George McConnel's "Running Lights" Run

It all started in January of 1999. Lewis Preston, owner of "The Electrical Connection", contacted me with a proposition. He had developed some very nice "Running Lights" which could be added onto various motorcycles to enhance night time visibility. Although manufacturers have recently begun putting more adequate lighting systems on motorcycles, even these newer bikes could use some help in the area of headlights. Older bikes were downright pitiful.

Lewis realized that marketing these headlights to owners of older Gold Wings (especially the 1200's, 1100's and 1000's) would be very appropriate. But he didn't have a GL1200 Gold Wing to use as a model for creating mounting brackets. His proposition was simple: If I would ride to Knoxville and let him use my bike as a "guinea pig" so he could develop the mounts for his product, he would give me a set of the driving lights for my trouble. Now that was an offer I couldn't refuse.

The winter of 1998-1999 was an interesting season because of the "El Nino" effect. I had told several of my friends about my intention to watch for a "good" weather day and take off work if necessary to ride to Knoxville. It looked like my "good" day was going to be on February 9th. It was a Tuesday. The weather forecast was for "Partly Cloudy with highs in the low 70's" It looked like the perfect day for this ride. But looks can be deceiving...

I emailed Lewis to make sure it would be okay with him if I rode over that day and he said, "No problem". I had two friends who also wanted to ride with me. Rich Simmons was going to ride on his Magna and Bill Gleason wanted to ride his BMW K1100R and have lights mounted on it while we were there.

I met Rich at "Gillsville", a shopping center in Smyrna, TN at the junction of Jefferson Pike and Sam Ridley Parkway. He had just bought himself a brand spankin' new J&M CB so we could chat while we were riding. This particular CB was designed to be mounted on the handlebars or strapped to one's body. He kept having trouble with it though, which was extra annoying considering the somewhat exhorbitant price of the unit. About every 4th transmission would be nothing but a squeal, and the unit just wasn't extremely dependable.

But we rode down Jefferson Pike to Highway 96, then took 96 out to US 70. From there we proceeded towards Smithville, where we had arranged to meet Bill Gleason at a convenience store. We hooked up with him and he took the lead. The weather was considerably cloudier than I had expected, based on the weather report, and it was a little bit colder than I had anticipated it being. No problem though, I had brought plenty of warm riding gear and I was just fine.

When we got as far as Crossville we stopped for gas at a convenience store near the entrance ramp to I-40. We were planning to jump on the interstate for the remainder of the ride to Knoxville (about 50 or so miles). As we were filling up the bikes a large, ominous looking cloud was looming in the sky and a few drops of rain were falling. But before we got ready to mount back up the sprinkles stopped. We elected to proceed without donning our rain gear.

No sooner had we gotten on the interstate when it started raining. And it was raining hard. Bill was still in the lead so he pulled off under a bridge and we put on our rain gear. We started back out and within 5 minutes it had stopped raining and it was now downright sunny. I started feeling like I was in a sauna, with all the moisture trapped under my rain gear. Fortunately it didn't take long for us to make it to Knoxville, where we stopped off at a truck stop and had lunch.

After lunch was over we proceeded to Lewis's house, following the directions he had given me via email. I had met Lewis and his wife before, during a "Guardian Whales" flag exchange. They are a delightful couple, and it was nice to see them again.

Watching Lewis work was an interesting experience. He is quite skilled with his tools, and he modeled some nice mounts. Unfortunately, his powder coating machine was not working correctly and he spent awhile trying to get it to work, even calling the tech support people. He was unable to get it to work so he settled for just spray painting the mounts. He hooked it up to my bike, using an extra switch I already had available on a light bar. It went together quite nicely.

There was some kind of problem mounting Bill's lights, as I recall but I don't remember what it was. He was able to mount the lights themselves, but he was unable to supply the power to them. Perhaps he was missing a relay or something, but Bill said it would be no problem for him to finish hooking them up when he got the part he needed.

I offered to take Lewis and his wife out for a meal somewhere, and they suggested "Aubry's". But before we could get ready to go to the restaraunt we noticed some yellow looking clouds headed our way. It looked like a hailstorm. Sure enough we were suddenly deluged with hailstones. I quickly tried to throw the cover over my bike, but the heavy winds associated with the hailstorm just blew it back off. The hail did not damage the bikes though, and the storm only lasted a few minutes.

We checked the doppler radar on the weather channel and it appeared that there was going to be more rain before this adventure was over. So we just figured we would eat at the restaraunt while it was raining, then head on home. We went to Aubry's and had a nice, leisurely meal together while it rained and poured outside. There was plenty of lightening too.

After an hour or so the weather calmed down (as it looked like it would on the Doppler). So we went out and uncovered our bikes, getting ready for the ride back home. We said "goodbye" to Lewis and Carol, then headed out. This time I took the lead. Bill didn't have a CB so he rode in the middle and Rich took the "drag" position. Unfortunately, Rich's CB wasn't working correctly by this time and I couldn't hear what he was trying to say. He could hear me but when he tried to transmit I would just hear a clear signal. I verified this by getting him to key his mike "once for yes, twice for no" a few times.

Suddenly it started raining again. Not hard rain, but there was lightening, and I was beginning to worry about the possibility of getting hit by a lightening bolt. We had donned our rain gear before leaving the restaraunt this time in anticipation of having to ride through some rain, so we persevered for awhile. As we actually got onto I-40 proper and began the westward trek back home the rain began to get more intense. After awhile I was having difficulty even seeing far enough ahead to tell what was in front of me. I started looking for a bridge, but it was so dark and rainy that I could hardly see well enough to make one out. Suddenly a lightening blast helped me see what I was having trouble seeing, an overpass ahead. I turned on the turn signals and began slowing in order to get pulled under the overpass.

We got stopped and one of the guys said that if I hadn't pulled over pretty soon he was going to come up and tackle me. We huddled under the bridge for at least 40 or so minutes as a fierce storm raged overhead. Occasionally a large truck would come blasting through and douse us with a generous splash of road water. I remember Bill saying, "Ain't this fun?!?"

Eventually the rain and lightening subsided. We mounted back up but now we had a new problem. A heavy fog was descending, and it got so thick that I could literally make out my shadow in it from the headlights of the riders behind me. For mile after mile we rode that way, slowly making progress in the unrelenting blanket of fog.

While we were parked Rich managed to figure out what was wrong with his CB radio and get it working (more or less) again. His microphone was not plugged in correctly. So at least we were able to talk some.

Then we ran into another problem. Rich was low on gasoline and it had been some time since we had seen an exit with a gas station. I told him we would pull off at the next exit, but the next exit didn't look real promising. However it did have a "Gas" sign indicating that there was gasoline to be had somewhere off that exit. We took it and headed in the direction it said the station was (which was about 1/2 mile from the Interstate. When we got there we discoved that the station was closed. We had little choice other than to hop back on the Interstate and hope we could find a station that was open before Rich ran out of gas.

About 20 miles further we found a station, and we got Rich filled back up. We felt better now that one problem was solved, but we still had the fog to deal with. I sure was enjoying the additional lighting the new driving lights were providing. It was truly amazing how much better I could see (even in the fog) with them.

Eventually we reached the exit where Bill needed to part ways with us. Rich and I continued on to the "840 loop" just west of Lebanon, Tennessee, then took it around to Jefferson Pike (Hwy 266) towards Smyrna. We parted ways not far from where we had met that morning as he rode on to his house and I rode to mine. I can't remember ever being so glad to have ended a motorcycle ride in my life. What an adventure!

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