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June 7th, 2013 | Maryland

Six State Ride…

Locked and Loaded...

Locked and Loaded…

As the eastern sky over Port Carbon showed the initial signs of daybreak, I stood sipping my first mug of coffee, watching a small group of squirrels chasing easy other through the treetops outside Doug’s home. Two rabbits skipped across the driveway just metres away from where I stood, and a chipmunk did a few stretching exercise before it disappeared into the long grass next to the road.

The stand of tall trees in the little valley across the road rang with birdsong as I loaded my kit onto the bike, marveling again at how I had managed to get all I owned, packed and tied down onto the Big Fella… Once I had the bike outside, I fiddled with the GPS, making sure that the route I had downloaded had been properly saved.

. ...and ready to Rock and Roll !!

. …and ready to Rock and Roll !!

Patricia would be arriving in Jacksonville, Florida at 2.30 pm the following day, and I wanted to surprise her by being at the airport when she arrived. This meant that I would have to cover a total distance of almost 1600 km in less than 36 hours to get there on time.

There was no time to waste, and as soon as Doug and Theresa had risen from their slumbers, I bade them farewell and hit the road. I had chosen a route that would take me southwest through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, all the way down the Shenandoah Valley on the western edge of the Appalachian Mountains as far as Wytheville, before turning south and crossing into North Carolina at Lambsburg.

In order to get to Jacksonville on time, there was no chance of using the “back roads” which I usually prefer to do, as this would chew up too much of my time. I decided to use the Interstate Highways instead, which can be quite boring, but allow you to cover vast distances in the shortest time.

Only in America !! These guys are BIG on advertising !!

Only in America !! These guys are BIG on advertising !!

The bike was as heavy as I remembered it, but still handled as smoothly as always, and as soon as I had cleared the built up areas around Pottsville, I entered the I-81 and let that grey conveyor belt of a highway roll away beneath me. I crossed the Potomac River that separates Maryland from West Virginia and after skirting Martinsburg, entered the state of Virginia.

"OMG... Gi-Gi, what have you done !!"

“OMG… Gi-Gi, what have you done !!”

I stopped for fuel in Winchester, a short distance into Virginia, noticing that the fuel consumption was not as good as it should be. I stopped again in Salem having covered barely 300 km on a full tank, and decided that either my electronic fuel guage was faulty, or the bike was genuinely using more fuel than it should… There was only one way to find out, of course…

 Into Maryland, 2nd State of the day.

Into Maryland, 2nd State of the day.

“Ok gang, we’re going to go long on this next stint…” I said aloud.

“You mean we’re going to run out of fuel, don’t you !!” came the swift reply.

“Exactly !! I’m taking you down to bone dry is see why you’re guzzling so much fuel. Besides, Doug was kind enough to fill two of our spare fuel canisters, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t make use of them !! To my way of thinking, that would be downright disrespectful !!”

And with that little argument nipped in the bud, we took off down the I-81 and turned south onto the I-77, heading for North Carolina. Just before I reached the turnoff, a big black BMW tourer came sidling up alongside me. The rider gave me a thumbs up signal, and then after riding together for a few miles, indicated that he wanted to talk to me.

 Authorities are going to great lengths to impede the Gypsy Biker's forward progress.

Authorities are going to great lengths to impede the Gypsy Biker’s forward progress.

We pulled over into a rest stop shortly thereafter, and parked next to each other. Jeff Eaby introduced himself to me, explaining that he wanted to take a photo of the the Big Fella to show his mates, who had probably not seen a bike kitted out as mine was.

He  explained that he was the owner of Goosedog Bikes, and one of his passions was restoring vintage BMW motorcycles !!

We chatted for a while and then took off again, riding together until Jeff turned off, after hooting and waving goodbye. Our little “get-together” confirmed again that I was back on the road and would be meeting all sorts of interesting people without specifically seeking them out.

That is just the way it is with bikers. And being on a bike as visible as the Big Fella, drew many people’s attention !! Each time I had stopped for a quick drinks break, or to refuel, the bike would be surrounded by folk wanting to know where we were from and as usual, “if I had been to all those places that the stickers represented”…

Often, they would reappear from the convenience store we were parked outside of, and hand me a bottle of water or a soda, which I always accepted with much gratitude, and handed them my card in return so that could check out my blog.

 Jeff Eaby, restorer of vintage BMW's...

Jeff Eaby, restorer of vintage BMW’s…

The next guy I met, was a young guy named Patrick McCusker. I had stopped for a drinks break near the little town of Buchanan, and he was refueling his bike when I rode in. He walked over to where we were parked and introduced himself to me, asking where I was from etc. He had just come off the Blue Ridge Parkway, to get out of the mist and the rain that was threatening us even down here in the Shenandoah Valley.

Patrick McCusker of Freehold, New Jersey. What were the odds of meeting a guy from my wife's hometown !!

Patrick McCusker of Freehold, New Jersey. What were the odds of meeting a guy from my wife’s hometown !!

When I asked where he was from, his reply came as a huge surprise.

“Well…” he said, “I’m from a small place in New Jersey. You probably wouldn’t know it…”

“Try me,” I replied, “My wife’s from New Jersey !!”

“It’s a place called Freehold…” his voice trailed off as he saw the look on my face.

“You’ve got to be kidding !!” I almost shouted. “My wife’s family live in Freehold, right near Lake Topanemus !”

“I live right round the back side of the lake !!” he spluttered, a huge smile spreading across his face. “Man, what are the chances of that happening!”

“Slim at best, my friend, Slim at best !” was all I could think of saying.

Patrick was on his way back to New Jersey after a week out on his bike, and I could see that he was enjoying the freedom of the open road as much as I was. After wishing each other well, we went our separate ways, he riding north and the Big Fella and I bearing south for the North Carolina state line.

While I spoke to Patrick, the Big Fella found time to tangle with a Tiger...and win !!

While I spoke to Patrick, the Big Fella found time to tangle with a Tiger…and win !!

Shortly before crossing into North Carolina, I stopped again to get something to eat, and met a couple of guys who were very interested in what I was doing. One of them, Jared, wanted to know how heavy the bike was and the only way to ascertain that properly, was to invite him to sit the bike. He gingerly worked himself into the saddle, getting the feel of the weight under him.

He gave a low whistle and turned to his friend and said, “This thing is HEAVY Dude !!”

Jared tries the Big Fella for size.

Jared tries the Big Fella for size.

We chatted for a while, and were joined by the store manager, a young man of Asian descent…

“You been all dis countries ?” he asked pointing at the flags.

I replied that I had indeed and took a chance by telling him that I had probably been in his too… He smiled and shook his head in the negative, but walked around peering closely at the flags, first on one side, then the other. I watched him as he started running his finger along the Asian section, passing quickly over those of the Middle East and then slowing down as he got to India. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth hung open…

Crossing the state line into North Carolina, 5th state of the day.

Crossing the state line into North Carolina, 5th state of the day.

“Nepal !! Nepal !!” he shouted excitedly. “You been to Nepal too ?? I am from Phokara and Katmandu !!”

He looked into my eyes, clasped his hands in front of his face and bowed to me…

“Namaste !!” he said in a strong clear voice. The word has many meanings, but is most commonly used as a salutation (“I bow to you, my greetings”…)

I returned his gesture of respect, clasping my hands together, thumbs touching my forehead, bowed to him and repeated the greeting. “Namaste, Little Brother” I said aloud.

His grin of pure pleasure warmed my heart and I felt like giving him a big hug. He was a link to one of the special places I had visited, and brought the memories flooding back through my brain… The long hard rides it took at high altitude to cover such short distances.

The ride from the Indian border to Phokara, a distance of about 300 km, had taken almost 9 hours as I recall !! Beautiful Nepal, which travelers said stood for “Never Ending Peace And Love…”

He scurried back into the sore as a small group of customers approached, and I took my leave of of Jared and his friend. I would have liked to chat to the young Nepalese to find out how on earth he had ended up in Virginia, but he never came out of the store again.

By the time I reached Statesville in North Carolina, I had covered 750 km, and my shoulders, back and backside where starting to mumble amongst themselves at the treatment they were receiving…

“Enough already !!” they cried in unison, but my brain was having none of it ! I wanted to ride and with a few hours of daylight still in hand, I wanted to break the back of my ride to Brunswick and Jacksonville today, so that I did not have so far to ride tomorrow…

Downtown Charlotte looked interesting enough, but the thought of fighting my way through traffic to get there, sent me scuttling towards South Carolina.

Downtown Charlotte looked interesting enough, but the thought of fighting my way through traffic to get there, sent me scuttling towards South Carolina.

I had started out this morning with no fixed plans of where I would stop for the night, but hoped to get at least as far as Charlotte in North Carolina, which was over the halfway mark to Jacksonville in Florida. When Charlotte came into view, I checked in with Gi-Gi and discovered that I was only 25 km from the South Carolina state line, and the thought of managing to ride through six states in a single day was a challenge I could not slip by me…

And just as we passed through Charlotte, I cam across this car whose spare tyre cover said it all !!

And just as we passed through Charlotte, I came across this car whose spare tyre cover said it all !!

I took the western by-pass around the city, skirting the airport, and then hooked back onto the I-77 south and set course for Rockhill. Just before the state line, a heavy downpour which seemed to come from nowhere, lashed the area. I was caught totally unprepared and had to dodge across four lanes of traffic to get to the shoulder where I donned my rain-suit.

In blinding rain, I missed the exit to Rockhill, and rode another 30 km before bringing the day’s ride to a close in the small town of Richburg. We had covered a total of 940 km on my first full day on the road, and was more than happy with what we had achieved.

AND, we did not run out of fuel and managed almost 360 km on the last tank. Although I must add at this point that we were on fumes as I rode into the parking lot of the Motel 6 !!

It had been a great day out on the road, and as usual, I had met many interesting people, which in the end is part of what makes what I am doing, so worthwhile. It had taken just this one day to get me completely back in the groove, and confirm that I still had many a long ride in me.

After wolfing down a KFC dinner (sorry Darling, but it was the closest place to the hotel !!) I switched on the television to discover that Storm Andrea was battering Florida and was due to reach Jacksonville and Brunswick the following afternoon !! I was 550 km north of Jacksonville and if I had to ride through heavy rain, getting to the airport by 2.30 pm to surprise Patricia was going to be a far tougher task than today’s ride was !!

Port Carbon to Richburg South Carolina. A long day in the saddle...

Port Carbon to Richburg South Carolina. A long day in the saddle…

By 10 pm it was raining steadily, and I went outside to make sure that the cover would not be blown off the bike. After checking that all was well, I patted the Big Fella, who was spending his first night without shelter in over 8 months, and mentioned that there might be a little rain to deal with the following day…

“Beeee-youtiful !!” he replied.

I am not entirely sure, but I think he was being sarcastic…

4 comments to Six State Ride…

  • Mark Behr

    Impressive ride for someone who has been out of the saddle for a while – Well Done!
    Hope you get to the airport in time to surprise Patricia.

  • Charmz

    I can see the smile on Big Fella’s face, he is so happy to have his master back in the saddle. Mind you…..your smile is just as broad. Enjoy boet, be safe and take care in those downpours.

  • Doug McIllwain

    Good to see you both didn’t have much trouble getting back in the groove!!
    That pic of Jeff Eaby with the background and everything is really nice!

  • Kim

    Scotland, aircrafts, tigers, fuel fumes and through all those states, I forgot how hard I drive, through your blogs… next time we start up, after a lengthy break, can we cut down on the km’s for the 1st day or so – I’m exhausted!!!!
    Mmmmm!!! Did you manage to surprise Patricia?? Can’t wait to hear the “stories”…
    One day back in the saddle and it feels like you never stopped – Enjoy it, you look so chillaxed and might I whisper, Big Fella has not lost his sense of humour!!!
    BIG kisses, as always
    K

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