A late year ride: West Lafayette to DC

It was an interesting ride. You know the ones. It was a ride that was long enough to get your blood flowing, but nothing you’d brag over. There were enough doses of weather and poor drivers to add some spice to the equation. To some people the mere thought of driving 670 miles in one day would be difficult to fathom. The though of doing it on a motorcycle might cause them to fear for my sanity. Doing this through the eastern mountains of the United States the second week of December. That might make an interesting story. Especially if you turned around and came straight home afterwards.

Climbing onto a motorcycle does entail some basic thoughts about safety and risk. This is a task that should not be taken lightly or without thought to what might happen. However, it isn’t a death sentence. Risk is inherently a topic that non-riders bring up as if all the data given to them by the evening news was the truth. Instead of the biased mumbo jumbo with a few fluff stories you usually find I like to look at the numbers. The bad news is motorcyclists are over represented in fatality statistics by 4 times other vehicles. Half of that number involves alcohol. Nearly half the remainder are inexperienced or infrequent riders. The final elements of impact in our risk equation involve things like rider speed, and other parties being stupid. We can reduce the former but only hide from the latter. Our odds then become rather even with other vehicles in general. The key is don’t be stupid and plan for the worst.

Why ride at all given the other choices? Life can be a mind numbing experience as the petty people fight for the ring while some of us just want to enjoy the day. There is something to be said for being the best, strongest, fastest, or wealthiest. I’ve tried to simply be the happiest. I care about my job, and I work very hard. I do so because I enjoy it and more importantly believe I have something to contribute. I’m at a point in my career where I’m not fighting for a promotion, facing off to rid civilization of any scourge, or trying to climb the corporate ladder on the back of my sworn enemies. I ride because I can and it makes me happy. I find most people who disagree with me riding are more worried about making sure i’m not happy than whether I’m safer. A lot of corporate and pseudo government is about making sure people aren’t happy.

I put on a good base layer, pull on some Aerostich fleece, and my trusty roadcrafter armored suit. A few miles after I start the ride I swap the leather elk roper gloves for my snow-mobile gloves. They’ll be my primary for the rest of the trip. Leaving out of West Lafayette I head towards Washington DC. The plan is to ride easy, smooth, steady and light. I keep boredom away by listening to some tunes and books on tape. I keep my energy levels up by eating plainly, staying away from caffeine, and putting enough hydration into myself to keep the system working. At nearly 700 miles a ride like this involves two to three gas stops. After a debate I had with others I time my stops. Off ramp to on ramp with the build in stop watch on the bike. Roll to the pay at the pump, card in, card out, wallet put away, open gas tank as pump authorizes, place pump nozzle, start pumping, replace pump, pull pen from my sleeve pocket, enter details on receipt, start bike, pull on gloves, roll. On this day I skipped merging bathroom stops. Most of the stops were around 7 to 10 minutes.

I had to stop twice as often looking for a rest stop at the mid range point because it was cold. Even with heated gear I was having troubles. My normal gear choices for sub 20 degree Fahrenheit weather simply wasn’t working. I may have had a slight chill, or a cold. My left leg was giving me some difficulty too. the seating position was stifening up my replaced ACL and giving my fantom twinges. Stretching fixed that. So add a stop tax of 15 to 20 minutes for each tank of gas, and I was still pulling in the nearly 700 miles in 11 hours. Not a bun burner gold rate in my mind, but still a healthy over the ground average.

(Click to make larger)

(Click to make larger)

What kind of problems did I run into? In Pennsylvania my GPS routed me off my normal path and I hit a toll booth that was coins only. Sitting in the saddle looking at a $20 bill and a max coin changer for $5 really sucked (US40 off I70). I had just rolled through my own personal just for me snow squall. The snow came down heavy and hard with a lot sticking on the road. I kept on going because I knew it had to end quick (it wasn’t on any weather map). It did quit. Then it started raining hard. The little snow flake on my bikes dash kept me company (warning of icing conditions).

Problems though are usually made by the rider not just simple chances of fate. Figuring I’d have a great story I kept rolling and looked at the bright side. It was already dark when I entered the mountains. Kicking on the auxiliary lights I headed out on US40 and bent my self into the task of covering miles. At a sedate pace I crossed a couple of passes, and marveled at the amount of snow on the ground. The roads were clear if wet, and as I rode up one side and down the other. I watched the temperature swing 10 to 15 degrees. Passing down into Maryland and then into Virginia I snuck down I70 with nearly no traffic and then down the backside of northern Virginia on US15.

For those that don’t know that Camp David is out there in the park it is a wild road into and out of DC. It is just rural enough to be fun, and just maintained enough to be quick. It is however a mind numbing ride during rush hour as the sea of humanity migrates either direction from the reality exclusion zone known as Washington DC. I was off peak hours and sailed down the road being mindful of the furry forrest rats known as deer. Swooping into my hotel in Fairfax I parked the bike and posted 10 hours and 45 minutes total time having left at 9 AM and arrived at 7:45 PM.

Commuting into DC the next day I had a great ride. Slightly off peak I slipped in and out of traffic with only four or five close calls. Hyper aggressive drivers looking to share my lane or invoke cage match rules of the road. No arguments from me. I just got of their way and arrive at my destination calm and collected. I still ended up paying parking but the attendant on duty told me when entering the structure of a great place others couldn’t get into. Doing the Aerostich thing I transform from blue M&M with reflective piping into rumpled professor in sport coat. Leaving the meeting and knowing I’d be back way to soon i grab some twisties and lunch and head back to the hotel.

The next day I polish some of the new off the bike by heading out in sub freezing weather. Roads are clear and my 8 am departure is an artifact of my desire to ride more than leave the blur of DC. Just late enough and in the opposite direction I grab some favorite back lanes out of the area leaving the GPS silent. Sure they’re not the most efficient route for the GPS but my knowledge knows the flows better. A no heart break escape from DC accomplished I’m looking at a choice. Hard scrabble out on I68 headed west or take the I70/76 toll way to the split. I grab the tollway and just outside of Breezewood get dumped on for 20 minutes of phantom snow.

The rest of the trip is idyllic except I keep getting heat chills. I don’t have controller on my heated gear. It is either on or off. The controllers I’ve tried make a lot of audio racket. Pops, and buzzes intrude on my GPS or music. So I just use a switch. Criticize me for not doing it your way if different, but it is my way and I usually like it quite a bit. Heat chills though are something I’ve ran into in the past. Nothing will warm me up. My suit could fry me alive (and I’ve burned myself before this way). I have something that kind of lets go internally and I can’t get warm. I’m not hypothermic (I’ve taken my temp before thinking I was sick). In fact I usually attribute it to being sick with flu like symptoms. That though doesn’t appear to be the case. It is a once in awhile kind of thing. I’ve done numerous very cold rides (SS2K in February between Colorado and Boston, undocumented rides in and out of the Dakotas in January, a 15 degree below zero ride in the 1000 mile range, etc.) I get this little phenomenon maybe 1 in 20 cold rides. I feel remarkably alert and can count change and do other complex tasks. These are not the symptoms of hypothermia.

As I entered Indiana I kept the speed down a bit as I was nervous. I was approaching in Ohio exit 32 from I70 when the traffic stopped. A bus had crossed the median and struck on-coming traffic. Dropping off the Interstate and onto a back road I wrangled the bike down some new to me sections of America. As I chatted with a few truckers we listened as air ambulances carted off some poor soul. Being more nimble I got the GPS to route around some small town and I found a better way than the truckers who stuck to the truck routes. Getting out onto I70 sooner than others, but past the accident I was alone. What an eery feeling for many miles. When I passed the eastbound closure I had a long line of many miles to watch the other side stopped. The GPS re-routing feature does have it’s advantages.

When I rolled into the driveway I’d been really careful in Indiana. On at least three or four occasions I was followed by police for many miles. Direction of travel? Crazy bike rider? I don’t know the reason. I just would watch them pull out of the median and follow. I was doing the speed limit, obeying the traffic laws, and generally being a good citizen as I always am. But, I took it a little bit easier and kept myself well into the control and safe range. When I hit I65 north I enjoyed the last few miles and climbed off the bike. The return trip with traffic interruptions and various closures was at 13 hours. Nothing to brag about but then again it’s about the ride not the bragging.

The gear worked, but I’m thinking better boots for the winter on this bike might be important. The GPS auto-route is a sad piece of shit. Garmin really is not as good as my iPhone application TomTom. I’ll have to write up something about just how bad the routing feature (pick a point and let the GPS route you) feature sucks. The J&M CB radio system worked flawlessly. In the deep cold I’ve noticed the J&M LCD gets hard to read, but other than that it allowed me to talk to the truckers fairly consistently. My iPod integration via the BMW system on my bike is a weak link. I can’t listen to audio books (not even an option). So I wore epytomic ear buds (noise protection) and plugged it directly into my iPod (shuffle). Worked just fine, but it is a kludge. The iPod shuffle allowed me to listen to lots of tunes but I really wanted a book or something more. The radar system from J&M with Valentine1 installed and integrated was great. The look of all this stuff is clean and fairly uncluttered.  I don’t like a lot of stuff on my dash or hanging off the bike. Some things to obviously work out but in general a good rig for riding.

Like most rides it was awesome to start, do, and finish.

The bike is a 2012 BMW K1600 GTL. I wear Hi-Tec Magnum 10 inch boots, an original model Aerostich Roadcrafter, Aerostich windblocker Kanetusu vest, Aerostich fleece pants, Nike Pro running tights, Nike Duo-dry cold gear, and sometimes a baclava. I have upgraded the armor and protective characteristics of the Roadcrafter by adding a back protector and the upgraded armor pieces. I also wear a Schuberth helmet with custom headset installed by J&M. I have over 40 years experience riding on numerous size bikes and brands. I am a former Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Instructor (old school), and have competed in motorcycle skills games quite successfully.  I recently completed the MSF Experienced Rider Course (ERC) for something like the unknown’th time since the early 1980s. When it comes to riding motorcycles your mileage may vary.

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