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July 3rd, 2013 | Kentucky

The Longest Ride…

After what seemed like only a few minutes of sleep, I got up, took a cold shower, went to reception to have a cup of coffee, checked out, and was ready to roll.

After a misty start, we headed for Lexington and Slade beyond that.

After a misty start, we headed for Lexington and Slade beyond that.

I had not taken much off the bike the night before, because my laptop was no longer functioning, and I had also discovered that my I-Pad had been damaged by my recent adventure in Oklahoma. It would not connect to any network, and the screen was a bit fuzzy…

I unfurled my map of the USA, which I had hardly refered to since my arrival in the country in June 2012, and ran my finger along the route I needed to take.

The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is just a few hundred yards off the Freeway that passes Slade.

The Kentucky Reptile Zoo is just a few hundred yards off the Freeway that passes Slade.

I was not able to download my route onto the GPS without a laptop, and had to fiddle about in the early morning light, trying to tap way-points into the Garmin, and watched and waited while Gi-Gi calculated the distance and arrival time in Pennsylvania. My heart sank as I noticed that my planned ride would take us well into the night, and that was without the many stops I knew we would have to make…

Mist enveloped the I-64 to Lexington, and for the first hour, visibility was down to just a few hundred yards. We stopped in Lexington for what would be the first of four fuel stops, and spent too much time chatting to a bunch of guys who were very interested in the bike and what we were doing. When they heard where I planned to spend that night, they raised their eyebrows and shook their heads…

“You gotta have an iron butt and big balls for that, Buddy…!!” I remember one of them saying…

This large Puffadder brought back memories of home.

This large Puffadder brought back memories of home.

I arrived in Slade an hour later, and met Jim and Kristen who owned and operated the Kentucky Reptile Zoo.

Jim has had rather an eventful life thus far… Not only was he a law enforcement officer and later a bounty hunter, but he was also a professional kick-boxer and martial arts expert to boot (pardon the pun…)

He has been collecting snakes since his early childhood and is now one of the biggest suppliers of snake venom for anti-serum in the USA.

The venom he milks from over 400 rattlesnakes and many other poisonous snakes from all over the world, is sold and exported around thee globe. I was particularly interested in his African collection, which included three species of Mamba and many of the vipers and adders that I too had collected in my younger and more vulnerable days…

While he and Kristen took me on a guided tour of their facilities, we swapped “snake stories”… I discovered that Jim had been bitten on a number of occasions and had been on life support a couple of times as a result of some of those bites… The man has led a charmed life !!

Jim Harrison and Kristen Wiley pose with the Big Fella.

Jim Harrison and Kristen Wiley pose with the Big Fella.

He has been featured in a number of National Geographic documentaries and has traveled all over the world to collect snakes for his reptile zoo. His collection also includes alligators, caimans and many species of turtle. The animals are housed in an assortment of buildings, each filled with tanks that mimic the snakes natural surroundings. Staff members take visitors on guided tours through the various exhibits, and also ensure that the reptiles are properly cared for.

This old railway carriage has been converted into a visitor and information centre.

This old railway carriage has been converted into a visitor and information centre.

In Jim I found more than just a kindred spirit with a love for thee outdoors and high adventure, and although I could have spent days with this amazing couple, I was unable to accept their kind offer to stay over, and made my apologies after just a few hours in their company.

We stood around the Big Fella and chatted about rides that Jim had also made, as well as a few of the accidents that he had been involved in. I winced as described some of his injuries and thanked my lucky stars again that I had come off lightly from my recent incident in Oklahoma…

Before I left, Kristen presented me with a sticker to add to my already burgeoning collection and we found a spot on the panniers to attach it to. Then I bid them farewell and got back on the road…

Sounds like an interesting place...

Sounds like an interesting place…

We headed north, skirting the eastern shores of Cave Run Lake, through Morehead and onto the I-64, and then north-east to the Ohio state line at Ashland.

I enjoyed riding through the lush green Kentucky countryside, with its horse farms and brightly painted barns. In the smaller towns I passed through before reaching the Interstate, people nodded or waved as I passed, stopping to stare after me. Life seems to pass a lot slower in these rural areas, which is just as it should be…

With the Big Fella growling under me, and a long, long way to go yet, I opened the throttle and let the miles fly by. I tucked us in behind any car that was traveling at least ten miles above the limit, and sat behind them, letting them run the risk of falling foul of the law.

Painted barns of Kentucky...

Painted barns of Kentucky…

We crossed over the Ohio River at the town of Ashland and then rode north for a short distance, past Lake Vesuvius. and then made a loop back towards the West Virginia state line, and refueled again shortly after rejoining the I-64.

As I rode back onto the highway at 3.30 pm, I saw that we still had 773 km to go. This alone would under normal circumstances be a long ride for me, and one that I would start early in the morning, and not in the middle of the afternoon !!

I think at this point, the magnitude of what I was planning to do,  finally dawned on me !! I had already ben on the road for more than 8 hours, and was only halfway to my destination…

Ohio would be the second of the five states we would ride in today.....

Ohio would be the second of the five states we would ride in today…..

The next few hours were a bit of a blur, as all I was interested in was making good time while I calculated over and over again, where I would need to stop for a rest or to refuel, and how much time I could spare to do that.

I was already resigned to the fact that I would be riding well past midnight at any rate and concentrated on pacing myself as best I could to ensure that I did not run out of energy or lose the determination to go through with my plan to ride all the way to Doug’s house in Port Carbon…

I ignored the occasional stabbing pain from between my shoulders blades, and kept twisting and turning in the saddle to relieve the stresses I was putting on my already aching muscles…

To take my mind off the aches, I played word games in my head… I would choose a subject such as animals, birds, countries, capital cities, rivers etc, and then go through the alphabet naming all the ones I could think of, from A to Z… I did not do as well on the topic of fruit and vegetables as I did on all the others, needless to say…

Back into West Virginia...

Back into West Virginia…

A sight like this is enough to make anybody stop and think about their driving....

A sight like this is enough to make anybody stop and think about their driving….

And as the sun began to set, we crossed into Maryland...

And as the sun began to set, we crossed into Maryland…

I rode to Morgantown near the Maryland border in one long hit, emptying the tank but only covering a little over 300 km as a result of the higher speeds I was riding at. Fuel consumption was not high on the agenda at this point !!

I called Doug’s wife, Theresa, to let her know that I was on the way and that I was still determined to reach Port Carbon that same night. She sounded a bit doubtful when she heard I was still more than 400 km away and it was already after 7.00 pm…

Doug was working night shift and would be home around midnight and would wait up for me.

Just keep them off the highway !!

Just keep them off the highway tonight…!!

The highway wound its way through the mountains of West Virginia in long sweeping bends, ensuring that I remained focused on the task at hand.

The twisting road was in stark contrast to the long, boring stretches we had covered in northern Kentucky, and a very welcome change of scenery at that point. I needed as much stimulation as I could get, considering how much time I had already spent in the saddle on this ride.

We were now on the I-68, running due east and parallel to the Pennsylvania state line. The sun was setting directly behind us as we tore along the highway and before long we were belting along in complete darkness. I was thankful that the rain I had experienced on almost every day since leaving New Orleans, had stayed away.

Riding at speed on a motorcycle, along a dark highway, is not my idea of fun… All you have to light up the gloom ahead of you, is the narrow beam of light from your headlights, and while you are thundering along, a little voice keeps reminding you that if you went too wide into a corner, the chances of correcting your line are hugely diminished…

I was thankful that we were on a double-laned Interstate, and I could ride in the middle of the road, just off the painted line, thereby giving myself a slightly larger margin for an error. Despite this, it was still like riding in a long dark tunnel, like those I had been through in Scandinavia and Peru, neither of which conjured up pleasant memories…

It is much easier when there are other vehicles around and you can use their tail lights to assist you. I was riding at much the same speeds I had throughout the day, keeping up a pace that forced me to focus and never allowed my brain to give in to any form of drowsiness.

Pastel skies over Maryland.

Pastel skies over Maryland.

We stopped just befor entering Pennsylvania, about two hours short of our final destination in Port Carbon.

We stopped just before entering Pennsylvania, about two hours short of our final destination in Port Carbon.

"Are we there yet...??" Not quite... Just a few hours to go....

“Are we there yet…??” Not quite… Just a few hours to go….

Just before Hagerstown, I stopped to take a break, downing a large can of Monster energy drink and walking around in the parking lot of a strip mall to ease the tension of my aching back and shoulders…

It was almost 10.00 pm and I had been on the road for more than 14 hours already, and covered over 1100 km…

And I would need to refuel again before I got to Port Carbon…

Back on the bike, we turned north onto the I-81 and crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, heading for Carlisle, which I calculated would be the end of the current tank of fuel.

At this point the highway was choked with trucks, and I had to endure the buffeting winds that plucked at me as I passed long lines of them.

Considering that these trucks were traveling at high speed too, I had to be extra vigilant when passing them and prayed that they could see me clearly with all my lights blazing… It was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least…

It's all about focus at this point !!

It’s all about focus at this point !!

When I got off the bike to refuel in Carlisle, I had to sit down for a few minutes to recover from a sudden spell of dizziness. I did not know if it was as a result from the long hours on the bike and a little dehydration, or if it might be the after effects of my accident, but either way, it took me much longer to recover than I had planned for on this my final stop for the day.

I arrived in Port Carbon at about 12.30 am, having been on the road for 17 hours and covering almost 1400 km. It was easily the longest ride I had ever made, eclipsing the long rides I had endured in Libya, and Australia by some margin.

Doug opened his garage door for me, and after a bear hug from him, I stood around in a bit of a daze, totally spent… My entire body ached from the pummeling and vibration it had endured from the wind and the engine’s vibrations… For a while it felt as though I was walking on air, as my feet were quite numb by the time I dismounted.

Our 1400 km, 17 hour jaunt across five states...

Our 1400 km, 17 hour jaunt across five states…

I staggered upstairs, not bothering to take anything off the bike. All I wanted to do was lie down and close my eyes, which were bloodshot from the hours of wind they had been subjected to. Before I went to sleep, I washed the layer of grime that I had collected in the five states I had ridden through, off my face; promised my body a shower in a few hours time; mumbled my “good-nights” to Doug, Theresa and the shady cat; and then slipped into a comatose state on top of the bed…

I might have quietly congratulated myself on the hard-nosed, “balls to the wall” ride I had just made, but my memory from the point at which I had turned off the light is more than a little hazy…

©GBWT 2013

 

 

1 comment to The Longest Ride…

  • Mark Behr

    Sometimes we amaze ourselves – looks like this day was one for you. Well done on a successful big ride!

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