Monday, September 25, 2017

Notes

I had a bunch of little bullets, but forgot most of them by now.

We had pretty crappy, but not totally miserable weather when we were in hustle mode both down and back, thank you Harvey and Irma, but pretty much exceptional weather in between when it counted.  Crazy to be wearing a sweater under a leather jacket in Alabama not 2 weeks after Labor Day, but whatever.  We'll take it.

We missed out on a ton of stuff, as always, including Vicksburg MS, the very bottom of the River Road where the Mississippi fragments into oblivion, and the deepest bayous of Lousiana.  Donna wanted to get me on an airboat, too, and I'd have totally dug that.  We did not do any actual disaster tourism, did not get to walk on the beach, and saw neither Fort Worth nor Wichita Falls.  But we did get to explore Memphis and New Orleans, and get good and drunk in both.  We got to see plenty of cotton, hear plenty of blues, and see more of Texas than we ever had.  I saw cacti.  Witnessed the spectacle of a Cowboys home game and shipped home boxes of souvenirs.  Saw the kid and the grand dog.  We overcame adversity, flew by the seat of our pants when we needed to, kept to a schedule when we needed to, and did what we do like nobody else.

We both reached milestones, Donna now having been in all the states east of the Mississippi to go along with a big chunk of the ones on the other side.  And we accidentally previewed a bit of next year's plan, trying to avoid weather.

Which brings me to my last point.  Now that I've seen them all from over my handlebars, which state is my favorite?

It's a tough question, and I'd like a mulligan.  Arizona, with Route 66, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, and the whole Old West vibe, might be it, but man, you have to come to grips with hot, desolate, and boring.  Vermont has always had me wrapped around her finger, and nothing has changed that.  But surprisingly, West Virgina, Wild and Wonderful, is more of that than I'd ever believe.  We don't much care for interstate highways, although we certainly use them often to efficiently connect points, and the most enchanting interstates I've ever been on are all in West Virginia.  And the backroads?  Spectacular and fun.  It's not aloof, not in a hurry, and not at all flat and featureless.  I can't say it's my absolute favorite, partly I guess because it doesn't seem exotic and is not far away.  But I do love it.

Also, Pennsylvania.  Roaming is great, but friends and family welcoming you home is maybe the best high of all.

Play At The Plate

The call was "Safe at home!" but 4,650 miles into a 4,659 mile trip, it was very much in question for a few moments.  After a long, boring day on the interstate, literally less than 10 miles from home (and directly in front of the only Level I trauma center in the Lehigh Valley,) this happened:

Me in the center lane, left tire track as always, Donna a few lengths behind me in the right track, and some douchebag in a big Penske box truck pulling an open car trailer in the right.  With me directly alongside his rear axle and ahead of the trailer, I see the turn signal come on.  He wants my lane.  I shake my head no.

I have no idea if he sees me and is just planning ahead, but I always, always assume the bastard is out to kill me.  It's how I haven't been killed yet.  And as I confirm my options, Mr. Bag makes his move and about pins me between him and the car in the left lane, who has no idea any of this going on.  I went with "gas it," since I was closer to the front of the left lane car than the back, and wasn't 100% sure if the space behind him was open or not (shame on me, I know.)

So, I squirted out just in front of Mr. Oblivious into the left lane, while Mr. Bag lays on the air horn, while I give him the upturned palm, followed by the bird.  The horn just convinced me that he knew exactly what was up and expected me to fall back and give him the lane.  I was never really in a panic, but I can't say the same for Donna watching this all unfold in front of her.  Now, seconds later, I'm alive and she is PISSED.

She tears out around and in front of him and slams the throttle shut, giving a gesture confirming my assertion that he's #1.  He quickly goes for the far left lane to get around her, and she swerves over in front of him.  And, back again to the middle, another block and reinforcing hand gesture.  Aaand, now Kevin is getting worried and Mr. Left lane is about to shit himself. Now the guy falls in behind the car in the left lane who has slowed as well, is stuck unable to gain speed at the bottom of a long hill, and Donna is satisfied and off we go.  Buh bye, Mr. Bad Ending.  Home to unpack, order a pizza and have a beer.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

White Coat

Today was a proud parent day.  Our (Donna's) son Jesse has always been an excellent student, and has now made his way into medical school.  As noted earlier, we spent the spring setting up a place for him to live, and it's become a favorite place of ours, a home away from home.  But today we were here for the White Coat ceremony, where the incoming students, having had their first courses, are presented with their white lab coats and affirm their commitment to the practice and advancement of medicine.

The ceremony was at an amazing, historic theater in downtown Erie, a short drive up US 19.  I got elected to drive Jesse's car, which was my first time behind the wheel in 2 weeks.  I picked it up pretty quickly.  The ceremony itself was a very proud, happy moment for us and all in attendance.  Back at the house, I did my last honey-do from the list and we spent an evening around the firepit with the roomies and the parents we met months earlier.  Good times.

All of which must come to an end.  First thing in the morning, the bags get strapped down one last time and we follow a well worn path 380 miles to our real home.  I'm ready to get there.








Friday, September 15, 2017

Sweet Home.... Pennsylvania

From Alabama to Pennsylvania in a day and a morning.  Not long after we left the hotel in Fort Payne, we started seeing some rolling hills, which I did not know existed in Alabama, and which soon gave way to the foothills, which soon became the southern end of the Appalachians in Georgia.








We had to average about 425 miles a day leaving Texas, and with the reroute around Irma, this was extended a bit further.  So, we stopped to refuel, to eat, and for one poker chip outside Knoxville, TN and that was about it.  Except for a 60-some mile stretch of US-19 in West Virginia, along which we stopped for the night, it was all watching interstate roll by.  And, just like on the way down, it was rolling past us in our cold weather gear and rain pants.  Unbelievable!  It never broke 70 degrees from the time we crossed out of Texas, until we arrived in Erie 3 days later.

Before picking up US-19, we decided to find a room along that route, and ended up getting dumped on just after crossing the New River Gorge bridge a few miles short of our bed.  We'll be getting a closer look at the gorge next year, and will be riding down the last mile of US-19 where it terminates in downtown Erie, but in the morning we picked up the big road again a few miles north, and got back to the grind.

"Dreary" Erie turned out to be our oasis, the sun breaking out not far outside Pittsburgh and remaining our friend for the time we were there.  Tonight and Saturday would be spent at "home," with Saturday the big event for which we added Erie to the trip.  We pulled in early afternoon and ordered lunch from our favorite sandwich shop.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Missing Piece


Time to get gittin'

We need to be in Erie on Friday night, so after putting AT&T Stadium in our mirrors early Tuesday afternoon, we hit I-20 for the first of about 1,300 miles of mostly interstate over 3 days.  Smooth sailing well before rush hour, under sunny skies and high 70s.  In a word, perfect. 

We had our first reservation on Saturday night in Memphis, and had charted our course there based on the path of the dying Hurricane Harvey, with fair results.  We didn't hit a lot of actual rain, but were cold and damp for 1,500 miles.  From then, except for a shower just outside New Orleans and some rain while on foot in town, it's been pretty much perfect ever since we got through Nashville.

Now, heading home, we're doing the exact same dance with Hurricane Irma.  We decided our best bet was to sweep across the comet's tail, take whatever lumps we got, and run a northward course with the storm remnants to our left.  Sure enough, literally 15 miles before we got out of Texas, we stopped for fuel under graying skies and a check of the radar confirmed that the good times were about to end.  We put on our sweatshirts and rain gear - it was already down to 70 degrees - and set sail for Louisana.
After a quick detour to the site of Bonnie and Clyde's demise outside Gibsland, we shacked up for the night in Monroe and had some good ol' Cracker Barrel for the first time since we left.

Next morning was 65 degrees and suited up.  Here we go again.

Right out of the hotel, we turned north to complete a puzzle.  By crossing the Arkansas state line an hour later, I have now been to all 48 contiguous states by motorcycle.  I hope to live long enough to get to Alaska, but only time will tell.

Reaching US 82, we again turned east and crossed into Mississippi at Greenville - precisely the spot where Donna had igniton problems on the way down.  We glanced over at the Walgreens where I had worked on the bike, and continued east along the same stretch of highway that we used to detour to one of the 4 Missisippi Harley dealers a week prior.

This time, we kept an eastward course and, upon reaching Alabama, completed the East Coast for Donna.  She missed the Pacific Northwest when we did our California trip a few years ago, shipping her bike home from San Fran while I took two more weeks to ride home.  Snoopy was kind enough to allow me to use 4 weeks of vacation time consecutively, so I got through Oregon and Washington and across to North Dakota and that's the difference.  The other states that I had already been in, she also picked up on this trip.

We made it through Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide Roll!) and up to Fort Payne before calling it a day.  We're over 3,000 miles by now, and the rest are going to go by at 80 per hour.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Texas Tourists

We are here in Dallas for 3 nights:  our afternoon in from San Antonio, during which we actually got to use the swimsuits that we have dragged for 80,000 miles over the years and used twice, then our game day, which would end after midnight, and then tonight, after we got up when we damn well felt like it.

In keeping with the theme, we went to the Cotton Bowl at the Texas State Fairgrounds (also where the Cowboys played in the early years,) and then through downtown Dallas proper.  We parked the bikes at Dealey Plaza and wandered around, getting our photos of the School Book Depository and the grassy knoll and snickering at the sad, sad Giants fans making the best of their expensive trip.


From there, we headed over to Gas Monkey Garage for more selfies and some swag, and I actually caught Richard Rawlings firing up his Road Glide and tearing off to parts unknown.  Poor Donna missed it, which is probably for the best - her knees probably would have buckled and I'd have had to help her up.  Unless Richard came to her rescue...

We had also planned to go to Fort Worth and the stockyards, but the one common theme with every one of these trips is that we miss as much as we see, and thus always have a reason to go back.  Part of it is I have absolutely no sense of time, part because we're not going to flee something that turns out cooler than expected to run to something else, and partly because shit happens.  Sorry, Fort Worth.  We heard you're pretty cool.


For what it's worth, I had planned to do all this stuff in between and actually go to Wichita Falls today, 150 miles away.  Donna just laughs at me.
 
Tomorrow we pack up the bikes and head over to the stadium for a 10 am tour before switching our heading to North and East for the next 3 days.









Sunday, September 10, 2017

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

Backstory for this year's trip:  We've been together for 9 years now, and it's awesome to have your sweetie along with you.  It's awesomer with two bikes for a number of reasons... You have more room to pack two people's worth of stuff (haul your own damn hair dryer!) and God forbid if a bike breaks down, neither of us is stranded.  We're leaving a dead bike and a lot of gear alongside the road, but nobody is sleeping along Iowa Route 37 with no cell signal.  And with identical bikes and a rudimentary tool kit, we can start swapping parts until we find a problem.  This has happened more than once, most recently a week ago.

We decided long ago to save Texas for one year when the Eagles travel to Dallas early in the season, and we'd make that our road trip.  How I ended up with a Cowboys fan, I"ll never know. God works in mysterious ways.  But we love our football, and we love our road trips. 

So every year, we eagerly await the NFL schedule release in mid-April before planning the year's trip.  And, of course, the Eagles have not been to Dallas earlier than November in 15 years.  Roger Goodell, kiss my ass.  We finally had enough this year and decided we're going to Texas regardless.  The middle of summer was out, since it's 110 down here, and imagine New Orleans with the 99.9% humidity.  Spring would have been perfect, but we had a lot going on with Jesse moving to Erie and could not make it work.  So, hurricane season it is.

As it started coming together, I realized we'd be right around Dallas right around opening weekend.  Sure enough, the Boys were at home, and Donna had a birthday coming up in August.  A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.  So, I got tickets, and we booked 3 nights a few miles from the stadium, at a hotel with a game-day shuttle.

So yesterday was settling in, and today is all about the game.  The bikes have not been started. This stadium is perfect for Texas, outsized and opulent.  Donna found a "tailgate" since we obviously can't do that on our own; this event is under tent with video screens and a DJ, free food, beer, and margaritas.  Texas style.







I wore my Eagles shirt to a Dallas-NY Giants game, and got very little grief.  There were plenty of Giants fans everywhere, and they ended up quite disappointed.  There was a father and son next to us, and I said something about Eli Manning, and the kid deadpanned, "Jesus, he stinks even more in person."

Yes.  Yes, he does.