Fleeter Log #139z
Strutting Pheasant of Johnstown
Day 33 - Sunday
May 17, 2009
Omaha NE to South Bend IN
Sharon's visit refreshes me. It was short, but inspiring. (Thanks for meeting me on the road, Sharon!) Sharon tends to be an earlier riser than I, so she was rolling out of the parking lot before I even had my duffel ready to strap to the GS. It's a cool and overcast 50 degrees when I leave the Omaha Sleep Inn. There's no sense in getting any earlier of a start, because my first stop on the other side of town in Council Bluffs, IA doesn't open until 9:00am.
Fifteen minutes after leaving the hotel, I walk into the Western Historic Trails Center across the Missouri River in Iowa when they open the doors. This is the second time I've been as close as the parking lot in the last 24 hours.
This is what happened yesterday:
I rode into town just before before 5pm and thought I'd make a run at getting the Trails ink stamp before they closed. A couple years ago I visited the Western Historic Trails Center so I know the layout of where I am going. I went directly to the front gate and headed to the visitor center about a mile from the gate. About half way down I meet a car on the narrow road. I think this is odd since as I recalled the road was one way toward the visitor center. As it is, the road is barely wide enough of the two of us. I slow to a crawl as we meet and see it is a little old woman with her gray hair showing over the steering wheel -- maybe she is just confused about the one-way road. When I get to the visitor center, sure enough it is 5:00pm and the doors are locked. Oh well, I know it will be easy enough for me to come back in the morning. So I head to the exit of the parking lot and find that the gate is locked. About here I figure what the story with the older woman leaving out the exit is . . . she must have found the same situation with the locked doors. I make the circle in the parking lot and head back the same way I come in. But at the end of the same one mile drive that I just drove in on . . . now I see . . . a LOCKED gate! What?! Right there on the other side of the big pipe-bar gate is the highway that I want to be on, but I am trapped behind a locked gate. Yes. I checked. It is locked, as in padlocked . . . with chains . . .and a big lock. I'm locked in! Now it comes clear to me what must have happened. The little old woman wasn't confused. She was the last one out and was on "lock up" duty.
After verifying that the gate is indeed locked, I step back and take another look at the situation. Hmmm . . . what to do? What was that woman thinking? Why didn't she stop and wave me down? Make any attempt at all to stop me, to warn me? (I was certainly going slow enough) Maybe even to wait the one minute (two minute, tops) that it took me to realize the center was closed and come along behind her? But no, she must have had a hot Saturday night bingo date waiting! Anyways, back to the problem with my being on the wrong side of a locked gate.
There is no fence -- just pillars that the gate attaches to, then the ground drops down to a ditch and to a brush line that forms a fence-like barrier on both sides of the gate. It would be easy enough to walk between the pillar and the brush along the sloped ground, but can I get the GS through there without falling down the slope into the trees and brush? If I do fall, it will be nasty. The GS will fall down with the rubber side poking uphill in the air. I would never be able to lift it back upright from that position. Well, I don't have much choice but to try . . . I pick the left side to attempt my escape. I start giving myself a pep talk and coaching on approach and technique (keep weight on the downhill peg, lean the bike uphill, if in doubt, use throttle--not brakes, etc.), because I won't have time to ease into it. Once I commit, I will be on the sharp slope with a pillar inches from me on my right and a sharp drop to my left.
As I am considering my options and perils of those options, a pickup pulls in. A middle-aged guy and his wife realize that they missed the open hours of the facility when they see the closed gate, but then they seem confused when they see me on the other side. I wave them to stop. The guy gets out and walks over to meet me at the gate. I explain my situation and ask him if he will wait until I execute my plan. I figure that way
when if I drop the GS, I'll have help to get it up again and maneuvered up to the "free" side. He is willing. I commence my escape attempt. I probably went slower than I should have, but the maneuver went without a hitch. I was free and breathing easier on the other side within seconds after entering the sloped area. But, I wouldn't want to turn around and do it again just to prove how easy it was. I thank the nice folks that offered assistance before pulling out into the moving traffic as I enjoy my liberation. I wasn't locked in but a few minutes, but this freebird doesn't like the feeling one bit of being restrained.
Back to present: The Interpretive Center is now open for business on this slow Sunday morning. The older fellow working the desk is still going about his "opening" routine while I obtain my well-deserved ink. I bend his ear a bit about my adventure the afternoon before. He shakes his head in apology, but doesn't act surprised. Apparently, this wasn't the first such incident. Last time someone with a key had to be contacted to come back and unlock the gate. The whole affair took a couple of hours to free the locked in visitor. Hearing that story made me feel rather lucky that I was able to get myself out without having to call for someone to come "rescue" me.
Glad to be leaving the drama of the Western Historic Trails Center behind me, I leave Council Bluffs heading eastward on I80. I am feeling antsy to get some miles on today so I get comfortable on the freeway and don't stop until 100+ miles down the road when I need to refuel.
My collection of ink grows at the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in Urbandale, Iowa (in the Des Moines vicinity).
While passing through Iowa on Interstate 80, I take another opportunity for a stop at the famous Iowa 80: World's Largest Truckstop. Last time I stopped here was a couple of years ago as I passed through Iowa on my way to the Pacific Northwest. It's still big.
The rest of the day I just stay on the freeway and tollway targeting Notre Dame country for my overnight stop. Making good time is easy when riding on I80 with no distractions, but the interesting factor is near zero. So boring in fact that freeway monotony sets in and boredom takes hold. As the miles fly past, my focus narrows -- not in a good way. The heat from the afternoon sun and the droning of the miles made me start thinking how wonderful a nap would feel. Not good as I start closing in on Chicago and busier traffic. I decide to accept the invitation extended, via an exit sign, for the next rest stop. I park near a picnic table where I lie on the bench and close my eyes for a few minutes. The short 10 minutes of downtime helps my head. Before saddling up again I get a drink of water and chew on an energy bar. The rest stop wakes me up and widens my focus. I am back in the game when I merge back onto the freeway and join the Chicago bound wave of traffic.
My fuel range with the GS can be over 200 miles, but I normally start looking for a convenient fuel stop anytime after 150 miles. However, I let myself get caught up in the freeway traffic and my desire to get to the other side of I87, then beyond I94, then to the Indiana state line. Next thing I know, I am pushing 180 miles and nearing a tollway entrance. This entire tank has been used pushing my 800cc GS across Illinois and keeping up with the I80 traffic while doing so. In other words, not getting the best fuel mileage. I really should be thinking about refueling. Soon. These facts bring me to do something that most anyone would advise me against. I take an exit that carries me into downtown Gary, Indiana on US20. I find a Citgo on 5th Ave and pull in. It wasn't deserted. There were plenty of hoodlum-looking types standing around . . . maybe waiting for their next "dime-bag" customer. No problem. I'll try not to hinder business. I'll just pull up to the far side of the far pump, where I'll pay at the pump and then be on my way. Of course, after pumping the fuel, I was informed that my receipt was inside. I ALWAYS get a receipt. After replacing the nozzle, I started the long walk inside. Helmet, sunglasses, and full gear still on, I thought it best to not make eye contact and not to linger. My presence was acknowledged with a nod and a "hey" that sounded more like a grunt. I responded with the same. I continued inside, got my receipt, then turned on my boot heel and headed back to the waiting GS. As I strode (with assured purpose) back across the lot, I was hoping that the businessmen weren't curious about my ride and interested in a closer look. Either they didn't care what an impressive motorcycle the BMW F650GS twin really is or the distance between the section of wall they were holding up and the far pump was just too far to stroll for a closer look. As rode away, I figured that they thought I was just some grisly ol' biker dude passing through town.
Arriving in South Bend, Indiana, I find the motel is filled with Fighting Irish decor and full of friends and parents still in town for Notre Dame Commencement Weekend. I was lucky to get a room. Glad I made the reservation earlier today since I knew that I would be coming in after dark and any available rooms may start disappearing.
Day 34 - Monday
May 18, 2009
South Bend IN to North Lima OH
Baby needs new shoes. These are the original Bridgestone Battlewing tires with over 9,000 miles now on them. They wore better than I thought they would, though the professional opinion by the time I arrive at Sills Motor Sales in Cleveland is NOT to travel another 500 miles before replacing them -- especially the rear tire.
While I was rolling, my friend, Sharon, located a set of tires for me at Sills in Cleveland. During her call to them, they advise her that they have a set of tires in stock for the 2009 F650GS twin. Upon arrival, the first thing I hear as I am met in the parking lot is, "We've got a problem." Seems that since the phone call assuring that the tires are in stock and me pulling into the parking lot, a tad more research took place. It was discovered that the older pre-2008 F650GS single and the new twin do NOT USE THE SAME SIZE REAR TIRE. Therefore, my needed rear tire is NOT IN STOCK. Several phone calls later, the new situation is "no tire the right size can be found within 500 miles."
After considering my options, I come up with four:
Option 1: Stay put in Cleveland until more shops open up tomorrow and continue the search looking for the right size . . . that probably isn't in stock anyway. It's only 2:30pm -- too early to be stopping for the day.
Option 2: Mount sport bike tires on my dual sport. That's just wrong!
Option 3: Head for home . . . 500 miles away and take my chances. I like to ride alone, but I don't like to take unnecessary chances while doing so.
Option 4: Put a new rear tire on that is "almost" the right size. I'd get the desired model of tire (Metzler Tourances), but would be off from the spec'd size tire for the new twin per BMW. This option is discussed at length and advice is solicited from those with more knowledge and I. It is decided that this is actually a very doable option. They have this tire in stock (it's the size used on the older F650GS single) and it's even cheaper.
I choose Option 4 and the tech gets busy with installation. By the time I've eaten a late lunch at the Subway across the street, the GS has a new set of tires installed.
The GS is feeling spunky with new rubber on the ground, I am having to stretch my legs a bit more to reach my feet on the ground, and we have hours of daylight left to spend closing in on the Pennsylvania state line. As all riders know, one must be careful of the first few dozen miles when riding on new rubber. The tires have not yet learned the ways of the road and if one is not very careful with throttle and lean, those slick tires will spin out and leave you hurting in a split second. I slowly pull out of the Sills Motors parking lot and give the tires some time to warm up as I ride out of Cleveland. Once they've warmed up, I give them a little do-si-do once in awhile to help teach them the ways of the road . . . and to scrub them in. (Scrub in = rough up the slick rubber)
Just shy of the Pennsylvania state line, I find a Quality Inn that I like a lot. It's laid out in a courtyard style with the entrance through a portico that connects the office and the restaurant next door. All the motel rooms face into the courtyard with the only access being through the portico. This leaves a protected feeling not unlike the circling of the covered wagons. I even get a complementary room upgrade. Sometimes an upgrade isn't the jacuzzi suite, but simply a bit larger room located on the ground floor. By 7:00pm I'm cleaned up and I walk over to the connected restaurant for a supper crab stuffed mushroom with a side salad.
* New rubber
* Courtyard style motels
* Crab stuffed mushrooms
* Losing focus when riding the road
* Fueling up in downtown Gary, Indiana* New tires before they learn the way of the road
Day 35 - Tuesday
May 19, 2009
North Lima OH to Fredericksburg VA
Now over a month since I left Moonshine, I begin my last day on the road. Tonight I will lay my head on my pillow at home. But before this trip comes to an end, I will get the most out of today's miles.
When I see the small Pennsylvania town of Curtisville on the map, I have to put a Garmin waypoint on it. Never knowing what I will come across when arriving in these small towns, I am happy with finding a small, local post office with the name prominently displayed for photo opportunities.
While passing through Southwestern Pennsylvania, I came across the Blair Brothers Farm with this Pennsylvania Game Commission sign posted on the barn. I'm not sure how this "Public Access Cooperator" arrangement works, but it sounds like some kind of public hunting ground.
As I pass the Blair Bros. house, I see a woman sitting out on the side porch of the house. I kick myself for the next 12 miles that I didn't turn in a talk to her. I bet she could have explained to me how being a "public access cooperator" works . . . along with a slew of other stuff too I bet. I know better. I shouldn't have let that lesson get away.
When I let the learning opportunity pass by without teaching me anything, I was probably more concerned about the time on the clock and distracted by the ink stamps that I planned to collect today. My first ink stamp was waiting for me at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. This is the location where an incline railroad traveled over the Allegheny Mountains between the years 1834 and 1854. Considered a technological marvel in its day, the railroad consisted of 10 inclines and a tunnel, it was 36 miles long and carried people and cargo up and over the mountains, opening up the interior of the United States to expansion and development.
Next stop: Johnstown Flood National Memorial where the devastating flood of 1889 is retold and explained.
Johnstown Flood of 1889There was no larger news story in the latter nineteenth century after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The story of the Johnstown Flood has everything to interest the modern mind: a wealthy resort, an intense storm, an unfortunate failure of a dam, the destruction of a working class city, and an inspiring relief effort.
Then as I approached the GS, here comes the pheasant again. He stayed right with me as I rolled out of the parking lot. I had to be careful not to run over him. Seemed almost like he was trying to herd me back into the parking lot. Guess he likes having company!