Perfect Circles, Perfect Spheres

They say something is happening, but you don’t know what it is….

Do you, Mr. Jones?

I’d been having an extended motorcycling Mr. Jones moment.

My K1200LT had been displaying this odd symptom, which only manifested itself when the bike was being operated in stop and go traffic — at or below a walking pace.

Now normally, I make extraordinary efforts not to ever operate this motorcycle at anything short of Warp 3, but reality sometime has a way of intruding.

On a recent trip, I’d gotten stuck in an unspeakable Interstate Highway backup, which had me riding the clutch and walking the bike along for the better part of three hours. I’d noted the odd behavior previously, but it hadn’t really been intrusive and was not detectable at speed.

What the bike had been doing was sending this odd sensation through the bars at under a mile an hour — it felt, for all the world like somebody plucking the high G string on a bass guitar — a little ‘Boing’ would be sent through the bars.

I’ll freely admit being a little obsessive over the operating condition of my machinery. If you think about well more than 1000 lbs of bike and rider in an 80 mile an hour corner being managed by that wheel, you’d be obsessive too.

I mentally went through the list of things I thought it could be. The folks at Fredericktown Yamaha — that have made a cottage industry of mounting and balancing the many tires I consume — had previously called my attention to what they thought was a slight wave in the rim likely created by a DC pothole.

“Keep an eye on that”, they told me, “If you start getting abnormal wear in that spot you’ll need to repair or replace the wheel.”

Only somebody that worked in a Yamaha shop would ever suggest that one should replace an OEM BMW forged wheel.

I have purchased running motorcycles for less than the MSRP of that wheel.

Anyway.

That rim was a possible cause. The bike’s original front wheel bearings — at 92,000 miles — was also remotely possible. And there were a few possible maladies of the front brake system — transfer of pad material to a rotor, or a rotor gone subtly potato chip shaped – that might also cause this weird pulsation. The bike was rock solid under heavy braking, though, so that seemed remote.

I obsessed about it. I had the bike at least half a dozen times up on my trolley jack — front wheel hanging up in the air, spinning it by hand — looking for run out in the rims and rotors — feeeeeeling the bearings, feeling the brake drag.

I had lots of ideas.

I had no pattern I could discern.

 

***

 

So I took the bike off the road.

I ordered a new front tire, as mine was well worn. I ordered a front bearing and seal set. And set about to find a reputable wheelsmith.

 

***

 

Fortunately, the District of Columbia contains a volatile mix of really unspeakable paved driving surfaces combined with folks that have a compulsive need to spend incomprehensible amounts of money to make people look at… their cars. When a new wheel for your Lamborghini costs more than my K1200LT, people will figure out ways to fix them.

TAS Wheel and Machine appeared to be those guys. Their online reputation — Google ratings, Yelp reviews — was 5 stars all the way. They specialized in automotive exotica, but went well out of their way to make sure folks knew that they were comfortable and qualified to work on motorcycle wheels as well. They had positive feedback from both racers and Harley riders, both of whom have been known to be particular.

So I called them, and asked if they’d be willing to work on mine. They were.

I asked a few questions about their process, and what kind of levels of accuracy they were shooting for and were usually able to achieve. The numbers they provided were right in line with or slightly better than the BMW spec. They were also able to check the run-out on my disk rotors as well.

So I resolved to pull the wheel, and to set everything up front straight.

 

***

 

So of course, Finn’s Buell Blast decided, as it had several times before, that Today Was A Good Day to Die.

It seems, that in their choice of materials, the Buell Men had not blessed The Blast with the highest specifications. The steel used in its exhaust header, for example, could not deal with the thermal stress of being operated in heavy rain — which, of course Finn had done with startling regularity. Blasts abused in this unfeeling and unkind manner all protested by turning their headpipes into loosely amalgamated but unconnected steel fragments — with predictable effects on their drivability and throttle response.

I find it difficult to explain, but in motorcycles, as in human medicine, there are protocols for triage and care.

And a motorcycle that will not run is entitled to care before a motorcycle that will run, however badly. A corollary of that principle is that one should never electively start to disassemble another motorcycle for service when one is already apart. It’s probably more of an irrational superstition, but having parts of multiple disassembled motorcycles sharing the same workbench gives me the willies. This irrational fear is probably protecting me from continuing to buy more old motorcycles, so I’ve become rather fond of it.

So while Finn’s Single sat in the shop with the stock exhaust stripped off, a rag stuffed in its exhaust port, and an aftermarket exhaust system and a pile of carburetor parts headed inbound somewhere in the UPS system, my LT just sat in the Doctor’s waiting room, reading a complimentary bad magazine, and waited to be the next patient under care.

 

***

 

When, after the passage of some time, The Blast brapped down the driveway, having found a few brand new operating characteristics, it was time to return to my problem at hand.

I got the bike up on the jack, pulled the front wheel, threw it my truck and headed for Laurel.

 

***

 

While halfway across the parking lot at TAS, I was greeted by Brett, one of the two brothers that run the shop, who offered to take the wheel from me with a work-gloved hand. While I normally neither expect nor receive this kind of white-glove service, I didn’t feel right rejecting the kind offer of assistance, especially given I had the new tire in my other hand.

Once inside the shop — which was well lit, open, organized and neat enough to serve as a TV cooking show’s working kitchen — Brett introduced me to his brother Brody, who immediately set about grabbing a wheel balancing stand to triage my Bavarian patient. While he was jigging the wheel into the stand, I spent a little time gawking. In the business end of the shop, on a truing stand was the largest Performance Machine chromed Torque front motorcycle wheel I have ever seen — it was at least a 23 inch rim and maybe bigger. These day’s ‘Big Wheel’ Customs are all the rage around DC, although there are apparently no rough surface benefits to running such a large tire size, despite what your dirt bike buds and physics class may have told you.

With a few turns and a dial gauge Brody confirmed the existence of the slight wave that had offended the guys at Fredericktown. But as he looked at the tire itself, he frowned.

“Look at this”, he said. “That bulge and divot? You definitely had a belt shift or fail in this tire’s carcass. Scary.”

Once again, I proved to be not half as smart as I thinked I was.

During all the consternation and obsession over hard parts, I’d completely overlooked a much simpler explanation.

The tire.

D’oh!

Anyway, after making some biker small talk — showing off two wheeled baby pictures and such — I filled out a work order which authorized the guys to straighten the wheel, and to repaint it if they thought it necessary. As they worked with a lot of BMW automobile wheels, which are nearly identical in construction and even the spoke pattern, they already knew the drill and had the proper Wurth wheel paint to perform the service.

All in all, Brett and Brody struck me as the most pleasant, professional and competent guys I’ve had the pleasure to do business with in quite some time.

It was time to get back in the pickup and head home to wait for their call.

 

***

 

Back in the shop, I had my Motion Pro bearing removal tool, my heat gun, and my hammer at the ready, while the bearing sets rested comfortably in my freezer. I considered labelling them with a Post-It Note reading “Do Not Eat”, but concluded it probably wasn’t necessary.

I did take one of my small brass calipers to check the brake pads while everything was apart. My SBS organic pads — which come out of the package with 5mm of friction material, still had a solid 3mms remaining, so they would last through another front tire and could be reused.

The TAS Men checked in about 4 days later to ask when I could swing by to pick up the wheel. I was busy at work, but Sweet Doris From Baltimore was bored that day, so was happy to take a trip in her truck to Laurel.

After work that day, I went back into the shop, and pulled the wheel’s grease seal, and used my snap ring pliers to remove the substantial snap ring that held the wider of the two bearings in place. I took a few pictures of the hub so I had clear photos of how deep the bearings sat in the hub.

Then I took collet and driver in hand, and, after having blown some heat into the wheel hub, removed both bearing sets and the spacer which sits between them. It was a little fiddly to get the collet solidly installed in the bearing’s inner races solidly enough to drive them out, but after a few tries the bearings hit the top of the steel workbench with a satisfying thud.

After cleaning up the hub’s interior, I heated the hub again and grabbed my hammer, a 1 1/4″ socket, and the larger of the two bearings out of the freezer.

If you’re wondering why I was keeping BMW wheel bearing sets in with the frozen dairy treats, it’s because the wheel bearings are an interference fit, and combining a hot (expanded) hub bore with a cold (contracted) bearing makes the process of fitting the bearing far less difficult.

I dropped the bearing into the bore, applied a little hammer, and watched as the bearing moved down towards it’s seat. I understood that when the bearing seated one would be able to hear the high pitched ringing changed to a deeper thunk when the bearing seated. Being not entirely sure my ding had thudded, I gave it one more strike just to make sure.

In retrospect, that last hit was ill advised.

As I pulled the driver our of the bore, the bearing’s seal popped loose, trailing lube.

That bearing was toast.

Some folks enjoy salty language. If you are one of these people, for whom expletives serve a stress reducing purpose, feel free to supply your favorites and I’ll enjoy their benefits by proxy.

Me, though, I just felt very small, and resigned myself to a fast recovery from my own lack of skills, and a few more days without use of my motorcycle.

 

***

 

Upon close inspection, the problem was pretty obvious. My socket — a normal 1/2 drive — was a thinwall, that was just a tad too small to make solid contact with the bearing’s outer race. An impact socket, with thicker walls, would have been perfect.

My choice was to admit defeat, and seek professional help to complete the job, or take a gut check, and prove that I was smarter than aluminum.

After a few permissible moments of depression, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I was smarter than aluminum.

I went back to Amazon, found a single replacement bearing, and another addition to my suddenly growing collection of Motion Pro motorcycle tools — this one a motorcycle bearing driver kit.

Finn has a thing for stickers — he’s hoping to completely cover the outer surface of his electric bass case — and between All Balls and Motion Pro, this job was really working out for him.

 

***

 

The next day, the bearing driver showed up in the mailbox. My confidence rebounded — the tool was clearly well made, and allowed me to match outer face drivers to correctly sized and interchangeable inner race alignment collets. With this tool, there was no drama about the ability to correctly install these bearings.

The bearing though, was proving to be a tad trickier. The major Los Angeles-based bearing house had, despite having said the bearings were in stock, cancelled my order upon discovering they weren’t.

Having struck out getting the bearing, I swallowed more pride and called All Balls Racing, whose web site said they were not shipping orders this week because they were moving the business.

Surprisingly, a Customer Service Agent picked up their extension on the second ring. I gave here my order number and described what had occurred.

“This is NOT a warranty request. The product was fine. I am an idiot and I broke it. It is MY fault. I just want to purchase the single bearing from the kit rather than the entire kit.”

The CSR at All Balls basically thanked me for being an honest idiot, and then goodwilled me a warranty replacement over my protestations.

The bearing was in my mailbox at lunchtime the next day.

 

***

 

My second attempt — armed with the proper tools and the knowledge born of the wrong kind of experience — went far more smoothly.

Ten minutes of heat gun and hammer later, the wheel had new bearings and seals correctly installed.

 

***

 

A few hot sweaty minutes later, the wheel was back on the bike, and the brake calipers and fender reinstalled.

I rolled the bike down the driveway and rode at walking pace to both ends of the block and then headed back into the driveway. The LT was rolling smooth, with no sign of the former low speed symptoms.

I went inside to grab a jacket and helmet, and see if Finn wanted to go for a ride.

 

***

 

Trying to keep a K1200LT and a Buell Blast together on the road takes a little effort. Thinking of the LT as if it had a three speed transmission helps make that a little easier.

As we headed down MD 383 out towards Burkettsville, my motorcycle had been transformed. Any any speed between zero and sixty miles per hour, the front end of the LT was glass smooth — the vibration was utterly gone, the front end suspension seemed more settled and was clearly tracking the pavement more accurately, and as I transitioned the bike from side to side, the transition from one side of the tire to the other was dead rigid, rock solid.

A few brief blasts up to higher speeds felt dead planted and utterly stable. A few hard braking tests were rock solid with no pulsation whatsoever.

Perfectly round rims and round tires combined with perfectly spherical bearings made this bike ride like a two wheeled version of a big Mercedes Benz — feeling like it was carved from a single piece of alloy, compliant, comfortable, and like it would willingly do anything the rider asked of it, for as long as that rider might want to ask it.

For the next hour or so, Finn and I criss-crossed The Valley, trying to keep away from the pop-up thunderstorms that were coming in from the west, and enjoying our newly repaired steeds. The new authority of the Blast’s exhaust note — courtesy of the recently installed Jardine exhaust — allowed me to keep track of Finn’s position on the road behind me by ear — was something I found strangely comforting.

Keeping my eye on him in the rearview continued to demonstrate his comfort and competence in the corners — he never put a wheel out of place.

We finally came back to the shop, having never encountered any of the rain out on the road.

“Good ride, Snorky?”

Great ride, Pop.”

Perfect.

 

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Yin Yang – Part Two

(Part One of this story can be found here)

 

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

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

I’m not sure it’s really right yet.

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

Only it wasn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe next year, oh moto nostra.

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

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

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

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

I wanted to get a good start on the day.

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

And stayed stopped.

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

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

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

Which of course it didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

I looked down at the LT’s dashboard clock.

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last 1000 feet of the climb went completely critical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t looking for a replay of that.

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

 

***

 

I guess it pays to be flexible.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

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

“Motorcycle Detour Ahead”

“All Motorcycles Must Exit – 10 miles”

“Motorcycle Detour — All Motorcycles Must Leave Interstate”

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Not every peak ride experience requires a perfect sunny day.

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only we didn’t have some visibility.

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

I’ve owned three Roadcrafters since 1985.

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

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

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

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

Whatcha gonna do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People in the rest area were staring at me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

The third ‘Stich is apparently the charm.

 

 

***

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

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

All was not perfect however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

 

Yin Yang

There is no light without the darkness.

And there is no darkness without the light.

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

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

 

***

 

I’d had this plan.

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

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

Which of course, is why it was doomed.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

Huh?

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

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

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

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

And that was it.

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

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

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

“I won’t sweat it,” I thought.

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

 

***

 

Only it wasn’t.

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

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

Then weird took the whole thing to the next level.

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

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

From my house to Charlotte is about 450 highway miles.

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

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

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

Which of course it wasn’t.

 

***

 

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

Exactly Jack.

So I began to get creative.

Rolling Physics Problem has a number one fan.

#1 Fan’s name is Bud.

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

Hi Bud!

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

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

So I tested the theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now all I had to do was get there.

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

Three days out, Bud From LA pulled out.

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

Pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

Which would be almost completely incorrect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

So it was fair skies, and rising temperatures.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

And a sweet run it was.

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

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

It was more than pretty good.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…to be continued…

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

 

9090

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.

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***

 

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.

Stopped.

***

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.

832.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Check.

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.

Check.

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.