Winter was not kind to me this year as I ended up getting sick and missing my annual trip to Jacksonville Florida in March for the Iron Butt Association banquet. As a consolation prize I did buy myself another motorcycle, a 2007 Harley Davidson Sportster to serve as a backup bike and as something for local riding as my 2006 Sportster when set up for traveling is too heavy for my liking and I am too lazy to take everything off.
But that wasn’t enough. I was considering a riding vacation in mid April however the lingering effects of being ill had me wondering if I was up to the ride. I decided to do ride the weekend of April 1st when I saw the weather forecast for temps in the mid to upper 50’s. This ride would be part of the Tour of Honor which starts April 1st and runs until October 31st each year. My goal was simple, visit all seven memorials selected in PA for 2018 and hopefully get the first place trophy for being the first person to visit them. The downside is I could not plan my route until after the sites are released at Midnight on April 1st. I thought about my options and decided I’d get up at midnight, check the locations of the memorials and build my route, and then head out. If all went well I’d be home before midnight.
Then of course two days before the forecast called for rain and snow beginning early Monday morning. Will this winter ever end ??? I kept an eye on the weather and fortunately it did not move up to interfere with my trip. I checked the weather in various cities in the state to see if any would have rain/snow on Sunday April 1st and they all stayed clear. I neglected to look at the temperature when I did so as I assumed (there is that word again) that they would be comparable to the Philadelphia area. What a foolish thought as I know darn well that it is colder at higher elevations and I surely would be in the mountains at some point and of course I would be riding at night as well. My only excuse is I hadn’t been riding out of the general area of home since October.
On Saturday March 31st I spent the day doing some chores and a little work on my bike. Time got away from me and I did not get a chance to mount my new Tour Pak on my bike. I really wanted to have it as I was carrying a change of clothes in case I got stuck somewhere due to the weather. No worries I thought, I can do that before I leave. The only catch is my bike is currently parked about 20 minutes from my home so it looked like I’d be on the road by 2:30 or 3 am. I went to bed around 8pm for a relaxing 4 hours of sleep.
I awoke at midnight and went down to my PC to check the sites. As expected I’d be traveling the entire state of PA and many were in small towns, essentially the same as I would have set it up. I noticed that one was in Valley Forge National Park which is close to me and upon closer reading the memorial location is actually in the park which is closed from dusk to 7am. Doing some planning if I left that for last I would be getting there around 6pm, however that did not allow for any fuel stops, looking up memorials to validate I was in the correct location, or any other delays. Waiting until the following morning was not really feasible due to the approaching storm and being unsure if anyone else was riding (I found out later there was). My next best option was to delay my departure so I could get there just as the park opened at 7am. Also, I had planned my route to go clockwise around the state however there was a memorial in Nazareth PA which is about 90 minutes away. As I wanted to be able to submit my photos as soon as possible that was not that efficient. The closest memorial to the west was about 3 hours away so it was more efficient to go counter clockwise around the state. The only downside was one small blip of clouds moving to the north of me that I would surely run into. No big deal as I’ve ridden in rain before. I did some math and to allow for a shower, the trip over to the bike, putting the Tour Pak on, and getting to Valley Forge I could sleep until 4am. I promptly went back to bed after resetting the alarm (or actually telling my wife to reset the alarm) to 4am. As it typical, snooze was hit a few times after the alarm went off and when I finally got out of bed it was about 5am. I showered and remembered I had not loaded the route onto my GPS units so I did that and also loaded all of the memorials as Points of Interest as the file was ready. One of my GPS units, a Garmin 665 which has XM radio, was a recently received refurbished unit since I had issues with my old one and it was out of warranty. It accepted my route and the memorial locations flawlessly so I was happy to see it was working. I finished getting dressed and packing everything on my Softail for the short ride over to where the Sportster is parked. I grabbed my helmet and looked for my neck warmer which is usually inside it but it wasn’t there. I looked for a few minutes later but nothing. As it was warmer than I had last ridden I figured I’d be ok without it so I hoped on the bike at 5:30 am.
I got there at 5:45am and had about 30 minutes before I had to leave to get to the first stop at 7am. I drilled the 3 holes in the bottom of the Tour Pak and then went to install it. Problem, it had a lock, it was locked, and I did NOT have a key. I checked the box and nothing there. Plan B, install the old Tour Pak complete with cracks, splits, and all. I attached my XM antenna to it and was ready to go promptly at 6:45. Everything was moved to the Sportster and I was off to the gas station to top off. I needed breakfast so I went inside and got a sandwich, and was on the road shortly after 7am. I synced my Bluetooth headset to the refurbished GPS and turned on the XM radio and set it to the Classic Rewind station. And 5 minutes later the music went away and the screen was blank. I powered it back up and after 5 minutes the same thing. And people ask why I have two GPS units mounted on my bike…
I got to the first memorial without incident and took my photo.
National Memorial Arch – Valley Forge National Park
I fiddled with the GPS to no avail, so I switched my headset to the other GPS and listened to the music I have stored as MP3s. My next stop was in Nazareth PA so I headed there. My GPS took me on local roads to get to the Turnpike which was fine as there was little traffic. I stopped along the way when I realized I had an SD card in the GPS and figured I’d remove it to see if it was causing the issue. It wasn’t, so I eventually gave up on it. Once I accepted the fact that my newly received refurbished GPS was a door stop my ride to the next memorial went as planned. I found the memorial, an old obelisk from the late 1800’s and took my photo.
Patriotism Obelisk – Nazareth PA
I noticed I had a text message from a friend stating the link to my route was blank so I tried to log in and fix it but was unable to do so. I gave up and pointed north to my next stop which was almost on the PA/NY border in Hallstead PA.
As I traveled north on PA 33 I noticed the sky was getting darker. I rode into the rain I was expecting and thought nothing of it as it was a light rain. About 30 minutes later the bike started to lose power and was running rough. I instantly remembered having this happen the last time I had ridden the bike in mid-February and I had completely forgotten about it. I pulled over and decided to pull a plug wire off to see what happened. As expected, the bike died. It looked like I had a bad plug or plug wire which grounds out when wet. As happened the last time I let the bike idle while under a bridge for a few minutes and it smoothed out. I guess the heat and lack of rain dried out wherever it was shorting. I took the opportunity to check my link for my trip again and was able to log in. When I looked at the link it was showing my route just fine, not sure what the issue was however now my wife would know I was moving. I looked at weather radar and I was close to the edge of the storm so I headed out but this time I did not shift into 4th gear. The problem did not come back so presumably the heat from the higher RPMs must have been enough to keep the area where it was grounding out dry. I rode out of the rain near Scranton PA and got onto I-81. I arrived in Hallstead PA and the location of the memorial. There were several there so I pulled it up on my cell phone. Nothing looked like the memorial. I wandered about comparing each memorial with the photo in the website. I then looked at the background and identified where it should be. I then looked closer and saw the reason it looked different is the website photo had a yellow and green wreath with red flowers, but at a casual look it appeared to be part of the memorial. A few head smacks later and I took my photo. The website said there was a guest book at the memorial and suggested we sign, so I happily did so
Freedom Memorial – Hallstead PA
The sky was getting brighter so I pulled out my sunglasses and put them on. I was also able to turn down the heat on my heated gear and change gloves to ones that were more comfortable. My next stop was to my southwest in Renovo PA on PA 120. I had been on that road before and it was a great ride, with mountains to one side and a river to the other. My GPS had me going west in NY to Corning and then turning south on US 15. I headed out on my way to enjoy some good riding. Two or so hours later I got to Lock Haven PA where I would pick up PA 120. I was at 370 miles and figured I’d fill up with gas as I was unsure what fuel options I’d have on what is essentially a back country road. I headed out and the ride was as I remembered it. I pulled into Renovo and found the memorial and took my photo. Not happy with the one with the bike in it as it was a side shot of the memorial I took another from the front of the memorial and would simply submit both to make it easy for the scorer to validate.
War Memorial – Renovo PA
My next stop was to the Northwest area of PA in Warren. I headed that way and spent the entire ride on PA 120, US 6, PA 59, and back on US 6. The ride was great and I enjoyed it. The temperature dropped as I rode along so I turned up the heat. I also put my heaviest gloves on which are ski gloves with heated glove liners in them. They are bulky but warm. I had an uneventful ride and found the memorial without issues. I was able to park next to it and I took my photo.
9/11 Memorial – Warren PA
The temp had really dropped as I was cold standing next to the bike. As I was stopped I decided to call my wife however she did not pick up. I had two visitors come up to me, a pair of ducks so I took a photo and texted it to my wife to show my granddaughters.
As I was about to get on the road a car pulled up to me and the driver asked if I was cold. I showed him my heated gear cable and he laughed. He and his passenger asked how I liked the memorial and I told them it was great. They asked where I was from and they were surprised when I said Philadelphia. They asked how I found the memorial and I started with my spiel about Tour of Honor and they surprised me by being familiar with it and mentioned they had spoken with the state sponsor. They seemed pleased that I had shown up on the first day.
After a few more minutes they left and I got back on the road headed southwest to Chicora PA (Northwest of Pittsburgh). My GPS had me getting there around 9pm. Much of the ride was on US 68 and some other roads with a short blast on I 80. As I got to I 80 it was dark and I needed a break so I stopped at a gas station and grabbed a sandwich to eat later. I was unsure if I was going to be able to beat the storm as it was closing in on me and I was only headed southwest rather than west. I considered skipping the last two stops but who knows when I’d get back to them as the furthest was almost 5 hours from home. I decided to make the next one and re-evaluate there. I had an uneventful ride to Chicora and was able to park in front of the memorial and take the photo. However due to the darkness and the way the light for the US flag was affecting the picture I decided for a second photo as it was more presentable.
War memorial – Chicora PA
After the photo was done I called my wife and let her know where I was and that I may end up getting a room and waiting out the storm. I didn’t really want to do that since it was considerably colder than at home and I was concerned the snow would actually stick. However, with the issues with riding in the rain due to the apparent bad plug wire I knew I could not ride in the rain for an extended period of time. I got on the road and headed for my last stop in Broad Top City. Having no idea where that was I looked at a map and it was about 15 miles north of Breezewood where I knew I had a good chance of getting a room if needed. My GPS had me getting in around 11:30 pm so I would have to check for rooms there as sometimes you cannot do so after midnight (rooms for the following night show up). I got to the next memorial and it was easily accessible right next to the road. I had difficulty with the photo due to lights on a memorial to the left of the one I was taking a picture of so I again opted for two photos.
War Memorial – Broad Top City PA
After I took my photo I realized I had no cell signal so no emailing of photos, no checking radar, and no looking for a room. I decided I’d stop at the first lit parking I found to check again and I headed on my way. About 15 minutes later I came to a cemetery with a light in it so I pulled over and then noticed the light was there due to a memorial being located in the cemetery. Why couldn’t I find these in VA where I am the state sponsor and am always looking for sleepy little memorials? I sent in all of the photos for the memorials I visited with the final email being sent at 11:58. I checked and the Holiday Inn Express had rooms if needed. I looked at radar and it showed that there was a notch in the storm and there was a section of the storm to the north of me and to the south of me. The storm to the west was about 100 miles away, so hopefully the notch would not close up and I’d be able to make it home. My GPS said I had a 3 hour ride.
15 minutes later I was in Breezewood and I made a quick rest break. The storm had not changed significantly so I got on the turnpike and headed east. I was hoping that by traveling at 70 mph I’d be able to stay out of the storm but to be safe I checked in Carlisle to see if there were rooms there if needed and there was. Carlisle was about ½ home. I also decided I’d stop at rest stops to check on weather. I was also getting tired and my neck was getting stiff so the break would be welcome even if short. Onto the turnpike I went and I made good time headed towards Carlisle. Along the way I kept seeing salt truck and had to wonder what they were thinking of this foolish motorcycle rider being out when they are waiting for the pending storm to do their work. I pulled into the rest stop before Carlisle and stopped to look at weather. Wow had things changed. The notch I was in was gone, and weather radar showed me right on the edge of the storm. To punctuate that fact a rain drop hit my windshield. A snap decision was made to continue on the road so I did so.
I had a very light rain but after a bit I noticed the road was now wet so I slowed down a bit in the corners. Traffic was light however there was some and I was able to ride at a comfortable distance behind a car so I had warning when a turn was coming up. It was late and I was tired. I made a quick stop at the rest stop just before Morgantown and checked weather which had not changed so I got on my way. I was now in familiar territory as I ride this section of the Turnpike all the time. My GPS was happily indicating that I had less than an hour to go. I counted down the time and as I was coming up to the rest stop before Valley Forge I realized I had not eaten since noon and was now starving. I stopped in Valley Forge and got the sandwich out of my Tour Pak and ate it quickly. Then I realized how cold I was when I started shivering so I got on the bike and plugged in my heated gear and put on my gloves. I finished the sandwich and as an apparent signal to me that I needed to get on the road I got a rain drop on the windshield. No reminders needed, I pulled out for the short ride home. 30 minutes later, at 3:35 am, I pulled into my driveway with 942 miles ridden in 20 ½ hours.
Overall it was a good ride, however I should have had a better idea what temps would be like in other areas of the state. Also, I should have had the Tour Pak mounted before the ride but it had simply slipped my mind since the bike was not in my garage. The apparent bad plug wire is simply something that happened. So much had gone on since I first became aware of it that I will forgive myself for not remembering it, and that is rare. As for the neck warmer, I really could have used that as the temps were down into the 30s in some areas. But all things considered, it was a good ride!
On Monday April 2nd I checked the rider status and nothing had been updated as far as my ride nor was anything updated for anyone else who may have completed PA before I did. I took a look at Facebook and noticed a post from a friend of mine indicating that he and two other friends had also made the ride to pick up the seven sites in PA. They had submitted their sites around the same time I had so it was a toss-up as to who was first to have all seven in. Eventually I got a text that I had first and the other riders had second. But in the end, it really didn’t matter as we all had a good ride and I would have been just as happy to see their names listed as first