04 April, 2010

End of the Road

Chicago traffic is terrible. Miserable. There is no way to avoid the gridlock. I assumed that heading into the city at around 6:15pm I’d meet backed up traffic coming towards me but I’d be ok enough going downtown away from the rush. Yeah, I was wrong. Lake Michigan makes a natural barrier forcing way too much traffic into Chicago. So I became that guy who weaves in and out of parked and slow moving traffic on his motorcycle. This is perfectly acceptable in most of the places in the world where I’d ridden before. In the US, however, motorists I passed were no doubt cursing me and secretly hoping that I’d get pulled over by a cop or maybe even that I’d get in an accident and become maimed in order to learn my lesson that the lines dividing the road into lanes are there for a reason. After an hour of stopping and going, bobbing and weaving I was slowly working my way through the traffic when the prayers of others were answered and the temperature light turned on as my motorcycle began to overheat when passing one of the toll booths. Argh! I pulled over to the side of the road in humiliation as cars slowly rolled past which I had just been recklessly (in their view, not my own) weaving through coming inches from their vehicles. Yes, several of them I could see laughing at me. Since I didn’t really know where I was going, I took this small chance to call Fletcher and find out if there was any advice he had on how to avoid the congestion and see just how much farther he thought I still had to go in this mess. Of course there are no roads without traffic in Chicago at this time of day, so after a couple minutes to stretch and let the engine cool down, I continued on my way.

I hate traffic!!!

It wasn’t too much longer till the traffic eased a little and I reached the exit. It was a great relief to be off the highway although trying to see the building numbers and road names while not hitting any pedestrians or cars on the narrow streets around UIC proved a different challenge. I only went past the building where Fletcher and Rachel live once before realizing it, and around 8pm I finally had a chance to allow my body to adjust to a more comfortable position than it had experienced most of the day.

It had been over a year since Fletcher and I had last met in Sudan and two years since our epic R&R on Zanzibar. We reconnected over a couple fine cigars on his back porch where they have a beautiful little garden to relax and soak in life. We really pondered existence that evening, and shared the joys and frustrations of the life we’d left in Sudan, Church, faith, and other deep things that make for good conversation while appreciating a nice cigar. While Fletcher had to be at work early the next morning, I had a chance to catch up with Rachel (they had just gotten married a few weeks before my visit). After a nice relaxing morning and a nice late breakfast, I headed east to the section of the journey which I’ve travelled far too many times already.

I started out in the late morning and avoided the worst of the traffic, though the construction just outside the city center was not so fun. My second home is in Northeast Indiana. Roughly 150 miles from Chicago, I always enjoy my visits to Bear Lake Camp and seeing all my friends/my second family there. It would have been easy to stay longer, but I did have an interview I was trying to get back east for, so I only stayed one night, attended Brad’s birthday party, and headed to Ft Wayne for the last night of the expedition. Chad, Ethan and Zeeb had plenty to say about my crazy trip and were pretty surprised I’d actually made it so far without having killed myself. Of course, if I had another month to start on another similar journey right then, I think in 5 minutes I’d have talked all three of them into getting motorcycles right then and there and joining me.

Bear Lake Camp in winter

The following morning I headed east where I intended to stop by and visit my Aunt and Uncle and a long time friend in Findlay Ohio. So, after 7000 miles of smooth sailing and no trouble with the police, I had my first encounter. It happened in Ottawa Ohio, with a population of maybe 5,000. I’m driving down the little 2 lane road towards the town with cornfields on both sides of me and a 55mph limit. I was maybe at 66 or 67 when the police car was coming towards me. Motorcycles don’t have cruise control, and I was a bit eager to reach the end as I expected to be home that night. It just had to be a woman cop. And by the looks of it, her husband was going through a mid-life crisis, had bought a motorcycle, and she wanted nothing to do with it or anyone else who might encourage him in the venture. I’ve gotten three speeding tickets in my life, 2 of them have been given by women police officers. Both of those were in Ohio. But, as far as problems that I could have encountered on the way, a speeding ticket is a minor one. And after a nice visit with Dave, Linda and Lance over lunch, I continued the remaining 350 miles from Findlay making only one stop and getting back at dusk 28 days after I’d left. I considered going the extra couple hundred miles to reach the Atlantic so that it could truly have been a coast to coast journey, but I was tired and satisfied enough with the road I’d travelled that I had no need to prove anything. And with that, the Blue Mamba Trail was complete. Good times, Good times indeed!