So Many Books, So Little Time (2015 edition)

Books read in 2015:

  • Odyssey — Homer trans. Mitchell
  • The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure — Rose
  • The Public Domain Review 2011-2013 — ed. Green
  • The Science of Discworld vol.2 — Pratchett, Stewart, Cohen
  • Wyrd Sisters (Discworld #6) — Pratchett
  • The Serpent of Venice — Moore
  • The Shortest History of Europe — Hirst
  • Pyramids (Discworld #7) — Pratchett
  • Starlight Detectives — Hirshfeld
  • Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8) — Pratchett
  • Living the Secular Life — Zuckerman
  • The Science of Discworld vol.3 — Pratchett, Stewart, Cohen
  • The Development of Arthurian Romance — Loomis
  • Trigger Warning — Gaiman
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma — Hodges
  • History of the Kings of Britain — Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Eric (Discworld #9) — Pratchett
  • H is for Hawk — Macdonald
  • A Blink of the Screen — Pratchett
  • Moving Pictures (Discworld #10) — Pratchett
  • Reaper Man (Discworld #11) — Pratchett
  • Buried Giant — Ishiguro
  • Burning Down George Orwell’s House — Ervin
  • Witches Abroad (Discworld #12) — Pratchett
  • Reading Dante — Shaw
  • Six Easy Pieces — Feynman
  • Small Gods (Discworld #13) — Pratchett
  • The Book of Imaginary Beings — Borges
  • The Selfish Gene — Dawkins
  • One Man’s Meat — White
  • Consolation of Philosophy — Boethius
  • To Explain the World — Weinberg
  • Isaac Newton — Gleick
  • Tristam Shandy — Sterne
  • Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World — Scott
  • Lords and Ladies (Discworld #14) — Pratchett
  • The Delphic Oracle — Fontenrose
  • Men at Arms (Discworld #15) — Pratchett
  • A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing — Krauss
  • The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets — Broad
  • Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World — Whitmarsh
  • Soul Music (Discworld #16) — Pratchett
  • Selected Essays and Dialogs (Oxford) — Plutarch (trans Russell)
  • Theogony and Works and Days (Oxford) — Hesiod (trans West)
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So Many Books, So Little Time (2014 edition)

Here’s my reading list for 2014:

  • Histories — Herodotus (trans Grene)
  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922) — TE Lawrence
  • Infinite Jest — Wallace
  • On the Map — Garfield
  • The Princess Bride (30th anniv) — Goldman
  • Isaac Newton — Gleick
  • Writings From the New Yorker — White
  • Essays of E.B. White — White
  • Before Galileo — Freely
  • Odyssey — Homer (trans Rieu)
  • Far From the Tree — Solomon
  • Lolita — Nabokov
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — Adams
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe — Adams
  • The Catcher in the Rye — Salinger
  • The Lost Art of Finding Our Way — Huth
  • Astronomy Today (textbook) — Chaisson & McMillan
  • Crime and Punishment — Dostoevsky
  • Oxford: A Cultural and Literary History — Horan
  • Mathematics for the Nonmathemetician — Kline
  • Confronting the Classics — Beard
  • Life, the Universe, and Everything — Adams
  • So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish — Adams
  • Iliad — Homer (trans Fagles)
  • Aenead — Virgil (trans Fagels)
  • Mostly Harmless — Adams
  • Smut — Bennett
  • The Book Thief — Zusak
  • The Second Tree From the Corner — White
  • Foundation — Ackroyd
  • Everyman’s Library: London Stories — White (ed)
  • Alfred the Great — Pollard
  • The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains — Gaiman
  • The Graveyard Book (vol 1 graphic novel) — Gaiman
  • The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes vol.1 — Doyle, ed. Klinger
  • Lapham’s Quarterly 6:4 Death — ed Lapham
  • A Slip of the Keyboard — Pratchett
  • How Proust Can Change Your Life — de Botton
  • Book of Sand — Borges
  • The Folklore of Discworld — Pratchett
  • Smoke and Mirrors — Gaiman
  • The Graveyard Book (vol 2 graphic novel) — Gaiman
  • The Magicians (#1) — Grossman
  • The Color of Magic (Discworld #1) — Pratchett
  • The Light Fantastic (Discworld #2) — Pratchett
  • Jude the Obscure — Hardy
  • Equal Rites (Discworld #3) — Pratchett
  • Mort (Discworld #4) — Pratchett
  • Sourcery (Discworld #5) — Pratchett
  • Coraline — Gaiman
  • Fortunately the Milk — Gaiman
  • Conversations vol.1 — Borges/Ferrari
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude — Marquez
  • The Science of Discworld vol.1 — Pratchett, Stewart, Cohen
  • Why Homer Matters — Nicholson
  • Everything I Ever Needed to Know About ____ I Learned From Monty Python — Cogan, Massey
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So many Books, So Little Time (2013 edition)

And here are the books read for 2013:

  • The Poisoner’s Handbook — Blum
  • Lapham’s Quarterly 6:1 — ed. Lapham
  • Kurt Vonnegut Letters — Vonnegut
  • Canterbury Tales — Chaucer
  • London: The Autobiography — Lewis ed.
  • Plutarch Selected Essays — trans. Russel
  • The Common Reader — Woolf
  • The Art of the Personal Essay — Lopate ed.
  • The Name of the Rose — Eco
  • Hallucinations — Sacks
  • Science and the Founding Fathers — Cohen
  • Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman — Feynman
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane — Gaiman
  • Collected Fictions — Borges
  • The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code — Fox
  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin — Franklin
  • The New Bloomsday Book — Blamires
  • Ulysses — Joyce
  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — Joyce
  • Double Cross — Macintyre
  • American Gods (10th anniv edition) — Gaiman
  • Odyssey — Homer (trans. Shaw aka TE Lawrence)
  • Lucky Jim — Amis
  • Oldest Dead White European Males — Knox
  • Dubliners — Joyce
  • Lawrence in Arabia — Anderson
  • A Passage to India — Forster
  • Fahrenheit 451 — Bradbury
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop — Sloan
  • The Graveyard Book — Gaiman
  • Bouvard and Pecuchet — Flaubert
  • Best American Essays of the Century — ed. Oates
  • Conversations With A Motorcycle — Riepe
  • An Appetite for Wonder — Dawkins
  • The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets — Singh
  • The Sherlockian — Moore
  • The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing — Pierson
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What I Did on My Summer Vacation – 2015 edition

The blog has been inactive for quite a while. Did I get tired of writing? Too busy, and other things to do? Yeah, all of the usual excuses. But last summer after my latest motorcycle trip I had written up a report, so I may as well paste it in here just to get caught up a bit.

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Trip to Alaska trip – 2015

After making a cross-country trip two years ago, and finishing the list of 48 states that I’d ridden through, I decided that the next big trip would be to Alaska. And if you’re going to ride to Alaska, you may as well do it right and ride to the top, to Prudhoe Bay, the oil camp on the Arctic Ocean at the top of the Dalton Highway, the infamous Haul Road.

I began researching, reading everything I could on the Dalton, and saw a lot of scary stuff: mad truckers driving at 90mph trying to run down motorcyclists; road conditions that required the skill of the most experienced adventure rider to ride; mosquitoes the size of small birds ready to eat you alive; bears and other creatures ready to attack, and no gas or mechanical services for hundreds of miles. Only the last of these was true. Almost all of the preparation I did revolved around the few hundred miles that I would be on the Haul Road; the rest was just miles, and I know how to do miles.

Scheduling a three-week vacation is a bit tricky, as I have any number of projects going on at work. I had to reschedule a couple of times, and do a lot of arrangements to make sure that my projects would be able to do without me for three weeks. There’s also the preparation for the bike, getting new tires and maintenance before leaving, going on a couple of shorter trips to do a “dry run” on the camping gear and other stuff that I would carry with me.

Here’s what the entire trip looked like:

map

Day 1, 6 June 2015: Phoenixville PA to Elkhart, IN; 680 miles

Finally, after a couple years of planning, it’s time to go.

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There’s not much to be excited about crossing Pennsylvania, other than knowing that this is the last scenery to be seen for a couple of thousand miles. Western PA is actually quite nice, but once you get to Ohio it just turns into interstate. Same with Indiana, and so forth. I was headed for South Bend for the for the first day’s miles, but stopped a few miles short, in Elkhart (home of the RV Hall of Fame; who knew?) because I saw a sign for a campground. I thought that being fresh I could camp for the first night.

Big mistake; the space next to mine was occupied by a couple who had a very loud argument at two in the morning, including threats of physical violence, a demand to get out, a car door slamming, and car driven off. In the morning there was stuff scattered around, the sign of personal possessions being thrown out of the cabin they were in.

Day 2: to St. Cloud, MN; 586 miles

Construction south of Chicago made me miss the sign for I-80 West and I instead had to go through downtown Chicago. Fortunately it was early Sunday morning, so there was very little traffic. Just out of downtown, though, I saw dark clouds ahead of me and just barely had time to put on rain gear before the downpour hit. Then of course I had to ride through some construction; the combination of heavy rain, construction, and heavy traffic was enough that I pulled over under an overpass to wait out the storm.

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I stopped for breakfast in Madison, and sent a text to my daughter Cassandra who went to law school there; she teased me about eating at Denny’s when there are so many good restaurants in town, but I had to keep moving and didn’t have time to ride all looking for the best breakfast in town.

Day 3: to Moosomin, SK; 609 miles

There’s nothing really to say about riding through Minnesota and North Dakota. I had to wait for an hour for the border crossing into Canada south of Winnipeg.

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Day 4: to Edmonton, AB; 643 miles

The Canadian prairie is just as boring as the US plains. I thought that I preferred the US crossing, but after my ride home across I-80 I think that I might prefer Canada; the gas and hotel prices are double, but there is nowhere near the truck traffic that you see on the US east-west routes.

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I used to like staying at Super 8; they had a good balance of price and quality. But at the Super 8 in Edmonton I realized that the chain is trying to go upmarket; fancy lobby and a fancy price. I ended up getting out of town, past the construction, and going down the road twenty miles to a suburb with a more reasonably priced motel.

Day 5: to Fort Nelson, BC; 623 miles

Finally… some nice riding. After paying my dues with four days of cross country riding I got off the main roads and into some interesting scenery. Not quite into the mountains until later in the day, but things were definitely improving. There was a lot of logging going on in the areas I rode through, as well as a good deal of fracking. I saw a lot of heavy equipment for both on the road, and the sorts of companies in the towns I rode through, and advertising alongside the road, attested to what drove the local economy.

Mid day took me through Dawson Creek, which is at mile zero of the Alaska Highway. The highway is 1450 miles of road through British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Alaska, built by the US government with permission of the Canadian government, in six months in 1942 in order to ensure a land route to supply Alaska in case of Japanese attack.

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Riding the Alaska Highway through the mountainous terrain gave me a lot of appreciation for the work that the thousands of men did in a very sort amount of time to build this road. Of course there have been a lot of improvements made since then – I occasionally saw road signs for “Old Alaska Highway”, attesting to a change in route – but even building anything at all drivable, of that distance and in that short amount of time is amazing.

Day 6: to Whitehorse, YT; 591 miles

Today I ran into some rain, though not too bad, and went through some beautiful mountains.

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Occasionally while riding also the Alaska Highway I would see the remains of an old gas station, long since closed. I can just imagine the number of gas stations that opened up to service the highway in the 1940s and 50s, probably every 30 or 40 miles. Many of these are now closed, and at times it’s a bit nerve racking hoping that the tank holds enough gas to get to the next opportunity to gas up.

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All across Canada gas was five or six dollars a gallon, and in most locations on the Alaska Highway you take what you can get as far as quality; regular unleaded is the best you can hope for, and you can’t count on getting a full service gas station with snack shop.

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More beautiful scenery for the day. At mid day I stopped in Watson Lake, which served as a camp for workers building the Alaska Highway. Apparently, some workers posted a sign with distance and direction of their hometown, and a tradition was born. Today the town has a multi-acre park filled with signs from hometowns of people who have passed through.

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Whitehorse was a very modern and fairly large town, out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bit mind boggling to think that everything in this town was hauled in by truck over one of two highways for a few hundred miles. But that’s really the case with all towns everywhere, though some are less remote than others.

The next morning as I was packing my bike to leave I noticed a row of bikes in the parking lot, a tour group on BMW bikes, with a support van. The guys were all from Spain, apparently. I spoke with one rider, and also with the (female) tour guide/van driver. They were also going to the top at Prudhoe Bay, then would, in stages and with different groups of riders, make it all the one down to the bottom of South American. This seems to be a fairly popular ride among South Americans; I met more than one person from South America that was doing just this.

Day 7: to Dawson City, YT; 331 miles

Today was a short day, as I reached Dawson City by lunchtime. Dawson City was a gold rush town, once the biggest city in all of the Yukon and Alaska, famous for its brothels and wild life. Today it’s a national monument, preserved to show the architecture of 115 years ago. The streets are dirt, the sidewalks are made of boards, any new building must fit into the architectural style, and old building no longer fit for use are left as is rather than being torn down.

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This pair of buildings show what happens when you build a heated building on top of permafrost.

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After checking into a hotel I wandered around town a bit, took photos, etc. It was nice to get off the bike for a while; this was my first break since leaving home.

At the same hotel I noticed a number of Austin Healey 3000 cars, seven in total, from various parts of the US. I had come over some somewhat rough roads to get to Dawson City, as was surprised to see such nice cars having gone over the same roads. They were as covered in mud as my bike, and I was wondering about rock damage. I talked with one driver that afternoon, and another the next day at Chicken (they were following the same route as I), and asked about the concern for damage to such nice antique cars. “I’m not getting any younger” was his reply.

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Day 8: over the Top of the World Highway, across the border back into the US, Chicken to Tok then Fairbanks, AK, then Yukon River Camp, past the Arctic Circle, then to Coldfoot on the Dalton Highway; 641 miles

The road out of Dawson City requires a ferry trip across the Yukon River. The ferry is free of charge, and runs on demand, and I only had to wait a couple of minutes to board. It’s apparently cheaper to run the ferry than build a bridge, or maybe they just like it better that way.

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The Top of the World Highway runs for 165 miles from Dawson City, across the border into the US, through Chicken, to rejoin the Alaska Highway near Tok. Most of the Highway is gravel, and I was nervous about riding this not knowing the condition of the road, but it turned out to be in very good condition, and gave me a lot of confidence for the Dalton Highway that I would be on the next day. The border crossing didn’t open until 9am, and I arrived there about quarter after, just behind the Austin Healy group – or rather in the middle of them as I had passed three of the cars. The border station is in a very remote location, and I asked the guard what they did up there. His reply was that they had all volunteered to work there, and that they hiked a lot, and sometime ran into Dawson for some dinner.

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Chicken was a gas stop with gift shop selling chicken themed shirts and stickers. I had expected to see an old mining town, and it wasn’t until later that I heard that the historic part was down a side road, and I had missed it. There was supposed to be a music festival that day and the next, but I didn’t see any additional crowds for it.

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After getting back on the Alaska Highway, it was an hour to Delta Junction, the end of the Alaska Highway.

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It was nice to be back in the land of more reasonably priced gasoline – only $3.50/gallon instead of the $5 or so in Canada.

In Fairbanks I stopped for lunch and gas, and not wanting to waste another half day decided to head on up to Coldfoot.

The Dalton Highway, otherwise known as the Haul Road, and famous from the Ice Road Truckers TV show, was built to service the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean, and runs alongside the Alaska pipeline that runs from said oil fields, north to south all the way across Alaska to the harbor in Valdez. Like the Alaska Highway, the Dalton Highway was built in a hurry, in just one summer in 1972; this one was privately built by the oil companies instead of by the government. It’s got quite the reputation, and I heard a lot of horror stories about it (extremely poor road conditions, truckers out to get you, bears out to get you, mosquitoes out to get you, etc.), none of which I found to be true. Except for the mosquitoes at Coldfoot.

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I had also heard, just a week before leaving on this trip, that the Dalton was closed just a dozen or so miles from Prudhoe. It was announced that the road was open again the day that I left, but I decided to keep my options open, so cancelled my reservations for a hotel at Prudhoe Bay, and for new tires in Fairbanks, thinking that I would probably just ride to the Arctic Circle. I would decide later whether to attempt a ride to the top.

The first 80 miles north of Fairbanks was on paved highway; the Dalton starts just past Livengood.

 

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The Highway was alternately paved and gravel, with the gravel in generally very good shape, allowing speeds of 60+ mph. In fact, my average speed on the entire Highway, 850 miles up and back, was about 55mph. For 30-40 miles north of Coldfoot there was significant washboard, and there were occasional potholes, but the road was nowhere near the horror story that I had been led to expect.

The first fuel stop is at Yukon River Camp, just on the north shore of the Yukon River. I had just crossed the river on the ferry in Dawson earlier that morning, but now I was a few hundred miles downstream. Gas here was the most expensive on the trip, at $5.50/gallon. I missed the “gas station”, not seeing the pump, but after riding a couple miles further thought that I’d better go back and look closer. (A guy I spoke with the following day had the same problem.)

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Next up was the Arctic Circle, a great photo op, but not much else. I met and chatted with a couple of guys from Brazil, who I ran into again a couple of times the next day.

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To end the day I stopped at Coldfoot Camp, where gas, food, and mosquito-infested camping was to be found. At the end of a long day, it’s such a joy to set up a tent as quickly as possible, climb inside and zip up before the critters get inside with you, then spend the rest of the night inside. Note also that in these northern latitudes it was light all night; as tired as I was it was difficult to get to sleep in the full daylight.

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This photo was taken the following night, at 3:30 in the morning.

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Day 9: from Coldfoot to Prudhoe Bay and back to Coldfoot; 490 miles

Coldfoot is the last gas for 250 miles until Prudhoe Bay; my bike, if I’m careful, will give me 210 miles on a tank, so I had to carry additional gas. The first half of the ride north was more of the same that I’d done yesterday, rolling hills and alternating pavement and gravel, with some pretty nice scenery.

The highway goes over the Brook Mountains at Atigun Pass, at 4700 feet. I was comfortable riding this steep, gravel road on a bike, but I feel from the truckers who do this in their big rigs, especially in bad weather or in winter.

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Past the pass the mountains disappear and the tundra begins. Again, the highway alternates between paved and gravel, but the road is almost perfectly flat. I saw a small herd of caribou, and a person I talked to later mentioned muskox, though I didn’t get to see those.

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The road had indeed been washed out in a few places just before Prudhoe Bay, starting a dozen or so miles before the town, and the final washout a major one, just as the road enters the town. Road construction was still going on, with several crews and pilot cars, but I wasn’t delayed too long. Once I arrived in town, I found the (single) gas pump and filled up, and ate the sandwich I brought from Coldfoot.

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A couple of different local workers stopped to talk with me; I was probably the only thing new they has seen in a while. There are no restaurants, stores, or theatres in Prudhoe Bay; workers live in company dormitories and eat in company cafeterias; they are flown in to work shifts of several weeks, then flown out for breaks. I don’t even think that it’s a town; there are no residents and no businesses. It’s simply a bunch of oil companies working in the same location, with trucking companies there to keep them running.

After a short break with my lunch, I headed back. The scenery going back was much better – the Brooks Range mountains from the north are spectacular. A ways down the tundra I stopped to chat with a guy on a bicycle. He was from Switzerland, and thought that it would be a grand adventure to ride a bicycle from the Arctic Ocean down the Fairbanks, about 500 miles. On the gravel roads he was making about 30-40 miles a day, and carried his own food and water in a trailer. I gave him a bottle of water and some food, and a hour later sent some more back to him when I ran into my Brazilian friends. I had been feeling proud of myself for riding from Philly to the top of Alaska, but what he was doing took guts.

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Almost all of the anxiety I had gone through the last couple of years in planning this trip had been around riding the Dalton; all of the horror stories and warnings, etc. had caused a lot of concern. The rest of the trip was just miles, and I know how to do miles. But ultimately, the Dalton was a one-day, up and back ride. Not easy, but certainly doable. I was fortunate in having good weather; I can see how a bad weather day could turn this ride into a disaster. The gravel sections wouldn’t be so bad, but there were many sections of packed dirt, which is sprayed with a solution to glue the dirt together but when wet makes the road very slippery. I rode over a couple of sections that had just been sprayed and they were treacherous, to say nothing of covering the bike with gritty mud.

I arrived back in Coldfoot in the early evening, after a long day, to face the same setting-up-camp-while-avoiding-mosquitoes exercise as the night before.

Day 10: back to Fairbanks; 255 miles

My goal of reaching the top accomplished, now it was time to get home. I got back to Fairbanks by lunchtime, got lunch and gas, and found a car wash where I could spray the worst of the mud off the bike. I didn’t want to ride it like that, plus I needed to get new tires and an oil change, and no one is going to work on a bike covered with mud.

I had previously arranged for a set of new tires from an independent installer so that I could make it to Prudhoe Bay and back, but when that part of the ride was in doubt I cancelled the order. The tires I started with, nearly new when I left home, so now with only 7k miles on them, were not going to make it home. I called the BMW dealer in Fairbanks, and after a half hour on hold was finally told that they had nothing that would fit. I called the independent guy, and while he had sold the tires that I had originally reserved, he did have a set of another type that would fit. So I rode up to get them installed. While I was there I should have asked if he could do an oil change, but I forgot to ask until after I had left, so thought that I could just drop by the BMW dealer and have them do it in the morning.

Day 11: to Haines Junction, YT; 492 miles

I arrived at the BMW dealer a half hour before they opened, as I wanted to be first in line in case there were other travelers dropping in for service. Their web site gave the impression that they welcomed travelers, but in practice they seemed to treat travelers as a bit of a nuisance. Despite being there early, it took them an hour to write me up, then another hour before they brought the bike in, then an hour to do the work – a twenty minute job. It was 11:30 before I was on the road again, a half day lost.

South on the Alaska Highway, and across the border back into Canada. To make up for lost time I rode late into the evening, not arriving in Haines Junction until nearly 10 pm, at which time all the restaurants were closed. I finally found one where the cook was still available, even though the owner wasn’t happy about staying open. Then I went back to a campground I had passed on the way into town and found a spot where I could set up the tent.

Day 12: to Dease Lake, BC; 500 miles

I continued on the Alaska Highway to nearly Watson Lake, then turned south on the Cassiar Highway to go south. This highway starts just a couple of miles north of the border between Yukon and BC, and the Yukon portion was gravel; I suppose that they see no need to put money into the road that doesn’t serve any portion of the Territory. Once I crossed into BC the road was paved, though not well, but the further south I went the better the road condition. I expect that this is because there is more traffic originating from the south, so this is where the maintenance is done. The scenery along the Cassiar was quite nice, though nothing as spectacular as I had seen before.

About midday it started to rain, and by early evening when it was time to stop for the day I was counting the miles to the next town where I could stop. I was very happy to get to Dease Lake; the hotel owner was very friendly, and there were a couple of restaurants across the street, but unfortunately by the time I had showered and changed, and walked across the street it was just after 7pm, and all the restaurants were closed. Fortunately the grocery store was still open, so I put together what dinner I could from what I could find on the shelves.

Day 13: to Prince George, BC; 602 miles

Rain, rain, rain all day. Dease Lake was only halfway down the Cassiar, and a long stretch had no gas stations. I made it to the single station along a couple hundred mile stretch and then again to the next one at the junction of Highway 16 ay Kitwanga. I thought that this being a major road (or at least that’s what the number would suggest) I would get on a bigger road, but it was more of the same though more heavily trafficked.

With continued heavy rain, I was pretty happy to get to Prince George. I was a bit disappointed with the town once I got there; what looked like a major city had a downtown that was all boarded up. The motel that I stayed at was just a couple blocks from Main Street, but I had to walk for a while, in a drizzle, to find a restaurant that was open.

Day 14: to Jasper, through Jasper, Banff, and Kootenay Parks, to Wasa Lake, BC; 523 miles

More rain, at least for the morning. By the time I got to Jasper at lunchtime the rain had stopped, and the rest of the day was just scattered clouds; I was so happy to be able to take off some layers after 48 hours of rain. (Hint for the next ride: get better rain gear.)

Jasper itself is a touristy ski resort town in the middle of a national park, full of boutiques and shops and restaurants. For those of you from Utah, think Park City, but with hundreds of big RVs parked everywhere. I stopped for lunch and gas then headed south.

I was expecting some scenery, this being a set of national parks (Japser, Banff, and Kootenay), but I hadn’t expected this. Gorgeous! I was blown away by the beauty of this place. Starting a dozen miles south of Japser city, the mountains, lakes, and streams are magnificent. For about 50 miles or so around every turn was a scene worth pulling over to take a picture of. And everyone did. I got used to cars suddenly darting to the side to stop, and I did a fair share of this myself.

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Finally after a couple hours of sensory overload the scenery calmed down a bit, though stayed pretty for the rest of the day. I had intended to cross the border and get back into the US by end of day, but just couldn’t get that far. By evening I made it to Wasa Lake, and provincial park with a campground, so decided to stay there, and had one of the most pleasant evenings I’ve ever had camping. Maybe it was the lack of rain, and mosquitoes, and noise, but the campground was simply pleasant. I had a quiet site to myself, a picnic table to sit at to eat the last of what I was carrying with me, and I didn’t have to rush to set up the tent and crawl inside to escape rain and bugs.

Day 15: to Bozeman, MT; 473 miles

I crossed the border back into the US the next morning, then for the next couple of hours rode through some scenic Montana landscape through Kalispell and to Missoula. Flathead Lake seemed to go on and on, and though traffic backed up a bit, the ride was rather nice – the last I could say this. Once I hit Missoula it would be freeway the rest of the way home.

Day 16: to Sidney, NE; 697 miles

Day 17: to Iowa City, IA; 644 miles

A pair of rather unpleasant days. Once on the freeway it encountered my other weather nemesis: the wind. Across Montana and Wyoming the wind was strong, and changed from head wind to side wind according to the direction of the road and the whims of Aeolus. Traffic wasn’t terrible, but occasionally the trucks got a bit thick, and road construction every few miles made riding a consistent speed difficult.

Across Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska I was struck by the lack of any windmills to take advantage of the strong, consistent winds. How we could we let all of this free energy go to waste? I expect that these states don’t have much need for power, being sparsely populated, but electricity is pretty easily transported elsewhere. I didn’t see any windmills until Iowa, and by the winds had died down significantly.

Iowa was also getting pretty hot. While for most of the trip the temperature had topped out in the mid 80s, I was now in the low 90s and feeling pretty drained. At one rest stop I had to lay down on the grass and tried to rest, but was unsuccessful.

At the beginning of the second to last day I calculated the distance to home, about 1600 miles, and planned to do it in two days of 800 miles each. This was a bit aggressive but doable. I stopped in Iowa City for dinner, and planned to ride for another couple of hours, but saw on the weather may a major storm ahead of me and another approaching behind me, and decided it would be best to call it a day.

Day 18: back home; 950 miles

I had a very unpleasant morning riding past Chicago; the trucks on I-80 are unbearably thick. I knew this already, and had previously considered going south to I-70 (which would also allow me to skip some highway tolls), but that would have taken longer and I wanted to get home.

I started the day intended to make it to Pennsylvania, stop for the night near Pittsburgh, then make it home by noon the following day. But when I got to the PA border I felt good, and thought that it would be silly to stop because by the time I got a hotel, showered and ate I could be almost home. So I kept going. I don’t like riding at night – my eyes aren’t what they used to be – but the traffic wasn’t bad and I knew the road fairly well. There was a bit of threat of bad weather, with the radar map showing a storm ahead, but I was fortunate in not running into it.

I finally got home at 11:30pm, after a 16 hour day, with the total trip being about 10,300 miles.

Lessons learned

If/when I do another long trip like this (and I would love to go back to Alaska to explore more roads), here’s some things that I should do:

  • Ship the bike. I had debated whether to ship the bike to the west coast or not. I’ve now ridden across the Midwest a few times; I don’t need to do it again. Shipping the bike and gear costs money, and ties up the bike for quite a while (they usually wanted 4-6 weeks each direction), but the downside of riding is the daily expense of being on the road (with gas, food, and hotel, about $200-250/day), plus tires, but especially the time – I spent about eight days of my vacation not really having much fun, just putting in miles in uncomfortable conditions. It was only once I reached the Rockies, and until I reached the plains again, that I was really enjoying myself.
  • Get better rain gear. It’s no fun riding in the rain, and it’s worse if you are cold and wet yourself.
  • Make sure that you have tires waiting for you in Fairbanks. Don’t count on there being a set available. I was very fortunate that it worked out the way it did, but it very easily could have been a bad situation, as the next closest BMW dealer was in Calgary, 2000 miles further.
  • Don’t be stuck to a tight schedule. I had planned the first few days to be high miles, and was stressed on the second and third days because I had lost some time because of weather. Because of the need to make reservations for hotel and tires for the Dalton Highway I had to stick with the schedule I put together, but in the end cancelled it all and just rode day to day. This gave me the flexibility to ride longer or shorter days depending on how I felt, weather, and stopping to admire scenery.
  • Stop and admire the scenery more. I’ll probably never get back to some of the places that I saw, and while I took pictures, I never stopped and just sat to admire what I saw. A more relaxed schedule would have helped, but I had an objective to get to the top and back, and only had so many days of vacation time (and money) to do it with. So a less aggressive schedule would have helped.

Addendum (response to questions):

I didn’t really carry much food. Snacks, mostly, but enough to serve as a meal in a pinch. I didn’t carry any cooking equipment, but the tent, bag, and pad allowed me to camp five nights out of 17 on the trip. I was trying to save a little bit of money, plus be prepared for unforeseen “stuck in the middle of nowhere” scenarios. But I really prefer a hotel with bed and shower at the end of a long day.

I had originally planned out the trip in detail, including a reservation for a night in Deadhorse and bus tour to the Arctic Ocean the next morning, but with the uncertainty of the Haul Road being open I decided to cancel those reservations and just wing it. I still ended up being close to my original schedule, but as I mentioned in my writeup, it turned out to be a lot less stressful not having to follow a tightly planned schedule.

While others may disagree, and I’ve only done it once, I think that the R12GS was the perfect bike for this trip. I’ve heard others say that a smaller bike is better for the Haul Road itself, but I wouldn’t know. Unless you’re starting from the west coast, or are trailering bikes across the midwest, you need a bike capable of getting you across the country in decent time, big enough to haul gear, as well as able to handle bad road conditions. The 500 miles from Fairbanks to the top (and then 500 back) are probably two thirds or more paved, and the gravel and packed-dirt sections are in generally pretty good shape (after all, they’re running big trucks on these roads, and trucks don’t like potholes any more than we do), but this isn’t a road for a full dresser or cruiser — there’s lots of gravel, and if there’s rain there would be a lot of mud. An RT or LT would probably work, with 50/50 tires, but I think that the suspension on the GS is much better suited. I was very fortunate in having good weather; the only mud I encountered was from highway workers spraying the road.

Thankfully I had no breakdowns. My GS is a 2013 and have 22k when I left, so in great shape. I wouldn’t make this trip on a bike with issues. As all of the books and articles that I read remind you, north of Fairbanks there’s very few services, and north of Coldfoot there’s no gas for 250 miles. If you break down, a tow could be *very* expensive. I wouldn’t fear for my life — there’s a fair amount of traffic on the road, and I don’t doubt that you could get a ride, but you may end up having to leave your bike there.

The BMW dealer I went to in Fairbanks was Trail’s End (http://www.outpostalaska.com/). As I said in my report, while their web page implies that they welcome and go out of their way to help travelers, my impression was that they think those of us who can’t make a reservation several days in advance are a nuisance.

The independent guy was Dan Armstrong (http://www.advcycleworks.com/) who I highly recommend. I had ordered tires from him in advance, but then because of the uncertainty of the Haul Road closure I cancelled. He gave me a refund, no questions asked. Then when I got there, and called to see if he might still have some tires that would fit he was happy to help me. He did the work right away, and charged a fair rate. It was very fortunate that he had a pair that fit, as getting tires shipped to Alaska takes a while, so advice I give you is to get these ordered.

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What I did on my summer vacation

The big ride of 2013: coast-to-coast on a motorcycle

My last “big trip” on a motorcycle was five years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to doing it again, plus it had been nearly as long since I’d had a long vacation. I had just a few more states to ride through to get all of the lower 48, and despite a couple of previous long distance rides I hadn’t reached the Pacific coast yet. I very nearly went on this ride last year, but had some last minute bike difficulties (a sick bike, then a wrecked replacement), so I really made the effort to do it this year. My sweet wife supported me making the trip, and encouraged my buying a new bike to do it with. I bought probably the first new liquid cooled 2013 BMW R1200GS in Pennsylvania – now I just had to figure out how to pay for it all

The week before leaving I rode from my home near Philadelphia to Ocean City MD on the Atlantic just so that when I reached the Pacific I could truly say that I’d been coast to coast.

I decided to stay in motels for the trip for three reasons. While in the long run camping can be cheaper, I don’t make these long trips often enough to make investing in camping gear worthwhile. Plus, hotels or motels are easier to find everywhere you go; I don’t want to be looking for a campground at the end of a long day of riding. And finally, I just don’t like camping. A bed and a shower at the end of a long day – and I’m usually in the saddle for 1-12 hours a day – are definitely a requirement.

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Saturday 25th May 2013
Home to Harrisburg PA, Niagara Falls, NY, then Barrie ON; 525 miles.

After a couple of months of preparation, a new bike, and too much money spent, I was ready to go. On the road at 8:30 a.m.

IMG_1413 IMG_1408 The day was a bit chilly, and there were good winds all day. I stopped for lunch in Williamsport PA, then rode through Corning to Buffalo. I used to live in central New York, so some of the roads were familiar. Riding past Niagara Falls I was tempted to stop and play tourist, but the town was crowded, and stopping to find parking then wandering around would have taken an hour or two. I’m not too good at stopping to smell the roses; I get on the bike and keep riding until the end of the day.

The border crossing at Niagara Falls took nearly an hour with a long line of traffic, and the border guard was strangely interested in the contents of my bags. Hadn’t she ever seen a motorcycle packed for a long trip?

Past the border, through St. Catherine’s, then through late afternoon traffic around Toronto. Finding a Shell gas station north of Toronto, I discovered (or was reminded) that American credit cards don’t always work outside the country – they lack the chip that allows them to be used in automated machines. On to Barrie, my first night’s stop, and the only one for which I made a hotel reservation. Even though I kept pretty close to my projected schedule and route for the rest of the trip, I prefer not having to be tied to a schedule in the event of weather, fatigue, or finding something interesting to stop and look at – though I never do.

Sunday 26th
Barrie ON to Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, then Marquette MI; 535 miles

On the road by 7:30, as I usually don’t get breakfast until later. Beautiful weather today, though a bit chilly again. Northern Ontario was scraped clean by the glaciers of the ice age, and the road north from Barrie to Sudbury passes through a lot of exposed rock; there’s not much soil here. During the last hundred miles or so to Sudbury there were thousands of little piles of rock left by motorists(?) road crews(?) or someone; every rock outcropping was crowned by a little cairn. Some of them were in the form of little men, with two columns of rock for legs, a couple of flat rocks sticking out the side for arms, and larger rock on top for the head. I kept looking for the perfect one to stop and get a picture of, but every time I would see a good one I was already past it and couldn’t turn around to go back.

I stopped for brunch at the Tutti Frutti diner in Sudbury, and had some yummy waffles and banana with a big cup of warm Nutella to drizzle on top. That’ll get your blood sugar up!

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West of Sudbury the rocks diminished and the trees became more numerous. And the bugs, too. Swarms of them. I had to stop every 10 or 20 miles to clean off my face shield, and the bike was covered. By the border crossing at Sault Ste. Marie (with another curious border guard) my helmet and bike were covered with bugs.

IMG_1427 I was back in the US after just under 24 hours in Canada, and glad to not be riding much more north of the border because of the expense: gas was over $6/gallon, the single night in the hotel was the most expensive of the trip, and when I got home I had a bill for an extra $48 in cell phone roaming, data, and texting charges for just one day.

The temperature had been in the low 70’s across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, perfect for riding, but as I came down off the hills to the shore of Lake Superior at Munising the temperature dropped twenty degrees in five miles. You tend to notice that sort of change. The UP is gorgeous; lots of green, and some nice twisty two-lane roads. Marquette, where I stayed the second night, reminded me a bit of Ithaca NY where I used to live, a college town on a lake surrounded by beautiful scenery. I found a cheap motel that made up for the higher priced one I had in Barrie the night before.

Monday 27th, Memorial Day
Marquette MI to Duluth MN, Fargo ND, then Jamestown ND; 585 miles

The weather was still a bit chilly, but sunny. A great day for a ride. I followed two lane roads across the rest of the UP, then across the top of Wisconsin. (I would have gone south to visit my daughter in Madison, but she was away for Memorial Day.) Across Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi where is was a small stream, then towards North Dakota. I was worried a bit about holiday traffic, but I didn’t encounter much other than in mid Minnesota where there were a lot of boats and RVs going home, probably disappointed from the cold weekend. Even with two lane roads, though, I didn’t have trouble passing; there was usually opportunity if I was patient for a mile or so, and having a powerful bike made passing simple and safe.

As with crossing Ontario, it was interesting to watch the change of scenery across a few hundred miles. The UP is heavily forested, as is northern Wisconsin, but in Minnesota the forests thin out and start to turn to agriculture, and by North Dakota the terrain is completely flat and all farm fields.

It was very cold again as I skirted the shore of Lake Superior. By the time I arrived in Duluth it was close to 40 degrees. I had already planned on stopping by Aerostich, purveyors of fine long distance motorcycling gear, who were open despite it being Memorial Day, and because of the cold I bought a fleece pant liner. As with all of their gear, the liner was a bit pricey but good quality. A couple hours later, however, after getting some distance away from the lake, the temperature rose so I took the liner off.

IMG_1430 I had planned on overnighting in Fargo, but as it was only 5:00pm when I got there – what would I do for the evening? – so I decided to keep going. I got on the freeway for the first time after a couple days of two lane 55 mph roads, and it took a few minutes to get used to the speed again. Plus there was a pretty strong head wind. I made it to Jamestown for the night, halfway between Fargo and Bismarck.

Tuesday 28th
Jamestown ND to Pierre SD to Keystone SD (Mt Rushmore); 475 miles.

As with the past few days, it was a bit chilly starting out, and windy. I had dressed for rain, but after a couple hours took off that layer; I still had on the inner layer for warmth, though. There was a good head wind on the freeway as I headed west, which turned into a stiff side wind when I turned south on Hwy 83 just before Bismarck. Back on the two lane roads, this time full of big trucks and farm equipment, keeping up speed was difficult because of the wind and the traffic. While the road was straight it was difficult to pass vehicles because the dips in the road cut visibility down to a half mile, plus the hard side wind caused a lot of problems as I went into and out of the wind shadow when passing big trucks. The worst was a double-trailered semi with an over-wide load of hay bales, which took nearly ten miles to get around.

IMG_1431Should I stop?

By now the sun had come out and it was warming up, and when stopping for lunch at Pierre I could, for the first time since leaving home, get rid of my inside layer of clothing. Just south of Pierre I got back on the freeway, and the flat lands turned into rolling hills then into rugged country – I was entering the Bad Lands. I saw a sign marking a river named Cheyenne and I knew that I was in the West.

At a gas stop I gassed up alongside a woman riding a Harley, dressed up almost as a parody of the quintessential biker chick – leather pants and vest, ample cleavage exposed to the sun, bandana instead of a helmet, and lots of tassels and rhinestones bedecking her bike. Loud pipes as she rode off. Cue the eye roll.

The next stop was at Wall Drug in Wall SD, apparently originally a drug store that then evolved into souvenir shop and is now a full-fledged tourist attraction. Give them an A+ for effort; for a hundred miles there were billboards every mile urging me to stop there. So I did. I met two other groups of motorcyclists parked in front of the store: One was three guys from New Jersey who were also going cross country but were then going to ship their bikes and fly home due to limited vacation time. The other was a retired couple from London who were on a ten month ride; they shipped their bike to New York, had been to Florida and were now on their way to Alaska then down to Argentina. That’s quite a ride.

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I arrived in Keystone SD, at the entrance to Mt Rushmore, by mid afternoon, so rather than waiting for the next day, per the schedule, I went into the park today. I’d only been there once, nearly 40 years earlier as a teenager with my family on our one and only family vacation.

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The place had changed a bit from my memory; the new, quite nice, parking facility and plaza made the visit quite convenient, and somehow the sculptures looked smaller than I remember.

I took a few pictures, bought a couple of small post cards, and walked down to the Sculptor’s Studio, then relaxed and watched tourists. After the visit I rode back into Keystone and got a motel room, then walked around town a bit before and after dinner. I was struck by how empty the town was – the week of Memorial Day, and a couple of motels were not yet open (or permanently closed), and the sidewalks and restaurants nearly empty. Either the season is late starting, or the tourist industry here is in bad shape.

Wednesday 29th
Keystone SD, through Custer State Park, Devil’s Tower, to Billings MT. 450 miles.

A rather eventful day started with my discovering a new favorite motorcycle road, Rt 16A entering Custer State Park south of Keystone. The entrance to the park is several miles of twisties climbing up a mountain through forests. After going over the mountain the scenery opens up as you enter large meadows.

I should note the existence of several signs along the road warning against approaching the buffalo, as they can be dangerous. (Why would the forest service call the bison buffalo? Probably because that’s what they’re more popularly known as.) The first herd I encountered were quite a ways off the road, so I had no qualms about stopping to take a picture. The next herd just a mile further was closer to the road, but still far enough away for comfort.

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P1000410  Around the next bend, however, a herd was standing right on the road and on both sides. As with the other hers there were mama bison and their babies. (Sorry, no picture, for reasons that become obvious.) What to do? I was now 20 miles from any place to go back to, and I needed to get through. I approached slowly, thinking that they might clear the road, which for the most part they did. A couple stayed in the road however, and I noticed that it was because the babies weren’t moving and the mamas were staying with them. This was an extremely dangerous situation; motorcyclists have been killed by bison before. So I stopped and waited. Mama approached me, and I pushed the bike backwards about ten feet to show her that I was retreating. But I had no reverse gear, and trying to turn around at this point would expose me to her; at least the front of the bike was between her and me, and I was wearing full riding gear. I couldn’t go around, as that would put me closer to baby, and would also expose my side to her. Then she charged, at least for a few feet. Maybe a bluff. I had no way to move so I held my ground. Then baby decided to walk away, and mama followed, keeping between me and the calf.

I had been thinking earlier that morning that this was part of the trip where I wished my wife was with me as she would enjoy the scenery. But at this point I was glad that she wasn’t, as I don’t know how I would have been able to protect her.

Happily riding away I went through the rest of the park, going through wide meadows then climbing into a hilly section called, I believe, the Needles with cathedral-spire rocks.

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By now it was time for breakfast, which I hoped to get in Deadwood, but all that I find there were casinos and hotels. There was a bit of a historic downtown, but I couldn’t find a diner, so kept riding.

Devil’s Tower wasn’t too much further, after a bit of freeway then several miles of two lane. A few good picture opportunities along the highway, then pay at the park entrance, ride past the prairie dog city, then around the monolith to the parking lot. That’s quite an impressive hunk of rock.

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IMG_1451  In the parking lot I chatted for a few minutes with a couple, each on their own Harley. As we left the park it started to rain, and I saw them pull over and don their bandanas – great protection in the event of a thunderstorm. The rain didn’t last long, and I finally found some lunch in a small town just north of the Tower.

Between rain storms I arrived in Montana, the last of the 48 states that I had yet to visit in my life, though not the last to have ridden in. Heading west I stopped for gas in Broadus, then saw this ahead of me:

IMG_1453 Hmm… I wonder what this is going to be like? The rain started slowly, then got worse and worse, and I started to see lightning. Visibility diminished to a hundred feet or so. I can still handle this, I think, but then a side wind started blowing me around. That’s it; that’s all I’m going to handle. I looked for a place to pull over, but there’s no shelter anywhere. I found a turnoff, got off the bike, and pulled the bike cover out of the side bag and huddled under it like a poncho. I was a bit afraid of standing next to the bike because of lightning, but didn’t think that sitting or squatting would be much better. I was out in the middle of the plains. After about twenty minutes the rain calmed down a bit, so I got back on the bike and started riding again. The next town was only about ten miles further, but to add insult to injury the last two miles were under construction and were gravel and mud. I pulled into Ashland looking for cover, and could find only an awning over the entrance to a grocery store, where I parked for an hour until the rain calmed enough for me to want to proceed.

IMG_1456 Calvin’s dad would say that this all builds character. Yeah, now I know that I can deal with anything. And at least the downpour had washed away all the bugs that I picked up in Ontario.

At the junction of the two lane Hwy 212 that I was on, and the I-90 freeway is Little Big Horn, which was probably worth a quick visit, but it was ten bucks to get in to see a plaque and a flagpole, and after having paid for Mt Rushmore and for Devil’s Tower I thought that I could skip this one. I made it to Billings for the night, 12 hours and two life threatening experiences since starting out in the morning.

Thursday 30th
Billings MT to Lewiston ID; 560 miles

On the road, as usual, by 7:00am. The day started out with bad weather, drizzly and cold. My original plan was to head north from Billings to catch Hwy 12 across the state, but because of the weather I decided to stay on I-90 across the state to Missoula. The wind picked up immediately after I left Billings, and got steadily worse as I got further west. Within an hour the crosswinds were so bad it was nearly impossible to keep the bike on the road. Between yesterday’s deluge and today’s wind I was starting to think about cutting the trip short, but at this point, in the middle of Montana, where else was there to go? I stopped for breakfast in Livingston, just north of Yellowstone Park, and the online weather map showed the weather to improve as I got nearer to the Idaho border, so off I went back into the wind.

I stopped in Missoula for lunch and to go to the local BMW dealer to replace my “waterproof” gloves, which weren’t, with a better pair. The location of the dealer, factory coded into the GPS, was wrong, but fortunately I had carried with me a list of addresses of BMW dealers so was able to find them.

Just south of Missoula is Lolo, the start of Hwy 12 into Idaho. This is my new most favouritest motorcycle road anywhere. Yesterday in Custer State Park I had a great time, but this road went on forever with long sweeping corners at highway speeds, gorgeous scenery, and little traffic. First it went up over a mountain, then had a long descent of a hundred miles following the Lochsa as it grew from a small stream into quite a large river. (I noticed some properties for sale on the Lolo side of the mountain and thought that this would be the perfect place to retire because of the great roads — but not in the winter.) I passed a twisty roads sign saying “next 99 miles”. Can you believe it? I didn’t get a picture of that one, but 50 miles further I noticed one in time to stop and get a shot.

IMG_1460 This is the road that the gods invented motorcycles for. There was occasional rain and a touch of wind, but nothing like the previous day or this morning, and the scenery made up for it. There were dozens of perfect pictures I would have taken if only for a safe place to pull over on the side of the road.

IMG_1459 Too often motorcycle roads are marred by too much traffic, but I pretty much had the road to myself, and what little traffic there was was easy to pass given the occasional straights and having a quick bike. The only other issue was the lack of gas stations along the route; from Lolo to Lowell, over 100 miles, there was no gas. I didn’t know this, but fortunately had filled up in Missoula.

IMG_1461Friday 31st
Lewiston ID to Yakima WA, Mt Rainier, Astoria, then Forest Grove OR; 550 miles

Another 12 hour day, with, for a change, gorgeous weather all day. My original plan had been to cross into Washington state then ride down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, where I would visit a friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in 35 years. But that route would have gotten me into Portland by early afternoon, and my friend wouldn’t be home until 5:00pm, so I decided to take a longer route.

From Lewiston the highway crosses eastern Washington agricultural areas into Walla Walla (love the name!), then to Kennewick then Yakima. I was missing the previous gorgeous scenery again. There was a fair amount of traffic around Yakima (love that name too), but from there I exited te freeway onto Hwy 12. I was intending to take Hwy 12 all the way across to I-5, but serendipitously missed a turn that took me instead up 410 which goes up the side of Mt Rainier through some gorgeous scenery, tight twisties, and a few feet of snow at the top.

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This was another opportunity for multiple perfect pictures, given the possibility of safely pulling over. The temperature was about 40 degrees at the top, and a few hardy souls on bicycles were going over the mountain pass. I rode back down off the mountain, then through the forest to rejoin Hwy 12, then back to the freeway.

My original plan, again, was to stay with my friend near Portland tonight, then tomorrow go to Astoria to complete my coast to coast trip, then ride down the Oregon coast. But I still had time, and tomorrow was Saturday when coastal traffic would probably be bad. New plan: go to Astoria this afternoon, then tomorrow head south. So after taking I-5 south to the Oregon border I exited at Kelso, crossed the bridge over the Columbia, then headed for the coast on Hwy 30.

I reached Astoria at last. 3615 miles from home, and after one week on the road. I found a boat ramp where I could park the bike near the water and take some pictures. The barking of some noisy sea lions resting on the pier behind me completed the scene.

IMG_1475 Yes, I understand that Astoria is only at the mouth of the Columbia, and that the ocean is a few miles further, but after riding through town and turning south I was along the coast in just a few minutes. I rode a few miles along 101, occasionally glancing at the ocean, then took Hwy 26 back to Forest Grove, where I met Cissy and her husband Dave, went to dinner, talked, and stayed the night. Thanks for the hospitality guys!

Saturday 1st June
Forest Grove OR to Salem, Bend, Crater Lake, Klamath Falls, Weed CA then Susanville; 600 miles.

As I was now a half day ahead of schedule I decided to make it a long ride in order to get to nearly a full day ahead of schedule. Rather than going back to the coast and fighting weekend traffic, or spending more time in the Oregon mountains I set a goal of Reno, which I knew would be difficult. Or at least Susanville, which was possible.

The weather was great for the day, starting out cool but warming up quickly. I took off the inner layers that I’d been wearing since Montana – a good thing that I didn’t need them any more, as the thermostat for my Gerbings electric jacket liner had quit yesterday. But on the other hand (or both hands, actually), the switch to my heated grips was stuck and I couldn’t turn them off. After being switched on for a week straight the switch had decided to stick. I eventually figured out that each time I stopped then started the bike up again the grips would cycle between off, high, and low (so obviously a software response to the hardware switch being stuck), though not reliably enough for me to use this pattern to turn them off. I was plagued by this problem until Salt Lake City when the switch finally popped back out – prying it with the tip of a knife hadn’t worked.

I took the freeway through Portland then to Salem, then the highway up into and over the mountains to Bend, then from there to Crater Lake where I hadn’t been since the fifth grade summer that our family spent in Oregon. The water in the lake was unbelievably blue and clear, with a thin sheen of ice on the water and a perfect reflection of the mountains on the other side. There was a good amount of snow at the top, but not as much as at Rainier, and as before some die-hard bicyclists riding up the steep roads.

IMG_1481 IMG_1480 After Crater Lake it was a long, though mostly beautiful ride the rest of the day. After more than a week in the saddle my butt was getting sore, which would plague me until I got home. I don’t know why manufacturers don’t equip their bikes with better saddles, especially for bikes that are meant to be ridden long distances. Previous bikes I’ve owned were good for no more than a half day in the saddle, but I’d been putting in 10 to 12 hours a day, and was starting to hurt. My knees were hurting a lot too, getting cramped from my long legs being folded in the same position for hours on end.

Sunday 2nd
Susanville CA to Reno NV to Provo UT; 645 miles

I’d been dreading this day since the planning of the trip. It was supposed to just be Reno to Salt Lake, but not being able to reach Reno the night before made the day an hour and half longer. The first part was not bad, and I reached Reno in time for some breakfast, but then the trip across Nevada was horrid. I had been debating whether to take Hwy 50 (“the loneliest highway in America”) or the Interstate; the former would have been more scenic, and while they were exactly the same length I-80 would be quicker. I debated until I hit the exit for Hwy 50, when I decided to stay on the freeway and get across as quickly as I could.

The temperature was steadily rising, eventually reaching into the low 90s after my riding in the 40s to the 70s the entire trip. My heated grips wouldn’t turn off, and my butt and knees hurt. Rather than just staying on the bike and getting it over with, as I would have preferred, I had to stop every hour for a break to get off the bike and stretch my legs. It was a long and miserable day. To top it off, there was no scenery to make the ride worth it. Some people think that the desert is beautiful, but not me. Reaching the Utah state line felt like some sort of accomplishment, but there were another couple of hours of desert to go, first across the Bonneville Salt Flats, blindingly bright in the sun, then past the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake where the wind picked up to almost Montana-like levels for a few miles. But I was looking forward to three days off the bike, visiting family, so persevered.

Monday to Wednesday
Rest days; 100 miles

I spent three days visiting family in Utah. I don’t get to see them very often, and I was certainly due for some time off the bike after 5000 miles of riding in nine days – the last few days I’d been riding for 10 to 12 hours a day.

I did ride a bit on Tuesday. The bike needed its 6k service, so I rode to the BMW dealer in Sandy UT, where they were happy to fi me into their schedule. I also inquired about a new rear tire as I wanted to be sure that I could make it home without a problem, but this was a new model bike with a new tire size which they didn’t have in stock yet and which would take several days to get in. I couldn’t wait that long, so hoped that the tire would get me back home, or at least to the next dealer in Denver or in Kansas City. On the way back to my parent’s house I rode the Alpine Loop, a road over and behind Mt Timpanogos and past Sundance, Robert Redford’s ski resort.

IMG_1499Thursday 6th
Provo UT to Vernal, Steamboat Springs, Denver, then Burlington CO; 635 miles

On the road again, and now only two things to accomplish: my last state (Missouri, tomorrow), and getting home again. While heading east the first thing on the morning the temperature was a bit cold so I stopped to add layers. The scenery in eastern Utah then the first part of Colorado was sparse but nice; a few reservoirs, cattle land, and a few mountains. Once I hit Steamboat Springs I started climbing the Colorado mountains. Just past Steamboat is Rabbit Ears pass at 9426 feet, which is not too much considering that I’d been at 8000 feet all morning. Later after Winter Park is Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet, the highest elevation I’d ever ridden — or probably driven for that matter. It was beautiful, of course, and not as cold as I expected. Approaching Berthoud I had seen some storm clouds and was dreading what might be at the top, but the weather remained clear. Coming off the mountain was just as fun, then I joined back onto I-70 which I would follow the entire way home. Descending further into Denver I could look out eastward across the plains, and knew that I was leaving the mountains behind and had nothing ahead of me but a flat couple of thousand miles. Colorado is known for its mountains, but there’s 150 miles ahead of flat land before the Kansas border, which I reached that night.

Friday 7th
Burlington CO to Greenville IL; 725 miles

From the Colorado/Kansas border, to just past St. Louis, there’s not an awful lot besides miles. Across Kansas every town seems to have a museum; I suppose that without scenery there’s not much else to attract people to stop for a visit. I decided to pass on the place with the world’s largest prairie dog and a five-legged cow, and I passed as well on the Eisenhower presidential library. I seriously considered the Oz museum outside of Topeka until I discovered that it was twenty miles off the freeway. My wife would have been interested but I had miles to do.

For the towns without museums, there’s always the name of a famous person who was from there, which strangely was often an astronaut. What’s with that? Maybe it’s because capable people leave their small town and go elsewhere and accomplish big things, whereas if there was something to do at home they wouldn’t have had to leave. Other towns without museums or famous former residents had to resort to nifty slogans: “A nice place to live” or “A nice place to visit”. Yeah, that makes me want to stop and stay a while. Or, “The gateway to [something I’ve never heard of or wouldn’t be impressed with if I did]”. There was a town with the slogan “Gateway to [something or other] Rock” – and I had just been through the Rockies.

Kansas City straddles the border of Kansas and Missouri; the latter was my 48th state. I wanted to stop at the border and take a picture, and maybe do a happy dance (which I look stupid doing), but when I crossed the border I was in heavy freeway traffic with no shoulder, and then immediately after the freeway was closed and all traffic diverted onto side streets. I was another hour before I could get out of the jam and back on the road. The traffic was fairly heavy across Missouri to St. Louis, which I hit in the evening then rode past before stopping for the night.

Saturday 8th
Greenville IL to home; 820 miles

At this point there’s nothing to do but get home, with 800 miles to go. There was a fair amount of traffic, and a lot of road construction across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. I had no reason to stop other than for gas; I stopped for lunch but skipped dinner. My butt and knees, which had recovered after three days in Utah, were now hurting pretty badly, but I pressed on. Crossing into Pennsylvania felt like getting home, but there were still 300 miles to go. Western Pennsylvania was quite scenic compared to the plain states that I had been through, and I enjoyed seeing trees and rolling hills again. The Pennsylvania Turnpike, for which I was paying a toll, had in spots the worst quality road surface of my entire trip; shame on you, Pennsylvania DOT.

After 13 hours on the road I made it home by 9:30pm, very tired, happy to be home, and happy to have made the trip. I rode 7181 miles over 12 days, with 45 fuel stops and numerous other stretch and food breaks.

I really enjoy riding in the west, and love the scenery and the roads out there, but the next time I ride in the west I think that I may ship the bike to a starting point; there’s no reason to waste three or four days at the beginning and end of a trip just to have a few days of good riding out there. A possible future ride to the top of Alaska would probably begin and end for me on the west coast.

Of course a better saddle is at the top of the list of enhancements for the bike; I would have done so earlier but custom seats take a few weeks to have made and I had just purchased the bike six weeks before leaving. The rear tire made it home without any problem, with tread still visible (rather than worn flat or – much worse – cords showing through), but will obviously need to be replaced right away.

Other than the bad switch for the heated grips the new 2013 BMW R1200GS-LC ran flawlessly. It’s a very light, quick bike with plenty of power for passing – acceleration in sixth gear! – and stable in bad conditions. The seat was bad, and I will over time adjust some of the ergos, but I really love the bike.

An issue with taking not just a new bike but a new model of bike on a trip like this is the availability of parts. The dealer in Salt Lake wouldn’t have been able to get a replacement tire for a few days; what if I had had a tire failure? Or what if some other part on the bike needed replacing? Would anyone have anything in stock? I was fortunate to get one of the first batch of Touratech bags, but other accessories (such as foot peg lowers) are not yet available.

Thanks to my wife for supporting my taking this trip and encouraging me to buy a new bike. The next trip is for you, Sweets.

My equipment: 2013 BMW R1200GS-LC, with factory auxiliary lights, engine guard, and GPS; CalSci windscreen, Touratech hard bags, Wolfman tank bag, Ortlieb dry duffle, First Gear Kilimanjaro jacket, RevIt pants, Aerostich Combat boots, and Schuberth C3 helmet.

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So Many Books, So Little Time (2012 edition)

I’m attempting to establish a habit of posting a list of books read during the year. 2011 is here and 2010 is here. I don’t know if the resulting motivation is good or bad; it’s nice to track what I’m reading, but knowing that at the end of the year I’m going to post this may push me to keep my numbers up. That’s not really a problem, though; I’ve been reading at this rate my entire life.

As usual, there have been some number of distractions during the year. My wife and I moved in March, which took some time, and I had three weeks of business travel during February and another three in September. Plus I started work on writing a book of my own. And of course I’ve been keeping up with the various magazines I’m subscribed to.

I’ve fit just a bit more fiction into my reading this year, though I’m still heavily non fiction. I started rereading some of my Greek classical history, as well as medieval, and have lately become more interested in Norse mythology, something that I really ought to pay more attention to as that more closely reflects my heritage than the Greek. I’ve also resolved to read more essays this year; with my increasingly short attention span their short length and varied topics hold my interest better than long books. I’ve started any number of books this year that failed to hold my interest — and truth be told, a couple of the books on this year’s list weren’t quite completed. I’ve got a half dozen books on my reading shelf that I’ve been struggling through and may never complete. Most of these are classics, the sort of books that everyone is supposed to read sometime during their life, and I want to, but they’re certainly not page turners.

So… on to the list:

  • The Swerve – Greenblatt
  • On the Nature of the Universe – Lucretius
  • Stardust – Gaiman
  • The Fermata – Baker
  • New Yorker Adventure Collection – New Yorker
  • Myths and Legends of the Celts – MacKillop
  • Prague Cemetery – Eco
  • New Yorker Environment Collection – New Yorker
  • Dard Hunter: The Graphic Works – Kressman
  • Before the Lights Go Out – Koerth-Baker
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Cain
  • Turing’s Cathedral – Dyson
  • Fear and Loathing at the Rolling Stone – Thompson
  • A Universal History of the Destruction of Books – Baez
  • Our Man in Havana – Greene
  • The Oracle: Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi – Broad
  • Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire – Berkowitz
  • Classical Bearings: Interpreting Ancient History and Culture – Green
  • The Greek Way of Death – Garland
  • A History of Illuminated Manuscripts – De Hamel
  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain – Eagleman
  • London: The Biography – Ackroyd
  • At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies… – Purkiss
  • Genius: Life and Science of Richard Feynman – Gleick
  • Chasing Venus – Wulf
  • Mortality – Hitchens
  • The Last Policeman – Winters
  • JRR Tolkien: A Biography – Carpenter
  • The Hobbit – Tolkien
  • Prose Edda – Snorri Sturluson
  • Misreadings – Eco
  • How to Travel With A Salmon – Eco
  • Beowulf – anon
  • The Book of Kells – Meehan
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Higher vs. continued education

There have been quite a number of obits for the death of Ray Bradbury, the science fiction writer. I’m not a big science fiction fan, and don’t read the genre, but I do remember some of Bradbury’s stories from high school reading assignments. I admire the prescience that writers such as Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, and Dick showed in their work, especially related to the effects of technology on our society.

Among the recent blog posts I note one from the excellent TYWKIWDBI containing a quote from Bradbury that he didn’t believe in colleges and universities, but he did believe in libraries. From this I infer that he didn’t believe in the institutions of higher learning, but was a believer in continued education throughout one’s lifetime.

I’ve always been a fan of higher learning. I admire those who have advanced degrees, and the opportunities they’ve had for learning. I’ve regretted for the past 30 years that I didn’t get a degree beyond my initial BS in Economics; I once had an opportunity to get an MBA but had an unsupportive spouse; even though another degree would have advanced my career in the long run she was thinking only in the short term and of the delays until I started bringing home a paycheck. I’ve thought many times over the years about getting another degree, but the older I get the more sacrifices this would entail. The costs get higher and higher, and the length of time that this would actually benefit my career decreases. At this point if I were to make the sacrifices in time, effort, and cost it would be for a subject that I personally enjoy (perhaps history or classics or something) rather than for a work-related topic which, frankly, I don’t much care much about any more beyond the confines of the office walls.

But, if it’s not work related and thus for the purpose of advancing my career, what would I gain from pursuing an advanced degree in an “interest” field beyond the simple satisfaction of completing this goal? What would a diploma get me?

I do a lot of reading on certain topics, and sometimes take it further and turn my pursuits into specific research topics. I’ve written and had published papers in a peer-reviewed journal on Mormon history, and then did some research in Arthurian studies that came to the same conclusions as a master’s thesis that I saw at a later date. Certainly I’m capable of doing work at that level. But I don’t have the degree hanging on my wall. Does that matter?

Not all of my learning is on academic topics. As I’ve discussed in this blog my interests are varied and hobbies many. Every new hobby involves learning, whether how to build or fix something, or how things work.

In my professional life I occasionally pursue a certificate of some sort, and usually earning this certificate requires attending a certain number of classes – quite obviously for the profit motive of the organization offering the classes and/or certificate. This proven by their rarely allowing a student to “test out” to prove competence. As I already know the subject, instead of paying for the learning that a class could provide I (or my employer) am simply paying for the certificate. This situation is even worse when the courses are offered online; while more convenient for the student to attend the level of learning is even lower: just read the chapter and answer a couple of questions. In a few recent courses there wasn’t even a chapter to read. And there’s not even an instructor, just a “facilitator”. Oh yeah, that’s really educational. At least with a face-to-face class there is some interaction between the instructor and students, and between students, and if you already know the topic you can share what you know with others.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the value versus cost of a university education. I pay close attention to these discussions not only because of my own situation but because of the situations of my children. I have two children and one step child who have graduated – with large amount of student loan debt, with two more children still in school racking up more debt. The cost of a university education is skyrocketing due to a combination of government budget cuts and, well, because of the easy availability of student loans; schools charge more because they can. These increasing costs, combined with the poor job market, will keep my kids and others of their generation in debt for many years, putting them in tight financial situations just when they are starting their lives and careers. Plus their having less money to spend from their paychecks will result in a continued drag on the economy.

The situation is even worse for kids whose interests are in the “non employable” fields of the arts and humanities – which is unfortunately what my younger two are leaning towards. Learning for its own sake is no longer an affordable luxury.

Which brings me back to the Bradbury quote. Bradbury famously wrote one of his greatest works, Fahrenheit 451, on a pay-per-hour typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library. He was not a student there, but he loved the library. He was a fan of learning and exploring new ideas, but he was not a fan of structured education. The Asimov quote from the TYWKIWDBI blog post, however, showed this other great writer as supporting formal education at least as a foundation, but to be supplemented by continued learning throughout one’s lifetime.

This brings us then to the longtime debate about whether an education is to prepare the student for a trade or for life. Ideally it should be the latter, I feel. But given the current economic situation I’m afraid that, practically, it needs to the former. Perhaps it can be both: One needs first to make a living, but one should also have the foundation for a lifetime of learning.

My train of thought now leads to another, related topic: access to knowledge. How does one pursue this lifetime of learning without access to books? You could take the route that I’ve taken and fill your home with these wonderful paper-based containers of knowledge, or you could do it all electronically. I’m not going to restart the discussion of paper vs ebooks but I’m quite interested in being able to access books that you don’t normally find on the shelves of your favourite bookshop. I’m as guilty as anyone for driving the physical bookstores out of business as I do almost all of my shopping on Amazon, but I do this because the books that I read aren’t usually available in a physical store. I rarely read the latest bestsellers; I read the back catalogues. Amazon usually has these, but even here there’s a limit.

Simply, a lot of books are out of print. There’s not too many people clamouring for a copy of a bestseller from the 17th century, but there’s a few. There have been a number of efforts, most notably Project Gutenberg that make electronic texts of out-of-print books available. Amazon and the Apple bookstore also have large numbers of free texts. Google started a project a few years ago to digitize *everything*, but they ran afoul of copyright laws when they started digitizing in-print books as well. A recent effort called the Library of Utopia, led by Harvard University, hopes to avoid those problems. As is the case with most large efforts the problems are more political and legal than they are technical. One way or another, there is movement towards making all the world’s knowledge (at least that which hasn’t been destroyed) available to us all.

At this point we have no excuse. So put down the TV remote and pick up a book.

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