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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

What I Did Next Summer

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Outside my window, the snow is still flying thick and heavy, born by powerful winds.  There's a fire in the fireplace, and the room is filled by the ticking of the mantle clock.  Yet, my thoughts are not on the storm outside.  A road atlas lies opened in my lap, my eyes carefully following the colorful lines as they meander across the land.  I am confident that this winter will end, and spring will arrive, with warm sunshine, soft breezes, and the call of the open road.

My health has not been good this winter, but I am feeling better.  But it has been a reminder that time is passing, and the years are piling up.  I sense that there may not be many more motorcycle seasons remaining.

So, here I sit, perusing the maps and planning my trips for the summer.

In years past, such sojourns have involved pretty long distances, at least 4 to 5 thousand miles.  But this year, I'm thinking  a few shorter trips instead.

My first idea formed around my genealogical research done over the past few years.  My family has a pretty strong history in Wisconsin, and the towns where that history lies locked in some county clerk's dusty records also lie along some interesting roads.

Leaving Somerset, I track westward along I-76, and I-80 to my first night's stop in South Bend, Indiana.  The next day, I loop around the Chicago suburbs, turning north on I-94.  I stop in Appleton for a brief visit to my cousin Larry, who's been more of a brother than a cousin, and his family.   Day three takes me northwest from Appleton to Chippewa Falls through some beautiful and picturesque farm country. 

In Chippewa Falls, I want to make contact with another Ralph Couey.  His family intersects my line with my Great-Great-Great Grandfather.  He's an interesting person, a bona fide entrepreneur, someone I've wanted to meet for some time.  Two days later, I leave and head south through La Crosse and Prairie du Chien before turning east on US60, a wonderful and scenic road that follows along the Wisconsin river.  Along that route, I'll stop in Excelsior, where my Grandfather (yet another Ralph Couey) was born, and also in Richland Center where he grew up.  I'm hopeful to find some information on him and the rest of his family.  I'm very curious because he died before I was born, and all I have left are a box full of letters that he wrote to my Dad while he was in the Navy during World War II.  Those letters were a revelation, and I even had a handwriting expert examine a couple.   The expert gave me some real insight into the personality behind the man I never knew.

At Sauk City, I'll swing south towards Madison.  My Mother's family hails from there, but I've lost contact with them.  I don't even know if any are still living there.  From Madison, I take I-39 south to the town of Edgerton.  There, along the shores of Lake Koshkonong, I'll have the first chance to explore the town that was the birthplace of author Stirling North, who wrote "Rascal," a story about a brief time he shared with a pet raccoon.  It is a story that touched me deeply when I was young, and is still a favorite re-read of mine today.  I understand that there is a small museum, but mostly I'll spend some time just traveling those roads and byways he spoke of in his youth. 

From there, it's south again, through Janesville and Beloit, passing into Illinois and hooking up with I-94 east of Rockford.  From there, I follow the same route as the outbound leg, arriving in Somerset after 6 days and just under 2,000 miles.

Another trip I'm contemplating is one for my wife, who wants to see Magnolias in bloom.  According to the Internet, that happens in Mississippi in June, although I have to admit being reluctant to take my Asian wife into the deepest, darkest part of the former Confederacy.

We leave Somerset on I-70, then turning south on Route 2 through Parkersburg and Huntington, West Virginia, along what promises to be gorgeous mountain country.  We take the Cumberland Parkway to Bowling Green, Kentuckey, turning south on I-65 towards Hendersonville, Tennessee.  We weave through Nashville and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway, a road the follows a trail that's been around since there were people in those woods.  The Trace clips a corner of northwest Alabama before entering Mississippi northeast of Tupelo.  The road promises to be a place of great natural beauty, as well as some interesting history as well.  Once we arrive in Natchez, we'll spend a day touring the antebellum mansions there. 

Coming back, we go north to Vicksburg, visiting the Civil War battlefield, then going east on I-20 through Meridien, Mississippi and Birmingham, Alabama.   We'll make a stop in Rome, Georgia, where I will spend a day doing some family research (there's a ton of Couey's in Chatooga County). 

We then head north for the Smoky Mountains National Park, and of course, The Dragon, that storied 11-mile stretch of US129 containing 318 curves in it's length.  It is as close to being Mecca for motorcyclists as anyplace else.  Not only is the road a challenge, but the scenery in those mountains is breath-taking. 

From there, it's US219 through the Monongahela National Forest in Virginia and back home.  That's 8 days and 2,400 miles.  Cheryl may actually fly home at some point, since my current ride is very uncomfortable for passengers.

So, that's two trips, if I have the time and the money to make them.  I'd really like to make one more ride out west before time closes in, but I have a growing feeling that it may prove to be too much for me.

I've written numerous posts on this blog about my passion for riding, so I won't duplicate them here.  But I will say that after such an epic winter, I look forward to clear skies and an open road.

And to feel once more, the freedom of the journey.
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