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Blue Ride September 9, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
Tags: , , , ,

Earlier this week, I was forced to sign the paper authorizing the veterinary hospital to end the life of my friend and companion, a 7 year old Australian Shepherd named Blue.  She was the sweetest, most affectionate animal I have had the fortune to know.  She developed a cough upon my Thursday return return from speaking at Space 2010 conference.  By Friday, she was running a fever of 105.  By Saturday, she was admitted to the hospital for 24-hour care and placed on oxygen.  By Sunday she was facing going on a ventilator with the prognosis of never coming off of it, only delaying in misery a rapid respiratory decline.

Last photo of Blue while testing Retro Cam.

While some may feel a dog to be “just a pet”, Blue is much more and her death was (and is) devastating.  The speed of her decline from being a healthy active dog to lying in a veterinary ICU with a mystery ailment necessitating euthanasia was (and is) too much to accept.  As fate would have it, I had already planned to take leave of work this week.  I hung about the house for a few days trying unsuccessfully to move on and dealing with the barrage of memory triggers, and finally decided to take a ride to clear my head and just get out of the house.

I took the morning to slowly get ready and get the bike packed.  I used to have the routine down like clockwork, but the relative lack of rides this year and the preoccupation of what I was trying to escape had me moving a little slowly and forgetfully.  By noon I was gassing up and hitting the road heading west.

The weather was clear and the temperatures were in that deceptively confusing warm/cool range: that intermediate point where standing in a parking lot in the sun leaves you sweating, but being on the highway under a cloud leaves you freezing.  Fortunately I had been fooled more than once before by this meteorological duality and set out with jacket and gloves riding past folks in tank tops and shorts and yet still feeling a chill on the highway.  This trip started much the same as any other: riding like a bat out of hell out I-70W to escape the local urbania to really “start” the ride”.  The winds were very gusty and I was quickly reminded of how riding can so effectively clear one’s mind.  Hitting a huge lateral gust coming over a ridge, at 80-mph on a 55mph turn, while crossing the bow shock of semi, tends to push every thought from one’s head save the one idea of staying on the road.  Though I’d be on I-70 to Hancock, MD, I hopped off the interstate at MD-17 to cut over to the Dog Patch Tavern, my normal ride terminus. 

Downshifting into the parking lot, I was noticing how numb my fingers had gotten, and I wished I had brought thicker gloves.  Being an early Thursday afternoon, I was, not surprisingly, the only patron.  Despite my lack of rides this year, the barkeep, Dawn, recognized me and was already reaching for my “usual” before I ordered.  We chatted for a while about the wind and weather when the phone rang, leaving me to jot some notes about the trip and review the route ahead.

Dogpatch bartender, Dawn, has remembered my "usual" since the first day I walked in.

Heading out from the Dog Patch, I got back on I-70 via MD-66 and was immediately buffeted by the wind again.  It blew warm; it blew cold.  I was still chilled to the core so it was all cold to me.  I got off I-70 an exit earlier than I planned which took me along MD-144 though Hancock than to meet up with US-522 heading south, a new road for me. 

The change was immediately better than the interstate.  The wind had subsided and feeling slowly returned to my fingers.  I reached Berkley Springs, WV a short time later feeling a bit peckish and rode past my turn-off in search of sustenance.  I had passed a Hardee’s on the way there, and had very nearly pulled off for a Mushroom & Swiss.  The dearth of Hardee’s in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area is beguiling, and I would typically avail myself of the opportunity on these west-bound rides to partake of that particular burger; except for the fact on that on a recent ride I had missed out on what looked to be one of the coolest-looking BBQ joints simply because I had just filled up with fast food.  At that moment, much like Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt, I had vowed to not again eat franchised food while on a ride.

Following US-522 through town, I happened upon a 5-stand market next to the city park and pulled over to check it out.  There wasn’t much suitable for lunch-fare at the stands, but I had parked in front of the Fairfax Cafe and so ventured in.  My fast food boycott had instead landed me a chicken salad sandwich on multigrain with grapes (not “on the side” but in the salad) and a cream soda.  I ate my lunch in the park, bought some gluten-free pecan-date cookies at one of the market stands, and headed back up US-522 to meet up with WV-9 heading west.

My lunch venue in Berkley Springs.

Another “new” road, WV-9 was a great ride: lots of 40 mph twists and beautiful landscape affording views of the Cacapon and Great Cacapon rivers.  I continued on WV-9 to WV-29 south, continuing to afford beautiful scenery and some great twisting roads (at least until hitting the valley).  I met up with US-50 toward Romney stopping for gas in Augusta. 

The worst tank fuel overflow of my riding experience had me rushing for non-existent paper towels, and spending a bit longer at the station than I had planned to let the bike “air out”.  While waiting, looking at my map, and drinking my Lo-Carb Monster energy drink, I heard the roar of a Maryland State Police helicopter immediately above my head coming in for a landing.  Wondering what a MD police chopper was doing in WV landing right across the road from where I was standing, I quickly ran through a mental list to confirm that it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me just as the Augusta Rescue Squad ambulance showed up with sirens blaring.  Minutes later a patient was transferred to the helicopter and airlifted away as a small crowd looked on from the Augusta BP gas station.

Concerned that I was making poor time to my tentative destination of Covington VA, or at least to Warm Springs, I continued down US-50W toward Romney.  I passed the KoolWink Motel with a smile (post-dated blog pending) and met up with US-220S in Junction, WV.  US-220 continued to be a great ride, though the road did straighten out a bit along the valley and the wind picked up again; but I was making good time and the countryside was still a good backdrop.

I reached Petersburg as my shadow was getting longer than I hoped, and pulled into the Rite Aid as I appeared to be heading out of town to check my progress on the map.  Assuming (possibly incorrectly) that town populations were a fair indicator of prospects for food, drink, and lodging, I opted to turn back into downtown Petersburg and seek the Hermitage Motor Inn (whose sign explicitly welcomes Bikers and boasts a restaurant).   Checking in I learned that Grant County had exactly four bars, and that Petersburg has two of them, and furthermore, that the Hermitage is within two blocks of those. 

I guess the Hermitage Inn proper was built in 1800 and something but the building where my room is situated is apparently a bit “newer”, yet somehow not nicer…  The place is more reminiscent of a dorm built in 1960 than a motel or hotel, with an eerie sudden familiarity with the other guests.  The rooms are clean, though not extraordinarily so, with wood paneling decor that has not changed in about 30 years (not much more nor less).  I have stayed in much worse and much better, so I am content. 

I unloaded and covered the bike, got a quick shower and headed to the restaurant at the motel, where I had a pretty decent rib-eye, reasonable asparagus given the season, and a mediocre zinfandel with very friendly service. 

Finishing dinner, the evening had a bit of a nip in the air so I grabbed my jacket to walk down to the two bars in town.  The first, The Office Pub, is CLOSED; the owner was on vacation until the 14th, so of course (?) the bar is closed.

Fortunately the 3rd Base Sports Bar and Grill is open and right across the street, which is where I am right now…  working on the blog and really regretting ordering the nachos….


Bag It June 12, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Product Reviews.
Tags: , , ,

Seeing some saddle-bag-purchase discussion in the Twitter-verse, I recalled that when I got mine, there was a lot I wanted to know, and not a lot of “helpful” resources.  Saddle bags can be a pretty difficult buy, especially the first time.  They are generally expensive and it is difficult to know whether you have made a mistake until it is too late to return them.   So without any claim of expertise, here’s my limited experience…  

The Setup: 

  • As you may be aware, I have a Dyna Wideglide.  This was my first limiting factor, since the external shocks on the rear suspension force a bag size and shape, and when we get to mounting, this will pose some unique complications.
  • I wanted AMPLE storage.  I bought mine in anticipation of going on LONG rides, but without any real clue how to pack pack for them.  I was a little at odds with myself, however, since I didn’t want to turn my “sleek cruiser” into a “bagger”.  But I figured the line of the Wideglide, with the meaty 160mm rear tire and long 34-degree rake of the fork to the skinny 70mm front tire, would allow me to “enhance” the back end with big honk’n saddle bags in a way that wouldn’t look too horrible.
  • Given the residual fear that I’d end up with more of a Bagger than I’d want, I wanted them to be detachable so I could revert to a Cruiser-look quickly and easily.  Plus, I was not happy with the the idea of having to unpack my gear in the parking lot of a hotel from a solid mount bag only to carry it in by the armful.  The bags had to be detachable, but not too easily detached, lest my bags not remain my bags.  I looked at throw-over bags, but those still need brackets to prevent them from hitting the wheel.  Securing the throwovers both tightly and detachably was not obvious to me and the need to keep the load balanced to keep them from sliding was an unanswered question.
  • I wanted leather, real leather, not leatherette, not plastic… so I knew I’d be paying a bit.  I wanted a box lid rather than flap lid figuring it offered better water protection and would be more secure in holding the top stuff when over-packing.  Plus I think it just looks better, and provides a relatively flat surface giving me a make-shift table for my maps, GPS, and coffee.  Of course, I’d need also need good thick, rigid leather to prevent sagging.  I know they make plactic tubs to help keep the form of the bag, but I figured they would eat up a lot of usable volume.

The Bags:

So, I ended up with a set of big-honkin’, rigid, black leather, studded, box-lidded bags with a front slant that fit my Wideglide.  And when I say fit, I mean they just fit.  The bags are by Carroll Leather.  I couldn’t find the original purchase information, though I could swear I got them from JP Cycles . While they still have a lot of Carroll Leather bags there, I don’t see the ones I bought.  I do see them at motorcycle-luggage.com for $429.95, which is about what I remember paying.  

I have been really very satisfied, and have no regrets about getting the large ones.  In fact, I am surprised at how whimpy or “purse-like” so many other saddle bags look on other bikes.  It may just be me, but I don’t really think the bags make it look too Bagger-ish.  To me, it is more a long-haul Cruiser, but I am clearly biased.  And I must say that it is great to have a place to put my leather jacket, without having to bungie it to rack or the seat, on those spring and fall rides when the temperatures vary so much.   

I actually like the slant-front shape that was dictated by the Dyna suspension; I think it looks much better than a utilitarian “box”, but it does make inefficient use of the volume.  Planning for packing in layers is always a good thing to do; but it becomes doubly important when the back of the bottom of the bag becomes a small acute corner.  They have maintained their shape prettywell over three years; the mounting surface is heavy, rigid PVC plastic (which is not at all apparent from the front) and the remaining sides are rigid leather.   The inside has some grey flocking on the PVC, which does tend to coat things a little bit after a long time, but not horribly.  


The bags are not completely waterproof (but I don’t know that any leather bag would be).  Things do get a little damp with sustained riding in heavy rain;  but I don’t have any significant problems in “normal” rain, and use zip-locks or trash-bags for the more critical items.  Despite being through some significant down pours, the bags have held up well.  However, they don’t seem to care for soapy water…  If you are still in the honeymoon period with your bags looking new, take them OFF before washing the bike.  I made the mistake of leaving them on when I went in for service (which is followed up by a complimentary wash).   The tech obviously knew enough to not “wash” the bags, but the  blotchy stains from splattered soapy water from the bike wash are still there after three years as a constant reminder.  I do use Doc Bailey’s Leather Black  once or twice a year, which does a reasonable job of hiding the blotches, as does the normal wear.  And after so many miles of adventure, a little wear on the bags is not a bad thing.   

The Brackets: 

I researched two options: Ghost Brackets and Easy Brackets.  I opted for the latter, so can’t give a good review of the Ghost Brackets (though the Easy Bracket site gives quite a “compartive review” ).  It seems to me now, looking at the Ghost Brackets, that they seem a lot more similar to the Easy Brackets than I remember three years ago.  I bought mine at GreatBikeGear.com  I have been satisfied with the Easy Brackets, though there is room for improvement.  

Rear bushing (longer of the two)

  The system consists of two bolts with bushings that replace a couple of stock bolts holding the rail trim on either side of the bike; the bushings have a slot which recieves the key-holed brackets that are bolted to the bags.  The bolts and bushings appear to be stainless, and maintain a clean look on the bike without a lot of excess hardware when the bags are off.  (Unlike the standoff brackets that would have been needed for throw-over bags.)   

I did have a problem right off the bat in that the Dyna Wideglide had apparently made a small change to the form of the trim in the 2006 model, of which the Easy Bracket folks were unaware.  The brackets still worked just fine, but they just barely rubbed on the chrome trim at the leading edge of the bracket.   I contacted the vendor and they were convinced that they must have sent the wrong hardware.  They immediately sent out another set of bolts and bushings at no charge, but the harware was identical to what I had, so of course the bracket still rubbed.  I was sending detailed annotated pictures of the problem, and my assessment of a solution:  The problem would not have occured had the bushing been just 1/8″ longer, maybe even less.  Eventually they did figure out that Harley had in fact made the design change that they didn’t catch, and they promised to send me new hardware for the new design as soon as they got around to changing them.  Unfortunately, despite the fact that they were very eager to be helpful early on, they kind of dropped the ball on the follow-through.  I was putting a few layers of fiber-tape in there to protect the trim while I waited, but that was looking worse than a scratch and I eventually gave up.  The place where the brackets hit the trim is hidden with the bags on, which is 98% of the time.  For the rest of the time, the scratch is just a small, unnoticeable, “beauty mark”.  

Other than that, the design is pretty good.  The brackets themselves are a very heavy gauge of bent sheet-metal.  Structural robustness was a priority for me; when you have big bags, you fill them up, and that gets heavy.  The brackets themselves bolt to the mounting face of the bag (more on that later) and the top of the bracket has a channel with two key-hole slots which slide onto the slots in the bushings.  The bushing slots are deep enough that the bracket is held securely without too much play, though I do think they could tighten up the bushing slot just a little bit. (I understand why they don’t, but still wish they did.  The bracket is coated with a rough black finish, which blends well with my black and chrome color scheme.  However, the coating is not holding up very well  on the hidden bearing surface that goes into the bushing slot.  I am getting a bit of rust there on the bracket (but not the bushings, so they still look fine when the bag is off).  The bolts that hold the bracket to the bag are coated; but they probably should have used stainless steel as they are rusting too.   

Easy Bracket Mounting Plate on Right Bag

The brackets are secured with barrel-key lock.  The lock design very good in that you cannot take the key out unless the lock is fully engaged, and the lock cannot be fully engaged unless the bracket is fully seated on the bushings.  Of course the bags themselves have no lock (in fact the metal buckles have hidden quick-release buckles in series).  However, I don’t know of any leather bag that comes with locks.  I contemplated riveting in a hasp and plate so I could add a padlock on the bags themselves — but for now I have been relying on the unwritten social contract that says: “You don’t mess with a man’s (or woman’s) ride”.  To date I haven’t had any problems, and oddly feel most “theft-safe” when on the road.  I still get nervous about pilfering on the streets of DC, and do a mental inventory of what I “can afford to lose” every time I park there. 


First the easy part: the start of installation was a simple matter of replacing the trim bolts with the Easy-Bracket bolts and bushings.  I worked one at a time so my trim wouldn’t fall off or shift.  Being an engineer at one point in my life, I did use a torquewrench to install the bolts and I used a thread-lock adhesive to secure them.  Those bolts are pretty critical to keeping your valuables attached to the bike as you rumble down the road, so it is definitely not a place to either strip them out or install them too loosely.  

Now the hard part: as indicated before, the brackets bolt onto the mounting face of the bags.  Getting them postitioned correctly is NOT trivial, at least it wasn’t for me… and I managed to screw it up.  

Leatherwork is artisanship, not precision machining (even when machine-cut).  Don’t rely on any edge being straight or at the same angle to anything or at the same distance from anything between the two bags.  Measure for your holes from multiple edges to find the “general location” for the holes, and even then don’t drill on the basis of measurement alone.  Use lots of tape to adhere the bracket to the bag and check the fit, check the fit, check the fit on the bike.  My bags were a little too heavy to prevent the tape from pulling, so I needed extra hands to stabilize while I eye-balled the fit.  Don’t drill all the holes at once; remember the “flat” mounting surface of the bag isn’t, and things will move as you bolt it down.  After you are sure you got it where you want it, drill one hole, insert the bolt with the bracket and loosly tighten the nut on the bolt, stay taped and check the fit, drill the next one using the bracket itself as the guide, insert the bolt (by this time you are really committed to the fit so don’t bother to check it), drill the next, and insert the bolt, then drill the last one.  Wait until all the bolts are in before cinching them down.  I don’t remember if the Easy Brackets came with fender washers; they probably did but a ghost of a memory has me questioning it.  If not, buy them, preferably in stainless steel, and used them on the inside of your bag to distribute the force of the bolt head so it doesn’t break through the PVC or leather.  

Excuse the filth -- rode through thunderstorm this week...

 Clearance is critical (this is where I screwed up).  Fortunately, I had already replaced my stock pipes with a set of Vance-Hines Big Radius, so there was no way for the bags to hit the the exhaust.   The bracket manufacturers claim that the pitch of the brackets will keep your bags clear of the swing arm…. well sort of.  Mine clears the swing arm itself  just fine, but doesn’t clear the rear axle on either side, but particularly the longer threaded end on the left side of the bike.  So if you are not postive the pitch is enough to clear the axle (or pipes, or whatever else) you must account for the amount of play in the rear suspension when hitting those bumpy, pot-hole-laden roads.  And for the record, jumping up and down on your bike is NOT enough of a clearance test (yeah, I tried).  I don’t know what the magic formula is  (it is going to depend on the tension in your shocks and how heavily you load the bike) but I can tell you that 2″ of clearance was not enough for me.  It looked like plenty on first installation, but it didn’t take long to see that the axle nuts were hitting the bottom edge of the bag. I was forced to redrill raising the bag to a 3-5/8″ clearance, which is probably more than necessary, but it works for me and doesn’t look bad.  I was concerned about the top edge of the bag falling down over time without the additional support of the metal brcket, and it has a little bit, but not so much as to be a problem after three years.  Another clearance issue is the shock absorber itself.  When the shock goes into compression, the bottom of it moves both up and back.  I recall that in my first installation, I had signs that my shocks were just hitting the bottom front edges of the rear bag wall.  But in raising the bags, I have 1-3/4 horizontal clearance from the bottom of the bag to the bottom of the shock absorber with no problems.  

The Use:

As I indicated earlier, I let them see the weather.  I put Leather Black on them once or twice a season, and that is about it for maintenance.  Before getting  bags I wondered about the criticality of balancing the load, which turned out to be irrelevant.  I’ll often have the harder-to-access left bag fully loaded, leaving the right almost empty to add stuff I pick up on the trip.  I keep the raingear, bungies, netting, kick-stand pad, and my national park passport, and for long trips a tool kit, in the left side.  On the right I keep the gloves, goggles, atlas, camera, and current year issue of HOG magazine for ABC points, leaving lots of excess room.  With this compliment of “normal” stuff I still have room for my chaps on the left, and my jacket on the right.  Of course the right one tends to get hotter than the left due to its proximity to the pipes, so I do sometimes need to do a little reshuffling when riding home with fresh fruit from a rustic roadside stand at the end of a long ride.  

Before you think they sag too much... Notice the right one is actually parallel to the ground making a decent table when parked.

The saddle bags, as massive as they are, are only part of my trip storage solutions, but that would be another article…

When did you become a Biker? May 9, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Introductions, MegaTweet, Rides.
Tags: , , , , ,

I mean really a “Biker”, not just a guy or gal with a motorcycle. 

A tweet-friend and fellow biker-blogger recently made an unusual post: she is selling her car making her Harley Sportster her sole means of motorized conveyance.  Now, I do know people who have no car, but they mostly live in the city where public transportation abounds and a dearth of parking makes having a car more of a liability than an asset.  But she is out in the northern midwest, where things are far apart without a great deal of public transport, and occassionally some nasty weather…. and the winters… ah, forget it! 

She has been riding for only a year, and in my opinion is already a “real biker”.  She carries a sincere passion for the freedom of the ride, and shares her experience as a “newbie Harley rider” with a rigor and candor that makes it easy to see that she is a rider.  But, that is only my opinion.   Some may say “she has a nice little hobby there”.  But with this new total motorcycle reliance… there are few who would dispute that she is a Biker. 

There are many websites that explore what it is to be a biker.  Many cite philosophies about freedom, brotherhood, integrity – and while I agree that these qualities are very admirable and vitally important, they are not the exclusive province of bikers and they are seen in many non-riding communities.  I’ve shared the biker philosophy most of my life, but prior to owning a bike nor even knowing how to ride, I would have never assumed to call myself a Biker.  Riders ride.  But what distinguishes a Biker from a person on a motorcycle?  

There are plenty of RUBs out there with shiny new bikes putting on less than 1000  miles a year on sunny days only while wearing bug-free leathers from the dealership.  And I do NOT begrudge them one bit.  (As far as I am concerned, if they are not sponging off of me or my taxes, then people should be able to spend their money as they damn well please.) I just didn’t want to be a RUB.  

So what is it then that makes someone a Biker?  I started riding in June of 2006, so some may think that I am not a “real Biker”.  Even having 51,000 miles and 44 states behind me, some would still say that I am not.  I think I am, though I surely was not the day I bought the bike, nor really for a year after.  But as OCD as it may seem, it occupied my mind a lot.  Just what set of circumstances would have to come together for me to be a Biker?  For me, the transition occurred after 14 months… 

I remember being happy with myself doing 100 miles without a break, riding only to the metro station because I was too afraid to negotiate the traffic in Washington DC, and having that awkward uneasy feeling trying to duck-walk the bike into a narrow parking spot at a biker bar worrying that the “real Bikers” were looking at me like I was an idiot.   But as time went on the rides got longer though more weather conditions and into the streets of DC, and I still wondered if I was a biker, or a just a RUB. 

When my one year anniversary was still a few months away, I found a “You may not be a biker if…” weblist, and the one that stuck in my head was: “You may not be a biker if your 1 year anniversary comes before your 5,000 mile service”.  I was still shy of that mark and headed out on the road to “be” a Biker.  I got my 5,000 miles and passed my 1-year mark over 6,000.  

But was I a Biker? 

Two months later, I headed out to the Sturgis Rally from Maryland, riding solo.  I had no idea how to estimate time, miles, fatigue and weather.  I stayed on interstate the whole way out to “make time”.  I rode without a helmet for only the first time when I got to Wisconsin; it was pure exhilaration.  Doing 500 mile days, I made it to my folks’ place in eastern South Dakota in 3 days, camping one night and staying in a cheap motel the next.  I had no idea how to pack, and even remembering Stitzer’s Vacation Principle, I ended up packing way too much like a n00B and had to ship clothes home so I could afford the space to buy stuff.  

Was I a Biker yet? 

I then took several days zig-zagging the state meeting up with old friends and family, and finally arrived at the Buffalo Chip.  Riding cautiously along the gravel roads amidst hundreds of other bikes (having never before ridden in a close group), I arrived at the check-in area and nervously teetered my way to a spot in the uneven cow pasture in front of the Buffalo Chip registration sign.  I pulled out my Riders Edge sign (the one that says something like “My ride started at the Edge – Harley Davidson Baltimore ” – where I had taking my training course) and asked a biker to take my picture to send back to my Rider’s Edge alma mater.  I took a while to relish in the accomplishment of making it from Maryland to Sturgis.  I walked around looking at the bikes, buying (more than) a few T-shirts.  

First long ride - Sturgis 2007

 Was I a Biker yet? 

I rode into the campground, still a bit uneasy on the uneven dirt, until I found a spot to pitch my tent.  The camp ground was alive with activity.  It was midday.  Hotter than hell and dry.  I parked the bike, and walked around until I found a place to buy a beer.  Like a n00B, I didn’t have a cooler and settled for 2 cans, and walked back to my site.  I pitched my tent in the heat and the dust, drinking one cold one, and then a not so cold one.  I sat in the heat wondering well now what?  I’m really “at” the rally, “at” the Chip, in a tent. 

Was I a Biker yet? 

I walked around watching people partying with their riding buddies and setting up their rally home infrastructure of coolers, tables, grills, canopies, and signage.  Riding alone and walking alone, I felt a little out-of-place.  It didn’t take long for my two beers to sweat out of my system, so I hopped on the bike at headed to the main stage area where a “biker rodeo” was taking place.  I got a sandwich and beer and found a table from which to watch the events.  There were quite a few people, but it was still pretty low-key, and actually got a little boring.  I left the camp and rode into Sturgis.  Hitting the crowded streets, traffic was a standstill with the sounds of thousands of over-heated Harleys laboring in the heat.  I found a parking spot off the main drag and walked main street.  I had been to Sturgis several times in college, driving up (in cages) with buddies in hopes of seeing the fabled “wild times”.  But this time I had no compatriots.  I walked from one end of the street to the other buying souvenirs and stopping in the occasional bar for a beer.  I was a little bummed at the realization that the miles between town and the Buffalo Chip would preclude any serious revelry here in town.  Eventually, I got tired of walking in the heat, got back into the queue of over-heated bikes inching along the sizzling asphalt, and made it back to my tent to lie in the sweltering sun.  I started regretting having pre-purchased of several days of this.  

Main Street Sturgis 2007

Was I a Biker at all? 

Jimmy & Karin

Night came.  The temperatures cooled off.  And the concert was about to start.  I donned my jacket, bought a beer and walked up to the concert.  I think that night was Toby Keith.  Drinking my beer I walked around trying to find that rare combination of dry seating, people watching, a decent concert view, and the chance to actually talk with somebody.  (As you may have gathered by this point, despite my verbose blog existence, I can be a bit of a wall flower in large social situations.)  Failing all that, I switched from beer to Jack and Coke and resigned myself to just stand and watch the concert.  Then by chance, I met a couple from Washington state who actually initiated conversation with me, Jimmy and Karin.  We hit it off quite well and had a great time at the concert.  As the night drew to a close, they invited me to ride the Badlands with them the next morning. I had found the biker camaraderie for which I was looking (of course, once I stopped looking).  

So was I a Biker yet? 

The next morning came too early for the night before with a scorching sun raising the temperature inside the tent to just shy of 100 degrees.  I got up and staggered in search of coffee and a shower.  The shower facilities were… well… gross.  But clearly, this is rally life.  I showered and headed back toward the tent, watching last night’s revelers stirring with the same coffee seeking stagger I had experienced an hour before.  I dressed and stowed my gear, and, with a fresh cup o’ joe in my hand, headed out in search of Jimmy and Karin’s tent.  They were just getting up, so I waited drinking my coffee as they got ready for the ride. We headed out down the interstate back east to the Badlands.  We made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug to do the tourist thing, get minor supplies, and some lunch.  

In the SD Badlands -2007

A buffalo burger later, we then headed into the park.  The scenery was as I remembered in college, a stark alien landscape of colorfully layered peaks; a small desert in the middle of the Dakota prairie.  Only this time, being on a bike the feeling was so much more immersive.  The twisty roads had me back in my old habit of wearing a helmet… that is until our first stop.  Then we flew through the twists and turns taking in the ever-changing landscape.  In the west, a thunderstorm was rapidly approaching but we pressed on.  Moments later it was upon us and we were riding the curves, the rain both stinging and cooling, lightning striking the landscape around us.  The temperatures dropped precipitously freezing my bare arms and drenched jeans as we exited the south west end of the park toward Rapid City.  With teeth chattering in the now cold wind, I led Jimmy and Karin to what used to be an old college hangout.  At mid-day in the summer, it was pretty dead.  But we had coffee drinks (which were free because we had to wait for the coffee to be made) and free bar tacos, while we sat warming up and re-living the wild ride though the Badlands in a thunderstorm. 

After the Badland Storm Ride - 2007

Was I a Biker yet? 

That night we hung out again at the concert and had a great time.  (I think it was ZZ-Top)  We turned in a little earlier than the previous night from the exhaustion of the day.  The next morning came and I went to see them off for their ride home to Washington.  On our ride the day before, Jimmy had noticed that my brake light was stuck on.  I really wanted to avoid getting service anywhere near the rally, but that was the kind of problem that can get a guy killed.  I rode down into Rapid City early to find the dealership as crowded as I expected.  I got my bike checked in and while I was at it, ordered my 10k service and a new rear tire as well.  I settled in for the wait.  So, I rode half way across the country to go the rally and was going to spent a whole damn day on a bench at the dealership.  I bought an overpriced magnetic chess board, a deck of cards, and some over-priced food, and had the fortune of striking up a conversation with a biker, Virgil,  that also happened to play chess.  We spent the whole day in the dealership parking lot tents, trying to avoid the sun and playing several games of chess until my bike was finally ready 10 hours after pulling in.  

Virgil & I on about Game 3

Was I a Biker yet? 

The day was just draining, so I had a pretty early evening at the campground, which was restless for all the burn-outs echoing the campground all night.  I awoke the next morning  intending of riding to Devil’s Tower, WY (of Close Encounters of the Third Kind fame) and while there, I popped up north into Montana.  The open stretches of Wyoming were different that those of South Dakota, somehow more scenic and even more sparsely driven.  I decided to open up the throttle for the first time just to see how fast she’d go.  With that skinny front tire on my Dyna, I started feeling a little unstable crossing 100 mph and backed off at 110 mph.  It was exhilarating though, setting my personal landspeed record (on a bike anyway).   

Was I a Biker yet? 

I made it back to the campground in plenty of time for the concert (Buckcherry).  Walking around the camp, I overheard a small group of 20-somethings from my home town.  I stopped by to chat, or more listen, hearing about how the place had changed and how it stayed the same.  It was a different vibe hanging out with these “kids”, but the energy was there, and it was not like I had a posse of my own with which to hang, so we all walked over to the concert.  I had never seen, or even heard of, Buckcherry at the time.  (I was generally radiofree in avoiding the car for the bike, and otherwise listening to XM radio hearing the “songs of my youth”).  But they put on a hell of a show and my 20-something group was pretty adept at working our way right to the front.  The whole concert was alive with energy and when they played the song “Everything”, I was swept away in the experience, feeling for the first time in almost 20 years like I was in college, living in the moment, present and immersed in my surroundings, feeling the intensity and taking it all in.  There was no stress, no work, no angst — just RIGHT NOW.   “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau.  (Yes, I would carry a copy of Walden when I would hike and camp.) 

Was I a Biker yet?  

In the months prior (in addition to worrying if I was a Biker or not), I had been contemplating the concept of Memento Mori – a latin expression loosely meaning “remember you will die”.  As I understand, it started as an artistic movement derived from the Epicurean ideology of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  The idea, of course, was to “suck the marrow” from life and enjoy the moment RIGHT NOW for this is all there is.  The art itself has kind of a goth feeling, interposing elements of life (flowers, fruits, etc.) with elements of death (predominantly skulls); the juxtaposition being a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death.  Religious sects (the Calvinists I think) got a hold of the notion and turned it into warning to clean up your act in life because you will not escape judgment in death.  The idea of memento mori appealed to me, as had its dual-dualities.  Not only is memento mori a thought-provoking interplay of life and death, but even the interpretation of the expression is both a call for vibrant living and of self-denial (or a least a degree of caution).   And in that moment of vibrant living, I decided to get a new tattoo… an ambigram of memento mori.  When Buckcherry finished, I made my way to the row of vendors to a tattoo artist.  Unfortunately, he was booked solid for the night, but I paid my down payment and made an appointment for the next morning, right before I was taking off back east.  I made my way back into the crowd.  I had lost my 20-something posse, but it was no matter.  Feeling the energy of the crowd I roamed around and watched the rally be a rally as Velvet Revolver played into the night.  The next morning after coffee, I packed up my bike and rode to the tattoo stand.  The sunny quiet morning didn’t have the energy of the night before, and my more-cautious self started with the mind chatter… “What if this guy sucks?” “What if he is unsteady and hung over?” “What kind of infection control can he possibly have in this dirt?” “Real smart… get a tattoo from some transient vendor…”  But, I held my resolve…  and walked in to have some of my fears realized.  I don’t know if he was hung over, but he looked it.  He was in a bike accident the day prior, so was clearly not at his “best”.  Needless to say the results were not “perfect”.  It is just a small fraction of an inch off (a point that no one notices, but I am painfully aware of it) and a miscommunication about “a little bit more serif” resulted in blobby thick lines (getting mad just writing about it).  It was a little tough to monitor progress from the excruciating pain across my sternum, but all in all I am proud of my rally tattoo.  

So am I a Biker yet? 

Leaving the Chip, I got on the highway in strong winds.  My shirt was flapping against my wounded chest as I fought the gales.  I made very little mileage that day.  I stopped in Mitchell to see the Corn Palace and noticed a problem with my rear brakes.  I had to almost stand on them to get any effect.  The front ones were still fine, and it was getting too late to do anything about it, so I pressed on stopping short of Sioux Falls for the night.  There was an Irish bar a short distance from my hotel where I enjoyed a burger with fried egg and chislic (which I hadn’t had in ages), and talked with bikers heading home from Sturgis.  The next morning I pulled into the dealership in Sioux Falls to find that the brakes were actually fine… and well lubricated from all the transmission fluid flying out of the side of the bike.  The Rapid City dealership had put the transmission oil plug on without a gasket.  I had the brakes cleaned and transmission oil topped off and headed out with the bike shifting a little hard.  Stopping at the Minnesota border for an ABC point, I found couldn’t get the bike into neutral, so rode back to Sioux Falls just as the dealership was closing.  I got the bike in to be worked on the next day, but was now stuck at the HD parking lot with all my gear as night approached….  

Am I getting closer to being a Biker? 

Fortunately my folks lived a short 120-ish miles away, so my Dad and uncle came to pick me up and I had one more evening with family.  The next morning the bike was fixed, and I was on my way again.  This time avoiding the interstate I took only back roads to see Americana.  It took a lot longer getting home, but it was a ride worth taking — the small towns, the biker bars, the random conversations and re-tellings of adventures, the scenery, the dive motels and camp grounds…  I finally arrived home with a few thousand more miles than I started, some new friends, a sunburn, my hair in wind-blown knots, a memento mori rally tattoo across my chest, a thrice-repaired bike, a bunch of T-shirts and pins, and a lot of experiences that are best discussed over a beer.  

Looking back on the trip, I decided I was finally a Biker. 

So, when did you become a Biker?

LD Ride Day 5: That’s a Wrap September 7, 2009

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The ride from Scranton was uneventful.  The morning was cold and a bit foggy which amounted to clammy, but I was fine in my leathers.  I headed down I-81 toward Harrisburg with a quick stop in Wilkes-Barre for coffee and gas.  From Harrisburg, it was I-83 to the Baltimore beltway and then home.  Completely nonextraordinary – except for the feeling.

I sensed that this 5-day trip would probably mark the ‘last decent ride for 2009.  With the upcoming LCROSS lunar impact abutting Columbus Day weekend I knew I would be in the mission operations center in California for the event and not be able to make a long weekend like I did riding the Dragon last year.  November weather would be a crap shoot.  I have no more unvisited states nor 2009 ABC points within practical reach. 

I managed to touch 44 states and a province this season, picking up the last 8 on this trip.  For those of us who “collect”, I immodestly have to say that I didn’t do too badly this year.  Maybe not the best, not nearly enough to finish in the top ten of the ABC09 rankings… but still, not bad.

But for those of us who ride for the peace, the adventure, and the connection to ourselves and our environs, Day 5 was a somewhat bittersweet….

On the bitter side:  My touring year was ending.  Granted, I will still ride most of the winter into and out of  DC for my commute and will have a reasonable shot at some weekend day trips, but the multi-day road trips will most likely have to wait until spring.  I have only been riding a short three and a third years.  But in those 48,500-odd miles, I have grown to rely upon those endless stretches of asphalt, landscape, the throaty V-twin song to re-balance my senses and sensibilities, and to find my place in the universe. It is saddening and a little distressing to not have those journeys available at a moments notice. 

But on the sweet side:  I realize just how fortunate I have been to have the opportunities to take my rides and experience my adventures.  Just since this summer I have seen more of America than many people do in a lifetime.  In riding the highways and byways of the nation, I have been able to weave those new experiences into who I am.  And, this New England loop was a fine finish

Did I experience any epiphanies?  The unpopular but truthful answer is “Not really.”  But I do feel that I end this season somehow “better” for the experience.  I know a little more about myself and the importance of striking a balance of life priorities.  I know that happiness really comes from within, and when it gets tough to tap that inner source, the Harley is a hell of a catalyst.  I know from its ubiquity across the land that there is potential for adventure in my own backyard, and I have done much better in finding it, yet I still seem to prefer the adventures that lie several hundreds of miles away.


Labor Day Weekend route through New England.

LD Ride Day 4: Monuments & Merriment September 6, 2009

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I woke reasonably early and went outside to wipe the dew off the bike.  I half thought to get underway, but the Colonial House Inn breakfast was scheduled to start at 9:01.  While I was eager to make efficient mileage to make it home that night, I was not eager to leave the friendly comfort of the inn.  I sat in the common room for a while, intending to work on the blog, but instead entered a conversation with a woman who is a “regular” there, who dressed in sweats and slippers, looked like she was comfortably at home.  I made my way to the dining room shortly after 9:01 and sat at a table with two couples.

For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Scottish oats with maple syrup  and a uniquely New England egg dish similar to eggs benedict.  Breakfast conversation was lively and entertaining, with each of us sharing the experiences of our travels and of New England.  I made a few notes for possible future scenic rides in Vermont and Alabama from their recommendations.  Somehow or another the conversation drifted into genealogy, as I guess it often does in New England with who descended from whom on the Mayflower, when the older woman mentioned that her family was “only” known for a woman who massacred Indians. 

I was taken aback and asked “Are you talking about Hannah Duston?!?”.  I don’t know who was more surprised, me at meeting a descendent of the famed heroine or her at my knowing of the story.  In 1697, Hannah, her 6-day-old baby, and her nurse were taken in an Indian raid in Haverill, MA and marched with other captives toward Canada.  Early in the march, the Indians killed the infant, crushing her against a tree.  When the group camped on a river island in what is now Penacook, New Hampshire, Hannah with the help of her nurse and a 14 year old boy prisoner, attacked the band of their 12 captors in their sleep with tomahawks, slaying and scalping 10 of them.  They slowly returned home under cover of night, bringing the scalps as proof to collect a bounty for their deeds.  Hannah Duston is believed to be the first woman in America to be honored with a statue, erected in 1861 in Haverill, and another erected in 1874 in Penacook.

After a hearty breakfast and interesting conversation, I found Jeff, the innkeeper, to pay for my stay.  We chatted a little while about my ride, and he mentioned that if (when) I come back he’ll get his bike out and take me through some of his favorite country rides.  I packed the bike slowly in the cool foggy morn, wishing I could stay longer.   I saddled up and headed done the road continuing south on SR100 toward Londonderry.

SR100 continued to be an enjoyable ride, tempting me to explore the countryside, but my objective was to get home to leave me a day of “collection” before getting back to work Tuesday.  I picked up SR11 west at Londonderry to make some time on US7 south. 

Even US7 was a delightfully scenic ride and traffic was moving very well.  I was thinking about how spectacular the forested vista would be when the leaves changed, when I noticed something odd ahead in the distance.  A shaft of gray stone emerging straight up from the forest lay ahead west of the highway.  I was perplexed as to what it could be.  I was quite a distance off, but this monolith conspicuously rising far above the trees looked enormous.  As US7 took me closer, I contemplated taking an exit that looked like it may take me toward the obelisk, but “practicality” pushed me southward to avoid the “distraction” from my trek home. 

US7 put me right into the middle of Bennington where I saw signs for the “Battle Monument”… no idea what battle, but I was guessing that’s my obelisk.  Being this close, I had to see it.   I hung a right onto SR9 and pulled into a station for gas, bio-break, coffee, and to re-assess my route and schedule. 

Following the signs for the battle monument, I rode through a quaint residential area up a hill to the enormous stone spire.  It was quite impressive to approach.  The park grounds were quite small, magnifying the presence of the structure.  I parked the bike a walked to the visitors center.  Tours $2: “Huh, can’t beat that.”  It seems rare to find tourist attactions in that cost-void between “free” and “over-priced”.  The attraction was one of those local oddities that didn’t draw the hordes of tourists like the monuments in DC, making it more pleasant and relaxing.  There were maybe five families milling about.  The victors center was tiny, staffed with elderly cheerful volunteers who enjoyed talking with the youngsters, or at least the well-behaved ones.

I purused the gift shop finding a bottle of late season dark amber maple syrup (a favorite), and was approached by a loquacious fellow who was there with visiting family.  He asked about my bike and my trip, pausing only long enough for me to start to answer before telling me about the bike he used to have, and about how he is afraid of heights so he never goes up into the monument, but that his brother’s (holy terror) kids would get a kick out it.  I got into line to pay for my syrup and tour admission, standing behind that family.  As the curator counted heads for admission, I again heard the fear-of-heights story explaining that he would not be going up.  Eventually getting my wristband for the tour, I walked out to the grounds to drop off my syrup at the bike before perambulating the grounds.


Battle Monument of Bennington

The monument was to the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bennington.  Like many such monuments, it commemorated a local “turning point” in the war.  But the interesting thing about this monument is its dedication to neighboring New Hampshire militia troops that came in to defend the fledgling Republic of Vermont.  The Brittish, with their victories at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, were set on splitting off New England from the remainder of the American forces.  However, losses in the following battle at Hubbardton left the Redcoats in need of supplies before they could advance to complete their Saratoga Campaign.  Brittish General John Bergoyne sent a mixed dettachment of 700-800 Germans, Canadians, Loyalists, Regulars and Indians to capture the supply depot at Bennington thinking it was defended by only 500 men.  However, the Vermont Republic, after the Brittish victory at Ticonderoga, had called for help from New Hampshire, who pulled together a force of 2000 militia under command of General John Stark to defend Bennington.  In a series of two engagements including the addition of 550 reinforcements by the British and 350 Green Mountain Boys under the command of Seth Warner, the Americans held off the British killing 270 and taking 700 prisoner while only sustaining losses of 30 killed and 40 wounded.  Burgoyne continued his campaign and still in dire need of supplies, and ended up surrendering his total force of 8000 in Stillwater, New York, following the Battle of Saratoga.

I walked the periphery of the small grounds noting the statues and memorials honoring Stark, Warner, and the New Hampshire militiamen.  I walked up to the monument, again ending up behind the little clan from the gift shop, just in time to hear the acrophobic story one more time told to the ranger at the entrance.  I packed into the elevator with the group watching as one particularly “instigating” youngster coerced another into sticking his tongue into a small battery-powered fan.  The elevator operator was a very kindly yet rugged older man who quite obviously had not been a stranger to hard country work in his youth, and had been operating that elevator for quite some time.  He gave snippets of his tourist patter in a relaxed cadance that felt authentic and unhurried. 

Getting to the “top” , that being 2/3 of the way up, the elevator opened to a viewing platform overlooking the countryside of three states though its elongated windows.  It was a nice view nice to see, but quick to take in, and a few minutes later I was back on the ground.  Making one more pit stop before getting on the bike, I saw a flyer for the Bennington Garlic Festival.  “Thats’ cool” I thought.  I love garlic and really would have like to have gone to that…. 

I saddled up again and headed back down Monument Avenue picking up SR 9 west, immediately hitting a traffic back up.  I got a bit anxious as I inched forward.  I had lost time already, and now I was losing more.  But the day was beautiful and I was on the bike in a charming New England town, so I relaxed a bit and settled in for the crawl.  As it neared the Bennington fairgrounds I saw what it was:  The Garlic Festival.  However, being too focused on just getting through the traffic, when I got to the entrance, I flew ahead being the only vehicle not turning left into the event.

I think I made it a half mile before realizing the absolute stupidity of my action.  When I was at the Monument, it didn’t even register that the festival was today, only that “I would have liked to have gone”.  Now here I was on the open road, “living the dream” and riding right past what I was out to discover.  A quick U-turn and I was back in traffic heading back east, but this time eager to make a right turn (literally and figuratively) into the festival grounds.

As I got to the front of the line the cop directing traffic gave me a look that I couldn’t quite tell if it was “Welcome back” or a “I saw you blow by here a minute ago, so keep it down buddy'”.  Either way, I was ushered in and directed to the motorcycle only parking right up front by the gate.  Squeezing my bike in into the line of about a dozen others, I dismounted and headed into the Garlic Festival.

I was pretty stoked by my decision to stop.  Nothing puts local flavor on display like a small town festival.  Funny that it doesn’t seem to work as well for larger communities — but there is a palpable familiarity with a small town festival.  You get a sense that people actually know each other and are there to celebrate something, rather than just shuffling about in small herds as seems to happen in more “Metropolitan” festivals.  Not that Bennington is “small”, but it is just small enough to carry that local feeling. 

The festival was a celebration of that wonderful stinking rose, that ubiquitous aromatic bulb, the bane of vampires, the rustic’s theriac… garlic.  I was immediately inundated with temptation — garlic loaves, garlic scones, garlic oils, garlic sauces, garlic chutneys…. I knew I had limited packing space and no refrigeration — so I knew I had a difficult triage ahead.  I decided to walk the circuit first — then cycle back to make my purchases.  A good strategy despite the fact that I broke my own rule upon reaching the Saxtons River Distillery exhibit.  Marked by a long line, they were giving out free taste samples of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur (or a “proper” taste for a nominal fee). I got in line and watched the expressions of the folks leaving having tried the libation.  There were not a lot of people walking off with bottles, many grimacing from the potency of the potable.  But it was the reaction of two elderly ladies that I latched on:  the shocked facial surprise at the strength of the spirit, and the smiling astoundment at how good it was.  I ordered my “proper taste” and immediately knew I was buying a bottle with its rich sweet maple aroma, a healthy burn, and smooth finish.  For years I had thought maple would make a grand liqueur and was ecstatic to have found it.

I continued to wander the grounds sampling garlic dips, garlic salsas, garlic pretzels, and of course raw garlic.  I ended up with quite a haul to load onto the bike:  my maple liqueur, garlic peanuts, garlic scones, garlic braid, garlic aioli, and a big bag of garlic kettle corn.  Am glad I was a minimalist packer at the start of this trip. 

It was past noon when I left heading west on SR9 with no regrets on the time spent.  I crossed into New York a short while later getting my final state ABC picture for the year.  I continued on a nice ride on SR7 toward Troy, where I decided it was time to start picking up some miles. I hopped on I-787 south to pick up I-90 west to Schenectady, where I picked up I-88 west. Traffic was flowing well and I was making good time.  I hopped off I-88 in Oneonta for gas, red bull, and my “O” city point.  As interstates go, I-88 was not bad; widely snaking with decent scenery.  I  picked up I-81 south near Binghamton which led me back into the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. 

I was due for a break by the first Pennsylvania rest stop where I was surprised and delighted to find the Free Masons providing free refreshments — hot dogs, chips, baked goods, coffee, soda, water…  I’d seen free coffee charity stops before — but not full meals, and at this point, I needed it.  It was getting to be late afternoon and I was faced (again) with the mileage decision:  press on to get home very late, but sleep in my own bed…. or take my time and spend the night in PA.  My next major town (not that that was a requirement) was Scranton.. With the theme song from “The Office” repeating in my head, I decided that would be my stop for the night.

I picked an exit which I believed to be centrally located and pulled into the first convenience store I found for a Red Bull and bar/lodging/event advice.  My first attempt at getting information from a guy waiting in the passenger seat of a filthy beat up sedan turn up bubkes, with the extent of his help being: “There’s nuthin'”.  “Really?” I asked.  “Not a single bar or restaurant in all of Scranton worth setting foot into?”  Such an uninspired, miserable man.  I doubted his ability to enjoy anything, anywhere.  The next guy was far more helpful — rattling off a half dozen places he figured someone looking like me would be interested in.  I got the rough directions to two general areas and headed out.

Finding the first bar was easy, and the guy was right; I liked it.  It was a neighborhood bar with a lot of local flavor, not a lot of class, and very friendly.  The problem was a lack of lodging anywhere nearby.  I ordered a beer and chatted with the barmaid to get refined directions to the downtown bar district with some hotels nearby.  I’m not sure if people really “get” that I seek the little cheap motels on purpose, or if these types of accommodations are just too forgettable by the locals — but I ended up with directions to the downtown Hilton and was on my way. 

Reaching downtown I was surprised to find streets blocked off — Another Festival!  I had ridden right into Scranton’s annual Italian Festival, yet oddly no one I had spoken to thus far had mentioned it.  The Hilton was well located a half block off from the main festivities.  I checked in, unloaded the bike, had the bags sent to the room, and navigated the crowded street to get my bike parked in the Hilton garage. 

I walked across the streetstraight from the garage into the festival, still wearing my leathers (a small tactical error).  While appearance had one child convinced I was some sort of cowboy, I spent the better part of the evening drenched in sweat in the absence of a riding wind. 

The festival was almost completely food vendors selling cheap Italian street fare (pizza slices, calzone, and the like), which was a bit disappointing.  I did manage to find one place serving tortellini that wasn’t horrible.  But what was more surprising was the fact that it was a dry festival… no wine!  I shuffled along with the crowd about the square; seating was at a significant premium so people watching wasn’t even much fun without a perch.  While the locals seemed to enjoy milling about in circles past food stands, I’d take a pass on the Scranton Italian festival. (While still not “metropolitan, it had just crossed into out of the small town festival flavor, and into the aimless milling-about genre.)

I made it a relatively early night stopping off in the deserted lobby bar of my hotel for a night cap, and headed up to my room to find my bags and helmet neatly stacked at the foot of the bed.  Quite a day.  Two festivals (one great and another not so much), a decent ride, a really cool monument, and predictably comfortable accommodations for the night.

LD Ride Day 3: Man I Got Lucky September 5, 2009

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Am sitting in a little ice cream shop, drinking coffee and waiting for my breakfast of eggs over easy, home fries, sausage, and toast.  I really didn’t expect to be here, but had the fortune of coming across an outdoor art show this morning here in Ocean Park, Maine and decided to stop.

I got on the road in Biddeford less than an hour ago, a little after 8:00 and headed north on US-1.  It is a strange familiarity, traveling on a distant extent of a highway that runs close to home.  It seems odd that being 6 states removed, that I can give direction to my house in only four roads.

I stopped for gas and coffee in Saco, then got off US1 taking SR9 to the coast.  At 120 feet to the shoreline (on the GPS anyway), the bike reached her closest proximity to the ocean in Camp Ellis.  I continued on SR9 along the coast, happening upon the art show.  Amidst the sea of cars, I parked in the one perfectly placed spot across from the park and found that most of the activity was here at the ice cream shop cum breakfast counter.  My luck continued getting the only available table.  I’m sitting by the window, watching folks walking to the art show, and getting hungrier with the scent of each hot breakfast making its way out of the kitchen destined for a neighboring table….  And here comes mine 🙂


Over looking the Atlantic at Camp Ellis, Maine


Breakfast was good, but otherwise unexceptional.  I sat people-watching as I ate, and noticed a family unpacking their SUV to walk to the beach a couple blocks away.  Being by birth a land-locked South Dakotan, I’ve never really “caught on” to the “beach thing” and the thought that struck me this morning was how encumbered a trip to the beach seems to be.  I watched as the family extricated folding chairs, umbrellas, coolers, towels, blankets, boogie boards, and backpacks out the back of the car like a magician pulling an endless buries of rabbits from his hat.  They loaded themselves up to carry all this stuff  down the street to go sit in the sand.  Doesn’t seem “relaxing” to me.  Even if the beach itself is really wonderfully soothing, at some point they’ll have to carry all that crap back to the car.  I don’t get it.

After breakfast I strolled the art show in the park.  A lot of littoral work: seascapes, shorelines, boats, and gulls… meh.   Not that I was surprised by the ubiquitous maritime motif, but I was hoping for just a little more variety.  There was one artist whose work drew my focus.  He had beautiful photography printed to canvas giving a vague illusion of being a painting without trying to be. I suppose a true aficionado would likely consider it more of a gimmick than art, but I was quite transfixed by the surreal depth of one foggy forest piece for several minutes, and half thought to have it shipped home.

I continued up the coast along SR9 to find where a big touristing strip lay at Old Orchard Beach.  I didn’t know it was there, else I might not have stopped earlier for breakfast.  I was surprised at the number of people in the streets for the relatively early hour.  There lots of hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars all within a close proximity.  It looked like fun place to stay (for future reference, if I decide to give the beach decent try…).

As SR9 turned a sharp corner back toward US-1, I rode through what turns out to be my east-most extent at longitude W70° 20.6750′.  Going back west on SR9, I stopped at a state wildlife management area with a prominent sign to pick up my Maine ABC point.  I continued straight on to pick up a great ride on Broadturn Road to find my new “old friend” US-202, which I took NNE to pick up US-302 heading NW.  As I glided through the sylvan countryside, I thought how much better the ride was shaping up, compared to yesterday afternoon.  It was beautiful.  The weather was sunny.  It was warm to stand still, but pleasantly chilly on the bike in a Henley and vest.

Me-in-MaineApproaching the New Hampshire border in Fryeburg I stopped for coffee and an ABC point (for my “F” city) at the local post office.  An elderly man watching me balance the magazine on the bike and line up on post office sign was convinced that I needed to be in the picture as well and offered to take it.

After crossing into New Hampshire, US-302 proved even more delightful than US-202.  Lots of great sweeps and beautiful scenery.  I hoped off US-302 to pick up SR112 via SR16 outside of Center Conway which took me through White Mountain National Forest.  It was marked as a scenic route in my Harley atlas and most certainly did not disappoint.  Following along the Swift River, the road had that intimacy with the landscape that I really enjoy.  I stopped at a picnic area next to the river to try to capture the beauty of cascading water over the rocky riverbed.  But it seems half of New Hampshire had the same notion to enjoy the area as well that day.  I forewent the picture, holding onto memory of the views from the road as it wound through the forest.  I really should consider a helmet cam one of these days.

White Mountain National Park

White Mountain National Park

Beaver Pond

Beaver Pond

The road headed upward climbing the side of Mount Kancamangus losing a bit of the intimacy but affording some great vistas.  I stopped at a couple scenic overlooks and again at a pleasant picnic area at Beaver Pond a short distance from the Appalachian Trail.  I was not the only rider taking advantage of the beautiful New England weather that day, seeing scores on the road and dozens at the stops.  I continued on to meet back up with US-302 a couple miles ahead of the Vermont border.

After securing my Vermont point in Wells River, I continued toward Monteplier, traveling about 30-odd miles to Barre before a kindly old man in a pickup warned me to not get caught without a helmet!  Whoa! I was so lucky.  I actually passed two cops riding through Vermont with my hair blowing in the wind. One was directing traffic for a funeral (he did stare at me oddly,but didn’t motion for me to pull over or even point like I was missing something) and the other had someone else pulled over.  I mistakenly thought I was helmet-free until New York; I guess I didn’t check Vermont.

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

Italian-American Monument in Barre, VT

I immediately crossed the right turn lane to get off the road into the parking lot of Mister Z’s Pizza, where I decided I was hungry and needed to catch up on taking blog notes anyway.  I took a seat at a booth with a window overlooking the bike.  I ordered a small Italian Stallion pizza (meat, meat, and more meat)and a beer, and looked out the window seeing the Barre police pass by… twice.  Man, was I lucky.

I took my time working on finishing the delicious pizza, prioritizing the gooey, cheesy, greasy, meaty center and leaving behind only a pan of pizza-bones.  Looking at my atlas, I was kind of thankful I had forgotten my passport.  Canada would have been barely attainable at the significant expense of an enjoyable pace.  I decided to start heading home.  My only remaining trip objective was to ride SR100, which was supposed to be a great road with a lot of sweeps.  I backtracked a little bit to take SR14 out of town heading south to pick up SR107 west to pick up SR100 between Stockbridge and Pittsfield.  Pretty much the whole ride from Barre was great and SR100 did not disappoint.  Great sweeps on beautiful countryside.  I would very much like to make a return trip to finally see the famed foliage of fall.

I strove to make it to Londonderry, but given the angle of the setting sun and on-coming chill of riding in the cool valleys, I started looking for lodging at Weston.  Catching a store clerk  as he was closing up shop, I learned of a place, the Continental House Inn, a bit further up the road that was supposedly “the only place” around there.  Given yesterday’s bad luck in not having a reservation at Bentley’s in Maine,  I hurried on figuring they’d probably be full, and I’d have some more miles to go before I slept.  The inn was pretty easy to spot, and I was heartened that in addition to its New England rustic charm that their sign proudly said “Motorcycle Friendly”.  I pulled up to see about half a dozen motel rooms, that all looked occupied; the remainder of the building looked more to be a farm house.  I parked the bike and walked up to what kind-of looked like an office, or at least less like a motel room.  The two older folks in they yard didn’t so much as look up as I walked by in full leathers in search of the office.  As I got closer, I realized I was not headed in the right direction when I heard a delicate voice behind me.  “What are you looking for?” the voice asked.  I turned to find an adorable little girl, maybe 6 years old with a very business like demeanor.  I told here I was looking for the office. “That’s not the office,” she said matter-of-factly, “The office is over here,” pointing at the sign that said “Office”.  I sheepishly followed her back past the elderly couple, who again didn’t move or glance. A retriever stood up giving a few of pro forma barks.  The little girl explained that he was friendly and was just doing his part to protect the place.  She then gave me very specific directions on getting through the two doors before me to find the innkeeper.

I was heartily welcomed by the owner, Jeff, and was introduced to his little assistant (his daughter, Alexis) and to his wife, Kim, who was busy baking something wonderful in the kitchen.  I learned that the motel was booked for the night, but that they had rooms available in the inn.  Wondering what the room rate rate of a charming Vermont Inn on a Labor Day holiday weekend would be, but concerned that my options were limited, I immediately said “I’ll take it!” and was delighted to find that the price was only 2/3 the rate I spent at the dump in Biddeford the night before, and included homemade breakfast.  Jeff then gave me a a tour of the inn.  I could not believe how lucky I was to have found the place; simply wonderful.  There was a great common area with TV, couches, games, books, coffee, cookies, fireplace.  It had such a familial feel, like staying in the home of kindly relatives in the country.  I was shown to the dining room and the ice machine, and was led upstairs to a narrow hallway to my room.  It was a tiny New England Farmhouse-appointed room with sloping ceilings matching the pitch of the gabled roof.  The bed was a comfortable queen.  I could not get over how wonderfully charming this place was.  I was right across from the bathroom which was clean, dry, and well decorated — again giving the feeling of staying with relatives, only cleaner and without the feeling of imposition. 

I pulled the Sturgis Pack off the bike and carried it up the creaky steps and down the very narrow, low-ceilinged hallway to my room.  I espyied my silhouette in a mirror at the end of the hall: a shaggy ogre lumbering with my leather-clad girth inches of each wall. Settling into my room, I pulled out the cell phone to tweet my discovery of this wonderful inn, only to find no signal.  I smiled, thinking how delightfully appropriate that was, and pulled out the laptop to find a strong wifi signal.  Smiling again, at how much I loved this place, I settled in to work on the route and the blog for a little while before dinner.  But soon I felt a bit peckish, and I headed down to the common room to ask Jeff about my restaurant options.

I was greeted by my first name, as though by family, reinforcing the sincere hospitality feel of the place.  I learned that for dinner, my best option was back up the road a couple of miles in Weston at a small restaurant called the Bryant House – a part of the Vermont Country Store.  As suggested by the name it was an historic 1827 residence.  Like everything else in the area, the restaurant house was delightfully charming.  I sat in the bar area and read the history chronicled in the menu… about the house, the furniture, and about the bar.  For dinner, I opted to go light, figuring it would be heresy to leave New England without having a lobster roll (also realizing I probably should have had one in Maine; Doh).  I caught up on my trip notes with a glass of Chardonnay waiting for my meal.

I had estimated the size my hunger perfectly, forewent any dessert, and rode back to the inn in the cold dark.  I half-thought to sit for a while in the common area and watch Lawrence Welk, but elected to instead stay up in my room, comfortably snug in bed catching up on emails, tweets, and blogs for a little while before drifting off to sleep.  I left the windows open, and enjoyed the cool Vermont night breeze.  Man, I got lucky today.

LD Ride Day 2: Commute in Camouflage September 4, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rants, Rides.
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Content Warning:  The forte of this posting is heavily (and at times passionately) motivated by traffic; so much so that I created the “Rants” category to apply to this entry.  Despite my moniker, I live, ride, and drive in Maryland, and as such, have some pretty pointed opinions about drivers in my locale.  So, if you are offended by the tone of a mild rant or you feel strongly representative of the automobile operators of the mid-Atlantic on a personal level, you may not wish to read this post.   And, while I am at it…  Any opinions expressed in this posting, or any other on this weblog site, are solely my own, and do not in any way represent NASA or the federal government.

Waking up in the nondescript Danbury hotel room, I lacked the patience for the in-room coffee machine and headed to the lobby for a cup of the “house blend”.  As I stood in the parking lot sampling the morning air, I thought about my business trips to Connecticut many years ago.  Early in my career, I was the battery engineer for a Ballistic Missile Defense Organization spacecraft called the Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX).  The battery consisted of nickel-hydrogen battery cells made by Yardney Technical Products in Pawcatuck, CT.  I had taken many trips there during the fabrication and test of those cells, and there is one quality of the locale that very strangely stands out in my memory: Excellent Drivers.  Normally, good traffic is like good children, unnoticeable at best, but the Connecticut drivers were noticeably good.  I wondered if they still were, or if my memory was an illusion.

Back in the room I was getting organized for the ride when realized I didn’t have my passport, so Quebec was now off the list.  I re-planned my route, drank coffee, watched the morning news & weather, and caught up on email & Twitter; despite an early reveille, I was running late (again).   I checked out and packed the bike, but paused for one more cup of coffee and a map check.  Even with the loss of Quebec, I needed some miles today.  I really wanted to be clear of major population centers before the evening rush hour while  still securing the ABC points for RI and MA.   I rode east on US202 until I was able to jump onto I-84.  Admittedly the volume of traffic was a bit less than yesterday morning around Baltimore, but it was noticeably smoother and well-behaved.  Everyone was moving along about 10-15 mph above speed, and there were no erratic speed demons nor oblivious slow-pokes, both of which manage keep Maryland highways bollixed.  But the most impressive thing is that Connecticut drivers understand and adhere to proper lane use

Get this:  They drive in the driving lane, and they pass in the passing lane! 

And most importantly:  They don’t drive in the passing lane. 

If they are in the far left lane, then they are in the act of passing a car in the driving lane.  And when they complete that pass, they return to the driving lane!  I don’t know if it is that the Connecticut driver has some superior ability or training, or because the state posts signs that label the lanes.  Maryland posts signs too, but theirs only say “Slower traffic keep right”, which everyone ignores because no one on the road considers themselves to be “slow”, much less “slow-er” than anyone else.  Traffic piles up in the “fast lane” stuck behind one idiot who is matching speed with the “slow lane” to his right.  But not in Connecticut!  They know how to use the lanes, and traffic hums along. 

The morning ride, despite being on an interstate was actually a joy, with two exceptions.  One was a car pulling a U-haul attempting to “pass” going up-hill without the horsepower.  I figured he wasn’t a local, or wasn’t accustomed to pulling a trailer, or both.  The second was a dark blue Chevy Cobalt.  He started off harmless enough, driving just over the limit in the traffic lane.  I attempted to pass, but he started to accelerate to match my speed:  70 mph, 75 mph, 80 mph.  He stayed in my blind spot just off my right saddle bag, until somewhere over 85 mph I broke free of him and returned to the driving lane.  Putting some distance between us before slowing down, I settled into 70-75 mph thinking that was the end of it.

A short while later I was approaching a slower moving car ahead of me in the driving lane.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I’ll just hop in the passing lane and pass him, because in Connecticut they keep the passing lanes clear for passing.”  Checking to see if the passing lane was clear, I saw a pair of cars coming up at a pretty good clip.  I waited briefly as the first car passed me and the car in front of me, before merging safely back into the traffic lane and pulling away.  The second car that was racing up the passing lane was the dark blue Cobalt, but his maneuver was not as savvy.  As soon as the passing lane in front of him cleared, he decelerated to match the speed of the slower moving car I was trying to pass, blocking off the passing lane.  The plates on the Cobalt?  Maryland.

Traffic piled up behind the rolling roadblock until a truck lane opened on the right.  The slow driver ahead merged into the truck lane, allowing the backlog of traffic to get past the Cobalt who was still clogging the passing lane.  Eventually, I was able to get enough distance and my good mood returned. 

While my druthers would have been to stay on I-84 to keep well west of Boston as I headed north, I needed to pick up Rhode Island for the ABC point.  I left the interstate near Tolland, picking up SR74 east to pick up US44 east.  I worried about losing a passing lane in the process, but was relieved to find that traffic was moving 10-15 mph above speed (despite the short line of traffic following a fully-loaded car-carrier).   US44 was a delight to ride, mostly sylvan with ample shade.  There were small patches of construction, including a one-lane bridge setup I had never seen before: a stop at either end with a sign saying “3 at a time”.  I questioned to myself the feasibility of that system with the more “self-entitled” drivers of my home state who insist on using the shoulder to get those few extra car-lengths when merging into a busy highway or who have not mastered the courteous practice of “alternating right of way”; but here the self-policing system worked just fine. 

I stopped for gas and a Red Bull before crossing into Rhode Island picking up my ABC point.  I got off US44 in Chepachat in an attempt to pick up a very poorly-marked SR98 in the confluence of SR98, SR100, SR101.  Fortunately, my intended route ran through Harrisville, a town that shared the name of a co-worker, making it both memorable and navigable in the absence of a numbered sign. 

I followed SR98 north through wooded roads with virtually no shoulder, keeping an eye open for the Massachusetts border sign, only to be dismayed by the lack of one as I suddenly found myself in Uxbridge.  Rhode Island SR98 had continued as Massachusetts SR98, which terminated unexpectedly at SR146A (with no signs).  My intent was to have gotten on SR146.  I guessed at a direction (correctly) but doubled back to stop at the Li’l Texas Restaurante’ there in Uxbridge.  With two Harleys parked out front I figured this would be a decent lunch option.

Massachusetts lunch?

Massachusetts lunch?

I had a very hot and tasty cup of chili and a beer, while I looked at my maps and listened to the conversation of the biker ladies at the table next to me.  They were talking about the local fairs and organizing upcoming scenic rides with their husbands and friends.  We chatted for a while about where there may be a “Welcome to Massachusetts” sign, and what would be the best way to get around Boston.  It turns out there really isn’t one without backtracking and heading west before cutting north.  I had already figured on a difficult ride, but Phyllis gave me a look like I was delusional when I shared my plan to pick up I-495 to sweep around Boston in a wide arc.  On the map the route looked like a fair margin from the metropolis,and at interstate speed, should take an hour.  Phyllis figured it would be longer, closer to two hours, to Haverhill (pronounced HAY-vril). 

Lady Bikers Carol and Phyllis

Lady Bikers Carol and Phyllis

I found I-495 off of SR18, without much trouble and I made great time going about 3/4 the distance in 45 minutes, riding along quite pleased with myself with my 1-hour estimate.  Traffic wasn’t great by Connecticut standards and was more typical of the Washington-Baltimore area on a good day, until it slowed to a crawl.  Never quite coming to a dead stop, the flow had that parade progression that leaves your left hand in a permanent arthritic claw on the clutch and your right thigh searing over the pipes.  My ride (and my mood) quickly degenerated into a bad commute.

After the 2 hours Phyllis told me it would be, I finally got off at the Haverhill exit to pick up SR97 toward Methuen, MA and into New Hampshire.  Watching carefully for a NH or MA sign as I approached the ubiquitous border-outlets for Lotto and cigarettes.  I saw the sign for Salem, NH and I circled back in and out and in of what should have been the MA border — no sign.  I stopped at a repair shop, to learn that the closest post office would be back in Haverhill, but that my best option would be to enter MA on the interstate.  So I picked up my NH point with the Salem sign and continued along SR97 until picking up I-93 to come back into Massachusetts.

With traffic screaming uncomfortably close, I managed to secure my Massachusetts ABC picture and merge back into the flow.  I took the next exit which had some numberless, meaningless name like “connecting loop”, which I left for SR28 heading northwest back into New Hampshire.  It was now almost 5:00 on the Friday before Labor Day and traffic was really bad and getting worse.  I thought to myself that I was glad that I made notes of enjoying the morning ride, else it would have gotten lost in the memory of metropolitan motor misery of the afternoon. 

SR28 was not a bad road per se, but the traffic was crawling behind a tiny 70’s-style RV swaying side-to-side, top-heavy on weak shocks, as it chugged along.  I couldn’t really blame the guy.  He was clearly just heading out to enjoy the long weekend in his tiny camper, as he probably had for decades.  Maybe with the grandkids.  Maybe to be alone with the New England landscape.  On most any other ride I’d have been fine, backing off and leaving a gap to enjoy the scenery as I cruised along behind; but not this time.  I felt the active frustration of a bad urban commute and had little patience.  I was tired, irritable, and felt I hadn’t gone nearly far enough for the day. 

I kept riding up SR28 picking up SR101 in Manchester, which I took to SR125 north.  Though I hoped for the Maine border for my ABC point by nightfall, the dearth of motels along my route had me thinking I would stop at the first motel near something “interesting”. 

On SR125, traffic started slowing again, but this time I could at least see why as I passed a drag strip whose parking lot was filling up with cars.  I rode by, very tempted to stop.  But I was determined to locate lodging first and then perhaps come back.  I was not about to go to the races all night, then set out in the dark in hopes of finding a bed.  Just past the track I passed a nudist camp, and shortly thereafter a very cool-looking local burger place called Wild Willie’s Hamburgers.  I pulled into the latter to change goggles for the on-coming night and put on an extra shirt for the on-coming chill.  I was hoping for a motel right around the corner, so I could come back for a burger at Wild Willie’s and maybe hit the races.  I continued on.

I rode into Rochester on SR125 approaching what looked to be the center of town, but I saw no motels nor bars nor restaurants of interest.  I took a right onto SR108, and again saw nothing compelling but a Dunkin’ Donuts with a conspicuous group of Harleys out front.  I pulled in, and walked up to a small group of some seriously hardcore-looking bikers.  I asked where I could find a cheap motel that was close to a bar worth going to.  They told me I was… out of luck.  Then they asked where I was headed, and how far I’d be willing to ride.  They gave me directions to a popular biker bar with an attached hotel — a real roadhouse called Bentley’s about an hour’s ride away in Maine on US1. 

It was now almost 7:00 and I decided to press on in search of Bentley’s.  I didn’t bother to check the map before leaving since I didn’t want to waste sunlight and the directions seemed pretty clear — but it wasn’t long before I started second guessing myself and the directions.  I followed SR125 to easily pick up US202 east.  I knew I was supposed to stay on US202 until there was a split, and I was supposed to proceed straight on “111” which would cross over I-95 and intersect with US1.  However, I didn’t know what 111 was… US route, state route, county road?  Nor did I know how far this split was supposed to be.  But I was fine… until I noticed that US202 was also SR11 and started second guessing what I heard.  I got further confused by intersections with SR11A.

It got dark and temperatures were dropping pretty quickly as I rode into the forested night.  Keeping my concentration piqued for deer and moose, I was surprised and awed by the emerging full moon low on the horizon as rounded a bend.  While pleasantly distracting for a while, I became further concerned that I had missed some key 11-something or something-11 turn-off and was headed into the wilderness.  Finally in the glow of a lone liquor store beside the road, I pulled over to check the map a mere 1600 feet from the elusive 111-turnoff.  I took the opportunity of the stop to invest in my evening’s back-up plan:  a 24 oz can of Bud and a bag of Cheetos.

With renewed vigor I took SR111 east toward the next verbal memory challenge, to “take a right” once I “hit” US 1.  I made a snap decision that the lane sign departing SR111 going “To US1 South” did not constitute “hitting US1” and I continued on until I did.  Heading south on US1 I took note of my odometer with each motel I passed.  I guessed that Bentley’s, a biker bar near the coast with an attached motel, would be a popular destination on the Friday of Labor Day weekend .  I was right; they were booked solid.  Fortunately, my predicament was not unfamiliar to them and they had the numbers of the motels I passed on my way at the ready.  I called the closest one and booked a room for the night, and settled in to enjoy the bar. 

At a little after 8pm, my arrival was pretty early by bar standards.  The band had started playing, but they hadn’t started charging cover and there were still a few seats at the bar.  Like many “attraction” biker bars, Bentley’s was a pretty good size.  The main area housed the band at on end and had open-air windows to the parking lot.  The main bar was on the end opposite the band and serviced not only the band crowd on one side, but a large outdoor “beer garden” with picnic tables on the other.  Across the beer garden are a gift shop/office and a grill with a small but appropriate menu of flame-kissed meaty bar fare.



I had a great cheeseburger and a couple of beers as I listened to the band play the standard selection of classic rock and road songs, and watched as the crowd get larger, denser, and rowdier.  While I am sure a night at Bentley’s is a really great time, my solo-riding fatigue level for the day was not a good match for the energy of the bar.  I walked a couple of circuits about the bar finishing my beer, and headed back up the road to Biddeford. 

I checked in at the Biddeford Motel.  It was clean… and red.  It didn’t look bad from the outside.  I’ve stayed at worse, but not for this much scratch: $98 for an uncomfortable, unyeilding, lumpy bed with two small, flat pillows; a selectively staticky TV with a non-functioning remote; no screens on the windows that had to be open to combat the poor ventilation; tiny, scratchy towels; and no soap.  But I was tired, they already had my credit card number from the reservation, and there was wifi.  I unpacked the bike discovering my contingency beer and Cheetos.  I cracked open the tepid beer and thought about the day.  Not a great ride overall… too much Interstate, too much traffic, too much like a commute that lasted all afternoon.  The day’s objective was getting past the urban area, and I accomplished that.  But unfortunately, the good parts of the ride were a bit overshadowed by frustration and fatigue, and the languor of my lodgings weren’t helping.   Tomorrow would be another day.

LD Ride Day 1: “Whiz with” September 3, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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1 comment so far

The coast to coast trip (with the Florida loop for the LRO/LCROSS launch) had garnered 35 states:  pretty much everything west and south of me but ND, NE, LA, and MS.  (Why I missed ND and NE, I will never know.) It is funny that in my three years of riding, I have never turned to the northeast.   Feeling “on a roll” for 2009, I took a couple of extra days off to make a 5-day Labor Day weekend to take on New England (and hopefully Quebec).  Today is Day 1.

As is often the case, I got a late start, but made it out of my driveway a bit before 10am.  My loosely formed plan was to head up I-95 toward Rhode Island.  I really don’t enjoy interstate travel and relish urban interstate even less, but just getting to RI in a reasonably direct route kind of forces such a route.  I figured to ride through the populated corridor of Baltimore, Philly, New York, etc ahead of the Labor Day weekend traffic, and then leisurely head inland for ME, NH, VT, QC and head home via central PA when weekend traffic would be higher along the populous concrete ribbon I take today.

I-95 on this post-rush-hour morning was moving pretty quickly.  The traffic was right in that awkward danger zone:  clear enough to get some decent speed, but with just enough traffic to force the speed demons to zig-zag erratically.  The morning was also a bit windy which added a couple of difficulty points to the high-speed idiot avoidance.   Clearing Baltimore, I hit rough diverted roads that are characteristic of interminable construction.

But it was good to be on the road.  Interstate or not, the month of August was spent missing the road I had ridden for the month of July.  As the miles clicked by, I was surprised (despite living in Maryland the last 20-odd years) just how close Philadelphia and New York really are.  My late start worked out well, not only missing Baltimore’s hour, but putting me in proximity of Philly around lunch time.  I decided that having a realPhilly Cheesesteak was in order.

Taking the I-495 by-pass past Wilmington, I pulled off for gas on US-13.  I stood in the parking lot of the Sunoco station memorizing the Philadelphia inset of my atlas as two girls in a beat up sedan met up with a particularly seedy looking character for some seemingly illicit purpose.  As the three of them pulled away, I went into the store and queried the turbin-clad clerk where the “famous cheesesteak place” in Philly would be.  After establishing the fact that I was indeed aware I was not in Philadelphia, I learned that needed to go to South Street — somewhere near 4th and 5th.  I left the store and finished my Red Bull in time to see the girls return, dropping off their seedy passenger who ambled back across the street.  I saddled up, and headed toward Philly. 

I had only been to Philly once before, and then at night when someone else was driving, so I didn’t really have a feel for the navigability of the town.  It turns out to be surprisingly accessible.  From I-95 northbound: Exit 17, up Broad Street, and you are right in the middle of the action.  I hadn’t appreciated just how cool Philadelphia is.  The whole route of Broad street is “city neighborhood”… curious shops, restaurants, and local flavor for block after block.  It was a continuous route of the kind of quirky old-city ambiance that other cities only offer in small niches.  Finding South Street was a snap, and the ambiance became even more ecclectic and more concentrated.  The street was narrow and crowded, but traffic moved reasonably well this mid-Friday and finding a parking spot for the motorcycle was easy. 

I was parked right across from Jim’s Steaks but I was thinking the name of the place I was looking for was Geno’s — and I didn’t see it as I rode in, so I continued on foot a few blocks further and doubled-back as far.  Finally I asked a guy on the street where the “famous Philly Cheesesteak place” was.  “That depends.” he said, “It’s a matter of preference.”  I queried him about Geno’s.  It turns out Geno’s is the place that is popular with the ladies.  It has “all the lights”, and a gold star where Sylvester Stallone stood in the filming of Rocky.  He figured that the girls were the only reason a guy would go there.  But his favorite was Jim’s – which was right across from my bike.  I headed back and Twitpic’d the place before going in.  After spending a few minutes fiddling with my cell phone, I walked in to find myself in line right behind my man-on-the-street cheesesteak advisor, Mark.  It turns out my query made him hungry for a Jim’s Steak. 

Mark - Philly Steak Consultant

Mark - Philly Steak Consultant

We sat down at a table upstairs to enjoy our steaks, and I got the low down on the cheesesteak scene of Philly.  Geno’s, as you may gather, has the reputation, but the best places appear to be Jim’s and Pat’s (which is right across from Geno’s), and there seems to be quite the heated rivalry.  The citizen’s of Philadelphia are quite passionate about their steaks.  Mark indicated that had he been there with his buddies, they’d be actively arguing the Jim versus Pat merits as they ate.  I also learned the proper city-wide protocol for ordering a Philly steak. 



There are two basic options… the cheese (which is classically Cheez Whiz)and the  fried onions.  So the “proper” order is a simple two word phrase denoting your cheese selection (Whiz, American, or whatever) and whether you want onions (with or without).  So mine was “Whiz with” – no other words needed.  Apparently, there is a place that publishes the rules on the ceiling (I think Pat’s) and they request that you go to the back of the line until you can figure that out, in true Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” style.

I had seen surprisingly few bikes on the road on my way up, but as fate would have it, Mark was a biker as well.  Though riding a sportbike today, he had (has?) a Harley police bike that his father received in his retirement from the force.  We talked for a while about bikes, cheesesteaks, and the glitterati that frequent Jim’s (most of which have signed photos decking the walls)

Bidding my new friend good-bye, I headed out.  Heading north on 5th street, finding I-95 north was not too problematic, and I was on my way.  The area northeast of Philly was rather industrial and did not make for a very scenic ride.  While the wind had let up, the road construction got worse and the cagers were fast and erratic, but that improved a bit as I crossed into New Jersey.  Of course, that transition was a bridge with a completely inaccessible ABC sign as I entered the state.

The plan had been to plow through I-95 until Rhode Island , but I encountered a rather disconcerting sign saying: “End I-95”  (What the ___? ) I pulled off at US-206 to check the map.  From that point on, through New York City, the map showed a complete cluster of concrete.  I opted instead to head north on US-206, hoping for a saner, more enjoyable ride and hopefully an easy access to a post office to secure my NJ ABC point.

Heading up US-206 was surprisingly pleasant.  My perception of New Jersey had been heavily based upon the Joe Piscapo Saturday Night Light character and countless movies portraying NJ as a big chemical plant.  So the sylvan sub-suburbia of US-206 between Trenton and Princeton was a pleasant surprise.  Unfortunately, traffic slowed to a crawl behind a semi travelling 10 to 20 mph under speed right after Princeton, and the suburbia kind of lost its quaint ambiance.  I did manage to find a post office for my NJ point.  Eventually I hit I-278 and was actually glad to be back on the interstate to make some time.  The traffic was again fast and erratic, but eventually gave way to a well-behaved flow. 

I loosely figured to stay on I-278 until it crested to the north, then pick up the New State Thruway, but at last minute I opted for the exit prior and I took a break at a Starbucks on US-202.  While enjoying an iced cafe mocha, I noticed that US-202 would take me all the way to Danbury, CT avoiding both interstate and New York City. 

Heading up US-202 proved to be a great choice.  Lots of great sweeps, a fair amount of twisties, smaller towns with a lot of character, and some beautiful scenery both over and through the Hudson River Valley. 

Hudson River Valley

Hudson River Valley

Peekskill was an interesting town to ride through — part “Old Town” and part “distributed community” with the occasional business sited wihout neighbors along the forested route .  I kept thinking something really cool would materialize that would compel me to stop… but oddly it never did. 

As I rode past homes tucked away in the trees, I occasionally caught the smell of charcoal lighter fluid, which became the intermittent scent of hot grills, followed by the sporadic whiffs of burgers, steaks, and BBQ chicken.  I stopped at the Connecticut border for my ABC point and decided Danbury would be my next stop for dinner. 

I found Molly Darcy’s a short while later.  Not a lot of ambiance from the outside, but a comfortable Irish bar on the inside.  I found an open seat at the back bar and reviewed my atlas to plan the rest of the evening’s ride hoping to at lease make some progress across Connecticut before stopping for the night. 

The bartender, Alan, was an Ireland native and a rider.  But his work schedule and kids’ visitation schedule prohibits him from many long rides.  I ordered a shepherd’s pie and Guinness, and we talked about rides and rallies while I waited for dinner. 

The meal was good, but it made me tired.  I originally planned to be in Rhode Island by now.  But I was logy and the bar had wifi, so I called in a reservation at the Comfort Suites I had passed on the way in, ordered another Guinness, and retired to the front patio with my laptop to blog and people-watch. 

Struck with writer’s block, I wrote, erased, drank, wrote, erased… most of the evening until my battery finally died, at which point I went back into the bar to commune with the locals.  I talked with Allen for a while longer, and met up with an interesting couple out on a business/social evening who enjoyed people-watching (with social commentary).  I sat and talked with them observing the bar dynamics until it grew much later than I planned.  Saying my good-byes, I rode back up the street to check into the hotel and get some sleep.

Car Envy July 31, 2009

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I think my other vehicles are envious of the Harley trip.  After being gone for a month and a half neither Jag nor the truck would run.  The ’95 XJS just had a dead battery (very very dead) as did the truck.  They don’t get a lot of driving anyway so I wasn’t too surprised.  The X-Type did finally turn over but had a check engine light and a complete inability to go more than 20 mph even at high rpm. 

So I had the X-type towed into the shop, put the charger on the pickup, and used the Harley to run a few errands.  Getting back home from getting my chaps fixed (they blew out at 90 mph on the trip and the snaps beat themselves into non-useability in the wind), I saw the truck battery was charged, so I started it up. 

I smelled gas, but thought it was just a rough start and went to move the charger over to the XJS… That is when I noticed the gasoline gushing out from a broken fuel line.  What are the odds???

Coast-to-Coast Wrap-Up: Wherever you go, there you are. July 31, 2009

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When I read Blue Highways, I was enrolled in the documentary feeling of the book.  I related to the author’s style of travel writing, and found the book inspirational, adding motivation to my own coast to coast journey across America. 


Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Blue Highways, but plan to, you may want to skip over the next paragraph….

As I neared the end of the book, I kept wondering if or how he would build to a climax and pen a dramatic or poignent conclusion.   I wondered whether there would be some sort of epiphany or cosmic realization to tie the whole works together.  As I finished the book, I had mixed emotions as the trip wound to an end with only the slightest reflection.  On one hand I wanted a strong take-away thought or message, but on the other, I knew that in the real world, trips just end without a Hollywood production finish. 

End of Spoiler Alert.


I have traveled enough to know that the best adventures come when you are not looking, and that epiphanies that are sought are rarely found.  It is by putting yourself into the circumstances for a great adventure, and then letting go of all expections, that the adventure finds you.

Many people travel with the prime intention of seeing new things.  They seek to contrast the lives of those in far away places to their own.  They travel to see the landscapes, architecture, history, and attractions that are not found in their own backyards. 

On this trip, I definitely experienced that.  I saw extraordinary vistas, which I had no way to really anticipate, that left me redefining my own limitations of beauty, awe, and inspiration.  Seeing so much of America in such a short time allowed me to compare what was before me, not only to a memory of other places, but to a RECENT memory of what I had seen only a day before.  And, traveling by motorcycle allowed me to experience both the sublety and abruptness of the transistions as I was immersed in the environment.  The continuity of experience afforded by the openness of the bike was so much more revealing than the digital transitions of stepping into and out of airports while flying across the country. 

I found a new appreciation for the diversity of land and culture that our nation has to offer.  Living so near the concrete ribbon between Balitmore and DC, I was heartened by the grandeur of our National Parks, preserving the natural beauty of our country.

But more powerfully than the diversity, it is the sameness that I found to inspiring.  When I was in Wheeling, West Virgina on the last night of the trip, I was asked many questions about my ride:  Where is the best food?  Where is the most beautiful landscape?  What was the most interesting thing you saw?  Where are the nicest people? 

It was at that moment that one of two journey epiphanies found me. 

These superlative-seeking queries were unanswerable.  I had seen incomperable beauty across the nation.  Nearly every stop possessed something new and interesting, even if only in an oddity sense.  And nearly every interaction with other people was a friendly, hospitable, and at least once, a life-saving exchange.   There was no triage to find the “best of”; the “best” is everywhere. 

So what are the odds that my house (or yours) is located in an extraordinarily rare part of the country that is devoid of great people, interesting sights, and great food?? Pretty darn slim.  While it should be obvious, familiarity with our own locales can desensitize us to the fact that our town is an exciting, adventure-filled destination for someone else, and we have the fortune of living in it.

The other realization was a more subtle, more reflective, very personal understanding that slowly evolved riding through the small communities of America.  While I am reticent to explore its full depth in this forum, its point is too important to remain completely tacit.  The upshot is that in this world of “have-to’s”, “need-to’s”, and “shoulds” the quality of “importance” can be externally thrust upon what we do, turning life into the constant fulfillment of obligation, rather than the encouraging the self-authoring of a life story.  We are in danger of being stuck by circumstance, and forgetting what makes us happy.

The importance of Atomic Days in Arco was not an imposed community ethos.  While it may have been to some, for the people I spoke to, the event was theirs.  They owned it.  They made it important, and they derived great happiness in its anticipation.  From Howard Hughes’ manure spreader, to Austin’s Spam Museum, to the Silver Dragon in Vandalia, to Cadillac Ranch, all these things were made important by the people to chose to make them so.  I was reminded that we should not lose sight of our freedom to choose what is important to us.

Being on the road for such a long time provides the opportunity to clean the slate, to forget the mundane, and live for the next adventure.  We have the chance for re-invention of self, if we choose to take it.  In travel, we can learn how to appreciate whatever comes next, whether it is having a good meal, taking a slow ride through a small town, or enduring a story-worthy adversity.  

So, now my goal is to carry these lessons back into “normal” life, and to remember to exercise my freedom to choose what is important, and to approach each day open to experience to whatever adventures may find me, because I know the chances of living in the only adventure-free part of the country are pretty small. 

And, if I find that I am “not having any fun”, it probably means I have been “on the interstate” for too long “pressing for miles”, and should find a less-traveled route to regain the ride.

Thank you all very much for following the ride.  I have truly appreciated and been inspired by your comments, tweets, and posts.  It was great to be kept company by your thoughts and well-wishes on the trip.