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Hunger Moon and an Asteroid Close Encounter January 26, 2013

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Another Full Moon post contribution from Gordon… Thanks Gordon! You are kind of keeping this blog on life support.

The Next Full Moon is on Saturday evening, January 26, 2013.  The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun a little before midnight Saturday evening, at 11:38 pm EST.  In UTC or GMT, this corresponds to 4:38 on Sunday morning, January 27, 2013, so most commercially-produced calendars show this full Moon on Sunday.

The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Friday evening through Monday morning (making this a full Moon weekend).  As usual, the wearing of suitably celebratory and celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

Although it may not seem like it this year (for the US east coast, at least), this is the Snow Moon or the Hunger Moon.  Full Moon names come from the Native American tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States.  The second full Moon of Winter (usually in February) was known as the Snow Moon because of the heavy snows that fall in this season.  Bad weather and heavy snows made hunting difficult, so this Moon was also called the Hunger Moon.

Some tie the names of the Moons to the month they occur in rather than their seasonal order (even though the Native Americans who gave us these names would not have know about our calendar before Europeans arrived).

Because this Moon is in January, many give this Moon the name of last month’s Moon, calling it the Wolf Moon.

In the Hebrew or Jewish calendar the months start with the new Moon and the days start and end with sunset.  The holiday Tu B’Shevat, also known as the New Year for Trees, starts at sundown on January 25 and ends at sundown on January 26, 2013.  Tu B’Shevat means the 15th day of the month of Shevat, and most of the time the 15th day of a lunar month falls on the day of the full Moon (and always close enough that the Moon appears full).

This is the time of year when (for the northern hemisphere, at least) the evening sky is full of bright stars.  Our Sun is on the inner edge of one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, and as we look up in the evenings we are looking away from the center of the galaxy but towards the densely packed stars of this spiral arm.  After sunset this band of bright stars sweeps across our sky from the southeast to the northwest.  The bright planet Jupiter also is appearing in the evening sky.  Jupiter was at its brightest and closest to the Earth for this cycle back in early December 2012, and over the coming months will appear to be growing fainter as its distance from the Earth increases.  Taking over for Jupiter the bright planet Saturn will appear to increase in brightness as it draws closer to Earth, with Saturn’s closest approach to Earth occurring in late April, 2013.  For the Washington, DC area, on the day of the January full Moon, Saturn will rise at around 1 am EST, by the time of the February full Moon Saturn will be rising at about 11 pm EST).

As to specific celestial events between now and the full Moon after next:

* As mentioned above, the full Moon will be on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

* on Sunday morning, February 3, 2013, the waning half Moon and the bright planet Saturn will appear within about 4 degrees of each other.

For the Washington, DC area, Saturn will rise at at 12:32 am EST and the Moon will rise about five minutes later, at 12:37 am EST, both in the east-southeast.  They will be at their highest in the sky just before 6 am EST (5:52 am for Saturn and 5:55 am for the Moon), about 15 minutes before the sky begins brightening with dawn.

* Later on Sunday, February 3, 2013, will be the Moon’s last quarter.

* The new Moon will be on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

* On Friday evening, February 15, 2013, the asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface of our planet, closer to the Earth than our geostationary satellites.  According to the data on NASA’s Near Earth Object Program website at URL http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/ this asteroid has a diameter somewhere between 36 and 80 meters (120 to 260 feet) and will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface of the Earth.

* Saturday, February 16, 2013, Mercury at greatest elongation (greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth), visible just after sunset.  To see Mercury you will need a clear view of the horizon halfway between west and west-southwest.  By the time the sky darkens and twilight ends (around 6:45 pm EST for the Washington, DC area), Mercury will be only about 5 or 6 degrees above the horizon and only about 1/2 hour from setting itself (setting at 7:18 pm EST for the Washington, DC area).

* On Sunday afternoon, February 17, 2013, the waxing half Moon will reach its first quarter.

* That evening, Sunday, February 17, 2013, The waxing half Moon, the close cluster of stars known as M24 or the Pleiades, and the bright planet Jupiter will form a triangle, all separated by about 6 degrees.  As the night progresses, the Moon will appear to shift closer to Jupiter.  For the Washington, DC area, at least, the Moon will set in the west-northwest around 1:30 am EST on Monday morning, February 18, 2013, and Jupiter will set about 20 minutes later.

* By Monday evening, February 18, 2013, the waxing gibbous Moon will shift to appear about 7 degrees to the other side of Jupiter, with the bright star Aldebaran below and about half-way between. As the evening progresses Jupiter and the Moon will appear to drift farther apart, with Jupiter (and Aldebaran) setting Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, in the west-northwest around 1:45 am EST, and the Moon setting 35 minutes later.

* The full Moon after next will be on Monday, February 25, 2013.

Frost Moon November 28, 2012

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Been a while and a little late (both my fault), but here is another installment of Gordon’s monthly full moon email ( Thanks again Gordon!).  This is also my first tablet posting, so we shall see how that works out… Enjoy!

The next full Moon is on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun at 9:46 am EST on Wednesday morning. In fact, the Moon will be so “opposite” the Sun from the Earth that it will pass through the partial shadow of the Earth (called a penumbral eclipse). From the Washington, DC area we will not be able to see this eclipse, as the Moon will be below the horizon. Farther west in North America, the eclipse will start before moonset, but the partial shadow of the Earth causes a gradual shading of the Moon difficult for the eye to detect. If you are in the western pacific, Australia, or eastern Asia, you may see the Moon slightly darkened and reddened by the shadow of the Earth, as the peak of the eclipse will be straight overhead in the Pacific about halfway between Japan and the island of New Guinea.

The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around the peak of the full Moon and the eclipse, from Monday evening, November 26, 2012, through Thursday morning (possibly even Thursday evening), November 29, 2012. Suitably celebratory celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

As the last full Moon of Fall, this full Moon is sometimes known as the Moon Before Yule or the Frost Moon. Europeans call this full Moon the “Moon before Yule” (Yule is an old northern European winter festival that is now associated with Christmas). A Native American name for this full Moon (as reported in the Farmer’s Almanac) is the Frost Moon, as frosts begin to occur towards the end of Fall.

This is also Kartic Poornima. According to Wikipedia: “Kartik Poornima (Kartik purnima) is a Hindu holy day celebrated on the full moon day or the fifteenth lunar day of Kartik (November–December). It is also known as Tripuri poornima and Tripurari Poornima. It is sometimes called Deva-Diwali or Deva-Deepawali – the festival of lights of the gods. The Kartik Purnima festival also coincides with the Sikh festival of Guru Nanak Jayanti.”

As for other celestial events between now and the full Moon after next…

* On Thursday, November 29, 2012, the planet Jupiter is quite bright and drawing close to being “opposite” the Sun. Look for the full Moon and Jupiter near each other, rising in the east at sunset and riding high in the sky as the night progresses. The bright star Alderbaran will be nearby as well.

* For the Washington, DC area, Friday, November 30, 2012 through Thursday, December 13, 2012 will be he earliest sunsets (i.e., darkest evenings) of the year. Rounded to the nearest minute, sunset will be at 4:46 pm EST across these dates.

* Saturday, December 1, 2012, is when Venus is at its greatest western elongation (greatest angle away from the Sun as seen in the morning, or the highest it gets in the predawn sky).

* Sunday, December 2, 2012, is when Jupiter is in “opposition,” effectively opposite the Sun as seen from Earth, the equivalent of a “full” Jupiter when the planet is closest to the Earth and rises around sunset, is highest in the night sky at midnight, and sets around sunrise. This is a good time to get out a telescope or a good pair of binoculars and watch Jupiter’s four large moons as they move around in their orbits. One of the earliest reasonably accurate estimates of the speed of light came from observing these moons. Navigators needed accurate clocks to calculate longitude, and tried using predictions of the positions of the moons of Jupiter to reset their clocks. But they found their predictions did not match their observations until they put in a corrections for the the time it took for light to get from the Jupiter to the Earth as the distance changed throughout the year.

* Tuesday, December 4, 2012, is when Mercury is at its greatest western elongation (greatest angle away from the Sun as seen in the morning, or the highest it gets in the predawn sky). Look for Mercury in the east-southeast about an hour before sunrise (about 6:10 am EST in the Washington, DC area). Venus will be the bright planet, look for Mercury about 7 degrees to the lower left of Venus (about halfway between the horizon and Venus at about an hour before sunrise). Saturn will be about 9 degrees to the upper right of Venus, and the bright star Spica even higher to the upper right.

* Thursday, December 6, 2012, is when the waning Moon is in its last quarter.

* In the morning on Sunday, December 9, 2012, look towards the southeast to see the waning crescent Moon near the bright star Spica. In a line to the lower left will appear Saturn, Venus, and then Mercury.

* By Monday morning, December 10, 2012, the waning crescent Moon will have shifted to be about 5 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

* By Tuesday morning, December 11, 2012, the waning crescent Moon will have shifted to be about 3 degrees to the right of Venus, with Mercury to the lower left.

* On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Jupiter will appear nearest the bright star Aldebaran (less than 5 degrees, apart). They will appear close to each other for several weeks around this time.

* Thursday, December 13, 2012, is the new Moon.

* Early in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, generally one of the two big meteor showers of the year. The peak is expected to be between 1 and 3 am EST, but increased meteor activity should be visible after about 10 pm for several nights around the peak. Near the peak, if the sky is clear and you are far away from city lights, you are likely to see about 50 meteors per hour (possibly more, as there is some indication that the intensity of this shower has been increasing in the last few years). The Geminids get their name from Gemini, as they appear to radiate out from this constellation. With the new Moon the night before, there will be no interference from moonlight, so this is a good opportunity to view this meteor shower. The Geminids are relatively slow moving as they hit the Earth and appear to be one of only two annual meteor showers associated with asteroids rather than comets. The Geminids appear to be dust associated with the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which has an eccentric 1.4 year-long orbit that takes it out as far as the main asteroid belt and much closer to the Sun than Mercury. The problem is that it is hard to explain where all the dust that causes these meteors has come from. This asteroid probably has shot out gas and dust when it was close to the Sun in past orbits and may be an object in between an asteroid and a comet.

* Wednesday night/Thursday morning, at 12:19 am on December 20, 2012, is the first quarter or waxing half Moon.

* Friday, December 21, 2012, at about 6:12 am EST, is the winter solstice. The solstice is considered the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. Many people call the winter solstice the “shortest day of the year.” Although it is the day with the shortest daylight of the year, in terms of the time from solar noon to solar noon, the days on and just after the northern hemisphere winter solstice are the longest days of the year. I can send you and explanation of this if you are interested (I wrote them up a few years ago and don’t want to repeat myself too much, as this would be pedantic, repetitive, redundant, repetitious, and overdoing things a bit). The winter solstice has the shortest period daylight of the year but has neither the latest sunrise nor the earliest sunset. For the Washington, DC area at least, the earliest sunsets occur in early December, and the latest sunrises occurred even earlier, just before the change from Eastern Daylight to Standard Time.

* Early on Saturday morning, December 22, 2012, is the expected peak of the Ursid meteor shower. Although the Ursids can sometimes produce as many as 100 meteors per hour, most years you can only see 5 to 10 meteors per hour. The Ursids get their name because they appear to radiate out from near the bowl of the Little Dipper (the constellation Ursa Minor, which translates as the Little Bear). Because these meteors appear to radiate from high in the northern sky, this is one of the few meteor showers where you don’t have to wait until after midnight to see them. The Ursids are made up of dust left by the comet 8P/Tuttle.

* Sunday morning, December 23, 2012, about a hour before sunrise (about 6:20 am EST in the Washington, DC area), if you scan the southeast horizon with binoculars you may be to see Venus, and about 6 degrees to the lower right of Venus the bright, reddish colored star Antares.

* Tuesday, December 25, 2012 (Christmas Day), the waxing gibbous Moon will appear within about 1 degree of the bright planet Jupiter.

* The full Moon after next is on Friday, December 28, 2012.

Thunder Moon July 13, 2011

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Another lunar contribution from Gordon, whose contributions are currently keeping this blog alive…

The next full Moon is on Friday morning, July 15, 2010, at 2:39 am EDT.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Wednesday evening through Saturday morning.

This full Moon has many names:

  • For Hindus this is the Guru Full Moon (Guru Purnima) and is celebrated as a time for clearing the mind and honoring the guru or spiritual master.
  • Europeans called July’s full Moon the Hay Moon or the Mead Moon.
  • The Algonquin tribes in what is now the Eastern US called July’s full Moon the Buck Moon, as July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur.  They also called this the Thunder Moon because of July’s frequent thunderstorms.

Since this is the Thunder Moon, a quick note on lightning safety.  Most of the lighting that strikes the ground arcs from the negatively charged bottom of the storm to the ground underneath the storm.  Much more rare is positive lightning, which arcs from the top of a thunderstorm to strike the ground up to eight miles away from the storm.  Positive lightning sometimes strikes areas where the sky is mostly clear (hence the term “bolt out of the blue”).

Because it arcs across a greater distance it tends to be 5 to 10 times more powerful that regular ground strikes.  Though positive lightning is rare (less than
5% of all lightning strikes), the lack of warning combined with its greater power tends to make it more dangerous.  A good rule to follow is if you can hear the thunder, you can be struck by the lightning.  As a bicycle commuter I am well aware that the inch or so of rubber tire between my metal bicycle and the ground will make little difference to a bolt that can arc across miles of air from the top of a thunderstorm to the ground.

Be safe!

As to other sky events between now and the full Moon in August:

  • Mercury joins Saturn in the evening sky after sunset.  Try looking to the west-northwest near the horizon about 45 minutes after sunset (about 9:15 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area).  Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (largest angle away from the Sun as seen from the Earth) on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.
  • If you are in a dark location with a clear sky on July 31, or August 1, 2011, try looking for the Capricornid Meteor shower.  Although this shower only produces 10 to 15 meteors per hour (i.e., on average one every 5 or 6 minutes), some of them can be bright fireballs.  The best time to look is after midnight.
  • If you have a good telescope, on Thursday, August 11, 2011, Neptune will be at opposition, fully lit and at its closest to the Earth for this year.

The full Moon after next will be on Saturday, August 13, 2011.

As usual, celebratory attire (e.g., Aloha shirts, bow ties, etc.) is encouraged in honor of the full Moon, watch out for lightning, and consider setting aside a little time to clear the mind.

Strawberry Moon June 16, 2011

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Another monthly lunar update from my friend and co-worker Gordon:

The next full Moon is on Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 2011.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on 4:14 pm EDT on Wednesday (i.e., from Tuesday morning through Friday morning).  

This full Moon is known as the Strawberry Moon, a name universal to just about every Algonquin tribe.  The name comes from the relatively short season in June for harvesting strawberries in northeastern North America.  

Europeans call the June full Moon the Rose Moon. Because the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is almost in the same plane as the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (only about 5 degrees off), near the summer solstice when the Sun appears highest in the sky at noon, the full Moon will always appear lowest in the sky at midnight.  Some believe the name Rose Moon comes from the color the Moon can get because, particularly for European nations at the higher latitudes, the full Moon is low in the sky and shining through more atmosphere that at other times of the year.  

More recently, a new tribe has arisen, geographically scattered but mostly living in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.  This tribe’s language is primarily English, but with a liberal smattering of acronyms and Hawaiian phrases.  Comprised of people from all backgrounds, this tribe sports a pirate flag as its emblem and is devoted to the study of the Moon.  This tribe calls June’s full Moon the LRO Moon, in honor of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft they placed in orbit around the Moon two years ago, on June 23, 2009.  

There is a total eclipse of the Moon associated with this full Moon, but this eclipse will not be visible from North America.  LRO, currently orbiting the Moon, relies on sunlight to keep warm and solar power to operate.  This will be the longest eclipse that LRO will encounter in its expected life.  LRO will have to preheat most of its systems, put an extra charge on the batteries, and leave most of the science instruments off in order to get through this long eclipse without getting too cold or running low on power.  Only the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment will remain on, and we expect to get unique information about the surface of the Moon from watching how key locations cool down as the Earth blocks the Sun.  

As usual, the suitable celebratory activities and attire (e.g., Hawaiian shirts, bow ties) are encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

As to other celestial events between now and the next full Moon:

The night of the full Moon is also the peak of the June Lyrids, a relatively minor and variable meteor shower.  With the full Moon in the sky it will be difficult to see these meteors (if there are many of them this year).  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011, is the summer solstice, the day with the longest period of sunlight and the astronomical start of summer.  Because the solar days this time of year are slightly longer than 24 hours, the earliest sunrises occur before the Solstice and the latest sunsets occur after the solstice.  For NASA Headquarters, rounded off to the minute, the earliest time of sunrise is 5:42 am EDT from this past Tuesday, June 7, 2011, through the morning of the Solstice, Tuesday, June 21, 2011.  Rounded off to the minute, the latest time of sunset will be 8:37 pm EDT from Thursday, June 23, 2011 to Sunday, July 3, 2011.  

Back in late May, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter all appeared clustered together in the morning sky, while Saturn was up pretty much all night.  By late June and early July, Saturn is gradually shifting more towards the evening sky, Jupiter and Mars are appearing higher in the morning sky, Venus is low in the morning sky and soon will pretty much disappear from view in glow of the Sun, and Mercury will switch to low in the evening sky.  

In the morning of Sunday, June 26, 2011, the waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper left of bright Jupiter in the eastern sky.   For the Washington, DC area, Jupiter rises around 2:20 am.

Before dawn on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, the waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper right of Mars low in east-northeast.  For the Washington, DC area, Mars rises around 3:45 am.

The next day, in the glow of dawn on Wednesday, June 29, 2011, the even thinner waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper right of bright Venus (about halfway between Venus and Mars) very low in east-northeast.  For the Washington, DC area, Venus rises around 4:50 am, less than an hour before sunrise.

Even harder to see in the glow just before dawn, on Thursday, June 30, 2011, the Moon will be just to the lower left of bright Venus, very close to the horizon in the east-northeast.

Friday, July 1, 2011, is the new Moon and a partial solar eclipse.  For this eclipse the shadow of the Moon almost misses the Earth.  The eclipse will only be visible from a part of the Antarctic Ocean south of Africa.  It may be an eclipse that nobody sees.  

On Saturday, July 2, 2011, especially with a pair of binoculars, you may be able to see Mercury to the upper right of the faint crescent Moon.  You would need to look close to the horizon in the north-northwest about 1/2-hour after sunset (around 9:10 pm EDT in the Washington, DC area, as the Moon will set by about 9:30 pm).  The glow of sunset will likely make this difficult to see without binoculars.  

On Monday, July 4, 2011, at about 11 am EDT, the Earth will be aphelion, the point in its orbit where it is farthest from the Sun.  In general, the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are milder than they are in the Southern hemisphere, because northern summer occurs when the Earth is farther from the Sun, while northern winter occurs when the Earth is closer to the Sun.  

In the evening on Thursday, July 7, 2011, the waxing quarter Moon will appear to the lower left of Saturn.  For the Washington, DC area, this pair will start the evening high in the sky and set a little after midnight.  

The full Moon after next will be on Friday, July 15, 2011.  

Post-Dated Posting – Veteran’s Day 2010 May 14, 2011

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Finally posted my Veteran’s Day 2010 Ride.  Since I set the “publish date” to my actual ride date, this post just points back to it.  Enjoy.

Flower Moon May 14, 2011

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I have a co-worker in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA who each month puts out an email alerting me and some of our colleages of the upcoming full moon and other upcoming astronomical events of interest.  I have been meaning to share these with you for a while.  So thanks to Gordon….

The next full Moon will be on Tuesday morning, May 17, 2011 at 7:09 am EDT.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Sunday evening through Wednesday morning (possibly through the start of Wednesday evening).  As usual, condign and copacetic celebratory celestial costuming is suggested in support of our sated Selene.  

This is the Flower Moon, as in most areas flowers are abundant this time of year.  Other names include the Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.  

As to other sky events between now and the full Moon in June:

Saturn is bright in the evening sky.  On Saturday, May 14, 2011, Saturn will appear 8 degrees north of the nearly full Moon.  

Later in May in the pre-dawn sky, Mercury, Venus and Mars will appear clustered together, with Jupiter nearby and the crescent Moon joining the cluster by the end of the Month.  You will have to look towards the east, with a clear view of the horizon.  Mercury will be the lowest in the sky.  
 – On Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011, Mercury and Venus will appear at their closest.  
 – On Sunday, May 29, 2011, the crescent Moon will appear above Jupiter.  
 – By Monday, May 30, 2011, the crescent Moon will have moved near Mars  
 – By Tuesday, May 31, 2011, the crescent Moon will appear above Mercury
My understanding is that this is the most compact gathering of bright planets in decades.  Uranus and Neptune are also in the pre-dawn sky, but they cannot be seen without a telescope.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011, is the New Moon and a partial eclipse of the Sun (not visible in the Washington, DC area).  

The full Moon after next will be on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.  This will also be a total eclipse of the Moon (not visible from the Washington, DC area).  

What a day… April 14, 2011

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My first fully cell phone post. And the first with a work day emphasis for a change…

But I am a biker so…  the day started with the decision of whether or not to ride in this morning.  Was to be a beautiful day, but I was facing an all day meeting and dinner, both of which required a suit.  A good ride in is 55 minutes; by car and metro: an hour and a half.  But to take the Harley would have meant metroing from work to the dinner and back to change clothes, then a night time ride home through DC versus hopping right on the metro home from the dinner.  I opted for the latter…

So, after 20+ years of working in the world of robotic spaceflight, I am transitioning into the realm of human spaceflight.  With the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA is developing a new archtecture for sending humans into space… not just to low earth orbit (like the shuttle) but beyond.  The first steps are the development of a heavy lift launch capabilty, a crew vehicle, and the ground operations systems to get them launched.  Since it is critical that each of these parts combine to create the integrated exploration capability, we are developing the plans and processees to assure their smooth integration.

That is where I come in.  I am now on a headquarters team assigned to lead this technical integration effort.  Today we met with the folks with the technical responsibility for each of the parts.  Our objective was to discuss how we would work together to effectively integrate the capability.

The differences in culture were pretty amazing; doubly so for me: jumping from the robotic world to that of human space exploration, and bridging the differences between the headquarters point view and that of the programs at the various NASA centers.  The meeting was hugely educational for me, and we made great strides in understanding our respective approaches…

After 10 hours of drinking from the information firehose, fatigue was setting in and it was time to break for dinner.  As I packed up my laptop and briefcase, I plugged in my phone to top off the charge for the evening, thinking to myself “I bet I forget this…”

I helped clean up the meeting room grabbed my fully packed briefcase and joined my colleagues for the metro ride to dinner, where I realized the self fulfilling prophesy had in fact been fulfilled. 

The dinner conversation was really good. I spent most of my time talking with my new colleagues in the engineering effort for the launch vehicle,  one of which is also a luthier and bluegrass musician.  I ordered a ribeye, which was disappointingly mediocre given the expense of both cash and calories. 

Facing another 2 hours to get home I headed for the metro back to work annoyed that I gave up a wonderful ride opportunity to avoid exactly this situation, which was actually made worse by schlepping my briefcase. 

I got to work finding my fully charged phone and headed back out walking the streets of DC fully laden with tomorrow’s work. Electing to avoid the risk of a 20-minute transfer between trains I walked a mile to the redline and decided to try my first phone blog…

So what did I learn today? Beyond the myriad of human spaceflight culture nuances, if the weather good enough to ride… RIDE! 
Oh, and that typing a blog article on a cell phone is a pain in the….

At least it was a beautiful night for a walk.

Veterans’ Day Ride 2010: Unlikely Friendship November 14, 2010

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The Setup

I dropped off the bike for 60,000 mile service and for my growing list of perennial problems that seem to escape the scrutiny of service shops.   

My regular place (HD of Maryland) has been less and less responsive.  The latest problem was a bearing replacement that took three weeks.  One week for the bike to just sit they even looked at it.  One week before they finally decided to order parts.  And one week to “work me into the schedule”.  It was the second time for that repair bearing within only 5000 miles and in less than 1000 miles later I was hearing the grinding noise again.  So my last visit was for them to  re-check the drive and transmission.  After holding onto my bike for a another full week to only do a test drive and tell me they “don’t hear any grinding”, I decided to take my patronage elsewhere.

So this time I dropped her off at her point of origin at HD of Baltimore.  Unfortunately, like at my regular shop, despite two weeks lead time and a confident assurance I would have the bike back by the Nov 10th, they didn’t even start working on it until the 9th and found major problems with the transmission.  It was good that  they found the problem the other place said didn’t exist.  However, this left me without a bike on a four-day weekend with plans to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway as my “last hurrah” for the year. 

Fortunately, I was able to articulate my frustration without yelling at them for sitting on the bike until the day before I needed it.  They “got it”, and while they do not give out loaners as a general rule and no longer have rentals at that store…. they were able to find me a bike to borrow which I was able to pick up Friday morning. 

Day 1

Starting on Friday rather than the Wednesday night departure I was hoping for, my plans to ride the Blue Ridge where kind of out the window.  I opted instead to ride a little loop through Pennsylvania starting from the dealership. 

The bike was a blue Electra-Glide.  I am not sure what year it was, but if I had to guess I’d say an ’05.  This bike would be the fourth I had ever ridden, and my first bagger.  It idled a bit rough, the clutch was way too tight, and the stock pipes were a whisper compared to my Vance-Hines Big Radius exhaust; but I was  looking forward to experiencing something different.   I was a bit stumped as to how to bungie my Sturgis bag into the passenger seat, and was pleasantly surprised that the whole thing fit snuggly in the rear hard case.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find a little electrical plug poking out from under the seat.  While it was a “nice” day for November, it was still rather chilly.  I knew I would be needing my electric gloves on this trip and brought with me a spare battery harness and my toolkit (which I rarely bring, though I know I should).  I figured that I would pull over at some point to install the harness on the loaner, and was very glad that it was unnecessary.  A few minutes later and I was geared up in my leathers, gloves were plugged in and toasty, and I was on the road. 

The dealership is on the east side of Baltimore near the beltway.  I hopped on US-40 to pick up I-695 a short while later heading north.  I tried the radio. I really should have taken a moment to learn the radio controls while I was still in the dealership parking lot, but I managed to find a decent station while weaving through traffic, and for the first time ever listened to music on a ride. 

I joined up with I-83 heading into Pennsylvania.  Despite being well geared, I was still a bit chilly and I pulled over at the first rest stop across the PA border to warm up a bit.   I managed to find change for a vending machine coffee, served in the ubiquitous paper cup with the pictures of playing cards about the circumference.  (An association that is lost on me.)   The coffee wasn’t bad for the price and it was warm. 

I sat on a picnic table in the sun watching people pull up, look at the bike, look at me, look away, then keep walking; until a portly, bearded, diminutive man in an old pick-up truck bearing Vermont plates pulled up next to me.  He looked at the bike, looked at me, then walked on over as he lit a cigarette.  He was driving back from a KOA campground convention in Georgia, which is apparently quite the shindig.  The conversation immediately went to his history with motorcycles, as most of these roadside discussions go.  He had ridden in his youth and only recently started riding again on a Honda 750.   He asked about my trip and told me about the various Harleys of his family’s and friends’. 

After a sufficient warm-up, I headed out, continuing up I-83 toward Harrisburg, PA.  My intent was to get off I-83 at Exit 41 and head north in an attempt to find US-11 heading north along the west side of the Susquehanna River, but a poorly timed passing manuever left me racing by, looking at my exit over the top of a dirty gold Honda Accord.  Having completely forgotten my contingency plan (like I really had one), I crossed the Susquehanna and pulled off at the next exit into Harrisburg.  I somewhat remembered looking at the map of the area and figured if I just headed north I’d be fine.  I rode a short while and noticed that there were some unique dining opportunities, so I pulled over in front of Stocks on 2nd for a “quick” lunch. 

I sat outside in front of the restaurant.  Despite the chill on the bike, the direct sun was now sweltering.  The menu had the typical urban/bar cuisine but with several Greek specialties interspersed.  I opted for the lamb burger with feta tzatziki sauce and a beer.  The waiter was an amicable young guy who brought the beer and then pretty much disappeared.  A long while later he came out to apologize for the delay… but still no food.  Later still, he arrived with my meal.  While the first bite of my burger was really very good, it was also very raw.  I progressed a few more bites into it reaching the icy-cold center.  So, when he appeared to ask how my meal was… I told him.  He whisked my plate away (including the fries which were in fact very good) and headed into the restaurant.  Looking at the low sun, I realized I had no time to wait for remediation.  I headed into the restaurant to tell him to just bring the bill so I could get on the road.  Several minutes later he apologetically appeared and comp’d my bill, which amounted to a free beer and a half an order of fries — and a delay of over an hour.

I saddled up and continued up 2nd street, cutting over to 7th believing that would get me to I-81…  until 7th disappeared.  I hopped on 6th and continued north until riding right under and past I-81…  Finally, a few more wrong turns later, I was on I-81 to US-322 taking the latter northwest along the Susquehanna, later crossing it to more-or-less follow the Juniata River.  I made a quick stop in Mifflinburg for gas and Red Bull, and continued on toward my evening destination, State College, PA. 

US-322 departs from the Juniata near Lewisburg, heading north until reaching Potters Mills where the road turned west, headed straight into the setting sun.  Temperatures dropped quickly and the sun was absolutely blinding.  I could barely see a thing, but worried more about whether the traffic behind me could see me.  Signs were meaningless, amounting to dark rectangles amidst the solar glare.  Failing to see the sign for US-322B, I continued on US-322 picking up PA-26 into town with just enough light to find lodging.  I rode down College Avenue in hopes of seeing the Days Inn; my first choice for its central location.  Two loops and a cell phone google search later I was at the Days Inn to find they had no rooms.  I sat outside calling around to hotels, getting farther and farther from the district of bars and restaurants that had such appeal, but at this point I was happy to just find a room. 

I booked a room at the Hampton only a mile away from the “action”.  I checked in, took a shower, and started to walk back to the main drag.  However, the temperatures had plummeted and I was no longer “geared up”.  Less than a tenth of the way toward the “cool bars” and I bailed, opting for Damon’s Grill and Sports Bar next to the hotel.

As you may be aware, I now have a  self-imposed rule that I cannot eat at any chain-restaurant while on a ride, which I amended to allow for chains that aren’t available at home.  Despite the fact that there are four Damon’s in Maryland, I hadn’t been to any of them, nor did I know they existed — so I sat down and ordered a beer and a rib-eye with a side of crispy onion straws and a small Cesar salad.  After a not-great but very-good dinner I was ready to call it a night and walked back to the hotel.

Day 2

I awoke the next morning to 25 degrees F, and promptly went back to bed.

Day 2 – Take 2

I got up again and dawdled with my normal routine of coffee and route planning.  I texted a biker, Steve, that I had met in Florida when I rode down for the LRO/LCROSS launch over a year prior.

He had ridden down from Pennsylvania to see a Shuttle launch whose window was on top of that of LRO/LCROSS.  We met in front of my hotel and started talking about our respective rides and the up coming launches, and he joined me for dinner and drinks with some of the LRO/LCROSS launch team.  Now I was in his neck of the woods, so 17 months later I looked him up to meet for breakfast. 

My delays helped a bit.  The sun was bright and the temperatures rose quickly.  I walked out of the hotel about 9:30 with the temperatures in the low 30’s.  The sun was cutting through the ice and frost on the vehicles in the parking lot, with the exception of mine.  The Electra-Glide loaner sat squarely in the shadow of a mini-van that had parked next to me, leaving my seat coated with a thick layer of icy frost… not a good way to start a ride.  I scraped the frost as the minivan owner came out, ironically wishing me a warm ride as he drove off. 

I headed back up PA-26 rejoining US-322 taking it west until it merged with US-220/I-99.  It was cold, but I was well-geared, now including a neoprene face mask, and I was really enjoying the ride.  I continued south on I-99 to the Tyrone exit and quickly found my way to the Bull Pen, a friendly restaurant in a small strip center.  As I pulled into a parking space, Steve pulled in right behind me — except it took me a moment to recognize him, and not just because of the hat and sunglasses.  Steve had dropped 60 pounds in the last year and grew out his hair and beard.  Despite the fact that I was 40 pounds lighter and with longer hair than he had last seen me and riding a different bike, I was pretty easy to identify as the only idiot on a bike on such a cold morning. 

I was greeted with a hearty handshake and smile, and we headed toward the restaurant, pausing for a moment to talk with one of Steve’s friends,  who was working as a bell-ringer in front of a nearby grocery store collecting donations to provide blankets and toys for children of poor local families.  The restaurant was a charming rustic bar and grill.  We paused again to chat with the owner, another friend of Steve’s.  Steve talked about our meeting in Florida and my stopping by to visit, then we headed into the dining room. 

Despite the relatively short time spent in Florida, we got to talking like old friends who had known each other for years.  We spoke of bikes, and rides, and NASA, and politics, and local events.  The new movie, Unstoppable, was filmed, in part, in Tyrone.  Steve was hired with some other local bikers as extras, but apparently they didn’t use the footage.  For the movie release, the Bull Pen had a town party charging only $7 for all you could eat or drink.  (Now that is community spirit!) Breakfast was great: two eggs over easy, sausage, bacon, and perfectly crispy hash browns.  The deliciously hearty breakfast got us talking about our respective diets and weight loss

When old, fat guys lose weight, we get really old really fast.

After breakfast we headed out to his place outside of town where his front yard has a beautiful view of a ridge where they are putting up some new windmills — hopefully the artistic little cluster and not the horizon sweeping eyesore.  We talked for a while longer about life over a beer, and I headed out feeling more of a friendship than acquaintanceship. 

The view from Steve's front yard.

I circled around the back roads until I found old US-220 which got me back on track.  I had spent so long visiting with Steve that my trip timeline called for a few revisions.  Instead of heading further west, I opted to head toward home taking roads less travelled.  I headed down PA-453 out of Tyrone until meeting up with US-22.  It had warmed up quite a bit, though the air was still moist and chilly as I rode along the Juniata. 

Approaching Mount Union, I opted to ride into town in search of gas and a bio-break rather than by-passing it on US-522.  Unfortunately, I was afforded neither.  They had no public restroom and were a little rude in telling me so, so I made no purchase; it is kind of my flip-side version of the “restrooms for paying customers” policy.   I continued down PA-747 to Three Springs, this time stopping and meeting all objectives.  I took a little break with a Monster Khaos drink (not recommended – tastes like wedding punch) and headed west down PA-994, picking up PA-655 south a short while later.

The scenery was pleasant enough though unextraordinary but ride was great nonetheless: the rural wooded landscape and crisp air providing all the makings of a relaxing ride.  I somehow missed a turn in Hustontown to stay on PA-655 and instead ended up on PA-475 which dumped me onto US-522.  I rode US-522 south until I picked up US-30 east just north of McConnellsburg.  Cresting the Tuscarora peak, I looked forward to stopping for a beer at the biker bar at the top; but, not surprisingly, it was really dead, so I kept riding down the eastern slope and into Chambersburg where I stopped for the night at the Carson Motel.

The Loaner at Carson's Motel

The place was a typical motel of the 70’s.  It was actually quite clean, and I figured the lack of vehicles in the parking lot and the cinder block walls would make for a quiet night.  But soon after checking in it got noisier than hell in parking lot with a bunch of guys (one in particular) yelling getting ready to go out partying.  It completely baffles me that with about 10% occupancy, they put these people in the room right next to mine.  I left for dinner at Dilly’s where I had a very disappointing cheeseburger sub and a couple of beers.  Conversation was sparse with the highlight being a young woman asking me to help her figure out how much a 10% tip would be on her bill.  I finished up the evening with a batter-dipped deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich smothered in whipped cream and ice cream.  I headed back to the hotel with a slight regret about both my culinary choices.

Back at the motel the noise continued this time with the women from the earlier group hooting and hollering at each other and obstreperously complaining about their men.  Sleep was evasive in the din, so I flicked through television stations until they abated at about 2:00 am.  But the quiet didn’t last for long as the most boisterous drunk idiot from before came back pounding on their door at 3:00 am wanting to be let in.  The argument that then ensued about what he did or did not do that evening finally died down at about a quarter to four. 

Day 3

Waking early the next morning I was dead tired.  I packed the bike and was disappointed at the trifling sound of loaner’s stock pipes as I started it up, wishing to provide a more punitive wake-up call to the cacophonous couple next door.  Heading out of Chambersburg on east US-30, tried a different route home heading south on Mont Alto Road in Fayetteville leading me into Mont Alto (duh) where I picked up PA-997 south to Waynesboro.  Picking up PA-316 I continued south to the Maryland border where PA-316 turned to MD-60.  Being a little disoriented by the new route and a little ambivalent about stopping in Hagerstown for a drink versus heading home, I deviated from MD-60 onto MD-62 south away from Hagerstown.  Then onto MD-64 west heading into Hagerstown.  Then changing direction again taking Eastern Blvd to US-40 east heading away from Hagerstown. 

I rode to the Dogpatch, still ambivalent about stopping.  Pulling into the parking lot, I saw it was as dead as the bar on the Tuscarora peak and rode on home.  All in all it was a good trip, though the last day was more of a chilly, tired drive than a ride. 

Friendship

After only meeting once before on the road, it was great to talk with Steve.  I was really glad to discover a real friendship in what could have otherwise been one of a thousand friendly encounters on the road.  Those of us who enjoy the experience of riding know the wealth of kindness, stories, and transient camaraderie of meeting with other travellers and the local folk.  We all have enjoyed the experience of a fraternal wave, a three-minute dialog, or sometimes shared victuals and libation.  Sometimes when things seem to click, emails and phone numbers are exchanged with the best intention, yet somehow the impact of that first encounter fades just enough to never actually call or write or possibly even remember… and there is nothing wrong with that.  The road by its nature is a temporal place; impermanence is part of living in the present.  Sometimes, a three-minute discussion is just about enough to get the most out of some friendly encounters.

But sometimes, it is good to call that number, send that email, initiate a re-meeting, and take the chance to enjoy a friendship that can inexplicably spring from a brief encounter months or years before.

Steve

Blue Ride Day 3 September 11, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Another poor night’s sleep and another 9:30AM start and I was on the road heading north on US-19 after a gas stop at the little concentration of commerce north of Summersville.  The ride was getting a little onerous and I was lacking the enlightenment and peace I had hoped for.  I opted to focus on ABC points for a while to give myself the distraction of some objectives.  I picked up Braxton and Nicholas counties on the way up US-19, and decided to get my S-city and a cup of coffee in Sutton, WV, where US-19 breaks off from I-79 and merges with WV-4.

Pulling into town, I saw signs for the Cafe Cimino Country Inn and figured that would be a good spot to stop.  It was more of a quaint B&B and dinner restaurant than an actual cafe, so I continued to explore the town. 

I passed a small flea market which got me thinking about the economy.  Here I saw people who have little, selling their used clothing and belongings to more people who have little.  It seems that irrespective of the broader economy, people still need to consume at some basic level.  But in times of downturn the economic communities get smaller, more localized, and a step closer to a barter system.  While it may be depressing to some, I see it as a good sign that irrespective of the financial news, that the core engine of trade will keep chugging along slowly until it can build up a little momentum again.

Since I had already lost mileage momentum anyway, I rode out to Sutton Dam.  A nice little recreation area at the base of the dam was hosting some kind of event.  But despite the number of milling about people, it just didn’t seem to be a public function so I circled back through town and kept heading north on WV-4.  Still without coffee, I stopped at a little convenience store at Laurel Fork and pulled up next to an obese and rustic family eating McDonald’s breakfasts in a rusted-out pickup.  I got my coffee, pulled out my atlas and sat on curb to plan my route.   A few minutes later, the truck started up with the roar of a challenged muffler and a billow of smoke.  As they were leaving, the portly man in the passenger seat started yelling at me quite obviously incensed, though I couldn’t tell why over the din of their failing muffler. 

I continued to try to make sense of my location on the atlas, which gets a bit squirrely on minor roads and the GPS on my phone was useless without a data signal for the Google map to download, but figured I was hopefully still on the right track just proceeding up the road I was travelling.  I finished my coffee and continued up what I guessed to be WV-4 toward Flatwoods, where I encountered a traffic backup headed up by a yellow-vested flagman that left me motionless for about 20 minutes.  The earlier ride had been through cool shaded roads and I was again thankful for having brought chaps, but now I was stopped in the sun on a hot bike and baking.  I had already encountered a ridiculous construction stop earlier in the trip where they unnecessarily had traffic down to a single escorted lane that slowly ran past only two small construction activities  that were separated by 2 miles.  So I kept thinking the road was going to clear “any minute now…”, and continued to bake.  Finally as traffic started moving, I found it was not construction, but a parade that had blocked  WV-4 just around the curve. 

And not just a parade…  as I am writing this, I found out it was most likely the Flatwoods Monster Festival, commemorating the UFO landing and encounter with a 10-foot tall, green-clad, orange-eyed, spade-headed alien purported to have happened Sept 12, 1952.  Needless to say, I am now exceedingly bummed having ridden right by this without stopping to check it out…

The ride was enjoyable from there with plenty of twists and great countryside.  I stayed on WV-4 as it split from US-19 heading toward Rock Cave to pick up a U-county point for Upshur County only to miss the sign.  I picked up WV-20 toward Buckhannon where I did manage to find an Upshur County Park; my fingers are crossed hoping they accept that as an “official” sign.  A bit further up the road I found a local restaurant,  The Original T&L Hot Dogs, whose sign was a call to “Remember the good old days…”.  I had to stop.

The place is clearly a popular local lunch destination.  I was lucky to have gotten in just ahead of the bulk of the line.  The place was quaint but generally unexceptional.  Service was very friendly but not exceedingly efficient, which didn’t bather me; I was in it for a great hot dog.  I ordered a couple of dogs and a chocolate-strawberry milkshake, the latter of which surprised the older woman at the counter to think you could even make such a thing.  The dogs were good but not great and far too small for the bun.  I could have eaten more, but by the time I saw my food, the line was nearly out the door.  Slurping the last of my shake, I reviewed my atlas and decided to get on US-33 to pick up my E-city at Elkins.

In the parking lot, I was duped by the sun and stowed my jacket only to get goosebumps as the  road turned to hi-way outside of town.  Freezing along US-33 I was looking forward to stopping in Elkins; but US-33 makes a weird split going off in two directions, and I ended up on the one running north of town.  Now the town felt to out-of-the-way.  I headed south on US-219 going only as far as the Elkins sign to get the ABC-point and slip on my jacket; then I headed back up US-219 and into the Monongahela National Forest. 

I was reminded how spectacular US-219 is through that area; it has everything that is wonderful about a mountain riding road.  Great sweeps and twist with incredible scenery.  I picked up a National Forest point upon leaving the Monongahela and continued on, just missing one of my favorite scenic overlooks of a wind farm just west of Thomas.  But unlike past rides, I didn’t miss the access road to the wind-farm and pulled in for a closer look. 

I thought about the ongoing windmill controversy.  On one hand, proponents see them as “free” clean energy and aesthetically beautiful to look at.  The opposition thinks they are ugly, unreliable, expensive bird-killers.  I am impressed with the engineering of these enormous structures whose size is deceptive from a distance.  As for aesthetics, I have been on both sides of the issue.  A solitary wind mill is a unique oddity and minor engineering marvel.  A small cluster on a ridge or in a field rhythmically synchronized is kind of charming.  But, I have also seen then as eye-sores when they expand into large fields, shifting the scene from green energy sculptures moving in harmony with nature into an industrialized visual assault of the skyline.  This one outside of Thomas, however, falls into the cute kinetic cluster category (for me anyway).

Further up, I stopped briefly at the overlook of Backbone Mountain which crosses the westernmost border of Maryland.  The mountain is location of both Maryland’s highest point and West Virginia’s first fire tower.  I proceeded up US-219 crossing into MD, where I picked up US-50 east, nipping the southwest point of MD crossing back into northern WV.  I continued east picking up US-220 via WV-972 heading north just 7 miles from where I had started heading south a couple of days earlier. 

Backbone Mountain

Having more or less completed my WV loop, my plan was to take US-220 north into Cumberland, MD and race home on I-68 and I-70.  However, passing through Cresaptown I saw Warner’s Bavarian Garden and was compelled to stop in the Wurst way (sorry).However, in the parking lot I paused.  Enjoying German beer and sausages could mean a cold dark finish to my ride home, or put me in a motel ridiculously close to the end.  The Wurst won out and I entered the restaurant.  The place was amply decorated with Bavarian knick-knacks and gew-gaws with a traditional dark wood ambiance.  Very charming, but I was inclined toward the beer garden out back.  With atlas and journal in hand I sat down, being the only outdoor customer, and waited to be noticed as a patron ohne Bier.  Eventually, a young Dirndl-clad waitress appeared and took my order.  I ended up having Knockwurst, Weisswurst and Bauernwurst, all of which I enjoyed immensely leaving me a bit more than full. 

Looking at the waning elevation of the sun, I half-contemplated spending the night there.  Instead, I mounted the bike and continued up US-220 to pick up I-68 eastbound.  Riding like a bat out of hell, I picked up I-70 a while later.  Night fell and so did the temperatures, and I was not fully equipped for the change.  I took the exit off I-70 for the Dogpatch Tavern thinking to warm up there, but rode past opting against it lest I be riding really late.  I instead pulled over in Myersville and put on my raingear over my leather for layered warmth.  I pressed on down I-70, eventually arriving home tired and shivering, chilled to the core with numb fingers.  I opened the garage and rolled the bike in. 

Blue’s absence was painfully obvious.

Blue Ride Day 2 September 10, 2010

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Day 2 proved to be an exhausting day, though not from anything in particular.  I didn’t sleep well with the 3rd Base Sports Bar conqueso giving me a case of heartburn.  I woke at 6:00AM and stepped outside to check the weather: chilly bordering on cold.  I was regretting not bringing better gloves; but had awoken so fatigued, I wasn’t in a hurry to get out anyway.  After a few cups of lobby coffee, and three and a half hours of dawdling, I was on the road, glad to have chaps with the temperature still just flirting with 60 degrees.

I headed south accomplishing one of my main objectives: simply to ride US-220.  The crisp air was rousing and I was immediately reminded of how much I love West Virgina roads.  US-220 twists along streams and mountains yet provides a fast, lightly trafficked ride.  I was wondering about the approach of the civil engineers responsible for designing the roads of WV.  Many other states are predominantly plains or rolling hills, or thay have tamed the landscape to cut & fill the terrain to create roads that are more or less straight, saving the real twisties for small patches of rough mountainous terrain requiring lots of tight switchbacks.  The result is a choice of boring speed or slow nail-biting curves.  Even looking in south central Pennsylvania, most all the highways between I-81 and 99 lazily follow the natural ridges and valleys of the Appalacian and Tuscarora ranges, sweeping out large smooth arcs running a northeast line across a third of the state intersected periodically by slower switchbacked roads running northwest.  But WV seems to have neither plains nor natural “easy” routes, but still has a need to get people and cargo from town to town with a decent amount of speed.  The result are the most incredible (reasonably) well-maintained high-speed twists and sweeps connecting the population hubs.  Yes there are stressful switchbacks and the occassional prosaic valley road, but so much of WV posesses the most gloriously swift curves urging the rider to swoop through the mountains, providing a wonderful combination of riding titillation and sublime scenery.

I also really appreciate how the WV curves are (generally) so reliably marked with a (generally) consistent conservatism in recommended speed.  Riding in Maryland and elsewhere, I have been totally surprised by an unmarked tight curve for which 30-mph was a “pucker moment”, only to be followed by a big warning sign of the impeding 50-mph curve ahead… What the…?  Or suddenly encountering a 35-mph turn that REALLY meant 35-mph amidst a course of 35-mph curves that were easily ridden at 50-mph.  But the WV highway curves are (generally) very reliably marked, making “swooping” though the rugged terrain both exhillerating and comfortable.  Of course there are exceptions, and signage is no replacement for vigilance and skill.  And, while WV does do an admirable job of keeping the highways free of debris, the occasional road-kill or gravel patch can turn even a well-marked curve into a test of skill. 

The ride was great but I was still a bit chilly and losing feeling in my fingertips so stopped a Cave County Camping somewhere south of Franklin for coffee.  In the office / general store / gas station I found the elderly proprietors organizing their stock of used books and looking a bit warily at the leather clad biker that just entered. I could smell the essence of burnt coffee and asked if they had anything brewing.  Pouring the last of the stale pot into a little styofoam cup, I paid my 55 cents and chatted with them about the weather, which really got them talking.  By the end they were asking questions about my bike and my ride, and strongly invited me to return.

I continued south on US-220 still awed by WV.  I had entered some valley farmland; the road still twisting gently along the narrow valley floor.  Tiny farms with small green fields lay cozily nestled between steep ridges.  As I crossed into VA the valleys seemed to suddenly open up.  The curves and intimacy of the narrow WV valleys gave way to the sense that the nature was “over there” as the land flattened and the roads straightened.  The ride was still nice, just a little less remarkable than moments earlier; but in the up side, I was able to make some pretty good time.

I often notice the abupt change in the environs crossing into and out of WV, and its irregular borders are not always determined by rivers and ridges, but sometimes make the most seemingly arbitary angles.  It really gets me questioning “Why?”.   Though I doubt it is the answer, I like to think the early West Virginians carved out the most beautiful and distinctive land for themselves.

Further down US-220 in VA the road became more interesting again as I hit signs for the George Washington National Forest (though I thought I was in the Forest all along).   Pleasant curves through denser foliage restored a degree of that natural intimacy I enjoy.  I was just north of Warm Springs at midday and was about to pass Jason’s Pizza and Subs when I noticed the number of cars and trucks parked out in front of this little eatery in the middle of nowhere.  Figuring that to be a good sign, I pulled in to get some lunch. 

I immediately recieved a very warm and friendly welcome as I took a seat at the counter.  Enjoying a sweet tea while I looked over the menu, I was stuck chosing between Jason’s Bacon Cheeseburger and a Philly Cheese Steak.  I asked the kindly waitress which I should get.  It turns out she is a vegatarian and hasn’t had either, but they both are pretty popular.  I opted for the signature selection and chatted with the owner while I waited.  I learned that the owners were Mike and Kathy (my waitress) and that Jason is actually Kathy’s son, a young man with cognitive disabilities.  Mike had owned an earlier restaurant named Mike’s; when he opened this place, his stepson insisted that it should be his, so they named it Jason’s.  It turns out that Jason is quite the outdoor sportsman and quite popular among the local folk; someone is “always taking him out hunting or fishing.  He loves it. ” Mike explained.  “That’s they way folks are out here.”   Mike went about work while whistling a seemingly random cadence of notes over and over as my burger showed up.

An excellent burger!  The half pound of meat was more than I was hungry for, but its wonderful juicy suculant taste had me finishing the whole thing before waddling out to my bike.  I still think the Chili Cheese King at B&R Old Fashioned hamburgers in Hawthorn, CA is the best in the country, but Jason’s may be in the top ten. 

I am not sure if overeating at lunch was the catalyst, but fatigue started setting in that lasted the rest of the day.  I continued south on US-220 and entered Warms Springs.  I had anticipated a little tourist-trappy kind of place with spas and new age shops, but instead found a very charming little mountain community.  I noted some county buildings, to took the opportunity to seek out an accessible Bath County sign for my ABC point.  Failing that, I did note some very charming inns, and made a mental note that this really would be a great place to just “get away” for rest without distraction. 

I continued on, meeting up with Hot Springs a short while later.  Hot Springs is dominated by an historic resort, the Homestead, that seems absolutely exquisite.  I have never “done” a resort weekend (except for Vegas…. but that is not quite the same), but the Homestead has me wanting to try.   I circled once through what appeared to be the “town” which really seems to exist in service of the resort.  Given the awkward time of day neither food nor drink was appropriate, and I continued south passing golf course after golf course.  (US-220 turns into the Sam Snead parkway at some point there.)

The road continued to provide a nice ride and some pretty active twisties just north of Covington, VA.  In Covington I picked up US-60 W that merged into I-64 which I followed west back into West Virginia.  Near White Sulpher Springs US-60 split back off and I stopped for gas and a Red Bull.  I was getting pretty tired by this point, and my mood had somehow gotten pretty tepid.

I continued west through quite a few twists on US-60 to Hico, where I stopped at the Harley Dealership to buy a T-shirt and get some guidance on the lodging situation north of there.  I spoke with some locals and not-so-locals including a family who rode from Deleware visiting for the rides.  Seems they were taking care of their recently orphaned nephew who at about 3 years old was sporting a mohawk and yellow sunglasses for the ride.  I got more advice about great rides in the area than about lodging. 

Being too exhausted to enjoy the advice, I headed north on US-19 arriving in Summersville, WV.  Riding into town I quickly found the one bar, Michelle’s Goodtimes Bar and Grill, recommended by the girl at the counter of the Hico dealership.  Given the early hour, the place was dead.  I had a beer and asked about nearby hotels.  Fully intending to return, I headed back toward the highway to check into the Best Western.  (I hadn’t really stayed in that chain before, but recently learned that my HOG membership gives me upgraded membership in their points program, so…)

Arriving at the motel lobby, I was somewhat bum-rushed at the door by a nice-enough but high-maintenance older (but not too old) couple.  They were statusing the clerk about the whereabouts of the 0ther half of their travel party, asking questions, and trying to get checked in while I stood waiting.  The clerk was friendly enough dealing with their chattiness and looked back to me periodically as I was about to fall asleep standing up.  They asked for a ground floor room, and was told they were all out, which bummed me out a little given that saddle bags don’t have handles.  After getting their keys and asking a few more questions, they headed out the door.  I stepped up, asked if they had a room available for the night; they did.  I gave her my new Best Western point number, and she looked up at me in my biker attire.  “You’d like a ground floor room wouldn’t you?” she asked. “Yes, please, very much so,” I replied, and within a couple of minutes I was unloading my bike right into the room watching the couple from the lobby heft their bags to the elevator.

I was so exhausted and even though I have a new rule about not eating at chain restaurants while on a ride, even though I intended to return to the supposd “only” good bar in town, and even though I found out that Summersville was having their annual Potato Day celebration complete with a fire department parade, I couldn’t bring myself to ride back up into town and settled for the Dairy Queen in the parking lot of the motel. 

After a burger and a shake, a little blog work, and the umpteenth viewing of Oceans 11, I was asleep for the night.