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

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