40 To Phoenix, & Much More!

Nearly a thousand miles have rolled by since this journey began.  Bad weather was approaching Connecticut as well as my first stop over, Virginia Beach.  After rescheduling my departure from Friday to Saturday I escaped unscathed, dry but cold, on Thursday, well ahead of a cloud obscured sunrise.

The trip would have been without problems were it not for the flat tire on the New Jersey Turnpike.  I was able to swap in the spare at a rest area but the lack of a safe place to pull over in the dark of night resulted in a ruined tire.

One feature of the trip to V. Beach is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

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While driving through the second Tunnel,

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this ship passed over me!

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After visiting with friends in V. Beach over the weekend it was time for an early morning start for the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Darkness quickly gave way to a rapidly warming day full of sunshine, and wind.  Lots of wind!  First up was a stop by the Wright Brothers National Monument, which I’ve seen several times in the past,

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then on to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  The ride there had an unexpected twist which we as motorcyclists always expect.  At the end of one bridge sand had blown across the road to a depth of at least five inches and about 15 feet across.  I was thankful for the back tire I was riding on, a motorcycle tire would have had far less ability to traverse the obstruction.  Although the lighthouse was built in a great location despite being right in the middle of hurricane central for the east coast time had taken its toll on the seashore.  To save it from eventual destruction by relentlessly approaching erosion it could not remain where it was built.  I figure if it was worth moving it deserves my traveling two hours out-of-the-way to see it.

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Upon arriving at the new home of the lighthouse there was a sign saying closed to walking up for the season.  I had never heard of a lighthouse being closed for the season so after walking around and taking some pictures I headed on my way to  the next destination.

Had a fantastic time the past two days visiting with Bob and Laura.  The three of us used to work together back home but now they live in North Carolina.  Together we rode down to Myrtle Beach for lunch yesterday with another couple of former co-workers.

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From the left, Bob & Laura Fraser & Nancy & Tony Molica.

It was great to talk over old times and catch up with each other.  Bob and I replaced the bad tire and tube on the trailer wheel and put it back in place of the spare.

Only a 40 mile ride today. I checked in at the hotel in Wilmington, NC with plenty of time to relax before the ride meeting and dinner.  7 AM tomorrow its kickstands up time.

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A storm just came through Wilmington.  Another is on the way but I’ll be on the road by then.  There are 17 ride groups and some individual riders.  My plan is to ride a half day with as many groups as possible which will require leaving the first group when they stop for lunch and locating the next when they stop for lunch.  Group two is departing at 7 and group one leaves at 7:45 so that is today’s order of ride groups for me.  We will be on the road before the storm gets here, hopefully group one will as well.

Today was time for changing plans.  The ride captain for group two was not available and it was decided, not by me, that I was to assume the role.  We departed Wilmington ahead of the approaching storm front.  My biggest concern was crossing a open-grate bridge while it was dry and the timing was perfect.  We were about 20 minutes past there when the clouds opened up with plenty of rain and three flashes of lightning.  We emerged from this unscathed and continued in mostly sunny skies, and wind…plenty of wind, to Conyers, GA.

Today was a short ride to Leeds, AL.  Aside from some wind the weather was perfect for racing around the track at Barber’s Motorsports.

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Took about 320 photos inside the museum which has an unreal collection!

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Looking forward to returning someday after the addition is built and a larger percentage of their collection is on display.

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Dinner was at the

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The inspiration for the movie

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I’ve passed 1700 miles  and one time zone so far, tomorrow we are off to the next stop, next adventure.

Today’s ride brought us to Conway, Arkansas.  Now up to 2100 miles.  Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, (for about 20 minutes), to Arkansas.  Today’s ride was supposed to be 397 miles.  After 69 minutes we were 375 miles from the destination.  Stuff happens, including wrong turns.  Rain didn’t, and there was less wind.  All in all a beautiful day for riding.  The best part of is was also the reason for the slow start.  I-22 out of the Birmingham, AL area towards Memphis was a fantastic ride with surprisingly little traffic.  When we arrived at our hotel there was a party going on!

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It was a great meal with plenty to eat and waiting for us to arrive and enjoy!  Lots of friendly people there!

From here I had planned to ride the next day with Group 3 to El Reno, OK, but thanks to a foursome in the neighboring room who were there to party I got very little sleep.  Since the group planned to do sightseeing on the way I went solo with the intention of going point A, to point B, ASAP.  Several miles into Oklahoma the winds came back with a vengeance and continued for hours.  I checked into the hotel then went out for lunch.  Taco Bell was right next door so I headed there for something to bring back to my room.  Later on I was out for a brief walk and picked up something for dinner and breakfast then went to sleep around 3 PM.  When I awoke the rest of the group was headed out to dinner but I had decided to stay put and rest up.  Ate, watched a movie and went back to sleep missing out on riding in a T-Storm.

Decided on one more day of solo riding so off I went to Amarillo, TX.  Half way here I stopped for gas and another layer of clothing.  Stopped a half hour later and added the electric vest, arm chaps and gloves.  The temperature dropped close to 40 degrees.  Expected a warmer ride in Texas!

12:45, finally the first group of riders have arrived on this damp, dismal dreary day, welcome to Amarillo.

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Huddling for warmth?  No, tips on using the GPS.

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Dinner tonight was a great benefit courtesy of the Chamber of Commerce and it took place in Palo Duro Canyon.

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The next day started with breakfast at Russell’s Travel Center.  They have a great free museum!

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Rode with some of Group 3 today.

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We headed off the beaten path up into the mountains.

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Then off to dinner.  We rode about 15 miles out-of-town, exited the highway, crossed over the highway and got back on in the other direction to get to a rest area.  From there we had a police escort back to town, past our hotel and on to our destination.

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After lining up for photos it was time to eat.

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With the requisite announcements from Russ.

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It is Friday morning and I’ve arrived in California.  Time for lots of updating about the trip.  So far I’ve traveled 4100 miles through 17 states and three time zones.  Through desert, mountains, rain, sun, and wind, lots of wind.  By the time this journey is over five more states and Mexico should be added to the list.  My hopes to ride with most/all of the groups ended up at four groups.  Sometimes plans change.

40 to Phoenix started some years back when about a dozen members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association hopped onto I-40 and rode to the Association Headquarters in Phoenix, AZ.  The excursion became an annual event evolving every year to almost 150 people doing some or all of the trip from Wilmington, NC to Chula Vista, CA.  A day trip to Mexico has also been added for those who wish, this will be the first time I’ve ever traveled south of the border.

That said, I need to talk about how I arrived in California.  My last report ended with Dinner after the bike formation for photos.  The following day I rode with a group of 8 bikes.  Here are the riders in front of the Cafe in Pie Town.

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Not wanting to interfere with their formation I chose to ride behind them.  This presented some interesting photo opportunities.

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Then I saw Group 3 in my mirrors.

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After several hours riding with them I went solo the rest of the way to Phoenix.  Early the next morning I headed off to the home office to take care of some business,

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while waiting for everyone to show up for the party.

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I enjoyed the opportunity to see the place for the first time and shared memories with friends that work there, meeting some of them face to face for the first time.  Everyone did their part to make the guests comfortable!

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Even GWRRA Founder Paul Hildebrand and Dottie Price Hildebrand.

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Three AM today I was wide awake with little else to do so I headed off solo for the final westward leg of the journey…but there is much more to do before the 40 Ride is finished.

One last day, one last photo.  Some of us are off riding, some heading home.  I’m here sorting & editing photos for the magazine.

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4300 miles so far with almost 3000 to go.  I’ll be writing about Mexico and adding more photos along the way.

Five days later I’m back home.  7300 miles over 22 days through 23 states and Mexico.

Finally I have time to catch up on the rest of the writing, starting with the trip south of the border.  26 bikes departed the hotel Saturday morning.  Mexico was wide open, there was no stopping as we rode right through customs.  First stop was breakfast at the Pueblo Amigo Hotel.

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In downtown Tijuana they blocked off part of a street leaving room for us to park.  The police guarded the bikes while we visited local shops.

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There were many Gringos Locos there!

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Next on to the border where we saw a marker used as a reference for GPS locating, half in each country.

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Behind the fence you can see some U.S. Boarder Patrol Vehicles with officers keeping people from sneaking in.  This side of the fence has been turned into artwork.

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Then it was time for riding down the coast and seeing some countryside.

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We rode around for hours.  After dinner it was time to wait in line to return “home”.

I took a break from riding on Sunday except for a short trip to fill up the bike with gas then took a long & badly needed afternoon nap.  My body failed to adjust to changes in the time zone so the further west we went the earlier in the morning I awoke.  Some people had headed off riding, others headed their own ways and few were at the hotel.

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40 to Phoenix for me had come to an end.  Time had come for the final Phase of the journey, the voyage home.  10:15 PM I rode out of the parking lot & headed east.  I-8 brought me most of the way to Phoenix where I turned north to Flagstaff.  Before leaving Phoenix, after filling up, I put on the electric vest & gloves knowing it would get colder on the next leg.  The thermometer hit 19 degrees for a few too many of the miles ahead of reaching Flagstaff and took a long time getting above 45 degrees after turning east from there.  A very cold and sometimes wet ride.  It took over 11 hours before crossing the border from New Mexico to Texas.  I didn’t realize how many miles Arizona and New Mexico would consume and the day was far from over.  When I checked into a hotel for the night in Vinita, Oklahoma 1530 miles had passed under me in 23 hours, 43 minutes.  Leaving California my plan was to do 1000+ miles in under 24 hours then round out to 1500 in the next 12 hours to qualify for the Iron Butt Association’s “BunBurner” certification.  I ended up overachieving to the “BunBurner Gold” level.  This was not planned and the paperwork I had downloaded, printed and filled out did not list BunBurner Gold on it.  Hopefully they will recognize this and award the certification but if they do not it will not diminish my accomplishment.  That said, I regret having done it.  When I got to Oklahoma City only one tank full of gas remained to reach the distance.  If I had it to do over I would have at that point stopped for the night.  But things had thus far gone so smoothly & the goal was very much in sight.  The GPS had directed me onto the John Kilpatrick Turnpike.  A sign indicated exact change or “Pikes Pass” at the toll.  Getting change for a five dollar bill I started feeding the requisite amount into the hopper.  Then came the speed limit 50 MPH sign.  Not knowing the exact percentage of speedometer error and wanting a bit of a buffer my goal had been 1600 miles on the clock.  50 MPH was not going to get me there on time.  I exited the parkway for gas, got back on and continued.  After that I was deposited onto the I-44 Turnpike, 70 MPH!  There were more tolls taking cash or Pikes Pass.  What is it with these people in Oklahoma and their Pikes Pass?  It sounds like something you would need to climb Pikes Peak!  Why can’t they use EZ Pass like most of the rest of the country???  (Yes, I was getting tired).  Then, after passing Tulsa, things went dramatically downhill.  Rain started falling onto my bug splattered windshield.  I was now  riding well outside of my comfort zone, I was pushing to keep up with a truck so I had it’s back lights to guide me.  After this long ride my hands started to feel strange on the controls.  The left felt as if it was at the wrong angle and the right seemed as if the throttle grip was a strange shape.  Arriving at yet another toll booth I asked the attendant about a hotel.  She directed me off of that exit to a Holiday Inn Express.  This was 20 miles shy of my goal and I did not care, I needed off of the road, off of the bike.  (Had things continued on the way they had prior to Oklahoma City my feelings about the experience would likely have been quite different).

Now I have some bad news.  A pre-requisite for the BunBurner Gold is one of the easier rides.  The good news is I just happen to have all of the documentation for a previous SS-1000 ride that was never submitted.  I’ll enclose this in the envelope with the rest of the paperwork.  (Flash forward a few months:  I have received the certificates for both Iron Butt rides and now contemplating which certification will be next)!

(https://wordpress.com/post/billmcilrathmotorcyclephotojournalist.com/352)

Trying to relax before going to sleep I typed in some information on Mapquest and also checked Google Maps.  Knowing the results showed well over 1500 miles it was easier to shut down the mind and get some sleep…but the weather remained on my brain.  350 miles separated me from my next destination, Collinsville, Illinois.

Back in the early 1970s a family moved into the house next door to us.  The father, Kermit Shields, befriended me and introduced me to automotive mechanics and motorcycles.  He and his wife had three children:  Susan, Eugene & Laura.  In May of 72 my family moved to a neighboring town.  I saw much less of the Shields family who moved out of state in 74.  He and I kept in touch for a while then I lost contact with him.  Using his employer as a go between I got word to him and he contacted me from his new home in Colorado.  We saw each other many times over the ensuing years, once when I ventured west and the rest when he came east on business.  While I could see all of their faces in the recesses of my memories I knew nothing about the rest of them since their departure from CT.

Three months ago I saw Susan on Facebook and reached out to her.  We shared many memories through ensuing messages.  I learned that the Honda QA50 her father let me ride oh so many years ago, the machine that introduced me to motorcycling, was a birthday gift to her just before they move in next door over four decades ago.  Although she did not remember that much of me from when they lived nearby, she was only 12 when they moved away, she recalled hearing many things about me over the years from her dad.  Knowing the road home from Chula Vista would bring me right through her town it became the perfect last stop before it was time for me to return to my home.

I awoke later than desired the morning after the long distance ride.  T-storms were approaching making a quick departure imperative.  While my butt had survived the previous day quite well it was not so pleased to get back on the saddle now.  Two tanks of gas later I was there and would spend the rest of that day, along with the next, resting up, catching up and sightseeing.  Collinsville is just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri and never having been there everything was open to this tourist.   I was tired and happy to have lunch with her then go to her house where I met her husband, Wayne, and the feline members of their household.  Sue picked me up early at the hotel the next morning and after a stop for breakfast we drove west across the river and started roaming.  The first stop,

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a ride up the Gateway Arch.  After seeing The Arch and The Old Courthouse,

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both part of the National Parks Service, we headed to the City Museum.

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This is a place where someone with a vivid imagination used whatever “junk” he could lay his hands on to make things of wonder.

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This included using whatever from buildings to be demolished as features in something new.

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We headed back to her house, picked up Wayne and the three of us went out to Olive Garden for dinner.  After saying goodbye at my hotel I set about packing for the next to last leg.  Slightly more than half the distance to home is a hotel in Streetsboro, Ohio, where I’ve stayed at in the past.  It was a good midway point for a respite before heading on the next day.

There you have it.  A cross-country trip making new friends and enjoying new experiences sandwiched between two trips reacquainting with old friends & reliving old memories.  A journey of a lifetime.

 

 

 

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