19 July 2010

Two-wheeled Adventures The Third (Part I)

Editor's Note: This behemoth of a post is long in coming, and I was waiting to post it in it's entirety, which is why it was not up before. Rather than continue that wait...here is Part 1. Enjoy!

Every once in a great while, trips that are planned take on a life of their own, and become adventures of epic proportion. More often than not, the main character in those particular adventures is yours truly.Where does this story begin? Does it begin at about 1500 on Sunday, 25 April 2010, when I started my recently purchased motorcycle and rode it off the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry, shortly after we docked in Bridgeport, CT? Or does it begin at about 1020 on that same day, when I finally met the man who would sell me that motorcycle? Perhaps it begins at 0130, when I was still in Washington, DC.

As many of you know, I had been without a motorcycle since late January, and didn't like it. As the weather started improving, and my truck remained thirsty and cumbersome as ever, I straight up loathed not having a bike. The problem with replacing my last one was that I had not yet gotten reimbursed for the demise of my latest one (yes, the second since September, for those counting). I found one, on an internet forum that I frequent, which is devoted entirely to the model of motorcycle of which I am now (again) the proud owner. That motorcycle is the Yamaha YZF-600R (picture below), which has the speed of a sportbike, yet allows for a more upright seating position than the GSX-R, R-6 or others of that type. I need all of that room that I can get, as I am not a small guy, and I don't just ride for ten minutes every other weekend. The 600R is called the Thundercat in Europe, because the Europeans like to name their bikes, rather than just use the numbers and letters, as we do here in the US. Those of us that have come to love these Thundercats often refer to them affectionately as 'Cats, and that is what I will use from here on out.
Which brings me to the bike itself. This 'Cat in particular was (and is, don't worry Ben) in fantastic condition. The detail and care put into maintenance and cleaning couldn't have been better. Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we can talk about the 'Cat itself, we have to talk about its location, which became a focal point in the adventure. You see, this particular 'Cat used to live on Long Island, which, for those of you who aren't geography majors, is no-freaking-where-near DC, much less Springfield, VA. However, instead of being a deterrent for me, that gave me an idea. You see, Long Island, and specifically the part where my 'Cat used to live, is very near to CT, which I had not visited since January of 2009, when I retrieved my belongings from that particular vehicular debacle. That meant that I had not seen some people for quite a while. In particular, my close friends Moireen and Brian. Those who know me well can already see the mental wheels turning as I cook up another scheme...

This brings us to my travel arrangements. Complex, yet simple, the biggest variable was that I do not know the New York City Subway system at all, and did not bring a map. My first leg began Saturday morning, when I drove my truck into work and parked near the shop. Following a very lucrative day at work, I then drove into Arlington to attend the moving out party hosted by Blake, my coworker, and his girlfriend Amber (whose housewarming party should be a good time, so definitely come if you are invited). I stayed until the end, and then made my way back into DC, where I re-parked and changed clothes in preparation for my journey. At about 0100, I began my walk to Chinatown, carrying my new Saddlemen TS3200 Deluxe Sport Tailbag (review to follow at some point), which I was HOPING would actually attach to the bike I was about to purchase, because otherwise, travel would be rather difficult. Now when I got to the address on H street, NW, as instructed, I did not immediately see a bus, but I was early, so I just stood by. I began to get curious, when it was about 0145, and there was no bus, as I was told to arrive no later than 0130, so I walked to the corner of 5th and H. What I saw completely threw me off guard. Now I don't startle too easy, but I was most definitely ill-prepared for the sight which met my eyes as I rounded the corner. This was not a bus from Chinatown, this was a CHINESE BUS. (Ok, it was technically an American bus, as it was made by Bluebird) Let me tell you, I was the only "round-eye" on the bus-in-question, or BIQ, and it was PACKED. This shows my inexperience in the travels by methods other than Planes, trains, and automobile. The last time I took a bus that was not a part of a trip with which I was in a large group was probably when my family went to Barcelona, Spain by bus in the mid-90's. Even that was set up by the MWR from the base we lived on (I'm pretty sure, anyway) and was a bus from a military base in a largely occidental area. So I walked forward and placed my bag in the luggage area of the bus, then made my way aboard, with about 50 of my new best friends. Well...not exactly. Perhaps people of my particular complexion don't take that bus too often, but no one seemed happy to seem me, least of all the guy I had to ask to move, so I could sit next to him in the third-to-last seat available. I can honestly tell you that I foresaw NONE of this. In my mind, as I booked my ticket with ease a few days before my journey, I was thinking, "What kind of idiot takes a 0200 Sunday morning bus to NYC? I'm sure it will be mostly empty." And I was WRONG. But I digress.

After taking my place aboard the bus, and promptly passing out. I next awoke somewhere in New Jersey, as we traveled up the asphalt that makes up the Jersey Turnpike, and then again as we crossed one of the many bridges in NYC, which to that date, I had been on the ground in one time before in my life. So I started to watch through the windows of the bus as we careened through the city of New York (I don't have a chance of telling you where we actually were) in a series of dizzying lane changes and maneuvers that made me question my mode of travel for the morning. This whole time, I am wondering how long til we get there, and then we began to stop. Once again, I don't know where, only that we did, and people other than myself got off. I stayed on and hoped for the best, as there weren't any instructions given that I could understand. Finally, we did arrive at the prearranged destination, an hour ahead of schedule. Not bad, though traffic is certainly light during our hours of travel, which did help.

I was now faced with the challenge of finding a subway station in a city in which I had almost never been, and without much of a clue as to where exactly I was located. I used the method I thought most appropriate, I guessed. As Patton said, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." And thus, I set off. I could see the sun still rising, and therefor had an idea of which Cardinal direction I was heading, and I had checked out the maps while still at home. With this half-assed information, I went South. I also urgently had to go 10-100, which, as Sally Field could tell you, is better than 10-200, but neither were possible for me where I was. For the city that never sleeps, NYC must take a pretty good nap on Sunday mornings, because I only saw about 5 people in the little less than a half mile I walked to the East Broadway Subway Station. On my way down Allen Street, I came to a number of intersections, but didn't recognize the names of any streets, so I continued on my way. It is a bit embarrassing to say, but must admit that the main reason I recognized Canal Street was from playing the Incredible Hulk video game on Xbox 360, that my brother Jamie has. Canal Street came across my past numerous times while I was leaping about the city destroying things. On that Sunday morning, I figured it was a significant enough street to be in the game, so it must lead somewhere. I headed East on Canal, and after only a couple blocks, I came to the aforementioned East Broadway Station. This began another adventure in and of itself, because evidently, they were doing track maintenance on the Northbound tracks from East Broadway. Guess which direction I needed to go? YEP. So I had to take a train East to Brooklyn, then disembark, and await yet another train to go back to Manhattan on a different line. This was relatively easy, and though I am typically able to comprehend things very well, I feel the NYC subway system is not that hard to navigate, even though it is magnitudes more complex than that of DC, which is the second only to New York's in terms of scale.

I arrived at the 34th Street Station, which was plenty of miracle for me at that point in the venture, and headed briefly East, though Penn Station was to the West. I had seen on the Subway maps that the Empire State Building was just a few short blocks away, so I figured I had to at least try and get a picture, which you can see on the right. The only other time I was in NYC was in 2003, which means that every time I have been in that city, the Empire State Building was the tallest building there. It amazes me that the Washington Monument, which I spend most work days looking at, is only a third the size (roughly) of the ESB, including the antennae at the top. I am also interested to see the completion of One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower, which is due to be completed in 2013. As I continued back towards Penn Station, which happens to be the busiest passenger transportation facility in the United States. It is also attached to Madison Square Garden, which allowed me to snap another picture of a cool place, without deviating from my path of travel.
Also captured in the picture are numerous, typical, NYC taxicabs, but we all know Pedicabs are much more awesome...As you can see, NYC is waking up from its Sunday morning slumber, by now it is a little after 0830. I stopped, for a bit of breakfast in a quaint little cafe run by women from India. I can't recall the name, but there were large M's all over the place :). I made my way into the bowels of Penn Station, and located the Long Island Railroad ticket counters. After purchasing my ticket, I promptly wandered around looking for somewhere to sit. When my train finally was ready to load up, I made my way aboard, located an empty row of seats, placed my bag and myself on it, and passed out. I hardly awoke when the conductor asked for my ticket, and didn't wake again until a good hour later. I stayed awake for the last couple stops, until it was time to disembark in Ronkonkoma. I then collected my things and moved out to the main entrance of the station, where I awaited the arrival of my new 'Cats' now previous owner. The meeting culminated with us both standing on opposite sides of a Dunkin Donuts and asking the other one what else he could see, all while being on the phone while separated by about 25 yards and in plane sight...
So now I am in the home of Ben, and his wonderful girlfriend Danielle, while we go over the paperwork, look at the bike, talk about things, and then actually complete the transaction. I got my tailbag all loaded up. Thankfully, the bag fit on my bike great and attached fairly easily. We then set out in a two-vehicle convoy to Port Jefferson, where I was to board the ferry to Bridgeport, CT. You can see in this picture, how dreary of a day it was out. I will point out at this point, that this was probably the first time my new 'Cat had seen rain. Ben took excellent care of it, and had it nicely enclosed during any inclement weather. Then, I came along. Bought it. And promptly rode it off in the rain. What can I say, I'd rather ride than not, even in the rain. Here are a few more pics from the ferry. The one on the right is the bow of the ferry (my 'Cat was nestled safely about 20 feet under that lifeboat), and on the left is the shoreline of Connecticut, as we made our way towards it.

We were ordered to reenter our vehicles and prepare to unload the ship, and we did. (Being on a motorcycle gives you rockstar status on a ferry, by the way. First on, First off.) I then stopped to check my directions and update Moireen and Brian on my status. This is where it all went wrong.

You see, Ben did some excellent electrical work on the 'Cat while it was in his care, and it took only about an hour ride on the ferry for me to drain the battery by leaving the switch for the heated hand grips in the on position. For those of you that don't know about motorcycles, the battery is 12V, just like a car, but much smaller, which means that it takes a lot less to drain all the juice out. Furthermore, many bikes are not supposed to be jumped the same way you can jump a car. Evidently, Thundercats are one of those bikes. When the guy who worked at the parking lot my 'Cat came to rest next to attempted to jump it, it didn't, to say the least. I then pushed my 500 pound (before my luggage was attached) motorcycle UP the exit ramp of the parking garage, and attempted to pop the clutch and start it that way. It did start, but evidently, the battery was so dead, that it would not stay running at that point especially with something else electrical wrong as well. Exactly what else was wrong became the problem which consumed the better part of the next 36 hours. Now I have neglected to mention a significant fact in this story thus far; not only was my 'Cat's battery dead, but my cell phone was dead as well, and guess who was an idiot and didn't bring the wall charger? Yep, that was me. I had a car charger, but no car. Not one of my prouder moments, to be sure. That fact becomes significant because I could not even call for assistance, because I didn't have my phone, and although the girl that worked at the parking lot was gracious enough to let me use hers, I didn't have any numbers of people that could help. One of the first numbers I called was the previous owner. Now I know that he did nothing wrong, and did nothing but awesome work in both care and maintenance on the 'Cat while it was his, but tell me you wouldn't feel exactly like I did in that situation. I purchase a vehicle, sight unseen, and ride away, I get about 50 miles, and said vehicle won't run anymore. I tell you what, I was about pissed off at him! Especially with all of the horror stories my family and friends had said in the days leading up to my trip, it only made sense that some random guy I didn't know had taken my money and left me high and dry. But I tell you this now, there are good people in the world, and Ben and his girlfriend Danielle are on the short list. After finding out that I was having some major technical issues, (around 1930 on Sunday evening) the pair of them drove from their home on Long Island, West through NYC, and then East to my location in Bridgeport to try and do anything they could to help me out. People that I had only just met, yet they did a lot of driving and spent a lot of hours in the car, simply to try and help me. They were not the only rescue party, however, nor even the first to arrive. I was able to get my phone to turn on long enough to get Moireen's number out of it, and she and Brian, just as they did in November of 2008, set off to rescue me on one of my vehicular adventures.

To be continued....I promise...