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, say...construction?

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? ;)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day 10 - Really? 10 Days? Cool.

I woke up in Illinois this morning, "Land of Lincoln". There was no clock in the hotel room I'd booked, so I grabbed my phone to check the time - 745. ack! While I was getting ready, feeling like a big slacker, I remembered that my phone, for some reason, has not changed automatically with local time, so it was really 645.

It was brisk out while I filled the tank AND the gas can before heading to Springfield, Illinois. At 9 am it was 58 degrees.

It didn't get much warmer and I was appreciating my new fleece shirt. At 11 am it was only 65 degrees out. But that was tolerable dressed in my many layers.

I navigated through the city of Springfield to get to the Lincoln Home visitor center. I watched one of the longer videos shown at any of the parks in the last 2 1/2 weeks and looked around the bookstore before heading out. I called Dayton's Aviation site and spoke with an unenthused ranger to confirm directions and address. The gps said it was going to take about 6 hours to get there.

I crossed into Indiana: "The Crossroads of America", but there were only 2 qualifying parks in the state and both the George Rogers Clark Nat'l Historic Park and Lincoln's Boyhood Home Nat'l Memorial were at the south end of the state. I'd decided those were too far off my route which cut Indiana through the middle, so, without park visits, it was a straight drive through to Ohio. Going through Indianapolis on 70, it looked remarkably like 695 around Baltimore, though I was grateful not to hit Baltimore-like rush hour.

I did stop at a McDonald's for lunch in Indiana. I hadn't stopped at restaurants until recently. I'd been eating fruit and granola bars out of my tank bag at rest stops, and microwave meals at the hotels, but my body was starting to get annoyed by that. I decided I needed some protein and there wasn't anything else quick that was close, so
a double cheesburger it was.

I walked in to a long line and one open register. I decided that since I could catch up on my messages and use the time to plan, I could take advantage of the wait rather than view it as lost time. I sat to wolf down my meal and texted Jon, Jen, Vicky and Denise to see if anyone was interested in meeting me tomorrow when I got closer to home. While waiting for replies and finishing my drink, I noticed a framed print of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on the wall. I took it as a sign that my McD's break was all in the grand plan.

Before I left McD's, I saw this in the bathroom. Someone had tried to re-write the 'C' in 'Changing'. Think about it for a minute. Now, every time I see one of these I see 'Baby hanging Station'. Even I find that creepy.

Back on the road, I hit the now expected construction. At this point I don't know what I would do with myself if I couldn't follow a snake of orange cones.

Somewhere after crossing into Ohio, 'Birthplace of Aviation', I took stock of where I was and where I needed to be that night. I still had a good bit of road to eat up before getting to Hoagy's in West Virginia. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park wasn't horribly far off the direct route to his place, but I wasn't going to get to the visitor center before it closed at 6 and the guy I spoke to there was the least friendly of everyone I'd talked to this trip, so I decided I wouldn't go. I was torn, but it's close enough to home to make a seperate trip, if I'm so compelled, and I was already going to have to drive in the dark to finish my ride today, so it seemed wise and convenient to let that one go.

There was, however, an enormous bike supply place that sat right on 70 that I'd passed on the way out, so I called to see what exit they were on (54) and how late they were open (7). I stopped at Competition Accessories for 30 minutes and stretched my limbs while looking at all the fun stuff there. I was out before they closed at 7 and headed to Hoagy's place. It was cold and dark and cold and I was not happy riding that last 2 or so hours. I don't mind riding in the dark so much, you just have to be vigilant for the night issues. The cold, however, I find very unpleasant and do not enjoy riding if I can feel it through my gear.

This I could feel through my gear. On any other night I would have found the first exit with sleeping accomodations and made my round of calls, but tonight, for the first time before or after the conference, I had a reservation. I rode with my shoulders at my ears, unsuccessful at convincing myself to relax. It was so ridiculous that the top of my right foot hurt from contracting every muscle I own in a vain attempt to reduce my surface area against the wind or something.

Finally, 'Wild and Wonderful' West Virginia.
Just before Zanesville on 70, about 2 hours East of Dayton and an hour and a half West of a hot shower, I needed to stop for gas. I took an exit not explicitly marked for gas thinking I'd just cross over to the return ramp and rejoin the highway if there were no pumps. I was running low and didn't want to push my luck given my history, but no, it was not meant to be. There were no pumps and there was no return exit. I was routed on, if it were warm and light out, what would have been a nice back route.

I followed those signs for a couple of miles, watching for wildlife, trying to forget the cold, and ended up at the next exit...where there was no gas, either. Seriously? You're going to make me do this now? Here? Even though trying to avoid exactly this is what got me here? Really? Fine. Knowing I didn't have much left from the last fill up, I took the gas can off the back of the bike and emptied it into the tank for, what I certainly hoped would be, the last time this trip.

I took the next exit marked 'gas' to refill everything. Yes, even the gas can. Clearly, it would be stupid of me not to with my track record, even though I was, theoretically, less than a tankful away from my destination.

With a little confusion, I got to Hoagy's gravel driveway where making the turn in I managed to lay the bike over even while noting all the things I needed to do to keep it upright. I was pretty numb and sore by that point and just straddled the bike for the time it took to remove my helmet and gloves so I could deal with it. Hoagy was there in two seconds to help me right it. I parked it in the garage where I wouldn't have to unload it and met some folks that were hanging out at the infamous Carmichael Irish Pub.
September 1, 2009

As is the case with everyone I've met through Hoagy, they were nice folks and we chatted for a bit before they called it a night. Hoagy made me the finest grilled cheese I've had in years while I thawed out in a hot shower, and we caught up for a while before turning in.

The next day, Wednesday, would be the last of my 2 1/2 week adventure across country. I had no plans except to get home. In my usual fashion, I'd scheduled work first thing Thursday morning, though that still seemed a while away.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day 9 - The Long and (not so) Winding Road.

I was oh, so unhappy getting up this morning, but it was 745, so hopefully I recovered some sleep. If i get out by 830 I won't be that far off the norm. Yahoo maps says it'll be about 7 hours from here to Herbert Hoover's monument in West Branch, Iowa.

I packed up, saving the cooling vest for last. There is nothing even remotely hopeful in the next two days for temps over 75, so I don't see needing it for the rest of the trip. I'd used the heat lamp in the bathroom overnight to dry it out and I must admit that the room was a bit hot and dry even for me, Queen of the Sahara. I left at 845.

It was 57 degrees out when I stopped at the Walmart I'd passed last night to check for those Zhu Zhu's. Kinda in a hurry, I almost left my helmet on to run in and out, but I took the whole 20 seconds to remove it before going in.

STOMP STOMP STOMP... The vibrations from my hulkish strides ran up my bones and directly into my head. With my earplugs in I only hear parts of things, but walking with even less finesse than usual was gonna give me a headache.

No Zhu Zhu's near the My Little Ponies. STOMP STOMP STOMP... None in the next aisle, STOMP STOMP STOMP, or the one on the other side. Time to go. STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP... Back on the bike at 930.

Riding East now puts me facing the sun every morning and last week the wind unceremoniously snatched my handy-dandy sunsheilding strip right off my face shield, so for the next two hours I rode like Popeye, squinting deeply enough that my open eye looked partly through my eyebrow. And, for all that sun, I was still freezing! I decided that today I would go without music again. I've had difficulty seating my right earplug and on Friday (or was it Saturday?) between the wind noise and the music my right ear was buzzing for a while. Can't mess with the ears, now... So, that leaves me to my own devices, and yet I can't think of a single song not on the 2 gb chip I've been listening to for the last 4 days, never mind a way to bring about world peace.

One of the women from the conference in Colorado, Sara, texted me yesterday cautioning me about the 3 windy states I'd be traveling through. Wow, was she right! Earlier in the trip I'd discovered that I could reach the rear passenger pegs to relax my knees and give my butt a break. Today I used them to gain leverage against the wind.

The weather fronts have also been interesting. You don't usually get to see the beginning and ending of weather fronts, but I've seen several on these distance rides. This morning, the clouds began to gather, but after having checked the forecast again this morning, I was unconcerned about any rain. It should be dry for the rest of the ride home. (ha! now that I've said that out loud, there will be some freak storm.)

These clouds struck me as a herd, migrating. A herd of migrating cotton balls. Another roadside sign, with almost as many lights out as on, looked like it read 70 degrees and 1145 am. It was mighty cold and I started looking for a Walmart where I could stomp through the toys on my way to the fleece department, but a Cabella's appeared on the horizon and plan 'A' immediately fell by the wayside. I spent the best $10 EVER on what should be marketed as 'hi viz' pear, changed into it in the dressing room and, while by no means warm, was cool on the ride now, rather than cold. They did have the Road Toads rain gear, but they were about 5 inches shorter than I need and, without the threat of rain, I decided not to get them.

In the parking lot I strapped the long sleeve cotton shirt that I've worn faithfully for the last 2 weeks, hot or cold, onto the bike and noted some fascinating shades of grey. I checked the gps to see when I should arrive at Hoover: 521 pm, which probably means more like 6, really. I called just to check on the hours of the visitor center: 9-5, damn! Well, a picture will have to do for this one if I can't get to the stamp.

Booking it to Iowa against a frigid wind I am more tense than usual. Holding on to the grips for dear life brings me to periodically let go the death grip to shake them out or let them hang by my side for a moment. (yes, one at a time. :j) Getting them back on the grip from 3 feet away in that wind was a bit erratic and, after flexing my right hand a bit and forcing it forward against the atmosphere's will, I made contact with the grip in an awkward way...and the bike lurched back a bit. Son of a...! I'd hit the kill switch. AGAIN. Today saw the 4th AND 5th times that I've tagged the kill switch at speed. FIFTH! FIVE-ifth, I mean, come on! The first time was months ago and I was totally freaked at the prospect of blowing up the bike by pressing the button back into the 'on' position while the engine was running. (such a girl.) I did, and I survived, and I didn't blow up the bike. The second and third times it took me less and less time to figure out what the problem was and fix it. It's a sad statement that the first time I did it today there was no panic, just the annoyance that comes with an unwanted habit.

I crossed the bridge that separates Nebraska from Iowa and, hello, everything changed again. There are trees! Deciduous ones! In groups! Stands of trees...and hills! I had the rank and file of corn on my right and cows grazing on a hillside on my left. It might as well have been Maryland! The only apparent difference between Iowa and MD is the color scheme of the cop cars.

Those cotton ball clouds eventually took over the sky. There wasn't a speck of blue to be found in any direction I could crane to see. I was 5000 feet away from being suffocated by batting. About the time I was contemplating the sky quilt it occurred to me that my gps is still an hour off and I could still make it to the H. Hoover visitor center before they closed!!

Well, with Iowa's hills, the wind calmed significantly. Now it was a normal, if still cold, ride. I could again move my feet from floorboard to passenger peg with my usual Cirque-like grace. The next couple hundred miles were much easier and without the extra attention needed to stay upright, my mind was free to wander again and it occurred to me that James T. Kirk was born somewhere in Iowa, wasn't he? I thought 'shouldn't there be a monument?' and laughed out loud in my helmet.

Coming into Stewart the great batting in the heavens developed holes and became a Simpsons sky.

I did make it to Hoover 15 minutes before closing. I was alone, except for the ranger who pressed the play button for the movie, and was stamped, superficially educated, and out of the building by 6.

While I was in the theatre I'd gotten a page that a friend's dad had died and I talked to him for a bit. I had the company of the Hoover cat while on the phone and then planned my route from West Branch.

I looked at the map and did some fast gps button-pushing and realized that going south a bit to visit Lincoln's birthplace in Springfield, Illinois would add, at most, 2 hours to the trip including visitor center time. So I headed south.

I got to cross the Mississippi.

I had a Mexican dinner in honor of Anne Maria, maje extraordinaire, and found my hotel.

Now, I sit, waaay too late, in my hotel room watching Will and Grace and counting the loud, obnoxious trains that pass by my window, horns a-blowin'. This will test even *my* ability to sleep soundly. In the morning I'll check the route from Springfield to Dayton, Ohio for the Aviation Monument for one of my last National Parks of the trip.