Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Introduction:

It’s been almost a month since my last blog entry and my only excuse is that national politics, the ongoing decline of my industry (which mirrors this ghastly economy), and some health issues, temporarily sucked the humor out of humor writing. This occasionally happens to writers such as myself and is the primary reason why Irish monks invented whiskey in 924 B.C. Next to ink and naked women, the discovery of whiskey is one of the single-most important developments in the publishing industry.

To make matters worse, my first blog entry in four weeks is 15,000 words long and 16 pages in length. (Actual size.) I advise the gentle reader to pour a cup of coffee, splash some Jamesons into it, and read this piece over a leisurely breakfast. You can go to work tomorrow... It will still be there.

Sincerely,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads



There are times when manhood is a millstone tied around one’s neck and the decision to roll it or drag it does nothing to loosen the rope. The red 1995 BMW K75 -- an object that normally gives me endless pleasure to look at and touch -- was becoming a red herring in the center of the garage and a point of personal contention. I had been planning an “End of the Summer” ride over Labor Day weekend to New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Yet dividing the distance between East Goshen, PA and Lake Placid, NY -- a mere 380 miles -- by the raging arthritis pain in my hips made it very unlikely I’d be able to make that run in a single day.

I finally decided to start the weekend a day earlier. By leaving on Thursday, taking it easy, and checking into a highway hump motel somewhere around 200 miles, I’d be able to ride the bike and not be a total cripple when I got to the mountains. Riding the slab at 70 miles per hour, or better, would put me halfway there in 4 hours or less. Day Two, Friday morning, would see me on the road about dawn, and at my destination -- The Hungry Trout Motel in Wilmington, New York -- by 11am.

This leisurely schedule was important as I was planning to ride with Mike Cantwell and Chris Wolfe (regular posters on this blog) early Saturday morning. An added bonus was that my daughter, Katherine (Kayo) and her boyfriend Jordan, were also staying at the Hungry Trout, and planned to follow us around in their car. It was the formula for the perfect trip. Cantwell is a great guy. I haven’t seen Chris in two years, and I can’t see Katherine often enough. It all sounded so logical and so do-able, that I should have realized the plan was cursed from the start.

My mouth was dry with anticipation as the hours to my departure dwindled. I planned to hit the pavement around 2pm.

With the bike fully loaded in the driveway, the phone rang as I was putting on my boots and I learned of a crisis at work that required my immediate attention. Furthermore, I was expected to participate in an early morning call on the following Friday, before submitting a revised press impact analysis for a client. (I could have taken the call on the road, but the nature of the teleconference necessitated access to a computer and I wasn’t bringing one.)

I wasn’t going anywhere.

My departure window was now such that I had to get to the Adirondacks in one shot. But riding the bike was out, if I didn’t want to risk being a complete cripple or losing a critical day out of the weekend. The only solution for me was a seven letter word: T-R-A-I-L-E-R. For the average BMW rider, this is like admitting you’re a bus station pervert.

I own a Kendon two-rail motorcycle trailer. This is a snappy, intensely clever, folding trailer that carries 2,000 pounds of motorcycles like babies on a possum’s back. Leslie (Stiffie) and I got it when she was into riding. Stiffie (Leslie) hates suicidal traffic. The idea was that we could trailer our bikes through the worst of the urban madness, and ride when we reached the heart of a more pristine rural location. But a vicious case of vertigo ended her riding career altogether, and I fell in with the Mac Pac, who generally reserve trailers for dealing with the odd mechanical failure.

This trailer does not get a lot of use (obviously) and Leslie had gotten rid of the SUV (a Toyoto Land Cruiser) normally used to pull it. While the Suburban had the right hitch and ball, it needed a special fitting for the electrical connection and a ground wire. U-Haul took care of this for me during my lunch hour on Friday. (Talk about last minute.) Then I discovered one of the trailer lights was out. I fixed this by saying, “Fuck it. If a cop wants to make an issue over this, let him shoot me after a high-speed chase.” And on the subject of technicalities, the registration on the trailer had expired too. I started to say, “Fuck,” like I had Tourette syndrome.

The Kendon trailer is lightweight, and when folded, it will stand upright in the garage, where it can be easily moved around on its built-in casters. Each rail is equipped with a locking wheel chock, which will reliably hold a 1,000 pound bike upright while it is being lashed to the steel deck. The deck is exceptionally low to the ground and has a bolt-on ramp for ease in loading. Mine also has a spare tire mounted underneath. This unit is billed as a one-man operation, and it is, if you are a strong, healthy man with the use of both hips.

I was able to get the trailer onto the truck, but I needed assistance loading the bike on it. Mac Pac member Brian Curry dropped what he was doing and rushed over to help. We had the bike on the trailer in a few seconds, but it took some doing to secure it as the K75 is short on lash points. Brian is a K75 guru and had it figured out in a half hour. An electrical engineer by profession, he had the lights working on the trailer in 5 minutes (cheap fast connections) and claimed he’d solder them when I got back. Leslie (Stiffie) renewed the registration online, and I greased the trailer wheel bearings as the last bit of the departure ordeal. But it was 8:30pm on Friday as I pulled out of the driveway, for the 8-hour run north.

“Thank God Curry will keep his mouth shut and it is dark as I am leaving town,” I thought. “No one will see the glorious Fireballs ignominiously tied down to the trailer.” The concept of a clean getaway no sooner passed through my head than the driver of the next car started blowing his horn. It was my arch nemesis Mike Evans, who I had last seen when his bike was lashed to this same trailer. As I recall, I was not kind at the time and made Mike’s disabled “Suzy” the focus of this blog. There was a remote possibility that Evans might be a better man than me, and be overcome with mercy and compassion at the sight of my proud BMW on the trailer. .

“Did that piece of shit finally break down under your fat ass or are you trading it in for a “Jazzy,” yelled Mike.

So much for mercy and compassion. In fact, he had his two sons with him and encouraged both to point at me and jeer. It was then I saw he was fumbling with the camera in his phone. I hit the gas and fled. It was 5:15am when I staggered into my hotel room, nearly 400 miles later. I am no stranger to staggering in at 5:15am, but this was one of the few times I remember doing so cold sober. It is a highly overrated thrill.

I awoke to the distinctive sound of a K75 idling in the parking lot -- two hours and forty-five minutes later. Cantwell had arrived.

“Did I wake you Jack,” he shouted above his running Beemer. My eyes glowed and faded like dying embers in the darkest recess of the room. “Would you like to sleep for another few minutes while I take your bike off the trailer?”

If he had known where the ramp was (in the Suburban), he’d have had the bike off the trailer before I finished shaving. Chris Wolfe had arrived minutes later, on his Honda VFR Interceptor, and my daughter and her boyfriend stepped out of their room into sunshine, blue skies, and a temperature that was as crisp as a Macintosh apple.

The mighty Fireballs, a 1995 BMW K75, on my Kendon trailer in the parking lot of "The Hungry Trout" Motel and Restaurant in Wilmington, NY. I had my second wedding reception at this place. No refunds were issued. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

The agenda called for: 1) breakfast at the Cozy Bear cafe in town (where service is fast and furious, the coffee is fragrant, and the eggs, pancakes, and sausage restore one’s faith in mankind); and 2) a rocketing ride up Whiteface Mountain.

The author tows his daughter Katherine (Kayo) around the parking lot in "The Hungry Trout." Not knowing she would get her first motorcycle ride this weekend, Kayo took what she could get. (Photo by Mike Cantwell, who started taking a lot of pictures of my kid -- Click to enlarge)

Dedicated readers of this blog may recall that I published a guest column during the summer, in which Michael Cantwell detailed a “Father’s Day” ride up this venerable tourist trap, on a day when the fog was as thick as shaving cream. I have always had a desire to ride my bike up this mountain, and today was the day as the sky was as clear and blue as Waterford crystal over Delft china. The views would include three states, two cities, and one foreign country. Plus they would ensconce some of the most beautiful lakes and valleys in one of the wildest settings to be found in the US in general, and the east coast in particular.

Whiteface Mountain as seen from the valley below, where Mulvey Roads meets Route 86 in Wilmington, NY. The Mulveys are friends of mine and have lived in the area so long, they got a road named after them. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Nestled in the center of the “High Peak” region of New York State’s magnificent Adirondack Park, Whiteface Mountain is the site of Olympic-quality downhill skiing (and the highest vertical drop in the east).It is the sole mountain in this ancient and noble range that has a highway to the top. Construction on Veterans Memorial Highway began in 1929, as a Depression Era project that was part of the New Deal. The road is five miles long and snakes around sheer drops and slides, at an impressively steep 8 percent grade.

The road to the top of Whiteface Mountain snakes along ridges and snaps around hairpin curves. This view is looking down from the top. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

The road to Whiteface Mountain is actually in two parts. The lower half tops out over the town of Wilmington, NY, running past North Pole, NY, the nation’s first bone fide theme park. It is a two-lane road that climbs like the cables for a chairlift, but one which offers a more direct route for logging trucks and other vehicles looking to cut behind the huge body of water that is Lake Placid, in a shortcut to the community of Saranac Lake. The speed limit is 45 or 50 mph -- going up. If you are driving a vehicle of some mass, you are well advised to slow down on a steep hill that ends in a stop sign at a four-way stop.

The upper half is the $9 toll road that follows the ridges to the top, snaking around curves, some of which rim a drop of a thousand feet or more. The speed limit is 25 mph.

Exiting the Cozy Bear, I looked in my mirror to make sure everyone was behind me as I twisted on the gas. The BMW engine growled like a Messerschmidt with a boner and flew up straight up the lower road. The three of us edged around a chugging car of Quebecoise (Canadian winers), giving then a jolly wave, which in turn drew four extended middle fingers -- the traditional salute to Americans from residents in Montreal. I stopped at the toll house and laughed like an idiot. Nothing beats riding into the clouds. We shelled out the blood money, $27 bucks in combined tolls, and roared onto the the upper stretch.

The parking area at the top of Whiteface Mountain. It would be jammed within the hour.
(Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

The gentle reader will recall that in his guest appearance on this blog, Mike Cantwell mentioned the rough condition of the road, citing the presence of substantial ice heaves like moguls on an Olympic ski slope. Well, I figured he was just bullshitting in the famous Mike Cantwell tradition. Again I twisted on the gas, and once again the bike screamed for the clouds. The road is tree-lined in the beginning, and the bright sun cast dark shadows on the gray pavement... Shadows, that with the smoked visor down on my Nolan helmet, sometimes concealed shapes.

There is nothing more aggravating than to have some outlandish comment one of your buddies told you turn out to be total understatement.

I was still accelerating when I hit the first mogul/heaved section of pavement. The bike caught a few inches of air, the jolt of which threw my fat ass right out of my huge Russell Day-Long Saddle. Thank God I was holding on tight. The K75 landed on the pavement with an even bigger jolt and I sat down hard -- right on my own balls. I saw stars and heard show tunes for the next ten minutes. I then picked my way through the moguls like they were Teller mines for the remaining 4 miles of road.

The "Castle" at the top of Whiteface Mountain, housing a small snack bar and the tiniest bathrooms in the history of indoor plumbing. The "turnaround" through the building is clearly visible here. (Picture by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

We ran into tourist traffic that slowed to a fast-paced walk through the hairpin curves. There were joggers, hikers, and bicyclists on the pavement. Each curve brought sweeping views of lakes, mountains, valleys and rivers that could only be glimpsed for a second or two on the climb up. There were plenty of places to pull over, but these got more and more crowded as we neared the top. The last quarter mile was a bedlam, as parking attendants directed traffic through a turn-around under the “castle” at the road’s end, and tried to fill parking slots as they became available.

A closer detail of the stonework on the "Castle" and the parapet. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

They waved us to an ideal position, in the shade, and then boxed us in with with a dozen Harleys and Goldwings from Quebec. We smiled said “bonjour” to our French-speaking brothers from the Great White North, who responded like they were smelling shit. It is easy to pass as Quebecoise. Just buy really tight briefs, put them on backwards, and wedge up them up your ass. Your face will automatically assume the proper characteristics.

Mike Cantwell and the author on Whiteface Mountain as they discover themselves blocked in by foreign Harley's and Goldwings from the north. Cantwell made this ride earlier in the year when everything was shrouded in fog. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge. Be advised that enlarging a full-sized picture of the author can be dangerous.)

The view from the parapet on the mountain was humbling. The air was so clean and free of haze that the view easily ran 100 miles in each direction. You could see Lake Placid in every detail. Lake Champlain was to the east, bordering on Burlington. The Saranac River ran like a blue ribbon at the mountains’ feet. And the tall buildings of Montreal seemed like pencil marks at the base of Mont Royal.

The author and Chris Wolfe with a subliminal message for foreign bikers who block us in and develop an attitude. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge, but why would you want to.)

Yet the voices of the 200 or 300 people at the top were strangely muted. With nothing to reflect the sound, the mountain top was quiet -- despite the flow of traffic. I could barely hear the straight pipes on a Harley 1000 feet below us. And at one point, I swear everyone stopped talking at once, and just took in the scenery. It was at least 15 degrees cooler on the mountain top than in the valley, though the strength of the sun could be felt on my dark clothing. I get hot easily, and I was glad I had worn my mesh. It was below 50º when we had started out for breakfast. It would hit 72º by lunch.

The other 45 high peaks of the Adirondack Mountain range in the distance. (Photo by Katherine Riepe -- Click t0 enlarge)

Katherine (Kayo) and her boyfriend Jordan rushed to take the mine-shaft elevator to the mountain’s absolute top, about 22 stories above us. The last time she was here, Katherine was 6 years old. They would hike down. Cantwell went off to take pictures, and Chris and I exchanged lies about adventures we had, women we laid, and stretches of road that nearly killed us. Chris had a few of these, involving two drops at speed, courtesy of a truck that ran a stop sign, and a deer that just ran right into him. Naturally, I told him how nice the duct tape from these events looked on his fairing. The British aren’t much for showing their emotions, but my last remark went right to Chris’s miniscule soul, and he nearly sobbed, before responding that I was “an Irish asshole.”

That is the famous Lake Placid down in the valley. To go from one end of the lake to the other by fast motorboat takes about 50 minutes. This was the scene of two winter Olympics. You can see the actual town of Lake Placid on the upper sliver of water in the picture. The town is built on Mirror Lake. Many of the houses on Lake Placid can only be reached by boat. Note the absence of roads. Contrary to a popular movie, there are no giant alligators in the lake. (Photo by Katherine Riepe -- Click to enlarge)

The ride down was like a roller coaster -- until we hit the most heaved stretch of pavement. We spent the remainder of the day cruising the back roads of Essex County, NY, stopping for a very late lunch at nice little tavern in Keene Valley. It was about 4pm, and I noticed that the sun, though high in the sky, had crowned the rugged tops of the mountains with benign auras of gold. The next hour would provide the softest light of the day, and I was not inclined to give up my vantage point from the outside deck of this bar.

Looking from the top of the mounbtain down to the last curve in the road... The second couple of guys at the parapet (from the top left on the road) are Chris Wolfe and me. Mike Cantwell took this picture after trying to get us to wave. We thought he was someone threatening to jump, and Chris just checked to be sure he wouldn't land on the bikes. (Click to enlarge)

We were sitting on the main street of heaven, in a beautiful little town in which Chris Wolfe seemed to know everyone. It was the height of the Labor Day weekend, and every vehicle that passed had a canoe or a kayak on the roof. A brace of bicyclists, with fully loaded panniers on each wheel rolled by, like martyrs looking for a cross. The guy had muscles like coiled copper cable and the woman had the appearance of warm honey, poured into an athletic human shape. Considering the size of the hills that were behind and in front of them, I hoped their bikes had a combined total of 2,356 gears.

The outside of the mine shaft leading to the elevator. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

The Harley folks were out in force, but there were a lot of BMWs in evidence too. The famous “Finger Lakes Rally” had convened a couple of hundred miles to the west and south, and many riders had included the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks intro a brief afternoon ride.

Mike Cantwell took this picture from the inside of the elevator to the top of the mountain (27 additional stories), looking out toward open end of the mine shaft. The elevator is this cool device that ascends and decends with all these clanking chains that can be used to manually lower the cage in the event the power goes out. (Click to enlarge)

The shoulder of Whiteface offers a great spot for a picnic, an assignation, or a wedding proposal. I have had luck with all three up here. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

I had asked for a light summer drink that was one part alcohol, ten parts fruit juice, and a $1.20 for each part. I weigh as much as the left tower of the George Washington Bridge, and despite innumerable reports that claim sniffing a drink within two weeks of riding a motorcycle will result in instant death, I took my chances. In fact, I took my chances twice. Chris and Mike were discussing an age-old motorcycle-related topic: what manner of bike attracts the hottest women.

The weather station atop Whiteface Mountain, where Mike Cantwell's company takes cloud samples to measure chemical content and pollution drift. (Photo by Katherine Riepe -- Click to enlarge)

Chris thought that duct tape, artfully covering cracks and dings on the left side of a bike was the strongest chick magnet. Mike claimed that a machine of clean design reeked of sincerity (a big thing with women who are under the impression that guys are lying shits and out to get what they can on holiday weekend bike rides). He explained how adding a drop or two of fabric softener to his engine oil gives his K75 that added scent of sincerity as well.

Two of the hottest babes I have ever seen in the Adirondacks cruised our bikes, and stopped to run their hands over my K75. (Photo by the motorcycle god, who obviously holds me in high regard and continues to send babes like this to me. -- Click to enlarge)

I said nothing, but watched while two of the hottest babes in the Adirondacks cruised my K75, marveled at the HID lights, and were stunned by the size of the seat, which has the dimensions of the Lido deck on any yacht of modest sophistication. Aside from hair color, they appeared to be twins straight out of the Victoria Secret catalogue. I was prepared to grovel if they had Swedish accents.

The blond one said, “The man who rides on this saddle must have a really big...”

“I do,” I said startling both of them into a deep crimson blush.

The blond had hair the color of newly minted Krugerrands and a 90,000 kilowatt smile. Her twin sister (albeit brunette) gazed at the world through eyes like stained glass icons, which easily pierced the filmy veil of deceit surrounding the toxic waste site of my soul.

The blond had hair the color of a newly minted Krugerrand. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Is this your bike,” asked the brunette.

“Yes,” I replied, with the accent on the “s” in the word, so it sounded like passion hissing from a volcanic fissure.

“How do you get it out of your ass at the end of the day?”

The spell was broken, and Chris led us from the saloon on a spirited run through a series of winding Adirondack back roads. The temperature had been perfect throughout the day, but things started to change about an hour before sunset. While the waning sunlight coats the western slopes of these mountains with a warm soft glow, the tendrils of dusk already had the eastern slopes in a tight grip. My riding lights were visible on the surface of the road in narrow valleys where it was getting onto dark in the dense forests on either side.

The temperature dropped like a stone. It would be a nice 64º (without taking into account we were charging along between 55 mph and 70 mph), then plunge another ten degrees when we dropped into a narrow valley. Many of these valleys had picturesque streams and little rivers filled with cold mountain water rushing through them, which served to further cool the immediate vicinity. Finding these chilled pockets of solace on a hot summer day are always a delight. But we were riding at the end of what was essentially a mild fall day, and I was running around in a undershirt.

I was wearing ballistic mesh over a tee shirt that had been slightly moistened with sweat when the sun was at its peak. August heat had kept me off the bike just a week before, and now I was freezing my ass off. Yet just as I was about to shiver, Chris led us out onto a long western exposure, on a mountainside that had once accommodated an attempt at Adirondack farming. (The growing season here is a Friday to a Tuesday in July.) The ambient temperature jumped again, and I could feel the heat of the setting sun soaking through the front of my jacket.

Now if the gentle reader will recall, the huge pool table-sized Russell Day-Long seat under my ass is heated. All I have to do is flick a switch to toast my buns. The switch works great. Too bad I am using an AP-1 Centech fuse block that is live all the time. That means the curious and idle can come along and flick the nice heat switch (which has a pretty red LED indicator built in) to drain the battery. To prevent this from happening, I pulled the 7.5 amp fuse from the block, never thinking it would be cool enough to want to use this option, before November. (The installation of a relay, planned for next month, will kill the entire block unless the engine is running.) I had the fuse in the tool kit under my seat, but I was damned if I’d let Chris know I was cold. Besides, we only had another 20 miles or so to go.

The road we were on now was like a ramp to the sun.

It was setting in my face and for the first time the tinted shield on my Nolan helmet was almost useless. The incline on this road was such that there was no angle I could tilt my head to get the sun out of my face. Eventually, I ended up using my left hand as a makeshift visor.

Let the record show that I do not recommend riding for eight miles on a winding uphill stretch, with just your right hand on the handlebars. But you do what you have to do. (Nothing would have helped this but a really dark pair of sunglasses, that I can’t wear. Neither the strip of electrical tape on the clear visor nor any other trick would have worked.) This slowed me down plenty, which was good, as the only state police car free at the moment came out of that sun and automatically flipped on the roof lights to begin the pre-arrest procedures -- until the cop looked at the radar and realized we were barely holding 50 mph. The roof lights went out in disbelief, and some regret I think, as the officer continued on his way.

I specifically told Chris to pick roads that the cops tended to avoid.

The first corner we ripped around on this run yielded two state police cars (lights flashing), two unmarked cars (grill lights flashing), and a van with some official markings on the door. They were parked on the shoulder and were all empty. There are a number of places in the Adirondacks where rivers have been pounding through the granite and shale for millions of years, producing incredible natural water slides and pools. They are great swimming holes and well-known to the locals. But these secrets get out among the tourists, who fail to understand the inherent dangers, and two or three manage to drown each season. It was my understanding that the cops were responding to an emergency of this nature.

I cannot thank Michael Cantwell enough for the kindness and patience he extended to me on this ride. The only thing he asked of me was to have his picture taken with the most flawless BMW K75 in the world. I was almost moved to tears. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

There is nothing like the feel of crisp hotel bed sheets after a day of great riding, especially if you are running on three hours sleep. Prudence demanded I make it an early night. “Misty,” a local pole dancer and exotic performance artist, said otherwise, and insisted we fill her “G” string with singles. Would you listen to “Prudence” or “Misty?” Chris Wolfe and I closed the bar. It was just like old times.

Conspiracy has no place on a motorcycle trip, and it is amazing how often it rears its ugly head. My daughter Katherine had casually mentioned to her “Uncle Chris” that she had never ridden on a motorcycle before, and that I had repeatedly declined to let her ride behind me. For one thing, my ass is so huge there is no “behind me,” even on the legendary Russell Day-Long saddle. For another, I will not risk dropping my kid to the pavement as a result of these bum knees. So “Uncle Chris” stepped up to the plate and offered to take Katherine for a “little ride.”

I assumed he meant up and down the road in front of the motel. Chris is well qualified to handle a bike and a firm practitioner of ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time). So I was not surprised when he showed up with a complete ballistic outfit for my kid (his wife’s). I was surprised when Mike Cantwell showed up with a ballistic outfit for her boyfriend, Jordan. I did think this was a high-level of spontaneous consideration on behalf of my two pals for my daughter and her paramour.

Chris and Mike gave their passengers a short course in pillion protocol, and I watched as both scrambled into position on their respective machines. Cantwell was all dignified business on his K75, and Jordan had the look of a kid who’d heard about the excitement of the merry-go-round, but wasn’t quite sure how he’d ended up on one. (This was his first shot at two-wheeled liberation too.) Chris’s VFR Interceptor is built along the lines of a crotch rocket, however, and I had very mixed emotions about seeing my daughter, dressed like a hazmat SWAT team member, wagging her butt from this precarious perch.

“Follow me,” yelled Chris, as he triggered the starter button. “For our first little ride today, we are going to the Shelburne Museum -- over in Vermont.”

This is a beautiful run, down from the mountains via a series of two-lane roads that twist around hidden lakes, run through open fields, and disappear in and out of densely forested stretches, until emerging alongside azure Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain is an imposing body of water, 400 feet deep, 110 miles long and 12 miles across its widest point. It’s like a little inland sea between New York and Vermont, and the US and Canada. It is dotted with beautiful little communities and ports along its shore (like Fort Ticonderoga), as well as the cities of Plattsburgh in New York, and Burlington in Vermont. The change in terrain is utterly dramatic as you go from the highest point in New York (5,550 feet) to 100 feet above sea level.

“Fucking Vermont,” I screamed!

But Chris was already moving. And I was on him like a barnacle on a whale’s ass. For the first three miles or so, I was close enough for Katherine to step off Chris’s bike and to get on mine. I mimicked his every move. If there had been an event in the Olympics called synchronized motorcycle dancing, we would have gotten a “10” from everyone on the committee and a 9.5 from Romania. Yet there is nothing as draining as maintaining a fighter plane formation five feet above the ground. In fact, there was nothing I could really do and it was much safer for all concerned to introduce about 300 feet of distance between the bikes. I gave up and fell back, taking in the ride.

If Mike Cantwell had found a way to get into this picture, it would be the photo I would want the world to remember me by. This was one of the happiest moments in my life. From left, Jordan Bolin, Katherine (Kayo), the author, and Chris Wolfe. We were halfway across Lake Champlain and I wish the crossing had taken a week. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

Kayo (Katherine) was utterly mesmerized. Her senses were bombarded by all of the things we know so well... A thousand scents and aromas from the fields and flowers along the way... The rise and fall of the temperature as the bike climbed in and out of valleys... The song and cadence of the engine set to match the road... And the ability to reach down and touch the curve, if one was so ill-advisedly inclined. I watched her lean into the curves with the bike like she had been doing it all her life. A black belt in karate and a yoga teacher (as well as a professional writer), she is as nimble and as athletic as I am not. Later, she would tell me the bike made her want to try bungee jumping, mountain climbing, and sky diving. And she also admitted thinking, “I am sitting in the open, without restraint, moving like a bullet along the road. There is nothing between me and impact, except the skill of the man at the controls. And Uncle Chris is a close friend of my dad’s and a British twit.” (I really don’t know if she were thinking the very last part, but she should have been.)

Other bikers joined us for the cruise across the lake that day. Chris Wolfe was taken with this FJR. I said to him, "Try hard not to let the guy know you covet his bike." Chris laughed and said, "That guy thinks I'm some kind of a god, because he's under the impression your kid is my girlfriend." (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I watched the road before me -- and before Chris -- like it was a crystal ball. At one point, an oncoming tractor-trailer indicated a left turn across Wolfe’s right of way. I found myself tensing in the seat. But the truck waited until Chris went past, before turning in front of me. “Shit,” I thought, releasing my anxiety by grabbing a huge handful of brake. It was obvious the truck driver was looking to make a u-turn, and I hit the horn as I went past, hoping he would take another look at the road before backing up. He did, and Cantwell, with Jordan on the back, experienced no danger.

From left, Mike Cantwell, Katherine, and Chris Wolfe. The last time Chris had seen Katherine, she was 12-years-old. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Lake Champlain has one of the longest undeveloped shorelines in the eastern US. Farm fields run to the water’s edge, or border the Amtrak rails, or give way to the occasional marina. It amazes me how much of this lake’s shoreline is in private hands, and under no pressure to turn it into miniature golf courses and go-cart tracks. Traffic was minimal and it was a delight to hold the speed limit or ride slightly above. There are two bridges across Champlain, and both are ridiculously close to their respective ends of the lake. Still, this is better than rigging an interstate bridge across this beautiful stretch of open water. Looking north toward Canada from the surface of the lack, there is no hint of land and one is given to musing about a sea of clean, pure water. Three ferries save motorists and trucks a 100-mile drive around the ends of the lake, and it was to one of these, at the town of Essex, New York, that we were headed.

The Lake Champlain ferries are compact barge-type boats, with decking on one side. This the wheelhouse from which the boat is steered. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

The ferry slip in Essex is clearly marked by a swath of loose gravel on a right angle turn off the main road. A pleasant lady in the little toll house extorts the price of a round-trip ticket, and directs you to a place in line. Motorcycles get some extra consideration as they are bunched up together. I was a tad nervous about the boarding activity as this was the first time I would be taking my bike on a boat. The steel ramps leading up or down to the steel boat deck had me wondering if they’d be damp, a natural enough expectation at a wharf, and whether I’d slide on my ass and crash into the other bikes like a bowling ball.

This concern was unwarranted and I rode onto the deck without a problem. There were about a dozen bikes, including ours for this crossing, and everyone simply put their bikes in gear and left them on the side stands. I made no attempt to get off. My arthritis was raging and I saw no advantage to hanging over the rail. The ferry is like an enormous powered barge, carrying three lanes of traffic with the capability of boarding trucks and busses. There is a wheelhouse, a second story observation deck, and a heated passenger cabin for rough nights.

The return boat ride back to New York was a lot warmer and a lot calmer. Kayo is referring to her riding gear as her "snow pants." Behind her is a little bay on the lake and home to the artist Elizabeth Bunsen. Chris is thinking of way to chissel me out of a drink, in about 2 hours. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

And there are plenty of rough nights. I remember one hard crossing years ago (when I lived in Lake Placid and flew out of Burlington for business) that caused a tractor-trailer to slip its brakes and smash hell out of the cars parked in front and behind it. I was the first car on the bow for that trip, and a wave broke over the boat and came splashing in through the open vents of the AMC Spirit I was driving. Ours was the last boat to make that run from Plattsburgh to Grand Isle that day, as service was suspended.

Hot, tired, and thirsty, we await the ferry to finish loading and head west to New York again. Traffic was heavy in Vermont, and we waited in a stop and go jam that lasted almost 3 minutes. Chris has asked everyone to lay their coats on his bike so you cannot see the duct tape. It took all of our riding jackets, including mine, to hide 300 yards of tape. (Photo by Mike Cantwell -- Click to enlarge)

It was a gorgeous day to be on the Lake for this ride, however, despite a slight chop. The ferry rolled with waves as it left the dock and the top-heavy characteristics of the BMW K75 made themselves felt in this new environment. I slipped the bike in gear and put my side stand down too -- just in case.

The sky was utterly clear and a shade of blue capable of competing with my daughter’s eyes. The temperature was a delightful 68º and I was thoroughly captivated by the scene unfolding before my eyes. Here, on 60 square feet of ferry deck, were collected a handful of the most significant people in my life. If Katherine were my sole raison d’etre, the extent of that contribution cannot be over-emphasized. The world will honor me for some day. The water that has passed under the bridge since Chris Wolfe and I started pissing in it would fill Lake Champlain, and then some. I find it amazing how time seems to stand still when the two of us are riding together, or trading our respective brands of bullshit. Regrettably, I age twice as fast -- like the picture of Dorian Gray -- in the intervals in between. Mike Cantwell is all wool and a yard wide. A naturalist by training... An environmentalist by inclination... A BMW rider by preference... A Mac Pac member through a flaw in the bylaws... And a gentleman from birth... Cantwell and I have hunted wild turkey together, decorated Christmas trees under the influence, and survived the worst ice storm to grip the North Country from Montreal, Canada to Albany, NY. I would love to include both of these guys in my annual West Virginia rides with Pete Buchheit, Dick Bregstein, and Clyde Jacobs. We would then be the “Army of the Damned Funny.”

Even Jordan Bolin, my daughter’s current paramour, will forever be remembered as part of this scenario. I’d first met Jordan a couple of years ago and figured him as one of my kid’s passing fancies. Actually, he had hip-length hair at the time and struck me as a bit of a douche. But the guy rose to the occasion on this run and fit right in. He was quick with a joke and his answer to every challenge was “Why not.” I think a bit of seasoning (like learning when to say “fuck” at the appropriate moments in the company of his questionable elders) would make this guy an excellent drinking partner. But that has nothing to do with his ability to pass the “Katherine” test. Jordan was quiet during the day, probably wondering if we were all assholes or something. He came alive at dinner to the point where Chris leaned over and whispered to me, “Did this guy do a few lines of coke or something? He hasn’t said a word in 24-hours and suddenly he’s got a pulse.”

For the record, Cantwell said Jordan was the perfect pillion rider, and that he hardly knew the guy was on the back. “Twice, I reached back to make sure he hadn’t slipped off,” said Mike. Later, Jordan would ask me about Mike reaching back and feeling his knee. My response was, “That means he likes you and wants to go dancing.” At the day’s end, Jordan said he really like riding on a motorcycle and wanted to try one of his own... A bike like Chris’s Honda VFR Interceptor crotch rocket. (He also regretted that he had to ride with one of the guys who had a “granny” bike. I didn’t mention this to Chris, who is already as insufferable as they come.)

But here were these four people, framed by the water, the sky, the brownish mountains of the Adirondacks and the green ones of Vermont, on the gently heaving deck of the Essex ferry. I realized that this would be one of the highlights in my life -- that I will think about forever.

Vermont is as orderly as New York is wild. The ride to museum passed through fields that were planted a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence was written. We also passed the home of renown artist Elizabeth Bunsen and her woodworker husband Dave, right on the lake, where Leslie (Stiffie) and I were house guests last year.

Shelburne Museum is a collection of 150,000 artifacts, paintings, and classic examples of folk art stored in 39 buildings, 25 of which are historic in themselves and were relocated to the museum property. Permanent exhibits include a steam locomotive (static), a private railroad car, and a complete period-piece train station. On a grander scale, the restored 220-foot Lake Champlain steamship Ticonderoga is one of the museum’s focal points. The ship is a National Historic Landmark and the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence. Built in Shelburne in 1906, it operated as a day boat on Lake Champlain serving ports along the New York and Vermont shores until 1953. In 1955, the Ticonderoga was moved two miles overland from the lake to Shelburne Museum in a remarkable engineering effort that stands as one of the great feats of maritime preservation.

But what drew us to the museum was the “Full Throttle: Vintage Motorcycles, Custom Choppers, and Racing Machines” exhibit. According to the program,

“From 19th century bicycles outfitted with steam engines to high performance sport bikes of today, Full Throttle examines how the quest for speed has acted as a catalyst for technological and aesthetic advances in motorcycle design.

Featuring legendary master builders Dave Perewitz and Arlen Ness along side today's most innovative builders including Matt Hotch, Roger Goldammer and Roland Sands.”


This beat the hell out of the world-class Tiffany glass exhibit and the heart-stopping collection of country quilts, in my opinion. As I stated earlier, my arthritis was twisting my joints into new and thoroughly unusable shapes. This museum, like most of them, requires a lot of walking. It was my intention to sit on a bench and take in a cigar or two while the troops took the tour. Mike went off to look at the Ticonderoga. Kayo (Katherine) and Jordan wandered off to the orchard to throw apples at each other. Chris utterly ruined my plans to smoke and study passing female asses by insisting I at least make an attempt to look at the motorcycles.

“I will ask every passing woman you look at if they would hump a crippled fatty like you,” said Chris. “I can guarantee that business will be slow.”

Looking like Pee Wee Herman's first attempt at motorization, this classic "Whizzer" combines the simplicity of a belt drive (years ahead of its time) with the elegance of a 1950's bicycle. I understand many of the design innovations on this machine, which does not have a tach, were incorporated in the Triumph Bonneville, sold to residents of Key West.

The motorcycle exhibit took up three floors in a historic circular barn. The first of these housed one of the most extensive collections of antique motorcycles that I have yet to see. From venerable Indians to iconic Harleys, this presentation featured some truly rare machines from Britain, Italy, and France. And they ran the gamut from raw power to barely powered bicycles. The middle level was dedicated to custom machines -- chrome jewelry on spindly frames, painted in fantastic tints laced with semi-precious metals. One bike had two V-twin engines, with the gas tank mounted in the hub of the rear wheel. Chris went down to the third level to honor the racing bikes, but I decided I’d had my share of stairs for the day.

According to Chris Wolfe, this 1956 1000cc model (Square) Ariel had styling similar to the classic BMW's of the day, but was incredibly complicated and difficult to keep running. It is an incredibly beautiful motorcycle and one of many we saw on display at the Shelburne Museum. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

We took a museum jitney to look at the train stuff, then reassembled back at the bikes. The ride back to the motel in the mountains was a carbon copy of the ride in, with a bit more spirit, as we had reserved a table at one of the better Adiriondack restaurants -- The Spruce Hill Tavern -- and Chris was anxious that we not tie up the management for a table of seven on a packed holiday weekend. We were joined for the occasion by Ihor Sypko and his significant other, Helen Connor. Ihor and I were boys at school together, and have spent 42 years studying Latin, trout fishing, pheasant shooting, deer hunting, backpacking, whiskey drinking and cigar smoking. He is building a charming cabin in the Adirondacks and I plan to have my ashes (except for a cupful, which will be thrown in the face of my first former mother-in-law) scattered from his porch.

One of my first friendships forged in the Adirondacks, artist and potter Lee Kazanas poses with his venerable BMW R100, with a flawless red to black custom paint job. Lee had just returned from the BMW Finger Lakes Rally. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Monday, September 7th, was the last day of Labor Day weekend and the closing act for this ride. Kayo and Jordan left at first light, and the whole place suddenly seemed a lot dimmer. Chris and Mike understandably felt the need to spend some time with their wives, and I decided to visit people -- other friends and neighbors -- I hadn’t seen in years. My first stop was artist/potter Lee Kazanas and his wife Cheri. Lee supports a stable of BMWs and was instrumental in my buying a Beemer after a 25-year absence from riding. Lee had just come in from the BMW Finger Lakes Rally. He is one of those guys who regains four days of youth from every hour he spends in the saddle. Lee once followed me around on my 1986 K75 and said, “Jack, don’t shift to a higher gear until you hit 4500 rpm on the tach.” That’s the engine speed at which the K75 wakes up. It was good advice.

This classic Adirondack "outhouse" is a luxurous one-holer, with a magnificent view of the mountains. It's location is a tightly guarded secret as several regional pubications would like to do a feature on it. The fence board "wings" on each side are supports to keep this fine structure from blowing over in winter winds. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

From there I went to visit Jessica Mulvey, her mom -- Barbara, and her brother Rusty. Rusty is another guy who I will forever associate with gun powder, good rum, and fresh trout pulled from the stream before the snows of April were melted. (And there is a pisser of a good story there too. Sometimes the neighbors will call the cops to settle a issue. Rusty and I were the hostages of New York State National Guard one afternoon.)

The Adirondacks are four seasons of romance. But I recommend late spring and summer for accruing romantic moments outside. Many lakes like this are yours for the asking if you get there early enough. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

Then I decided to take a final ride for myself, passing down roads and memories that connect my soul to the mountains. I stopped at a number of places alongside rivers and lakes where Leslie (Stiffie) and I made mad passionate love in her truck, despite the fact we had a perfectly good hotel room in town. Kissing Leslie is like biting into a ripe peach that nibbles back -- sweet, juicy, and firm, but tender. I remembered swearing how I would never leave the Adirondacks... And then I met this woman through work... A woman hired to alter my writing... A woman whose eyes saw me for what I was despite all the bullshit I offered her... And suddenly, like a fifth change of seasons, the mountains that were my salient against the world became my prison. Stiffie has that effect on plants, dogs, other artists, children and low-orbiting planets.

One of many spots in the Adirondacks that have special meaning for me. While the early morning light softens the character of the picture, the memories I have of this place are etched in my mind. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge)

Chris and Mike showed up around dusk to help me load the bike onto the trailer . When they left this time, the darkness was palpable. I had dinner with Rusty Mulvey and set my clock for 6am. Ihor and Helen were heading south that same day, Tuesday, and he rode with me in the Suburban, about a third of the way home. It’s funny, how you don’t see some people for years or months at a time, and then you can’t get enough of their company.

It was an eight-hour ride home. Joe Sestrich and Eric Hoet (pronounced “Hoot”) of the Mac Pac (pronounced “Mac Pac”) took the bike off the trailer here in East Goshen, and stashed the Kendon in the garage for me. This trip was a simple five-days on the road. I experienced more in those five days than some people get in a lifetime. In many regards, I am a very wealthy and lucky man.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Loud Lights Save Lives...

The battery on the Suburban was as dead as Kelsey’s nuts, and had been for a week, which was the last time I had used the truck and left all of the interior lights burning. Normally, this isn’t a problem as I would just jump in the other SUV. But Leslie (Stiffie), my red hot squeeze, had disappeared in the Subaru on an art retreat (which is what creative women call drinking, criticizing men, and dancing naked in the moonlight) for the weekend. I had three errands to run, one of which included sitting down to a fine sushi dinner at a local Asian bait shop, staffed by a firecracker of a fish-slicer, whose tanned McGuffies are barely contained by her loosely-tied kimono. In fact, they occasionally look out and wink at me.

Little "Kimiko" takes great pride in her sushi masterpieces. I can sit and watch her slice tuna all night.
(Photo courtesy of Kimiko's Sushi and Bait Shop -- Click to enlarge)

But the arthritis pain in my hips had become so steady in the July humidity that the thought of just jumping on my 1995 BMW K75, without first stretching my joints (a process which can take hours), was a longer stretch than the distance to the sushi place. I had the bright idea, briefly, of using the bike’s willowy jumper cables to try and get the truck to turn over. However, the heroic tendency of expensive BMW/Bosch electrical components to sacrifice themselves for a $50 alternator and $75 Pep Boys battery convinced me to bag the notion.

Typical of the roads I ride, this one is ready for a deer ambush. The tree cover comes right to the edge of the road. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

I had placed my dinner order in advance and had made it clear that I’d be there in 20 minutes. This guarantees me a special spot at the sushi bar where I can watch “Kimiko” lean over each time she pushes the knife through the Yellow Tail. In truth, the pre-ride preparations for the motorcycle can take up to a half-hour or longer, and I do not normally consider it for dashing around town. It looked like I might have to call and cancel dinner (which would get me in Dutch with the proprietor as she was certain to have started cutting the fish). Yet the other two stops were important too. The tag shop had called and the vanity plate for my bike was ready. Plus, I was out of arthritis medication and things in the throbbing joint department were going to be a lot dicier in the morning.

This image reminds me of the Hudson River School of Painting; dark alcoves in the trees and thick forest patches allow the damn deer to pop out like targets on a professional police range. This scene is five minutes from my desk. (Photo by the author)

I said to myself, “What kind of a douche (pronounced “doosh” in Jersey City) have you become? You have a registered and insured motor vehicle right here in the garage, and you’ve got places to go. Stop being such a gimpy pussy, and just get on the bike. How much can it hurt?”

This was the last week in July and raising the garage door allowed the super-heated air in the stuffy bays to spill outside, wilting the plants in their fancy pots. Gasping for oxygen like a 900-pound grouper in a microwave, I pulled on my mesh, scorned the damned gloves, and put the spurs to “Fireballs.” My reflection covered most of the plate glass window in the front of the restaurant and Kimiko seemed to be laughing at a private joke as I rolled in the door, giving her the famously suggestive “Riepe leer.”

Deer are not the only stupid creatures that run out onto the road. These Guinea Fowl can occasionally be found on the pavement. Once again, this amazing scenario is just ten minutes from my desk. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Kimiko put on a real show for me that night, especially as I insisted that she use no more than 200 grains of rice for each piece of sushi. She bent over the sushi bar, dutifully counting the grains with a knife point while I looked on in wonder. (She caught on by the third piece and clipped me upside the head with a section of octopus tentacle, which made a sucking noise like aggravated Velcro when I pulled it off.)

The perspective in this shot lies. The road greatly narrows to cross the largely steel grate bridge, which divides this farm on Gilbert's Mill Road in half. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

It was well past dusk when I left for my next stop.

This part of Pennsylvania is a series of little towns and communities connected by narrow, winding, farm roads that cross picturesque fields -- filled with tick-laden deer that are the equivalent of rats with hooves. Despite being less than 40 minutes from the terminals of Philadelphia’s international airport, I have to drive around a cornfield to get to the liquor store. (This is normal for places like Nebraska, but very odd for a major metropolitan area on the east coast.) Between the deer, the gravel, and the Amish road apples, riding around here in the dark demands good lights.

My quest for the perfect driving lights has been going on for two years.

I have an Osram Darkness Decimator White Light (or something that sounds like that) headlamp bulb behind the oversize glass lens of the K75. I couldn’t find this in the US last year, and ordered it from a supply house in Britain. (It was $56 for two units, plus shipping and handling.) This is a great improvement over the yellowing 15-year-old H4 halogen unit that I had before, throwing a much brighter beam about 60 feet further.

Looking like pigs at first, these are banded cattle being raised for fun and profit by one of the neighbors, who must have money coming out his ass. This shot was taken 5 minutes from my desk. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

But I still like having something more in the way of illumination at the sides of the forks too. This led to my purchase of brake caliper-mounted Motolights (a $350 accessory I highly recommend). These lights are primarily for increasing my own conspicuity while riding during the day. However, the 50-watt bulbs encase the front forks in a basket of light, which gives me a better perspective of my relationship to the ground in nocturnal turns. (This perspective seems to be linked to my peripheral vision, as I do not look down when turning.)

I caught this rainbow (right) coming through the center of town. It ends exactly where our house sits.
This is proof that Twisted Roads is at the end of the rainbow. (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

Hitting the dash switch on this night made it apparent that the right Motolight was out, creating a darkening void to one side for my tired eyes. There are those among my riding partners in the Mac Pac (the premier BMW riding club in southeastern Pennsylvania) who would suggest that a condition such as this would cause me to ride in slow turns to the right at night.

“Shit,” I whispered with enthusiasm for this new challenge.

The headlight and the remaining Motolight were more than ample for the running around I had to do as it was a humid and hazy night, but free of fog and rain. I clearly saw the first four deer munching someone’s flowers at the turn for a single-lane bridge. A piercing blast from my horn did nothing but cause the quartet to wag their ears in annoyance. Clearly, it would take the metallic click of chambering a Rottweiller rifled slug into the barrel of a classic Browning A5 12-gauge to get them to look up.

I counted over 15 deer in the next few miles and made a note to recommend that the Pennsylvania Department of Fish and Game create a special machine gun or grenade season for deer. Either that, or introduce Bengal tigers to the woods around East Goshen. (I would like to personally release the first tiger by throwing it on my elderly neighbor and her fucking cat.)

Making my other two stops without incident, I was almost home when a kid on a bicycle (without a light or a single reflector), darted across the pavement. This wasn’t a little kid, but a stupid adolescent whose stem cells won’t feel the first electrifying charge of a thought for another couple of years. To boot, this asshole appeared to be dressed in black too. The encounter wasn’t so close as to require dangerously evasive action -- but it was close enough.

That was the moment when I decided to get yet another set of riding lights on the bike.

I had a sizable credit on the books at my local BMW dealer (Herny’s BMW/Port Clinton, Pa), which I decided to piss away on a new set of PIAA High Intensity Discharge lights. Known as PIAA’s “Cross Country” lights, these babies are a scant two and a half inches in diameter, and four inches long. Each has a built-in ballast and their small size, coupled with PIAA universal mounting brackets, gives the farkle-preoccupied consumer a number of placement options.

The PIAA High Intensity Dischard (HID) Cross Country Lights are well-designed and well-executed... I mounted them on my crash bars, using PIAA L-Bracket universal mounts. The lights were $575, and the mounts were $35. (Photo courtesy of PIAA's website -- Click to enlarge)

These lights come in a beautiful flat black and I decided that they would go perfectly on the “authority” bars of my K75. This model bike was offered with two sets of crash bars. The civilian set is much narrower and somewhat taller, while the “police” or authority bars are wider, and come with mounting tabs for additional lights or a siren. The civilian bars were offered in black, while the cop version came in an offending chrome. (I had mine powder-coated last spring.) In keeping with my machine’s reputation for defying the bolt-off, bolt on/plug and play philosophy, the authority bars are alleged to be very hard to come by.

The light kit is all inclusive and comes with a relay, wiring harness, cool LED-outfitted switch, a tiny allen key, and detailed instructions that gave me a pounding headache the second I looked at them. The universal mounting brackets must be ordered separately. After reading the installation directions carefully, I laid out all the parts, took measurements of the included wiring harness, and prepared to snip off the fancy LED switch, as I preferred the more austere look of using a BMW OEM dash switch. Then I mixed a rum and Coke the size of my ass, and called Brian Curry, an electrical engineer, K75 guru, and good friend, to make the actual installation.

This is what "Fireballs" looks like with all of my running lights powered up at once. Mike Cantwell is in the saddle and I am taking the picture (Photo by the author -- Click to enlarge)

It took Curry about two hours. He ran the heavy power ran through the Centech fuse box I had installed last spring. The PIA Cross Country HID lights draw just 30 watts apiece, for a total of 60 (40 less than the MotoLights). They pose no challenge to the K75’s 50 amp alternator, according to the voltmeter, which I also had installed six months ago. Both the PIAA lights and the MotoLights can be run together, with no drop in juice, if the engine is turning at 1100 rpm or better.

For the first system test, we hung a raw steak on the wall of the garage, aimed the lights at it, and pulled the trigger. It was cooked to well-done in three seconds, as jets of blue/white fire shot out and nearly vaporized it. Though set to a 12-degree angle of refraction, these lights cover a fairly sizable piece of real estate. Curry was very careful in aiming these, with the intention of aggravating as few drivers as possible as they approach from the opposite direction.

One of the best pictures ever taken of this bike... The lighting configuaration is clearly visible. This is a magnificent 1995 BMW K75. The farkle is dignified and the bike is becoming my alter ego. (Photo by Chris Wolfe -- Click to enlarge for a less grainy picture)

In truth, I have been blinded by so many of these damn xenon headlights that I don’t really give a shit that my K75 now looks like a shooting star. My riding partner Dick Bregstein is recovering from clap at the moment, and I took the bike out of service for a couple of weeks while he is waiting to recover. This provided a good opportunity to pull the muffler and send it to Jet-Hot for a metallic/porcelain coating (in black) to replace the powder-coating that failed. In my estimation, the muffler looks great ($160) and I intend to have the headers done this winter.

All in all, my K75 is becoming my signature bike. The acquisition of these lights represent the last farkle I will ever spend money on. I now have a custom seat, restored seat lock, Centch fuse box, relay in the headlight, MotoLight, PIAA Lights, GPS, PIAA sport horn, heat in the seat, powder-coated crash bars, Jet-Hot coated muffler, GPS mount, and voltmeter. The last bit to go is the installation of the Steble/Nautilus Compact Air Horn, still on my work bench. I have to get a bracket made for this unit, which draws 18amps when blown. (We may have that in common.)

This motorcycle is one of my few joys in life. Aside from getting married every now and again, I don’t gamble. I don’t chase women, having perfected a technique that draws them to me. And I don’t drink like I used to. Hell, I’m a step away from being St. Francis. I should be able to spend a few bucks on this rig to make it safer -- and a little bit cooler-looking-- if I want to.

You cannot put a price on safety.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lurking Death In The Garage...

The heat of August wilts my riding resolve as thoroughly as the snows of February bury it. Day after day of 90º temperatures make the thought of putting on “All The Gear... All The Time” absolutely unbearable. Even working in the garage (which needs organizing badly) becomes unendurable in shade that is only marginally cooler than outside. However, we are all aware that the love of motorcycling neither begins nor ends on the road. There are a thousand things one must do in pursuit of this lifestyle, which include the maintenance of gear and machine.

While not quite the equivalent of shoveling shit out of a horse stall, working in the garage might just as well be to those who find no love in things mechanical. (I once loved a woman who was a breathtaking beauty and Mediterranean magma in bed. She was the captain of the college equestrian team, and owned her own horse. Under the pretext of being a Renaissance male, who would stop at nothing to see her naked, I once offered to help muck out a stall. It is a good thing my 1995 BMW K75 does not spend its idle hours filling the garage up with shit. Otherwise, it would drown in it.)

Since I wasn’t riding, I felt compelled to do stuff in the garage.

While not an actual picture of my college girlfriend, this artfully posed photograph offers a reasonable representation of the lady in question and demonstrates the basic ATGATT ensemble for horseback riding. Jodphurs constitute an important part of riding gear. As shown, reinforcing seams do not cross the derierre directly, which could cause discomfort when posting up and down on the mount.
(Photo courtesy of Ridingboots.net, a real authority on these things -- Click to enlarge for educational purposes)

So I purchased a huge exhaust fan, the sort of thing one finds in coal mines or commercial venues like the Lincoln Tunnel (connecting New Jersey with New York City), to drive out the heated air in the garage while sucking in the night atmosphere. It was my thought that the neighbor’s cat might be passing the open garage door, and get sucked into the fan blades too, but Leslie (my red hot squeeze du jour for life) said that was unlikely. Nevertheless, she got downright pissed when I poured some milk into a bowl and put it in front of the mechanism.

Before using an exhaust fan of any appreciable strength in the garage, remember to sweep the floor and to remove leaves, papers, or other loose debris, including saucers of milk. This fan came up to warp speed within a second or two of hitting the switch and the air become a fog of detritus. The second thing to check is that your girlfriend’s new car is not parked right outside the garage door -- with a window open.

The fan lowered the temperature in the garage a good two degrees, and I started on the chore of straightening out the motorcycle bay. The first Item I picked up was a jack stand I had made for my Kendon motorcycle trailer. Basically, it is a hollow wooden box. My hand closed on something quashy and I realized I had poked my fingers through a spider’s web. I’d missed the spider in residence by a lucky inch. It was a black widow, moving its eight appendages and dual mandibles in a highly sinister way.

These are remarkable creatures about which there is a great deal of misinformation that passes for consensus.

I believe all of it.

My blood-curdling screams drew Leslie to the garage, only to find me standing on a chair, pointing at the box that had come to rest against the protective screen on the hissing exhaust fan. It’s occupant, the disgusting arachnid, had been impelled thorough the works to emerge as a fine spider puree.

“What the hell are you screaming about,” asked Leslie, using the kind of tone which suggested that anything short of flesh-eating zombies was going to fall on deaf ears.

“I picked up that box a second ago, and there was a black widow spider lurking in it,” I said.

“Honestly, Jack,” she said in a way that implied the unspoken word “Shithead” could have been substituted for my name. “You’re telling me you’re screaming because you found a spider in the garage, where the trash cans are kept, which attracts flies from the garden, through the open garage doors?”

“No,” I replied, attempting to salvage a highly fragile masculine dignity. “I screamed because I found the deadliest of all spiders, capable of growing to 50 feet or larger, and possessing the ability to rip the tires off a bus, infesting this garage.”

This is a black widow spider. The size of the spider I killed in the garage was twice the size of the one in this picture. While I used an exhaust fan to exterminate this menace, some experts recommend a Colt .45 automatic, or a grenade.
(Photo by someone who was killed by the spider -- Click to do nothing)

Leslie rolled her eyes in a meaningful way that was more expressive than responsive; a gesture which lead me to think that the single, unattached life, was beginning to hold an odd appeal for her. She then explained that I must have come across some simple, common black spider as there are no black widows in the Pennsylvania.

A fast check on the internet proved otherwise, however, with a report from PennState’s College of Agricultural Sciences, citing these vicious menaces to children, the elderly, and dogs as large as 180 pounds, could be found from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Despite the absence of the creature’s corpse, there was every reason to believe I did actually encounter a black widow spider.

Now many of you are undoubtedly wondering why this is the focus of my blog today?

The answer is because I usually toss my gear on various hooks in the garage when I come in from riding. My jacket, helmet, and gloves are all within access of poisonous arachnids as a matter of course. Not long ago, I put my helmet on only to watch a tiny spider repel down from the visor when I stepped out into the driveway. And on one other occasion, I returned from a rally and found an ugly bloat bag spider (actual scientific name) smoking one of my cigars.

Waiting until Leslie left, I went through the garage, turning things over with a three-foot long set of barbecue tongs. And don’t you know, I found another one of these killers spinning a rather haphazard web in the confines of a spackle bucket. All of the identifying characteristics were there, right down to the desiccated pig carcasses left dangling in the web. I grabbed a can of WD-40 and a cigar lighter. It was my intention to spray the web, igniting it and the tenant, as seen in the movie “Arachnophobia.” There was no gas left in the lighter, however, and all I succeeded in doing was lubing the spider.

I cannot help but get the impression that my gentle readers are thinking, “Jack is a pussy.” Of course, some of you (like Conchscooter and Charlie6) have drawn this conclusion already, but I'll address that subject another time. Six years ago (before I began my career as a re-entry rider), I was out on a bicycle club event (as implausible as this sounds) touring Delaware with Leslie. We got separated by a “road guide,” who took her one way (with him), and who sent me on another direction through a haunted forest. It was here I pedaled through a web that spanned a trail, and was apparently bitten by a spider.

This photo illiustrates how my left arm blew up like a balloon three days after I was bitten by an undetermined species of spider. Medical experts think is was either a "chainsaw tarantula" or one of the child-eating spiders common to the South Pacific and the State of Delaware.
(Photo by Leslie Marsh -- Click to enlarge)

I did not feel the bite at the time and aside from screaming like a little girl when I burst through the web, I didn’t give the episode a second thought. Two days later, I noticed something that looked like a bee sting on my arm, with two little puncture marks in it. I pointed this out to Leslie, who said, “Why are you such a pussy? Something bit you and you think it was a tarantula. Be a man. Rub dog shit on it and shut-up.”

The bite wound turned black a day later.

“I sincerely hope you are not going to show me your bug bite again,” said Leslie in response to my question that I wanted her opinion on something.

“Never mind,” I said. "Is there any more dog shit in the medicine cabinet?" (Leslie believes in natural healing and supports the rituals and practices of Navajo medicine men, which by coincidence, is what my shitty health coverage will pay for. This entails being left out in the yard with a three-day supply of firewood. You can re-enter the house when you are healed.)

That was a holiday weekend and we had volunteered to work the registration desk for a huge ride that was being sponsored by a local bicycle club that Leslie and I had joined by mistake. (They were all douches in vast physical exercise scheme to meet new sexual partners.) I sat next to a lovely woman who responded to my chummy “hello” with, “Aren’t you too fat to ride a bicycle? And what’s the matter with your arm? It’s all red.”

Not only was it red, it was hot to the touch too.

Speaking of poisonous insects, we were scheduled to take some visiting in-laws over to Longwood Gardens for a fireworks display that night. I love fireworks. Nothing personifies summer like a barrage of rockets and a finale of thunder. But I passed that night, claiming I felt lousy. For the first time in five days, Leslie was alarmed. The fact that I felt too poorly to get smashed and attend a great fireworks display suggested I could actually be dying. She took my temperature and stared at the thermometer in disbelief. It read 103. My throbbing left arm was nearly as big as my leg.

We drove into New Jersey to see my doctor the next day.

“You have to go to a hospital and I mean right now,” said my doctor. I’m going to call admitting and make the arrangements.”

“What’s plan ‘B,’” I asked.

“What do you mean plan ‘B,’” my doctor replied. “This can kill you. You need an antibiotic in substantial doses and you can only get it at a hospital.”

“Bullshit,” I said. “Prescribe me pills.”

This led to an interesting three-way dialogue, but I had to work that week. There would be no laying on my ass in a hospital. My general practitioner did a little research and concluded that the maximum pill strength was about the same as to what I would receive in a hospital. But then she threw me a curve ball. She drew two lines on my arm with a marker: one by my wrist and another by my shoulder.

“If the swelling extends beyond these lines at any time, he has to go to hospital right away,” she said to Leslie. “On this condition will I let him walk out of here. And believe me, letting him leave now is Third World medicine.”

Leslie promised she would stay on top of my rapidly deteriorating condition, a pledge I found mildly ironic. But the swelling went beyond the lower line before we got home. I chewed on my belt, took the pills, and had a rum and Coke. I was fine a week later.

My doctor drew two lines on my arm and advised Leslie (Stiffie) that I had to get to a hospital if the swelling went beyond either one. My hand was swollen by the time we left her office and got down to the car. My doctor refers to me as a "Stupid Irish bastard." This picture was taken after being on the medication two days.
(Photo by Leslie Marsh -- Click to enlarge)

So this is why I hate spiders and kill them at the drop of a hat. I went through the garage and killed every living thing. I bought translucent plastic bins -- with snap on covers -- and put all motorcycle related stuff (gloves and other things) into these containers. My jacket and helmet came into the house. I was just about to congratulate myself on a job well done, when I noticed a whacking huge spider on my desk. Screaming like a samurai at a sushi social, I slammed a book down on it.

Nothing happened. I hit it again and again without result. Leslie’s laughter from the kitchen emboldened me to examine the creature. It was plastic. This song captures everything I mean to this woman.

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