Sunday, November 2, 2008

DAY SEVENTEEN - or "I am a fat bloated warthog!"

Sunday, 2 November 2008.

Now that I am running out of major sights to see along my way, this is becoming a run for home. I've been gone two and a half weeks now and it would be nice to sleep in my own bed for a change. Looking at the map, I think today will be another hard run to get as many miles down as possible. I'll stop if anything catches my eye, but I don't see anything on the map that makes me want to stop ahead of time.

After leaving Albuquerque, I don't stop for anything but gas and snacks as I make my way out of New Mexico and into Texas. It fascinates me how different the terrain and vegetation are in just a few hours drive even though I never noticed the change as it was happening. Today was the first time in quite a few years that I've seen tumbleweeds blowing across the road. The wind was pretty vicious all day, in fact, and it made riding difficult at times. When you are constantly counter-steering to fight the crosswind and you catch up to an 18-wheeler that blocks you from the wind, you find yourself suddenly steering toward the truck. Once you regain control you're already getting past the truck, and the wind coming around the front end of the tractor pushes you hard toward the median. Nothing but fun right there. And this went on all day.

By the time I reached Amarillo, I was beat. I had only ridden 300 miles, but I was ready to take a break. I decided to stop for gas on the east side of town and then look for somewhere to sit down for dinner. That's when I spotted the Big Texan Steak Ranch. "Home of the Free 72 oz Steak." Sounds like my kind of place. I went in to look around and was greeted by a nice little old lady who has apparently written a book about the place and was autographing copies for sale. We chatted for a bit and I told her I was thinking about taking on the challenge - turns out the 4.5 pound sirloin is only free if you can eat it (AND a salad, roll, baked potato, and fried shrimp) in an hour. No bathroom breaks, no getting up from the table, just eat. She told me she didn't think I could do it. She said that I seemed to be a very confident person and didn't have anything to prove to anyone, so I probably wouldn't get the job done. Of course, I took that as a bit of a challenge and started making a few phone calls. I called my wife who thought it was crazy but a neat idea. Then I called my daughter who, of course, told me to go for it - especially when I told her she could watch the whole thing live on the web-site. Last I called was my friend Suzy to ask how many of our geocaching friends were online. When I explained what I was going to do, she got online and started sending phone calls and text messages to everyone she could think of. By the time I sat down to eat, there were over two dozen folks online to watch me eat myself into a stupor. And that's in addition to a regular Sunday night dinner crowd AND two school buses full of teenagers who arrived just as I started eating. What a show THIS was going to be. (If you look at the steak in the picture, you need to realize that those are "regular" sized grill marks on that steak. Once they had filleted it open, the darned thing was nearly a foot and a half long!)

It actually turned out to be a lot of fun. People constantly came up to the table to take pictures or just stare. Some folks would come up to wish me luck and some of the teenagers would occasional start chanting my name just to be funny. I didn't talk to people much because this stupid steak was just a monster and I knew I was going to have to eat fast before my body figured out what I was doing to it. I did pretty well, too. At half an hour into it I had finished about half the steak, as well as the salad, potato, and shrimp. But I could tell I was going to be in trouble soon. I still had over two pounds of steak to eat and it was getting cold, which seemed to make it tougher to chew. I could also feel my stomach expanding. A LOT. If you look closely at some of these screen shots, you can actually see me getting bigger around the middle. With about ten minutes left to go, I knew I wasn't going to be able to finish. I stayed with it as long as I could, but when it got to the point where I'd urp every time I tried to swallow another bite I knew I was done. I let the waiter know that I was done.

The drama wasn't over yet, though. It was a huge effort trying to just get up from the table. Then I had to stagger to the other end of the building to find the men's room. To my horror, all the stalls were occupied when I got in there! It took several minutes before I was able to relieve a little of the pain that was fast setting in to my guts. I went back to the table and collected my consolation prize t-shirt ("I TRIED to eat the whole thing!") and made my way toward the exit. (You pay before you sit down for this meal.) It was now after dark and there was no way I was riding that bike more than a couple of blocks to the nearest motel. I was a little worried about being able to get a leg over the seat! I found a Motel 6 that looked like it would have comfortable bathrooms and settled in for the night. I wasn't as miserable as I thought I'd be and I had a lot of fun, even if I wasn't able to finish the steak. A couple of calls and checking the forums let me know that everyone watching had fun, too, which was the real goal. This wasn't something that I am likely to try again, but it was another once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'm glad I decided to try on this trip. (I only rode 307 miles today for a total of 5800 so far).

DAY SIXTEEN - or "A shooting star gone horribly, horribly wrong."

Saturday, 1 November 2008.

Well, the Needles Inn does NOT look any better in the daylight. The place has been in business since the road out front was still called Route 66 (which was actually kinda cool), and it seemed to still have the same bedding from that time. The Krylon that was unsuccessfully applied to the deteriorating porcelain in the bathtub didn't improve my opinion of the place, either. I got online to blog and check out the forums for a bit, but then hit the road almost immediately. It was only 8am and it was already nearing 80 degrees. This was going to be a great day for a ride.

I had looked up the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley on the internet while at Viking Manor. It turned out that the only way to access the lakebed was over 27 miles of unimproved washboard gravel road. No thanks. That was just too far to risk laying the bike down or bouncing into the ditch. So I decided, to my own chagrin, to skip Death Valley. Instead, my first goal this morning was Kingman, Arizona. From there I would turn north to visit the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon.

It was nearly noon when I pulled into Kingman, and I went straight to the local visitors' center to get my bearings and find out any suggestions for my trip north. The visitors' center was in a converted electric plant which was a huge old brick building with a lot of tall arched windows. It also housed a Route 66 museum and a large gift shop. Outside was a huge old locomotive and caboose that seemed to be well cared for. I went inside and talked to the nice lady at the counter and got some rather distressing information from her. Apparently the tribe that owns the skywalk has chosen to invest their considerable income from this venture (did I mention that it costs almost $80 per person between parking and entry fees?) in an airport rather than improving access roads. According to the lady at the visitors' center, the last seven miles approaching the skywalk area are unimproved gravel roads that are bad enough to keep the speeds down to about 15 mph and make you wonder if you'll ever get there when riding in a car. Her advice to me - "don't do it on a motorcycle; you'll hate it." She had been there herself and also told me that the floor of the skywalk is not actually clear acrylic that you can look through. You have to hang your head over the guardrail to get the desired effect and the views are not as spectacular as the "main" part of the canyon. Overall, this was another bust to my plans. I decided to listen to that inner voice telling me to just head home, but I was still pretty peeved to miss two of my major goals for this trip in as many days.

Back on the road, I started seeing remnants of old Route 66 and some abandoned reminders from the Mother Road's heyday. Small cafes and "trading posts" had been bypassed by the new highway, and without a nearby exit ramp many of these places were doomed. I recognized the Twin Arrows trading post from one of my books on Route 66 and was a little sad to see that it was out of business and giving way to vandals and Mother Nature. A sad little part of me thought about how cool it would be to put it all back together and get the neon working, just to save a little part of this country's past. Many miles on down the road I actually saw a rare sight - a trading post from the Route 66 era that was still open and doing business. It was still tough to tell where I should exit from the highway to visit the place, so I just pulled to the side of the highway to take a picture across the fence. That is actually old Route 66 running in front of the store. VERY cool.

About three in the afternoon, I saw a couple of billboards for Meteor Crater. When I saw the one that said the crater was only six miles off the highway, I decided "what the heck" and pulled off to check it out. You could see the crater rim from several miles away as you approached. This is another one of those features of the American west that just overpowers you with its sheer size. The little square spot on the side turned out to be the entire visitors' center complex. The crater itself is nearly a mile wide and nearly 600 feet deep,and the rim rises more than 150 feet above the surrounding desert floor. I paid my entry fee and went inside, checking out the museum before heading out back to the observation platforms. The upper platform was oddly similar to the one overlooking Mount Saint Helens, and gave a similar expansive view. I shot a set of five pictures that were then stitched together by a good friend to form this panorama (thanks Ken!). For a sense of scale, the black spot in the middle of the bottom of the crater is some left over mining equipment from the 1920s expedition to recover the meteor (before they knew that it had been obliterated on impact). It's about ten feet tall and fifteen or more feet long. For some really good background and a great aerial shot of the crater, go to After sightseeing, I went into the gift shop and bought walking stick badges and golf balls, and got my son a piece of the actual meteor as a souvenir. I'm pretty sure he'll like that. Then I headed out to hit the road again.

On my way out, I was fussed at by one of the locals - a crow the size of a small buzzard. The park "ranger" standing out front told me the crow was a bit of a jerk. Apparently he has figured out how to sit on the edge of a trash can and methodically pull up on the side of the bag until it has turned inside out and spilled the contents onto the ground. Then he goes rooting through it for chow. I got within about five feet of the guy and leaned on the handrail to take this picture. When he took off, the entire handrail shook. I can see how these things creeped out Edgar Allen Poe.

I finally got back on the road and started putting some miles under the bike again. I only stopped a little while before sundown to take this last picture and visit a "real" Native American trading post. It turns out that you can tell the "real" stuff by the outrageous price tags. The smallest hand-woven rugs (about 2' x 3') were on sale for 50% off their original price of $700! And all the jewelry started out around $120 and went up from there. Guess they're still a little ticked about the whole Manhattan-for-blankets trade thing, huh? After that, I was able to make it to Albuquerque, New Mexico not long after dark, resulting in 550 miles covered today. The total mileage for this trip is now up to 5490 and I'm starting to feel it a little. But at the same time, I'm feeling good about getting closer to home.

I also had another small epiphany today after leaving Meteor Crater. I had been pretty upset that I had been forced to skip two of my planned stops on this trip. What had really happened, though, is that I had forgotten my "mission" for this trip. I came out here to enjoy the ride and see what I could on the way. I had become so focused on making certain things happen during the trip that I was starting to forget that the trip itself was supposed to be the focus. The epiphany was that this same concept applied to my current situation "back in the world." I have been so focused on forcing certain things to happen a certain way in my personal life that I was forgetting to actually live my life. I don't know if I will be able to keep this mind set when I get home, but if I can I believe it will definitely help me to accept things better and to deal with troubles as they come instead of trying to force them to work out my way ahead of time.

Enough psychobabble for one day. I still have 1500 more miles to cover and it's time for bed.

DAY FIFTEEN - or "Where the heck was Barstow?!"

Friday, 31 October 2008.

Happy Hallowe'en. I woke up this morning to the sound of nothing. It was weird. The Viking family had gotten up and gotten ready for school and work without making any noise apparently. They were letting the old dude sleep, I guess. After staying up talking late into the night, it was nice to sleep in a bit without worrying when check out time was. Mrs. Viking had made cranberry muffins before heading off to work and we stood around chatting for a bit before it was time for me to hit the road. Like the other cachers I had met so far, the Vikings were gracious hosts and even nicer in person than they seemed online.

After leaving Lompoc, I headed toward Los Angeles. The 101 spent some time running right along the coast again. It was a warm beautiful morning for riding and the views of the beaches and the ocean were much clearer than they had been farther north. There were dozens of buses full of migrant workers on the road headed for the fields. Each one pulled a trailer with a couple of porta-potties on it. I hadn't really thought about bathroom breaks in a farm field. I passed the buses pretty quickly to avoid any "sloshing." It was interesting to see these folks in fields within yards of million-dollar homes right on the beach, making a couple of bucks an hour breaking their backs. It gave me something to dwell on as I rode on down the highway.

Although it doesn't look far on a map, it took more than three hours to get from Lompoc to Rancho Cucamonga. I was going to meet a cacher named Webfoot after his teaching job was done for the day, so I arrived with more than an hour to spare. I found a coffee shop with free wi-fi and sat for a while drinking Chai and browsing. The barista was an interesting gal. I at first thought she was wearing the scarf around her neck because the boss wanted her to hide a tatoo. Turns out that she had gotten a nurse friend to sew large stitches into her neck Frankenstein's-monster-style for Hallowe'en and was hiding them to keep from freaking the customers. She must have been a Mac user ("10% of the market, 90% of the weird").

I finally met Webby at the appointed time and we went back to the coffee shop. My original intention was to just hang out and socialize for a bit then hit the road again. It turned out that he and his family had already made plans to invite me to stay for dinner, though. So I changed plans and followed him home. We stopped on the way so that I could find one of his caches in a nearby park, then we went on to his house. It was still a couple of hours until dinner time, so we had plenty of time to sit around and chat and walk to the local grocery for dinner supplies. I got to meet Webby's sons and Jack, their lovable but lunatic dog, then Webby's wife when she got home. After sitting around chatting for a bit, I got to have a second delicious home cooked meal in as many days. This time it was salmon and vegetables, followed by home-made cookies-and-cream ice cream. EXTREMELY good food once again.

It was dark by the time dinner was over and trick-or-treaters had started knocking at the door, as well as parking outside to go through the local haunted house set up by one of Webby's neighbors. All this action was making Jack completely nuts. I still wanted to at least reach I-40 at Barstow before I stopped for the night, so I decided to leave the Webfoots (Webfeet?) to try to calm their poor dog. I had greatly enjoyed the food and the company and was glad to have met this family, but it was time to hit the road. I didn't want to be out on the highway for too long on a Friday night.

An hour later my gas tank was almost empty as I rolled into the outskirts of Barstow on I-15. I stopped for gas at the first exit but then rode on again, intending to find a hotel on I-40. Turns out there wasn't one. I have no idea what happened, but I expected a decent-sized city to be somewhere near the intersection of two major highways and it just wasn't there. The usual gas stations, hotels, and fast food joints that populate every exit near any decent-sized city disappeared as soon as I merged onto I-40. So did the exits. A few miles after I first changed highways, I came to the next exit. There was one Bates Motel-looking inn tucked under the overpass and I decided to skip it. The highway sign said there was another town about 40 miles down the road, so I decided to head for it. It was still just after 8 pm so I figured I had the time. Another bad call. The "town" of Ludlow consisted of one truck stop and one seven-room motel with a sign that said to ask at the truck stop if I wanted a room. The only room left had three king-sized beds in it, but no internet or even a telephone. They wanted $70 for it. I asked the overworked register-jockey where the next hotel was. He told me I could head back to Barstow or I could drive another 90 miles to Needles. Wow. I dug out the cold weather gloves and hit the road again. It was really wild to drive through unlit desert for an hour and a half, passing very few other vehicles and even fewer exits, none of which seemed to go anywhere. I saw more stars that night than I had seen in one place in years. It was peaceful and almost meditative, but became a little lonely after more than an hour had passed. Finally, just as the isolation of it all started to creep me out a little, a slight glow on the horizon let me know that I was approaching civilization again. I had reached Needles. I took the first exit with any sign of commercial activity and pulled into the first crappy motel that had "Free Wi-Fi" on the sign. I paid the nice lady at the front desk, checked the bedspread for cockroaches, and crashed. This had been a lot longer drive than I had planned (like two hours longer) and I was freaking tired. I guess the blogging could wait another night. I had ridden 433 miles today, putting me less than 60 miles from 5000 for the trip. I even ignored the freight trains passing by just across the road and fell into a pretty good sleep.

DAY FOURTEEN - or "MMmmmm, chicken!"

Thursday, 30 October 2008.

Finally in California! Now that I have turned south and am within reach of my last couple of goals for this trip, I can feel a change. It was still cold and foggy this morning, but it's easier to keep riding. I feel some anticipation for turning toward home now. And I have a healthier definition of what "home" really is and what it means to me, too. I believe that at the end of this trip I will definitely feel much more like I've come home than I have so far this year. At least I hope so.

On the recommendation of one of the California cachers familiar with the area, I sought out the Avenue of the Giants. This is a stretch of 2-lane about 30 miles long that runs parallel to highway 101. The road was was built in such a way as to leave the trees alone as much as possible. This means that there are places where I could stick a hand out and touch a tree on my way past sometimes. The road is not very technically demanding for a rider, but it gets tough when you try to look up and see the tops of the trees. They are just so incredibly tall (some over 300 feet and 3000 to 5000 years old) that you get vertigo just trying to take it all in. I took a couple of pictures, but I don't think any photograph can give a good sense of scale of these things. And they almost don't seem real. Most of these redwood trees are perfectly straight and perfectly tapered. All you'd have to do is knock the branches off a fallen tree (don't even THINK of cutting one of these things down - I'd beat you myself) and you'd have a perfect building log a couple HUNDRED feet long. Just amazing. It was difficult leaving this path and getting back on the highway, but I had a lot of miles to cover today.

A few hours and a few small towns later, I was on the northern outskirts of San Francisco. I had been here sixteen years before when the ship on which I was stationed made a port call here, so I wanted to see how things had changed (or hadn't changed) and get a few pictures. I had thought of cutting around the city to save time, but I really felt like staying true to the "mission" of this ride, so I drove through. I stopped at an overlook just west of the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Hundreds of pictures have been taken from this spot (including an opening scene in Charmed), but no one else's had me in them, so you're just going to have to suffer with another vanity shot. I then drove into the city, where the highway turns into Lombard Street. Another famous landmark of the city, one block of this street is the steepest in the city (some say the world) and does eight switchbacks in one block. So of course I had to ride the bike down it. I parked at the bottom and tried to get a good shot. You can't really see the street, but you can definitely see how steep it is. Then I turned around and took this shot of Coit Tower. After that, I went down to the Ghirardelli chocolate factory and bought candy bars fresh from the factory for my wife and daughter. Although there isn't much remarkable about the picture, I have an identical one that I took sixteen years ago from the same spot. Only this one's got that awesome Harley in it. Finally, I rode a couple of blocks down to Fisherman's Wharf, but couldn't find any parking for motorcycles (the lots and the parking garages don't allow them for some reason!) so I took a cable car picture and headed out of town.

I got back onto 101 and headed south again. I ran into some light rain for about a half hour, but thanks to leathers and a windshield I was dry again half an hour after it stopped. That had been my first encounter with precipitation since I started this journey. My final goal for the night was Lompoc and the home of a geocacher I have been friends with through the discussion forums for a couple of years now. Cache Viking is a very patriotic guy and is not shy about showing it. While I was in Iraq, he sent a picture that his daughter had drawn, along with a poem she had written. I have them framed at home now. I arrived at their home just in time for dinner, and CV was grilling chicken. That guy definitely knows how to set fire to poultry. I recommend that he post his secret recipe here to share it with the world. CV gave me the tour of "The Reno" as he has named their house after he and his wife did EXTENSIVE renovations and add-ons to it. He was very modest about the whole thing, just pointing to things and telling how it used to look and what they did to change it. But don't let him fool you. He and his wife did most of the work themselves and they have added tens of thousands of dollars to the value (not to mention the beauty) of their house. He is entitled to a great deal of pride in his work. It's a great place. I then sat down to dinner and met the rest of his family. We spent another couple of hours talking cars and motorcycles and politics late into the night and then I crashed in their guest bedroom on the most comfortable bed in the quietest house and neighborhood I had been in for quite some time. I had ridden 585 miles today, putting me at 4507 for the trip, and it was good to get some peaceful rest.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

DAY THIRTEEN - or "I can see why they need this thing!"

Wednesday, 29 October 2008.

I was a little excited about today's ride. I was on the coast highway now and I knew I was going to get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in sixteen years. After high school I joined the Navy and wound up stationed on an aircraft carrier out of San Diego for over four years. I know it sounds completely cliche, but the sea really does get into you. Whenever I get near any ocean it has an immediate calming effect on me and this time would be no different. Except maybe that this time I NEEDED to be calmed a little more.

When I actually hit the road this morning, though, I started to wonder if I really would see the ocean at all today. Most of the coast was socked in with fog. I had driven more than an hour and knew that the beaches were a hundred yards or so to my right, but they may as well have been a hundred miles away. The only time the fog really cleared was when I would get into the tall forests. It was like the trees were eating the fog. It was clear and sunny inside the forest areas but as soon as I came out of the trees I was right back into the fog. I was finally able to get a view of the ocean when the highway literally butted right up to a thin rocky beach. I pulled over and took a picture in case it was the only decent look I was going to get today.

A little ways farther down the coast, I stopped for gas in a little town that had a sign for a lighthouse. I've never been close to a lighthouse, much less toured one, so it seemed like a nice diversion for the day. The fog was really thick as I decended to the beach to find the road up to the lighthouse. The little museum and gift shop at the Umpqua River lighthouse ( is housed in the old Coast Guard barracks next door to the lighthouse itself. The Coast Guard now has regular housing built nearby and troops still live there today. As it turned out, the museum only takes cash, so I had to drive back down the hill and across the beachhead to the little town to find the one working ATM and withdraw some funds. Then I rode back up to take the tour. It was a short little 15 or 20 minute guided walking tour with a very informed guide. It's nice taking a tour that's not guided by some lackey motivated only by his paycheck and reciting obviously-memorized lines. I won't go into all the details about this lighthouse, but one interesting thing is that it's one of only two in the US with access to the bulbs from the bottom. This means that you can climb up inside the light while it is still operating. They let visitors stick their heads up inside for some really beautiful pictures of the inside of the lens. I took a few pictures and made my way back to the gift shop. I toured the museum for a few minutes. It has some great photos and large models of ships and boats of the region, as well as a surprisingly large gift shop. I soon got back on the road, happy that I'd made this side stop.
The rest of the day was spent hauling down the coast highway, heading toward a meet-up with more geocacher friends the next day. I was intent on getting as many miles down as I could, but the fog and the chill made it uncomfortable at times. Still, the farther south I got the taller the trees became and I was looking forward to getting into the redwood forests the next day. I finally stopped for the night in Eureka, California, eager to rest up and hit the road early tomorrow. It had been another very cool day. I had put another 275 miles on the bike (total of 3922 for the trip), and I was feeling pretty good.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

DAY TWELVE - or "Look at the SIZE of that thing!"

Tuesday, 28 October 2008.

As I was blogging and posting in the forums this morning, I got a phone call. It wasn't a bill collector this time. It was a geocacher I hadn't seen in the forums in quite some time. One of the forum regulars had contacted a cacher local to the area (nicknamed Hoppingcrow) to make sure my planned route to Mount Saint Helens wasn't already closed for the season and he gave her my number (thanks, Jim). She was located just about an hour south of me so we decided to get together for a few minutes at a truck stop just off the highway, where highway 12 meets I-5. It turns out that 12 runs into 5 from one side, shares the road for about 20 miles, then continues on its merry way on the opposite side. Turns out Ms Crow was at one exit and I was at the other, even though we were both at the intersection of 12 and 5. Worst part was that we were talking on the phone telling each other that we were "right here!" at the Shell station and the 76 station is across the street. Both exits had both brands of gas station. The Shell station was closed where she was, though, so she thought I was nuts when I told her I was sitting inside the McDonalds at the Shell. We finally figured out the problem and I drove south to meet up with her. We spent a few minutes in the parking lot socializing and taking pictures, then went our separate ways. Hoppingcrow is definitely another of those people I've met who are even nicer in person than they seem to be in the forums. Seems to be a running theme.

After pulling away from the truck stop, I headed for Mount Saint Helens. It was around noon by that point, so I pulled into a little mom-and-pop diner for lunch. After I ordered I realized that all the tables were occupied. Moments later, however, three ladies offered me their fourth seat. For the rest of my lunch we chatted about the ride, where I'd come from, where I was headed, the best place from which to see the mountain, and other things. I said that I was interested in going to Death Valley to see the moving rocks there ( and one of the ladies said she had been there a few times. We had to describe them to the other two ladies. Overall, it was an almost surreal lunch with the leather-clad biker dude chatting with the little ladies from the local bank.

The drive was almost 40 miles from the freeway on a smooth, newly-paved gently twisting road. As I got closer to the mountain, the surrounding environment changed in a predictable way that was still weird to see. Outside of the blast area was mostly old growth or second growth fir trees of different sizes and ages. As I got within the blast radius, the forest was still there, but it didn't seem real. All the trees were the exact same size and there were stumps interspersed densely through them. Apparently all these trees were exactly 28 years old, having been started soon after the eruption. Within about ten miles of the blown out side of the mountain, the land was still barren, 28 years after the blast. There are still acres of downed trees that look for all the world like a giant Pick-Up-Stix game gone horribly wrong. Grass only grows in sparse patches if at all.

When I finally arrived at the visitor's center at Johnston Ridge Observatory (, I was able to see how massive this mountain really is. All the best photography in the world can't give you the true scale of this thing the way leaning over the guardrail and realizing that you are still several miles from this thing and that even the crater is a mile wide. What looks like a riverbed flowing down from the mountain is actually a canyon with walls fourty our more feet high on each side. The mountain just dwarfs everything around it on such a massive scale. Then when you concentrate for a minute and realize how much rock was there before the thing exploded, it's a lot easier to understand all the devastation around you. One scientist estimated that the 1980 eruption blew enough ash in the air for every person on earth to have 15 buckets. Yikes. Inside the visitor's center they have a tree stump on display. This thing is probably six feet in diameter and solid. According to the display, the tree was several miles from the mountain when the eruption occured. The entire tree just broke off. If you've ever tried to break a stick that was as big around as your wrist, you might have a tiny idea how much raw power it took to snap a tree off. Amazing.

After leaving the observatory, the ride back to the freeway was very nice because the sun was out and the temperatures were in the 60s by that point. I rode a couple of hundred more miles, all the way to Eugene, Oregon, and then turned west to get to 101 in Florence. It was dark by that time, and I had already ridden 390 miles by that point (for a total of 3648 on the trip) and was beat again. It had been another great day and I was ready for sleep. If I do this right tomorrow, I will be well into northern or maybe central California by tomorrow night. More scenery with the beaches and the redwood forests, but I didn't know if it would be able to rival the mountain from today for sheer overwhelming grandeur and size.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DAY ELEVEN - or "I can't let you do that, Sir!"

Monday, 27 October 2008.

I have come as far north and as far west as I can. (The picture is of the Canadian border - mere blocks from Tee's house.) It's time to turn toward home, whatever THAT is. I'm going to head south now until I get into the middle of California and then turn back east. I didn't make it very FAR south today, but it's a start.

Through the coordinated efforts of Brian, Tee, and Suzanne, it was arranged for me to visit The Lilly Pad, also known as Groundspeak Headquarters. Groundspeak is the company that runs the Geocaching website (, as well as develops new applications to add to the fun of the game. I'm sure they do a lot of other things of which I'm not aware, but I'm not engrossed in the hobby enough to look it all up. Suffice it to say that for many of the "hardcore" cachers, The Lilly Pad is a bit like Mecca. It doesn't hurt that they are in downtown Seattle within blocks of the bay, either. It's a beautiful place. I got there around 2 pm and was let in by Annie (they don't like folks just walking in and nosing around so they keep the door locked). I don't know if it was just random luck or her assigned job, but Annie was definitely a great choice for greeting the "pilgrims." I also met Jen. She is a big fan of Jeeps like I am (I'm currently on my third Jeep), so she is now near the top of my "Favorite Groundspeak Lackeys" list (sorry, Ken - she's better looking than you, too.) They both were very polite and friendly and are both very good at putting up with the random babblings of strangers. I got to see the interactive touch screen that tracks the latest finds around the world and shows them on Google Earth (THAT was cool!). I also got to log the cache that is just inside the front door - it's a full-sized treasure chest. Not exactly "hidden," but still very cool. I thanked them for their time and got back on the road. I had another geocacher friend to meet for the first time!

Loriahn is a cacher and a Soldier, too. She and I were both at camp Udari in Kuwait at the same time waiting to head north into Iraq back in June of last year, but we didn't know it at the time. We eventually made contact through e-mail and were able to keep in touch for most of the year that I was there. We both had rough times and we were able to help each other keep our sanity (or least not lose as much of it) during some of the worst of those times. When she heard that I was going to be out this way, she threatened me with bodily harm if I didn't stop in to see her. As our schedules worked out, it turned out that if I wanted to hang out with her I was going to have to go with her and her bridesmaids while she tried on her wedding dress. Seems she's getting married to a pretty great guy next summer. Lucky dog. So we had a quick dinner at RAM Brewery (LOVE their beer cheese dip!!) and then headed for the bridal shop. I mostly sat and made snarky comments and took a few pictures, but we had fun. She had to get up early the next morning for a uniform inspection, so I headed out right after she was done so I could find a room for the night. That's when the real fun started.

My first thought was to head for Fort Lewis, right around the corner from Loriahn. I needed a temporary pass so I stopped at the visitor center. First the guy tells me to take a number. I was the only person in the lobby. So of course my number comes up immediately (it was one of those automated number callers). Then he asks me for my license, registration, proof of insurance, and motorcycle safety course card. Ummm... I took that class in 2001 in Germany. Pretty sure I don't have that. "Well, sir, I'm afraid I can't give you a pass. They're really cracking down on that stuff." Great. I drive five miles down the interstate and spend half an hour checking with the two hotels at that exit. Both are booked solid. Now it's late and I'm getting cold and irritated. I wind up driving another ten miles down the highway before I find a place with a room. At this point I don't even care if the shower works. Just give me a place with an internet connection and a bed. I only rode 200 miles today, (total of 3260 so far) but I'm still beat.

Still, I had a good day meeting the lackeys at Groundspeak and hanging out with a "battle buddy," so I can't complain. And if finding a room is the most trouble I have this trip, I will count myself extremely lucky.