Sunday, January 27, 2013

Final Drive: Geronimo, Tom Horn and the Apache Trail

Arizona was one of the last territories to gain statehood, which it did on Valentine's Day, 1912 and celebrated the centennial last year. Alaska and then Hawaii followed next  in 1959. While Arizona is a latecomer to the game, it has a storied past that involves native americans, miners, ranchers and a host of bad guys all trying to make a living or just survive in this unforgiving land. While unforgiving might seem harsh in judgement to people that have never been here, I can tell you that Arizona is as rugged as anyplace on earth and in some ways resembles Mars, except temperatures here often exceed 100 degrees 5 months out of the year. It really is a testament to the native peoples and early settlers that survived if not flourished here. In some ways, I wish I could say the same about myself.

Since moving Arizona, I have been pretty much on my own as far as riding and even socializing. I have a handful of online friends that live in the Phoenix area, but we pretty much keep to ourselves. Last week I emailed a friend, who I'll call "Irish" (I changed the names to protect the innocent), to find out if he would like to take a ride out to Globe for lunch. Another friend of ours, known as "Cactus Jack" has been bragging up a  Mexican place called Irene's for quite some time and with the improving weather, I thought that last Thursday would be a good day to check it out. Irish arrived at my house at 9 AM, riding his black 2006 Kawasaki Nomad. Good thing it was 9 AM as the pipes were loud and although not wake up the dead loud, they definitely get one's attention. So off we went, Frick and Frack, on our trip to Globe, aided by Irish's GPS, a Tom Tom, which was used on the maiden voyage of the space shuttle Discovery. While advanced for its day, it had issues with roads built after the state's founding. This is ok for the most part as most roads here are just paved horse trails anyway. After making a few corrections, we found our selves out by AZ 88, also known as the Apache Trail. Irish had to stop for gas as the Nomad's range is slightly farther than a Chevy Volt on electricity only, which is to say not very far. During this stop, he said lets go by the Apache Trail to 188, which will bring us into Globe. Being of the adventurous kind, I said sure...

Map of the Apache Trail
AZ 88 is a picturesque road for sure, with gold mining camps and a ghost town along the way. It reminded me of Calico Ghost town out on I 15 going to Las Vegas. Soon afterward, the road got windy, narrow and poorer in quality. Some of the blacktop looked like it hadn't been repaved since Checkers bailed out tricky dick. With expansion crack heaves every 10 feet or so, I just couldn't get the right rhythm. Part of it is that I run higher than average pressure in my tires as I am larger than average. The side affect is a bumpy ride on not so nice roads, but the roads were twisty and not for the faint of heart. The scenery was top notch, just keep clear of the post life facilitating drop offs as there are very few guard rails here. Anyway, we made it to Tortilla Flats, which is sort of a rest stop sized town with a saloon and curio store. Irish had to go inside to walk the dog while I made acquaintances with the Lost Dutchman.

The Lost Dutchman of Tortilla Flats
After Irish's pit stop, we conversed with some canucks who has stopped at the shop and were headed back out. That should have been my warning. The Canadians were looking over my BMW, commenting how they'd love to have the new K1600. Sure, for another $8K in the US, who knows how much in Albertastan. Anyway, Irish asks me if I mind riding on dirt roads. I told him I do it occasionally. He then asks if we should continue on 88 as he thinks some of it is dirt. Since the gauntlet was thrown down and from a cruiser rider, I couldn't say no, so we proceeded onward.

Around the Bend On the Apache Trail

Not long after Tortilla Flats the road did indeed turn to dirt, with plenty of washboard surface with what I would describe as talcum powder on top of it. The road looked like it hadn't been maintained in awhile and there were alluvial ruts that I didn't want to track in as it usually leads to a bad end. The real shocker was to find out that I had 22 miles of this and more before I got back on pavement. At that point, I was in all the way. The road continued on with a combination of relatively short straights, uphill and downhill switch backs with some downhill grades that were interesting with vistas of scrub brush, saguaro cactus and rugged rocky mountains that make Mt Rushmore seem like a cornfield in Iowa. It was the longest 22 miles I've ridden in my life and while it did take an hour and a little more, during the ride, I ruminated over the name, Apache Trail and wondered if Geronimo had taken his people over this trail to get to better weather than the summer heat in the valley or to escape the wrath of the Mexican or US Armies. In surveying the scenery I also wondered if the land here certainly bears a resemblance to the ruggedness seen in Geronimo's face, I think it does. At the same time I don't think Irish and I would fair well in those times. We resemble Tom and George Custer more than I'd like, Irish especially. Speaking of Tom, George and Geronimo, I also couldn't help thinking if Tom Horn, the indian scout, deputy sheriff, Pinkerton Detective, Rough Rider and stock detective cum convicted murderer had graced these same trails as well. I am pretty certain both did, I just hoped my fate would be better than theirs.

More of the Apache Trail
The plain truth is, the ride wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, just slow and with a bike not meant to ride on that kind of terrain. I did learn a couple lessons though. One, going too slow makes the ride rougher. So rough at times I thought the bike would shake apart and anecdotally, it seems my 49L topcase might be a little looser. Two, don't hold the grips tight or too tight. This wore out my forearms and made the trip back home a pain because my hands were cramping, which has happened before, on a trip to the west coast. It's not a good feeling. Three, getting off the seat at times made the ride better. Thing is, I haven't ridden much dirt, except on a friends YZ250 and a KLR 25 years ago, but taking that short cut as it were has given me some ideas for the future, which would be getting a dirt ready street bike as a second bike or to replace the RT and I've always loved the R1200GSA. Adding insult to stupidity was when two people whizzed by Irish and me like were standing still. It looked like they were riding Honda CRF250L's. Later on we caught up with them at Roosevelt Dam and they looked to be a couple closer to 60 than I was. Ouch.

The Apache Trail next to Apache Lake
In the end it was a successful trip and we had lunch at Irene's in Globe before heading back to the valley. Next time, I will take the paved way to Globe, unless I have a dirt ready bike, which I doubt. Not unless I win the lottery. :)

Thank you for reading this blog.

The Bikes, Rear View

The Bikes, Front View

Tom Horn

Heading out of Tortilla Flats

My Friend, Irish


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Final Drive: Make It Progresso or Make It Yourself

There was a TV commercial from the 70's for Progresso soups that had the tag line, "Make it Progresso or make it yourself". This means that Progresso had such high standards that to make anything better, you had to make it yourself. Considering that Progresso was a purveyor of Italian foods for that market, it was a pretty tall claim. I found out recently, this extends to more than just soup.

Recently, I had brought my motorcycle in for a warranty repair of the front ABS cable. If you recall, this problem surfaced on my trip to Crescent City. Normally I do all the maintenance and repairs on my vehicles, but I finally had time to take the bike into the shop to get it fixed and since it was a warranty repair, why not? Josiah of Dirtball Customs in Scottsdale suggested I take it to GOAZ in North Scottsdale for the warranty repair. GOAZ is a multiline dealership that sells and services not only BMWs, but KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Triumph, Ducati and Kawasaki. The owner of GOAZ also owns the Harley Davidson dealer next door.  This said owner is none other than Bob Parsons, owner and founder of GO Daddy. To that end, the dealership is new, modern, clean and seems to be very customer service oriented. I was impressed with them, particularly compared to Victory BMW, which seemed more mom and pop and a little looser, if you know what I mean. If I have anymore warranty issues, I'll give them a shot.

Anyway, in order to replace the ABS cable, a lot of the Tupperware has to come off the bike as does the gas tank. The job took two hours and upon return of my bike, I saw that they washed it as well. Happy as a clam I rode off to go home. When I got home, I noticed some plumbing showing between the gas tank and steering neck I don't normally see. Upon further inspection, it looks like the fuel lines from the gas tank. They should not be visible, but routed along the tank.

I disassembled the Tupperware from the left side of the bike to get a better look at the problem. from what I could tell, the fuel lines were routed in front of the power cable to the Powerlet outlet in the left fairing and the clip securing the power cable was not fastened closed. I disconnected the fuel lines and rerouted them behind the power cable and fastened the power cable to the clip as below:

So now with the Tupperware assembled back in its proper place, we no longer see the jumble of hoses and everything is in its proper place:

 So, to use the terms of the Progresso commercial, I tried Progresso, but I ended up making it myself...or at least finishing it correctly myself. If I had paid for this, I would have taken it back, but had I had to pay for it, I would have done it myself to begin with. Obviously, this is a minor oversight, but one, in my opinion, is more to do with the business model of many dealerships and not with the expertise of the technician. Most car and motorcycle dealerships operate on the incentive plan. This means that if a job has a book time of 5 hours and the technician does it in less time, he or she is making time, which leads to higher pay through commissions or more paid hours. It's not uncommon for technicians to make up to two times their hours, meaning they can do 80 hours of work in a forty hour work week. The basics are, if the dealer charges 12 hours for a clutch job on a K1200LT and the technician does it in 6 hours, the dealer kicks some money to the technician because the technician is onto to another billable job while his time is still being billed on the original job. The downside of this is that in the rush to make time, mistakes get made. Personally, I'd rather get it done right every time than do it too fast to make a little more money, but hey, that's me. 

So, will you make it Progresso, or will you make it yourself?

Thank you for reading this blog. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Final Drive: Neil Peart, The Holidays and Shunpiking

I grew up on suburban Long Island in the 60's and 70's and like many kids of that era and location, I found myself in the pastimes of playing in a band and riding mini-bikes and motorcycles. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I thought I wanted to play guitar and my dad got me one, but I couldn't pick up playing it at all. My brother did, as he seemed more musical than me, playing the trumpet since he was seven. For some reason musical ability eluded me. I tried the bass after that and with even quicker negative results, I was again instrumentless. Then something magical happened. I went over my cousin Kenny's house one day and his parents had bought him a Leeds drumset, a four piece kit style that was popular in the 60's and before. When I sat down, picked up the sticks and proceeded to use them, it made sense. Before long my mom got me a used 5 piece set, blue sparkle if I recall and I started taking lessons at the Long Island Drum Center. My first teacher was Bill Cramer. Bill was a striking figure with long red hair and a full beard, not unlike Ginger Baker. Bill also rode a candy apple red 1976 Honda CB750F. It was quite the bike at the time and once or twice he gave me a ride home on it. Bill got married later on that year and moved to California where he still lives. Don Mulvaney took over after that with the occasional Dom Famularo when Don was unavailable.

While Playing the drums came natural, I also picked up some bad habits that Don tried to cure me and I am not sure he did cure me to this day. Having played on my own for almost a year before taking lessons allowed me to learn in ways that weren't necessarily according to Hoyle. I won't get into them here, but I think this extends to a lot of things in life. Around this time, my brother and I got our first bike, a Rupp mini-bike, on which were learned the fine art of riding. I am sure I learned some bad habits there too, but I never had lessons to straighten me out, not in 25+ years of riding full-size motorcycles on my own. It's not a matter of pride I say this at all. If anything, I am frugal and I just never spent the money to get further training on the motorcycle, which I think has hindered me in some ways, like taking full advantage of the capabilities of my motorcycles, at least in anything other than a straight line.

Photo by Rob Wallis

With the year coming to a close, I reflect on this theme, of not only bad habits, but of taking the short way around the barn too. Back when I started to play drums, I had my favorites: Sib Hashian, Gary Mallaber, John Bonham and Keith Moon, to name a few. Then I discovered Neil Peart. I remember being blown away by La Villa Strangiato. Neil and Rush opened my mind to not only better music, but lyrics whose philosophy meant something and still do. It was like I had found music that had made sense to me, just like when I picked up those drum sticks the first time at my cousin Kenny's house. In the intervening years, I have been to at least 5 Rush concerts and I have followed Neil's career if not life and I have been amazed, not only by his continual improvement, but his ability to overcome adversity. He really is an amazing human being that humbles me not only behind the kit, but in most things. One of his terms is shunpiking, which to paraphrase Neil, is taking the road no one would take unless they lived on it. Neil applies this to riding. Being mostly a commuting rider, I don't find myself shunpiking on the bike too much. The reasons are one, time, I never seem to have enough time to explore and riding a R1200RT doesn't lend itself to dirt and off road excursions. I have however done this a little bit with life. In the past 34 years, I have explored many different types of jobs, whether part time jobs when going to school or full time jobs just to make a living. I've worked as a groundskeeper, glazier, auto mechanic, bail enforcement agent, child abuse investigator, and IT worker, just to name a few. I've met people from all sorts of socioeconomic backgrounds in many different roles. I often wonder, what would it be like to stay focused on one thing, improving and perfecting skills, becoming a true master. In fact I envy those that either put in the time with single mindedness or seem to be born with the single passion in life and pursue it with vigor. 

So, during this holiday season, I find myself reflecting on my shunpiking and wonder if I have at times, if not always, tried to take the short way around the barn. The truth is, there is no shortcut to competency or mastering something. It's a process that takes time and that amount of time can vary for individuals as well as the object we are discussing, however, once we make that breakthrough, it is self-evident. The key to this is that mastering or competency is not a destination, but a milestone along the way and the path is continual improvement or evolution. In my own case, I do not understand my own path anymore. At 50 I find myself looking back and wondering what and why. May be I should be looking forward, but as a contextual person, I need to understand the past to proceed forward. I am still trying to figure this out. As far as Neil goes, I think he doing fabulous. I would have one piece of advice for him and this is coming from a fellow introvert (ISTP if you must know): Relax around people and don't be afraid to mix a bit. I think he is a little neurotic about privacy, but then I am an anonymous fool. I wonder what advice he'd have for me? Happy New Year Neil and to all.

Thank you for reading this blog.