Saturday, March 31

My camping cargo!

Well, I’m set for my solo camping adventure.

Not knowing if solo camping is a permanent part of my motorcycle touring, I’ve kept my expenses low. The equipment I sought had to fit three criteria: decent, inexpensive and small. First the tent: I found one for $90 that was on clearance for $34. Can’t beat that! I grabbed it. The tent was made in China. I mention that in an effort to (perhaps) explain why the abysmal directions for erecting the tent. In two short, confusing paragraphs, I learned nothing! I’m one of those people who reads manuals, highlights directions and really follows instructions. But this tent came devoid of any coherent instructions. I studied the photo of the assembled tent and put it together based on the picture. It took me two tries to get it right. Once erected, I was happy I had decided to get a 2-person tent rather than a one person. This is a small dome tent that has just enough room for me and my loot—not an inch more. Its igloo design has a wide front entrance, privacy flaps and nice mesh cover. I like it; it will definitely serve me well. On a five star scale, with five being superior, I give the tent a 3.5; the instructions get a minus one!

Sleeping Bag

I selected the mummy style as I recall being bug-snug in one before. I am amazed that tents and bags run the price gamut! I found sleeping bags for $10.00 to well over $700.
After much research, I realized I could easily eliminate the high priced all-season, goose down-filled bags, guaranteed to keep me warm in below zero temps. I will not be scaling any icy mountains in the dead of winter. I opted for a hugely discounted bag for a whopping $35, which was a more than 50% discount. In print, it sounded good. In reality, it looks pretty darn good too. On the few nights I plan to use it, it will suffice. The bag earns a 3.5.

Sleeping bag pad

I found many sleeping bag pads, those items you place between your sleeping bag and the floor of your tent. Doing so will prevent you from feeling the cold and damp ground on which your tent is placed. To me the most important thing about these pads should be their ability to retain body heat, resist moisture, and ideally, add a little softness to the ground. Am I missing something? By now, I've learned that one can spend any amount on gear. I wanted cheap but good quality and I now know that it is possible if one is willing to hunt for bargains, which can be taxing. I found pads ranging in $10 to well over $200! A huge range in style and function exists. I found one $25 that was discounted to $12. When I opened the package and revealed a thick spongy pad--sort of like the memory foam mattresses--I wondered how well it would work. Well, it is surely better than nothing—I hope. For now, this gets a 3.


This is too cool!
The lamp is large and operates from a twist wheel adjacent to the lamp. It is lightweight with an adjustable strap. The light is bright enough to illuminate the way if I have to answer a nature call in the middle of the night. It also doubles as a nice reading lamp. The only thing I don’t like about it is the military fatigue strap, but hey, I only pad $15 for it and I think it’s one of my favorite purchases. (Sidebar: while waiting at the airport to pick up my daughter who was home for spring break, I had a chance to use this as a reading light. It drained new batteries in thirty minutes!) Note to self: take extras. I rate this 4 out of 5.


Another potentially pricey item. Initially, confused with the mm numbers and zoom and power figures, I did some research to find out which features were necessary for my needs. One can’t go strictly by price as the same features can be found at all price levels. If desired, I could spend thousands of dollars on binoculars! Price varies also by function, glass quality and brand name. There is no need to buy binoculars designed for astronomy if all I want to do is birding. Do I need a zoom function? Lightweight, compact or something more robust? Sometimes I wish I were the kind of person who could see something, make a decision and get on with my life. This was not an easy purchase. Since I didn’t want to spend a ton, but didn’t want to buy junk, I found a pair of Bushnell (a name inextricably linked with binoculars) that retailed for $110. I bought them for $55. Good deal, eh?
They are compact, lightweight and have a medium zoom function. They fit my small hands well and I’ve already spied on an apartment building across the river. I was also able to read the fine print on a street sign far into the distance. I’m very pleased with this purchase. This gets a whooping 5 out of 5.

If camping becomes a permanent feature in my motorcycle touring, I will eventually upgrade the equipment. Until then, it’s good to know that I’m set for the season.

By the way, my friend Lucas, a serious outdoorsman, has ribbed me about my lack of desire to camp and cook my meals. To him camping and cooking go hand-in-hand. I believe him. I did it many years ago. Now, I've redefined things. Any activity that reminds me of domesticity will not be allowed on my trips! Camping is roughing it enough. I'd rather fast than cook on a vacation! So, don't expect any reviews of cooking gear--and don't try to convince me of its virtues, thank you very much.

Tuesday, March 27

A note on my camping experiences...

As a solo female rider, I am leery of camping alone. Gender is an issue. Allow me be honest, race is a factor too. As much as I’d like to pretend that race doesn’t matter, it does. I am not naive; I know I don’t have blendability, that quality that allows me to cross boundaries with nary a notice. To some extent, we all have limits on our ability to blend. Truth be told, some of us have more difficulty blending than others. Long before riding a motorcycle, I was made aware of how my presence in some places could generate certain crazy dynamics, which has taught me that being female is challenging enough, but being a visibly distinct “minority” and female raises the stakes a bunch of notches! I’m talking firsthand experience here. Please don’t tell me, as someone did, that we get or find what we’re looking for on this earth and that I only need to practice positive thinking to reap positive outcomes. Look, I’ve been drawing breath on this earth a long time; I know the limits on positive thinking. I have been spit on, yelled at from moving cars, ignored by wait staff in restaurants, and fended off enough unwanted male attention to know that along with positive thinking I need to be realistic and committed to self-preservation.

Years ago, I did a lot of camping so I’m not a complete novice. Then, I weathered the stares, the whispers, the nasty epithets that sometimes came my way. I chucked it up to ignorance. As long as I didn't feel physically threatened, I dealt with others' stupidity. I wasn't, back then, camping alone. My upcoming camping venture will be solo. I’m planning to camp at least twice--maybe more--while circling Lake Superior. I'm a huge fan of creature comforts but I also want to experience, up close and personal, some beautiful sunrises and sunsets; I'll need a great spot to do so along the lake’s magnificent shoreline. I refuse to allow my or anyone's limitations preclude me from having a great time.

First on the list: new gear. My allergies can exhibit monstrous results with one whiff of old, dank and dusty equipment. Thus, I’m not even thinking about using anything from the old stash. I bought a new tent and sleeping bag and pad. Then of course, there are the accessories, like head light and binoculars. Second on the list: items that serve a useful purpose but double also as a weapon. Given that I’ll be traveling through Canada, I will need to avoid carrying anything that might be a red flag during customs inspections. My motto: expect the best but prepare for the worst. Here’s what I took on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT). Does anyone know…will I need to leave the knife at home? What about a hammer? I think I’d feel more comfortable sleeping with a hammer nearby. I’m open to suggestions for dual-purpose items—if you know what I mean.

Next: Gear talk

Thursday, March 22

Sidi Boot Update

For those wanting more info on the Sidi On Road Gor-Tex boot, check out the 31 reviews on Motorcycle Gear Review. Overall, the reviews are quite impressive and provide lots of firsthand experiences testing the waterproofness of the boots. Then there is the review Cruiser Magazine did on the top 12 waterproof boots--it's worth reading too. The boots examined in the article refer to a Sidi On Road Sympatex boot, which is an older version of the Sidi On Road Gor-Tex. The only difference I see between the two is a $30 price increase on the "Gor-Tex" version and the name switch. The review is thorough and well-done.

Sidi On Road Gor-Tex Boots

Now that I have over 130 miles on my new, waterproof Sidi boots ($260), I think it’s time for a serious review. I love these boots! They fit perfectly! From the moment I slipped my foot inside, they felt comfortable—no stress points to annoy you after a few miles. On the second day, I wore the boots to work to begin the break-in process. Only thing is, these boots need no break-in. I walked several miles in them that day and at all times, I felt as if I were wearing my favorite cross-trainers.

These stylish, tall boots extend above mid-leg. A wide, rigid panel that runs along the front of the boot is enough to make the rider feel that the leg is well protected. This would prevent the “ouch” I utter when backing up the bike and smacking my shin on the foot pegs. The boots fasten by four belt-like straps that are pulled through a plastic eye and adhered to four Velcro positions on the side of the boots. Consequently, the boots allow for considerable adjustment through a simple buckle mechanism.

The Sidi On-Road boots have extra padding on the inside ankle (the outer ankle is protected underneath one of the fasteners). When the boots are unfastened they reveal a loose waterproof inner panel that when tucked in provides extra waterproofing along the buckles that are used to fasten and adjust the fit of the boot.
I also like that each boot sports the extra layer of leather near the toe where ordinarily only one exists on the shift boot.

In my relatively short riding experience, I’ve had four pairs of boots. A pair of tall, leather, smokin’ Frye boots from the 70s. These stylish and sweaty boots took months to break in and feel totally comfortable in. From last season, a pair of HD leather boots with hard toe, sole and heel. I like them but they offer minimal ankle and shin protection and didn’t have the bend around the sole area needed for good foot position on a sporty bike. The other pair, an inexpensive touring boot, was fine but the online purchase without benefit of trying them on rendered them ill-fitting, forcing me wear thick, hot socks to take up the slack; still, them always felt too loose and unsafe. Yet, I bought the Sidi’s online too but they perfect like gloves, which I think proves that the Sidi sizing is truer than the cheap pair.

I love 99.5% of everything about the Sidi boot. However, there is one little thing that I hope is correcting itself. The sole of the Sidi boot has a textured, knobby appearance. My foot is flexed on the pegs, that is, I am on the balls of my feet. When it is time to shift, the knobby surface is caught by the pegs, which are also textured. Without a smooth, flat sole, foot movement is an issue. I can’t just slide my foot forward and underneath and shift gears. I consciously have to lift my foot slightly—as oppose to simply scooch it forward—and then aim it underneath to shift the gear. When I first wore the boots, this inability to move my foot easily was hugely annoying. My former boots all had a flat, less deeply textured, surface that made foot movement smooth and automatic. I must say that either now I’ve learned to compensate for this or the surface is dulling some to allow easier foot gliding. In any case, it’s not enough to diminish the beauty and functionality of this boot. Although pricey, they are among the best investments I’ve made!

Tuesday, March 20


Does this happen to other riders or am I the only one? I’ve had my first one of the season. I don’t recall hearing it discussed on the forums either. But it seems that my riding season begins with me having a spat of nightmares. Horrible, ghastly tales of being struck by a Mack truck that sends me soaring through the air hitting metal traffic poles as I go down at which point I land in the street where cars run over me or my motorcycle falls from the sky on top of me. Sheer panic awakens me and I’m usually sweaty, confused wondering if I’ve just witnessed my future finis. I swear I have no death wish.

I remember having a particularly gruesome mind trip last year where I saw the accident about to happen and on some subterranean level I screamed at myself to wake up and I did just before impact. It worried me for days and sent me off journaling about the messages embedded in the dream. I’m not afraid to ride and I don’t harbor fears beyond the normal. The only thing I’ve come up with is that the nightmares are my brain’s way of dealing with the real dangers out there; they are close-ups of the extreme risks I can face; and, they serve as reminders to be forever vigilant and sharp. I think it’s my unconscious dealing with the injuries and fatalities that all riders read about, talk about, and some of us feel will/will not happen to us.
I’m don’t believe in the commonly expressed adage that there are only two types of riders, those who have crashed and those who will. Frankly, I don’t know why any rider would buy into such a negative expectation for him or herself. Those who do, I believe will surely live up to it. These figments of my imagination are dramatic reality checks—extremes to be sure, but valuable admonitions nonetheless. My night visions remind me of the popular—and old—television “cop” series, Hill Street Blues, where the police chief, after relaying a list of grisly neighborhood crime stats to his officers, would warn them as my seasonal dreams tell me, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Sunday, March 18

St. Patrick's Day--Saturday

As in many urban centers, it’s a huge celebration. Chicago has a large Irish population and Irish is the heritage of its two longest serving mayors (father and son Daley). Thus, “St. Paddy’s Day” is serious business here with celebrations starting days before dye turns the Chicago River green. Weather is never a deterrent. Saturday was cold, clear and bright. People ambled along Michigan Avenue toward the parade route and by 10 a.m. many showed signs of the previous night’s celebration as they shouted with abandon. As I made my way on foot, I thought it better to skip riding today.

By 9:30 p.m., I couldn’t ignore the bike’s call. So, I planned a short ride, rationalizing that on such a cold night Queenie needed a firing up anyway. Queenie didn’t want to turnover the first time but she leaped alive on the second try. I dressed warmly but could feel the bite; I welcomed it. Night riding in downtown Chicago reveals a city always lit up. The “Magnificent Mile” always reminds one of Christmas with its brilliant nightly glow. As during Christmas, the streets were jammed with revelers except that on this day, most people donned anywhere from mild (tall green leprechaun hats and requisite green beads) to extreme dress (entire leprechaun outfits, clover-covered clothes, and kelly-green body paint) to convey their Celtic roots and support for the Emerald Isle.

Cars and cabs were ubiquitous! Lines to get into bars wrapped around corners, revelers literally poured into the streets. Lots of blowing horns and hoopla, sort of a mini Mardi Gras scene. The most eventful incident happened when a group of five young women, clearly inebriated, some of whom appeared to have difficulty keeping their pants above that spot where the “good Lord split ‘em,” were zipping in and out of the street. It looked like they were trying to hail a cab but had some commitment issues. I whispered an unkind word or two about “suburbanites” and immediately asked for forgiveness. After all, they could be Chicago’s finest!

In the cabbies’ desire to meet the needs of both sides of the street, it made one particular one-way street impossible to navigate in a straight line. Therefore, I remained stuck behind lurching cabs until the street calmed.

All but one of the seemingly drunken females managed to get inside a cab that stopped directly in front of them. One staggering and wildly giggling member spotted me. I think she assumed I was male (gear contributes to rider-anonymity). She ignored her friends as they piled into the cab. She sauntered back to me and coquettishly asked, “So where are you going?” She stood way too close to me and looked over the bike as if trying to figure out how to throw a leg over--getting around the hard cases will give one pause as it seems like an insurmountable task. I flipped open my helmet and said, “I’m going home.” With that, she mumbled something incoherent and staggered back to the cab where she planted herself next to the driver.

Fortunately, I arrived home safely. Perhaps last night was not the best time to venture out. Lesson learned: don’t allow my motorcyclia mania to put me in unnecessary danger. Riding under the best of circumstances is risk management enough.

Thursday, March 15

"What a difference a day makes--24 little hours..."

Tuesday was magnificent! It reached a high of 73 degrees F, with bright, sunny skies and enough wind to make you sit up and take notice. I had an appointment in a far south suburb and because of the summer-like weather everyone and their mother was out and about, many cradling mobile phones in their cocked necks. Cabbies were playing serious Pac Man with anyone who came near. Yet, I was determined to take advantage of the weather and safely travel back and forth. It took me twice the time to get out of the downtown area. Some motorcyclists detest heavy traffic but if it’s your backyard, there is no avoiding it. You learn to navigate your environment, you become hyper-vigilant; you use laser eyes to scan your surroundings; you keep as much of a space cushion as you can (often a futile effort); and, you ride with you thumb on the horn. I did avoid the Dan Ryan (I-90/94), which is under construction and chaotic and as a result, replete with hordes of angry, edgy, and resentful drivers.

I took the long-cut and rode south on Western Avenue, which is now packed with cars and trucks trying to avoid "the Ryan" too. I took Western south to 119th Street then headed east to pick up Interstate 57. Hopped on that and took it south to Lincoln Hwy (Rt. 30 West). Nice slab ride, few cars, something that would shift in a mere two hours. The ride was windy—still loving the windscreen. Occasionally, unexpected wind blasts hit me—“hooray” for countersteering. A wind blast in a curve still makes the hair on my neck stand at attention. Although it sounds counter intuitive, “relaxing” is key to dealing with strong winds. Tightening up the muscles and fighting against oneself is not the way to proceed.

Arrived safely. My new doctor liked my bike. (Mental note: Give her two points for liking Queenie!) She said she treats many motorcyclists. Initially, I was impressed by that, later I had to ask myself if treating a lot of ‘cycists was a good thing or not…hmmm?

Return trip was uneventful except for the driver in a small maroon car, which pulled up next to me at a stop light and asked me about the bike. Ordinarily, I ignore people when I’m on the bike but I’ve learned that some drivers get very angry when I do. There are nuts out there, so I took the road of least resistance, the weather was warm, my helmet was crack a little and he asked about my bike—I’m a sucker for that and I always think someone is genuinely interested in my gal-pal. I gave him her name, rank and serial number, so to speak.

At the next light, he started in and I never see these things coming—I’m too old and too uninterested. He started flirting. He asked, “Where do you ride?” I said, “I ride…on the street…everywhere.” This wasn’t sufficient. He said, “No, like where exactly do you ride—do you ride around here?” Again, me: “I ride everywhere.” Then the silliest comment: “So do you think you can beat this?” He waves his hands as if introducing his car. I looked at his car and thought; he has to be kidding! I could out run that thing on foot! He was riding a Focus or something like it. Now, I’m not one to race cars or shoot off from a stoplight but this guy was beginning to annoy me. I thought, don’t let this fool make you kill yourself. It so happened that a bus was on his right and I knew that he’d have trouble getting around it. When the light changed, I watched for cross traffic trying to beat the light and when there wasn’t any, I proceeded slightly faster than I ever do. He was partly stuck behind the bus. And that was the end of that. Note to self: NEVER talk to drivers again. Just act as if you don’t hear them, risk the wrath of the crazies.

By the time I arrived home, I had performed the following: approximately 6-horn toots, a dozen or more negative head shakes at egregiously bad drivers; one swear word inside my helmet, and a really nice u-turn. Lessons: Scan constantly; maintain a space cushion (even when drivers repeatedly squeeze in); keep thumb on horn and use it; stay out of blind spots (if you can’t see the driver’s face in their side mirror—you’re in their blind spot); steer clear of buses and trucks (never ride behind them as left turners can’t see you; and, headlight modulators ROCK! Several left-turners saw me and stopped before pulling out. Final lesson, in an intersection be forever prepared for an emergency stop. Cover the brake and slow down!

Seventy-five total miles of riding in “alert” mode. Motorcycling demands extreme focus, which is one of the things I love most about it. The other is getting out in the hinterlands, riding along rolling hills and twisty roads with few cars on the road, while nature’s many smells and sites tickle the senses. You’re on automatic pilot. Only the laws of gravity keeps you on the ground.

By Wednesday, I found myself humming--badly I might add--Dinah Washington’s seminal version of “What a difference a day makes—24 little hours…” Wednesday’s temps dropped more than 30 degrees. Right now, it is 36F with a high expected of 42F—not perfect by any means…but this too shall pass.

Interesting picture gallery of Dan Ryan's crazy construction

Wednesday, March 14

1st (mini) Trip Report--Spring is in the air!

Now that my gal-pal is home—and the weather has warmed, riding occupies my thoughts. The hard-shell luggage, an excellent investment, doesn’t add any noticeable drag on the bike. The most striking new thing is the new windscreen! My old windscreen did a decent job with wind but I was sailing along at 60 mph (riding high on LSD, where the posted speed limit is far less but no one can do that safely) without a worry. LSD, by the way, is Lake Shore Drive. I barely noticed the head wind as the little screen cut through amazingly well.

Early Sunday morning was cold, high 30s but the day kept its promise and warmed to 59F, enough for me to gear up and take to the road. I had no destination in mind. I just wanted to ride but I was also reminded of Saturday, just one day prior, I felt like I needed to re-acquaint myself with my bike. That Saturday ride home from the dealer felt forced. The shifting seemed stiff, or perhaps I was just tentative and overly conscious of my every move. That old familiar, automatic feeling on the bike seemed to be in hibernation still. I thought it best not to venture too far but I ached to test my skills. And LSD was calling out to me.

I decided to visit my Alma Mater—University of Chicago—in Hyde Park. Since I matriculated, the campus has added new buildings. I see it whenever I drive through the area but I wanted to see the place from the seat of my motorcycle. The university campus is old, with gargoyles hanging off buildings, lush ivy snaking its way up and around gray stone walls and framing heavy dark wooden doors that boost your IQ just by walking through them. The buildings, based on the English Gothic style of Oxford University, form seven quadrangles. Amidst the old, like Harper College, is the new, like the Graduate School of Business, the new athletic building and the new University of Chicago Press,
a modern, architecturally sophisticated structure that sits off to itself on 60th street.

I arrive and immediately notice that the campus is quiet. Most are undoubtedly in Regenstein Library—the center of campus life.

A few people are sitting on the grass, noses in books, some are walking—while reading (a requirement at the university) and a few are plugged into iPods walking slightly stooped by overstuffed book bags. I passed by the Laboratory Schools, which are really three schools (elementary, middle, and high school) on 59th Street, one of the main campus drags. The Lab schools are where so much of modern education theories and experiments originated, such as movable desks—that’s right, that idea began at the University of Chicago and the rest they say, “Is history.”

My next stop: Rockefeller Chapel built in 1928 in the American gothic style. It’s a magnificent monument and the place from which everyone who manages to finish school will graduate. According to mythology, when the Rockefeller family donated money for the founding of the university, the chapel was to hold all convocations. True or not, all graduations are held in Rockefeller Chapel even on blazing hot days when the cooler, beautiful Midway Plaisance goes unused. Thus, Chapel convocations mean limited graduation tickets, cramped quarters, lack of air conditioning and four to six separate commencement exercises in June to accommodate the many graduates and their families.

There’s the Robie House, completed in 1910 by architectural savant, Frank Lloyd Wright. The Robie House, which I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy a few receptions in, shows Wright’s signature Prairie style of sensuous fine and simple lines, low ceilings, wood beams, wood floors and modern touches—a man as much a genius as Picasso.

I took LSD, aka Rt. 41, northbound and enjoyed occasional glances of Lake Michigan on my right. The traffic sailed by and I was forced (happily) to ride faster than the posted 45 mph speed limit. The gears started feeling more familiar and I eased the bike through its six gears, relaxed, focused and unfettered. Possessing wings would not have made me feel freer. I was flying high on LSD.

Only one photo taken from another source: (Library photo source:
More pics here

Sunday, March 11

Queenie’s home & Right Ear Betrayal!

For more than a year, I’ve complained about my microscopic ear canals that refuse entrĂ©e to anything larger than a pencil point. Thus every x-small to small plugs I’ve tried, my ears show their displeasure by spitting them out as far as possible the second I remove my helmet and throwing in a subsequent earache to boot. I thought I’d finally resolved my problem when I bought custom made plugs at the Cycle World Moto Show here in February.

I brought Queenie home Saturday afternoon. Before leaving home, I made sure I removed my new earplugs from their little yellow box to take with me. The train is several blocks away and my new boots felt like top of the line walking shoes! My reading on the train was distracted by thoughts of how it would feel to ride the bike for the first time since November 31, 2006. The shop had her outside, all dolled up waiting for me. In the words of Fernando Llamas, “She looked “Mahvahlous!” with her new Givi luggage and matching blue windscreen. Before mounting her, I inserted the earplugs; it took little effort for them to slip into place. I put on my Nolan and the world turned a bit quieter. I swung my leg higher than ever to clear the luggage. Pushing her off the center stand brought back fond memories; still, it seemed longer than 3.5 months since my last ride.

First impression: I felt rusty. My friction zone memory seemed fuzzy. Changing gears seemed stiff. I didn’t know if the boots were the issue or if the shifting indeed was harder than before. More than a few times, I couldn’t get into the second gear easily. I had to push hard and this bothered me. Ordinarily, my SV shifts smoothly, seamlessly and easily. I yearned for that feeling. I rode conservatively and cautiously, carefully maneuvering through the heavy homeward bound traffic.

The earplugs effectively shut out the engine and surrounding noise but not so much that I couldn’t hear what transpired around me—life was simply more muffled. Still, I felt like a novice. I took a route that required me to ascend a challenging incline with a mandatory stop at the top. Last summer, this would have been a non-issue. Saturday, I thought about it as I neared the steep incline. I managed it well but the second nature feeling about it seemed dormant from months of disuse.

Right ear Duplicity--
Inside the garage, I removed my helmet and immediately noticed that my hearing seemed lopsided and more acute out of one ear than the other. I searched for the earplugs. Only the left one was in place! I looked inside the helmet, removing the liner thinking that it had fallen inside the ear well and perhaps worked its way behind the liner. I couldn’t find it. I removed my jacket and performed my own strip search. I studied the ground. After talking to the garage attendant to let him know the bike was back, I moved the bike to its designated parking space and removed the side cases. I removed my jacket again and again patted myself down to no avail.

I couldn’t bear the thought of losing a plug before the season started—I felt some crying coming on. Just my rotten luck finally to spend the money on custom plugs only to lose them first “ride” out, a mere ten miles journey. My heart sank thinking about the money I’d just thrown away. As I headed toward the elevator something whispered, “Take another look.” I carried the luggage down the ramp near the entrance where I first removed my helmet. I studied the ground. I zeroed in on the dirty, oil-stained concrete and there I saw it, the little purple plug. I retrieved it and thanked the Higher Power. Evidently, when I removed the helmet, my right ear heaved the plug like a missile.

Whew! I’m glad I can still put my money where my ears are! Still, I’m thinking I’ve discovered another use for duct tape!

Friday, March 9

“Wild Hogs," the movie = Wild ride!

Ok, I saw “Wild Hogs,” the testosterone filled mid-life crisis movie that is now in first place at the box office. It is over-the-top zany, starring film favorites John Travolta (who sports a do-rag), funny men Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence, and jowly-face William H. Macy. First, let me offer this disclaimer: this is not the type of movie I ordinarily voluntarily see. I go for the more sedate and cerebral, the far less action packed--you know the kind—they make you outraged at some soci-political injustice that leaves you to ponder your life purpose. Don’t get me wrong. I like comedies. The last one I saw, “Stranger than Fiction,” is the kind of dark comedy I prefer. That said, in spite of myself, I yucked it up a lot at “Wild Hogs.” Blame it on the winter blues and a much-appreciated respite from my personal war with hives.

The movie doesn’t require a post-movie latte to talk about its deeper symbolism. In fact, the next day, I didn’t remember many movie details. What I remember is what I think is the message of the movie. It is pure escape. It is unadulterated fun. I did have some eyebrow raising moments and a few negative head-shakes over some of the motorcycle crashes but I recall laughing often. Here is my take on “Wild Hogs.”

Four men, feeling the pressures and headaches of aging, home, and business, decide to chuck it all for some male bonding, bravado and bikes. They take off on a cross-country ride clad in requisite leather jackets, Beanie helmets, and sunglasses. In one scene even their cellphone are tossed. Sitting atop cruisers—of course, Harley Davidsons, they rev their engines and try their best to look refrigerator-cool along scenic roads that we don’t see enough of in this movie. From the beginning, I couldn’t help think that these guys should have taken a motorcycle skills course before heading out—off course if they had, this wouldn’t be the come hell or high water adventure movie that it is.

The intrepid foursome’s adventure lands them in a stereotypical biker bar filled with “Del Fuegos, thugs led by “Jack” (Ray Liotta). The Del Fuegos wear bad leather vests, sport tattoos, and appear not to have bathed since the ‘60s. These badly aging thugs show years of drinking and hell rising and it looks like many have suffered serious damage to their frontal lobes as a result. Their idea of a great time is talking smack 24/7 and terrorizing towns folks, especially suburban city-slicker wanna-be bikers who dare venture into Del Fuego biker bar hell.

The Wild Hogs spend the rest of the movie trying to escape, outsmart, and defeat the maniacal Del Fuegos. We are given tons of slapstick comedy, bike crashes, head banging, small town humor and even a budding love story between Macy’s character and Marisa Tomei.

“Wild Hogs” will appeal to many folks if they see the movie for what it is: a wild and crazy, Four Stooges type comedy that will make you laugh. I will say this…and I don’t think I’m the first to do so, the movie could have had a disclaimer or some sort of statement at the end that encouraged motorcycle safety and skills training. It would not have come across as preaching nor detracted from the movie’s free-wheeling fun. I just think it would have been a nice responsible touch at the end—something to talk about over a post-movie latte.

Sunday, March 4

Camping Revisited...

Here’s the follow up I promised on the camping article I read in the February ’07 Road Runner issue—one of my “most favorite” magazines. I had admitted being annoyed that the first installment of the two-part article lacked a perspective that included women—not a word about any unique issues women might face or information germane to their camping needs. The February article, while well-written, I thought, should have offered something—anything that conceded that bikers and campers are a more inclusive group than the author had acknowledged. I probably would have been more forgiving had even a couple of sentences been plopped in as an afterthought. Women don’t necessarily need someone to tell them these things and it’s not just about being political correct—something I hear “trollers” ranting about on far too many forums. In my book, to be recognized shows that the writer has considered another important viewpoint—a wider audience, so to speak.

Anyhoo…a few days ago the April issue of Road Runner arrived—a Christmas subscription gift from my mother. As usual, I sank into its pages, momentarily forgetting my hives and the need to put away the perishable items sitting on the counter. That’s what Road Runner magazine does to me; I become oblivious to my whereabouts. A quiet, comfy spot to peruse the well-crafted narratives is all I want. I imagine snapping those inviting pictures the travel tales include. I follow the routes in my atlas, tracing the writer’s road details and dreaming of my own travels to those locations.

I read some of the April articles like the one on scootering in North Carolina; “Meandering in Manitoba;” and, an excellent review of the KTM 950 Adventure motorcycle. The “review” rider rode the KTM over 23,000 miles, through some of the most rugged off-road trails and challenging on-road conditions. After reading it, I went off to do some Internet research on the KTM. It is stunning in bright orange and black. It’s a tall bike, but a lowering kit would make it possible to ride this with comfort. It was after this ride review that I remembered to read the second installment of, “Is Motorcycle Camping For You?” The article, which offers ten steps to “enjoyable” camping, is again, well-written and unequivocally informative. Perhaps that’s all one should expect? Clearly, the author doesn’t know/value/care—or something else that is invisible to me—about gender-specific camping matters. To be fair, he does have one paragraph called, “Match the Campsite to Your Needs,” which doesn’t address what I’m talking about but embedded there in the author’s words is a message on the importance of staying in campgrounds that suit your comfort needs. It’s a stretch, I know. But I’ve concluded that there is no point in denouncing the author. After all, you can’t know what you don’t know.

It’s interesting that the April editorial to the readers mentions how negative stereotypes of ‘cyclists as “marauding motorcycle gangs” have mutated as the numbers of “well-educated, safety-conscious motorcyclists” increase and more motorcyclists devote their ride events to good causes and charities. If I were the editor, who happens to be a Christa Neuhauser, a woman, I would have asked the camping author to go one step further, to include something—anything that he would want the women in his life to know about camping. Just one or two words would have been mindful.

Friday, March 2

Hives, and Sidi Boots

I've spent most of the past week itching. From the palms of my hands to the bottoms of my feet, I've been a splotchy swollen mess. I've had a severe case of Urticaria, better known as hives. I will spare readers the vile pictures and offer only one--one of the milder ones. I documented the eruptions for the doctor because the thing about hives is that they appear, hang around from minutes to hours and then disappear, leaving little or no trace of their visit. Sometimes, the eruptions are brutal as in my case, when the welts and raised and swollen red skin debilitate you for days, unresponsive to the over-the-counter anti-histamines. You spend your time wanting to rip off your skin or shoot yourself. Instead, you itch and scratch. Eventually, you remember from previous attacks that the scratching only exacerbates the eruptions. I woke up one morning and wondered why the room was still dark only to realize that my eyes were swollen shut and my face looked like a basketball. Fortunately, my throat was still open. It's at that point when you need to seek immediate medical care as anaphylatic shock is not far off. You've probably heard of people eating peanuts or shellfish only to have their throat close completely. Without an immediate administration of epinephrine, they could die. Hives are mysterious. While medical efforts focus on treating the symptoms, the sufferer is always left with the questions: Why and when next? Mine are brought on by many common allergens: most things in nature; mosquito and other insect bites; too much dairy; too much citrus; stress; hot water; cold air; dry air; wool; some cats and dogs; and, a few people. I received the prescribed drugs Wednesday and more on Thursday and I'm hanging in there.

Never once has my motorcycle brought on a hives attack; in fact, I think it has prevented more than a few! Speaking of which, my gal-pal is ready to be retrieved anytime now. Although we had considerable rain on Thursday, the temps were in the low 40s, and I would have ridden in that happily. When I arrived home on Thursday, a package awaited me. The Sidi On Road Gor-Tex boots had arrived. They are magnificent!
I tried them on and for 30 minutes I stomped around the house, admiring the perfect fit and smart styling. And, for the first time in a week, I did not notice the distressful itching and burning skin. My mind drifted to riding in my new all-weather boots, along beautiful rustic roads lined with trees and nature all around me, with my non-drowsy anti-histamine stored securely in my body and in my luggage.