Of all the motorcycle rides my wife and I have taken prior to today, the one that was least comfortable turned out to be the most memorable, and perhaps even one of her favorites.
Fast forward two summers. Due to work commitments and the busyness of everyday life, my ol’ Harley has spent way too much garage time this season, and my wife Anna laments we have not taken a long ride yet this year. We finally had an opportunity this Saturday, so the night before, I planned a ride route through Connecticut.
Remembering our “Rain Ride” from three summers ago (http://harley-bound.blogspot.com/2010/07/rain-ride.html), Anna was nervous at the overcast skies and sprinkles as I backed the bike out of the garage. I assured her that the Turn to 10 forecast called for clearing skies after noon. Since I needed some clear goggles, I stopped at nearby Home Depot to pick them up, and got a two-piece yellow rain suit for her.
With gray skies still sprinkling near the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut, I pulled over for a map check. Anna made me promise to stop if it began to rain harder. “I don’t mind the rain,” she said. “It’s the cold I can’t stand. I don’t want to be miserable at the beginning of the ride.” We both wore leather jackets, and I could have used a sweatshirt underneath my jacket instead of a tee shirt.
As we rode west on Route 14 through the towns of Canterbury and Scotland – some especially scenic farm country – the rain began to end. In Willimantic, we picked up Route 66, and began riding southwest, stopping for coffee at a Dunkin Donuts in the town of Hebron.
Incidentally, my wife and I will probably not stop in Hebron on future rides. We encountered some weird people (and this was a suburban area, not the boonies). While waiting to use the bathrooms, a man emerged from the women’s bathroom. At first he apologized, but, then added, “I had a sex change.” I don’t know it was an awkward attempt at humor or if he was serious (these days, you never know), but my wife and I were stunned. Then, as we walked outside after eating our donuts, I was shocked as I saw a woman putting my helmet on the seat of my motorcycle (I always leave it on the ground next to my bike). “I though it fell off your motorcycle,” she said, but my wife explained that I lay it on the ground so it can’t fall off the bike and get damaged.
By now, skies were still overcast, but at least the rain had stopped. Another couple riding a cool-looking Yamaha (XV1900A, Raider edition) parked next to us. The rider reported that skies were clearing to the west, where we were heading. We got back on Route 66, riding past Pocotopaug Lake in Hampton (a nice spot for a picnic) and then through the town center of Portland, which was busy with people doing their Saturday errands. Heading west, past Middletown, Route 66 turns into Interstate 691, which we rode until we hit Interstate 84 west. We then got on Route 8, heading north until we got off at Exit 38. We stopped for gas in Thomaston. It was about 1:30 p.m., and I was hungry. As if on cue, I looked around and saw a sign for Rozzi’s restaurant. A rider who posted on www.motorcycleroads.us (which I use to plan my longer rides) wrote, “When you get to Thomaston go to Rozzi's for some great chow.” I made a note about Rozzi’s on my ride plan, but did not expect to actually find it so easily. True to recommendation, the food was excellent and reasonably priced. I had an open-faced turkey sandwich on garlic bread with gravy, homemade mashed potatoes and summer vegetables
The stop at Rozzi’s also perfectly situated because it is located near the eastern end of Route 109. “This is, in my humble opinion, the best road in Connecticut for motorcycles. It has everything – twisties, sweepers and scenic vistas – also giving riders the additional thrill of elevation changes throughout the route. The pavement is also perfect – no potholes or pavement inconsistencies,” wrote a rider from Bridgewater, Conn. on Motorcycleroads.US.
There began the best part of our ride: full gas tank, full bellies, and by now, the sun was shining and it had warmed up considerably. Route 109, which runs nearly 21 miles, is truly a motorcyclist’s nirvana. The country road runs through small farms, with every hilltop bringing new breathtaking vistas, and passes through some small-town centers. The stresses of everyday left melted away. I was glad we decided to go forward with the ride despite questionable weather conditions at our departure.
Route 109 ends in New Milford, where we rode south briefly before getting on U.S. Route 7 North, where we had been on our ride to New York in July, 2010 (http://harley-bound.blogspot.com/2010/07/push-for-new-york.html). Route 7 follows the Housatonic River and Appalachian Trail, and portions of the river reminded Anna of Coal River in West Virginia, where she grew up. We reached the village of Gaylordsville, and passed an antique shop where had stopped three years ago. I was looking forward to the town of Kent, which we had stopped just short of on our last long ride. Suddenly, we got caught in a downpour, with no good place to pull over, only a small tree. I helped Anna put on the rain pants, and she gave me the rain jacket. The rain showed no signs of letting up, and Anna did not want to stay under the tree, so we decided to get back on the bike and ride until we found better shelter, which turned out to be a gas station less than a mile up the road, at the junction of Route 341.
A group of about six other bikes was parked underneath a gas pump canopy. Anna, who has been trying to quit smoking, begged me to buy her a pack of cigarettes.
The rain cloud was isolated and rain gave way to sun in about 10 minutes, so I mounted the bike, jeans soaked. There was some sort of show or festival going on in Kent that afternoon, and pedestrian traffic was heavy.
We continued north on Route 7 under sunny skies, and in Canaan, we turned east on U.S. Route 44, passing some large farms in East Canaan. Traffic was pretty light, and by the time we stopped at a Dunkin Donuts in Winstead, my jeans had dried out. We didn’t get to linger over our coffee too long, though, because we saw dark clouds getting closer.
As we rode east on Route 44 into Hartford, a bank of dark clouds with visible rain bands seemed to stay just to the north. I was optimistic the rest of our return ride would stay dry as we picked up Interstate 84 to get through Hartford. But, by the time we got off at Exit 60 in Manchester, the dark skies caught up with us and it began to sprinkle. That sprinkle turned into heavy rain, as we took shelter under the canopy of a closed gas station on Route 6 in Bolton. We got back on the bike when the rain lightened, but then it got heavy again, forcing us to stop at a Shell gas station in a busy commercial area somewhere around Willimantic.
Another couple on a Harley stopped to change into their rain gear. “What happened to this nice afternoon we were having?” the man said. Given the unfriendly demeanor of the gas station cashier, Anna and I rode on, heading east on Route 6.
Although we could see the setting sun in the rear view mirrors, we stayed in the rain for the remainder of our time in Connecticut. But there was one blessing to the rain: we were treated to a beautiful rainbow. It seemed like we were riding right into the end of the rainbow, which then became a full rainbow (there was even a second, partial rainbow).
At the next Dunkin Donuts, I stopped so Anna could use the bathroom. I stayed on the bike. There were no customers, so the young man behind the counter came outside and said, “You’re welcome to come inside and dry off.” I declined. At this point, we were losing daylight and I just wanted to get home as soon as possible. “Be safe – I ride and I know what it’s like riding in the rain,” he said.
The rest of the ride back was misery and the rain stayed with us, sometimes heavy. Anna felt bad because her helmet had a visor and mine did not. I didn’t mind the rain stinging my face, except for the fact I just had eight stitches removed from a nasty cut on my nose and the injury was still tender. I had to cover my nose with my left hand at certain times.
I felt a bit better as we crossed the state line into Rhode Island and the rain got lighter. I noticed I was low on gas, so I stopped at a station near Route 94. Both of us were stiff, and I was low on patience as the person in front of me as I waited to pay for gas took her sweet time buying lottery tickets and chatting with the cashier, as puddles of water formed around my boots.
By now, it was dark and I was having trouble seeing due to the glare of headlights from oncoming cars. I had to look at the white line to the right to avoid going off the road. When I had to make a turn to stay on Route 6, I had to slow down almost to a stop, my wife said, and there was a car behind us. (“Honey, you were weaving,” my wife said afterward.) Part of the problem was safety glasses I wore over my prescription eyeglasses, so I took off the safety glasses and could see much better.
From there, we got on Route 102 South. Another reason I had trouble seeing was that my headlight, for some reason, was aimed high, so I pulled over to adjust it. Before we stopped, I began hearing a popping noise I assumed was my bike backfiring, but the noise continued after I turned the bike off. We were in a pitch black, densely wooded area, and I told my wife it sounded like heavy gunfire.
“It’s dark,” she said, her voice panicked. “What could they be shooting at?”
“Not us,” I hoped, as I quickly adjusted the headlight. Stiff as she was, she hopped back on my bike super fast. As we rode a bit farther, we were relieved when we realized the noise was from people shooting fireworks, not guns. “It was like the twilight zone,” Anna said.
Eventually, we made it to Coventry, the town where we live. From Route 102, I turned left onto Route 118, also known as Harkney Hill Road. Although the road is less than six miles long, my wife said it felt like forever to reach the other end on Route 3. Ironically, the roads in our town were dry. We arrived home some 290 miles and 11 hours later from when we departed, stiff, sore and dying to take off our wet clothes. Anna said, “I feel like we were rode hard, and put away wet.”