November 26 to December 13, 2009
When it was announced in early 2009 that the next Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony would be held in Las Vegas in December, it raised the bar considerably for those of us who would never think of going to a motorcycle event any other way but riding. I wasn’t sure my 84-year-old body was up to the task, especially at that time of year with a bike that would be uncomfortable on a 6,000-mile trip. It also interfered with the holidays. This time my grand-daughter Asia and her husband were coming from Alaska to spend Christmas in NY with Grandpa and I would certainly need to be home in time to prepare for that. I would also need to get a better handle on a few of my physical issues before committing to the tickets and hotel reservations in Las Vegas. Eventually everything fell into place and I began to prepare for the trip.
I changed the brake pads, tires, chain, oil and filters on the bike, all of which I could still do at home. In spite of already having 64,000 miles on the little Suzuki, I wasn’t concerned about it as I was about myself. It wasn’t until a week before I left that I realized my plan called for traveling on Thanksgiving Day, which would certainly affect motel and food availability on the road. After trying to reserve a room along my originally planned non-interstate route for the first night, and learning there were no vacancies, I decided to use interstate highways for the first day, and I reserved a room at a Knight's Inn on I-81 in Verona, VA.
It was cloudy and 47° when I left Buchanan at first light. The sun began to break through in New Jersey, but it got overcast again as I descended into the Delaware River Valley. The heavy cloud cover returned and stayed with me until I reached Virginia several hours later. The temperature was in the low 50s most of the day. I began to look for lunch around Harrisburg, and tried pulling off the highway several times during the next few hours whenever I saw a sign for food; but nothing was open - not even a convenience store. Many of the gas stations were also closed. I tried to enter a rest area for something from a machine, but it too was closed. I rode 431 miles before checking into the Knights Inn in Verona at 2:45 as planned. By using interstate highways I was already ahead of the original plan. The first thing I asked the desk clerk was about restaurants. He said the Chinese place next door might be open, but it wasn’t. Later I rode around town for 10 or 15 minutes looking for a place to eat or anyone to ask when I found a guy stuffing clothes into a Salvation Army bin. He said he saw a small family place serving Thanksgiving dinner for $7.99 not far from there. I found it and ordered the dinner, which came complete with a big piece of pumpkin pie for dessert. it wasn't like Thanksgiving at home, but it was a friendly setting.
When I looked out early the next morning, I noticed only a single car in the entire motel parking lot. I asked the desk clerk the night before about breakfast or at least coffee. He said a complimentary breakfast would be served in the lobby at 6:30. When I got there at 6:45, the office was locked and I had to pound on the door to get in. Breakfast consisted of concentrated orange juice, a small Danish pastry and weak coffee, but it lasted until I could find a McDonald’s a few hours later for my usual breakfast sandwich. The temperature was in the low 30s and it was windy when I left the motel. Black Friday traffic was light along I-81, with only a few cars and almost no trucks. The highway patrol was out in force but they seemed to be allowing a fair tolerance. I saw cars pulled over but I kept the needle a little under 80 with no problem.
The sky cleared and it got mostly sunny by the time I entered Tennessee. Most of the clouds dissipated and the temperature rose into the high 40s. I called it a day 40 miles west of Knoxville. I learned after checking in that the only restaurant was once a Huddle House next-door that the health department had closed. I unloaded my bags, lubed the chain, took my meds and took a brief rest before going back out on the highway in search of food. I found a KFC about nine miles and two exits west. On my way back, I got onto the wrong ramp, which took me 12 miles farther west. I ended up traveling more than 40 miles for the KFC dinner. I usually stopped for the day around 2:00 or 2:30 to take my meds, which gave them six hours to run their course before bedtime.
It was 29° when I left in the morning. The sky was clear with practically no wind. I got off I-40 a short while later and headed northwest into Kentucky along two-lane country roads. I intended to ride at least a day or two without maps or route sheet. I thought at first of taking the back roads to the same motel in Mayfield, KY where I stayed the previous year, but I soon dropped that idea and decided to see how the ride goes first. It was a beautiful day, and I had the urge to explore new areas. After traveling northwest for several hours on two-lane country roads with and without numbers, I reached US Rte 60 near Paducah, which I followed west across the same two long cantilever bridges I used on my trip home from a nice ride in the Ozarks the previous year. There was no traffic on either bridge, so I rode slowly and enjoyed the view of the swirling muddy waters below. I spotted a Motel 6 in Sikeston, MO around 1:45 after an enjoyable 370-mile day. I was still a half-day ahead of schedule. It was almost 70° in Sikeston, which felt great. I had dinner at a Ruby Tuesday where I ordered the New Orleans seafood dish with a tall glass of amber ale.
It was raining when I woke a little after 6:00. Rain was forecast for most of the day. I was on the road by 8:00 after eating a little from my bag and coffee from the office. I dropped the idea of a more scenic route into West Plains because of the weather. I chose instead a fairly direct country road west on the northern outskirts of Joplin, and later I followed a few other country roads in southeastern Kansas. Eventually I came across US 160, which I was quite familiar with, so I stayed with that for a while. I called it a day in Independence, KS at 3:00 after 420 miles on what turned out to be a long day that put me farther ahead. Besides the light rain, I encountered some heavy fog around Springfield. The temperature dropped to the mid 40s by the time I checked in. I unloaded the bike, lubed the chain, took a brief rest and realized it was already getting dark. So I rushed out and had one of the only evening meals of the trip at a nearby fast food place.
It was only 28° when I left in the morning. My heated jacket liner and gloves felt good. It sure beats the old days. I decided to drop the idea of going into Oklahoma, and I stayed with US 160 across most of Kansas. I wasn’t thinking about gas and I didn’t realize until I was several miles out of Medicine Lodge that I was about to go on reserve. I turned back rather than take the chance of making the 40 miles to Coldwater. West of Medicine Lodge, Rte 160 goes across some of the most desolate areas east of the Rockies. It's where I rode through the sand storm a few years ago. I decided to call it a day in Liberal where there are plenty of motels. It was 57°, the warmest I would see until Las Vegas.
I left at barely first light with the temperature in the high 20s. About 5 miles out, and before full daylight, I came very close to hitting a coyote. I was traveling about 70 when I spotted him on a dead run for the other side of the road. I only had time to yank my foot up to get it out of the way of where it looked like he would hit the bike. I hung on and braced for the collision that never came. He skidded to a stop only a few inches short of my front wheel. I got onto I-40 near Tucumcari, NM. A snowstorm had gone through the area two days earlier and there was about six inches of it on the ground, and getting gradually deeper as I gained altitude. I was totally beat from the combination of the cold and the altitude by the time I reached Albuquerque around 2:00. My congestive heart wasn’t taking well to the altitude. My lungs were starving for oxygen. There were times that I stopped for food or gas when my hands would be trembling and I'd be gasping for breath from the slightest exertion. By the time I checked in and got my tank bag, tank panniers, saddlebags and hippo-hands into the room and lubed the chain, I was exhausted. I made a cup of tea and lay on the bed for a half-hour before going back out to look for a place to eat. I located a nearby family cafeteria in the same mall for dinner.
The temperature was 15° when I left the motel at 7 AM. It was the coldest morning so far. The temperature was 7° when I crossed the Divide. I exited at Gallup for breakfast after 150 miles of the extreme cold. Even getting off the bike was exhausting. My knees were very cold for the first time on the trip, in spite of two pairs of long johns under high-tech Damart sweat pants, the heavy woolen knee warmers with the riding suit bottoms overtop all of the rest. The tank panniers also served as a windbreak for my knees and legs. I was well protected, short of using heated bottoms. With the wind-chill at 70 mph, it figures out to -43°. I could barely walk into McDonald’s for breakfast because of being so short of breath.
By the time I reached Flagstaff, 320 miles into my day, I was wiped out from the lack of oxygen. I stopped for lunch where the girl who filled my lunch order offered to carry the tray to the table for me. I must have looked pretty bad. I was short of breath while I was eating. I stopped for the day at 2:00 on the west end of Seligman along Historic Rte 66 where I got off I-40 and found a nice family-owned motel not long after a steep six-mile descent from the higher elevation. The room next to mine had a small plaque that read, “Will Rogers slept here.” My room had a similar plaque with a name I only vaguely recognized. I think he was an author. I covered 410 miles that day, almost all of which was on I-40. After getting settled and taking my meds, I sat outside the room to rest in the bright sunshine and clear air. I felt better than I did all day. It was still only 40°, but it felt comfortable, and it was peaceful sitting there quietly after a long cold day. I saw two restaurants within walking distance. One was next door and the other was across the two-lane historic highway. I walked to the one next door that was named Road Kill Café, and I ordered a huge buffalo burger with coleslaw and a large glass of ale. The place was decorated for Christmas with carols on the sound system.
I chose the diner across the street for breakfast, which had several pickup trucks parked in front. I had a huge breakfast that begon with biscuits and gravy, followed by eggs over easy with huge sausage patties, home fries and coffee. It’s rare that I take the time for a full breakfast. There was so much, I couldn’t finish it all. It was 10° when I left Seligman. I used Historic Rte 66 rather than the interstate for the first 75 miles to Kingman. I passed several sets of Burma Shave signs, which were once plentiful along Rte 66. I turned onto US Rte 93 in Kingman for the final 105 miles to Las Vegas. In spite of the cold, it was an exciting day, especially seeing the unfinished Mike O'Callaghan / Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge that spans the Colorado River directly in front of the Hoover Dam. The bridge had been under construction for five years, and was completed soon afterward. Final construction on the new section of US 93, which will use the bridge, was also nearing completion. The bridge is an awesome sight from the top of the dam. It’s much higher and longer than the dam. Due to the current terror-threat level, all vehicles approaching the dam were stopped and checked. Trucks are not allowed on it at all. Many people were visiting the area. I rode less than 200 miles that day, my 8th of the trip, and the last of my outbound leg. I reached Las Vegas in late morning on Thursday, December 3rd, a day earlier than my reservations at the Hard Rock.
The temperature was 50°. After an early lunch in town, I spotted a new Motel 6 a block off the Vegas Strip, and directly behind the huge Tropicana and MGM Grand. I decided to stay there for one night rather than check into the Hard Rock a day early, especially since the rate at the new and improved Motel 6 was less than $30 with my AARP discount. It was the nicest and most modern Motel 6 I ever saw. I rode around town during the first afternoon to see the 4-mile Strip, and to rest. I checked out Friday morning and went directly to the Hard Rock to check in. I parked the bike away from the main entrance while I registered, but I parked at the entrance to unload. When I got off and started to remove my tank panniers, tank bag, saddlebags and other gear to put them on the sidewalk. A uniformed hotel employee came rushing over with a loud voice saying, "Hey, you can’t park there", which I took as an insult. I answered at least as loud, maybe even an octave higher, “If you’re a bellhop, I’d like for you to get a cart and put these things on it and keep them in a safe place until my room is assigned. I am a guest here.” His face changed and he answered in a much different tone, “Yes sir.” Seconds later he was back with a cart. Unfortunately it’s typical. Because of the motorcycle I’m treated like a second-class citizen at the fancy casino.
I asked at the desk about safe parking for the bike and was told where in the garage “bikers usually park.” I went where she said, but I didn’t see anything but cars. I chose a spot in a dark corner of the garage and locked it before walking a long distance to my room where I found my tank bag, panniers and other things already there. During the next few days I went back into the garage a few times to check on the bike. I still saw no other motorcycles. I could hardly believe that it was both the amateur championship awards and the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies with thousands of motorcyclists there, and practically no one rode to the event. I saw about four bikes later in a small parking area on the second level. I learned that the Gold Wing belonged to Stan Simpson, CEO of the AMA, who rode in from Texas with a few friends. The Hard Rock parking garage was almost a quarter-mile from the registration desk. Walking from one area to the other inside the hotel was a bummer, especially for someone with a congestive heart, chronic atrial fib, spinal stenosis and peripheral neuropathy in the feet and legs. It was the first time I had ever been inside a casino. Most of the slot machines and other games that I saw were located in a huge circular pit about three or four steps below the level of the restaurants, coffee shops, conference rooms, hallways and other businesses on the main floor. I’d see a person at a slot machine in the pit, and I’d come by hours later and see the same person at the same slot.
I hadn't purchased a ticket for the amateur championship award presentations, just in case I had difficulty on the road and couldn’t make it in time for both nights. I asked at the ticket desk if there were tickets available. There were none. As soon as the conference center opened, I asked the girl at the AMA desk to please put my name on a “standby list” for a ticket. She recognized my name and said she thought she could certainly get me in, but I would have to wait. Soon afterward, a gentleman approached me and said I looked like I needed a ticket. His son was scheduled to get a speedway championship award. The extra ticket was for his daughter who was unable to attend. I asked if he would consider taking 20 dollars for it, and he graciously accepted. It was a very kind and generous gesture. I suspect he paid a great deal more through Ticketmaster.
I met many old friends at the event including Bill Baird who I had planned to sit with at the induction ceremonies the following night. I also met Gloria Struck and her daughter Lori DeSilva. Gloria is my age and is one of the few people who still rides her motorcycle almost every year from her home in New Jersey to Daytona Beach Bike Week for something like the past 60 years. She also rides regularly to Sturgis and other events. The first thing I said was, “You rode! Right?” She said no, she had come by plane, but said she knew as soon as she saw me that I had ridden from New York. Lori took our picture together as she sometimes does at Daytona Beach. Several other people approached, both at happy hour and later, saying they heard that I rode in from New York.
For whoever thinks it’s warm in Las Vegas, I have news for them: All three nights that I was there, the nighttime temperature dipped below freezing. One night it was 28°. I had originally thought of riding around the area during the day, but even the days were cool with temperatures in the low to mid 50s. I rested up instead. The bike never moved from the time I first parked it until the morning I left. I had been through that area at least a few times on other trips, and there isn't a great deal that interested me. There wasn’t much to do in the daytime unless one wanted to try their hand at the slots, and I didn’t. There was no other place to sit unless it was at Starbucks, Mr. Lucky’s or one of the other restaurants. As a result, I spent a lot of time in my room, mostly resting, studying maps, and watching the weather on TV. It was painful to walk around and to stand. There was a display of several bikes set up in the hallway outside the conference center. One was the Denis Manning "BUB Seven Streamliner" that seven-time AMA Grand National Champion Chris Carr rode when he set the all-time world and national land-speed record of 367.382 mph in the measured mile at Bonneville Salt Flats. The record-breaking machine had much of the cowling removed from one side so the engine and rider compartment could be seen. The cockpit of the streamliner is barely large enough for Chris Carr's small body. He lies on his back inside, like in a Lazy Boy recliner when it's about halfway down. I would certainly never fit; and from the looks of it, getting out would be a lot more difficult.
I had an interesting experience getting into the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony the following night. There were five or six girls checking tickets and assigning seats. I presented the Ticketmaster ticket that I bought a month earlier to one of the girls. After checking her list, she said I could sit at any table that didn’t have a number on it. I thought at the time it meant there was “open seating”, but I was confused because Bill Baird mentioned earlier that he was assigned to Table 42 and he was sure there would be room for me there. The only tables without numbers were in the extreme rear of the huge theater, and those were all vacant. I sat alone at one of those vacant tables for a while, but after more than half the crowd entered from Happy Hour, the unnumbered tables were still vacant except for me sitting alone. I thought I’d better ask the girl that I met the previous night about the criteria for assigning tables. I felt that I was being relegated to the very bottom of the food chain, like on the front curb the previous day.
I found the girl that I spoke with earlier and explained how I was told to sit at any unnumbered table. She replied, “Oh no, Mr. Boonstra. You can sit at any table in this place. Who would you like to sit with?” I said I had planned to sit with my friend Bill Baird, but with him being a member of the Board of Directors and the Hall of Fame, he might be at a specially-assigned table. She looked through her list and said, “You are now at Table 42.”
Knowing it was Bill’s table. I said, “Are you sure?” She nodded and answered with a smile, “Yes, I’m sure.” Also at Table 42 was long-time board member Andy Goldfine, President and CEO of Aerostich, and Craig Vetter, a member of the AMA Hall of Fame, both of whom I had met before.
I thought the induction ceremony was somewhat of a letdown from the previous night. The attendance was also down sharply with only about half of the seats filled. The food was excellent both nights and I enjoyed the evening in spite of it. Legendary actor Perry King, who is a motorcyclist, was the Master of Ceremonies, while Rob Dingman, President and CEO of the AMA, handed out the awards. I was exhausted from all of the standing and walking when I finally went to my room that night.
Rather than call the bell captain in the morning to take my bags from the room to the front curb and load the bike there, I made three trips from my room to the garage instead, which was a long hike for me, in spite of bringing the bike as close as I could to the rear entrance inside the garage and not far from the elevator. I took my time carrying everything out. I noticed that Andy Goldfine was doing the same from his room to his car. He mentioned that he rode his motorcycle from Duluth, but he had some business to attend to, for which he was using a car. It was 8:00 by the time I reached the highway. I had a quick breakfast on my way out of town. The day started with huge dark clouds closing in from the west. I was anxious to get on the road as quickly as possible because a huge storm was predicted to sweep in from the Pacific, which appeared to be picking up speed. I chose a more southerly and mostly interstate route home to avoid as much of the snow and ice from the storm as possible.
About 40 miles short of Wickenburg, AZ, I was shocked to see that my gas was on reserve and it was way too far back to the last town with gas. I had a few close calls with gas on the way out, but this time it looked serious. I spotted a bike and a motor home parked in a rest area, facing like they had come from the other direction. I stopped to ask if either had seen a gas station in that direction or if they could possibly spare some gas. Neither had gas to spare, but both thought they had seen a small sign for gas about 10 miles back. I made the 10 miles and spotted the sign a few hundred feet off the road in what looked like a squatter’s dooryard. I went through an open gate and rode in for about 120 feet to a single, beat-up-looking rusty pump. A guy came out of one of the old camping trailers and said he had gas but it cost $10 a gallon, and I had to buy at least two gallons. I had heard of gas scalpers but this was the first I had ever seen. I paid it.
I located a Motel 6 later in Eloy, an hour south of Phoenix where I checked in at 4:00 after a 365-mile day. The sky behind me was dark all day, which was a constant reminder that the storm was closing in. After unloading and resting for a while, I walked to the restaurant next door for beef stroganoff. Even that short walk was a strain. I was constantly aware of pain in my back, legs and feet, and I was already using more than the maximum recommended dosage of Aleve. My doctor had said I shouldn’t use any Aleve at all because I’m on blood-thinning medication for my heart, but I also have bleeding ulcers.
I got up early and loaded the bike as quickly as I could and I raced up the I-10 ramp at barely first light. When I got to the highway I set the speed at a steady 80 mph. The forecast called for blizzard conditions at the higher elevations within hours. The sky behind me was getting darker by the minute as I streaked toward the Continental Divide. The only brightness in the sky was a narrow band of light along the eastern horizon, which I tried for hours to widen. I stopped for a quick breakfast in Willcox, AZ, about 140 miles out, and I thought I had outrun it because the sun was about to break through. I stopped to slip on my rain jacket for an extra windbreaker. My hands were also cold. I didn’t realize until that evening that the heat controller for the gloves and jacket liner had stopped working altogether. I worked on the controller that night but without a meter, I couldn’t do much. I decided to bypass the controller and plug the heated gear directly into the battery source, uncontrolled. It worked fine for the liner, because I could adjust the amount of heat to my skin by wearing an extra layer of long johns, but the heat to the gloves was enough to burn my knuckles.
I covered 395 miles in less than 6½ hours and reached El Paso by early afternoon. The wind was strong all day. I noticed several potential dust storms starting up just before El Paso. The weather prediction was for most of the snow and sleet to pass just north of there, but the winds were predicted to be strong along I-20, which I chose over I-10 after hearing that another storm coming in from the Gulf of Mexico would bring heavy rain and winds to Houston. I’ve been through Houston a few times in heavy rain and wind, and it’s no fun, especially during rush hour on the beltway. I opted for the colder I-20, which put me between the two storms.
I got very little sleep that night - maybe five hours at most. The strong wind continued and the sun at the horizon was brutal when I rode southeast toward I-20. It was the first time on the trip I was bothered by the glare of the sun. I had so much black electrical tape over the face shield that it left very little range of vision. A gust of wind almost yanked the handlebars out of my hands at one point. It was around the same time traffic was being directed off the highway and under a huge shelter, where there was a dozen or more border-patrol agents and state police checking all vehicles. I supposed it was for aliens or contraband because it was close to the Mexican border. I wasn’t able to read any of the signs with my face shield taped the way it was. The wind was fierce. One of the border patrol agents asked where I lived and where I was going. He quickly waved me through. I spotted a McDonald’s near Van Horn, TX where I stopped for a quick breakfast. The temperature dropped 10° soon after I turned onto I-20. The roads were wet around Pecos from a recent shower, and the crosswinds were very strong. I was concerned that the bike could break traction from it. Huge tumbleweeds were blowing across the highway, most of which missed me, but a few hit the side of the bike. They’re not heavy but I wondered what might happen if I hit a four or five-foot diameter tumbleweed head-on at 80 mph. Would it disintegrate or would it get tangled up in the wheels?
I stopped at a Motel 6 in Sweetwater around mid afternoon after 424 cold, windy miles. It was a rough day. The temperature was in the low 30s most of the day. I was totally exhausted from fighting the cold wind on very little sleep. I passed an area with many wind generators turning. I learned the next morning there are more than 4,000 in the area, and that most of the power generated is going all the way to Florida. A few minutes after checking in, I looked out and saw a gust of wind pick the bike up from the side stand and almost blow it over. I rushed out and turned it 180 degrees so it wouldn’t be lying on its side in the morning. I heard on the news that night that an 89-mph gust was measured in an area I had just come through.
I left Sweetwater in the morning with the temperature at 19° with a wind chill factor that probably brought it down to well below zero while standing still. Someone asked me jokingly at breakfast, after seeing me ride in, what the wind chill factor was at 70. I told him I didn’t want to know. In spite of it, I rode 430 miles that day from Sweetwater, TX to Shreveport, LA, with the temperature mostly in the 20s. I checked in a little before 4:00. My body was feeling the strain and I was getting weaker every day, and my pains were getting worse. At one of the gas stops it took four tries to get my leg up and over the seat. After checking in and unloading the bike at Shreveport, I spotted a Shoney’s that was still serving lunch buffet. That's where I ate.
I was pretty much of a mess in the morning. My back hurt more every morning, but this was the worst day of the trip. After I woke, I couldn’t stand straight from the pain and I was already taking far too much Aleve. I managed to get around the room and pack my bags by putting much of my weight on my arms and hands. I would move around the room by supporting my torso on the furniture with my hands. I ate a can of sardines from my bag. There was no coffee maker in the room so I made myself a cup of tea, which I used for taking my meds and vitamins. When the pain eased up enough, and I was finally able to get everything loaded on the bike, I had difficulty getting my leg over it, which took four or five tries. I left at first light and rode 3 hours before stopping for breakfast. I was afraid if I stopped sooner, I wouldn’t be able to get back on.
The weather cooperated across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama as the two storms raged on both sides of me. The darkness in the sky seemed to part like the Red Sea for Moses. I had sunny skies in a narrow area while the black skies from the two storms kept opening before me. It was cold and windy, but I felt I could handle that part. Even the cold eased, and it got up to 40° for the first time in almost three days. I would have liked to stop at the Barber Museum in Birmingham when I was less than a mile from it, but I probably wouldn’t be able to walk around the exhibits with my back the way it was, nor could I walk very far in snowmobile boots with the pain in my feet and legs. I stopped for the night in Annison, AL after 526 miles on the longest day of my trip. The traffic was light, and I rode only on I-20, so I was able to maintain highway speeds for most of the eight hours that I rode, giving me an average of more than 65 mph for the day.
The next day I rode 456 miles to Burlington, NC in 7½ hours. I started that day without breakfast with the temperature at 27°. It didn’t get above 30° all day again. I was exhausted by the time I reached the motel. I hadn’t taken my diuretic pill the previous afternoon, so I was beginning to build up fluid around my heart, and getting short of breath from it. I had gotten in too late the previous afternoon and I thought rest was more important than the meds. Since I got in early enough this time, I took a double dose as soon as I got into the room. I noticed that several of my knuckles had small blisters from the unregulated heat in the gloves. My gas mileage was worse than any day of the trip, dropping to around 33 mpg. I had problems getting my leg over the bike every time I stopped. I also had problems getting off without falling over backwards. My most serious problem of the day was when the early-morning sun blinded me so much I couldn’t read any of the signs coming into Atlanta during rush hour. It was a challenge when all four lanes of traffic were running bumper-to-bumper at a steady 80, and I had to switch from I-20 to I-85 without having a clue where the split was. I was unable to read any of the signs. I relied solely on my faith to be in the right lane when the time came to dive out of the stream of insanity into the relatively sedate cloverleaf at the right split-second. I thought it’s tough to get old, but it's even tougher when you can’t see. Fortunately, I made some good guesses on which lane to be in and at what split-second to dive for the exit or entry ramps, and then slow down enough to manage the cloverleaf. I learned a week later that well-known Iron Butt competitor Eddie James was killed on the same highway, in the same area, only a few days before I came through. Some of the speeds they were traveling were insane, especially when you realize that many are teenagers, still in high school and others are older people bordering on senility. And they're all running bumper-to-bumper, four-abreast at 80 mph between the busses, the semis and other 12- and 14-wheel trucks.
The next day I traveled 176 miles in 3½ hours to Prince George, VA where I spent the afternoon with my daughter Donna and her family. It was 19° when I left Burlington, and about 40° when I stopped for a sausage muffin with egg and cheese at Petersburg, VA, in the dirtiest McDonald’s of the trip. But it was the first thing I had to eat all day. I needed the afternoon to rest before my final day, which I knew would be one of my longest, and by far the toughest of the trip. I would finally have to turn directly into the path of the storm that I had been skirting all the way across the country, and it might be considerably colder than it had been, with snow. Getting on and off every time I stopped was becoming more of a problem every day because I was getting so much weaker, and the pain in my back, legs and feet was getting more severe each day. Donna was getting ready to put a turkey in the oven for our evening meal when I arrived. We had a great family dinner together that evening.
I had a fair night sleep and it was raining lightly when I looked out at first light. With Donna’s help I was able to get loaded and leave by 8 o’clock. Having checked the forecast, I could see it was time to pay my dues. A cold rain was predicted for the east coast, with temperatures in the low 40s most of the way, changing to 30s and below by the time I reached home. I could have waited a day for the skies to clear, but I was anxious to get back where I had much to do to prepare for Asia’s arrival from Alaska a week later. I put on rain-gear bottoms before leaving Prince George, but not the top because of my lack of heat control for the jacket liner. I thought it could get too hot inside both the riding jacket and rain jacket. Getting overheated might sap my strength even more. I was only 20 miles out when it began to rain very hard and a heavy fog rolled in, dropping the visibility to a few hundred feet. I had at least 475 miles to go, and I was already exhausted. I thought of taking an easier 525-mile end-run using I-81 and I-78 to avoid the I-95 traffic, especially around DC, but with the rain, it would have taken far too long, and I’d either have to leave before first light or ride the last hour in darkness when the roads might be covered with ice. Besides, it was probably snowing 50 miles farther inland.
Even with the more direct coastal route, I would have to average 60 mph all day, included stops, in order to get home in twilight, which meant running 65 and 70 most of the day in the pouring rain and fog without stopping to eat. So my best option was still the coastal route, but due to my vision problems I figured on bypassing the tunnel in Baltimore because my eyes don’t adjust fast enough for the abrupt change from daylight to the dim tunnel lighting, even though the detour adds extra miles. When I got close, the rain and overcast made it so dark outside that I figured the difference wouldn’t be that much in the tunnel – so I took the chance and went straight through without incident.
Fortunately it was Sunday and the truck traffic was lighter than usual, but I was continually hampered by the heavy rain and poor visibility. I rode without glasses all day, relying on the face shield, which also became a mess after a while. I’d sometimes have to flip it up and take the brunt of the rain in my eye (singular, because the left eye is useless). A few times I found myself on the bumpy right or left shoulder after the lane I was on ran out. The trick then would be to get back into the active lane quickly, but an aggressive driver would often be there who would not give an inch. I'd have to ride it out on the shoulder. I fought it like that around Washington, Baltimore and Wilmington, and then all the way up the New Jersey Turnpike. I thought I was home free when I reached the relatively sedate Palisades Parkway in New York, but the temperature had dropped from the low 40s to the low 30s, and there was deep snow along both sides of the road, reminding me that the ground underneath was frozen, and it was already beginning to get twilight. I knew the road surface would ice up before I could possibly reach the Bear Mountain Bridge.
As I suspected, I rounded one of the final bends on the Palisades Parkway, less than a mile from the bridge, and there was a car off the road. It was already getting dark when the car slid off. The EMTs and Rescue Squad were there, and I heard a flagman yell something about ice, and what was I doing out there. I glided carefully by, trying not to slide out, and I got through okay. I knew I was home free when I reached the bridge where it was a few degrees above freezing, and I had only eight miles to go. I got home at 4:30, just as the last glimmer of twilight faded to black. The roundtrip to Las Vegas totaled a little over 6,200 miles. I had an almost empty gas tank and a very empty stomach when I got in. I stopped twice for gas, but i didn’t stop at all to eat. Fortunately Donna served a hearty breakfast before I left.
Not long after returning from Las Vegas, my stool turned black. I was sitting in my living room, feeling weak and lightheaded, so I took my blood pressure, which was exceptionally low. I reached for the phone and called my primary doctor to tell him what was going on. He said I should go directly to the emergency room. “Have someone drive you! I’ll meet you there!” My gastroenterologist was also waiting when I arrived. Soon afterward, I learned that the lining of my stomach was bleeding badly and that I had become low on blood. Taking too much Aleve with the condition of my stomach was the primary cause, especially while I was on blood-thinners. I was fortunate that it didn’t happen while I was still on the road. I was in the hospital for a week getting blood transfusions, while the gastroenterologist worked on stopping the bleeding. I was hospitalized for five days before they had enough blood in me and enough confidence that the bleeding had stopped.
The next chapter is: 19 Daytona 2010 - My Last Hurrah