After a very enjoyable two days of lazing around Len and Pauline’s cabin, drinking a bit, and eating too much, it was time to get home.
In short, this was Sunday morning and Karen and I both had to work on Monday. Consequently, today’s ride could not be the same leisurely putt through curvy back roads that we took on the way down to South Carolina. We would need to take the fastest, most direct route that would get us home in the least amount on time.
In short, the conditions of the day called for a 600+ mile (966km) slab blast.
Note: For the initiated, slab or superslab in biker parlance means Interstate highways, Autobahns, and similar limited-access four-lane (or more) highways. They are considered (by most) to be a necessary evil.
I’m not known for being a morning person, and Karen is even worse. I issue this warning so readers of this post won’t have a heart attack when they learn that we were on the road at 8:45am. That’s pretty late for some bikers, but a miracle similar to the parting of the Red Sea for us.
We knew it was going to be a long ride and needed to allow some extra time just in case the distance bothered Karen. Keep in mind that she isn’t a powderpuff; she’s done several 500+ mile (805+km) days and even one 673 mile (1,083km) day on the Cruiser. Today would be a similar distance but on the Nightowl, a bike that is more comfortable. So the early start was more about being pragmatic than being concerned.
Besides, it had almost been 3,500 miles (5,633km) since my last flat tire. Given my flat tire issues over the last two trips, I was surely due for another.
The ride started out cool with a light and low overcast leaving eddies of mist as they moved over the forested hills. The roads were dry after the rain the day before, so the pace was good.
When the Nightowl is warming up, I’m beginning to hear what sounds like valve train clatter as certain RPMs. I suspect the my first valve adjustment in another ~3,500 miles (5,633km) will include a few cam bucket changes.
The overcast had mostly burned off by the time we reached Asheville, NC, but some of it came back as we crossed the Smokey Mountains into Tennessee. The traffic on this stretch of I40 was light, so even the construction zone that funneled us into a single lane didn’t delay us more than a few seconds.
The cool of the morning departed as we descended the mountains and the last of the overcast became a memory. Once I81 merged onto I40 east of Knoxville, the congestion level increased and required some creative lane maneuvers to maintain a decent pace.
Once we reached I75 north of Knoxville, the congestion was gone and we established a nice pace up and down the hills of northern Tennessee.
We finally needed gas for the Nightowl, food for us, and a rest from sitting on the bike for an entire tank of gas, around Berea, KY. Just before we got back on the road, we checked the weather radar and noticed a blooming thunderstorm just south of Lexington, KY. We would be riding through it in an about 20 minutes.
The storm cell was slowly moving (barely moving, really) north, so we encountered the wet roads from it before the rain actually started to fall. During this stretch we noticed not one but two nasty wrecks on the opposing lanes. The first involved a roll-over in the ditch. The second was just over the crest of a hill and looked like the traffic backup from the first accident took southbound drivers by surprise as they reached the top of the hill. Other than a minor gawkers slow-down, we passed unmolested…
Until the rain started.
The rain began abruptly, like one of the weather gods (the one who doesn’t like motorcycles much) flicked a switch. The sudden loss of visibility caught everybody on the road by surprise so, naturally, everybody slowed down. I note this because the K1600 does a very good job of sheltering the rider from the elements… as long as you’re moving fast enough. With the slowdown, we weren’t moving fast enough for the windshield/fairing to protect me. Similarly, we weren’t moving fast enough for my body to protect Karen.
We both got pretty wet but not soaked. If we were towards the end of the day’s ride, I would have pulled over and got out the rain gear. Knowing that we weren’t going to be in this storm for long, and knowing that we still had several hours of riding to do, we just pushed on. It was over in about 10 minutes.
Medium Rare in Leathers
For the next two hours, we suffered as the heat stayed in the 90s with obscenely high humidity. Much like the ride down, we baked. Sure, we did our best to guide an air up our sleeves, but it did little to evaporate the sweat inside our jackets. The worst was going through the metro-mess of Cincinnati, OH where the temperature peaked at 98ºF (38ºC).
Thank the Gods for Cold Fronts
About the time we left Lima, OH in our rear view mirrors, the ride suddenly got noticeably cooler. I thought I was hallucinating, but Karen confirmed that she had felt it too. We checked with the readout on the Nightowl and it confirmed that the ambient had dropped 5ºF (2.8ºC) in mere seconds. The ride immediately got more tolerable, though it didn’t change our desire to get some ice cream at our next gas stop.
Sometimes fate throws you a bone. We must remember to appreciate these minor victories. In this case, we found an exit that had both a gas station and a Dairy Queen. Better yet, the Dairy Queen was inside the convenience store at the gas station.
Hey, it’s not a winning MegaMillions ticket, but I’ll take it.
While we tag-teamed a jumbo Diet Coke between sips/bites of our respective smoothie/Blizzard, I checked the weather for the remaining hour-or-so of journey that remained. There was a line of strong storms that extended across northern Ohio and southern Michigan, but it was a broken line, with a nice big break about to cross our path just south of Toledo.
We gobbled up our eat-dessert-first treat and got our collective asses back on the Nightowl and down the road. We could see the lightning to the west of us as we negotiated the never-ending construction on I75 south of Toledo. Just to make us spend a few additional minutes in the path of a thunderstorm, the ramp from I75 north to I475 north was closed. We had to venture a few miles out of our way, exit, merge back onto the freeway in the opposite direction (I75 south) and use the I75 south to I475 north ramp to make our way home.
By the state line, the nasty storm clouds and lightning were behind us. The remaining 40 minutes of the trip passed without incident.
We pulled into the garage a few minutes before 8pm. Here are the totals for the day:
- Distance: 660 miles (1,062 km)
- Time: 11 hours, 9 minutes (10 hours, 19 minutes moving)
- Average Speed: 64 mph (103kmh) while moving
- Mileage: 42.14 mpg