Part I

2010_ft_plain_0703_1200_01_thumb6The natural waterways, long before the first canals or railroads, were of strategic importance to any European state trying to control North America. While the surrounding area was still wilderness, critical battles were fought as far inland as modern Pittsburgh and Detroit, as early as the mid-1700s. The Mohawk Valley was no exception, and many of the early forts and fortified homesteads remain as testament, either as restored landmarks or in the names of communities that sprang up around them.

As the newly formed nation, the United States, began to develop in the early 1800s, the settlements became small industrial centers. The Erie Canal followed the Mohawk River, and continued west, to open a route to Buffalo and across the Great Lakes to Chicago. The towns along the Canal grew, as trade and small manufacturing centers. The mid-1800s saw the numerous short line railroads gobbled up by the New York Central and Hudson River Railway, to form the Water Level route from New York to Chicago, eventually reducing a lengthy boat trip to a mere 18 hours travel time at its peak. This boosted local economies even more.

2010_ft_plain_0703_1205_thumb2In a somewhat ironic turn, the area is returning to its pioneer agrarian roots. The Erie Canal is now used mainly for pleasure boating, and the rail line, now owned by CSX, carries mostly high-speed container through-freight instead of locals. Amtrak uses the line, but with stops at the eastern and western ends of the valley, and one in the middle at Amsterdam. Amish families are moving into the area, buying up vacant “English” family farms, and prospering with their low-capital, large-family labor model. This has brought a slower pace of life. Horse drawn buggies, baked goods sales, family-run sawmills, women in simple dresses, and small, neighborhood schools are increasingly common. Public wi-fi hotspots are nearly impossible to find, as are modern chain stores and restaurants.

Mohawk Valley at CanajoharieThis is the area featured in classic novels, such as Drums Along the  Mohawk, Last of the Mohicans, and Rome Haul. The Mohawks drove the Algonquian Mohicans out of the Valley, pushing them east of Hudson before white settlers arrived.

The only avenues of travel in the wilderness of the New World were the lakes and rivers. Along these natural highways, the earliest inland settlements were established, as Europeans moved inland during the first hundred years after the establishment of port cities like Boston and New York (originally New Amsterdam). The communities of the Mohawk Valley are some of the oldest in upstate

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New York.

The British gained control of New York from the Dutch in 1664. The first major wave of permanent settlers were Palatine Germans, fleeing a century of religious wars and persecution that destroyed their Rhine Valley homeland. By 1723 the Palatines began to settle in the Mohawk Valley, opening the frontier for the British. There they found some peace, but also renewed warfare, first in the French and Indian War, and later in the American Revolution.

Part II


Posted: August 22, 2010 in I-90, rain
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Is it just me, or does the Weather Channel lie like a rug?

I rode to the Albany area for the 2010 CMA NY State Rally. The ride out was uneventful, except for the speed bumps on the NY Thruway. It cost me $6.20 in tolls to ride 150 miles—you’d think for that kind of vig they could at least get the road flat.

After dark I hit a bump so bad—one of those pull-your-tailbone-out-of-your-tonsils kind of bumps—I had both wheels off the ground.  Me and the bike together weigh 1000 pounds, so this was no little crack in the pavement. Scary in the dark, because I couldn’t see it coming. You’d think, in a modern, post-industrial, socialist fantasyland like New York, where one in every seven people is a state employee, they’d have enough manpower to build a decent road. The Thruway used to be in much better condition when the ratio of state to private sector workers was much lower.

The forecast for the ride home was 60% scattered T-storms at my end-point. I warned other folks from my chapter, who were also in Albany, planning to come home later in the day, about the worsening forecast for Sunday. I headed home in the morning.

I checked with the others, the following day, to see how their trip home went. Turns out, they drove through a light sprinkle most of the way, but the sun shone on them for the last 100 miles. I experienced sun too, for the last 50 miles of my trip. The section from Syracuse to Geneva was a series of monsoons, scattered in a direct, continuous line along the Thruway. I was so soaked that by the time I reached a place to stop, there was no point. A guy towing a boat passed me by, bringing Genesis 7 to mind.

Even the cars started to slow down, as visibility was poor. That is, some cars started to slow down. The majority, it seemed, figured that was their cue to bump draft.

A little west of Geneva, I came upon two cages accordioned into the guard rail. Emergency vehicles weren’t on the scene yet, so I stopped to see if I could help. It looked pretty obvious to my non-expert eye that one vehicle, following too close, slammed into the other. It says a lot for the safety built into cars these days that though both cars looked totaled, everyone was walking about. Maybe that’s what contributes to the reckless driving—on a motorcycle there is no such thing as a fender-bender.

As strange as it may sound, I didn’t mind the weather. It all goes along with the freedom a motorcycle brings. What really made me tense was the crazy, reckless driving of the cagers under the horrible conditions.

I made it home safely, obviously, and I am grateful to God for that.

July 22, 2010 Run to Tito's Tacos in MedinaRoad Captain Ken Goepfert did a wonderful job planning the run!

When I was 17, I took my bike out to shoot the curves and run the back roads with no particular plans. Today there are kids, meetings, schedules, deadlines. A former pastor of mine called it the “Tyranny of the Urgent.” Now, if I have a few extra minutes, I might take North Byron Road over to Elba and come down 98 to Stan’s, and congratulate myself for getting off the beaten path.

IMG00367-20100722-1814We met up at Stan’s HD on Thursday, the 22nd of July. Ken led us out  of the lot, up through Elba and then west. He was taking so many back roads that once we got west of Oakfield, I was lost.

Then Ken stopped in the middle of nowhere, across from a flower nursery. I figured something was wrong, as he pulled off the asphalt and onto the gravel shoulder. Ken made his way back, talking to each rider in turn. He started off telling me that the fellow who owns the place is a Corrections Officer, and grows day lilies. Ken elaborated that one could  browse the lilies by type, like

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a living catalog, and select the varieties desired. I was waiting for him to explain the problem, why we stopped, but soon realized it was to view the flowers. Then I thought of my wife—she’d love the place. So my next question was: “Where are we?” Turns out it was Knowlesville Road. Rings a bell—I knew I’d driven by that before.

We continued on, and came to Culvert Road, under the Erie Canal. The tunnel was cool, and we all tooted going through—the little beeps of the metrics overpowered by the horns of the Harleys.

I was really getting into the ride. We weren’t just making time to a destination, we were enjoying the trip to get there. Culvert RoadWhen Ken explained that this was the ONLY road under the Canal, it hit me that I’ve lived here 22 years, and never knew of it. One last stop before the taco stand clinched it. “The church in the middle of the road” is on the south side of 31, going into Medina. The old church was in the right of way of a newer road, but rather than destroy a historic landmark, the road splits at “Y” at the south end of the building, into two one-way lanes on either side of the  building. In effect, the church is in the median. How many times I’d driven by and never noticed.

Medina, Slowing down for a night to fellowship and take in the sights truly blessed my spirit. The food was good too. Tito’s Tacos is located on Route 31A, just east of Medina. During the summer they host cruise-ins for bikes and classic cars.

Six AM, and we stepped out of our air-conditioned hotel room to find it was already sunny and humid. The air was thick with haze as a large group of motorcycles rumbled out of a motel on the other side of Arlington Boulevard: several Rolling Thunder chapters were headed for the Pentagon already.

We spent the night at the Best Western in Falls Church, Virginia. After watching the bikes depart, we wandered over to the nearby IHOP—their Colorado omelet is tasty, and enough to hold one over till well past lunch. Three local cops wandered in, starting their morning shift with breakfast. Bikers staying at the Best Western began to trickle in.

Rolling Thunder was started in 1987 by a group of veterans who sought to bring awareness to the POWs and MIAs left behind in Vietnam. The first year, 2,500 motorcycles rolled through Washington, D.C. Support has grown in the biker community, and the event has become a bikers’ tribute to veterans of all wars. In 2009, 250,000 bikers took part. This year, Fox News reported the number was 400,000. The run starts from the Pentagon, crosses Arlington Memorial Bridge, follows Constitution Avenue along the Mall past the White House and Congress, then loops back west on Independence Avenue.

After breakfast, Holly and I bought a couple of water bottles at the CVS and mounted up. Traffic on Arlington Boulevard was still light—just a couple of cars here and there. This was a relief—I find driving unfamiliar Rolling Thunder XXIIIroads from a memorized map takes a lot of concentration, especially with so many  interchanges so close together.

We arrived at the Pentagon a few minutes after 7:00 and already about a third of the lot was full. Motorcyclists were directed into lines, nose to tail, parking across the parking lot, with barely enough space between lines to walk. By 8:00 AM, much of the open space was filled as more and larger groups of bikers arrived.

Our position put us right next to a CMA group from Wilson, North Rolling Thunder XXIIICarolina. They came in with a pickup truck loaded with a tank of cold water, trays and thousands of paper cups. What sounded like a nice idea turned out to be a real blessing—the temperature hit 90+ degrees. Folks were very grateful for a steady supply of cold water and cool water-soaked bandanas with which to fight the heat.

Pentagon North Parking lot filled to overflowing with motorcycles for Rolling Thunder XXIIIThe run officially begins at noon. Rolling Thunder chapters move out in the lead, with a “POW” in a bamboo cage leading the pack. People began moving from the shade to their bikes as engines began firing up on the north side of the lot. Forty minutes after the first engines fired, our line began to move. Nose to tail, two lines abreast, we moved across the parking lot to the exit road and then out onto Arlington Memorial Bridge.

Rolling Thunder XXIIIThe crowds along both sides were cheering, waving, some even exchanging “high fives” with us as we rode past. Then we came upon the first marine: at key points on the route, a marine or soldier would stand at attention in the middle of the road and salute as we rode past. Seeing this, I started to choke up, and had to bite my lip to stay focused.

After we turned on to Constitution Avenue, traffic backed up and I was riding the clutch and brakes quite a bit. When we reached 17th Street, at the Washington Monument, the DC Police stopped us to allow Rolling Thunder XXIIIpedestrians to cross. This opened a gap in the line, and for a few blocks I had fun opening up the throttle and letting the Fatboy roar.

All too soon it seemed our run was over, and the Park Police were directing us onto the grass to park.  It was about 1:30 when we parked.

Crossing Independence Avenue, we passed the Korean War Memorial. The Rolling Thunder Rolling Thunder XXIIIorganization had a stage for bands and speakers set up below the Lincoln Memorial. We paused to listen to the opening remarks from some of the key-note speakers, then continued north to Constitution Avenue. For another hour and a half, motorcycles continued to roll past.

We came upon a long line of people stretched across the promenade, waiting to see the Vietnam Wall.  Holly asked what they were doing—the line was so long that we could hardly see the Memorial. For the second time I had to bite my lip and take a deep breath as I explained that they were waiting for a chance to read the name of a loved one, engraved on the wall, who Rolling Thunder XXIIIdied in Vietnam.

We met many active service members and veterans, but it seemed the vets from the Vietnam era carried the heaviest hearts. They share the sole distinction of having been rejected and scorned by their countrymen, despised for their service, and it seems for many of them, the wounds of that unrequited love of country have not healed. I recall an editorial in the Wall Street Journal twenty-some years ago, written by a Vietnam vet. He wrote of how they were rejected by society, then “ambushed by Hollywood”—movies about that war portray them as psychopaths, social outcasts, drug addicts, and mental cases. The writer stated they are like the veterans of any other war—each war has its atrocities and heroes, people who cannot cope and those who shine under stress. Most simply did their duty when their country called, then quietly returned to civilian life.

The last bikers roared down Constitution at nine minutes past three in the afternoon. Briefly we strolled among the vendor tents on 22nd Street: the usual leather vendors, patch and pin vendors, and accessory vendors. One patch really stood out: “All gave some, some gave all.” Exhausted from the long day of heat, sun and humidity, we slowly made our way back to the hotel. Cold showers alleviated traces of heat exhaustion, and we changed for dinner.

Holly and I took advantage of a moderately decent day after a stretch of cold and rain to run over to Pittsford Plaza. We took the interstate over, not my favorite, but I must say the Fatboy is much nicer to ride on such roads than my little Honda ever was.

Our errand done, Holly turned to me and said “I want to go for a long ride.” So I headed down 65. Drove all the way to Honeoye Falls: beautiful small village.

From there we headed east toward five points, and picked up Rt 15 south  to East Avon. Was great fun just to run through the New York countryside. Passed some family farms—a rarity these days–and a great big winged something-or-other bug met eternity right in front of my eyes on the windscreen, leaving a quarter-sized yellow splotch.

We took a left on 20 and headed over 390 to find a little roadside place called the Countryside Diner. Holly ordered the fried chicken, and I had the hamburger-and-macaroni soup with fried clams and a salad. Good food and generous with the soft drinks, all for the price of a deep-fried carb & starch meal at a burger franchise. A good meal for a decent price.

We headed home the long way, Rt 5 west to LeRoy, then north. It was a good day, and all the more fun for having Holly along. We can’t talk much on the ride, but seem to like the same kinds of places, and when we stop it always seems to lead to good father-daughter conversations. I’ll miss that when she moves on in a few years.

Have you ever caught a scent that triggers a distant memory? Perhaps, the whiff of an apple pie or Tollhouse cookies recalls warm feelings of grandma’s kitchen.

My earliest memories are associated with farm smells. In the day to day, they are faint and seldom thought of, but when I encounter those odors, the full emotion floods my thoughts. Not clear images of specific events, but feelings of fascination and wonder, satisfaction—like a feeling of things being as they should be, and admiration.

According to science, the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic  system and is closely tied to the amygdala and hippocampus, which process emotions and associative learning. So a scent associated with an emotional stimulus creates an emotional memory.

Technicalities aside, it is spring, and riding through farm country means encountering the smells of barns being opened after the winter, ground being readied for planting, and cows turned out to graze fresh grass.

The pungent, slightly fermented smell of corn silage, especially freshly chopped corn, brings to mind corn cob pennies, Papec wagons, wheelbarrows and September. Though corn is chopped in the fall, the last stores of silage are being used up, and with the barns being Bugs on windscreen also come with spring in farm countryopened, the scent of feed at milking time wafts out across the road.

Fresh wood shavings combined with fresh cow manure (not the rancid gag-a-maggot stench of a manure lagoon!) recall  fairground livestock barns and admiration—those cows and barns were pristine, groomed for show, the best examples of husbandry, and lots of hard work.

The smell of sod recalls shiny moldboards, smooth turves curled over, and the tail ends of night crawlers evading a surprise suntan.

In all of it, there is a feeling of rightness, freshness, starting clean, and progress.