Archive for May, 2009

A Motorcycle Crash, 34 Years Ago

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Yesterday’s HOG chapter ride was so nice I decided to take the Road King out again today, albeit this time by myself.  It was a beautiful morning.  And as I rolled eastward into Fairfax County, I debated where to go.  Sometimes the answers come to you.  Sometimes you have to go find them.

Skirting Clifton on a circuitous route towards Patriot HD, I had the same thought that came to me on a similar ride seven years ago.  The one I recounted in Echoes of the Mind.  And so it was that I guided the big Harley out along Newman and Colchester, to Popes Head.

I’ve had two street crashes in the 34 years I’ve been riding.  One fifteen years ago.  And one – the first – just a handful of months after I started riding, lo those many years ago.

It’s all written up there in “Echoes”, so I won’t say much more about it here, but I did stop and take a few pictures today.


This one shows the entrance into the first of the two corners, the left-hander.  You can just see my Harley parked at the base of that turn, the same spot where I parked the Suzuki on that ride seven years ago.

Heading Towards the Left-Hander

Heading Towards the Left-Hander


The next one here is right at the base of the first turn, looking up the little hill towards the right-hander…

Heading Up the Hill

Heading Up the Hill


And, finally, here is the crest itself, where the corner breaks hard right.  It all unraveled shortly after this…

The Crest

The Crest

A Harley Afternoon

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

The sun’s lengthening shadows tell you that the day is nearing its end.  But after many hours and several hundred miles in the saddle, you don’t care.   You’ve got a cool new t-shirt in your saddlebag, your belly is full of the best pizza you’ve ever eaten, and you’re running a glorious road on a big, booming Harley.  This is the very best right here.  The lovely, verdant countryside passes like the videoscape of a movie, the air has a cutting sharpness like a knife, and the wind washes over your bare arms like the caress of an angel.  Rolling on the throttle of the machine beneath you feels both primal and bold, like a mainline hit to somewhere eternal.  As if you had turned a narrowed eye on Zeus himself.

There is a touch of immortality there.

Yes, it was a good day.

Chicken Run, Day Two

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Another terrific day.  Well, at least for most of us.  We’ve been fortunate in not having any incidents so far this run.  But we certainly have had more than the usual share of “events”.  What’s the difference?  An incident requires the bike to be moving, and usually involves rubber losing contact with the pavement… and because of that is much to be discouraged.

The little mini-adventures started Friday, when Ed “Tomato Man” ran into stop-and-go traffic not too far south of Pittsburgh.  That led to a dead battery, a bit of interaction with a local bike-friendly fellow in a cage, and a ride to a Harley shop – who just happened to have a battery that would work in Ed’s VFR.  By the time that saga was done Ed was way behind schedule.  He limped into Snowshoe at 9:30pm.

Even as Ed’s weekend was set to improve, Scott’s was getting ready to get a little complicated.

His ride up Saturday was uneventful.  And Ashley seemed to be having a good time.

Alas.  As Kevin averred, it seems one never really gets three for three on the Chicken Run.  “The Chicken Run giveth; and the Chicken Run taketh away.”

Or said differently, when you gain that third marker, you have to cede something in return.  In Scott’s case it was two things.  First, his Zumo 550 GPS stopped working as we rolled down the mountain to breakfast.  Then, later in the afternoon, he dropped his K1100RS.  We had stopped along the side of the road to let our seven bikes re-group and Scott had a misadventure with the gravel.  His bike ended up falling into the guard rail.  That was a $1000 moment.

Rasmus had a flat tire.  In the big scheme of things, that turned out to be pretty minor.  He has a tire-pressure sensor on his K1200R and knew immediately when he started losing pressure.  It only took a few minutes to pull the roofing nail and plug the tire.  He was good for the rest of the day.

At least as far as his tire went.  Rasmus did have an interesting few minutes up on the Highland Scenic Highway.  When we left the overlook he forgot to zip up his tail trunk.  Gloves, rain gear, and assorted odds and ends began blowing out the back as we went flying down the road.  But the good luck that began with that tire plug continued.  Wes was behind him and quickly pulled up alongside to alert Rasmus of his imminent assumption of “the man with no clothes” title.  They backtracked and managed to collect everything.

And speaking of flat tires, Wes, on his way down from Pittsburgh Saturday morning, stopped for awhile to help a Goldwing pilot with a flat tire.  He burned a lot of time with that and ended up being way late for his rendezvous with Ken.  But he was good afterwards.  And hopefully the good karma he earned will come in handy some day.

Those little bumps aside, we had a very nice day two.  We ran a few new roads and some parts of West Virginia we hadn’t seen before.

All good…

Chicken Run, Day One

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

The Potomac highlands of West Virginia, where we mostly ride during our annual Chicken Runs, is largely devoid of infrastructure.  It’s pretty remote.  So it was a bit of a surprise to arrive at our condo on the top of Snowshow Mountain – a place we’ve stayed for a couple of decades – and find a DSL connection and wireless router installed.  Welcome to the modern age!

That, and propitiously having a laptop along (so as to be able to use my GPS mapping software) allows me for the first time to post a progress report during a Chicken Run.

So… how was day one?  It was terrific.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather – one of those days the air is super clear, like an old Kodachrome slide.  The barbecue chicken in Brandywine was excellent, as usual.  And it was good seeing everyone.

Ashley followed Scott up in the family mini-van rather than riding on the back of his K1100RS.  She seems to be having fun so far.  We’ll see if she decides to do any 2-wheel travel tomorrow.

Here’s a pic of the crew, after enjoying Kevin’s sphagetti dinner.

Chicken Run Crew

Chicken Run Crew

30-Year Anniversary of the Memorial Day Chicken Run

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

5:55AM:  One quick post before I head out on our annual Memorial Day Chicken Run.  This one is special – as it was exactly 30 years ago this weekend that John Holt and John Lyons were out on a motorcycle ride in West Virginia, stumbled across the the semi-annual barbecue chicken fundraiser in Brandywine, and thus started a tradition that has rolled along ever since.

Alas, neither John will be with us on this trip.  John L., now lives in Seattle and although he flies back to ride with us every other year or so, was not able to make this trip.  And John H., is taking care of his wife Petra, who suffered a brain aneurism six weeks ago and is still in the hospital.  Prayers go out to them.

Every trip I go on is special in some way or another.  This particular ride is nice because it rather bookmarks the beginning of the season.  Everything is still in front of you.  That contrasts with our Fall Foliage Tour in October – which, though probably being the favorite ride of the year for many of us, is nevertheless bittersweet because it marks the end of the riding season.  It’s like you lay down the baton at the end of that run; and pick it up again on this one.

Here’s a pic of Jay as we parted ways on that run last October, after the two of us finished breakfast at French’s Diner in Marlinton.  Jay was heading south to his home in Florida; while I ran east into Virginia.

Jay won’t be with us on this weekend’s run, either.  Hopefully we’ll see all these gentlemen, along with our other Chicken Run regulars, later this year.



Where Are the Experts?

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Probably the aspect of finance and economics that I find most disheartening is the dearth of critical thinking that usually accompanies the subject.  You might expect that among lay people, of course.  But with people who work in the field?  You’d think, understanding all those arcane subjects, that they’d be able to bring to bear a degree of intellectual rigor.  That they’d question the dogmas, challenge the assumptions, and ultimately arrive at their own conclusions.

That they’d be better at this money stuff than the rest of us, in other words.


Here’s a link to a story from last weekend’s New York Times titled “My Personal Credit Crisis”.  Written by Edmund L. Andrews, an economics reporter for the paper, it’s a self-effacing account of how even those who are supposed to be experts in this genre… still got it very wrong.

Lest I paint with too broad a brush, I’ll point out that this was/is purely a personal saga – it showcases the credit card and mortgage mistakes that Mr. Andrews and his wife made.  It’s not about investment advice.  And it wasn’t like he was suggesting that all his readers do the same.

But it surely does make you wonder…

“My Personal Credit Crisis”

Submitting a Story

Monday, May 18th, 2009

A little while ago I submitted my latest Sport Rider article to Kent (the editor).  It’s always a good feeling when I get that done.  I’m not sure whether it’s more from pleasure or from relief.  Probably a combination.

I love words.  I love it when I’ve worked them into an order that has a rhythm and a cadence and which says something I’m interested in.  I love having written.

But the process of writing itself can be frustratingly difficult.  I’m a good writer (I think).  But I’m not an especially fast writer.  It’s not like I sit down and quickly bang out a story.  The words have to be teased out.  And then wrestled into place.  It’s a laborious process.  You love it when you’re done, a new story in hand.  But only when it’s over.

Since the only chance I ever get to write is on the weekends, I’m not unhappy when we have some crappy weather which happens to correspond with a deadline.  And so the unsettled weather we had this weekend was fine with me.  Finish the draft of the story I started last weekend.  Read it one last time when I get home from work.  Send it along.

Crack a cold beer.

Blogging Software and WordPress

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

After installing WordPress 2.7.1 on my domain host a week ago my first thoughts about the software were… this is terrific! I was much impressed with the intuitive ease of the user interface, the instant ability to easily change its look and feel in the admin panel, and the overall “clean” sense that the software presented.

Software is never quite so simple, of course. It didn’t take me but a couple days to run into a couple of niggles. Like when I tried to post an image and found its aspect ratio badly corrupted on the blog (the image presented properly in the admin interface but was badly distorted when uploaded to the site). That led to several hours of trying different things and looking at the php code and doing searches on the forums.

You know, that general frustration that often comes with software which isn’t doing what you expect or need it to do. And which seems inconsistent with what it was doing just a day before.

I had a general sense of what the problem was – the default theme in WordPress presents a fixed width column for where content is displayed and the image I was trying to upload was wider than that. You can see this in both the landscape-format images I uploaded below – where the images extend far to the right of the center column. But the curious thing is that the first wider-than-the-fixed-column-width image I had uploaded a few days ago worked fine. It worked a few days ago, so why won’t it work now?

I eventually figured out how to make it work. Turns out you have to add an explicit caption to the image, at which point the the correct size of the image, and thus its aspect ratio, is maintained. If you don’t insert a caption it messes it up.

Not sure if that’s a bug or a feature – don’t know why a little piece of meta data like an image caption should matter. But it does.

That notwithstanding, after a week I remain mostly impressed with WordPress. I’m still early in the learning curve with this software and will be tweaking the look of this blog as I’m able to find time to explore it more.

A Memory in Chalk

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Many years ago Jay and I stopped by the monthly meeting of PARR – the Potomac Area Road Riders.  We were avid riders and figured it might be fun and interesting to meet other similarly addicted fellows.

Alas.  After 15 minutes of talking about hot dogs for some upcoming event – how the hell do you talk about hot dogs for 15 minutes?! – Jay and I looked at each other, faintly shook our heads, and quietly sidled on out of there.

Those were definitely not our sort of motorcycle people.

I have forsworn organized motorcycle “clubs” ever since.

At least until now.

A few weeks ago I joined the local Fairfax HOG chapter.  And a few days later I took part in my first HOG ride – one out to Antietam battlefield.  I was very impressed both by how that ride was managed and the generally high competence I observed in the riders.

A couple evenings ago I stopped by for the monthly chapter meeting at Patriot HD.  Everyone was very friendly.  And although there was a brief discussion about all the upcoming events, there wasn’t a single mention of hot dogs!

As you might imagine, being the closest major Harley dealer to Washington, D.C., means that Patriot HD is significantly involved in the annual Rolling Thunder extravaganza.  There was a lot of discussion about that.

I won’t be partaking in any of that, of course.  I’ll be heading westward instead with my Chicken Run buddies for our annual Memorial Day weekend trip into West Virginia.

But in keeping with the theme of Rolling Thunder, here’s one more image from my visit to the Vietnam Memorial a couple weeks ago.


a memory in chalk

Of Dogs… and Gloves and Glasses

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Sunday, Mothers Day, was a gorgeous, beautiful day.  After enduring lots and lots of rain in recent weeks, it finally dawned sunny and clear.  That etched-in-stone kind of clear.  I climbed on the Harley and rode down to see my folks.

When I pulled around in front of their house three hours later there was a young dog who happily greeted me.  She was a pretty dog – looked to be a mix of pit bull and a couple other odds and ends.  I hadn’t seen her before and my first thought was that one of my sisters had gotten a new dog.  She was just as friendly as could be.

Turns out she belonged to the young couple living at the adjacent farm.  As my father smilingly described her a few minutes later, “she’s the community dog – she likes to be around people”.

An hour later I’m in the bathroom and happen to glance out the window.  Hmm.  “That looks like one of my gloves lying there in the yard,” I say to myself.

Sure enough, upon walking outside I find my gloves and glasses, both of which I had left lying on the seat of the bike, had been “improved” by the pup.  Improved as in, you ain’t using these anymore.

I’ve had those gloves – Vanson Saturn cavalry-style gloves – for 17 years.  They’ve been with me everywhere and are easily the best motorcycle gloves I’ve ever owned.  Nothing else comes close.

The WileyX sunglasses are what I wear (wore!) on the Harley, when wearing a half-helmet.  After having owned them for only one season I wasn’t nearly as attached to those, but they weren’t cheap.  I was happy to have my old pair of Ray Ban Aviators along, which allowed me to get home.

Far from being pissed at the dog, I had to laugh at her.  She was just doing what young dogs do.  When I looked out later she was laying atop one of my folks’ lawn chairs – one which she had similarly improved, by pulling all of the stuffing out of.  Perfectly at home.  How can you not love a dog like that?!

The first thing I did after I got home and had the bike put away was to log on to the Vanson website and order another pair of those terrific gloves.  With any luck, it’ll be another 17 years before I have to get another pair.

And Ginny… she was online herself, looking at Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies…

Glasses and Gloves... No More

Glasses and Gloves... No More