Yet a kindly gentleman, by the name of Steve Assan, who hailed from the west coast, publicly posted the line, “If I can ride from the Pacific to attend the BuRP Rally, Riepe can certainly ride down from Pennsylvania.” And such was the challenge that brought me to North Carolina and Tennessee three months later. The ride down on a 1986 BMW K75 (with a rare Sprint Fairing) was the forge upon which I learned about moto- friendship, pushing myself, and finding my limits on two wheels. While I rode in the company of Wayne Whitock and his wife Lucy most of the way down, I rode back alone, and once again tasted the seductive allure of riding solo.
Above: Steve Assan, traveling light, at Mono Lake, enroute to the "BuRP" Rally in 2006. His public challenge forced me to take two long distance rides, most of which were "solo." He looks tough... But he's not that tough. Photo from Steve Assan.
I was home just long enough to gas up the bike and do laundry for a ride up to Burlington, Vermont, where the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America (MOA) was hosting a full-scale rally that would attract nearly 10,000 riders. My plan was to head north to the town of Lake Placid, New York (in the heart of the majestic Adirondacks), spend a few days, and the cross Lake Champlain to the fairgrounds in Burlington. I was thrilled to be headed to the Adirondacks. I had lived there for more than 18 years, and now dreamed of running into old friends, and shooting between the mountains on valley roads astride this magnificent if not somewhat peculiar bike.
Above: Three desperados of the worst kind... (From Left) Wayne Whitlock -- Harley Davidson; Tony Luna — BMW; and Mack Harrell — BMW R1200GS. Wayne rode with me to Maggie Valley ("So you won't kill your fat ass on the way down.") and Mack Harrell rode north with me to Lake Placid. Tony Luna joined Wayne and me for the "BuRP" Rally, but finished a ride on the Cherahala Highway strapped to a gurney in a helicopter. A stone wall ran right out in front of him. The guys were assembled in my garage for the 2nd Annual Amish Horse Pile Swerve Ride. Photo by the author.
The High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks offers beautiful motorcycling through incredible scenery; into some of the country’s first and most prestigious resort towns; communities that are not served by any direct highway nor airport. It is seldom ever really crowded here, through weather that changes hourly can be a consideration. The area includes Saranac Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Long Lake, Tupper Lake, and Old Forge (one of the coldest places in the lower 48 states in winter.) I have three great friends up there who ride, and I was dying to cut up rough with them.
Above: In this outline map of New York State, the Adirondack Park is indicated in bright green, inside the "Blue Line" Boundary. It is larger in land area than three US States: Rhode Island, Delaware, and Vermont. The park is governed by a "Forever Wild" policy that was years ahead of its time. Diagram from Wikipedia.
But there was one potential difficulty. The region is also home to a former wife of mine, who worships the quicksand I walk on. While relations between the two of us were cordialy frozen, I was always afraid the ice could crack and I’d be pitched headlong into some kind of a dispute. (My initial departure had been sudden, as it occurred to me that I was close to being murdered. But this is all magma under the bridge.) I was not entirely surprised to get a call from her on the day before my departure north.
She had heard I was coming. (Some bastard talked.) She wanted to know, pleasantly enough, where I was staying, who I was going to see, and how long I was going to be in town. While I had an agenda as rigid as that of a visiting head of state, my response to all of these questions was, “I don’t know.” I was staying in one of the nicest hotel properties in Lake Placid (when rooms were impossible to get) through the good graces of the sales manager, who is a friend of mine through the travel industry. I was visiting a handful of close friends, who got amnesia whenever my name was mentioned. And our riding schedule was somewhat serendipitous, as it entailed riding across Lake Champlain into Vermont. I was reasonably certain that no chance encounters were likely to occur. While the resolution of marital discord is usually final, who can tell what is likely to happen in the minds of former spouses who see themselves as the aggrieved party? And it is only prudent to proceed with caution when tiptoeing around women who are crack shots or who are recognized international authorities in human toxicology. I shit you not. She could plink the eye out of a chipmunk with an assault rifle and knew how to fix toothpaste so brushing you teeth resulted in a heart attack. She was not from around here, and they teach different things in Soviet-Bloc colleges. (In her defense, Leslie has felt like killing me on a number of occasions too.)
Above: I-87, the Adirondack Northway, is a superslab that gets very pretty just north of Lake George, NY. Photo from the Internet.
The run north was made in the company of my old friend Mack Harrell, a dedicated BMW R1200GS rider. Mack was aware of my riding limitations and thought we might get as far as Albany, NY, or Lake George, NY, before I gave out. This was a logical conclusion as the total run to Lake Placid would be 400 miles, a bit far for me even then. It was a July day and it was hotter than hell. We clawed our way up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to I-84, and crossed into New York State below the Catskills, at the place where Pensylvania, New York, and New Jersey all meet at one corner. I had to stop three times to suck down cans of ice cold diet Coke. My knees were already raging, and Albany seemed about as far as was reasonable. We stopped at every other rest area on the New York State Thruway, so I could put my feet down.
Yet there was a kind of madness on me when we got to Albany. “Fuck this place,” I thought. “I didn’t bust my balls all day to spend the night in a big city motel.” I looked at Mack and said, “Lets press on a bit farther.”
The Adirondack Northway, I-87, is a superslab that runs from Albany (the capital city of New York) to the Canadian border. In the mid-1960’s, it was judged the most scenic interstate in the United States. The road is heavily-traveled and somewhat honkey-tonk until it gets to the over-used resort community of Lake George (the Seaside Heights of the North Country). You enter the Adirondack Park in Lake George, and the “blue line boundary” of the park is marked by a sign, and a line painted across the road. (The Adirondack Park is the largest state park in any of the lower 48 states, spanning 7 million acres, and containing 1200 lakes. The park is home to bear, wolves, mountain lions and some of the best trout fishing in the United States. It’s southernmost boundary is 4 hours north of New York City. For the record, it is larger than any three national parks in the lower 48 states added together.)
Mack Harrell and I stopped at the rest area in Glens Falls, NY, just short of Lake George. I had sweated out all the moisture in my body, which was good, as I wouldn’t have been able to get off the bike to take a piss.
“Are we gonna look for a place in Lake George?” Mack asked.
Lake George is home to 5 or 6 big chain hotels, and 30 others in the immediate area, and countless little “No-Tell Motels” on the periphery. There were about 50 great places to eat, including a Polish restaurant (that is sadly no longer there). The resort town is honkey-tonk in the extreme, but sometimes that has a charm all its own.
“No,” I said. The madness had spread to my soul. “We’re going all the way to the heart of the High Peaks Region. Next stop: Lake Placid.”
Mack Harell looked at me in open-mouthed disbelief.
It was only another 86 miles to go, but we’d already been in the saddle for 7 hours and two weeks prior, this stretch alone would have been 16 miles farther than my longest ride. The Northway gets real pretty just a few miles outside of Lake George, and I started to remember a thousand details that I had forgotten in the 5 years that I had been away. There is a mountain in the middle of nowhere, upon which someone has painted the word, “Hello,” on a rock face at the top. I first saw it in 1971, when I was 17. It has been repainted every few years since, and is like a handshake from an old friend. We roared past the sparsely-settled expanse of Schroon Lake. It was a deeper blue than the sky above it, and reflected a dozen huge white clouds.
Above: Route 73, a ribbon of pavement in a vast wilderness, in New Yok State Adirondack High Peak's Region. Photo from the Internet.
Finally, we hit the exit for US-9, north, a two-lane road that disappeared into the deep woods. Two miles later we pulled over at the Prince Phillip spring, an icy cold torrent of sweet, pure water that bubbled up from the ground. It made my teeth ache. Gone was any hint of the big road. US-9 is simply a nicely paved stretch running into Essex County, NY. There is the most insane interchange (if you can call it that) between US-9 and RT. 73. It is called “Dysfunction Junction” by the locals. While there is a preponderance of “Stop” and “Yield” signs, the locals will barrel into this intersection (where there is usually no traffic at all), pausing in the vaguest sense of the word.
Above: Hidden, mysterious, and beautiful waterfalls on the creeks running parallel to Route 73. This one is in Keene Valley, NY. Photo from the internet.
And it is here that Rt. 73 becomes the pavement of God. It parallels a mountain brook that looks right out of a Thomas Cole painting. There are tight turns, sudden changes in elevation, and a stupendous rock face, about 2,000 feet high — shooting out of Chapel Pond, one of the few bodies of water in the area that are home to “splake.” Barely a mile from this dramatic setting, the road clings to to the lip of a valley, which falls a thousand feet to the right, showcasing a waterfall and another sheer rock face. Rt. 73 plunges several hundred feet in elevation, to go though the towns of St. Hubert, Keene Valley, and Keene. I have a strong attachment to each of these places. I sat on a blanket with the love of my life (Leslie/Stiffie) on an unbelievably exquisite golf course in St. Huberts, when the July Sky was filled with fireworks. And Leslie and I have made love in remote shadows and hidden glades on a stream that runs through here. There was a bookstore in Keene Valley, The Cozy Bear, in which I had my first book signing. The store sold $2,000 worth of stock that day, and I was interviewed for the 6pm news by the CBS affiliate in Plattsburgh.
The road climbs coming out of Keene, NY and parallels the Cascade Lakes in a valley that is tighter than my riding pants. Each of these lakes is a heavily protected body of water that flows like steps from one to the other. And it was here, on a perfect summer morning, that I married the second Mrs. Riepe as the sun rose over the mountains. A boom box played Gregorian chants and classical churchbells, as the local judge, Arnold Rothman, pronounced us man and wife. Ten years earlier, Arnold Rothman sold me my first resident’s fishing license when I moved into the area.
Above: The plushest hotel committed to timeless Adirondack ambience in Lake Placid, New York, is the Crowne Plaza Resort and Golf Club Lake Placid. When I stay in town, this is my preferred residence. Photo from the internet.
It was getting dark now, and the heavy cool air that always lies in this valley began to refresh my soul. The demons that haunt me were in full control and numbed the pain in my limbs. There are two steep hills both in and out of that valley, with pronounced turns at each end. I cranked the throttle wide open and leaned way over, for once in my life taking a road like it was meant to be ridden, free from the fear that keeps me chained to reality. The K75 took over, and growled in German. It was on turf that was close enough to the black forest and it knew just what to do. It was fully dark by this time, and the road ahead became a basket of light woven by my brake caliper-mounted MotoLights. I passed a cottage that had been the home of a blond who had been a love interest for a year. (She melted in my arms on a trip to Europe, and refroze on the flight home.)
Above: A breathtaking lobby to frame a breathtaking view, at the Crowne Plaza Resort Hotel and Golf Club Lake Placid. The view is of Mirror Lake, and the range beyond. Photo from the internet.
And then we were on the main street of Lake Placid. This is a world class resort where the five stars of American hospitality shine with European elegance. The Crowne Plaza Resort and Golf Club Lake Placid sits on its own promontory, overlooking Mirror Lake. The suites in this hotel are as plush as any you will find in New York City. The regular rooms are extremely comfortable. I could barely get off the bike. Mack Harrell was as stiff as an ironing board, and walked like he was auditioning for a role in the remake of “The Mummy.” We came to rest at the bar, where he had straight whiskey and I had the bartender mix me a series of Tom Collins — made from scratch — and not with that fucked-up standard bar sour mix.
The seed for this ride’s punch line was planted the next day.
Mack was out the door at the crack of dawn, headed for Montreal. There was a lady in that city who would throw her caution and her panties to the wind when he was in town. He was picking her up for the rally.
I felt like Barabbas, who was spared the crucifixion of riding that day, with room service and a dedicated bartender at hand. And yet, I had come to ride. Throwing my leg over the saddle elicited a loud crack from my left hip. “Fuck me,” I thought. I had a hard time getting my left leg up to the pedal, and a harder time trying to get it down again. And this was on the lowest saddle to ever grace a BMW K75. It was called the “Comfort” saddle and came with the Sprint Fairing package. It may have been pure comfort for someone like a Romanian gymnast, but I thought it had been designed as an interrogation aid by the North Korean Secret Police.
I retraced the previous day’s run and soared down through the interconnecting valleys like a condor. I had had a couple of tense moments in town with my stiff leg, but it gradually stretched into something like normalcy, or what was normal for me in 10 or 15 miles. I went left at “Dysfunction Junction,” and followed US- 9 into Elizabethtown, the county seat. This stretch of US-9 runs through a couple of little farm plots, a few horse paddocks, and fields being taken over by trees. It parallels a wild stream that forms deep hidden pools, dances over waterfalls, and flirts with the road. The bike cut through shaded areas, which held the sudden coolness of the previous night, only to surface on open, flat stretches that lived up to the reputation of July.
It was here, in Elizabethtown, that I considered stopping for breakfast. Trolling at about 15 miles per hour, I came upon a scene right out of Norman Rockwell’s sketchbook. A dozen little kids, about 6-years-old, were running a car wash to raise money for their town’s summer program. Usually, I only stop when these things are being run by the local college’s girl’s field hockey team, and they are out in force in their bathing suits. But there was something so compelling about this, that I ground to a halt. The car wash wash was $2.50. I offered the kids $5 bucks, telling them and the adult with them, that they only had to wash the wheels and windscreen. I didn’t want them to touch anything that was hot.
The kids were like a force of little Tasmanian devils. They started cheering, “A motorcycle... A motorcycle...” And then they began to wash the wheels and the fairing like little Michelangelos working on the Sistine Chapel. This was the most incredible thing to watch. And then it happened... Suddenly, she was there.
“Excuse me, Sir,” asked a voice. The voice was attached to a cute woman wearing glasses. I noticed the glasses and her smile first. Then I took in her ass, which was pretty nice too. She was a reporter for the local paper and thought it interesting that a peculiar looking motorcycle, with Pennsylvania plates, had stopped in town for the kid’s car wash. “So why did you stop?” she asked.
I told her I had originally lived a few towns over, that I was up for a BMW motorcycle rally in neighboring Vermont, and that I was cruising for breakfast. I saw the sign and the kids, and thought I’d show up at the rally with clean wheels. She wrote everything down and took my picture.
Then I asked her where I could get a nice breakfast (which I already knew), and asked her to join me, so I could continue to tell her many interesting things. She answered my question with the universal look that said, “Tell your story walking, asshole.”
The rally was fantastic and full of adventure. I had a raging pisser of a great time. The ride home was solo and also challenging. Combined with the trip to Maggie Valley, it was the first time in 25 years that I had taken two weeks off from work. I was back home a day, when I got another call from the second former Mrs. Riepe.
“You didn’t know where you were staying up here,” she said.
“You didn’t know who you were going to see.” she said.
“Nobody remembers seeing you,” she said.
“And yet, you are on the front page of the fucking newspaper. Why am I not surprised?” she asked.
But it was a rhetorical question. Otherwise, I would have had to say, "I don't know."
Above: The front page of The Valley News, a publication that had the good sense to reject my application as a reporter almost 20 years ago. One more time, my philosophy of maintaining a low profile is sacrificed for maintaining a wide one. This was in July of 2006.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011