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Monday, June 27, 2011

Still On the Road

Just a quick note to apologize for writing so little lately. Surprisingly (or not), motorcycling more than 3,000 miles across America (thus far) takes a lot of time and energy. It also makes me sleep very well.

Am currently in Minneapolis again, having made a quick return trip to Jamestown, ND, to honor a very special lady, whom we sadly lost earlier this year. I will be heading further south tomorrow and expect a long day of riding.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bikers Helping Bikers

After more than 2,000 miles of riding the west U.S. interstates and highways, I had my first urgent problem on Wednesday while arriving in Chicago en route from Detroit. Thankfully, a free service I signed up for while in Myrtle Beach provided the help that biker friends have provided for me elsewhere.

The ride itself was as I've become accustomed to, as high winds and torrential downpours seem to enjoy reminding me that I chose an adventure, not a comfy package tour, on my current U.S. trip. My wet weather gear kept me reasonably dry, apart from the right leg that rides up and funnels water into my boot rather than keeping it out. (Note to self: Buy stirrups to fix that problem before heading out again.) The temperature was reasonable also, so although wet, I wasn't cold. But the Chicago traffic was just as bad as I'd been forewarned, if not worse, and my clutch hand was sore from all the stops required getting through and beyond the Chicago Skyway.

Once through the worst of that, I pulled off the interstate to top up with gas and, on pulling out of the service station, found my rear tire was completely (and suddenly) flat. There was no mechanic on duty so I filled the tire with air, and noticed a screw embedded in it. There I was, states away from anyone I knew who could be of help and with no knowledge of the state, city or town I was in.

BAM to the rescue!

While at Myrtle Beach Bike Week I'd been impressed by a Breakdown & Legal Assistance for Motorcyclists service offered by Russ Brown, Motorcycle Attorneys, and signed up. Started by Brown more than 30 years ago, BAM is a volunteer network of bikers helping bikers, whether with emergency roadside assistance, local knowledge or even blood donations and hospital visits. (BAM also offers legal services and an emergency database that holds members' emergency contacts, medical problems and blood type - services I hope not to utilize but which are reassuring to have available.)

Wendy at BAM asked what I needed, which was simply a convenient shop that could take care of my tire. In less than five minutes, I had a call from Dave at Albrecht's Fast Track, less than three miles from where I was. He checked he had the tube I needed, asked the mechanics if they would mind staying a little late as it was nearing 6 p.m. by then, and gave me instructions on how to find the workshop. While on the phone with him, I missed a callback from Wendy at BAM wanting to let me know what she'd arranged.

Once at Albrecht's, the guys changed out the tube as asked, plus tightened and lubed the chain and checked my brakes when they found out how far I'd ridden and how far I still had to go.

So what could have been a major stressor - drenched and tired in an unknown city with a bike that needed urgent work - turned into a positive experience (except for the cost, and that was reasonable also). I got to meet some more like-minded people, talk about bikes and biking America and reinforce my belief that people generally, and Americans in particular, are willing to help strangers whenever they can.

Thank you BAM (especially Wendy) and thank you Albrecht's!

For any U.S. bikers out there who are not already members of BAM, check out their website here: http://www.russbrown.com/

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Welcome to America

It has, once again, been an interesting night.

A friend of the friends I am staying with had a party to celebrate becoming an American. The amusing part of that is that she was born to American parents and has lived most of her 40 years of life in the U.S.A. but her mother gave birth in Canada. The required paperwork was never filed and it took some time and a lot of bureaucratic bullshit for her to gain citizenship to her own country. The event was celebrated with alcohol, bad renditions of both "O Canada" and "The Star Spangled Banner" and a fortunately timed fireworks display.

The new American's husband rides in the same Harley Owners Group as my hosts so there were a few bikes and a few more bikers present. (Don't tell anyone, but sometimes bikers drive.)

One of the reasons I love being an outsider is that, by not belonging, I can hang out most places. I began the evening in the garage with the ladies and was amused when JD came in to refresh his drink and objected to the women discussing leg hair, waxing and other nasty female thangs that he preferred not to hear about.

I later joined the boys by the bikes, and got to hear about prostate exams, cytoscopies, how acid reflux can develop into cancer and other male health concerns I'd never previously thought about. I did wonder, while hearing the joys (?!?) of a cytoscopy, just why leg hair would make a "Man of a Certain Age" cringe. (I also suggested, when told how much it cost for a prostate exam, certain places where one might get paid to allow a similar procedure.)

I'm not sure where I stand on the Mars and Venus issue, but have never doubted that males and females are different, and celebrate the differences. And I thank my male friends for allowing me to observe them in their natural habitat occasionally.

Tomorrow: I'll be riding to Hell and back.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sweet Ignorance

My current U.S. motorcycle road trip reminds me an awful lot of when I first learned to sail. Not for me a series of lessons at the local yacht club, or even learning the ropes aboard the many yachts that sail out of Sydney, where I was then based. I, in my usual "If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing" manner, flew to Thailand, boarded a 28-foot yacht and set off out to sea.

Four months, five countries and two yachts later, once back on dry land in Kenya, someone asked if I'd ever been scared during the ocean crossings. On hearing my response in the  negative, the fellow Kiwi I'd crewed with aboard the second yacht from Sri Lanka to Africa couldn't help himself.

"You should have been," he said. "You would have been if you'd known better."

I'm reminded of those words many times as I traipse around the east of America, and wonder if I would have undertaken this trip if I'd known better. But ignorance can be bliss (for me, at least) and I'm learning as I go.

First the bike, or the Bike from Hell, as I've described her before (bikes, like yachts, are always female and should be treated with similar  respect). The MZ Baghira was designed and built by an East German company using the 660 single-cylinder engine that Yamaha uses for its Raptor ATV. It's fast, especially from standing still, light and easily maneuverable. (It also likes to wheelie if you're that way inclined.) The SuperMoto (a cross between a racing and off-road bike) was versatile enough to be enlisted as a Police bike in Germany and was, apparently, the impetus for BMW's GS series.

As the MZ's owner often tells her admirers, she's fast enough to hold her own with the big boys but can also take a six-foot leap in her stride.

What the MZ is not, I am discovering, is an ideal cruiser or tourer. (Her owner's big brother pointed this out to me numerous times, I paid no attention.) With her high profile, high rider stance and only minimal wind deflection, the MZ and her rider (being me), tend to take quite a buffeting on the open road.  Add a little luggage for my two-plus months on the road, in the form of sissy bags behind me on the seat, and the center of gravity becomes higher and wind resistance increases.

Detroit friends and I have been looking at windscreen options since my buffeting on the Ohio Turnpike on my way from DC to here last week but nothing looks suitable. That said, I survived that 12-hour day (about 10 of which were spent in the saddle, with at least half in gusting winds) and don't plan to have a longer or windier single day. The MZ has shown she can handle it, even if she's nowhere near the comfort level of my friends' custom cruisers, and anything she can handle I can also.

The bigger problem is probably my naive ignorance, but my unfailing optimism seems to win out regardless. Before I borrowed the bike she was serviced and given new tires, plus lowered about an inch and a half so I'd be able to hold her up more easily. (Last time I borrowed her was only for a week so I didn't mind being on tiptoe - I also only had one long-ish ride alone.) But taking her across states and weaving in and out between big rigs on America's Interstates at speeds of 80-plus miles per hour has provided what in boating terms we would call a shakedown cruise.

Doing so without basic tools or equipment was an example of either my optimism or idiocy - take your pick. Jury-rigging a solution to the side fender wanting to leave the frame, while on the side of I-80 W with trucks roaring past, wasn't fun, but it worked. I'm blessed with my friends and once safely in Detroit, JD and others helped me with more permanent solutions, plus general maintenance and advice. I'll be leaving with more tools than just the Leatherman I arrived here with, plus cable ties, electrical and duct tape.

Appropriate clothing has also been a problem, and here's where the wind and weather conditions again come into play. I bought wet weather gear my first week here, but have come to realize that it's not really suited for Interstate speeds, particularly on such an exposed bike. My biggest problem is again wind, and one I discovered last week when riding home later than planned from an outing. A friend lent me his jacket, which was many sizes too large, and the effect was similar to what one might expect if trying to ride at 80 mph while towing a small kitesurfing kite. The bike wanted to go forward while the jacket filled with air and wanted to pick me off. The same thing happened, to a lesser degree, when I wore my wet weather jacket riding from East Lansing to Detroit today.

But, in the grand scheme of things, these are all just inconveniences. I'm loving riding the roads of America, even if they're less fun in high winds or thunderstorms, and loving the people I'm meeting along the way. And for each problem I encounter, there's always a solution, whether it be to wait til the storm passes by or to simply tough it out and get warm and dry once at my destination.

Perhaps I'd be more scared if I knew a little better, but its much more fun believing everything will work out for the best.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

It's a Long, Long Road

I know I keep saying this, but this country is big!

My home islands of Aotearoa/New Zealand have about the same area as Texas. I wanted to visit Texas and eat a wild pig and drink Tequila, but I don't think I'm going to make it. (I'll post the bowl, Matt.)

I am currently in Sterling Heights, MI, having ridden from DC to Detroit on Wednesday in one day. Mapquest gave the journey as just under 10 hours, I made it in about 12 but definitely had at least two hours of stops along the way.

I had initially planned to stop in Pittsburgh overnight but it was only noon when I passed there and I only had another five hours riding so decided to continue. I'm glad I did, but was even more glad to step away from the bike at the end of that day.

I now detest the Ohio Turnpike (I-80 W), particularly in big winds. I was being buffeted from all directions, and the numerous big rigs did not help with the wind currents. At least this time, I was passing the trucks, not the trucks passing me as happened in thunderstorms I rode through going from Elon, NC, to Norfolk, VA, the previous week.

The bike performed admirably but reminded me, about five hours into the ride, that we'd intended to replace the screws that held the left fender to the tank. It wanted off while fighting the Ohio winds doing 80+ mph. I had very limited choices but jury-rigged a solution that lasted til Detroit. I've since spent some hours and borrowed friends' skills to ensure that won't happen again, and will never head out again without at least cable ties and duct tape. The GPS has also found a real mount - velcroing it to the tank worked, but having to look down that low while doing 80+ and being bracketed on all sides by trucks wasn't the safest thing I've ever done.

Then again, it wasn't the riskiest, either.

I still have almost two months and a lot of miles to cover. I'm probably going to stay based here (in an amazing historic house with ultra amazing people) for a week or more and visit an artist/writer/brilliant person friend in Lansing, MI, from here. I'd also like to cross the bridge to Canuckistan while I'm so close but will speak to US and CA immigration before I do so to make sure the bike and I can get back. It would be a little embarrassing to have to smuggle it back. But would make for a great story.

After here, North Dakota, via (tentatively) Chicago and Minnesota. From ND, down to Kansas/Missouri to meet my favorite super-hero's alter-ego and better half  - he's a sick, sick cartoon character, but very wise. I'll be spending Sunday worship with the Westboro Baptist Church while there, and balancing that by talking to some Patriot Riders (Google both terms if that makes no sense to you).

After that, Arkansas and then time to make my way back to Norfolk to return the bike, teach an amazing lady to ride and visit Monticello with her and her equally amazing sister. It will then be time to find a  job and pay off this adventure, while saving for the next. It's time to send out the Resume, I guess, but not today.

Today, I'm riding in a funeral escort requested by the family of a Great Lakes military member who was killed during his 9th deployment to Iraq/Afghanistan. These non-wars have been going that long. (This same week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has talked openly about pay and benefit cuts to the military, including medical.)

Stay safe out there.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bikes and Biker Chicks

Bikes and Biker Chicks.

Both are inarguably rougher, more adventurous and lower maintenance than the alternatives, but both require at least a modicum of TLC to keep them happy, and a little more to keep them purring.

Thus, even though I should be writing here today, I'm instead going to borrow a friend's garage, toolkit and advice and do a lot of work on the trusty MZ that I really should have done before subjecting her to 10 hours of 80+mph yesterday and a vicious buffeting by Ohio winds on I-80W.

The two of us will then head out, with the wonderful friends who are hosting me in Detroit, to a biker bar in America's (former?) Motor Capital. She should, by then, be looking better than me but I can cope with the competition. She needs me to tell her stories for her.
MZ Baghira, possibly not the best choice for the Interstates of the USA, but Damn, she's fun!