A Comedy of Errors, or This IS Supposed to be an Adventure

There is this older movie that I like called "The Mountain Men".  Charlton Heston and Brian Keith are mountain men and they run into each other in the middle of the west somewhere and they have a conversation about traveling.   One says to the other "Have you ever been lost?"

The other one tilts his head and thinks things over a bit and responds, "Nope, I've never been lost.  Fearsome confused for a month or two, but never lost."

When we go out on a trip, especially on motorcycles, we are out to have an adventure, to explore strange new places, to seek out new roads, and to visit scenic areas less traveled by.  Of course doing so means that you have to be open to unplanned options; things don't always go according to any set plan and that is part of the journey.

Bearing that in mind, it looked like it would be tough to take an Easter Trip this year, with funding and work being what it is.  However, when the temperature suddenly heads for the 80's and the promise of perfect weather exists for the weekend, and your riding buddy calls and reminds you of that a day before, strongly suggesting that it would be a perfect, long, riding weekend.  Well, a person starts to entertain bad thoughts.

I took one look at my computer wallpaper for the week, a sign that said "You are a victim of the rules you live by", and obviously I decided not to be a victim any longer.  I immediately signed up for a long weekend, went and reminded my boss how much he wanted me to have some time to refresh and come up with new ideas, and then I was home to pack.  I took the next day to complete as much as possible at work and then looked into making some motel arrangements, oh yeah and convincing dad that we weren't going to head to Mammoth Caves this year, but down and over to the Skyline Drive instead.

We hadn't been to Skyline Drive since the whole 9/11 incident.  Last time we headed out for Skyline and Washington D.C. we saw signs on the highway telling us not to head into New York (and this was at the west side of Pennsylvania, as we just entered heading east).  We had no idea what had happened until later that night when we had arrived at our motel. You don't get news, or phone calls, or weather on a motorcycle; you are truly in the moment, living it.

So off we went, bright and early on Friday morning, looking forward to a long day, but a great weekend abroad. The weather was nice, not too hot or cold, a little windy, and very sunny, we made it through Detroit and Toledo without any undo ado and felt well on our way.  The next 100 miles or so was getting warm fast, but Ohio was melting quickly into the background with Detroit, and then things started to go wonky.  We reached the end of Ohio and had to pay our tab for the toll road (and boy had the prices gone up, $10.50 for a few hours to cross their sacred blacktop).  Now, I don't know about you, but toll booths and toll areas are not my favorite places to be, especially on a motorcycle.  They can be hot, the cars and trucks are chomping at the bit to get in and get out, so they often don't pay attention to those around them, and the toll booths themselves are dangerous with fluid buildup like old oil and grease.  Then on a motorcycle you have to park it, generally put your kickstand down, take off your gloves, rummage through your pockets for your ticket, rummage deeper for the cash, pay, re-dress, and re-engage.  Now we've been nearly hit in toll areas (my brother and sister-in-law were hit), we've slipped and tipped over bikes that needed to be picked up, we've dropped money, etc., but there is one thing that had never happened to us... the toll gate bar has never dropped in on our party and wacked us, until this day. 

Dad had paid for both of us, I gave them my ticket, and as I was following him out I caught movement in the corner of my eye and ducked my head down.  The darn gate-bar came right down on top of my head and my windscreen.  Wack!  I was sure glad that I had my helmet on and ducked.  Fortunately the bar seemed to be lightweight plastic and even seemed slightly padded at the far end, it also broke away forward.  I tried to get my dad's attention (he was waiting for me to get through, just up ahead) so that he could check the front of my bike and make sure nothing was broken, I couldn't see all the way down myself, but he took off before I could get up there.  I was a little shaken, but everything seemed ok.  I couldn't believe I'd been wacked in the head by a toll gate bar.  I didn't know whether to be worried or laugh my butt off, so I chuckled and dutifully caught up.

Within a couple of miles, having just crossed into Pennsylvania, I was fully expecting another toll road, but usually it is well marked and you pick up a ticket and carry on until you want to get off.  As the toll area got closer, dad and I seemed to have a different understanding about what the toll gods wanted. I kept trying to get him to come over into the "pay" area but he was headed for the pre-paid area, which looked like freedom, straight through, no waiting.  My heart told me it was way too easy and I was worried about getting split from him; surely he would hearken to my horn.  Nope.  He zoomed right on through while I got stuck behind a couple of other sad looking vehicles.  I got up there and there was no ticket to collect, it was a pay now thing.  I explained what had happened to the lady at the booth and asked if I could pay for dad too.  She said that it was unfortunate, but not possible, the cameras would have taken a picture and he could expect to get a citation in the mail.

At this point I was wondering if I would ever be able to catch up with him.  He seemed to be going quite fast on the freedom path and I didn't see him slow down.  I didn't even know if he knew I wasn't with him at that point and I was now at least 5 minutes behind him, at highway speeds.  I took off and hauled buns at unapproved of speeds hoping to catch up with him.  I got hung up in a wretched pack of road hogs going 75 mph and had to work through the lollygaggers on my quest for my advanced riding partner.  I kept increasing my pace while furiously looking for any sign, when I suddenly caught a glimmer, a glimmer of black with some bits of chrome.  I hurried faster hoping to get a better look and to gauge how my luck was running.  I caught a glimmer of candy red helmet and knew I was going to be ok.  Heck, I was nearly caught up.  Suddenly the glowing cherry topper veered to the right and took off on an unknown highway, highway 60.  I was thinking, "what the heck!?" and "if I'm wrong about this, I'm never going to catch him", as I cut four lanes quickly to hit the wrap-around highway exit.  I was rushing a bit more, when he pulled over... yeah!  I caught him.  Talk about a lucky break, thirty seconds further ahead or behind and we could have been in for two completely separate trips, but here we were back together again. 

Not being sure where he had gotten off, we just wanted to get back on.  We went down the highway a couple of miles to the first "off" we could find, it cost us seventy cents to exit, we turned right around and it cost us seventy cents to get back on.  Talk about double charging, they really do get you coming and going.  We got back down to about where it seemed we would get back on, but I wasn't really happy with the signage.  I didn't have extreme confidence that I was taking the right direction.  And I'm not too proud to admit it.  I would rather stop and look at the map or ask for directions than get miles and hours off track.  So we stopped so I could check out the map and verify.  I was just getting down to the fine print when a small, dark SUV pulled over by us and asked if we were ok. 

A good-looking, tossel-haired, outdoorsy, brunette, college guy was asking.  He had a tie-died rice-rocket attached to the back of his SUV and he was heading back to state college.  I would have stayed to finish my PhD, if they'd had guys like him on my campus.  Being a bit older and wiser I remembered not to blush, but was extremely grateful and impressed by his willingness to help.  I asked him about the exit and the direction, and he was able to confirm that we were on the right path.  We waved and he went on his way.  We always do seem he nicest people on motorcycle trips.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful until dinner.  It was getting late and we knew we still had about a hundred miles left and only about an hour or so of sun left.  We decided we needed to eat anyway.  We stopped at a steak house, the steak looked good, but it had all of the texture, character, and taste of a piece of fake, grown protein.  We were glad that we had chosen to split the steak, and we still left about half each.

Amazingly, being within two hours of a national park, and a pretty fantastic one at that, we couldn't find anyone that could confirm a direction for us.  Everyone we spoke to had never heard of Skyline Drive.  We were ready to pick up our next road, a major interstate, and we couldn't find it.  We tried following the couple of signs we saw and just ended up more lost and confused.  Everything seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.  We tried asking and checking for directions a couple of times, but had no luck.  Then we found a gas and convenience station right next to a motorcycle shop.  Needless to say, they had a couple of motorcyclists there and they were able to get us turned around and talk me through to where we could catch our road.  Not to mention we thought we were heading south (the road on the map did head directly south), but in these parts it was "east".  Again, nice folks, and lovely fellow motorcyclists.

When you are not sure of where you are or where you are going the road seems longer than usual and more ominous, but it was a fairly fast moving piece of smaller highway and we still had some twilight to work with.  We were working our way through some nice, scenic hills, with gentle curves.  Frankly, it was exactly the kind of road and reason we were down here to enjoy.  By the time we made it to our final piece of road for the day, it was pitch-black and I was having a really hard time seeing.  There were no streetlights, and occasionally there were not even lines on the road.  No centerline and no edge lines (which was just plain unfair).  I got good at using passing cars lights to help me progress, and dad's super-duper Goldwing lights also helped a lot when he got in the right area behind me.  I think his Goldwing headlight is about as close as you can get to car quality lighting, and it was like having a good headlight.

A strange thing happened as we traveled in the silent darkness, with only passing airflow for sound most of the time.  It felt like I was in a sensory deprivation tank a few times and it worried me.  Granted we were tired, it was dark, the temperature was just so, and my motor was purring right along.  I had some thoughts that said:  Are you leaning over?; Would you know it if you were going to fall?; Where do my feet go if I have to stop?  Very weird and disconcerting.

Finally we got into town, Front Royal, VA, and then we had to find our motel, no sign, and the street signs were hard to read also.  I kept leading along the road we had been on as it worked its way into and through the city.  Finally I got to a light and saw a Wendy's over to the left.  I figured there would be a gas station next to it, but I had no such luck.  I went into the Wendy's to inquire about the motel or the road it was on.  I ended up speaking with a worker who seemed to speak primarily Spanish, he went over to a customer and tried to ask them, and they told me we were on the right road, we just had to follow it around a bit further and we would be there.  See what I mean about nice folks.

We limped into our motel at 10pm, having been on the road that day for thirteen and a half hours.  That was a long day.  The weather had been perfect, I had sun on my arms and face to prove it, we'd met a lot of nice people, been bopped in the head, got a wee bit confused a couple of times, and had a swell ride.  Even though we were tired, we were smiling, and laughing at our comedy of errors.  It was pretty funny and a lot of fun.  More than that, it was an adventure.

Take Aways from this trip?
  1. Don’t be afraid ask for directions, even if you can’t get any, you’ll still meet nice people either way.
  2. There is no such thing as lost, just creative adventuring.
  3. If the toll road looks too easy and too cheap, it probably is.
  4. All steaks are not created equal.
  5. If you think the worst thing that can happen to you is to get hit in the head with a toll bar, well, it’s not.
  6. Have a plan and wear a bright, colorful helmet, in case you get separated.
  7. Motorcycle people are the best!
  8. Oh, and don't let your dad take your picture with his gloves and face shield on.

This picture came out much better than the first one (you thought that first picture was cropped, didn't you?!).  Dad did have to take off the gloves and the helmet to sight it in properly.

Coming next.... Virginia isn't just for lovers, it's for riders too!

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