Day 4, Leg 4, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

March 31, 2013 – It’s a beautiful day in St. Louis! Clouds have given way to sun and it climbs to about 65 degrees today! We have a little time to explore before putting the bikes away for another month and returning home to Minneapolis. We sleep in until about 7:30 a.m., eat a light breakfast from the hotel’s complimentary offerings, and then hop on the bikes to go downtown. Our destination is the St. Louis Gateway Arch on the Mississippi Riverfront. I’ve seen the arch from a distance, the two times I’ve been to / through St. Louis, but I never knew that there is a tram system that take visitors up through the arch! In fact, I never knew that the arch was big enough to house a tram system inside! It was a fascinating experience. I also enjoyed the museum inside the visitor center while waiting for our turn in the tram.

We left downtown St. Louis about 1:00 p.m., riding the bikes in brilliant sunshine and basking in the temps we wish we could have enjoyed yesterday. But today we rode to Public Storage to put them away for another month. We walked about 1/2 mile back to the Comfort Inn where we caught the hotel shuttle to the airport. Lunch at the airport, and a short and uneventful flight home ended this leg of the adventure.

This was probably my favorite leg, from a road and scenery perspective. It was a little surreal today, realizing that the grand adventure my sweetheart (SH) and I dreamed up together is almost over. Some people go their whole lives without doing anything this adventurous! And here we are, already looking forward to the summer adventures and dreaming about what to create for next winter. Although we are both in the middle of career opportunities and changes, we are committed to maintaining our time together exploring and adventuring as a high priority. And time with our families and friends is also a high priority. I think we can balance it all in a way that feels right and good. Or at least have a great time trying!

Hope you had a great Easter Sunday – as traditional or untraditional as felt right for you!

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 3, Leg 4, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

March 30, 2013 – Awake at 6:00 a.m., on our bikes by 7:22 p.m. in 54 degrees and cloudy weather. Failing again to find a mom and pop breakfast joint in Mountain Home (well actually, we found one but they were closed today, to prepare all the bakery orders for Easter), we stopped at McDonald’s for a latte and WiFi.

After traveling east on Hwy 62 a few miles, we stopped at Southfork Cafe in Salem AR, for the first real breakfast of the trip. I mean the kind where I can order the special of the day (2 eggs, country ham, hash browns and toast or biscuit for $6.95 (of course, I have to waive the bread for the meal to meet my gluten-free needs), and the server calls me darlin’ and you can almost hear the country song being written as she shares tidbits about her life. Such as “Between you and me, I went to culinary school and won the top prize in a baking competition at the school, and then I won fourth place in a state competition. . . My daughter asked me to bake a cake for a memorial service for a friend who was a trucker . . .” And now she appears to be the owner/operator of  a nice breakfast/lunch/dinner joint in Salem, Arkansas. I bought two framed pieces that are on display by local artists for a total of $30. That’s the kind of mom and pop places we love to find! This one was worth the lack of them the past two mornings!

Then on to Mammoth Springs, shortly after which we entered Missouri and near where we turned onto Hwy 9, then to MO state hwy 19 for much of the day — and take note bikers — it is a dream of a highway! Forest, lakes, mountains, curves, hills  —  miles and miles and more miles of ribbony two-lane highway along beautiful scenery. It’s even better than Scenic 7 yesterday! Towns along the way included Alton, Winona (gas), Eminence (home of Eminence Ozarker 4-H Club), Round Spring, and Salem, MO, where we stopped again at McD’s for another latte and WiFi break, but mostly to thaw out my numb finger. Renaud’s syndrome is a bummer when it comes to biking in chilly weather. And OK, I have officially been at McDonald’s more in the last 30 days than I have in the past 5 years!

We continued North on 19. It started raining lightly at Cherryville, and by Steelville the rain began in earnest, so we stopped to put on our rain suits. It’s consistently 50 degrees most of the day, so the extra layers feel good. It’s chilly and the wet pavement slows us down, but we can’t complain since we’ve dodged rain 98% of the time on our travels for nearly four years! We pass Cuba, then stop at Owensville about 2:00 for lunch and to warm up. Then on to Hwy 50 East for 30 miles, Gerald, Bueafort and Union. Gerald appeared to be a very cute little down with lots of fun businesses.

We travel interstate highways as little as possible on our travels, but there are times when it is unavoidable. Today was one of those days – for time, convenience and given the cold, wet conditions, we got on I-44 for 35 miles to I-270 to the West end of St Louis, North to I-70 East, past airport to Comfort Inn. Freeway driving terrified me when I first started riding. As my skills improved and my experience developed, I was no longer terrified of freeway driving (or I wouldn’t have been able to manage the L.A. or Dallas freeways!) but they are still not fun, and given the wet conditions, my muscles were tight by the time we pulled into the Comfort Inn. My sweetheart is often thoughtful of my advanced beginner status, and left me at the front door with the bags after I slid off my bike into a puddle of weariness, while he parked both bikes.

A hot shower, rest, glass of wine and nachos later, I’m feeling recovered, but still looking forward to a massage back at home next week! It was another incredible day, with a total of 302 miles – all of it beautiful, most of it fun, and the last of it, mentally and physically challenging. I’m always learning and growing, and these trips offer so much material for that growth. I learn geography, experience different ways of living, engage with and learn from people who live very different lives than mine. I learn the thrill of accomplishment and fun when I’m able to take curves comfortably without slowing way down, and I conquer fears of heights and freeways. I’ve learned how the sun, wind and freedom make creativity flow through my brain, when I though 18 years in Corporate America had rusted my creative circuitry. So, I’ll take a little rain and a few miles of freeway and be grateful for it!

Wishing you, me and our families and friends a blessed Easter, as we marvel at the mysteries and miracles of life and death.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 2, Leg 4, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

Good Friday, March 29 — we were on the road before 7:30 a.m., but by the time we gassed up, resorted to breakfast at McDonalds due to lack of finding local, non-chain restaurants in Broken Bow, it was about 9 a.m. before we headed east on Hwy 70 to Glenwood, Arkansas, North on 8, north on 27 to Russelville, north on Hwy 7 to Harrison, East on 62 to Mountain Home. Now the impressions and details.

The weather was overcast and at times foggy and misting, but the temps were mild – hovering upper 50s, until the sun broke through, mid-afternoon, resulting in upper 60s. The landscape is surprisingly beautiful. I’m not sure I ever thought about what Arkansas looked like. What we found was many rivers and creeks, farm and ranch land, lots of trees and logging, rolling hills and the beautiful Ozark National Forest. In all, I think today was one of my top 5 favorite motorcycle rides, and I’ve been on some beauties!

On the other end of the beauty spectrum, I saw lots of run down trailer homes, some with years of accumulated junk and rust in the yard, especially earlier in the day (west/southwest Arkansas).  The towns, counties scenic points and businesses had quaint and sometimes funny names – Dierks, Daisy, Kirby, “Y”, Caddo Gap, Mt. Ida, Booger Hollow, Ouachita, Washita, Story, Aly, Onyx, Rover, Danville, Ranger, Chickalah, Yell, Dog Patch, Dardanelle, Dover, Sand Gap, Jasper, Harrison, Bellefonte, Pyatt, Snow, Summit, Yellville, Flippin, Gassville and Mountain Home, where we will spend the night.

We had lunch outside Russellville at Colton’s Steak House, and just as we were preparing to leave, I got a phone call from a recruiter about a contract job at my former employer. It was an important call for a couple of reasons — it reminded me of all the SUPER people I had an opportunity to work on the most challenging project of my career the last few years I was there. It also reminded me how grateful I am that my position was eliminated there, following the successful completion of that challenging project, as it gave me the chance to explore and create completely new career and business possibilities that are challenging and exciting in completely different ways. I’ve always coached my team member to look for the opportunities that come out of change; and I’ve always truly believed and experienced that personally. My displacement was the biggest and most challenging career change, and I believe that change has – and will continue to – provide the greatest opportunities. Not that it has been easy to see that every moment or day, but looking back over the past year, and forward to the future, it is clearly a positive change.

One of those opportunities has been this Winter Adventure! Although today was a long one on the road – about 320 miles – the route was so beautiful, with such great biking roads, that it really didn’t feel very tiring. It was challenging for me, without being frightening, like some of the higher mountain highways we’ve traveled on past trips.  The elevation was probably about 2,000 ft at the highest point, but it seemed higher. Many great sweepers, some button hooks and many stretches didn’t have much traffic, so in other words – AWESOME riding! The stretches of pavement that were wet slowed me down quite a bit, but had to appreciate the upside that we never actually got rained on!

We checked in to the EconoLodge about 5:30 p.m. and after a short snooze and shower, we walked to the Mexican restaurant next door for a nice meal and great conversation. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to ensure that this is really my life. I’m so grateful for all the experiences, people and opportunities I am blessed with! Hope you are enjoying sharing them with me!

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 4, Leg 3, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Another beautiful, sunny, brisk Texas morning found us out for a walk in Tonja’s neighborhood before returning to a delicious breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal, brown rice farina, and yummy toppings, including blueberries and walnuts. After lingering over the kitchen island as long as we dared, we loaded up the bikes, said our good byes and headed south to Dallas to store our bikes until the next leg of our Winter Adventure.

The Super Shuttle that my trip-planner extraordinaire and sweetheart (SH) had arranged showed up on time at 11:15 a.m. to take us to DFW for our flights home. SH made his flight arrangements before I did, as I was waiting to see how I could arrange my travel around work commitments, so we ended up on different airlines. I kissed him adieu at his ticket counter, and then took the airport shuttle to Terminal A where I settlediPhoto Library in to wait for my American Airlines flight back to MSP.

This chapter of our adventure draws to a close with nearly 800 miles over three days of travels on our bikes. If I count the flight miles from Minneapolis to L.A. and then to El Paso, we experienced well over 2,500 miles on this trip. Chilly temps, warm sunshine, traveling through parts of this beautiful country I’ve never seen before. Conversations with fascinating people, a glimpse into lives that are so much alike, yet so different from mine. I am truly grateful for a travel companion who I can spend 24 hours with for 7 straight days and still appreciate each other. I am blessed to have these opportunities, and am proud that we have found ways to explore economically in a way that allows real engagement with real people, not just passing through observing. I feel like I experience life more intensely in a few days in our travels than I have in some entire years of my life.

How do you experience life with intensity? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences for doing so.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 3, Leg 3, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

Saturday, March 2, 2013

These upper 20-degree mornings aren’t conducive to early starts on the bike, but they are great for leisurely breakfasts and chats with the local folks. This morning was my favorite such breakfast at L&L Family Restaurant in Breckenridge, TX.

As I walked inside, several older people were leaving, and a cute little old lady said to me, “Are yeew rahdin’ on the back a that man’s bahk this cold morning’?”  I replied, “No ma’am, I’m riding my own bike!” That gave her just a moment of pause, and then she exclaimed, “ Well good for yeew!” I love these people!

Then we chatted with a retired gentleman at the table next to us throughout breakfast. He wanted to know all about us, and he shared a bit about Breckenridge (mostly oil and ranching for industry) and himself and his own travels. He mentioned that he once met a couple who was visiting the Breckenridge area from out East. They were taking a lot of pictures of a tree, and exclaiming over its beauty. He said, “It just looked like a skinny ol’ tree to me, but I guess we take things for granted when we see them every day.”

I often think about how blessed and grateful I am to have the opportunity to experience the people and places we come across during our travels. This man’s comments made me think about how our presence impacts those we interact with along the way, too.  And perhaps our appreciation of the grand – and sometimes homely – beauty of  people and environments help the local people see their surroundings and each other through the more appreciative eyes of passing strangers.

It’s a relatively short drive into Dallas today, where we found our storage unit, and checked in. Dallas / Ft. Worth is a maze of construction and spaghetti freeways. I do not like driving my bike on freeways, especially when they are under construction and hundreds of feet up in the air! Thanks to our AWESOME Sema headsets, and my MARVELOUS sweetheart who does all the navigational planning, we got through the city driving without mishap.

After a quick salad at McDonald’s (I don’t remember how many years it’s been since I’ve eaten at McDonalds!) and taking advantage of their Wifi, we headed North to Prosper, TX, to visit and spend the night with our friend Tonja and her family. We enjoyed a wonderful evening of cooking, eating, wine, meeting the kids and fellowship! And I thoroughly enjoyed working the stress kinks of freeway driving out of my back with a soak in Tonja’s tub and a solid night’s sleep.

After nearly a week of masterminding and biking, I’m ready for the flight home tomorrow!

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 5 and final of Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 21, 2013: Back to the real world today, where I work to live (not live to work), which makes fun and adventure possible.  It is also where I connect with my family and friends to share joy, sorrow, hopes and fears. And with whom I give and receive support through life’s challenges and accomplishments. Little did I know, as I was brushing my teeth this morning, that I would also be sharing sorrow and support with a complete stranger today.

We were chatting with the La Quinta shuttle driver on the way to the El Paso airport at 7 a.m. today, when she suddenly blurted that her nephew was in an accident on New Years Eve that resulted in his death. She went on to share a fair amount of detail about his accident, death and subsequent arrangements. As we pulled up to the airport, I offered her my condolences and quietly shared with her that my 17-year old nephew had also been killed in an accident on New Year’s Eve. I expressed our kindred pain.

As she helped me take my bag out of the back of the van, she hugged me and told me that she would be attending to cremation details later today, in support of her sister — as I was in North Dakota for a week prior to our motorcycle adventure, in support of my brother. She wished God’s blessing on me and my family, and I reciprocated.

What are the chances that in a La Quinta van in El Paso, TX, I would be confronted with sorrow that so closely mirrors that of my own family? I’ve been processing this encounter all day: Why I was connected in such an intimate way with a stranger this morning? What lesson was I supposed to learn from it? What did this experience mean for me?

I called my oldest daughter tonight to tell her I had returned home safely, and catch up with recent events in her life. I told her about the conversation with the shuttle driver, and my questions. With the wisdom that often startles a mother, when coming from her child (even a well-into-adulthood child), my daughter said, “Maybe the reason was because she needed you, not that you were meant to get something from her.” Wow. I am a humble learner on this journey.

So, my Sweetheart (SH) and I boarded American Airlines’ 9:00 a.m. flight from El Paso to Dallas. There, we connected with the 12:45 flight to Minneapolis to continue our reentry into the real world. Grateful for five wonderful days exploring geography, relationships, spiritual connectedness and the meaning of life — the Zen of Motorcycle Adventuring with SH.

Somehow the 15 degrees below zero wind chill in Minneapolis didn’t seem so bad, in light of the warmth of my youngest daughter’s greetings when she picked us up at the light rail station to save us from a five block walk home. Furthermore, loss, love and sunlight can bring a lot of perspective to a mere temperature reading.

Later this week, I’ll share the full (high-level) 2012-2013 Motorcycle Adventure itinerary AND some tips and gear feedback for those of you planning your own adventures.

Glad to be home.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 4, Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 20, 2013: Bonus day! My Sweetheart (SH), motorcycle adventure planner extraordinaire, built a day into the schedule for unexpected delays and to check in to the storage unit where our bikes will rest for 39 days until we begin the next leg of our adventure. The office of the storage place was only open from 11 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., so exploring the region on our bikes was not a good option for making the most of the day.  Our adventures are never thwarted by mere logistics, which we demonstrated by renting a car.

We had a great breakfast at Denny’s, next door to our La Quinta. Then we caught the motel shuttle to the El Paso airport to pick up a Ford Fusion from Thrifty at 8:00 a.m. under sunny skies and 46 degrees. I am grateful for the great suggestions for “must do” activities on our play day in the area from my brother and sister-in-law, who lived in El Paso 23 years ago.

From the airport we drove the Trans Mountain Road, which dissects the mountain that divides east and west El Paso. On our way to take a picture of the house my brother and his young family lived in “back in the day,” we stopped at The Bagel Shop on Resler Road for my beloved latte and some blogging time in this pleasant, inviting environment.  After snapping the photos and sending to my brother for nostalgia’s sake, we headed back to the motel to get our bikes tucked away into storage.

That task finished, we pointed the Ford in the direction – I thought – of White Sands, one of my brother’s recommendations. When I Googled White Sands, the first thing that came up was White Sands Missile Base, including directions and a little bit of background, so I thought we were headed for a history lesson. After reaching the gates, we found that we mere civilians were not welcome to go further. As a security measure, I’m sure, there is no bypass road to cut through to the highway that would take us to White Sands National Monument, which was the intended recommendation!

The “wrong” trip to White Sands Missile Base was actually pretty interesting. So we weren’t overly bummed about a long re-route, which took us through Los Cruces, NM, where we stopped at a gas station to grab coffee and a snack.

On Hwy 70 East, traffic was funneled through a customs / homeland security checkpoint through which we were filmed with multiple video cameras and ultimately had to stop for a brief encounter with an officer who glanced in the car and wished us a good day. I have to tell you, it was a little creepy — I wondered what is next in the evolution of government oversight of its own citizens. I know I’m flirting with a very complex topic with many passionate points of view. I only mention it to encourage myself and each of you to consider increasing our awareness of what is occurring in the name of security to make sure We the People, whom the government exists to serve, are informed as we make decisions about the individuals and institutions we hire for that service.

We were racing the sun at this point, but for some reason, it was really important to me that we see White Sands. After arriving there, I understood the reason. In the middle of nowhere, the White Sands emerge like a brilliant diamond from the surrounding mountains and relatively plain desert landscape, a mystical place full of ancient and contemporary spirits. The temperature dropped several degrees in the area. In the 4:30 p.m. twilight, the sun played with the pure white sand dunes and the mountain shadows to create a magical mood that moved me to tears. I was grateful to be sharing the experience with SH, yet there was something very personally powerful this place offered me. I’ll be processing this for some time.

I snapped pictures until I killed the battery of my little Nikon, wishing I had my Canon D50, but knowing that neither will capture the profundity of the experience. That will be for my heart to hold.

We chose to return to El Paso through Alamagordo, NM, an 88 mile route. The area is frying pan flat, surrounded by mountain ranges. The range to the west, which we completely circled in our travels today, looked like the backs of a line of slumbering dinosaurs, backlit by the fire of the setting sun. There was a lot of very poor housing in this stretch of highway, and actually is pretty consistent with the economic condition we observed in much of New Mexico. It appears to be a hard place to make a living.

On the outskirts of El Paso, we stopped for dinner at The Great American Land & Cattle Company. I had one of the best rib-eye steaks I’ve ever eaten, and SH was equally impressed with his burger. The “cowboy caviar” (baked beans) and coleslaw were also notably good. Great atmosphere and a manager who knew how to work the crowd – thank you Yelp! I’ll be adding my 5-star review there later.

After returning the Ford to Thrifty and catching the shuttle back to Room 148, we prepped for a 7 a.m. shuttle back to the airport to complete this leg of an awesome adventure.

Love, Tomboy Tam