I did end up taking Route 6, as planned. Mostly. I probably should have taken it more than I did. And for all my high-tech, eye-in-the-sky planning, I've learned a few things:
- There's no replacement for having a real map; and
- There's no replacement for actually knowing where you're going.
How did I learn these things? Ah... well, read on.
I'm a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of guy when I'm on a motorcycle (or, more accurately, photograph the roses...) and a great lover of little side-trips. One I hadn't planned on was the Mid-America Windmill Museum in Kendallville, IN. It's one of those things where you see the sign, and say, "A What Museum? I have to see this." So see it I did, although I limited myself to a 10-minute stroll among a surprising variety of wind-powered machinery.
Back on 6, I motored on at a lively pace between small towns, and a more prudent one in them. Some people don't like going through small towns on trips — I don't mind. It breaks up the monotony, and makes gas & Gatorade stops pretty easy. And besides, you get to see neat little bits like windmill museums, or the sign for Christs's Church in Butler, IN, where skateboarders are welcome. Hey, that's my kind of church! For all the potential deviations, though, I had planned my ride, and I was sticking to the plan. For every town where Rt. 6 didn't pass straight through, I had a printed detail map, so I knew exactly what to expect.
That didn't help me much when I got to Bowling Green, OH, where I was to meet an old college friend for lunch, and realized that I hadn't written down their house number! My printout had a picture of what Google Street View thought their house looked like, and I was going house-by-house, comparing the picture to the house. Close, but no banana! Fortunately, my friends saw me and hailed me wildly, which I missed because I still had my earplugs in, but the folks having a yard sale across the street noticed and pointed them out to me.
I had to laugh when they got out the fixings for lunch: turkey and salami sandwiches with provolone and mustard on Oatnut bread. In other words, the exact combination that I had in my saddlebags for my supper! It's a good combination, though, so I didn't mind one bit.
Happy and full, I hit the road again, and turned up my tunes. The iPod Deborah gave me for my birthday was just made for trips like this, and I'd found some combination earplugs/headphones that did a nice job of cutting out the wind roar and delivering my hand-picked-for-this-trip playlist. Music is a wonderful thing to make the miles go away. I'd started the day out under brooding, gray skies to Stryper's Abyss, but by Ohio, I was into the U2 and Vigilantes of Love, and riding away from the storm that never dripped on me even once.
Marblehead was my only major side-trip, one that I'd left the option of cutting out if the weather had been bad. I came across the Marblehead lighthouse while I was researching routes, and figured I had to go see it, if only to tease my friend Nathan, who says there's really no scenery in northern Ohio. Nope, no scenery here!
Pennsylvania welcomed me, which was nice. Ohio hadn't bothered. This was the only place where I started regretting my decision to take 6; roads that had been posted for 55 or 60 mph in Indiana and Ohio were marked for 30 in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, that didn't last more than 40 miles, but the reduced pace was enough to drive me crazy. It didn't help that it was getting on towards evening by now, when I'd planned to complete the entire day's leg by daylight.
I still had most of a state to go, and I was starting to wish I hadn't taken all those long stops. I pushed, promising myself some of those sandwiches once it got dark.
One of the pieces of equipment I bought specifically with this trip in mind was a new jacket. A good riding jacket can be a lifesaver, but black leather in summer often prompts riders to choose between comfort and safety. This, on the other hand, was a ventilated mesh — tough fibers that would hold together for protection, but enough of an open weave that wind just passes right through. Truly delightful in hot weather. The irony, then, was that I hadn't experienced any hot weather all day. By the time I ran out of daylight high in the Alleghenies, I was shivering uncontrollably.
At that point, the angels showed up.
Now, I don't know what your mysterious helpers look like, but mine come with cigars and piercings, and and totally understand the allure of a good backroad. After outlining a route that would shave more than an hour off the rest of my trip, I received a warning I'd never gotten before: "Well, take it easy, and watch out for deer. And bears." Bears? Hmm. So in addition to everything else, look for black things in the dark...
I rolled into Coudersport (which I pronounced incorrectly; I pronounce unfamiliar words it as if they were German — i.e., Coo-der-shport; Deborah does this too, but tries it in Spanish. The correct, but terribly plain pronunciation is "Cowder's Port.") around midnight, the last town before my departure onto Rt. 44, and set up a mobile command center in the town's central gas station while I sucked down a large coffee and took care of various bits of business while I thawed.
Paul, Deborah, and the kids were nearly at the hotel; I had more than a hundred miles to go. The map suggested that I could cut off 30 miles by taking this little squiggly road... I took it. That decision launched me into "unintended adventure" mode. 44 may have been more direct, but it was at the expense of having any straight stretches, level road, side markings, lights, and anything beyond minimal signage. A regular roller-coaster of a road, in the dark. With fog. I was forcibly reminded of my 2005 trip to Deal's gap, where my last stretch was the infamous Dragon itself, at 1 a.m., on a fully loaded bike. It was later than that now... why did I always leave the most interesting roads for last?
In the midst of all this, I was getting increasingly desperate calls from Deborah, who could not find the hotel. I talked her through it again and again, but to no avail — turns out those very careful directions were also very wrong; the exit wasn't even off the correct highway.
A good seven or eight hours after I'd planned on arriving at the hotel, I was done with the roller-coaster (I averaged 60 mpg down the mountain...) and was hitting detours, conferring with construction workers for directions. Deborah and Paul had finally found the hotel, and had called in the directions to me in the brief moments when I had cell phone coverage. My room number arrived as a very brief text. By 4:30, as it was starting to get light, I finally stumbled into the hotel, and slept like the dead.
A good vacation involves plenty of adventure, right?