Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

After a couple of weeks of motorcycle travel posts, we’re back to your regularly scheduled media content.

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Gone Riding – Headed Home


My dad on his back porch.

After parting company with the Biker Priest in Duluth and picking up a couple more Whispering Giants, it was time to start the long ride home.

My first stop along the way was St. Paul, Minn. where I spent the evening with siblings, a cousin, and spouses. Lovely dinner and a chance to talk.  The next morning I went to mass with my brother and his wife where I got to hear my brother accompany the service on his guitar (along with a piano).

TreeTrimmingFrom there it was a hot, hot ride down to Iowa to spend a day or so with my parents.  Mom and Dad are both in their late 80s, and there’s always something for one of us kids to help with when we come to town.  In my case, it was trimming back the bushes and tree that were threatening to conquer his backyard. Trimming trees for my dad is not as exciting as motorcycling round the Great Lakes, but it sure is nice to see my folks.  I also had the chance to visit my 98-year-old Aunt Marion – my dad’s older sister.


My Aunt Marion and me.

I hated giving up on the Great Lakes 100 ride, but a wonderful visit with my family was more than enough compensation.

From Iowa, it was a hot day of riding, interrupted by breakfast in Ankeny with my grad school buddy Brian Steffen.  And then home to my wife, youngest son, and mum in law.

Nine days of travel, 11 states and provinces, two countries, seven Whispering Giants, and 3,500 miles.

“Proceed as the way opens.”
–William Least Heat Moon

 This story starts here.



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Gone Riding – Return to the Giants

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, Matt and I had to pull the plug on our circumnavigation of the Great Lakes, but the upside was getting to visit a couple of Whispering Giants I wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.

North Bay, Ontario – July 9

NorthBayQuintsOne we had been scheduled to stop for was my only Canadian giant – the one located across from a Tim Horton’s at the edge of North Bay, Ontario. I have to say that if I were able to choose to have either a Tim Horton’s or a McDonald’s on every corner, I would definitely go for Timmy’s. Oddly enough, the North Bay Whispering Giant was standing in a park that also hosted a museum giving the history of the Dionne Quints.

North Bay Photos NorthBaySign NorthBayFlag NorthBaryWG









Wakefield, Michigan – July 10

One of the most beautiful Whispering Giants and settings was that of Nee Gaw Nee Gaw Bow in Wakefield in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  This was in a park on the shore of Sunday Lake.  I actually had a little time to sit and rest here as Matt had stopped for a nap in a park a little ways away.

Wakefield Photos WakefieldSign WakefieldWG

As I mentioned previously, Matt’s and my ride together ended in Duluth following a shopping trip to Aerostich, after which I headed out to collect a couple more Giants before heading south to the Twin Cities.  Matt headed off to work obligations at the St. Augustine Lutheran Monastery in Michigan.

Two Harbors, Minnesota – July 11

There was a huge traffic jam heading into the little tourist town of Two Harbors, Minnesota, apparently from a heritage festival going on this weekend.  But I was the only person there checking out the Whispering Giant.  There was also a very nice little Chamber of Commerce visitors center off the same parking lot where I got some water to drink and a little bag of fresh popcorn as a snack.  I also got to chat with the nice retired woman staffing the center who was interested in learning the story about the tall statue she worked next to.

Two Harbors Images TwinHarborsSign TwinHarborsWG


Hayward, Wisconsin – July 11

The Whispering Giant in Hayward, Wisconsin is one of the most distinctive that I’ve seen. Located outside of the public library, it’s in deteriorating condition. I had to pick up part of the sign off the ground. Of course, it’s also an older one from the 1970s.

HaywardFlag HaywardSign HaywardWG

From Hayward, Wisconsin, I then headed south to St. Paul to visit with two of my siblings, a cousin, and his wife before heading to Iowa to visit my parents.

 This story starts here.

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Gone Riding – Boats, Bikes & a Bishop

RalphWhen I go on long distance motorcycle rides, I always start out with three rules:

1. Come home safe
2. Have fun
3. Complete whatever goals I have for the ride

It’s very important to always keep these in mind.

When I set out on this trip, my goal was to collect a number of the Whispering Giants and to complete the Iron Butt Association’s Great Lakes 100 ride. It didn’t quite work out that way.  But that’s ok, because so far I’ve had a safe ride and a great time.

I started out on the Great Lakes ride from South Bend, Indiana, then headed across through Toledo, Cleveland, and up to Erie.  It was at Erie I met up with my old friend Matthew Riegel, aka The Biker Priest From Hell, who is now the bishop-elect for the ELCA’s West Virginia-Western Maryland synod.  As the bishop-elect, he’s been working long hours on getting ready for his new job as well as his old job of being the Lutheran chaplain at West Virginia University.  With all that he had to do, we got a late start out of Erie, then headed up for the Finger Lakes country of New York.

WomenInWindOn our way through that beautiful country, we ran across a couple of charming women riding their GoldWing trike up to a Women of the Wind rally at Lake George, New York.  It’s always fun getting to talk to people, and motorcyclist in particular, whom you meet along the way.

Our target for the evening was Cape Vincent, New York, which is right on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  We needed to reach there Wednesday evening so we could catch the first ferry the next morning out to Wolfe Island where we would go through Canadian customs.

CapeVincentRestaurantWe thought we would get dinner at a likely looking bar and grill within walking distance of our rustic but clean little motel, but alas we got there a little after 10 p.m., and the kitchen had closed at 9.  We then rode to the nearby town of Clayton where we had heard there was another bar and grill.  Alas, that one too had a closed kitchen.  And being on motorcycles and needing to return 15 miles to our hotel, drinking our dinner was out of the question.  We ended up eating convenience store sandwiches sold to us minutes before the store closed.

The next morning I was fortunate in being able to get an excellent breakfast from Ann’s Fisherman’s Fare – homemade corned beef hash and eggs. The town might have been closed by 9 p.m, but it was back open for business at 6 a.m.

CapeVincentMattMatt and I went and got lined up for the ferry by 8 where we were joined by one car and a clutch of bicyclists headed over to the island to go riding for the day. We got on the boat and after a short ride, presented ourselves to Canadian customs officials.

Now I should tell you that you should never presume to debate theological issues with the Biker Priest.  You will lose because you simply will not have the depth of knowledge and understanding he does.  But that knowledge of theology does not extend to understanding of customs officials. Matt’s been having minor carbouator problems on his 1982 Honda, and so he chose to use the time while the officials were inspecting our passports to add carb cleaner to his gas tank.  Efficient use of down time was his thought.  Highly suspicious behavior is what customs thought…. But a quick explanation cleared things up – that and the fact that the customs official really couldn’t believe someone would really be silly enough to try to pour contraband into his gas tank right at a border crossing.

Following a pleasant ride across Wolfe Island, we found ourselves at the much busier ferry port going from Wolfe Island to Kingston, Ontario where we waited, and waited, and waited.  When our ferry finally arrived and got filled to capacity, we were running at least two hours behind schedule.  This would prove to be time we could ill afford to lose.

KingstonFerry KingstonFerryOnIt


We went on to ride to North Bay, where we decided there was no way we could reach Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario that evening. So we booked a room in Sudbury, a couple of ours further west. Once there, we discussed and decided to pull the plug on the Great Lakes circumnavigation attempt. There were several things I wanted to make sure I got done on this trip – I wanted to visit my brother in Minnesota, and I wanted time to stop with Matt at the Aerostich factory store in Duluth so that he could look for a new riding suit. So our decision was to skip the north shore of Lake Superior and instead head down into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a short cut to Duluth. That turned out to be a great decision.  We visited the locks between Lake Superior and Lake Huron – especially fun because my wife had lived in the area for several years while in school.


We ended our ride for the day at twilight crossing the bridge from Superior, Wisconsin into Duluth, Minnesota, on a roadway that I’m sure is very professionally designed and constructed but looks like it was put together using plans created out of leftover spaghetti after a three martini lunch.

Our big order of business on Saturday morning was to go to the Aerostich factory store.  Aerostich makes excellent waterproof(ish) motorcycle riding suits. Matt has never had good riding gear, and he used the visit to order a custom fit suit in the same hi viz and black that I wear.  The factory store isn’t much to look at from the outside, but it’s full of everything the touring and adventure rider could want inside. And the parking spots outside the shop is always filled with interesting bikes.


From there, bishop-elect Matt headed back east to work on arranging a monastery experience for young people headed to the ELCA’s upcoming youth gathering, and I headed south to spend an evening with siblings and cousins before heading to Iowa to visit my parents.

Matt thinks I have a tendency to over-plan my motorcycle trips.  And he would be right.  But deep down inside, I always remember the William Least Heat Moon quote that’s at the bottom of all my e-mails: “Proceed as the way opens.”  The way that opened on this trip was not the way I planned.  But it turned out just fine, nevertheless.

Next entry – the rest of my Whispering Giants.

This story starts here.

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Gone Riding – Great Giants, Great Lakes

It wasn’t as stormy as it was yesterday, but it was cool and damp in the morning, slowly becoming sunny and windy in the afternoon.  But the scenery and riding were wonderful as I followed the Trail of the Whispering Giants through Illinois on the way to the start of my Great Lakes ride in South Bend, Indiana.

To my motorcycling friends, the ride from Peoria up through Hopewell, Utica, and Ottawa, Illinois was beautiful  – quiet twisty roads running along rivers and through the woods with very little traffic.

Hopewell, Illinois, July 7

The first of my Giants was in the tiny village of Hopewell on a bluff overlooking the Illinois River.

Hopewell Whispering Giant

11667344_10103316987462589_7559659374086458177_n 11038987_10103316987572369_3888698398913830388_n Hopewell Whispering Giant

Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois, July 7

The next Whispering Giant was at Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Ill.

Starved Rock State Park Giant

11701169_10103317205780079_1496125148296731859_n11141302_10103317205515609_8823362372168320371_nStarved Rock State Park Giant

Ottawa, Illinois, July 7

This was my third and last Whispering Giant of the day located in park by the river in Ottawa, Ill.

Ottawa Giant

11667506_10103317338015079_2763045405257377907_n Ottawa Giant

That’s it for tonight.  Tomorrow I head out to start circling the Great Lakes.  I’ll meet up with my friend the Biker Priest (soon to be Biker Bishop!) in Erie, Penn.

This story starts here.

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Gone Riding – On the trail of the Whispering Giants

Kanauga, Ohio. 6/8/13

Visiting Kanauga, Ohio on 6/8/13 as part of my A Trip From Z to A Grand Tour.

Many of you may know that in addition to teaching mass comm/media literacy, I also like riding my motorcycle fairly long distances.  One of the activities I try to do every summer is a Grand Tour.  These tours have a theme of things you need to collect photos of.  For example, two years ago I did a tour where I needed to collect towns with names that either started with the letter Z or ended with the letter A.  It was called “A Trip From Z to A.”

This year, I’m On The Trail of the Whispering Giants.  Whispering Giants are 10-20-foot tall sculptures of Native American figures carved out of tree trunks by artist Peter Wolf Toth.  He’s done approximately 70 of these, scattered across the United States and Canada.  The goal of the tour is to find and photograph as many of these as possible, along with your “rally flag.”  So far, I’ve collected three: ones in Lincoln, NE; Troy, KS; and Iowa Falls, IA.

Over the next few days, I’m going to be riding around the Great Lakes with my friend Matt, and I’ll also use this as an opportunity to collect more Whispering Giants. So, for the next week-and-a-half my blog is going to be devoted to stories and photos from my travels.  And then back to work!

Lincoln, Nebraska, May 3rd.

These photos were taken at the Indian Center in Lincoln.  The center provides counseling services, meeting space, and a powwow circle, among other things. I visited this Whispering Giant with my friend Mike Konz, and we had a nice chat with Nettie Grant Sikyta, who is the youth suicide prevention coordinator for the center.

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Troy, Kansas, May 20th

Finding this one was relatively easy because the town had signs leading the way.

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Iowa Falls, Iowa, May 23rd

This one was in a lovely setting, right next the the town’s veterans memorial.

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 (Keep reading – There are at least four more posts in this series.)

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Celebrate the 4th of July with Neil Finn singing about dogs

So I’m trying to be back in the habit of posting weekly to the blog, and I’m also trying to finish up my grading for my summer class, so I’m going to cheat and just post two Neil Finn (of Crowded House fame) songs about his dogs.

I’m sure you’ll forgive me because Neil is far more entertaining than I am.

Happy 4th of July!

Lester – Neil Finn acoustic solo

Lester is a song about a dalmatian he once had who was hit by a car but recovered from the accident.  To the best of my knowledge he’s never recorded it on an album, but he sometimes does it as an encore.

Anytime – Live performance with guest pianist from audience

Another lovely song about a dog who has had a traffic accident with a guest pianist Neil picked out from the audience.

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Everyone’s Gone to the Movies

We’re headed into the heart of summer, and that makes this a great time to talk about the movies.

    • Film composer James Horner dies in plane crash
      James Horner, best known for his score for Titanic, died earlier this week from injuries he suffered when the plane he was piloting crashed. I’ve long been a fan of his film music, starting with his brilliant score for Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn. I loved the score Jerry Goldsmith did for the first Star Trek movie, and I loved the contrast of Horner’s work on Kahn.  He also did a wonderfully uplifting score for Apollo 13. He will be missed.
    • Remembering Christopher Lee
      Horror movie great Christopher Lee passed away June 7th at the age of 93. While he had lengthy career as a monster/creature/villain, he was best known for playing the evil Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels and the wizard Saruman in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.Top 10 Christopher Lee performances from WatchMojo
    • Why Jurassic World being a big hit is bad for movies
      Strictly speaking, anytime a movie is a big hit, that’s good for the movies.  And by all reports, Jurassic World is a great deal of fun.  (I’m hoping to finally get to see it early next week.) But Charlie Jane Anders, writing the io9 blog, suggests that it will lead to more and more over-the-top sequels of franchise movies without a shred of originality.  While I have no doubt she’s right, Jurassic World is hardly alone in encouraging such things.  And good, new original big movies are always few and far between.  On the other hand, if reading her blog post gets you go pull out the disk of last summer’s Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat), it will be a good thing.
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Students in Lexington, Neb. revive local movie theater

The Majestic Theatre in Lexington, NE.

The Majestic Theatre in Lexington, NE

If you grow up or live in a small town, you know how important it is to have a local movie theater.  Your theater is a place for people in the community to get together and have fun.  It’s a place for young people to go to on a date.  It’s the place where you make memories of those fun summer movies.

(Nope, I don’t have fond memories of the 13 times I saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977.  Nope, not me….)

I love the fact that here in Kearney we have The World Theatre, a revival/art house theater run by a community non-profit, that plays a great combination of vintage movies and films that would never play here otherwise.

These are things that people who live in urban areas can take for granted.

So I was really excited to read about a group of students in Lexington, Nebraska who worked over a several year period to purchase, renovate and restart their closed local movie theater, The Majestic. The article in the Kearney Hub newspaper today tells about a group of kids who started work in middle school trying to revive their local theater.  With the help of fund raisers, grants, construction classes, and big helping of community engagement, the venue is now open three nights a week showing first run movies like Pitch Perfect 2 and Tomorrowland.

The theater is being run as a non-profit with volunteers.

What a great gift to the town of Lexington, and what a great lesson to the young people who decided they wanted to make it happen!


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Everything is a Remix – “Wagon Wheel” Edition

I just went to see the band Old Crow Medicine Show about a week ago, and and I highly recommend seeing them if you have the chance.

They are particularly famous for the song “Wagon Wheel.”  Wait a minute, is that their song?

Well – the song is co-written by OCMS’s Ketch Secor and Bob Dylan.  How did Bob Dylan come into play? A bit of the chorus of the song comes from a bootleg recording by Dylan for a movie soundtrack recorded back in the 70s.

Ketch heard that fragment, in which Dylan mumbles quite a bit, and fleshed out the full song from it. Before Ketch started work on it, the song was known as “Rock Me Mama.”  It’s since been the signature song for OCMS.

But it was also a huge recent hit for Darius Rucker, former front man for Hootie and the Blow Fish. (And one of very few top country hits by an African American singer.)

But the roots of the song go back further – Dylan credits the words “Rock me, mama” to blues player Arhtur “Big Boy” Crudup.  And Crudup may have gotten the idea from a Big Bill Broony recording.

In short, you will see that the history of Wagon Wheel follows the themes disucssed in Everything is a Remix Part 1.  It’s not that “Wagon Wheel” isn’t an original song – it clearly is.  It’s just that almost everything in art and music owes a debt to what came before.

P.S. Devil Makes Three was the opening act for Old Crow, and they were fantastic!

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