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&%# !!

Friday, October 5

'fessing up about the Saddle Sore (SS)

It's either this weekend or it's not happening this season. Initially, I had planned to keep exactly when I'd undertake this ride to myself and write an entry about it only if I were successful. What a cop out to only mention it if I succeeded! So a few days ago I told one Internet friend that it looked promising for this weekend. Yesterday, I openly discussed it with my shop team at Motoworks. Still, no blogging about it, no public announcement to family and friends. I'm known for taking off to environs unknown until I either get to my destination or return from it.

Silly, right? No big deal! It's just a ride--a self-imposed ride at that; no gun to my head. As part of learning to "let go," I'm abandoning the overachieving, perfectionism that sucks out joy from most fun things and zaps one's pleasure in things loved. So, here's my confession: I'm doing a SS this weekend, specifically on Sunday. For those who are not familiar with this ride, it is a do-it-yourself baby long distance ride, the shortest one certified by the Iron Butt Association. It requires riding 1000 miles in 24 hours or less.

You pick your route; you pick your start time; and you depart whenever weather, physical, or socio-emotional conditions are ideal for you--that is, assuming you're doing the ride solo or with a group of like-minded folks. I've had other opportunities to do a Saddle Sore this season and I was tempted both times. It would, however, necessitate riding with others, taking a route determined by others and leaving at a time others had decided would be ideal. I understand the advantages of a SS group ride--even thought people don't stick together, it's still a group to me. Not riding with a group is another layer of risk management that each motorcyclist must decide whether to take on.

I know me enough to steer clear of group riding pressure, which is totally self-imposed pressure. Unfortunately, I'm the type that if I commit to going on one of a group SS, I will do it without regard to how I really feel and come hell or high water, I will finish rather than go down as a nonfinisher. That's silly, I know--and I'm working on it by avoiding such situations.

Great time to do a SS

Chicago will be a madhouse this weekend. The weather will feel like it's the middle of July, which brings everyone out and downtown. In addition, the near northside will be grid locked. Not only with cars trying to navigate their way, but the streets of Michigan Avenue, Rush Street, and the lakefront, to mention a few, will be painted with pedestrians and every form of non motorized vehicle imaginable. What's happening?

The Cubs are returning from their two game lost in Arizona and will be bringing the next three wins here! Go Cubbies!! Literally, millions of people will be out and around Wrigley Field. The Chicago Marathon also happens this weekend (Sunday) with people arriving Friday to enjoy the various race clinics, spaghetti dinners and practice runs along the lakefront. The Chicago Marathon is one of the nation's largest and because it happens so late in the running season many runners use it to best their time on a relatively fast course through the beautiful neighborhood streets and lakefront. Thus, it draws a massive number of runners, volunteers, families and spectators. In preparation of the crowds, the city closes many streets, for many hours of the weekend. If you reside here, you're locked in; if you want to drive into the city, you're pretty much locked out. This nightmare starts on Friday around 3:30 p.m.

What better time to leave the city? I decided on Wednesday to pick among the three routes I've been thinking about and seriously decided only yesterday morning to go. My goal: Just do it. Even if, for whatever reason, I decide not to do it, or, I decide in miles 100, 300, 0r 700 miles to chuck it, it is not the end of the world. This may sound like a no-brainer and many probably wouldn't give this a second thought. Not me. But I'm working on it.

Cornfields, here I come!

I'm going to have fun riding straight west to Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln, Nebraska? Yes, it's 523 miles one way. Beautiful scenery will be sacrificed to diminish any temptation to go touring. For this first SS, I'm going to be easy on myself. I'm going to be on task. But I'm treating the task as flexible and in the grand scheme of things as, "No Biggie!" Again, if I decide on Sunday morning that conditions are not right or I get that nagging gut feeling not to go, I'll not go. And, the sun will rise again. And, life goes on.

Iron Butt Association

They have a listing of members who will witness your start and finish (by signing a form). I've emailed two people who supposedly live nearby but both emails were returned as "undeliverable." Other options exist for getting the requisite witness but I thought the IBA list would be fast and simple--and the person would not balk about being awaken at 4a.m. to sign the form. As I write this, I don't have a witness.

Motoworks Chicago

These guys (and gals) always come through. Johnny got my bike in right away and Steve took care of her; he changed the oil, adjusted the chain, and caught the bike with low air pressure. I confess, to being negligent the last couple of weeks with no trips and just a lot of running around. Still, it's inexcusable. I stupidly removed my digital air pressure tool from my tank bag to my purse and I kept finding myself on the bike without it. Dumb, I know. Lesson learned!

While at Motoworks, I discussed the SS with some of the guys, a couple of whom recommended using Johnny for the 4a.m, witness. Johnny, who didn't hear this conversation later said it was okay with him and joked that he might not have even gone to bed yet from the night before. Hmmm? I wouldn't do that to him. However, in talking to Johnny I learned that he has personal contacts at the IBA. He knew both of the guys I had previously contacted--one was his college professor! Small world! The reason for his bad email address is that he's no longer in the Chicago area. Johnny made a call to the other contact and I should hear something today, I hope. Plan B is Johnny's suggestion to ask my building staff to witness my start and finish. I had briefly thought of that. I know this might sound silly, but I don't know them and I didn't think it was a good idea to let folks know that for a specified time period, my place would be vacant. Call it paranoia. I call it wisdom.

In any case, it's bound to be an interesting weekend. Looks like the weather will cooperate; I plan to get some sleep 0r at least get to bed early Saturday and hope that sleep comes. And, most of all, I'm going to enjoy a safe, long ride.

Monday, October 1

Frank Lloyd Wright ride...

Recently, the weight of work and travel have reduced my riding to local environs. On one rare Sunday free, I refueled my fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW). I'm lucky that so much of his amazing, progressive architectural genius is concentrated a stone's throw from me in Oak Park. Not since my early summer trip to Spring Green, WI, where I toured Taliesan, have I scratched my Frank Lloyd Wright itch.

So on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, temperature around the mid 80s (F) and Queenie screaming to be ridden, I headed out to the western suburb, where Wright launched his practice and created his signature "Prairie Style" of architecture. Oak Park-River Forest area must have one of, if not the largest collection of Wright structures.

First stop, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, 951 Chicago Avenue, Oak Park, IL. Inside, one can find everything FLW related. The photography books are attractive and expensive. But there is a wealth of small items that will satisfy every visitor. From there, one can take a guide tour or tour solo guide. I decided on a self-guided tour and after purchasing a $4.00 map, I felt ready to hit the streets. I parked the bike and walked to homes along Chicago Avenue--a major FLW architectural street. When necessary, I doubled back and used the 'cycle to get to streets like Forest, Home, and Euclid. Tour along any of these streets and observe not only FLW's genius, but also the works of William Drummond, Tallmadge & Watson, George W. Maher, E.E. Roberts, to mention a few.

Oak Park has some great restaurants. One of my favorite is a little place called New Pot that serves the best, freshest Thai food around. I usually get a lightly fried Thai rice with shrimp. Unlike some places, they devein the shrimp and cook to perfection. I was too famished to take a picture of the food, but trust me, it's great, mountainous and cheap! I always order tofu pad Thai to go for the next day's meal.

I continue to be amazed with FLW's life and creations, even though the story of the man's personal life challenges me on many levels (his relationship with his wife, other women, and his children). No one can dispute Wright's genius. He was ahead of his time and like many brilliant, gifted minds, Wright often found himself at odds with conventions and norms. The world of architecture benefited from this, and some would contend that his personal life suffered for the same reasons. But who among us is without flaws?

Why I did not take photos--not even one of Queenie parked in front of a FLW house, is beyond me. I think I was in a "zone" the whole time and didn't give it a thought until much later. Oh well...I returned home humbled and full.

As someone who is a distance riding addict, I realize from this trip that one don't always need to travel far to enjoy the ride.

Here is a slideshow of some FLW structures in Oak Park. With the exception of a couple of buildings, most are the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. Enjoy.