Travel’s Last Leg, as Eagerly Anticipated as the First

Bike-529OMRO, WISCONSIN—In my decades of travel, on trips far and near, long and short, I’ve always anticipated the last leg home with the same eagerness of their first leg. This two-wheeled adventure to Seattle and back (and neither Ed nor I have come up with a good name for it after nearly two weeks of trying) for two reasons. At 5,341 miles and 16 days, it’s been my longest in mileage and days away from home. The second, but of greater importance is that my red-haired sweetie who’s dedicated 18 years to me was sitting on the front porch, rocking, awaiting return. Next to the garage door where Ole Blue lives when he’s not on the road she’d taped a sign: “Welcome Home Small Town Traveler.”

It’s been an excellent trip for many reasons, but it’s good to be home.

One reason for the trip was to launch Small Town Traveler. It’s an experiment in professional development. Most of the writing I do involves a lot of research and revisions to manuscripts I produce to meet the needs of others. This is writing for my needs, and for others who happen to trip across it. This post, and the ones that precede it, are first-draft impressions organized and spewed into the computer after a day in the saddle. The experiment was, after a day in the saddle, summoning the energy and willpower to organize thoughts and observations into coherent story? Thanks to Ed, my two-wheel lead on the way to Seattle who cut my daily mileage in half to 300 miles, give or take, the answer is clearly affirmative. He’ll likely be happy to know that I maintained the standard all the way home, except for one 400-mile day, but that extension was motivated by available lodging.

Speaking of which, my consistent complaint of the trip was that motels all seem to have the same shower head elevation—short—perfect for getting my shoulder wet. But I shouldn’t complain. On my first cross-county motorcycle trip in 1974, on Interstate 80 from NAS Alameda to my parents’ home in Streamwood, Illinois, I spent one night at the Purple Sage Lodge in Rawlings, Wyoming, because the Best Western across the street didn’t have a room. A 1940s-era travel court, the shower was a sheet metal box and the shower head, fully elevated, reached my waist. I made quite a mess getting my top half clean. It involved a lot of anguished, angry towel wringing.

There is no comparing that trip to this one. Much has changed in the past 40 years. Then I rarely saw another motorcycle on the road between cities, other than the “old guy” who was probably younger than I am now. He was on a BMW R750 with a quarter-million miles on the odometer. We met in Nebraska. I was off to the side of the road, oiling the chain on my trusty Honda 750, Pegasus. Yeah, I know, I have a thing about naming my bikes. Oddly, this doesn’t transfer to my other forms of transportation. He stopped to see if I was okay, which I was. We talked bikes for awhile, and that’s when I decided to one day have a shaft-drive Beemer.

People are friendlier now. Then strangers rarely initiated a conversation or continued one when I tried to exchange words with them at gas stations, restaurants, motels, and looking at the map at rest stops or historical points of interest. On this trip rarely did I not have a conversation with someone at these locations, as well as unexpected venues. At a North Dakota fuel stop outside of Williston, at the next urinal a construction worker from Oklahoma who was the road paving crew saw my armored jacket and asked what I was riding. He concluded our short conversation by apologizing for the construction delay and urging me to to keep in eye open for workers and dodgy pavement. 

Bike-527Two encounters were especially heartwarming: The first was the man who, seeing Blue parked outside the Dancing Beagle in Rudyard, Montana, came in expressly to find out why a two-wheel Wisconsin license plate was in their small town. The second was Rob, the BMW R1200RT rider from Vancouver, BC. We were preparing for our departures, and he was a bit ahead of me. Dressed in his fluorescent neon green riding jacket and helmet, he walked over to shake my hand, say how good it was to meet me, and to wish me a safe journey. I wished him the same. I really should have taken his picture and gotten his e-mail address, as I should have with others I met over the past several weeks. I’ll be better in the future.

Speaking of helmets, if someone is looking for a research project worthy of an Ig Noble Prize, studying the affect of a full-face brain bucket on old guy nose hair growth would certainly be running. I hit the road with a nasal crew cut and returned with a budding mustache that tickled as the slight breeze behind my faces shield made the hairs dance like sea grass in a ebbing tide. Such are the thoughts that fill my head while locked in polycarbonate solitary confinement. Other pastimes are determining the source of strange sounds and smells. The slipstream whistling past my helmet is responsible for the former, and the source of diesel fumes, the eau de Williston, and manure being spread by a farmer are clearly seen…but microwave popcorn?

One goal unaccomplished on this trip was transcribing my scribbled notes into the computer after writing the first draft of the day’s events. That will have to wait until I get caught up from my absence (and scrub more than 5,000 miles of bugs from Ole Blue’s face), and that will surely motivate me to revisit my first drafts here and revise them to include anecdotes and observations and thoughts that didn’t bubble to the surface when I was first writing. I’m looking forward to that. But now it’s getting late. I’ll add the photos tomorrow. Right now I need to find that nose hair trimmer the lovely red haired woman downstairs got me for Christmas two years ago.


About smspangler

Freelance writer, editor, and photographer of myriad aviation topics and the exploration of America's small towns.
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