Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The '82

I don't ride my old Harley as much as I used to these days.  Its a phase I guess, pushing pedals instead of twisting throttle.  I haven't forgotten the old Hog though...we've been through a lot together.

I bought my FXE brand new in the spring of '83.  It was a carry-over from the previous year and the dealer was hot to get rid of it to make room on his floor for newer stuff.  He made me a smoking deal and so my Sportster passed into history and the Superglide came home to roost.  It was pretty plain as Harleys go; the only thing I got extra was a turn-out tail pipe with no baffles to replace the fat, ugly baloney-shaped stock muffler.  The only thing that made it special was the fact that it was screaming, gaudy, burn-your-eyes, fire engine RED.  Maybe I was the only one crazy enough to buy one that bright but having a big motor was my goal and it was the only way I was getting there. Back then, that 80 inch iron engine hooked to a four speed hanging on two wheels was all I needed to be right with the world.
After a couple of years spent on my stiff-legged Sporty, it rode like a Cadillac even though I had to wear midnight-dark shades to cut the glare off the tank.  I promptly started pouring in high-test and rolling up the miles.  I did find a need for a sissy bar and forward foot rests so a little accessorizing got the red monster set up the way I wanted and life was good.

The first fly in the ointment was my discovery of a fairly large pool of tranny fluid on the ground one day as I was getting ready to ride out to lunch from work.  This was not a good thing. The dealer said he'd look at it so I topped off the transmission and headed for the shop.  Dissection found that a hex bolt head had sheared off, digested itself in the gears, cracked the case and pretty much wrecked the whole works.  The really bad news was that the warranty had run out the week before and H-D was not remotely interested in covering it.  This was really not a good thing.  Having just spent a boatload on the bike and since it was only days off the warranty, I kind of thought they might bend a little and fix it, especially since it was a manufacturing flaw as opposed to abuse.  Nope.  This was my first hint (more on that another day)  that all maybe was not rosy with the Motor Company in Milwaukee.  The long and short of it was; no amount of threatening or pleading was shaking them loose so I bit the bullet and had the shop wrench tear into it.  He managed to weld up the cracks, clean out the metal shavings and stuff Pandora back in the box.  It cost a bundle and there was no promises as to how long it would last but I was back on the road.  Wiser and poorer but moving again.

Fortunately, that was the worst of it for years thereafter.  The transmission held together (and is still holding) as a testament to the mechanic's ability.  And the miles just flew away.  I jammed all over the northeast  (those are stories to tell another day too), commuted to work, took off on the weekends and just generally rode the wheels off it like there was no tomorrow.  Unleaded gas went away so the valve guides wore out fast and the rings got sloppy so a first re-build came along somewhere in there.  Tires and brakes changed like my socks as the odometer cranked around into the 40's.  At some point the red paint finally got to me and one winter, the old girl became basic black.  No emblems, no pinstripes, no flames...just black like a Harley should be.  The painter wanted to put a badge on the tank but I figured anyone who cared would know what it was and anyone who didn't know didn't matter so why mess up the gloss?  So now it was black on black with the chrome starting to show some dings and rust.  The turnout pipe got razor-sharp on the bottom edge from dragging it around corners and the instrument lights gave up the ghost around 50K.  And still we rode.

Chris and I finally decided to get married in the summer of '87 and the only way she and I were leaving the church was on that black scooter.  On the big day, she put a helmet over her wedding hairdo, stuck on some Wayfarers, gathered her wedding dress up in her lap, threw a leg over and away we went.  As usual, the Superglide was in on everything.  We ended up living in a trailer for a while and at one point even owned a second Harley.  I came across another red '85 FXE (what is it with red?) and picked it up out of an estate.  It was nicer and newer than the '82 so it became our primary ride for a while.  It wasn't meant to be though, the payments were a little big and along came a house with a mortgage.  The '85 went, the '82 came out of semi-retirement and then there was only one.

The kids came next and hard riding went on the back burner while we did cars seats and mini-vans.  We'd sneak out for a ride when we could get someone to watch the boys but there were weeks on end when the big twin never fired.  Years came and went while the guys got bigger and still I hung on to the bike...hell, it was the only thing I had that was paid for.  I rode it while I taught rider education courses to a flock of novices for a decade or so but that was mostly commuting and demonstrating what I wanted my charges to do.  The days of packing a bag and taking off for Virginia were temporarily (I hoped) gone.  What riding I did took a toll though because the bottom end finally developed a persistent knock that could only be a sick crank bearing and that meant another round of rebuild after almost 90,000 miles.  This time it was a lower end, a bore job and yet another set of valves.  She came out running like a champ with a couple mor cubic inches but still hanging on to the bone-stock Japanese carb and the original clutch plates.  I couldn't seem to wear them out.

Suddenly, my boys are in high school and the old shovelhead is parked under a tarp on the patio.  That carb finally managed to vibrate itself to death a couple of years ago so a new S&S took it's place under my right knee.  The brand new and shiny chrome on the air cleaner is almost embarrassing compared to the way the rest of it looks.  The sudden increase in horsepower that came with better breathing instantly did in the clutch so that got a little upgrade to end the slipping.
Chris and I ride a bit more now that the kids are pretty much self-sufficient but still nothing like the old days.  The bike's got about 106,000 on it now and all those miles show.  She's rusty in spots, the pipes are mostly blue for about a foot from the heads, the chrome is pretty much shot, the forks leak (along with most everything else), the black is faded and after almost 30 years, I still can't see anything out of the mirrors because they vibrate so much.  For all of that, it's still the bike I rode to and from my wedding, the one I rode in the heat and sun and snow and rain for what seemed like a million miles, the ride that took us to a string of crummy hotels in strange places because that's as far as we could go, the one Chris used to fall asleep on when we rode all night, the one I took my kids for their first rides on...the one-owner scoot that always starts no matter how much I neglect and abuse the thing.

Yeah, I ride bicycles a lot these days and it takes up time I used to burn up on the Hog.  I haven't forgotten the old shovel though.  We've been through an awful lot of changes and roll with them like the song.  We'll get back together again one way or another.  I've even threatened to turn it into a chopper someday when I hit the lottery but I doubt I could do it.  I'd probably just shine up the black, re-plate the chrome, buff off the rust and ride some more.  It just seems like the right thing to do for an old friend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Song Of The Day

Now here's a guy with a life I can relate to...

After the last round trip I had...buddy I can feel your pain!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


During my long haul yesterday, I got thinking about a trend.  Spending much time alone in the saddle gives one time to do that...just think about assorted subjects.  This one came to the fore when the guy in his tan-colored sedan pulled out of a side road and right through a stop sign with nary a glance.  I don't think he touched the brakes or turned his head one bit.  Lucky for him I wasn't a semi or he'd have needed a new car and an ambulance.  As it was, he nearly wound up with Trek and rider embedded in his left front fender.   This time, fortune smiled and I happened to be looking right at him when he blew the sign so at least I saw it coming and was able to brake and swerve enough to miss him.  He was completely oblivious and apparently unimpressed by an extended version of "WTF" screamed in his direction.  How do people like this function?  Is the populace in general that unconscious and unconcerned or just a select few that Darwin hasn't gotten around to yet?

I remembered the clueless sod from another ride who passed three cars in one shot at very high velocity.  All while talking on his cell, drifting over the line into the oncoming lane's shoulder and forcing me to nearly dive for the ditch to get out of his way.  I'm certain he never even saw me on my side of the road, tooling along in broad daylight on a straight stretch that ran for over a mile.  Even with my day-glo yellow jersey and upright middle finger, he never saw the guy he was about to run over.

This stuff happens all the time and I can't help but wonder...

I thought about the parade of people who insist on hanging around a railroad bridge I cross every trip.  Mostly they're young and possessed of all the vast wisdom of youth but still, why would you walk out on a skinny little bridge with a train coming and expect good things to happen?  I've stopped (or tried to anyway) on several occasions and the response is always the same..."I didn't know I wasn't supposed to walk here."  Hey, nobody ever actually told me not to play and party where large, moving objects that can kill you operate but it seemed fairly obvious even when I was pretty young.  My reward for slowing down for one group of trespassing idiots was a shattered window on a trailing unit from a large rock pitched at us in gratitude.  Who raised these geniuses and how did they live long enough to make it out of grade school?

Another very common lunacy is the race for the gate when a train is approaching.  I see this everywhere but most prominently every day in a little burg called Sunbury PA.  Sunbury has multiple crossings, all with lights and bells but no gates.  A long train effectively cuts the town in half for several minutes as the speed limit is only 20 mph.  In addition, we're frequently pulling out of a restriction which lowers the rate even more.  This is an invitation for foolishness and a pretty good percentage of the population just can't pass it up.  The locals who know what's about to happen ignore the warnings and scoot for the other side regardless of what's bearing down on them.  It's almost fascinating to watch everything from pedestrians to tour buses look directly at the train, decide they'll risk it, then just roll the dice and go.  I guess they don't realize that I can see them and know exactly what they're going to do but can't do a thing about it.  I'm afraid someday I'll be looking one of them right in the eyes when they go out of sight under the nose and under the wheels.

The point did so many people get to be so unthinking and uncaring?  How do they expect to climb on moving trains without a chance of getting cut in half or run in front of one without a chance of getting hit?  How do they figure that everybody and everything will get out of the way of their poor driving habits?  How many times do they get to be stupid before it kills them or someone else?  The lack of skill and judgement seems to be on the upswing lately and I can't explain it.

...Then there's the people who aren't just oblivious, they're nasty.  Case in point...A certain individual around town has a taste for roaring up behind my son when he's out on his bike, jamming on the brakes to squeal the tires, blowing the horn and generally scaring the daylights out of him.  There's a real adult for with a full sized truck, complete with a manly Monster sticker on the back window who shows his daring and bravery by terrorizing a kid on a bicycle.  I'm impressed, really I am but it might not be nearly as sporting for him if I come across that truck one of these days and he finds that not everyone in the world is quite so easily frightened.  Where do these guys come from?

I get it all the time from drivers who don't figure anyone has anywhere to go or anything to do that's as important as the mission they're on at the moment.  Bikes are a terrific inconvenience because they might force someone to steer around one or (gasp!) slow down a little.  Same with trains...heaven forbid that anything cause said motorist to wait, even if it outweighs them by a factor of thousands and has a really hard time stopping in short distances.  That's not important.  What matters is that not a second of any one's day be wasted by anyone else.  I've pulled out of my driveway taking the kids to school and had irate commuters climb on the back hatch, blast the horn and ride 6 inches off my bumper all the way to the drop-off loop.  Classy...not too effective at making me go faster but it does get my heart going a little with kids in the car.  And on it goes...the list is long and varied but you get the picture.

All I want to know is when did so many of us lose the patience to do things the right way?  When did it become OK to be a jerk to others so much of the time?  We all have our days when we're a lot less than perfect but is everybody on a roll on the same day?

I was just wondering...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Accidental Fourth

I started out yesterday on what was intended to be a relatively short jaunt around the countryside.  Well, as these things sometimes go...I wound up making a century out of it just by the simple fact that I don't know enough to quit.  I'm like that. 

One turn led to another and pretty soon I was 50 miles into it and a long way from home.  At least the weather was nice; warm and breezy again and this time I was on the outbound leg with the wind in my teeth.  I hoped that maybe once I turned for home it would be easier sailing, unlike the last go when the wind destroyed my legs 60 miles out.  I got as far south as I figured I should reasonably go and then hooked west on PA Rt. 6 out of Towanda to make a big circle out of it. Rt. 6 is advertised and marked as a designated bike route in PA but I think PennDOT better reconsider that until after the gas rush.  More on that in a minute.

Now being a rational, semi-intelligent person, I understand this was a working weekday for everybody in the real world.  My weekend is Tuesday and Wednesday so it's not like everyone else is drinking beer and hanging out around the Weber when I have my days off.   I may not be working, but it's not yet hump-day for 99% of the population.  This means that unlike a Saturday or Sunday when things might quiet down a bit, commerce was going full blast down the blacktop while I was trying to make my way from turn to turn.  The alarm bell was ringing again.

Once I crossed into Pennsylvania, truck traffic increased exponentially and I realized too late that I was now riding in the long, all consuming shadow of the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom.  As my kids say when texting...OMG!

This thing is a monster swathed from top to bottom in raw, undiluted money and the gas drillers are in overdrive.  These guys are poking strings of pipe in the ground so fast it's a wonder the world doesn't deflate from all the holes in it.  There's an unmistakable smell of cash burning through expense accounts that just hangs in the air no matter which way the wind is blowing.  The madness of the rush caught  me off guard since it hasn't hit in NY yet, all things still being hung up in litigation, legislation and legalization for the time being.  But PA is going at it like 49ers running full tilt west for California gold.  It's awesome and frightening to be at ground level on a fly-weight bike watching this insanity go roaring by in a solid string of 18 wheelers and leased white pickups with gas company logos.  I've never seen anything like it.  I thought I'd somehow gotten lost and ended up on an eight lane interstate with no speed limit.  I can only imagine the chatter among the truckers on the CB regarding the idiot on the bike where no reasonable idiot should be.

I was frankly scared witless.  A fair number of the trucks didn't even bother to move a foot to the left or lift a boot off the gas.  They just kept the hammer down and sailed by me so close I could smell the driver's aftershave and cigarettes in the windblast.  A couple got their yuks in by climbing up on my back wheel and letting me have it with the air horns. a Red Man long-cut kind of way I guess.  Let me think...there's been an uninterrupted line of rigs tearing by me at maximum speed for a solid hour...I should be surprised by another one?

I do have to give some credit where credit is due though.  Many of these guys were pros and it showed.  I know some of the drivers were trying to do what they could with what they had but there just wasn't enough room or time at 55.  When there was nothing coming at them, they tried to move over to give me some wiggle room.  Some even slowed down to give me time to find a wide spot between the lane-line and the ditch but mostly there was nowhere to go and circumstances made them cut it mighty fine.  Some of them were really good and I'm glad of it because the shoulder wasn't much in many places and there were a few passes were I could have stuck my elbow out and touched a fender.  Lesser men would have run me over with the trailer tires.

Roughly every three seconds for miles on end, another heavyweight ripped past and blew me about two feet to the right.  The dirt, grit, exhaust and wind was intense.  Before I got 10 miles along this nightmare, my eyes were dried out and I was covered in grit like I'd been caught in an Arabian Desert haboob.

I got a weird, metal taste with my Gatorade and knew every moving part on the bike was getting chewed by the emery-fine dust.  Talk about taking the wrong way home.

Obviously, this was no place for me but I had to soldier on to the next turn before I could get aimed back north.  I've ridden bikes all over the place and never dreamed I'd hear myself say it but bicycles should be banned from roads with this kind of traffic and conditions.  There was no sign or warning of any kind for an out-of-towner like me and no real way to get out of it except to keep going.  Maybe PA doesn't want to admit their 'scenic byway' is a deathtrap but I sort of think terrifying or killing visitors might be somewhat bad for the tourism business. I never thought I'd live long enough to see that 14N sign with an arrow pointing to Elmira but just outside of Troy, there it was.

My relief at leaving 6 was enormous.  As I suspected, the tailwind was fantastic and my average speed increased by leaps and bounds.  Traffic let up to almost nothing and the shoulders got wide and smooth.  It was like hitting the lottery.  My stress level dropped and I could enjoy cruising again.  The next 30 miles rolled easily even as I closed in on the 100 mark.  I just let the wind push me along and let my speed do what it wanted.

The last obstacle came along when I was within spitting distance of home.  The town highway dept. apparently decided to stone and oil about seven miles of road that I had to ride to get to my driveway.  It was freshly done so there were drifts and dunes of fine gravel piled up beside the four tire-worn tracks in the lanes. Those grooves were the only place I could remain upright on 23mm skins since loose stone and narrow tires don't get along too well.  Every car that went by stirred up a cloud of dust and I couldn't really move over much without risking a slide in the piles of dry stones.  That meant even more dust and grit stuck to my grimy self but with the end so close, it didn't seem to matter much.  I just slowed down some more and slogged my way through it until I finally hit real pavement again for the last push.

At the end of the day, it turned out to be a really nice ride except for the Rt. 6 section and I was pretty stoked to make another century without really thinking about it much.  100 miles at a crack is still not the easiest thing in the world but I'm getting better at it.  Winter will soon be here and I'll probably get fat and lazy with the snow but for now...I'm knocking off mileage at a pretty good clip.  When do I start working on a hundred-and-a-half?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Third Century

On the spur of the moment, I took off on another long ride this morning which as usual, turned out to be a little longer than I planned.  The 2.1 and I have gotten well-acquainted and within a couple of miles, we were touring easy along the highway like old friends at about 20 mph.  Since I knew I was going to go for some distance, I paced so as not to burn up the legs and watched the scenery.  It's getting a little cooler these days but it's still nice.  Breezy but nice.  That breezy thing would come up again later.

In my normal fashion, I just kind of turned when I felt like it and let the road lead where it would.  I had a rough destination in mind but no real plan of how to get there.  I find it's good therapy to just roll sometimes and let the mental flip of a coin decide where I'm off to.  The flip today led west from one lake to another.  A lengthy climb out of Watkins Glen and away from Seneca Lake led over the ridge-top toward Waneta Lake and a little burg called Tyrone.  The view was pretty spectacular as I started down the hill and I got a little distracted until I realized that the road surface had turned from smooth and fast to a very rough, coarsely grooved stone and oil sort of thing that had the bike weaving around under me.  Besides the change in pavement, I noticed the computer on my handlebars was reading a velocity somewhere up around 45 mph.  That, my friends is humming right along on a feather-weight bike with not much between my pink skin and the ever-so-unforgiving blacktop.  Visions of how much tissue and skeletal damage I'd incur if I unloaded at that rate wearing only shorts, a thin jersey, fingerless gloves and a plastic helmet flashed through my head just as the high-speed front end wobble hit.  God, here we go again. I thought I was done with this foolishness when I got off the 1400 with the cracked frame.
A shimmy at warp speed is probably the most frightening thing that ever happens to me on a bike.  I'm OK with trucks, dogs, weather, close calls and all the other typical hazards of the sport but when that front wheel starts vibrating like the spin cycle on an off-balance washing machine, my life flashes before my eyes in an instant.  Loss of control is a given and a flying leap over the handlebars a very real possibility unless you can break the shake and slow down somehow.  Fortunately, I was already down in the drops instead of on the hoods so the brake levers were near to hand.  I three-fingered both, again availing myself of more luck than brains by not grabbing too fast or too much thereby adding a skid to my problems.  Trying to hang on to the gyrating bars, I got the anchor thrown out and deceleration going before the front wheel went 90 degrees and launched me into orbit.  I was still doing 40-plus and had lost all interest in the scenery.
Only old Sir Isaac's First Law about a body remaining in a state of constant velocity and tending to move in a straight line saved my bacon from what could only have been a very poor landing in the ditch.  There was absolutely no control over my direction except momentum.  Since I was screaming straight down the hill when my ability to turn went out the window and there were no curves in the road to navigate, I managed to stay on the tarmac with only minimal wandering while I chased the wiggle out of the forks.
Eventually, as always happens if you can stay on the bike long enough, things slowed a point where the harmonics dampened out and the shimmy broke allowing a return to normal steering.  Normal steering mind you, not normal breathing.  That takes much longer and requires the pulse rate to first drop below triple digits.  Wobbly knees replace wobbly handlebars and and certain impolite language is used while you shake your head in wonder and think, "How many times can I get away with this and live?"
Reflection leads me to believe that a combination of excessive speed, a nasty cross-wind (remember that breeze?) and a crummy paving job brought on this episode of the wiggles and that it's probably an isolated incident.  It's never happened before on the 2.1 and the rest of the day passed without a repeat performance so I'm hoping it was just a weird, one-of-a-kind thing that won't become a trend.  Onward and upward.

Once my heart subsided and a quick inspection found nothing technically amis with the bike, it was back on the road and on to Penn Yan.  The breeze had now become very stout and being behind me, I ate up miles northward very quickly.  A little alarm bell was ringing because I knew that sooner or later I would have to turn back south and the wind would no longer be my friend.  The turn came with another bonus...not only was it upwind but uphill in spades.  Rt. 14A is straight for several miles which gives you the ability to see what you're up against.  It looked like a tower.  The wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph off my starboard bow and trying to push me out in the lane of traffic with every gust.  I've never been in creeper-low so long in my life.  It just went on and on up that hill until I my legs cramped and finally just shut down.  I had to pull into a little ice cream stand and just sit with a cone for about 20 minutes while the burn subsided.  I still had over 40 miles to go and the wind just didn't let up.  Brief rest stops became increasingly common until I finally dropped down off the ridge back into Watkins Glen and took another long breather on the lakefront to fortify for the last push home.

Anyone who's been to Watkins knows that it's pretty much located in the bottom of a hole.  Any way out is up except due south which didn't happen to be the way I needed to go.  All you can do is pick the lesser of the evils for a climb and then just gear down and do it.  I decided on a secondary road out of the valley which turned out to be ridiculously steep but mercifully short.  It saved a long slog up the truck route which is still steep enough but also stretched out so much that it makes you want to shoot yourself to end your misery before you finally get to the top, especially when you've already got 90 hard miles behind you.  No matter what road you pick, you've got to do the grade to get out of the pit and that last little push just about did in the old guy.  I had to pace pretty carefully after that to nurse it on home.  And the wind just wouldn't quit.  I kept trying not to bonk for well and all at this stage.  Surrender would have meant a rescue operation by van and a considerable blow to my self-esteem so slow but sure, I limped on back to the barn.  103 miles after my departure, I sort of wobbled into the driveway and unclipped.  I'm usually not that whipped but this time I hurt enough that a couple of beers only took the edge off.  Sometimes it's like that...

Once in a while, I have to keep trying to remember that I really enjoy this.  Seems like an awful lot of hurt to volunteer for.  Then I think about the land and the sky and all that I've seen and before I know it, I can't wait to go again.  Sometimes it's like that too.  The Fourth Century AT is already on the horizon.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Five One

Yesterday was another birthday for me.  It sure was nice just to be home with Chris, Connor and Seneca.  I got in late (early for the real world), ran all night on not-much-sleep and the van broke down trying to get to Old Drafty but a wonderful dinner and a suprise gift made it all ok.

Sometimes I lose track of how lucky I am.  I hope I never stop remembering.