From Iowa to NC, Day 2: Good Karma but sucky winds


I wake up the next morning, greeted by my bike at the front of the bed. I'd have preferred to be woken up by a cute girl, but there are worse things to wake up to. I'm not a morning person, and I'm a few time-zones away from 'home,' and the wake-up call hasn't come in that I'm aware of, so I check my watch/compass...I double take, because I remembered setting it for local time when I landed the day before. Somehow I've woken up at 7am...quite baffling, but I figure that's good, I can fight with the GPS software for a bit, check the weather, get some breakfast and fill up the CamelBak, and do a rough plan for the day.

I look outside, which doesn't seem too promising...

Checking the weather on my iPhone, shows the same as it's been - Severe Storm Warnings. How nice. Well, no tornados yet, and it looks like it's going to clear up around I make sure the GPS has my waypoints set up right, pack everything up, and get some uninspiring breakfast next to the hotel.

I figured I'd head into Chicago, ride around for a bit, check out Soldier's Field, and do the Sears Tower or Jacobsen Center for some cool pictures, depending on what the weather did. I did remember someone mentioning about the tolls, so I had broken a $20 or two with each small purchase, so my tank bag was full of one dollar bills, as if I was preparing to go to a strip club... (no thanks..)

I'm glad I brought my earbuds with me. I didn't used to ride with either earplugs or music, and then earplugs only, but it's certainly nice on trips, plus I can't hear myself singing then, either :-)

"Purple Haze" starts to play as I catch my first glimpse of Chicago, ironically. It's not quite purple, but it's certainly still cloudy! I follow the GPS towards Soldiers Field, and sort of absorb the vibe of Chicago. I miss real cities sometimes, the feel of business, the steam vents, the smells(usually but not all), and the electricity in the air, so I'm really enjoying just riding through it, and getting a view and feel for the place.

I forgot about the random steel plates put down in the road, and am reminded as I run over a wet one coming to a stop. I saw a cool fountain, with traffic being directed all around it, and figure I'd try to go back and figure out what was there before heading out later. 

I make it to Soldier's Field, and park fairly illegally for a quick pic.  There's a museum right across from Soldier's field, and a mix of tourists and locals coming in and out of both the Stadium and the museum…and yeah, Soldiers Field does kind of look like a UFO...

A guy and his girlfriend or wife comes across the street, dressed in a denim vest with a few military patches and vet-type bits on it, and tells me it's always hard to get some pictures when traveling solo, and offers to take a picture of me. Nice guy - we chat for a bit, and he snaps a pic off of me sweaty against the Soldier's Field plaque.

I head back towards the fountain I'd seen, and manage to take a few pictures of it. No idea what it is, but it was cool looking, anyways.

Soldiers Field
Soldiers Field Monument
Soldiers Field Stadium

I ride around randomly for a bit, and decide to pass on the towers/pictures, with it being fairly overcast. I figured I wanted to ride along the water for a bit, and if I saw something interesting along the way, I'd stop. I take a few random pictures along the way..

Riding around Chicago
Riding around Chicago

Traffic isn't as bad as NY, but it sort of 'feels' like a 'baby NY.'  Which to me, is pretty cool. I would have liked to have spent some more time there, preferably in better weather; will have to do so next time.

I didn't realize until riding through Chicago, that helmets were still optional in many places. I pulled up at a light, with full gear - pants, boots, jacket, helmet, gloves, plus a tank bag and tail bag on the bike, next to a guy on a Har(d)ley, in jeans, leather jacket, no helmet, no gloves, and a pair of sunglasses. He did have the 'expected Italian helmet haircut’ - you know, the sort of hair that doesn't seem to move in the middle of a windstorm? I'm sure he was wondering why the hell I was wearing 'all that stuff,' but I hope his hair protects him if he ever needs it to. I wave to anyone on bikes, and not surprisingly, didn't get a wave back from Mr Hair, but others did wave back.

I ride along Lake Michigan for a little while, then see the first of what will later become the bane of me and my GPS' existence - a detour. Maybe you can do this, or not, but I've yet to find a way from the GPS itself to say - this road is closed, find me the next fastest route. It'll re-calculate, but that isn't of much help when it keeps saying, 'turn around and go to the road that's CLOSED.' :-/ So, I put the GPS into compass mode and figure I'll head south-ish.

I see a sign that says 'Historic District' or something similar, and it's heading sort of south, so I figure, why not? Well, apparently, 'Historic District' has a different meaning's pretty much the 'hood. A few cops pass with lights and sirens blasting, and there are a lot of cops on corners.

As it turns out, I stop for a stop light, and see some older guy fighting with his bicycle - apparently, the rear wheel came off of it. So I wind up stopping in the 'hood' for 30 minutes or so, and break out the tools ('always prepared' :-) ), and help him fix his bike, then head back out.  This was actually when I had realized there was literally a cop standing on every corner I could see - and left my armored bike jacket on - just in case.

The Skyway - in wind

The clouds had darkened a bit by now.  While I was riding around Chicago, it hadn't been all that windy, although was claiming severe storm alerts, winds, etc. I thought I'd lucked out, but as I got ready to go over the Skyway, it became pretty obvious there was some serious amounts of wind going on, and I got some rain for good measure.

Now, let’s talk about the Skyway for a moment.  It’s around 8 miles long.  Not as long as the VA Chesapeak Bay Bridge tunnel, but looong.  When going over it, you have no idea how far up you are, and it can seemingly be enveloped in clouds, or a close-enough fascimile in bad weather you basically can’t tell how high up you are, see anything at all over the sides, etc.  

Let’s say that riding the Skyway in the current weather conditions was….sort of freaky, to say the least.. Wind was gusting from different angles, while being passed by tractor trailers that would block the wind from the side, to have to re-compensate a few seconds later as it passed me, while of course being pretty cognizant of the fact that I really did NOT want to go over the side of the Skyway! :-)  It was like alternating between the bike at heavy lean to keep straight in the wind, then a truck coming by, already a ’not preferred’ experience, but going from strong winds to nothing, then back with every truck passing.

Chicago Skyway
Windy rest stop flagpole

The original 'plan' had been to make it to Indy, or around there, and then decide if I felt like seeing the Indy museum or not, and maybe heading on to Lousville, depending on time and how tired I was, weather, etc..but it's all subject to change, and the original plan, given the weather and a bit of reality, was changing hour to hour.

The tolls around I felt like I was paying a 900# or something..I know at least a stretch or two cost me $1 per mile travelled. Also, be warned, there are unmanned toll booths getting back on to the highways which don't take credit cards, nor bills..I found this out and dug for any change I could find, glove off, while a line of cars was getting longer behind me. Sorry, I didn't see any indication I was about to be raped for exact change to get on the road that I'd be giving them more money on soon's probably not as bad as the FL Turnpike, but bad enough- were I to live there, I'd immediately be getting an EZ-Pass instead of having to futz looking for bills, let alone change, while on a bike in full gear!

There wasn't a whole lot to see once leaving Chicago, and eventually I came across Gary, Indiana, with a big sign about the Mayor welcoming me, and passing by a train caboose car, which I thought was pretty cool. Well, at least until I pulled in to try to get some gas, to find out the pumps don't take credit cards. Looking around, I wasn't about to leave my gear on the bike to pay inside, either, so I headed out in search of another gas station. It turns out as well, there's another detour, and another road closed. How nice. The second one, same story, and I realized why - Gary, Indiana is pretty much an armpit, to be avoided if at all possible, and the pumps don't even take credit cards, very likely in an attempt to reduce crime.

Sitting in the gas station, realizing my annoyance was growing, my insurance agent called, about an idiot pretentious annoying woman in a Porsche that works at my work building, that had her car scratched, and was trying to blame me for it, claiming my boke scratched her car.. Let’s be clear here - I am more than happy to block some idiot in who double-parks with their ‘special’ car with one of the cars, or call them out on it in person if I’m there, but the bike is what, a foot wide?  I don’t park the bikes touching someone’s vehicle….

Suffice it to say, the annoyance level rose a bit more, and I told my insurance agent, 'Look, I'm in Armpit, Indiana right now, lost, with a road closed, sitting on a motorcycle. I'm already annoyed, I'm going to have to call you back. Tell her to get a life, and I absolutely will fight this nonsense.  Bye now.'

I tried to follow the detour signs, which were placed at times several miles apart, and basically went in a big circle more than once, giving myself the free tour of Armpit, for roughly an hour. I saw a Police Station, with a ton of cop cars, so figured I'd pull in and ask for rough directions. There must have been a dozen cars there, yet not a single cop to be found. Once again, I decided, 'ok, I'm going south again, screw this' and just put the GPS into compass mode, until it finally stopped trying to tell me to go back to the closed road, while simultaneously, I somehow lucked out and managed to find the end of the real detours..and gas, as well, finally.  So much for making up any ‘lost’ time on this one...

The winds picked up further on the highway. Looking back at weather for the area, it looks like the wind was gusting to 40MPH or more, and it felt that way. There's nothing quite like leaning over at 60* or so just trying to go in in a straight line, and seconds later, having to go the opposite way. While I have been in worse, this was officially 'not fun.' I rode through it for some time, with some light rain on and off, until I decided it was time to take a break, and pulled into another rest stop.

Amusingly, while I was de-gearing, some kid pulls in in a white car next to me, gets out, and says something about being blown all over the road. I kinda of smirk, point to his car and say, '3500 pounds,' point to my bike, '400 pounds, no sympathy for you.' I was kidding, and we chatted for a few, while watching the top of the flagpole getting whipped around a foot or so in every direction with the wind..(pic was just before leaving later, when it had calmed down a bit).

Roadside repairs - but not mine

I sat down for a bit, grabbed a GatorAde, and wound up talking to some guy that pulled in in what looked like a County truck - one of the Isuki short-nosed trucks with a decent sized built-up bed on the back half. Apparently, he'd overheated, and had a side window fall down into the door panel, and didn't work for the county, but was supposed to make it a few hundred more miles south today, somehow.

He also apparently didn't know much about cars, nor did his, figuring I wasn't going anywhere for a while, I dug into the truck. We put a screw through a block of wood to hold the passenger window closed (door panels weren't on inside the truck), and took a look at his radiator and engine, which was pretty coated with oil as well as antifreeze. After talking to him a bit, best guess at that point was the truck was low on coolant, or the water pump was going south, and the added load from the wind was driving the temps up enough to overheat it.

I started looking around for something to put water into, and sent his buddy inside to look in there, as the only thing I was coming up with was sticking my hand into a garbage can, to fish out some bottles...which I told him he was free to do, or I'd go get my gloves first :-D

It turned out the woman that worked there had a full Prestone container in her van, full of water. She'd also apparently run out of gas pulling into the parking lot, and was now after her work hours, with no cash on her and no way to make it back home. No, she didn't come across as the brightest person I'd ever met, but she was nice, and handed over the water.

I tightened the pump belt, and topped off the radiator, then started it with the cap on loosely, to see if there was a hole in the radiator anywhere. Looked good, so topped off again, closed up the cap, and let it run until the thermostat opened up. Still good, it was holding pressure. We let it idle for a while, and the temps and pressure were good, so those guys headed out on their way.

I'd figured the 'right thing' for them to do would have been to give the woman a few $ and a ride to get some gas for her car. Apparently, they did neither..I'd spent almost two hours in the rest stop at this point, after already a late start, and had no way to transport gas easily, so I gave her some cash, figuring she knew someone, or could get someone to run her down to get some gas, then headed back out.

Back on the road for a bit…and wings ;)

The wind wasn't as bad as it had been earlier, thankfully, but was still there. I rode for a few hours, and was starting to realize I was damned hungry, and was pretty damned thirsty, as I didn't fill up the Camelbak that morning as I'd planned.

I started to look for signs for food, and kept seeing signs for crap like Bob's Big Boy and other random scary places, so kept riding a bit, and it started to rain a bit again, then saw a sign for Hooters. I don't go to them regularly, although a good friend of mine and I used to, in Memphis, as we'd managed to get the cook to make *real* hot wings and sandwiches for us...but after seeing signs for all the random crap, and riding through wind and rain, somehow, it just felt right, Hooters it was!

It would have been perfect to have a few beers, but not while riding, so I must have drank 4 pitchers of iced tea instead, and wound up barely eating. Chatted with the waitress a bit, Sarah, who was pretty cool, although I thought it pretty amusing when she asked if I wanted her to get my food packaged up - just didn't seem to appealing to package up mini burgers in near 100* heat, to stuff somewhere on the bike :-)

I asked her to take a picture, and somehow another waitress wound up on the bike for the pic, but, all good; no dents or scratches!

Getting filthy boots shoe-shined

I headed out again, gassing up, and headed south again, hoping to still make Indy today, while making what must have been the slowest progress I've ever managed on a trip before..

I made it to Indy, which from what I saw of it, didn't seem all that big. It looked more like Raleigh or Durham more than a 'real city,' and it was way too late for the museum by then, anyway. I had 'lost' an hour somewhere on top of the weather as well, as I had changed time zones, and realized that I forgot to bring a charger for my iPhone; while it had always done really well on battery life for me, with as much as I'd been using it to check on weather throughout the day, as well as listening to music, it had cut out on me entirely, so I wound up stopping fairly early for the night south of Indy a bit, at a Holiday Inn Express. They were overpriced, but had an indoor pool, and I was hoping a hot tub, and it was also raining yet again, so I figured it best to just stop and get some relaxation in. I think I stopped around 9pm or so. No outside doors, so the bike would have to stay outside for tonight, but I had the disk lock, and they have cameras on the lot and 24 hour staff. I wasn't thrilled, but it was time to stop for the night.

I figured at least I'd be able to find some food here, close to Indy, at this time, so asked the desk girl who delivered, figuring I'd order it and go for a quick swim while waiting. She gave me a list, but told me one in particular was really good.

So, being originally from NY, and loving Italian food, I know a thing or two about pizza, and have a bit of opinion on that one. Most places, CA in particular, can't make pizza, period. No matter what the silly yuppies may be willing to pay for some sesame seed encrusted pizza crust with chicken and avacodo toppings (yeah, they make this..nasty),

Here's a good test if the pizza is likely to be any good - if they use real Italian sausage on their pizza, it's sliced from sausage links, not that random crumbled crap that looks like dog food. Yes, I know inside sausage casings is in fact ground sausage, but the random crumbles are cheaper and generally have more fillers… Likewise, if an 'Italian restaurant' doesn't at least have either Canolis or Tiramisu, you might want to eat elsewhere, or at least lower your expectations. I ask about the sausage, and she gets nervous and twitchy, so I wait for the inevitable - 'they use the ground up stuff,' which I get seconds later, followed by a list of 10 or more reasons why it's the best place ever, and surely I'm wrong.

Well, Pizza Hut is kind of nasty anyway, so I said screw it, it's got to be better than the bagged meal from last night, and order a small pizza, with sausage, and some breadsticks.

I had unloaded into the room, took a quick shower, and went down to the pool, which had been entirely empty and inviting when I'd checked in.

Which meant, of course, it was now full of FIVE little kids, splashing everything in sight, a very large woman in a bikini that should be against the law (Crack Kills, right?), another woman, and two balding middle aged guys that looked like they'd rather be anywhere other than where they were, that I'm assuming were the husbands. It's always entertaining to people watch, but some times I wish they'd at least realize while they may be such poor parents they've de-tuned themselves from their kids, that not everyone wants to babysit them, or think they're the best thing ever, when all I had really wanted was a nice quiet swim and to stretch my muscles a bit.

For some reason, seeing this sign at the pool was highly entertaining to me…

Don't drink the pool water...

The sign, of course, made me look closely at all the kids, while trying hard to not think about some of the items mentioned above... Eventually, ignoring them all worked except for the occasional splash, and I went back to the room, and the pizza arrived.

The breadsticks were good. Sadly, my 'pizza test' was accurate, but even more so than expected. This stuff was awful, like a step down from cafeteria pizza leftover from days before. But, the desk girl liked it, and I'd hate to see it go to waste, so went up to the front desk, to ask if she wanted it.

She asked how I liked it. Awkward moment - it sucked. It gave new meaning to the word. And, I really dislike lying. I was saved, however - a co-worker of hers was there, and once he realized and asked if I got it from <whatever the name of the place I got it from was>, which I said yes to, he immediately told me it was the worst pizza he'd ever had. The desk girl acted like she'd been punched, going on about that was her Uncle, and her family, and the best thing ever. I looked at her co-worker, glad it was him and not me, and said, 'So, I take it you don't want it, then?’, left it at the desk, and went back to the room for a bit.

It was still early-ish, so I figured I'd go out for a drink or two, then be back and sleeping by 12-1am or so, which is fairly early for me. I walked a mile or so down the road, to an odd kind of place. It had pool tables, which was good, and a few people that looked like older Harley guys (and a girl or two) that now had kids, plus some college aged...but I doubted many had made it to college.

Picture a bunch of white guys, that were semi-popular in High School, maybe wrestling or football, then once realizing they weren't nearly as skilled as they thought they were in sports, finding out no one was going to pay them to go to college, so they went on to esteemed careers at Wal-Mart, while wanting to re-live their 'glory days' that were only a few years ago.

Well, they were singing. Singing isn't really the right word, more like a bunch of white boys pretending they were other than white, and that they'd grown up other than the way they had, and were now gang leaders. Or, so they 'sung' anyways.

I despise people who assess someone's 'worth' by what someone does for a living, how much they make, what they drive, or where they live, and have a pretty varied range of friends, but I'm sorry, this was a white trash festival in the making..entertaining in it's own way, sad in another, but not somewhere I was up to hanging out for long.  (Porky’s in deliverance coutnry with random locals was MUCH more interesting and real..)  So, two beers later, I was back to the room, writing up some notes for the next day, playing with GPS routes a bit, then off to sleep.