Steel Wheels

The Tao Of Motorcycling

The Day I Saw A UFO

View from my bedroom window in Pigeon
The view from my bedroom in The Allegheny National Forest where I grew-up…the first thing every morning I lifted the blinds to make sure it was still there…a half-century later the bedroom is gone but the Tree, the Forest, and the Smoke are all there

The Easy Layup

December 9th 1965. I was 12 years old and we were getting some basketball in before our dirt court became an ice-skating rink. Every year the alternating ritual of basketball and ice-skating repeated itself like clockwork. I had the ball and had out-maneuvered my friend’s Dad for an easy lay-up that would surely result in two points for us and embarrassment for him in our ritual game of 2-on-1. Suddenly, my friend’s Dad began shouting and pointing his finger at the sky behind me, “Look! Look! A UFO!” No doubt a trick to steal the ball while my head was turned. I refused to fall for such an obvious ruse but he continued with gathering urgency to the point where I could resist no longer. I banked-in two points for us, turned, and saw a long multi-colored tail of light behind a beautiful glowing object streaking across the sky. The three of us stood there in stone-cold silence…chins-on-chests. Strange multi-colored lights, moving across the sky, silently…it fit the standard description of UFOs. But even as a 12 year old I knew that it was a meteor not a UFO (which indeed became the official story). My friend’s Dad was having none of that and as we headed up to the house pitching the ball back ‘n forth we could see how enthralled he was with having seen his first UFO. We let him have the moment…after all, we had just owned him for an easy layup.

Being There Now

For me, something happened during that event that was far stranger than a UFO. Standing under the basket looking silently at the sky the odd feeling that everything is now washed over me…as if time didn’t really exist. Stranger yet, I knew right then that I would never ever forget that moment. And I haven’t. It made me a sitting duck in adulthood for esoteric teachings, the Zen of trout fishing, quantum physics, the Tao of motorcycling, and Shipley’s hot glaze donuts. But I still do not believe in UFOs.

The Kecksburg Incident

Many years later the TV show Ancient Aliens devoted an episode to the “Kecksburg Incident,” an account of a UFO crash-landing in Western Pennsylvania outside the town of Kecksburg. The breathless account included all the usual suspects: a UFO witnessed by hundreds, a crash-landing in the forest, and military vehicles rushing in to retrieve the alien bodies and their craft. And then it happened – the flight path based on eye-witness accounts was put on the screen showing a line right over my old home in The Allegheny Forest. And then I noticed the date… December 9th 1965.

December 6, 2015, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. To my surprise, the “UFO” we saw when I was 12, had become second only to Roswell as the cause celebre for true believers in aliens from another planet. 50 years after the crash a theory was put forward that puts the matter to rest. It turns out the object was a General Electric Mark 2 Re-entry Vehicle launched by the U.S. Air Force with one of our spy satellites. Which explains the military vehicles that showed-up to retrieve it as well as the meteorite cover story. 1965 was the height of The Cold War.

The Tao of Now

Back in the day people said “UFO” in order to hide what they were really thinking: flying saucers…extra-terrestrials…girls from Rigel 7. Now people talk about aliens with no fear of ridicule at all. Fantasy is the new real and reality is becoming virtual. We see it everywhere: in politics, on social media, in music by The Flaming Lips (God bless ’em), and in the full length mirror on the closet door. I believe more than ever there are no such things as aliens…everyone is identified…everything is real…everything is now.

I’ll never forget the day I saw a UFO and how in that moment for some strange reason the way I see was changed forever. But most of all I’ll never forget owning my friend’s Dad for an easy layup.

Diane and Marie at our old home in Pigeon
My sisters walking through our old house, identifying the rooms where they played as children

August 14th 2016

Author Notes:

The Post-Gazette article was so interesting to me for how the eyewitness accounts matched my own descriptions of the “meteor”

For anyone interested in the infamous Kecksburg Incident and the solution to the mystery you can read the story HERE

True believers will not be dissuaded…which is as it should be

The Lost Trip – Random Reflections, Random Shots

Original endpoint of the Natchez Trace
The end of the Natchez Trace which begins in Nashville

The End Is Just A Beginning . . .

There are places where you can feel the past staring at you: The Natchez Trace in Mississippi, The Parthenon in Nashville, Greenbo Lake in Kentucky, The Serpent Mound Memorial in Southern Ohio, The National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson in Dayton, The Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, the farms in Western New York State, Fallingwater in Farmington, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Greenville…and Hartwell Lake in South Carolina. And the antebellum King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. All these places stare at you with an offer you can’t refuse.

For my Father and I, this road trip began at the end of The Natchez Trace which itself begins in Nashville. It turns out we are both heading towards new beginnings so starting here at the end of The Trace in Natchez, Mississippi was poetic.

My Great Fortune

It was an emotional journey through the past, present, and future that came at Dad in waves…not with the destructive force of a tsunami but like sea foam washing over his tender heart. For my part, it was pure joy. I don’t know if it’s delusional, great fortune…or what…but my memories were all good. They came flooding back when we arrived at my Old Kentucky Home to see dozens of old friends, at the Allegheny National Forest where I spent my childhood trout-fishing, and at my birthplace in Western New York where 300 of our family members gathered for renewal—a more fitting intermission never was.

The Tale Of Two Grifters And A Feral Hog

Since we traveled primarily national parkways, back roads, and state highways we were usually without GPS, mobile phones, talk radio, and NPR. In other words we had no idea what was going on in the world outside my Toyota Tundra. It wasn’t long before we didn’t know for sure what day it was. Some nights we caught a little CNN while drifting off to sleep and thus waking up as uninformed as the day before. But one night while drifting off I thought I heard a strange tale about two grifters and a feral hog. Sitting at breakfast the next morning I asked my Father if he heard it too. He gave me a puzzled look then returned to the vastly more important business of biscuits and gravy. One thing I learned about Dad on this trip is that he really loves biscuits and gravy. As for the grifters and the feral hog—maybe it’s all just a dream.

The Solution To All The World’s Problems

One of the features of road trips is that all the world’s problems can be solved with bogus insights. This trip was different for some reason. There was less bogus, more insight. And more agreement. Maybe we are both becoming mellow at long last.

There are times when there is nothing you can do to overcome the effects of emotional shock. Soldiers experience that when they come home from war…young boys experience it when they meet girls from Rigel 7…and lovers experience it when they are no longer. I can’t help thinking about road trips. They are the solution to all the world’s problems. At least for awhile. No matter what—you, the world, or both will be different upon your return unpacking new perspectives on life, family, love, friendship, and the constellations.

The Tao Of Road Trips

Some forms of travel require meticulous preparation (flying!). But for road trips meticulous is the death-knell of adventure. The Tao of road trips is adventure. And there are only a few rules: don’t be meticulous (flying on the ground is wrong!)…when you come to a backroad take it…and the end is just a beginning.

I’ll always remember the adventures with my Father on The Lost Trip, especially the ones inside my pickup where we solved all the world’s problems.

Dad picking up trash on The Natchez Trace
Returning from a walk on the Old Trace I caught Dad picking up litter on the Parkway…God bless him
Spanish Moss - Historic Home Natchez Trace
Scenes like this evoke the mysterious tragic beauty of the Old South
Crowd looking up at Athena
The Parthenon in Nashville…sure, our buildings are taller but we still look up to the Ancient Greeks
Fishin' on Greenbo Lake
Greenbo Lake, KY…a lovely calm place to fish away the day
Dad Walking through Draco at Serpent Mound
Walking among the stars in the constellation Draco at Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio…Dad was exploring the cosmos with elán…like a kid in a candy store…I didn’t even try to keep up with him
The B2 Bomber
The B2 Bomber…none of us understand the totality of its awesome power (the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio)
Conceived in the 50s, built and flown in the 60s at Mach 3 for aeronautical research, there’s nothing as beautiful as Valkyrie even today 60 years later…not even close
East Forest School
East Forest School in Marienville, Pennsylvania, Population 800, to where we road the bus in the early 60s from our home in The Forest…it houses grades 1-12…looks as good as the day it opened…and its mid-century design is still ultra-fine
Oil Well off Watson Road
Oil wells work alongside trout streams in the Allegheny National Forest
Watson Road
Back roads were made to be taken
Farm on Jennings Road - Western New York
This is what passes for drought in Western New York State…farmers we met insisted they’re in the worst drought in modern memory but the whole area is lush to our lyin’ eyes
Old Barn Near Collins
Old Barn near Collins Center, NY in yet another lush drought-ridden field…simply amazing
Fallingwater - Front
Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece “Fallingwater” in Farmington, PA…built into a waterfall on the side of a mountain in the deep forest it was a home for 25 years starting in 1934 before the owners donated it as a museum…millions have been spent maintaining it and millions have visited it since it was opened to the public in the ’60s
Fallingwater from the Birds-eye view
View of Fallingwater from Bird’s Eye…the cantilevers look like they’re leaning but it’s an optical illusion…everything is level
Dad and Diane at Fallingwater Information Center
The Information Center at Fallingwater is also a masterpiece of design…loved it
The Blue Ridge Mountains Near Fancy Gap Virginia
A very typical view from the Blue Ridge Parkway…we took this National Parkway from Fancy Gap, VA to Asheville, NC
Blue Ridge Mountains closer to Ashville
The Blue Ridge Mountains are endless beauty
Dad and Diane in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Dad and Diane and two locals shooting the Blue Ridge Mountains…we met up with Marie & Diane at the family reunion in New York and caravan’d all the way to Diane’s place on Lake Hartwell, SC
St. Anthony of Padua School
St Anthony of Padua School in Greenville, South Carolina conceived and seen to completion by my Aunt Sister Catherine, Franciscan extraordinaire
Waterfall in Greenville
The waterfall right in the center of Greenville, SC…transforming itself into the next place to be from
View from Diane's backyard
Hartwell Lake in South Carolina…from my sister Diane’s backyard…a perfect place to recharge for the final leg of our journey

King Edward Hotel Lobby

The Lost Trip began randomly in the Old South near Natchez so it was fitting to end randomly in nearby Jackson at the King Edward Hotel which traces its origins to 1861. A jewel for any weary traveler but for us it was heaven. And yes we could feel the memories staring at us.

August 3rd – 19th 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 8 – Trout Fishing in Pennsylvania

Fishing is Hunting . . .

My Trout Stream
Rock Run Creek which I fished from the age of 8 – 13

The summer Brautigan was writing his novella while camping in Idaho, I was learning trout fishing while living in The Allegheny National Forest of Pennsylvania. Trout Fishing In America was written when the beat generation was giving way to hippies and while my little sister was filling Maxwell House coffee cans with Nightcrawlers as a condition of coming along on my adventures.

We started out fishing the stream Mom could see from the backyard but within a couple years we hiked the surrounding forest, found more streams to fish, and discovered Paradiso Pond created by the local beavers. A year later, the game warden built a trout hatchery next to Paradiso from which we lifted fish to stock our pond after feeding them against the posted rules. At some point, a Rod And Gun Club assumed responsibility for the hatchery and now feeding the fish is encouraged. Paradiso Pond is gone now…the beavers moved downstream each time floods damaged their homes…today, it is several miles away according to a local fisherman we found cleaning-up in the cold water of Rock Run.

Trout fishing in Pennsylvania is Dante’s 9th Circle if you do it wrong. For one thing, there’s no casting. You can’t cast in The Forest. After losing countless lures and worms snagged by trees and brush I had the great fortune one day to find my father’s telescoping metal fly rod in the closet under the basement stairs. With that single modern marvel you could walk unencumbered through miles of forest, swipe your way through forty yards of milk weed, crawl quietly up a fern-covered mound overlooking a small swirling pool, sling a worm between overhanging branches below…and catch trout…if you were very very quiet. In Pennsylvania fishing is hunting…and a metal telescoping fly rod is the weapon of choice.

I grew-up fishing with my father’s fly rod, never once using a fly, or learning how to perform the therapeutic ballet of fly-casting that I came to adore in my old age as taught to me by my friend James in Texas. Like James, there are times when I enjoy casting more than catching fish. It is thoroughly contemplative activity…and in it’s own way it too is a hunt…a hunt for perfection.

The early 60s was a psychedelic mash-up of beatniks, folk-rock, deuce coups, surfer girls, civil rights, and some of the most interesting trout fishing in the Galaxy. And yes, it haunts me…but in a good way. I’ll never forget Dante’s 9th Circle, The Forest, and the adventures. It was magical.

Trout pool
A classic pool where you can catch a Native Trout while lying on your belly, being quiet as a mouse.
Blue Jay Creek
Blue Jay Creek…a masterpiece of Trout Hunting
Dad at the Fish Hatchery in PA
The Hatchery is thoroughly modern now with protected environments for every stage of development.
Brook Trout at Hatchery in PA
Brook Trout at The Hatchery…every Spring boys 12 years and older got excused absences from school to participate in stocking the trout streams of The Allegheny Forest where I lived…it was just like heaven.
Road to the Old Beaver Damn and Hatchery
The back road to Paradiso Pond and The Trout Hatchery…as kids, we hiked a mile through The Forest from our house to get here…today, you can drive to it on a one-lane gravel road.

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