September 19, 2013
Tonight I arrived safely in Chicago after riding 500 miles across two major turnpikes in four states, coming from Pittsburgh this morning.
When I set out from DC yesterday afternoon, I was thinking I wouldn’t have much to write about, as the ride was pretty uneventful. I didn’t leave Washington until 3pm because I was still recovering from staying up so late the night before, which was well worth it. Had I been hungover from a night of drunken debauchery, I would not be able to say the same.
Riding through the state of Virginia was peaceful and serene – the kind of perfect ride any motorcyclist would pray for in the winter or spring. As I headed west, I enjoyed the stimulating views of the autumn leaves starting to catch their colors, but not yet giving up and falling to clutter the highway, thankfully. My plan was to make it to Ohio by nightfall and set up camp somewhere near the interstate. Around 5:30 I stopped for dinner and crossed into Pennsylvania, hitting the major turnpike. I thought it was odd that the toll gate didn’t issue me a ticket, and it didn’t have a “press button for ticket” button. Somehow, the light eventually turned green for me, so I wrote it off thinking maybe motorcycles don’t have to pay this toll. As I rode on, I kept my eye on the sky, monitoring a significant collection of clouds and feeling the temperature drop as I climbed in elevation. The hilly terrain while on a smooth, wide highway was relaxing, especially since I was listening to “Lost” by Gregory MacGuire on mp3; I decided to take a break from Atlas Shrugged for a couple days and enjoy a different story. I’m only about halfway through the epic novel, which recounts a detailed history of the intertwined lives of several individuals; sometimes it’s stressful.
After 100 miles or so, I passed a sign saying the next gas wasn’t for 80+ miles, so I figured I’d better get gas and grab some coffee while I was at it. While gassing up, I noticed another Kawasaki rider was doing the same, and decided to ask him about the turnpike rules for motorcycles. Ron, a former Marine and Maryland resident headed for Pittsburgh, informed me that motorcycles have to pay the toll, too, though he wasn’t sure how I was able to get the green light to go.
Ron and I chatted for a bit before I headed inside for food and coffee. When I came out, he was still there. He told me his cousin lives in Pittsburgh and that I was welcome to crash on their couch if I wanted to.
People, most specifically my parents, probably think I’m crazy for talking to strangers and being so comfortable as a female that weighs 130 pounds on a heavy day. However, part of living in a society is respecting the kind gestures of other people and not being paranoid that everyone is out to get you. I think my greatest sidekick on this entire adventure has been courage – courage to be open to new experiences and meet new people, accepting of any consequences that may arise. Had it not been for this courage, I would not be able to call this whole thing an adventure.
Being as the clouds were still hanging about and I could feel the possibility of rain coming, I took Ron up on his offer. Less than 30 miles later we were exiting the turnpike and I had to figure out how to pay the lady at the booth without a ticket. Unfortunately, if you are not issued a ticket, usually if you neglect to take one, you are charged as if you rode the entire turnpike – which is this case would have been all the way from New Jersey. $37 in toll fare later (OUCH!), we were in the heart of Pittsburgh, passing Heinz field and countless iconic bridges. I thought Portland had an overabundance of bridges, but Pittsburgh definitely has more.
After ordering New York style pizza from the local delivery place, we chatted for a while then fell asleep. I was surprisingly comfortable on the couch there in the multi-tenant house in Pittsburgh. The area was nice enough for me to be able to leave my saddlebags on my bike and park it on a steep hill with out fear of someone stealing anything.
My bike (background) and Ron’s bike – a late 90’s model Kawi with very low miles and a Yoshimura exhaust – nice!
I woke up around 9 and Ron and I decided to go get a quick coffee and breakfast down the street, then he would guide me back to the interstate and on my way toward Ohio, Indiana, and eventually Chicago.
Ron and a small view of the rolling hills beyond Pittsburgh.
Old school buildings lining the streets of Pittsburgh.
After Pittsburgh, it was only a few miles before I made it into Ohio. The morning had felt like it was going to be cold, but ended up being pretty warm, though still cold enough to keep my jacket on, minus all the long-sleeved under layers. I got onto the Ohio turnpike, this time making sure I got a ticket, and kept riding until I was hungry enough for lunch. On turnpikes, rather than regular gas stations, there are “Rest Plazas” that have gas stations, convenience stores, many have Starbucks, fast food, and even showers for truckers and whoever would like to bathe there. I didn’t want to eat anymore Starbucks pastries, so I opted for Hardee’s, the eastern U.S.’ version of Carl’s Jr. It also was called “Red Burrito,” not to be confused be Carl’s Jr.’s green version. They had many options for enormous burgers, and even though I was hungry, I knew I wouldn’t have room for much. The lady at the counter politely suggested I get a kids meal because it was cheap and there was a small-sized burger. I went along with this but was unpleasantly let down when my meal did not include a toy.
Just kidding. The last thing I need is any unnecessary trinkets to fill my precious cargo space.
My Hardee’s Kiddie meal.
After lunch, I continued westward. Before leaving Ohio, it began to rain, but not too intensely, just enough to be uncomfortable. I considered stopping, since I wasn’t as fortunate as the last time I encountered rain in that I could not see any break in the clouds. Instead of giving in, I tucked my head down, kept my arms and knees close to my gas tank for warmth, and trudged on. This past July I had traveled up to my Sister’s home in Seattle to visit and ended up riding the entire way back in the rain. Then, it seemed like a disaster and I was terrified and miserable, but in Ohio on the turnpike, the roads were in much better shape, it was still a decently warm temperature, and visibility was great. All these factors reminded me that I had no room to complain.
During this portion of my ride, I had a personal epiphany. Thinking about how long I’d be riding in the rain, the months to come in basic training, the years to come in my life, and everything I’ve survived through up until this point, I realized that, no matter the severity of the struggle at hand, there will always come a time for it to be over. Even if there isn’t a visible break in the clouds from where I’m standing, there will be eventually. When I go through basic, this simple memory will sustain me. When I am deployed to God-knows-where, the people that tell me daily how I inspire them will be in my thoughts. And when I get so homesick I want to breakdown, I will count down the days and keep my head up.
Before too long, the Ohio turnpike ended. I was able to enjoy a whole one minute break from the rain while paying my cheap (compared to Pennsylvania) toll under the roof of the toll plaza. Then, it was on to Indiana. Again, I approached a ticket booth for Indiana’s turnpike, which attempted to not give me a ticket, but I refused to leave without one… been there, made that mistake. This booth had a button to push for a ticket, and it still wouldn’t spit anything out for me. I hit the “Help” button and waited for an answer. Finally, I was issued a ticket and on I went. At least I enjoyed more relief from the rain!
It is hard to say I was able to get a great feel for Indiana, since I was so far north in the state and sticking only to the Interstate. I do know that I was close to Michigan and the Great Lakes, which is what I blame the wonderful rain on. After 100 miles of riding in the rain, I began to see that it was clearing up – thank God. It wasn’t so much as I was miserable or anything, I was mostly worried about my bags soaking through and my laptop getting destroyed ten days before completing my masters degree. I stopped at a rest plaza, grabbed some coffee, pulled out my laptop and other electronics, and wrapped them up in case I encountered more rain in the 100 miles to come. Many things in my tank bag were soaked, but nothing important that I can’t live without. Actually, I don’t think I own anything in my life that I can’t live without; though my motorcycle comes close, I value my own life much more.
Looking back at the storm I just rode through.
Just before 7pm I passed through the exit of the Indiana turnpike and continued on toward Chicago. I pulled over just after the toll stop to remove an extra hood I had on under my helmet and forgot to buckle up my helmet. I spent the next few miles attempting to securely fasten my helmet while riding, since all the shoulders said no parking for any reason; I’d rather not risk becoming roadkill thanks to an unfortunate semi truck accident. During this distracted time, I managed to miss my turn onto the interstate going around Chicago and ended paying two tolls totaling $6 to go through the city. Traffic was terrible, but I think it was worth it. The sun was setting and the enormous skyline of Chicago was mostly visible, except for a layer of mystical-looking fog looming over the more distant skyscrapers.
Just before 8pm I arrived in the Western Chicago suburb of Schaumburg where two friends of mine from college, Matt and Jennilee Shepard, have lived for just over a year. After a much-needed shower and settling in, we went to dinner at this great diner called Portillo’s, which is known for their hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, according to the Shepards. I went for the hot dog, since it is my favorite American food (especially when it’s $1.50 at Costco). The hot dog was amazing to say the least!
We quickly called it a night. We’ll see what tomorrow’s adventures may hold.