Friday, August 14, 2009

A Day At The Races...

There are three sounds that never fail to get my pulse pulse racing. The first of these is a husband’s voice saying, “Honey, I’m home.” The second is the abrupt metallic snap of a cartridge being chambered in an automatic pistol. And the third is the barely muffled snarl of dozens of motorcycle engines, raging with hellish fury from the pits at Hagerstown Speedway, in northern Maryland.

I got plenty of the third kind on July 25, 2009 as the invited guest of motorcycle racing superstar Chris Carr at the AMA* Grand National Twins on the Hagerstown Speedway half-mile. Carr is best known to bikers with a taste for speed as one of the world’s fastest men on two wheels, holding the motorcycle land speed world record from September 5, 2006 to September 28, 2008, during which he hit a blazing 350.884 miles per hour on the salt at Bonneville.

The streamlined "motorcycle" that Chris Carr rode to 350.884 miles per hour on September 5, 2006, on the salt flats at Bonneville. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Yet he holds an equally distinguished record for motorcycle racing fans as Seven-Time AMA Grand National Flat Track Champion and a Seven Time AMA 600cc Dirt Track Champion. He is the only rider to hold the title of “Rookie of the Year” for the flat track and for super bike road racing -- ten years apart!

An avid reader of “Twisted Roads,” Carr invited me to join him in the pits for this race event through the auspices of Mac Pac** member Jim Ellenberg, who is a mutual friend. (Ellenberg reads this blog first thing in the morning and last thing at night in lieu of prayer.) Carr and I have exchanged stories on a number of occasions -- most of which were social events in Ellenberg’s yard.

Hagerstown Speedway is a tribute to the back room of American culture. Located at the end of a crumbling asphalt driveway just off US-40, it has the same vacant air about it as a state fairgrounds after a hard winter. We arrived around 2pm and found ourselves at end of a long line of recreational vehicles (some battered and some in the million dollar category), waiting for an element of processing. About a third of the parking area was already filled according to some chaotic plan. RVs, campers, vans, and trailers had staked out spaces in the bare July heat. The occupants of these, racing aficionados I presumed, sat under awnings or brimmed hats, and surveyed the proceedings with a contagious sense of non-expectancy.

Arriving at 2pm, we found ourselves at the end of a long line of RVs and trailers, all waiting for credentials. At the time, I had no idea these were the superstars of dirt track motorcycle racing. The gaps in my education would be filled by the end of the day. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I caught it, and dozed off while “Big Jim” Ellenberg disappeared into the crowd to renew old acquaintances and get the scoop on the day’s agenda. The program seemed somewhat vague to me. I expected to arrive at a kind of stadium, with flags flying, crowds cheering, and the smell of French fry oil vying with engine oil for the predominant fragrance over the stands. This is the result of seeing too many bullshit movies and not attending enough races. In reality, this was only the third motorcycle race I had ever seen up close -- and the only one to be held on a dirt track. It would be nothing like I expected, and so much more.

Once issued my pit credentials (and I love the sound of that phrase), I cruised around the northern end of the track, crossing it about halfway, under the direction of an official whose job it was to see that assholes driving ancient GMC Suburbans didn’t bog them down in the dirt, nor take a practice lap for laughs. My 1995 Suburban is a surefooted old shit box that hasn’t burned an ounce of oil in 14 years. Yet she wallowed like a pig crossing this track. To be exact, the ass end of the truck slipped at little to the right when I stepped on the gas.

“What the fuck is this,” I asked myself philosophically. It had been raining on and off all week and this track had been absorbing water like a huge tea bag for days. It was as slick as fresh cow shit on wet plate glass. “They’re gonna race on this today.... Not likely.” I consoled myself with the thought that I would organizing my notes on a the bar of a nice little gin mill by the track before too long.

The author interviewing Chris Carr, Seven-Time AMA Grand National Flat Track Champion and a Seven Time AMA 600cc Dirt Track Champion, in the pits at Hagerstown Speedway. (Photo by Jim Ellenberg -- Click to enlarge)

Team Carr was set up in an area the size of a commercial campsite... A campsite that was for all intents and purposes a bivouac on the threshold of motorized hell. On one side was the team’s 40-foot truck, which housed a complete workshop, vertical chests of tools, racks of tires, boxes of spare parts, three motorcycles, two complete spare engines, and living quarters for three men. On the other side was an equally impressive bus-type motor home, tricked out with every conceivable convenience. This was chez Carr, the racing season residence of Chris, his wife Pam, their two sons and three dogs (Jack Russell types).

Two hand-built Harley-Davidson XR-750s sat on rubberized mats in the center. Covers concealed both machines from the triple trees on back. I figured this was potential rain protection, but another source informed me it was to prevent the competition from viewing strategic adjustments. Further work was being performed on a third machine, under a tarp. Everyone in Team Carr moved with purpose and military-like precision. I couldn’t help but notice that in the confines of this little campsite was about $2 million dollars worth of equipment.

Carr's pit area included a 40-foot support truck with facilities capable of building a motorcycle from the ground up. His two Harley-Davidson XR-750s were rolled out for prepping, but covered from prying eyes. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

The entire center of the race track was given over to dozens of “campsites” like this. Some were bracketed by tractor trailers and motor homes of similar scale. Others were a bit more modest and some more weathered. The pit set-up had all the esprit de corps of a World War I aerodrome, with mechanics working on engines under canvas... Engines that would run flat out under circumstances that would consume the average asphalt bike in seconds. Yet the bonding spirit of the track was limited to circles within circles. It seemed like a big family here, but there was no doubt that some family members were here to kick the asses of the others.

It is just amazing at who drops by to say “hello” to Chris. Among the celebrities was Al Wilcox, (90 years old) and a factory rider for Harley Davidson from in the late 40's and early 50's. After his racing career, Wilcox went on to be a flagman for the AMA for many years. This was his honorary night to flag the “Dash for Cash” race.

Legendary Harley racer from the '40s and '50s and AMA flagman Al Wilcox, 90, gets ready to drop the green flag. Chris Carr, #4, is the second bike from the right. (Photo by Jim Ellenberg, also 90 -- Click to enlarge)

All of the women who hang around motorcycle racing events are hot. That is the law. Whether they are wrenches, racers, reporters, tattoo canvasses or umbrella girls -- each must have the ability to generate 50 gallons of testosterone from a cigar store Indian.

All kinds of folks drop by the pits looking for a story, advice, or a good lead. I tried to be of assistance whenever possible. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I got to meet a legitimate member of the motorcycle press, Miriam S. Deitcher. Deitcher is the author of the “Racer X” column for Flatrack.Com and the Director of Advertising for Progressive. She sashayed into Chris’s enclave looking for a scoop, and I introduced myself as the newest moto editorial parasite. She politely listened to the first four words of my pitch -- "My name is Jack Riepe..." -- before giving me that familiar look which indicates I have been dismissed for life by one more good-looking woman. (I’m used to it.)

Miriam S. Deitcher, author of the “Racer X” column for Flatrack.Com and the Director of Advertising for Progressive (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

One of the most capable business people I have ever met is also one of the most thorough on-site managers and organizers I have ever come across. This is Pam, Chris Carr’s wife. She could also be the cover girl for a magazine titled, “Women Capable Of Reducing Most Men To Sawdust With A Single Smile.” I tried hard to just look at ground in her presence and not to talk, lest it become instantly apparent to her that I am one of the few males without justification in the food chain. My strategy must have worked as she extended the hospitality of the pit to me without reserve.

Chris Carr took time out of his pre-race preparations to give me a tour of the operation, and to explain what was going on. I asked him about the tires for racing in the dirt, expecting to be shown a set of vicious knobbies. That was not the case. Carr pulled two tires off the rack: one was worn and the other looked newer, but was far from the aggressive tread pattern I expected. Carr explained that tires from other races on the asphalt (that were not too far gone) were selected and sanded down to present an even surface on the dirt. These were considered more effective as the tread pattern would be less inclined to retain the dirt and clay, and to pack it all over the bike.

The tire on the left was prviously used on the pavement and repurposed through sanding and cutting for service on the dirt. The tire on right is a new tire with the same tread but greater depth on it. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Judging from the equipment carried in Carr’s support vehicle, his team, under the direction of crew chief Kenny Tolbert, could easily rebuild a motorcycle from scratch. One cabinet revealed two spare Harley engines, wrapped like Christmas gifts.

The support truck, easily the size of a moving van, was close to being the equal of a full service repair shop. It was nice of Chris Carr to take me on a tour of his operations. (Phoro by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Ominous clouds were stacked up over the race track by 4pm and things were looking grim. Conferring among themselves, Team Carr noted that races at this particular event seemed to have a history of being bedeviled by thunderstorms. Heavy rains used to routinely flood the pit area until an extensive drainage system was installed. Sure enough, raindrops started to fall with the same effect my former in-laws used to have at barbecues. People scattered. Within seconds, Carr’s motorcycles were brought to the lift gate and moved into the truck. Tools, mats, benches and all the gear of preparation disappeared in a matter of seconds. This Chinese fire drill would be repeated a number of times as the weather alternately cleared and worsened.

A formation of official “maintenance” vehicles began endless circuits of the track in an attempt to pack down the clay and present a less porous surface to the rain. These vehicles were an eclectic mix of automotive shit boxes that elevated my truck to the “highly desirable” category. None of this machinery seemed to be equipped with a muffler and they sounded like a squadron of low-flying B-17s coming in over Dresden.

Kenny Tolbert, Team Carr's Crew Chief, rolling out #4 (Photo by the Author -- Click to enlarge)

The rain would lessen, clear, and return in varying strengths over the next four hours. I figured they would just cancel the program, but that would be the very last option as no rain date was available. Team Carr tracked the path and intensity of approaching thunderstorms on the screen of an iPhone.

Throughout all of this, the stands continued to fill. There was a couple of hundred people in the bleachers around 3pm. The number had swelled to 10,000 or so by 6pm. The noise level mounted as motorcycles being prepped screamed in mechanical defiance, and good-old boy announcers shared news and details of races past and to come -- over a sound system that rivaled the one used to announce the retirement of Lou Gehrig from the New York Yankees -- in 1939.

At one point, I heard mechanics yelling for a rule book to gauge the amount of noise a bike was legally allowed to make.

“That’s right,” said Carr. “There was a time when raceways were far out in the country and noise wasn’t a problem. But the suburbs start at the end of the driveway now and local taxpayers are first to stand up at town meetings and yell about the noise. So in response, there is going to be a greater attempt to muffle down the exhausts of the bikes.”


video

To get the full impact of the noise I experienced at the track this day, turn your speakers 0n "high" and click on the video above. The blonde lady (far left) shucking corn in the video is Chris Carr's wife Pam. The young girl is her neice. Pit crew work is a family effort for the Carrs. His mom and dad were there too. (Extremely primitive video by the author -- Turn up the sound to North Korean interrogation technique levels)

I was amazed. The noise of the bikes was one of the best parts of the whole experience. Quite frankly, I thought the PA system made ten times more noise than the bikes. But in truth, I liked the contribution of the announcer’s voices too. Each part was integral to the overall fabric of this unique experience. Dirt track motorcycle racing is one of the AMA’s best kept secrets... And it is up there with the old wooden board tracks of the ‘20s.

I watched Chris apply a loose-leaf pad of clear tear-off plastic sheets to the face shield of his helmet. This is a well-known practice to those of you who ride in the dirt or who follow dirt racing, but I had never seen it before. It allows the rider to simply tear off a dirt-smeared sheet from his helmet, leaving a clear one underneath, when his vision gets impaired.

I explained to Chris that I have a similar system for condoms on a Friday night... Simply pulling off the last one with each encounter.

At 8pm, the brain-washing PA system droned that conditions had just about improved for racing to commence.

“Bullshit,” said Carr. “They really need to get a grader out here or riders will be stacking up in those curves.” Almost on cue, a road construction grader was rolled out and run around the track.

Shortly thereafter, the riders lined up for the starting flag.

I wouldn’t have considered walking my bike on a surface like that track. It glistened with moisture in suspension and offered all the traction of goose shit mixed with wet leaves.

Lined up for the main event, the racers take their starting positions on one of the slickest surfaces I have ever seen. (Photo by Jim Ellenberg -- Click to enlarge)

Yet a wave of the flag brought a new explosion of sound as the riders jockeyed for control of the track. I would like to nonchalantly say that the drenched half-mile dirt track limits the speed of the riders going into the curves to about 75 miles-per-hour, with a higher speed of 95 miles-per-hour reached in the straightaway -- except there was nothing nonchalant about it. These riders exercised tremendous control maneuvering around each other, while trading sweat for inch-by-inch gains in curves where centrifugal force and gravity threw dice for their souls.

A chocolate-tinted miasma hung above the track, caught in the glare of the floodlights, quickly covering riders and machines with a coating of clay slime. I had one of the best vantage points in the house, and it was almost impossible for me to pick out individual numbers, let alone critique riding technique. I was mesmerized by the way these riders not only anticipated a degree of slippage in these curves, but how they used it to their best advantage.

Chris Carr had offered to let me watch the race from the roof his support vehicle. “You’ve lost enough weight to fit out the port-hole door in the roof,” he said. Looking up the steel ladder, I realized the roof door was about 58 inches in circumference. I could fit through it now. The roof of Chris’s support truck sported a railed-in verandah that gave a nice 360-degree view of the track. But then I had a vision of myself leaning on the rail, and the whole truck falling over sideways, crushing the two Harleys.

“Thanks,” I said. “Next year.”

From a vantage point by one of the curves, I found it hard to watch these guys face the sausage monster in each turn, while wagging their asses in its jaws as their rear tires blindly sought purchase in the mud.

The racers passed by in a blur of motion. If I were ten years younger, maybe even three, I'd be out there with them. (Photo by Jim Ellenberg -- Click to enlarge)

Carr competed in two events that night, but failed to place in the top money in either one. The second event was slated to run 25 laps, but was stopped after 18 due to falling rain. It could be argued by some that Carr’s race strategy called for a stronger finish in the second heat, but that weather could have deprived him of the opportunity.

I used a lull in activity to get my Suburban across the track again on my way out, and the rear wheels spun all the way across. The condition of the track had dramatically worsened since the afternoon. I was secretly delighted that no dirt track Suburban races had been scheduled that night, as I was able to leave for the two-hour ride home with the water-tight integrity of my jeans intact.

I was wise to try and beat the crowd out the crumbling drive to the road, as the parking lot was jammed with thousands of cars, pick-ups, and motorcycles, clustered around rain flys, tents, barbecue grills and coolers. It was apparent this night that the back room of American culture had spilled out into the parlor -- and it made me sorry to be leaving.



Author’s note:

I would like to thank Chris Carr and Jim Ellenberg for a great day at the track. Chris Carr assured me that he was going back after the title of “World’s Fastest Man on Two Wheels” at Bonneville this fall and encouraged me to attend the event. (Actually encouraged me.)

“You can even ride ‘Fire Balls’ over the course and get a timed certificate,” said Chris. Now that prospect appealed to me mightily. To ride the same course as the likes of Bert Munro and Chris Carr has set my imagination in gear. The movie could be called, “Fire Balls Like Mine.”

Jim Ellenberg is a pisser. Jim and his wife Dot drove 90 miles out of their way last week to have hot dogs with my brother Robert and myself at Rutt’s Hutt in Clifton, NJ. Rutt’s is an armpit of a place that has been there forever. My dad’s dad took him there as a kid. On that trip, my dad, who was about six at the time (1929), sent my grandfather inside to get him a chocolate ice cream cone.

“Is that chocolate,” asked my dad, inspecting the cone with skepticism.

“No, it’s shit,” replied my Grandfather, starting a new tradition for Riepe family factual brevity in dealing with children. (True story)


•AMA -- American Motorcycle Association
•• Mac Pac -- The premier charted BMW riding club in southeast Pennsylvania

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby: The Mac Pac
AKA Vindak8r: Motorcycle Views
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Very Long Way Down To Tennessee... Part One

The most rugged bikers will begin their longer rides with a secret ritual which calls upon the motorcycle gods for raw adventure, good weather, and mechanical perfection. These rites differ from rider to rider, though they are generally held at dawn and encompass the hidden elements of one’s innermost self. On July 12th, 2009, Dick Bregstein, Clyde Jacobs, and myself were each getting ready to embark on the first leg of a 7-day road trip to the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Rally in Gray, Tennessee.

I glanced over at the clock on the night table and saw it was a few minutes past 5 am. Despite the early hour, I knew that a Shaolin monk from a Chinese monastery was dancing around Dick Bregstein’s R1150R, in a driveway two towns away, purifying it with smoldering herbs, and chanting an ancient litany in a strange form of Feng Shui. Dick, who would be known as “Grasshopper” Bregstein for the duration of this ride, was sure this would get the evil spirits out of his machine. What none us knew was that they vacated his bike and took up residence in my left hip.

Twenty miles away, Clyde Jacobs drank a pint of mead from a horned Viking helmet, which he then clapped on his head, before biting the head off a live chicken. He swallowed it in mid-squawk and let his dog, Trooper, chase the headless bird in circles. Jacobs swears that Norsemen and Huns developed this ritual specifically for worthy BMW riders who wanted to squeeze the last mileage out of a back tire -- without replacing it prior to a rally ride.

My ritual was a lot more primal... I had just been laid three times in the last 90 minutes, which I have discovered is the best way to start a 7-day ride, a transatlantic swim, or entry into the witness protection program.

“Mmmmmmmmmmm,” I whispered to the semi-conscious, naked form beside me. “Maybe tomorrow would be a better day to ride to Tennessee.”

“I don’t care where the hell you ride to,” said Leslie, the love of my life, “But I will cut your throat if you are not out of here in ten minutes.” Passion does strange things to women, especially after they have become resolved to a man’s leaving.

••• ¶ •••

Clyde led us south, over a familiar series of back roads, across the mighty Conowingo Dam (spanning the Susquehanna River, which is only mighty on the upstream side of the structure), through farm lanes and forested stretches, and around backyard swimming pools with topless sunbathers. (He gets these locations from a website, apparently.) You are guaranteed endlessly changing topography with Clyde out in front. In one mile, we passed an Amish preacher in a wagon, a covered bridge, crab shacks, a Harley poker run, a tattoo parlor, and a woman tanning major league yaboes.

The mighty Conowingo Dam carries US-1 across the Susquehanna River, in Maryland.
It is a familiar landmark for Harley riders headed to the Union Hotel and Bar, just north of Port Deposit. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

For a change of pace, we headed out onto I-95 around Towson, Maryland, to experience life on the edge of the chainsaw. I actually enjoy riding in high-speed traffic, separated from certain death by the merest reflex. Going around one turn, Dick wedged his bike between two cars doing 93 mph, and walked over the hoods of the vehicles to ask me a question. He got back on the bike after a brief dialogue of ten minutes.

This post marriage testicle realignment device was the inspiration for the traffic flow on I-95 around Towson, Md. (Photo courtesy of the lawyers who represented my former wives -- Click to enrage)

Flying along like a shooting star and dodging blocks of surging steel can be just the thing to get the juices flowing. The thrill was not diminished by the heat of the day, which was about 451º Fahrenheit.

Clyde is a cautious leader, however, and after riding along miles of wide open, straight interstate shoulder (as broad as an airport runway), he pulled over on a curve, where the edge of the road shrank to the width of duct tape before ending in a bridge abutment 25 feet later. Taking 15 seconds to reference a map, Clyde then stampeded all 130 horses of his 2004 BMW K1200GT, and pulled out into an opening in traffic that was smaller than the pants I had on. He exited so quickly that Bregstein got sucked into his vortex.

And so another epic journey begins... Clyde Jacobs leads the author and Dick Bregstein on the first leg of the ride to Tennessee. (Photo by Patty Jacobs, who is actually more woman than Clyde can handle -- Click to enlarge)

I was left on an evaporating shoulder, facing an endless stream of traffic that was entering the curve at about 80 mph. Thank heavens the heat distracted me from my plight. I had to open the flip face on my Nolan helmet to drain two gallons of water out onto the pavement. Otherwise, I might have said something like, “When I get my hands on that bastard, Clyde.” Fortunately, an overloaded truck carrying nuclear waste had to slow down to 78 mph, which is as fast as you get get a K75 to go from a dead stop in 25 feet, and I was on the road again.

Clyde and Dick were good enough to start off with a very short day, as I was unsure if the shots I had gotten for my arthritis would be effective. In truth, the deterioration of my joints has progressed to the point where anti-inflamatories and pain killers have a limited effect. Yet life without them would be unbearable. We rode a mere 136 miles to the home of Pete Buchheit, the fourth rider of the Apocalypse, where we spent the night. Though I had ridden a greater distance the week before (but not without running out of steam), I was glad to get off the bike.

Dinner on the Lido Deck with Debbie and Pete Buchheit... By far the best meal of the trip. Debbie is a gourmet cook, with an eye for presentation. She sat next to me to make sure I didn't eat the placemats. Pete offered to put us up for the night to reduce the impact of the first day's ride on my joints. Dick Bregstein is about to make light conversation on the subject of the ballet, and why it is never performed by artists wearing snowshoes. (Photo by Pete Buchheit -- Click to enlarge)

Pete and Debbie Buchheit welcomed us into their home with a gourmet dinner (the best we would have on the trip) and a warning that everything of value had been counted. Clyde had too many sarsaparillas at dinner, and insisted on showing us how to fold a napkin into a brassiere. He has other useful skills as well, like fashioning brassieres into double-barrell sling shots.

Working from memory, Clyde Jacobs fashioned a bra out of a napkin, demonstrating the resourcefullness that kept him alive during his brief stint as a prison guard. (Photo by Pete Buchheit -- Click to ernlarge)

••• ¶ •••

It is essential when planning a long trip motorcycle trip with others that you choose riding companions with similar interests. I like to see new scenery. You will see that with Pete Buchheit and Clyde Jacobs -- for a split second as you flash through the countryside. They carry cameras in the event someone walks up to them and offers $1,000,000 for a picture. Otherwise it would never occur to them to stop and take an interesting photograph. In White Post, Virginia, there is one of the most bizarre tourist traps that warrants a grinding halt for pictures.

This is the scene that riders come upon at the intersection of Rts. 522 and 340, in White Post, Va. I was mesmerized. (Photo by the author... Click to enlarge)

Dinosaur Land, at the intersection of Routes 522 and 340, features somewhat life-size dinosaurs fighting in the parking lot. They are not quite scale, and somewhat past their prime. In fact, the ones visible from the road are a little cheesy. I am drawn to cheese like this the way a politician is drawn to self-serving legislation in Washington.

This is a scale representation of the divorce lawyer retained by one of my former spouses. My shredded ass has been removed from the picture so all of the teeth can be viewed in their total horror. Note the doorway in the far side of the shark, allowing for visitors to be photographed inside. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I signaled for the group to stop, which they did, but not before looking at me like I was a total jerk. In addition to the two dinosaurs fighting out front, they had a shark the size of a boxcar in the back and a huge octopus on a hillside. The front door to this place was framed with huge jaws. What I would have done, was get off the bike and take the $5 tour. But there are limits to the patience of the folks I ride with.

This is the dramatic entrance to "Dinosaur Land." Our group should have paid for at least one admission for the right to pose in these jaws. (Photo by the author... Click to enlarge)

In an age where natural history museums all across the country can be toured by computer, coupled with the Discovery Channel, the Science Channel, and the History Channel, and Saturday morning cartoons, kids have the options of seeing dinosaurs everyplace. And even though it was a Monday in the summertime, this place didn’t have a car in the parking lot. This was the kind of attraction, like the long-gone Storybook Farms in New Jersey, that would have packed them in -- back in 1962. But unlike a museum, this place is an open Jurassic Park, where kids can run like cavemen, doing battle with painted concrete monsters, which are realistic enough to make the point.

I could see renting this entire place out for a biker’s party -- with great barbecue, cold beer, and loud music.

••• ¶ •••

Clyde, Dick and Pete were very solicitous in asking me about my route preferences. I told them I didn’t care, that the back roads were okay, just as long as we stayed off “Skyline Drive,” the Virginia State Park equivalent of the “Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway.” They said, “fine.” The nature of my arthritis is such that I have to get as many good (meaning fast) miles under my belt as possible. These are great guys and they understand, why I prefer not to poke around on corkscrew rides to nowhere. But they can be perverse bastards too. Therefore, I was not totally surprised when Pete Buchheit led us onto “Skyline Drive.”

A great picture of Pete Buchheit on Skyline Drive, posing with his beautiful K1200rs, named "Margie." I am distinguished in that Pete has been a friend of mine for over 25 years, and it is this bond that prevents us from playing little tricks on each other. (Photo by Breg Dickstein -- Clisk to enlarge)


It begins at a picturesque tool booth, where a cheerful attendant soaks you for a $15 admission. Though I had never been on this stretch of road before, other riders told me the riding surface left a lot to be desired, that it was infested with deer like Senators at a fund raiser, and that the speed limit was 35 miles per hour. The road surface was perfect. Everything else, however, was absolutely true. The last time I did 35 miles per hour, I was moving from the table to the bathroom in a $2 “all-you-can- eat” buffet just south of Juárez.

My riding partners in crime, (from left) Pete Buchheit, Dick Bregstein, and Clyde Jacob, pausing to study the magnificent view of the waterfall in the background, with the topless coeds swimming in the pool at the bottom. (Photo by the author -- Click all you like to see if anything happens)

Skyline Drive is a delightful way to spend a week in an afternoon if you have the time and if arthritis isn’t turning you into a human armadillo. This route south is perfect for anyone who wants to practice rolling on and off through nice twisties, at a highly manageable speed, in a country atmosphere, occasionally situated in the clouds. The views are delightful on a clear day. And if you miss one, the same identical vista (or one just like it) will appear every 90 seconds, for the next 105 miles.

This is but one of the 70 vistas riders will find on Virginia's beautifdul Skyline Drive. One weekend, I intend to book a hotel at each end of this 105-mile ridgetop ride, and stop at every overlook, engaging everyone I meet in conversation. Those conversations will be called "The Two-Wheeled Cloud Dialogue." (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

I love dramatic views as well as the next guy, but these are never situated in a place of convenience. For example, New York State’s Adirondack Mountains have incredible vistas in some of the wildest territory you’ll find in the United States, complete with eagles, wolves, bears, and mountain lions. All you have to do is walk 10 to 15 hours, occasionally climb ladders on cliff faces and traipse across cable bridges to get there. We passed a couple of particularly nice overlooks on Skyline Drive that seemed worthy of pausing for a picture, but of course, I wasn’t leading, so we didn’t. In fairness to my riding partners, we had a destination for the day and the semblance of a schedule to keep. And it isn’t possible to tell if one vista will be better than another until you are right on top of it -- provided you are doing 35 miles per hour.

One of these opened up on the right to reveal a breathtaking cliff and ridge formation across a haze-filled valley. That’s what I remember from the split second I had to look at it. In the instant I turned my head, I heard the engines of three BMWs ahead of me going up and down the scale as they dropped a notch in gearing, to negotiate an unanticipated “s” curve. Which brings me to my next point: Every impressive view, which might cause you to take your eyes off the road, is immediately followed by a blind curve skirting a natural source of gravel, decorated with a salt-lick to guarantee the presence of enchanting forest vermin.

This is Mary Rock Tunnel on Skyline Drive... Just one of many picturesque scenarios to be found on Skyline Drive. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia... Click to enlarge)

I was behind Clyde, who is a very good rider with great command of his machine. Clyde effortlessly snapped his bike through the “s” curve (which had a descending radius on each end) like he’d been fired out of a slingshot. I dropped two gears in one move, catapulting myself forward on the seat far enough to entangle my balls in the triple trees.

The four of us soon found ourselves bunched up behind a recreational vehicle the size of a Greyhound bus. The guy driving this vehicle was dreaming of the day when he could get it up to 35 miles per hour. The road was so curvy, that the bulk of this rolling retirement home effectively blocked the view ahead. The double yellow line on the pavement began to remind me of the endless tracks of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The seeminly endless unbroken "double yellow" lines of Skyline Drive reminded me of the parallel tracks of the Trans-Siberian Railway, running on uninterrupted forever. (Photo courtesy of the Russian divorce rehabilitation bureau, which maintains a re-education camp at the end od these tracks for American husbands who try to dodge their fate -- Click to enlarge)

This is the only unpleasant aspect of riding either the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive. You can find yourself behind some old geezer driving a vehicle the size of an aircraft carrier on his way to the cemetery. And unless the driver pulls over intro one of the many overlooks, you might wait a long time to legally pass him. Dick Bregstein was in the lead at the moment, about 25 feet off the RV’s bumper.

Dick has become a lot more cautious about things since he crashed into a boulder on a curve last year, ejecting himself from the bike into the side of a house 600 yards away. (Dick claims he was doing 35 miles per hour at the time, but may have been texting in “singles” chat room at the moment of impact.) He was close enough behind the RV that the broken line signifying it was okay to pass came as a surprise to him.

But it wasn’t a surprise to me.

A quarter of a mile back in this parade, I could see the full extent of the passing zone -- and I went for it -- despite the fact it appeared to end on a blind curve overlooking a cliff, at the end of a long downhill stretch. Gauging the current speed of the RV, passing was well within the safety parameters of the road. I dropped two gears for the second time that day -- but after loading the clutch.

The K75’s engine screamed like an enraged Germanicus in the Roman Coliseum. The tach needle jumped toward the red line and I passed Clyde in a flash. Then I was past Pete... And s second later, I screamed by Dick. Snicking the shifter back up, the needle on the speedo and the tach were almost parallel as I was halfway past the RV -- when the asshole at the wheel of that steel monolith stepped on the gas.

I couldn’t believe this prick.

Since we were moving downhill, the RV picked up speed surprisingly fast. The end of the broken line was about 20 yards away and this old son of bitch was racing me to it in a wheeled bank vault. I twisted the throttle all the way around and swung past the camper ten feet into the double yellow line -- just in time to lean far left into the tight curve that Virginia State law requires following every decent passing zone on Skyline Drive. The driver in the car coming the other way saw only a red blur, gushing sweat, as I went by.

I laughed out loud in my helmet, thinking of the other three guys stuck behind the smoke-belching RV. It was a short laugh. A blaze of blue/white PIAA lights in my mirrors indicated Pete had followed me through the whole maneuver -- about 10 feet behind.

We rode parallel for a second, caught in that unbreakable bond between men, who know that two of their friends will show up as thoroughly smoked as Nova Scotia lox.

Three miles up the road, two deer stepped out in front of me. My aged Irish grandmother, Briddy Fitzgibbons, who used to sing me to sleep and who taught me the Lords Prayer, as well as how to handicap a horse race on a dirt track, once said to me, “There is never a high-powered sniper’s rifle around when you want one.” She was right.

We tucked into an overlook for our-one picture stop on this famous stretch, and encountered the first of 8,700 other Beemer riders headed to Tennessee that week.
He was a pony-tailed, tight-lipped musician from sinful New York City, in his early twenties, astride an elderly K100, that could have been as old as he was.

“Where are you going,” I asked.

“Same place you are,” he replied.

His name was Mark, and he was a student of the Clint Eastwood conversational school. After exchanging grunts about each others bikes, he pulled out some crackers, which he smeared with peanut butter, and then ate, staring wistfully out into yet another haze-filled valley.

"Mark," a musician from New York City was the first BMW rider we encountered on the run down to the Tennessee Rally. Here he is on Skyline Drive. I got the distinct impression he thought the four of us were 10 pounds of bullshit in a two-pound bag. (Photo by Dick Bregstein... Click to enlarge)

Raising my eyebrows at the peanut butter jar, I whispered to Bregstein, “There is a reason why Harley riders think we are all douches.” I started chewing on a piece of half-cured moose jerky, just in case some Harley riders showed up. Pete bit down on a “chaw” of tobacco. Bregstein started chewing on the end of his belt. Clyde merely looked around and fired off a 30-second, three-tone fart that echoed again and again in the valley before us, like distant thunder.

Jack Riepe (the author) astride the legendary K75 "Fire Balls," pauses to do a few squat-thrusts on his custom Russell Day-Long Saddle, while taking in the view from Skyline Drive. Mark, a musician from New York City and the proud owner of a great K100, looks on at Riepe with unabashed admiration. The author is also demonstrating the effects of cooking a head (his own) in a black helmet on a scalding hot day. (Photo courtesy of Dick Bregstein, who tried to get scale shots clearly showing how fat the author really is -- Click to enlarge).

••• ¶ •••

Our destination for the evening was the Days Inn at New Market Battlefield. Perched on a hillside overlooking town, this property looks like the standard motel usually presented under this chain. I have stayed in a couple of these and found them nice. This one was furnished and maintained like a Turkish prison. If you like your wildlife small, you could view them climbing the walls in my room. Science-minded guests could have played “Guess The Mold” in the bathroom. The soda machines were empty. Clyde told me he was going to try the pea soup.

“Where the hell is the pea soup,” I asked.

“In the swimming pool out front,” he replied.

Dick decided that he didn't like where his bike was parked, and was in the process of moving it, when one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, sashayed through the parking lot (for the purpose of getting a tan on her fantastic ass apparently, much of which visible through strategically placed holes in her jeans). Target fixation is a very real danger for some bikers. Dick followed the trajectory of that woman's ass, piloting his bike straight into a bush (not hers).

After being justifiably distracted by a natural wonder, Dick Bregstein rode his bike straight into a bush. His attempts to attract our attention were frustrated as we were all rolling on the ground, laughing, at some private joke. (Photo by Pete Buchheit -- Please click to enlarge)

Rather then dwell on the things we couldn’t change, Pete Buchheit concentrated on those we could. He went to the front desk with the intent of finding out where we could get beer. After ignoring him for a fashionably long period of time, the desk clerk replied (half in English and half in a strange tongue that requires the speaker to sneer after every word) that there was no place that sold beer in town. Pete found one 400 yards from where he was standing.

I may have mentioned that I do not really get a vacation. My clients expect me to call the office every day and I carry a computer to take on pressing assignments as circumstances warrant. Sure enough, the shit hit the fan with something and I had two complex stories to deal with. No big deal. I turned up the air conditioning, switched on my computer and -- nothing. The computer that I have carried in my saddle bags for 4 years had given up the ghost. The screen gave me nothing but a flashing icon of a filer folder with a question mark in it.

A call to my tech revealed that this woud either be something really simple... Or something really tragic. Tragic won. I had one day to either get to a computer in a hotel business center, or to get to the BMW rally's cyber cafe. Yet the thought of working for hours in a public place was very distressing. The only real solution woould be to get to an Apple computer store (my brand) and buy another... One more thing to do on tomorrow's ride.

One of the best pictures ever taken of the author, until you realize the photographer, "Slippery" Dick Bregstein framed the word "litter" to be at Riepe's eye-level. Dick claims the picture would have been better if the word had been "trash" or "bullshit." According to Bregstein, it's getting harder to find the word "bullshit" on a sign these days, other than on the author's mailbox. (Photo by "Slippery" Dick Bregstein -- Click to enlarge)
••• ¶ •••

The ride to Fancy Gap on the next day was perfect. We started out on I-81, and planned to separate around “Natural Bridge,” as the boys wanted to go the rural route. The temperature was cool, barely 70º, and the truck traffic had yet to surface. Despite warnings of intensified police activity, I twisted on the throttle, hitting 102 mph in one stretch, backing off just before flashing through a speed trap. Ten minutes later, Clyde, Dick and Pete headed off toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Riding alone for the first time in a long while came with a singular calm. There was never any question in my mind that I was going to take the slab down to Fancy Gap, as the run for this day would be about 236 miles. While this is a little more than 3 hours at 70 mph, I routinely pull over every hour or so to flex my knees. And while I do not always get off the motorcycle, moving around on the seat greatly alleviates the pain and enables to keep going for another hour.

It got hotter than hell out fast, and I stopped at every rest area I came across, if for no other reason than to take a few sips of water from the bottle in my top case. Regretfully, the State of Virginia has begun closing a lot of these as a cost-cutting measure. State officials claim the money is needed for other things, and that there are enough facilities at each exit to offer drivers a place to park, something to drink, and a place to piss. Yet there was no discussion on how many of these facilities would provide these services for free. Nor was there any commentary on the accommodations that would be made for busses, trucks, and hundreds of drivers who routinely sleep for a couple of hours in their vehicles. (I’m sure the local Burger King will be delighted with this new clientele.)

I roared into one of these rest areas and passed through to the extreme end, where some trees provided a modicum of shade. The truth is that if I had to take a piss, I could hit the pot from where I was standing. Yet the red hot air blowing through my jacket was sucking all the moisture out of my body before it ever got close to my kidneys. Not long after I arrived, a tough-looking customer, and his red-hot squeeze, pulled in on a tricked out purple Harley, that looked like an ingot from a chrome mine. Fifty percent tattoos and fifty percent muscle, he dismounted and headed to the pissoir. I had taken off my Joe Rocket mesh jacket and was leaning over my K75 -- wearing my “Twisted Roads” tee shirt (the best “Get Laid Anywhere” shirt that money can buy), when this firecracker of a woman said, “Hey, I read Twisted Roads.”

I stood bolt upright and without thinking, fired off my famous “battered baby seal” look.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Are you Jack? Is that Fire Balls?”

“I am and they are,” I replied.

This stunning redhead squealed in the most delightful way, showing a violin-string tight midriff under a leather vest, and the edge of a tattoo peaking out of leather riding pants, that accented the lines of a perfect ass. “I can’t believe I met Jack Riepe and Fire Balls in a rest area, in Virginia, of all places. What are you doing here?

I told her the truth, that I was riding to the BMW Rally in Tennessee, and that I had started in Alaska, the day before. She looked at me with eyes as blue and big as Delft saucers.

“What’s your name,” said the spider to the fly.

“Cindy... And I have to tell you I love the Cheri Pie stories in your blog.” She bit her lower lip for a second, then asked, “Is there really a Cheri Pie?”

I nodded and smiled.

“Where is she,” Cindy asked.

“Not here,” I said. (The heat made me crazy... I fired the battered baby seal look an unprecedented second time.)

“Do her hooters look as good as mine,” she asked. And with that, she popped open the vest and let puppies play in the sunshine.

“At the moment, yours are much nicer” I replied.

They were Irish purebred, right down to the sprinkling of freckles. And the way she held the vest open, only I could see what was going on.

“Wait until I tell everyone that Jack Riepe of Twisted Roads thinks my hooters are nicer than Cheri Pie’s,” said Cindy.

The human master cylinder returned to the bike ten seconds after Cindy corralled her McGuffies back into the vest.

“This is Jack from Twisted Roads,” said Cindy, “And he rode all the way from Alaska.”

The guy instantly calculated the mileage that trip would have entailed, divided it into my bulk, and came up with correct answer of “not fucking likely.”

“Swell,” he grunted.

I gave a brief smile back that hopefully said, “Correct, but I still got a look at your girl’s tits.” Realizing the chances of Cindy bringing this up in conversation seemed rather high, and I said "Goodbye" by way of hitting the starter button.

I met Pete, Clyde and Dick at the hotel in Fancy Gap four hours later.

“How was your ride,” asked Dick.

“Routine,” I said.

I loved the generous and kindly nature of this Harley lady. Her warm gesture of greeting me cannot be improved on. And quite frankly, I think women who ride other marques should adopt this practice too.

••• ¶ •••

The final leg to the rally was uneventful, except for my inability to read the mileage scale on my GPS. Bowing to the sensitivities of my posse, I agreed to ride a short distance on the Blue Ridge Parkway into North Carolina. I estimated we’d be on it about 15 miles, or 35 minutes. Eighty-two miles (and two hours) later, we turned off and headed north/northwest into Tennessee.

I felt a distinct sense of pride pulling into the Jameson Inn, where one or two Beemers were already parked in front of each room. (This was a scene being played out at dozens of motels in the area.) Some of these machines belonged to friends of mine... Others were owned by friends I was about to make. It had been my intention to put the side stand down, splash some cold water on my face, and pour myself a rum and Coke as big as my ass.

Instead, I tossed my gear on the bed and looked in the phone book for the nearest Apple dealer. There were none. So I dialed 1-800-Vacuum-My-Pockets. “Hello Apple,” I said. “The gold is buried under the chicken coup. Please send a MacBook Pro to my hotel room no later than tomorrow morning. I don’t care what it costs.”

They didn't care either.

When the charge hit my credit card, it made a noise like a metal target getting plinked by a BB -- but it went through my bank like shit through a goose. The computer arrived 15 hours later. Donor organs for the Pope don’t get delivered that fast.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


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