Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shark Week IV, Friday - Homeward

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not exactly strong on sentiment.  That trivial fact notwithstanding, I’m also not fond of goodbyes.  At the conclusion of most rider gatherings, it’s customary to hang out in the parking lot and hug it out with everyone, wishing them safe and pleasant travels, etc.  That’s just not me, although I genuinely wish them all well.  This will sound silly, but I've grown so fond of and look so forward to this event each year and to seeing all my friends that having to say goodbye to them really bums me out.  I’d rather just saddle up and quietly ride away. 
I almost made it out of the hotel parking lot when I rode by Pancho (the guy in the photo who didn’t like the pineapple moonshine).  “You just gonna ride off without saying bye?” “Um, yeah” I thought to myself as I grabbed a handful of brake.  As we shook hands, Pancho said he was going to go see some family in Michigan (I think) before heading back to south Texas.  I looked over at the main building and saw people walking or slow rolling their bikes to the back parking lot where the masses were loading gear and saying their goodbyes.  I mulled it over ever so briefly, turned sharply to the right, and quietly rolled out of the Town & Country Motor Inn onto westbound Route 2.  My sunrise route would take me through the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest, towards Interstate 93, and over to Interstate 91 south through Vermont to Albany, New York.

When I created my routes, I planned them to include small, twisty highways that connect the interstates and run through small towns with their quirky landmarks and attractions.  These roads are great for breaking up the monotony of the interstate super slabs and they are usually just long enough to have me ready to get back to an 80mph interstate session before the next connector.  At a gas stop and bio break in the thriving metropolis of Chester, Vermont, I noticed my right turn signal red lens cover was missing.  It undoubtedly shook loose somewhere on the destruction derby backroads of Maine and New Hampshire.  Compared to some of the other riders' tales of missing parts, I felt fortunate that this was all I lost.  I shook it off (no pun intended) as I downed a 5-Hour Energy shot and shoved a huge wad of beef jerky pieces into my cheek.  I like to load up my jerky like a chipmunk and nibble away at it as I ride.  I chew, suck, and slurp on it bit by bit and can usually make it last until the next gas stop.  You only do this when you have an open faced helmet because beef jerky stewing in a hot 98.6° mouth for hours makes for bio-hazard breath that could convince Hans Blix he'd finally found the WMDs.  And God forbid If you should burp in a closed helmet.  But I digress.

Of course, immediately after loading up a face full of jerky, a somewhat attractive, albeit older woman in a classic 1970s Ford Mustang convertible parked behind and across from me at the full service pump wanted to strike up a conversation.  She wore a baseball cap, a bit too much makeup, and oversized bedazzled sunglasses, but she had one cool car.  I was about to don my helmet when she asked the question I usually get on trips like this: "Did you ride all the way up here from Texas?" Standing on the left side of the bike looking at her reflection through Hester's right handlebar mirror, I slid my helmet off, suavely removed my sunglasses, turned towards her and headshook the hair out of my eyes.  I was dressed in full leathers with my jacket, chaps, winter gauntlet gloves, and my black denim vest with the "Come And Take It" embroidered Gonzalez Texas flag across the back.  It was August, but the temperature was in the low 40s when I left the Shark Week hotel.  40 degrees at zero miles per hour is tolerable, but 40 degrees at 70mph is bone chilling misery for a thin-blooded Texan like me.  As I started to speak, I suddenly choked a bit and a thick black bubbly blob of jerky spit dribbled out of my mouth, ran down my beard and splatted on my vest.  It took all the composure I had to just nod in the affirmative towards her.  I'm not sure if it was the sight of the drool or if she could actually smell the WMD breath in my spit, but she immediately turned and addressed the service station attendant, ignoring me completely.  I grabbed a handful of paper towels from the pole near the pump, wiped my chin clean, and mounted up.  Gas cap? Check.  Saddle bags latched? Check.  Ego? check.

Cheese is the last thing I need after my jerky experience.
I fired Hester up, slow rolled out of the station parking lot, and continued west on Route 11 through the Green Mountain National Forest towards Albany New York.  The missing tail light lens was stuck in the back of my mind.  Now that I knew it was gone, surely I would be pulled over for it.  It's karma.  I decided that I would pull into the first Harley dealer I rode up on and buy a replacement.  Should I get stopped by the police, I would just explain myself and hope for the best. The route through Vermont into New York provided about two
hours of great roads chock full of elevation changes, switchbacks and twisty two lane blacktop that meandered through the occasional small town with a 25mph speed limit.  Slowing down in these towns offered a view of America I rarely get to see.  Even an impatient "get there now" guy like me enjoys an opportunity to slow my roll to take in the aging architecture and local flare.
Vermont eventually gave way to New York as I was enjoying the laid back pace of the sweeping curves and smooth roads.  I was in that zone that real riders understand and I barely noticed the New York welcome sign as I cruised past it. I often find myself stuck behind father time, driving at a covered wagon’s pace and thoroughly screwing up my curve carving ride.  But on this stretch, the only vehicle I encountered was a UPS truck, which I figured I could effortlessly blow past when the time was right.  After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn’t gaining on him; in fact, I was barely keeping up.  I thought to myself, “This won’t do” and grabbed a little more throttle.  After a few miles, it was clear that this guy was not your typical UPS driver.  He handled the curves as if he was driving a Corvette.  It was actually fun watching the lumbering landbarge expertly negotiate the terrain from a distance and it provided the added benefit of a preview of the road conditions as he dodged the occasional pothole and roadkill remains. Eventually, we came upon a long steep uphill climb for which his truck was no match for Hester’s comparatively light weight and horsepower.  I cruised past him in the left passing lane and caught a glance of the driver through the open left side door.  He was a big, bald dude with a full beard that seemed to just spring forth out of the baldness from his ears.  He wore wraparound sunglasses, the obligatory brown shorts, and Doc Martens style boots and his right arm was tattoo sleeved to his wrists.  I waved back in a respectful response to his “hang loose” thumb and pinky finger twist-at-the-wrist gesture.

A few minutes later and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I rolled up on a Harley-Davidson dealer; Brunswick H-D.  I usually only stop for gas, and was far from needing any, but stopping to replace the lens was better than tempting legal fate...and perhaps karma.  I was in and out in mere minutes, having dropped only $8.00 on the lens.  As I snapped it into place, it occurred to me that other than an oil drain plug rubber gasket, this was the least I've ever spent on anything at a Harley dealer.  I have friends who cant resist buying a Harley shirt from every dealer they visit.  With the exception of Alaska, Key West, and a few other landmark locations I've ridden, I refuse to pay H-D shirt prices to advertise for them.  Pleased with my frugality and my master mechanic parking lot installation skills, I stared at the sky and tried to predict the weather.  I was already wearing my open half shell helmet and my modular helmet was strapped behind me in the passenger seat.  Do I lose the leather or not?  Realizing that I am a much better wrench and shopper than I am a meteorologist, I opted to keep the leather on at least until the next gas stop.  After all, it was still early and the sun was just starting to burn through the mountain fog. As I saddled up to depart, I heard the roar of a diesel engine in low gear pulling into the parking lot behind me.  I scanned my mirror and saw the familiar brown bulk of a UPS truck; the same UPS truck.  The driver bounced out and came straight towards me. I noticed he was a lot smaller than he looked when I passed him an hour earlier.  Maybe it was the shaved head and sleeved tats.  We talked briefly and it turns out, he was also a rider and had a Road Glide.  He added that he was "between rides" at the moment.  I've heard that one before.  Then, he showed me the scar from a surgery he had after being run over on his bike.  He had been clobbered by a UPS truck!  His Road Glide was totaled and he was waiting on the new redesigned model that H-D had just unveiled at the Sturgis rally.  He scanned Hester with her dirt and scratches and said "Man, I bet this bike has been there and back."  That is the difference between a real rider and someone who just owns a bike.  A real rider recognizes road wear as the earned battle scars that they are.  We talked about the new Road Glide changes for a moment and quickly parted ways.  Looking back, it was odd for a UPS driver to take time for casual conversation.  These guys are even more driven to get where they're going than I am.

I rolled out of the dealership and found myself back on the super slab heading towards Albany with "Marathon" by Rush blasting from my stereo.  Whether you love, hate, or have never even heard any Rush, the profundity of their lyrics cannot be denied.  Marathon in particular, is one of those profound tunes.  Take five minutes to listen to it and read the lyrics pasted below.  As you listen, think of any significant personal goals or tasks you've ever endeavored to accomplish and then try to convince yourself it wouldn't be easier to realize or at least more clearly articulate to yourself with this tune circulating in your consciousness.

It's not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat

More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash

It's a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race

More than just blind ambition
More than just simple greed
More than just a finish line
Must feed this burning need
In the long run...

From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment's high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky

Your meters may overload
You can rest at the side of the road
You can miss a stride
But nobody gets a free ride

More than high performance
More than just a spark
More than just the bottom line
Or a lucky shot in the dark
In the long run...

You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don't burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you've got to last...

By this point, the morning sun rising in the east was creeping up over the mountains behind me as I rode south by southwest.  Despite wearing a full compliment of leathers, the warming effect of the sun beating through to my back and neck was a welcome feeling.  Perhaps I could shed some of my bovine habiliments at my next gas stop.

To most casual observers, a greybeard biker on the interstate is just sitting perched on a seat, sometimes with legs extended on highway pegs, with both (or hopefully at least one) hands on the bars.  Anyone who rides understands the reality that operating a motorcycle is a constant series of self protection actions on the part of the rider.  After all, one doesn't become a graybeard by taking stupid risks and leaving things to chance.  We constantly glance at our mirrors and scan the roads before us looking from our front wheel to the horizon watching for road hazards, clueless cagers, cops, and other bikers.  Busy as we may be, times like these are also among the best of times to relax and to think.

As I looked into my mirrors with Marathon playing, I found myself somewhat transfixed on the picturesque orange and yellow sky that appeared as two small, yet ultrahigh definition windows before me.  The clarity and contrast of the steady sky, the road, and the quickly passing trees and grass was striking.  This vivid wash of near mesmerizing color was contrasted by the grayness and semi-foggy view of the road and the sky before me, neither of which were yet bathed in the morning sunlight so brilliantly displayed in my mirrors.  When something strikes me as this did, surely there must be meaning to it.  Something this profoundly distinctive and attention grabbing certainly deserves further cogitation.

I passed from New York into Pennsylvania without fanfare and even missed the customary Welcome to Pennsylvania sign.  I'm sure it was there.  Maybe I was too busy pondering the previously described view from a few hours back.  There was one sign I didn't miss, however.

My route for the day took me 756 miles from the Town and Country Inn in Gorham, New Hampshire to the Hampton Inn in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, about forty miles south of Pittsburgh.  Because I was cashing in frequent stay hotel points, I was bound to stick to my schedule and stay overnight at the planned hotel or accept losing the hard-earned points I had prepaid.  Honestly, after 750 miles, I was spent to the point that not even Rush could motivate me to continue.  I needed food and a shower.  I enjoyed a leisurely pace riding Route 19 alongside the water on the Purman Run that dumped me out into Waynesburg.  I quickly found a Subway sandwich shop for dinner and a gas station to ensure Hester had a full tank for my morning departure.

What I didn't find was my hotel.  Using the address I was given when I booked it, my Garmin GPS led me to an empty field.  The trusty backup GPS in my phone led me on a circuitous route right back to the same empty lot.  I rode back to the Subway and was told by the lovely young lady with, green hair, gauged ears, a bolt through her nose who made my dinner that the Hampton Inn was brand new and "really hard to get to".  This was encouraging.  I finally gave in and just called the hotel for directions whereupon I was told that the Internet address had just been updated.  The girl at Subway was correct that it was difficult to get to as I rode past the only entrance twice before finally finding my way. Waynesburg proved to be neither neither party time, nor excellent.  But the bed was soft and the shower hot; so party on, Wayne!  Tomorrow's ride takes me through West Virginia and into southern Kentucky for one more night before riding the last leg home on Sunday.