Clam Dan and I went on an impromptu (sort of) motorcycle trip. We decided we'd take the backroads down to St. Joseph, MO and back. So, by nine Saturday morning my bike was loaded up and I was in Sloan, IA where I met Dan, who lives thereabouts. I gassed up, trying real hard not to wince at the price, and off we went. (If you click on the map at the right it'll give you some idea as to our route. It's not the best map in the world, but it's better than nothing... I just figured out the other day that if you click on a picture it gets bigger. Wow.)

So, we rambled from Sloan over to Smithland (which is where the trip starts to get pretty). We were wanting to stay in the Loess Hills as much as we could, the curvier the road, the better. From Smithland to Mapleton was a nice little stretch. After Mapleton, Dan had me so lost in the backwoods that I have almost no clue which roads we actually took, but they were all pretty. I do know that we ended up at Prairie Rose State Park just outside of Harlan, IA, eventually. Strangely enough, Prairie Rose State Park had neither a prairie nor a rose, as far as we could tell. It was kind of a forest and lake kind of park. (Dan told me he'd lived in that area as a wee lad and that the trees weren't there then. They probably didn't do any proscribed burns, so the prairie turned into a scrubby kind of forest.)

We lunched at Walnut, IA, the Antique Capital of Iowa. We ate at Aunt B's Kitchen on the assumption that anything with "Aunt B" in the name must be good. It was VERY difficult to refrain from whistling the theme to "The Andy Griffith Show" as we sauntered into the cafe. The fries were good and skinny and the BLT tasted like a BLT, so I guess I'm not gonna complain. It was a little odd, though, that all the knick-knacks scattered about the restaurant had price tags on them...

And off we went to Atlantic and Villisca, through New Market to Bedford... At one point we went over the Nishnabotna River, which got me thinking about how names influence people. Nishnabotna. What a cool word. A little later we went over the Nodaway which had me thinking of lazy wizards and gentle dragons for some reason. What a happy, sleepy name! Nodaway. Then we went over One-Hundred-Two River. I imagined cartographers arguing over this one... "What should we call it?" asked one mapmaker, squinting academically at a map of Northwest Missouri. "I dunno," answered his co-worker, who was leaning back in his chair eating a roast beef sandwich on white bread with some nice mustard. "How many rivers have we done so far?" Thus was born One-Hundred-Two River.

Bedford, Hopkins, Pickering - eventually we found ourselves skirting Maryville, MO. To my vast surprise, they have a Kawasaki factory there! For some reason I thought their plant was in Illinois somewhere. I would have stopped and taken a picture had there been a convenient place to do so... A quick search on Google revealed the fact that Kawasaki has two plants, one in Maryville and one in Lincoln, NE. So for all you who think it's un-American to drive a Kawasaki, my bike's built closer to the heartland of America than Harley-Davidsons are. Hah!

From Maryville to St. Joe was a fairly forgettable stretch of road. We'd left the pretty scenery behind quite some time ago, and now we found ourselves on a divided highway going 70 miles per hour - something we just didn't want to do. But, there seemed no alternative, so we kept going.

We didn't see much of St. Joe, but the entrance to the city was really cool! I had no idea we were anywhere near the city when we came over the top of a hill and WHAM - the city was right below us! Very pretty... Dan spied a Holiday Inn off to our left, so we zipped over a few lanes and found ourselves parking in a no-parking zone in front of the hotel. (For some reason, every time we parked the bikes on the whole trip, we'd inevitably be in a no-parking zone. See photo above, for instance.) Once we had our accommodations in order, we hopped back on the bikes to go park them in the parking lot behind the hotel. Unfortunately, the street was a one-way, going the wrong way. So we went that way. The next street was a one-way going the wrong way. To make a long story short, we went around in circles three or four times before we figured out how to get from the front of the hotel to the back of the hotel.

We did, however, eventually manage to park legally for the first time all day and find our snoozing spots. We also found the hotel bar, which was nice. They had booze there. Nice. And buffalo wings. Nice. I noticed that other patrons of the bar were looking at me and smiling that particular smile that means "I bet he doesn't know he has a cockatoo on his head." I eventually made my way to the restroom where I took another look at myself. Burned. Oddly sunburned. You could see exactly where my helmet and sunglasses were all day. Oh well... Back to the nice bar I trotted, where I had another nice frosty beverage. Nice. At least it was nice until we realized we were paying over four bucks a bottle for domestic. Not so nice.

The next morning we were on the road at the crack of nine, traversing the maze of Interstates to find our way across the river to Kansas. Wathena to Troy to Highland, then a detour. It was the happiest detour I've ever been on! We ended up going a few miles back east before heading north on Highway 7. I'm going to have to go back to Kansas again just to drive Highway 7. It's a gentle little highway that runs along the Missouri River - it's absolutely beautiful! Through White Cloud we went, then across the border into Nebraska. For some reason it wasn't so pretty in Nebraska as it had been in Kansas... But there were a lot of flowers for some reason.

Breakfast in Rulo, Nebraska was interesting. We ate at a little place called the Bridge Cafe & Bar. It was, indeed, near a bridge. There was a sign on the door advising us that smoking is allowed throughout the entire establishment. (Oh yeah - I'm on week five of not smoking already. I still can't drink beer or coffee without going into a near panic, but things are going well, overall.) We found a table and were promptly served by a nice lady. Eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon and soda - can you tell my low-cholesterol diet went out the window for the weekend? Dan peeked over my shoulder. "What must your life be like," he asked, "if you're sitting in a bar drinking Budweiser at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning?" Nice people, though. It reminded me of Bob's in Martinsburg, NE, just a bit bigger and swept.

Off we went to Falls City, Verdon, to Auburn. I remembered the stretch between Auburn and Nebraska City from a trip I took a few years ago. The road at that time was bouncy, under construction, decidedly un-scenic and confusing. It still is. Avoid it if you can. Nebraska City to Syracuse to Weeping Water to Louisville, where we stopped for a break in a pizza joint's parking lot. For a change, we were parked legally. After perusing the map, we were off on a pretty little county road towards Ashland. The road followed the Platte River for a ways, so we paused to peek at the river for a few minutes. (Of course, we were parked awkwardly along the side of the road. "What do you want to bet," said Dan, "that there's a park right around the corner with a scenic overlook." We went around the corner and there was a park, complete with a scenic overlook.) If you've never seen the Platte, it's about half a mile wide and about half a foot deep. There were butterflies everywhere! It was a nice road.

Then on to Mead. From there we tootled northward to Fremont.

I was once in a band that played in Fremont fairly often, so I'm familiar with the town to an extent. I was looking forward to coming over the bridge in the middle of town because it always seems like a nice view. This time the view sucked. We came up over the bridge to see a VERY black sky to the north and west, complete with lightning bolts and thunder. That's something you really don't want to see when you're on a motorcycle. At the first stop light, Dan looked at me. "Well," he said. "Shall we head east?" I nodded, relieved - I had the same thought. Perchance if we ran east we could outrun the storm. So we abandoned our planned route and headed due east.

We made it to Blair with no problems. At the first stop sign, Dan looked at me. "Wanna try to go north?" he asked, "Or shall we sprint to Missouri Valley?" I pondered the situation for about half a second. "Let's go to Missouri Valley." So we continued east as fast as legally allowed. When we got to Missouri Valley we paused for a few moments to put on our leather coats and chaps and generally batten down our hatches before we ran up the Interstate north.

Sure enough, just a few miles north of Missouri Valley it got real cold, and the wind started gusting (NOT fun when you're on a motorcycle going 70+ miles per hour). Raindrops started splattering the windshield Kioti gave me earlier this summer, which was good as it was about eighty-five percent covered with butterfly remains. I hunched over and concentrated on keeping the bike going in a straight line in spite of the gusty winds. After just a few miles I was white-knuckling it, about as tense as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. About that time I was passed by a guy wearing a T-shirt and shorts, kicked back on his bike, riding with one hand... I felt like a wussy. But I don't particularly enjoy feeling dangerous - I've gotten this old by remembering to duck at the right times.

About ten miles south of Sloan (our starting point) the sky cleared up and the temperature rose to about ninety-five degrees. A beautiful day. The birds were singing... We stopped at Sloan where I bid Dan a happy good-bye and continued the last 25 miles home. Of course, in the interest of expediency, I left my leathers on. By the time I got to Sioux City sweat was running down my back. Other people on motorcycles were looking at me like I was an idiot as they rode past me, half naked, basking in the sun. By the time I got through town to my happy little garage I was soaked. But happy!

I unloaded the saddlebags and staggered to the front door. My beloved wiking vife threw the door open and kissed me on the cheek. "I'm so happy you're home!" she said. "Dinner's almost ready. Go take a shower, you smell funny. My gosh, what happened to your face? You look like a startled raccoon! Here, smear this goop on your poor burned beak..."

It was a very good trip. I am much relaxed now... Though I'm still covered in aloe goop and my lips are kinda sunburned and swollen. I'm happy.

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