Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The West Virginia Riders MC on the shores of Lake Riepe

Motorcycle trips usually come two flavors: Vanilla and Rocky Road.

A Vanilla trip is planned down to the minutest detail. This may include things like the brand of cocktail onions you need to pack for Gibsons on the Rocks to be sucked down at the end of a dusty day. 

A Rocky Road trip, is commonly referred to as a "cluster fluke" (named after President Obama’s graduate student supporter who earned 10 minutes of fame by announcing to the world that while pursuing her master's degree she couldn't afford condoms for her many suitors). Ergo, the whole fluking country needs to be shoehorned into another taxpayer-funded fiasco healthcare plan designed by idiots. But I digress.

Most of my motorcycle trips have been a double-dipped serving of both flavors, they are vanilla with rocky road portions, or rocky with splashes of vanilla. Either way, they are usually fun because of the guys with whom I get to ride

This is the story of the first motorcycle trip I've taken in several years that did not include the never-to-be-defeated Jack Riepe. My good friend, Jack, was unavailable for this adventure. In some ways, that was a good thing, because Riepe hates riding on gravel, on twisty roads, and in the rain, but I get ahead of myself.

This trip came together one day when my riding buddy, Gerry Cavanaugh, President Emeritus of The Mac-Pac, currently a BMW affiliated Motorcycle Club, called me to say he was contemplating a trip to
enlightenment with The Buddha in search of the mythical headwaters of Lake Riepe.

"He must be into the single malt," I thought. But knowing Gerry as an excellent, serious rider, I was intrigued. “Tell me a little more,” I asked while listening for any alcohol-induced slurring of his speech.

"It would include three to four days of spirited riding in a back-to-nature adventure on some of the best pork barrel roads in Robert C. Byrd country," Gerry said. 

"We're bringing our own Cardiologist and Pharmacist, just in case someone trips over a coffee table and needs to be resuscitated, jump started, or drugged."

Ron, Buddha, Gerry, Me, and Peter with our meds
Without hesitation I shouted "I'm in." 

It isn't often I get to ride with medical attention a bike's length away, and besides Peter “Dr. Aorta” Frechie, Cardiologist, and Ron “Experimental Drug Dude” Yee, Pharmacist, are both great riders, good guys, good friends, and fun to be with anywhere, but especally on a motorcycle adventure. This was going to be an great trip: Gerry and me, medical attention, good drugs, the path of The Buddha, and BMW motorcycles with solid rear drives. Who could ask for anything more?

On second thought, I could have asked about the weather.

We were headed for Snowshoe, WV, soon to become the geographical center of Lake Riepe. The Buddha, whose real name is Paul Pollio, rented a four-bedroom chalet for us next to the Snowshoe Ski Resort.
As our departure date approached the weather report grew more discouraging, drizzles became downpours, downpours evolved into thunderstorms, and the weather map looked as if one of those cute weather girls in a tight sweater splashed it with red, yellow and green paint that ran quickly in our direction.

As undaunted Coach Riepe would say, "Plan for the Worst. Go for the Best. It's like buying punch card chances at a West Virginia VFW bar, you never know when I'll hit the big one."
Buddha, whose name derives from his physical rather than spiritual conditioning, selected our path to enlightenment. The plan was to meet at Gerry's house at 7:00am and ride back roads to Snowshoe. We would avoid highways. Buddha estimated the trip would cover more than 400 miles. If we didn't dawdle at leg stretch stops, which also doubled as pee stops, we could arrive well before dark.
We hit Snowshoe about 7 1/2 hours later having covered 355 miles, encountering occasional drizzles, lots of wet roads, and some gravel in turns, corners, and at intersections. We stopped for a quick snack, gas, and only a couple of leg stretch/pee breaks.
The Chalet
My buddy, Ironbutt Buchheit, the golfer, said, "That's a long trip. You should have taken two days and stayed at a bed and breakfast."

With a sore butt, tired knees, and stiff neck I was thinking a month at the beach sounded better.
Sweaty Dick Arriving at Chalet
The Snowshoe Ski area is a huge operation with restaurants, a night club, hotels, and lots of condos, but it's closed between the ski and summer seasons. That and the fact that it’s the legendary site of Lake Riepe is why Buddha directed us there.
“Meditation and serious motorcycle trips are best served without the distraction of scantily-clad ski resort cocktail waitresses,” The Buddha hummed.

The Path to Enlightenment at Lake Riepe and to the chalet we rented was at the end of a mile-long gravel and pot-holed road with 2,000 switchbacks. When we arrived, tired, achy, and verging on grouchiness in 87-degree-heat, the road was a little dusty, slippery, and begging to be rained on.

“The prayers of gravel encrusted roads and of people who kiss snakes are often answered swiftly in West Virginia,” offered The Buddha.
Frechie Tributary
Cavanaugh Tributary
“I predict outstanding weather,” said Dr. Aorta, our inaccurate prognosticator.
“What are you smoking?” asked Ron, our resident experimental drug expert.

“Smells like Ginseng root,” Gerry added.

Evening sky at Snowshoe,WV
We unpacked our gear and headed for the porch to survey the landscape and watch dark rain clouds roll in. Hungry and tired as we were, not one of us was willing to make the trek down the gravel road to search for food.  Gazing at the evening sky, Dr. Aorta pronounced, “Tomorrow is going to be a great riding day.”

We filed inside to share a meal of nuts, M&Ms, Pepperoni, Cheese, Sopprassata, Triskets, cheap wine, raisins, and single malt scotch that cost more than the new rear tire Buddha needed on his heavy RT motorcycle, and the rain started.
It was still drizzling when we awoke the next morning. Hungry and coming off of an M&M and raisin high, we slipped into rain gear, mounted bikes, and rode out over a wet, graveled, and grass-clipping-encrusted driveway headed toward our mile-long gravel, pothole, and switchback enhanced ride down the mountain in search of  breakfast.By the time we reached the bottom of the entrance drive my arms and shoulders hurt too much to raise a glove to wipe the rains drops from my visor.
“The path of The Buddha is challenging,” I hummed, warmly in the solitude of my helmet. “This is going to be great fun.” Gerry, who was connected to my helmet via the Cardo Q2 he let me borrow, thinks he heard a few of Riepe’s most common expressions prefacing Paul’s name.
Ron Yee simply gave Buddha the finger behind his back.
Dr. “A” grinned and rocked his head from side to side; he was immersed in an album of Kate Smith tunes piped into his Schubert helmet via his iPhone.
“Follow me,” shouted Buddha, as he throttled toward a restaurant he heard was at the base of the mountain. Three minutes later we were parking on gravel in front of a restaurant. It was closed.
Later Buddha told us he remembered receiving a barrage of telepathic four-letter word messages from the rest of us calling for his demise. He dismounted his bike, found a native, and asked where we could eat breakfast.

Twenty miles and a drizzle or two later, we arrived at a Mom and Pop No-Name motel that had its own “restaurant.” We could smell the bacon on the grill as we approached, and saliva flowed in anticipation.

Dr. “A” questioned, “A Motel Restaurant?  Let’s find real place to eat.”

A smile of contentment crossed Buddha’s face as he received a new telepathic message, “Kill Frechie,” and he visualized the passing of the baton of hate.

Hunger outweighs animosity. We headed out in search of breakfast. One thing you notice about West Virginia is the lack of fast food places like Golden arches or BK that dot our neighborhoods. On the other hand, there was no lack of Correctional Facilities along the roads we traveled. Maybe we can get breakfast at one of them, I thought.
Three towns and 30 miles of wet roads later we arrived at a restaurant in a burg that lacked a post office,  movie theater, gas station, or elegant French restaurant, things we take for granted. The restaurant owner was filling in as waitress. The regular waitress had to report to her parole officer that day. We all ordered bacon and eggs to keep it simple. Gerry wanted scrapple, but Peter told him he’d let him lay where he dropped if he ate pig snouts and anuses.
Seneca Rocks, WV
Gerry, Paul, and Ron at Panorama Overlook

That breakfast failed on many levels - food, preparation, service, ambiance all were zeroes.
On the other hand, the roads in Pocahontas County are made for motorcycle riding. They have good surfaces, changes in elevation, gentle curves, quick switchbacks, beautiful scenery, and very little traffic.  Riders thinking about a West Virginia tour should check out routes 219, 33, 15, 150, 39, 84, 220, and 66 around Cass. We rode all of them and more. They were close to perfect.
Green Bank Radiotelescope

On that first day out, it drizzled most of the time, so we decided to stop for lunch and take a tour of The Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, in Green Bank. It was interesting to see, as was our tour guide who could have moonlighted at Hooters.
The highlight of our NRAO visit was learning where we could find a good food market. Buddha asked the friendly woman running the ticket desk, and she directed us to Kinder’s Market in a town 50 miles away.

We laid in about $100 worth of steaks, bacon, eggs, huge potatoes, fresh leafy vegetables, and Devil Dogs selected by our resident Cardiologist and clean-living consultant.
The ride back to the ski chalet was pleasant. We covered about 100 miles on back roads that day. Negotiating the gravel road up the mountain seemed easier now that it was wet from the day’s drizzles. We rode up the slippery inclined driveway to the chalet’s garage one at a time.

Buddha, went first; then Peter. Gerry waited at the bottom of the driveway, and I pulled in behind him, kept the bike in gear, held in the clutch, and slowly put my foot down into a pothole. Ron , who was riding behind me watched as the bike and I slowly tilted to the left and fell over into the wet grass at the side of the drive.
“I hope he wasn’t carrying the eggs or the Devil Dogs,” shouted Dr. Aorta with the compassion of a professional healer. Ron, on the other hand, jumped off of his bike, camera in hand, and ran over to see how I was.

“Just lie there and writhe as if you're in pain,” he said “I want to snap a few pictures to preserve the moment.” Then he helped me pick up the bike.

Buddha walked down the driveway and offered to ride my bike into the garage. I was fine; the bike was fine. If you’re going to fall over, it is best to do it in wet grass, although doing it in front of your riding buddies is not a good move.
“Let’s call Riepe, “Gerry shouted, “He has a need to know.”

“Let’s not, and let’s get something to eat,” I suggested in a diversionary move. Sharing information about me with Riepe is dangerous. What goes in seldom comes out as recognizable. Trust me on this. I know the real Bundt Cake story.
Dr. Aorta moved to fire up the grill and found there was no propane tank.

“No problem,” I said, “Let’s go down the hill next to Lake Riepe, and frack what we need.”
And so it was. Before long we had a garden hose connected to the fracked pipeline and connected to the grill. BTUs were blazing.

Peter grilling rib eyes to perfection
That’s no less hard to believe than Dr. Aorta paying a visit to the unoccupied house next door and surgically removing the propane tank from their gas grill, is it?

Ron seasoned the steaks, and whipped up some carrots, baked potatoes, and Asian slaw with his special cream sauce. I cracked open a bottle of cheap wine. Gerry poured the Single Malt, and dinner began.
Steak, Baked Potato, and Carrots
An after dinner cigar with good Buds
We ate ourselves close to oblivion. It was great meal. Then we broke out cigars, including some Cubans that someone’s brother-in-law sneaked past US Customs in his bra.

We moved to the porch to watch the clouds roll in and blacken the full moon.
Peter predicting a great riding day
“I predict tomorrow will be a beautiful riding day with no rain and exceptionally well-manicured roads,” offered Dr. Aorta.
As luck would have it that was the night I woke up at 3am, headed to take leak, and walked into a heavy oak coffee table, bruising my leg with a hematoma the size of a Major League baseball.
“With your history of dropping bikes and hitting boulders, nobody will believe you did that on the way to the head”, said Gerry.
“Especially with the photos I have in my camera,” added Ron.
“You’re going have major bruising,” offered Dr. Aorta, “when we get home I’ll bill you for the co-pay.”
“The path to Enlightenment is sometimes bumpy, but always worthwhile,” said the Buddha, adding, “as long as the bumpy part happens to the other guy. oooooom.”
I was awakened the next morning by the smell of bacon cooking and the gentle clatter of pots and pans. Ron was already up and starting breakfast. I jumped out of bed and felt severe pain in my leg. Looking down, I saw the Major League Baseball had morphed into a Chicago-style, 18-inch softball, the purple was spreading, and it hurt like hell. I looked out the window and realized that Dr. Aorta better stick to medicine, because weather forecasting is not his forte. It was pouring.
As we enjoyed an excellent breakfast of freshly smoked country bacon, eggs, and home-made hash browns I told the others that I thought I would stay home, elevate my leg, put ice on it, and rest up. Riding in downpours with a sore leg would have been a bad choice for me.
“Good,” said Dr. Aorta. “Great,” said Gerry. “Outstanding,” said Ron. “Candy ass,” said the Compassionate Buddha, “We don’t need your crippled butt slowing us down.”
While the four others negotiated gravel-covered, wet roads in heavy downpours, I watched “The Great Escape” on the flat screen television in the living room and napped with ice on my swollen leg and a glass of wine in my hand. Some motorcycle trips can be grueling.
Wet but undampened Peter, Buddha, Gerry and Ron

Buddha, Gerry, Peter, and Ron had a great ride. Buddha said they found a West Virginia religious shrine at the top of a hill with three crucifixes; the center one was home to a basketball backboard. “Makes it convenient to pray for a three-pointer,” said Gerry.
Ron, Buddha, Peter, and Gerry in their "Missing Dick" formation
It wasn’t long between naps and glasses of wine that my wet riding buddies returned with panniers full of New York Strip Steaks, Boneless Pork Chops, more Potatoes, and other culinary delights. They said it rained most of the ride. I said I suspected that, because I tried to go out on the porch a couple of times to fire up a Cuban cigar, but it was raining hard.
Dr. Aorta put his boots in the clothes dryer and headed for the Single Malt. Buddha headed for the hot tub. Ron headed for the kitchen, and Gerry headed for a bag of M&Ms he had hidden in a package labeled, “Castor Oil.”
Here's to good friends on a great MC adventure
We fired up the grill and had another feast. As we finished dinner the rain ended, and it was time for a cigar on the porch where many manly exaggerations are heard, not believed, and topped by even more incredible tales - not quite up to Riepe standards, but incredible none the less.

We talked about the ride home. Peter wanted to head south to Georgia and then work our way back on dusty North Carolina roads running through tobacco farms. Gerry, ever the voice of reason, suggested that we wait and see how the weather looked before we committed to a plan. Ron said that Buddha had been such a good ride Captain that anything he suggested was fine.  I couldn’t find my own way off of Snowshoe Mountain without a guide, so I kept mouth shut.
The next morning the smell of bacon and eggs awakened me. As I opened my eyes, Ron was standing in the doorway of my room, with a big smile and holding a plate of food. “You ordered Breakfast in Bed, Sir?” He asked.  And then he laughed, gave me “the finger.” He told me it was his breakfast, and I had better get my ass out of bed before they left without me.
We ate a magnificent meal of bacon and eggs and hash browns that Ron whipped up in his sleep. We straightened up the Chalet and hit the road by 7:30am. All of the roads we took were excellent. Some were even dry. We followed 219 into 250 and then headed East on 33 to 28.

On Route 50, as we came to the top of Mount Storm, we entered pea-soup fog. Buddha, Peter and Gerry turned onto what I thought was a road, but I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me. The “road” was gravel covered and pocked with mud-filled pot holes. I stopped my bike, looked around, saw nothing but fog, and hailed Gerry on the Cardo intercom.
“Where the hell are you?” I asked.
“Right here in the overlook,” he answered.
“What overlook?  I thought this was a road,” I said.

 “Beep your horn, so we can find you.”
Ron and I moved ahead slowly, beeping until we saw tail lights break through the dense fog. They had been only ten feet in front of us and were ready to move out with great caution. We left the overlook and inched down the road in first gear.  There were a couple of sharp turns on wet 9% downgrades that kept my attention, because I couldn't see more than three or four feet in front of me.

Even Buddha, who has ridden thousands of miles since 1974 admitted that horsing his RT through the blinding fog on wet steeply inclined roads was a challenge – especially with Dr. Aorta riding behind him and beeping for him to speed up.

Fog break at site of inefficient wind energy
We picked up 522 in Pennsylvania and had a great ride on this scenic road. Paul headed North to 78 and ultimately to New Jersey, while the rest of us slipped on to the PA Turnpike which would get us home in about two hours.
I was sore, tired, hot, and happy when I got home around dinner time. I left everything on the bike, walked into the house, stripped off my clothes, and headed for a hot shower.
“How was it?” asked my patient wife.
“Just wonderful,” I said, “The roads were close to perfect, the guys are great riding buddies, the accommodations were terrific, we ate like kings, rode like devils, and had an outstanding time. The only thing I would have changed, if I could, was the weather, and I would have chopped that friggin’ coffee table into firewood if I had known it was destined to attack me in the middle of the night.”

“Bull,” she said, “I’ll bet you dropped your bike again!”

Peter with his 25-year-old BMW
Gerry at Panorama Overlook
Ride Captain Paul
Ron and Gerry enjoying a break in the weather

Buddha maintaining his title

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Deprivation Diet
All The Gear All The Time
It's a good thing my bike is a babe magnet.
I climbed on the scale last week, and I think I saw that I had gained about four pounds during the past too many weeks of winter inactivity. I say “think,” because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and had to squat down to see the numbers on the scale. Riepe tells me that squatting down when standing on a scale adds pounds. Then again, he tells me that being in the same galaxy as a scale adds pounds.
Usually, during the cold months, I get exercise by splitting logs. It’s a macho, Paul Bunyan thing with me. I do it by swinging a heavy maul over my head and directing it home on weathered, “starred” logs.  Even on the coldest day I can work up a sweat in a few minutes and come away smelling like Babe, Bunyan’s Blue Ox.
This year the wet, cold, and ice started early and continued without let up. The pile of icy crap at the top of my driveway reached about seven feet early in the season. After two days of rain and a few of days of 40-degree weather and a few more of hitting close to 50, it now tops out at about four feet, and it’s ugly, dirty, snow, sticks, leaves, and yard junk.

My Inaccessible Wood Pile

My wood pile had been covered by snow and ice for weeks and until yesterday there was at least a foot of snow in the woods surrounding the wood pile. After yesterday’s 60-degree surprise, the foot of snow is now six inches of mud. Today the rains have returned, so there will be no wood splitting for a while.
This has also been a tough winter for motorcycle riding in my area. The roads have been covered with salt, gravel, ice, snow, and stupid, reckless people who drive while talking or texting on their cell phones.  Better weather can wash away salt and other natural crud, but distracted driving is probably here to stay.
House-bound by Mother Nature, most of my riding buddies have turned to other diversions, such as political commentary.  I’m amazed at how otherwise normal bikers (that’s the epitome of non sequitur) can morph into Reactionary Republicans, Demonic Democrats, Licentious Liberals, Piss Ant Progressives, or Tea Party Twits. There may even be some Cuddly Commies in the mix.
Personally, I’m pissed at all politicians. Yesterday I paid more than $3.50 a gallon to fill the tank on my motorcycle. I bought a loaf of French bread for $2.99, and I passed on the T-bone that was $6.99 a pound. I’m convinced that The White House and both houses of Congress have spent decades abdicating their responsibility. They have let us down to the point where both Rachel Maddow Liberals and Rush Limbaugh Conservatives share in the inflationary pain and initiative thwarting regulation.  Some Liberal is going to try to tell me that Conservatives share less in the pain because they have more assets, and some Conservative is going to allege that Liberals are all sucking up freebees at the trough. That’s bull shit!
Passion can be a good thing. Many I know are passionate about motorcycle riding or about spouses, kids, significant others, pets, goats, horses, other farm animals, or gerbils. I’m not convinced that some of the passion I see in political posturing today is healthy. I see a lot of vitriol and anger on TV, but I don’t see even a hint of it among my biker buddies. This brings me to an obvious suggestion – get out and ride. It will clear your head and your sinuses. The smells of Amish barnyards can have a healing effect. Stop listening to the bull shit on TV. Get out and smell some of the real stuff.
Ron Ye (Photo from previous ride when we stopped for lunch)
Ron Ye is a great riding buddy. He rides with confidence, knows lots of back roads, and always has a big smile on his face and an obvious positive attitude.  He’s even nice to Riepe.  Ron sent me an email last Sunday morning and mentioned that he was repairing the front brakes on his motorcycle and might be up for a ride if he finished the job.  He said he wanted to test his work.  I wrote back telling him that I was finishing up some honey-dos, but I would love to get out in the 60-degree weather with him as long as he wasn’t riding behind me with “iffy” home-handyman-repaired brakes.
Riepe would not be joining us today, as he was practicing standing on a scale without squatting.
Like many in the motorcycle community, Ron is involved with experimental drugs - only Ron’s involvement is legitimate. He works for a major drug company.  It was my intention to pump him for some useful information about keeping my weight down.  My family physician suggested that I eat less and exercise more; it seems that Washington, DC, is designing a similar plan for all Americans based on high fuel and food prices.
Ron and I met at the Wawa gas station across from Wegman’s, in Downingtown, at exactly 1:00pm. We decided to head out toward Gap, PA, on main roads, because we were concerned that the rain last week may not have cleared the road crap on less travelled paths. Also, Ron wanted to make sure that his brake repair work was solid.
The route was simple Route 30 to Route 113 North to the Route 30 Bypass and West to Gap.  The weather was perfect.  It was clear, cool, the sun was shining, and there was no wind.  Surprisingly, there was no congested traffic on the roads. There were cars on the bypass, but they were moving at a good clip. This being my first day out in about two months, I wanted to demonstrate some caution, and Ron needed to get used to his new found braking power. I think we kept our speed to within 20 or 30 miles of the limit. We even let one dufus in a minivan pass us.
As we pulled up to the traffic light at the end of the bypass, Ron said, “The brakes are working fine. Where do you want to go?”
“You lead, I’ll follow,” I said. “I still don’t want you behind me with your homemade brakes.”
So off we went down Route 30. We passed the Gap Diner where the food was acceptable 20 years ago, we blew past the diner that Gerry Cavanaugh said he and his buddy Buzz used to ride to. It was closed the last time we rode there, and today it was a pile of rubble. We rode past the Amish Smorgasbord places and tourist bus stops, several diners, a couple of ice cream places, and even blew by Jennie’s Diner, where they serve Riepe-ass sized pancakes and mouth-watering, artery-clogging pork products.
We turned South on Route 896 and passed a couple of other good, touristy Amish eating places. The weather continued to cooperate with bright sunshine, and there were lots of Amish horse-drawn wagons and horses and mules and cows in the fields. The smells and the changes in temperature as we moved from sun to shade and back into the sun were delightful.

My R1100R at Strasburg  Station

We turned East on Route 741 and rode past Isaacs Restaurant and the Strasburg Train Station, two of Riepe’s favorite stopping places. Travel was beginning to slow down a bit, because of the many Amish horse-drawn wagons going our way and the cars full of Amish watchers gingerly passing them.  At one point just as we came to the crest of a hill, we had to slow because a minivan (I hate those things) was apparently afraid to pass the horse-drawn cart. It was then that I heard a loud squeal of brakes behind me. When I looked in my mirrors I saw a Ford Mustang right behind me that had obviously stopped abruptly to avoid knocking me off of my motorcycle. Next time I lead!
When we reached Route 41, we headed south toward Oxford. That’s a nice ride; much of it is through “horse country.”  Then we picked up Route 1 North, and in the interest of time we hopped on Route 202, took that to 322, where I headed north and Ron headed south.
By the time I pulled into the garage, I had covered about 100 miles of mostly Pennsylvania back roads at a comfortable pace in about two hours and without stopping for food, coffee, or to take pictures. The only stops were at traffic lights, so I missed the opportunity to discuss dieting with Ron. Come to think of it, not stopping to eat while on a motorcycle ride is a good first step.
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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Motorcycle Addiction, Uncureable

Last week while talking with Jack Riepe and complimenting him about his recent articles in the BMW MOA Magazine, and on his blog, he dusted off his “critical prick” persona and reminded me that I have not written anything on my blog since last November.
For the record, weather here in the Northeast sucks. Cold and wet came early and forcefully and appear to be the new seasonal standard.  November riding days were few. December was brutal, and January has given us record-setting snow falls and weeks of below-freezing temperatures. Ice, salt, and pulverized chemical mash on the roads easily convince me to keep my motorcycle in the garage.
Snow and ice hanging on bowed tree limbs may be like a beautiful woman… a delightful sight, but perhaps especially dangerous when riding is part of the equation. 

Like a Professional Wrestler's Girl Friend, Winter can be beautiful and treacherous 

                            Ice, tree crap, and freezing rain in my driveway                         
 I hate to make excuses for not riding, but I’ve reached the stage of my life where once I’ve finished shoveling out my driveway, hot chocolate and a nap are more inviting than trying to navigate my BMW R1100R around cinders, salt, road scum, and black ice while staying out of the way of text-messaging teenagers who’ve had their license for a week or two.
Neither Riepe nor most of my other riding buddies are doing much riding this winter, so it’s hard to draft a truthful piece about a motorcycle trip. Although accuracy seldom stops me or Riepe from telling a good story, this got me to thinking about other themes, and my mind wandered back through a series of decades to my youth. I often think of my youth when my back hurts from shoveling snow or my knees ache from walking up and down the stairs, or if I see a cute, brainless woman with poodle skirt.
                                                          Brainless Woman In A Poodle Skirt.
                            (This and warm milk are definite turn-ons for History Channel buffs)
Those memories often remind me of when I could run up ten flights of stairs backwards to strengthen my legs for skiing. In those days,  I could work all week, drive all night, ski all the next day, and party all night before getting up to ski another day and drive 350 miles in a blizzard to get home. But that has nothing to do with motorcycles other than as it relates to the often mis-perceived invulnerability of youth. Maturity teaches that a slice of apple pie is much more appetizing than running up stairs backwards.
One of my earliest motorcycle memories is of a tall, long-legged, Swedish nanny.  Her eyes were the color of the sapphires you’d find in a Christmas catalog.

Swedish Nanny-Eye sapphire that fetched $1.3 million at Northerby's auction house.

Her tanned skin was like baby apricots just beginning to develop their sweetness.  Her long, blond hair would streak out behind her as she arrived at our country estate on her new 1936 BMW R3 with the smell of freshly-picked Edelweiss in her hair.

              Edelweiss found only in the Alps and on music boxes
Edelweiss really has no odor. I suspect if it did it would be close to mountain goat musk. But "the smell of Edelweiss in her hair," creates an interesting image even though it’s bullshit. Riepe taught me that.
Back to the story -
Today I can recall how my heart would quicken each time I saw her and how that molten licorice feeling would slide down my legs in anticipation of my  being transported to an ethereal dimension.
If my riding buddy Jack Riepe had written this he would have reached beyond molten licorice for a more colorful description – probably shades of burnt sienna.  Nevertheless, like most of Riepe’s tales there is perhaps a slim line of truth hiding among an overwhelming amount of bullshit. Well, maybe not this time when honesty could very well be on vacation.
The truth is that I was born in New York City, in the Borough of Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn. There was no country estate in our family. We once went to a park in Bayonne, New Jersey, that my Great Grandfather owned before the city condemned it and stole it from him.
One summer, my grandfather rented a cabana at Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, which I vaguely recall as a place where it was difficult to walk on the hot sand without stepping on a human being. Today Brighton Beach is the stomping ground of the Russian mob. Stepping on Vladimir is punishable by severe stomping and instant disappearance.

Elegant Brighton Beach, where raw sewerage is often found floating among the human flotsam
The only motorcycle I can recall seeing in my youth was ridden by one the NYC’s finest, Officer O’Something-or-Other. All New York City policemen were Irish in those days, as were firemen, bar owners, most city workers – except for building inspectors, who were Italian and “connected.”
This mounted protector of mobile Sabrett hot dog stands and Good Humor carts could be found on any Sunday seated on his Indian motorcycle in the bushes across from Bay Ridge High School, a politically incorrect institution where typing and stenography were taught to teenage girls who “were going to get married anyway” and needed to know how to cook, clean, wash clothes, and have babies. They were offered only a thin layer of basic employable skills – Palmer Method Penmanship, Stenography, and Sinful Flirting.
Officer O’Something-or-Other was simply lying in wait for despicable criminals who were about to run the stop sign at the top of a hill on a cobble-stone street leading from the Belt Parkway to Fourth Avenue.
A team of vintage motorcycle officers emerging from their hiding place in the bushes.
On a wet day, there was no good way to stop at that intersection and then get going again. The hill was on a 45-degree angle, and when the cobble stones got wet they provided the traction of greased ice.
The good officer rode an Indian which is the only motorcycle I can remember having seen during my young and formative years. When I was a kid, there was a War on. There was The real war, The big one, WWII. Gas was rationed, so most people I knew took public transportation or walked. During the war, we kids didn’t have bicycles, the government said it needed the metal and rubber for the “war effort.” But after the war, we would ride our bicycles everywhere.
Our neighborhood was home to many famous people. Peewee Reese, and a few other members of The Brooklyn Dodgers, lived there, as did several infamous members of the Italian Waterfront Mob. These were the kindly gentlemen who ran the docks and the unions. None of them rode motorcycles.
Affluent good guys and the bad guys shared a preference for large, black Caddys, which brings me to the apocryphal story about Officer O’Something-or-Other.
It seems that this conscientious LEO made the mistake of ticketing one of the “made” guys who ran his pet stop sign. A few days later while screeching out of the bushes with his siren blaring and his lights flashing in pursuit of another stop-sign criminal, the good officer was broadsided by a large, black Caddy. It crushed his Indian and his ticket-writing hand before driving off – probably to New Jersey.
Years later, when I had my driver’s license, I knew I could coast right through that stop sign without fear of being ticketed.  The bushes covering the hiding place were overgrown, and everyone got a free pass thanks to the black Caddy guys protecting the personal freedom of scofflaws.
Many more years passed before I came across a motorcycle again. I was driving from New Jersey to Brooklyn across Staten Island. The officer riding the motorcycle waved at me, and I smiled and waved back. He was perched tall on a shiny large Harley. He looked very professional, spit and polish, sewn-in pleats in his shirt and pants, over the calf boots that could and did reflect the skyline of Manhattan. Then he turned on his flashing red lights and siren and waved at me again.
When we got to court, the judge asked him to recite his pedigree: ten years on the force, motorcycle school, traffic safety school, instructor, married to the Mayor’s brother, yada-yada-yada.
He came across as infallibly capable and honest. He looked like a movie star playing a Highway Patrol officer. He stood tall and straight as if he had rebar shoved up his ass. Trust and honesty oozed from every pore of his matinee idol face. Me, I was glad I wore a dark suit to court, because it would hide the sweat pouring out my armpits, and was sure to hide most of what I suspected I was about to deposit in my pants.
He described how he observed me tailgating another car, and how he pulled me over and gave me his especially reserved award for inadequate driving.  As he finished his recitation I thought my next stop would be The Big House.
The judge then turned a piercing, steel gaze in my direction and asked what I did for a living.  In those days I was a PR flack for an insurance company. Admitting that would done more damage to my case than if I told him I sculpted motorcycle cops out of petrified dog turds. So I explained that I was a clerk at a large company in New Jersey; I smiled shyly, shuffled my feet humbly, and tried to look penniless as I spoke. That last part wasn't difficult, since like the US Congress I was living far above my means.
The judge asked me why I was driving irresponsibly.  In the blink of an eye, a series of smart-ass answers shot through my brain. ...”I was practicing for the inadequate driving course… I was rushing to pick up the last hotdog at Nathan’s, in Coney Island, for a friend who was dying and not expected to last through the day…I was on a secret mission for The State Department, which would deny any knowledge of me or the secret mission… “
Smartass doesn’t work well in court. As a matter of fact, I have scars to prove that it doesn’t work well anywhere, so I carefully crafted a magnificent response designed to raise the question of “reasonable doubt” a phrase I had often heard on Gang Busters.
I’ve often said that the integrity one gleans from working in public relations occasionally has a pay off.
In the end, I was exonerated, paid not a dime in fines, and was set free on my own recognizance. Even the motorcycle cop gave me the thumbs up sign.

                                                     The armed LEO told me it was his thumb
I didn’t think about motorcycles again until the late 1980s when, like some famous and infamous Presidents, I was living in Illinois.
I learned that the Motorcycle Safety Federation (MSF) had a free course leading to a license. I mentioned that at dinner one night, and there was unanimous agreement by and my wife and my children that I was not to be allowed anywhere near a motorcycle. They felt that motorcycles are dangerous, and with great compassion they explained that they needed my income. Sometimes the realization of deep love smacks you in face like a wet bluegill. Other times it’s dropped on you like a 500 pound tuna. In this case I understood their point. I’m also embarrassed to admit I agreed, so I just shelved the motorcycle idea for a while.
It was the end of Summer 2004 – 14 years later. My good friend Bruce, who allegedly has ridden motorcycles since before he had pubic hair, mentioned that he was going to take the MSF course with his son, who was graduating from Penn State and wanted to ride with his Dad. Bruce, who is a true renaissance man, has never done anything half-way in his life. He admitted that he hadn’t had any formal training and thought it would be a good idea. That was all the encouragement I needed. I signed up for the MSF course at Valley Forge, PA. After all, at that point I had been married to the same woman for 36 years, the kids were on their own, and my life insurance was paid. The timing was perfect for a new adventure. If Washington’s Army could survive Valley Forge in Winter with no shoes, it should be a piece of cake for me at the end of summer with over the ankle boots.
The Motorcycle course involves classroom work and highly supervised riding on MSF course-provided motorcycles. Feeling sorry for the old guy (I was now in my 68th year) the kind people at the MSF course gave me a 3cc Suzuki to push around, and they let me borrow one of their sweaty helmets to wear with my ski gloves, chinos, and cherry-red golf jacket; I wasn’t even the worst dressed guy there. This was the first time I had ever put my butt on the seat of a motorcycle. It was great fun. It didn’t take much for me to get a buzz on and develop a real motorcycle Jones.
In an outstanding act of compassion the MSF Course granted me my license. Then I started shopping for a motorcycle.  I knew more about algebra than I knew about motorcycles. I barely passed algebra in high school and haven’t used it since. I’ve heard that the only people who use algebra and geometry beyond high school are carpenters, tile setters, and motorcycle rear-drive designers.
The weather was getting cooler and wetter, so I decided to wait until Spring to buy a bike. That gave me all winter to do research and figure out how the hell I was going to ride a motorcycle in traffic.
I called my friend Larry, who salvaged his first motorcycle from the Johnstown Flood. Now he owned a Yamaha Virago 1000cc, and had just designed and built a gyro copter with his own hands.  Larry gave me some solid advice, and I spent the rest of the winter searching the Internet looking for the best bike for a beginner. Two surfaced: the Yamaha 650 and the BMW F650.

Pre-Johnstown Flood Yamaha V Star 650

My Classic 1997 "Orlando Orange" BMW F650ST

I looked at postings on Cycle Trader, EBay, and other Internet sites. I found a 1997 BMW F650ST in California. It had less than 23,000 miles on it, and the photos with palm trees in the background made it look a lot better than it would have with Pennsylvania ice and snow as a backdrop. When I calculated shipping and handling, I came up with a final bid price, and I won the bike for $1,500, which was about ½ of what similar bikes were selling for at that time.
I was disappointed, but not very surprised, when the bike’s owner fell off the radar and disappeared. I shot a note to EBay. They told me to report him to the FBI (interstate fraud), which I did with great delight; I hate it when people try to screw with me. About two weeks later I received a pure bullshit, “tail between the legs” email saying he totaled the bike.  I replied suggesting that he avoid travelling through Pennsylvania.
Back to the drawing board, back to Cycle Trader, and EBay, and Craigs List.  Suddenly, there it was, almost the identical BMW F650ST, in Ligonier, PA. It had 13,000 miles on the Odometer and looked clean as it would have in a dealer’s showroom. The price was more in line to the real market. The guy who owned it had three Beemers and a Moto Guzzi, and all were spotless and well maintained. 

It was the end of February, and I was concerned about how to get it from near Pittsburgh to near Philadelphia. There was no way given my level of experience that I was going to ride it on the Turnpike in nice weather, let alone in February, while wearing my jeans, golf jacket, and ski gloves. He offered to deliver it to my house.
The bike arrived in early March. He took it out of his truck and rode it up my driveway and into the garage. I paid him and gave him a hot bowl of chili and walked out into the garage to admire my new purchase.  The Howard Johnson Orange-colored 650 sat there on a trickle charger during the “Spring” snow and ice storms.
In late March, when the six inches of ice at the bottom of my driveway had melted, I mustered enough nerve to roll the bike out of the garage and start it up. My darling wife, who knows me as well as anyone could, said, “You may not take that motorcycle out of the neighborhood.” Just run it to the corner stop sign, take left to the next stop sign, a left to the next stop sign, and keep doing that until you get good at it.”
My immediate thought was to respond with something like, “Shut up woman. You’re not the boss of me,” but macho gave way to fear, as is often the case in my house. Also, I was very grateful that she had given me a good reason to chicken out of hitting the road. Sometimes “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” is right.  Or perhaps after about 40 years of putting up with my bullshit, she knew I was chickenshit about riding and needed to ease into it. Either way, it was a good suggestion.
There were a lot of good lessons to learn. My neighborhood has some minor elevation changes, sewer grates, and man-hole covers that are good training devices for the inexperienced rider, so for a couple of weeks, I rode the circuit. One day I learned about the hazards of gravel and learned how to pick up an F650ST that was lying on its side case. Another day I learned how to duck when headed for that old pine tree that used to be at the top of my driveway. I learned that plastic milk cases are not a good place to put your foot when you’re backing the bike up into the garage.
The fellow who sold me the motorcycle suggested that I find a club in the area where I’d meet other riders and get some good advice. I began an Internet search, and The Mac-Pac popped as the SE Pennsylvania Riders Group. They let me come to breakfast even though I was wearing my red golf jacket and they all were decked out in Aerostich.
I had all of 350 miles riding experience when I joined the group’s first Rally with a covered bridge ride that terminated at the farm of one of the members. I remember Brian, who is the list administrator, riding behind me and telling me, “you did pretty well, except for the time you almost lost it going through a turn on gravel and sand.”
That ride led to more rides and to new friends and new adventures in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, Tennessee, New York State, and Vermont. I’ve ridden on dry roads, in rain, on black ice (not good), and through pea-soup fog (also not good). But I’ve done it with a smile on my face and in the company of some very good friends.
About the Bike.

2007 BMW F800ST Delivery Day at Hermy's  (Photo by Herman Baver)
I loved the F650ST. I took it to Tennessee and all over the back roads of Pennsylvania, It was light and easily maneuverable. But, for me, it lacked speed in the low gears, so in 2007 I traded it in on a F800ST that was a powerhouse. It eventually went rock hunting and gave its life protecting mine.

Brave, Deceased F800ST

My current ride is a 2000 BMW R1100R, with the traditional Beemer opposing cylinders. It too is fun to ride. It does better in the low gears than the F650ST did, the stock seat and riding position are more comfortable on long rides than the F800ST seat, and it still has lots of speed, torque, and maneuverability.
2000 R1100R, Resting in Strassburg, PA, after tormenting The Amish

We’ve ridden more than 10,000 miles together in the past year and a half. I can’t wait for the weather to change, so we can get back out on the road again to explore new places and old with my riding buddies.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sons of Agony

If you like Motorcycles and appreciate the “brotherhood” syndrome that delivers a sense of belonging to the emotionally disenfranchised, you may enjoy the TV series, Sons of Anarchy. Currently it can be seen on the FX Channel and on DVD and Blueray. I’m sure those with a larceny gene in their DNA or a teenager living at home can also find it in pirated files on the Internet.

The Series is pretty much like a soap opera about an International Motorcycle Gang that deals guns, rides noisy hogs, maims and kills adversaries, and loves its family and friends. It’s rated M for Mature, N for Nudity, L for Language, O for Offensive, B for Boring, and SS for Silly Shit.

Jane, my “life partner” of nearly 43 years,  is addicted to re-runs of game shows and to “Chick Flicks” on LLC (Lesbian Ladies Channel) about women who beat their husbands to death for the insurance money. She suggested that I DVD the show. Her exact words were, “then you can watch that inane crap when I’m not around.” I’ve recorded the series on Fios, and I think I haven’t missed an inane episode.

I know some you reading this might welcome spousal absenteeism as an opportunity to surf porn on the internet. Not me. When I'm not reading the Good Book I use that time to catch up on Sons of Anarchy and blood sport shows where a couple of guys with no body fat and Brussels Sprouts for ears beat the crap out each other. It’s a “guy thing.”

Watching a motorcycle show about guns, drugs, violence, and half-naked women got me thinking about starting a motorcycle gang. I could do nicely without the guns, drugs and violence, but the thought of riding with a gang that has it’s own colors, patches, and sexy women who are property of the club and whose only mission is to satisfy sexual whims of the “brotherhood” is appealing as long as Jane doesn’t find out.

As with any new project, I needed a working name. The Sons of Anarchy is called, “SAMCRO” in the series. I think that stands for “Sons of Anarchy Motor Cycle Riders Organization.”

I decided to call my motorcycle gang, “SAMECRAP.” In keeping with the current politically botched and intellectually absurd thrust toward clean energy, it stands for “Sons of Agony Motorized and Electric Cycle Riders Organization.” I'm trying to get Al Gore to be a founding member.

I settled on “Sons of Agony” when I considered who I would get to join the gang. When thinking about the people with whom I usually ride, the first person who came to mind was Riepe, whose picture is prominently displayed next to the word "agony" in the dictionary. Jack has major arthritis in his hips, knees, and back and endures incredible physical pain when he rides his motorcycle. Those of us who ride with him are in agony, too. For us it’s more mental and emotional than physical,  but we have learned to endure that hardship for the joy of consistently sticking him with the breakfast check.

To round out the membership I started thinking about others with whom I’ve ridden recently. The last trip, on Saturday, November 13th, was with four other guys, all members of  The Mac-Pac. Just to put things in perspective, the group of five riders has a total of three prostate glands, a series of operations, cardiac caths,  and travels with its own riding Cardiologist. Each, rider has at least one infirmity, so “Sons of Agony” is an appropriate name for the gang.

Riepe, the Grand PooBah of pains in the ass, was out of town for the weekend. Yet, we still honored him by meeting at 8:30am at his usual rallying point, Starbucks, on Route 30, in Exton PA.

Gerry Cavanaugh, who rides a BMW R1150GS capable of fording streams, jumping over piles of fallen timber, and climbing rock cliffs, took responsibility for planning the trip. We all arrived on time (Noto Bene, Riepe) at Starbucks.

The Military Police are known for their authoritarian stance and decisiveness. In another life, Gerry was an MP, so we expected that he would have the trip mapped out to the most annoying, minute detail. When he arrived, map in hand, he announced that we could go to Jennie’s Diner in the Lancaster area for breakfast, or to Chesapeake City, Maryland, or up Route 501 to Pine Grove, PA. It was then that we learned the motto emblazoned on the Cavanaugh Family Crest, “Humilitas per Iudicium,” loosely translates as “Indecision Is Mine to Administer To Those Foolish Enough To Put Me In Charge.”

Peter Frechie, our Cardiologist buddy, riding his spirited, 38-year-old, 1975 BMW R90S, suggested that breakfast at Jennie’s was too loaded with carbs and cholesterol for our band of broken brothers. He announced that he wasn’t hungry and wanted to forego breakfast for perhaps a late brunch or early lunch and get in some good riding before the roads got clogged like the arteries of those foolish enough to eat bacon.

Jay Scales, who had ridden his oil- and air-cooled 2009 BMW R1200RT from Allentown in just above freezing weather with his heated jacket liner ablaze grimaced and ran into Starbucks for a hot cup of coffee and to make an early morning dew deposit.

Ron Ye, riding his “Chipmunk Special," arrived with his jacket open and wearing a thin pair of leather gloves. Ron, who works with experimental drugs, wears surgical gloves under his leather ones to keep the heat in. Some suspect that he eats fiery Szchuean food before riding on cool days. Riepe told me that he doesn’t care what Ron wears or eats; he just wants some of Ron’s experimental drugs.

I arrived on my BMW R1100R which had been fitted with new Conti Attack tires and new front brake pads just this week, at The Rubber Chicken Racing Garage, in Yardley, PA. I was wearing my heated Gerbing jacket liner and gloves, and I had remembered to plug them into the bike. Tom Cutter, the irrepressible motorcycle legend who owns, runs, and does all the work at The Rubber Chicken Racing Garage told me that plugging in electrics makes them work better. Tom is always right; ask him.

With the temperature just near 40 degrees, I did not have to turn the heat on. The Gerbing gloves are well insulated and keep my hands warm in 40-degree weather. My Gerbing jacket liner worn under a leather jacket does a good job until speed or wind chill are factored in. Then a twist of the controller dial surrounds me in memories of prenatal warmth – if I remember to plug in the controller.

Within minutes Gerry had us on the road headed for someplace West and possibly North. With Gerry in the lead, we hit the Route 30 Bypass and ended up in a line of traffic that refused to climb above the speed limit. It got even more challenging when we hit every traffic light between the end of the bypass and Gap, PA, where we traveled West on Route 741. The objective was to take 741 to 896 and then Route 30 to 501 North.. For a while it seemed that even snails move faster during their mating season than we were going.

After riding for about an hour, we stopped for breakfast at a Pennsylvania Dutch diner. There was something familiar about our waitress, but we couldn’t put a finger on it. Gerry swore it was her smile.

(Photos Courtesy of Peter Frechie, which is why there's no picture of him)
Our waitress looking frighteningly familiar
 Gerry hid his bacon under the eggs
Ron's eggs needed more Chili Oil

Jay got Ron's uncooled Chili Oil 

Doesn't this look like a puppy with a bloody nose?
By the time we finished breakfast, the temperature was approaching 60 degrees, so we shed layers of clothing and prepared to head North. Peter suggested that we take Route 501 to Route 125, and it turned out to be a great suggestion once we got past Lititz and the Lancaster Airport area.

As we headed North, we got ahead of the traffic, and the road opened up as we passed through some beautiful scenic areas with rolling hills, green farmland, and forests painted in all the exquisite colors of Fall. I wanted to take pictures of everything I saw, but I was having too much fun riding the bike to stop.

Pennsylvania Woods Behind My House

As we reached the stop sign at the intersection of 501 and 125, Peter asked, "Have you ever been on125?"

None of us had. He smiled, snapped the visor shut on his helmet and took off with the four of us in hot pursuit. It was splendid ride.

Eventually we found our way to Route 81 and 72 and 322, and at about 3:00pm I pulled into my driveway with a big-assed smile on my face and more than 200 additional miles on my new tires as the sun was disappearing over the trees.

Gerry Cavanaugh called to make sure I made it home, and he told me he had spoken with all of the others who were home safe, sound, and smiling.

When  I booted up my computer to check email , there was one from Peter to all of us.  It read,

“It was a great day;  thanks for joining me on a much needed day off.
"Nothing else I would have rather done.”

Me too, Peter, me too.