With the COVID-19 threat waning, some IT conferences, like Haystack, are being held live again. That’s a good excuse to jump on the bike.
Before the ride
Sometimes, a ride opportunity comes along that leaves you totally unprepared. Riding to this year’s Haystack conference definitely falls into that category. Lucky for me, the Nightowl was in pretty good shape:
- The rear tire was replaced recently.
- The front tire still had some life.
- I didn’t need an oil change for a few thousand miles.
- Nothing was in dire need of repair.
One spot of work that was not absolutely necessary, but desperately wanted, was to test out a new iPhone mount that mated the 3D-printed mount adapter from 3DAM in Italy with a waterproof wireless charger from the guys at Quad Lock.
Note: (I’ll provide a full write up of this strategy, along with a, probably separate, diatribe of all the iPhone integration trials and tribulations that I’ve gone through… in a couple of separate posts.)
In short, I was able to remove the phone clamp from the adapter and mount a Quad Lock base and wireless charger. The result is that my iPhone no longer fits down inside the GPS cubby hole in the Nightowl’s dash. Instead, it mounts in front of the dash on a wireless charger so I can mount/unmount the iPhone without having to mess around with a wire plugging into the iPhone.
Since I needed to burn a week of vacation, I simply added this time to the end of the Haystack conference. Since I planned to go south from the conference (warmer weather this early in the spring; for gods sake, we had snow in Michigan last week), I sent out a message to friends asking them to reach out if they were amenable to me dropping by.
Aside: This is how I invite myself over to my friends houses without sounding like a total parasite.
Monday night’s ride
Ann Arbor, MI to Marietta, OH; map below.
Work on Monday kept me busy up until the late afternoon, so I was only partially packed when Karen got home from work. She volunteered to grab a pizza while I finished prepping so I wouldn’t have to eat dinner on the road. She’s a keeper.
With the Nightowl packed and my belly full of pizza, I finally got on the road at 6:30pm. This late in the spring, I still had plenty of sunlight to ride in, but my destination was well down the road and would require a fair amount of night riding to get there.
The ride down US23 into Ohio was uneventful. The rain from earlier in the day had passed by to the east but the temperatures were only in the mid 50ºsF (12ºC) with a brisk west wind. I had my long underwear on under my jeans and the electric jacket liner and gloves were on and running. At interstate highway speeds, it was chilly, but tolerable.
By the time I reached Findlay, OH and turned southeast towards Columbus, OH, the sun was setting over my shoulder, casting a warm orange glow over the Ohio farmlands. While it looked warm, the setting sun meant the temperatures were only getting colder; I turned up the electrics a bit.
While I could ride the four-lane down to Columbus, OH and then catch I70 east towards my destination, I preferred to ride the hypotenuse of that triangle down to Zanesville, OH. This would be the first time I’d traversed this path in the dark, so I’d probably not gain much in time by taking this route. Still, I like this route, so I rode it again this evening. In retrospect, it would have been faster, albeit boring, to stay on the interstates. While roads like OH586 and OH60 (between Zanesville and Marietta) are more curvy and scenic, much of that advantage gets lost in the dark.
As it turned out, I didn’t see an overabundance of wildlife on this stretch. I saw a handful of deer grazing in the odd farmer’s field, and (probably) half a dozen possums crossing the road. Confession: one of those possums surprised me as I came around a curve and I hit it. A moment of silence, please.
South of Zanesville, there were several one-lane construction zones with automated stoplights to govern traffic through these sections. It seems awful law-abiding for me to sit there in the dark, with no traffic anywhere near me, waiting for my green light to pass through a one-lane road that I could probably traverse illegally without incident. I guess I’m getting soft in my old age.
Between obnoxious construction zones, I was able to see the Muskingum River off to the right side of the road. The shimmering reflections of the lights on the opposite bank was pretty.
I eventually rode into sleepy Marietta, Ohio. I say sleepy not because it’s such a quiet town, but because it was after 11pm on a Monday night. I half-expected the streets to be rolled up for storage until the following morning. I made my way through town to the southeast corner, where I77 crosses the Ohio River. There, in the shadow of the bridge approach, was my hotel for the night.
For those of you who might stay the night in Marietta:
The Super 8 just off I77 is truly a NAS (notch-above-scuzzy) motel. Don’t get me wrong, a ~$50US room in this day and age is damned reasonable, but don’t expect too much. Generally, I’ve found your typical Super 8 to be several notches above scuzzy, but not this one.
Marietta, OH to Charlottesville, VA; map below.
The 8:30am alarm went off and I flailed my arm around looking for my iPhone to stop the painful sonic assault. Whatever breakfast that was going to be offered by this establishment was due to end at 9am, so I needed to head down to the lobby to give it a look.
Getting dressed, I looked outside and noted that everything was wet; it must have rained overnight. Looking at the weather radar, I could see a long frontal boundary stretching all across the Midwest states. The front was lining up with the Appalachian Mountains and very slowly advancing to the east. Clarksburg, WV was a mere 70 miles away and the rain wasn’t going to be past there until noon. Given the forecast, it was looking very likely that raingear was in my future, unless I wanted to wait here until 1pm and make the dash to Charlottesville, VA (today’s destination) from there.
Usually, I’m not adverse to riding in the rain. Having said that, I’m not a masochist; I don’t seek out opportunities to ride in the wet. If I have to make time on a given day, I’ll put on the raingear and make the best of it. In this case, I only needed to cover about 290 miles today. That meant I could burn some time to let the weather clear before continuing the ride. I decided to loiter a bit in my marginally scuzzy room for a few hours more.
I did make it down to breakfast; the only offerings were coffee, juice (in boxes) and pre-packaged rolls and muffins. I grabbed a cinnamon roll and took it back to the room.
With breakfast consumed, I washed up, re-braided my hair, and spent some time taking notes from the previous night’s ride for (eventually) this trip report. The receptionist gave me a rag-towel to dry off my saddle, and I finally pulled the Nightowl out of the parking lot around 11am.
Given the weather, I knew I’d only be able to go so far before I’d catch the rain in front of me. Consequently, I resigned myself to having lunch in Clarksburg, WV, just to waste more time in hopes of avoiding the torture of creeping around the curves on otherwise fun mountain passes in a downpour.
Whenever I head south this early in the riding season (remember, I’m from Michigan, where we have a real winter; you warm-weather dwellers with all-year riding seasons can just won’t understand), I get to see a fast time-lapse of spring advancing:
- Back up in Michigan, only the most hardy flowers (crocuses, daphodils, etc.) are up and the trees are just beginning to bud.
- At the Ohio River, some trees are beginning to leaf out and the red buds are in early blossom in bright purple. Crossing the hills and hollows of West Virginia in the spring means seeing through the usually impenetrable tree canopy down the actual lay of the land, revealing several cliffs and rocky outcroppings that you just can’t see in the summer with the trees in full leaf.
- By the time I reached Virginia, the Dogwoods join the party, with their fallen white blossom petals gathering in the grass on the sides of the road like snow that hasn’t melted yet.
Just west of Clarksburg, WV, the rain started to fall, albeit lightly. Downtown Clarksburg doesn’t have much to offer in terms of eateries. You have to travel to the east side of town where US50 intersects I79. That’s were you’ll find a stretch of service road adjacent to the I79 that houses every fast-food eatery and big box store known to modern society. Given the damp chill of the day, a hot cheesesteak sandwich sounded good: I parked in front of a Jersey Mike’s.
In spite of being here during lunch hour on a weekday, the line was short and I was able to secure sustenance with little wait. I overheard the staff talking about the climate control; apparently, the air conditioning was serviced yesterday and not it was working overtime to fight today’s high humidity. I felt like I had to go back outside to warm up.
After lunch, I had a quick ride down the 17 miles of I79 to reach US33 east. Much like the stretch of US50 into Clarksburg, riding through the hilly West Virginian landscape makes for a fun ride of high-speed sweepers.
Heading east on US33, I was passed by a convoy of four cars blasting along at ludicrous speed. All of them had dealer plates; were they being driven as a transfer from one dealer to another? In any case, those vehicles are being whipped like a rented mule. I let them by and proceeded to use them as a pack of bird dogs all the way to Buckhannon.
In Elkins, WV, I turned south on US250, the highway I’ll follow nearly all the way to Charlottesville, VA. The roads here are more saturated, like the rain that soaked them passed through only a few minutes before. This stretch of highway is mostly down in a valley, but it still curves around quite a bit. The damp roads make me feel like I need to back off a bit in corners.
When US250 turn east for the mountains, the roads go back to being only damp, but the misty overcast is very low. It feels like I can stand on the Nightowl’s pegs and stick my hands into the low blanket of mist.
Over the next couple of mountain passes, I ride in and out of the low overcast. The passes are fun, but complicated. The sand/gravel they use in the mountains (instead of salt) hasn’t been washed/cleaned off the roads. Finding a coating of marbles in the middle of a switchback can be a bit unsettling.
The last pass that will lead me into Virginia clears the frontal boundary. I ascend the pass from the west in fog and mist. I crest the pass and the mist disappears revealing a long vista of mountains under broken cloud cover with hints of blue sky in the gaps. That should be it for the rain threat today.
At Staunton, VA, I jump on I64 for a short ride east to Charlottesville. There’s one final mountain pass here, one that’s notorious for being covered in fog. Today’s cloud cover is low enough to hide the top of the pass, but visibility never got lower than about a 1/4 mile; no big deal.
I parked at the hotel at 5:30pm. Being a Hilton property, you can do most everything through an app on your smartphone. I’d already chosen my room (a bit like picking your seat on a airplane flight), so I could proceed directly to my room and open the door with my iPhone. Very handy.
Once settled in my room, I begin to think about fetching dinner. I check the Haystack message board and there’s a posting about an informal get together tonight… but it starts in fifteen minutes. I change clothes and walk over to see who shows up.
I arrived at the rooftop bar hosting the gathering and picked out a few familiar faces. Lucky for me, a few folks recognize me too and get a free drink out of the deal. Side conversations occur between the event organizers and suddenly I have dinner plans. What can I say, we search geeks look out for each other.
After a fine dinner at the Maya restaurant, I’m walking back to my hotel and I decide to finish the night at my original destination; The Whiskey Jar. I’d eaten there for a previous Haystack and enjoyed it. The bar is nearly full, so I sit in the only free chair between two couples.
Instead of dinner, I’m only looking for a nightcap. Double Woodford neat. I pull out my iPhone and outline the remainder of this blog post between sips. The Weight by The Band is playing on the stereo. As I comb my memory for the highlights of the last two days, I begin to pick up conversation from the neighboring couples.
The couple to the left are old friends: one male, one female. They’re obviously getting reacquainted for the first time in years. Their conversation is thoroughly soaked in unrealized sexual curiosity, dripping off of them and collecting in puddles of potential on the barroom floor. I wonder if one of them will take the necessary chance to say whatever’s necessary to make something happen.
In contrast, the couple to the right are younger and more puppy-dog charged. It’s not enough to hold hands; they have to caress and rub their partner’s hand or run the risk that they won’t seem interested. I half expect one of them to start a full-on manicure of the other.
Me, I’m just the old man in the middle, offering his slightly jaded objective commentary… all the while wishing that Karen wasn’t three states away. At least she’s in the same time zone; I should give her a call.
The Whiskey Jar is closing early because the bartender was hung out to dry on help tonight and it’s been a slow night anyway. Last call has come and gone and my glass is nearly empty.
Time to walk back to the room and flesh out this outline.
Here’s a clip of some highlights from the ride.
I’m here at the Haystack conference for the next two days. I’ll be back on the road on Friday. Destination? Check back and find out.