First Blast of Spring

It snowed another 5 inches yesterday here in Central Maryland.

I have long ago exhausted my copious supply of strong language and colorful oaths of all of the world’s ancient peoples, so the best I could manage when I raised the bedroom shade to another version of snow-globe world was a tired sigh.

At the risk of another round of excessive confidence, I’m fairly sure that this really is winter’s last gasp, this time.

Onlookers are encouraged to surround me, point and laugh should I turn out to be wrong. Again.

This has been the single worst winter that I can recall, at least from the perspective of a Motorcyclist.

So it was nothing but good that my employer decreed that I should spend a single day down in Raleigh, North Carolina this week, and at a time when the seemingly perenially pissed Mother Nature was in her hot tub with a glass of Cabernet.

I looked at the long term weather forecasts, and both Monday, for the trip down, and Wednesay, for the trip back, were both showing sunny with 0% chance of precip.

Raleigh had been averaging a full and consistant 15 degrees warmer than Jefferson, and Monday’s Jefferson forecast showed an almost shocking high temperature of just under 70.

All righty, then.

We were gonna be ridin’.

The front tire on the bike was a bit unevenly worn — a replacement Avon was already stored in my garage. A quick phone call to Fredericktown Yamaha, eight bolts, and one lunchtime trip to mount and balance and we were ready for the road.

Kinda filthy — as the bike was wearing its full compliment of wintertime road muck and salt — but ready.

Filthy, but ready?

I’m betting I could sell T-shirts.

***

Monday came, and the weather forecasts were holding.

Wednesday’s ride home would be colder, but tolerable.

I did my full complement of Meetings Monday morning, and after lunch we loaded gear and went stands up. My seat bag had my business attire and a warmer fleece and insulated gloves for the run home.

5 days ago we had 10 straight days of single digit temperatures — today I was in elkskin gloves and a light jersey as insulation under my ‘Stich.

It would turn out I was over dressed.

***

Northern Virginia is no longer fit for man nor beast.

Motorcyclists may classify as both so consider it an not fit twofer.

There is just no good way to get from here to there if it goes anywhere through Northern Virginia.

Even leaving at 2 in the afternoon, which ought to be a congestion dead zone, it was bumper to bumper and moving at 35-40 miles an hour through what are all supposed to be open rural highways.

Making Fredericksburg, Virginia — a run of just under a hundred miles — 2 and a half hours of slow going.

The temperature had contined to rise from 58 at departure to 77. I probably sweated two pounds of water weight. I figured as the sun went down it would quickly cool off so it was best to stay layered.

I was once again wrong.

Picking up the interstate towards Richmond picked up speed, but the road was in full urban combat mode. There wasn’t enough room in the traffic stream to flow through traffic — one just had to manage your buffers and try not to succumb to the stupid brought on by impatience.

***

Interstate 85 leads away from Peterburg and the coast, inland towards Durham and Atlanta, and quickly leaves industrial sprawl in favor of hills with dense pine forest — the concrete road turns into a sandy floored tunnel in a field of green.

With about 200 miles of the trip gone the K12 was finally running on song — everything warmed fully through and the deposits of a winter spent mostly sitting vaporized.

The new Avon tires — a set of Storm 3 XMs — were riding perfectly. The new tire was somewhat slower steering, more stable and compliant than the previous Storm 2s. They were more confidence inspiring and comfortable at speed than their predecessors.

All the pieces came together — sweet new tires, the green tunnel, 77 degrees, 3900 rpm and the sound of the motor reverberating back from the surrounding forest. It was a mesmerizing groove.

I arrived in front of my hotel in Raliegh as if my magic — one second I was a hundred miles up the road, and the next second I was there.

***

Death by Powerpoint is like Northern Virginia. It is not good. It just is.

One of the reasons we do these conferences is to allow a team of people that span 24 time zones to see each other face to face, tell a few bad jokes, and drink a few beers together. This being St. Patrick’s Day, to not drink a few beers seemed completely unacceptable.

So I told some bad jokes, listened to a few more, and drank a few beers.

And in another one of those temporal discontinuities that seem to be this story’s narrative device of choice, I found myself, a tad hung over, pulling tight the packing straps on my seat bag, on a bright sunny 45 degree morning, and throwing a leg over and heading first west to Durham, and then north up the Blue Ridge towards home.

***

Once past the ouskirts of Durham on NC501, the countryside rapidly goes deep country — there are hayfields, there are logging operations, and there are gravel pits and mines.

One shares these two lane highways with a lot of heavily laden tractor-trailers, but there are lots of passing zones with good visibility, so they just turn into good justifications for lusty twists of the throttle and the intake shriek of the Flying Brick motor.

Just shy of Lynchburg, Viginia, a spur road — Virginia 24 — connects 501 to US29 — that road provides 4 miles of over hill-and-dale twisties that prove the worth of my new radials and that fact that I am now fully revived.

US29 is a proper 4 lane divided highway, whose character changes markedly depending on the surrounding landscape. Much of it — when the road hits towns — is extended rural sprawl, with too many big box stores and way too many traffic lights. Other sections are wide open — like a new parkway section south of Charlottesville, with minimal traffic, month old pavement, and 100 mph sightlines. In the 20 mile per hour quartering wind that was blowing today, those wide open stretches were like work — my trip computer was showing my fuel economy plummeting working against that wind.

29

Just south of Charlottesville though, 29 drops into the Hollows and foothills of the Blue Ridge, and into tangled country when the topography is too rough tor the northbound and southbound lanes to run together. For a brief time, the road is biker paradise, hills and descents, short chutes leading into tight corners — lots of opportunities for thottle play and to set the bike on the edges of its tires, and to blast out and do it all over again.

Ever been on a ride of a thousand miles, to find 990 bad miles and 10 good ones?

This sunny, crisp March day, that stretch of US 29 were the 10 good ones.

And like all things of crisp distilled living, a seeming blink, and it was over.

***

And after a single day back home, its Ice Station Zebra time again.

The 10 good ones will have to hold me, after that appalling, fridgid winter, until the bright spirit of US 29 decides to come back and stay for a while, this time.

 

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