The place is London, England and the
time is Tuesday, September 12, 1933. Leonard Szilard, a thirty-five-year-old
Hungarian theoretical physicist is waiting for a stoplight to change so he
can cross the street. As the light changes and he steps off the curb, the
incredible thought suddenly flashes into his mind—if there was an element
that would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, then a chain
reaction could be sustained. It would be possible to build the atom bomb.
It took until 1945 to get concrete proof that Szilard's brainstorm would
actually work. On July 16 of that year, at 5:29:45 AM, Gadget (as the
spooks liked to call the first atomic bomb) was detonated at the Alamogordo
Bombing Range in central New Mexico. The name of the place, a trail called
the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Men), was named appropriately. They called
the test Trinity. The picture above is an actual photo of the
explosion on that day at that time.
The explosion yielded about 22 kilotons, or the
equivalent of about 22,000 tons of TNT. At ground zero, in a tiny
fraction of a second, the temperature reached 10 million degrees, as hot as
the core of the sun, creating a light so intense it could cause temporary
blindness to an unprotected observer 10 miles away. Under the tower
which held the bomb, the sand was fused to glass which still contains traces of radioactivity nearly sixty years later.
The Trinity blast site is now on the White Sands
Missile Range and is open to the public only two days per year.
It's the destination for this year's
Yes, I admit it, I've always held a morbid
fascination with nuclear weapons. How can one not be fascinated by
something so powerful, so out of the realm of ordinary experience?
While I hope we somehow manage to avoid having to test these hellish
devices, especially in the atmosphere, I'm sure that if I had been around in the 50's when
nuclear tests were going off like popcorn, I
would have enjoyed observing a nuclear test (at a safe distance
of course). Probably the fact that I grew up during the cold war has
something to do with it too—it was a time when technology seemed to be both
unlimited and vital to our survival. Heck, we were building a
nuclear-powered bomber (!) of all things. This seems unimaginable today.
So the idea of a loosely-themed 'atomic tour' on motorcycles
seemed pretty cool when I thought of it last fall, perhaps with some forays
around Area 51 and Roswell to give it a little bit of secret-spook-project,
alien, and X-Files spin. I checked into the Nevada Test Site, a huge area in central Nevada
where most of the nuclear testing had occurred (until the bombs got so darn
big that we had to move operations to the Pacific Ocean so we could wipe out
entire island chains). Unfortunately,
they only allow visitors there sporadically and it is supervised tour-bus
type of deal out of Las Vegas. The last thing I want to do on a motorcycle
tour is ride buses.
But Trinity is an exception and allows limited
unescorted tours, perhaps because it
is off by itself and perhaps because it was a relatively small blast, as
nuclear blasts go. It certainly is historically significant and an
event that has held much interest to me since reading Richard Rhodes
wonderful book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb. We love
to travel in September and October when the crowds have thinned and the
temperatures cooled. Finally, the distance was about right—two weeks, more or
less, round trip. It was a natural fit.
Gizmo will, I'm sure, concoct some wild story
about how I coerced him into yet another trip to the middle of nowhere
completely against his will, but in weaker moments, he admits that trip
planning is my forte and besides which, he always seems to show up on the day we
leave. We'll mix it up a little
with some other atomic tourist and cold-war oriented sites, as well as some
great scenery and, of course, great roads. I can't wait.
This year we really pulled out the stops,
producing a new richer report format that can be built more quickly each
day. This has required a lot of software to be written,
most of it by my good friend Mike Koss with a lot of hacking together of tools
on my part. I'm sure we'll have some technical
glitches to iron out, so please bear with us.
As always, we enjoy hearing from you, so feel
free to drop us a line. Expect us to start droning, both on our bikes
and at our keyboards, on or about Sept 25th, 2004.
Ah, summer in Seattle. There really is no place
nicer than Seattle in the summer. We've got the perfect array of festivals,
parades, fireworks, all the stuff that makes for nostalgic reminiscing when
it gets to be nasty wintertime in these parts.
My seasonal bliss is interrupted by email from
Whizmo. "Hey, I've got the perfect destination for our '04 Whizmo & Gizmo
tour." Uhm, wait a minute. Didn't we agree at the end of the '03 tour that
next time, I would be planning the next W&G adventure? "Well, yeah, but this
is a really great trip idea, and it's a destination that's only open twice a
year. And besides, I've already done all the research."
I'm wary. My previous daydreams of a beautiful
ride down the Baja peninsula or a four-corners tour are fading. But, on the
other hand, Whizmo has a pretty good track record of coming up with
destination themes and great motorcycling routes. "OK, tell me more."
Whizmo floods me with an avalanche of pictures
and links to websites about the Trinity blast site. "It will be great. It's
only open to the public two days a year. We'll plan our arrival for the
October 2nd opening." Hmm. that's pretty late in the year for a W&G tour. In
my mind, waves lapping on Pacific shores are being blown aside by snow
flurries and ominous October clouds.
"Isn't that site contaminated? Won't we glow in the dark?"
"Well, yeah, there's a few restrictions about how you have to stay in
designated areas and you can't pick up any of the melted sand laying around,
but generally we should be OK. And there's some extra-cool extra-terrestrial
stuff along the way too, you know how much you like that."
My mind rewinds over six great tours with
Whizmo, remembering with vivid detail the soaked gloves, leaky boots,
20-foot waitresses. I'm thinking to myself, "I can always go to the beach and sit in
sand that hasn't been fused by a 10 million degree nuclear blast. But how
often can you go somewhere that a 22 kiloton blast rendered it as hot as the
core of the sun and live to tell, or at least write about in an online moto-photo-journal
website that preceded all of the wannabe blogging sites by at least 3-4
"OK Whiz. Sounds like a plan."
And so begins our seventh W&G Tour. This year
we've once again stepped up our game. We've actually been working behind the
scenes ever since last year's tour so that we could unveil our all-new look
for 2004. Whizmo and long-time Izmoid Mike Koss evolved the photo gallery
concept introduced last year into a very slick presentation you'll experience when you tab over to the 'Maps' and
'Gallery' areas of our site. We've added original music soundtracks playing
behind our slide shows, all contributed by W&G readers. We've added 3D
topographic maps. We've got some great new contests planned. In short, we
hope to deliver the best-ever W&G Online Motorcycle Adventure.
Afterwards, I plan to go to the beach.
We hope you enjoy riding with us!