Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Cleansing Power Of A Spontaneous Night In The Woods...

Not every ride begins with an inspiring dawn, a desire to see beyond strange horizons, nor the call of the pavement. Sometimes it is spawned by one or two words of criticism offered by a woman whose voice normally conjures up images of delightfully steamy nakedness in a hot shower. Yet nothing has the “Trojan Horse” quality of a woman’s voice. While the sound may be dropping warm honey or melted candle wax, the content can be as cutting as a dumpster of broken glass.

On this day, in early summer of 2005, I was busy comparing candid online photographs taken of Harley-mounted women at various events (held at Sturgis and Daytona). The purpose of this research was to determine whether pierced nipples would whistle at high speeds. (This way, I would know what direction to ride in if I ever heard a persistent whistling sound.) I had complied about 740 pictures, when the former love of my former life said, “So this is your idea of doing research for a possible motorcycle magazine article?”

Surprise lifted me 16 inches off my seat.

Now it would have been different had she made some noise to signal her approach, giving me apple opportunity to click to the word-processing program that would clearly prove the scientific nature of my work... But she crept in noiselessly, like a visiting in-law climbing through the window. She was even perfume-less and thoroughly masked by the aroma of week-old cigar smoke that made my office so appealing.

“How would you like to do a little research entailing how a garage gets cleaned, or perhaps a study on basement reorganization, or even an experiment on herding the dog shit in the yard into a bucket?” she hissed, like steam leaking out of a cobra.

“Would a magazine pay anything for that kind of information?” I fired back.

Her response was to point out that I had been “interrupted” in my research of “tramp stamp” tattoos the day before, and “caught” attempting to secure a sponsorship from “Road Riderette Edible Panties” the day before that. Now I have been accused of many things — and have been proven guilty of most — but I’ll de damned if I am going let anyone belittle my work or suggest I am anything other than a serious moto writer.

“Have it your way,” I spat back vindictively, remembering to bookmark the 20 or 30 insightful sites that had provided me with so much raw material. Then I stormed into the garage to rehearse my defense when whatever pretense I expended in the garage cleanup would come under fire two or three hours later.

The garage had that lived-in look. In fact, it looked as if a 450-pound hamster had lived in the motorcycle bay. Tools, motorcycle gear, and piles of camping, fishing, and canoeing stuff were strewn about like the flea market from hell. I noted that things were so cramped it wasn’t possible to move anything around until I rolled the bike out into the driveway. (That was the first year of the mighty “Blue Balls,” the 1986 BMW K75 with the rare Sprint Fairing.) At that moment, however, moving the motorcycle upset a delicate balance which brought a tower of stacked crap cascading to the floor.

“How did all this shit get around my motorcycle?” I yelled to myself. Then I realized it had been gleaned from other parts of the garage and randomly tossed here as it was “unimportant” man stuff of mine. The first thing I picked up was a rolled and bagged tent I hadn’t used in 15 years. “Wow... The last time I was in this, Christine T. had danced naked around my campfire,” I thought. And instead of putting it away, I tossed it out by the bike. Going through a battered cardboard box, I discovered an old camp stove, a dented mess kit, and a sleeping bag that had seen several doze hunting trips. All that stuff went out by the bike. The last thing I came across was a folded poncho, that had survived camping trips from two wives ago. I took that too.

And then I did the unthinkable... I stowed all of it on the K75, and rode off.

There is something cleansing to be said about taking off without a destination... Without a plan... And without a sense of remorse. Believe me... It is the best feeling in the world... In the beginning. Remember how you used to feel when you were nineteen? My motorcycle was nineteen-years-old in 2005 and I wondered if it felt in its sexual prime... If it was ready to jump the bones of the cute girly bikes we passed... If it would gladly spit in the eye of any contender. (I have since learned that this is standard running behavior for all BMW K75s.)

I headed north, up Route 100 (Pa) and then Route 309 (Pa). These were long before my Mac-Pac days, and I was accustomed to riding alone. (The Mac-Pac is the premier chartered BMW riding club serving southeast Pennsylvania, They are a great collection of riders who were legally unable to deny me membership in 2006.) It had been late in the afternoon when I set out, and I stopped to grab a cooked chicken and a piece of pie at a Boston Market. Then I took a campsite in a state park with minimal facilities. By minimal facilities I mean the big amenity was iron-flavored water from a standpipe, and a stink in the clapboarded shitter that hasn’t been changed since the Civil War.

Unrolling the tent, my thoughts were of the naked beauty who’d wrapped herself around me in it 15 years before. It turned out I was mistaken. The tent had been used more recently by several generations of mice as a combination shelter and nutritional center. While it was still a tent at both ends, the middle had been converted into loose seeds, balls of shredded material, and highly motivational rodent graffiti powered by mouse piss.

This could have been regarded as a setback.

Yet I am a former resident of the Adirondacks, and a man who has fished the AuSable River and hunted the High Peaks region. What Adirondack man hasn’t seen the painting by Winslow Homer (published in 1874), titled “Camping Out In The Adirondacks?” This inspiring artwork depicts a hunter stretched out alongside his canoe, with barely an oilcloth to keep the dew from him. I would simply replicate this touching scene with a motorcycle instead of a canoe.

I cut a couple of holes in the hem on the poncho and used bungee cords to hold it to the bike. (Actually, I had no bungee cords. What I had was a bungee cargo net, which made for a really strange fastening.) I duct-taped the bottom of the poncho to two sticks that I then hammered into the ground. This rudimentary shelter sagged like a political press conference and inspired all the confidence of a 50¢ condom.

The sleeping bag had been spared the fate of the tent but no longer held Christine’s T.’s scent. In fact, it had a certain air of the garage about it, which while not unpleasant was less than inspiring. I got a little fire started and attempted to fuss with the lantern. It was a Gaz light (with propane/butane still in the tank), but without a mantle and therefore useless. But I had my Mini-Maglight from the top case, and didn’t have to drain the bike’s battery by switching on the BMW parking light — which is really useless.

No excursion to the great outdoors would be complete without the opportunity to view wildlife in their natural environs. Foxes have a unique way of pouncing on their prey. I got an “up-close” look at a fox pouncing on the Boston Market chicken (which I’d set out on a stump). Foxes are beautiful creatures when they are not rabid and tatty with mange, and this one easily dodged the rock I launched in his wake. I know that chicken bones are bad for dogs and wondered if the fox might not choke on them too. There was a flash of a smile attached to this thought. My dinner became the ridiculously small piece of pie I’d gotten for dessert. I do some of my best thinking after dinner, and it occurred to me to send Boston Market a note, advising them that each piece of pie they sell as an “individual serving” should weigh a minimum of 4 pounds.

There was little point in sitting up after dinner, and I called it an early night by slithering into the sleeping bag. In less than 15 minutes, I understood that Winslow Homer was a fraud and no man ever slept under the shelter I had contrived. Laying parallel to the bike, I had two feet of sleeping bag sticking out on each side of the poncho. I had better luck stretched out perpendicular to the K75... But this put my head within an inch or two of the oil pan. Just as a woman has a distinctive fragrance of perfume and pheromones, a motorcycle exudes trace aromas of lubricant, coolant, and gasoline. While these can be sexually stimulating at 100 miles per hour, they can adversely color a man’s sleep with dreams of a refinery. So I swung my head the other way, and found it sticking out the low end of the hanging poncho. While this gave me a sensational view of a velvet sky filled with stars, it dramatically altered the nature of the setting, and I knew that no descendant of Winslow Homer was ever going to paint this campsite.

I closed my eyes with the smug satisfaction of a man who was the master of his own destiny and one with nature. Yet the accomplished woodsman is instantly aware of the slightest change in his surroundings, and I snapped to consciousness three hours later, deducing that the jewel-like stars had suddenly become meaty, plum-sized rain drops. This was no problem as I simply reverted to “Plan B,” and pulled my head under poncho.

That last sentence connotes planning and precision, two elements that are generally absent from my life. In my haste to get under the poncho, I caught my chin on the lower edge, converting it into a huge, quivering plastic funnel, channelling a torrent of icy rain into the top of my sleeping bag.

“Great Scott,” I bellowed. (Actually, I said something else that rhymed with “brother trucker.”)

The sensation of cold water pouring into my sleeping bag caused me to sit bolt upright, which separated the poncho/tarp from the two stakes that feebly held it to the ground.It was now nothing more than a rain drape. Not yet dismayed, I sat under it, with my head protruding out through the hood in the center.

“I can sleep like this,” I thought.

It was at that moment I could feel the cold rain seeping through the wadded-up sleeping bag under my butt.

“What hell is left to me now?” I moaned into the darkness.

At that moment, a flash of lightning illuminated the cracked shingles of the ancient outhouse roof.

“No,” I screamed. “I will not sit in there.”

The rain increased in its intensity, falling in sheets as dense as fog. And once again, the flickering of lightning spotlighted the tumble-down structure of the shitter.

Its door swung open on hinges that shrieked with rust. The stench was nearly as heavy as the rain. I flashed my light around inside, finding a huge spider suspended in a web the size of a volleyball net, hanging over the only logical place to sit. I knocked it into the soup from hell, using a handy stick I’d grabbed just for that occasion. “We all have problems, pal,” I said soothingly, watching the large arachnid thrash around before gnawing through its own throat.

It is common knowledge that feeding female mosquitoes can detect one part of expended carbon dioxide (a millionth of a human breath) in a zillion parts of raging thunderstorm. Yet they are unaffected by the aroma of an unattended latrine. In fact, they can thrive in an atmosphere of nearly 100 percent methane and will not hesitate to give it a try, if the door is left open. And believe me, nothing less than flesh-eating zombies could have persuaded me to close that door.

I arrived back at the house barely an hour after dawn.

My former lover was in the kitchen, pouring a cup of decaf. “That was some rain we had last night,” she said. “Did you spend the night in an outhouse or something?”

“What would make you say that?”

“Well, you’re standing here stark naked, wearing just your helmet, and the two dogs are rolling in your wet clothes on the garage floor.”

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011


Chris said...

great post Jack, but I urge you to add a disclaimer. I seem to always be reading your blog while eating, and then things get spewed all over the brother trucking place.

Ronman said...

Mr. Riepe:

I'm left almost speechless. I sit here laughing uncontrollably with tears streaming down my cheeks. I can compare this only to the "Corn Story" of my dearly departed Uncle. Now I must go and try to not soil myself as I hopefully regain my composure.


gary5410 said...

Love stories about "shitters"...... especially when you are in one!
Gary Christman

redlegsrides said...

In your situation, I think I would have remounted my trusty steed and set off in search of a motel....the days of being out in the rain, pretending it's not a miserable experience while doing Army training, are long since past.

Even now, when I am allowed to make a fire, make all the noise I want and don't have to "stand to" in the pre-dawn darkness, camping just doesn't have the allure it apparently does for you.

Still, a great story, and I shivered with you as the water poured into your sleeping bag.


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Leaving no trace, Ihor said...

we'll keep out of the rain and unbecoming outhouses on our next trip. Don't forget that even bad days and nights camping end up producing great stories and memories.

Bluekat said...

Ah, the fond memories of camping. This is why I have graduated to motels. I have enough "fond" memories, thank you.

Great story. I'm glad it's yours and not mine! :)

Conchscooter said...

I never did tell you the story about the missed train schedule, the phone box and the policeman, did I? She doesn't speak to me either now.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chris:

Thank you for reading Twisted roads and for writring in. It should be a given at this point that thart the prefix "MIS" normally precludes "adventure" as it applies to me. Many Twisted Roads readers put a tarp over their keyboards as they read my stuff. Some evewn use an old poncho.

Fondest regards,

BMW-Dick said...

Dear Jack:
Another great tale that confirmed my decision that "roughing it" for me means staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Hot showers, screened windows, central climate control, and a riding buddy like you make for a more pleasant environment.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ronman:

Thank you for your encouraging note today. As you are aware, Twisted Roads is the near official blog of the near speechless everywhere. It's not that I set out to get into threse situations... It's just that my life is cursed.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary (Christman):

If I had a dfme for everytime I tied on a "shitter," I'd be wealthy enough to hire a writer to document the stories.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads and for writing in.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Every now and again I get an overwhelming urge to do things like I was 19-years-old again. I had a hankering to try a little blacxk powder hunting not long ago, and my pal Ihor said, "Do you know how much it will cost for you to try and shoot deer from the back of an elephant?"

So in truth, as much as I'd like go back in time, I find myself dealing with limitations. Now, I just plan on motel camping whenever I head out anyplace.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Ihor:

Next year I want to try something really radical... I want to prepare a bit for this — starting six months in advance — and go for black powder deer hunting in upstate New York. I found all my old licensces (residents ones at that too) and should have no problem getting another one.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear BlueKat:

There is a science to walking away from tragic camping trips. This entails being with a group of friends, building a huge fire, and carrying on like Visigoths until the sun rises. Sadly, all three of these elements were missing from this trip.

Still, you haven't experienced total humility until you've spent the night in an outhouse.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for writing in.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conchscooter:

I seem to recall there was a famous kid's story about a missed train, a call box, a policeman, and a talking lion. Stands to reason you'd be involved in this somehow.

Thank you for reading Twisted Roads and for making my blog the cornerstone of your life's philosophy.

Fondest regards,

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dick:

I never used to think that sunny weather could constitute the worst camping conditions, but that was before I encountered the relentless heat of the Bloomsburg Rally, last summer.

The motel may be the best invention of Remaissance Man.

Fondest regards,

RichardM said...

Your comment about miserable heat hits home. I've never had a problem with rain but heat like Bloomsburg will drive me to look for a hotel.

Great story.


Nikos said...


This documentary piece sums up the joy of camping and corresponds approximately to my experiences so far.

As you rightly point out the the motel may be the best invention of Renaissance Man, and indeed there is very little in Homer's Iliad about camping.

Will you join me in my bed and breakfast tour of the British isles and Ireland next year?

best wishes from windy Britain where the beer is warm, N

BeemerGirl said...

Really? It didn't dawn on you that flinging that spider into untold filth could possibly lead to a mutated species that would have ripped your hanging a$$ through that deposit hole? Not thinking there Riepe...slipping... :)

I am disappointed that you weren't showing your remorse by approaching in the same manner but with your helmet hung in a manner displaying your "strength".

Good story otherwise. I enjoyed the mental images after experiencing a couple similar rain nights.

Classic Velocity said...

Dear Jack,

Adirondack men everywhere are disavowing your existence. PortaPotty vendors everywhere are seeking your endorsement.

Anonymous said...

Stitches remembers that night! Barbie and Ken? He went to bed and could not believe that you were all still sitting there in the same positions when he woke up at 8:00 am!