Monday, October 30, 2017


9 DAYS, 5018 MILES

The garage door began to squeak as soon as I hit the button. Normally Harley and Chico would bark as soon as they hear that sound but we had put them in the kennel the night before. Walking outside I was immediately struck with the early warning of fall. I called inside to Jan to put on something heavy because it would be a chilly morning to ride. It was 0530hrs (5:30am) as I moved Jan’s bike outside. I had left mine outside hooked to the loaded trailer the night before. It was Saturday, dark, chilly and one month later in the year than the time we normally schedule for our bike vacations.
At 0630hrs (6:30am) we rolled out of the driveway. We had decided to wait the additional 30 minutes to allow less time riding in darkness. Our goal for the day was to make it to Bristol, Tennessee. Just for everyone’s information and so no one gets confused, the town of Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA are basically one in the same. They are only separated by the state line that runs directly down the center of Main Street.
Our route would take us to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and west to the city of Carlisle for our first gas stop. There we would pick up I-81 south. But first we would contact my brother Mark in Maryland who planned to join us for the trip. Our plan was to call him after we fueled our bikes and he would then leave his home in Maryland and take I-70 west until it intersects with I-81. The plan worked perfectly. We were only a few minutes apart in arriving at the planned intersection. Without turning off any of the bikes, we continued back onto I-81, said hello to one another over the CBs and settled in for the day’s ride.
We have a routine on the road that works well for us. We keep a tight schedule. We leave the hotels at 0600hrs. We run tank to tank, normally 200 miles, before stopping. We have breakfast after the first tank, unless free breakfast is available at the hotel. In that case we eat first and then grab a snack in the late afternoon. We keep gas stops as gas stops, which means we gas up, use the rest room, hydrate and push on. In the evening we eat a good full meal and get a good night’s sleep. It was important to stick to the schedule this year because we had a lot of miles to cover in limited time. Jan and I both had just 9 days to complete the trip. Normally we build into the schedule a “down Day” just to relax but we would have to go without it for this year. We would even have to push a little harder up and down the hi-ways then we would normally do.
For the first day our routine worked really well. We got to Bristol, TN well ahead of schedule with plenty of daylight left.  I decided to move things up a little and incorporate the riding of “The Snake” on the first day instead of waiting for the next. “The Snake” is hi-way 421 running from Bristol to Mountain City, TN. It is 33 miles long with 489 curves. A real challenge to ride, but a lot of fun. All three of us were anxious to take on the challenge.

We stopped short of HWY 421 to make camera adjustments and to allow Mark to try to tighten the shifter on his 2015 StreetGlide. After inspection of the shifter and tightening of the screw we decided to press on but to stop at the first Harley dealership that we encounter to get a better assessment the problem. Cameras set, anxiety high, we roll onto HWY 421 with Mark in the lead followed by Jan and me bringing up the rear pulling a trailer.

Mark got us into a good rhythm and we were really enjoying it. The turns required good leaning and shifting skills at just the right times. We wiggled our way through the first 10 miles. Then suddenly into a very tight uphill U turn that leaned heavily to the right then starts an immediate steep incline, Mark goes down on his bike. His bike choked when he was unable to get it in 1st gear. Jan was right behind him and saw Mark go down. She manage to stop her bike before hitting Mark but because of the angle of the curve and the weight of the bike she had to let her bike go down on the left highway peg and floorboard. Both bikes were down when I entered the curve behind Jan. I was able to stop my bike & trailer next to Jan with the front of my bike pointing towards the high outside of the curve. No one seemed to be hurt so we first insured that no traffic was coming and then immediately got Jan’s bike up and had her straddle it holding the front brake until her nerves settled.

Mark and I then got his bike up, got it started, and he was able to proceed to the top of the hill. Jan drifted her bike back to a more level area, took a deep breath, started the bike, and gave it all it had to again maneuver the curve and reach the top of the hill. I was happy that no bike traffic was coming at the time. A car did come by when the bikes were down but they never stopped. They just looked and kept going. I was still in the curve and at a bad angle. I knew that my Harley would be screaming trying to pull that trailer up the steep incline from a dead start, so I drifted back to get the trailer straight, then hit it. I was right, the Harley screamed but we made it. We were all out of danger. Only minor damage was detected at the scene so we got back into the rhythm of the road and didn’t stop again until we got to the Country Store at the halfway point.
Shady Valley Country Store marks the halfway point of “The Snake”. Normally everyone stops there to get gas or something to eat or drink and of course to buy the “I Rode The Snake” patch. We did the same except we also wanted to take the time to check the bikes out to make sure they were okay. Jan’s bike was fine. Mark’s StreetGlide had sustained a little damage to the underside of the right saddlebag extension that he had just added a few weeks earlier. A closer look also revealed that his right highway peg had actually pushed into his right side lower fairing causing it to crack. We took time to make a few more adjustments to the bikes then rolled out of Shady Valley to finish “The Snake”.
We enjoyed the rest of “The Snake” and recommend it to all those who love riding as much as we do. Sports bike riders would surely enjoy it but it would be an adrenaline rush for anyone. Darkness caught us as we neared the end of HWY 421. It was my job now to get us out of the Tennessee mountains in the dark and back West for a good starting point in the morning. Many of the mountain roads in Tennessee look alike especially at night. Jan swore that I was taking them back through “The Snake” in the dark, but I wasn’t. I was working our way through the mountains to the town of Elizabethton, TN., so that we would be near a major highway for our morning start. It was 2100hrs (9:00pm) when we checked in the hotel. It had been a full day. We had ridden 585 miles, survived an accident and rode “The Snake”.
Day 2 we are up and rolling on time. Our objective was to reach Memphis and spend a little time with old friends before calling it a night. As usual we ran the first tank out and stopped for breakfast at a Waffle House. Rolling to our second stop near Gordonsville, TN., we were coming off I-40 when Mark pulls up near me and yells that he has no clutch. I continued to the service area and looked back to see Jan and Mark pushing his bike. We got the bike to the service area and determined that there was nothing that we could do. We would have to contact a Harley Dealership and we knew that would be a problem because it was Sunday. Mark pulled up the nearest dealerships on his GPS screen and began a series of calls to reach a dealership that could help. None had enough technicians on hand to send a vehicle. The closest dealership was 40 miles away.  AMA to the rescue. I’m a lifetime member of the AMA and they have been a blessing to me more than once over my years of riding. This was no exception. Although we got off to a bumpy start with the apparently new dispatcher on duty, things were quickly rectified by an AMA supervisor who called back and stated that they would have someone there within the hour. Nothing left to do but wait. We discussed our situation and Mark decided that he would end his vacation at this point and return to Maryland once his bike was repaired. They wouldn’t be able to repair his bike until Tuesday and he didn’t want to hold us up because he knew we had limited time. We said our goodbyes in Gordonsville, TN and Jan & I rolled out heading to Memphis assured that AMA would take care of Mark.
1700hrs (5:00pm) we arrive in Memphis and I reached out to “Nocturnal”, a member of the Memphis Buffalo Soldiers to provide me with a new number for my old friend “Yogi Bear”. Without hesitation “Nocturnal” put me in touch with my old friend and former President of the Memphis Buffalo Soldiers. Then within minutes “Nocturnal” without being asked pulled up to the position where Jan and I had just gassed our bikes. All he wanted to do was to help if he could. You’ve got to respect people like that. I called “Yogi Bear” and we all agreed to meet for dinner. Seeing “Yogi Bear” & “Nocturnal” brought back pleasant memories of the good times we had years ago when I was with the “Soldiers”. We gathered at a restaurant in Memphis and were joined by one of “Nocturnal’s” beautiful daughters who was home from college because of the threatening hurricane on the east coast. It was a good evening for Jan & me discussing old times with our friends. Years ago “Yogi Bear” and the Memphis Buffalo Soldiers had sponsored an event for Jan when she was riding across country raising money for her organization, Divas For A Cure.

We remembered those times and laughed about the fun that we shared. As evening was coming to an end we said our goodbyes and thanked everyone for their kindness. Then “Yogi” led us to a hotel close to I-55 where we would start our next day.

We checked in with Mark to see how he was doing. He was comfortable in a hotel and the Harley dealership hoped to work on his bike first thing Tuesday morning. We had covered 537 miles and visited with old friends. It was a good day and now it was time to rest.
Sticking to schedule we awoke ready to pull out at 0600hrs (6:00am). We loaded the bikes and decided to eat breakfast at the hotel while we waited for daylight to break. It was Monday and our plan for the day was to visit “The Whitney Plantation” in Jan’s home state of Louisiana. It was on our “Must Do List”. For some reason during my planning I thought that the plantation was near Shreveport, and that we would have a short day’s ride, but a quick call to the plantation office proved my planning wrong.

The Whitney Plantation was closer to New Orleans and the last tour begins at 3pm. To make matters worst it was closed on Tuesday so we had to get there today. I explained to Jan that we would have to step it up to get there in time for the last tour. She locked in behind me and we pushed hard down I-55 south to New Orleans.
Crossing over bridges, bayous and land that was familiar to Jan we rode the left lane as far as we could then turning onto some country roads and finally onto HWY 18 and arrived in Wallace, Louisiana to learn The Story Of Slavery, told from the slave’s point of view on The Whitney Plantation. We arrived 30 minutes prior to the last tour of the day. We parked our bikes in the dirt and gravel parking lot as close as we could to the buildings and walked inside anxious to learn more about our history.
The learning begins as soon as you walk inside the door. The walls are covered with more information than you can consume in the limited time that we had or even if we had additional hours. The museum will keep you busy until its time for your tour and there are plenty of books to purchase or to browse through while you wait.

Our guide, Ali, was very knowledgeable and made the tour very interesting. The tour lasted much longer than expected but the sights of the old slave quarters, the holding cells, the swamps, the old church and the “Big House” made all the knowledge that we’ve learned over the years come to life. Jan and I both thoroughly enjoyed the tour and took a lot of pictures.
Because the tour lasted so long we decided to find a hotel in the local area and get a fresh start in the morning. We had completed a little over 400 miles and checked off another item on our “Must Do List”. It was a very good day but tomorrow will be a real challenge.

Before going to bed we checked in with my best friend Herb “KingWing” Dorsey to give him an update on where we were. He usually travels with us but when he doesn’t, he still monitors our every move. He had been in touch with my brother Mark and found out that an additional technician had come in on Monday so the Harley dealership was able to fix Marks bike and get him on the road a day early. That made us all sleep a little better.
It was Tuesday, our 4th day on the road and we had a lot of ground to cover. My goal for the day was to see my new grandson who was just born a few days earlier. The challenge was to get there before dark, the obstacle was 1000 miles of paved road.

We were up early and rode into daylight knowing that it would be a long day. Jan very seldom reads a map or uses her GPS when she is traveling with me. Most of the time she just follows my tail lights. So as we travelled up I-49 I knew that she wasn’t really paying attention to the signs. We were really pushing it hard and were only a few miles from Natchitoches, the Louisiana town where Jan was raised, when I called her on the CB and asked her if she wanted to stop in her old hometown. She asked if we were going anywhere close to it and when I told her that we had to go right by Natchitoches she quickly asked if we could stop for a few minutes.

As we approached the exit I waved her ahead to take the lead. She then realized exactly where she was and had no difficulty in locating the home where she was raised. Tears filled her eyes as we stopped the bikes and she concentrated for a few minutes on the house and the surrounding area. She walked to the door, knocked and explained to the elderly lady that answered who she was. She asked if it was okay to take pictures of the old homestead. The whole experience only took a few minutes but it brought back a lifetime of memories for Jan. The current occupants stood in the doorway and waived at us as we departed. We slowly rolled out of town but stopped to take one last photo before maneuvering our bikes back onto I-49 and heading for Texas.
Jan kept quiet for hours as we continued to rack up the miles. I guess she was caught up in a thousand thoughts of her childhood in Louisiana.  We stopped and had a quick bunch and Jan explained to me some of the things that she remembered about her old home. We had already covered over 500 miles, much of which Jan didn’t remember because she was so deep in thought about her childhood.

We were keeping the needle between 80 and 85 whenever traffic and road conditions allowed. By 1700hrs ( 5:00pm) that afternoon we were gassing the bikes in Wichita Falls, TX. We had covered a little over 700 miles. The bikes were running great and we still had sun light and the hope of getting to our destination before dark. Only flat country roads with occasional curves and the sight of hundreds of rocking horses by Texas oil wells kept us alert as we pushed northwest from Wichita Falls. We called ahead to let my son, Kevin know that we expected to be there NLT sundown. We passed little towns with a single sign and only a hand full of homes. We passed ranches that had family names made out of iron and welded to large gates but no sign of a home anywhere in sight, just lonely dirt roads leading off to more open spaces. As the miles mounted Jan fell further and further back from her normal position of being one bike length behind me.

It was her way of letting me know that she was tired. We had been in the saddle for over 12 hours and still had at least three hours to go. I refused to acknowledge her signal and continued to make the best use of the open road and extremely limited traffic. Jan finally got my signal that I wasn’t going to slow down and that I was determined to get to my son’s home before dark. So I look in my rear view mirror and I see Jan rolling forward at a high rate of speed and I smile to myself as she locks into position as if to say “Okay let’s do this”. As the sun set we rolled into the town of Pampa, Texas, 60 miles northeast of Amarillo.

Within minutes Kevin was at the hotel to pick us up and drive us to his home. My grand-daughter’s husband met us in the yard holding my first great-great grandson, Devin. It had been over a year since I last saw him. Inside the rest of the family waited; my daughter in law, Marcie, and my two grand-children, Thomas and Tiani, mother to Devin.
We all shared hugs and kisses but my mind was set on seeing the newest member of our family, my grandson, Seth Berrett Costley, born less than 2 weeks before our arrival. It brought a wonderful completion to our day. We had stayed in our saddles for over 15 hours, covered 1047 miles without incident, got to see family members who we see far too infrequently and got to hold the newest member of the Costley Clan. It was a long day, but a good day.

When we got back to the hotel we called my brother Mark and were glad to hear that he had made it back to Maryland safely.  All we needed now was some well-deserved rest.
Wednesday came far too soon but we accepted it knowing that it would be a shorter day. We took our time eating breakfast at the hotel, then called Kevin and waited for him, Marcie and little Seth Barrett to stop by so that we could see them before leaving. We were only able to spend a short time together but it was well worth the long trip. After goodbyes and watching them drive out of the parking lot, we checked the bikes and prepared to saddle up for our next destination, Austin, Texas.

We both felt good in knowing that we could get there in what most people consider a normal day’s ride. I have wonderful friends in Austin that I’ve known since we were stationed together in Rota, Spain in the early 80s. The Carter Family is loved by the Costleys but we haven’t been able to see each other in years. I wanted so much to see them and have them meet Jan. I especially wanted Jan to meet their beautiful daughter Tiffany who I am proud to say is my god-daughter. But when I called them I learned that they would be out of town. Deeply disappointed, we would have to add them to our “Must see later” list. But that didn’t change our plans for going to Austin.

Jan and I both have another very dear friend in Austin who had moved there from Maryland not too long ago. AJ “Suga Soldier” Coffee is known and loved by many in the motorcycle community and has been our friend for years. She knew we were coming and was anxious to spend time with us once again.

The ride to Austin was without incident except for the inability at one point to find gas in any of the small towns that we passed through. I remember Jan calling me and asking how much gas I had. My needle was already on “E” and the warning light was on too. She was not in much better shape. We passed a sign saying that the next town was 32 miles away. We both checked our odometer buttons at about the same time. My reading showed that I had enough gas to cover 34 miles. I had two miles to spare, Jan had a few miles more so we slowed down a little but kept it steady. We rolled into the town of Aspermont, TX at 1140hrs. The little station had only two old gas pumps but at least they had gas. When I filled my 6 gallon tank it took 5.83 gallons….not much to spare. We laughed, hydrated, and pushed on.
By early evening we had reached Austin, contacted “AJ” and was waiting for her not far from her home. Its always fun when we are together. “AJ” fixed dinner and put us up for the night. It was the first time in days that we had an opportunity to take it down early and it was needed. After dinner and showers, Jan and AJ stayed up and talked as they normally do…..I simply went to bed and thought about the rest of the trip. Today was easy….476 miles.
Thursday, our 6th day out, destination: Mobile, Alabama. Everyone was up early, the trailer was packed and “AJ” walked us outside to say goodbye. It was still dark when we rolled out of her gated community, picked up route 290 East and headed toward Houston. We had made our turn and were now headed back East.  It would be a 600 plus day but it was mostly Interstate Highway so we would be able to make excellent time.
The sun was directly in our eyes as we rolled through Houston. Every place we looked we saw the signs of receding water and wet furniture lining the streets. It was sad to think of all the people that had suffered, been displaced and were now living in state shelters. We both wanted to stop, roll up our sleeves and help in any way that we could but as we looked around we didn’t see many people, just lonely streets filled with stacks of discarded personal belongings that used to mean so much to so many. We pushed through thankful that one of Jan’s closest friends, Pam and her husband Rufus had weathered the Houston storm without much damage. Once again we would have to go without seeing friends. Time just wouldn’t allow it.
Out of Texas, through Louisiana and nearly out of Mississippi we were burning up I-10. By early evening we decided to shut it down on the east side of Gulfport, MS. We stayed at the Hampton Inn. The receptionist gave us a nice suite and a big discount when she found out that I was retired military. She had two children currently serving in the military and couldn’t thank me enough for my service.
As I returned to the bikes, Jan was already involved in conversation with an individual who was admiring our bikes. He was there delivering pizza and as we talked I noticed the Vietnam cap that he was wearing. He was a Vet and a member of the Mississippi Combat Vets Association. He was also a rider. His name coincidentally was also “AJ”. Not to be out done, I pulled out my Vietnam cap from our trailer and that’s when Jan took a picture of both of us together.

We really didn’t get to take advantage of all of the suite’s niceties, just a hot shower and the bed and we were done for the night. But we certainly appreciated the gesture.

Friday’s schedule would take us to Augusta, Ga. We had three more things to check off our list before reaching home; Meeting with my old friend “Dragon 6” and his lovely wife, Lichia in Augusta, Catching up with my other close friend “Ice” from Huntsville and riding the “Tail Of The Dragon”.

We had breakfast at the hotel in Gulfport then immediately headed northeast to Augusta, Ga. “Ice” and I had spoken before I left Jersey. He wanted to ride a part of our journey with us. It had been years since we rode together so this would be a special treat for me. When I was National President of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers MC, “Ice” was the President of the Huntsville, Alabama Buffalo Soldiers. He and his beautiful wife Anita always opened their home to me as I travelled through Huntsville and further south visiting chapters.

It became my regular stop over point and I could never thank them enough for their hospitality and friendship. We had agreed to ride the “Tail of the Dragon” together. He was going to hook up with his brother-in-law Marion aka “Junior” in Atlanta and the two of them were going to meet us at Deals Gap on Saturday.

We had a day’s ride ahead of us but with our early start we expected to get there by late afternoon. We ran through three tanks and at 1630hrs (4:30pm) we were on Augusta HWY, in Dearing, Ga. A quick call was made to “Dragon 6” and within minutes Lichia was there to greet us and guide us to their home.  “Dragon” would be delayed on business so while Lichia and Jan got acquainted with one another I changed clothes, asked if I could use the garden hose and started to work on the bikes. They hadn’t been cleaned since we left Jersey.
The four of us shared a wonderful evening of good food and conversation. We plan to see a lot of each other in the near future as they and others become a part of our United States Black Cavalry Family.
Before going to bed another call was made to “Ice” to finalize our plans for tomorrow. He was already in Atlanta and anxious to meet with us before noon at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in North Carolina.
“Dragon 6” and Lichia insured that we were comfortable and we ended our day thankful for having them as our friends. We had racked up another 550 miles.
We awoke Saturday morning to the smell of breakfast. Lichia was in the kitchen cooking and “Dragon” was setting the table. We got our things together, enjoyed breakfast with our hosts and loaded the bikes. Daylight had arrived as we started the bikes. We said our goodbyes in the driveway and “Dragon 6” led us to the main highway to get us on our way to Deals Gap to tame “The Dragon”.

We arrived at Deals Gap much later than expected, slowed by some of those mountain roads that made us think that we were already on “The Tail of The Dragon”.  It was crowded with bikers on all types of machines when we arrived at the resort. The first order of business was to find “Ice”. It took all of about 10 minutes before I heard his familiar voice call out to me. It was great seeing him after so long. After meeting his brother-in-law, “Junior” we sat and talked for a while and grabbed a bite to eat while we discussed old times. Picture taking, bike gazing and people watching all took place before we decided to take on the challenge.

We waited for other bikes to get ahead of us, then with “Ice” leading we rolled up the hill away from the resort and onto “The Tail of The Dragon”.  “Ice” picked up a little speed, then followed by “Junior”, Jan and me we evolved into a nice rhythm as one after the other fell into and out of each curve in unison as if we were train cars being pulled by an engine. We rolled through the 11 miles, 318 curves enjoying every inch of the “The Dragon” and stepping up to the challenge that it presented. At the end, we all stopped, laughed and exhaled with excitement as we congratulated each other for taming “The Dragon”.
It was time to move on. “Ice” and “Junior” decided to go back on “The Dragon” to take pictures from one of the overview sights. After saying our goodbyes, Jan and I pressed on. We had to make it to Bristol, TN / Bristol, Virginia by sundown to stay on schedule. We had no time to spare. We both had to be home tomorrow and at work on Monday. We ended our day early in Bristol having a nice meal at Shoneys and staying at the Travel Inn, the worst hotel that we had experienced during this entire trip. Another 400 miles completed and two   more check offs on our “must do” list. We went to bed knowing that if all goes well we would be home tomorrow.
My bike had been making a funny internal noise for days. The same kind of sound that you get when to take off in the wrong gear. I wasn’t very concerned at first but now it was becoming more pronounced. I didn’t mention it to Jan because I didn’t want her to start worrying about it and although it was becoming louder the bike still seemed to be running okay especially in the higher gears. It was Sunday morning, our last day on the road and we had to make it home so I decided to press on and keep my fingers crossed.

We stuck to our schedule and in the minutes before daybreak we gassed our bikes at the service station next to the hotel and rolled out onto I-81 heading north. It was 0700hrs (7:00am) and we wanted to be home before dark. The Sunday morning traffic was light as we pushed the bikes through the rolling hills of western Virginia. The day was uneventful and by 1430hrs (2:30pm) with a few rain drops hitting the windshield we pulled into Love’s service station in Carlisle, Pa. It was the only rain we had seen in 9 days and it was so limited that you could actually count the drops on the shield.

Bikes gassed, restroom break completed and a small drink to quench our thirst, we readied ourselves for the final leg of our trip. We were less than 200 miles from home. At 1500hrs (3:00pm) we were passing through the toll booth and entering the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It’s a road that we know well. So without hesitation we run through the numbers, lock in at 85 and let the bikes do the work. We crossed the bridge into New Jersey and at 1730hrs (5:30pm) we were pulling in our driveway. We had covered 581 miles since 0700hrs (7:00am) and were home safely.
Checking my bike’s odometer, it registered 5018 miles for the entire trip. Not bad for 9 days on the road.
Unfortunately we had no time to relax after we arrived home. Both Jan & I had to go to work the following morning. So while I unloaded the bikes and trailer, Jan sent messages out to family and friends that we were home safely. We got a quick bite to eat, showered and hit the bed. We were home….but Harley & Chico would have to spend one more night at the kennel.

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