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16 Days on a Kawasaki Vulcan 750

JR Allas - May 2004


     Ever since I rode to California and back in 1995, I've wanted to see the East Coast of the US.  I've been planning routes over the years and never seemed to be able to make the trip happen.  My initial route would have taken me up into Northern Ontario, then South into New York via Niagara Falls, East to Maine, then down the coast to Key West, North up the Gulf coast of FL, then back to the Chicago area.
     That route was over 6,000 miles and would have taken too much time to complete.  Over the past year I've tweaked my route and worked it down to the places I really wanted to visit.  Unfortunately, after the events of September 11th, 2001, the World Trade Center towers were no longer there to visit.  With that in mind, I began thinking about how I would still like to visit the location and see whatever temporary memorial would be present.  It then occurred to me that I had run out of projects for my video editing hobby.  Making a video of my trip didn't seem too interesting because I've always thought vacation videos are boring if you don't experience the trip first-hand.  I then realized that there are thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting for my freedom, who can't just jump on a motorcycle and ride around the country, so why not take them with me?  I obtained a mounting bracket that would allow me to film from my motorcycle and hoped that along my trip I'd be able to get people on camera who would like to tell the soldiers how they felt about what they're doing for us at home.  My plan is to put this all together on a DVD, and possibly VHS, and send copies to the soldiers overseas.
     I originally planned on doing my trip in the Summer months, possibly June or July.  The motorcycle club I belong to, Vulcan Riders and Owners Club, is an Internet based club dedicated to the Kawasaki Vulcan models.  Since the club formed in 1996, many of the members have gathered in different parts of the world to hold rallies for our members.  I've attended several rallies since August of 2000, but never made it to the South Eastern VROC rallies held in Suches, GA which moved to Lake Lure, NC.  Since Western NC wasn't too far off my original route I decided to plan my trip around that rally.  The rally's dates required me to plan my trip so that I could be in the NC area between May 16th and 23rd.  After I finished tweaking my route, it turned out to be just under 4,800 miles which I wanted to be able to complete in two weeks.  I took 11 vacation days off work for a total of 17 days to fit the trip in from Friday, May 7th to Sunday, May 23rd, 2004 which would require me to ride about 300 miles per day.
     I had never been out of the US, so I thought riding through Canada would be nice.  I also wanted to visit Niagara Falls, the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA, New York City's Central Park, Times Square, and the World Trade Center sight, Washington DC, then down the coast via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the Outer banks of North Carolina, Myrtle Beach Bike Week, Cape Canaveral, FL, Key West, FL, then back up the Gulf Coast, stopping in St Petersburg to visit an ex-coworker.  On my way home, I'd stop in Lake Lure, NC for the South Eastern VROC Spring Fling rally.  After that, I'll ride part of the Blue Ridge Parkway to reach Deals Gap, well known by motorcyclists around the world.  From there the last leg of my trip is to get back home and relax before going back to work on Monday, May 24th.  The following is a daily account of my trip...    

Day 1 - Friday, May 7th, 2004

     I haven't had the best of luck with my bike in the past 10 years.  I've had the motor out of the frame three times due to a coolant leak, and two failed stators.  In the past year, I've taken some precautions to keep the charging system from failing again, which included installing a maintenance free battery and fusing the stator windings to protect it from over-current.  I got the bike ready to ride again in late August, 2003.  Unfortunately, it got cold and rained a lot shortly after that, so I didn't get many miles on it before riding season ended.  On top of that, I wasn't able to start riding it again until about 2 weeks before my trip.  Although I didn't get a lot of miles on it, I felt confident that the bike would be reliable.  It was running great and all seemed fine.  In my saddle bags I was carrying tools, some spare parts, rain gear, and a cover to keep people from tinkering.  I've always figured if something is out of sight, it's out of mind.  It seems to have helped in the past.  In my tank bag I kept all the immediate necessities like sun block, CB Radio, camera, batteries, gloves and a few other odds and ends.  I squeezed as much clothes as I could into my duffle bag and stashed my camcorder, lantern, extra shoes and charging cords for all my gadgets into a back-pack.  I also carried my cell phone and MP3 player with nearly 1,500 songs on it.  I wasn't planning on hearing the same song twice in two weeks.
     I couldn't leave in the morning because there were thunderstorms passing through the Chicago area all day.  I didn't leave my place until about 3:15pm.  It was pretty uneventful the first day.  I didn't even take any photos or video except the few pics before I left.  The majority of the days ride was after dark.  I stopped in Port Huron for the night, just West of the Canadian border crossing.

Day 2 - Saturday, May 8th, 2004

     I'm sure every motorcyclist likes to wake up to a bright shiny day when they have plans to ride, but my hopes were dashed when I looked out the window and saw that it had rained over night and showed no sign of letting up.  The only thing you can do in this situation is suit up in the rain gear and ride on.  I didn't want to get my cameras wet, so very few photos were taken this day.  I had to answer the typical questions at the border crossing about weapons, where I was from, where I was going, etc, but it didn't take too long.  It was in the 50's this day, so I put some warm clothes on under the rain gear, but that didn't help a hell of a lot.  It rained probably half the way across Ontario.  I was about to pull over to warm up at one point, but then I realized that I better enjoy the cold while it lasted.  Next week when I'm down South, I'll be begging for cold weather.  Riding the Provincial Highways across lower Ontario was pretty uneventful, except for one thing.  While I was riding in the rain, a couple in a pick-up truck was trying to get my attention.  I couldn't hear them over my motor, so I signaled them to pull over.  The driver came up to me and asked if I was going to Niagara Falls.  When I told him Yes, he mentioned they were going to the same place and suggested putting my bike in the back of his truck so I could warm up.  I noticed he was wearing an Orange County Chopper t-shirt and had Harley Davidson stickers in his window.  I appreciated the offer, but didn't want to deal with the hassle of loading and unloading a hot motorcycle and, on top of that, I didn't know anything about these people.  I thanked him and told him I was doing fine, which I was by then.  I figured they knew the way better than me, so I followed them a majority of the way to Niagara Falls, Ontario.  After stopping for gas, I headed down to the falls and got many photos and lots of video of the falls.  I got out my laptop with trip routing software and GPS to verify where I was and where I was going.

       I enjoyed the view a bit longer and decided it was time to continue across the bridge and continue on.  It took me about 90 minutes to get across the Rainbow Bridge and through customs and by that time I was pretty hungry.  I stopped at a local restaurant and when I was done eating it was dark out.  That's when I noticed there was a walkway down to the American side of the falls.  Most of my night photos didn't turn out too good because I still have to learn how to use my digital camera, but I did get a few nice pics.

     I then headed South out of the Niagara Falls area and got a room for the night.


Day 3 - Sunday, May 9th, 2004

     I headed further South away from Buffalo, NY on my way to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA.  I passed through the Allegheny National Forest which had a few twists and turns and some nice scenery.  Again, it rained on and off all day, but I got very lucky when I got just South of I-80.  It started to drizzle just a bit and it looked like it wasn't going to stop any time soon, so I pulled over into a gas station to get my rain gear on.  Just as I pulled under the canopy, the rain started pouring down.  I put my cameras away, but not before I snapped a photo of myself in front of the rain soaked parking lot of the gas station.  I was wondering when the rain was going to let up, but I noticed that I actually began to like riding in the rain because it cooled me and the motorcycle off quite a bit.  The only problem is that I don't like pulling over every time it looks like its going to rain because it takes time to change into the rain gear.  Fortunately, after it would stop raining, there was enough air flowing through my rain suit that it kept me cool and I could leave it on until my next gas stop.  On my way South, I passed through the town of Punxsutawney, PA, the location of the famous Ground Hogs Day festival.  Of course, that happens in February, so I didn't know what to expect in May.  I didn't go downtown, where someone told me the Groundhog is kept on display for tourists.  I actually visited the location of the festival at Gobblers Knob.  The only marker I saw was some paw prints painted on the pavement in front of an empty field.
     My next destination was the Flight 93 memorial.  Unfortunately, I got to Shanksville after dark.  I had originally determined the location of the memorial by performing an online search which gave me the GPS coordinates of the memorial.  I entered these coordinates into my trip planning software and marked it as a stop-point.  Of course, I can't have my laptop in front of me while I'm riding, and printing out the route is useless because if I change my route during the trip, my printout is then useless.  What I did each day was write down my directions as detailed as I could, but some times that only confused me more.  I didn't plan on stopping in the town of Shanksville, but I missed the road I was supposed to turn at and decided to just follow the signs to Shanksville and ask for directions there.  I happened along IDA's STORE after 9:00pm and went in to ask for directions, but also wanted to get something to drink so I could more or less pay for the information.  The young girl behind the counter gave me a pre-printed slip of paper with directions to the memorial.  It was obvious it had been written by someone who lived in the area because I didn't quite understand them, but didn't want to be a pest to the employees at the store.  I finished my drink and headed off in an attempt to follow the directions.  It was very dark along the country roads so I had my high-beam on and drove slowly just in case an animal scurried across the road in front of me.  I began to see small signs for the memorial, so I just followed them.  As I approached it, another vehicle came from the other direction and pulled in before I did.  Their headlights lit the memorial pretty well, but I quickly realized that there's no lighting there.  They didn't hang around long, so I hurried back to my motorcycle and got out my lantern as they drove away.  It was very eerie out there alone.  I recorded the scene with my camcorder and the insects can clearly be heard over my voice on the tape.  The thing that struck me the hardest is that so many people had visited this sight from all over the world and yet, 2 1/2 yrs after Americans died nearby, only a temporary memorial is present.
     I finished some recording for my video project, then headed East and decided to get a room for the night just before I was supposed to get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-70 / I-76).    

Day 4 - Monday, May 10th, 2004

    Thunderstorms were making their way across PA, but the early afternoon made for some pretty warm riding.  The weather caught up with me so I had to pull over to put on the rain gear.  Fortunately, it would drizzle a bit or I could see the rain off in the distance to warn me.  Eventually, the bad weather cleared and I started getting pretty uncomfortable in the rain gear.  I had been communicating with several members of VROC about getting together during my trip, and one of them was Warren "Sundial" Jorgensen from the New York City area.  I called him from several of my stops earlier in the day in order to see if we could meet when I got to NYC.  The weather for the remainder of the day was pretty nice all the way to New York City, but there were thunderstorm reports for the city that night.  My route would take me into the city via the Lincoln Tunnel.  My first view of the Manhattan skyline from a distance was from the loop that approaches the tunnel entrance, where I snapped a few pictures as traffic was at a stand still.
     I had discussed with Warren about where I planned to visit, but he instructed me as to where would be better places to go, and less dangerous places to visit.  He decided not to ride his bike into the city because of the storms that night, so I met him on 58th St, just South of Central Park.  I paid for a 1 hour parking card and got a walking tour of many places I didn't plan to see, but had seen on TV many times.  It was hard to picture it in the middle of the city, but there it was.  Buildings towered behind me as I snapped several photos and shot video of Central Park.
     We stood around for a bit as I asked questions about many of the things I was seeing.  Warren seems to know the city pretty well, and was eager to tell me about everything.  The thing that amazed me the most is how light the traffic was.  I'm guessing it was because I didn't reach the city until after 6:00pm, so many people had already left the city for the day.  We headed South and saw Trump Tower, Tiffany's, St Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, NBC Studios, Radio City Music Hall and numerous other places.  I was amazed by how much I saw in such a short walk.
     I'm sure I could have got some nice photos by myself while visiting the city, but Warren made sure I had some very nice photos of myself in front of plenty landmarks.  I wish I could have hung around and got a longer tour of the city, but I had a schedule to keep and needed to be in the Trenton, NJ area by the end of the night, or get caught behind schedule.  Warren and I got back to my bike so that we'd be nearby in case any Police decided to stroll by and check my parking card.  While I put things away and prepared to leave, Warren got me a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.  I'm not much of a cake person, but this stuff was pretty damn good.

     I got directions from Warren to a gas station and the best way to the World Trade Center site via Times Square.  We shook hands, I thanked Warren for his time and a very informative tour then headed off down Broadway toward Times Square.

     I took as many pictures as I could whenever traffic would stop, but none of them does justice to what it really looks like in person.

     I had a difficult time finding the World Trade Center site with my directions because Broadway just seemed to disappear.  I saw lots of police cars in one location, so I figured I'd go into the Police Station and ask directions.  I saw a bunch of squads parked in one location, but I don't have a clue where the officers were.  I never did find the Police Station.  I ended up asking some passers by, who got me even more confused.

     I ended up finding the site.  I'm sure it would have been much easier if the towers were still there.  I approached a police squad that was parked on the corner to ask them about a viewing platform.  Apparently, there is no such thing, anymore.  I wanted to walk around, so they told me I could park down the street.  While I was parking, another motorcyclist stopped and parked his Honda Shadow Ace beside me.  We started talking and I found out his name is Juan and he's from the New York City area and was showing a lady friend of his around the area.  Since he knew the area, I asked if he would mind showing me around.  He was glad to show me around.  I stopped to take photos of any views that caught my eye, but unfortunately, I neglected to get much video of the area because of all the talking we were doing.  He explained to me his experience of what happened on September 11th and how visible it was from his home.  We talked about what we saw on TV that morning and how it affected each of us.  I had never been to New York before, so I had nothing to compare to what I was now seeing, except what I've seen on TV.  I couldn't picture what the site looked like before or after the buildings collapsed, so I found it difficult to be emotional about the site.  I know a lot about the horrible things that  happened, but perhaps I'm becoming desensitized by everything I've seen on TV.  It would appear that many of us are doing just that, and that's the last thing I want to do.  I'm surprised I haven't heard complaints about it, but one small memorial at the site is a cross made from I-Beams.  We wouldn't want to offend anyone with our Christian, American beliefs now, would we?
     We followed a walkway up to a hallway where a guard offered to take us down an elevator to get a better view of the pit where the buildings once stood.  We could clearly see the ramp into the pit and the newly rebuilt PATH train station.  I've seen TV shows on many possible memorials and buildings that may be built at the site, and it looks like there will be controversy surrounding it for years to come.
     Juan took a picture of me in front of the site before we went back to our bikes.  During the walk, I asked him if he was camera shy and explained about the video project I had in mind.  He was happy to get on camera and thank our soldiers.
     We talked for a bit more while I explained that I was leaving the city via the Holland Tunnel.  He tried to explain how to get there, but decided it would be easier if I just followed him.  He pointed out the street signs that would lead me to the tunnel and we waved goodbye.  The tunnel looked almost identical to the Lincoln Tunnel, but you don't have to pay to get out of the city, only to get into the city.
     Unfortunately, I had lost the set-screw from my handlebar camera mount somewhere in PA, so I wasn't able to get any video as I rode through the city or in the tunnels.  I did notice that there was a sign at the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel that no photography was allowed for security purposes.
     Once I got out of the city, I noticed lightning off in the distance to the North and to the South.  I hoped I wasn't going to get stuck in any thunderstorms at night.  Fortunately, I got a little drizzle, but that was it.  I headed down the New Jersey Turnpike.  My planned stop was near Trenton, NJ.  I made the mistake of stopping at the first local motel I saw in Florence, NJ.  If you ever travel through this area, avoid the Stangel Motel on Rt 130.  It looked nice from outside, but it turned out to be kind of dumpy.
     I wasn't exactly impressed by the welcoming committee, either.  As I unloaded my bike, I heard a voice.  I looked up to see a woman at a soda machine about 40 feet away.  She asked if I had change for a dollar.  I had plenty change on me, so I told her I did and dug out four quarters for her as she approached and asked me what I was up to.  I wasn't about to give a stranger any of my details, so I told her that I was calling it a night.  As I held out the quarters, she said she had to get a dollar, first.  Now, I knew something was funky, because she was obviously standing at a soda machine with no money.  She walked away and I hurried to get everything off the bike.  She returned before I was done so I held out the quarters again and she said she didn't need it and that she just used that as a reason to talk.  That struck me as even more funky because she could have said that to begin with instead of leaving and coming back.  She asked me what my story was so I told her I was on a motorcycle trip and was very tired.  She then asked if I wanted her to come in my room.  I told her no thanks and that I had to get settled in and call my wife.  She said OK and walked away.  I quickly put the cover over my bike and got in my room.  I couldn't help being suspicious of her, so I checked out the window several times before I went to sleep.  I didn't see her again the rest of the night.

Day 5 - Tuesday, May 11th, 2004

     When I left the motel the next morning, I saw the same woman walking down the street wearing the same clothes she was wearing when I saw her the night before.  I got back on the Turnpike and headed West into Pennsylvania.
     I'm kind of a gadget nut, as you might have guessed by my portable office pictured to the right.  In the months prior to my trip, I was modifying my planned route whenever I'd become aware of anything I felt compelled to visit.  One of those such places was the Brandywine Battlefield in Chads Ford, PA.  I had become aware of this place after a search I did online for interesting places that I could tie in to my video project.  The battlefield I chose to visit was the sight of the largest engagement of the US Revolutionary war between the Continental Army led by George Washington and the British forces led by William Howe.  The date of the battle was September 11th, 1777.  The eerie thing is that the Continental Army, made up of volunteers fighting for their freedom, lost the battle because of poor intelligence.  Now I know what they mean by history repeating itself.
     I took a small tour of the visitor center, watched a video about the battle, then sat in on an eighth grade class field trip where a man was teaching the class about the battle and what the soldiers wore and carried with them into battle.  I kept as quiet as I could, but couldn't help being entertained by the eighth graders trying to figure out what all the equipment was used for.  A student named Ben was standing in front of the class.  As each item was explained, he would give them to Ben to put on.  He didn't look particularly happy after he was fully suited up.

     When that was done, I hopped back on the bike and took a short ride through the park.  I found a quiet place on top of a hill and set up my camcorder to record a segment for my video project.  After I felt I had enough material, I put everything away and prepared to head farther South West to Washington DC.

     When I arrived in Washington DC, the first thing I learned is that someone needs to mark their highways better.  I got lost three freaking times in that damn city!  It looks so simple on a map, but try following hand written directions and you are screwed!
     My planned stops were the Washington Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Arlington National Cemetery, The Pentagon and the White House.  On my way South, I saw the US Customs Building and snapped a photo while I was stopped at the traffic light.  It was pretty easy to find the Washington Monument - finding parking was not.  I ended up parking on the side of Constitution Ave between parked cars.  I was able to get a passerby to snap my photo with my bike in front of the monument.  I got my cameras together and headed West toward the Memorial Wall when I heard a lot of sirens.

     Of course, I was curious to find out what it was all about, so I stepped between the parked cars and caught a picture of a black sedan traveling East being escorted by several squad cars.  I don't know who it was because the windows were all blacked out, but it must have been someone important going somewhere important...
     Even though I knew where the wall was in reference to the Washington Monument, it seemed like I walked for a long time before I finally asked someone where it was.  They pointed in the direction I was heading and said it wasn't far.  I've always wondered how you would go about finding someone's name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  When I arrived I found a book with an alphabetical listing of over 56,000 names on the wall.  Next to their name it tells you which section of the wall they are on.
     I walked up and down the wall, taking photos and filming and I noticed some people pretty emotional as they looked at the wall.  I realized that they were all people older than myself.  Younger kids were rubbing names from the wall, but didn't seem quite as emotional.  I didn't know anyone who lost their life in Vietnam.  I believe one of my uncles served there and had nightmares for years after he came back.
     Of all the photos I took while at the wall, my favorite is something that caught my eye as I was watching some teenagers rubbing names.  A small boy was standing close to the wall pointing at names and saying things I couldn't quite understand.  I got him in frame and waited for people to clear out of the way when his father grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away, telling him he was in my way.  I smiled at the man and told him that actually the little boy was what I was trying to photograph because it touched me to see him pointing at the names.  His father smiled and let the boy go.  I commented that he probably wouldn't go back to what he was doing, but I was surprised to see him go right back to the wall and continue.  I snapped his photo, thanked his father then continued on my way.

     I continued West on Constitution Ave with plans of crossing the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge then visiting Arlington National Cemetery.  I followed my written directions, but somehow couldn't find the place.  I followed Arlington Blvd, but never saw any signs.  It was getting late, so I figured I better head out of the city so I wouldn't get caught behind schedule.  That's when I happened along The Pentagon.  I pulled over on the highway, snapped a photo of it, then took off.  As of yet, no men in black suits have come to my door asking questions, so I must be in the clear.
     I headed East out of Washington DC through Maryland, into Delaware, then South back into Maryland again, where I stopped for the night in Salisbury.

Day 6 - Wednesday, May 12th, 2004

     The day was pretty uneventful.  I got plenty video traveling across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, through Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and down the Outer Banks of North Carolina where I stopped for the night at a motel in Hatteras Landing, NC.  The only way to continue is to take two ferries to the mainland.  I wasn't about to back-track North and back South again, so I asked the clerk at the motel about the ferry.  She gave me a phone number to call to make a reservation.  The office was closed when I called, but the cleaning crew answered and informed me to call back at 5:00am in order to make sure I get on the earliest ferry.  I got settled into my room and began researching everything I could find online about
the ferry crossing.  I found the North Carolina Dept of Transportation website which helped immensely.
     I set the alarm for 5:00am, which only meant four hours of sleep...  Tomorrow is gonna be a long day...

Day 7 - Thursday, May 13th, 2004

     I called the ferry office as soon as I woke up and learned that the ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island is a 45 minute free ride, but I had to make the 7:30am ferry in order to reach the 2nd ferry by 9:30am, which is a two hour, $10.00 ride.  At the first ferry, I met three people on two motorcycles.  I found out they were also heading South to Myrtle Beach, so I asked if they minded if I tagged along until we got there.  They were glad to have me along.  When we reached the 2nd ferry, it was about 8:00am, so we had an hour to wait.  We decided to get breakfast at the Pony Island Restaurant.  We BS'd while we ate and finished just in time to get to the ferry.

     The 2nd ferry ride was exciting at first, but quickly got boring.  I decided to go inside and get a nap because of my lack of sleep the night before.  I was able to get about an hour of sleep and felt well rested to continue riding.

     We stopped for lunch just North of Myrtle Beach and the other motorcyclists mentioned they'd be splitting off because they had to find the house they had rented for the week.  We said our goodbyes and I headed South into town to check out the Bike Week festivities.  I had taken plenty photos so far and neglected to charge my camcorder battery the night before.  When I reached Myrtle Beach I wanted to get some pics of any nice bikes I saw but I quickly found out my camera batteries and camcorder batteries were all depleted.  So, I have nothing to show for my Bike Week '04, just my memories.  After my share of sight-seeing, I headed South and stopped for the night just outside of Charleston, SC.

Day 8 - Friday, May 14th, 2004

     I left the Charleston, SC area with plans for stopping in St Augustine, FL.  Pretty early in the afternoon I found myself behind two other motorcyclists going the same speed as me, so I slipped in behind them and we rode together for a little over 100 miles.  I saw the lead rider give the other the signal that he needed gas.  I needed gas as well, so I followed them off the interstate and stopped at the same gas station.  We chatted for a bit and I found out the lead rider rides a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad (my next bike), which is the bigger, full-dresser cousin to my bike.  I found out really quick that they're both very nice guys.  They mentioned getting something to eat, and asked me if I wanted to come along.  While we were eating we talked a lot about motorcycles and how they like to ride, but I was most surprised when we started talking about our jobs.  These two guys both work for the U.S. Customs Service, which is under the Department of Homeland Security.  I jumped at the chance to ask them if they'd like to contribute to my video project and they thought it was a great idea because they're office sends packages over to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq almost every week.  I got two quick interviews from them on tape, we shook hands and said our goodbyes and went our own ways.  It's amazing who you meet while you're on the road.
    I spent the rest of the day riding by myself and actually ended up going farther than planned.  Instead of stopping in St Augustine, I stopped at a motel about 20 miles North of Daytona.

Day 9 - Saturday, May 15th, 2004

It was dark when I arrived the night before, so I had no idea how beautiful the scenery would be when I awoke. 
Directly across the street from the motel was a long stretch of beach and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Of course, I had to get some photos.


     I stopped in Daytona Beach for Lunch while I got online with my laptop.  When I was walking to my bike, I saw three motorcyclists talking and one of them had a Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad.  That bike must be pretty popular.  I started talking to them and quickly found out they all work at the Naval Station near Jacksonville, FL.  They were happy to get on video for my project and were actually the most entertaining guys I met.  I got one of their business cards, but to this day, I haven't been able to reach any of them to send them a copy of my finished video.

     I continued South down the Florida coast, touring the Astronaut Hall Of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center, where I got to see a model of a Space Shuttle up close.

     I traveled as far South as I could.  Driving the coastal road A1A eats up a lot of time with many traffic lights and low speed limits, so when I reached Ft Pierce, I headed West to catch I-95 South to make up some time.  When I got low on gas I decided to call it a day and stopped in Ft Lauderdale.
     My plans for Sunday are to go to Key West and make it back to the mainland before dark...  We'll see...


Day 10 - Sunday, May 16th, 2004

     I rode from the Ft Lauderdale area to Key West, FL.  I filmed quite a bit with the camcorder as I rode (I have a handlebar mount for the camcorder), but didn't realize until later that I didn't take many photos.  I visited the marker at the Southernmost Point of the United States, but there were a lot of people waiting there to take photos, so I didn't have time to get a pic of my bike in front of it like I wanted.  I rode around town a bit, talked to some locals and asked for their suggestion of a good place to eat.  A woman suggested a place on my way out of Key West that serves Cuban food.  It was pretty good.  It was like mixing Mexican and Chinese food together, at least for me...
    I headed back toward the mainland and pulled over to take a few pics of some cool clouds.
    The funny thing is that a storm cloud I photographed decided to position itself right over my route and it dumped so much rain on me that I couldn't see the road.  The thing I was worried about was that I still had my camcorder on the handlebars.  I pulled over, put away the camera and the rain started to lighten up.  I took off again and about a mile down the road was a gas station with a canopy to get under.  Another biker came riding in just after I stopped and we BS'd until the rain stopped.  Meanwhile, I took
off my soaked jean jacket and put on my rain gear for the rest of the ride.  I got some sprinkles for the remainder of the evening, but not enough to need the rain suit.  That just figures...
    Once I got back to the mainland I headed North up CR997 so I could head West on US41 to the Gulf Coast on Monday.  I couldn't find any motels along the way and was afraid I'd have to ride a long way before I found one, but off in the distance I could see some spot lights shining up into the sky.  I joked to myself that it might be the grand opening of a very cheap motel, but I was wrong.  It was the Miccosukee Resort & Convention Center.  In English, that's Indian Casino & Hotel.  I'm no gambler, and didn't want anything to do with the Casino but decided I better get a room.  It was just a tad more expensive than I've paid at previous places, but in the middle of no where you'll pay anything for a good nights sleep...  The desk clerk gave me directions to my room and then a security guard, who I could hardly understand, stopped me and asked what I put in my fanny pack.  I didn't think it was any of his damn business, but I took out my wallet and showed it to him, but he wanted to know what else I had.  When he found out I had a digital camera in there, he immediately told me not to be taking photos in the Casino.  I told him I just want to get some sleep and turned to walk away.  Then I figured it was my turn to bother him, so I turned around and asked him what was the fastest way to get in and out of the building from the side lot I parked in.  I could hardly understand him, but I somehow deciphered something about the person with me dropping off my things at the front door.  I told him I was alone and that I'd just walk around the building.  When I turned to walk back where I came from I saw some doors.  I then asked him if the doors went out to the side lot and he said, "Yes."  I couldn't help it...  I had to tell him, "That's what I was asking for!" and walked away shaking my head...  Ten bucks says that dufus has a twin working in Airport Security...


Day 11 - Monday, May 17th, 2004

    Monday Afternoon I rode from the Western Miami area across Everglades National park to Naples.

     Have you ever done something and later on wondered what the Hell you were thinking?  When you read the sign in this photo, you'll probably be thinking the same thing...

      I continued North up the Gulf Coast to St Petersburg.  It seemed like it took forever because of all the stop and go traffic and I made the mistake of driving US highways instead of the Interstate.  Not to mention, I got caught in three rain storms on my way up the coast.  The first two I waited out in gas stations, but I got tired of standing around and suited up in my rain gear.  I spent the next hour riding in the rain, but it paid off because when I cleared the rain clouds it was cool enough to keep on the rain gear and keep riding.  I rode across the Sunshine Skyway bridge and into St Petersburg where I stopped to visit an ex-coworker, Dominic, who retired about four to five years ago.  We talked for about 2 hours, then I headed toward Tampa and got a room in Clearwater.  Tuesday I'll be riding up I-75 and plan on stopping in the Atlanta area, but that depends on traffic and weather.

Day 12 - Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

I left Clearwater, FL early afternoon and headed up I-75 to make the trip quicker.  When I got to the Ocala area, I needed gas, so I pulled off at the same exit my family lives near.  I decided to call my brother to see if I could see my nieces and nephews, but all the kids weren't home and my brother was working late.
    At the same exit is "Big Daddy" Don Garlit's Drag Racing museum.  I've always wanted to check it out so I spent a little over an hour checking out all the cool cars and engines there.  I got plenty video there, but only a few photos, including a jet outside.  I left there and continued North on I-75.
    Driving on the Interstate is usually uneventful, but I got a bit of a scare tonight.  It was past dark and I noticed the left sleeve of my jacket had gotten unbuttoned.  I needed to button it with my right hand, so I held my accelerator with my left hand.  When I reached to button my sleeve, the bike died and the headlight went out...  I flicked my ignition switch a few times, but it wouldn't come back to life.  When I came to a stop, it was pitch black except for when a car or truck would pass by.  When I tried to restart the motor, it wouldn't turn over.  I immediately went to what I was taught in my motorcycle training class.  FINE-C stands for Fuel, Ignition, Neutral, Engine stop switch, and Clutch.  I went through each of the steps and when I got to the engine stop switch, I found it in the off position.  Somehow, when I reached to button my sleeve, I hit the off switch and killed the motor.  Since it was dark, I couldn't see the switch was off.  I didn't even feel my hand hit the switch.  I felt like such a dufus...  Once the motor was started I went to button my sleeve and found that the button was gone...  I got a laugh out of it and got back on the road again.  I stopped for the night in Ashburn, Georgia.  So far I've been able to keep ahead of, or right on schedule, but I'm upset with myself tonight...  I stopped two miles short of being on schedule...  I don't know how I'll do it, but I'll just have to make up those two miles tomorrow...

Day 13 - Wednesday, May 19th, 2004

    I left Ashburn, GA and headed North up I-75, then over to Western North Carolina for the 6th Annual South Eastern Vulcan Riders and Owners Club rally in Lake Lure.  The few roads I hit on the way into town were awesome.

     I don't plan on doing much riding while I'm here.  I've done enough of that just getting here.  I calculated that I've ridden 4,138 miles from home to The Geneva motel where all the festivities are happening.
     When I arrived I began talking to some VROC members I hadn't met before and they asked me where I was staying.  Since I was playing the whole trip by ear, I hadn't made any reservations and told them so.  "Chef" stepped forward and said, "Have I got a deal for you."  It turns out his room mate didn't show up so he had a double room all to himself.  I jumped at the chance to share the room and gladly paid half for the two nights I'd be there.  I couldn't beat that!
  I've shook a lot of hands, met some new people and was reacquainted with people I've met at past VROC rallies.  My plans were to stay there all day Friday and leave Saturday morning, leaving me plenty time to get home by Sunday evening.


Day 14 - Thursday, May 20th, 2004

    I didn't do much riding today, except a short trip to the local ATM (and I stress the word THE).  I decided I was just going to hang around the Geneva Inn and socialize with anyone willing to talk to a guy with a camcorder.

    I had some great food and good  conversations...

     I saw some nice bikes and even met some VROC'ers from the Chicago area I've never ridden with before.


I made lots of new friends and got reacquainted with some old ones.  I took lots of photos, but realized I'm not in any of
them.  The next two photos were borrowed from other VROC'ers that attended the rally.

     Informing my wife of my plans for the next day just before all these party-folk call it a night.

Day 15 - Friday, May 21st, 2004

     Before heading out for a full day of riding, I was able to get a picture with my room mate Rob "Chef" Miller.  I thanked him for sharing his room with me and we shook hands as I left.

     About Noon on Friday I left Lake Lure, NC and headed West toward the Blue Ridge
Parkway.  My handlebar camera mount had broken earlier in the week, so on my way through Hendersonville, NC I stopped at a hardware store and bought a 1/4-20 machine screw and the clerk let me use a vice and hack-saw to cut it down to the length I needed.  It worked great.
     A few places looked too inviting to pass by, such as Looking Glass Falls...


and Sliding Rock...

   Some of the views on the Blue Ridge Parkway are awesome.  A storm rolled
in and I got my rain suit on just in time to be pounded with rain for about 30 minutes.

     The temperature must have dropped 15 degrees when the rain came down.  It was pretty difficult to see ahead of me, so I drove slow and at one point had to pull over.

     Once the rain let up it got pretty hot again so I took off the rain gear and had nice weather the rest of the day.
     I recorded some video of the Parkway from my handlebars, but when I got to Deals Gap, I thought it would be cool to mount the camera lower on my engine guard.  It turned out pretty good.

     Once I got on the open road, and then the interstate highway I was able to start making up some time, but after it got dark I started to get dozy and figured it was best to get a room than try pushing it further.  That point got driven home when I saw a sign that said Lexington, KY was another 152 miles North.
     I stopped in Caryville, TN for the night and plan to get back on the road as early as possible so I can be home Saturday night.  My computer tells me I have 509 miles to home...  No problem...

     To view the 22 minute video of my ride on Deals Gap,
click the PLAY button in the Google video player below.


Day 16 - Saturday, May 22nd, 2004

I left Tennessee Saturday morning with almost 500 miles to go.  I passed another motorcyclist before my first stop and realized he was also riding a Vulcan (Nomad).  I waved and pointed to my Vulcan 750 logo as I passed him.  I planned on making all my gas stops as short as possible, which was pretty easy for my first stop.  I got back on the Interstate heading toward Lexington, KY,
which was about 30 miles away.  About two miles onto the Interstate I was settled in for another 100 miles or so and suddenly my motor revved high as if it slipped out of gear.  I attempted to get it back in gear and messed with the clutch, but the bike acted like it was in Neutral.  Before I was completely pulled over to the shoulder, the motorcyclist I passed earlier had caught up with me, passed me and pulled over in front of me.  He walked his bike back to mine to see if I needed help and it turned out it was a gentleman named Ron "Buck" Prior who I had met at the SEVROC Rally I attended.  I fiddled with the bike for a bit before I came to the conclusion that my transmission had failed.
    I called home right away to let the wife know what happened and would get
back to her once I had a solution to the problem.  The only idea we could come
up with at first was to turn the bike around and walk it back to the exit so I
could try to find a truck to rent to haul it home.  Before we did that I recalled having the VERS (Vulcan Emergency Road Service) list on my laptop.  This list is maintained by Tom Miller of Central KY.  The list contains the names and phone numbers of any VROC member who would like to volunteer their services to any other VROC'er who has problems on the road.  I looked up Kentucky on the list and found only two members.  One was Tom Miller and the other was Keith Coon, who lives in Lexington.  I called both his home and cell numbers and got no answers, so I continued pushing my bike toward the exit. About 20 minutes went by and my cell phone rang.  It was Keith returning a call he missed on his cell phone.  I hadn't put two and two together until we talked a bit, but he had e-mailed me a couple days earlier about getting together when I passed through the Lexington area.  I had completely forgotten about it because all I could think about was getting home.
     It turned out he was free, but had to switch vehicles to a pick-up truck and pick up a 2 x 12 plank to use as a ramp.  About an hour went by and a scary looking storm cloud was approaching Ron and I as we BS'd on the side of the Interstate.  Just then I heard a horn blow from the other side of the
Interstate as Keith drove by.  After he got turned around at the next exit, he pulled the truck off the side of the road so that we could roll the bike right into the back of his truck.  I thanked Ron for keeping me company and he headed off home.  Keith and I had just begun...
    The least I could do was buy Keith some lunch for going through the trouble to help me out.  We tried locating truck rental places in the area by the phone book and getting online with my laptop.  We couldn't find anything that would be available before Tuesday, and I have to be at work on Monday.  I then thought about leaving the bike in Lexington, renting a car to get home and going back for it at a later date.  Keith had no problem with that so I called a rental place at the Bluegrass Airport and reserved a vehicle for pick-up.  We parked the bike and covered it outside his apartment.  If someone steals it, that's their fault!!!  I neglected to get a photo of the bike in the back of the truck, so I asked Keith if we could put it back in the truck for a photo. You should have seen his face...  (I was kidding, of course).  Keith took me to the local airport where I picked up a Chevy Tracker.  We transferred all my stuff from his vehicle, shook hands and I thanked him for his time and help.
The weird thing is that Keith was supposed to go out of town on his bike that afternoon and wouldn't be available.  His bike started running funny so he turned around to go back home and it started running right before he got there.  He canceled his plans, and then was free for the day...  Strange....
    So, I'm home, bike-less, tired, but relieved nothing bad happened.  I had an awesome trip, met a lot of nice people along the way, took a lot of kick-ass photos and got some great video.  I'll be talking about this one for a LONG time.  Oh, and the trip put 4,511 miles on the bike before it broke down. I don't know if it's time to get rid of this bike, move up to a new one, or what.  That's a decision to be made at a later date.  My priority now is just getting it home so I can figure things out.


     I finally made it back to Lexington, KY on Sunday, August 8th, 2004.  My wife and I met Keith Coon and his wife for lunch downtown.  We had a good time joking around for a couple hours.  They took us to get my bike and we loaded it up, again neglecting to take any photos or video of the whole ordeal, or for that matter, any pictures of Keith and I together.
     We thanked Keith for all his help and mentioned riding together some day soon.  We got home as quickly as we could and I parked the motorcycle on the patio outside our apartment, wondering what my next step would be.

                  (Somewhere off I-65 in Indiana)

     In April of 2005 I got the itch to ride again and decided I better dig into the bike to see what was wrong.  After several discussions with members of the VN750 community I belong to, we came to the conclusion the final drive splines of the shaft drive may have failed.
     I pulled the rubber boot back at the front of the drive shaft and held the shaft still.  I was able to spin the rear wheel.  That can't happen unless the splines have failed.  Now that I knew what was wrong, I went on a search for replacement parts.  I was very lucky to find an entire final drive unit on eBay for $15.00 plus $25.00 shipping.  A brand new unit from Kawasaki costs about $950.00.  Not a bad deal.  I was also able to obtain a new drive shaft with a new coupler already installed from a member of the VN750 group.  As you can see, the splines wore out and no lubrication was present.  All the worn metal turned to powder and rusted inside the coupler.
     The wife and I installed the replacement parts and the bike was now ready to ride.  I celebrated by attending the 8th annual Great Midwest River Run in Boscobel, WI.  I had a blast.

     On a sad note, in October 2004, Rob "Chef" Miller, my room mate at "The Geneva" in Lake Lure, NC, had gotten into a bad accident on his new Kawasaki  VN2000 motorcycle.  He was riding when it began to rain.  Traffic in front of him came to a quick halt and he hit an SUV in front of him.  His helmet came off and he went head first into a guard rail.
     Rob woke up from a coma about two weeks later with no pain and then spent about 10 days in rehab.  According to him he's back to his old self and still riding.  He's a very lucky guy.  Here he is pictured on his bike before the accident.

     On a much sadder note...

     Keith "Mother" Coon, pictured here on his 2003 Kawasaki Vulcan 750, left this world in September 2005.  Keith was riding his Vulcan 750 when he was leaning into a turn and suddenly crossed into oncoming traffic, striking another vehicle.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.
     In the short time we got to know him, everyone thought he was a great guy and I experienced first hand that he was more than that.  Keith went above and beyond for a stranger in May of 2004.  He rescued my sorry ass from the side of an interstate highway and didn't leave my side until he knew I was safely on my way home.  Some day I might know why our paths crossed, but for now its a mystery.  Please feel free to leave comments at his personal website, which can still be found at: www.keithcoon.com
     Keith was one of the nicest guys I ever met.  Sadly, I never did get to ride with him like we discussed.  Unfortunately, none of us who knew him in the VROC/VN750 community learned of the loss of Keith until January of 2006.  In his honor, though, fallen biker patches have been created for him.  The patches can be purchased at: www.geocities.com/piper_steve/KeithCoonPatches.html


                             Ride on "Mother"...  We'll share some pavement some day...



16 Days DVD