RideAbout65 Series

RideAbout2010 – Day 1


RideawayI finish loading the bike (my 2007 Ducati Mutistrada 1100S, Red, of course) with the essentials for a minimally planned quest.  A few tools, a still and video camera, computer, comfortable and functional clothes, a GPS…but no map.  No need for a map, I have known this destination since I was imprinted while watching the movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  It is common knowledge in my family that in 1947, my arrival on this particular planet was thru the portal at Roswell – however, the sheer tractive power of attraction emanating from that big rock in Wyoming suggests that perhaps there is a connection there as well.  It is as clear as mashed potatoes in Richard Dreyfuss’s hands – Devils Tower – that’s the destination… could it be any other ?  The time is right, the planets are aligned…well, actually, I have managed to clear two weeks on my calendar that could possibly remain uninterrupted or project the illusion of non-interuptis.   Of course, HoneyBunny is not completely on board with this whole quest business, but then she is a native terrestrial being – all these intergalactic family tree pronouncements are just so much mumbo jumbo to her earthling bred brain. But having finally accepted the concept of “Resistance is Futile”, she blesses the trip with a small bag of emergency graham crackers (Golden Bunny brand with honey, of course). 

Alex seems concerned about the packing in general but is soon distracted by 7of9 the cat – after a rousing round of “get the kitty” – he could care less.   Whitley is in her aloof mode – she knows I will return…hopefully with a brush.

The weather is perfect as I head out for the first destination of the day, a quick visit with Ed Krass at his shop, Mid-South Motoplex, in Clarksville. The shop is pretty quiet and I know Ed would rather it be much more busy. As it is, he has time for a chat and pronounces the RideAbout to be a Good Thing. He sees me off as I embark in the general direction of that mysterious force looming from within the giant scalloped rock formation on the eastern edge of Wyoming.

My first general destination is Antique Archaeology in LeClaire, IA – home of the American Pickers TV show. But it is more than a one day ride to LeClaire so along the way I drop in to visit up and coming young racer Zac Nash and his family in Vincennes, IN. We have a fun visit, talk and look at his bikes, inspect the bent rims from the Snowshoe GNCC and have lunch. Zac is in his senior year of high school, making good grades (will likely be valedictorian of his class), and planning to be a mechanical engineer. Since I know a little about that we talk about the various schools he has been visiting and his plans. A quick family photo in front of my bike and I am off once again toward LeCaire.

I had planned to spend the night at Springfield, IL but I stayed a little too long at Zac’s – so I stop short of Springfield at Effingham, IL for the night.


RideAbout Day 1 complete – Mileage for the day – 330 – Total mileage – 330.


RideAbout2010 – Day 2

Total distance: 363.55 mi
Download file: RideAboutA.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  694 miles

Another nice day as I pull out and head North toward LeClaire, IA.  LeClaire is just across the river at Davenport.  I am going to LeClaire in search of the origin of American Pickers, the TV show that celebrates junk, the search for junk, and the marketing of junk.  The backstory of American Pickers begins with Antique Archaeology, the business and home base of the show’s main characters, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz.  I watch the show and enjoy it.  Recently Mike Wolfe bought a house in the village of Leipers Fork a few miles from our house.   Then Sandy and I saw Mike walking down the street in Leipers Fork and it seemed like perhaps he actually intends to be part of the community.  That’s all it took to add the Pickers to my itinerary.  I have the address from their website plugged into my GPS but when I get there I don’t see the big enterprise shown on TV.  After driving back and forth several times I spot a familiar looking old car off the side of a small alley way behind a gas station.   I pull in the alley and there is Antique Archaeology – underwhelming is my first thought.  It is a gray building, with an old car out front just like on TV…but, not nearly the large enterprise it appears to be on TV.  And inside, where I expect a large warehouse with lots of good junk to look through – I find a garage size area with just a sampling of items from the show.  There are two young women there – one is sitting on a chair in the doorway selling t-shirts and the other is behind a counter collecting money presumably from sales of other items.

A few miles deeper into Iowa was the so-called National Motorcycle Museum at Anamosa, IA.  I say “so-called” because there is not, to my knowledge, such a facility as a motorcycle museum sponsored by the U.S. government or any other entity.  But the grandiose name and obscure location does not diminish the quality of the collection.  Housed in a former K-Mart or Walmart building, the museum has ample room to spread out.  I spent a long while wandering back in time among the wonderful group of machines.  I can see myself returning here again some day.



RideAbout2010 – Day 3

Total distance: 363.99 mi
Download file: RideAboutB.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  1058 miles

From Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I had a long, dull ride up to and across South Dakota – just got on the interstate since the secondary roads were just as straight and boring.  I stopped at Sioux Falls to visit my old friend Jerry – I have not seen him in 37 years.

Entering Minnesota

Entering Minnesota


Tom & Jerry - Sept 2010

Tom & Jerry – Sept 2010


My Friend Jerry – a Little History Lesson.

Jerry and I were stationed together at Eielson AFB near Fairbanks, Alaska in 1974 (we arrived in January 1974).  My wife Sandy was friends with Jerry’s wife Allison.  Jerry and I worked together in the Civil Engineering Squadron, where we were both what the air force called Site Developers – basically we were engineering aides to the base civil engineers doing surveying, construction inspection, and drawing of plans for base projects.  Jerry and I specialized in surveying.  As soon as it warmed up enough toward the end of May 1974, Jerry and I were assigned to lay out a new bombing range to be located way out in the boonies.   The area had been cleared somewhat, at least a lot of trees knocked down – our job was to lay out an equilateral triangle 2 miles on each side.  At one point of the triangle would be the target and at each of the other two triangle points would be scoring towers.   Each of the scorers would have a transit and when the bomb hit they would each measure the angle to the hit and using the known distance between the towers and both angles, they could compute the location of the hit…and thus the pilot’s score.  To compute the hit location the scorers used pre-made charts, actually a device that looked like a big round slide rule…remember this was 1974, no gps, no smartphone, no personal or portable computers…heck, handheld calculators with trig functions were not even in common use yet.

So early each morning we taken out to the site by helicopter and dropped off with a sometimes shaky promise to be back before dark to pick us up.  I can’t remember precisely but we may have spent a couple of nights out there.   There was one tower already built for us to work out of.  We would start at the existing tower and determine where the second tower and target circles would be located.   The place was so remote you could not hear any other vehicle or sound of civilization and you could drink right out of the springs.   The thing you immediately noticed was all the wildlife tracks, not just little guys, but moose, bear, and wolves.   Our biggest concern was meeting a mother and baby moose or bear out in the woods.

Our tools were surveying gear and chainsaws.  To layout each of the two mile lines, we had to clear an opening through the woods so we could see with our transit (remember, no GPS surveying invented yet – pure old school surveying).  We also had to measure the distances manually with steel surveyor’s tapes to a high order of accuracy.  The good part was that a lot of trees were knocked down but they were also still laying where they fell.  So we decided to build towers to get our transit up off the ground so we could see the far end in one set up.  It was a lot of work to build the towers but it worked great and saved us a lot of additional work.  We just had to cut line through the remaining standing woods,  not a small job but much better than having to cut through all the downed trees as well.  Some of the towers we built are shown in the photos below as well as a shot from one showing the line cut through a section of woods.  Occasionally, another person or two would be sent out to help but for the most part it was just Jerry and I.   To be honest, it was a huge amount of work but Jerry and I really enjoyed being out on our own and not having to go into the office to work every day.  It took us all summer and into September to finish.  Once every couple of weeks we would stop by the office to report on our progress and check for mail and/or messages – this is where a problem happened that I will explain later.

Now with all that long preface, I can start getting to why and how Jerry was to help Sandy and I in a way that put us in debt to him forever.  But first, still more history.

Before I was re-assigned to Alaska, we were at Moody AFB near Valdosta, GA.  During the time since returning from Vietnam I had changed air force jobs and started working on taking some college courses.  At that time the air force had a competitive program that provided a fully paid college education if you could qualify and beat out all the others trying to get in.  It was called the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (AECP).  The requirements were that you get at least a year of college on your own, have good grades, take a bunch of tests, have your whole career examined, be interviewed multiple times, get recommendations from every big wig, and then be compared against everyone else who was trying to do the same thing.  If you made the final cut, the air force would send you to a civilian college for up to 3 years where you could attend classes just like everyone else, no uniforms, just make grades that were a minimum of a B average or above.   They would pay all the expenses plus paying you your full salary and benefits at what ever rank you were.  After you graduated you would then be sent straight to the 90 day officers training at Lackland with the standard 4 year commitment.  If you did not maintain your grades at the minimum level or failed to graduate, you went back to your old job for a 6 year commitment.  High pressure, but high rewards.

I had made it through the initial hoops at Moody and was just ready to submit my package for final evaluation when I got the assignment to Alaska.  What that meant was that I would have to wait until I got to my base in Alaska before submitting my final package.  It usually took about 6 to 8 months to get a final determination.  It was late in February 1974 before I was able to finally get my package sent off.   I assumed if I got notified it would be sometime in the summer so I would have time to get moved to the school and be ready to enroll in the Fall classes.

However, what happened next reads like fiction but unfortunately it is all too true.  There was a guy in my office, actually he was my supervisor even though we were the same rank (he had been a Tech Sergeant longer than me),  he had applied for AECP twice previously and had been turned down both times.  While Jerry and I were out working on the bomb range, this guy was supposed to be checking my mail and taking my phone calls.  Starting sometime in mid-summer I got a letter notifying me of my selection to the program and giving me instructions to contact a certain person to start making arrangements for school.  The guy threw my letter in the trash.  When I got a second letter, he trashed it as well.  By late August, they were starting to call me…remember, 1974, no voice mail, no cell phones – all messages had to be remembered or written down – I am not sure exactly what was being said to the school person but no message was ever passed to me.  Out at the bombing range we only had a radio to communicate with the helicopter guys and that was it.

Jerry and I were finishing up and our first full day back in the office was a Monday in late September.  The phone rang at my desk, I answered it and there was the school guy on the other end raising heck with me, “why had I not responded to the letters or the calls?”, he said that this would have been his last call to me as he would have to go to the next name on the list if he did not talk to me this day.  I had no idea what had happened so I was a bit in shock, especially after he told me he had left numerous messages with this guy.  He also told me that it was even more serious, if he missed me there would not be any re-submission of my package for later on because the AECP program was shutting down and I would be the absolute last person to ever get in it.

If all that were not bad enough, he said that most all the schools had already started, including the one where they were planning to send me, Georgia Tech.  He said the only school contracted in their program that I might still get into was Auburn.  Auburn had just started and would have to agree to take me after classes had started.  Someone else already attending under AECP would have to register me for classes.   He said he would call me back after talking to Auburn.  In the meantime, I went looking for the guy…we had never really gotten along but this was a little more than just not getting along.  Of course, he denied every thing and there were no witnesses – I decided rather than getting in a huge fight it would be better if I concentrated on what steps would come next, I could deal with him later.   Actually I never did, I just wrote him off.  I told my commander about it and he said he would take care of it – I never heard from either.  Very soon, I was going to have a lot more to worry about anyway.

When the school guy called back, it was a good news/bad news situation.  Yes, Auburn would accept me but only if I was in class on Thursday…3 days from now!!!  That would still be a week after classes started.  The only way to do it would be to leave Sandy (and 4 year old Chelsea) in Alaska to clear our quarters and make her way home by herself.  He told me to talk to her and get back to him within 2 hours.  He would have to get my base out-processing started right away.  I called Sandy and she immediately said, “Do it”, she had no illusions about how important this would be to our future.  With her answer, I called the school guy and by late afternoon I was ready to pack up and leave the next day – it is truly amazing how fast things can happen in the military when the right people are pushing to make it happen.  Someone from the office even rushed out and got me a going away cake.

The next day it snowed, and I got on the plane to head for Auburn leaving Sandy and Chelsea behind in Alaska.  She would have to quit her job, pack all our stuff, clean and clear the quarters (we were in housing at Fort Wainwright Army Post in Fairbanks as we had never been able to get housing from the air force – it was a 25 mile drive for me to Eielson each day).  She could then move into temporary quarters (like a military hotel) until they could leave.  Our plan was that she would book passage on the ferry to Seattle from Anchorage.  She would drive our van down to Anchorage and put it on the ferry, then her brother Monty would fly out to Seattle and drive home to Tennessee with her.

In the meantime, I would rent a student apartment for the first quarter and look for a house to rent in my spare time.  Sandy and Chelsea would move down between quarters.  However, I had lots of school issues to face, the main being that I had never attended college full time, my year of college was all night classes, correspondence, and CLEP tests.   The person that registered me had signed me up for more than a full load – something like 20 hours – I found that AECP folks were supposed to take heavy loads since the military felt like if they were paying us to go to school then we needed to take heavy loads to get out as soon as possible.  Well, it is obvious that it all worked out and the rest of that story is for another day.

Sandy booked her passage on the ferry – not so easy really since the construction of the Alaska Pipeline had just started and the ferries were really busy.  It was October, Winter was here, and she was on the last ferry of the season…she would be leaving to catch it just a few days before her maximum stay time at the temporary quarters ran out.  We had just enough money left to get her home.  (Ominous music plays in the background…).

I got a call from Sandy a couple of days before she was supposed to leave…she is very upset – I finally get the story – the ferry has run aground and is damaged – there are no more ferries this winter.  The options are few, leave our van in Alaska and fly home – we really did not have enough money for that.  We could try to sell the van.  Sandy could stay in Alaska over the winter and come out in the spring.  That would be tough, assuming she could get her job back she likely could not find a place to rent that we could afford – every place was being snapped up by the pipeline people.   And that seemed like a horrible option.  She could drive out…maybe… the Alcan highway in 1974 was a very different road than it is today and it isn’t that great today.  Mostly gravel, with few accommodations, and mostly snow and ice covered already for hundreds of miles at least, if not more.  For a young 23 year old mother and a 4 year old – a dangerous place.  And just think how alone and scared Sandy had to be at this point…

Finally after all this boiler plate, Jerry enters our story again.  I called Jerry to see what wisdom he could share since I was tapped out.  Jerry immediately says, “I am getting out of the service this year and I would like to go down to Seattle to look for a job, I will be glad to drive down with her if you can pay my expenses and airfare back to Fairbanks”.  Just an aside here, even though Jerry had a degree in Earth Sciences, his real love was big trucks and truck driving… he might actually enjoy this trip.   Sandy was a bit reluctant at first but soon agreed it was the best of all the hard choices.

So that is how Jerry cemented his place in our family history as the Alaska Savior.  It took them about a week or so to get to Seattle and it turned out to be quite the adventure for them all.  It is just too bad Chelsea was really too young to remember much about it.  They made it to Seattle and met up with Monty and he, Sandy, and Chelsea had a nice cross county trip to Sandy’s Mom and Dad’s place in Tennessee.

For the rest of the story, after the Air Force, Jerry and Allison settled in South Dakota and Jerry got a job driving big rigs, then he started a trucking company, and finally he opened a big truck stop.  Today, he still has a small trucking company and is getting ready to retire in Sioux Falls.  We had a great visit, recalling the good times we had in Alaska and all that went with it.  We sat down to a wonderful dinner and after a tour of Sioux Falls.  The 37 years just fell away as we were once again hanging out together.   It was a high point in his life to be able to help us out and the great adventure came along with it.

Jerry - Summer of 1974

Jerry – Summer of 1974.


Survey Tower

Survey Tower.


View of Line from Survey Tower

View of Line from Survey Tower.


Tom & Jerry - Sept 2010

Our transportation in the air & on the ground.


Jerry & Chelsea with the van in the background.


Jerry fishing for dinner.


Chelsea at scenic overlook.


Civilization along the way.

RideAbout2010 – Day 4

Total distance: 370.47 mi
Download file: RideAboutC.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  1428 miles

SD Wildlife

South Dakota Wildlife.


Exit to Little House

Exit to Little House on the Prairie author home.

RideAbout2010 – Day 5

Total distance: 137.59 mi
Download file: RideAboutD.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  1566 miles


RideAbout2010 – Day 6

Total distance: 434.63 mi
Download file: RideAboutE.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  2000 miles

RideAbout2010 – Day 7

Total distance: 346.94 mi
Download file: RideAboutF.gpx

Total Trip Mileage so far:  2347 miles

Some notes about the motorcycle accident I witnessed in Colorado:

In between Akron and the next town, the two riders on Harley Big Twins passed me while I had stopped on the side of the road to take some some medicine for my head cold and sore throat.

The rider that had the accident had regular handlebars and the other bike had ape hangers.  I think they both had their feet on the highway pegs.  They were wearing short sleeves, no helmets, and I was thinking to myself how uncomfortable that must be in the wind and sun.  It was very windy with strong crosswinds.

I caught up to them after my stop and was just following at distance – maybe 100-200 feet, less at times, I was thinking about passing them as they were going a bit under the speed limit of 65.  But I decided just follow them for a while since I did not have that far to go.  Although I was following them I was not paying super close attention to them other than to maintain the distance.  I did not get up too close because the bikes were so loud.

There were some buildings on the right side of the road and strong gusts of wind were blowing across the road as we passed by them.  When the problem started with the bike that eventually crashed – I had the distinct feeling for a moment that the guy was just clowning around, doing a serpentine maneuver.

His bike first rolled (leaned) to the left and sort of moved over the centerline, it seems that he tried to correct to the right but overshot  and then he went hard to left in front of an on-coming car – I was sure they were going to hit right in front of me and perhaps come into my lane.  I saw sparks from the floor board touchdown.    At that moment my attention  was directed toward my own hard braking and moving over to the shoulder as I really thought the car and the bike were going to hit and maybe come into my lane.

The next time I glanced toward the bike, he was already done on his left side and had missed the car.  The bike disappeared over the embankment and ended up in the ditch maybe about 50 to 100 feet from the edge of the road.

I parked my bike on the shoulder and got down to the rider as fast as I could – when I first reached him he was curled up on his right side facing the direction he came from.  He had obvious head injuries (no helmet) and it looked like he had bitten his tongue pretty hard.  Some road rash, but not a lot.  I knelt down beside him and held him still while talking to him.  His friend came down there I asked if they had called 911 and he indicated a gentleman up on the road was calling.  I looked up and he was.  I continued to try keep the injured guy still and talking.  He did not lose consciousness after I got to him.   Within a few minutes a young lady with obvious medical training joined us – I asked if she was a nurse and I think she said she was a paramedic – she seemed very competent so I just followed her lead.  Later, another young gentleman appeared and said he was a paramedic as well.   At that point I stepped back – she asked him if he was wearing a helmet and when he said no, she was clearly perturbed and made a comment about “donorcycles”.

She asked him if he remembered how the accident happened and he said yes, but the explanation was not clear at all.  He had also flunked his day of the week test – he said it was Tuesday.   I thought I heard him say something about “couldn’t steer”  but by the time I got my helmet and earplugs out they were not taking about that anymore – she was moving on to a further assessment of his injuries.   I walked back over to my bike just as the trooper and ambulance arrived.

I went back over and a group of people had picked his bike up – it had scrape marks on the left side but really nothing on the right.

I stood around a few more minutes and when the troopers did not seem interested in talking to me, I went back to my bike, put my helmet back on and continued on to Wray CO and my B & B for the night.

RideAbout2010 – Day 8