After a road trip is over there are ghosts from the journey that move through my mind. They are the whispers of people who have crossed my path. People that I will likely not see again.
Though I may have waved goodbye, these ghosts have left a mark, an impression uniquely their own on my life. Perhaps it was imparted wisdom, a good laugh, a kind smile or some… intangible thing that made their presence important.
There are moments when I feel sad that these interactions are so fleeting. But more often I know that part of their romantic flair is because they are transient. You see their best, their finest and they you. What you get is a perfect moment that doesn’t have to bother with fully realized reality.
I met this fine gentleman while in West Virginia in May. Being a fellow motorcyclist made it easy to strike up a conversation.
He had a lyrical drawl that made his stories captivating. The more he talked the more I conjured up this image of his life as a series of swashbuckling adventures. Each fantastical tale was peppered with down-home wisdom, thoughtful reflection and served up with twinkling eyes and a hearty laugh. In the movie of his life, he’d be played by Robert Duvall.
This man is one of my road ghosts. My life was enriched from meeting him along the way. Someone’s time can be the greatest gift in the world.
In the days leading up to my departure to Allentown for the Void Rally 7, I’d managed work myself up into a bit of a lather. One might say the biggest thing that I came away with from this experience was confirmation that I am indeed a neurotic freak. But, that’s part of my charm, right?
On Thursday evening, I met a few of the other Allentown starters for dinner. As I sat listening to them talk about their long distance riding experiences, their bun-toaster-whatayacallit 10,000 rides, I got the distinct feeling that I was out of my element. I’d never even done a Saddlesore, which is only 1,000 miles in 24-hours.
But on the other hand, I also became acutely aware that I just had to ride my ride. Winning would never be in my cards, so best to just think about enjoying the time on my own terms.
The rally had a start time window of between 8:50 am and 9:10 am. That meant I had to have a computer timestamped receipt from that window of time to begin my ride. Something printed from a gas pump, an ATM or a store receipt would do.
Once I had a receipt, the task was to let rally headquarters known when I got underway. I was to text them a message that contained my rider number, name, start time and my starting odometer.
Now, I like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent person so I’m not sure why such a menial task would wreak havoc on my psyche but I was convinced that I would somehow manage to cock that up. No one was more surprised than me that I got it right.
My rally began at 8:51 am.
And Away We Go
In a shining moment of luminescent brilliance, I stayed in the incorrect lane and exited the highway while looking at my GPS. We’re talking about less than 2 miles from the start and I’d already made a mistake. That’s right. I… am a champion.
Getting myself back on to I-78, I headed for my first bonus location – Cabelas in Hamburg, Pa.
When I arrived there were 5 or 6 other riders snapping photos of the big canoe outside. They seemed to just snap and go in no time flat. Me? I was inefficient and awkward, fumbling with my pen, shuffling my papers. It was obvious that I didn’t have a “system” or a routine. Nevertheless – I’d bagged my first bonus.
When I left and got underway to the next stop, that nagging fear of the unknown or lack of understanding of the process started to lift. I relaxed and realized that it’s just riding. That’s it. Nothing more. From that point on, I chilled out and just went about my business.
As it turned out, for the next couple bonuses I’d synched up with Catfish and a couple other riders. It was nice to see other rally riders, it helped to boost my confidence a bit.
When I received the bonus listing on Tuesday night, I was so excited to discover listings for terrific roadside-y stops. I basically planned my route around things that I wanted to see.
As a long time muffler man lover, I nearly wept when I saw the Farnham entry in the rally book. I’d visited once before in 2008. Since then they’ve added another muffler man and a bikini-clad Uniroyal gal. There was NO WAY I would have skipped that bonus stop.
Throughout the night, I came to the conclusion that quite a few of the bonus locations must’ve come from RoadsideAmerica.com. As far as I know they were the ones who coined the term “Farnham Colossi.” Being that the RA website is my go-to guide for road tripping goodies, I was as happy as a clam.
When Kenny and I took our trip through West Virginia in June, the Westbrook’s Esso station in Kingwood was a place I wanted to visit but we didn’t have enough time. I was only too happy to do a bonus stop there during the rally.
The Esso station is a real beauty. I hung around for 15 minutes or so looking at the old memorabilia, the great vintage signs. It must be heaven for old gas lovers.
Though I was on a mission to take pictures of specific things, I did try to just relax and enjoy the riding as I normally would on any other road trip. Just zooming with my head down to eat miles isn’t my thing. This was especially true when I was in West Virginia where the leaves were just starting to change. The trees looked beautiful with the setting sun filtering through their yellow leaves.
While zipping down WV92 I came upon a Mail Pouch barn that I’d never seen before. I just couldn’t resists stopping for it.
From Kingwood, I was headed south to the town of Elkins where I had to take a picture of Minnehaha. Girlfriend has a serious butter-face so I took the picture from her best side. She’s got quite the bodacious hiney, right?
When I pulled into Elkins, the traffic came to a halt. There was a fair in town and I was just sneaking through while chairs were being put out, lining the main thoroughfare around town. I dodged a bullet timing-wise to be able to get through before the roadway was shut down for a parade. Whew!
The Freaks Come Out At Night
When I planned my route I knew that I would be heading out along route WV 219 and 250 in the dark. Having ridden those roads quite a few times in the past I was well acquainted with their layout. They are winding mountain roads and I knew that it would take me a while to get through them in the dark. This was the leg of my trip that I was kind of worried about. Admittedly, I was kind of scared to be out in the middle of nowhere, alone in the dark.
Have I told you lately that I’m a huge chicken?
I decided to stop and grab a sandwich before continuing into the mountains on rt.250 to the town of Monterey, Virginia. While standing in the parking lot of a Subway, I witnessed the epitome of cliche.
As I stood outside eating a sandwich next to my bike, two dudes – both dressed in camouflage pulled up and parked. Their windows were rolled down and the plucky sounds of banjo music came blaring out of the car. It was the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies. Yes, seriously. When the song ended the driver replayed it once more for good measure.
When the passeger who’d run inside to Subway came back out, the car backed out and slowly rolled past where I stood. I heard the passenger say something and both men craned their necks looking at me. The only thing I could clearly make out were the words “…that bike.” That left me to have to piece together what I assumed the rest of the sentence to be. I came up with “she’s all alone, let’s follow her and kill her in the cold, dark night and feed her to the raccoons. The chubby ones make good eatin’. I like that bike.” Or something to that effect.
As I contemplated my fate as raccoon-chow, I got a call from Kenny who’d been watching my progress through Find my iPhone since I don’t use a SPOT tracker. He was able to see where I was lingering for about a half an hour and gave me a pep talk, knowing that this was the only stretch I felt funky about. Love that man.
With one last swig of water, I set off into the dark night. There are few if any street lights on 250 between Huttonsville, WV and Monterey, Va. As I rode along, I thanked the heavens and my awesome and handy husband for my auxiliary Denali lights. I would have had a really hard time without them.
I also contemplated opening a school or maybe even just a correspondence course for opossum to teach them how to cross the road properly. Judging by the number of mangy pelts smeared on the roadway, it could be my ticket to the big time. I can even condense the lesson down into a single page of material on account of them not having any thumbs to turn pages and all.
By the time I arrived in Monterey for my next bonus it was just after 9 pm and the sun was long gone. The bonus I was looking for was a big fish on top of a restaurant. My heart sank a little when I pulled up only to find the fish on the roof shrouded in darkness. Crap.
Since the bonus needs to be visible in the photo, darkness could be a teensy-weensy problem. Luckily for me a nice Sheriff happened to be passing through town. I waved him down, told him what I was doing and asked if he could shine his cars spotlight on the fish so that I could take the picture. Bonus bagged. YAY!
Remember how I was saying I’m a total chicken? Yea… that scaredy-cat-ness was in overdrive when I found myself at Natural Chimneys. There were NO LIGHTS anywhere at the edge of the woods where the sign bonus was.
Because I’m smart (ahem), I had my spare set of keys in my topbox. You know the spare keys with… the spare key.. to the top..b… anyway~ I couldn’t keep my headlights keyed on to keep Bigfoot away, so I floundered with my keys in the dark, finally opening my topbox to get my rally towel and book and then quickly put them back in the ignition to get my headlights on.
Suffice it to say, I was too fast for Bigfoot and managed to survive. I was so fast in fact, I out maneuvered my oh-so-clever brain and never took the spare keys out of the topbox, you know – for the very next bonus where I was sure to be killed by golf course dwelling werewolves in the dark. Sonofa!
One of the required bonuses of the rally was a mandatory 3 hour continuous rest stop to be taken some time between 10 pm and 6 am. Based on my regular schedule, I thought it would be best to take my rest as early as possible, since I am not a night owl.
Around midnight I pulled into an Econolodge in Stauton, Virginia. I was disheveled looking. The tangles in my hair had reached epic proportions, my eyes were red, face windburned. I looked road tired.
Making small talk with the young man at the check-in desk I offhandedly mentioned that I just needed the room for a few hours. He stopped typing and looked at me and slowly said he’d have to charge me for the whole night, which was fine by me. I didn’t care, I just wanted a nap.
As I walked up the stairs it dawned on me that he must’ve thought I was the worst looking hooker ever.
Bedbugs be damned, I slept a righteous sleep for 2 1/2 hours straight. When my alarm went off at 3:00 am, I had no recollection of even closing my eyes.
Back on the Road
I packed up and set off again at 3:30 am feeling a little woozy and headachey. But that all faded when adrenaline came a-callin’ after I nearly flattened a snarling possum in the fog near Lexington. See? I’d make a killing with Road Crossing 101.
From Lexington to Natural Bridge, a wet fog hung in the air. Between the limited visibility and the deer doing the I might dart in front of you cha-cha on the side of the road, my pace was pretty conservative. And so as I began heading towards a bonus that was 40 miles in on a winding road, I stopped and decided it just wasn’t worth the time and effort to get to it and get back out. Instead I continued to my next stop ~ Dino Girl:
When I hung my rally flag on the dinosaur’s wreath, my glove got covered in a nasty spider web. What is the incubation time to find out whether or not that spider was radioactive? Anyone know?
Standing there in the wet fog at 4:45 in the morning, I chuckled to myself thinking about Kenny putting wheels on the dinosaur and towing it home to our house. Every day after work I could slide down the tail and say yabba dabba doooooo!
By the time I’d made it to Wytheville, Va. to take a gander at the big pencil, which is in fact quite big, the sun was making its way over the mountains. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day.
The Final Stretch
Riding east into the sun for the final 2 bonuses, it hit me that this thing that I’d been thinking about, this ride that had me going nutso for weeks was just about over. On one hand I was glad that I did everything I’d set out to do, but then again there is always a bittersweetness when something you’ve been striving for comes to completion.
My route took me along VA58 towards a big banjo. When I pulled in to take the picture, some dude came over to talk to me. I hadn’t taken take my helmet off so I let him know right off the bat that I couldn’t hear him very well because I was wearing earplugs. He took that as a sign that he needed to step back further and keep talking so that I REALLY couldn’t hear him. I have no idea what he said. But since the sun was out, I was confident he didn’t want to drag me into the woods and kill me like Bigfoot or the werewolf. Everyone knows that only happens at night.
My final bonus stop was the at the Booker T. Washington memorial. As I sat at the traffic light waiting to turn down the road, a guy in a van pulled up next to me and mouthed something I couldn’t hear. I asked him to repeat it.
He smiled and shouted, “you’re from New York? You rode down from New York?”
I smiled back and nodded and said “yes.”
He then said… “you rode the bike all the way?”
I like to imagine that when people say things like that to me they drive away and want to kick themselves for being dumb. But I’m guessing they don’t.
“No. I had the mothership beam it down to this very spot. Crazy, huh?” I didn’t really say that, but I rolled my eyes and thought it when I rode away.
Booker T. was my last bonus. Barring a single bonus that dropped, I’d finished my route as planned. I was feeling a bit tired and even though I had plenty of time left over to ride out and pick up at least one more bonus, I opted to head in and call it a day. I’d had a great ride and I was content.
As it turned out, all of my sweating over doing things right either helped me to keep my shit straight or it was all for naught. I didn’t lose any points at all. I came away with a score of 462. That was enough for a mid-pack (16th place) finish for the Allentown starters. I didn’t DNF and I wasn’t low man on the totem pole. I was my regular, average self.
The Allentown winner, Anthony came away with a blazing 693 points. Amazing.GREAT job, Ant!
Following a shower and a nap, I went down to have a few beers in the lounge. Though it seemed like many of the folks there already knew each other, everyone I met was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Really nice people. I made some new friends I hope to see again.
And, I earned myself a rally sweatshirt
What I Learned
You have at least 2 minutes between when you turn your headlights out and back on while on a dark and desolate road before Bigfoot eats you.
The process of being mentally busy or having a goal really seemed to make slab sections of the ride I would normally complain about quite bearable.
I’m sorry that I got myself so crazed about what it means to ride a rally. The truth that I discovered for myself was that it’s just riding, with a notation added to a sheet of paper. Back when I started kicking around the idea of doing the Void, Kenny said something to the effect of “isn’t that what you do anyway? Ride around, look at stuff and take pictures?” and he was right. I’d built this process into something else in my mind when all it was… was riding.
When I set up my route, I created the waypoints in my GPS as sequentially numbered waypoints such as: 01. BON – Bonus Location Name, 02. BAN – Bonus Location Name and so on. I found it easier for me to mentally digest going from 1 waypoint to the next rather than following a full route. Yea, it’s a mental game I play with myself but it kept me from thinking about how much further I had to go because I only had to go to the next thing.
Having your paperwork and rally towel easily accessible speeds things along. There were times I wished I was able to stow it somewhere other than my Givi box.
Don’t leave the spare set of keys locked inside of something that the spare set of keys open, dummy.
Several people have asked if I would do it again. My answer? You bet.
There were many people who reached out to me before the ride offering tips or to answer any questions I had. People were gracious, kind and went out of their way to help when they didn’t have to.
The Rallymasters and staff were great ~ friendly and warm. They put on a terrific event and I came away feeling really happy that I went.
Many thanks to all who made The Void possible.
And thanks of course to Catfish who lit a fire under me to give it a try.
On Monday night, after we’d rolled into a hotel in Franklin, North Carolina not an hour passed before the skies went dark and we watched the rain pelt our motorcycles parked outside of our window. It was another tick in the “lucky” column for us. A girl could really get used to that.
Somehow we ended up in a suite. Not that I’m complaining. But, there is something intrinsically UN-romantic about a bathtub in the middle of your room with a giant mirror in front of it for extra sexiness.
I think I must be in the minority on this front because over the years we’ve found ourselves in quite a few of these rooms. But for just $75 bucks, I suppose they could put a giraffe in the middle of the room and that would be fine with me as long as the place has a clean king size bed and a working AC.
When the alert on my phone to visit the Muffler Car chimed us awake on Tuesday morning, I peered out the window to find that the rain was still coming down. With gusto. Poo.
Kenny and I took our time eating breakfast, watched the weather and hoped for the rain to start tapering off. While we were sitting there in the breakfast room, another hotel guest walked in and winked at me. Winked! Who does that? That has to rank right up there with ‘walking around whistling’ in the list of things that only men over 50 do.
The really optimistic part of me was hoping that we’d go back to our room and discover blue skies and sunshine. Alas it was not to be. We’d just have to make the best of it. First stop for the day – visiting then mufflermobile and then on to Georgia to ride The Gauntlet.
We were dogged by pouring rain leaving Franklin for a good hour. Thankfully the road surface was nice, there was minimal fog, the grip was fine and well, what else was there to do but keep moving?
As we climbed up along GA348 it seemed like the rain was starting to lighten up a bit. I pulled off to look at the fog laying in the valley below.
This particular loop of roads was something that I’d long wanted to ride. Add to that my interest in seeing the alpine-themed town of Helen and you could say I was pretty excited to be in Georgia. But, as we pulled in to town the rains once again came calling. I would be lying if I said that the wet weather didn’t put a little bit of a damper on my spirits.
I came away with the feeling that Helen was nothing more interesting than visiting a Bavarian village that a theme park would set up. It was a hokey tourist trap filled with t-shirts, crappy souvenirs and things to give you diabetes. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to the contrary, but I was pretty disappointed. Boo.
There was nothing else for us to do but ride on.
The intermittent rain stayed with us as we rode Wolf Pen Gap Rd and a smokin’ section of 129 over Blood Mountain. As the road unfurled before us, especially on 129 my heart wanted to go faster, faster, faster! but good sense kept me in check. The most important part of our trips is always to make it home in one piece.
I hope with all of my might that we’ll find ourselves in that neck of the woods again to try those roads in the dry.
The more time we spent riding, the more I wondered why people flock to Deal’s Gap over and over. Sure, try it at least once – but sister,… there is plenty of other great ridin’ in them thar hills with a lot fewer people to rub elbows with.
The closer we got to closing up the Gauntlet loop, the dryer it became. Soon we were cruising along in the sunshine. If only we’d had it a few hours earlier. Le sigh.
Ah, well. I believe the universe unfolds as it should.
As we climbed up into the mountains of Sequoia National Park, the temperature dropped sharply. We rode from Porterville and it’s scorched earth up into the park where the roads were wet and the air was cool.
It seemed that we’d once again skirted what must have been a soaking rain. The sun dipped lower in the sky and dampness clung to the air between the trees. It made me shiver as I rode along.
The closer we got to the Giant Forest Museum sent my mind reeling back to the moment in 2008 when I came close to hitting a black bear on the road. Some part of me was expecting to see another fuzzy buddy come traipsing across the road.
I only wish that I had the power to convey what it feels like to be amongst the red bark of the giant sequoias. Majestic just seems trite. Their ancient bodies are something more. They carry some ethereal spirit that I swear you can feel when you are in their presence.
Nighttime was hot on our heels. As we headed westward on the General’s Highway, we started to catch glimpses of a pink sunset through the trees. It was like a game of cat and mouse. Whenever I was in a place to get a good view, I was unable to stop and when I was able to stop, I couldn’t get a good view. Luck must’ve been on our sides though, because we came to a pullout with a great view for the last whisper of the daylight.
I stood in the gas station near Windham, NY, sweating. My shadow stretched out on the ground in front of me, surrounded by an orangey glow. This was it. Decision time.
In an instinctive move, I stepped forward, swung my leg over the saddle of my bike and turned the key. It was time to head south; time to head home.
Kenny wasn’t expecting me, so I was hoping he’d be excited to hear the unmistakeable sound of my Speed Triple humming in our driveway. Just 200 more hot slab miles stood between me and our little house. I put the hammer down and tried to ignore that sting that was starting to radiate across my hindquarters.
Our house is home of the best hugs in the world.
The following morning when Kenny came shuffling down the hall, I was already up and dressed to roll. “Where are you going now?” he asked. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned anything beyond getting my butt on the ferry and crossing the Long Island Sound, so I said… “I don’t know.”
I had an 1:15 minutes to figure it out while I sat on the deck of the boat. What was the rush? I kissed my honey goodbye and headed for the ferry.