I’ve always had a habit of waking just moments before my alarm and today, at 6:28 am, was no different. Knowing the long day that awaited, I shut my eyes in effort to put the remaining two minutes to use. It didn’t work. I silenced the alarm and tried to escape the bed without waking Alyssa, but I heard her mumble something incoherent anyways.
Stumbling into the shower, I adjusted the knobs until the water was hot enough to wake me. Ten minutes later I shut the water off, clean and ready for the odyssey that awaited. The night before, I had laid out my Steve McQueen “Great Escape” shirt thinking it would be fitting for my escape from DC. As I pulled it over my head, I felt a certain satisfactory glee. My gear was set up in the living room, waiting for me to carry it downstairs and strap it onto the bike. I obliged it.
By the time I finished lashing my equipment to the bike and walked back upstairs, Alyssa had just gotten out of the shower. She saw me putting on my jacket and rushed to kiss me, pressing against me as if in a last minute plea for me to stay. Unfortunately reservations had been made, money spent, and most importantly: co-workers told. I pushed her away, grabbed my helmet, and walked to the door ready to start off on my grand adventure.
Almost immediately, less than a mile from our apartment, I had to stop. The gear that was so anxious to put onto the bike, apparently had a change of heart and now wanted off. “We can’t have that,” I said to no one in particular, and cinched it down tighter while commuters stuck in the morning traffic watched. A few miles later my gear started to slip off again, and I pulled to the side of the road for the second time to readjust it all. A part of me started to worry: how would I keep my stuff secure off-road, on dirt and gravel, when I couldn’t even keep it in place on smooth pavement?
With my gear readjusted to be more secure than ever, I set off again. Traffic was lighter than expected, which disappointed me since I was hoping to capture some for the video documentary I was shooting. I don’t think there’s ever been another time where I wished for traffic. But while the traffic may have been light, the wind was heavy. As I sped down I-66, putting the first miles between me and the city, the wind kept blowing, trying to throw me from the road. I was thankful when my orange fuel light illuminated, as it meant a chance to get away from the wind. What I wasn’t thankful for, however, was that the next exit was another ten miles away, approaching the limits of the tank’s reserve. But luck, it seemed, was on my side. For now.
With my tank filled I pushed on, wondering how much longer until my exit off of the interstate and away from the wind. Like all good things though, all I needed was to be patient. My exit soon came, and I found myself on a narrow two-lane road that was more like what I had envisioned for this trip than the highway.
I continued to follow the track I had programmed into my GPS months ago, it’s purple line leading me to a gravel road that I was certain I’d have ignored otherwise. I reflected for a moment that the road’s obscurity was probably the point of my choosing it. A sudden noise shook me out of my thoughts, and I looked in my mirror to see a cloud of dust and a black object laying in the road. My tent had fallen from the bike. I slowed to a stop, dismounted, and walked back to pick up my fallen comrade.
After strapping everything down for the third time that morning, I moved one of my GoPro cameras to the mount on the bottom of my external fuel cans, aimed behind me to get the shot of the dust kicked up as I rode. I started up the bike and set off once more. A few miles later, I pulled onto US-211 and came to a stop on the shoulder so I could retrieve my camera. I was surprised to find the bumps had taken their toll: my camera, mount and all, was gone. Disappointed, I set off again, sacrificing the camera to the road instead of attempting to retrace my steps to find it.
Virginia is filled with good roads, but the section of US-211 that twists its way through the mountains just east of Luray ranks high on my list. The trees were still bare from the long winter, and the blue skies I had when I departed home were quickly becoming overcast, making it seem more like winter than spring. I pushed my fully loaded bike into the corners, leaning just far enough to be fun, but not enough to risk a mistake with the unfamiliar load on the bike. Up, over, and down through the hills I went until a glance at the GPS told me I had missed my turn.
As soon as I got the chance, I made a U-turn and sure enough, there was a small gravel road that I could never have seen from the direction I was going. I headed down it, curious where I had routed myself. Having mapped out the trip long before, I only now had a vague idea of the general route, and that was mostly just where I’d be spending each night. But even that focus had been more on the American southwest, not my own state.
Gravel eventually turned to pavement and forests to farmland. I passed a farmhouse that looked photogenic to me, so I stopped and unpacked some of my camera gear. This was supposed to be a video documentary after all. I shot some basic footage, and then set up to record myself driving by. I hit the record button, and rushed back to the bike where I hopped on and rode out of the camera’s view. I turned around, and rode back for a second pass and to grab my gear. Satisfied I had something usable, I packed up and continued on.
A few miles later, after many more bumps, dips, twists, and turns, using just one brake proved to not be enough. My front tire skidded over the rocks as I approached a turn, and down my bike went, taking me with it. I landed, the bike’s weight supported by the exhaust and side bags instead of my leg. I slid myself from underneath the bike, dusted myself off, and appraised the damage. Aside from a few new scratches everything looked okay, but I had to get the 500lb beast upright again, a task made harder with the additional weight of the gear I was bringing with me.
I pulled off my jacket, removed the gear from the bike, and bent down, back towards the bike like I was taught in my MSF class years ago. Gripping the bike, I heaved it up. It didn’t move. I adjusted my grip, and heaved again. This time worked. I exhaled deeply, regeared both the bike and myself, and headed off again, cautious to avoid another mishap.
Fortune favored me, and I made my way down from the ridge without further incident. Choosing to make up the time I had lost, I jumped back onto the interstate, tucked in as best I could on the naked bike, and raced towards my fuel stop. As I neared, the sky began to turn dark. Rain was coming. I filled up the bike and compared my maps with the weather, trying to find the fastest way to Boone. Even by interstate, I was still several hours away, but I dialed the route into my GPS and set off. I had gotten lucky on the ridge, and didn’t want to tempt fate a second time.
The miles passed beneath my tires, as the sky grew darker. Not just with rain, but with the onset of night too. The first drops began to fall, and within moments my visibility had been drastically cut. 30 miles from Boone, nature tossed in another surprise: fog. I began to slow, but as I backed away from the vehicle infront of me I lost sight of the road, the wet pavement blending seamlessly with the night sky. I sped up, attempting to use his taillights as a guide. He would be my pathfinder. Where he went, I’d follow.
The city lights of Boone soon helped light the way, and I left my guide only to be presented with a new problem: I didn’t know which hotel was mine. I pulled beneath the overhang of a bank drive-through and pulled my cell phone from the front pocket of my jacket. Water dripped from it. Flooded. Dead. Fortunately, my GPS had a robust list of nearby locations, and I scrolled through them looking for something that seemed familiar. One jumped out at me, and I set off for it.
I missed the entrance to the hotel, and at the next redlight did a U-turn. Or attempted to, anyways. The slick road, lack of brake, long day, and general frustration of the night all teamed up against me and down the bike went for the second time of the day. Somehow effortlessly, I picked the bike up gear and all, and as I swung my leg over the seat, I noticed a black cylindrical object still in the road: my footpeg. With nowhere else to put it, I sat on it for the short distance to the hotel.
It’s notoriously difficult to shift without a footpeg to pivot your foot on, but I managed to pull into the hotel without difficulty. I parked the bike and walked inside, attempting to check in. Only this wasn’t my hotel after all. The receptionist let me use her computer to check my email, and after closing out of her Facebook page, I saw that my hotel was one of the first I had passed when I arrived in town. I thanked her and left, once more out into the rain.
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