SE Mass to Ottawa IL
Tues Jun 15, 2021
The ST was humming and ready to go. During the past week, I’d completed all last-minute maintenance tasks. Oil, filter, and final drive oil all replaced. Front tire and brake pads replaced. Bike washed and (somewhat) sparkly. The worrisome GPS issues had disappeared since I cleaned up the wiring earlier this month. I’d made the final decision to proceed with the trip as scheduled, and just like that, it seemed, it was time to hit the road.
I’d negotiated this time off for the rally with my new employer back in February, and had put in extra hours over the weekend so I could depart at noon on Tuesday. I planned to run a Saddlesore straight out of the gate, getting a jump on northeast rush hour traffic during the afternoon to pick up I-80 in PA, and then cruise through the busy Chicago area in the wee morning hours. I was looking forward to the long miles out, to get in more of the critical saddle time and stop efficiency practice that I’d been missing out on.
I rolled out of the driveway right on time. Despite a stormy forecast, the sun was out and the riding weather was perfect in the 70s. I had adjusted one of my ADVMonster fork lights the day before and had noticed that the threads holding it together seemed a bit loose. While blasting along I-90, I happened to glance down at it and realized it had come apart and I might be missing an aux light now! Shit!
I ran through possible repair/replacement options in my head as I waited for a safe place to stop on the busy Mass Pike. The light manufacturer, ADVMonster, is out of business now, so there was no chance for a replacement or even parts. I figured at this stage of the game, I’d probably be forced to just snip the whole assembly off the bike and make do with one less light.
Pulling off the highway into the Charlton rest area, I discovered that luckily the two halves of the light were still there, dangling next to the front wheel via the power cord that runs through the mounting bracket. The light body is apparently held together with metal-on-plastic threads and they were stripped – poor design. Feeling like I was on the clock already, and wasting time just an hour from home, I ripped out my toolbag and got to work with the duct tape. I effected a quick repair that would hopefully get me to the start hotel where I’d have more time and options to come up with a more permanent solution.
As I skirted Hartford CT on the loop, I noticed the traffic function on my new Zumo XT was suggesting an alternate route to get around a big delay on I-84 near Waterbury. While traffic through Waterbury is certainly not a surprise, my local rides with the XT so far hadn’t exactly given me warm fuzzies regarding the unit’s routing choices, so I decided to ignore it and continue on I-84 as planned. In this case, the delay was real, and I got to practice some creative rally skills to cut the 45 minute delay down to around 20, all said. 😉
Aside from a few sprinkles in the Poconos, the weather continued to be stellar, and I made good time across Pennsylvania as evening fell. I spoke frequently by phone with my buddy Ken, who was ahead of me on the route, caravanning with our friend Marc, who was trailering to the start. Over the course of the day, the Zumo XT’s integration with my phone (via the Garmin Drive app) was proving much more invasive and inflexible than I cared for.
Despite enabling the connection only for traffic/weather data, the GPS insisted on taking over the routing of all my voice phone calls, severely degrading the quality of the connection. The BT connection itself seemed unstable, often disconnecting and throwing up messages about not being able to connect to the phone, for which I then had to click OK to see the map. I disabled the call audio portion of the connection, but then it would just re-enable itself after a Bluetooth reconnect…extremely frustrating.
All I wanted was the data integration to make use of the excellent weather and traffic integration on the new GPS, but Garmin had apparently decided it was all or nothing. By the end of the day, I’d completely unpaired the GPS from my phone. Unfortunate, and I hope Garmin makes some improvements to their software to help me justify this upgrade.
I-80 through Ohio and Indiana can be summed up in one word: construction. There were countless long single-lane construction areas through both states, but especially Indiana. I was pleased with my plan to hit these states in the evening, as my time delays were minimal – sure, getting stuck behind the usual semis, but always moving. Aside from that, I rather enjoyed riding through the cool midwestern night air, as the ST ate up the miles, purring. I arrived on schedule at my hotel in Ottawa IL just past 02:00.
It would be another longish day ahead tomorrow and, based on all reports, a hotter one, so I wanted an early start. I spent some time firming up my next stopover plans and booking a hotel for the next night in Laramie WY, while eating a PBJ from home. The budget hotel I’d been looking at had gone up in price by $40 overnight (!), but was still cheaper than the alternatives. There wasn’t much choice if I wanted to stick to my planned mileage and schedule. I took this as a learning opportunity that, on the heels of Covid, hotels might prove to be a more precious commodity during this trip, and that I should continue my habit of booking ahead whenever possible.
Ottawa IL – Laramie WY
Wed Jun 16, 2021
Allowing myself four hours of sleep, I got up around 07:00 and drank room coffee while packing up. The hotel breakfast offering included a microwavable egg sandwich and a banana. Never thought I’d actually miss those generic hotel waffles so much! I was on the road by 08:00 and ate up the rest of the Illinois miles chatting with my wife, Ken and a couple other riders en route to Utah.
I missed the turn to stay on I-80 near Davenport IA and ended up circling southwest on I-280 before crossing the Mississippi over the pretty Baker Bridge, which was under construction. I got to see three huge barges underway on Old Man River as I crossed overhead, which was pretty cool.
Crossing through Iowa was fairly unremarkable, more traffic around the cities, but generally quick. Temperatures climbed quickly into the 80s and then 90s, making me grateful for the new vacuum-walled RTIC hydration jug. The mount was rock-solid and working out very well so far. There was still plenty of ice in in from the previous day when filling up in the morning. I used to have to fill the Coleman up completely with ice to last a day, but I learned over the course of this trip that the ice didn’t melt fast enough, leaving me requiring water unexpectedly at several points throughout the rally.
In western Nebraska, the temperatures began to really rise, remaining over 104 for a few hours, with a sustained max of 108 F – certainly the hottest I’ve ever ridden in to-date. I zipped up all my gear vents to keep out the blast of oven-hot air. When I had time to stop, I would wet the sleeves and neck of my LD Comfort shirt to provide a cooling effect up my jacket sleeves. Eventually I remembered about my cooling vest, wet that down in a rest stop water fountain, and donned it over my LD Comfort for even more evaporative cooling within my jacket. I minimized opening my helmet shield to avoid the face furnace. All of these little tricks really helped to make the intense heat more bearable, if not comfortable. I spotted local motorcyclists a few times on the other side of the highway wearing tank tops and shorts and couldn’t imagine how hot and dried out they must be feeling.
Somewhere in Nebraska, I gradually came up on and passed a dark GoldWing that was going a click or two under my cruise setting. The bike and rider were decked out in long-distance gear – clearly an IBR rider or staff also on their way to Provo. We shared a thumbs up as I motored by, though I didn’t recognize him and failed to note the license plate jurisdiction. He stuck to his own pace, but came up behind me from time to time, whenever construction zones or semi truck races slowed things down.
Past Sidney NE, the landscape got a bit more interesting and western-looking, and I hit some decent northerly crosswinds. There was a section of highway where, for several miles, the 4″ wide tar-snake strip in between lanes caused the rear wheel to alarmingly squirt a bit sideways whenever I changed lanes, making me sit up and take notice.
Near the WY border a localized storm cell became visible ahead, which held my attention, there not being much else to gander at. I was hoping to hit some of that rain to cool things off, but didn’t end up getting wet. Just being under the clouds did cool things down to 91F, which felt positively refreshing at this point.
Arriving in Laramie, I sought out the nearest Subway to pick up a sandwich for the room, and ended up cruising through Main St, which was a nice change from the highway and a chance to get a look at the town. While standing in line in my full Klim gear, the man in front of me did a double-take when he looked back at me and grinned, saying “Whoa, I thought you were the game warden come in to get me!” If I hadn’t figured it out yet, at this point, I knew I was out West. 🤠
I made a fuel stop by my hotel and saw the same GoldWing parked in front of the store, with the rider just entering the building. I parked nearby and spotted an IBR finisher plate backer. What are the chances!? Once I realized he was getting a meal inside. I went in and introduced myself to Mr. Art Garvin, three-time IBR finisher from Ohio, back for another attempt after a 10 year hiatus, and a heckuva nice fellow. I was tuckered out and he was heading a bit further today, so after greetings and a brief chat, I took my leave to get on to my hotel, where a good hot shower and food awaited.
Checking in to the Econolodge up the street, the clerk noted casually that there would be nobody at the desk between 6-10am the next morning after he left. What, nobody? Nope. OK then, I’ll be outta here before that anyhow. I guess this goes to show how badly the hotels are in need of employees right now. Despite the $40 increase in my room rate over the last 36 hours, there was no included breakfast at all and, while clean enough, the room had no coffee maker nor even water cups provided. If I wasn’t just passing through, I might have given a sh*t and a half. 🙂
My tape repair to the left fork light had given way at some point during the day’s heat, and it was dangling once again. This time, I wrapped some half-melted duct tape around the threads, then added more duct and Gorilla tape around the outside for good measure. That’ll hold her for the final approach.