Thursday, May 31, 2018

A tumultuous day......

I woke up this morning with a clear plan in mind. After being home from Maggie Valley for nine days, golfing several times, riding the bike and taking care of business, we would load the bike in the trailer tomorrow. We would then leave Saturday morning for the VROC Wolfman's Wandering Rally in Williams, Arizona followed by High Sierra VROC Redux in Topaz Lake, Nevada. On the way back, we would check out Beartooth Pass in Montana and spend a couple of days in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Sherm texted me early. He suggested that this run and Eureka Springs in the fall might be the last times he brought a bike on a road trip. We gather for the people and, while the bikes are nice, dragging them around can be a pain in the butt. As the conversation progressed, we decided that we both would both probably leave the bikes at home in September. Finally, looking at the upcoming 6,000 mile trip, considering the difference between 14 MP(US)G towing the trailer versus 25 MPG without, and further allowing for the falling Canadian dollar and rising fuel prices, I suggested that we not tow this trip, either. And that was it. No motorcycle towing. That was quick.

A few weeks ago, we towed the bike 2,000 miles to Maggie Valley, North Carolina and back. While we were there, we rode the bike a total of 75 miles. Some friends didn't bring their bikes at all and had a great time. I decided we can enjoy this trip, the scenery and especially the friends as four-wheel tourists. This may be the end of one era, but it may just as well be the beginning of a new one.

All was going well as I was planning to announce the change in plans to our friends when Washington announced that it would be implementing a 25% tariff on steel and 10% on aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and Europe. This was, in my opinion, an outrage. It was a bully tactic to try to get us to agree to some outrageous terms in the NAFTA negotiations. But I was concerned that the USA would pull a stunt like this and then I would go south and spend several thousand dollars to benefit their economy.

I talked to Sandy and seriously considered cancelling the whole trip as a matter of principle. That is one of my quirks. I will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to make a symbolic statement, even when no one cares but me and it causes me great hardship. Cancelling would cause SSandyand I significant grief because we have been looking forward to this trip ever since last September.

I turned to Facebook and explained my dilemma to our friends. Some understood why I saw this as a problem. Others basically said that we should look after our own interests and not bother with the principle. The ones that resonated most were those who pointed out that we aren't getting any younger, friends are the most important thing and there will be other ways to take arms in the trade war. Decided. We will be leaving Saturday morning in the car without the bike.

Saturday night - Auburn, Indiana
Sunday night - Springfield, Missouri
Monday night - Amarillo, Texas
Tuesday night - Holbrook, Arizona

We will arrive at the Wolfman's Wandering rally in Willlams around midday Wednesday. After all the ups and downs, I am getting excited again.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Grove City Pennsylvania to Sudbury Ontario

Happy Victoria Day, fellow Canuckians. Like Easter, the celebration of the Queen's Birthday does not fall on a specific date. Instead, it is the last Monday before May 25th. The resulting long weekend is often called the May Two-Four Weekend, which works because it marks the beginning of summer, the opening of many cottages (or camps in Northern Ontario) and the consuming of many two-fours (cases) of beer.

We skipped the continental breakfast at the hotel and, instead, stopped at McDonald's for the usual. I would have liked to stop at the Grove City Premium Outlets for a pair of Skechers Elite spikeless golf shoes, but they would not be open until 10:00 AM. Instead, we were rolling north by 6:50 AM under blue 57 F skies.

After some quick calculations in my head and a roll of the dice, we made it to the Angola Service Center with (according to Chev Driver Information Centre) 18 miles of fuel to spare. I took on the last tank relatively cheaper US gas in what was the 200th time I have filled up this Equinox since we bought it in September 2015.

The Peace Bridge access in Buffalo

There were almost no vehicles on the Peace Bridge. There were five cars lined up in the NEXUS lane but no one was in regular Lane 5, so I went there. The agent laughed and said it wasn't unusual for people with NEXUS cards to ignore the regular lanes. He asked a couple of questions, I declared our goods including the two bottles of alcohol and we were on our way.

Once again, I forgot that the McDonald's in Fort Erie wasn't where the dumbass GPS said it is. We took an unintentional sightseeing tour, stopping at Shopper's Drug Mart for some Nin Jiom for Sandy, who had been coughing since we left Maggie Valley. Then we went to McD's, where everyone seemed to have gathered. Almost all were ignoring the kiosks and standing in line for the human cashier.

Finally, we left town and headed for Toronto on the QEW.

Toronto bound Queen Elizabeth Way - Happy Birthday, Liz!

Near St. Catherines, we saw what I am sure was the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Lancaster bomber flying by. This would not have been unusual since we were not far from Hamilton and they often took paying patrons for flights. Especially on a holiday weekend.

It was only 60 F under blue skies as we approached the Burlington Skyway. I debated taking the 403/401 free highway to 400 North but, as usual, chickened out and took the overpriced Express Toll Route 407 instead. We reached 400 North without delay.

The southbound traffic on 400, returning from the first summer weekend in Cottage Country, was intense. Many vehicles, little movement. If I was forced to live in Toronto, I would find things to do that did not include spending much of my life sitting in weekend traffic jams.

Traffic jams from Cottage Country

After a final stop in Waubaushene for fuel, we drove the last 150 miles straight through. An electronic sign south of the Seguin Trail said: "Expect Police Enforcement". Is there ever a time on a public road that we don't expect police enforcement? It isn't the Spanish Inquisition.

We arrived home at 4:45 PM. Bob had mowed the lawn and the clippings were set at the lot line waiting for pickup tomorrow morning. By 5:15, the bike was unloaded and in the garage and the luggage was inside and being unpacked.

It was a good first trip of the year. Now we have almost two weeks to prepare for the trek out west to Wolfman's Wandering Rally in Williams Arizona and High Sierra Redux in Topaz Lake Nevada. Maybe I can get some time in on the golf course as well.

Today's Route (515 Equinox miles):

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Maggie Valley North Carolina to Grove City Pennsylvania

I had the alarm set for 6:00 AM, but we were up before that. Bill and Laura, Billy Bob and Linda and the whole Indianapolis crowd had already left. This was originally going to be a short trip to Bryson City for another week of fun in the mountains, but plans changed. Instead, we were going home.

Thanks to Jax, Bill, Carolyn, Jason, Mikey and others (especially Mark, who put some plans in play before misfortune caught up with him). These gatherings are the high points of our year and they don't just happen. All things being equal, we will be back in 2019.

It just took a moment to throw the overnight bags in the car. Butch was wiping down his Nomad so we said au revoir. The revoir should be Williams, Arizona in a few weeks. Then we were rolling through the early morning fog. After a quick stop at McDonald's in Waynesville (and a second trip inside because a bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle with no cheese should, in fact, have an egg and no cheese), we were moving east on I-40 towards Asheville.

I-40 Eastbound

The fog gets thicker

In Asheville, I-240 took us to I-26 West (actually travelling north) up through Buckner Gap and Sam's gap into Tennessee.

Something appears to have fallen off the pickup truck

Climbing to Buckner Gap

Police presence on I-26 downgrade in Tennessee

At Johnson City, we took our usual back road route to Bristol Motor Speedway and up the back way to Abingdon, Virginia where we stopped for coffee, a smoothie and the bathroom.

Something is happening at BMS

The next stage was I-81 to Wytheville where we stopped at the Travel Center of America for some relatively cheap fuel. And more coffee.

Another police car on I-81

Wytheville Va

On I-77 North, we went right through the Big Walker Mountain Tunnel but got held up at the East River Mountain Tunnel due to a closed lane. After becoming accustomed to zipper merging in Sudbury, I was dismayed to see every vehicle merge as soon as they saw the sign. Since I would not take advantage of the empty lane and didn't want other late arrivals to pass all of us, I picked a partner vehicle and blocked the open lane all the way to the end of the lane where they let me in.

Big Walker Mountain Tunnel flowing well

Lane ends - a mile ahead

Welcome to West (By God) Virginia

Another traffic stop - I-77 North

And one more

We caught US 19 at Beckley and then I-79 when we reached it. Then it was north to the Pennsylvania line.

Lake Summersville

One lane on I-79 North

NASA at Fairmont

Many hills - mostly up

Welcome to the Keystone State

I stopped in a rest area near Pittsburgh and used the Wyndham app to book a room at the Super 8 in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

On I-79, there was another lane closure where all the vehicles merged prematurely. Once again, I was one of several running a rolling roadblock. This time when we got to the merge, some twit in a Ford Expedition went out of his way to freeze me out. I noted the Ontario plate and decided he must be from Toronto. The driver behind was gracious and allowed me a lot of room to slide over.

This person was a twit

Working on a Sunday - good for them

We reached the Grove City Super 8 about 5:15. My favourite trailer spot was still available so I parked in it facing the exit. Our room was on the ground floor looking out at the car. The WiFi was on life support so I called the desk and they rebooted it. Then all was well. We skipped supper, settling for some of our travelling snacks. After I sorted the day's photos, transcribed my notes, posted our receipts and made up a list of purchases for Canadian Customs, we turned in early.

Today's Route (548 Equinox miles):

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Maggie Valley North Carolina - SEVROC Day Five - Visit To Gainesville Georgia

The Royal Wedding took place as we slept. By all accounts, it looked like it went really well. Sandy and I were so relieved. OK, maybe we really didn't care even though the groom was the grandson of our reigning sovereign. Even though Liz is our head of state, we hardly ever think of her in that capacity.

I was up at 6:00 AM again to work on the blog. The WiFi decided to be snarky this morning, so I was forced to turn on the data and hotlink to my phone to get things done. I was still days behind.

Our plan today was to drive down to Gainesville, Georgia to visit Cheap B and Wanda, who were in a rehab facility there recovering from their horrendous motorcycle wreck a month ago. The forecast was threatening so we were taking the cars. Big Dawg was wagonmaster and posted an 8:30 AM departure time, so Sandy and I headed down to Pop's about 7:15 for breakfast.

Note to Rob and Gabi - Sandy prefers motels with flowers out front - Good job

Once again, I had Pop's three meat omelette, with sourdough toast and tomato. I traded half my toast for half of Sandy's biscuit. In actual fact, I should have neither. I think this omelette is the best thing Pop makes for breakfast.

Three meat omelette - Pop's Place - Maggie Valley NC

Not sure why Pop had paint cans under the appliance

As advertised, Big Dawg pulled out in his Mini-Cooper at 8:30 AM sharp. He was followed by Linda and Billy Bob, Oak and Dee in their Kia Soul and Sandy and I with Laura and Bill in the back seat. The convoy connected with US 74 in Waynesville and then took US 441 South at Sylva. The rest of the route was easy because 441 took us directly to Gainesville. It rained off an on all the way, with a final frog-strangler giving way to sunshine at the Gainesville city limits. Upon reaching the town, we celebrated by making a bathroom stop at a McDonald's restaurant.

Clouds, rain and sunshine on our way south

The rehab facility was right around the corner from the Mickey D's. We parked in the back and went in to find Cheap B (Mark) and Wanda, who were in separate rooms right across the hall from each other. They were both in good spirits. Given the severity of the wreck and their injuries, we were so very glad to see them on the mend. They have a long way to go, but they are on the way.

Mark had been known for his thick white beard. It sometimes caused him to be mistaken for Santa Claus, but I maintain his facial hair was much better than that displayed by the jolly old elf. He had, due to the circumstances, asked the staff to shave the beard off. If he had not had his name on the door, I would not have recognized him. Oh well, it will grow back.

We had a pleasant visit. SEVROC has not been the same without their smiling faces.

The visitors in Gainesville, Georgia

Wanda is as cheerful as ever


Yes, he looks different

I have no doubt the pedestrians would be slow

The four vehicles started back on their own. Again, we went back and forth between blue skies and rain, some of which was a lot more intense than on the way down.

This looks ominous

Note the heavy rain ahead and the sheriff's deputy hiding on the downgrade

Sunny North Carolina

Still sunny

Cloudy as we reach Maggie Valley

We stopped for fuel at the Shell station next to the Maggie Valley Inn. We were in Chev SSR territory as I topped off the tank. It was only a couple of miles from there to A Holiday Motel but that was all it took for the skies to open up. The rain was so heavy that we didn't rush to get out of the car when we reached the parking lot.

That is one very nice looking SSR

Back at the motel, I hooked up the trailer, brought it out in the lot, and loaded the bike. We also loaded our packed suitcases and pretty much everything other than our overnight bags in preparation for an early morning departure. Others were doing the same. I parked back on the grass with a clear exit path.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and visiting. It doesn't sound like much but this group is part of our family. Twenty years and a lot of shared experiences make VROC like home no matter where it gathers.

Jax with Grateful D and his lady

The Godfather (photobomb by Blondy)

Laura, Bill (doing a moose impersonation) and Red Rover

Zeke and Hang

Cargo looking mischievous

Soul sisters Blondy and ZMeanOne

Mikey and his trusty apprentice Caleb

The Lovely Carlene and Teresa

Lanny deep in discussion...

...with Bass Man

Stockbridge Richard recovering well from last year's wreck

Once again, the rain gives way to blue skies - put on a happy face

Cheap B had been arranging banquet. After the wreck last month (safety and law enforcement professionals have schooled me to avoid the word "accident"), Southern Draw rose to the challenge and took over. The caterers were from Bryson City and arrived early. They had pulled pork, BBQ chicken, beans, slaw, potato salad, buns, cobbler or banana pudding and tea or lemonade. It was a fine feast.

You can call a VROCer anything but not late for supper

Lots of smiles... folks dig in

Southern Charm was the ticket taker (I know this job)

I wasn't going hungry

Lanny needed more dessert

Especially the banana pudding

My wife. I think I'll keep her. After she slaps me for saying this:-))

After the meal was done and the caterer thanked, it was time for the raffle. Mikey had been selling tickets with his usual style and persistence, bringing Caleb into the process as an understudy. The raffle prizes were donated by Riders of Kawasaki, VROCers and other sponsors. Once all the prizes were gone, the cash was drawn for. Half went to the draw winner and half went to a local cause. This year, once again, the Waynesville Police Department K-9 Unit was the recipient.

Caleb looking good in his new leather vest

Mikey left holding the bag while Caleb picks the winner

The number is.....

Somebody must have the winning ticket


Sandy, Linda and Billy Bob

Willie Wonka and The Lovely Carlene

Cargo and Clan Scooter

We got lucky with the weather

The drawing went well except for the folks who would not check their tickets when the number was first called. If no one spoke up right away, then they would look. I didn't win anything. Sandy won twice while Willie Wonka, TBone and a few others appeared to be on the fast track.

Finally, we got to the moment of truth. The 50/50 portion of the draw. I believe the winner's portion was $469.00 US. Real money. The K-9 unit was present to receive their share, which would be used to buy sophisticated heat warning systems for the police cars. In the event a dog was in a car when their handler was unable to get back to them, it would activate a series of measures to prevent the animal from coming to harm. It had been a tradition for VROC regulars to then donate their winnings to the cause. Blondy did this when she won here last year and I did it in Eureka Springs last fall. Newcomers are not usually aware of this and are under no obligation to give their winnings away.

This year, rookie attendee Heather (Playthang and Scooter's daughter) won. Even though it was her first time here, she cemented her place in VROC lore by immediately donating the fistful of cash to the K-9 unit. No first-timer had ever done this before. When all was said and done, the dogs came out almost $1,200 ahead.

After the donation phase, we were treated to a demonstration of K-9 obedience and skills.

Waiting for the winner

Valor is a friendly dog

Generous Heather and Valor

Officer "Rooster" Cogburn and Jax

This young lady displayed the Spirit of VROC

Gabi and Rob getting ready to take the group photo

SEVROC 2018 Group Photo

After the demonstration and the group photo, the skies opened up. There was a lot of leftover food from the dinner, so Souther Draw convinced the two police officers to take it and share it with anyone who might be hungry.

After the rain stopped and the sun went down, people mingled. It was hard to believe the week was over already. Southern Draw entertained us with the VROC song, and the music continued. We said our goodbyes early and retired to our room about 9:30. perhaps retired wasn't the right word since the entertainment was right outside our door. However, by the time I got to bed around 11:20, all was quiet.

The VROC Song

They sounded good

We would be seeing some of the folks next month out west in Williams, Arizona or Topaz, Nevada. We would see others in September in Eureka Springs. And, as for the rest, we planned to be back here again in a year's time. We were in a rut, but it was a good rut.

Today's Route (242 Equinox miles):