Sunday, December 4, 2011

Final Drive: Epilogue - A Bridge Too Far










A Bridge Too Far is a 1977 movie about a WWII offensive called Operation Market Garden, where the allies had tried to capture several bridges that spanned the Rhine River. This would have allowed a quick invasion into Germany and an end to the war. While we now know the outcome of WWII, Market Garden was in fact a failure. In my previous articles (Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle Trip, Fear and Loathing in Crescent City and The Long Ride Home) about my trip to Crescent City California this past August, I discuss the trials, tribulations and other experiences during that trip and while ruminating about it for the last couple months, I have wondered if it was like A Bridge Too Far. Did I bite off more than I should have, or was it reasonable to attempt such a long trip without having much experience in touring?

While I was successful in getting to and from my destination without a major mishap, in retrospect there were a few things I could have done differently and some things I should have given more consideration. In the past, I have given people grief about trailering their bikes to rallies. I won't give anyone grief anymore. There's something to be said for arriving at a destination refreshed and ready to ride, not to mention I could have put a lot more miles on the bike out there than I did. I could have prepared better by taking smaller trips before hand to get used to riding the bike for more than an hour at a time. There is a big difference between commuting 30-40 miles a day, the occasional joy ride and then covering over 4200 miles in nine days. Finding your limits when a few days from home is not a comfortable feeling. Another thing that would have helped was doing some physical training too, but I'll explain my reluctance forthcoming.

The one thing I should have given more consideration was a preexisting condition that I had found out about the previous April. Actually the story goes back before that, back to the previous October. I had been training for The Iowa State Games to participate in the Strong Man competition. This involves several stages of a strength contest that you can find out about here. I thought I could be a modern day George Foreman, defying what the expectations are for a then 48 year old man.  Well, my quest for the king of defying gravity had come to a halt. I thought I had impinged the brachial plexus on my left side. This is also known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The strength in my left arm had decreased to the point that I couldn't lift well (dumbell pressing movements were particularly revealing) and I had given myself almost two weeks off and went to the chiropractor. To give you an idea, I had been able to keep pace pretty much equally left to right with a hand gripper. Now with a #1 Captains of Crush, which is 140 pounds, I could do ten relatively easy reps with the right hand, but only five with the left. I had similar results with incline dumbbell presses as another example. Well, the chiropractic adjustment didn't go as well as I felt a shock down my arm when he adjusted my neck. I decided to take off three months to see if it would get better by itself as having this problem kills all upper body workouts.

The problem with my neck continued and I went to my physical therapist who said he wouldn't touch me and advised me to go to my primary doctor, who sent me for a MRI. Well, it turned out I have degenerative disc disease. I have bad disks between C4-C5 and C6-C7, stenosis and bone spurs. I had been getting headaches, pain down to under my shoulder blade and sometimes my arm, especially when I cough (and still do).  I went to a neurosurgeon to discuss the findings of the MRI and what my options are. Getting old sucks. I thought at best I would have had to wait until the following year for the Iowa Games if at all. I really wanted to do this. It was to be a last hurrah before accepting middle age. I went to another doctor, an orthopedic surgeon for a second opinion. Basically, he said I have a crappy neck for someone my age and surgery would make a sucky neck less sucky (those were his words, not mine).

So, the road leads in one direction, it's just a question of time to destination. If I do nothing, at some point I'll have very serious issues and you'll just call me hand truck man.  It's basically slowing down the process. This guy also recommended three levels of anterior fusion and decompression, but also said we'd be visiting the rest of the neck from the posterior down the road some time. So, I am done in a sense, from doing certain things, whatever that is. Mobility will be less, and I bet I will have to turn my body to see behind me instead of my neck. I will probably have four weeks home, a total of eight weeks in collar and four months until I am back to normal, whatever that is. On top of this, I also have disk issues L4/L5. I wonder if I can get a two for one deal?

Back to motorcycles. Because I was facing what I am facing, I decided to go on the motorcycle trip anyway. I felt that if I had the surgery in May like the doctor wanted, I might never ride again and certainly not until later in the year when the riding season is over anyway, which means I would have to wait until the following year. So I took the risk of not only not fixing the problem, but also taking the risk that if I had an accident that if I had no issues I would otherwise might walk away from, but I could end up like the ersatz Superman Mr Reeves. Was it foolish? May be. Hindsight is almost always 20/20. This also explains the goofy hand problems I was having on the road as well. Even now, my left arm fatigues much easier. Anyway, the end result of all of this is that I am going to get the surgery sometime next month.

So right now, my trusty steed, Hans Eric (my daughter Olivia's name for the bike) sits in the garage waiting for another day. I still have to put some Stabil® in the gas tank and put a trickle charger on the battery. This is the first time I will have to put a charger on any bike and to that end, I will have to go out, buy a charger and you'll see an upcoming article on winterizing a bike. I also promise NOT to dwell on medical issues as this is a column dedicated to owning, riding, maintaining a motorcycle and reflections on such, not an adventure into M√ľnchausen Syndrome.  One positive thing that has come out of all of this in the last few months is that I have had to let go of a lot of things. I believe that not letting go is what causes a lot of people to go through what we call the "Midlife Crisis". Life is process that includes a lot of transitions that we have to make adjustments. One of those transitions is growing older and in that process we may find we don't have the same capabilities we had at 20 years old. Another is hanging onto expectations of what success in one's life should look like. It's a lot of baggage to carry around and I am glad to get rid of a lot of it. It doesn't mean I don't have dreams and desires, just that I've cleaned house in which I've kept what is important, gotten rid of what isn't and found a couple new ones. It's made all the difference.


Hans Eric Awaits...

Thank you for reading this blog. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Final Drive: When Things Go Bad








What follows is a true story and the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

In the winter of 1992 a friend mine, Pete, had the bright idea of going into the specialty car business. His bright idea came shortly after inheriting what was at that time, a decent sum of money. His idea of “The Specialty Car Business” entailed buying a kit car, specifically one that is tailored after the AC Cobra. Pete, being the fiscally parsimonious type, decided against having it shipped to his house, but thought better of it and wanted to go out to Fargo North Dakota to pick up the car. Had this been after 1996 when the eponymous movie of this location came out, I would have had fair warning. Such was not the case.

At the time, I was between jobs, so Pete asked if I wouldn’t mind riding along. As long as I shared driving chores, he’d pay for the motels. Not being afraid of frugality, even if it wasn’t my own and always up for an adventure, I said yes. I should have known better. In February of 1992 we started off in Pete’s 1972 GMC K20 pickup, pulling a trailer that we would use to transport the kit car back. It was an open trailer, single axle if I recall correctly.

We left Long island in late January of that year and headed west on US 80 across Pennsylvania. The first sign of trouble came in Ohio. At a rest area, I decided to take a look under the hood, checking the oil and other pertinent vital signs as I was suspect of the truck due to it’s age, Pete’s general lack of concern for anything mechanical and his penchant for making a dollar chase a dime. To put this comedy in perspective, Pete graduated Embry Riddle with a degree in Engineering. Anyway, while checking things under the hood, I noticed that the coolant recovery tank, AKA radiator overflow tank was bubbling over. To those that work on cars, as I had,  one would make a couple assumptions: One, the thermostat was stuck or two, there’s a leaky head gasket somewhere on that engine that is pressurizing the cooling system, thereby forcing coolant out of the radiator. When I asked Pete about it, he said, “it does that all the time”. (Note to reader, when someone says this, while it may be true, use your better judgement.)

Like a true victim of Stockholm Syndrome, I went along with my captor, I mean companion, and said, “ok”. At that point, I figured I was already almost 500 miles from home, so I might as well continue on. What was the worse that could happen anyway, break down? If it did, I could always hop a Greyhound bus back to Long Island, so away we went. The trip out there was fairly uneventful as we stayed in Youngstown Ohio and Madison Wisconsin on our way out to Fargo. I had never been through the mid-west before, so it was a new experience for me. The people were much friendlier than back home as evidenced by the pretty girl tending the check-in at the flea bag motel we stayed at in Youngstown. I had never seen such a happy woman, particularly one that could pass for Jennifer Anniston’s sister and when questioned as to the source of her happiness, she said “you two are the first guys I have seen all night”. Well, that made me completely forget about the radiator overflow. The way I saw it, a sharp New Yorker could be running this place in no time and things were looking up.

Well, things weren’t looking up for long. In fact they were looking up for only another 48 hours or so. On a cold night riding across the Red River Bridge from Moorhead to Fargo on I 94, I looked out the side view mirror as a normal check and I saw a large white plume exiting the left exhaust pipe. A quick check of the passenger side view mirror revealed that a plume was not exiting the right side exhaust (the truck had true dual exhaust). In a very short amount of time I surmised that not only was something amiss, but that indeed, we had struck water and in the worst possible way. Luckily, we were at our final destination, so we stopped at a Select Inn in Fargo and pulled for the night. The radiator was down coolant, which confirmed my intuition, in my mind. I would have to wait until morning for further diagnosis as Pete would go to the new owner orientation at the the manufacturer of the kit car, while I worked on the truck.

The next day, and remember this was the end of January so the temperature was in the negative territory, I pulled the plugs and sure enough, cylinder #7 spouted green. I contacted Pete with the bad news and told him that I’d have to remove the heads for root cause analysis, which I did. It turned out that Pete’s 4 bolt 350 was in fact a 2 bolt 305. The hint was the lightweight head castings and it was confirmed not only by the bore diameter, but by the fact that the head gaskets were indeed head gaskets for a 350 as the bore diameter of the head gasket was 4 inches versus 3.736 for the 305. Whoever had done the engine work believed it was a 350, but never questioned gap between the bore and the head gasket. The head gasket was blown around the water passage at 1 o’clock, which was leaking into piston #7, which is on the driver’s side, all the way in the rear. We were able to have the heads milled, proper head gaskets procured and I reassembled the top end of the engine, again in subzero weather. I cannot say enough about the fine folks from North Dakota and Manitoba Canada, who came out to see if I was alright and offered me hot chocolate and coffee.

This particular incident was a tremendous learning experience for me on many levels. While it was fortunate that I was able to perform the repairs and we had the tools to do so, the incident did not have to happen. Bad things do indeed happen to all of us, sometimes through no fault of our own, but this one was preventable. First off, taking a 20 year old vehicle halfway across the country should have been thought through more thoroughly. Pete didn’t have the truck long and he obviously didn’t know it well in terms of what worked, what didn’t and what needed attention. The coolant recovery tank bubbling was a hint. I will say I take some of the blame, because I did know better and didn’t act on it forcefully enough, but I think I paid for that by fixing the vehicle, which taught me a lesson, which is, if something is wrong and you know it, say so with extreme prejudice. When I discovered the first evidence of a problem, We should have turned around in Ohio as we would have made it home. Hind sight is always 20-20.


My advice for taking a trip with any vehicle is:
  • Know thy vehicle. If you are mechanically inclined and do your own maintenance, go over the vehicle extensively, to be sure that it is ready for the trip. Do all routine maintenance and inspect everything that you could reasonably think might break or fail. If you are not mechanically inclined, have a trusted mechanic go over the vehicle and service it prior to the trip. 
  •  Buy some sort of road side assistance through the AAA or your insurance policy. Also, I would advise that you should budget money for repairs that could arise on the road, especially if the vehicle is not under any manufacturers warranty. If you can’t afford to fix it on the road, you probably shouldn’t be there.
  • If you are mechanically inclined as I am, bring tools along, and I would also suggest a repair manual as well. Trust me, unless you fix cars day in and day out, you won’t remember torque specifications, torquing sequences and other specifications that may be important in a repair. Also bring along a Volt/Ohm Meter, some wiring, various solder-less connectors,  fuses if your vehicle uses them and electrical tape. 
  • I would also suggest a scan tool for the computer. On today’s vehicles, they are almost a mandatory diagnostic tool when troubleshooting problems with a vehicle. Two overlooked items are food and water. Bottled water is cheap, so having a couple litres shouldn’t be a problem. As far as food goes, jerky is something that works well, as does other dried foodstuffs that can keep without refrigeration. MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) are favored by some as well. These are food rations used by the military for field use. While not as good as eating at Emeril’s, they are more than sufficient in a pinch.  
  • I would also suggest not only having a cell phone, but a laptop as well with a cell card, MiFi or a cell phone that can tether.  Google is a great asset when trying to figure out what is wrong and manuals or other information on your vehicle can be stored digitally on your laptop. In those cases where you are out of cell range in the middle of nowhere, SPOT (http://www.findmespot.com/en/) has satellite products that can save your bacon in an emergency. 
  • Last but not least, make sure someone knows where you are going, when you are leaving, and when you are expected to return.

    Sunday, November 27, 2011

    Final Drive: The Long Ride Home

    Pashnit - CA 36









    Ross and I left Crescent City Thursday morning and headed back out on CA 199 towards Grant's Pass and on to Medford and beyond. On our return trip we decided to take the most direct route possible in order to save a few hours. After passing Medford on I 5, we pulled over for gas in Ashland Oregon. Ross thought it was a good idea to take OR 66 as a shortcut to Lakeview Oregon so we could pick up route 140 to NV 95 and head to Winnemucca Nevada, where we would pick up I 80. I wanted to go farther down I 5, get off at route 89 and head towards CA 395, which would take us to Reno, where they have the world famous Awful Awful burger at the Little Nugget Diner. Of course this would have put us about 170 miles west of Winnemucca, which is about two and half hours in travel time. Word to self: There's no such thing as a shortcut, not in this life, nor in the next one.

    Between my frayed goofy hands and the layout of the road, I would welcome the end of that day. About 10 miles after Ashland, there are a series of curves that are almost switchbacks, climbing in altitude, with no guardrail and not a lot of bargaining room either. On one of the turns, a left-hander, a car came around and much to my surprise, two squids attempting to pass the car. At that point I had a few thoughts passed through my mind. One, I wasn't going to try hang-gliding a 570 lb motorcycle into the wild blue yonder, so the choices were predicated on what the squids did next. If they kept tight with the car, I could get around them, if not, I would impale their skinny worthless asses with fine German engineering. Luckily, the first situation presented itself. Outside of a 20 mile stretch of crushed stone where they were repaving the highway and a couple misses with mule deer, things would get better, but it wasn't an easy road to make time on.

    El Aguila Real - Bobblehead Biker
    Getting to Lakeview seemed interminable. What was only 282 miles probably took seven hours. My route would have added about 80 miles to Winnemucca, but I have to wonder, which one would have taken longer? At the end of that day it really didn't matter. I was happy to be done with it. Ross and I checked into the Freemont Inn in Lakeview, which was pricey for what it was, but at least I could lay down and relax before dinner. It was already past my dinnertime, but there was a Mexican restaurant a couple blocks away. While it doesn't look like much, it was pretty good and probably the best bet at that time. The best part was the Dos Equis, although I wasn't feeling up to being the "Most Interesting Man In The World". Sometime during dinner, a well weathered gal sauntered into El Aquila Real wearing technical gear that told me she must ride some sort of enduro or adventure bike. She looked as rugged as the landscape and my journalism instincts, if I had any, told me there must be a story there, but it was getting late and I wanted nothing more than to hit the hay. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Upon getting back to the motel, I found that the internet access sucked. Being the inquisitive techie suffering from internet withdrawal, I decided to take a look see as I had seen a wiring closet on the way to our room. From what I could tell using Netstumbler, I came to the conclusion that one of the WiFi access points was down. Oh well. I would have to sit in the lobby to check my email and get my internet fix, although the hotel manager was appreciative that I troubleshot his wireless problems. I suppose getting tech help in that part of the country is hard to find.

    Sin City Stan, Teri Conrad and Noel Burke - Stan Folz and Joel Schneekloth
    There was some bad news that night. A couple riders crashed their bikes, bringing the total to three that had crashed their bikes on the way, during or after the trip to the Rally in the Redwoods. Sin City Stan was the first, crashing his Nomad on 299 I believe, totaling the bike with him and his wife getting banged up. I found out that night that Noel "Badger" Burke and Teri Conrad crashed as well. While Noel totaled his Nomad, he wasn't hurt bad, but Teri did not fair so well. I believe she dislocated her left hip, broke her right ankle and banged up her right knee while riding in Oregon. Not a good end to a trip and being far from home has to suck. It seems that every rally I've been to has had at least one spill and some a few, so may be it is to be expected, but it's something I really don't want to get used to hearing about.

    The next day came quickly and I was looking forward to getting back on the road and out of there. There was a contingent of Goldwing riders that were staying at the motel, all with the latest generation of the Goldwing and all from Canada, the province of Alberta if I recall. They were heading to San Diego by way of Las Vegas. After riding through part of Nevada, I agree that what happens in Vegas should stay there. I think the state motto is Gambling, Drinking and more Gambling. You could find yourself in a ghost town and it would have functioning slot machines in the abandoned saloon. They even have superstores for liquor. I get the feeling that the temperance movement in the last century must have skipped Nevada. Not that I blame them. After riding NV 140, NV 95 and I 80 through the state, all I saw was tumble weed, jackrabbits, liquor stores and gambling. It was also hot as hell or nearly so. According to Cactus Jack, hell is a little farther south in Arizona. I'll take his word on it. Arizona is hot as well. We did run into some tumbleweed and Ross got a real nice gash on his shin that went through his jeans. I was glad I had tall riding boots on as the tumbleweed was and would be of no consequence for me. Before getting on I80, Ross and I stopped for gas at the Sinclair on the eastern end of town. We were quite surprised to see a man walking around the store in his underwear. At first I thought may be some indigent was perusing the isles looking for a freebee or may be it is some sort of Nevadan midday ritual that is required to remove the evil spirits acquired from a night out of gambling and drinking. Of course I was wrong on both counts. It was the owner of the store and husband of the woman working behind the counter. They must have different cultural norms in Pakistan or whatever south Asian country from where these people came.

    NV 140 - Joel Schneekloth
    Getting on I 80 was a relief as we could haul ass and make time. We had hoped to make Salt Lake City by that night. Riding across Nevada was uneventful except for an uneventful stop for gas in Elko, before hitting the salt flats in Utah. Temps had been in the low 100's in this section of the trip and I shed my leather jacket so as to keep cool. Even so, I was pretty warm and my arms were pretty red from the sun. The one thing I will advise to anyone riding in the desert heat is to keep well hydrated. I try to drink a two to one ration of water to Gatorade when out riding and it seems to serve me well. I probably drank close to a gallon a day without needed to go to the bathroom when in high temps, so that tells you how much fluid is lost just sitting on a bike.
    Bonneville Salt Flats - Ross Chess

    Coming down the hill in West Wendover, the highway lines up with the runway on the air force base and for an instant, I thought I'd be going down there for take off. Once past the border of Nevada and Utah, the road becomes flat and straight going across the Bonneville salt flats. To some, images of The World's Fast Indian might come to mind, but at this point all I could think about was motel, food and bed in that order. The one thing I didn't count on was the wind. Holy smokes does it get windy on I80 going across Utah. I felt like I had to put the bike at a 45 degree angle to stay in my lane. Of course it wasn't 45 degrees, but the wind was bad enough that I kept to the right lane as the wind was coming from the south and riding in the left lane was problematic when trucks would disturb the airflow to the extent that it really threw me off. I'd have to say the wind was more than a constant 50 mph and it was so strong that I remember riding through Stansbury and the water was getting blown off the lake  and it was spraying me to the point it was like rain. By the time we reached the Comfort Inn in Salt Lake City, near the airport, I was pretty much shot. Ross and I were so beat that we decided to skip dinner, but I ran out for beer and chips at Roy's Phillips 66 on Admiral Byrd Blvd. It was like an expedition too and I recall the guy working behind the counter giving me the more than once over as if he though I was already in the bag or wondered if I was going to rob the place. I must have been a sight to see for sure.

    Buford Wyoming - Jenny Glenn
    The next morning, after a visit to the lobby for a complementary breakfast (something Comfort Inn does well with) we were ready to take off on the next leg of the trip home. With over 550 miles the day before, I was looking forward to another 540 plus miles that day heading to Sidney Nebraska, while Ross would be splitting off at I 25, heading south to Lafayette Colorado to visit with a friend, which would make his day almost 530 miles. We took off at 8 AM and headed into somewhat busy traffic on I 80 and on our way up I 80 around Park City, Ross and I became separated as he likes to ride a little more vigorously than I do at times. We didn't connect again until I stopped in Rock Springs for fuel, which was 166 miles later. At this stop, we agreed to stop in Rawlins for lunch and continue on from there.

    Traveling across Wyoming seemed almost interminable as Nebraska at times, mostly because I just wanted to get home and also because a lot of it isn't very attractive, at least not on the I 80 corridor. It's quite a bit different than Jackson Hole, that is for sure If you've ever traveled any great distance, it seems that the closer to home one gets the more impatient one becomes. It's sort of an inverse relationship and between my goofy hands, increasingly sore ass and impatience, I was starting to fray around the edges a little bit. Luckily, Ross and I stopped in Buford, the smallest town in America, so he could fuel up and we could say our goodbyes. While using the rest rooms I was treated to what I would describe as a combination of comic relief and the twilight zone. While using the rest room standing up, a gentleman entered and went to use the stall with the stool. I was treated to an autodidact in a rural accent of pretty good New York dialect. From what I could tell, the gentleman probably had tourette's syndrome and possibly worse, although I was glad he wasn't pissed at me and god help whoever he was pissed at.

    After saying our good byes, Ross and I rode off and he split off at the I 25 interchange near Cheyenne, where I continued on to Sidney Nebraska for my last night on the road. At this point I increased velocity to about 85 mph and set the cruise control. The interesting thing is that I got the best mileage of the trip on the stretch from Rawlins to Sidney, which is a 250 mile stretch and I used three quarters of a tank for 51 mpg. Not bad for the speeds and 400lb load of rider and gear. At this point in the trip, I had a different kind of anticipation . Instead of worrying about being able to do it, I was impatient to get home. The closer I got to home, the more impatient I became. The weather would temper that as I ran into the edge of a storm going across Nebraska on my last day on the road. It was windy, overcast with threatening skies that remind one of tornado weather. The one thing I hate about riding in the rain is lightning. I finally ran into rain and stopped at a McDonald's in Aurora Nebraska to wait it out. I was still 250 miles from home, but I knew that I would be home that day. A quick text home revealed that it was raining there and it was raining in Aurora too, so I put on my rain gear and decided to head out. By the time I got to Lincoln, the weather had cleared and traffic picked up, but so did my pace. I had never felt so relieved as when I crossed the Missouri river into Iowa. It was a combination of joy, relief, anticipation and contentment on some level. Some might say even cathartic. I got off I 80 in Council Bluffs to fill up on gas and get my rain gear off. At that point, I was close enough to home I felt I could walk it if I had to, even if I was still another 120 miles from my home. Riding back on I 80, the bike and I hummed along at 80 mph, where the road was just flowed beneath me and I really wasn't aware of it. It reminded me of flying in a single engine airplane. I had a lot to think about on this trip and I will visit with it in an epilogue that will be forthcoming in a couple posts. My next post will be about another expedition I did almost 20 years ago, entitled, "When things go bad". Until then, keep the shiny side up.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Final Drive: Fear and Loathing in Crescent City

    In the last article, I retold my trip to Crescent City for the Rally in the Redwoods, but it really was a story of starts, stops and some observations along the way. Moreover, I hadn't talked much about the impetus for this trip beyond getting to the rally itself.  The Rally in the Redwoods was a gathering of KawaNOW, which stands for Kawasaki Nomad Owners Worldwide which includes Kawasaki Nomad, Vaquero and Voyager owners and enthusiasts, who met the week of August 22nd in Crescent City California.

    While I no longer own a Kawasaki Nomad, I am considered an enthusiast. The organization was founded by Robert "Trip" Hilliard in June of 2007 and has grown to over 2000 members since then. I am am member #19 (it actually was a lower number, but I accidentally deleted my account and had to start over), so you could say I am a founding member. Well, sort of. In the past four plus years that I have been a member of KawaNOW, I have made some friends, lost some and pissed off some, but I have to say overall it has been a very positive experience. I can tell you that having belonged to several online motorcycle organizations, KawaNOW is the only one I can say that has been a place that I haven't felt like I shouldn't belong there. It really is an eclectic mix of personalities that creates an environment where the total experience is greater than the sum of its parts. 

    Ross and I arrived in Crescent City, California on that Monday afternoon, after riding up to Crater Lake Oregon earlier in the day. Crescent City is the county seat and only incorporated city of Del Norte County. The town of 7600+ residents is a mere 20 miles from the Oregon border and its harbor is home to fishing vessels that bring in the catch.

    Crescent City Harbor
    Having grown up on Long Island and lived there until nine years ago, I understand the vibe to some degree. Fishing is a way of life in Crescent City, but the main difference is not having a the largest metropolitan city in the country within a reasonable commute. This means that Crescent City probably has retained its flavor for a long time and there's something to be said for that in a world where change and obsolescence are the norm. Ross and I as well as everyone else at the rally had made reservations at the Curly Redwood Lodge, which was home base. 
    The Curly Redwood Lodge
    The trouble was, I made the mistake of making them for Tuesday August 23 and not starting Monday August 22. I made the reservations the previous December 7 and I have no idea why I did that. Now that I had no room to stay in as the place had no vacancy that evening, I had to scramble and I was fortunate enough that Ross allowed me to sleep on the floor of his room, which turned out to be interesting, but a little more on that later.

    The Curly Redwood Lodge is an old school motel with the parking spaces in front of the rooms. There's no refrigerators or microwave ovens and the TVs are CRT type, not modern LCD/LED type screens. There is internet though, and that was a plus as not all motels have internet or decent internet. What is interesting about this motel is that it was made from one curly redwood tree. In 1952, the owner cut down the tree which provided 57,000 board feet of lumber. My understanding is that there is enough left for them to expand. Needless to say, the location is good, with a decent seafood restaurant across the street and the main highway right out front. 

    Mark Clark
    After squaring things away, it was more of a reunion than a rally, at least for me. Some of the folks I had met at the previous national rally in Custer South Dakota and some I had only known online. It was great to see Brad "Blown Dodge" Langley, Scott "Cactus Jack" Hanks, Richard "Ricky Boy" Cole and Kris "Netnorske" Olsen, who was the rally organizer along with Joel "Waterman" Schneekloth. I also Met Gregg "Schoeney" Schoenkopf and his brother,  Kevin "Voyager" Clark, Mark Clark, Tom Hinman and his girlfriend Terrie Gaudette, as well as a host of others.

    What makes this special is that even though we come from different places, countries, religious and political beliefs, we all share the love of riding motorcycles. I looked forward to this with some anticipation like a family reunion to see the people I'd like to connect with again and make new connections too. I was like a little kid looking out the window to see what relatives pulled up to the house for the party as the Nomads and other motorcycles rolled into the motel parking lot. A big hug from Brad (Brad is just a hug-able type of guy), a checkup with Joel, Noel and Bob to see that they made it safely, and the long awaited appearance of Scott on his "Barney-Davidson".  It really is a beautiful  Motorcycle and I hoped to see it in person to get the full effect.

    Cactus Jack with his Barney-Davidson
    That night, Ross and I went out to dinner at the restaurant across the street at a restaurant called Fisherman's Restaurant. It would become a regular for me as when I am in strange places for a short time, I like predictability. Ross and I hooked up with Teri Conrad, who is a freelance editor, journalist, copywriter, copy editor and photographer who works with Kawasaki's Accelerate Magazine and has her own website, Celebrity Writer. Teri was in town to cover the Rally in the Redwoods and had ridden in on a nice red Vaquero (they are the fastest you know). Ross ordered the Tuna steak, medium rare, while I took the safe route with fish and chips. After my gastronomic roulette with Golden Corral in Twin Falls, I decided to play it safe. Dinner was great and I have to say Teri is a very interesting person, with a lot of diversified life experiences and a lot of fun. After dinner we moseyed back over to the motel, where others were relaxing for the evening after long days of travel in most cases. I procured the necessary bedding from the front desk and setup camp in Ross' suite. Ross and I had a rather long conversation about life, experiences and what's it all about. It was somewhat unexpected but pleasant and useful at the same time. Ross has about 13 years on me and I appreciated his sage advice.

    Fisherman's Restaurant
    The next day, I decided to forego the ride for the day to give my hands, wrists and arms a break. I had picked up some Aleve at a local pharmacy after a number 11 at the Golden Arches, and I hoped the inflammation and pain would go away or at least lessen. I was able to check into my room early, so I just chilled out for the day, catching up on downloading photos, writing and preparing for a radio show that night that I used to produce called The Andre Controversa Show. My plan at this point was to see how I felt the next day and take it from there. I might go on the ride up the Oregon coast or I might not, depending on how I felt. Then I got a call from a friend, Paul Russo. I have known Paul Russo for over 31 years now, having met at a job I got working in a county park for the summery. We were both headed for Nassau Community College and we struck up a friendship that has been ever since. Paul moved to Arcata about 10 years ago and I had told him I was coming out, but he seemed reluctant to see me. Anyway, the call changed that, so on Wednesday, I would be heading down to Arcata, which is about 80 miles south of Crescent City on 101.
    Paul Russo, a friend
    I really wanted to go on the Oregon ride, but I don't see Paul that often anymore and I didn't know when I would have the chance again. So after another number 11, I headed down 101 for Arcata. Note to self: I should have waiting an hour. I have never in my life experienced such fog as I encountered on 101 that morning. Being able to cut it with a knife doesn't come close to explaining it. Eli Whitney couldn't come up with a machine to get through this stuff and all I could do was get comfortable with the fact that I had to get through it. The road was poorly maintained as well, with attempts to skim coat it with asphalt and the potholes here and there in the first several miles. The other thing was the redwood trees along the road. While not quite as large as they can be in other areas of California, the experience was one of Jurassic proportions. I felt like I was on Isla Sorna and some large beast should come ambling out of the forest to brunch on some prime German machinery with the big Italian on it as a topping. Primeval doesn't come close to describing it. Reality crept in with the evidence on the big trees of contact with motor-vehicles. I can only imagine that mayhem as the Redwoods aren't moving for anyone.

    Avenue of the Giants - Joel Schneekloth
    As I made way farther south, the fog cleared, the speeds picked up and the road got better. It still took me longer to get down to Arcata than I thought it would, but I was glad to be there and Paul was waiting. The picture above was taken not far from where I picked Paul up. He borrowed the helmet from a roommate that has a Harley Davidson Fat Boy, as I had to give him a ride back to his place. We spent several hours talking about old times, what was happening now and what we hoped for the future. In spite of the years and distance, we connected just as well as we had 31 plus years ago while taking breaks from cutting grass in Eisenhower Park and talking about what the future would be like. Some of it turned out, some of it has not.

    In the mid to late afternoon, I headed back to Crescent City and I was presented with a "Brake Failure" Light that I had also seen while traversing Crater Lake, instead it didn't go off this time and was on the whole way back to the motel. When I got in, I tried calling the BMW dealer in Medford Oregon, which is 112 miles from Crescent City, but no one was there, so I left a voice-mail about my problem. Other than the light being on, the brakes didn't seem quite as affirmative, especially at low speeds. Ross thought that may be there was air in the brakes, so we tried a trick of compressing the break lever with a bungee and left it until morning. After that, Ross, Tom Hinman, his girlfriend Terrie Gaudette, the charming journalist Teri Conrad and I had dinner at the Fisherman's Restaurant. After sufficient victuals, we headed back to the Motel where others were gathered.

    Group Ride up 299? - Joel Schneekloth

    It is always nice to chat with folks you know from online, connecting the virtual presence with a physical one. It's also nice to catch up with folks that you've met before and I had a nice time catching up with Rick Cole, who hails from British Columbia and meeting Kevin Clark who is from Alberta for the first time. I really enjoy my Canadian brethren and the repartee that evening.  It always amazes me that no matter our backgrounds, this common thread pulls us together and runs deeper than one might think on first blush. I am glad to call these people friends.

    Rick "Ricky Boy" Cole - From Rick
     The next day arrived with the same concerns that were there the day before, which was, what was wrong with the bike (not to mention my goofy hands)? It's was an interesting lesson into the stultification of an otherwise logical and linear thinking if not methodical person in myself. I removed the bungee cord and took the bike for a ride. Same deal. I decided to go to breakfast with Ross and Bob at the Fisherman's where I settled down to a western omelette to get my mind off my problems and get some needed nourishment. While at breakfest, I received a call from Craig Hansen, owner of Hansen's BMW in Medford Oregon. Craig asked several questions to which we came to the conclusion that while the brakes did work, the ABS did not and neither did the partial integral function, which is part of the ABS. Craig advised I check the ABS sensor cable for the front wheel to see if it had come loose and rubbed against the rotor. There was a service advisory for this particular problem, which was that the ABS sensor cable wasn't affixed to the left fork properly. If this was the problem, then I should just wrap the cable in electrical tape and re-affix the cable to the fork. He said that if that wasn't the case, to bring the bike in and he would personally work on the bike as his two mechanics were backed up for a week. Breakfast was nearly over at this point so I soon applied myself to the task at hand, which was to see if that cable was in fact worn through as Craig described. Low and behold, it was. I felt foolish as it was so simple (aren't most problems?) and that I had become ignorant to troubleshooting, basic in this instance. In  my defense, it is a new motorcycle and one that is much more complicated than any motorcycle I have owned and probably any that was at the rally, but the thing is, they all do the same thing. In the end, it was a lesson for sure.

    Said brake failure light and the repair below it
    After procuring electrical tape and a zip tie from Scott (I had everything but those items with me, see Murphy's Law), Ross and I proceeded to fix the cable as prescribed by Craig and I went for a test ride which confirmed the diagnosis and treatment. At this point in the day, Ross and I came to the conclusion that may be we should head back home early and leave that day. I agreed with Ross, as we had a 2000 mile trip ahead of us with four days of travel if we left that Thursday, only three if we left the following day. I felt bad about this as we left early with the last national rally and now missed two of the final night dinners. Joel Schneekloth and Kris Olsen had worked very hard to make this rally possible, which by the way was also a benefit for for the Del Norte Little League of Crescent City. I felt like putting a L on my forehead and compounding this is I didn't even get to go on any of the rides. To quote Robert Burns, "The best laid schemes of mice and men, Go oft awry" and in this case, I really hadn't planned as well as I should have. An epilogue will follow this series and stay turned for Part 3, The Long Ride Home.

    Tuesday, September 27, 2011

    Final Drive: Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle Trip










    Apologies to readers, as I haven't posted in while. This is part one in a three part series.

    Snake River
    This article isn't about Zen Buddhism in particular, but it is about a motorcycle trip. A motorcycle trip I had hoped would help clear my mind and be a sort of private Chautauqua in order to give myself a little direction, a little relief and some hope. On Friday, August 19, Ross Chess and I took off on a trip to Crescent City California as I discussed in my last column entitled Anticipation. The day was a nice clear day without threat of storm or other foul weather and we took of from the Kum and Go off exit 117 on I 80 at 7:25 AM. Ross rides a 2010 Goldwing, which is a natural for long distance tours. Our destination for the day was Rawlins Wyoming. Rawlins is a small rural town of 8500 people nestled at 6800 feet above sea level in Carbon County Wyoming, which I call Tom Horn country after the tracker, scout and stock detective. The town of Rawlins itself was named after Union General John Amos Rawlins just because he camped there. If I knew it was that easy, I would have tried that long ago.

    Anong's Thai Cuisine
    Still, for the short time we were there, it was time well spent. We met with old friends Joel Schneekloth, AKA Waterman, Bob Wittman, AKA Landman and Noel Burke, AKA Badger, who were on their way to the Rally in the Redwoods as we were. We had dinner at a Thai restaurant, Anong's Thai Cuisine on 5th Street. I had the yellow curried chicken with an egg roll and satay for appetizers. It was good, but the curry dish was on the bland side. No pain at all, even though it was listed as a spicy dish. Almost all was well after a night at the local Econolodge, but the RT was a little slow cranking in the morning and required a slight twist of the throttle to get it started. This it turned out, was a remnant from a battery issue I had a couple weeks previous. One night after a terribly hot day, I tried to start my bike and it would not start. I expected some remediation from the dealer I bought the bike from, but did not receive it and that is another story for another column. Anyway, we set off that morning for Twin Falls, Idaho by way of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, while our friends departed on a different route, riding I 80 most of the way and getting off at Winnemucca Nevada. This part of the ride introduced me to a whole new level of what BFE means. Wyoming is not the place you want to screw up by yourself as depending on where you are, no one would find you again. The roads were in decent shape, so as long as we went according to plan, I didn't foresee any problems.

    Jeffrey City
    Riding through such towns as Jeffrey City, Muddy Gap, Sweetwater Station, Lamont and Bairoil also brought a sense of the poverty and hopelessness I have seen in other areas of the southwest where Native Americans live. I can't believe anyone would want to live like that in the 21st century in America. Jeffrey City is a boom to bust uranium mining town whose population was 106 in 2000, but 40 to 50 years ago it had a population of several thousand. With the collapse of the Uranium market in the 1970's, the population has since dwindled down to the point that Jeffrey City is for the most part a ghost town.

    Going towards Lander on WY 287
    As we moved northwest though, the fortunes seemed to change with the landscape. Our route took us on Route 287 to Route 26, which goes through Lander, Dubois and eventually Jackson Hole, which is a very trendy place, reminding me of a western version of the Hamptons. Coming up route 287 to Lander through Kotey Place, the scenery improves with color and terrain and although not as colorful as Sedona Arizona, the light neutral pastels and rock formations offer a welcome change from the sagebush and open range.

    The Grand Tetons
    As you can see from the photo, there must be some money in that part of Wyoming. The Tetons were stunning, absolutely stunning, showing their granite prominences with patches of snow that give the effect that they thrust through the earth's surface in effort to say "I am".  After an arduous trip the day before, the landscape this day was a reward for the boring prairie of Nebraska and the high plains of southern Wyoming. We were approaching the part of Wyoming that would have been Absaroka, the state that never was with a sense of urgency and determination to get over the Tetons. We had a lot of miles to cover in a short amount of time.

    The Purina Check a Mix elevator
    in Lander WY.
    Upon arriving in Lander, I took the picture at the left to send to my friend Rob Larsen, who grew up in Lander and I took the photo to see if he would recognize it after all these years. At this point we are nearly halfway through our trip out to Crescent City with almost 1000 miles under our belts.

    This trip also follows to some degree the excursion my ancestors took over 140 years ago when they left Missouri and Iowa after the Civil War, looking for a new life in north-east Oregon. Their trip was much longer than mine, fraught with a lot more danger, more hardships and more interaction with native peoples than mine. I can't imagine doing this in a covered wagon, especially with children in tow.

    Getting over the Tetons was interesting. The road over the Teton Pass was under construction and a lot of it was just dirt and gravel. Not a difficult thing with four wheels or a dual purpose motorcycle, but a little worrisome with a sport tourer. Non-the-less, we pushed on, which would be a central theme for my trip. Patience is not only a virtue, but more so is perseverance. After the Teton pass, we continued on Route 22 into Idaho where it becomes Route 33. At Victor, we changed direction, heading south-west on Route 31 or Pine Creek Road on to Swan Valley, the home of the Rainey Creek Country Store, home of the square ice cream cone. My ancestors never had it this good although a square cone seemed kind of odd at first. Hey, whatever works.

    After Swan Valley, we headed west on Route 26 to Idaho Falls where we picked up I 15. We were still 164 miles from our destination for the evening, which was Twin Falls Idaho. Once down I 15 a ways, we picked up I 84 west to Twin Falls. I was hoping that Ross would want to stop in and see fellow KawaNOW member Bud that lives in Pocatello as my sore ass was getting to me and I could use a break. Such was not the case.  Ross has an ass of stainless steel, so instead we pushed on to our destination, still over a 100 miles distant, outrunning more than one storm in the journey. As lightning struck in the mountains to the south, I prayed that we would make our destination safely. You see, 12 years ago I was closing the windows to the Florida room in my house during a storm and lightning struck in the back yard giving me a shock as if I had touched a 240 volt circuit. My wife said that it looked as if an aura was around my body. Since then I have been scared senseless when lightning strikes within visual and audible distance. Call it irrational, but I'd rather be on the safe side.

    Snake River Canyon west side
    We arrived in Twin Falls with very little fanfare and very tired bodies. I have to say some parts of Idaho remind me of Iowa, but with mountains. It is a drier climate though and we are back in sagebrush country again. Tonight we would stay in an AmercINN, which was a huge improvement over the Econolodge of the night before. After registering and settling in, Ross and I decided to visit the Golden Corral for dinner. It was already past 8 PM, I was bushed and the Golden Corral was only 100 yards away. Note to self: Don't eat from the salad bar at the Golden Corral. Considering our proximity to the Snake River Canyon, lets say I got Evel Knievel's revenge. This was the start of some physical woes. At this point, my forearms and wrists started bothering me and it wouldn't get better.

    Evel Kneivel, Snake River Canyon
    After a restful night's sleep, we headed over to the free breakfast and planned the day. We would ride 180 miles to Ontario Oregon and peel off to US Route 20. In case you didn't know, US Route 20 is a coast to coast route that traverses 3,365 miles from Boston Massachusetts to Newport Oregon, a mile from the Pacific Ocean. It also is the longest road in America. We gassed up and hit the interstate, hoping to make time, but our hopes were short lived. A tractor trailer carry large diameter steel pipe had crashed through the guardrail and left its load all over the highway. We had to wait as traffic was rerouted through the off and on ramp on the westbound I 84 exit in Jerome. We had no idea if anyone was hurt, but it was a reminder that bad things happen on the road and to remain vigilant when riding. It is all too easy to fall into a false sense of security, thereby throwing situational awareness to the wind.

    The Sagebrush Saloon
    By the time we reached Ontario, I was starting to think about lunch. US Route 20 is not the interstate and a rider cannot make time on this road like he or she can in the interstate, as I found out. About 20 miles west of Ontario Oregon, we stopped in Vale Oregon for lunch. Vale Oregon was the first stop in Oregon on the Oregon Trail. I am sure my ancestors stopped here and if it was good enough for them, it should work for me. Being Sunday, there weren't many businesses open in this neck of the woods. We happened upon the Sagebrush Saloon, which is on East A Street, which runs parallel to Route 20. I ordered a western bacon burger, which is a bacon cheese burger with BBQ sauce, red onion and cole slaw with a side of fries. All I can say is that it was one tasty burger. In fact the best burger I had in a long time. If you are out that way, it's worth the stop.

    From there, we proceeded on our way to Bend, which was our destination for the day. This would leave about 275 miles for the final leg to Crescent City. Route 20 is a two lane road and I found out a couple things about this part of Route 20 that I didn't know before. Unlike Route 20 in Iowa, which is straighter than the shortest distance between two points, Route 20 in Oregon has some twisty sections that run along the Malheur River, which was a taste of things to come. Another difference is that Route 20 is 2 lanes at best, a lot like Route 169 in Iowa. It was also a very hot day with temps between 100-103. In fact I learned something else from riding through this area, which is something called Virga. Virga is the evaporation of rainfall such that it never makes it to the ground. With the heat we were riding through, we could have used some precipitation.

    As the day wore on, my wrists and forearms continued to fatigue and hurt. During the trip I made sure I drank both water and drinks containing electrolytes. The problem as I have been able to understand it is that the ergonomics of someone of my height, torso length and arm length create an ergonomic problem where I am leaning forward a bit. This gets exacerbated on downhill grades where I put more weight on the grips. It doesn't normally affect me in Iowa because we don't have any real grades that would magnify this issue and riding for days with grades doesn't help at all. By the time I got to Crescent City, my forearms were so over-trained in effect, that I had trouble cutting with a knife at dinner or holding a fork correctly. My thumb dexterity and strength was shot and I was getting persistent numbness in my forefingers. Understand that I have no problem with 100lb grippers and if I work out, using 140lb gripper is easy. But doing resistance training involves rest periods and limited duration of the exercise. The bottom line is that ergonomic considerations that won't show up if a rider is a commuter or short tripper will rear its ugly head on long distance rides. In my case, I was taking a trip where I would average over 450 miles a day for 9 days with a day off. I had no idea I would have this issue. The result was what I started calling "goofy hands", which would affect my ability and confidence in riding.

    Kathy's Oasis
    Continuing on Route 20, both Ross and I found the heat exhausting and decided to stop in Juntura, which is x miles from Vale and still x miles from Bend. We stopped at the Oasis Cafe, which was surrounded by trees and was a cool 95 in the shade. Believe or not, it felt refreshingly cool. We decided to try the lemonade, which was fantastic. It was worth the stop. May be I was just that thirsty, but it was welcome none-the-less. To see better pictures of Kathy's Oasis, go to this blog and scroll down. We met Scott too, although we didn't have the biscuits and gravy or any other solid victuals. It could have been our loss. From there we scooted across eastern Oregon, heading for Bend for our final night on the road for our trip out to Crescent City. So far, the RT has performed flawlessly on the road, even running on fuel below the recommended octane with no ill effects other than less power. BMW's motorcycles use a real closed loop management system that adjusts for octane level. BMW recommends 89 or higher and suggests 93-94 to get the best performance, but I had to put 87 octane in and it worked without consequence. As a rule, I run the highest octane available at the pump, which usually is 91 octane. This is amazing considering that the RT has a compression ratio of 12:1, but it does run better on the higher octane gas. I'd love to find some 94 octane Sonoco Ultra.

    Upon arriving in Bend, we decided to try the first motel we saw, the Sleep Inn, which is on the east side of town off Route 20 and NE 27th Street. At this point I was looking forward to getting off the bike and laying down for awhile. Upon hearing the price of the room, which, if I recall was well over $100, Ross thought better of it (it was a little rich) and we headed to the other side of town to the Days Inn on the Dalles-California Highway and NE Irving. I don't think we went out to dinner that night and hit the hay early. Unfortunately someone had a small child that was screaming all night. Having five children, I fully understand, but at this point I was ready to launch someone. Luckily, I was able to fall asleep, but I was awakened by a screaming child the next morning. All I can say is that it was worse for the parents than it was for me. After a quick breakfast it was down Route 97 for a 101 mile ride to Crater Lake.

    Crater Lake
    The ride to Crater Lake, for the most part, was one of the most pleasant rides of the trip. With morning temps starting out in the 50's, with crisp dry air and the smell of pine, it reminded me of Jackman Maine, where I had spent many summers as a youth. Central Oregon is beautiful that is for sure. We stopped in the La Pine mini mart for fuel and drink and headed down Route 97 and made a right to head west on Route 138 to Crater Lake's north entrance. Going west on Route 138 and into the park, we continued to climb in altitude and while the bike handled it fine, I could feel the temperatures drop, which was confirmed by the thermometer on the RT's computer. Upon reaching the overlook where the Rim Drive begins, you can see above what is called Llao Bay. Crater Lake was formed from a volcano, not a meteor as some believe. Some 7700 years ago, what was Mount Mazama erupted in a cataclysmic event that would have made Mt St. Helens look like a kids science project. Several cubic miles of ejecta were blown into the atmosphere and deposits can be found as far as Canada. All I can say is that must have been some sight. 

    Behind Crater Lake
    Along Rim Drive are patches of snow off the road, hard pack leftover from the winter, even though it was August, and while the temperature in Medford would be 100, it was in the low 50's up there.  While riding along Rim Drive the brake failure light came on and while the brakes seemed to work, it brought some concern. This motorcycle is a lot different from the Nomad I had in that it relies on computers for its functioning and a brake failure light could mean a few things at the least. This, coupled with goofy hands, made for an interesting ride. On top of this, I experienced something I never experienced before. Normally when I ride very twisty roads or roads I consider twisty for Iowa, I usually concentrate on the coming corner ahead of me as far as I can see into the corner. I found myself looking past the corner, out into the distance over the edge as it were and I have to admit it unnerved me, which didn't get better on this trip. I still don't completely understand why I had these issues with my hands/arms, tight curves  and overlooks at altitude, but may be someone reading this can give me some clue. I never experienced anything quite like this before. When I was younger, none of this would or did bother me, so it's a little bit of a mystery. I should mention that the brake failure light went off when we left Crater Lake and I didn't give it much more thought as the brakes were working.

    Cascade Mountain
    Anyway, heading out of the park, we headed down Route 62 towards Medford. As the altitude dropped, the temps went up and we were on our way to our destination. I was amazed at the speed of the motorcycles that passed Ross and me on Route 62. One squid on a liter sportbike had to be going well over 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. We were doing 50-55 mph, which is a comfortable pace that while above the speed limit, isn't crazy. Right after the squid came a K1300GT doing what I would estimate between 90-100 mph. Not as fast as the squid, but definitely getting someplace rather quickly.

    We decided to stop in Medford for a much needed break at the Burger King to have it our way. At this point, I was looking forward to arriving in Crescent City and taking the next day off to give my hands/forearms a rest. Crescent City is only 112 miles from Medford, so we were really on the last leg of our trip to the rally. So we proceeded on I 5 to Route over Grant's Pass to Route 199 and as we descended towards Crescent City through towns like Cave Junction, Illinois Valley and O'Brien, so did the temps. I was glad to be where we going to be where we were supposed to be. 

    To be continued...

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    Final Drive: Anticipation








    Easy Rider
    No, it's not the Carly Simon song, and certainly not the Heinz commercial from the 1970's. No, this is not about the epicurean wonders of catsup or the songs by one of the ex-wives of James Taylor. It's about vacations, and specifically road trips. The road trip is almost mythological in the minds of motorcyclists around the world. From Che Guevara to Dr. Greg Frazier to Robert Pirsig in the real world to Easy Rider and Wild Hogs in the celluloid one, motorcyclists are drawn to the road trip like true believers that are called to a pilgrimage to a holy land.  All of us get the itch, the desire to hit the open road, explore new places and people and get the wind in our faces.

    Robert Pirsig
    I can't help but believe there is some primeval force inside us that draws us to the road trip.  Right now I am getting ready for a road trip to the west coast, specifically Crescent City California for a motorcycle rally. While this trip's seemingly primary importance is to go to the Rally in the Redwoods and meet old friends, in another sense it is to develop and delve into my own private chatauquas in an effort to gain clarity, focus, direction and even desire. As my profile on this blog says, I am basically trying to figure it out. I have spent many years doing a particular kind of work and to be honest, I am burned out. My own father was not only in the same profession for 39 years, but worked for the same employer during that time. I wish he was still here as I would like to know how he did it and better yet why? Dad never did chatauqua's that I know of, nor did he ride a motorcycle after getting married or did he ever go off on road trips. Dad was from a different generation and in some ways a different person. He had the patience of Job and at times the countenance of a champion poker player. Not much riled my dad and in my whole life I only heard him curse once in English, but that is another story.

    Wild Hogs
    So, tonight I wait in anticipation of this trip. Questions arise like, is my motorcycle ready? Am I ready? What will I encounter? Will I find what I am searching for? All pertinent questions, all will be answered in due time. Patience is one virtue that I do not have enough of and endurance is the other. They go hand in hand. The truth is, the answer is already there, but with this trip I hope to quiet my mind enough to see it. In the meantime, I still have to go over a few things with the bike, pack a fix-it bag, wash the bike, pack my clothes, pack the bike and gas up. I also have to make sure that everything is fine at home too. I wouldn't leave unless it was.


    UNDER the wide and starry sky
    Dig the grave and let me lie:
    Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

    This be the verse you 'grave for me:
    Here he lies where he long'd to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    And the motorcyclist home from the road trip.



    Thank you for reading this blog.

    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Final Drive: The Consequences of Compromise










    Compromise: The acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable. Now, this is a straightforward definition that when applied to my premise, at first blush you may think I am batty. The context of this discussion is motor vehicles, but allow me to explain.

    Motorcycle Cruiser
    In the age I grew up in, vehicles were pretty specialized. We had pickup trucks, station wagons, sedans, coupes, sports cars, etc. With motorcycles, we have sportbikes, cruisers, touring bikes, standards and adventure bikes. In the past 10 years or so I've seen a trend in vehicle design where the lines have been blurred and in the case of cars, I see vehicles that are crossover-stationawagon-suv-minivan-sedan like in design. Look at the new Ford Explorer or Chevrolet Traverse and you will see what I mean. I see some of the same things starting to happen in the motorcycle world. Bikes like the Vstrom and R1200GS are a couple that come to mind. Are they dirt bikes or touring bikes? R1200RT, Concours 14, ST1300 and FJ1300. Are they touring bikes or sport bikes? This trend in design reminds me of politics. Some politicians try to be everything to everyone and therefore cater to whomever they are speaking to at a particular moment. The thing is, the only people that could truly be that way are narcissistic sociopaths. Most people have a particular slant. In a sense, both voter and politician compromise something in the process of achieving some sort of consensus. With vehicle design, it would seem that a swiss army knife approach to design is in vogue. What of it?

    It seems people want there vehicles to be able to everything capably, if not exceeding well. This is a daunting task as if you were designing a sports car or sport bike, you would have a set of requirements unique to that type of bike: Light, fast, quick (there is a difference), exception handling and exceptional stopping ability.  If you were designing a vehicle meant for trips short and long, to have some capacity to carry more than just occupants, you'd have another set of parameters. Comfort would enter the equation, so would storage capacity and fuel range. In trying to merge differing classes of vehicles, there must be compromises made. For instance, in designing such a machine, It will never handle quite as well as a sport bike, but better than a full boat tourer. It will not have the storage capacity of a full boat tourer, but it will be worlds better than a sport bike. The same would be true of comfort. In each case there is a lowering of some standard to make it good enough in the new "swiss army knife" category.

    Don't get me wrong. Right now, both cars and motorcycles demonstrate unprecedented reliability and performance in most cases. Gone are the days of carburetors, poor charging systems and kick starters, and believe me, one used to follow the other. My 1978 KZ1000 had a kick start and I was glad for it. The 2007 Nomad I had and my RT are paradigms for reliability, at least they were and are in the time I have and had owned them. While I think there will be further advances, I believe we are doing pretty good today. 20 years ago, I wouldn't have made that statement. Still, I feel a certain loss. I am the type of person that believes in the purposefulness of my tools. I've never been one for having a 4 in 1 screw driver or one of those multi-size rotating ends box wrenches. I prefer separate examples please. There's always the right tool for the job. So it goes with cars and motorcycles. If I want something to scare me, I'd buy a Corvette or a S1000RR. if i need to haul stuff, I'll buy a regular cab Ford Super Duty F350 or Dodge Ram 3500 with a Cummins, not a Honda Ridgeline or a Chevrolet Avalanche. If I need a Family carrier, it's have to be a Chevrolet Suburban or a Ford Expedition EL, not a minivan nor a 4 door sedan (I hate both minivans and 4 door sedans. Neither were meant for over-sized humans like myself). If I wanted a touring bike, I would buy a Gold Wing or a Cross Country Tour. Or would I?

    The problem in my own theory of purposeful tools is that in order of live that way, expect to spend more cash, not matter if we are talking screw drivers or motorcycles. I can't afford to own more than one bike (I might if someone would pay me to write, but that is another story) and with cars, we just have two, a 2009 Suburban and a 2001 Jetta, which simply refuses to go away. My RT was a compromise, but so was my Nomad. I liked the Nomad. It was an easy bike to own. Not a lot of maintenance and what maintenance there was, it was easy. The problem was it wasn't feature rich with things like cruise control and heated seats and grips. Speaking of seats, even with a mustang seat, it was torture going more than 60 miles on that bike. When I looked for a new bike, I had always wanted a BMW. Their reliability is legendary, or so I think it is. I really like the R1200GS Adventure. It is built for someone my size. I can even keep the balls of my feet on the ground when it's on the center-stand. The mistake I made was bringing my wife to look at it. The GSA was outfitted with the optional panniers and my wife commented that they looked like organ donor boxes and she also said that she'd never ride on it, so I got the RT instead. The RT does so many things well. It handles better than I will ever ride, stops like an F-18 landing on the USS Roosevelt, and has adequate acceleration. It came with cruise control, heated seats and grips, computer, a power adjustable windscreen and electronically adjustable suspension. It's an amazing bike. A compromise on many levels, but still an amazing bike. Still, I find myself bored somehow. Is it too good? Does it lack character? Is there anything missing? Sure I'd like more stonk. I'd like a better seat for sure and with the titanium color, if you can call it that, well, it's boring. There I said it. Boring. My Nomad was the girl next door and this is her cousin from Germany that's a lot higher maintenance although she makes up for it in almost every other way. Still, as Eddie Murphy once said, after awhile it's the same old ritz cracker.

    At this point you are saying, huh? Well, the one thing I get now is why riders of Harley Davidson's like them so much. They aren't the best at anything except may be style and character, which they have in spades. I also understand why squid riders like their crotch rockets. On some level there is no compromise. They buy them for one reason and this fosters commitment. In fact I would say it demands it. I guess it comes down to what is important to you. Is it image, all out performance, long distance travel in comfort or the ability to play in the dirt? I do know that we do have enough choices out there that it shouldn't be difficult to satisfy any taste although I hope the motorcycle industry doesn't fall into the everything to everyone trap that the automotive industry has created. I see signs of it, but we still have a nice selection to choose from. Yes, compromise has a consequence and it's basically a lack of satisfaction. I don't recommend it.