Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Day 21: Wenatchee, WA – Larrington Towers

The other nice thing about Best Westerns is that their breakfasts are superior to most other places, though the appearance of the sausages leaves something to be desired.  Like a lack of resemblance to the turds of an unwell dog.

Back along US-2 for a while, then south on US-97 to Ellensburg and the interstate south to Yakima. 

Finally I picked up my old friend US-12 towards Mount Rainier.  Mistake.  Roadworks, and hills which reduced the heavies to 25 mph, and a cock in a motorhome who wouldn’t pull over even when he had a huge queueueueue behind him, which in this state is against the la.  I finally escaped into Mount Rainier National Park, and told the TwatNav to find me the Alamo Rental Return place.

After flogging through heavy traffic in Enumclaw and Auburn, I was gnawing nervously at the steering wheel, not wishing to be late and pay heavily for the privet hedge, but no matter, the TwatNav will see me right, yes?

For the second year running, no, it bloody well won’t.  172nd street is a dead end, between a car park and a petrol station, you stupid sodding machine!  Finally I told it to find the airport, which it managed successfully, and followed the signs.

I am currently drinking beer airside as there is naff-all to do on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and I don’t feel like smoking as I have a horrible suspicion that I am coming down with a clod.  By the time this reaches the Automatic Diary, I will know for sure, as there is no obvious method of accessing teh Intarwebs from in here.  Later, Automatic Diary fans…

You know how on an aeroplane, if you’re sitting next to the window, you can lean your weary head against the side of the fuselage in order to go a-kip more easily?  Well, the combination of a Boeing 747 and BA’s World Traveller Plus seating leaves about twelve inches of fresh air ‘twixt seat and wall, so you can’t, so my neck aches.

Hello London!  OK, so the Thiefrow Express may be the world’s most expensive rail journey in terms of cost per mile, but it’s fast and you get a seat.  Now the Circle Line, on the other hand…  And to make matters worse, the entire Victoria Line is fscked.  Engineering works.  Bus from Manor House it is, then.

Larrington Towers, happily, has not burned down or been burgled, and nor has my motor-car which, if it had a name (which it hasn’t) would be called Kate.  Watch qualibobs for the Singapore GP, buy beer & Chicken Tikka Mirchi Wala, fall asleep repeatedly.  The end.

For now.

Thought for the day:  It would be nice to report that DJ Random was playing Half Man Half Biscuit’s Vatican Broadside as I passed the White River Amphitheatre, as Slipknot are playing there in a couple of weeks time.  However, he’s gone a bit flaky in his old age; the latter part of yesterday and early this morning was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Baby 81, with a side order of Black Mountain.  This morning was the Balfa Brothers and this afternoon Robyn Hitchcock’s While Thatcher Mauled Britain.  I thought for a second that I’d repaid this by leaving him in the car, but it turns out he’s just hiding at the bottom of The Luggage.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Day 20: Chelan, WA - Wenatchee, WA

A game of two halves, Barry. Unlike Gaul, the North Cascades are only divided into two parts, viz. the east and the west sides. The east side is, at least at the moment, warm and sunny, and the mountains are a rather dull brown colour until you get high enough for the trees not to wilt in the heat. The west side is exactly as I expected, which is to say covered in fir trees, unless they're pines, and partly cloudy with a chance of rain.

But soft! I get ahead of myself. I spent a pleasant few hours yesterday evening in the pleasant company of three Canadian motorcyclists. Mike (who didn't talk much) and Dan (who did when he got the chance) are police officers and were on their way home. The other bloke, whose name I shamefully forgot e'en before bedtime, is a bearded musician without a prostate gland (who only stopped long enough to draw breath), and was taking the scenic route to San Diego. 'twas he who recommended stopping at the top of Washington Pass and Lo! He was right.

Further down the west side of the range is the Diablo Lake overlook. Lake? Check. Hydro-electric dam? Check. Mountain shaped like a tooth from a Shimano Hyperglide(tm) cassette? Check. Srsly.

Then I got lost. Not trusting the soi-disant Mountain Loop Highway to come out where I thought it might, due to its careful placement between two pages of the road atlas, I attempted to use the map to follow the route I thought I wanted, and ended up in some residential limbo twixt Granite Falls and Monroe. The TwatNav is only much use if you can feed it a street address, and if you are foolish enough to try to make one up, it will bury you deep in a maze of dead end streets, with the locals giving you and your motor-car - which, don't forget, is registered over two thousand miles away - filthy looks and probably calling the Polis into the bargain.

Finally I found US-2 and recrossed the mountains. To the west: 17 Celsius and cloudy. To the east: blazing sunshine and 37 Celsius. With it being this hot, it was clearly a Best Western day. At least, that's where I stayed in Grants Pass (36 degrees) and where I would have stayed in San Rafael (42 degrees) if the TwatNav hadn't insisted that the shopping mall car park to which it directed me was in fact an hotel of said chain.

But soft! I get ahead of myself again. On the way down from Stevens Pass lies the town of Leavenworth. Leavenworth is well over five thousand miles from Munich, yet every building in the town is in a grotesque faux-Bavarian-stylee, and I mean everything. Napa Auto Parts? Yep. Wells Fargo Bank? You betcha. The Scottish Restaurant1? Yes, even that bastion of corporate identikittedness is making like it was designed by Ludwig II. Auf wiedersehen? Not if I see you first, matey. The most serious lack of Quality encountered to date, and that's about all you're going to get about Pirsig's philosophy from me. Lila mostly passed as far over my head as a Malcolm Marshall bouncer.

And so to Wenatchee, where the Best Western exists, and Melanie the receptionist is cute, and the entire building is non-smoking chiz. There is a balcony to the room, on which one is not allowed to smoke either. But the desk and chair in the room are the best I've encountered in the last three weeks, to the extent that I'm wondering how I can smuggle the chair out of the hotel and into britain. High-backed leather executive swivel job. Nice.

Unlike Stupid Google. I ask Stupid Google to find a liquor store and a place wherein beer might be obtained. Stupid Google finds both, but neglects to note that next door to the latter is one of the former and instead directs me to one two miles away on the other side of the river.

In ten minutes I can reserve my seat for tomorrow, and then seek out food. The final instalment of this Automatic Diary will depend on jet-lag, laundry and Her Majesty The Queen.

(Returns, white-faced and fuming, from British bloody Airways webby science)  Online queue-jumping not available on ths flight.  Cockwombles, the lot of 'em!

Thought for the day: This room has a fridge. In the fridge, at least until I put my beer in it, was naught but an opened carton of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. A quid for the most plausible answer.

1 - McDonalds

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Day 19: Whitefish, MT - Chelan, WA

Dams. And damns. Today's route zig-zagged its way across northern Montana and the Idaho panhandle before entering Washington, which is the (counts on fingers) eleventh state of the trip. And much of it was Good, though longer than anticipated even with the extra hour gained from crossing from the Mountain time zone into the Pacific. Forests, rivers and lakes at first, with a particularly good bit being the road along the shore of Lake Koocanusa.

I was supposed to turn off halfway down this, but failed to do so as the road didn't merit the luxury of a signpost. Instead I went all the way down to the end, at Libby Dam.

Onwards into Washington and turn left at Kettle Falls to run down the east side of Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, which hav a very interesting history if you are interested in hist. which few boys are. It was created in 1942 when the Grand Coulee Dam, about eighty miles away, was completed. The Grand Coulee Dam is Dead Big,

and Woody Guthrie wrote songs about it. But it's not as impressive as the Hoover Dam, and it buggered up the migration of the salmon and generally made the Native Americans rather cross.

At Miles, the route deviates away from the lake, or rather the other way round, and a good thing too as it meant I didn't have to follow a brace of cocks driving smelly bus-sized motorhomes more than a few hundred yards. Once away from the lake the scenery keeps changing - cultivated grassland, uncultivated badlands more akin to South Dakota, semi-desert and later on, back down at river level, orchards with an overwhelming pong of apples.

Anyway, the dam duly visited, I set forth to Chelan, using the TwatNav as a guide. At least when I reached the bottom of five miles of 12% downhill only to find the bridge that takes US-97 over the Columbia river closed for roadworks, I didn't have to cycle back up. But it did leave me with a sixty-eight mile detour to reach a destination I could almost smell.


This meant that by the time I got to Chelan, found a room, cranked up teh Intarwebs to find the location of the nearest liquor store, programmed the TwatNav to find it and got there, it had closed twelve minutes earlier. And this is one of those stupid states where you can't buy whisky in the local horriblemarket.

Double bugger. Still, at least I have beer.

Thought for the day: In many Catholic countries it is traditional to commemorate fatal road accidents by placing a small cross at the site of the crash. In Montana, this is official state policy. So when you come round a bend in a full-on four-wheel drift that would have The Stig nodding in approval, only to find a Several of these crosses right where you're pointing, well, this is a good time to check that your life insurance is up to date.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Day 18: Whitefish, MT

Now that was more like it.  Well, sort of.  Out of the motel at well after nine, which is rather late by the standards of this or indeed, most, of my time in this country.  Plan A was to head the twenty or so miles down to West Glacier, drive through Glacier National Park

over Logan Pass, turn left at the far end and skirt round the northern edge of the whole thing to return to Whitefish.  Which meant crossing the border into Canada.

This, however, foundered on the rocks of the National Parks Service and its annual maintenance plan.  Logan Pass was closed, which meant looking at the western side of the park, retracing to the entrance and driving all the way round to St. Mary in order to visit the other side.  Of it. 

Which mitigated against any cross-border footlings, as it was by then 15:00 and the route via Alberta and British Columbia is a hundred and fifty miles longer.  And I had no idea if the border crossing point I would need to use would be open when I got there.

This latter was in part due to not having read all the bumph doled out at the park entrance; had I done so I'd have learned that said crossing is open 24/7.  But with all the bureaucracy involved in entering the US, it'd have taken till forever to go that way, so I contented myself with observing Canada from a distance before retracing the outward route back to Whitefish.

Anyway, today's roads had Scenery, and corners, and trees, and lakes, and mountains both with and without sno on them, and at least one glacier, and Canada. 


Thought for the day: The speeds on the yellow corner signs are advisory.  Even your wanky Korean heap can easily take them at 15 mph above the number on the sign, so there is no need to slow down to 10 mph below that figure.  Especially not when the figure is 15 mph.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Day 17: Idaho Falls, ID - Whitefish, MT

What a dull day.  A hundred and fifty miles of deadly boring roads before a little light relief was brought on by the crossing of Gilmore Summit.  Running down the Lehmi and Salmon rivers, and then up the north fork of the latter brought some relief in the form of:

  • corners, and
  • trees

However, once you get far down the Bitterroot towards Missoula the volume of traffic, much of it conducted slowly by cocks, increases dramatically while the Scenery gives way to an ugly series of ribbon developments with accompanying traffic lights, lower speed limits and other trappings of civilisation.

It's not much better north of Missoula either, though at least Flathead Lake is nice from a distance.

The booze-o-drome here in Whitefish doesn't like my Plastic, though as it's been used for at least four other things today, I'm hoping it's them rather than me.  And teh Intarwebs was b0rked.  And it never got warm enough to take my fleece off.  On the good side, the pizza place was playing Neil Young.

Thought for the day: This room is provided with a pen and paper.  So what kind of a cockwomble tears the page out of the phone book instead of writing down the address?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Day 16: Battle Mountain, NV - Idaho Falls, ID

I had a nice lie-in this morning, until eight of the clock! Many of the Usual Suspects had departed by the time I was in a situation to put myself outside a cup or several of that which passes for coffee in the average Leftpondian motel; this was followed by the removal of whatever it was that Aaron, Ryan and Bobby had used to remove the tape residue from my windscreen. Thanks to Eric for the use of his ACME Goop-be Gone. Not thanks to whoever drew a large phallus in the dirt on the bonnet, helpfully labelled "COCK".

More coffee and milling about before final goodbyes and road-hitting. The first task was to try to locate the billboard just out of town featuring a photo of Eric's old Varna. This done, I high-tailed east on I-80 for a hundred and something miles before turning north on US-93. US-50 through Nevada is officially the "Loneliest Road In America"; the only thing which stop US-93 from filing a counter-claim is that it carries too much traffic.

More sage-brush, more dry brown hills most of the way here, with the odd bit of cultivation where water permits. A fierce westerly kept me on my toes as dust and tumbleweeds shot across the road; things improved as I turned north-east on US-20 and past the Craters Of The Moon.

This is a field of black lava and general volcanic bobbins which looks like the stuff raked out of Stan's boiler after it's gone out. I didn't linger here as I passed this way - albeit in the opposite direction - back in 2005. On that trip I spent an age fruitlessly looking for the entrance to the Comfort Inn, whose sign was clearly visible in the surrounding gloom. I am pleased to report that the entrance is no easier to find in daylight, which is one reason why I'm holed up in the nearby Super 8 instead.

Thought for the day: Toyota Pious owner! I bet you're pretty pleased with the fuel efficiency of your motor-car. Indeed, what better way to demonstrate this than by running out of petrol on I-80, within sight of the nearest pump?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Day 15: Battle Mountain, NV

Desert again free from red-eyed zombies; first runs underway at the hour of Civilised.  James was just under 60 mph and Ron over 66 again, but the wind was being Bad again.  The interim was spent in watching the Cal Poly lads attaching tufts of String to mine motor-car, in order that they might divine its aerodynamic secrets.

Or something.

Clearly bored, they then decorated the Scimitar with a Several of bog-rolls.

And so to the final set of runs on 305.  Kevin went off first, less troubled by a gusty wind due to his third wheel.  Rob got underway OK, but he had scarcely raised his undercarriage when the front tyre let go.  Aaron, already taped into the Atlas, asked if he could be relieved, and that was that; Larry and Ron having already opted out due to the conditions.

I went down to the catch area, there to find a jubilant Kevin celebrating a 60+ mph run, albeit with too much wind.  Delaying the start of the second group as long as possible seemed a wise move, as the wind was steadily dropping, and Sam came through in short order, accompanied by an unwelcome moth in Diablo 3’s cockpit.  Yannick’s steed shed its chain, but Eric, Barbara, Jason and Greg all came down the course OK.

A radio crackles.  Jason has apparently done a (non-legal) 72.  We jump up and down and cheer.  Eric is credited with a 75, but I’ve already seen his GPS show a maximum of 71.7.  Greg is given a 46.  And when Sam and Barbara are quoted at 86+ and 77+, instead of dancing in the streets, everyone says “Nah, that can’t be right!”  Sam and Barbara included.

And so it proved.  A gremlin had interfered with the conversion from time to speed, with everyone being some six per cent faster that in Real Life.  So although speeds were still more than respectable, it was only Greg who set a new mark, with a true speed of 43.67 mph.  His fifth in four days.

Finally back to the Owl Club for the awards dinner. 

Much jubilation and "see you next year" Stuffs.

Hurrah for Greg, Barbara and Sam; major rispek to Al'n'Alice for Organisating, and big ups to the Locals who made it all possible.  I'll add a few snaps to today's Diarisation in due course, but instead of partying until dawn, I'm going to bed.

Thought for the day: It might have been thought that the unclaimed door prize - a ten dollar gift voucher redeemable at Donna's Ranch (the local House of Ill-Repute) was the handiwork of Messrs. A. Williams, B. Ehrmann and R. Milligan, but it wasn't.  The identity of the culprit will remain cloaked in tactful anonymity, not least because he gave me a lift over to the Owl Club and back.  Thanks, Larry!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Day 14: Battle Mountain, NV

The usual crew of red-eyed zombies did not shamble, mumbling about branes, into the desert this morning, no, as no-one needed to qualify.  Instead we got an extra couple of hours in bed.  Which was nice.

Runs instead got under way at the civilised hour of 08:45.  Rob set the tone for the entire morning.  First a bead of sweat dripped into his eye as he waited to launch.  There's just enough room inside the Kyle Edge to allow him to wipe his eye, but in doing so he managed to switch off his backup monitor.  So when he got going, the first thing he did was stop - the bike has a "landing wheel" on its right side - and switch it back on.  When he reached the catch area, the lack of depth perception which results from the use of the video system saw him overshoot the waiting hordes and topple over onto his side twenty yards closer to town.

And Larry had a launch malfunction, though not as bad as the one on Wednesday, when he appeared to be at risk of becoming the first five-wheeled machine to run on 305 when the MOALD1 remained attached as he accelerated away.  Kevin Schroeder narrowly failed to reach his 55 mph target, and sorely was he vexed.  Although the wind was benign further down the course, it was tricksy near the start, and Jay decided he didn't like it one little bit, pottering down the road at around 20.  This obliged a puzzled Bobby Ehrmann to overtake before Jay's chase crew could pull him off the road.  In the second session Larry got away successfully and hit a solo personal best of just over 62 mph; Tiffany got stalled by an errant gust of wind and was well off her usual pace.

More bacon.

In the afternoon Robert "Mr" Barnett of Oklahoma ran the one-eighth miles drag races in town, while your scribe slaved over the Babbage-Engine for hours with but a brief pause here and there for beer.  Anyway, it will shortly be time to go to the course again, and should Timing Guru Craig Johnsen's weather forecast prove correct, tonight may be the last time conditions are good for records, as tomorrow there may be Wind chiz.

Ahoy!  I am returned from 305 and El Aguila Real, and am still tasting the chorizo from the latter.  Tonight was one of those evenings which makes all the time and expense worthwhile.  Three notable personal bests and three, yep, three new World Records!  Team Leone tidied up the tail of Primal 2's fairing, which helped Ron to exceed 65 mph for the first time, at 66.60 mph.  Eric just pushed harder, and got a 71.07 mph pass and one of the biggest cheers of the week.  And Yannick Lutz was much happier today with his 73.07 mph.

Greg did it again!  43.49 mph for his fourth record in three days.  Georgi Georgiev has been churning out record-breaking designs since forever, so big rispek to Mike Sova and Ivan Samila for adding nearly eleven mph to the old record with their very first design.

Sam improved on his run from Tuesday with an 82.82 mph pass.  And Barbara, in spite of Sam's shameless hogging of the smaller of the two machines, put in a storming 75.46 mph run, which not only makes her the fourth fastest rider in the history of all things evvah, but also gives her the outright European record.  $DEITY alone knows how she manages it, as there isn't very much of her to generate all that oomph.

Oh, the drag races.  Scott Wilson trousered fifty of Mr. Barnett's dollars after using Carl Mueller's Greenspeed trike to beat Barbara's partner Julius into second, with Mr. Barnett himself third.

We are this: happy.

Thought for the day: The eighteen-odd minute gap in the Watergate tapes is as near as makes no odds the same length as Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant.  Coincidence, or Tricky Dicky trying to conceal something?  The latter would certainly not be a surprise.

1 - Mother of all Launch Dollies.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Day 13: Battle Mountain, NV

The usual crew of red-eyed zombies made its collective way out to the course in the pre-dawn gloom, did Stuffs and then hung around in the desert for a long time while qualibobs were run.  This, you see, is because we can in theory close the road for up to twenty minutes at a time from sunrise to 10:00 (as long as we don't hold up the school bus).  And the Stuffs includes such tasks as driving the full length of the course pausing at half mile intervals to drag the distance marker signs out of the brush and set them up at the roadside, where passing lorries can blow them over.

(Drains bottle of Negra Modelo)

Two riders on the short course today.  Greg would have broken his own record yet again had the wind been nice, but it wasn't.  Rob Hitchcock, who gets all sorts of odd e-mails about when his next record is coming out, when he's next going to be touring and so forth, put in a qualibobbing run in the ex-Matt Weaver camera bike the Kyle Edge.

Camera bike?  Instead of the rider viewing the oncoming scenery through a windscreen, s/he does so with the aid of a small video camera and display, which also means you can watch television at the same time.  Or something.  This is outdone in oddness by the lunatics who proceed down the course lying upon their back, head first and navigating with the aid of a mirror.  Ees crazy people, SeƱor!

Fewer riders on the full course this morning, not least because Fast Freddy and Turbo Tanya Markham had left for the giant InterBike show down the road in Lost Wages.  Jay Henry upped his game again by going over 60 mph; Greg had another run over the short course and this time did set a new mark at 41.5 mph.  I'm not supposed to tell anyone that a couple of the Cal Poly boys had a go, though, as they're not supposed to ride unless there's an ambulance on duty, oops...

Then back to town for a late breakfast.  In the afternoon, there was the IHPVA's AGM.  I have apparently been a member of this organisation for twelve years but as I have never paid a single cent for this privet hedge. I deemed it churlish to turn up and make sarky comments, so instead took the crappy Mustang out to play "Scandiwegian Rally Driver" up Mount Lewis.

This is the highest point in da 'hood, being about 9,600 feet big, or a smidge under 3,000 metres.  Battle Mountain itself is about half that.  And although the place is named for a skirmish which took place between settlers and Native Americans, it was later determined that the leader of the former made it up.

I returned to town in time to witness the Cal Poly boys apparently adapting the tail of Atlas to carry two dozen eggs, and Charlie Ollinger's masterclass in rubber band flicking.

Had I not been wearing sunglasses, he'd have had my eye out, the git.

Once more unto the course, for another evening spent largely talking bollocks in the middle of bugger all.  The first group of riders were wind-affected to a greater or lesser extent, and Jay contrived to crash again.  Relax, girls, he's OK.  Barbara was treating it as a rest day, hence only went 65.  From the second session, Sam did another pass at over 80 mph, Barclay did a 64 and the astonishing Greg made his fourth run of the day to move his record up to 42.3 mph.

Were I competent in the handling of my camera, I'd have had some lovely pictures of the second group passing the Badger Badger Badger Ranch Road some 750 metres before the measured 200, but as it was I got five lovely pictures of a completely empty road chiz.  On our return to town, the normally sugar- and caffeine-free Barclay started hyperventilating and twitching and generally not looking at all well.  This is clearly what happens when Jay, Barclay and Ben (the one who looks a bit like Art Garfunkel) are allowed out to play in the desert without parental supervision, and was nothing to do with Barclay partaking of The Sponsor's product, or at least not while The Sponsor's representative is within earshot.  Relax, girls, he's OK now.

Thought for the day: It has been determined that uttering the words "hold the bacon" immediately adds two dollars to the price of a dish, which explains the exorbitant cost of Paul Gracey's veggie pizza.  Battle Mountain is not a good place to be a vegetarian and when someone enquired about a low-fat diet upon teh Intarwebs a few weeks ago, the laughter could be heard from California to Slovenia.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Day 12: Battle Mountain, NV

The usual crew of red-eyed zombies made its collective way out to the course in the pre-dawn gloom, did Stuffs and then hung around in the desert for a long time while qualibobs were run.  Who ran?  Ron Layman in Team Leone's new machine Primal 2, and Greg Westlake from Toronto, riding the arm-powered Avos Arrow - a fully-faired front-wheel drive tricycle.  In his first run Greg beat Jacob Heilveil's fourteen year old world record by more than 5 mph, clocking 37.8 and complaining that the machine was seriously undergeared.  Then on to the runs over the full course, most of which seemed to involve the hard-working Specter II ridden variously by James Schroeder, Kevin Schroeder and Tiffany Underwood, whom I believe to be a Schroeder by birth.  Tanya Markham had another run over 60 mph, while Jay Henry was very close to the mile a minute mark.  Alas, after correcting his path to ensure that the Flying Jay hit the timing tapes, he went into a violent tank-slapper and stuffed the machine deep into the brush, emerging unharmed but with a badly scarred machine.

So we all went home.  Mike Sova spent the afternoon raising the Avos Arrow's gearing, the Cal Poly lads confected a fetching pink tail extention for their #1 machine Atlas and Larry Lem spent it grinding chunks off his shoes in an attempt to create a bit more clearance around his feetses.  The smell of leather being attacked by a small angle-grinder is this: quite vile.  We were a little surprised to see Larry wandering around barefoot, with all his toes still attached.  In the middle of all this mayhem, Al Krause turned a roofing nail into a small screwdriver, that I might reverse the imminent self-deconstruction of my sunglasses.

Out to the course again on a baking afternoon.  Unlike the rest of the record contenders, Greg needs but a 2.5 mile run-up, so he was sent off first.  It seemed that the revised gearing was working wonders, as he later reported a speed of almost 48 mph, with one gear still in hand and more than a mile to go before the timing traps.  At which point the P+nct+r+ Fairy attacked one of his rear tyres.  Greg, though, is made of the Right Stuff, and made known his determination to run in every available session between now and Saturday.

Back up at the gravel depot that forms the location of the start area for the full course, Sam had bizarrely elected to make the very first run .  This resulted in a ~77 mph run, together with the only illegal wind speed of the evening.  He was philosophical about it, and told me he'd be back on the second session tomorrow.  Personal bests for James Schroeder at 58 mph, Barclay Henry

at a fraction under 64 and Larry Lem, recovered from yesterday's mishap with a 61 (although he exceeded 67 in the Goliath II tandem with Tom Amick last year).

Back down to the catch area for me, which is the reason for the absence of photos from the second session, on account of me helping to extract the riders from their hot and sticky prisons at the end of their runs.  Fast Freddy said Rude Words about his 73 mph effort; Yannick said nothing about his 70, instead choosing to hurl his helmet to the ground in a manner suggesting he wasn't very happy.  Cue Barbara.  72.5 mph, wind OK, nearly six miles per hour than Lisa Vetterlein's mark from 2005.

And there was great rejoicing.

Eric Ware saw a peak speed of over 70 on his GPS, but averaged just over 68 for the 200 metres.  This did at least put him ahead of the temporarily absent Jason Erickson, who had nipped home to Reno to replace the Varnator's hub-geared transmission with something that would consume a little less power.  And Bobby Ehrmann in Atlas hit 55 at his first attempt.

Back to the motel for the debrief, a standing ovation for Barbara and an effusive speech from Varna designer/builder Georgi Georgiev, in which he castigated us for the fact that Barbara "is only woman racing".  Amid cries of "Tiffany!" and "What about Tanya, eh, she's even riding one of your designs!" and "Hey, Georgi, how many fingers am I holding up?".  Three world records in twenty-four hours, with the prospect of more on the morrow.

Thought for the day: Charlie Ollinger and Mark Mueller are messing around with astronomical telescopes outside.  Well, that's what they say - to me they look more like anti-aircraft guns.  This may lead to The Feds coming round in the middle of the night, so if you don't get any more of this Automatic Diary, that'll be the reason.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Day 11: Battle Mountain, NV

The usual crew of red-eyed zombies made its collective way out to the course in the pre-dawn gloom, did Stuffs and then hung around in the desert for a long time while qualibobs were run. 
By the time we'd got the start gubbins moved out to the full five mile course, the wind was starting to edge upwards, with the result that Frenchman Yannick Lutz' first full run in the Altair 2, while over 70 mph, didn't have a legal wind speed.  Irrespective of the direction thereof, the wind has to be below 6 km/h for the run to count chiz.

Back to town and over to the Civic Center to show off the machines to some of the local Tinies. 
I can see why they might want Sam's autograph, but mine?  Still, we got free pizza and sandwiches and plenty of laughs.

Then back out to 305 for the evening record runs.  First to run was Barbara Buatois of France, riding the Varna Diablo 3 in which Sam broke the world record last year.  Barbara only appeared on the scene a couple of years ago, since which she's been World Champion three times, completed Paris-Brest-Paris on a back-to-back recumbent tandem and broke the women's Hour record twice in one weekend.  So the general consensus was that she'd be in with an excellent chance of beating Lisa Vetterlein's 66.6 mph record from 2005.  She clocked 69.2 mph, but the wind was up to its tricks again and hers was the only run of the evening with too much wind.  From Wednesday on she'll be running in the second session when the wind is usually better-behaved.  Both Larry Lem's Scimitar and James Schroeder in the Specter II were visited by the P+nct+r+ Fairy; while the latter occurred as the machine was just coming to a halt, Larry's front tyre let go about two miles into the run.  He managed to wrestle the machine down to about 20 mph before dropping it, but the Scimitar's luvverly blue finish
is looking decidedly second-hand...

First to run in the second session was the Whittingham and, as expected, he duly broke his own record, though his 82.4 mph did not represent a vast improvement...  Sam does reckon, however, that there's more to come - the weather is forecast to improve daily until the weekend and he says it always takes him a while to get used to the dry air and altitude, living as he does on a fairly small island.  The new road surface is certainly having an impact as people seemed to be going fast straight away.  Yannick was again over 70 and Fast Freddy Markham over 75, a personal best for Jason Erickson with a 67 and likewise for Eric Ware with a 65.  Last year Eric and fellow Minnesotan Mark Anderson worked 16 hours a day for the entire week to get the Wedge running, finally managing a single 34 mph run on the final evening of the event, so it made us all pretty chuffed that their hard work had paid off.

So, the first new record of the week has been set, and there's the prospect of more to come.  Actually, this is not strictly true as we've had another one on Wednesday morning, but I'm not telling you who, what or how fast until later.

Thought for the day:  the course sweep car is supposed to go fast.  So, Ford Motor Company, let me tell you that not only is 210 horsepower a lamentably low output for a four-litre V6 engine, but if that 210 horsepower can only propel your product to a poxy 114 mph, your engineers need to be sent to the camps for re-education.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Days 9 & 10: Battle Mountain, NV

Unlike last year, we hapless volunteers were supposed to get up at Stupid o'clock on Sunday to assist in the movement of straw bales, as the local kids we'd bribed to help out wanted to finish in time to go to church.  Look, boys and girls, the Lord is a lot more likely to forgive you for missing one day's worship than I am to forgive you for making me get up at five ack emma.  Bah!

Fortunately, it appears that the alarm clock in my room has a quirk, in that moving the switch to "on" does not actually turn the alarm on.  No, in order to do that, the switch needs to go to "auto".  So I didn't have anything to do until the afternoon.  Hurrah!

The afternoon, though, consisted of wrapping disintegrating straw bales with that plastic binding tape stuff, for more kids to load onto a trailer and take out to the course.  And going out there ourselves to supervise the placing of the bales, as the recent resurfacing work has left some interesting holes around the culverts under the road.  General Organisational Stuffs and meetings and eating and so forth filled the rest of the day.

Really up at Stupid o'clock on Monday, and out to 305 for qualifying runs on the short course - a 2½ mile run-up.  As expected, Sam Whittingham was fastest, with a speed of 66.6 mph, with Barbara Buatois, Fast Freddy Markham and Yannick Lutz all exceeding 60 mph on their runs.  No runs over the full five+ mile course this morning, but by the time everyone had had at least one run, and we'd got back to the motel and held a debrief meeting, it was almost lunch time.  Less to do in the afternoon, so most people used it as an opportunity to catch up on missed sleep.

By the time we started to get ready to roll out to the course, however, the weather was looking distinctly blean, with heavy rain over the hills and a brisk wind blowing through the motel car park.  Experience has shown us, thobut, that conditions on the course can be completely different from those in town, so world+dog (Carl Mueller's excellent woof Pupita) traipsed out there anyway.  By the time I arrived, reports were filtering through from the launch area that it was chucking it down - Mike Sova's graphic description being "raindrops the size of meatballs".  So we were obliged to scrub the evening's competition.  This at least meant we were able to eat at a civilised hour and make innumerable gags about the propensity of almost every item on every menu at every eatery in the whole town to contain bacon, thereby causing Alice Krause narrowly to avoid snorting beer through her nose.  And then home.

Thought for the day: The "we hear" department says that during the resurfacing work, a Sinister Agent managed to sneak out to the site and deposit between the layers right in the timing area some of Gardner Martin's ashes.  Which is nice.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Day 8: San Rafael, CA - Battle Mountain, NV

OK, so ZMM ends with the Pirsigs travelling south on US-101 towards San Francisco.  Mark Richardson reveals, however, that they continued south to stay with friends in Hollywood before returning to the Twin Cities by a more southerly route including, though obviously not limited to, Utah and Nebraska.

The story of the man and his son, though, ends in San Francisco, in November 1979.  If you've read Richardson, or the 25th Anniversary edition, or Wikipedia, you'll know the outcome, but if not...

The concerns expressed by The Narrator over Chris' mental health proved all too real, and following a spell in hospital he was discharged on condition that he moved to California, to study at the Zen Center in San Francisco and live and work at the center's farm north of the city.  By 1979, he was turned around, studying both at the Zen Center and at San Francisco State College.  Philosophy, naturally.  He'd bought a motorcycle, and a plane ticket to England, planning on visiting his father and Bob's second wife, who were holed up in Falmouth after sailing the Atlantic, including weathering the storm which killed fifteen competitors in the Fastnet yacht race that year.

He never got a chance to use the ticket; on the evening of the day he bought it, a street robbery went wrong and Chris, the victim, was stabbed to death a block away from the Zen Center, fewer than two weeks before his twenty-third birthday.  So the final port of call had to be the  Zen Center at 300 Page Street, in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city.

In keeping with the sombre mood, there had been heavy rain overnight, and there was still drizzle, low cloud and lightning flickering behind the hills as I set out.  Fog prevented me from seeing the Golden Gate bridge, so instead here's a picture I took in 2005, when the weather was nice. 
The city was also shrouded in mist, thereby preventing any attempts at photography.  So I turned about, hit I-80 and drove up to Sacramento before the rain stopped.  East almost to Lake Tahoe, then south over the Sierra Nevada to US-395, through Bridgeport, Hawthorne, Luning, Gabbs and almost to Austin before turning north on NV-305 to Battle Mountain.  And down the newly-resurfaced course.  You could roll pastry on it, if you didn't mind the odd bit of dust and grit in your pie crust.

It's always a relief when your reservation, made on teh Intarwebs three months ago, turns out to have been received and understood.  It's even better when you open the door and find your room is as big as one floor of your house, containing two double beds and a lounge/kitchen with sofa, fridge/freezer, four-ring cooker and oven, microwave, dishwasher and toaster.  I may find myself sub-letting bits of it...

Thought for the day: why do so many "gas" pumps in California ask me to enter my "ZIP Code" (whatever one of those might be) after I've swiped my credit card through the reader on the pump.  Look, you stupid machine, I'm a BRITON, and do not have a "ZIP Code".  Now STFU and sell me some f*****g petrol.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Day 7: Grants Pass, OR – San Rafael, CA

A beautiful run through the coastal ranges of Oregon and into California, mostly heavily wooded.  And much better weather, at least to start with, than the Zen riders had – they’d started quite late from Grants Pass and encountered cold and rain.  Mind you, as soon as US-199 reached US-101 at Crescent City, the temperature dropped about fifteen degrees as the sea fog rolled in, and remained thus for the duration.  The road had only to climb a few hundred feet, or head a short distance inland and there was bright sunshine once more.  This, sadly, did not lend itself to photography, which is why there’s not much from today over on flickr.

I didn’t bother looking for the duck pond in Leggett, and now rather wish I had.  Shortly after turning off US-101 onto CA-1 I espied at the roadside a lime green Dodge Viper, a metallic orange Porsche Boxster S and an electric blue Chevrolet Corvette.  So, when held up a few minutes later by a Toyota Pious being driven with even more piety than usual, the Viper’s snout appeared in the mirror, I pulled over and let all three of them past, as obviously my crappy Mustang would only be in their collective way once the Pious driver let us all past.


They bimbled down the eighteen miles to Rockport at no more than forty miles per hour max.  The Viper’s brake lights didn’t come on once, whereas I had to keep hitting the anchors to avoid torpedoing the ‘vette rudely from astern.  Now I’m no latent Schumacher, as an Oregon native proved to me in Colorado four years ago when his poxy Pontiac Sunfire – basically a Vauxhall Astra – proved easily capable of keeping up with my 340 bhp 4WD Audi S4, so clearly these gits weren’t trying.  All the gear and no idea, as the saying goes.

From Mark Richardson’s book and various resources on teh Intarwebs, the location of the final scene between Chris and Bob (or was it Phaedrus?) seems to be on South Caspar Drive, confusingly a couple of miles south of Caspar itself.  The gap between the fancy houses described by Richardson has not yet been built on, so a quick photo and then onwards towards San Francisco.

Although the above is the last piece of exposition in Zen, the travelogue continues a while.  It mentions passing through Ukiah, Hopland and Cloverdale, Asti, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Novato before San Francisco Bay is finally visible, but doesn’t address how they got from Mendocino, on the coast, to Ukiah, which lies some forty miles inland.  Either they backtracked north of Caspar and took route 20 to US-101 at Willits, or went on Comptche-Ukiah Road and Orr Springs Road, which leads directly to Ukiah.

I favoured the latter from the map and Google Street View.  There’s no mention of retracing the route – The Narrator having previously told Chris that to go back would add too many more miles – in the book, it’s a direct route, it’s satisfyingly wiggly and the overhanging trees are in places low enough to deliver a biff to the nut of an eleven year old standing up on the footpegs.  But, some of the gradients are steep enough that they would surely have taxed Pirsig’s heavily laden 305 cc machine and, perhaps crucially, it may well have been unpaved in 1968.  Indeed, my road atlas shows the thirty miles between Comptche and Ukiah as being unpaved in 2009, but M. Michelin is not always accurate about such things, as I discovered to my discomfort in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming last year.  So I probably went the wrong way.  Bugger.

But I eventually got back onto 101, with the temperature climbing steadily as I drove away from the coast.  At Ukiah it had broken through 100 degrees (the car’s temperature thingy only does Fahrenheit, I’m afraid), finally peaking at 107.  It is a curious thing to drive a convertible with the top down and the air-con on full blast.

So that pretty much concludes the following of the Zen route, and I take my hat off to those who did it back in July 1968, on a not-large motorcycle, in twelve days, including a couple of short ones and four nights camping.  There is, however, a postscript, which I’ll add tomorrow…

Though for the day: How can anyone leave a huge sign at the roadside opposite their farm, advertising for sale “SWEET CRON”?

Friday, 11 September 2009

Day 6: Weiser, ID - Grants Pass, OR

A pre-dawn start to get back onto the route, but at least it was a lot warmer than it had been in Montana.  The first half of one of the longest days of the trip saw a variety of scenery - coniferous forests at the higher altitudes; sage brush and/or meadows at the lower ones, depending on the proximity of irrigation.  And a similar variety of roads - tight and twisty or fast and open.  The run from Cambridge down to the Oregon state line was firmly in the former category, with the sign to the Brownlees Campground - where the Pirsigs camped on their second night out from Bozeman - actually easy to find .

The border between Oregon and Idaho runs along the Snake river, which must have been quite something before The Mgt came and buggered it up with a bunch of dams.  Just downstream of here is Hells Canyon which, with a depth of 8,000 feet, makes that one down in Arizona look a bit second-rate.  Most of the book's traveloguery on this section is limited to the names of towns where either the bike or its riders stopped for fuel.  I missed Unity - a couple of miles in the opposite direction - and instead stopped for "gas" in John Day.  Wisely, as it turned out.  In this area you drive through John Day on the John Day Highway, which runs along the valley of the John Day river, through Dayville and to, among other places, the John Day Fossil Beds.  I'm beginning to see a pattern here...

Dayville was another fuel stop for the Pirsigs, but unless I blinked and missed it, the last remaining filling station has gone.  Apparently at one time the  place boasted no fewer than six, which suggests that the locals had built up an economy based entirely on the sale of petroleum products to one another.  The huge cottonwood trees mentioned in the book are still alive and well, though.

Someone hid the turning to Prineville Junction, though I managed to find it at the second attempt.  A Good Thing, as the direct route from Prineville to Redmond was horribly busy.  However, there's no avoiding US-97 in the end.  Busy as anything from Redmond south past Bend and when the traffic finally cleared, one is still saddled with a wide and ruler-straight road on which the Oregoons have slapped a 55 mph speed limit chiz.  The travellers camped north of La Pine, off the main road in a bunch of scrubby little trees and soft dust.  However, all around La Pine there are uncountable numbers of scrubby little trees, so any attempt to narrow down the location was futile.

Onwards to Crater Lake.  I spent a while here last year, so didn't linger for much longer than it took to snap a couple of photos and fill the car up from Oregon's slowest pump.  On leaving the National Park, the Pirsigs erred in their navigation.  They should have turned right on OR-62, gone up to OR-230 and turned left for Medford.  They instead turned left, followed the 62 back to US-97 and went down the eastern side of Upper Klamath Lake, which is a lot further.

I did neither, having done a complete lap of said lake last year, and instead went down the western side, to rejoin the Zen route on OR-140 to Medford.  This possessed the not-inconsiderable advantage of being nicely shaded from the sun, as by now it was going from "comfortable" to "seriously hot".  By the time I reached Medford, the temperature was in the mid-nineties Fahrenheit, with a high of 97 degrees.  It's only twenty-five miles further up I-5 to Grants Pass, so I pressed on with my ears - unaccustomed to sunlight - now well and truly ablaze.  And it transpires I’m in the same Best Western, and ate in the same noshery, as Mark Richardson. Spook!

Thought for the day: why does Sinclair Oil use a green dinosaur as its logo-thing outside its filling stations?  Are they, perchance, trying to say that, unlike the inferior fuels supplied by its competitors, Sinclair petrol is made from decomposed apatosauruses?  We demand answers!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Day 5: Bozeman, MT - Weiser, ID

The knowledgeable reader will doubtless already be aware that the ZMM route doesn't go through Weiser.  So am I, 'tis merely that the selection of accommodation in Cambridge appeared limited.  Weiser turned out similarly, but the State Street Motel has provided a huge room with a fridge for the BEER for about half what you'd pay in one of the chain motels.  So there.

Anyway, a truly glorious day on the road, though it was cold enough to freeze the wossnames off a brass monkey this morning, with temperatures below freezing.  The Sutherlands wouldn't have liked it at all.  So, roof up for the first few hours.  This started along the valley west of Bozeman, which turned out to be something to do with the headwaters of the Missouri.  In contrast with the same river at Mobridge, this part could probably have been jumped across without much danger of falling in.  I then followed MT-2 up and down various valleys and over the Continental Divide at Pipestone Pass.  At the northern end of this, you pop out of the valley and are immediately confronted with the unlovely sprawl that is Butte.  This was copper mining country, and now isn't, and it shows.

A quick burst of I-90 took me up to Anaconda, another copper town dominated by the 585 foot high smokestack, which apparently contains enough bricks to build a wall five feet high around Jeremy Clarkson's ego.  The route then follows MT-1 - more wooded river valleys, and passes through Hall, where the Pirsigs stopped for a rest by the church.  Another burst of I-90 takes one to Missoula, but from here on it's lesser roads all the way.  Up Lolo Pass, at the top of which is a sign reading "Winding roads next 99 miles", which is enough to put a grin on any keen driver's face.

On the descent, the SatNav claimed to have identified NF-5650, the logging road up which the Pirsigs camped on their first night after leaving Bozeman, and shortly afterwards the Mark One Human Eyeball found the Lochsa Lodge, which seems to be where they breakfasted the next morning.  The descent of the Lochsa river valley was spoiled a bit by roadworks, but conditions improved after leaving US-12 for ID-13 at Kooskia.

Pirsig is sparing with his descriptions of locations on this leg of the trip, but does mention the descent into the Salmon river valley after Grangeville.  The old White Bird Grade, however, has been replaced with the Seven Mile Hill, which is about seven miles of serious downhill, runaway truck ramps included.  It would be instructive to do this on a bicycle...  The route follows US-95 as far as Cambridge, where it turns north-west towards Hell's Canyon and the Oregon state line, but that'll have to wait for tomorrow.

Thought for the day: Motorcyclist!  If you pull over onto the right shoulder of the road, the last thing I expect you'll do is pull a U-turn in front of me when I'm doing 65 mph.  You are lucky to be alive, and also this: a twat.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Day 4: Miles City, MT - Bozeman, MT

At last there are wiggles on the map!  Hurrah!

But not until about 200 miles of mostly non-wiggly roads along the Yellowstone Valley.  Bah!  I tried where possible to follow the pre-Interstate route, but my road atlas isn't sufficiently detailed to show all the roads, leading me to fear the prospect of travelling twenty miles only to end up in a field, so I ended up cheating on I-94 for much of the route from Miles City to Billings.  I didn't, in the end, go looking for further landmarks in Miles City, as it was still dark when I left.  Not to mention chilly and occasionally damp.

So the lid stayed up until the "gas" stop in Billings, following which I was for the first time back on familiar roads, at least for a few miles.  In 2005 I'd hoped to cross the Beartooth Highway, which reaches a smidge under eleven thousand feet in altitude, but that year part of it had fallen off the mountain, to the inconvenience of through traffic.  But this year it was open, and mostly glorious - there's a fair bit of resurfacing going on at the top.  I'd read that the posted speed limit was 15 mph, but at least on the Montana side the signs read "70" all the way up.  Though anyone who actually tries to do 70 up there is either a Tarmac rally specialist or tired of life.

I missed the sign at the top, so elected to turn round and go back to get the summit photo.

Bad idea.

On restarting, the tyre pressure warning light came on.  For a while I thought "I'll ignore that, it might go away", but it didn't, and frequent inspections of the rubberware seemed to indicate that the right rear was going all Dorothy on me.  The freebie map given away at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park shewed a "gas" station at Mammoth Hot Springs; with the intervention of their air line I was able to limp to Gardiner, where a Nice Man at Tire Iron diagnosed and mended the p+nct+r+ in twenty minutes, for twenty-five dollars.  Back in business!

Ah, yes, the Zen route.  Well, I think I found the place they stayed in Gardiner, and have, after arrival in Bozeman, spent a pleasant while seeking out the DeWeese residence, which is way out of town and set in some of the most gorgeous surroundings imaginable.  Bozeman itself, however, is very busy and, at least around what is now part of Montana State University, impossible to park in.  So I found the site of the Pirsigs' former house (though there's a suspiciously large area of grass where instinct tells me it ought to have been located), and the hotel in which Bob and Chris stayed after their hike into the mountains, but the Opera House sadly eluded me.

Bozeman splits the book's travelogue in half, as the Sutherlands returned to Minneapolis from here, and I feel rather sorry for them in that respect, as to come are more wiggly lines on the map.

Thought for the day: Alamo Car Rentals, you are a shower of dunces!  If I'd had to put the spare tyre on, I'd have been in deep doo-doo, because I wouldn't have known with any certainty where to put the jack, because you didn't leave the owner's manual in the car.  Are people really prone to nicking them as souvenirs?

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Day 3: Fergus Falls, MN – Miles City, MT

Page 14 says: “We have learned to spot the good ones [roads] on a map, for example.  If the line wiggles, that’s good.  That means hills.”  Ri-i-i-i-i-i-i-ght. So how come in more than six hundred miles I didn’t encounter one corner requiring me to brake, eh?  

Shortly after Fergus Falls comes the so-called Red River “valley”.  A valley is usually thought of as a more-or-less deep hole with a river at the bottom; that of the Red River is flatter than a recently-ironed pancake and makes the Bedford Levels look like the Matterhorn.  After Ellendale things are similar, but with a profusion of small lakes; after crossing the Mighty Missouri (which is fairly mighty at this point, due to the presence of a dam about seventy-five miles downstream) things get drier and lumpier more or less all the way to Miles City.  Inspiring it is not; as a venue for a motorcycle ride it must rank alongside Antarctica for suitability.

Moreover, many of the locations mentioned in the book proved elusive or vanished.  The last rest stop of the first day was at the Camp Buell State Historic Site, south of Milnor.  There are even photos to prove it, but I couldn’t find the wretched place at all.  The motel in Oakes apparently burned down in 2001, while the restaurant in Ellendale where the party had breakfast and thawed out was also conspicuously absent.  The gas station in Hague is long gone and the park in Herreid was hiding, as was the surface of US-83 through town.

By happy coincidence, though, I stopped to fill the tank in Mobridge, right next door to the Yellow Sub restaurant, which in a previous life was the A&W.  The Prairie Motel in Lemmon, where Mark Richardson nearly copped off with the receptionist, has not yet been burned down for the insurance money, but appears still to be closed.  Shadehill Reservoir, where the party camped on the second night of the trip, is still there, as is the final rest stop of the third day of the Zen trip, some thirty miles before Miles City.  I haven’t yet looked for the hotel – possibly the Olive on Main Street – or the successor to Bill’s Cycle Shop, but might do so on the morrow.

Thought for the day: why would anyone equip an automatic gearbox with a manual overdrive button?  Ford, over to you…

Monday, 7 September 2009

Day 2: Madison, WI – Fergus Falls, MN

Oh what a lovely day to go upon pilgrimages, as Geoffrey Chaucer might have said, only spelled differently. Roof down all day, so I now have a stiff neck and a sunburned ear’ole. A long drag up a rather non-scenic stretch of Interstate to St. Paul, MN and the former residence of Mr Pirsig. The address can readily be determined by searching teh Intarwebs, and I’m not entirely comfortable with taking photographs of someone else’s house without their permission, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it exists. Then across the Mighty Mississippi – which isn’t all that mighty this far upstream – into Minneapolis and thence to the former Sutherland residence.  The address of this one is in the book, so you can look it up yourself.

Common consensus suggests that the riders took MN-55 north-west from the Twin Cities. So that’s what I did too. This bit of the US lacks forests, mountains, deserts and so forth, but it’s got lakes of all shapes and sizes, most of which you can’t see because there’s a tree in the way. It has been suggested that the picnic area mentioned on page 16 (of the Vintage 25th Anniversary edition) is on the left of route 55 – it certainly has the cast-iron pump. A few miles further on is the infamous missed signpost (p30) - it's only as big as a very small barn door This was followed shortly by my own navigational error when trying to get through Fergus Falls. In the end I had to cheat and use a mile of I-94. As, I just discovered, did Mark Richardson.  
Because tomorrow is Labor Day, I decided to stop here in Fergus Falls to be sure of finding a room, food and an open “gas” station prior to setting out into the wilds of the Dakotas tomorrow.

Thought for the day: on a cycle you don’t notice sunburn until you stop and then it’s too late. Likewise in a convertible.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Day 1: Larrington Towers – Madison, WI

At this point, you’re probably thinking “What on earth is Mr Larrington doing in Madison, WI, which, let’s face it, is an awful long way from Battle Mountain, NV.  This latter location being the raison d’etre of the entire trip.”  The answer, my pretties, is that Madison is handily placed between Chicago – which has a major international airport – and Minneapolis – whose international airport did not suit my plans nearly as well.

“Minneapolis!”, I hear you cry.  “Why Minneapolis?”  Here is where I, in spite of my recent military issue haircut – turn back into the silly hippy I resembled up until last Tuesday.  Silly hippies of a Certain Age will no doubt be familiar with Robert M. Pirsig’s magnum opus “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance”, and the travelogue part of that book commences just outside Minneapolis.  My now almost dead first copy is dated 1979, and almost ever since acquiring it, I’ve felt it would be fun to follow the route.  A chance encounter with Mark Richardson’s record of his own Pirsig Pilgrimage, entitled “Zen And Now”, in a bookshop in San Francisco airport last year finally roused me from my torpor, so here I am.  Unlike Bob & Chris Pirsig, John & Sylvia Sutherland or, indeed, Mark Richardson, I’m not doing the trip on a motorcycle.  This is possibly not unconnected with the fact that I can’t ride one.  Instead the Nice People at Alamo Car Rentals have hired unto me a Ford Mustang convertible with a clock that doesn’t work.  But it represents a considerable step up from the Chrysler Sebring I feared I’d get.  Body clock says it’s now half past three tomorrow morning, so time for bed.

Thought for the day: instead of filling Heathrow’s Terminal 5 building with large and no doubt architecturally-significant empty spaces, Lord Bloody Rogers, why didn’t you provide somewhere for the weary traveller to SIT DOWN?