Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Florida Panhandle beach trip Nov. 6 - 15

My brother had a condo near Rosemary Beach, Florida for the month of November so I would have a free place to stay if I decided to make the trek.  The fastest route is down I-40 to I-95 to I-10 across Florida.  Talk about a dreadful 675 mile trip.  So I have passed up this invitation the past couple of years because I hate long trips on the interstate system.  But this time I accepted and decided to see small town SC and GA and cut across South Carolina by mostly 2-lane roads.  The only problem that I would have was getting around Columbia.  Columbia has become a sprawling metropolis with no scenic secondary roads to reasonably get around it.  So I made the decision that if I had to do some interstates then I would zip through Columbia to Augusta, GA then get back on secondary roads.  From what I could tell it was a good decision because I would have been in stoplight hell for many hours getting through that town.

The final route looked to be what I enjoy, lots of small towns and some historic sites and I would go by the giant Warner Robins Air Museum, the 3rd largest air and space museum in the world.  Smithsonian is #1 and the British Museum is #2.  So the route was taking shape.
The fastest route by interstate was 675 miles of boredom and this route with only a small section of interstate was about 45 miles longer.  I also made an adjustment to my GPS and that was to restrict the route to no Interstate/Toll roads and the shortest route.  So other than the I-20 segment I was on secondary roads and riding through the center of the towns along the way.    Small town America, here I come.

Launch date was November 6th but do to a clumsy fall on my part I had to wait until the 7th so I could have my iPhone screen replaced which I broke in the parking lot of Target along with scraped knee and bruised ego.

I had debated many time the merits of the summer cloths or 3-season and even electric gear.  I ended up with 3- season and packed my electric jacket and gloves for insurance.  The morning was cool in the low 60's, perfect for a ride.  The highs were expected to be in the upper 70's for much of the next 7 days and no sign of rain anywhere.  The sun was up and at around 8:00 I left on my usual route down route 1 heading to the SC border.  I would take Rt. 1 down to Camden through many small towns that had seen better days.  Gone is the Tobacco and textile mills.  The small towns that grew wealthy from them now were very sad.  Empty mills, and factories dotted the countryside.  The crop most visible was cotton, now a major crop for SC.  Around 10:30 I stopped in a small town for gas and asked the attendant where I could get something to eat.  Her response stunned me "there are no restaurants around here, you will have to go another 20 miles before you will see something."  Most of the town was boarded up and an old factory, easily 1/4 mile long had vines growing over it.  This scene seemed to be repeated over and over in the eastern half of SC.  I finally found a Burger King and had some brunch, my last stop before I-20 to Augusta.  What can I say about I-20....nothng.
I got to Augusta in the early afternoon and got back on the secondary roads.  The road to Macon GA was more like a divided 4 lane but had occasional stoplights and a number of service roads tied into it.
My goal for the first day was to get south of Macon and stay near Warner Robins Air Force Base.  The Museum was a major stop for my trip.  I had gone 400 miles and was nearing Warner Robins so I started looking for a hotel.  I couldn't find one!  So finally I asked at a hardware store and I was one street away from the strip that exists next to all major military bases.  The Best Western was good enough and there was a steak house next to it.  It was now about 6:00 pm and I was hungary and a bit tired so I got cleaned up and headed next door for a steak.  I had traveled a bit more than I had expected so I was feeling really good about the next morning and days ride.

I like Best Westerns since they usually let me park the bike under the lobby awning where the security cameras have the best angle and there is always a person at the desk.  I sleep much better when I think the bike will be there in the morning.  Breakfast at the hotel was like most but I am happy with a yogurt and oatmeal.  I was all packed up by 8:00 but the museum didn't open until 9:00 so I enjoyed another cup of coffee.

I arrived at the museum 15 minutes before opening but they didn't care and let me in.  I was the only one there.

The museum was huge.  5+ buildings spread over  a campus like environment with planes on the lawns as well.  When I entered I took off my riding clothes and put on tennis shoes so I could cover come ground.  This place is definitely a destination stop!  I was all alone for a couple of hours looking at the various pieces of history.

I even found a B-25 like the one my father was a gunner/armorer on in North Africa, India, and China.

There were many planes both familiar and planes I had never seen before.
This plane set the speed record.

I could easily have spent 2-3 days just wandering through the various exhibits and buildings and I didn't even get to the outdoor planes on the lawns.  I will be back but for now I must move on with 325 miles to go to the final destination.

The ride on down toward Panama Beach was a beautiful 2 lane 55 mph road.  It is interesting that for the most part there was do traffic on these roads but I did have to pay attention to the speed limits because the small towns tended to have speed traps as you approached because the speed would drop from 55 down to 35 very quickly.

I did pass buy one National Park at Andersonville.  This is the site of the confederate army prison where many prisoners starved to death.  It is a terrible piece of history and as you ride into the area you can feel it.

The markers were from the various northern states whose soldiers died here.  The cemetery is there but the actual prison is long gone.  The view of the countryside is beautiful.

The small towns here near Macon, GA looked prosperous and well kept with people actively putting up Christmas decorations. Some were really creative.

Then again the cotton fields were everywhere.  I stopped to drive into a cotton field to get a good picture of the bike in the field but once in there I found out that cotton grows in real sandy soil and there was no way to park the bike to get a picture.  It was also difficult to turn the bike around since I had no traction.

As you get into Georgia you see more and more pecan groves, old growth and new growth.  And then you arrive at the coast.

 The sand was so white that the glare was a killer, requiring sunglasses all the time.  Beautiful!

On Saturday, November 11th my brother and his wife took me to the Pensacola Air Station for the final show of the year of the Blue Angels.  Probably 30,000 people there and a very big show.  

This B-25 was owned and piloted by a WWII vet that was a pilot on the B-17's that bombed Germany.  He rebuild this B-25 on exhibit at the air show.

On November 13th I left for home after many meals of oysters, shrimp and beer.  What a great week.

The road home went straight east above Panama City and riding straight into Tallahassee and the Florida State Campus.  This is the only large town I would see on the way home.  I planned on getting to the border of South Carolina that evening and as I continued through the countryside the temperature, which had been in the 70's-80's dropped into the low 50's and at around 6:00 I ended up in the small town of Sylvania, GA.  I stopped for gas and asked the attendant where the nearest nice motel could be found.  She said I had to go another 30 miles or stay there in the strip motels.  How bad could it be?  Well, I should have driven the 30 miles, what a dump with stains all over the rug and plaster falling off the walls and the bathroom was nasty.  This is where I say at least know who slept in my tent.  The room was $35 and wasn't worth that.  I got up 3 times to check on my bike and could hear crawling things all night so I was out of there early.

When I packed I was so proud of the fact that I brought my electric gear and it was 40 degrees outside.  Then I found out I didn't bring the correct plug for the bike.  It warmed up to 50 by 10 o'clock and I was chilled but fine for the remainder of the trip.

The route home through SC was up Rt. 301 to 601 to Rt.1 which appears to be the route that trucking used prior to I-95.  There were many deserted motels, gas stations and some major truck stops with ivy growing over them.  It was a big 4 lane from small town to small town with no traffic and few options to eat or get gas.  The empty factories was all over the countryside and you could feel how economically depressed the eastern part of the state had become by being by-passed by I-95 and the loss of the factories and traffic.  It was definitely eye opening.  A great trip and lots to learn about the neighboring states.  I will have to plot a different route next year and bring the right plug for my jacket and gloves.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

I returned from Pineola to terrible news. Tom Steves died in a motorcycle accident in CO.

Tom had been looking forward to this trip to Colorado renting bikes with his brother for a 2 week ride in the rockies.  He had been doing this yearly the last few years and he told me any number of times how he loved catching up with his brother.   I have been riding with Tom for the last 2 years over a number of trips to Petoskey, the outer banks trip in the spring, back from the MOA rally in Hamburg, NY and to many lunches and dinners.  A truly super individual and you instantly liked him when you met him.  Hard to believe and harder to accept.  We all know that it can happen at any time to us whether in a car or motorcycle.  As we grow older we seem to loose more friends than we make and our universe gets smaller.  I truly miss him and his ever present cup of coffee.

Obituary for Captain Thomas Willard Steves

Captain Thomas Willard Steves, 68, of Bunnlevel, NC died August 26, 2017, while on a motorcycle trip in Colorado with his brother Jeff. It was a beautiful day and he was doing what he loved to do, with his favorite motorcycle companion.
He was born to the late John W. and Virginia D. (Hope) Steves, June 16, 1949, in Old Town, Maine. Tom graduated from Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, NY in 1967, received a BS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1973, and an AAS in Forest Management Technology from Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, NC in 1996.
Tom entered the Air Force and went into pilot training in Texas immediately following college graduation. He was an Air Force Captain, F-4 fighter pilot, F-4 instructor pilot, parachutist, and Forward Air Controller (FAC) and extremely proud to serve his country. He worked at many bases in North and South Carolina and Florida throughout his career. Tom was part of several combat operations including Operation Just Cause in Panama and Operation Desert Storm in Iraq. After retiring from the Air Force in 1993 he was a Forest Ranger in Harnett County for the NC Forest Service from 1996-2014. This was a perfect second career since Tom loved nature, being outdoors and working with his hands.
Tom was active in retirement with many organizations in his community. These included the Sandhills Antique Farm Equipment Club, Averasboro Town Restoration Association, Flat Branch Volunteer Fire Department, Counselor for the Veteran’s Court and a volunteer at the “The Greatest Naval Stores Show on Earth”. He was hard-working and dependable (their “go-to” guy) and will be greatly missed.
Tom had a great sense of humor, was unpredictable and a lot of fun. He was always ready for the next adventure. Tom also had a very inquisitive mind. He was engaging yet humble. You always felt when he was listening to you that he was completely interested in your point of view.
Tom’s love for his family and friends was beyond measure. He is survived by his wife, Chaluay and two sons, Johnny and Vittaya of North Carolina; his brother Jeff and his family including wife Diane and nephew and niece Ryan and Nicole of California; his sister Joanne and her family including husband Greg and two nephews Kevin and Cody of Texas; as well as 4 cousins Jannifer O’Connor, Rebecca MacDonald, Melanie Thompson and Caroline Fontaine of Maine. He will also be missed every day by his dog Cooper, who was his constant companion and best friend.

August 23, 2017 the heat of the summer is getting to me!

It hasn't been outright hot and while we usually get 4-5 days over 100 degrees, that hasn't happened.  But the humidity has been unbelievable and very wearing on you.  I decided that a trip up to Pineola, NC would cool me off and be a good break.  I left in the early hours in order to bypass the mid-day heat.  Traveling on Rt. 64 and staying away from I-40 I was able to make good time and stay cooler.  I discovered some years ago that the interstates, due to traffic and the amount of pavement, were about 5-8 degrees hotter than the secondary roads.  And for some unknown reason it seems like Winston-Salem, NC is always 95 degrees!  So I went through Mocksville and stayed on 64 to Boone, NC.  As I climbed the mountain the temperature dropped from high 80 to high 70's and the humidity dropped as well.  What a welcomed relief.  It was a short 3 hour trip to Larry and Renee's home on the side of a mountain near Grandfather Man.  The view from their home is great.

The evenings were beautiful and the night time temperatures were in the mid 60's so sleeping was great.  They were the perfect hosts and after touring the area and enjoying their company I was off to Cary, NC, again by back roads.

This area of NC while remote is beautiful and covered with Christmas Tree farms.  One of my favorite places to visit.  There are also a number of ski resorts so you can tell that they get a real winter, not like the rest of the south.

August was coming to an end but it became a very sad ending!

The Road to Petoskey, MI and the BMW RA Rally! Departure 7/3/17

With the camping trip building up my confidence that I could handle the MC again and that I was comfortable doing trips I set about planning the trip to Petoskey, Mi for the RA Rally.  This trip would be about 1900 miles.  I discussed this with my friend Ray and he said he would be glad to go with me so that made me feel better about the trip and the possibility that I could get into some trouble health wise.  The route was pretty straight forward until... Ray put the finishing touches on a new improved route which would add more local color and scenery.  It was still the same route but more 2 lane country roads.
The route was pretty clear until I77 &I64 crossed in Va.  By the time we were to leave we were up to 5 people riding.  3 wanted to take off to do the Back of the Dragon and 2 of us had done that and wanted to get the longest day behind us.  Pete and I took the fast route to Chillicothe, OH and Ray, Tom and Matt took the 2-lane route over the Dragon and on bypassing the interstate roads and making it a very long day.  We left our meet up place in Greensboro at 9:30 and Pete and I made it to Chillicothe by 4:30, a good days ride.  Group of 3 made it to the hotel as dark was on us around 7:30.  Pete and I had already settled in after a nice steak dinner and the Best Western was our home for the night.  The following morning Pete announced that due to his back problems he was turning back so we lost one.

The following morning we gathered up early to leave for Dayton and the Air Force Museum.  There were some good stories from the adventurous 3 and they really enjoyed their route through the mountains.

We arrived at 9:30 am at the museum and we planned on spending no more than 2 hours, after all it was just a museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  Wow what a surprise at the size and scope of the planes on display in this beautiful facility with the planes arranged by time and geographic deployment.  The planes of WWII were grouped together as was SE Asia, Cold War, and Korean War.  There was a section just for space and rockets.  I spent most of my time looking for the plane that my father was on in WWII, the B-25.
It was shocking to see just how small these planes really were compared to today.  After a while I wondered over to the SE Asia/Vietnam exhibit where i saw the F4 that a member of our group had piloted. Tom Steves was also an instructor as well as serving in 3 combat zones in his Air Force career.  The plane on exhibit still had the pilots name on the side and Tom knew him.  Very lasting recognition.
We had hoped to join up with another group from the Coastal Carolina BMW Riders but they didn't make it before we left for lunch around 12:00.  We had a quick lunch at a local pizza place, keep in mind we didn't have many choices since it was July 4th.

Ray had done the lion's share of the routing with input from Matt, who also knew OH/MI.  We were to take country roads all the way to Jackson, MI.  This was an example of how to take a 5 hour days ride and stretch it into 12 hours.  We were winding around the country at one time coming to a dead end and needing to find a detour around it.

I was beat, that many hours in the heat and sun takes a toll on me.  I have often felt that the amount of hours in the sun/heat was harder on my than the actual miles driven.  We stopped frequently for water and snacks which helped keep the energy up.  So after a very long day but not a lot of miles we arrived Jackson, MI.  Talk about bad roads, I hope I never go into Jackson driving any kind of vehicle again.

The third day was the shortest, only a one state ride up through Michigan.  The scenery changed continually as we went north.  First busy towns, neighborhoods and shopping centers then giving way to more farm land and houses that became cottages and lodges.  At every exit were local farm stands offering local triple washed cherries,  they must have been very dirty.  This was probably my most enjoyable part of the ride up.  We arrived at the fair grounds in Petoskey by early afternoon with plenty of time to set up for the Rally.

We had great weather for the Rally and I had promised to help with registration as a volunteer which I did for 2 days.  Ray, Tom and Matt helped too but took more time out to do some of the day trips around the area.  I enjoyed watching the GS Giants course in the arena where the GS's ran an obstacle course.  Also the many different kinds of bikes and the people you  meet was well worth it.

The ride home was the fast route mostly interstates and was uneventful, stopping at the same hotels and just getting through the heat of Winston-Salem.  Very good rally and I will go next year when hopefully it will be in Western PA!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

May 7, 2017 Test camping trip - Willville, VA

Well, you just have to get back on the horse!  At least that is what they say.  I planned a trip to Meadows of Dan, VA camping for a couple of days just to check out everything.  I knew I wasn't going to AK now so the alternate plan is to go camping and see how I feel on the bike and in the tent. After that if all goes well it is off to the BMW RA Rally in Petoskey, MI up near the Canadian border, 1000 miles from my home.

Wednesday was clear and while hot in the high 80 low 90's I knew that as I climbed up the mountain to VA that the temperature and humidity would drop.  Traffic is always hectic in the Greensboro to Winston-Salem corridor and I keep telling myself to take the back roads, so I did.  I took rt. 64 came into Greensboro from the south avoiding all the major highways.  I then went straight north and didn't get near Winston.  The roads were clear with light construction delays.  It was 90 as I approached Pilot Mountain and from there it declined steadily.  Once in VA the road west if Rt. 58 and is a beautiful winding road that climbs quickly into the mountains.

 The Meadows of Dan is a very small town with a few B&B's and a number of camp grounds.  I was staying at the Willville Motorcycle Campground, within walking distance of some restaurants.  The atmosphere there is very friendly and I quickly met Will and he showed me around.  It is almost an honor system.  You pick up an envelop, fill out minimal information and deposit in a box with your cash.  There are many campsites, a bunkhouse if you don't mind sharing and a cottage that can be rented.  The shower/bathroom facilities are clean with very good hot water.  Mornings start with a gathering on the porch for coffee and the usual discussion of routes.  People are usually gone all day and around 5 pm people start rolling in for meeting up with people for dinner or preparing for the nightly fire pit.  Obviously,  beer, wine and other are easily found.  A little rain that night made sleeping that much enjoyable but cleared by morning.

I spent the day riding the Blue Ridge Parkway, first north until I hit pea soup fog just north of Mabry Mill, the most photographed location on the BRP.
I then traveled south to the Parkway Music center to see the history of the Banjo and Fiddle in America.  There was live music playing all day and after riding some I had lunch at a deli just off of the parkway.  Again the weather was cool and very nice for riding.  I returned a little early to wait from my friend Ray to come in.  He was late and we heard that a man was killed in town on a motorcycle a little earlier.  Then I got a text that he was late due to problems with directions.  A note about Ray......he has 2 girlfriend on the bike, the cellphone and the GPS.  He programs both and listens to there differing directions which adds to the confusion.  It can be maddening when following him.  He arrived late and decided rather than pitch a tent he would stay in the bunkhouse.

We were up early and off to breakfast then we planned to ride over to Marion, Va to ride the "Back of the Dragon"  A beautiful winding road to Tazewell that takes you over 3 ridge lines with gorgeous valleys in-between.  To me the scenery was prettier than the Tail of the Dragon because between the hairpin curves there was a clear view off the mountain.  The Tail of the Dragon has the curves but due to the severity of the curves and frequency you the rider don't have time to take a look, if you going to keep your ass off the pavement.  We had a great ride that took us until 1:30 so we had lunch at a local pizza place.  Ray was going on to Chicago and I was heading back to Cary.  I did part of the Claw of the Dragon back to the interstate and Ray headed off to West Virginia and beyond.  My return was uneventful but I still kept away from major highways.  Coming down the mountain near Winston again the temperature was near 95 and brutal.  I stopped frequently, at least every hour for a bottle of water and a snack and that serves me well.  All told a success and now I can plan for Petoskey!

May, 2017 serious planning for Alaska begins!

I have been collecting Alaska trip planners, magazines and youtube videos on routes, lodging and attractions in Ak for six months.  I had my ideas of how I wanted to go but this was the first time that I sat down with Basecamp to plan it out.  I also had the added plan to have Pattie fly into Calgary and we would spend a week on the bike exploring the Canadian Rockies.  So a lot of work to do here.  Since I would be gone for 6-7 weeks I decided to take my car to my daughter in Reston, VA so she could use it for the summer, I had no need for it.  I left on May 30 to Reston and as I was passing through Manassas, Va at a stop light something happened.  I didn't know where I was or why I was in the car and the car behind me was honking and the light was green.  I had enough sense to pull off the road into what turned out to be a Burger King and sat for maybe 20 minutes before it started to come back to me that I was going to my daughters.  I parked the car diagonally across 2 spaces and went into the BK for a soda.  Another 20 minutes and I was feeling shaky but it was only 15 minutes to her house via GPS.  I slowly drove to her house.  Pattie was ticked off that I didn't call 911 and go to the hospital but at the time I really didn't know what I was dealing with and my goal was to get to Megan's and have lunch then catch the Metro to the Amtrak station to take the train home.

I had lunch and took Lyft to the train station but was very shaky in the Metro and I don't remember much of the trip.  I saw the Dr the next day and then I was banned from riding the motorcycle or driving the car for 30 days.  While the tests at Duke didn't find anything the Dr was pretty sure I had a small stroke or TIA.  Wow this sure screws up a trip!! For 3 or the 4 weeks I was unsteady on my feet and the worst part was my ability to respond to questions with quick wit was gone.  It felt like when someone talked to me that everything was in slow motion and I couldn't respond without pausing for a moment to digest it all.

So, the Alaska trip is gone because it doesn't seem reasonable to be in the back country for a period of weeks if my head may not be in the game.  It took into July before I felt close to normal and the first thing I wanted to do was go for a short camping trip to see how I handle the bike and being alone, my preferred manner of travel.  So a new plan was developed.

April 7, 2017 - Outer Banks of NC

While we have talked about a group, small group, ride to the outer banks we hadn't expected such good riding weather this early in the year.  Tom Steves, Ray Hunting and I decided that now was the time, 55 degrees and clear but windy.  April can be a basket of different weather and change rapidly.  We decided to start off on a Friday since Ray was working and Tom and I were retired so me adjusted the schedule to the employed person.  We were starting from  a range of locations but it seemed that Smithfield NC was a reasonable meet up spot so we were meeting at The Biscuit Stop and would plan on lunch in Washington, NC.  Tom and I arrived at about the same time to a place none of us had been to before but it was a great surprise for us.  The message alert came in on Tom's phone and Ray was stuck at work and would meet us in Washington.  Tom and I enjoyed a couple of Ham biscuits that were not only excellent but huge!  With bellies full we were off to lunch and out meeting, not sure if Ray would make it.

The ride to Washington was clear and cool but the gusting wind had us looking for a more sheltered ride through the farm country.  It was pushing us all over the road.  We went by the Smithfield packing facility and through Turkey, NC where the Butterball Turkey feed plant is located.  Arriving around 12:00 in Washington.  We were looking for Bill's Hotdogs a local place very popular with people but were having trouble finding it. We ended up at Pam's Diner where all the food is homemade and that day very good.  Ray wandered in halfway through the meal with stories to tell.  Work, glad I am done with it!

We left for Nags Head via back roads coming up on Rt. 64 just before the bridges over the sound to the outer banks.  Wind was a constant problem and it was rapidly getting cooler.  Arriving at the Quality Inn with great off-season rates we decided to eat an early dinner so we could warm up and get a good nights sleep.  We had a great seafood dinner at the Black Pelican, not a cheap meal and enjoyed rehashing the ride down.  Both Ray and Tom are wonderful travel companions although you don't want to room with Ray if you don't have ear plugs!!

We were up early Saturday morning and after a quick cup of coffee we started down Rt. 12 heading toward Okracoke Island.  The day couldn't have been better and as the Hatteras Lighthouse came into view a stop was in order.
We were disappointed to find that climbing season, for the lighthouse, started in 2 weeks and everything was closed up.  

The ride to Okracoke was beautiful and Rt. 12 was clear and dry, not always the case!  We decided that rather than staying out overnight we would take whatever ferry back, 2 different ferries come and go from Okracoke, and make it home that evening.  We took a quick route home and it was a great 2 day ride with unexpectedly good weather.