August 1, 2006 – Tuesday – Day 1
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 260 – Total Miles – 260
8am-2:15pm 6 hours
Havertown,PA (western Philadelphia suburb) to Front Royal,VA
(-staying at a Super 8 Motel)
-ON THE WAY – 101 DEGREES ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD – ON THE SUPERSLAB –- A WONDERFUL FIRST DAY –
May has a cell phone that has a very reliable alarm clock feature. One of the choices of alarm sounds in the amazing little mobile device – a phone which seems so commonplace to us all now – is a collection of chirpings which sounds like a gaggle of tropical rainforest birdsong…. Sometimes in the morning I just want to stomp on those little birdies, but this morning when they roused us at 6am, I knew they heralded a new adventure ahead…
The cute first email this morning at 6:20am was from a Vero Beach, FL friend and parent of a former student of mine (from my VERY first class of students back in 1969!). Connie, one of our stops along the way, was concise and simply wrote, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”.
We were up quickly and soon moving along with the last of our checklists…. both realizing that the day had finally come. That the bravado and planning and all the looking-forward-to moments were now about to be translated into action. We were up-rooting ourselves from a nice comfy summertime and transporting ourselves into days ahead where we literally wouldn’t know what’s around the next corner – but hey, that’s what adventure is all about.
But only so many times can one check off the list and make sure it’s right and go over it again. And then go over it again. At one point you just have to stop and be satisfied and move ahead.
When traveling like this for almost a month, there are a lot of little details to help make things go better. For instance, these days, l most need another whole suitcase just for chargers and batteries and cables in this technological age.
We went for a tandem ride and I had a little breakfast. May said she was too nervous to eat much.
Dolwin, a friend who’s building a room for us in the basement, and who’s watching our home for us while we’re away, had some nice and kind words of well-wishing for us to send us out onto the highway with.
We were packed up and left right at 8am, and May called her son to say we were leaving. Then we headed north to the PA Turnpike. It would have been shorter to head west by taking the Expressway, but there was a huge, huge traffic jam that way. So I elected to go up the Blue Route all the way to the turnpike. It would put us on further east, but it would avoid the traffic. Regrettably, uncharacteristically, and somewhat stupidly, I got caught in the wrong lane and we actually had to head east until the next exit where we could turn around. It was an out-of-the-way jaunt of about 10 miles. I couldn’t help but think how much time that would have taken had I been on one of my bicycle rides!
We had our first thumbs up on the way to the turnpike. By the end of the day there were three folks sending thumbs-up to us – likely in reaction to our “PA to TX, KEY WEST, AND RETURN – AUGUST 2006” sign on the back of the motorcycle.. . One wave was from a friendly lady trucker. In fact, everyone on the road was friendly to us today. But then we wave to everyone. It’s biker courtesy to wave to another motorcyclist as one passes in either direction. But we wave to everyone who lets us pass or glances our way, or who we just see grinning at us.
Our first gas up of the trip went pretty smoothly. Took about 3 gallons which is just about what the tank holds. We had gone 114 miles and that works out to about 38 miles per gallon. Didn’t go into reserve at all… It was a cool morning although the horizon at the end of the highway was always in deep shrouded haze.
It was mostly gentle rolling countryside we spun through this day. Lots of farmland, and farm homes, and rustic green beauty spreading out on hills undulating and friendly.
I put my earplugs in after about 40 miles and it made a big difference in the enjoyment of the ride – not hearing the wind and the trucks so up front and personal…
We were pretty cool for a lot of the day… of course, after the lunch break I noticed that the fly was down on my suit – maybe THAT’s why I was so cool. Thank goodness it wasn’t that noticeable what with the long heavy jacket.
The success of this kind of trip and a lot of the enjoyment has to do with not making mistakes. The least mistakes made, the better it is to deal with the unexpected.
Things have to be done in order… for instance, when I put my helmet on first I have to take it off and THEN put my sunglasses on and also have to put my earplug in. Too many times until I get used to it, I put that helmet on and then quietly curse because i don’t have those sunglasses on yet – and have to take the damn helmet off again.
Getting into good habits early is important on a trip like this. Being vigilant about making sure pockets are closed and bags are tight is important. And trying to avoid the mistake of leaving the mc’s lights on because of hitting the kill switch instead of turning off the key at the ignition! That has cost me dead battery time before, and I’m trying not to let it happen again: so, it’s 1.) engine off, 2.) take out the key, 3.) lock the steering column, 4.) put key in the thigh bag pocket where it belongs.
Some kind of bug must have gotten into my open jacket sleeve just before Harrisburg. It wormed it’s way up, and seemed to have given me quite a couple of bites right below my right bicep. It was pretty painful, but when examining the location at the end of the day, there was no swelling or sign of a bite.
During the Subway lunch we took a bunch of napkins and stuffed them into the top of May’s helmet underneath the foam padding. This helped the helmet fit better and not be so heavy on her head or make so much pressure on her neck.
For most of the day we rode past gas stations posting $2.79 through $2.84’s. And that’s a lot less than the $3.15 through $3.24’s we’ve seen recently at home…
On the highway my eyes are always scanning, always scanning. Don’t want any surprises there…
Sadia Syed, a likeable woman with big brown eyes, was the manager at the Super 8 motel where I had made reservations over the phone last evening. She said it reached 101 degrees today, but after we said that we hadn’t found it a problem, she noted, “Well, you have an advantage the cars don’t have because you get a breeze!” And we thought how right she was…. it was a delightful soaring day on the bike – and we felt power and joy as we sailed along at mostly 80 and 90mph. It was well within safety range on the big highways and I, of course, backed it down when warranted. As a bicyclist it’s great being in and part of nature for thousands of miles. It’s not so much different for a motorcyclist.
After a bunking into the motel, and beginning these notes, and organizing gear, and taking a nap, we headed out around 5 for a nice walk/run.
(I really needed that nap as I got into a really head-weary state, partially perhaps from the excitement of the day, the lack of sleep last night, or not hydrating enough. But I awoke refreshed and feeling good)
We made a big circle around the motel and wound up in a strip mall part of town. There we found a health food store and got what turned out to be some delicious spinach-filled pitas and juices which we carried back to the motel.
We made some calls to relatives and settled into a relaxing mode after May washed some clothes and we ate. We covered the motorcycle which was in the shade of a nice little tree. We checked email over the wireless internet here, and that was fun for me.
It was everything one could ask for in a first day of riding: good miles, but not too many, an early stopping, a friendly mostly smooth highway, and time to relax at the end.
TOMORROW: INTO THE MOUNTAINS AND INTO THE CAVES
August 2, 2006 – Wednesday – Day 2
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 140 – Total Miles – 400
9:45am-4:45pm – 7 hours
Front Royal,VA to Charlottesville,VA
(-staying at Mike Shane’s – a former Havertown neighbor and friend)
– THE HIGHS – THE LOWS –
Rolling back on the second half of the morning mile run we had a strong head-breeze hit us that was cool and delicious. It was strong in our face as the winds swung out of the mountains before us. In front of the Super 8 we stopped at the motorcycle and took the cover off of it. It was beginning to warm up into another 100 degree day. May found not one, but TWO lucky pennies on the ground during the run.
Sent out the first of the journal notes on the motel wireless internet which worked flawlessly during our stay… For breakfast we finished the last of the spinach pies and also had some English muffins and a lot of the orange juice from the motel lobby area.
As we tanked up at the gas station across from the motel, we met Jim and Susan from up near Stroudsberg,PA. They were riding his rebuilt Vulcan. He had adjusted it so it gets up to 200 miles per hour. Jim said proudly that he bought a new motorcycle every year, and that the Goldwing he had for years needed nothing but new tires after he rode it for many miles. I was happy to hear that as we’ve been considering getting one.
At the turn off to Skyline Drive we came closest to dumping the mc. At a standstill we both leaned the wrong way and almost went over with the 600+ pound Shadow. We drilled what to do if that happens: tuck in and try not to do the reflexive put-your-arm out. That way the roll bars and our suits will protect us – and an arm or hand won’t be broken.
At 9:50am we rode right up to the entrance of the park. A bicyclist was unloading his bicycle for a day ride up into the mountains. He took our picture by the entrance sign.
As we got to the official entry way and the lady stamped our National Park pass, I got a little choked up at being there amidst that grandeur again. It’s an almost magical place to me – where I had sweated many hours toiling on those up grand mountains, stood triumphant on the summits, and then swooped so deliciously down the other sides. The 600-mile range has great meaning to me. I mentioned to the lady how, on the first trip (a 2,000-mile bicycle ride from Philadelphia to Dallas), the lady in the booth, feeling sorry for me I suppose, let me onto the Drive for free.
I remembered seeing the little milepost stone number “1”….
Twenty-five miles away, at Elkwallow there is a little camp store and gas station. And a delightful tree-lined fresh-aired 25 miles it was! The many overlooks were mainly marred by fog enshrouding the distant valleys below or mountains in the distance. But the top-of-the-world feelings rushed back at me from the other times there. And the wonderful splash of yellows from the daisies were phenomenal! May said she had goosebumps from the coolness and the excitement.
In the store, the lady behind the counter thought I was a fireman coming in… Outside I chatted with some friendly mc folks from Reading,PA…
Whenever we’d stop at an overlook or on the road the little gnats would congregate around our faces. It brought back memories of me on the bicycle trying to move up the mountains with my 40 pounds or so of camping gear, etc., to stay a few steps ahead of those annoying insects. (Usually unsuccessfully, I might add.)
I thought back to the first time I saw deer on the Drive. I put up my binoculars at the beautiful creatures standing at the edge of the wooded area, and it was then I discovered that in the wild those cute animals all have hoards of flies and fleas buzzing around their faces!!! Not exactly the romantic image of Bambi we all have in the back of our collective consciousness….
The ups and downs in the mountains were effortless and with the little traffic, it was great riding. What a contrast to the superslab riding of yesterday. It was to be a short day today because, our next stop is so close – a friend from home. And, Luray Caverns is nearby as well.
At 11:20am, after 32 miles on the Skyline Drive we headed out of the mountains to Luray.
Founded by a couple guys 126 years ago, the collection of caves and geologic formations are among the best in the world. They go on for miles underground. The $18 ticket gets you a tour guide for a group and a walk of about a mile along fabulously lit walkways and underground nature views at their best.
The reflecting pools are among the most amazing sights here – so still and tranquil, they mirror the walls and ceilings of the large and small cities of stalactites and stalagmites.
Throughout the mile walk I was aching for my good camera equipment and perhaps a tripod for the mostly low and sensitive lighting. It was frustrating to only have what I had and to know that I had what was needed – but it was 300 miles away. The tour leader was a boy about 18 who talked in a monotone and so low, that especially hard of hearing folks like me couldn’t hear him at all. The stupid jokes that could be heard were so lame! And they must have been memorized from a 25 year-old script.
There’s an organ in the midst of the Luray complex of caves. Seems a guy came for a visit in 1957 and he figured a way to attach wires to various stalactites and get them to reverberate at a certain pitch. They bill it as the biggest musical instrument in the world. The sound was pretty interesting but not as amazing as it was billed.
(Warning: Philosophical Note Ahead!) So much in the caverns is seen by special lighting – so we can’t see what it really looks like… it’s a little like life itself, or advertising things, or movie stars, or movies, or even some of our memories… It’s not really reality we’re seeing… For instance, when the flashbulb went off, the picture taken was of the “plain” rocks without the special lighting. It was still amazing, but the reality is only half as amazing as it appears on the walk through…
Some guy waiting in line at Luray was wearing a particularly upbeat t-shirt of quotations from Maui, Hawaii. I asked him if I could take a picture of it, and he readily said okay. One of the sayings on the shirt read, “No rain, no rainbows!’ I thought that showed a lot of insight in the ‘making lemons from lemonade’ vein….
We spent some time in the gift shop and then left for the highway.
We made a quick 2pm stop at a huge Wal-mart for a big blue sheet, some AA batteries (since the rechargeables didn’t last as long as i hoped they would in one of my cameras), and some earplugs (since I only seemed to have brought one).
As we were leaving the lunch stop Taco Bell, a young woman walked in. I recognized her from the ornate tattoo which stretched across the breadth of her back. I made note of the fact that I had seen her in Wal-Mart moments before. (I often talk to folks about their tats – wondering if they fade, and how much they cost, and if they know ANYone who ever had an infection from getting one.) And then she proudly showed me the wonderful colorful angel or fairy fairly covering her left calf. Her mom was nearby and she chimed in about her sons’ tattoos. So I asked her since her progeny all had one, if she had a tattoo anywhere? She said no, but that she had wanted to get one, but her husband wouldn’t allow it. She said she wanted a little seahorse on one of her butt cheeks, but her husband said that he’d just have to watch that sea horse getting bigger and bigger every year, and so she couldn’t get one….
We had about an hour or so of highway riding to Charlottesville, Virginia, where a friend who had moved away from my Havertown neighborhood had lived until a few years ago. It was good visiting with Mike for the short time we did. May walked with Mike and his little dog Moshe and they chatted a bit as I wrote and studied the map. We said how we’d be back in the autumn to visit and check out nearby Monticello. Mike was on a healthy diet kick – regrettably made necessary by some health problems recently. But we fit right in and it was good seeing him, and spending some time together.
August 3, 2006 – Thursday – Day 3
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 326 – Total Miles – 726
8:30am-3:30pm – 7 hours
Charlottesville,VA to Charlotte,SC
(-staying at Bud and Marlyn Oehrli’s – old friends, and parents of a student of mine)
– WE BREAK 300 MILES! – ANOTHER WARM ONE – OLD FRIENDS –
We had a run around the only level part of Mike’s complex (about 5 times around!), and wouldn’t you know it, May found yet another penny.
We had a good bowl of cereal and left in the beginning of the rising heat around 8:30pm. Mike and Moshe had gone inside. And again, we were soon alone on our way down the highway.
Passed a dead young deer on the side of the interstate today, and at one point passed a truck that must have been carrying manure – ugh, was that ever bad!
At noon we took a 40-minute lunch and rest break from the steady highway riding.
We stop around every 100 to 110 miles for gas. And for us to stretch around a bit.
Fifty miles north of South Carolina the gas was the highest we’ve paid in awhile – $3.05/gal.…. We were both hot and tired on this third day in a row of 100+ degree heat. Still, it wasn’t totally unbearable. A short stop in a gas-food place for something cold to drink always seems to bring us both back up to par.
Arrived at the Oehrli’s just before 3:30pm. Bud and Marlyn’s daughter Beth was in one of my third grades. And Bud and I soon became good running buddies. We probably hadn’t seen each other though for about 14 years – or that was as close as we could figure.
When the garage door opened there was a place to pull the motorcycle right in…
It was sure good seeing the Oehrli’s again!! And their new home in Tega Cay, essentially a Charlotte, SC, ‘burb, was gorgeous beyond words. Our guest room was like a little hotel suite – and a 5-Star hotel at that!!!! Marlyn greeted us with her great smile.
May and I washed up and changed from our sweaty clothing, and soon Bud arrived. And we launched into reliving a lot of old memories – long exhausting runs (Bud alleged they were always longer than I said they’d be), and updating about people now passed away or whereabouts of common friends, and news about the school district.
I went with Bud to the nearby supermarket for some things, and we met there a fellow handing out newspapers who was newly transplanted from Wayne, PA. We also went into a nearby eatery looking to see if they had wireless internet there, as Bud didn’t at home.
Beth lives in the area and we got to meet her son, Anthony, when his other grandparents brought him over. He’s got quite the twinkle in his eye, enough energy for a battalion, and a clear simmering intelligence behind quickly moving eyes. Before he left, I got a picture of him on the motorcycle to which he took a shining.
For supper Marlyn made a delicious zucchini pie and a wonderful salad. And then there was Bud’s favorite, white-on-white cake for dessert.
After dinner we were taken on a tour of the community, and got to see the beach area and the marina where we saw the “Rig-a-Tony”. That’s Bud and Marlyn’s pontoon boat cleverly named by Marlyn after their cute-as-a-button grandchild.
It was getting dark by the time Beth called on the cell phone and we headed right back to the house. It was good seeing her again and updating my view of her – which was still as an 8-year-old in my classroom. Now she was very pregnant 30’s-something. But she still had that warming smile about her. It was good reminiscing a bit and then hearing her husband, a new principal, talk excitedly about his first assignment as school here was just beginning. They left around 9:30ish.
Bud and I tried to figure out how to use his cable into my computer to send out the journal, but we couldn’t quite figure it. I did, however, get onto my AOL email account through his Internet Express, so could respond to a few emails.
A little after 9:30pm, that I checked my cell phone for messages. There was, in fact, one from the home security people. They reported that there was a signal sent to them via the system that there was a fire in the house. (Now THAT caught my attention!!) With a gulp I tried to reach Dolwin, but only got a message. Then I called the Brinks people, and only heard that the alarm had gone off, no other details. I had made Dolwin the initial contact, but Brinks had still called me first. Shortly, Dolwin, having seen that I had called, was trying to get through. He said that he was working in the basement, that the heat or smoke from the tools he was using, set off the alarm, and that he had hit ‘cancel’ too late. The fire truck didn’t come out, but a police officer did. Apparently, after explaining things, the officer left and all was okay again.
About 10pm, and exhausted, I came out into the living room and said I was going to sleep. Marlyn noted, “So, you’re gonna crash now?”… and without losing a beat, I said to her, “Well, considering the type of trip we’re on, I would appreciate it if you didn’t use quite that particular expression….”
The bed was high exquisitely comfy – especially after the long hours in the saddle… we fell almost instantly into a deep sleep.
TOMORROW: STREAKING DUE WEST
August 4, 2006 – Friday – Day 4
PA TO TX, KEY WEST AND RETURN – SUMMER 2006
Miles Today – 281 – Total Miles – 1007(!)
9am-4pm – 7 hours
Charlotte (Tega Cay) to Atlanta (Lithia Springs),GA
(-staying at a Motel 6)
(States: SC, NC, SC, GA)
THE POLICE! – WE CROSS THE 1000-MILE MARK! –
It was a great night’s sleep in this 5-star place!
We took a little longer lingering among friends. We were just leaving and everyone was out by the bike except me. I came out the garage door in full gear, and I announced solemnly, “Well, I’ve decided that I’m not leaving.” Bud, as always with his great sometimes dry wit, but always quick and funny comeback, noted, “Well, you might want to dress down a little.”
Hit a small traffic jam shortly after leaving Bud and Marlyn’s.
I always travel with a little set of binoculars, and we saved several minutes and miles when I used them to spy down the road to some distant signage. We headed north a bit to reach the big highway Interstate 85 west and south. And we were on that until reaching the other side of Atlanta where we picked up I-20.
Some motorcycling folks don’t care for superslab riding, but I enjoy the breeze and the movement and all the little soap operas that the cars and trucks play along the way.
Played leapfrog with a bronco for a while along Route 85. Finally, he shot past us going about 100 mph, and I figured, “What the heck? Why not?” So I pulled on the right grip, and May and I zoomed ahead quickly and effortlessly overtaking the Bronco and not looking back. May leaned over my shoulder at that point and got a good picture of the needle nudging around the century mark.
May could not have seen the groundhog that I probably almost hit. Just as we were whizzing down the highway in the left hand lane a big furry thing came tentatively out on to the road from the grassy island on our left. I saw the little guy looking up and around, but at 85 mph I didn’t get too good a glance. I gripped the handlebars hard awaiting the impact (and likely the carnage!) to follow. And I was well aware that the animal had the ability – though unwittingly – to throw us into a topspin if I didn’t handle the bike right. We seemed right over him as we hurled past, but I felt no jarring, and there was no gore splashed up. And, of course, I had no way of being able to look in the rear view mirror for such a tiny thing, now long past. Best I guessed that either the car behind us got him, or he rushed back to the safety of the lawned island between the east and west highways….
About 50 miles east of Atlanta there was a huge backup of traffic for about five or more miles. May took a picture of a friendly trucker next to us who gave us a thumbs up and told us that she had checked on her cb radio and that an accident was ahead.
We sat in amongst the hundreds of cars and the scores of trucks and we were stewing in the blazing sun of what was likely 100+ degree heat on that white cement highway. It seemed as if we were in a crock-pot turned on high in our protective gear for about 10 minutes or more. Our perspiration was providing a dandy basting sauce, and must have come near the boiling point a few times as well.
Soon I decided to squirt up the right hand shoulder past all the waiting cars. Did that (illegally and somewhat nervously, I might add) for a couple miles then ducked back in line figuring I didn’t want to push my luck too much. But then I got impatient again, and we scooted another few miles past the line-up of fuming cars and trucks.
After a bit, we broke out into the open with traffic moving, and there was no sign whatsoever of what caused the massive backup.
Outside of Atlanta to the west off the first exit we stopped for gas. As I was going into the little store there a woman tried to panhandle me for a soda. Inside the place folks were helpful when I asked about directions. When I came back out an officer was in his car talking to May who was standing by the bike and the gas pump. When he saw me approach he seemed to relax, and then he said that he was just making sure that May wasn’t “being harassed” as this “was a bad part of town”. We told Bob, the officer about our big trip, and he said he took special attention to us because he rode – a Harley, and because he was at first thinking may was alone. He said he’d been on some trips to and through the mountains, but nothing much further. I told him I appreciated his help, and that if he ever made it to Pennsylvania to give us a call, and I gave him our number.
The fellow was very friendly to us, but my first thought when I saw him pulled up beside the motorcycle at the pump was that he had caught up to us after seeing us stroll down the emergency lane for so many miles – or that he had finally found us after his police buddies on the force had radioed that the motorcyclists in the yellow outfits had been exceeding the speed limits (by 40 mph!!!)… but no to all – he was just being kind.
We spent about an hour between 4 and dish looking for a suitable motel. Between needing internet, desiring a no smoking room, and considering price, we stopped at as many as five different places. Finally, Motel 6 came closest to all requirements, even though it would be just old dial-up instead of wireless.
Felicia was the friendly young lady at the front desk. I spied the pool outside, and said that it looked inviting. She muttered that she wished she had some time there. I announced that I’d happily take over her job for her for fifteen minutes so she could have a dip. That brought the first smile to her tired face.
We were able to leave the bike out front under the portico here. It looked like rain.
Here was an odd thing: I noticed a swastika penned in on one of the window frames outside. It wasn’t very big, but there were about three of them. I mentioned this to Felicia, and to my huge amazement, she didn’t know what a swastika was!!! I just couldn’t fathom that she wasn’t aware – especially as a black person – what the symbol stood for! I explained it to her and said she really ought to call the police, too. She didn’t seem to think that the police here would be that concerned… I did notice later that she had smudged them out.
We took one of two popcorns we had brought from home, and went in search of a microwave. Felicia was happy to take our bag in the back and pop it up for us. We enjoyed it back in the room.
A bit later we picked up the phone and ordered a Dominos tomato pie with mushrooms for dinner. About an hour after we called, a tired looking woman shortly delivered it. May had a good talk with her daughter Jennifer who was wondering about when we might arrive in Texas. Our best guess is in about three or four days.
On our PowerBook G4 laptop computer we watched one of the dvd’s we had brought with us, a clever, funny, mostly poignant movie named Shallow Hal with Joe Black and Gwyneth Paltrow.
May went to sleep after that and I worked through some tiredness on the journal notes, but could not finish them from being so exhausted. I practically fell asleep with keyboard on my lap in bed around 10ish. We certainly got a lot out of this day from one end to another….