The Journey Begins

triprptWith Saturday’s Reason Rally over, capped by dinner with my Tampa friends, it was time to start my summer trip. The CNU conference would begin in Detroit on Wednesday, so I had only half of Sunday plus all days Monday & Tuesday. No amount of planning could compensate for the simple “hope for good weather” on my long hard drive Monday. I signed up for AB&B’s in Cumberland, MD on Sunday night, so I could afford to get a late start. Then Monday night I’d stay in Mansfield, Ohio, a familiar place from when I lived in Detroit and had a nearby client. This would make my drive into Detroit shorter was well.

I had worked out to have fellow residents help me push my scooter backward down the intermittent pavers of the side yard. What I wasn’t expecting was the flat tire, a nagging problem for the next week. My crew left and I needed to assemble a new crew when the tire was finally ready. I filled it from my portable air compressor (my new closest friend) and the second set of young professionals were as happy and enthusiastic as the first. It took me over two hours of fussing to get the bike uncovered, inflated, pushed back, and finally packed up. While I had started early, by the time I was leaving it was nearing noon.  When making my original plans, I had hoped to visit Cedar Lane Unitarian church, in nearby Bethesda, MD (new home of our old pastor). But this morning’s craziness proved the wisdom in postponing that idea. I would be back in DC before the summer was over.

I had used google streets to find a UPS store to ship back my first bag of extra stuff. Too much underwear, the phone packaging, swag from the reason rally and souvenirs; all jammed into a tiny box headed home (the first of several this summer). Criss crossing from Clarendon I found a bakery for some coffee, then the opened up the UPS store at noon on Sunday. Then I was off, bless my GPS, under overcast skies.

To get to Cumberland, you actually head North and West from DC and on my way I stopped at an autoparts store to buy a high quality air gauge. The leaky front tire was on my mind. And before heading out into the country, I stopped at a mall tire store. It was Sunday, and rainy, and I could not catch a break. No motorcycle shops were open (and I needed to get to cumberland today). The chain auto tire stores would not, or could not, help my scooter. I burned up a couple hours still in the DC area bouncing between 3 chain tire stores before deciding I had no choice but to press on. I would cast my fate to the universe, and rely upon AAA towing if things went south.

Then it started to rain. First sprinkles, then drizzling, then a downpour. Luckily it was only 2 running hours to Cumberland, but that leaky tire was costing me more and more time. I was so stupid, so cavalier on my very first day out of Florida to try and “jump the curb” to park in the ABB side yard. What a headache!

I stopped every half hour to check and add air to the tire. My favorite trick during rain (to this day) is to use covered bank drive through lanes. You can find one out of business, or its often at night, today was Sunday so every nice dry, larged covered drive thru was available for me to take my time, dismount and fill that front tire. I could set my gear down on dry pavement, and open either trunk or bag without rain. My second choice is a gas station, but there are cars coming and going. My air compressor is driven off the in dash cigarette lighter and has a built in gauge, so it was easy for me quickly pull off and keep an eye on the tire, topping up the air.

I had hoped to arrive early, but eventually pulled into Cumberland at 6pm. This was my first experience with simply having no cell service to call my host. Imagine, I thought, if the tire went flat; how would I call for a tow? I pulled off on a hill on the freeway (under a bridge), let him know I was within 20 minutes, then gave the tire one more fill and sent a status text home. I had my first encounter with Semi-Trailers. All so loud I couldn’t think, zipping by at 70 plus mph, one accidentally over was the line onto the shoulder just inches from a catastrophe. I was getting lessons, one after another, about safety, the elements, being prepared and organized, and just how vulnerable a lone motorcyclist is in modern America. It stacked up to be a fun summer, and one grand adventure, but I started to understand the betting pools whether I would return home alive on labor day. Very dangerous and very sobering.

I pulled into Cumberland and to my delight my AB&B lodging was a repurposed historic church. The outside was still stone block and a century old, but the inside had been rebuilt with several floors of dorm rooms. On a rainy June Sunday night, I would be the only guest in what felt like a mausoleum. My host was a delightful young man, wanting to get back home to watching some sports game on TV. He gave me all the codes, helped me pick a room, showed me the kitchen and TV rooms. He didn’t know this was my first ever introduction to staying at “a hostel”, but he shrugged and figured I had all night to figure it out. The “men’s room” had three stalls and two showers … and me. Sofas, fridge, cupboards, were perfect for housing a couple dozen hikers in the nearby trails. For me, it was just an overnight; no muss no fuss.

I dropped off my stuff, and experimented with Yelp for the first time, to find a place to eat. Approaching 7pm, the town was pretty shut down, but I rode from one end to the other, taken by the historic rail yard the cut the city in half. It had long been spanned by a freeway bridge, marking Cumberland’s demise. There was work here once, to support all those historic houses, and rail to support the workers, but now it was a name on a map with millions buzzing past at 70 mph.

I ended up wanting only a coffee and internet connection to plan the long hard ride tomorrow, so I opted for a McDonalds in the on and off rain. Sipping my coffee I was confronted by conservatives loudly hawking their patriotism to each other in disregard of fellow diners. And the desolate poor, foreign born, and young parents that keep McD’s in business. I moved to a corner table, availing myself of the electric outlet and google to find not one but two Suzuki dealers within 10 miles. I plotted the next morning.

I would head up into country to one (or two) dealers and get my tire plugged, or outright replaced, opening the place. Then I’d continue my trip to Mansfield. A hard ride to mid-Ohio would be 4 running hours on the freeway, but I hoped to ride the more scenic, slower, safer “blue highways”. This would increase riding time to 5 or 6 hours. Add in coffee breaks and stretching and I needed to get an early start. But the dealers didn’t open until 9am, and they did not answer their telephones on Sunday night.

Wet and cold and frustrated, but not hungry, I headed back to my church / hostel for the night. I parked the bike on the sidewalk (where I could peek at her from my room window) and covered her from the rain (no yard, no roof). The doors had digital access codes and all the lights were on motion sensors with timer turn offs. The experience was weird and spooky. I took a nice hot shower and turned in, first organizing my stuff for morning.0605cumb4


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