Southeast MA – New Castle DE
Friday October 8, 2021
We east coast rally riders were eagerly awaiting the 2021 incarnation of The Void rally in October, given the dearth of local rallying opportunities and cancelled/retired events over the past two years. With the pandemic on an apparent downswing (at the time) and more hospitality businesses opening their doors to larger events, riders were anticipating seeing old friends from far and wide, and tearing up the lonely streets of urban mid-Atlantica once again. 😉
Then…more disappointment. The email from rallymaster Scott at the end of August, notifying us all of the event’s cancellation was another tough pill to swallow. The host hotel’s new management had decided that this fall was a good time to close down their catering/event services and renovate the hotel, due to the big staffing shortages that so many businesses are experiencing. These events take dozens of hours of coordination and organization, and I can imagine how heartbreaking it was for Scott to send that email. Re-organizing at this late stage would have been out of the question, and we all received full refunds of our entry fees the very next day. I know several riders who donated some or all of their refund to the Jason Fisher House (official charity of the event) or other charitable causes, to help some good come out of the situation.
In the weeks that followed, a generous invitation was issued to all Void would-be participants, from veteran rider Kirsten Talken-Spaulding (aka KTS), for a backyard ride-to-eat shindig at her home in Fredericksburg VA on Columbus Day (rally) weekend. Thus was born the “Fill the Void” RTE, and excitement was in the air again, with at least a road trip to look forward to again in October. Char decided to come with me this time, on her first trip outside New England since the pandemic began. We were both ready for a change of pace and scenery together by now.
The bike was packed up by Thursday evening. After starting work early Friday and putting in a full day, we rolled out of our driveway around 15:45. It was a beautiful day, weather-wise, always a great boost to starting a trip. However, the holiday weekend traffic was NOT as much fun, and we started hitting some of it as early as I-295 circling around Providence. This stretch of highway also provided a unmistakable example of exactly how f’d up the Garmin Zumo XT GPS routing algorithms are at the moment.
For those not familiar with I-295, it’s a standard loop bypass around Providence RI:
I never bother dropping any shaping points on the loop when heading south, as it is a pretty straightforward detour, re-joining I-95 on the southern side of the city. I do not have traffic routing enabled on the XT (that’s another story/complaint). After taking the turn off 95, my previous GPS units would try to re-calc for a mile or two, then settle in and understand that the quickest way would be to finish out the loop.
However, the ENTIRE length of the I-295 loop even down as far as US 6, the stupid XT kept trying to have me turn around to go all the way back to the northern I-95 junction. Clearly, by looking at the map, you can tell it’s shorter (time and distance-wise) to continue on the loop until rejoining 95 down by Warwick. My older Zumo 595 had no problem recalculating such easy route overrides. I have the XT set to prompt for re-calcs, due to my earlier experiences on the IBR, and finally gave up fighting with it for a while. When we were just a few miles from 95 and it still insisted on going north, I killed the route and reloaded it, which seemed to finally put things in order.
The heavy traffic picked up again on I-95 for the entire length of Connecticut. It was definitely the worst I’d ever seen it, not just near the cities. Now I truly understand why I’ve always followed the recommendations for avoiding rush hour and Friday afternoons on this stretch! Just before sunset, we stopped off at the Branford CT service plaza, for a stretch and nature break after two hours in the saddle. There were enough clouds to have blocked the sun from our eyes for most of the ride so far, and they made for a nice horizon as we headed back out into traffic.
Traffic was looking much worse after New Haven, so we made the decision to cut slightly north from Milford to the Merritt Parkway, to finish out the remainder of the Nutmeg State. While it added time on paper, the traffic was flowing quite quickly for the most part – plus, no trucks allowed! We hit I-287, where the double double-u of the Cuomo Bridge crossing the Hudson River was lit up all purple, a pretty sight in the early evening.
After the bridge, we dealt with heavy traffic through the Nyack area, before things picked up again after I-87. The remainder of the 287 loop went quick and without much traffic, until we reached Piscataway, and the Zumo XT did a repeat performance of it’s antics back in Rhode Island.
The GPS began trying to route me down past Rutgers University and through New Brunswick to pick up I-95, and kept trying to get me to take every single exit to go back, even when I was only a couple miles away from the NJ Turnpike. Once again, re-loading the route was the only way to break the pattern. My confidence in the XT’s algorithms is shrinking with every trip I take.
After a few miles in the crowded NJT express lanes, we found it easier and less stressful to switch over to the all-vehicle lanes, which were much more open and inviting at this time of night. We crossed the Delaware River and exited on the Dupont Highway into New Castle, Delaware, close to tonight’s hotel. Pulling in at a handy Wawa for fuel, the place was hopping with activity, clearly a social hub for the area on Friday nights.
I was hungry and had been counting on catching a late meal at a local hot dog place (the Dog House) I’d found online. They should’ve still been open, but the lot was empty and the workers inside waved us away, indicating they were already closed for the night. Turns out, this was a blessing in disguise as we later got some local 411 on the nastiness of the place, from a friend who knows.
Char wasn’t that hungry so we figured on just checking in to our nearby hotel and grabbing something close-by. We’d stayed at this Quality Inn before, during our last Void rally, and remembered it as clean, friendly, and convenient with individual external doors. The front desk service was as welcoming as I remember. He’d apparently chatted with our friend Gerry, who’d arrived a couple hours earlier than us, and was expecting our arrival. A room was already picked out for us next-door to our amigo.
We drove around the buildings to our spot in front of the room, and Gerry came out to welcome us in, before heading back in for some shuteye. Our room keycards didn’t work (of course), so back I zoomed to the front desk, where the apologetic clerk gave me a number to call him over if the second time didn’t work. Second time was the charm.
While Char settled in, I decided to head across the street to a Wendy’s I’d spotted, and just pick up something hot to go. When I got over there, the line was so long that it encircled the entire building. I parked and tried to go in, but the doors were locked – drive-thru service only it seems. I officially gave up on dinner, figuring tank bag food would have to do it for tonight.