A buddy of mine came over to help me do a few things on my 1995 BMW K75, and we started by opening the stock sidebags on the back, where I thought I had stashed some gear. The retaining strap on the left bag is no longer attached, so the cover will open all the way to the ground, if you are not careful. He didn’t know this, and gear fell out onto the floor. One piece of equipment made the distinctly hollow sound of a glass jar ringing on concrete, as it rolled along the garage floor.
“What was that?” my buddy asked.
“That’s the most important part of hotel camping.”
My friend found the jar under some shelving. It contained cocktail onions...
There comes a point in every ride where the person in the saddle begins to think about the end of the day. For many, the end of the day is the beginning of yet another ritual, in which the rider sets up the tent, rolls out the high-tech back-packing air mattress (that is a paper-thin layer of foam in an air mattress that sort of self-inflates when you open the valve), and spreads the sleeping bag on top. Then sometimes a campfire is made. Or a camp stove the size of a soup can is fired up, and the rider prepares a rewarding pot of Ramen noodles to which a packet of freeze-dried peas have been added. The rider may then pull a flask from one of the side bags and close the day with a sip of Bourbon, Scotch, or Irish Whiskey.
Yet before climbing into the sleeping bag for a well-deserved rest, one more pot of water is heated, into which a wash cloth is dipped, before being smudged against a tiny bar of Ivory soap (liberated from a hotel on the last business trip). The rider stands naked in the starlight, and attempts to wipe eight hours of saddle sweat off their frame, using the last four ounces of warm water left in the pot for a rinse. It is in the dim light of a solitary candle lantern that they notice the 62 dead mosquitoes in the last sweep of the cloth. This starts the mad scramble into the tent. The tent, like the tires and the brakes on the bike, represents a state-of-the-art investment that is resistant to driving rains, high winds, and corrosive dingo urine (which could inadvertently be applied during the night). The only weak link in this incredible tent assembly is the zipper on the “no-see-um” micro-screening, which tends to jam in stampede situations — like now.
But the rider has dealt with this situation before and will get the screen door open in less then 10 minutes. Once inside, they will repeat the operation in reverse, and succeed in getting the screen closed in only eight minutes. The rider then kneels in a kind of quiet supplication, almost in prayer, while systematically killing the 38 mosquitoes that flew in during the door debacle. The rider now squiggles into the ultra-light-weight sleeping bag, which is woven from micro-fibers spun from chemicals that didn’t exist six months before. These fibers wick bad moisture away from the body, before converting those molecules in carbon bullshitoxide, so butterfly bushes will sprout up where the tent was pitched. The sleeping bag cost as much as a good used car in 1972. The rider is an experienced outdoors person, and despite the warmness of the night, remembers to zip up the sleeping bag, as even a slight drop in temperature, say 6 degrees, can cause leg cramps. What the rider forgets is that the sleeping bag uses a zipper made by the same manufacturer (in Quang Fu province) who produces the door fasteners for this very tent. The motto of this manufacturer’s quality control team is “Good is good enough.”
The rider then dozes off listening to the “ting, ping, ting, ting, ping” sound of rain drops hitting the gas tank on the bike. This is the rain that wasn’t supposed to start until 4pm the next day. It is a wild, romantic kind of sound, which is good, as the rider is going to hear it non-stop for the next week. The rider is soon lost in that rare deep sleep that is only found in those wild lost places common to the Berkshires, The Adirondacks, or the Appalachians. Their dreams are of rushing streams, from which naked lovers emerge and whisper, “Wake up... You have to take a piss.” Riders who are men... Men who have camped in the dead of winter... Men who have camped in the dead of winter after having a couple of beers... Understand the necessity of setting up the tent with a slight pitch away from the front, and simply kneel in the doorway, adjusting their trajectory. Technically speaking, this maneuver is a bit more difficult for women. A friend of mine’s wife was alleged to be quite good at it, however. Until the night he groggily asked her, “Honey, did you move my boots from the tent vestibule?”
“Your boots?” she replied.
I start thinking of the trail’s end around 3:30pm. This is not because I fear setting up camp in the fading daylight, but because most of the good hotels are already full by late afternoon, especially in the summer. And because I will not just stay in the first place with a “vacancy” sign. My ideal property is a 1950’s-style motel, but built in 2002. I want a first floor room with direct access from the parking lot. This guarantees one trip to unload, carrying in both of my side bags. Just inside the door is the thermostat, which I will set to “zero degrees — Kelvin.” Any mosquitoes that followed me into this room are going to freeze in mid-flight. It’s nice if there is a flat screen TV the size of a ping-pong table hanging on the wall opposite the bed, but more important to me is the absolutely free internet connection. I want my web browser to jump right out of my computer and kiss me the second I open this laptop. I do not want an ethernet cable connection or hear any bullshit about using my computer in the lobby either.
It’s not that I am addicted to e-mail, My Face, or Twaddle. I could really give a shit. But I have been a commercial writer for 35 years, and my clients, especially the last ones, felt compelled to demand assignments from me whenever I went on a long ride. I have had one two-week vacation in 28 years. And on that “vacation,” I was compelled to write three press releases and two speeches. But in that time, I have come to rely on my computer for news, weather, maps, photo-processing, movies and music that suit my tastes. But more so, I have lost the ability to compose my thoughts with a simple notebook and pencil.
I once went canoe camping on a four-day fishing trip with my life-long pal, Ihor Sypko. We arranged to have an entire island to ourselves in the middle of Saranac Lake, a fairly huge expanse of water in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. Since we brought everything out in a canoe, gear weight was not an issue and we planned to live like kings. Our tent was a 50-pound outfitter’s rig with an 11-foot ceiling. I even brought a 300-page volume of the work of Mark Twain (a miniscule fraction of this great author’s works). On the last night of this adventure, I wanted to capture some passing thoughts for Leslie (my red hot squeeze), who was some 400 miles to the south. The only paper I had was the end sheets of the Twain volume. Ihor and I were sitting on respective logs, next to a flickering campfire, the only light on this part of the lake. Cigar smoke mingled with wood smoke and the light of the flames were refracted in a tinted single malt Scotch bottle.
“Do you have a pen?” I asked Sypko.
Ihor pulled a “Pilot Point - Fine” out of his fishing jacket, like a magician releasing a sparrow from an egg laid by a rabbit. The moon rose out of the mountains and bathed us in the kind of light that is only possible in a daguerreotype.
“How would you describe the color of that moon?” I asked Ihor.
Sypko studied the moon like it was an unexpected question on the entrance examination to paradise, and replied, “Persimmon.”
I looked at him and said, “The only thing that rhymes with ‘persimmon’ is prison.”
What I wrote down at that point was, “Stiffie, you have to trust me on this one... Never ask Ihor to describe the color of the moon.”
I remember this clearly, because it is impossible not to have a memorable camping trip with Ihor Sypko; and because I recently came across the Twain volume on my bookshelf. But that was the last time I have written a damn thing without the assistance of a computer.
There are other considerations to motel camping. These include endless hot water for showering, and slipping between industrially laundered white sheets as crisp as fresh lettuce. There have been times when I too awoke to gray dawns and rain peppering my room’s window. I resolved them by taking the room for another day, and working at the desk provided, while the storm moved elsewhere.
The final requirement of my motel criteria is proximity to a country tavern with a decent kitchen and an informed bartender. In so many chain restaurants, the bartender is a twenty-something moron, primarily interested in waiting on other twenty-somethings with breasts. While this is understandable to a degree, it is also unacceptable. I went into one chain place at the end of a hard ride, and asked the bartender for a Gibson martini.
“What kind of vodka do you want in that?” he asked, with all the enthusiasm of a cigar store Indian.
I looked him right in the eye and said, “A classic martini is always made with gin, unless a vodka martini is specified.”
Since there were a couple of twenty-somethings with impressive hooters sitting at the bar, he decided to give me a fight. I asked him to get out the bartenders guide. A brief search revealed a stained and battered drink manual that clearly defined the classic martini as a gin cocktail. His stupidity was then replaced with sullen arrogance. It got worse when I offered to buy the two ladies at the bar their pleasure. One of them was this asshole’s girlfriend. You should have seen the look on Pencil Dick’s face when they accepted, and had what I was having.
Once the trail ended for me in western New Jersey. This is almost a ludicrous description of what is one of the country’s smallest states. But there was a time when New Jersey communities — especially places like Peapack-Gladstone and Chester — were more beautiful than any place in the world. At a glance, you could understand why colonists would take up the musket and fight to the death for these places. That was before the countryside became fucked up by relentless developers who cut down centuries old oaks to build historically barren tracts like “The Commons At Grouseberry Crossing, A Planned Community Representing The Expression Of A Generation In Sheetrock.” The plan for New Jersey today is to make it possible for lard-laden individuals like myself to waddle across the state, stepping from one strip-mall rooftop to another. Places like Cape May are the exception, where the preserved character of the community is recognized as the core of real estate value.
There was an alleged Tex-Mex chain joint in the strip mall across from my over-priced chain motel, but I was wounded in the soul on this ride and sat down at the bar in search of a cure. The bartender was another twenty-something, exceptionally attractive in her own right, who openly looked at me like she was smelling shit. If I hadn’t been so tired and gimpy, I would have spit in the tip jar and left.
“Would you like one of our famous frozen tequila daiquiris,” she offered. It was then I noticed there was a vat of green stuff swirling at the end of the bar. This was going to be one of those drinks that could pass a state trooper’s breath-a-lizer test.
“I’d like a Gibson martini, with four onions please.” You would think I asked her for Lourdes water. She had never heard of a drink that had onions in it. And it didn’t matter anyway as there wasn’t a cocktail onion in the joint. I then asked for your run-of-the mill classic martini. I explained this came with olives. She got cross-eyed. The drink came out with a black-stuffed olive, the size of a plum, in it.
“These are the only olives we have,” she said, turning her back and walking away.
I looked up at the rows of liquor bottles behind the bar, the stacks of rocks, cocktail, and shot glasses, and the neat piles of napkins in their plastic holders. The fucking place looked like a bar. So I asked to speak to the manager. She was a thirty-something looker who explained to me that they were out of cocktail onions and olives. But they had really great tequila daiquiris for $10 bucks.
Now before the gentle Twisted Roads reader storms away thinking I am unreasonable in my demands on society, I am the personification of patience and understanding when treated with a modicum of deference. One trail ended for me in a community far south of Pennsylvania, at a Holiday Inn Express, across from a gin mill called “The Travelers Bar and Rest. I liked the very idea of naming a joint in favor of this concept, until I realized the letters “aurant” were out in the neon sign. I went in anyway.
Once again, the bartender was a twenty-something, wearing jeans, a loose-fitting white blouse, and the kind of smile that made me feel like I should have been a better man throughout most of my life.
“Was that red motorcycle yours?” she asked as I sat down. “Where’d you ride in from and what can I get you?”
This was a smart kid who knew why she was hired and the appropriate steps to take to make somebody feel welcome. I ordered a Gibson martini.
“If you can tell me what goes into it, I can make it,” she said, dangling that smile like it was a passport to a place where nothing bad ever happens. Everything went fine until we got to the onion part.
While making small talk all the time, she looked in every cupboard and drawer behind the bar, then carried my drink into the kitchen, where a muted consultation ensued. She returned with a look of doubt on her face, and put my drink down on the bar. A paper-thin slice of Bermuda onion, nearly as wide as the glass itself, floated on the crystal clear gin and vermouth.
“That’s not right, is it?” she asked, looking out of the tops of her eyes.
“It’s perfect,” I said. “Exactly what I wanted.”
“Really,” she chirped. She went back into the kitchen and came out with the cook — her twin sister. They had never heard of an onion in a cocktail either, and wanted to watch me drink it. I drank two. I was the only customer in the joint, and we all chatted for an hour. The twin who was the cook made me a cheeseburger. The bartender’s name was Jackie. Her sister was Jill.
What are the odds of that?
It was then I mentioned that a lot of places no longer seemed to have cocktail onions nor olives.
“Why not carry your own,” suggested Jackie, in a voice lined with silk and tea roses.
The idea had merit. While I do not advocate mishandling a motorcycle in the party way, there is nothing that says you can’t be prepared for a proper good time at the day’s end. As a committed BMW rider who routinely carries a tool kit with tools for every fastener on the bike, a spare clutch cable, bulbs, duct tape, fuses, a flashlight, a GPS and a laptop, it makes perfect sense to carry a jar of cocktail onions.
“So where’s the gin?” asked Clyde, holding up the neoprene-wrapped jar with the onions.
“In the bag on my side.”
I am currently suffering from an attack of asthmatic bronchitis, triggered by a cold. I have put a nice doctor to a lot of trouble and am driving my paramour (Leslie) absolutely nuts. I have avoided people with colds and flu for fours years, as this has happened to me once before. (That round went 45 days.) I recently had a nice visit from an old friend who I admire and respect. The son of bitch walked in here hacking and coughing like it was a salute. I have woken up each morning convinced I was dying, and screamed to prove it. There is nothing like straining for a taste of the old oxygen to put the day in perspective. I resolved the mater by not sleeping for 36 hours For those of you who have not noticed, I’m a bit on the chubby side. I consume a lot of air. And when I get spooked, that amount doubles. There have been times this week when I felt like I was breathing through the eye of a needle. I handle most things badly. But this is exceptional. I really suck at this business of toughing out the healing process.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011