Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The weather outside is frightful...

December in Maryland is not ideal riding weather, and, while I could bemoan the plight of existing on a planet with a tilted axis, I'm rather enjoying the anticipation of the next year's riding.

I finally dropped the bike off for repairs from the Great Missouri Midnight Parking Lot Incident in August.  'Out of sight out of mind,' I think.  'You don't have the bike, you'll stop thinking about how nice it would be to tool around for an hour'....except that last week I picked up the tank and rear fender to bring to the paint shop I can't get a hold of, and every time I get in the car I see the silver and white bones of the bike in the back seat...  teehee.

And I can be working.  Yes, working.  Working is good.  I like my work and I like to get paid.  Getting paid means I have gas money and gas money means I get to ride.  This is good.  And work is sooo slow.  Everyone is gone for the last week of December.  There are no meetings to attend, no assignments to deal with, no one to talk to about anything...just me and the computer...where I look up bikes on ebay and drool over the Valk Rune for 17.5 in New York, or the sidecar outfit that looks like so much fun or the 130 db horn I'd love to have or the custom paint jobs at the shop in Chicago, or the Ayre's tours or bikers' blogs... 

And when 4 o'clock comes I head home with my fender and my gas tank.  I am greeted by a cat and the stack of  Xmas gifts still scattered all over the dining room:  the Road Toad gear and rain boots Mom got me, the 'Long Way Down' dvd and do-it-yourself earplugs from Pop, the dry-overnight underwear from Ginny, and an apple-arguably the only non-mc gift I got.  Woohoo!  Santa treated me very well this year, indeed!  I may have to try everything on again, just for the heck of it. :))

Virtual social time proves that I am not alone in my giddiness.  Let's see..a msg from Lorne on Facebook...'Hey, my new heated gear is awesome!  The 60 mile commute was nice and toasty...'   Hoagy's email says, 'Hey, boss, I wanna get the Hoagy's Heroes site up to date with next year's rides, can ya help me?', and Sarah tweets that she finally got her new Harley and is breaking it in in sunny Florida.  How cool is that?

And, anchored down on the sofa in front of the fire under the heaviest blanket made by man, I've got Rider, Motorcycle Consumer News, Cycle World, and David Hough within reach and Ewan and Charley on 3 dvd's to show me the world on two wheels.  Winter's not so bad.  The smell of the fire, a good read and a trip I don't have to leave the cat behind for. 

Would I like to jump on the bike tonight for a starry ride?  heck, yeah, but I think it kinda keeps things interesting when you can't have what you want all the time, so I'm gonna make myself some tea and sit with my big goofy smile, my cat and my periodicals and dream about 2010 possibilites.  ;)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

She's a Maine-iac, Maine-iac....

So.  In order to finish the requirements for my Iron Butt 'Master Tourer - Silver' challenge you may recall I need to get at least one stamp from a National Park in Maine.  There are only two qualifying parks in Maine and the nearest of them is halfway up the East coast in Bar Harbor.  I have until May 11th, 2010, but it's not going to be any warmer between now and then than it is now, so I have three days to get up there and back or it ain't gonna happen.

The Plan was fairly simple, really: 95 North from Maryland to Maine and back.

Sunday - Leave directly from work with bike packed to sleep at sister's house to gain 45 minutes travel time.
Monday - Leave from Harford County, MD between 7 and 8 am and ride to somewhere North of Boston and find a hotel for the night.
Tuesday - leave between 7 and 8 am and ride from Boston to Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park, and spend 3 or 4 hours tooling around the park to actually enjoy it and collect several stamps available at various visitor centers along the park loop road.  Leave park mid-afternoon to ride South as far as possible before turning in for the night.
Wednesday - Leave between 7 and 8 am and hit parks in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut on the way home to add some more parks and stamps to the collection.  Arrive in Batimore early enough to get some sleep before work the next morning.

Simplicity, though, is a deceptive thing...

Sunday - I left work an hour early to get a head start, but spent it in the parking lot crawling behind the hundreds of cars also trying to get out of the Renn Faire before closed.

Monday - After some scrambled eggs and hanging with my peeps, my sister drove them to school and I delayed leaving to change my headlight to a brighter bulb for the 3 day moonless trip.  I left at about 9am and at 945 and 46F degrees pulled over to figure out why my Gerbing heated gloves were no longer warm.  The fuse to the gloves was fine, so it was probably the fuse under the seat that blew.  Back on the road, it was a tad chilly without electrified gloves, but the Delaware Park sign was only a minor distraction.  Visions of slot machines danced in my head, but I thought 'perhaps I'll have time on the way home...'  Another hour into the cold, though, and the sign for Atlantic city was a bit more enticing.

At about 1115am or so, I pulled into a Cracker Barrel to thaw and have something to eat and swap out the powerlet fuse.  After chatting with the waitress, Kristen, about bikes, I headed out again, but without the benefit of the heated gloves.  The fuse had been bad...looked like something had sneezed in its little glass tube. I put a fresh one in, but I needed to be able to rely on the power outlet to charge my phone and gps, so I didn't take the chance that the gloves would blow the fuse again.

From my last bike trip I knew that the 10 minute rule I'd implemented didn't give me quite the margin I needed, but I stuck with it anyway:  for every hour the GPS or mapping program said it would take, I add 10 mins to the total time to come up with something more realistic.  Baltimore to Bar Harbor, 12 hours x 10 minutes = 120 minutes, means 14 hours to get there.  Simple.

Unless 95 takes you through New York and over the George Washington Bridge.  I can't bring myself to go into the details of the traffic, tolls, trucks, and the accident that caused me to run the gas tank to a blinking 'low', barely moving even when we did, on a misnamed 'expressway', freezing my butt off with a serious clutch-hand cramp.

I got past New York at 230.  Since I wasn't going to make it anywhere North of Boston to stop for the night and my plans were already seriously out of whack, I decided that I'd stop at a Connecticut Park, which would open up time on the way home and give me a break today.  Of course, being a spontaneous stop, I didn't know that Weir Farm National Historic Site was only open Wednesday to Sunday.  The grounds were pretty, but I left after taking a couple of photos and finding the bathrooms locked.  Of course.

I can't for the life of me remember where I ended up Monday night.  That's what I get for not making notes that night!

******Day 2*********

Tuesday was rainy and cold and not fun.  I was hesitant to plug the gloves back in, but if I was ever gonna need them, it seemed like it was today, so what was I saving them for?  I had three more fuses with me, just in case.

I saw less than a handful of bikes on the road all day.  The rain was steady, but mostly light and traffic wasn't bad at all.   The biggest problem I had in the morning was a bit of the filling that's been escaping a back molar recently lodged itself in a dark recess next to my tongue.  Not bigger than a poppy seed, I'd bet, but tucked away in a soft fold that my tongue kept looking for, but never did find.  But for the  nacre, I'd have had a pearl by the end of the day.  In the evening, it was a bit of hair that got loose from my hood when I put my helmet on that kept wacking me, wacking me, wacking me in the eye. 

Annoyingly, the road to Acadia went through Bar Harbor during rush hour, and had construction crews directing traffic.  I had to devote most of my attention to the bad roads, so I didn't see much in the way of scenery.  It was slow going and pretty cold getting to the park, but I did make it.  The parking lot was nearly empty, so I swung in to the space nearest the base of the stairs and yanked off my gloves to undo the tank bag.  I hopped up the stairs, tank bag in hand, out of breath, hoping the center was open till 6...but it wasn't.  Of course.  Well, they can't say I wasn't there.  I took some pictures as I made my way down the million stairs and grabbed a brochure out of the box at the bottom.  I could read about all the stuff I was gonna not see some other time.

I got back on the bike ready to start my way home grateful that the rain had at least stopped. The temps were 36 and 34 depending on whether you believed the bank or the convenience store sign, but either one put it too close to freezing for my taste.  I planned to get as far on my way as I could before the sun set.  I wasn't going anywhere once the sun disappeared and left the wet roads to an icy night.

I made my calls from a Walgreens where I'd gotten something to drink, and decided on the place right across the street.  The Cozy Inn in Brewer, Maine was basic, but had free wireless and wouldn't require me to do anything but make it across the street.

Ah, the Cozy Inn... The wireless was not working, so I gave up messing with that to warm up in the shower.  Really, all I wanted out of a hotel tonight was a hot shower and a clean bed to sleep in.  Well, they did have a bed.  When I called about there being no hot water and no internet, the oh, so charismatic owner said she'd reset the router and I should try later and that perhaps I should try the shower in the morning because the other guests must have just performed their evening ablutions.

So, cold and bored and wondering what karmic debt I was paying off, I watched the weather report and called home.  It was going to be cold again the next day, but the rain had moved out, so at least it should be dry.  My rain suit was tattered from the day's ride already, so 'dry' sounded good to me.

*********Day 3**********

On Wednesday, there was no point to taking a shower and not being able to dry my hair completely.  I used the now hot water to wash my face and then turned on the weather and started packing up again.  Wind chills in the 30's all day, but dry.  At least my gloves had dried completely on the heater overnight.  I made my first trip out to the bike with all the cords that needed to be secured to the handlebars and stopped short at the ice covering the bike.  I didn't need a chisel or anything, but the tank and speedometer were covered in frozen rain and the seat was no longer black for the frost that was on it.

I went back in and slowed down a bit wanting to give the sun a little time to do it's thing to whatever might be sticking to the asphalt before getting back on the road.  I watched the news on and off while organizing my things and was struck by the least pretty news team I'd ever seen.  Not that they were unattractive, but very normal and striking in their lack of attempt to satisfy anyone's expectations of what people on tv 'should' look like.  I flipped through the other channels and found the other news teams decked out in their on-air fancies and all make-up'd out.  I went back to the average Joe channel in silent support of the regular guy, but they used no maps when they did the traffic report.  Neither did the other stations, so I had no idea if I was going to hit the traffic on 95 caused by the accident they kept mentioning.

I scraped the frost off the seat, the ice off the speedometer, and loaded up my stuff.  At 8am it was cold, but clear and I was grateful not only not to get stuck in accident traffic, but apparently to be out of the way of rush hour activities at all. 

At 10am I stopped to fill up and warm up.  The gloves were still working, but like a most of yesterday, it was so cold out that all they served to do was keep my hands from being worse than cold.  The outlet plug continued to shimmy itself out of the socket at annoyingly frequent intervals and the change in temperature in the gloves from cold to frozen was a constant prompt to reseat the plug.  It was annoying, but at least it proved that the gloves were doing *something* for my hands, even if it wasn't enough to call them warm.  Not by a longshot.

Augusta, Maine into New Hampshire again, then Massachussetts headed West to start an avoidance path to keep me far, far away from the George Washington Bridge and other New York irritations.  On the way, a brown road sign caught my attention and I thought I recognized Springfield Armoury as a qualifying National Site.  I took the exit and pulled over to check my book.  Indeed, it was, and I made another unplanned stop to warm up and watch their educational film adding another park and another state to my belt.

I checked the GPS again to see where I was headed.  To keep me away from NY I told it I was headed to Harrisburg, PA and it was sending me all the way out on 90 West and then South past 4 different Parks/Sites.  I checked each one and, remarkably, the one I'd hit first was open the longest.  I managed to get myself to Van Buren National Historic Site well before the 530 close, but wouldn't make it to any of the other 3 in time, which was good...I needed to get home and there was rain in the forecast again.  The out of the way route was adding a couple of hours to the trip home as it was and I didn't want to get home in the wee hours.

I coasted into a gas station after leaving Van Buren and filled up.  I planned on riding hard until the sun went down to take advantage of the light and heat.  It turned out that going South on Rt. 287 was a beautiful alternate route with only a bit of congestion.  Once I started making my way back East to hook up with 95, I stopped for gas again in the dark and a local sign said it was 50F out.  Well, no wonder it had been almost comfortable these last couple hours.  Even in the dark it was warmer now at 730pm than it had been for the last 48 hours.

At the MD border the drizzle started.  I knew it was coming and was glad that the temps were what they were, given that my rain suit was in tatters and the fuse had blown out on the accessory port again.  It was only another hour and a half with the rain and no heated gloves 'till I pulled into the garage and unloaded what I needed off the bike.  The rest could wait.

HOME!  I'd done what I needed to do and gotten home in one piece and on time.  It wasn't the most fun ride of the season, but I wouldn't trade it.  Now, officially done the riding portion of the Master Tourer, I need to start in on my paperwork.  If there are any nice days left of the year, I might hit the nation's capital since there are a bunch of sites less than 2 hours from home base. I need to count again, but it looks like 31 states/provinces and 60+ park stamps in less than 6 months.  Not bad for my first full riding season.  And now I have all winter to plan for next year. ;)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Iron Butt Rides

Seriously, how can you not get excited about a list like this?

114 Iron Butt Association approved endurance rides

IBA rides by number of certificates awarded for them

My adrenaline kicks in just looking at all the possibilites and I get overwhelmed by the options. Which one to do first?? ~A coworker rudely interrupts my daydream with a bit of actual business and, by the time I turn around, the spell is broken.~ Ok, back to the task at hand: to finish the challenge I'm already working on.

Monday morning I leave for Maine to finish up my 2nd Iron Butt Challenge: the Master Tourer Silver. I've met all the requirements for the Master Tourer and have only one more State and National Park to hit in order to bump up to the Silver level. I'd hoped to go Monday to Wednesday of *this* week, but friends from out of town were coming to visit, so it got bumped to the 12th-14th.

I've been watching the trees here turn colors and the temperatures drop and am not particularly excited about riding North in October, but I'm going anyway. With the "pros" forecasting 50% chance of rain and a high of 51F, low of 36F for Bar harbor, Maine on Tuesday, I picked up heated gloves this week and have finally decided on the gear for the 3 day trip.

I'm sure that some of you (if you know me at all) are making squinchy faces already that I'm even *thinking* of being anywhere except in front of my fireplace, under a blanket, watching Long Way 'Round given those temperatures. Ok, maybe you actually laughed audibly...

Go ahead, furrow your brow, have a good chuckle. I know that you think it's funny (funny-wierd, not funny-ha ha) that I get cold below 70F standing still, never mind at speed on the bike and that while you guys are finally not 'dying from the heat', I'm in long sleeves with bouts of goose bumps.

But that's ok. I know you love me anyway. Even if you do have to turn the heat on in the car for me in May.

It took some searching to find something that will keep me warm at highway speeds in 35-55F degree weather, but this should do it. This one piece with a couple layers of wool socks and my Gerbing gloves and I think I'll be ok.

So, if you're on 95 North of Maryland next week and see what looks like Ralphy on a silver bike, it might be me.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 11 - The End of the Road

September 2, 2009.

My last day on the road...

I hadn't plotted out much past Nebraska, since, initially, my trip would have taken me down to Kentucky and home on a Southern route. When I plotted out a time line it looked like I'd have to race home from Nebraska in order to make it home for my next day of work, so I'd not looked at alternatives. Since then I'd managed to tack on two days to the end of the trip, so the last two days didn't turn into another Iron Butt run. I'd been choosing my route on the fly from what I knew of the parks from the rest of my research. Still, I hadn't made a plan from here to home as I had for the rest of the trip and had passively decided on a straight ride home for the day.

I got up at about the same time I had been the rest of the week, but took my time getting out of bed. Two plus weeks on the road and this was the first day I was sore. Not keep-me-down sore, but some muscles were making themselves known and I was moving a bit like the rusted Tin Man. Sunday and Monday I'd had a small twinge in my back that I also suspected was from the colder weather, but wasn't really bothersome and hadn't lingered. Yesterday had been a long ride in the cold, dark, cold and I was gonna need more than a night to unwind the knots this time.

The extra 10 minutes stretching and brushing my teeth took the edge off the morning and I felt a little more ready to face people. Hoagy's mom's 80th birthday party was happening that night and his sisters were already there unloading a full car of groceries and party paraphernalia.

Since the day's plan was just to get home, I stayed for a couple hours to chop fruits and vegetables and chat for a bit. Around 10 I headed out with HOME in my gps.

It wasn't looking good for any of my local riding friends to meet me out this way for the ride back together. It was going to be a short ride today and an early end. I would be home by 4 including all the usual nonsense that sucks up time while you're not looking. Like, for example, oh,

Fifteen minutes into the ride I pulled over wondering why that was the plan. I pulled out the Passport book. I pulled out the map. There are bunches of parks in Western Pennsylvania that I haven't been to! Friendship Hill, Ft. Necessity and Antietam are all on my way. Looks like I'll have a full day! Now all felt right with the universe as I crossed into Pennsylvania.

Sorry, new state? Let's have some road work.

I have to admit, for all the construction that I rode through in the last 18 days, there were very few that actually caused a delay. Of course, when there were delays I had at least enough time to floss and do the New York Times crossword puzzle and the delays generally happened in 90+ degree weather, but all in all, for as many as there were, I think I lucked out.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site was beautiful. Save one picnicing pair, the grounds were deserted and the house, empty. Ranger McFadden gave me a private tour and encouraged me to look into becoming a ranger because 'some people just have that look about them'.

1215 and 71 degrees. I thought it was going to be warm enough for my mesh, but it never was. And, in case anyone thought things had changed, leaving the park I was stopped for, yes, you guessed it: construction.

Back roads from Friendship Hill to Ft. Necessity were winding and green. 76 degrees at 130pm. As I walked into the visitor center, I noticed their bulletin board and prominently featured was, oh, look at that, a notice about the resident bears. Unfortunately, the warning was for Black bears and not Grizzlies. I will forever wonder about the special rules Yellowstone refused to share.

I enjoyed another film, checked out some very nice displays and walked the grounds for a couple minutes.

The current wildflowers were a definite sign of how long I'd been gone. I rolled around in the grass with my camera like a big dork enjoying the late August blooms. Queen Anne's Lace and Joe-Pye Weed were going strong and the Goldenrod was just starting to show it's color. It was a lovely place and a beautiful day for a picnic, but with no sandwiches, drinks, watermelon, tablecloth or basket I guess I wasn't really prepared for that. So, I broke out the map and gps to see what I was doing next.

I called Denise and Jon from the parking lot and was disappointed that none of the girls would be able to ride today. Jon and I talked about riding to Antietam another day and Lefty/Denise and I fabricated fantastic plans for impossible trips before hanging up. So, I would finish the trip alone and stop for dinner at Jon and Paul's just a half hour ride from home. Antietam was off my plate for the afternoon, but so close I could taste it... I contemplated whether it would really hurt to see it twice...

Heading home from Ft. Necessity, I spotted mountain signs on the roadway: Negro Mountain 3000+ ft, Big Savage Mountain (rwAWRr!!) 2900+ ft, Polish Mountain at about 1800 ft, the Eastern Continental Divide at 2610 feet. I smirked. I chided myself for belittling the East Coast's big mountains, but recalled the 6000 to 10000 foot passes I'd been through just days before. I know it was wrong of me to giggle at the proudly displayed road signs, but I'm sure there's some Swiss guy on vacation in the Rockies smirking behind his hand, too.

I took some pictures of a colorfully striated exposed mountain called Sideling Mountain and as I rounded it I recognized the pull off I'd stopped at on the first day going West. I'd stopped to take pictures of the dawn fog over the trees early on in the Saddle Sore 1000. Home was feeling much closer and the feeling that the end was near was, sadly, taking hold.

At my last gas stop I checked my messages and Lefty had called. She no longer had to go back to work that night and would be able to meet me at Jon's for dinner. When I got there I saw her Moto Guzzi parked at the curb and she came out to meet me with Jon and Paul. We had a magnificent steak and potato dinner with the meatiest corn on the cob I've ever had and bs'd about the trip and fantasized about the next one.

Maine featured prominently in the discussions, but no one's schedule coincided, so I'll be trying to get there on my own in October. After dinner, Lefty and I headed out on now familiar roads going North. It was nice to have company and at a red light she raised her shield and said 'This is how it should be.' I believe we agreed to a major trip in 2 years. We'll have to get cracking on those plans!

We went our respective ways on 695. I watched the full moon and noted how far Mars had moved across the sky in the last 4 or 5 days. I pulled in to the alley behind my house and unpacked the bike. My roommate and the cats greeted me in the overgrown yard. When I went in the back door, Darrick pointed me to the living room where my mother had decorated to celebrate my homecoming. Balloons and banners welcomed be back and the only photo from the trip of me with the bike was on the wall. A fine homecoming! After checking my messages and chatting some with Darrick in front of the TV, I headed to bed so I could get up for my 8am job the next day.

Nineteen days away from home: 1000 miles in 21.75 hours, 4 days of a great conference and 15 days flattening my butt in the saddle. 100 degree weather, 4 pairs of gloves, 2 roadside latrine stops, 23 states and 26 Parks/Monuments. Needed the gas can 4 times, 7500+ miles, 1 accident, 3 hail storms, 1 visit by the police. Innumerable constructions stops, 1 moose, tons of bison, and a handful of Red Bull.

Would I do it again?

Does a biker pee in the woods? ;)