End of 2019 and most of 2020 has been rather rough on me. As I have noted, the Harley fell on my foot in September 2019. This led to surgery and confined to the recliner for 6 months. During this time, my youngest son and his bride welcomed my first grandson into the world. Doctor didn’t tell me that I couldn’t go, but did tell me that it would probably be the most miserable trip I have ever taken, riding in the car for two days to get to the kids, on crutches everywhere I go, then two days in the car coming back. I agreed to wait until I was able to travel on my own.
This year is only my third year riding with the Tour of Honor, but I was as excited to ride on day one this year as I was in 2018. Then COVID hit! So many states had different restrictions, and I would have to go through several to get to the kids.
Once people started riding in earnest, I kept a watch on a trip to Virginia. Seemed that every time I wanted to head north, there were storms. I was going to combine a ride to Virginia to see the kids with Tour of Honor stops. At least September we will have our Ride to Meet in Gettysburg… Then that got cancelled.
Tour of Honor season ended and I still hadn’t made it to Virginia this year. We had a trip planned to Virginia for a family wedding, but there were other problems. No need to go into that…
My bride and I worked out a plan. With the uncertainty of us making the wedding, or even whether we could both attend, I took off on Sunday, November 8. I would visit for about a week, then head back home after seeing family and friends for a few days. Goal is to also avoid the interstate!
I leave Sunday morning after a brief prayer service with my bride. My minimum goal is to get to Abingdon for the night. I would like to get to Wytheville. But I will stop at Troutville, no matter how early I get there.
I had been riding back roads to Crossville, thinking about getting on I-40. As I left the gas station, the GPS showed I-40 as a Red/Black line. I stay on US70 which parallels I-40 for a while. I do get a glimpse of I-40 and see that it is a parking lot due to construction. New road I haven’t traveled before, nice road.
Just outside Harriman, TN, I hop on I-40 to get me through Knoxville. It is Sunday, shouldn’t be too much traffic on the interstate, and probably more traffic on the city streets. Not sure how the city streets would have been, but there was more traffic than expected on I-40 through Knoxville. Once on the interstate, I might as well stay on it. I don’t rush and stop as rest stops just to stretch my legs.
About 3:30 I pass Abingdon. A little early for me right now. The hotel I would have stayed at is next to a restaurant I like, but they don’t open for a few more hours due to COVID restrictions. I keep going.
About 5pm I pass Wytheville. The place i stay here isn’t near a place to eat. It would require that I ride to a place or get delivery. I’ll go another hour or so to Troutville.
About 6pm, I pull into anew hotel in Troutville. The overhead map shows it is next door to Cracker Barrel, though I don’t like chains when I travel, this is one of the few exceptions since I don’t eat at them often. I sit in the parking lot and make my reservation, using the hotel points I have earned the last two years. I walk in and Adam has my room key ready for me. He joked that he doesn’t see it often, but he does see people making reservations in the parking lot. When he saw me outside, then a new reservation pop on his screen, he assumed it was me. Nice hotel, a major upgrade from what it had been. I see Cracker Barrel next door.
I get settled into the room and change shoes to walk next door. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” Yep, I thought I was going to walk next door. There is a brick retaining wall which separates the two properties. I try walking to one side and going up the hill, but in the dark I don’t know what else may be in the brush. I try walking the other way and see nothing but tall grasses and more woods. I can either eat some of the snacks I brought, or ride about a mile each way out to the road, up to the access road, then back to the restaurant. All this for to get 100 feet from the hotel to the restaurant. (Note: the following morning, I spoke with the General Manager and the Maintenance Man, they have both thought about building a walkway to Cracker Barrel, but they didn’t know if it would be of interest. I said it would and they hope to have a walkway on my next visit.)
I retire to my room and eat the cheese crackers I brought. I eat one from a new package, then decide I still want another. I open one that was from an old package. BAD IDEA! I never looked at the expiration date before I popped that first cracker in my mouth. When I did look, I could only see the first three numbers of the “use by” year, 200?. It melted in my mouth before I could spit it out. The most awful taste! Two bottles of gatorade didn’t get that taste out. Then my stomach started to process it!
Monday morning was a little chilly to start. I didn’t have any plans for the day, so no need to rush. I was planning to stay off I-81 if at all possible. I called Doug to see if he and his bride were free for lunch. We agreed to meet at a favorite place of theirs. Doug is a Marine, and VERY punctual. I alter my route to spend a little time on the interstate to avoid the city streets in Charlottesville, but still get off the interstate to enjoy the back roads which were all too familiar to me. I pull into the parking lot just as Doug’s wife pulls in. We walk in together and Doug is already seated near the door.
It was great to share lunch with them. I haven’t seen them in over a year, but it was just like yesterday. We brought each other up on everything and when he is planning to retire. Eventually, he has to go back to work. I grab the check and we say our goodbyes.
Still way to early to check into the hotel, so I ride around the area, visiting the houses and riding past friend’s houses. The town doesn’t look like it has changed. I see a family that lived there when I was there 14 years ago. He still had his Mustang SVO and his Taurus SHO. I only saw the kids outside, so I didn’t stop to see if the parents would come out. I rode through Dale City on through Clifton and Centreville. I rode past the townhouse. One neighbor was home, and other didn’t have any cars at home, so I assumed they were at work and the kids at school.
I pulled into the hotel shortly after 3pm, still fighting that cracker from last night. Since I had a good lunch with Doug, I decided to forego supper. Not sure what tomorrow would bring. No set plans with the boys except for Wednesday. I called to let them know I as in town.
Tuesday it was a slight rain. I stuck around the hotel and walked to a nearby bakery. Chris called to say he was on his way to deliver donuts. When I realized where he was, I told him to come pick me up. We rode around for a bit, be delivered his donuts, and we enjoyed talking. We went to lunch at Don Churro’s (fantastic place!). He eventually had to get back to work, so he dropped me off, but invited me to supper that evening. I accepted.
His house is about a mile and a half from the hotel. He didn’t realize that at first. I rode the bike over and watched Evelyn playing. She was excited that she had a new toy and was telling me all about it. I also brought her a present, a new book. We sat on the deck, watching the skies get dark, and enjoying company. Chris is living with his in-laws right now since they just sold their house and haven’t had a chance to even start looking. They are ok with Chris there since the grandbaby is part of the deal. She just turned three.
Wednesday was Veteran’s Day. Patrick took the day off, so Chris picked me up and took me over there. It was raining, so it was good to stay dry for a bit. I had walked to breakfast across the shopping center. It was great to finally meet my grandson. He is now 11 months old! I held him for a few minutes, but he wanted to go! I put him down and off he went. I just sat an loved watching the two grandkids playing together. We stayed a few hours. Once it was everyone’s naptime, Chris took me back to the hotel. I enjoyed a nap too.
Thursday, I walked to a different bakery for breakfast. I met Paul. He was a biker too, about ready to retire. Our conversation started when I picked the Tiramisu bread that he had his eyes on. He picked the one next mine. We talked about how the area on the other side of the airport had changed. I told him from the areas I have been through, not much has changed. He told me to ride up to Waxpool Rd. After breakfast, I took him up on the suggestion.
WOW! As I took the left ramp of Rt28 onto Waxpool Road, I was in shock! When I first flew into Dulles in 1984, I thought the plane was about to crash into a farmers cow field. Between then and when I left, the cow have been moved father west and north. Waxpool Road area was still a bit deserted when we left four years ago after AOL and MCI closed up. The building became server farms and some secured data centers. But there was still a lot of vacant area. Today, all I could see was two and three story buildings, all windows less with signs about “cloud services.” I rode for a few miles and that was all I could see. I turned around and headed back to the hotel.
Chris called and asked if I wanted to join for supper again. I agreed, but on the condition I bring the steaks and bourbon. He agreed! I had stopped to pick up some bourbon for them, so I rode to his house, then he and I went out for steaks. I stayed around for a bit while Chris prepped the steaks for the evening. Once it was Evelyn’s naptime, I headed back to the hotel.
About supper time, Chris came to pick me up. I wanted to enjoy some bourbon with Chris’ father-in-law, but won’t do that if I am on the bike. I walked in and was offered a glass. I showed them the bottle I brought, which was then the drink of choice. Chris cooked the steaks and the potatoes. The rest of us just relaxed and watch Chris do his magic.
Close to bed time for Evelyn, Chris wanted to go out to see some friends, so I said my goodbyes. I needed to back for the trip back home.
Friday morning, I wasn’t feel too well. Since the weather was right at the lower limit of what I like to ride in, I knew it would get better. I wanted to get some serious miles behind me today. No reason to hit the interstate, and I wanted to try out my new phone’s GPS app with the bike. The bakeries weren’t open yet, so I just hit the road.
The GPS started out wanting me to head to Culpepper. NOPE! That means it wants me to go through Charlottesville. I wanted to ride VA42, which is on the west side of I-81. I deviate on roads that I know, constantly watching “recalculating” on the screen. Once I got to VA42, the GPS and I stayed in sync, for a while…
As I neared Goshen, VA39 merges with VA42. Once past Goshen, VA42 makes a left turn while VA39 goes straight. I missed the turn. Before long, I was in West Virginia. I still had the hotel in Abingdon as the destination for the night, but I will see how it gets me there. WV39 was a road I have never ridden before. Serendipity! It was beautiful. About lunch time, my stomach was reminding me that I had skipped breakfast. The only place I see open is an Arby’s. I park and go in. NOPE, Drive Thru only! It is a little chilly to be sitting outside on the bike to eat. I look over the map and see that I am only a few hours from the hotel, and may be able to find something quick along the way if I need. Body aches have started to kick in with a few chills.
Eventually, I am on familiar four lane roads. I pass Honaker, Lebanon, and other places where I have enjoyed umpiring over the years. As I pull into the hotel, I see that the restaurant is just opening for the evening! I get checked in and drop off my helmet and jacket in the room. I was hungry! It wasn’t a Mexican place anymore, it is now Cajun. My stomach wasn’t going to handle anything spicy, so I opt for a burger. It was good! The Key Lime Pie was fantastic! I chatted with the owners for a bit and they explained why they changed the menu; the restaurant next door had been a seafood place. When it got sold, the new owners wanted it to be a Mexican place. This place decided to change to Cajun since there wasn’t another Cajun place in the area and there were plenty of Mexican places.
I picked up my bags from the bike as I headed back to the room. I wasn’t feeling well. I had the sweats, chilled, and my stomach wasn’t happy with me. I usually turn the AC as cold as it will go when I get to a hotel. Tonight, I turned up the heat and cuddled up under the sheet.
Saturday morning I woke to 35 degrees. I was still not feeling well and was afraid that I might have to stay another day or two. I repacked the bags and got them ready to reload onto the bike. I sat in the breakfast area and had some breakfast. About 9:30, the temperature started to warm. I loaded up and gassed up next door, then hit I-81. I wanted to just get home.
As I hit I-81, the temperature had jumped to 50 degrees. the excitement of the warmth and wanting to get home got me motivated. I knew I would need one gas stop along the way and could top off once I got home. I didn’t rush on I-81, staying close to the speed limit. There wasn’t much traffic, and I still wasn’t at 100%.
I excited I-40 just past Knoxville and headed south on US27. As I passed a gas station on the left side of the road, my fuel light came on. I wasn’t that worried, I am sure I would see a gas station. I kept watch on the fuel gas and looking for a gas station. I almost pass an exit when I see a gas station. I whip up the ramp and pull in. As I pull up, I have 10 miles to empty. They only have 87octane. Not sure I want to risk that in the bike, yet. I talk with guy. He tells me that just over the mountain is Dunlap, right off TN111. A CircleK with 93 octane is there. I see it in the GPS and add that as my new destination. Off I go.
He had said the second exit over the mountain and I would see the CircleK. The GPS says to turn at the second exit. But is this the second exit or the second after the top of the mountain? I take the exit and wind up on a deserted one lane mountain road. 4 miles to the gas station, and 4 miles reserve on the tank. Luckily, I spend the next mile coasting downhill and just letting the engine idle. I finally get to the bottom and see a gas station on the GPS. NOPE, it is an antique store with antique gas pumps. The gas station I have programmed is 2 miles away, but the fuel gauge is warning I have 1 mile of gas left. I ride slow through town. Coasting as often as I can.
Finally! I see a Wal-Mart with a gas station. I don’t care if it is on the right and I can see the Circle K about a 1/2 mile up the road, there is a gas station HERE! I pull in and coast to the only open pump. I made it! I relax for a minute, then prepay the gas. I have a 5.3 gallon tank. It took 5.33 gallons. I doubt I could have made it up the road.
As I left, I make the turn back onto TN111 at the exit where I should have gotten off. Over the next hill, I recognize where I am. Auto-pilot to home. 200 miles, and I know the roads well from here. I follow onto TN8, then make the turn toward Gruetli-Laager. Next turn is TN50, which switches to become US64. I make the turn to Minor Hill. It is hard to keep the bike close to the speed limit, it knows we are almost home.
My bride had been watching the Spotwalla. I sent her a note that I was topping off the gas and would be home in a few minutes. She had a hot bath waiting for me to relax. A shower, then to my recliner.
Then all the sickness hit me. My fever spiked, sweats, stomach ache, head ache, and chills. I was home and had gotten to visit the grandkids. That was all that mattered!