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

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