Friday, August 25

Recreating the past...

Dear reader: no time to check this to see if it follows anyone’s sense of good grammar. Know that I wish these things to be done well; I hope that counts for something. That lost post this morning (sort of like the fisherman who claims that the really big, beautiful fish got a way)…was truly a great piece of prose that I wish I could have shared with you—that lost post would surely have reminded you of Hemmingway or Baldwin or Morrison. Yeah, right.
Assignment: Get a MI map. Find Manistee. Locate that small section of US Highway 31. Follow it to State Highway 22 heading north. Take this north until you can’t go north any more. You’ll be in Northport Point. By this time, if you haven’t already, you will think that you’ve died and gone to motorcycle heaven!

This is the most beautiful stretch of road I’ve seen—and I’ve now seen many. It is topped only by having to take 22 back south because you can’t go anywhere else--you get to experience the other side of Grand Traverse Bay, where you’ll pass through picturesque hamlets like Peshawbestown and Suttons Bay. Going north, you’ll come to the most quaint towns, like Onekama, Arcadia and Elberta, places that will remind you of Mayberry, places where shop keepers place swings and wooden benches out front to encourage sitting and hanging around. And that’s where you’ll find people, sitting, chatting, and eating ice cream. Now, these folks may be tourists for all I know, but they convey many Norman Rockwellian messages about life in these regions. Driving along the local streets, confirms my observation, life here sure is quaint-looking and appealing—even if momentarily.

The downtowns are typically old, some buildings look downright ancient, but in the mix are new cabin-type structures, creatively painted and decorated. Lots of “unique” jewelry and dress shops and more art galleries than seems probable for the population size. Maybe living in the midst of nature’s beauty, being smack on the lake, being able to breath in all fresh air, brings out artistic qualities?

But it is the roads that strike me most. Prior to coming, I had hoped to take many pictures. Wondered how I’d handle the desire to ride versus picture-taking. But this no longer is an issue. Hands down, the roads win! I frequently want to stop in these towns, but for reasons that are too long to share here, I often do not. A huge part of it is the desire to keep riding on these amazing roads. Yeah, I know I’m not getting to meet the town’s people…oh, well. My lost.

Not only is highway 22 scenic, as my Rand McNally indicates with little green dots, (it is also the road that Murphy praises), it is a motorcyclist’s dream for terrain variation. (Often I wish I was on a dual sport here). I have come upon roads that screamed my name only to learn that it is a mix of sand and dirt and gravel. My bike loves a challenge, but she’s not crazy! Still, we’ve had our tons of fun. Highway 22 provides curves, squigglies (my new word for beyond twisty), climbs and descents like I’ve never experienced before. It’s more than the diversity of the road, I’m rambling about. I’m referring to the sheer beauty, the challenge, the serenity of these roads—and all that stuff motorcyclists talk about.

Rare is a straight road that goes on for long. The glaciers through here gazillion of years ago have carved out an unimaginable, wonderful landscape that is felt on a motorcycle unlike you’d feel in a car. This area is not entirely unfamiliar to me. I’ve traveled around Traverse City a lot and Gaylord MI before in a car. But I don’t remember this feeling. I don’t remember feeling connected to the road. I remember the initial glee of starting a trip. Then I recall feeling confined and bored in the car and knowing me, did my share of internal whining about it. I remember a great trip to Interlochen MI, the home of the famed arts high school and one of the nation’s premiere summer music camps, with a fab summer concert series, with the likes of Ramsey Lewis and YoYo Ma. I remember feeling that the trip took forever. The difference, I think is, you ride in a car. It is minimally physical—even driving a stick shift. You ride on a motorcycle. It is maximally physical. You feel it from head to toe. The decisions one makes in a car are important yet more subtle. Almost every decision—if not all--you make on the bike are huge because the consequences are huge. I am praying that I make good decisions for the duration of this trip (and afterwards, of course) Ok, I’m rambling—but I did lose a long post this morning…and writing this one is helping me recover that lost. Still, that’s not an excuse to keep rambling. It’s also raining outside and dark and cold…

The norm here (if there is one) is the extremes of non-straight roads—the twists run the gamut. I’m used to the ho-hum “S” curve. And until this trip, I was thrilled to have these. But here, there are diamond-shaped yellow signs, the ones that tell you what shape the road is in ahead, that I’ve never seem before and never in this abundance. If you have any hesitation about leaning, come here. You’ll get over that fast. Some say, loud pipes save lives—let me tell you, leaning along these roads will save your life. It’s amazing what you’ll do when you must.

The fun of these roads, especially highway 22 is that you lean, and you lean and you lean some more. You lean one way, then the other. And the skills will kick in—if you’re lucky. Anal-retentive practicing works! Not only have I don’t more U-turns here than I’ve ever done before, I’ve had to talk myself through some of these curves—at least initially. Outside entry, find the delayed apex, lean, and roll on the throttle to exit. But you never really exit here. These sweeping curves grow tight, and then you encounter some sharpies that go on and on—never a dull moment! Empty your bladder when you fill up with gas. Talk about learning throttle control—I’m learning to enter and execute without much brake use at all. SEE (See/Evaluate/Execute) works! When MI recommends reducing speed to whatever (it ranges) before entering an upcoming curve: REDUCE SPEED! These people are not playing around.

Many of the curves are sweeping, which makes looking into them easy, but some are so winding, so banked, so unfamiliar to me that I have to concentrate with everything I have (this does not detract from the thrill, mind you).

Only once on Thursday was I spooked. There was a long ascending climb—with curves. Yes, I’m aware that this pales in comparison to CO or VT, but compared to Chicago?—that’s my reference point. Still, these road will challenge, I believe, a seasoned rider. My bike has never had to pull this much this often… and I am happy to report that we liked it. Once I made the climb, right at the peek, the road curved but it angled downward. Whoa-Nelly! Crapola! I had just been pulling fast and hard to get up there and now “they” want me to slow down to go down?! Let me just say, I got loudly prayerful! My instinct was to grab the front brake but as Jerry says in the “Ride Like a Pro”—“your instinct are wrong.” Front brake without the tires straight is a great way to end it all. I very lightly used the back brake as I tried to straighten up the bike a little—I think that’s what I did. I think I let off the throttle a little too—I don’t really know. But I leaned and enjoyed the ride down. Believe it or not, I also relaxed.

The descent was a winding curve, I swear I felt like I was leaned enough to need those knee pucks (don’t know if that’s what they are called). I have never leaned that far before. Never. I would never voluntarily seek opportunities to lean that far. But when roads make you lean, you either lean or find out what it’s like to fly through the air or ride off into the waiting arms of some pretty hugemongus trees. I have no death wish. I leaned! The fun is in doing it and knowing that you can now do it comfortably. Remember, Sharon, leaning is your friend; the throttle is your friend too. I get this clearer now than ever before.

I can honestly now say I have slept with David Hough. That’s right. I brought him along on the trip and we’ve snuggled together each night. (Sidebar: David Hough to family/friends reading this, is the author of one of the best motorcycle skill’s book ever (Proficient Motorcycling. Ok, I only brought the book).

Motorcyclists, without much encouragement will talk about Deal’s Gap (DG). Even non-motorcyclists will ask a ‘cyclists, “have you ever done DG?” Many will make a pilgrimage to TN at some point. Tons of lore and lure about the place. DISCLAIMER: I have never been to the wailing road. Therefore, I might not know what I’m talking about. But that will not cease me from saying this here and now. Deal’s Gap has NOTHING on highway 22! There, it’s out there. Somebody prove me wrong! And yes, I’m going to go to DG to test my claim. Until this trip. I had no desire to go to DG. None. But as my grandfather would say, “Lord willing” I’m going there next summer!

Here are the facts. DG has 318 curves in 11 miles. Perhaps DG is especially twisty; perhaps DG provides advanced skills and challenges so that making a mistake will surely do you in. Highway 22 is more than 10 times the length of DG! Believe it! Size really does matter! Twists? There are few words to describe the variety of thrills riding along 22. You have to be far more attentive than 11 miles worth.

I’m not trying to elevate highway 22 or derogate DG. I think I’m calling for a new Mecca! One of the beautiful things about this trip so far—and I know I keep mentioning this—is the relative isolation on the roads. At times, I rode many miles without seeing more than a couple of cars! Some were locals who would eventually turn into a driveway. I saw a few bicyclists, a few motorcyclists, but I was alone much of the time.

I know I’ve missed many photo ops. I had wondered how I’d manage this…riding over shutter-bugging. However, I just couldn’t help it. I’d be in route to finding a lighthouse, only to discover a road I’d read about and end up—to my great joy-- taking that. Fifteen miles later, I had long forgotten the lighthouse and only wanted to bask in the euphoria (after glow?) from just having experienced another magnificent ride. Is this what some people feel like when they want a cigarette after having…well, you know… not being a smoker…I don’t know.

At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitor’s center, I met a husband-wife on a huge HD—I think it’s the one advertised as HD’s tourer. As I pulled in next to them, they were munching on gorp-like stuff. The man said, “How do you like that little thing.” He went on to say, “must be fun.” I professed my love for the bike. They too were doing the LMCT, only they were going in the opposite direction. They started from their home in Minnesota and were coming down the south along the MI shore. They would then head east through the Gary, IN area and head up north through Chicago. The wife said, “how do you like leaning on that.” She wasn’t referring to the fun leans. She was looking at the tank area. I told her I didn’t lean and I wasn’t the lean-on-your-tank type (I don’t know what all I meant by that). Her husband and I sort of explained naked bike to her. She seemed delighted and approved, almost as if she thought a little higher of me. She smiled and said, “I just don’t know how they ride like that. I don’t think they ride very long on those things, all leaned over...” Her husband told her that some of them do ride long distances. We concluded that “young” bones are probably the key to riding leaned over for long trips.

Totally missed a photo op of them. They were so cute and old school. They were dressed in matching black leathers (head to toe) with hi-gloss black helmets with no face shield (talk about “how one does something—that I’d like to know”) and equipped with helmet microphones connecting their communication systems. Dumb of me not to take their picture—or have them take mine. When you’re tired, you don’t think well or fast and I had about seventy-five miles left to do before I could stop for the day. Before leaving, they warned me about traffic in Traverse City.

I guess it’s all a matter of one’s reference point. I got to Traverse City and wondered where all the traffic was. I waited. And waited. Then it dawned on me. It’s about reference point. To them, this was probably a lot of traffic. To me it was…well…nothing! Now, however, I understand when people, seasoned riders even, say that they would never ride downtown Chicago. It makes them nervous, crazy, mad, and frustrated by all the traffic. We do what we have to do. Traverse City traffic is, from my point of reference, nothing to write home about.

I also had a maudlin moment Thursday. On one particularly long stretch of road, after seeing signs welcoming young people to summer camp, I thought of all the kids I know who reside in the inner city, who would benefit from summer camp, to experience the quiet, peaceful serenity here. Just the chance to silence some of the daily assault of hyper frenetic living that is a part of urban life. It would do some of the kids a world of good to reset their internal clocks to some less hectic pace. Being away in places like this is food for the spirit—maybe that’s why I’m missing breakfast and lunch everyday—I’m full from the riding, lake viewing and the overabundance of endorphines coursing through my veins. However, I don’t think I could ever live in places like these—and it’s not just the lack of racial/ethnic diversity that might get to me—it would be the relentless lure of these roads that would do me in. I’d never get a thing done! No matter the season. Summer=riding and reading by the water. Winter=cross-country skiing and reading by a fire.Too many temptations NOT to do a thing here other than have fun.

BTW, I’ve found the value in the MSR bottles. The peace of mind alone, knowing that I’m carrying my own fuel really helps to enjoy these seemingly never-ending roads. I’m told that US Highway 2 is going to be even more remote. I’m ready for it. The blog might cease until I’m out of these areas.

One last thing. I had an encounter…nothing major.

I’ve had to learn a lot about parking here. The glaciers that moved through here gazillion of years ago and have carved out these amazing terrain, makes for interesting parking situatoins. Flat parking is not always around. I have never entered a casino in my life but wanted to visit one that a Native American governmental organization told me had Native artifacts on display. Honest. I parked on a decline—had to. When leaving, I couldn’t back the bike out and I couldn’t ride forward or turn the tire to drive off on either side. I tried pulling the bike, (it was in neutral) and it didn’t work. Dismounted the bike and tried pulling backwards. The luggage made it heavy and it only budged a little. The rear tire was stuck in a deep dip. I couldn’t get the bike over/through it. A guy in a Hummer was waiting for the parking spot (wonder if he got that with his winnings?). I pulled, pushed, and tried to walk backwards both on and off the bike and it wasn’t budging. Hummer guy left, only to be replaced by another car. Inside I’m thinking…so this is how it all ends, crushed by her beloved, fallen, fully loaded bike. She would have survived but was ignored by the gamblers rushing to play Black Jack. She died from internal bleeding…if only someone had gotten her to the hospital on time.

Ok, back to reality.

I’m pushing and then I hear an angry voice, “turn the bike off!” Uh? Or should I say, “duh?” Turn it off? It’s in neutral…but I turn it off nonetheless. I don’t notice any real difference—the bike was still difficult to push, maybe my prior struggling had already gotten the bike nearly over the dip. Eventually, I did extricate the bike and off I went. BTW, I never got to see the Indian artifacts. I was in the process of moving the bike to get to the right casino door I’d been directed to. A very polite man, dressed like a policeman and fluent in policeman lingo said, “Go to door #3 and right inside you’ll see the artifacts…but we discourage the bringing in of helmets and tank bags types of items” After this, and the wrestle with the bike, I left and headed for Traverse City. However, what I saw inside the wrong door of the casino, did made me think of ancient ruins—read between those lines.

p.s. Thursday night, I slept in the lap of luxury compared to Wednesday night! Of course, I’m paying more than twice as much for the privilege. Who am I to complain?!

I kid you not!

A very long post just disappeared as I was attempting to post it. Hair pulling and wailing occuring right now! Tried to recover it but it's gone. I will try to recreate it soon. Really really mad!