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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

2019 MD 20-20: The Penultimate Run of the East's Premier Rally

On May 25 through 26, some of the finest riders in the Mid-Atlantic area and beyond competed in the next to last Mason-Dixon 20-20.

The pattern was familiar:

       A plan, a bike, a rally book.
       Go here, go there; highway, byway; rain, rain stopped; rerouted!
       Rest and repeat.
       Return. Tally score.
       Was blood let in the scoring room? (choose one) _x_no  __ yes.
       Celebrate with friends.

Our details, if you care (by bonus name): 1954, 1927, 1935, 1907, 1908, 1923, 1915, 1940, 1916, 1909, 1938, N01, N02, N03, REST, N04, N05, 1922, 1958, 1914, 1924, 1917. (The track includes our ride home to Northern Virginia.)

The highlights in pictures and vignettes.


Meetings the night before and pre-dawn. Last chance to cast your lot for the cheesedick award.

Heading out to the staged bikes

Paying Respects to Jim 

Indiantown Gap National Cemetery is always breathtaking, especially on Memorial Day weekend. Many of us made Jim Young's grave our first stop.

On the way to Indiantown Gap we passed and were passed by many riders. Few stayed close to us long enough for me to get a half-way decent picture. (Feel free to identify yourself or ask me to delete it; I have no idea who anyone is when in full gear.)

Nice lights!
Given the crowd at Indiantown Gap, it was not surprising to have company at our first stop in Sugartown.


Of course there was a festival. But at least not as many as Rock -n- Ride had.

Not the bonus. The rock in the background was. 

Flight 93 Memorial:  Wish there was a webcam

After Sugartown, the pack thinned quickly. We overlapped with Chris Rasmussen late in the day at the Paoli Massacre Monument, and the Stargazer Stone, but the next real gathering of riders that we encountered was at the Bermuda Triangle of Bikes, or “the place the bikes laid down.” Although the picture below is terrible, this rider marks the spot -- and one of the exceptions – of the bike dropping and lost rider drama of this location.

Rider 6: Bringer of Light
Our story:  It is very early morning and pitch dark. We arrived at the Flight 93 memorial bonus. The coordinates appear to be inside the memorial building, but the text says to take a picture of the sign on Route 30. We see the sign and ride just past it to do a U-turn and park in the driveway to the memorial. The driveway is directly across the road from the sign, intersecting Route 30 perpendicularly. It is so dark, that I can no longer see the sign from this angle.

Quite a distance down the road on Route 30, near the old construction entrance, we can see the headlights of a motorcycle that appears parked. We cross the road and Jeff attempts to take a picture of the sign, me, and the flag, lit by a flashlight. Big sign. Dark night. No go. Jeff crosses the road to bring the motorcycle around. With the Erica lights he added to the GSA, that bike could light a stadium.

Another bike pulls up on Route 30, near the construction entrance. Now we can see the two sets of headlights. Too far and too dark to know what the riders are doing down there. Looking for a sign?

As Jeff circles around and pulls up near the edge of the road, I turn and walk back toward the sign, getting in position for the picture. I hear the bike stop and then the expletive. I turn just in time to watch Jeff and the bike tumble in slow motion to the pavement. I run over. He’s fine. As soon as he’s back on his feet, one, two, three lift, and in 30 seconds the bike is upright again. Cursing about the camber of the road, Jeff pushes the bike forward, gets back on and starts another circle to reposition.

The lights of a fourth and then fifth bike appear from far down the driveway, emerging from inside the memorial grounds. What were they doing in there? There are now five bikes in view (counting us) and we appear to be the only ones who know where the sign is located. But we haven't yet gotten enough light for a picture.

A sixth bike approaches on Route 30, from the direction we arrived.

Jeff pauses his circle, stopping again in the driveway, to make way for the new rider on Route 30. The other two bikes stop further back in the driveway. The new rider (badly pictured above) pulls up in exactly the right position on the road, flooding the sign and me with light. As the new rider gets off and begins assembling his photo material, I radio Jeff not to bother moving the bike. Just take the picture! Bathed in the light of Rider 6’s bike, we’re done with our photo before he has his flag in position to shoot.

As Jeff sends our photo off, Rider 4, now off his bike, hustles down the driveway. He and Rider 6 share the light. Rider 6, the model of efficiency, wraps up. I believe he left just before us. The other three riders will be left in the dark (assuming the two down the road decide to join to the party).

We were only a brief episode in the Flight 93 memorial drama. We learned later that the Cover-Rufo trio dropped two of three bikes on that spot – in different directions! Our breakfast companion, Matt, tipped his there too. He said he heard of others. Seems more than one person missed the sign too. Anyone else want to ‘fess up?

A new day


Two things:  At least it wasn't still raining when we headed up the last stretch. And, this would be a gorgeous ride to do again in the daylight.

Turkey Point Lighthouse: Exercise!
(But, alas, no non-bonus pictures)

The lighthouse. A “fifteen-minute walk.” Ha! Here again, there was a convergence of riders, and divergence of attitudes.

The rally book said 15 minutes. Google maps said .8 miles and 16 minutes. That’s 3 miles an hour, which is not an unreasonable walking pace -- if you aren’t wearing motorcycle gear. Jeff and I shed our helmets, and noting the other bikes draped in helmets and gear, I also dropped my jacket and vest. We headed down what turned out to be a dirt and gravel path, with hills, passing through patches of woods and fields, shade and sun. The temperature was in the low 80s I think, not terribly humid, but hot enough. The families in their shorts, tank tops, and sneakers looked very comfortable.

On our walk out we encountered Marty Cover and Steve Rufo, chatting amicably and looking as casual and relaxed as a couple of philosophers exercising body and mind on a Sunday stroll. Further along, Lisa Cover Rufo, hailed us, looking weary but cheerful. On our return we spotted Jim Owen, purposefully striding along, looking somewhat warm, but calm and focused, as he waved his flag at us. Eric Bray combined bonus hunting with his morning workout. In his track shoes and shorts, only the flag clutched in his hand distinguished him from any other runner. Erin and Jeff Arsenault were all business, as they briskly headed out, clipboard in hand, and extolling the benefit of some morning exercise.

We finished the round trip rather warm and sweaty, but reinvigorated by the break, as we headed into the final stretch of our trip.


Finding a pothole big enough to stand in was easy. Finding a pothole big enough to stand in long enough to get your picture taken is a different problem. Although every bridge on Route 81 appeared to have potential, and many other roads, such as this one, also offered opportunities, having your picture taken in the middle of a highway was a bit too sporty for us.

Jeff spotted this beauty, however, as we were about to pull out of a gas station early on Day 1. A guy who had just pulled in, likely to pick up a pack of cigarettes, reluctantly agreed to be our photographer (since Jeff’s attempts to mount the tripod on the bike were wasting precious seconds). We hopped into the hole and would have had room for a third.

Helite Vest

This trip was the maiden run for my new Helite 2 vest. It is a little warm and the latching mechanism is rather tiresome as it has to be latched and unlatched when I get on and off the bike. But it’s not that bad. (Heated gear has that issue too.)

On the plus side, the Helite vest replaces the back plate in my Klim jacket which is a huge benefit. Doesn’t solve the overall problems with the fit of the Klim jacket, but at least the backplate is no longer hitching itself up on the pants’ waistband. Miss having access to my pockets, though.

I haven’t set it off accidentally yet, and hope I never set it off to do what it’s designed to do. Overall, I think it was a good purchase.

Pictures we were not required to take 

Pittston PA: Home of the Annual Tomato Fight

Hampstead MD

Keeping the log straight.
"Choose Fun."  Isn't that why we do this?

Congratulations to Rick and Jean Miller for yet another blockbuster year of challenges, adventure, camaraderie, and fun! Thank you too to all the rest of the staff, who worked so hard to make this event possible.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Rockin' -n- Ridin' Through the Middle South on a Hunt for Elvis


Fascinating rally blogs have drama. My fourth-grade teacher instructed that good stories are built on one of four types of conflicts: man versus man, man versus nature, man versus God, or man versus self. It was the 1960s, when all significant humans were apparently men.

Truly, most good rally blogs include narratives of conflict. There's the rider and nature, including tornados and hail. Entire plots can be built around encounters with cows and other animals. The rider's bike, with all the potentials for mechanical failure or misjudged fuel stops, is a source of tension. Conflicts between riders and the rest of the world, including the evil rally master and the DOT officials who close roads unexpectedly, are the essence of rallying. And, perhaps the greatest of all, is conflict between the rider and self. A successful rider requires a high level of focus, self-discipline and understanding of her or his own capabilities, plus the need to find the balance between on one hand, exceedingly high expectations and a desire to perform well, and on the other, reasonable expectations for what can be achieved consistent with safety. A rider can be her or his own Achilles heel or the key to success.

Dramas were played out in the 2019 Rock -n- Ride, with stormy, windy weather in some parts of the country, and riders experiencing break-downs, and other mishaps. But my tale really has almost none of these. Nature was feeling friendly. We rode in lovely weather where the worst was a few hours of chillier than desirable temps and some pretty strong winds, but well short of anything too dangerous. As the pillion, I can take in the scenery, read, take naps, and otherwise just enjoy the ride. The adrenaline-driven focus and endurance needed for a safe and well-executed ride are on Jeff's shoulders, so the battles with self are his story, not mine. The greatest conflicts with other humans involved festivals and their related street-closings, in which other people’s idea of fun was in conflict with ours. These, however, were all managed successfully. So, no need to grip the edges of your seat for this story. Just sit back enjoy the scenery!


Rock -n- Ride 2019 offered three starting locations for the 33-hour riders:  Youngstown, Ohio; Lake City, Florida; and Bowling Green, Kentucky. Although Youngstown is perhaps closer for us, I like Kentucky’s landscape more than Ohio’s and our fabulous rally master, Lynne Carey, promised a rally-eve get-together for the Bowling Green starters. So, Jeff and I opted to start there.

The rally book came out on Monday, April 22. The rally was to be held on Friday, April 26 through Saturday, April 27. Jeff and I had the usual intense week of scrutinizing the rally book. The bonuses were scattered over the eastern part of the U.S. with varying point values. Values also depended on where you started. For the Bowling Green starters, the most distant spots tended to have the highest values (purple followed by red in the map below).  Although not apparent from the map, within the general rock and roll theme of the rally, there was a strong Elvis sub-theme that included two combinations. The combinations were composed of bonuses that alone were worth fewer points (the green and blue bonuses.) Both of us focused on those combinations, since the 1000 and 2000 point adders they offered to the value of the component bonuses, respectively, were very attractive.

Jeff's mapping of the bonuses, color coded to reflect the values for a Bowling Green start.

We were working independently, so I’m not sure how quickly Jeff decided where the “play” would be, but I started first by looking at Florida which had both some high-value spots near Tampa and a number of the component pieces for the EWHCOMBOKY 2000 point bonus. (The Key West location was obviously a sucker bonus.) I quickly concluded that the distance from Bowling Green to Tampa would limit our ability to collect enough bonuses to make that trip attractive and began to look at the south. Pairing the two bonuses suggested a route that included Nashville, Huntsville, Jackson, Tupelo, Shreveport, Memphis and a bunch of other stuff in between. I found a route that worked on paper, but it required getting to Shreveport with less an hour to spare before the timed bonus at Southern Maid Donuts (EWHDONUT) would close. Missing that bonus would cost us the 2000-point combo.

I sent my route to Jeff although I knew he had also developed a route that had pretty much the same set of bonuses. Still, sometimes I see something he doesn’t, and quite often, his rally experience fills in a critical gap that I miss. I also immediately started work on an alternative that did not include Shreveport. Shreveport included one of the six statues we needed for the 1000-point ELVISSTAT bonus and two out of twelve possible locations that we could select for the 2000-point EWHCOMBOKY bonus (although we only needed 6 of the 12). So, it was valuable. But, Shreveport was also just a ridiculously long way west and there were not many bonuses out that way. So, it would be a very long ride for relatively few bonuses – other than the ability to complete those combos.

I quickly concluded that if we dropped Shreveport, we could find 6 of the bonus locations needed to make the 2000-point EWHCOMBOKY elsewhere, but we would lose the 1000-point ELVISSTAT. But, a route through New Orleans would bring us to a number of high scoring bonuses, and would nearly make up the difference as compared to my Shreveport route, and avoid the high risk of blowing the 2000-point donut bonus by arriving just minutes too late. So, I began to advocate for a New Orleans route. But in the meantime, Jeff had been working on the Shreveport route and by doing it in a reverse order from my proposal, had a route that was both higher scoring than my New Orleans alternative by a few hundred points (including two bonuses we later dropped in favor of wild cards) and had hours of margin around the donut stop, which removed the risk factor that concerned me. Part of his solution was to move our Nashville stop from where I had proposed, at the beginning of the trip, to late morning on Saturday, near the end of the trip. So, on Wednesday night, we left Virginia for Bowling Green, with a plan in hand.

En Route to Bowling Green

Our post-work, Wednesday night leg was a straight shot down I-81. Although this route passes through some of the loveliest country-side in Virginia, little of it can be appreciated from the road. It's just a wall of trucks. That makes it one of my least favorite roads, rivaling the stretch of I-95 between DC and Richmond.

Wednesday night we rode as far as Bristol TN.

We had been to Bristol right after Christmas (by car) and enjoyed the town. We were disappointed, however, that Cootie Browns was closed because we had enjoyed dinner there on our last trip and would have liked to go again. Instead we ended up at Applebee’s. We usually avoid Applebee’s because for a vegetarian (me), it’s about as ugly as a menu gets. They don’t even offer salads without meat. But it was late, and it was across the street from out motel. I ended up getting a Chicken Caesar Salad with the chicken on the side. In addition to his own meal, Jeff got the chicken from my salad. I got lettuce, a light sprinkling of flavorless cheese, and a few croutons, all covered in fat. Lots of calories, virtually no nutrition, and virtually tasteless. No more Applebee’s!

Thursday’s breakfast proved much more interesting, but not for the food (although the breakfast was decent). Like every medium to budget priced chain that has breakfast included, breakfast was accompanied by a blaring TV. These are inevitably tuned to either Fox or CNN, depending on the part of the country you’re in. Since neither of us watch much TV, it’s just annoying background noise for us, no matter what’s on. Although I was trying to tune out the noise, the name Nashville caught my attention. Something about an NFL draft event. I called it to Jeff’s attention. He missed the part about Nashville but heard “NFL draft” and commented “wasn’t that the fiasco that we ran into at your brother’s last year in Philadelphia?” I hadn’t made that connection to Philly, but I remembered the nightmare traffic and road closures, which endured even hours after the event ended. Yikes! Bad, bad, news. We both began searching our phones for information about road closures in Nashville and Jeff emailed Lynne to ask if there were any new ground rules or alternatives as a result. She blithely advised that riders should take road closures into account when planning.

The school is being converted to condos.
But this impressive entrance will remain.
Our trip to Bowling Green from Bristol was a meandering one. We stopped at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greenville TN and saw his 1930's-era tailor shop and an early home. We stopped for photos of doughboys and war memorials, too.

Among our stops was Oakridge TN. As a child of the ‘60s with a Dad who worked at Knolls Atomic Power Lab, names like Oakridge and Hanford (Richland WA) were etched into my consciousness at a young age. It was a fascinating stop, tracing the birth of the Manhattan Project and the subsequent transition of the site from a top-secret wartime enclave to a center that applied nuclear energy to peacetime uses too. I wished so much that my Dad was still alive so that I could have shared it with him. He would have enjoyed this perspective on that era.

Our other stops in the Oakridge area included a peace bell, rehung in a lovely newly constructed setting.

We also added a very important detour to our itinerary  – Nashville. We decided to see first-hand how tough it might be to roll through Nashville during the rally.

On the Thursday night before the rally, Nashville was a throbbing mass of party-happy people. There were people streaming across the streets at every intersection. Between the road closures for the event and for construction, everything was packed-in with no places to pull over on the streets. But, one of the bonuses we were counting on for the EWHCOMBOKY 2000-pointer was the Ryman theater. So, if we dropped Nashville we’d lose 2000 points from our planned route in addition to the value of the Nashville bonuses. Jeff scouted for places to park for the Ryman Theater and the Legends mural. Printers’ Alley seemed like it might still be a challenge, but one thing was clear:  we needed to do Nashville very early in the morning when all the party-ers would still be sleeping off the prior night’s celebration!

There's one of our bonuses! The mural on the side of The Legends bar.

By time we arrived in Bowling Green, the barbecue was already underway, so we went directly there. Thanks to Jesse there was a vegan stew, that was delicious, in addition to the wonderful barbecue, plus salads and pecan pie. A feast! I finally got to meet Lynne in person and saw a few other familiar faces and many I did not know. A lovely surprise was when Greg Blewett, who I did not know, walked up and offered me a pair of handmade earrings that “the kids made.” They are lovely! Such a warm welcome to this community! During dinner I also enjoyed talking with Pat Blewett. She had gotten her degree at the GW Med School, so she knew my home turf well.

After dinner we headed over to our hotel and got to work. Jeff needed to rearrange our trip plan so that we would complete Nashville early the next morning rather than mid-day on Saturday. Also, the wild-card list had come out during dinner, so we had some research to do. Still, we turned in at a reasonable hour because the next day would be a long one.

Rock -n- Ride Rally!

We made our way over to Waffle House the next morning for staging. Although riders at the other locations did not start as a group, Wolfe Bonham and Lynne witnessed everyone’s send off at Bowling Green, so there was no need for start receipts. There was quite a crowd when we arrived at 5:20 a.m., with others pouring in after us as well. Many folks just milled about in the parking lot although some were inside eating or talking. We got our flag. It was quite large and without some significant size reduction, it would have been flapping in the wind at every bonus. So, I spent about 10 minutes trying to fold and clip it down in such as way as to be a reasonable size.  (We had a placard as an alternative, but it’s nice to have the “official” flag in the pictures.)

Lynne divided us into those turning right and those turning left from the parking lot. We were one of the handful going left, toward a “fork in the road” (FORKKY1). At 6:00 a.m. sharp, Lynne began waving the right-turners out of the lot, but Wolfe was still focused on stopping the traffic on the left, so we sat for a few seconds longer before launching.

Our first bit of drama was a bridge. Our way to FORKKY1 was over some lovely country roads. On the way to Kentucky we had noticed very high water in all the streams and rivers in Tennessee and Kentucky. And, it has rained overnight.

This was taken on April 27 at Barren Lake State Park, but is representative of what we saw throughout the trip.
It was not raining (at least nothing more than an occasional drop or two) at the time we started. But, still, when we saw a sign warning of a low bridge that was unsafe during high water, we began to fret a bit. Fortunately, the road was open, and of all the streams in Kentucky, that one was NOT high, and so we were able to cross with no issue. By now we were leading a parade of four bikes. We pulled up to the fork and got our shot. At least one rider followed us out in the same direction, but we lost him shortly afterward.

We rode to Franklin KY to pick up the first of our wild card bonuses, an old jail house (OLDJAIL). We circled the town square a couple of times trying to find it when I spotted a historical marker just as Jeff spotted another rider, both of which marked the spot. (I couldn’t see the rider from behind Jeff’s helmet. It’s amazing how differently we remember places, all because our views are so different.)

Then, it was time for Nashville! Rescheduling to Friday morning saved our plan. Jeff had been worried about Printer’s Alley, the narrow one-way alley where the blues club sign (NASHBLUES) was located, because we had to have our bike with us and he was afraid access would be blocked. But, it turned out to be quite easy. A number of other bikes were arriving in the one-way alley at the same time – from both directions – and we got our shots while a local stood in the doorway watching the spectacle.

The area around the Legends mural and Ryman Theater were deserted on Friday morning, a sharp contrast to the night before. At the Ryman Theater, we pulled into the alley that Jeff had scoped out the night before and waved off the guard who didn’t want us to block in the 18-wheeler that was parked, dark, and unlikely to move for hours. No problem. We were there and gone in minutes.

Same alley parking strategy for the Legends mural. In that alley, however, a guy with an SUV, who was parked and blocking the alley behind another car that was parked and blocking the alley, had a beef with us for parking behind him and sandwiching him in. We brushed him off too and were done and back at the bike before his passenger even got into his SUV. But in the additional 30 seconds or so that it took to send in the photo and get on the bike, he decided to show his irritation about our parking in the alley by backing up as if he was going to just crash into the bike. Really! Stones…glass houses…. Self-awareness is a rare commodity.

Friday morning's empty sidewalk was quite a contrast to the night before!
Onward to the Dolly Parton quote on the outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame (CMHF), where a pull off lane across the street that was occupied by only an ambulance made for an easy stop; and then the RCA Studio historical marker (RCASTUDB) – and we were done!! We were out of Nashville long before the party re-ignited. Thank you, Nashville!

We enjoyed the billboards around Nashville. One that had caught my eye the day before was “world-famous” Nudie’s honky-tonk bar. In our on-line search for a pink Cadillac the night before, I learned that Nudie was a fashion designer who dressed many of Nashville’s stars (and others) and that there was a full-size Cadillac hanging from the wall inside the bar. But not pink. And it would have been hard to get the bike into the picture!

We also scoffed at the sign advertising boots – buy one, get two free – as a deal that must mean either the first pair is outrageously expensive or they are really shoddy. Found out a day or two later from friends that the boots were great. They had left Nashville with six pair! Next trip!

From Nashville we traveled to Loretta Lynn’s Dude Ranch (LLDR). What a spread! This destination included a replica cabin, general store, museum, post office, her house, a moto-cross track, and a bunch of other stuff scattered through an absolutely beautiful setting. All we needed, however, was a photo of a stone marker with her face. Easy find and we were on our way again.

Another rider showed up at the bonus at the same time we did. We didn’t see him follow us out although later a rider (later identified as Lew Ballard) caught up and passed us on the highway. On the way out, the GPS wanted us to take what appeared to be a gravel road but we opted to leave by the road we came in on, which was reasonably fast.

Lew passing us on our way to Memphis

Back on the highway and on our way to Memphis, we decided it was time to find a Steak ‘n Shake. In tribute to Lynne’s mother, who liked the strawberry shakes at Steak ‘n Shake, we had the opportunity to earn 350 points with a shake receipt (SHAKE). We also planned to stop at a Michael’s craft store for a yellow rose, which was a wild card bonus (YELROSE) and there was a Michael’s not far from the highway, one exit beyond the Steak ‘n Shake.

We saw a bike in the parking lot of the Steak ‘n Shake and when I went in to place the order, I ran into Lew. What are the odds of picking the same Steak ‘n Shake? Well, rally planners do think alike often, and this one was right off the interstate!

As we were enjoying our shake in the parking lot, Jeff noticed that the receipt had neither a location nor a specification of what we had bought. He checked with Lew and confirmed that his receipt was the same. Lew called Lynne who acknowledged that not all locations had information on their location on the receipt and recommended we take a picture of the shake to confirm we had purchased a strawberry one. With some collaboration, appropriate pictures were taken and submitted (and I posted yet others extolling the shake on Facebook). If only we had included the right code! Turns out these were the only points we lost at the scoring table, but in terms of time invested, this was a long stop. The shake, however, was delicious!

Next stop was for the yellow rose. Michael's had several styles to choose from. I picked one with “dew drops” (plastic) on it, bagging our second of the five wild cards.

Onward to Memphis! We had to photograph two Elvis statues (for the ELVISSTATS combo), plus the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Graceland, just outside of Memphis, was also on the pre-planned route. In addition, we had found a record-playing jukebox at Sun Studios and had hopes of finding a pink Cadillac, which would give us four of the five wild cards. So, if successful, Memphis would add 1,731 points to our total, and it was key to making the 1000-point combo.

We started with the Cadillac. After searching on-line in every way we could think the night before, we determined our best bet was a restaurant called Marlowe’s which advertised a fleet of eight pink Cadillacs used to shuttle tourists from their hotels to the restaurant. I found it on the internet, but our initial looked at the restaurant’s pictures, which feature a bus-sized pig, left us thinking it was unlikely. But with no other viable options (the pink Cadillac at the eponymous diner in Natural Bridge VA was out the question and, oddly, the Pink Cadillac Drive-In didn't seem to have one), Jeff called Marlowe's on Thursday night to inquire. The hostess confirmed they had pink Cadillac limousines but insisted, adamantly, that we were unlikely to find one in the parking lot because they would be out at the hotels picking up customers. Logically, however, we figured they would have to come by the restaurant sometime, to drop off the guests, so we took a chance. As it turns out, it was so early in the day that the restaurant wasn’t yet open and the parking lot was completely empty. No joy! But, we both noticed that there were TWO pink Cadillacs parked at the house next door! These were both marked with Marlowe branding, but appeared to be in need of repair. No issue for us! Pics taken and we were off to Graceland!

Jeff pulled into the tour bus parking lane and we hopped off to photograph the much-graffitied marker, as required, and I took time to peep over the wall at the rather modest house set back among the trees. (I learned later this was also a virtual geocache, but we missed our chance to “find” it with the appropriate acknowledgment.) Across the street from the mansion were additional tourist attractions, including two planes and a motor museum, which according to its website had a pink Cadillac inside. That would have been hard to get into a photo with the bike! But no need. I snapped a picture of the plane, Lisa Marie, in passing and we headed into Memphis.

Our first stop in Memphis proper was Sun Records. In our search for jukeboxes we turned up some interesting possibilities. It appears that a number of writers rank the best places for jukeboxes! But most of our calls to the places that were supposed to have record-playing jukeboxes were either not answered or turned in disappointing answers. The exception was Sun Records Studio.

Jeff (on the phone to Sun Studio): Do you have a jukebox?
Clerk: Yes, but it isn't working.
Jeff: Is it the kind that plays records?
Clerk: Yes, but it isn't working.
Jeff: Is it somewhere where I can take a picture of it?
Clerk: It doesn't work, but yes, it's here ...

And so, we stopped. Sun Studio was right on the way and the jukebox was right inside the door. In minutes we had bagged the fourth of the five wild cards.

The other three Memphis bonuses (two Elvis statues and a marquee) were pretty close to one another. It was nice to have a reason to cruise through town a bit, including down Beale Street and along the waterfront. There was barely any traffic, which is a bit odd for mid-day Friday I would think, but it worked for us. We got all our photos and headed across the bridge to Arkansas. We did not get out to Mud Island, which I would like to visit, particularly for its scale hydraulic model of the lower Mississippi. But, it looked like a town we’d like to visit again, so that will be on the agenda for next time.

I had not previously set foot in Arkansas, and actually don’t think I did on this trip either – just wheels. I envisioned Arkansas as composed of the rolling hills of the Ozarks. Instead, we crossed acres and acres of the flattest land I’ve ever seen. Makes the farm land of southern Illinois and Indiana look positively fascinating. Both Jeff and I were intrigued, however, by the farms with the wavy furrows interspersed with irrigation ditches. A sign confirmed our guess – rice patties! I had no idea that Arkansas grew rice.

Arkansas was merely the ground between us and Shreveport. We had no reason to stop in Arkansas  (unless it was for fuel). Five hours of slab. Not fun, but it got us to Shreveport and as noted above, we needed Shreveport. Moreover, leaving Memphis we were over two hours behind schedule (which was the vast majority of our planned margin) and all that highway allowed us catch up quite a bit.

Shreveport seemed like a town that had seen better days. The first stop was the Caddo Parish Courthouse, where Elvis had been arraigned for a speeding ticket (EWHCADDOP). It was a lovely building with quite a few folks lounging about on the grounds and the surrounding streets, passing the day. The court house was also a virtual geocache. After the rally picture was taken, I walked to the other side of the building to find the corner stone with the information needed to claim the geocache and then we were on our way to the statue.

The statues of Elvis (ELVISLA1) and James Burton were in front of a gorgeous building. An old armory? There seemed to be something going on inside as there were people occasionally approaching and going in, dressed as if they were going to church. Across the street, where we parked, there was a record studio marked as owned by the James Burton Foundation. It was also picturesque, with its art deco-ish sign.

Next up was our donut break. Elvis apparently made a commercial for only one company – Southern Maid donuts – and is rumored to have been paid in donuts. The Southern Maid shop that we were required to visit (EWHDONUT) was rather inauspicious. It looked like a defunct dry cleaners or hamburger drive-in with a large carport to one side (currently unused). The pulled Venetian blinds blocked any view of the interior through the windows. I entered and saw a counter piled high with empty boxes and had to make my way to the far end to find humans and donuts.

The donut display was not extensive. I had been thinking of purchasing a glazed donut, but the choices all appeared to be filled donuts or long-cylindrical pastries that I was not sure would qualify. I bypassed the cheese filled donuts and went for a classic jelly donut. I’m not a donut connoisseur, but that was a great donut. (I shared it with Jeff).

We were done with Shreveport and, although it was early evening, the sun was still up. We headed back east toward Jackson, MS. By time we crossed Louisiana and half of Mississippi, it was late evening – maybe 10-ish, and Jackson appeared to have rolled up the sidewalks and turned out the lights by time we arrived. We found our bonus – a red British phone booth on a street that was blocked to allow cars to exit but not enter; the right-hand side of the street in the direction we wanted to go was reserved as a bike lane. But, restrictions on the type of bike were not clearly specified, so it seemed fair to assume that all two-wheelers were welcomed.

I mentioned that the town was quiet, but it was eerily quiet. There was a guy asleep on a bench and NO ONE else around in car or on foot (although as we were leaving a car came part way down the road and stopped, with the motor running, on the far side of the street). This bonus required a picture of a woman holding the flag and standing near the phone booth. Fortunately, Jeff had had the foresight to bring a woman with him, but I wondered how anyone not riding as a two-up couple would fare. Later we learned the answer was “not well.”

Jackson, by night
Our next stop was our rest bonus, but it was still a couple of hours down the road near Granada. It had gotten quite cold. Neither of us had brought heated gear in the expectation of temperatures in the 60s to 80s and, indeed, up until night settled in, the day had been quite comfortable. Even with multiple layers, it was a relief to pull in for the night and head into a warm hotel. First, we stopped, of course, for a receipt at gas station convenience store to mark the time: 12:31 a.m. by the store’s cash registers (and two minutes slower than my phone.) Then, at 30 points a minute with a minimum of four hours and points for up to six hours, we grabbed the easiest 10,800 points of the rally with some sleep!

Back at the gas station at 6:25 a.m., Jeff re-fueled the bike while I went inside and had a chat with the clerk about timed receipts. As soon as her register’s clock said 6:31, she rang up my 56 cent bag of peanuts. But when she checked the printed receipt (without me asking!), it said 6:30. So, I bought a second bag of peanuts. Appropriate receipt photographed and logged, and we were off!

It was dark when we left, but the chilly morning left parts of the roadside shrouded in fog, which smudged the colors of the sunrise horizon.

The first stop of day 2 was another phone booth, this one in the town of Oxford, MS. This quaint college town, known as the home of Ole Miss and William Faulkner, was having a festival! Yikes! Closed roads! At the first blockade, the traffic director told us the phone booth wasn’t very far (about 3 to 4 blocks), but ignored our question about whether we could leave the bike somewhere while we ran down the street.

Instead, we followed his directions for getting closer to the booth with the bike. Bad move. Oxford is hilly, with lots of streets that don’t go through, so it took quite awhile to work our way around to Jackson Street. And when we did, the traffic was stopped blocks from our destination. So, we did some more work-arounds and got to within just over a block from the booth. There were a number of one-way signs and areas marked for tour buses, but at that early morning hour those counted as mere road decorations. We parked on a side street and dashed across a parking lot to the road barrier with the phone booth just beyond it. Two other motorcycles were right near the barrier, but it looked like getting out might be as hard for them as getting in must have been.

This bonus required both of us to be in the picture, so Jeff grabbed the tripod as we left the bike. But before he had a chance to set it up, I noticed that our odd appearance had capture the attention of a woman who looked like she was out for a morning walk or jog. I smiled at her and she volunteered to snap the picture for us, so we were back on the bike and moving away from traffic in a flash.

Next stop was Pontotoc for an easy no-traffic picture of a historical marker in a central square.  Another biker rolled up at the same time, on a different side of the square, for the same destination.

Next up, Tupelo!

Tupelo Hardware, the Lee County Courthouse, and three Elvis statutes (TUPELVIS1, TUPELVIS2, ELVISDUET) made Tupelo a rich destination. The footprints on the dewy grass signaled that many had been here before us. The downtown looked cute but dead at this still-early hour and the birthplace looked interesting. But this was not the time for sightseeing. We’ll be back in Tupelo this summer, so we’ll have a chance to take a closer look then.

A historical marker for Jimmie Lunsford in Fulton was the next destination. Another small town and ANOTHER festival. This time, however, the barriers were not guarded, so Jeff just maneuvered around one and rolled up to the sign. The festival was not yet opened, but the vendors were setting up and the barbecue smokers were already fired-up. No one seemed surprised or upset by our presence. I suspect we were not the first bikers they had seen that morning.

COON, in northeast Alabama, was a very unusual cemetery – exclusively for coon dogs. As we were leaving, a pick up truck pulled up and two young women and a young man, in full camouflage hunting gear, pulled up and reverently approached the head stones.

Outside of Muscle Shoals we scored points for a picture of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Only part of the parking lot was available as a portion was apparently overrun with fire ants (with appropriate warnings posted). Of the part that was available, much was marked “Museum Parking Only” because -- surprise, surprise -- the grounds of the museum were also going to be hosting a special festival event!

Fortunately, again, for us, the event and our visit did not coincide, so we moved on without incident.

Rocket Man! The bonus ROCK took us to the space center at Huntsville for a picture of the space shuttle. Many years ago, I dropped my sons at the BWI airport and waved good-bye as they left for Space Camp. Saturday was the first time I ever set foot in Huntsville myself. Jeff had accompanied his kids to Space Camp and pointed out the living quarters etc. He also related a story, somewhat scornfully, about how one of the Moms accompanying the group with his kids took one look at the barrack-like accommodations and left to get a room at the Marriott next door. Ha! I would have been right behind her! Or possibly leading the way! Anyway, it was fun to see the place and my sons liked the photos I sent. They both earned their Boy Scout Space Exploration and Aviation badges there, which were firsts for their troop. I was happy to find this spot on our journey.

Then we headed into Huntsville proper for the marquee sign of the Von Braun Center (EWHAL1) which we needed for the 2000-point combo. Hey, what a surprise! There was a big event going on and the road past the marquee was blocked! Déjà vu all over again! We rode as close as we could get and evaded the parking guy who was trying to shoo us into the parking garage, parking just behind him near the barrier. The parking guy looked very concerned, so I shouted to him that we’d be right back, and we sprinted toward the sign. By time we go back, the bike was attracting attention, but favorably, from an event volunteer. He had ridden in his youth and was thinking that it was time in his retirement to get a bike again. So, he and I chatted while Jeff sent in the photo and then with a big wave and smile to the parking guy, who looked relieved that we were leaving and smiled back, we were on our way to the finish.

The GPS was predicting a 2:04 pm. arrival (against the 3 p.m. deadline) but we still had to cross Tennessee, including past the Nashville area. There was also one more item we hadn’t yet picked up. One of the wild cards was for a picture of a dog at a dog pound. I knew there were a couple of pounds not far from the finish location, but I was prepared to skip the pound dog because I was concerned that any stop would also involve a lot of time-eating conversation with concerned volunteers about why we wanted to photograph a dog rather than adopt one. (And I'd feel pretty badly about that too.)

There was some traffic around Nashville, but we only lost a few minutes. As we headed into the final stretch, we overtook two motorcyclists (twice, actually, due to differences in routing). One definitely looked like a rallier with his high-viz Klim gear on a GTL. The other, looking more relaxed in jeans, might or might not have been one of us. Why Jeff didn’t recognize Marty Cover and Jack Airlie, or Marty at least, is unclear, but Marty turned and smiled when I snapped his photo in passing.

About 10 minutes out from the finish, Jeff surprised me when he made a sudden left into a closed off drive labeled as the route to the local transfer station. It took a minute for me to spot the sign for the animal shelter. It looked deserted, but as we started walking up the hill, I could hear a dog barking. We couldn’t get close, but we could see two dogs through the chain-link fence. The fact it was closed was something of a bonus, as we didn’t have to explain to anyone why we wouldn’t be leaving with a pet in need of a home. The little guys (there were two of them) seemed happy to have a distraction, but sad when we left.

We were a bit surprised that the two motorcyclists hadn’t turned with us. When you see a fellow rider make an unexpected turn, there are three possibilities: he’s going somewhere you don’t want to go (e.g., a fuel stop); he’s lost; or he’s found something that you need and if you follow him, you’ll find it too! This close to the finish, the third would be a strong possibility. But they continued on. Marty said later that when he saw us turn he did wonder why until he spotted the sign, but didn't follow us because he knew how hard it would be to visit a pound and leave without a dog.

Back on the bike, we headed into Barren Lake State Park, and rolled through the pretty state park at 20-25 mph, finishing at 2:25 p.m.

We got a picture with Lynne Carey for a Big Money Rally bonus (just a sidelight), and then went inside to tally our score.  (Oddly, our BMR flag number and RnR flag number were both "30").

After adding up everything we thought we had, we were at 36,208 points. As referenced earlier, we lost SHAKE at the scoring table for sending it in with the wrong code, but we were still pretty happy with the 35,858 points we got as our official tally. We had gotten both ELVIS bonuses plus all the wild cards, and picked up everything else that we reasonably could have on the route we picked. We used most of our time and really couldn’t have added anything else in. So, from a personal standpoint, except for SHAKE, there were no regrets or second-guesses. It was absolutely the best we were capable of having done.

Happily, all riders were safe and accounted for from all starting locations, so the banquet was all about celebration. We had a lovely time catching up with old friends and meeting others. When the awards were announced, it turned out that our ride was good in an absolute sense too. We took first place among the Bowling Green starters by an 1,800 point margin and got a cute drummer to bring home as a result. And, best of all, we had a fun and safe ride.

Next Day and Journey Home

On Sunday morning we had a nice breakfast at the lodge as motorcycles melted away from the parking lot. Probably half were gone by time we departed. In typical Jeff fashion, our route home from Bowling Green KY to North Springfield VA would require crossing the states of Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia (twice), Pennsylvania and Maryland.

We had had a tense moment on Wednesday night on the first leg of our trip to Bowling Green when Jeff began to chat about the Monday ride. I, completely shocked to learn that he expected this trip to include Monday (because someone did not put that on the calendar!), pointed out that I had workers showing up at my house Monday morning at 9 a.m. to replace the water heater. We worked out an alternative for a Sunday return. But happily, my contractors were delighted to reschedule so they could deal with some air conditioner failures, so we indeed had a two-day window for the trip home.

The ride home included a mix of geocaches, Tour of Honor stops, and just interesting places. One of the first was in the Barren Lake state park. The park includes a field for “Highland Games” and a memorial cairn. We didn’t find the geocache, but it was a very cool place to stop.  I recognized it as the place the rally staff had had their photo taken.

Then we headed to Mammoth Caves National Park to get the park stamp. Notwithstanding the name, the park has many lovely features besides the cave. In past visits, I had done two of the cave visits, but had found the hikes, springs, and rivers much more interesting. On this visit we stopped at a graveyard that included the grave of Floyd Collins. He was a cave explorer who helped bring attention to Mammoth Caves. He died in 1925 after being trapped while exploring Sand Cave. The effort to rescue him attracted a huge amount of media attention and became a media spectacle, one of the first of its kind; although spectacles of that sort are exceedingly common today. I was also happy to see an NPS electric vehicle and solar panels in the parking lot (which you can see through the car's rear window). In addition to preserving our forests and wildlands, which are natural carbon sinks, NPS is reducing  carbon emissions in other ways too.

Kentucky Stonehenge is a wonderful piece of Americana. Someone recreated the original on their lawn, and it was at least as interesting as the original although substantially smaller. Disappointingly, we were already rolling again before I realized there were more stone-sites there, including Cannon Hill. Stonehenge just got better billing than the other displays. Would be fun to go back and see what else is there.

Rolling through Munfordville we noted some signage on William Clark’s passage through town.

There were quite a number of other historical markers, but the only other sign Jeff slowed down for me to photograph was the one below:

Next up was Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. This NPS site includes a marble memorial building older than the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. This memorial has a cabin inside, that was thought to be Lincoln’s birthplace. It’s not, however, since the cabin’s logs are not old enough to have been cut at the time he was born. Nice building, though. And an NPS stamp.

We passed through Elizabethtown which was quaint, and stopped at its Vietnam Veteran’s memorial and Hardin County’s Veteran’s tribute. We ran into ToH rider #42 passing through on his way from Georgia to Michigan (I think).

We crossed into Indiana near Owensboro KY. I have 17 months’ worth of 20-year old memories involving the Henderson-Owensboro area (working on a lease of a fleet of power plants, which was an endless deal wrapped around a bankruptcy, a huge cast of colorful players, and some of the weirdest stories of my career), so it was sort of fun to pass through, although nothing was particularly notable or recognizable.

Rockport Indiana afforded views of the Ohio River, and the surrounding area, including the AEP Rockport coal-fired power plant on the Indiana side of the river, which happily I know nothing about. (I’ve spent 35 years working in or around the electric power industry, involving facilities and companies in many states, but not southern Indiana).

Rockport yielded a geocache near a historic and nearly hidden cemetery in the woods behind a school.

We continued on to the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home, which was a Tour of Honor bonus, where we spotted a familiar looking motorcycle in the parking lot. Although we did not know the rider, I recognized the mascot who was riding pillion in the Rock-n-Ride rally. The license plate indicated that the rider and Jeff had IBA, ToH, and the home state of Virginia in common. The rider was exiting as we were entering so we had a chance to meet Mike Hall and learned he hailed from near Winchester, not too far from Jeff (given the relative vastness of the U.S.A.).

We did not see Santa Claus.

Corydon, Indiana, however, has preserved the remains of a historic tree, under which the Indiana state constitution is said to have been signed. Then we crossed the Ohio River again, into Louisville, to stop at Thomas Edison’s home with signs explaining how he lost his job at Western Union.

There were the usual assortment of highway oddities and interesting relics of by-gone times.

We stopped for the night at a Days Inn outside of Cincinnati (KY side). We ate at O’Charley’s which had a menu much like Applebee’s. This time I opted for the spinach artichoke dip – a small helping of deliciousness to go with my "meal" of corn chips. So, food-wise, O’Charley’s goes on the vegetarian’s no-go list with Applebee’s, but I did appreciate the staff's helpfulness the next day when I discovered that I had left them my credit card. Five stars for service, negative 5 for vegetarian selections. (It’s not that hard guys! A salad that depend on something plant-based for “heft” like beans, a pasta primavera, or a veggie burger, which you can buy frozen, are all acceptable options.  Even if your chef doesn’t have a creative bone in his or her body, all of those are easy alternatives that work and mostly include things already in the kitchen!)

The next day we started by finding the historical marker for the center of population in 1880. In subsequent Facebook banter, Rick Miller pointed out that there are a number of these markers for different census tallies. With later research, I found a nice video showing the westward and slightly southern trajectory of the US population growth.

Cincinnati had some nice street art, but our goal was the Peace Bell followed by the William Howard Taft Historical Site in the Mount Auburn section of Cincinnati. The WHT home was situated in a historic district littered with lovely old buildings.

Next was a dough boy situated in Camp Washington. Camp Washington has at least one mural artist with a great sense of humor. We also noted an odd density of restaurants featuring chili.

We stopped in St. Bernard for another dough boy, but we also discovered it was the historic site of a canal, and its mascot is ….a St. Bernard!

One of many
We were also surprised to see signs directing us to the “Bridal District” on the outskirts of Cincinnati, but indeed, we came to an intersection that seemed to have all bridal needs within easy reach.

The landscape continued to reveal more interesting buildings plus ideas of what you might do if you happen to find a volume discount on statues of giraffe. The pictures do not do this justice! (They were taken from a moving motorcycle on the highway!) Nor could we reconcile the rearing horse on the sign with the herd of giraffe on top of the buildings and the purpose of the location, which was a flea market venue called Trader’s World. Maybe the giraffe were a flea market bargain? Evidence of what useless stuff you might be entice to buy if you stop? Hard to say.

Our stop in Dayton focused on the Wright Brothers, the home of their bicycle shop. Notwithstanding Kitty Hawk’s fame as the location for first flight, Dayton claims them as native sons and has many memorials in their honor. We also learned a bit about the dry dams used to control floods on the Miami River but couldn't reach the main part of the display because ... the river was flooded.

The Woodland Cemetery, the resting place of the Wright Bros., Erma Bombeck, and other notables, affords a panoramic view of the city. Additional stops yielded information about the Buffalo Soldiers and in particular, Charles Young, the third black man to graduate from West Point.

In Grove City, Ohio, we came across our first Gold Star Family memorial. It was part of an awesome multi-stage geocache that used automated answers to take you on a tour of the city.

Zanesville had a very nice memorial park on the river bank.

As the day lengthened our pace increased. Tuesday was a “school day” (literally for one of us), and we needed to get home. We passed through Wheeling WV which looked like an interesting, historic town that had fallen on hard times. We cut through the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania and dipped briefly back into WV as we picked up Route 68. Familiar towns of Cumberland and Frederick whipped by as we approached Washington DC and rolled into North Springfield for our journey’s end.