Friday, September 11, 1981


Some bikers, upon completing a trip like this one, sit down and write a book about how the trip has changed their life, or inspired them, or revealed some great truths.  It wasn't like that for me.  I set out to see the county and to have fun, and that's what happened.  My only revelations were of mundane truths that I rather expected, anyway.  For example:

  - This is a big country.  It's also beautiful.  There’s a lot to see and do, and there's just not enough time to do it all.  We must pick and choose, and it is difficult to do wisely.

  - People are basically good and kind and honest.  There are exceptions, of course, but for every mean bastard or inconsiderate turkey we met (usually aged 16-30, male, driving a car), there were at least five people who were kind to us, gave us directions, fed us, put us up for the night, opened their stores for us - the list goes on and on.

  - It's not easy to maintain complete harmony and compatibility with a riding companion for 4300 miles.  Paces differ, conflicts arise in the division of time among activities, people get lost, or dawdle, and someone ends up waiting several hours - this list goes on and on, too.

Jack was an early riser, efficient in his actions; I tended to sleep in, and performed my chores more slowly.  Jack was more interested in setting a steady pace, with short rest stops and an afternoon nap.  I rode faster, with frequent sightseeing stops.  Jack preferred the smooth, direct routes.  I took the old roads with their hills and curves.  Jack's more talkative - after all, he's in real estate.  I'm quiet, sometimes downright uncommunicative, especially when provoked by incidents such as three flats and a broken spoke or two.  Part of the problem may be that I subconsciously equated Jack with my father, with whom I have trouble getting along.  If I did the trip again, I would either do it alone or travel with a larger group.

It's now September 11, two weeks since the trip ended.  I sat down tonight to trace our route on a map of the United States, referring to the notes I had mailed home to Dad for the names of towns we had passed through.  Looking at the map, it doesn't seem possible that I really biked all that way - after all, here I am back home, and everything here is the same as it was three months ago.  The notes read as if a stranger had written them in the distant past.  It would be very easy to convince myself that this summer never really happened.  Do I have a subconscious desire to suppress memories of the trip?

When we finally reached Yorktown, I didn't want to admit to myself that it was the end; I wanted to keep on cycling.  Now the adventure belongs to the past.  It's another sign of my mortality, and that may be an explanation for the seeming strangeness of the notes and my desire to prolong the trip.

When we crossed into Illinois, I asked myself, "Why should I continue to the east coast?  What will it prove?  Why not turn left and head home to Michigan?  After all, it will save the trouble of finding a way home."

I didn't do it, of course.  Jack was carrying the food and cooking equipment, and I had the tent.  We were depending on each other.  If that had not been the case, what would I have decided to do?  I don't know.

The journey seemed to fall into five segments, with the dividing points being the towns of Missoula, Denver, Ste. Genevieve, and Berea.  During the last leg (and more intensely when we reached Virginia), the underlying thought for both Jack and me was to get the ride over with.  After almost two months on the road, and with our self-imposed deadline of the end of August approaching, we were both mentally tired of the daily routine which formed the framework of our days.  Only when we arrived in Yorktown did that ennui evaporate.  I felt as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders, and that I was free to cast my eye in any direction - not just east.  The future was no longer certain:  it was of my own choosing, and therein lay excitement.

Tuesday, September 8, 1981

79. Home: Lansing, Michigan

Day 79:  Tuesday, September 8, 1981
Home:  Marietta to Lansing

Today's notes are being written 32 years after they occurred.  And, given my advanced senility, I of course can't remember most of the details.  Such as whether this really happened on September 8.  So I could make up something really outlandish - a slam-bang ending to my big journey - and nobody would be the wiser.


I do remember that Mary and I did not really have that much in common, and I'm not that much of a conversationalist, so the trip home was pretty quiet.  She lives in a suburb of Cleveland, so if we made the 700 miles from Atlanta in one day, it would have been a pretty long trip.  Mary drove me to the bus station, I threw my bike on board, and was home some five hours later.  It was a low-key ending to a rewarding summer adventure.  At least Catastrophe (my cat) was glad to see me.

Monday, September 7, 1981

78. Back to Marietta

Day 78:  Monday, September 7, 1981
Duluth to Marietta

Start of Atlanta bicycle race
And they're off!
I slept in this morning - didn't get up until 7:15.  This time it cost me - I missed the ride portion of the Bicycle Morning, and didn't get a T-shirt.  But I did get to watch the criterium.  It was on an L-shaped course almost a mile long, the two outer legs being on streets adjacent to the Lenox Square parking lot.  Dale Stetina was riding for the Panasonic-Shimano pro team, but the Osborne brothers, two Atlanta amateurs (Jay is only 19), were the local favorites.  It was a timed race lasting 80 minutes, with cash primes.  Jay Osborne pulled ahead after just a few laps, but soon rejoined the field.  Dale moved out in front about a third of the way through, and lapped the field at 65 minutes.  Just after lapping the pack, he suffered a flat tire - but the free lap rule was in effect, so he rejoined the field on the next lap with no penalty.  Three riders were battling for the lead:  Dale, one of his teammates, and a biker for another team.  Dale and his partner managed to hold the lone biker back, and the Panasonic team captured first and second (Dale) place.

Riders in Atlanta bicycle race
After 32 years, don't ask me who's who.

At the race, I met a bicycle mechanic, his wife, and his son, and we ate lunch together, then rode to Piedmont Park to catch some of the 8-day Atlanta Jazz Festival.  The mechanic suggested a scenic route back to Marietta, where I was to rejoin Mary for the trip home, and mentioned the steepest hill in the area:  a 20% grade on Cochise Drive.  Of course, I had to try it.  The hill was only about 300 yards long, but I had to stop twice on the way up to catch my breath.  It was definitely the second steepest hill on the trip - after the driveway up to the hostel at Grand Lake in Colorado.

Sunday, September 6, 1981

77. Still Duluth

Day 77:  Sunday, September 6, 1981

Today may be the day I cycled the farthest without getting anywhere.  I'm right back behind the railway museum again.

A cyclist from Norcross buzzed by the museum just as I pulled up stakes this morning.  We rode together for a few miles (that workout really gave me an appetite!), and he steered me in the right direction for breakfast:  the Original Pancake House on Peachtree Road, just southwest of Oglethorpe University.  This morning, the line at the door was half an hour long, but the wait was worth it.  I ordered an apple pancake.  It was superb, and would have filled an ordinary person up.  I would have ordered again, but the waitress never returned.

I shared the breakfast table with another cyclist - a French pastry chef who now lives in Atlanta.  He had just completed a bicycle tour which took him to Texas, then Connecticut, and down the coast to Jacksonville.  He has worked just about everywhere, and loves to travel, never staying at the same job very long.  He quit his job at the Hilton for his summer trip, and promptly found another when he returned.

After breakfast, I headed for Lenox Square to sign up for tomorrow's Bicycle Morning.  The bike ride starts at 8:00, so I'll have to get up early in the morning.  And the criterium at 10:00 would be interesting.  Top racers from Georgia and national teams, including the Stetina brothers, are competing for $3000 in cash prizes.

Southeastern Railway Museum
Work crew at the Southeastern Railway Museum
I had planned to ride around downtown Atlanta, but it was already noon and the traffic was picking up, so I headed back to the railway museum.  It was open by this time, but not much was going on.  This museum is a poor relative of those in Denver and Roanoke.  There is plenty of rolling stock, but there are no maintenance facilities or regular operating sessions, although several pieces are in operating condition.  Those engines are a 1952 diesel from the Southern Railway's Crescent Limited passenger train, a 1953 0-6-0 switcher built for the army, and a Heisler that has been used in logging and quarry operations.  Also on hand, but not running, are Atlanta & West Point 2-8-0 #290, which at one time sat in an Atlanta park and now needs $200,000 in repairs; a 1919 diesel-electric freight motor, and a Piedmont  Northern electric freight motor that has almost the same body as the diesel.  A fireless 0-4-0 that once worked in an industrial switching yard is sitting on a flatcar, and an Atlanta man is rebuilding an Atlanta trolley car on one of the tracks.  A turntable is awaiting installation, but that project will cost an estimated $100,000.  Railroading is an expensive hobby.

The men here say that the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum in Chattanooga is excellent.  It has a full-time director (who can solicit funds) and three miles of former main-line track that is in excellent (45 mph) condition.  They also mention that Southern has merged with Norfolk & Western, and plans to restore the huge J-6 locomotive #611 that is now at the Roanoke museum for excursion passenger service.  [Note from the future:  In 1981, Norfolk Southern restored #611, and used her in excursion service until 1994.  The museum is once again trying to return #611 to service.

Well, railroad interests managed to occupy the entire afternoon.  I wheeled into Duluth to buy more film and grab a bite (no more home cooking on this trip!), then came back to the museum to set up camp.  As you can see, I didn't accomplish much, but it was an interesting day.

Saturday, September 5, 1981

76. Duluth, Georgia

Day 76:  Saturday, September 5, 1981
Stone Mountain to Duluth

Poor planning and the lack of a definite itinerary are really leaving their mark.  I had thought that four days in Atlanta would give me plenty of time for a variety of activities, but two days are now gone and I've accomplished very little.

Tourist trap choo-choo
Tourist trap choo-choo
The state has managed to turn Stone Mountain into a fair-sized tourist complex, complete with fake Civil War trains, a paddle-wheel riverboat, exhibits and monuments glorifying the Confederacy, and Muzak.  The Stone Mountain sculpture itself, though much reduced from the one envisioned and begun by Gutzon Borglum, is still impressive in scale.  Borglum worked on his design for three years before quitting over disagreements with the project's sponsors.  Another sculptor removed the figure of General Lee that Borglum had chiseled, and worked for three years on the present design before running out of money in 1928.

Stone Mountain
It looks kinda like a big loaf of bread.

The mountain sat for almost 50 years before the tools were once again picked up - for the final time.  The sculpture was completed in 1970, and shows Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, the two generals on horseback, looking out over what remains of their dream of a separate nation.

I climbed the footpath to the top of Stone Mountain - most tourists take the aerial tramway.  There was more schlock at the top.  On a clear day, the view must be magnificent, but today's haze made it impossible even to spot Atlanta, which is 12-15 miles to the west.

At the bottom, I met a couple of former Michiganders (he had attended MSU) who had moved to Atlanta four years ago.  They loved the city, in spite of its extremely high humidity - "You get used to it," they said.  "Just think of it as a steam bath."

I frittered away most of the day at Stone Mountain.  Around 4:00, I set out for Tucker, where I stopped at a bike shop, and Duluth, where the Southeastern Railway Museum is located.  It was closed when I arrived, but I'll camp here tonight, cycle downtown tomorrow morning, and catch the railroad museum in the afternoon, when it'll be open.  The bike shop was also closed when I got there, but one of the guys (he was from Flint) opened it up for me, oiled my chain, and gave me a beer, and we talked for a while.  He's moving to Key West, where everyone rides bicycles, but nobody goes very far.  He says there's a huge bicycle shop there - 300 bikes on the floor, and the business is great.  Here in Atlanta, he's helped put together a criterium-plus-easy-bike-ride, which will be held on Labor Day.  I might try to catch that, if I can figure out how to get there from here.

Hint for bikers:  Don't stay in a big, crowded campground on Labor Day weekend.

Friday, September 4, 1981

75. Stone Mountain, Georgia

Day 75:  Friday, September 4, 1981
Marietta to Stone Mountain

I really slept in this morning.  Didn't get up until 9:00 or so, and it was 11:00 before I was back in the saddle.

I felt like an interloper last night, sitting around with Mary and her friend and her brother, so I decided to just go my own way for the next four days, see a little of the country  around Atlanta, and rejoin Mary Tuesday morning for the ride to Cleveland.  Stone Mountain seemed like a good place to start.

Stone Mountain was only about 30 miles from Marietta, but it took me nine hours to get there.  Yesterday's light diet, plus the exertion after a day's inactivity, combined to give me a feeling of light-headedness and general weakness.  I think my meal stops were about five miles apart all day.  And the cold front which has been stationary over the Appalachians for the past four or five days finally produced some thundershowers in the Atlanta area.

Traveling through greater metropolitan Atlanta was no fun, either.  And several rush-hour traffic jams made the going even slower.  I was lucky to get the tent set up before dark.

Stone Mountain is just what its name implies - a big hunk of stone sticking up out of the rolling, wooded Georgia hills.  A state park surrounds the mountain, which, since the Confederate memorial carving was completed, has become a tourist attraction, complete with aerial tramway, steam railway, and Confederate history museum.  As I circled the mountain on the way to the campground, the sun forced its way through to bathe the mountain, wreathed in leftover rain clouds, in a soft pink glow.

Hint to bikers:  If you're stopping at a large campground such as this one, which has over 400 sites, don't pay a site fee.  Just say you're looking for Joe and Annie, who drive a blue Chevy pickup with silver trim and have a camping trailer...  Then you can just cruise through the campground, find some friendly people, and share their site.  Just like Yellowstone.  But don't wait until dark to do it.

Thursday, September 3, 1981

74. Marietta,Georgia

Day 74:  Thursday, September 3, 1981

Marietta, Georgia

It's time to move on.  Mary left for Atlanta this morning, so she stopped by Williamsburg to pick me up.  I said good-bye to Mike and hit the road - the easy way, in the right front seat.

We took I-85 all the way to Atlanta - made the 500 or so miles in 8 hours, a little faster than I'm used to.  Mary took me to her brother's apartment to spend the night, then drove over to her friend's place.  Her brother spent the night with his girlfriend, so I'm alone here.  And hungry.  I haven't eaten since noon.  Guess I'll stay up and watch the late movie and listen to my stomach.

Wednesday, September 2, 1981

71-73. Williamsburg and Jamestown, Virginia

Day 71:  Monday, August 31, 1981
Day 72:  Tuesday, September 1, 1981
Day 73:  Wednesday, September 2, 1981

The past few days have been quite relaxing.  I doubt if I've traveled 50 miles since last Saturday.  There is so much to see and do here, it would be easy to spend a week, or a month, or a year, on this peninsula.

A Williamsburg residence
A Williamsburg residence.
I doubt the streets were paved back then.
Two days ago, I met Mike, an architecture student who is working at C.W. for the summer, doing architectural documentation on several buildings.  He's been house-sitting, moving from house to house as families take their vacations.  This week, he was staying at the John Greenhow house, in Duke of Gloucester Street near the magazine and the church.  Being a sometime bicyclist, he struck up a conversation with me, and I ended up staying with him for three days.  It was surely much more convenient than biking back and forth to a campground.

Yesterday, I cycled out to Jamestown.  Compared with Williamsburg, it's rather a letdown.  The only remains of the original colony are part of a church tower, and foundations to mark the locations of the houses.  The foundations were excavated years ago, then reburied to preserve them.  New brickwork now indicates the positions of these foundations.

Glassblowing at Jamestown
A demonstration of
colonial-era glassblowing
at Jamestown
In the 1700s, after the capital had moved to Williamsburg, Jamestown Island became part of a plantation.  The ruins of the main house, destroyed three times by fire, still stand like a sentinel over the forgotten streets of the town.

Carter's Grove is another 18th-century plantation, about six miles south of Williamsburg on the bank of the James River.  It was but one link in the chain of the mighty Carter empire, which at its peak held 300,000 acres in Tidewater Virginia.  Almost all the outbuildings have disappeared, but the main house has been preserved and is now maintained and exhibited by the C.W.F.  The last owner, so the story goes, wanted to buy Westover Plantation, but couldn't so she bought Carter's Grove and remodeled it to look like Westover.  I was a little disappointed in the house, but enjoyed talking to the gardener.

Much of my time these past three days has been spent searching for ghosts.  One book (Ghosts of Virginia, by Marguerite DuPont Lee) has two pages on a Williamsburg ghost, but the account is romanticized and full of historical errors.  The official C.W. position is that there might well be a ghost or two, but it's not worth looking into because C.W. deals with historical fact, and ghosts cannot be substantiated.  (Maybe transubstantiated?)  But in casual inquiries around the area, I turned up evidence of perhaps half a dozen ghosts.  Didn't see any, though.

Fifes and drums
Fifes and drums and fifes and drums and...
Today, the Lord Mayor of London visited C.W. in connection with the Yorktown bicentennial celebration.  The C.W. fife and drum regiment put on a show, and there was a musket salute.  It made a nice show for the tourists, but Mike said that he tires of listening to the fifes and drums all summer.

For supper last night, Mike and I went to a small restaurant in Williamsburg.  Surprisingly, it featured decent food at a low price.  For $3.75, we had a huge portion of lasagna with tossed salad and garlic bread.  I topped it off with three beers.  The lasagna wasn't as good as mine, but it filled us up.