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Columbus Day Weekend – Day 1 October 30, 2008

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I had planned a vacation – sort of – to see the space shuttle launch for the Hubble repair mission.  A very resourceful co-worker in the knowmanaged (more or less) to snag me an invitation to the launch.  It would have been a very cool thing to see on many levels.  To see two shuttles on their launch pads at the same time – cool.  The mission was to maintain the Hubble Space telescope which is planning to image the LCROSS lunar impact (my current assignment as a NASA program executive) – very cool.  And to see a shuttle night launch – very very cool.  However, as luck would have it (for both good and bad) the Hubble itself developed a telemetry framing problem a few weeks prior.  Good news, since it happened when it did, the mission could be modified to send up replacement hardware for the new problem.  Bad news in that it kicked the launch down the road into early next year – scrubbing my vacation. 

By riding down on the Harley, that vacation would also be my best opportunity to pick up my last four ABCs of Touring points for the year before the weather got, well, more challenging.  I had planned to take a leisurely week and a half to keep a comfortable pace and enjoy the back roads, making the launch seem like “just another adventure-filled stop” in the middle of the trip.  I was especially looking forward to the first stop — Ribeyes Steakhouse in Lillington, NC.  The menu on the internet was pretty basic:  14 oz, 16 oz, 18 oz, or 20 oz.  I had never been there nor heard of the place before, but with a menu like that…. well, given my passion the charred-medium-rare ribeyes, that destination was nearly as important as the launch.   With the launch delay, I had a tough time trying to self-justify taking all that time off, but my urge for meat kissed by fire, and my 4-point paucity, inspired a great 4-day ride from Friday through Columbus Day.

The Day 1 objective was clear – an ABC point for North Carolina followed by a 20-oz ribeye.  After freezing my tail off camping in Ohio the week or so prior, I decided I wasn’t even going to bring the tent for this one.  It would be cheap motels.  I packed my standard assortment of riding outwear to meet expected weather and as many pairs of socks and underwear as days I expected to be gone, and I headed out. 

As per usual, I was most eager to get out of my immediate region before hitting the slower, more enjoyable ride.  I took I-95 south to the DC beltway, circling around the east side.  I continued down I-95 into Virginia.  Leaving on a mid-day Friday before a Monday holiday, the traffic was quite manageable and I made pretty good time.  The scenery and ambiance was nice enough, but typical of interstate travel.  About 17 miles shy of the North Carolina boarder I hopped off I-95 and took US-301.  Of course I immediately lost speed, but was finally getting more local flavor.  About this time, the clouds starting getting a little ominous…

Reaching the NC border I stopped for my ABCs point and gave my butt a rest. It started getting a bit chilly and the little dive of a border cafe nearby looked very inviting, but the weather was looking more threatening, and I really wanted to be in Lillington by day’s end, so I pressed on.

North Carolina definitely had its own flavor.  It definitely felt like the economy was seeing hard times.  I passed small, run-down homesteads admist small cotton fields.  The landscape was littered with half demolished out-buildings and heaps of rusted vehicles and scrap.  I had hoped to find cheap local-flavor motels, as I am wont to do, and oh did I…  There were plenty; but of course none were open.  Motel after motel was abandoned and dilapidated.  Several had been burglarized or vandalized, and many in such bad shape you could see right through them.  There were so many, one would think that at one time there must have been something in the area to draw a lot of tourist traffic, but that was clearly not the case any longer.   Gasoline was becoming a problem too.  Quite a few stations were simply out of gas, even more were out of high-octane fuel, which of course the Harley needs.  I had heard that Georgia was having fuel supply problems, but didn’t know it extended so far.  I very quickly learned to fill up at half tank or sooner. 

The weather went from chilly and gray to cold and rainy.  Given that I only had the clothes on my back — I pulled off in Enfield to pull off the leathers and put on the rain gear.  The next 40-50 miles were as fun as any cold rain — drops feeling like bee-stings on my face on the highway — my goggles fogging to advanced cataract clarity at in-town speeds.  In Wilson I took a break getting some gas and coffee.  The rain had let up a bit, so I ditched the rain gear and planned my remaining route to Lillington.  I had a lot of comments from the locals about my “nice bike” and several well-intentioned offers of directions and barbeque recommendations.  I finished my coffee, looked across the road at yet another abandoned motel and figured I’d better get going if I was going to make it to Lillington. 

The weather more or less cooperated from that point on.  The occasional drizzle and road spray was interspersed with periods of cool wind– just mild enough to be wearing jeans, toggling between wet & cold and less-wet & colder. 

The atlas was a bit deceptive in giving the illusion I was close to Lillington.  The last 30 miles felt like 60.  I stayed on US301 to Benson then headed west on NC27.  I really wanted to get to Lillington while there was some light to help me find Ribeyes and a place to sleep.  I was ecstatic that when I got to Lillingtion one of the first things I saw was Ribeyes.  It didn’t look like I imagined — a newer building, almost chain-like in appearance.  Right next to it was a Microtel Suites – not my first choice (Only because it is a chain.  I actually really like the cozy European design of the tiny rooms.  They remind me of my brief stays in France and Germany.) but at least I was assured of lodging. 

It appeared that Lillington was little more than a crossroads where NC27 intersected with NC210 (along with a weird co-labeling of US 421 and US401), and I came in on the arm that had Ribeyes.  I rode a little way up each arm looking for more Lillington, and didn’t see any more of it.  (Turns out the town was actually a mile south on the arm of the cross-roads that was NC27, NC210, US401, and US421 all at the same time).  But the sun was going down, I had found Ribeyes, and I was hungry and tired. 

I checked into the Microtel and was glad to hear that Ribeyes had a bar – and with adjoining parking lots with the hotel, a very short walk.  I got the bike unpacked, draped my rain gear and chaps to dry, and headed for the steakhouse.

I was greeted by a young hostess who (presumably seeing the jacket and wind burn) asked if I was a biker.  She was curious and mildly impressed that I rode 375 miles to have one of their steaks, and I quickly became “that biker guy who rode all day for a steak” among the staff.  I saddled up to the bar – did a quick check of the menu to confirm the largest one was in fact a 20-ouncer and placed my order.  The barmaid politely let me know that they would cut larger ones if I wished – but I was content with the 20.  I specified charred-medium-rare, speaking very slowly.  I have had far too many waiters and waitresses hear only the “charred” part or the “medium-rare” part, or put far to much confidence in a not-so-hot grill or an inept chef, resulting in a less than fully enjoyable dining experience.  But she didn’t bat an eye, prompting me to repeat my order, and actually ask if they could do that.  “Of course” she replied, as though I was daft to think the order was unusual.  I knew I was in the right place when she asked me if I wanted steak sauce, with her head moving side to side silently but firmly saying “No, you do NOT want steak sauce.”  I am a meat+fire purist; if you see me using steak sauce, there is something horribly wrong.  I hit the salad bar to find all the ingredients for my kind of salad – cheese, ham, creamy ranch, eggs — all the stuff that makes a salad unhealthily delicious.  My steak took a while, showing up in the middle of my second Newcastle – and it was a site to behold.  Thick, well charred, and dripping in medium-rarity (actually it was a bit on the moo-side of medium rare, but on a cut that thick, I couldn’t begrudge the chef).  Absolutely delicious, and worth every mile. 

Bad cell phone picture of a great 20 ounce ribeye.

Bad cell phone picture of a great 20 ounce ribeye.

I hung out in the bar for a while, drinking ale and watching/reading the Ghost Whisperer in closed captions on the TV.  I never saw it before – but the plot of that episode was suspiciously the same as I Know What You Did Last Summer starring the same actress.  The music seemed like someones mix tape containing several excellent Beatles remakes from the movie Across the Universe, which I had just seen a couple weeks earlier.  The miles and the pints gradually caught up with me.  So I bid the barkeep goodnight and meandered back to the Microtel (thankful it was not a tent in the frigid night air) with “…nothing’s gonna change my world…” gently echoing in my mind.

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