Monday, June 29, 2009

A great Saturday...

As Friday evening wore on, I was was very much anticipating the 3rd Annual Thousand Island River Run, which I had pre-registered for back in May. Then again, I also wanted a chance to spend more time with my eldest daughter, prior to her upcoming deployment overseas at the end of July. Then it hit me. Why not do both...? Saturday was supposed to be the only day actually declared 'rain safe' by the folks at Environment Canada. As anyone will tell you though, this type of garantee doesn' mean spit.

I reckoned she just might enjoy a chance to get out on the road with her ol' Dadders. So I called her up and sure enough, she was pretty keen to go along. Great! I was very excited about this. Her bike was still in storage, so that meant we would be only taking 'Baby' and she would ride with me. Now, I didn't mention this to my better half, as I knew she would ask me if I was nuts. My re-built arm and shoulder are still a work in progress, as far as strength training and development go. For these reasons she still refuses to ride 2-up with me on the bike and I suppose I can understand her trepidation. I miss her and I travelling together, but I believe in time she'll come around hopefully.

Still, I knew I was more than ready for this. If I needed to stop a little more often for rests, then so be it. Any extra effort required for riding 2-up on a bike, is pretty much relegated to slow speed manoeuvring in town and through traffic. With an experienced passenger onboard who knows how to behave, it's really not an issue. Besides, I would never think of jeopardizing the safety and well being of my daughter. I was ready and this was just the opportunity I needed to prove it.

Saturday morning, I rode out Winchester way to meet up with her. Now normally for this leg of the trip, I would meander along the Rideau River Road to the 416. This time I hooked up with the 31 (Bank Street) at the end of John Quinn Road and headed South. The skies were overcast and regardless of the weather prognosis, I had made sure to pack my JR rain pants as well. I didn't start this riding stuff yesterday...

I stopped to top up the tanks at Winchester, just across from the Timmie's. I could see a wall of darkness in the direction I was headed and had observed that the roads here were in fact wet from the precipitation that had just come through. I was literally chasing the weather. Dang!! I paid up and then headed back onto the road. As I crested the overpass outside of the Winchester town limits, I began to see raindrops materializing on the windshield. As I came down the other side of the overpass, into the big sweeping left-hander, the rain began falling a little harder. I rode down the stretch towards the right-hand bend, cussing under my breath. Up until then, Baby had looked immaculate...

I finally arrived at the little cheese shop adjacent to the Nation River Road, where I pulled into their parking lot. The lower legs on my jeans were pretty well soaked and of course, Baby looked a sight. I phoned my daughter to give her a sitrep on my progress, as well as a weather update. I then hauled out the rainpants and put them on. I had faith that we'd be able to ride our way into good weather, if only we could start headin' West. I shoved off and within minutes the rain had stopped. Shortly thereafter, I was pulling up at the top of their driveway.

We chatted for a bit while she got herself sorted and ready to go. I advised her that her place was the only locale in all of Ontario which actually had rain, thank you very much. I was introduced to the new chickens on the property (yes, my daughter and her man are getting into homesteading mode and will be raising chickens) and soon it was time to go. We headed out to rejoin Rte. 31, intent on riding South to hook up with Hwy. 2, which ran along the St.Lawrence River. On the way to Morrisburg, we came across two baby raccoons who were busy investigating the double yellow line in the middle of the road. We slowed down and I beeped the horn a couple of times to get their attention. They scampered off the roadway, just in time. I was happy they did, as we had a large 18-wheeler hot on our tail.

Arriving at Morrisburg, we swung right and onto Hwy. 2. The weather was clearing and it felt really good to be cruising along with my 'little girl' behind me, enjoying the sights and smells. I kept our speed down as it is far more relaxing and we really weren't in any kind of a rush. We trundled along past Iroquois and Cardinal, Johnstown and Prescott, Maitland and finally Brockville. At Brockville, we took a little break at the Timmie's there. I told her that a road trip is simply not a road trip in my books, without a stop at Timmie's for a coffee and a doughnut. I decided to strip off my JR rainpants there, so I could dry out the legs on my jeans after their morning soaking. There was a long lineup at Tim's and it took some time to finally get served. This Tim's, as with all others I'm sure, is terrifically popular with the locals and passers-by as well. Some twenty-five minutes later, we were cruising out of Brockville towards the beginning of the 1,000 Islands Parkway.

That 1 mile run or so along the 401, from the outskirts of Brockville to the exit for the Parkway, is always a little bit of excitement. You come off a downward-sloping, winding onramp with a speed of 30kmh, onto this expressway where the traffic has a median speed of 120kmh. Add to that that you have to cross all 3 lanes to your left to get to the proper lane for your exit, which comes up in less than 2km. Baby is always up to the task though. We hurtled along, quickly gaining our desired position. Before you knew it, we were easing onto the offramp as the remaining hordes whizzed by to our right. I rolled off the throttle and Baby fell into her usual loping burble as the sun came out.

I learned to my great surprise, that my daughter had never travelled the 1,000 Island Parkway. I was stunned! "Well then", I said to her. "You're in for a treat!!" It was unfortunate that we would not be able to cover all of it that day. Hmmm... I would save that for a future ride. We sailed along, past Mallorytown Landing and on to Rockport, taking in the sights and smells. My arm and shoulder were fine and for most of our ride along the Parkway, I rode one-handed, resting the other hand on my knee and releiving any pressure there might have been. It is a method I perfected during my trip to the Shenandoah National Park. She marvelled at some of the beautiful properties, both on the mainland and on several islands in the middle of the stream, the lush green spaces. I was so pleased to have been able to introduce her to this area, which has long been one of my favorite rides.

All too soon, we were at the 1,000 Island Bridge which would lead us over stateside. We had sorted out the bridge crossing fare beforehand and she was all ready when we pulled up to the booth. Next stop... US Customs. By this time, the sun was now blazing and there was a bit of a wait to go through Customs. We amused ourselves by whining and making casual observations of our fellow travellers who surrounded us. I noticed that there were indeed a few bikes that were waiting to go through. Finally it was our turn and we pulled up to the booth, shutting the bike down. Fortunately it was a covered position and therefore in the shade.

The agent was a good natured fellow, contrary to the norm. "Where are you both from?", he began. We answered him. "Where are you going today?" I replied that we were going to the River Run in Alex Bay. He asked if we had anything to declare. My daughter answered: "'s f*#%*ng warm!" He then asked: "And how do you two know each other...?" I sighed and said: "She's my little girl...". "And you let her swear like that?", he smiled. I looked at him and said: "You realize once they turn 14, your job is done. There's nothing else you can teach 'em...". My daughter countered: "Him? Swearing? Jesus...he was in the Navy". He then asked my daughter: "And what do you do for a living?" "Oh... I'm in the Army", she replied. He handed her back our passports, shaking his head and smiling. "You two have a good day, now...". And off we went.

We rode out a short distance from the gates and parked on the shoulder behind a bunch of other bikes, to sort our gear out. I removed my JR jacket and bungied it to the starboard saddlebag, opting rather for a grey hoodie I had brought along. I grabbed some water from my saddlebag, as the wait at the border had been a hot one. Feeling a little cooler, we got back on the road. The breeze felt wonderful after our prolonged wait. I reminded her that if she stayed on this same road (I-81) for 596 miles, she would then be in Front Royal, VA... the start of the Skyline Drive.

Within 2 miles or so, we were looping off the I-81 and onto Rte.12. The ride to Alex Bay was wonderful. The weather couldn't have been nicer and we were finding ourselves surrounded by more and more riders, as we neared the village. We arrived at the lights just outside the arch and the left-hand turn which would bring us down the main thoroughfare. There was a good-sized line of bikes in front of us, as well as streams of them arriving from every point of the compass.

The light changed and we slowly made our way into town, the bikes in front of us dispersing as they found parking spaces along the roadway. There was an almost continuous line of bikes heading out of town as well. The street was lined on either side by rows of gleaming bikes, of all makes, colours and sizes. We were just about at James Street when I noticed that the parking lot for the local diner "Chez Paree", was just about empty. We deeked across the street into the lot, where I turned Baby around and backed her into a spot. We had finally landed in Alexandria Bay and the place was hopping. We shed our riding gear and struck out to find the registration booth.

As it turned out, we only needed to walk the one block down to James Street and there was the registration tent. We both stopped in to have our names checked off the list and to pick up our run t-shirt, patch and pin. It was so cool... being there with my daughter at her first run! I know she would have rather rode into town under her own steam, but hey, this was a pretty good second choice as it was. We wandered along the streets, checking out the many bikes that had shown up. Announcements were being made over a PA system, though the announcers had to compete with the constant rumble and bark of big-inch engines. Somewhere at the end of James Street, just beyond the registration tent, a local band was warming up.

I wanted to find where the vendors were set up. I had been itching to find a set of 'vest extenders', to affix to my parade jacket. I enlisted my daughter's help in finding some. I wanted to show her the overlook section by the river, as well as the memorial erected to young Private Sweet and his mates of the 10th Mountain Division. We reached the top of the hill and turned left towards the old church and the overlook. Once more, there were bikes parked everywhere you looked. The vendors' lot also featured many local builders who had shown up with some mighty fine samples of their bikes. There were some very impressive machines there, I have to say. Very nice craftmanship! I snapped a couple of photos while we were there.

We spied a vendor's tent which had vest extenders hanging near the opening, in plain sight. I made a beeline for them and picked up 5 at $4.00 each. The outside snap features the POW/MIA logo, which I chose out of many other designs available. Happy with this long-anticipated purchase, we headed off to the overlook.

The overlook section itself is a large covered area, almost like a huge, rectangular bandstand. It was now packed with all manner of vendors and motorcycle-related wares. We ascended the stair leading to it and strolled through to the other side. It was marvellously cool under the roof and a breeze was blowing in from the water. There were so many different items to see. From ride bells to Baker 6-speed trannies and everything in between. Chaps, vests, gloves, boot, lids, headwraps, bandanas, chokers, bracelets, belts, miniature motorcycles, fer chrissakes! Everything!!

I guided her to the exit leading to the river and them little park they had there. We looked out at Heart Island and Boldt Castle, then together we walked over to the cenotaph for young Private Jack Sweet. We stood there for a moment, out of respect. I have no idea what was going through her head, but we both got kind of emotional. We turned on our heels and climbed the stairway to the vendors' section.

We spent a good while gawking at the various goodies for sale. After a bit, my stomach began to remind me that it had been a long while since that doughnut. We figured we might as well go eat at the diner, outside which we had parked. We slowly made our way back, enjoying the sun and the general chaos around us. Stepping into the diner's air conditioned interior was a true blessing. We were both ready for some 'cool' by that time. I ordered the Bar-B-Q sandwich while she opted for the Philly cheesesteak sub. Both of which were pretty tasty by the way...

With lunch over, we did a little time-appreciation check. It was about 1420hrs. Somehow we had initially figured that we'd be back near home by 1300hrs. Once we stopped laughing, we decided that as our lunch was finished, we probably ought to start heading back along the 12, towards Ogdensberg, where we would then cross over onto Canadian soil. We hauled our carcasses to the bike and prepared to remount. She had been sitting out in the sun for a spell, so the saddle was pretty hot. My little girl let me know this as she resumed her perch in back. We trundled out of town and very soon, after making a short left turn at the lights, were cruising Eastbound with a wonderful cooling breeze along Rte.12.

Every minute or so, we were crossing paths with groups of riders, who were headed back towards Alex Bay. We did not get to see too much wildlife on this trip, outside of the ubiquitous earth-pigs, but the scenery was grand and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I crossed the centreline at one point, so that we could enter one of the many lookoffs which have been built along the route. They all afford a beautiful, elevated view of the St.Lawrence. We stopped for a fill-up just outside Ogdensberg, prior to crossing the bridge. Once again, my daughter was ready for the bridge toll and we began our crossing. I warned her in advance that she would feel the bike 'skating' around underneath us.

The bridge surface here is steel grating and creates that wonderful 'humming' sound. It feels as though you are rolling along on marbles. As I related to her: "The only things to remember are to take it slow, don't make any sudden corrections and let your body just relax into the saddle." I told her it was not my favorite bridge to cross, but that I rode it on occasion, "simply because you have to know how to". As we got halfway across, she told me that her biggest problem was looking down. Now I have been across that bridge many, many times. I have never had the occasion to look down. So I did... Sure enough, if you look down you can see the water way-yyyyyy below you. Impressive! :)

We reached the other side without incident and then cleared customs in a matter of minutes. No big lineup here... We looped around to the right after clearing customs and made our way back to Hwy. 2. We retraced our path along the river's edge. As we made our way closer and closer to Morrisburg, we could see a familiar dark wall which seemed to be lurking over Winchester, as per the norm. Still, that was a ways off in the distance and it was too early to tell. Right...???

We were occasionally sprinkled on as we made our way back East. As we hit the junction with Rte. 31, we hung a left at the lights, heading North. We crossed the overpass spanning the 401 and coming down the back side, it began to rain yet again. I pulled over and told my daughter that we ought to change back into our rain gear. She scoffed and said that it wasn't really going to rain. I growled and looked at her, grinning like some demented hyena. "Fine", I said. "If you're happy, we'll carry on". And so we did...

Heading North out of Glen Becker, she stated that she wanted to take an alternate route back to her home. At one point as she leaned out to speak, a large insect, possibly a bumblebee (as she later related it was "large and fuzzy"), hit her cheek right beside he open mouth. It was a bit of a wake-up call for her, I'm sure. She may be thinking about purchasing a larger windshield for her bike in the future... We deeked right along a route which she believed was the 7 (?) though I didn't really think so. As we carried on down the road, the skies opened up on us. I could hear her cackling in back of me as the large, fat drops of rain pelted the bike and us. I saw a spot out front of a farm residence ahead, which had some shade trees overhanging the road. I parked under them for a spell as she dismounted. I fetched my rain gear and put it back on, though my daughter said that she didn't mind the rain. I just laughed and we both got back onboard and headed out again. The rain lasted perhaps another 10 minutes before deciding to pack it in.

It was probably just short of 1700hrs by the time we arrived at my daughter's place. We unpacked her gear and her souvies and I thanked her for such a wonderful day. I gave her a hug and then flashed Baby up for the last leg of the trip. The rain held off until I made it back home. I pulled into the driveway at 1815hrs. Baby must have been in stealth mode or my better half must have been totally absorbed in her TV program, as she claims to have not heard me arrive. I related the story of the day's activities and at that point, told her that I had in fact conspired with my daughter to take her with me. My spouse had the expected reaction, but not to the extent I would have thought. As it became apparent that all had gone exceedingly well, she seemed relieved. Who knows, maybe she will consent to join me for a little ride sometime soon...

She also went as far as to suggest that perhaps we should plan to take a trip together to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q in Syracuse, before she left for Afghanistan. 6 months is a long time to be gone. I would like to give her some fun memories to look back on while she's over in the sandbox. We'll see what materializes in the meantime... But Saturday sure did rock. Sunday was just as good, but that will be a matter for another entry.

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