On a recent trip to Nashville, I took the time to visit the Stones River National Battlefield, at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, one of the Civil War’s biggest and bloodiest battles.
Like many others, I am a student of the Civil War. It was a dark moment in our history, but one that set the course for our united nation. And so, I like to visit Civil War sites when I get the chance. The Stones River battle lasted three days, beginning December 31, 1862 and ending January 2, 1863. Three days. Union and Confederate forces numbered about 81,000. According to Stone River Battlefield information, the Union had 13,249 casualties and the Confederate forces suffered 10,266, with the Union declaring victory as the Confederates retreated.
That’s nearly 24,000 casualties in three days of fierce battle. To put that in perspective, there were about 58,000 military fatal casualties in the entirety of the Vietnam Conflict, 1955-1975.
24,000 in three days. It was a blood bath on both sides with each side losing about one-third of their troops. Many of the Union soldiers who died are buried across the street from the Visitor’s Center in the National Cemetery.
Why do humans climb mountains? Why do they sail around the world or learn to fly? We have this innate drive to accomplish. Maybe it’s ego or an adrenaline rush. To go boldly where no one has before.
I’ve been motorcycling for more than 50 years, and early on, I never once thought about riding my motorcycle in all of the United States of America. But when I began to seriously tour on two wheels, I realized I was accomplishing just that.
It was after I rode the Pony Express Trail to California in 2009, and discovered mapping software that would allow me to track the states I had visited that I became conscious of this goal.
My next tour on the Oregon Trail had me planning to ride through states I had not previously visited. And, future tours began to form. My tour to the southeast to ride through states almost caused me to quit riding. Yes, quit riding. It was the most miserable tour. It was 2,400 miles in six days with five days of rain. Miserable. Miserable. Miserable. Not to mention the bee sting in the face at 70 mph on the Interstate next to a semi-tractor and trailer, or the pit bull that charged me when I was taking a photo of entering the fine state of Georgia. Or the chain-reaction accident that occurred right in front of me as I was attempting to exit the interstate in Augusta, Georgia. Miserable.
What I was left with was the northeast. Ten states that needed some color. After that miserable southeast tour, it took me a while to actually plan the northeast ride—a couple of years in fact. But, the day finally came, and I set off to accomplish something that few motorcyclists do—to ride in all of the lower 48 states. I packed my Suzuki V-Strom 650, and headed out.
Unlike my southeast tour, I could not have asked for better weather. Blue skies and mild temperatures were abundant as I wound my way through Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and into Connecticut. I managed to take a wrong turn or two. I took the wrong interstate in Connecticut found myself in Massachusetts unexpectedly and had to back track to cut over to Rhode Island. I didn’t want to leave that little state out of this ride. Then back north around Boston into New Hampshire and Maine—the turn towards home point. All good roads.
Riding back across Maine and New Hampshire, I was in awe of the landscape. Beautiful country with fun twisty roads running along rivers and streams around mountains. I met up with a friend who gave me a guided tour through her part of New Hampshire. Riding a scenic byway, we headed for lunch, and then for the apex of my ride—Vermont, my 48th state.
What was it like riding across the state line into Vermont? Was it like standing atop the mountain just climbed? Like finishing a marathon? Upon my return home, my wife asked me this: “Was it like the euphoria when you finished the Pony Express Trail or the Oregon Trail?”
In previous rides, there was something more than just the ride. I was following history attempting to imagine the experience of those travelers 150 years ago, travelling by horse and wagon. This ride was … well, just a ride to fill in states. It is an accomplishment that few do, but with a few days to think about this bucket list item being checked off, I can say it has given me some closure.
I’m ready to move on to the next adventure … whatever that might be.
How many times have you traveled down a two-lane highway, passing through a small town, and come upon a place on the side of the road that looks so inviting? You stop, or maybe pass by saying, ‘I’ll stop next time.’
The Plain Folk Café in Pleasant Plain, Ohio, is one of those places. Giving rebirth to the two-room school house, built in 1913, the café serves up coffee, meals and music.
The walls, lined with album covers and musical venues, remind one of the former days when patrons wore tie-dyed shirts and drove VW vans. It’s a little bit of nostalgia, and a little bit modern with the free wifi. About half of those album covers are very familiar, for they reside at my home protecting the vinyl LPs inside.
After passing by so many times, thinking I will stop next time, today was the day I stopped. I’m glad I did. I’ll be back.