Bucket List 2–22 states in 8 days

Part 1

I’ve ridden a motorcycle through all the states west of the Mississippi and all the states east of it that are in the south. What I have not ridden is the Northeast states. This would include the original 13 colonies. You can ride through some of them in the time it takes to eat a cheese burger. This ride would check off the last of the lower 48 states. That has long been a bucket list for me.

Day one, I ride to Joliet, Illinois. That’s 500 miles from my home in Lincoln, Nebraska. I never leave home with a dirty vehicle. So, I very carefully detail my bike and pack my things. I have to have coffee to prevent me from 25 to life in the state pen. I pack my own little Mr Coffee coffee maker. I make coffee on the way to the bathroom in the morning, if this gives you a tip. Mr reliable went over the hill and quit on me. So, I bought a mini model that makes 2.5 cups and fits neatly in my suitcase.

I’ve got a bag for the tour pack (that’s a bike trunk) and a bag each for the two saddle bags. Neat. I carry what I need to wash the bike, clean the bugs off the windshield, emergency tire repairs, battery jumper box and tire inflator.

I’m all ready to go and the morning of my departure, it is raining. I mean really raining. No wind, no lightning, just a deluge like the movies in the rain forest where it is really pouring. I’ve got Gortex rain pants, Gortex boots, waterproof jacket and gloves. I dress for the rain and head out. The bike is already full of gas.

My Gold Wing has an adjustable windshield. I can raise and lower it with the touch of a button. My Shoei helmet is water tight. I lower the windshield all the way down so I look over it. The rain hits my helmet visor and the wind blows the water right off the visor. I can see better than I could with wipers. The Wing also has 4 settings for the automatic transmission, suspension and braking. I set it on “rain”, well duh. This reduces throttle response to keep me from spinning out if I give it too much gas.

In the past, I’ve seen bikers in the rain and felt sorry for them, for they must be soaked. I was dry as a piece of toast on a 99 cent breakfast. Would I rather ride on a mild sunny day? Of course, but I’m rolling along just fine, thank you.

One important lesson for overnight biker trips is that you have to be ready for whatever the Wicked Weather Witch throws at you. In this case, it was no big deal. The bike handles the turbulence of semi trucks just fine and the Honda designers did a great job of channeling wind both in front of and behind the windshield. This eliminates the vacuum of air behind it so water blows over you.

Not much navigation on this trip, it’s Interstate 80 for 500 miles. I arrive at my destination feeling good. Today 3 states, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. Tomorrow, we ride past Chicago and on to Erie, PA.

Part 2

Day 2 The morning was cool, so I started with my heavy raincoat. It was misting. I wanted a very early start to avoid heavy traffic through Chicago and on to Gary, Indiana. In the past, this was fraught with 30 cent tolls where you tossed coins into baskets. It seemed a few miles later you were doing it again. This is problematic with motorcycle gloves and pockets. I had a little bag full of quarters and some dollar bills in preparation.

Oh, dear Grandma, it’s not that way anymore. Now, its EZ Pass and license plate recognition. There was one place where I took a paper toll ticket and rolled on with very little traffic. I was lucky that this was a Saturday morning and most travelers were in bed. Traffic was light and the roads were good. I carefully watched the speed limit using cruise control. I logged in 160 miles and stopped at a service area for gas and a snack. I decided against a donut and drank a hydrating beverage. There was no rain, but it was misting and keeping the road wet. I kept my raincoat on, as that is what keeps it from raining.

At this point, I will address the smoke in the air from Canadian wildfires. It was thick and the smell was distinct. Between the haze from the smoke and the rain clouds, it was a dark day.

I got back on the turnpike and Holy Mother of Traffic, so did everyone else. Two lanes each way and it was packed. I had ridden past Lake Michigan and was headed for Lake Erie. The problem with lakes and rivers is that they are the low points in the terrain. You can’t see them unless you’re standing with your feet in the surf. Trees and vegetation get the only views. I had to trust the maps that they were there.

The road was wet and the spray from trucks coated my windshield and the front of my bike. It made visibility a problem. The problem was soon solved with traffic jams. Yes, traffic at a dead stop for who knows what. Stand still, then move a few car lengths. Repeat. I was very glad to be riding a bike that was water cooled. I could hear the fans running to control engine heat. The temp gauge never wavered, but I was not happy. It was hot. I was wearing a heavy rain jacket and there was no place to take it off. The threat of rain was ever present. I didn’t have any option but to risk getting soaked if it did rain. It was overcast, dark and hot.

I finally arrived at my hotel, sweaty and wet. There was a large sporting goods store nearby, so I found a Gortex rain coat that was light and would fit over my mesh jacket. I could now handle heat and deal with the risk of rain. Woohoo.

I had dinner at Charlie O’s, a franchise that I had enjoyed before. The food is fabulous and rates 5 stars from me. I had grilled salmon and it was great.

I met a couple outside the motel. She was a Flight attendant and he was an investment adviser. We had a nice conversation and she took my invitation to sit on my bike. Boom, another inspired fantasy biker. Day 2 in the books, 458 miles and Pennsylvania down.

Part 3

Day 3. Onward from Erie, PA to Albany, New York. The weather continues to be overcast and wet. I’m glad I’ve got a light weight rain coat to put over my mesh jacket. I’m wearing my rain pants. I start my ride very early before the sun comes up. Traffic is light and the roads are wet.

The bike cruises nicely and the roads are flat next to the great lakes. The trucks put up a thick mist of very dirty water that coats my windshield. It doesn’t affect my helmet visor. I learn to raise the windshield when overtaking a truck so it catches the spray. I lower it after passing so I can see well through a clean visor. Love my Gold Wing for having an adjustable windshield at the touch of a button. There’s not much rain to wash the windshield.

I had to stop to pay the toll to get out of Pennsylvania. I was able to use my credit card, as there was no operator. I am now riding the New York State Thru Way. Service areas sell gas and have food. They are 50 miles apart and there aren’t many exits. This is exactly what it says, “Thru Way”. Speed limit is 65 and everyone is driving 70. There are very few speeders above that. I keep seeing signs encouraging the purchase of an “EZ Pass” to pay tolls. Other signs tell you that your license plate has been scanned and you should call **826 to pay your toll. There are stiff penalties, they said.

Not wanting to become involved in a conflict with the law, at the next service area I dutifully inquired about buying an EZ Pass. “We don’t sell them for motorcycles”, she said. “Only cars and trucks”. Great, now I’m more confused than ever and stuck in the “Cash Only” lines at the many toll booths I would encounter on this trip.

Pennsylvania and New York were thick with dense woods. I could understand why the early settlers of Nebraska would be totally bewildered at the lack of trees. It seemed most of the eastern seaboard states with thick with them. This provided a ready source of building materials and fuel for fires. In the barren plains of Nebraska, it would just be the pioneers, the grasshoppers and the wind.

There were a lot of vineyards in some areas. They appeared well tended and heavy with grapes. Hoses could be seen snaking through the vines to provide needed moisture. The heavy smoke from Canadian wildfires makes me wonder if we will have new “smoked wine” flavors next year.

The road surface was smooth, the other drivers very good and the ride was a delight. I don’t know what they do to speeders in New York, but it must be effective. It seems the traffic had their cruise controls synched, as there was little congestion or passing this early morning.

After I stopped for fuel and more hydration, I got back on the road about 9am and so did everyone else. Traffic was suffocating all of a sudden. There was no passing because there was no room to do so. Everyone was still going the same speed, so suck it up cupcake.

I tried to find a way off the thru-way for some local food, but it appeared the only way out was at the next state. At the next service plaza I got fuel and saw the sign for the Holy Grail of food in the Great White North—Tim Horton’s. Never been in one, but the name comes up often. I was so excited. The terminal building was undergoing internal renovation. There was no Tim Horton’s, just a lot of plastic hanging up all over the building. The only place for food was a Hardee’s. I ordered their top burger. It was the burger from Hell. Slopped with mayo, ketchup and other lubricants, the meat slid out of the bun no matter which way it was held. I continued to rotate the sandwich and pinch the down side, but the meat was crafty and had been well trained in escape strategies.

I never return food, as I’ve seen too many hidden camera kitchen shows. The slop had now coated my hands, my chin and was heading down from there. I had to wash up after this endeavor. Worst meal ever.

I rode the afternoon choking on smoke from Canada. There was a heavy haze and my eyes were not comfortable. I got a chance for a decent meal with an exit from the NY State Thruway. I rode up and down the street and saw a very fancy steakhouse. Delmonico’s Steakhouse was in gold leaf lettering on the windows and there were 2 black limos in the parking lot that also had the name in gold.

I needed to recover. The inside was super fancy and reeked of big money for decorations. There were caricatures on the walls of mob images. Well, now I felt my bike would be safe in the parking lot. Yes, trouble would be bad for business, as they say.

I ordered a steak filet and it was devine. Tender and juicy, it had to be from Nebraska. I asked my server if I could take photos of the interior. I didn’t want to end up in the Erie Canal, you know. She said that would be fine. Fabulous dinner, made up for the lunch disaster.

Part 4

Day 4. Today would take me through a bunch of states from Albany, New York to Stamford, Connecticut. I drove over the Erie Canal. This was a serious engineering accomplishment of its day. I can only imagine how it was done, from Albany to Buffalo, as the song goes.

The sun has come out and it’s getting hot. There is still the threat of rain. I keep my heavy rain jacket on and traffic has become thicker. Where there was no room to pass before, there is now little room to drive. Yes, a traffic jam. I am now really in love with my Gold Wing automatic transmission. I no longer have to hold in the clutch lever for hours. Unlike my past air cooled Harley Davidsons that would overheat due to lack of movement, the Gold Wing’s cooling fans come on to cool the dual radiators just fine.

Yes, all I have to do now is just hold up the bike and sweat. Just when I want to change jackets, it starts to rain and the rain shower is heavy. Then it stops and the sun is out. It only does this to raise the humidity. We start moving, hooray. We go a mile or so and stop again.

Finally, traffic is moving and I am able to cool off and arrive at my hotel in Albany, New York. Early the next morning, the sky is clear and I take the time to wash my bike. I always tell people she won’t start if she’s dirty. I’ve got this down to a science. I use the ice bucket in the room to mix up soapy water and my squirt bottle of drinking water for the rinse. I carry microfiber towels for the dry. I completely clean the ice bucket and put it back so no one will know.

I set my destinations in my bike’s navigation and take off. I ride over the Hudson river and look for bodies. Seeing none, I assume all the bookies got paid. I did see groups of skull teams practicing rowing,that is cool. It’s very soon that I am crossing into Vermont, on to Maine and then back down into backwoods Massachusetts. I am so lucky. A week after I was in Vermont, the skies opened and flooded the state. I missed the whole thing.

I filled with gas and headed into rural Mass. It was mountains and valleys and deep woods. Curvy wet roads gave way to construction and detours. Once again, I was lucky. This detour would lead me to a shortcut. Roads in flat Nebraska are laid out nice and straight. Out here, they follow mountains and valleys and go all over.

I really love history and this area is rich with it. Every town has the date of settlement on the sign, most from the 1700s. I entered Lanesborough, MA, established 1765 and found Bob’s Country Kitchen for lunch. What a great place. All home cooking, I asked their best meal. It was a stuffed cabbage dish that was very good. Their best dessert was home-made strawberry shortcake. My highest recommendations.

I passed a cemetery and saw the flat upright grave markers that are common in Halloween displays. The markers are from the 1700s and are quite interesting.

I meandered all over after that and arrived in Stamford, Connecticut for the evening. I stayed at the downtown Marriott. It was a super fancy hotel and totally empty on the night of July 3rd. Another lucky break, as parking a motorcycle in a parking garage is a risky deal. Downtown hotels are great deal on weekends, as the rates are low and there’s no crowd. The desk clerk told me I had to park in the parking garage and I said, of course.

“Of course”, is not the same as “Yes, I will”. I left my bike parked just off the front door, right in front of a very expensive Mercedes coupe. Both were still there in the morning.

Part 5

Day 4, the 4th of July. Today I leave Stamford, Connecticut for Philadelphia, PA. I will ride Interstate 92 right through the heart of New York City. You’re kidding right? New York City? I left my body armor in my other bike.

Shut up and ride. I was extremely nervous about this part. I had a sparkling clean bike and it’s raining. This is the stupid part about being a biker. I hate dirty bikes and I go to great lengths to have mine clean. This includes sneaking outside to clean mine at 4 am.

Pack your stuff and put it in gear. I was riding at 5am and it was dark. I got up on the freeway and traffic was very light. There were a few large trucks but not much else. Within about a half hour, the rain stopped, which was all that was needed for my clean bike to not be clean any longer. I’ll live, maybe. As I approached the Big Apple, the sun was coming up. There was very little traffic. This was the morning of the 4th of July. Everybody was in bed. Woohoo.

I set the cruise control and was giddy with excitement. Traffic was moving. I rode past the exit for Yankee Stadium, Queens and other famous names. While the New York State Thruway was clean, the city had a lot of litter. I was riding past buildings that had a lot of history.

Before I knew it, I was out of NYC and headed for Philly. All the partiers were still sleeping it off. It wasn’t long before I was coming to Philadelphia, PA. I had read a lot of history and half expected to see “Ben Franklin Slept Here” signs. I did take the exit and soon found myself on the George Washington Bridge over the Delaware River. Holy heavens, this river was large at this point. I could see George on the bow of a boat, leading the way.

As the bridge came back to earth, navigation said to take a right turn. Fine. This didn’t look right. The street was extremely narrow and soon it looks like…. I’m in China Town? What is this? Yes, this is the reason I never want to get into a self-driving car. There were people everywhere and the streets were barely wide enough for 2 cars to pass each other. Trucks, buses and cars were stopped on the right side of the street and I was able to pass them and continue on, but I wasn’t liking this so much. I have to say the colors and the pageantry were lovely. After a few blocks, I was to turn right and there I was at the downtown Philly Marriott.

I was saved to live another day. I rolled up in front and navigated right up on the sidewalk. I’m a biker, I own the place. LOL There was nothing but Valet parking. There was a crowd waiting for their cars, taxi or shuttle. I got a lot of compliments on my bike. I walked inside to check in, no problem. So, I come back out and now I have to deal with a Valet at a high end hotel with NO provision for motorcycle parking. I have just landed on Mars and no one speaks my language.

YOU CAN’T PARK HERE! (I have to park somewhere and I’ve paid for a room). How about if I just park right over there, in a little spot way out of the way? NO. THERE IS NO PARKING OUT HERE. Now, I have to get creative.

So, I said, in my most authoritarian voice, “I have in my possession official government documents, SIGNED BY A MEMBER OF THE PRESIDENT’S CABINET, which you will accept and therefore entitle me to park here. He gave me a funny look. I pulled out a 20 dollar bill and a ten. I held them up and said “here are the signatures and these are official government documents”.

Now, he’s got a problem. He said, all right, follow me. We went way down to underground parking. Not just one level, down 2 levels. He pointed to a far corner where they kept equipment and stuff. Lock it up right there.

Bike is parked, let’s explore the area. More next segment, where I have to pay another guy to get my bike out, which isn’t supposed to be there and he is NOT happy.

Philly on the 4th

I stayed in downtown Philadelphia. The City Hall is a huge building. The grounds cover about 4 city blocks and the building is extremely ornate. It has lots of figures on it and you can get lost looking at all the details.

I wandered all around it. There were police on foot everywhere. There had just been a big shooting incident a few days before. I wondered if that had anything to do with it. I engaged every police officer that I met. I told them I appreciated them for what they did and for keeping me safe. It was heartwarming for me to see their demeanor change rapidly from slightly defensive to warm and grateful for the support.

People were walking everywhere and there were crowds starting to sit on curbs here and there. As I visited with another officer, he told me there was a parade due to start. Well slap me silly. No wonder there was so much law enforcement presence. The 4th of July parade in our nation’s cradle, Philadelphia. As it turned out, there were police about every 50 feet and they were intent on doing their job.

The parade was very entertaining. There were no floats, but a lot of people on foot and many pretty girls and dignitaries in convertibles. It lasted a long time and was briefly baptised with a warm rain shower.

After the parade, I walked further. There was a large water sprinkler park and the kids were going crazy. Adults lined the outside and enjoyed watching the children from age 6 months and up. Further on were street vendors and sidewalk cafes.

Celebrating our nation’s birth in the city which was a cradle for it was a meaningful experience for me. I enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at a fine restaurant and retired early.

Part 6, The Wrap

It’s 4 am and time to pack the bike, which is now locked up in the far corners of a 2 story deep underground bunker. I must confront the man in the Valet Parking window.

“Good morning, I’d like to get my motorcycle out of the parking garage”.

“There is no motorcycle parking!” he barked.

Well, yes there is, because my bike is down there. He demanded to know who gave permission. I denied any involvement. We did a little back and forth. I refused to rat out the alleged perpetrator and asked nicely if I could please retrieve my bike. Finally, he relented and told me gruffly to go get it.

After I got it out and parked it where he directed me to do so for loading, I gave him 5 bucks. As he admired my new Gold Wing, we suddenly became friends. We talked pleasantly at some length. His conversion was complete and he asked a lot of questions about riding and the bike.

I load up, check out and navigate downtown streets to get back on Interstate 92. There is only light truck traffic and it’s still dark. I exit PA and ride into New Jersey as the sun comes up. I pass the very busy Newark airport. I cut through a tiny slice of Delaware and ride past the Meadowlands thinking about Jimmy Hoffa, who was rumored to have been buried under one of the concrete pillars of the Sports Complex.

The area is wetlands and there is very little development there. I got some very tiny bugs on my windshield that I thought were raindrops at first. The Interstate splits in two, with 4 lanes on each side. Traffic moves well and drivers are all closely following the speed limit. Driving is easy, lane changes are easy and stress free.

There is a car ahead with something underneath flopping madly in the wind. I plot escape routes in my head in the event it decides to make a bid for freedom. I exited the road at a rest area to change to lighter clothes. The driver of that car was holding the offending plastic shield that he had retrieved from under the car.

I ride on and enter Maryland. My objective on this ride was to simply have a wheel down in each state. I had carefully laid out my route to zig and zag for this purpose. At seemingly the last minute, I catch the exit to avoid Washington D.C. and head into Virginia, then West Virginia. I see a sign for Cumberland and recall my grade school teacher explaining the significance of the discovery of the Cumberland Gap. This enabled early settlers to cross through the Appalachian Mountains and into the rich fertile paradise of Kentucky.

The mountains were beautiful and much of the area was densely wooded. Yes, this would be a settler’s goal. There were a number of fragrant scents as I rode and I enjoyed the sights. The air was clear and clean. There was no longer any smoke from wild fires. This part of the ride was wonderful.

It seemed too soon that I arrived in Lexington, KY, my destination for the night. I had a nice dinner and got to sample another outstanding local beer.

The next two days would find me overnight in St. Louis and then back home in Nebraska. I had just ridden over 3,500 miles and 22 states in 8 days. I have now ridden a motorcycle in all 48 states and Hawaii.

I have loved every minute of it.

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