Thursday, February 7, 2013

Purple Mountains Mystery...


The following story is absolutely true, with a few alterations in places where it is not. The untrue parts are those that imply I was thin, rode my motorcycle with precision, and didn’t sweat while riding in the deep south. The true bits are those claiming southerners (US) will eat anything fried in enough lard, that there is mystery in the purple mists of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and not everything can be easily explained. (For example, can anyone explain why the English version of the 1986 BMW K75 owners’ manual has the photos captioned in German? If this can be explained, can it be explained in a way that doesn’t sound sinister?)

I was sitting in an Adirondack Mountain bar with Chris Wolf (a Honda rider with a yellow bike named “Hepatitis”), when he bet 10 rounds of drinks that he had a more mysterious motorcycle story than I did. I studied Chris’s eyes for sincerity, and would have been startled to find any. Chris is English, and came to the United States because he heard a British accent will get a guy laid here every time, even if the accent can only emote sarcasm. 

Chris Wolf — Accomplished rider of the yellow Honda known as "Hepatitis."
(Photo by the author) 

We pulled our chairs closer to the fire and Chris gallantly sneered, “You tell yours first.” To the waitress, he said, “Bring us ten rounds of drinks and stake the tab to the mantle.” This was a local tradition in which the wager, a whopping huge drink tab, was stuck into the hewn timber mantle using a Revolutionary War bayonet said to have belonged to a Hessian deserter.

“This in the bag,” I thought, “as I will be shortly.” I drew a deep breath, and began.

My Most Mysterious Motorcycle Story:


A little heat, a little fatigue, and a lot of miles can play tricks on a rider. It may seem as if motorcycle’s serenade has gained something: a note of wear or a ping that wasn’t there before. You may detect a momentary vibration that suggests something is loose. You’ll think you may have imagined it, just as you imagined that redhead in the convertible gave you a long, sweet smile. But you can’t be sure.

This level of extrasensory moto awareness is usually magnified by a hangover or sleep deprivation. It has been my experience that a hangover, and a night of Cupid’s gymnastics, are not mutually exclusive of each other. Some experts even suspect a “cause and effect-type” relationship between the two. But it is almost guaranteed that you will be doing 95 miles per hour when you think you hear something amiss on the bike.

A legendary rider — Horst Oberst — once said, “A motorcycle makes two kinds of noise, the cheap kind and the expensive kind.” At speeds over 95 miles per hour, all strange noises are the disturbing kind.

Horst Oberst — Accomplished rider and authority on both kinds 
of strange motorcycle noises. (Photo by the author.)
I was clawing my way up I-81, through “Old Virginia,” when I heard the “buzzing noise.” I distinctly thought the three-cylinder mill on my 1986 BMW K75 was gnawing something. Then I wondered if I had “felt” the noise more than heard it. It could have been a tire shredding, or the head bearings hanging up, or anything. I’d been six hours in the saddle, on a hot day, running on three hour’s sleep, with a prison riot raging in my head. I’d spent most of the night before in a Tennessee strip joint, where you could have intoxicated the on-stage porkers with barbecue sauce. (I am not attempting to be unkind here, merely accurate.)

There is an old expression that goes, “Honey, I’m going to drink you pretty,” but there wasn’t that much liquor in the state that night. That doesn’t mean I didn’t give it a good try. My decision to set off at dawn, about three hours later, was not one of my better ideas. I thought the cool mountain air of the south would revive me. In truth, a faith healer would have had his work cut out for him that day.

I eventually found my way onto I-81 and into Virginia. Shifting steel blockades of trucks and cages made passing impossible.  The most vicious ”white line” dancing didn’t buy me more than 200 additional yards in 5 miles. There are much nicer roads and several of them paralleled this interstate. But life moves at a slower pace in Virginia — about 55 mph slower, to be exact — and I thought I was in a hurry. The gas light winked on (for the second time that day) just as I  imagined I heard something grind. Then I thought I felt something drag. Then I thought I smelled burning oil. “Screw this,” I thought next. “I want hot coffee, a donut as big as my ass, and a place to sit that doesn’t feel like this seat. And if there is a motel close by, I’ll take take that too.”

I had no complaints with the seat. It was a Russell Day-Long Saddle, custom-crafted to match the contours of my ass. It was built on the frame of a pool table and had to be sent through the Panama Canal from the west coast. That seat was so good, it made me feel like every member of the US Senate had kissed my ass twice. My problem was the seat was attached to the motorcycle and I wanted off the bike.

I banked into the exit for Braleysburg (not its real name), which was actually 20 miles away, on a country road that wound through open fields, old hardwoods, a swamp and a couple of cemeteries. I pulled over to put my feet down at a shady spot where the headstones came right up to the road. The names of the deceased were distinctly American, like Silas Henry and Jubilation T. Soames. I wondered how many of these folks had descendants still breathing in the surrounding county. (Headstones in a Jersey City cemetery would have names like Aiden Clancey, Guiseppi Antonucci, or Stosh Polwalawycz.) I pressed on to the town. 

Founded in 1672 by a preaching hangman, who was an authority on distilling, Braleysburg  was a post office, a general store, a gas station, a diner, and a motel. Sixty percent of these facilities were in one building. The general store was closed. It had closed in 1972, the same year the diner got its last batch of fresh donuts. The motel was of a 1950s vintage that genuinely appealed to me. A sign on the road read, “Payson’s Motel. A ‘Vibra-Bed’ in every room.” The empty parking lot read, “Vacancy.” I was the only guest.

The sweet old lady who ran the joint welcomed me with a smile and plate of warm cookies. She reminded me of a Hollywood scriptwriter’s version of somebody’s grandmother: gray hair done up nicely, wire-rimmed glasses, and a soft voice. Her name was something like “Aunt Pitty-Pat Payson.”

My room was along the side, away from what little traffic there was. I could glimpse part of the road, but my view of the mists rising off the Blue Ridge Mountains was spectacular. Glittering dragon flies flitted above a tranquil pond on the edge of the property, marked by a few cattails.  The room was immaculate and homey, with a handwritten menu from the adjacent diner on the dresser. The furnishings were dated but glistened with lemon oil. There was a television on a stand, but the white lettering over its buttons had faded. I’d be fine here.

According to the menu, the diner was open until 7pm, but that was arbitrary. It was just as likely to close two hours earlier. I was hungry enough to eat, and decided I would go “deep Southern” for the night. My ambitions included fried green tomatoes, chit’lans, collard greens, possum fritters,  catfish or ham... whatever the hell they had that personified Dixie. I already knew that nothing beats a southern breakfast. A southern breakfast is the second best thing I have ever tasted.

No biscuit is complete unless it is dripping sausage gravy. No ham steak is as inviting as when accompanied by fresh eggs, grits, and red-eye gravy. And while a meal like this scores 48,000 Weight Watcher points, I recommend it be followed by a third cup of coffee and whatever pie is hot out of the oven — preferably buttermilk pie. If a southern breakfast was this good, I could only image what a great southern dinner could be like.

“Imagine” would be the operative word.

The diner used to do a great business during the halcyon days of the War Between The States. It’s popularity had suffered since then. The waitress (blond, late forties-ish) and the “chef” (who had a tattoo of an armadillo on his arm, under the legend “Remember the Armadillo”) seemed mildly disinterested by my arrival, until I fired off my New Jersey accent. Then they looked like they were smelling something bad.

“What would you like?” asked the waitress.

“What do you recommend?” I replied.

There was a pause, and I swear I heard the cook mutter, “I recommend you stick your head up your ass and roll down the road like a hoop.”

The waitress stifled a laugh and cleared her throat at the same time.

“How’s the chit’lans and collard greens tonight?”

They looked at each other and busted out laughing.

“We’ve got meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, and green beans,” said the waitress. 

“There are no other entrees?”

“You got three right there,” she said. “How many do you need?”

“We got sides,” said the cook. “We got more sides than a box. We got cornbread, left over from this morning; grits, left over from this morning; black-eyed peas, left over from yesterday; and goose liver pate.”

“When was the goose pate left over from?”

“It’s left over from when the cat wouldn’t eat it,” she said.

I am particular about meatloaf. Most places make it according to a time-honored recipe from the Turkish penal system.  It is inedible by my standards. The same goes for macaroni and cheese. The only acceptable options are Kraft Mac and Cheese  or absolutely home-made casserole, with chucks of ham and fresh green peas, mingled with firm-cooked elbow macaroni, oozing sharp melted cheddar. (No one makes the second kind any more.) In the south, macaroni and cheese is semi-flaccid, served in bright orange spackle.

“How about chicken-fried steak, black-eyed peas and fried green tomatoes?” I asked. “Can you heat some cornbread on the grill?”

This was as close as I was going to get to an authentic southern dinner. A thin beef steak dipped in batter normally reserved for fried chicken was made to dance in a puddle of sizzling lard. Black-eyed peas are actually beans, usually cooked with anything else (bacon, possum or squirrel) to give them flavor. And fried green tomatoes... well they are different.

I first became aware of fried green tomatoes watching the 1991 movie of the same name. It starred Mary Stewart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker, who ran a cafe somewhere in Depression Era Alabama. (“Depression Era” is the time period, not the name of the town.) The cafe became locally famous for its barbecue and fried green tomatoes. This movie made me want a tomato sandwich... a sandwich in which the tomatoes were Mary Stewart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker, with me wedged in between.

I have eaten fried green tomatoes in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. I must be missing something because they taste like shit everyplace. Imagine fried eggplant, without the redeeming quality of the eggplant. But it doesn’t stop me from trying. I imagine Mary Louise Parker feeding me fried green tomatoes, one slice at a time.

The best part of dinner was the blackberry pie. The blackberries were local and fresh. They were as big as the last joint on my thumb, semi-deflated in a gooey thick sweet blackberry juice ooze, encased by a somewhat collapsed yet delightfully flaky crust. There were three pieces of pie left in the tin and I bought them all.  My head was still troubled and all I wanted to do was sip coffee and watch the last rays of the setting sun dance on the Blue Ridge Mountains.

There is a phrase — purple mountain’s majesty — which applies to the Blue Ridge Mountains, more so than any other mountains in my experience. I have seen the Alps disappear in the clouds. I have seen the contrast of the Rockies against flawless skies. I have watched the Adirondacks mask themselves in gray mist. Yet it is only in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina have I seen mountains cloak themselves in purple shades of royalty. The sight alone is worth making the trip.

It is amazing how how color appears in nature. There is wonder in the green flash of dawn as the sun rises over the Atlantic, and awe in the blue glimmer of the northern lights in Upstate New York. Rainbows shimmer in the sky and on trout. And now I finally witnessed the “purple mountain’s majesty” as stated in the song.

I was falling in and out of reverie when the muted growl of a motorcycle came from the road. The Doppler effect provided a nice touch as the sound of the engine rose and fell in passing. It wasn’t the guttural growl of a Harley, nor the Messerschmidt cadence of a BMW. It had a more cultured baritone quality to it. 

Then I heard it return. The engine was running at a lower RPM as the bike pulled into the motel’s lot.  The sound effects of unseen activity seeped around the corner of the motel. The engine got switched off. Boots crunched in the grit of the driveway. The screen door to the office screeched open and slammed.  And then they repeated themselves in reverse. A second or two later, the motorcycle pulled into view.

The machine was a deep blue 1983 Honda CX 500 Custom, one of the most beautiful motorcycles ever built. Compact to the point of being “concise,” it had an upright configuration, with a decent rake to the forks and a slight buckhorn cast to the handlebars. Extraordinary in its appeal was the Moto-Guzzi-style sideways mounted V-twin. Under the tank, a chrome-shrouded radiator did the cooling. The paint was flawless. It was the kind of blue that gets its opaqueness from the soul of the bike. (I am partial to BMW’s Orient Blue, a lustrous color that derives its hue from the blackness of the rider’s soul.)  Yet it wasn’t perfect. The radiator shroud was executed in garish chrome and the wheels were a Frankenstein combination of cast and riveted rims. I might have been able to live with the radiator, but not those wheels. The Honda was without a windscreen and sported soft leather saddle bags.

The 1983 Honda CX 500 Deluxe — A beautiful motorcycle (Image from Wikipedia)

The bike and its rider were covered with bugs. The rider was a skinny weasel. He wore scarred boots, faded jeans, a short leather jacket (made for practical riding with a high collar), soft gloves, and a tinted flip-face helmet.  I gave him the manly nod reserved for charter members in the cool-but-strange-bike-riders’-testosterone club. It was ignored.

He pulled off his helmet to reveal a shock of short red haircut and the worst case of helmet head I had ever seen. He was a she. She had two thin lines for lips and freckles that had been drizzled onto an angular face. Her eyes bored through mine, doing a retinal scan for character flaws. She hadn’t been in my company for 30 seconds and had already dismissed me as a shit-head.

“Welcome to Braleysburg. There’s hot coffee and homemade blackberry pie,” I said, gesturing to the unopened cup and the pastry box on the cheap white plastic seat I was using as a table. “I didn’t know what time you’d get here, so I just opted to have something sweet.”

The corners of her mouth flickered upward as a softer light flashed through her eyes. I responded by leeching more blue into my own. (Just in case.) Her lips visibly tightened. I’d caught her underestimating me and she didn’t like it. Not that she gave a damn what I thought. She was just pissed that my eyes said, “It’s okay, Honey. I’m used to it.”

 “Nice bike,” I said. “You don’t see too many of those around.”

“Thanks,” she said. She looked over at mine but said nothing. I knew she had never seen anything like the K75 — with its rare Sprint fairing — and was struggling through the first impression.

“Fuck you,” I thought. “I wouldn’t have wheels like that on a dung cart.” Just thinking this made me flash her another smile.

She pulled a saddle bag liner out of one pannier and opened the door to a room two down from mine.  I took a long sip of the cooling coffee and closed my eyes again.  It had been my intention to light a cigar, but now held off, out of consideration. (Not consideration for the woman, but for my expiring headache.) Some things are not improved by a cigar.

I felt myself dozing off. Every place has a distinctive feel to to it. The allure of a New England village (Maine), where the wind carries the salty taste of a cracker; or an Adirondack (New York) camp, where the woodsmoke competes with the balsams; or a saloon where aromas of mint, bourbon, and perfumed panties (New Orleans) mingle at the bar. Each stands out as sensations to be savored. Here, in this place, the water scent of the pond was suggestive of a summer that lasted nine months.  I closed my eyes thinking of summers I’d spend as a kid.

It was past dusk when I opened them again. The moon was up and its silver light  caught the mists coming off the distant mountains. They were slowly filling the fields around me. First flowing around stands of trees and then filtering through them.  There was a muted explosion of sound on the pond, as a swimmer surfaced and stepped out of the water. It was the woman. A filmy tee shirt, glued to what few curves she had, dripped water as she stood in the moonlight — staring straight at me. The tee shirt barely came down past her waist.

I like skinny women. And if they are flat-chested... well, I really that. This one could have been a model in the late 1970’s if she’d had another couple of inches in height. It was then I noticed the most peculiar thing. She was positively luminescent in the moonlight. Not that the moonlight danced around her. Not that she was the kind of woman who could bend light with a smile. The moonlight seemed to pass through her. She derived her substance from the moonlight and the mist. It was almost as if this was her real form, while the guise of the rider was assumed.

She started walking toward me, moving with a measured grace that was positively feline, putting one foot in front of the other, stepping through the cut grass. Yet there was a purpose in her movement that made me wish that I had been inside my room, behind a locked door, dead drunk in my bed.

“Do I make you nervous?” she said.

“All pretty women do.”

This was not the reply she was expecting.

“You find me pretty?” she asked.

One of the greatest movies ever made is the black and white classic Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid. There is a scene in which a young woman, about to be taken advantage of by a corrupt police official, asks Humphrey Bogart, “What kind of man is Captain Renault?” Bogart replies, “He’s like any other man, only more so.”

Those words could have been written about me. I love women, and I’d love a different one every weekend if it was up to me. When necessary, I can squeeze a nicely-worded compliment from my DNA. But I cannot lie with my eyes which is why I don’t play cards nor work as a marriage counselor. My eyes answered her question and she was surprised.

“You should be nervous. I am the goddess of moonlight and mist, in challenge to the smoke you have been  blowing up the asses of women for years,” she said. “Stand up. and be judged.”

“Like hell I will,” I thought. But my will was not my own and my body followed her commands.

She took my hand and led me into the darkness that was my room. The door was already open and the moonlight seemed to follow us. What happened next was one of the strangest experiences of my life. She was naked, except I don’t remember her taking anything off. She was touching me, although I had no sensation of being touched. And she was kissing me. Yet there was no satisfaction in her kisses, just a wild insatiable longing. What I did feel was a terrible sense of being taken for granted. I somehow knew that I would be left without purpose...  without substance...  without a shadow... Left to wander the earth without motive. I would become the personification of fried green tomatoes. I also knew that the Honda CX 500 Custom had belonged to some other worthless guy who was now in hell.

She was a collector; some sort of supernatural wonder that avenged women who had become superfluous to the lives of men. This was a charge for which I had no defense in my younger days, but for which I repented when I was older. (I repented by kissing the asses of a dozen woman who rewarded my devotion by starting the final conversation with, “I’ve been thinking about us.” I now associate the taste of shapely ass with a short fall through a trap door.)

The extent of my repentance was not enough. She looked at me with eyes that threatened to drain my soul, or whatever the hell it is that men use for a soul. She was here to make me pay; to take something from me. In a second, I knew I’d be consumed and that she’d be riding out of here on a 1986 K75, with a Sprint Fairing. I wondered if my soul-less body would be damned to ride that Honda with those wheels. For an instant, there was despair. And she smiled. I felt myself fading, dissolving in the moonlight and the mist. There was but one course of action to take.

I closed my eyes for a second, and when I opened them again, I fired my secret weapon: The “Battered Baby Seal Look.” No living woman can resist its power. The question now was, “Could it save me from the malevolent spirit of one?”

The “Battered Baby Seal Look” gets its name from the cute expression of the Harp seal pup. There is no cuter expression on the face of the earth. It will melt butter at 400 yards. (Too bad it has the opposite effect on Canadian hunters, who are practicing divorce lawyers during the summer.) I looked into the eyes of this vengeful soul and gave her both barrels at point blank range.

The Baby Harp Seal... (Image from the Internet)

The “Battered Baby Seal Look” is to women like hot butter is to popcorn. While the effect is soft, it is also immediate. She looked at me with surprise, almost in disbelief. And then her own eyes softened. She could suddenly feel my tortured soul. Even in the darkness, I knew my eyes were glowing like electric sapphires. Her hand acquired substance and warmth against my chest.

“A little lower,” I suggested.

She was still there at dawn, past the hour when she was to have collected my soul and taken my bike.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” she asked.

“Would you mind washing my K75, and taking extra care to soak the bugs off the windscreen with a hot towel? It’s really easy to scratch that Sprint Fairing.”

“Sure,” she replied, getting up. “You want coffee while I do that?”

“Easy on the cream and two sugars,” I replied.

She was gone when I got out of the shower. There was no trace of the Honda and the K75 gleamed in the morning sunlight. A cup of java, just as I like it, was by the bike. I decided to make my escape pronto. I was doing 60 mph by the time I left the motel parking lot. With less than 5 miles to go before I-81, I saw a single headlight closing behind me. The rider had a familiar skinny profile.

The bike behind me was a Honda CX 500 Custom — one of the most intriguing motorcycles ever built. But I was on a K75, one of the ugliest motorcycles to ever achieve mechanical perfection. Undoubtedly, the “Battered Baby Seal Look” had worn off and the spirit wanted to revisit my character flaws. I twisted the throttle and thought, “Feets don’t fail me now.”

The K75's engine wound up for the pitch and gave me the fast ball. Despite the fact that I had again gone without sleep, the cadence of the motor was flawless. There was nothing amiss with this bike. I shot out onto I-81 with the tach and the speedo needles parallel to each other — pointing straight ahead. I was clipping 85 mph when I glanced in my mirrors and saw her waving. Then I realized, she was giving me the finger.


“So that’s my story,” I said. “Admit it. It’s better than yours. Do the manly thing and pay for the ten rounds of drinks we just consumed in its telling.”

Chris raised his eyebrows and gave me a mild look of askance. “So you claim the last woman you had sex with was probably deceased,” he said.

“Either that, or she may have been English,” I replied. “You have missed the entire purpose of this story. Now let’s hear yours.”

“I have to piss first,” he replied. “You’ve been talking for an hour and I need to drain the iguana.”

That was the last I saw of him. His mystery was apparently ongoing.

“I believe this is yours,” said the waitress, holding the bar tab in one hand and the bayonet in the other. I started to protest but a got a good look at her eyes. I swear they had the mist of the Blue Ridge Mountains in them. 

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2013
All Rights Reserved

Who Reads Twisted Roads?

Paddy sent us this...

Paddy Pollard has been a devoted Twisted Roads reader for the past two years. He recently sent me a nice note complaining that he's never won anything on this blog. Guess what, Paddy? Your luck is unbroken. Pollard runs a small motorcycle touring/hire company in Scotland. Judging from the pictures, he rides through some of the most beautiful places on earth. His runs range over moors, around fens, and through mountains that delight the eye and captivate the soul. He can be reached directly by clicking But I wouldn't wait too much longer to make reservations for 2013. 

 The rugged beauty of Scotland and the nature of the "GS" friendly terrain beckons to all riders.  Contact Paddy Pollard directly at

Local inns and pubs abound with Scots character and hospitality. Paddy knows where to take ye. It is rumored that some of these places are haunted by great single malt spirits.

Traditional entertainment in Scotland. Not your average pole dancers. Paddy has invited me to come to Scotland as soon as the weather breaks. "Aye, when it's a cool day in hell," said Paddy.

 The Cantwell Factor...

This picture (below) was submitted by Twisted Roads reader and close personal friend Mike Cantwell. It depicts his daughter “learning about certain forces of nature” through the study of the baby harp seal, which is mentioned in this story. Cantwell believes that 99% of life is a learning experience. He does not state what the other 1% is, but he wants his kid to recognize it when she steps in it.  

"Kid, when you see eyes like this: start running!"
"Okay, Daddy."

From The Book of Patzer... 

BMW wrench Dan Patzer — writing from the great Pacific Northwest — wrote to comment on the centerfold photograph in his copy of Conversations With A Motorcycle. This was the first time Patzer had ever encountered a brunette with legs like the New Jersey Turnpike. 

 "Dear Jack," Patzer wrote. "One picture is worth a thousand words. 
You could have eliminated all of chapter 6 with this one."
  According to Robert Knorr...

In a desperate attempt to sell this motorcycle to the first person who will listen, Robert Knorr systematically explains the advantages of riding a bike that is cooled by recirculating whale oil. The rider, "Sam," has only one question: "Is this an 'R' bike?" He will later point out to Knorr that there is a reason why "K" comes before "R" in the alphabet. Note the look on Knorr's face as he realizes the kid is right. 

 Sam: "Does the ladder come off the back of this?"
Knorr: "I paid extra for that."  

Look for more readers' photos and a special announcement tomorrow.