Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Well, it wasn't quite my journey's end

Swede, Mary's dad, still raises cattle on the Nebraska farm his forebears homesteaded in the 1880s.

Nebraska, it turns out, wasn't quite the end of the road after all.

The storm cell that chased me southeast on I-80 from North Platte to Mary's dad's place in Bertrand pelted Scottsbluff with baseball-size hail that reportedly did millions of dollars in damage to cars at auto dealer lots. Imagine what they'd have done to my little tent.

My arrival in Bertrand was earlier than planned and I spent about a week waiting for Mary to arrive for a big reunion of her mom's family that featured long-lost cousins from Sweden, lots of picture-taking and a Nebraska-style BBQ in the pasture. Until then, I enjoyed my in-laws' hospitality and watching thunder storms parade across the radar map on the computer monitor hanging in the farmhouse kitchen.

The prairie BBQ featured shish kabob grilled over the campfire and cobbler baked in a Dutch oven buried in the coals.

I took advantage of the break to mount a new rear tire on the KLR, change the oil and strip and paint the side-case racks, which needed attention after the tip-over on Monarch Pass. Swede's workshop had all the tools I needed.

The bike was ready when my sister Jane emailed that Mom was doing poorly back in Maine. She'd taken a tumble on Mother's Day that put her in the emergency room and then into rehab. It looked like Mom would have to move into assisted living and Jane needed help getting her resettled.

It's about 2,500 miles from Bertrand, Neb. to Bangor, Me. Mary agreed I should go, but not on the bike. I figured I might be in Maine for weeks, however, and having the KLR for transportation would be a plus. What's more, I somehow wasn't ready to end the ride.

We both headed for Omaha -- I on the KLR and Mary in a rental car. She would go to the airport to return to Hawaii, while I was bound for Maine. Between Lincoln and Omaha the sky opened and dropped five inches of solid water on the prairie. I pulled off at a rest stop and spent an hour with two other soggy motorcyclists waiting for the storm to blow over. The visibility was so bad that Mary, about 25 miles behind me, had to pull over and wait it out, too.

My trip east began in Bertrand, Ne. (A), with a stop in Omaha (B), a detour through Kansas, and overnights in Columbia, Mo. (C), Richmond, Ind. (D), Bath, N.Y. (E) and Portsmouth, N.H. (F).

We spent the night in a brand-name hotel and next morning, I departed for Maine via Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the Mass Pike, while Mary flew home. The ride took an uneventful five days on "The Slab." The seat pad I picked up in Utah really did the job and on several days the KLR exceeded 500 miles.

My detour through Kansas included a stop for lunch at Leavenworth, where the imposing federal pen humorlessly dominates the landscape.

At the University of Missouri in Columbia, my alma mater, I snapped a shot of the old columns on Mizzou's main quad before crashing at a motel on Business Loop 70.

The highlight was the last dash from my sister Betsy's in Portsmouth, N.H. to Ellsworth, Me. in a cold downpour. I figured my weather-proof suit could handle the rain, but my gloves wouldn't. My brother-in-law Ed suggested I stop at a fishing supply store in Kittery, where I bought a pair of orange vinyl lobsterman's gloves lined with fuzzy yellow stuff. They were perfect.

Six weeks later, I was back in Honolulu, Mom was in assisted living and the KLR was tucked away in Jane's tool shed.

It was time to start planning a 2011 adventure.

I was back at Branch Lake in Maine, where my journey began two months before.

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