September, 1999
Chapter 16

Mark doesn't play well with the other children..." One thing I enjoy about motorcycle rallies is, there are so many bikers, that nobody waves. Call me grumpy, call me antisocial - call me a jerk - but I don't enjoy waving to every person I see on two wheels (there have been at least 10,000 so far on this trip.) When I drive a car, I don't salute everybody else in cars, but I guess bikers are just a more friendly bunch! Not all bikers wave (some are like me) and then some just give the ultra-cool, hand down and out, like they're signalling a left turn or something. Some practically fall off their bike hoisting their arm in greeting, as if they got their license this morning and are just thrilled to be in this "club." I guess that is the reasoning here; that we are special members of this elite club, called "bikers" and that is why we don't wave to truck drivers, or taxicabs, or the Pope, even, unless he's cruising on the Papalcycle. I am having trouble feeling kinship with some bikers. It isn't because I owned my first bike nearly two decades ago, it isn't because I live on my bike now, and have rolled over 40,000 miles during this trip, and it isn't because I now ride what is arguably the best bike in the world. No, I guess it is because of why I ride - or why I don't ride, actually. I don't ride a "chrome charm bracelet" like some people, who think that expressing their creativity and individuality is best done by buying another piece of chrome. I don't ride so that I can wear more leather than a cow. I don't ride a "space scooter" with CB, CD, heater, reverse and more plastic than Hollywood. I don't ride to impress people. I don't ride to make a lot of noise, and I don't ride to join any group. The biker I feel closest to is the one with soft bags strapped all over an old bike, a rolled-up sleeping bag between his fender and headlight, and he's wearing a lot of dirt. He is the guy that always gets a wave from me - and don't I hate it when he doesn't wave back.

Made in the Shade
A.C. Ekker was born and raised on the dusty, dry Utah earth, and now he lives in it.
Posted October 15, 1999

Bottled Up - Back in the 1960's, when they didn't care what you built your house out of, Tora Selander Nelson collected about 10,000 beer and selzer bottles from dumps around Teasdale, Utah, and built her dream home. That's just packed dirt you see as mortar, and she hauled some logs behind her car from a washed-out bridge, to use for beams. It took her 10 years to build this "glass house," says her son, Pete Nelson, and she died in 1988, at age 92. Kids kept shooting out the bottles, so she covered most of the home with wood. "She was stronger than me, even in her 70's," Nelson says.

Beware the advice of total strangers - Heading toward Mexican Hat, in southeast Utah, I flagged down someone coming north, to ask them just how serious this sign was. "Oh, you don't want to go there," they said, practically climbing out of their seats to warn me. "It's rough, and gravel, and steep, and there's switchbacks!" This all sounded pretty exciting, but it wasn't until one of them said; "you know, it's quicker if you take the other route, through Blanding," that I realized we were on separate adventures. I turned that bike around and shouted "giddyup!" The ride down the Mokee Dugway wasn't bad at all, descending 1,100 feet in 3 miles. A few days later, I took the CCC road off Colorado's Grand Mesa; a 6,000 foot drop, which was a lot more exciting.
Route 95 going past Lake Powell, Utah - just another example of the powerful, dramatic scenery in the wild west. If you live on the east coast, and haven't traveled out here, then it's time you did. Drop everything, get in a plane, train or automobile and get out here. This is not a drill - I am serious. That blasted Y2K thing could wipe out everything, and you will have missed all of this incredible, incredible beauty. Call the boss with the bad news today, and you could be out here before the leaves turn.

These Eyes
In this age of digital video and 500-channel television, millions of people still enjoy sitting down and listening to someone tell them a story.
Posted September 3, 1999

Don't Mooooove! Cattle guards are very popular out here. They cut across a road, are about 4 feet wide, and the cattle either know better than to try to cross them, or they do try, and they slip and "get real stuck." These would be great in the suburbs, at the end of a driveway to stop dogs, or at the top of stairs, to stop toddlers. And if nothing else, they make great planters.
Honk if you Love Beer! - I have seen enough of these signs throughout the west, to believe it is not a mistake. Someone told me that, during prohibition-like times, the mutation of the "R" to a "P" somehow made selling beer legal. I guess you could sell it here, but you just couldn't advertise it.

Date: September 5, 1999
Location:Montrose, Colorado
Recent Stops: Mexican Water, Utah
Next Stop: Denver
Mileage so far: 41,603
Free For All - In Telluride, Colorado, there is a setup of large cubby boxes just off Main Street. They call it the "Freebox" and people just leave stuff there, rather than be bothered with a garage sale. Somebody sorts it out neatly and cleans it all out each week, and other people just take what they need. (The man in red just scored a nice bicycle pump.) With reserved mirth, I wonder just how this would work in, say, Miami, where not only the clothing and goods would be quickly loaded into a van, price tagged and set on tables at the nearest flea market, but the large wooden structure would probably go with it?

The Air Way

Air is life, and this is magic.
Posted October 20, 1999

Rough Riding - Around here, people don't prance their horses around in rings, and you see enough horse trailers in a day to move an entire calvary. I saw this rider and her horse at the top of Grand Mesa, and took a shot, because she just came up a treacherous trail. Can you see where the green grass turns a smoky blue? That's where she came from, a butte with some 2,000 feet of nothing but a little trail and a whole lot of gravity.
The Thrill of Victory - Coming out of camp one morning, on the east side of Colorado Springs, I saw this crew pumping some asphalt along Marksheller Road. I don't know who they are with, but I bet you'll see them on ESPN someday soon. When I found out that this city hosts the headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee, I sprinted to a phone, and ran voice-mail relays until I scored an interview with a winner. She's a speed skater, and you'll see her story here in just a few laps.

Riding the Storm

Julie Goskowicz is a U.S. Olympic Speed Skater, and she knows that in the center of the storm, it can be a helluva ride.
Posted September 18, 1999

Rock Garden - On the west side of Colorado Springs is a bizarre collection of huge rocks jutting out of the earth. I call it bizarre, not only because the rocks just seem to come out of nowhere, but also to point out just how beautiful some bizarre things (or people) can be.
YES Smoking! - While on my way to the highest tourist trap in Colorado - a bridge that spans the 1,000 foot deep Royal Gorge - I pulled over next to this smoker, because I love the smell of burning hickory, and I met Travis and Carol Taylor, of Taylor Made Barbeque. Just out of the blue, they gave me a brisket sandwich meal, and it was the best meal I've had in all of Colorado. The Taylors were closing for the season, and they don't know where they'll cook next year, but wherever they go, I hope they'll be smoking!
Following in the Pope's footsteps - Stopped for the photograph of the "Church on the Rock" a part of the Malo Center, in northeast Colorado, and went inside for a peek. I saw a framed photo on the wall, taken on August 3, 1993 when Pope John Paul II visited the place. He stood in front of the doorway on the right, which is where I stood, and there aren't too many people who can say that. (Click on the photo to go inside the church.)
It could have been that I was in a good mood, or it could have been that the summer madness had ended, and all the salespeople in the town of Nederland, Colorado were relaxed and conversational, but I had a great time here. Talking with Tim, at "High Country Leathers" the girls at "Nature's Own" rock shop and even the guy at the head shop, it wasn't nearly as excruciating as I've experienced lately. Dave Johnston, banjo player for the "Yonder Mountain String Band" was playing in town, and he described the situation pretty well; "Nederland seems to have the highest per cap of people doing what they want to do."
Bad Sign - When passing through neighborhoods, it's not unusual to see signs that say; "Slow Children" or "No Soliciting" but while taking the back roads up to Estes Park, Colorado, you'll see more than one of these signs, revealing why they call them "flash" floods.

Tall in the Saddle
For some people, climbing onto a horse can be the greatest step of their lives, and she is there to help them.
Posted September 30, 1999

Date: September 21, 1999
Location:The Black Hills, South Dakota
Recent Stops: Sturgis, Lead, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills
Next Stop: Denver (again)
Mileage so far: 43,180

Homecoming - September is here and Autumn is just around the corner. This is the time when I begin to dread the upcoming months. A major problem in this trip is that there are too many northern states and not enough summertime. I have been incredibly fortunate to avoid any major weather (I'm not on the east coast right now) so I really can't complain. Also, I am at the northern peak of this leg, and I will continue heading south, with the chill at my back. I promise though, if we get one more freaking cold front from Canada, I'm gonna sue the pants off those guys. This is the time of year when the trees go to sleep, and they turn their leaves a beautiful array of colors, in a warm, soothing blanket - a quilt - to welcome us to the fall.

Fool's Gold - This town seems to have cleaned up its act - several times. The beautiful, little town of Deadwood, South Dakota has had good times and bad, and is doing very well these days. Thanks to the reintroduction of gambling in the 1990's, the need to trick tourists has subsided. This is the town where "Wild Bill" Hickok was shot dead, in Saloon #10, and the owner is rumored to have recently shot holes in the back of a chair, to satisfy tourists' curiosities. The town once had a strong Chinese community, and it is rumored to be rife with tunnels which the Asians used for illicit acts. But those rumors have died with the times, and the place is now safe for unwary tourists to lose tons of money in the slots.

A Life in Stone

"When the legends die, the dreams end, and when the dreams end, there is no more greatness." K. Ziolkowski
Monique Ziolkowski lives to chase a dream her father died for.
Posted October 8, 1999

I swung by the home of the Wells family, in Box Elder, South Dakota, for an oil change and a fill-up (lunch). I had a great time with Kent and his "harem" (wife and three daughters) and was even fortunate enough to talk his neighbor, Susan, into making a beautiful pair of handgrips for Bob. Thanks, Kent, Marti, Susan, Floyd, Abbi, Anna and Ashley, for a very pleasant afternoon.
At first I thought "ho-hum" - about the "Corn Palace" in Mitchell, South Dakota, but it grew on me. This city auditorium is covered with corn, and it looks different each year, after they tear down this art-facade (birds help) and create a new design after harvest. They've been doing this for about a century, spending over $100,000 each year and using 21 varieties of corn and wheat products. I sure wish my town had one of these, wherever my town is these days.

Picking up the Pieces

Broken arm? Crushed leg? Don't lose your head! Send it to Robert Mirzaynts.

Date: September 26, 1999
Location: Souix Falls, South Dakota
Recent Stops: Brush, Colorado & Epiphany, South Dakota
Next Stop: Nebraska (again)
Mileage so far: 44,574

Middle of the Road, Part I - They can't be the only town sitting on the 100th meridian, but Cozad, Nebraska is sure proud of their location. (Incidently, the half of the U.S. to their east gets twice as much rain as the half to their west.) They're also (justly) proud of their "Outstanding Youth Award" or at least resident Mary Rupe is. She emailed me about the weekly program, which awards a young adult with a bag of goodies donated by area merchants. The children earn the awards for "doing loving, caring service to the community and to the lives of others," she says.

Middle of the Road, Part II - Stopped in Kearney, Nebraska, to find 82 year-old Rose Ponticello up on an extension ladder, painting her covered wagon. Her little tourist stop is exactly halfway between Boston and San Francisco, on the old Lincoln Highway - drive 1,733 miles either way for an ocean view. Ponticello can barely walk, but she still climbs up there to put another coat of paint on the old, canvas statue. God bless her - both halves.
Giving Art the Boot - In Sutherland, Nebraska, I passed the yard of a welder / artist who is either a boot-lover or a boot-hater. Dancing all over the yard are at least 100 boots, filled with cement and mounted on a vast, iron sculpture. I can see how it started; as simply a weekend project on a whim. Then it grew, and it grew into a practically living, breathing work of art that has taken over the yard, is spilling onto neighbors' lots, and is a town landmark. Someday, the artist will move on, and the property will be sold, and the new owner may just take a cutting torch to the beautiful beast. Damn.
Junk Art, part II - Jim Reinders used a family reunion to take a bold idea and turn it into reality. Feeling that Europe should not be the only continent to have an inexplicable work of art, he collected 35 1950's and 1960's cars and buried, stood and piled them in configurations as close to those of Stonehenge as he could. That was 12 years ago, which makes "Carhenge" near Alliance, Nebraska, an infant - a popular infant, reportedly visited by over 80,000 people a year.

Small town humor, part II - Riding along Route 30 in Nebraska is a real pleasure. Every 10 miles or so, you pass by a quaint, small town. You can't miss the grain elevator, and Main Street is always a step back in time. Some of the busiest railroads in the country pass along this route - especially at harvest time - carting corn and grains from Nebraska's famous farmlands toward your dinner table. As you enter each town, you're greeted with a state road sign, telling you the town's name and population, and some wiseacre here wants you to know just how metropolitan this hamlet is, and if he had counted the driveway on the edge of town, he might have bumped it up to "7 exits."
Pieces of Music - Klint Schlake has been tuning, fixing, restoring and destroying pianos for decades, and he has quite a creative collection in his small shop, in Big Springs, Nebraska. Since so many old pianos are large, heavy and broken beyond reasonable repair, he gives them, or their parts, new life; as a computer desk, or a room divider - even simple wall hangings of block plates (the one behind him is from a 19th century Steinway.) "If humans can build it, then humans can fix it," he says - or at least make a nice wet bar out of it.
Saddle Sore - Ride one of these beasts (the larger one is made out of 9,100 feet of barbed wire) and you'll walk away funny. Joseph J. VanCura began making these in 1982, and they are now on display in his home town of Big Springs, Nebraska.
Home Stretch - I can't believe there are only three months left on this project. Things are going right on schedule, and I have visited 48 states so far. After Kansas, I will head south and write the remaining articles which I have already researched - you should get one each week or so through December. I need two articles in Kansas, and one more article in Georgia and South Carolina, if anyone has any leads. I also need two articles in Hawaii - and I need to find some way to get myself to our 50th state, so if anyone has any bright ideas, I would surely appreciate them (other than swimming, which has been suggested more often than I am comfortable with.)
Fuel Injection - They say there are three types of bikes; A young man rides a fast, "crotch rocket," a father rides a Harley, and a grandfather rides a Goldwing. Well, I've had the rocket, and I think I'll stay with my Harley for a long time, because of the way it makes me feel. I enjoy the way it sounds, even with quiet pipes - it sounds solid, like heavy machinery. When I make the hard pull onto a freeway onramp, it sounds less like some punk on a turbo-sewing machine, and more like the charge of the calvary. The workhorse transmission gives a firm "clunk" as I shift, especially in the lower gears, like field artillery, and I like to take my sweet time going through them - sure, I have a huge engine, with raging horsepower, but I don't have to show it off at every stop light. Working up to 50 mph, you can clearly hear the Harley balance of tones, especially through the power band. Then you're in fifth gear - and that is Harley Heaven - the slow, muscular pull up to eighty is a strong, deliberate rise to power, a soothing trip toward open-road bliss, like watching pain killer course through the I.V.

True America Tip

The collection of True America CD photo albums is available from the main page. Here is one:

Click on the lake to view the
True America, Western U.S. photo album.

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