Posts Tagged With: vacation

How to Pack

My friend Bob recently emailed me, knowing that I’ve done a few of these road trips, asking my advice on packing and loading a bike for a week (or more, in his case) on the road. I gave him some quick answers, but figured the detailed explanation would be better shared with the world, so here we are.

Packing a bike for a road trip is a bit of an art form. The exact procedure is going to be different for every bike, and for every rider, because everyone takes different stuff. Some may grab food on the road, while others may bring a full camp kitchen. Some may stay in hotels, while others sleep under the stars. Some may use a tent barely big enough for their sleeping bag, while others strap the Tent Mahal on the back of the bike. Some like to go low tech, while others bring cameras, DVD players, or in my case ham radios. There’s no single right way to pack, because every person and every bike is different. I’m going to show you what I do, and explain why I do it. You can use that as a starting point to do what I do, or use similar logic to make your own decisions, or decide that I don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Whatever works.

So here we have my PC800, loaded up and ready to go.IMG_0718 It’s a terrible picture that I’ve never posted before, but I’m not about to go dig my bike out of a snowbank and load it up for a trip I’m not going to take, so I’ll settle for it for the sake of this discussion.  As you can sort of see, the back of the PC800 opens up like a car trunk, revealing two large storage compartments on either side of the back wheel. On the left side, I have my air mattress, travel pillow, and a thermos of coffee. I snapped this as I was about to leave for Lake George. What I didn’t expect was that the following morning, the coffee I hadn’t drank in the thermos was still warm. So for an overnight, if you’re a coffee drinker, you can get your cup of joe before getting on the bike  by bringing it with you from home. Anyway. I also usually bring an pair of comfy shoes with me so I can get out of the riding boots when I get where I’m going. I usually end up sliding these wherever I can fit them in the main trunk. Often they’ll fit between stuff on the left side.

The right side of the main trunk is where I have my ham radio mounted for APRS. It’s a “permanent” installation, meaning it’s bolted in and not going anywhere. The associated wiring and TinyTrak3+ live here, too. The bike’s own toolkit plus whatever other tools I feel like bringing sit in the bottom of this side. In the photo I’ve stashed an extra fleece in there, along with my cargo net, because you never know when you might need to strap something else to the bike. I usually keep a small hand towel in here, mostly to wipe the dew off the bike in the morning. Then I used the cargo net to strap it down to the rack on top of my top trunk before I set off, letting the wind dry it off as the morning goes on. I put it all away at one of my stops along the way once it’s dry.

Though I normally leave it on the bike, my Givi top trunk is detachable, and I take full advantage of that on these trips. I bring it inside and pack it like a suitcase, with clothes, toiletries, and pretty much anything I’d pack for a few days away from home. I’ve found that packing extra clothes for a week rather than a weekend doesn’t take up nearly as much space as I thought. Also, Ana taught me a trick before my Florida trip that rolling up clothes actually takes up less space than folding them normally. I didn’t believe it at first, but I tried it, and that’s what made the difference of letting me fit four days worth of clothes plus my bulky motorcycle jacket in my suitcase. (The other trick was to wear my riding boots on the plane. They’d take up a lot of room in the suitcase, but they unzip quickly and easily to get through airport security.) A week’s worth of clothes, plus various other odds and ends, are about the most the top trunk can handle. I know from my Canada trip that I was getting a bit tired after seven days straight on the road, so on a longer trip I’d take a day off from riding, and find a way to run a load of laundry through somewhere.

In the top trunk I also pack anything additional I want quick and easy access to – cameras, printed maps or directions (you never know if the GPS is going to conk out), earplugs… When I reach my overnight destination, I simply detach the top trunk and bring it into the tent or wherever else I’m staying.

IMG_0719Once the trunks are all packed and shut, I strap my tent, sleeping bag, and the tarp I put under the tent onto the back seat. The top trunk helps hold these in place, and a series of bungees keep them from shifting around on me. I can’t quite use them as a backrest, but that’s OK. The sleeping bag and tent are each in waterproof stuff sacks instead of the bags they came in. Even if I ride through a downpour at least I’m not spending the night in a wet sleeping bag in a damp tent. I can still open the top trunk pretty easily with everything strapped on. And though it’s a bit more difficult due to all the extra weight, I can still open the main trunk if I have to.  It needs a little muscle to get it open, but once it’s open the hydraulic strut still manages to hold it there. It would work for an emergency repair on the side of the road, but when I reach my destination it’s definitely easier to unstrap the stuff on the back seat first.

And that’s how I do it.

How should you do it? However works for you. In Bob’s case, he has an ex-cop Harley, which has hard bags but no top trunk or luggage rack. In a case like that, if you don’t want to go all out and buy them (they’re not cheap, especially for a Harley), you could buy a waterproof nylon bag of the appropriate dimensions to carry what you need, and strap it to the back instead. If you attach the bag first, you can use it to help support the tent and sleeping bag like I do with my top trunk. You could also use cam-lock straps instead of bungees to attach your cargo a bit more solidly. Ratchet straps would also work but are probably overkill, and would risk bending bits of your bike. The bungees I have work just fine for what I do. In fact I brought these very same bungees to Florida with me to strap my suitcase to the back of the Street Glide for the trip from the hotel to return the bike to EagleRider.

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Florida Video

We have video!

I shot quite a bit of video, but because it’s Florida most of it looks the same. These are some of the more interesting shots I got.

No battery problems this time – I didn’t even use up one of my three batteries, and I had a charger ready to go anyway. I don’t think I’ll have problems like I did on the Greatest Hits Tour again.

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Northern Loop

day2Wednesday was a little bit cooler, but sunny, and there was no rain in the forecast. I put the liner back in my jacket, put on an extra layer under it, and switched to my leather gloves. I was on no schedule at all today, since I didn’t have to worry about picking up or returning the bike. But I did have a couple of specific destinations I wanted to see. So after once again fighting traffic out of Orlando (Florida has the longest stop lights I’ve ever seen), I headed northeast – back to the coast, and toward Daytona.

I was a couple of months early for Daytona Bike Week, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to head back to the coast, and to see a couple of sights in and around the Daytona area. My first stop was Daytona International Speedway. There’s a lot of racing history here, and not just in NASCAR. As a motorsport nut and amateur racer myself, I wanted to at least stop in and see the place.

TIMG_1149he track was impossible to miss as I rode down International Speedway Boulevard. They’re doing a great deal of construction there at the moment – Daytona Rising, they’re calling it – so it was a little tricky to find the correct entrance, but I found it and made my way to the visitor’s center – where I parked next to another Harley Street Glide. I had just missed a track tour, and the next one wasn’t going to be for well over an hour. Had I arrived a little sooner I would’ve taken it, but since I’ve been to (and driven) a few race tracks in my life, a track is already a familiar place to me, so I settled for checking out the visitor’s center and gift shop. I ended up buying myself a new hat.

From there, it was only a few minutes up the road to Holly Hill and the offices of Grassroots Motorsports and Classic Motorsports. I’ve been a GRM subscriber for years (like I said, I’m a motorsport nut). Ten years ago, in fact, some friends and I entered GRM’s $2004 Challenge to buy, build, and race a car for less than $2004. There’s a picture of me driving that Saturn SL2 in the autocross in the August 2004 issue.

IMG_1154The first thing I noticed when I walked into the lobby was their Factory Five 818 project car, with the hood removed and a battery charger hooked up. On the other side was a beautiful classic two-door Mercedes. (I don’t know the classics well enough to remember the exact year or model.) Gary introduced himself to me, showed me around a little bit, and of course we car geeked some. He apologized for not having more project cars in the lobby. I wasn’t worried about it. On a tip and a well drawn map from Gary, I took a short detour to have lunch at Teri’s Place, a small mom and pop restaurant – the kind I like. It was very affordable and the food was yummy.

Then it was time to ride. I rode back the way I came, picked up A1A again, and headed north. The GPS told me I had a good 50 mile ride straight up the coast to St. Augustine ahead of me, so that’s exactly what I did. There was less development along here, with quite a bit of beach and ocean visible from the road, and many places to pull off and park. I stopped a couple of times to check out the scenery, and to run the camera for a little while as I rode up the coast. It wasn’t an exciting ride, being a 50 mile straight line, but it was enjoyable, and once again the Harley was a good tool for this job. I caught up to a couple of other Harleys at one point and rode with them for a while until realizing I needed gas. I lost them when I pulled off to refuel.

IMG_1159Once at St. Augustine Beach, I plotted a non-highway, non-toll road route back to Orlando on the GPS. (There are a lot of toll roads in Florida.) It figured one out that would get me there around 4:00. I didn’t mind taking a longer way, so I arbitrarily threw in the small town of Satsuma as a waypoint that would take me by St. Johns River and Crescent Lake. The trip back to the hotel seemed long, and mental fatigue set in about an hour outside of Orlando. I suppose that’s what I get for not riding for a few months, then riding over 500 miles in two days. I was feeling it mostly in the brain, though, and not in the body. The Street Glide was perfectly comfortable.

I hit Orlando rush hour traffic, and fought my way back to the hotel. Actually, I fought my way to a strip mall shortly before the hotel. When I found myself stuck there, I spotted a pull-through from the mall parking lot into the gas station next to the hotel. I had to return the bike with a full tank of gas anyway, so I took care of that, and then found yet another pull-through right into the Red Roof parking lot. I parked and unloaded the bike, then called it a day for riding. I had dinner at the Ale House again – a chicken parmesan that I should’ve gotten one of the previous nights. There was so much food that I could’ve eaten half of it, put the other half in the refrigerator in my room, and heated it up for dinner the next night. But it was no big deal – I was hungry, and ate nearly all of it.

Back in the room, I allowed myself some time to relax, then packed as much as I could for the trip home. I’m not a morning person, so I got everything prepared the night before that I was able to, while I still had brainpower. I also test fit my suitcase on the back of the Harley to make sure it would fit, and to figure out how to tie it down with a couple of bungee cords I brought all the way from home for that exact purpose. After working that all out, I settled in, watched some TV, then went to sleep.

IMG_1160I was up before the alarm, which gave me plenty of time to have some coffee, finish packing, and load the bike. I had to return it to EagleRider by 9:00, and managed to do so without difficulty. The temperature was in the 40s that morning, but my speed was low, and I’ve ridden in 40s many times before. It was fine. I parked the Street Glide where I’d found it, by another Harley waiting for pickup, removed all of my luggage and equipment from it, went inside, and checked in. The return process was even easier than the pickup. They informed me that I’d put 513 miles on the Street Glide over the past two days. The rental included unlimited mileage, so I took advantage of that. They found no problems with the bike, so after a little more paperwork I was good to go. I did tell them about a problem I’d run into with the sensor that detected that the bike was in 6th gear not working reliably, and that it prevented the cruise control from working as well. It wasn’t a big deal to me – though I would’ve appreciated cruise control on some of the more open, boring sections of highway, I’d never ridden a bike with cruise control before, so I didn’t really miss it.  They were rather baffled by this issue, and appreciated me telling them about it.  Then, rather than calling a cab to take me to the airport, they drove me themselves in their shuttle van.

IMG_1161It was about 9:30 when I got to the airport, and my flight didn’t leave until 12:47, but I really had nowhere else to be and nothing else to do without my own wheels. I got my boarding pass, then spotted a Krispy Kreme in one of the food court areas, and treated myself to coffee and a donut. We don’t have Krispy Kreme where I live. We did briefly, but they were unable to unseat the dominance of Dunkin Donuts in Massachusetts, so they pulled out.

After giving myself a massive sugar rush, I did a little souvenir shopping at the airport stores, then got in the security line. Orlando is a much bigger and busier airport than Providence, probably because Orlando has Disney and Providence doesn’t. But they were fairly quick and efficient and soon I was through – again, without any trouble from my previous accidental association with communist propaganda. I found the gate, which was full of people waiting for their flight to San Juan, but I found a seat and hung out for a while. By late morning I found myself some lunch, then came back to wait for my flight. It was just slightly late boarding. Unlike the flight down this one was pretty full, and a young couple was seated next to me. The flight was delayed getting out due to an air conditioner problem, then delayed again on the taxiway when it recurred. They bypassed it and finally we took off.

We flew up the coast over land, and since I was on the right side of the plane I could see everywhere I had ridden the previous day. Daytona International Speedway was clearly visible next to the airport, and then I just followed the beach all the way north until we flew out over the water. It was a bumpy flight, and by the time we landed I had a headache thanks to multiple screaming children on the plane. But we did land, my suitcase came through just fine, and my car started with no problem – a relief after starting trouble last week that a new battery seems to have solved. Traffic only slowed down a little bit through the middle of Providence, less than expected, and then it was heavy traffic but full speed all the way home.

As I type this, we’ve been hit with a surprise snowstorm. I got caught out by it on my way home today from Ana’s, where it was raining. Route 2 turned into an untreated sheet of glare ice, with many accidents. Fortunately I was not among them. Getting home was a struggle though the thick heavy snow that piled up quickly on the roads, but I managed to power through it and get home. Yet I’m still quite relaxed, sitting here at home, not having to be anywhere, and having just spent two days riding a motorcycle up the Florida coast. I’ve had far worse Januaries.

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Southern Loop

day1It was raining when I got up that morning, which didn’t bode well. I checked the weather radar on my phone, and saw a line of precipitation stretching from the southwest to northeast. I had two loops planned, south and north of Orlando, and it looked like if I took the southern route as I’d planned to, I’d ride out of the scattered rain showers. So I packed my rain gear and went.

My first experience on the Street Glide was fighting my way through traffic to escape Orlando – not exactly the best circumstances to learn a big, heavy bike with a different riding position than I’m used to. But I managed, and despite selecting the “avoid highways” feature of my GPS, I found myself on a series of state highways ranging from one to three lanes, and with 55-60mph speed limits. In this case, I don’t think it was a failing of my GPS. Florida is so open and flat, and the roads so straight, all of their major roads seem to be set up this way. But I wasn’t here to enjoy twisties – I was here to cruise around on a motorcycle in warm weather in January, and the Harley was well suited for that. I even got to use cruise control, since once outside the city traffic was virtually non-existent.

IMG_1131I spent the morning on an inland route, basically getting a feel for the Harley. I’m lucky I wear glasses, because between the brain bucket and the minimal windshield on the Street Glide, they were my only eye protection. At higher speeds I found myself slouching a little, just to get my face out of the direct wind blast. The most horrible moment was a Florida downpour I rode into, with huge drops on my glasses that partially obscured my vision. I knew that storms like this are localized and short lived, so with absolutely no shelter like bridges to wait under, the best thing to do was reduce my speed for safety, but press on regardless, hoping I’d get through the storm as quickly as possible. In about ten minutes, I came out the other side, and it was over.

As I’d hoped, I rode out of the line of rain as I headed south, and eventually the sun came out. The thermometer on the dashboard touched 80 at its peak. I’d brought my textile jacket, not the mesh one, in case of cooler temperatures, but I took out the liner, opened the vents, and put on my mesh gloves to maximize cooling. In January. Unreal. But this is why I came to Florida.

I got to the insanely named Yeehaw Junction at around noon, and stopped for lunch since I was hungry. I’d planned to ride all the way to Lake Okeechobee, head east to Jupiter, and then ride A1A up the coast, but I hadn’t gotten as far as I thought I would. I really had no must-see destinations further south, so I decided to cut the loop short and head east now, to Vero Beach. Cruising up A1A was one of my major goals anyway, so I didn’t mind chopping some distance. I was having fun, I was warm, and I was riding a motorcycle. That was what mattered.

IMG_1135So I took Route 60 due east (bearing of 90 according to my GPS), and I stayed on it until I literally hit the coast and Route A1A. I turned left, headed north, and settled into cruise mode. For this, the Harley was perfect. I didn’t get as many beach views as I’d hoped to. There were many resorts and apartment complexes right along the coast, between A1A and the beach. But I still caught glimpses, and there were places to park with public beach access. I stopped at a few of these, just to take a look, breathe the warm ocean air, and snap a few pictures. This one looks like a typical beach day. I should point out that I took it on January 14, yet there they were in swimsuits – and it was warm enough for that. I didn’t slack off on the beach myself. I’m not much of a swimmer, and I didn’t come here to spend the day being lazy on the beach. I came here to ride. I rode on, up the coast, all the way to Satellite Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Cape Canaveral.

I’ve been a major space geek since I was a kid, and I knew that these places were where the astronauts played. I enjoyed passing through these places, and felt like I was riding through a bit of American space history. My next destination, in fact, was Kennedy Space Center. I’d had to make a difficult choice this trip. I went to KSC as a kid, but I’d love to visit there again, since so much has changed. But I didn’t spend the money to rent a motorcycle for two days to have it sit in the parking lot, and KSC would take all day to tour properly. So I’d decided against doing the full tour, which, at $50, is not inexpensive either. Some other time, on a non-motorcycle trip, I’d like to return and check it out properly. But this time, I wanted to at least cruise by and see what I could see.

IMG_1138After entering Merritt Island, the first thing I saw in the distance was the distinctive orange color of a Space Shuttle external tank, flanked by a pair of white solid rocket boosters. I figured I was getting close. Before long, there I was – the tank and SRBs, the building that Atlantis now lives inside, and the rest of the space center. I’d hoped to get some photo opportunities from outside, but there was nowhere to park, so I made a slow pass, turned around, and set course back to Orlando.

Much to my surprise, my route took me right past the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I’d never seen it, so I stopped in, and ended up taking a little time to look around inside. They have many interesting artifacts there – Gus Grissom’s Mercury spacesuit, Alan Shepard’s Apollo spacesuit, the actual Sigma 7 Mercury capsule, and lots of other artifacts, big and small. Of particular interest to me was a little corner with QSL cards and the actual 2 meter radio used by Owen Garriott, W5LFL, who operated ham radio from space for the first time on STS-9 in 1983. Ham radio has since become commonplace on the Space Shuttle and space stations, including the International Space Station. I, personally, once contacted U5MIR on the Russian Mir space station.

After geeking out on space stuff for a while (and utterly failing to land the Space Shuttle in a simulator), I continued on course and let the GPS guide me back into Orlando. As I crossed the bridge leaving Merritt Island, I looked back, and saw not only the Vehicle Assembly Building, but at least one of the launch pads that the Apollo and Shuttle flights launched from. As with much of Florida, there was nowhere to pull over, take pictures, and generally geek out, so I pressed on, and before long found myself back in Orlando. Traffic was kind of nasty, but I was a lot more confident on the Harley, and eventually made my way back to the hotel and parked it. I walked across the street for dinner and a beer, watched a little TV back at the hotel, and my eyes shut themselves around 10:30 – quite early for me. The excitement of the day must’ve been too much.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane, Picking Up a Harley

IMG_1127I didn’t pack the bike and ride off. Instead I put my backpack and suitcase in the car, then drove to Providence, RI. This was not the typical beginning of one of my motorcycle trips. Nor was checking my suitcase and boarding an Airbus E320. But the trip to Orlando, FL was very easy, with no waiting at the JetBlue counter and no trouble getting through security. (I always breathe a little sigh of relief every time they let me through, which means I’m not on some Do Not Fly list. Thanks to a shortwave radio reception report I once sent, I was on Radio Moscow’s mailing list for a few years before the fall of the Soviet Union, so I figure there must be an FBI file on me somewhere.) The flight was rather empty. I had an entire row to myself, and there was ample room for my long legs between my seat and the one in front of me, so it was very comfortable. We landed half an hour early, and my suitcase was one of the first ones down the conveyor. I got a cab, which cost twice as much as the online estimate, and checked into the Red Roof, which I chose based on my 20% AMA discount.

IMG_1128When I went for a walk – in pleasant 70 degree temperatures – to find dinner, I was pleasantly surprised to see “Orlando Ale House” staring at me in bright red letters directly across the street. I walked across the street and enjoyed dinner and more than one beer from the extensive selection, since I wasn’t driving or riding anywhere. I ended up having dinner here each night of my stay.

I had trouble sleeping that night. This was no fault of Red Roof – I was too excited to begin my motorcycle adventure, and to see what this Harley thing was all about. I’d never ridden a Harley Davidson before. Of course I’ve met many diehard fans of them, as well as many diehard critics. Either you love them or you hate them, it seems. Since the least expensive rentals from EagleRider‘s Orlando location with any cargo space whatsoever were Harleys, I figured why not give it a try. I also got a 15% AMA discount on the rental, as long as it wasn’t more than two days. I would’ve preferred a little longer, but the cost of doing so went way up once the discount no longer applied. Still, with the discounts I got on this trip, my AMA membership has already more than paid for itself this year.

IMG_1129Tuesday morning I got a cab over to EagleRider. When we pulled in, I saw a bright yellow Street Glide parked out front – my bike for the next two days. Though all of the pictures I’d seen were of black bikes, I was actually happy to see the screaming yellow zonker, or as one friend called it, the motorcycle version of Bumblebee. What a beast! (I’ll give it a full review in a later post.)

The folks at EagleRider were great to deal with. The required paperwork was kept to a minimum.  They went over the entire bike with me, particularly because I’d never ridden a Harley before. This was good, or I wouldn’t have known about the turn signal controls on both handlebars instead of just the left like every other bike I’ve ever ridden. My only disappointment was in the type of loaner helmets available – all half shell “brain buckets.” I certainly didn’t expect anything as nice as my Nolan modular helmet, but since it would’ve been a carry-on bag all by itself, I opted to take EagleRider up on their helmet that’s included with the rental. So be aware of this if you should choose to rent a bike through them.

This was not quite a brand new Street Glide, likely a 2013 version, so it didn’t have a USB port to integrate with my iPhone like the newest model does. But I was happy to see a cigarette lighter, and soon had my TomTom plugged in and RAM mounts set up. My backpack and camera bag fit perfectly into the saddlebags, and before long I was riding a Harley in warm weather in January. Oh yeah!

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A Different Kind of Packing

It doesn’t feel like I’m packing for a motorcycle trip.

For one thing, I went out to my bike and took a lot of things out of it instead of loading it up. For another, I’m packing an ordinary suitcase instead of my top trunk. And for another, I’ve packed my motorcycle jacket instead of having it out and ready to wear. I would’ve packed my boots, too, except they take up so much space in the suitcase that I’ll be better off just wearing them on the plane. They go on and off very quickly, so they shouldn’t be a problem through security.  I’ve packed a bunch of camera equipment, my GPS, and all of my mounts because I have no idea which one will work on the Harley. I leave tomorrow afternoon, but I won’t even touch a motorcycle until Tuesday. And I’ve packed a couple of books. I don’t usually have time to read on my trips, but two of my four days will include airports and flying, so I expect a lot of down time even if it all goes according to plan.

But it’s happening. Weather looks good for the flights down and back. I got my 24 hour email confirmation of my flight down. Batteries are charged. I’m mostly packed, except for what I’ll need tomorrow morning. It still hasn’t really sunk in, though.

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Return to Nova Scotia?

Some great news came across my Facebook feed this morning. Ferry service between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, will resume next year from May until November. This makes Nova Scotia reachable in less than a day of travel.  I can superslab from home to Portland in around two hours. According to historical data from the old CAT ferry, it’s a five and a half hour ride to Yarmouth. It’s a day’s worth of travel but not a lot of riding, which would leave me fresh to explore the western part of Nova Scotia the following day. Yarmouth, Digby, Halifax – all are within easy striking distance from there. It would be too much for a weekend, but if I have a week, I could do all that, and go all the way back to Cape Breton Island to see some different sights than last time, and ride the Cabot Trail clockwise instead of counterclockwise. It would depend on time, though. I could do a four day trip which would essentially be two full days on mainland Nova Scotia, during which I could head to Halifax, head north, and then back to Yarmouth along the Bay of Fundy.

Who knows what I’ll end up doing. I’m just happy to hear that the ferry will be running again, taking a full day off a trip to western Nova Scotia by land.

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Greatest Hits – Western Massachusetts, Again

greatest hits 3It was warmer Sunday morning, though still cloudy. It did make for a far more comfortable time packing and loading the bike. I went back into Charlemont for some coffee and food (since I hadn’t had much for dinner the night before), then hopped on Route 8A south out of Charlemont and through Hawley.  This was another road that was hard to believe it was a state highway, being so narrow and with old but adequate pavement. It was quiet, scenic, and twisty, which was enjoyable. At one point I went by a field of cows, some of whom were right next to the road with nothing but a thin electrified wire between me and them. I stopped to say hello.

IMGP0593After a pleasant ride (and a close meeting with a flock of turkeys – I managed to miss them), I got to where 8A merged with 116, I’d intended to head west on 116, then south through Great Barrington to Lime Rock, CT. I was already pondering a change of plan, due to some rather rainy looking clouds to the west. But when I got to 116, looked west, and saw the state highway torn down to loose gravel, that was the deciding factor.  I abandoned my original plan for the day, and instead headed east down the paved portion of 116.

Route 116 deserves its place among my Greatest Hits anyway, since the portion between Adams and Deerfield is a whole lot of fun. I hadn’t planned to ride it today, but I enjoyed it. I continued to follow 116 into Amherst, and took the opportunity to drop in on a couple of friends going to school at UMass.  Since I took a chunk of time and space out of my intended trip, I didn’t mind spending some time with them.

When helping one of these friends move back to school, Google Maps on my phone sent me down a shortcut from 202 to UMass – Leverett-Shutesbury Road. There’s about a mile stretch in the middle of it that’s nothing but constant left and right curves of varying degrees of tightness. When I drove through there during the move, I swore I would return one day on a bike. Today was that day. The curvy section was as epic on a bike as I had hoped – so much so that I turned around, rode it the other direction, and then came back east again. I pondered yet another romp, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome or annoy neighbors.

IMGP0597I came out on Route 202, and took it south along the western side of the Quabbin Reservoir. I’ve written before about how much I like this area, and even before cutting out the Connecticut portion of my ride I knew that I’d have to pass through here on my Greatest Hits tour.  I took 202 south to Route 9 in Belchertown, then turned east. I took a detour through the park, and continued on to Ware, where I decided to stop for lunch.

IMG_0971The first place I stopped was already closed, so I ended up at Gheppetto’s Grille and had a very tasty burger. Even better, the waitress recognized the Doctor Who themed t-shirt I was wearing, and was a big fan herself. The place was empty, so we spent about half of my lunch geeking out about Doctor Who. At the end of the meal she brought the bill with some custom artwork on it. I had to save it, both for myself and to share it with you. I left her a very generous tip. I probably should’ve left her my contact info, too…

After a tasty lunch, I made my way north to Barre, where Route 62 begins, and followed it all the way home to Acton.  The western portion of 62 is yet another Greatest Hit. I don’t ride it as often as I used to when I lived in Berlin, so it was nice to have the chance to ride it again.

And then I was home. It was a shorter day than planned, so I had plenty of time to unload the bike and relax. Though I didn’t get to go everywhere I wanted to, I ended up taking a few fun roads that I hadn’t planned to, so it all worked out in the end.

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Racing the Sun

Between shifting my work schedule an hour early, making up the half hour late I stayed earlier in the week, and the boss telling me to take off even a little earlier than that, I was home, loaded, and on the road west by 4:30. Although we had hot and humid weather just last week, it had cooled off a lot, and I put on my textile jacket for this trip and left the mesh one at home. Thanks to the long term destruction of Route 2 between home and 495, I took alternate routes out of town, and decided to hit the twisty bit of Route 111 in Harvard and pick up 2 there. There would be no further turns the rest of the trip – I was going to Mohawk Trail State Forest about a hundred miles west in Charlemont, MA.

I was far enough west to avoid the nasty stop and go traffic, where traffic thinned enough to be two solid lines barely achieving the speed limit with no way to get around the left lane hogs.  It was like that all the way through Fitchburg, but afterward traffic cleared up nicely, and I settled in to put down the miles to where Route 2 narrowed from two lanes in each direction to one, and then was no longer a limited access highway.

This road is filled with memories for me. I grew up in Acton and Harvard, and went to college in North Adams, and this was the way to get back and forth. Most of it hasn’t changed. The biggest thing that has changed is the section in Erving that goes around the paper mill. When I was going back and forth to school, Route 2 slowed down to a crawl and took a couple of sharp turns around the mill, which for some insane reason had been plunked smack dab in the middle of the highway.  If a truck needed to get into a loading dock, you were screwed, stuck waiting for it to shuttle itself back and forth a hundred times lining up and backing in.  After several decades, highway designers began to realize that this was not a great idea, so they rerouted 2 up the hill a ways so that now you never have to slow down for the mill.  The old Route 2 is now a long driveway to the mill, which the trucks can go up and down and block to their heart’s content without obstructing a single car just trying to pass through.  (Don’t think that I’m unsympathetic to truck drivers.  I’m friends with a few, and did some time behind the wheel of a 22′ box truck myself.  I appreciate the complexities of their job first hand, and my truck was half as long and didn’t even bend in the middle.)

IMGP0585Before long I was taking the one exit down I-91 in Greenfield to continue west on 2 without passing through town.  Up the big hill out of town, through a few more, and I was rolling into the center of Charlemont. The park was a little past town on the border with Savoy. I checked in at the gate with a nice young woman who gave me some Clif bar samples. I rode in until I couldn’t ride anymore and found my small but perfectly adequate home away from home.  I had to refresh my memory on how to set up the tent, but it was easy to figure out just like the first time in New Brunswick. In fact, I realized that this was the first time I had actually used this tent in the United States.

After camp was set up, I ventured back into Charlemont to find some dinner. There isn’t much there. At. All.  I ended up at a coffee shop/ice cream shop/restaurant and had a couple of inferior chili dogs. (It’s not like anyone else was sleeping in the tent with me.) But they had wifi, which was a plus because this area had virtually no cell signal. It was dusk by the time I got back, despite my early start and lack of traffic. It’s a sign to me that motorcycle camping season is pretty much at an end for me, since I’d rather not ride at night if I don’t have to, and setting up camp in the dark is a pain.

Back at camp I strapped a bundle of firewood to the bike on the way in and utilized my new secret weapon of campfire lighting – half an egg carton with lumps of charcoal where the eggs used to be. It worked perfectly, and I had a relaxing fire for the night, which was good because it got cold! I still haven’t put a small thermometer on my bike (though I’d like to – sudden temperature drops are a warning of impending rain), temperatures dropped to at most the 40s, and perhaps a little lower.  Once the fire was out I retreated to the tent.  My sleeping bag kept most of my body perfectly warm, but I neglected to bring a hat to keep my head warm, so I ended up bundling inside the sleeping bag a bit to stay warm.  Eventually I got comfortable and went to sleep, with the sound of the Cold River burbling on the other side of the campground.

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The Coastal Route and Route 111

maine day 3With highs in the 70s again and a 0% chance of rain predicted, it looked like a great day to take the scenic route home. Part of me wished I could stay in Maine an extra day and go finish the route I hadn’t completed yesterday, but I was scheduled to start my new job the next day and couldn’t do that. If I was still unemployed I probably would’ve stayed the extra day.

I prepared the bike for departure, which meant nothing more than chucking my backpack in the trunk, and hit the road. I didn’t even bother programming the GPS. I already knew most of the specific roads I wanted to ride, and I wouldn’t have been able to convince the GPS to take me on them anyway. I crossed to the east side of the Kennebec River and rode Route 9 down to Randolph before crossing the river back into Gardiner. This meant that rather than poking along at slow speeds through the quaint little town of Hallowell, I leaned twisties at 50mph through Farmingdale. Then I took 201 up the huge hill out of Gardiner and followed it to Topsham, where I hooked up with Route 1 in Brunswick. This was a mistake – as soon as I committed to the ramp to 1, I found myself in nearly gridlocked traffic, despite it being long past commute time. I muddled through Brunswick, and it was clear sailing again after most traffic took the ramp to I-295.

Route 1 would be the backbone of my ride until I got well through New Hampshire. Though I did hop on 295 to avoid downtown Freeport. I didn’t want to deal with the traffic of LL Bean and all the other stores there. Back on 1 I rolled into Yarmouth, and on a whim I stopped at the DeLorme map store. I like maps, and though I could get home today by any number of routes from memory, I liked the idea of looking at the big picture in a road atlas for planning future rides. So I picked one up. Then I detoured from Route 1 down 88, through the high rent parts of Yarmouth and Falmouth Foreside. After I linked back up with 1 I found myself in Portland, looking forward to a scenic cruise and photo opportunities through Baxter Boulevard around the edge of Back Cove. Unfortunately, Baxter Boulevard was completely closed. With little choice from that point, I hopped back on 295 and picked up 1 in South Portland. Been there, done that, and I didn’t feel like sitting in Portland traffic.

IMG_0906[1]After sitting through an extremely poorly timed traffic light in South Portland I was back on my way through Scarborough. I saw the signs for Maine Indoor Karting and thought of many times I’d raced there. I thought about stopping in, but I felt more of a need to ride than race. In Saco I ran into more gridlocked traffic on Route 1. I took advantage of my bike’s excellent turning radius to backtrack and take Route 9 through Biddeford and Kennebunk instead, then hooked back up with 1. I stopped for a quick lunch in Wells (it took all morning just to go 100 miles), then rode through York, Ogunquit, and Kittery. Sadly, despite riding so much along the coast, I could almost never actually see the ocean.

The Route 1 bridge into Portsmouth, NH was closed, which messed up my planned route a bit. After diverting across another bridge and getting turned around a bit with all the detours, I plugged a point on the map from my intended route into my GPS and told it to take me there. Within minutes I was on Route 1B like I intended. Now I got to see some ocean scenery as I rode down the coast. This was another high rent area where I could never afford to live, but unlike in Maine, where the roads were far enough away from the ocean that you couldn’t see it, Routes 1B and 1A went right along the beach for the most part. It was a bit cool and windy for a swim, but I did stop a few times to look around and take pictures. At one point I parked next to a KLR and a scooter, both with Quebec plates. I could see the KLR coming this far under its own power, but the scooter? It would be one heck of a ride if it did, from one end of NH to the other.

IMG_0905[1]As I rolled past the beaches in North Hampton I found the beginning of Route 111. I grew up in Acton, MA at the south end of 111, and in Harvard not too far up the road. I’ve traveled it a little bit into NH, but not much. For a while, just out of curiousity, I’ve been interested in finding the other end of this road that my entire childhood focused around. When planning this trip, I discovered that rather than riding it all the way from home to NH, my plan to ride down the coast would take me right to the top end of it, and I could simply follow it home. It’s a very indirect route, but who cares.

Route 111 starts out as a fairly slow, highly populated road as it heads west through Exeter. To my surprise, it merges with 125 for a few miles, which I took on the way north to Maine. As usual, traffic moved in clumps of slow traffic stuck behind one person going 10 under the limit. But after a few miles 111 split off again, and became a wide, open, quiet 50mph road. In Windham I got stuck in construction where it crosses under I-93. Both directions were stopped for a solid five minutes, and I couldn’t see that they were doing anything in the construction zone. This clumped us up quite a bit once we did start moving again through Hudson, and finally into Nashua. It was still before afternoon commute time, but traffic was terrible, particularly at one red light that turned green just long enough to let about five cars through before turning red again for five minutes. I shut the bike off completely at many points while waiting to get through here, it was so bad. Eventually I made it through, and after crossing Route 3 I was moving again through Hollis. I recognized the intersection where the Alzheimer’s Ride had turned down 111A, and I’d gone up the road a mile to refuel. Things started looking more and more familiar. I crossed into Pepperell, MA, and once 111 merged with 119 in Groton I was back in completely familiar and recently traveled territory. I stick with 111 through Ayer, Harvard, and Boxboro into Acton, but peeled off toward home instead of riding to the Concord rotary where 111 officially ends. I’ve been there many times before, and they’ve torn up Route 2 where 111 merges with it to the rotary. I didn’t stop for pictures along the way because it wasn’t particularly scenic, and it was more of a gimmick ride than anything, just for fun.

I got home, unpacked the bike (brought my backpack inside), and relaxed. Though I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to do this trip, it was still a good ride, despite a bit more congestion and traffic than I prefer.

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