Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Many of you were introduced to my sister Mary, "the pretty one" in her comment postings, and her husband Ken as they joined me on the ride from their home in Redmond, Washington to Blaine and back to Redmond. A couple of months ago Ken and Mary were badly injured when their Harley high-sided on Washington state road 20. Both were hospitalized with significant injuries. Fortunately I am able to report that both are on the mend. Ken is back at work performing magic in metal with cars that have been banged, scraped and dented. Mary's recovery has been slower, but she has been able to resume her bookkeeping business from home. It was frustrating being on the other side of the country and unable to provide any assistance, but the kids all pitched in to help manage the home front.

Ken is a committed rider, and with his father is enclosing the carport so that they will have a place out of the weather to begin making repairs to the bike. I hope they soon will be,as my friend Gary Galloway says, "In the wind."

Mary and Ken help provide a framework for responding to the question asked in a recent comment about what sort of gear to wear. Ken and Mary were wearing helmets and leathers, without which I am confident this posting would have been about a much sadder subject. So, wear a helmet, full-face is better. I used to wear leathers, having worn them when I raced, but I think for touring you are much better off with a breathable, synthetic riding suit with protective padding. The advantage of wearing a waterproof riding suit beyond the protection is that you don't have to stop to put on rain gear when a storm threatens. Or worse, try to stop beside the highway to get into a rain suit as the storm arrives. You'll get wet and might get clipped by a car or truck whose driver's vision is obscured by the weather.

Mary and Ken were planning to ride from Washington to New Mexico next summer for a Bender family reunion in celebration of Mary's numerically significant (divisible by five) birthday. I hope that will happen. I Mary, Ken and I would rather ride a motorcycle across the country through rain, fog or heat than stand in line barefooted to go through airport screening. There are risks on the road, but the annoyance factor is much lower. Did I tell you that Mary and Ken had several hundred dollars worth of Harley shirts and gadgets stolen out of their suitcase when traveling from Austin to Seattle. The Transportation Security Administration said, "It couldn't have been our people." The airline said, "It couldn't have been our people." Right.

Friday, June 8, 2007


The question most frequently asked of me during and after the trip, "Did you go with anyone, or were you alone?"

With the exception of the times I rode with Mary and Ken from Seattle to Blaine and back and with Todd through the mountains west of the Hudson Valley, I didn't ride with anyone else on a motorcycle. I wasn't alone, though.

When I was getting ready to take my Alaska trip Jack Wiggers, one of my grandchildren, made a pet rock for me. We mounted the rock to the tachometer glass with hook and loop closure material (you and I call it Velcro, a trademarked brand). With the exception of the roughest sections of the Dalton Highway between Cold Foot and Prudhoe Bay, the pet rock rode on the tach. On those rough sections it rode in the tank bag.

On this trip the rock rode the entire distance on the tach. So, I wasn't alone because I always had my pet rock with me.

And even though my family and friends weren't along on the ride most of the time, I knew of their interest and attention. Todd and Mary worked harder on the blog than I did, and Ray monitored the AeroAstro tracking site closely when he wasn't on the golf course. Kim Irving of AeroAstro sent me a note yesterday to let me know that the tracking site had more than 2,000 hits from more than 200 discrete computers over the course of the ride. Ray could only account for two or three computers and no more than half the hits, so I had lots of eyes on my progress. Thank you. I knew you were with me.

The one person who was most involved with me on the trip was my wife Anne who is shown in our kitchen. Anne has ridden on a couple of cross country motorcycle trips, and met me for an Alaska Ferry cruise on the way back from Prudhoe Bay. We've talked about a trike conversion of a Gold Wing or a BMW cruiser to increase her comfort level on future rides. Anne says most of what she has seen on these trips has been the back of my helmet. I've suggested a sidecar to improve the view, but that idea doesn't have any traction.

My route didn't take me through Atlanta this trip so I don't have any new pictures of my stepdaughter Liz, her husband John Mark Wiggers and their two boys Jack (creator of the pet rock) and Elliott, who was born after the Alaska trip. All but Elliott are pictured in the Alaska blog.

I have included photos of the rest of the Columbia cast. My daughter Sumner is shown on the evening we celebrated a numerically significant birthday (divisible by five). Sumner is shown with her friend Adam Wamer, who, like Sumner, is in the final stages of his undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina.

My younger son, Edward, is shown with his wife Tracy. Edward is in his first year of law practice with Nexsen Pruet LLC in Columbia assigned to the firm's health care team. Tracy is public relations director for the innovative and successful charity Souper Bowl of Caring. Souper Bowl organizes churches around the country to get youth groups involved on the Sunday the National Football League plays its Super Bowl. The youth groups raise money for charities in their communities. One distinguishing characteristic of Souper Bowl is that none of the money raised in the communities goes to support the national organization, but is put to use in the communities where it is raised for purposes chosen by local participants.

Tracy's parents, Gary and Dottie Bonds, are in the construction equipment rental business north of Atlanta, but still find time to get out and about on Gary's Harley. Gary has completed some Iron Butt adventures and ridden to Alaska.

Friends, colleagues and clients have all said they're glad I'm home. I appreciate their thoughts and expressions. I'm also glad to be back home.

I'm glad you were along for the ride. I'll think of another adventure down the road, and invite you to come along. That way I won't have to travel alone.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

High finance in the high desert

For generations natives living on reservations in New Mexico and Arizona have come to Richardson's Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico to do business.

Much of the business is borrowing money. For collateral the natives pawn their jewelry, their saddles, their rugs, their baskets, their pottery and their rifles. When the pawn is not redeemed, it becomes "dead pawn," and the goods are sold.

I delayed posting a report on my visit to Richardson's because I purchased a necklace for Anne, and I wanted it to be a surprise. I asked for a Navajo hishi necklace only to learn that what I wanted was not hishi. What I was looking for was a necklace made from strands of thin silver. For years I have described such necklaces as hishi. But, it turns out I was wrong. Hishi refers to a beaded necklace. The necklace I was wanting is called liquid silver because the fine strands of silver appear to flow around the neck of the wearer.

Richardson's, on historic Route 66, has been in business since 1913. The few photos I have posted here cannot do justice to the thousands of magnificent rugs, baskets and pots on display. For a better feel of the place, go to Most of what is for sale at Richardson's is not dead pawn. Mark King, a retired banker now working at Richardson's, who is shown explaining a "Storm" design rug told me that 95 percent of the jewelry pawn is redeemed and overall only two percent of the pawn becomes dead pawn.

For years I have collected Navajo rugs and pottery from the pueblos of New Mexico and Arizona. I was greatly tempted to detour from my westward journey to go to Crown Point on the Navajo Reservation for the monthly rug auction that was being held the evening of the day I was in Gallup.

The Navajo rug in my den at home came from a Crown Point auction several years ago. On the way to the auction Ray and I met one of our literary heroes, Tony Hillerman, in a Navajo co-op in Thoreau, New Mexico. Tony was waiting for us at Crown Point and gave us tips on how to deal with the prospect of bidding on hundreds of rugs from all parts of the vast Navajo nation.

Tony Hillerman's novels are set in the Navajo nation and have as their central characters two tribal police officers. Tony is not a native, in fact he is a transplanted Okie, but he captures the landscape and the people to give a rich texture to his suspense stories. If you haven't read a Tony Hillerman novel, you have missed a wonderful opportunity to be entertained and educated. I'd recommend "Thief of Time," but that is probably because I like its setting in Chaco Canyon and its connection to pottery.

There are several traditional designs for rugs. Some designs, such as "Two Grey Hills" and "Teec Nos Pos", are named for the trading posts in the areas where the rugs are made. The rugs are made from thread spun from the wool sheared from sheep on the reservation. In antique rugs the colors came from dyes made from plants, but some commercially prepared dyes may be in use now. The looms on which the rugs are woven by hand are made from logs and are most often outside the hogans in which the weavers live.

In the storm design rug being shown by Mark King each of the Dine's (the name the Navajo call themselves) four sacred mountains is depicted. Lightening is portrayed in the center of the rug to represent the storm. The border of almost all of the designs has a break where the spirit is able to leave the rug.

Mark King told me there were about 2500 saddles on pawn, and a small section of the storage room for saddles is shown in one of the photos above. And, in case you ever have a desire to purchase a buffalo hide, as the sign says, you can purchase one at Richardson's.

The temptation to stay at Richardson's or go to Crown Point was great. For the sake of my budget and my schedule, I shipped a small gift home, rode a short section of old 66, returned to I-40 and headed west.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Yes, it is rocket science

"It's not rocket science" is a common expression to indicate that some activity is not difficult. Well, at AeroAstro, it is rocket science. And space science.

If you haven't taken a look at the history of AeroAstro when clicking over to check out the tracking map, I urge you to do so. You might find it interesting, especially if you, like me, haven't given much thought to private space activity.

At one point in its evolution AeroAstro built its own rocket engines, and the top picture in this series is a rocket engine that decorates the hallway in the AeroAstro offices. Models of satellites launched by AeroAstro are suspended from the ceiling joists. Pictures of rocket tests are on the wall. Even if you didn't know you were dealing with rocket science there, you could tell pretty quickly you were dealing with rockets.

I got to the AeroAstro offices in Ashburn, Virginia about mid-afternoon Friday. Todd had led me out of Hyde Park on some very interesting and scenic back roads. The kind of back roads people on motorcycles live to ride. I know that I'm heading back to Hyde Park on the bike some day so Todd can show me some more of those roads. I can remember when Todd was very young, pre-teen even, I talked about how it would be fun to take a cross country motorcycle trip with him. The response of several of my friends then was that I'd be too old to ride that far when he was old enough to go. They were wrong. I'm not too old, but it does take me longer to recover than it used to.

At AeroAstro the communications team members were sporting their trip t-shirts, and took a break from their activities to give me a tour of the place. There are no offices. Even the CEO, Dr. Rick Fleeter, occupies a space defined by the same low partitions that identify the work areas for the different teams. Outside each area is a white board so that ideas, phone numbers, names and other important information can be communicated to anyone walking by the board.

Aside from the restrooms, the only rooms in the place that were closed were the clean rooms where electronic devices are assembled. Kim told me that each of the workers in the clean rooms wore grounding devices. I asked if that were to prevent the workers from being zapped, but it is the other way around. The grounding devices keep the workers from zapping electronic circuits by conducting static electricity.

The communications team came out to the bike for a team picture. From left to right they are Pia Miranda (savior of two trips), Kim Irving (public relations director), Santiago Ferrer (the most patient customer service rep who tried to talk me through the restart of the original tracker by phone while I was in a rest area off I-10) and David Goldstein (General Manager). They have their hands on the tracker that is mounted on the bike. I appreciate the effort of the AeroAstro folks, and hope that you have enjoyed the tracking link. And, if you have a need for tracking, make your first call to AeroAstro.

Kim arranged for a local newspaper reporter to come interview the communications team and me about the effort. And, demonstrating once more that we inhabit a very small world, the reporter, Megan Kuhn of Leesburg Today is from Columbia. Her journalism teacher at Spring Valley High School was Chris McDonald who recently earned both a journalism masters degree and law degree from USC. Megan's father, Chuck Kuhn, is an adjunct professor in the USC Social Work School.

The final photo is of Santiago trying the bike on for size. The red bag behind him is the dry bag used for storing my cold weather riding gear. Fortunately, by the time I got to the Washington area I was able to return some of the cold weather gear to the bag.

Leaving AeroAstro I managed to get caught in Washington area Friday afternoon escape traffic. It took me two hours to go about 11 miles. Once I was on I-95 I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic almost all the way to Richmond. I figured that at the pace I was moving, I wasn't much faster than the armies that had moved through the area several times between 1861 and 1865. Starting with the exit sign for Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and continuing through Petersburg in Virgina, almost every exit led to the site of a Civil War battle.

When I left Hyde Park it had been my plan to make it home Friday. Darkness, procrastination and old age caught up with me in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I called it quits for the night, lamenting that I had enhanced Todd and Sharon's liquor cabinet by leaving the gin and vermouth behind figuring I'd have my Friday night martini at home. The bar in the cheap motel where I stopped had karaoke which was enough to persuade me to skip the martini.

I rode home Saturday morning, arriving about noon. I had predicted that my arrival would cure the drought in the Southeast, and, thanks to a tropical depression that crossed Florida and moved up the coast, the rain and I arrived in South Carolina at the same time.

Even though I have made it home, I have a couple more posts if you will bear with me. The delay in getting this post up is due to inertia (a body at rest tends to remain at rest) and a malfunction in my wi-fi portal at home.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A day of rest and repair

I started the trip on a Saturday, and took the following Wednesday off to play golf while the bike was being serviced in Austin. I have ridden every day since. Today, I didn't ride anywhere.

Todd drives a very large dump truck, and had to go to Pennsylvania early this morning to pick up several tons of red stone. I would have liked to ride in the truck with him, but insurance companies restrict visitors in cabs of working trucks. At Todd's urging I stayed at his house and took the day off.

It was very pleasant. I slept late. Walked down to the corner deli for a breakfast sandwich, a cup of coffee and the New York Times, and came back to sit in the shade of a tree to eat, drink and read the paper.

By the time I got up the humans in the house were gone. Todd to Pennsylvania and Sharon to her teaching. If ever I think it is difficult teaching law to undergraduates and law students, all I have to do is think of Sharon to put my job in perspective. Sharon teaches five classes each day of math and statistics to high school students.

Sharon and Todd have a dog and a cat. The dog, Tegan, has won ribbons in competitions, and has been trained to assist in animal therapy for folks in hospitals and nursing homes. Tegan is shown with Sharon engaging in one of Tegan's favorite activities, trying to bite water coming from the hose. The cat is considering acknowledging my presence.

Todd rides a Harley. That explains his comments about the machines in response to my snide remarks rgarding the brand. Todd and Sharon are shown sitting on the bike in their front yard. Obviously this is a posed photo because hardly anyone rides a motorcycle sidesaddle these days.

After I finished reading the Times I took a nap. You ask, what is new? You've told us about the naps you've taken beside stores, on rest area tables and under trees this whole trip. This one was different. I was on one of Ryan and Megan's bunk beds. As convenient as the other napping places have been on the trip, this was better.

After the nap I performed some minor maintenance on the bike. At a point on the trip around Montana or North Dakaota the bracket holding the left side fog light broke allowing the light to flop in the wind. I used by most reliable emergency maintenance product, duct tape, to hold the light in place. Today I determined that it could not be repaired, so it was removed and stuck in the tool kit for the rest of the ride.

To my great unease the right side driving light had functioned on its own schedule. Generally it wasn't working in those areas, like the coast road in California and the road to the Maine border, when I really needed it. Today I dismantled it, determined that the bulb was still sound, reassembled it, and tested it. The light works like it is supposed to in the driveway. It probably won't work Friday when I most need it.

If my memory serves, I took a second nap once Todd came in from Pennsylvania. I'm doing this post about 7:45 p.m. eastern daylight time. I think I can make it to bed time without another nap.

My goal is to get a 6:00 a.m. start Friday for home. Todd is going to ride with me as far as Port Jervis, New York, an old port shipping town inland on the Delaware River. He'll head back to Hyde Park from there and I continue south.

Yesterday I left a voicemail for Kim Irving at AeroAstroSens to say that I could choose a route home that would take me by the company's offices in Ashburn, Virginia if they had any interest in seeing the guy they had helped track around the country. Kim, a gracious public relations professional said, "of course, we'd like to see you."

So, I'm heading to AeroAstroSens tomorrow so they will have an opportunity to answer in person the question the company has carried on it webside the last several weeks. Where is Bender? (He's in our offices, and we wish he would go home.) Fortunately I did a load of laundry when I got to Todd and Sharon's house, so I can wear a clean trip shirt when I get to AeroAstroSens.

At some point when this trip is over I hope to be able to discuss in a candid fashion why one would do such a thing. Was it worth the time, the money, the pain? I think so, even when my left rotator cuff wakes me up in the night or my left hip hurts or my left hamstring needs stretching. The ring finger on my left hand has lost feeling because it has swelled making my wedding ring tight. Of course, my butt hurts and there are blisters on my throttle hand.

And, if I were think these were problems, all I would have to do is recall one young man, David Able, who graduated from the Journalism School earlier this month. David was a student at Dreher High School in Columbia with two of my children, Edward and Sumner. David had severe birth defects that kept his limbs from developing. Nothing kept David's mind or spirit from developing. David earned a degree in electronic journalism, and at commencement drove his motorised chair up the ramp to accept his diploma. David is an inspiration to everyone who has ever met him.

Or, I could think about the USC School of Nursing professor who is climbing Mt. Everest to achieve the Seven Summits. If he summits Everest, he will have climbed the highest mountain on each of the Earth's seven continents. You don't make those climbs without pain and risk.

In context, Four Corners is a piece of cake.

On the Alaska trip there was a time prior to my reaching Fairbanks on the way north that I wondered if I would have time to make it to Prudhoe Bay and back to Haines in time to catch the Alaska Ferry. The endpoint of the trip was in jeopardy. I was having serious doubts about my ability to pull it off. I was running out of time, and I hadn't even reached the most difficult part of the trip, the Dalton Highway.

There was no point on the Four Corners ride when the outcome seemed in doubt. My anxiety level had been raised several times by weather, road conditions and wildlife, but barring accident or bike failure, I was confident I would make each corner. I've wondered if the Prudhoe Bay trip would have been easier psychologically had I done Four Corners first. I think Four Corners was easier having done Prudhoe Bay first.

I'm looking forward to having the blue dot at the AeroAstroSens headquarters tomorrow. More importantly, I'm looking forward to meeting Pia Miranda and Kim Irving and all the others there who helped with the tracking. Without AeroAstroSens, there would be no easy answer to life's persistent question: Where is Bender?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Father and grandfather

I had a date Wednesday afternoon in Hyde Park, New York.

My granddaughter Megan had a softball game, and I wanted to see it. Her brother Ryan agreed to come to the game on the promise of food.

Ryan and Megan are the children of my older son, Todd, who has had such great fun with his lively comments to the blog. You might wonder why I put in photos that didn't show anyone's face. No, they are not in the witness protection program. The kids couldn't be persuaded to stand still long enough to pose, and who takes picgtures of their kids when their grandkids are around?

The ride to Hyde Park was perfect. For the first time since Los Angeles I didn't have to wear my electric jacket. In fact, I took out the fleece liner to my riding jacket and changed into my lightweight gloves. When I napped in the shade of a tree in a service plaza on the turnpike I was comfortable without any jacket at all. A vast improvement over the weather I faced on most of the trip.

As I left Rob and Karen Gips they mentioned that two people had recently been killed in the Portland area after colliding with moose. I didn't see any moose heading south and the moose warning signs were replaced by deer warning signs. On the Massachusetts Turnpike I passed an area where that had been a serious accident involving one now dead deer and several vehicles. I'm guessing that someone swerved after hitting the deer and that set off a chain reaction that in the grand style of a NASCAR race "collected" several cars. Something serious had happened because there was a wheel with tire in the middle of the road just before the gathering of vehicles on the right side of the highway. From the position of people standing by the road, one vehicle may have left the road gone into a deep ditch.

Most of the deer signs warn of deer over the next several miles. Going to Megan's softball game I noticed deer warning signs that were much narrower in their scope warning of deer in the next 1/4 mile. Was the deer someone's pet not allowed to roam too far from home?

The sky was blue, the wind and the traffic were light, and the GPS routed me along some back roads that had enough hills and curves to make the ride interesting. Riding from the Berkshires region of Massachusetts into New York's Hudson Valley the terrain features rolling hills and hardwood forests. The New York part of the journey goes through many small villages with names like Clinton's Corner and Crum Elbow. The roads are narrow and the woods thick, but every now and then you can catch a glimpse of mountains in the distance.

This part of the world has many stone walls left from an earlier time when the Europeans who displaced the natives here were Dutch. Hundreds of years later, the walls, usually about two to three feet high and built without masonry, are still standing. The Town of Hyde Park has a wall preservation program to make sure that this unique feature of the region doesn't disappear. Had the Scots come along after the Dutch they might have taken the stones to construct their houses. I'm told that the Scots in Scotland dismantled the Roman wall, Hadrian's wall, and used it to build houses. A similar fate befell sections of China's Great Wall although it wasn't the Scots to took the stones. It was an inside job.

The softball game was exciting with Megan's team holding off a last inning rally to win by two runs. Megan caught this game, and on other days pitches. The pitcher in today's game was very good, and with Megan I suspect the team has more pitching talent than other teams in the league. Going to a softball game with teams of pre-teen girls is to get a reminder that these games are played for fun. The girls play hard, but they have practiced cheers when on offense, and there is a great deal of giggling. And nobody yelled at the umpire.

Ryan has a baseball doubleheader this weekend, but I don't think I'll be able to stay to see it. I think this experiment in multimedia, transient journalism is about at the end. I have certainly gained a new perspective on blogger as journalist, and now the trick is to figure out how to work the problems I see into the courses I teach. Convergence has been a buzz word in journalism circles for more than 10 years now, and for the most part means the combining of traditional forms of journalism so that there is not necessarily a divide between print and electronic journalism. Of course the Internet is playing a significant role in convergence.

I worry that journalists diminish the value of their product when they allow blogs by volunteers to be treated on an equal footing with the stories reported, written and edited by trained professionals. The most readily identifiable shortcoming that I see in bloggers as reporters is the absence of editing. Editing to make the story more focused as well as to catch the grammatical and spelling errors that pop up in blogs, e.g., my blog. Along with those issues, there is the question of how media law, libel, invasion of privacy and similar concepts, will be adapted to the new forms of communications. That is what people like me who teach media law around the country are trying to figure out.

Coffee by the seaside

Even if the hour is late, if you have friends in a place, give them a call.

I navigated Moose Alley and got to Portland, Maine around 9:00 p.m. I found another classic road trip motel, the Admiral Inn, on U.S. 1 in South Portland. Once I got the stuff off the bike and into the room I called Rob Gips. I knew Rob had daughters, and wasn't surprised that the line was busy the first several times I called.

I persisted, and I'm glad I did. Rob invited me to come over to his house early Wednesday for coffee. The company and the house alone would have been worth the visit, but there was coffee and just out of the oven pop-overs.

Rob is a highly regarded attorney for Indian tribes, particularly in the area of tribal gaming rights. With a practice like that Rob is on the road a great deal, but I was lucky to catch him at home. Rob's wife Karen, on almost no notice and with few ingredients in the house baked the pop-overs. I'm not sure I had ever had them before, but they were tasty.

My impromptu visit came at the end of a hectic weekend with one daughter graduating from college and the other coming home for the summer. In addition there was a cousin in town. None of that bothered Karen or Rob, or if it did, they are superb actors.

We sat on the porch looking out over a rocky cliff at the Atlantic. The lobstermen in their small white boats were pulling their traps at the base of the cliff while out on the horizon oil tankers waited to unload their cargo. Since 9/11 the tankers remain off shore until their time to unload. No more waiting in port with a volitile and potentially dangerous cargo.

The house is set in Cape Elizabeth which is a planned community established in the late 1800s. The house, known as Overledge because it is built directly on a granite ledge, was designed by noted architect John Calvin Stevens. In its early years the house was a summer cottage, but it is now home year round for the Gips. Overledge was built in 1885, and has weathered many an Atlantic storm. Rob showed me a photo taken of a wave crashing against the cliff in front of a house 250 yards away. The spray from the wave was 75 feet high and towered over the house.

I put in the picture of Rob and me sitting in the purple chairs to offer proof that after almost 10,000 miles on the bike, I can still sit still. Aspirin.

Fortunately I had a GPS on the bike or I might never have found the house. For some reason Portland and Cape Elizabeth don't label all of their streets. The GPS would instruct turn on Cottage Lane in 200 feet. At the appointed spot I would turn having faith that the GPS knew that the unmarked street was Cottage Lane. It working getting from the motel to the house and from the house to the Interstate to head toward Hyde Park.

As pleasant as the visit was, I hit the road. I was glad I called and doubly glad that Rob and Karen were up for a drop-in early morning guest. I hope they call me if they come near Columbia.