Saturday, December 31, 2005


Last day of 2005—and Tropical Storm Zeta is partying in the Atlantic...


Friday, December 30, 2005


I was riding today down a two-lane road with high, steep, tree-lined banks—long, flat and straight, I'd surmise it was an old railroad grade. I was following a big truck, a car-hauler, as it sped along.

In its wake, it sucked up the loose leaves from along the roadside; countless tan lanceolate blades of willow oak. They swirled in the air, and danced along behind the truck where I rode.

For just a few brief moments, they paced me and I rode inside a sphere of stationary motion; I moved and the leaves moved with me. It was like riding inside a shaken snow-globe. Then the wind swept the air clean around me, and I was back in the world again.

That was fun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Going Downhill Fast

Surprisingly, snow goes a long way to make ski slopes less gut-wrenchingly terrifying.

It obscures the jagged boulders and gnarled roots, fills the eroded gullies and gopher holes, and wraps a deep, soft blanket over the multitude of hard things with sharp pointy edges. That’s small comfort on a warm September day when you’re poised at the top of a fifteen-hundred foot descent, one finger on the brake lever of your bicycle to hold you in the starting gate. Sure, snow would be nice—but you’re not using the ski slope anyway. You’re following a downhill bicycle course carved with reckless abandon through the woods next to the slope, a path strewn with artfully crafted obstacles.

Whose woods these are, I think I know—and he must be one sick, sadistic son-of-a-bitch. They dump all the debris from smoothing the slopes here, just off the ski trails. Boulders, fallen trees, mounds of dirt and gravel, brush piles, even broken-down equipment. It all takes refuge here, barely out of sight and for sure out of mind. The ten-foot wide path for the mountain bike racers is marked through the woods with thousands of yards of yellow ‘caution’ tape festooned from sapling to sapling—an ironic touch if there ever was one.

You think ‘path through the woods,’ and it calls to mind a pleasant hiking trail, sun dappled and punctuated by bluebirds like a Disney cartoon. But this isn’t remotely like a hiking trail, or even like bushwhacking through trackless forest—it’s worse than that. It’s the opposite of a hiking trail, where somebody worked hard to clear your way.

Here, the path is deliberately made difficult by the addition of log obstacles, ramps and boardwalks to nowhere, and countless other fiendish devices. Only the lowest two-hundred yards of the course leaves the woods for the open slope—then it becomes a serpentine gully carved into raw earth with steeply banked sides and berms—a hellish dirt road lifted straight from a pinball machine.

The course is ‘technical,’ meaning being competent isn’t enough—you must bring a fully loaded bag of tricks, including the abilities to levitate, fly, and to go two directions simultaneously. A high threshold of pain helps, as does a certain lack of common sense. Many of the self-preservation instincts and behaviors most of us take for granted are notably absent from the competitors—at least the successful ones.

This is Phil’s first race; he has never competed in downhill before, nor for that matter has he attempted it; urban BMX—under cover of darkness—has been his thing. At eighteen, he must be the youngest rider here; we are both nervous. Well before dawn, we loaded his bike, tools, gear, and supplies in the van and began the four-hour drive up I-95, stumbling bleary-eyed from coffee stop to coffee stop. We arrived just in time for him to register and make the mandatory rider’s meeting. Then he gets just two practice runs down the course before the real event—the Novice competition.

The few spectators at the event are treated to countless trappings of spectacle. Fluttering pennants, banners and streamers manically vie for attention beneath the bright blue sky of the finish line. Harsh, distorted music pours unrecognizably from hidden PA speakers. Two ambulances park at the base of the slope, lights flashing for no apparent reason; their crisply uniformed attendants study a word puzzle book from some grocery checkout line with identically furrowed brows. The competitors walk about with helmets tucked under their arms, clad from neck to toe in bright plastic body armor like psychedelic knights, leading their elegant, if filthy, bicycles to the staging area with one careless hand on the saddle.

A ‘trials’ rider—a court jester of sorts, in his own peculiar motley—performs bicycle stunts for an audience of two, leaping his bicycle from a dead stop to the top of a picnic table in two sweet moves, then onto a boulder the height of a man’s head. With nowhere to go from there, he falters for a moment, then lurches to the ground with a jarring thud; his audience titters, turns and walks away.

Rider’s meeting over, the competitors burst out of the faux-Alpine lodge into the warm fall morning. There is much macho swagger as riders boast and strut across the gravel to their respective SUVs for their final preparations. Then there is a murmur of interest as Phil rides across the lot; heads turn to follow him. Riders point, tap each other on the shoulder, stop what they are doing. They are noticing Phil’s bike. Phil has suddenly earned a mantle of awestruck, bemused respect from the experienced riders—for sheer ballsiness, if not for common sense.

Alone among the riders, Phil will make his run—his novice downhill run—on a hardtail.

Most downhillers compete on bikes having little in common with ordinary bikes but the number of wheels. Exotic frame designs, space-age composites, sophisticated forks and rear suspensions with complex linkages and high-tech shock absorbers, hydraulic disk brakes—they are more like motorcycles with human engines. Single components can run into the thousands of dollars; lots of bikes here are worth more than the cars that carried them in.

Yet my son (fools rush in where angels fear to tread) will make his run on a bike with a solid frame—a hardtail, as they say. No shock absorber on the rear; just a few inches of travel on a hydraulic fork in front. This makes Phil the shock absorber for every drop, jump, bump, root, rock and stump—all taken up by his arms, legs and back, hopefully leaving something in reserve to pedal, steer and brake, and watch the course ahead. Where other, more sophisticated bikes will smooth the treacherous route for their riders by being supple and compliant, the hardtail will fight him every foot of the way, recoiling and bucking in response to each new event, and it’s not clear who will win.

Riders catch the chairlift to the starting gate on top of the mountain. In full battle regalia, holding their bicycle cross-armed across their chest, they step onto the chairlift platform. With each snatch of a rider by the chair, it hesitates, sways, then yanks the rider and steed ponderously free from the earth, bobbing and swaying as if to spit them back out to the ground again. The chairlift settles down to a modest, nauseating oscillation, as the rider disappears upwards into the distance, another tiny colored bead on a long elastic necklace.

I offer words of encouragement as Phil lines up for the slow lift ride to the mountaintop, then walk towards the course to catch the show. Spectators have already camped out in the prime viewing spots, and it’s understandable why. The crowd favorite overlooks a crater-like pit, thirty feet across and ten deep. The course comes along the side of the pit, then veers onto a wooden ramp leading to thin air; the course picks up again on the opposite side of the pit, heading the opposite direction.

Rider after rider makes their practice run at the pit. Some negotiate the pit with great finesse, blasting off the ramp, slinging around the circumference and shooting out the other side like a marble from a mixing bowl. Others—less skillful or confident—balk at the end of the ramp then drop like Wile E. Coyote into the mud below. Shaken, cursing and raging, they scramble out of the muddy pit with their bikes. I watch a dozen riders try this with varying degrees of success, and wonder—with some concern—how Phil will manage.

Continuing up the mountain, I hear the next rider long before I see him. He crashes through the woods, pushing a non-stop wave of expletives before him as though warding evil spirits from his path. But the evil spirits have had their fill of this particular rider; he launches spectacularly over a fallen log, only to plant his front wheel against a boulder on landing. He briefly adopts a shocked ‘Superman’ pose as he flies through the air, then sprawls belly-first into the rocky forest floor; his bike pirouettes in the air slow-mo and crashes down square on his back. This does not comfort me in any way.

Suddenly it’s Phil’s turn. Before I even find a good viewing spot he streaks past me in a blur, bobbing and weaving through the woods like a prizefighter. I scramble to follow, but the last I see of him is his perfect launch off the ramp into the pit—and then him shooting out the other side like a marble from a mixing bowl.

By the time I get down to the finish line, Phil is propped up on his elbows in the grass, surrounded by a flock of admirers—mostly little kids. He and his bike are mud spattered but his grin tells me all I need to know. Both he and the bike survived intact, and on each run he shaved thirty seconds off his previous time. We hang around waiting for the final results to be posted.

Though he did not place, his times are quite respectable for an experienced downhiller on a fully suspended bike—for a novice on a hardtail, they are astonishing.

I help gather up the sweat-soaked armor he has flung off, and watch as he slowly, painfully hobbles towards the van. As we wind our way down the twisty two-lane road back to the highway, I ask him his impressions of the race. There is a long silence before I realize he is asleep, and will stay that way for the drive home.

Another place I'm glad I don't work:

At the "China National Native Produce & Animal by-Product Import & Export Corporation, Shanghai Native Produce Branch."

Could you imagine having to answer the phone like that all day long?

They are the packers of "Instant Chrysanthemum Beverage," which comprises sugar and (sic) Chrysant HE Mum powder. It may be an acquired taste, but initial impressions are of sugar dissolved in lower Mississippi River water. Perhaps it is what Chinese Astronauts drink instead of Tang; in any case, one is reminded that in the language of flowers, Chrysanthemums represent death.

I will steadfastly resist any urge to acquire a taste for this product. I don't imagine it will be much of an issue.

On the historical antecedents of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush policy on dissent: Channelling the Greats

"We should rid our ranks of all impotent thinking. All views that overestimate the strength of the enemy and underestimate the strength of the people are wrong."

Mao-Zedong, "The Present Situation and Our Tasks" 12/25/47
From my personal copy of Mao's 'Little Red Book,' a Christmas Gift picked up in China by my wonderful niece Katie.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What a concept!

Did you know that Georgetown is just like a giant shopping mall...but one that you can drive a car through! Why hasn't anybody thought of that before?!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Walking in a Winter Wonderland—for real

Mary's big client was kind enough to include us in their holiday celebration last night, a wonderful dinner in a private room of a very classy restaurant. Good food, good wine, good company, good music, and good spirits all around.

When the celebration finally came to an end around ten o'clock, we decided to do without the exhilaration of a return cab ride to where we had parked; instead, we would take advantage of the relatively mild air and walk back. It was a beautiful crisp clear evening, with a three-quarter moon hanging low in the eastern sky and even some stars visible through the glare of the city lights.

We walked down the cobblestone streets and crossed the old iron bridge over the canal, then continued down to the waterfront. We stood and admired the reflections sparkling on the water, their own special kind of holiday decorations.

As we stood in the night air, Mary saw something moving in the distance, downriver from where we stood. My jaded urban instincts told me immediately it was a rat scurrying from one hiding spot to another. As I followed its movements, I reevaluated; it was way too big for even a well-fed city rat, and moved with too much determination and speed—much to my chagrin, directly towards where we both stood. Opossum, perhaps?

Opossums have their own distinctive, purposeless, shambling way of moving. Whatever this spectral being was, it meant business, and was hustling straight down the narrow walkway we were on. We quickly stepped across the worn railroad ties bordering the path—as though that would deter whatever was approaching if it meant us harm.

Then it emerged into the light—A red fox, in the middle of this most urban of areas. It trotted right past us with insouciant alacrity, tossing a quick glance at us over its shoulder and continuing on its way with, I believe, a smile on its face.

Who would have imagined? What a delightful surprise to cap a wonderful evening.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Last Call

When I’m dead and gone, stash me on ice.

Let me go without additives, preservatives, or artificial colors. If I’m gonna be displayed, let’s make it prompt and timely, so there’s no need for preservation.

And if I’m on display, let’s skip the ostentatious, garish, or flamboyant trappings; I’ve always preferred things plain and unadorned. If I have to be boxed up, put me in a white pine box made by friendly hands and keep it simple. Stick a Guinness in my hand and slap a pair of Groucho glasses on me and I’ll be fine.

Whether the box becomes my kindling doesn’t matter a bit to me. Once I’m roasted to a fare-thee-well, do what you will with my ashes. I always thought the compost pile was a nice place to end up, since I spent countless hours marveling at its energy and industry. Or you could dump me straight into the garden; who could ask for a better place to be reinvented than a garden, maybe as a beet? (Ashes are good for root crops, so I always heard). Granted, that might make some squeamish, so I leave my final disposition up to you—again, it won’t matter much to me.

As for a service: I have lived my life mercifully free from the ravages of religious leanings, and grant such things no significance. They didn’t take up space in my life, and shouldn’t clutter up things afterwards. So please—no religious trappings of any kind to muddy up my departure. Now, spirituality—that’s another matter entirely.

If folks want to expound on their personal feelings, that would be dandy. I’d just prefer ‘organized religion’ be barred at the gate by a burly bouncer with no neck and wraparound shades. Let’s not confuse ‘religion’ with ‘spirituality’ for this particular event. To you who ascribe to a particular fashion or flavor of religion: Let’s just agree to disagree. There’s no point in fretting about it on my account—if we’re at this point, I’ll probably have the answer you’ve been looking for, and you won’t. (PS: Unless, of course, you can find an Evangelical Atheist minister to preside).

This is what I want for my send-off:

If people want to speechify, that’s okay; it certainly won’t bother me. If long, pointless stories are to be told, they should be off-color and at my expense. The guest list should be as inclusive as possible, but let’s just set the tone by saying: “Bicycle couriers.” Need I say more? This should be a courier party—nothing less.

There should be lots of women weeping and wailing, keening and rending garments and throwing themselves on the ground. I have set aside a small fund to compensate them for their troubles—look in the bank files, listed under “Children’s Inheritance.”

Let’s not forget music—lots of music. It should be sad and tragic: Barber and Tchaikovsky; brooding Beethoven, Dvorak and Smetana. Throw in some Clash, Zeppelin, some Muddy Waters, Rory Gallagher and the Pogues, lots of Motown—and whatever good dancing music seems like fun at the time. Good damn luck finding a DJ, and oh—did I mention loud? *

There oughta be lots of drinking. I want a fierce, ferocious wake, with fountains of fine ale flowing like rivers across the floor; endless bottles of Irish whisky, and lots and lots of champagne. I want everyone in attendance to be wracked with anguish and unable to work for a day or two after—from their horrible pounding hangovers. See

And dancing? You bet—lots of dancing. I want a loud and boisterous party where everyone relaxes, laughs, flirts and has a good time while they forget the guest of honor. Make the neighbors call the police—then invite the whole lot of them in for a drink.

I want fire—lots of fire. I want a nice big going away fire, flames and sparks leaping up way into the dark sky. A funeral pyre would be just swell—or even better, a real Viking-style funeral, with flaming longboat pushed out onto the waves, me as its Captain, first mate and crew. But I’d settle for a nice roaring bonfire, since it’s probably hard to find a body of water that allows Viking funerals nowadays. Roast some weenies, toast some marshmallows, and stuff your faces with s’mores—what are fires for, after all?

Obviously, fireworks would add a certain ‘je ne sais quoi,’ in my opinion. Or even better, a bonfire and fireworks. Things that soar and explode and scream, to warn the otherworld I’m on my way and they’d better be ready. The best result would be some combination of singing, dancing, eating, drinking, fire and pouring whisky onto the fire to satisfy the spirits—but I’ll leave those details up to you. And don’t forget the song, which goes like this:

“Gimme that old time religion, that old time religion,
Gimme that old time religion, It’s good enough for me”

“Maw and Paw were druids, they drank fermented fluids,
Danced nekkid in the woo-ids, It’s good enough for me!”

Hey, you know me, just a good old-school Celt—a pagan wandering in a world of Manichean dualism. I’ll probably be around, checking in with you from time to time when the distance between worlds is least. Certainly at Beltane, the great feast of lust and desire, and Lughnasa, the high summer celebration; at dark Samhain, when spirits move most freely, and in the deep cold of Imbolc.

Light the fires, raise your glasses and look to me coming. I’ll hear you call.

*Addendum: "The Night that Paddy Murphy Died," Great Big Sea; "Body of An American" The Pogues; "Funeral for a Friend/Love lies Bleeding," Elton John, because it's 11 minutes long and it's a great song, and "What's So Funny...," Elvis Costello, just because I said so, and it's my party, right?

**Addendum #2: "Solace" by Scott Joplin, the Joshua Rifkin version...just an achingly beautiful song from both a composer and performer who need greater recognition. Joplin was the American Bach.

***"Ashokan Farewell," Jay Ungar & Molly Mason.

Crap. I'll just need to burn a friggin' CD and staple it to my will, otherwise who knows what'll get played, right??

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Ghosts On The Wire

It happened some years ago in the dead of a cold winter night, according to my mother. She and my father were asleep in the master bedroom of an old Virginia farmhouse, nestled somewhere in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

At the darkest hour, she awoke to a feeling like static electricity crawling all over her. She sat upright to face a lone figure standing across the room on the broad hearth of the stone fireplace. The young man, bore an expression of unspeakable weariness, woe and distress. He wore the tattered, filthy uniform of a Civil War soldier.

They looked at each other for what must have seemed like an eternity—my mother struck dumb, all but deafened by the blood rushing in her ears. The man spoke just four words to her:
“Where is my mother?”

It was all my mother could do to reach out and touch my sleeping father’s arm and rouse him to witness this spectral visitation. Yet at the very moment she touched him, both the apparition and the crawling sensation vanished, discharged like lightning. My parents, now both fully awake, were alone behind a latched and locked door.

I reminded her of this story a few months before she died. She laughed and shrugged. “ I had forgotten all about that. It was so long ago.” She laughed again, shook her head dismissively, and went about her work.


Not long ago, I had a second phone line installed. Before I had told anyone the new number, I started receiving strange calls at all hours of the day and night. I would answer, and after a long pause of hissing and static, a thin, quavering voice would ask: “…Can I speak…to Joe?”

I was always polite, and explained the number had recently been reassigned, and there was no Joe here. After another pause of hissing and static, the frail quavering voice: “But Joe must be there. Joe is my son; I just spoke to him last week.”

I knew demand for phone numbers was high, but the phone company wouldn’t have reassigned the number in a week. I asked what number she was trying to call. Hissing and static. Then she recited my number, area code, exchange and all. Her confusion turned to agitation, yet there was little I could do but leave her with hollow assurance there was no Joe.

She called many times. The same thin, tired voice, streaked with weariness, woe and distress, so far away on the other end of the line and stretched to the breaking point through the wires. “…Can I speak…to Joe?”

I have come to instantly recognize that plaintive voice. I have tried to help her, to accommodate her inquiries. I know she lives in somewhere in Virginia; because she calls from a private home; she lives alone. Yet my help only seems to confuse her more. She believes I am the phone company, and that I can somehow trace Joe down a wire.

But she still needs my help. I will reach out through those thin wires, through the hissing and static, and connect her with Joe—if there even is a Joe.

I find myself waiting for her call, and I am reminded: “Where is my mother?”


I spent the first twenty years of my riding career on Campaigner, a BMW R80St. It was originally what was referred to as a "standard" bike, for its upright riding posture—neither slouched like a cruiser nor leaning forward like a sportsbike. After a few years, I installed shorter ("Europa") handlebars which produced a more forward-leaning riding posture—I wanted to emulate the unbeatably cool style of the R90s or R100s.

I always scoffed at the bent-forward, straight armed posture of the sportbike riders, trying to imagine the wrist stress, backaches and hand-numbness that must accompany such a riding position.

So then a couple of years ago I went out and, sure enough, bought a sportbike—Beast, a 2003 BMW R1100sa. (At least for BMW it's a sportbike; some folks still scoff at the idea.) Well guess what—I'm a convert.

Lots of riders have asked me about the riding posture. What's surprising is that not only does Beast have a fairly typical sport-bike riding setup, but I took advantage of the one adjustment BMW allows it's 1100s owners to make. I actually lowered the clip-on handlebars to below the tripleclamp instead of above the triple clamp as they come from the factory, dropping them another inch or two.

What's most amazing to me is how comfortable it is. Many years ago, I used to own a "Balans" chair—one of those wacky kneeling chairs from Scandinavia. It was always my favorite office chair, and I never had any back problems while using it.

Riding Beast is way more comfortable than sitting in the office chair I currently have at work—not to mention way more fun and intellectually stimulating. Unfortunately, the noises I have to make at the office apparently disturb my cube-farm mates, so I have to keep it down.


"One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one fine day"—December 18, 2005

Aristotle sure knew about the weather. Today was a pleasant change from the run of weather we've been having recently. Bitterly cold a few days ago, then snow and sleet, then rain and gloom and sogginess. Today the sky was blue with few clouds, the sun bright though low in the firmament, and it was mild enough that a winter coat was more of an annoyance than a necessity.

Needless to say, this struck me as perfect riding weather. And one thing I am incredibly consistent with is underestimating how cold it is—every single time I gear up, I remind myself that I've never come back from a ride too warm, but can't count the times I've come back unable to locate one extremity or another. Well, today was no different.

Even worse, I was taking the Rockster out to blow the cobwebs off and keep a charge on the battery. While I confirmed the Rockster is virtually identical technically to Beast in performance and handling (with just a slight shift in the power curve) there is a crucial difference—the Rockster is currently unfaired except for the bulbous bodywork around the gas tank. (Yeah, I know—there's a nice Parabellum windscreen sitting in a box in the workshop, waiting to be installed...but I digress).

I headed out to my 'test track,' the web of roads I've made reference to several times before here. (Philip and I rode it when he was up over Thanksgiving, he on Campaigner and me on Beast) About a third of the way there, I noted that while most of the sky was clear and bright blue, there was a pale wash of high clouds intercepting the sun.

Hmm. I might as well have been riding under the hunter moon for all the warmth the sun gave. And since we are nearly at the solstice, the sun sat very low all afternoon—caught in the upper branches of the bare trees. While this is very poignantly photogenic, it has a perverse side effect: the relentless shadow strobing from the trees. It seemed no matter which direction I rode, one eye was constantly in shadow and the other was constantly flashing between brilliant sun and deep shade. I have heard that this can, at the right speed, produce a hypnotic, soporific effect; the flickering light induces a sympathetic response in the brain at alpha wave-frequencies, creating a nearly trance-like state of altered awareness.

Good damn thing I was so freaking cold by then; my only altered awareness was the lack of sensation in certain critical areas. I rode the loop, wrung out the Rockster as best I could while still in the break-in period, and headed for coffee stop #1. At one point, anticipating a bump in the road, I stood up on the foot-pegs—or attempted to, anyway. My legs and knees were so stiff and unresponsive that I had barely gotten my butt off the saddle before I hit the bump, and found myself at the point of maximum awkwardness. Oh well.

Coffee helped, a little. But I had reached a point that's in the neighborhood of hypothermia, which when you do it to an engine part is referred to as "cold soak." I was just a little bit too cold all over. Stupid trick #2: I've put a "cold kit" on Beast, which consists of odds and ends of clothing I can throw on for just such an occasion that are worth about 10 degrees improvement. But I wasn't riding Beast, was I? No, my emergency cold kit was safe and warm, at home.

The discomfort is temporary and merely an annoyance—a hot shower pretty much makes it go away in about ten minutes flat. But when you're cold soaked, you don't feel like turning your head to look at your mirrors, or check your blind spot when changing lanes, or look at your instruments to check your speed or a host of other little niceties--that's the stinky part. They say hypothermia affects your judgment, but before you get to that point, you just get lazy.

The really neat part was that there were a surprising number of bikes on the road, mostly oilhead beemers. Each and every one gave and got a hearty wave, secure in the knowledge that they were among the elite, hardcore who knew in their hearts that—

—it was really friggin' cold on the road today.

That may be good enough for you, buddy...

I was at the local-groovy-hippie-national-corporate-feel-good grocery emporium today, doing my semi-annual drive-by shopping spree (lots of looking, little buying) and was stopped cold by:

Natural Wax Paper.

Of course, this was a few aisles removed from the all-natural oreo knock-offs (just the way God intended them to be, fresh-picked by indigenous farmers off the shade-grown oreo trees.)

Apparently this kind of wax paper does not present the lurking menace to body and soul that mass-market, heartless globalized petrochemical wax paper posed. Or something. I really couldn't quite grok the importance of this improved or saftened product.

Nevertheless, I'm no longer taking any chances with the health, safety and well-being of the ones I love. I simply had not recognized the magnitude of risk posed by that insidious translucent threat lurking in the kitchen drawer—and I'm not just talking about that sadistic little knife-edge on the box.

From now on, I'm not just switching to a better, more humane kind of wax paper—no siree. I plan to COMPLETELY REMOVE the wax paper (peeling, removing the rind, as it were) from any foodstuffs I intend for my family to consume. There's just no sense in taking any chances, is there now?

You can never be too safe.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Yeah, that's what I'll do...

If I ever get pulled over by a cop (which, oddly, hasn't happened in a really long time...) this is what I will do:

As they walk up to me, I will either roll down the car window(if driving), or very slowly and respectfully remove my helmet (if riding) and I will say to them:

"This is about those songs I downloaded, isn't it?!? Look, man , I was gonna buy the CDs, but like I couldn't FIND EM ANYWHERE! I'M REALLY, REALLY SORRY!!"

Then they will shake their head and leave me alone.

Birdoswald to Walton, April 2004

After a leisurely breakfast and a slow, lingering morning at "Hill-On-The-Wall," we retrace our steps to the Museum and ruins of the Roman fort at Birdoswald.

We walk the ruins of the fort, then enjoy a relaxing alfresco lunch in the cool spring sun. The prior day's long, rugged hike from Steel Rigg along the basalt spine of the Great Whin Sill, combined with the late departure, makes cabbing to Walton an appealing alternative for Mary, Madeline and Philip.

I decide to hike to Walton alone. I'd guess it's only six or eight miles—an easy couple of hours. As I depart Birdoswald, I pass a family hiking eastbound; still within sight of the fort, I encounter another hiker, also heading east. I don’t meet or see another soul until I arrive at our lodgings at Town’s Head Farm in Walton, late in the afternoon.

At one point, far out of sight of any human settlements, I stop and am puzzled by what sounds like at first, the laboring engine of a massive truck—which never seems to get any closer or more distant—then a roaring jet engine, which curiously also neither approaches or retreats. I stand perfectly still for a few minutes, trying to identify the source of the odd sound.

Then I realize it is the wind, sweeping through the forests and fields through which I am walking. I stand still for a few more moments, have walked into a past where man does not seem to exist. I have rarely felt, so intensely, the tranquility of being so utterly alone.

At my feet, there lay a feather—long, elegant, delicate yet powerful. I pick it up, tuck it carefully in my hat, and wear it for the remainder of the hike. It now sits beside me where I write, my one souvenir from that ancient lonely place.

Letting go

This spring for her eighteenth birthday, Madeline and I took the day and went for a practice hike with her friend Maddie. They were preparing for their eight day coast-to-coast hike across England, scheduled for right after high school graduation.

We scouted out a convenient section of the Appalachian Trail with good road access. I would hike part way with them, then return to the car, drive to the next road crossing, and rendezvous with them. I think the total estimated mileage was around eleven or twelve miles, a decent stretch of mostly gently-rolling trail through unremarkable eastern deciduous forests.

To reach the Appalachian Trail proper, we ascended through broad open meadows, the path overhung with lush, dripping grasses and weeds. It was overcast and cool, with a gentle mist falling from time to time; on occasion the clouds would part enough to permit views of the distant piedmont.

It did not take long for us to finds our cadence, and by the time we had reached the ridgeline, we were making steady headway. With each step, I calculated the point where I would need to turn back for the rendezvous to time out right.

It so happened that my 'point of no return' coincided, more or less, with our lunch break. We sat on a large fallen tree in the quiet damp woods, eating whatever trail oddities we had packed—trail mix and granola bars, apples and oranges, hot coffee from a thermos (sure sign of a day-hiker)—until the time came to start walking again.

We conferred briefly, looked at the map once more, double-checked the math on our time estimates. Then it was time to go.

I have never experienced such a clearly defined transition. My daughter was eighteen; now we were quite literally turning away from each other and going off in our separate directions. I was trusting her into the wild, hoping that I had prepared her adequately and knowing that if not, it was too late to do anything about it now.

I hit my stride promptly, a good 3-1/2 mile an hour pace. I brushed the tear from my eye and focused on the task at hand—getting back to the car promptly without getting hurt on the way. In the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, before the hordes of through-hikers arrive, the AT can be a pretty lonesome place if you get into trouble.

Except for one brief stop at a trail junction to wring out my soaking socks, I hiked straight back to the car. The drive to the next trailhead was uneventful, a circuitous route through the verdant Virginia farmland, and I arrived a bare fifteen minutes ahead of the girls, who made a spectacular entrance, striding across a stone-and-timber bridge above a rushing mountain stream.

The return trip to town was quiet, with both Madeline and Maddie sacked out from the day's exertions, none the worse for wear. But I think we all knew then something important had transpired...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Here's a better idea for you, FORD

The Ford Motor Company just regrew its spine after initially caving into pressure from the lunatic fringe and pulling advertising for Jaquars, Volvos and some other product lines from gay-oriented publications. They will resume advertising in these publications which apparently help move lots of FoMoCo products.

What we really need to boycott Ford for —and I'm sure you all can get behind me on this—is their co-opting of Vince Guaraldi's immortal classic "Linus and Lucy" (now 40 years old—when did that happen?) for their goddam ad campaign.

Is nothing sacred? Isn't the true meaning of Christmas carried in those treasured lyrics?

(Oh,'s an instrumental...)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Now you know

The wind chill at 17 deg. F. and 95 mph is -13 deg. Fahrenheit. To convert that to Celsius, do the following conversion:

(Really cold F.) = (Still Really cold C.)

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Second-Best Christmas Song ever

Fleming and John's " Winter Wonderland." (RealAudio required)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Best F-ing Christmas Song Ever — "Fairy Tale of New York"

It was Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song, 'The Rare Old Mountain Dew'
I turned my face away and dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one, came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling this year's for me and you
So happy Christmas, I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true

They've got cars big as bars, they've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you, it's no place for the old
When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me

You were handsome/You were pretty, Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing they howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging, all the drunks they were singing
We kissed on a corner then danced through the night

[CHORUS:]The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing 'Galway Bay'
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day

You're a bum/You're a punk/You're an old Slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
You scum bag/You maggot/You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse I pray God it's our last

[Repeat chorus]

I could have been someone/Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me whenI first found you/
I kept them with me babe I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone I've built my dreams around you

[Repeat chorus]

(Ronan Keating/performed by the Pogues)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Christmas Story

My mother died at Arlington Hospital at six o'clock on Christmas Eve (just like old Jacob Marley) in 1996, from the results of a stroke she had suffered a few days earlier.

I have a memory of a group of the grown-ups sitting around her hospital bed, chatting quietly that cold, grey afternoon. If I recall correctly, her grandchildren had all said their good-byes the night before, and were off with their Aunt, who took them bowling. It was a pleasant diversion for them at a difficult time, and in years since has become an odd little family tradition—"What, your family doesn't traditionally go Christmas Eve Bowling?!?"

I felt we needed something to acknowledge the season, so I left the hospital and drove, first, to the ABC store, and then to the grocery store, the last faltering incarnation of the once-proud "Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company."

I bought a small flask of bourbon and a small flask of dark rum from the bleak, stale-smelling, harshly-fluorescent-lit, Soviet-inspired ABC store, and a quart of eggnog, a shaker of nutmeg and some cheap plastic cups from the grocery store. I returned to the hospital room with bottles and bags tucked into the capacious pockets of my winter coat, then poured a round of eggnogs for all, spiked them with a bit of bourbon and rum, and dusted each with nutmeg.

We drank a round to Mom, then a second to finish off the container of eggnog. Most of us left the hospital around sundown except Mom's oldest daughter, my big sister, who stayed with Mom until she died and then called us all to let us know. We all cried, a little bit of sadness and a little bit of rage and a little bit of relief and a lot of emotional exhaustion after a week of increasingly despairing hospital visits.

I still have the container of nutmeg, though it's almost all gone now. It gives me some idea of how fast—on average—we consume nutmeg. I never had a way to gauge that before.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dennis has no friends at George Mason.

That's what Facebook tells me, anyway.

...Oh, wait! Now I do. In your face, Facebook!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

...uh, nice to see you, too...

Carrie has been with us about a week now, and has gotten used to us enough that when we reappear from being away for any length of time, we are greeted with a greyhound "smile."

We were warned early on that Carrie is a "smiler" and were also warned that a greyhound smile can be a little—'disconcerting.'


...Did you see "Alien"?

A full greyhound smile is like the Alien's smile, but with less dripping and fewer sets of teeth.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hey! I've got one!

Carrie had a huge outburst of scheissenfreude this morning!

And when she comes in from the cold, she shakes so hard to settle her coat that—no fooling—her front legs fly off the ground.

She's a hoot.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Isn't it interesting...

...that the I.D.iots always frame the discussion in terms of "Intelligent Design" versus "Evolution," not "Intelligent Design" versus "Natural Selection?"

Would that be because evolution is a little bit mysterious and difficult to actually envision, while "Natural Selection," which is really what Darwin was espousing (the idea of evolution had been kicked around forever—no one had really nailed down the actual mechanism before) is plain to see everywhere in the world around us?

Why do rational people keep letting the yahoos and hicks set the terms? Take back the argument, folks, turn the tables—the real argument is between natural selection and " no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

And for goodness sakes—why are we even dignifying their position by arguing it? Let them dry up and blow away.

Indisputable proof of natural selection:

The voters of Dover, Pennsylvania, exercised their right of natural selection and voted out their entire evolutionarily unfit, poorly adapted School Board. In a brillliant display of Intelligent Design, they voted in a full slate of science-minded candidates, perhaps in response to being dubbed the "Dayton, Tennessee" of Pennsylvania.

The good news for the ousted school board members is that they can probably find work in Kansas, which at the exact same time was renewing its status as laughingstock of not just the midwest or the U.S., but pretty much the whole world by insisting the their students be "taught the controversy" in the name of "free speech" and "intellectual freedom."

You win some, you lose some. But you know--I feel a mysterious hand at work here, directing us towards...oh nevermind.

I just don't know whether to laugh or cry.

p.s.: Way to go, Virginia. Once again, I'm proud of my Old Dominion. And don't call it a state, buddy--it's a commonwealth.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Here's another update

On September 5th, the second word of the day was "schadenfreude," German for, literally "harm-joy," or less literally, 'taking a perverse pleasure in the misfortunes of others.'

However, we have a recent report of an instructor (who will remain unnamed) allegedly using the term "scheissenfreude," which in French would be "Joie de Merde."

I am wracking my brain just trying to come up with a context in which you could use such a phrase. But rest assured, as soon as I find one, I'll be dazzling my listening audience with my witty multilingualism.

...Aucune merde, mi amigos!

An Analogy update from August

Now that I know a lot more about Greyhounds than I thought was humanly possibly, I rescind my analogy of Beast to a Greyhound, though I will stick with my comparison of the F650 to a Jack Russell terrier. A this point, the best "bike" = "dog" analogy I can make using a greyhound and a BMW is "Campaigner" = "Carrie."

Campaigner sits for extended periods without ever moving.

Carrie, likewise.

Campaigner has a long, successful professional career behind it.

Carrie, likewise.

Campaigner can be provoked into speeds in excess of 40 MPH on occasion.

Carrie, likewise. (So we have been told.)

Campaigner is beautiful in a classic, elegant, understated way.

Carrie, likewise.

So there you have it. The perfect Bike=Dog metaphor.

Carrie on!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Shin Kicker - Rory Gallagher

Well, it's a shin-kick morning
Gotta kickstart the day
Wind up my machine and I'll be on my way.
Well, a burning fever
Woke me up at dawn
I didn't have no choice,
I had to carry on.
Well, my engine's overheating
And I'm running out of gas
I only got the two speeds and it's slow and fast.
Well, I got to find a town that's got some action
Got to find a place stays open late, right away.
C.C. Mama, Motorcycle queen
I'm gonna catch up with you with my lightning wheels.
It's cold black coffee
Eggs and grease
Stop in at the truckstop, I don't want to sleep.
Well, it's a shin-kick morning
I'm gonna turn up the heat
I'm racing all the truckers and I got them beat

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Vincent Black Lightning 1952 - Richard Thompson

(click on title to hear Richard Thompson perform this song)

Oh says Red Molly to James "That's a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme"
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride

Oh says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

"Come down, come down, Red Molly" called Sergeant McRae
"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside"
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry
He said "I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves and Harleys won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52"
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Some of the ways motorcycles are better than cars

  1. No cupholders (...except on Airheads)
  2. No CD player
  3. No cellphone
  4. You can't put your feet on the engine block in a car.
  5. You can't gas up your car from the driver's seat.
  6. You can't steer your car with your butt.

Our new baby

Our new baby. This is not schaved Schroeder with the top of his head taken off. This is Carrie, soon to be the newest member of our household. A retired professional athlete, Carrie likes sitting in front of the fire, sitting on the couch, taking long moonlit strolls on the beach, and can do zero-to-sixty in less time than it takes to order a drink at Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

That's why I want to be a journalist:

Headline from the Washington Post, Sunday October 23, 2005:

"Spanish Newspaper to Fold"

Ah, October

I love October. There's no doubt summer has relinquished it's grip, fall is here for real and winter is racing up behind us.

I left class last night while there was still some twilight in the sky. It was in the forties, and it was starting to sprinkle earnestly—not enough rain to make me put on my raingear, but a steady, modest, regular sprinkling. In short order it coated both the inside and outside of my windshield, visor and glasses with fine droplets (a total of six beaded-up surfaces) making the world in front of me something of an educated guess.

The best thing you can do in a situation like that is simply reduce the number of surfaces that catch rain. So off come the glasses, stuffed hurriedly in the first available pocket at the next red light. But the problem is that still leaves four surfaces—the inside and outside of the windshield and the visor. Well, the windshield is cut so low that I don't really see through it much anyway. If I'm lucky, I can use some of the high-speed air spilling over its upper edge to sweep rain off the visor.

But unfortunately, I need to see straight ahead clearly and that means the visor must be almost completely open.

So here I am on the interstate in the cold rainy twilight, tiny little ice-cold bullets smacking me in the eyes again and again. No matter how hard I try, I can't both see the road ahead and keep the rain out of my eyes.

Once the droplets sting you, they roll around the back of your eyesocket behind your eyeball and drip down the course of your optic nerve until the very backmost part of your skull (you know, where your occipital lobes are stuck) is filled up with 40-degree water.

Fortunately, you are going fast; momentum and inertia and the wind-blast keeps the cold water pooled in the back of your skull. If it didn't, or if you were to slow down too quickly without first shaking your head to fling the cold water out your ears, you might drown when it sloshed down around your brainstem and shocked you into unconciousness.

Despite this needle-y torture, it is a pleasure to be on the road. The cold doesn't bother me; I am dressed for it. The dampness doesn't bother me—I'm not made of sugar and I know I don't have far to go. It's exhilarating and makes me look forward to the coming months.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

That'll look good on the resume...

Newly tattooed Phil is working this weekend—parking bikes and providing security for Biketoberfest in D.B. So what are you gonna do if things get hairy—rationalize them into submission? Whip out Occam's razor and slice off their fallacy? Obfuscate them with your explanation of the significance of the first 47 digits of pi?

Too cool. But to do it properly, he needs to shave his head, get wraparound shades, and shave Schroeder, too.

Schroeder would make a bad-ass junkyard dog, unless the object of having a junkyard dog would be to protect the junkyard...


If I am fortunate enough to make it to old man-hood, and I am in the dwindling days of my stay on this mortal coil, I'll be damned if I'm gonna waste one @#$%^&*#$%" MINUTE of my time arguing with a checkout clerk about whether something is on sale or not.

If that ever happens, shoot me—on the spot. I'll carry a little card in my wallet, authorizing it.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Go Figure!

Well, I have to consider it simply a colossal failure of imagination on my part; maybe I can attribute it to my slowly advancing years or something.

In any case, I would never in my wildest imaginings have though that when my two children decided (on a wild, un-parentally-supervised Daytona Beach weekend, what with them being adults and all) to get tattooed, that I would not only end up approving of the idea, but be impressed by the results and prouder than ever of those two knuckleheads.

This apparently started out a long time ago as Madeline's idea. And what do you think a graduate of one of Virginia's most prestigious "Governor's Schools," the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, would have tattooed on her?

For his part, Philip crafted the design using the family's ancient Remington Manual typewriter. He worked up the original, which was then enlarged to create the template for the tattooist.

So now, in a band encircling the thickest part of Madeline's left forearm, and the thickest part of Philip's right bicep, is tattooed...

...the first forty-seven digits of pi.

Not the name of a girlfriend or boyfriend, or a fighting slogan, or a meaningless symbol, or a symbol misappropriated from another culture without regard to its meaning. A universal constant, a mathematical expression—in a circle, no less. An expression of constancy, of unity, of closure, of connection. Shared by a brother and sister. Now come on, what could make a parent happier?

And supposedly, if you carry pi out to forty-seven digits, you can calculate the diameter of a circle the size of the known universe with a margin of error less than the width of a single proton. How do we know this? We know this because somebody told us. We're too busy to check it out, but it sounds really, really, impressive.

In addition, both kids donated blood immediately prior to getting inked (since now they won't be allowed to donate for 12 months) and Phil even got some of the guys at school to donate for the first time. Madeline, for her part, has lined up something like two dozen potential first-time donors at school to cover for her downtime.

When they get the time, they're both going to go back and have the remaining digits added.

And all four of us are taking a good, hard look at phi. Hmmm...

Hierarchy (ca. 1992)

The first defense is judgment.
When judgment fails, depend on skill.
When skill fails, depend on instinct.
When instinct fails, depend on the grace of others.
When others fail, depend on preparation.
When preparation fails, depend on chance.
Chance defies control.
Failure of judgment is the road to disaster.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Still got it

You will be relieved to know that after a hiatus of over two-and-a-half years, I started throwing boomerangs again and within my first six throws of the big birds, I got one successful return to my feet, a double throw with both returning to within ten feet and one bonafide catch—which I can still feel across the fingers of my left hand.

I had also forgotten exactly how invisible boomerangs can be at twilight when you are watching them against the western sky. That gave me one ‘squealing-like-a-little-girl’ moment when I completely lost sight of both incoming 'rangs. At a time like that, you don't really know what to cover up, so running in circles seems like a good idea. Fortunately for me, they both stalled out and dropped a safe distance away.

But I had forgotten how much fun the goddam things are. I'm frustrated because today is a beautiful fall day, but way too windy for boomerangs. Maybe at twilight...

The Twin Mountain

It's been two months since Madeline and I did our traditional ride to mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year. What was once an event held every four years is now a quadrennial tradition. We really need to do it annually, but have consistently been "overtaken by events" at that key transition.

Well, of course, one of the events we were overtaken by was our memory of just how fricking uncomfortable the last ride was. Campaigner has a saddle like two cinder blocks covered with roll roofing, and with two long-legged folks on board, there's about one option for where to sit. Strike that; there's about one-and-a-half options but they're divided between the two of you, so that's really three quarters of an option per person.

By the time we reached our apogee, we were both miserable and the most salient memory we both have of the return is coaxing Campaigner to hyperlegal speeds and watching the mileposts tick past as we headed home. I don't think I was ever so happy to get off a bike...okay, there was another time...but that'll be another post.

One of the main attractions for blasting out to the mountains that time of year is grabbing the last of the local peaches before Labor Day draws down the curtain on peach season. We stopped at one of the ancient dusty stands lining the old road, so left behind by the superslab and by people's changing tastes, a lonesome avatar of another era when traveling meant something.

The stand is scabbed together from salvaged lumber and tarpaper, string of bare-bulb droplights casting shadows across the wooden baskets of produce, yellowjackets inspecting and sampling the wares with insouciant impugnity. Prices are tacked up on misspelled signs written on paper bags with magic marker. Full names are rarely used; instead, you can buy cukes and lopes, zukes and maters. We bought a sack of softball-sized peaches: sweet, soft, fragrant and covered in downy fuzz. We each ate one on the spot, drenching ourselves in sticky golden juice, then packed the rest in Campaigner's tankbag.

Of course, a hundred miles rattling around on top of a motorcycle's gas tank is not the best place for a sack of peaches. By the time we unfolded our aching selves at home, the peaches had turned to mush, a soggy, sticky mess melded with fuzz and the pulp of the paper bag, plastered all over the inside of the tankbag. We picked through the ruins and hosed the balance out.

This year's ride was similar in many respects: early blue-plate special breakfast at our favorite diner; chilly to start out but warming up rapidly as the day goes on. But we rode right past the fruit stand we had frequented without realizing it was closed and gone forever. We doubled back just to make sure, and realized how many places that we took for granted were gone, not just in the last four years but in the last few months.

I should also mention this time we were on Beast instead of Campaigner, which makes a whole world of difference. More power, better handling, but mainly a whole lot more comfortable and...more fun. We crossed the Blue Ridge in a serpentine fury, and rolled through the broad valley amid a herd of S2000 enthusiasts. It seemed like we all spoke the same language for a few miles, though in different dialects; at least we were all having similar kinds of fun on the open divided highway with its hundred-mile vistas.

But the highway has limited appeal to accompany its limited access. We slowed abruptly, and leaned into the sharp turn taking us off the beaten path. The backroad northward leaves the upland valley and descends to follow the course of the river for a few miles; then it rises again to skirt the east flank of the mountain, before cutting west, rising gently at first then bolting in a straight line to the ridge with nothing but rocks on the left and air on the right.

This stretch of road, with its unimpeded sightline dead ahead and limited chance of the unexpected inspires me to stand up on the pegs, stretch my legs and open the throttle as wide as I can bear (at least when I don't have a passenger on board). Winding my way up the mountain with the wind surrounding me and flowing over me, I imagine I am as close to flying as I will ever get. The view eastward is spectacular, but the ride itself is the payoff.

We stop briefly at the summit to take in the view, then descend west to the next valley, racing steeply downward and noting the other road deep in the woods directly below us—parallel to the road we are on, but oddly dropping away in the opposite direction. It takes a moment to realize it is our road; where we are and where we are going connected by an unforgiving and nerve-wracking 5-mile-an-hour hairpin turn, strewn with gravel and debris from shoulder to shoulder.

We turn north again on the two-lane road that snakes through this valley. As we lose elevation, the air becomes oppressively hot and still, even as we cleave it at seventy miles an hour. We are ready for a break, and stop briefly for lemonade and conversation at the lone country store on the road. As we continue northward, the broad valley closes in until we have steep wooded hillsides rising up on both sides, and the rocky creek is directly beside the roadway. We round a bend and enter a deep shady grove of hemlocks; the hillsides beneath these trees are rock-strewn talus, with no undergrowth to speak of. It is a dramatic change from the farm fields and deciduous forests we have been riding through up to now.

The cool shade is welcoming. I park Beast on the narrow shoulder, leaving our helmets perched on either mirror. We pick our way from the roadside down the banks of the creek, so evidently scarred by flooding—detritus clinging to tree branches above our heads, ground scoured and fresh trash wedged in unlikely spots.

The creek moves with languor through the smoothed rocks; it is not the pristine crystalline waters of melting snowpack, but the clear tea-colored waters of eastern forests, stained by its passage through leaf litter. The rocks constrict its passage into a deep pool just downstream of where we stand, like a faucet into a bath. The choice is obvious.

Madeline and I both take off our heavy riding gear and pile it on the rocks. Trusting the creek, I wade barefoot over slick polished rocks, and sink into the flowing waters, a self-baptism into a momentary state of grace. The creek supports me, and begins to ever so slowly carry me towards the sea. But I am blocked by the rocky barrier at the outfall of this pool, and remain motionless in place except for the gentle rippling of the water—staring up through the interlaced hemlocks at the cloudless sky framed by the mountains.

We linger in the cool waters until warm sounds good again. Then, dripping wet, we suit up for the return trip. The dampness beneath our riding suits keeps us comfortable for the ride home, and in what seemed like no time, we are back in the world again. The return trip was enough to supplant our recollection of the previous painful sprint homeward, though in all honesty, it's always kind of nice to get out of the saddle after a couple of hundred miles.

We need to not wait four years to do this again—things change too fast. Same time next year?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Rules of the RoadRunner

In case you didn't know, just like Noh and Kabuki, Perry Mason and Law & Order, Roadrunner cartoons have their own rules:

1. The coyote never catches the road runner;

2. The road runner never actively interferes with the coyote's plans;

3. The road runner must stick to the road;

4. Whenever possible, gravity is the coyote's biggest enemy.

From Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones (1994).
(By way of The Straight Dope)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Foggy Dew

As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No fife did hum nor battle drum did sound it's dread tatoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew
Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

'Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their names we will keep where the fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew
But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
And the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

Ah, back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I'd kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

Charles O'Neill, "The Foggy Dew"(c. 1919)
For those of you who might not know, this song comemmorates the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916. I've been listening to a stunning version of it by a local celtic/bluegrass group called Trasna, which despite my best intentions, brings tears to my eyes.
It annoys me that I am so moved by it, because it's songs like this that keep people killing each other long beyond any recollection of original cause or insult. On the other hand, I'm pretty much a dead-on sucker for appeals to Irish emotionalism. This ranks right up there with "Thousands Are Sailing" in my book for helping explain why the Irish are so goddam...Irish.
This for sure will be all over the pubs, come next St. Patrick's Day.

Report from the Hinterlands

I will note, for the record, that at the Regional HOG shindig (that's Harley Owner's Group) the only people dancing at the Octoberfest dinner were the two BMW owners present.

Now, I know that brats come from Milwaukee, and of course beer, but I guess you need the whole germanic bloodline thing to really get into the spirit.

The best part of the evening was the one-man band, who closed his set with—I kid you not—

"How Great Thou Art"
"Amazing Grace"
"Black Magic Woman" and
"Evil Ways"

At least two of those you can dance to.

Friday, September 30, 2005

2004 R1150r Rockster, green.

That's all I'm gonna say.

It's ma birfday...gonna parTAY...

No I'm not. I'm gonna play hooky and go riding. It's a beautiful chilly autumn day—crystalline sky, brilliant sun. When I get back, we're gonna go someplace fabulous.

Hasta la vista, baby.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Deer Hunter

Twenty-seven years ago this morning I went out and shot a six or eight point deer from 100 yards with a .22 rifle. It was a lucky shot for me, not so much for the deer, and it fell where it was standing. We ate most of the meat over the next few months and tried to do something with the hide but I don't think it worked. I still have the antlers.

That pretty much was the beginning and end of my career as a hunter. There are a lot of things wrong with this story, too many to go over in this space; I don't regret killing the deer but I've never hunted seriously since. It did clarify my thinking about killing animals for food, something that all the fishing I had done before never seemed to do—something about a large mammal with intelligent eyes, probably.

I neither condemn hunters nor praise hunting. Things eat. Things die. We all eat; we all die.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's enough to make a believer out of me

Florida: Red state, governed by a Bush; four hurricanes last many hurricanes so far this year?

Louisiana: Red state; Katrina; Rita on the way?

Texas: Red state, formerly governed by a Bush; Rita on the way.

California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachussetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine: Blue states, not governed by a Bush. Zero hurricanes.

Pat Robertson once chastened Florida— "…you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you, This is not a message of hate -- this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs; it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor."

And here all along I just thought he was a hypocritical crackpot lunatic.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thank you, Associated Press...

A bloated turkey buzzard, gorging itself all day on the rotting carcass of a cow near the road, was unable to get enough height crossing the road and collided with a motorcyclist Aug. 11 on Interstate 25 near Glendo in Platte County.

"As the guy came by, the turkey buzzard schmucked him in the face," Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Bloom told the Platte County Record-Times.

"It slobber-knocked him -- that's the only word for it." Rodney E. Mason of El Paso, Texas, was able to keep his 1994 Harley Davidson motorcycle upright for a few hundred feet as he slowed down before sliding to a stop."

The only thing that saved him from having a shattered face was that he had a full-face helmet on," Bloom said. Mason's fiancee was following on another motorcycle and was "sprayed with putrid meat from the bird" after the collision, Bloom said.

Wow. Just when you thought you had heard every conceivable take on the subject of road risks. I'm not sure what more need be said on the subject. After all, how often do you read the phrase "...sprayed with putrid meat" in the mainstream media, anyway?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Failure of Imagination

"When I see someone improperly dressed, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I see it as a failure of imagination. They can't imagine what can happen. I cringe, because I can imagine what can happen to them and they seem unable to."

—Neil Peart, interviewed in the April 2005 BMW Owners News

Ted says:

“...Yet it is not consciousness that governs the world, nor even ideology, nor religious principle nor national temperament. It is custom that rules the roost."

"In Colombia it was the custom to do murder and violence. In a period of ten years some 200,000 people were said to have been killed by acts of more or less private violence. Yet I found the Colombians at least as hospitable, honourable and humane as the Argentines, whose custom is merely to cheat."

"Arabs have the custom of showing their emotions and hiding their women. Australians show their women and hide their emotions. In Sudan it is customary to be honest. In Thailand dishonesty is virtually a custom, but so is giving gifts to strangers."

"Every possible variation of nudity and prudishness is the custom somewhere as with eating habits, toilet practices, to spit or not to spit; and almost all of these customs have become entirely arbitrary and self perpetuating. Above all it is customary to suspect and despise people in the next valley, or state, or country, particularly if their colour or religion is different."

"And there are places where it is customary to be at war, like Kurdistan or Vietnam. Speaking of the more vicious customs, and of men who should have known better, St. Francis Xavier said a long time ago: `Custom is to them in the place of law, and what they see done before them every day they persuade themselves may be done without sin. For customs bad in themselves seem to these men to acquire authority and prescription from the fact that they are commonly practised.' "

"Custom is the enemy of awareness, in individuals as much as in societies. It regularizes the fears and cravings of everyday life."

—Ted Simon, Jupiter’s Travels
My folklore teacher really disliked this quote. I wonder why?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Observation on correlation, or lack thereof

Having any form of "Honor Student" on board a vehicle does not seem to improve that vehicle's operation.

Maybe we should take a hard look at the current criteria for becoming an honor student...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Getting inked

I've finally decided how I'm going to get inked. I'm going to get two tattoos, one on each hand: Across my right knuckles will be "D-R-I-V-E" and across my left knuckles will be "P-A-S-S."

And I will shake my fists righteously in the faces of those who don't comply.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I'm such a prick

I ran into a fellow today in the elevator who I knew by reputation, his arm recently liberated from a sling. He is slightly notorious because of a spectacular get-off he performed when squiddling down a local mountain road that is very popular with sportbikers. His basic error was not riding "his own ride" —he decided rather foolishly to follow the lead of the knucklehead in front of him and cross a double-yellow around a slow-moving truck. I'm not sure what happened after that, but I understand it wasn't pretty.

He and his mount parted company at high velocity in a shower of gravel, sparks and bits of bright plastic—so I hear. I actually wasn't part of the intimate mob of four dozen on this particular little excursion, so I'm relying on a second-hand, rear-view mirror account of the spectacle. He's a little worse for wear, gradually regaining some range of motion in the wounded member.

I guess the bike is still parked somewhere in the hinterlands, awaiting his eventual return with a pickup truck, some strapping lads and some cheap tie-downs.

But as we went our separate ways, him grinning sheepishly like one who knows he's escaped something easily, I couldn't resist firing a cheap shot at his back—

"You know what Hunter said, right?"

'If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. If you go slow and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.'

I'm such a prick.

(Only I wasn't joking.)

Accessorizing in style

It feels really cool and appropriate to ride around with my copy of "On The Road" tucked into the armor of my jacket. I need to keep a pack of cigarettes rolled up in my shirtsleeve now.

Our long national nightmare is over

Premium is now down to the antedeluvian price of $3.01. Whew...I'm going to start filling garbage cans up with the stuff, just in case. And go buy a Hummer. (The SUV, you pervert).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Melissa knows...

"The rider processes data from the road and its environs with a certain detachment, translating them nearly as quickly into physical responses: eat or be eaten. There is no room in the brain for idle thought (except on the highway, when idle thoughts appear and float and reconfigure in endless array), and a biker can go for miles and miles without waking up to any sudden realization, including the one that nothing at all has been thought for miles and miles. The faster you ride, the more closed the circuit becomes, deleting everything but this second and the next, which are hurriedly merging. Having no past to regret and no future to await, the rider feels free..."

"This peculiar physiological effect, common to all high-concentration pursuits, may be why one finds among motorcyclists a large number of people who always feel as if there were a fire lit under them when they are sitting still. When they're out riding, the wind disperses the flame so they don't feel the terrible heat."

—Melissa Holbrooke Pierson, The Perfect Vehicle
The Perfect Vehicle is probably one of the best books ever written about the 'why' of motorcycling. Probably because it was written by a woman.

Kinship of the Marque

One of the funny quirks of riding a BMW is encountering drivers who didn't know BMW made motorcycles—which they have been doing since 1923, long before they ever made automobiles (something about the German aircraft industry, some 'Treaty of Versailles,' yadda yadda...the BMW logo represents a spinning propeller in the blue and white of Bavaria...the opposed twin boxer engine is a direct adaptation of an aircraft engine).

This is not to suggest there is any kinship or commonality between those who ride BMWs (machines known as BEE-mers) and those who drive BMWs (machines known as BIMM-ers) except on the margins. Fact is, I feel virtually zero kinship with the bimmeristas.

I guess at one time, BMW automobiles were known as light, nimble, reasonably-powered performance vehicles for the automotive purist; elegantly engineered and precisely crafted, they allowed a driver to experience driving with intensity and spirit. But they seem to have devolved into lumpen status symbols, toys of the grasping, acquisitive class, who have neither interest in nor skill at performance driving.

These once-proud machines have become lashed down, compromised and trussed-up by the timid, the awkward, the fearful, the insecure, the road-enraged, those with more money than they know what to do with and who are desperate for some affirmation. The first bimmer SUV, bearing soccer mom and entourage, was the nail in the coffin of the bimmer as fun. Tired, serious, humorless, dour, safe cars for people who are terrified of driving. Like Volvos, but more disappointing.

No, I don't feel any kinship of the marque with these sad lost souls. But there is a group with whom I feel a strong kinship—almost unto the kinship felt with any motorcyclist, like that felt by pioneering VW drivers in the days of old, when Beetles first crawled the earth.

Cooper Minis. Yes, Cooper is largely a BMW enterprise, despite their British heritage, what with corporate bloodlines being so convoluted and tangled these days. I think of Bimmers as estranged half-brethren to Beast, while Minis are favorite cousins.

And when I see a Mini, I think, "Wow—there goes somebody who wants to have some fun with their driving, rather than being obsessed with status and how they are perceived by their target demographic." Maybe not those exact words, but you get the idea.

Minis always make me smile when I see them, not because they are 'cute,' but because they look like so much fun. I'll wager they are fun to drive and fun to ride in. And while Bimmers conjure up images of soy-latte-sipping cellphone yakkers changing lanes without signalling, Minis make me think of doing donuts in the snow in the middle of the night in an empty parking lot.

And that, my friends, is what it is all about.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Nature, red in tooth and claw

We were clearing weeds from the garden this evening when Julia—the cat—managed to find a bunny in all the deep tangle of growth. Julia is over eight years old, weighs about six pounds dripping wet, and is frequently mistaken for a kitten because she is so tiny.

Julia possesses all the innate ferocity of a hot-dog bun. But she has enough personality and poise for an entire litter of cats, and yes, she managed to kill the bunny that was nearly her size. Once it was dead, she seemed annoyed and impatient with it for not working anymore, and I believe she was in a feline snit. It was quite an amazing, horrifying thing to see.

Anyway. Hi-five to Julia! Haven't lost your touch!

A Change of Pace

Today I really, really, needed a change of pace. The grinding tedium of work has been bearing down on me; I needed something other than stealing a few hasty moments of feigned freedom ending up with me back at my desk again.

So I headed west up the river, following the canal as I often do; but this time I sought neither speed nor distance. I rolled along gently, casually, until I found the exact spot I was looking for. I stopped, shed my gear and walked up a small hillside, through dried brown grass withering in the September heat, into a grove of locust trees.

I sat in the grass and listened. But for the sound of the occasional passing car and the wind in the trees, it was quiet. I pulled off my boots, turned off my phone and blackberry, and dropped them into a boot; I rolled my jacket into a pillow and lay down on my back in the warm mottled shade.

How I got to this point in my life without having read “On The Road,” I’ll never know—just one of those oversights in my twisted, faulty intellectual development. But I started devouring it last night, a gift, and read many more chapters on my back under the locusts until the sun, like a lock-picker, wheedled its way through the greening locust canopy and seduced me to sleep.

I slept sun-dazzled under the locusts all too briefly, before reality and responsibility asserted themselves. This sojourn took less time than my typical frantic ride to escape, yet I returned feeling less desperate, less constrained. Maybe riding isn’t the be-all and end-all—it’s just the only avenue of escape I’ve thought of. I’ve come to rely on it as a crutch; after all, there are other things in life. Like reading a good book.

Maybe tomorrow I'll leave the bike behind, just take the book and find some shade somewhere.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Why didn't I think of that?

Hey Biker Buddies! Did you know that if you let those gruesome bug carcasses on your visor dry out for just a few minutes before attempting to remove them, they'll simply brush off instead of leaving an unsightly, vision-impairing smear? Try it next time—you'll be glad you did!

Playing the Crazy Card

One of the rare perks of being a motorcyclist, at least if you're out of the closet (so to speak) is the opportunity to play the crazy card.

This only works when you're equipped with one or more of the signifiers, and the more the merrier. Helmet is the minimum requirement, but boots, leathers and nasty-looking gloves are a bonus.

Here's the basic thing to playing the crazy card: People just assume you're crazy if you ride a motorcycle, or even better, dangerous crazy. So why try to disabuse them of the notion? Why not just run with it?

The crazy card works great when you're walking down the street, minding your own business, leather jacket on and helmet in hand. You come to the crosswalk with a "walk" sign, and sixteen snarling cabdrivers with the air conditioning off are competing to run down the pair of blind nuns who are crossing the street in front of you.

What do you do in a situation like this? You play the crazy card:

You walk between the cabs and the nuns. You stop dead in your tracks. You slowly turn your head and make unflinching eye contact with any one of the cab drivers. He briefly considers his options, thinks what that helmet could do to his hack. He then drops at your feet, rolls over and shows you his soft white underbelly, asserting your psychotic alpha-ness. You smile sweetly at the nuns, wish them a good day, and go on your merry way.

Note: This also works pretty well on clumps of power-suited-cellphone-obsessed-starbucks-bound-yuppie-dotcommers walking down the sidewalk. They will part like the waters of the Red Sea before Moses with just one icy flash of the crazy card.

The nice part is it never gets old. It's alway fun, never fails to work, and people know there's an unending supply of crazy in the world—so why would they doubt you?

Apocryphal tale from the Utah desert

Somebody once told me a FOAF story of two motorcyclists in the Utah desert. On a straightaway that stretched from horizon to horizon, they approached each other for what must have seemed like an eternity, faint headlight gradually strengthening through the hot, quavering desert air.

Each was doing easily twice the speed limit, for the road was open, visibility was perfect, and the desert road without end. They were probably enjoying each other's company vicariously, for rare is the motorcyclist who doesn't see kinship in that single distant headlight.

Minds tend to wander on roads like that, yet both riders were alert and focused as the approached each other, closing at 250 miles an hour, tucked behind their respective fairings to escape the ferocious windstream.

The force of the wind is a function of the cube of the velocity. At speeds over 100 miles an hour, it is not something to be trifled with. In the brief instant of their passing, one rider, safely encapsulated in his bubble of quiet air, made the casual gesture so familiar to riders—a gentle toss of the hand, a wave of acknowledgement and friendship—

Outside the bubble of still air—

Into the windstream—

—and broke his wrist.

(...At least, that's what I was told)

Shocking Report from Mechanic School

Well, what would you expect from the hedonistic cesspool that is Daytonia? Is nothing sacred?

Just barely five weeks into the school year at L'Ecole De Mechaniques du motocycle De Amerique, all semblance of decency has broken down and standards have been tossed out the window, into the pool in the courtyard.

Apparently, at lunchtime, a rogue group of students sneaks off by themselves and...plays scrabble. Scrabble, I tell you! Right in front of everyone! Obviously, if there was ever a concept of in loco parentis, it's long been cast to the wind.

Then, this twisted little cabal apparently leaves the premises, departs the verdant, green quad of the campus, and in some perverse town-gown thing, wantonly commandeers a local establishment and in broad daylight, ice-cream eating contest. Oh, the humanity.

Won't somebody please step in and take control of this bunch of hoodlums? I hear rumors that, as more and more formerly wholesome institutions are infiltrated by gangs of one ilk or another, they are plotting to form their own...Cricket club.

Right here. In AMERICA. If we don't stop them in Daytonia, pretty soon they'll be playing cricket on the Mall in Washington, D.C.!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Beast as Unicycle

Oh yeah, forgot to mention—did my first real, live wheelie today. Gosh that was fun!


I recall seeing American Airlines Flight 77 eighteen seconds before it hit the Pentagon, by my estimate. This morning, a cool, clear beautiful blue September morning like that one was, I decided to have my own remembrance my own way.

I rode to my favorite old country store on my favorite twisty back roads. I bought a big white styrofoam cup of plain coffee from the self-serve Bunn four-pot coffee machine. I got a carton of chocolate milk from the cooler and two plain Krispy Kreme doughnuts from the counter. I paid with a ten, put all the change in the jar on the counter for the Red Cross-Katrina aid fund, went and sat out on the front porch.

I tempered the coffee with the chocolate milk, ate doughnuts and sipped coffee, and watched as nothing went by on the road or the railroad tracks for a long time. Licked my fingers clean as best I could, saddled up and headed for home.

So much heat, so little light from that awful day. You just have to find the good and embrace it with all your heart.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I don't care what smack they wanna talk about kudzu. There's absolutely nothing like that grape-popsicle smell. That makes the devouring of the south all worthwhile.


I read something a long time ago in a monograph published by the National Bureau of Standards called “Nickel and Its Alloys” (Really. I did. I got it for free from a friend.) that I still find fascinating:

You can’t pipe hydrogen gas through pipes alloyed with a significant percentage of nickel. The crystal lattice of nickel—face-centered cubic, if I recall correctly—is so large, porous and widely-spaced that molecules of hydrogen simply pass through the metal unimpeded.

That’s exactly how traffic looks to a motorcyclist, something car drivers don’t seem to appreciate. For all intents and purposes a motorcycle, as a single-track vehicle, is geometrically (or maybe it’s topologically—math was never my strong suit) a line, two points connected. Cars, like all multi-track vehicles, represent several points and thus a plane. Motorcycles are lines swimming in a sea of planes.

I also don’t believe car drivers have any clue what it’s like to actually be able to see the things in your (traffic) environment. I suspect a lot of motorcyclists are like me, in that when they get into an automobile, they are appalled by the extent to which visibility is restricted by the very structure of the vehicle and the posture of the driver.

From the saddle of a motorcycle, you generally see over, beside, around or through the vehicles around you, and have a much richer stream of information to draw on. This grants a motorcyclist a particular time advantage, since sightlines equate to reaction time in most instances. You also have the advantage of seeing and thinking in three dimensions, since multitrack vehicles are pinned to the surface but a motorcycle has some latitude in the vertical plane.

The motorcyclist can move with grace and ease through openings the car driver can’t even detect, and this is the source of great consternation among drivers. They rage about the wanton disregard and lawlessness that riders flaunt. Yet their frames of references render understanding impossible. The worlds they operate in are completely different, and wholly incompatible—the two dimensional versus the three dimensional.

The problem comes down to this. Car drivers dislike motorcyclists because they are irritating; Motorcyclists dislike car drivers because they kill us.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Beast is back! New sneakers and all!

Grin stuck firmly to face!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Cross-cultural question on Calvinism:

In Europe, do knucklehead fans of Max Biaggi decorate their pickup trucks with stickers of 'Calvin' peeing on #46 and likewise, do knucklehead Valentino Rossi fans decorate theirs with 'Calvin' peeing on #3? Or is that just a NASCAR thing?

If Bill Watterston were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave.

Beverly Cleary knows...

"A mouse lives not by crumbs alone and so Ralph experienced still another emotion; this time food was not the cause of it. Ralph was eager, excited, curious, and impatient all at once. The emotion was so strong it made him forget his empty stomach. It was caused by those little cars, especially that motorcycle and the pb-pb-b-b-b sound the boy made."

"That sound seemed to satisfy something within Ralph, as if he had been waiting all his life to hear the mouse the sound spoke of highways and speed, of distance and danger, and whiskers blown back by the wind...Close up the motorcycle looked even better than he expected. It was new and shiny and had a good set of tires. Ralph walked all the way around it, examining the pair of chromium mufflers and the engine and the hand clutch. It even had a little license plate so it would be legal to ride it..."

"Feeling that this was an important moment in his life, he took hold of the handgrips. They felt good and solid beneath his paws. Yes, this motorcycle was a good machine all right. He could tell by the feel...Ralph was not satisfied just sitting on the motorcycle. Ralph craved action. After all, what was a motorcycle for if it wasn't action?"

"...Who needed motorcycle riding lessons? Not Ralph!"

Beverly Cleary, The Mouse and The Motorcycle
Of course, who among us who rides hasn't experienced what Ralph went through in those exhilarating moments of riding a motorcycle for the first time?
Pushing yourself along with your feet tentatively at first, then with more vigor, gaining speed, trying turns for the first time, getting distracted, forgetting to brake, driving right off the edge of the nightstand and falling, falling, falling, into the big wire mesh trash can along with the motorcycle (heh! not even your motorcycle !)
I remember it like it was yesterday.

I have GOT to get me one of those!

Man, if I had one of those, I would DEFINITELY gabble away with a smirk on my snerk!

(from Mercer Mayer's "One Monster After Another")

From Hadrian's Wall, April 2004—

"Today is Sunday; the trail parallels a beautiful two-lane road, though they are separated by hedges and are at different levels."

"Phil and I are serenaded by a steady stream of sport-bike sounds, and begin to play 'Guess the Marque' as we go."

"Ducatis are easy; Boxers are easy, though rare; everything else sounds the same in a buzzy, multicylinder, Japanese way."

Walking west from Heddon-on-the-Wall, outside Newcastle

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Well, when you put it that way...

I read a quote the other day from a rider, part of some illustrious group of motorcyclists who were being profiled because of their praiseworthy work raising money for some charity.

The upper-middle-aged rider said, with great emphasis and enthusiasm "Yeah man...riding motorcycles keeps you from getting old!"


Yeah, I suppose you could put it that way, and obviously, in many cases that's the undeniable truth. I think, though, what he really meant to get across was "...Riding motorcycles keeps you young."

At least I hope that's what he meant. Jeeze...

Blast from the Past

I dug Campaigner out of the barn and dusted it off this morning, just for kicks and grins—for some reason I didn’t feel like riding the Jack Russell and of course Beast is still at the spa. Campaigner hasn’t rolled since Phil left for Daytonia, and was slowly turning into just another dusty set of horizontal surfaces to pile stuff onto.

I had mostly drained the gas tank a while ago, and dumped the float bowls at the same time, figuring it wouldn’t get ridden much. Of course, that was the cheap old gas—you know, that $2.49 a gallon crap, so incredibly last June.

It took some fussing and mussing to get it to fire up, though it turned over crisply (at least initially). The plugs were kinda fouled, or dirty anyway, so I burned the crud off them with a propane torch. I dumped the float bowls again and looked for signs of water and crud in the fuel. Nada.

I added fresh fuel, and it tried again. It was cool this morning, so I thought maybe the choke was the issue. Fussed and fiddled a bit with that, and it still wouldn’t catch, and now the notoriously undersized battery was starting to flag. So I tried bumping it down the gentle hill beside the house—still no signs of life. Checked the plugs at the bottom of the hill; they were fine.

Then I thought I ought to try turning the petcock on and letting it have some fuel. Well, that made all the difference in the world: Campaigner awoke with a shake, a shudder and a roar in a fine haze of blue smoke and burning cobwebs.

Campaigner is a classic airhead—a later generation air-cooled boxer twin. Somewhat updated from its 1923 progenitors with things like a disc brake, electronic ignition and monolever suspension, and further modified by me in a host of ways, it still appears in most aspects to be a few minor tweaks from Max Fritz’s first classic designs of the 1920’s, especially with its elegant mantle of rattle-can black.

It rides like a classic airhead, too. I couldn’t believe how incredibly tiny—compact—it felt after riding, most recently, the F650gs for a week or two, and of course Beast for 18,000 miles in the last two years. Shaft jacking, torque twisting, brake diving—sometimes several at once; it’s a veritable funhouse ride on two wheels. I’d forgotten how boisterous airheads are and how sedate, how clinical oilheads are. My first impression of Beast was that it had an electric motor—okay, a really powerful electric motor—and rode, well, kind of like a sewing machine. Shaft jacking and brake dive are gone on oilheads; torque twisting is mostly cancelled out; but those are part of what made airheads unique.

Anyway. It took me a just a couple of miles to settle back into Campaigner’s groove. This is a bike I rode daily for twelve years, year round, something like 100k+ miles, but hadn’t ridden but a tiny bit since Beast came on the scene in 2003. Yet it all came back after a few awkward moments, some halting takeoffs, some prolonged stops, some bobbled lines. Beast, Campaigner and the Jack Russell could hardly be more different, aside from their common parentage and a few passing similarities. But moving from one to another is effortless.

Which brings me to the concept of “drivers.” Drivers are little bits of software that let your computer use hardware. Printers, for example, have specific drivers that translate generic commands from the computer into specific commands so the printer can render an image correctly. Installing computer hardware nowadays is mostly a case of finding the correct drivers, and everything else is handled behind the scenes.

So I know how to ride a “motorcycle” in the generic sense; I possess the generic skillset. Campaigner is a “motorcycle.” Beast is a “motorcycle.” The Jack Russell is a “motorcycle.” Each one is unique and really, really, different from the others. But once I start riding, the correct “driver” immediately loads—and suddenly I know that I have to brake more assertively here, lean less aggressively, watch that I don’t crush my thumb joint between the grips and the corners of the tank on Campaigner, cancel the turn signals this way on Beast, remember that I have or don’t have ABS, that a drum brake acts differently, and so on.

In a way, it’s like being multilingual—you know the underlying concepts are generally the same, just expressed differently. When you are fluently multilingual, you think in different languages, translate on the fly, revert to your native tongue when you’re stressed, dream in different languages, and have a foot in each world. You load those drivers, those interfaces, effortlessly and without conscious thought.

I guess that makes me a fluent motorcyclist.