We set out mid-morning bound for the northern ferry crossing of Lake Champlain. A few miles short of the landing I pulled over to give Glenlivet time to play and pee. Two other riders pulled in behind us; one of them approached with a broad grin and a camera. “Is that Glenlivet?” he asked. “I’ve been following your adventures on Facebook!”
Jeff Ivey and his son were on their way to Canada. We chatted like old friends till Glenlivet relieved himself, then shook hands and parted. Glenlivet and I mounted up and headed for the lake crossing.
Across Lake Champlain, through the northern Adirondacks to Saranac Lake and our friends, Tom and Kelly. Their young golden, Jackson, was again timid at first, but by evening he and Glenlivet were engaging in tentative play.
We said our goodbyes to Tom, Kelly and Jackson hoping to reach Somerset PA by day’s end, but bailed at Tioga PA after battling wind that always seemed to come from straight ahead. The humidity was tough for us Vermonters. Even with several play stops and cooling dips we were both tuckered out by mid afternoon
With strong storms coming our way we sought shelter in the closed up summer camp of our dear friends Dennis and Linda in Tioga. That night, with the sidecar safely tucked into their carport, we cuddled together on the couch while thunder boomed and high winds rattled the windows. Come early morning we met our benefactors at a diner in Mansfield PA to catch up. Linda, a professional photographer of considerable talent, asked about our plans for the day and with a somber expression slid her weather ap in front of me. More storms! “If you hustle south forty miles before turning west you might stay dry,” she told me. “Mostly.”
So we raced south to beat that gnarly storm cell, didn’t quite make it, got soaked and emerged on the other side to air dry. We visited the Flight 93 Memorial which left me with an odd mix of grief and rage, reached Cumberland MD just ahead of more rain where Glenlivet staked his claim to the bed. He’d earned it today!
We set off early in the morning. Though Glenlivet was having a great time, by this point I knew there was something seriously wrong with the setup of my sidecar. At anything more than low speeds it pulled hard to the left, and the effort it took for me to go straight had caused severe pain in my left shoulder and right forearm. The front tire was also wearing unevenly – and very quickly – a sure sign that my rush to finish last winter’s rebuilt was coming back to haunt me.
The suck factor was high!
We crossed the Potomac River from Maryland into West Virginia, quickly passing through a small town and into a scenic wonderland. We took a narrow twisting road that was supposed to take us through Smoke Hole to a highway to the north, but we only got halfway before the road was closed due to a washout. A nice young man in a truck full of tracking dogs stopped to take pictures of Glenlivet. We chatted a while and he gave us good directions on how to reach our destination for the night.
We explored several roads, all of them lovely, before following the directions we’d been given to the Seneca Rocks campground. The campground was virtually deserted, and the host put us in the only occupied loop. We saw only two other sites with tents set up, so settled in for what we thought would be a peaceful two night stay.
My inspection of the rig was disheartening. We had come just 1400 miles at this point and the brand new front tire was ruined. My shoulders weren’t doing so well either! Most motorcycle dealers were closed on Sunday, so any chance of finding a new tire meant we would have to cut our stay at Seneca Rocks short.
While I was weighing my options the occupants of the campsite next to us arrived. Three college age men sat around drinking beer while two young women busied themselves preparing a meal. That division of labor wouldn’t fly in New England, but they all seemed comfortable with their assigned gender roles. But after the second beer the vulgar language began. Now I’ve served with Marine infantry and aboard several small warships. I can accept the use of choice adjectives to spice up a conversation. But one young man in particular was beyond the pale. “Oh my god!” he’d shout loudly at least once every other minute. “Oh my fu@&ing god!”
After an hour of this annoyance I walked over and calmly asked him to hold it down. He responded with a two word insult. Whatever. So for the next half an hour every time he shouted that phrase, I’d shout it right back at him. And finally one of the young women spoke up. “He’s right,” she said. “Three years of college and that’s the extent of your vocabulary?”
I noticed later that young man was the only one sleeping alone that night.
We broke camp the next morning and rode slowly to Early’s Cycle Center in Harrisonburg VA. They squeezed us into their already overloaded schedule and had us back on the road pronto. I asked if I could use some of their tools and a corner of their shop to adjust the lean of my rig, but their small shop was packed and with two technicians out sick they simply couldn’t accommodate us. Wonderful folks, though, and they did all they could to help.
Given that the tracking issue was exacerbated by speed, we diverted to Skyline Drive and were soon mosying down the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped often for breaks, most of the time finding ourselves surrounded by people taking pictures of us. Whenever I had cell reception I’d post updates to Facebook, including the issues I was having with the sidecar.
The low speed limit on the Blue Ridge Parkway made handling the rig less of a battle, but I knew unless I could find the tools needed to make the adjustment I’d soon need another front tire…and a set of fresh shoulders. We pulled over for the night in Waynesboro VA where we found a room at the Super 8. Glenlivet found a convenient spot in front of the air conditioner while I went online to post an update. My Facebook feed was full of offers of help! One online friend named Trinity lived just a few miles from us and offered to bring her tools. I sent a PM with my phone number and half an hour later she showed up with a huge grin and a large toolbox. Together we managed to improve the setup, but because of one very stubborn fastener we were forced to stop short of perfection. Still, it was 75% better than before. Trinity had to rush off for a class so I never got to take her out to dinner. Someday I hope to return her kindness if we ever meet on the road again.
Another big storm was heading our way so I reluctantly left the Blue Ridge Parkway and hit I-81 for a mad dash south, hoping to get around it. But first, a stop for breakfast in the little town of Dublin VA. Early in my military career I had a close friend named Scotty Frye. We had been classmates through our early medical training in San Diego CA, then were both transferred to the east coast, him to Portsmouth VA and me to Camp Lejeune NC. On alternating weekends we had taken turns driving up (or down) the coast to visit each other and explore the area. Then I deployed and while I was overseas he left the service. We had not seen one another since 1975. But while planning the route for this adventure I came across the name of a small Virginia town that seemed somehow familiar. Thanks to Google I found the email address for the town offices. I sent a brief email asking if by any chance Scotty still lived there. I got a wonderful response from the town mayor. Turns out that Scotty had been his daughter’s high school track coach and still lived in the area. He gave me his phone number so Scotty and I could reconnect!
We caught up on our respective journeys through life, love and loss, in the over forty years since we’d last seen each other. It was…priceless!
Once again the weather to the south looked just plain nasty, and it was coming our way. Abandoning for good the plan to include the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway on this trip, we got back on the Interstate and raced south. Raced is not an exaggeration, as despite the posted warnings of dire consequences for speeding, the average speed of traffic was around ninety miles per hour! While I generally don’t travel that fast, it’s nice to know you can. Being the slowest vehicle on the road is not the safest way to travel.
Some years before at a rally I had met Chuck Tucker, a fellow dog lover and long distance motorcyclist. Like Trinity, he had been following our progress on Facebook. We had planned on meeting again at a campground in western North Carolina, but he sent me an email warning of severe storms in the area with flooding and road damage. Instead, he offered us shelter at his home on the north side of the Great Smoky National Park, just out of reach of the worst of the storms. Looking at the radar weather, I gratefully accepted.
In my mind, I thought Chuck’s offer was a room in his house, or perhaps a dry spot in his barn. Instead, he met us at the local Post Office and guided us to a three bedroom home he had built for his late mother. He showed us around, tossed me the keys and said “See you at suppertime!”
For the next few days Chuck escorted us on day rides showing us around his corner of the country. Just as I do for visitors in Vermont, he took us down roads only the locals know. Glenlivet’s RexSpecs had broken along the way and RexSpecs had sent a replacement pair to the BMW dealership in Knoxville. Chuck drove us there to pick them up. We had breakfast or lunch at small diners, and each evening we joined him and his lovely wife, Stella, and neighbors, Clark and June, for supper at their hilltop home where poor Glenlivet was bullied by their territorial chihuahua.
Chuck also had a nicely equipped garage with, most importantly, a three foot long breaker bar! With that extra leverage I was finally able to break free that stubborn strut and properly dial in the sidecar so it tracked the way it should have.
We had reservations at an Airbnb overlooking Lake Nantahala in North Carolina, so said our goodbyes to Chuck and continued south. As we passed through a fairly large town Glenlivet poked me with a paw. Urgently. Like Barley before him, he had a nose for hashbrowns and fries. Sure enough, there was a McDonald’s ahead. I caved.
We almost made it to our destination before the storm hit. Almost, but not quite. The last five minutes caught us in the open during an absolute deluge. We passed through the gate, zigzagged past vacation homes tightly stacked on a steep slope overlooking the lake, and found the garage door opening as we arrived. Bill, a fellow rider from Ontario, had seen us coming and waved us out of the wet.
There were supposed to be four of us sharing this home, but fellow Vermonters Dave and Liz had turned back in Pennsylvania – after eight hours riding in heavy rain – when they realized medication had been left behind at their last hotel stop. Too exhausted to press on, they had turned back home. That left Bill and me. Though we had never met, we hit it off immediately. He brought wine. I brought Scotch. We talked far into the night, rode separately the next day, then shared our adventures and spirits again the following evening.
I’m generally not a fan of roads that have been named, as the hype attracts crowds. Riders and drivers in over their heads create hazards and road blocks. But I wanted some photos of Glenlivet and me riding a technical road, so off to the Tail of the Dragon we went. We left early in the morning to beat the crowds, but arrived at Deal’s Gap just in time to find a road captain blocking our path so a parade of slow moving cruisers could stay together. Whatever. It’s not my style of riding so we pulled in for a light breakfast at the diner.
When we proceeded we had the road to ourselves. We rode only till we found the Killboy photographers, made several passes past them to make sure they got at least one good photo, then returned the way we had come. Along the way we stopped at a small grocery store to pick up steaks and corn for supper.
Very early Wednesday morning we said our goodbyes to Bill and headed for the rally in Lebanon TN. The plan was to ride the scenic Cherohala Byway at a leisurely pace, taking several breaks for play and photos, but rain thwarted us. The ride was cold, wet and miserable till we reached Tellico Plains TN on the far side. And of course from that point on we were out of the hills.
Spoiled by the scenery of the hills we’d left behind, I opted for the Interstate to reach the rally faster. Along the way we began seeing other BMWs heading the same way.
We reached the rally Wednesday afternoon and immediately connected with old friends. The rally officially started Thursday, but there was much to do. Pitching in to help is part of the experience.
For the second year in a row, Glenlivet won the Long Distance Sidecar Dog award. I was surprised by that, as Tennessee and Vermont are not that far apart. Glenlivet seemed very excited by the award, however; at least till he figured out it wasn’t edible!
We started home early Sunday morning, following roads that were for the most part deserted.
We crossed Tennessee then angled up into southern Kentucky following rural roads that revealed their secrets
We crossed into Virginia where a quick check of my weather app showed strong storms moving in. I-81 was just a few miles to the east, so after a brief rest stop we headed for the Interstate and once more fled bad weather at a good clip.
The sky looked pretty threatening as we crossed into Pennsylvania, so we gassed up then stopped for the day at a motel. A large field adjacent to the motel gave Glenlivet a good place to romp and play fetch.
The following morning we were underway early, heading for Freedom Sidecars to visit Claude Stanley and his small team of experts. Again, we were caught in the rain just a few miles shy of our destination, but had a good visit before setting out again.
Radar weather showed we had about an hour to run north in the hope of skirting yet another band of showers, so off we went.
I generally try to find small Mom n Pop diners while traveling, though it is becoming increasingly difficult as chains continue to take over in a depressing sameness. When in a hurry, however, with storm clouds chasing you across the landscape, sometimes you just have to grab a bite. So somewhere in Pennsylvania we stopped at an Arby’s for a quick bite. Glenlivet, well-behaved as always, so impressed the staff that they delivered a pint cup of roast beef to him in the sidecar as thanks for being such a good boy!
Carole and her husband, a golden retriever loving couple in their eighties, wanted us to spend the night in Lancaster PA so they could meet Glenlivet. The forecast looked particularly threatening, however, so I promised next time and continued north. The following day she would text me that the town had flooded, so pressing on had been a good call. We’re hoping to meet them in 2020 on our way to southern Utah…
The GPS displays a map of the area we pass through, and glancing at it I often catch glimpse of a road that makes me wonder where it goes. (A GPS isn’t always about giving directions, you know. Sometimes it provides options…) So we followed a decaying road that turned out to be a shortcut to the highway we were looking for.
We crossed into New York with the storm half an hour behind us.
I wanted some distance between us and those clouds so turned onto I-88 and accelerated to that nebulous speed where, with luck, any trooper who tagged us would look the other way. Half an hour later Glenlivet was giving me the I have to pee look, so we ducked into a sleepy looking rest stop.
We had suited up and were about ready to leave when a bus full of Chinese tourists pulled in. Most of them ran to the restroom, but a handful of women made a beeline for us. They spoke no English or Spanish, and I knew just a handful of Chinese greetings, but it was clear one woman wanted to greet my dog. She pantomimed that she wanted to pet him, and I nodded. I wanted to see how he reacted to her, while at the same time being sensitive to his comfort.
She approached with her hand outstretched speaking rapidly in Chinese, but in a tone that was reassuring. Clearly she was no stranger to dogs. Glenlivet accepted her touch, then her gentle hug, without protest but without showing her any affection. He remained focused on me the entire time. Good dog!
We left the Interstate at Hwy 30, north to the town of Amsterdam NY, then east to Ballston Spa NY. I can’t pass through that town without thinking of my late friend, Paul Bachorz. Though I only knew him a year before he passed, he was a good man and a kind, giving person
An hour later we were back in Vermont. We took one of the gaps through the Green Mountains, linked up with Hwy 100, stopped for lunch at the Pittsfield General Store, and two hours later reached our home in Craftsbury Common VT.