Less than two weeks ago, Winter Storm Jonas delivered a blizzard to most of New Jersey and the surrounding states, dumping nearly three feet of snow over a single 24-hour period. Today I’m looking out my window at snow melting on this sunny, 47-degree day. Much as I might wish that this unusually warm weather will continue through the rest of the winter, the reality is that several more snowfalls are expected by the time Daytona Bike Week arrives.
When I think back to this time last year, which was one of the coldest—and I think snowiest—on record in New Jersey, I was already preparing for the ride to Bike Week. Or maybe I should say, the ride to the Amtrak station in Lorton, Virginia, where I planned to board the Auto Train with Lucille, my Switchback. It’s only 270 miles between New Jersey and Lorton, but those 270 miles are always the worst of the 1,100 miles to Daytona Beach, both traffic- and weather-wise.
From what I can recall, it snowed several times every week for two months before the rally. I’ve learned through hard-won experience that here in the north, if you don’t keep your drive clear at all times, you and your bike aren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw. So I spent time nearly every day chopping, shoveling, plowing and salting to keep the path clear all the way from my garage in back, up the long, sloped driveway and out to the street. Two days before my departure, about 18 inches of snow fell and then froze due to the severe cold. That required me to step up my chopping, shoveling and salting so I could get my bike out.
The good news was that I’d just acquired a new set of heated gear that promised to make the chilly ride to Lorton tolerable. And come Saturday morning, we’d been able to clear a path to the road. So with Lucille and the 19-degree chill I headed out, fully expecting that, since I was riding Interstates all the way to the train station, it would be clear sailing with the roads in good shape. You know what they say: the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men…
The first portion of my journey was uneventful—except for getting bombed with snow hurtling off the cars ahead—until somewhere in the central part of New Jersey, just after I left a service area, my bike suddenly quit. Just cut out completely. I rolled over to the shoulder and tried to start it again. No luck. I did a cursory inspection to see if there were wires hanging anywhere or anything else obvious, but nothing. No spark. Dead as a doornail. I was afraid I’d miss my train, which would be quite costly and incredibly inconvenient. There was only one Auto Train a day, and they fill up quickly, so there was no guarantee I’d be able to get reservations the next day. And I had no contingency plan.
Then I happened to glance at the kill switch. It was off. I flipped it back on and the bike immediately rumbled to life. I realized that, in figuring out my new heated gloves, I’d been fumbling with the heat controller and accidentally tapped the kill switch. Whew. Disaster averted. I actually did the same thing about 50 miles later, but this time I knew what I’d done and was able to recover without missing a beat.
At my next gas stop, the Maryland House on I-95, I went inside the travel plaza to grab something warm to drink. When I came back outside, I nearly went into full-blown panic mode. My bike wasn’t where I left her. Now I’ll really never get to Daytona. I stood there for a minute, not believing my eyes and unsure what to do next. And then I realized that I’d come out the south entrance, which looks exactly like the north entrance. After a short traipse through the plaza and out the other side, there she was, just waiting for me.
I finally reached the D.C. area, but as I neared the Capital Beltway, the traffic on my selected route, I-495/I-95, was at a complete standstill. So I decided to take I-495 in the other direction, which was a slightly longer but hopefully quicker route. No such luck. As I neared Silver Springs, traffic slowed to a crawl there too. Finally, I cleared the backup and continued on I-95 South and when I was given a choice to take either the express or local lane, I chose express. Here comes the Lorton exit. There goes the Lorton exit. I couldn’t get there from here. I took the next exit so I could reverse my route and get on the local lane. By this time, the snow was melting and water was running across the Interstate, especially the exit with its banked turn. It was more than a little slippery so I tried to be very careful. I made it to a cross street and, at a light, prepared to do a U-turn to get me headed in the right direction. However, I failed to see the melting snow and ice along the right side of the road at the end of the turn and down we went, my Lucille and I. The street was very busy but I flagged down a truck and two guys ran out to help me right the bike. She was none the worse for wear, and I rode the rest of the way to the station, arriving just in time to board my train.
My ride home the following week didn’t provide nearly the amount of drama I’d experienced—no, caused—on the way down, but it made me rethink this whole riding-just-after-it-snows thing. Today I got a report that Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow so spring is supposed to arrive quickly this year. I can only hope.