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Betty and I crossed the George Washington Bridge around 6:30 Wednesday evening. Stopping every 20 feet or so there was plenty of time to breathe in the city and feel the warm embrace of our fellow travelers. They honked, waved and drove really close, trying to get a better look. You'd think they'd never seen a Ninja 250 with a Tennessee tag; much less one named Betty.
The day began in Anderson County, where a green blob slithered onto the screen. It was about to devour Rockwood when the background turned orange and the words "FloodWatch" appeared. Green blobs and the smell of ozone make a potent motivational cocktail. Betty was already dressed for success, wearing a set of RKA saddlebags and matching tank bag. Strapped to the passenger seat was a dry-bag jammed with warming layers and the rain gear I was hoping not to need.
Sunrise blossomed pink and golden over the Smokies just beyond the I-81 split. Bristol passed without incident and it was sunny most of the way to Wytheville and the first gas stop. The fog began as a patch here and grew into one continuous cloud. It wasn't raining but wet enough for my shield to stay crowded with drops. This seemed to be the caboose of Tuesday's storm. The new front, with its kindergarten colors, was 100 miles behind, presumably gnawing on Knoxville.
The second gas stop came in Woodstock, Va. a little after noon. The skies were sunny and we were making reasonable progress. Where would the day end? I rode straight through on the BMW R65 last July, but 950 miles in one day on a Ninja 250? Betty was doing great but we were a little off the pace and fatigue was inevitable. How about a shortcut? Everyone knows there's this big obstacle two-thirds of the way up the coast, called "New York City." I usually give it a wide berth, offering the extra clicks as a sacrifice to the god of puckered seats.
About the time we crossed into Pennsylvania, Betty reflected motorcycle headlights approaching from behind. We slowed a little and along came two groups of bikes from Quebec: Gold Wings and Harleys. The second wave got cut off in traffic so I joined the first group and motored along for several miles. They got off at Gettysburg and waved me on my way. Before I knew it the road forked and it was time for the big decision. Betty, would you like to see the Big Apple?
When I left the house, I had no intention of making Massachusetts in one day. Now I had New York City below and dark clouds above. Betty and I were in such a big hurry to flee the big ugly blob devouring East Tennessee, we'd caught up with the one that passed through on Tuesday. I fished out $8 to cross the G. Washington Bridge and then coughed up another $2 for evasive-action training on I-95 a few miles later. Ten bucks was a small price to pay for Betty's bragging rights.
By the time I-395 appeared through my fog-shrouded visor, all the bugs had been wiped away. It had been raining for an hour and I was losing my sense of humor. Visibility was 132 feet, which is either the distance you travel in one second at 90 mph, or the average speed of Connecticut drivers. Or both. The last thing I'd eaten was a handful of peanuts at gas stop #3 in Bethel, Pa.. Cold, wet, hungry, and tired: Can self-pity be far behind? Another 45 minutes passed before I spotted an oasis in the form of golden arches.
I called Leslie twice. The first call was, "I'm 75 miles out. I'll call you back when I stop shivering." My wet gear covered a six-topper and both benches, so I commandeered the next booth for dining. Never underestimate the power of a Quarter-Pounder and a hot chocolate chaser. I dried out my neck warmer under the hand drier, got directions from Leslie during the second call and emptied the dry-sack. I was wearing more layers than a Vidalia onion. All I had to do was cross into Massachusetts, find Worcester, ride east, turn south, cut through a Dunkin Donuts parking lot* and I would be in the hamlet of Grafton. When Betty rolled down Leslie's driveway it was 11:30 p.m. and the trip-meter read an optimistic 975 miles.
Now it's Leslie's turn to get to know Betty. I bought the bike as an engagement gift. Leslie asked for a bike she could, "really learn to ride." Meanwhile she joined the Yankee Beemers, whose veterans were eager to offer advice. No one seemed to have a thousand-dollar Ninja 250 with a cracked fairing on their list.
New riders walk away for a lot of reasons, but usually it boils down to a lack of confidence. If the bike is tough to push around, a little too tall, awkward to maneuver at low speed, leaps forward when you open the throttle, or puts you in an uncomfortable position, you won't feel confident. There's also the fear of damaging the bike. This little Ninja offers none of those obstacles. It's like Motorcycling 101. If you take a semester of Betty and don't pass, you probably aren't cut out for riding.
In the book of epic journeys, this one doesn't rate a footnote. The main reason for telling the story is to challenge the little-bike stereotype. The other thing to remember is that I didn't wander out to the garage in flip-flops and decide to take off for Massachusetts on a whim. Betty (a 1993 Ninja 250 with 10K on the clock and more than a little wear around the edges) had fresh fluids and new tires. Everything worth checking had been checked and adjusted. The bags carried warm clothes, tools, snacks, water, and the BMWMOA Anonymous Book. I had four sets of ear plugs, three rubber bands for cruise control (I lost two in the first 300 miles), two sets of waterproof gloves, and an Airhawk cushion strapped to the seat. What a marvelous invention. I didn't start out to make it up there in one day. After 600 miles I found myself in Pennsylvania with four hours of daylight and very little discomfort. Thanks, Betty.
*All directions in New England involve cutting through a Dunkin Donuts parking lot.