Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Gift For Protection.

Image taken from

I knew yesterday was going to be tough. I needed to get from Iron Mountain, Michigan to Oshkosh, WI. It would be about 140 miles, which is a longer stretch for me, and I would be facing more rain without having solved the fogged goggles issue (the potential wonder wipes were supposedly awaiting me in Oshkosh). I’d also heard that there would be street closings once I got closer to Oshkosh, because torrential rains had caved in some of the roads. I would need to be fairly well rested to manage these challenges, so I didn’t feel I could get up super early to beat the rain, either. So, that’s how the day looked from the onset.

Before loading up, I went to the breakfast area of the hotel and took a quick peek out the window, just to check on my scooter. I noticed a group of Harley riders getting ready to leave. Now, I had been told, before I started this trip, to be wary and steer clear of the Harley riders in Wisconsin. I was told in Southern Wisconsin there are even parking lots specifically for American-made cars and motorcycles, and that there would be little tolerance for me and my Italian-made Piaggio. In Iron Mountain, I was just a few miles away from the Wisconsin border and the home of the Harley Davidson plant. But I figured, I’m doing this trip to talk to people, so I grabbed my first bag to load and headed outside.

"You can fit all that stuff on that scooter?"

When I began loading my scoot, I was approached by one of the group of the five Harley riders. We got talking, and she was asking me about my project, and before long, they had all gathered around us. They were asking questions to get caught up with the story, and then all of us were discussing the meaning of Hidden Disabilities. We talked about my challenges after I left the ICU, and soon they were sharing about the life of someone close to them who’d had similar challenges when she left the ICU, as well as stories about other people they knew who has faced health issues. We talked about all the times the general public just wasn’t able to understand that someone might need more time to finish a sentence, or cross the road, even though they might look “normal.”

It was a very engaging conversation, and the first time on the tour that I was provoked to talk about the cognitive challenges that I was left with from my time in the ICU: initially being unable to read even a children's book, how I still have problems with word recall and take much longer putting sentences together than I had been used to. We all agreed that giving a person just an ounce of slack can end up making a world of difference. It was a great talk. They offered to put my saddlebags on my bike, which I’d mentioned was the toughest part of my day (the bending over and wrangling them onto the frames puts a lot of strain on my back, which was already hurting me). So, they kindly put the saddlebags on, we said our goodbyes, and I stopped in the breakfast room to slam a glass of apple juice and wolf down a banana. I was ready to hit the road.

....then, just as I stepped outside, all five of them walked toward me with this air of serious conviction. I thought to myself, “My God, what have I done?” They crowded around and the biggest of the guys stopped square in front of me. He said, “There is a tradition among bikers...

Let me stop right here. I thought long and hard on my ride down to Oshkosh about whether or not it was even appropriate to share this with you. I looked on the Internet and there is quite a bit written about this tradition, so it isn’t the most secret of traditions, and I’ve decided that sharing this story with you, my faithful readers, is more important than whatever hush might usually surround this tradition, and I hope I will be forgiven. Back to the story...

So this very big, tall Harley rider opens his huge hand, and he’s holding a little black velvet pouch. “There is a tradition among bikers,” he says. “You see, you may not know this, but evil spirits sometimes chase bikes, motorcycles.” He empties this pouch in his hand and there is a silver bell. I look up at all of them. I’m holding my breath and trying not to cry, to somehow be a big girl motorcycle rider despite the fact that I’m a little MP3 scooter rider, as I look into all of their faces.

“You see, the evil spirits get caught in the bell and they spin around and fall to the ground and make a pothole, he said. It works better if someone gives you the bell, and we want you to have this. We want you to be safe.”

Somehow I managed to keep the tears I was holding inside my eyes, as I held my heart with my right hand and took the bell with my left.

My new (and first) Guardian Bell.

“I don’t even know all your names... doesn’t one of you have a card?” I just couldn’t imagine not being able to acknowledge them or ever make contact with them ever again.

“We aren’t business people,” said one of the few of them whose name I did know.

“Well, at least tell me where you are from,” I asked.

“Beaver Dam, about forty miles North of Milwaukee.”

I felt like a character in a fantasy novel, being given a magical object from the High King and his Wise Advisors. And then, they disappeared, and I was left to continue my journey.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Deadliest Catch", the Newt Suit, and an amazing Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Campus of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, looking out over dangerous waters.
Image taken from

Before starting to watch Deadliest Catch a few years back, I guess I thought shipwrecks were a thing of the past—which is silly, because we still have plane crashes and car crashes, so I don’t know why I would think that a ship would magically no longer be in danger or sink out at sea. I guess I just hadn’t really heard about it, so I hadn’t really thought about it happening.

A particularly rocky moment from The Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel.
Image taken from

Then I started watching Deadliest Catch and I realized that it is definitely still happening. For those of you who may not be familiar, it's a show on the Discovery Channel that focuses on about six different boats during crab fishing season, and the hardships these men face in the Bering Sea. The weather conditions are insane, and the hours they're forced to work to make the necessary quotas (and still get back to port by deadline), push human endurance to their limit—and beyond—which is, of course, the fascination. It was while watching this show that I learned that vessels large and small sink quite regularly.

The USS Edmund Fitzgerald on the water.
Image taken from

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum has an exhibit focusing on the most significant recent shipwreck—and probably the most famous, thanks in part to the song by Gordon Lightfoot—to occur on the Great Lakes: the sinking of the U.S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

Local press coverage of the Fitzgerald loss.
Image taken from

The Fitzgerald was one of the largest freighters traversing the waters of the Great Lakes throughout the 1960's and 70's, and though it had been moving iron ore for a good 17 years, the ship was known for breaking speed records and carrying the heaviest loads (both qualities frequently attributed to the ships on Deadliest Catch, albeit on a smaller scale and with more edible cargo). CAPTAIN ERNEST M. SORLEY had thirty years of experience when he and his ship left Superior, Wisconsin and headed for Zug Island near Detroit, Michigan. En route, they were hit by a devastating gale with winds in excess of 55 miles an hour, as well as gusts of up to 75 mph. Because the locks at Sault Saint Marie were closed, and the waves in the bay to the south were known to be even stronger, the Captain took the ship on a path north, closer to Canada, to what he hoped would be safer waters. It was November 10, 1975.

Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior, looking north.
The land mass in the distance is Canada.

At 3:30 p.m. Captain Sorley reported to the Anderson that he had lost his radar and the freighter was listing slightly.

Radio communications between Sorley and the Anderson, which had been following not far behind the Fitzgerald, provide some clues to the fate of the Fitzgerald, as well as the recorded comments of Captain Bernie Cooper and First Mate Morgan Clark of the Anderson:

“He’s in too close to that six-fathom spot.”
Note: a fathom is six feet. This is in reference to the Carabou Shoals; a shoal is a sandbank.
“He sure does, he’s too close. He’s closer than I’d want this ship to be.”

At 5:30 p.m. Captain Sorley reports to another nearby ship, the Avafors, that he had a bad list, no radar, and seas washing over his decks. "One of the worst seas I've ever been in," Sorley said.

At 7:10 p.m. Sorley sent the message "We are holding our own," to the Anderson. This was the last message received.

At 8:32 p.m. the Anderson could no longer detect the Fitzgerald on the radar and Captain Cooper could no longer see her lights.

Image taken from

Reading this text in the museum, I was reminded of Deadliest Catch and the tension of the boat captains when another ship is in danger or waiting for the U.S. Coast Guard to make it to a sick or injured man. It seems that being out to sea is similar to being in a war: the intensity, the proximity to peril, and the challenges of doing a job in those circumstances creates a brotherhood, a bond. There is a loneliness to life at sea, and yet they aren’t alone, because all those who work there share an understanding of the waters, her boats, and the kind of life it demands, and they all have each other’s backs. You certainly don’t want to be the one that goes down, but you also don’t want to be the one who, like Captain Cooper on that night 35 years ago, looks out where to the Fitzgerald had been holding her own, and, instead of her lights, sees only darkness.

Diver in a Newt Suit looks into the deck of the Fitzgerald wreck.
Image taken from

For many years these audio recordings were the only tangible evidence we had to try and piece together what forced the Fitzgerald's crew into Superior’s frigid waters. If she was indeed at the six-fathom spot, then she was in only 36 feet of water; the "depth" of the ship, from the bottom of the hull to the deck, was 39 feet. Hitting a shoal could have damaged the hull, allowing water into the hold. There are other hypotheses, however: one is that a rogue wave—or a series of waves known as a "Three Sisters"—may have been involved. A Three Sisters, where a big wave comes from behind followed quickly by one from each side, doesn't allow a boat time to right itself, driving it under. The Anderson reported being hit by two such waves. Another theory is that one of the hatches wasn't properly secured, and water from the waves coming over the deck gradually filled the hold, which already contained a heavy load of iron ore, resulting in a sudden catastrophic loss of buoyancy that plunged the ship to the lake bottom before the crew had a chance to react.

Newt Suit on display in the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit at
the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

In 1995, a diving crew using the NEWT SUIT underwent a mission to retrieve the ship’s bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald (the Newt suit is an atmospheric pressurized diving suit, originally developed by Canadian engineer Phil Nuytten). In its place, they left a bell engraved with the names of the 29 men that were lost with the ship. A ceremony was held, ringing the bell for each of the 29 men, and then a 30th time for the 6,000 ships lost in the Great Lakes.

Original ship's bell rescued from the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
On display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

The wreck site of Fitzgerald will no longer be explored, and will remain a memorial to all those who have lost their lives in the Great Lakes., bell

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rain, Fog, Shipwrecks & Potential Moose

Image taken from

It took my typical three and a half hours from waking up, packing and load-in to get to the final step of entering the address into the nav and take-off. Last night the weather channel predicted rain, but the skies were clear when I loaded-in and so, I decided to wait to put on my new and yet untested rain gear (jacket and pants with suspenders from

I stopped for fuel about ten miles out of town and managed to put in $7, the most to date! I didn’t get a chance to figure out if it was because the price of the Premium, which the Piaggio requires, was higher or if I was the most empty I had been to date, because then the rain hit. I figured I was pretty fortunate to have the covering of the the awning to suit up, since I wasn’t bright enough to have my gear on from the get-go.

When I was at the hotel I had checked my air pressure and was delighted that the new gauge I bought in Ann Arbor (at Motor City Harley-Davidson) actually works. The stem on the gauge is mid-sized and allows me to read the pressure on the back tire in 30 seconds instead of the 20-30 minutes (honestly) it would take me with a full-size gauge, trying to get it into the only micro-sweet spot where the pressure could be read. Now, I knew the back tire pressure was perfect, but both the front tires were under and I confess, I didn’t have it in me to go over to the air in the rain and put air in the tires. I knew I wasn’t going to be going very fast, and I know this is a big shame on me, but I’m telling you the truth, I just wasn’t up to it.

This morning was not only a test for the rain gear, but for this anti-fog potion called Cat Crap which I had gingerly applied and buffed as directed (I believed) on my clear goggles. Well, I don’t know if I didn’t use enough (they say use very little), or if I buffed too much, or if I was supposed to use it on the inside as well as the outside -- but unfortunately, the Cat Crap was... well, crap. I have another product en route to me which has some great reviews, so we will see how it does next time it rains.

Image taken from

Just as I was pulling onto the road a couple other bikers pulled into the station to seek shelter under the awning. In general, my stress is less in these conditions, because I know that my Piaggio MP3 250 was designed to be ultra stable and this is the very kind of situation where Michi can show what she is made of, but riding in the rain can still feel arduous. I felt like I was in some Jedi Knight training on the slippery roads, which I couldn’t really see through foggy goggles and foggy air. Rain pelted my face and the cold temperatures chilled my bones, and my right hand began to feel numb. Every now and I again I wouldn’t be able to see anything at all, so I would pull over and wipe out my goggles with my sloppy soggy gloves and that would help for about 20 seconds. According to the drive report of the real-time tracker on my website, I chugged along at around 30 mph for most of the trip, finally reaching The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum about three and a half hours later.

Light Tower at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, on a sunny day.
Built 1861. Image taken from

Shortly after I arrived the power went out. I didn’t have much in the way of signal on my phone, so I asked Michael, my husband, to do an internet search for massage therapists in the area. Given that my body doesn’t have an abdominal muscular structure, I need to have occasional massages to unkink it from the inordinate taxation I put on other systems (like my back). Riding the scooter affects other things (like my wrists, ankles and neck), and riding in the rain compounds all of these issues. Getting chilled is my most dangerous fatigue issue, so just as soon as I was able to unload the scoot, I jumped into a hot shower and then under the blankets. If I get too chilled, or chilled for too long, I can end up bed-ridden for a couple of days. I was pretty sure that I managed to get warm fast enough, but many muscles were very cramped up from the long ride in the rain.

I was again incredibly lucky and found Mike Metzler of Northern Michigan Advanced Clinical Massage. He was kind enough to make an hour long drive each way to put my body back on track. He also left me with some water, an apple (which I really wanted! I haven’t had any real fruits or veggies since I left home) and a tennis ball, which he showed me how I could use the ball to fix my hip on my own when I’m on the road. He explained that at their clinic they place great importance on educating and empowering their clients to be able to take care of themselves. All way cool!

Amazing how tough a mere 35-mile ride can be when conditions are right (or wrong). Also, I suspect that the view along the coast from Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point, where the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is, would have been unbelievably spectacular had I been able to see it through the fog and the foggy goggles. I do have to push on, but I’m starting to accumulate a list of great places in Michigan I can look forward to revisiting in the future.

Image taken from

When I checked into the Crew Quarters where I would be spending the night at the Shipwreck Museum, I was told to look out the back window during breakfast time, as there is often a visiting moose. It was presented very casually, like it might be just another interesting thing to see, but I’ve never seen a real moose in person, so if one appeared just outside the window, well, that would be a big deal to me. If only I could get up early enough for a moose-sighting.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Scooting Across The Mackinac Bridge!

Mackinac Bridge, a.k.a. "Mighty Mac"
Image taken from

I'd only gone a few miles from The Gables in Cheboygan, Michigan when I looked down at my dash and noticed that my trunk light was on, meaning my trunk was open. This was a pretty big bummer, because I was pretty overheated having already spent half an hour at a Shell station, getting the tire pressure corrected and managing a problem with the helmet camera, and now I would have to unwire the camera and take off my pack and get all disconnected from the monitor just to close the trunk. Regardless, I had to pull over; but when I did -- the trunk would not close. Now, this trunk has always been temperamental and has required a good slam to get it to shut properly, but this time the latch just wouldn’t engage.

I once again called the Vespa dealer in Grand Rapids, looking for a dealer close to me, but this time they told me what I had expected to hear a couple days earlier when I was in Gaylord, Michigan: “There isn’t one in over 100 miles. You could go to Detroit.” Well, Detroit was not on my way to Sault Ste. Marie, so I sent up a tweet asking if anyone could point me toward someone who might be able to fix it between here and there.

In the meantime I talked to Michael, my husband, who chastised me for not taking the duct tape. I explained that the roll had been too big, but it gave me the idea that I might be able to get a piece of duct tape between where I was and the bridge (The Mackinac Bridge). I was having visions of the wind tossing my critical possessions into the lake as I scooted across.

Before too long I came to a small town, Indian River, where I stopped in an oil change place. Again I had to go through all the gyrations of getting unhitched from the helmet cam, and just as I finished I looked up to see a rather tall smiling man looking down and me. “I have to ask, why do you have a camera on your helmet?” he said. I answered, “Well, I’m delighted you did ask, because then I can tell you that I’m riding 3,400 miles on this scooter to raise awareness about Hidden Disabilities." I pause for the puzzled look on his face, then explain, “This could be any disability that you can’t tell by looking at a person, such as a person who's deaf, or autistic, or has MS.” He whipped out his wallet and said,”Let me give you five dollars.” I was taken aback! People have donated on the website but no one had ever just opened their wallet in front of me and handed me cash. “My name is Ara, and who are you Sir?” “I’m, Pat, Pat Allor.” He must have detected my surprise, because he said, “You are trying to raise money aren’t you?” “Well, yes... usually it's through the website... but this is great, THANK YOU!" I then
explained that I was there hoping to find some duct tape. “Now what would you need a piece of duct tape for on a rig like that?”

I explained about the problem with the trunk so he took me inside to get some duct tape, but it turns out he didn’t work there, he was just stopping in there on his lunch break. He took a look at my broken latch and figured he might be able to fix it at his shop which was just down the road a couple miles. I figured I had nothing to lose so I headed over to Tri Rivers Collision and Pat and his colleague, Dave Cooksey, took it apart and messed with it until they got it working again. They aren’t quite sure why it stopped working and they don’t think their fix is permanent, but it is working for now. Pat helped me get all suited up again, as well as tightening the strap on my helmet, and I was off.

Now here is when things started getting weird. The nav had me traveling south, but I knew the bridge was north of me. I have the settings to take all back roads, so I thought it was possible I needed to go south for a bit to meet up with some other road that would take me north, but it was carrying on for just way too long. I stopped a couple different times and expanded the map and it was in fact taking me up to Sault Ste. Marie, so I tried to chill and just go with it, but again, I was heading farther and farther south and it was getting later and later in the day.

Finally, I was getting too exhausted to carry on much more, and if I had to I was just going to get on the real highway and get going north. So, I called my buddy Jim Picard and asked if he could figure out why the nav was taking me the way it was. It didn’t make any sense to him, and the bridge was now about fifty miles behind me. I asked him to give me an address at the base of the bridge and I would put that in the nav and start over. This managed to get me heading north and moving toward the bridge.

Mackinac Bridge, a.k.a. "The Big Mac"
Image taken from prklevans.wordpress.

Once the bridge was in sight, or the tips of the top of it, I pulled over and turned the camera on because I didn’t know what the traffic would be like once I got closer. Now for months everyone I asked told me no matter what I do, don’t drive on the grates on the bridge and I would be just fine. Well I ended up at a peculiar on-ramp, and I couldn’t figure out if it actually went onto the bridge or not, so I just jump on it and suddenly I'M ON THE BRIDGE!!!!

Mackinac Bridge (pronounced "MACK-in-aw")
Image taken from

There I was, it was actually happening. I didn’t see the grate that everyone was talking about so I was kind of puzzled, but being on the bridge was glorious and beautiful and fun. I was rolling along in the left lane enjoying the view when suddenly just ahead, about forty feet in front of me, was the grating I'd been hearing so much about, and to the right -- was a truck going about 15 miles an hour. Fifteen miles an hour, especially in the wind, is not a good speed for me, so I had to pass him -- but I had never passed anyone before and I had to pass him before the grate, aaeeeiieieieieieie!!! I just made it.

So, I’m cruisin' along the beautiful bridge and it is like I am flying over this huge expanse of water. It was exhilerating. "Absolutely brilliant!" as Ewan and Charlie would say (Long Way Round). I screamed and hollered with delight the whole way over and then.... there was construction and they funneled me over to the grates!!!!!!

I shouted, “I’m glad I didn’t know in advance this was gonna happen to me. I’m just gonna have to pray that my Piaggio MP3 is gonna keep me safe.” It did in fact pull and lurch one way and then the other with no predictability, but I relaxed into it and I was okay. I just treated it like I treat the rough winds. I think I rode the grates for about a mile or so and then I was back on the pavement for another mile and then it was over.

Once on the other side, I attempted to put the final destination back in the nav but it gave me the same confusing error it had given me that morning, saying the route was too long to calculate. Well it turns out there are two Days Inns, both in Sault Ste. Marie, one in Michigan and one in CANADA! So the nav had been trying to take me on some crazy roundabout route to Canada earlier in the day - ack! Well... I won’t fall for that one again.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cheboygan, Synchronicity & Smooth Sailing

Sick Scooter.

Day Four: Fixing up my Scooter (and my Body) in Cheboygan, MI.

The weather report said heavy thunderstorms in the afternoon en route to Cheboygan, so I set about getting up bright and early to avoid testing out my new rain gear just yet. I had already put in a call to my bodyworker back home to see if she could help me find a Deep Tissue Massage Therapist in Cheboygan, because I was hurting pretty bad in quite a few places and I was worried that if I got chilled in the rain, I would definitely be out of commission for a couple of days.

I fell back asleep after my 5:00am wake-up call, but started hustling around 7:35 when I woke again. I was loaded up and on the bike by 9:00 which, although later than I intended, was my earliest to date. I was punching in the address to The Gables Bed & Breakfast in Cheboygan into the nav, the last step in my departure procedure checklist, when the nav powered down. This was weird. I tried to restart it -- no luck. I tried to turn the bike on -- no luck. I couldn’t even get the key out. It was making a funny high-pitched noise. I wondered if I did something to trigger the anti-theft device on the bike.

I called the Vespa dealer “back home” in Grand Rapids (where I bought the bike) and Dan, the mechanic who got my scoot all suited up for this ride, attempted to talk me through getting the key out. I was able to do so, in fact the ignition was stuck between the on and off positions and wouldn’t move. He said he had never heard of this before. He said he figured something was wrong with the ignition, that maybe some of the tumblers had jiggled loose.

My mind was racing. There are a tiny handful of Vespa dealers in Michigan and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to take my Piaggio to a non-Vespa shop for an ignition problem. I asked Dan, “If you were in my shoes which would you do — have it towed 300 miles to a Vespa dealer or take it to a local shop and see what they could do with the ignition?” I was imaging having to get towed to Detroit and wondering how I would ever make up the miles to get back on schedule. He said, “I would wiggle that thing around for a long time.” But it was like Excaliber in the stone. It wasn’t going anywhere.

I asked if he could look up where the closest Vespa dealer was to Gaylord, MI. Now here is the first miracle in the story — get this, the nearest Vespa dealer was in GAYLORD, MI!! NO LIE!!!

Thanks to Chris Maxsom from Total Powersports (Gaylord, MI) for
fixing me up and getting me on the road in record time.

I called and talked to Jeanne at Total Powersports. I was afraid that, given they didn’t know me, they might not be able to squeak me into their schedule -- but she said no problem and that they were rolling out the red carpet. She sent Chris Maxson, their sales manager out to get me. He was there within ten minutes. Once at the shop, Mike Peppler got me set up and Chris Smith started right to work on my scoot, while Mike took my information.

In about fifteen minutes Chris, the tech, came out with the word. Turns out the Piaggio has two off key positions (I forgot to ask why), and if you take the key out while in the “half-off” position, rather than the “full-off” position, the engine is actually still on. So my engine had been on all night which had killed the battery. He gave me a power jump and told me not to stop the engine until I got to Cheboygan, and then use my charger through the night (which was set-up for me before I started this trip by Scott Sternaman: Shoreline Smart Homes).

They then told me they were going to put me on their website and see if they could get their people to follow the project! AND, they didn’t charge me a penny for all their trouble! A big huge heartfelt thanks to Total Powersports, Gaylord, MI!

I took off for Cheboygan without further incident or rain. When I arrived I set about trying to find a body worker. Now given that I don’t have an abdominal muscular structure, the rest of my body takes on an extra load and, given the additional burden of riding the scooter — well, under normal circumstances I need to have body work to undo all the damage I do just trying to live. With the added strain, I was in a world of hurt and needed someone with some medical knowledge and skilled enough to be able to navigate the terrain of my unusual body. When I left, I knew I would need to find people along the way to unkink what I’m doing as I ride the scooter. I’m particularly feeling the additional stress between my shoulders, my lower back, my wrists and my ankles.
The Gables Bed & Breakfast (Cheboygan, MI).
Image taken from

When I got into town, the B&B was not yet open so I sauntered over to Alice’s Restaurant for a snack. I asked my server if she knew of any massage therapists and she mentioned several places, but I figured the one who works with a chiropractor would be the most likely to have the skills to manage my broken body. Dr. Dom’s office gave me her number — Shellie Charboneau.

Now here are the next couple of crazy and fortuitous parts of the story: first, she is usually completely booked on Monday, but for some reason she was open today and was just getting ready to go over to her mom’s for lunch, so she was available. Not only that, but her place was literally next door to my B&B, so I could walk over while my bike was charging (at the realtor’s office -- thank you Jessie and Chuck Knopp). But wait, that’s not all — she races motocross! Now, for those of you not familiar with the term, that means she races a motorcycle. In fact she competed last weekend at Onaway Motor Speedway in the 30+ Class (with all the boys) and took first place!

Shellie Charboneau, Massage Therapist and Motocross Racer,
fixed my overworked body, pained from riding.

Well, Shellie knew exactly what my body needed. She uncompressed my neck from wearing a helmet, pulled apart my shoulder-blades from holding my arms up for all those miles, took the stress away from my lower back and reassembled my wrists and ankles that were hurting so badly (I couldn’t even hang my left wrist limply over the handlebar without it hurting, much less use it to break.) Now I am all fixed up. I’m not feeling pain at all, anywhere.

Inside the Gables B&B.

I’m still amazed at how fortuitous the whole day was; that I would manage to breakdown in one of the few towns in the entire state of Michigan that has a Vespa dealership, that the only referral I would get for a body worker in Cheboygan would be located right next door to where I was staying, and that she would be a biker chick - what a day! If this is any indication of how the rest of this tour is gonna go, then I am smooth sailing!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tall Ships & True Tales

Day Two: Tall Ships & True Tales (Traverse City, MI)

I can’t stop for more than 30 seconds without someone sauntering over to ask me about my unusual scoot. What a blessing. I had never realized what a lure this three-wheeled ride would be — which then gives me an opportunity to tell people that I’m riding 3,500 miles to raise awareness for Hidden Disabilities.

"What is a Hidden Disability?" they all ask.

My response…
Any disability that one might not recognize just by looking at the person. They might be deaf, autistic…

Often, the person interrupts me and starts listing other Hidden Disabilities, like MS…
I can’t begin to tell you how many stories I’ve heard in just the last two days.

I'm spending the night at a unique Bed & Breakfast, which takes place on a Tall Ship on the water at Traverse City, Michigan.
Tonight I heard from a crew member of the Tall Ship, Jeremiah Bailey. Jeremiah’s brother, who has MS, works on a Natural Gas Rig in Colorado. He’s only 25. Sometimes one side of his body goes numb or his hands don’t work. He will get worse over time.

I’m stymied sometimes by people’s stories. I have so many questions, but they all seem too personal to ask. I wonder if they have insurance, if the person has enough support within their family or community. I wonder what could change in their life that would really make a difference.

At this point, I just want the very first step: I would like to get people to stop and think for a moment. If someone isn’t behaving the way people expect them to
or want them to then maybe something is going on with them.

I am honored to have these strangers share their stories with me. Together we will figure this thing out.

And on we go!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Night One: Sleeping On A Sub!

USS Silversides. Decommissioned sub, museum, and place to lay your head,
in Muskegon, Michigan. Image from

USS Silversides at the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum

Well it's the first night of my Midwest Training Tour and I'm spending it bunking down in a submarine, a real submarine! The USS Silversides, commissioned December 15, 1941, just 8 days after Pearl Harbor was attacked. To get the lay of the land (so to speak), I took what was without question the coolest tour I’ve ever been on!

Electric Room.

But wait -- first let me make something clear: I’m really not into war. I’m freaked out by the Bomb, internment camps, all that stuff -- but seeing the movie in the museum here, and experiencing the hour-long tour of the sub itself, I certainly got some insight into the culture of that time and a sense of how life was on a U.S. sub.

Some of my sub buddies from Boy Scout Troop 264.

The tour I took was lead by Gary Reynolds and joined by Retired Officer Dan, with Boy Scout Troop 264 from Griffith, Indiana. It began with a solemn ceremony in which the Boy Scouts (guided by Gary) lowered five flags, appropriately folded them and handed them off to him with a salute. I don’t need to have served in the military to have been touched by the honor of it.

An underwater Underwood.

The tour itself was amazing! It included information about how submarines work, the military practices on the ship, the history of the patrols made by the USS Silversides, and the stories of some of the men that served on this ship. It was honestly fascinating. Here some of the interesting tidbits I learned:
Burial at sea aboard the USS Cobia, 1945. Image from
  • How was a person “buried at sea”? The body was wrapped in a tarp and weights were added to prevent the enemy from finding it, giving away the location of the ship. A special ceremony would be performed with all officers on deck, in uniform. The body, with a flag draped over it, would then be placed on a board. The board would be tilted so the body would slide out from under the flag and into the sea, leaving the flag behind.

  • Mike Harbin, Torpedo Man Third Class, was the only serviceman killed on the Silversides. He was hit by enemy machine gun fire on her first war patrol in May of ‘42. Rumor has it that his ghost still haunts the sub. (Boy Scout Collin explained to me that the ghost usually appears early in the morning or late at night, when you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up or a rush of cold air; he thought that with all of us on board there was probably too much activity for the ghost to appear tonight.)
  • The propellers are called “screws.”

Ward Room that once served as a makeshift
Operating Room. Image from
  • A ship’s pharmacist, Thomas Moore, with only improvised instruments (he used bent spoons as retractors) and an anatomy book, once performed a successful appendectomy on the table in the Ward Room. This scene was reenacted in the 1943 movie Destination Tokyo, starring Cary Grant.

Lobby Card for Warner Bros.' Destination Tokyo depicting
the appendectomy scene. Image from

  • The nickname “Pigboats” came from the odor that resulted from the fact that purified water was used first for the engines, then cooking and hand-washing, and then bathing. Officers were allowed a shower once a week, but the enlisted men could only shower once every 13 days. (Scouts Daniel and Anthony helped me with fact checking on this one.)
  • This sub had its “screws” removed because the U.S. has a treaty with Canada saying there will be no active warships in the Great Lakes.

  • The USS Silversides is 80% active. The engines are run on Memorial Day to honor the 3,600 men who died on U.S. submarines in World War II.
  • On a side note, I just read that starting in 2012 women will begin serving as official crew members on U.S. submarines for the first time.

Something else I got from this visit: I guess I'd never heard much of Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech, beyond that opening declaration, until seeing the museum’s movie. It becomes clear why so many young Americans were motivated to enlist, and risk the ultimate sacrifice.

In FDR’s own words:
“I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again...we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.”

The crew sleeping quarters; bunking down with torpedoes.

Throughout the tour Gary repeated the average age, 18-20, of the young enlisted men who served on the USS Silversides. Their bunks lie in rows alongside the torpedoes. I could not help but think about our young men and women now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the intensity of what they are called to do, the risks and challenges that they bear, and the ways that it changes them forever.

We only just started this journey and already I'm finding inspiration all around me. I can't wait to see what the road will bring next.