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

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The Setup

I dropped off the bike for 60,000 mile service and for my growing list of perennial problems that seem to escape the scrutiny of service shops.   

My regular place (HD of Maryland) has been less and less responsive.  The latest problem was a bearing replacement that took three weeks.  One week for the bike to just sit they even looked at it.  One week before they finally decided to order parts.  And one week to “work me into the schedule”.  It was the second time for that repair bearing within only 5000 miles and in less than 1000 miles later I was hearing the grinding noise again.  So my last visit was for them to  re-check the drive and transmission.  After holding onto my bike for a another full week to only do a test drive and tell me they “don’t hear any grinding”, I decided to take my patronage elsewhere.

So this time I dropped her off at her point of origin at HD of Baltimore.  Unfortunately, like at my regular shop, despite two weeks lead time and a confident assurance I would have the bike back by the Nov 10th, they didn’t even start working on it until the 9th and found major problems with the transmission.  It was good that  they found the problem the other place said didn’t exist.  However, this left me without a bike on a four-day weekend with plans to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway as my “last hurrah” for the year. 

Fortunately, I was able to articulate my frustration without yelling at them for sitting on the bike until the day before I needed it.  They “got it”, and while they do not give out loaners as a general rule and no longer have rentals at that store…. they were able to find me a bike to borrow which I was able to pick up Friday morning. 

Day 1

Starting on Friday rather than the Wednesday night departure I was hoping for, my plans to ride the Blue Ridge where kind of out the window.  I opted instead to ride a little loop through Pennsylvania starting from the dealership. 

The bike was a blue Electra-Glide.  I am not sure what year it was, but if I had to guess I’d say an ’05.  This bike would be the fourth I had ever ridden, and my first bagger.  It idled a bit rough, the clutch was way too tight, and the stock pipes were a whisper compared to my Vance-Hines Big Radius exhaust; but I was  looking forward to experiencing something different.   I was a bit stumped as to how to bungie my Sturgis bag into the passenger seat, and was pleasantly surprised that the whole thing fit snuggly in the rear hard case.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find a little electrical plug poking out from under the seat.  While it was a “nice” day for November, it was still rather chilly.  I knew I would be needing my electric gloves on this trip and brought with me a spare battery harness and my toolkit (which I rarely bring, though I know I should).  I figured that I would pull over at some point to install the harness on the loaner, and was very glad that it was unnecessary.  A few minutes later and I was geared up in my leathers, gloves were plugged in and toasty, and I was on the road. 

The dealership is on the east side of Baltimore near the beltway.  I hopped on US-40 to pick up I-695 a short while later heading north.  I tried the radio. I really should have taken a moment to learn the radio controls while I was still in the dealership parking lot, but I managed to find a decent station while weaving through traffic, and for the first time ever listened to music on a ride. 

I joined up with I-83 heading into Pennsylvania.  Despite being well geared, I was still a bit chilly and I pulled over at the first rest stop across the PA border to warm up a bit.   I managed to find change for a vending machine coffee, served in the ubiquitous paper cup with the pictures of playing cards about the circumference.  (An association that is lost on me.)   The coffee wasn’t bad for the price and it was warm. 

I sat on a picnic table in the sun watching people pull up, look at the bike, look at me, look away, then keep walking; until a portly, bearded, diminutive man in an old pick-up truck bearing Vermont plates pulled up next to me.  He looked at the bike, looked at me, then walked on over as he lit a cigarette.  He was driving back from a KOA campground convention in Georgia, which is apparently quite the shindig.  The conversation immediately went to his history with motorcycles, as most of these roadside discussions go.  He had ridden in his youth and only recently started riding again on a Honda 750.   He asked about my trip and told me about the various Harleys of his family’s and friends’. 

After a sufficient warm-up, I headed out, continuing up I-83 toward Harrisburg, PA.  My intent was to get off I-83 at Exit 41 and head north in an attempt to find US-11 heading north along the west side of the Susquehanna River, but a poorly timed passing manuever left me racing by, looking at my exit over the top of a dirty gold Honda Accord.  Having completely forgotten my contingency plan (like I really had one), I crossed the Susquehanna and pulled off at the next exit into Harrisburg.  I somewhat remembered looking at the map of the area and figured if I just headed north I’d be fine.  I rode a short while and noticed that there were some unique dining opportunities, so I pulled over in front of Stocks on 2nd for a “quick” lunch. 

I sat outside in front of the restaurant.  Despite the chill on the bike, the direct sun was now sweltering.  The menu had the typical urban/bar cuisine but with several Greek specialties interspersed.  I opted for the lamb burger with feta tzatziki sauce and a beer.  The waiter was an amicable young guy who brought the beer and then pretty much disappeared.  A long while later he came out to apologize for the delay… but still no food.  Later still, he arrived with my meal.  While the first bite of my burger was really very good, it was also very raw.  I progressed a few more bites into it reaching the icy-cold center.  So, when he appeared to ask how my meal was… I told him.  He whisked my plate away (including the fries which were in fact very good) and headed into the restaurant.  Looking at the low sun, I realized I had no time to wait for remediation.  I headed into the restaurant to tell him to just bring the bill so I could get on the road.  Several minutes later he apologetically appeared and comp’d my bill, which amounted to a free beer and a half an order of fries — and a delay of over an hour.

I saddled up and continued up 2nd street, cutting over to 7th believing that would get me to I-81…  until 7th disappeared.  I hopped on 6th and continued north until riding right under and past I-81…  Finally, a few more wrong turns later, I was on I-81 to US-322 taking the latter northwest along the Susquehanna, later crossing it to more-or-less follow the Juniata River.  I made a quick stop in Mifflinburg for gas and Red Bull, and continued on toward my evening destination, State College, PA. 

US-322 departs from the Juniata near Lewisburg, heading north until reaching Potters Mills where the road turned west, headed straight into the setting sun.  Temperatures dropped quickly and the sun was absolutely blinding.  I could barely see a thing, but worried more about whether the traffic behind me could see me.  Signs were meaningless, amounting to dark rectangles amidst the solar glare.  Failing to see the sign for US-322B, I continued on US-322 picking up PA-26 into town with just enough light to find lodging.  I rode down College Avenue in hopes of seeing the Days Inn; my first choice for its central location.  Two loops and a cell phone google search later I was at the Days Inn to find they had no rooms.  I sat outside calling around to hotels, getting farther and farther from the district of bars and restaurants that had such appeal, but at this point I was happy to just find a room. 

I booked a room at the Hampton only a mile away from the “action”.  I checked in, took a shower, and started to walk back to the main drag.  However, the temperatures had plummeted and I was no longer “geared up”.  Less than a tenth of the way toward the “cool bars” and I bailed, opting for Damon’s Grill and Sports Bar next to the hotel.

As you may be aware, I now have a  self-imposed rule that I cannot eat at any chain-restaurant while on a ride, which I amended to allow for chains that aren’t available at home.  Despite the fact that there are four Damon’s in Maryland, I hadn’t been to any of them, nor did I know they existed — so I sat down and ordered a beer and a rib-eye with a side of crispy onion straws and a small Cesar salad.  After a not-great but very-good dinner I was ready to call it a night and walked back to the hotel.

Day 2

I awoke the next morning to 25 degrees F, and promptly went back to bed.

Day 2 – Take 2

I got up again and dawdled with my normal routine of coffee and route planning.  I texted a biker, Steve, that I had met in Florida when I rode down for the LRO/LCROSS launch over a year prior.

He had ridden down from Pennsylvania to see a Shuttle launch whose window was on top of that of LRO/LCROSS.  We met in front of my hotel and started talking about our respective rides and the up coming launches, and he joined me for dinner and drinks with some of the LRO/LCROSS launch team.  Now I was in his neck of the woods, so 17 months later I looked him up to meet for breakfast. 

My delays helped a bit.  The sun was bright and the temperatures rose quickly.  I walked out of the hotel about 9:30 with the temperatures in the low 30’s.  The sun was cutting through the ice and frost on the vehicles in the parking lot, with the exception of mine.  The Electra-Glide loaner sat squarely in the shadow of a mini-van that had parked next to me, leaving my seat coated with a thick layer of icy frost… not a good way to start a ride.  I scraped the frost as the minivan owner came out, ironically wishing me a warm ride as he drove off. 

I headed back up PA-26 rejoining US-322 taking it west until it merged with US-220/I-99.  It was cold, but I was well-geared, now including a neoprene face mask, and I was really enjoying the ride.  I continued south on I-99 to the Tyrone exit and quickly found my way to the Bull Pen, a friendly restaurant in a small strip center.  As I pulled into a parking space, Steve pulled in right behind me — except it took me a moment to recognize him, and not just because of the hat and sunglasses.  Steve had dropped 60 pounds in the last year and grew out his hair and beard.  Despite the fact that I was 40 pounds lighter and with longer hair than he had last seen me and riding a different bike, I was pretty easy to identify as the only idiot on a bike on such a cold morning. 

I was greeted with a hearty handshake and smile, and we headed toward the restaurant, pausing for a moment to talk with one of Steve’s friends,  who was working as a bell-ringer in front of a nearby grocery store collecting donations to provide blankets and toys for children of poor local families.  The restaurant was a charming rustic bar and grill.  We paused again to chat with the owner, another friend of Steve’s.  Steve talked about our meeting in Florida and my stopping by to visit, then we headed into the dining room. 

Despite the relatively short time spent in Florida, we got to talking like old friends who had known each other for years.  We spoke of bikes, and rides, and NASA, and politics, and local events.  The new movie, Unstoppable, was filmed, in part, in Tyrone.  Steve was hired with some other local bikers as extras, but apparently they didn’t use the footage.  For the movie release, the Bull Pen had a town party charging only $7 for all you could eat or drink.  (Now that is community spirit!) Breakfast was great: two eggs over easy, sausage, bacon, and perfectly crispy hash browns.  The deliciously hearty breakfast got us talking about our respective diets and weight loss

When old, fat guys lose weight, we get really old really fast.

After breakfast we headed out to his place outside of town where his front yard has a beautiful view of a ridge where they are putting up some new windmills — hopefully the artistic little cluster and not the horizon sweeping eyesore.  We talked for a while longer about life over a beer, and I headed out feeling more of a friendship than acquaintanceship. 

The view from Steve's front yard.

I circled around the back roads until I found old US-220 which got me back on track.  I had spent so long visiting with Steve that my trip timeline called for a few revisions.  Instead of heading further west, I opted to head toward home taking roads less travelled.  I headed down PA-453 out of Tyrone until meeting up with US-22.  It had warmed up quite a bit, though the air was still moist and chilly as I rode along the Juniata. 

Approaching Mount Union, I opted to ride into town in search of gas and a bio-break rather than by-passing it on US-522.  Unfortunately, I was afforded neither.  They had no public restroom and were a little rude in telling me so, so I made no purchase; it is kind of my flip-side version of the “restrooms for paying customers” policy.   I continued down PA-747 to Three Springs, this time stopping and meeting all objectives.  I took a little break with a Monster Khaos drink (not recommended – tastes like wedding punch) and headed west down PA-994, picking up PA-655 south a short while later.

The scenery was pleasant enough though unextraordinary but ride was great nonetheless: the rural wooded landscape and crisp air providing all the makings of a relaxing ride.  I somehow missed a turn in Hustontown to stay on PA-655 and instead ended up on PA-475 which dumped me onto US-522.  I rode US-522 south until I picked up US-30 east just north of McConnellsburg.  Cresting the Tuscarora peak, I looked forward to stopping for a beer at the biker bar at the top; but, not surprisingly, it was really dead, so I kept riding down the eastern slope and into Chambersburg where I stopped for the night at the Carson Motel.

The Loaner at Carson's Motel

The place was a typical motel of the 70’s.  It was actually quite clean, and I figured the lack of vehicles in the parking lot and the cinder block walls would make for a quiet night.  But soon after checking in it got noisier than hell in parking lot with a bunch of guys (one in particular) yelling getting ready to go out partying.  It completely baffles me that with about 10% occupancy, they put these people in the room right next to mine.  I left for dinner at Dilly’s where I had a very disappointing cheeseburger sub and a couple of beers.  Conversation was sparse with the highlight being a young woman asking me to help her figure out how much a 10% tip would be on her bill.  I finished up the evening with a batter-dipped deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich smothered in whipped cream and ice cream.  I headed back to the hotel with a slight regret about both my culinary choices.

Back at the motel the noise continued this time with the women from the earlier group hooting and hollering at each other and obstreperously complaining about their men.  Sleep was evasive in the din, so I flicked through television stations until they abated at about 2:00 am.  But the quiet didn’t last for long as the most boisterous drunk idiot from before came back pounding on their door at 3:00 am wanting to be let in.  The argument that then ensued about what he did or did not do that evening finally died down at about a quarter to four. 

Day 3

Waking early the next morning I was dead tired.  I packed the bike and was disappointed at the trifling sound of loaner’s stock pipes as I started it up, wishing to provide a more punitive wake-up call to the cacophonous couple next door.  Heading out of Chambersburg on east US-30, tried a different route home heading south on Mont Alto Road in Fayetteville leading me into Mont Alto (duh) where I picked up PA-997 south to Waynesboro.  Picking up PA-316 I continued south to the Maryland border where PA-316 turned to MD-60.  Being a little disoriented by the new route and a little ambivalent about stopping in Hagerstown for a drink versus heading home, I deviated from MD-60 onto MD-62 south away from Hagerstown.  Then onto MD-64 west heading into Hagerstown.  Then changing direction again taking Eastern Blvd to US-40 east heading away from Hagerstown. 

I rode to the Dogpatch, still ambivalent about stopping.  Pulling into the parking lot, I saw it was as dead as the bar on the Tuscarora peak and rode on home.  All in all it was a good trip, though the last day was more of a chilly, tired drive than a ride. 

Friendship

After only meeting once before on the road, it was great to talk with Steve.  I was really glad to discover a real friendship in what could have otherwise been one of a thousand friendly encounters on the road.  Those of us who enjoy the experience of riding know the wealth of kindness, stories, and transient camaraderie of meeting with other travellers and the local folk.  We all have enjoyed the experience of a fraternal wave, a three-minute dialog, or sometimes shared victuals and libation.  Sometimes when things seem to click, emails and phone numbers are exchanged with the best intention, yet somehow the impact of that first encounter fades just enough to never actually call or write or possibly even remember… and there is nothing wrong with that.  The road by its nature is a temporal place; impermanence is part of living in the present.  Sometimes, a three-minute discussion is just about enough to get the most out of some friendly encounters.

But sometimes, it is good to call that number, send that email, initiate a re-meeting, and take the chance to enjoy a friendship that can inexplicably spring from a brief encounter months or years before.

Steve

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 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 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