Sunday, December 25, 2011

Some Gifts Can't Be Wrapped

Mary and Figaro
Well, its Christmas Day.  Late evening has fallen and temperatures are still fairly warm for this time of year.  Believe it or not, I'm actually thankful today is over.  Too much tension, stress, and add in a hint of dogged tiredness.  Its been a dreadfully long month, maybe too long.  Haven't slept well lately,  and work is picking up.  Ordinarily that's a good thing, but lately its becoming harder to put in those 60 hour weeks.  Some days I can go at it fine, with all the enthusiasm that is needed, but there are days when I wonder if its worth all the headaches, the stress, the sacrifices my family and I make.  Does the net benefit outweigh the cost?  It certainly used to.  In those days maybe 15 years ago, I was grasping for any way to get that invaluable experience, to show those people that I COULD do that job, that I did understand the basic engineering and surveying principles.  That I WAS willing to make those sacrifices, to go that extra mile.  Now I am beginning to question those values, maybe for family reasons, maybe for personal reasons, maybe I need more time away from work, but, then I wake up, snap out of my numbing fog, and rise to my knees to take on more challenges.

Cheyenne smiling deviously!
It was relatively quiet today.  Mary and I woke up a little late.  With all the sleep problems I have had, and her pain level from her knee rising, we slept a little more than late, but after all, it was Christmas day.  Presents were opened, slowly and methodically.  Coffee almost poured into our minds, easing our sleepy minds from the dream world.  I gave my usual "what does Christmas REALLY mean" speech a few days ago, so there was no need to relive that lecture.  We relaxed for a bit, and then I realized two things.  It was after 1 PM by then, and the temperatures outside were well into the 40 plus range.  Plenty warm for.....A ride on my Harley, right?  A quick shower, some clean clothes, and after prodding Jesse to grab a few pics of me in my full Harley garb, I was off to spend some much needed time riding and reflecting.  This month has been fairly warm enough that I can escape for an hour or so on my bike.  2 weeks ago, it was 50 degrees, and I decided to spend 5 hours out on the bike.  That day I was again treated to an up close and personal experience with a bald eagle.  That little guy was close enough to actually look into my eyes.  How cool is that!?

My first Christmas Day Ride!
Riding is a deeply personal and almost religious experience for me.  I've said it many times, that once I get on the scoot, I can release all those stresses, the worries, and the only thing that's left is me.  I can become one with the machine, allow the machine to push all those worldly aches and pains off of me so that I can focus totally on controlling the machine.  This day would be no different, with the exception being that this was Christmas Day.  Pretty cool!  I took a few minutes to visit a new friend before I made my way southward.  Riding can also be a great time to pray, to meditate, as it was today.  Praying for Mary, whose knee surgery should relieve the incredulous pain she is suffering through.  A friend whose health problems have been a source for concern and worry.  Prostate trouble can be devastating to a lot of folks, so I hope that his treatments will cure his ailment.  Another friend who is suffering through some personal issues.  We have leaned on each other a lot this year, and I pray constantly that those problems can somehow find a solution.  Time will tell, but just having such a friend has been a true blessing that cannot be put into words.  I feel truly blessed to have friends, family, health, gainful employment, and the ability to be up and about.  As I rode today, my problems seemed to dissolve into the cool winter air, and  although my legs and body ached a bit from the colder riding, I felt revitalized and refocused, and somehow a bit more relaxed as well,as if my problems had taken a back seat to being at home as a father and husband again.

Jesse pleased about
By the time I had gotten back home, Mary's dinner preparations were almost complete.  A simple smoked ham, with scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole.  A hearty meal to be sure, after cold weather riding.  We gave thanks for our meal, and a simple meal became a blessing as we realized what has been a long and rather difficult year had become a day of thanks and relief.  We counted our blessings and maybe realized we have a lot more to be thankful for than a lot of people in this small world.   We had received many physical gifts this year, but the ones that counted were those you just can't put a price tag on or wrap up.  Mary is slowly regaining some strength, and her back is now pain free.  I have had the ability to spend time actually RIDING my Harley, and not just staring at it in my garage, and just being able to get on a motorcycle is a blessing.  I have more friends this year than most people have gained in a life time.  We have a sense of family, purpose, life, and love in my house, which we have struggled with from time to time.  Indeed - the best presents do not need wrapping, do not need ribbon, or a box.  The best presents are those we have within ourselves that we bless our family and friends with.  The best presents are those you cannot hold, or touch, but you feel them.  The love of your family, the sense of pride at a job well done, sharing some time with a friend or a loved one, even just some encouragement to those that may be struggling with their own problems or shortfalls.

A new friend and fellow Rush fan
As for what's next, I cannot say.  Mary has been scheduled for total knee replacement January 25th.  I can only hope and pray this will move her closer to good health.  We have some time off planned.  A trip tor two on my bike is planned.  Some vacation time in Michigan perhaps.  Who knows, a friend could come calling, or even meet up somewhere.  We have lots of hopes.  Work to be done around the house is always a challenge.  New kitchen cabinets, new shower in the bathroom, challenges that await are always just around the corner, you only need to look.  Not sure how those things will happen, but they give us goals to search out, reach for, and hope for.  This has been a year of struggle, of difficulty, and maybe of searching for those things that seem to be just beyond our reach.  For all the toiling and the worry, however, we came to the realization that we do feel blessed this year, to hold those blessings close, and to try to be just a little more upbeat when the going DOES get tough. 

Figaro guarding the
living room
We hope everyone had a wonderful and Merry Christmas!

Peace and Love Everybody! Lets RIDE!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Penny for My Thoughts

Molly looking for love or a
hiding place!
We have returned!  Thanksgiving is OVER!  I am stuffed with food, wine, good times, good memories, the occasional cross-eyed look or the "yes dear" at dad.  I am almost positive he has thoughts that his eldest son is a few more degrees off plumb this year.  The constant ma-n-pa verbal jabs at each other, which makes me often wonder how poor Molly, their dog, manages to stay cool, calm, and collected under fire.  The insistence of a few family that my Harley would look MUCH better rolling down some Michigan country road.  Well, the views are probably a bit better anyways.  We have much to be thankful for this year, much to celebrate.  Unfortunately, we were missing one, but all in all we had a good time, good food, and a little prodding never hurt!  Even if dad's bald spot is getting bigger amidst all that grey hair - we still love him.

Mary and I. 
Our November started a bit earlier with Mary's successful surgical implant of a neurostimulator device designed to curb pain impulses from her lower back to the brain.  The surgery went very well, and the stimulator is doing its job.  Her pain has been reduced to a fraction of what it was, but she will still be on some pain controlling meds for a bit longer.  Surgery is always hard to recover from, but this has been probably harder than we anticipated.  Next up for her is knee replacement on her left knee.  We also celebrated a birthday, as our oldest daughter Jess celebrated 24 years. We decided to take her out for dinner that night, and I discovered why I do not drink much.  She ordered a rose margarita which was deliriously sour and sweet at the same time.  Made my face nearly implode! Cheyenne our youngest is working on scholarship opportunities for college.  She is working well, and I believe she will be very driven, although she does have the occasional slip.  We all have them, but I do believe I had way more than my fair share.  Just ask my my parents!

Tara, left, and Rhonda, right. 
The "rough draft" in the middle.
Our trip over went well, although I was a bit disappointed that I couldn't take my Harley over the river and thru the woods this time around.  We awoke to rain from Des Moines to Detroit, and knowing I really didn't have the proper gear to make such a trip, and that riding thru Chicago would be more dangerous in the driving rain, I decided against taking the bike.  I spent the day before Thanksgiving helping dad, and relaxing.  I have worked almost 7 days a week non stop for so long, any break is welcome, but being at my parents house, you just never know what will happen.  I took particular note of a picture in dad's office of him and his brothers and sisters.  Its been a long time since I have seen them, and most have changed so much I hardly recognized many of them.  Perhaps next year I can visit them and the rest of my family more often!

Thanksgiving Day is always a bustle of activity.  A morning breakfast turned out very welcome and delish.  Something simple but enough to to satisfy.  Home made jams always hit a high note, and mom's fridge was not devoid of such delicacies.  Then there is the table.  You know the one.  Its only needed during a high feast such as this, but its always in the basement or garage disassembled.  Still need a union break for set up! Then there is the 30 minute regale of which way the table should sit, why it needs pushed away, or forward, or how much the table cloth covers it.  Then family begins to arrive, and its obvious you haven't seen some in awhile.  I still maintain that I am just a "rough draft" so to speak, and my sisters are the ones who got the looks and the brains.  And then there is the pies.  Pies.  Pies are God's way of showing just how much he loves you.  Yea, even something we all do for those we love.  This day was certainly no different, although I am quite sure my younger sister is still wondering exactly where we did get the main course. 

Mom and Pop
Still in love after ??
One of our most recent traditions is the placing of a penny at each plate, and each making some small statement of what we are thankful for during the past year.  There are variations to this custom, but its origin appears to be traced to an English custom of Oblations, or an offering, dating back before the year 1212 where a pence, or penny is offered at a burial, for marriage, for "churching" a woman, thence two pence at Easter, threepence at Christmas, and two other feasts from parishioners to the parish priest as a way of offering thanks to the Church for some service or feast prepared by the Church.  Our adaptation takes a unique twist in that the penny is picked up thanks given, and each penny added to the collection.  However it may be, each of us gave thanks in our own way, and then began the feasting.  And feast we did.  And laugh, sometimes cry, and even hold each other.  It felt good to sit down and feel loved and welcomed to the table, to dine, and to share in the love represented by our presence there.  After dinner we slowly made our way to the back porch, some for picture taking, some for AIR, and some just for the conversation and the view.  As each made their way to their car and home, I felt a thankful twinge as I realized for those that were there, I was also reminded of those not at their tables or their families, of those who stand watch, and secure those freedoms we hold so precious.  There's also family who could not be there.  My grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, some who have passed on from this world, others who celebrate in their own way.  I give thanks for each of them, for the lessons they have given me in my life and for their love that I feel from them every day.

Mom and Aunt Barb
Curious color!!
Uncle Ron
In deep thought
The next day we left for home.  Our bellies still a bit full, our minds tired, but perhaps more mindful of those that had shared their love and fortunes.  We always stop at the South Bend Chocolatier Shop in South Haven for those special mochas that keep me stoked and caffeine medicated for our trip home.  Chicago was fairly devoid of traffic, although one knucklehead in a blue Corvette was in a big hurry to get around traffic.  Those 'Vette people - always hogging the road!  The rest of the trip fairly uneventful, I pulled into the driveway, unloaded the truck, and geared up for a quick ride on the bike for a couple of errands.  Unfortunately, my errand running became a bit of a nightmare as I tore a hole in the back seat of the Harley , a lace cleat ripping open a dime sized hole in the upholstered back pad.  Then finding my new cell phone had none of my contacts in it, which assuredly drove my eyes to cross.  Ahh then there was the trip to the grocery store, and by that time, my urge to use the bathroom was becoming more urgent, only to find the darn restroom closed!  After I arrived at home, settled in with a movie on the bed, only to drift in and out of sleep as my body slowed from the pace of the day. Eventually I succumbed to my need for sleep, drifting off to my thoughts of the week and memories made. 

Aunt Ty and Cheyenne
I was reminded recently of a unique custom by the Sioux Indian tribe, that says there is no word in their language for "Good-Bye".  As in their beliefs, it is said that such a word would break the circle of love and happiness, and therefore no word was ever developed.  Rather than good-bye, perhaps a simple "Look after yourself", or perhaps "See you again" might work. For whatever reason, and in the spirit of the season upon us, I simply ask each of you to take care of yourselves, your family, and Peace be with you all!

Peace & Love!

Steve striking a pose!

Thanksgiving Pictures

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Memories of Edinburgh

My ghoulish ride on Halloween
Its November 12th - the day after Veterans Day.  Quiet fills my house as Mary is off to a funeral for a friend.  The girls are doing, well, whatever it is girls do at 17 and 24.  Having the day off yesterday was a welcome respite from the dregs of the office.  Lately my motivation is, well, on other things.  Call it bad attitude, lack of drive, maybe just dog assed tired.  Between hospitals, daughters, the occasional tooth ache, work stress, and all the other nightmarish ghouls that invade my dreams, lately I just haven't been myself.  We all go through times like this.  Don't tell me we don't.  Even the most savvy of personalities has a down week or two, but eventually things turn up, and you pull out of the doldrums.  Maybe its the season, too, as colder weather is coming, and what a cranky S.O.B. I can be when I am not on the Harley motorbike!  Whatever it is, its nothing I can just take some happy pill for, and its sure nothing that a little wind in my hair won't cure, but those days are coming to a grinding halt.  Whatever it is, I just wish it would take a flying leap out of my life and hit the road.

Mary as we left Mercy Hospital
after her back surgery
Mary's surgery has done well.  Doctors implanted the nerve stimulator in her back last week, and it has done wonders for her pain.  Her back is more stiff from the surgery itself, but the central portion of the pain she had is almost gone, masked by a small device that is not much bigger than a flash drive.  She is still recovering, but has been able to get out of the house on her own a couple times for short trips.  It will take some time for her incisions to fully heal, but it sure is great to see her able to move around better and be in a little better frame of mind.  Next up will be the total knee replacement of her left knee.  That will most likely take place after the holidays.  Doctors expect her recovery from back surgery to take about 8 weeks, which puts knee replacement right around Christmas, so we'll wait on that till after the holidays to give her more time to recover fully.  In the mean time, we're all just thankful to see her moving around a bit better!

From Left: Jim Franklin, Walter Illes,
and John Maldonado of the QM
Division aboard the USS Sam Rayburn
Veterans Day is a day we all give thanks to the veterans of our nations military, and even the local law enforcement and firefighters are to be thanked for their service as well.  Since Mary was feeling a bit better I decided to take her to a local eatery that offered free lunch to any veteran who walked in.  As you can imagine, it was a little crowded.  I was struck by two things, however, that seemed to stick with me.  The first was a class of elementary students who offered a little handwritten card to each vet as he walked in.  The second, more importantly, was that most of the people in this place were not my age, but mostly Vietnam vets.  You can tell a lot of them any more, the long hair, the handlebar mustaches, the look in their eyes when handed a Thank You card.  I make no boasts about my naval "career" as it were.  I served in peacetime.  I served when the USSR was our enemy. I never saw what most could construe as real combat, although the things I did do are still highly classified to this day. After all, it was submarine duty.  Nobody is supposed to know.  No one died on my watch.  No one was blown to pieces by a mortar round, and no one was executed.  I never saw a soldier lose an arm, a leg, or have the back of his head taken off by a grenade.  Those who have deserve my gratitude, my respect, and should always be held in high esteem by our fellow countrymen.  It shames me to no end, however, when people in my community still flip their noses at veterans such as these men.  If you see a veteran, ANY veteran, just say "Thank you!".  Thank you for your service, thank you for your devotion to country, thank you for your dedication, and thank you for my freedoms.  Many of these men were never thanked. Many never were even greeted warmly when they came home.  Some were protested, belittled, embarrassed, humiliated for doing their jobs. The next time you see a veteran, just say "Thank You" and it will make a huge difference in their lives.

From Right: LCDR Wayne Gambin,
Chief Dave Harper, and me in the
foreground on the USS Sam Rayburn
The holidays are fast approaching.  The pagan winter festivals, as some refer to them, are always painful at times.  The traffic, the hoarding masses, the endless lines, the constant chiming of cash registers, all the noise noise noise! I, for one, have chosen to hide in my house and not come out until January 10th! Yes I know - I sound like an old Scrooge, but I give my thanks to my friends and family each day.  I also give thanks for the doctors who are working to give Mary a new lease on life.  The New Year will bring hope and promise, but to be sure, its to those I love most that have brought some measure of understanding.  It has been a difficult year in my house, but thank you to each of my friends and family for sticking with me and having some understanding!  Patience is being rewarded, although at this point I am not sure if its patience or just dogged determination but we have high hopes for the coming year.  I want to wish each of you a great Thanksgiving Holiday!  Make sure you give thanks to each other, and let us all pray for peace and prosperity!

Peace & Love!

A nice little fire to warm the coggles and toes!

Edinburgh Castle

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

741 Steps

I turn my back to the wind
To catch my breath,
Before I start off again.
Driven on without a moment to spend
To pass an evening with a drink and a friend

                                                            (Neil Peart – “Time Stand Still”)

Preparing for Departure
It isn’t very often Mary or I go out for an evening, let alone a day.  Sometimes we get so consumed by life’s everyday challenges we forget to take pause, to stop and share in the love we have for each other.  Life has been passing us by a lot lately, with Mary’s health having issues, I working two jobs, trying to maintain some semblance of sanity in an otherwise insane world. So it was with the first weekend of October.  We had been so busy and so stressed with life that we had become oblivious to our need to get out, to enjoy each other.  Fortunately, a friend stepped in and provided us with a weekend escape, a chance to enjoy the company of friends, to share a fine meal, to “pass the evening with a drink and a friend” as it were.

Mary at the USS South Dakota
That first weekend of October we met up with some friends in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This trip would give us a chance to get away, and it would provide a springboard for which I could realize my dream of riding through the Black Hills of South Dakota on my Harley.  No rallies, just me on my bike.  We anxiously hit the road, and made the trip to Sioux Falls, stopping only for gas.  As tired as we were that first night, we  savored every moment together, relaxed by a fire, struck up conversation with others who passed by.  Our friends having not yet arrived, we took some time that Saturday to enjoy a quiet breakfast and find a few sights to take in, but soon we returned to our hotel, and waited for our friends to arrive.  The first couple arrived by midafternoon, and the other friends would arrive soon after.  We lost ourselves in conversation, hugs, the sharing of gifts.  Although tired, our friends were ready for the evening.

Mary with Exeter,
The Travelling Bear
We took a limousine to a Brazilian restaurant.  This was a festive place, loading up on South American style cuisine, and loading your plate with meats and veggies at every turn.  The manager was even taken by our playful spirit, going so far as to serve us himself, bringing a delightful drink for each of us to share in the evening. Toasting the evening made us all realize how fortunate we were to share in the evening.  We returned to our hotel full, but anxious to continue our evening by the fire pit Mary and I had enjoyed the previous evening.  As we sat at the fire, a young girl and her parents were making smores, and shared some with each of us.  We talked for hours not even caring about the time, but eventually the evening ended, and as we hugged we gave thanks to each other for a spectacular night. 

From left:  Barry, Cassie, Michelle, me, and Janna

“You live more in five minutes on a bike like this going flat out than some people live in a lifetime.”

                                                            (Burt Munro – “The World’s Fastest Indian”)

My brand new 2011 Ultra Classic
ElectraGlide Harley Davidson
aka Marilyn, posing in Spearfish Canyon
For many years I had wanted my own Harley motorcycle.  I remember as a teenager asking my mom and dad to buy one, and the reaction I got from the mere thought of me on a bike.  I remember our neighbor had a motorcycle when I was 9, and I never stopped asking him for a ride.  As I set out that Sunday after warmly embracing my wife, setting off on a four day journey through the Black Hills, I remembered the long road I had taken to make this trip a reality.  Guiding my bike onto the freeway I could feel myself shaking, almost shedding a tear for the realization of a dream.  My trip would take me to Rapid City, staying with a friend’s son who was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base.  Then four rides from Rapid City – Devils Tower, Wyoming, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, and Spearfish Canyon all in the Black Hills, and finally The Badlands National Park. My schedule was tight, but I had planned this trip to maximize my riding and my stops.  The hardest part would be crossing the 400 miles of prairie between Sioux Falls and Rapid City.  As I arrived in Rapid City, I sensed my trip with a deeper appreciation that my goal was coming true.

Me at Devils Tower
I headed out Monday with my first goal of Devils Tower.  An enormous natural statue of rock, this monument has been the stuff of legends.  I recognized it as a symbol of what my ride would become.  It was clear and sunny, and I was ready more than I could have every hoped.  I stopped briefly in Sturgis, South Dakota, which has become a mecca for just about anyone with a motorcycle these days.  Noting the endless stream of bars, eateries, and tourist traps, I quickly marked this destination off the list.  The rally that is held every year here brings hundreds of thousands of bikers from around the globe, but today, I was the only bike in town really.  After I “toured” that tiny town, I continued west to Sundance, Wyoming, and then pulling northward to Devils Tower.  The views of the tower were impeccably breathtaking.  At first it hung low, but as I rode closer, the horizon became filled with its beauty.  I entered the park at the base of the tower, and rode to the visitor’s station, where I picked up my very first passport stamp, a small but precious prize serving as a reminder of my trip.  I spent two hours taking in the view, getting those much needed pictures, and speaking with other visitors who were there.  I noted that as I arrived, I was trembling with excitement, a sure sign that this trip would be well worth the wait.  Soon, though, I was forced to pack my camera up, and head back to Rapid City.  I barely remember my ride back, as my memories swelled from my visit, but I also knew the nest day would be even better.

Mount Rushmore
My next day had two stops planned.  The first would be Mount Rushmore, a remarkable statue carved into the stone mountain face of four presidents.  This was an obvious choice for anyone visiting the Black Hills.  My trip would only take about 40 minutes, but on this day I would stay in the park for four hours.  Again, as I retrieved my cameras, my hands were shaking again from the sheer excitement and thrill that my third goal had been met, and I had arrived safely.  After retrieving my second passport stamp from the Park Office, I walked into the viewing area, where I got a clear and unobstructed view of the statue.  It was a week day so the park was not full, but this day was a clear warm day, and the view was perfect.  I absorbed every detail, relished every picture, even spoke with those mingling in the amphitheater.  As it turned out, an older retired couple with their friends from, of all places, Dubuque, Iowa were there as well, and we spoke for several minutes about the trip, the park, and the experiences of getting there.  I almost wanted to stay longer, but quickly realized that I had one more stop planned.  Walking back to my bike, I looked out beyond the parking lot, and the view was so clear you could actually see The Badlands.  After packing up, I made my way out, made one more stop for pictures, and rode on to my next visit.
Crazy Horse Memorial
About 14 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore is a new memorial being carved in another mountain called Crazy Horse Memorial. This is the realization of a dream of Chief Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux chief who presented the idea to a Polish descended American named Korczak Ziółkowski. At first the idea seemed implausible, but eventually, Ziółkowski began work on the project in 1948. Working alone, he gathered the tools and the supplies he would need to start. An old air compressor, a generator, jack hammers, dynamite, all paid for with his own money. His effort started by building a ladder of 741 steps, and each day he would start with climbing those steps, going down to restart the compressor, then back up, sometimes 9 or 10 times a day. Ziółkowski passed away in 1982, but work on the statue continues today, The memorial, however, is not a national park. It receives no government assistance, no monies, or grants from any government agency. Instead the work is all privately funded, and continues today in the hopes that the dream of Chief Standing Bull thru the efforts of the entire Ziółkowski family will be realized. While I didn’t stay as long, I was deeply moved by the effort of that one man in Korczak Ziółkowski, and what the early days of his work were like climbing each of those 741 steps every day. As I packed and rode off, my only thought was what this world would be like if more of us could make that kind of effort.

Spearfish Canyon Scenic View
My last day in the Black Hills was on a ride through Spearfish Canyon.  This is a scenic ride through some of the beauty that lays in the Black Hills.  I was in no particular hurry this day, and made many stops and spent a lot of time just taking it all in.  I could almost feel a supernatural presence guiding me through each curve, and could almost hear native chanting in the cliffs above.  I felt as if I was being watched by the masses of native Americans who hold this place in such high regard.  It was a truly surreal experience, and after I stopped at the south end of the canyon, I struck up a conversation with other Harley riders who said the same thing.  There is a spirit about that place, and I could feel that spirit around every turn.  One rider suggested another route for the path leading to Rapid City.  Nemo Road takes you into the eastern side of the Black Hills, and many of the valleys are used today for cattle grazing and horses.  This road would test my skills as a motorcyclist, so I took it slow at first, then gaining confidence in my skills and the machine I pushed a bit harder, taking curve after curve a little better and more skillfully.  As I coasted down the last stretch into Rapid City, I was covered with sweat, but smiled as I realized that my goal had come true.

Devils Tower Landscape

One-Zero Zero One-Zero Zero-One
One-Zero Zero One-Zero Zero-One
In distress

Marilyn at Devils Tower
As with all things, I realized my trip was almost at an end.  Because the weather had been so good, I didn’t look at the forecast much until after I returned from Spearfish Canyon.  Rain, wind, and severe storms were forecast for western South Dakota.  That forced me to make two decisions. One I would be forced to skip my ride through the Badlands.  This was an important goal in my trip, but I also realized that being caught in a thunderstorm in that area could be dangerous.  There is simply nowhere for a motorcycle to hide in that kind of weather in that area.  My second decision was to try to make it back to Cedar Rapids in one day.  That meant riding 700 miles alone across three states.  Ordinarily that would not be a problem, but on the day I left Rapid City, that would become impossible.  I was not even 50 miles east of Rapid City and began running into heavy winds blowing from south to north across the highway.  Some winds gusting as high as 50 mph in places.  This wasn’t in the Rapid City forecast, but later checking saw that it was in the forecast for points east of there.  In my haste to get home ahead of the thunderstorms I failed to check the forecast where I was riding through, and was now caught on my bike in the middle of a windstorm that covered almost the entire area lying west of the Mississippi River.

Marilyn and I at
Profile Viewpoint,
Mt Rushmore
Riding in high wind can be a dangerous proposition.  I had just traded in my Heritage Softail for a much newer, and bigger, Ultra Classic Electraglide.  In high wind, the bike became a sail.  It took almost all my strength to keep the bike upright and straight.  In some places I literally locked my right arm out straight against the right side handlebar grip while holding the left grip in place and steering on the left side.  The wind was blowing the bike all over the road, and semi traffic made things even worse.  My body was literally being pummeled by the wind as if Rocky Balboa and Muhammed Ali were punching my body almost mercilessly.  My helmet kept rocking back and forth from the gusts, and at times it sounded like Neil Peart himself was using the top of my helmet for a drum set. I could go 140 miles on a tank, low mileage for my bike, but I found I needed the rest every two hours to keep up. I took some comfort in crossing the Missouri River, but by the time I reached Jackson, Minnesota, I had ridden thru rain, wind, dust storm, tumbleweed clouds, and flying cornstalks.  I was exhausted, I knew it, and I still had a bit over 200 miles to go.  Fortunately, a little wisdom, and coaxing on my cell call to home made me realize the old adage “discretion is the better part of valor”, and rather than continue riding towards home, I found a Super 8 hotel close by, got a room, and collapsed.  I nearly skipped dinner, but also knew I needed to recharge a bit.  A walleye dinner at the local diner, followed by a nice hot shower helped.  I knew, though, the next day would be the same.

Sunrise at Jackson, Minnesota
The next morning I set out towards home.  I had a decent breakfast of a bowl of cereal, a banana, and some orange juice.  Pulling the bike upright, I noted the sky was filled with a beautiful sunrise.  The wind, however, had only subsided a little, and I was back to wrestling with wind and machine.  The trip home seemed like days, but in reality only took a bit over four hours.  A quick stop for gas and a Gatorade in Mason City helped to recharge my energy, although a rather arrogant woman in a brand new Cadillac SUV reminded me that some people have no grasp of what they do.  Apparently she wanted my Harley out of her way, parking a scant six inches from my front tire in the line at the pump, and then gunning her engine and honking her horn until I got out of her way.  I guess some folks are just born that way.  Pulling back onto the highway, I was thankful I didn’t confront her, but a little upset she almost hit the bike.

Coming up to Mt Rushmore
Finally about noon time I made it to my exit for home.  I was worn out and dog tired.  I had accomplished so much on my trip, but the ride home took most of the fun out of it all.  As I pulled into the driveway at home, Mary and I met with a warm hug.  It had been a long trip, but also the realization that I had accomplished a goal.  I didn’t even unpack the bike, rather leaving it in the garage packed.  There is a thankfulness you feel after a long ride, and I remember telling my wife “Thank goodness I am alive”.  The winds I had ridden through were dangerous.  I could have been hurt, but I also knew that I had just proved to myself I could adapt and overcome those obstacles.  I had realized that no matter what challenges lie ahead, it’s how we meet those challenges that means the most.  It’s the journey, not the destination.  There will be more trips, more goals, more riding, indeed more tales on the trails.  I am lucky have such a family who understands those desires to travel, but even more important to support and help me achieve those goals.

We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we've established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.

                                    (Earl Nightingale)

Peace & Love Everybody!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What "9-11" Means to Me

United Flight 11 September 11, 2001
Photo from
Escorting the body of
PO1 Tumilson home.
The other day I was talking to someone I know well.  I don't wish to really embarrass this person, but they made a comment to me that just floored me.  Our conversation was on my efforts to support the mission of the Patriot Guard Riders.  Eventually we discussed the upcoming 9-11 Remembrance ceremonies scheduled, and he remarked that he was "..quite tired of all that fuss over a couple of buildings".  I felt like someone had just punched my gut.  I walked away from him, and we haven't discussed much since.  I simply could not believe how utterly arrogant his comment was.  It flew in the face of all those people who died not only in the Twin Towers, but those aircraft, and even the over 6000 military lives lost pursuing justice since that day.   To that end, instead of focusing on me, my life, my family, my Harley (more on that later!), and my sometimes rather nonsensical gibberish on life here in Iowa, I decided I would write about what 9-11 means to me.

Funeral for PO1 Tumilson

That day plays in my mind like a movie.  I had just gotten my job with the D.O.T. not maybe 8 months earlier.  I had started my day like any other, brought my cup of coffee - only one - in to work along with some project files for my consulting work.  There wasn't anyone in my particular office area, although I could hear some mumbling out in the hallway about a plane.  At the time I had thought a Cessna aircraft had gotten lost in the fog and clipped the towers.  At about 7:42 AM, I remember because I looked at the clock on my computer, Mary called to tell me a larger commercial airliner had hit the Twin Towers.  The thoughts in my head were all over the place.  Maybe the pilot had a heart attack, perhaps the plane had suffered a mechanical malfunction.  Mary told me she loved me, but I could tell she was a bit upset, so as I hung up, I tried to look up something on the CNN website.  It was not responding.  Lets try ABC, NBC, CBS.  All were so overloaded they were simply unable to load anything.  Finally a coworker came in and told me a plane had hit the Towers.  As we walked to the break room, where other coworkers were watching on our tv, I just was not mentally prepared for what I would see in the next hour.

Flag line for PO1 Tumilson

To say I was shocked might be understating the obvious.  The weather was clear over New York.  Clearer than usual I thought.  Then the images started coming in of the tower, and the impact scene on the Tower.  I had taken some time while I served in the navy to visit New York a number of times.  I never got tired of that city.  I have been to the Towers, the Empire State Building, Macys, you name it.  One particular time I had gotten a little lost in Manhattan, and two police officers guided me back to Penn Station, where I eventually found my way back to Queens where I was staying with friends.  As I watched those scenes coming in, I recalled my old friends, and hoped that none of THEM were in those towers.  We continued to watch replays over and over of that first tower, until suddenly Katie Couric ( we all know her!) suddenly said "Oh My God - there is another plane!" and not two seconds later the second impact on the second tower exploded in a ball of flame, and for what seemed like hours no one on tv, in the break room, not even on the street, could so much as utter anything at all.

The Pentagon Sept. 11. Photo by

The next hours included watching the towers fall, the reports of the attack on the Pentagon, and the demise of Flight 93.  I remember thinking about the many thousands of people who worked in those towers.  I remember the sickening images of people plunging to their death from the top of the towers.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  That night too, I was almost sickened by the images and videos that continued to play on the tv, all over the news, even between friends.  That evening I was asked by my business associate to measure pavement quantities in a newer subdivision we had been working on.  I remember making those measurements at dusk, and looking up to see nothing but empty sky.  Not one aircraft was flying that night.  I remember taking pavement measurements in the view of the headlights of my truck, and just in disbelief than any human being would be capable of such utter atrociousness as to drive a plane purposely into a building.  ANY building.  I am not normally a vengeful man.  I may have problems with my temper on occasion, but that day for the first time I wanted to take the life of another person. 

In the days, weeks, months, and years since, our country has brought those responsible to justice.  The price for that has been not only the 2973 lives lost that day, but the over 6000 military lives lost since.   To me, however, the toll that not only our country but our allies have paid has been most steep.  It is not only to them I speak but the families of each one who has given the sacrifice of their life in the defense of every liberty we as common American citizens partake of each day.  It is the Canadian people, the British, even the Australians who have stood with us, and defended our freedoms and theirs.  It is to each of them I say "Thank You" for your service to your country and mine, for defending freedom, and for standing in harm's way on your watch as in the same manner that members of my family and I stood our watches.  It is those reasons that I give thanks every day, and in the hope that we never face the threat of terror or oppression again.

Peace and Love everybody!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jokes and Spokes

Cheyenne on her 17th Birthday with Jesse
Thank goodness - at least in my neck of the woods, that heat is gone.  Replaced by sunny, but kinder and gentler temps.  At 85 degrees, I begin to melt, but at 95 degrees, brain cells are frying, blood pressure is boiling, and its just no fun.  In fact, in my house - it is the most JOYOUS time of year.  School!  Cheyenne - the youngest - will be a senior, and she just turned 17 August 3rd.  So hard to believe my baby is in her last year of high school.  Seems like just yesterday she was pooping all over my brand new tennis shoes as I tried, unsuccessfully, to change her diapers.  My parents celebrated 44 years of "wedded bliss"?  Ok - we'll call it marital togetherness.  Never really understood the word bliss when it involves marriage.  And finally - football!  My favorite time of year!

Clowning around in the Emergency
Room after I got a little hot last month
Now - I know some of you are looking at the title of this segment, probably thinking "Here he goes - flyiin' off his rocker again!", but sometimes circumstances being what they are, you have to find humor in your life when things aren't going so well.  This month, for whatever reason, it has been a couple weeks filled with challenges.  It isn't anything we cannot overcome, mind you, but at some point the challenges get to be a bit of a strain.  My business associate says when life gets you down, find something to laugh about.  This month, with all the challenges we have had, it seems like all you CAN do is laugh, because if you start thinking about it all, well, break out the hankies.  Challenges tend to be a way to make life interesting.  If we didn't have a challenge tossed at us from time to time what would life be? 

Mowing the yard at my office. Hey - at
least it gets me OUT for a few hours.
I'll start with jokes.  Last week we received a certified letter from the most ghoulish of places - the Internal Revenue Service!  Very interesting letter.  Made up some claim that a credit we claimed back in 2008 would not be granted.  It involved the purchase of our home, and the First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit.  After rifling through all of the needed forms, documents, letters, bank statements, Letters to Santa, that missing IOU for a bottle of scotch, I found the document, proving my taxes were filed correctly.  Today, however, we got a second letter, to the tune of over $9,000.  Cue the clowns!  So we called those "wonderful" folks at the IRS.  Stayed on hold over 40 minutes waiting to speak with someone.  Finally our patience paid off.  We verified some personal info, explained our issue, and was put on hold.  After what seemed like an eternity, the rep came back on and told us to disregard the letters due to an IRS "glitch"?!  We would be receiving a letter shortly that would absolve us of any wrongdoing.  Now - here is the FUNNY part.  All the while we were on hold, their on air background music was playing, of all things, "The Nutcracker Suite".  Whoever picks their music selections needs a good swift kick in the heehaws!

A 2012 Road King, in Big Blue Pearl,
during a recent test ride. Love the color.
Spokes!  Melissa, my beloved Harley, is not doing well.  The tapping noise from the engine has returned.  It isn't a catastrophic thing yet, after all, she starts she runs, but at some point I will have to come to a decision.  Complete engine overhauls are spendy.  Trading in for a newer bike may be my only option in part because it would probably be quite a bit less expensive than a new or remanufactured engine.  The advantages of a new bike are pretty obvious, but couple those with a 2 year warranty, and all that nickel and dimeing pretty much goes away along with the headaches and the cramping and the nausea.  The 2012 models just came out, too, and all the new Harleys with saddlebags are coming with the 103 cubic inch engine - something that I would love to have under me.  Not only are these loaded with pulling power, but they are including a new internal oil cooler, which can save a lot of wear and tear on that engine as well.  I have spied a couple of the new models out, and the new color schemes and the larger engine are attractive.  I had hoped to wait at least another year, but I also have plans to tour around South Dakota (not during Bike Week - are you nuts!), would like to take a trip to the Mackinac Bridge, perhaps even a trip to Colorado and Utah! Places like the Grand Canyon, The Arches National Park, even Yellowstone are all on the bucket list.

PO1 Jon Tumilson from
Rockford, Iowa
I want to mention in parting our recent loss of 30 Navy Seal team members in Afghanistan.  I cannot recall such a loss of life that would ripple throughout the military community.  The effects are felt everywhere, even the National Guardsmen mention it will be tough to replace such uniquely skilled men.  One such sailor is Petty Officer First Class Jon Tumilson, from a little town called Rockford, Iowa.  Funerals for these men will begin this week, and I would hope that we all can reflect upon the freedoms that are defended by men such as these.  As a former sailor myself, it is especially hard to accept that men such as these were lost in such great numbers, literally defenseless against a single rocket attack.  I mourn their passing, and I will look to attend Petty Officer Tumilson's funeral this week.

Peace and Love Everybody!