IT’S GOOD TO BE HOME, even if I do have to deal with endless requests from people around the world who want to cozy up to me on LinkedIn. This is probably because I had changed a few letters in my name there and with the alternate spelling it comes out Bashar Hafez al-Assad. Lots of people associated with big companies want to be my pal. No doubt they smell a buck.
Remember that video camera I saved with a 5-cent zip tie? I went on to drop it, dent it. It still works. Somehow it didn’t land on the lens, not on the first hit or the ones that followed.
I said dropped it, it was more like threw it across a parking lot. I had wrapped the camera in my long johns for safekeeping (yes, bring long johns in all seasons, you may absolutely need them). And I opened the Pelican case and whipped the long johns out of the way to get to something else. They unspooled, camera goes flying… Major failure on the safekeeping of the electronics plan.
Anyway, the yarn about the trek home starts with the Benjamin family, from Atlanta. I met Eric online many years ago, on a motorhead listserv. He friended the bride and Daughter #2 on FB, and that’s how we came to vacation on Tybee Island. Tybee is the Benjamins’ favorite beach, and we all happened to be there at the same time.
Eric’s in real estate, Diane teaches high school English, so now I’m self-conscious about the scribble, given that Diane knows writing and reads the Nickels.
For offspring, that’s adorable Amelia, and the wry and hilarious Wells practicing his photobomb technique. Wells told us about his time over at Uncle Bob’s, which is what he calls his dad’s best friend. At Uncle Bob’s, there’s child labor. But at least he lets me have whatever I can find to eat. And then you find out he’s never been to Uncle Bob’s!
We met Uncle Bob, good guy. Met Cathy and Steve, also friends of the Benjamins. Two days before we left, we all had lunch and a fun afternoon together. Eric gave me a glass of The Glenlivet, which was swell.
Next, a photo that’s slightly scary: Ryan Sheehan, Significant Other #1, took a panoramic pic while we were out having margaritas, his treat, and Daughter #1’s. The optical effect of me being on one extreme end of the panorama was pretty funny. My face is all mashed in. As long as it’s not mashed in by a guardrail, I’m good.
S.O.1 said I look like a painting by Titian, the Venetian master.
I see some of what he’s talking about here.
More of it here.
Titian was born right at the end of the 15th century, so we’ll call this the Nina-Pinta-Santa Maria expression. Any land out there yet? Big’a ocean sea, iz’a very niza, but this’a Cristoforo Colombo, mama mia, he’sa fulla beans…
Tuesday was Exit Day, checkout time at noon. I got on the road north while everyone else went into Savannah to see the sights. They had hours before their flights home in the late afternoon and evening.
They had shade in Savannah.
Not so much where I was.
I had decided against riding the coastal backroads up and over the Mason-Dixon, US 17 north to Virginia, to US 13 over and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and north to Delaware. I’ve enjoyed those roads in the spring and the fall, but in June there’s got to be beach traffic gridlock in all those little towns. So I decided to just hot foot it for home, as it were. And was it ever. If you have to engage the heat, you might as well make interstate time doing it. I just dialed the speed back a bit and kept an eye on the oil pressure.
A camera mount on my head, and no camera. It was just too hot to fool with video. That goofy mount sticking up puts me in mind of Marvin the Martian, from the Looney Tunes.
Two hours up the highway, I commandeered the only patch of shade at a rest stop in South Carolina. Got the water going in, napped on the sidewalk for two hours. Used my jacket for a pillow.
Saw clouds moving to the northeast and vanishing as they ran into warmer air. Saw one that looked like a rabbit with a human body, one elbow propped up and leaning back in a chair, legs crossed like 007, real suave. Another looked like a chimp chugging a beer while delivering the U.S. Mail. Uhhh, and then I dozed off…
Having snoozed in the heat of the day, I was looking for a campsite in the dark of night. Around 10 I found one in Rock Ridge, North Carolina. Logged 367 miles for the day. Not big miles by any means, but given the heat, my journal declares, Good day!
I walked around in the dark on the gravel roads for a while, saw trailers that looked like long-term setups. A few lighted windows here and there, but nobody to ask about tenting. I finally found the tent area near where I started, on a pond surrounded by pines. Nobody there. Set up my camp, put red beans and rice on for dinner. I get a text from D3 telling me everyone’s flights are delayed, big storms raging in Dixie; west and south of where I am, I guess, for here the skies are clear. At 11:15, D3 reports that she’s boarding her connecting flight in Charlotte, bound for Rhode Island. (Next time I see her, she says the flight was “a total roller coaster.”)
The bugs aren’t bad. Frogs are singing to me. Every now and again I hear coyote packs from afar. I’m making dinner and sending & receiving texts when I see a light moving around the pond. It’s there for a while, and then not. I eat, shower off the sweat and salt and crawl into the tent, teleporter to oblivion, Zzzzz….
Next morning, I’m making oatmeal when a white Ford sedan pulls up. A shirtless young man asks to bum a cigarette. He has what I take for a jailhouse tattoo on his right shoulder, a cross inked with a needle and ballpoint pen. “I just got out,” he volunteered. “I’ve been incarcerated for two months.” He asks if that was me wearing the headlamp the night before. It was his light moving around the pond. I don’t have a cigarette for him, so he’s off to keep looking. I write notes about the book I’m working on. Ideas always come in the morning. Then I saddle up. My journal says: gonna be hot.
I always bring something to read on the road. Short books only. War and Peace will kill your mile count but Ivan dies quick enough. Actually, the dude’s dead on page one.
Short philosophical treatise from a previous journey. Sort of a grand unifying theory of everything.
Perfect for riding across continents in all weathers, sleeping in the dirt, eating pocket lint…
The ride up through Virginia meets all expectations, temperature wise. Rode right by Petersburg this time, instead of stopping as I did on the way down.
BTW, here’s a thumbnail of Alvin Overlock in his later years. This is the bride’s great-great-great grandfather who got shot through the arm at Petersburg by a Johnny Reb minié ball.
I duck off the highway before D.C. and ride US 301 for Annapolis. The highway’s at a standstill when I get there, but I see a sign for a Harley dealership, always a good place to hang for a while. Free coffee and often interesting blab. So when the next exit comes up, I take it and try to find my way there. By the time I do, it’s 7 p.m. and they’re closing. On her way to her car, a woman who works there says an accident on the Bay Bridge is what has U.S. 301 stopped.
When the highway clears, I’m back on it, and when I get over the bridge it’s like entering another climate entirely. There’s mist in the air and the temperature drops 25 degrees. And there’s hardly any traffic. After about 40 miles of rolling fast through cool, wet air, I’m ready to stop and pull on my favorite river driver’s shirt and a button-down wool shirt over it. I’m in northern climes again, and it’s unseasonably spring-like. Huzzah!
Thirteen hours into my day I feel great, as if the day’s just starting. Instead of making dinner out of the saddlebags, I grab two burgers and a black coffee at a McDonald’s in Middletown, Maryland. (Make that Middletown, Delaware. Thanks, Chris W.) Ring up the bride on the cellphone and tell her I’m going to run it home from here. She says, No, get some sleep, it’s 12 more hours. I tell her it’s more like seven. I’m good, completely refreshed, will be home before the sun’s up; one sleep from Georgia and home in the biggest Little Rhody. It’s getting even cooler and wetter now, so I pull on the gore-tex rain pants over my jeans.
Well, up the road the rain is more electric and after I rejoin I-95 the traffic is insanely fast and reckless. Near Philly my low-fuel light comes on–ping!–and I’m not seeing anyplace to buy gas. I do see a sign for the I-476 cutoff, which has an exit right near my sister’s house in Havertown, PA. I’m sure I can find an all-night gas station on Township Line Road. Will fill up the piggy and snooze on Barb’s living room floor for a few hours, get over the George Washington Bridge while it’s still dark out.
It’s after 11 when I pull up in Barb and Joe’s driveway. I’m unexpected, so I let the motor run for half a minute before turning it off. It would kindly ruin my whole trip to get shot by Joe as I walk into the house in the dark. I’m expecting the back door to be unlocked, which it is. Barb’s dozing on the couch in front of the TV, almost has a heart attack when she hears boots coming through the laundry room in the dark. Sheba the shepherd dog is on her pillow, too old and tired to bark at me. Nobody in the house heard the motor.
So Barb and I watch the news and blah blah, I’m interested in the weather report. It says light rain today, big rain coming tomorrow. I’m getting out of Dodge before it does. A little after midnight, I lie down on the floor and tell myself to wake up at 2. Go by the subconscious alarm clock. I awake at 3:15, let the piggy roll down the driveway, then downhill to the first stop sign, and then a left and downhill to the second stop sign, and then the motor fires and we’re off on the final 300 miles.
I-476 is rainy and dark. I can see well enough to twist for 65. The limit might be 55, not sure about that. I’m more concerned about the occasional car going past my elbow at 75 and 85. Who are these people on the road at this hour? Whoops, people like me…
Ride I-476 to I-276, ride that into New Jersey and grab I-95 north. In a light rain, the Jersey Turnpike is illuminated by a million running lights. Every trucker in America is burning tanks in New Jersey tonight. I’m thinking if this was the sixties we could name our band Piggy and the Tractor Trailers.
The rain will keep the deer bedded down, so I twist for 75, scooting right along. I expect the day to just be dawning when I cross the George Washington Bridge.
And about 2 miles from the GWB, everything stops.
It stops as if it’ll never move again.
If I hadn’t slept those three hours, I would have gotten across the bridge around 1 in the morning. At 2, a tractor trailer driver got killed on it and it took 7 hours to clear the wreck. I sat on the side of the road for four of those hours. But that’s a part of motorcycling. When you’re not getting your road zen on to make miles, you’re exercising your standing-by-the-road zen. I got my gas stove out, made hot tea, ate a bagel. Not a very good bagel, strictly mass-produced & store-bought, but better than just wanting a bagel; that Aristotelian bagel, the perfect ideal of pure bagelness without the actual commercial bread stuff mixed in. Okay, so, tea & crummy bagel down, I walk around and talk to people in cars and trucks. Yakety-yak, yakety-yak…
Met a biker named Lou. He rides a Yamaha cruiser. We gab about air-cooled versus water-cooled. Lou’s headed south this summer to ride the Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap, on the Tennessee/North Carolina line. I tell him to have fun and don’t forget to bring a motorcycle part to hang on the tree of shame.
In biker circles, the Dragon is one of those must-do events, like Sturgis, and Daytona Bike Week. I’ve ridden right by all three. Must do? Okay, but I’m, uh, you know, doing this other thing over here.
Francisco Ceballos, Kawasaki rocket pilot, comes zipping along between lanes. He pulls over to see if the iron piggy is disabled. I say, Nope, just too porky to ride on the dotted white line. I’ll catch a highway peg on somebody for sure.
Ever speak to a young person and know in the first three seconds they’re smarter than you? (This happened with Sarah, too, the young woman who told me all about the siege at Petersburg on the trek south). And I’m not saying Francisco is smart just for riding a skinny bike that can split lanes like a neutrino flying through solid walls. At 23, he has his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his master’s from St. John’s University. I was driving a truck at that age. He’s on his way to Middle School 322, in Manhattan, where he teaches 6th-grade math.
BTW, traffic appears to be moving in the above pic. It isn’t. Every 20 or 30 minutes, a few hundred cars move up and then stop again. The exits in Fort Lee are bleeding off a bit of the jam but no one’s getting over the bridge.
Francisco and I yak about bikes. He started out on 25o’s, went to 650’s, and now pilots this month-old 1000cc wheelie machine. The Ninja ZX10R powers the wheel right up off the wick, he says, no slipping the clutch. Bikes like this are the leading supplier of young hearts, lungs & livers to transplant units around the country. The power-to-weight ratio is phenomenal. The bike weighs half as much as the piggy, has a third the wind resistance, more than twice the horsepower, redlines more than twice as high, goes twice as fast… you get the picture. The inline 4 motor is decidedly oversquare, with the piston bores half-again as wide as the stroke is long. It’s made to pump air through at screaming high revs. The piggy motor is engineered the other way around; stroke’s longer than the bore is wide. That’s how to move a heavyweight bike at low revs with tractor-like torque.
I definitely have the speed thing, so I stay off bikes like Francisco’s. If you ride a motorcycle billed as 190mph-capable right out of the crate, you, uh, kinda sorta have to find out for yourself at some point. I’d be riding this thing at 99 percent of my ability. Better to poke along on the piggy using 30 percent of what I know about riding. Heavy, underpowered for the weight, needs to be manhandled around, you just might live longer, Moe. The only trouble you’re likely to get into is at the hands of others. And I’m not saying that’s negligible. Far from it.
Anyway, I can’t tuck-up into that aggressive riding posture anymore. I leave Francisco with this thought: Please don’t get hurt.
… because it never stops hurting.
Once I get over the bridge, I want my first real meal of the day.
At the rest stop in Darien, Connecticut, I put on lentils I’ve been soaking since North Carolina. Lentils, olive oil, salt, pepper, looks like gruel but tastes pretty good and is high in protein. Beats standing in line for burger slop at the food court.
Pressure cooker letting off steam. Foreigners walk by and take my picture.
After the early lunch, I ride 60 miles to Westbrook, Connecticut and find my eyes are getting heavy.
Pull over again, this time for cowboy coffee: dump coffee grounds in water, boil it, drink what doesn’t sink. This Jamaican Me Crazy coffee is a little foofoo for my tastes, but it was getting thrown out at the condo so I threw it in the bear can instead. It came in handy, because the off & on rain all the way up from Maryland was jamaican me chilly, and running on three hours of sleep was jamaican me droopy. Had 2,352 miles behind me, only 75 to go, would like to actually get home.
Notice how I put my second bagel of the day on the footboard instead of on the ground with other people’s engine oils, transmission fluid, brake fluid, etc. Some bikers—not me—put their grub right on the ground. Cretins…
When cowboy coffee gets crunchy, you’re done.
Did a quick piggy inspection while on coffee break. The front-right wheel bearing looks a little juicy.
Front brake rotors are gone. They were worn slightly below spec before I rode to Alaska last year. Attention needed.
Stress crack in the exhaust header. Will weld it.
What’s piggy got to be stressed about? Besides lugging me and all my gear around the country?
Ah, look at that sleek piggy, stripped down for local rides.
Local it will be for a while. This is not the year for goofing off. Will just have to think good thoughts about 2015.
The gals fixed a Father’s Day brunch for me this morning. D2 and D3 did pouty model poses to encourage me to put the camera away.
Tony DePaul, June 15, 2014, Cranston, Rhode Island