Sunny Days…Sweeping the Clouds Away

2011 Hog Ride

Scott A. Sabol

 

This year’s ride(s) travelogue is broken into two parts with a common theme: sunshine.  When one rides a motorcycle, one can be exposed to the relentless power of the sun.  It can burn your skin, dehydrate you, fatigue you, and tire your eyes.  The funny thing is that every rider prefers these outcomes to the alternative: riding in the rain.

My 2011 “major” motorcycle rides ended up being different than the past many years.  Typically, I ride to the annual meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Highway Subcommittee on Bridges and Structures (that’s AASHTO SCOBS to those who prefer acronyms) annual meeting.  However, this year, the SCOBS meeting was to be held in May, but I had to be in Las Vegas in April for a different conference and two conferences to close in time did not work in my schedule.  (I know, I know, “having to be in Las Vegas” is like “having to have a piece of cherry cheesecake” – such a punishment.)

Why was I in Las Vegas?  I’m glad you asked.

I teach structural engineering in the Architectural and Building Engineering Technology department at Vermont Tech.  Each year, some of our bachelor’s degree seniors focus on a structural engineering project for their capstone senior design course.  In spring 2010, three of my students undertook the structural design of a multi-story hospital facility in Orlando, Florida.  At the end of the semester, I entered their design into the national Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) student design competition.  And we all held our breath.

It was a long time to hold our breath, because it was not until September that we found out that my students placed third in this national competition.  Little old Vermont Tech – third place in a national competition (send your kids to Vermont Tech!).  Against some big-time schools.  Against schools that have engineering programs, not engineering technology (for those of you who do not know the difference, the latter is more focused on applications of design and analysis, whereas the former delves deeper into theory and the advanced mathematics behind design and analysis).  We are happy that SEI allows us to enter.  Our students are actually “architectural engineering technology” bachelor degree students (they learn structural, electrical/lighting, and heating/ventilating/air-conditioning engineering systems for buildings along with engineering management), but the national Architectural Engineering Institute only allows engineering programs to enter as individual entities, not engineering technology programs.

So in fall 2010, my student team and I made our plans to attend the 2011 Structures Congress in Las Vegas, where they would give a presentation and officially receive their award.  By then, each had entered the workforce – their employers were cooperative in letting them get away.

We arrived in Vegas on our respective flights and met up at the conference hotel.  My students made me proud giving their presentation, and I was able to meet up with several colleagues during the conference, as well as attend technical sessions so that I could incorporate what I learned into my Vermont Tech lectures.

Figure 1 - Vermont Tech graduates Anthony Belloir, Ryan Ward, and Caleb Leland at the 2011 Structures Congress

I decided to take a little sight-seeing in on Friday afternoon.  One of my first stops was to Gold & Silver Pawn.  Those of you who watch the TV show “Pawn Stars” will recognize it.  My mother had given me some World War II relics to pawn (or “pop” if using the old-time English term – I heard that the song “Pop Goes the Weasel” has to do with pawning something, by the way) if I had the chance.  Unfortunately, the wait looked to be about 90 minutes, so I skipped any attempt to enter.  I have to admit, I regret not having the chance to haggle with Rick, the Old Man, Big Hoss, or Chumlee.

Figure 2 - Who knows if the items in my pocket would be worth $5 or $5,000?

I then toured the Vegas strip a bit.  When I was with the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, I had been responsible for oversight on a project related to failures of cantilevered sight supports.  There are some doozies in Las Vegas, so I could not resist taking photos.

Figure 3 - Those traffic lights are not "light", and the propensity for vibration of the cantilevered arm makes these structures susceptible to failure at their connection to the mast if improperly designed.  But I didn't tell the people around me that.

I also knew that one of my students from several years ago had played a role in the design of a major, funky restaurant inside one of the buildings on the strip, so I hunted it down to take a look.  A wondrous structure indeed, set up to look like a tree.  One of the treats of being a professor is to be able to see things that my students design during their careers.

Figure 4 - A funky restaurant structure that my former student Mike Becker had a hand in designing

My hotel was right across the street from the hotel/casino Bellagio, so I took the opportunity to watch its famous fountain show.  But I had more in mind than just my personal pleasure.  You see, when those fountains were first installed, there were problems with keeping them “firing off.”  They would work for a while, and then stop.  Divers would be sent in to check the fixtures, but everything seemed fine.  They would re-start the show, and all would be fine for a brief time but then the fountains would stop firing (unlike constant running fountains, these fire blasts of water, often in short spurts).

It was quite a mystery until someone (an engineer, no doubt) realized the culprit: thermodynamics.  To get the water spurts, a cylinder was quickly voided.  This means a great drop in pressure inside the cylinder.  For anyone who remembers the formula pV=nRT, that drop in pressure meant a drop in temperature.  So the culprit causing the fountains to stop was a build-up of ice crystals.  But it always took divers a few minutes to get to the underwater devices, and this is Las Vegas, so the water itself was warm, so the divers never saw any ice because it had melted.  Long story short, an understanding of engineering saved the day, and I now use video clips of these fountains in a review course I teach for my students so that they can do well on a national exam that tests their understanding of engineering fundamentals.

Figure 5 - The fountains at Bellagio "dance" to the music.  They don't have as good moves as I do, mind you, but they're not bad

I had arranged my schedule to allow one day for a little Harley-Davidson ride in the Vegas area.  Late in the day on Friday, I headed to the local Vegas Harley dealer and picked up a rental – a new Heritage Softail Classic.  A good ride, and one with six gears (as opposed to my own bike’s five) and fuel injection (compared to my own bike’s carburetor) that gave me some performance enhancements to look forward to on my ride. 

I was tempted to ride out into the desert on Friday night, but this being Vegas, I knew I had gambling to do, so I just rode the bike back to Bally’s and parked it for the night.  I then proceeded to the tables for a long night of high-stakes gambling.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early.  I headed downstairs and with all my winnings from the previous night, bought a cup of coffee.  I then headed out onto the roads.  I got out of Vegas as quickly as possible and headed toward the Hoover Dam for a little sightseeing.  I wanted to not only see the dam, but also the new arch bridge that served as a bypass (previously, one had to drive over the top of the dam).  I don’t know which was the most breathtaking: the beautiful arch bridge, the dam itself, or the clear indication of how low the water level has dropped in recent decades behind the dam (to the point where the original water inlets for power production are nearly worthless because they are too high).

Figure 6 - The white strip above the water line is basically like a bathtub ring showing where the water level used to be.  That's a lot of feet-acres of water that is missing.

 

Figure 7 – World-Famous-in-his-own-Mind structural engineer self-portrait with bridge-that-he-had-nothing-to-do-with-designing in the background

As I left Hoover Dam, I decided to ride into the desert.  And it was at this time that I first really noticed the sun.  Sure, I had worn sunglasses while walking up and down the Strip in the afternoon.  But it was April.  And it was mid-morning.  And it was already in the 90s.  And I realized there was no escaping it.

I rode through a state park that allowed me to ride along Lake Meade for a long distance.  It was some sort of state holiday, and entrance to the park was free.  There was a footrace being held that day, and all I could think to myself was how hot I was on a motorcycle – how could people even dream of running in this oven?

I eventually got to the point where I had to actually put on all the clothing I had with me to keep out of the sun.  I usually develop a dark tan in the summer, but this was April, and I had left feet of snow in Vermont just days earlier.  I was white and pasty at this time of the year – just picture the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters if you need imagery.  I was in no condition to be in the sun for long. Nevada has a helmet law, so the top of my head was protected.  But my arms and hands and nose and cheeks had started to burn.  Less than an hour into the ride.  So I put on my long-sleeve shirt, my riding gloves, my wrist-bands (to cover up that small open area between the end of a glove and the end of a sleeve – an area I learned to cover up a few years ago after riding through the Texas sun with sleeves and gloves, only to end the day with one-inch wide bright red rings of sunburn on each wrist), and my SPF 30 sunscreen all over my face.

Figure 8 - If it looks unbearably hot and dry in this photo, that's because it was

I was taken aback by the stark beauty of the desert, but I found I could not stop for any length of time to appreciate it because of the sun and heat.  I decided that if I were to ride in the southern Nevada desert again, it would be either in a cooler time of year or after I had built up a better protective tan.  I eventually decided I’d had enough and worked my way back to Vegas and the Harley dealership.  As I neared the dealership, I passed a fast-food chicken place and was tempted to stop in for a bite.  But I was hot and fatigued and decided to forego a meal.

While dropping off the Harley, I heard what sounded like a very loud backfire a block or two away.  I later found out that there had been a shooting at the El Pollo Loco restaurant that I had decided to pass by.  So I’m guessing I made the right decision – I suppose the food must have to be really, really bad for a patron to actually shoot somebody.

I flew out of Vegas the next morning, looking back fondly on the Harley ride in the hot sun.  And looking back with a smile on all the other things I had done in Vegas, which I of course cannot share with you, because “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”


 

The second Harley ride of note for 2011 was my near-annual ride with my best friend Doug.  If you read my 2010 Hog ride tale, you know that we rode to Myrtle Beach via the Outer Banks.  This year, we again decided to head to Myrtle Beach (there’s a great little tiki bar that’s part of a Margaritaville that we just love so much that we have to go back whenever we can).  However, this time, my route would take me to his house in Cary, North Carolina first.

My journey started on July 12, 2011.  Almost like every other time I start out a trip, I began my ride in what appeared to be rain.  However, this year, it was only a few drops that hit me in the first several miles.  And then the skies cleared, and I was thankful.  Little did I realize that perhaps I should not be so thankful for clear skies.

Within 30 miles, the sun was shining bright and the temperatures were on the rise.  By the time I got to the Albany, New York area, the heat was almost unbearable.  I found myself stopping at a Burger King solely for some air-conditioning and a cold drink.

Figure 9 - Day 1 of the ride and the temps are in the mid-90s

For those who do not ride motorcycles, it is worth pointing out that one does not make the same kind of time riding (mostly) secondary roads like you would traveling the interstates by car.  Averaging 40 MPH over the course of an entire day is actually quite good (out west, with fewer towns and stop signs, you might average up to 45 or 50 MPH), considering all the stops to refill gas or to stretch your legs or to just get out of the sunshine for a brief minute before you go absolutely stark-raving mad…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I pushed on for a pretty big day of riding, despite the heat.  When I got to mid-New Jersey, I decided that I’d spend the night in Princeton.  However, I also knew that as the hour gets late, sometimes just grabbing a room can be better than going too far and not finding one.  So I stopped in at a Days Inn in Hillsborough, short of Princeton.  This would come under the heading of “bad call, Sabes”.

I checked in, took my card key to my room, and tried to open the door.  No luck.  Tried again.  No luck.  I was hot, sweaty, grimy, and not in the mood for this.  My room was the absolutely farthest point from the registration desk.  So I ambled all the way back and informed the manager that my key did not work.  So he ran another one.  I went to my room.  Tried the key.  Still did not work.

Normally I am a man of great patience.  But after a long, long day in the saddle, I just wanted a shower and a cold drink.  So I went to the manager again.  Did he give me the key to another room?  Nope.  He called his maintenance man to fix my door!  So after sitting around for too long a time, I finally was able to gain entry to my room.  A room in which the air conditioning had not run all day.  The outside temperature as the sun was setting was perhaps 95 degrees.  The inside temperature was apparently not willing to take second place.

Eventually, the room cooled, I showered, and I cooled.

The next morning saw a routine that is probably de rigueur for most riders – spending 15-20 minutes watching The Weather Channel on TV, trying to gauge what would be in store. I was getting a much later start than normal, but that was okay because I had plenty of slack in my travel schedule.  My check of the TV is often coupled with a check on my iTouch to weather.com to see the specific forecast along my planned route for the day, because The Weather Channel local forecast is nowhere close to the extent of my day’s travel range.

Figure 10 - Every Harley rider's modern-day Oracle at Delphi

Figure 11 - Clear sailing in the forecast for my route (through Jersey to the Delmarva Peninsula and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel)

It had been more than 13 years since I had stepped on the Princeton campus (a buddy and I had gone out for a beer in Princeton then…I was on a different Harley at that time) and I looked forward to seeing it again.  And writing, “Princeton Sucks, Dartmouth Rules” in chalk on the sidewalk.

As I passed the road sign indicating that I was entering Princeton, I looked for the campus.  And looked.  And looked.  Never saw it. I guess I was on the wrong road.  Maybe they figure that the only people who should be allowed to attend Princeton University are the ones who can actually find the campus.

So I continued on. And the sun shone brightly.

Somewhere south of Princeton, I saw a sign for a “scenic view” and decided to pull over.  Maybe I am spoiled by the views I get daily in Vermont, but what I saw was not what I would classify as a scenic view.

Figure 12 - A stop for a "scenic view" in New Jersey (when you put something in quotation marks, there's usually a reason)

Figure 13 - The highlight of the scenic view stop was a reminder that New Jersey is home to many of America's greatest writers

As I crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I forgot to stop to take a picture, but it’s a damn beautiful structure), I decided that I would stop in at Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson outside of Wilmington, Delaware.  Mike’s is where I’d bought my first Harley (a custom Sportster 1200) and later my current ride (my ’98 Heritage Springer).  As I pulled in, I was very thankful to see light puffy clouds cover the sky, as I thought this might mean a reprieve from the scorching sun for the next several hours of my ride.

At one time, I also thought there was a Santa Claus.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

Figure 14 - Mike's Famous was a little slow on this particular morning

Normally, I would have stopped in at the University of Delaware to visit former colleagues, but I wanted to make a lot of miles by sunset, so I had to forego the trek inland to Newark.  Instead, I decided to ride some of my favorite roads along the shore of the Delaware River.  I knew these twisties would cost me serious time, but I also know they were well worth it.

As I rode on Route 9, oftentimes with the water level only inches below street level, I was reminded of the great agricultural industry in Delaware.  For example, there were the expansive tank farms with their unusual scent (very much different than the blossoms of pea pods in New England).

Figure 15 - Looks like a good crop of tanks this year!  I cannot imagine how big the combine must be that harvests these things.

A little further south, I stopped at a riverside beach.  Along the roadway had been many signs warning about what to do if I heard sirens sounding.  “Ride like hell and don’t look back” was probably the sign that held the most meaningful message for me.  I had also wanted to see the many horseshoe crabs that gather along the beaches in this area, but I did not see any about.  Perhaps everybody had already collected them and was tossing them at little stakes in sand-filled pits, hoping for a “leaner.”

Figure 16 - Anyone who is against nuclear energy should keep in mind that huge fusion reactor about 93 million miles away that makes life on Earth possible

As I rode through Delmarva, there was no escaping the sun.  Although there was apparently cloud cover 10 miles inland, the peninsula was clear as a bell.  Temperatures again approached 100 degrees.  I found myself drinking liter after liter of water or Gatorade yet never having to stop to pee.  Delaware is not a helmet state, but I did have to protect my noggin with a bandanna lest I burn my scalp.  Sunburn of the top of the head has become a something I have to guard against a lot more ever since I started involuntarily wearing my hair short on top.

As I entered Maryland, I returned to what would be a three-state combo (MD, VA, and NC) of helmet-law states.  A black helmet, a bright sunny day – what a delightful recipe for fried brain.  I was lucky that there was not a lot of traffic once I entered Maryland, for every time I stopped at a stoplight, I was sure that I was going to pass out from the heat.  I also managed to stop by and see some sights in Maryland.

Figure 17 - I usually try to stop by and visit old friends on my Harley rides.

It was now mid-afternoon, and I knew I needed to stop for a rest and some food and drink.  And to cool down, because I had been dressed in gloves, long-sleeve shirt, and wrist bands for the last few hours to avoid the sun.  I happened across a great place…the Pocomoke Diner.  I’d downed three iced tea refills before I even came close to quenching my thirst.  And then it came time to order; with scrapple on the menu, was there any question that I would get it?  They cooked it perfectly – crispy and crunchy on the outside, but still soft enough on the inside to give one the sensation of different textures.

Figure 18 – Good diners are a biker's best friend

For those of you who do not know what scrapple is (or its cousin, ponhaus), just think of grinding up everything that’s left over from a pig except the oink.  Now that’s good eating!

I also got a piece of pie the size of my head for dessert.  If anyone is traveling in the Delmarva looking for a place to eat, I give this place more stars than General Omar Bradley had.

As afternoon drew to a close, I finally came to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, another spectacular structure that I forgot to photograph.  What was interesting about the bridge part is that there are high mast lights, and on top of each light fixture sits a single stationary seagull.

Waiting to poop on the head of a motorcyclist.

As I crossed the Bay, I could see to the west lots of dark clouds.  I had been in pure sunshine all this time, and now, with maybe only 30-60 minutes more riding before I’d want to stop for the night, it was going to rain on me.  I traveled through Virginia Beach and Norfolk, and while in Norfolk, a few drops of rain fell.  I made a fast, emergency decision – to stop at the very next place for the night (getting soaked at this late hour did not seem worthwhile).

As one might guess, I made that decision almost immediately after passing the last hotel for what seemed like a long time. But then I rode by an America’s Best Value Inn and decided to stop.  The room was only something like $33 for the night.  I soon found out why.  My room door faced the interstate highway.  And my room had apparently been the scene of a recent homicide, based on the holes in the wall and what I assumed were blood stains.  However, a long day’s ride in the sun had totally drained me of all energy, so I drifted off to sleep.

Figure 19 - The good news is that I was leaving this place.  The bad news is - well, just look at all that blue, unrelenting sky.  My friend El Sol  would be baking me hard for another day.

Figure 20 - My friend, the sun, greeting me as I got started on my Bastille Day travels

And it never did actually rain.  And to top things off, had I stayed on the bike another 10 minutes, I would have had my choice of multiple nicer establishments for a night’s stay.  Oh well; I’m sure none of them would have given me a room for only $33.

Today was Bastille Day.  Not that it has any special meaning to me.  More importantly, this was the day that I would be meeting up with Doug.  We had left our plans a little loosey-goosey, but in general, I was going to ride for a while and he was going to ride east to meet up with me.  He gave me a lead on some good Virginia and North Carolina roads. I believe it was Highway 13 that I took, and it was some of the best riding ever.  Great road conditions, minimal traffic, nice scenery.  Oh, and that damned hot sun.

Figure 21 - In case you don't recognize it, this is the sun again.  That bright, pulsating, drive-you-mad, warm-the-air-to-99-degrees sun.

I continued on my way, making stops here and there to rest and take a drink of water.  The roadways of the south are often in much better condition than those of New England.  Very few cracks in the asphalt exist.  One also tends to get a lot more miles of wear in the south before you need to replace your tires, because the pavement aggregates are often softer than those found in New England.  I realized this first when I moved back to Vermont and found that I was replacing my tires several thousand miles earlier than I had been when living in Delaware.

Figure 22 - Sometimes I stop for a rest, sometimes for a drink, and sometimes for a little salvation.

I eventually got to where Highway 13 met Highway 64, and I hopped on 64 heading west.  I was hours ahead of my predicted schedule, so I stopped in at a Waffle House in Tarboro for an early lunch.  For those of you who have never had the pleasure, the Waffle House chain is the chain for good eating in the south.  Oh sure, after your meal your heart has to push your cholesterol-laden blood through your arteries like a child trying to suck a thick milkshake through a small straw, but it is worth it.  Their menu has everything, and you can get anything any time of the day.

Figure 23 - The Waffle House menu.  Their "heart healthy" section usually reads, "Go to the florist next door if you want something low in cholesterol."

I opted for my normal Waffle House option – hash browns.  At the Waffle House, you can get them topped with all sorts of goodies.  In recent years, they’ve added items.  In the “old days” (I used to visit my buddy Doug when he lived in Hickory, North Carolina twenty years ago and we’d stop at Waffle Houses), I would simply order mine “all the way.”  The waitress would ask, “all the way?” (just to be sure you knew what you were getting into).  But when I’m riding the Harley, I don’t like to eat jalapeno peppers, so now I just order my hash browns by asking for “scattered, smothered, covered, chunked and topped.”

That’s scattered on the grill, smothered with sautéed onions, covered with cheese, full of chunks of smoked ham and topped with Bert’s chili.  That used to be “all the way.”

Nowadays, “all the way” would also include “diced” (diced tomatoes), “peppered” (jalapeno peppers), “capped” (mushroom caps), and “country” (covered with sausage gravy).

Figure 23 - The fact that nobody seemed surprised when I broke out my camera to take a photo suggests to me that there are a lot of people who take photos of their food at the Waffle House.  Perhaps as evidence for coroner's hearings.

“Bert” is Bert Thornton, who created the chili for Waffle House.  If you haven’t had Bert’s chili, either on its own or on top of your hash browns, you have not lived.  There is even a video about it.  If you know YouTube.com, you can go to it and search for “Bert” and “Waffle House.”  Otherwise, you could type in this address and your browser should get you there:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZYrWcgX3-g

As I left the Waffle House, the temperatures seemed not so bad…maybe only in the mid-90s.  Just another lovely sunny day for a ride.

Figure 24 – In the parking lot, after my visit to the Church of the Fatter-Day Saints

As I stood outside “the House,” I called my buddy Doug.  He was surprised that I was as close as I was, and we planned to meet up just east of Raleigh and ride to Cary.  We met up in a shopping mall parking lot and then rode a beautiful highway bypass around the northeast side of the city (I think).  The road was smooth, which is always helpful when you’ve decided to clear a little carbon out by traveling 100 miles per hour.

We stopped into a bar for a beer.  The waitress’s name was Shana, and she was a civil engineering student at North Carolina State, I believe.  I gave her some career leads, but she still charged me for the beer.  She said she would be taking a structural analysis course in the fall, so I told her to just keep summing those forces and moments and setting them equal to zero and she’d be all set.  Engineering Philosophy 101.

Figure 25 - When I got home and unpacked, I realized that I still had a napkin from one of the bar stops

Doug then took me to a biker bar not far from his home.  It was quite the sight, but it being early afternoon, it was a little dead.  The weather was actually bearable, perhaps in the 80s, although still pretty sunny.  I opted to wear a tank top and get a little sun, knowing that I would not be baking in the sunshine for a lot of hours this day.

Figure 26 - The marketing plan for the bar has to do with drink pricing and intentionally unclear references to specific dates for parties

Figure 27 - My best friend Doug, a.k.a., Mint, Mint-man, Mint Julep, and Straw, in the biker bar parking lot

 

We then rolled into Doug’s house in Cary, where he lives with long-time girlfriend Kara.  It is only as I type up this travelogue that I realize that, yet again, I have failed to take any photos of the couple or their home.  It’s a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood.

We spent the night there, with a significant amount of alcohol intake (some drink in a bottle called “Skinnygirl” was the culprit).  I figure any time that I wake up naked in the guest bathroom in the middle of the night and have no idea how I got there, it must have been a good time leading up to that.

The next day, Doug and I headed off for Myrtle Beach, with a little later start on the day than we’d planned.  Funny how drinking can do that to you.

I’m sure this will come as a complete surprise – the sun was shining.  We rode east, fast and hard, enjoying the sights.  There of course came a point where a meal was in order.  If there’s one thing that Doug and I love to do, it’s eat good meals on our Harley rides.  And then later tell other people about how good the food was.  It drives Kara nuts.

Figure 28 - Stopping in for some southern cooking - pork chops, apple sauce, and collard greens.  Yum yum!

On crossing into South Carolina, we immediately pulled over to remove our helmets.  We did not have that long to drive at this point to our final destination for the day, but we had been on the road for a good long time.

Figure 29 - A quick stop at the NC/SC border

We arrived in Myrtle Beach and got the very last room in the Hampton Inn, which also happened to be the room literally the closest to the Margaritaville we wanted to go to.  If it was 200 yards away, I’d be surprised.  So after showering and changing, we headed over for some drinking.  There’s something particularly wonderful about drinking Lime Coolers after a long day on the bikes in the sun.  You’re drinking out of thirst, but you’re drinking alcohol.  So you’re drinking fast and you’re not noticing it.  That may explain why I have no photos or stories to share from this point in time until our departure from Myrtle Beach the next morning.

The ride back from Myrtle Beach is always a challenge.  Riding a motorcycle with a hangover is always a challenge.  Doing it in near 100 degree weather just makes it all the rougher.  We proceeded along a different route back to Cary than the one we had taken the previous day, which gave us a chance to briefly stop by one of the more famous locations in the region.

Figure 30 - Unlike most travelers, we did not load up with fireworks at S.O.B.

As we worked our way north, we continued to encounter great road conditions and minimal traffic.  Every stop did give me something else to snap a photo of as a way of preserving memories.

Figure 31 - You never realize how MANY of these signs there are along roadways until you stop and take photos of them

It was at one of these stops that I saw another tank farm, similar to what I had seen in Delaware.

Figure 32 - This tank farm must be where all the baby tanks are raised, and then they get shipped to the farms of Delaware to fatten up for market.  You can see one of the larger tanks hiding behind a tree; the younger tanks are unaware of the danger and just stay out in the open.

It being hot and sunny, we were very happy to get close to Doug’s home.  Imperative was the stop at the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) on the way, because apparently our livers were not yet sufficiently pickled.

Figure 33 - Doug leaving with some thirst-quenchers for later that day and night

We got to Doug’s house, and that evening, Doug, Kara, and I went out to a local bar where a band was playing.  One of Kara’s co-workers joined us, and surprise, surprise, we got hammered.  Buckets of beer on ice were the drink of the night, except for some harsh shot that I can only describe as “vomit with ground pepper” that Doug bought me.  I do not drink as much as I did in my youth, and I am sure that my drinking on this trip equaled my drinking for the entire year up to that point.

By now I had been on the road for almost a week, and I was ready to get home.  I got up pretty early (before 5 AM) considering how late we had been out, and while Doug and Kara slept, I showered, packed, and hit the road.  It was very cool…almost cold…and I wore all the clothing I could to stay warm waiting for the sun to rise.

And of course, the sun did rise.  It rose, and again I faced a cloudless sky.  The temperatures stayed cool to mid-morning, but then they climbed.  It should be a two-day ride back to Vermont (it had taken me 2.5 on the way down), but I knew I wanted to make a lot of miles on this day.  So I abandoned my normal routing and took the interstate highways.  It’s amazing how little you see when you are on the interstate, but you do make good time – I was probably averaging 50 MPH (after one accounts for stops for gas and what-not).  The only times that I prefer to ride the interstates are when I ride at night (fewer large animals than on secondary roads) and when there’s hard rain for a long time (fewer stops and all traffic moving the same direction).

Figure 34 - When you ride the interstates, your stops are rest areas…and dull

As I kept riding north, I kept noticing the lack of clouds in the sky.  It had been almost a week, and only in Norfolk had rain threatened, and the rest of the ride, there had been almost not a cloud in the sky, and the temperatures had been in the mid to high 90s.  Rough riding weather, to say the least.

Figure 35 - Another interstate rest area on my way back.  See how much it looks like the previous one?  THAT'S why I don't enjoy riding the interstate highways.

I was making really good time on the way back, until I neared the Maryland/Delaware border on I-95.  I pretty much walked my bike for an hour, roasting in the hot sun.  This, too, is a price one pays for riding the interstate highways – everyone rides the interstate highways.  Who’d have thought that you would come to a complete standstill with two or three lanes of traffic running each direction?

I then worked my way up to New Jersey and decided to get off the Turnpike (after moving 1 mile per hour for about an hour in heavy traffic) and get onto the Garden State Parkway, hoping to ride north a little, and then to cut over to I-287 along northwestern Jersey.  I feared there might be a lot of traffic in northeastern Jersey, perhaps with people heading home to New York City on a Sunday afternoon.  It was at this point that another joyous experience was to be had.  I figure it might have been about one hundred degrees at the time, and as I pulled into the rows to get onto the Parkway (or maybe it was the stop getting off the Turnpike), the woman in the car in front of me had a problem.  She either did not have her ticket or did not have the money necessary to continue on her way.

I could see her inside her car, searching around.  For five minutes, I waited…unable to back up, unable to go forward.  Each time that I was about to get off my bike and just pay her way, I saw her hand the tollbooth operator something, so I though all was well.  But it was not.  After perhaps ten minutes, she was on her way.  That the New Jersey travel authorities have not come up with a way of dealing with this sort of dilemma, whatever the problem turned out to be, shocks me.  I had been at a total stop, on top of a very hot bike (even though I turned the motor off), breathing exhaust for a long time.  It was abundantly clear to me why I live in Vermont and not New Jersey.

Once I got onto I-287, it was clear sailing.  At one point earlier in the day, before I’d hit the Maryland traffic jam, I had deluded myself into thinking that I could make it all the way home in a single day.  Now I knew this would not be the case.  I had lost too much time.  So I got as far as Newburgh, New York before pulling off and searching for a hotel.  As I parked the bike, I noticed that the sun was still shining.  Imagine that.

Figure 36 - Millions of degrees and lumens, all focused on me non-stop for a week

My choice of hotel (Hampton Inn – my favorite) worked out well, because there was a Five Guys hamburger joint only 200 yards away.  A burger, fries, and a drink, and I was off to dreamland after what had been the hardest day of riding of the entire trip.

July 18 would be my last day of the ride.  Newburgh is home to Orange County Choppers, the basis for the TV show “American Chopper.”  Normally, I would have waited around for their open hours and taken a tour.  But of all days, this day was one where the forecast was eventually going to be rain, so I wanted to hit the road early.  I did swing by the shop just so I could say I’d been there.

Figure 37 - After 7 AM, and no sign of Paul Sr. or Paul Jr. at the shop.  I guess they start the work day late at OCC.

I continued my trip north on I-87, sticking to the interstate plan.  As I neared the point where I would leave the interstate and head east into Vermont, I got one last chance to visit a rest area.

Figure 38 - It is a little hard to tell, but again, there's sunshine (at least now with a little haze)

As I drew closer to Vermont, at long last the skies greyed.  They did not only grey, they dark-greyed.  I knew that a storm was going to be upon me in only a short time, and although I was riding east, I was not riding fast enough to outrun the storm.  The Great Oracle…er, I mean, The Weather Channel, had warned of very severe mid-day storms in Vermont.  I had hoped to beat those.

I did not.

Near the New York-Vermont border, I got into my rain suit.  And for the first time on the trip, I put on my full-face helmet (which I carry solely in case of rain). And it rained.  It rained hard.  And I rode in that hard, driving rain for perhaps an hour.  And the entire time, do you know what I was saying to myself? 

“Gee, I really miss that wonderful sunshine!”

Figure 39 - The first signs of real impending rain in a week (the brief Norfolk scare notwithstanding)

And so I finished my ride home in variations of hard rain to light drizzle to occasional shower.  And I was reminded the entire time that no matter how hot the sun may be, how bright the sun may be, how relentless the sun may be…riding in intense sunshine beats the hell out of riding a motorcycle in the rain.

And that’s a good lesson learned, because Hog Ride 2012 is tentatively scheduled to be to Austin, Texas.  I don’t think they’ve seen rain in months.