Marengo OH to LA February 2020
Updated: Oct 5, 2020
[THIS BLOG WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN FEBRUARY 2020 BUT PUBLISHING WAS DELAYED DUE TO COVID-19. IT HAS BEEN SLIGHTLY UPDATED]
For the last 15 years I owned the most fantastic cabin in the woods of rural Ohio. It was on 8 wooded acres next to a big pond and creek. I bought it when I got divorced and my ex-wife moved to Columbus with my young children. I was living in Detroit at the time and wanted a fun, woodsy getaway place to be with my daughters on weekends.
The place could not have been better, it had an immediate warmth and comfort and the kids had a ball catching tadpoles, fishing and exploring the woods. We spent holidays there, long fun weekends, and more than a few staycations. From broom ball on the ice and cross country skiing in the winter to bonfires, marshmallows, sleep overs, and long walks in the woods in the summer, we loved it. Over the years, as the kids grew up, ping pong gave way to beer pong and giggling little girls watching cartoons gave way to giggling teens taking about boys. All the while, there were always big breakfasts sitting around the kitchen farm table.
The kids grew up, as they tend to do, and have left the nest. I now live in California and don’t get back to Ohio very much so very reluctantly I decided to sell the cabin. It was not a popular decision, let me tell you! But eventually everyone agreed and we spent our last Thanksgiving together. It was fantastic and we decided to share each of our favorite memories at dinner. I couldn’t believe how many everyone had, so many I had forgotten about! It was wonderful!
The place sold and a few days ago the movers took all of the stuff (ridiculous how much crap we had accumulated!). I packed up a rental car with stuff the movers wouldn’t take (mainly 10 cases of wine!) and pointed west for the long drive to LA.
Starting the trip brought back a lot of memories of past cross country adventures. I’ve done this Midwest to LA trip, or major parts of it, a number of times in the last few years, the last one had been a motorcycle trip through the south just a few months prior to this trip. I had stored a motorcycle at the cabin and needed to either sell it or get it to California before I sold the cabin. The bike was a Ducati Desert Sled (Scrambler) which was designed with the California desert in mind so Cali should have been its home but when I purchased it in St Louis I had the exhaust modified (read: faster and louder!) and I was worried about it passing California emissions. Also, I already had 3 bikes there and was getting a lot of dirty looks from the family about using all the garage space!
My good friend Emil from Louisiana was planning on riding the September Distinguished Gentlemen’s ride in New Orleans (a charity ride held in many cities on the the same day to benefit men’s health) and that gave me a great idea (and excuse to get back to NOLA!). The Duc isn’t really designed for long distance but with a few modifications I could ride it from the cabin over a couple days and follow the Natchez Trace parkway for much of it. This would be a beautiful ride and be at speed better suited for the Duc (50-60 mph rather than 75 on the interstate). Then I could leave it with Emil and he could sell it.
The plans were made and I added a windscreen, throttle lock (poor man’s cruise control), retro leather and canvas saddlebags (the Duc is a retro bike) and a Airhawk air cushion for the seat (the Duc bench seat was terrible for anything more that an hour of riding).
DAY 1: GOOD; DAY 2: DISASTER!
The first day on the road went well, I rode from Ohio to just outside Nashville but unfortunately I had to cover a lot of the section on the interstate which was not ideal. The bike performed better than expected and was pretty comfortable despite being a little underpowered for the highway and still having a lot of wind buffeting. I was really excited about day 2 on the Natchez Trace. It is a few hundred miles of pure riding bliss, rolling woods, not one commercial enterprise (you need to exit the parkway to get gas and food) and no trucks. The day was hot (90s) but there was plenty of airflow to keep me cool. Unfortunately the rest of the bike was not so lucky... About midday I was cruising along when there was a huge explosion on the bike. My first thought was that the rear tire exploded so I throttled back and coasted hoping to avoid wrecking at 60 mph. But the bike felt stable, the engine was running fine, and I wasn’t missing any limbs so I pulled over to solve the mystery.
When I came to a stop I looked down to see a huge hole blown out of the bottom of left pannier. As I got off the bike I noticed the hole was right where the aftermarket exhaust was.... hmmmmm. I should have mentioned that when I loaded the bike for the trip I followed a tried and true approach of loading the heaviest things into the pannier first (to keep the center of gravity low on the bike making it more stable). One of those heavy items was the tire repair kit that contained, among other things, two large CO2 cartridges for refilling tires. Apparently CO2 cartridges do not react well to extreme heat and one of them blew up with such force that it blew
through the canvas carrying case they came in, and through the reinforced leather bottom of the pannier. Did I mention that my packing genius also included packing fully loaded fuel canisters on the back of each pannier?? Turns out I was 3 inches away from being a human Roman candle!! Needless to say, I did some hasty repacking and threw way one pannier.
DAY 2 COMPLETE (BARELY), DAY 3:
Saturday was pretty uneventful, I made it to New Orleans and met the entire crew for the Gentlemen’s ride. For the ride, Emil would have his son Lewis on the back, I would have Emil’s wife Tina on my bike (yeah baby!), Emil’s daughter Elise would also ride her motorcycle and Emil’s cousin Jady and our high school buddy Limbo would also ride. We had a whole motorcycle gang! It was a total blast. As I looked back on the trip I realized that despite the minor brush with an explosive death, I really liked riding the Duc. So much so that I decided to keep it and come back in December to ride it the rest of the way to LA (with a couple more modifications!); here is the link to the ride LA to LA ride blog.
THE CROSS COUNTRY DRIVE
Great memories but back to the car trip from Ohio to LA. I was planning on a more direct route west. As the trip got closer I reviewed the weather and saw that a cold front was coming through which would put my wine collection in grave peril during the overnights along the way. I had to rethink my route and head more south for warmer weather. I figured I could head southwest eventually getting to Texas and linking up with I10 West to LA. Unfortunately my GPS must have been faulty, because somehow on day 2 I ended up in New Orleans .....for the final weekend of Mardi Gras… a curious situation but I went with it....If you follow my blog at all, you will note a consistent theme. I love Louisiana! I realized I’ve been through New Orleans four times in the last year alone… It must have some gravitational pull for me. Either that or I just love the food, drinking, and people too much.
I had been to Mardi Gras a few times in the past so my expectations were not high. I felt that Mardi Gras wasn’t the best time to see that great city, too crowded and too many tourists (after visiting so many times over the years I now think of myself as a local). I guess I still had a lot to learn about the city: I ended up spending two glorious days and nights absorbing the overwhelming positive energy of the city and festival. I ate fantastic food, met great fun people and enjoyed every minute of it.
Highlights included an awesome Irish bar and super cool local bar in midcity, a great little brewery outside of the warehouse district with an awesome bartender and two brothers from NYC who loved Chicago, a couple great parades, including one with a friend on a float, and a few terrific walks through the French Quarter during the day and exploring the French market, one of my favorite places. I have been avoiding going to NOLA during Mardi Gras because of the crowds, but I realized that the people and activities were really what brought all the great positive energy. Plus the weather was perfect! Some restaurants that I really liked this trip included Merrils, Luke’s, Willa Jean, and Sea Worthy.
I knew that I needed to start making my way west so after an enjoyable Sunday (delicious oysters at Sea Worthy and some cool people) I headed to Lafayette to visit my buddy Emil and his family. I arrived just in time for delicious hors d’oeuvres and excellent wine, par for the course at Emil’s house. The next morning we got up, did a little work and had a bit of breakfast and coffee. Then the gluttony began. Lunch (for just the two of us mind you) included 6 pounds of boiled crawfish, two dozen charbroiled oysters, two bowls of seafood gumbo, all followed by a couple shots of espresso to keep us vertical. After that it was shopping for dinner of course!
Emil‘s wife Tina made an amazing Insta pot meal and Emil and I focused on mixing up some craft cocktails to get the night started right (whiskey sours and simple margaritas done with lime, tequila and a little cane syrup). Needless to say after a few of those and a bottle of wine we were zombies… but we couldn’t end the night without playing a team video game with my soul son Lewis. I blame the drumming I received from the little guy on the alcohol…It was a long day.
The next morning was Fat Tuesday the culmination of Mardi Gras and Lafayette had a ton of festivities planned. Emil and I jumped on a couple of his motorcycles to tour the parade route before the parades went through and visit his brother who had set up an amazing tent and food situation for the day. Nothing like fried Boudin patties with crawfish étouffée and eggs to start the day. I’ve said this before but if I lived full-time in Louisiana I’d be 500 pounds, not gonna lie.
After that I packed up the car and continued my adventure west. Today was the Texas Hill country and some of the routes I covered on my motorcycle as well as my bicycle in the last year. It was familiar but still beautiful. I ended up stopping in the tiny town of Sanderson, Texas, my third stop here in a year if you can believe that. There is absolutely nothing there other than two motels and a gas station or two. As I checked the weather though, panic set in. The whole point of taking a southern route was to keep the wine from freezing in the car overnight (there were too many cases and the car was too packed to unload every night). But the cold front that was coming through was dropping temperatures to 32 overnight. The coldest point in the night was suppose to be right before sunrise so I decided to get up and take off at 4 am before the temps dropped too far.
Next stop was supposed to be Aho AZ. I had heard it was a funky town but when I checked hotels in the morning, nothing was available. I decided to divert to Tucson, but not before stopping for a little Texas BBQ before I left Texas. A couple of buddies had gone to college in Tucson and had a bunch of recommendations. I had a big night planned and many bars to hit but ended up spending most of the night at Gentle Ben’s brewery chatting with locals. Overall I was not very impressed with Tucson. I didn’t explore it much but what I did see was not that appealing. I much prefer Flagstaff and the towns around Sedona.
I left the next morning for home. The desert was just starting to bloom from the winter rain and it was beautiful to behold. If you have read my blogs, you know I love the desert and particularly in spring time before it heats up too much. Driving a car is not nearly as fun and fulfilling as a motorcycle or bicycle but it was beautiful nonetheless. The rest of the trip was uneventful and I arrived home late afternoon. This route is getting to be old hat now having traveled it twice by car, twice by motorcycle, and once by bike in recent years but I have enjoyed each time and seem to find new and interesting aspects each trip. The words of Edward Abbey echo in my head: “The desert wears ... a veil of mystery” and I will alway be drawn to it. That, and fried boudin and crawfish.
As readers of this blog know, I try to include some aspect of environmental consciousness in each story I write but people define “environmental consciousness” in many ways. For me I believe it is an awareness and concern for the environment in which we live and a desire to make it better for ourselves and for generations to come. Since taking this trip and writing the first draft of this blog the world has changed quite dramatically. COVID-19 has changed how we interact with each other and with the world around us. In addition the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have sparked tremendous racial unrest and shone the light on how far we still need to go to solve inequality and race issues in the United States. For me it has widened my lens on my own biases, on how I define environmental consciousness, and how we define the environment around us. For me the physical environment and nature have always been very important but so too is social environment. A truly healthy “environment” is one that supports and protects all those who inhabit it and is something that we should all work tirelessly to create and defend. COVID-19 has taught us all a lot about the importance of the social environment and how fragile the environment actually is. For me it was a very stark reminder of how much I value the interaction with people, both those that I know and those that I don’t. I am a traveler, as this blog attests to and having not been able to travel has been extremely difficult! But what I realized was that it wasn’t just about traveling, it was about interacting with people and places in the social environment that was so important to me. Sometimes you have to lose something to realize how important it is to you.
In addition, we have all had a wake up call about racial injustice and brutality against people of color by white people and especially by those entrusted to protect all of us. These are not new issues and they will not be resolved quickly or easily. They will take commitment and a focus by each one of us. We all have racial biases and lenses through which we see the world resulting from our childhood, our friendships, our parents, where we live, where we work, and where we went to school. We cannot fool ourselves that these biases just go away overnight. The challenge and responsibility we all share is to become more aware of them, to challenge not only those around us but ourselves as well to think and be better.
I have been looking forward to when things can get back to my normal. But it is clear that we cannot go back to the past “normal” that allowed the racial injustice and the apathy that many of us including myself have exhibited in the past. I have always thought of myself as non-racist and proudly raised three daughters that way. But children have a way of doing better than their parents and mine have helped me realize that there’s a difference between non-racist and anti-racist. The difference is taking action rather than inaction. I think we are all learning that lesson and I truly believe the world will be a better place as we are able to implement it more. I don’t believe we have all the answers yet and it will not be a quick fix but looking at how the racial environment has changed from when I was young to how passionate my daughters are about this issue today, I have tremendous hope.