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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

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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.