It’s @#$ COLD!!

by on February 16, 2007
in Winter

bike in the middle of montanaLast night at dinner we were warding off the cold (36 of the past 37 days here have had daytime highs below 30 degrees, including 15 that were in the single digits) by recalling the two Caribbean cruises we’ve been on. Ah the top deck, staring out at the endless ocean as real-life worries were set afloat… the beaches of white sand and pristine aqua-colored water… the islands… what *were* the names of those islands?? We quickly realized that these trips were 8 and 10 years old, respectively, and wondered if there wasn’t something more recent we could draw upon for warm recollections. That put us onto the subject of last summer’s Sturgis trip, and we conjured up the hottest day of that journey with some reluctance. It was about 111 degrees as we cruised across a corner of Montana, returning to Belle Fourche after our visit to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The trip to Devil’s Tower had not been all that pleasant – crowds and traffic were awful, tempers were short, and it was a day where I was feeling like we’d traveled far but seen nothing – except for a giant volcanic nipple poking up out of the Earth. This return stretch was, despite the heat, a blessing as it proved to be a little-traveled route. Very little. Vast open spaces stretched away from each side of the asphalt ribbon (was THIS where Woody Guthrie was walking and trying to think of a rhyme for “gulf-stream waters”? If so, it’s no wonder he came up empty!). You could look out onto a grassy range and imagine covered wagons actually lumbering their way west. And it was hot. The kind of hot where you soak your bandana and wear it under your helmet to keep your head cool… and sit in a little mom-and-pop convenience store seemingly in the middle of nowhere, drinking a sports drink even though you HATE sports drinks, because you’re pretty sure you left your electrolytes in a chemical toilet back at the Volcanic Nipple gift shop.

August 10, 2006 might not’ve been the best day to conjure up happy memories, but it was just what we needed to keep cabin fever at bay. We’re supposed to see temps in the 40’s by next week… I may just go soak my bandana!

Eat real on the road!

by on February 14, 2007
in Commentary

Alton Brown of Good EatsI’m still thinking about Alton Brown. I blogged recently about becoming interested in cooking (at age 44? After 15 years of marriage and family? What can I say, late bloomer!), and mentioned that Alton Brown is one of the program hosts over on Food Network, and that he rides a BMW. He strikes me as the type of person I’d have something to talk about over the super-unleaded nozzles at that tiny gas station outside Rose Creek, MN… bikes, old highways, vanishing Americana… and road food.

He’s got a couple of shows on Food Network… “Good Eats” is terrific, a sort “Beakman’s World” with food. (Brilliant “Jaws” parody aired this week where Alton’s Richard Dreyfus character was recruited by the besieged townfolk to kill a giant scallop that allegedly ate somebody’s toe, and he ended up cooking scallops for guests on the Robert Shaw character’s boat… cripes, hilarious!)

But I digress. It’s his limited-run series “Feasting on Asphalt”… where he travels across the US on his BMW with a few pals looking for authentic local food – and, I’m guessing, an authentic on-the-road experience – that I’m concerned with here. The series was shot and aired in 2006 and was recently re-run. His travels remind me of the street rod trips we took in the early 90’s where we’d purposely go in search of local diners. Back in those days, I was self-publishing a street-rodding newsletter called “Family Rodder” where I wrote a lot about the cool stuff that made two-lane travel so satisfying, and occasionally lamenting how our mode of exploring America had evolved.

On the bikes, we’ve discovered more than a few gems: a mom-and-pop place going into Belle Fourche, SD, next door to the paleo-themed motel where we stayed on last year’s Sturgis trip… the Old Home Fill ‘Er Up and Keep on Truckin’ Cafe, still operating in Pisgah, Iowa despite the absence of C.W. McCall and Mavis; a place in Beresford, SD that delivered awesome ham steak and ribeye meals to our motel room because we were too tired to stumble across the road…

My lament – and the point of “Feasting on Asphalt” – has been that most of us just don’t travel the way Americans used to… we built the Interstate system and it got the trucks off the 2-lanes, but it also encouraged everyone else to hurry, too… to blow past those towns… now you have to make an effort and take the “business route” if you want something local. And because of that, we’ve “progressed” ourselves right out of an opportunity to explore, to learn something.

Here’s some hard truth: Eating local is a lot harder than sliding to a stop at McDonald’s right off the interstate. But, I believe it’s absolutely imperative if you want the full road experience. It’s certainly the only way you’re going to experience culinary variety, or get a sense of what regional food is, when you travel. Eating local also supports local communities – economically as well as culturally. It assures that small towns get to keep some of what makes them unique, and that the profit they earn from your meal doesn’t go to some corporate home-office out of state. Finally, there’s the concept of “shared adventure” in discovering an unfamiliar local place… the best dinners with friends on the road are had when you step into a hole in the wall and have something to talk about because you took a chance, for better or for worse. Of course, you’ll occasionally get a clinker of a meal this way. But it shouldn’t always be about getting good food – it should sometimes be about getting authentic food.

When Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference” – well, he could have been addressing the pre-ride meeting of the local HOG club. Or Alton Brown, perched on that BMW in his driveway, anticipating the journey ahead. “Feasting on Asphalt” is proof that Alton, at least, was listening. Are you?

Traffic report

by on February 2, 2007
in Site News

Do you care about my website traffic? If not I’ll stop blathering about it. But really… 6,700 visits in January?? Come on, that’s worth mentioning! (That’s up from less than 1500 in January of 2006!)