Day 4
September 7th, 2005
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

After a lot of internal debate, the final call to escape Philly was I-476 North to Allentown, then east to 287.  I wanted to avoid the rush hour in Philly, and the associated chaos on 95 to 287.  For sure, this route was going to add miles to the ride, but I wasn't concerned about it.

Too tired to clean the RT the night before, I cleaned the screen and fairing prior to loading.  

By 7am I had turned my room key in, and was moving out of the parking lot, when I noticed the passenger heated seat icon was shining on the display.  "Well, dayum WHO turned it on?"  I flipped the switch on the right handlebar, but nothing happened.  "That switch only works the rider seat dummy."  I came to a stop and realized I had not a clue where the rear seat control was.  I had to come off the bike and dig out the owners manual, which told me the switch is under the passenger seat just above the saddlebag, where she can easily flick it on.  But, unless you KNOW where it is, you'll never find it. 

I ran counter commute out of the city north on 476.  I was hit again for a toll to get on the northeast extension.  When the day was over, tolls had lightened my wallet by 9 dollars.

Weather was sunny and warm, a good day for a ride. 

Even though I was northbound, traffic was still thick.  A lot of people work in Allentown in this part of the state, and they decided to share their commute with me.  I took position in the far left and fell in the line of cars heading for the city.

Clipping along at 80 mph in thick traffic I try to keep a 2-3 second cushion with the guy in front of me, but people hate it when you do that, and constantly take your space.   "Hey that joker is not keeping up, gotta get ahead of him."  In reality I am, but they seem to think they will get their faster if they take that spot.

There are so many folks talking on cell phones now days its scary.  All around me people had phones in their ear, in thick high speed, bumper to bumper traffic.  My eyes constantly scanned the vehicles ahead and beside me.  The RT has the worst rear view mirrors ever made, I can"t see much behind me.  I had to lean, and twist to see if anyone was too close.  I like my space, but on 476 it was hard to acquire.

In Allentown I left 476, paid my fees, and went to I-78 east.  When I was coming through the city, I passed a Progressive Insurance van and thought about my son.  

I was about to cross the state line into New Jersey and noticed a Pennsylvania trooper fishing for speeders in bound into the Quaker State.  Because I was eastbound and only a few meters from the state line, he ignored me and my 75 mph.

The interstate carried me straight to the I-287 loop, catching it several miles north of 95, and by passing most of the mayhem around Elizabeth.  My chosen route was pretty much void of any serious traffic, and I applauded my decision to circumnavigate the I-95 mess south of me.  Yes, 95 cuts straight through to Connecticut, but is famous for hopeless traffic jams, and crazy drivers.

I-287 was routine.  Traffic was good, and I had plenty of room.

I came off the highway north of Morristown for a sandwich break.  One of the most annoying things about this part of the country is the absence of the "interstate exit" as defined back home and out west.  In the south lots of con stores and fast food places are just off the ramp.  Easy on easy off.  The stores are new, shiny, clean, and well stocked, but in New Jersey, leaving the freeway means a ride into the city, usually 2-3 miles.  This time I had a 2 mile ride into a township, with a Exxon station on the corner.  The place was a old gas station thing that they tried to convert into a con store.  It had a grease spotted concrete floor, a few candy bars, and dusty bags of potato chips.  Oily rags hung on the counters like beach towels on a Florida motel balcony at spring break.
I didn't need any gas, so parked the RT to the side.  The shiny red BMW contrasted sharply with the rusty, body damaged cars that were parked beside it, and coming in for gas.  There were NO well stocked drink coolers, just an old machine near the front door.  I took my chances and stuffed a dollar in the slot, knowing I had a 50-50 chance of losing my money.  When the machine does keep your money, asking the attendant for a refund is tantamount to asking if you can have naked pictures of his sister.  "We don't have nuttin to do with the machines," is the usual answer you get.

This time I won, and received a Diet Coke for my dollar.  

This is the only part of the country I really feel odd in.  I try to keep my interaction with the locals to a minimum in Jersey.  I'm conscious my accent hangs like a albatross around my neck.  The cities of New Jersey are tough places.  Out west, the locals see all kinds passing through, but the back townships of New Jersey seldom see a southern boy on a shiny new motorcycle.   I was minding my own business eating my sandwich when one of the attendants walked over to me.  A black guy with skinny legs, and brown shoes.  His pants were soiled from grease, and a shop rag was stuck in his front left pocket.   I watched intently as he approached, a youngish guy that I guessed to be about 30 something.

Imagine my surprise when I heard his southern tone when he said-

"I see you're from Alabama.  But I could tell from just lookin at ya you're NOT from around here.  I'm from Texas.  Houston to be exact."

"Dam bro what are YOU doin in Jersey?"

"I met a girl, and this is where she's from."  The things a man will do for love.

"How long ya been HERE?"

"Too long that's for sure."

He said he had just left Louisiana, and brought some refugees back with him.  "I don't know if I really helped them or not bringing them HERE."  I didn't add anything to that comment.

We talked about a few more things and I explained to him my line of thinking about taking 287 around the heart of the madness.

"look I ain't dumb brother.  A white boy with a southern accent ain't got NO business goin anywhere near Newark."  "I'd agree, you played it smart, you'll be ok up this way.  But if ya ever find yourself down that way don't stray from the Turnpike."  "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind."

Recharged, I made my way back to 287 and crossed the Tappan Zee over the Hudson River and into New England.  I was stiffed for another toll.  

I-287 brought me to the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.  A nice alternative to I-95.  The Parkway is cars only, no commercial traffic or trucks, but the speed limit is only 50 mph; that nobody obeyed.  The highway is tree lined, and empty of billboards, traffic lights, and shopping centers.  

The only problem is traffic coming onto the Parkway are not able to merge, but instead must come to a full stop.  Now try joining 70 mph traffic from a full stop and see how hard it is.  If I saw a car in that predicament I took the left lane, to open an empty lane for him.  

The morning was progressing nicely and I was close to 200 miles when I took the Stamford exit to look for something to eat.  The name reminded me of the movie, "Stepford Wives."  I was hoping I could find a diner with Nicole Kidman for a waitress.  Instead I found one with young, black, college girl behind the counter.  I took a seat at the bar and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich.

"Just meat and bread?"

"yeah baby, just meat and bread."

She turned my order in, and came back to refill my diet coke.

"So where south are you from?"

"Is it that obvious?"

"Well yeah, I'm from Mississippi, and nobody calls me baby, except my grandfather, it's a southern thing.  Funny, if someone called me baby without a accent I'd take offense."

Odd, you're the second transplant I met today from the south.  But you don't sound southern, how long you been in Connecticut?"

"Since I was 9.  My father is white and was a officer in the Navy when he met my mother in Pascagoula.  He was transferred to New London, and brought us here.  But we went to a few other places before that.  At the time my mother's family was pretty upset about her marrying a white guy, and a Yankee at that, so it was good she left Mississippi to let them cool off," she said with a chuckle.

"Your people ok down there?"

"Yes, they are in the Meriden area (about 150 miles inland) and doing fine."

"Your mother's family ok with things now?"

"oh yes, we are all one big happy family now.  I get down to Mississippi a couple times of year, I love my grandparents.  Things are so different there, then what I'm use to."

"Well I'd say the cultural shock of Stamford compared to Meriden is profound."

"I'll let you eat your sandwich, you just reminded me of my grandfather, and I wanted to say hi."

"Thanks for that compliment baby, I KNOW he's a fine man."

A joker next to me in a smart business suit had a Motorola Star Trac for a cell phone.  Talk about needing to upgrade.  They quit making those things long ago.  I was surprised it was even compatible with modern systems.

I left Stamford on the Merritt, but exited a few miles later at exit 63, and SR 22.  I took today's routes at the suggestion of Jay, a local member of the ST BBS.  From there I took SR 17 north to Durham Center.  
The upscale villages of Connecticut are unique in my travels.  Tidy, well kept shops and homes, on tree lined lawns with 2 car garages and driveways.  Most of the homes have a little age on them, but are well kept and neat.

After SR 17 I took SR 79 south to SR 80.  These roads are as about as rural as Connecticut gets.  I thought back to the vast run outs of Montana and North Dakota  2 months ago.  Hundreds of miles on long open roads where a rider can loose himself in  solitude.  That kind of riding is only a dream in New England.

Several homes were already preparing for the fall season.  Hay bales and pumpkins were beginning to pop up in several places.  I went by a flower stand that operated on the honor system.  You took a plant and placed 2 dollars in the box.  What kept someone from running off with the till I don't know.  I'd like to think it was just plain old honesty.  Trust someone and you are often rewarded.
​Flower Stand
The road proved to be a nice ride through woods and past houses.  It was good, but routes change quickly in this state, because it is so small.  Ten miles on the same route is a long time.

I was getting low on gas, and my light bar was flashing.  The RT's gauge is woefully pessimistic so I don't get serious till the miles to empty goes to bars like this ----

The first station I stopped was out of gas, the clerk said a shipment was due any moment.  I left, and kept moving east toward the Connecticut River.  The RT gets excellent gas mileage.  I averaged well over 50 mpg for the trip, in all kinds of conditions.  It has a huge 7.2 gallon tank giving me excellent range, I've gone as far as 320 miles, and still had a gallon when I filled.

I was cruising along when I encountered my first round a bout since the UK.  This time I rotated right.  I noted the sign before entering on where I get off.  My execution was flawless and I continued on east toward the river.  

A small store with gas pumps appeared so I pulled in. This time it was 3.69 a gallon.  Highest I paid in the U.S.
SR 9 came into view at the Connecticut River and I took it south to I-95.

After putting around on the narrow roads of the state, it felt good to open the RT up a little on the expressways.  The miles went by quickly to Rhode Island and SR 138.

Rhode Island is a small place, and I've not spent very much time here.  But one of the goals of this tour was to see what life was like on the coast.  I wanted to visit Newport, see the harbor, the mansions along Ocean Drive, and look at the yachts moored on the docks.

Getting into the city means a long battle with urban sprawl, slow moving traffic, red lights and traffic.  It is not fun.  A good thing a Long Rider doesn't have to go far to get there.  

Again, my hand was in my pocket for toll, this time it was the Newport Bridge.  The wind blew me as I went over the scenic bridge into the city.  The wind was cool and I felt it in the vents of the Roadcrafter.  I dropped off the bridge into the city, and was kind of lost on what to do next.  "Well, ya here, what do you wanna check out first?"

I followed the signs into the historical district.  Traffic was a mess in this small seaport that reminded me of a English village.  The streets were narrow, and sometimes bumpy.  Old homes and shops with flags hanging on front doors, seemed to roll past as if l was passing them in a tunnel.   Many had white picket fences, and tin roofs.  I stopped for a picture, then kept pressing to the harbor to get a look at the water. 
​The narrow streets of the Newport Historical District
Tourists walked in and out of the shops, many carrying several bags of overpriced trinkets and clothes.
When I felt I was close enough, I stopped at a Shell con store for a muffin and Diet Mountain Dew.

The clerk was a heavy young lady in a baggy sweatshirt.  I asked her how far it was to Ocean Drive.  "Go that way, and make a right every time you're faced with a decision."  I like it when I get straight forward, no nonsense directions.  Sometimes folks want to write a book, when all you need is a page.

I maneuvered the RT through the small streets and parked cars till I found the water and Ocean Drive.  I slipped by the harbor and took in the views.  Yachts and boats of all kinds were anchored, making the water look like some kind of regalia.  A gusty wind stiffened flags straight out.

A statue of some kind sat on the water's edge so I dismounted to check it out.  I felt silly leaving my helmet on, but it was too much trouble to take my gloves and ear plugs out.  The statue is of a French officer pointing to the ocean.  It was here the French fleet gathered, for the trip south to block the English fleet at Yorktown.
​The harbor at Newport, Rhode Island
The drive wound around the waters edge, past the mansions the city is famous for, was excellent. The coast line was rocky and the water looked cold.  Several nice curves came at me, but I wouldn't call them a challenge.  A number residents were on lawn chairs covered in long sleeves and fleece to ward off the cool ocean breeze. 
​Rhode Island Coast Line
The RT ambled in 3rd gear as I took in the sights.  Ocean Drive turned into Bellvue, a residential street thick with trees, and for a retired firefighter, a lifestyle on the far side of absurd.
​One of the mansions along Ocean Drive.
After riding Ocean Drive and gawking at mansions it was time to head back into the village.  The city is divided into a historical district and the rest of the city. Instead of mansions with ocean views, the  "commoners" in this part of town live in small wood frames, with  KFC and drug stores to look at.  They also have traffic and the longest red lights this side Amsterdam.

I stayed on SR 114 and headed for Fall River and the Massachusetts coast.  Ever since I'd visited the Mayflower departure portal in Plymouth, England, I'd been longing to see the spot where they landed-Plymouth Rock.  I wanted to be one of the few jokers who can say I've been to both, what it will get me I don't know.  Maybe a movie role?  Yeah right.

The ride was intolerably slow as I fought my way out of Newport.  It was just as hard to flee as it was to get in.  I was tired mentally from the concentration needed while riding in such tough urban traffic all day.  At no time could I relax with so many waves of cars coming at me.  Now I know why I had avoided this area, but I was a man on a mission.  

At last 114 turned into interstate like route 138 and I was free.  I twisted the grip and came through Fall River and promptly missed my exit.  I thought about my dad, he was born here in 1917.  I'm sure the house he lived in still existed, because the city looked so old.  Run down factories, old shops, and teetering tenements that last saw new paint in the Eisenhower years was the norm.  I saw a picture of his house taken in the 80s, and the area I dropped off the freeway to get sorted out, looked like it could be home to it judging by the nearby architecture.  If I had a clue on how to find it, I might have sought it out, but instead I just got out the atlas to see how to get back to my route and Plymouth. 

A man saw me with my atlas draped over my gear and came over to me.  He spoke in a tough city Boston accent. 

"yeah, I missed the ramp for 24 and came off to see if there were any short cuts to get back without back tracking.  

"Not really, just go back the way you came, across the bridge, and follow the signs.  There are other ways, but that is best."

The city is surrounded by water, and I was glad to leave it and its associated depression behind.  Sorry dad, but the whole look of the place bothered me, like the people living there had no where else to go.  Everything looked tired and worn out.

Back on track I took off for the KOA campground near Plymouth, according to their guide the unit is located on U.S. 44.  

I went to U.S. 44 and with a bright sun behind me, rode the last few miles.  It was kind of hard to get excited about camping out in Massachusetts, after all the beautiful places I've pitched a tent the last few years, but there is a first time for everything.

The lady in the KOA office wore a tag noting her home town was Sonoma, California.  I didn't ask how she found her way here.  I plunked my money down for a over priced camp site, and proceeded in.

I set the stand after a 420 mile day.  It was a hectic, and sometimes strange ride, but I made it across the Northeast Corridor, and after a half day ride tomorrow, I'll be done with it.  But I didn't want to think about that at the moment.

After setting camp under some nice trees, but a dirt site, I followed the California's lady advice and went to Middleboro to eat at place called the Hideaway.  I normally don't get my bike out after parking for the evening, but this time I had no choice.  It was a 5 mile ride back across 44, and then a narrow tree lined road.

Middleboro was typical Massachusetts.  It was almost dark when I arrived in the borough.  The RT took me past old houses with no curtains, with naked light bulbs lighting otherwise dark porches.  A closed hospital looking building with broken windows looked scary and sinister.  The whole place looked something out of Halloween movie.   The center of the town is home to 4 different roads coming in at different angles.  The lady said I could find the Hideaway behind the closed down hospital.

I did, and parked the BMW on the side.  The Hideaway was mostly a tavern with a restaurant kind of thing below street level.  A lady walking her dog said, "nice bike."  I went down the stairs and opened the door to walk in.  A few customers and looked to me and went back to their meals.  I was wearing jeans instead of the stich pants. 

A friendly waitress named Katie came for my order.  I tried to reciprocate her interest in a conversation but her city accent gnawed on my ears.  She talked liked that Fran lady on the old TV show.  "Is the chicken parm good?"  "Yeah, and so is the pizza."  Two guys were chewing down on one next to me, and I agreed it looked good.  Northern pizza is the best, not like the chain pizza I get back home, but I couldn't eat a whole pie, so ordered the chicken parm.  "Just bring me the chicken parm baby."

An off duty waitress and her young daughter were eating a few booths down.  Another waitress told a group of old ladies many patrons confuse them as sisters, because they somewhat look a like.  " I don't know how they get that, she has a German accent, and I don't"  One of the ladies blurted out, "So where'd ya get a German accent?"   The lady retorted back matter of factly, "From Germany."  I almost spit out my diet coke.  "I moved her a few years ago."

After eating I used the down time to call home, and make notes for the next day's ride to Bar Harbor.  Again, I had to make the call on what route to take.  I-95 straight through, or 495 around.  Because I felt like the 287 added too many miles, I decided this time to go 95.  The 495 loop looked really long. 

"Yeah, I'm gonna ride in and see where the Pilgrims landed, then head north," I told my son. 

"So what's the big deal about that?" 

"Because its HISTORY dummy, I wanna see the stuff I use to read about."

I paid my tab, and went up the stairs and back on street level.  I left "Fran" a 4 dollar tip, because I felt sorry for her. A cool wind blew, and my hair moved the instant I stepped out of the alcove.  I looked up and down the dark streets in this depressing village and strolled back to the RT.  Darkness drove home the fact Middleboro was a gloomy place.  I was cold, and just wanted to get back to my sleeping bag.

Back at the tent I squared my stuff away, and went inside to watch a movie I brought with me.  It was a western called Monte Walsh.  

I rolled over about 12 and went to sleep, content about my day's ride in Connecticut and coast.  It felt good to get something crossed off the list.