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

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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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.


Coast to Coast Day 1: Oh Canada! July 2, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in MegaTweet, Rides.
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A pretty uneventful ride so far.  Made it from Maryland through the SW corner of Pennsylvania into Ohio following I-76 and I-80 west.   It kind of galled me to ride the exact same Interstate route that I took two years ago on my ride to Sturgis.  But my objective was to put a lot of miles under me quickly at the start of the trip, so I could be more leisurely out west.

I hit rain about 30 miles before Ohio and rode through about 40-45 miles of it.  It was much colder than I expected.  The chaps went on early (to think I almost didn’t bring them).  Fortunately I had the sense (for a change) to pull over after the first light rain to put on the rain gear over my leathers.  It was still chilly, and my hands and feet got a bit wet, but quite manageable.  Only about 5 miles of really hard driving rain with about 3-second visibility.  The rest was steady with a lot of road spray.  I was pretty much dried out as I approached Toledo. 

I was in a quandry about where to spend the night.  On my 2007 Sturgis ride, I had a really great time with a couple of other bikers I met in Toledo at a bar right across from the Mud Hens stadium on game day.  I then camped out west of town.  I debated whether to stop again in Toledo, try Detroit, or press on toward Indiana.  At the last rest stop before Toledo I pulled in to check my maps and happened upon a guy from the Gunfighters MC in New York who was through-riding from NY to Detroit to visit family.    By the time I was done talking with him, I was convinced not only to get into Michigan, but press on to Windsor, Ontario.  Fortunately, I brought my passport “just in case” knowing I could be close to Canada (and maybe Mexico – we’ll see). 

The rest stop had local weather displaying so I felt confident enough to ditch the rain gear, had a cup of coffee, and headed out.  I took I-280 to I-75 into Detroit getting off at Ambassador Bridge into Canada.  I was amused by the $4 ” fee of admission” (the bridge toll). 

After sitting in line for long enough turn off the bike a duck-walk it, I arrived at the boarder guard who didn’t seem too jazzed at letting this biker into his country.  I guess my saying “just to say I’ve been here” wasn’t on the approved list of reasons to come in.  After typing my plates into his computer and querying me about my heavily packed bike, he let me pass. 

I was hoping for a big “Welcome to Ontario, Canada” sign where I could get my ABCs picture, but there was nothing that I could safely pose the bike for.  I kept heading up the road and at least got an official Ontario sign at a visitor’s center.  You’d think that would be enough for both the Ontario point as well as the Canada point.  But since the sign didn’t say “Canada” I didn’t want to risk losing the point after coming so far, and I headed further up the road.

Fatigue was starting to set in, so I decided to just spend the night here in Canada.  I checked into a Comfort Inn (too tired to find a camp ground to sleep in the cold).

I suppose my next steps are to find a post office to get my ABC’s picture, get dinner and a beer and head to bed.  I will have an early morning tomorrow.  I intend to ride across Michigan to Muskegon to catch the 10:45 ferry to Milwaukee – so it will be early to bed tonight.

(Last night, while cutting maps onto SD cards I started a wrap-up blog for the LRO/LCROSS launch trip to Florida.  Maybe I could work on that tonight…  we’ll see.)

O-hi-o October 23, 2008

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I really didn’t have any big riding vacations this year, like the Sturgis trip last year. So getting my ABC points involved a lot of weekend reaches into neighboring states. One such ride was to Ohio and the Indiana border earlier this month.

It had been one of those weeks.  One that was completely draining.  I had just come bad from a two day meeting in Cocoa Beach which had me run ragged.  (For which my Twitter peeps had NO sympathy.  No, I didn’t have time for margaritas and conch fritters on the beach… It was fly, work, meet, sleep, work, meet, fly.  OK, maybe there was a beer and some coconut shrimp in there, too.  But it was still a tough trip.)  I decided to take Friday off, ride west, and reach the ever elusive X-city of Xenia, OH, which would pick up two points for me since I hadn’t ridden to Ohio yet this year.  And looking at the map, figured I’d pick up Indiana (since I would be so far west already) and head north to Union County, OH for a fourth point and last attainable county, on the way back.  (There are no X counties, and only three Z counties in SD and TX)

My first stop only about 1:15 into the trip was the Dogpatch Tavern on US-40 about 3 miles west of MD-17.  It is a great biker watering hole that is usually my first and/or last stop on my west-bound rides.  Of course being there mid-day on a Friday it was a little dead.  I guess, like yours truly, most bikers do in fact work for a living.  So I had a beer and rode into my Ohio Adventure…

When heading out of state, I am usually in a hurry to get on a road that I haven’t ridden, so I take the Interstate (in this case I-70W and I-68W) until I get a decent distance from home, then settle into a more local-friendly road.  So I left I-68 in Cumberland for US-220S stopping briefly in Keyser, WV to make a note to myself to return to check it out for possible propery investment, or at least a good watering hole.  I kept riding south to pick up US-50W which is a good local access road that crosses back in and out of MD.  I rode a lot of nice miles until it starting getting darker and cooler about the time I hit Bridgeport, WV.

I have ridden enough, particulary in mountain valley areas to know that when it is already in a chilly time of year, it gets pretty cool, and pretty dark, pretty fast as the sun sets.  And while I CAN and DO ride in the cold and dark, I don’t LIKE to when the option is getting comfortably settled and fed while there is a little light.  So pulling into Bridgeport I saw a lounge, tavern, and motel all within a short distance and stopped for the night at the Townhouse Motel…

Let’s chat a minute about my lodging priorities when on the bike – I either camp in a tent, or stay in cheap locally owned motels.  No hotels nor economy chain motels if I can avoid it.  I like real local flavor: a little Mom & Pop establishment or something out of No Country for Old Men.  I prefer motels because I can pull the bike right up to the door to unload.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, comfortable, clean hotel with valet parking, busmen, and big suites with plush king-size beds for “normal” travel – but when I am on the road I prefer the Bates.

So I check in to my room to find the floor caving in.  The room slopes away from the door reaching a low point about 6 inches deep at the foot of the bed, sloping back up to the far wall.  A big chuck of mismatched carpeting had obviously been pulled out of use from some other well trodden floor and “installed” over the depression with a contour line where the carpet padding had been hacked away.  The “bathroom” had its own little cave-in with the toilet sitting at kind of an angle on the collapsed floor that was pulled way from the base moulding by about four inches. 

I unpacked the bike and headed back up the street to the Highlife Lounge.  It looked like a little hole in the wall place that seemed as if it would be biker-friendly, though not a lot of cars out in front and no bikes.  I pulled on the door – locked.  Then I noticed a sign to ring the bell to get in… hmm.  So I ring and get buzzed in.  Turns out the Highlife is a slots bar, dark and nearly vacant but for a couple of locals plugging quarters into the machines.  The barmaid was quite happy to see someone come in, and seemed disappointed when I turned tail and left for the tavern.  Of course, luck being what it was, the tavern was no longer a tavern, but a restaurant that was closing.  So I went back to the motel made myself a Jack & Coke, propped one of my two sorry “pillows” on the downhill side of the bed, and tried to sleep without rolling off.

Got up early the next morning (wasn’t sleeping anyway), made my way to the office for a cup of joe and packed up the bike.  I rode out of town heading west on US-50, when I saw another motel.  I started thinking “Aw crap, I should have just rode a little further last night.” until I saw the name: Townhouse West.

I crossed into Ohio near Parkersburg, WV, crossing the Ohio River.  Of course the “Welcome to Ohio” sign I needed for the ABCs point was in the middle of the bridge with no hope of safely getting a picture so, I kept riding.

I continued on US-50 to Chillicothe (Ohio’s first capital – who knew?) where I picked up US-35 heading northwest.  I got gas and made a mental note to check the place out if I am ever back again. 

Finally, about 6 miles this side of Dayton, the holy grail of the ABCs of touring:  Xenia, OH next four exits… Woot!  I chose US-68 (Home Avenue) for my approach, and was relieved to find an accessible sign to get the picture.  As long as I was there, I kept going up the road looking for a friendly watering hole – and I found it at the Round Table just a little farther north on US-68.  A very local hole in the wall with about 4-5 regulars sitting at the bar, puffing away on Marlboros under the big “no smoking by state ordinance” signs.  Gotta love it.  I made myself comfortable with my beer and my atlas, figuring out the best way for me to get to the Indiana border and get some decent mileage back while passing through Union County.  Eventually the inevitable question “You on a bike?” was uttered and I was in with the locals.  After a short while it came out that I worked for NASA and we talked about our return to the moon and the LRO and LCROSS missions.  Of course LCROSS got all the interest; after-all throwing a 2-ton rocket casing into a crater to kick up 35 tons of dust into a plume big enough to be seen from earth to find lunar water is pretty cool. 

So I finished my beer, said goodbye to my new bar-buddies, got back on US-35 and headed to Indiana via the middle of Dayton.  I have a professional friend I had known for some years who lives there.  I had really wanted to look him up, but needed to make time and mileage so kept riding to the border.  US-35 merged with I-70 just east of there which left me with nice wide shoulders to get both my Ohio and Indiana pictures and start heading back east on I-70.

I was making good time on the interstate and needed to be home by Sunday evening, so I stuck with it a while.  I got off near Enon Station, OH picking up US-68N to Urbana, cutting east on US-36 putting me on course for my 4th ABC point of the day, Union County.

I continued on to Milford Center where I stopped for gas, gatorade, a corn dog (oddly limited selection of food at the gas station), and some good road advice from a passing biker.  I took CR-57 to Plain City and on to the Columbus Beltway to pick up I-70E again.

As my shadow got progressively longer ahead of me, I hopped off I-70 at CR-52.  After asking around about campsites I back-tracked on US-22 to a camp ground in Zanesville, OH (no ABC point – already had Zullinger, PA).  This place appeared to have been a KOA at some point in the past but was now quite the little dump.  There was a “lake” – no, a “pond” – no, a slough, with a uniform coat of green scum floating at the top.  It all kind of made sense when I saw the RV septic dumping station sign right next to it.  The playground was stark with a rusted swing set and merry-go-round, but the “NO PETS” sign was prominently displayed and in great condition.  Which had me wondering why they thought dog crap was their biggest problem.  The proprietor was a very kindly older woman.  We chatted a little bit as I looked around her shop for something to eat.  She pretty much gave me my choice of lot, given that I was the only tent among three campers.  I couldn’t find a flat piece of ground that didn’t have tree roots sticking up from it to save my life.  So I picked a spot near the bathrooms (which were actually very nice – clean, heated, showers).  I set up the tent, covered the bike, and tried to sleep.  Didn’t do well with that and ended up lying outside in the cold bundled in my sleeping bag up staring at the stars.  (I really dislike my new tent. In my old one I had a shot at seeing the stars while I was still INSIDE.)  Eventually, I crawled back into my tent and more or less fell asleep. 

Morning came early as it often does when you sleep outside.  Very cold. Very wet. Breaking camp and getting the bike packed was a very slow process.  And of course there was no coffee.  I got back on I-70, but was REALLY freezing with a 70 mph windchill.  I didn’t make it too far, only about 17 miles to Cambridge, OH before I had to stop for coffee and warmth.  Fortunately, as the sun came up it warmed up pretty quickly.  I rebundled up and kept heading east on I-70 toward Wheeling, WV.

Approaching Wheeling, I hopped off I-70 for I-470 to SR-88, which I took south to pick up US-250, and that is when the best part of the ride started.  US-250 from Wheeling to Hundred, WV is a GREAT ride.  Lots of great twisties and beautiful scenery.  Took a long time, hard to get any speed on those roads, and took way more gas than I estimated (a lot of up-hill).  I was getting a little nervous with my gas guage on “E” and stopped in Hundred to check my atlas for the next chance at hitting a road that would have a gas station.  A very stereotypical family of “Appalacian-Americans” squeezed into the front of a rusted pickup very kindly informed me that there was a gas station just past the bend of the road I was on and that my bike was “real purdy”.  I thanked them and pulled in for gas – where like so few pockets of Americana that are left, you actually pump THEN pay.  When I came out of the store, a woman was circling my bike admiring it while her husband was pulling his four-by-four into a washing bay there at the station.  They had just been “ridge-running” and needed to clean ‘er up.  So I chatted with the woman for a while, commenting about the beauty of the countryside and how I’d like to buy land there some day.  She told me how she and her husband lived there then moved to Michigan for a while leaving their house here in WV vacant.  They missed WV though, and came back to find their daughter had moved into their old house while they were gone.  So they left her there and bought another house, and have been happy ever since.

With a full tank, I continued down US-250.  The road changed almost immediately.  Still a great ride and in many ways better, less intense.  The curves were still prolific but they were wider, sweeping turns that you can glide through at speed.  I followed this into Fairmont, WV, where I had been once before many years ago teaching a spacecraft power systems desing course at the NASA center there (yes, there is a NASA center in WV).  I got into downtown and really wanted to stop at the local diner – I can’t remember the name but it looked authentically local.   I was famished.  But being Sunday noon, the place was PACKED.  I couldn’t even find a parking spot for my motorcycle.  So I punted and ended up at some non-memorable fast-food place. 

Leaving Fairmont, I took I-79 north to pick up I-68 east back into Maryland.  Passing where I originally branched off two days earlier I rode on to I-70 and on to the Dogpatch.  This time the lot was occupied by about 8-10 bikes, which is pretty normal for a Sunday afternoon.  I sat out on the patio and listened to an old biker tell me about buying his first Harley back in 1957, and about how his softail can lift the front wheel off the groung in third gear, and about how when he rode with his wife he’d have to pull a trailer behind his bike to carry all her stuff, and about how that trailer sits in the garage under a tarp now she is gone.