The Under-achiever/Procastinator's Guide to Distance Travel
How to Convert Miles to Imaginary, Arbitrary Measurements (AKA Kilometers)
Or The Under-achiever/Procastinator's Guide to Distance Travel
WARNING: this is not some epic journey of awesomeness like much of what I see in ride reports listed here. This was not a journey about self-discovery to find myself after something tragic happened, or with a cool goal of visiting some far-away dreamt of place, or anything like that. This story is that of a procrastinator and ill-prepared rider that has been on bikes for 9 years, but still not sure what he wants to ride, still not fond of night-riding, and that of a flatlander from an area without curves or elevation changes, so very inexperienced with mountain riding. With that out of the way, on with the story.
This is the story of a native Carolina boy traveling to Detroit, seeing 3 of the 5 Great Lakes, looping Lake Huron, bypassing Toronto, and then returning home. A little over 3200 miles in 9 days, which is a lot for me, considering I had never done more than a 3 day, weekend jaunt of ~1000 miles. Skip down to “Day 1” if you don't want to read any more introduction.
PLEASE COMMENT after you're done. I don't mind if you just skimmed through the pics, or have criticism, or, on the off-chance, some praise or accolade. I want to have ideas on what I should/shouldn't do as for ever writing another ride report. I know what to pare down as far as supplies and am subscribed to the Bike Camping Pictures thread, so don't need the “You have too big of a bike” or “Your bike is over-loaded” comments as I know these, and got enough of that along the way.
As of two weeks and two days before this trip, I was sitting at the monthly Charleston ADV dinner with a veritable crew of more mature riders with vastly more experience, both with life and motorcycling. The trip was originally a weekend spent along the Blue Ridge Parkway, camping at Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge, and then returning home for work on Monday. As we sat having pizza at a new Mellow Mushroom in town (delicious pizza), the expeditions others were planning were being discussed. Being a young guy, with no particular responsibilities, I decided I would turn this weekend riding into a 10 day trip, taking a week off from work and linking it with the Fourth of July weekend. I planned to return the day before and leave that Monday to recuperate. Initial thoughts and recommendations had me scrapping the lofty idea of riding the length of the BRP, linking it with the Cherohala Skyway, and Skyline Drive. Tom gave me a mini-atlas he had on hand, and essentially said, “Pick a city you want to go to, avoid the slab when you can, and just go.” So, I did.
Introduction to me: the 24 year-old poster-child of modern America – fat, reliable, intelligent, lazy, adaptable, jack-of-no-trades that somehow manages to always scrape through the rare chance of adversity I face. I work full-time for an engineering company in their drafting department. Most of my friends are still working part-time gigs, so don't have the money to travel, so I don't take much off for vacation time. For the past six months, I have actually been taking off an hour here and an hour there just to burn the requisite day and a half of leave that I accrue, as I have been maxed out. I thought taking a week off would save me this trouble from a little while.
Introduction to El Bandita Grande: the 11 year-old poster-child of old-tech Japanese standard motorcycle – fat, reliable, well-designed (if it were stock), jack-of-all-trades that somehow manages to always start and will go wherever I ask her
I'm not sure how I should start things off, giving a brief summary of highlights or starting right off into the story. Okay, teases for stories I will later expound upon: getting drunk in a German bar in Canada with an Indian bartender and translating for a Japanese couple, the girl from the Weinerama, the pickpocket in Detroit, a summer day with a high of 56 degrees and raining, and being captioned for the first-time in my life as having said, “What the f* is up all with all these G*damn niggas tearin' up this piece?”
As I went along on this trip, I kept a journal that I updated nightly, and was glad I did, as all the days began to run together in my memory, but my journal was partially ruined by a leaking bottle of filter oil, so I've lost 4” x 1” of EVERY sheet I had written, argh!
The week of the trip was spent scrambling to get the bike in travel condition, with little forethought to where I would be heading after leaving Iron Horse on Sunday morning. This type of planning may not work well for most people, but I have been overly ambitious with a number of plans for projects and hobbies in my life (proven the moment you walk into my house, if you're ever so inclined). I adjusted the chain, changed the oil, had some cheap-o fog lights installed (that failed before my first night's destination), re-located my rear turn signals, replaced and Loc-tited (sp?) the bolts holding my under-seat tray (mine have a desire to be free to mingle with my bike papers), and finally finished installing my Givi topcase rack.
So, since you have made it this far, I feel obligated to say now that this trip was partially sponsored by ADV'er Steviebear, who let me borrow the cool and reliable Ortlieb saddlebags after I mentioned mine were a tad on the small side, and the huge Givi case (that I have since bought a duplicate of). When I went to install the Givi knockoff Emgo bag that had worked great on my XT using the supplied Emgo rack, but I had never measured to see if it would fit on the Givi rack. I naively assumed it would fit, but in a moment of panic, learned it would not. I hastily posted on our local thread asking if anyone had a spare I could buy/borrow. Luckily, Steve stepped in and saved the day and let me use his spare FJR topcase.
Tank bag: front pocket – pens, kickstand puck, tripod, cheap multitool; rear pocket – good multitool; main area – tool kit, WD-40, chain lube, duct tape, sunglasses, safety glasses, spare clutch and brake lever, hydration bladder; top pocket – power adapter, mini-atlas
Yellow dry bag (stripped to passenger seat using Rok straps): tent, air mattress, sheets, propane tank and stove, 40' electrical extension cord, surge protector power strip, spare bungie cords
Trunk: passport, air compressor and Slime (never used it on a motorized vehicle, but works decently for my bicycle), tire patch kit, medicine/toiletries bag, a few books to pass the time, full-size atlas, and CPAP (embarrassingly, I have sleep apnea and need this to sleep; this is a bit intrusive to camping, as I am tethered to campsites with electrical outlets; someday, I may invest in a battery-powered unit, but they are a tad pricey and currently not justifiable to me)
Left: food, drink, utensils, and shop towels
Right: clothes, bath towel, flip-flops
This is my stalker kitty that watches me work on my motorcycle and examine my nuts and bolts
Now, to get to Riding!
Day 1, Friday, 24 June 2011
Charleston, South Carolina to Robbinsville, North Carolina
I hoped to start the trip at exactly 22000 miles, but due to my procrastination, started at 21950. I gassed up, got a hair cut, visited my mechanic's shop (Lowcountry Cycleworks), and dropped by the bar one of my best friends works at to say good-bye to her. I left her place on schedule at noon to aim to miss most of the Friday afternoon commuter traffic in the cities I was passing through, super-slabbed up I-26 from Charleston, through Columbia and Greenville, and stopped at a Bojangle's in North Carolina to grab lunch around 3:30 or 4. This point is where my GPS measured from, so it's around 250 miles off from my final odometer reading.
I had been to Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge nearly two years prior, for a Horizons Unlimited meeting in 2009. I knew we had taken 26 into Asheville, and hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway from there. Knowing I had lots of mountain curves ahead of me the next day, I skipped this 50 or 60 mile trek on the BRP, and my GPS led me along I-40, and through Waynesville, North Carolina. ADVRider Boybrushedplad (henceforth to be known as Wes), called me at some point, so I tried calling him back when I stopped for gas a littler after 5. I told him my GPS said it would be another 45 minutes to an hour, so to expect me between 6 and 6:15. 5 minutes after leaving the gas station, the bottom fell out of the sky, so I pulled behind a local post office to do a little rain dance (taking off the boots, putting on rain suit, and dreading the plastic-lined sauna that was in my immediate future). This added 5-10 unnecessary minutes, as the rain let up within 2 minutes of my getting back on the bike.
My rain dance, plus the slick roads, plus getting stuck in a line of cars behind an RV on a two lane road for 8 miles, delayed my arrival to 6:30 at Iron Horse. Wes had apparently been very worried for this Slowpoke's safety, as in the 15 minutes over I had been, I had gotten 3 calls and 2 text messages from him inquiring for my location. All was well at Iron Horse (minus the 30 minute line I had to wait in to check-in, even though I had reserved my spot ahead of time). I met ADV'er SCMax (David), due to my addiction to the 120V sinusoidal waves of modern life, set up my camp-site among the RV crowd (which equals nice and quiet when they tuck in for the night, no biker riff-raff up in this part of the 'hood), and then the three of us headed to dinner. I learned of the fellow riders we expected as semi-part of our group, V-Marv (Marvin), unaffiliated Mr. I hate the internet cool kid ADV Club but still a nice guy (other David), and Mhaas (Marc never showed up, didn't answer phone calls, and I didn't think about contacting him since the trip until just now, whoops! Hope he's okay). Marvin and other David showed up a bit after 10 and were immediately ready to zonk out.
David and Wes
Camping setup on the bike
More to Come!
Due to the length of my rambling, and the tons more pictures that will be added after this point, I will be typing this and uploading this throughout this week. Hope it will be of some entertainment value to ya.
Great intro :thumb
Day 2, Saturday, 25 June 2011
Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge to the Dragon to Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge
Woke up at 7 to the sound of Harleys roaring and going through the rev cycle to prove one of their creeds of necessary noise. Oh well, more pleasant than the regular alarm sound. Wandered over to the other guys' camp-sites, cabin, and trailer to see if they were ready for breakfast. Most of the lodge's vistor's parked their shiny, fancy bikes under the awning in chance of rain during the night.
Wes's KLR, David's SV, Marvin's V-star, David's Versys
Slowly, they got ready and we began talking about plans for the day. Apparently, Marvin and David weren't joining in the curvy pleasure ride routed by Wes, but would be going fishing. Oh well, before breakfast, Marvin gave Wes some last-minute input on his route.
After breakfast, Wes, David and I headed out around 9. Due to my inexperience with curves and elevation changes, I warned them of my pokiness, and told them that they could feel free to leave me behind, but to please wait at intersections that we would turn at. This is the Toxaway Dam. I apparently missed the waterfall right near the shot.
We were supposed to supposed to stop somewhere for lunch at a pre-determined spot, but we bypassed it. Stopped alongside the road to decide to circle back or continue on. None of us were particularly hungry, so onward ho! I noticed a new rider that had joined us along the route at some point.
He stuck around for another 40 miles until our next spot to try for lunch, a gas station that had a connected “deli.” We went inside, saw the prices started around $9 for a sub. I'm not usually a cheap-skate when it comes to food, but I'm not going to pay $9 for a gas station sandwich, so said we should go a bit further. Decided to take this pic as our first “group ride” shot.
Sadly, when Wes started his bike, Jimminy decided it was time to go his separate way. Sigh. We stumbled upon a terrific little barbecue joint just on the other side of Toxaway, and managed to beat the rush of 20 Harleys that showed up when we sat down. Not sure if it was directly next, but this next series of pictures if from Fontana Dam.
David ran into another rider that somehow started asking him about another guy's bike and his opinion of hard bags. Anyway, David picked up a drink and snack and I pulled out a Powerade I'd brought along and took a short break. We then headed off in the general direction of US-129. 45 minutes after leaving the Dam, I saw it again from another angle.
Our little crew then descended upon the Dragon. The obligatory opening shot:
I was able to pace Wes most of the way up and only had to pull over for two crazy-fast sport-bikers. I knew the KillBoy crowd would be there, so I kept an eye out for them. On the first curve I approached with them, there was a guy on a super-moto just finishing a wheelie I guessed, as he was wobbling on my side of the rode and only going 5 or so mph. Glad I had no shots taken of me that first time. The next time, I panicked for some reason when I saw the cameras pointed at me, and scrubbed any decent speed I had. Oh well, made up for it on the third corner and did a great line. I later learned none of those shots were being used and they were focusing on riders from the other direction. D'oh! At the top of the Dragon, we saw what little view was there and took another group ride shot. The guy on the far right in this photo was bragging to everyone how he was the second fastest through the Dragon that day (no idea how that would be measured). He decided to jump in on the shot and Wes obliged.
David being awesome!
Wes's clean lines
And here I am, dragging behind and showing I suck at curves, haha. At least I admit my faults.
I almost majorly wiped out making two mistakes in a row going back on the Dragon. There are two very tight banked switchbacks in quick succession. Trying to think “through the curve,” I almost short-cut the end of the first into the beginning of the second, which had a pretty steep drop down a 30' embankment, but was able to save it. When “saving it” though, I got on the rear brake a little hard and it locked up momentarily. After these two acts of stupidity, I took it very easy completing the route.
Sadly, those are the last of my photos from the group trip. After finishing with the Dragon, it was around 4:45. David gave us two options at this point, one being to head back to town and grab a few supplies before going back to the lodge or riding for another few hours on another loop. After 200 miles of mountain riding that day, I was ready to hit the town and meet up with the other guys for dinner, so we headed back into Robbinsville(? Don't remember if this was the town, but it is one nearby) and went to Ingles for a few minor things. I forgot a pillow on the trip, so I ran up to Family Dollar and bought a turtle Pillow Pet (pretty neat looking guy, but don't have any mug-shots) that I named Tavi who was my loyal friend for the rest of my journey.
After gassing up, we met up with Marvin and David for dinner at Lynn's Diner in Robbinsville. It wasn't anything special, but there was a hostess/cashier that caught my eye.* She had a gorgeous face, perfect smile and was tall and slender. That's not usually my type as
I like my women like I like my chicken
With a little bit of fat on the ends
Not too much and not too little
Just enough to make me grin
When I see a little woman walkin' down the street
She ain't my type, I need a little more meat
She's skinny, and not my cup of tea.
Thank you Rodney Carrington for putting it so perfectly. Anyway, throughout the night, she passed by our table every few minutes, and would usually glance my way, occasionally with a sexy, coy smile. As we all were taking our turns paying for dinner, Wes and I discussed a possible plan of attack, but he didn't want to make a move. I brought cash along to speed up the process (of paying for dinner, not making a move, gutter-brain). She ended up giving me the wrong change at first and forgot a $5. I jokingly told her, “If you're already planning to take my money, I'm going to expect a little more than a smile, hehe,” purely jokingly of course (unless … but I digress). She laughed and apologized. The last few guys took their turns paying and we all re-grouped outside.
We discussed the plans for the evening. Since it was Saturday night and we would all be diverging in the morning, I wanted to head back to the lodge and plan where I was going and how I would get there. Wes wanted to grab a case of beer but wanted assurance he wouldn't be the only one partaking. Being raised with manners, I did not want to offend him, of course, so I told him I would definitely go along in his quest and may have one or thirteen. During our little discussion, the hostess had hurriedly gotten off of work and was in a bit of a rush to get outside, but once outside, was just playing with her phone 10' from Wes, David, and I. Hmm. Being a local, and more likely to know the closest place from the center of this dry little county to acquire the necessary goods, I brought her in on the conversation and asked if she knew a close place to get our hands on the beverages.
She responded in turn with, “Well, how many of you are planning on drinking?” I said, “I think it's just my man Wes here and I.” She throws back, “I'm actually heading out to hang out with a few of my girlfriends at one of their houses. We'll probably be drinking a little if you two want to come along.” Well then, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more, say no more. I was game. Wes then breaks out of his little shell, “Actually, we've got to get up early and since we're on our bikes, probably shouldn't be riding after drinking.” I was HATING Wes at this point. I could not believe this sheer and utter violation of Man Code: never leave a man behind. I tried to change his mind with the basic shoulder shove and saying, “Come on man, live a little,” but he stuck to his guns. I thought for a second, and remembered I was in back-woods North Carolina/Tennessee, didn't know the area or the girl, would be traveling at night, and, at best, there would be alcohol involved. With the number of bad circumstances that were possible from here-on-out without my wingman, I sadly had to decline the invitation and then asked for any recommendation on retail beer purchasing.
She sighed and looked a tad disappointed, but gave us directions to a gas station 15 miles away. We headed that way, but got there after close. Marvin and David had decided to tag along with us for the night run and Marvin suggested a campsite near Iron Horse that he frequented that had a “Just chip in for your part” policy on fridge contents, so Wes and I obliged and followed him to Mo's, a much more laid-back and chill atmosphere than Iron Horse. Also, a bit more of the rough-and-tumble crowd than what he had been seeing. He introduced us to the lady of the house, who forced each of us to try a pickled pepper. Wes wimped out with a green one, and I went for the super-spicey red, which burned for a minute or two and reminded me again how much I hate pickled goods. She threw a beer to each of us. Wes and I played a game that I know as bocce out back. He had another name for it, but I don't recall. After, I chipped a buck in the donation jar, and we headed back to the lodge for the night. I was dismayed and a tad lonely climbing into bed that night. Oh well.
*Wes would probably tell a slightly different version of this story if asked, but this is my ride report and my memories. So there.
Well, all I can say so far about your RR and writing skill is......why are you wasting your life with an engineering company ? Excellent prose thus far ! I can't wait for the rest of the story. ( and the one where you ride back to find that waitress on your steed and whisk her off to your castle,,,,or at least grab a beer with her ! ):clap:clap:clap
never mention a woman that you don't post a picture of...
Great read, nice photos, thanks for sharing.
Pretty good so far. Subscribed.:D
This chick had to be nasty. I mean, no guy turns down a house of girls unless...ya know? And back woods NC is not full of pretty ladies past the age of 17 (they all move East ;)
Day 3, Sunday, 26 June 2011
Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge to Bowling Green, Ohio
Today was an uneventful, high-mileage, somewhat lonely day. Starting off, I woke up at 7 to the cacophony of rumbling, un-baffled exhausts, which is surprisingly not too unpleasant. I did my morning getting-ready-for-the-day and breaking down camp, walked over to the other guys' camp areas to find Wes getting his bike ready for a dual-sport ride being led by a few locals that had seen his camping thread. I learned David had decided to leave early to spent time with his wife, Marvin was just stretching out on the lawn, and David was still slumbering away. Wes left shortly after I began talking to Marvin, who showed me his cool camping set-up, which included a gigantic rear enclosure that he had fabricated specifically for the rack he'd built for this V-Star. I had breakfast in the lodge, then waited to say good-bye to David before I headed off around 9, aiming for as close to Detroit as I could get. They wished me well on my journeys and gave me a few last-minute reminders.
The weather was a bit dreary when leaving camp, but I was hoping it was just due to the morning dew and being at such an altitude. As I was being led by my GPS, I was unfamiliar with the route I was headed on, but thought it looked a bit familiar when I saw the signs for the Dragon again, not knowing I would be traveling it again with a fully loaded bike. I was glad I got there before the rush as I would be taking it pretty slow, even for me. The Bandit feels very top-heavy when touring, so low-speed tight curves were not something I hoped for, especially as I was already weak in that riding department. As I got close to mile 3 of the Dragon, the temperature had a sudden drop, a bad omen. I pulled over into a semi-covered turn-off to put on my Joe Rocket rain suit (thanks Mom and Dad at Christmas).
Just as I finished, a huge Ka-kow of thunder broke the still air. I got back on and continued riding as the bottom fell out of the sky. I was surprised with how the already-low numbers of traffic dropped at 10 o'clock, to my promptly having an audience of 100-200 riders all sitting on the sidelines to my glorious journey. I felt like a conquering hero as I rumbled by, glad to be wearing a helmet so all of my adoring fans couldn't see the feeling of terror and trepidation on my furled brow. I knew if I stopped here to wait out the storm, I probably would not be soon back in the mood to press on, so struggled through my worries.
As I got down into a nearby valley, the rain stopped and I pulled over to take a leak in front of a spot of pure beauty, that felt like God had painted just for me.
At a dam a few miles later on Highway 28
I ventured on through Tennessee, a bit cold, and with a drizzling rain off an on. Just before I got into Kentucky, I stopped in a gas station to pull off the rain suit and fill my tank. A middle-aged white guy walked over to me, and in typical gas station fare, started up a little chat on motorcycles. “So what kind of mileage do you get on that thing,” “Where're you coming from and going to,” and so on. It turns out, he had just spent the weekend on the parkway too, and camping. He, however, was trailering his bike due to a bad bike. We talked for a little while later, and I told him I was aiming for as close to Detroit as I could get that day, probably somewhere near Toledo. Ecstatically, he asked if I had any places lined up to stay and invited me to sleep in his guest bedroom. And, although a very generous offer, I turned this down and felt a little uncomfortable about the whole experience, but he did seem like a genuine and friendly character.
Just before entering Kentucky, the beauty of rolling hills started up. Riding through Tennessee and Kentucky, the two things that stood out the most to me were the polite drivers and calm-inducing scenery. They're nice for a “lack of diversity.” This is not to mean anything racist, but the rolling hills and mountains that are continuous throughout what I experienced going through these states is much more typical than the varying landscapes I saw in the Carolinas. As I rolled along on the interstate, I saw a number of signs for the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, starting from 50 miles out, and then one every 5 miles. I don't know much about Kentucky's music history, but to me, much more of a tourist attraction would be the Colonel Sanders Cafe, the “original KFC” that I only saw one sign for half a mile before its exit. Sadly, due to a line of truckers, I didn't have the chance to get over to have a taste of its lunch experience. I planned to turn around at the next exit, but that didn't happen for another 7-10 miles, when I had lost the elation and childhood joy feeling, so I ventured onward.
Fear-mongering billboard I saw for a Christian hotline: “When you die, you'll never have to wonder IF there is a God.”
Which reminds me of another billboard story I have from a camping trip earlier this year near Beaufort, South Carolina. When driving/riding into Beaufort from Charleston, you take Highway 17 to Highway 21, which leads right into the city. In recent years, I have noticed advertising companies placing sometimes controversial/hilarious billboards in succession. Most often, I have seen this happening with McDonald's signs including a sign for a program at the Medical University of South Carolina: “Have you been struggling with your weight? If so, there a study being conducted at MUSC you may be interested in participating in ...” The next sign on the road that had McDonald's logo, and the text “Why wait? Try new items on our Dollar Menu” with enticing pictures of said items.
Anyway, back to Beaufort. I don't know if you've heard of the newest advertising campaign by McDonald's, which is to promote their new and healthier breakfast items. They usually are simply a picture, a catchy, short description of the item, and the McDonald's logo. My second sign is one of these for their fruit and walnut oatmeal, “It's like a warm, delicious hug.” I wish I had taken a picture of this, as I can't find any online. Oh well. I don't know if you have seen any of the billboards for a rape hotline that says in huge letters, “Have you been raped?” Then, in smaller letters, “If so, and you haven't called the police, call us at blah blah blah.” This is the first sign. Now, I am not trying to be insensitive or to trivialize the atrocity that is sexual molestation and violence, but if you were driving down the road and didn't read the small letters, you would see “Have you been raped?” and ¼ mile later, “It's like a warm, delicious hug.” Haha, McDonald's. That's funny, but pretty messed up. Touché advertising man, touché.
Back to the future.
Cincinnati sucks. First off, Ohio never said Hi to me, never saw a “Welcome to Ohio” sign as I entered. Kentucky had a sign “Good-bye and thanks for visiting!” or some-such thing 8-20 miles before the border (can't read in my journal), which was odd, but was pretty much where Kentucky's Department of Transportation sees the border as the road immediately degrees thereafter, and becomes more pot-hole and graven-strewn as you get closer to Ohio's entrance town. The simplest way I can explain Cincinnati was that it felt like my front tire was going flat until I was 15 miles inside of Ohio.
The city looked rich with culture and history, but the roads were ill-maintained, the roads had horrid directions for navigation if they had any at all, the interstate split and different lanes in one direction would split around the median with little to no warning, and merge suddenly. I pulled off into Cincinnati to try to take pictures of the cool bridges I saw,
This picture captures how desolate the city felt
and the Bengals stadium (I think, didn't see a sign for it). I actually had to circumnavigate using this point of reference, as there were no signs to it, but it seemed pretty centralized. I felt nervous walking more than 20' fromt the bike, not for my safety, but that of my belongings. In the 30 seconds I was there, 3 “joggers” ran past wearing baggy jean shorts and “wife-beater” under-shirts to set the scene for you.
I did see this cool wall behind a police museum though
Funny enough, the Visitor's Center for Ohio (not a “Welcome Center” as the signs clearly stated “Visitor's Center”) is 25 miles from the border. As I stood outside it talking to my mom, a school bus of teenagers came up. As they passed by me, I heard a guy asking his friend, “Are we in Ohio? I never saw a sign for it, but thought we just passed through Cincinnati.” Haha. After there, I aimed for Lima, Ohio (where the Fox show Glee is supposed to be set), but wanted to go a bit further and so made it to Bowling Green. I stopped for the night at a cheap motel, unpacked, walked next door to a sports bar called Fricker's and gladly made short work of some chicken wings and their $2.22 pints.
kick ass! great pics so far, and this is just the beginning!
This is really good. Keep it coming. Let me help you with your report a little bit.
Here is a picture of an I-70 "Welcome to Ohio" sign I found on the internet for you.
And this "Thank you for visiting Ohio" is on the other side. I took this picture in November of 2005 when I moved out of Ohio...
KEith.........WTH.........where's the rest?
Day 4, Monday, 27 June 2011
Bowling Green, Ohio to Motown
Woke up a little late this morning, and didn't end up leaving the motel until 10. Headed toward Toledo. Just after it, I saw a billboard for a beef jerky store. A whole store for jerky? Oh heck yes, I have to stop. Inside, the owner gave me a little tour and told me about the place. It was a family owned and operated store, and all the jerky was home-made. The traditional jerky types, of which there were over a dozen, were free to sample, so I tried ALL of them. Being from the South, I guess my taste palate is just accustomed to a spicier food group than up north, as the one I was told was the hottest he made and his most popular was no hotter than plain black peppered beef jerky to me. I'm not a big fan of turkey jerky, as it has an odd rubbery taste and texture. The beef stick Slim Jim type things were not free to try, but I got a few of them, pepperoni, salami, teriyaki, etc. I ended up buying 2 ½ pounds of jerky here, more than enough to be snack food for the journey, wish I had a Ziploc or other airtight bag to keep them fresh.
When asking me of my plans for the day, the guy told me since I was going into Detroit, I had managed to plan the perfect first night. The week before 4<sup>th</sup> of July, the big cities in Michigan each take a day to have a pre-4<sup>th</sup> of July fireworks celebration, and this night happened to be the one in Detroit. Sweet. This is the highlight of this guy's year, and he and his family drive up the 50 miles into the city each year to see the festivities. He also told me that since I planned to go to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I HAD TO visit Mackinac Island, and to plan ½ a day there, including the requisite fudge-buying.
Outside, I saw hundreds of nasty looking winged creatures. They didn't seem aggressive, and no one else took note of them, so I took a mental note to find out about them later. I saw a sign on the interstate for another store I wanted to visit off this exit, but no mention of it after I pulled off. It was the perfect store for my friend Danny and I wanted to take a picture for him. It was a liquor store that also sold beer, fishing licenses, bait, and sandwiches, and conveniently had a pier on Lake Eerie you could “snack” and fish from. Wow, I had no idea I was that close to that Great Lake at this point, until I just tried to find the store on Google Maps.
After there, I continued on into Michigan and stopped at their Welcome Center, which was wonderfully informative. As everywhere I stopped this day, I saw thousands more of the nasty bugs.
I asked a gent to take a picture of me in front of the sign and he obliged
Entering the building, there were posters printed to teach me of these conspicuous creatures plaguing the scenery
Ah, well that explains that. Inside, a very polite and helpful lady gave me lots of information on the Detroit area. She pulled out maps and brochures, and pointed me toward the Henry Ford Museum (one of my planned stops), Greenfield Village (the historical part of the Ford Museum, where Henry had brought in over 80 buildings from around the country and filled with Americana history), the Motown Music Museum, and where I should stay for the night. She asked me about my lodging plans, and I asked if she knew of any places to camp within 30 miles of downtown. She said she knew of a few campgrounds, but for safety's sake, could not in good conscience recommend me anything. I asked if she knew of anywhere relatively cheap, ~$50. She immediately threw out a few places in Dearborn right off the interstate, one across the street from a police station, one behind a Home Depot, and so on. I thought it hilarious. I asked her about the fireworks, and she just said somewhere along the river, and that I would see signs. She did warn me though, if I were to be in the city and away from my bike, to store any valuables I had in the hotel room before night-fall. Ominous. I thanked her and was on my way.
Since the Ford Museum closed at 5, and it was nearing 1, I skipped lunch and headed straight over. When buying my tickets, $30 combined for the Museum and Village, the sales clerk informed me that the car exhibit of the Museum was closed. Seriously?! That was the main attraction, over 200 cars from the company's history. She said that “Don't worry, many of the cars are still on display scattered throughout the Museum. I believed her. I also had to pay $5 because she asked if I parked in their lot. I said yes, and asked for a tag to put on my bike. “Oh, we don't give those out.” “Then how will security know I paid for parking?” “We operate on the Honor System.” Good grief lady, you should have told me that BEFORE I paid.
With the help of a conveniently placed trash can
The weather was looking doubtful at this point, so I opted for the Village while it was still dry. I rushed through here as I was warned it would take 2 ½ hours to get through this, and 3 for the Museum. It was 1:30. I had 3 ½ hours to absorb possibly 5 ½ hours worth of entertainment. Let's do this!
Greenfield Village was very neat, and huge. I skimmed through the agricultural sections, but saw little of interest, so headed toward the plane section. Re-enactors were outside a re-built model of the Wright brothers' home. I listened to the actors speak for a good ten minutes and thought them great.
Model Ts were driving around with visitors inside, a $10 privilege I thought of trying, but decided not to. I was surprised with how quiet these were, but they were driving on asphalt, much smoother than the dirt and gravel roads of the early 1900s.
I walked over to Menlo Park, a restored version that had most of the original buildings that Thomas Edison and his crew worked in. Henry Ford had been inspired for Edison and wanted to become an inventor like him. After the company took off, they met and became “friends,” so after Edison's passing, Ford bought much of his old original property and had it moved here. In fact, the name of the place was Edison Park, but later changed when more exhibits were added. There are a number of well-educated park guides that can tell you all about Edison and the 1000+ patents he and his crew designed. The rest of the Village I mostly just walked through, but wished I had more time for. Back to the Museum, yay!
Inside the Museum, I first sought out drink and snack. Happily, Oscar Mayer was on the case with Weinerama, with a Weinermobile displayed out front.
From here I munched on a pretzel, sipped down some orange soda. The sales associate for Weinerama talked me into upgrading from the normally priced drink in a styrofoam cup for $3 to a larger, souvenir plastic cup that had unlimited refills for $4. Fat kid → Sold. After finalizing the sale, she started asking me about my jacket, heard I ride a motorcycle, then started asking me about the trip from across the counter. She was elated to hear of a “crazy” guy riding up from South Carolina all the way to Michigan, just to see Detroit! When I mentioned the Upper Peninsula, she told me of all her favorite places to go, which included the Tunnel of Trees, a supposedly awesome scene where the trees are so big, they arch over the road and form a tunnel (we have a lot of this in the lowcountry as most every movie that includes Charleston, Beaufort, or Savannah will attest). After 5 minutes of talking, she said she had to get back to work, but hoped I would at least say good-bye before leaving. Argh.
I walked around the museum. It was interesting, but I was severely disappointed about the car exhibit. I kept my eye out for every car I could, and think I may have seen 8.
Original GT40 built for Le Mans. I know a bit of the history of this car and love them, and their ancestral line that came back in the 21<sup>st</sup> century. I would love to have one of the modern versions of this.
Some Lotus racing car, with another generic-looking old car in the background (sorry, can't recall details on either)
Cool tractor wheels
This ride was gorgeous! This vehicle was the original concept car for the Mustang, built in 1962. It is tiny, Miata-sized, with a low windshield, swept back curves, fender-mounted mirrors, simple and distinguished little roadster. Sadly, it was designed to be the working man's sports car alternative to the Corvette. When Ford's designers showed this to some of the blue collar plant-workers, they thought it too small and complained its lack of a backseat made it impractical with their having kids. Ford redesigned it to the 1964 ½ classic styling you see a glimpse of in the back. This picture turned out really blurry, so I deleted it and thought I took another to replace it. Apparently, I didn't.
This was a neat design. It was called a Dymaxion house, mobile pre-manufactured homes with centralized everything in post-War times. This debuted in 1952. Only two were ever made, this being the only one that sold to a customer. After the original owner died, his grandchildren donated this one to any Museum that would take it. Most wouldn't, Ford did. Around this house, I thought the Museum pretty chilly, high 60's. I had goosebumps and walked past two women, one of whom remarked that I was lucky to be wearing a jacket in here. I laughed and said, “Yea, when I left home on Friday, I think it was 103! I can't believe the temperature change.” She said, “Ohhh, you're not from here?” I said, “No, Charleston, South Carolina.” “Really?! I'm from Summerville” (15 minutes from here and where my parents live). We got to talking for a bit about her visiting family and so on. Small world and all that jazz.
Back to general Americana junk (they had a whole furniture section, and televisions, and other 1900-1960s household items). This was a scary looking chair built in the 1930s you could buy from a catalog
Before leaving the Museum, I decided to visit Weinerama again to, umm, fill up on soda! Yea, that's it, just wanted soda. Terrific luck! They had soda! Oh, and that cute cashier happened to be on break. Might as well say “Hi,” just to be polite, you know, that whole Southern hospitality schtick. I sat down at a table nearby, and when I caught her eye, threw out a simple “Fancy meeting you here, are you stalking me or something?” She laughed and rushed over and wanted to see pictures of the Bandit (wish I had a pretty bike for times like these). She mentioned being about to start at Michigan State (hmm, so 17/18 as I guessed she meant as a freshman; frustrating that border) and how she wished to travel, but didn't have money for it yet, so on and so forth.
She asked what I had planned for the night and if I planned to see the fireworks. I said I would after getting room. She asked if I would like to meet up with “us.” I asked who “we” were, and she said she'd be with her parents. Hmmmm. Perfect timing for her break to be over. With such a hasty decision in front of me, I declined as I thought it a little awkward. She gave me a hug and wished me well on my way. Argh. I know, I know, I know. I could have had a personalized little tour of the Motor City with a cute young chica. I wish I had stepped up to the opportunity and not worried of her age, or meeting her parents, and so on and so forth. I frustrate myself much more with worry than I do by disappointing you, the few that may have possibly made it this far into my rambling. I just kicked myself for you.
Now, what to do next? It was 3:45 and I had no plans beyond hotel room and fireworks at 10. I pulled out my brochures and pamphlets and walked out to the bike. I took off my jacket and boots for a much-needed airing out. I sat down in the grass behind my trusty steed to read, snack on some jerky and a Powerade. Hmm, looking at my rear tire, what's that line? Carp! Threads showing. This Dunlop Challenger only lasted me 6000 miles, compared to the last one that did 8 or 9. Guess I should get that changed since I have nothing else to do. Pull out phone and Google Maps away for Motorcycle store Dearborn. Great news! 47 positive reviews for Rosenau Powersports only 3 miles from here. Rush over there, buy a new tire, and wait an hour to have it put on. It was a little pricey, but I was glad to have that worry off my mind, and that of my chain being adjusted (I HATE doing that myself on street-bikes and will gladly pay a shop for this; on dirt-bikes, it's soooo simple though).
In the hour I waited, I walked around their little place, and noticed they had an upstairs no one is visiting. Probably just offices, I thought to myself, but no red tape or signs stating against visitors. Investigator's hat a la Indiana Jones on. So downstairs is sport-bikes and cruisers resting on carpet, and one lonely V-strom 650 that has no sideracks or cases. That may very well be the only Strom I have seen without either. What is upstairs you ask? Checkerboard tiles lead your way up to one of the saddest sites an ADV'er may ever see. Downstairs has 12-18 customers wandering around, sitting on all the bikes, stoked to be near that cool new shiny GSXR.
Upstairs is the place of forgotten toys, like Sid's room from Toy Story. Up here are the ATVs, dirt bikes, and a few majestic dual-sports. There are 2 KLRs, a red and a blue, a DRZ, a KLX250, a WR250, and that red-headed step-child I hear so much about but never see a TW200. It was immaculate and looked like I may have been the first customer up there in months. There were no sales people up here, but there were offices in back. An accountant lady came out of her room when I was checking out the new KLR and asked if I needed any help, with a look of “Are you lost?!” on her face. I said “No, thank you,” and she disappeared again before I finished my third syllable.
El Bandita was soon done and we were on our way to a Red Roof Inn. On the way I saw a cool looking kit car in a tow lot, but couldn't see any descriptive details that would help me learn more.
The Inn was a little pricier than I hoped, but I was excited to finally be in spitting distance of Detroit. The check-in woman gave me yet another warning about going into the city, but I brushed this away with little regard. I stripped off the soft bags and anything I worried about being taken from the tankbag and put all this in the room. I threw a couple things in my little messenger bag/cooler that I would carry with me. It was about 6 at this point. I took a little break and watched some TV for the first time on the trip, Wheel of Fortune seemed to be the only thing on.
At 7, I headed off into the wilds of the concrete jungle. I didn't pay much attention to where “Downtown” Detroit was on my map or look on my GPS, so just was going off the road signs I was seeing. There were police blockades and signs pointing you in the direction of where the fireworks would be along the Detroit River. Interesting sidenote: the closest part of Detroit to the Canadian border is called Mexicantown. No kidding, it's on government signs.
As I neared “downtown,” it became very urban. Suddenly, broken down cars, dilapidated structures, and the lowered economy became very much implanted in my retinas. There were people sitting on top of cars, with grills cooking dinner, lower-income families walking the streets without shoes, people parked on sidewalks, rampant displays of vandalism and wanton acts of graffiti everywhere. It was a little bit nerve-wracking for a guy from the suburban South. The population density was that of what I have only heard on TV (have not seen many big cities myself). The police were present everywhere, both in cars, on bicycles, and on foot, but seemed there mostly for riot control. Some I saw even had helmets and shields nearby (wish I took a picture of these). They weren't pulling anyone over for the ludicrous driving violations I saw, or caring about the drugs being openly dealt on street corners. I wasn't scared at this point, but in sheer and utter CULTURE SHOCK.
I learned that the Rules of the Road in Detroit were not those painted on signs or of politeness. It was a bit like what I have heard from foreign countries that are “You see an opening, you take it; who cares what the street-light says?” Stop signs, red lights, No U-turn, No Parking, and green lights were ineffectual. Although I've seen it on and around Spruill Avenue, I was pissed every time I came up to a car that was too busy talking to the car next to it, or to passersby on the sidewalk to continue making progress on the street. Eventually, I succumbed to this, and sidewalks, and street lanes all just became terms of the past. Detroit was all about freedom, especially as a motorcyclist. Weird thought, eh?
I once was stuck in a traffic line for over 5 minutes, three blocks from the light with the interference. I got tired of this and lane split up to the offenders. It was 3 guys coming from separate directions that had decided the intersection was a nice place for a conversation. There had not been a collision, just friendly joking around. Lane splitting became my friend here, and felt a safety net a few times.
After riding up the main street in the area I was in, East Jefferson Avenue, for 10-15 minutes looking for a legal and “safe” spot to leave my baby, I pulled over to ask a couple cops in front of a barricade. When I stopped, turned, the engine off, and walked over with helmet on, one unbolted her Glock and kept her hand at the ready. She asked why I stopped, and I inquired as to a good place for a motorcycle to stop. She pointed out a spot in front of a fire hydrant. I told her I didn't want to be ticketed, she said they don't usually give out parking tickets, but I pressed for another area, she said to squeeze between some cars parallel parked, I wanted to leave them room, so said No again, so she asked why I didn't just pull up on the sidewalk somewhere like the scooters. I asked if this was legal, and she gave me a look like I had just asked if it was okay to pee in an alley, “It's not technically legal, but nobody's going to bother you if you keep it discreet. I already told you we won't ticket you here.” Umm, okay, well thanks anyway for the No Help. Luckily, I saw a car pulling away from a prime location under a lamp-post and darted over and locked m'lady up.
I still had not had any dinner yet, and as it was 8:15, I wandered up each side of the road looking for some roadside cafe or diner I could grab grub from and pass a little time. I called my mom and talked to her as I walked. I had three guys following me at one point, maybe just walking behind me at an uncomfortably close pace, but after a couple minutes, I got off the sidewalk to lean against a fence and let them pass. Two walked on, but one paused, “played with his phone for a few seconds,” and then continued walking. As he did so, he “stumbled” about five feet from the path he was walking and into me. Glad I wore my jacket at this point as I keep my belongings in my zippered pockets while riding instead of my pants, so things don't slide out. As he knocked against me, I felt his hands quickly slide from my knees up to my rib-cage. He stood up, said “Sorry,” asked if I had a couple bucks as he hadn't eaten all day and his food stamps were all used and didn't get any for a few days. I was still on the phone with my mother but had paused our conversation when I saw his “stumble.” I had my hand over one of the knives I carry on my person for a number of reasons, but hadn't pulled it out. Assuming bad things if I were to pull out my wallet, I grabbed a couple bucks of change I carry in a side pocket, told him “This is all the cash I've got man,” handed it to him, got back on the phone and started walking the other direction toward the nearest cop stand as I noticed his friends had stopped about 30' away. I didn't look back until I was almost two blocks away, and he was long gone.
I stopped to ask the cops where a good place for omm-nom-nom was. They pointed me to the next street over for a gas station. I wasn't too keen on this idea, but was starving so headed that way. As I did, I saw the sign for a restaurant chain I saw a ton of in Ohio and Michigan. I hadn't heard of them before, but recognized the logo, Big Boy. I went inside, asked for a booth by the window, ordered meatloaf with a side salad. The meatloaf was mighty tasty (since I hadn't eaten beyond snacks all day), but the salad left something to be desired and obviously wasn't very fresh. After dinner, the waitress asked if I wanted any dessert. Well, yes, yes, I do indeed. I saw they had cookies on the menu, and asked for chocolate chip. “We don't have any chocolate chip cookies.” “Oh, are you out?” “No, we don't carry those at this store anymore.” “What other kinds of cookies do you have?” “None.” “Umm, okay, well why's that when they're on the menu?” “Our manager got tired of employees eating all of the cookies, so we stopped making them.” “Oh, umm, well no thanks for dessert then.” Odd, oh well, time killed as it is almost 9:30.
It was odd to only see white folk either as cops or working in stores in this part of town, but I didn't put much thought to it.
All the police blockades led me to the entrance to Bell Isle Park, which was a bridge that was blocked off before the river. To the north side of the bridge were hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I walked over to join in.
I was still wearing my jacket as it was a bit cool out. I don't know if it was because I was white, or fat, or intimidating with my ex-Army jacket on, but there were only two times anyone came within 5' of me while I was at this park. It had tons of people but I was being singled out. Maybe motorcycling had dulled my senses and I was smelling much sooner than I realized on this trip. I don't know, but I did enjoy the crowd and the break-dance competition I saw while people waited for the fireworks.
This man was the only person that talked to me in the 45 minutes I was here. He had a little cart and was selling candy bars. He walked up and asked if I wanted a candy bar. I politely declined and told him I had just eaten. “Well, I don't just have candy, I got cookies and brownies to man.” “No thanks, I'm good.” “I don't think you understand. They ain't just brownies, they bbbroooowwwnnniiiesss.” “Nah, I'm cool. I think I do understand.” “Well, when you change your mind, lemme know, but I'll have less, so the price'll be higher, but jus look ou' for the Bbbbrrrooooowwnnniiieeee Man.” “Alright, thanks, you'll be the second to know if I changed my mind.” “Second?” “Yea, I hope I'd be the first to know if I'm hungry, hehe.” “Oh snap! Lis'n to this white boi ova here makin' jokes. He think' he funny. Hahaha.” Then he walked off.
Sadly, my last picture of the night. I did have one other guy come up next to me while some teenagers were break-dancing in front of me. He stood a couple feet from me and loudly proclaimed, “What the f* is up all with all these G*damn niggas tearin' up this piece?” I had no idea what an appropriate response for this was, but he laughed after his statement, so I figured it was a joke. I still decided the best thing to say was nothing though, and he wandered off a few seconds later. He did seem friendly though.
The fireworks were also a complete ruse and disappointment. They could have been awesome. The noise and smoke lead me to believe so, but I didn't actually get to see them. See, it would seem you have to know where to go to see the fireworks, and you can't just trust The Man here. The fireworks were on the other side of the huge bridge, and far down the river behind some buildings, so all the people I had gathered in the park with couldn't see a thing except flashing lights and smoke rising. We tried rushing down the street a bit to get a different view but it was futile. I left soon after and went back to the hotel.
From there, I walked over to Hooters to have a few beers and catch the end of Game 1 of the 2011 College World Series, where our state's Gamecocks beat the Gators.
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