Saturday, June 28, 2003

Day One - Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio

A major goal of this trip is to see the country. That, I knew right up front, meant getting off of the freeways and seeking out the lesser-used back roads. For weeks prior to leaving, I studied routes. Microsoft's MapPoint program would allow me to indicate where I would be traveling to, what places I wanted to stop along the way, and the kinds of roads I preffered. It would then give me the route, from the roads available, that was closest to my desires. At the outset, I could see that this would mean an extra day to get past Chicago, as I would loop well South and West before turning back to Madison Wisconsin.

Day one and I was already off plan as I found myself leaving from Germantown. At first, I went along with the recalculated route the GPS program gave me, taking me up 270 toward Frederick, Maryland but I tired of the freeway before reaching the Clarksburg exit. In full rebellion, I exited, stopped, then adjusted the GPS settings to avoid highways as well. It told me to go left on highway 121 into the winding roads of Maryland countryside. I was much happier.

Soon it told me to turn onto Old Baltimore Road. I did. This was a road I had seen in other travels, but I had never traveled it here. It began to get worse, but I did not worry as I was sure I had seen it come out on a road further West. It turned to gravel and then came to a creek that I would have to cross. I was not ready to turn back.

The creek looked shallow. It would have been good to walk across it first, but I was feeling impatient. It clearly was shallow and a short bit of water, but what I didn't bargain for was the gravel. Once into the creek the rear wheel sunk into the gravel and the motor died. I quickly restarted it, calculating that I had about a thousand pounds to deal with should I have to push it out of the creek, and was able to rock the wheel forward in the gravel and eventually made it across. The road on the other side was no better and I found myself feeling very uncomfortable navigating it even though it was straight and dry. Before I reached the top of the next hill a dairy truck came over it. He saw me and was kind enough to stop until I struggled past him.

"Less than a half-hour into my trip and already an adventure like this," I thought to myself.

It was worth it. Soon I was on Barnesville Road, then connecting up with Highway 28 which is a favorite weekend cruise, and on my way North. I passed through Tuscarora, chuckling at its name, then turned at the 85 intersection, staying on 28 to go to Point of Rocks, Maryland. The route took me, then on 340 past Harpers Ferry and Charlestown, West Virginia before turning sharply South. I went through Wheatland, Rippon, and Franklintown before entering back into Virginia. At Berryville, a right on Highway 7 would take me to Highway 50 which would get me though most of West Virginia. I liked seeing these new towns that weren't so far from where I've lived for the last fourteen years, but I began to realize that I might have gotten there quicker--and I've said nothing of the wrong turn that took me back to Frederick on 15 before finding 340.

Approaching Winchester, I gassed up next to Smoking Joe's Tobacco Products. So many people I know smoke, that I'm surprised I've not taken it back up. For a moment I think about how nice it would be to have a pipe on a camping trip like this.

The route I have takes me around Winchester. In hindsight, I would have done better to ride 50 through it. On the other side, I continued West on 50 which takes me West and back into West Viginia. Capon Bridge is the next town. A mile West of Capon Bridge I see two Harley Davidson's parked next to a club. It's two o'clock. I decide to eat. The lady who runs it does a good job on my hamburger, and the Harley riders don't rib me too hard about riding a German bike. By the time I leave, I find myself telling them that I hope I see them again.

"Tell Oregon Gomer says 'Hay," one of them says.

The road continues. The weather is good. Less than two hours later I'm back in Maryland at Gormania. What a name. The borders sure do get confusing out here: Started in Maryland, over the river into Virginia, and a mile later over another river into West Virginia at Harper's Ferry. South from Charles town and back into Virginia near Berrysville. West from there past Winchester then back into West Virginia before Capon Bridge. Fifty miles later, back in Maryland again. Looking at my map, there's not much more than eight miles of Maryland before I cross back into West Virginia. But this seems like a peaceful part of Maryland. It's so rural, and so far from the state seat of power. Do they appreciate being out of sight and out of mind, I wondered, or do they find it cause for complaint?

A few minutes and I'm back in West Virginia.

At Cathedral Park there is a campground, a large general store, and a couple of gas pumps. I pull in thinking I'll ask about camping. It seems somebody has to operate the gas pumps. I wait. Nobody comes to help. I go inside and danged if I can tell where the attendant's counter would be amid the shelves. Further into the building are a bunch of lunch tables. People are sitting at them. Aparently they are waiting for dinner. It's only 4:30, but the park seems dark. Some of them look at me, but all are silent. No greeting. I begin to suspect that my getting gas would mean a delay in their cook getting dinner onto their plates. So, I beat a retreat.

Back on the bike, I find myself remembering the musical "Brigadoom" and considering the nature of religious groups. How many religions originate among people waiting to be fed?

I think I'm somewhere between Macomber and Israel when I pass a produce stand and see a R75 BMW parked next to the road. I turn around and go back. It's owner emerges soon after I park. He and his young wife work there. I hear kids clamoring and see them in a pickup truck. He and I talk a bit about bikes and Bob's BMW, where I bought my bike and where he buys parts. I'm admiring his bike, but he's really admiring mine. I wonder if I've caused a problem. He comments that he has a hard time finding the money to keep up the bike. I think of the kids I heard.

It seems that motorcycles are often in competition with family. I'm not sure that it's such a good thing that I have time and money to spend time riding. He has a family that I don't.

As I prepare to drive off, he says something about my enjoying the road just ahead. I'm still wondering what he meant as I pass two riders resting on their crotch-rockets on the left side of the road, waiting to take off. I look at them and see the thumbs-up sign then turn my head to see a tight uphill turn has snuck up on me. I'm grateful that the uphill part of it will help me slow to a safe speed, but I'm pushing the bike down into a turn that I've never done before at a speed I intended only for a straight highway. The bike pulls me through it and a second later I'm pulling and pushing on the handlebars to get it to turn the other way. It begins to dawn on me what the guys on the crotch-rockets were all about. A series of tight climbing turns follows for several miles. There is too much traffic for them to be too much fun, so I gather the guys were hoping for a long enough gap in the Westward Bound traffic to be able to have some fun.

Highway 50, through West Virginia, continued rewarding me with many sites. I followed a band of early vintage auto's to Melanie's. It was a good bet the local folks driving those cars knew a good place to eat. Others behind me fumed at the 35 mph pace.

After dinner, I pick a campground along the route ahead. The Landings Family Campground in Reno, OH would be my first camp site.

Highway 50 took me through the hills, then descended and picked up the CSX railroad for company. Leaving Clarksburg the GPS computer did a good job of getting me off the main roads, even if only temporarily. It told me to turn onto old limestone road, then when I didn't catch the next turn quickly enough, told me to take a u-turn, but eventually put me on a bit of old Highway 50 that paralleled the new highway. For miles, houses bordered the highway. Kids played on front lawns. Adults doing chores nodded at me as I rode by. An older couple sat in chairs on the porch at one house and waved at me as if they were use to my passing by at that time every evening.

This came to an end just past Wolf Summit. It was only 6:30. There were at least three hours of daylight left, but I needed to set up the tent when I got there--something I might have practiced at home. It was time to get on the highway and cover some miles. I pulled over. I needed to zip up my riding jacket and do a quick check of the bike. When I finished I was surprised to find I had stopped in front of a Progressive Insurance Dealer. Progressive advertises a lot for motorcycle coverage. I'll probably switch to them at some point, myself as I'm not exactly happy with GEICO and the State of Maryland. Anyway, it made me smile to myself. It seemed like a commercial break in my touring--a piece of cosmic humor.

Highway 50 took me as far as Ellenboro where I turned North on Highway 16. In hindsight, I wish I had got off at Wilhelm Run then caught CR-36 and picked up old 50 again. It would have been good to see more of old 50: Waynesboro and Lamberton, for example. Maybe there will be a next time.

Highway 16 went North to St. Marys and to what I thought was a very spectacular bridge over the Ohio River. As I rode over it high above the river, below me a tug pushed huge barges. It was astonishing to see what looked like a sea-going vessel so far inland. My high school social studies book had told me about commerce on the river, but seeing it first-hand makes a much bigger impression than any picture in a text book.

(click for larger image)

After crossing, Highway 7 took me through Newport and followed the bank of the river. Something that appeared to be a nuclear power facility came into view on the opposite bank of the river. The size of the cooling towers was amazing--pictures of them do not convey well the degree to which they impose themselves upon the surrounding scenery because pictures do not do a great job of capturing the majesty of the the scenery to begin with. Giants viewed in the context of a snapshot's four-inch by five-inch frame do not intimidate the way they do in real life when they're about to crush you.

Twenty minutes later, after some back-and-forth in Reno looking, I made it to the Landings Family Campground near Reno, OH. I had at least an hour of daylight left.

The first night of camping went well enough. They charged me $20 for a place to pitch my tent. They had showers if I wanted to use them. I had just enough daylight left to get the tent pitched. So, I picked a place next to a picnic table and got started. The table gave me a place to lay out the tent and it's parts as I unwrapped them. Again, I remembered that I should have done this at home first. I just had just not found the time. Putting up the tent went well, nevertheless, except that I pitched it between the picnic table and the bike and the bike was perhaps a bit too close to the table. One of the stakes for the rain-fly went into the ground underneath the bike, but this also meant that the bike was close enough to grab when I lost my balance emerging from the tent.

"Next time," I thought to myself, " I'll have no difficulty getting it pitched in the dark."

I did, however, wish I had asked the REI guys who sold it to demonstrate how to pitch it. There was probably a way to make the rain slicker that goes over it not lie against the underlying tent fabric. Also, there were a few parts left over.

I walked down to the river and brushed my teeth in the men's showers. Outside I saw the afterglow of the sunset through the humidity. Across the river, other campers had lit fires. The smoke from their fires hovered just above the tree tops. It formed a mist and gave the picture a kind of ghostly feeling. The light of campfires pierced through the mist--a timeless picture of people camping by the river.

I didn't sleep as well as I would have liked. Tugs on the river, trains nearby, and the unfamiliar feel of hard ground that kept me searching for more comfortable ways to lie upon it cost me some rest. Trips to the bathroom were complicated by the need to put shoes on and take them off outside the tent, and by the one-block distance. So, a task that could be completed at home or in a hotel in a minute probably took ten or fifteen. Then once the sun started to come up, the tent brightened and I was awake. There was no snoozing-in on the hard ground. My body decided that sunrise was time to be up. Nonetheless, I reveled in the powerful sounds of the tugs, and grew use to them. It was tempting to save time by not lacing up my boots, but instead I learned to lace them faster.

Camping next to the motorcycle, I discovered, also had advantages. Its seat gave me a place to lean against while tugging my shoes on. Also, much of what I needed could stay packed on the bike until it was needed unlike hotels where I had to drag belongings up to a room.

In the morning, as I said, I was up early. When I emerged from the tent I found that everything was wet. I couldn't tell if it had rained or if it was just heavy dew. A quick walk to the river found the scenery just as mysterious as the night before. The river top was dotted with puffs of mist that seemed to rise from it as if rain drops were hitting a hot surface and evaporating, but it wasn't raining.

The prehistoric aspect of the scene began to waver. A low rumble began to grow until a giant tug came into view pushing its barges up the river. Through the night I had heard them rumbling against the surge of the river and listened to the knocking sounds of their barges. They sounded like locomotives and trains going by, but with deeper voices and a more lumbering speed.

Back to the tent for packing. Striking camp is my least favorite part of camping, but my gear surprised me with how easy it went. First I folded up the REI lightweight sleeping bag. It fit into its small duffle sack more easily than I expected. I pulled the stakes for the rain-fly, unsnapped it from the four corners of the tent and pulled the top from the Velcro of the tent. After shaking off as much water as I could I folded it and put it on the picnic table. The tent came down as easily as it went up. It's ground cover was dry compared to the rest of it. Dirt and grass shook off easily. The rain-fly rolled up with the tent. Everything was packed back into the bike's saddle bags and I was ready to go by ten-till-seven. I waited ten minutes more before firing up the bike, knowing that even then the other campers might not be entirely happy.

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