Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Jacksonville Experience - Part I

The road to Jacksonville is I-10. Many folks hate this road, but I've come to really like riding between Texas and Florida on this road. There are my favorite exits, gas stations I'm now comfortable with, some good road food that cause my stomach to growl in anticipation.

At 6:00 AM I was on my way. It was cold and would be cold for the next several days. I would pass many motorcycles heading in the other direction, no doubt returning from Daytona Bike Week. I would pass many trucks pulling trailers containing one or two motorcycles and heading in the same direction as I was, no doubt heading for Daytona Bike Week. A stiff wind straight out of the north kept me on the sides of my tires for much of the way, tossing me about in my lane and even shoving me completely into the next lane. It required constant vigilance. It stayed cloudy all day, which increased the sense of cold and chill.

Gas up in Mont Belvieu, TX; gas up again in Rayne, LA; another gas stop in Gulfport, MS. Once in Florida, my next gas stop would be just east of Milton. The winds continued to blow me around, even threatening to pitch me as I pulled away from the gas pump in Gulfport. However, I was not mindful of this as I exited I-10 and headed to the bottom of the ramp to get gas in FL. The ramp split near the stop sign, sending us right-turners onto a curving rightward lane. I hate this ramp arrangement, as it requires a difficult look over my left shoulder to check for traffic. As I waited for several cars to pass, I could feel the wind pushing against the left side of my bike. Suddenly it felt like a giant had reached down and pushed hard against the back end of my bike. With only my left foot on the ground, right foot on the brake, I was not prepared for this and, in a blink of an eye, the bike was leaning precariously to the right with no hope of recovering it. Well, this was a fine kettle of fish! My bike lying on its right side and a pickup truck approaching down the ramp.

Only one time have I ever been able to lift a fallen bike, and that was my very first motorcycle, a Yamaha Virago. I had dropped it in my driveway and had no other choice but to get it up, using the "rear-end push" method. That bike weighed maybe 450 lb and it took all of my leg strength to get it up past that last 45-degrees to upright. So now it's 8 years later and I have a bike weighing more than 500 lb loaded lying on its side. I put the sidestand down and then got myself in position, handlebars turned full-lock right, left hand on the grip, right hand on the passenger handhold, and managed to get it up about 45 degrees but being short, the bike requires I take another "bite" by scootching my butt back down into another crouch to lift against the seat for the remaining 45-degree lift. This just isn't going to happen at my size and weight.

I turned to the driver of the truck who was patiently waiting, and extended my arms while shrugging my shoulders, letting him know that unless he helped, we'd be there a long time. I could see him through the windshield as he put his truck into "Park" and stepped out to come over. Just a few words on my part let him know the problem, and he had the bike up like it was a toy. He asked several times if I was okay - I was, since the bike goes down but I don't. A few moments to straighten the tankbag, put my gloves back on, and I pulled onto the side road toward the gas station. The bike fared okay: A small scratch on the sidecase, a broken turn signal lens, and a scrape on the edge of the windshield. At least the windshield now has symmetrical matching scrapes; the first one happened when the bike was only a month old, in Tucson AZ at a gnarly pull-out in the west unit of Saguaro National Park.

Some electrical tape did a neat job of restoring the turn signal lens to functionality. With the tank filled, I could continue to Marianna where I filled up one last time before heading to the Comfort Inn. Some good KFC was in order so a very cold and windy walk accomplished that errand and I settled into my room for the evening.

The next morning I got a good long run in by heading south on the highway, crossing under I-10 and going about 2 miles before turning around and heading back. It was cold but not as windy as it had been the previous day. Getting back onto the road that morning, sun shining, it seemed warmer than yesterday, despite identical temperature readings. One gas stop near Lake City, and soon I was riding into Jacksonville, taking 295 south, and exiting to the hotel, where I'd be staying for the next 3 days.

To be continued...

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