Monday, December 31

Happy New Year!

To all my regular and occasional readers, to family, friends and the lurkers out there, I'm hoping you had a safe, sane and spectacular time ushering out 2007. I'm wishing you a full body jump into 2008!

Another year has come to a close. I can't help note that the older I get, the faster the year seems to complete its cycle. I have no resolutions to share here but I can't close out the year without remembering a few joyous highlights.

Many highlights come directly from my readers, many of whom have their own motorcycle blogs. Thank you! I've enjoyed reading you and getting to know you in cyberspace. You have kept me challenged and informed. Mucho thanks to D. Brent Miller for the podcast interview he did with me on the Lake Superior Circle tour and for indulging my incessant chatter at the BMW Rally in WI. Our paths shall cross again. I haven't met Crusty, yet, but I feel I know him a bit. Like me, he's a map lover. He's influenced me and I think I've influenced him a little (he's picked up a GPS!! Yay!). I'll never forget that Crusty found a frozen dairy treat named "Sharon" while out on a ride. He kindly bought and consumed some--that act melted my heart a tad! Crusty's business is motorcycles; he has little patience for those who woefully neglect their machines. Queenie has benefited from the sage advice he dispenses on his blog. Vinny, thanks for poking your head in now and again. When you settle in Ann Arbor, MI, run out to get William Murphy's book, Motorcycling Across Michigan, you won't be disappointed. I don't know most of the others I regularly read but stopping by their blogspaces has been interesting diversions as well. Among the many non-motorcycle blogs I enjoy, my favorite is Claire's--always fresh and eclectic and guaranteed to entertain and inform.

Other highlights from 2007 include my day rides and weekend motorcycle jaunts that always produced an afterglow that made other suspicious of what really transpires on my outings. "How can anyone have that much fun alone?" I've been asked that more than once. Few things gave me as much pleasure as rising early and cranking up Queenie. I need "my" time. Time to be alone, time to explore lands near and far, time to reconnect with myself and even time to renew my trust in others. Taking photographs of things I wanted to remember from my trips (but know in my heart I will never forget) awakened an old love of photography that I'm working hard to relearn.

The Lake Superior Circle tour was a hoot and a half! When I'm out there on my own, it puts an exclamation point to living free and being self reliant. Solo riding makes me feel that no matter how scary things may feel at the start of a long journey or how small I may feel in this great big world, I can persevere, I can get through...Each trip reinforces a "trust your intuition" approach. I expect the best (but prepare for the worst). I met lots of neat folks in Canada, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and of course, Illinois. All of them are now part of my life experiences, good or bad. Believe it or not, I'm pretty much a loner so getting out there, engaging others, trusting others, and stretching beyond what is comfortable to me, is a huge deal, personally.

The best "highlight" of all is having finished a year of safe riding. In a good way, I still feel like a newbie. I hope to maintain that novice disposition because it keeps me grounded. I do not take riding for granted. I try never to mount my bike without realizing that the ride could end in a way I don't want or it could be my last. That thought alone and the realization that no matter how well I ride, some things are beyond my control. This knowledge never deters me; it reminds me to stay alert, to manage the risk, to control all that is within my control. As Zen masters remind us, we should be forever mindful of every moment, to focus on the task at hand, to treat each minute as a new, never before experienced minute. Good lessons for both riding safely and living free.

While I'm neither glad nor sad the year is over, I am mindful of this: I now probably have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me, which is all the more reason to live life to the fullest, to do no deliberate harm to others as I travel through space and time. I work with others so I am tested on this daily! I'm human. I will fall short sometimes, but I'm trying and when I spin out of control or push myself over the line, it is riding that helps reign me in and provides that shift in perspective we all need on occasion. Perhaps I make too much of this riding thing, but that's me. I'm telling you, it is because of riding that I've not acted on any of the many homicides I've mentally constructed and planned to the most minor detail. Just kidding. Well...sort of...

I have huge plans for the next riding season. I've come to realize that much of the fun is in the planning. It gets me through the fog and snow and cold of my Midwestern existence. If I embark on half of the trips I plan, I'll consider myself lucky. My big adventure next summer is the Canadian province, Nova Scotia. Don't yet know how I'm going to pull that off, but I'm going to give it my all. If I don't make it there, so be it. At least the planning and research will be fun--and anyone wanting info on such a trip can benefit from what I share here.

Lastly, wishing all who drop by here, the year of their dreams! May 2oo8 be gentle to you and yours! May all the roads you travel in life inspire you to do good and live well. May you and yours always return home safely to share your adventures.


Monday, December 17

A Snowstorm to remember...

Snow plow out early
Originally uploaded by shrosa814

This is what I woke up to yesterday. It was absolutely magnificant! While I realize snowstorms can cause havoc too, I am reminded of how children experience snow. They embrace it with unconditional joy! I watched several news programs interview a slew of children. All of them were thrilled about the snow and used it to the fullest. Most of the adults interviewed, on the other hand, were peeved and full of complaints. Some even acted surprised that the snow dared appear, or that it dumped so much, yada, yada, yada. I'm not a stranger or unsympathetic to those feelings nor the adult concerns that bloat us. But snow, it isn't something we can do much about. Depending on where one lives, the snow is inevitable. It will come. We cannot control when or how much of the fluffy white stuff we'll get when it makes its appearance. I want to be a little child-like and enjoy it.

When I heard we were bracing for a snowstorm starting on Saturday and continuing through Sunday, I went out and tried to document it. The two day results are linked below.

Mother Nature, reminding us who is in charge.

December 15th snowstorm starts...

December 16th snowstorm in full bloom...

Wednesday, December 12

Atlanta, GA and welcomed whiplash!

Recently I returned from a work-related trip to Atlanta, GA. I have issues with the South--let me get that out there up-front. Before anyone tells me that's an irrational, prejudicial position to hold, let me say that my issues are highly rational--in my view--and deeply rooted in historical fact and unfortunately reinforced by some past ventures to the South. I admit to falling short here. So, as part of learning to "let go" and not sweating small stuff, I openly looked forward to the trip.

The change from the Midwestern snow and cold was much welcomed! I expected a sweltering Atlanta; instead, it was just pleasantly mild. Walking around the city was light jacket weather the entire time. Four days is not a lot of time but on the day I left, temps were inching up to the 70s.

Work, however, prevented me from any deep city explorations. I was so near the Margaret Mitchell house but because I've never seen the movie Gone with the Wind nor have I read the book (a boycott and ban on both that I launched in high school remains in effect) it didn't make sense to go there. I had hoped for the Martin Luther King National Historical Site, a CNN tour, the Zoo, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. If I could, I thought I'd try to get to the Carter Center, and Stone Mountain, GA, which made me curious given its historical symbolism and reference in one of King's most famous speeches. Unfortunately, I managed only the Martin Luther King site and the neighborhood surrounding King's childhood home. Additionally, I did a lot of walking and admired the Downtown and Midtown architecture.

The Interstate system in the Chicago area trains us well. I-75/I-85, were easy to navigate and I imagined riding along these fast roads to quickly ride beyond Atlanta's business district and the shopping malls. I spotted many snaky arteries and backroads that both excited and frightened me. Backroads in the Midwest also pose a challenge but it's more familiar territory even if the same dangers lurk. Backroads in the South, however, are unfamiliar and tainted with a nightmarish history I can't shake easily. While driving, images of Bull Connor, "strange fruit" dangling from trees, and Emmett Till crossed my mind. Yes, I have issues with the South, and I guess a degree in American History fuels my regional psychosis.

Yet, every time I heard a motorcycle, my head would whip around and watch the rider zoom by and I'd think of living in a place like Atlanta where the riding season doesn't end. While out walking, I met up at the same corner at the same time with a guy riding a Kawasaki Ninja. He waited for me to cross the street and I waited for him to make his right hand turn. I wanted to watch him ride off. I wanted ogle until he was a dot in the distance. We both waited for the other. I stood there looking at his bike, which was navy-blue with silver "Ninja" written on the side. He finally tired of me hugging the curb and cautiously maneuvered his turn. He wore head to toe gear. He, his bike, and the modular helmet were color coordinated. I wanted to tell him that I rode too and talk motorcycles with him. I was close enough to reach out and touch him. Feeling I'd appear nutty, I kept quite and stood there staring at his bike, balancing on the curb, ignoring the "Walk" signal.

Riders in the South get to ride their steers throughout most of the year so not needing to store one's bike engenders considerable envy. What a bunch of lucky folks! City life at one's finger tips, boonies not far away, and the really great roads tucked within easy reach to provide unlimited opportunities for amazing day and weekend trips--what more can one ask? On many levels, the South has come a long way. Perhaps, I have too.

Atlanta is a place I'd
revisit and face my southern backroad fears to freely enjoy the roads. I'd try not to drag the entire suitcase of history along with me.

Light, after all, is the best way to travel.

More Atlanta pics here!

Monday, December 3

("Da-Nile") isn't just a river in Egypt...

Saturday, I had great intentions but where does that get one, right? Chicago was bracing for its first snow storm and I still hadn't taken the 'cycle in. Interestingly, it was around this same time in 2006 that I ended my riding season. Then, I was able to ride until December 2--the day before the big December 3rd snow storm. Thus, almost one year to the day, I found myself in a similar position. My plan this time? Rise early, take the long cut to Motoworks--as a symbolic final ride, a sort of closure--and store Queenie for the winter season.

I was bright-eyed by 3 a.m.-- as some of my kin would say--"too early to be doing anything outside that is legal!" With hours to spare before the shop opened, I reached over, retrieved a book and lost myself in reading. After a few hours, I did some 'net searching and then returned to my book. By then seven hours had elapsed and I was getting drowsy. Took an hour nap and prepared to leave. Then some odd compulsion forced me to actually want to clean the kitchen before I left.

According to the weather report, the storm was due in by 2pm. Plenty of time, I figured. Then a phone call. The conversation re-energized me though it lasted way too long. I glanced out of the window and watched new snow falling. It was an hour earlier than predicted--ok, I know weather forecasting isn't an exact science. But still...Seeing the snow fall, a sigh of relief enveloped me...I wouldn't take the bike in. Like that's going to prevent the winter from happening? Like that's going to somehow extend the riding season? Denial--just delaying the inevitable. If I had left at that moment, I still could have taken the bike in without much risk. Denial. Instead, I dressed warmly, loaded up the camera and took a long walk in the snow.

On my way out, I passed Queenie. Forgive the anthropomorphizing, but she had a sad, pathetic look of pleading that seemed directed at me. It seemed to shout, "TIME TO STORE ME!"

Now, I'm hoping for at least one decent riding day within the next week or so to take Queenie in, perhaps, spend the winter with her buddies. Last year, she sat near one red and one yellow (couple owned) Suzuki SV650s, in a vast room replete with newish and vintage BMWs.

Clearly, I'm the only one in denial here. The season is over.

Let the planning for the new season begin!

Sunday, November 25


Another hodgepodge post with a bit of this and that...

Here I am again apologizing for being invisible! I hate when work gets in the way of living. Lately, my job has required traveling midweek and it amazes me just how much a mid week three day trip disrupts the entire week! I'm not just being dramatic. That's what's been happening and zapping my energy to do more than exist. Enough.

My last ride was approximately two weeks ago. The weather here has been moody, with some warm days (58F). But those days have been foggy and damp with pavement even tricky to walk on let alone ride a motorcycle. On such days, I've seriously been tempted to ride but my left brain prevailed. I did, however, venture out late one night. With temps in the mid 50s, at 8pm, I couldn't help myself. It was a short but oh, so sweet ride.
The streets were devoid of any significant traffic. As I passed by the most brilliant Michigan Avenue lights, I felt as if I were being given a massive B12 injection. Although a tad tired when I headed out, my spirits lifted as I pushed through the gentle head wind. I could feel new energy course through me and fill up my drained and depleted self. You've seen those commercials where the wilted sunflower is all bent and dropped and when given water and placed in direct sunlight, it literally unfolds and is rekindled. That's how I felt by the time I returned home.

Now, I accept that the riding season has come to an end, at least for me. I thought of prolonging it by investing in winter gear. Until March of 2008, my work demands are not going to improve much and riding one day a week--if I'm lucky--is not going to be enough to keep Queenie running well throughout the winter. I'd rather put her away, end the denial and find a satisfying winter activity.


Checked my files and discovered several unposted trip reports and miscellaneous entries that may never see the light of day. Oh well, I vow to do better. I've been thinking of what to do with this space over the winter and I think I've figured it out. So, stay tuned to some new Sojourner Tales...

In wrapping up the season, I did not reach the 10,000 miles I had hoped for. Had I completed the SaddleSore, (SS) there is little doubt that I would have closed the season with over 10,000. Thus far, it looks like I logged closer to 9,000. The SS would have been around 1,050 or so miles...Oh well... I realize that it's not the goal that's the real fun part, it's planning the rides that in the end becomes the real important part.

I'm ending the season also re-evaluating my motorcycle needs for next season. Still drooling over the BMW F800ST but right now, the urgency I felt earlier in the season has settled. If I get the bike next season GREAT; if I don't, I've got a great bike now that needs a heap of riding still.


I must share this news (a more detailed review is forthcoming). I've been looking for a great travel digital camera, something small, one that would eliminate the need to take multiple lenses, which my Nikon N80 and Olympus OM-1 both require. I wanted a camera that would transcend my compact digital Casio Exilim Z750, 7.2 megapixel--a great camera that I love-- but getting to its manual features requires digging deep inside multiple screens. I started eyeing the bigger DSLR, like the Olympus Evolt-510 and the Nikon D80. Yet, I didn't want the heft and bulk or dealing with multiple lenses on the road. I want easily accessibly full manual control features in a small package. Well, after long and considered research, I've found this little baby: The Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ18K. I adore this little thing. It sports a 18X optical zoom aspherical 28 to 504mm lens (35mm equivalent). This "ultra zoom" has a Leica lens that is sharp as a tack! All the pictures posted here are with the new camera--I'm still learning its features so the mediocre work is my fault alone. Again, review forthcoming.

January 1, 2008 I will official start the Bessie Stringfield project. I have a file folder of materials on her that need fleshing out. In case you don't know...she's the African American woman who served in WWII as a military dispatch rider for the army. Not much is written about Bessie and I hope to change that. I have a trip planned to Miami in the winter to interview some folks who may have known Stringfield.

Finally, I'm dusting off some reviews I've either never finished or simply never got around to posting on gear, books, and websites. Doing so should keep me busy over the winter.


Planning for next season's big trips has commenced! Novi Scotia still #1 on the list with a trip around one of the Great Lakes and return detour jaunt to southern Vermont.

Tuesday, November 6

Visiting the Dead: Oak Woods Cemetery Ride

Weather wise, the past weekend was spectacular! Temps in the mid 50s, insignificant winds, a beautiful azure sky with puffy white clouds --what more could a motorcyclist hope for? Feeling more than a little overwhelmed by work and other obligations, I decided to do something other than wallow in the abyss. For me a sure pick me up is a cemetery visit. Might sound a bit morbid to some, but to me, such visits evoke many reasons for living fully in the moment. Sometimes life makes you feel as if your grip is slipping.

When company arrives, I become an ambassador for my wonderful city. I tend not to take sufficient time to tour the city solo. With the motorcycle, I've been doing more local exploring and it's been mind expanding.

One would have to be dead, not to appreciate the beautiful fall weekend weather. As I peered from the window, I could feel a strong magnetic force urging me outside. By 10:00a.m., it was an undeniably urgent pull. Yet, I was feeling a counter need to go underground, to hunker down and tune out the world. Lounge around reading and just disappear for the weekend--no phone, no company... just inside with a bunch of reading materials.

By noon, the sun made abstract lines through the blinds I had closed to keep the sun out. Eventually, I felt forced to pay attention to my gut, which was telling me that winter would be here soon and I would regret wasting a day like Saturday. Feeling put upon by the great weather, I reluctantly geared up and headed out for a cemetery ride.
Not terribly far from me is Oak Woods Cemetery. Once a Jewish cemetery, Oak Woods is now a final resting place for many of Chicago's finest. Replete with local history, I decided to go there, learn a few things and hang out. I had called the cemetery office a week or so prior and learned that it would be okay to ride Queenie through the grounds. I had asked about parking, which I preferred to do rather than ride through. Something about feeling like I'd be disturbing the dead?--I is senseless. Still, I prefer walking through cemeteries, exploring the history written on the headstones, speculating what's behind a headstone that covers a life and death that lasted only 6 years, or why a family all has the same death date.

I arrived fifteen minutes after the office closed so I didn't have the map to find all the plots I wanted to locate. I did not find Harold Washington (1922-1987), Chicago's first African American mayor; Ida B. Wells Barnett (1862-1931), African American journalist; Jesse Binga (1865-1950), founded and owned a African American bank in 1908 when banks discriminated against some American citizens. In addition, Oak Woods is the final resting place of many of Chicago's politicians, musicians, artists, athletes, along side regular folks. I did find Jesse Owens (1913-1980), famed Olympic Runner from the '40s.

Although my visit did not unearth, forgive the pun, the departed I wanted to find that's never was the ultimate goal, particularly once I arrived at the cemetery. Once there, I become quickly lost in process of location and exploration. Without a map, I parked the bike and wandered aimlessly taking photographs with the Yashica Mat and perusing the headstone stories.

By the time I finished, my gloom had lifted. As I packed my camera, a man in navy jacket and pants approached me. I could tell he was a security guard and I wondered if he were waiting for me to leave. He was an elderly black gent with a sweet smile who appeared to be around 75 years old. Instantly, I thought of my maternal grandfather--never has a sweeter and kinder man walked this earth! Motioning with a nod of his head to Queenie, he said, "That your bike?" I told him it was and he smiled. "I bet you sure love that bike." I don't know how he could tell, but I told him he was right. He went on to tell me how he wished he'd had a motorcycle but that when he was "back in Mississippi--back in them days...only ones had 'cycles then was the white fellas--you know...we didn't have 'em." I listened to him and for the first time at the cemetery, I was genuinely dispirited and sad; I couldn't help think how ironic it was that it wasn't really the dead that made me saddest, it was hearing a story from the living.

The security guard went on to tell me that when he was a young man in Mississippi he had a job in a story and used a motorized vehicle to make deliveries. I didn't want to interrupt his tale to ask about the vehicle but it sounded like it was a scooter of some sort. I just wanted to listen to his narrative. His job as a security guard couldn't possibly involve anything confrontational. This man didn't have an unkind bone in his body! And, I couldn't imagine him raising his voice to stop riff raff or moving faster than slow motion!

Before I left, he asked me if I'd enjoyed my visit. I told him I would return soon because I didn't see most of what I'd come for. When I explained I arrived fifteen minutes after the office closed and therefore didn't get a map, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out a chain of keys. He said he'd get some info for me. I watched him amble to the office and unlock the door. He returned with a map of the cemetery and a list of suggested places of interest. We said our goodbyes and I promised to visit again.

The ride home was joyous. The travel along Chicago's lakefront was cool, fast and picturesque. I felt reinvigorated and appreciative of being able to draw another breath. I don't know how many miles I did Saturday--doesn't matter one iota. I got out there and just had a nice, quiet time hanging out among the dearly departed. And all is well.

Sunday, October 28

The Queen has returned!

I've not had a ride--good or bad--in close to three weeks. Being off the saddle that length of time can feel strange. Perhaps it's just in my head but I felt a bit rusty for those first few minutes. A thread on the forum addresses how long people have stayed off the bike and what experiences they have when they ride again. It's not as automatic a reunion as one might think. While those early Spring rides may be awkward, it only lasts a short time.

In this part of the country, the riding season is determined solely by weather. Last season, I rode until December 2nd, getting Queenie in storage one day before the predicted December 3rd blizzard dumped its first significant snow. Because I rode so late into the season, I didn't fret too much about retiring the bike--although some my differ on the amount of my bellyaching.

Saturday, while waiting for the Queen to appear, I roamed the showroom. I had brought with me my "new" 30 year old + medium format TLR (twin lens reflex) camera. I thought it might be cool to take a couple of pics of some of the many vintage bikes at the shop, some with odd names like Dragonfly. I saw an old Beemer sitting in tight quarters with bikes on each side. Something about the way the light was hitting it that made me stare. The room was not the brightest for taking an easy indoor picture but there was light seeping in from the ancient glass windows that looks like it could have been butcher block 100 years ago. Today, it's old and opaque and discolored in spots; yet, I've seen spectacular light streaming into the showroom many times before. Saturday's light lacked the dramatic highlights and shadows but the old glass beamed bright on the Beemers. So, while Queenie was being "detailed," I took the two black and white pictures. Mind you, I just received the camera and I'm still learning to use it, particularly hold it properly. I'm enjoying this camera so much, it has me developing my own b&w a couple of times a week just to see what this camera reveals. In spite of the new lens hood I bought for it, it still seems to suffer from flare--but I don't care. It has enough charm to make up for this shortcoming.
Back to riding...when I fired up my gal pal and pulled off, I noticed right away the feel of the throttle. Queenie in flesh and blood form easily would be a bucking bronco--she is frisky! Apply a thoughtless touch and you're off! Too much of a flick of the wrist and whiplash can ensue. Fortunately, my memory found that sweet spot of friction zone and we took off. As I road, the familiar became automatic. I love this motorcycle. It fits me, it has personality, and in spite of her recent electrical issue, she remains a most reliable companion. I never understood people who anthropomorphized the cars they owned and spoke of them as if talking about lovers. I understand that now.

We are heading out today to places unknown. Had I gone to bed like a normal person rather than staying up until 4 a.m. reading, I would have left hours ago and watched the sun rise while on the road. It's okay that I didn't. Today, there is no rush. I will go where I want, when I want. Me and my bike and my new "old" camera.

Wednesday, October 24

It's all about perspective, isn't it?

The Chicago area experienced the most gorgeous weather this past weekend, the kind that anyone who loves the outdoors appreciates. Temps in the mid-seventies, a gentle caressing breeze, a beaconing lakefront, and a city holding tightly to the waning days of festivals, food feasts and ethnic parades.

It might be somewhat early, but I think this is Indian Summer.

This weather deserves engagement. Before the motorcycle, I'd probably power walk along the lakefront or hike through a forest preserve or take a long bicycle ride. Since the motorcycle, the weather produced the kind of weekend that would have me on the road by 5:30 a.m. heading out for a weekend trip. It would also have made a perfect Saddle Sore weekend.

Ideal conditions for sure. But I have a sick motorcycle. About a week ago Queenie was towed away. I should have taken pics of her being hoisted on the truck but my heart was heavy and just not interested. That day, I was determined to get down to why the turn signals worked intermittently, why the instrument panel remained inactive and dark. I put on the choke, turned the key and Queenie fired up immediately. Like me, she wanted to ride. I jiggled some wires in her tail compartment and the left turn signal flickered a little but I could never get any life from the right signal or the brake lights. I debated if I should ride her to the shop. It was early morning and I figured I could make it without too much trouble. Then I realized that I was fooling myself with desperation talk. Even with the lights functioning it's a challenge to navigate downtown Chicago traffic. Without a speed odometer, turn signals and brake lights it would be crazy to ride with only a working headlight.

But if I were caught out on the road and the lights went out, I'd have to ride it, right? It's easy to rationalize one's desires. I came to my senses and accepted that while I could definitely ride the bike, that wasn't the important question. Whether it was safe to ride it, whether I wanted to accept that increased level of risk was the real question. And, I didn't, really. I just wanted to ride the 5.5 miles that is, at best, a 30 minute ride through traffic.

Queenie's week away was tough even with the the roller coaster, make that, schizophrenic weather we've had. Just last week, we enjoyed balmy, summer-like temps. Then came coat weather. Sudden changes in the climate made it difficult to anticipate what to wear in the morning. Just last week, I was pelted with cherry sized hail that hurt like heck as I ran for cover from a nasty brief storm! Then came magnificent weather this past weekend.

I learned that Queenie needs a "combo kit," which is the device that controls the turn signals, the brake lights and the instrument panel. I'm guessing that the glitch in the extant one was causing the blown fuses? Or, perhaps it wasn't a fuse at all, just this faulty device screwing up things. Overall, it sounds like a minor matter but the "kit" must be ordered, which means hospitalization for the bike until it arrives.

Motorcycles were ubiquitous.

I had company this weekend and that helped take the edge off. Yet, I literally gave myself whiplash at all my snappy head turns trying to catch a glimpse of a passing bike. My visiting friend, who is pregnant, came in from North Carolina. It was the first time we've seen her in pregnant form. Everywhere we went, she and her little bowling ball served to remind me of matters far more important in life than yearning for and whining about my bike. Her family and friends eagerly await the birth of this new member of the tribe. That's big stuff!

Then came the fires and the Santa Ana Winds that roared at hurricane speeds. This was Sunday. I have close friends in La Jolla and in several San Diego counties. I learned that some relatives of close friends has surely lost their house. They were roused by a red and yellow glow shining through their window. They had enough time to grab a few personal items, load the car and flee for their lives as falling embers trailed them. They've not been able to return to their canyon neighborhood but from all accounts, they have most likely lost every thing.

After contacting my friends and finding out that they are, for now, okay and busy housing other friends who are now homeless, thoughts of my precious bike seemed woefully self-centered. My friends reside near the ocean, away from the canyon and direct line of fires but they can smell the smoke, taste the fumes and now live under a smoke-filled sky. They remain on alert in case things worsen. It's the winds, they say, that are wrecking havoc, feeding the flames and building the walls of fire across southern California.

Right now 1000 homes have been destroyed and approximately 1 million people have been displaced. Eighteen fires are active and still being fought with only three fires contained thus far.

I've never experienced such devastating lost, never felt the Santa Ana winds but I recall reading a memorable essay by Joan Didion in her book, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, on the Santa Ana winds. Her vivid description is permanently etched in my memory...


"... without darkness
Nothing comes to birth,
As without light
Nothing flowers." --
May Sarton

Sunday, October 7

Saddle Sore fiasco!

Well, I didn't even get out of the starting gate--at least that's how it feels...Here's the tale and all I have to show for it is a witness form and the gas receipt!.

Before retiring Saturday night, I opened my new issue of the Rider and was thrilled to see an inspiring story of one of my heroes, Ardys Kellerman, the amazing long distance rider, who has ridden so long and well that she is now a motorcycling great-grandmother. Lately, I had been thinking too about another fascinating women I admire, Bessie Stringfield, who was an army dispatch rider during WWII. Thus, Saturday night, I went to bed pumped and eager to begin my Sunday adventure.

Conditions couldn't have been more ideal. Got up at 3:30 a.m. and with everything ready to go, I left at 4:15. I felt great. I was looking forward to a fun, long ride. I was viewing it as little more than a great way to spend a day on my own.

One of the doormen kindly agreed to witness my start and we chatted a bit before I left at 4:3o a.m. Afterwards, I needed to gas up to mark my official start time. Because the bike had been recently checked, I just made sure the signals worked, I noted the odometer reading then remembered that I should record the reading after I gas up.

The night before, I had decided to avoid getting to I-80 west via I-88 west because I detest paying for tolls and I wanted no part of that gunky-goo that builds up on the ground at tollbooths. My decision to avoid I-88 would add another 24 miles to the Saddle Sore route (1,048 miles versus 1,072) but I felt it was worth it.

I went to a gas station that I know is open 24 hours (supposedly). This station is physically close to Lake Shore Drive, which would put me near I-55, which I would take for about 43 miles until it met with I-80, which would become my "home" for nearly 500 miles to Lincoln, Nebraska. This station is ideal too because it allows sufficient time for the tires to warm up before getting on the Interstate.

At 4:32 a.m. the air was already warm, definitely in the mid-70s Fahrenheit and humid. I wondered about the marathon runners who would be starting their challenge in about 4 hours. I was dressed well and had packed the Kilimanjaro fleece lining--just in case the night air got cold--along with a sufficient about of snacks in my topcase.

At the gas station, I filled up. At first the credit card transaction prematurely ended. Hmmm? I tried it again and it went through. Closely, I watched the transaction window because I've had problems at this station with pushing the "Yes," for I want my receipt and getting nothing in return, which forces me to go inside the station--totally defeating the ENTIRE purpose of paying at the pump! They claim this only happens when the machines are out of paper. So, I shouldn't have been surprised when it told me to "See cashier for receipt."

Dang!! Annoyed, I stepped on the magic doormat and the door didn't open. I step harder and it still doesn't open. The place is lit up and I observe two workers inside. I knock on the door and a woman looks up. She turns her back and walks away, which I assumes means she is coming to open the door. I'm thinking the door is closed for security reasons. I look around and there are about four cars in the lot. I wait. No one comes to open the door. I see another worker, I knock again. The young guy shakes his head and hunches his shoulders, which I'm interpret to mean, "I'm a dolt who isn't allowed to handle keys therefore I can't open the door!" UGH!

Then that woman appears again. I knock. She does some sort of hand signals that I don't get. I press my face close to the door where the split is and I say, "I need a receipt." By this time a couple comes to stand near be at the door. They ask me if it's open. I say, it must be as I've just bought gas. The guy looks in and knocks, the woman does the same hand gestures and points to a clock on the wall. The guy says, "Oh, I guess they'll be open at 6a.m. It is then that I feel a brewing meltdown.

"Six...I just paid for gas, I can't wait until six...I need to go now!" My voice is calm but I feel a rush of adrenaline. I know of another gas station nearby but it hits me that I just filled up--where will I put extra gas? I return to my bike and take out my phone to call the station. I am losing my cool as I fumble for the phone. Multi-tasker that I am, I also walk back to the door when I see the guy come to it was a plastic sack of garbage. I yell, "I paid for gas with a debit card...your machine didn't give me a receipt. I need a receipt NOW." He looks puzzled.

Standing behind the guy, the woman pokes her head around and way too calmly for me says, "I'm not open in here. I don't open until 6 but I'll met you down at the window at 5a.m. to give you a receipt, but you'll have to wait" I'm ticked but decide not to commit a homicide as I'll only need to wait a few minutes. But my heart is thundering in my chest.

I get the receipt and here's where the unbelievable happens, where things unravel.

After I carefully inspect the receipt...the IBA tips warn that receipts are important but the two single most important receipts are the start and finish receipts. They must be accurate in all respects. One must make certain the machines record the time and correct date. Some machines are not maintained well and can give irrelevant and incorrect data. As I examine the receipt, the woman seems to scowl at me. I mumbled a "Thanks" and make a I mental not to write a letter to the station's management for this and all the previous headaches this station has caused.

I return to my bike. I retrieve the log sheet. I pull in the clutch, turned the key, the headlight comes on but the instrument panel is dark. Nothing else lights up. I return the key to "Off". This time I mount the bike. I power up the bike again; it starts immediately. Before I wasn't trying to start it. I was just wanted to get the instrument panel glowing to record the odometer information.

Still, the odometer doesn't register. It is blank! How could that be when only a few minutes ago in the garage it was fine. I shut off the engine and restart. Queenie fires up but still no odometer reading. I try turn signals. No signals. No visual indication of "Neutral" either! How this cannot be happening?

I do the start and stop several times and one time the bike died when I went into first gear--but I really think that was my fault as I may have had the kickstand down...I don't remember. My mind was racing and I was bordering on a meltdown.

Given that the bike fires up without hesitation, it seemed like a blown fuse? My heart was now in my stomach. I hate so much that I'm basically an ignoramus when it comes to motorcycle maintenance. I can do some basics --really minor things, but whatever was happening at 5:30 a.m. was beyond me. I felt helpless. One of the key tips the IBA stresses is: safe riding. No way could I imagine this problem working itself out on the road. Here I was at 5:30 a.m. sitting in a gas station parking lot ready to turn on some waterworks to rival Buckingham Fountain!

I started the bike and wondered what was--and why--this was happening. The Priority Lights had been removed. Could it now be the headlight modulator? It's never been a problem before. Was there some unearthly reason I was being thwarted? Even the 80% chance of rain predicted for parts of Iowa and Nebraska hadn't been enough to deter me.

Depressed, I headed back home.

When I arrived, my witness had gone home. Good. I didn't want to explain to him why I had returned so soon and trust myself not to cry while telling. Intellectually, I know this is truly small stuff. Emotionally, it's another thing entirely. I thought of fiddling around with the wires, perhaps something just came loose. But even if I did and was successful, would I trust it enough to ride more than one 1000 miles? Is this problem indicative of some larger issue and I should be happy that it showed itself close to the apartment? Still, I was and am bummed.

I entered the apartment so wound up, I couldn't rest. I picked up the new Rider again and opened the cover. The first thing I see is a Buell advertisement that quotes Erik Buell, it states,

"The machine doesn't come first, the rider does."

I know that this aims at conveying to the reader that the rider is always the most important part of the motorcycle + rider equation.

However, in my currently hyper-agitated condition, I say this to that ad:

Bulls&%# !!