Category Archives: Travels

Hell in the Pacific


Readers of Jim’s Bike Blog may have noticed that I have dedicated a page to my Uncle Ray.

Uncle Ray

Uncle Ray

An unexpected bequest from Ray, who died at age 87 on Dec. 1, 2007, helped finance my 2009 bicycle ride across the United States.
Ray, who was my godfather, and his two younger brothers, Larry and Harold (“Hally”), were Marines who fought in the Pacific War at such places as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Saipan.
Uncle Larry

Uncle Larry

That is what prompted this blog post.
Last weekend, my wife and I visited for the first time the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Uncle Hally

Uncle Hally

The museum is there because Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill Country, was the hometown of Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who ran the Pacific War.
Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

Statue of Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz at the National Museum of the Pacific War

I was particularly interested in any information or displays on the Marines’ island-hopping campaign in the war against Japan, especially the Battle of Tarawa, one of the hellholes where Ray fought.


Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, was important because it had an airstrip that the Allies needed to launch bombing missions against the Japanese.
Tarawa was so heavily defended that Japanese Adm. Keiji Shibasaki boasted: “It will take 1 million men 100 years to conquer Tarawa.”
But Marines of the 2nd Marine Division took the atoll in four days of hellish fighting, Nov. 20-23, 1943. Here is a video of the museum’s summary of the battle.

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

Exhibit on Tarawa landing, National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas

We also visited the museum’s gift shop, where I found a book called Tarawa: The story of a battle, a reprint of an account published in 1944 by Robert Sherrod, a Time-Life correspondent who went into Tarawa with the first wave of Marines, as did Uncle Ray.
%22Tarawa - The story of a battle,%22 by Robert Sherrod, 1944Among the photographs in the book was one that was shot the evening before D-Day on the deck of a transport ship. It pictures Marines kneeling on the deck as a Roman Catholic chaplain says Mass. There, among his fellow Marines, is Uncle Ray. I wonder what thoughts were racing through his head at that time, a half a world away from South St. Louis where he came of age.
"Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing," from the book "Tarawa - The story of a battle," by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

“Battle-clad Marines kneel in prayer before the Tarawa landing,” from the book “Tarawa – The story of a battle,” by Robert Sherrod, first published in 1944

The outdoor part of the museum complex features a Memorial Wall, limestone walls embedded with metal plaques commemorating individuals, units and ships that took part in the Pacific War.
The plaques are made possible mostly by family members who wish to honor the service of their relatives.
In my mind’s eye, I see a plaque with images of my three uncles and a headline that says something like: “The fighting Sieve brothers of South St. Louis.”
It seems that I have a project in my future.

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Rambling around the LBJ Ranch


Who knew that Luci Baines Johnson was a bicyclist?
I didn’t.
But there she was on Saturday,
the younger daughter of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, leading a bicycle tour of the sprawling LBJ Ranch near Johnson City in the Texas Hill Country.

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Luci Baines Johnson in her biking gear

Sporting a black Giro helmet, sunglasses and a red-white-and-blue jersey for the LBJ 100 bike ride, Luci Baines hosted a group of cyclists who had taken part in the seventh annual LBJ ride earlier in the day.
A group of bike-riding friends and neighbors from Fort Worth and a brother-in-law-from San Antonio traveled to the Hill Country to do the ride.
Some rode the 62-mile route, some the 42-mile route (including me), and others rode 30 miles or 10 miles.
Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

Standing in front of Air Force One-Half after the LBJ 100 bike ride

The routes included lots of hills – it is the Hill Country, after all – a brisk northerly wind and some spectacular vistas of Central Texas, which is bursting into springtime verdancy.
Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas

Bull Session: Two bulls have a tête-à-tête at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City, Texas


But the highlight of the day for cyclists who stayed around after the ride, which began and ended on the airstrip of the LBJ Ranch, was the tour of the spread by Luci Baines.
The tour began with a look at a Lockheed JetStar aircraft, a mini version of Air Force One that LBJ called “Air Force One-Half.” The plane was used to ferry President Johnson from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin when he came to the Texas White House at the ranch.
Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president

Nose-on view of Air Force One-Half, the Lockheed JetStar that Lyndon Johnson used to take him from Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin to the LBJ Ranch when he was president


The tour ended with a visit to the Johnson Family Cemetery in a stand of ancient live oak trees where LBJ is buried under a granite headstone that says simply:
Lyndon Baines Johnson
August 27, 1908
January 22, 1973
36th President
of the
United States of America

In between, the stories poured out of Luci Baines — about her childhood and teen years at the ranch and in the White House in Washington; about the dark-green Corvette Stingray given to her in 1965 on her 18th birthday and taken back a couple years later in favor of a safer sedan when Luci was a pregnant young wife; about LBJ’s nickname of Mr. Jellybean when, in retirement, Johnson often visited a Head Start school in nearby Stonewall with pockets full of jellybeans for the kids in a program he had started as president.

The Johnsons and Luci's 1965 Corvette Stingray

The Johnsons and Luci’s 1965 Corvette Stingray


But the most poignant stories revolved around Johnson’s sudden elevation to the presidency upon the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
That morning, preparations were underway at the ranch for a huge barbecue to welcome JFK after his visit to Dallas. Dessert was to be a pecan pie baked by Mary Davis, a longtime cook at the ranch.
Just as the pie came out of the oven, the Secret Service brought word that Kennedy had been shot, and shortly later that he had died.
As the staff and Secret Service agents huddled in the kitchen in shock and grief, Mary Davis sobbed: “What are we going to do with the pie?”
That pie, Luci Baines told the cyclists, became for her a symbol of a distressed nation. How would Americans go back to everyday life after their dreams and hopes, inspired by a youthful, vital president, were shattered by an assassin in Dallas?
The LBJ 100 ride, by the way, is one of the main sources of funds for the upkeep of the LBJ Ranch, which Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson bequeathed to the people of the United States. It is now the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, run by the National Park Service.
Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers

Luci Baines Johnson leads a bike tour of the LBJ Ranch accompanied by National Park Service rangers


The eighth annual LBJ 100 ride and tour of the LBJ Ranch is scheduled for March 28, 2015.
It’s not too early to make hotel reservations in Fredericksburg, the nearest town of any size to the ranch. Many of the cyclists who rode on Saturday have already booked rooms for next year and found that several motels are booked solid that weekend.

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Up the Great River Road


One of my favorite bicycle rides, and arguably one of the most scenic in America, begins at my hometown, Alton, Ill., and stretches up the Mississippi River about 13 miles to Grafton, where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi for their conjoined journey to the sea.

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

My bicycle at Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

I was born and grew up in Alton, just upriver from St. Louis, Mo., and even closer to the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers.
I have traveled along that stretch of road between Alton and Grafton countless times, in all weather – in dense fog, in driving rain, in snow, in frigid winter when the river is sometimes clogged with car-sized chunks of ice, and in the splendor of a crisp, clear autumn day when the trees that cling to the limestone bluffs are clad in dying leaves of russet, gold and bright crimson.
Last Monday was such a day.
I was on a visit to my hometown and I had brought along my bike. I logged 42.09 miles on my bike that day, including that magnificent stretch of the Big River.
That same day, a website called All Around Alton filmed a video of that length of the highway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find myself in the video.

During my ride, along a nice bike path parallel to the road, I stopped several times to take photos, including a stop at a little park at Clifton Terrace, near where my aunt and uncle used to have a bluffside house that afforded a grand view of the river.
At a little pavilion in the park, I found on a sign these words by John Madson, an Iowa naturalist and author of a 1986 book called Up On The River: An Upper Mississippi Chronicle:

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

Pumpkins at a yogurt shop in Grafton, where I stopped for a sandwich

“I am certain of one thing: My work has taken me from one end of the Mississippi River to the other – from the crest of the watershed above the Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the mouth of Southwest Pass a hundred miles down from New Orleans. And in all those 2,500 miles of river, there is nothing else like the 13 miles between Alton and Grafton. Nothing! … Nowhere are there such palisades as ours, and nowhere is a lovelier stretch of the Mississippi so accessible and beloved by so many people. It belongs to the nation and is in our trust. We must not betray that trust.”

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The scenic river, Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

Steel sculptures of Canadian geese, Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill., Oct. 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

The working river, the Mississippi above Alton, Ill., Oct, 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

Lighthouse at Grafton, Ill., at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

My bike at Grafton, Ill., the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, Oct. 28, 2013

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Happy Halloween, 2013


I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a "Sons of Anarchy" Halloween display.

I shot this last week during a visit to my hometown, Alton, Ill. This skeletal motorcycle rider was part of a “Sons of Anarchy” Halloween display.

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The eyes of Texas are upon you


Mamas, tell your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Don’t let ‘em throw cans from them old pickup trucks.
Don’t let ‘em throw bottles and papers and such.
Mamas, tell all your babies don’t mess with Texas.
Keep your trash off the roads; she’s a fine yellow rose.
Treat Texas like someone you love.

– Willie Nelson, “Don’t Mess With Texas”

I sometimes wondered as I rode across Texas in the autumn of 2009 on a cross-country bicycle trip what the non-Americans in our party might think of the ubiquitous anti-litter signs “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
Would that stark commandment instill fear in the hearts of the gentler souls among us – my riding companions from the Netherlands and England?
Don't mess with TexasHow exactly, they might have thought, does one mess with Texas? What’s the penalty for messing with Texas? This state, after all, leads the nation in executions. What degree of messing with Texas would earn a one-way trip to the death chamber at Huntsville?
And does the slogan have a broader meaning, aimed at Washington bureaucrats or anybody else who might suggest that all is not sunflowers and bluebonnets in Gov. Rick Perry’s Lone Star State.
We did our best not to mess with Texas during our 1,000-mile slog across the state from El Paso to Austin to the Sabine River.
The bloke from Britain, once it was explained that the “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs were part of an anti-litter campaign that began nearly three decades ago, found the slogan jolly amusing.
Somewhere along the way, he acquired a “Don’t Mess With Texas” sticker, which he affixed to his bike frame for the rest of the ride to the Atlantic Coast.

Lately, a new sign has been popping up along the state’s highways: “The eyes of Texas are upon you.”
It features a menacing-looking man in a cowboy hat, looking like a stylized Texas Ranger wearing either a black mask or reflective aviator shades, depending on the viewer’s perception of the image.
It urges cellphone users to “please call 911 to report criminal activities or emergencies.”
The eyes of Texas are upon youI like the word please on the sign.
And the state is getting out the word that anybody who messes with the “Don’t Mess With Texas” slogan — i.e., infringing on the federally registered trademark on the phrase, owned by the Texas Department of Transportation since 1985 – will face legal action.
“Since 2000,” said a Sept. 14 story in The New York Times, “Texas transportation officials have contacted more than 100 companies, organizations and individuals about the unauthorized use of the phrase, often in the form of strongly worded cease-and-desist letters that tell violators to stop using the slogan or obtain licensing for it for a fee.”
So the next time a swaggering drunk makes a threatening move and growls “Don’t mess with Texas,” step back slowly and say in a calm, measured voice: “Cease and desist, please. The eyes of Texas are upon you.”

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Victorian pictorial delights


If I were in London tomorrow night, an event that I’d definitely have on my calendar would be a presentation by two bicycle historians at an Islington bike shop.
The event, called “Hug an Historian: A night of Victorian pictorial delights,” will feature Carlton Reid and David Herlihy, both of whom I’ve written about in this blog.
Herlihy, a friend and author of Bicycle: The History and The Lost Cyclist, is planning to show newly digitized photographs of and by pioneer round-the-world American cyclists Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben.
Hug_an_Historian_posterThe pair embarked on a globe-girdling trip on British “safety” bicycles in 1891, and both figure in The Lost Cyclist, a 2010 book about the search for another round-the-world cyclist, Frank Lenz, who went missing in a turbulent part of eastern Turkey. (See March 26, 2010, blog post, “The search for the lost cyclist.”)
The photos, which David discussed with me during a stay at our house in Fort Worth in March, were scanned from circular Kodak plates that had ended up in the archives of the University of California at Los Angeles. They include images shot by Allen and Sachtleben in Greece, Turkey and Persia.
Reid is author of an upcoming book called Roads Were Not Built for Cars, which tells the story of how bicyclists became a powerful special-interest group in the United States and Britain during that turn-of-the-century period of transition from horse-powered transport to motorized vehicles. (See Feb. 9, 2012, blog post, “How’s that for a thank-you.”)
Reid’s book is due to be published in August after he raised 17,000 pounds sterling (about $25,700) on Kickstarter from more than 600 backers.
So, if you’re lucky enough to be in London Thursday night and have a fancy for bicycles, it would be well worth your while to stop in at the Look Mum No Hands bike shop at has 49 Old St., EC1V 9HX. The program begins at 7 p.m.

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Bicycle a tool of Afghan women’s lib?


American suffragist Susan B. Anthony famously said of the bicycle: It has “done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.”
“I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel,” the feminist pioneer remarked in 1896. “It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat: and away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”
Le' Freedom MachinePerhaps the machine that helped liberate women in America and Europe in the 1880s could have the same effect in 21st-century Afghanistan.
At least one U.S. woman bicyclist thinks so.
Shannon Galpin, a 38-year-old former Pilates instructor from Breckenridge, Colo., has begun a project to nurture an infant bicycling culture among Afghan women through a nonprofit organization called Mountain2Mountain, which she founded in 2006 to aid women in conflict zones.
Galpin, who has ridden her mountain bike extensively throughout Afghanistan during visits that began in 2008, is headed for that country today with more than 40 duffel bags filled with cycling gear for the women’s and men’s national cycling teams, The New York Times reported.
The Times quoted Galpin as saying that current attitudes toward female cyclists in Afghanistan are similar to this in the United States in the late 1800s.
“Women were often deemed promiscuous if they rode bikes in the street,” Galpin said.
wheels-of-changeThe newspapers cited Sue Macy, author of Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom, a book about the bike’s role in women’s rights. (See March 27, 2011, blog post, “Wheels of change.”)
Macy said that the sudden popularity of the “safety” bicycle, as opposed to the treacherous, high-wheeled “ordinary bike” that the safety superseded, changed how women dressed and engaged with the world.
“Since they couldn’t wear hoop skirts and corsets on a bike,” Macy was quoted as saying, “they started wearing bifurcated garments like bloomers. Instead of meeting a suitor in the parlor, they started riding around and meeting people without supervision.”
Galpin, reported the Times, hopes to influence similar changes in Afghanistan. But first the women need some proper equipment.
And that’s the reason for Galpin’s latest visit.

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