by Anton Largiader
"What a piece of cake," I thought as we approached Charleston, VW. We'd started at 4:15 that morning, and it was way before noon as we passed the 450-mile mark. Great roads, light traffic, and clear skies. If there was ever a good way for Ducati to do a SS1K, this was it.
After talking to some truckers on the way back from Deal's Gap a few weeks ago, who wondered why we had no IBA tags on our bikes, I proposed the ultimate anti-poseur accessory to my friend Eric: an IBA plate frame for his 900SS. He jumped at the idea and we set a date for October 3rd. I'm an IBA member from the Capitol 1000, but never sent for the plate frame so I figured doing this ride with him would be a good way to fix that. He showed up at my house Friday evening for dinner, and we left the next morning. Passed a LEO immediately after getting onto the Pa Tpk, but after that it was smooth riding all the way to Charleston. Well, we did have to stop in Harrisburg to fix his vest, which wasn't getting hot. The cord had crapped out on him the previous day, and his solution had been to run an extra wire from one end to the other, bypassing the break. Something still wasn't right, so we stopped to jiggle the wire and he put on a sweater.
At the next fuel stop it still wasn't right, so he jiggled it again and we went on. The day was warming up slightly and he was still comfortable. I knew the evening would be cold, but also that we could fix any problem with the vest before that.
I-68 and I-79 to Charleston were great. The sun came up as we rode through the rock cut in Sideling Hill, the valley was just getting illuminated and the Ducati pipes echoed off the rock walls. In front of us, about 15 miles away, I could see the shadow of our ridge on the next ridge, including the bright V where the sun shone through the cut we were passing through at that moment. After that we motored at 90 to 95 pretty steadily, getting into the ton for a few extended blasts if the visibility was there, and REALLY enjoyed that stretch, passing (in reverse order) the late-night bonuses from the Capitol 1000 last June.
The vest still wasn't right in Charleston, though, so I pulled the plug on the repair job and replaced the cable. New battery pigtail, my spare cable, and I used the good end from his cable to make an adapter so my Anderson connectors could energize his Unobtainium vest. Finally solid heat, and as we rolled out of Charleston we were still on a BBG pace.
"I hope this rain doesn't last," I thought as we went up I-77 to Akron. We pulled over so Eric could put on rain gear, and then at some point he waved me over again. The oil light had come on, but there was plenty of oil in the sight glass. We chalked it up to a wet sensor, and the light didn't re-appear. But at the next stop I looked back from fueling to see Eric poking at the new pigtail with his hands, then pulling back as a shower of sparks came out at him. It had hung down low enough to melt against the header pipe on the rear cylinder. Unfused power lead, melted through the insulation... ZAP! The hot lead grounding out on the pipe had done a number on the pigtail and probably triggered the oil warning lamp. But there was enough cable left that I could crimp a new connector onto it. After a bite at McD's we shoved off into a gray rainy sky. Now we were getting into some one-lane construction zones and more traffic. Our gas stops weren't exactly rally-style as we welcomed the chance to warm up a bit.
"This is miserable and we're far from home," I thought as we motored across I-80, heading back east towards our finish. We had several hundred miles to go, we were getting wet, and the construction and traffic were worse. When we stopped for gas in central PA, Eric was quite cold, our feet were wet, we were behind schedule, and I'm not sure that either of us would have continued on our own. For amusement, however, there was a young woman who'd locked her keys into her running car, and a man was working on this problem in the rain. We jointly discussed his progress as we warmed up. I gave Eric my Gerbing jacket, took his vest and added a few layers, he put plastic bags over his feet, we grimaced and set out again. The locksmith finally got the car open but couldn't get the jimmy out of the door.
The vest was no substitute for the Gerbing jacket, but I was only tolerably cold on the road. Rain, trucks, curves, darkness, tar strips, construction and reflectors. 140 miles of that before the next stop, where I called home and we warmed up one last time. Only 80 miles to go now, Eric was warm again, I wasn't shivering, and the jacuzzi and beer were waiting at our destination. We overshot our exit for the turnpike (I think it simply wasn't there), doubled back, got on, cursed the poor condition of it, got to Kulpsville, asked for a toll receipt but didn't notice that I never got one :(, gassed up (the only rally-style gas stop the whole day), and finished the ride at about 11:20 at a friend's house. Beer, hot tub, and it took a while to really get warm.
The bikes never missed a beat the whole day. His 900SS had just been serviced, and my K75RT was basically ridden as-is, except I replaced the dead Fox shock with a stock one the night before we left.
I think the lessons here were:
Check the weather and route. We might have been alerted to this rain moving in, although maybe not. And if we'd taken I-64 out towards Lexington KY, we would have been on better roads. I wanted a loop route instead of an out-and-back, but probably the latter would have been a better choice in that weather. The intelligence I gathered before the ride didn't mention any construction on I-77 or I-80, but it was there.
Wear the right gear. Water-resistant gear on Eric's part would have saved us some change time, and waterPROOF gear for both of us would have saved us a lot of misery and warm-up time later. He was wearing leathers with a Fieldsheer rain suit, I was wearing my Roadcrafter 1-piece. Both of us were wet. He had waterproof Alpinestar boots, and I had Gore-tex BMW boots. Both of us had wet feet. Both of us had wet hands. I think a Darien suit might be in each of our futures.
And still watch the time. If the vest hadn't crapped out, if we'd had better clothing, if we hadn't lost ten minutes on the clock picking up a gas can from a friend's place, if we'd gotten underway at 4:00 instead of 4:15, if we'd made rally-style gas stops... maybe we'd have had an extra hour of the trip during daylight. Doesn't sound like much, but by the end of the ride it was a long time.
So we never did finish the "I can't believe this is so easy" thought, but we did finish the ride intact, and with (I hope) enough documentation for us each to get the plate frames. There's no question in my mind that Eric earned his!