Perhaps I should begin again.
My self-imposed writer’s exile in a “rustic” cabin at Elk Neck State Park was in it’s fourth day, when the Saturday morning calm was shattered by the fart-like growl of approaching German motorcycles. Few machines make a noise like they’re running on pumpernickel and limburger cheese, and had I been rustling a newspaper, or frying bacon, I never would have heard them.
“Hmmmmmmmm... That sounds like BMW ‘R’ bikes,” I thought.
The heavy morning mist divided to reveal three classic examples of BMW engineering, riding in a tight formation — according to rank. (Remember the German thing.) In the lead was one of the premier cardiologists and heart specialists of the Philadelphia area, Dr. Peter Frechie, mounted on a classic 1976 BMW R90 S. He was followed by Gerry Cavanaugh, a retired Nixon-era CIA operative, mounted on a fire-engine red 2004 BMW GS 1150. Bringing up the rear was Dick Bregstein, a retired historian dedicated to the preservation of Coney Island hot dogs, on a silver-gray 2000 BMW “R1150R.”
Above) Dick Bregstein, "just another day at work." Photo by Mike Cantwell.
They pulled up to the cabin, swung the bikes around in unison, and chased the spiders off the front of the historic hovel with a blast (such as it was) of “R” Bike exhaust. Then the leader, Frechie, barked the order, “Unmount!” They did so like leather and ballistic-clad chorus line dancers from hell. The cabin, built by Maryland’s Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll, and modernized four score and seven years afterward by Lincoln, failed to impress “The Cadre,” as they now refer to themselves.
Above) Not only are the cabins at Elk Neck State Park "Rustic," but the one I stayed in was a kind of petting zoo as well. Rare "Chesapeake Jumping Mice" (capable of leaping six feet at a shot) were breeding in the kitchen, while a huge spider named "Duane," would wake me by dragging my Harley Davidson chain wallet across the floor — still attached to my Kevlar riding pants. Photo by Pete Buchheit.
They refused to come in, and demanded that I come out immediately. Later, Peter Frechie would say the cabin was only suited for squaters and mice. (It was actually loaded with mice that I was training to type and take dictation for crumbs, the current wage of the moto writer.) Bregstein picked up a stick and began poking spider webs by the door, until he succeeded in aggravating a specimen that hissed and arched its back like a feral cat.
“What literature of significance have you written living in this pile of firewood and shingles?” queried Frechie, in a manner that may have intimidated lesser men.
I began to read from my laptop: “I’m having a problem getting this spark plug out of my Sportster,” said the tanned, blond co-ed in the tight halter top, biting her lower lip. “Do you have the tool for the job?” The BMW “K” bike rider answered her question by pointing to a huge, throbbing mass in the center of his jeans. “I have the perfect tool for any job,” he replied.
“You’ve been here four days and all you’ve written is moto-porn in which you have the staring role?” asked Frechie.
I nodded once in sullen defiance.
“We got here just in time,” said Cavanaugh.
“I want to hear the rest of the story,” said Bregstein. “And I hope the details are accurate. For example, is the tool metric or SAE? How could a “K” bike rider have a tool to fit a Harley Sportster?”
Cavanaugh smacked Bregstein in the back of the head, and “The Cadre” ordered me to join them for breakfast, seven miles away in the town of “North East,” Maryland. The boys mounted up again, and then the hand of God came down to smite the proud and the sinful.
Above) "Cadre" members Peter Frechie (left) and Gerry Cavanaugh demonstrate their group's new "salute." Photo by the author.
Frechie’s flawless “R90S,” which is lovingly maintained by the same folks who take care of the Mona Lisa, barked once like a gecko (lizard), and fizzled like a damp fuse, when he pressed the starter button. To a group of BMW riders, there is nothing like having one in their number get the raspberries when the starter is pressed, as it implies either stupidity or having a small dick. Cavanaugh and Bregstein exchanged a look of bemusement which spoke volumes.
The source of many such looks for others, Frechie simply grunted, rolled the bike a few feet, and hit the starter again. The bike hesitated and caught, as if the starter were its testicles and the doctor had taken them in hand and demanded it to cough.
The seven miles from Elk Neck State Park to the cute little town of North East, Maryland is a delightfully fast run through some forested spots, some fields, and some tiny communities with churches that would seem comforting to author H.P. Lovecraft. Frechie was behind me, and I thought his headlight looked as dim as the latest economic news out of Washington. I led “The Cadre” to a great little diner in the heart of town, where there is always ample parking for bikes, in the odd little corners where a car will not fit.
The 1976 “R90 S” is the iconic BMW motorcycle. Years ahead of its time, it came with a powerful boxer engine, full instrumentation (including a voltmeter), electric starter and amenities like a hand-operated air pump (with a full tool kit) under the seat. Frechie, whose other bike is an MV Augusta, does not treat this machine like it was a museum piece. He routinely rockets around between 85 and 90 miles per hour.
“This machine is in every respect a modern motorcycle,” said Frechie, “not withstanding it is 35 years old. It gives a much better and more comfortable ride than the Augusta, which is really geared for the track.”
Yet on this day, Frechie’s brow was furrowed.
“The voltmeter is reading 3 volts,” he said. “Do you think this bike could have a three-volt system?”
“A can of peaches has higher voltage than that,” said Cavanaugh. “Let’s deal with it after breakfast.”
The waitress, who’d been married to the same man for 22 years and who’s been trying to kill him for at least 15 of those, gave us a great window table, where we could see a dark cloud forming over Frechie’s bike.
“That can’t be good,” said Bregstein.
“I don’t believe in omens,” said Frechie.
At that moment, a low-flying crow dropped a lifeless, black kitten on the seat of the R90S.
We all had the breakfast special, which included a meat by-product, called “scrapple,” from neighboring Pennsylvania. Scrapple is a fried slab of pork snouts, ears, tails, and eye-lids, flavored with a mild sausage spice, bound together with less appetizing fillers, and served in a dog’s bowl. It is a rite of manhood to eat it, and then smack your lips (with an old fly swatter).
A man and a woman at the next table joined in our conversation. They looked like a sailing couple, wearing Docksiders, and caps with a maritime air about them. The old guy was deaf, and he appeared to be reading Frechie’s lips. Peter had just said, “I guess I am going to be late getting home.” And the “captain,” (as I called him) started to jump up and down in his seat, laughing. His wife leaned over and shouted, “He said ‘late,’ not ‘laid.’”
Twenty-five minutes later, the cadre bent over the exposed battery of the R90S.
My first thought was the obvious one, that the battery had crapped out. In response to my question as to the age of the battery, Frechie shrugged, and stated it was almost new. He had bought it the year NASA launched the Hubble Telescope.
Cavanaugh got the battery out, and noticed it had vacuum tubes in it, and was stamped, “Experimental: Edison Labs/Menlo Park, NJ.”
The boys tried jumping the R90S from the GS 1150. If any current model BMW has a fault, it’s that the bikes are built around the batteries and you need Gandalf’s staff to get to the terminals. But Gerry Cavanaugh’s GS is different. He knew he might be riding over gravel stretches as long as 60 feet, and installed auxiliary terminals, accessible without pulling off the body work, to accommodate contingencies such as these.
He made the connections to the GS and handed the cable ends to Frechie, not realizing the doctor has extremely limited mechanical experience, and thought they worked like a defibrillator. Frechie attached them to his nipples, held the battery with his fingers, and yelled, “Clear.”
Above) Thinking a "jump start" was similar to using a defibrilllator, Frechie hooked the cable grips up to his nipples... Photo by the author.
Gerry cranked the bike and Frechie learned something about the more effective interrogation means of South American police institutions. Another attempt, with the cables connected directly connected to the posts, indicated a new battery was in order.
Above) After yelling "Clear," Frechie understood the success of police interrogations in select areas of South America. Photo by the author's Droid Incredible.
“Where the hell are we going to find a battery that will fit a 35-year-old BMW in a place like this,” said Frechie.
North East, Maryland, at the head of Chesapeake Bay, has more than it’s fair share of wealthy boating enthusiasts. “The Cadre” found a marina catering to the maintenance of 1932 Chris Craft boats, one model of which requires a battery that perfectly matches the one in the R90S. Peter bought the boat, pulled the battery out of it, and gave the 23-foot, mahogany speedster to some kid on the street.
“Here, take this and get the fuck out of here,” he told the kid.
The R90S started right up, and “The Cadre” set off for home. Frechie would be an hour into the trip before noticing that the voltmeter was again reading low. Suspect next was the alternator, though the real culprit would be another link in the electrical chain. Some printed circuit, or something, had given up the ghost, and another could be hand-crafted — but only using one of the jewels from the Pope’s tiara.
Frechie bought the tiara, removed the jewel, and tossed the rest of it to some kid on the street. He said... Well, you guessed it.
Twisted Roads Exclusive:
• Jack Riepe's "Farewell To Pennsylvania Ride" will meet at the Frazer Diner (Westbound US-30, Frazer, Pa, about a quarter mile west of Rt. 4o1 and US-30) at 8am, for breakfast, on Saturday, October 15th, 2011.
• It's kickstands up at 9am, for an exilerating ride through parts of Pennsylvania settled by Hessian deserters, to an authentic German Oktoberfest celebration at Hermy's BMW and Triumph, in Port Clinton, Pa.
• German Sausages an Bavarian Specialties For All Who Make The Ride!
* Riepe's departure signifies yet another woman coming to her senses...
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011