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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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.

C2C Ride: Some numbers July 31, 2009

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Trip wrap-up is still in the works… but here are a few numbers for those of you who like such things…

Between the two loops I had travelled 10,553 miles bringing my odometer to 44,531. 

3200 miles was to attend the LRO/LCROSS launch, but a breakdown in Florida forced a ride extension to make a meeting in Huntsville, AL that I could no longer fly to.  The Florida loop marks my southern-most excursion on the bike in Sebastian, Florida at a latitude of N27 °49.1491′. 

7,353 miles was the loop to California.  This loop marks my northern-most point in Boardman, Oregon at latitude N45° 50.4500′ and my farthest west point in Wolf Creek, Oregon at longitude W123° 23.6230′.

tripmap

I was on the road a total of 47 days: 21 on the Florida loop (much of which working LRO/LCROSS while in Florida), and 26 days on the California loop (including a short-week family reunion in wine country).  I had a total of 4 days at home between the two trips, so while my C2C Blog day count is only for the California vacation portion, I tend to count both loops as I single trip for totals.

During the combined trip I was in 2 countries, 35 states, and 1 province. and traveled the coasts of 2 oceans.  I accumlated 62 ABC points (14 on the FL loop, 48 on the CA loop) bring my current 2009 total to 90 points (which gets all the free stuff but a big margin, but is no where close to winning the awards for the top 3 + 10 runners up). 

I had 2 breakdowns significant enough to warrant a trailer (both on the Florida loop), and made a total of 5 service stops including:

  • 35,000 mile service (FL)
  • Fuel pump replacement (FL #2)
  • Battery replacement (AL)
  • Taillight terminal board replacement (SD)
  • Tire replacement (SD)
  • 38,000 mile (interim optional) service  (SD)
  • 40,000 service including fork oil replacement (CA)
  • Jiffystand realignment (CA)
  • Fuel check valve replacement (CA)

And am now due for 45,000 service shortly.

I stayed in 26 hotels/motels/resorts, 1 campground, and 2 homes of relatives for 30 different waking up locations over 51 days (including home). 

I won a total of $191 dollars and three $15 dollar bar tabs in four sessions of gambling, and had my room comp’d in Vegas.

I had three (official) interactions with three law enforcement officers resulting in one warning for speeding, one verbal notice of my taillight being out, and one citation for speeding. 

I experienced two bouts of heat exhaustion (curiously coincident with the speeding violations), and saw the highest temperature in which I had ridden, 115°F. 

I had four paid admissions to National Parks and Monuments, and countless free-access rides to many more National forest, preserve, nature, and historical areas. 

I traveled by motorcycle, ferry, train (the Wine Train), and bus (when the Wine Train broke down).  I went to four museums. 

I ate 5 ribeyes, and an embarrassing amount of fast food.  I discovered a penchant for Red Bull.

I only lost one shirt, and bought 6.  I shipped to myself a total of 4 times (twice on the Florida loop to accommodate the volume of work-related luggage, and twice on the CA loop to unfetter myself of purchases and unused camping gear). 

Cost?  I probably won’t even try to figure out how much I spent.

Up next… the Wrap Up.

C2C Day 25: The Big Lebowski? July 26, 2009

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Having found the spirit of the ride again, I left Brazil on I-70 only to avoid backtracking to get back to US-40, but soon hopped off to rejoin the National Highway.  US-40 was the first highway build with federal funds, authorized by Congress in 1806 in the Jefferson administration.  US-40 runs locally through Maryland, and I had traveled it in the more mundane sense quite a lot, but out here in Indiana, it was an old friend offering portions of country scenery interspersed with small towns tempting me to stop to just look around. 

While taking US-40 though cities was bound to be interesting (I had through Terre Haute and several times in Baltimore), and I had recaptured my philosophy of taking my time a bit more, I knew that mid-day city riding was going to slow me down just a bit to much to justify “sight-seeing” alone.  So as I approached Indianapolis I hopped by on I-70, and rejoined US-40 in Greenfield.

xenia-nemesisCrossing into Ohio, I left US-40 for US-35 toward my next prime objective of the return trip: Xenia, OH.  Apparently Xenia is primarily known for being obliterated by a tornado in 1974 during a super-outburst that spawned 148 tornadoes in the Midwest in a 24 hour period.  But to HOG members, Xenia is the holy grail ABCs of Touring: the “X” point.  Entering from the east of town, I found a much larger, newer community, than when I made the quick in-an-out from the south last October (though I must say, the older parts had more character).  Collecting my point, I rode on up US-42 to rejoin I-70.  I was now within my “normal weekend riding range” of home, and was now ok with being on the interstate.

I rode along wondering where to stop next.  Had I no other destination but home, I could have stopped anywhere after Xenia and been home the next day with a reasonably easy ride, but I still needed one more county: Indiana, PA.  “I” counties are very infrequent, and it was all I had left on my county list (after riding through TWO of them without a picture in Michigan).  I wanted tomorrow’s ride to be nice, easy, and early to facilitate my transition back to “real life”, plus the expectation of east coast thunderstorms gave me an impetus to reduce the last day’s miles.

As I rode down I-70, I almost stopped in Zanesville, almost in Cambridge, and almost in St. Clair, but pressed on toward Wheeling, WV.  Getting off I-70 and back onto US-40 just after crossing the Ohio River, I rode through some older, eclectic parts of Wheeling.  Having plowed though on I-70 several times before, I made a mental note to come back to explore it more fully. 

I didn’t really take the “proper> amount of time to check out my possibilities and pulled into the Hampton Inn upon seeing it – but it turned out very well.  The hotel was in the middle of renovations, and my room was very nice and reasonably priced for what it was.  Right across the road were a couple of bars and restaurants allowing me to leave the bike parked in covered parking and proceed on foot. 

Armed with my laptop, I went to The 19th Hole, which the hotel clerk recommended as one of the more “interesting” bars in the area.  As you would have to know by now, my objectives for food and drink on travel are to experience the local flavor.  The watering holes where the locals come to have fun in their own local way are what I seek… and this place hit the jackpot for people watching and random conversation.   And being only a short walk from the hotel afforded me a longer evening than I typically have. 

I started out talking with a Safety Inspector, Kelly, who was a veritable atlas of the 5-state region giving me more route advice than I can remember.  I spoke briefly with Tom the fire fighter a bit about the my ride and about the Wheeling bar scene.  There was a small group of women out to drown a “bad day” compiling a list of pickup lines on a legal pad from the remainder of bar.  One of the “bad day” group was there with her boyfriend, who uncannily had both the looks and personality of Diedrich Bader. The activity in the bar moved around in waves as the night grew on with a focus forming about the more hearty revelers from the “bad day” group.  I spent quite a bit of time talking with a guy and girl from the restaurant across the street.  She had just moved back home from Florida as the economy drove her rent up and her tips down.  He was a former cocaine dealer who recently spent five years in prison.  You’d not know it to talk to him; he had a really great demeanor, enjoying everything that was happening around him.  “Good stuff” was quickly becoming his catch phrase in response to all the chaos, drama, and absurdity unfolding in the bar. 

I was reminded of my Chincoteague ride, stopping in a local pub on St. Paddy’s day when four bar fights broke out.  Though there were no bar fights this night (almost one at the pool table), it was one of the more raucous evenings of the trip.  I had a lot of conversations with a lot of interesting people, and was told three times by three separate groups that I looked like The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski — I guess being on a Harley for a month can have that effect on a person.

C2C Day 21 to 24: Devil’s Highway to Brazil July 25, 2009

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I woke very early in Mexican Hat and packed the bike at around 4:30.  The night sky was spectacular.  I realized it was really the first totally cloudless, lightless night that I had seen on the trip.  Venus was again shining brightly, but the moon had since revolved around to align itself with the sun causing the solar eclipse that was in the news.  The ebon night was was lit only by the light of billions of stars.  The milky way was showing clearly as a streak of luminescence in the sky.  It was beautiful.

With the bike packed, I silently rolled the Harley down the hill away from the rooms to the front of the motel so as not to wake the other guests at this early hour.  Starting up, I rode the short stretch through Mexican Hat and out of town on US-163 heading north.  The predawn glow was in the east creating an incredible silhouette of mesas and rock formations.  To my right I could just see the outline of the town’s namesake, Mexican Hat Rock as the glow emanated from between two ridges.  I rode on, my eyes beginning to make out features in the dim predawn light, the landscape taking on an eerie character.  Though amazed at my environs, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a niggling thought that I was forgetting something…  My mind was going thought my inventory as I passed the Valley of the Gods, an area that may lack the scale of Monument Valley but made up for it with character and proximity.  I continued to ride until 12 miles out of town I realized that my room key was still in my pocket, and it was not one of those cheap plastic cards, but a real key on an imprinted brass fob. Turning around, I rode back to town, dropped off the key, and headed back out again, affording two more viewings of Mexican Hat Rock and the Valley as the glow of the emergent sun increased. 

mexhat-rock

Soon after, the sun began to emerge and I was picking up US-191 south heading back into Arizona.  I headed east on US-160, stopping at the Red Mesa trading post west of Teec Nos Pos on the Navajo Reservation for coffee and breakfast.  It was quite active for the early morning.  An older couple sat drinking coffee speaking (presumably) Navajo, I language I’d not heard before.  I contemplated the evolution of language and how the language itself mirrors the culture from which it came, and wondered if and how their language has adapted to contemporary times. 

fourcornersI gassed up and continued east on US-160 as it nipped the corner of New Mexico and entered the corner of Colorado.  Getting my ABCs pic for CO, I backtracked to go to Four Corners: the point where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all converge to a single point memorialized by a small monumental platform.  I suppose it was worth the price of admission, but seemed a bit sparse.  Then again, just how much can one do for a point on the ground?  While there I met up with two bikers from Wisconsin (the only other patrons of the monument) who where heading to the Grand Canyon.  We talked about our rides, sights in Wisconsin, and our experiences of the ferries between Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Backtracking on US-160 took me to US-64 which I rode into Shiprock, New Mexico.  The movie Natural Born Killers mentions Shiprock, when Robert Downy junior’s character, pulp news sensationalist, Wayne Gale, lists off the towns on the infamous Highway 666.  When I was at my cousin’s place in Oregon, she pointed it out to me on her atlas and said that I had to get a picture of the bike with a US-666 sign.  Well, it turns out that her atlas predates the renaming of US-666 to US-491.  Despite an innocent enough origin of naming (it is apparently the 6th spur off of the former Route 66 according to Wikipedia), It turns out that the reputation of the Devil’s Highway drew a lot of sign thieves and risk takers resulting in a lot of thefts and traffic fatalities, so Arizona petitioned to have the name changed, which happened in 2003.

Regardless of the potential cool-factor of the road, my DeLorme mapping software chose US-491 to I-44 in Gallop, NM as my “quickest” route home, so I set off down another piece of Americana.  This turned out to be a significant error.  My mistake was not so much the road as not looking at my hardcopy atlas.  US-491 is one of the most boringly straight roads I could have chosen.  Passing uneventfully from Shiprock to Gallop, I was amazed that any “risk taker” could find a way to hurt himself on this road, shy of rear-ending someone at 150 mph.  What’s worse, there were no US-666 signs… not “Old 666″… not “Historic 666″‘  So pretty much a let down on all fronts. 

My alternative (had I looked at my map sooner) was to take US-64 on what appeared to be a delightfully twisty route Taos, NM.  Instead, I had monotony leading to more monotony in the form of I-40.

In Gallop, I gassed up and met another group of bikers coming home from riding in Alaska: a very diverse group of quite talkative personalities from Louisiana.  We left at the same time; I ended up riding in their group for a few tens of miles until they pulled off (presumably for a more interesting ride).  I continued on I-40 with my objective being Albuquerque, NM for my day’s stop. 

I had left Mexican Hat early with the idea of beating the heat.  The “problem” today was that the heat never materialized.  So rather than stop, I pressed on riding 660 miles that day to Amarillo, Texas (all interstate from Gallop on). 

I pulled into Amarillo in the early evening and stopped at the Harley dealership on the west end of town to buy a shirt and find out where the best/nearest biker bars were.  I got a strong recommendation for a little roadside restaurant called Smokey Joe’s on Historic Route 66 – so I headed there.  Pulling into the motorcycle parking right out front, I found a table on the patio right behind my bike and ordered a beer.  A biker at a nearby table, Sheldon, asked me about my trip which started us talking…

sheldon-and-randyWe talked about rides and collecting states.  (Sheldon claimed to have all 48 except Virginia.  I had to remind him that that would be “47”…)  His friend Randy showed up and I got the scoop on the various famous, infamous, and eccentric personalities of Amarillo. I got the in’s and out’s of all the oil money families in the area.  I was having a great time, but having done so many miles for so long that day… I had to retire early.

I got the the hotel exhausted.  It was the first time on the trip that my backside actually got sore  (the most common question when telling non-riders about my trip) and my back was aching. 

The next morning I was up not too early, packed the bike and hit the I-40 interstate again, to Oklahoma City picking up I-44 toward Tulsa.  It was another boring “ride for miles”, without the advantage of an early start, and today there was heat.  By late afternoon going through Tulsa, I was fortunate enough to perceive that I would soon be headed for another bout of heat exhaustion.  To avoid it, I pulled over at a truck stop with wifi northeast of town and hung out for an hour in the AC drinking lots of water and Gatorade and planning my route.

I figured to press due east on US 421 toward Arkansas, and would stop for the night at the first interesting motel I would find.  Getting back on the road I immediately made a wrong turn losing 421.  Even though I wasn’t much further than the truck stop, that little error broke my momentum and I stopped at a convenience store near the Hard Rock Casino for lodging and entertainment advice.  An amicable local whose name escapes me recommended a couple of local bars near “a local motel”, and he went to far as to lead me there on his way home.  Unfortunately the “local motel ” was an over-priced Holiday Inn Express.  I almost headed back on 421 but  had lost a lot of time and instead checked in. I debated whether to go the the Redneck Bar next door (not a slur… that’s the name of the place) or to go over to the casino to parlay my meager Vegas winnings into something worth writing home about.  In the end I did neither…  I was again very “tired” and called it an early night.

The next morning was the same…  Pack the bike and head out.  This time not on the interstate right away, but on a mission nonetheless.  I headed east on US-421 to pick up Arkansas, then I cut back into Oklahoma heading north to pick up Kansas. I was then back on the interstate plowing across Missouri with an objective of making St. Louis.  Making it only to Sullivan before I had to crash, I was quickly realizing I was no longer having any fun.

I was plowing through miles, not seeing the country, not having adventures… totally defeating the reasons for the trip.  Like a losing gambler reaching for his ATM card, I foolishly went “looking for adventure” in Sullivan — which of course never works out.  I retired to my room tired and disappointed and wondering what happened to the ride.

The next morning, with another late start… and a lot of soul searching… and a conscious decision to GET OFF THE INTERSTATE and STOP RIDING FOR MILES, I set out.  I rode up I-44 but got off on US-40 a short while later.  It was an immediate relief,  until I looked over and saw that I was paralleling I-44, seeing the same scenery along the same route… just making worse time.  I was half-thinking about chucking the whole thing and hitting the interstate again to at least get the miles… until I hit Vandalia finding…

vandalia-dragon

Now THIS you don’t see on the interstate.  The big silver dragon in the middle of rural Illinois was exactly what I needed to see.  I was immediately taken back to the campsite in southeast Minnesota, hearing a young flautist slowly piping Puff the Magic Dragon.  I vowed to stay off the interstate until I was within my “normal” weekend riding range of home.

I continued on up US-40, “National Highway” riding through non-extraordinary countryside, fields, pastures, rolling hills, and trees.  Though one may consider it drab compared to the hills of western Wyoming, the mountains of Yellowstone, the coast of the Pacific, the mesas the Southwest…  this was real heartland Americana and so wonderful to just cruise.  The small towns, each with their own character and pride passed slowly by.  Adhering to the speed limits was somehow not problematic.  I didn’t make great distances that day… but that was completely ok, and I found the peace I had lost in the three days prior. 

I decided to finish the day relatively early as I passed into Brazil, Indiana.  Stopping at the Casey’s convenience store I was given lodging and entertainment advice by the clerk who quite obviously hated living in the town.  (Lesson learned:  Don’t blindly follow such advice.  Talk to someone who at least likes living there.)  She had steered me to the Howard Johnson’s, which was much farther on the outskirts of town than I hoped.  Checking in, I thought this motel which could not possibly have been much worse than the Brazil Motel I had been dissuaded from.  But it all worked out well…

On my way to the Ho-Jo’s, I passed the fairgrounds and saw that there was a demolition derby starting in about an hour.  After checked in, unpacked, and stopping my a convenience store, I arrived right in time for the National Anthem.  There is something about a small town’s solemn respect for the Anthem that you generally don’t see a lot of more populated areas.  The stands of people were completely giving it their full attention.  Latecomers were stopped in attention right where they were upon hearing the music being sung passionately by a local woman.  Her unpolished performance was met with a sincere roar of applause, and the festivities began.

The stands were packed.  I’d estimate 700 to 1000 people were there, across all generations from infants to infirmed.  The drivers had come from about half the state.  The arena was a small patch of mud surrounded by concrete blocks with the spectators a mere 16-20 feet away.  While I do have a very vague recollection of having seen a demolition derby once as a child in South Dakota, for all intensive purposes, this was my first one. 

The field of 28 main competitors was broken into three heats (8, 10, and 10 cars).  They pulled into the pit, parked on the ends facing outward, half on each end.  Upon the waving of the green flag, engines roared and mud flew and the two lines of cars raced backwards at each other.  The the revs of engines and the crashes of twisting metal filled the air as the competitors smashed into each other until, one by one, each vehicle was either disabled or so wedged into the wreckage of someone else that they couldn’t move.  As each car was debilitated,  its driver waited patiently amidst the chaos waiting for the heat to end, as the other cars performed an amazingly coarse ballet of destruction about them, carefully avoiding the eliminated competitor.  There were no roll bars, harnesses, or nomex suits – just a helmet, eye protection, and seat belt (shoulder optional).  The heat would end when two drivers remained to go onto the main event.

demo-consol-pan

At the end of each heat, tractors and backhoes would extricate the wreckage, and the audience made a dash for the concessions stand for warm aluminum-foiled pre-made burgers, nachos with that viscous, orange cheese-like sauce with the skin-forming, or that great super-oily/salty popcorn you only find at a fair.

They ran three heats of cars, one of trucks, two consolation heats for the losers who could get their cars running again to have a shot at the main,  one for compact cars, and then finally the main event.  I had a great time.  There is a reason accident rubber-necking slows a morning commute, because the amount of damage two vehicles can do to one another can be quite fascinating. 

demoderby

 As the evening progressed, it cooled off under clear black skies.  I large lightening storm was presenting a great show over the flat open land safely south of town.  I rode back to the motel eerily vacant with only about a half dozen cars in the lot.  My room was in the most desolate location on the far side of the outer building looking south across a field.  Not a single car was back there, but there was one sole light in the room above me that went out as I pulled up, leaving a Bates Motel aura as I went to turn in.

I went to bed feeling a “good tired”.  Three days ago I took a turn onto the Devil’s Highway and lost the ride, but today I found it again, and in doing so adventure once again found me.