Thursday, March 14, 2013

Summer Of '79 - Part 1

No apologies to Bryan Adams.....

I've both eluded to and directly mentioned that I took my first retirement at 24, actually I was easing into it at 23.  I had a great job at a thriving medical company, doing what I had trained to do and for the most part, enjoyed.  Practicing (and pretending?) to be a maturing adult, a strong sense of wanderlust that had long been percolating finally took over and began to run things in my life.  There was a girl that made me think about marriage, there were houses that were affordable and yet there was a general gnawing inside, telling me something wasn't right.  This internal strife was completely against my grain, or so I thought, based on what I'd been taught and seen as exemplified around me growing up.  People around me obeyed the rules and followed certain patterns.

There was a job up north, working for a friend.  I worked some temporary jobs one winter down in Brownsville (the GS850 Suzuki my transportation), another winter, with a '64 Chevelle, I was in Redding, CA and looking for work.  I worked my way south to Palm Springs that trip, then east and after a long week backpacking in the Grand Canyon, I drove back to MN where I started driving a school bus (my favorite non-farm job ever?).  Mixed in there were some very short term machining jobs, just to get some traveling money.  For a couple of them, the hiring process took longer than I stayed employed.  One of my favorite jobs even lasted until lunch time.  I stayed to eat my sandwich, then carried my toolbox out the door; a task that shouldn't be executed on an empty stomach (or is it a full stomach.....I always get the two mixed up).  I worked, to help out a friend, in a bicycle shop, not for wages necessarily, but took my payment in a fancy bike that was over priced for his clientele and that he was having trouble selling.

When my school bus route job finished for that summer, I was packed and ready to visit "East".  My plan was to be gone until the Labor Day weekend when bus driving began again.  I was pretty sure that summers off were a good thing before I had even had experienced one. As it turned out, I didn't come back until I was to be an usher at a friend's wedding in late September.

I've mentioned Christopher, the young lad I'd met down on the Shenandoah Parkway.  He was in Virginia hitchhiking from St. John's, NF and I was there on my '75 CB750 Honda.  Christopher's tales of his homeland were very enticing.  As a family, we'd almost always gone west to the mountains on our vacations; the East Coast was a far away and as of yet, mostly unexplored plum for me.  I knew better than to believe that everything east of the Ohio was one big Manhattan and was anxious to see it for myself.

My Suzuki GS850 was a mile-eater in my mind, comfortable, rock solid reliable, shaft driven and yet fun to ride on roads that weren't flat and straight.  My attitude, experience, gear and confidence were far more ready for a season-long trip than I'd ever been before, certainly more so than when my brother and I had headed for TX the summer after I'd finished high school.

Leaving the Twin Cities the day after school got out, found me an hour later in Barron, Wisconsin, where my dad's mom and dad had retired to.  I stopped to see them and to this day, remember my grandmother telling me, "oh, you'll have a good couple of weeks and then come home, there's no reason to be gone all summer."  I know that she was worried, most likely about more than one thing, but I knew and I think that she did as well that I'd not be home in a short, dozen days.

I need to mention here that always, from the time I was little, a trip, a vacation trip, meant 2 weeks, possibly 3 at the most.  Dad's Plant Shutdowns were always two weeks, straddling the July 4 holiday.  If we took a 3 week trip as we did in later years when he'd built up seniority, we'd use the extra time to spend more time on the west coast, or near it. Vacation trips longer than 2 weeks were rare.  Once I began working full time, taking two weeks completely used up my time; using a week for those first couple of years was about all I could get away with.

I mention this because that summer-long trip required a new mindset, a mindset that meant breaking a habit of many years. Distances Away had previously been measured in 4-500 mile days, necessary spans if crossing the Great Plains to access the American West was the goal.  This trip didn't have the same constraints and I struggled, though not for very long, as I came to figure it out.

After leaving my grandparents' place in Barron, I headed east on US 8, stopping early, after doing what I could all day to 'drag' my feet, at a National Forest Campground east of Rhinelander.  I've always preferred to stop early, something ingrained in me after traveling with my parents and being the early birds in the afternoon with a choice of campsites.  Our pattern had always been early starts, early stops, a practice that meant we seldom, if ever, arrived to find a "campground full" sign.

That first afternoon's campground had a great beach, lots of time swimming was good therapy for what may have been any second thoughts ( I don't remember a single one now....), chance to relax after my first longish day on the bike.  I remember a campfire after cooking some dinner, a couple of girls that I had met on the beach had left to spend the evening in town somewhere.

There's a journal here somewhere, though I don't think I really will need it to cover the high points of my trip.

The next day, I headed east, did little stopping, anxious to make and find a spot in the Soo campground that had come up in a previous Post.  I do remember my relief at having found, stopped and getting setup at the campground we'd visited as a family on the east end of Sault Ste. Marie along the St. Mary's river.  I also remember being frustrated with myself for not having stopped more along the way that second day.  There was not one thing requiring me to be at the Soo my second day out.

My Soo Campground site, the result of being there mid-week, early enough in the day, found my tent perched right on the shore of the St. Mary's River.  The freighter beyond my tent has left the Soo Locks, is east-bound into Lake Huron.  The Ore boat is headed most likely to Minnesota to pick up Taconite for delivery to the eastern steel plants.  The Canadian Shore is in the distance.  Just to the right of this, or a bit to the east, is the beach my brother and I years before had played on, enjoying the huge 'tides' the passing ships created as they passed by.  The very best ones were created when two ships met, a common occurrence at this point.

This photo was the first one I'd taken on the trip.  I was living on a small pocket of savings, Kodachrome was expensive and so was the developing into slides.  I'll post many of the photos taken, holding a few back for various reasons, but for the most part, lots of discretion was used before pushing my shutter button on the old OM-1.  Lenses, motor drive, filters, etc. were all there in the saddlebags somewhere.  I'm now quite fond of digital photography though that old Olympus and I spent a lot of time 'going' together.

I'd arrived on a Thursday night and on Friday I spent a good amount of time watching the traffic through the locks.

It just happened to be Open House Day, when the Corps of Engineers would conduct tours of the facility.  I've taken tours of the Mississippi River Locks before, but being able to get a detailed look at the Soo Locks was almost too cool.

The Staircase in the HQ building....

Here our tour group is between Locks, in an area normally closed to the public.

After my Friday morning tour, I headed back to the campground, with no real plan...maybe I intended to go for a swim; I don't remember now.  When I got there, two young guys were tossing a Frisbee in an open area between the camp's loops.  I went over and introduced myself, found out the two young guys had come up for the weekend to check out the Community College, possibly to attend that upcoming school season.

We drank beer and threw that disc all afternoon, burning off most if not all of what we were consuming in liquid.  The sun was warm, the three of us all quite experienced throwers and I remember being disappointed that it was finally time to get something to eat.  The young guys were anxious for some fast food; I was not.  They headed back into town and as I was heading back from a shower, a couple of campers waved me over.

Wiley and his wife were retired from Fort Wayne, IN, spending time at one of their favorite 'North' places to stay cool in the summer.  They invited me to dinner, a much better meal than the one I'd planned on cooking for myself.  After a very fine meal, they were off somewhere to spend the evening with some of their Michigan friends, so I went back over to join the two young guys around their campfire, long returned from their Fast Food.

It was nicely dusk when an old Rambler drove in, two young women got out and began to set up camp in the adjacent site.  We invited them over once they had finished getting their tent set up.  We learned that they too were students, though without the summer off.  Attendees in East Lansing at the University, they were up for a break before starting an intense Summer School session.  It developed into a very fine June evening that lasted long into the darkness.

The next morning my two guy friends were off to the local campus for their arranged tour and Orientation, mostly feeling good enough for the day's start.  After joining the girls for breakfast, they invited me to join them to head west to visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park for the day.  I hopped in the back seat and off we went.  I was having too much fun referring to their car as a Nash and "M" kept correcting me that it was not a Nash, rather a Rambler.....sometimes I'm a very slow learner.  It was quite a day, we swam, found trails to explore, visited the south Shore, another camp fire that again lasted until we couldn't find any more wood.  There isn't a lot of room in a Nash, er, Rambler, but we fell asleep in there anyway.  The next morning we drove back to the Soo Campground.  The girls shared their favorite Irish Pub with we 3 guys, another late night campfire and the next morning the girls were off, headed back to East Lansing for their summer session.

The guys left as well that morning and things got very quiet around the busy campground, almost too quickly.  I spent the day, another visit to the Locks and a couple of hours lazily watching ships come and go.  There was some exploring of the area on the Suzuki and then in the evening, wondering about a visit back to the Pub for dinner, decided against doing it alone and rode back to the campground.  I wasn't even off the bike yet when Wiley came hustling over, again inviting me to join them for dinner.  I felt guilty since I didn't have anything to offer them in return, but was sternly rebuffed for worrying about it and ended up sitting down with them.

Wiley's wife told me that she had been very worried when I hadn't returned the previous night.  Wiley quickly piped up and with a wink, "I wasn't worried in the least; looked like you had a couple of fine friends there."  He made sure to tell me that he'd kept an eye on my bike and that no one had bothered it.  I learned a lot more about Indiana that evening, about the mobile home business, their local agriculture and probably dozens of other things that I DON'T remember any longer.

Finally exhausted and after thanking them with a promise to keep in touch, I said my goodbye's to my Indiana hosts.  Climbing into my tent and that wonderful sleeping bag felt good beyond words.  Fighting sleep for a bit, I was at peace, concentrating on the sound of yet another ore boat streaming by in the heavy night air and then barely overheard some nearby campers, a couple of sites away, talking around the campfire.

I recognized the one guy's voice since we'd talked a couple of times in passing.  He had owned a bike, so we had that as a common thread. I had run into his wife on my way to the shower the day before and she had all kinds of questions about my vacation, where I was headed, how long I'd be gone, she knew someone from the Twin Cities, etc. She told me that my trip really sounded like fun.

Almost asleep, I happened to hear a voice I didn't recognize say, "I don't know how anyone can do that,  you know, travel solo like would get so lonely...".  Knowing I was the subject of the conversation, I did all I could to lie still and listen.

"Lonely?  Lonely??, that kid hasn't been by himself since he got here.  He palled up with two guys and they spent all day drinking beer and tossing a Frisbee, then he went away with two girls that camped right over there; they were gone for two days, who knows where and that old couple over there feed him every night......My wife was talking to him over by the bathroom and now she's talking about how much fun it would be to go.....I think that being lonely is the least of his problems."

I struggled to quietly giggle myself to sleep, the smile on my face ran from ear to ear.  I felt confident that I had beaten the "500 miles tomorrow" habit and as it turned out, I had. In those following weeks until mid-September, I spent a total of only 4 nights not in my tent; two of those nights were in East Lansing at the end of the summer on my way home.  There were days I didn't even get on the bike; there were other days I packed up and then set up again only 30 miles away.  It was a trip that defined travel for me.

What's ahead???  Quebec City and the St. Jean Baptiste Festival......


  1. Coop:

    for sections of your narrative I thought your words were flowing out of my mouth. Except when I was in elementary school, I have always had to work. Vacations were only around 10 days max. I remember the first time we went to Hawai'i we only stayed for 5 days.

    Our family didn't travel much. I can't really remember a time away, except for a few day trips to Seattle so I envy you for traveling when you were younger. I have no such experiences.

    I am trying to make up for lost time. This Summer will be the first time I am taking unpaid time from work to take a longer motorcycle trip so perhaps I will adopt your "Summer of '79" philosophy. It make take a week or so to settle into a routine of relaxation without a need to be anywhere fast

    Riding the Wet Coast

    1. Bob, I'm confident you'll establish a nice balance of distance and discovery this summer, hopefully our paths will cross.

      I'm very envious of your unpaid time.

    2. Coop:

      when you are young you value $$ over time. I think now I value time more. You have to do things while you are healthy, you may wait too long until it's not physically possible. I should have retired back in 2011, but due to economic conditions I am holding over a bit longer.

      Our paths may cross as you head towards the Motoguzzi Rally in July. I should be heading East from Vancouver on July 8th

      Riding the Wet Coast

    3. Bob, when July gets closer, email me/call and I'll do all I can to coordinate a rendezvous.

  2. Thanks you for sharing this with us. It is nice that you are letting us in to your reminiscing. I am glad you added the old pictures too.

    But......I think you are going to give us all abad case of wanderlust.....

    1. Trobairitz, it's a bit of selfish on my part too....getting the story into words allows me to relive it and there are days when that really is quite satisfying.

      Just enough wanderlust I hope, don't do anything rash :)

  3. Thanks for sharing these old stories and pictures. I have a bunch of slides somewhere from old trips but nothing like this story. I had a job that kept me traveling around the country all summer helping science folks with their research. As a kid, we used to do the 2 weeks every summer as well though we usually stayed in the western states except for one road trip to MN and WI.

  4. Richard, I've got tons of slides, many still in the big official Kodak Carousels. Like your family, most of our trips were 2 weeks and relatively intense. There were one or two where we did northern MN. An exception to the rule was one year's trip to Dayton, Ohio to visit the Air Force Museum there. We did Greenfield Village in Detroit, then on up through MI to Mackinac and back around through the UP.

    Now that I think about it, I'd like to ask dad about what must have been the strong pull of the museum in Dayton. I can remember our pulling the camper through Chicago as well as Detroit. We must have run doubly hard west that next year.

    It's funny, I maybe remember more unique things about that trip East than I do about any one trip west, possibly because they all start to blur, at least the voyage across the plains, though not the ultimate stopping points.

  5. Coop I am so impressed that you remember such detail from a trip you took in 1979, it must have made a big impression on much so that it sounds like it helped develop a philosophy of travel for you (which I like - I'm not so much a planner, seems to take the fun out of it if you feel you have to be somewhere doesn't it?)
    When I was a kid we didn't take family vacations, my parent's operated a small dairy farm and my father owned a plumbing business - being self employed and having cattle meant you couldn't leave. I spent many a summer at camp, every summer actually (they wanted me to have fun.) Later on after the farm animals were sold we did head out in the camper on a few vacations - Eastern Canada, Newy York State, Pennsyvania, Florida, but soon I was working summers to pay for university ... and my parents were galavanting off exploring the continent on well deserved vacations. History repeats itself, my children are grown now and now I'm using my free time to do the same (a little differently than my folks but I've seen most of the same places except Texas and Arizona - and my Mom is my biggest fan!)

  6. VStarLady - It's amazing how many important things I forget and then how I hang on to other things. My old friends are often surprised at how I remember rides, especially places and some events. Crutches help a lot, both the maps and photos jog my memory and are powerful tools for me. When I ask "where", some wonder and suspect that I'm comparing or judging. It's actually about establishing an Index Key, a placeholder in my database.

    As mentioned, I grew up in a family of suburban blue collar. We had almost every weekend for family or trips. My closer and more recent family was much different. Between our animals here on the farm and then the heavy music schedule we maintained every weekend for lessons, youth symphony orchestra, etc., trips and vacations for we 6 were nonexistent. We used vacation time getting to music camps on both coasts and preparing for the County Fairs. It was very good and it was very fun but those chapters have led to other ones, as it sounds like yours have.