Jacksonville – Daytona – Southeast MA
Sat – Sun March 14-15, 2020
I had a restless night of little sleep which I chalked up to the cup of coffee I’d unwisely consumed at the banquet. I heard Marc rustling around and leave for home around 03:00, then drifted off again for a few more hours. I drank coffee while looking over alternate routes to get home.
Marc had spotted a long northbound construction zone backup somewhere along our normal I-77/I-81 route, so the current plan involved sticking to I-95 as far as Fredericksburg, then scootching west on US-17 to pick up the 81 route again near Front Royal VA. The plan was to first head south to Daytona for the IBR finisher’s (aka “doners”) lunch, then click off a few hundred miles north to get a hotel, splitting the journey home into two legs.
I met Ken and Roy around 08:00 for another great hotel breakfast buffet (mmm those eggs and bacon), with our friends James and Sal, who would be joining us on part of the journey. After a relaxed meal, we scattered to pack up and ended up setting off around 09:15. It was about 80 miles south to Daytona Beach, and I’d never stopped in to see it before. We took the US-1 exit through Ormond Beach for the last several miles, so I got a brief feel for the area, sharing the boulevard with various groups of custom cars, custom choppers, and sportbikes alike, all out enjoying the sunny morning.
We arrived at Stavro’s Pizza around 10:30, to find a few riders already there, and more trickled in over the next hour. We chatted there on the sidewalk in the Florida sun, while bikes with loud pipes blatted their way by.
Given my recent rookie status, this was my first invite to the annual Stavros gathering to rub elbows (in a mostly sanitary and government-approved fashion) and tell tales with other Iron Butt Rally finishers. It was an honor to be there, and refreshing to have an opportunity to relax and just chat casually with this crowd, without the looming pressure of a rally ride ahead.
I had the pleasure of meeting IBA member #11, Gary Moore, who was in the first IBR (plus a couple other years). A very nice guy (and ST owner to boot), he enthralled a few of us with tales of his 2-year round-the-world trip with his wife back in the late ’80s.
There were perhaps 30 of us, including riders and a few spouses, a more intimate gathering compared to last night’s banquet. We all introduced ourselves, stating our IBA number, the years we competed in the IBR, and that was about it for any formalities. Though I don’t usually eat pizza for lunch, I shared a pepperoni/onion pie with Sal and it was pretty darn yummy.
Afterwards, I chatted up Jeff Earls a bit about last year’s rally, going through a few what-if scenarios that had been on my mind. He is one sharp tack and a very nice guy – I can’t wait to see what he cooks up for the 2021 rally. My companions were eager to get on the road around 13:30, so I made a quick round to say more quick hellos, then hustled outside to the bikes to catch up.
We headed straight out to I-95 via FL 92, taking in more sights and sounds of the remaining Bike Week attendees zipping or roaring by, their sneakers, short clothing, and exposed skin in stark contrast to our “tactical” snowmobile gear. Traffic on 95 was heavy from Jacksonville onward, and only got worse as we made our way north.
Once we were in Georgia, James rang me up, stating his traffic app was detecting several miles of stoppage ahead due to an accident, so we agreed to follow him onto US 17 for a detour near Savannah. Sal, lacking an aux tank, suddenly peeled off from our group to get fuel and we were unable to join him due to traffic. We stopped at a Circle K shortly thereafter, but never ended up linking back up with him.
Back on 95, brutal traffic continued to frustrate us and and it was an exercise in patience (and quite a bit of filtering) to get through the heavy/stopped sections. Talking with Ken and Roy via intercom, we decided that despite the possible construction, we would peel off on I-26 in South Carolina after all, and distance ourselves from I-95 as quickly as we could. This heavy parade of northbound traffic, including Bike Week attendees heading home, and early-migration snowbirds, was just too brutal. I called James to update him on our plan, and we all waved goodbye to him when we peeled off at last.
I-26 was an immediate improvement and we finally began making some good time. As the day wore into evening and temperatures dropped, we stopped to layer up and I made an online a hotel reservation for us just north of Charlotte. It felt much better to be moving along now with a fixed destination ahead. We had one more fuel stop in Fort Mill, SC and the miles passed quickly to our stop for the night in Huntersville, NC.
We planned on an early start the next morning, so didn’t want to spend time eating at a restaurant, so we hit a nearby gas station before going to the hotel. Like a beacon in the night to our hungry souls, we spotted Las Meras Tortas, a little Mexican place tacked on to the convenience store, and which I later learned is a small regional chain. Much has been written to ward the wary long distance rider from the proverbial “gas station burrito”. Inside it looked clean, fresh and legit, with a cashier that didn’t speak much English, so Ken and I ordered burritos to eat back in the room. Roy stuck to his tried and true Three Musketeers and Coke. 🙂
We checked into our Comfort Suites room, which had a fold-out bed for a third person. Ken was rather impressed with the size and heft of our burritos, and declared “These things are the size of a friggin baby!”, cracking us all up. It was a pretty damn good burrito, very fresh, though we’d have preferred the lettuce and tomato inside the tortilla rather than on the side. I was too hungry to think of taking a photo, but this place could become a regular stop on north/south trips.
We were up at 04:30 and rolling by 05:00 with full heated gear donned. Temps were in the low 40s at first, but dipped down into the 30s at various times during the day, especially at elevation. We also contended with some passing showers off and on until we got into West Virgina.
It was raining pretty good when we pulled into a Denny’s about 100 miles down the road, to warm up and get some food. We were the only customers this early and we received a very friendly greeting from the staff. It looked like they had just finished cleaning the place, everything sparkling and the tables still bare of all condiments. Of course I then spilled a full glass of orange juice all over myself and the floor, necessitating a change of table and a lot of guilt on my part. The breakfast hit the spot, and I left the waitress a good tip for being so sweet about the spill and clean-up she had to do.
We pushed on into the rain and cold, and I was really feeling it after a while, shivering and wishing I’d brought along my rain jacket to cut the wind. We made our next fuel stop at the Harrisonburg VA Pilot station a longer one, sitting inside to warm up with a hot cup of decaf while checking the weather radar ahead. I felt much better after that break. We were through most of the passing weather now, and the skies slowly cleared as we continued north. Temps stayed low until we finally broke into the 50s somewhere close to New Jersey.
The QuickChek in Hanover was our final fuel stop and where we said our goodbyes. Roy headed off first, then Ken and I rode together a few more miles before he turned north on I-87. I rejoined I-95 for my final leg across Connecticut and Rhode Island. Traffic remained light, skies clear, and it felt super to make it home before dark.
The timing for this trip couldn’t have worked out any better, as people and our governments got more and more serious about dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the days/weeks to follow. I spent the next day catching up on the news from the past week, and began to realize the seriousness of what was about to happen to our vulnerable population, our economy, and our daily way of life for the foreseeable future. I felt lucky to have gotten the miles in – there will be a lot fewer opportunities in the coming weeks and (possibly) months. Stay safe, my friends!