Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Irish motorycle adventure begins

wet two-lane road (really!) in County Kildare

The wonderful guys from Celtic Rider arranged taxi service between our hotel in Dublin and their shop outside the city. Mike took our BMW R1200 GS on an orientation ride while I packed up everything we need for five days on the bike. The two side cases and the tail case hold only the essentials, and it's amazing what I can learn to do without for five days.

It was raining when we left Celtic Rider for today's destination:  the Ardlenagh View B & B in Donegal in the northwestern part of Ireland. Along the six-hour ride, I made a list of all the terms I knew for rain:

  • drizzle
  • shower
  • light rain
  • downpour
  • torrential rain
  • mist
  • monsoon
We experienced all of these except for the monsoon, which is a fairly typical day in Ireland. The wet weather didn't stop us from enjoying the lush green grass in the meadows, flowers, and hedgerows towering along the roadside so high we couldn't see over them.

Mike in front of the stone walls and hedgerows that line many Irish roads

Mike set the GPS to avoid highways, which meant we traveled on roads barely wide enough for two cars, even narrower roads that comfortably allow one car to drive down the middle, and roads with grass gowing in the middle of the road, similar to many Vermont driveways but much narrower. These paved roads look like a bicycle path at home, and imagine the fun we have riding down these twisty lanes lined with hedgerows, trees and stone walls that block Mike's view of oncoming traffic.  Meeting a speeding car heading the opposite direction on a blind corner is not for the faint of heart! Mike's orientation instructor said that when the British ran Ireland, they took centuries-old wagon roads and dumped macadam into the ruts without any additional improvements, which evidently includes paving over the grass. When asked why they don't simply widen the roads, he said that would be solving the problem, and the Irish aren't good at that. It turns out that these narrow, winding roads are our favorites.

We arrived at our B & B home for the next two nights ready to change out of our wet raingear and head to dinner. Rob and Kelly, a couple from Canada, are on the 8-day Celtic Rider tour, which means we share the same itinerary for our first four days. Tony, the owner of the B & B, drove us into Donegal for dinner and highly recommended we attend the Slice of Ireland dinner and show at the Central Hotel. What an evening! Traditional Irish ballads mixed with drinking songs,  five musicians playing the guitar, accordion, fiddle, Uillean pipe, Irish harp, and bodhran (Irish drum); a guest performance from the Milwaukee Irish Fest choir who happened to be in the audience, two incredible Irish dancers from Riverdance, the 6 and 8 year old sons of one of the musicians who started the show with a ballad, and a local comedy duo rounded out the show. Everyone, the musicians and dancers included, was having so much fun the show continued longer than usual.

It was an incredible introduction to our Irish motorcycle tour and we're looking forward to more adventure tomorrow.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Celts, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and the Irish

It's going to be a great day when the bus driver sings "Molly Malone", Dublin's unofficial anthem:

In Dublin's fair city,
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"
"Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh",
Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".
After singing, he went on to tell us that Molly is fondly known as "the tart with the cart," "the dish with the fish", or the "trollop with the scallop" alluding to her daytime profession selling fish and her nighttime profession as a prostitute. We're learning that the Irish love a good joke and have a great sense of humor.

Trinity College

We walked to Trinity College, founded in 1592 and home to the Book of Kells in the beautiful Old Library. Neither Mike or I like to wait in line, but we made an exception today.

The Old Library's Long Room is home to over 200,000 of its oldest books, with several on display in glass cases and the rest housed in stacks on two different floors. The bookshelves reach so high narrow ladders are necessary to access the tallestest shelves.

The main event in the Library is the Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated book containing the four New Testament Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - handwritten on vellum in Latin by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Before we could view the actual book, we walked through an informative exhibit that explained how the monks painstakingly wrote the book using quill and ink and illustrated  it with vivid, beautiful colors that make up intricate designs. Photos of the book can't compare to the intensity of the colors in real-life, but they give an idea of the detail and time that went into this book.

We walked out of the quiet, dark Old Library into bright sunshine - something of a surprise in Dublin, where rain and showers are more common than sunshine, but welcome nonetheless. We took the CitySightseeing Dublin yellow line tour today, which included the Molly Malone song and other interesting tidbits:  the Natural History Museum is known locally as "The Dead Zoo", the statue of local politician and proponent of Irish sovreignty Daniel O'Connell is filled with dozens of holes from gunfire during the 1916 uprising, the 398' tall Spire installed for the 1988 Dublin Millenium is known as "the stiffy on the Liffey" and the ships filled with Irish emigrants to America in the 1800's were called "coffin ships" because of the horrible conditions on board.

the Spire on O'Connell Street

Dublin is home to two famous churches, and we spent time in each. Christ Church Cathedral was originally built in 1030, but has been rebuilt several times into a combination of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture.

We descended into the Crypt below the Cathedral, the oldest surviving structure in Dublin. It feels like a cave lined with rough stones that also make up the curved celing and the heavy pillars that carry the weight of the entire Cathedral above. The Irish sense of humor continues with a giftshop aptly named "The Foxy Friars" and a cafe called simply "The Crypt".

As we came back up the winding stone staircase from the Crypt into the Cathedral, we saw a crowd of children and young teens gathering near the altar. We sat down as they started to sing, and were treated to a lovely acapella concert by the Voices of Eve 'N Angels choir from northern California. We learned that the Cathedral has a centuries-old tradition of high-quality music, and that tradition continued as the children's voices echoed through the building.

After a quick lunch we visited the Dublinia exhibit next to the Christ Church Cathedral to learn about the Celts, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons who shaped the early history of Dublin.

early Celtic figure

Vikings first visited Dublin around 820, and built a permanent settlement in 824.  Olaf the White of Norway was the first king of Dublin, and the surname "McAuliffe", which means 'son of Olaf' stems from his rule. More Irish humor:  a realistic-looking Dublin resident from the 900's sitting in his outhouse, audibly moaning, grunting, and farting was part of the exhibit.

The Anglo-Saxons invaded Ireland and transformed Dublin into an important medieval city. I learned that merchants and their families ate their meal using a pewter plate, their apprentice used a square wooden trench that gave rise to the phrase 'a good square meal', and their servants used a large slice of brown bread as a plate for the rest of their meal. The servants then gave the used piece of bread to the poor - nothing went to waste.

Our last stop for the day was St. Patrick's Cathedral, built on the site where St. Patrick supposedly baptized the first Christians in Ireland in the early 400's. A small, wooden church was first built here, and the present cathedral was built in the 13th century.

Jonathon Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels which was published in 1726 and holder of the post of Dean of the Cathedral, is one of the many famous and important people buried here.

We had a rare, sunny day with no rain and we enjoyed every bit of it. Tomorrow we pick up the motorcycle and head northwest to Donegal for the start of a 4-day motorcycle trip with Celtic Rider. We're ready to get on the road and explore Ireland!

Ireland: the next adventure

We were home for three full days after our trip to the BMW Rally in Sedalia, MO and yesterday boarded a plane in Boston for Dublin, Ireland. We had a blast riding 3146 miles from Vermont to Missouri and back, met new friends and experienced beautiful scenery. We're looking forward to more adventure in Ireland.

Arlington Hotel, our base in Dublin

Our plane landed at 5:10am Dublin time, which translated to just after midnight at home. Neither one of us could sleep on the plane, yet a brisk walk around the center city of Dublin gave us renewed energy - and a great-tasting Irish breakfast added a bit extra oomph. 

Our hotel is right on the River Liffey, which flows through the energetic center of Dublin. Baskets of bright-colored flowers brighten the area, and there are several bridges that cross the river making walking back and forth easy. The Ha'Penny Bridge, named because originally the toll to cross was a half-penny, is a short walk from our hotel.

We took the advice of the guys from Celtic Rider and bought a 2-day ticket for the Dublin City Sightseeing bus tour that has 25 stops and allows unlimited hop-on, hop-off opportunities. We made only two stops today to sample the most famous Dublin beverages:  Guinness and Jameson. Both tours gave an interesting historical perspective on these iconic beverages, and both ended with opportunities for tasting.

water from the Wicklow Mountains used to make Guinness

enjoying Guinness in their 7th floor tasting room

triple distilling process gives Jameson's whiskey it's smooth taste

Every person we've met today has been exceptionally friendly and helpful. The bus driver from the airport to the hotel at 5:30am fave us tips on how to spend our time so early in the morning and dropped us off as close as possible to our hotel. Carmen, in charge of the hotel breakfast dining room, explained the breakfast options in detail, made sure we had everything we needed, and suggested favorite breakfast foods. The man selling tickets for the Red Line city bus tours had more enthusiasm and joy at 7:30am than I ever expect to see. Freddie, who poured our half-pint of Guinness after their factory tour took our picture and spent time talking about our trip. The waiter at dinner greeted us like old friends.

With no sleep in over 24 hours and plans for a busy day in Dublin tomorrow, we called it an early night.We pick up the motorcycle Tuesday morning, and are looking forward to getting out of busy Dublin and into the Irish countryside.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

3146 miles on the motorcycle!

It's official:  we put 3146 miles on the BMW motorcycle on our trip to Sedalia, MO. We finished with just under 12 hours today, following winding, twisting, up-and-down-rollercoaster hilly roads from Oil City, PA in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, through the Finger Lakes region of New York, and finally into the Mohawk River-Erie Canal - Saratoga Springs area and across the border back home into Vermont.

Pennsylvania Route 62

We like to get on the road by 7am, when there is very little traffic and Mike can zoom around the twists and turns. This part of the Alleghenies is densely wooded, and we caught glimpses of the Allegheny River along the way.

Allegheny River

Allegheny means 'most beautiful stream' in the Delaware Indian language, and it remains a lovely area for a motorcycle ride. After we crossed into New York state, we somehow veered off our planned route, but thanks to our Garmin GPS system we weren't truly lost. We traveled farther north than we originally planned, which was a lucky mistake since we rode through the Finger Lakes region.

Canandaigua Lake

This area, home to eleven lakes that run north/south like the fingers on your hand, was originally formed two million years ago by the glaciers. The lakes fill deep gorges, which are surrounded by high ridge lines. All of this glacier activity makes for a roller coaster motorycle ride as we speed down a steep incline only to immediately head back up the other side of the hill. The ridge lines seem to be a perfect location for wind turbines, since we saw at least three different wind farms during today's ride.

The cloudy skies turned dark, so we stopped and put on our raingear. We only rode through a few sprinkles, and off came the raingear when we stopped for lunch at a small diner in Waterloo, NY. According to several signs in the town center, a local druggist came up with the original idea for Memorial Day to honor the casulaties from the Civil War in 1866.

I was thrilled to find a fresh fruit and vegetable stand next to the diner. Most restaurants have salads on their menu, but I haven't had a piece of fresh fruit since we left home last Tuesday. The farmer was kind enough to sell me just one juicy-ripe peach that was the perfect dessert.

We've often talked about spending a weekend on the bike in the Finger Lakes area, and as we rode through small villages, larger tourist towns, past vineyards and wineries we decided that this area defiitely needs more time for exploration. Our 'places to go on the motorcycle' list just gets longer.

We kept riding east, finally reaching familiar towns:  Amsterdam, Ballston Spa, Saratoga. The skies grew dark once again, and this time it started raining before Mike could pull over. Pros at getting our raingear on quickly, we suited up and were back on the road, riding through a pelting, cold rain. When the rain stopped, we left the raingear on for warmth, and to avoid stopping since we were close to Vermont.

heading into Vermont

After we unloaded the bike, Mike said it was a great trip, but he was glad to be home. I thought about the unpacking, laundry, and piles of work on my desk and commented that I'd rather be on the road. It's not all work at home:  as I sit at my desk tonight, the cats take turns begging to be petted.

My legs and butt are sore and cramped from hours sitting on the bike, I long for home-cooked meals and clean clothes, and the cats purr their welcome. Yet hearing the wind whistle through my helmet, riding with the rising sun in my face, and meeting friendly people along the road continue to beckon.  Our next motorcycle trip is in one week, and I'm already looking forward to riding on the left side of the road in Ireland.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thank goodness for rain gear!

We've been traveling for seven days on our BMW motorcycle, and today was the first day we had to break out the rain gear. The Midwest is in the midst of a terrible drought, with record high temperatures, almost dry creek beds, brown fields that are usually green, and deep cracks in the ground from lack of water. We've endured temperatures as high as 105.8 on the bike, and even purchased new mesh motorcycle pants to keep us as cool as possible.

It was cloudy and overcast when we left Valpo at 7am, and by 7:30 it started raining. The sky ahead of us was a solid mass of dark clouds, and we knew this wasn't going to be a short sprinkle. Mike pulled off the road so we could put on our Frogg Togg rain gear, and it was a good call:  a short time later the temperature dropped 15 degrees from 75 to 60 and it started to rain even harder. We rode in and out of rain for the next four hours, but we stayed dry. We've worn the Frogg Toggs in rain before, but this was the first test for our BMW Allround boots. Mike read a review of waterproof boots in Motorcycle Consumer News and these boots were one of the very few that were indeed waterproof according to their test. They met our test as well since our feet stayed completely dry.

We stopped for gas and chatted with a Harley rider on his way from Cleveland, OH to Ft. Wayne, IN. We talked riding in the rain, travel by motorcycle, and attending motorcycle rallies before we headed East and he continued West.

It was raining when we stopped for lunch, but when we came out the skies were blue and the temperatures increasing. We had clear blue skies and hot temperatures in the 90's the rest of the way to our destination:  Oil City, PA. We left flat farmland behind us in Ohio, and ended the day riding through the rolling, wooded foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.

You never know what you might see on the highway, but this was the first time we saw a helicopter. We keep reminding ourselves:  the point of this trip isn't the destination; it's the journey.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Midwest travels

We traveled over 1600 miles on our way to the BMW rally in Sedalia, MO and saw only a handful of motorcycles along the way. Today we passed several BMW riders, and rode for an hour or so with four guys from the Chicago area. It's a small world:  one of the guys has a friend in Vermont, and he's been through Rutland just north of our home in Manchester. Another guy travels through Valpo, IN for business. I grew up in Valpo, and that's where we headed today. We had fun speeding along the flat highway among fields of corn and soy beans and through small towns with the other riders until they pulled off for breakfast, and we continued on our way.

We crossed the Mississippi River in Louisiana, MO riding over a beautiful 2-lane, 5-span truss bridge built in 1928.

Once into Illinois, we rode through more flat farmland, reminding me of my cousins' farm in NW Indiana. It's mesmorizing to watch miles of flat fields that stretch to the horizon pass by, broken periodically by a solitary farmhouse, a row of trees along a creek, or massive grain elevators. It was somewhat shocking to suddenly see hundreds of windmills - technically called  wind turbines - near Bloomington and Normal, IL. This is the largest wind farm project in Illinois, and it produces enough power for 54,000 homes each year.

As we rode closer to Chicago the traffic increased. I grew up in northwest Indiana, close to Chicago, and I always forget just how congested the roads are in this part of the country. It was stop and go the entire way on Route 30 through Chicago Heights, Dyer, and Merrillville; and there was more traffic than I remember as we neared Valpo. Every time I drive here I get confused about where I am; not really lost, but my landmarks are either gone completely or updated so they're not recognizable.

We rode through farmland and cities in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana today on our first day headed East. Four more states and a lot more miles are in front of us before we finish the trip on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Hot day at the BMW rally

We spent the day walking around the BMW rally at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia. On day five of our trip, the weather remained hot and sunny. The BMW planning committee did an awesome job planning for the weather, with big industrial fans placed outside at key locations, fans with a water mist system along the sidewalk where the outside vendors were located, four airconditioned buildings for the mjaority of the vendors, free water bottles, and the closing ceremonies inside another large, airconditioned stadium.

Mike's goal today was to purchase custom-molded earplugs to cut down on the noise while riding, and we also wanted to look at mesh motorcycle pants. He worked with the helpful guys at Fit-Ear and immediately noticed the lack of wind or engine noise on our ride back to the hotel. If they feel comfortable tomorrow on our 8-9 hour ride to northwest Indiana, he's hooked.

On our search for mesh pants, we ran into the guys from Celtic Rider, who were excited when they realized we have a tour booked with them starting 'Tuesday next' as they put it. The weather in Ireland is going to be a lot different than the heat and humidity we've experienced in the Midwest, and we're looking forward to cooler temperatures, lots of twisty roads, and remembering to ride on the left.

Just as I left the Celtic Rider booth, I ran into David, who rode with us into Sedalia yesterday. He spent last night camping at the Rally and was having a wonderful time meeting people and buying equipment for his extended ride out West. We were hoping to see him again before we left, and look forward to reading his blog about his trip.

Mike. Lynn and David

As we waited for our lunch order at Lefty's Countryside Diner, located in the Fairgrounds, we chatted with the two women working there. Once again we found friendly people as well as satisfying food. They work 12 hour plus days during the Rally, and yet they were happy and interested in hearing about our trip.

We tried on mesh pants from two different companies, and settled on the Recon Mesh pants from Olympia Moto Sports. Hopefully they'll feel as cool tomorrow as they did tonight on the short ride back to the hotel. Plus they have extra pockets, which always come in handy. We shipped our black motorcycle pants home since we have limited luggage space on the bike, and hope they arrive before we leave for Ireland.

We took a break mid-day at the Dairy Queen across the street from the Fairgrounds. I grew up going to the local DQ, and it's fun to stop by when we're in the Midwest. Once again, BMW riders were welcomed.

We ended the day by watching the first act of the evening's entertainment, Sh-Boom, a Missouri-based band that plays music from the '50's, '60's, and '70's. The four-part harmony of the old favorites had everyone smiling, and when one of the band dressed as Elvis for two songs, it made the evening.

This was our first BMW Rally, but it won't be our last. Next time we'll arrive a day earlier, and hopefully the weather won't be as hot and we'll go for some group rides around the local area.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The people we meet along the road

Sometimes the ride is all about the road:  twisting through the White Mountains in New Hampshire; following winding, narrow roads along the rivers in Vermont; zooming up and down the hairpin turns in the Alps.

Other times the ride is about the scenery:  gazing from the top of the Green Mountains over the forested valleys; crossing wide rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi with their ferry and barge traffic; looking out over the brown fields that stretch unbroken to the horizon in the plains in Missouri.

Often Mike and I ride alone, but today we had fun riding with David Waldrip, a BMW rider from Georgia who is also heading to the BMW rally in Sedalia, MO. We met David last night at the hotel, shared dinner and lively conversation, and decided to ride together today.

Sharing a love of motorcycle riding seems to bring people together. We immediately have a common point to start conversation, and that flowed into talking about life, discussing books and authors, recommendations for equipment and gear, and even about our life philosophy. It seems like much of our conversation with strangers is superficial, but put everyone on a motorcycle, and conversation quickly becomes personal and interesting.

We may not talk while we're riding, but there's communication occuring. I look back to see David riding behind us, he notices when I point out a red-headed bird sitting on a fence post and later tells me it's a common buzzard. When we come to a stop sign, David pulls up next to us and we either exchange a few words about the ride or the turn coming up, or we simply exchange a thumbs-up to share enthusiasm for the twisty, curvy road. We stopped for gas in St. James where I picked up a brochure for the Vacuum Cleaner Museum - who knew someone collected 588 different vacuum cleaners beginning with the first non-electric models from the 19th century? That led to a discussion about Route 66, the historic highway that stretched from Chicago to LA and passed right through St. James. Add a third person to our conversation makes the travel and the day much more rich.

We met another wonderful person when we stopped for lunch in small and dusty St. Elizabeth, population 336. Ms. Kitty's Place looked to be the only place in town open except for the post office.

When we walked inside, we were greeted by several people seated at the round tables or at the bar. We made for a strange and interesting sight:  three hot and sweaty people wearing motorcycle pants and boots, carrying high-visibility yellow motorcycle jackets and helmets. Ms. Kitty herself waited on us, recommending either the cheeseburger or special prime rib platter as the house specialties, and proudly telling us that everything was homemade.

Ms. Kitty and her three daughters - Debbie, Becky, and Shelley - plus a grandson run the restaurant. She confirmed that she made the chunky applesauce herself, and I believed her because it tasted just like my Grandma Michael's applesauce. The sliced tomatoes in the salad and on the cheeseburger came from her garden. She not only cooked the food and waited on customers, she talked with us about riding motorcycles and her life in Missouri. The sign on the wall:  "Through these doors walk the best people in the world - our customers" and her infectious smile made us truly feel welcome.

When we reached the BMW rally at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, we found ourselves in the middle of motorcycle and BMW fever.

We chatted with the vendors, talked with people we met walking along the busy street filled with motorcycles, and stopped by the Vermont MOA camping area to share stories of our trips to Missouri, riding in Vermont, and the pros and cons of camping.

Riding a motorcycle makes us part of a community of riders.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Breakfast in Kentucky, Lunch in Illinois, Dinner in Missouri

Three meals in three different states is a fun way to spend a day. We started in Bowling Green, KY with breakfast at the Fairfield Inn. There was a long line for waffles, but no one was waiting for the individual containers of red grapefruit. I opted for the healthier food with a shorter wait and enjoyed fruit, hard-boiled eggs and a mini-bagel.

The temperature was 83 degrees when we started off at 8:30am, with more dire warnings of excessive heat and humidity speeding us on our way. We stayed off the Interstate system and rode on state highways that wound their way up and down the hills, through forests, and eventually along wide-open farmland with fields planted in corn, wheat and soybeans. Most of the time we had the road to ourselves, with very few cars except in the small towns we periodically passed. I saw churches, or signs for churches just down the road, at what seemed like every intersection. It was a lot more fun for both of us on these rural roads, and we thoroughly enjoyed the morning.

We stopped for gas and directions in Madisonville, KY and once again met friendly people interested in our trip. Almost everyone asks us where we're from, and many of them seem to have no idea that Vermont is a state, or where it's located. I finally started explaining that 'we live north of NYC' and that seems to satisfy their curiosity.

When I plotted our route for today, I knew we'd cross the Ohio River into Illinois, but I didn't realize we'd make the trip via ferry.

Illinois was our second state for the day, and it wasn't long before we started looking for a place to eat lunch. The towns were even smaller and more empty here than earlier in the day in Missouri, but we had a run of luck in Golconda, IL, right on the Ohio River. We found one restaurant in the three blocks of the downtown area:  Sweetwater Bar with the motto 'Hunters, Boaters, Bikers all meets where the water is sweet'. We sat inside at a picnic table, enjoying the air-conditioning along with atmosphere that my father would have loved, especially the boat labeled 'Early Times' hanging from the ceiling. Mike noticed they had Jaegermeister on tap, but we skipped it in favor of water for me and RC Cola for Mike - they don't carry Pepsi or Coke. The hamburgers were delicious and the waitress friendly and efficient. Thank goodness we stopped here, because we rode for many more miles before coming to another town.

We crossed the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, MO, catching a glimpse of the soaring spans of the bridge long before we actually rode over it.

I felt like I was baking in an oven the last two hours of today's trip as the temperature rose to 105.8 degrees at one point. The heat was bearable while we were moving, but every time we stopped at a stop light, or to wait for a car in front of us to make a left-hand turn, the heat became oppressive. When we reached our hotel in Farmington, MO and I peeled off my motorcycle gear, I really wasn't surprised to find the inside of my motorcycle pants were damp with sweat. Thank goodness I wore shorts made from technical fabric, because they were soaking wet. This part of the Midwest has been 8-15 degrees warmer than usual the past few days, with no relief in sight. An airconditioned room and cool shower made both of us feel better.

The final meal of the day was a 5-minute walk from the hotel, recommended by Brett, the friendly and helpful person working at the front desk. When we came back from dinner, there was a BMW 1200GS with Georgia license plates parked right behind us. We saw six motorcycles today, to our surprise the most that we've seen on this trip.

Tomorrow we have a 3-hour ride to Sedalia, site of the BMW rally. Let's hope my clothing and motorcycle gear dries out overnight.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mountain tops and valleys

We slept in this morning, starting our trip to Bowling Green, KY at 9am. Mike plotted today's route, starting on Route 119 south, turning onto 23 north, and then onto 80 heading southwest. The road twisted up and down through the Allegheny Mountains. We gazed at green trees that cover every surface and incredibly steep local roads that wind in and out of the hills. Tall, rocky cliffs hugged the road and a few times we caught sight of coal mining operations.

We followed the signs for 80 off the main highway, and were treated to a narrow 2-lane road that wound along the bottom of the mountains, twisting its way through green, wet trees covered with kudzu. Every mile or so we'd pass a small group of homes and a church, but never an actual town. Finally we found a town as we turned into Hyden and ate lunch at the local Subway where the man at the counter told us the area was under a tornado watch for the rest of the day.

kudzu-covered trees and shrubs

The morning was the best part of today, as we spent the rest of the day on 4-lane parkways that took us from the steep hills of West Virginia into the open, rolling farmland of southern Kentucky. We rode through a few small rain storms, but when the sky turned black and we saw lightning, we pulled off the highway onto a side road and ended up at a family grocery store. The store was closed, but the owner let us park the bike and shelter under the awning, and even gave us a can of soda. Mike spent the time petting their cat, and after 30 minutes we were back on the road.

We rode 370 miles today, met friendly people, and missed the worst of the storms. Tomorrow we keep traveling west, toward the Mississippi.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Holiday Inn Express Too Far

We left home at 5:30am to a pink sunrise, and 16 1/2 hours later pulled into a Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, WV just after sunset. It was the longest day we've ever had on the BMW but we wanted to put a lot of miles behind us on the first day of our trip to Sedalia, MO for the BMW rally. 750 miles, to be exact. States:  Vermont, New York, Pennsylvannia and West Virginia. Mountains:  Taconics, Catskills, Poconos, Allegheny. Temperature:  68 at home in Vermont; 101.4 on the Interstate in West Virgina, 86 degrees in Charleston. 4 stops for gas, 1 stop for lunch, 1 stop for ice cream.

FDR Bridge over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY

Our goal is the 40th BMW MOA International Rally, about 1600 miles from our home in southwestern Vermont. We have 3 days to get as close to Sedalia as we can, planning to arrive at the rally mid-morning on Friday.

Putting in a lot of miles today sounded like a good idea when we did our initial planning. We were frustrated with plotting a route primarily on smaller roads, trying to stay off the Interstate system as much as possible. I tried several websites, Mike attempted to load the final version into the Garmin but ended up having to plot it all over again, and we finally relied on a huge fold-out map of the US. We learned along the road that the Garmin has a mind of its own, routing us onto 87, the busy Northway. We got off at Exit 16, only to find ourselves in Kiryas Joel, a community of Hasidic Jews near Woodbury Common outlets. We rode past broken-down three and four-story apartment buildings; groups of men wearing black suits and white shirts waiting at the bus stops; and women dressed in long skirts and brightly-colored head scarves outside with their children. Unlike other towns, none of the children smiled or waved as we rode past. It was depressing and eerie, and a wholly unexpected detour.

We finally rode into Scranton, PA and stumbled upon the Moosic Diner. I love stopping at local restaurants, and when we saw four motorcycles parked out front, we knew we found a special place.

Two of the guys live north of Philly and were headed to Ohio for a classic bike show. The other two live in the area, and gave us tips on the next section of our journey. Good thing, because by this time we had no idea what route the Garmin chose for us. After exchanging stories about favorite roads and scary things that happen while riding a motorcycle, we set off for a hot afternoon riding through Pennsylvania and into West Virginia.

We were ready for the heat, but weren't expecting the twisting roads through the mountains. I told Mike the scenery reminded me of Vermont, and the guy we met at dinner agreed. He has relatives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and the first time he visited he told them it looked just like West Virginia. We traveled 750 miles and the scenery at the beginning of the trip was almost exactly the same as the scenery at the end of the day. Small world.

Our goal for this trip is to have fun and experience new adventures. We accomplished both today.