North By Northwest: A Solo Motorcycle Adventure from Georgia to Alaska (Day 4)

July 27, 2019

Day 4 – 7/1/19

With almost 1000 miles in the saddle over the past 3 days, my body was getting readjusted to spending all day riding. Although it requires a high level of continuous mental engagement, riding long distances is basically a sedentary activity. Taking regular breaks is good for the body and mind and helps prevent fatigue (See: Day 1, Scale of Risk). Additionally, I do recommend maintaining some kind of wellness and fitness regimen on the road. Here's my routine: After I unload my stuff from the bike and get everything into the hotel room, the first thing I do is get out of my riding gear. This signals to my brain that the riding day is over; shedding that literal and figurative weight allows me to transition out of “riding mode.” And now comes the hard part: forcing myself to do some physical activity. I’ll eat a ClifBar, drink some water, and then get moving. It doesn’t have to be a Crossfit workout or wind sprints, but even walking around the block or getting on the treadmill will help. Many hotels also have dumbbells for strength conditioning, but if they don’t, old-school calisthenics can do the trick.

After checking out of the hotel, I stopped by the gas station next door to top off the tank and then got on I-65, yet again, heading north towards Indianapolis. After bypassing the big city, I switched to US-31 and stopped for gas and a stretch. Did they know that I’m looking for a post-retirement job?

My first point of interest today was the Grissom Air Museum, located adjacent to Grissom Air Reserve Base near Peru, Indiana. The Museum and Base are named for Lieutenant Colonel Gus Grissom, one of the Mercury Seven (also known as the Original Seven) astronauts, who flew on Mercury-Redstone 4, Gemini 3, and perished in the Apollo 1 fire with Ed White and Roger Chaffee in 1967. Gus had been my favorite astronaut for as long as I could remember. I was born near Cape Canaveral, Florida, where my father was a NASA public affairs contractor supporting the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs, and I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, close to NASA’s Langley Research Center, where the Mercury Seven did their early training. Our local library was even named after Gus. As a high school senior, I’d advocated for a better display there to honor him, which was unveiled the following year.

So, visiting this Museum was a pilgrimage of sorts for me, and it didn’t disappoint. Both the exterior and interior exhibits are great.

After exploring the Museum, I wanted to see if I could get close to the old alert facility at the Base. Technically known as the Readiness Crew Building, but more popularly known as the “Mole Hole,” these facilities were constructed at Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases around the country during the Cold War. Aircrews would live in the Mole Holes for several days at a time, ready for the klaxon to sound, indicating the need to immediately launch their aircraft. They never knew if it was a drill or a real-world nuclear attack, so they had to hustle by foot or vehicle to the aircraft parked on the “Christmas Tree” tarmac. You can still see the remnants of Mole Holes and Christmas Trees at several former SAC bases, and Google Maps satellite images indicated both present at Grissom Air Reserve Base. The question was, how close could I get?

The answer was, not very close. I tried two potential access points, and they were both closed, so I snapped a photo of the Mole Hole through the fence.

After the minor disappointment of not getting to see the Mole Hole, I made my way west towards Illinois and a return to the Central time zone. My destination was the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, which was in operation from 1917 to 1993. I think Chanute was one of the most historically significant Air Force installations, based on the many thousands of Airmen who cycled through there for various technical training schools. Most people don’t know that it can also be considered the birthplace of the Tuskegee Airmen: The original cadre of support personnel trained there before establishing units in Alabama. My research suggested that Chanute’s roads are accessible to the public, with several buildings repurposed for commercial or industrial use. Others have been plagued by environmental hazards such as asbestos and are now being cleaned up as an EPA Superfund site. Another attraction on the Base, the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, closed in 2015, and its aircraft went to other museums or were just scrapped.

I rode around for a little while and then got some drone photos and video of the huge hangars and runways. It was sad to see how much Chanute had deteriorated in the past 25 years, with so much history lost forever.

default Compare the flight line and hangars of the Cold War days of 1964 in this USAF photo with the decaying state of affairs now.

default I packed up my drone and headed west for an hour and a half, finishing the day in Lincoln.

Daily portrait challenge: Chaka and Amy keep things sparkling at the Hampton Inn in Lincoln.

I decided I had no choice but to get the new GoPro Smart Remote, because nothing else was working. I’ll order it for in-store pickup at the Best Buy near my hotel tomorrow. All in all, a good day filled with interesting history.

Total mileage: 362.8

Lodging: Hampton Inn, Lincoln, Illinois