Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Flying at Christmas - You can't go home again

Detroit Airport 
I never did finish that novel by Thomas Wolfe, but as far as I got, I can see how that would happen. With my book, I'm not too worried about going home again. No huge secrets being told or nasty comments. But that's not exactly the kind of home coming I'm talking about. I traveled to New England to see my grand baby once again, only this time I was flying.

No big deal, right? Eh, I started home yesterday about this time, and I'm still not there. In fact, I'm now west of Denver waiting for my complimentary hotel breakfast at the airport Quality Inn. Bad weather caused my flight from Burlington to Detroit to be delayed about 3 hours. That meant I sat in the Burlington airport for 5 hours. This, of course, caused me to miss my connection to Denver. Using my new iPad in the Burlington airport, I changed my reservation to take me to Salt Lake City and then to Denver, arriving around 9:30. Only four hours later than my original arrival time. No big deal.

By the time we landed, I had to walk what felt like five miles from the farthest gate in concourse C to the farthest gate in concourse A, and I had about five minutes to do it. Moving sidewalks helped, but it was a long way, there were huge gaps between the conveyor belts, and I wasn't wearing great shoes for walking. I arrived at A73 sweating and almost panting, desperate because there was no plane at the gate. Yes, despite the announcement on the screen in the terminal that said the flight was on time, it was actually going to be another two hours before that flight was heading out. I wasn't the only one that was happy, irritated and exhausted all at the same time. Another wait, and another check to see if I was going to make it to Denver. Nope.

I talked to the guy at the gate, who had one of the most soothing voices I've ever heard, but there was nothing else leaving Salt Lake City, and he wasn't promising anything. That's fine. At least I'd make it to my time zone. We finally boarded, and I was sitting in the middle seat with a woman and her nine-month old baby boy next to me. The guy in the window seat found a seat next to his wife a few rows back, so I was able to move over, and we had room for the adorable young man between us. Pre-granddaughter, I might have been really tense about the situation. But while I have the most beautiful baby granddaughter in the world, this kid was easily the cutest baby boy in the world. I know his mom was concerned, but I was perfectly happy with playing with him. Besides, there was free Internet on the airplane. How cool is that? I even found an app for my new iPad that allowed me to text my sweetie (Joe 13) in Colorado and let him know I probably wouldn't be making it home.

Sure enough, I was not making it out of Salt Lake City. A man at the gate told me where to go to talk to other Delta agents. As soon as I walked up, they asked if I'd missed my connecting flight. Yes. She asked for my boarding pass, so I handed her my phone with the boarding pass that had been texted to me in Burlington. In less than a minute I had a voucher for a meal, a hotel room, and my new boarding pass for the first flight in the morning.

With my $6 meal voucher, I hit the Burger King in the airport. I was the last person there, and the guy cleaning up looked as weary as I felt. Probably even more. When I got up to leave, I left a buck on the table. I know it wasn't much, but having worked for minimum wage plus tips, not too long ago, even a simple dollar can be greatly appreciated. I know it isn't customary to tip at Burger King, but I wanted to know that despite my long and frustrating day, I could still be a thoughtful person and maybe make someone else's day a little brighter.

I was so happy to see the shuttle show up to take me to the hotel. It must have been apparent. The driver told me that I was the first person he'd seen smile all day. Again, I felt good that I hadn't let the trials of the day cause me to be a dud, like a burned out Christmas light. Instead I was the only bulb lit on the string. A group of three people got on the shuttle with me. They were a generation ahead of me, plus one, but they also rode a motorcycle in better weather, and we talked about motorcycles and rallies on the drive to the hotel. When we got there, I wanted to tip the driver, but all I had was my last five dollar bill. I was hoping to see one of the other passengers pull out a wad of bills so I could ask for change, but nobody was reaching into their pockets. What the heck. I gave the guy my five. It's Christmas, right? I don't have a ton of money, but being able to amuse myself with my new iPad and MacBook and Droid phone on my way across the country, it's hard to feel like I can't part with five bucks for a guy who has obviously had a really rough day for very little pay.

The hotel itself was a little rough on the outside, but my room was nice. I spent too much time on the phone with Joe13 when I realized that I had to get up before five to get to the airport in time. I enjoyed my nice hot shower in the morning and packed. Again, I chose to be thoughtful to the person who's probably making minimum wage cleaning my room. I always try to put all my trash in one can in the room. I piled the used towels on the closed toilet seat so it's one less time the housekeeper has to bend over, and I threw away my unused portion of soap. It isn't much. It doesn't take a lot of time. But it does make that job just a little easier.

I suppose my time last winter working for minimum wage, working harder at nastier jobs than I've ever had, as given me a new appreciation for the people who are stuck doing those jobs their entire lives. Sure the economy sucks, and we have less money and less security than ever, but that's when we need to have compassion. If we can afford to travel or eat out or text on our Internet-enabled phones, we can afford to show a little Christmas spirit to those we don't know, regardless of the time of year.


Now that I'm at the gate. I thought  I'd add my piece about airport security.

Denver at 8:00 am on a Thursday: Large airport, never stopped moving, no screening out of the ordinary, didn't see much of anything crazy going on.

Burlington at 10:00 am on a Monday: Small airport, lots of TSA agents with not much to do. While there were only about 10 of us there, we all got special treatment. I got tested for bomb-making residue, which was totally non-invasive. My bag got a thorough inspection. I think it was the 3 pound block of Seriously Sharp Cabot Cheddar cheese that made them suspicious.

Salt Lake City at 6:30 am on a Tuesday: Large airport, although not quite as large as Denver. Longer wait just to get to the part where they check your boarding pass and ID. I had to do the thing where you stand on the two yellow footprints and raise your hands. They show you a picture of the detail they'll see. I'm glad I don't have a penis. I just hope my bra was doing its job. Again the bag search and the block of cheese. This time they were interested in what looked like a wrench. Yes, I carry a 10mm wrench wherever I go. It's my rabbit's foot. If you read my cross-country trip blog of three years ago, you get it. If not, you'll have to wait until the book comes out. Anyway, I might hold off on the wrench for the next trip, but I'm sure I'll need it to loosen and/or tighten the nut on a battery if I leave it at home. After much consideration, they decided the wrench wasn't a threat, thankfully. It's my best 10mm wrench with the ratcheting box end.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More fun with Joe13

Joe13 has an impressive collection of motorcycles. A couple of the more late model Harleys he rides regularly. His '46 Flathead has been registered continually for a few decades, but it hasn't been on the road for about a year. As with anything, especially a 64 year old motorcycle, it needed a little coaxing.

When Joe13 rolled the bike out of its resting place, it needed a little work. Since he can do anything in his shop, this wasn't a problem and didn't take long. However, the kicker gears are just about shot, and because it had been sitting for so long, Joe13 pulled out his homemade... I don't even know what to call it. I would not have believed this "tool" existed nor safely worked had I not seen it in action. And in reality, I didn't see it work, because using the tool was a two-man process, and I was the second man (person). That probably makes even less sense. Let me explain.

While expecting Joe13 to be rolling out the bike, he took off to the back yard and pulled a small pickup truck around to the front of the shop. Thinking he was suffering from a severe case of shiny object syndrome, I kept my mouth shut and waited to find out what project we were working on now. It was then that he pointed out this strange steel contraption on the floor of the garage. It was about six feet long and two feet wide. Mounted on it were two large rollers running the length of the... thing. I'm still at a loss for what to call this.

Joe13 had me back the truck up so that the right rear wheel was positioned between the two rollers. He chalked the front wheel of the truck. Then he pulled the Flathead out and placed the rear wheel of the Flathead between the two rollers. He told me to drive. I was sure he was going to die. But he didn't. The truck tire got the rollers moving, which then got the Flathead's rear wheel moving. Within a few seconds, the Flathead roared to life, having been push started without any crazy running around of human beings.

Maybe you've seen something like this before. I never have. Joe13 made it himself many years ago. While it does require two people and a truck, if you live in the country on dirt roads without any downhill slopes from the shop, or if you and your friends are just plain old, it's a valuable tool.

Having started the motorcycle, Joe13 took it for a quick spin to clear out the cobwebs. It ran amazingly well. When he got back, I asked if he'd take me for a ride. It had been twenty years since I'd ridden on the back of a rigid frame with such sparse accommodations, and I wanted to reminisce. With the rear footpegs being only about six inches below and six inches in front of my seat, it required a bit of effort to get situated. I reached between my legs to wrap my arms tightly around Joe13 while he took off. It was awesome!

We rode into town, Joe13 using the suicide clutch and tank shifter as though he'd done it all his life. He's ridden that bike on the street since he was 15, so he has done it most of his life. It was dark at this point, with the moon poking out of some stray clouds, and as we passed the old drive-in, I felt like I was living a David Mann poster. Riding like that came back to me quickly. Wanting to shift my weight without throwing off Joe13's balance, I waited until he pushed down on the clutch and the bike slowed slightly to move my butt forward a little on the p-pad. I loved it when he leaned back and threw his left arm over my knee. I smiled when I considered that if I'd seen another woman riding on the back of a bike like that, I'd have been extremely jealous.

We got gas. Joe13 went in to pay and told me to pump. I took the cap off the right side of the tank but noticed the word "oil" stamped in the tank under that cap. There was oil in there. I replaced that cap and filled the left side with fuel. We took off back for the shop, losing power along the way. The spark plug wires had seen better days, and it was time for a replacement. Despite that small maintenance requirement, the bike ran great. The 99 degree August day had cooled to a pleasant 75 degrees and was finished off with an unexpected ride on a true antique motorcycle. Life doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A quick Sturgis trip with Joe13

Last year I wrote about a trip to the Black Hills during the last week of August. it was a beautiful time to be there. Not only were the motorcycle crowds gone, but almost all the tourists had left, leaving some great riding in perfect weather. This year I decided I'd give the rally a try. Having never been to Sturgis during rally week, I figured I'd go for a day to see what I was missing. I'm glad I went.

I'm glad I went early. Sturgis officially started today, August 9th. I rode up with a friend on the 7th and back on the 8th. It was a last minute decision to go, so no plans were made. We left Loveland before noon, and with a detour to my favorite quilt shop in Hill City, we got to Sturgis just before sunset. We hit Main Street, parked, and walked around for a bit, stopping to visit Webb from Joker's Wild in Fort Collins tattooing at the Tattoo Cellar. Cell service in Sturgis is terrible, but I was able to text a friend who told us to meet him at Full Throttle Saloon.

We figured out how to find Full Throttle and headed out. When we got there, we parked next to Geico's Dyna Drags trailer. My friend loves motorcycle racing, so we hung out and watched. They wanted people to race, which was $30 for three runs, plus you got a t-shirt and print-out of your racing statistics. I'm not sure what made me think it was a good idea, but I thought it looked like fun, and I wanted to see what my bike would do. I paid my $30 and went for it. I was the first woman of Sturgis 2010 to race on the dyno. Nobody went while I was there, so I did it alone. I say alone, but the crowd got pretty big. The guys running it were hyping it up, and someone was filming the whole thing. I was nervous, never having done this before, but I had a blast. My last run was 13.25 seconds for the quarter mile, with a speed of 107 MPH and 71 horsepower. Wow! I was so excited all night that I couldn't sleep.

Oh yeah, sleep. We had made zero plans for a place to stay. Someone told us about a campground a little way out of town where we could get a spot for one night at a time. This was different from a lot of the really big places that only sold week-long spots for big bucks. We had no idea where we were going, and it was getting really dark and desolate, but after a while I saw some lights and a lot of vehicles turning down a side road. Sure enough, I'd found the Shade Valley Campground. The rate there is $20 per person, per night. They have a pretty impressive shower house way in the back for the tenters, but beware of cow patties everywhere.

The next day we went back into town for breakfast, where I was promptly recognized from my run on the dyno the night before. Very cool! We paid $7 for an all-you-can-eat pancake and biscuits and gravy breakfast at a school. Then we went into town, parked on Main Street again, and checked out the vendors. My friend owns Two Guys Motorcycle Shop in Loveland, so it was a trade show for us. It was a lot of fun meeting the vendors and learning about their new products.

By noon on Sunday, between the lack of sleep, heat, and crowds, I was on overload and was ready to head home. I'm not a big fan of crowds, and I'd reached my limit. It's easy to see why there are so many wrecks during bike week. It's hard to focus on everything you need to in order to ride safely. Riders are of all different experience levels, and you never know what the person next to you is going to do. I'm glad I went, and I'm glad I went early. I'm not sure I'd be able to tolerate much more traffic and noise, and the official week hadn't even begun! I'll probably go back, but not for much longer than I did this year.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The last day - coming home

I started to throw the last day into a "Joe" post, but as I was writing it, I decided it needed a post of its own.

My last day of the trip, riding into Colorado, was the best day of the trip. I wanted to come back through the mountains, so I crossed into New Mexico and over Raton Pass. I missed the exit I wanted to take, but getting off in Colorado City and taking 165 up through the San Isabel National Forest turned out to be spectacular. The weather was perfect. The sky was the most intense blue and the greens of the grasses and brush were more lush than I'd ever seen. I blew by Bishop Castle, wondering why all the cars were there. I caught a glimpse of the structure, pulled a u-turn, and went back. I won't go into the details of Bishop Castle here, but know that if you live in Colorado, you must visit. If you're passing through and it's a reasonable detour for you, you really should go. Be forewarned - if you aren't afraid of heights, you might be after climbing that bad boy.

I took the advice of the super-friendly and beautiful woman in the gift shop, and after continuing north on 165, I followed 96 west into Westcliffe. The view of the Sangre de Christo mountain range is wall-to-wall breathtaking. Westcliffe is a small artsy-fartsy town with several small restaurants and other neat places to spend money. Sitting at my little sidewalk cafe table, I decided to go straight home from there. I'd had a morning full of incredible Colorado beauty, and everything from here out I'd seen before. Reality was calling.

I went back across US 50 past Royal Gorge and into Canon City (I don't know how to make that little squiggly line over the "n"). Before I got to the gorge, I saw hints of a wild land fire ahead. It went from a hint to a full blown view of flames on the mountainside before too long. I stopped in the same turn off where I met Dowlin Mayfield of the Mean Street Riders two years prior and took a picture of the scene. I couldn't believe they were letting us pass on the road. The smoke was thick on the road. As I was working through the worst part, I was listening to "Interstate Love Song" by the Stone Temple Pilots: Breathing is the hardest thing to do... How appropriate.

There were more fires in the mountains on the way in to Canon City. I stopped at a gas station to fill up and get something to drink. While inside, I heard locals calling others and spreading the news of a possible evacuation. Ash was flying around outside. I decided it was time to get the heck out of Dodge. The rest of the ride home was I-25 to Route 52 north of Denver. I stopped and texted my neighbor to tell her I was almost home. I asked if she had food so I would know if I needed to stop and buy something for dinner on the way home. I was greeted with a freshly grilled t-bone upon arrival.

Unlike my last cross-county trip, I was glad to be home. Also unlike my last cross-country trip, I was thrilled to call this place my home. This trip was different from the last. I knew I'd never be able to duplicate the experience, so I didn't try. Nor did I have expectations of a life-changing adventure. My motive in heading out with little preparation and few comforts was to create a different experience that I'd treasure as much as the first one. I didn't see anything stunning and new this trip, until my last day in Colorado, just a few hours from home.

But it was life-changing. My trip back to Georgia put me in touch with some people who had things I needed to hear. That visit, together with the 20 year anniversary of my leaving and stumbling across an old motorcycle license plate, broke down a wall in my heart. I grieved over the loss of my son's father for the first time. Both the loss of his sanity, which eventually necessitated my leaving in order to save the lives of me and my son, and his death. It's amazing the feeling of relief I had while being so incredibly sad at the same time. And I cry again while writing this... Somehow, everything seems brighter and lighter.

On my first trip, I found God. This trip brought a recovery I never thought I'd get. Makes me wonder what the next trip will bring.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Great friends in Texas. Great food. Great shops and bars. The worst freaking heat like I never could have imagined for the middle of June. Yeah, I know. Bitch, bitch, bitch. I loved everything about my stay in Texas, except for the heat, and I've come to the conclusion that Texas has the worst cage drivers in the country. Just sayin...

About 4 miles from the border, my saddlebag bracket broke again. This time I was in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. My brain was fried from the heat. I called my friend Chuck that I was going to see in south Texas, and he suggested I bungee cord the thing up. Great idea! I had one of these Rok straps, which are really great for tying things down on the bike. I only had one because I forgot to secure one last year on a trip and lost half of it. I'd thrown the one in the saddlebag for this trip thinking it might come in handy, and it was the perfect tool for the job. I was able to loop it through the brackets on either side of the bike, tighten up, and take off with the confidence that my stuff would stay with me.

I eventually made it to the "town" near where Chuck lives and tried to call him, but I had zero cell service from the store. I went in to ask about a pay phone. Remember those? You put money in them and then called people. Back in the day it cost a dime. Then it was a quarter. Then you needed a credit card. Alas, no pay phone. The woman asked what number I was calling, and I showed her my phone with Chuck's name. She told me that her father was a "close personal friend" of Chuck's, which totally cracked me up, but that was a good thing. She let me use her cell phone to call Chuck, and he emerged from the back woods to lead me to his house.

I pulled the bike in the shop and then ran to the air conditioned house. This was the first time I'd met Chuck in person, but I've spoken to him for tech tips on the bike, and I've corresponded with his wife about embroidery machines. What did we do before the Internet? Yeah, I know. I was there. All this information can be a curse, but it can be pretty cool too.

I had initially planned on spending several days at Chuck's; enough to get some good headway on the book, if not get it done. I had visions of sitting on the porch during the day, which were promptly shattered when the temperature was 109 upon arrival. Then I started worrying about stuff back home and not sleeping well. I had a great time hanging out with Chuck and his wife, meeting Chrome and Cardboard (I think that would make a great band name), and eating Crawfish Etouffee at the Cajun restaurant in the big city of Livingston. Chrome just returned from the Run for the Wall. It was a lot of fun hanging out with a woman who rides as much as I do. I loved her pictures from the trip, which included one from Wytheville (remember the initial broken saddlebag bracket). We had a good laugh over that. Unfortunately I missed meeting Cowboy, but the road called, and I headed up to Dallas to see a couple of friends before going home.

The ride up to Dallas, while nice at first, created my new dislike of Texas drivers over all others. I've now ridden in all lower 48 states except Kentucky, Washington and Oregon, and Texas stands out. Maybe being from New England and spending a lot of time in New York, I'm accustomed to outright hostile and aggressive driving. A number of Texas drivers struck me as clueless. There were two memorable ones. The first was a driver without brake lights, which in itself would be a little tough, but was made worse since the drive would choose to slow down quickly at times that weren't foreseeable. Add the logging truck behind me, and it was a thrill a minute. The second was an FJ Cruiser behind me in construction traffic. I'm not sure why he refused to pass me when I pulled over and politely motioned him to pass me after my subtle attempts to get him off my ass weren't working.

Dallas included a trip to The Old Bike Shop with its small but fun museum stashed in the back. After that was Strokers, the mega-mall of all things biker: bike shop, wild customs, all kinds of clothing and accessories, and a bar. I was thrilled to take this tour with a woman I've worked with at a distance, Raine Devries. We both contributed to the book Biker Chicks, and we are writers for Examiner.com. Raine is the Dallas Motorcycle Examiner, Harley-Davidson Examiner, and the Dallas Downtown Examiner. She is also heavily into film production. This worked out well for me because she knows people, and that meant I got to see a little behind the scenes fun at Strokers. After hanging out with Raine, I buzzed over to the east side of Dallas, on the edge of Lake Ray Hubbard, for lunch with a woman from HD Forums. After that it was back to my friend's house north of Dallas for dinner and a movie. We saw A-Team. So much fun!

Dallas was my last stop in Texas. I struggled with the need to get home and move, and my desire to take a nice cool ride in the Colorado mountains before getting back to life not on the road.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Deep South

I left off at my first stop in Georgia. I made another quick one before heading back west across the southern states. At the risk of offending the friend I stopped to visit on the west side of Atlanta, I hadn't been expecting a lot. I knew it would be fun to see her and catch up, but I had no idea how much it would mean to me. I previously mentioned how I hadn't been back or spoken to anyone from that ten-year chunk of my past, for the last twenty years.

On one hand, I'm a very different person. There isn't a need to relive the past. People don't need to know who I was then. But I have to say, it is so comforting to talk to someone who does know who I was. We shared some... experiences, I guess is a good way to put it. Having someone to talk to that really knows what I was up against - priceless. We didn't visit for too long, but it felt like it took years off my life. (Having just re-read this, I think I need to clarify. I mean that in a good way, as in rather than having lived 48 years, I've only lived 45 - like that.)

I left Georgia on I-20, but I quickly left the Interstate and traveled through Talladega to Montgomery before stopping. It was hot. I stopped at a truck stop, where I think a trucker was trying to pick me up. I'm not sure if talking about taking a shower is the secret password, but it seemed like an odd topic for a random discussion with a stranger. I got on the bike and headed toward Mississippi.

I had planned to go a little further south and take US 84 west. As good as a nice summer shower sounded, the clouds to the south were looking a little scary. I didn't want to let the rain stop me again, so I planned on riding until the rain got heavy and then waiting out the worst of the storms. Although I was on a small state road, I saw that there would be a lot of opportunities at deserted gas stations, churches, and other uninhabited structures with awnings that would protect the motorcycle and me. I even considered spending the night in one of these places if the rain was more persistent than I was anticipating.

My first stop was at an operating gas station that was closing soon. The proprietor had satellite tv at his counter and was looking at the weather. I saw a huge storm just north of Mobile and just south of me; the northern edge of the storm I could see out the window. The weather report also showed rain throughout Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana for the next day, which meant I had no desire to hang out any longer than necessary. I decided to keep pushing and at least make it to Mississippi. The storm hit hard but let up pretty quickly, and I was back on the way.

Before too long, I had to stop again. This time it was a dilapidated old gas station, but at least I had cell phone service there and was able to check my e-mail and hang out on Facebook for a bit before moving on. Soon after that, I stopped to check my map since my original plans included riding right into that huge storm cell. After parking the bike, I looked back and saw a rainbow. The skies were clear to the west, and I headed on toward Meridian, Mississippi.

When I got to Meridian, I stopped at an RV park. It was late and the office was closed. Well, the signage said the office was closed, but it was open. I looked at a map of the campground and saw nothing but RV spots. I thought about pitching my tent in any grassy area, but I wasn't feeling good about the place. I went into the pool area, sat on a lounge chair, and used their Internet to find a KOA nearby. I was hoping the KOA was more in the woods and cooler.

I don't know if it was cooler, but it just plain sucked. The first clue was when I made the turn into the unlit driveway only to discover it was deep gravel. Nice. Without going into a lot of detail, it was a bad KOA. The site was bad, the bathroom had overflowing garbage cans, the grass wasn't cut. Yuck. Fortunately I'd picked a remote spot, because it was so hot that I left the fly off, which left me lying in my cocoon, without any clothes on, and only the screen between me and the world. It was nice to watch the stars - with my Glock 26 at my side. Despite the heat and exposed feeling, I slept very well.

I had more plans for US 84 westbound, but my clutch cable had loosened dramatically over the last two days, and as I was heading west out of Laurel, Mississippi, I realized it wasn't going to make it to Houston. I called my friend Chuck to see if he could walk me through fixing it. Chuck didn't answer, and I was overheard while leaving a message for him. A local guy clued me into a shop called 49 Cycles and gave me the number. I soon realized that 49 Cycles was well off my intended path of travel, but my path of travel hadn't been set in stone this far, so no big deal. Besides, I had a feeling that this was going to be one of those times that something good came out of the complication.

I rode on down to Hattiesburg to the shop. Michael took my bike right in and went to work while I chatted with his wife Laura in the air conditioned store. It quickly became apparent that Michael and Laura are Christians and like to share their faith with anyone who's open to it. I really enjoyed speaking with them, and Michael did an awesome job on my clutch. I'm so glad that God threw them in my path that day.

I made it to Alexandria, Louisiana that evening and got extremely frustrated trying to find the hotel I'd picked from Priceline on my phone in the Burger King. I had to call the hotel three times, and the last time I got lost I'd hit a really big bump that reminded me of the rigid frame days. All my irritation vanished in a moment when another guest that was checking in asked if he could take my picture with my bike. The reason? He has a friend who brags about how badass he is because he has a Harley - an 883 Sportster. How to make Abby forget all her troubles? Acknowledge that her motorcycle rocks. LOL. I met my friend Ranay, who lives in Alexandria, and we went out to dinner. The next morning I left for south Texas.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Piece of cake

I should be leaving, but the friend I'm meeting today just told me he has to make a run somewhere so there's no need to rush. I was thinking about posts I'd made and some comments made by readers, which then digressed into a subject a little more deep. It might not be totally on-topic, but I'm running with it anyway.

The thought trail started out with me thinking about how some people have told me what they do in certain situations, which caused me to think about something an ex said about my blog on my first cross-country trip. Be assured, I know when I start out on these journeys that shit happens. Sometimes it's good shit; sometimes it sucks. Weather can be great, but more often it's challenging. When I write about the trials of crappy weather, I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm simply talking about life on the road. In fact, I'm usually proud that I encountered these forces and made it through. If every day was a walk in the park, well I'd just take a walk in the park like everyone else and there'd be nothing to talk about.

This led me to think about people talking about what they do when they run into certain weather, and whether or not they meant it that way (perhaps it's me being overly sensitive), I feel like they're saying I should have done it their way. There are so many factors that make up a road trip: type of bike, accessories, the road you're on, traffic, how hard the rain is falling, protective gear, a rider's past experiences, etc... The list is endless. As we say when we're teaching a class, it isn't one thing that causes a crash; it's an interaction of factors. The same thing is true regarding a person's response to adversities. Really, you can't say what you'd do in a situation until you've ridden a mile under those exact circumstances.

That led into the deep subject matter I'm about to bring up: domestic violence. People are so quick to say, "She should just leave," and then they proceed to say that she deserves to be beaten if she sticks around and other similarly harsh remarks. They think that clearly she's stupid or weak or any number of derogatory adjectives. She made a bad decision when she hooked up with the guy in the first place.

OK, let's look at that last statement: she made a bad decision, therefore she deserves what she gets. Come one guys. One of my friends made a comment on Facebook the other day: Women should come with Carfax reports. I don’t profess to know why he made the comment, but it could possibly be that he got involved with someone and found out later that she had some issues that, had he known about them before getting involved, he wouldn’t have. When people are entering into a relationship, they typically don’t present the other person with a list of their character defects. Some people are extremely talented at concealing those defects until the other person has become solidly hooked. It happens to both men and women.

Why doesn’t she leave? Unless a woman is willing to move to a place so far away that she can’t possibly run into the guy or any of his friends or relatives, what’s the point? She’s further angered him by leaving, so he’s now more likely to be more aggressive when he finds her. This is like witness protection. Most people don’t want to leave everything and everyone they know, without any hope of seeing those people again.

This is where the relevance to my trip comes in. I went to Georgia, the place where I gave birth to my son, lived for ten years, yet haven’t been back to in twenty years. I saw a couple of really good friends I haven’t seen in that long. I contacted a few others that I haven’t talked to since I left. Sure, my husband died nine years ago, but by then I’d moved on. Fortunately I was able to move on. Because my family wasn’t in the area, and we aren’t tight anyway, there wasn’t that issue. I was just losing friends. I couldn’t contact them, because I didn’t want to put them in the position of having to keep secrets – or not.

Did I think he was a great guy when I met him? No. This reminds me of a comment I made on Facebook regarding scooter trash. It was funny to see that some of my newer friends thought I was kidding. The man was a 1%er when I met him, and after the death of his mother he went nucking futs. So he was a psycho badass. Bad combination. We started dating after he stopped by the strip club I was working at. Were we innocent? No. If you knew us in that situation, you wouldn’t have cared what either of us did to the other.

But you didn’t “meet” us there. You know me now that I’m long escaped, 18 years sober, have earned both a bachelor and master’s degrees, and basically have my shit together. I’ve found God. I get the feeling that people like to be around me and probably can’t imagine the situation I was in for several years. The thing is, a lot of women can’t pull off what I did. I’m extremely blessed and often know that “there but for the Grace of God go I.” Don’t try to justify why that woman deserves her situation. Consider what it’s like to ride a mile on her bike and say a prayer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The second "going home again" portion of the trip

I slept really well at the KOA. For the first time on this trip, I slept with the fly open over my head, confident that it wasn't going to rain. It was a beautiful star-filled night, and I even saw a shooting star before drifting off to sleep.

There were a lot of miles to cover, and I decided to do some Interstate travel before getting back on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I headed south on 26, then west on 40, before stopping at Blue Ridge Harley-Davidson.

I browsed around the t-shirts, once again frustrated at overabundance of studs and rhinestones covering the selections. If it wasn't that, it was all kinds of weird cuts and strappy stuff that, well, if I was going to wear something elaborate like that to dress up, it wouldn't say Harley-Davidson on it. The two or three designs I liked, nice prints that reminded me of my newest tattoo, had been sold out except for a few in tiny or really big sizes. Clearly I'm not the only chick out there who feels that sparkly stuff belongs in jewelry and not on clothing. Having stretched my legs and filled my water bottle, I hit the road.

A little further up the road, I exited near Marion and headed up NC 80 to the parkway. That ten miles was easily as challenging as Tail of the Dragon, but there was no traffic, no cops, and it's right off the parkway. Unless you need to say, "Been there, done that," as far as the Dragon goes, find one of these twisties that takes you from the parkway into town and get lunch, then take it back up. Forgo the Deal's Gap congestion.

When I got up to the parkway, I pulled off at the first scenic overlook. There was a guy from Ohio on a Road King, and we discussed the virtues of traveling alone before I got back on my bike and headed south while he headed north. It was a beautiful ride with some threatening clouds. Riders passing me going the opposite direction were wearing their rain gear. I was resigned to getting wet. I didn't bother suiting up, because it was going to be scattered showers if anything, and I'd dry out before too long. I celebrated a landmark victory when I made it past the threatening clouds without catching a drop. I couldn't wait to write about my day of rain avoidance. As the Lolcats would say, "I can haz skillz."

I stopped at an overlook where the parkway heads down towards Asheville to figure out where I was planning on exiting the parkway and heading towards Gainesville, Georgia. A guy on a Victory pulled up and informed me that the parkway south of Asheville was closed. That meant change of plans, but because I was running behind (and I've ridden the entire Blue Ridge Parkway before) I was fine with exiting where they forced me to and jumping on I-40 to US 23.

It was as I was heading west on 40 that I was confronted by dark, ominous clouds again. I was feeling pretty smug, having conquered the curse earlier in the day. When I stopped at a rest area on 23, soaked to the bone, I overheard a couple discussing the hail storm that had appeared out of nowhere. Yeah, it didn't appear out of nowhere. It had lulled me into a false sense of weather optimism and then struck when my guard was down. I checked the radar on my phone and saw that I needed to keep moving if I didn't want to get in serious trouble.

The roads actually dried up for the most part, with just a few spots over the next 150 miles that were really wet. I was cooking though, dodging walls of water almost the whole way and hoping that law enforcement would be sympathetic should I get busted. Fortunately I didn't need to find out if relations between bikers and cops in that area of the country had improved since the last time I was there. Well, maybe it had. I didn't get thrown in jail for no good reason.

I have history in this neck of the woods. Not so much Gainesville, but I lived in north Georgia for 10 years. My boy was born in Atlanta. We left in a hurry exactly 20 years ago on June 23rd, escaping from a bad situation. I never contacted any of my friends because I didn't want to put them in the position of knowing where I was, should my husband ask. He passed away the same day my motorcycle arrived at the dealership, nine years ago. By that time, I'd moved on and didn't consider trying to reconnect with anyone. I did maintain a long distance friendship, talking on the phone an average of maybe a couple of times a year, with my friend Richard. Just recently I got back in touch with some of my southern friends on Facebook. That's why I decided to add Georgia to this trip.

I finally reached Richard's house and have been chilling here for the past couple of days. Richard had a stroke a few months back, which, coupled with the birth of my granddaughter, has me referring to this trip as the "Geriatric Tour." Tomorrow morning I pack up and one of my other Georgia friends on the way out of the state. Next stop, somewhere in Mississippi, God willing and the Creek don't rise.*

*Benjamin Hawkins, and the phrase would be correctly written as 'God willing and the Creek don't rise'. Hawkins, college-educated and a well-written man would never have made a grammatical error, so the capitalization of Creek is the only way the phrase could make sense. He wrote it in response to a request from the President to return to our Nation's Capital and the reference is not to a creek, but The Creek Indian Nation. If the Creek "rose", Hawkins would have to be present to quell the rebellion. I believe that the phrase is somewhere in his preserved writings. http://ngeorgia.com/ang/God_Willing_and_the_creek_don%27t_rise

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about

Perfect day.

Started out early. I was excited to get on the road with nothing but sunshine and the ultimate road ahead of me. In fact, there's absolutely nothing to report, except that I made good time and took lots of pictures and the weather couldn't have been better. I really enjoyed the Skyline Drive, especially the part where they accepted my National Parks Annual Pass. I know most people wouldn't like to pay, but I'm trying to get my money's worth before the end of July. The Skyline Drive was $15 towards the $80 it cost me.

I was a little taken aback when I saw the the speed limit for the whole road is 35 mph. Maybe it was the fact that it was early on a weekday, but there was nobody out there enforcing the speed limit. Even better was that the road had such great curves I didn't have to exceed the speed limit very much to enjoy the ride.

The Skyline Drive ends and the Blue Ridge Parkway starts - or vice versa, depending on which direction you're heading. The parkway doesn't cost anything, but it's a bit bumpier. There are a lot of overlooks that may have been overlooks back in the day, but trees have grown up and you can't see much. It's still a beautiful road and well worth it. Skyline Drive goes through the upper part of Virginia, and the parkway covers the rest of Virginia and North Carolina.

After a while on the parkway, I needed gas and was hungry, so I got off at Buena Vista. While there, I decided to hop on I-81 to take me down to Wytheville where I was planning on camping out. I also wanted to visit the Harley dealership there. We're friends on Facebook, and we've had a little interaction, so I let H-D of Wytheville know I was coming.

It was really cool when I showed up and the marketing manager came out to see me. We chatted a while, and I went in to pick out some t-shirts. She wanted to take a picture of me with the bike, so we went back out. Wouldn't you know, it started raining. Now there's another person who can chime in on the issue. But the rain quickly became a non-issue when I noticed that my saddlebag was hanging down. At first I thought it had become detached, but I quickly noticed that the bracket had broken. Great. Fortunately I (kind of) knew people there - my new BFF. She talked to the guys in service, who looked at the bracket, and decided it could be welded. The next step was calling around to find someone who could weld it after 5:00 on Thursday night, and we discovered that Homer over on Lover's Lane (not kidding) could do it. She drove me over in her car, Homer welded and painted the bracket while we sat in the office and played with the dog, and we went back to the dealership and put the bracket back on. So there was this beautiful, well-dressed Southern gal right there with me, getting greasy. It was awesome. I know all the guys that were hanging around watching us work wished they could get in on the action. Oh well. Maybe another day.

I'll keep an eye on the bracket. I called National Cycle, and they made me a deal on a new set, which will probably be waiting for me when I get home. Now I'm at the KOA and will be heading out tomorrow for another beautiful day of riding that will put me in Georgia by the end of the day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Looking for a brighter day

I woke up to some chilly temperatures in New Hampshire, but there was no rain in the forecast. I didn't rush out the door, confident I could make it to my planned destination in Pennsylvania without a problem. There's a reason I moved out west, and it has to do with riding in the northeast.

I had all Interstate planned for the day. I needed to get on my way, and I've ridden most of New England's and eastern New York's back roads. I forgot how much I hate riding in Massachusetts until yesterday. I had to get off for some gas, and did that at Chelmsford. There's a weird kind of rotary to get back on the Everett Turnpike, and I didn't have the experience or knowledge to do that with skill. When I say rotary, it's more like a series of bridges with signs that give you the general idea of where you want to be.

At one point I realized I needed to be in a different lane and took the opportunity to jump in front of a pickup when he was slow to start. If you want to survive in Massachusetts, you must become a Masshole. That was fine until the car in front of me needed to do the same thing but was too chickenshit. I had to slam on my brakes, which then caused the pickup behind me to demonstrate the air horn he'd installed. I don't blame him, but it did scare me. I have a fairly consistent reaction when I get in a tight spot on the bike. I twist the throttle to get out of the situation. I saw a clear path to the on ramp and took it, accelerating rapidly. Then I got behind someone who must have been from Connecticut, going about 40 just before we needed to merge. Wondering how my carb was going to deal now that it's sucking down a sea level amount of oxygen while jetted for 5280, I cranked it once again, cutting off a Porsche who was also hoping to get ahead. Seems like it handles the demand better at sea level and jetted for altitude than it did the other way around. Meanwhile, I was irritating people left and right. Oh well.

Despite the lack of rain in the forecast, I found it. It wasn't too bad; just a little drizzle here and there. The clouds looked so pretty and fluffy in the distance. Not so much when they were overhead. I got into Connecticut on I-84, which eventually brought me into Hartford. I was glad I'd been through Hartford a few times before and knew where to be. Before long, Waterbury was approaching. That's when the downpour started. I wasn't seeing well, but there's a section of road where you're under an upper deck for a while, and that gave me a break. It was only worse on the other side, and there were a boatload of trucks. I was riding almost blind by the time I decided to pull over under a bridge. Of course I didn't feel much safer there with the trucks blasting by, but at least I could see. Another rider pulled up. I don't think he cared about stopping all that much but was more interested in the social aspect. He was a young Jap bike rider. We talked for a minute or two, and then the rain let up on the far side of the bridge and off we went.

I was able to stop and visit a friend in Westchester before getting back on the bike and heading over the Tappan Zee. I wish I could say I blasted over the bridge, but it was rush hour, and it probably took about an hour to go less than 5 miles. Gotta love those Hudson River crossings at rush hour. I finally reached an open road and made it to a campground outside of Allentown after dark. I had to do the night check-in and was glad I could find the tent spots easily.

This morning I opened my laptop, which I'd brought in the tent with me, to find 100% chance of precipitation. Seeing some blue sky, I figured I should get up and out of there before those odds kicked in. I was on the road about 10 miles before it started.

The rain wasn't too bad at first. It was on and off and totally bearable. I was happy thinking that would be the most I'd have to deal with for the day. Walk in the park. Yeah... no. After about 50 miles, it really started coming down. I was back to water boarding with my Full Throttle Coffee House bandanna. I started experimenting with ways I could hold my lips that would enable me to breathe. I found a way that would work, then I'd go for another deep breath and get a face full of wet fabric.  Finding ways to breathe kept me occupied for a while, and I didn't notice the water that was finding every possible opening.

I stopped at one rest area, had a cup of coffee, and talked to a friend on the phone. I got back on the bike and stopped at another rest area when I couldn't see anymore. I was there a little longer. The rain was showing no signs of letting up. There was some tattooed guy there in flip flops who was whining about having to run to his car in the rain. You can imagine what I wanted to say, but I was whining enough myself that I didn't feel justified. It was at this point that I finally realized why this was being so difficult: I don't have a windshield. And while I felt like less of a wimp, I was still discouraged that I had to keep stopping.

I got back on the road, determined that I'd make it to Lexington, Virginia if the 200 miles took another 6 hours. I didn't think it was possible, but it started raining harder and more consistently harder. I had to stay behind a vehicle so I could see the road. I felt safe because there was a tractor-trailer truck at a comfortable distance behind me, and I felt like he/she was watching my back. We went on like that for at least 20 miles, but then I guess the truck felt the need to move on. I was in Maryland by this point, and I decided to stop at a hotel.

After driving through Hagerstown, Maryland, I decided there was no way in Hell I would be staying anywhere there and leaving my bike outside. I got gas and whipped out my phone to find a dealership. Surely they'd have some warm, dry gloves and a place for me to sit for a little while to dry out and warm up before heading out again. Williamsport H-D is tiny. They were nice, but they really didn't have a place for me to take off my wet clothes and chill. Nor did they have a good pair of gloves in my size. With no sign of the rain letting up, I found a hotel and headed out. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I checked in, the rain let up. Very frustrating for me, but after agonizing over my lack of progress for a while, I was grateful I'd made it safely as far as I did.

Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Riding New Hampshire - all I hoped it would be

I was excited about getting to visit some of my favorite places in New Hampshire, but I was also nervous that I'd get my hopes up and then be let down. But it was awesome!

I met Cheryl and Tom at the Harley dealership in Lebanon. I had seen Marc and Scott at the dealership on Friday, and this time I got to see Dawg from HD Forums, aka Road-Dawgs1 from Harley Tech Talk. I knew I'd seen him before, but he recognized me first. It took me a minute to put the face with name. Well actually, he kept dropping hints, and I was slow. I love running into people like that.

When I left the building, Cheryl and Tom were outside scoping out the long line of used bikes for sale in the parking lot. Cheryl has her eye on this sweet blue Road King. She should get it.

After catching up a little, we jumped on the bikes and headed north through Hanover to Bath, home of the Brick Store, which bills itself as  "America's oldest continuously operated general store." I don't care how old it is, they make incredible smoked pepperoni, which they smoke right there. For the first time ever, I checked out the covered bridge behind the store. It's the longest covered bridge in New Hampshire (it crosses the river to Vermont) and one of the oldest in America. Look at the Burr-Arch construction in the picture.

From there, we headed across Route 112 to visit Beaver Pond and then ride the Kancamagus, which is probably the most popular motorcycle ride in the state. As we were leaving Woodstock, we noticed some evil looking clouds. Sure enough, just after we got over the pass, the rain hit. This is standard when I ride with Cheryl and Tom. Better than our last ride over the Kanc though; no snow.

After the Kancamagus, we headed south to the intersection of highways 16 and 25, to the Yankee Smokehouse. They get enough motorcycle traffic that there is motorcycle parking against one side of the building. Great food, extremely casual atmosphere. If you're ever in the area, you should stop there.

Of course it was necessary to stop at the Mecca of quilt shops, Keepsake Quilting, in Center Harbor. From there it was Laconia Harley-Davidson, formerly known as Meredith Harley-Davidson. We managed to take a left out of the dealership, which is nothing short of miraculous at times, and continued to head south towards the Weirs, which is the main drag for Laconia Race and Rally Week.

We were stopped at a light just above the dealership. When it turned, Tom and I both took off. We were shifting at different times, so when I'd let off the throttle to shift, he'd come up alongside me - just enough that I could see his front wheel out of the corner of my eye. When I squeezed the clutch to bang it into 5th, I expected to see Tom's front end but didn't. I looked into my rear view mirror and saw a minivan instead, with Tom behind it. I was stunned. I didn't see how it got there, but I couldn't imagine any way the minivan got in between Tom and I without doing something that he should be shot for. Figuring that the idiot must be in a big hurry to pull a move like that, I casually slowed to about 25 mph. It didn't take long before the eunuch figured out that if he wanted to go anywhere, he needed to pull over and let the other motorcycle pass. When we got to the Weirs, I asked Tom and Cheryl what happened, and apparently the guy almost took us both out in his need to get ahead.

Having survived that, we enjoyed some conversation and pictures at the lake while watching vendors start to set up for rally week. With all the places I wanted to see checked off the list,  we headed back to their house for the night.

Very enjoyable day.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You can go home again...

but it's kinda weird.

I left the campground in New York on... (what day was it?) OK, Friday morning. Had to check the calendar. I left the campground Friday morning, fairly early, and blasted up I-88 a couple of exits where I stopped to get gas and something to eat. It was one of those exits that advertises services, but then you have to drive five miles through traffic lights, rotaries, and school zones before you can find them. I finally ducked in at a McDonalds - fast and cheap. There was a Can-Am Spyder in the lot, and I parked next to it.

Going inside, I noticed that this McDonalds doubled as the town's senior center. I wouldn't have wagered a guess who belonged to the Spyder. As I was almost finished with my meal, a Harley-looking guy came in, looked at me, nodded and smiled. You know what? This was something new. He obviously knew my bike belonged to me. One would think this was common, but it's not. There's usually an entire conversation that takes place before someone believes that my bike is mine. I typically have to get into her age and measurements and prove that I have a clue about the pretty Softail. Despite the unusual "don't even ask me the time of day" attitude I'd been having for a lot of this trip, I asked him if he'd like to sit with me when he walked by. He did.

I'm glad I asked. We had a great conversation about long distance trips. He told me he had gone to a wake someplace west of where we were at the moment and had used the opportunity to do a test run for the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge. I've read about this. It's a 7,000 mile race running from Key West to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. He's heading down to Key West soon to start the race on June 20th. His name is Heinz, and if you're on Facebook, search for Heinz's Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge and become a fan. I left there feeling more like my happy road-trip-girl self.

I had been planning to make a quick trip of the morning's ride, but Heinz suggested 23 along the Catskills. He was following 23A, but I needed to move along a bit quicker than 23A could take me. Because I can be easily swayed, I figured an extra hour or two wouldn't hurt anything and changed my plans. Yes, all of you out there that have expected me at some time or another and I've shown up a day late... there's your answer. Which is why I don't think the Hoka Hey would work that well for me. I'd see a shiny object or a squirrel or something, and off I'd go.

So I crossed over the north end of the Catskills, hit I-87, and continued up around Albany to Troy. That's where I got off the Interstate and headed east towards Bennington, Vermont. I stopped at one of my favorite Harley dealers. It's called Brunswick Harley-Davidson. I like it because the building looks like a huge log cabin. The bathroom is really neat too. You can lose track of time sitting there (that shiny object problem again). I have no idea how they are for buying bikes, parts or service. I just like the place because it looks good. 

After that was the ride into Vermont. I was getting to familiar turf. I started knowing where to turn without having to look at road signs. I was also getting annoyed with the east coast issue of too many vehicles and towns too close together. I thought it must have been a banner year for frost heaves. It was like my bike had the hiccups. The trees were nice though, and I miss the way you can ride down into a shady area with a small creek running through and feel the temperature suddenly drop ten degrees. Just when it gets a little too cool, you come back up into the sunlight and warm again.

I wound my way around southern Vermont until I got to Chester, the home of my favorite quilt shop. I killed at least an hour there, as well as an undisclosed amount of cash, some of which went to shipping my new future creations home. No room for purchases on this trip.

After the quilt shop, I started winding my way north until I got to White River Junction and the home of my granddaughter. She's definitely the most beautiful, wonderful baby that was ever created. She loves me. I showered her with several Harley t-shirts, which are additions to the ones I'd already mailed out. Her mother likes her in pink, so I've given in on that and bought mostly pink Harley items. However she is the best-dressed baby I've ever seen, so I'm not sure when it will be t-shirt day. I'm sure I'll get pictures.

Because a lot of rain was forecast, I looked into hotel rooms. Very expensive here. I called the KOA to see if they had any of their "Kabins" available. They don't have Kabins here yet, but they did have an RV that was cheaper than any hotel room in town. It's a great alternative to a hotel room. Kitchen, tv, fire pit, picnic table, and the bike parked under the awning next to the front door. I've been loving it.

The baby is gone. I hope she'll be able to come out to Colorado to visit soon. Tomorrow I head over to New Hampshire and meet some friends to hit some of my favorite spots before heading south towards Georgia on Tuesday. It's been a nice couple of days here, but I'm ready to hit the road.

I saw my mother and a former co-worker. It was great to see both of them, but that's about my limit for trying to get together with old friends at any one location. When you start trying to hook up with too many people, the trip gets complicated. The weird part is being from someplace else, but being from this area before that. I'm from out of town, but I know where everything is. I'm from Colorado, but I have a local cell phone number. I know a couple of people at the local Harley dealership, but nobody else has a clue. Luckily tomorrow I get all the good parts about being back without all the weirdness.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Finished with flat

I woke up the morning after the rain day hoping for a fresh new start. Despite putting on cold, wet boots, it went well. There were low clouds that seemed more like fog that had separated and drifted up a little. Before too long, the day was sunny. I was headed to a friend's house on the eastern edge of Ohio, and she'd mentioned thunderstorm warnings on her Facebook page. I was determined to make it if it took me until midnight. Fortunately that wasn't required. The weather was beautiful. The ride was OK. Back roads again, which were nice, but I was getting tired of flat and straight.

I had been considering more Interstate yesterday, since my clutch hand was killing me and I felt like I needed to pick up the pace. Looking at the map, I could get out of town quickly and then head up for some scenic riding through the Allegheny National Forest along US 6. I saw the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon marked along the route and decided I'd look for it when I got to the area. After that I'd be heading up US 220 to New York route 17, east into Binghamton, and then northeast toward Albany. I wasn't sure how far I'd make it, but I was going to be happy if I could just get into New York. New Hampshire would be less than a day from there.

I was in a really pissy mood for some reason. I thought of the conversation I had with the tattooist when he was working on my back a few days before I took off. It's nice that we (bikers) don't get thrown in jail or pulled over for no good reason as much anymore, but sometimes you want people to leave you alone. Everyone wants to be our best friends now. As social as I usually am, yesterday was not the day. I must have had that look, because almost everyone gave me the feeling that they were calling 9-1-1 if I didn't leave soon.

I caught a glimpse of a sign that said "West Rim - 5 mi" as I was almost passed the turn off. I was making pretty good time, so I hung a right and headed up the road. It was a fun ride; narrow, curvy road with trees overhanging. It was shady and cool, and there was hardly anyone else on it. I messed with the video on my camera and took some shots (I'll upload them later). I was wondering if I was on the right road when I finally came out to the overlook. A few minutes later, another Harley came flying up and stopped. I thought there were two people, but it was just an extra helmet strapped to the top of the guy's T-bag. I guess he hoped he'd get lucky. He was from New Mexico. I found it amusing that there were two of us who lived close enough to the real Grand Canyon to make it a weekend trip, and yet here we were in Pennsylvania overlooking a... valley. It was pretty, but not spectacular. I'd been feeling homesick all day, wishing I was back in Colorado, and this didn't make it better.

I kept plugging along, made it through Binghamton being a total hater all the way, and got back into a rural area between Binghamton and Albany. I got off the Interstate and checked for a KOA nearby. There was one close enough it was worth calling. She told me I had about 40 miles to go and they had plenty of room. I ate a little bag of Swedish Fish, which gave me the sugar rush I needed to blast through the next half an hour. It was well worth it.

I have an awesome campsite by a river. I went all out and got firewood, marshmallows and hot dogs. I liked it so much, I considered calling the baby's mother and checking to see if it was OK to show up Friday instead of Thursday. As it turns out, the baby needed to go to a hospital in Boston to have a suspected cataract in her eye checked out, so I stayed another day. I've done a good bit of writing on the book and have enjoyed my day off of the road. Tomorrow I'll get to ride some of my old favorites in Vermont.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wimped out

My granddaughter made it out of her mother's womb at 2:10 this morning. I don't feel grandmother old, but maybe that's why I ended up in a cushy hotel after about 150 miles.

As much as I love the back roads, the novelty is starting to wear off. They're great out west, but there's a line somewhere, maybe at the Mississippi, where the speed limit drops, the traffic increases, and the towns are closer together. And while it's nice to know that there'll be gas when I need it, it's getting tougher to make good time. Campgrounds are almost non-existent on the secondary roads. I wish I had the nerve to just stop and pitch a tent somewhere, but I'm not sure how secure I'd feel. Between the pathetic distance I'm getting and the lack of camping facilities, I'll probably be getting back on the Interstate system soon.

I had planned for around 300 miles today. That would have put me at a campground midway through Ohio, with about 150 miles to go on Tuesday to my friend's home on the eastern side of the state. When I woke up this morning, Weather Underground was showing a 90% chance of thunderstorms in the area. I was surprised; the weather looked great. I called a friend in Fort Wayne who told me that there were some bad thunderstorms in the area. That didn't surprise me, and I figured I might get wet at some point, but I didn't see the storms as a threat to my progress. Boy was I wrong.

The clouds went from fluffy white ones in the distance to solid walls of dark grey. Then I took a right turn and the skies in front of me lightened up. Even though the roads got wet, I didn't see the point in stopping for rain gear. I'd be through it soon. Then the route turned left. Ugh. Time to stop and suit up. I got a little wet over the next few miles. At one point it got so thick that I thought I might drown from the water soaking the bandanna (water boarding came to mind). I started gulping the water down, trying not to think about whether the water I was swallowing was coming from the sky or off the road. It finally started to let up. In fact, I was so optimistic that I stopped in a nursing home parking lot to check the radar on my phone to see if I should remove my rain gear.

The radar wasn't looking too bad, but it wasn't time to remove the gear either. I took a few minutes to chat with the old guys sitting on the porch of the nursing home then buttoned up and headed out. I was in front of a grey SUV when I started out from the light. The vehicle passed me, got in front of me, then slowed down. I pulled out and started to pass, but seeing a wall of water up the road, I decided to get back behind the SUV so I could follow his taillights through the rough patches. It started and it came hard. Cars were pulling off on the side of the road. I could see walls of water blowing across the road ahead of me. Even though my guide was only a short distance in front of me, I was losing sight of him until he put his flashers on. At one point I glanced into the wind to see if there was a tornado coming. I wasn't sure what I'd do if there was and was glad I didn't see anything. I dodged lightening bolts, made it into town, and decided to stop for gas and wait out the storm.

I started to get gas, but there was so much water blowing under the roof over the gas pumps that I didn't dare remove my gas cap. The water flowing along the ground was over my ankles as well as the rims on my bike. I went inside to wait and check the radar again. The radar looked worse than it did earlier. I really wanted to get further than I was, but I didn't want to die either. I waited for a break between storms and headed for the nearest hotel. I'm a little discouraged. I feel like I should have been able to tough it out. Then I think it would be stupid to take those risks and put up with the crappy conditions when I don't have to. Whatever. Here I am in Huntington, Indiana. Boardman, Ohio tomorrow.


I was looking forward to a day with not much worth writing about, and I got it. Other than my surprise at how beautiful Iowa is, at least in the south, not much happened. I rode the back roads and didn't get a ton of miles behind me. It was a nice mellow day.

The picture here is of me crossing the Mississippi into Illinois. I thought I was taking a video. I've since figured out how to do that, so I can get it working on the fly.

I passed a lot of towns with flags. I value the fact that I can get on my bike and ride across the country whenever I want. Words will never be enough to express the gratitude for those who gave their lives for our freedom. The veterans who made it through alive have also done a great service to our country, and I thank them as well. Let's pray that we can strengthen the freedom that makes America such an incredible place to live rather than watch it all go down in a cesspool of over-legislation.

I had one badass moment passing through the south side of Peoria. I've been only in rural areas since leaving home, so the ghetto was a bit of a surprise. I passed a couple of guys on their new Harleys on my way out of town and noticed up ahead that there were a bunch of bikes lining a city block. From the look of the bikes, the building, and the guys out front, I determined it was a clubhouse and figured I'd just keep my eyes straight ahead and cruise on by. While things change, a lot stays the same, including the acceptance of women on bikes in some circles. I get it.

By the time I got closer, it appeared to be a bar with a lot of guys with shiny black customs all wearing shiny black tank tops and shiny black leather vests. Shiny isn't a word I associate with motorcycle clubs. They were far too polished. Anyway, one guy had his hand half way up in a wave, then must have noticed I was a chick. It's hard to explain the look on his face: quizzical... happily surprised... dumbfounded maybe? I went ahead and waved, since I was being waved to, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of the other guys wave back. I then cranked on the throttle and blasted over the bridge and out of town. My baby is loud and fast. I love her.

Women riding Harleys aren't unusual at all. I suppose that single women obviously geared up for a long road trip still are. Ladies, you need to get out there and do it. You're riding. That's great. Take the next step. Do an overnight to start out with, but keep pushing yourselves. There's a lot of talk about freedom. There is nothing more free than hitting the road by yourself.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wildlife excitement

If you've read more than three things I've written, you've probably "heard" me say that you can't have a good story without adversity. Some days you don't want a good story. Some days you just want life without any bumps or sharp turns. If you take off an hour on each end of my day today, you'd have one of those vanilla days.

After a pleasant but sluggish morning at the KOA, I got on the road around 10:30 (9:30 in my home time zone). It was really windy, but I was ready to tough it out with the big trucks. I wasn't on the road 5 miles when a big bug came whipping across the port bow and lodged between my helmet strap and my face. No big deal, until about 5 seconds later when I realized it was a bee. Now it's 80 mph with extreme wind gusts, 18 wheelers, and me trying desperately to unwedge the stinging insect. Another reason why helmet laws suck. But seeing as how my badass self was cruising along with my ape hangers, no windshield, and minimal belongings, I felt it was my duty to forge ahead and not pull off at the rest area I was approaching. I managed to suck it up, and within an hour the pain was mostly gone.

I had another badass moment at lunch when I shared a parking lot with a couple of Geezer Glides. One of them was a Duracell with a trailer that was bigger than my car. I noticed two helmets with microphones attached. Please tell me what could be so important and so difficult to discuss while you're sitting right next to each other on a motorcycle that you actually require radio communication. I don't know about you, but I prefer to limit conversations to "I have to pee," which can be yelled across the lane to the other motorcyclist when that level of desperation had been reached. Sitting on the same bike? You need a radio? Really?

We were all ready to go at the same time, and as usual, the motorcycle enthusiasts were curious. Alone? Yes. Where from? Colorado. Where are you going? Uhhh, kinda wherever I end up, but initially New Hampshire. Why are you going east? That is a legitimate question, and checking out my new first grandbaby is a good answer. The copper top's passenger was worried about my safety. I assured her I'd done it before and thanked her. As I wandered back into the truck stop, I heard one of the guys say, "A 40 mph crosswind and no windshield. She has more balls than us." I wouldn't say that, but I found it quite amusing, especially since I am making the effort to go rogue on this trip.

Even funnier is that I'd had enough of the wind and the stupid helmet yanking my head around like a marionette, and within the hour I decided to bag I-80 and head down to Kansas on a smaller road. The reason I did that instead of toughing it out is because I have this map on my Biker or Not page that shows all the states I've ridden in, and I have four big empty white spots  indicating Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Kentucky as places I've never been on two wheels. I figured I could swing down and take out Kansas and Missouri before heading back north to Iowa. It was only like half an inch on the map on my cell phone. No big deal. It was a beautiful, serene ride, but by the time I finally reached Missouri, I decided it might help if I have a real map for the trip.

I started heading north on I-35 to get back on my route in Iowa. While on the back road detour, I decided I'd prefer to take more back roads than Interstate, so while I was headed back north, it was not to get back on 80, but to pick up US34 for some west to east action. However, it had been a long day, and by the time I was nearing Iowa, the sun was going down, and I was ready to stop. I was searching for campground signs and finally saw a dilapidated set of painted boards indicating an RV park at the next exit.

I got off, hoping the park was still there. A sign said to turn left then head north 5 miles on US 69. The setting sun was creating a beautiful glow, so I decided to try and take a picture. I need to interject that ape hangers are really cool because you can fit so much shit between your headlight and the tops of the bars. I felt like Bullwinkle yesterday when I magically pulled a long forgotten camera tripod out of my saddlebag that I could velcro to the top of my bars. I had strategically looped the camera strap around the bar before securing the camera to the tripod, thinking about the time I so gracefully dropped my previous camera in the cup of coffee I was holding with the other hand. So anyway... I got the camera upright and turned on and was fiddling with it while riding about 60 down this back road. Out of the corner of my right eye I saw two deer hauling ass over the grassy bank beside me. I go for the brake and the clutch as the forward deer hits the road about 20 feet in front of me. I was sure the closer deer was going to take me out. Then she pulled a yard sale in the ditch. Totally wiped out - disappeared from view in the deep grass. I probably would have found it incredibly amusing if I wasn't in the middle of a severe adrenaline rush. And wouldn't you know, I didn't get a picture of the deer on the road in front of me. Some badass I am.

The RV park was a bust. I'm now at a flea bag motel just over the border in Iowa. I made about 500 mles today. Not bad, but not great. If I'd have stayed on I-80 I probably would have done more, but I'd probably be nursing a stiff neck too.

On the road

I've spent the last few months thinking about how I want to get back to New Hampshire to meet my new granddaughter. She's my first grandbaby and was due last Monday. Riding was an obvious choice, but I wasn't sure that I wanted to take all that time to go back east. I couldn't stand to fly back and not be able to ride some of my favorite routes, so I considered flying and renting a bike. Then I stumbled across this adorable bobbed Shovelhead in Manchester on Craigslist and had the brilliant idea to fly out, buy a bike, and ride it back. I worked on that option for a while, even buying a one way airplane ticket, but the logistics weren't working with me. In the meantime, I'd purchased a new rear tire and rear brakes and  had to replace a defective front tire. With all that tread available to me, I made a last minute decision to ride my bike.

Not too long ago, I came across some old friends on Facebook. I know that's what people do, but this was difficult for me at first. I left Georgia 20 years ago (on June 23rd) to escape a dangerous husband. I hated to leave my life there, but I wanted to raise my son in a safe environment. I didn't contact anyone, because I didn't want to put anyone in the position of having to keep the secret of where I was. After the death of said dangerous husband nine years ago, I'd moved on with my life and didn't consider reestablishing those friendships. Although feeling awkward and nervous about seeing these people again, I made plans to head to Georgia after leaving New Hampshire. Getting there via the Blue Ridge Parkway was an incentive, I have to admit.

I was going to try and do this all within three weeks, but in the last couple of days I decided that I don't want to come back until the book is finished. I want to take a little more time than I did on my last big trip. It isn't so much to see the sights, but to write and visit with people. Because I had been looking forward to a no-frills bike trip back on the Shovelhead, I packed much lighter this time. I needed to find a way anyway, since I get so annoyed with lugging the huge black bag around behind me and not having access to my saddlebags while on the road. I bought a small one-person tent, which fits in a bad with my sleeping bag and Thermarest over my headlight. No windshield this trip; just my new ape hangers as a rest for the gear. I have some clothes in one saddlebag, and my computer and various small items in the other bag.

On my last cross-country trip, I prepared for months. On this one, about three days. I learned a few things on my last trip, including that I'm not in the Donner Party. There are stores to buy stuff if I run out or forgot. I headed out yesterday around 3:30. I made it to the end of the driveway and saw a box sitting on the mailboxes. I stopped to get it, and remembered that I hadn't packed my rain gear. I was ready to blow it off, but remembering New Hampshire in the spring (or summer... or fall... or winter...) I went back to get it. Not much room for it, so I decided to ditch the jacket I'd packed on the handlebars knowing that the jacket of a rainsit is excellent at blocking the wind on a cold day.

I made pretty good time yesterday afternoon, stopping right at sunset in Gothenburg, Nebraska. It had been windy, but when I hit North Platte, either the wind died down or the presence of trees lining the roadway made the trip much more pleasant. My new tent went up nicely, and I slept OK. I'm thinking Newton, Iowa for a stop tnoght. We'll see.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rethinking it all

A comment was made on the blog today. It isn't unlike a few others I've received. In fact, it's very similar to one that an angry "Anonymous" made in the beginning, but it's said in a much more loving tone. Funny how that makes it more acceptable. Part of it irritates me, because it's more of the "you have to love yourself/find happiness within yourself" psychobabble that's been posted a couple of times.

Here's the comment:
I pray you find the peace & knowledge of self that only comes from seeking depth of experience rather than expanding your breadth of experience. And while I enjoy your blog, I hope you find what you are looking for; it won't be in another person unless you find joy & acceptance first with(in) yourself!

I am happy with my life. I do love myself. I love God/Jesus even more. In fact, that's what has made me finally happy with my life. So really, because I get irritated over things sometimes and want to write about it, it doesn't mean I'm miserable. It just means I'm telling a story about dating where I wasn't in total bliss. I suppose if I was a really good Christian, I wouldn't get pissed off, nor would I swear sometimes. But this is who I am. I try to focus on the really important stuff, and the details should fall into place at some point.

That being said, I totally agree that the numbers game is not working for me. After the Joe11/12 weekend, I started questioning if I want to continue. I do because I said I would. I want to complete the project. I just don't see the point in dating people I know I'm not interested in for the sake of crossing another one off the list. The irony of it is that in the midst of all this, I'm meeting single guys and getting to know them on non-dating basis. I like and respect them and have no desire to include any of them as Joes. And perhaps they'd want to date me, but they don't want to be Joes.

I'm done with the online shopping. I don't like bringing these people into my life without any context. So perhaps there will be another 37 dates, but I can't say that it will be this year. On the plus side, because of the push to meet people, I've expanded my horizons. I'm not sure it's all related, but I have more friends now than I've ever had in one place. There are a lot of great people around here, and yes, I'm really happy. I'm enjoying my life, my friends, my fellow riders. And I think it's a lot more fun as a single person than if I was hooked up with someone. Maybe that's it. After 12 Joes I've determined that I'm much more content on my own.

I have a trip coming up. My grandbaby will be born here shortly, and I'm flying back east to meet her. While I'm not certain it will happen, I'm considering purchasing an old POS Shovelhead while I'm there and riding it back. If you've read much of this blog, you probably find that amusing. I know I do. I think it would be a great adventure. My solo cross-country trip on my '01 Softail was the most amazing thing I've ever done. When I got home, I sat on the front porch for an hour before I'd go inside. I knew that I'd never have that same experience, the same first-time thrill. Making the 2,000 mile trip from New Hampshire back to Colorado will be a new experience. A little more daring, for sure. So this blog just might turn into Biker Chick Adventures: a Shovelhead and a Prayer.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2-Joe Weekend: May 8 and 9, Joes 11 and 12

There's no question I've been slacking on finding Joes. It's like losing weight: I'm all motivated at first, and the pounds fall off. Then it becomes too much of a chore to keep measuring and weighing and adding up the calories. Next thing I know, some other shiny object is much more interesting and takes a higher priority. So it goes with the Joes.

I've had some interaction with a guy on Biker or Not who's from one of the southwestern areas of Denver. After a couple of messages, something must have been mentioned about education or me being a writer, because Joe11 said it was nice to finally meet someone literate on the site. We messaged a few times, the correspondence dropped off, and then when I thought about working near Denver last weekend, I sent him a message to see if he'd like to meet.

He knew about the 50 First Dates project. I could be wrong, but I felt like he'd read the entries and acted accordingly. I appreciated that he said where he'd like to go, but knowing that he might have done that only because he read my blog made me wonder if that's what he normally would have done. However, communication in a relationship is vital, and if one person has stated that something is important to them, and the other person acts on that, it's good.

Work was challenging, and I had to wait until about 4:00 to let Joe11 know when I'd be ready to go. I appreciate the flexibility. I'd messaged him and asked him to meet me in the parking lot next to the lot I was teaching in, which would have the cars of the students in it. I was glad that I got done a few minutes earlier than I expected so I could go into the building and freshen up a little and put on a clean shirt (lesson learned from Joe6). I realized that all the cars in the parking lot would be gone at that point, and I thought about texting Joe11 and telling him to keep following the road down to the back of the building. As soon as I exited the building, I heard a Harley approaching, and sure enough, he'd figured it out - or he'd just kept going because he was trying to find the parking lot with the cars in it. Either way, he was there.

I was a little self-conscious about my bike because it was dirty. I've had a hard time keeping it clean with all this stupid wind. If I wet my bike down in my yard, it gets covered with dirt immediately, making the bike dirtier than it was when I started. Because I have a tendency to stay busy right up until the time I need to change activities, I haven't washed it recently. I do this with quilting too. I cut and sew right up until the time I'm ready to drop at night, and I end up with fabric everywhere. A sewing room would be nice, but that's another story.

I glanced at Joe11's bike and identified it as an Electra Glide Standard based on the non-chrome rocker box covers. Upon closer inspection, I saw that he had really nice jugs. Thinking about my friend Josh and his recent rebuild that included powder coated heads and cylinders with the fins cut to sparkle, I thought Joe11 had done that. I asked, and he said that was stock. I quickly noticed that his valve covers were chrome, but they were covered up with some road grime. I suddenly felt better about my less-than-shiny motorcycle.

We went to an Italian restaurant on Sheridan, down around 75th Street. It was a nice place, and we shared a white pizza. Yum. The conversation flowed easily, and I enjoyed myself. After dinner, Joe11 escorted me back to the north side, even though he was heading back south. I wouldn't have thought less of him had he headed home from dinner. It was a very nice touch that he rode back with me.

I enjoyed the date and think Joe11 is a good guy, but I have to say there wasn't a huge attraction. He must have felt the same way, since once I got home and went back on Biker or Not, I noticed we weren't friends anymore. LOL I'm sorry he felt the need to "unfriend" me. It makes me wonder if I was that awful to be around that he wanted to make sure there was no more contact, or if once that possible love interest is crossed off the list, there's no reason to remain friends. Either way, I'm fine with it.

Joe11 brings up an issue I've faced with dating and love for a long time. I was raised in an affluent community and went to private schools for a while. Because of all kinds of drama and other complications, I wanted nothing to do with that lifestyle and went to the dark side. I turned against my family's values, including education. Eventually, after living through some crazy shit with both of my former Panhead-riding husbands, I decided that sobriety and education weren't necessarily bad things. I quit drinking, started hanging out with more sane people, and earned both Bachelor's and Master's degrees. Now I'm stranded in no-man's land. I'm a highly educated, sober Christian with a wild side, and I'm not enamored with the mild-mannered. Yeah, I'm still into the bad boys, but intelligent (no college required), funny, and thoughtful bad boys. Argh!!! It's never easy.

As for Joe12... the encounter was much shorter. Another Biker or Not member, I mentioned I'd be in the Denver area for the weekend and suggested we meet for a cup of coffee or something after work on Sunday. I had to run up north to meet with someone on ABATE issues, so I didn't want to take too much time on this one. I suppose I didn't have high expectations to begin with, and I feel a little guilty that I saw this as simply crossing another Joe off the list. However, I have been surprised in the past, so there was always that possibility.

Again, it was difficult to say when I'd be done with work. I was expecting 5:30. Joe12 and I texted and I eventually called him when I was on a break. He was nearing my location and said he'd call when he got there. I was able to take the call at that time, but I wasn't completely through with work. Because my presence wasn't required for a few minutes, I told him I'd meet him out front, but that I wouldn't be able to stay long. It was actually a good setup, as we could meet and chat for a bit and then either give the "Hey, it was nice meeting you. I'll see you around some time," speech or make plans for a little later in the afternoon. It was the former.

Because the building was locked up in a lot of areas, I didn't make it out the exit I expected. I walked toward him from a distance and saw that he'd decided to park his bike on the pristine white sidewalk in front of the library. As I approached, he was looking at his bike, polishing a spot, then stepping back to look for more specks of dirt. This happened a few times. I found the whole thing to be a joke considering his Shovelhead was leaking on the sidewalk. Yep, that's right. Shovelhead. Granted it was a generator Shovelhead, one of those treasured years between '66 and '69, but it was still a Shovelhead leaking on the sidewalk of the place where I work.

Even though I'm not into white fringed seats, I'll concede that it's definitely a bike worth being proud of. However, I felt it was a total lack of respect and an overload of ego that made him think it was OK to park the bike on the sidewalk directly in front of the library at the school where I work. In fact, I'll never make the mistake of inviting someone to meet me there again. We often have bikers rolling up to take a look at what we're doing, and I didn't feel that meeting someone who rolled up would be much different. If you want to park on the sidewalk in front of a bar or a store or some place that's totally unrelated to me, I don't give a rat's ass. I'll park there too. But if you can't show me enough respect to use the parking lot where I work, then I don't care who you are, I'm done.

At any rate, I imagine my attitude of "who the f&ck do you think you are" probably came through in some way or another, the conversation was short, and no plans were made for later in the day.

Lessons learned:

1. If I'm going to use the convenience of working in Denver on the weekends to meet people, I need to set a time that I'll definitely be done by, and meet the guy somewhere else. If 6:30 or so isn't going to work for either of us, then it won't happen that weekend.

2. While a nice clean shirt in the saddlebag was a good call, I could have done without the cute shoes. Unless I'm going to be somewhere for a few hours, there's no reason I'd pull off my boots and socks to put on the open-toes heels. An extra thong per day would have been a far better use of saddlebag space.