It's Not The Destination. It's The Journey.
August 24, 2009
I met Joe Daniel Davenport and Sue coming out of the Courier office as I was going in one day. We spoke and he asked me why there wasn't one of my stories in the paper for the last couple of weeks. The reason why is because I was out of town, or shall I say, out of the country.
After my sister Geri died in April of this year we started talking amongst ourselves (5 brothers). We decided, due to either age or health, if we are going to do something together we needed to do it soon. So we tried to get all the brothers together where we could go on a big motorcycle trip. But due to family sickness and jobs only three of us could make it. So the three "Wild Hogs" started planning a trip to Nova Scotia, Canada.
We had it in our plans that we would get to do some fishing in the mountain streams in the upper northeast, so I took my favorite fly rod, hoping to find a good trout stream. I arrived at my brother's house in Oliver Springs with it strapped to the camping gear which was tied on to my cruiser. On the morning of the 23rd, when Jim and I started out for Dan's house, the rod was tied onto my bike but when I arrived at Dan's house 40 minutes later I found it didn't make the trip. Somebody has now got a good fly rod and carrying case for Christmas or birthday or summer vacation.
At 63 years old Jim is the oldest of all the clan. Dan is 56 and is in bad health due to Beryllium poisoning and heavy metals at one of the Nuclear Plants in Oak Ridge where he had worked. He is in constant pain, but he held his own.
I am 59 and had a heart transplant plus I am a shot-taking diabetic. We are not spring chickens to say the least. But we were all in accordance; we wanted to take this road trip. So we agreed that we were in no hurry to reach Nova Scotia; we did not have a schedule to keep, all we needed to do was to be home for Jim to go to work on the 9th of August.
We left out from Dan's house in Knoxville we were headed for the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway which started in Bryson City, North Carolina but actually we started in Asheville a few miles away. I don't know how all of you act when it comes to making decisions on any subject like a trip, but when you have three Alpha males together like we three Stoetzel brothers, it is something of a challenge to get anywhere. However being a democratic society, majority rules, and if you can get two brothers to agree then the other one will follow suit.
Absolutely beautiful scenery was waiting for us in the Parkway, but even for someone who has no schedule to keep 35 miles an hour is slow. We spent two days and nights on the Parkway and we had to always get off to find gas and food. We were camping along the way and we had to get off to find a campsite. We finally found our first one in Boone North Carolina. The proprietor was not on duty and we rode in and picked three campsites together and put up our tents in the dark. I used the headlight from my bike to set up. I was used to the tent and it was easy for me to set up. The others had not opened their packs since they bought them so they were learning to do it at night by the headlight. The next morning Dan, who is an early riser, was up looking for some coffee. I went to meet the proprietor. She was a nice older lady who ran a pretty tight ship. She told me the campsites were 25 dollars a night. I went back to tell the others about the price. I saw her drive around the campground and look us over. I was the first one to shower and get myself packed up. I went to pay and she said she didn't know we were on motorcycles, "We give discounts to motorcycles because they don't take up room," she said. The total cost was only 25 dollars for all three. I asked her not to say anything to my brothers and I will tell them I paid the bill. She wouldn't go for that and actually went out to meet the brothers to let them know that I only had to pay the $25. I told her she wasn't any fun; we all had a good laugh out of it.
After we ate a big breakfast we headed back to the Parkway. It was foggy and the cool crisp air felt good. There were all kinds of wildlife on the parkway and we had to watch really close for deer. The vistas were magnificent. I am not sure where the highest point is but I think we traversed it and it got real cold. It was cold enough for all of us to don our leather jackets and heavier gloves.
We camped again the next night and set up camp in the dark again. So much for planning! I didn't set up my tent because it was so late. I slept under the stars. I awoke bright and early because of a combination of the sun in my eyes and the granddaddy long legged spiders walking on me. That day (Saturday) Dan was showing signs of weakening and the pain was really wearing on him. Both Jim and I told him that if it got too much on him we would find a motel and lay up for a day while he rests but he said no and he would suffer through it saying "I am going to hurt anyway so I might as well keep going." Because of the heavy metals in his legs he hurt constantly and he told me once he could barely stand the pain, although the medication helped halfway.
After two days I finally convinced them that even though we had no schedule we did have a destination to get to. So reluctantly we got off the Parkway and hit I-81 until we got off to another highway. This means we were going to bypass Shenandoah National Park. I wanted to camp there but you can't have everything. We were heading straight for D.C. now.
As it is with all the suburbs around Washington you can't really tell when they start or when they end, or even what state you are in at the time. We found us a nice motel in Vienna, Virginia. In order to see any part of the Mall in Washington we would have to stay in this motel for two days. Luckily they had a restaurant next to them. We would be sleeping in a bed for the next two nights, hoping that will help Dan and his inflictions We also need to do laundry to insure we can keep fresh, and we all know what a shower and a clean pair of clothes can do for a person.
Sunday July 26: We were able to take a motel shuttle to the underground trains. Being around this many people gave me an opportunity to see a lot of different people. I am an observer of people. I always was and my career as a law enforcement officer evidently embedded it into me really deep. We boarded the train headed to the Soggy Bottom Station which was situated on the campus area of George Washington University not far from the Mall. When we boarded the train they hurried you along by an automated voice to insure that you would find a seat quickly. The only seat that was not taken on my side of the train was next to a pretty young woman who looked like she could still be in college. She looked a little uncomfortable with this old guy sitting next to her. She kept looking forward and I made sure my left arm didn't touch her. I broke the ice though as I always do and said, "People up here don't seem to talk to anyone, they don't even make eye contact do they?" She said no they don't. But I continued on and pointed out my brothers telling her that we were from Tennessee and that we were used to talking to everyone. At that point she seemed to be more at ease. We hardly talked but she seemed comfortable with me after that and relaxed. I was glad I could make her feel at ease.
As we left the train and rode the escalator to the street we met a man who worked as a guide I suppose or an attendant for the train system and he was very helpful telling us where to go for the Mall and most attractions. He was a good guy. People seemed to really get excited to hear that we were brothers and that we were making this trip together. He said that he had made the trip to D.C. about 21 years ago on a motorcycle and never left. He wasn't afraid to talk with anyone; we had a good time with him.
The multitude of people we saw at the Mall was amazing. I heard so many different languages and dialects that I was stunned at how many people had come to see the things that the United States Capitol City had to offer. They were literally from everywhere. If I started to try and guess where everyone had come from I would have a list of the United Nations. We took in the ones that most people do, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Vietnam Wall, Korean War, World Wars I and II.
The Vietnam Wall was impressive and I was able to get a rubbing of Harold Basham's name on the wall. You will remember that we did a story about his death in Vietnam in 1968 about a month or so ago. The Korean wall was ghostly to say the least. Instead of the names of those who had died there were faces almost being projected out to you. It was suggested by one observer that I should see it when there was a fog in the area. It is different that the Vietnam Wall but none the less powerful in its symbolization The Smithsonian was a delight to see. However, I didn't see as much as my brothers did. I read a little slower than they do I suppose or else they just looked at the display and went on.
Washington DC was a trip; it was hot and we were so tired walking that day that I wanted to sit down and have somebody carry me. My sugar level had dropped also and my brothers were not familiar with taking care of someone with that problem. By the way at the end of the day in Washington we took a cab back to the transit train. It is a good thing because I don't believe we would have found it.
That night we all slept well and Dan said he didn't even wake up in the middle of the night. While at the motel I called an old friend of mine. I don't know how many of you remember a deputy that worked for Sheriff Robert Bogle in the late seventies and early eighties but his name is Ralph Bucci and he had come down south from Norristown, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia to Woodbury. His wife, Barbara, was a slender blonde who worked as a nurse at Stones River Hospital. He was a stout man with a soft heart and a big voice and he never learned our accent or southern colloquiums. He, his wife and daughter were good friends of ours. He and Woodbury Fire Chief Bill Johnston and his wife Jimmie were also very close to him. I told him that if we had the time we would be stopping by his house and it just so happens that we only had to detour a very little to get to his house.
We stopped in to see them at their home at 116 Oakdale Avenue in Norristown. We could only take a few hours off of our "schedule" to visit with them.
Ralph and I officially met in June of 1982 while at the Cannon County Jail on the square; we unofficially met in 1969. When I arrived in Cannon County as the new Trooper assigned here, I came into the jail and introduced myself. I met most of the employees of the jail. As I sat there we were discussing our backgrounds, I mentioned that I was in the Navy, and Ralph had said he was also. He said he was on the Battleship USS New Jersey. I told him that I saw the Jersey when I was stationed in Pearl Harbor in 1969. He said that that was when he was on the ship and that they had just come back from "Nam".
What we found out next was kind of scary. In 1969 the black singer Lou Rawls (I love his voice) was giving a concert at the Enlisted Men's Club (EM Club). We had a lot of racial tension in those days. Yes, we had our share in the military, and when you get that many people (thousands) of men of all branches together with drinking and a party atmosphere there is enough kindling to start a fire. As it happened a fight broke out and a young white sailor was killed, The Base Police were called in and they had identified the suspect and took him into custody, but the mob at that time did not want to relinquish him to the police. In the next moments there was a full scale riot on the Naval Base and it was getting ugly. Vehicles were being overturned; drink machines were being thrown into the harbor. The police were pushed as far as they could go. They were at the water's edge, one officer had a gun to the mob and the other one had the prisoner.
I was on the Harbor Patrol Boat with orders to pick them up at Bravo Landing. I was to nose the craft in and let them get on, no one else was to board that boat and if they did I was to shoot them with the service 45 that I carried. As I nosed into the area I looked to my right and saw a sailor on the New Jersey with what looked like an M-1 rifle. This sailor saw what I was doing and he saluted me and I returned the salute. Thirteen years later at the Cannon County Jail in 1982 I found out that this sailor's name was Ralph Bucci and he had the same orders that I had, if anyone came on that gangplank he was to fire on them. Wow, what a small world we live in. There in Hawaii a Tennessean has an event where a Pennsylvanian had the same event and then they meet in the small town of Woodbury. Anyway that is how I came to meet Ralph. We had a common event that would link us forever. We communicate via e-mail regularly. I told him I was taking notes on the trip and that I would most likely write about it in the Courier. He said to say hello to all his friends and to say "Perkins" says Hi. So there you go Ralph.
On the road again
From Ralph's at Norristown we went through the countryside of Pennsylvania and found a State Park called Lackawanna and as usual we found it after dark. The Park Ranger found us wondering around and led us to a campsite. The campsite was on an incline so to get to it we had to back our bikes down as there was no way to turn around at the end. I didn't set up my tent again because there was a huge picnic table and I slept on top of it; no bugs that night.
We got up early that next morning because we realized we were not making any time because we slept too long. We went into the town of Halstead; it was a neat little town with the Susquehanna River running right through it. We ate a big breakfast and we wouldn't stop except to get gas and a snack and then eat supper later. While in the restaurant I called Teresa so she could find us some Kampgrounds of America (KOA) sites so we could set our sights on getting to one of them before it got dark. We did find one at dusk and there we met a man and his wife who were both on motorcycles and they too were heading to Nova Scotia. He, as it turned out, was a four year member of the Pennsylvania State Police and his wife was a Social Worker/ Psychologist. He had spent a year in Iraq of which I thanked him for and he saw my windshield and thanked me for my tour of duty. They were a nice couple and they were riding Harley Motorcycles. We ate breakfast with them the next day and wished them luck. While we were eating this one server came up and asked where we were from and when I told her we were brothers from Tennessee she said "I just love that accent!" I told her, "We don't have an accent, you do" which solicited a lot of laughs from those patrons that were listening in on our conversation. We had a ball with the way we talked up yonder.
We then came into the part of the Northeast where all the states can actually be crossed in a days' time if you stayed with it. We went to New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, and Delaware and into Maine. The Green Mountains of Vermont were really nice and the travel was pleasant. We went to a small quaint town called Rutland which had a private school. Jim had worked in Saudi Arabia for Aramco for 19 years and when his children reached the age of high school they could not get an education in Saudi and had to be sent home. All of his children went there and he wanted to visit the school. The campus was really nice and we were met by the person who oversaw the school. He immediately wanted to know why we were there. Jim and him started talking and it soon became a trip down memory lane for Jim.
As we traveled out of the state we found several places that were snow skiing meccas for the tourists. Along the way we found a neat gift shop situated in an old covered bridge that had been bought privately. You walked onto the bridge and they had made a little shop in the middle. A very unique sight I may add; the river it crossed looked like it was filled with trout, but we had to move on.
July 30. We had gotten to Portland, Maine the night before and because of the bad weather being forecasted we searched for a hotel room. After we purchased our tickets for the next day we tried to find us a room. Right across from the ferry dock was a new hotel that had just been renovated. But the price was astronomical so we went farther away from the dock and found a nice one right before it started pouring down. We did not want to camp somewhere and get up late and miss departure, for it would mean another day's delay and most likely we would have had to buy tickets again. The ferry would be leaving at 8:00 in the morning and we had to be there an hour before that. We have been on the road for a week now and we could have added another 700 miles onto our trip by going through New Brunswick, Canada and then into Nova Scotia but we shelled out the money to travel on the ferry boat called "The Cat". This ship was featured on the Discovery Channel as one of the world's super ships. It is a catamaran design and has four-ten thousand horse power engines on it. It is capable of carrying almost 200 vehicles and 250 passengers. They had food, movies and a casino. These opened up when you got into international waters.
We left from Portland Maine on a 5 and Ω hour crossing to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The seas were rough that day and there were a lot of people running into the bulkheads (interior walls) and each other. The seas didn't bother me; in fact all three of us were in the Navy during the '60s and early 70s. My brother Dan was stationed on my ship while we were in the Middle East in 1971. The cruise itself was uneventful. However, it was so foggy that we could not see anything. We barely could see the dock when we were coming in to land. The craft has the ability to run at 55 knots; this trip showed we were doing 40 knots.
Nova Scotia means New Scotland and there is a mixture of all peoples in the province. There are Scottish, Irish, French, and others. The French were the first ones to arrive to settle the land. They named the land Acadia. Later the Scots and the British came and claimed the land. They won out over the French and in 1867 Nova Scotia became part Canada. After going through customs ( the agents were professional, yet very pleasant) we parked across the street to get our bearings. This where we met a man who had just retired and he always came down to the dock to see what was going on, to give him something to do. His name was Happy and he didn't say it like it was a nickname either. He was really friendly and we carried on a conversation for some time. I asked how to get to Halifax and he told me. Yes just like you may think when we left him I went the wrong way. We were headed to Digby on the direct opposite shore that I wanted to be on. That was the place where the Bay of Fundy was. The Bay of Fundy has the most radically changing tides in the world and we had actually had wanted to see them, but only later on in the trip. The square miles of Nova Scotia is half of what the State of Tennessee is, but it did seem to be about as long from tip to tip.
During the trip we were stopped by road construction. We were riding in the southern part of the Province when we came upon a road repair crew. It was already 7:15 in the evening and we started a conversation with the young man holding the stop sign. His name was Sherman Conrad and we asked him how long they worked during the day and he said that all people working outside did it from dawn to dark. He said 15 hours a day mostly. Sherman said you had to work when you could as when the winter came they won't be able to work at all. I also asked him what their minimum wage was and he told me that it was $8.00 plus Canadian. He lived in a village some miles away.
By this time we needed gas and we got off the main highway (101) where it said there was a gas station. But guess what? Their gas stations are not on the side of the road in the interior of that Province. We traveled 16 miles to get to one. When we did find a station they only had one octane and that was regular. The attendants were young men around 19. They called themselves Acadians; they spoke English with a French accent to it. But when I asked them if they spoke French they said no, they spoke Acadian and when the French came into their station they couldn't really understand them. They were good kids; they were almost naïve about life and anything seemed to make them happy. They really liked our bikes. When I asked them questions on how to get to somewhere they said "I really don't know" but they seemed happy and after all, if you are happy in this life, that is a great place to be. Their lack of understanding of the French language makes me feel like it probably is in Louisiana with the Cajun tongue.
It was time to find a place to stay again and we didn't see any campgrounds listed in this part of the province so we found the Sea Side Inn. It was backed up against the ocean with a view of the harbor. They were like a bungalow but attached to the other like an apartment. They were moderately large and could accommodate two beds and a roll away easily. Like always we ate too late and went to bed almost right after we ate and you can't maintain your weight like that. You can't lose the weight if you eat late, I can tell you that. It was also a bed and breakfast but we opted for a bigger breakfast fare at a local restaurant the nest morning. We were sightseeing as we rode and we started backtracking again without really knowing it so when night fall came we started looking for this certain KOA. Continued next edition.
August 25, 2009 at 9:56am
Fantastic story Uncle Bob!! I really enjoyed reading this and can't wait for the next segment of the 'Old Wild Hogs Trip'. I am amazed at the detail that you have included in this story. The names of the people you met along the way and the way you described how you found out that you had a shared experience in the past with Ralph. That was amazing. You are right- we live in a very small world.
-Lisa Stoetzel Lively
-Lisa Stoetzel Lively
August 25, 2009 at 12:44pm
Uncle Bob! Thank you so much for sharing that with us. It sounds as if you all had a great trip so far. I can't wait to read what you will write next. I LOVE YOU GUYS!!
Kathy Christopher Raines
Kathy Christopher Raines
August 26, 2009 at 1:36pm
Not bad. Not bad at all. I look forward to "the rest of the story" about two old guys and one younger than me.