Southeast MA – Spring Mills WV
Mon March 7, 2022
It was two years ago, during the Iron Butt Association‘s Jacksonville Pizza Party trip of 2020, when Covid-19 began rearing its ugly head across this country. I remember chilling by the pool, relaxed and at ease with friends after completing my Lap of Florida, while random bits of news about the new disease gradually began to filter into conversations and the term ‘pandemic’ was being whispered and scoffed at, and people began to think twice about shaking hands or hugging. Lockdowns and travel restrictions were put into place even as most of us were riding home from that event.
Juggling a new job, continued uncertainty in travel, and probably just overall winter pandemic inertia, I skipped the 2021 party, then proceeded to watch in dismay as most of the smaller motorcycle rallies last year got cancelled for one reason or another. After all that disappointment and another long winter cooped up, when this year’s Jax registration email went out, I was more than ready to break out of the doldrums for a road trip.
Now employed at a “distributed workplace” environment, I planned to test out some new travel habits this year, namely working from the road as I travelled to events. While it would mean less daily travel mileage and more hotel stays, it should help conserve precious vacation days and allow me to travel more overall. I reached out to a few riders in the motorcycle community about their experiences and got some useful tips on managing a schedule divided between work and road travel (thanks Chris and Kerri!). I began to set my expectations for daily saddle time/mileage, and formulated a rough outline for how to make it work around hotel check-out times. My employer proved to be supportive and flexible, as long as my work gets done.
This year’s late winter voyage would be my first big test of working from the road – I’m not even accustomed to working over local coffee shop wifi! I booked just a single day of actual vacation time for the trip this year (Friday) as opposed to the normal 3-4 days this trip has eaten up in the past. I’d miss the experience of riding down together with friends, but was looking forward to using the extra vaca later in the year.
After banking some work hours on Sunday, I’d planned on a Monday afternoon departure. As it happened, scheduling flexibility was put to the test immediately, when a light morning workload encouraged me to change plans last minute and take advantage of the early morning hours and emptier highways to scoot out of the northeast before rush hour.
I hit the road at 03:00, in clear mild weather. It was easy and unhurried riding down to my hotel just north of Martinsburg WV. Temperatures became very nice, up to the 70s, though it got somewhat breezy. I’ll take it for March!
Arriving at the hotel just before 11:00, I was hoping for an early check-in, but the room wasn’t yet ready. So I set up my laptop at a table in the lobby breakfast nook and drank bad coffee as I got some work done. My room became available around 13:00, and I transitioned smoothly into it to finish out my workday. So far so good!
Spring Mills WV – St. George SC
Tues Mar 8, 2022
I awoke early, nabbed some coffee and breakfast from the lobby, and kept working, figuring I’d stay until my requested late check-out at noon. I was waiting on some things, so I packed up a bit early and took advantage of the daylight to get my ride underway. It was about 11:00 when I got rolling.
It was a nice eight hour ride in beautiful sunny weather – I always enjoy views of the Shenandoah range throughout Virginia, despite the trucks. My one fuel stop was near Dublin VA. Traffic was heavier around Charlotte, as I passed through around rush hour, but the express lanes kept me going without much trouble.
My lodgings for this night was a Quality Inn in St. George SC, right off I-95. I fueled up, picked up Subway for dinner, checked in, and got back to work as I ate dinner, clocking another few hours before hitting the sack.
St. George SC – Jacksonville FL
Wed Mar 9, 2022
Rinse and repeat. I awoke early, grabbed the hotel breakfast and coffee, then worked through the morning before my late checkout at noon. The room had been unfortunately positioned to capture most of the noise from the truck stop across the street, as the big rigs turned out onto the road all morning, so it’s lucky I wasn’t trying to sleep late!
I quickly ate up the last couple hundred miles of my journey down into Florida. My Zumo XT GPS was up to its old tricks (no longer a surprise at least) as I took the western loop highway around Jacksonville. It kept trying to have me exit and return to rejoin I-95 north of the city and then straight through town. Even after I was clearly past the halfway point of the loop. I reset the route to break it free, and continued on in light traffic, arriving at the Ramada event hotel around 15:30.
As dinnertime rolled around, I set off to find dinner with a few pals. There was entertainment on the docket for tonight in the hotel’s comedy club, so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. The nearby Steak & Shake was operating as take-out only, due to staffing shortages, and the Bob Evans was booked solid for the next hour.
Gerry and I ended up grabbing some tasty grub from the food bar at the nearby Whole Foods. I’m not what you’d call a frequent patron of this grocery chain, but I gotta say I was impressed with the freshly prepared hot food and salad options they offer for prices that rival what you’d pay at a typical diner restaurant. What a healthy choice for road food if you happen to find yourself near one! We ate outside at a small wrought-iron table under the porte-cochere and had a great meal while catching up.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by Paul Pelland (LongHaulPaul) as a charity fundraiser, with free draft beer provided by the IBA (thanks!). Paul is (in)famous in the LD community for his impressive ride resume, sharp wit, and comic (mis)adventures that have become legend. He takes a perverse enjoyment in attempting impossible, silly, and impossibly silly ride challenges, even before he started his quest to ride a million miles to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research.
This was a hell of a show – he managed to wrangle several other well-known LD riders and family members to “act” in this evening’s skit as either convicts or prison staff in a mock parole hearing, to decide if Paul should remain convicted of having the “defective LD gene”. Paul pokes a lot of people hard in sensitive spots (tho all in good fun) and much of the provided wardrobe fit rather tightly on members of the impromptu acting troupe, leaving not enough to the imagination!
Thur Mar 10, 2022
Thursday morning, I made it out to the lobby early enough to catch the end of the ride briefing that IBA president Mike Kneebone was giving to a couple dozen riders heading out for specially themed certification rides around the state of Florida. It was pouring.
After the riders departed, I chowed down on the hot breakfast buffet and shot the shit with comrades before heading back to my room to punch the clock for one more day. The time passed quickly as I worked, and it rained off and on most of the day around the hotel, so I didn’t feel too badly about not getting out for a local ride. I wrapped things up at 15:00 and headed out to kick tires in the parking lot, since the rain had mostly abated. With my work now done for the week, and a vacation day in hand, I looked forward to just chilling out around the hotel for the next day and a half.
The sun seemed like it had decided to stay for a while, so Gerry, Roy and I enjoyed our dinner at an outdoor picnic table. On the menu was another boxed meal of goodness from Whole Foods, along with a strawberry shake from Steak & Shake.
The weather back north was a topic of concern at this point, as a pretty serious-looking cold front and storm system was moving in to envelop the entire east coast. Gerry was all but decided to head for home early the next morning to beat the weather, skipping out on the entire IBA presentation and banquet, as well as his first finisher’s pizza party.
I was a bit tempted to join him, knowing it was probably the smart play, but was also determined to make the most of this trip and all those interstate miles by attending my second pizza party on Saturday. If I got caught out by the weather, it now felt like I had some flexibility in working from the road for another day if I had to hole up somewhere on Sunday.
A bit later, after a couple beverages in the hotel bar, Ken, Felicia and I joined our local friend Ashley for what has become an annual ritual outing to Miller’s Ale House a couple miles down the road. As I’d already eaten, I settled for a couple more beers while the others munched and conversation flowed. It was a nice change of pace, as always. (Thanks Ashley!)
Upon return to the hotel, we hung out a bit more in the hotel lobby and bar before turning in. Pretty quiet around with many folks still out on their cert rides.
Thur Mar 10, 2022
Up early for breakfast again on Friday, then later joined sleepyheads Ken and Felicia for their late morning breakfast at the Bob Evans next door, dodging raindrops and flooded roadside ditches as the skies had opened up once again. I had a piece of apple pie – tasty but of the mass-produced variety. 🙁
I discovered that Gerry had indeed hit the road early this morning and was well on his way up I-95, looking good to beat the weather. I’d missed the departure window at this point, so come what may! My vacation day was going to count for something!
There were a lot more folks around the hotel now that the cert riders had returned and more attendees had arrived just for the Friday presentations and banquet. The keg of Yuengling was cracked open at 14:00, and revelry ensued throughout the lobby and parking lot (once the rain let up). I picked up Gerry’s name tag to bring back home for him and we fired off a photo to let him know that his paid-for banquet dinner wouldn’t be going to waste.
Soon enough, we all drifted into the comedy club room to continue the merriment, and applaud our fellow riders who had completed either ride-in or Florida-based certification rides. The banquet followed shortly thereafter and the standard buffet fare was good and filling.
Additional certificate presentations were made for some more notable riding achievements by riders over the past year, including Chris Hopper’s stunning 100/100ths ride, where he documented 100,000 miles ridden within a 100 day span last year. It’s remarkable how this community continues to push the envelope of time/distance endurance riding almost every year, “chasin’ that demon”, as Chuck Yeager might’ve said.
After some post-meal chit-chat, I turned in a bit early to try to figure a route home based on the incoming weather systems. Freezing temperatures were creeping eastward into the mid-Atlantic states and the forecast was for at-or-near-freezing temperatures for everywhere north of the Carolinas, with snowfall predicted inland and at elevation.
I was concerned mostly about ice on the roadways, so timing and route choice were more important than usual. Much as I loathed the thought, I decided to stick to the coastal route up I-95 and forgo the usual route back up I-81- missing out on the excellent burrito I’d been planning to purchase and consume the following evening near Charlotte. 🙁
Jacksonville FL – Roanoke Rapids NC (via Daytona Beach)
Sat Mar 12, 2022
Another early breakfast, and there were noticeably less bikes out in the hotel lot this morning. LD riders tend to be on the road before the sun! After food, conversation and packing up the bike, I convoyed the 80 miles south to Daytona Beach with Roy and the Amans, who were pulling their new-to-them trailer behind the bike (didn’t slow Ken down at all).
We dodged some raindrops, got hit by a few others, and pulled up to Stavro’s Pizza House in a drying/warming weather pattern. I tried to appreciate it while I could, because the temperatures would be 40 degrees lower for me by tonight. At least it would be a few hours more until I had to face the cold!
Bill Thweatt had kindly agreed to host the finisher’s pizza party this year, and some 30 IBR finishers and spouses turned out for the annual communal meal, including some of the double-digit guys, who are always interesting to talk to.
Like last time, it was pretty informal once we’d introduced ourselves – there was good food, fellowship, and conversation. I talked to a few other folks from other parts of the country and exchanged our respective plans on avoiding what was now being classified as a polar vortex. Once the pizza was eaten, it was time to get moving.
I-95 was busy with northbound bike week traffic, especially through Georgia and South Carolina until passing by I-26, where things started to open up a bit more. I rode creatively as needed to get around a couple multi-mile backups.
As I rode north, the cold weather air mass was moving southeast across the country to meet me. The temperatures declined steadily down through the 40s and 30s as I ticked off the hours across the Carolinas. I layered up at the appropriate times, and had my jacket liner cranking and my lobster mitts on by the time the sun went down. There were occasional flakes of snow drifting for the last hour or so into my hotel in Roanoke Rapids.
Quite frozen and stiff while getting off the bike, I managed to check in through chattering teeth and avoided an iced over puddle on my way to park. The stores and restaurants in the immediate vicinity were closed and I was too weary to venture further, so I settled for some tank bag food and a hot cup of decaf in my room, after a long hot shower.
Roanoke Rapids NC – Southeast MA
Sun Mar 13, 2022
Cold. It was… cold.
That pretty much sums up the final leg. With icicles on the hotel stairways, I knew today was going to be a tough one. It looked like temperatures were going to eventually rise to around 40 along my homeward route, and I knew the interstates should be kept pretty clear of any icing over.
I got some coffee and a generous meal in the hotel’s breakfast nook while I waited for the sun to warm the roads up even a little bit. I got packed up and back on the road around 10:00, avoiding more icy puddles in the parking lot as I pulled out. I-95 was wide open and dry on this bright Sunday morning, so I made good time up through Virginia, with the radar detector off and cruise control set somewhere below reckless. I passed several sections of accumulated snow along the shoulders – the only evidence of last night’s weather passage, besides the current arctic temperature.
I hadn’t fully decided on routing through the DC/Baltimore area or heading up US 301. I passed my initial opportunity to take VA 207 after seeing traffic backed down the offramp. Around Fredericksburg, the traffic volume on 95 increased and my foot went down a couple of times. It was so cold that I was almost relieved to move slowly, but with many miles left, I decided that I’d rather be moving on the smaller highways than deal with urban interstate madness today. I exited on VA 3 and went straight through F-burg’s mid-Sunday traffic to pick up 301 and the bridge crossing the Potomac.
The weather stayed bright, clear and sunny – temps probably reached 40 degrees, possibly 42 for several minutes. There was no sign of ice buildup on the smaller highways either, so I tried to keep a stead, if not speedy, pace while trying to forget how damn cold I was! I eventually rejoined 95 and got the NJT over and done with.
I was on I-287 looping around the NYC metro region as usual, when the snow squalls hit me. I wasn’t even thinking about lingering weather at this point, as the forecast had been pretty clear (if very cold) for the entire ride home. But I suddenly found myself riding at slight elevation in twilight white-out conditions. Luckily, the road crews had been out in force yesterday and the interstate surface was completely coated with briny chemicals to slow the icing. I put on my flashers and kept the speed way down while my tires cut through the thin layer of salty snow frosting. No sudden movements! After the full day of riding in freezing temps, I was feeling pretty beat up at this point.
Soon as I could, I pulled to the shoulder beneath an underpass, and called up Char to get a better idea of the radar picture for my immediate area. she confirmed that the snow was highly localized and that I was right in it’s pathway. Surrounding areas were clear. Figuring I didn’t have much choice at this point but to punch beyond the edge of the squall, I got moving again, thinking through alternate routes to take me out of the storm’s path. I rang Gerry up shortly after for some routing advice, and he confirmed that my path would clear up soonest if I took I-684 north to get beyond the squall line. He was thoughtful enough to send me this gruesome radar pic, right about when I was trundling on through the Morristown area:
Of course traffic was jammed up before the Hudson River crossing, and I immediately took to the breakdown lane with no qualms at all, in order to keep moving forward. Being on the bike in stop/start traffic with snow actively falling on the road was not an acceptable risk for me. Traffic cleared back up after a few miles, and I managed to get onto I-684 and, slowly emerged from the weather pattern in 20 miles or so, onto dry roads under clear skies.
The final couple hours passed uneventfully as I rode numbly through the evening, pulling into my garage at 21:45. It had been almost a twelve hour day to ride just 700 highway miles – no record for efficiency. But I was glad to be home and enjoyed some hot tea and a hot shower to bring my body temperature back up to normal. This had definitely been one of those days to look back on as an adventure, when the misery had faded a bit.
Overall, I was glad I’d made the run to Jax this year, breaking the pattern of winter inertia for another year. As always, the IBA put on a great event and gives us all motivation for getting together despite the long miles that separate so many of us.
My first experience telecommuting from the road worked out pretty well, though there’s a bunch much to learn and improve on during future trips. I look forward to using the vaca days I’d saved on warmer riding days later this year!