Square Art

I was having a great westward ride on CO-62 somewhere west of Ridgway, Colorado, gliding over the pavement in one of those harmonious states that make motorcycling a spiritual activity, appreciating the design of each turn and bend in the road and hollering thank-yous to the unknown highway engineer who made it possible.

Suddenly, without a stop or a turn or a bump in the pavement, the road’s numeric designation changed from 62 to 145 (map) but I didn’t notice the numbers. What I noticed was the change in engineers. This second section of the road was built on similar terrain with similar materials but the ride was all wrong. Not one of the turns on CO-145 began as invitingly nor banked as reassuringly nor finished as satisfyingly as the turns on CO-62.

I don’t know what it takes to make a CO-62 instead of a CO-145 but I’d bet the first engineer was a motorcyclist.

Wranglers Prevent Monkey Butt

Monkey butt, aka chafing, is what happens when you sit on a motorcycle all day long without aerating your seat with sufficient frequency. Many people suffer from this very uncomfortable condition and topical remedy manufacturers have learned to capitalize on the reddened rump disorder. There are monkey butt powders and monkey butt cremes and monkey butt jellies and monkey butt jams. None of these things interest me because I’d rather avoid monkey butt from the beginning. Let me tell you about my anti-monkey butt jeans.

I rode a small cruiser from Texas to Vermont in about five days and monkey butt was an issue each day before dinner. The bike’s size restricted my luggage to two small bags and a second pair of jeans just wouldn’t fit. So, I wore my favorite Levi’s jeans each day and laundered them a couple of times along the way.

Before leaving Vermont I bought a pair of Wrangler jeans because my luggage space quadrupled when I replaced the cruiser with a Goldwing. If you haven’t worn Wranglers before, you might be in for an inexpensive treat. They don’t fit everyone but if you can find a pair that fits, get three of them.

For the first few days on the Goldwing I wore my Wranglers I had no chafing issues at all. I guessed it might be the new motorcycle’s seat so I performed an unscientific experiment and switched back to Levi’s for a day. The chafing returned. The following day, a 700-mile day, I wore the Wranglers again and suffered no monkey butt.

Maybe it’s the cheaper, looser-knit Wrangler denim. Maybe it’s a different thread or a different cut or maybe it’s something else. I don’t know much about denim or jeans or skin but I know that I won’t ride in Levi’s anymore. If you suffer from monkey butt, try changing your pants.

Two days from Potsdam

Two days ago in the morning I left Potsdam with a hangover. This evening I rode through St. Louis and came to rest at the Columbia Fairfield close to the center of Missouri. That makes about 1,200 miles in two days. My next important rendezvous is in Colorado Springs on Monday, just over 700 miles from here. I can be there tomorrow (Sunday) if I push hard.

Here is a counter-intuitive phrase that is familiar to many motorcyclists: stop to go faster. It means get off the bike often to keep fatigue away. Riding tired is bad, mmkay? A few minutes spent laying in the grass (intentionally) will make the next hour of riding much, much more comfortable.

I’ve had enough of sunny days, though. It’s time for some clouds. I switched to an open-face helmet in Vermont and I underestimated the amount of protection lost thereby. I now have sunscreen and I apply it frequently (six times per day enough?) but it was three riding hours too late. Once again I wish my skin were dark.

I have the classic “raccoon eyes” look that comes from wearing good sunglasses in the sun. Today I thought about this and realized there is more to it than the shade the glasses provide. My sunglasses fit very well. Their shadow on my face is very sharp because the lenses almost touch the skin. Glasses with more open space there and above my eyes would not cover my field of vision as completely but they would lessen the raccoon eyes effect by keeping the shadow’s edge from always hitting the same spot. This is what I get for buying glasses that fit very well! (And also from not wearing enough sunscreen.)

I suppose the raccoon eyes are also worsened (given more contrast) by sunlight that reflects off the lenses and strikes my face. The areas of my cheeks just under the glasses seem to have gotten much more exposure than the rest. I have about two weeks of beard growth and that helps keep the sun off but unfortunately I cannot grow enough hair on the outside of my nose.

That’s enough about my sunburn. Please don’t mention it, especially if you are my mother. It’s not very bad and I’ve had much worse.

The arch in St. Louis was very nice to look at. I could see it from several miles away and then I-70 passed within a few hundred yards of its base, so the views were plenty and good. Now I’m out of nice things to say about St. Louis. Don’t drive through it just to see the arch. The arch disappears behind you and the next ten miles of highway are a hell of insane drivers and invisible lane markings. Get a nice view from far away and then avoid the city, or else stay long enough to find more good things to counteract the stress of driving there.

That little stretch of road reaffirmed my desire to stay away from cities when traveling long distances. Today I also reaffirmed my desire to stay away from Arby’s, Waffle House, and bridges maintained by the Illinois DOT.

Mark Ghosh, owner of Weblog Tools Collection, was a terrific host; he put me up for the night in his house near Toledo and the accommodations and hospitality were just great. It’s too bad we didn’t have more time to talk. Mark has been a WordPresser almost since WordPress began but until yesterday he had never met another WordPresser in person. WordPress APB: if you’re ever near Toledo, try to meet Mark Ghosh.

Today was my first day riding with an in-helmet audio system. The Goldwing has AM/FM/Cassette and a CB radio. The SQL knob (squelch) is a nice touch: it mutes the stereo when the CB signal is above the SQL threshold. I haven’t transmitted anything yet but I’ve tried to listen to others. It’s hard for me to discern words due to the ambient noise level. I might have to modify the headset for a better fit. Anyway, I like hearing reports of “bears” or the lack of them. Long way to go, short time to get there…

WordCamp is next Saturday and I am scheduled for a musical interlude. Does anybody in San Francisco have a 6-string acoustic cutout guitar that I can borrow?

Ohio Accident

I don’t know why, but this morning when my father checked my twitter (possibly not at that URL?) he read that I had fueled up in Ohio and then he saw “Ohio Accident” as a hyperlink and some text about legal services. He emailed me asking if I was all right.

Of course I’m all right. There was no accident. He didn’t instantly recognize that it was an advertisement and his fears filled in the gaps. Isn’t it interesting how a contextual text ad can trigger a strong emotional reaction?

The ride is much nicer on the Goldwing. It is as if the miles before me can’t wait to get behind me. This bike burns almost twice as much gas as my 500 but it also has more weight to pull and air to divert. I’m going to see if the local Honda shop has highway pegs for it. My legs still suffer a bit if I can’t change positions on the bike. Then I will set out for a day of westward riding. I might make it to Missouri or stop in Illinois.

More good riding

The couch surfing in Charlottesville was excellent. My host was a professional web developer who uses WordPress in his business. We got a chance to talk some shop and I think he’ll do a fine job on his next WP-based site. It’s going to be a big one!

Sunday, I left before noon and rode up Skyline Drive. It took about three hours to cover the 105-mile road from end to end. There were lots of nice views and twisty, hilly sections of road to enjoy. Then I rode to Syracuse, NY, to stay with a good friend from college. I arrived pretty late. After the sun went down, the flowing air started to feel like ice cubes on my hands. Night riding is much more pleasant in Texas. I’m learning to start earlier so I can make my targets before dark.

The last day of riding, Monday, took me through Adirondack Park on Route 8. The roads were mostly in very good condition and it didn’t rain, though it was cold enough to prompt me to put on my rain jacket to keep the wind away. I rode up 9N and across the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry, a cable ferry across one of the narrower parts of Lake Champlain. It was $4.00 for the crossing and a nice break from sitting on the bike.On the Fort Ti Ferry I met two BMW riders from Massachusetts. They had sheepskin seat covers that looked very comfortable. Remind me to find something like that. I spoke with one of the BMW riders for a while and he was amazed that I had come all the way from Texas on my little 500cc cruiser. I figure that people have ridden longer distances on smaller, older bikes in less time. It’s not that much of a feat.

Each day I got better at riding 500 miles on my way-too-small bike. Gas stops were not frequent enough so I began to take breaks every fifty to sixty miles. Five minutes off the bike makes the next half hour far more pleasant. Frequent posture shifts also helped, as well as re-packing my backpack (backrest) to give me more room on the seat. My father was amazed to see me get off the bike and walk normally when I arrived.

Still, I didn’t intend to ride such a small bike forever. My plan was to ride my little Shadow to Vermont and then sell it and get something bigger. I had brought a wad of cash from the sale of some furniture, hoping it would be enough to get a longer bike with a little more power. Barry was sure I’d buy a Goldwing before the end of my trip but I didn’t think so. Besides, I was more in love with the Honda Valkyrie Interstate and they are even harder to find.

So I fired up the old dial-up internet connection with Dad and started looking for a mid-size V-twin on ebay and craigslist. I bid on a yellow VTX in New Hampshire but a sniper took it in the last ten seconds. By this time, Dad had come down with full-blown motorcycle fever and was spending every spare minute looking for a bike “for himself.” Of course, Mom doesn’t want him to buy a motorcycle but he kept looking.

We saw a maroon 1993 Honda Goldwing Aspencade in very good condition on ebay and the bike was only about an hour away. With 24 hours left on the auction, the reserve hadn’t been met but bids were rolling in and it looked like it would go for a lot more than I could afford. Long story short: we drove over there unannounced, I gave him my wad of cash for a deposit, he closed the auction and let me have it for an unbelievable price. He’s going to finish cleaning it up and get the title and inspection taken care of, and I’ll pay the balance and pick it up on Friday. What a ride! I must thank my grandparents for helping make this possible.

Today I logged into craigslist to post my Shadow for sale. I may still keep it; the engine is big enough to get me around Vermont when I fly up to visit and though the small frame makes it uncomfortable for long rides, it is quite nimble on the twisty mountain roads. There’s also the sentimental value of keeping my first bike.

I’m staying with my grandparents in Stowe, VT, for a few days. I don’t know what we’ll do but I’m sure it will be time well spent. They are in their nineties and I want to hear what they’ve seen and done. Tomorrow, if it’s nice, we’ll take a tour around the new golf course up at the Stowe Mountain Resort. They’re doing about a half a billion dollars of work on new lodging and recreation up there and as my grandfather cut the original trails and built a hotel on the summit many years ago, he’s very interested in the new developments.

From TN to VA

For those interested in following along, my motorcycle adventure photos will appear in a Flickr Photoset.

Today’s ride was awesome. I am having more success at staying comfortable on the motorcycle throughout a 500-mile day. The route I published earlier turned out to be a little too scenic due to the late start, so I cut out almost 100 miles of twisty roads to make sure I got to my destination before midnight. I still rode VA 16 from Marion to Tazewell and I almost died twice: once when a young jerk in a red Camaro ran a stop sign and once from an overload of beauty.

I’m sorry. I mean I’m really, really sorry. Those were the twistiest, turniest miles of road I have seen in my entire life and I got to ride them on a motorcycle and I can’t even begin to share how wonderful it all was. I just can’t share it. I took a few pictures but the best views were impossible to photograph due to the narrow road and my camera phone is barely worth using. It made me feel selfish and greedy to soak it all in by myself. My only consolation was the sight of three other motorcyclists riding in the opposite direction; at least they got to see it. I’m sorry.

It made me wish I had a passenger with nice camera with a wide-angle lens worthy of Donncha, and maybe just a little bit of his photographic ability, but even the best photographs could not capture the experience. You can feel the motorcycle pushing you up through countless switchback turns under a lush, green canopy. You can hear birds singing over the engine and the wind rushing past your ears. A pickup truck races toward you, past you, away from you down the hill and in its wake you catch the smell of burning brake pads. You descend under more dense foliage to emerge in a valley flanked with steep cow pastures and the road just keeps pulling you along past barns and homes and everything is wet with life. You are rapt with awesome beauty. You can not stop flowing through it for the sake of a mere photograph.

I hope I can borrow my Dad’s camera when I get to Vermont. It is the same model as the one I forgot at home.

If you ever find yourself riding a motorcycle up Interstate 81 in Virginia and you have a couple of hours to spare, get off in Marion and ride up to Tazewell. You’ll thank me… unless you get killed by the red Camaro.

Lodging and Running

Couchsurfing.com hooked me up right in New Orleans. I stayed with a totally cool filmmaker along with some other people. He took me out to a couple of great shows in the French Quarter and I met my one goal for every NOLA trip: surviving a hand grenade.

Yesterday was my first 500-mile day (map). I left the Interstate several times to ride U.S. 11, a slightly slower route with more hills and turns. I meant to take a byway around Birmingham (69 to 79 to U.S. 72) but the storm around Tuscaloosa robbed me of an hour.

Couchsurfing.com totally failed me in Chattanooga. Despite starting two weeks in advance, I could not find a place to sleep. Three people said “no” due to their own circumstances and two didn’t respond at all. I got to Chattanooga after midnight and couldn’t get a room at any Marriott because a sorority had booked everything for a big event. I prefer Marriotts only because I still carry a Platinum Elite rewards card which they gave me for staying with them when I was working for Lockheed Martin.

So I wound up at the Wingate in Chattanooga, which only had a smoking room. I figured I should take advantage of this so I asked the clerk if he sold cigarettes and he said he did not. Damn. So I woke up this morning with a nose full of other people’s smoke and no neti pot. Remind me to avoid smoking rooms and to pack my neti pot so I can rinse my sinuses out. Well, at least the shower head rocked.

Also, please remind me to get a bigger bike. My 500cc 1985 Honda Shadow runs very well on the highway but it’s not as smooth as a bigger bike would be (it works pretty hard to maintain 75mph) and the vibrations take their toll on the body. I would like more than anything to get a Honda Valkyrie, a cruiser with a 1500cc flat-six engine just like the Goldwing’s. Honda stopped making them a few years ago so they are only available used.

Well, now I’ve breathed enough of this smoking room air and it’s time to hit the trail. I just noticed that you can click and drag to alter routes in Google Maps, so plotting today’s route was much quicker. Note the twisty interlude in the second half (map).