Thursday August 16th


8045.2 miles for me. 

I arrived in St. Louis on Wednesday evening about dusk, and I mentioned already the nachos and the water. What I didn't mention was "The Checking of The Map". 

The C of T M is traditional on most nights, whether it be the iPhone or some crazy esoteric analog thing, like a paper atlas. As an aside, what in the heck did we ever do without smartphones? 

I looked at the distances I'd covered, and how close to home I was compared to where I'd started on Monday. I let the iPhone refigure my route based on my current location, slumped creakily in a desk chair with cooling nachos and warming water to comfort me. Hmm... only 630 miles to home. That sounded good, really good. 

But wait... the mileage on my bike for this trip sat at 7349. If I rode 630 more miles, I'd finish the trip with 7979 or so... that's a really nice symmetrical number, but it ain't 8000.

I refigured the route via my old nemesis, I-40. I-40 and I go way back in biker years, and I've ridden every inch of it at one time or another, from Wilmington NC to Barstow CA, and most of it more than once. I think there's probably a couple hundred miles of it that's worth seeing, and those couple hundred aren't bunched together, they're spread really far apart. The rest of it... meh. 

Refiguring that route, however, showed that I was about 60+ miles further away from home if I chose 40. (That's I-40 for ya, both boring and longer!) So the question was... who am I kidding? There was no question. I chose the longer route and the 8000 mile mark for my trip. If machines have a memory, I wanted the QAR to remember this ride, probably as it gets trailered (shudder) to Daytona or Sturgis from now on by the new owner. 

I started out Thursday morning bright and early-ish, gassed up and hit the airport terminal entrance... hmmm... St. Louis could work on that signage a bit. Quick u-turn and onto I-70, then I-64 to Mount Vernon, Il. Mt. Vernon is sort of the center of the universe for interstates in that region. You can access a lot of them within a few miles (relatively speaking) of the place.

Mostly an uneventful day followed, much introspection and great weather. There was one incident involving a tailgater, another Harley, and a large nut/bolt combination, but that's a story for another time...

Once I was off the interstate at Johnson City, TN, it was mostly backroads to home. Lots of curves both on Gap Creek Road and 19E. The bike stuck to the curves like glue. All it took was the tiniest shift of weight, the barest movement of the lowest knee, and the bike would settle tighter into the radius. It was great!

There's something about the air as you come into the mountains. Living here, I have grown used to that amazing smell and feeling that first awed me as a small boy on vacation with my parents. It usually takes going away for a few days, then arriving back, for it to hit me again. This time, it hit me particularly hard. There was just this abrupt change near the NC line, the temperature dropped, and the sweet mountain air enveloped me. Next to having Alice at home (she's flying home Sunday) it was the 2nd best welcome-home hug I could have gotten. 

I drove straight to the car wash when I got to Boone. 5 dollars in quarters later, I had made a dent in the tens of thousands of bug carcasses that had tried to change the bike's front end from black cherry/black pearl to brown/yellow/green. 

Then it was one last run up Howard's Knob, 900' above Boone in 1.5 miles. One final footboard-scrapin', sparks flyin' uphill curvy amusement park thrill attraction, don't stand up or exit your seat until the ride comes to a full stop!

As I pulled into the driveway, my feelings for the trip out and back, my gratitude to my wife and the other riders, and my appreciation once again for the beauty that is my '05 Ultra all mingled together in one simple phrase...

What a ride!



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