Traveling home after the storms

Maryland-West Virginia-Ohio

DeLorme 2-D Map Document

Leaving the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I decided to alter my plans and turn towards home. If you have ever driven in the D.C. area, you know the streets are not laid out like most cities. And so, I found myself in the wrong lane and headed through D.C. neighborhoods. I turned on my Delorme GPS and monitored my location. I knew that if I kept heading northwest, I would eventually intersect with I-270, which I did.

Hagerstown, MD, on I-70

I arrived in Hagerstown, MD, only to check three motels before scoring a room for the night. My first task was to let my wife know where I was—the power was out at home due to storms. Second, and the highest priority, was to take a shower. Camping and motorcycling in such heat means … well … take a shower. You stink!

Storms rolled through Hagerstown. Tornado warnings. I asked the hotel staff if I could put the motorcycle under the cover of the main entrance, and they said yes. They understood that high winds might throw a motorcycle into other vehicles. I monitored the storm on my computer through the evening. Meanwhile, back home, my wife said she was still without power. I was giving her the weather updates and power outages back home—179,000 customers without electricity!

I awoke at 3:30 a.m., and just laid there for a while. At 4:30, I decided to get up and leave. By 5 a.m., I was packed and riding away from Hagerstown in the morning twilight. With a half a tank of gas, I knew I could ride for at least two hours. I should be able to reach Cumberland, MD, where I will refuel.

Cumberland, MD, on I-68

Along my route, I-68, I saw some evidence of storm damage, but the full extent was not known to me. When I pulled into Cumberland, I noticed the lights were out at the McDonalds on the west end, and the stop lights were out. I wondered how wide-spread the problem was. I found a gas station—no electricity, and I moved on. I found another station—no electricity. It was still pretty early. Traffic was light, and people were walking around inspecting storm damage.

I decided I was not going to leave Cumberland until I found a station pumping gas, for there were some traffic lights working, and businesses with lights. I turned the GPS back on and identified the stations in the area. The problem with a GPS is that it will only tell you what is available at the last update. The second problem is, it won’t tell you if they are gas stations that have power. I got lucky on station number three—pumping gas and no lines, but they were very busy. I rolled out of Cumberland with a full tank after looking for gas for an hour.

Morgantown, MD, on I-68

I decided not to have breakfast at McDonalds because the line was too long. I rode to Burger King where there were only three people in line. I don’t know what the cook was doing back there, but he (or she) wasn’t cooking. We waited for 20 minutes for food. I will say the girl behind the counter was working her butt off. She deserves a raise, because she was taking orders and going back to the cooking area to fix orders. Kudos to her.

Athens, OH, on US 50

I rode south of Morgantown to intersect with US 50, one of my favorite roads. Up until now, I had seen a little storm damage, but not much that looked like it was a serious problem. A few miles from Athens, I spotted a lot of cars parked on the shoulder of the highway. I thought there must be some kind of farm sale or auction going on. I learned later, they were all waiting to get into the gas station at the top of the hill.

I planned to re-fuel in Athens. I turned off US 50/SR 32 onto State Street where a lot of the more recent development has been built—you know, the big box stores and restaurants. Traffic lights were intermittent. I noticed a line of autos into a Sunoco Station, and I passed that seeing another station ahead on the left. It was a Kroger store with a fuel station, and cars were facing every which way trying to get to a pump. I parked the motorcycle to observe, and then went into the store to use the restroom. The store was packed. The line to the in-store Starbucks was at least 18-20 deep. I asked a Kroger employee how long the power has been back on. He said, “About 20 minutes.” Employees were throwing away all the meat in the meat coolers.

Obviously, this was going to take some patience. I sat on the motorcycle, in the shade of the only tree in the parking lot, with one of my water bottles and observed the chaos and lack of patience. I figured that if the power just came back on, the line would diminish in a little bit. WRONG. It only got worse. I may have waited too long to look elsewhere.

The entrances into Kroger’s were pretty much blocked. I had to ride through the shopping mall parking lots to get out at the other end where another traffic light was not working. I rode into downtown Athens, passing one, then another gas station that was closed with no power. I turned down another street headed back east towards my route of escape.

I kept wondering if I had enough gas to go down the road, but I knew that this last tank of gas was not as good on the mpg as others. My fuel light began flashing around 220 when it is normally 260-280. I had been fighting wind on the Interstate and my fuel gauge showed it. I decided I could not leave Athens without fuel. I did not know how far I would have to go to find fuel. Clearly, the storm damage was worse than I was aware when I left Maryland.

Then … just down the street … a neighborhood BP station. As I approached, there were two small lines. I would be #9 or 10. I got in line to wait my turn. Within minutes, the lines began to grow. The station had four pumps, three of them working and it was my line that had the non-working pump. That meant that our line was serving one vehicle at a time at that working pump.

Slowly, I made my way, just rolling the motorcycle to the pump, and then … I’m next.

All of a sudden, on the other side of my pump, an argument breaks out—someone has jumped the line to an empty pump. The people waiting in line were not pleased. Yelling, cursing and name calling began. One guy shows his knife and then puts it away! I think he meant business. The store manager came out and tried to diffuse the issue. After a few very intense minutes, the line jumper left … without fuel. Everyone was congratulating each other. I was just trying to pump my gas and get the hell out of there.

Frankly, if this kind of storm damage creates a chaos like this, what will a real national emergency look like. I never saw such impatience and intolerance as what I did in Athens, Ohio. I was glad to ride away. Shortly after Athens, I noticed several stations, but it looked like none were pumping gas. I think it was Jackson, OH, before I saw a working station. I don’t know if I could have made it that 60 miles.


I arrived home about 4:30 p.m. without any other issues or travel impediments. Eleven and a half hours on the road this day. Three and a half hours looking for gas, 472 miles, a total of 1,160 for the trip.

Lin and I ordered a pizza. I opened a beer and headed for the shower.

Checking the weather and storm updates, one report estimated 4 million people without power from Ohio to Virginia. Washington D.C. was in gridlock without power. Trees and power lines were down. I was lucky to be home. I wondered about all those still at the Moto Guzzi Rally who would be leaving soon.

It was nice to be home.


Interview with Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Buena Vista, Virginia

Melissa Holbrook PiersonWhen I learned Melissa Holbrook Pierson was attending the Moto Guzzi National Rally, I set out to see if I could arrange an interview.

Pierson is the author of The Perfect Vehicle, and her most recent book, The Man Who would Stop at Nothing. She has also written two non-motorcycling books. The Perfect Vehicle is about her start into motorcycling, finding and buying a Moto Guzzi. The latest book, The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing, is about her mentor, a long distance rider. The Perfect Vehicle is one of the first motorcycling books I purchased. It’s a good read, and I am re-reading it … again!

In the morning, we found a quiet place to talk about her books and travels.

For more information, and/or to purchase her books, visit Melissa’s web site.

Coming up next: A ride to Washington D.C. and mission to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.


Finding characters at the Guzzi rally

Buena Vista, Virginia

Frank rolled in a little late Thursday evening, and started to set up his tent in our “neighborhood.” I could tell right away, Frank was someone I wanted to talk with.


At age 75, Frank rode from his home in the other Buena Vista—Buena Vista, Colorado—to the rally, riding through Kansas with the  temperature at 107 degrees. Even the youngest of riders hesitate in those kind of temperatures. But, here was Frank, safely arrived, telling stories and setting up his tent in the twilight of evening.

The next morning, I grabbed Frank’s attention and invited him to our table. The others didn’t seem interested in our conversation, preferring chats about horsepower and legendary rides, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Frank’s legendary stories.

He bought his first Moto Guzzi in 1967. “That’s when they came out with this new V-twin engine sitting sideways. I thought it interesting and took a chance on it. I’ve been riding Guzzis ever since.” An engineer, he decided that first Guzzi needed better carburetors and fitted a pair of carbs off a Honda 450. After years of working at various institutions, including M.I.T., he retired from Boeing, and eventually settled in Buena Vista, Colorado—a place I have been to many times, including four rafting trips down the Arkansas River.

Frank said he rides about 20,000 miles a year and attends several rallies. But, he never wins the “oldest rider” award. He says there’s always someone local who rolls their Motto Guzzi out of the moth balls to ride to the rally, a couple of miles away, and win the oldest rider award. “We ought to have some kind of formula taking age and miles into consideration.” Sooner or later, I think Frank is going to win.

Out of 316 attendees at the Guzzi rally, why did I choose to write about Frank? Well, he was interesting. And, maybe it’s my own age that notices younger men and women tend not to pay attention to seniors—in Frank’s case, dismissing him as an old man on a motorcycle. But, under that façade is a lifetime of experience. Having conducted dozens of interviews with seniors—many of them WWII Veterans—I have found some fascinating stories. Frank was a joy to meet and talk with, and I hope to meet up with him again. Maybe at another Guzzi rally? Maybe in Colorado.

Coming up next: an interview with Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of The Perfect Vehicle and the Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.


2012 Moto Guzzi National Rally

Buena Vista, Virginia

There are several reasons for attending the 2012 Moto Guzzi National Owners Club Rally, even though I do not own a coveted Italian-made Moto Guzzi. I was looking for a place to travel to, to visit with and make new friends, and to check out Moto Guzzis. Mostly, I was looking for a few stories to tell, and I found a few in my travels.

Typically, I choose a route that is non-Interstate, but admit that some slabbing is often required, as was this adventure. I won’t go into all the turn-by-turn route details, but will comment on one section.

West Virginia is a motorcycling paradise, and my planned route included US 60 from Charleston, WV, to the east side of the state where the highway connects with I-64 into Virginia. When I was calculating my time and speed, I thought I might be able to average 45 on that curvy, mountainous section of US 60. Wrong. 30-35 mph is probably more like it. By the time I exited the mountains into flatter countryside, my shoulders were aching from the back and forth motion of riding the twisties. It was like a roller coaster.


The rally site was a city park which allows camping. Lots of space for tents and a few RVs. Rally organizers say 316 people attended the event. After checking in, I picked a spot along the creek and set up the tent. Afterwards, I went looking for some of the guys from the SW Ohio Club. Later, I learned they would not be there until the next day.

It was hot. Temperatures were in the 90s and only a forecast of cooler nights made it bearable.

Motorcycle rallies are great for making new friends and finding old ones. As I was looking for my Ohio friends, I met a man from Peoria, Illinois. His name was Paul. I am from from across the river in Pekin, Illinois, we had some common ground. Turns out his riding buddy, also in attendance was one of my classmates, graduating in the Class of 1968, Pekin Community High School. I barely remember Steve Bruce because he only attended PCHS his senior year, but 44 years after graduating, we’re both at the same rally. Want more coincidence? He now lives in Cincinnati. What a small world!


The food was catered, and it was pretty good. I didn’t see or hear anyone complaining about lack of food. That’s always a good thing for a bunch of hungry motorcyclists.

Of course, there were plenty of Moto Guzzi motorcycles. It seemed that just about every model was represented—new and old and a few with character.


The first night actually turned out to be a pleasant experience for tenting. It cooled off sufficiently. The next day, Friday, started out as a furnace. When a park maintenance worker told me that it was already in the 90s, at 10 a.m., and headed to over 100. I decided to move on. I just can’t take the heat. I’d rather be creating my own breeze. I packed the tent. Loaded the bike, and departed Buena Vista on the Blue Ridge parkway, headed for Washington D.C.


There are two more stories to tell from Buena Vista. Stay tuned.