Monday, April 28, 2008

A Rustic Weekend On Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay

Envisioning my life last Friday, the great Scots poet Robert Burns wrote, “The schemes o’ the best laid mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley.” My original plan (as reported in this blog on February 26, 2008) was to strap the bare essentials onto my bike, ride down to Elk Neck State Park (North East, Maryland), and spent two nights in a rustic cabin: reading, examining my soul, and maybe committing a few lines to paper. My plan called for being on the road by noon on Friday and overlooking Chesapeake bay by dinner time.

Thank God work intervened and prevented me from leaving early. I have not been able to leave work early on a Friday afternoon in 29 years. The lightheaded sensation that would have accompanied this accomplishment would have undoubtedly led to some horrible motorcycle-related accident. As it was, I departed five hours late, drenched with sweat (82 degrees) and drove straight into rush hour traffic.

There are a number of things you can chant to restore mental peace. My kid, who is a yoga instructor, explained this to me. She’s right. I calmed myself by saying “fuck this” every 30 seconds.

There is a tendency to take more than one needs when one is planning on camping in a cabin with electricity. The rationale is that you are not dragging a tent with you, so that it is possible to indulge yourself in other ways. In my case the list of necessities included a queen-sized inflatable mattress (with electric pump), and a small, flat-screened DVD monitor (more compact that a laptop) to watch a self-improving movie if I felt the urge. This was in addition to a liter of rum, a half dozen cigars, and four special self-heating meals.

I did not feel challenged in carrying all this stuff as I was using a Jo’s U-Pac, which replaced my topcase and lashed down on the panniers. This “U” shaped pack holds a ton of stuff. But I had never used it before.

For those of you who are unaware of the austere beauty of the BMW K75 motorcycle, there is a dearth of lash points, which are apparently regarded as unmanly by the Germans. I discovered this when mounting the U-Pac for the first time. I was not happy with the result, and less so when I unpacked the damn thing, determined to squeeze everything in the two Beemer hard panniers. At this point, I was so hot, sweat was pouring off me like glacial melt into a giant carbon footprint. My “fuck this” chant served me well here too! It became obvious that I would not be carrying the superfluous crap that I had loaded into the U-Pac. The DVD monitor and the inflatable mattress were left on the garage floor. The dignity of my Beemer was restored by the official look of the two panniers and tightly rolled sleeping bag on the rear deck.

The last thing to be loaded on my bike was my bloated arthritic carcass. There is always a moment of doubt at this point. The bike is heavier with all this gear on it, and it takes a second to get used to. And lately, there is a moment of truth in swinging my gimpy left leg up to the peg. I snicked "fireballs" into gear and glanced at the wanning sun as I took my place in a long line of slow moving cars.

While riding in the dark is something I don’t mind, I see better during the day. We all do. So I prefer to ride in daylight. I divided the miles ahead of me into the number of degrees left between the setting sun and the horizon. This is an old Indian trick I learned from Mahatma Ghandi. You take the result, disregard it, and go like hell to cover as much ground as possible in daylight. I hit heavy traffic from the mouth of the driveway. But it became a horror story on US-1 in Chad’s Ford. Four miles of the blacktop had been coarsely milled in both directions prior to repaving.

Milled blacktop is not supposed to have an effect on the handling characteristics of a bike. This may be true to an extent, but the ride is lousy and deeper longitudinal cuts in the milling can seduce the front wheel. This would have thrown me into a blind panic three years ago, causing me to switch on my flashers and to wet my pants.

“Fuck this too,” I hissed under my breath, twisting on the gas. The milling ran the extent of US-1 from US-202 nearly 3 miles to Rt. 52 , which also had a construction detour on it. I let the ponies run once I got past Kennet Square, racing the setting sun to the horizon. There was still plenty of light left by the time I hit the town of North East, Maryland. Yet one can find adventure anywhere and I found some within 20 miles of my destination.

On rural Rt. 272, just inside Maryland, two assholes in a minivan shoved past me on the right, pushing me over the double yellow line. (Why is it always a minivan? Is this the official vehicle of assholes everywhere?) A few minutes later, just before crossing Rt. 40, another asshole pulled right out in front of me (from the left) with the glare of my headlight reflecting off his passenger’s side window. (One more time, I would point out the offending vehicle was a minivan.)

The short three-block main drag in North East is lined with trendy cafes, boutiques, and antique stores. Most people don’t realize it, but you’re only a mile from the bay at this point. Traffic usually snakes through this section, snarling directly in front of Woody’s Crab House. This is the most famous place on the Elk Neck peninsula. It has been skating on its reputation a long time and I was pleased to see empty parking spaces out front on a hot Friday night. Apparently, the dining public is getting wise.

The rest of the ride into Elk State Park was very pleasant. I pulled up to my cabin before the daylight turned gray and saw the most heartwarming sight. My buddy Pete Buchheit was sitting at the picnic table, holding a beer, tending a fire that he had kindled for my arrival.

“I thought you were dead on the road someplace,” he said, in a typical biker greeting. “Then I heard that K75 whining through the woods.”

“I bet you only have the one beer,” I replied in kind.

Our cabins were quaint, cozy, and rustic. Mine was called “Locust,” and sat 20 feet from the pavement. Pete’s was called “Red Oak” and squatted 200 feet from the tarmac -- downhill. He would claim to have walked 6 miles going down and back to this shack over the course of the next two days. I parked next to his machine, a BMW K1200RS, on the bare patch of ground in front of “Locust”.
Pete's Cabin "Red Oak" 200 Feet Downhill (Click To Enlarge)
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

The cabin was a surprise in many ways. It was very clean. The screens were intact. There was a full-sized refrigerator inside. The stove was electric and new. The mattresses were prison quality, but clean, and not apparently from a prison. The bunk rooms were tiny, but functional. And the little main room was very pleasant. There were a lot of windows, and a nice gentle breeze coming in off the bay. I couldn’t see the water from my cabin, but Pete had a nice view of it from his. There was a communal bath house with hot showers and toilet facilities about 300 feet away.
A Cozy Place To Sit And Sip Coffee From My Mac-Pac Mug (Click To Enlarge)
Note Compact Eating Utensils
Photo By Jack Riepe
Copyright Jack Riepe 2008

Rich in Atmosphere, I liked My Rustic Cabin A Lot (Click To Enlarge) 
Photo By Jack Riepe
Copyright Jack Riepe 2008

The Kitchen Was Small But Fully Functional With Cold Running Water (Click To Enlarge)
Photo By Jack Riepe
Copyright Jack Riepe 2008 

Why did we get two cabins? To share in the camaraderie of the event, and to get at least 200 feet away from each other when the hangovers set in.

These Turkey Vultures Followed Buchheit Everywhere. (Click To Enlarge)
It Got Unnerving.
Photo by Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

Darkness had the courtesy to fall shortly after I unpacked the bike. It timed its arrival to coincide with opening of my first beer. There was still the question of dinner, but neither Pete nor I had any inclination to ride back out into town. It was here I whipped out my secret culinary weapon: self-heating meals. I got these from Cabella’s. They were beef and mushroom gravy over mashed potatoes. The entree is inserted into a plastic bag containing a ferrous oxide patch. To this, an ounce of salt water (included) is poured. The bag is then sealed and put down on a heatproof surface. The last thing you would want to do is hold one of these suckers in your hand.
Note Steam Rising From Self-Heating Meals. (Click To Enlarge)
The Beef and Mushroom Gravy Meal Was Very Good.
Unflattering Photo By Pete Buchheit.
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

The salt water started to boil in 20 seconds. The meal was as hot as if it had been in a microwave! Total cook time was under 10 minutes. The meal included a fork, a napkin, condiments and a wet wipe. They were tasty, left nothing to clean, and were adequate in portion size. We spent the rest of the evening watching the fire, emptying various bottles, and commenting on all things philosophical.
The Well-Hung Rider... Pete Displays His Gadgets: Flashlight, Bkackberry, and Camera.
Not seen is Pete's Swiss Army knife, which was later found in a duck.
Photo by Jack Riepe
Copyright Jack Riepe 2008

Nothing beats a cool morning in camp with a hot cup of coffee. I had three before good old Pete staggered up the hill. We experimented with a couple of self-heating breakfasts, which included pancakes, bacon and hot blueberry compote. Made in the same manner as dinner, they were a bit on the sweet side. Pete complained he wanted more pancakes and less blueberry stuff. I suggested he write Congress.
The Excellent Breakfast That Pete Buchheit Didn't Like (Click To Enlarge)
Photo by Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

Our ride for the day was to explore Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We followed a series of byways that included views of Chesapeake Bay, the Bohemian River, farm country and a private nude beach. This is the kind of agenda that justifies carrying a pair of compact binoculars on the bike. The weather was absolutely perfect: sunny, hot, with a mild breeze coming off the water. We passed through a number of quaint waterfront towns, one of which had a neat metal drawbridge. I wanted to stop at a place called “Bohemian Kate’s Ice Cream,” but Pete just drives past these joints in a trance.
The Pastoral Setting Of Our Rustic Cabins in Elk Neck State Park (Click To Enlarge)
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

We ended up at Waterman’s Crab House in Rock Hall, Maryland. This joint is popular with the Harley crowd. It features outdoor dining on a pier, an outdoor bar, and a marina. Service was great (thanks Debbie) and the food was okay. Pete, Dick Bregstein, and myself are resigned to the fact that most seafood places on the water are all atmosphere and largely fried fish. We both had Maryland crab soup, which is a brown chowder with a lot of vegetables and a subtle tang to it. Not bad, but not the best. I had steamed shrimp with Old Bay seasoning. They were just okay. I also had a soft-shelled crab sandwich that I will not order again. It did not hold a candle to the soft-shelled crab you will get at the Berkley Fish Market in Seaside Park, NJ, which also has nice views and a bar. Buchheit ordered a Caesar Salad and a rock fish sandwich. He later explained to me that rock fish is also called “striped bass.”
BMW's and Yachts -- Perfect Together -- At Waterman's Dock (Click To Enlarge)
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

Tooling through Rock Hall (which may also be known as “Stripped Hall”), we ran into Mac-Pac members David Hardgrove and his wife Pam, who live in the area and had been out doing 36 miles on their bicycles.
Fat Ass Really Can Ride This Motorcycle (Click To Enlarge Fat Ass And Stand Back)
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

The atmosphere was good enough on Saturday. We caught some rays, took in the local color, and had a blast rocketing around on some great back roads. By the time we’d returned, we’d done a modest 140 miles.
Pete Buchheit (Left) and Jack Riepe At Waterman's Crab House, Rock Hall, Maryland (Click To Enlarge)
Photo by Waitress With A Really Nice-Looking Ass 

But the weather was turning. It was overcast before we got back and the wind was blowing from the east. The temperature dropped 20 degrees and we switched on my portable weather radio as soon as we got back to the camp. I bought this unit from Oregon Scientific for $39. It gives the current temperature at your location, and is programmed for NOAA and S.A.M.E. alerts. We were just on the verge of getting some critical reception, when someone, pressed a button locking the unit on “off.” Not having the instructions with me, I couldn’t get around this complication. But it worked out well anyway. With the radio down, somebody else focused on this development and finally stopped complaining about the blueberry compote on his free breakfast.

It was at this point that Pete had a conversation with the resident law. A passing ranger informed him we couldn’t park on the parched, bare earth next to the road... That in the interest of reducing the impact to the earth, we had to park on the narrow, inclined pavement shared with passing pickup trucks towing boat trailers. This would make those vehicles swerve off the road onto the grass on the other side. Pete took this well. He spent the next twenty-minutes muttering his own “fuck you” mantra under his breath.

Pete started up his bike and rode around the cabin loop prior to reparking his machine. In horror, I saw a dim shape moving through the woods toward the the road. Bikers have an innate fear of stupid things darting out of the woods. Even from its furtive movement in the shadows, I determined it was on a collision course with Pete. It’s current speed would carry it out to road at shoulder height. I screamed to Pete at the top of my voice, “Duck,” while pointing to the woods.

Pete scrunched down in the saddle, but not low enough. With a dull thwack, the duck bounced off his shoulder and lay stunned by the side of the road.

“Why didn’t you tell me to stop,” asked Pete.

“I told you exactly what to expect,” I said.

Pete carried the stunned bird over to the table. He gently wrapped it in a towel (mine), and spoke to it in a soothing voice. It soon hopped up, shit on his boots, and walked off into the woods with a “quack.” It was a female mallard and Pete named her, “Hillary.”
"Hillary" Before Being Revived By Pete Buchheit
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

With the wind blowing a 40-knot gale, we built another fire and roasted steaks and potatoes on the coals, with boiled corn on the stove. We had everything except plates. Pete foraged a couple of flat rocks, and covered them with foil.

“Here’s our plates,” he said.

“What a cool idea,” I replied.

“Not at all,” said Pete. “This is what my wife and I eat on at home.”
The Wreckage of Dinner In My Cabin (Click To Enlarge)
Note Plates Are Foil Covered Rocks
Photo By Pete Buchheit
Copyright Pete Buchheit 2008

Sitting out by the fire warranted putting on a jacket, especially when the drizzle started around 10:30pm. The rain fell in a constant sheet at 3:30am and let up just before dawn. Pete’s bike sported a fine layer of condensation that developed under its custom-fitted cover. Mine was simply soaked from the rain. At this point, we realized the ranger may have done us a favor as the soft, wet ground, coupled with the wind, might not have supported the weight of the machines on their kickstands.
Pete Demonstrates How He Can Inflate A Bike Cover Using Only His Mouth in 15 Seconds Or Less.
Photo By Jack Riepe
Copyright Jack Riepe 2008

Men seems to coexist without a single rule. Whether it is bikers camping together, deer camp, or a ball game, there seems to be a suspension of social mores. Just prior to our departure, Pete let fly with a mighty anal bellow. It was answered by a solitary “quack” from the trees.

It had been so damned hot on Friday, that I hadn’t packed a long sleeved shirt or sweater. Almost as an afterthought, I tossed the rain liner to my Joe Rocket mesh jacket into my saddlebags. That was a good thing as it was about 53 degrees when we fired up the bikes for the ride to breakfast and home. I was freezing when I crossed over into Pennsylvania... That membrane-thin liner kept me from shivering. But at least it wasn’t raining.

This trip was an absolute pisser and I plan on doing it again later this year. A rustic cabin is perfect for two people who like seeing each other naked at night... Otherwise, it is recommended for one. And as you get older, it’s always nice to have time by yourself during the day. Because at one point or another, you realize that your closest friends are full of shit too.

Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA The Mighty Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The First Serious Ride Of The New Season

Last Saturday was the first serious ride of the new season for me and the results came back mixed. It is no secret that I having more difficulty with this arthritis now than I was having only a few months ago. Getting my leg over the seat almost always requires three or four attempts but a bigger problem is getting my left leg up to the peg. This simple motion sends a jolt of searing pain through my hip and up my spine. It is the kind of pain my soul remembers and I have to consciously order my foot to the peg, as it will not go willingly.

I initially planned to ride down to Summit Point, West Virginia last weekend to watch Tom Cutter tear up the race track, but circumstances led me to believe it might be smarter to try something less ambitious. I opted for a lunch ride to Gettysburg. The difference was 350 miles versus 205 miles. And for a little variation, I thought I’d try the Old Lincoln Highway as the primary route.
I parked on the curb at the "Dobbin House" to use as a step in dismounting.
Jay "Hokiebells" (the guy from Allentown) waits for me to fall over.
Photo by "Disco Dick" Bregstein
(Now Click To Enlarge)

Saturday started out sunny and cool, 53º, and while mesh was the gear of choice, the rain liner was in place against the morning chill. This lasted all of 7 miles, where I met Dick Bregstein and Jay “Hokiebells” (the guy from Allentown) at the Exton Diner. We were an all Beemer team, with Dick on his F800, Jay on his “R” bike, and me on the venerable K75. The liner in Dick’s jacket looks like it is made of aluminum foil, and he was rather proud of this as he struck “Bee Gees” type poses in the diner parking lot. Dick will no longer be known as “Bermuda Triangle” Bregstein. His new name is “Disco Dick.”
The "Dobbin House," Museum, Bar, & Restaurant
Blue and Gray Both Welcome
Photo by Dick Bregstein
(Now Click To Enlarge)

We picked up the Rt. 30 bypass and had a leisurely run to Gap (leisurely as the police were already dancing on the shoulders), and cut over to Strasburg and Willow Street (missing that awful stretch of road through Paradise and the outlet centers of Lancaster). I turned north on Rt. 272 with the intent of picking up Rt. 30 again, without realizing we’d run straight through old downtown Lancaster. Traffic was heavy and I’d led us around one hell only to go directly through another.

The ride to Gettysburg on the old Lincoln Highway was hot, slow, and occasionally annoying. People having garage sales caused cars to pull on and off shoulders suddenly. I wonder how many people would stop if there were big signs up that read, “Please Buy Our Old Used Shit.”

The tourist season was in full swing at Gettysburg as some sort of enactment was taking place. Town was full of Union soldiers marching with rifles and courtly southern officers saluting and bowing to each other. This is how the south managed to lose the war. We had guns and they had manners. At first, I thought I was looking at a bunch of huge penguins coming along the main drag. They were a family riding segways in a single file. All were wearing helmets and one was towing a trailer with a kid in it.
The Penguin Family On Their Segways
Photo by Dick Bregstein
(Now Click To Enlarge)

I was hotter than hell by the time we pulled in the parking lot of the Dobbin House, the best place to eat in town. I parked next to the curb so I could use it as a step. But before I could entirely dismount, Dick came tearing out of the restaurant with the news that there was a 45-minute wait for a table. The immediate vote was to continue riding.

The next stop was three miles away, at the Sheetz station, where we gassed up and had a cold drink. A fresh crop of motorcycles rolled into this place every three minutes. We all noticed one thing: the squids have the hottest pattooties on the backs of their bikes. It was here that Dick mentioned I had to pour a few drinks into my topcase to get it to ride with me.   The return route was Rt. 15 and the Turnpike. By this time, my medication was wearing off and another pill didn’t help much. 

The topic again rolled around to hot-looking women, when we pulled over at the first rest area on the Turnpike. I casually dropped the statement that I always had luck getting skirts to chat with me in places like this. Jay laughed in my face and Dick spit. 

A nice-looking woman in her early 40's pulled up in a minivan, and got out holding two Yorkie pups. I couldn't resist. 

"What a beautiful pair of puppies you have," I said, bowing like a Confederate Colonel. 

She shot me a dazzling smile and walked over.

"He's despicable," hissed Bregstein. "Er Miss... May I pet your puppies?"

"Fuck you, Andy Gibb," she replied, handing me a dog.

Counting the Sheetz station, the toll booth, a stop light, and both rest areas on the turnpike, I pulled over and put my feet down 5 times in 102.5 miles. This isn’t the best I’ve ever done. But it’s not the worst either. It used be like this when I first rode up to Strasburg three years ago. But the limited mobility in my left hip is new. It cannot be ruled out that this might be something of a curtain call. I have a little overnight trip planned to Elks Neck State Park this weekend, which is only about 90 miles distant. This may give me an opportunity to gradually push the envelope again.

Copyright © Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Chapter Four: The BuRP Rally -- The Ride That Changed My Life

Dawn announced its arrival with the muted slamming of a few motel room doors. Voices filtering in from outside were the prelude to engines starting, several of which belonged to motorcycles. It was my intention to grab a farewell glimpse of the ass on the Harley lady in the adjacent room, but I divided the effort into the potential ass glimpse and came up short. I closed my eyes again thinking to catch a few more winks, when I heard the cheery resonance of Wayne Whitlock chatting with his wife Lucy. He was outside, wiping down his Harley.

“Shit,” I thought. It was a quarter past six, and I had yet to shower.

Twenty-minutes later, we roared out of the Days Inn parking lot and made tracks for North Carolina. I didn’t know it yet, but this would prove to be the most challenging day of the ride. We had two different schedules to meet. The first called for picking up my friend Ricky on his Honda VTX 1800 in the unlikely sounding village of Little Switzerland, NC. We told him we’d get there around 1pm. Rick told us not to worry as there was a touristy kind of strip mall there, where a geology shop sold interesting rocks. He’d just hang out until we arrived. The directions were simple. We were to get off at the Little Switzerland exit on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and turn left. He’d be right there.

The second schedule called for getting into Maggie Valley before it got dark. This sounded like a piece of cake as we only had about 230 miles to go and it was basically an hour after dawn. I wasn’t real keen on taking the Blue Ridge Parkway and Wayne suggested we could follow secondary roads in that general direction. This sounded perfectly reasonable to me. A secondary road would be faster than the BRP, with more options to stop. According to Wayne, we would follow the “Chain Gang” Highway to Desolate Road, and then pick up US-221.

If you love curves and dramatic changes in elevation, then North Carolina is for you. There isn’t three miles of straight paved secondary road in the whole state. (A museum in a small town we passed through has a section of guardrail on exhibit, though they have no idea what it is used for.) There are three kinds of curves in this state: hairpin, blind, and descending radius (with or without). The “with” or “without” is an interesting option offered to bikers. It means with or without gravel. The Department of Public Debris liberally sprinkles pea gravel and other things on curves and tight intersections to add to your riding pleasure. It certainly added to mine. By the end of the day, Lucy commented that she had never heard a man say “fuck” with regards to loose stone as often as I did.

Wayne rode his 46,000-pound Harley like it was a skateboard. He leaned it far over, dashed in and out of curves, and steadily pulled ahead. I could not match his competence. At first, I tried copying his style, but only ended up scaring the shit out of myself. I then decided to “ride my own ride,” pulling back in a more prudent fashion. It quickly became apparent that “riding my ride” meant moving slower than a glacier on stilts. And the intense heat, high in the mid-nineties, was starting to get on my nerves.

It is important to remember that this was my second season as a reentry rider after a 30-year hiatus. I had held my license for exactly three months. It is also important to note that I had gained 2,362 pounds since I last rode a motorcycle any distance. The noise augmenting my muffler was both halves of my ass slapping the spokes in my back wheel. Plus the fact that my arthritis cursed me with the reflexes of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

My knees do not reset to “zero” at the beginning of each day. They find the midpoint in the highest pain range from the day before and start there. But I am determined not to squeal like a pig and throw in the towel. So I grit my teeth and mount up.

I was starting to hear from my knees again and they weren’t happy. Furthermore, we were riding on the kind of secondary road that gave no indication of progress. Endless trees, small open fields, and the occasional unnamed side road did nothing but add to the mystery. Road conditions would run from very good to sandpaper quality (with or without, but mostly with). The gas light came on after a bit and Wayne followed me into the Hog Waller General Store and Gas Station, about 90 minutes after we’d been on the road.

Between the pain in my knees and humidity as thick as possum pie, or whatever the hell it is they eat in North Carolina, I was in bad humor. I was gassing up the bike (while straddling it), when the hose slipped out of the tank, shooting a quart of high-test all over the motorcycle and my crotch.

“Somebody get me some water,” I yelled, thinking the rig would burst into flames.

“Got some right here,” said Wayne. He’d found a hooked up garden hose. Wayne hosed off the tank, my mesh jacket, my jeans and me. When he was through, the cool water was running out of my helmet. The situation was preposterous... And I started to laugh. I was hurting like a mother-fucker and this was hysterical. The local folk stared a bit when I waddled into the general store to take a piss. At first glance, I suspect they thought I’d already speed pissed without unzipping my pants.

We roared into the pretty little town of Blowing Rock, North Carolina later than midmorning. I was interested in learning how the town got its name but Wayne said it wasn’t what I thought. This is an upscale resort with delightful little streets, featuring unique shops, romantic restaurants, and charming accommodations. It is the kind of place where the letters in your alphabet soup spell “seduction.” Our tour of the town lasted all of ten minutes.

Then the road got tough.

Who needs the Dragon’s Tail when you have US-221? The first sign we saw coming out of town said, “Dangerous Curves Next 22 Miles.” The second sign read “Not Recommended For Trucks Over 30 feet Long.” And the last sign said, “Do Not proceed If You Have A Very Fat Ass.” This last warning made my blood run cold.

The road changed elevation, direction, and camber more often than a runway model switches dresses during a the fashion show. At one point, a blind curve felt it’s way around a huge boulder that stuck out into the road, before switching back in another direction. The road also followed itself through a vertical loop and hopped over a valley via an abandoned ski jump.

The first picture ever taken by my cell phone camera.
This boulder leans out over the road on a blind turn.
The shot reveals the spartan controls of a 1986 BMW K75 with a Sprint Fairing.

US-221 led us over Grandfather Mountain, which was hosting some damned Scottish festival. The mountain was alive with the ugliest women I ever saw wearing plaid skirts. (Closer proximity revealed they were men in kilts.) I came across two elderly ladies standing in the dead center of the road on the other side of a tight turn. Leaning “Blue Balls” over to a degree less than horizontal, I just missed them, though one has a dark streak from the corner of her eye to her ear where she got kissed by the clutch caliper I bet!

Though a lot grainier, this shot gives a better idea of the perspective of the boulder in the curve. 
Situations like this are commonplace on North Carolina's mountain roads.

I got separated from Wayne in this stretch, as he insisted on going faster than 30 mph. On a long incline, I came across a a bicyclist struggling like a mad person against the grade. This woman had enough on her mind without worrying about traffic crowding her off the road. I centered myself about 20 feet behind her, and protected her perfect Spandex´®-covered ass for about 5 miles. Yet when we started down the hill, this ungrateful person wouldn’t yield and I ended up crawling down the mountain as slow as I went up. Wayne and Lucy had signed up for oil painting classes at the bottom of the run.

The rendezvous with Ricky didn’t come off quite as planned. Since we weren’t on the BRP, the directions got a little muddled. We ended up on remote road by a firehouse. Fortunately, a firefighter was hanging around and gave us directions, the last line of which was, “Turn left at the red lot.” I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Finally, he said, “The red lot. That thing that makes cars stop and go.”

I laughed, and told him and I thought his accent was genuine and refreshing. He replied my New Jersey accent sounded like broken glass in a paper bag. We were 90-minutes late meeting Rick. Worse, the rock shop had been closed all day too. He’d been cooling his heels the better part of the afternoon. Little Switzerland has its charm and places to see. Regrettably, we were getting short on time and decided to make the push into Maggie Valley, which was still about 50 miles distant. My rest intervals were getting a bit more frequent, and it was during one of these that Wayne’s Harley made that unusual noise again and refused to start.
Wayne Whitlock's beautiful Harley started blowing 2000 amp fuses.
This picture was taken by Pete Buchheit on another trip, where he poured maple syrup under Wayne's bike to simulate an oil leak. Wayne has promised to kick his ass and to kick it really good.
Pete has always wanted a photograph attributed to him.
©Copyright Pete Buchheit

Wayne and Ricky had the appropriate side covers off the beast in an instant. Sure enough, the 2000 amp nuclear reactor fuse was toast. Wayne popped in another, which promptly blew too. Things were starting to look dicey for the home team, as Wayne was down to the last spare. He and Ricky then resorted to the most scientific of actions: they jiggled stuff (meaning wires on the bike).

The Harley restarted and we went like hell to the Laurel Park Inn, at Maggie Valley, arriving with an hour of fading daylight left to go. It had taken me three nights to do what most riders in my Beemer club do in a day. But I didn’t know them then... And I know better than to care now.

We covered 225 miles that day, hitting a new personal best for me. The feeling of accomplishment was incredible. Wayne Whitlock and his wife Lucy are two of the kindest, most gracious people that I will ever meet. I regret that Wayne now spits every time my name is mentioned. North Carolina is a breathtakingly beautiful place filled with hospitable people. I rode through there again the following year and was able to enjoy the ride more and swear less, primarily through experience -- Experience that started with this trip.

In the Chapter Five: The BuRP Rally Begins.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chapter Three -- The BuRP Rally -- The Ride That Changed My Life

Front Royal is a pleasant enough place and its primary claim to fame is that its the northern terminus of Skyline Drive, the 105-mile stretch that runs through Shenandoah National Park. There are ten hotels in town ranging in price and decor from cheap to chain. We stayed at the “Cool Harbor,” which was clean, modestly priced, and fully booked. I know this because another rider pulled in behind me on a pimped out BMW LT, thinking to just grab a room. There were none.

I love older, dated motels when I am traveling by motorcycle. These places generally offer a parking spot directly outside your room door. This makes unloading the bike a smooth, effortless organized operation. It also allows you the opportunity to look out the window occasionally, to see who’s stealing stuff off the bike.

Pulling up to the “Cool Harbor,” I was slightly dismayed to see an inviting covered porch, tastefully decorated with a profusion of plants, twelve steps above the front parking lot. (My arthritis was screaming and I had no desire to climb stairs.) Luck was with me, however, and I was assigned nice accommodations out back, where I could have ridden my K75 right into the room. The saddle bags on nearly all dated Beemers have the look and feel of suitcases. They detach from the bike with the turn of a lock and bringing my stuff inside barely took a few seconds. The place looked safe enough to leave the locked topcase on the back of the machine.
The panniers on the older BMW's are designed to look and work like suitcases. 
They detach from the bike with the twist of a lock.

As it turned out, it was probably the safest place in town as it happened to be crawling with federal agents. Three large, nondescript vans in the parking lot discharged 18 of the most clean-cut, physically fit individuals that I have ever seen, all wearing identical suits and sunglasses. These were undoubtedly representatives of the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, the Treasury, or the Department of Stick It Up Your Ass. Two smiled and said “good morning” to me in a way that hinted of a future interrogation with rubber hoses.

The person checking into the adjacent room was a performance artist enroute to a conference for exotic dancers. I watched her carry in a long, peculiar-looking suitcase and decided it was either a portable pole for her dance rehearsals or a container for a large snake.

Wayne, Lucy, and I ate dinner in a restaurant called the Royal Oak. This was a great surprise. A raspberry-sauced filet mignon was on the menu that night and it was superb. Amazingly enough, a friend of mine from the business travel industry -- airline analyst/economist Daryl Jenkins and his wife Arlene -- heard I was passing through and thought they might run into me there. They hosted our dinner. I introduced them to the Whitklocks, who were amazed that half the travel crap I write about is actually true. Daryl is one of the authors who endorsed my book, “Politically Correct Cigar Smoking for Social Terrorists” on the back cover.
My book: 30 chapters on how to maintain a delicate male presence during these difficult times.

The sun rose the next morning with a promise to make things hotter than hell by 8am. Wayne announced he wanted to check a few things on his Harley, like the tire pressure and the oil level. “I’m going to look for a gas station with an air pump,” he said.

“There is no need for that,” I relied. Flipping up the K75’s seat, I whipped out an Airman Sparrow pump. I also handed him an analog air pressure gauge, with a flex hose attached to it, to facilitate inflating a tire crowded by spokes and exposed brake rotors.
E-Z Air Tire Pressure Gauge -- $25 from Whitehorse Gear -- has a handy flex hose for better access to  the valve. 
Air pump hooks up directly to pressure gauge on right.

“I haven’t got a place to plug this in,” said Wayne, looking doubtfully at the odd connector on the pump.”

“No problem,” I added with a smile. I plugged the pump into the outlet provided on the left side-cover of the 19-year-old Beemer.

“I still have to get some oil,” said Wayne.

“Got that too,” I cracked, handing him a fresh quart.

Wayne stared at me in frank amazement. I am used to this. Having the shapeless physique of a loaf of damp Wonder Bread, I am an unlikely candidate to be riding a motorcycle at all. And most folks feel I am even more unlikely to have the right tools or anything useful for general maintenance. Once, on another trip with some beemer boys, I resolved a dicey situation by producing motorcycle jumper cables and the correct procedure for hooking them up to a bike with concealed battery posts. The guys looked at me like I was a talking horse. Or more correctly, a talking horse’s ass that started to make sense.

Wayne introduced me to a new concept: riding 60 miles before breakfast. We followed US-340 out of town, heading south, in the general direction of Waynesboro. We had opted not to take Skyline Drive for two reasons. The first was the wildlife. I had been advised that deer pop out of the ground like spontaneous combustion on this road, and that your chances of seeing something more impressive than deer are pretty good. The second reason was the 35 mph speed limit. We opted for a faster secondary road, getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Waynesboro.

There is nothing like a two-lane secondary road through rural valleys early in the morning. Traffic was nonexistent as the road meandered through small towns and pastoral countryside. There were almost none of the blind intersections that dog Pennsylvania farm roads. We were treated to occasional glimpses of creeks and streams, little railroad bridges, and horses standing in the fields. Very minor changes in elevation with moderate curves gave this stretch the feel of a good motorcycle road.

The only fly in the ointment was the throbbing that had already begun in my knees.

Nothing beats a great southern breakfast. Biscuits in sausage gravy, ham slices with redeye gravy (active ingredient is coffee), grits, eggs, and buckwheat flap jacks constituted the “sampler” at the joint we found. I stopped eating when I realized they’d need the jaws of life to get the chair out of my ass.

We tanked up and headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This is how adventure arrives in my life... By gradual stages. I’d been riding on roads I had never seen before for the past two days, and it finally dawned on me that I was doing a real ride. I’d been reading about the Blue Ridge Parkway for two years. By all accounts it is judged to be heaven for motorcycles. Devoid of commercial traffic, the road dances over mountain ridge lines in gentle curves, full of sweeping vistas, at a reasonable 45 mile per hour. In theory, a relaxing 10-hour drive would cover the full 450-mile length of this paradise.

I pulled into the very first vista to take in a view of a valley that seemed to stretch forever. Switching off the bikes activated a silence mode that made me feel as if I was standing in church. It was a perfectly clear day with a slight breeze. In the distance, there was enough of a summer haze to give credence to the reputation of the Smokey Mountains. The sweat I carried up from Waynesboro began to evaporate in a welcome chill. It had to be 15 degrees cooler than on the valley floor.
Scenic views like this pop up every couple of miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway
This photograph was taken by my friend Scott Royer. 
©Copyright Scott Royer 2008

Wayne smiled at me and said, “Lovely, isn’t it? Okay Fatass, get back on the bike. We got some riding to do.”

The word “parkway” has a special meaning for anyone coming from New Jersey. At the South Amboy toll plaza (the first place where you can smell the “big water”), the Garden State Parkway is 16 lanes wide.

As a reentry rider, I had envisioned the Blue Ridge Parkway as a kind of boulevard, running through trees and clouds at the top of two states. And it is that. But the boulevard holds a number of surprises for the uninitiated. From Waynesboro, the road is tame enough. The forty-five mile-per-hour speed limit even seems a trifle slow. Dilettantes (myself included) are inclined to twist on the gas.

The first twenty-six curves are a delight and have an amusement park ride appeal as they are spaced about six feet apart. Then come the switch backs. I found myself reciting the motorcycle safety course litany going through each curve, and than chanting it like an auctioneer as the curves became a primer for a beginner’s technical ride.

The most exciting views flashed up like targets in a shooting gallery. You have exactly two seconds to enjoy each one because the road generally jumps off a cliff or hides in a hole immediately thereafter. The cliffs are impressive, with many positioned on blind curves to test the holding power of your kidneys. Vistas are plentiful if you want to stop, though many are tastefully lined with fine gravel to spice up the adventure factor.

On two occasions, I made left turns that lasted about 40 minutes each. The road may have been straight when paved, but the engineers borrowed the center line from a barber pole, which may have bent it into the current corkscrew design. It was coming out of one of these curves that I got the opportunity to study the local wildlife. Wayne and Lucy were in the lead, with some other bike ahead of them. I watched a fox dart out in front of the stranger’s machine. Then a couple of fox kits ran out behind Wayne’s Harley. I looked to see if anything else lurked in the bushes.

A friggin’ turkey vulture the size of a Cessna clawed its way into the air and leveled off about four feet from the ground. It was flying parallel to my helmet, about two inches away from my right shoulder. The damn thing started to edge closer as the road sloped into a curve.
The turkey vulture is disgusting and has breath like a politician 
from eating the same sort of things.

“I’m gonna get knocked off this bike by a stupid bird,” I thought, feeling a growing sense of panic. The turkey vulture got close enough so I could smell its breath before veering off to the right.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a delight for the lack of commercial traffic, the spectacular views, and the condition of the pavement (which is perfect), but it is not a simple ride in the park. For a rider with my skill set (at the time), it became a technical ride. And attempting to move from side to side on the saddle was grinding the joints in mt hips and knees. We’d gone about 33 miles before pulling over at a ranger station, where I downed a couple of Alieve.

It was here that we met some nice folks on Harleys. One was a rather attractive woman on a Dyna-Glide, who wanted to show us the pictures she took with her digital camera. These had been taken much earlier that same day, on Skyline Drive, and were of a mother bear with a cub -- standing in the road. The rider explained she took the picture from 40 feet away!

The pain in my knees was so bad that I asked Wayne if there was a road that paralleled the BRP, where we could pick up the pace a little bit. We had to cover two hundred miles that day and I didn’t feel like doing it at 45mph. My thought was I rather hurt for three hours as opposed to five.

“There is another road, but it’s likely to be a bit busier than this one,” said Wayne. He remembered my preference for avoiding heavier traffic, and told me that he couldn’t remember the name of the road, just that it was close.

Twenty-five minutes later, I followed him onto Interstate - 81, a sausage grinder of a road famous for truck traffic that either lumbers in herds or slams past at high speed.

Wayne led at a moderately good clip, to make sure I was fine with this new arrangement. Shortly thereafter, I blew past him edging 85mph. “I think Jack’s got the hang of this,” he said to Lucy.

There’s was nothing more intimidating about the traffic on I-81 than anyplace else. My knees were still screaming but the odometer was chalking up the miles. We pulled into the Days Inn at Fancy Gap, Va (a mile or two above the North Carolina stateline) around 4pm. This had been my longest riding day in 30 years -- 203 miles.
The Days Inn at Fancy Gap, VA.
This is the second best place to stay at Fancy Gap.
I didn't discover the first best until the following year!

We checked into the hotel, and Wayne’s Harley broke down. It made an odd popping sound, and wouldn’t turn over.

Wayne is one of those guys who should always be in charge of things like nuclear reactors. Nothing phases him. He simply looked at the bike and said, “Ain’t that a mystery.” (It was 98º on a Sunday afternoon, in rural Virginia. I would have said, “Fuck,” 700 times.) He was looking the machine over outside his motel room door, when another Harley rider checked in. This guy was straight out of a Harley Davidson magazine ad, with a hot-looking motorcycle mama on the pillion behind him. Tall, lean, with tanned leather for skin, he introduced himself as a H-D mechanic! He and his girlfriend were enroute to Alaska from Florida.

This guy produced a full set of tools and had the problem sorted out in 20 minutes. Wayne’s bike had blown a 2,000 amp starter fuse. Not many machines use a 2,000 amp fuse. Aircraft carriers and huge amusement park roller coasters have them. But that’s about it. For some reason, Wayne had a spare.
2000 Amp fuse being tested by lightening strike 
before being installed in Wayne's Harley Davidson.

I emptied my side cases of clothing and filled them with beer at a local gas station. Wayne, the mechanic, and myself partied out in the parking lot until 1am, when the hotel manager came out to tell us other guests were complaining.

It had been a very satisfying day.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Red Hot News Item For The Day

I came across this little news item while scanning the headlines for any moto-related stuff. In my opinion, this was close enough, and offers a nice break before I post "Chapter Three in the Burp Ride" saga tonight. These are the kind of news stories that indicate government is responding to the changing needs of the people.

Security Agency To Change Search Procedures To Accommodate Nipple Piercings

Washington, DC (International World News) --
Acting in response to strong public criticism from headlines generated by a botched search of a woman wearing semi-permanent nipple jewelry, the Transportation Security Agency has announced several procedural changes regarding pat-downs of passengers with detected body piercings. Spokesman Mike Hunt claims that while airport security personnel acted correctly in attempting to remove a female passenger's nipple rings with bolt cutters, it would have been better had the officers taken her to an interrogation office first, as opposed to just putting down highway cones before removing her shirt.

"Quite frankly, this was a new situation for us," said Hunt. "Officers didn't want to hold up the line but they needed to be sure what they were dealing with." A strong upsurge in travelers with body piercings passing through the nation's airports has caused the agency to initiate a series of sensitivity courses for inspectors dealing specifically with this issue. Titled "Getting A Feel For Pierced Nipples and Clitoral Jewelry," the presentation uses extensive role playing to make airport checkpoint authorities more cognizant of passenger trends and how to respond to them. Part of each course is a nipple identification video that has helped to keep officers focused.

"I'm proud to say that our men are rising to the occasion and are taking full advantage of the opportunity to incorporate these lessons in their jobs," said Hunt. "Many have gone out and gotten piercings of their own. Several have had RFID chips that vibrate and light up installed as well. These installations have proven to be low-cost, low tech indicators that alert inspectors as to other female passengers worthy of inspection."

The Transportation Security Agency has also revised the body search process. In keeping with the entire pierced nipple mystique, the agency has acknowledged that female passengers need to be put at ease during body searches. At many major airports, inspectors will now dress up like Harley riders at a rally, and stand under a sign that reads, "Show us your tits!" Women choosing this method of inspection will be given a few beers, be photographed, and logged into the REAL BREAST ID program, that was jointly developed by a major security supplier and YouTube.

Interestingly enough, body piercings among male passengers are also on the rise. At a major airport last week, inspectors tagged 156 men with penile piercings. One claimed to be the last high priest of the Mayan people, while another was allegedly identified as a ranking member of the Bush Administration.

©Copyright International World News 2008