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

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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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. 


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.