I woke up Monday morning with the sound of sleet hissing softly on my bathroom window.

Continuing to pretend it ain’t happening will not fix the Slash 5 snapping sideways under throttle on a subtly icy road.

Its Winter, baby, and time to reflect on another gone riding year.

And, depressingly, it hasn’t really been one for the books.




I just can’t remember a year that has simply disappeared like this one has — it made drops of water disappearing off a hot exhaust header look downright sluggish.

Between crazy amounts of overcommitment at work, helping my daughter purchase a home and move, and making arrangements for youngun Finn to live at College, it seems that everyone — both work and family — got taken care of with the possible exception of me.

By the time my scheduled summer vacation came around, I’d dipped so far into my personal reserve tank that the day I was supposed to leave, I came down with pneumonia, and spent four of the planned five days off flat on my back clutching a daisy on my chest.

I’ve had that nagging feeling I’ve missed a day, a week, even a season, but for whole year to just disappear is just unprecedented.




I’ve felt the end coming on, of course.

I knew that every mile — every rotation of the engine — was bringing me closer to the this riding year’s horizon. This feeling brings on a certain desperation where any chance to hit the road is to be seized and exploited without thought.

So last Thursday, when work went inexplicably silent, even though it was cold and grey out my office window, I went for the keys and headed for the garage. With a layer of GoreTex and the LT’s weather protection on my side, a 35 degree cloudy day was just a virtual visit to any day in Bavaria.

Even with a fresh battery, cold weather and a crankcase full of 20W-50 means that the LT doesn’t exactly leap to life when the starter button is pressed. Still, sluggish though it may be, the bike fires on the second compression stroke and settles into its electronically controlled idle, with the many metallic sounds of a cold valve train rising up towards the saddle.

With all skin covered somewhere under layers of leather, goretex and velcro, I roll down the driveway as the bike’s ABS system executes its characteristic trash can lid clang to arm the system. At the entrance to my neighborhood, I roll to the right, headed down Maryland 180 and towards The Brookside Inn and Catoctin Creek.

It never ceases to amaze me how different my older BMWs and this KBike feel from the saddle. The twins are traditional tech — 1950s vintage knockoff Featherbed-style frame made of round and oval section tubing. They’re structurally compliant — things do move around under cornering and suspension loads. Just the comparison between my R75 and the R90, where subtle updates were made to the frame — longer headstock gussets, for example — are significant enough to be felt from the saddle.

This fully framed KBike, however, is just a different animal altogether. The motorcycle’s aluminium beam structure is several levels of magnitude more rigid. Where many modern motorcycles have a tubular cross member bracing the two sides of the frame, the Kbike has an 11 inch wide and 2 inch thick hollow alloy box structure sized to support the pivot loads of the single sided rear swingarm — it’s the single biggest piece of metal I’ve seen outside of a military weapons system.

The designers of this motorcycle, clearly, were just not that concerned about weight reduction, and given the mission profile, I’m OK with that.

Between the absolute lack of any kind of structural flex as the starting point, add the proprietary weirdness of BMWs Telelever and paralever suspension, a set of nice aftermarket Swedish damping units, and lower profile, wider radial tires, and the sensations of piloting the thing couldn’t be more different.

On the R90, one enters a bend with the biker version of a slow motion wet dog shake — one stays loose in the shoulders, gives a gentle direction to the bars, and then does a little dance as the roll moments, undamped spring movements and structural flexes work their way like a big wave moving from the front to the rear of the rider and the bike.

When it’s perfect, one hears the single ring of the bell.

The KBike, however, is a single metal thing. Decide and its happens instantly, which is weird, because it’s approaching double the mass of the old Airhead. Double the mass and its four times faster settling down on corner entry.

Funny math. Good, but funny.

So rolling down the steep grade that leads to the creek, I’m gently rocking the bike over and back to warm up the sides of my Avons — poor thing is cold, gearshifts and shock actions both stiff until the oils get some heat in them.

Maryland Route 180, where it crosses Catoctin Creek, is a classic American roadhouse roadside.

As one hits the bottom of the grade, one makes a sharp left onto a 1930s vintage reinforced concrete arch bridge.

You probably wouldn’t drive across this bridge had you ever walked underneath it.

Still, its arches are scenic, the view to the wide and shallow fast flowing creek is attractive, and today is apparently not the day when this bridge and you are to die.

As you ride to the creek’s other side sits the Brookside Inn, a tavern inside a 1700’s vintage white chinked log cabin. That cabin has probably been a tavern as long as there as been a way to cross that creek. On summer Saturdays there are many Harleys parked alongside the white stripe on the edge of the roadway.

Today, there’s just a lone dude forced to the bench outside for a smoke.

Just past the Brookside the roadway widens to two lanes, and then makes a dramatic decreasing radius right up a very steep grade — the second lane necessary to provide a climbing and frequently used passing lane.

I catch third gear just a little early, and — with some heat finally showing on the temperature gauge — roll the throttle slowly but surely all the way open and surf the big wave. The torque peaks around 6000 rpm just as we crest the big hill — we’ve got enough momentum and drive going that we briefly take air at both ends and then settle undramatically gently back down. A solid shift into fourth and I have to concentrate to smoothly but rapidly giving back throttle to bleed road speed back in the general direction of something prudent. Both the smooth landing and shift bespeak hydrocarbon fluids that are gradually thawing out.

I’m feeling the conscious need to seek out roads I don’t normally ride, so I flow though the circle at Brunswick and continue east down the series of flowing sweepers that bring me back down to Knoxville, the C&O canal, the railroad and the Potomac.

On the other side of Knoxville is a crazy hairball interchange where the 340 West onramp winds under the eastbound roadway of the divided highway and then rises up from in-between the median of the elevated highways and merges into the left lane of the westbound road. This by itself would be stimulating enough, if one didn’t need to cross both lanes in less than a quarter mile to hit the Maryland Route 67 North ramp. When the road is congested it can be quite dramatic — today, though, all is serenity.

67 is the choice because of its wide open sightlines, low populations, and more or less straight route that beats north to Boonesboro. It’s kind of like riding Arizona, minus the 4000 miles to get there and back. If you have a K1200LT, and you’d like to use your fifth gear — and I do and I did — then 67 is your road.

67 begins at 340, so the onramp is normally uncontested. The highway climbs a long shallow grade, and I let the K12’s big four cylinder spin high up its rev band, taking each new gear around 7000 rpm. At the top of the hill I toe up into fifth, and let the engine settle into its sweetspot just under 4000 rpm.

In this gear, at this speed, entire tanks of fuel and entire states just disappear.

Just perfect.




It’s the whole set of sensations — the wheels and dampers working, the barely perceptible thrum of the motor, the intake shriek and the cold wind spilling over the top edge of the shield that just takes me outside myself. Outside myself here in the present, and back to all the times I’ve found myself inhabiting this parallel riding space before.

Blasting west on Ontario Provincial Route 17, The Trans Canada Highway, doing a set of corners, up a ridge and back down again to the sight of another blue Lake Superior bay on the left of the road over and over again for 300 miles of beauty and moose warning signs.

Running long sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway with the revs way up in third gear, and covering a hundred miles at a clip without a touch of the brakes — roll off, set an entry, pick up the throttle before the apex, and dial up peak power on the way out, over and over and over through the sun and shade tunnel of green.

Coming home from the Barber Vintage Festival, and running hard with a group of other riders — The New York Boys — carrying triple digit speed across much of I-81 in sunny southwestern Virginia. Trading my normal 3900 rpm top gear cruise for 5000 rpm provided a peek at the racing engine pedigree of the ‘flying brick’ motors  — combining a raucous full time intake shriek with immediate power in response to throttle. Sedate touring bike my ass.

On one trip I’d made to the BMW Georgia Mountain Rally I’d struck out on my own to do a little Saturday riding in what everybody agreed was one of motorcycling god’s backyards. I lucked out with a cool day with high clouds that looked like they’d escaped from the title sequence of ‘The Simpsons’. I’d assumed that on such a Saturday, with the BMW Rally happening nearby, that the Cherahola Skyway would be a busy place.

Instead, I had the entire road completely to myself. It was downright spooky.

The Cherahola feels, from a rider’s perspective, like it was the next revision of the roadware brought to you by the Nice Folks that Built The Skyline Drive. The idea is the same, but the mountains of the Cherahola seem higher, the sightlines and corners far more open, sweeping and the land around more rocky, less forested. If the old Park Service Parkways — the Skyline and Blue Ridge — are third gear roads, the Cherahola is a fourth gear road.

That day the revs stayed mostly up, and we just flowed.

I was instantly in that focused place, that place of grace. I saw no one.

No pickups. No tractors. No campers, cars or even other bikes.




So many travels, so many cool destinations all organized around a K1200 motor thrumming like an overdriven electric guitar string.

None of them this year though.

I really have no developed skills in the area of regret. So I’d have to devote my energies to plotting and executing my revenge against this inexplicable void of moto adventure.

Next year has to be a better year.




As the mists of revery and regret disappeared from the cockpit, I phased back in to the reality of the cold grey day I had to work with.

The good news is that the K1200 Brick motor loves colder air — denser intake charge and cooler operating conditions makes for a more powerful and higher revving brick. I might be a dog on a short leash today, but this motorcycle felt like one could ride it until one ran out of road and one’s wheels dipped into a distant sea.

I looked down at my odometer. I’d been aware the big girl had been sneaking up on 90,000 miles, but the sneaking was over. We were about 2 miles out, and even if her century was still a ways off, I wanted 90 to be at least a little party. With little time to think about it, I felt the need to go multi-dimensional. Going 90 turning 90 seemed easy enough. So I rolled the throttle enthusiastically and wound her up there.

In the very little time I left myself I briefly contemplated if there were any other vectors left that could provide another ninety. Altitude, while achievable, seemed ill advised. This timeline wouldn’t see me Being Ninety for more than three more decades, so that was right out.

So two nineties would have to do.





The rest of the ride was meditative, running the tight technical roads that come back over the mountain — Reno Monument, Marker, Arnoldstown, Picnic Woods, Burkettsville and home. My approach was one of restraint and balance — work the throttle in a very deliberate way, be situationally aware, plan ahead, and ride as is if one had no brakes.

Placing the bike on the main stand had an air of finality.

Three days later, the ice and snows came.

Time to Ride

Folks that know me know I’m not much on planning.

Some parts of life are better like jazz or a rocking jam band — improvisational — you know when to go big when the universe’s currents seem to be running your way.

When I woke up on Sunday morning in the Hampton Inn in Leeds, Alabama, one look out the window changed everything.

The previous two days had dawned grey and misty — allowing for a slow rise to awareness.

Today, the sun was starting out strong.

After two days of looking at and thinking and talking about all kinds of motorcycles, all I wanted was to feel the wheels gyroscopically spinning underneath me — the wind rushing around me.

It was time to stop looking at motorcycles.

It was time to ride motorcycles.


I had actually been hoping to swing by my Mom’s house for a surprise visit.

She lives just south of Charleston, South Carolina, and a visit would have done her good.

Nature, though, had sprung some unpleasant surprises, and those gifts had kept right on giving.

Most of South Carolina had experienced unprecidented rainfall the previous week when a tropical system had come onshore and remained in place for several days.

Columbia, the State Capital, located in the central part of the state was still mostly under water. There were two bridges on Interstate 20 in Western SC that were closed due to structural damage from the floods. And the single road that leads from Charleston to the shore islands south of town was still washed out in three or four places. With much of my potential route cut off, and one crucial bit of it with no detour possible, Mom was going to have to wait for another time.


I got my single saddlebag liner — an old Compaq computer freebee shoulderbag that just happens to fit the LTs cases like it was made for it — repacked and checked out of the Hampton. My local duty vintage-y riding gear — the Bell 500 open face, work boots and my denim jacket — went into the top case, along with the lightweight performance fleece I use for layering under my Roadcrafter, and my camera.

It felt good to be back in a pair of proper tall motorcycle boots, and my fully armored riding suit. The weather report showed sunny skies and a projected high somewhere in the lower to mid 70s along most of the route.

Like any pilot, I did my preflight inspection — checking tires, fasteners, and making sure we didn’t have signs of any new fluid leaks. This looked and felt like a day where the only limits were all internal.

I fastened the chinstrap on my Shoei, swung a leg over, and fingered the K12’s Flying Brick motor back to life.


There were lots of motorcycles coming the other way as I accelerated up the ramp onto I-20 west back towards Birmingham. Although it was still a little cool — in the high fifties — the air was crisp and dry, and it felt awfully good to take big handfuls of throttle again and let the Brick wind out in each gear and get some wind into those four long stroke lungs.

I turned north on I-459, the Birminham spur, and then north again on I-59, settling the LT in at a fairly immoderate 4000 rpm and and indicated 86 mph, gently stretching my legs, back, arms and shoulders to loosen my personal machinery up for the long run ahead.

There were more than a few well dressed folks on the road early that Sunday morning, no doubt headed for church.

I guess in my own way, so was I.


It was just so relaxed out there, with the sun pushing gentle warmth into my Roadcrafter, that I was back blasting through Gadsden, the previous nights stop, before the virtual blink of an eye. The deep green pine forests and roadside sandstone rockfalls were less spooky, downright pretty in the sunlight, and we were able to stay in the gas and well on the boil, comfortable at speed.

Coming back to Fort Payne, there was signage everywhere for the worship of some of Alabama’s favorite sons — the country band Alabama. There were signs for the Alabama Fan Club, Museum, Gift Store, Theme Park and Dee-votional Center. Ok, maybe I imgagined one or two of those, but it would have been an easy mistake to make.

On another day, or even later in this one, I might have been tempted to sing a little of that good old mountain music, but this morning’s theme was the easy roll, and roll and roll I did.


One of those things I’ve always noticed is that there is a often a clear visual indication of when one is moving from one state to another because there is a clear differerce between the one you’re in and the one you’re going to.

Far from being just lines on a map, surprisingly, different places are actually different places.

Western riders know this well — hit the border between Arizona and Utah, and the whole world changes colors. In that particular case, its kinda of a chroma slide from a whole bunch of reds through pinks to a whole different palette of creme and darks greys. Same sort of thing at the edges of West Texas and New Mexico, except the break is from sand-colored to things involving a lot more purple.

You get the idea.

A freaking long winding road of a way to introduce the notion that the same thing seemed to occur at the border of Alabama and Georgia. Might be a tad subtler than the Arizona-Utah segue, but its there nonetheless.

Running north from Birmingham, the forest lands are darkest green, marked by frequent outcrops of mostly crumbling shales, with an occasional sandstone incursion.

Hit the Georgia border just north of Hammondsville, Alabama, though, and its like somebody hit a light switch. Alabama’s hardwoods — Oaks and Maples and Bays and Polars and Elms — change over to Georgia Pine. And the roadside sedimentary shales and sandstones change to harder igneous rocks — what you might assume to be Granite but is actually a quartz monzonite. The harder stone means the land aquires more topography, more elevation — what had been little 40 and 50 foot roadside bluffs are now 400-600 foot igneous ridges.

Did I mention that my favorite teacher when I was in middle school taught Geology?


Travelling via Flying Brick does mandate taking a longer view. With a few hundred post breakfast miles already dispatched, I finally had some heat worked all the way through the powertrain, and Darkside smoothed out and indicated its willingness to head into higher speeds.

Dialing in a few more degrees of physical throttle opening — remember those? — I swept on across northwest Georgia. Interstate 59 runs in the bottom of a canyon between two of the aforementioned quartz monozonite bluffs, and with little wind and warm sun I was free to stay in the rapid transit zone and get into the meditative state where I spend my best travelling days.

Its hard to explain how something some completely immersive as motorcycling could somehow facilitate deep thought about life, the universe and everything, but for me it does. Its as if the portion of my mind that manages the complex physics and situational awareness of the ride somehow gets pushed to background — let’s call it virtualized — while higher cognitive functions find themselves operating in another level — a field now completely cleared of daily life’s distractions.

What are the things most important to you?

We each have a short list of the things that make us go, and on rides like this I can take all of those things and hold them before my perception and turn them over, take them apart and really get comfortable with them in my head.

Whether its just life, or love, or art or work, the ride helps me get to the bottom of things.

With my life running WFO — and multiple levels of consciousness humming along — its not to say that I don’t have enough cerebral capacity left to come up for long enough to consider that landscape the ride takes me through.

Looking at the massive stone domes rising above the roadway, I could see exactly why an artist might have seen the ghosts of the Confederacy living in the stone. These mountains had stood witness to more than one war — to our so-called Civil War, and the wars against the original Americans — and one could feel all of the souls in the stones.


With the revs up and the LT on big cruise, there’s almost not enough of Georgia to be worth talking about. Interstate 24, Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga are on you before you know it. The rather substantial Tennessee River spreads a whole buncha water off to your left as you curve yourself around the city. As I grabbed I-75 and shusssed northeast across Tennessee, the weather went back to that flat contrastless grey overcast that I’d seen mornings back in Birmingham. Coming out of Chattanooga’s extended metro area, I was somewhat struck by how developed the area was. There was a VW assembly plant, and plenty more accompanying industrial and commercial development. The road, was, on a Sunday noon, congested, and a made frequent use of my agility and acceleration in traffic. A few miles up 75 though, my nemesis, the bright yellow Gas Pump icon telltale came on, and managing reserve and range meant a stop for fuel in Athens, Tennessee.

I’ll admit I didn’t feel much like stopping, but Physics does impose some absolute limits, and taking on more liquid energy was a much better option than pushing an 800 pound motorcycle.

So a Shell station was found, and the ground stop ritual was repeated. 5.8 gallons of VPower. A trip to the comfort station, to see a man about a horse. 16-20 ounces of hydration — my fave, a diet Snapple Peach tea — and a few handfuls of nuts and raisins, and it was shields down, stands up and running back through the gearset, winding each gear out till I was back on the pipe in top gear running North again on I75.


Its at a time like these one can be forgiven for thinking — however briefly — that it was BMWs boxer that was the aberration, and that this Brick Engine, this Darkside, was truly their destiny. A Flying Brick K12 Motorcycle, in its powerband in top gear on good pavement, was as close as I’ll get to my own bespoke Space Program.

The thing is so long legged, so smooth quiet and comfortable at speed one could almost forget the raggedness of the concrete spinning by at closer than not to one one hundred miles an hour mere inches beneath my boots.

The traffic congestion slowly thinned out, but I spent much of this stretch passing and then being passed by folks for whom velocity management was just a theoretical concept.

I-75 intersected I-40, which heads East and runs through and around the City of Knoxville till it comes back to the base of the Mountains at White Pine and to I-81. From that point forward 81 does what it does for many hundreds of miles — running in a valley between the western and eastern arms of the Appalachian Mountains — following that rift from southwest towards the northeast.

Northeast towards Virginia, towards Maryland, and home.


There are a few places, at least on the southern end of the route, where 81 isn’t so bad, really.

Remember this, when we have contrasts available for your comparitive pleasure later.

The road is surrounded by scrub pine, and there’s enough topography and corners which are interesting at elevated speed to keep things interesting. The sun decided to break back out, and the temperature came up to the low 70s. I was able to open the closures on the neck of my riding suit, and with the LT’s windshield properly trimmed, run quietly and comfortably with the Shoei’s sheld racheted open.

This wasn’t half bad really.

It was starting to feel like a roll that could go on, well, for as long as I wanted it to.


It seemed like every exit was indicating ways over the mountain to Asheville.

I like Asheville.

There’s art, and good food, good music and fresh beer.

After the second offer I’ll admit I thought about it.

I mean I had no plan, and I wasn’t due back at work until midweek.

After brief consideration, I concluded I just wanted to be back with Sweet Doris, back in my own bed, wanted to get back home.


So my long legged smooth-aired top gear roll continued, threading between Kingsport and Johnson City, until my belly decided it had something to say.

As I rolled into Bristol — the city astride the Tennessee and Virginia borders — I was half way through the LT’s fuel range, and it was as good a time as any to fill my own tank. We’d have as much running time in the second half of the tank and we’d had in the first. It had the potential to be a very long day, and the LT wasn’t the only machine that needed to be kept running.

A billboard advised of a Subway sandwich shop — ‘Easy On, Easy Off’.

It was just as advertised, and I was able to steer straight of the bottom of the offramp and right into a parking space right outside the Subway’s front door.

It was the smallest Subway shop I’d ever seen, but heck, I only needed one turkey sandwich.

It’d do fine.


After 10 minutes of snarf, drainage and remount I was running right back up the ramp and enjoying the sensations of an entusiastic full power run through the LT’s gearbox. As I made the shift up to third, a tight group of four loaded travelling motorcycles swept past in the left lane, carrying what appeared to be lots of camping gear and significant speed.

By the time I got the LT into the the meaty part of top gear, that pack had put a fair amount of distance on me. Well, a mind with only six or eight concurrent things to do will seek opportunities for amusement, and reeling the rocketmen back in seemed like one way to do that.

So, on a bright sunny day with a well running bike, I lowered the windshield slightly, adoped a moderately leaned forward riding position, and started gently rolling into the throttle to see what it was going to take to stop these guys from just walking away from me.

At about 4100 rpm, the gap stopped growing.

On Darkside, that equates to about 90 mph.

Over the next 5 or so miles — miles that pass pretty quickly — I closed the gap to the point where I was allowed to take up a position at the rear of the column.

All my new friends, here, had New York tags. That destination would pack a minimum of 3 more hours further than I had to go, and depending on what part of New York, maybe a whole ot more.

Their riding appeared expert. They were running in a properly staggered column, with enough room between bikes to protect them from each other and close enough to at least attempt to keep other road users from cutting the column. They were all wearing proper all weather gear, and each bike looked to have full camping kit securely stowed aboard. The bikes — a few big GSs of modern enough build, and one guy with a Yam SuperTenere thrown in for spice.

To me, it seemed more than likely these four had started their day at Barber with me.

And so for a while 5 guys on fast motorcycles rolled together on a sunny day on Virginia Interstate.

And that was when it hit me.

All this dynamic rearraging of the time-space continuum was just too damn goal oriented.

The wanton destruction and disposal of mileage for the sole sake of re-writing velocity times elapsed time just freaking stuck in my craw.

A man without a plan is a man in search of a journey, and this was clearly a plan that was all about destination.

Besides, in Southwestern Virginia, where 20 over is a criminal offense, what kind of attention could five guys doing their best impression of a Blue Angels flyover reasonably expect?

After a brief Hollywood flash-forward that involved flashes of Helicopters, wreckers, Oceans of Blue lights, and a purple-faced Virginia Trooper callng me “Son”, I decided that it was time to embrace my inner Lone Wolf once again.

So with some small regret I rolled back out of the throttle, gave back about 7 miles an hour, and watched as the New York Boys, over the next several miles, opened that gap back up and sped out of sight.


Having decided to join up with the Anti-Destination League, I was looking for a way to demonstrate my allegiance.

Being an author of a sometime academic or conceptual bent, being arguably ‘the best part’, I wrote that first.

So sue me.


So having just completed sacremental and simultanously useless miles, I found myself on the other side of Roanaoke, looking for a tankful of Hi-Test, a light meal, and the highway north towards home.

I hadn’t really planned to cover the entire ground in a day, but I was feeling good — energized — and the pull of my own bed and waking up beside Doris started taking on a certain authority.

And at the very point when one might be most in a hurry, the Goddess of the Roads is most likly to liberally strew manifold adversity directly in your way.

And so she did.


And on a very dark rural interstate, somewhere between Harrisonburg and New Market, Virginia, things went horribly wrong.

And didn’t show any signs of getting better.

Cresting a rise on I-81, I was greeted with the sight of the entire downside of the grade and then across the valley and up the next grade totally filled with the redness of taillamps.

Stopped taillamps.

After more than 700 miles of riding — most of it at enhanced velocities — my boots were resting on the pavement.



The backup — an awful, hellish mass of tractor trailers, RVs and me — proved to be about 12 miles long, and — working stop and go on a 850 pound motorcycle, took close to two hours to clear. The surrealness of the situation was maddening — Sunday night at 11 o clock at night in a very rural section of interstate — essentially stopped with hundreds of thousands of other sufferers.

I’ve been known — in DC congestion — to lane split or run shoulders for short distances, but this was different. The lanes and shoulders were narrow, and the stress of other drivers was palpable. People were moving out onto the shoulders and then finding them impassable at the overpasses. Other road users were not sympathetic about their plights.

We were probably about 3 minutes from widespread gunfire the whole time.

So, as little as it suited me or my state of mind, I just resolved to slog through this — measuring reality in cycles of the LT’s cooling fans clicking on and off, and hoping for the survival and preservation of my clutch hand.


Never has a man been so simultanuously overjoyed and furious to see the control lights of a highway work crew. Joy, cause this shit was over. Fury, because this overpass renewal had caused the single biggest highway backup I’ve ever seen — on one of the busiest interstates in the United States, at the rush at the end of a weekend.

As I finally cleared the construction control zone, my soul came back to the light as the revs gently rose and I tiptoed the heat soaked machine back to cruising speed — pulling precious cool air through the fairing ducts and radiators. After a few minutes I fell back into the groove – standing on the pegs, stretching, and the settling back down onto he saddle and the quiet air inside the fairing’s pocket.


Every one of my long southern motorcycle trips ends the same way.

I finally leave I-81 at Stevens City, and then run US-340 right to my Jefferson front door.

Runs from Memphis, Georgia Mountain Rallies, and now coming home from Birmingham, 340 late at night takes on the quality of some Thompson-esque savage flashback — the same curves, the same hills in the late night mist, and same sense of unease in the falling temperatures — knowing full well that that the road’s familiarity, combined with some level of fatigue, was what made it most dangerous.


Berryville, Virginia is a quaint little country village. Its quaintness suffers a bit, though, when they decide that right before your visit is the best time to run a massive road removal machine through all 6 miles of town in preparation to repave the day following.

Roads that have had the scraper run across them to remove the macadam are particularly treacherous. The grain pattern made by the machine traps and steers a motorcycle’s front wheel. Debris left by the machine creates ramdom gravel patches. And its all invisible just after Midnight, in the dark.

The Highway Goddess — known to be sometimes grumpy — was just trying to make sure I was still on my game.

I was.


The last minutes are just a blur. Charlestown, West Virginia. Crossing the Shenandoah and the Potomac, and then the wide clear highway through Brunswick and back to Jefferson.

I rolled into my driveway, rolled up to the garage door, and just killswitched the bike and leaned it onto the sidestand. It was stopped. I could put it away tomorrow.

I did some quick math after a look at the odometer.


In more than 30 years in various saddles, it was my biggest single day ride.

Take I-81 out of it, and I can see over the horizon to how the 1000 mile guys do it.

Good to leave at least something on the table.


I’ve been to race meetings and rallies before.

But the Barber Vintage Festival is something else entirely.

The bikes are one thing, but its the spirit of the place that blew me away. The folks that come all share a love of the art and engineering and sensations of motorcycles — that grace at speed — from today stretching all the way back to the Roper.

That love encompasses knowledge, it encompasses craft, and it encompasses the skill to see things and make them metal that moves.

This crowd of people isn’t a faceless crowd — its a gathering of my tribe.

I waited a long time to come back to Birmingham.

I won’t wait so long again.


Memphis Again

This piece is a blast from the past. There may be some signs of an immature writing style, but its still clearly me talking. Folks will have to excuse the photos, but they were close to state of the art for Digital in at the time they were taken.

This story describes A Fly-and-Ride trip from 2002 when I bought the K1200LT motorcycle that I still ride for long-distance travels. While I might have been preoccupied by a few things — a brand new motorcycle that was replacing an nearly identical one that had died, Beale Street and all its attendant boozy, bluesy distractions — what’s important here is my first destination was downtown Birmingham and the original Barber museum, back when it was still located in a decommissioned dairy processing and bottling plant.

During that visit, I offered my services to the Docent on duty to work on completing a catalog for the museum’s collection. 

All of their bikes were talking to me. Each of them had stories, and they needed to be told.

I’m sure that guy thought I was a nut.

That offer still stands.


I hadn’t planned on buying a new motorcycle anytime soon. And l certainly hadn’t planned to go to Memphis again, either.

But there I was, booming up US78, with John Hyatt puttin’ down “Memphis in the Meantime” on the box, 13 miles From Lamar boulevard and the city limits.

I laughed a healthy and hearty laugh in the plush privacy of my helmet.

Two intense experiences, not soon repeated.

But the wheel had gone round a few times, and here we were all over again. I’d be on Beale Street after a much needed shower in about an hour and a half, and balance had come back into the ways of the force – all I could do was smile at the thought.

Losing a good bike- a riding partner- a friend of the road – can be tough to explain to someone who doesn’t live in the wind. It has elements of the death of a beloved pet, or the loss of a lover.

“But it’s just a machine” and you can tell that you’re thought of as a bit daft.

But its the places you’ve been, the genuine people and the amazing things that you’ve seen, that pure high that you’ve shared on a perfect corner exit on a warm late spring day that forms a set of associations, a bond that’s real enough that one can feel real loss when its gone.

So I buried a good friend. But one has to move on.

I spent a lot of time on Walneck’s cycle trader online. I put together a list of bikes, their VIN numbers, their mileage, and where they were. And then I spent a lot of time on the phone.

Mitch was a guy that took good care of his equipment. Clean was the rule, and maintenance had been done exactly by the Berlin factory book. And really, at 7000 miles on a big K motor, it was way too soon to be properly broken in, much less broken or worn out. This was the right guy, who was selling the right bike, so a deal was cut. It would take a few days to transfer titles, and release liens, so a date was selected, and a plane ticket was bought.

Mitch picked me up at the airport, and we rode home in his SUV, telling bike stories all the way. Atlanta traffic was hellish, and it was pouring down rain. Great weather, I thought, to pick up a new bike.

After a 45 minute ride, we got to his house, rode right around back, and threw open the garage. The LT was under cover, which was promptly removed. The bike appeared to have a visible aura that lit up an area for about four feet around the machine.

When one buys a used vehicle, you have visions of a million ways in which things can be less than one had hoped. None of those were apparent here. Maintenance records were provided. Everything appeared to be absolutely optimum.

“I can’t say there isn’t a mark on it, cause there is one.”

Is it possible that Mitch had been winning his bracket on “run what you brung” night at Alpharetta dragway? Can you seriously damage a motorcycle by keeping it entirely too clean?

Both of these were risks I was willing to take, although I resolved right there to make sure to check that the wheel bearings hadn’t been degreased dry when the first tire service rolled around.

We got paperwork done and plates bolted on, and I thought I saw Mitch get a little misty-eyed as I latched the cases and pulled on my Shoei.

He got back into his monster Ford, and kindly led me across 20 miles or so of backroads to get me back to the interstate. The rain had lightened up considerably, but we were in rural, lush county, with trees overhanging both sides of the roadway, and lots of vegetation that the last storm through had put down on the pavement. Things looked steamy, and slippery, and treacherous and very, very dark.

I felt exceedingly small as I tiptoed up gently through the gears, as the big red truck and I started slicing into the mist.

A few corners in, I knew we were cool — the bike was a bit stiff shifting from having been sitting around, but as the temperature came up, everything fell in the groove. The whining sound, the smoothness of the access to power, it was all as it should be, and increasingly familiar. The ride had its weird moments — hairball steam clouds whiting out corner entrances, Mitch’s truck clipped a possum, and a bat, which one-hopped and I hit too.

We pulled into a connivance store right across from the on-ramp, and got out to say our goodbyes.

He looked at me funny.

“You got it dirty.”

“I feel bad about that, Mitch, I really do. But its gonna happen.”

The weather report I’d seen last called for up to four possible days with at a least a chance each day of some rain.

He didn’t look happy.

Regardless, he gave me directions to get around Atlanta — which of course proved to be spot-on perfect — We shook hands and he walked slowly into the store.

I began to shuffle the bike out of the parking space, accidentally dumped the clutch, and stalled her out.

“Tired. Tired. Get your shit together, boy.”

I turned left up the ramp, rowed up through the gears, and slid into I-475’s traffic stream spinning in the top of fourth gear.

The highway was wide, well lit and the surface was fine but for an odd rough joint or two.

In Atlanta, folks tend to drive fast.

I found an open spot in a more leftward lane, reached a really conservative speed compared to selected elements of the surrounding traffic, and tried to gain a detailed understanding of this new, technological motorcycle.




By just after ten o clock at night, Atlanta traffic had dialed back from total madness to merely light congestion.

The city’s spaceage skyline was coming back into view as lights in the mist left behind by the now-ended heavy rains. As we came up on the city’s beltway, Atlanteans were hissing through that mist at about 75, and I settled right in and tried to be uncharacteristically inconspicuous. I was having a tough time shaking my mental image of southern law enforcement — “You in whole heapah trouble now, boah.” — and decided that discretion was probably the better part of valor, at least for this evening.

Tonight’s plan was simple — get Atlanta in the rearview mirrors and start Friday off with nothing but clear highway ahead. I had seen Atlanta traffic during its rocking hours, and wanted to be nowhere near anything remotely like morning rush.

The big K arced through 2 or three hours worth on the clockface that was the beltway. Destination was Interstate 20, the road that cuts straight out of Atlanta to the west, towards Alabama, and towards the Mississippi. I wanted to make at least 50 miles outside the city, and the first hundred on this bike wouldn’t feel bad, either. Anyplace out by the Georgia-Alabama border would be fine, and wouldn’t get to be too much at the end of waaay too long a day.

Tomorrow morning would bring a short run after breakfast to get to Birmingham, and the Barber Vintage Motorsports museum. I didn’t get down this way very often, and with the best collection of rare and competition motorcycles in the world less than 200 miles from Atlanta, and with a new motorcycle to break in… well, how could you not?

I had spotted a town on the map 9 to 10 miles short of the border, and Mitch – who drove on business a lot – confirmed that there were motels, gas and food out there.

I swung the ramp onto I-20 west, and Atlanta did the “get real small in the rearview” thaang. The bike slipped a perfectly shaped envelope of quiet and dry around me in the noise of the wind and the light rain and mist that continued to drift across the roadbed. I kept the velocity down, but the new horse stretched those long legs anyway and hummed the mileage away just like that. It’s at these moments that one is really tempted to keep the groove going and put a few more hundred on, but it wouldn’t have been safe and it wouldn’t have been responsible. I’d been in motion for nearly seventeen hours, and some sleep was the right thing to do.

The anticipated town showed up at the anticipated time, turned out to be called Bremen, Georgia, and contained one waffle house, three motels, a Wendy’s and a gas station/convenience store. This would take care of most of our short-term needs, anyway. I swung down the ramp and into the Chevron.

You sort of forget, after six or so months on smaller motorcycles. How big one of these things can feel on a dark interchange, on wet gravel, after a long day. I tiptoed across the median and up to the pumps.

Going into the station after fueling, I say hi and acknowledge the customary slack-jawed look that comes on at K12 ground station stops. That look comes, I think, from the combination of my vintage NASA style — grey Aerostitch with black armor and an all white helmet — and from having your own rocketship parked out at the pumps.

“Maaaaan. I ain’t NEVER seen no motorcycle like that before.”

I know the feeling. It’s what keeps my spirits up while I’m writing monthly checks for the thing.

Anyway, I got a few things I needed. A one quart bud. This is NOT my style but I was thirsty and tired, and it was all they had. Budcoorslightbuschmiller. I took the Bud. Its hell going through this world as a beer snob.

I had also had forgotten to bring a keychain. They had one – blue metalflake plastic with a Georgia peach.

So be it.




I got a take-out salad and rode up the hill to the motel with the plastic carrier bag hanging off my forearm.

I checked into the motel, got parked, locked, into the room and then got my gear off. I was pretty hungry by 11:30 at night, so I downed some water, the whole salad and a first glass of the beer before I drew breath a second time. After these several minutes or so, the need to go look at my new bike again was inexplicably compelling, so I went back out into the parking lot.

Apparently I was not the only one that felt the compulsion, because I was far from alone when I got there.

There were four guys – obviously riders, with the right boots, jeans and dewrags – all with bottles of beer and some variety of stunned look on their faces. We got to talking and they told me they had ridden in from Little Rock that day – at a tick shy of 600 miles, it was no small piece of riding. I could see, down at the other end of the parking lot, four parked cruisers, all relatively new, all well customized and well maintained, all of which looked to be Hondas with maybe a Yamaha thrown in. They wanted to know about the K’s engine, which isn’t really clearly visible in this bike, so we did details.

Everybody had at least one tale to tell of a quirky friend with airhead R75’s or R90’s of one sort or another.

“Bike ran smooth, lasted near forever.”

I know that guy. Heck, I am that guy. Those bikes were what had gotten me to this bike and this road tonight.

We had all spent some time riding in the rain that day, so they all wanted to see the windshield adjuster and the air control wings in action. I talked about how well the lowers kept one out of the slop, and talked about ABS, radials, and confidence in the rain. We had a real good time talking bikes and then we all turned in. They were headed, it seems, to Myrtle Beach for the weekend, and were, like me, gonna need some sleep.

I wished, in retrospect, we hadn’t talked about the rain quite as much as we did.

When I’m out on the road, all I watch is The Weather Channel.

L’il Abner, the famous comic strip by Al Capp, had a unique character called Joe Btsfplk, I think. Joe’s visual symbolism had him walk around under his own personal thundercloud, which rained, just on him and him alone, all the time.

Each morning and evening, as I watched The Weather Channel, and in the many miles where I had room to think, I thought about those four guys from Little Rock, and about Joe Btsfplk. My route from east to west and then back to east again appeared to jive magically with the motions of the rain fronts – I might punch though one going the opposite direction, but any incursion was going to be brief.

The boys from Little Rock though, were going the other way. Heavy rains followed them from Bremen to Myrtle, where the weekend storms were bad enough to make the news headlines. When they left Sunday, they may not have hit sunshine until they hit western Alabama or eastern Mississippi. Those four guys were the Joe Btsfplks of the road, with their own personal deluge attached to them as if by Velcro.

I know it can’t have been any kind of beach weekend for my buds, and it sure can’t have been any kind of ride other than a real tough one. I felt as bad as one could feel for a bunch of guys one had only just met. I sure hope they got home safely and that they didn’t spend too much time thinking about fairings with lowers or radials and ABS, just to make things feel worse than they already did.




As I was loading up in the morning, the four guys from Little Rock rolled out past me, and waves were exchanged.

They were dry then. That would be a state they would not see again for quite some time.

I rolled down the hill to the Waffle House, and did their signature breakfast, with a pecan waffle, two sage sausage patties, and two scrambled eggs, grapefruit juice and coffee. I figured if I did this, I could skip, say, the next seven or so meal stops.

Time to ride.

I got onto the ramp to I-20 at the top of third gear, and upshifted and gassed it. The day was bright, and there was the smell of earth and pines that snapped me back to full consciousness better than the coffee could ever hope to. I just hooked back into the K whine, and with the sun out and the pavement dry, I just wicked it up.

I had noticed during my morning walkaround, that my oil level looked a tad high, and my coolant level looked a tad low. This could be the sort of thing that was insignificant, or it could have been reaaaal significant. I figured I’d go through a full heat cycle and just take the time to stop and make sure that they levels were not continuing to “lose” coolant and “find” oil, which would have been a more or less immediate call for the truck for the nearest shop, which was in Birmingham.

As I figured I’d run long enough, the exit sign read Talladega Superspeedway, and I decided to combine new bike paranoia with 2 minute tourism. Besides, this track had quite the aura surrounding it, and I’d just want to see if I could feel the raceday buzz hanging in the air. On a more practical level, any place that is designed to support the vehicles needed to bring in more than a quarter million fans on NASCAR weekends was likely to have a nicely paved, secure spot for me to do my inspection.


I zipped up the state highway that lead to the gate, and rolled into the scenic spot right under the monumental signage at the main gate. The scale of the place was huge, and you could feel the buzz as you took in the sweep of race flags and steel supports that literally filled the horizon. I got a picture of the new bike at the gate  –  SUPERSPEEDWAY!  – and completed my diagnostics. Although the oil level was unchanged, the catch bottle of the cooling system was again lower – nothing critical, but something to keep an eye on to see if we had a coolant leak.

Jam on.




With Talladega receding in the rearviews, I did my best to groove on pine smell and keep the four on the boil.

The time/distance computation had me rolling milliseconds later right into the parking lot at the Barber Motorsports museum before I could even conceive of wanting to stop riding for any reason.


Note to self: Do not plan on morning runs on tour of less than 150 miles. With this bike it leads to profound feelings of ridus interruptus – like you’ve only had a half a candy bar or something – a eerie sense of something left maddeningly unfinished.

There were three more bikes in the lot – all BMWs. Another K1200lt, a R1150GS, and a R1150R. I guess BMW ownership somehow selects for owners clipping work on Fridays to ride long distance and hit bike museums.


The Barber is a former dairy processing plant in an industrial neighborhood just east of downtown Birmingham. They’ve used a sweet 30’s Ariel single for their signage, but the place truly looks utterly unassuming from without.  One has almost no clue of the Biker Nirvana which sits just past the split door combination ticket window and leather jacket checkroom.

A nice fellow with a well managed white beard took my $5, and asked if he could take my helmet and Aerostich. I felt a little funny about having my riding gear checked – hatcheck girl style – and I was having real problems trying to imagine this burly rider as the hatcheck girl, too. There was a folding table in view with a few helmets sitting on it so I declined in as cheerful a manner as I could muster, and sat my stuff down over there with no help whatsoever, all by myself.

I rolled to my left and didn’t get any further than the first bike before my new diet of airborne bugs began. This time I did the slack-jawed idjit thing as I eyeballed one of Bubba Shobert’s competition RS750 Honda flattrackers. It wasn’t displayed in a case, or up on a pedestal. It was just sitting out in the open, on a pit stand on the linoleoum floor, just the first of about 25 or so race motorcycles that are lined up fairing to bar right inside the front door. A discrete sign asks that one resist the compulsion to stroke tanks, twist throttles, and bounce on the seats. With a large number of the bikes sitting where they could be touched or adversely affected by one’s dribble puddle, one does need to keep reminding oneself not to just reach out and lay hands on these unique and irreplaceable icons.

The next several hours are a blur of smiles of recognition, “OHMAHGAWD”s, and saying “ummm-ummm-ummm-ummmmm-ummmmmm” sounding just like BB King finishing a particularly spare and tasty solo. Too many motorcyclic holy grails can, frankly, give a guy a headache – and about two and a half hours of Barber had me seriously overstimulated.   It makes a certain sort of sense – think of it as the gearhead-specific version of heat stroke. The cerebral oil gets hot and thin, the cooling system stops keeping up, the system temperature starts to spike, and then you’re on the mental crash truck, done for the day.

I can’t begin to tell of all the wonders in this place in anything less than a whole book of its own. But I can hit a few personal high spots just to give you a taste. If you’re ever anywhere in say, the entire southeastern quarter of the US, and don’t scorch wheels to get inside the doors, you have no-one to blame but yourself.

They have a running, unrestored FN that is stuffed in a gallery which is closed to the public, having so many bikes in it one could not safely walk, but is completely surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass so one can stare in at the wild stuff in the fishbowl.

They have a factory Bimota Tesi Hub Steerer, complete with what must have been display stands built for the Milan or Cologne shows. The frame fabrication work on that machine looks better than that of some sculptors I’ve seen.

There is a grouping of five Daytona winners, just stuck fairing to fairing in the middle of the floor, no ropes, no nothing.

There is MV Row – 5 MV Agusta Racing motorcycles representing 13 FIM World Championships between them. I stood with them and one could hear the howl of the DOHC Fours, feel the rush of acceleration and adrenaline, imagine the good weight of the trophy in your hands, taste the champagne. Talk about an out-of-body experience.

There is a small dual display of old enemies – matching Harley and Indian 8 valve board track racers from the earliest part of the last century. These were machines designed for all out speed with no thought for anything else – not steering, not stopping, not even living to race another day, if it meant losing. These machines have fixed carburetors – there is no throttle plate, no slide. The carb is designed to run WFO all the time. There are no brakes whatsoever – no fronts and no rears. What control there was was provided courtesy of an ignition kill switch similar to what was used in the radial rotary engines of the aircraft of the First World War. To modulate speed, one pressed on a piece of spring steel mounted on the handlebar. When the spring grounded on the handlebar, it turned the ignition circuit off, and the bike would slow. Take your finger off the spring and it was WFO again. Truly the earliest manifestation of the digital motorcycle – either on or off, everything or nothing, with nothing available in between.

Think about that for a while, then re-evaluate any tractability concerns you may have about your present motorcycle.

Of Course, those who could know tell me that the racers of the time never used that switch anyway. It’s not surprising that lots of people got killed, on a very regular basis, racing boardtrack.

Those bikes would be rude enough, if that was all there was, but that’s just the beginning. Neither bike has anything you’d really call an exhaust system. The Harley has the exhaust port in its cast iron cylinder head just dumping right into the atmosphere through an oval hole in the casting though which both exhaust valve stems can be seen with no exertion whatsoever. The Indian, always a more refined breed, has a set of slash cut pipes that are maybe 2 and a half inches long – just long enough to turn the flames downward the necessary 60 degrees to keep from setting one’s leathers on fire every second that the sucker was running.

Both bikes are hardtailed, with spring leather saddles like a racing bicycle’s. All of the valvegear – pushrods, rockers and valvestems – is outside the engine cases, and lubricated by a total loss oil pump that was operated by the rider with a plunger.

It’s no surprise that boardtrackers were in one big hurry to get to the checkered flag. Between having your hearing permanently shattered, being sprayed with hot oil, having a leather plank pounded up your ass, and having yellow and blue flames shooting right out the left side of the motor into your lap – getting to the line first was a matter not of competition, but of not wanting to spend one more second astride the beast than one had to, regardless of what anybody else on the track might have been doing at the time in question.

There are British bikes galore – ancient, rare and one-offs – Vincents, Nortons, Triumphs, Scotts, Norvins, Panthers, Brough Superiors, Sunbeams, Douglases, Ariels, Matchlesses and so it goes.

There is an entire room full of Yamaha race bikes, dozens of TZ250s and 350s, a handful of TZ750s, all stuffed into three display cases ten feet above the floor.

There are “Investment Biker” Jim Rogers’ around-the-world motorcycles – he’s a local boy. The bikes look completely spent and like if their wheels had gone round one more time they would fallen into their individual atoms.

There is a stunning complete and perfect condition collection of nearly every small displacement Ducati ever made. Of course the Barber has the Big Bore Ducs we all know, too. Tossed in for Italian spice are gem-like bikes made by Mazerati, several Moto Morinis, and the expected Motoguzzi Falcone and all of its later cousins with the twin that the company reused from a lightweight military 4 wheel drive contraption.

Beemers? Yeah, they got beemers. I suspect that the Barber and BMW NA have some sort of cozy relationship as a byproduct of the many unique bikes the museum supplied to BMW’s “The Art of the Motorcycle”. In addition to all of their classics – singles, sidecars, and many old twins – there are also two brand new bikes which exemplify the “beat of a different drummer” design theory the company now cleaves to – a checkerboard K12RS and a new R1150GS.

But enough, go visit the place. Or wait for me to write the book. But I keep raving on and on, I’ll never get my new K12 back to its garage.

The previously mentioned hirsute hat check girl was kind enough to take a picture of me with “my favorite bike”. When he asked me pick one, I had a sort of petit-mal seizure at the mere thought of having to select one from the hundreds there. I pulled my Aerostich on, and eventually got a portrait using MV Row for a backdrop.


When I got outside, I got a brief look at the rainstorm that was heading for its rendezvous with the guys from Little Rock. It looked genuinely threatening, but I just had the feeling if I could beat it out of town, it might be the last I’d see of it. With the sssshripp of a few strategic pieces of Velcro located on my suit and my gauntlets, I got back in the saddle, slammed through downtown Birmingham, and found US78 headed out across Northwestern Alabama and from there into Mississippi. I hit a few brief sprinkles while headed out of town, then broke clear into a unexpectedly and unseasonably cool and cloudy day. Birmingham quickly dissolved into seeming endless green rolling hills. I found a CD with some Allman Brothers Band on the changer, cued up Ramblin’ Man, and put that hammer down.

I ran till I ran out of gas – the tank I’d taken on with my peach keychain in Bremen, Georgia. The sign said Tupelo, Mississippi, and I coasted off the interchange and into a gas-and-convenience-store joint. I tanked up, and got my road usual.

That’s something which I guess bears some explaining, and along with that, the proper assignment of blame.

The first time I ever went traveling on a motorcycle, I took an R75/5 from Baltimore to Albuquerque. In the middle of day 2 of a three-day transcontinental blast, my riding partner and I stopped at a McDonalds in Okhahoma City, right across from tinker Air Force Base. Eating one’s lunch looking out the window at a B-52 that’s been mounted like a kid’s model airplane and looks like its coming right at you is not the sort of thing that says “whyncha relax and set a spell.” So we pounded fast food and boogied back for the bikes.

For lunch, I think I had something like two quarter-pounders with cheese.

And some fries.

And a Coke.

What happened next was extreme, and bike-life changing.

Riding across Oklahoma does not have to be a relaxing thing. In this particular case, headed West on I-40, with a constant 35 m.p.h. wind coming out of the southwest, it certainly was not. Our bikes were having to maintain a 25 degree list to maintain a straight heading against this quartering wind, and frankly, we were getting the living shit beaten out of us by this road, this day.

Exertion, massive amounts of ground beef, and caffeinated drinks are an optimally lousy combination. Although I know this now, I didn’t know it then. The amount of blood and energy that one ties up in the gut trying to digest a coupla these gut bombs is sufficient to starve off other important muscles and oh, also, your brain.

At the border between Oklahoma and Texas, there is a rest area that says that Interstate highway engineers know that this place was notable because of wind. The picnic tables had wind deflectors made of stone and corrugated steel. We rolled in, killed switched ’em, yanked our helmets and lay down on the benches behind the stone wall.

There have been very few times in my life where I have seriously considered suicide, but this was definitely one of them.

We didn’t take our own lives, and we didn’t die, either.

So after a long time without moving or speaking, listening to the shriek if the prairie wind, my riding partner and I slowly came back to ourselves, and the reality that our destination was still 400 or so miles to the west, and that those motorcycles were the only way to get there from the godforsaken here.

Once we got west of Tucumcari, the environment eased up on us, spirits raised a bit, but the lesson of those West Texas stones never left me.

Hence, “the road usual”.

When riding long distances, I never eat anything that I need to work to digest. A good breakfast in the a.m. just feeds into light snacks like nuts, cheese or jerky and lots of fluids – juices, iced tea – never Cokes. So “the road usual” is usually a small pouch of cashews, some cheese and crackers and one or two Snapple Peach Teas. Fill up the bike, eat a “road usual”, empty the rider, and ride another 250 miles.

It’s a system.

Anyway, there I was, in Tupelo, Mississippi, finishing off the “road usual”, and then throttling up and rolling the Big K back toward the highway.

On the shoulder opposite the gas station entrance was a state highway marker.

“Elvis Birthplace. 2.5 miles”

“Aw, heck,” I thought. “I’m on nobody else’s schedule, and to pass it by must be some sort of criminal act.”

So I rolled under the interstate, and through the village of Tupelo. After passing the two gas stations, the diner and a grocery, there was another State Highway Tablet pointing me left onto a side street. I slowed to a walking pace as the street led though a residential neighborhood to small, green park. In the middle of the park, among several weeping willow trees, was an absolutely tiny, stark white little building.


A front porch, an open door, a front room, a back room and you were out in the back yard again. When those who would tell the tale of Elvis’ life say humble – speaking of the house in which he was born – they do the house a favor it does not really deserve. I’ve spent a little time with travel trailers – we joke about being trailer trash – and trailer trash looks like a big step up from this little house. That from this beginning, this man could end up as a king in this world is a surreal story. And looking though the windshield at this tiny little house really drove the message home in a way that reading about it – even here – never can.

I sat there for a few minutes – drinking in the place, savoring the flavor. There’s a small bronze of an 8 year old Elvis with a first guitar – a sweet fantasy. I shook myself back awake from the reverie, and decided it was time to catch my mystery train.

Memphis was calling.

So we come right back to where we started.

We’ve done it right here. And we do it every time.

So I’m rolling up Lamar Boulevard with “Memphis in the Meantime” pumpin, the big river just ahead, and the end of the day’s ride in sight. I pulled into the Days Inn on the river where I had made my reservation. I pulled my bike under their porch, next to the end of a line of Harley Glides – Wide, Low and Cow.

“No worries, here. This will be the last bike stolen, if they start to go.”

A nice lady with full southern twang processed me in, gave me the scoop on the day’s “Memphis in May” activities, and told me how to hook up with the free shuttle that ran between the joint and the base of Beale Street.

Forty minutes or so later, I’d had a nice hot shower, a smoke, pulled the top level kinks out of my neck, and found a fresh polo shirt and a clean pair of jeans. I hopped the elevator downstairs, glid out the door into a waiting van, spent 40 seconds or so in reverse appreciation of Memphis pavement and the related happy thought of my $800 magnesium wheels parked safely elsewhere, and then alighted on the End of Beale Street its Bad Self.

I know what I like, and BB King’s Beale Street Blues Club is on the short list. The food is good, the bartenders know why you ordered your drink and pour accordingly, and the waitresses represent the frothy whipped crème skimmed from the top of Memphis’ Genie Bottle of Female Beauty. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I shudder to think about the hiring process for hostesses and waitresses at BB’s – it seems like everybody that works there is built to the same formula. These lovelies are tall, with long, long legs. Curvy – voluptuously so, wonderfully spherical everywhere it’s desirable. Long hair, smooth faces… These dark honey colored maidens are almost enough to keep your attention off the music, but not quite.


The music is always top notch, whether its local boys or national touring acts. The instrumentation is pretty consistent – there’s a big Hammond B-3 on the right side of the stage, and the vibrato chording is at the heart of my understanding of the Memphis sound. There’s horn guys – saxophones, trumpets, trombones — wailin’. One or two guitar players – having to share the space with many framed photos of the boss in his transports of the blues, and replicas and precursors of “Lucille” – BB’s guitar – hanging on the walls everywhere. And a constant parade of singers – Men, Women – all excellent, with the guts and the gravel that also are the Memphis hallmarks. I have never seen anybody in that club that didn’t give it everything they had and a little more besides, and that didn’t leave me wrung out, sweaty and breathless when it was over.

So it was another night in BB’s on Beale Street – I was seated in the corner window overlooking Beale to the right of the stage, and there was as much goin’ on outside the window as there was inside. The singer that night was wonderful, a woman that liked to swap outfits and musical genres with equal regularity and startling facility. She was dripping wet with exertion and spent a lot of time wading into the audience, dancing with and hugging the patrons and talking with folks on-mike in between numbers. After she had done this a half dozen times, and the average age was about 78, and the average home zip code worked out to just west of Oslo, Norway, I had something I like to think of as “an aversion experience”.

The aversion experience occurs when the essential incongruity or distastefulness of the situation looms larger than the situation itself. If the “AE” has a motto, it would be “Icky, Icky, Icky!”

BB King, the man, is someone that I admire and love in the same way that many look at folks like the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa – he shows the obvious sign of the operation of the divine spirit in the material world.

But in BB’s that night, I ickyed.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “BB’s isn’t a blues club anymore… it’s become a theme park for strange old white people who speak Scandinavian. I gotta go.”


I paid off for my steak and crawfish and the few beers, and headed down Beale towards where the street performers were working an impromptu stage under the marquis of a movie theater. Two guys were getting’ gritty with a steel top guitar, a harmonica and some spoons. They sang a few numbers in a way that tolerated some help from me, and a I felt real good after dropping a few bucks in the guitar case and heading back towards the end of the street where I could catch a ride back to a bed that was starting to seem like a good idea to the body that had ridden 500 plus miles that day.

I spent a few minutes looking in the windows of “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” at a rockabilly band that brought the Ickies back in one big hurry. It was time to sleep, and be ready for the road in the morning.




Cheap hotels all do the same thing in the morning. There’s a table somewhere off the lobby with some coffee. Some Orange juice. A few boxed doughnuts. And if you’re lucky, maybe some yogurts, some cereal and some fruit. This one was cheap, this one was no exception, and two danishes and some juice and coffee later my bike was headed up the onramp again.

Today was a day for making tracks, and western Tennessee is good for that. I beat feet up US79, another sterling example of a 4 lane US limited access highway. Flat to rolling green country, very few and gentle curves – good for bringing the bike up on the pipe and running up top. The bike was now showing about 8,000 miles on the odo, and after one evening and one day of gentle running, it was time to really seat those rings.  On acceleration onto the highway, fully warmed, I started shifting the bike at about 7,000 rpm, letting the big K show off the whole rush that it had available, and then settling in at a cruise RPM of around 4200 – good for about 95 indicated BMW miles per hour, or about 85 real miles per hour.

A bit more than an hour later, I came to the cut-off for the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. The skinny on this place is that the Army Corps of Engineers now runs a pair of Hydroelectric Dams on two formally parallel rivers that became two huge hydro lakes. When the lakes were created, they turned the land between them into an isolated wilderness, and the Federal Government paid to have the families there relocated because it had become too inaccessible. Their loss is our gain, as the wilderness area is now where the National Park Service has its mother herd of breeding bison for supporting the rest of the parks. So if you elect to take your bike there, just be aware that there are several corners towards the southern end of the park where you could conceivably pick ‘er up out of a corner to see a thundering herd of bison in view. SO keep your cool and hold your line, they are behind fences to keep you from having to tangle with the tonnage, but the sound and the dust are real.

The LBL road – there is only one and could really only be one – is about 40 miles of gently curving road that is a touring or sporting rider’s delight. It connects the historical areas – old farms, a church and graveyards – and the many camping and fishing locations that now make up the park. On my trip, I had the experience of coming up behind a huge double column of Harleys at the southernmost entrance to the area. The troop contained perhaps 60-80 riders, running nose to tail, side by side, and at maybe 45 miles per hour. I stalked them for 5 or 6 corners, and when a long straight came up, I shifted down to second gear and rolled her WFO. In less than a second, I had done almost half of them, and by the time the count of 3 came up, I had already swing the K back into my lane, shifted up to 4th and was trying to gradually scrub off speed while at the same time ensuring that a meaningful gap opened up between myself and my gleamingly chromed yet agonizingly slow riding brethren. I have no doubt that some of them gave me colorful new nicknames that day, and I understand how that might have happened, but had I not done the 80 hawg pass, I might be somewhere in Kentucky, still trying to get home.

As rolling thunder slowly disappeared from my rearview mirrors, I settled into a wonderfully relaxing rhythm of lefts and rights, punctuated by an occasionally tighter corner that would make me have to apply a little more English, obtain a little more lean, and the gas it, grin, and start again. Despite the mass of this motorcycle, I felt like the wing-footed God of so many motorbike magazine stories. All in all, I likely averaged higher than the 50 MPH speed limit that I remember, but it was safe, sane and plenty of fun. It was a little jewel that shone in the middle of this day, and it was not a happy sight when the dams appeared in the distance ahead.

Right outside the top of the Federal area, one picks up the Western Kentucky Parkway, which is a wonderfully maintained, scenic, fast and safe road. The goal was to make miles that day, and miles were made. I achieved that wonderful zen-like state with the “aooooooooummmmm” coming from the sound of the motor echoing back from the lands we were traveling through.

The Western Kentucky becomes the Blue Grass Parkway at one point but little else changes about the road. I remember coming out of warp long enough to do a short stretch of controlled access roadway coming through Lexington, and being sore amazed by the farms, buildings and lands owned by the breeders of thoroughbred horses. Round white and green painted barns, bright in the sunshine, standing out from the background of the bluegrass. The animals themselves – looking mythological with impossible mixtures of grace, speed, awareness and power. Brilliantly white painted rail fencing stretching out to the horizon.

I suspect this is an okay place to be a horse.

Back out of Lexington, it’s Interstate 64, and it’s a race to the Ohio River, to Huntington West Virginia, and to beat the sunset to the parking lot. As 64 beats east, the terrain gets more mountainous and technical – big sweepers start making their appearance. Its maybe a hundred and twenty miles up to Huntington, and coming after the first 500 miles of your day, its going to tell a lot about what kind of motorcycle this is, and what kind of rider I am. But I feel loose and relaxed in the saddle, the bike is handling with precision and agility in this fast curvy mountain terrain, and my constant time/distance mental math tells me we’ll beat the sun to the Ohio river by about half an hour, give or take.

The nice folks at the Huntington Holiday Inn are kind enough to let me pull the bike up on the sidewalk just outside their main entrance, where it is visible from the reception desk. I check the odometer — its 600 miles in round numbers for the day. The desk folk recommend a pub which is right across from the hotel. I grab a quick shower and cross the street.

I am no stranger to the town of Huntington, West Virginia. By one of those strange violations of the laws of probability and space/time, my high school roommate’s – a man from Huntington, West Virginia — best friend was the roommate of my best friend in College. So this guy, that I had heard tales about for 2 years, shows up coincidentally in my first dorm party in college. A small world moment. People from Baltimore take these small world moments in stride though, ‘cause in Baltimore — jokingly referred to for this reason as Smalltimore — the social threads are always coming back together in weird, unanticipated and sometimes distasteful, disquieting ways.

So I grabbed a booth in the aforementioned pub, which was a temple to the athletic prowess of hometown Marshall University. I had a small steak and a salad and Two Bass ales which I must admit felt real good going down. I went back to the room, phoned the girlfriend and the kids, and thought about getting home. There is a tiny bit of West Virginia less than ten miles from my house, but there was nearly 400 miles of West Virginia in between that point and this. John Denver was right about West Virginia, tomorrow’s ride would be heaven, and getting home was starting to sound pretty good. I slept the sleep of the righteous that night.




The next morning’s Weather Channel gab looked a little unsettled. It was going to be a question of luck and timing as to whether I’d get drowned wet this day. There was a strong set of storms along a front that was moving east to west, on a track that ran roughly from Myrtle Beach to Little Rock. Given what I’d seen this far from the Joe Bltsflks of the Road Motorcycle Club, it just figured.

I-64 East from Huntington to Charleston is just like I-64 west of Huntington, except that one is climbing back away from the river, instead of heading down towards it. Once one rounds Charleston, though, things change rather markedly, and this change is altogether positive, and frankly why we came home this way.  Interstate 79 is a relatively recent addition to the Interstate Highway Inventory – only having been completed around 1980 or so. It is a high tech road design, and if someone didn’t know, one might think you were in Switzerland, with north and southbound roadbeds, in some places, built on opposite sides of mountain and stream valleys.  There are marked grades, and wonderfully designed corners that, in the fat part of the K-bike’s top gear, are as close to a racetrack handling experience as any sane person should ever attempt on an 800+ pound motorcycle. The bike and I were achieving wondrous leans at speed, and it felt perfectly stable and perfectly rigid at these high levels of cornering load. After about 40 miles of this high intensity Interstate, I hit a rest area to admire the view and to check my equipment.

At the rate of speed I had been maintaining, my brand new front tire was getting absolutely shredded – there was a visible zone to the left and right sides of the tire where the cornering loads were just vaporizing the tire – folks that go to racetracks know exactly what this looks like, with rubber shedding off the tire like black lint at the tread edges. I resolved to adopt a bit mellower pace, on the grounds that conserving a new front tire was probably advisable. After backing off about 7 MPH, and checking again 20 miles up the road, the rapid erosion had stopped. Unknown to me, tire temperatures were about to completely stop being a problem.

At Weston, West Virginia, I left the interstate highway system for the rest of the trip, and got into what was the most pleasant and technical riding of the road so far. Mid-atlantic bikers all know about US33, and the wonderful roads that run off from it in the Monongahela National Forest. Now that I’ve told you, of course, I am going to have to kill you. The mountains here get as high as they ever do east of the Mississippi, and the old National Forest Roads with their motorcycle friendly bordering stone walls have grade after grade, switchback after switchback, and views that if you succumb to gazing at them, will surely result in you’re becoming part of them permanently and your immediate demise, in that order. These are assuredly not roads for the inexperienced or the timid, that is for sure. There were several times that after working through a sequence of several corners I’d end up set up for the 7th or 8th one in a way that just wasn’t going to work, and I’d end up mentally dope-slapping myself, jamming the brakes and a downshift, and rolling the throttle and trying to mentally clench myself back into the proper state of total focus.

A few miles before 33 runs out of steam at Seneca Rocks, it opens back up into a straight open road. As I boosted off the top of one hill, the sky above the next one went suddenly black, and the cars coming in the other direction went suddenly very wet. When the road entered a small town, there was 2-3 inches of water running in the streets, but the rain had already stopped. Coming in off the highway into town and hitting the standing water produced a bow wave and roostertail just like a water skiing tow boat, very scenic and unnecessarily exciting. And that’s how I spent the rest of my day…chasing rainstorms. The rains were localized, heavy, and whenever I got to one, it had already gone. After a while, it got downright spooky. I mean, one expects that in a day of scattered showers, you’re always going to do some serious getting rained on — it just is part of the deal. When it goes just the other way – I never did get rained on – it just seems unnatural, is all. So I spent a lot of time on wet or extremely wet roads that day, but never did get rained on.

The road, as it comes into Seneca Rocks, starts to really tighten up. The highway follows an old creek bed, and it winds and winds and hardly makes any headway in a specific direction. It sure is fun on motorcycles, but I suspect it isn’t much good for actually getting places, at least with any kind of efficiency.

When I got to Seneca Rocks, it was really time to stretch some, so the bike went on the sidestand in the parking lot that sits at the base of the rocks, I fished out a cheesy digital camera that a vendor at work had dropped off, and walked the trail, saw the rocks and took some shots. I think I even smoked a cigarette, which is something I hardly ever do, but stimulants seemed to be something that might prove increasingly necessary as the road took me towards home.

West Virginia 55 is a lovely little road that I also probably shouldn’t tell you about, but I’ve blown it now. It’s a tight, technical road that follows streams and canyons through Pendleton, Grant and Hardy Counties. For at least 60 miles, I never got into top gear, and was spending most of my time with the revs up in third. 55 hardly ever straightens out, and I did get into the zone, just enjoying the road, my lines, the fact that the sun had finally reappeared, and not wanting this run to ever end. Given that speeds were down, and that this little snake of a road probably takes 10 linear miles of switchbacks and sweepers to cover 4 crow-flies miles, for a while it seemed like it never would, too.

55 finally crosses over into Virginia at Middletown, near where Interstates 81 and 66 meet. I went up 81 for one or two exits to pick up US340, which leads though Frederick, Clark and Loudoun Counties straight to my front door, Every great bike trip I’ve ever had ends up on this road –I end up decompressing and playing back the road joy as home and my sweet girl come back into focus. That last hour on 340 – my first run to Memphis, my trips to the Georgia Mountain Rallies, the Skyline Drive rides, my day out with Glen and the sportbike crew – they’ve all ended here. I’ve done this run so many times I have pet names for individual bumps and bits of gravel. Now if you ride more than a little you know familiarity is not your friend – you’re more likely to get whacked someplace you feel comfortable and secure – so after 1700 miles of mountains, these straight runs through meadowlands were probably the most hazardous of the trip.

Then, the sidestand, the driveway and an amazing and total quiet after the kill switch. I walked around the bike, which after its pristine cleanliness at the beginning of this ride was hard to see in the road grime, mud and bugs of the last few days. Badges of honor, all, and surely signs of more to come. A large puddle of water formed under a vacuum line under the right saddlebag – a K-bike quirk that was a mystery to me at the time. The line pulls vacuum through the fuel evaporative emissions system canister. It’s a great idea in a car, where the inlet can be shielded from the weather somewhere. But on a BMW motorcycle – which inevitably involves a stupid BMW bike guy that doesn’t know enough to stop riding when it really starts to rain – its probably not such a great idea. Said Stupid BMW bike guys inevitably shitcan the entire system as soon as the bike comes out of warrantee. What has happened to mine subsequently is something we shall not discuss.

Anyway, having been running in standing water for at least 300 miles of the day, my new K bike had snuffled up quite the snorkleful of water, and looked like nothing more than a really big dog marking territory – “sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss”.

“Geez,” I thought to myself, “I hope it doesn’t always do that.”

But that driveway was its territory, and the appropriateness of the gesture had a certain resonance and humor for me. Both me, and that bike, were home.

The big K, which I now jokingly refer to as “Darkside” is out there still, has been down 30,000 miles of road since that day, and is likely to be out there till hell has its own hockey team unless some misfortune befalls one or other of us, for it has turned into another trusted and faithful friend of the road.

And just in case you were wondering, you can keep a bike too clean – the front wheel bearing sets were degreased dry and had to be repacked at the first tire change.

Now that one story is written, another story needs to be ridden, to be lived. I’ve put in my time, tweaking wheels and brakes, changing fluids and making subtle adjustments. Tires are fresh, oil is clean, the tent checks out and the machine is as ready as I am for the road.

BB’s does make a mean fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, and one is starting to sound awful good right now. Is Colorado on the way to Memphis?

It’s Just How We Roll

The plan had been pretty late in coming together, if, at this point, it actually was a plan and it had really come together at all.

But no matter.

I genuinely believe that detailed plans are an anathema to the wise motorcycle traveler.

It’s OK to work at preparation — Know what your route looks like on a low-earth orbit level of detail — cities, states, maybe which Interstates connect them.

Know where you want to end up, but once the key is turned, turn off all electronics, stow the paper maps, and do your best to let the road come to you.

Plans are for the weak.


I’d been to the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum back in 2002, when I had done a fly-and-ride out of Atlanta to pick up my K1200LT.

As soon as the deal was done and the bike came off the sidestand I’d beat feet for Birmingham.

The collection was then housed in a decommissioned Barber Dairies Industrial Space inside the city of Birmingham, proper. Hard as it may be to believe the subtraction of their current grand surroundings did absolutely nothing to diminish the quality and significance of the motorcycles that I found there, then.


That visit completely rearranged my thinking about motorcycles and made an indelible impression.


When, a short time later, the Museum announced its plans for a more appropriate home, with an accompanying racetrack, I had no doubt that it would be a unique and special place.

When in the Fall of 2003, the new Park finally opened, pictures and the tales of others confirmed that indeed it was.

I resolved to go back to Birmingham, to experience and appreciate the full realization of the vision that had been so clearly on display that day in The Dairy.

So we had a clear objective.

But not a timetable.

‘Cause that would make it a plan.

And I don’t do plans.

When the time was right to return to Birmingham, it would be obvious, inexorable and inevitable.

That road would, in other words, come to us.

It’s just how we roll.


This entire summer has behaved consistently with the No Plan Mantra.

A contemplated family camping trip to the Western National Parks had gotten eaten by the need to visit some colleges with youngest offspring Finn. So we rerouted to some Eastern parks whose pollen profiles turned Sweet Doris into a large inflamed phegmy thing that would die if not promptly returned to a filtered air supply.

So an improvisational objective oriented family vacation kinda evaporated more the harder you looked at it.

At a certain point, Sweet Doris took one of her patented looks at me that reveal all, and after a delay of approximately three seconds, said, “You need to take a bike trip.”

Unsurprisingly, she was right.

I did.

The List of Possible Destinations (TLPD) was pretty short.


So I began laying the groundwork.

I confirmed with Sweet Doris that the ‘you should take a bike trip’ wasn’t some form of willful hallucination on my part or complex strategic woman trick on her part.

Negative on both counts.


I approached my boss at work — who is a singularly stellar fellow — telling him I needed to stretch a weekend in early October.

“No problem. Get it in the calendar”

Approved immediately in writing.


I went back though my maintenance logs on the big K Bike and filled in the blanks. We had fresh motor oil, gearbox oil, tires, brake and clutch bleeds, and a new battery to replace a no-name AGM that been in there doing great for 6 years.

Check, check and check.

Houston, we were ready for launch.


Or almost ready for launch.

At this point, with all of the checklist cleared, I went to buy a ticket for the Festival. My normal MO is to include a backpacker’s tent, air bed and small compressor in the camping kit, and camp out in Tiny Sybaritic Splendour.

The “GANK!” error sound effect my PC made indicated that something was amiss.

What that thing was was that camping for the Festival was already sold out.

With no place to stay, this launch had the potential to get scrubbed.

I did what I have prettymuch always done when excrement takes a turn toward the equator. I sought the collective wisdom and generosity of the Internet BMW Riders Listserv.

The outcome was not in doubt.


The modality of its deliverance, maybe, but not the outcome.

In maybe eight minutes after the post describing my predicament, Two Fellow Presidents proposed divergent solutions.

I’d started with the premise that at least one BMW rider was going to be camping at the Festival, and I was just looking for the 4×8 footprint of my tent.

I got exactly that from an Oklahoma President that I’d never met before.

Folk willing to pay it forward are always the greatest kind of lift.

Especially if it turns out there are more than one of them.

‘Cause a few minutes later another President — who has helped to administer The List for longer than it is Gentlemanly of me to Enumerate — offered up a Hotel Room in the Hampton Inn across the street from The Park.

I have never done a Hotel Rally.

Looked like I’d be doing one now.

The road was indeed coming to us.


Leeds, Alabama is 721 Google Map miles from Jefferson, Maryland.

I can’t remember having completed that kind of single day mileage more than a handful of times.

Which allows for the possibility, I guess, that I’ve completed that kind of mileage but can’t remember it.

But never mind that.

The Mantra of No Plan means it’s great when you get there. Whenever that is.

One doesn’t push your luck if conditions start working against you. Bad weather, bad bike performance, bad alertness or even a bad fish sandwich can all turn a good ride bad. Heck, when you ask a slightly more chronologically gifted body for ten or twelve or sixteen hours of peak performance in the saddle, sometimes your tank can just come up empty.

And knowing when that is and living to fight another day is a critical riding skill.


I’ll admit to even having an unusual case of pre-ride anxiety.

I kept having flashes of bad outcomes.

Idiots with Smarter-than-them-Phones. Delaminating tires. Rocket Powered Homicidal Armadillos. Space Junk.

Fear is, by its definition, irrational.

And I never gave it a second thought.

Until this time.

When it got a second, and a third, and maybe a few more thoughts.

I had some objectives that could have kept me out on the road for more than few thousand miles and more than six days. In that much road anything can happen. Pretending it can’t is delusional.

I’ve surfed a combination of good skills, good awareness, good equipment and more than a little good luck to keep my bikes mostly upright and my bones mostly unbroke for more than 30 years.

I look around me and I like the life I see. I’m not anywhere ready to leave that yet.

I guess I was reaching deep for the focus and mindfulness to make sure that tank wasn’t going to go empty here.


So why does a guy take an almost modern motorcycle to a vintage motorcycle rally?

When that guy is a guy whose vintage bikes have required two previous truck rides home from vintage rallies, that’s why.

No motorcycle is 100% Bulletproof, but some might offer a slightly higher level of slug resistance. My K1200LT is far from perfect, but it does provide the best tool available if the goal is to go a really long way and ride back in on the same motorcycle you left on.

So even though I found myself being discriminated against for my choices later — “Hey, you can’t bring that thing in here — it’s too modern…” — it was a chance I was undertook with full knowledge and acceptance.


So Thursday, October 8th finally came.

Hurricane Joaquin had done what hurricanes always do, which is to behave in unpredictable ways designed to make meteorologists look like complete doofuses. Other than turning the State of South Carolina into an Aquarium, which was only of secondary concern, to me anyway, my entire riding route had been left unscathed.

So after as much of a relaxing night’s sleep as is possible the night before such an adventure, I rose at my normal time, came downstairs, ate a slightly more complex carbohydrate laden breakfast than is my wont, enjoyed a cup of coffee, gave Sweet Doris a kiss, zipped on my Aerostich suit and elkskin gauntlets, and then rolled The Big Girl, who had been packed and checked the night before, out of the garage.

Unlike all of the ripping travel yarns you’ve likely read before, it wasn’t in the darkness before dawn, it wasn’t exactly warm, and truthfully, I wasn’t even exactly fully awake. What I was was relaxed, and ready to receive any messages the road had for me.


Rolling out 340 West away from Jefferson, it was just the slightest bit cool, but not cool enough that I’d needed a fleece or jersey under my ‘Stich. The aforementioned weather professionals had estimated a daytime high of about 75 on the Jefferson end, with about 10 more degrees forecast for the Alabama end.

I mentally tuned in to the messages coming from my motorcycle, which really takes about 150 miles to reach full operating temperature to the point where all of the driveline’s fluids are fully warmed, and the intake tracts and associated control plumbing are warmed all the way through. Both throttle response and fuel economy don’t peak until this has occurred, so on a long ride, there’s a two hour plus mechanical prologue where the big train slowly tiptoes up to the point where it tells you its ready to open up and run hard.

I picked up Interstate 81 outside Winchester, Virginia. 81 can be an awful slog of a ride — a two lane interstate that carries far more tractor-trailer traffic than it was ever intended to. I’ve run 81 on so many other Southern Swings — Georgia Mountain Rallies, trips to Memphis, Charlotte NC for business trips — but this time it was different.

Once we’d cleared the Greater DC metro area, the rolling tractor-trailer roadblock that normally characterizes 81 was nowhere in evidence. I could pick a speed and maintain it, and instead of getting endlessly pummelled by truck wakes, it was clean air and smooth sailing.

Somewhere around Lexington, the change began to occur. The Brick finished warming, and assumed its patented glass-smooth-at-3900-rpm-indicated supercruise. Wind, temperature, traffic were all optimum, and my body and mind both went into that relaxed but aware state where anything is possible.

Before being aware of it — in Christansburg, VA — the reserve light lit yellow and I needed to find the Big Girl some High Test. There was a Shell right at the off-ramp and we found a pump and filled to the top. I powered up and checked my phone to see a message from my manager at work concerning a hand-off on an open piece of business. I called him and provided him an information nugget he’d been missing.

I made one more call.

My arrangements at the Hampton Inn outside the park were for three nights. While I felt good and was going well, a little math had me arriving long after dark, and I felt no need to push harder than I needed to. We could ride, relax, and I could choose to stop any time I felt like it.

Really, any place south of Chattanooga would be fine, and then we’d have a nice ride to the Park in the morning.

So I called them and cancelled my reservation for the night.

That small change — removing a fixed objective — made sure that we no longer were operating according to some plan.

And that’s how we like it.


Thursday afternoon was probably the nicest ride though the State of Virginia that I can recall. With a range of just under 300 miles and perfect conditions I just rolled into greener and greener landscape. With both man and machine in that big humming groove, I found myself in that deep meditative state where the mind is free to roam faster than the fast motorcycle that got us there.

Roanoke, Blacksburg, Wytheville, Bristol, then across the line into Tennessee. Past Kingsport and Johnson City until the working world intruded on my rider’s reverie again.

As I came to Interstate 40 on the outskirts of Knoxville, I saw 5:00 on my dash clock, and folks that rushed onto the roads to make their way home from work.

Lots of them.

Great, whopping lots of them.

The previous two lane mountainous interstate that I had more or less to myself at 72 degrees was now 6 and 7 lanes of 1st gear stop and go bumper to bumper cluthwork at less comfortable 85.

Can heaven on a motorcycle evaporate without warning in a New York Second?

It had just happened and you missed it, buddy.


I’d run entirely through my fuel load, and now seemed like as good a time to take a break off the road as any other. I’d threaded my way through Knoxville and was west of the city looking for the cut southward to Chattanooga when another Shell station presented itself.

We got another 5 plus gallons of the good stuff, and went inside to pay.

I have a very short list of compelling vices, and Snapple Diet Peach Tea is Top 3.

If you see me on the road we can discuss the other two, but this is a family show.

I asked the cashier how close the I 75 cutoff was, and he said it was less than a mile up the road.

I went back out to the bike and pulled a bag of cashews and raisins out of the topcase. I was hot and having been making few stops, a bit behind the hydration power curve. Both bottles of Snapple were promptly dispatched and I felt a great deal better.

75 South wasn’t a mile up the road, but 5 was close enough.

5 more miles out of Knoxville, we were on open highway, back on the gas and cruising.


A sweet running Flying Brick is a Zen Buddhist Motorcycle — it’s four shifts and a twist of the wrist straight to the heart of the meditative Ommmmmmmmmmmm…

Tennessee is a green wonderful place to be on that path.

The experience is not only spiritual, but relativistic, as well.

Time itself becomes fluid, and just like 5 minutes can seem to last a lifetime, whole hours can blur and disappear, with time both expanding and contracting.

In a blink of the mind’s eye we were in and out of Chattanooga and southbound into Georgia.

I’d admit I’ve listened to more than my share of Allman Brothers Band music.

Funny thing about being on a bike with a stereo, is that the tunes inside one’s head can be better.

In 2000 miles I never turned the stereo on.


The Stone Mountain of Georgia — with their light-colored stone rising up above the road — are an absolutely beautiful place.

Unfortunately it was getting dark.

Summer was really over — we were running out of day.

I crossed the line into Alabama, and the surrounding land went from light stone to greenest pine. With the sun finally beneath the horizon it got dark.

Really dark.

In the Northeastern U.S. we got dark.

But our dark has lots of earthshine — reflected light from cities and suburban commercial development.

In Baltimore, Dark is really orange, but in the Alabama Woods, Dark is really freaking dark.

Cooling conditions started producing misty conditions, with windshields and visors lightly fogging. It was also clear that Alabama hadn’t yet had Maryland’s cold snap — conditions that had decimated all the bugs. In Alabama, the bugs were perfectly fine, thank you, with the possible exception of the coupla hundred I smashed.

In the cool misty buggy darkness, even though riding a pretty substantial motorcycle, I started to feel like I was more than passing small.

My mental picture of the Alabama map had two major dots short of Birmingham — Fort Payne, that I was currently entering, and Gadsden, about 40 miles up. I decided to roll for Gadsden, backing my speed down and feeling increasingly smaller the further I went.

When the Gadsden off-ramp came up, I rolled up to the light and surveyed the scene. There were 5 hotels that shared driveways and parking lots, and I selected the one that looked the least sleazy, and aimed for their lot. I rolled up to the door, killswitched it and placed the bike over on the sidestand.

According to the odo, we were just under 700 miles for the day.

On the other side of the entrance portico was a Harley Rider with a well optioned Electra Glide Ultra — a brand new Rushmore bike with water cooled heads and the lower fairings that come with that. He was clearly accustomed to making some miles — he looked as road encrusted as me, and his bike had a lot of custom aero bits around the cockpit — aftermarket shield with ducts and deflectors.

“Hey, bud, you headed to Barber?”

“Naw, man, I’m headed to Daytona for Biketoberfest.”

“Could save a lot of miles — the party’s here this weekend.”

“Yeah, did The Festival one year. It was a lot of fun.”

“Cool. Ride Safe.”

I checked in than went back to the parking lot for my gear. I moved my bike to a well-lit corner of the parking lot where I could see it clearly from my room.


I got some bad food and, more distressingly, bad beer and went back to the room to crash.

On the last visual check of the parking lot, I was surprised to see my motorcycle, in its pool of light, surrounded by a half-dozen black windowless vans, with Governmental looking seals that read “CERT”. Each van had disgorged about a half-dozen guys each wearing black BDUs and carrying a military style duffel bag.

I felt pretty confident no one was going to mess with my bike in that spot.

Tomorrow morning I’d have a pretty nice ride of about an hour to get to Leeds.

I could hardly wait, although, unlike lot of nights in hotels, I did sleep pretty soundly that night.

Floyd Dancing

DSCN2464I’ve wanted to go to the Barber Vintage Festival for at least a decade or so.

This year I decided to stop wanting and ride to Birmingham.

On any ride this length, with a destination like this, there are almost more moments, more impressions, than a mind can possibly absorb.

Me, I’ve hung too much with eggheads and arty types, so I scoff at artificial restrictions like narrative continuity.

Linear narratives are for the weak.

On a one to ten scale, with one being a Mother Goose story, and ten being William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, I skew heavily Burroughs.

Of course, Burroughs gave us Hassan O’ Leary, the only fictional Arab Irishman of which I am aware.

As an actual person of Arab and Irish descent, I feel a certain odd affintity for Hassan’s problemmatic creator.

That aside, I have no problem starting a tale in the middle, or kinda at the end, if that’s how it feels to me as I think about it.

Anyway, that’s how I roll, and if you find it distasteful or disorienting, you are more than welcome to take your attention to the “Once upon a time” department, located on our second floor….


Skipping right past how I found myself riding back to Jefferson from Birmingham on a day when I hadn’t been expecting to be making that trip, I was really in the groove, and fully expected to be spending the night in back in my own bed.

Conditions were textbook perfect — high 60s to low 70s F, with minimal wind, light clouds. My K bike had received a thorough Mihalka-brand ‘Italian Tune-up’, and was running as smoothly and strongly as it ever had.

Miles were just effortlessly disappearing.

It was just too damn soullessly efficient.


My long solo trips are pretty infrequent at this busy stage of my life, so I’m not of a mind to be leaving things for later.

And there’s just something that bothers me about a ride that’s all about miles, and somehow isnt somehow about the sheer magic, grace and joy of the ride.

On my way south to Alabama, I remember seeing signs on 1-81 with exits marked for the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’d filed them away for later.

It was later.


It was, all things considered, a little later into our now shortening fall days than was optimum, but I just had the feeling that even a hour on the ridge today was an hour to be treasured.

I’d been on the lookout for it for more than a hundred miles, so when the sign came up that read Floyd, Blue Ridge Parkway, I didn’t overthink it, I just took it.


Had I overthought it, I’d have likely noticed that the Parkway isn’t really that close to the Interstate at that point.

Not that it turned out to matter, as the road up to the Parkway, Virginia 8, is very nearly as nice as The Parkway is.

I found myself in a column of four vehicles working our way up the ridge. None of them were rockets, but none of them were slouches either — we frieght trained through sunny switchbacks, and kept up a good rhythm of spirited corner entraces and exits up the stream draw that the 8 follows.

After about 15 miles of this, the speed limit signs indicate one’s entrance into Floyd, which is as charmingly unmolested an Appalachian Village as you’ll ever see. It shows a population of 4-fifty-somethin’, and has several cafes, galeries, eateries and an old Hotel. Things are neat, tidy, well kept, and even at under 30 miles an hour, in ninety seconds or so it was just gone.

Approaching the summit, coming out of Floyd, the road opens up some. Three miles or so out, there appeared an unnaturally long straight, made all the more unusually wierd by the tight technical mountain pavements we’d been working for more than a while. You could see up the grade for more than a mile, and then up a steeper grade for another three quarters or so.

It was clearly a specific kind of opportunity, and I wasn’t the only one that thought so.

The second car in the column was a big black VW Taureg, and a certain cetane perfume struck me that it was one of the few V10 Diesel Powered Beasts — nobody ever called these ones ‘Clean’ — that were sold here in a brief window before an EPA rules change made them illegal.

Taureg Dude clearly saw an oppuntunity, and dumped the throttle — the smell of a highly stressed diesel hit my nostrils — and he flicked left and moved smartly past the first car in the chain. With this huge vehicle clearing the path in front of me, I dropped a gear and rolled the K12’s cable throttle open to the stops.

In a half second I was passed the third vehicle, and another second and half I was past the former first one. Tuareg Dude was still all the way in it, and after having closed a great deal of the gap on him initially, as that big V10 spun up, the trend reversed and he moved smartly away.

I spent much of my weekend at Barber hanging out at Ace Corner, surrounded by the Ton-up Boys.

In my own way, I honored them here.

The top of the ridge came up way too quickly, and as the Black Beast continued to just open it up and disappear, I braked hard, rolled left and entered the Drive.


It took all of 3 seconds to be sure that this detour in the middle of a 700 plus mile day had been absolutely the right thing to do.

As soon as I made the left turn from the stop sign on the ramp, things immediately took on an eerie, other-worldly quality.

Above 2500 feet, on the very top of the ridge, all of the deciduous trees had all started to turn to their fall colors. The majority of those trees had snapped to a bright gold, and with the sun low on the horizon off to the west, every sunlit area had taken on a golden light that would have made every fine art plein-air painter ever born simultaneously moisten themselves.

It was the kind of aggressively gobsmacking visual beauty that can make retaining the mandatory motorcyclist’s focus a bit of a challenge.

As I completed my shift up into third gear, a mature male Bald Eagle jumped from a tree on the road’s left side and with a pair of slow strong strokes climbed into the air directly in front of me, right in my sightline.

As much as I appreciate the wit and wisdom of Ben Franklin, and his opinions on the deity and zymurgy, an up-close view of a Bald Eagle in flight is a pretty convincing proof of why Ben lost his bid to have the Wild Turkey be our National Bird.

That is, unless the very next corner provides one, as it did me, with an up close view of the biggest Wild Turkey I’d ever seen, hustling out of the roadway and into the trees on the right side of the road.

Upon brief reflection, the Gobbler was pretty damn impressive as well. Tie goes to the eagle, though.


Maybe, as a sometime poet, I place too much significance in things that appear to be obviously heavy handed symbols.

With said symbols practically falling out of the sky in my path, I slowed my respiration and tried to find the meditative focus that it takes to be safe and successful on a remote, technical road like The Drive.

Snicking the KBike into fourth gear, I relaxed and adopted a sit-up posture with a mild forward lean and dropped the electric shield to below my line of sight. With the bike in 4th, it gave me an effective torque spread that allowed me to operate between just under 40 mph to just over 70. I directed my gaze out as far forward as I could to aid in reading the road ahead and concentrating on my roadcraft.

I figured that given the time of day, I had a little more than two hours available to me before diminishing light would dictate that I head back down the hill.

And for those next two hours I did my level best to let my throttle hand do the talking, almost never using my brakes, and danced with the Fat Girl from farm to farm, across sunlit meadows, leaning this way then that, staying on the sides of my tires and achieving that state of agile and responsive biker grace.

Being the end of Sunday afternoon, anyone that had to head back to DC with more sense than me had already split, so I had the good fortune to have the place essentially to myself. In the roughly 100 miles I spent up there, I think I saw about 5 cars.

Three of those I easily passed. The other two were headed south.


In truth, it was so staggeringly beautiful in that unearthly golden light, it was taking a fair amount of effort to keep from laughing out loud inside my helmet.

A suspicious guy might have concluded that that Taureg had really run me over back on the 8, and this was apparently Rider’s Heaven.

As usual, I wasn’t the only one having a tough time dealing with the extreme bounty that nature was serving up.

On one corner exit, there was a fairly long downhill straight that ran alongside a mown bowl of a meadow that was completely bathed and glowing in the Golden Light. About a third of the way down the straight was a recent Mazda 3 coupe, sitting stopped in the middle of the road, with both its doors wide open and the cars occupants standing on either side — hands raised above their heads like they’d just entered into the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church.

They can be forgiven — in one way I guess they had.

I shared their appreciation, their praise for a bountiful maker.

Except, of course, that it seemed to have escaped them that they were standing in the middle of the road.

This one time I did use my brakes.

As I moved around them at walking pace, I’ll admit I attempted education, futile though that may be.

“Yes, it IS pretty, but ya might have considered PULLING OFF.”

That, in truth was the only interruption to what became a wonderful meditative rhythm that was just what a guy in the middle of what would prove to be my longest one day ride ever needed to restore my concentration and energy.

Usually, the drive is awash in deer, necessitating a certain reserve.

I only saw one the entire ride.

The KBike was in full song — more than a thousand miles of running hard up top had cleaned up injectors and blasted carbon off valves, and she took throttle with smoothness and authority, and gave back speed on closed throttle without a single pop or hiccup.

The LT is a big, heavy motorcycle, but the rigidity of its frame, coupled with a set of Ohlins shocks and a fresh set of Avon radials makes for a resposive, compliant twisting road dancing partner that doesn’t grow old until one runs out of will, fuel or light.


In my case, it was light that became the limiting factor.

I was no longer feeling tired, having been fully refreshed by this pure riding experience and expression of the joy of physics.

In four days when I looked at more motorcycles than I thought existed, watched people race them, show them, and put them in pedestals in museums, a hundred miles of twisting mountain pavement was able to show me again why we all do this. If the Barber is a Church we build for it, The Parkway is where we really celebrate the sacrament.

But as the shadows lengthened, I knew that I’d been lucky. I’d actually found that ephemeral road grace that can be so elusive. I’d found it, but it had, unsurprisingly, disappeared with the light. With it gone it was time to come down off that hill, get somewhere on the other side of Roanoke, and pick up the highway for home.

I was still more than a couple of hundred miles from home.

Far enough that anything could happen.

First Blast of Spring

It snowed another 5 inches yesterday here in Central Maryland.

I have long ago exhausted my copious supply of strong language and colorful oaths of all of the world’s ancient peoples, so the best I could manage when I raised the bedroom shade to another version of snow-globe world was a tired sigh.

At the risk of another round of excessive confidence, I’m fairly sure that this really is winter’s last gasp, this time.

Onlookers are encouraged to surround me, point and laugh should I turn out to be wrong. Again.

This has been the single worst winter that I can recall, at least from the perspective of a Motorcyclist.

So it was nothing but good that my employer decreed that I should spend a single day down in Raleigh, North Carolina this week, and at a time when the seemingly perenially pissed Mother Nature was in her hot tub with a glass of Cabernet.

I looked at the long term weather forecasts, and both Monday, for the trip down, and Wednesay, for the trip back, were both showing sunny with 0% chance of precip.

Raleigh had been averaging a full and consistant 15 degrees warmer than Jefferson, and Monday’s Jefferson forecast showed an almost shocking high temperature of just under 70.

All righty, then.

We were gonna be ridin’.

The front tire on the bike was a bit unevenly worn — a replacement Avon was already stored in my garage. A quick phone call to Fredericktown Yamaha, eight bolts, and one lunchtime trip to mount and balance and we were ready for the road.

Kinda filthy — as the bike was wearing its full compliment of wintertime road muck and salt — but ready.

Filthy, but ready?

I’m betting I could sell T-shirts.


Monday came, and the weather forecasts were holding.

Wednesday’s ride home would be colder, but tolerable.

I did my full complement of Meetings Monday morning, and after lunch we loaded gear and went stands up. My seat bag had my business attire and a warmer fleece and insulated gloves for the run home.

5 days ago we had 10 straight days of single digit temperatures — today I was in elkskin gloves and a light jersey as insulation under my ‘Stich.

It would turn out I was over dressed.


Northern Virginia is no longer fit for man nor beast.

Motorcyclists may classify as both so consider it an not fit twofer.

There is just no good way to get from here to there if it goes anywhere through Northern Virginia.

Even leaving at 2 in the afternoon, which ought to be a congestion dead zone, it was bumper to bumper and moving at 35-40 miles an hour through what are all supposed to be open rural highways.

Making Fredericksburg, Virginia — a run of just under a hundred miles — 2 and a half hours of slow going.

The temperature had contined to rise from 58 at departure to 77. I probably sweated two pounds of water weight. I figured as the sun went down it would quickly cool off so it was best to stay layered.

I was once again wrong.

Picking up the interstate towards Richmond picked up speed, but the road was in full urban combat mode. There wasn’t enough room in the traffic stream to flow through traffic — one just had to manage your buffers and try not to succumb to the stupid brought on by impatience.


Interstate 85 leads away from Peterburg and the coast, inland towards Durham and Atlanta, and quickly leaves industrial sprawl in favor of hills with dense pine forest — the concrete road turns into a sandy floored tunnel in a field of green.

With about 200 miles of the trip gone the K12 was finally running on song — everything warmed fully through and the deposits of a winter spent mostly sitting vaporized.

The new Avon tires — a set of Storm 3 XMs — were riding perfectly. The new tire was somewhat slower steering, more stable and compliant than the previous Storm 2s. They were more confidence inspiring and comfortable at speed than their predecessors.

All the pieces came together — sweet new tires, the green tunnel, 77 degrees, 3900 rpm and the sound of the motor reverberating back from the surrounding forest. It was a mesmerizing groove.

I arrived in front of my hotel in Raliegh as if my magic — one second I was a hundred miles up the road, and the next second I was there.


Death by Powerpoint is like Northern Virginia. It is not good. It just is.

One of the reasons we do these conferences is to allow a team of people that span 24 time zones to see each other face to face, tell a few bad jokes, and drink a few beers together. This being St. Patrick’s Day, to not drink a few beers seemed completely unacceptable.

So I told some bad jokes, listened to a few more, and drank a few beers.

And in another one of those temporal discontinuities that seem to be this story’s narrative device of choice, I found myself, a tad hung over, pulling tight the packing straps on my seat bag, on a bright sunny 45 degree morning, and throwing a leg over and heading first west to Durham, and then north up the Blue Ridge towards home.


Once past the ouskirts of Durham on NC501, the countryside rapidly goes deep country — there are hayfields, there are logging operations, and there are gravel pits and mines.

One shares these two lane highways with a lot of heavily laden tractor-trailers, but there are lots of passing zones with good visibility, so they just turn into good justifications for lusty twists of the throttle and the intake shriek of the Flying Brick motor.

Just shy of Lynchburg, Viginia, a spur road — Virginia 24 — connects 501 to US29 — that road provides 4 miles of over hill-and-dale twisties that prove the worth of my new radials and that fact that I am now fully revived.

US29 is a proper 4 lane divided highway, whose character changes markedly depending on the surrounding landscape. Much of it — when the road hits towns — is extended rural sprawl, with too many big box stores and way too many traffic lights. Other sections are wide open — like a new parkway section south of Charlottesville, with minimal traffic, month old pavement, and 100 mph sightlines. In the 20 mile per hour quartering wind that was blowing today, those wide open stretches were like work — my trip computer was showing my fuel economy plummeting working against that wind.


Just south of Charlottesville though, 29 drops into the Hollows and foothills of the Blue Ridge, and into tangled country when the topography is too rough tor the northbound and southbound lanes to run together. For a brief time, the road is biker paradise, hills and descents, short chutes leading into tight corners — lots of opportunities for thottle play and to set the bike on the edges of its tires, and to blast out and do it all over again.

Ever been on a ride of a thousand miles, to find 990 bad miles and 10 good ones?

This sunny, crisp March day, that stretch of US 29 were the 10 good ones.

And like all things of crisp distilled living, a seeming blink, and it was over.


And after a single day back home, its Ice Station Zebra time again.

The 10 good ones will have to hold me, after that appalling, fridgid winter, until the bright spirit of US 29 decides to come back and stay for a while, this time.


Riding with Paul

Paul Mihalka was somebody I knew pretty well, but I wish I had known better.

He was a man of a million ride stories, every single one of them better than the best of mine.

If you’d gone far, Paul had gone way farther, likely at least five times.

At well past 80, Paul could ride the wheels off of anything, and reduce formerly testosterone fueled twenty-somethings who’d seen him disappear over the horizon on the road to states of gobsmacked muteness.

Though, gentleman that he was, he wasn’t the sort of person who would make a fuss over himself or the things he done. Like deer. Or Montana for lunch. Or that million mile badge on his bike.

I didn’t get to have the pleasure, but those who did ride with him spoke of a routine that always involved making arrangements as to where Paul would be waiting for the rest of them when they eventually got there.

Paul was smooth as a rider, which made him fast on the road. But Paul was even smoother as a man, and that made him a good human being.

Paul had been the Gentlemen Rider that did an unhurried and lovingly detailed delivery walkaround with me on the only new motorcycle I have ever bought after the guy that sold me the bike tossed me my keys and hopped on his bike and split.

He was the guy I’d always find already very relaxed by the fire ring when I pulled in whacked at a distant rally.

One Saturday morning not too long ago, I woke up with an uncaracteristic urge to dooooo something. And that thing was to go straight down to the motorcycle shop where Paul worked, and pick up a BMW Mileage badge that I’d applied for many months previously, and promptly forgotten about.

On Saturdays I like to sleep in, or ride, but goal orientation is usually not part of the discussion.

But I had to do this.

Right freaking now.

So I rode down to Rockville, and went and saw Paul. We shook hands as Paul gave me my badge. A picture was taken.


There was nobody else I would wanted to have received it from.

I remember bro-hugging him afterward, and having him comedically mimic his own patented ‘little look of distaste’ in response to my ungentlemanly modern breach of decorum.

My friend looked just tired though. He had a homemade healthy lunch on his desk that looked picked at, but uneaten.

Tuesday Paul went to see the doctor. A week later he was gone.


Sometimes riding a motorcycle can be a thing of grace.

Where in place of a man, and a machine — a technical task with instruments, controls, feedback loops — instead becomes a simple way of being. The machine beneath you simply disappears as you read and respond to the road ahead. No gears, no braking, just a seamless dance with the ribbon of road and the throttle.

It’s then I ride with Paul.


The first time it happened was a beautiful spring day. There’s a section of Gapland Road that runs within 3 miles of my garage, and its as much fun as you can have without going to the Corkscrew or Creg Ny Baa. The middle of the run has a modern two lane replacement for an ancient one lane cast iron bridge that recently failed. The road that leads to it and away from it has a steep decreasing radius right hander falling off the riverbank leading to the bridge and then a steep decreasing radius left hander climbing fast back up the river bank on the other side. There are lots of ways that this can go wrong, and only one narrow way it can go perfectly right.

On that day it went absolutely, perfectly right.

As a child, my parents concluded I ‘wasted’ a lot of time with my buds from Warner Brothers’ ‘Looney Tunes’.

Determinations of utility and lack thereof, it should be noted, are highly subjective and personal things.

But it was like the sound of a little hotel doorman’s desk bell, straight out of ‘Looney Toons’, that announced the first time Paul, with his unmistakable Austrian accent, checked in.

‘”That was sweet. Can I come along?”

I don’t care how much ‘Looney Tunes’ one watches, or how much ‘Looney Tunes’ one is, good manners and self preservation would both seem to dictate not to be disagreeable with the departed, so agreeable I was, and consent was quickly and unequivocally given.

‘Sides, other than that Paul didn’t really have much to say, and his cheerful — was he smiling? — presence indicated that the grace of the highways had been achieved.


Future rolling rendezvous became less dramatic, but were all equally palpable.

Whenever its happens it because I’ve reached that magic place. It isn’t really surprising in any way that that magic place is where he’d be.

I just got back from a hundred winter day miles on my K bike. I’d had a few holiday days out of the saddle, and at first I was rusty, and stiff.

But as both I and the bike warmed up, fluidity, and then grace, returned.

Shortly thereafter, I sensed Paul on my shoulder again.

“Good to see you”, I said.

And a good day of cold air, narrow forest ways and flattrack-like clay roads in the North County became absolutely perfect.