Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Yellow Spot In The Snow...

Rain was nothing new to this rider, who had succumbed to his passion for motorcycling 35 years before in Great Britain, where oppressively damp, foggy weather sets the tone for humor, romance and the national pastime: unbridled cynicism. Yet this was not Great Britain, but the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York, one of the most beautiful and remote places in the northeast United States. The rain fell with cold insistence, filtering through dense mountain mists that barely yielded to dawn. It was a little after 7 am on the morning of October 15th, 2010, and the temperature was in the low 40’s (Fahrenheit).

The hamlet of Keene is nestled among minor mountains, between four and five thousand feet high that rise in a wild pattern that borders on random. On days like this one, thick mists rise from the trees and hang in the air like incense in a cathedral. It is very beautiful to see — for the first time, and for about five minutes. But locals know these mists are the precursors of lingering, moody weather, and the dark emotions that contribute to life here.

The rider stood in the basement doorway, taking a final drag on a cigarette.

The damp aroma of forest duff overwhelmed the smoke of the Marlboro, but yielded to the reassuring vapors of gasoline and oil in the room behind him. Illuminated by a dim overhead bulb was a 2000 Honda “VFR Interceptor” and a 1971 Triumph T100c. The Interceptor was a modern tribute to speed and mechanical efficiency. The Triumph leaked oil onto the concrete floor with grim determination. The rider had thought of putting a disposable diaper under the antique, but the ghosts of Kipling, Churchill, and T.E. Lawrence intervened. “Do you want a diaper when you’re 55-years-old,” they asked. That time was a mere three years away.

It is the fashion among some riders to name their machines. He called the Triumph his “Strumpet,” as the motorcycle would fuck him at the drop of a hat. The most recent occurrence had been at an antique bike rally in Ohio. The bike had run flawlessly for a month, then refused to start after being trailered for 24-hours. The rider hadn’t named the bright yellow Honda... That had been done for him by a friend, who called it “Hepatitis.”

He pushed the Honda into the driveway.

Fall comes early in the Adirondacks and the aspens and hardwoods in the High Peaks region were well past their autumn colors. The dense rain would beat a lot of the remaining leaves from their branches, forming a slick paste of death in every curve. Cinching his helmet with an extra tug, the rider surveyed the weather with the quiet resignation of a man cursed by circumstances. He would have taken his truck into the office today, but it was as dead as Kelsey’s nuts. And he could have taken his wife’s car into the office, if it hadn’t served as the unanticipated backstop when he’d tried to jump-start the truck.

It was turning out to be one of those days when the innocent expletive “oh” would nearly always be followed by the qualifying noun “shit.”

Chris Wolfe is a medical practitioner with a strong sense of commitment. Babies with their first sniffles... The elderly with the aches of age... And working men requiring the odd shot or the occasional stitch were relying on him to be there at 8am. He threw his leg over the bike, sneered at the rain, and pressed the starter. Snicking the bike in gear, the modern day equivalent of the country doctor roared off into the gloom for the 25-mile run to Moriah, NY. The ride was slower than normal as there was a lot of water on the road, and the wind was beginning to pick up. Yet Wolfe was still able to enjoy the twisties along the river and the mountain pass at Chapel Pond.

It was a busier than usual day in the clinic. Wolfe took his mid-morning coffee on the fly, burning up what few extra minutes he could spare in casual conversation with patients who were really ill. He has a strong rapport with many, who seemed to find some measure of reassurance in his crisp British accent. He was something of an exotic in the Adirondacks, and in his younger years had shamefully used the crease in his speech to slice through conversation in mountain café society, and as a shortcut to getting laid.

On this particular day, nearly every patient greeted him with a remark about the weather, which was getting murkier and murkier with each passing hour. A cold front had collided with a band of moisture about ten thousand feet above the mountains, turning the rain into the first snow of the season. In Moriah on the warmer shores of Lake Champlain, it was still raining. But at higher elevations like Lake Placid, the snow was already an inch deep on the street.

“I’m ducking out of here about 3 o’clock,” Wolfe announced to his colleagues. “I expect this rain to turn to sleet and I want to get through most of it in daylight.” Five miles into the run home he noticed it was a lot colder than it had been earlier in the day, and he began to worry about black ice. Yet the tire bite remained strong as he started his climb into the mountains.

Not far from its intersection with I-87 (The Adirondack Northway), Route 73 runs into US-9 at a place called “Dysfunction Junction.” It is the strangest confluence of two roadways ever designed by an engineer, and only its remote location prevents huge pile-ups. Heading north toward Lake Placid, Route 73 leaves “Dysfunction Junction,” paralleling a beautiful stream, gradually climbing a series of rises (and accompanying curves) to peak at Chapel Pond. This body of water is a natural reflecting pool for a sheer rock wall rising a couple of thousand feet straight up. Then the road plunges (very steeply) into Keene Valley, for a fairly level ride for the next ten miles. The drop in elevation is checked by a couple of hairpin curves, on the edge of a cliff. For added safety, a stone wall (built by the Phoenicians in 1204 BC) tops the cliff. The other side of the road is a rock embankment.

On a clear, dry summer day, this is one of the most breathtaking motorcycle rides in the country.

Wolfe instinctively dropped into a lower gear as he approached Dysfunction Junction, which to his horror, was covered with snow. “The transition from rain to snow was almost instantaneous,” said Wolfe and it was coming down very heavily.” He had a decision to make. He could peel off on US-9, which was fairly level (minor hills) all the way to the county seat — Elizabethtown — but which ended up climbing the shoulders of Giant Mountain. This terminated in a straight downhill run, almost like a ski jump, which had fired logging trucks 300 feet into the cornfield beyond. Or he could deal with the much shorter run, and less draw- out drop of Route 73.

“The decision was made for me,” said Wolfe. I caught up to the car ahead of me and decided to ride in its right tire track, as the snow was already two inches deep.” The car was headed up Route 73.

Wolfe alternated between first and second gear for the next ten miles. The climb up to Chapel Pond wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” said Chris. “There was no other traffic than the car in front of me and the driver proceed at a slow but steady clip. He had his flashers on and I was following at 18 or 20 feet behind.” They went through the first curves in the road in this bizarre formation, with Wolfe keeping the bike as perpendicular as possible. “There was no thought of leaning the machine. This is a street bike, with street bike tires, made for flawless pavement. Not this stuff,” he added.

The road surface had not cooled as fast as the air, and the car’s tires were getting through to blacktop in many places. The road also weaves through the mountains which deflect the wind, so the distribution of snow on the road was uneven — being a dusting in some places, and several inches deep in others. That changed on the drop into Keene Valley.

“The snow was a constant two or three inches deep and it became critical that I stayed in this guy’s tire track. The other driver was very careful to maintain a slow speed on the downhill stretch as I am sure he had no desire to hit the wall with his car either,” said Wolfe. “Naturally my concern went a little beyond that as the wall is the ideal height for a rider to go flying over, once free of the bike.”

Wolfe tried holding the bike in second gear, with both feet off the pegs.

“That was a mistake and I didn’t try the experiment for more than 100 feet or so. My balance was skewed and I had to keep wiping the snow from my face shield with my left hand,” said Wolfe. “It was easier to control the bike with both feet on the pegs.”

There was another problem as he got down off the mountain. On the level stretch, the driver in the car began to accelerate, widening the gap between the two vehicles. “As the space between us opened up to 50 feet, the car’s tire tracks started to fill in as the snowfall increased,” said Wolfe. He found himself questioning his place in the cosmos by uttering, “What the fuck” every 30 seconds or so.

“That was the longest ten miles in my life,” said Wolfe. “And I don’t really know if the driver was consciously helping me deal with the problem, but I’d like to think he was.”

Wolfe got the motorcycle back to the barn without dropping the bike. In his estimation, riding in the snow is an overrated pleasure that he can live without. “We’re now in the time of the year when the state begins to salt and sand on a regular basis, and this could be the end of my riding season. Then again, we could have a couple of weekends that are cold but dry and I might get another run in,” he said.

Epilogue:

The woman pulled into her driveway with an audible sigh. The Chrysler wasn’t really made for North Country winters. It may have performed better with snow tires, but this Nor’easter had caught everyone by surprise.

“Did you have any trouble getting home,” asked her husband.

“The roads were awful and I took it real slow coming over the mountain,” she replied. “There was some asshole on a motorcycle tailgating me from Chapel Pond all the way to Keene.”

“On a motorcycle?”

“Yeah, a piss-yellow motorcycle. He was right up my ass too. And whenever I pulled away, he got right in behind me. What an asshole,” she said.

“Did you get the pizza,” her husband asked, ending the warm, sympathetic part of the conversation.

“Yeah,” she replied after a long silence. “Next time you can get your own pizza.”

“Hey, you’re lucky it’s not March 14th,” he added with a wink.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamnerlain — PS (With A Shrug)

42 comments:

bobskoot said...

Jack:

I am at a loss for words . . . but I clicked and smiled both at the same time. I new there must be medicinal properties.

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

Steve Williams said...

Ah, riding in the snow. Never had thecpleasure of doing it in the Adirondacks. That would be nice.

Really fine storytelling and as much as I would like to offer deep, considered critique I need to hurry off and tell Kim all about March 14th.

Thanks so much for that important relationship news.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Woody said...

My first BMW motorcycle was a gray, originally red, R80ST. I told the dealer I didn’t like the red and I wanted gray. His eyes lit up and he offered “I just sold a gray one a couple of weeks ago and the owner has not taken delivery yet. I can swap the painted parts. The owner actually wants a red one to replace the previous one she totaled riding on ice ...”

The story is accurately reproduced, but whether it's true or not, I'll never know.

Great story as told by the master. I think your title should be "Brown stain on the motorcycle seat"

Canajun said...

Good story Jack. Only ever had the pleasure of riding in snow once - mid-July through the Icefields Parkway in the BC Rockies. It didn't help that I also had the mother of all head-colds at the same time, so I was alternating wiping the stuff from the outside of the face shield, and then from the inside. Not fun..

BeemerGirl said...

LMAO!! Not about the riding in snow. Feel for that guy. Work with a guy that rode full time in grad school. Had to ride on ice home one night. Kept the landing gear down the entire way home. But did enjoy the symbolism of March 14th...

Charlie6 said...

A great recounting of what I am sure was an epic commute by Chris Wolfe.

Though I must ask, is the name Stumpet or Strumpet?

The vivid images conjured up by your writing brought back (suppressed) memories of my unintentional ride on rapidly freezing roads, during a snow storm, on La Veta Pass in southern Colorado....trying very hard to stay in the tracks left by a semi-trailer truck in front of me. (the hope was he would break up any ice that had formed on the road). Thanks a lot!

Seriously though Jack, very nice piece. As to the epilogue, I am sure the truck driver I followed had pretty much the same thoughts.....

dom

Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Cantwell said...

I was almost stuck in the same predicament a couple of weeks ago, but I decided to call in sick and sleep in. Good thing too, Lake Placid got about six inches between noon and four....just when I'd be getting out of work. I would have ridden as my Jeep had the rear wheels removed for a brake job.

Hey Chris, if you want to go for a quick spin on a dry weekend, let me know. I'm going to try to ride in all 12 months this year.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

Lost for words!!! I felt as if I was doing a public service! Men have needed a ropmantic holiday of their own for years. Now we finally have one.

I owe you a return call. I have been wotking the social aspects of fall this pas week and was out on each of those three nights. will give you a ring soon.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

I live to serve. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment on Twisted Roads, the blog dedicated to strong relationship building.

Trust me... The las place you want to ride a motorcycle is in the Adirondacks in the winter.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Woody:

I have known Chris a long time and I suspect he did the anal seat clench pretty much the whole return ride. And while he'd be the last to admit it, he probably screamed like a little girl on the roller coaster too.

I am surprised a the number of people who push their riding time into the snow season, and who routinely find themselves riding in or out of the white stuff.

Thank you for your kind note. At Twisted Roads, we try hard to provide a delicate balance of adventure, news, and practical advice.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Canajun:

I can only imagine the desperate need to keep going when caught out in the snow on two wheels. What is the alternative? To check into a hotel and call somebody with a trailer?

I take my hat off to you... I would be very unlikely to be out riding my bike on anything called the Icefields Parkway... Even in July.

Thank you for reading my tripe and for writing in.

Fondest regards,
Jasck • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Beemer Girl (Lori):

I found it interesting that my friend Chris tried riding that day with his feet down and concluded it skewed his balance. That would have been my first thought. Have 18 years of experience with that stretch of road he was on, I would never have attempted that steep grade on a slippery surface.

Glad you can appreciate the significance of March 14th.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

You were quite right... It should have read "Strumpet" and I thank you for the correction. I remember you shared that adventure of how you got caught in the snowstorm — in traffic! I thought you should have called the story "Cheating The White Death at 6000 Feet," or something like that.

Thank you for readng Twisted Roads, the motorcycling world's most dedicated bullshit blog for serious riders. And thanks for leaving your kind note.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell (Mike):

Me got gyped on your last visit down here. I would have been delighted to let you take "Fireballs" out for a run. Next time. But the way things asre turning out, next time might be the spring.

I was thinking of you when Chris was telling me the story. My thought was, "Wow! Chris would have been riding into it from the lake, and you would have been riding out of it from Ray Brook, but with the "Notch" being your final entertainment before hitting Wilmington.

Thank God I don't have to deal with that snow any more... Although we got 60 inches of it here last year.

Fondes regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Hey Cantwell:

I was very distracted by circumstances when you were doen here last week- the same with Michael Beattie — and a bit dazed. But I think I m going to have a very strong spring.

JR/tw

Shannon T Baker said...

Jack,

Once again you prove yourself the Master Blogger...

Awesome writing that kept me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I was actually in the hot tub). Great read that should definitely be included in your "Best Of" anthology that you should put together and sell.

Thanks for a great read.

-Buddha

BMW-Dick said...

A wonderful tale of heroic proportions. My hat's off to Chris. He's fucking crazy. You'd never catch my ass riding in a snow storm. Snow storms are made for sipping hot toddies and Tom and Jerry's around a roaring fire while watching tight young butts in stretch pants. Motorcycles are made for cool Fall days. sunshine and the smell of fresh-mown grass in the air. But it was nicely crafted tale, Brother Jack.

ADK said...

The damp aroma of something less pleasnt than forest duff is rising under my nose as I read this shamefull parody of what was, for those of me who were present, a very trying experience. Your concern however is clearly evident.

Through Chapel Pond Pass I rode past several cars that had run off the road. One driver, struggling with several helpers to push his car out of the ditch, gestured "What the Fuck?" at me as I wobbled by.

And For the Last Time.......It's a 1971 Triumph T100C. Dolt!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Baker:

Thank you for your kind remarks. I thought it was a harrowing tale too... But not harrowing enough for the rider who wanted me to include a body count, however.

Thank you for reading my tripe, and for being impressed with it. You and I should go riding in the Adirondacks next summer. I'll introduce you to a Honda rider who screams like a little girl.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

You are too kind. Out of all the people who read this story, I had one critic who didn't think it was scary enough, nor written from the perspective of a potential crash. Oh, well. You can't please everyone. It was nice having dinner with you and Jane the other night.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

The person whose car was in the ditch was Chas Orttbach. And he wasn't gesturing "What the fuck." He was gesturing "Fuck you." There is a subtle difference.

If you read the text carefully, you will see I got the Triump designation correct. And if you are going to be this way about it, consider my balance paid.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Nikos said...

Jack

It's a real pity that the Phoenicians bypassed Greece - stone safety walls on precipitous mountain roads would have been a really good innovation and I shall write to the Greek Ministry of Ancient Ruins (responsible for the road structure there)to suggest that they build some now.

All the best, N

Shannon T Baker said...

Riding the up there sounds incredible...as long as you can guarantee no snow or temps below freezing which I believe to be around 60 degrees.

I hope to make some longer longer rides next year. All my vacation time this year was used moving my Baby Girl off to college and the birth of my grandson. Of course with BG off at college she now has more money than I do so we may need to talk about that back child support or free lodging while up in the great white north (anything north of Dallas).

Hang in there

-Buddha

ADK said...

Dear Fuhrer,
Your revisionist account has been noted, as has your latest deposit into your 'humour' account, which is still, for those of us who have listened to this twaddle for years, irredeemably in arrears.

Conchscooter said...

There's an idea. Let's ride in the snow, something I haven't done in decades. Key West in February should be perfect.
Of course anyone who risks a classic Triumph in snow deserves to be returned to serve a life sentence in the NHS.

ADK said...

Conchshooter, ('...scooter' is interesting, '...shooter' has all sorts of possibilities),

I wouldn't ride the Triumph in snow if my life depended on it. OTOH I hadn't intended to ride The Yellow Peril in snow either.

Key West in any season would be OK w/ me.

As for the NHS......I heard that The Rieper Fuhrer is retiring to the UK to take advantage of the NHS's illustrious sevices. Somewhat in the way that he's taken advantage of my wallet over the years. He reminds me at our every encounter that, "There aint nothin cheaper'n free".

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK (Chris Wolfe):

You cheap mutha-fucker... Irish whiskey had yet to be invented the last time you bought me a drink. As I recall, they had to nail the men's room window shut at Kelsey's Mountain Retreat and Spa as you were able to squeeze through a four-inch opening like a roach — just to beat buying me a single $15 martini.

And as far as that bastard from Key West goes, he has trouble staying upright going over two damp leaves, let alone snow on the shores of the North Branch of the Bouquet River.

Now here's the deal... We are going to start planning this as soon as the heavy winter shuts our respective riding seasons down. Chris, you and I are going to Key West next year. Maybe we can fix it so we can spring the reticent boy wonder Cantwell too. That would be a pisser of a trip.

Maybe we could shoot for the early fall. We could take the AutoTrain down and run rampant in Key West for a week. I'll ge a police scanner, so when we start spreading Krazy Klue on the benches by where the cruise ships come in, we can here the British accent tell people "What the fuck do you want me to do about getting your fat ass off the bench?"

This could be the ultimate pisser.

(I will never forget the time my Beemer had been sabotaged by that asshole tire vendor at the Vermort BMW rally... It was hotter than hell, and you said, "Beer time," and took off on the ancient Triumph... Only to return with a case of cold ones strapped to the pillion. That was the best tasting cold beer I had in my life.)

Fondest regard,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

The walls I referred to have not been maintained by the Phoenicians since they were installed either. As challenging as I have made the roads in upstate New York sound, I suspect they are a lot less hair-raising than the ones you rode in Greece. But then again, I bet the roads in Greece don't see six feet of snow each year either.

Do they celebrate March 14th in Greece?

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conchscooter (Trotsky):

Now you've done it... You have given me the idea to ride down to Key West with Chris Wolfe and Mike Cantwell. You'd have to enter the witness protection program by the time we left. Actually, Mike Cantwell would follow in our wake, apologizing to everyone. I can think of nothing more pleasurable than the sack of Duval Street with Chris Wolfe, followed by Mike Cantwell saying, "Did you see that one?" And "Good heavens, her tits were out."

The only apect of such a trip that could be improved would be if Cantwell were a practicing criminal defense attoney, admitted to the Florida BAR.

By the way, at what speed above the limit are mororcyclists rountinely arrested? (Chris wanted to know.)

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Shannon Baker:

As you can see, I am trying to foment a plot to ride in Key West with some friends of mine. Key West can't be farther than a 2-week ride from Texas. You could meet us there. Your Harley would add the volume, our Beemers would contribute the class, and Chris's piss yellow Honda would be the comic relief. Maybe he'll wear his antique helmet too...

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

ADK said...

Riepe said:

Maybe he'll wear his antique helmet too...


The only antique helmet in my possesion is not seeing the light of day if you're on the same continent.


If the price of escape was only a $15 martini I'd nail myself shut in the mens room on Rikers Island, but I'm sure that you'd find a way in somehow.


Hey Cantwell, why do we bother coming here?

ADK said...

OK DOPEY,

What on God's Green Earth is a "Triumph T1o0 C?"

And BTW, word verification is 'blush'

MattPie said...

Jack, there's a ying and yang for you riding in Florida. The roads are all straight so as to not require leaning, but every other vehicle is as older woman in a minivan.

Great story, BTW. I've only ridden in snow once, or twice, but only as the road got wet. Never sticking.

Shannon T Baker said...

It is a one week ride once out of the state of Texas...

Actually, Wonderful Wife made it home from Orlando in about 10 hours in a Honda Pilot a few years back. The words "We don't even have a fixed-wing that'll go that fast!" kept playing in in the back of my head. The front was occupied with the continuous flashback of my life. Apparently, there was a sale somewhere in town.

An Iron Butt would put me meeting up with you somewhere along the Atlantic coast. I have never been to Key West although my Mom was born on Boca Chica while my Grandfather stationed on Key West. As long as the temps are above freezing (around 55 degrees, right?) I'm in.

I'll bring a bottle of Texas Vodka and a bottle of Texas Rum for good measure. Though, I doubt there will be much of either left by the time I get there.

-Buddha

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK (Chris Wolfe):

Others have seen you puttering around the Adiorondacks on your Striumphet, wearing your antique helmet. Lee Kazanas mentioned it to me. He didn't actually say you looked like a douche, or anything, but there was the slightest pause in the conversation.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Buddha:

I m thinking that the first week in October 2011 would be a great time to meet in Key West. You have to give Chris Wolfe a full year's notice in advance because his social calendar is so full (of shit) and everything.

I think you would like my ridsing buddies, and the four of us could have a blast chasing Michael Beattie around. There was some talk about this guy Bobskoot doing it too...

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Matt:

I can handle the straight roads. Chris Wolfe can handle the old ladies.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Nikos said...

Jack

I'd be blowed if they celebrate 14th March in Greece - they celebrate 28th October instead - "NO BJ" day.

Best wishes from Wiesbaden, N

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos;

As my old Irish Grandfather used to say, "It's an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody."

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Cantwell said...

Chris,
I'm just going to sit back an nod while all the plans are made so that when Jack backs out because of bursitis of his left testicle I can simply interject "screw you Riepe" and meet you in Key West.
Michael

Shannon T Baker said...

Sounds like an awesome run, and a fine time. Where do you want to meet?

Oh, and I will be broke so bring child support money...

-Buddha

Conchscooter said...

Everybody fuck off. Key West is mine. I like living here for chrissakes. It's the first place I have ever really liked living and you are going to ruin it for me. People bitch and moan for 51 weeks of the year about bike week when a few thousand Harley poseurs show up and fart around town with their legs thrown out like whores on a couch. If you vandals show up and drag me around town being rude to people I will have to take my slow boat to Cuba and I might die crossing the Gulf Stream in my little skiff.
There is no room! All full! Bye bye! You have nice day now.
(retires grumping stage left to his Badger sett slamming door loudly behind him).
my word verification is runto. how fucking charming.