Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Return To Riding -- After 25 Days Of Being Crippled

In the beginning, the road began to call me by my first name, like an old friend. Then it resorted to more seductive tones, in the manner of women who use me for pleasure. It tried torturing me by mimicking the far-off sounds of motorcycles roaring on the highway. Finally, it just made fun of me, calling me “Fat Ass, Douche Bag, and Pussy.” For three weeks and five days I simply ignored it... Until it pressed my last innermost button, and called me a “bullshitter.”

“You write about riding a motorcycle,” the road said. “You write about places you’ve allegedly been on a motorcycle. You write about friends you’ve allegedly made riding a motorcycle. You’ve even claimed to have one or two death-defying adventures on a motorcycle. But the the truth is you’re a bullshitter when it comes to really riding a motorcycle. You’re ten pounds of shit in a two-pound bag.”

The fact that I hadn’t written a word in this blog for 25 days -- the period of time in which I had thrown in the towel to the raging arthritis in my knees -- seemed to support the claim that without riding, I don’t have much of a raison d’etre. Certainly nothing that I could write about. Certainly nothing I felt like writing about.

At the end of June, it hurt to sit at my desk. It hurt to try and sleep at night too. But now it only hurts when I first try to get up, or walk, Sitting down isn’t so bad, unless my knees are bent really far back, like when I ride. You can hear the joints in my knees crackle and pop when I try and and stand up straight -- like when I take a piss in a bar’s mens room. Guys jump when they hear these creaking and popping sounds coming from me. That’s when I tell them I’ve been riding so long and so hard the “lizard” has to be bent back into shape.

But the road surmised that this was more than just arthritis. The asphalt figured out that I had the jitters too. The pavement knew that I had a hidden fear of crashing and was using this pain to forestall the inevitable. The road showed me its contempt and disgust. “Bullshitter,” it said again, curling its lip.

“Not,” I said.

“Fat bullshitter.”

The time had come to put an end to this. I limped out into the garage on my cane and the saw the red BMW K75 sitting there in the dim light. Do you remember when Richard Dreyfus played the Forest Service fire fighter pilot in the movie “Always?” There is that scene where his plane, a vintage WWII B-25 Bomber, sits shrouded in fog. His girlfriend sees it as a bad omen. Despite the fact it was a clear morning and that I was in the garage, my bike sat shrouded in fog.
The vintage WWII B-25 Bomber flown by Richard Dreyfus in the movie "Always."

“Is this the day that you kill me,” I asked the bike aloud.

“You’d have to ride me for that to happen,” the K75 snapped back. “Right now you stand a better chance of dying of bullshit poisoning.”

Certain members of the Mac-Pac (the BMW group I run with) were assembling at that hour for a gentle ride through Amish country, before meeting at “The Whip Tavern” for an authentic British brunch experience. More than anything else, I wanted to join them. Yet I passed on the ride, knowing that one of their Sunday warm-ups could easily run 250 miles, and figured I’d meet them at the restaurant. Even so I dragged my heels. My last facing-saving hope was the thought that the little digital clock on the bike’s dash would have run the battery down to the point where it wouldn’t flick the starter relay, and that the bike wouldn’t turn over.

The K75 roared to life with the merest pressure on the starter button. It took me three attempts to get my right leg over the seat, and two tries to get my left leg up to the peg. Seconds later I was off. My joints were all dumbfounded. But my right leg worked well enough at holding the machine up at full stops. I peeled onto US-202, found a clear lane, and twisted on the gas. A glance in the mirror revealed an absence of adult authority and I took "Fire Balls" up to 85 mph.

Quite frankly it felt pretty good. It had all the best sensations of getting laid -- but with one foot caught in a mousetrap. Something felt great, while something else hurt. But it was worth the pain. The bike responded to the rider input like a quarterhorse, even though the rider input was mine.

It was beginning to occur to me that I had made built up this situation in my mind to the point where it seemed a lot worse than it actually was. Kipling had said something about taking counsel from your fears. (I believe he was against it.) It was my intention to raise my chin bar at the next full stop and spit on the road. Yet another great poet, it might have been Robert Service in “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” or Adolphus Murphy in “The Shagging Of O’Rielly’s Daughter,” also once said, “Don’t get cocky, Fat Ass.”

The sun had been shinning fiercely when I left, but it was conspicuously absent 6 miles later when I turned onto PA Rt. 926 and headed west. Route 926 is a highly traveled two-lane road road that runs from stuffy developments to beautiful horse country with stone houses and barns. Verdant summer growth sprang right from the pavement's edge, masking side roads and potential deer ambushes. I couldn’t help but notice it was growing darker and the face shield on my Nolan helmet was edged with fine droplets.

“This weather will probably just squeeze by me,” I thought. "Nothing to worry about."

Rain drops the size of plums slammed into my helmet like I was the guest of honor at a public stoning. “Thank goodness my rain gear is easily accessible back at the garage,” I thought. “I wouldn’t know where it was on any other day.”

Mesh gear has come a long way in the past ten years. The fine mesh of my Joe Rocket jacket would easily strain solid particles of matter carried by the rain, like meteorite fragments, out of the torrents of water passing through it, preventing discomfort to the rider.

As many of you are aware, a pounding thunderstorm provides entertainment for motorcyclists on three distinct levels. The first is the subtle change in visibility. When the atmosphere is approximately 90 percent water, it’s like looking at the world through plate glass windows in Marine Land or at some aquarium. The second is handling characteristics. There is nothing like a raging thunderstorm to raise a rider's appreciation for the performers in the Ice Capades.

Finally, there is the lightning. Random bolts of ten million jiggowatts are the perfect encouragement to pursue an adult education course on electricity. The first of these to crackle overhead caused me to remember that I must not be the tallest thing around. This made me laugh as I was passing under a dense canopy of trees (now on Rt. 841), about 60 feet high. Unfortunately, it was as black as pitch in there and I couldn’t see a damn thing with my face shield -- which is clear -- in the down position. So I opened it up wide, and let in ten or twelve gallons of water. The canopy was behind me a few seconds later and things were much brighter, as the road wound its way through two miles of open fields. I watched lightning bolts cruise around at eye level like eels looking for a good target.

This is a beautiful little stretch of road (between Rt. 926 and Rt. 82) for classic Pennsylvania scenery, encompassing old trees, farmsteads, fields, and brooks. It even has a couple of hairpin curves for those who find classic Pennsylvania scenery somewhat tedious. Two of these are back to back, by a gate to one of the more prestigious horse farms. On this occasion, the first turn was festooned by a conical pile of horse shit about 9 inches high. The pile thoughtfully marked the apex of the turn. Most road-apple mile-markers look like a pile of furry crab apples. This was a perfect inverted cone, like it had been dispensed from one of those machines at Dairy Queen.

Did you ever hear the expression, “slicker than shit?” You won’t believe where it comes from.

The second turn was tastefully decorated in the traditional North Carolina style, using flat piles of pea gravel to form intricate patterns matching my tire treads. I ran through both of these turns so slowly that I was passed by my own backwash.

With less than two miles to go to The Whip Tavern, the lightning started zapping around like mad. I realized I was sitting on an an aluminum can, filled with gas, covered with water, passing through fields where I may not have been the tallest thing, but I was certainly the biggest. My dismount procedure calls for dropping the kickstand, setting the bike, and finally getting off the seat. Allowing a full minute to retrieve my cane from the topcase, my dismounts are a bit of a ritual. Yet it took exactly 2.5 seconds to dismount and hobble into The Whip last Sunday.

Located where Rt. 841 (Chatham Road) runs into Springfield Road, in Coatesville (technically), The Whip Tavern is a traditional English pub situated in the heart of Pennsylvania horse country. It is not uncommon to find patrons wearing jodhpurs, rugby shirts, and Aerostitches (though not all in one ensemble) crowding the bar. There is a delightful selection of bitters, ciders, and the expected Guinness on tap, in addition to dozens of bottled beers and ales from around the world. The menu offers interesting fare such as Irish lamb stew, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak, the Scotch egg, and fish and chips.

Seated at the long table were Mac-Pac royalty Earl Bare, his wife Charlene, Matt Piechota, Andy Terrill, Dave Oehler, his daughter Jessica, and a gentleman that I had met for the first time, “Gerry.” I noted that they were wet too. The discussion focused on the morning’s ride, and how some riders interpreted getting the finger as “follow me.” This confusion turned the procession into a rout and riders found their way to The Whip Tavern like souls moving toward the light.

I ordered the fish and chips, plus a mug of Ovaltine.

The conversation had just turned to “things we would like to get for Christmas,” when two dazzling specimens of pulchritude sizzled up to the bar. Each was garbed in something so slinky that a tattoo would have raised a bump on the garment. Emblazoned in sequins across the front of their black blouses was the legend “Guinness.”

“If that's where Guinness comes from, I'll work the taps all day,” I muttered. “The blonde is mine.”

The pair had just drifted off when an individual in our party said, “Would you like to be introduced to those fine ladies?” I laughed. He added, “I bet they’d love to meet a famous author.” He excused himself and blended in with the crowd. Two minutes later he returned with the ladies in tow, and introduced both.

I was speechless -- for about a second and a half. We had a nice conversation, which ended up with the pretty blonde lady giving me her card. She is a promoter for Guinness and lives ten minutes from here. I sat down feeling pretty pleased with myself, when Charlene leaned over and said, “I can’t believe you told that woman that you're limping because you'd been shot in a bar in Detroit. Furthermore, I can’t believe she bought it.”

To the gentlemen who made this possible, Charlene said, “How did you lure them over here?” His response, “Lured nothing. They were charmed.”

The ride home was a lot less taxing as it had stopped raining. The whole ride was only 40 miles for the day. I’d pulled over for gas and watched Dave Oehler and Jessica flash by me on his tricked out BMW LT. I’m going to ride again today, and I expect it will hurt some. So what? No pain, no gain.

Jack Riepe
AKA The Lindbergh Baby -- Mac-Pac
AKA Vindak8r -- Delphi
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting Back To Riding...

Sigorney Weaver introduced us to a ghastly species of space creature in the 1979 production of “Alien.” As puppies, these creatures started out like tenacious insects that planted an egg or pupae in the host organism. As it turned out, humans made perfect hosts.

I stared in horror at my right knee. It looked like it was encased in four loaves of Wonder Bread... Except the flesh undulated when poked. There was every indication that an Alien had laid an egg in it overnight. I was afraid to move it for fear of seeing this thing with chain saw-like teeth chew its way out.

Normally, there is not enough uncommitted skin to allow a knee joint to expand to this degree, but the swelling was apparently drawing on derma reserves from around my stomach. It was therefore theoretically possible for this knee to assume the proportions of a GMC Suburban.

Chris Jaccarino, a celebrated member of the Mac-Pac Eating and Wrenching Society, hooked me up with a local orthopedic facility. They took me right away, but requested the person standing with me wait outside the examination room.

“There is no other person,” I said. “That’s my knee.”

The doctor carefully poked and prodded the joint. “Have you recently been exposed to meteorites, strange space capsules, parasitical creatures from space, or space travel,” asked the surgeon, never taking his eyes off my knee.

“Why,” I asked in return.

“Because there is every indication some sort of alien is living in your knee.”

Several x-rays later it was determined that my knee was retaining water and that the fluid would have to come out. This was a classic case of water on the knee. The doctor explained that some degree of overuse caused liquid to accumulate around the joint, giving it gigantic proportions. I expressed disappointment that I did not have water on the dick, which could have supported a new film career.

There was a brief discussion on the best way to get this water out. One assistant suggested an undetaker’s trocar. The doctor preferred a harpoon, which could applied with some degree of precision at considerable distance.

Twenty minutes later, the surgeon removed 180 ccs of fluid from my knee. The last time I saw something that had 180 ccs, it came with a kick starter. There has been a good deal of improvement since this procedure. I hope to be riding soon. I am very grateful to Chris Jaccarino, both for making the recommendation and for speeding up the process.

Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- Perdition’s Socks (With A Shrug)

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Last Ride Before I Became A Cripple

It had been three weeks since the epic ride to West Virginia, and my motorcycle never left the garage. Work commitments kept me from sneaking out during the week and family obligations consumed two consecutive weekends in the blink of an eye. My biological clock was winding down but I never realized it at the time. Cartilage termites were breeding in my knees but I attributed the growing stiffness to rainy days and hours sacrificed to sitting at my desk.

The K75 had been ridden hard and put away wearing its war paint. Streaks of road grit from four states trailed back from the fender along the engine and gas tank. This bike desperately needed a bath. Attempting to move it around in the garage drew ominous grinding noises from both of my knees and hips. I shrugged this off as post-ride joint fatigue but realized it would be tough to wheel “Fire Balls” out the door holding a cane in one hand.

I improvised.

Molly, a 20-year-old firecracker who could be a model in any magazine, volunteered to make a few bucks the hard way -- by washing and waxing my bike. Her incredible good looks are exceeded only by her ambition and work ethic. She accepted the case, provided she could work in a bathing suit to catch a little sun while spreading the suds. What could I do? I had no choice.
Molly is now my #1 Pit Crew Member In Charge of Motorcycle Gleam
Photo by Leslie Marsh
© Copyright Leslie Marsh 2008

Five hours later, the K75 gleamed like the avarice in an attorney’s eyes. Molly had actually used q-tips to get around the bolt heads on the engine casing. (I know this for a fact as I watched her do it, occasionally handing her new swabs.)

This cleaning job was both a blessing and a curse. While the machine shone, I had no desire to get this bike dirty again. This was my excuse to let it sit on damp days. The stiffness in my joints gradually gave way to a new level of pain, which I treated with benign neglect. An ounce of denial is sometimes as good as pound of reality. My ability to ride this bike is my gauge of personal deterioration. I shut my eyes to the fact that I was now leaning on a cane for every step.

The road eventually began to call me again, using the voice of Pete Buchheit, who suggested that the West Virginia crew assemble for lunch; preferably at some relaxing joint with a view of the water -- weather permitting. (Pete had just washed his bike and wasn’t eager to get it dirty either.) There was a potential for thunderstorms, and he suggested we could avoid the wet weather by taking our trucks. Clyde Jacobs pointed out that he too had washed his bike but would rather put on a dress than not risk some storm grit. (Pete then asked him what dress he was going to wear.)

Thus shamed I attempted to mount my bike. I attempted to mount it six times. I couldn’t get my leg over the seat. On try number seven, I lunged like a dolphin going through a hoop and clawed my way over the tank. My knees felt like they were made of glass. It took another few minutes to get my feet on the pegs. My legs were demonstrating symptoms of rigor mortis but everything seemed to stretch out into some facade of normalcy after 20 minutes on the road. The K75 is an incredible motorcycle. It lends dignity to the way I ride and instantly improves everything.

I rendezvoused with Clyde and we had a pleasant 68-mile ride to the Tidewater Grille, in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Pete was sitting at the bar wearing a face like a human sacrifice. The Tidewater used to have a cozy bar that encouraged cigar smoking. The restaurant has recently changed hands and philosophies, however. The bar has been expanded and cigar smokers are now persona non-grata. The place used to have a great barkeep named Sarge. Sarge has been replaced by a new bartender who can’t find her ass with both hands. We waited 20 minutes (sitting at the bar) to place a drink order. A gentlemen next to me offered to sell me half a glass of beer for $10. He’d been there since the day before, apparently.

Yet all this became inconsequential as soon as we got our table. This restaurant was made for summer. It is situated where the mighty Susquehanna River flows ito Chesapeake Bay. There is an outside deck on a lawn, right at the river’s edge. Some patrons arrive by boat, yet there are docks for seaplanes too. Sitting outside, as close to the water as possible, gentle breezes lulled us back to good humor as sloops and yawls plied their way on the bay. Amtrak trains trundled over a picturesque bridge to the north, and even more picturesque waitresses made us feel like kings in incognito. Coyote decoys are poised on the lawn. We were told this is to discourage the geese. The coyotes are in a crouch position, which gives them a kind of Tasmanian devil look.

The high point of lunch came when the manager appeared at our table -- usually a bad sign -- and requested us to hold down our umbrella as a helicopter was about to land. We exchanged that raised eyebrows look, as if to indicate “not another helicopter,” when the chopper roared into view. It landed about seventy-five feet from us. The umbrella barely rippled. The pilot and his pal nonchalantly climbed out of the machine as if everybody traveled this way. Women looked at them like they were gods. Clyde had the presence of mind to spit.

The day was so perfect that lunch turned into a three hour affair. It was thus that we came to watch the ace and his passenger take off. Once again, the manager slithered out and advised us to hold the umbrella. The two sports climbed aboard and triggered the starter. The engine turned over and died. They tried again. Again the engine rumbled and stalled. They tried a third time with the same result.

Pete looked at me and said, “I didn’t know Harley made a helicopter.”

The pilot held the starter down again and the machine finally caught. (Lucky for him. I was going to get my cables out from under my seat on the bike.) Clyde wondered if you could push-start one of these units by dropping it off a 60-story building. The breeze set up by the rotors shook the hell out of the coyote decoys, giving them a strange humping motion.

We left shortly thereafter. I mounted the bike with all the grace of that rare American bird -- the bison. It was different this time though. Everything seemed to hurt a little. I became grateful for the red lights, so I could put my feet down. On this day, however, nothing seemed to help. The pain in my right knee was so bad on the return trip that I pulled over to rest three times after crossing into Pennsylvania. (That’s right... I pulled over three times in under 20 miles.)

My right knee was the size of a football the next morning. I packed it in ice and took the medication I had. The arthritis hit like a thunderclap three days later. And I had waited just long enough for both of the doctors I normally see to go on vacation. That was a little over two weeks ago. During that time I have been a virtual prisoner at my desk. Getting up to take a piss has been an ordeal. I have been sleeping on the sofa because the stairs are impossible at the end of the day. I passed on the Mac-Pac breakfast (my riding group) at the Quail’s Nest restaurant because getting into my truck that day (at that hour of the day) seemed like an impossibility. It would take me 10 minutes to get up the stairs to take a shower, and about an hour to complete that process.

Still, there is humor in everything I do.

My oldest friend in the world (not Mack Harrell, who is simply the oldest living thing in the world), a buddy of mine for 44 years, was holding a life celebration party for his wife who had passed last February. The party was in Bayside, Queens, NY. I was determined to attend this. My tasks that day were to take a shower, get dressed, and drive to Queens. This would also entail gassing up the truck.

I was out of pain medication and seeing double. Conducting a cabinet by cabinet search, I had hoped to find something that had been prescribed for me in the past and which I had forgotten about or overlooked. I uncovered a dark blue pill bottle, that without my glasses, I determined held tramadol, which I had taken two years ago. I just didn’t remember a blue pill bottle.

“This will help,” I said to myself, filling a cup with water. Intrigued by the blue container, I found my glasses and discovered this stuff had been prescribed for “Atticus Marsh,” our German shepherd.
"Atticus Finch" -- Our 145-pound German Shepherd
Photo courtesy of Leslie Marsh
©Copyright Leslie Marsh 2008

It was at that moment Leslie walked in and said, “I can’t believe you just took the dog’s pain medication. Do you eat his lunch when I’m not here too?”

This could have been a catastrophe if the pill gad been for heart worms or something. (I do not worry about being neutered as I have been divorced twice.) For the record, I do not advocate taking strange pills... Especially if one of the side effects is a reflex action to bury your nose in women’s crotches.

To be continued...

I deeply regret letting this blog go so long without a recent post. The fact is that I have not been riding for obvious reasons and have not been in a mood to write anything cheery. I'm dealing with these issues now. -- Sincerely, the author.

Jack Riepe
© Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- Perdition's Socks (With A Shrug)