Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election blues

Oh, GAWD. Another four years of that trained monkey in the White House? Heaven help us all. How could the Dems screw it up that badly? How could they NOT beat the idiot favorite son?

The guy has his supporters, lots of 'em, but I sure as hell don't see why. I really, really, REALLY dislike him with intensity.

And don't even get me started on the eleven states that say I cannot marry. Not like I'm gonna marry anyone but it is discouraging (to put it mildly) that the electorate denies me the legal right to do so, and by such a large margin. Sigh. Is progress an illusion?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Yellow Belt/Changing Gears

It's been a busy, busy weekend. I woke Saturday nervous ... my very first belt test in karate! I started at USSD back in June, when the Encino dojo first opened. This means I've spent a rather long time as a white belt, the very beginning level. I don't mind. It means I've had lots and lots of time to practice basics while enough students have enrolled and learned enough to test. It's a group of five of us who test for yellow belt. The test lasts about an hour, hour and a half ... I don't know. I just know it kicked my butt, it was physically very hard work, and constant. There were times were all I wanted to do was drop to the ground with exhaustion and then sensei would bark out some new orders and, well, what choice do I have but throw myself into doing whatever he just asked? Football was like that, too, especially two-a-days. You just have to keep going. We all passed. It'll be nice to have some color in the dojo. It'll feel strange and proud and a little shy to put that stiff new belt around my waist at my next class. It's a tiny little step, I know, but it's my first one.

After the test, I have to run home, shower and change, because it's time to run down to Long Beach and broadcast an Aftershock game! Needless to say, I wasn't in top form. Tim's friend who usually does the stats wasn't there, which means I tried to keep them, scribbling numbers on a sheet of paper in between trying to say something halfway interesting on the air. I sounded flat because I was so tired, low-energy, and I kept messing up everyone's names, but got through it. The Aftershock trounced the Scorpions pretty convincingly. I went right home afterward for some badly-needed rest.

Sunday, I meet up with the Changing Gears riders. (Check their website at What an awesome ride. It was a tremendous pleasure to meet Jean and the rest. These women inspire me. I was originally going to join Minnie and Sparky in Malibu for breakfast, but they ate without me because I skipped it and slept in a little bit. Sorry, ladies! Apparently I missed a good bit o' chow. We took off down PCH and headed south to Harbor City, a little town near Long Beach, to the reception at California Harley-Davidson. My doofus moment for the day -- I had printed out directions but of course left them at home, but I was fairly sure I knew how to get there. Famous last words. As the fearless leader I managed to get us a wee bit lost, but we got back on track and made it to the dealership on time. A few minutes later, the Changing Gears riders & accompanying folks pulled in. Lots of huge smiles & happy motorcyclists!

Jean, Boo, LH, Minnie, SparkyWe found Ladyhawke & Jean in the crowd, and proceeded to meet and greet with everyone. There were plenty of videocameras out, interviews with the various riders. Twenty women, twenty amazing stories, incredibly vibrant and high spirits abounding. The Amazons were actually interviewed as a group for a local cable channel. Who knows, we may end up in a documentary somewhere! (Ladyhawke, you did such a lovely job, but I managed to cram about half a dozen "umm"s into every sentence. I think I get camera-shy when I'm tired! LOL) Jean spoke wonderfully about the ride, the group's cause, the opportunity these women have embraced, and the importance of mammograms and early detection. I think we were the last interview of the day because we had to dash back outside & saddle up, everyone else was ready to ride.

Waved bye-bye to LH who had to head back south, and the rest of the group took off for Ventura County. The Changing Gears riders were in the front, followed by a large contingent from a local H.O.G. chapter, and Amazons held down the rear. Changing Gears rides through Malibu, CaliforniaIt is fun to have a police escort stop traffic and let a hundred riders pour through intersections while the cagers have to stop and watch you. Some look on with curiosity, some twitch impatiently. ;) Seeing the long line of riders from the back of the pack was pretty amazing.

Great riding weather. The group ended up back on PCH and we cruised up to Neptune's Net (local biker hangout) for the major stop of the afternoon. Lots more happy chatting and hanging out. Everybody, sing along!!One of the Changing Gears riders hauled out a guitar being carried in the support van and we had an impromptu concert on the front steps ... she sang a song that went something like "I hope there are Harleys in heaven/or what would the angels ride?" which everyone LOVED. Minnie and Sparky decided to take off from there (it was getting a little on the late side by this time) but I chose to ride with the group all the way to the day's destination in Oxnard. One of the Changing Gears ladies, who was caging it in the support van, asked if I could ride her two-up the rest of the way, and I said, sure, why not? So I actually had a passenger for the last leg of the trip and let me tell you, I did FINE with it. I am not nearly as terrified of having a passenger as I used to be!

The group ended up in Oxnard without anything eventful happening, always a good thing, and after a little more socializing, I said my goodbyes and headed on home. It was a long day and I was awfully tired by the end of it, but what a GREAT time it was! Such a pleasure to meet you, Jean, and I hope the rest of your adventure is splendid beyond words. (BTW, Jean thought our Southern California scenery is pretty awesome. Yep, they've been riding some great roads. But I kept telling her, if you think this is great, just wait 'til you get up in Northern Cali! That has got to be some of the prettiest riding ANYWHERE.)

Rock on and ride safe, ladies ...

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Back from Vegas Bike Fest

Home safe and sound from Vegas, I went to the Bike Fest there over the weekend. It was fun and I got to meet a bunch of cool folks from the WWR board, but I think bike rallies just aren't my thing. Many bikers -- many DRUNK bikers -- racing up and down the Strip at all hours? Getting beer baths while you're trying to walk through the crowd on Fremont Street? I prefer to stay away from the big events, thank you. I'd rather be riding than talking about riding, anyway.

I played roulette all weekend, and ended up about $75 ahead. Better than losing, but no one is ever going to call me a high roller. LOL

It was VERY windy coming home, plus the usual Sunday back-to-LA traffic made me crazy, I was lanesplitting even though I was still on the Nevada side of the line! Illegal!! Oh well, no tickets ;)

Monday, September 06, 2004

Back home, and back online

A quick entry to say I made it back home on Friday September 3rd. 16 days, just under 6000 miles, a barrelful of adventures! Unfortunately, when I got back my computer was down; the monitor gave up the ghost while I was out of town. I have just now gotten a replacement. (Thanks, Kay!) Now I'll be able to check my email and start writing up my road stories.

This blog lets me postdate entries, so you'll see stuff showing up from two weeks ago as I start transcribing my journal notes. I'm looking forward to writing down all the wonderful images in my head.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Day Sixteen

Start: Kingman AZ (23670)
End: Sherman Oaks CA (24012)
342 miles
5951 miles total

Home! Home! I'm glad to be home!One last day on the road, and I'm anxious to get home! Today's ride is uneventful, just more medatative miles clicking off through the California deserts. I think about the people fleeing the Dustbowl, making the Grapes of Wrath journey across this barren terrain in old jalopies piled with all the possessions they could carry. What did they think of this empty terrain? Did it crush their dreams, or only serve to heighten them, heading towards the promises of California? The town of Essex CA takes the cake on this trip with their Middle Of Freakin' Nowhere prices for gas and a soda. Unleaded (87) is $3.80/gallon. A can of Coke is two dollars. Onward, onward. Heading into Barstow, one more thing breaks on the bike. The spot weld on the lightbar gives way and -- clunk -- suddenly the auxillary headlights tip down and point at the ground. Oops! I stop (needed more gas anyway) and ziptie 'em to the frame, which doesn't fix the problem, but will keep them from flying off until I can get home and fix them. This is a pretty normal occurance for bikers, things just go wrong and ya gotta make do with what you have. Over the Cajon Pass and back into greater Los Angeles, it's a glad thing to be back on my familiar home roads, even traffic doesn't annoy me too much. I arrive home mid-afternoon, safe and sound. It's been a wonderful journey, my first cross-country trip and I've done it solo. I have ridden just under 6,000 miles, all of 'em good for my soul. Thanks to the Goddess for watching over me on this trip, and bringing me home again.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Day Fifteen

Start: Gallup NM (23311)
End: Kingman AZ (23670)
359 miles

Today, I'll take a little time for sightseeing. I'm making such good time on this return trip that I can have an easy day today! Let's see, pull out the map ... Arizona has some lovely, lovely places. I'm within easy reach of a Grand Canyon detour, but I've seen it before. Instead I decide to visit the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert.

The Painted Desert InnI take the loop road off I-40 and pay the entrance fee, and stop at the visitor's center, spending some time to chat with the usual friendly volunteers there. From there it's a lovely ride through the park. I stop to have a long look around the Painted Desert Inn, a marvelous building constructed in the 1930's. The design of the building and the interior frescos are simply wonderful. There's a busload of elderly tourists getting ready to head out as I arrive, and a few ladies greet me, and take a look at the loaded bike and ask me how far I'm traveling. I can tell they're slightly appalled & slightly elated at a single woman on the road. They make me grin.

Riding through the park reveals vista after vista of spectacular scenery. I am heading north to south, which takes me first through the Painted Desert and its wonderous colors, then into the Petrified Forest area of the park. I stop and look around a pueblo area, and then at a petroglyph site. I park near a U-Haul that I've been seeing on I-40 for a day and a half. It's funny how you'll see the same cars & trucks over and over on the road. I'll pass a slower vehicle, but need to stop for gas much more frequently than it will, so it will get ahead of me again while I'm at a gas station, so I end up playing leapfrog with some vehicles all day long. This particular U-Haul is towing a car with Minnesota plates. Walking up to the petroglyph overview, there are two pair of people there, a youngish couple who are leaving and what looks to be a mother & daughter. I overhear the mother talking to the daughter and the accent could be straight out of the movie Fargo, so when I say hello to them, I say, "You must be the ones with the U-Haul and the Minnesota car." It's good for a laugh and we strike up traveller's conversation. The daughter is starting college and they are on the way to getting her moved in for her freshman year. I congratulate her and ask her where she's enrolled. "USC," she says. "Oh, very good school, but I did some undergrad work at UCLA," I say, laughing, "so don't hold that against me." "Are you from Los Angeles?" asks the mother. "Yeah, I'm heading back home to Sherman Oaks." More smiles ... amazingly, that's exactly where they're headed! The kid already has a room rented somewhere in my town. I guess it is a very small world, indeed. We talk awhile longer, then wish each other a safe journey. I head further south. Painted desert gives way to stark landscapes dotted with piles of petrified wood. It is strange-looking and very raw. Wind is kicking up by the time I reach the south end of the park. Time to get back on the highway and make miles.

I work my way back to I-40 and continue west. Oh, the wind gets fiercer and fiercer, and I'm not too happy about it. It's difficult riding, gusty and tiring and so dry that I feel like the moisture is being dragged out of my body with every breath. I am buffeted by trucks and fight to keep my lane. Something's not right ... the wind noise is incredibly loud and getting louder. Then, my visor breaks. It won't stay closed, popping open a half-inch to let in an unbearable roar of wind blasting straight into my face. I swear quite a bit and slow way down, and pull off at the next available stop, which is a highway rest area. I examine my helmet & find that I've lost one of the little plastic screws that hold the visor, and the remaining three are loose. I tighten them, which fixes the popping-open problem, but it's temporary at best. I resolve to stop at the first likely place to buy a replacement.

That place is Flagstaff Harley Davidson (actually in Bellemont AZ) which charges me a few bucks for a set of three fasteners emblazoned with the HD logo, which I find amusing ... somehow, I don't think that's what Shoei intended, but hey, whatever works. Next door is the Route 66 Roadhouse Cafe, which seems like a good spot for a late lunch. It's mostly empty, since I am there during off hours midweek. The setup there is that you order ... burger or steak or hotdogs or whatever ... and the waitress brings you your meat and you cook it yourself on a huge stainless grill at one end of the room. This would have been better if I hadn't felt so exhausted from the tough riding, but I've already ordered so I just go with it. Cook, eat up, and leave. (Later, I found out that I had missed running into my riding pal Jen there, who was on her way to Colorado, by mere minutes. Again with the small world!)

I come down out of the mountains and cross western Arizona, and it's a fairly miserable day, with the wind and all. I knock off early in Kingman AZ and get a room for the night. I had thought to make it to the California border, but it's just been too tiring to fight gusts all day. It was actually a wind advisory in effect today, but tomorrow should be better weather.

Next: Day Sixteen

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Day Fourteen

Start: Elk City OK (22735)
End: Gallup NM (23311)
576 miles

Oh, EWWW. Want to know the reason NOT to stay in a no-name cheapo hotel? The BUGS.

I dress and clear out of that waterbug-infested mess at sunup. Good riddance. The icky crawly feelings get blown away by the good clean wind of the highway. An hour into my day, I've crossed over into the Texas panhandle, and I am feeling good once more. Next stop, Amarillo, where I think I'll have breakfast. I've been seeing billboards for The Big Texan, a famous restaurant in Amarillo, Home Of The Free 72 Oz Steak! No, I'm not gonna attempt to eat four and a half pounds of beef for breakfast, but hey! I feel the need to do some silly touristy sightseeing around now. Since Oklahoma City I've been on the highway that replaced Route 66, and I've been seeing lots and lots of billboards for touristy stuff and 66 nostalgia spots and things like that.

It's a funny thing about billboards, ya know. I used to consider them eyesores, urban blight, and wished someone would tear 'em all down. But once you get out of the cities and into the wide open spaces, they sort of become your friends. Most days, I've been riding places where there is a whole lot of nothing, just farmlands or empty space. You can go for many miles without seeing any signs; then, when you spot one, you know you are coming up to something. The good signs will tell you you're ten miles away from a truck stop with a Subway shop, or the best pork chops in Tennessee, or the LIVE! Two-Headed Rattlesnake, or whatever! And then you know you'll have the opportunity to get gas and have a little stretch, or a bite to eat, or just a look-see at roadside America weirdness, if it strikes your fancy. The signs give you something to look at and to think about besides the stripe on the road. Billboards are an inherant part of a road trip. I have grown to welcome them during my days of travel.

There's my bike, dwarfed by the Big TexanThe Big Texan certainly does not disappoint. It's gaudy, hysterically funny in its unabashed touristy excess. It's still early, and I am one of only five customers in their immense dining hall. I get a (normal-sized) steak and eggs for breakfast, along with biscuits and gravy which are absolutely delicious. Pleasantly stuffed, I figure to make this my big meal for the day. In the parking lot, I watch a cowboy guy unload a horse from a trailer and walk him around, much as you'd walk a dog who's been cooped up in the back seat of a car. The horse obediently poops in an out-of-the-way corner of the lot. Heh. Texas.

Entering New MexicoIt's only about 175 miles across the Texas panhandle, so I am in New Mexico before I know it. Road time. I sail along, back in territory that is starting to look familiar to me. I am passing through rangeland and open desert, instead of forests and river valleys and endless greenery. Now that I've left the South and Texas behind me, the people I talk to are starting to sound more like I do, as well. ;) I climb mountains and pass through Clines Corner NM, the elevation above 7,000 ft making the weather unexpectedly chilly for this first day of September, and roll through Albuquerque around midday. It's a fairly large city, but otherwise New Mexico is empty empty empty. Riding these highways is a kind of meditation. Thank the Goddess I learned to ride a motorcycle last year. It's not an exaggeration to say it's saved my sanity. I went through some hard times last spring, an ugly breakup with a woman who I still love deeply, and it took me a long while to reach my peace with it. Learning to ride has been part of that healing. Riding is something that I had always wanted to do, and more importantly, something that called to me in some deep, unknown part of my soul. Riding is when I feel most in harmony. These days & weeks on the road, I feel better than I have felt in a long time.

Gorgeous scenery in New Mexico, near the Continental DivideStorm clouds do little more than weakly threaten by late afternoon, but never get serious about it, so I keep on riding until close to sunset. I stop for the night in Gallup, humming the Route 66 song. A lot of people ask me if I am in town for the Four Corners rally, which is this weekend. Wish I could stay for it, but I've got no time and a yearning to get my butt home, and I'm only two days out now.

Next: Day Fifteen

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Day Thirteen

Start: Osceola AR (22138)
End: Elk City OK (22725)
587 miles

Early morning in Arkansas, and thank goodness the mosquitos are gone. I could not BELIEVE the size and number of them last night, when I went out to get a little bite to eat. Ick. I am at a Mobil station, doing my pre-ride check for the day, when I spot a woman in the gas station across the street eyeballing me. Sure enough, she finishes filling up her car, then drives across the road and pulls up next to me. Leaning out the window, she smiles and asks, "Where ya headin'?" I reply, "West, I'm on my way to Los Angeles," which elicits a "wow, cool" from her. Her name is Rhonda (oh, great, now 'Help Me, Rhonda' is going to be stuck in my head all day, LOL) and she rides too, with a local Women On Wheels chapter that's fairly active in this part of Arkansas. She went to the annual WOW ride-in held in West Virginia earlier this year, and asks me if I was there. No, alas, only one cross-country trip per summer for me! I explain that I was at a different event, the Amazon Gathering, and I tell her that I was on Interstate 40 yesterday and found it so completely sucky that I detoured looking for a better route. She grins and starts telling me about local roads. "Well, headin' wey-est, you can take 140 for a ways hey-ah, that's a good road. Not a lotta traffic, and no cops." She squints, considering. "That'll take you to Newport. Then you can take 67 back down to the intahstate, past Little Rock. It's not as bad past they-ah." Perfect! We chat for a little while longer, she wishes me safe riding, and I take off for the day.

It is absolutely FABULOUS riding the back highways here. The land is agricultural, still mostly fields of rice crisscrossed with ditches, interspersed with small bayous. Some of the bayous have water that looks dark as strong tea, some are covered with nasty green scum. Y'know, I've never actually seen a bayou before. Some day I'll get myself to Mississippi or Louisiana and see some of the REALLY big bayous, these are probably dinky in comparison. I don't know the names of the trees, but they look completely different from the trees to which I am accustomed. Hey, was that an armadillo squished on the road there? Sure looked like one, but I thought armadillos were desert critters. Geeze, it's humid, but other than that a tremendously beautiful day. The highways pass through a number of small towns, their namesigns announcing the population of maybe a few dozen or maybe a few hundred. I slow to posted 25- or 35-mph speed limits going through, and a couple of times there are children to wave at (kids always wave back to passing motorcyclists) and the rest of the time, I have clear sailing on open two-lane highway. Wonderful, wonderful. Oh, that roadkill was DEFINITELY an armadillo, his four little legs sticking stiffly toward the sky. So I guess 'dillos are more swamp critters than desert critters. Learn something new every day.

I work my way back to I-40 and it is indeed a little better in the west half of the state. Not great, but I can live with it. I make good miles and cross over into Oklahoma mid-day. I'm out of the lowlands and back into rolling hills now. I pass through some of the large Indian nations; reservations make up big chunks of this state. It's pretty, back to scrub forest in the undeveloped parts, grain crops (wheat? barley? and some more corn) in the farmland areas. I see horses, and more and more cattle the farther west I go. At a gas stop outside of Oklahoma City, I get in a conversation with a fellow biker. He immediately puts me in mind of Sam - a small Native American guy, wirey, the same kind of jovial bullshitter - my goodness, it would be the spitting image of her if Sam were an Oklahoma biker dude. Heh. He's wearing patches, and he must assume I am an indie, but I tell him that I ride with the Amazons but don't yet have the colors on my vest. We talk for a while, just shootin' the bull. He keeps calling me "baby girl." Normally I would be a little annoyed and find that condescending, but today it just makes me laugh ... I am about a half-foot taller than he, and must outweigh him by a hundred pounds; "baby girl?" LOL! Eventually, it's time for me to hit the road again. "You be safe, baby girl," he calls out, waving. Heh.

Route 66 scenery, somewhere in Oklahoma (I forget where)I had wanted to make it as far as Oklahoma City today, but I reach it and there's still lots of daylight left. Might as well keep riding. Day fades to dusk (and such a pretty sunset) and I've reached Elk City OK. I pull off and, tired of paying too much for hotels, find a cheapo no-name place to stay for the night. My goodness, I've managed to cross just about all of Arkansas and Oklahoma in a single day. I am less than an hour from the Texas border here. Making good time on my return trip.

Next: Day Fourteen

Monday, August 30, 2004

Day Twelve

Start: Bristol VA (21575)
End: Osceola AR (22138)
563 miles

Up early, I get my gear stowed away, grab a little breakfast in the miniature lobby downstairs (Lord, I am tired of these "complimentary breakfasts" with nothing but stale cereal, rock-hard bagels and instant coffee) and walk outside to check out my poor bike. Tire fairies have not magically repaired the flat overnight; however, I see the Honda dealership's service bay door across the street is open, a half-hour early! I stroll over to check it out.

Atlas Honda, in Bristol VA - HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. The guys were helpful, friendly and eager to get me back on the road as soon as possible. They quote me prices (reasonable, not excessively cheap, I can live with that) for fixing the flat, and for fixing the flat and replacing the back tire, which doesn't have that much tread left on it. I decide to go for the replacement. I'd need to get it replaced before I get halfway across country anyway. Then I settle in to wait for the work to get done. The morning is gloomy and it rains intermittently. A couple of nice young men fetch my bike from across the street, saving me the trouble of doing so, and the wee beastie disappears into the work bay. An older gentleman pulls up on a Goldwing and hands it over to the service guys for whatever work he's having done. He wanders over in my general direction, and starts up the let's-kill-a-little-time conversation. He opens with "Looks like we're going to get a little rain," and again with the accents, I smile at the thick South in his voice, and reply, "Yeah, it does look a wee bit gloomy." Now it's his turn - his eyes goggle with surprise, and he says, "Where are you from?" "Los Angeles," I answer. "I've been on vacation up in the Shenandoah Valley, and now I'm on my way home." He laughs, "I didn't think you sounded like you were from East Tennessee!" What follows is one of the most fascinating conversations-with-a-stranger that I've ever been in. The fellow, name of John, is a retired police officer who travels with his wife on the Wing. They've been riding for years & he tells me lots of stories about places he's been. He, in turn, is amazed at my tales. He can't believe that I'm traveling cross-country solo (he thinks it's great, but worries that I don't carry a gun) and is tickled when he finds out that I am a former professional football player. Apparently, he's never met anyone like me. LOL, I get that a lot. We gab and gab, the time passes quickly, and before I know it my bike is ready to go. I load up, wish John safe travels, and hit the road once more.

Tennessee is lovely. I ride the length of the state, passing through the Smoky Mountains. It's uneventful riding, just making miles down the interstate. It rains off and on, but August rain is warm, and I never bother to put on my rainsuit. I get lost in Nashville. The freeways through downtown are under construction (apparently this is a perpetual condition for them) and all the signs are down. I find myself in the wrong lane to stay on I-40 westbound without a prayer of getting over in time, and end up getting dumped off the freeway and detouring into what I think was a pretty bad section of town. I figure as long as I keep heading west, I'll find the interstate again eventually. I pass through a nicer-looking part of town, the houses are neat and charming, and they all look old to me (of course, an "old" house in L.A. is one that's built before the 70's - an "old" house in other parts of the country is one that's built in the 1800's.) I pick up a state highway and keep heading west, and sure enough, it leads me back to I-40 and my main route.

By late afternoon, the rain is behind me and I am heading into Memphis. One of the main reasons I've chosen this return route is that I want to see the Mississippi here. One time, I flew into Memphis (I was changing planes there) and was amazed at the sight of the river from the air. Now, I need to see it from the ground, and cross it on two wheels. I really don't know why this is important to me, but I don't question it, just go with my feeling. I hit traffic going through the city, and there is a terrible-looking four-car pileup in the opposite direction which slows everyone to a crawl with all the damn rubbernecking. Once I get through that, it's pretty easy sailing, and the mile markers tell me how far I have to go until I reach the river and the state line ... nine miles, five miles, three, two, one ...

I do not see the river until I am just about upon it. The road rises up just a bit and suddenly I am crossing over a little bluff which is the east riverbank, and flying out onto the bridge that spans the water. It is really quite breathtaking. The river is impossibly wide here, much wider than where I crossed east at St Louis, and I thought THAT was huge. Mud Island stands north of the bridge, to my right. The river flows brown and slow beneath me. It's wonderful, just wonderful, to be traveling this way, I feel so free and alive and thankful to be able to see a sight like the mightiest of America's rivers like this, without a care in the world. I laugh with sheer happiness, and grin my way into the West.

Jeanne warned me about the road here in Arkansas. It's as lousy as she said. I-40 is lumpy and bumpy and patched every twenty yards or so, and it's annoying as hell. The thump, thump, thump of my wheels on the road surface is hard on my shoulders and butt. I start looking for a detour, and eventually head northbound on I-55. I have no idea where I'm going, but the road is better. The land is as featureless as anything I have seen so far, nothing but flat as far as the eye can see. Rice grows here. Looking at the terrain, I suddenly understand the importance of the levee systems here, on a visceral level. When the river floods, it spreads across these lowlands for miles and miles, with nothing to stop it. I think maybe I could detour north back to St Louis, then take the Ozarks road back to the west ... oh, forget it, the highway sign there just said it's 275 miles to St Loo. Sun's going down. I start looking for a place to stop for the night. Not a whole lot out here in east Arkansas, that's for sure. I find a hotel outside of Osceola. I check in for the night and drag out my maps, looking for a decent alternative route for tomorrow.

Next: Day Thirteen

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Day Eleven

Start: Luray VA (21273)
End: Bristol VA (21575)
302 miles

Getaway day. There is a wee amount of general grumpiness at having to get up early and hit the road. I am looking forward to my return trip, but sad at having to leave Virginia and my Amazon sisters. The weather looks fine for now, but promises to become threatening. It looks like a chain of hurricanes and tropical storms are setting up for hit after hit on the East Coast this year ... by the end of summer, this turns out to be more true than anyone imagined! ... and right now, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston are moving through the Carolinas, may reach Virginia by late day. This will affect the Sisters who are going home to Florida, and may affect me a little bit, because I have decided to take I-81 south to Knoxville, and pick up I-40 west across the country. We all get our gear packed up, check and triple-check the cabin so we don't leave anything behind, and finally there is nothing left to do but exchange our goodbyes. Warm hugs and well-wishes, safe travels to you my sister, I will see you again.

I am on my own once more. I am a little slow getting back into my solo roadtime headspace, but it's not a problem. I sort of meander south in a pokey way. The morning is fine, warm and a little humid, and the sun is shining. The Blue Ridge Mountains are to my left, I follow along their base. Green surrounds me. Descending into a wide river valley - hey, it's the James River! Placenames out of American history. The water is wide and placid-looking where I cross. I smile. Where I come from, we don't have rivers, we have storm channels paved over with concrete. Real rivers are always a strange and wonderful treat to me. Even here, miles from where the James widens and flows into the Atlantic, it looks unimaginably huge to my desert-accustomed eyes. I continue, climbing through forested hills, enjoying the Virginia countryside.

For lunchtime, I decide on that quintessential Southern experience, and stop at a Waffle House. Have to do it at least once, ya know, since I've come all this way. I make the mistake of filling my tank before eating. Basic science: gasoline expands dramatically in volume as it gets warmer. This is a property of all volatile liquids, is it not? So, gas keeps cool in underground storage tanks at the station, but warms up and expands quickly in my little 2.9-gallon tank, and oofdah, I have gas absolutely POURING out of the top of my tank in the time it takes to order and eat lunch. D'oh! I suppose everyone has to learn this the hard way sooner or later. I guess it's never happened to me before because, even though I waaay overfill my tank every single time, because I always fill up and keep riding, so the gas doesn't have time to expand before it starts getting consumed.

A few hours later, I am farting around in the southwest part of Virginia, and for no particularly good reason have gotten off the interstate and am cruising around in a little town about ten miles from the Tennessee border. I'm looking for a c-store, actually, but get off track and have to hang a u-turn. Something feels wrong, the rear tire suddenly feels mushy and loose as I flip around. Whaaa? Need to stop and check, this isn't right. I find myself a gas station, find my tire pressure gauge, and sure enough the rear tire is extremely low. I fill it back up to pressure. Seems to be holding, but maybe it's a slow leak. Gotta watch that. I head back down the interstate, towards Knoxville, and stop again in Bristol VA, the last town before crossing the state line. In the amount of time it takes me to go in a market, buy stuff, and come back out, the rear tire is flat as a pancake. A helpful guy tries to put a can of fix-a-flat in, but it's a pretty worthless exercise ... foamy green goo comes pouring out of the rim, it's obviously not working. Looks like when the tire went, it went completely. I brave the street, riding a block and a half to get to a gas station & air pump, in the vain hope of seeing if I can get any air to stay in there at all, and I discover it's almost impossible to ride a motorcycle with a flat. Hee. I am learning so much on this trip. The tire, she is dead. Sigh. Time to call for a tow truck again. What is it with slow tow trucks? This time I wait almost TWO HOURS for one to come. This guy, however, knows how to tie down a motorcycle on the flatbed, so that's good news. The bad news is it's Sunday, and late afternoon, and no one is open who can fix the thing. Tow Truck Guy takes me to the nearest Honda dealership. Yay, my luck is holding! There is a Comfort Inn directly across the street, with vacancies! There had been a big NASCAR event in Bristol earlier in the morning. Had I broken down there yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to find a hotel room anywhere; now, the event is over, the race fans are on their way home, and all the hotels are empty.

Well, I wanted to make four hundred or so miles today, but I've only made three hundred before getting stuck with the flat. Things could be worse, so I'm not worried. I check in, get settled, order Chinese. Clouds come in, thicken and turn dark, and rain starts to fall after the sun goes down. The Honda shop opens at 8 am tomorrow. Hopefully they'll get me on the road again quickly, and I'll be able to make up some miles.

BamBam says I just like riding around in tow trucks :P Them's fightin' words, girl!

Next: Day Twelve

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Day Ten

Out And About in Virginia, and Initiation

I slept a little better last night; I found a not-too-terrible foldout bed on the other side of the cabin which is a definite improvement over the wretched bunk bed. So I feel perkier this morning, and decide that yes, I will indulge my inner history-buff nerd and do the Shenandoah Valley Civil War crawl today. Sure enough, I'm on my own for the day, no one else is interested; the other gals are going to head into Luray and do the town thing, a little shopping and whatnot. We'll meet up again later and do a nice dinner out to celebrate our last day of the Gather.

To start, I head down to New Market. There's a very good battle site there, and a nice museum with lots and lots of old uniforms and equipment, stuff I like to look at. The Battle of New Market was fought in May of 1864, the opening of the final campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. A silly little film shown hourly at the museum makes much of the Virginia Military Institute's participation in the battle (the museum is part of the VMI's Hall Of Honor, so it makes sense) and the cadets' charge across a muddy plowed field, now remembered as "The Battle Of Lost Shoes". As part of the larger picture, New Market was an example of the Federal leadership's continuing ineptitude in the Valley. Maj Gen Breckenridge (CSA) pretty much got the drop on Gen Sigel (US) who had been blundering around with his forces for a number of days, in bad weather. It was Sigel's last big engagement before being relieved of duty, I think. That's the stuff you read in the books. Walking around on the battlefield, retracing the steps of the soldiers themselves, I am much more aware of history from the view of some unnamed, unimportant individual. Here is where the company charged. Here is the stone wall, behind which they took cover and returned fire for half an hour. The battery stood there, up on that hill to the left, firing canister into the Union line. The Federals retreated, through what is now a cornfield. Wow. I walk the battle site, communing with ghosts I do not know. I have no idea why this stuff fascinates me so much. It just does.

After I look around New Market for a while, I head north. Tom's Brook is the site of a cavalry engagement: two divisions of Federal horsemen clashed with two divisions of rebel cavalry in October of 1864, the very end of fighting in the Valley - Gen Sheridan (US) had mostly completed his burning and destruction of the Shenandoah, depriving the Confederacy of resources that allowed them to continue the war. There's not a lot marking the site, or if there is, I never found it. I do manage to find "the back road" west of the turnpike, which is the site of Brig Gen Custer's (US) advance against Maj Gen Rosser (CSA), his former West Point roommate.

Nearby is Cedar Creek. At the same time the cavalry was fighting at Tom's Brook, infantry engaged in a major battle at Cedar Creek and around the Belle Grove plantation. There is a good visitor's center there now, rather small but staffed by friendly talkative folks who love to yak about history, the best sort of people to find at a visitor's center :) Cedar Creek is the site of one of Sheridan's greatest victories, as he is credited with stemming the rout of Union forces in the morning of the battle, rallying the troops with his own personal charisma and bravery, and leading them back to the field for a counterattack and to victory. Also, the Union victory here is one of the things that directly led to Lincoln's re-election. The battle site is too big for much walking around. Many, many divisions were engaged here, covering several miles. The folks working at Cedar Creek Visitor's Center today are preparing for a major re-enactment in a few weeks. It will be the 140th anniversary of the battle. They are building entrenchments, split-rail fences, and clearing areas that will be encamped. I look around for a while and talk to various people, then head out again to the north.

The site of the First and Second Kernstown battles, a few miles south of Winchester, is now privately owned. I was hoping to find something around here but there's not much. Kernstown is the site of a rare thing indeed, a tactical defeat of Gen Stonewall Jackson (CSA) in the Shenandoah Valley. His aggressive fighting, however, prevented the Union from removing troops from the Valley and sending them to reinforce Gen McClellan (US) in his drive on Richmond. Jackson's campaign in the Valley in 1862 is seen as a strategic masterwork.

By the time I get to Winchester, the sky is looking pretty threatening and I am worrying about the weather. Winchester is the foot of the Shenandoah Valley and there are lots of things to see here - battle sites, museums, Jackson's Headquarters. I get a little lost on the freeways (hey, I'm not lost, I'm touring.) I turn myself around and stopped at a rest area, which is also the Virginia Welcome Center. I start chatting with a fellow traveler (a tourist down from PA) and he asks me if I got caught in the rain. "What rain?" I ask. The skies are certainly darkening. He's come from the north and says it's coming down in buckets, and the front is fifteen minutes away. Well, that's enough info for me, I'm outta here, cutting short my Winchester look-see.

I take off to the southeast towards Front Royal, watching the skies but still stopping at a few roadside Civil War markers. (These are usually gravesites, or "So-and-So's House was burned to the ground here in 1863," that sort of thing.) Rain catches me before I get to Front Royal and it does indeed come down in buckets! I am drenched before I can even entertain the notion of pulling over and donning my raingear. At least it's still warm so I'm not uncomfortable. Once you get soaked, it's silly to put on your gear unless you like saunas ... the rainsuit will hold the water and heat in, and it can be downright steamy. I decide to just keep riding wet. After a five-minute downpour, the rain slacks off. Not bad. I visit the courthouse in downtown Front Royal, lots of plaques in a pretty courtyard, but not a whole lot else to look at. I have a feeling I'm missing good stuff with my haphazard route, but who cares, I'm having fun. It's midafternoon by now, time to meander back home. Might as well take Skyline Drive back through the Shenandoah NP back to Luray, it was such a pretty ride yesterday. I enter the park and start into those lovely twisties, and not a mile up the road, the rain starts coming down heavy again. Oh poo, what a killjoy. I am super-cautious going through the corners, I still don't trust my wet-weather riding, but after a little while I start to feel a bit more comfortable. I guess it's just a practice thing, like everything else. The heavy rain lasts about fifteen minutes this time, tapers off to a drizzle, and eventually stops and the sun breaks out. I am almost dry by the time I reach home.

The ladies have scouted a good restaurant for us in Luray. I have time to clean up and rest a little bit before we all pile in the car and troop down to town. It's a funky little place with a good menu. They even have some nice vegetarian selections for Raven, so she's not stuck ordering the one veg thing on the menu (which happens all too frequently, I remember from my non-meateating days.) We order a couple of bottles of nice local wine, which enhances the conviviality of the evening. Everyone is in a fine, happy mood. It's been a great Gathering, and we're celebrating tonight, not even letting the tinge of sadness at having to part ways tomorrow intrude on our festivities. We laugh, tell stories, and toast each other and the Amazons who could not make it to Virginia. I have a bit of a good buzz on, and make a little speech thanking these women for being so welcoming to someone they had never met before. There are big smiles all around, and something more. Wild1 in particular looks like a cat who swallowed the canary. She turns to me and asks, "Well, now that you've ridden all the way across the country and met us, did we skeer you off?" I laugh, "Of course not!" She presses, "Well then, now that you've met us, are you still interested in joining the Amazons?" I wonder, what is she driving at? "Of course I am," I reply. "I have no intention of withdrawing my status as Prospect." (This is the alcohol talking, LOL, sometimes it makes me give these little formal-sounding speeches.) I add that I am only three months in and have another three months to go in my prospect period. Now she's positively smirking. "Nah, not necessarily," she says. "We had to check, but since you still want to be one of us, we have a little thing planned special for tonight."

I look around the table: everyone is grinning at me. "You mean ... ?" I stutter. Geeze, my shyness is kicking in something fierce all of a sudden. They confirm that yes, tonight I will be initiated into the Amazon Sisterhood, with T as my High Priestess. It's already been put to a vote. It's already arranged. The only thing left had been to confirm my willingness to take the final step to become a Sister. They are probably laughing at the wide-eyed look on my face, because I am completely bowled over. I am sure I look like a stunned duck, anyway. They explain the by-laws to me when I voice a small concern over the legality of shortening the prospect period ... yes, it's all legit. Raven adds gently, "Besides, we thought that you riding solo across country to be here says more than another three months on a message board ever could."

And finally, it sinks in. Tonight, I shall become an Amazon.

And so it is. I cannot speak of the Initiation itself, except to say that it is my honor that it is conducted under the open sky, next to a bonfire, beneath the face of the Moon our sister. Pretty cool ;)

We stay up late in the evening afterwards, talking about anything and everything, unwilling to head off to bed. Tomorrow early we will pack up and head our separate ways. But tonight, we sit as Sisters around the fire and are glad of each other's company. I love these women.

Next: Day Eleven

Friday, August 27, 2004

Day Nine

Skyline Drive/Shenandoah National Park

I sleep badly again last night, the particular bed I've chosen is quite subpar. It's the bottom bunk ... lumpy as hell ... and now Raven is sleeping in the top bunk, which was the last remaining non-foldout bed. I'm afraid I keep the poor dear awake all night with my tossing and turning, she's a very light sleeper. And I wake up dreaming about that woman again, in which she and I were talking to each other like perfectly normal people. I sit up suddenly (almost bumping my head) saying "Dammit!" Raven says, "What?" It's hard to explain to her in a couple of sentences, but I try. "Well, I was having this dream where my ex was being nice to me." "That's a good thing, isn't it?" she says. "Not really," I say, "because that's not how it is in real life, we don't speak to each other because of massive weirdness a while ago. So it's me dreaming about something I want but can't have." The conversation eventually veers back to normalcy as I shake out the cobwebs & get going with my day. Hate it when stuff like that comes up first thing in the morning. Makes me feel out of balance. I decide I'll relocate and try one of the foldout beds tonight. I've had too many nights in a row of not-really-good sleep and it's wearing on me a bit.

Today, the Amazons ride.

T, BamBam, Raven and I will ride together (amusingly, we all have purple bikes) while Wild1 and Thumper will follow in the cage. We'll take Skyline Drive from north to south today. We pack up a nice picnic lunch, stowing the cooler in the car, and gear up and head north to Front Royal. Another lovely day and another lovely ride through Virginia countryside. I am absolutely loving riding through country that looks and feels so very different from my native California. It's all green, farmland, fields dotted with cylindrical haybales. Mountains rise to our left and our right. The weather is perfect.

I am merely a Prospect for the Amazons so I have no patch on my jacket ... everyone else wears one. It's pretty cool to see all those Amazon patches together. I guess someone who isn't part of a motorcycle club wouldn't understand the feeling of pride at seeing the colors, but there it is. I have only been a Prospect for three months, half of my six-month eligibility period, and then my potential membership into the Full & True Sisterhood will be put to a vote by the members. Nonetheless, these women have welcomed me to the Gather with open arms. I am honored by their inclusion, and by the opportunity to ride with them today. Sounds corny, but it's true. :P

I am starting to get used to toll booths. (That's me in the yellow jacket.)We pay our fees at the Front Royal Entrance Station which is located at the far north end of Shenandoah NP. From here, Skyline Drive will take us 105 miles through the park. We head up into the Blue Ridge Mountains, the road sometimes covered by arching canopies of hickory & oak forest, sometimes open to expansive views of the valley below us. T takes the lead, she's our road captain for the day. I had been riding in the third spot behind BamBam, but we switch up once inside the park because I tend to go a little faster than she does on the twisties, and this road is ALL twisties. Heavenly. Raven takes the tailgunner position. I have to say this is one of the most perfect roads I've ever ridden. It is exquisitely maintained, no rough spots, it has lots and lots of pulloffs with beautiful vistas, and it is extravagently signed. Most of this road was created during the New Deal era, one of many CCC work projects run by the Federal government during the Depression, and you can see the 1930's characterist stonework on embankments, water sluices for drainage, etc. Unlike many CCC projects, this hasn't fallen into disrepair. The park's proximity to Washington D.C. ensures not only fairly heavy use, but decent funding as well.

We take our time heading south on the Drive, stopping at several overlooks to admire the view. T sets the pace according to the 35 mph speed limit in the park, which by all accounts is VERY strictly enforced. Makes sense, too. There lots of curves with blind corners, which is bad enough, but there are lots and lots of critters who tend to wander on the road here. I've already spotted a couple of deer lurking in tall trees and shadows, about a mile into the park. Not everyone in the group sees them. Deer have a bad habit of hiding themselves perfectly until they decide in their little pea brains that they need to run right in front of your motorcycle, at which point it's way too late for you to do anything about it, and you crash and hopefully don't die. Slowing down is the best way you can protect yourself.

We stop for gas and a little rest break at one of the park concession areas. The price for gas is not even that badly inflated, a surprise. I am amused by the sight of our four purple bikes parked together. They have four different state license plates - New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania and Florida - none of which are particularly close to where we are. I wish I still had my camera. Raven is chatting with a guy on a sportsbike, and he says he saw a bear on the road a number of miles back. Oooh. There's something I am not anxious to experience for myself. We saddle up and take off again, and not that far down the road we see a deer doing ... something ... something weird. I have no idea what is wrong with that deer. It is kicking and tossing its head and leaping around. To me it looks like a bucking bronco. Rodeo deer? The huge problem with deer is they will do unpredictable things, a strange-behaving deer even more so. T slows us to a crawl, and we all get past the animal safely, but it is quite bizarre. We ride on for a while, and find a nice lunch spot. Of course the first thing everyone says after we stop is, "Did you SEE that deer?" and we all speculate what could have possibly caused it. T's theory is the best, IMO. "Maybe it was getting stung by bees." Hey, that would make me jump around in a bizarre fashion, too, so I would believe it. We set up lunch at a nice little spot next to the Appalachian Trail, we can see the white blazes on a couple of trees. A plague of little black gnats descends whenever you sit still for approximately half a second. I revise my theory on what was making the deer crazy. The damn gnats are certainly driving ME nuts, at least.

After lunch, Wild1 and Thumper will head back to the cabin while we continue south. Wild's ankle is still bothering her a wee bit, and it's better for her to rest up in the cabin, instead of driving around. In case she forgets this, she has five women to remind her of it, and then she can call us a bunch o' nags and tell us she's fine, and then we'll threaten to tie her to the chair if she doesn't stop walking around and for gawds sake prop that foot up, and then she'll grumble for a while and let someone get her another beer. LOL. Anyway. The rest of the ride is uneventful and lovely, no strange deer, no bears, just fine, fine road. Skyline Drive opens up a little bit in the bottom half of the park, you can see further through the curves, and we start to push the speed limit a bit more. T gets a little ahead of us, she rides the heck out of that Harley. She eventually throttles back a bit. I have to say I was having fun trying to keep up with her, but I couldn't quite do it. The group winds its way down to the south end of the park, eventually coming out at Rockfish Gap on I-64. We'll take the highway back to I-81, then back up to Luray and home. Well, halfway there, I-81 gets buggered with traffic, and Raven needs to get gas anyway, so we hop off the freeway and pull into a gas station. It's one of those huge stations with about thirty pumps - Raven and I end up on opposite sides of one island, T and BamBam are all the way on the other side of the station in some other zipcode. A local boy starts hitting on Raven. I guess he figured the way to a woman's heart is to inquire whether or not she has the ability to fuel her own vehicle. "Know how to get gas?" he mumbles. (Sounds more like "nohahtahgitgaz?") Raven looks at him and says, "What?" "Nohahtahgitgaz?" he repeats. He is asking her this as she is ACTUALLY PUTTING GAS IN HER MOTORCYCLE. So she just stares at him and says, "Uh, YEAH." I am cracking up, stifling laughter on the other side of the pumps. He wanders off, properly chastized or maybe just clueless. I lean across, and mumble to Raven, "nohahtahgitgaz?" and we bust out in peals of laughter. Geez, some guys.

We find an alternate route back to Luray, Hwy 11, which is a much nicer road anyway. No traffic, and secondary highways are usually much more interesting that the superslab. Home again, home again. Raven makes us a wonderful dinner, and we try to figure out what we're going to do tomorrow, our last full day in Virginia. I may end up doing some Civil War sightseeing by myself, no one else is particularly interested in it, and I'm not that interesting in doing the go-to-town souvenir-shopping they're talking about. Well, we'll play it all by ear, it's been working for us so far.

Next: Day Ten

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Day Eight

Luray VA

It's a pleasant morning in Virginia, but I did not sleep too well because I found my bed fairly uncomfortable. Mattress springs that poke you whenever you turn over will do that. Everyone wakes and gathers downstairs in what has become our main sitting-area, one of the kitchens. (The alternate kitchen will go completely unused during the course of our stay, except we use the coffeepot there.) This morning, we'll go get my repaired bike, which I am assuming is finished by now, but I haven't been able to call to find out for sure. No one's cel phone works in the cabin, we're far enough outside of civilization that none of the carriers have any coverage, and there's no way to use the land line that comes with the cabin without paying exorbitant rates. We finally get our collective asses in gear by mid-morning; Wild1 and Thumper will once again take me to the Honda place and BamBam saddles up and rides with us if I'm remembering correctly. T saddles up to go out for a little riding. We'll all hook up again later.

Back down to Harrisonburg and Blue Ridge Power Sports. The work is indeed complete; in fact, they finished yesterday but I missed the phone call telling me I could come pick it up because of the non-working cel phone issue. The fuel pump problem? Turns out not to be fuel-related at all. It was a bad electrical connection. The screw on the negative battery terminal had vibrated completely loose, apparently not an unusual occurrence after three thousand or so miles. No juice from the battery = engine doesn't run. This explains a lot. Since the negative lead wasn't really attached, just sort of flopping around in the neighborhood of the terminal, there was a connection most of the time. At higher speeds, there were more vibrations and the lead would jiggle on and off more, thus the engine cutting in and out got worse. Lower temps meant the brass had expanded less, so more likelihood of staying connected, which is why it ran fine early in the day and after sundown. The upshot? No repair required besides tightening one single damn screw. Boy howdy, I wish I had known this earlier! (When Wild called up Tee, another Amazon sister in NYC, and we told her this, she said, ya dumbass! Don't you know the connections are the first thing you check after you travel long distance? I laughed and told her if it happens a second time, THEN she can call me a dumbass. I'm giving myself a pass on this first occurrence, and chalking it up to a learning experience. LOL.) I'm damn happy not to have to pay for any expensive parts. The dealership, however, has the nerve to charge me forty-nine dollars to tighten the stoopid screw. I rationalize this as a minimum labor charge for diagnosing and correcting the problem, but I still think it's excessive. However, they've also done the 20,000 mile service - oil change, spark plugs, air cleaner, yadda yadda - for so much cheaper than what I'd pay at home, I feel like I've come out ahead in the long run. It feels good to have a well-running machine once more. I saddle up and we head back to the cabin.

For the first time, these Amazon sisters get to see me ride. This makes me unexpectedly nervous. I want them to think I'm a decent rider. I suppose that the mere fact that I have come out from California would be evidence enough, but I concentrate on taking a good line on the curves, head and eyes, keeping my speed, good lean. I am very, very, VERY nervous about the dirt road and gravel driveway to the cabin. I have a horror of gravel. A passionate horror of gravel. (My go-down last October was in gravel. Well, actually it was a dumbass move in gravel that led to my go-down. This was back when I was a brand-new newbie rider, one month fresh from my MSF course, and tried to do something that's fine in a car but not so good on a motorcycle - I tried to pull off a paved road onto a gravel/loose dirt shoulder. I slowed, but not even remotely close to enough. Carrying too much speed, I transitioned off the pavement, the front wheel grabbed and stuck in the loose stuff, turned full lock right, and suddenly I was taking a short quick flying lesson. Anyway.) We reach the turnoff to the cabin, and I steel my jangling nerves, telling myself to take the road carefully and I will be just fine, just fine. Shifting all the way down to first gear, I start poking my way down the dirt road. It goes like this: the road starts out as packed dirt with loose gravel on top, not too much, and dips downhill but not too steeply. I repeat to myself, no front brake no front brake no front brake, and feather the rear brake to keep my speed down to that of an anemic snail. Curve to the right, just a hint of ruts that collect a bit of extra gravel, I stay out of the tracks as best I can, though they are a little hard to spot with the dappled sunshine coming through the trees. Less and less steep through here. A curve to the left, and the road practically levels out, even rises just a tad, and then curves again to the right. Immediately there's a narrow little bridge that crosses a rivulet, I momentarily panic for no good reason, but remember not to hit my front brake. Another tenth of a mile down there's an intersection with another NP access road. Left turn in slightly heavier gravel. Maybe fifty feet down, the driveway is on the right. It's all gravel, no dirt, and has a nasty little dip where it meets the road, enough to panic a gravel novice like me anyway. Swing wide to cross the dip at ninety degrees, up a little bitty hill, take the left arm of the Y intersection, and now a straight shot down a hundred yards of firm gravel to get to the cabin, tires feeling just the slightest bit mushy and loose. There. I did it. I did it! I park and pull off my helmet, breathing a sigh of relief, and think, that was not NEARLY as bad as I had built up in my mind.

We hang around the cabin that afternoon, waiting for T to come back. Maybe the five of us will head out and do something once she gets back. T doesn't show, and as the afternoon wears on, we start to get a little worried. The conversation goes along these lines: When did we all leave in the morning? Ten or ten-thirty or something like that? Well, what exactly did she say? She said she was going out for a ride and would be back in a little while. Oh, c'mon, she's fine, she's just out having fun. Would she get lost? Nah. Should we call her? It would be long-distance from here, cost a bunch. Besides, she can't answer it if she's riding. What time did she say she'd be back? She didn't say anything. Should we go look for her? How? Does anyone know what direction she was heading? Oh, quit yer worryin'. She's a grown woman. Does she have the number for the cabin here? You know, to call us if she broke down or anything? I dunno.

Enough time passes (several hours) to where we pretty much agree that yes, we're officially worried about T, she hasn't returned and we haven't heard from her. We decide to take a jaunt down the road, just in case she's broken down on the shoulder or something. We'll also try calling once we get down in cel phone range again. Thump will stay at the cabin in case she shows up there, Wild and BamBam will take the car, and I'll take my bike. I'm thinking that if we get all the way down to Lee Hwy and want to keep searching, that way one vehicle can go north and the other south (but mostly it's an excuse to ride a little.) We don't get nearly that far. Once we get down to Luray and Wild's phone wakes up, she picks up a voicemail that T left in the late morning, saying something to the effect of she's going to be out riding for a while & not to worry about her. Ah, well. We call off the search party and head back to the cabin. She's gotta be coming home soon, there's only an hour or two of light left. I successfully navigate the dirt and gravel again. A mental thing, it seems a whole bunch worse coming down than going up. Now that I'm in for the night, I can sit and drink beers and watch a little TV (Olympics, mostly, on satellite dish.) We keep looking out the window, watching the driveway for T to put in an appearance. Occasionally, we hear something that sounds like a motorcycle. It's probably a loud truck on the main road (which is not that far away), or an airplane, or something, but we never see a bike coming up the drive.

Suddenly, we hear loud knocking on the front door. Everyone looks at each other like, the hell?? (I think it must be the owners, who live in the first cabin on the property. They know how big the place is & that they would need to knock that loud. But I hadn't seen them walking up, and would have, since I was sitting right next to the window. So I'm thinking, the hell??, also.) Thump and BamBam go to see what's up. Joyful noises at the entryway! "OH MY GOD! What are you doing here? I didn't know you were coming! When did you get here?" etc etc. Thumper comes back in to the living room, saying "Guess who's here?" followed by a beaming Raven. Everyone's talking at once, wanting to know how Raven has managed to show up unannounced to the Gather, and when exactly did she decide to come, and how was her trip, and a million other things. Happy and excited chatter. Raven says she pretty much decided last-minute to come up from Florida, at Dan's urging, and it took her three days to travel, she stayed with Crazyhorse in NC one night, and she had a great trip and didn't get too much rain.

I woulda sworn I heard a motorcycle ... We wander outside ... new arrival means new bike to check out ... and we figure out how Raven got to the front door without being spotted. She'd taken the right leg of the Y intersection of the driveway, which loops around the back of the property, behind the third cabin and a screen of trees. So yeah, we'd definitely heard a motorcycle at one point while watching for T, but had dismissed it for lack of visual evidence. Raven tells us that she waited outside for a while, expecting us to come outside and check out who had just pulled up, until she gave up on our cluelessness and that's when she went up and knocked on the door. Hee. It's somewhere around when we're hanging out in the front yard that T comes rumbling up the driveway, and we're all happy to see her and all "where have you been?" She was surprised to hear that we were worried about her, not figuring that we wouldn't get her message until five in the afternoon. Her mission for the day had actually been to find Raven and ride in with her, but they'd missed each other on the road too. Not a problem, Raven found her way in just fine and T's back safe and sound too. All's well that ends well. Now we are six, and a happy little crowd. Dinner and talk is the order of the evening, and everyone's in a good mood and ... it's time to break out the ice cream!

Next: Day Nine

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Day Seven

Luray VA

No riding today. After six straight days on the bike, I am FINE with the break. As I was falling asleep last night, I figured out where my phone was ... the memory just popped to the surface of my mind clear as day, as sometimes happens. T and BamBam, with whom I was sharing a room, were lucky that I didn't leap up shouting "Eureka!" Yesterday, riding in the cab of the tow truck, I was juggling my gloves and my cel phone and my helmet. I remembered trying to call the dealership on my phone, got no answer because they were closed, and stuck the phone along with my gloves inside my helmet, using it like a bucket to carry all my junk. Fast forward to arriving at the dealership. Talking to the guy there, I set my helmet down on an ATV parked in the work bay. Of course, I forget and set it down facing right-side-up. The gloves stay in, the phone falls out. I can even hear the little 'clunk' of it falling, which did not register as meaningful at the time. With any luck, it'll still be right there.

Once we're all up and around, there's a little milling about before we get our gear stowed, a little coffee in the coffeedrinkers, and then we head out in the general direction of the Shenandoah NP. The cabin where we will be staying is privately owned but within the national park borders. I'm still hitching a ride in the car with Wild1 and Thumper, of course. It's not far before we make a little right on a well-packed dirt and gravel road, travel a little ways down through the forest, and come upon a driveway which leads to a clearing which features three cabins neat as a pin. This is SO COOL. The cabin in the northeast corner of the clearing is ours. T has the keys, so she opens it up and we all troop in to check it out. It's wood and high ceilings and unfinished beams and rustic-cutsie and we all think it's wonderful. Exploration commences. I get completely confused by the layout ... three separate staircases lead to entirely disconnected portions of the cabin. (It will take me a day before I stop taking the wrong stairs, ending up in the solarium instead of my bedroom. Also, I am not the only one who is confused and repeatedly does this. Heh.) We select our sleeping arrangements, giving Wild1 the one downstairs bedroom so she won't have to climb stairs on her bum ankle, and schlep our bags inside. A little more milling about and settling in, we figure out all the things we have to do today. The major shopping trip will be this afternoon. First, though, we need to head back to the Honda dealership and get whatever's wrong with my bike fixed.

Enough farting around! Eventually I pile in the car with Thumper and Wild1 and we're on our way back to Harrisonburg. It takes a little time to get there, but it gives me a chance to admire the rolling Virginia countryside. This part of the Shenandoah is mostly farmland, dotted with small towns. It all looks incredibly charming to me. We arrive at Blue Ridge Power Sports, find the service manager, and I explain the trouble I was having. Also, I want them to do the regular 20,000 mile service. The price he quotes me for that is incredibly cheap - about half what they'd charge in Los Angeles. Good deal. I ask if anyone's found a lost cel phone. Nope, no luck. So I ask about the ATV that had been sitting in the service bay. I am told it's gone back to Fairfield VA this morning. Oh, crap! Borrowing Wild1's phone, I call my own number; it rings four times and then goes to voicemail. Wild seems to think this means it's still alive, and that it wouldn't do that if it had fallen on the road and been smashed to bits by a truck. I am not convinced, but hey, hope is always a good thing. The service manager gives us the phone number of the owner of the ATV. A bit embarrassed, I call him, and say I know this sounds really strange but I think I dropped my phone on your ATV and have you seen it? Amazingly, he says yes I have it right here. A miracle! We arrange to drive down to meet & pick up the phone at the McDonalds in Fairfield. It takes us about an hour to get down there. I really appreciate Wild and Thump running around with me to get the darn thing back. Now, I'm back in touch with the world again. We joke that my phone went on an adventure without me, that it wasn't yet tired of traveling even though I was. :)

Our big event of the afternoon is grocery shopping for our stay in Virginia. It sounds like the start of a bad joke: Five biker chicks walk into Walmart ... We hit the local WallyWorldSuperStore and all grab carts, piling up the food and beverage essentials. We are now very well-covered on the beer front. We go amazingly light on the junk food. Damn, these girls eat healthy ;)

In the evening, T makes an incredibly delicious macaroni & cheese dinner. I'm not talking mac and cheese out of a box ... this is the homemade good stuff, baked until it gets that lovely brown top over yummy chewy middle. Damn, I need that recipe! We stay up late, talking the night away, until everyone eventually wanders off to bed. I've found a good book to read - "A Walk In The Woods" by Bill Bryson (appropriate for the location!) It's the kind of quick read that sucks me in, and I finish a third of it before I snap off the light and go to sleep.

Next: Day Eight

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Day Six

Start: Huntington WV (20518)
End: Harrisonburg/Luray VA (20847)
329 miles

Worry, worry, worry. Yesterday's mechanical troubles have thrown a BIG curveball my way. What should I do? I pack my bag and gear up, give the bike a thorough pre-ride check and think good thoughts. I have the information about Gypsy's mechanics handy in my breast pocket. The bike fires right up and runs just fine. I decide to take the risk and try to ride as long as I can. If I have to, I'll limp it into Beckley and get service there.

At first, I choose to keep my questionable bike off the interstate and ride sideroads to Beckley. On the map, Hwy 10 looks like a good road to cut across and over to the southeast. After a few miles, I find myself winding through awesome twisties in the middle of nowhere. Normally, this would be heaven. With a bike that might die, forget it. I could get myself stuck far from help, without a phone, and then I'd be in a world of hurt. Or, even if the bike doesn't crap out, it'll take me hours and hours to go 100 miles. Better rethink this plan. I find a turnaround and head back to the interstate. I'll take it easy in the slow lane of I-64, and hope for the best.

The morning is cool and the scenery is just fabulous. I keep my speed around 60 mph, and so far, so good. I am traveling through coalmining country. I see long freight trains on tracks that wind next to the road, hauling boxcar after boxcar brimming with black rock. I pass through Charleston, stopping at a toll booth along there, which involves a little amusing juggling of gloves while I try to dig change out of my jeans pocket, and gives me a chance for a short chat with the guy in the booth. There's a second tollbooth a little further down the road. More digging, more chatting. I love to listen to the accents. Now, Beckley is coming up, and the bike hasn't so much as hiccuped once today. What the hell. I ride on.

Somewhere past Beckley, with everything going alright, worry lifts from me. I am back in happy road mode, singing to myself and smiling in the sunshine. I am still easing down the road, admiring the spectacular mountains surrounding me. I cross over into Virginia, entering the Washington Nat'l Forest. Virginia! I've made it to Virginia! I grin like an absolute fool. I-64 takes me all the way to the bottom of the Shenandoah Valley and I-81, at Lexington. Entering the valley from the west, the view is breathtaking. Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute nestle in gorgeous rolling hills. I pick up Interstate 81, heading northbound. I'm getting close now. I want to make it to Harrisonburg VA. This is the closest Honda dealership to my final destination, Luray, and I was planning to take the bike in for an oil change & regular service there anyway. They will be able to fix the apparent fuel problem and set me right. Well, I've gone slow all day and no troubles. Now I roll up on the throttle. We'll see if it happens again at full speed.

About five miles short of Harrisonburg, I get my answer: yes. The bike starts sputtering again, the engine cutting out intermittently. Damn, damn. I slow again and nurse it along in the slow lane. C'mon, baby, don't fail me now. I take the first Harrisonburg exit, and make a right turn, into town. I have only an address for Blue Ridge Power Sports, but no clue how to find the place. It looks like I'm in the right area, though; I pass auto dealerships, a Suzuki dealership, but no Honda sign appears. Before I know it, I'm out of VehicleLand and into academia ... James Madison University, which has a lovely-looking campus but not what I want to see! Yikes! The bike stutters worse and worse. Somehow I have ended up on a downtown street without one SINGLE place I can stop and ask directions! Ah, there's the local Chamber of Commerce on the right. I'll ask them. The nice blue-haired lady behind the desk oohs and ahhs that I have ridden all the way from Los Angeles. She directs me to the north end of town, drawing on a badly Xeroxed map for me. As I head up there, the bike starts flat-out quitting on me. When it happens in traffic, all I can do is sit there and keep pressing the start button. Thank goodness, it catches. Once I get on the north side of town, it's obvious I've been sent to the wrong place. I pass a Menonite old folk's home, then one last gas station, then I am out in the country again. I make a u-turn, the bike barely running now, cruise back a little ways looking for the road I must have missed, make another u-turn, can't find it. The bike dies for good, and I coast over to the shoulder. Well, now. Nothing left but to call for a tow, and call the Amazon sisters.

Honda Roadside Assistance promises to send out a tow truck with all possible speed. Thumper and Wild1 haven't yet arrived in Luray, but T and BamBam have, and they've already checked into the hotel. I get BamBam on the phone, and explain my predicament. Sure, they'll come to pick me up, no problem. She hands the phone over to T, and I try to give her the best directions I can. I'm pulled over on Hwy 42, about a mile north of the Harrisonburg city limits. Come south on I-81, take the first Harrisonburg exit and head west, and when you see 42, turn right and I'll be down the road a bit. Then, I settle in to wait. And wait. And wait. T and BamBam are coming from about 20 miles away, and it'll take them some time to gear up, and to find me. Who knows what's taking the tow truck so long. One driver stops to see if I need assistance. A very nice gentleman, turns out he's president of a local riding club. When I reassure him that help is on the way for me and I'm fine, he scribbles his home number down and tells me to call if I need anything. Riders look after each other that way. On the other hand, I only get suspicious eyeballs and no offers of assistance from the people whose house I have broken down in front of. I see the mother in particular peering out the screendoor and from behind curtains, keeping an eye on the biker scum next to the driveway. Heh. Me, biker scum. ;)

With joy in my heart, I spot two riders come over the crest of the hill and come toward me - perhaps this is them! Yes, T and BamBam pull up, and by the Goddess I am happy to see them. I've spoken to both on the phone, but this is the first time I've actually met either. Somehow it's fitting that our introductions are conducted on the roadside in a state where none of us live. Welcome to Virginia, and the company of Amazons. Big hugs. We talk for a bit, then settle in to figure out the problem of how to redistibute my gear. We eventually tie down my bags on T's Harley; I will ride two-up behind BamBam. The tow truck driver (who gets lost and keeps calling ME for directions, despite the fact that I repeatedly tell him I am visiting from California and don't have a clue) FINALLY shows up. He's kind of a dumbass, and gets the bike tied down on the flatbed in a half-assed barely safe kinda way, and then we're off to find the Honda dealership. He asks people for directions THREE times, this in a trip of under ten miles. Sheesh, if I were that geographically challenged, I wouldn't be a tow-truck driver. We eventually reach the Honda place, the bike miraculously not falling over or off the flatbed. It is completely on the other side of town, near where I originally got off the interstate ... Blue-Haired Lady gave me a wicked bum steer. They are closed but a guy is waiting for us (actually he's out riding but spots us on the road, and pulls in as we arrive) and shows us where to unload and park the wee beastie. Well, that's taken care of, a mechanic will look at it in the morning. Tonight, the Amazons will be staying in a hotel, and we will check into our cabin for the Gathering tomorrow.

I climb on behind BamBam, and discover that I am the world's worst passenger. I haven't ridden pillion since I was about twenty years old. Then, I was fearless. Now, I don't have the nerve for it. I absolutely hate not being in control of the bike, and sit practically rigid with terror. BamBam is a fine solo rider but is unaccustomed to having a passenger. She discovers the hard way that my big butt in the back seat vastly increases the stopping distance for her bike. A few miles, and she grows more accustomed to the new weight and balance. I try to relax, and try to remember to look around and enjoy the ride. I am not terribly successful at it. We have a close encounter with a deer, who thankfully does not run into the roadway but watches us pass from the side, waaay too close for comfort. We safely reach our destination, a Days Inn at Luray VA. Thank you, Bammers, for getting us here. Thumper and Wild1 have arrived from Florida and checked in, so all of our little group is now together. I am curious to meet everyone and get to know them a bit, and I suppose they feel the same about me. Hanging out, drinking a couple of beers, conversation. Later, we all pile into the car and head out for dinner at a local steakhouse. I am tired, pretty wiped out actually, and happy to have safely arrived. Tomorrow I'll deal with the motorcycle repairs, and we'll check out our digs for the next four days.

... HEY! Where the HELL is my phone? I can't find it anywhere. Lost cel phone = lost ALL my contact numbers. I check and recheck and re-recheck all my pockets and bags, but it is NOWHERE to be found. Uh oh.

Next: Day Seven

Monday, August 23, 2004

Day Five

Start: St Louis MO (20024)
End: Huntington WV (20518)
494 miles

Maybe it was eating all that barbeque last night. (The XTreme! Atkins! Diet!) Maybe it was drinking water from a strange water supply, with microbes that are not necessarily harmful but just different from what my body is used to. Or maybe it's just that traveling can be upsetting to the body and it will catch up with you sooner or later. I don't know exactly what caused it, but I was up in the middle of the night with, er, a nasty case of intestinal difficulties, and that's about as graphic as I'd like to get about it, thankyouverymuch. Around five in the morning, I am wide awake and have been so for a few hours and I don't feel like I'm gonna get back to sleep, so I get dressed and wait for everyone else to wake up. I read for a little while. I listen for movement, but Blue and her fella certainly aren't up and around yet, it's still way too early. I get my gear all packed up, ready to go. Finally, I take my boots off and stretch out on the bed fully clothed, thinking I'll just close my eyes and try to relax, maybe I can sleep for just a few more minutes ...

Wham! I open my eyes to bright sunshine streaming in the window, and noises out in the driveway. Thank goodness, I did manage to fall asleep again, for about two and a half hours, and Blue has kindly let me sleep in. I feel MUCH better. Air will be arriving soon. I pull my boots back on and tromp downstairs. Blue has the bikes out and has given them all a good cleaning, including mine. What a sweetheart! The VLX had been an absolute filthy mess ever since getting caught in the rain in Colorado, but now she's bright and shiny and looks eager to run down the road.

Air pulls up with her loud, loud pipes. We plan the day. From St Louis, my route is eastbound on I-64, which will take me all the way into Virginia. We decide to get a little breakfast at Mickey D's (which has a gas station conveniently next door) and then the ladies will accompany me across Illinois and all the way into Indiana. Blue will lead us through St Louis and the tangle of freeways, then once we cross the Mississippi and get out of the city, she'll signal me to take the lead and set the pace. Air will ride drag. Rain is predicted for later in the day; a storm front will be moving into St Louis from the west around mid to late afternoon. The weather in the Midwest can change its mind in a nanosecond, though ... we all make sure we have our raingear handy. A little food, a tank of gas, and we're off.

Blue and Air (Lord, we have some funny nicknames, don't we) are both excellent riders. We still hit morning traffic going through St Louis proper but it seems very non-aggressive to me, or maybe we just lucked out and didn't come across any I'm-in-a-goddamned-hurry-so-get-out-of-my-way lane-changing cagers. Before I know it, the mighty Mississippi lies before me, and the highway bridge stretches over that placid-looking water making its journey from Minnesota to the Gulf, and now my wheels hum across the pavement and over the slow-moving shipping traffic below, and I feel a little thrill. I am crossing the American Rubicon and leaving the West behind me. Father of Waters. I smile.

Past East St Louis, I pull into the lead position and concentrate on setting a steady pace, because I know both these ladies have cruise control throttlelocks on their bikes. Hey, speed-up-slow-down drivers make me nuts, and it's even worse on two wheels, LOL. The three of us have settled well into riding formation, which makes for a very nice small group ride. Air is absolutely superb at the tailgunner position, one of the best I have ever seen. Riding 'drag' or 'tailgunner' - last person in line - is a position with some special responsibilities. Even though we have never ridden together before, she is perfect in her anticipation of when I will change lanes. She secures position for the group, 'closes the door' and keeps traffic a proper and safe distance behind us, and generally does an excellent job back there. I tell her so at a gas stop, and she looks a little surprised. "Well, that's what I do," she says, like it's no thing at all. "You're very good at it," I reply. I want her to know that I noticed. ;)

Southern Illinois is the flat, flat land that I expected to see in Kansas. Here, the terrain does not "roll" in any way, shape or form, and the only thing you might legitimately call a "hill" would be the embankment of the freeway overpass. Heh. Corn, fields of corn everywhere. The sky is starting to look not so friendly, the clouds are lowering and grey. We ride on, and cross over into Indiana. Bleh, we get caught in one of those construction zones where they've coned off one lane, leaving only a single lane for travel, and we're stuck behind slow traffic. This goes on for miles. Bo-o-oring, and now I am looking for the next gas station, having gone over to reserve about ten miles ago. I spot one, and pull off at the first Evansville IN exit. Bad choice, but that's what happens when you have the person who doesn't know the road in the lead spot, ya know? Had I been patient and gone one or two more exits, we would have had lunch options; here there is only the gas station and c-store. We take a little rest break, figuring out what to do, and eventually decide that no one's really that hungry yet so we'll just ride on from here. I'll keep heading east while Blue and Air will turn around. They are deciding which route they will take back when one of them, I forget which, gets a cel phone call. Ack, it's pouring down rain already back in St Louis, the storm front has arrived a bit early. Personally I dread riding in the rain, having little practice at it, but they don't seem too put out by it.Outside of Evansville, Indiana We take a few pictures and make our goodbyes, glad to have met, and I am so very thankful for their hospitality. Rock on, Rumble Sisters. (Later, I found out that they got caught in an EXTREMELY heavy downpour on the way back. So heavy, the cars were pulling off the side of the road. Can't ride in that sh*t! They took refuge under an overpass, waited it out, and made it home safely later in the day.)

East on I-64, across southern Indiana, and I'm the lucky one who is still staying ahead of the rain. I'm not really sure when the land changed into something a little more wooded, a little less featureless. Somehow, hills and trees crept back into my vision and I didn't really notice until they were just there. This is very rural country. I stop for gas again, this time about an hour from the Kentucky border, and the little blue sign tells me I have to go about a quarter-mile off the interstate to get to the gas station. I follow the arrow, and then I think that I have stepped back in time. I pull up to a little one-room general store, a single gas pump out front. It's the type of pump I haven't seen since the 70's, where gallons and dollars click off on analog counters. I pump first, then pay. Heh. That always feels strange to a big-city grrl like me. I am standing outside, taking a little stretch break before riding off again, when a man comes out of the store, complete with sqeeeek-BANG of the screen door, and nods hello to me. He then does a double-take at my California license plate and drawls out, "Yew shure are a long way from home, ain't ya, darlin'?" The thick accent makes me smile. My Western ear can't tell a drawl from a twang but I would swear by listening to him that somehow I've gotten off course and ended up in deep Georgia. "Yes, I am," I smile at him. "I'm all the way out from Los Angeles. On my way to Virginia." His eyes widen, probably at MY strange accent as much as the information itself. "Mah goodness! Well, yew be careful they-uh!"

I cross the Kentucky state line and immediately hit LOTS of traffic in Louisville. Who knows why. It's afternoon, and rush hour there just flat-out sucks, I guess, because I never do see an accident or any construction zones. I sure am glad to get past what turns out to be the worst traffic jam of the entire trip.

Farming Kentucky gives way to Horse Kentucky gives way to Tobacco Kentucky gives way to Coal Mining Kentucky. Flatlands are behind me now, and there are more and more trees the farther east I go. I pass through Frankfurt and Lexington, but besides these towns, it's all very rural. Occasionally, I spot little towns below the interstate, tucked into steep-walled valleys while the road sails high above. Ah, this is what they mean by a "hollow" (or "holler," which is what it sounds like to me when said with a Kentucky accent.) I think of Amy, and how her accent gets dramatically stronger whenever she talks of home, and how we tease her about it. Crossing the hollows, sometimes I smell woodsmoke. Lovely, lovely country. The hills have turned into bona-fide mountains, and I am traveling through heavily forested land.

It's getting later, the sun is starting to get low in the sky, but I need to press on since I'm pretty much in the middle of nowhere, not close to any large cities when I look at the map. Just about the worst possible thing starts to happen. My engine sputters, coughs, resumes running, coughs, dies for a second, resumes, coughs some more. Ice in my gut ... OH F***. What the hell is going on? I've been running at high speeds all day, doing 70 or 75 mph, passing trucks with impunity, before this trouble struck. Oh, sweet Goddess, please don't let my bike die out here, keep me safe, I pray with fervor. I back off the throttle. This helps, but does not eliminate the problem. The bike starts cutting in and out, more when I am trying to accelerate or go uphill, less when I am going slower. Pretty soon I am poking along the interstate, and it is one heck of a scary thing to be going 45 mph when logging trucks are passing you at 70. Please, please, please, just let me get to the next town. It seems like forever before I spot an exit with a blue services sign. Thank you, thank you.

I get the bike into a safe spot in a gas station parking lot, and just sit off to the side for a while, staring at the beast, a little bit shaken. What should I do? I think that it's probably a fuel problem, the fuel pump is dying, maybe? Wouldn't that cause the engine to cut in and out like that, if fuel is getting to the carbs intermittently? Oy. I am in Morehead KY, a college town, so I can get a room here. But it still looks like a very small town. Will they have someone who can fix the bike? Will I get ripped off? I wish I still had my tools, and more importantly, I wish I had the skill to diagnose and fix it myself. I check everything I know how to check, T-CLOCK. (Well, OK, I didn't check the tire pressure.) Chain is fine. Lights are fine. Oil is fine. Chassis is fine, nothing has vibrated loose. Kickstand kill switch is fine. Well, does she fire up? Indeed she does. Engine idles without problem. I blip the throttle. Runs fine. I kill it, wait another five minutes, repeat. Same thing. Whatever was happening seems to not be happening any more. Somewhere along the way here, I make what in hindsight was probably a pretty stupid decision. I decide to keep going to the next decently large town. Hope and prayer will be my wings - just please, Goddess, keep me safe and get me there.

Temperatures are dropping and there's an hour or less of light left. I bundle up and ease gingerly down the road. The wee beastie hiccups occasionally, which always causes me to slow WAY down, but she keeps on going, mostly. I am still several miles from the West Virginia border when the sun sets behind the mountains. Haven't hit any towns for a while, but the green signs tell me that Huntington WV is coming up. Hey, Marshall University is here, go Thundering Herd! Must be my day for college towns. This is sounding promising, as long as I can get there. Finally, I reach town and pull off the first likely-looking exit. There's a Ramada and a Comfort Suites (I try the latter), but I am shocked at the price. I must be close enough to the university where they've jacked up their rates. The front desk woman tells me that there's a Days Inn at the next exit, and they're about twenty dollars cheaper. Oh, thank you. I need to save pennies now, I don't know if I'm going to have to shell out some bucks for repair. I talk to the bike, tell her we're almost done for the day, coax her down the road. Thank goodness, she makes it, and I check in to a room for the night.

Well, this is a fine turn of events. I call Gypsy from the Rumble Sisters (this is a different Gypsy than the Amazons; is it a requirement that all women's biker clubs have a Gypsy? LOL) She lives in West By God Virginia, as she always calls it, and also rides a VLX. I ask her, do you have a good mechanic? If I bring it in, will they rip me off? How far are you from Huntington? Etc, etc. She's very helpful, and gives me all the information on her guys. Unfortunately they're in Beckley WV, not in Charleston like I assumed. Charleston is 60 miles away. Beckley is 100. Well, nothing I can do tonight. I'll have to wait to see what the morning holds for me. (And by the way, I should have spent the extra twenty-some bucks for the Comfort Suites. The beds at Days Inn COMPLETELY suck.)

Next: Day Six

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Day Four

Start: Junction City KS (19598)
End: St Louis MO (20024)
426 miles

Another fine day. The Weather Channel (essential programming for traveling motorcyclists) shows that I'm still between two major storm fronts and will stay there today. There's heavy rain a day in front of me and a day behind me, but I've lucked out and hit the sweet spot for my eastbound journey. :)

Jeanne and I gear up and head out early. She is going back to Wichita, although she wavers a bit when I tell her she should just come on out to Virginia with me. (Me: "Oh, c'mon, just do it. It'll be fun." Her: "I didn't pack anything." Me: "I bet we could find someplace between here and Virginia that could sell you a toothbrush.") She coulda ... between jobs at the moment, nothing crucial to prevent her from just taking off for a few days ... but she's supposed to go pick up her truck and/or trailer from somewhere today, and finally decides not to blow it off. Ah well. Next time, kiddo! We say our goodbyes, and I thank her profusely for coming up and riding with me for a bit. I have very much enjoyed our meetup, and look forward to seeing her again.

Back to road time. Kansas is greening up imperceptibly as I head east. I pass through capital Topeka, Lawrence, and cross the state line at Kansas City, where the Kansas River flows into the broad Missouri. Rivers that big always trip me out, I'm not used to them, LOL. Kansas City MO is the first truly major Midwest town I've seen, and the largest since Denver. Skyscrapers cluster downtown, looking important, the interstate shoehorning its way between. Royals and Chiefs Stadiums catch my eye on the right-hand side, but I can't spend more than a microsecond looking at them, because the road is lousy with morning traffic and lots and lots of construction. They are widening the freeway all the way past the town of Independence, and the lane shifts are numerous and nasty. Keeps me on my toes!

The urban cluster of western Missouri finally dies out and I am back to riding wide-open road. My goodness, Missouri is really quite lovely. It's more rolling-hills than Kansas, and it all looks lush and green. The land is checkerboarded with planted crops, fallow fields, and what looks like wild grasslands. Stands of trees mark the watercourses, which I cross with more frequency now. I am enjoying myself immensely. I guess I had no idea what to expect from the prairie states, but I certainly hadn't thought I would see land this charming. My sister and her family recently visited here, and were so taken by it that they're looking for property and planning to move out of California. Now I see why. At the next stop for gas, I call my sister. "Hey, was it Warrensburg or Warrenton where you were looking to move?" "Warrensburg," she answers. "Well, guess where I am." I've managed to pull off into a BP on the Warrensburg exit ... we get a pretty good chuckle out of that.

Ride, gas, ride some more. More miles. More scenery. I see lots and lots of billboards advertising roadside-attraction caves, and wineries. Makes sense, if you think about it. This part of the country is all limestone, part of an ancient seabed before the continents took their current shape. Perfect soil for vineyards. Perfect conditions for cave formation. The hills roll on, the road cutting across their fertile contours. I smile, and sing to myself, happily flying along.

Another gas stop, and I strike up a conversation with an older fellow riding a 70's-era Kawasaki. His bike is all packed up and he's obviously traveling long-distance too. He tells me he's been to Portland OR, then down to Las Vegas, and now he is returning to New York. Ah, that explains the Yankee cap! His Kawa is obviously well-loved, it looks spotless and meticulously maintained in spite of being twenty-some years old. I always think those long banana seats look uncomfortable, though. We wish each other safe riding. I will see him several times again this day along the road, and we will wave greetings to each other.

Late afternoon, and I have made good time across Missouri. St Louis is, I believe, the biggest Midwest city besides Chicago, and it certainly has plenty of urban sprawl. I am used to riding in this sort of traffic, but I can see where it would be awfully intimidating to someone who learned to ride in the countryside. I pass through suburb after suburb, their names meaningless to me, seeing strip malls and housing developments and all the familiar-seeming features of cities. I have the directions to Blue's house zipped up in my left breast pocket, but of course I can't pull out and check my little scribbled piece of paper while I am riding. Predictably, I miss my offramp. I eventually figure out that I need to turn around, get a little sidetracked on one of the loop highways, manage to point myself in the right direction, and find my way to the St George suburb of St Louis. I pull into Blue's driveway around 5:00 pm.

Blue is an absolute sweetheart; she welcomes me into her home and it's sooo nice to have some creature comforts after several days of hotel stays. We gab for a while (and let me tell you, for those of you that haven't met Blue ... she's quite a talker! I do manage to get some words in edgewise, though. LOL) and then I head off to take a shower, put on clean non-riding clothes, and generally feel civilized again. Air comes over later. They're going to show me the town. Somehow it feels strange to sit in a car again. Hee. We go out for dinner ... I figure, when in St Louis, oughtta do barbeque ... and it is QUITE the feed, we scarf down piles of ribs and brisket and chicken. Air cracks me up. She's one of those people whose wit is so dry it's positively desiccated. (Me: "Wow, we pigged out." Air: "I think we got a pig in.") After dinner, we do the tourist thang, go see the Arch and walk around the plaza for a little while, then do a little driving tour of some of the historic neighborhoods around St Louis. We don't stay out too late, since the two of them will ride with me a ways tomorrow. Off to bed, and sweet dreams!

Next: Day Five