Almost Heaven, West Virginia | Part 2 of 2 (Distance Riding With Bruce)

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Distance Riding with Bruce
May 2010
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"Almost" Heaven, West Virginia
Iron Butt Ride #42 | Part 2 of 2


Extreme Long Distance Endurance Motorcycle Rider IronBoltBruce At 1:35am ET on Sunday, 14 June 2009, I pulled an ATM slip at a SoBe Wachovia marking the end of my 42nd Iron Butt ride. On this, my 4th SaddleSore 2000 run, I covered 2079 miles in 32 hours 54 minutes riding time, and 43 hours 1 minute total time. Here ends my account of the ride:

Part 2 of 2: Head Down on the Hood and Handcuffed

On the second leg of this SS2000 I rode 1049 miles in 17 hours 9 minutes for an MTH of 61.16, which reflects not only a number of photo op stops but also a, uh, "temporary detainment" in the Palmetto State I'll get to in a minute. My route from Charleston, West Virginia to Miami Beach, Florida was as follows:

  • IH-77 south from Charleston WV via the West Virginia Turnpike
  • IH-77 south through the East River and Big Walker Mountain tunnels to Virginia
  • IH-77 south through Wytheville and Fancy Gap VA into North Carolina
  • IH-74 east to US-52 south at Pilot Mountain NC
  • US-52 south through Winston-Salem NC to IH-85
  • IH-85 south to Charlotte NC, reconnecting to IH-77
  • IH-77 south into South Carolina to Columbia SC to IH-26
  • IH-26 east to IH-95 south through Georgia and Florida
  • IH-95 south to Ft. Pierce FL and the Florida Turnpike
  • Florida Turnpike south to IH-95 south to IH-195 east to Miami Beach

After a mostly sleepless night tossing and turning on a cool-looking but not so comfortable bed with overstuffed pillows that left a crick in my neck, I put on my sweats and flip-flopped down to the lobby for the Charleston Plaza Hotel's complimentary hot breakfast buffet. Nothing much memorable there, except for a stunning young server who reminded me of Vivica Fox. As I filled up with caffeine and calories, through floor-to-ceiling windows I watched the morning sun begin to burn away the fog blanketing a nearby mountain ridge. There wasn't much else to see, as this was a Saturday and the capital city streets were empty. Reloaded and recharged, I then returned to my room and got my gear ready to go.

At 8:26am ET that 13th day of June 2009 (there's that number again), I pulled an ATM slip at a nearby SunTrust bank to log the start of my ride and rolled out of downtown Charleston. Heading south on IH-77, I crossed the Charles "Chuck" Yeager Bridge over the Kanawha River, and soon after stopped for the first of three $1.25 toll booths along the West Virginia Turnpike between there and the Virginia border. And from that point on, the run south to the state line at Bluefield would be as exhilarating as the ride north the night before had been exhausting. For as daunting as twisting mountain roads can be on a cold and rainy night, with a warm sun, blue skies and dry pavement, they're a rider's delight! The twists and curves of the West Virginia Turnpike are not as extreme as the cutbacks of IH-40 as it crosses the Great Smoky Mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee, but leaning into them while you twist the throttle is just as fun. And I thank the local Beemer Boy who was kind enough to play cat-and-mouse with me, making that 80-mile dash all the more enjoyable!

From Bluefield I rode through the 5,412-foot East River Mountain Tunnel connecting West Virginia to Virginia's Blue Ridge Highlands. As on the ride up, I was once again struck by the marked contrast between the "Almost" Heaven mountains of the former and the "Just Might Be" Heaven valleys of the latter. And once again, the next hundred miles--through Rocky Gap into Wytheville, and through Fancy Gap into North Carolina and "Mayberry"--would be far and away the most scenic part of the entire ride.

Continuing south from US-52 to IH-85 and back to IH-77 in Charlotte NC, the temperature and humidity climbed as the elevation descended. And by the time I stopped for gas just south of there in Rock Hill SC, my handlebar thermometer was registering 100 degrees. The solar heat collecting in my skull rings and black Bowie knife scabbard was burning my fingers and chafing my leg, so I stowed them before riding on to Columbia SC. I would soon be glad I did that...

From IH-77's terminus near Dixiana I headed east on IH-26. The oppressive heat was making me regret drinking a Coke instead of a bottle of water at my last stop a hundred miles back, and I was really looking forward to quenching my thirst at my next fill-up. Not long after that, though, I topped a rise and saw that my next stop would be delayed: There must have been a bad accident ahead, because before me was a sea of stationary taillights stretching in two lanes to the horizon. Damn! I stopped for a few moments like everyone else ... but only for a few. I recognized my dry mouth and draining strength as signs of dehydration. And yes, I admit I had neglected to pack any emergency water that morning, but I decided not to punish myself for that omission by sitting in the sun and baking on the hot pavement until I passed out.

The emergency/breakdown lane was open, so I weaved my way into it and slowly headed towards what I hoped would be a nearby exit. I didn't make it to the next rise, though, before I saw blue lights looming larger in my rearview mirror. Hoping he would just want by and not want me, I pulled back into the sea of stalled cagers and weaved forward to the first open spot, which was in the left lane. By the time I got there, the South Carolina cruiser was parallel to me in the emergency lane, and the trooper driving it was gesturing madly (both meanings) for me to come join him. I reluctantly but immediately obeyed, weaving over and putting my sidestand down just in front of his vehicle. And I had barely come out of the saddle before an extremely irate young trooper was right in my face and pitching a first-class hissy fit. I had ear plugs in under my Fulmer Modus brain bucket (my choice for that day), so I only caught about half of his tirade. It was clear, however, that he was taking serious exception to my use of the emergency lane. I tried to explain to him that I was thirsty and needed to get to the next exit for some water, but he cut off every sentence I tried to start. Each attempted explanation seemed to make him angrier, until finally he yelled something I caught word for word:

"You're going to jail!"

Stunned for a moment, I put up no resistance as he cuffed my hands behind my back, walked me towards his cruiser, pushed me face-down over the hood, and ordered me not to move. He then got in the car and spoke to someone on his walkie-talkie, then someone on his cell phone. I couldn't read his lips or hear a word of what was said. But when he marched back around to where I was standing, he was a changed man. His tone of voice was now softened, almost apologetic. And like night and day, his primary concern now seemed to be my well-being. He tried to remove the handcuffs, but inadvertently (I think) made them tighter and broke his key off in the lock. He then started frantically tearing through his front seat, glove box, side door panels, rear seat and trunk. I hoped he was looking for a spare key, and asked politely if he had any water as well. I also told him that my left hand was going numb. He came over and removed my helmet for me, and then--believe it or not--took a towel and gently wiped the sweat from my face. He told me he had no water to give, but that he had sent for someone to bring a replacement key, and I should soon be on my way.

Sure enough, a few minutes later a deputy sheriff in a black SUV with lights flashing topped the rise behind us, rolled up and parked, and handed my new best friend a batch of keys. Seconds later the cuffs came off my wrists ... taking skin with them, and leaving marks behind. The trooper told me I was "good to go", but first I begged a liter bottle of water off the deputy, and gulped it down in a matter of seconds. Then, as if I was waking from a bad dream, both LEOs disappeared and I was free to saddle up and ride the remaining 600 miles back to SoBe. And curiously enough, without ever being charged with or ticketed for anything ... without ever showing any license or registration ... and without ever even being asked my name!

Go figure, huh?

Until Next Time ... Ride Long, Ride Free!


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