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Rolling Thunder

MotorcycleThis story isn’t about WiFi, blogging, or The Future Of The Internet. Although, these are the things I like to write about because of the huge impact they are having on both our business and personal lives, it is also fun to write about music, motorcycles, hiking, and other things. This particular story is a journal about a 700 mile four day motorcycle trip. The journey began at 6:45 am on Sunday with a ride (mostly in the rain) to Pennsylvania to meet up with 26 other riders to take a tour of the Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pennsylvania (pictures here). The second leg of the trip was to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the final leg was a ride into Manhattan and then on to Connecticut.

It is always hard to plan trips when the weather forecast is “chance of rain”. It was to be a four day trip with the last day in New York City for a board meeting where I did not want to walk in soaking wet. The forecast for that day was excellent so I decided to make the journey. It started out with a drizzle, turned to a steady downpour, then fog, but then just cloudy when I arrived in Nuangola, Pennsylvania. While getting off Interstate 81 to enter the rest area I hit a huge pothole. The bike bottomed out and the impact bent the kickstand spring. What ensued in the next five minutes and over the next two days was characteristic of this group of motorcycle riders. They are a very caring bunch of people — always eager to lend a helping hand to a fellow rider. (read more about kickstand incident).

After a short break it was time to head south on I- 81 for about 50 miles to Pine Hill, Pennsylvania for a gas stop and then lunch at McDonalds. I have ridden with groups of a dozen or so bikes before but never with twenty-seven. I was roughly 20 or so in the pack and the sound I heard was like rolling thunder. It was exhilarating. We rode in a staggered group so we could stay fairly close together but not dangerously close to the bike in front. After lunch we continued south for another 130 miles to the Inner Harbor at Baltimore, Maryland, where we spent three hours chatting and seeing the sights. At 5 PM we began the final leg of about 60 miles to the Days Inn in York, Pennsylvania. After dinner at a diner just a block away, we walked over to a Karaoke bar another block away. One of our group, Doug, was an excellent singer. We then convinced Alex, who drives a large rig on freight hauls to Ohio and back, that he and his daughter and a third member of the group should take the stage. Alex sings with his wife in church on Sunday morning, so the logic went, the karaoke stage should be easy. We all cheered them on and they gave an excellent performance.

We departed for the Harley-Davidson factory at 8am. The 234 acre site employs more than 3,000 people who operate lasers, robots, assembly lines, painting operations, and packing. The component parts are more than 90% American made. Tons of American made steel and thousands of American made tires go in the front door and come out the back as gleaming new motorcycles — each with more than 1,000 parts. It was quite a site to see. Photography was not permitted in the factory. If only I could have gotten a kickstand spring from the assembly line! While the group visited the gift shop, I headed over to Laugerman’s Harley-Davidson about two miles away. (read more about the kickstand incident).

We left the factory around 10:30 am headed east on Route 30 for Lancaster County. The rain started after about ten minutes — we pulled over and suited up in our rain gear — and continuously increased in intensity over the next hour. We continued through Amish country and turned onto route 340 and then route 897. I was listening to Jay (group leader) and John (group sweeper) on CB channel 5 when I heard Jay describe the washed out flooded road in front of him. It was impassable. I wish I had pictures of the twenty-seven motorcycles turning around on the narrow country road in the torrential rain. The group decided to pull off the road at a coffee house for a break and to plan an alternate route. I decided, after listening to the flood warnings on my weather radio, that things were going to get worse not better, so I set the Garmin StreetPilot GPS to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I had to go anyway, and departed from the group.

I followed the needle through the downpour. Seeing the farms and fields already flooded, I wondered if I would find myself at another impasse. After 30 miles or so I saw a sign for the Pennsylvania Turnpike which lead me east to Valley Forge and then up the northeast extension to Bethlehem. I arrived at the Sayre Mansion with 400 miles on the trip odometer, worn out, soaked through to my bones, but thankful that I had arrived safely.

Tuesday was a long but rewarding day at Lehigh University, my alma mater. I was privileged to be able to speak with the President of the university and to meet with the Provost, the Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services. Lunch with some students and faculty was followed by a roundtable with some local business leaders. I gave a lecture about The Future Of The Internet and had a very enjoyable Q&A with the students. They asked really good questions. After dinner with some faculty and staff I was pleased to give a presentation to the Lehigh Valley Network of Young Professionals. I guess you could say that all this is part of the cycle — Learn-Earn-Return.

Wednesday was a bright and sunny day. The motorcycle ride across Interstate 78 from Bethlehem to the Lincoln Tunnel was smooth. It was a different experience to be riding on a bike under the Hudson River. Getting to New York City took a little more than an hour. So did getting from the tunnel exit to my destination at Park Avenue South. The discomfort of sitting in the heat for so long and moving a few feet at a time through the bumper to bumper traffic was exceeded only by the challenge of avoiding the potholes. I had a hunch that parking a motorcycle in Manhattan might be a challenge but that would turn out to be an understatement.

Three out of three parking garages that I approached gave me a very clear signal — NO MOTORCYCLES! I offered extra compensation but they were not interested. Likely for insurance reasons. As I turned on to Third Avenue, luck would have it that there was a space. After parking the bike I asked the attendant of the shoe repair shop if she would keep an eye on it for $20. She was clear in her unsmiling response — “I can’t be responsible for this and by the way you are encroaching MY parking space”. I went two doors away to a GNC store. Just inside the door was a huge young man. I smiled at him and he smiled back. “Any chance you could keep an eye on my bike?”, I asked. “Sure, no problem”, he said. He wanted no money but I insisted that he take $20 for his trouble and $1 for extra quarters to put in the parking meter. I offered my hand and introduced myself to bond the relationship.

After lunch at Artisanal with David Strom, Technology Editor at VAR Business Magazine, I walked back to Third Avenue to check with Chris. All was well with the Harley, so I headed off to the fourth floor at 475 Park Avenue South for a meeting of the board of directors of Jupitermedia Corporation (JUPM). I continue to be optimistic about the opportunity that Jupitermedia is focused on and left the meeting feeling really good. This would change shortly after an hour on the FDR and then the Deagan. The “short” ride to Darien, Connecticut took two hours and forth minutes. It was near unbearable. When I got to the DoubleTree Hotel to speak at the BizMac meeting, I was soaking wet — not from rain this time, but from sweating under the sunshine and bumper to bumper traffic.

The ride home in the cool dark evening was a joy. Riding at night can be dangerous as could have been most of the riding this week. Hopefully I add extra caution and diligence to offset the danger. It is great to be home after 700.5 miles on the road. Tomorrow is another day and another board meeting. I pray for those in the path of the storm and especially for those fighting for freedom in Iraq.

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