Steel Wheels

The Tao Of Motorcycling

The Lost Trip – Random Reflections, Random Shots

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

Start at the End

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, the antebellum King Edward Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi, and the constellations of the zodiac. 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. 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 in Kentucky to see dozens of old friends, and in Pennsylvania where I spent my childhood trout-fishing in the Allegheny National Forest, and in Western New York, my birthplace where 300 of our family members gathered for a reunion.

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 pickup truck. 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 – he loves biscuits and gravy. As for the grifters and the feral hog, maybe it was just a dream. There was an election going-on, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Everything is Different When You Return

On a road trip, all the world’s problems get solved with bogus insight. This trip was different for some reason – 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 it in war, young boys when they meet girls from Rigel 7, and lovers when they are no longer. I can’t help thinking about road trips. They’re the solution to all the world’s problems. At least for awhile. No matter what happens on a road trip, everything is different when you return.

The Tao Of Road Trips

Some forms of travel demand meticulous preparation (flying). But for road trips meticulous is the death-knell of adventure. There are only a few rules: flying on the ground is wrong … when you come to a back-road take it … and the end can be a good place to start. The Tao of road trips is adventure.

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.
Spanish Moss - Historic Home Natchez Trace
The mysterious tragic beauty of the Old South
Crowd looking up at Athena
At the Parthenon in Nashville…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 – I didn’t even try to keep up with him
The B2 Bomber
The B2 Bomber…none of us understand its awesome power (at 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, no plane is as beautiful as Valkyrie, even today, 60 years later
East Forest School
East Forest School in Marienville, Pennsylvania, Population 800, to where we rode 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 were in the worst drought in modern memory but the whole area was lush to our lyin’ eyes
Old Barn Near Collins
Old Barn near Collins Center, NY
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
The Blue Ridge Mountains Near Fancy Gap Virginia
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, 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
A waterfall in downtown Greenville, SC
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 3 – 19, 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 8 – Trout Fishing in Pennsylvania

Rock Run Creek which I fished at ages 8 – 13

Trout Fishing is Hunting

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.

The Lost Trip, Pt 7 – Backroads in The Allegheny Forest

When you come to a backroad — take it.

Watson Road - Pigeon - Pennsylvania
An infamous backroad where I grew up in the Allegheny Forest
Yamaha hanging in tree
Old Yamahas cause bidding wars to erupt in Houston…we found this one hanging from a tree in the way-back-woods of The Allegheny
Jack pump in Allegheny Forest near Pigeon
You’ll find oil jack pump wells all over Pennsylvania…even deep in the Forest
Huntin' and Fishin' Camp
There are hundreds of these camps in the Forest…people build them to get-away for huntin’…fishin’…and God knows what else…a few short weeks every year
The Old Orchard in Pigeon
We found the Old Wild Apple Orchard we picked from when we were kids…still there…still wild…still delectable after all these years
Wild Apples 1
Mom made Apple Pie, Cobbler, and Applesauce from these apples in the early 60s…to this day they remain the Gold Standard for us in crispness, sweetness, and tartness all in perfect balance…what a treat to find this Old Orchard alive and producing the same perfect fruit

Wild Apples 2

Old Barn off Blue Jay Road
A classic Old Barn on Blue Jay Road leading down to Tionesta Creek

The Lost Trip, Pt 6 – Wings

‘Flying On The Ground Is Wrong…’

Dad at the Martin USA plane

Biplane Star


Army plane

Iron Cross

National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson – Dayton, Ohio
August 8th 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 5 – The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

Persevering in the face of adversity.

Serpent Mound Memorial

18.6 is the number of years it takes for the Moon to complete a full cycle of its complicated phases. Who knows stuff like that? The Ancient people who built The Great Serpent Mound knew it thousands of years ago. This serpent-shaped mound in Southern Ohio mirrors the constellation Draco between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. Its snaky curves mark a myriad of important alignments of the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. But why did they build it? The Cherokee say Serpent Mound was the Divine Center of all the nations and it contains a secret message about overcoming a time of great stress for humanity in the distant past. Serpent Mound is an anthem as well as a calculator.

Walking Among the Stars

As a young boy I stood under starry nights in the Allegheny Forest and listened to my father tell tales about constellations. Try as I might, I could make out only a couple of those wondrous gods and heroes and beasts. Yet, if hadn’t been for my father’s gentle patient re-telling, I may never have developed a lifelong interest in the history behind the myths to say nothing of the Universe beyond.

It’s baffling (and humbling) to discover how far the Ancients exceeded our knowledge of the cosmos. And while we struggled to walk a couple people on the Moon, they built The Great Serpent Mound so all their people might walk among the stars.

Walking among the stars

Daddy-o at Serpent Mound
Daddy-o plotting his next route through Draco against the setting Sun…and straight on ’til morning

At The Great Serpent Mound, Southern Ohio – August 7th 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 4 – High School

Still Sweet After All These Years

Fishin' on Greenbo Lake – Version 2
Fishin’ Greenbo Lake – August 7th 2016

45 years. Class of ’71. Some went away, some came back, and some never left. If we had to choose the one thing all us guys had in common, it would be fishin.’ Sure, we played all the sports and there are plenty of glories there. But the topic always comes back ’round to fishin’ and the conversation gets a little quieter and reverent.

I’ll never forget fishin’ the ponds along the the Ohio River most every day with my friend Leslie (R.I.P.). When we heard the train coming, we dropped our poles, ran up to the tracks, positioned a couple pennies or nickels on the rails then ran back down to hide in the brush. It was a ritual inside of an adventure and we never tired of it. Most of us are still fishin’ today but none of us are placing money on the railroads.

As for the girls, I don’t know what they’d say they all had in common but I know one thing for sure – the years 1967-1971 in Greenup County, Kentucky along the banks and hills of the Ohio River was a slice of heaven that dissolved like tears in the rain over the years for those of us that left. It was so fine to be back.

McKell Class of '71 Picnic at Greenbo

McKell Class of ’71 Reunion in Greenup, Kentucky and Greenbo Lake, August 6th & 7th 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 3 – Parthenon Perspective

Athenian Treasure in Nashville

No one knows why or how Pericles convinced his fellow Athenians to build the Parthenon back in 447 BC. Legend says the treasure of Athens was stashed there – people have been vandalizing the place looking for Athenian gold ever since. In 1897, Nashville celebrated Tennessee’s Centennial with a temporary recreation of the Parthenon. Twenty-five years later, the citizens decided they couldn’t live without it and a project was commissioned to make a permanent re-creation faithful to the original. Like so many grand plans, they’ve been working on it ever since. In 2016, it’s finally done. Almost.

The Parthenon is hidden on a small hill in a park right in the City of Nashville. Unlike the one in Greece, you can walk through it the way the Athenians once did. The details of Classical Greece is profiled in every curve, relief, and capstone. This place makes everyone go quiet. All great design does that. It’s like virtual reality – only it’s real.

Nashville is all about music, but this is my favorite spot.

Partenon Perspective - Daddy-o


Parthenon - Back

The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee   … August 5th 2016

The Lost Trip, Pt 2 – The Trace

The Trail That Time Forgot

Two centuries and 16 years ago President Jefferson ordered the build-out of an ancient trail stretching 440 miles from Nashville to Natchez. Carved out of the dense forest in a bygone time by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchee tribes the trail itself became dense on Saturdays with people hauling hand made goods and farm products to the Mississippi River boats where they hoped to make a buck. The Trace became a commercial artery filled with hopes and dreams.

Today, The Natchez Trace is a smooth two-lane Parkway. But Jefferson’s project will likely never be finished which is as it should be. New discoveries of ancient artifacts keep coming and need to be shared. The speed limit is 50 the whole way which makes stopping on a whim easy. Motoring along through the dense forests, sorghum, maize, and hay fields housing wild turkey, deer, and God-knows-what transports you to a meditative state … you’ll soon find yourself in another place in time.

Do The Trace in a day leaving from Natchez about mid-morning. Stop at the Historic Home. Get a feel for how people lived in the early 1800s. Breathe-in the ancient vines, cedar fences, and Spanish Moss. And do not fail to visit Mr. D’s for the best southern fried chicken served on white table cloths (the people at the Historic Home will give you directions). Hit as many stops along the way as you dare. Nashville ain’t goin’ nowhere. There are some mystical short hikes through Cypress Swamps and dirt trails on the Old Trace. It’s a national treasure and a never-ending story.

Historic Home Natchez Trace

Utility Room Historic Home on Natchez Trace

Grape Arbor - Historic Home Natchez Trace

Fence - Historic Home Natchez Trace

Mr Dee's White Table Cloth

August 4th 2016


The Lost Trip, Part 1 – Natchez

Ghost of the Nat-chee

Last night, we arrived on the 300th Birthday of this dying City on the Mississippi River. The original people – the Nat-chee – left long ago, victims of a French retaliation-massacre. The antebellum plantation owners fled to wherever such people go. Over the last few years all the Casino River boats have paddled-off to greener waters. Today, the young flee to college and never return. The people here now are the ones who can’t leave along with the lost souls who find themselves drawn for some strange reason to this haunted city on The River. They operate B&B’s, work in hotels & restaurants, and drink mint juleps every day between 5 and 6, living lives of quiet desperation retelling old tales to tourists. Locals lament drugs, petty crime, bad streets, and ruined sidewalks. The glory days are long past. But we heard talk of plans to recover, so stay tuned. You never know what might be comin’ down the tracks.

Railroad Through Natchez

Natchez Mississippi – August 4th 2016

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