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LD Ride Day 5: That’s a Wrap September 7, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in MegaTweet, Rides.
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The ride from Scranton was uneventful.  The morning was cold and a bit foggy which amounted to clammy, but I was fine in my leathers.  I headed down I-81 toward Harrisburg with a quick stop in Wilkes-Barre for coffee and gas.  From Harrisburg, it was I-83 to the Baltimore beltway and then home.  Completely nonextraordinary – except for the feeling.

I sensed that this 5-day trip would probably mark the ‘last decent ride for 2009.  With the upcoming LCROSS lunar impact abutting Columbus Day weekend I knew I would be in the mission operations center in California for the event and not be able to make a long weekend like I did riding the Dragon last year.  November weather would be a crap shoot.  I have no more unvisited states nor 2009 ABC points within practical reach. 

I managed to touch 44 states and a province this season, picking up the last 8 on this trip.  For those of us who “collect”, I immodestly have to say that I didn’t do too badly this year.  Maybe not the best, not nearly enough to finish in the top ten of the ABC09 rankings… but still, not bad.

But for those of us who ride for the peace, the adventure, and the connection to ourselves and our environs, Day 5 was a somewhat bittersweet….

On the bitter side:  My touring year was ending.  Granted, I will still ride most of the winter into and out of  DC for my commute and will have a reasonable shot at some weekend day trips, but the multi-day road trips will most likely have to wait until spring.  I have only been riding a short three and a third years.  But in those 48,500-odd miles, I have grown to rely upon those endless stretches of asphalt, landscape, the throaty V-twin song to re-balance my senses and sensibilities, and to find my place in the universe. It is saddening and a little distressing to not have those journeys available at a moments notice. 

But on the sweet side:  I realize just how fortunate I have been to have the opportunities to take my rides and experience my adventures.  Just since this summer I have seen more of America than many people do in a lifetime.  In riding the highways and byways of the nation, I have been able to weave those new experiences into who I am.  And, this New England loop was a fine finish

Did I experience any epiphanies?  The unpopular but truthful answer is “Not really.”  But I do feel that I end this season somehow “better” for the experience.  I know a little more about myself and the importance of striking a balance of life priorities.  I know that happiness really comes from within, and when it gets tough to tap that inner source, the Harley is a hell of a catalyst.  I know from its ubiquity across the land that there is potential for adventure in my own backyard, and I have done much better in finding it, yet I still seem to prefer the adventures that lie several hundreds of miles away.

NewEnglandRoute

Labor Day Weekend route through New England.

LD Ride Day 4: Monuments & Merriment September 6, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I woke reasonably early and went outside to wipe the dew off the bike.  I half thought to get underway, but the Colonial House Inn breakfast was scheduled to start at 9:01.  While I was eager to make efficient mileage to make it home that night, I was not eager to leave the friendly comfort of the inn.  I sat in the common room for a while, intending to work on the blog, but instead entered a conversation with a woman who is a “regular” there, who dressed in sweats and slippers, looked like she was comfortably at home.  I made my way to the dining room shortly after 9:01 and sat at a table with two couples.

For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Scottish oats with maple syrup  and a uniquely New England egg dish similar to eggs benedict.  Breakfast conversation was lively and entertaining, with each of us sharing the experiences of our travels and of New England.  I made a few notes for possible future scenic rides in Vermont and Alabama from their recommendations.  Somehow or another the conversation drifted into genealogy, as I guess it often does in New England with who descended from whom on the Mayflower, when the older woman mentioned that her family was “only” known for a woman who massacred Indians. 

I was taken aback and asked “Are you talking about Hannah Duston?!?”.  I don’t know who was more surprised, me at meeting a descendent of the famed heroine or her at my knowing of the story.  In 1697, Hannah, her 6-day-old baby, and her nurse were taken in an Indian raid in Haverill, MA and marched with other captives toward Canada.  Early in the march, the Indians killed the infant, crushing her against a tree.  When the group camped on a river island in what is now Penacook, New Hampshire, Hannah with the help of her nurse and a 14 year old boy prisoner, attacked the band of their 12 captors in their sleep with tomahawks, slaying and scalping 10 of them.  They slowly returned home under cover of night, bringing the scalps as proof to collect a bounty for their deeds.  Hannah Duston is believed to be the first woman in America to be honored with a statue, erected in 1861 in Haverill, and another erected in 1874 in Penacook.

After a hearty breakfast and interesting conversation, I found Jeff, the innkeeper, to pay for my stay.  We chatted a little while about my ride, and he mentioned that if (when) I come back he’ll get his bike out and take me through some of his favorite country rides.  I packed the bike slowly in the cool foggy morn, wishing I could stay longer.   I saddled up and headed done the road continuing south on SR100 toward Londonderry.

SR100 continued to be an enjoyable ride, tempting me to explore the countryside, but my objective was to get home to leave me a day of “collection” before getting back to work Tuesday.  I picked up SR11 west at Londonderry to make some time on US7 south. 

Even US7 was a delightfully scenic ride and traffic was moving very well.  I was thinking about how spectacular the forested vista would be when the leaves changed, when I noticed something odd ahead in the distance.  A shaft of gray stone emerging straight up from the forest lay ahead west of the highway.  I was perplexed as to what it could be.  I was quite a distance off, but this monolith conspicuously rising far above the trees looked enormous.  As US7 took me closer, I contemplated taking an exit that looked like it may take me toward the obelisk, but “practicality” pushed me southward to avoid the “distraction” from my trek home. 

US7 put me right into the middle of Bennington where I saw signs for the “Battle Monument”… no idea what battle, but I was guessing that’s my obelisk.  Being this close, I had to see it.   I hung a right onto SR9 and pulled into a station for gas, bio-break, coffee, and to re-assess my route and schedule. 

Following the signs for the battle monument, I rode through a quaint residential area up a hill to the enormous stone spire.  It was quite impressive to approach.  The park grounds were quite small, magnifying the presence of the structure.  I parked the bike a walked to the visitors center.  Tours $2: “Huh, can’t beat that.”  It seems rare to find tourist attactions in that cost-void between “free” and “over-priced”.  The attraction was one of those local oddities that didn’t draw the hordes of tourists like the monuments in DC, making it more pleasant and relaxing.  There were maybe five families milling about.  The victors center was tiny, staffed with elderly cheerful volunteers who enjoyed talking with the youngsters, or at least the well-behaved ones.

I purused the gift shop finding a bottle of late season dark amber maple syrup (a favorite), and was approached by a loquacious fellow who was there with visiting family.  He asked about my bike and my trip, pausing only long enough for me to start to answer before telling me about the bike he used to have, and about how he is afraid of heights so he never goes up into the monument, but that his brother’s (holy terror) kids would get a kick out it.  I got into line to pay for my syrup and tour admission, standing behind that family.  As the curator counted heads for admission, I again heard the fear-of-heights story explaining that he would not be going up.  Eventually getting my wristband for the tour, I walked out to the grounds to drop off my syrup at the bike before perambulating the grounds.

BattleMonument

Battle Monument of Bennington

The monument was to the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bennington.  Like many such monuments, it commemorated a local “turning point” in the war.  But the interesting thing about this monument is its dedication to neighboring New Hampshire militia troops that came in to defend the fledgling Republic of Vermont.  The Brittish, with their victories at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, were set on splitting off New England from the remainder of the American forces.  However, losses in the following battle at Hubbardton left the Redcoats in need of supplies before they could advance to complete their Saratoga Campaign.  Brittish General John Bergoyne sent a mixed dettachment of 700-800 Germans, Canadians, Loyalists, Regulars and Indians to capture the supply depot at Bennington thinking it was defended by only 500 men.  However, the Vermont Republic, after the Brittish victory at Ticonderoga, had called for help from New Hampshire, who pulled together a force of 2000 militia under command of General John Stark to defend Bennington.  In a series of two engagements including the addition of 550 reinforcements by the British and 350 Green Mountain Boys under the command of Seth Warner, the Americans held off the British killing 270 and taking 700 prisoner while only sustaining losses of 30 killed and 40 wounded.  Burgoyne continued his campaign and still in dire need of supplies, and ended up surrendering his total force of 8000 in Stillwater, New York, following the Battle of Saratoga.

I walked the periphery of the small grounds noting the statues and memorials honoring Stark, Warner, and the New Hampshire militiamen.  I walked up to the monument, again ending up behind the little clan from the gift shop, just in time to hear the acrophobic story one more time told to the ranger at the entrance.  I packed into the elevator with the group watching as one particularly “instigating” youngster coerced another into sticking his tongue into a small battery-powered fan.  The elevator operator was a very kindly yet rugged older man who quite obviously had not been a stranger to hard country work in his youth, and had been operating that elevator for quite some time.  He gave snippets of his tourist patter in a relaxed cadance that felt authentic and unhurried. 

Getting to the “top” , that being 2/3 of the way up, the elevator opened to a viewing platform overlooking the countryside of three states though its elongated windows.  It was a nice view nice to see, but quick to take in, and a few minutes later I was back on the ground.  Making one more pit stop before getting on the bike, I saw a flyer for the Bennington Garlic Festival.  “Thats’ cool” I thought.  I love garlic and really would have like to have gone to that…. 

I saddled up again and headed back down Monument Avenue picking up SR 9 west, immediately hitting a traffic back up.  I got a bit anxious as I inched forward.  I had lost time already, and now I was losing more.  But the day was beautiful and I was on the bike in a charming New England town, so I relaxed a bit and settled in for the crawl.  As it neared the Bennington fairgrounds I saw what it was:  The Garlic Festival.  However, being too focused on just getting through the traffic, when I got to the entrance, I flew ahead being the only vehicle not turning left into the event.

I think I made it a half mile before realizing the absolute stupidity of my action.  When I was at the Monument, it didn’t even register that the festival was today, only that “I would have liked to have gone”.  Now here I was on the open road, “living the dream” and riding right past what I was out to discover.  A quick U-turn and I was back in traffic heading back east, but this time eager to make a right turn (literally and figuratively) into the festival grounds.

As I got to the front of the line the cop directing traffic gave me a look that I couldn’t quite tell if it was “Welcome back” or a “I saw you blow by here a minute ago, so keep it down buddy'”.  Either way, I was ushered in and directed to the motorcycle only parking right up front by the gate.  Squeezing my bike in into the line of about a dozen others, I dismounted and headed into the Garlic Festival.

I was pretty stoked by my decision to stop.  Nothing puts local flavor on display like a small town festival.  Funny that it doesn’t seem to work as well for larger communities — but there is a palpable familiarity with a small town festival.  You get a sense that people actually know each other and are there to celebrate something, rather than just shuffling about in small herds as seems to happen in more “Metropolitan” festivals.  Not that Bennington is “small”, but it is just small enough to carry that local feeling. 

The festival was a celebration of that wonderful stinking rose, that ubiquitous aromatic bulb, the bane of vampires, the rustic’s theriac… garlic.  I was immediately inundated with temptation — garlic loaves, garlic scones, garlic oils, garlic sauces, garlic chutneys…. I knew I had limited packing space and no refrigeration — so I knew I had a difficult triage ahead.  I decided to walk the circuit first — then cycle back to make my purchases.  A good strategy despite the fact that I broke my own rule upon reaching the Saxtons River Distillery exhibit.  Marked by a long line, they were giving out free taste samples of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur (or a “proper” taste for a nominal fee). I got in line and watched the expressions of the folks leaving having tried the libation.  There were not a lot of people walking off with bottles, many grimacing from the potency of the potable.  But it was the reaction of two elderly ladies that I latched on:  the shocked facial surprise at the strength of the spirit, and the smiling astoundment at how good it was.  I ordered my “proper taste” and immediately knew I was buying a bottle with its rich sweet maple aroma, a healthy burn, and smooth finish.  For years I had thought maple would make a grand liqueur and was ecstatic to have found it.

I continued to wander the grounds sampling garlic dips, garlic salsas, garlic pretzels, and of course raw garlic.  I ended up with quite a haul to load onto the bike:  my maple liqueur, garlic peanuts, garlic scones, garlic braid, garlic aioli, and a big bag of garlic kettle corn.  Am glad I was a minimalist packer at the start of this trip. 

It was past noon when I left heading west on SR9 with no regrets on the time spent.  I crossed into New York a short while later getting my final state ABC picture for the year.  I continued on a nice ride on SR7 toward Troy, where I decided it was time to start picking up some miles. I hopped on I-787 south to pick up I-90 west to Schenectady, where I picked up I-88 west. Traffic was flowing well and I was making good time.  I hopped off I-88 in Oneonta for gas, red bull, and my “O” city point.  As interstates go, I-88 was not bad; widely snaking with decent scenery.  I  picked up I-81 south near Binghamton which led me back into the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. 

I was due for a break by the first Pennsylvania rest stop where I was surprised and delighted to find the Free Masons providing free refreshments — hot dogs, chips, baked goods, coffee, soda, water…  I’d seen free coffee charity stops before — but not full meals, and at this point, I needed it.  It was getting to be late afternoon and I was faced (again) with the mileage decision:  press on to get home very late, but sleep in my own bed…. or take my time and spend the night in PA.  My next major town (not that that was a requirement) was Scranton.. With the theme song from “The Office” repeating in my head, I decided that would be my stop for the night.

I picked an exit which I believed to be centrally located and pulled into the first convenience store I found for a Red Bull and bar/lodging/event advice.  My first attempt at getting information from a guy waiting in the passenger seat of a filthy beat up sedan turn up bubkes, with the extent of his help being: “There’s nuthin'”.  “Really?” I asked.  “Not a single bar or restaurant in all of Scranton worth setting foot into?”  Such an uninspired, miserable man.  I doubted his ability to enjoy anything, anywhere.  The next guy was far more helpful — rattling off a half dozen places he figured someone looking like me would be interested in.  I got the rough directions to two general areas and headed out.

Finding the first bar was easy, and the guy was right; I liked it.  It was a neighborhood bar with a lot of local flavor, not a lot of class, and very friendly.  The problem was a lack of lodging anywhere nearby.  I ordered a beer and chatted with the barmaid to get refined directions to the downtown bar district with some hotels nearby.  I’m not sure if people really “get” that I seek the little cheap motels on purpose, or if these types of accommodations are just too forgettable by the locals — but I ended up with directions to the downtown Hilton and was on my way. 

Reaching downtown I was surprised to find streets blocked off — Another Festival!  I had ridden right into Scranton’s annual Italian Festival, yet oddly no one I had spoken to thus far had mentioned it.  The Hilton was well located a half block off from the main festivities.  I checked in, unloaded the bike, had the bags sent to the room, and navigated the crowded street to get my bike parked in the Hilton garage. 

I walked across the streetstraight from the garage into the festival, still wearing my leathers (a small tactical error).  While appearance had one child convinced I was some sort of cowboy, I spent the better part of the evening drenched in sweat in the absence of a riding wind. 

The festival was almost completely food vendors selling cheap Italian street fare (pizza slices, calzone, and the like), which was a bit disappointing.  I did manage to find one place serving tortellini that wasn’t horrible.  But what was more surprising was the fact that it was a dry festival… no wine!  I shuffled along with the crowd about the square; seating was at a significant premium so people watching wasn’t even much fun without a perch.  While the locals seemed to enjoy milling about in circles past food stands, I’d take a pass on the Scranton Italian festival. (While still not “metropolitan, it had just crossed into out of the small town festival flavor, and into the aimless milling-about genre.)

I made it a relatively early night stopping off in the deserted lobby bar of my hotel for a night cap, and headed up to my room to find my bags and helmet neatly stacked at the foot of the bed.  Quite a day.  Two festivals (one great and another not so much), a decent ride, a really cool monument, and predictably comfortable accommodations for the night.

LD Ride Day 3: Man I Got Lucky September 5, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Am sitting in a little ice cream shop, drinking coffee and waiting for my breakfast of eggs over easy, home fries, sausage, and toast.  I really didn’t expect to be here, but had the fortune of coming across an outdoor art show this morning here in Ocean Park, Maine and decided to stop.

I got on the road in Biddeford less than an hour ago, a little after 8:00 and headed north on US-1.  It is a strange familiarity, traveling on a distant extent of a highway that runs close to home.  It seems odd that being 6 states removed, that I can give direction to my house in only four roads.

I stopped for gas and coffee in Saco, then got off US1 taking SR9 to the coast.  At 120 feet to the shoreline (on the GPS anyway), the bike reached her closest proximity to the ocean in Camp Ellis.  I continued on SR9 along the coast, happening upon the art show.  Amidst the sea of cars, I parked in the one perfectly placed spot across from the park and found that most of the activity was here at the ice cream shop cum breakfast counter.  My luck continued getting the only available table.  I’m sitting by the window, watching folks walking to the art show, and getting hungrier with the scent of each hot breakfast making its way out of the kitchen destined for a neighboring table….  And here comes mine 🙂

Camp-Ellis

Over looking the Atlantic at Camp Ellis, Maine

_________________________________

Breakfast was good, but otherwise unexceptional.  I sat people-watching as I ate, and noticed a family unpacking their SUV to walk to the beach a couple blocks away.  Being by birth a land-locked South Dakotan, I’ve never really “caught on” to the “beach thing” and the thought that struck me this morning was how encumbered a trip to the beach seems to be.  I watched as the family extricated folding chairs, umbrellas, coolers, towels, blankets, boogie boards, and backpacks out the back of the car like a magician pulling an endless buries of rabbits from his hat.  They loaded themselves up to carry all this stuff  down the street to go sit in the sand.  Doesn’t seem “relaxing” to me.  Even if the beach itself is really wonderfully soothing, at some point they’ll have to carry all that crap back to the car.  I don’t get it.

After breakfast I strolled the art show in the park.  A lot of littoral work: seascapes, shorelines, boats, and gulls… meh.   Not that I was surprised by the ubiquitous maritime motif, but I was hoping for just a little more variety.  There was one artist whose work drew my focus.  He had beautiful photography printed to canvas giving a vague illusion of being a painting without trying to be. I suppose a true aficionado would likely consider it more of a gimmick than art, but I was quite transfixed by the surreal depth of one foggy forest piece for several minutes, and half thought to have it shipped home.

I continued up the coast along SR9 to find where a big touristing strip lay at Old Orchard Beach.  I didn’t know it was there, else I might not have stopped earlier for breakfast.  I was surprised at the number of people in the streets for the relatively early hour.  There lots of hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars all within a close proximity.  It looked like fun place to stay (for future reference, if I decide to give the beach decent try…).

As SR9 turned a sharp corner back toward US-1, I rode through what turns out to be my east-most extent at longitude W70° 20.6750′.  Going back west on SR9, I stopped at a state wildlife management area with a prominent sign to pick up my Maine ABC point.  I continued straight on to pick up a great ride on Broadturn Road to find my new “old friend” US-202, which I took NNE to pick up US-302 heading NW.  As I glided through the sylvan countryside, I thought how much better the ride was shaping up, compared to yesterday afternoon.  It was beautiful.  The weather was sunny.  It was warm to stand still, but pleasantly chilly on the bike in a Henley and vest.

Me-in-MaineApproaching the New Hampshire border in Fryeburg I stopped for coffee and an ABC point (for my “F” city) at the local post office.  An elderly man watching me balance the magazine on the bike and line up on post office sign was convinced that I needed to be in the picture as well and offered to take it.

After crossing into New Hampshire, US-302 proved even more delightful than US-202.  Lots of great sweeps and beautiful scenery.  I hoped off US-302 to pick up SR112 via SR16 outside of Center Conway which took me through White Mountain National Forest.  It was marked as a scenic route in my Harley atlas and most certainly did not disappoint.  Following along the Swift River, the road had that intimacy with the landscape that I really enjoy.  I stopped at a picnic area next to the river to try to capture the beauty of cascading water over the rocky riverbed.  But it seems half of New Hampshire had the same notion to enjoy the area as well that day.  I forewent the picture, holding onto memory of the views from the road as it wound through the forest.  I really should consider a helmet cam one of these days.

White Mountain National Park

White Mountain National Park

Beaver Pond

Beaver Pond

The road headed upward climbing the side of Mount Kancamangus losing a bit of the intimacy but affording some great vistas.  I stopped at a couple scenic overlooks and again at a pleasant picnic area at Beaver Pond a short distance from the Appalachian Trail.  I was not the only rider taking advantage of the beautiful New England weather that day, seeing scores on the road and dozens at the stops.  I continued on to meet back up with US-302 a couple miles ahead of the Vermont border.

After securing my Vermont point in Wells River, I continued toward Monteplier, traveling about 30-odd miles to Barre before a kindly old man in a pickup warned me to not get caught without a helmet!  Whoa! I was so lucky.  I actually passed two cops riding through Vermont with my hair blowing in the wind. One was directing traffic for a funeral (he did stare at me oddly,but didn’t motion for me to pull over or even point like I was missing something) and the other had someone else pulled over.  I mistakenly thought I was helmet-free until New York; I guess I didn’t check Vermont.

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

I immediately crossed the right turn lane to get off the road into the parking lot of Mister Z’s Pizza, where I decided I was hungry and needed to catch up on taking blog notes anyway.  I took a seat at a booth with a window overlooking the bike.  I ordered a small Italian Stallion pizza (meat, meat, and more meat)and a beer, and looked out the window seeing the Barre police pass by… twice.  Man, was I lucky.

I took my time working on finishing the delicious pizza, prioritizing the gooey, cheesy, greasy, meaty center and leaving behind only a pan of pizza-bones.  Looking at my atlas, I was kind of thankful I had forgotten my passport.  Canada would have been barely attainable at the significant expense of an enjoyable pace.  I decided to start heading home.  My only remaining trip objective was to ride SR100, which was supposed to be a great road with a lot of sweeps.  I backtracked a little bit to take SR14 out of town heading south to pick up SR107 west to pick up SR100 between Stockbridge and Pittsfield.  Pretty much the whole ride from Barre was great and SR100 did not disappoint.  Great sweeps on beautiful countryside.  I would very much like to make a return trip to finally see the famed foliage of fall.

I strove to make it to Londonderry, but given the angle of the setting sun and on-coming chill of riding in the cool valleys, I started looking for lodging at Weston.  Catching a store clerk  as he was closing up shop, I learned of a place, the Continental House Inn, a bit further up the road that was supposedly “the only place” around there.  Given yesterday’s bad luck in not having a reservation at Bentley’s in Maine,  I hurried on figuring they’d probably be full, and I’d have some more miles to go before I slept.  The inn was pretty easy to spot, and I was heartened that in addition to its New England rustic charm that their sign proudly said “Motorcycle Friendly”.  I pulled up to see about half a dozen motel rooms, that all looked occupied; the remainder of the building looked more to be a farm house.  I parked the bike and walked up to what kind-of looked like an office, or at least less like a motel room.  The two older folks in they yard didn’t so much as look up as I walked by in full leathers in search of the office.  As I got closer, I realized I was not headed in the right direction when I heard a delicate voice behind me.  “What are you looking for?” the voice asked.  I turned to find an adorable little girl, maybe 6 years old with a very business like demeanor.  I told here I was looking for the office. “That’s not the office,” she said matter-of-factly, “The office is over here,” pointing at the sign that said “Office”.  I sheepishly followed her back past the elderly couple, who again didn’t move or glance. A retriever stood up giving a few of pro forma barks.  The little girl explained that he was friendly and was just doing his part to protect the place.  She then gave me very specific directions on getting through the two doors before me to find the innkeeper.

I was heartily welcomed by the owner, Jeff, and was introduced to his little assistant (his daughter, Alexis) and to his wife, Kim, who was busy baking something wonderful in the kitchen.  I learned that the motel was booked for the night, but that they had rooms available in the inn.  Wondering what the room rate rate of a charming Vermont Inn on a Labor Day holiday weekend would be, but concerned that my options were limited, I immediately said “I’ll take it!” and was delighted to find that the price was only 2/3 the rate I spent at the dump in Biddeford the night before, and included homemade breakfast.  Jeff then gave me a a tour of the inn.  I could not believe how lucky I was to have found the place; simply wonderful.  There was a great common area with TV, couches, games, books, coffee, cookies, fireplace.  It had such a familial feel, like staying in the home of kindly relatives in the country.  I was shown to the dining room and the ice machine, and was led upstairs to a narrow hallway to my room.  It was a tiny New England Farmhouse-appointed room with sloping ceilings matching the pitch of the gabled roof.  The bed was a comfortable queen.  I could not get over how wonderfully charming this place was.  I was right across from the bathroom which was clean, dry, and well decorated — again giving the feeling of staying with relatives, only cleaner and without the feeling of imposition. 

I pulled the Sturgis Pack off the bike and carried it up the creaky steps and down the very narrow, low-ceilinged hallway to my room.  I espyied my silhouette in a mirror at the end of the hall: a shaggy ogre lumbering with my leather-clad girth inches of each wall. Settling into my room, I pulled out the cell phone to tweet my discovery of this wonderful inn, only to find no signal.  I smiled, thinking how delightfully appropriate that was, and pulled out the laptop to find a strong wifi signal.  Smiling again, at how much I loved this place, I settled in to work on the route and the blog for a little while before dinner.  But soon I felt a bit peckish, and I headed down to the common room to ask Jeff about my restaurant options.

I was greeted by my first name, as though by family, reinforcing the sincere hospitality feel of the place.  I learned that for dinner, my best option was back up the road a couple of miles in Weston at a small restaurant called the Bryant House – a part of the Vermont Country Store.  As suggested by the name it was an historic 1827 residence.  Like everything else in the area, the restaurant house was delightfully charming.  I sat in the bar area and read the history chronicled in the menu… about the house, the furniture, and about the bar.  For dinner, I opted to go light, figuring it would be heresy to leave New England without having a lobster roll (also realizing I probably should have had one in Maine; Doh).  I caught up on my trip notes with a glass of Chardonnay waiting for my meal.

I had estimated the size my hunger perfectly, forewent any dessert, and rode back to the inn in the cold dark.  I half-thought to sit for a while in the common area and watch Lawrence Welk, but elected to instead stay up in my room, comfortably snug in bed catching up on emails, tweets, and blogs for a little while before drifting off to sleep.  I left the windows open, and enjoyed the cool Vermont night breeze.  Man, I got lucky today.

LD Ride Day 2: Commute in Camouflage September 4, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rants, Rides.
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Content Warning:  The forte of this posting is heavily (and at times passionately) motivated by traffic; so much so that I created the “Rants” category to apply to this entry.  Despite my moniker, I live, ride, and drive in Maryland, and as such, have some pretty pointed opinions about drivers in my locale.  So, if you are offended by the tone of a mild rant or you feel strongly representative of the automobile operators of the mid-Atlantic on a personal level, you may not wish to read this post.   And, while I am at it…  Any opinions expressed in this posting, or any other on this weblog site, are solely my own, and do not in any way represent NASA or the federal government.

Waking up in the nondescript Danbury hotel room, I lacked the patience for the in-room coffee machine and headed to the lobby for a cup of the “house blend”.  As I stood in the parking lot sampling the morning air, I thought about my business trips to Connecticut many years ago.  Early in my career, I was the battery engineer for a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization spacecraft called the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX).  The battery consisted of nickel-hydrogen battery cells made by Yardney Technical Products in Pawcatuck, CT.  I had taken many trips there during the fabrication and test of those cells, and there is one quality of the locale that very strangely stands out in my memory: Excellent Drivers.  Normally, good traffic is like good children, unnoticeable at best, but the Connecticut drivers were noticeably good.  I wondered if they still were, or if my memory was an illusion.

Back in the room I was getting organized for the ride when realized I didn’t have my passport, so Quebec was now off the list.  I re-planned my route, drank coffee, watched the morning news & weather, and caught up on email & Twitter; despite an early reveille, I was running late (again).   I checked out and packed the bike, but paused for one more cup of coffee and a map check.  Even with the loss of Quebec, I needed some miles today.  I really wanted to be clear of major population centers before the evening rush hour while  still securing the ABC points for RI and MA.   I rode east on US202 until I was able to jump onto I-84.  Admittedly the volume of traffic was a bit less than yesterday morning around Baltimore, but it was noticeably smoother and well-behaved.  Everyone was moving along about 10-15 mph above speed, and there were no erratic speed demons nor oblivious slow-pokes, both of which manage keep Maryland highways bollixed.  But the most impressive thing is that Connecticut drivers understand and adhere to proper lane use

Get this:  They drive in the driving lane, and they pass in the passing lane! 

And most importantly:  They don’t drive in the passing lane. 

If they are in the far left lane, then they are in the act of passing a car in the driving lane.  And when they complete that pass, they return to the driving lane!  I don’t know if it is that the Connecticut driver has some superior ability or training, or because the state posts signs that label the lanes.  Maryland posts signs too, but theirs only say “Slower traffic keep right”, which everyone ignores because no one on the road considers themselves to be “slow”, much less “slow-er” than anyone else.  Traffic piles up in the “fast lane” stuck behind one idiot who is matching speed with the “slow lane” to his right.  But not in Connecticut!  They know how to use the lanes, and traffic hums along. 

The morning ride, despite being on an interstate was actually a joy, with two exceptions.  One was a car pulling a U-haul attempting to “pass” going up-hill without the horsepower.  I figured he wasn’t a local, or wasn’t accustomed to pulling a trailer, or both.  The second was a dark blue Chevy Cobalt.  He started off harmless enough, driving just over the limit in the traffic lane.  I attempted to pass, but he started to accelerate to match my speed:  70 mph, 75 mph, 80 mph.  He stayed in my blind spot just off my right saddle bag, until somewhere over 85 mph I broke free of him and returned to the driving lane.  Putting some distance between us before slowing down, I settled into 70-75 mph thinking that was the end of it.

A short while later I was approaching a slower moving car ahead of me in the driving lane.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I’ll just hop in the passing lane and pass him, because in Connecticut they keep the passing lanes clear for passing.”  Checking to see if the passing lane was clear, I saw a pair of cars coming up at a pretty good clip.  I waited briefly as the first car passed me and the car in front of me, before merging safely back into the traffic lane and pulling away.  The second car that was racing up the passing lane was the dark blue Cobalt, but his maneuver was not as savvy.  As soon as the passing lane in front of him cleared, he decelerated to match the speed of the slower moving car I was trying to pass, blocking off the passing lane.  The plates on the Cobalt?  Maryland.

Traffic piled up behind the rolling roadblock until a truck lane opened on the right.  The slow driver ahead merged into the truck lane, allowing the backlog of traffic to get past the Cobalt who was still clogging the passing lane.  Eventually, I was able to get enough distance and my good mood returned. 

While my druthers would have been to stay on I-84 to keep well west of Boston as I headed north, I needed to pick up Rhode Island for the ABC point.  I left the interstate near Tolland, picking up SR74 east to pick up US44 east.  I worried about losing a passing lane in the process, but was relieved to find that traffic was moving 10-15 mph above speed (despite the short line of traffic following a fully-loaded car-carrier).   US44 was a delight to ride, mostly sylvan with ample shade.  There were small patches of construction, including a one-lane bridge setup I had never seen before: a stop at either end with a sign saying “3 at a time”.  I questioned to myself the feasibility of that system with the more “self-entitled” drivers of my home state who insist on using the shoulder to get those few extra car-lengths when merging into a busy highway or who have not mastered the courteous practice of “alternating right of way”; but here the self-policing system worked just fine. 

I stopped for gas and a Red Bull before crossing into Rhode Island picking up my ABC point.  I got off US44 in Chepachat in an attempt to pick up a very poorly-marked SR98 in the confluence of SR98, SR100, SR101.  Fortunately, my intended route ran through Harrisville, a town that shared the name of a co-worker, making it both memorable and navigable in the absence of a numbered sign. 

I followed SR98 north through wooded roads with virtually no shoulder, keeping an eye open for the Massachusetts border sign, only to be dismayed by the lack of one as I suddenly found myself in Uxbridge.  Rhode Island SR98 had continued as Massachusetts SR98, which terminated unexpectedly at SR146A (with no signs).  My intent was to have gotten on SR146.  I guessed at a direction (correctly) but doubled back to stop at the Li’l Texas Restaurante’ there in Uxbridge.  With two Harleys parked out front I figured this would be a decent lunch option.

Massachusetts lunch?

Massachusetts lunch?

I had a very hot and tasty cup of chili and a beer, while I looked at my maps and listened to the conversation of the biker ladies at the table next to me.  They were talking about the local fairs and organizing upcoming scenic rides with their husbands and friends.  We chatted for a while about where there may be a “Welcome to Massachusetts” sign, and what would be the best way to get around Boston.  It turns out there really isn’t one without backtracking and heading west before cutting north.  I had already figured on a difficult ride, but Phyllis gave me a look like I was delusional when I shared my plan to pick up I-495 to sweep around Boston in a wide arc.  On the map the route looked like a fair margin from the metropolis,and at interstate speed, should take an hour.  Phyllis figured it would be longer, closer to two hours, to Haverhill (pronounced HAY-vril). 

Lady Bikers Carol and Phyllis

Lady Bikers Carol and Phyllis

I found I-495 off of SR18, without much trouble and I made great time going about 3/4 the distance in 45 minutes, riding along quite pleased with myself with my 1-hour estimate.  Traffic wasn’t great by Connecticut standards and was more typical of the Washington-Baltimore area on a good day, until it slowed to a crawl.  Never quite coming to a dead stop, the flow had that parade progression that leaves your left hand in a permanent arthritic claw on the clutch and your right thigh searing over the pipes.  My ride (and my mood) quickly degenerated into a bad commute.

After the 2 hours Phyllis told me it would be, I finally got off at the Haverhill exit to pick up SR97 toward Methuen, MA and into New Hampshire.  Watching carefully for a NH or MA sign as I approached the ubiquitous border-outlets for Lotto and cigarettes.  I saw the sign for Salem, NH and I circled back in and out and in of what should have been the MA border — no sign.  I stopped at a repair shop, to learn that the closest post office would be back in Haverhill, but that my best option would be to enter MA on the interstate.  So I picked up my NH point with the Salem sign and continued along SR97 until picking up I-93 to come back into Massachusetts.

With traffic screaming uncomfortably close, I managed to secure my Massachusetts ABC picture and merge back into the flow.  I took the next exit which had some numberless, meaningless name like “connecting loop”, which I left for SR28 heading northwest back into New Hampshire.  It was now almost 5:00 on the Friday before Labor Day and traffic was really bad and getting worse.  I thought to myself that I was glad that I made notes of enjoying the morning ride, else it would have gotten lost in the memory of metropolitan motor misery of the afternoon. 

SR28 was not a bad road per se, but the traffic was crawling behind a tiny 70’s-style RV swaying side-to-side, top-heavy on weak shocks, as it chugged along.  I couldn’t really blame the guy.  He was clearly just heading out to enjoy the long weekend in his tiny camper, as he probably had for decades.  Maybe with the grandkids.  Maybe to be alone with the New England landscape.  On most any other ride I’d have been fine, backing off and leaving a gap to enjoy the scenery as I cruised along behind; but not this time.  I felt the active frustration of a bad urban commute and had little patience.  I was tired, irritable, and felt I hadn’t gone nearly far enough for the day. 

I kept riding up SR28 picking up SR101 in Manchester, which I took to SR125 north.  Though I hoped for the Maine border for my ABC point by nightfall, the dearth of motels along my route had me thinking I would stop at the first motel near something “interesting”. 

On SR125, traffic started slowing again, but this time I could at least see why as I passed a drag strip whose parking lot was filling up with cars.  I rode by, very tempted to stop.  But I was determined to locate lodging first and then perhaps come back.  I was not about to go to the races all night, then set out in the dark in hopes of finding a bed.  Just past the track I passed a nudist camp, and shortly thereafter a very cool-looking local burger place called Wild Willie’s Hamburgers.  I pulled into the latter to change goggles for the on-coming night and put on an extra shirt for the on-coming chill.  I was hoping for a motel right around the corner, so I could come back for a burger at Wild Willie’s and maybe hit the races.  I continued on.

I rode into Rochester on SR125 approaching what looked to be the center of town, but I saw no motels nor bars nor restaurants of interest.  I took a right onto SR108, and again saw nothing compelling but a Dunkin’ Donuts with a conspicuous group of Harleys out front.  I pulled in, and walked up to a small group of some seriously hardcore-looking bikers.  I asked where I could find a cheap motel that was close to a bar worth going to.  They told me I was… out of luck.  Then they asked where I was headed, and how far I’d be willing to ride.  They gave me directions to a popular biker bar with an attached hotel — a real roadhouse called Bentley’s about an hour’s ride away in Maine on US1. 

It was now almost 7:00 and I decided to press on in search of Bentley’s.  I didn’t bother to check the map before leaving since I didn’t want to waste sunlight and the directions seemed pretty clear — but it wasn’t long before I started second guessing myself and the directions.  I followed SR125 to easily pick up US202 east.  I knew I was supposed to stay on US202 until there was a split, and I was supposed to proceed straight on “111” which would cross over I-95 and intersect with US1.  However, I didn’t know what 111 was… US route, state route, county road?  Nor did I know how far this split was supposed to be.  But I was fine… until I noticed that US202 was also SR11 and started second guessing what I heard.  I got further confused by intersections with SR11A.

It got dark and temperatures were dropping pretty quickly as I rode into the forested night.  Keeping my concentration piqued for deer and moose, I was surprised and awed by the emerging full moon low on the horizon as rounded a bend.  While pleasantly distracting for a while, I became further concerned that I had missed some key 11-something or something-11 turn-off and was headed into the wilderness.  Finally in the glow of a lone liquor store beside the road, I pulled over to check the map a mere 1600 feet from the elusive 111-turnoff.  I took the opportunity of the stop to invest in my evening’s back-up plan:  a 24 oz can of Bud and a bag of Cheetos.

With renewed vigor I took SR111 east toward the next verbal memory challenge, to “take a right” once I “hit” US 1.  I made a snap decision that the lane sign departing SR111 going “To US1 South” did not constitute “hitting US1” and I continued on until I did.  Heading south on US1 I took note of my odometer with each motel I passed.  I guessed that Bentley’s, a biker bar near the coast with an attached motel, would be a popular destination on the Friday of Labor Day weekend .  I was right; they were booked solid.  Fortunately, my predicament was not unfamiliar to them and they had the numbers of the motels I passed on my way at the ready.  I called the closest one and booked a room for the night, and settled in to enjoy the bar. 

At a little after 8pm, my arrival was pretty early by bar standards.  The band had started playing, but they hadn’t started charging cover and there were still a few seats at the bar.  Like many “attraction” biker bars, Bentley’s was a pretty good size.  The main area housed the band at on end and had open-air windows to the parking lot.  The main bar was on the end opposite the band and serviced not only the band crowd on one side, but a large outdoor “beer garden” with picnic tables on the other.  Across the beer garden are a gift shop/office and a grill with a small but appropriate menu of flame-kissed meaty bar fare.

Bentley's

Bentley's

I had a great cheeseburger and a couple of beers as I listened to the band play the standard selection of classic rock and road songs, and watched as the crowd get larger, denser, and rowdier.  While I am sure a night at Bentley’s is a really great time, my solo-riding fatigue level for the day was not a good match for the energy of the bar.  I walked a couple of circuits about the bar finishing my beer, and headed back up the road to Biddeford. 

I checked in at the Biddeford Motel.  It was clean… and red.  It didn’t look bad from the outside.  I’ve stayed at worse, but not for this much scratch: $98 for an uncomfortable, unyeilding, lumpy bed with two small, flat pillows; a selectively staticky TV with a non-functioning remote; no screens on the windows that had to be open to combat the poor ventilation; tiny, scratchy towels; and no soap.  But I was tired, they already had my credit card number from the reservation, and there was wifi.  I unpacked the bike discovering my contingency beer and Cheetos.  I cracked open the tepid beer and thought about the day.  Not a great ride overall… too much Interstate, too much traffic, too much like a commute that lasted all afternoon.  The day’s objective was getting past the urban area, and I accomplished that.  But unfortunately, the good parts of the ride were a bit overshadowed by frustration and fatigue, and the languor of my lodgings weren’t helping.   Tomorrow would be another day.

LD Ride Day 1: “Whiz with” September 3, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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The coast to coast trip (with the Florida loop for the LRO/LCROSS launch) had garnered 35 states:  pretty much everything west and south of me but ND, NE, LA, and MS.  (Why I missed ND and NE, I will never know.) It is funny that in my three years of riding, I have never turned to the northeast.   Feeling “on a roll” for 2009, I took a couple of extra days off to make a 5-day Labor Day weekend to take on New England (and hopefully Quebec).  Today is Day 1.

As is often the case, I got a late start, but made it out of my driveway a bit before 10am.  My loosely formed plan was to head up I-95 toward Rhode Island.  I really don’t enjoy interstate travel and relish urban interstate even less, but just getting to RI in a reasonably direct route kind of forces such a route.  I figured to ride through the populated corridor of Baltimore, Philly, New York, etc ahead of the Labor Day weekend traffic, and then leisurely head inland for ME, NH, VT, QC and head home via central PA when weekend traffic would be higher along the populous concrete ribbon I take today.

I-95 on this post-rush-hour morning was moving pretty quickly.  The traffic was right in that awkward danger zone:  clear enough to get some decent speed, but with just enough traffic to force the speed demons to zig-zag erratically.  The morning was also a bit windy which added a couple of difficulty points to the high-speed idiot avoidance.   Clearing Baltimore, I hit rough diverted roads that are characteristic of interminable construction.

But it was good to be on the road.  Interstate or not, the month of August was spent missing the road I had ridden for the month of July.  As the miles clicked by, I was surprised (despite living in Maryland the last 20-odd years) just how close Philadelphia and New York really are.  My late start worked out well, not only missing Baltimore’s hour, but putting me in proximity of Philly around lunch time.  I decided that having a realPhilly Cheesesteak was in order.

Taking the I-495 by-pass past Wilmington, I pulled off for gas on US-13.  I stood in the parking lot of the Sunoco station memorizing the Philadelphia inset of my atlas as two girls in a beat up sedan met up with a particularly seedy looking character for some seemingly illicit purpose.  As the three of them pulled away, I went into the store and queried the turbin-clad clerk where the “famous cheesesteak place” in Philly would be.  After establishing the fact that I was indeed aware I was not in Philadelphia, I learned that needed to go to South Street — somewhere near 4th and 5th.  I left the store and finished my Red Bull in time to see the girls return, dropping off their seedy passenger who ambled back across the street.  I saddled up, and headed toward Philly. 

I had only been to Philly once before, and then at night when someone else was driving, so I didn’t really have a feel for the navigability of the town.  It turns out to be surprisingly accessible.  From I-95 northbound: Exit 17, up Broad Street, and you are right in the middle of the action.  I hadn’t appreciated just how cool Philadelphia is.  The whole route of Broad street is “city neighborhood”… curious shops, restaurants, and local flavor for block after block.  It was a continuous route of the kind of quirky old-city ambiance that other cities only offer in small niches.  Finding South Street was a snap, and the ambiance became even more ecclectic and more concentrated.  The street was narrow and crowded, but traffic moved reasonably well this mid-Friday and finding a parking spot for the motorcycle was easy. 

I was parked right across from Jim’s Steaks but I was thinking the name of the place I was looking for was Geno’s — and I didn’t see it as I rode in, so I continued on foot a few blocks further and doubled-back as far.  Finally I asked a guy on the street where the “famous Philly Cheesesteak place” was.  “That depends.” he said, “It’s a matter of preference.”  I queried him about Geno’s.  It turns out Geno’s is the place that is popular with the ladies.  It has “all the lights”, and a gold star where Sylvester Stallone stood in the filming of Rocky.  He figured that the girls were the only reason a guy would go there.  But his favorite was Jim’s – which was right across from my bike.  I headed back and Twitpic’d the place before going in.  After spending a few minutes fiddling with my cell phone, I walked in to find myself in line right behind my man-on-the-street cheesesteak advisor, Mark.  It turns out my query made him hungry for a Jim’s Steak. 

Mark - Philly Steak Consultant

Mark - Philly Steak Consultant

We sat down at a table upstairs to enjoy our steaks, and I got the low down on the cheesesteak scene of Philly.  Geno’s, as you may gather, has the reputation, but the best places appear to be Jim’s and Pat’s (which is right across from Geno’s), and there seems to be quite the heated rivalry.  The citizen’s of Philadelphia are quite passionate about their steaks.  Mark indicated that had he been there with his buddies, they’d be actively arguing the Jim versus Pat merits as they ate.  I also learned the proper city-wide protocol for ordering a Philly steak. 

"Whiz-with"

"Whiz-with"

There are two basic options… the cheese (which is classically Cheez Whiz)and the  fried onions.  So the “proper” order is a simple two word phrase denoting your cheese selection (Whiz, American, or whatever) and whether you want onions (with or without).  So mine was “Whiz with” – no other words needed.  Apparently, there is a place that publishes the rules on the ceiling (I think Pat’s) and they request that you go to the back of the line until you can figure that out, in true Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” style.

I had seen surprisingly few bikes on the road on my way up, but as fate would have it, Mark was a biker as well.  Though riding a sportbike today, he had (has?) a Harley police bike that his father received in his retirement from the force.  We talked for a while about bikes, cheesesteaks, and the glitterati that frequent Jim’s (most of which have signed photos decking the walls)

Bidding my new friend good-bye, I headed out.  Heading north on 5th street, finding I-95 north was not too problematic, and I was on my way.  The area northeast of Philly was rather industrial and did not make for a very scenic ride.  While the wind had let up, the road construction got worse and the cagers were fast and erratic, but that improved a bit as I crossed into New Jersey.  Of course, that transition was a bridge with a completely inaccessible ABC sign as I entered the state.

The plan had been to plow through I-95 until Rhode Island , but I encountered a rather disconcerting sign saying: “End I-95”  (What the ___? ) I pulled off at US-206 to check the map.  From that point on, through New York City, the map showed a complete cluster of concrete.  I opted instead to head north on US-206, hoping for a saner, more enjoyable ride and hopefully an easy access to a post office to secure my NJ ABC point.

Heading up US-206 was surprisingly pleasant.  My perception of New Jersey had been heavily based upon the Joe Piscapo Saturday Night Light character and countless movies portraying NJ as a big chemical plant.  So the sylvan sub-suburbia of US-206 between Trenton and Princeton was a pleasant surprise.  Unfortunately, traffic slowed to a crawl behind a semi travelling 10 to 20 mph under speed right after Princeton, and the suburbia kind of lost its quaint ambiance.  I did manage to find a post office for my NJ point.  Eventually I hit I-278 and was actually glad to be back on the interstate to make some time.  The traffic was again fast and erratic, but eventually gave way to a well-behaved flow. 

I loosely figured to stay on I-278 until it crested to the north, then pick up the New State Thruway, but at last minute I opted for the exit prior and I took a break at a Starbucks on US-202.  While enjoying an iced cafe mocha, I noticed that US-202 would take me all the way to Danbury, CT avoiding both interstate and New York City. 

Heading up US-202 proved to be a great choice.  Lots of great sweeps, a fair amount of twisties, smaller towns with a lot of character, and some beautiful scenery both over and through the Hudson River Valley. 

Hudson River Valley

Hudson River Valley

Peekskill was an interesting town to ride through — part “Old Town” and part “distributed community” with the occasional business sited wihout neighbors along the forested route .  I kept thinking something really cool would materialize that would compel me to stop… but oddly it never did. 

As I rode past homes tucked away in the trees, I occasionally caught the smell of charcoal lighter fluid, which became the intermittent scent of hot grills, followed by the sporadic whiffs of burgers, steaks, and BBQ chicken.  I stopped at the Connecticut border for my ABC point and decided Danbury would be my next stop for dinner. 

I found Molly Darcy’s a short while later.  Not a lot of ambiance from the outside, but a comfortable Irish bar on the inside.  I found an open seat at the back bar and reviewed my atlas to plan the rest of the evening’s ride hoping to at lease make some progress across Connecticut before stopping for the night. 

The bartender, Alan, was an Ireland native and a rider.  But his work schedule and kids’ visitation schedule prohibits him from many long rides.  I ordered a shepherd’s pie and Guinness, and we talked about rides and rallies while I waited for dinner. 

The meal was good, but it made me tired.  I originally planned to be in Rhode Island by now.  But I was logy and the bar had wifi, so I called in a reservation at the Comfort Suites I had passed on the way in, ordered another Guinness, and retired to the front patio with my laptop to blog and people-watch. 

Struck with writer’s block, I wrote, erased, drank, wrote, erased… most of the evening until my battery finally died, at which point I went back into the bar to commune with the locals.  I talked with Allen for a while longer, and met up with an interesting couple out on a business/social evening who enjoyed people-watching (with social commentary).  I sat and talked with them observing the bar dynamics until it grew much later than I planned.  Saying my good-byes, I rode back up the street to check into the hotel and get some sleep.