Ever had a day that was totally against you? How about an entire motorcycle trip?
|Riding with Murphy
It started with the brainstorm idea I had of taking a motorcycle trip from Detroit to some of the famous Civil War battle sites in the Eastern United States. This was, of course, what I named my "Civil War Tour." Being a Civil War buff from early on (I'm not really sure how you become a buff, but I consider myself one, whatever the hell that is), I thought this would be a great way to see the battle sites, riding the roads on a bike through the actual battlefields where all this great history took place.
One of my friends, Mark, and his friend Dave, were also coming with me on their Harley Davidson cruisers. I've known Mark for years through work, but this was the first time meeting Dave. He was Mark's best friend from childhood and wanted to come along for the ride and thought the trip sounded like a great idea. We planned on being gone about six or seven days, visiting Civil War battlefields in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina and covering about two thousand miles.
The evening of June 12th, the night before we were leaving, brought miserable weather in Michigan. Flood watches were out for later that night and rain was dumping down in buckets. The rain was supposed to stop by sunrise and turn out to be good weather for riding. Since I lived about fifty miles north of Mark, I planned on meeting them early in the morning near his house and we would start our trip from there.
I was up at five-thirty a.m. and looking out the window I saw mostly dry pavement. Excitement set in as I started getting all my gear together. The bike was in the garage so I was making many trips back and forth loading things up.
At six-thirty the drizzle started. You know drizzle is eventually going to turn to rain. Dry then turned to wet. I went back in the house and checked the Doppler Radar on my computer for the extent of the rain that wasn't supposed to be there.
Radar showed it was over my house only. Nowhere else in Michigan, just my house. I believe this is where Murphy's Law starts to take effect. You know that law, "If anything can go wrong, it will." I hoped this wasn't a prelude of what was to happen for this trip. I decided to just hang around a bit and wait for it to pass. No sense in starting the trip off wet.
By ten-forty-five the rain had ceased and the roads were drying up somewhat. I called Mark and said I'd be on the road by eleven and should see him in about an hour or so.
Mark and Dave were waiting in the parking lot near his house when I arrived. We looked rough. Big road bikes packed high with gear, riders looking tough in tattoos and leather. Typical hardcore bikers. Nobody better mess with us or we'll run home crying like babies.
The planned route took us south into Ohio where we would pick up the turnpike and head east. We hoped to get into Pennsylvania by the end of the day, even though we had a late start due to the weather.
Rain threatened a few times along the way and the sky remained overcast until we were just east of Cleveland. At that point the sun finally poked out through the cloud cover and warmed the damp air so we could remove some of the leather we were sporting.
Riding through Ohio is long and boring. Sorry Buckeyes, but it's true and you know it. The state is mostly flat, really flat. The biggest mounds I saw were on the chest of a waitress in a Service Plaza, and that wasn't very impressive either. Needless to say the ride was a snoozer.
By six-thirty p.m. we finally decided to stop and get a motel for the night. We were in the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, about a hundred miles west of Gettysburg, our first tour destination.
The first leg of the trip was dry, however the locals here were promising rain for tomorrow. It's supposed to be pumped up from the southwest sometime tomorrow morning and we're hoping to get the early start and stay ahead of it. But for now it's time to relax and we'll just have to see what the morning brings.
At eight a.m. the rain is threatening, but for the moment it's still dry. The Weather Channel shows a lot of rain close by but clearing for tomorrow. We'll be on the road by eight-thirty and ahead of it, and should be in Gettysburg before noon.
A couple of hours on the road brought hunger. I took the lead and directed us into a Service Plaza where I knew a restaurant had breakfast waiting for us. Mark and Dave both ordered an omelet while I elected to have the breakfast buffet. I should also have ordered an omelet because you always eat way too much at a buffet, eating crap you normally wouldn't eat. But it all tasted good and we left full and content. And the mounds were much bigger here than in Ohio, if you know what I mean.
We pulled into Gettysburg at eleven-thirty with the sun shining brightly. The town was crowded and people were everywhere. After parking our bikes on the main street in town, we started to walk around blending in with the tourists, only a little rougher looking.
Suddenly my stomach felt a little uneasy. It started gurgling and churning like a butter urn. I didn't think much of it, probably just all the junk I ate earlier for breakfast. My stomach is known for acting up once in a while.
We continued to walk around, in and out of shops and a few small museums, when I suddenly broke out in a huge sweat. My stomach was now twisting with cramps and I started getting dizzy. I told the boys I needed to find a bench or something to sit down on.
There was real concern on their faces when they saw me almost pass out before I reached the bench. All I could think about was the trip being ruined from me being sick or something. I think the Law of Murphy was back again.
Just then Dave's cell phone rang. I was watching his expressions while he talked and it didn't look good. When he hung up and came to us I found out why. His wife called and said his dad had a heart attack and was in the hospital. He was stable, but serious.
I knew what was coming. Dave would be leaving. I told Mark he shouldn't ride back to Detroit alone and that he should go with him. Mark thought the same but didn't know how to tell me because he knew I was in no shape to ride with them. I told him I'd be fine, I'd just get a motel and wait it out. Probably just something I ate. By morning I'll be good as new and either continue with the trip or come home.
Within ten minutes they were back on the road heading west to Detroit and I was sitting on the bench with my head between my legs, alone. I knew I was already running a fever and whatever it was that had a hold of me was taking over quickly.
I stood up, got my balance and walked across the street to where nobody was walking nearby. Then I collapsed against a building and started puking my guts out. Feverish, dizzy, cramps and puking. I knew I had food poisoning. Had to have the buffet, didn't I? Idiot.
I couldn't leave that spot for three hours. Every time I stood up I fell back down again. Lucky for me it was a sidewalk less traveled, because it wasn't pretty when I got done with it. I think any passersby thought I was just another typical drunk biker. It's guys like me that give bikers a bad name.
By mid-afternoon I realized I couldn't sleep where I was, so I had to find a way to muster up enough energy to get to my bike down the street and ride it to a motel and get a room.
Just walking less than half a block took another hour. When I reached my bike I found a police officer getting ready to write me a ticket.
"Whoa, what's going on Officer?" I asked. "I'm legally parked."
"You were," he said. "Can't park on the street after four p.m. because we need this space for the horse carriages. It's four-ten."
"Sorry sir, I didn't know. I'm leaving right now."
I climbed on my bike, turned on the key and hit the start button.
Oh shit. The battery is dead. It won't start. This never happened before. It ran fine until now. It figures. Apparently Murphy won't leave me alone.
The officer is staring at me. People are starting to gather. The horse and carriage pull up, waiting to get in. Traffic is backing up behind the carriage because they can't go anywhere. Everyone is starting to watch.
I thought if I just passed out right here they could take me away in an ambulance and I'd have a place to spend the night.
"C'mon, you have to get that thing outta here!" he yelled. The officer yelled at me. In front of all those people. The rough and tough biker with the tattoo and leather didn't look so rough and tough anymore.
"Officer," I said, "If you could possibly stop the traffic for me then maybe I could get this thing out and push start it down the road."
Now remember I've been throwing up for three hours, I'm dizzy and feverish and of all things, weak. Everybody is watching, not helping, and I need to push this seven hundred pound bike down the street, jump on and pop the clutch to try to start it while the officer stops traffic in both directions to give me room so I can do this.
Traffic stops, the horse is getting restless and takes a dump in the street, crowds gather to see what the fuss is all about and here I go. I ran alongside the bike, pushed it as fast as I could, then jumped on the seat and rode it down the hill into a streetside parking lot, which was still going downhill, then popped the clutch with great anticipation because I knew this would work. I'd done it before.
It didn't start.
The idiot biker forgot to turn the key back on.
Shit. Now I have to do it again. I still had a little bit of downhill parking lot left. Here we go again.
I turned on the key (good idea, huh?), then pushed again and jumped on. I popped the clutch once more. It started. I was on my way looking for a motel.
A mile down the road brought me to my haven, no matter what it looked like. I checked in, unloaded my gear off the bike and thought I'd try to start it again before I retired to my room. Turning the key once more and hitting the button it went click.......click........click.
Forget about it. At least until I feel better. Right now there's nothing I can do except rest and throw up. Sounds like fun, doesn't it?
There comes a point when throwing up for hours on end that there's nothing left in your stomach to bring up, yet your body keeps telling your abdominal muscles to heave ho. This is what they call the dry heaves. Your body is still trying to bring out the delicious breakfast buffet you had earlier, and it has done a great job of that all afternoon and evening, but it wants more.
There you are, wrapped around your closest friend the toilet bowl, heaving like there's no tomorrow and nothing comes out. Yet you continue to go through all the motions like you're really doing it. For those of you that have never experienced the dry heaves, your time will come. And in the middle of that gut wrenching scream when you wish you were dead, you'll think of me.
By three a.m. the puking had finally subsided. My muscles were so sore that it felt like Muhammed Ali had punched me in the stomach a thousand times. Finally I could get some rest.
Or so I thought.
Within the hour the puking decided it was time to come out the other way. You got it. The good ‘ol ass burning diarrhea. You know what I'm talking about. When it feels like you're forcing a leaky fifty-five gallon drum of hydrochloric acid out your ass? Yeah, that's right. Twelve more hours of that shit. Literally.
By the evening of the second night in the motel I was up and around, slowly, but up. I ordered a carry out, delivery of course, from a local restaurant, but certainly not a breakfast buffet. I was able to eat about half of the dinner just to get something inside of me to get my strength back, because tomorrow I needed to tend to the bike to see what the problem was.
A short time after eating dinner my cell phone rang, it was Mark. He said they made it back to Detroit fine and Dave's dad was doing well. They installed a stent and everything looked good.
Mark asked where I was and how I was doing. When I told him of my crappy ordeal he said he was glad he wasn't around. We had a good laugh and I told him I was doing fine now.
Early the next morning my ass was so raw that I waddled like a duck out to the bike. If anyone saw me they probably thought I had a load in my pants. Of course the battery was still dead and I knew there was a problem somewhere, hoping it was confined only to the battery. I called a local towing company and they arrived in half-an-hour.
The driver and owner of the towing company checked out the bike and thought that the battery was shot and needed replacing. However he needed to order it from another town and it would take a few hours to charge before he could install it. We jump started the bike and I followed him to his shop just a few miles outside of Gettysburg where he then ordered the new battery.
J.R., as he's called, was a fellow biker so we had much in common and shared a lot of stories while we waited for the battery to be delivered. Once the battery showed up he installed it and I was back on my way.
I returned to the motel, packed my gear and checked out, then decided since the weather was good I'd ride the roads through the battlefields of Gettysburg.
I'd been to Gettysburg years back and already knew where I wanted to go. I followed roads here and there, stopping at monuments and places of interest until I came upon the road that went up the backside of Big and Little Roundtop, a famous battlefield site of July, 1863.
Parking the bike in a lot at the top of Big Roundtop Hill, I walked out onto the rocky terrain and had an excellent view of the valley where the fighting took place. It's extremely humbling walking on the very ground where hundreds died right below your feet.
I sat down and pictured the battle. Thousands of men, and boys, running and shooting, screaming, bleeding, crying out for help through the thick smoke of cannon fire and nose-burning smell of sulfur from gun powder. Over fifty-thousand casualties occurred here and around Gettysburg during the three day battle of early July, 1863. I walked back to my bike in tears.
The road continued down the other side of Little Roundtop and eventually split the valley in half leading to Devil's Den, a rocky outcrop of boulders that was used as cover during the battle. Soldiers would shield themselves behind the rocks while they shot their rifles at the enemy across the valley on Little Roundtop.
I was able to park my bike and hike up into the maze of boulders, working my way in and out and visualizing where men were perched and laying wounded or dead. Another moment of tears came over me.
The weather started to look threatening again and I needed to decide whether to continue on my trip alone or head back home. After getting a taste of the Civil War here in Gettysburg, I craved more and decided to head south and hoped to get to Harper's Ferry by evening.
The rain began about four p.m. and I had to pull over and put on my rain gear before I got too wet. Riding a motorcycle in rain is not much fun, but I didn't have much choice if I wanted to get somewhere. It stayed steady for three hours before the cloud cover broke open a bit, about half-an-hour short of Harper's Ferry.
Harper's Ferry is a small town built on the slope of a mountain range where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. Stonewall Jackson had set up his headquarters here in town, using one of the larger homes on the main street.
I drove past the headquarters and into downtown by the waterfront. A railroad track came out of a tunnel across the river and alongside the town, continuing along the river until disappearing from sight. The riverfront road eventually led to another main road where I found a motel to spend the night.
Checking The Weather Channel after getting settled in I learned the rain had passed and it appeared to be good weather heading south into Virginia and North Carolina, where I planned to go for the next few days. My Civil War Tour wasn't ruined after all. Tomorrow I would head to Sharpsburg and on to Antietem.
The next morning I arose about six-thirty to the sound of dripping. Being a little confused I drew back the curtain and looked outside the window.
They lied. Rain was pouring down. What the hell is going on here? I turned on The Weather Channel once again.
"The front seems to have shifted during the night to the east," they said. "It appears that the rain and severe weather will now blanket the eastern states, bringing torrential downpours and flash floods to the Virginia's and Carolina's."
And then they said, "The best weather for the next five days will be in the northeast."
It was then I realized that Murphy was my riding partner and the rest of the tour was off.
There's no reason to be stubborn and continue on in severe weather, torrential rains and flooding.
But since the nice weather was now going to be in the northeast, why not head up through Pennsylvania, into New York, Vermont and New Hampshire? They've got great riding roads up there and lots of mountains and scenery.
Sharpsburg and Antietem were not too far away from here, so I could still see those sights in the rain before heading north. I packed the bike, dressed in rain gear and headed for Sharpsburg.
It was an hour of riding in wet weather when I arrived in town. Not a lot to see, but still a town affected by the Civil War. I continued on a road that took me outside of town and eventually to the Antietem Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest one day battle in Civil War history. There I parked the bike and visited the museum they had on site.
After the museum visit the rain let up a little and I drove down the road that split the battlefield, stopping at Civil War markers along the way to read the events that took place. The road twisted around, up and down hillsides until coming to the site I wanted to see most...Burnside Bridge. Here, the Union General Burnside and his army fought a fierce battle trying to take the stone bridge that spanned Antietem Creek. The General was insistent on winning this battle so he and his men could cross the river to the other side. Twenty-three-thousand men were killed or wounded during this confrontation, the most casualties in a single day of the entire war. Eventually Burnside's army won the battle, but his men hated him when they realized that most of the river was only knee deep. They could have crossed anywhere and the battle was unnecessary. Hence the name Burnside Bridge.
The General was also noted for his bushy beard that only grew on the side of his face, afterward being called sideburns. Get the correlation? Burnside...sideburns? I knew you would.
I was able to actually walk across the bridge to the other side and view where the soldiers came down the hill to fight the battle. Once again I imagined the action on and near the bridge, but then the rain started and I needed to get back to the bike and head north and try to get out of this wet weather. My goal was somewhere in New York, north of Pennsylvania.
I rode through six hours of driving rain and miserable conditions before I saw dry roads in northern Pennsylvania. The sun came out and I finally was able to shed my rain gear. The temperature warmed into the seventies before I stopped for the night in Sydney, New York, about half way through the state on my way to the New England states. Once settled in I checked The Weather Channel just for reassurance. The forecast was beautiful for the Northeast and the rain was skirting south through Pennsylvania and then due east out into the Atlantic Ocean. Tomorrow I would get into Vermont and New Hampshire and ride through the beautiful White Mountains and back through the Adirondacks.
Finally my luck had rolled in. I was tired, exhausted and ready for bed. It wasn't long before I was in la-la land.
I had a good night's sleep, I guess from riding in the stressful weather the day before and knowing where my ride was taking me today into the mountains of the Northeast. I arose from bed, energetic and excited, and looked out the window. And then I saw him.
The son of a bitch won't leave me alone. It's raining again. It's not supposed to be raining here for five days. But it's raining. Hard. I don't have a clue why I did this, but I turned on The Weather Channel again.
Guess what the new news was for the frontal system?
"This sure is an ever-changing weather system. The projected path of the storm has once again changed," they said smiling. I hate when they smile and think everything is just a silly goof and everyone will forgive them. I HATE THEM!
"The rain pattern has moved to the Northeast and will blanket the New England states for the next four days. Record rainfall and flooding is reported all the way back into the Midwest."
The Northeast. That's where I am. The Midwest. Michigan is in the Midwest. It's raining here. It's raining there. It's raining everywhere I go, whether it's supposed to or not. Okay, I get the idea. I've had enough. I'm going home.
Damn you Murphy.
Again I sported the rain gear and jumped on the bike. My journey took me west all the way through New York until I stopped for the evening at Erie, Pennsylvania. Rained the whole day and the sun came out when I got to Erie. What a surprise.
The next morning I awoke and got ready for the last leg home. Know what? It's raining.
I told Murphy he can find his own ride home.
The rain stayed with me until midway through Ohio, but then the wind picked up and was blowing cold air in from across Lake Erie. I never took off my leather gear, including my warm gloves.
At seven p.m. I pulled into my driveway, it was dry and the clouds were gone. I walked into the house and settled in, turned on the television and flipped channels with the remote as we men do.
The Weather Channel. I had to stop at The Weather Channel. Didn't I get enough of that on the trip?
"The Midwest is going to enjoy some nice weather for the week to come. The front has finally moved off and the New England states will dry out as well."
Again, what a surprise.
I called my son in California and told him I was back from the trip, safe and sound. He made the mistake of asking me how it was.
I explained, in more detail than he probably wanted to know, about all the trials and tribulations, being left alone on the second day, the food poisoning, the dead battery, the rain, the rain, and, oh yeah, the rain. I told him I was very disappointed and the trip was a complete washout.
But then he said something to me that changed everything.
"But dad," he said, "How many people out there can say they actually rode their motorcycle through the Civil War battlefields?"
I thought parents were the ones that said comforting things to their children right when they needed it, not the other way around. That simple little statement, from my own son, changed my whole perspective of the entire trip.
Yes, I was left alone at a bad time. Yes, I had vomiting and diarrhea for two days. Yes, the battery went dead and I had trouble with the bike. Yes, it rained, and rained, and of course, rained.
But I DID visit Gettysburg. I DID visit Harper's Ferry, Sharpsburg and Antietem. I DID walk across Burnside Bridge. And I DID ride my bike through Civil War battlefields. And through all that rain I still logged in seventeen-hundred miles on the trip.
As I hung up the phone, I sat there smiling looking around the living room.
Murphy was nowhere to be found.