Sunday, December 31

“…Of the big lake they call ‘Gitche Gumee.”

If you are a Gordon Lightfoot fan, you know that the blog title is the second line from the misty ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Lightfoot’s amazing voice turns this into a haunting tale set to beautiful music. For reasons not clear to me, “The Wreck…” has been circling in my brain for some time now. It led me to wondering about Gordon, what’s happened to him? I did a Google search (how did we ever live without the immediate access of search engines?) and printed out the lyrics to the song. Lightfoot's depiction of men lost in water and the mysteries of Lake Superior are profound. Interesting timeline of the ship's history.

I was surprised to learn that Lightfoot had, at one time, been near death but appears okay now. I’ve since downloaded my Lightfoot favorites on the MP3 player and the “…Edmund Fitzgerald” is now permanently etched on my brain! This led me to researching the name “Gitche Gumee,” which is an Anglicization of the Ojibwa “Gichigami,” which means “big water.” Who remembers the Wadsworth poem “The Song of Hiawatha,” where Gitche Gumee is mentioned? I think that’s the very first time I heard the term, when I had to memorize parts of the poem. Call it ocean envy, but in many ways both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior have always seemed like oceans to me: massive, deep, beautiful, and unpredictable, calm yet able to produce whipping waves, high winds, and deadly tombs. Scary sea creatures are the only thing missing in the lakes that I know of. But many other mysteries abound in lake waters.

While doing research for the Lake Michigan trip, I remember a couple of guys who endured my relentless need to go over every detail ad nauseum. They implied that I should just get on with it, go with the flow, and be more spontaneous. Given that, the preps for the Lake Superior tour are going to bug them. I’ve already started and the trip is about six month away! But in my defense, what may sound like anal retentive behavior to some, is my way of mentally preparing for the exploration, demystifying every aspect of the route, and facing whatever apprehensions may lurk beneath my skin about being out there alone. The preparation process produces a calming and anticipatory response. Remember, I’m alone out there. In my opinion, I don’t think any woman in her right mind ought to go anywhere—including—and perhaps especially on a motorcycle without having prepared a great deal. No offense, men, but some of you guys make venturing out alone difficult and sometimes dangerous for women. I wish I could throw caution to the wind, just hang loose and get out there too. Sorry, I don’t trust men that much. I’m not afraid to go anywhere, but I am going to to be smart about where I’m going. I expect the best, but prepare for the worst.

I need to know where I’m going; I need contingency plans; I need to see in my mind’s eye the curves and dips in the route--not so many as to detract from the fun--just enough to feel confident about riding my own ride. It’s when I’ve mastered my plans and reigned in my unconscious anxieties that I can comfortably and freely venture off the beaten path. I realize too that riding with someone can eliminate some of these rituals I create, but that hardly addresses the real issues, does it? We enter the world alone, and we will leave it alone. Riding solo is my mediation on being with me, myself, and I. It’s one of the few things I do now where my full and total presence is mandatory. Okay, before I get too maudlin, I’m going to close…

Thursday, December 28

Airplanes, Steve McQueen's stuff and the Zumo...

Lately, my thoughts have turned to flying. Not taking the gal-pal out and riding fast as lightening, but to thoughts of learning to fly an airplane. Not sure where this desire originates. I don’t buy the midlife crisis junk because most of the stuff I want to do now, I’ve wanted to do way before midlife. The difference is now I have the freedom to do the things I once could only think about. I’ve felt a natural association between flying and motorcycling but remain inarticulate about this. Then I received my February 2007 Cycle World magazine, which, by the way, always arrives with the cover hanging on by one staple. In it, moto-journalist Peter Egan’s “Leaning” column talks about how he’s been filling up his winter days by reclaiming his dormant flying skills. He’s become a "re-entry" flyer, so to speak. It’s an interesting piece that makes convincing parallels between riding and flying. Egan states, “You tilt the horizon and forces act through your own personal vertical axis. Bank, accelerate, zoom. Grin. Your inner ear is hard at work, as it is nowhere else. In full flight, with either bike or planes, all your senses are engaged and you become hyper-alert. Maybe that’s the link: The thing flying and motorcycling have most in common is that you simply must pay attention. Your life depends on it. Both sports, you might say, are naturally riveting.” Egan closes his article with, “I’m never really comfortable or completely awake—around people who are unacquainted with the invigorating joys of mild panic.” Yes, Peter I hear you!
The lore and lure of Steve McQueen has not abated on iota! His third wife has recently auctioned off items from his vast collection that once included 130 motorcycles and 35 cars. Here are some of the items and the extraordinary amount of money people are willing to shell out for a piece of the legend. In every case, the auctioned items far exceeded estimations.

1 sweaty tee-shirt with holes and rips, $3,250
1 baseball cap w/ sweat, $2,500
1 personalized license plate w/ McQueen Reform School ID number, estimated
to go for $100. Sold for a whopping, unbelievable $4,500!
1 waxed cotton Belstaff motorcycle jacket, $28,000.
1 folding pocket knife given to McQueen by his friend Von Dutch (famous in his own right) sold for $32,500.
1934 Indian Sport Scout went for $155,000, which one magazine said made
it more than $135,000 more than its market value.
1 pair Persol sunglasses, worn in the movie, The Thomas Crown Affair.
Estimated to bring in $2000-3000; instead, sold for $60,000.

It’s hard to believe that McQueen has been dead for more than 2 decades. No doubt about it, the man loved motorcycles.
Sunday while strolling along the Mag Mile, my head snapped at the sight of a brand new black Kawasaki sportbike, the Ninja ZX-14, sitting in a store window. The bike is considered the "fastest (zero to 60 in 2.5 seconds fast) bike ever grace the planet." As I backed up and looked up to see if a new motorcycle store had opened on Michigan Avenue, I saw the sign for Garmin, makers of what some believe are the best GPS devices around. I felt reeled in and that’s how they get you. The bike, by the way, belongs to Jay Leno, a 2007 Kaw that he supposedly has yet to ride. It’s on loan to the store as they promote their new digs. I asked to see the new Zumo, the $1000 GPS designed "by motorcyclists" with motorcyclists in mind. That’s a hefty price tag but it includes all the mounting brackets for a motorcycle and a car. It includes the North America maps and miscellaneous software.

What makes the Zumo different from, say, the Quest, the Quest II and Garmin’s other motorcycle oriented gps systems? One is design. The screen is larger for one thing. It is a touch screen and sensitive to a touch from a gloved finger (some screens are not touch sensitive and some are cumbersome to touch accurately with a gloved finger). It is also waterproof, whereas some are only water resistant. Did I say, design? It’s a sharp looking device. Not too big, not too small. It fits nicely in my hands, which are small and the controls are on the left side. Amazingly, the controls on many GPS devices are on the right side of the device. It is a better ergonomic design to have the controls on the left side. You don’t really think about this until you play around with one and experience how much better this set up is for reaching the controls.

Ok, I have a GPS. The Magellan eXplorist XL. I’m okay with it. Not thrilled about it by any stretch. I’m good with technology but it took far too long to learn how to use it. It is not intuitive at all. Even if I spend only $400 on a GPS, I expect it to work well and easily. Such has not been the case with my Magellan. I even had to buy additional software for another $125 bucks to get the map I wanted! Perhaps, I’m not being fair to it, as I never mounted it and pretty much used it as an expensive compass and supplement to the maps. But were it user-friendly, I know I would have used it more. They even made the downloads unnecessarily cumbersome. The Zumo took 2 minutes to understand and begin to use. If I purchased it, I’d get my money’s worth out of it. I want it. But do I need it? I’m so tempted, really tempted. Since I’m planning to get into distance riding, I deserve a reliable gps that I will use! I had secretly hoped Santa would bring that Zumo, but, you know, all my life I never believed that some chubby white guy would come to my neighborhood, shimmy down the chimney (did we even have one?) and leave me gifts. If nothing else, Santa has been consistent. Stay tuned for more Zumo news…

Thursday, December 21

Weather Wonders...and miscellanous bike chat...

Friday, December 22. It is nearly 1:00 a.m. and the temp is 51F. Thursday was mild, drizzly, and foggy. If my gal-pal were with me, I would have taken a nice ride today! The last few weeks have been more ride-worthy than not. Lesson: at the end of next season, if for no other reason than to squeeze in as much riding as possible, I will winterize the bike myself and keep it with me. Chicago's weather is notoriously schizophrenic. There's no certain way to ever tell when winter begins here. We can get slapped with a mammoth snow-thunder storm like the one on December 1 and endure consecutive days of below zero wind chills and the next week, bask in temps in the 60s! Oh, and learn.

Found a 1974 Honda CB360T on craigslist for $375! No title, but that's not a huge problem if the VIN is legible, I can pay to get that resolved. Supposedly, the bike is in decent condition but hasn't been ridden in a long time. It's the motorcycle I learned to ride on. So the nostalgic factor is huge plus. I think the bike would be an excellent machine on which to learn wrenching. Called the owner, spoke with him and he promised to send pics of the bike. No word from him yet. I'd love to get my hands on that bike.

The BMW F800 series bikes are calling my name! I'm looking forward to Cycle World's International Motorcycle Show here in February. I'll wait until 2008 before seriously considering purchasing this bike. Right now, it seems to be a good step up from Queenie, which I'll keep, should I move up, and turn into a track bike--she excels at being a fine track bike/racer, I'm told. My mechanic races two SV650s and swears by them.

Finally, I've been dreaming about the Kawasaki KLR650 to do the Lake Superior Circle Tour. I will check out this bike at the cycle show too. Looks like there will be plenty of opportunity to ride off road on this tour and it would be great to take advantage of such excursions, which I'd be forced to pass on if I take my little blue SV650.

Monday, December 18

1 down 4 to go: Next stop: Lake Superior Circle Tour

My plans are underway for the Lake Superior Circle Tour. If this solo journey is even half the fun as circling Lake Michigan turned out to be, I'm in for a really great adventure! Started collecting and ordering maps, magazines, and reading tales of others who have made the journey. I've not come across many solo efforts--and definitely none of women. Yet, I remain steadfast in my determination to go it alone.

I've said it before--but it bears repeating--the best book--IMHO--for anyone wanting to ride any road that includes in part or in whole the state of Michigan is, Motorcycling Across Michigan by William Murphy. He sees Lake Superior as the mother lode of all the lake tours in terms of its sheer beauty, size, and the variation in terrain. On this trip, I'll have to watch for a lot more wildlife than on the Lake Michigan trip, where I watched for: deer, moose, wolves and the same small critters I encounter in Illinois. Lake Superior, however, promises more: deer, elk, moose, caribou, bear, wolves--and someone told me, mountain lions but I've read nothing to confirm the veracity of that claim. Don't mountain lions hang out around mountains?

One thing I only now realize is that this over 3000 miles journey will only increase by 1, my goal next summer to cover as many new states as possible. That right, all that riding will only add Minnesota to my list. For a brief moment I debated the value (i.e., pay off) of the trip and considered picking something else for my "big" '07 trip. Now, I am embracing the notion that my riding should not ever be solely about how many states I can add to my list. The idea is "the ride." I hear motorcyclists talking about that all the time and after one summer riding around with my gal-pal, I'm a true believer.

So far, the Lake Superior Circle tour looks like it's going to be one heck of a ride--that's what I need to appreciate and remember.

Saturday, December 16

Warm weather...crazy motorcycle forum decision...


If I hear another weather report that tells how "unseasonably" warm our weather is, I really think I'm going to march to the nearest television station (two are near me) and stand outside with a huge "Duh" sign! It is nearly 11pm and the temp is 56F. For shoppers and retailers it's been great. Overzealous spenders pack the streets along Michigan Avenue and State Street, restaurants are replete with hungry folks with credit cards they are all too willing to plop down. For those of us who do not participate much in the seasonal rituals, it is difficult to carry on normal life, especially to simply walk down my neighborhood streets. Let me let you in on a secret: Unless you just want to walk down Michigan Avenue or State Street and battle all the people congestion, there are alternate walking routes that will make the trip so much less arduous. This is the time of year I try to avoid Michigan Avenue and State Street as much as possible. To navigate most easily along Michigan Avenue, walk one block west or one block east of Michigan Avenue,--Rush Street and St. Claire Street respectively. These streets parallel Michigan Avenue. Do this if you need to get somewhere. If you like crowds, especially those that tend to stop in the middle of the sidewalk and congregate, by all means take the major streets and prepare to go slowly. I can't hardly wait for it all to end. Bah Humbug!

Crazy moto decision:

One of the forums I frequent, one of the best, is undergoing some crazy changes. The various moderators on have been literally locked out! They have been excised out of the communities they have painstakingly forged. No real explanation to the forum from the powers that be. The only explanation--and it makes no sense to me--has come from the head guy, Walt. Who has remained respectful, diplomatic, and considerate, which is a whole lot more than the folks behind the motorcycle site. With our wonderful forum hosts denied access to the folks they've nurtured, taught, protected and cared about for many years, some forum members are scrambling for other places to regroup. I'm really ticked about this. It's just a dumb decision and to do so as if the members would stand idly by and not have a reaction is even dumber.

I have other forums I frequent, so it's not like I don't have other places to post and exchange ideas and info about motorcycles. That is hardly the point. People don't passively trade info and chat together and not eventually form relationships. When people have not posted for a long time, someone will invariably ask the whereabouts of the person. Although I never participated in the weekly chats, I often thought about it and I certainly enjoyed hearing the tales of those who had gotten together to ride and have fun at the annual motorcycle gathering. Of the forums I frequent, hands down, the About one is the best because collectively, people seem to care and care enough that they watched out for folks. I had several incidents with posters, rather trollers, who tried to disturb the peace and disrupt the lively art of communication. Not just the forum hosts, but the members in general were johnny on the spot about stepping in there to support me and let the trollers know that their comments had crossed the line of respect. Some shaped up after being given a warning, others were blocked and not allowed to attack others. I've visited other forums where flames and personal attacks are par for the course. Yet none of this seems to have mattered to the site owners of They've literally yanked the carpet from under the hosts as well as from the forum members. What a stupid, really dumb move where it seems that once again, the powers that be, value things over people and have no shame about point blank about it!.

Friday, December 15

Bound to happen...and an article on

Well, the weather the last few days has been great! Today, mid-fifties, a little wet at times but not enough to stand in the way of a great ride. Only thing is, my bike is in hibernation. Not nearly as bummed as I thought I'd be about that. This is Chicago, after all. I put her away the day before a huge snow-thunder storm.

Today might be nice, but around the corner there is you know what to pay! No sense taking the bike in and out of storage. OK, who am I trying to convince? I totally wanted to ride today. I miss my gal-pal something fierce!

I have a hastily put together ride article on . I had a couple of days to turn it in, which happened also to be smack in the middle of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) affair, which meant I had way too much to write in a short amount of time--I hate when that happens! If you've followed my Lake Michigan trip, the article won't add anything new. Still, it felt good posting on a site devoted to my beloved Suzuki's SV650.

Thursday, December 14

Wear a Helmet? No-Brainer--ATGATT!

This is my long-winded position on helmets. After this, the subject will be laid to rest on this site.

Fred Rau, the legendary, well-respected moto-journalist recently wrote a not too convincing article on helmets. Specifically, he wrote about his support of one’s right to wear or not wear a helmet. Rau said all the right things and was sufficiently balanced to not make most people upset with his position. In a nutshell, Rau believes in freedom, that is, the right for motorcyclists to choose protective head gear or not. Interestingly, after all his pontification about accidents, bad drivers, individual rights and freedom, he comes to the conclusion that he always wears a helmet. To me it is the only conclusion a clear thinking person could make.

I keep running into people who try to engage me in conversations about helmets and freedom. The two (helmets and freedom, that is) in the same breath really ticks me off. With nostrils aflare, they tell me how the government is encroaching on “our rights;” how motorcycle helmets do not “prevent” accidents; how a motorcycle helmet in the event of an accident can make you vulnerable to serious neck injuries; and, how, if it's “my time,” it’s “my time,” yada, yada, yada.

Frankly, I’m weary of this! So tired that I just want to upchuck when the conversation is broached. I’ve met way too many anti-helmet riders trying to convince me of the lucidity their position. Out of respect, I listen. That’s not always reciprocal however. Thus, my listening days are over. I’m saying this now: Do not talk to me about freedom and helmets in the same breath! I will no longer listen to a person on the verge of an aneursym, shrieking and screaming about a conspiracy of eroding personal freedoms and how we’d better all stand up to protect our individual’s rights (of which the right not to wear a helmet and face possible brain damage as a result of an accident, is high on their list).

Talking to me about helmets+freedom gives me the same feeeling I get in my gut when folks wax nostalgic about “the good old days” and a desire to return to a simplier time, when life was easier, the pace slower and people were kinder. While there are microscopic elements I’d like to preserve from the past, for the most part the best thing about the good old days is THAT THEY ARE GOOD AND GONE! Too many people talk like the past was some universally agreed upon idyllic, good time. It is a myth just how good these time were for anyone-- particularly for a whole bunch of people who were excluded by law, who were formerally and informally prevented from the most basic of freedoms other groups (even foreigners) could take for granted. The only freedom most folks who looked like me had was the freedom to live under an apartheid like system or die early to escape its chains. Yes, I’m being dramatic, but this is exactly how I feel on this subject.

Where was the moral outrage from the ancestors of these freedom-loving folks about the lack of freedom a whole bunch of people suffered under the Stars and Stripes? Where is their outrage today? It’s good I was born when I was because had I been born pre-Civil Rights and in the South, I’d be one dead woman. I’d either starve to death (because I’d never work as someone’s domestic help) or be lynched—oh yes, women were lynched too (because I would not take orders from anyone or kowtow to them either. And sit on the back of a bus? Never! On general principle I won’t even do that today! And slavery? I wouldn’t have lasted. I’d be one of those women whipped and beaten until dead because I would do everything to thwart that system and to hurry my demise from that cruel, peculiar institution. Thank goodness not everyone back then felt as I can only imagine I would.

I think seat belts are a good thing. Regardless of the nation’s law, I’d feel that way. I snapped up pre-law because the idea of becoming a human projectile in an accident just didn’t sit well with me. Yes, I’ve heard of people sustaining injuries caused by wearing a seat belt or being imprisoned in their car by a jammed belt after an accident. But I’ve heard far more tales of seat belts lessening the severity of injuries sustained in an accident. It makes sense to wear them.

I feel similarily about helmets. I wear a helmet for bicycling, rollerblading, and motorcycling. I have a considerable amount invested in my brain (I realize that some others might not and that might influence their decision to not wear a helmet). On a two-wheeled vehicle, I do not trust “cagers” to see me, share the road, or to drive with a higher consciousness of the presence of motorcycles. In fact, much of the tirade I hear from motorcyclists pertains to how atrocious are the skills of the average car driver, how utterly stupid many drivers are when it comes to abiding by the rules of the road—not to imply that most even understand the rules. Most motorcyclists I know and have heard on the subject would never put their safety in the hands of a “cagers” – motorcyclists learn not to trust anyone on four wheels. Period. For those reasons alone, why wouldn’t one want to don a helmet at all times? A ‘cyclist might be the most skilled, safest rider on the road, but there exists those horrifyingly awful cagers out there. As long as they drive the roads, seems to me that everyone who rides a motorcycle might want to do all that is necessary to protect his or her brain and body as much as possible from that which s/he cannot control. When I mentioned this, one person said, “Yeah, but a helmet won’t protect me from road rash.” Uh, yeah! And your point is? Bottom line: if you want to use your body to make a political statement, to go without a helmet on priniciple-- even if it means putting your self at risk and contradicting your views on trusting cages, then go right ahead. People should have the right to make their own decision about personal safety.

Still, when people rail on about helmets and freedom to me, I can’t help but laugh a little on the inside. Why all the blather? To me, the argument is not about government and freedom as much as it is about me taking as much responsibility as I can to protect myself to whatever extent my helmet permits. I think it’s entertaining that people, to prove a point, will wear the little German beanie helmets to circumvent the helmet laws. Just don’t waste your time trying to convince me that I too should think like you. Go helmetless. But leave me alone. And prepare yourself for being denied additional medical treatment when your insurance coverage runs out yet your catastrophic injuries require extended medical care. If you are mowed down by one of those careless cagers and you suffer brain injury, your complains could fall on deaf ears. Still, you should have the freedom to put yourself at maximal risk.

I just wish some of that freedom-loving talk extended beyond helmets and included a similar outrage about some real erosions of freedom, such as the inequities in public schools, communities devoid of public libraries, housing and job discrimination of all kinds, and what about how a so-called “family-values” society refuses to pass universal health care legislation for every child! We will fight to the death to bring democracy somewhere else but won’t execute it to the fullest on this soil, and on and on and on. Where is the same moral outrage from the freedom-loving folks.

Few will dispute that we need better rider and driver education and that we need more thoughtful, informed legislation on a host of issues. I, for one, will always wear a helmet. Always! Yes, I might still die in a motorcycle accident, but with one on my head (not strapped to the back of my bike—I really don’t get that?) my chances are very good for surviving both a non-life and life-threatening accident. The individual I had my recent conversation with will never read this blog response but I’ve gotten it off my chest. I hope he never goes down and is forced to put his brain where his principles are.

(All The Gear, All The Time)

Saturday, December 9

Queenie, the long distance Great-grand mother!

Whenever I come across an article about my hero, solo motorcyclist Ardys Kellerman, I have to post my findings. She is a continuing source of inspiration and at age 74 she shows no signs of slowing down. Came across this article on Kellerman and couldn't help feeling both inspired by her feats and envious of her 50,000 miles in six months! Certainly retirement permits her the time to pile up the miles but Kellerman rode long distances way before she retired. Always a BMW rider, she has completed more Iron Butt Rallies (11,000 miles in 11 days) than any other woman (three to be exact) and many Saddle Sores (1000 miles in under 24 hours), some of them done back-to-back. What a role model for all motorcyclists.

Monday, December 4

Weather and the Kawasaki Versys

I will resist the temptation to turn this motorcycle travel oriented blog into one huge rant about the weather--although that feels the natural way to go--it is currently 14 degrees F.

A friend turned me on to this new motorcycle from Kawasaki, the Versys. It's a sharp looking bike, unique visuals and smart lines. I especially love the shape of the headlight--very distinctive. I like odd looking motorcycles, like many of the BMW bikes. For example, the F800S looks like a rhino from the side view; look at the F650GS and the R1200GS Enduros... from the side they look like birds. I saw one once in sunflower yellow and it looked like "Big Bird," the Sesame Street character.

Back to the new Kawasaki Versys... The specifications/features indicate that the bike has a seat height of 37 inches! By far, that makes it the tallest bike I've heard of and I can't help wondering if that's an error. If anyone is listening/reading out there and knows something I don't, please enlighten me about this bike's features--I'd like it a whole lot more if I didn't need a ladder to mount it!

Saturday, December 2

Thursday, November 30, 2006—The Season’s End

I tucked Queenie away at Motorworks Chicago to begin the winter hibernation. Prior to taking her in, I took a mini-ride. The city was preparing for its first winter storm to hit late Thursday night. By the time I reached the shop, a light freezing drizzle had started. The temperature was around 36 degrees. I rode comfortably—even the fingertips stayed warm this time. I inserted the little air-activated hand heat warming packs inside the glove—worked exceedingly well!

Arrived at the shop and watched my bike logged in. Milan said I could come and visit her anytime. Hung around for a little and talked to the shop guys. Discussed all the upgrades/add-ons that will be done over the winter. Looks like I’ll be able to take a few private lessons maintenance classes over the winter. This is fab news. One gap in my solo riding that hovers over each long ride, is my concern that the bike will encounter a break down in a place where MoTow can’t reach me. Some of the areas in the UP of MI were remote enough that my cell phone had little or no reception. In such situations, I need to be able to get the bike back on the road on my own. Thus, I’m looking forward to expanding my woefully limited maintenance skills.

Friday’s storm did not disappoint! The lightening and thundering woke me in the wee hours. I dismissed the sounds and flashing sky as just a bad rainstorm. When I finally left bed and peeked out the window, it was snowing—horizontally blowing, fat flakes and heavy. Turned on the weather report; before 6 a.m. most of the major highways were experiencing heavy delays, spinouts, and blizzard conditions. American Airlines and United had cut their flights by 100% and 50% respectively until the afternoon. The wind, well, we have lake effect and it showed its strength. The winds were reported to be around 40 mph but the gusts were at least 45 mph and the waves were furiously whipping off the lake. From the window it all looked beautiful, but some northern suburbs already had over 8 inches of snow and with schools closing left and right, the kids were going to have fun over their long snowy weekend.

Glad I heeded the weather warnings and took the bike in Thursday. I'll try not to complain too much about the season ending. It has been a long—good—riding season. Gal-pal and I stayed upright and safe. What more can I ask?