Brent Allen, author of Motorcycles, Life, and… and The Elemental Motorcyclist and his wife, Julie, are on a road trip, two-up. They are heading to the AMA Superbike races in Elkhart Lake, WI, riding their Honda ST1300 from their home town of Nampa, ID (just southwest of Boise). They will be our guest bloggers while on the trip, and each will give their own impressions on their travels and give us a look into each of their own individual ways of looking at the same experience.
The Mississippi River, This Time Homeward Bound!
First, from Brent:
Wednesday June 04/Nauvoo IL to Salina KS/07:15 to 17:00/2389miles to 2867miles
I’m not sure this is unique to me but have you ever noticed how right when you start bitching about how hard you have it God reaches out and says, “You think you’ve got it bad? Check this out.” More on that in a moment but first, this wasn’t just a day for getting a lesson it was also a day of getting some very real blessings and that started with weather. Last night was a epic lightning. Let me back up. Late yesterday afternoon things started clouding up. I heard Mrs. Crash talking to someone outside the motel room. Turns out to be a gentleman on a bicycle and since he was alone he wasn’t a Mormon missionary—unless he was really lost. He was a gentleman bicycling up from the Gulf of Mexico. Since the weather was going to be bad he had decided on the motel over a night outdoors camping. Just as I was thinking 2389 miles was really getting it done along comes a guy who’s done over 1500 miles on a bicycle. Dude, kudos for some serious pedaling and an impressive accomplishment; that’s serious dedication and stamina.
Mom? I’m still special aren’t I?
Back on task: Last night was classic Greek mythology. Huge, huge lightning with thunder that rattled you awake. Zeus was having it out with someone and it was wonderfully nonstop with constant bolt throwing and colossal hollering and cussing. The Gods were angry and it was fun to be a mere mortal watching on the down low, hiding under the covers. Got up in the morning and found that rain had followed the fight. The bike was clean and the ground was wet. I borrowed a towel from the motel and give the seat, tank, control surfaces and windshield a quick dry off. Low clouds hung over the city of Nauvoo and out over the big bend of the Mississippi it sits on. We talked things over and decided not to put on raingear.
Heading to the river and turning south we could clearly see the skies in front of us. Things looked threatening and hung low but we could see well ahead and no rain was falling. From wet pavement in shaded corners we knew that rain had been falling fairly recently but we were blessed with no rain anywhere on our 478 mile day. We found that we had escaped the rain by hours. As we rolled along the Mississippi I must have seen 10 full trees, root balls and 20 feet of trunk, floating down the river. They looked like giants floating on their backs with the roots sticking up like feet.
Shooting across Iowa we could see blue sky paralleling our path and we realized that soon we could be in direct sunlight. Things then turned from the worse and we saw rain was falling directly in our path about 2 miles ahead. We stopped and I put on my rain top and Julie put on all her raingear which was good because as soon as somebody is totally prepared—you won’t need it and we didn’t. Because of the fresh and overnight rain the rumble strips gouged in the highway held water and in Missouri every single flowing body of water was running high and looked like a Willy Wonka’s chocolate river if it were real serious about trying to drown Oompa Loompas. I’m not sure what causes muddy water to foam but there was some serious whipped cream on the water today as well as cords and cords of snags and logs and branches. This is the land of brown water; brown water in the rivers and creeks, brown water pooling up in the bottoms of fields, brown water filling in the corrugations of the corn. Missouri is a lush and almost like a tropical forest and after seeing the wetness and the richness of the soil I understand why the fields are smaller and the soil full of nutrients.
We passed through Kansas City and rolled hard across the Sunflower State. For as lush and full of undergrowth Missouri is when you cross the Kansas border suddenly the trees step back and you’re looking at grass and lots of it. I heard a joke once that “In Kansas they’ve finished their tree removal project!” I understand where that prejudice comes from but Kansas does indeed have trees but they lack the companionship of bushes and tall weeds. By Lawrence the sun was out and starting to do its thing. I was warm and we decided to push on to Salina. I know it is going to be a long and now hard day before it’s over. I am thinking about how I need to put a wet buff on my head at the next fuel stop and then run the windshield a little lower to let air flow through my vents and keep my head cool and we turn a corner and there’s Fort Riley.
THE Fort Riley, the one with the big twin rotor Chinooks still sporting desert colors sitting on the flight line next to Blackhawks wearing the same innocuous Southwest Asia paint scheme. Oh yeah, I’m on a bike, with my wife, headed for an eventual night in a motel, able to stop and buy Diet Mountain Dew and Krispy Kremes and I’m whining about being a little hot. Meanwhile, those choppers and their crews have gone to really, truly hard places and seen and done things that make me feel a tad underwhelmed with myself. I feel a little bad because I know that I’m driving by Fort Riley pissing and moaning and when our young men and women come home from some of the toughest spots in the world this is the place they love to see. Kansas is so full of beauty for them. I think about the purple sweet clover growing in huge clumps by the interstate. I think about the rolling green grass and the trees and the sweet shade they offer and I realize that Kansas is a pretty kick ass place and it’s not really kicking my ass at all.
Thanks Lord for the perspective and thanks to the Men & Women of Fort Riley for all you’ve done and do.
And, from Julie:
Apparently there was a humdinger of a thunder and lighting storm most of last night. I slept through it. Awoke refreshed at 5:30 this morning created enough of a commotion to wake Crash up and started getting ready to get on the road. It was wet, overcast and looked like the sky would drop bucket loads on us at any minute.
I climbed onto the ST behind Crash. We turned right on to Mullholland Ave. and left Nauvoo. Down the hill and along the Mississippi River toward Iowa. At 7:15 in the morning after rain, it was an ethereal place to be. It smelled, wet and of sour tree sap mixed with the occasional sweet smell of some blooming tree or flower and thick mossy, mucky mud from the river.
As we rode I realized what a first class ticket I had. I watched two rubenesque men in baseball caps and overalls brave the choppy waters of the river in their outboard to check their crawdad traps. I saw numerous families of Canada Geese milling near the edge of the road, plucking the last of their breakfast from the grass before moving to safer ground. A doe and her tiny fawn nibbled tender grass along the water's edge just a few feet from where we past, not flinching at the hum of the ST. All these things I saw but Crash was busily looking for obstacles he may have needed to avoid or surmount, wet pavement, oncoming traffic. All the work and responsibility that he gladly takes on when piloting the ST so that I can enjoy everything around me.
The morning through midday was cloud covered, damp and chilly but for all the trouble the weather had caused in Nebraska and Iowa the day before it had spent itself and for the most part threatened but never followed through. Evidence of its violence was apparent in the turbulent streams and rivers we crossed that churned thick, frothy, chocolately water with mazes of logs and branches bunched up against the bridges, waterlogged fields where corn plants bent over pleadingly in standing water as if begging for the sun to dry and warm the earth.
We crossed four states today ending up almost but not quite halfway across Kansas. Trees diminished in numbers, replaced by rolling hills of green grass. The pastures sectioned off by wire fence for cattle. Thick patches of the sweetest smelling clover filled the median and road sides. The pastures gave way to wheat fields already starting to turn gold in the early summer heat. Then after what seemed an eternity of road noise and wind whistling in my helmet a bit of civilization popped into view. Crash turned off the interstate and onto the exit for Salina. A cold diet Pepsi, a soft bed and hopefully another lighting storm. This time Crash is under strict orders to wake me.