Friday, August 21, 2009

Flight 93 National Memorial - Let's Roll

Nestled in the hills of southwest Pennsylvania is a National Park site, simply known as Flight 93. I have been trying to get to this site for the last 2 years, not for the INK, but for some other compelling reason. Flight 93 is where the fourth plane on 9/11 that was taken back by passengers from the terrorists and forced down in a field near Shanksville, PA. It is presumed the flight was headed for the White House or the Capitol. The crash site is a reclaimed coal strip mining site.

We came out of Somerset, PA on PA 281 and made a left turn on some road that took us thru Shanksville. As we passed thru this tiny hamlet, I turned to MeAsWe and commented, “Can you imagine what the people must have thought that saw the plane overhead”. We turned onto Skyline Rd, which leads us to the site. The road to the site, while paved it is not the smooth tarmac. More like one of those back country roads, where the tar ends and turns into an unimproved surface. I remember passing a scrap or junk yard on top of a small hill.

The sight is very underwhelming visually, but equally overwhelming emotionally. We pulled into the gravel parking lot and dismounted. The Visitor Center is nothing more than a larger garden shed. Inside the shed is equally as sparse. This site is manned by 2 volunteer National Park people and a security guard. The women ranger pointed out the books on the shelves that were the transcripts of the final moments. I grabbed a Flight 93 brochure, stamped our books and began reading the transcript. It was at this moment I could feel the emotions welling within me.

From the shed, I walked outside and found MeAsWe looking at a wall that people leave mementoes. As you can see many of them are caps. As you move closer you can see various pins, coins and other small artifacts that are placed on the framed 4X4 structure. I walked past various marble and stone monuments that must have been sent to the site by various groups and individuals to commemorate the sight. As you pass and read each one of these monuments the solemness of the site takes over and it is as if you are the only one there. You find yourself fighting back tears for people you did not know. It is not a feeling of sadness per se, but more of a more overwhelming feeling that something very important happened here that somehow changed your life for reasons unknown to you.

The volunteer gathers the crowd and gives a little talk about what happened here at the field, who were involved and what the plans for the future is for the site. The speaker with a white binder in hand begins to tell the story of Flight 93. He makes this very personal by talking about individuals on the flight. He talks about one of the flight attendants and how she was not suppose to be on this flight, but was subbing for a fellow flight attendant as he points to her picture in the binder. He tells another story about one of the passengers who was probably involved in the retaking of F93. Another story about another person was given. He admits that some of the story is hypothesis and conjecture, but never the less it gives a great perspective that these people were just like you and me (his words). This talk is about 20 minutes long.

After the talk I walked around the site with more knowledge about the significance of the events that occurred that day at this site. I peered out into the field that was some 400 yards away that has a flag marking the crash site where much of the remains of those 40 heroes and 4 villains remain to this day. One is not allowed down to the actual crash site. As the volunteer said, “it is now sacred land”.

There is one monument that starts “let’s roll”, words used by Todd Beamer, his last audible words during cell phone conversation from Flight 93. Let's Roll has become the battle cry for the fight of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Indiana Dunes – The Last Crusade – Day 7 thru 9

While certainly not our last crusade, the last 3 days of this trip will no doubt be the last one for 2009. Being Friday and finally caught up (for now) on where we are suppose to be, we find ourselves back in more scenic, twisty, up and down terrain. I personally have been waiting for this part of the trip, since I have passed this section of PA multiple times on previous trips, having run out of time. We have 3 days to cover around 700 miles, only 233 miles on the average, which is far slower pace than we have been on since leaving St Louis. We will also find ourselves on the back roads again and finally get to travel on the National Road, US 40.

With the pace slower, we get a bit lackadaisical about our departure time on Friday, having a leisurely breakfast and finally get out on the road around 11:00. We blow right threw Wheeling WV, having covered some really neat Landmarks in Wheeling on our May trip, heading for Friendship Hill. FH is the home of Albert Gallatin, who was Secretary of the Treasury, during Jefferson and Madison’s presidency. During his term he completed the Louisiana Purchase (this is what the Jefferson Expansion NP is all about in St Louis), funded the Lewis and Clark guys, and reduced the national debt (haven’t heard that term in a long time have you).

Not too far away is Fort Necessity NP. This was GW (George Washington’s) first crack at a military command and he surrendered. What a way to start a new career, but as they say from failure comes success.

Each one of our trips, at least for me, has one very memorable stop, event or moment. In May it was the Rohwer Landmark in Arkansas. This trips moment is the Flight 93 National Memorial. All I can say is WOW.

It is around 4pm and we were suppose to have covered 2 more parks today, but as usual we have run out of time to make them. A couple of calls to hotels in the area we are headed for and we finds the places to be real pricey. We settle on staying in Somerset for the night.

Since I have been remiss about updating this part of the trip (geez if I look at the May trip reports I am only like 13 days behind there) I am a bit fuzzy and didn’t take a whole lot of pictures on our way to our next stop, Johnstown Flood National Memorial. The National Park is not in Johnstown, but at the South Fork dam that gave way and destroyed many of the towns from South Fork to Johnstown in 1889.

Allegheny Portage National Historic site is next on the agenda. This place is the first railroad constructed thru the Allegheny Mountains. Back in the 1830’s we were busy building canals, this enabled the transportation of barges over the mountains to create a continuous link between Ohio and the Susquehanna Rivers in eastern PA. It is Civil Engineering Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. The 36 mile railroad section, essentially enable the loading of the barges onto flat bed cars that were pulled up 10 individual inclines and back down and unloaded into canals to finish the journey to OH.

Having fallen behind again time wise, we head for Wellsboro PA, home to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. To make matters worse the GPS headed us for a way into the Canyon, which I just had a gut feeling was going to require a Long Way Round type bike with the skill of a veteran off roader. I was really hoping I would not be right, but we are headed down one of these roads, where the sign says “Road Narrows” (I am always leery of these signs) and finally ride 10 miles, Mrs. GPS says right turn and we are confronted with a dirt road that goes straight up the side of the mountain. Now it is not one of those Vermont dirt roads, but more like the ones you see cutting thru someone’s farm. With a huge sigh (and I really gotta start taking pictures of these places) we turn around to find another way in.

We get back to where we turned off PA 289 and stop and ask someone for some guidance, since the GPS is hell bent to take us back the way we just came from. We found our way to PA 660 and finally arrived at Leonard Harrison State Park.

Tonight’s planned sleeping destination is Scranton, PA, however I figure we can get close enough and stay in the Towanda Motel. I have stayed here before, while traveling US 6, and expect to easily get a room. We get to Towanda only to find some kind of festival going on in town and the place is booked. Sigh. Off we go and I figure it is only another 70 miles to Scranton. I am guessing it is around 8pm and it is getting dark, and then darker and then just plain dark. PA is prime deer country and it begins to drizzle abit. We come across the Skyline Motel in Tunkhannock and MeAsWe agrees we should give it a shot. We check in and find the rate is very reasonable. We head out to get some dinner before we even go to our room. Back from dinner, I notice there are not a lot of cars at the place. Upstairs, key in the door, twist the knob, throw open the room and viola I have visual images of the opening scenes of CSI (all 3 series), Law and Order (all 3 series) and throw in Man with the Golden Arm for good measure, you get the picture. I am not sure if we are the victims or the investigators. We tough it out, just hoping we see the sun rise the next day. Actually the bed was quite comfortable.

On the road early (it’s Sunday and we have to make home today, work tomorrow), we grabbed breakfast at a PA diner (PA is also famous for diners) and head for the Tunkhannock Viaduct. This bridge always amazes me when I see it.

I have been trying to get back to Steamtown National Park for a year now and once we hit Scranton it is only another 260 miles to home, so we stop. Steamtown was a major train yard in its heyday. If you like old trains this is the place to visit.

We head out of Scranton and because of the time, I decide to slab it home from here to make some time. As we cross the Hudson and head into Danbury I figure we are so close to Weir National Park in CT and we need CT for a state for IBA National Park Tour and there are only 3 stamping locations in CT and 2 of them are not really dependable to be open due to fiscal constraints in CT, I head a bit south. Just one more INK and we can high tail it home.

Running out of sun light, we are on I84 and I ask MeAsWe if she is hungry. Of course we have to stop at one of my favorite places to eat and conclude if we get home by 10pm we will be arriving early.

All in all, this trip was a great trip, we had some exciting times, anxious times, solemn times and just plain boring times. Indiana and Illinois almost broke my desire to ride. They are one boring, hot, humid, straight, visually unexciting places to ride in. I actually said to MeAsWe at one point in the trip, when I get home I am selling the bikes and buying a Miata or a Mini Cooper to travel.

But this too shall pass.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indiana Dunes - Raiders of the Arches - Day 4 - 6

As I left off in the previous post, we find ourselves in Michigan City, Indiana. We are just outside Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. While the area is nice, there is really nothing special about this National Park, except it holds INK , a key catch for completing the NPT.

Inside Indiana Dunes is the Bailly Homestead, a National Landmark. The homestead consists of multiple buildings for the fur trader Honore Gratien Joseph Bailly de Messein, which still does not mean alot to me, but we captured the place nevertheless. Some pics as follows:

I indicated there is really nothing that special about the Dunes, however we found ourselves spending about 3 hours at this location. Of course, we had to put our toes in Lake Michigan.

Indiana and Illinois has to be two of the worst states to ride in. Maybe it was the route I choose, however no matter where you go the roads are pencil straight and really nothing to see that is interesting. We found ourselves riding from town to town and it is as if we were traveling the mall road to hell. I exaggerate of course, but you get the picture.

One of the books I use to guide in route selection and interesting places to stop is Road Trip USA. One of the sections was on Gary, IN which basically said this was one place to avoid. Of course our next destination was the Little Red School House just south of Chicago, so Gary could not be avoided. As I said I took MeAsWe to all of the best neighborhoods, so Gary was on the itinerary. It really wasn't as bad as the book portrayed and there is something scenic in the industrial parts of the country, you just have to have an eye for it. Rides don't have to be all mountains, oceans and flowers.

Here's the Little Red School House I was talking about. With the INK from this location, we have completed the 25 state, 50 park requirement for the Iron Butt National Park Tour. Out next destination is Davenport, Iowa, but I asked MeAsWe if she had any great desire to go to Iowa. She kinda of shrugged her shoulders, with that and being behind, I decided we would head for Springfield, IL

Before we leaned left to Springfield, we just happened to past this spot requiring a mid-street turn around for a photo opp.

Jake and Elwood must already be in ChiTown someplace picking up instruments for the fund raising event.

We start Day 5 just north of Springfield, IL. On today's agenda is Lincoln's Tomb, his home and a couple of Landmarks in Springfield

While we do not need any additional states, we are heading for St Louis to see the Gateway to the West. We get to St Louis around noon. The National Park here consists of both the Jefferson Expansion Memorial which is housed in the Old Courthouse and the Arches themselves. Parking at the Jefferson Memorial can be a pain, however it is the 2nd week of August (nothing special about this week) and it is Wednesday, so a couple times around the block and we find an empty parking space essentially right next to the court house. About 6 quarters and we got 2 hours to kill. The walk to the Arch, while not far by reasonable standards, kills me, because my knees have different standards than reasonable. I grind and bear it thou.

"Jefferson Expansion Memorial and the Arch"

We grab a bite to eat and we are off to Indianapolis. Just 240 miles away. Figuring it is 5 hours or so, we should pull in around 8pm or so. Well mother nature had different plans for us today. MOTHER NATURE's PLAN

Day 6 is the longest riding day of the trip. Having to make up the miles from Mom's Little trick today's plan is to ride straight thru to St Clairsville, OH about 470 miles for the day. St Clairsville is just outside WV. The original plan was to spend about 4 hours at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH, but sometimes ya just gotta go with the flow and change the plan. There are some sites I just gotta see in PA and the once you hit the eastern part of the OH the roads are much more scenic.

Even with the changed plan we manage to make a stop at one Landmark in Terre Haute and one in Indianapolis

We have been chasing the weather all day across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Finally we found that gold at the end of the rainbow and got into the St Clairsville just as the sun disappeared behind the horizon.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When in Rain, Do as the Wind Does

Cute title, but more of a harrowing story. MeAsWe and Me are heading out of St Louis around 3pm (behind schedule) heading for Indianapolis, IN, some 250 miles away. I figure with stops and such 5 hours or so and we will be back on track. Pulling in at 8pm won’t seem so bad, well at least it will be before it is totally dark out.

We are humping along I70 to make time all while I am feeling guilty we should be on US 40 the National Road. Somewhere about 1.5 hours into our trip, I point to the sky for MeAsWe to view. It looks like we are in for a change in weather. I slow the bike (I really need to get some kind of communication technology) and yell back to see if she wants to put on her rain gear. We have grown accustom to simply riding in the rain without our rain gear. Mesh pants and jackets work great in the rain and when it is 90+ degrees, it is sometimes a welcome relief. What is that adage, be careful for what you wish for.

Well as predicted the rain begins. We are still making good time and really haven't slowed our pace, running between 70 and 75. A few more miles and a few more raindrops are added to the mix, a few more miles, a few more drops. Well eventually the rain is coming down so hard, I might as well been a down spout for a roof. The rain (more like a gushing stream) was entering around my collar, going down my back, over my waist, following my legs and gushing out around my knee caps. Mesh does a great job of venting the rain.

With rain comes that flickering of light from Thor, Zeus, Typhor, Maduk and Apollo coming together to finally decide the cosmic order of the world, once and for all. The thunderbolts if they were swords would be akin to that scene in Kill Bill Volume where Uma is being attacked by all the swordsmen. Let’s just say there was a lot of lighting. But that was in the sky, and I was on 1-70 paying attention where the road was. (thank god the roads in the Illinois are straight as a ruler). The rain is so hard at this point, the traffic (and most [note: I said most]) have slowed to under 35mph (who could look at the speedo) and are driving with flashers. The more sane people are pulling over on the side of the road, but I judge this would be an unwise move for us, since we could be run down by someone pulling off the side of the road and I just couldn’t tell what the edge of the road was made of.

Well with the rain of the 40DaysAnd40Nights, the lighting of the Gods, we only needed one more element to complete Earth, Wind and Fire. You got it with the rain and lightning you have wind. Remember the scene in the Perfect Storm; well that was what the wind was like. Not only I can’t see, and I am ducking (why I can’t tell you) for the flashing lights in the sky, I am leaning the bike at what feels like 10 degree lean to keep the bike going straight.

I pass one exit but can’t turn in because A> I didn’t see it on time and B> the car have pulled over and parked on the exit ramp. Forging ahead, my 2 best friends at the time are the 18 Wheeler and SUV in front of me with their flashers going and guiding me like a ship off the Atlantic being guided by the lighthouses (no pictures of lighthouses for the treasure hunt now). Appearing is one of those Green signs and all I see is EXIT 1 MILE at the bottom. At the moment that is all that is important. I have decided I am pulling off here no matter what. EXIT 1/2 MILE. Just 2,640 feet, 880 yards or less than 60 seconds and we will be out of this. I spot the exit and ease off my 10 degree left lean and we ease onto the ramp. It sweeps right and then left to the top of the road and without slowing I make the left hand turn onto the road.

At this point the WIND is the most compelling obstacle. At this point I don’t even notice the lightning and the rain is just a nuisance, but the wind is so fierce. Flashing red light at the intersection, I don’t slow and run the light. We are the only fools on the road at this point and we make the left hand turn. Popeye’s is off to the left, with a school on our right. Only about 100 yards to the entrance.

I realize that I am not going to be able to turn the bike into the wind, so I slow and edge to the side of the road. Slower, slower, we are at a crawl, the wind whipping us like a roman oar slave, the rain water boarding us ala CIA style. I get my feet placed on the ground and with one more Huff and Puff of the Big Bad Wolf, both MeAsWe and Me are blown off the bike. MeAsWe is blown down the shallow embankment. I am back on my feet and MeAsWe is running up the hill, yelling “Do you need help with upping the bike” to which I respond “Naw let her lay there, if we put it up it will just get blown over again.”

We stood out there for 5 or 10 minutes, me holding onto MeAsWe so not to get blown back down the hill. I see a cop in the distance pulling into the school and then immediately pulling out, puts on the lights and pulls up to our location. At this point the wind has died down. I ensure the officer that we are physically OK. He assists us with getting the bike up righted and takes off to his next emergency. I tell MeAsWe to walk to Popeye’s as I start up the Connie and ride to the parking lot, parking the bike between 2 cars so as not to be blown over again.

After a cup of coffee, I went out and inspected the bike. The mirrors, pegs, plastic and bags are all intact and undamaged. Tip over bars are a wonderful thing.

We have hurricanes and the midwest has tornadoes and that is the rest of the story.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Indiana Dunes - Riders of the Lost Routes - Day 1 thru 3

Back from the Midwest. We traveled thru 11 states putting 2914 miles on the Connie. The Connie with just over 46K in less than 2 years, continues to perform like a charm. Overall it was an uneventful trip (sorta) and one thing I can say is Indiana and Illinois are 2 very boring states to ride in. Our major objective was to pick up a National Park in both Indiana and Illinois to complete the required 25 states for the Iron Butt National Park Tour. To that end we added 4 states, INKED 16 National Parks and hit on 17 Landmarks. Weather was hot or maybe we should describe it as brutal, in the 90's for all of the trip, some rain, some wind and some lightning.

Overall Route

The first major stop was Niagara Falls, however we picked up 6 or 7 Landmarks along the way in Albany, Schentectady, Oneida and Rochester.

It was very hot and humid out. Our mesh pants and jacket works very well, however sometimes additional assistance is greatly appreciated.

MeAsWe has never seen the falls

Next stop was the Adams Power Plant, a National Landmark. Following the GPS we ended up in a neighborhood with boarded up houses and a street that had a Jersey barrier blocking off the rest of the road. The houses looked perfect for what one would imagine as crack houses. This would be one of many as I said to MeAsWe, "see I take you to only the finest neighborhoods, don't I". Not finding the power plant we scooted out of there and headed for Buffalo.

In Buffalo we INKED at Teddy Roosevelt's Inaugural site. This is where Teddy assumed the presidency after McKinley's assassination.

It was a quick stop in Buffalo and we headed to the 2nd nights destination, which was my friends house in Geneva, OH, Harold. We got there around 7 or so and chatted until around 11pm.

On the 3rd day, our major stops include the Merry Go Round museum in Sandusky, OH, and the Ypsilanti Auto Museum in Michigan. Since Mentor, OH is on the way I just had to stop at James Garfield NHP.

Getting in and out of Mentor took up alot more time than I had planned. We traveled along OH Rt 2 and US 6 to Sandusky to grab a Brass Ring

Ypsilianti Automotive Heritage Museum is an INKing spot and we captured the state of Michigan for the NP Tour. The museum was the last Hudson car dealer in the US. Ypsilianti has a deep history in the automotive world. Preston Tucker's family owned a tool and die company in this town, GM produced the Corvair here. The Willow Plant facility was originally a B24 factory built by Ford. After the war the Kaiser Motor company built the Kaiser and Frazier auto's in this plant and finally GM bought the facility to produce automatic transmissions.

Some of the cars at the museum

High tailing it out of Ypsilanti we headed for Michigan City in Indiana via US 12 coming across this place.

I can't imagine what the traffic is like on race weekends. US12 is a 2 lane highway and as far as I know this is the main entrance to MIS. I can now say I have been to Sturgis, just a bit mis-directed.

We ended Day 3 in Michigan City, Indiana, just outside our next National Park, Indiana Dunes.