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Old 05-13-2014, 10:08 AM   #1
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Through A Bug-Splattered Helmet: A Solo Ride Across America

Over the past month (April 14th-May 12th) I've been on a cross country road trip, from Washington DC to the California coast and back again. Now that I'm back home, I'm going through the video I shot, editing it all together into something watchable, and writing up the ride report.

This report won't be as photo heavy as some others, but the few photos I have, I feel are high quality. And I think the narrative will flow well enough to maintain interest, even if it will be a little wordy for some.


Teaser:











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Old 05-13-2014, 10:11 AM   #2
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Introduction

January 14th, the date I was supposed to have begun my new career had come and passed. Because of sequestrations, budget cuts, and government shut downs, both my Air Force Officer Training School class, and the pilot training I’d have done afterwards, had been delayed until the next fiscal year still eight months away. Depressed and slightly disgruntled, I choose to look at the one bright side: I could now use up the 70+ days of leave I had saved. The only question was “what do I do with all of that time off work?” Then I realized the opportunity I had. For years, I had been wanting to take my khaki green Triumph Scrambler on an epic roadtrip, something that was more than just a weekend getaway. I started to float the idea around the office, and the only feedback I heard was that I couldn’t use all of that time off at once, but I could do one. So I picked some dates and started planning…

With 30 days of freedom, I had roughly a 10,000 mile limit. There’s a lot that can be done with such a range, and I dreamed of going to Alaska with it. But I’d be leaving too early in the season for that destination, with many roads still closed. I poured over the map again, and noticed that here I was in Washington DC, roughly on the Atlantic coast, and I had a whole country between me and the Pacific coast. That would be the trip, to head west until I hit the ocean and then turn around.



Over the next three months I began to obsess over the trip, much to the annoyance of my girlfriend who was both jealous of me and worried for me. I bought new gear for the bike, and new gear for me, anything I thought I might need for a solo cross-country. I read ride reports and watched videos from other riders who had done similar trips or had visited areas I’d be visiting, each making me more excited for what was to come.

April 13th, the day before departure, and I began to feverishly pack everything, so that in the morning I’d only have to wake up and strap the gear to the bike before heading out. I double checked my gear, making sure everything worked like I wanted it to. Satisfied, I sat down on the couch next to Alyssa and tried to relax as we watched TV together. Or rather, she watched. My thoughts were elsewhere. I was like I kid on Christmas Eve, anxiously waiting for the morning…

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Old 05-13-2014, 11:53 AM   #3
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looking forward to this one
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Old 05-13-2014, 12:23 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by BiganDaft View Post
looking forward to this one
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Old 05-13-2014, 01:38 PM   #5
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Old 05-13-2014, 01:53 PM   #6
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Old 05-13-2014, 02:13 PM   #7
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Day 1: Arlington, VA to Boone, NC

I’ve always had a habit of waking just moments before my alarm and today at 6:28 am it was no different. Knowing the long day that awaited, I shut my eyes in effort to put the remaining two minutes to use. It didn’t work. I silenced the alarm and tried to escape the bed without waking Alyssa, but I heard her mumble something incoherent anyways.

Stumbling into the shower, I adjusted the knobs until the water was hot enough to wake me. Ten minutes later I shut the water off, clean and ready for the odyssey that awaited me.

The night before, I had laid out my Steve McQueen “Great Escape” shirt thinking it would be fitting for my escape from DC. As I pulled it over my head, I felt a certain satisfactory glee. My gear was set up in the living room, waiting for me to carry it downstairs and strap it onto the bike. I obliged it.

By the time I finished, Alyssa had just gotten out of the shower. She saw me putting on my jacket and rushed to kiss me, pressing against me as if in a last minute plea for me to stay. Unfortunately reservations had been made, money spent, and most importantly: co-workers told. I pushed her away, grabbed my helmet, and walked to the door, ready to start off on my grand adventure.

Almost immediately, I had to stop. The gear that was so anxious to put onto the bike, apparently had a change of heart and now wanted off. “We can’t have that,” I said to no one, and cinched it down tighter. A few miles later I realized it still wasn’t enough, and got off the bike for the second time to readjust my gear. A part of me started to worry: how can I keep my stuff secure off-road, on dirt and gravel when I can’t even keep it in place on smooth pavement?

My gear readjusted, I set off again. Traffic was lighter than expected, which disappointed me since I was hoping to capture some for the video documentary I was shooting. I don’t think there’s ever been another time where I wished for traffic. But while the traffic may have been light, the wind was heavy. As I sped down I-66, putting the first miles between me and the city, the wind kept blowing, trying to throw me from the road.
I was thankful when my orange fuel light illuminated, as it meant a chance to get away from the wind. What I wasn’t thankful for, was that the next exit was another ten miles away, approaching the limits of the tank’s reserve. But luck, it seemed, was on my side. For now.

With my tank filled I pushed on, wondering how much longer until my exit off of the interstate and away from the wind. Like all good things though, all I needed was to be patient. My exit soon came, and I found myself on a two-lane road that was much more suited to the type of riding I wanted for this trip than the highway was.



I continued to follow the track I had programmed into my GPS months ago, and soon it led me to a gravel road that I was certain I’d have ignored otherwise, reflecting that it was probably the point of my choosing it. A noise shook me out of my thoughts, and I looked in my mirror to see a cloud of dust and a black object laying in the road. My tent had fallen from the bike. I slowed to a stop, dismounted, and walked back to pick up my fallen comrade.

After strapping everything down for the third time that morning, I moved one of my GoPro cameras to the mount on the bottom of my external fuel cans, aimed behind me to get the shot of the dust kicked up as I rode. I started up the bike and set off once more. A few miles later, I pulled onto US-211 and came to a stop on the shoulder so I could retrieve my camera. I was surprised to find the bumps had taken their toll: my camera, mount and all, was gone. Disappointed, I set off again, sacrificing the camera to the road instead of retracing my steps to find it.

Virginia is filled with good roads, but the section of 211 that twists its way through the mountains just east of Luray ranks high on my list. The trees were still bare from the long winter, and the blue skies I had when I departed home were quickly becoming overcast, making it seem more like winter than spring. I pushed my fully loaded bike into the corners, leaning just far enough to be fun, but not enough to risk a mistake with the unfamiliar load on the bike. Up, over, and down I went until a glance at the GPS told me I had missed my turn.

As soon as I got the chance, I made a U-turn and sure enough, there was a small gravel road that I could never have seen from the direction I was going. I headed down it, curious where I had routed myself. Having mapped out the trip long before, I only now had a vague idea of the general route, and that was mostly just where I’d be spending each night. But even that focus had been more on the American southwest, not my own state.

Gravel eventually turned to pavement and forests to farmland. I passed a farmhouse that looked photogenic to me, so I stopped and unpacked some of my camera gear. This was supposed to be a video documentary after all. I shot some basic footage, and then set up to record myself driving by. I hit the record button, and rushed back to the bike where I hopped on and rode out of the camera’s view. I turned around, and rode back for a second pass and to grab my gear. Satisfied I had something usable, I packed up and continued on.



On a trip like this, I dislike the Interstate. Crowded, unscenic, and usually patrolled by cops, they don’t make for good adventures but, they are good for covering distance fast. Since this was a 500 mile day and I needed the help, I begrudgingly jumped on to I-81 and cruised.

Roughly an hour or so later my GPS signaled that it was time for me to leave the road, and in more ways than one. Called a “Scenic Drive”, the road I found myself on was a deeply rutted mess of gravel, sand, and rock that followed the ridgeline of the Appalachians. After a few twists and turns (and many, many bumps) I started noticing a squishy feeling from my rear brake. I slowly came to a stop so that I could inspect it. As I walked around to the rear of the bike, I small a small puddle of fluid directly below the caliper.

Before I left on this trip, I installed a new mounting bracket for the caliper, relocating it from below the swing arm where it could be damaged from a thrown rock, to above the swing arm. But because of the way the caliper was designed, it has to be bled serviced similar to its original position with the bleeder nipple pointing up. I assume the dealer didn’t realize this when I had him change out the brake pads as part of my 12,000 mile service a week prior, did something incorrectly, and now here I was with no brake pressure. I didn’t have any fluid to fill the reservoir with were I to re-bleed the system, so instead I pulled the socket set from my toolkit and tightened down the connectors and bleeder screw to keep the fluid in, and the air out. I pressed on, mentally noting that my rear brake was inop.



A few miles later, after many more bumps, dips, twists, and turns, using just one brake proved to not be enough. My front tire skidded over the rocks as I approached a turn, and down my bike went, taking me with it. I landed, the bike’s weight supported by the exhaust and side bags instead of my leg. I slid myself from underneath the bike, dusted myself off, and appraised the damage. Aside from a few new scratches everything looked okay, but I had to get the 500lb beast upright again, a task made harder with the additional weight of the gear I was bringing with me.

I pulled off my jacket, removed the gear from the bike, and bent down, back towards the bike like I was taught in my MSF class years ago. Gripping the bike, I heaved it up. It didn’t move. I adjusted my grip, and heaved again. This time worked. I exhaled deeply, regeared both the bike and myself, and headed off again, cautious to avoid another mishap.



Fortune favored me, and I made my way down from the ridge without further incident. Choosing to make up the time I had lost, I jumped back onto the interstate, tucked in as best I could on the naked bike, and raced towards my fuel stop. As I neared, the sky began to turn dark. Rain was coming. I filled up the bike and compared my maps with the weather, trying to find the fastest way to Boone. Even by interstate, I was still several hours away, but I dialed the route into my GPS and set off. I had gotten lucky on the ridge, and didn’t want to tempt fate a second time.

The miles passed beneath my tires, as the sky grew darker. Not just with rain, but with the onset of night too. The first drops began to fall, and within moments my visibility had been drastically cut. 30 miles from Boone, nature tossed in another surprise: fog. I began to slow, but as I backed away from the vehicle infront of me I lost sight of the road, the wet pavement blending seamlessly with the night sky. I sped up, attempting to use his taillights as a guide. He would be my pathfinder. Where he went, I’d go.

The city lights of Boone soon helped light the way, and I left my guide only to be presented with a new problem: I didn’t know which hotel was mine. I pulled beneath the overhang of a bank drive-through and pulled my cell phone from the front pocket of my jacket. Water dripped from it. Flooded. Dead. Fortunately, my GPS had a robust list of nearby locations, and I scrolled through them looking for something that seemed familiar. One jumped out at me, and I set off for it.

I missed the entrance to the hotel, and at the next redlight did a U-turn. Or attempted to, anyways. The slick road, lack of brake, long day, and general frustration of the night all teamed up against me and down the bike went for the second time of the day. Somehow effortlessly, I picked the bike up gear and all, and as I swung my leg over the seat, I noticed a black cylindrical object still in the road: my footpeg. With nowhere else to put it, I sat on it for the short distance to the hotel.

It’s notoriously difficult to shift without a footpeg to pivot your foot on, but I managed to pull into the hotel without difficulty. I parked the bike and walked inside, attempting to check in. Only this wasn’t my hotel after all. The receptionist let me use her computer to check my email, and after closing out of her Facebook page, I saw that my hotel was one of the first I had passed when I arrived in town. I thanked her and left, once more out into the rain.

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Old 05-13-2014, 02:14 PM   #8
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subscribed!

I'm along for the ride
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Old 05-13-2014, 02:30 PM   #9
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Keep er' goin
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Old 05-13-2014, 02:57 PM   #10
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That's quite an interesting first day. Eagerly awaiting to see how the rest of your journey went.
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Old 05-13-2014, 03:02 PM   #11
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Great narrative!

Along for the ride on this one!
Gotta love a bloke on a Trumpet touring.

Really enjoying your tale so far, you my friend are a true wordsmith, thanks for sharing.
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Old 05-13-2014, 03:32 PM   #12
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Day 2 – Boone, NC to Asheville, NC

My alarm sounded early: 5:30am. I hadn’t gotten many hours of sleep that night, but I had bike repairs to do and not much time to do them. I had a tour booked at the Biltmore Estate for 10am and I was still two hours from my destination.

I had parked my bike under the overhang of the hotel’s entrance. Another biker had done the same and no one seemed to mind. For me, my first priority was the foot peg. Despite the fall the day before, I still had one working brake, but there was no way I could ride over 9,000 miles without a foot peg. Fortunately, Triumph was smart and the rear peg was almost a direct replacement for the front. Within moments, I had a place to rest my foot for the remainder of the trip.



The brake was a bigger challenge. While bleeding the system I ran out of fluid, and at that hour of the day there would be no stores open. I pieced the bike back together planning to fix it in Asheville.

--

I knew from the moment I turned on the GPS that I wouldn’t make my tour on time. Loading the bike had taken longer than I wanted, and I still needed to get fuel, leaving me an hour and 45 minutes to make the two hour drive.

The rain had stopped, but the mountains still had fog. I cruised through the curves, ever mindful of my handicapped bike. Occasionally, I’d catch glimpses of the fog covered valley and I would wish I could stop to take a photo or that I hadn’t been so careless as to somehow burn my helmet cam’s charging cable on my exhaust the previous day, leaving me down two cameras now.

Moments after 10, I pulled into the parking lot of the Biltmore’s ticket office. Still in full gear, I hurried inside where I was forced to wait in line for a ticket window to open. Luckily for me, the line moved fast and even luckier was the fact that I was able to reschedule my tour for 11.

As I made my way down the estate’s 3 mile driveway, more raindrops began to fall. I dismounted the bike as the shuttle appeared, ready to take me to the mansion’s front entrance. Not wanting to keep the shuttle waiting, I grabbed my camera and climbed on board, still in my all-weather riding gear.

The Biltmore Estate has a certain appeal to me, probably more so now that I’m older and have a better appreciation for 19th century history than when I visited as a child with my parents. Now, as an adult, I found myself fascinated by the intricate carvings on each column, and how the designs differed from one column to the next. As I wondered in amazement, the tour guide approached, handed out badges, and started the tour.

We walked up the Grand Staircase (a cantilever design inspired by French chateaus) and into an architect’s study. Occupying the center of the room was the same small model of the house I had seen on the tours as a kid. Surrounding me were a pair of original blueprint drawings, and several lithographs of various French castles and I could see how the elements had been incorporated into the house. We wandered around the upper floors, occasionally stepping out onto the rooftops where heavy rains were propelled sideways by even heavier winds.



Soon the tour ended, and I was left feeling a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen more of the house. But this tour was always meant to be a side dish, not the main entrée. After a quick look through the gift shop, where I was tempted to buy several things that I wouldn’t have been able to fit onto the bike, I made my way back to the shuttle and returned to the bike.

Since I never un-geared, getting set back up to hit the road was quick and easy, and soon I was on the scenic drive through the Estate’s grounds. One Canadian goose thought I was unwelcome, and ran out in front of me in attempt to get me to leave.



Without further incident, I left the grounds and rode into Biltmore Village, where I stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. As I listened to the sounds of the only grand piano in a US McDonalds, I decided that instead of continuing on to Tellico Plains, I’d spend the night in town using the rest of the day to fix the bike and get myself a new phone.



I checked into a nearby Hampton Inn and promptly unloaded the Bike. Without taking a moment to rest, I headed to the AT&T store I had passed along the way. Although it took longer than I thought it should have, I walked away with a new and working cell phone. With one task down, I made my way to Autozone to pick up some brake fluid.

Shopping done, I hurried back to the hotel as the first snowflakes began to blow in. Again using the hotel’s overhang for shelter, I broke open my toolkit and set to work removing the caliper and bleeding the system. It didn’t take long, fortunate since the temps continued to drop and the winds blew snow onto me. With my hands starting to shake from the cold, I quickly reassembled the bike and rushed inside to warm up.

An hour or so later, after I was warm and after the snow had passed, I took the bike for a short test ride to find a place to eat, and stumbled on a McAlester’s Deli, a place I ate at regularly growing up in nearby Charlotte. I parked on the sidewalk and went inside to order.

Fed and satisfied with the bike, I returned to the hotel where I soon went to sleep. I had a long day ahead in attempt to make up lost time.

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Old 05-13-2014, 04:05 PM   #13
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On for the ride.
Sounds like a tough start, hopefully it got better
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Old 05-13-2014, 04:33 PM   #14
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I'm in. looking forward to the story. Tuff start. these things happen.
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Old 05-13-2014, 07:03 PM   #15
achesley
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Great start! Kinda reminds me of the last time I actually planned something on a trip. That was in '07. Don't why I did as I had not had any plans for the 12 years before it or since it. LOL! Ended up having to do 2 plus 700 mile days to make it to an appointment cause I didn't read map mileage correctly. Sigh! LOL
Now waiting for the next segment. Bring it on.
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