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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #1
ibike2havefun
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Default To Totality, August 2017

When you have the opportunity to view an uncommon celestial event, seize it.

Such an opportunity arose for me in the form of the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918. After some initial hemming and hawing, I decided it'd be worth it to go see for myself. And since it would take place in peak motorcycle riding season, the method of transport was obvious. ST road trip! Duh!

First thing to settle was, where would I go? Since I am still a wage slave, an epic cross-country ride was not in the cards. It had to be someplace I could reach (and therefore return from) in no more than two days' riding, each way. That put an upper limit of 800-900 miles away, at most, as the boundary because the Big Event didn't take place until early or mid-afternoon on a Monday, leaving (realistically) only 1.5 days for the return leg.

Alright, what lies inside that envelope? Oh look: here's a spot directly on the center line of the thing, and right on the Cherohala Skyway. Perfect! [Time passes...] DING! Google Maps has just tagged my super-secret Undisclosed Location as "Best Eclipse Viewing Location". CRAP- now EVERYONE will want to be there. Time to spin the wheel again and see what else I can find.

Hmmmmmm.... here's an area in southern Illinois that shows a lot of promise.



Now, where within that zone looks good? How about... here?



Okay, that takes care of that. Now, how to get there? Priorities:
  1. Where possible, avoid the interstate.
  2. Where possible, save money by mooching off of family members and friends for overnight accommodations
  3. It's too late to get commercial accommodations anywhere near the totality zone, so be prepared to camp (possibly stealth camp)
  4. Where absolutely necessary, switch to "get there" mode and slab it

Hours and hours of fantasy planning time went into crafting the perfect route. Then it all went out the window because of random chance, and I simply plugged destinations into my phone and followed the blue line. Here's how it eventually shook out:



Much more interstate than I'd planned, but some really fabulous country roads in the mix. Overall, a pleasant mix of go slowly and enjoy the ride vs. put the hammer down and get there.

Saturday morning featured a pleasant diversion, and tantalizing possibility. Someone on another form posted a "For Trade" ad, wanting to swap the Russell Day Long that was on his bike when he bought it, for something a bit lower like a Sargent. I ride a Sargent, and WANT a Russell. Oh look: he's in southwest Virginia, and is willing to ride a bit to a meeting point. I can change my route and swing down there... swap seats... and keep going!

To be overcome: this is all happening at 1:30 a.m. so there's no way to confirm the plan before I go. Will just have to email him, then head out in anticipation of success and see what happens.

Reroute #1: instead of taking my usual secondary road route along the Potomac and into Virginia, then following US 50 toward Ohio, I took the Beltway (UGH!) and I-66 (ugh, at least for the first 25 miles) to hit I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley. 81 is not the ugliest road, but it's notorious for heavy truck traffic and epic road-closing accidents. If I didn't have a schedule to keep, there's no way I'd get on it. But... schedule it is.

Before committing to 81, I pulled off to check whether there had been any response to my messages. Nope, not yet. Okay then, here goes...

About 8-10 miles down the road, two things happened. 1: Google popped up an alert that I-81 was down to one lane several miles on, due to ... an accident. A moment later, 2: I got a response to my email. By that time I was mired in the traffic jam and just standing in the lane, so it was no problem to pull off to the shoulder to see what was up.

My guy was interested in the swap idea! Yay! But he apologized that he was not available that day. Oh well, at least I'm still approaching the nearest exit (Woodstock, VA) and not just beyond it, so I can cut my losses. Google, please reroute me from here to my cousin's house in Cincinnati, using the most expeditious route possible.

It was right in that stretch that I discovered some really wonderful back roads. Good surfaces, pleasant curves, low traffic, heavily-shaded... Note to Self: get back here for some thorough exploration. This is day-ride or weekend overnight camping-out territory.

I eventually emerged from rural Virginia, West Virginia, and western Maryland to find myself on I-68 in the vicinity of Deep Creek Lake. From there it was superslab all the way to Cinci. I-79, 70, and 71 are not exactly scenic or picturesque, but traffic was good and I made up most of the time I'd spent on my not-immediately-fruitful diversion.

Arrival in Cinci was right on schedule, leaving plenty of time for dinner at one of my cousin's favorite bistros, followed by a tasting at a relatively newly-opened brewpub nearby. The cafe was excellent, the brewpub... meh. They're trying, but our collective consensus was that they have only one recipe and just make a bunch of variations. The result was adequate, but somehow lacking in substance.

Since I'd covered 500+ of the projected 825 miles to my target destination, I could linger on Sunday morning. Leaving Cinci about 7, Google routed me through the vast sprawling complex of giant freeways that make up the Cincinnati metro area, across the Ohio into Kentucky, down 71 to Louisville, then west on I-64. Traffic in Louisville was still light, so it was easy going.

About halfway across Indiana, the sky began to get ominously dark and got my attention. A few miles ahead was an especially dark cloud absolutely teeming down rain, right on the interstate. Pulling over to check the local weather radar, it appeared that diverting south for five to ten miles would allow me to skirt the rain and stay dry. Since I absolutely hate riding in wet conditions, and since this was an opportunity to return to rural back road riding that I strongly prefer, and since there was NO time constraint, this seemed like the perfect plan.

And so it turned out. Lovely bucolic scenery, very low traffic, good roads that undulated over the hills and swept around the curves... what's not to love?

Having successfully avoided a wetting, it was time to break out the camera and get down to the business of documenting the trip. First order of business: capture the rain cloud that was no longer a threat.



That little stop proved mildly costly, though.



As I was shuffling the bike to reposition it to get back on the road, i stepped into the soft gravel shoulder, sank in deeper than I expected, overbalanced, and ... down went the bike. You know, the instant it happens, that it's too late to do more than try to manage the speed and direction of the fall.

The bike ended up in a position that made it impossible for me to get it back upright on my own. Happily for me, within a couple minutes a car happened by and stopped to check on me. Within seconds, three more cars had joined us, and the mini-swarm of helpful strangers soon had everything back to rights. Almost before I could say "Thank You", they were all back in their cars and gone, like apparitions. Except for the evidence of the fresh scuffs on the mirror housing and tip-over guard cover, it was almost as if it hadn't happened.

A few miles further on, my route swung south and I put the whole incident well and truly behind me.



Google proceeded to run me down to then along the Ohio River. Eventually, right about lunchtime, I found myself in Evansville. Ordinarily, I seek out independent local eateries if possible but on this occasion McDonald's got the nod because they were right there.

Leaving Evansville I crossed the Wabash into Illinois, on IL 141. My plan of the moment was to head for the US Forest Service campground at Lake Glendale, in hopes that someone might have pulled out and left an open spot. (Remember, I had no prearranged lodging for the night, and most everything within 100+ miles that takes reservations was long since overboked.)

Before committing to that, though, it seemed prudent to check the website to see if there was a space open, so I stopped at the intersection of IL 141 and IL 1 to see. Nope, no joy.

Plan B was to head to my intended viewing location and basically stealth camp, hoping to either avoid detection altogether or at least avoid eviction if I was discovered. If I did get the boot, it had seemed from the time I spent poring over Google Maps before departure as if there were a few alternative spots I could try. Surely ONE of them would pan out?

Heading down IL 1, I passed one of those blue and white tourist information signs: "<-- CAMPING". A moment's thought and a U-turn later had me headed down a side road, toward what I expected to be a Mom-and-Pop campground on a couple acres of farmland. Nope.

The gracious citizens of Ridgway IL have and maintain a lovely town park, and generously offer it year-round for overnight camping. RVs $20, tents $10. Check in at the police station to let them know you are there, and to pay. CAN DO.

Instead of a crowded noisy place, or an anxiety-filled evening in the woods, here's my Sunday evening accommodation:



And, I had it nearly to myself. There was one additional car / tent that came in after dark, but after the local day users ended their picnics I was left alone. SWEET. Plenty of time to chill out, relax, fix dinner, relax some more... perfect.

Overnight, it was "country quiet": crickets chirring, an occasional owl hooting, and a far-off quiet swish of infrequent traffic going past on IL 1. It was dark enough that I could see the Milky Way, too. It's been a while since that happened for me.

Monday: eclipse day! The weather forecast was promising. I woke up about 4:30 and realized it would take an hour or more to take care of the needs of the day, break camp, and get ready to roll, so it was up-and-at-'em time. But not before I got a nice sunrise photo:



Stopping at the police station (there hadn't been anyone there on Sunday; no surprise for a town of 950 in a very rural area, where off-hours routine police calls are routed to a central switchboard that covers five counties) I left them a thank you note and my $10 camping fee. It was well worth it, and I'd never abuse such hospitality by freeloading.

On the way south, I saw my first sign of eclipse-related ephemera:



An hour down the road got me to The Spot. It's a now-defunct church, but still maintained and watched over by the community. The local couple (older folks, now retired but who like to keep their hand in) who mow that ground as well as two others nearby, stopped in to check on things and generally visit. Delightful.





I was the first to arrive, but within a few minutes several others had joined me.



We got acquainted, exchanged pleasantries, and strolled through the churchyard looking at the graves. There were some sad stories, such as the twins that died a few months apart having lived less than three years; their parents survived for another 50 or more after the double tragedies. One family in particular seemed to have more than its fair share of infant, childhood, and untimely early adult deaths. I wonder why they were so blighted?

There were a few especially noteworthy markers, including this one:




One family had brought their kids out for a home-school field trip. The kids were having a high time, and the folks were as well. They were real nice folks, and it was a pleasure to meet them.



After rattling around for a while, and after spending a couple hours in pleasant conversation with my fellow viewers, it was time to get set up for the main event. Having looked carefully at the available resources, I knew exactly where I wanted to be.



As the time of the Big Event drew nearer, and the partial eclipse began, everyone's attention naturally turned skyward.



We had a few moments where clouds drifted past and blocked the sun, but a big patch of clear sky was evident just beyond. Our hope was that it would be overhead at the critical moment, and so it turned out. We had a slight scare a bit before, though.



Then came the moment itself. This is what it looked like, just before totality:



I didn't manage to capture the actual event, but everything the news had reported happened exactly as they had said it would. We could sense the light changing, the birds grew quiet, the cicadas stopped chirring and the crickets started, the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees.

Then The Moment arrived. Everyone let out a cheer, and we all marveled at the corona, the planets and stars, and the 360 degree orange twilight glow all around the horizon. If you've never experienced one, I encourage you to do so, at your next possible opportunity. It's not at all like a sunset, or a cloudy day. It's a phenomenon unlike any other, and more awesome than I can describe.

As soon as totality had ended, people began packing up to head home. What had been an easy hour's ride into the totality zone became an epic four-hour slog back out, since everyone else was attempting to leave the area at the same time. The choice of roads is limited, and the cell towers were way overloaded so reliable traffic data and alternate routes were not to be had.

I, along with 10,000 or more others, ground my way slowly northeast. Every stop sign and traffic signal, in each town along the way, served as a choke point and stacked up traffic for miles. And it was HOT: around the mid-90's, so standing on an asphalt road surface waiting to inch forward a foot at a time was torture. Still, everyone seemed to understand the situation and I didn't see any displays of temper or aggressive behavior.

Around El Dorado I stopped for a huge chocolate malt, because I was hungry and also needed to cool down for a while. Then it was back into the mess to continue oozing north.

Another dark cloud on the horizon caught my eye. It was even darker and more threatening than the one I'd skirted Sunday, and what was worse it was bombarding the earth below with a barrage of lightning strokes. If it crossed over I-64 onto my side, there was going to be trouble aplenty.

Faced with an ugly future, I decided it was time for a new strategy and branched off the highway onto the next available county road. My thinking was that there's a network of these small byways, spaced at roughly half-mile or mile intervals, and I could cover two sides of the triangle, of which the main road is the hypotenuse.

That worked great, but I also discovered that not all county roads in southern Illinois are *paved*. Oh well, I could trundle along at 25-30 mph and keep making progress, rather than sitting tamely in traffic and watching fate descend on me.

Reaching I-64 ahead of the weather, I turned east and raced for clearer (or at least less threatening) skies. Happily traffic was moving steadily and I managed to hold a good speed for several hours. The object was to get as far as I could manage (or stand) before calling it a day, to shorten the ride on the final day. A gas stop provided opportunity to scout the interweb for lodging, and Louisville seemed the most likely spot, another hour or so down the road.

Getting close, there were Road Construction Ahead signs, warning of two left lanes closed for the duration. That brought traffic back to an absolute standstill, again. By this time it was dark, and the hot weather was reinforced with the heat of thousands of exhaust pipes. It was frustrating and vexing to stand there looking a mile ahead at my exit, but not be willing to cheat and ride the shoulder to get to it. That is something I simply will not do, no matter how tempting it seems.

Arriving, FINALLY, at the end of the off ramp and into the hotel portico, I was dismayed to learn there were no rooms to be had. "You could try the place across the street, maybe" was the suggestion I got from the front desk. So across the street I went, and bingo! rooms there were.

Within a half hour I was in bed and fast asleep.

Monday morning saw me back on the road well before sunrise. I don't ordinarily do that, because I try to avoid peak deer activity, it's harder to see, and when the sun DOES come up you're right in the glare and nearly impossible for other motorists to see. These are all avoidable risks. But balancing that was the desire to get as far as possible in the morning cool, and to get through Louisville and Lexington ahead of morning rush hour.

Happily there were no untoward incidents, and for long stretches traffic was very light. Coming north up I-79, for instance, there were miles where I had my own private MotoGP track. The big swooping curves made excellent chicanes, and I unashamedly and unabashedly used every inch of pavement between the outer stripes as I wove my way north.

Stopping for lunch I noticed that one of my add-on driving lights was not shining back at me in the restaurant window reflection. Sure enough, the cheapo shelf bracket that i used to mount it had broken. This is not a new occurrence, and I've learned to carry spares. A couple minutes with the tool kit saw everything put back to rights and no harm done.

The final leg home was unremarkable, and uneventful "get there" riding. I-64 to I-79 to I-6 to I-70 to I-270 to my local exit. It was hot in the open, so I quickly learned to pick whichever lane passed through patches of shade. It's amazing at how much cooler those spots are.

I got home just at 4, unloaded the bike, and generally relaxed and reflected on what a great four days I'd had. Over 1,700 miles of riding, nearly perfect weather, congenial surroundings, and complete success in the primary objective of the trip.

What's not to love?
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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #2
zldrider
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Default Re: To Totality, August 2017

Cool trip report.
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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #3
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Default Re: To Totality, August 2017

Very good.
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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #4
Dan55
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Default Re: To Totality, August 2017

Very entertaining!
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Old 3 Weeks Ago   #5
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Default Re: To Totality, August 2017

Thanks, Keith! Glad you made it back home safe.

I spent the day at work, and as TX is quite a ways south of totality, I elected to just do my normal day. I think our peak was 65%, and 1308. I brought my welding mask into work, and several people made use of it. I wasn't even there during the peak moments, and I returned to find a "Thanks =)" post-it on the mask sitting on my desk. Since I've gone through it before a few years ago, in another country, I wasn't worried.

I'm very glad you managed it. It's a truly unique experience, even if it is short-lived.
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