Today we were off on a longer run that we were used to as a couple. We'd be going as far as Syracuse, NY and back. The purpose of this trip, besides the ride itself, was to pick up some vitamin supplements my wife had ordered, but mainly...it was all about trying out the vittles at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q in Syracuse! I planned on stopping a little more often that usual for the occasional stretches, but I was about to discover that even the best laid plans of mice and men, sometimes avail little. The air was already warming, though the breeze was cool as we wound our way towards Anderson Road and Manotic. The sky was clear and it promised to be one of those stellar riding days. The air was infused with the aroma of the dew-drenched fields and wildflowers. Arriving at Timmie's in Manotic, we dismounted for a little stretch and some brekkie.
Following a breakfast sandwich and a medium double-double, we struck out along the River Road until it intersected the 416 Southbound. As we began our crossing of the overpass which spans the 416, I turned my head to the left and saluted smartly, in the direction of the flag and the cenotaph which marks The Veteran's Memorial Park. This has become an instinctive ritual of mine, ever since I first noticed it there. Reaching the other side, we slowed and tipped the bike into the left-hander which led us onto the on-ramp.
Traffic was light on the Veterans' Memorial Highway and we travelled along at a steady 110kmh. Baby had settled into a low growl as we sailed effortlessly along. One by one, the exits zipped by until we arrived at ours, which would lead us to the bridge to Ogdensburg, NY. I've never been a big fan of that bridge as the deck is constructed of metal slats. In a car, it just gives you that humming sound. On a bike, you have the sound and a ride that can best be compared to an evening at the Ice Capades. The front tire tends to skate around and it feels as though you're rolling along on ball bearings. A very light touch is required on the controls here and it's best to just settle into the seat, breathe normally and enjoy the view. We've never had any really exciting moments on this bridge yet but we're always both relieved to reach the other side.
Stopping at the U.S. Customs checkpoint, we were engaged in conversation by an affable young chap, who was also a rider. He noticed the submariner's shell vest from HMCS Okanagan I was wearing. He was part of the Hardly-Dangerous crowd and we discussed where we were headed to. When I told him about our destination in Syracuse, he looked at me and smiled: "Uh-Oh...you ain't ridin' a Harley!" I filled him in on my background and told him I didn't anticipate any attitude down there and that I could certainly give as good as I got, should the occasion arise. He waved us on, wishing us a safe ride. The time was 0915hrs.
By the time we arrived at the small strip mall where the UPS Store was located, it was 0920. We had some time to kill before the store opened up at 1000hrs. My better half decided to investigate her favorite 'stuff & fabric' store, Jo-Ann's Fabrics... Thinking better of taking a nap on the lawn, I figured I'd tag along with her. She had found some fabric with which she intended to make a kaftan for her Mom back home in Nova Scotia. We wound up our purchase and headed to the UPS Store at 1000 sharp. Unfortunately, they had yet to receive the package she was expecting. It was a bit of a disappointment, as she would have to come back yet again at a later date. Still, the day was young, the sun was shining and the road was calling us...
We headed out from Ogdensburg, NY heading west along Rte. 37 on our way to Watertown. The signs along the rolling farmlands advised us that were were in Amish country and we delighted in our surroundings, including the view of the St.Lawrence to our right. As this was the day after the 4th of July, most homes were still decked out in their national holiday finery. Very few were the houses which did not have Old Glory flying in the morning breeze. Fences and railings everywhere were still festooned with red, white and blue bunting.
We rolled through Hammond, NY which is a very pretty, typical rural community. The Fire Hall, the local elementary school, the neatly trimmed lawns around the old, established houses. So picturesque. We travelled on through, my spouse spotting deer here and there that I seemed to be missing. True, they were further back from the road than what I'd normally scan, but I rarely miss any signs of wildlife when we're out on the road. This had me a little baffled...
Coming up on South Hampton, we reached the end of Rte.37 and embarked for 1 mile onto Rte.11. This led us straight into Watertown. While we could probably have pulled over for a spell and mapped out alternate routes through the countryside, we opted to take I-81 from Watertown to Syracuse, in order to save time and speed things up a tad. I was starting to get that hungry feeling... Looking back on it, a stop in Watertown would have been a good thing.
We wound our way through Watertown until we found our on-ramp to I-81. We joined the rest of the traffic which was considerably heavier now than it had been on the 37. The average speed on the interstate was 120kmh. The bike has no problem with this, but I find it tiring. We passed a rest area early on I-81. I did not pull over, never realizing that the next one was not for another 74 miles. My better half was getting antsy and I could feel her shifting around back there. We had been in the saddle the better part of an hour and a half now and it was pretty close to time for a break. I would love to have pulled over, but the interstate was clearly posted: "No Stopping!!" It was one of these "once-you're-on-here-you're-done" deals. I came off the 81 briefly as we came upon a parking area, but there were no amenities so we launched back onto the interstate.
The Yanks have something to learn from us when it comes to expansion joints on their highways. About every second one we hit bounced us in the saddle. Eventually though, we passed this less-than-perfect segment and all complaints ceased. We passed many fellow riders on the road. Not surprising as the weather was simply perfect for it. As we approached the outskirts of Syracuse, we were finally greeted by a sign which proclaimed: Rest Area, 2 miles. Hallelujah!!
I rolled off the throttle as we took the off ramp, with Baby emitting that characteristic "Ffnnrrrrrr..." as we downshifted to fourth, then third. We pulled up to a vacant parking slot, right in front of the walkway leading to the facilities. Hauling ourselves out of the saddle, we began to stretch as a troop of 6 fellow riders pulled in behind us, parking a couple of slots away. We exchanged greetings as they dismounted and headed towards the washrooms. One of them commented favorably on Baby's paint job. They were riding a mix of older, smaller displacement bikes. Their dress seemed to reflect their rural roots and was composed of everything but actual riding gear. I remember having been astounded by how many riders I had spotted on the way down, who were wearing shorts and either runners or sandals... Unbelievable!!
I cleaned some of the bugs from the windshield as my better half massaged her rump. That Mustang seat is great, but every saddle has it's limitations. I wanted to see where I was going as we entered Syracuse. Having composed and watered ourselves, we headed back out onto the I-81. We were less than 2 miles from Syracuse at this point and quickly found the 23A exit for the Carousel Centre mall. This was our first stop as my spouse wanted to scout it out for her daughter. For those who live to shop the higher end stores, this place is a boon, I reckon.
I noticed a lot of military connotations, as well as a plethora of "Support Our Troops" paraphenalia. Then it dawned on me... Watertown, New York (just a bit further back) is the home of Fort Drum. This is the home base of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division. These guys and gals have been deployed to Iraq for some time now. Syracuse, like Watertown, was a true 'military town'.
Having completed our intel gathering in this air-conditioned oasis, we headed back out into the heat of the day. As we were preparing to leave, we spied a comely young maiden strolling towards us. My spouse asked the young lady if she might know the directions to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q. In short order, she relayed some pretty good directions, which involved finding a Clinton Street, but the way the young lady prononunced it with her NY accent, it came out sounding more like "Clin'in". We thanked her profusely and left her, my stomach growling in anticipation. My wife kept shouting in my ear: "We gotta find "Clin'in"...Hahahahaha!!". We hopped onto the I-690 as instructed, but there was some construction work going on, lanes had been closed, on-ramps sealed off... to make a long story short, we went and got temporarily lost. We passed a long line of bikes at one point, headed in the opposite direction to us. We soon found out why they were going the opposite way... The road we were on dead-ended!
Figuring those fellow riders must be travelling to the same spot, we reversed courses and headed off after them. We looped back onto the 690 and kept our eyes opened for an exit onto "Clin'in"... Not seeing one and being at a downtown exit, I chose to get off the 690 and check out directions with yet another local. We exited onto W.Genessee Street and I stopped in the parking lot of an automobile detailing centre. I asked a lad who was outside if he knew where we could find... "Oh, the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q? It's just down the road there." Judging by the looks on our faces, he must have known he caught us off guard. He laughed: "Just seeing youse two on the bike, I knew what you was lookin' for!!".
We thanked him for his help and wheeled out, heading right onto Genessee. We hadn't gone two blocks when I looked to my left and saw a large lineup of bikes. Bingo! We travelled the one short block to the intersection where sat the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q, purveyors of all wonderful things grilled! We initially parked a little ways down the street on the opposite side, as there was no room in front. Even before I let the jiffy stand down, I could smell the Bar-B-Q goodness... It wafted on the air. My stomach was just about crying by now. We gathered our kit and trudged across the street. As we did so, two fellow riders were just leaving. I handed my gear to my spouse and went to get Baby. Soon, Baby was in her rightful place out front and we were being hustled inside by our female host.
The place was jumpin'! There were folks all over the place, riders and citizens alike, with an army of wait staff flyin' by with plates of goodies. Some were waiting for a table inside, some for a seat inside or by the bar. I was immediately reminded of the Boot Hill Saloon on Main Street in Daytona Beach.
The place was decorated in 'early biker trash', the walls and ceilings festooned with all manner of riding related paraphenalia. We put our name on the list with the joint's matron, the keeper of the seats. I never asked for her name although I should have and will definitely do so the next time we go. She is quite the card. We moseyed up to the bar for a couple of drinks, to wash down some of that road dirt. I loved the ambiance of the place. It was so long since I had been in one of "our" places.
Before long, we hear: "Paul...party of 2...raise your hand, darlin'...". My hand shot into the air and we were rewarded with a: "Place for two at the hi-top right here...", said she pointing to our table and stools. We were right in the stream of things. We sat ourselves down and just watched the activity around us. Before long, our server was at our table, ready to take our orders. Her name was Erin and she was absolutely delightful. My wife ordered the catfish and rice, while I ordered 2 pulled pork Bar-B-Q sandwiches with a side of slaw. The anticipation was killing me... I had researched this place some time ago and pretty much knew what to expect, or at least what to hope for. There is not much else that I would rather as far as food goes, than good Bar-B-Q or a good ol' pig roast. By all reports, this place had been awarded some pretty lofty accolades and I reckoned I'd be the judge of it.
When our food arrived, I looked down at these 2 good sized sandwiches. They were filled with the most tender, most succulent barbecued pork I've ever tasted! When I bit into them, I'm sure my eyes rolled back in my head like a shark. As my better half is fond of saying: "I had a mouth-gasm!" I was in piggy heaven. I will definitely make a return trip before the season is out, to sample their ribs this time and maybe to bring home some of their patented Bar-B-Q sauce. For her part, my wife thoroughly enjoyed the catfish as well. They were well worth the trip down there and we will be repeat customers of theirs.
As we were sitting there enjoying our food, a troop of Canada's 1st CAV arrived. This is the Canadian Army Veterans' Motorcycle Association. It's comprised of veterans from all three services and their supporters. They gather for runs, comradship as well as to support special charities or organizations. This lot was from the Vimy Unit, based in Kingston, ON. I've been canvassed to become a member of our bunch here in Ottawa, but I don't know if I'm ready to don another 'uniform' just yet... I intercepted a member of theirs (Dave) and chatted for a spell until he was summoned by his mates.
I had to buy a t-shirt as a souvenir of this trip (of course...). It was getting around 1500hrs by now as we sat there, fat, dumb and happy. For as much as I didn't want to leave, we slowly made our way to the exit, after having thanked all those who had made our stay there so great. We promised them we'd be back and we will. As we loaded Baby up again, my spouse mentioned wanting to pick up a set of Hannah Montana sheets for her little granddaughter (also named Hannah...), who lives away in Perth, Australia. She believed she had found some at a Target store in Watertown and asked if we might stop in there on the way back. Watertown was as good a place as any for a stretch and a breather, so I agreed. We made our way out of town and back to I-81 Northbound.
The sun wasn't as fierce as it had been, but I could still feel it warming the left side of my face. The air was very dry as well. I cussed myself for not picking up a pop or a bottle of water to throw in the saddlebag before leaving. The Gods were smiling on us however, as some 30 miles later, at the very first parking area we came to, the local Mannville fire department had set up a coffee and juice stand for thirsty motorists. For a nominal donation, you could help yourself to either coffee, tea, lemonade, iced water or iced tea. We pulled over and for a buck, I helped myself to a big cup of ice cold lemonade. What a treat! We had learned on the way down that anytime a rest or parking area came into view, it was always a good idea to use it, as they were very few and definitely far between!
Refreshed, we hit the road more alert than what we had been. The full bellies and warm temperatures had slowly been getting to us up until then. My wife continued with her deer-spotting activities and we literally lost count of the number of Blue Herons we had seen since leaving that morning. The air started cooling as we approached Watertown. We saw an exit for Pulaski and decided that we'd pull over so that my spouse could put her liner back into her Joe Rocket mesh jacket. As we came off the Interstate, I saw dead ahead of us Fat Nancy's Tackle Shop.
It was too good to be true! We pulled into the parking lot and my wife reinstalled her liner. "I want a picture of you in front of that sign", I told her. Obligingly, she posed... it was too funny. Time to get back into the flow of traffic... but hold on. It ain't as easy as it looks.
We had to go hunting to find our way back onto I-81. Our detour took us all the way through the little village of Pulaski, NY. Charming as it was, it was a little frustrating navigating this way and that, when an on-ramp, right where the off-ramp was, would have been a far simpler solution. Of course then again, no one would ever get to see Pulaski, NY then, now would they?
Finally, we hit the exit for Watertown. Finding the Target store was a cinch and we meandered through it's well-lit and air conditioned aisles. My wife found the sought after sheets, so we were good to go. They even had a Starbucks inside, so we both grabbed a small House Blend coffee for the road. It was getting close to 1800hrs and they were just starting to close up by the time we were done. Leaving Watertown, we headed out once again on I-81.
We had all of 25 miles to do until we hit the 1,000 Island Bridge, which would lead us across the St.Lawrence and back onto Canadian soil. As we headed towards Alexandria Bay, we found ourselves charging down a nice slope in the road. We were nearing the bottom of the slope, at which point it began an uphill arc to the left. At that moment, a large doe crossed the median to our left and came bounding across the Interstate, right in front of us. All I could hear in my left ear was: "Ohh!! Oohh!! Deer! Deer!! Deer!!!". "I got 'er", I advised my better half as I gently applied the brakes, scrubbing off speed remarkably fast. At the same time, I downshifted to fourth and eased out the clutch. The doe made it across unscathed and we had yet another special moment to add to our trip. I got back on the throttle and we surged uphill, bracketed by tall rock spire formations, made orange by the lengthening rays of the sun.
Fifteen minutes later, we were cruising through Alexandria Bay, NY. Like so many other communities along this region of the St.Lawrence, it's a gorgeous place to visit.
It's also the home of the fabled Boldt Castle, appropriately located on Heart Island. It symbolizes a truly touching story of love and devotion amongst the super-rich of the times.
We veered onto the approaches to the 1,000 Island Bridge, bound for Lansdowne, ON. Arriving at Customs we were greeted by what my spouse referred to as "a young, cutie-patooty". He was a very pleasant young man, all bright-eyed and full of piss and vinegar. He was, if I may say, the very antithesis of the Canadian civil servant. It was a refreshing change from what one sees in Ottawa, on a daily basis. We bid him good day and sailed straight onto the 1,000 Island Parkway. What a glorious way to end the day, with a ride along one of my all-time favorite roads. 34kms later, we were stopping into our old haunt in Brockville... Timmie's. An iced tea would do the trick this time. We rested up and were soon back on the road. We cruised along Hwy.2 until we arrived at Iroquois. We then opted to take the 416 North, until we reached the exit for the River Road.
Our last stop on the way home was the Timmie's in Manotic. The sun had just about set by then and we had slowed to our normal backroads pace. We followed the River Road to where it met Rideau Road, then on down to the Ramsayville Road, left to Eighth Line, a right to Anderson Road and finally onto Mer Bleu, Innes and home. We were both happy to "make it stop", by the time we pulled into the driveway at 2130hrs. Once again, the kids were still out and we had the place to ourselves to unwind. Total mileage: 675kms. A wonderful day on the road, great weather, new acquaintances and a new return destination to add to our growing list.
All in all, it was a very successful Saturday.