Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eight Inches Above Sea Level

Nothing amazes me more than Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. The unit clamped to my handlebars is an out of date (and no longer supported) Garmin Nuvi 660, cradled in a Ram mount, which holds the device at the perfect angle for me to read it (without my glasses). The maximum volume on this GPS unit is so loud that I can hear it over the utterly masculine whine of the K75 at 75 miles per hour. This was good last Sunday, as the damn thing was screaming for me to go right onto local Route 141 (Delaware), coming off of local Route 52 (Delaware/Pennsylvania).

It had been while since I had last come this way and I was just thinking, “If my memory serves me correctly, Route 141 pops up like a weasel on a spring around here,” when Route 141 popped up like a weasel on a spring. Leaning the bike way over to grab the sudden curve, I felt the icy fingers of gravity wrapping around my balls in accompaniment to the realization that I had neglected to throw a bigger bone to centrifugal force. This was accomplished by twisting on the gas. And it was at this exact location, in a downhill, descending radius turn to the right, that I executed flawless control on a blind curve that should have been named after Stevie Wonder.

Now paragraphs like the one immediately above are almost always followed by qualifying data like: a) Then my front wheel found the puddle of spilled oil; b) Amish horse shit adds little to the dignity of a tight turn; or c) Emma Blogget was almost as stupid as she was old and ugly, having parked her car in the apex of the turn, were she could feed the herd of deer from the open window... Yet in this case, the next line reads, “The K75 responded to my input like lightning on tracks, rocketing into the turn, and precisely following an imaginary line from my mind through the arc of the curve.”

It was the last decent turn I made all day. The rest of my maneuvers looked like I was steering the bike with my elbows while smoking crack.

Route 141 is a necessary but nondescript 8-mile connection to one of the most beautiful runs on the east coast. Heading south, it takes you around the airport (whose largest tenant appears to be the Delaware Air National Guard) in New Castle, and then to Route 9. The view immediately softens with a gentle right turn with the beginnings of salt marshes and open water on the left. It is an illusion. Less than five miles ahead lies the Valero/Texaco refinery, a huge black eye on the soul of beauty.

This is in Delaware City, which is actually a quaint riverfront community (with over 200 active residences listed on the historic register), sandwiched in between the Delaware River and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. The city (and it is a small one) contains two state parks of some significance. These are Fort Dupont State Park, which was home to German prisoners of war (WWII) and Fort Delaware State Park on picturesque Pea Patch island (which housed thousands of Confederate prisoners in the Civil War). Pea Patch Island is now home to thousands of nesting herons, and is regarded as the largest heronry in the US. The island is accessible by ferry.

Route 9, also known as 5th Street, bypasses all of these attractions. Putting the spurs to the K75 brought me -- and the other five riders in my group -- through town in about 30 seconds. And it is here that the road to heaven starts. Route 9 bounces over a steel grate bascule bridge with a slight arch before ascending a 25-story ramp to the spindly deck of the Reedy Point Bridge, which spans the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. This sea-level canal connects the Delaware River and the port of Philadelphia with the Chesapeake River and the Port of Baltimore. The original canal opened in 1829 and saw incredible daily traffic through 1919. Work started on its current configuration in the 1960’s and continued into the ‘70s. The canal is 14 miles long, 450 feet wide, and 35 feet deep. Lift bridges were in common usage through the ’70’s until 8 of them were removed by collisions with ships.

The entrance to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on the Delaware River (Photo from Wikipedia)

I always get a thrill riding over the Reedy Point Bridge. The view from the top is incredible, offering a fleeting glance of three states: New Jersey to the left, Delaware straight ahead, and Maryland to the right. The view is like nothing you would expect, even though it does personify the character of each state. The most prominent thing on the New Jersey coast is the Salem Nuclear Power Plant. Maryland is a distant glow of commerce. Delaware unfolds as a tableau of estuarine salt marshes, flowing around hardwood stands, cornfields, and quaint villages -- some complete with light houses.

The Reedy Point Bridge, about 25 stories above the majestic Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, drops a rider into an incredibly beautiful setting. (Photo by Wikipedia)

The Reedy Point Bridge is also exciting for two other reasons: a) The descent from the deck is abrupt and like landing in an open cockpit plane (if you are on a motorcycle); b) Maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Reedy Point Bridge looks like it will fall down in the next really strong breeze.

From left, Kimi Bush, Jack Riepe, Dick Bregstein, and Alain Kaldewaay take a break in the village of Taylor's Bridge. The author's stumpy knees were killing him. (Photo by Rob Haut)

Another fascinating aspect of Route 9 as it runs through this unique area (for the next 35 miles or so) is that the pavement is 8 inches above sea level. This eight inches is an arbitrary figure when the moon is exceptionally full, when the wind is blowing, or if a tidal surge is in progress and brackish water will simply cover the road. This was the case in the next few miles, where the road was closed due to standing water, sand, and other debris courtesy of Tropical Storm Ida, which had pounded hell out this place only a day or two before.

GS rider Kimi Bush coyly whispers to the author, "Ha ha... You're fat and old. Want directions to the La Brea tar pits?" (Photo by Rob Haut)

That was part of the allure of this ride, to take our bikes through an area that had been pounded by a bad storm within hours of its passing. I was accompanied on this run by Dick Bregstein (my usual partner in crime), Kimi Bush, Rob Haut, Alain Kaldewaay, and Corey Lyba. The road is a main thoroughfare for four or five little communities, all of which face Delaware Bay. I am surprised that there aren’t more bars, eateries, or tourist traps along this road. It may be that not everyone understands the beauty of the marshes. Of course, it could also be that the 25-story-high cooling tower of the nuclear facility across the river, plus sirens atop utility poles with signs reading, “In the event of six long blasts of the siren, put your head between your legs and kiss your x-rayed ass good-bye,” have soured folks on the area.

The row of Beemers on the silt-laden streets of Bowers Beach, De. Tropical storm Ida was responsible for the tidal surge. (Photo by Rob Haut)

Traffic can be heavy on Route 9 in the summer, but we had the road to ourselves and picked up the pace considerably. About half of the ride is through the marshes directly, passing through bird sanctuaries, and winding over a series of bridges that rise no more than eight feet above the water. These bridges sneak up on you in a form of comic relief. In a few cases, the joinery of the bridge concrete and the macadam of the road is purely coincidental. Hitting it at 50 miles per hour will loosen the fillings in your teeth. Naturally, these bridges occur at points where the flowing marsh currents are at their most aggressive. Therefore, they mark the places where standing water is most likely to be an issue. The first three bridges carried signs which said, “Standing water on the road.” We all slowed down accordingly.

The roads were bone dry.

So it was with a light heart that I hit the fourth bridge at 50 miles per hour. This was one of the ones that was badly seamed where it met the pavement. I felt like I had just been kicked in the ass by a horse. And not a petting zoo horse either. I mean a Clydesdale. The shock to my spine had barely registered when I cleared the peak of the little arch to see a pool of standing water, spanning the entire road, for a distance of 30 feet.

The view of the water from our restuarant's dock in Bowers Beach. (Photo by Rob Haut)

“Holy shit,” I thought, dropping two gears and hitting the binders at the same time. The K75 dug in and slashed 30 miles per hour from the speedo. I hit the water at a modest pace and discovered it was about ten inches deep. My boots submerged and acted like twin scoops, diverting the water up my pants legs. I’m told that cod are a cold water fish. Well that water was so damn cold that I thought it was probably a cod crossing.

Later, Kimi Bush (an accomplished long-distance rider on a BMW GS model, painted pink and known as “Tuff Cookie”) would come up to me, looking out of the tops of her eyes, and say, “I thought for sure you were going to stop dead at the water. I would have run right over your fat, stupid ass. Then I would have beaten you to death with parts of my fallen motorcycle.”

Corey Lyba (left) and his wife Kimi Bush (right). She wanted all of us to call him the name of a cute animal. From now on he is "The Jackal." (Photo by Rob Haut)

The scenery changed from marsh to meadow, farms to fishing villages, and ultimately, from carefully preserved habitat to more urban settings. There used to be a great place to stop in the town of Little Creek. “Three Cavaliers” was a bar and restaurant that featured some of the best crab chowder that I have ever tasted. I was sorry to see that it has fallen victim to the economy, and that it was closed and up for sale. I had a lesson in humility sitting at the bar in this place (on a prior ride), that Dick and I will laugh about for years to come.

We got on the Route 1 expressway and rode the final seven miles to our destination, Bowers Beach, at speed. Bowers Beach is a little community that sits on a spit of sand, where a tiny inlet winds its way into the widest part of Delaware Bay (probably 30 miles across). New Jersey cannot be seen without binoculars. (That's the good news.) The tide comes in and out here with some force, and regularly flows onto the street. Tropical Storm Ida improved on that plan, by dumping tons of grey sediment hundreds of yards inland, making for careful navigating on slick streets.

The author cannot get through a day without trauma. The crap in his topcase jammed the lock from the inside, denying him access to his step, his cane, and other things. Corey Lyba, and not Rob Haut, is seen carrying away a cinder block used to get "Jumbo" on his seat. Alain Kaldewaay is standing by to make sure Riepe doesn't fall over in the gravel. The attractive blond lady on the porch has asked Riepe not to lean up against the restaurant. (Photo by Rob Haut)

I consider Bowers Beach to be the Paris of the salt marshes, as it has not one, but two excellent saloons to choose from. And it is here the plot thickens. The bar I thought we were going to was closed. And the bar I thought would be closed for the season was open. This turned out to be perfect as bar #2 is a great seafood place, with unparalleled views of the bay.

Ride photographer, Rob Haut and his "Green Machine" (Photo by Klute The Wonder Moose)

And so passed what is likely to be the last utterly nice day of the 2009 riding season. By “utterly nice” I mean temperatures warm enough to ride in mesh. (It was 70º from start to finish on this ride.) Dick was wearing straight mesh and I had removed all of the panels from my Joe Rocket “Meteor” jacket. I was riding in perforated summer leather gloves.

The Senator Willian Roth Jr. Bridge crosses the C&D Canal in style... We paid $4 in tolls to cross this spiffy-looking bridge at speed. (Photo by Wikipedia)

We decided take the fast way back, which was the Route 1 (toll road) to Route 141 in New Castle. We got there in 40 minutes, moving through traffic like a hot knife through butter. At one point, an asshole in a minivan corked up the works for about five miles, while keeping side-by-side with a slower moving car to her immediate right. I edged up next to her, and waited until until a slight curve in the road caused her to fall back a few feet. Then I went though the opening with my engine screaming. To my delight, another bike followed me. In the golden light of the setting sun, I could see it was pink.

(This level of maneuvering must have scared the shit out of the woman in the minivan, and rightly so. After the bike behind me got around her, so did five other cages. I do not understand why slower drivers do not stay to the right. I suspect it’s because they don’t want to be bothered with traffic entering and exiting the highway.)

There is one aspect of these runs that I am seldom prepared for, and that is the rolling good-byes as riders peel off for their preferred ways home. Alain Kaldewaay was the first to go, followed by the tag team of Kimi and Corey (who is her husband) while still in Delaware. Rob Haut disappeared next. His Beemer has two speeds: fast and inter-galactic. Bregstein and I parted company on US-202 (Pennsylvania) as the last bit of light faded into darkness. My dash clock read 1700 hours (Beemer time) as my HID lights filled the garage door. The ride back, which had a high spot of 92 miles per hour, took just two hours. The K75 used 3.5 gallons of high test gas in 168 miles, for an average of 48 miles per gallon. The total mileage for the day was 212.


Sunday’s ride (on November 15, 2009) was preceded by the Mac Pac “3rd Sunday of the Month” breakfast at the Pottstown Family Diner. (The Mac Pac is the premier BMW group in southeast Pennsylvania that I ride with.) The occasion was marked by a big turn-out of riders (about 50) and the first run on Marge Busch’s new F800 GS. This sleek machine represents the finest example of the motorcycle-builder’s craft, and is one of the most sought-after bikes in the BMW line. By count, I believe it is Marge’s 23rd motorcycle in her collection, which includes many rigs from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Way to go Marge!

Marge Busch with her new BMW F800 GS. Note the cool cast wheels and the overall sinister look to the machine. (Photo by Rob Haut)

The business end of Marge Busch's sizzling new F800 GS. This is a hot-looking Beemer. When I asked if she paid the same price for each of those headlights, Marge replied, "Just keep your fat ass off my bike." (Photo by Rob Haut)

Jim Gingrich from Reading, Pa showed up in a “Smart Car,” which almost garnered as much attention as Marge’s bike.

Technically, this "Smart Car" could be a Beemer K75 on "Miracle Grow." The three-cylinder engine puts out 71 hp, just like my K75. I think these are hot shit and plan to own one some day. (Photo by Rob Haut)

• Mark Mehalik was our speaker for breakfast. His lecture was titled, "The Difference Between Battery Acid and Timothy Leary's Acid." Mark went three rounds to a fall with a battery problem.

Mark Mehalik and his beautiful Blue Beemer F650GS. This picture was taken just outside the "observatory" room at Mac Pac International Headquarters. (Photo by Rob Haut)

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Youth — R.I.P.

My 14-year-old BMW K75 was running like a racehorse.

A quick glance at the speedo revealed I’d crossed over into triple digit territory without so much as a hiccup from the engine or the hint of a contrail from the muffler. It had only been daylight for about an hour, and this was the second day, a Sunday, of a three-day summer holiday weekend. The interstate was deserted and my destination was an obscure "shore" bar atop the dunes in a postage stamp of a town known primarily to bikers. Not BMW bikers, but the chrome and leather riders, who would arrive in a barrage of sound, on machines hammered out of ore taken straight from chrome mines, decorated with painted pillion candy (ladies) who would have a man thinking of things that would embarrass a moose in rut.

"Fireballs..." My 1995 BMW K75, a motorcycle of class and distinction. Photo by the author.

Once off the slab, my route would hug the coast for a bit, rolling through towns that smelled of salt, fish, and marshes percolating in the summer heat. The road would occasionally rise above a waterway, catching a freshening breeze while offering a glimpse of the ocean on my left, and a vast bay on the right. It was far too early to arrive at a bar and start drinking. My plan was to get through the shore communities before the crowds and the cops would jam these roads like platelets in a worn artery. Still, there were plenty of places where I intended to stop, and pour myself a cup of coffee from the battered Nissan vacuum bottle in my top case.

One of these spots is a little public pavilion overlooking a thin stretch of beach. It is off by itself, nearly concealed from the road by shifting dunes, corralled by sand fences buried to within inches of their tops. I generally hit this place slightly before 8am, on this annual ride, and have been known to light up one hell of a maduro, robusto cigar for the brief time that I am here. Smoking a robusto (wrapped in the black-hearted leaf of Connecticut) is like sucking on the muffler of a Ducati, and creates clouds of satisfying, spice-laden vapor to challenge the oxygen-generating capabilities of the nearest rainforest. Native Americans were quick to realize the portable smoke-lodge benefits of thickly-rolled tobacco and I will not dispute generations of cures attributed to holistic medicine.

On a prior run, I was ensconced in this pavilion, cigar in hand, when a gentleman showed up with a shopping bag and a little dog, like a Pomeranian, on a leash that was as delicate as dental floss.

“I read the New York Times here every Sunday,” he said.

“There’s no need to apologize,” I said with a smile. “I’ve read far worse.”

“But you’re smoking,” he said.

“Not me... My cigar,” I smiled, holding it up.

“Well, it’s a disgusting habit and my dog doesn’t like it.”

I took one more puff and let it out slowly. The breeze was coming off the water and the smoke evaporated instantly, like a practical idea in Congress. I realized I was in the presence of that rare bird of paradise, the great American warbling douche... A man in his forties who had never been laid, whose greatest ambition as a kid was to be the hall monitor at school, and whose current career peaked when named to his position at an insurance company -- denying coverage to cancer patients.

“I beg your pardon,” I said.

Collecting my helmet, jacket and gloves was a process that took a few seconds, and I accompanied this activity with a series of puffs that would have set off inversion alarms in any major city. The look on this guy’s face was priceless. I stepped out of the pavilion and headed to a bench 50 feet away, where I proceeded to smoke like a forge.

“I can still smell that cigar,” he yelled in my direction.

The spell was broken. This guy had managed to take all the magic out of the morning, and I had to be moving on anyway. I stood up and ground the smoldering stogie into the sand with the heel of my boot, where it remains to this day, providing fodder for legions of migrating lemmings. I walked up to him and said, “I’ll be back in an hour. If you’re still here, I’m going to smoke that fucking dog.”

But these were the images in my head as I downshifted off the slab that day, heading for the first leg of the local route. The light at the intersection went red in my face and I reined in the K75. I no sooner had both feet flat on the pavement than my senses were assaulted by a concentration of sound one usually associates with the re-entry of space debris rocketing through the atmosphere. The scream of metal in anguish, as tortured pistons instantly went from full thrust to dynamic braking, penetrated my helmet like a projectile.

A S.Q.U.I.D. pulled up next to me at the light, having decelerated from 3,000 miles per hour to a dead stop -- in 40 feet. His bike, a 4200cc Squidabussa, looked like a predator straight out of that stupid "Transformer" movie. The rider appeared to be 20-years-old, weighed about 87 pounds, and exuded the nonchalance of a drug dealer.

The woman on the back, however, was both a vision and a curse. She raised her tinted face screen to say something to him, and revealed the kind of eyes one seldom finds outside of Anime. Though wearing a little leather jacket, her foot pegs seemed nearly level with her seat -- almost raising her knees behind her ears -- exposing a “tramp stamp”(that would easily get my vote for official US postage) over a flawless ass that I would have been delighted to wear as a hat.

She looked right through me, and I realized I was an all but invisible bale of rags, escaped from a prison laundry, riding a gelded iron dinosaur. That is because at 55-years-old, fat, and astride a vintage BMW (that was an acquired taste the day it was new), no other combination of words could be kinder.

The light changed and the Squidabussa vaporized in a new set of sounds that seemed to suck up all the air around me in a reverse tsunami of speed. I sat there, motionless, watching as that tramp stamp hung in the air, like the smile of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, burning itself onto my retinas before fading.

I returned to reality when a dowager in a minivan behind me blew her horn. I thanked her by raising my middle finger as I snicked the bike into gear. (I like the phrase “snicked into gear” and think I may have been the first to use it. Every biker knows what I mean. It’s sort of like bagpipes “skirling.” But in truth, older BMW’s go into gear with the sound a ball-peen hammer makes when striking cast iron. Regrettably, there is no single word to describe that action, other than “clunk,” which defeats the whole purpose. -- author’s note)

The ride progressed according to plan but I was thoroughly preoccupied by thoughts of my youth, which had long-since been eclipsed by failed marriages, career woes, and the accumulation of aches and pains associated with stupid decisions that seemed clever at the time. And when I say “stupid,” I mean epically so. I did things on a motorcycle that should have gotten me killed outright, or shot by a firing squad convened by local civil authority.

My vehicle of proposed self-destruction back then was a Kawasaki H2. I remember beating a commuter train through a crossing on it. I rode astride a double-yellow line on a major thoroughfare in a dense fog for miles coming down from High Point, New Jersey. (It was the only way I could see the road.) I consumed my weight in Irish whiskey one night, picked up some local talent (Laura the Animal), and rode to a buddy’s place over winding, twisty mountain roads. (In the morning, my body was covered with primitive tattoos that Laura had chewed into my skin. I remember thinking, “How the hell am I going to explain these to my girlfriend?”)

These are just a few of the highlights that I can easily remember. There were others that involved the police, cash transactions in court, and afternoons spent in emergency rooms. Yet I am reminded by words written by the late Hunter S. Thompson: “It’s better to get shot out of a cannon than to be squeezed out of a tube.” I could fit into a cannon when I was young. Now my ass alone would require a howitzer.

I started to think of how I would like to exit this vale of tears, and was once given the idea to write my own obituary by Walter Kern of Motorcycle Views. If I knew I had 72-hours left, I would want to go after one of the great, legendary motorcycle weekends of my early 20’s. The trip would start with a mad dash to the mountains -- or the beach -- in the company of friends, who would ride like they had just stolen their motorcycles. Each bike would have the prerequisite camping crap lashed to it, behind stunning women, whose collective idea of perfume was burned oil, cigarette smoke, and stale beer.

The day would have been spent jockeying for the lead, pulling ahead of the next guy, and keeping the tach needle dancing on the red line. Nightfall would be against the backdrop of a huge campfire. Flames and women would be dancing to Led Zeppelin, Cream, and the Doors. The green bottle of Jameson would be making the rounds, chased by beer cold enough to make your teeth ache. And when stars competed with the embers, I’d lead my tanned beauty to a tent illuminated by a single candle, the soft light of which barely extended to the ends of an old double sleeping bag, whose down loft more than compensated for the ground. She’d be on top, long hair cascading over my face with each movement...

And then the end would come, after three hours of unbroken passion.

In the morning, my tent would be cordoned off by yellow crime scene tape. The coroner would be standing over my cadaver, interpreting the site for the benefit of the cops, who would have never seen anything like this before.

“This man has lost 92 percent of his bodily fluids,” the coroner would say. “That means he was literally fucked to death. And the fact that he is laying on his back, ass down, would indicate there was a woman involved, and not a lawyer.

“The hole in the top of the tent tells me the woman was ejected with some force. I suggest you start looking in the surrounding treetops for a naked, stunned blonde, modestly endowed, who is probably sleeping off the hangover of the century.”

“You can tell all that from these few clues,” the younger of the two cops would ask.

“Certainly,” the coroner would respond. The thong the deceased is wearing as a headband would do justice to a Victoria’s Secret model with a 22-inch waist, and a lady’s hairbrush indicates recent use by a blonde. You can tell that the woman in question was modestly endowed by the slight cup shape of the deceased’s hands, forever frozen in rigor mortis.”

The blonde would be found, safely sleeping it off in a tree top a half-mile away. My bike would go on display in a museum, where once a year, riders who had difficulty getting laid could touch it for inspiration and luck. My remains would be cremated, and my ashes would be carried in an inverted Nolan Helmet, to a suburban town in the Metropolitan area, where they would be thrown in the face of my first former mother-in-law, Kathleen Dunphy.

Millions of people would put stuff in front of this monument on my birthday every year. (Graphic courtesy of my ex-wives and their attorneys -- Click to enlarge)

I started to laugh out loud thinking of these arrangements, and discovered I was pulling up before the little pavilion where I would have my coffee and cigar. Yet parked on the street below the dunes was the Squidabussa. Dismounting, the sound of my footsteps was lost in the loose sand. Between the sound of the surf and the wind, they never heard me approach. She was all over that guy with her bare back to me. He looked up, put a finger to his lips, and smiled. I took one last look at that tramp stamp, and backed away without making a sound. Call it professional courtesy. She never knew I was there.

There are some things a cigar will not improve. And somehow, I got too old way too fast.


Long-time friend and riding buddy Pete Buchheit -- age undisclosed -- yesterday received a 100,000 mile BMW mileage award from Bob Henig, of Bob’s BMW,in Jessup, MD. Buchheit claims he has been working toward this award for a while as his annual mileage goal never exceeds 1,100 miles per year. He is the inventor of the handlebar-mounted drool bucket.

Pete Buchheit (left) receives a coveted 100,000 mile recognition award from Bob Henig, of Bob's BMW in Jessup, Md. (Photo by Bob's BMW -- Click to enlarge)

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2009

AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac Pac)
AKA The Vindfak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Sunday's Adventure To Scale

Some sounds carry the ring of finality in the softest of tones. Air hissing from a tire... The click of a lock (with you on the wrong side of the bedroom door)... And the rapping of a judge’s gavel can all signify indefinite postponement of a good time. At 5:30am last Sunday, the sound of disappointment was rain driving against the bedroom windows. And it wasn’t merely driving, it was trying to get in with murderous ferocity.

Having turned the clock back only a few hours before, it was really 6:30am, but the total absence of light suggested a day without dawn, like the morning following the day I last said, “I do.” (I am not married to my current love, a condition of cohabitation upon which she insists. I live here at her pleasure, which I tend to stretch to the point of transparency, and which accounts for why I wear see-through harem pants, do her bidding, and let her call me, “Asp.”)

I swung my feet to the bedroom floor and tip-toed out of the room. Actually, I stepped on a white dog who is as fat as a pig, tumbled backwards onto the bed, and planted my hand squarely on a sleeping woman’s ass. Despite being on a first name basis with the lady in question, this was the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm in a Marine Corps. barracks.

“What the hell are you doing,” she asked, without opening her eyes, but using a tone that suggested she was again enduring the kind of pain associated with a gunshot wound to the head.

“I was thinking of going for a motorcycle ride,” I replied.

“For that you needed my ass and Scout?”

“There was a time when you would have been more curious than critical,” I returned.

“And there was a time when you were more man and less mass.”

I answered her with the glaring look of a lifetime, which amounted to nothing in the pitch black room. (This was just as well considering I am on my third year of double secret probation and the house is mined with trapdoors, covering chutes that lead to the street. My exit is likely to be as quick as it is ignominious.)

The rain was bad news for my riding plans. These included meeting Matt Piechota, charging up to Hudson County, New Jersey (one mile west of Manhattan), and taking pictures of our bikes against the backdrop of the Statue of Liberty (Jersey City) and the Tear of Grief (Bayonne) -- both located at dramatic points against the New York City skyline. The agenda then called for a sausage lunch at a bier stube (Zeppelin Hall) or running into the City for a sandwich and a beer at McSorely’s (the oldest bar in New York). I was then going to visit with my mom for a bit, before we headed back.

Above -- The old Central Rail Road of New Jersey Teminal and Ferry Slip restored at Liberty State Park (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

The rain stopped at dawn, leaving the ground covered with a lethal parchment of wet leaves, capped with the kind of mist that encourages improv actors to break into scenes from “Macbeth.” I had absolutely no desire to roll the bike out into that porridge just for the thrill of scraping all that crap off of it at the end of the day. At least that’s what I told myself. In truth, I’m a bit of a “faint heart” when it comes to riding under questionable weather conditions. I’ve done it enough to qualify for the title of “Reluctant Viking,” but it is very hard for me to justify leaving a nice, dry house (well-stocked with beverages) with certain death lurking at every turn.

Above -- The Tear of Grief -- A monument to the 9/11 horror from the People of Russia to the People of the US, in Bayonne, NJ. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Yet the question at hand was, “What to do about Matt Piechota?” Matt is one of those good natured Mac Pac riders who thinks all of this is on the up and up. He participates in track days, goes on rides tagged as “spirited” and mounts a classic “naked” BMW with a boxer engine. These were exactly the kind of conditions he would laugh at and I was relatively certain he’d be at the rendezvous at the appointed time. I decided to tell him the truth, “that Scout was walking with a limp and I had to take her to the vet.”

I had barely begun to type the words when a note from Matt flashed across my computer screen advising me that he wasn’t feeling well and that his decision not to ride had nothing to do with the chicken-shit emotions I myself was likely attempting to overcome just to get on my bike.

My first inclination was to issue him an insulting challenge... But what would I do if Matt accepted? I graciously excused him from the ride, with the hope that we might try this again, at a future time when he had greater confidence in his riding skills. Then I switched off the computer so he couldn’t reply.

From dawn until noon, I consoled myself that I would have ridden if it weren’t for the weather. And then it started to clear.

If Thomas Jefferson had appointed me to explore the Louisiana Purchase, the United States would today end at the town of Fuckett, Missouri. It’s not that I don’t qualify as the adventurous type. It’s just that I can be talked out of anything with little effort. Sometimes, all it takes is the swish of skirt. With regard to the real estate deal just mentioned, if Chief Knotted Sinew had said to me, “They have these huge, hide-covered spiders out west. You’re better off drinking here with us and bathing with the women...” I would have declared the nearest stream a tributary of the Pacific and sent Jefferson my bill.

But I am versatile.

When there is no one to talk me out of something particularly life threatening or tedious, I can do it myself. Years ago, I talked myself out of painting the bathroom for so long that the existence of a paintbrush was regarded as a myth in my house. I once talked myself out of marrying a certain woman for fear of getting poisoned; and then talked myself out of telling her face to face (in favor of an e-mail) for fear of getting stabbed.

Oddly enough, I get apprehensive about my motorcycle, especially if I haven’t been on it for a while. I’ll plan some interesting ride, either a pleasant diversion or a more challenging run, and begin to imagine the fun I’ll have. This fun includes the crisp bite of the autumn air, the wind whistling around my helmet, the sensation of power in the K75‘s grips, and the way women undress me with their eyes when I buzz past. Inevitably, my thoughts will also turn to a couple of blind curves I have to run through, deer that leap out like suggestions from a marriage counselor, clouds laden with rain, and piles of leaves that wait until they hear me coming before drifting out into the road. Once I start down this pusillanimous spiral, it is but a short stretch to the conclusion that I’m too stiff to ride, or that its now too late to go, or that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone.

The truth is that I constantly have to prove something to one person... And he can’t be bullshitted.

It was 3:30pm when I roared out of the driveway and picked up the Pennsylvania Turn Pike. Even though I had gained an hour during the night, the sun looked like it was putting in a cameo appearance before heading out. The great Irish philosopher, Aiden Murphy, once said the sun can be held suspended in the sky by the throttle. I sure as hell tried. The K75 felt good on the road and I felt good on the bike. The tach was pegging the engine’s tune at 65 hundred and the speedo was like a compass needle aimed at the meaning of life.

This is a little-known fact, but engineers at BMW designed K75‘s motor to sound like Patti Smith on steroids at the higher RPM. I was in the second chorus of “Because The Night” when I noticed the landscape on either side of me had blurred in deference to my speed. The gas light winked on 15 miles into New Jersey and I pulled into the Arthur Bedlam rest area for gas. (New Jersey rest areas and fuel stops are named after “Garden State” patriots or famous residents. Arthur Bedlam is regarded as the “Father of New Jersey Driving Patterns.”)

Traffic changed around Exit 8. It increased in density until it was like driving through 8 inches of newly poured concrete. The Garden State’s semi-annual Douche Day Parade was being held in the left lane. This is where a hundred thousand douches -- all driving minivans -- take turns speeding up and slamming on the brakes, with their eyes closed. The overall illusion they try to create is a five-mile-long caterpillar, humping itself in surges. The effect is rather remarkable and may be the subject of National Geographic special.

The New Jersey TurnPike splits between Exits 8 and 8a, with cars headed to the left and all commercial traffic going to the right. I didn’t hesitate, and threw my lot in with the trucks. They were moving like the hammers of hell, and I was going faster. I zipped past New Brunswick and the exit for Perth Amboy, which I have always associated with the beginning of the shore points from the time I was a kid. (It really isn’t. The exit just sort of smells that way.)

Above -- The most dramatc views -- albeit brief ones -- of Newark Airport are from the New Jersey Turn Pike. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Ten minutes later, I was on the outskirts of the oil refineries in Linden, separated from Staten Island (New York City) by the narrow puke strip that is the Arthur Kill, arguably the most polluted and ugliest waterway in North America. The New Jersey Turn Pike parallels the runways of Newark International Airport (now renamed Liberty International, like some kind of dopey Disney character) and the massive cranes of Port Newark. Although I’m sure renaming this most dignified of the Metropolitan area’s three airports (Kennedy, formerly Idlewild, is another, and the hellish La Guardia is the third) was a scheme of the NY/NJ Port Authority, the Garden State has some of the most pretentious monikers for the most confined regions to be found in the most densely populated square-footage in all humanity, including the alleys of New Dehli. My favorite is “The Skylands,” billed as New Jersey’s “Great Northwest.” This entire area is about the size of five family farms in Nebraska. And if you have a free week to tour it, try riding five miles on Route 15 at 5pm on any Friday night.

The mechanical wonder of the area surrounding greater Newark is a mixture of amazing things built by man, in an environment that was the inspiration for Tolkien’s Mordor. The cranes that unload container ships in Port Newark are among the largest moving structures on earth. The ships are almost on the shoulder of the Turn Pike. Landing aircraft at Newark seem to race the traffic less than a hundred yards away. Railroad lift bridges of the oddest configuration, some with three levels of tracks, are stacked next to each other like beach chairs in a mad confusion of black iron. The majestic Pulaski Skyway, built in 1932, stretches 11 miles from Newark to Jersey City like a noose. My brother, Jerry, got to Paris before I did. The first thing I asked him was, “What is the Eiffel Tower like?” His response, “Imagine the Pulaski Skyway sticking straight up in the air.”

Above -- The Pulaski Skyway stretches 11 miles from Newark, NJ, to Jersey City, NJ, like a noose. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

Yet it was here that my fears started to get the best of me. The fastest way to get to the heart of Jersey City was from Exit 15e... Which leads to two poorly placed lift bridges, built in 1932. (One has four lanes of traffic, and the other has six.) I remember both as having steel decks, and one with the approach ramps from the Turn Pike going into a right angle turn, terminating at a “Yield” sign, at the deck’s edge.

I hate shit like this.

But a gap in traffic magically appeared and I was on the first bridge in the blink of an eye. Amazingly enough, the steel deck had been replaced by a paved roadway. No problamo. I started to laugh in my helmet. And then I was on the second bridge, sandwiched between two trucks, on a steel deck that was a slippery as the cross-examination of my second wife’s divorce lawyer. I hit it doing 55 mph, and I was over the deck in a second or two. It had been 30 years since I last rode a motorcycle over this particular bridge.

Above -- The Communipaw Avenue lift bridge was built in 1932. It spans the Hackensack River with a steel grate deck that is six lanes wide. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia -- Click to enlarge)

The first traffic light brought me to the intersection of Rt. 440 and Communipaw Ave. in Jersey City. I learned how to ride a motorcycle in Jersey City, I can assure all of you it is a highly over-rated experience. Riding down West Side Avenue, and then Kennedy Boulevard on Sunday, prompted me to think, "This is some shit for the birds."

One forgets the genteel nature of Jersey City. Arriving at the parking lot recommended by my brother, the attendant greeting me warmly by saying, "No motorcycle parking... Get that fucking thing outta here."

My first inclination was to return this typical Jersey City salutation with a cheery, "How about I get off this bike and shove that stupid little gate up your ass." But I didn't think that would help the situation. Instead, I showed the man a ten-spot, which is all he wanted in the first place. Three minutes later, I was parked five feet from the elevator leading directly to my mother's floor. We had a pleasant three-hour visit.

When I departed at 8:30pm, it was full night. Still, I had no trouble retracing my route to the New Jersey Turnpike (in Newark). At the toll booth, however, the automated ticketing device refused to issue me a toll ticket. There is a doorbell button on the machine to signal trouble.

I pressed it.

I pressed it again.

I pressed it 25 times.

I pressed it and held it down for 25 seconds.

Then I started to scream, “You fucking assholes," at the top of my lungs to unseen members of this state authority. This resulted in a fifteen-minute delay, during which they undoubtedly debated whether I wanted them to fuck assholes, or if I meant they were the assholes. This is the stuff of debate in New Jersey. Throughout all this time, there was no traffic behind me. I backed the bike all the way out of the booth, and tried coming through again. It was a that point the machine issued me a ticket.

Swinging onto the New Jersey TurnPike proper (I-95 South), I switched on the deadly HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights that I had installed over the summer. The night pavement held no secrets. It was like riding through an operating room. Their effects intensified on the darker stretches below Exit 8. A car slid into my lane (typical Jersey) and got in front of me with about 6 feet to spare. He lasted 30 seconds. My lights made an x-ray of the driver’s head on the windshield of his car.

Now the temperature was 56º when I left the house in the afternoon. It was 13º cooler now. I was wearing my Joe Rocket ballistic jacket over a long sleeve shirt. I didn’t think to put the liner in the jacket, nor to bring it in a saddlebag. The cold began to creep into my joints from my extremities. But I didn’t care. The road was clear... I was going like hell... My lights were effective... The moon was out and looking very cool... And my clutch... What the hell was the matter with the clutch?

It was just before 10pm, and I pulled into the Harriet Tampon Rest Area, just below Exit 8a. (I forget what Harriet Tampon invented, but New Jersey is impressed with it.) The clutch was clunky and uneven. The bike changed gears easily enough, but something odd was happening at the caliper end. I sensed a strange kind of binding, and then I knew: the cable was breaking. I didn’t panic. I counted to 10 and said:


I carry a spare clutch cable with me -- all the time. I have the required tools -- all the time. I have a flashlight -- all the time. But I don’t know how to install a clutch cable. It might just as well have been a nuclear reactor core or a Jarvic 7 artificial heart. I had heard of guys riding these bikes great distances, and shifting without a clutch. If necessary, I could figure it out too. But maybe it would hold. At least as far as Pennsylvania.

It did.

I babied it, thinking I could get as far as Valley Forge.

I did.

I thought, “What the hell? It’s only 9 more miles to East Goshen. Maybe my luck will hold?”

It did. It held until I parked the bike in the garage. And it is still holding.

Fellow Mac Pac member Brian Curry dropped by two days later to show me how to install a clutch cable... But there was nothing wrong with the one I had. The pin holding the caliper to the handlebars was missing, however. The caliper assembly was being held together solely by the tension on the cable. I looped a cable tie through the opening as to such time when I can get the appropriate OEM parts tomorrow.

It was a nice ride for me... 212.5 miles alone... With 106.25 in the dark.

Nothing special for most of you. But look at all the stuff I got out of it.

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