Tuesday, July 31

No ST ride, No Sleep, and No skates

Well, I didn’t get to ride the BMW R1200ST. The man who promised to buy it finally showed up and took it off the dealer’s hands. Boo-hoo! I met a woman at the BMW Rally who generously offered me a ride on hers. I just might take her up on that. I hate that BMW discontinued the bike. Wonder what’s in store to replace it?

The insomnia has started. I’ve strange sleeping habits to start with, so it doesn’t take much for sleeplessness to kick in. I’m already walking around zombie-like because I can’t settle down to sleep longer than a few hours at a time. As I’ve said before, I see this as part of the trip process for me. I’m preoccupied with thoughts about all the things I need to complete before I leave, the excitement of leaving, you name it.

No inline skates on the trip. More Boo-hooing. I will miss many scenic opportunities to skate in regions near Lake Superior. Riding a motorcycle isn’t the most aerobic outlet. Thus, skating would have ensured some heart-pumping activity on the trip. But alas,…they take up more space than I can spare. I’ll have to settle for taking a jump rope to launch each day and my hiking boots to explore Canada’s plentiful provincial parks.

I have three hours before heading off to work. I’m going to try again to get some shut-eye…

Thursday, July 26

Circling Lake Superior--the countdown begins...

In eight days, I will leave for my second Great Lakes trip, 1500 miles around Lake Superior, not counting how long it will take me to get from Chicago to my official starting point, Marquette, MI. According to William Murphy, in Motorcycling Across Michigan, Lake Superior is the "crown jewel" of the Circle Tours. I trust Murphy's take on things as his depiction of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour was spot-on and indispensable to my magnificent journey last summer. Murphy transcends the basics by proffering little known aspects of the history and herstory of the area, by demystifying the local topography and by revealing the best motorcycle roads--all the information one expects from reading a great travel guide. I will not leave home without him.

While Murphy and other travel books usually cover the joys of travel, they rarely cover the angst and fears about travel, particularly solo travel. But some fear is healthy and we should talk about it. Within reason, I follow the "feel the fear and do it anyway" philosophy. I ride solo. I am female. I am black. Alone, anyone of those attributes can challenge the human spirit on any given day. Together, they always make for an interesting trip, especially in places where folks get their education about people who look like me from watching television, for example, "The Bill Cosby Show," "Law and Order" or late night comedy with Chris Rock. For the most part, folks are fine once they get over their initial shock and their "where did you come from" queries. I don't seek out the bad, but I must always prepare myself mentally for the dolts who will surely fling a few nasty epithets my way before I return home. As long as no one touches me, I ignore the ill-informed among us. And let it be known: I never travel entirely alone--if you know what I mean. I accept now that my anxieties are a way of getting me in shape, a way of preparing me for the road ahead and all the experiences it will engender.

To some some family members I should stay home, where it is safe. "Why," they ask, "put yourself in the line of fire?" "People are crazy," they remind me. Yet, staying at home is no panacea. To me, that's not living. In some ways, going out and about alone has saved me from an acute weariness about humankind that too often gets beneath my skin. Traveling near and far has reminded me that a lot of good remains. All I can do is promise to be careful and trust my intuition. I will expect the best but prepare for the worst. In the coming days, I presume that my bizarre, pre-trip night terrors will be ignited. This is one place where I don't listen to my gut. If I did, it would signal, no, it would scream: "Stay home!" In reality, I know this is only the subliminal work of my inner mind signaling me in its weird way to "Proceed with Caution," to "Be careful out there." At least this is what I tell myself.

So, I'll accept the inevitable night visions as par for the course. I'll treat the messages embedded there as cautionary tales reminding me to "ride smart, ride safe. And to boot, I'll toss a hammer in my luggage just in case I need to whack any ornery characters.
I have more than a few rituals I perform before a big trip, such as gearing up from head to toe, packing and unpacking and taking practice trips on the fully loaded bike. This prepares me for the ride in every way. Another ritual is the need for a new journal to capture my brain dumps. I buy journals of all kinds, probably as frequently as folks buy their favorite staple. Mine range from the cheap to the occasional expensive. Some I collect and never write in; others, I write in with no hesitation. Rare is the day, I don't journal. My current favorite is the little black classic Moleskine that writers and artists have loved for hundreds of years. Recently I found a cute spiral-bound journal for motorcycle riders. It arrived a day ago and although it lacks blank pages for writing long, stream of conscious thoughts, it's a keeper for anyone who wants to record the basics: mileage, motorcycle performance, restaurants, sites, accommodations and interesting people met along the way. I'll make room for it in my luggage. However, my ritual of penning a few morning pages before riding, will go into a journal I've had in my collection for years. For reasons I don't fully comprehend, I am only now ready to write on its wonderfully textured pages. I can almost hear the lake's call...

Monday, July 23


I've had a couple of private emails regarding the seat height of the F800ST. It would have been so simply to link to the BMW website! You readers know that I typically over link--I simply forgot. Blame it on brain cells that refuse to fire up fully when they know they should be sleeping. So, here is BMW website . On it is everything you'll ever want to know about Beemers, Beemer accessories, Beemer testemonials, great Beemer pictures--you get the point.
The F800ST seat height, by the way, is 32.9 inches; however, you can order it in the low seat version that will take it to an amazing 31.1 inches. My understanding is that it can be raised a tad also with aftermarket seating options. The dry weight is 412lbs, with fluids, it is approximately 461lbs.

Try Googling, you'll find that the bike has been reviewed by almost every magazine and everyone except my 90 year old grandmother! Here's what the AMA had to say about it. Also check out Road Runner Motorcycle Touring and Travel magazine's (my favorite!) August '07 issue.

While you are at the site, register to win a "K" bike!

Sunday, July 22

The BMW F800ST--Ride Review

The “F” in F800ST should stand for “Fun,” which is exactly my experience with the bike yesterday morning when I road tested one. I arrived early at Chicago BMW, hoping to beat any chance of the bike being checked out as a loaner for a service work agreement. I had planned also to test ride the one R1200ST in the shop but it was spit-shined and waiting to be retrieved by someone who had promised to purchase it that day. Sigh…I could only gaze at it a lot. I did get a detailed review of the bike from Ken at Chicago BMW. Thanks!!

I spoke with General Manager, Mike Abt and deeply appreciate the time he spent with me. He was patient, attentive and listened to my ramblings about what I needed and wanted, which really are two different things. Mike could give lessons to other salespersons, some of whom slight women buyers and worst, fail to listen to them when they explain their needs—don’t even get me started!

After taking the requisite driver’s license info and signing the waiver to eliminate any liability on BMW’s part, Mike rolled out the "gun-metal" F800ST to the side entrance with me at his heels trying to look calm as if I do this sort of thing everyday (inside I was downright giddy!). Mike gave me a mini intro on the bike’s functions and button locations. Immediately, I liked the instrument panel. It packs all the info one wants, some of which I currently lack, such as gear indicator and fuel gauge. The F800ST is liquid cooled and fuel injection so there is no need to fiddle with a choke. Yet, the bike, according to Mike, still requires a “couple of minutes” to warm up. On the coldest days, my choke only demands counting from 1-Mississippi to 30-Mississippi to awaken the engine. I know the pros and cons of EFI and carbureted bikes and air and liquid cools engines. It's all about tradeoff.

A little twist of the F800ST key fired the engine, and it purred instantly.

The turn signals are extending tabs on the F800ST, perfectly located at thumb’s reach on the right and left side slightly below the handlebar grip. The turn signal cancellation button is directly above the right turn signal. This placement seemed intuitive and never gave me pause! The cancellation button, however, did give me fits a few times, as I repeatedly and inadvertently opened the throttle while attempting to reach up for the cancellation button. This mistake gave me a chance to experience the F800ST’s responsiveness. It’s quick but still tamer than Queenie, who behaves more rocket-like at the start, whereas, the F800ST exhibited such responsiveness most in the higher gears? I may be explaining this all wrong. I’m trying to capture the feeling I got.

The kill switch is a little red lever that pokes out above an alternate ignition switch. A no-frills instrument panel is easy to read and fun to refer to for information. I have, on more occasions than I care to admit, forgotten what gear I’m in and have tried to shift to 6th only to discover I’m already in 6th . I’ve also downshifted and miscalculated the bottom gear. Fortunately, I’ve outgrown this newbie habit—well, for the most part. Still, knowing what gear I’m in, having my tire pressure and fuel monitored is not a luxury. It might be good stats to compare the bike’s tire pressure with my digital tire pressure gauge. For similar reasons, I’ve been fascinated at my record keeping of how my bike’s odometer varies from the GPS reading.

Before mounting the bike, an observant BMW worker placed huge strips of blue tape along the lower tank of the bike to preclude scratches from the metal of my jacket zipper. Several spectators were hanging around the garage waiting and inside the shop I saw other (men) watching the instructions I was being given on the bike. Now, I’m certain they were watching the bike. Still, this made me a tad self-conscious in that I’m always feeling that I don’t have the freedom to make mistakes around men, particularly men I don’t know. I don’t know why I even care. I assume that they are waiting for me to make an error, do something stupid and attribute that to gender. This is probably TMI but it’s how I feel. I do a lot of self-talking to let this kind of stuff go. I feel similarly about race too. Oh, the crosses I bear!

I mount the bike and my goal is a smooth take off without bucking or killing the engine. Mike gives me some suggestions of where to ride and states, “Take your time.” I wiggle onto the seat. I am not flat-footed but three-quarters is enough to feel confident. The bike feels narrow and my knees hug the tank with a familiarity that makes me feel as one with the bike. I slowly ease out the clutch and feel for the friction zone. I find it and pull slowly to the stop sign. I feel eyes on me. As I wait for the road to clear, I glance toward the showroom and see about three males watching. I wiggle the bike side to side. It feels light. When I see a respite in the busy Western Avenue traffic, I visualize the sharp right turn, pull easily out and I’m off.

At the next light, I make a right turn onto Pratt. The bike feels amazingly agile even though a fairing surrounds me. I deliberately left out the earplugs, as I wanted to hear the parallel twin engine and compare it to the pleasing sound of my V-twin. The F800ST has a distinct sound and seemed slightly louder, but perhaps it wasn’t louder--just different. I did hear a clear “clunk” sound when shifting gears, particularly downshifting. Yet, gearing was smooth and precise, taking far less foot pressure than my SV. The bike accelerated unexpectedly several times but that’s my fault from trying to reach the turn signal cancellation button while maintaining a steady throttle. Once I became cognizant of my hand movement, I was more precise and that solved the surprise accelerations. Speaking of acceleration, I noticed that the throttle was not as sensitive as my SV. I’m not sure how to explain this well. With just a bit more flex of the wrist than necessary, my gal-pal bike will take flight! The F800ST appeared not to be as sensitive--at least in the lower gears. However, I felt its responsiveness in fourth and fifth gear. I think this might be what people mean about low end versus midrange or high-end torque—but I don’t know for sure. I just know how it felt.

Turning the F800ST is a breeze. How a bike that weights nearly 50 lbs more than mine can feel at least that much lighter, is beyond me! But it did. Perhaps the location of the gas tank accounts for some of this. On the F800ST, the gas tank is behind the rider seat, which is huge plus for me! I detest wasting time tampering with my tank bag to get at the gas tank. Imagined the minutes saved on a timed ride if you never had to tinker with the tank bag. Locating it behind the seat is an idea I love.

Leaning the F800ST is easy fun. Getting onto Kedzie Avenue required a nice wide turn, which I take in third gear and the bike leans with ease. One moment of puzzlement occurred when I looked down at the bike’s front and witnessed that the fairing doesn’t move (Duh). Of course, the front wheel moves but it is encompassed by the fairing, preventing me from watching the tire's movement. (Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to be looking there, but I'm test riding, so I'm excused this time). In my peripheral vision, on my bike, I can see my front wheel turn. When I stole a glance at the F800ST and watched the fairing remain straight when I pressed on the handlebars, it was a strange sensation. I wondered why the bike didn’t seem to be moving in the direction of the turn. The wheel was simply harder to see. It reminded me of my transition from a VW beetle (a hundred years ago) to a VW Sirocco. In that first car, I could see the ground beyond the car’s hood, which I couldn’t in the second car. Looking through the Sirocco’s windshield only allowed me to see its hood! It took some getting used to before I fully trusted that the wheels were responding to my turn directions. It took a few turns to ignore the fairing and once I did, I sat back and let the bike do its job, which it did beautifully. Finally, I made a deliberate quick-stop to see if the ABS would kick in; unfortunately, I can’t say I noticed since I’ve never ridden an ABS bike. Nonetheless, the F800ST definitively and smoothly executed an exclamation point stop.

The Beemer took about two minutes to feel comfortable on. I felt on intimate ground with the bike--almost instantly. While riding I continued to think of my SV. The F800ST feels like its tamer sibling. It is a fun, flickable bike thanks to a slim, narrow frame that made me want to hug it. Does it have the SV fun factor? I’d need to put on far more miles on it to answerr that but I will say it’s not a bike easily dismissed. I tried to imagine the bike after 300 miles of riding and I smiled at the thought.

The distance from my knees to my feet on the pegs felt right—a tad roomier and perhaps bent back a bit more than my SV. The seating position was back-friendly and I liked the handlebars, which are wide like the SV. The windscreen was tall enough to provide protection on the open road. Tucking low and leaning forward, if necessary, on the ample tank will be comfortable on those breezy head wind days.

Well, I’ve rambled on long enough to say, there are many things I like about the F800ST and a lot of things I loved. Is it the bike for me? I don’t know. I did get a little “Wow” out of the ride. That it has ways similar to my SV gives me reason to pause before fully embracing it as my next bike. Do I need more of a challenge when I move up? Or is staying almost where I am but having a few more toys at my finger tips sufficient? I could live with it as my next bike if I decided to. But what is it I really want?

I am struggling with wrapping my brain around owning any bike over a certain cc. Perhaps I shouldn’t focus so much energy on displacement. I can’t help it, though. I’m not convinced that I need anything over 650cc; thus, even an 800cc will be a stretch-even if just mental. Nor am I convinced that I need major bhp. More than 20 years ago, when I first learned to ride on a Honda CB360—before specialization—people rode smaller displacement bikes that had no problem taking them where they wanted to go.

As I go through the process of deciding what to purchase, I am reminded of Robert Pirsig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig’s long trip with his young son as a passenger was on a 1964 Honda Superhawk CB77—a 350cc motorcycle! Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s legendary adventure (with a passenger) from Argentina to North America, was launched on a 1939, 500cc Norton.
I’m looking forward to riding more bikes. The more I research and test ride, the more I’ll learn what I will or will not live without on a motorcycle. No matter what I purchase, the choice will be a tradeoff and I’ll live with those limitations. Happily, I hope. This time next season, this will all be a memory.

Friday, July 20

Travels tips from Whitehorse Press

Hot off the press, from Whitehorse Press--a major motorcycle publisher and retailer--is The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Travel: Tips, Technology, Advanced Techniques by Dale Coyner. I’m reading it now and will finish before August 3, when I depart for my Lake Superior Circle Tour. I saw this book and didn’t think I needed it. I feel I’ve gotten the three “Ps” down pat: preparation/planning, packing, and patience. Last year, I remember that someone emailed me and said they had been following my preps and enjoyed my stories but he felt that I “plan too much” and that I should just get on with the trip. I’ll admit to a touch of anal retentiveness when it comes to trip planning. We do what works for us. He’s sounds like the type who enjoys hopping on his iron horse and taking off into the sunrise. I like spontaneity too. But as a female, there are some things I need to consider that he might not because he is male. I’m not being sexist here. I believe both genders face similar challenges but let’s be honest. Statistically, men assault women far more than the reverse. Some men, if they think they can get away with it, are always up to exerting power over the less powerful.

Physically, most women cannot easily drop a man. Without a little “something extra,” to help me, I am no competition for the average male. The chances of a lone man being confronted by evildoers are less than that of a lone woman being confronted. Riff-raff prefer easy targets and unfortunately, children, women, the disabled, and elderly are perceived as easy marks. (Notice to all riff-raff men: I never leave home without something to protect myself. I will use it. Moreover, I will fight to the death if forced to defend myself). And, don’t get me started on some folks' archaic cross-racial dispositions and behavior! I won’t elaborate here but trust me, some folks are still living and thinking like it was 1955. Thus, there are things and issues that I, because of who I represent to others, need to be cognizant of before I head out. Hopping on my iron horse without being deeply prepared is downright irresponsible. We all have our crosses to bear.

Back to the new book. When I saw it, I figured it would be a good read. Besides, I’ve been impressed with other Whitehorse Press publications, such as, Mark Zimmerman’s, The Essential Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance: Tips & Techniques to Keep Your Motorcycle in Top Conditions; Ron Ayers’ Against the Wind: A Rider’s Account of the Incredible Iron Butt Rally and his, Going the Extra Mile: Insider Tips for Long-Distance Motorcycling and Endurance Rallies. Like these titles, Conyer’s Travel book is exhaustively research and fun to read. Section III on “Outfitting Your Bike,” is cutting edge with info on mounts, adhering cameras to your motorcycle and using camcorders, entertainment and communication systems (e.g., satellite radio) to accompany your on your trip. The chapter on “Cockpit Instruments” is worth the price, particularly if you’re a novice when it comes to navigation devices. Tons of product information and clear instructions, for example, on soldering and modifying one’s ride before heading out.

I will say more about this book as I continue to read it. For those about ready to take their first trip or for those seasoned travelers who want to streamline their packing and planning, don’t wait on my review: get this book now!

Wednesday, July 18

The risks we take to live...

This morning, I was up before the crows. I had planned to get out early for some sunrise picture taking before heading off to work. Instead, I journaled a little, still enjoying some lingering euphoria from the BMW rally and hoping to capture some additional thoughts about the event--yes, I know, I do far too much navel gazing (I really do know this about me). But my experience over the weekend was personally noteworthy as I tend to gravitate away, rather than toward groups. So to have such a grand time occupying roughly the same space with nearly 8000 people is huge for me. And, I had fun too.

But while feeling the remaining endorphins, I came across another post rally news story that gave way to sad reflection. On Monday, the Rourks, a motorcycle couple with a sidecar was on their way home from the rally when they collided with a car and were killed.

Life is full of risks. I know that for some people, non-riders particularly, riding a motorcycle is a crazy, unnecessary risk. Why we do it is grist for a future blog entry. This post is about how a wonderful event for some can turn so easily into a personal tragedy for others. Motorcycle riders, if nothing else, must be an incredibly faithful lot. Every time we mount the bike we have faith that the ride will start and end safely. We have faith that our skills will prevail over the incredibly thoughtless things we see in the behavior and attitude of our fellow humans. We have faith that our ever-evolving riding skills will allow us to successfully manage any unanticipated road challenges. Even the wild, seemingly death-wish, daredevil riders have faith that their flagrant riding style will not be a death knell.

Whether on two wheels or four, we hope that people will drive carefully, that they will stay in their lane, that they will behave thoughtfully. The reality often deviates from our faith. But what's a person to do but live life fully in spite of it all?

The unsettling news about the couple, as disturbing as it is, made me wonder about their lives, what they must have been like, their personalities, their courage, and their faith. What brought them joy? Given the couple's journey to WI from West Palm Beach, FL, they must have loved motorcycling to ride the 1,438 miles one way. In West Bend, they spent time enjoying the company of new and old friends; and, if they had half the fun I did, they left on a high note, filled with warm, shared memories. Life really is short. We should all try to live it well. I hope the Rourks lived well.

Tuesday, July 17

BMW International Rally--July 12-15, 2007

Day 1—Friday night

I should be sleeping now, but my excitement about what the day promises precludes that. I am at the BMW International Rally in West Bend, WI, approximately 41 miles northwest of Milwaukee, which is where “home base” is for me. I couldn’t get a hotel any closer.

This is not meant to be a long ride report. Just wanted to convey my initial impressions. Well, I’m loving it! Nothing like that other rally I attended a few weeks ago…let’s just say, I can definitely see myself attending another BMW rally.

Right off the bat, I felt comfortable rolling in the Washington County Park Fairgrounds. My head to toe gear-wearing preference was inline with seemingly everyone else. Needless to say, I didn’t stick out. Serious brand loyalty exists among the BMW crowd too, but it is not over the top and fringes don’t seem mandatory. And riding my SV650 here is a non-issue; in fact, I got many positive comments about my bike. Many non-BMWs showed up, which conveys, to me at least, a level of tolerance that I certainly didn’t experience at that other rally.

Several highlights: Although I arrived Friday and the event started Wednesday, many intriguing seminars are left for me to participate in, leaving me feeling as if I’ve not missed all the great stuff. When I arrived Friday afternoon, I did so only fifteen minutes before the “Women who Ride” seminar. It was great! Unfortunately, I missed, “Women who Ride Alone,” which Helen Two Wheels presented earlier that day. Tomorrow, I plan to attend “Women of the Iron Butt” among many other sessions. Much to select from—almost too much.

One joyous highlight: I finally met D.Brent Miller! He’s at the rally on behalf of Road Runner magazine. Two minutes into my search for him (the grounds are mammoth), I found his vendor spot. We read each other’s blog and have chatted via phone a couple of times. I’ve admired his work in Road Runner (RR), and his beautiful photography. Before I even knew Miller, I had read one of his RR articles and enjoyed it—what a small planet to later be in the company of Brent! In between promoting RR, we chatted about magazines, photography and family. Brent’s one of those souls who makes communicating easy. As a former professor of journalism, Miller has that gift of meaningful gab. When talking to him, one can’t help but learn some new, intriguing and useful things by the conversation’s end.

Another amazing super-highlight: Drum roll, please…I met Ardys Kellerman! Visualize me with my arms extended above my head, waving them from side to side--or imagine me flicking a Bic lighter in a darkened room as they do, I’m told, at rock concerts. Kellerman was part of a woman’s seminar panel. Her information and humor kept me on my seat’s edge. She is just too cute for words! I also met her daughters, Susan and Ellen. I’ll share this: I gladly would have paid far more than the $35 rally fee to see Ardys Kellerman! I now understand what it must feel like to be a groupie. I had a momentary urge to toss an undergarment. When meeting Ardys Kellerman, I felt myself in the presence of greatness. She is one of those rare sprits who walks the earth. She is exactly how I imagined her to be: kind and friendly with a warm face that is lined with adventures that a week of telling about couldn’t do justice. Meeting Ardys was like connecting with someone you’d swear you’ve known all your life.

I look forward to Day 2 and more joy.

Day 2

Saturday started with a nice 41 miles to the rally site—what a great way to start and end each day! Given my distance from the rally, I wasn’t about to arrive at 4 a.m. to queue up for a demo ride, which one of the BMW folks said would guarantee me a spot. If I’d brought my tent, I might have camped out but alas, I didn’t. In the end, I didn’t miss being unable to take demo rides. The rides were conducted in small groups, under the auspices of a ride guide—too much like a group ride to me. But hanging out at the BMW tent, talking to BMW owners, picking their brains about their bikes, saddling up to Sylvia, a BMW super employee, and learning about the bikes was a huge plus—probably more valuable than a demo ride.

I had a blast at the rally. Just studying one of the many bikes parked along the ground was enough to spark a dialogue. I met many new faces and re-connected with a few. Met Sandra H, a friend of Denise M, whom I finally met at the Galena rally in June after a year of occasional email exchanges. Sandra generously allowed me to sit on her bike while giving me an impressive, super positive review of her R1200ST. I’ve since spent hours researching the bike. It’s now made my short list that includes the F800ST and the F800GS that is rumored to be announced sometime in the fall. The folks at the rally were hugely friendly, reaching out and striking up conversation left and right. (Note: This friendly atmosphere was so contrary to the June rally I mentioned and still can’t bring myself to post what I wrote about it). The people I met from the Chicago BMW owners group, like Christy, really made the event special. I look forward to future interactions.

The number of self-educated bike historians was amazing. Every conversation seemed to gravitate to an oral history about one’s bike—I love such passion and as a history major, I appreciate the lessons. BMW folks support, through dress, the BMW brand. I watched the women. Their support manifested itself differently than the women at the other rally (sorry to keep mentioning something I’ve yet to post about. Clearly, it has left a painful thorn in my side that I can’t help picking at). No leather bras, vests, or fringes to be found. The cultures are different and the cultural expressions reflect the differences. While I won't say that one is better than the other is, I will say, from the beginning, I felt an affinity for this one over the other. Much of this can be attributed to one group reaching out to include others while the other did not. With the exception of two absolutely lovely women at the other rally, with whom I hope to stay in touch, that first rally experience was painful.

Even the unwanted attention I received at the BMW rally because of my long wooly hair, didn’t bug me--much. Ordinarily, such interest gets tiring fast, I am soon peeved, and it shows. One man asked me, “How do you ride with all that hair-what do you do with it?” I’ll spare you my thoughts. Rather than looking annoyed—my usual disposition after hearing the question the umpteenth time. I explained that I sometimes, if I don’t pony tail it with a series of elastic bands, ride like a 21st century Medusa, with tentacles flying out from my helmet. Another one touched my hair and made some statement about “cool.” It amazes me that perfect strangers will do such things. Touching without knowing or permission should be grounds for beheading but I digress…Nonetheless, the overall experience put me in a perpetually good, sociable mood.

The seminars were plentiful and impressive and extended throughout the day and into the early evening. I attended one on riding with pain, led by a doctor. Thought I might get some insights in the leg cramps I occasionally feel after 150 miles or so—actually, they’ve gotten better, but still…The session was highly informative because it talked about the effects that over-the-counter and prescriptions drugs have on riding. Microscopic changes in one’s chemistry can have macroscopic effects. The strategies mentioned on getting and staying healthy were excellent reminders. It was rather striking when the doc mentioned that in the packed room; approximately 85% of us were dehydrated at that very moment. Bingo! I know that I’m working on staying hydrated and I do believe that has helped address the leg cramps. I attended another seminar led by motorcycle guru David Hough. Just golden! No matter how good a rider one is, a corner not executed well can take you out! His graphics and lively, funny interaction with the audience really made the lessons stick. All the seminars I attended had standing room only; the overflow often extended beyond the door, with people craning to hear and see.

Another attention grabber was being one of a microscopic minority of black women present. I met, I think, all of the black males there and the other female I saw. I know what it’s like to be the only fly in the buttermilk, so to speak. Therefore, I appreciated meeting Charles and his wife from the Rockford area, Magic Scott and Rodgers and others. I look forward to seeing them again.

Overall, a spectacular rally. If I have a complaint it was that I didn’t arrive on Thursday, the first full day of the rally. Meeting Ardys Kellerman was the thrill of a lifetime! Moreover, finally meeting Brent Miller made the two days I spent in West Bend special.

I have found my people. I depart with a belly full of information, new bike knowledge, new friends and enough memories to last until the 2008 rally in Gillette, Wyoming.

Post Rally note:

Sadly, I must close this post with awful news. I now know of two accidents during the rally, one fatal. The first occurred at the gates of the rally when a rider’s back tire slipped on a road obstacle. After a few stitches, the rider is fine; the bike is not. On Sunday, when so many were heading home, the fatality occurred. A WI female, drunk driver hit an IA male rider head on and killed him. The sad story is here.

More rally pics

Wednesday, July 11

Back among the living...

Been doing far more riding than writing lately. But I’m back! Visited Brookfield Zoo (BZ) recently, a place I haven’t been since the darling daughter was a little one—at least 15 years! I don’t remember the cost back then, but visiting BZ now isn’t cheap! In addition to an $8 parking fee, I forked over an admission fee and three separate fees to visit specialty section: children’s zoo, the dolphin arena, and a butterfly exhibit. Let’s just say, I spent $25 before seeing one animal. I couldn’t help think about a family outing with multiple children—don’t even think about feeding the little ones once you get in. A regular (it was small) soda was $2.25! Free refills if you wanted to spend $3.25 on a large drink. Let’s encourage greed! I realize that dollars are needed for the care and feeding of the zoo’s residents and for the staff and animal trainers. Still, it was a rude awakening.

Unfortunately, I went on Sunday, a scorching, sultry, humid day to which only small children seemed oblivious as they ran about thrilled at the sights, smells, and sounds around them. However, many of the animals had sense enough to avoid their outdoor quarters, preferring instead the cooler indoors. The few animals outside were motionless and resting in wet areas or buckets watered for their comfort. Some sat placidly underneath shaded foliage.

The ride to Brookfield was uneventful. Even thought it was hot, I remain comfortable in my head-to-toe gear. I wore a short mesh jacket and lightweight textile over pants. Amazingly, my tall Sidi boots were not noticeably hot. I saw other bikers out. I don’t buy it that riding without gear keeps them cooler. Certainly, their skin must be hot as the sun beats down on them. Without protection, the skin is a huge target not just for sunburn but…road rash in the event of an accident.

After parking the bike, I removed my gear and immediately I noticed my skin heating up and I wished for more riding. As long as I’m riding, I’m fine; it’s when I stop that I am aware of the heat.

BZ offered an opportunity to test drive a new camera lens, a 70-300 mm Nikkor zoom that seems to be a comfortable handheld lens. Still, I probably should have waited for a cooler day when the animals would surely have been more active and visible.

The return trip had me to thinking about some road challenges and situations that are beyond my control. I’ve written about this before but some of them bear repeating. I can be the best, most safety conscious rider in existence, aware of all the risk involved in riding a motorcycle, riding always with my head in the ride and still encounter road and people challenges that can end my life. For me, donning gear is a necessary part of my riding. Always wearing gear, always having to take the time to put it on reminds me to “get” my head and body prepared for the ride. Just as checking out the bike is a ritual that reminds me to stay abreast of what needs to be tightened, inflated, filled, etc. Jumping on the bike, pressing the starter button and taking off is way too easy. I’ve watched people do just that. Hop on, start ‘er up and take off while I’m still hooking up and snapping gear, positioning my helmet, pulling on my gloves (there are people who ride gloveless) and hiking up the pants so that my leg movement is not obstructed in any way. As I go through these rituals, my mind considers the risks I’m about to accept. Rather than make me fearful, it makes me confident that I’m doing all that I can to stay safe.

As I’m riding, I do a lot of self-talking. I see a driver and I say, “What is s/he planning to do, does s/he see me? As many other rides have said, “I ride as if I’m invisible.” I never assume anyone sees me. And never do I take for granted that someone will obey the traffic laws. Never do I ride through an intersection without covering the brakes and slowing down some. I trust only that someone will behave badly and I should ride prepared. Amazingly, doing so does not detract from the joy of motorcycling. After awhile, the scanning for dangers and hyper vigilance become second nature.

On the return trip, I saw what has unfortunately become normal bad driving behavior: people talking on cell phones, eating and/or drinking, anti-signal lane changers, lane straddlers, tailgaters and the ubiquitous left turner, who even when the turn is not completed, often sticks the car out so far in the turn lane that an accident could still happen. I try to stay away from such drivers. It requires an acute surveillance and solid ride skills that become mandatory to stay safe. A couple of days ago, I found myself next to a woman who had a newspaper folder over her steering wheel. I call that deadly multitasking!

Sunday, thought blistering, turned out to be a great day for Interstate riding because the breeze brushing through the mesh jacket was enough to keep me cool and focused. I enjoyed riding along at 55 mph--ok, I did more than 55mph but only to keep up with the flow of traffic, Officer.