Sunday, March 28, 2010

Easy Rider I'm Not

Something must have stirred my memory today. I keep thinking about a chopper. As long as I can remember, I've wanted a Harley chopper. I can trace it back to a purple and lace painted panhead that my older brother had when I was little more than just a tot. If the picture in my head is anywhere close to reality, it was a rigid framed, glide forked, high barred scoot with upswept megaphone pipes and a P-pad. He took me for a ride on it once and that was all she wrote. I couldn't have been more than 5 or 6 and I can't believe Mom let me go but somewhere along there, I got hooked. I longed for a mini-bike converted to a chop every day on the playground at the elementary school. It would be complete with extended forks, a tall sissy bar and a 5 horse Briggs. I even imagined I could ride it to school somehow, even though I was a lot of years away from a learners permit of any kind. It wouldn't be a Harley, but it would be a chopper. Such were the dreams of some of my earliest memories.

As time went on, the dream stayed alive and my Junior High notebooks were covered with the number 13, even though I had no idea what it meant. I knew who Sonny Barger was and a catalog from an outfit called A.E.E. Choppers showed up in the mail. They had custom parts and as a sideline, built bicycle chopper kits that you could order if you could come up with enough coin which I unfortunately, never could. A.E.E. built leg-powered choppers long before the upstart O.C.C. (who offer a pedal chop or two of their own) was even a gleam in the Discovery Channel's eye, and actually before Discovery Channel was a gleam in anybody's eye. Choppers were decidedly not cool and not mainstream then and the guys who built and rode them weren't particularly welcome at the local Harley shop. This was before the leather and long hair look became the cover photo on H-D's catalog and their poster children all wore ties and slacks with a crease. Hollis was still on a lot of people's minds. The Hells Angels were the symbolic anti-Christ's of motorcycling and no self-respecting Harley-Davidson owner would desecrate their ride by removing the crash bars and fringed saddlebags. In that atmosphere, I still pined for a chopper of any sort.

The years rolled on and somewhere around the time I was 16, I made the choice to buy a used Honda SL-100 on/off road bike instead of spending my savings account on a class trip to Europe and Russia. We brought it home from the shop stuffed into the back of a station wagon.

That decision led almost instantly to 30 or 40 stitches in my left leg, a lengthy stay in the hospital with a roaring infection, a nice scar that I still carry and absolutely no lessening of the love of bikes. Eventually, a broken left thumb, a bent wheel and assorted other front end damage came about in a head-on collision with a fancy (expensive) race bike when we came together on a single trail in the woods. I saved for a month to buy a tire, get the wheel trued up and in June I took my high school finals in a cast. That one-lung baby bike and I went everywhere, learned to hillclimb, do donuts, pull wheelies, do cross-ups off a jump and chased cows to the barn about a million times. A gallon of gas and a twist of the wrist and away we went to parts unknown. I signed up for the road test for my license on the little scoot (mine had lights so it was hi-way legal) and passed on the first go. I promptly sawed the muffler off and ran the thing until the timing chain ate up the top sprocket and the piston hammered the valves to death at about 60 mph. I pushed it home and that was that.

The blue 100 led to a brand-new Honda MR 175 enduro bike which I again rode nearly to exhaustion after I put on a lighting kit, poked out the baffles with a big screwdriver and learned to mix gas. The MR was also my first experience with a payment book. Dad co-signed a loan with the warning that a missed month was unacceptable. It's off to work I go.

I dipped my toes in the competition world a time or two but found out I just liked to ride without having to chase anyone. My deal was taking a turn whenever the idea crossed my mind instead of following hay bales and arrows stapled to the trees. I kept the racing stickers but left the enduros and never went back.
The MR took me further and faster than the old 100 could and we picked up more scars and bent stuff, including a nearly broken neck when some creep propped a sapling at chin height across a fast downhill turn. That one peeled me off the back and dropped me on the ground wondering if my head was still attached.
That was the last Honda I owned and by the time I wore it out, most of my friends had moved on to bigger, badder (or weirder) things. One guy had an Ossa (what the hell is an Ossa and why would you have one?), somebody else had Hodakas with goofy names like Combat Wombat and Road Toad. I got to ride all kinds of oddballs like a BSA that shifted on the wrong side and a belt-driven Rotax that didn't shift at all. The MR and I outlasted a bunch of them but eventually, the road called and I left the dirt and the 175 gathered dust. I loved that little bike but it was never a chopper and even though we went all over the countryside, for the time being, it was a substitute that I could afford.
From there, there was a string of other bikes including a Kawasaki 400 that was just as plain as elevator music, odds and ends of other dirt bikes and a Yamaha 650 twin that had pretensions of being a British bike with a Kerker header. Like a true Limey, it was loud and fast but ultimately short-lived.

Eventually, my first Hog came along. A 1980 Roadster which was Harley's updated take on a Sporty with a bigger gas tank, 1000cc's and factory drag bars. It arrived with another fat payment book and no kick starter. It was fast and heavy for carving corners. I rode it straight into a swampy ditch trying to keep up with a Suzuki 550 on a twisty road when the tonnage overcame available traction. By some miracle, we emerged from the steam-cloud intact and upright; even the horn had mud stuffed in it but neither one of us got a scratch. A set of Dunlops replaced the rock-hard Eagles and after that, we got along much better. I slowed down some though and decided it was time to go for distance instead of running full-bore all the time. I sort of figured that you only get just so many times to screw up before it kills you. So my rides got a little slower and quite a bit longer. I rode that one to Florida a couple of times, once even after I'd put 4-over front forks and Z-bars on it. It handled like a log skidder with it's stock Goodyear Eagle tires and those skinny bars but it sure ate up I-95 and some long stretches of local strip in the middle of warm nights. The XLS still holds my record for the most mileage in day. Over 1000 miles with only gas stops between the southern border of PA and Cocoa Beach. It got so hot the valves tightened up but it ran fast and strong until I turned the key around midnight and we both shut down for about 12 hours. We went a long ways together but it still wasn't a chop.

The 'baby Harley' got traded for a screaming red '82 Superglide with a big inch shovelhead and a four speed. The odometer was a blur for the first 10 years or so after I threw a leg over it. Chris and I rode away from the church after our wedding on it and burned up blacktop all over the east coast until the kids came along. We've been cooked, frozen, parched and drowned, windburned and bug-plastered, terrified and ecstatic on that bike over the years. And still it fires up when I push the button and heads on down the road just like it knows where it's going. It's basic black now instead of fire-engine red but I still have it (see previous references to it's winter parking spot in the breakfast nook) and we've been over 105,000 miles since the spring of '83. It's as comfortable as an old boot and I can't imagine getting rid of it but still, it's basically stock and the custom of my dreams eludes me.
I got close once with a Kawasaki Z1 in a rigid frame that I picked up somewhere along the line. That monster was green, mean and as dangerous as a loaded shotgun with the safety off. It had an 1100cc kit in the motor and a Chevy Vega distributor, a gawd-awful long girder front end, no front brakes or speedometer and rode about an inch off the ground. It was like riding a projectile fired from a bazooka. You couldn't steer it or stop it but it would peel your eyelids back when you hit the gas. It was fun but I sold it before it could kill us both. Another Hog came and went with an early Evo motor in an FX frame that I probably should have held onto just because it was such an oddball. Odd yes, but still not a custom.

And so to this day...through years of teaching motorcycle ed. to a boatload of novices, to all the rides that have come and gone, to all the assorted brands and sizes that have passed under my roof, from A.B.A.T.E. and my days as a Road Captain, through the commutes in the snow and highways in the rain, the bugs and the sunshine, all the way back to that long ago playground in Caroline where I first dreamed a dream, the chopper eludes me still. I've been a million miles on two wheels but still hang on waiting for that long, low Sunday-go-to-meeting bike that never quite makes it to my driveway. If it ever shows up, it'll be old-school like me. None of that ugly Arlen Ness or Orange County nonsense. Just a shovel with drag bars and some chrome. Maybe a jockey shift and a belt primary. Who knows, I might look at a disk wheel but spokes are just fine with me too. Front brakes would be a plus after the Z1 but that ridiculously big back tire that's all the rage these days is just plain out of the question. I know it won't be purple with lace spray-painted on it and the upsweeps most likely will be a turnout instead. But that long gone old panhead will still be in there somewhere. It's a little piece of my soul.

Someday, if I live long enough, there'll come a time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Assorted Ramblings On A Saturday Night

Lots going on these days and hence...the Wayward Home gets neglected again. Where do I start? Let's go with Friday -
I got home Thursday night around seven and was back up again at 4 AM to drive 160 miles to do an Operation Lifesaver presentation. In case you haven't heard, that's one of my sidelines. Operation Lifesaver is a grade crossing safety and railroad awareness program that I've been certified in since 2001. I travel around doing these presentations for anyone who'll listen to try to keep people out of harm's way on and around the railroad. Having been involved in a few collisions and a whole bunch of close calls, it seems like a worthwhile endeavor to me and the carrier will even pay me to do it if I happen to miss my regular trip. Anyway...I went and did a couple of gigs for about 40 school bus drivers and hopefully lined up some more for later dates by networking a little with other people who happened to be in the room. I've done almost 150 of these things over the years and I hope I might be doing some good. If it keeps one person from getting hit by a train, it'll be worth all of it.

Spent the day today doing oddball stuff. The boys and I made a trip to our favorite diner for breakfast after a jaunt to the transfer station, all the vehicles got a vacuuming and after I got some laundry done, the Trek mountain bike came out for about 25 miles of freezing cold woods and back roads riding. I needed a ride to burn off all the extra calories from this week and besides, a few hill climbs is good for the soul. I wish I could ride more but there's that working for a living thing that intrudes on my lesiure time and the weather doesn't co-operate much just yet. I did actually hear the peepers in the marshes as I was out there today and that's a sure sign of spring so maybe I'll get some more pedal-time in soon.

The other thing that's been holding my attention is the incredible nonsense over the passage of the new health-care bill. As I've mentioned before on the Wayward care is kind of a touchy subject with me. Having been on the receiving end of a fair amount of medical care myself and with various and sundry health issues and injuries in the household, I'm very interested in how this was going to shake out. Just to let everyone know: I for one am wholly in favor of the new bill so sending me a mess of warnings and anti-Obama propaganda is probably a waste of my inbox space and your time. I've had some long, tense discussions with people about it and the end result is always the same...I don't really see the downside of the new law compared to the way things are now unless cutting down on the obscene profits of the insurance companies can be seen as a downside. The main argument that we'll be supporting 'illegals', 'undesirables', drug addicts, etc., etc., ad nauseum is bunk because we're already supporting everybody and there's no stopping it. Every emergency room in the country cares for anyone who rolls in the door whether they have any money or insurance or not and that's where most uninsured folks end up. Those of us who have insurance pay for it in higher costs passed on by the hospitals anyway so what's the difference? Yep, it'll be expensive but so was Social Security and nobody wants to get rid of that, even though it was predicted to be the end of the republic when it was introduced. The catastrophe failed to materialize then and I suspect it will do the same this time. At least the for-profit insurance companies, drug companies, hospitals and everyone else with their fingers in the pie didn't write it for a change. Too bad the Republicans couldn't find it in their agenda to at least not actively oppose everything about it but that's the way of the world these days and the politics of getting re-elected and back in a position of power outweighs all else. But that's for another day's post...

For now, I'm just going to settle in and enjoy a night without the cell phone and count days until my week of vacation starts. This kid needs that week pretty bad. It's been a long haul since last July and a few days out of the loop is looking really good.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Catch Up And All

First off, as I mentioned in the last post...I've got a bunch of ground to cover so this one may take all day to get written.
For the record, it's now 6:30 am and I'm on my second cup of coffee while the countdown runs out on getting everybody else up and moving for the morning rush. We'll see what time it is when I finally post the whole thing. Maybe this'll be a multiple-entry-day...little chunks of random noise all day long popping up on the 'Home'. We'll see how it develops.

Where to begin...oh yeah...Last Friday I lucked out and managed to make it home from a trip with some daylight left. It just so happened that Chris had acquired tickets to the local high school play and an early arrival meant that I could actually make it to an event for a change. Truthfully, I was pretty whipped from the long haul home and not expecting too much out of a local go at 'Beauty and the Beast' but it sounded like fun just to go and see what the kids had been up to. A quick change of clothes and out the door with my brood to a standing-room-only show. Turns out, it was fantastic. They put on a great performance and really impressed this old guy. The production was almost professional quality and the lead singers were very, very good. You kind of go to a school play expecting cardboard props and a lot of mistakes...not so with this bunch. The music, lighting, choreography, timing, and most of all, the singing was top notch. Yep, there was a few slips along the way but they recovered on the fly and on their feet without missing a second and kept right on going. That's the mark of much rehearsing and a ton of hard work even for pros. I, for one was pretty proud of the hometown kids and the effort they put into this. The standing ovation they received at the curtain call was very well deserved.

More to follow...

10:30 am
Chewing away on phone calls and stuff around the house. But back to catching up for a couple minutes...
The kids and I went to a pancake breakfast and maple fest. last Saturday at the Arnot Forest down the road a ways. It was pretty tough to drag the older one out of the house and away from anything electronic but in the end they both went and (I think/hope) had a pretty good time. My buddy from way back when was manning the grill and churning out pancakes like a machine while abusing his subordinates so it was fun to run into him again. It was actually a warm day and seemed good to get out into it with the boys. It feels like we've been hibernating all winter but it's time to venture back into the world a bit and maybe break out of Old Drafty for a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of fresh air...I also dragged the Harley out of it's privileged parking spot in the breakfast nook and down a plank out the back door. A quick check on the fluids, hit the button...and as the old scoot has done for all these years, it fired right up without so much as a boost. The normal puddle of oil blew out from the sump but the old girl settled right down and warmed up just like it did when I parked it. Down to the gas station and put some air in the tires and off for a short ride to charge up the battery and blow out the cobwebs. That bike always amazes me. It's rusty, rattles, leaks and spits but it most always runs and with over 100,000 on the clock, I'd say it's doing pretty good. Anybody who says Hogs don't last very long hasn't seen mine yet. Bring your 160 mph rocket bike over when it's got 105K on it and we'll talk.
I keep saying that I'm going to fix up all the odds and ends that have accumulated someday but there never seems to be enough money or time to really do it up right and the thing just keeps running anyway. Someday...

Back to work and type more later...

4:30 pm

....Or not. Running out of time and patience. Gotta finish up projects and get myself together for the trip tonight. Never home long enough or awake in one stretch to finish anything. The life I lead....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Short And...Short

With more to follow when I get more time. Let's just say that there's been an awful lot packed into my 24 hours home this time. A school play, breakfast at the Arnot Maple Fest, the Harley's out of the kitchen (and running), the chain saw was out and working around the Wayward Home and now I'm rolling to work again. Warm weather brings out...well, outside. I'll have to take this up when I get a minute but for now, the little automated voice tells me I have a train to run and 89 cars that need to be in Canada by tomorrow night. Here we go again.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Broken Stuff...and Riding

I'm not having too much luck with "stuff" these days. It's kind of starting to feel like everything around here is broken, needs fixing or is on it's last legs. I get that up-to-my-ears feeling again when I can't keep up with the breakage. The list is long and seems like I can't nibble it off. Case in point...
Over the weekend, my work schedule got confused so I wound up with an extra day off today. That's the good part. I figured the weather was going to be good so I'd try to get in a ride as soon as everybody left for school. Had a route figured out and was ready to roll just as soon as I put a little air in the bike tires. That's when the front tube blew right at the stem where I couldn't even patch it. Crap. I decided I'd run to my friendly local bike shop for a tube and gas up the car while I was out. Good plan except the shop was closed so I had to detour to the next closest purveyor of parts which happened to be another half-hour away. I was at their door when they opened, got the tube and headed for home figuring on a late start for my ride once I got the tire fixed. Another good plan except that when I got home, the washing machine had decided to give up on that spinning thing and the load of laundry I had going was in the tub still full of water. Grrrr....
Various efforts didn't get the thing working so it's haul the basket out to the clothesline and hang them up. Now to fix the least that went OK but by the time I got out the door, it was 11:30 instead of 8:30 and I'm burning daylight. I really didn't want to push hard this time but with time running shorter than planned, I had to burn pretty hard to get around my planned loop. I made it but was about done when I got home. 54 miles and two good climbs sort of took the edge off the frustration but didn't fix anything that was on my list.

View Interactive Map on

So now I'm going to dig into the pile I tried to ride away from this morning. Guess I'll have to bite the bullet and buy another washing machine tomorrow. Gotta get front tires for the Malibu, change a tire tube on the 4500 mountain bike (that got a flat a couple days ago), try to get some shingles on the west side of 'Old Drafty' that blew off in the last storm, start cleaning up the yard, work on the Hog, get a hitch put on the van, etc., etc., etc., oh and by the way...somewhere in there I've got to go back to work. I have an ever-lengthening list started and I better try to shorten it a little. Guess I'll have to shoot for some overtime to pay for all this. It's a good thing the sun is finally shining.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

DST etc.

Another week just went sailing by and I'm not sure where I lost it. I know we lost an hour to Daylight Savings Time last night but seven days seems like a lot to just disappear.

At least it's starting to look something like spring. It's raining steadily so the dogs brought most of the yard in the kitchen with them in the form of mud this morning, I hung up my heavy coat, stashed my ice cleats in my locker, ran a train without the heat on full blast and actually had a window open by the back door a couple days ago. There's hope.

Now that it's been raining for awhile, I've got to start thinking about getting the Harley going. Once the salt washes off the blacktop, it's time to roll the old SuperGlide out of it's winter parking space in the breakfast nook and fire it up. I spend many of my off hours pedaling bikes these days but the Hog is still my old friend. We don't spend as much time together as we used to but sometimes old friends are like that. That scooter and I go back a long ways...before Chris and I were even married. Seems like another life way back when it was fire-engine red, you could still get leaded premium and the odometer hadn't rolled all the way around. It's black now, a little weary and rust is peeking through the chrome but then...I'm not as shiny and new as I used to be either. I guess we're both aging a little less than gracefully.

It'll be good to get back outside more no matter what I'm doing. I hate being a houseplant for the winter months. I've never been much of one for winter sports so when fall closes in, I just kind of disappear except to venture out to go to work. I'd make a terrible downhill skier since I'd just whine about the cold ride to the top of the hill and hang out in the lodge wasting my lift ticket. I've been known to take winter walks but I'm usually bundled up like Nanook of the North and most times it just doesn't seem worth it. Like I's got to get better as the days get longer and the sun gets brighter.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Back To The Grind

Now I remember why I hate yard jobs so much. I've been covering a vacation on what's technically a 'local', which to me is a yard switcher for the last week. Boring just doesn't describe it. It's back and forth, stop and go, east and west all day. It's monotonous and repetitive. Being around the office all the time means that the officials are likely to drop by and give you the old eyeball just to see if you're toeing the line. Annoying on top of boring.
The only thing that even comes close to making it worthwhile is that you're home every night and on this one, I got to be home for #1 son's birthday instead of spending it in a hotel and calling him on the cell. That doesn't happen too often so I'm glad I was able to grab it but it was still painfully slow. I actually only worked the thing for four days but it seemed like a month. I truthfully like to engineer and run my train so going east, west, stop, kick etc. for hours on end gets pretty old in a hurry. There's no scenery and there's no variation.
Much as I dislike being away from home so much, I guess I'm a road man by nature and I'm probably doomed to stay that way. I'll be back to the on-call routine come Monday night and off I'll go on my long-haul run to the north country but at least I'll see something besides the same quarter mile of track and the same three signals. The road is a grind and it feels good to take a break once in a while but I've lived out of my grip so long that going back is almost like going home.

...And Again

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Guilty as charged.

I figured Friday wasn't enough abuse so I took off on another ride Saturday into the wind and up the hills. Turns out, I'm not quite back in shape for this kind of thing yet. I wound up 48 miles into it and about 10 miles from home when I pretty much ran out of steam. Same old same old, windy, cold, snowdrifts etc. I still had three stiff hills to pull before I got into the home stretch and the old legs just flat surrendered. My wife called and wondered where I'd gotten off to and allowed as how it was going to be full dark by the time I got home at the rate I was going. A suggestion that she maybe come and rescue me was reluctantly accepted as I was off the bike and walking up the steep pitches by now and the temperature was falling pretty fast. That's the first time I've ever had to walk the 1400 anywhere but reality is the better part of valor sometimes.

On the positive side...I did manage to get in 94 miles in two days which ain't too bad for so early in the season and the screaming leg cramps only woke me up once in the night. I thought the muscle on the inside of my left thigh was going to reach up and strangle me for putting it through so much on such short notice. Oh's back to work at 6 am so I'll have some time to recover while I hold down the seat all day. Supposed to be in the 40's by afternoon but I kinda doubt I'll be pedaling anywhere even if I do get an early quit. There's insanity and then there's just stupid. I'll only cross one line at a time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pushing For Spring

Got out and about yesterday on the old road bike. The weather guys said it might make mid-to-high 30s or so but the wind would be pretty stiff. Fair enough...I'll give it a try. I actually had the day off and was not on-call for a change so I figured I'd better get some miles while I could. Sounded like a good idea at the time.
The kids were in school and CMB was working so I got on the road figuring on about three hours. Turns out the temperature was a tad cooler than predicted and the wind was a LOT stronger than anticipated. Kind of planned ahead more than usual so I started out going upwind and uphill for the first leg. The wind was straight out of the north and I sort of realized things were not going well when I hit the first snow drift blowing across the road. Understanding really dawned when I stopped feeling my fingers, toes and left side of my face. A few blasts of wind almost brought me to a stop on level ground and I had to gear down like I was climbing a cliff.
Sane people would wait until the glaciers retreat before attempting summer sports. Not this old guy. There's something wrong with dodging continuous potholes and snowdrifts while trying to ride a bicycle in March but hey, that's just me.
Once I got in the groove, I just sort of kept on pushing until I wound up at a little convenient store parking lot near Ithaca College which prompted a break and a call to my friend the Good Doctor to see if he had coffee going in his office so I could mooch a cup and warm up. He was and he did so I was about to push off and head for his place when I heard a bunch of yuk-yuking and ho-hoing behind me followed by a wolf whistle that would win prizes. I turned around as a whole pick-up load of construction guys was unloading to go get lunch. The look on their faces when the biker in black spandex with a pony-tail turned around and they realized HE had a beard was worth the price of admission. I asked the guy who whistled if he really liked guys that much and mentioned that I'm old, married and hence really not his type. His buddies were still laughing hysterically when I pulled out of the parking lot. It pays to know what you're gawking at before you make an idiot of yourself sometimes.
I eventually made it to Doc's office and bummed a coffee and some of his BTU's to thaw out before I aimed the bars south and started for home. It's quite a pull uphill at first so the leg-burn was going nicely when I finally came over the top and hit the homestretch. All that slugging upwind and upgrade paid off as I hoped it would. The last 10 miles was fast and easy with the breeze behind me and a downhill run to the back door. Sometimes a plan comes together.
For all of that, I wound up with 46 miles under the Trek and a sunburned face so it was a pretty good day all around. I just wish the days would get a little longer and the sun a little warmer soon. I could use a ride that includes getting home with feeling in my finger tips and no ice in my water bottle.