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C2C Day 26: The Final Stretch July 28, 2009

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I arose late from the festivities of the night prior, and again packed up the gear and loaded the motorcycle, but this time I knew was the last for this journey.  Unlike some previous trips, my thoughts at the “last packing” were quite neutral.  It seems most vacations are either “too short” leaving one thinking it is not yet time to be going home, or “too long” inducing a heightened eagerness to get going.  Perhaps it is the nature of being on the road such that the packing and unpacking is more of a daily routine than a milestone, but I felt I had been gone for just long enough:  not too long, not too short — and I was happy to go going home.

I gassed up and continued along US-40 though Wheeling until it met up with I-70E.  I rode into Pennsylvania, stopping in a truck stop for a red bull and Advil, and plotted my course to Indiana County.  I continued east on I-70 crossing my outbound track on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, picking up toll road SR-66 a short while later.  I took SR-66 north to US-22 toward Blairsville to pick up my final county.  Unfortunately, US-22 was one long 35-40 mph construction zone, and the sign for Indiana County completely inaccessible.  I stopped in Blairsville at the local hardware store and asked about the whereabouts of any other Indiana County signs (courthouses, county road maintenance buildings, county offices, anything…) and was told that Indiana, PA would be my best bet.  I blindly started up SR-217 toward Indiana, when it dawned on me that SR-217 southbound must cross the Indiana County line without taking me further off-route; hopefully the sign would be accessible given that the county line is a river. 

Heading south looking over my shoulder at the northbound signs, I found it just at the start of a bridge with the narrowest of shoulders leading up to it.  The road was narrow and had recently been chip-sealed.  Construction trucks (presumably going to and from the morass on US-22) were speeding up and down the narrow road throwing gravel at anyone dumb enough to be parked where I was.  Playing a bit of real-life Frogger, I dodged traffic to get my ABCs pic completing my list of 25 counties from A to Z (there is no “X” county).  I got back on the bike, managed a U-turn, and continued south on SR-217 as the sky started to look threatening. 

I pulled over in the parking lot of a closed restaurant with a “Welcome Bikers” sign out front and adjusted my gear a bit in preparation for rain.  Snapping one end-of-journey self portrait in my mirror before stowing the camera in a sandwich bag, I saddled up and rode south to US-30, the Lincoln Highway.  The Lincoln Highway was the first coast to coast highway running from New York to San Francisco.  US-30 subsumed the Lincoln Highway running from Atlantic City to Astoria, Oregon keeping the nickname. 

selfmirror

Looking a bit scruffy...

I have traveled many Pennsylvania sections of US-30 in the past, and have really enjoyed the scenery and small towns it offers.  Unfortunately, US-30 consists for very long lengths of “no passing” zones which can destroy an otherwise great ride when there is traffic.  But today on a mid-day Monday, the road was reasonably clear (at least from SR-217 to Breezewood) and the ride was enjoyable. 

Somewhere near Stoystown the sky was really looking ugly and the air had that feeling of oncoming rain.  I pulled over to don the raingear, questioning myself as I was doing so, as the sun started coming out again.  I figured I’d be better off with it, and the forecast was calling for storms, so I kept gearing up.  Getting back on the road, within an eighth of a mile, I hit, not rain, but wet, very wet roads like they had just been deluged by a storm.  I was glad to have the rain pants on as my legs and the bike became saturated with road spray.  Then within a few miles… dry roads again. 

I had been really lucky on this trip with weather, hitting only two patches of rain worth mentioning (outbound PA and leaving Yellowstone) and this is despite so many forecasts for storms on my route.  I had managed to be a fraction of a day ahead or behind avoiding the weather an unbelievable number of times:

  • en route to Sturgis, threading the needle between two storms; 
  • the day after leaving SD, tornadoes and storms hit behind me;
  • in the desert of eastern Kern County, CA there were storms, hail, and 62 mph gusts within miles from where I was recovering from heat stroke.
  • the day after leaving Vegas, torrential rain and mudslides hit behind me;
  • in the happenstance of an early stop for laundry in Kanab, thunderstorms deluged the area while I was safely in the hotel blogging and folding laundry;
  • the day prior to my arrival in Amarillo the temperatures were in the 100’s; when I arrived it was 76°
  • about to cross into Illinois, T-storms and hail passed quicker than forecast letting me skirt the northwest edge of the southeast-bound storm.

I was making good time and stopped about 150 miles from home in mid afternoon at a little diner at Reels Corners where SR-160 intersects with US-30.   After a ribeye sandwich and iced tea, I headed outside and chatted with a couple from Seattle who were out on their Road King.  They flew in and bought the Road King to ride while there, and will sell it when they leave.  Not a bad plan given the cost of renting.  I talked with the gentleman, Skip, for a while.  Skip had recently retired from civil service working with the Navy.  He also happens to be an avid space enthusiast.  He was actually down in Cocoa Beach for the scrubbed shuttle launches at the same time I was there for the LRO/LCROSS launch .  Unfortunately, he didn’t know that LRO/LCROSS was going on June 18th, and he has flown home right after the shuttle scrub on the 17th.  He was sincerely disappointed at missing the Atlas V launch of LRO/LCROSS.  As consolation of his misfortune, I gave him an LRO/LCROSS mission pin which really seemed to make his day.  We talked a while longer about adversity on rides, and how that is where all the good stories come from.  We said our goodbyes and he went into the restaurant to join his wife, with his new pin already on his biker vest.

The rest of the ride was pretty routine.  The weather had grown quite hot and humid, and I started questioning my logic of wearing my raingear.  Even if I were to hit a downpour, I’d be home in a few hours with a shower and fresh clothes anyway.  I pulled over and stowed the gear and continued on to Breezewood, PA, the quintessential rest stop.  From what I have seen of Breezewood, the entire town’s economy is based upon travelers needing gas, food, and lodging.  About 130 miles from home, it is a good fuel-topping point in either direction.  From there — a nearly normal interstate ride home, except for a crash about halfway causing a 2 mile backup (was really glad I ditched the raingear as I melted over my hot pipes).

Arriving home is a little jarring in a low-key kind of way.  I had spent really more than a month on the road, home for only 4 days between the Florida trip and the California trip, and totally disconnected from work for the latter.  In that time I pretty much lived in a microcosm of the trip not thinking about my to-do lists and normal responsibilities.  Arriving in my driveway there was a feeling of:  “Huh.  It’s over.  Now what?” 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the grass was not as overgrown in the last three weeks as it was when I returned from the Florida ride in June.  The pile of mail is intimidating, and I don’t even want to think about what is in my work email  inbox.  I have budgeted a week to transition back to real-life, and will likely take every minute to do so.

Wait, wait.  There’s more.  Still coming….  The Wrap Up

Nothin’ Could be Fine-ah June 7, 2009

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Than to be in Carolina in …     Ribeyes Steakhouse

LRO and LCROSS are all set to launch out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on June 17th, and I am heading to Florida for the Flight Readiness Review on the 10th.  Instead of flying down, I took the opportunity to ride the Harley.  I broke the trip into three legs – the first stop in Lillington, NC.

Am sitting in Ribeyes Steakhouse, the same wonderful establishment from my Columbus Day ride.  I love this place.  The salad bar is a carnivores dream (or at least my ideal)  — it’s small but with everything I could want.  My “salad”: lettuce, shredded cheese, ham, real bacon, hard-boiled eggs, onions, sunflower seeds, croutons, french fried onions, and the creamiest ranch dressing.  Oh yeah!

Having had a significant stomach issues following a 32-oz cowboy cut ribeye a few weeks ago, I chose to me a little more parsimonious in my selection this time.  I debated between the 14 and 16 ounce, and finally went for the 16.  ‘Cept after telling the story of my Columbus Day ride (340-odd miles for a Ribeye’s ribeye) to the barmaid, and the guy at the end of the bar saying “Yeah – I remember that!”,  the chef upgraded me to an 18 ouncer….  I regret to inform you that I am kind of wimping out with half the slab of Pittsburgh-charred cow flesh still sitting there as I very unrealistically hope to get a second wind….

The ride down was generally pretty good.  Excellent weather: warm with sun, very little wind.  Shade was a bit chilly with a jacket, but completely tolerable.  I got on the road much, much later than I had hoped and was a little concerned about making it to Lillington by nightfall.  I pretty much stuck to I-95 hoping for a fast ride but ended up hitting major backups just south of DC and some slow-downs near Richmond, VA.  Looking at my unfinished steak I realize my stop south of Richmond at Hardee’s was a huge mistake.

I hopped off I-95 about 8 miles ahead of the North Carolina boarder onto US-301 to pick up my ABCs-09 picture at the same conveniently-placed North Carolina sign I used in 2008.  As a bonus I picked up my “N” and “G” counties in the same stop.

A few miles down the road I saw a biker waving his arms as he sat in the shade of a roadside tree.  I did a quick U-turn to see if he needed help.  He had stopped for a quick “bio-break” and found his bike unable to start.  Unfortunately, I was at a loss as to how to help.  I offered my cell phone but he already had one.  I hung with him for a while until he got a line on a towing service.  Despite my inability to provide much more than moral support, he thanked me profusely for my willingness to stop to try to help.  With tow truck en route, I got back on the road.

I hopped back onto I-95, near Weston, NC pleased to find beautifully new smooth asphalt with little traffic.  I raced down the interstate making excellent time as my shadow grew longer and longer to my left. 

Reaching Benson, I turned off onto the road to Lillington.  I was thinking the place looked quite pleasant, but smelled of a familiar stink I couldn’t quite remember.  What was it?  Oh, yeah — a chicken coop.  Hmmm, must be a poultry farm nearby… Nope.  It was a semi stacked 8 layers high with live chickens.  The two cars in front of me turned off leaving me following directly behind the cluck-truck  Now, I have followed garbage trucks on my commute into DC many times before, and have to say that the foul stench if a DC sanitation vehicle is truly rivaled by the fowl stench of a poultry wagon.  A few times I saw “something” leaking from the side of the truck.  “Gross!” I thought.  But that was topped by the sight of chickens projectile crapping, literally shooting excrement from their cages.  I tried to back off but was caught in the wake of chicken shit and feathers for several miles until the truck turned off.

Shortly thereafter I was in Lillington.  I pulled into the Mictotel lot, unpacked the bike, and checked in.  I dug thorough my poorly packed luggage to find a clean shirt, cleaned the chicken shit off my jeans, and walked over to Ribeyes….

First MegaTweet April 1, 2009

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As anyone who has ever blogged would say (and a lesson I learned years ago on another attempt at authoring an antiquated web page) — keeping fresh content takes work.  A lot of work.  Providing polished, fresh content even more so.

Four weeks after my “first nice weekend ride” to Harpers Ferry, and I still have but a draft, and a partial one at that.  Not good.  I’ve watched my numbers rise with the Dragons Tail, seriously spike with the Witicisms, and (justifiably) decline in the absence of an update. 

So — how to fill the gaps? 

When I started this blog I toyed with the idea of the occassional “MegaTweet” — for when 140 characters just ain’t enough.  Not just filler (which is worse than nothing) – but a more spontaneous, raw, realtime blog akin to Twitter, but unfettered by character restrictions.  And,  if I really plan to roadblog (which I do), I will not have eight hours of time to edit an 8 hour ride story.  But the MegaTweet would not be a replacement of ride stories, rather an addition, an augmentation.  Like the weekday comics between the big colorful Sunday Funny Papers…

But I certainly don’t want to lose theme either…  You are most likely reading this because you are interested in the an inside look at what a “typical” NASA person may do or you share the passion for riding, or… maybe… both!  So let’s give it a try…

Been an interesting day today.  LRO and LCROSS are both at the launch processing site getting ready for there joint launch to the moon.  I flew down this morning to attend a Launch Vehicle Ground Operations Readiness Review and Launch Vehicle Readiness Review tomorrow.   I completed a review of an LRO requirements assessment on the flight, and upon landing, I was pleased to be running ahead of schedule and managed to call into the weekly telecon for the Lunar Mapping & Modeling Project (LMMP).  The LMMP team is preparing for their Formulation Review next week which has had several of us putting in some extra time the last few days to get ready. 

After the telecon, I drove the rental east toward the coast.  Arriving at the facility where LRO and LCROSS are being prepped for launch.  It is the first time I had been there since LRO and LCROSS arrived.  Things are very busy in the launch manifest at the moment, so LCROSS had to set up their offices in a double-wide trailer for lack of more conventional office space.   Seeing the big “Got Water?” banner of the side of the trailer as I drove into the facility told me I found where I was headed. 

After getting badged for the facility, I headed over to the trailer, lucky enough to have just made it just in time for the LCROSS Plugs-Out test that demonstrates that LCROSS can operate all by itself  (like in its mission) without a bunch of test support equipment attached to it.

I met up with some of the lead engineers and they took me on a little tour of LCROSS in its new home.   Since LCROSS is being processed in a cleanroom, we had to gown up in “bunny suits” (clean jumpsuits)  to prevent from carrying particulate into the processing area. 
After a great walkthrough and test briefing, the team got to work with the test.  Having been a spacecraft power systems engineer earlier in my career, I knew the best place for a Headquarters observer during a critical test was “anywhere else” out of the way.  So for once I had the means of controlling at least one observer (me), and I left the team to conduct the test.  I headed back to the “doublewide” office only to realize I hadn’t been given the keycode to get back in.

I headed over to the LRO banner hung outside the “real” office facilities and met up with some of the LRO guys, and arranged to get a tour of their setup.  Back into a bunny suit…

I got to see LRO up-close.  The spacecraft was in the middle of a 5-day long mission simulation to prep the ops team for the journey from the earth to the moon.  I was also afforded the opportunity to see the Atlas fairing (the top of the rocket that encloses LRO and LCROSS during launch).  Very impressive.  The fairing has the mission graphic of LRO hand painted on the side, with smaller decals of the LCROSS graphic and the NASA emblem.   Being that close to the fairing halves really puts the enormity the launch into perspective.

After the LRO walkthrough, I managed to get the LCROSS office keycode and settled into catching up with the dozens (and dozens) of emails that had accumulated during the day…

About 5:00 a thunderstorm came rolling in — with tornado warnings, and here’s the LCROSS team, assigned to a doublewide (i.e. tornado magnet in midwestern parlance).  Figuring I’d hear an alarm if things got worse — I hunkered down and plowed through the emails — notices of meetings, out-briefs of meetings, reporting actions, strategic planning, review packages…

Finally the storm started to let up and I finally headed off the hotel.  After another dozen emails and five late telecons to coordinate launch planning, and I decided to go off the clock and blog a little….