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Monday, May 23, 2011

This Vast, Vast Country

The first time I motorcycled across states in the US on my own, I ended up hundreds of miles and about seven hours off track. It was an honest mistake based on two parts innocence, three parts ignorance and five parts utter belief in my friends.

I was heading from Surfside Beach, SC, to Norfolk, VA, which should have been fairly simple, both being on the East Coast. And so it was, my friends assured me, just take 17 North until I hit 64 West then follow directions to Norfolk International Airport. I questioned why I would be turning west to head east but was assured that was just the way it worked. That plus a few minor turns would take me straight to the address at which I needed to return the motorcycle before I flew back to Indonesia the following day.

The plan was to have dinner with the owner of said bike, whom I had never met but who was a good friend and colleague of my very good friend. My friend and his lady (also a good friend) had needed to leave Myrtle Beach Bike Week early and I wanted to stay til the last possible moment.

So with directions carefully memorized, I headed out from Surfside at about 10 a.m., expecting an easy seven hour ride that would get me to Norfolk in time to clean up myself and the bike before dinner.What my friends had not realized, having done the trip so often it was second nature (and knowing where they were going), was that 17 intersected a 64 highway in North Carolina before crossing the border and meeting the 64 interstate in Virginia.

I, coming from a country about the size of Texas where our highway numbers barely get into double digits, would never have suspected there'd be two 64 Wests to choose from. So I took the first one I came to, and rode and rode and rode, even after I had to have gone too far in the wrong direction. I couldn't pull over to phone for a clarification without taking an off-ramp, and I'd had an aversion to unknown off-ramps since taking one off the DC Beltway some years before and not being able to find my way back on. (My solution was creative, but not precisely best driving practice.) And I was on the road I'd been told I needed (or so I thought), and was slightly reassured by seeing turnoffs to towns I'd seen when we drove down, so kept going.
By the time dusk was falling I had to admit I was totally lost so stopped at the nearest town, which turned out to be Durham. I called my now-frantic friends, got a map and some accurate directions and headed further north and back east, where I finally reached Norfolk after 1 a.m.

This time, I've been outfitted with a GPS and am spending hours mapping possible routes online before I go. And gaining a new appreciation of just how vast a country this is. As I sit at Fayetteville, NC, and try to choose routes that take me to the places I want to visit, I realize that the West Coast is not a viable option in the time I have. Texas and Colorado also seem unlikely without riding longer days than I want. My next few stops, further northwest  in NC (not far from Durham, in fact) then back to Norfolk, Washington DC and NYC are fairly simple, but when the distances increase, so do the options.

It's going to be an interesting trip, whichever routes I take.

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