Forty Six

I went up to Summit Point yesterday, and I learned a few things.

Why I went to The Track and what I was doing up there will have to wait till later to fully relate, but a trivial thing I did learn is that hanging out in The Pits in full leathers – even on a not that hot sunny day – is a hot, sticky business. There was room for a lot more potable water than I carried in the hard cases of the R90S – I should have made better use of it.

After an enthusiastic R90S blast over the 30 miles of backroad twisties and US Highway that lies between Summit and The Shop, and after an equally enthusiastic shedding of my Vanson pants and jacket, and a perhaps more enthusiastic glugging of about 2 to 3 quarts water and some foodstuffs, my increasingly cogent thoughts – resulting from non-negative blood sugar levels – turned to some way of really cooling off a body that was still running marginally hot.

With the sun finally having set and the temperature having dropped just below 70 degrees, I grabbed my perforated jacket, helmet and gloves, and the ignition pin for the Slash 5. As my only bike without a windshield, The Toaster was the best way available to catch a much needed full body breeze.

As I threw a leg over, and turned on the ignition, I found it nearly unbelievable that my oldest motorcycle had somehow come to be forty six years old. If this bike was somehow old, then I was, too. Forty Six years old didn’t seem to have any effect on a motorcycle whose starter motor slammed into place like a light sledgehammer and heaved the big bore twin to life on the third compression stroke. And Forty Six years old didn’t stop an engine that came off the enrichener after only 10 seconds or so, and that settled into an absolutely even 1100 rpm idle. Some of this motorcycle’s seals might be a little seepy, but the hard parts were still as fit for purpose and almost as tight — 180,000 road miles later — as when they were designed.

There is almost nothing modern about a motorcycle like this, though. Ride-By-Wire? Only if the wire is a 16 strand steel Bowden control cable – which on the Slash 5 connects a gear-driven throttle cartridge to a pair of Constant Velocity Bing throttle butterflies. There isn’t a micro- or even a macro-processor, or anything digital, for that matter, anywhere in the machine. Everything – Ignition, Fuel Delivery, Instrumentation — is Analog – an ancient world where all of physics was continuous change – instead of a series of discrete values snapshotted every few milliseconds or so – there was this world which consisted of all the time in between that the digital world has dropped. If we ever have one of those Electromagnetic Pulse events that destroy all of our electronic technology, the /5 will be one of the few motor vehicles that will be left to run. Brakes? Both ends by drum, actuated by cables. People will joke that these brakes are ‘anti-lock’, but those people do not know how to properly adjust these brakes, and they would be wrong. The handlebars have two multifunction switches. Two. That’s it. Ignition – rather than by Bluetooth or even by key, is by a Bosch ignition pin that would have been common to every German motorcycle, scooter or moped made during a two decade postwar period.

You could look at such a machine as ‘obsolete’, but that would be missing an important point, which is that this 1973 BMW is still as much of a balanced thoroughbred of a motorcycle today as it was when Bob Lutz was pitching it and was pictured wearing tan-colored leathers on this exact model and paint color bike outside the Berlin Factory Gate sometime in 1972. Turning from neighborhood streets up the state highway towards Brunswick, in each successive gear the motor provides a lovely crescendo of thrust which combines with the bike rising front and rear under acceleration – each gear being literally onward and upward. Each gearshift is deliberate and percussive, with the suspension falling as the power is dialed off, and then rising once more as the power comes back on again.
Most BMWs I’ve ridden seem to have a really serene, unstressed spot in their rev bands right around 3900 rpm – in top gear the bike is loafing, and just riding that little aeromotor hum blithely along. Tonight the goal is to stay in that sweet spot – to just cruise along and drink in this perfect evening. The original mufflers on the /5 — are tuned to allow the tiniest bit of the low frequencies of the exhaust to rumble, while keeping overall sound pressure levels at societally responsible levels. The longer I’ve ridden motorcycles, the more I’ve come to appreciate the ability of a quiet exhaust not to rat one out when one is riding like a total knob.

Original Zeppelin-shaped Mufflers — there’s a lot of exhaust tubing in there…

I resolved to stay out of the bottoms and on the county’s straighter roads – this spring we’ve had a very active deer population, and lots of black bear incursions as well. These slightly bigger roads give me the best chances to see and react to these little potential deer or bear hugs that have a bad tendency to end badly. 180 West, 17 up to Middletown, US 40 Alt over Braddock and down to Frederick, and then Butterfly Lane and back to 180 West, coming back to Jefferson from the east. Forty miles of feeling the just cool enough to be pleasurable air coming through the perf on my leather jacket and listening to the boxer’s little aeroplane sounds.

Halfway up MD 17 to Middletown, the cooling temperatures must have hit the dew point, because suddenly the road was bordered by swirling wisps of fog, which grew as each mile rolled past. Far from being uncomfortable, the slight chill was entirely welcome – helping my elevated core temperatures back in the direction of nominal. Coming over Braddock Mountain is one of my favorite Slash 5 rides – at 60 mph the big sweepers that mark both the ascent and descent are challenging enough to let one know one is motorcycling without coming anywhere close to the Toaster’s handling limits – one can carry good speed and lean angle mid corner and enjoy instant punch from the meat of the bike’s midrange on the exits – if Disneyland had a ‘motorcycle attraction’ it would probably be a lot like this.

Coming back into Jefferson along MD 180 the evening temperature drop became more pronounced – the lowspots in the highway announced themselves with noticeably cooler air blasting through the perforated leather and standing up the hair on my arms and with slightly foggier spots necessitating the use of the tiny faceshield wiper blade built into the left thumb of my Aerostitch elkskin gauntlets. The /5’s boxer motor loved the cool, dense air – the exhaust thrum was a perfect meditative ‘Ohhm’. Three quarters of an hour of this top gear roll had cooled me down perfectly, and brought a nearly perfect state of calm to my spirit. Had this been an amusement park ride I’d have likely been asking Dad to ride it again.

It wasn’t of course, and the ride ended too soon. As I trolled back into my neighborhood I closed the fuel petcocks and stayed out of the throttle. My neighbors likely curse at the teenager with the drag piped Sportster that lives next door – those same neighbors would never know I’d been here. As I rolled into the open garage I pulled in the clutch and reached forward and pulled out the ignition pin before I came to a stop – in 1973 the ‘kill switch’ was still a new, or in BWW’s case, a future technology.

I rocked the bike up on her centerstand, and sat my helmet and gloves on the saddle. I walked over to the ‘Adult Fridge’ on the workbench, and grabbed a Real Ale Revival Grapefruit Nectar – a bracing cold one that would serve as a big exclamation point on what had been a perfect day. Before going into the house, I turned back to look at this old motorcycle – my ‘Alloy Girlfriend’ — time hadn’t done anything to make her less beautiful. Forty six years is nowhere near long enough to make this motorcycle anything but fun to take for a cool, relaxed evening ride.

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Hey, Hey, My, My

So, it’s been raining.

And raining.

And raining some more.

Yeah. Raining.

And because of my recently completed teardrop trailer build, all the Shamieh motorcycles lived outside through all five months of it.

An lest you think I am exaggerating about the experience of sustained rainfall rates, judge for yourself from this view out my shop door on an average day in May.

When the project wrapped, and the bikes came back inside, my K1200 showed no ill effects, with the possible exception of the LCD display on the bike’s radio, which absorbs moisture and becomes opaque. A little strategically applied alcohol pulls the moisture back out and the display becomes clear again.

My R90S — even with it’s Italian carburetors — pretty much shook it off.

My oldest alloy girlfriend – the R75/5 – really did NOT appreciate the experience. Either its Bing carburetors, simple fuel tank vent or some other secret route was admitting rainwater into the float bowls, and both carb jets and tune seemed to be suffering from deposits being left by the water. As if that weren’t enough, after low annual mileage and a bit of benign neglect had decided to pile on by having the valves decide they really needed to be adjusted as well.

If one looks up “Symptoms of BMW airhead needing valve adjustment” on the Adventure Rider forum , the first answer is: “Won’t Idle. Runs Like Crap.”

Yup. I got that.

Its not like an airhead valve adjustment is any kind of big deal, but it just meant the Old Girl was demonstrating her displeasure in every manner available to her.

The Toaster was going to need a full service — engine oil, transmission, final drive, forks, valve adjust, time and carb sync. First step was a thorough fuel system and combustion chamber clean – run a tankful of fuel with a strong concentration of good old Seafoam. Once that was done, the absolutely filthy contaminated oil could be changed, and the rest of the service could be completed.

Maybe, at the end of that, we’d return to having this be a fine running airhead.

And maybe she’d forgive me.

 

***

 

So, to move this along, the Toaster has been primary transportation. Anywhere I needed to go, the R75 is what I’d ride.

So its been to a lot of grocery stores, beer stores, autoparts joints, and delivered more than a few packages to the UPS terminal, given the nice flat parcel area described by the saddlebag tops and in between the short police saddle and the front of the luggage rack.

One day, while trying to fudge the idle adjustment – just to get the bike to idle, even badly, in the meantime — I made the mistake of pulling the bike’s toolkit. My airheads share a factory-ish toolkit — a third party oversize Cordura roll pouch, and all the stock BMW tools which were purchased grey market though Capital Cycle’s DC Storefront back in the early 80s – you know, so long ago that they all say “Made In West Germany”. There’s also a bunch of specialty tools and other little tricks of the trade — a four blade multi screwdriver, a Channel Lock expandable pliers, different feeler gauges, and some electrical bodge bits — a wire nut or two, spare Euro fuses.

The tool roll, though, had gotten wet. Really wet. Prolly more than once. The wet Cordura had then held the moisture up against the tools. The tool roll itself was mildewed and covered with mold. The tools themselves looked like something that had been pulled up from an ancient shipwreck – vague shapes trying to emerge from the rust.

My heart sank.

That tool set has been with two motorcycles, and kept them both fettled and running for a quarter million road miles and more than 30 years. Many of these exact tools would be hard to find — BMW fork cap pin wrench, anyone? — I could see ending up with a insufficient recreation courtesy of Harbor Freight.

I suppose that to make this story closed loop, I should have taken pictures of them in their unspeakable state. But it never occurred to me. It felt like some sort of hideous crime scene — there are some things that perhaps should just not be seen.

Sweet Doris from Baltimore set about running the Cordura tool roll though the washer, while I hosed down the tools with WD-40, and then spent a little time researching rust removal products.

 

***

 

According to fellow Internet users, what I needed was something called Evapo-Rust — an allegedly miraculous product that would set everything aright.

I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m skeptical, but one Slash 5 ride later, we had 32 ounces of the stuff. I cleaned the WD-40 off the metal surfaces, laid the tools out in a paint roller pan, and submerged everything in the cleaner, and waited for time to do its thing.

 

***

 

24 hours later, the less rusted tools had been restored to like-new condition. I rotated the remaining tools in the solution, and after another 24 hours, almost everything had been completely restored.

From Marine Archeology, Back to Usable Tools

There were a few small things that didn’t survive. After fusing all the blades together, I needed to replace the micro-size feeler gauges that I use to gap airhead pointsets. Fortunately, with both bikes equipped with Dyna Ignition Boosters, I don’t need to do that very often, and more fortunately, the exact same gauge I bought in 1985 is still a Pep Boys stock item at $2.79. I also had fabricated a special tool to remove oil filters – a small wire hook to reach in a get a hold of the filter — the wire I had used turned to dust once the rust had all been removed. I have a great deal of leftover wire from the teardrop project — I made one, and I’ll just have to make another.

Having been washed and reconstituted for the first time in 30 plus years, I rolled the toolkit back up and placed it back under the saddle of the /5. And while a day in the mid 40s might not seem like the ideal naked bike riding day, with the sun out, I couldn’t resist — I still had a some fuel system cleaner juiced fuel that I needed to burn off before I could take tools in hand and set this old motorcycle back aright.

The old girl fired right up on the first compression stroke as it always had — although coming off of choke it was a tad finicky — it took a little extra throttle to keep things spinning. Once on the road, and with a little heat coming into the motor, the Old Girl seemed to be genuinely enjoying her resurrection. I kept the revs up and the throttle open, and headed towards one of my favorite roads — Elmer Derr road — a tight, twisty, technical road that runs along a stream canyon for about half its length, and then becomes more fun when it climbs away from that stream.

Follow the Twisting Line

BMW Type 247 air-cooled engines do run like crap with tight valves — at idle and transitional low engine speeds. There is a flip side, though. With the revs up, those tighter clearances translate to more lift and better breathing — right up to the point where the valve will no longer fully close into its seat and quickly self destructs. Trusting in an Aluminum German God that we were not yet that far down the road to destruction, I kept my 900ccs happily spinning in the fourth gear of its transplanted five speed box — coming through the Multiple Bang-Bang 90-90s coming out of the Elmer Derr canyon the /5 just ate it up — lightening the front wheel on throttle on every corner exit.

Its hard to explain, to the uninitiated, how a very old motorcycle can somehow never get old.

I spent a good bit of time, winding around the south end of the county, before my road bent back in the direction of the shop. With a choice between my secondary roads towards home and the highway, I did the opposite of what I normally do, heading up the ramp onto US 340 and toeing the old boxer up into top gear. It’s only after years of burning up highways on a more modern, faired machine that it really sinks in just how comparatively narrow and tiny my /5 really is.

With no plastic to intercede with the wind, I sought out distant muscle memories to find that perfect aerodynamic tuck — where my mass and the wind zeroed each other out. Taking the old boxer up to about 4200 rpm, the Toaster found a serenely smooth 73 mph — this was still the motorcycle that had carried a much younger me to New Mexico and Arizona from Baltimore and back again.

Heading up Dynamometer Hill, the Toaster even had enough steam to accelerate crisply in top gear, which is not shabby for a 45 year old motorcycle with nearly 200,000 miles on the clocks, and its factory original bottom end.

Looks Pretty Good For Her Age

Back in the driveway, the cold air had my head cleared and my heart high in a way that I don’t know any other way to find. Soon the air will be too cold for this bike to see the road on anything but a freak warmer day. Until then I’ve got some shiny wrenches to spin, fluids to change, heads to retorque and valves to adjust. After the freakishly stormy weather and all the time outside, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if my air filter housing conceals some leafy, furry or feathery thing that does not belong, either. I’ll go through the long-familiar tool-in-hand motions, and get everything back in tune and running sweetly.

I may not be able to make her pretty, but I sure know how to make her sing.

 

The Beef – Vegetarian Edition

I find, as I accumulate more unwanted birthdays, that I am starting to have a perspective about the harm that people and institutions do to each other that I did not formally have.

As a younger man, I was an optimum combination of hot headedness and naiveté — I was absolutely sure that taking the fight to someone that had done wrong and shining the bright and objective light of knowledge on their person would be sufficient to get them to change their behavior.

Now, though, I am just as sure that one cannot teach anyone anything.

If someone consistently visits harm upon your person and upon others, my righteous indignation and instruction is likely not sufficient to get them to stop — evil is their chosen way, and one’s attempts to reform them will likely only make their behavior worse.

So it is with that accumulated wisdom that I tell this tale. It is a tale of an organization that was presented with an opportunity — having wronged a customer — to do right and correct their mistake. And having been presented with that opportunity to right a wrong and do good, that organization tried to double down and re-screw said customer.

Class will tell.

There’s just one critical difference to my telling of the tale. Since nothing I do will make them change, and revenge is not my motive, I will decline to name the offender. I have no desire to make the animosity (who knows, maybe its indifference — maybe they just treat everyone equally badly) that apparently exists between us worse, and since what is published on the Internet exists — like some visions of the Deity — ubiquitously and eternally, I will choose here to rise above the fray and concentrate on the story, rather than condemnation of the guilty.

 

***

 

Back in 2014, I had decided to complete a mechanical refurbishment of my 1975 BMW R90S. This activity, which should be understood as something discretely different from ‘a restoration’, was just an attempt to correct some deferred maintenance issues, perform some functional improvements, and render the motorcycle suitable for everyday rider duty getting back and forth to my job – which required me to commute about half the time to a location in Reston, Virginia. Now I had a completely reliable motorcycle — my K1200LT — but traffic conditions were necessitating combat commuting tactics. On any given day, I might be lane splitting, running shoulders, or even running a secret, sub-rosa dirt road to get home from Northern Virginia, and under those conditions, I was willing to surrender a little comfort and mechanical robustness to make use of a motorcycle which weighed nearly 400 lbs less than the LT.

So many wrenches were twisted and more than a few dollars were spent. A completely new gearbox was assembled to correct the manifold failings of the leftover 1974-specification gearbox with which my early 1975 model motorcycle was originally assembled. I replaced the rusted out seat pan and failing saddle with an artisanal fiberglass pan and saddle combination made by FlatRacer of London, UK. I replaced lots of worn rubber bits, and refurbished a set of 1980s vintage BMW Touring Cases — aerosol Pickup Truck Bed Liner Paint is your friend — so that they looked better than new. I even obtained a Dark Smoke Zero Gravity windscreen and sourced the inner fairing headlight sealing gasket my bike had never had. Overall, what had been a tired and ratty looking motorcycle was now looking and riding sharp.

Sharp, except for one niggling detail.

The Previous Owner — that shady character always guilty of manifold motorcyclic sins — had repainted my R90S. When this was done, the PO had added insult to injury by buying and installing a set of 1980s vintage BMW Tank badges — which at the time, were cost cutting adhesive jobbies printed on an aluminum substrate and then sealed with a clear vinyl overlay. The injury part being important here because most R90Ss were built with high quality, cloisonné enamelled badges that were likely to outlast the motorcycle and show up looking new when they were discovered by archeologists centuries later. The replacements were cheap, they looked bad, and after somewhere more than 25 years in situ, mine looked roasted.

I figured if I could locate a set of original specification badges or reasonable quality reproductions — I was never intending to show this motorcycle — then the bike would have a little piece of jewelry that might allow it to feel better about itself.

So, to the Internet I went, looking to see what was available. BMW, to their infinite credit, still had the original specification cloisonné badges in stock, although they were priced a bit higher – at about $50 a side — than I would have preferred to pay. An enthusiast dealer with whom I had a long-standing relationship, though, had what appeared to be quality reproductions on their website.

These BMW roundels are a classy upgrade to the standard stick-on ones found on most models. They are ceramic and metal, a process called cloisonné enamel on a nickel-silver substrate. Emblems like these were an original feature on one model only, the R90S (1974-’76). Now, with these replicas, your bike can have a bit of that legendary panache too.

At a tick over $20 a side, these were perfect — premium appearance at a rationalizable price. I ordered a pair. After removing the old ones with dental floss and using 3M doublesided tape to mount the new ones, the old girl was definitely holding her head up.

And so it went until my recent teardrop camper construction project.  With the entire space within my garage consumed by materials and the trailer, all three of my motorcycles spent about 4 months being stored outside, with mostly benign results.

As the project wrapped up, I moved everything back inside, but noticed something unexpected and disappointing. On the side of my R90 that was pointed toward the sun, the supposedly cloisonné badge had essentially turned to crap. The ‘better’ side, upon reflection, didn’t look that great either.

Real Cloisonné Doesn’t Look Like This

Fortunately, any doubts I had about this being somehow a predictable result of weather exposure were quickly dispelled when I compared those former badges to the factory badges on my 1973 R75/5, which does have real cloisonné badges, and despite having been treated with no care whatsoever for the past 45 years, including having spent the exact same last 4 months outside, looked a tad patinaed, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

Even 45 Year Old Cloisonné Looks Like This

Since I had all of the documentation on the buy, I sent a picture of the melted badge back to the dealer where they’d been purchased. My communication was pretty straightforward. Whatever these badges were made out of, they were not the cloisonné they were represented to be. Melted Glass doesn’t remelt in the rain at 90 degrees f.

I asked for them to stand behind their product. If they thought it was just a fluke with this batch, they could just replace them. If they thought this might happen again, they should sell me a set of OEM badges with a credit applied for these.

I quickly got a response indicating they thought I’d be better served with some OEM badges, which they offered to me at a price of $68. They asked if that would work for me.

I quick check of my other online parts sources indicated that BMW’s MSRP for the part was $49 – a number that looked suspiciously like the difference between the quoted price and the amount of the credit they expected to have to issue on the transaction. In short, they had marked up the part so that after issuing the ‘credit’, I’d still be paying full price.

I responded to their offer with a single word – “No.” No context. No explanation, just “No”.

Five minutes later I got another e-mail, stating that they’d “checked their part numbers” and some song and dance about the part number being cross referenced, and an offer to provide the part for $49.

Shame on me, but after seeing the white flash for several minutes, I thought it better not to respond.

The proprietor of this business has, on occasion, directly questioned me as to why they don’t see so much of me any more.

This is why.

Riding motorcycles – on almost every level – involves trust.

Trust in one’s skills. Trust in one’s gear. Trust in your machinery. Trust in the people who provide parts and services that keep your bike operating properly.

And in the case of this one dealer, there was just no trust any more.

At a certain point, it became more important to separate me from as much money as possible from each transaction, with no regard to the quality of what was sold, or the quality of the service that was provided, or any concern whatsoever for the value I obtained. If I had issues with something they sold, rather than view it as an opportunity to make things right, they regarded it as an opportunity to double down and charge me again.

I don’t want anyone like this having anything to do with my motorcycles — these machines on which my life depends.

You might. But count me out.

 

***

 

Postscript – 

During my five plus months of unemployment, I made a promise to myself that with my first paycheck, I’d remedy the insult that had been done to my R90S. 

Fortunately, Toaster Tan – a well-known supplier of CNC and custom parts for BMW airheads, has had a correct reproduction of these badges made, and at a reasonable price. You can find them here — http://toastertan.com/38-5mm-fork-tubes/

Post-install, the S is happier and more fulfilled.

 

Much Better

So much better, I got another one for the rear cowl.

Snipe Hunt

Old motorcycles have character.

Sometimes, perhaps too much character.

But, on balance, those little functional imperfections, just like the imperfections of our favorite humans, are critical parts of why we love them.

 

***

 

This love/hate mix of fault and perfection doesn’t mean that we don’t get annoyed when some piece of antediluvian hardware — whose design may have been updated 15 times in the last 50 years and was improved to the point of utter perfection 35 years ago — decides that today is a good day to fail miserably for no good reason other than to see if you have any new invective bullets in your clip.

Like, for example, the latches on a vintage Krauser saddlebag.

A Secure Latch

Viewed objectively, the original Krauser saddlebags that festooned all BMW motorcycles made between 1969 and 1983 or so, were never that great, even when they were new. What made them perceived to be great was that they were miles better than lashing on duffel bags (which I have done) , and kilometers better than any throw over soft saddlebag, which at that time was likely leather, and meant that when it rained, your stuff not only got wet but likely also got drenched in brown or black aniline leather dye, as well.

When I was a young pup first coming to the enthusiasm of motorcycle travel, I do remember wondering why almost every single heavily loaded BMW rider I saw always seemed to have a stout bungee cord running over the top of their Krauser saddlebag’s case lid.

I don’t wonder any more.

 

***

 

I had another run in with my friendly local scalpel-wielding Dermatological surgeon Wednesday. This one — involving my clutch arm about eight inches above the wrist — isn’t, as previous ones have been, life threatening, but it’s never flowers and kitties when somebody removes a few small hunks of your person and cleans up after themselves with sutures.

After about a day and a half of taking things easy — the relative lack of discomfort and lack of mobility I had feared wasn’t really in evidence. Opening and closing my clutch hand didn’t seem to stress the wound, so a ride, especially of a light motorcycle, seemed in order, if for nothing else but for restoration of my spirits.

I’d been speaking, for the last several days, to a garden center up in Middletown, about a firewood delivery to keep the family room woodstove flaming when the weather inevitably turns. They were a supplier I hadn’t used before, so I wanted to get a look at the goods, and obtain a small sample quantity for a test burn. Because a small bundle of firewood will fit perfectly behind the Slash 5’s police-spec 3/4 saddle, it seemed like a magnificent way to combine business with pleasure.

And, on a now-rare day with no rain and no alloy melting levels of heat, it really was.

Rolling up Holter road, keeping the pace well below my customary WFO lunacy, it was just great to feel the old boxer thrumming along as we worked the chassis easily left and right, banking through the corners on a nice sunny day in The Valley.

My arm felt good – good sensation in my hand, and no pain working the clutch. I wouldn’t want to do curls with that arm, but ride a Toaster I could do.

Business was pretty straightforward. Looked at wood. Said, “Nice Wood”. Set up time for lady at nursery to deliver in a week or so. Nice lady at nursery allowed me to pull 5 logs off the stack outside which I’ll prolly test burn in my outdoor fireplace over the holiday. It looks like it’ll burn fine.

Back at the bike, I made a bundle of the logs and tied it down to the frame with a pair of flat nylon packing straps that I’d brought. I ran a bungee across the bundle to keep things secured laterally — could probably run the ISDT set up this way.

Coming out of Middletown, I got on Roy Shafer road – a one-and-a-half lane farm road that follows along a streambed — the Cone Branch. Its just another road out in the Bottoms — shaded and running on marginal pavement — throwing curve after curve as it follows the stream. You’re always by yourself if you’re riding out there — at best you might see one pickup, and a well used hard working one at that.

The Cone Branch and Roy Schafer Road

Roy Shafer is the slowest way back to Jefferson from a village 7 miles away, and that was exactly what me and this moto-firewood needed today. As we followed the twists and turns of the Cone Branch, I’d occasionally shoot a look in one of my bar end mirrors just to make sure my logs were where I last saw them. After about 5 such checks, I stopped thinking about it.

After a shaded and relaxing run across Sumantown road, and then past my old house at Broad Run, and a slightly faster run up Broad Run Road into Jefferson, I pulled the bike up into the top of the driveway, and pulled the ignition pin to shut everything down. My firewood was right where I’d put it, down to the last log. Unfortunately, in keeping track of the logs, I’d apparently been looking at the wrong thing. The lid of the bike’s right side Krauser was open, and likely had been for some time.

I took a quick mental inventory of what had formerly been in the bag. That inventory seemed to indicate I was short one 30 inch heavy-duty bungee, and a small terry seat towel that I keep in each of the bikes.

Bungees — even a nice one like this — are replaceable. But I hate losing those towels — they’re hard to predate from the roadside motels that are their natural habitat.

I hadn’t really come that far — I’d just backtrack until I found my stuff. My gut was telling me that the bag likely didn’t let go until the first time I’d carried any speed, which was after I hit Broad Run Road — it was the first place I’d come out of the woods and shifted into top gear.

I took a few minutes to untie and remove my firewood. I checked in briefly to the real world — checking my phone messages and e-mail — which confirmed I had nothing new or pressing which required my immediate attention. I tossed my full face and jacket on the bench in my hall, and headed back outside with my Bell 500 and gloves — finger waggle all you want, ATGATT types — this was a 25 mph, 2 mile ride, and the only important requirement was being able to see what was on the side of the road.

So, I fired the Toaster back up and slowly trolled back out in the opposite direction whom which I’d so recently come — maintaining a pace that reminded me of riding lawn mowers I’d run many years ago.

I operated in re-directed attention mode. Rear view mirrors were first, just to make sure I was not about to be obliterated from the rear by one of the Charter Members of the Extremely Hot Rodded Unspeakably Massive Large Black Cloud Diesel Pickup Truck Society that is active hereabouts. Second order of business was the road in front, followed very closely behind by a conical scan pattern of the oncoming lane and the opposite shoulder of the road.

Maryland Route 383 and Broad Run Road

I worked my way down Maryland 383 — down the extremely steep grade to Catoctin Creek — and back up the big hill on the other side — thinking that the whole experience was strangely uncompressed when performed at comically low speed. I kept the bike at lows revs in 2nd gear and basically continued my slow roll up towards Broad Run Road.

I really didn’t encounter any other vehicles, but I also didn’t see my bungee, either.

After rolling through the middle of the fields towards the Old Shamieh Homestead, and the intersection with Sumantown Road, just as the old place came into view on the horizon, I saw my bungee lying in the left lane. Now, we have more than our share of Black snakes about, but if this was a Black snake, it was one with symmetrical hooks at its head and tail. I scanned the road behind and ahead, and was all by myself — bereft of pickups, devoid of tractors. I pulled a 180 across the road, rolled back to the shock cord snake, reached down and picked it up off the road.

Now, if things were going to be flying out of my open saddlebag, the lightest stuff would take off first, with heavier objects taking a little longer to be thrown free. If this analysis was correct, my seat towel should be about 50 or 60 yards further up the road.

I toed down into first, did another 180 and continued up in the original direction of travel.

And sure enough, about 60 yards up the road, was a flash of white, slightly customized by a few bits of routine wet seat road mung, liberated motel seat towel. I did another 180, picked up the towel, and then tiddled over to the side of the road.

I opened the case opposite from the one that came unsproinged, put my reclaimed bungee and seat towel in it, securely latched (or what passes for securely latched in Antique KrauserLand) both latches — checked ’em both twice — then swung back up, toed the old girl back into gear, and headed for home.

I’ve had quite the run of extremely long odds stuff happening lately — stories that start with the phrase, “Really, what is the chance of a thing like that happening ….”. Finding both these lost items along a rural country road felt like one of those – what should have been a snipe hunt – a finder’s challenge with no chance of success, had turned out as a score on both counts. It was pretty unlikely — I felt pretty smug.

Plus I had my towel back.

I feel like I may have accidentally invented a new Motorcycle Rally event – ‘Snipe Hunt’. Rig contestants up with a specialized case that power ejects its contents upon command from some manner of remote control. Smart phones can do an awful lot of stuff.

Give your contestants a short windy road route, and sometime during transit, somebody else activates the eject button. Upon return to the ‘Start’ line, turn ’em loose to find ‘their stuff’. First one back with everything is your winner.

Feels like it would take a lot more biker skill than the ‘hot dog bite’ event, anyway.

Big Rides, Little Rides

Sometimes I just have to go for a ride.

There are as many possible reasons as there are sands on the beach, but the result is always the same.

It’s just me in my helmet, with the sound of the air rushing round it, unplugged, off-grid, in that place where I can make some time to think.

A few years back, I’d exhibited what for me was an uncharacteristic tight little cluster of significant errors in judgement.

I’d made a righteous hash of multiple areas in my life all at once. I needed some time with myself to “think-think-think-pooh” back to some sane and well-adjusted place.

I needed to go for a little ride.

I loaded some camping gear onto a seat bag on my LT, arranged for some time off from work, and went stands up and rolled west.

The first place I even considered stopping was on the north end of the Mackinac Bridge, in the Village of Saint Ignace.

With choppy bright blue waters all around, and pine forests behind me up the hill, I set my tent and contemplated the view of my mistakes stuck back on the water’s other side.

The next day saw Sault Ste Marie, and Thunder Bay, Ontario, after endless switchback and hillcrest runs over Lake Superior bays, and nearly a hundred miles of riding my LT standing up on dirt, where the Ontario Department of Highways had seen fit to entirely remove the TransCanada Highway for maintenance – “We only got about 5 weeks a year to do repairs, eh?”.

The next day took me in morning mist through Grand Portage and Grand Marais and as sunshine broke into Duluth, smelling intensely of freshly toasted grains. By the time I pitched my tent again in Escanaba – next to an R90S rider named Kennedy – I’d figured some stuff out, and was spiritually ready to turn my wheels for home.

Sometime all it takes is a little ride to figure things out, and arrive at that non-spatial location of illumination.

Lately though, I’ve been thinking about a big ride.

Big rides are more than merely rides – they’re milestones, they’re symbols, they are accomplishments. Big rides are confirmations of the possible, voyages that nourish and sustain the soul.

It’s been a couple of years since a Big Ride, and my Big Ride batteries are showing red, and in need of a charge.

I’ve ridden from Maryland to the Southwestern Deserts and back, but time and opportunity to dip my boots in the Pacific have thus far eluded me.

I have a long-lost cousin I have never met – a fellow obsessive and talented motorcyclist – a professional racer both on and off the road – that lives in San Diego. I met Oliver in the comments section of BikeExif.com. Our similar surname set off alarm bells, and after lengthy e-mail exchanges it became clear our Orthodox Christian families had been forced to flee from the same Syrian Village by the rampaging Ottomans in the late 1800s.

We share our love of the Iron Steed though we have never met.

My newest client at work is The City of San Diego. I have been told to expect to have to spend some time with them if our work with them moves forward. A few days with The City with a few days advance notice is all it would take to have my long ride batteries recharged for years.

With a willing spirit, the right motorcycle, and a body that is still able, it’s three days at speed from Ocean City to Del Coronado.

It’s a long ride that would be one for the ages. Another chance to cross the green of Tennessee, to ride the Mountains of New Mexico and Southern Arizona… to blaze through Roswell and White Sands. The Southern Transcontinental routes have much to recommend them when compared with the Rolling Wheat Ocean that is crossing Kansas.

It’s too soon to begin rejoicing, as lots of moving parts have yet to align, but this would be the biggest of big rides – a tale to tell the kids and their kids, should they have any.

Not all ‘little rides’ are little, not all ‘Big Rides’ are big, though – sometimes a motorcycle ride is just a ride.

The weather here in Central Maryland has been unpredictable and unseasonable lately. Where in mid-August we’d normally be sweltering in high heat and higher humidity, we’ve had long strings of cool and rainy weather punctuated by little breaks of springlike dry cool days and cooler nights. In what are supposed to be August’s Dog Days, there isn’t so much as a puppy anywhere in sight.

During one of my frequent trips to dwell in admiration of the Garage Art Collection, I found myself gazing wordlessly at my oldest motorcycle, my 1973 R75/5. There is something about the Toaster Tank that makes it appear older than its actual 43 years. Between the fork gaiters, the nacelle headlamp with its built-in combined instrument, the simple, unlabeled handlebar switches, and the zeppelin-shaped mufflers, it suggests BMW designers that could not decide which 20th Century Decade they were designing for – in what was then the most modern design they had ever produced, there were obvious design references to motorcycles they had built in the 1930s.

I’d been busy lately with other things, and other motorcycles, but that day I needed to ride that motorcycle – which I’ve owned for over 30 years – even more than it needed to be ridden.

Cutting up Mt. Phillip Road towards the west side of Frederick, the oldest of my Alloy Girlfriends was light of foot and dancing divinely. Threading the combinations of left-right corners and sharp changes in grades and topography, I surfed the big smooth waves of torque produced by the bored-out, small valve motor. I was bathed in the sunlight, the cool breeze through my ventilated leathers, and in echoes of the engine’s machine gun report coming back from the hillsides above the road. Front and back wheels moved on the long throw suspension, soaking up the road’s manifold irregularities with none of it affecting the frame or the rider. My overwhelming impression was of an almost meditative lack of conscious riding decisions – after so many miles together this old motorcycle is like an extension of my own body – the bike simply does what my mind requests without action, translation or boundaries between us.

You would be lucky to have with your lover what I have with this motorcycle.

That afternoon had many more sunny miles through Gambrill, back down Maryland 17 to Burkettsville, and through the bottoms back home.

Some motorcycle grace takes a lap of an inland sea, or the crossing of a continent. Sometimes though, that illumination, that joy can be achieved in a simple half hour on a sunny afternoon.

 

***

 

This piece originally appeared in the September/October 2017 Issue of Motorcycle Times.

 

Yin Yang – Part Two

(Part One of this story can be found here)

 

Funny thing was, as I sat bleeding off road buzz in contemplation of a Ballast Point Unfiltered Sculpin, I realized I had managed to completely and successfully ignore just how hamburgered my throttle hand was after yesterday’s little encounter with an incensed gravity.

As I stretched my stiffening hand and fingers, I realized this was going to take more than a few days to be 100% again.

I’m not sure it’s really right yet.

After a nice ribeye and a dessert grade Imperial Chocolate Stout, I went back to my hotel and slept the sleep of the righteous.

 

***

 

The week at work was one of total focus and absorption. A team of people normally spread from Massachusetts through Maryland to the Carolinas had gathered in one place to complete the launch of a Services product, and that meant taking a range of collateral — from Service Descriptions through Statements of Work to cost models — and crawling through them basically line-by-line, word-by-word, and number-by-number to make sure everything was consistent and reflected everything we knew and had learned.

It was right up there — from a thrills perspective — with watching paint dry, but it was necessary work that would serve to keep us all gainfully employed selling and delivering our most demanded service for the next couple of years. It was hard, draining, but we’d all feel good about when it was complete.

In the evenings, I spent time studying maps, looking for a possible place to stay out in Asheville, and looking at the data coming in from weather.com. Given the location of the Top Secret MotoGiro lunch stop, I could stay in Asheville Friday night, and count on a nice hour ride out Saturday morning to meet the Tiddler Pilots. A few hours of photos, interviews and general bench racing would free me up mid afternoon to head back up the Blue Ridge towards home, a night in my own bed, and a Sunday free of the scourge of the Doghoused Mothersdayless MotoGiro jockeys. It sounded perfect.

Only it wasn’t.

By Wednesday night, it was clear that Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating, and frankly, She Looked Pissed.

Most of my life seems to have morphed into one big exercise in trend identification and analysis.

Thursday night’s Mother Nature trend line was not in the desired direction. The weekend was heading towards one of those “has anybody seen Noah?” events with Friday afternoon, overnight and into most of Saturday looking particularly dire. Deep in the forecast’s fine print was the remote possibility of rain rates that would make it possible to go surfing in the Mountains of Southern Virginia.

If I stuck with the plan, I was looking at spectating and trying to do interviews in what looked like it was going to be steady, steady rain, and then riding 400 miles home in more rain afterwards. Now I’d like to think I have as much character and perseverance as the next rider, but that doesn’t mean I seek out pain on purpose.

Picking one’s battles is one reason I’m still here, eh?

Much as I didn’t like it, the smart money was on bagging the Giro, and heading for the only possible break in the weather over the next three days.

Maybe next year, oh moto nostra.

Given the prevailing weather patterns on the Blue Ridge, we were looking at a pretty standard pattern — low pressure line coming from southwest to northeast — basically following the ridge line of the mountains from North Carolina all the way up into Pennsylvania.

If I could get out early Friday morning, I’d be out in front of the weather for 4-5 hours, and when it finally caught me I’d be most of the way home. Anything other than this gap, and I was going to get clobbered.

With a little luck, I could perhaps hit the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles before things turned completely dire. I’d been up there in weirder weather — one freak April snow squall up on Mount Mitchell comes readily to mind.

With work wrapped up, I got my gear repacked, and turned in early.

I wanted to get a good start on the day.

 

***

 

Standing in the parking lot the next morning, I put the contents of my seat bag inside a trash can liner, and then tightened the packing straps that keep the duffel firmly in place up against the backrest on the passenger seat.

It was a little grey out, but very temperate — low 70s. Warm enough to run my ‘Stich with no layers underneath. I pulled on my Shoei and elkskins, fired the engine and waited 10 seconds or so until it assumed a steady four cylinder drone of an idle. I kicked the bike forward off the main stand and trolled out of the parking lot and back towards the highway back through and then out of Charlotte.

 

***

 

Back out on the Charlotte Beltway, things were congested, but moving. I picked up I-77 and headed north into town.

Just as I cleared downtown Charlotte, and when, in a morning rush, I’d expect traffic to lighten up — I mean, everybody should be heading into the city, right? — traffic, well, didn’t. Lighten up.

It got increasingly congested, it slowed, and then it stopped.

And stayed stopped.

Now a K1200LT is a marvelous motorcycle. Comfortable and assured at 80 miles an hour for days at a time.

But the truth must always rule, and the truth is that a K1200LT is just a little less marvelous in crawling, stop and go traffic. 850+ pounds of agility it is not, when working the clutch and starting and stopping over and over again.

It’s really not the way you want to start a long day in the saddle — managing that mass, working the bars, the clutch — you can work yourself tired and sore pretty quickly if the situation doesn’t quickly let up.

Which of course it didn’t.

It was kinda muggy. It was sprinkling lightly off and on. The LT’s cooling fans were cycling on and off while stopped, which wasn’t helping me any. I was starting to get a little overheated.

I kept thinking I’d come round a bend, or over a hilltop, and I’d see the accident that had many thousands of us trapped out here on this roadway.

And then I’d come round that bend to just some more of this.

Hope was created and then dashed, again and again. 5 miles, 10 miles, the interchange with the top side of the Charlotte Beltway I-485, which brought more sufferers into the fold. 15 miles, 18 … I was already considering making some form of shoulder run for it — more than a few SUV driver desperate fellow members of the traffic stream had already cracked and gone for it. It was just getting to the point of utter desperation and insanity when the State of Norf Carolina thought it would be nice to let us motorists know what the bleep was going on.

“Road construction. Single lane open. Mile marker 38. Prepare to merge.”

Mental math – Mile marker 38? That was nearly 4 more miles of this crap.

So here we were, essentially paralyzing traffic in a major American City, where somebody thought it was a good idea to reduce a major interstate to a single lane during the peak Friday daytime travel hours for some bit of optional highway maintenance.

I probably was no longer capable, after 20+ miles of walking speed LT wrestling, of completely dispassionate thought.

The bit of maintenance, it turned out, was the installation of one of those cool, cantilevered overhead interstate highway signs. If they’d been really feeling truthful, that big green sign could have said, “Warning. Doofuses Creating Backup all the way into Downtown Charlotte.”

The work crew, such as it was, was one guy working a crane with the sign rigged up to it, and about 2 dozen more guys walking around, looking at the ground and kicking rocks with their workboots.

I’m afraid I was less than charitable in my appraisal of their work.

I’m not afraid to share than most of my fellow motorists were way less charitable and way more vocal than me.

 

***

 

When I finally got around the North Carolina DOT Work Crew, the relief I experienced upon actually getting into third gear and some moving air was almost orgasmic.

The temperature gauge on the LT dropped back though nominal to cool, and I managed to stretch a lot of the tension and stress back out of my shoulders. I took a brief stop for some hydration and to pull on a light technical fleece underlayer as the temps continued to drop. There was still a fair amount of congestion that kept me in fourth gear and below full cruise through Statesville, Williamsburg and on into Hamptonville, where conditions finally permitted LT-nominal cruise and I began to fall into my customary road rhythm.

I looked down at the LT’s dashboard clock.

We were already afternoon. I’d consumed three plus hours with only 80 or so miles to show for it.

That jump on the weather that I’d been counting on had been completely squandered. I’d lost my lead on the incoming front and things were about to take a turn for the more interesting.

 

***

 

As one runs I-77 out of Charlotte, the road enters wide open rural country where — as the road comes back up the Blue Ridge — speed can rise and one climbs grade after grade towards the ridgeline.

As we climbed in altitude, it got a little greyer, a little cooler, and a little moister. It still wasn’t raining but things were starting to feel classically English outside. Looking up to the peaks, I could see some scenic mist wrapping around the mountain tops. The inner workings of the Old Hippy Brain began serving up the melody of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Misty Mountain Hop’.

As I started working my way up the last few thousand feet towards the ridgeline, the truck climbing lanes and the associated overhead lane control signage began to appear.

“Areas of Fog Ahead. Speed Limits Reduced for Safety.”

I’ll admit that years of motorcycling have made my critical thinking and analytical processes somewhat closed to outside suggestions — self-sufficiency is, at least in my way of thinking, an essential rider’s trait.

“OK,” I thought, “If I have visibility problems, I’d slow down anyway. How bad could it possibly be?”

This would prove to be another one of those karmic queries that never should have been allowed to take shape in my synapses.

The crisp sunny blast down the mountainside that had marked my ride down to Charlotte began to retreat further and further in memory the further up the mountain I went.

Three miles past the warning the first actual fog began to appear.

“OK,” I thought, ” Maybe there might be some reason for these warnings.”

Five miles further up the road the fog began to really increase. We had left 80 mile an hour visibility country and traded it for 50 mile an hour visibility.

The last 1000 feet of the climb went completely critical.

As I approached the exit for Fancy Gap, Virginia, and the exit for the Blue Ridge Parkway, visibility dropped to essentially nothing.

My personal melting pot of All-American Heredity does feature a fair bit of Irish, so I come by a pretty reasonable helping of stubborn honestly.

“Goddammit,” I thought, “First I have to skip my original reason to ride down here. I’ll be snorked if I’m going to miss a chance to do some BRP miles, too.”

Fancy Gap, if my mental map is working, is the second highest point on the BRP after Mount Mitchell. Though it might be foggy up here, three or four hundred feet of elevation drop should be enough to take us back down out of Cloud Central and back to Misty Mountain Hop.

It was a good theory, but reality had another idea.

I dropped down a few gears and took the ramp for Fancy Gap.

When I got to the end of the ramp, it was another opportunity for reassessment.

Looking around me, it was as close to absolutely zero visibility as I’ve ever not seen. Virginia 775 is a tertiary road, which the state had widened to include a median at the interstate interchange. Sitting about 15 feet from my position at the stop sign was a brand new white Chevrolet sedan. It was sitting in the middle of the state highway, stopped. Its occupants appeared to be nearly frantic — either from the utter lack of visibility or because of complete inability to make out the signage at the interchange.

This wasn’t what I’d in any way expected. I knew from my pre-ride map review that the Parkway entrance was about three and a half miles from the Interchange. I couldn’t imagine riding a mile in this stuff much less three. It was the classic ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ thaang.

I’d had an experience with these kind of conditions once before in my riding life, up on the Palisades Parkway outside of New York City, late at night on a visit to my mom’s place. The disorientation and fear of feeling one’s way along — knowing you were likely invisible to anyone else unlucky enough to be driving out here — was as scared as I’ve ever been on a motorcycle.

I wasn’t looking for a replay of that.

Keeping a watchful eye on the paralyzed Chevrolet, I crept across the median, got back on the onramp, and re-entered I-77, and worked my way back down the other side of the mountain.

 

***

 

I guess it pays to be flexible.

Conditions — especially on a long ride — are seldom what you want them to be. They just are what they are. Knowing when to listen to the messages from the universe and adapt accordingly keeps up my unbroken record of successful returns, under my own power, to the garage in Jefferson.

Still, heading down the mountain and out of the fog didn’t feel like a victory. Between the horrific traffic back up of this morning and this Blue Ridge abort forced by the weather the overall emotional trend was not in the ordinal direction of ascend and enlighten.

“Well, let’s gas it, and see what we can see.”

 

***

 

A short run down the mountain brings you back to I-81, and its turn to the northeast, running just west of and following the Blue Ridge. As the temperatures continued their drop from the 70s, where we’d started the day, into the high 50s, I kept the big brick on the boil and decompressed into making miles.

I came back out of the time stream to see more than 200 miles on this tank of fuel, so I landed in Christianburg for a Bad For Me Burger and a Good For Beemer Tank of High Test.

I changed into a pair of weatherproof gloves after fueling, and as I left the station the sprinkles finally turned to a light but steady rain.

I hoped I gotten my ‘Stich fastened properly, and that we had everything buttoned down. I was pretty sure that dry was not something I was going to see for quite a while.

 

 

***

 

After running a few more miles up 81, I began to see the strangest signage.

“Motorcycle Detour Ahead”

“All Motorcycles Must Exit – 10 miles”

“Motorcycle Detour — All Motorcycles Must Leave Interstate”

Now I’ve been doing this driving and riding motorcycles thing for quite some time, and I can ever recall seeing a conditional detour like this, where some users of the road – ME! – were getting selectively discriminated against.

I couldn’t really imagine a set of highway construction conditions that I, personally, couldn’t adapt to.

After my little run in with the Ontario Department of Highways where they’d elected to completely remove about 65 miles of the TransCanada Highway I needed to ride on — leaving me with packed soil and mud for use with my 1000 pounds of highway missile and gear — I was having a hard time imagining that VDOT could come remotely close to even equaling that, much less beating it.

I was confident of my skills and machine control, and whatever it was — abraded, graded, not-yet-paved surfaces, uneven lane levels, parallel seams — I was sure I could ride on it, and safely.

But the Detour signs kept getting closer and closer together, the verbiage more and more insistent, and at a certain point the “Honest, Officer, I am a duly trained and licensed professional” speech was likely to end just as badly as one of Hunter S. Thompson’s offramp soliloquys. This really wasn’t a conversation with the constable that I felt like having right about now. The Ride Luck Count was 0-2, and didn’t like my odds of breaking the streak.

 

***

 

So when the last “You There, Motorcycle! Exit Here!” sign came up, I meekly complied.

The Motorcycle Detour immediately took me onto some very rural secondary roads — filled with working farms, fields and barns that felt very much like the ones I’d left at home. Despite the light rain and the mist, I was warm, dry and comfortable, and there was no denying that the greenness and the mist I was riding through was beautiful.

Not every peak ride experience requires a perfect sunny day.

It was almost as if the designers of the Motorcycle Detour had intended to actually do their motorcyclists a kind of favor, to provide a peak rider’s experience.

And on a better weather day, they would have totally succeeded.

As I kept gaining altitude running Virginia Route 43, the fog began to creep back in. I saw a roadside sign indicating “Blue Ridge Parkway Ahead”.

Was it possible that the same universe that had been consistently taking had decided to lighten up and give one back?

 

***

 

The Universe was definitely giving one, but it sure wasn’t giving one back.

As I got close to the ridgeline, 43 tightens up … a lot. As one approaches the summit the road goes completely drunk-snake — there is switchback after switchback, and crazy banked decreasing radius stuff with big steep grade changes coming out of them. On a sunny day with Finn’s Buell Blast — with its Pirelli Diablos in scooter sizes — you could drag your earlobes out here and be laughing like a maniac all day long.

But today it looked slippery, and treacherous, and like one mistake away from chucking this beast of a roadbike down.

Don’t misunderstand me. My Avon Storms are the best wet weather tires I’ve ever seen. But on this chilly, wet misty day, up alone on that steep twisty mountain, the voice that does self preservation was yelling at the top of its lungs. I don’t scare easily but the feeling that one might have made a bad choice does a lot to induce a strong sense of restraint.

Upon cresting the summit, and entering The Parkway, the roadbed at least, takes on the more widely radiused curves that are this ride’s signature.

With some visibility and sightlines, and the ability to read a few corners ahead, the BRP can be run in the wet with a fair degree of assurance.

Only we didn’t have some visibility.

The Parkway runs just below the ridgeline on the eastern or shaded side of the Ridge. And while visibility was not as bad as it had been in Fancy Gap, it was certainly nothing to write home about.

Sections that I’d normally ride — averaging a few miles per hour above the Parkway’s recommended speed — felt downright uncomfortable at 20 to 25 miles an hour — there was limited ability to see to set up for curves ahead, and in the worst spots even the centerline was tough on which to stay oriented.

Fog is evil stuff — it takes away my entire sense of cyclist’s orientation in the environment, and leaves me wobbly and robbed of a sense of strategy in the ride.

Hazardous though it was, it was starkly beautiful. With no guardrails off the Northbound Parkway’s outer side, only the occasional mature pine treetop at the rider’ eye level punching out of the fog gave any hint to the steepness of the land as it dropped away from the road.

Were one to miss the inside of a corner, on a day like this, it would be a likely long time before anyone would find you or come to your aid.

 

***

 

So I took it as easy as I could, tried to relax, and tried to be sustained by the stark beauty of these surroundings. I knew as long as I remained upright, and kept a steady pace down the road, I’d eventually be presented with either improved conditions or options to get down off this mountain.

But 20 mph second gear touring is really not relaxing on a motorcycle this big. It really isn’t a natural thing for a K12 to do.

I really don’t know for how many miles or for how much time I rode this way. It might have been 10 and at may have been 50 — I just lost, with my spatial orientation, all sense of time.

But finally the Parkway descended some, and the roadway dipped beneath the altitude of the worst weather.

I could see two or three curves ahead, and was finally able to shift up a gear and sometime two, and to ride this road like a motorcycle again. The Storms felt planted, without a wiggle or slip under throttle or any sense of anxiety with the bike leaned up on the tire’s edge.

I started to rack up easy, gentle miles again, drinking in the greenness of the steady rain and the ribbon of macadam that split it.

It felt good to be able to breathe again, to relax and just ride, just ride.

 

***

 

A few miles up the road, I exited a corner to see two riders on matching black Road Glides beating together in my direction. They looked like men who were owning their bad, rolling leathery big slow shiny and heavy with little attention wasted on me. With shorty windshields, sunglasses and half helmets they weren’t really equipped for the weather ahead. I tried to flag them in the brief seconds I had, thinking they’d want to know about the foul conditions but they didn’t so much as turn a head to acknowledge me as they rumbled by.

I thought a lot about those guys in the next little while.

 

***

 

After rolling a solid 50 or so good twisting misting miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the rain, I decided to head back down the hill to the Interstate, and to set up for the blast that would take me home.

As I rode back down the ridge back to 81, the rain started to pick up in intensity. On the more modern roadway, the bike was just eating this all up, planted and stable and enhancing my confidence. It’s amazing the effect the attitude of a rider can have on his or her progress down the road.

Being out in front of events always feels better than being a half beat behind, timid and chasing one’s tail.

 

***

 

As I made miles up 81, conditions went from poor, to genuinely bad, to something way worse than that. It’s on days like this that one can really appreciate two things.

First, it’s extraordinary just how good a foul-weather motorcycle a K1200LT really is. Apart from the performance, protection and tunability of the bike’s aerodynamics, the combination of weight low in the frame, zero torque reaction and torque steer, the tractable power delivery of the engine, and a set of state of the art all weather radial tires creates a motorcycle that never sets a wheel out of place, even at elevated speeds, even with wacky rainfall rates and standing water conditions that will have four wheelers and even their 18 wheeler cousins pulling off and looking for cover.

The second thing is just how good a piece of engineered riding gear today’s one piece Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit really is.

I’ve owned three Roadcrafters since 1985.

The first one was a gift from Sweet Doris from Baltimore, when we were still dating.

She’d decided she really dug me, in a permanent and indelible way, and if I was going to motorcycle — and she wasn’t the kind of woman who would try to talk/pressure me out of it — she figgured I’d better have the best safety gear that love and money could buy.

I never succeeded in wearing any of my Roadcrafters out. I tried. I really did. The first one was worn back in the day when having a job meant riding to it every day, and that suit was on my back no less than 220 commuting days a year, over an 11 year period, in heat, cold, rain and even limited amounts of snow. They also went sportriding on weekends, and travelling on vacations, but who’s counting? All of my suits are still in one piece and serviceable, although in various states of street credible to absolutely vile patina.

It’s just that life took a guy who was 135 1985 pounds and converted him into a guy who is 201 2017 pounds.

Whatcha gonna do?

I run into a lot of rain riding around Maryland in the summer. Heavy rain or thunderstorms are everywhere during summer afternoons and evenings, but these heavy rains are 15 minutes, or maybe 30, tops, before they’ve spent themselves and the sun reclaims its rightful place.

This storm was nothing like that. I’d already been riding in steady rain for 100 miles when I got engulfed by this front, with its embedded thunderstorms, just under 250 miles from home, and it rained heavily, steadily, for the whole four-plus more hours it took me to get there.

Oh, and for the next day and half after that.

For the next 100 plus miles of I-81, I hammered up the road at my customary dry pace at about 3950 rpm on the tach. Despite the LT’s creditable impression of a 1960s Glastron Speedboat — “Ooh, what a lovely wake and roostertail you have, my dear” — the combination of sheer mass and British tires meant I never felt so much as a squirm out of my contact patches.

I adjusted my windscreen so that I could just see over the top edge, while the water streaming off the screen was deflected over my head. My hands were dry and protected inside the envelope made by the LT’s rearview mirrors. The cockpit wind deflectors were shut, and even though I’d elected to leave my goretex lined boots at home in the closet, the lower fairing was keeping my feet dry enough so that my unlined but well oiled leather boots were not admitting any water.

We might be out here riding in the middle of The Devil’s Very Own Lawn Sprinkler, but with this suit and this bike I was dry, comfortable and in control.

 

***

 

After about three hours in the saddle, in the best of conditions, it’s usually prudent to stop if only for a stretch.

After three hours in these conditions — cool, wet, stressy, with a sprinkling of upper body workout — I’d been going through a fair amount of energy, and all metabolic systems had been working overtime.

It was time for a level two pit stop — this human race car needed both fuel and four tires.

At the appointed time, the Northbound half of the Good Old Mount Sidney Safety Rest presented itself.

I executed my customary drop out of hyperspace and engine braked into the rest area and down to walking pace.

I chose a parking spot across the street from the rest area building, rolled to a stop and standed the bike. As I dismounted I tried to plan a route to the bathroom which involved no standing water. When that proved too challenging, I just ploshed across the street like a duckie booted toddler.

The rain rates, now that I was on foot and not at speed, were obviously Nash Metropolitan Fulla Clowns, Firehose Standing in for Sprinkles Full On Slapstick Comically Ridiculous. I couldn’t help but laugh.

People in the rest area were staring at me.

When laughing me finished swimming to the porch of the rest area, I removed my gloves and helmet, and did my best to shake off the water drops from the outside of that gear.

While I was having my moment, chuckling at the deluge between me and my LT, a man walked right up to me and lay one hand on each of my shoulders.

“The Lord Be With You on this day My Brother. May I pray for you and your safe journey?”

“Ordinarily, No, but today I’ll gratefully take any help I can get.”

I bowed my head in silence while my brand new brother petitioned the Lord on my behalf.

I thanked him and then he headed back to the cab of his tractor trailer.

 

***

 

Once into the men’s room, I looked for a ‘family stall’. Using the baby changing table to keep my helmet and gloves off the wet floor, I began the ‘Stich peeling ritual so I could locate the human being underneath.

In more than 30 years of ‘Stichery, I’ve arrived after tough rides looking a tad incontinent and feeling a little squishy, but not this time – I was dry as a bone. I was now, and I would be still when I got home

The third ‘Stich is apparently the charm.

 

 

***

 

 

After swimming back to the bike, I ended up swapping my foul weather gloves back for my elkskins. The new tech gloves’ outer shell had absorbed enough moisture to make putting them back on more of a wrestling match than I had the patience for. With less than 150 miles home and knowing I’d be rolling most all the way, the elkskins would be glove enough.

I rolled the big girl back through the gears, running the revs up enthusiastically before thockking up into the next. I got back up into cruise, and went back to laughing inside the clean hole my motorcycle was punching in this unrelenting rain.

“This kinda weather,” I thought “is just rain out the Yin-Yang”.

 

 

***

 

 

After another half hour on the cruise, it was finally time to leave the Interstate, and roll the remaining 50 miles of rural highway across Clarke County, Virginia, and Jefferson County, West Virginia back to Jefferson, and my home.

The rain, the mist and the greenness were enough to keep me in good spirits, as the final familiar miles rolled away.

Sweet D had the garage door up, so I rolled into my spot, swung my leg over and ju-jitsued the LT up onto its main stand.

Looking at the LT’s dashboard clock, a ride that normally took six hours has taken more than ten.

 

 

***

 

Sweet Doris from Baltimore was glad to see me, and see me off that bike.

All was not perfect however.

“I’m cold, Greggie. I think our heat is broke.”

I should note that Sweet D wasn’t the only one that might have been cold.

When I’m on a roll, I’m really on a roll.

After reading some blinking furnace diagnostic LEDs confirmed her theory, I was at least glad I had some dry firewood stacked inside by my woodstove.

90 minutes later, I had hot iron in my den and some good spirits in my glass.

It is good to journey out. It is better to be home.

 

***

 

So my brothers and sisters enjoy, embrace and carry with you always those rides that are only sunny days.

Just know that inside that sunny day, also lives as well the cold and the darkness.

 

Yin Yang

There is no light without the darkness.

And there is no darkness without the light.

In life, wholeness only exists in balance between life’s opposing principal qualities — pleasure and pain, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, love and loneliness.

And explorations of balance come naturally to those of us that experience life from the motorcycle’s saddle.

 

***

 

I’d had this plan.

Which is unusual for me, because, well, my plans never work.

But it was a good plan, a plan in which I’d made a significant emotional investment, a plan that seemed plausible, a plan that felt like it really could work.

Which of course, is why it was doomed.

The plan was a motorcycle meet-up with a peer from the online motorcycle universe. We had been fans of each other’s work, and frequenters of each other’s web presence, but fans from a pretty prohibitive distance — he being based out of LA, and me out of Central Maryland — only about 2600 road miles separating where we parked our respective motorcycles.

Out of the blue one day my ‘buddy’ shared that he was going to be covering an East Coast-based motorcycle event, that would place him within a comfortable day’s ride of Jefferson.

I conferred briefly with Sweet Doris From Baltimore, who blessed the event and my participation in it — “You need a good bike trip” — and so the short life-cycle of the plan began.

 

***

 

The event that both of planned to cover was the Asheville, North Carolina, Moto Giro. The Moto Giro is a timed endurance and skills event modelled on the famed Moto Giro d’Italia. The Giro is a competition for motorcycles of 250ccs or less in displacement, and built in 1966 or before. Because of the event’s provenance, there are lots of beautiful and cool oddball Euro rides — tiny Ducatis, Benellis and NSUs. People with low tolerance for drama and strong competitive urges stick to Honda CB160s and 175s.

While hairy chested motorcycle racers may point out that such an event — structured for the care and feeding of tiny tiddler motorcycles — has all of the inherent drama of watching paint dry, they would be missing the point. Anybody who has the bravery and desire to finish two back to back 175 mile days, on a 50 year old small displacement Italian motorcycle, has made their dedication and enthusiasm clearly known, and is fine by me.

You will see some amazingly restored and prepared unusual motorcycles, but the Giro is clearly an event that is really about the slightly bent, moto-addled characters to whom this somehow seems like a good idea.

A nice Friday ride from Jefferson to Asheville — the opportunity to meet up with my bud, to drink a few craft beers and trade a few rounds of vintage biker lies, a Saturday based event and then a Sunday roll home, with some miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, seemed almost too good to be true.

I had six weeks or so to make sure my bike was ready, make my arrangements, and roll out on what sounded like a grand adventure.

 

***

 

Almost immediately, parts began to fall off this ride, as soon as it began rolling.

As I searched the Internet for information on the Moto Giro, I found….. nothing.

Huh?

Maybe I’ve become over acclimated, but it seems to be a built-in assumption of the Internet Age that If Something Exists In The Real World, then It Exists On The Internet.

I mean, if you have information you intend to share, where else might you share it?

It is important to note, that although I was asking a valid question, it was not the correct question, but let me not get ahead of myself.

In Internet searches, all I found was one blacklisted, compromised web server, info on prior years, and a Facebook page. The Facebook page contained no event information save one member complaining that he was in the doghouse with his wife because the event fell on Mother’s Day.

And that was it.

Because my Bud From LA had proposed the event, I concluded that surely he was read in, right?

I mean, you can’t write about what you can’t find.

So I sent him an e-mail asking him to share the event particulars, and got back……nothing.

“I won’t sweat it,” I thought.

“There’s plenty of time left. All will be revealed.”

 

***

 

Only it wasn’t.

Two or three weeks went by, and after two or three abortive attempts to get more information through Bud From LA at a certain point I began to get a little jumpy about the whole deal. It was starting to seem like one of those run-ins with Coyote, where I’d been encouraged to believe in something that did not exist, to remember something that had never happened.

I was looking over my shoulder. It was starting to mess with my head.

Then weird took the whole thing to the next level.

I got an invite through my work e-mail to schedule a trip to my company’s Charlotte, NC office, for a product development workshop the workweek before my scheduled ride to Asheville for the Giro.

Now from my house to Asheville is about 420 miles using the most direct route, which is, obviously, the route I never take.

From my house to Charlotte is about 450 highway miles.

Charlotte and Asheville are all of about 120 miles apart. 120 miles on an LT is less than half a fuel tank — it may not actually be far enough to fully warm the bike and all of its driveline fluids up to full operating temperature.

Net/net is that my employer was going to be having me make the trip to North Carolina as a business trip, essentially paying me to travel and be in the event’s back yard when work ended Friday.

To me, it felt like the Universe was mysteriously and serendipitously aligning.

Which of course it wasn’t.

 

***

 

What I knew about the Giro, though, was a constant.

Exactly Jack.

So I began to get creative.

Rolling Physics Problem has a number one fan.

#1 Fan’s name is Bud.

Unlike Bud from LA – whose actual name is not Bud – Bud’s actual name is Bud.

Hi Bud!

I have been motorcycling a long time. Bud has been motorcycling a very long time indeed.

As a result of his life well-ridden, I have this theory that Bud knows absolutely everyone that has anything interesting to do with motorcycling.

So I tested the theory.

In an e-mail conversation, I mentioned to Bud that I was having problems getting info about the event.

Turned out he’d ridden a few Giros, and knew Will, the organizer for this particular event.

24 hours later the guy called my cel phone while I was out in the shop supporting the Trikedrop build project.

It doesn’t prove the theory. It’s too small a data set.

Anyway, my conversation with Will proved enlightening in myriad ways.

The first was the gradual revelation that in all of my thoughts about the Giro, I had been asking the wrong question.

I kept approaching it from the perspective that the Giro would want people to know all about the event, and were doing a bad job sharing it. What slowly dawned on me, and Will gently confirmed it, was that the information wasn’t out there because they saw no utility in sharing it. The lack of info wasn’t a flub — it was a deliberate strategy.

I went in thinking The Moto Giro was a show — all about event marketing.

I came out thinking it was strange cross between a Secret Society and Organized Crime.

And, more interestingly, it was organized crime that had invited me in. I’d been moto made.

The organizers felt, frankly, that size was their enemy — that beyond a certain number of competitors the whole scene got too indeterministic to manage. Spectators were not really encouraged, either — anyone riding the course or parked along it was hazardous for the riders. The entire scene was for the benefit of the riders, and nothing else mattered.

I asked for the time and location of the start or finish line, and my request was politely but firmly declined.

I could, however, have the locations for the lunch stops, where parking lot Agility Special Test courses were to be deployed. If I wanted some road shots the event managers would position me after they’d met me at lunch and sized me up.

Will and I spent a fair amount of time on the phone, and came to a kind of meeting of the minds on old motorcycles and long rides. I completely embraced and internalized his protective attitude towards his ride.

Of the Giro, I knew as much as I was going to know — which represented about 98% more than I’d known an hour before. I had a date, a time, and the parking lot of an Ice Cream joint somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina.

Now all I had to do was get there.

 

***

 

About a week before my planned departure, Mother Nature got downright frosty. We had rain and overnight lows in the high twenties — I spent quality time in the evenings hoisting wood into my parlour woodstove.

The long term weather forecast showed a trendline towards a warm up right around the Monday when I was scheduled to ride to Charlotte.

 

***

 

Three days out, Bud From LA pulled out.

He’d been tapped to cover an event for a major print publication, so the bigger dog won out.

Couldn’t really blame him. It was just a shame that a trip started out as an opportunity for our meet-up had now turned into another lone wolf expedition.

Travelling light means owing nothing to no one, so I did my best to greet the development with a bright spirit.

 

***

 

The day of the ride down started with the sun out and about 45 degrees at coffee time. I spent the morning splitting time between a few conference calls and carrying saddlebag liners and seat bags out to the garage. I got my laptop backpack and a fair larder of hydration and snacks onto the top case. I secreted a paid of waterproof Keen work boots and a set of cold weather gloves in the LT’s CD-changer reduced right case. I put my business sports jacket and a light duty textile riding jacket into my seat bag. And the old Compaq swag shoulder bag — the exact form factor as the factory saddlebag liner — containing my clothes and toiletries into the left side case.

I made sure that the rear suspension’s hydraulic preload was set near the very bottom of its setting — I’ve deliberately biased spring settings for carrying passengers, so the LT rides better when it’s carrying measurably more than just my weight.

After tarrying over a long hug from Sweet Doris From Baltimore, I pulled on a light technical fleece, my one piece Aerostitch Roadcrafter — which is finally starting to appear almost broken in — and grabbed my Elkskin Gauntlets and my Shoei.

These minutes of contemplation in front of a loaded motorcycle always try and then fail to avoid what seems to me a natural anxiety. The thousand miles or so of mountain road that lie ahead — and everything that can possibly occur along them — seem to telegraph into awareness for a few vivid seconds.

But with the snap of the Shoei’s strap retainer, and the velcro on my gauntlets snugged, the starter is fingered, and the time for anxiety is gone. With the cold K12 engine making a semi-industrial symphony of as yet loose tolerance clatters, I rolled the bike out of the driveway, and headed out towards US-340.

 

***

 

US-340 essentially connects my front door to Interstate 81. After turning out of my neighborhood, the ramp onto 340 West is about 150 yards up the state highway. Frankly, its way too soon for a cold, fully loaded motorcycle that had spent an unfortunately substantial proportion of its recent life sitting around waiting for me.

I drifted the bike down the big grade on light throttle, trying to get any heat in the engine before really asking for meaningful power or revs. Fortunately, at noon on a Tuesday, the highway was for all purposes empty, letting me tarry a bit as the temp dial began to finally swing right. The big downgrade leads to Cactoctin Creek and what goes down, of course, must go up.

I gently rolled into the throttle just before the bottom and the bridge, looking to build some serious momentum for the dynamometer quality grade that is 340 leading away from The Creek. Under leading throttle continuously growing wider I spun the big mill up this steep grade — getting into the K’s trademark intake shriek as the revs cleared 6 large. With acceleration and momentum building startlingly strongly for what is a very large motorcycle, I banged off a textbook slap-two-metal-ingots-together Getrag gearbox german motorcycle shift up into fourth, and then topped the hill and headed down the long straight run through open fields that leads to Brunswick, and then on into West Virgina.

I wish there was a cloud in the sky, because it would make for a more credible story, but there wasn’t. The temp was in the high fifties, with little wind — it was bright, and crisp and perfect. I rolled the bike gently left and right to the sides of the tires — everything felt tight and grippy and round.

I might not be back, Baby, but we’d be arriving there shortly.

 

***

 

340 covers just under sixty miles through rural West Virginia and Virgina, on a mix of 2 lane and 4 lane highways, and on a good day, you can maintain a pretty good pace.

Today was looking to be a pretty good day. The ride didn’t provide any of the occasional congestion or backups that are common in Northern Virginia. Visibility, traction, temperature were just stinking perfect. I spent a lot of time in the fun part of fourth gear on this Flying Brick motor, and when I saw cars, I used LTOs and I passed them.

I-81 came up nearly before I knew it. We were sailing. It was effortless.

Pretty good.

 

***

 

Moving onto the Interstate I wound 4th gear out again and then finally got to top gear and the big meditative Ohmmmmm. I set the Blue Ridge mountains off my left shoulder, felt the sun on my face and just resolved to enjoy, to savor this day.

I came back down from meditative reverie to a stomach that wanted to register a complaint. The stomach was right of course — my trip meter showed that 130 miles had disappeared and it was way past time for lunch. Right on queue, General Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System served up the Mount Sidney Safety Rest Area, with a nice grassy picnic area and a restroom. I dropped down to subsonic speeds and coasted into the rest area and right up to an open table.

I pulled my lunch — a wrap, an apple and some water — out of the top case, and commenced to snarfing. In my somewhat conspicuous rider’s gear, I always attract a personality type that my longtime friend Neil has termed “Thee Enthusiast”.

“Thee Enthusiast” always has a motorcycle that is bigger, faster, cooler and generally gnarlier than yours.

And since he can see by my outfit that I am a Scooter Man, “Thee Enthusiast” assumes that there is nothing I would rather do than hear all about it, all 23 chapters with pictures to illustrate and circles and arrows on the back of each one.

Which would be almost completely incorrect.

As much as I like to talk bikes — and I DO like to talk bikes — all I want to do today is roll.

Still I get to hear — while snarfing — about TE’s XJR 1200 Yamahas. Which are admittedly pretty gnarly.

If you’re into an air cooled transverse inline 4, this is about the stoutest one you can get.

I can see how, on the open road, one of those XJs might be nearly as long legged as this KBike.

Thee Enthusiast and me, we’re really one and the same.

He wishes me safe journey as I pull out of the rest area.

I give just a little extra twist of the throttle on up the ramp, just for his sonic enjoyment.

 

***

 

For a day that started cool, it seemed like every mile I went further south translated into more sun and rising temperatures.

On wheels up this a.m. my Roadcrafter had been buttoned-up against 57 degrees. Now I was running — collar open and visor up — at a temperature a full ten degrees warmer.

I’d checked the forecast for Charlotte, an it was supposed to be 81 there at the end of the day.

So it was fair skies, and rising temperatures.

 

***

 

Around 230 miles, I pitted briefly for gas and more hydration.

In a rare concession to Character, Darkside, my K12, was doing a thing it always does if it isn’t getting ridden frequently enough — which is, its fuel gauge becomes completely unreliable. My understanding is that the sensor is a mechanical, analog device — a sort of captive toilet float inside a tube, with a rheostat that gets flaky if it isn’t used.

Mine was flaky all right. Moving over a range of about 5/8s of the total, with little rhyme or reason to why it was in any given position at any given time.

If you take the bike out and blow 4 or 5 tanks of gas through it, it’s perfectly fine.

But at its flakiest, it’s the sort of thing that will drive a moto-nerd completely to distraction, and I was using all my stored up inner peace to keep it from intruding on a ride that had segued into one big endless internal combustion groove.

This is the first motorcycle I ever owned that had a fuel gauge, anyway, so I do not have to develop new skills to operate one without one.

Gauge flakiness, though, does have the net effect of calling for more conservative fuel range planning.

And although I’ve made — with working instrumentation — between 270 and 290 miles on a single tank, with no instrumentation at about 220 a certain anxiety began to squeak a bit.

And I didn’t want to harsh the groove, so I just got gas then boogied.

 

***

 

It’s hard for me to remember having a more pleasant day’s run down the highways of the Blue Ridge.

After 200 miles or so the K-Bike finally finished really warming through, and was just thrumming along like a big bass string.

After another hundred I split off onto I-77, and headed south into Carolina and up into the mountains I’d been running beside for so long.

As the bike cleared the summit, we went through Fancy Gap, Virginia. The Interstate had plentiful and clear signage that this was the proper exit for Blue Ridge Parkway — from previous rides I seem to remember Fancy Gap as one of the highest points on The Parkway, except for maybe Mount Mitchell.

I remember thinking, as we crested that mountain in the warm, crisp sunshine, that with a little luck I’d be back here, in a few days, to fully enjoy The Parkway, to meditate in the presence of the Motorcycling Gods.

 

***

 

As the K-bike began the descent off the Blue Ridge, I was greeted by the view into the valley below. Though my surroundings were grey stone, everything below was brightest green. White-barned farms and green forest spread out from horizon to horizon — it was fit and fertile, almost too beautiful to be real. It was no mystery why people had gladly settled here.

With the sun just behind my right shoulder, and God’s Own Diorama spread out in front of me, I really anticipated what a lovely two hours run down the mountains and foothills into Charlotte this would be.

And a sweet run it was.

Temp was now in the low seventies, the Interstate was mostly new, and it seemed that there was almost no one with which I had to share the road. The roadway dealt with the descending topography though a series of wide left right bends, which at sufficient speed, and we did have sufficient speed, kept the ride mildly entertaining.

On a piece of alpine highway like this, these last generation Flying Brick motorcycles — with their massive beam frames — are crazy smooth and comfortable at nearly crazy speeds , with big torque, big cornering stiffness and confidence in spades.

It was more than pretty good.

 

***

 

After a meditative late afternoon and early evening roll down a very big hill, I found myself in Metro Charlotte. I’d hit town late enough that I was in behind evening congestion.

I’d had the forethought to prepare my mental mapping so that I had a very clear picture of my route that didn’t require resorting to paper maps or electronic augmentation.

After passing through Center City Charlotte, but before hitting the southern beltway, I stopped and gassed again. I was only about 15 miles from my destination but at the end of my calculated conservative fuel range.

When I pulled off the beltway into Ballantyne, where my employer’s offices are located, it was warm but not humid, and the sun was still low in the sky. It’s a rare good thing to be savored, when a journey ends with the sun still up. My hotel was easily located, and Darkside was killswitched and placed on the stand.

With the exhaust tinking its little metallic song of cooling, I pulled off my helmet and just drank in the sight of this no longer modern motorcycle. It had taken more than a few years to fully appreciate the capability of this machine – to bond with it, but bond with it I had.

I knew of a good brewpub within walking distance of my hotel — one that had some pretty good pub food chops as well.

It seemed like all this day needed at this point was a decent Hefeweisen or Pale raised to show my appreciation for my endless blessings.

On bright days like these, it was as good as good could be.

 

…to be continued…

(Part Two of this story can be found here. )