Wednesday, May 29, 2019

RIP Jim 'Duck' McCaw V~3603 1949-2019

We got word last week that Jim 'Duck' McCaw had fallen down the stairs in Illinois and was in Intensive Care and non-responsive. A couple of days later, word spread that he had passed away.

I met Duck around 2002 on my first visit to the Boscobel Midwest Great River Rally in Wisconsin. Boscobel was one of the first VROC gatherings and had a reputation for being unusual. One day, Brillo led 100+ motorcycles to Wisconsin Dells. On the way back, at a rest stop, four of us decided that our progress wasn't fast enough and broke away from the pack. Bierkan was our leader, with Duck and me. I can't remember the fourth rider. We had a ball on our Vulcans, blasting our way back to town on some winding Wisconsin back roads.

I do remember 2005 when we were on a poker run at the Hill Country Rally in Fredericksburg, Texas. The route sheet had no mileages indicated and we fell in with a group of Okies, who were less than clear on the directions but were in a hurry to get there anyway. After four wrong turns, we made it out of Fredericksburg and then rode for a long stretch at 90 MPH before we missed our next turn on the way to the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum. When I asked about the rest of the run, I was told that we would have a new leader. Some guy on a green Nomad. I informed them that Duck was from Illinois and had never been here before, either.

A couple of years ago, Sherm, Sandy and I were visiting the 4E's in Holbrook, Arizona. While we were having lunch at Romo's, I got a text from Duck. He and Ruth, plus their grandson Jake, were hauling their 5th wheel back from Chino Valley and were right near us. They stopped by and visited for a while.

Romo's - Holbrook Arizona - June 21, 2017

Duck and Ruth had decided to permanently relocate to Arizona to get away from the northern winters. His posts from Chino Valley confirmed that he had fit right into the western lifestyle. Life is often not fair and Duck not getting to enjoy his planned retirement is one more case..

So long, old friend. You were one of a kind and a true gentleman. I will miss our exchanges and I will miss your smiling face.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Thoughts on the 2019 SEVROC trip.....

We endured a long, cold, snowy winter waiting for this travel season to begin. It was good to finally get out of town. It was good to ride in the mountains again. Most of all, it was good to share times with old friends.

As I mentioned before, this was our 129th gathering with members of our VROC family in the last two decades. I recall things that seem like yesterday and am surprised to realize that they happened ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. This brings home the fact that there are way more years behind us than ahead of us.

With the medical issues that we have accumulated in our lives, I have to wonder how many travel years we have ahead of us. I wonder how long we (particularly me) can get health insurance to travel outside Canada. The recent passing of Lucky Al and Gambler, along with the long list on the VROC In Memoriam page, our mortality is underscored. The number of future gatherings is finite and decreasing.

One thing that we need to address if we want to extend our run is fitness. Sandy and I have been very sedentary of late. I am sure this has contributed to her back pain issues, plus we are both feeling more fatigue than we should. I had managed to, once again, get below 200 pounds and improve my blood sugar numbers before we left home but, as happened on the trip last September, I fell off the wagon and all the numbers got worse by the time I got home. No doubt, given the great food we found along the way. Healthy eating and some cardio are in order for both of us.

So we will make an effort to do better in the future so we will have more of a future.

The last issue to summarize here is what I call Blog Lag. As any trip ends, my resolution to keep the blog up in a timely manner fades and my last posts are actually made later (sometimes much) than they should be. If I can get the better photos/less words idea put into practice, I will probably enjoy it more.

So that sums it up for now. To our VROC family, thanks for being there. Life wouldn't be the same without you. To our blood family, we love you all and will see you soon. Time to get back to the gym and play some golf before it is time to hit the road again.

Waynesburg Pennsylvania to Sudbury Ontario

The alarm went off at 6:00 AM on this, the last day on the road of inaugural 2019 trip. Sandy was already up and packing things as I rolled out of bed.

Hampton Inns are nice. They cost about half again the price of a Super 8 in a given location, but they are VERY nice. After loading the car, we had the hotel breakfast. I had scrambled eggs and ham while Sandy had a smoothie. We were on the road by 7:00 AM with 600 miles head of us. It was 67 F under grey overcast with occasional light mist.

It probably wasn't the smartest thing having to face Monday morning traffic around Pittsburgh, but traffic flowed smoothly everywhere except for the exits. They were gridlocked.

North of Pittsburgh, we stopped at another Pilot. Once again, it did not have parking spots out front for trailers or RV's. Then we proceeded to Erie and headed east on I-90. The E-ZPass is a great thing on the toll roads, but the toll part of the NY Thruway was the roughest stretch of the whole trip.

We stopped at the Angola Service Center for a last fill up of relatively cheaper fuel ($0.58 per gallon more than Wytheville, Va, but a lot less than Ontario). We also got lunch at McDonald's before pushing on for the border. I-90 after the toll gates was a mess of construction but I am sure it will all be very nice some day. As it was, we had a lot of vehicles jammed into a few lanes hemmed in by concrete barriers.

Low lying clouds in Buffalo

Almost home

The pylons on the Peace Bridge were gone but it needed another layer or two of road surface. The nice new lane signs were operating, too. There was a line up for the NEXUS lane but some of the regular lanes had almost no one in them so, just like last time, we went there instead. A few perfunctory questions and we were welcomed home at 12:30 PM.

The river that divides Canada from the USA

Nice new electronic signs

This was the total line up at customs

Once on the QEW, traffic was steady but less than I expected for Victoria Day around Niagara Falls. After getting to St. Catherines and turning west, the winds were against us big time. We observed a lot of new construction going on around Fifty Road.

The Welland Canal

New construction around Fifty Road

And more construction

Staying awake

Not unusual on the Burlington Skyway

Again, less busy than expected (not complaining)

Toronto skyline from the Burlington Skyway

Over the Skyway, I considered the potential traffic around Toronto on this statutory holiday and opted to pay the big bucks to take the ETR 407. It zipped us right around to Highway 400 north of the city, where we stopped at the King On Route service centre for a bathroom break and more coffee. I even, in total disregard of my dietary limitations, had some oatmeal raisin cookies.

The 400 was good until King Road. Then the southbound traffic started to back up as all the folks who went to Cottage Country for the long weekend tried to beat the rush back to the City. It was a sad tale that gets repeated every weekend and double on holidays. The southbound jam didn't end until north of Barrie and, even then, cars were charging headlong into the mess. On days like this, it was great to be a northerner!! 

Highway 400 before the jam

All the way to Barrie

The 400/11 split

Highway 400 north of the Highway 11 split

Our northbound side had little traffic. It was 47 F and Mount St. Louis still had a few patches of snow on it. The Bonaire Golf and Country Club at Coldwater, a favourite for Sudburians early in the season, looked neglected and overgrown but all the web sources I could find indicated that it was business as usual. It was chilly when we stopped for fuel at the PetroCan (I had a gift card) at Horseshoe Lake Road.

Northern Ontario long weekend traffic

Cool for this time of year

The skies got bluer and the temperature got all the way up to 52 F as we approached Sudbury. We pulled into the driveway at 6:50 PM, having been on the road ten minutes short of twelve hours. The bike was unloaded, trailer parked and all the bags brought in within a half hour. The way I was feeling, it was a good thing that we came straight home.

My Jeff Shaara audiobook about the Battle of Shiloh was in the epilogue when we got home. The succession of errors on both sides was news to me. The next book in this series was about Vicksburg.

Thus endeth the first trip of the 2019 season.

Today's Route (599 Equinox/trailer miles):

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Maggie Valley North Carolina to Waynesburg Pennsylvania

The weather looked less than ideal for those heading west this morning. We heard motorcycles firing up in the pre-dawn hours as people tried to beat the storms with early departures.

My blog commitment was to get photos up ASAP during the rally so people could see what was going on. I was successful with this goal but was still two days behind on the captions and commentary. If I took the time necessary to write the stories, I would have missed out on more of what is going on than I did. If I could get better at taking pictures, like Sherm and some others, I could have a blog with more photos and less writing. I need to make a better effort at this.

We were in no rush this morning. With a first group already gone to Country Vittles, Boomer and Shannon gave us a ride in their jeep. The parking lot was full but they were able to seat us right away. Our total group of fourteen took up two tables.

The Country Vittles signature breakfast was the All You Can Eat - Family Style offering. It included bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, grits, country style potatoes, biscuits, gravy and cooked apples. Unlike a buffet, it is brought to your table and they keep bringing more until you stopped eating. The best part was that it only costs $8.99 for adults, slightly more than most of the a la carte items. Sandy and I both opted for all you can eat. I tried to focus on the eggs and meats, although some biscuits and gravy did slip onto my plate.

The famous Country Vittles - Maggie Valley NC

Boomer and Sandy

After breakfast, the group said goodbye and headed their separate ways.

Cheap B and Wanda's classy wheels

Phillip and Caleb are Kentucky bound

A  Spyder web

Back at the motel, Jax and Angie were the only ones left. I pulled the Equinox around to the room and we loaded our overnight bags. Then we were on the road just before 10:00 AM. After following the familiar highways to Asheville and then north to Johnson City, Tennessee, we stopped at a McDonald's in Piney Flats. Sandy got a smoothie and I refilled my coffee mug while we each got a strawberry creme baked pie. Continuing on, we turned at Bristol Motor Speedway and followed the back roads to Abingdon, Virginia.

There was an issue coming into Abingdon on VA 75. Traffic was backed up at the interchange with I-81. Heavier than usual traffic coupled with the traffic lights seemed to be the culprit but, as we got close to the intersection, someone appeared to be passed out behind the wheel of a pickup truck in our lane. Others were stopping to assist, so we went around. If our original plans were in place, we would have stopped here in Abingdon for a couple of nights. Instead, we continued on I-81.

Great name for a laundry

After stopping for fuel and still more coffee at the Travel Center of America in Wytheville, we turned north on I-77. Between the tunnels and just north of the Rest Area, traffic ground to a halt. Then it crawled ahead until we reached a crash site where they were loading a car on a roll back. Police, ambulance, fire truck and a rescue vehicle were all on site as we were forced to merge into one lane. Once we got past this, it was clear sailing to the West Virginia border.

We probably have enough pictures of Big Walker Mountain tunnel

Inside the tunnel as well

Traffic is slowing down

Now traffic is crawling

The bottleneck

Ditto East River Mountain Tunnel

West (By God) Virginia

On the way down a week ago, the southbound entrance to the East River Mountain Tunnel and the highway approaching it were reduced to one lane as part of the extensive West Virginia road construction. It didn't hamper us on that Monday morning, but it sure wasn't good for southbound traffic on this Sunday afternoon. The traffic was backed up for nine miles, all the way to Princeton.

Southbound traffic down to one lane

A nine mile parking lot

Not as many going north

As we took US 19 from I-77 to I-79, we encountered some dark clouds and a bit of rain. I didn't feel the slightest bit guilty as I turned on the wipers.

It was about 7:00 PM when we pulled into the Hampton Inn in Waynesburg, Pa. It wasn't too busy so, after unloading the overnight bags, I didn't even have to park in the trailer area. As usual, the Hampton Inn was a cut above. The room was fine and the mattress and pillows were superb. We had some of our snacks for supper and then I settled in to watch the very last episode of Game of Thrones.

I will have to admit that the GOT ending was not something I ever expected. But then I really did not know what to expect after Dany, my favourite Mother Of Dragons, went over to the dark side last week. I will say that I thought closure was achieved in a fitting manner, although some of my friends disagree.

My friend Biker suggested in a Facebook post that we could have helped Sandy's back with some Voltaren Emulgel if it had not been a prescription item in the USA (it is Over The Counter in Canada just like codeine laced Tylenol). The dumb thing was that we had Voltaren in the overnight bag on the whole trip but never thought to use it. So I slathered it all over her back before turning in.

After setting the alarms, I hit the sack about 11:30 PM.

Today's Route (450 Equinox/trailer miles):

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Maggie Valley North Carolina - SEVROC - Day Three - The Last Day

It seemed like the week had flown by. Here it was, already the last day of SEVROC. Our 129th VROC gathering since 1999 was drawing to a close. And, after getting through a nasty winter without contracting a cold or bronchitis, I spent the whole night coughing and hacking. On the plus side, one more beautiful day dawned over what has been an unusually dry week.

The weather just doesn't get any better than this

A few of us decided to make the traditional trek over to the Everett Street Diner in Bryson City for breakfast. There is nothing better than riding the winding US 19 to Cherokee and then following the more sweeping stretch to Bryson. Sandy & I, Willie Wonka & The Lovely Carlene and Wild Rose, followed by Zeke and Hang in their car, rolled out at about 9:00 AM.

Willie & Carlene are ready

So is Wild Rose

Flip bidding us goodbye

I led as we headed up over Soco Gap and wound our way down into Cherokee. To avoid traffic and construction, I took the Southern Draw Bypass of Old Mission Road followed by Olivet Church Road to US 441. Skipping the second half of the bypass, we followed 441 north back to US 19, where we turned towards Bryson City. We waved at Blain and Kathy, who were sitting on the porch of Two Rivers Lodge as we went by.

US 19 descending from Soco Gap

An old tree on Olivet Church Road

A strange thing happened as we arrived in Bryson City. Traffic was packed turning onto Everett Street. It seems we got to town at the same time as all the people taking the scenic train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. With a seething mass of vehicles all trying to get parked by the station, Everett Street was jam packed with cars going nowhere. Not knowing what the situation was further down the street, we took the first spots we found and walked.

Parking on Everett Street

And yet, just a few spaces down....

Zeke parked on the bridge

Not your typical redneck car

A fine group of diners at a fine diner

The owner greeted us and had a table for seven set right away. Our server was a very attractive and competent young Cherokee lady whose personality was just bubbling over. Coffee brought and orders taken, the owner introduced a newlywed couple to the assembled multitude. Later, he asked us all to congratulate another young lady on her birthday. As usual, the food did not disappoint.

Table for seven

Sandy's fruit plate and muffin

My meat lovers omelet with rye toast and hashbrowns

After breakfast, we decided to go for a ride. Sandy's back was still hurting, so she caught a ride back to Maggie Valley in the van with Zeke and Hang. Willie & Carlene and Cheryl said they would follow me, as usual. There were no pictures of this ride because my photographer bailed on me.

Leaving Bryson, we followed US 19 to US 74 to NC 28 North. After going through Stecoah, we took NC 143 to Robbinsville. At that point, in a total fit of disorientation, I turned north towards Deals Gap. My followers stayed with me, although Wild Rose did tell me when we turned around that she wondered just where I was going. Back on track, we followed US 129 south to US 19/74. From there, we headed back through the scenic Nantahala Gorge. There was a great photo op of the scenic train and rafts in the gorge, but no camera. Traffic was busy but moving at an acceptable pace. I was going to stop at the Outdoor Center, but there was nothing in the way of parking, so we motored on. After fueling, we pulled into A Holiday Motel about 1:30 PM.

We spent our last afternoon visiting. When things were quiet in the parking lot, I put the big suitcases in the Equinox, hooked up the trailer and loaded the bike.

Angie and Jax

The caterer arrived at 5:30. Although this was earlier than expected, Sandy managed to be right at the start of the food line like always. And, as usual, I was off talking to someone so I ended up further back. It was a fine meal with lots left over for seconds. Many thanks to Southern Draw and Cheap B for organizing this.

Sandy at the head of the line

Happy eating

Even Mikey (Georgia) stopped selling tickets for a bit

Wompus and Saint Montene (Georgia) digging in

Willie and Carlene (Southern Illinois)

Paul (Connecticut) and Laura & Bill (Arkansas)

Phillip & Caleb (Kentucky) and Kudzu (Canuck transplanted to NC)
Fork you, Caleb

Tanja (Mrs Kudzu) and her reprobate spouse

The Godfather (Georgia)

Plus tables full of happy eaters

After supper, Mikey sold a few more tickets and then it was time for the raffle.

Ready for the draws

Everyone looking comfortable

Kudzu and Cargo

Six Pack Jack

Before the formal drawing began, Southern Draw dedicated his rendition of Vince Gill's Go Rest High On That Mountain to members we have lost, especially Lucky Al and Gambler a couple of months ago.

Southern Draw - Go Rest High On That Mountain
In memory of absent companions

Following this touching tribute (there were more than a few damp eyes), Susan ZMean1 presented Jax with a gift basket and plaque recognizing his efforts from 2006 to now in organizing SEVROC. It has been a mainstay in the VROC calendar and his work was greatly appreciated. There was a collection taken up among the regulars and the leftover cash was added to the 50/50 proceeds to be donated to the Waynesville PD K-9 Unit.

Now that Jax will be in Texas, we are pressing him to put something together in Hill Country next April.

Susan presenting Jax with a gift basket

And a plaque commemorating his leadership

Finally, it was time for the raffle. Tickets were drawn by Angie and prizes from Kawasaki, as well as various members, were distributed.

The Texas girls (Vickie, Debbie and Kay)

Locals Southern Draw, Cheap B and Wanda
Heather and Jan in the background

Wrong Turn Jim and KT

Angie, Jax, Mikey and TICKETS!!

Stockbridge Richard, Blondy and Six Pack Jack

As the draws were complete, officers from the Waynesville PD K-9 unit stepped up. First, they drew the winning 50/50 draw ticket. Carl (Dirtdigger) of North Carolina, brother to Lonnie and brother-in-law of Six Pack Jack, won. The officers then accepted the 50/50 donation, augmented by the surplus from Jax' gift collection. The sergeant thanked us for our ongoing support, which allowed them to obtain necessary equipment for the dogs' welfare, and then they gave us a demonstration of dog obedience and skills.

No, it is NOT a raid

Thanks from Waynesville PD

Dirtdigger Carl wins the 50/50

Congratulations to Jax and Angie on their engagement

This is a drug dog???

K-9 demonstration

Rapt attention to the demonstration

Susan, Badger and Sandy

We spent the rest of the evening saying our goodbyes. With Sandy's back problems and my continuing cough, we decided to skip the Virginia riding on Monday and go straight home. Bearing the HBO SNAFU in mind on the way down, I contacted the Hampton Inn in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania and confirmed they had the channel. I would be able to catch the final Game Of Thrones episode live tomorrow night. Since this would be less than an eight hour drive, we could hang around for the Country Vittles breakfast in the morning.

There was time to get the photos of the day sorted before turning in about 11:30 PM.

N.B. - VROC gatherings have traditionally been known for less than ideal WiFi connections. While A Holiday Motel had some issues in the early years, making it hard to connect from our end of the building, I have to say that they have done great work in this area. The signal was strong and the bandwidth was more than adequate for photo uploads. Thanks to Gabi and Rob for their continuing attention to improvements.

Today's Route (122 motorcycle miles):