From Vermont to D.C. and Back to the Country, Bethel Reflects on Trip
August 23, 2012 | By: Jack Bethel
The ride from Vermont to D.C. was spectacular in how varied it was. Vermont was quiet and peaceful, empty roads and beautiful scenery. I had a chance to mess around on some dirt roads, and actually ended up dropping the bike for the first time (I felt like a total asshat), I was going about three mph and slipped on some wet ferns as I tried to turn around. Don’t worry, nothing was hurt and I got it all on the GoPro so everyone can laugh at me. From Vermont I went south through New York, a piece of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Maryland. South of Vermont, it is very difficult to find a good road for riding, or, at least, I couldn’t find squat. I know now that Western Pennsylvania is full of gems, but I was too far east due to my impatience to get to D.C. Riding through the suburbs in the summer heat is hell. All I wanted was a stretch of road with no cars or stoplights, a bit of freedom. That was a silly request.
There comes a point when man and machine become one. Where I can no longer feel where my arms end and the handlebars begin. After long enough on the bike, enough marathon days in a row, enough hours exploring every possible safe riding position, and enough stops to crack my neck, back, knees and shoulders, it all becomes one entity. My bike is an extension of my body. I feel its moods and desires. The texture of dry chain. The weight of an empty gas tank. The angry heat of slow traffic.
I find that there is so much to experience on the bike, so many sensory stimuli, that it is often overwhelming. This is one of the best things about riding, the forced meditation through intense concentration. But if you spend enough time in this meditative state, your mind begins to look through all of the immediate observations. Little things from underneath begin to poke through. The different little sounds from the bike, or the feeling of my ears shifting against the inside of my helmet. Once the noise of the air rushing, and the road buzzing, and the bike purring, and everything else bombarding your ears subsides, there is a sweet music that is found. It is a certain silence filled with the slightest of sounds. It is beautiful.
After camping on the northern most point of the Chesapeake, I rode down the east shore of the bay, and across the Bay Bridge into Annapolis. Riding across large bridges always unnerves me, all I can think about is the distance from the road to the water, and what would happen if a car decided to share my lane with me. Everything from the Bay Bridge onward was pure stress. D.C. in rush hour, 6 lanes of traffic: businessmen, politicians, corporate fat-cats with personal chauffeurs, and one guy from the country, on his motorcycle feeling totally out of place.
Everything changed once I got to Washington. I was no longer only accountable to just myself. I lived with other people, in an apartment instead of my one person tent. My bike suddenly had a passenger (in the form of my wonderful girlfriend), and I had to quickly get used to the extra weight. The weight of a passenger can do a lot to a small bike like mine, movements are not nearly as fast, and my confidence drops severely with the knowledge that I can’t get out of the way of a car as quickly as I could before. This was one of the times on the trip that I really wished I had a larger bike.
Over my time in the city I became more accustomed to riding in heavy traffic, with swarms of moronic drivers (no offense if you are a moron, but seriously, pay attention). I became more assertive and aggressive. Instead of making a defensive maneuver in reaction to a driver, I began to take control of the road. Every motion was both an attack and a defense. I felt like Bruce Lee on a motorcycle.
During this period of time I wished I had a faster bike, something more sporting… But that is the beauty of my F650 GS, sometimes you wish it would be faster, sometimes bigger, sometimes more aggressive on the dirt, but it will do it all quite well. It is a dynamic bike that can do the job of three different bikes. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Leaving D.C., city became suburbs again, and the rain set in. I spent hours sitting in traffic between D.C. and Baltimore, sopping wet in a downpour. The rain continued through Pennsylvania, where I got a hotel room for the night. A rarity.
From Pennsylvania into New York the next day, the roads were a dream. Empty and often equipped with brand new asphalt. I rode all day into the northern Adirondacks, where I now find myself. I’m not sure what the future will bring. I am just about out of money, and the bike has started leaking coolant from the radiator. I have seen this type of leak before, when a rock managed to work its way between the frame and the radiator and create a small crack. I hope this is not the case, because it was not an easy fix…
I am scheduled to be in Massachusetts on August 27, so considering the state of my ride, and my available time left, it would appear that this leg of the trip is coming to its conclusion. I will be in Woods Hole, Massachusetts through the fall, exploring as much as I can on the weekends. I have heard of a group of adventure touring riders in New Hampshire that I may check out, and I have yet to dip my front tire in the Atlantic Ocean. After hitting the Pacific last summer, this is a must.
More updates, and some closing reflections will be sure to follow closely behind this post.