Nov 20, 2022

Did A Shoe Just Drop?

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Way back in May of 2022 (which seems like years ago now only 6 months later) my friend, editor, and co-conspirator from England Dave Gurman, had the crazy idea that there might be a market for a 25th anniversary coffee table book version of the Rider’s Digest magazine. He sent out a call to many of the people who had written for the magazine for pictures, articles, and art. This is the essay I submitted. Dave was hoping for enough advance subscriptions to pay, in advance, for the book but it didn’t happen and the idea, like many brilliant ideas, died from lack of finances.

In early 2019, Ms. Day and I went on a cruise with some friends to check out the Panama Canal, a few of the Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, and living like rich people with little-to-no responsibility and more food than we could ever hope to eat; but I gave it (the food) a good try. As it turned out, that was a high point or the tail-end of a long peak. Less than a month after we came home to –20oF Minnesota, a pickup with a frozen and dead battery, and several feet of snow in the driveway, old age landed on me like a Hulk-tossed bus. Driving through the Twin Cities to see a friend’s going-away concert, the world suddenly got really complicated when the single freeway exit lane drifted into two shifting lanes; one over the other, sometimes. I picked the right one, managed to get us off of the freeway, out of traffic and stopped, but that was the beginning of a year of instability and loss.

Over the next eight months, I went from being moderately optimistic about being able to carry on my usual physical activities to wondering how soon I’d end up like my father at the same age. At 75 he was trapped in his house, spending most of his days less than a foot from a big screen television, watching sports and trying to make out what was happening. That was the last 15 years of his life. After years of being an invalid, the culprit was found to be myasthenia gravis (MG), “ a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles,” according to Google and the Mayo Clinic. Supposedly, MG is not hereditary, but my father was diagnosed with MG at about the same age as me now and I’m suspicious of that theory since that’s my problem, too.

Just before the season began in 2019, when it became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to reliably perform many or most of the demonstrations for the MSF courses that I’d been teaching for 18 years, I resigned as a Minnesota state “motorcycle safety instructor.”  I put the instructor-bit in quotes, because the state/US training/testing/licensing is now so dumbed-down that it is pointless and exists solely to put butts on seats, regardless of skill or physical ability. It was a good time to quit, the money was good but the mission and purpose was nonexistent.

The previous summer, I sold my beloved and highly personalized 2004 650 V-Strom to a young man who was the perfect next owner. (Usually, I claim not to “love” any inanimate object, but my V-Strom was as close to a trusted friend as any “thing” in my long life.) Just before a 2018 trip to Canada, I’d discovered that my upper body strength was no longer up to the task of manhandling a 450 pound motorcycle. After installing new tires, I was backing the bike into my garage when I let the bike tip slightly away from me and it dropped hard against a retaining wall and the driveway. I was totally unable to slow the fall, let alone save it. I busted as much plastic (and confidence) in that no-speed incident as I did crashing at 60mph on Canada’s Dempster Highway in 2007.

It was a sad wake-up call, a reminder that, at 70, I was on the far end of the rapid downhill side of the “strength and muscle-mass loss with aging” curve. In 2018, I had some hope that I could cling to motorcycling on my 2008 Yamaha WR250X but, by early 2020, MG put an end to that. I didn’t have much faith, in the spring of 2020, that I would ever again be able to competently ride a motorcycle. Double-vision meant that there was no chance could I pass my “baseline” competency test. So, I sold the WR in April and I was motorcycle-less for the first time in 40-some years and remained without a motorcycle for the longest period in almost 60 years.

My substitute bike has been a Radpower Rover eBike that my grandson handed down to me in late 2018, after he pretty much trashed it riding through one long, road salt-saturated Minneapolis winter. Even that bike pushed my competency  in low-light situations or when I was tired. “Fortunately,” my MG symptoms are primarily ocular (my left eye involuntarily wanders and closes at inopportune times). The “fortunate” part is that my neurologist has, so far, been able to beat back the symptoms with prednisone and assorted immune system suppressants. But it took a while, more than a year in fact. As of today, I am sort-of-back and have been for a little less than a year.

[A perverted use of the word “fortunately” is something that I’ve heard a lot of in the past 3 years: “If you’re are going to suffer from myasthenia gravis, ocular symptoms are the easiest to treat” and “Fortunately, if you are going to have cancer at your age, thyroid cancer is the one to have” and so on.]

https://geezerwithagrudge.files.wordpress.com/2021/04/2012-tu250x-2.jpgIn late April, 2021, a Craig’s List search that I created six years earlier finally produced a hit: a 2012 TU250X for $2600 “practically brand new with 700 miles on it and not a scratch on it” and it was located less than 60 miles from my home. Just a few days earlier I had written a whining blog entry about selling my Aerostich and Giant Loop gear, assuming that I was not going to find a motorcycle to tempt me into testing the road and myself again. Turns out, Trump is right whining does get you what you want, at least, sometimes. I bought the bike, brought it home, immediately started farkeling it up and . . . it sat in the garage unridden for most of last summer. I put almost 2,000 miles on the eBike but barely managed to add another 700 miles to the TU’s odometer by the end of the season in 2021.

Motorcycling was all about transportation for me. I rode to work almost every day for most of 40 years, unless I was driving a company vehicle. There were a lot of Colorado and Minnesota winters where I rode most of the year, too. Fewer toward the end than in the middle, though. After I retired in 2013, I still taught a fair number of motorcycle safety classes and if you don’t ride to your own motorcycle safety classes you’re a fraud, at best. For the first 5 post-retirement years, I took advantage of my location to travel by bike, but the decline in the functional need for both my traveling and commuting started to cut into my motorcycle miles even before MG clobbered me.

Today, I’m 74, overweight but in otherwise fair physical condition, and the last three years feel more like a decade has past. Or more. If you’ve read anything from my GeezerwithAGrudge.com blog, you know I’m hyper-critical of bikers and other marginally-skilled people wobbling through the world on two wheels. That applies to me, too. After this layoff, my physical problems (especially MG), and the fact that I am freakin’ ancient, I am critical and suspicious of my capabilities and skills. My wife is just getting used to me being around the house, after 55 years of marriage to a wandering workaholic, and she’s really not interested in caring for a crippled-up old man who busted himself to bits unnecessarily on a motorcycle. I’m not anxious to become that maimed idiot, either.

At the moment, I have a nice collection of mostly-healed busted bones, torn muscles and ligaments, and scars from head-to-toe and while they often remind me of impending weather changes they don’t keep me from doing stuff. My last significant injuries took a long while to heal and they still bother me more than way worse stuff that happened 20-40 years ago. For most of my life, my planned solution for any sort of fatal illness diagnosis, overwhelming mental illness, or any kind of lingering end-of-life boredom was “buy a faster motorcycle.” Turns out, the problem with that plan is that you need to be able to ride well enough and fast enough for that to be a confident solution. Today, I’m just trying to figure out how to get myself back on the saddle.

All Rights Reserved © 2022 Thomas W. Day

Nov 9, 2022

Before #1: Geezers on Beemers: (AKA: Steamboat Springs 1997)

 

All Rights Reserved © 1997 Thomas W. Day

[For the last many years, I’ve said Geezer #1 "What Are We Riding For? (The original, from whence The Geezer came from October 1999" was the first thing I ever wrote for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine. I wasn’t lying, I was just wrong. I have been working on a Wikipedia entry for the magazine and as part of that I researched as much as I could find about the magazine’s history. In the process, I read through a bunch of old MMMs, sorted my own collection by date, and discovered that in the Winter 1997 M.M.M. #14 issue there was an “On the Road” article. . . by me. This article, in fact. While I absolutely remember the trip, sort of, I absolutely did not remember even knowing about MMM before 1999. Turns out, that was wrong, too. In September 1998, I contributed “Look Ma, No Feet!” an article about the 1998 US Observed Trials event in Duluth. So, now the story I’ve been telling myself and everyone else about my history with MMM is bullshit and I do NOT know what the truth is.

The version that follows is what I submitted. Unlike lots of the stuff I wrote for MMM, this article was edited quite a bit, but I’m too lazy to pick out what was different in the magazine’s version.]

Every year, since I moved out of Colorado, my expedition to the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week gets a little tougher. Last year, I flew to Denver, borrowed a friend’s Honda Hawk, and nearly missed my flight home when my luggage fell off of the Hawk in the middle of traffic on I-70, spreading my belongings and plane ticket all over Colorado. This year, I decided to ride the whole 2,400 miles. Next year, I may try walking.

My bike is a ’92 Yamaha TDM, which is a weird cross between a crotch rocket and a dirt bike. It’s probably the closest thing Japan will ever come to importing a Paris-Dakar style bike to the US. Out of some weird allegiance to my dirt biking past, I put dual-purpose tires on the bike this past winter. Because of that strange heritage and hardware, I actually hoped to do some real cross-country touring this trip. Some people do not get wiser as they get older.

Because I had a few days of vacation to burn up, I left for Denver early Sunday morning, September 7th. Steamboat’s Vintage Motorcycle Week was September 10 to the 14th. The start of my planned route was diagonally across Minnesota, via highways 169 and 60, to Sioux City. Early in the day I passed the Mennonite settlement of Mountain Lake, MN, where there is a "phone museum" and other exciting attractions. I’d always thought of Mennonites as hardworking, honest types, but this place had to be their equivalent of a Florida swamp real estate scam. There is no no mountain and no lake, as far as I could see, anywhere near Mountain Lake. I have a new sort of respect for Mennonites.

I stopped in Heron Lake for my first fuel stop. I discovered, by drenching my bike and feet in gas, that the fuel shutoff was defective. With the helmet and ear plugs in place, I nearly dumped two gallons of gas on the ground before I noticed I was creating a Super Fund site. From here out, I did my trip documentation after filling the tank. It didn’t surprise the lady at the counter though. She said, "that side don’t register, this side does," when I told her about the screwed up pump. I kept an eye on the mirror, as I left town, half hoping for a mushroom cloud to compensate me for the wasted fuel.

Just south of Worthington, I tailed a yuppie in a Range Rover who showed no fear of Iowa’s CHP. He got me through that mind-numbing state in record time. I stopped at an interstate rest stop in Iowa where an old lady with a highway department uniform told me "I used to be in the bidnez worl’, that’s why I’m workin’ here." I thought she meant the business world ruined her life, but she was just working for the exercise. Go figure. Just south of Sioux City, I hooked up to highway 77 and to some even less regularly maintained roads.

I used to live in north eastern Nebraska and I mistakenly thought that gave me some ability to pick my way across the state. I ended up on a newly graveled road, about 10 miles north of North Bend, that was terminated by a large crane and a missing section of road. When I stopped to look at the construction damage, my wheels sunk past the rims. My next short cut took me though about 5 miles of really deep gravel and sand. By the time I escaped that desert riding experience, my front fender had a 3" hole pecked into the back side and my chain picked up about an inch of slack.

After relocating asphalt, I picked up 30 at North Bend and headed west. I failed the "will to live" test and stopped for a hamburger in Columbus, NE (Actually, I figured that ought to be the safest place in the US for a beef-eater, after that city’s most recent 15 minutes of fame.) Making up for lost time, I stuck with 30 to Grand Island and jumped to I-80. By the time I got to Gothenburg, NE; 630 miles from home, I was wiped out. I stayed in a truckers’ motel that night and set the alarm for a 5:00AM takeoff.

Poor road maintenance almost bit me in the butt this morning. I had a low rear tire and thought I’d developed an oil leak when I stopped in Julesburg, CO. The tire was low, but OK. I washed the engine and discovered the oil leak was just chain lube that was heating up and dripping off of the engine cases. I promised my self I would watch my oil level and temp gauge carefully for the rest of that leg of the trip, just in case. I managed to hold to that promise all the way to Denver, about 120 miles. Later in the trip, my failure to extend this pledge to the whole journey would haunt me.

By noon Monday, 372 miles later, I was in Denver. You can’t see the mountains until you are about 55 miles from the city. Mountain cloud cover suddenly becomes mountains and the air seems cooler and fresher. The last 50 miles into Denver seem to go quickly and the horizon’s view is terrific.

When I stopped, my butt hurt. My kidneys were falling out in chunks. My bike needed about 10 hours of serious maintenance. Being the high tech, serious maintenance guy I am, I lubed and re-tensioned the chain, put duct tape over the hole in the fender, washed the bike, checked for loose hardware, washed my laundry, and hung out in a bar until Wednesday morning.

Six of us left my friend’s home for Steamboat Wednesday at about 8:30AM. We were probably the weirdest collection of motorcycles on the highway that morning: a Yamaha TDM (mine), two Honda new Magnas, a ’78 Kawasaki Scepter, and an ’83 Yamaha Venture. After a few miles, we strung out across the highway in a several mile long "touring pattern."

We intended to get to Steamboat by noon so we could catch a little of the dirt track speedway racing in Hayden that afternoon. We’ve made that plan five years in a row. Like the other years, this year we didn’t get to Steamboat until 1:30PM, our trip schedule was sabotaged by several coffee, fuel, and meal beaks. Some of the group, including me, thought the lodge’s hot tub looked more interesting than another 100 miles on the bikes. Those who stayed watched the clouds cruise the mountain tops and drank beer. Those who left got to Hayden just as the last of the racers were leaving and got caught in a short rain storm on the way back. I try to make each of my millions of mistakes only once.

The next day, I went to town by myself because none of my group was all that hip on the trials event. This is the sport with which I ended my 15 year off-road competition career. In fact, the years defined as the end of "vintage" were state-of-the-art just before I quit trying to luck into a trophy. Every once in a while, Steamboat makes me reconsider my constant fear of knee injuries and I think about buying a Bultaco Sherpa T or a Yamaha TY and doing a little cherry-picking. Steamboat’s vintage traps are almost all easy enough that a good rider could zero out on a street bike.

This is also the day where the "geezers on Beemers" sub-title for Steamboat really becomes appropriate. There seem to be an incredible number of retired executives, military officers, and other non-working class types doing the vintage-bike gypsy tour. They live in 40’ luxury campers and tow bike-trailer/work-shops that make my garage look puny and unequipped. A few of them even have trophy wives in tow. Since most of these guys are pretty near my age and I don’t have any of that stuff, I try not to make too many comparisons or I’ll get discouraged.

I really get a kick out of seeing how many ancient bikes have been modified for trials. I didn’t even know BSA or Greeves made a 125 or that anyone was riding trials pre-WWII before my first trip to Steamboat. This is like a dirty, live-action museum with some dirty, active museum caretakers riding the exhibits. It rained a little about 10:00AM, just enough to send me back to the bike for my jacket. As soon as I had two arms full of stuff to carry, the weather got hot and I spent the rest of the morning sweating and grinding dirt into all of my body parts. I don’t know who won, probably some geezer with a collection of Beemers and a Yamaha TY in like-new condition.

Friday is vintage motocross day. Another of my favorite events. Again, I was up and out before the rest of the group. I spent the early morning walking through the pits, taking pictures, listening to experts talk about the history of various, long-dead motorcycle manufacturers. It’s still hard for me to reconcile Rickman, Bultaco, Ossa, Norton, BSA, and the rest of the deceased as being not only dead, but long dead. Seeing these bikes back in their prime, sometimes much better than prime, is a lot of retrospective fun.

Speaking of dead-ends, three other TDM’ers showed up for Steamboat. We belong to an Internet mail-list for our bike and some of us have been writing each other for a couple of years without ever putting faces to names. I recognized a couple of the guys by their bikes. Yamaha orphaned the TDM after importing it to the U.S. for two years (1992-93). Most of us have done a lot of little things to personalize our bikes and it was fun getting to see the mods I’d been reading about. Everyone got a good laugh of the state of my front fender and the general condition of my bike compared to those whose owners, intelligently, avoid dirt roads. We experienced our "fifteen minutes of fame" when another biker recognized us as "those guys who met on the Internet." We took pictures, talked for a couple hours, and headed in four directions for the rest of the weekend.

The actual races are almost anticlimactic. It’s always a kick watching Dick Mann win. He was a Baja hero of mine when I was a kid. He’s still heroic at sixty-something. Dave Lindeman, a Denver fireman, put on a good show in the Open Twin Expert class, dueling and beating Rick Doughty’s zillion dollar Rickman/BSA on a cobbled up Yamaha XL650.

But lots of the actual races are pretty boring. There are wads of timid, over-forty wannabes who barely turn their bikes on in the straights and come to a lethargic near-stop at every corner. The race to the first turn is often more humorous than exciting. Everyone is so concerned with avoiding contact and a crash-and-burn that they barely make it to the turn, let alone work for a decent position on the other side. In the bulk of the races, there is rarely more than two half-decent racers. The other two dozen geriatric cases are nothing more than track obstacles when the fast guys start lapping them. The upside, for me, is that I regularly get pumped about buying an Elsinore and stealing a trophy. The downside is after making a couple of deep knee squats, I remember why the majority of the riders are going so slow. Getting old is hell. The body can’t even remember how to do what the brain told it to do.

Fairly late in the afternoon, the races are over. We cruise the streets of Steamboat, looking at bikes we will never own. This really is a BMW convention. I doubt there is a bike BMW ever made that isn’t represented here. Seems like there are more Harleys this year, too. Maybe that’s why the local paper doesn’t have a single word about the events. In years past, I could read about what I’d seen the previous day in the local rag. Not this year. There must be several thousand bikers in town and the only mention of motorcycles was when a local biker got smacked by local cager. It’s not like this is a pack of Outlaws, tearing up the bars and defiling local women. A pair of women, climbing out of a Jeep Cherokee on their way to lunch, asked one of my buddies if we were a "biker gang." He told them, "Yeah, after our nap, we’re gonna take this town apart!" That’s about the speed of everyone at Steamboat. Sedate. Old. Mostly intent on finding a good restaurant and a decent hotel. I guess we still found a way to scare them.

I didn’t cruise much Friday night. We really did find a great place to stay and I headed back, well before dark, to sit in the hot tub and watch the clouds and the mountains flare and fade in a crimson tinted sundown lightshow. Beer, a good book, a hot tub, and tired, old aching joints really go well together. If a local female stripped herself and jumped into my hot tub, I might have defiled her but I’d have more likely been pissed that she got my book wet. I bought my beer at the Clark Store, so I didn’t even have a chance to think about trashing a bar. I’m a pretty poor excuse for a biker, I guess.

Saturday is vintage road racing and the first opportunity we have to look at the concourse. We buy pit passes, which are $20, and head for the pits. I’m not much of a connoisseur of street bikes. In fact, I never paid any attention to street bikes at all until I’d been riding and racing for almost 15 years. I still don’t really know one cruiser or crotch-rocket from another. I don’t much care about cars either. But there are some really neat, loud noises coming from the pits and one of my friends has a great time describing all the bikes to me. I lecture on the dirt bike days, he does the street day.

About two hours into Saturday, I got bored. This is a terrible thing for a "reporter" to admit, but I’d have rather been riding than watching. When I fell asleep and lost track of where the rest of my group had gone, I decided it was time for me to hit the road. I’d planned on leaving that day, anyway, and it seemed like the time to do it. I wandered around the course for another hour, trying to find everyone, with no luck. I stuck a note on a friend’s seat and started getting ready for the long ride back to Minnesota.

Sunday is the modern road race. I have been going to Steamboat for 6 years and I’ve never stayed for the modern road race. My justification for leaving early is that I can watch modern crotch rocketing any weekend during the summer and I never do. Why blow a good day of riding watching someone else have a good day of riding? Like all the years past, I left on Saturday and missed the really fast guys. They’d just discourage me, anyway.

The real reason I wanted to leave early was that I wanted the extra riding time so I could go back the long way, through Wyoming and South Dakota. I retraced my trip into Steamboat back over Rabbit Ears Pass. About 30 miles east of Steamboat, I turned north on Colorado 14. This is one of the prettiest roads I’ve traveled in Colorado. It’s a neat combination of mountain plains and ranch land. The road isn’t particularly twisty, but it does curve its way through a beautiful section of the Rockies. The road is well maintained and completely unoccupied by cage or cop. I made good time to Walden, where I picked up 127 and continued north to Laramie, WY.

The scenery doesn’t stop when you leave Colorado. Good roads and great views all the way to Laramie, where I copped out and took the freeway (I80). After 300 miles of awesome two lanes, I80 was a complete bummer. But I stuck to it to Cheyenne, where I swapped freeways and took I25 north to Wheatland. I spent the night in Wheatland, at another truck stop. Leaving Steamboat early allowed me to knock off 250 unproductive (destination-wise) miles before I seriously head for home.

The actual route I took from Wheatland to Deadwood is up for discussion. I know I stayed on I25 for a few more miles to Wyoming 160. I know I swapped off of 160 to 270, because I had breakfast in Lusk, WY. I’m not sure I stuck with 270 all the way to Lusk, though. A good portion of that trip was on dirt roads. I mostly used the sun as a compass and tried to keep going north at every intersection. I popped out of the last section of dirt road on highway 85, just a few miles south of Lusk. I had been on reserve for about 30 miles when I filled up in Lusk. I’d like to tell you 270 to Lusk is a terrific road, well worth traveling, because it is. I’d like to tell you that I strongly recommend this route for the scenery and adventure, because I really enjoyed that aspect of the trip. The fact is, this is a route that requires a great suspension. The road (the real road, not the dirt road) is heavily traveled by farm equipment and is pretty rough. The TDM ate it up, but a crotch rocket or cruiser would deliver a severe pounding. You decide.

Leaving Lusk, I forgot to reinsert my ear plugs. Good thing. I heard several nasty noises and pulled over for a maintenance stop. You’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned maintenance since just before I pulled into Denver. I hadn’t done much since then. Another brain fart. The older you get, the more of them you’ll have. I discovered the front fender had a new hole, this one on the front, from poor tire-to-fender clearance and flung gravel. I pealed away pieces that were touching the tire and "fixed" that problem. I also discovered my chain was really wearing out fast, probably due to the off-road portions of the trip. It was actually hanging up at spots as they passed over the countershaft sprocket. I bought a can of WD40 and thoroughly cleaned the chain. I lubricated the chain and made some more promises to myself regarding maintenance.

The next section of the trip was sort of frightening, considering the condition of my bike. There is next to nothing between Lusk and Deadwood, 140 miles of nothing. There are some towns listed on the map, but they are barely bumps in the road. Some of them aren’t even that. But I took this route because I was bored with the trip across Nebraska and Iowa, so I figured it was worth continuing. Not that I had much of a choice.

Wyoming is a great state. I suppose every state has a motto. Nebraska blabs about some mystical "good life" that no visitor or resident has seen any sign of. Iowa yaks about "liberties" and "rights" and parks a cop on every road to make sure no one ever even dreams about freedom. Colorado’s "nothing without providence" is totally meaningless. But Wyoming is the "big country" and you don’t have to look far to find real cowboys just like the one on their license plate. Some of those cowboys drive farm trucks on highway 85. I only saw four vehicles on the road between Lusk and the South Dakota boarder. All of them were doing 90+ mph and they all waved when they went by me. I would have stayed with them, but I wanted to live through this section of the trip with chain intact. There is nothing, in any other part of this country, like the concept of "safe and reasonable" as a speed limit. It almost makes me feel like an American. Out there, Mamma Government is in short supply and nobody misses her.

The weather totally cooperated. From the beginning of this day until I hit the plains, just west of Wall, SD, the sky was clear, the temperature was in the low 70’s, and the wind was nonexistent. South Dakota’s Black Hills are a national treasure. South of Deadwood, 85 winds through the hills like the best Rocky Mountain highway. There are miles of twisty, narrow highway that parallels beautiful streams and cuts through wooded valleys and farm land. I could take a summer long vacation, traveling the roads of the Black Hills, and never grow even a little tired of it.

I made it to Deadwood in one piece. Stopped for gas, lubed the chain, washed the windshield, checked the tires, and thoroughly inspected the bike. Then I walked to the Deadwood Historical Society museum and wasted an hour looking at the coolest of western history. There are Harleys all over Deadwood. It’s only a few miles from Sturgis, which must account for all the heavy iron.

I still hadn’t eaten when I left Deadwood. I was making, and having, such good time that I couldn’t convince myself to waste any of the day in a restaurant. Slightly north of Deadwood, I struck interstate and there I stayed until Minnesota. Once you pass Wall, the home of Wall Drug, there isn’t much to say about South Dakota. Every diddly-butt town has some kind of tourist trap. None of them are worth stopping for. It’s not just that there’s nothing to see in those towns, there’s nothing to see in that part of South Dakota. It’s just miles and miles of flat, boring plains. Most of the state’s rest stops are "out of order," probably to force travelers to waste time and money in the state’s tourist traps. I stopped for gas at Wall, Chamberlain, and Sioux Falls. There isn’t much more to say about the space between any of those cities.

The wind was killer, once I passed Wall. It was 50+mph and I felt like I was making the world’s longest right turn. 420 miles of right turn. I wanted to make Sioux Falls by nightfall, but I was forced to take a stretch break every 50 miles. My arms, back, and butt were going numb and the road never seemed to end. I swear that some of the mileage signs increased the distance to Sioux Falls as I drove east.

The only break in the monotony comes a few miles before Chamberlain, SD. The Missouri River valley almost instantly changes the scenery. It takes you from flat, barren plains to green rolling hills in only a few miles. The river is awesome, especially after 200 miles of desolation. It’s as wide as a lake and as blue as an ocean. Unfortunately, 10 miles east of Chamberlain, I’m back in a windy desert. That evening, 650 miles from where I left that morning, I pulled into Sioux Falls and headed for a Super 8.

The next morning, I tried to sight-see in Sioux Falls but failed to find any interesting sights. I left town at about nine and headed for home. I repeated the original leg of the trip by exiting I90 at Worthington and take 60 to 169, through Mankato, and on to the Twin Cities.

I got home a little after noon. I popped the cap on a beer, filled up the hot tub, and fell asleep dreaming about high mountain passes, unlimited speed limits in Wyoming, and gorgeous snaky roads in the Black Hills. I woke up, sweating, later that night when the dream turned to wind blasted, straight and boring South Dakota interstate dotted with hundreds of Iowa Highway Patrol cars.


Oct 12, 2022

There Are Tires and There Are Tires

Earlier this spring, a friend rode his Suzuki TU250X from Santa Fe to the west coast and back. On the way back, he got hammered by winds that were almost enough to exhaust that little single-cylinder 250 into a low gear and wore himself out keeping the bike on the road. Yesterday, I did a piddly 50-mile round-trip ride in my local area. On the way back, I experienced 30-40mph side and head winds and re-discovered the joys of skating on a motorcycle. The bike, literally, slides a foot or so across the lane when a big gust hits it strongly. It’s not that different from riding on loose gravel or even a sandy country road, but it’s a little disconcerting and definitely tiring after a few miles. And I wasn’t loaded up with a week’s worth of gear and camping gear, so my experience was a small sub-set of his on the high plains of Idaho. Still, it brought back a lot of memories about motorcycle tire evolution in my lifetime and experience.

When I bought my first street bike, a ‘80 Honda CX500, I got my first taste of getting hammered by the wind when I rode that bike from Omaha to California in 1983 to start a new job. Between Omaha and western Kansas on my first day of the ride, I got my ass kicked by strong winds constantly blowing that oversized, under-powered boat from one side of the highway to the other. Since that bike had barely more than 1,000 miles on the odometer, I’m fairly certain it was still wearing the stock tires when I evacuated the Midwest for California. Probably 4-ply, bias-belted, symmetrically patterned tires like the ones in the Honda ad picture to the left and above. Those tires were consistently awful on waffle-steel bridges, gravel, newly paved roads with loose grit, wet surfaces, and any irregular surface. Not that great on regular surfaces, either. And, of course, the bike was more like a sailing ship than a land vehicle in the wind.    


Not long after arriving in California, I had to reshoe my bike and the first tires I remember making a difference were bias-belted Dunlop Elites. The trick is increased contact patch, irregular grooves in the tire to move water away from the contact patch, and the difference in the ride and stability was revolutionary. Most of the problems I complained about in the above paragraph vanished with the Dunlop shoes. Especially wet surface stability and grated bridges became mostly non-issues. And I stuck with those tires on all of my bikes except the two dual purpose bikes I owned for the next 8 years. The last bike to wear Elites was my XTX550 Yamaha Vision. I moved from California to Indiana to Colorado with that bike and a Yamaha XT350 Enduro.

Not long after moving to Denver (Parker, actually), I stumbled on to a killer deal on an 850 Yamaha TDM and that bike, owned by a doctor who farkled up the bike to the max but rarely rode it, came with Michelin radials. They were, as I remember, tires that I’d considered out of my budget up to then, but I don’t remember what model of tire they were. What I do remember is that the TDM was the most stable, sure-footed motorcycle I had ever ridden at speed on any surface. From that bike on, every motorcycle I’ve owned that could take a tubeless tire got high-end radials: from my TDMs to my SV650 to my V-Strom. And all of those motorcycles and tires convinced me that weight, style, and the rest of the excuses motorcyclists use for “needing” a large, heavy, unwieldy motorcycle are clueless.

But yesterday, back on a small motorcycle with old-fashioned bias belted tires, I was thrown back in time to the bad-old-days when tires were designed intuitively rather than using science and engineering. I have a pair tires in the garage waiting to be installed, but the miser in me wanted to get at least enough use out of the damn 10-year-old OEM Cheng-Shin CS Marquis Chinese junk to satisfy something-or-other waste-wise. Before writing this essay, I hadn’t really looked at the OEM tires. After writing “10-year-old OEM Cheng-Shin CS Marquis” I realized how stupid that argument is. Those tires were installed on the bike to protect the rims in shipping. No rational person would be dumb enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads wearing those sad faux-tires.

Oct 10, 2022

Life Is A Small Window

Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done since sometime in mid-2018, I rode my TU250X about 50 miles from my small town home to the Twin Cities to meet a friend for lunch. I know that seems like a small thing and 5 years ago if someone like me described that as an “event” I’ve have worked hard to politely nod my head in acknowledgement without at least grinning a little. 10 years ago, I’d have laughed. I was/am an asshole, I know, but I did start calling myself a “geezer” (in a monthly publication and in this blog) when I was 50, so it’s not like that is some kind of sudden realization. For the most part, the 120 mile round trip was uneventful, in a good way. The TU is absolutely competent in normal city traffic and I’m still moderately competent, when my eyes are working correctly. My biggest problem yesterday was the fact that I’m definitely a lot more sensitive to light than I was pre-cataract surgery, so I’m stuck wearing glasses inside my full face helmet and face shield when the sun is out. Two sets of lenses puts some stress on my MG (myasthenia gravis) weakened left eye, which made managing double-vision symptoms difficult for a few miles. As soon as the sun went below the horizon and I could dump the glasses I was fine.

MG isn’t a curable disease. It will continue to plague me until it or something else puts me in the dirt. Yesterday was an anomaly from my last 4 years of life and, as such, it was a brief open window of freedom. People like me who have mostly skated through life without many injuries or problems that weren’t self-inflicted naturally forget that this life we enjoy and take for granted won’t last. Sooner rather than later, the window of life that we learn is “normal” when we are young begins to close and, if you are half-aware, you learn to appreciate the moments of fresh air that you still have. Yesterday’s ride was a true moment when that window opened and I was allowed to feel that “I’m not dead yet.”

In fact, riding home as the sun went down, there was a brief moment when the sun going down in a blaze of yellow, orange and red, blue and purple cloud cover on my right was spectacularly balanced by a huge, bright orange full harvest moon rising on my left. That lasted for about 5 miles and 5 minutes of when I rode along the ridge of two valleys before turning east and riding down into the Mississippi River Valley toward home. I got a glimpse of the moon just as I came down the last rise toward my home stretch, but after getting the bike parked, unwrapping myself from my ‘Stich, when I tried to show that natural wonder to my wife it was hidden behind cloud cover. Another brief window of life.

Aug 26, 2022

Fuel Tests

In case you have any confusion about the quality of fuel produced by large amounts of agricultural welfare payments, check out this video on what ethanol does to aluminum and rubber parts:

This is pretty enlightening, too:

And, finally, a motorcycle guy tosses in his several cents:

With all of that said, I have been only marginally careful with my "end of season" fuel. I have used Stabil since the late 80's, anytime my bike is likely to be unridden for more than a few weeks. In my carb days, I often disassembled those damn pieces of plumbing for various reasons, mostly altitude changes. The inside of every one of my bike's carbs were spotless. Seriously, they shined like they'd been polished. The same goes for my snowblowers and lawnmowers. They are the only carbureted motors I own now and I do an inspection at the end of every season. I do try to keep non-ethanol, non-oxygenated fuel in those motors or run them out with Stabil in the last tank before I store them.

Aug 22, 2022

Boiling the Frog

Welcome: The Boiling Frog StoryI had my own special boiled frog moment this week and it reminded me of how easily we settle into to what we’re used to and how quickly we can compromise what we think we “like” or expect from things we use. I’ve been riding my 6-year-old ebike (a late-2016/early-2017 RadPower Rover) since my grandson trashed it badly enough to give it to me in late 2018 in pretty much barely-salvageable condition. He’d commuted in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the year he owned the bike, crashing on the icy roads often, doing little-to-no maintenance, and doing the Millennial thing of ignoring problems until they become insurmountable obstacles. (If I believed in an afterlife, I’d be looking forward to seeing how that characteristic plays out in the long run. I’m still betting on robots over humans.) Over a couple of 2018 winter months, I chased down the non-functional electronic causes, repaired and replaced a lot of obvious mechanical problems and broken parts, and got the bike back to working bit-by-bit. One aspect of getting familiar with a complicated product in that manner is that I sort of reset my expectations as each bit “came on-line.”

Since that initiation, I’ve continued to upgrade the bike and maintain it, sometimes discovering problems that weren’t obvious to a newbie early on. The battery had been particularly abused by sub-zero storage and operating-temperature operation along with crash shocks. When I first started riding the bike, I was using the throttle a lot and, as a result, my range was fairly limited. Over the last 4,000 miles, I’ve learned to use the throttle sparingly and to count on the Pedal Assist System (PAS) to determine most of the bike’s power contribution. A couple of years ago, pre-Covid, I was making 40-50 mile trips on at least a monthly basis. In the last two years, a 20-25 mile trip had become my norm for a long ride, with most days in the 10-15 mile territory. Other than putting the bike chargers on a timer, I don’t do anything special to maintain the batteries.

Last week, Mrs. Day gave her 2019 MiniST a battery "test." We were about 8 miles out when she was stung by a wasp. She's very allergic and, I thought, freaked out, turned around and went full throttle back home and to head for our local clinic. My Rover was already down to 3 bars (from 5 on the battery status indicator) just from riding at PAS2 to that point. Mrs. Day is a minimalist and always rides in PAS3 and 3rd gear on the derailleur. To try to keep her in sight, I kept the Rover in PAS3 and pedaled hard. She was clearly running full throttle (20mph) in full motorcycle mode and she vanished into the distance. I figured she was so freaked out that she wasn't watching the battery status, but I was wrong (again). She still had 4 bars on her battery when she got home. I had been on one bar for the previous 4 miles.

I began to suspect that might need to replace my almost-6-year-old, 5,000 mile battery.

After the big wasp run, I “re-engineered" my grandson's discarded Mini battery bracket to mount on the Rover and, now, I have a newer far more powerful battery on the Rover. The Mini battery, when new, has about 150Wh more capacity than the Rover “dolphin” battery. Over the last few years, my range has been steadily declining and shortening my range to the point that I was pretty much starting to think anything over 25 miles was risky.

I needed to do a LOT of maintenance to the Rover and the cool weather and that battery comparison experience finally motivated me to do it. I cleaned and packed the rear hub bearings and lubed the nylon gears (1st time for that in almost 5,000 miles), cleaned and packed the front bearings, swapped the worn out rear tire for one of the old originals (the front is still ok), installed new brake pads and cleaned and roughed-up the disks, cleaned and lubed the chain and derailleur bearings, repacked the bottom bracket bearings, and generally cleaned and lubricated anything that caught my eye.

For the battery installation, I had to drill mounting holes for two of the 3 battery bracket screws (harder than it sounds because the holes also needed fairly precise countersinking to allow for the Rivnut heads on the bottom side of the battery frame. I installed 45A Quick Connectors in a very tight space between the bracket and wiring entry to make battery replacement fairly simple. Time for a test ride.

It’s probably psychosomatic, but the bike feels way more powerful. That could be real because the internal series resistance of the old battery cells has been increasing, which is the actual cause of battery depletion with age. As I mentioned, the Mini battery has about 150wh more capacity than the original Rover battery and is slightly lighter. I came home, after at least 12 miles of PAS3 operation (a total of 18 miles) and a couple of block-long full power uphill runs with 3 bars remaining (while at power). I think Cannon Falls is back in my range. Over the next several days, I took on tougher rides with more big hills and longer trips. It was obvious that the old battery was on its last legs.

It is also obvious that this is another example of how we become used to what we have and if what we have degrades slowly we won’t notice the degradation until we’re either forced to compare it to something similar or we suffer an outright failure.

Aug 12, 2022

Payback Is A Bitch

I’d been on the road (as a cage passenger, sadly) sans-electronics for a few days and when I came home my email inboxes were filled with the usual crap. I don’t know how people survive with cell phones and the inability to automatically screen callers, texters, and email. I flag practically everything as “spam” and I still ended up with more than 150 pieces of crap in my email accounts after 4 days and, at most, there were a half-dozen things to which I actually want or need to pay attention. And all that is after my spam filter has automatically trashed about 50% of everything sent to me. One of the things that caught my eye was from a local motorcycling (not biker) group. One of the members linked a few pages of the jury decision in the case of a truck driver who crossed into the oncoming lane and killed 7 bikers. WebBikeWorld has some additional information on the case here. where it is noted that “One of the motorcyclists had a BAC nearly double the state's 'too drunk to drive' limit.” The poster speculated that the jury found Volodymyr Zhukovskyy to be innocent because “the jury was filled with idiots. Or the prosecuting attorney was an idiot and didn't present any of this [drug use] information to the jury. Or maybe Westfield Transport is run by the mob and they threatened to harm the family members of the jury?”

Possible. But I have a different theory.

Since the trucking company has bankrupted due to civil payments to families and survivers, I think this case is pretty much done in civil court. It could be the state will bear some liability due to the driver's past history and the fact that he shouldn't have had any sort of commercial license. Somebody else’s problem.

However, I wonder if the real takeaway from this decision is that the jury, like most Americans, are fed up with motorcycles. The general impression of motorcycles and motorcyclists are taken from the unnecessary and arrogant noise, regular well-publicized bad behavior, and the general impression that most motorcyclists are dangerous, sub-human, psychopathic gangbangers. A more successful tactic for the prosecution might have been to spend a lot of time bringing in experts to establish that motorcyclists are sorta (at least closely related to) humans. Hardly has worked pretty hard to create the sub-human image. You'd think/hope there would be some downsides to promoting anarchy, violence, and chaos.

About 20 years ago, I was on the MN Governor's Motorcycle Safety Council. A friend and co-worker, who was also on the Governor's council and was an ABATE officer (most of the council was made up of ABATE gangbanger wannabes) were walking to lunch in downtown St. Paul and talking about motorcyclists' public image. Most of the kids I knew at the school thought motorcycling was for "old people and assholes," but my friend disagreed with that general image.

His disagreement held up until a couple of noisemakers went past us and pretty much everyone on the street said something along the lines of "crash and die assholes." Once exposed to the real world, his take on many of ABATE’s positions changed enough that he quit his club office and took a back row seat in most of ABATE’s key political positions.

So, back to my take on the jury decision: Since police are clearly terrified of bikers and their gangs, maybe the jury just decided legalizing motorcycle highway carnage is the only way to get the bangers off of the street?

For calibration purposes, we got back last night about 9PM after a long vacation return trip (long for us). Went to bed about 11pm and spent the night being noise bombed by nitwits on Hardlys (and other garbage fish) on our un-policed county road well past 2AM. Personally, I keep hoping Amazon will sell a hand-held holographic projector sometime soon. People living in those noise traffic zones could project deer, moose, bears, cops, baby carriages, etc on to the streets in front of the local idiots on blubber-mobiles and entertain themselves watching the goobers try to remember where their brake levers are. My street is decorated all summer long with morons and their unmuffled, 2 hp bikes, and 4 hp sound systems. "If wishes were fishes" there'd be a whole lot of Hardlys buried in half-rotted carp.

A couple of years ago, a friend and I were talking about the herd of anti-vaxing, science-denying goobers who were (and still are) decorating hospitals with their dying breath and crazy conspiracy theories. I’m not a big fan of humans and so my take was “That just seems like the usual price for stupidity.”

His response was, “Being stupid shouldn’t be a death sentence.”

“Dude, that is always the result of being stupid,” I said. In fact, that is exactly how evolution works, it’s the whole point of the Darwin Awards.

Likewise, after 75 years of Hardly’s convincing every white male that looking like an unreconstructed off-on-bail convict on a last binge before a couple of decades behind bars is “manly,” we have a problem. Minnesota has a “road guard” law that allows a moron with a reflective vest and a paddle to stop traffic indiscriminately for any unreasonable amount of time to allow totally useless, law-breaking, and decadent bikers to parade through any street or road in the state. You don’t think that tactic creates animosity? I’d bet it generates enough hate for motorcyclists from at least 50% of the inconvenienced population that you wouldn’t want them on a jury if you wanted that jury to convict anyone of killing a motorcyclist with any kind of weapon. Sit through two of those clown parades and you’ll be running them down yourself.

Jul 25, 2022

Rollin’ Bowling Pins and Wobblin’ Morons

For the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty much stuck on 2-pedaling wheels. My myasthenia gravis and the double-vision symptom are back with a vengeance and I don’t drive more than a few miles on good days and the motorcycle is likely parked until I sell it. Odds are against me that, this time, drugs will suppress my hyperactive immune system and I’ll get my life back. This Sunday, my wife got bored and decided we need to go for a drive somewhere we haven’t been for a long time; Taylor’s Falls, MN; about 75 miles north of our house. That’s a long drive for her and I wouldn’t be much help behind the wheel after the first 40-50 miles, when the double-vision kicks in for the rest of the day.

We got up and out early, mostly to take advantage of my eyesight working, usually, for a couple of hours in the morning. After a stop for breakfast, we made it through Stillwater before that tourist town’s crush began and arrived at the Franconia Sculpture Park before their volunteers even managed to put up a donation bucket. It has been at least 8 years since we visited this terrific multi-acre outdoor gallery and we almost had the place to ourselves until about 11AM. From there, we went to downtown Taylor’s Falls, found a convenient place to park, and walked to the Interstate Glacial Park for a hike along the cliffs of the St. Croix River. Around 1PM, we moved the car to a favorite local drive-in and had lunch. So far, so terrific.

After lunch, traffic was really starting to build up and going back the way we came through town was going to be a long, slow, slog while Minnesotans and other tourists struggled to crawl through the one light in town going either across the river to Wisconsin or back southwest toward the Cities. So, we went another way and wandered through the city to where we could jump the line and head back the way we came, right at the intersection of the light.

About 5 miles down the road toward Stillwater on MN95, in the oncoming northbound lane, were at least 100 blubbering, unburnt fuel-spewing goobers on an assortment of motorcycles heading for the unsuspecting, already overloaded town of Taylors Falls. The intersection of US8 and MN95 (where that one light lives) was already piled up a half-mile or more north on MNwith rural goobers, tourists, bikers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

When that gaggle of bikers lands at that intersection, it’s save to assume that one of the idiots will be a Minnesota “Road Guard.” The 2012 Guard idiocy is one of the dumbest, most short-sighted, most anti-motorcyclist bills our half-witted legislature has ever created. "Minnesota State Statute 169.06, subdivision 4(f) authorizes motorcycle road guard certificate holders to stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders. Drivers of vehicles stopped by a flagger may only proceed if instructed by a flagger or police officer." All it takes is $30 and "three hours [of remedial training including] . . . classroom time and practical training at a live intersection near the training site" and you can pretend to be an important asshole stopping all sorts of legitimate traffic to allow a parade of idiots on motorcycles to spew fumes and fuel, to disturb the peace with all sorts of blatantly illegal noises, and demonstrate the usual biker incompetence for as long as it takes for the idiots to waddle indecisively through an intersection.

When those morons in their rolling bowling pin formation landed in Taylors Falls, I’d bet the local psychic temperature went up at least 50oF. The town was already full, so if they stopped anywhere it would be the middle of Bench Street where they could imagine themselves to be the center of adulation while pretty much everyone in town and in any other kid of vehicle fumed and plotted against the next solo motorcyclists they found on the open road. We were glad to be out of town heading in the opposite direction and felt lucky to have avoided the bulk of the incoming disaster. We won’t be going back to Taylors Falls on a weekend anytime soon.

Jul 7, 2022

Better Than A Passport

In 2007, I made what is going to be my one-and-only trip to Alaska by motorcycle. Lots of things went wrong with that trip, mostly because I was burned out, discouraged, frustrated, and clueless about what to do next. My employer, the late-not-particularly-great McNally Smith College of Music (previously the very great Musictech College) had fired my boss, Scott Jarrett, very likely the best thing that ever happened to that school outside of the Director, Michael McKern, who hired both Scott and me and the cream of the school’s technology group. Scott is one of the closest, best friends I’ve ever had. And when he was knifed in the back by a pack of low-life, lucky-beyond-belief academic goobers and the two eponymous nitwits who were doing their best to turn their unearned golden goose into a pile of ashes I was torn between quitting the best job I’d ever had and going my own way or keeping the job and going my own way inside their totally chaotic “organization.” I’d planned the Alaska trip as part of my usual “system” of isolating myself to figure out hard stuff.

As I explained in an earlier essay, my wife had “plans” for how my solo trip would be curated by a friend of hers who was also trying to organize a ride to Alaska. He’d been there several times before, if I remember right, and had an agenda. His agenda and mine had almost nothing in common.

After a series of clusterfucks, incredibly long days that often wore on for more than 1,000 miles, and a decision that I didn’t make that resulted in me being somewhere I didn’t want to be and a crash that prevented me from going where I wanted to go later, I ended up crossing the Copper River by ferry out of Dawson City and riding to the Top of the World border crossing without a US passport (another long story).  As an Alaska tourist site explains it, “The length of the Top of the World Highway is 175 miles/281 km and connects Dawson City in the Yukon to the Alaska Highway at the Tetlin Junction. The Highway is only open from mid-May to mid-October, however, it has been known to close earlier due to snow. Many travelers use the Top of the World Highway when driving between Fairbanks, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon, which is 398 miles/640 km. The distance from Tok Alaska to Dawson City is 187 miles and the distance from Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska is 106 miles/171 km."

June 10 033The Poker Creek Port of Entry was open when we arrived there on June 10th, but G.W. Bush had changed the rules for Canadian-US travel shortly before my planned departure time and I’d decided to risk it hoping my expedited passport would get to me before I needed it. Worst case, the US wouldn’t let me back in and I’d have to settle for being Canadian. I could live with that. Hell, at the time I was considering taking a teaching job at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the desperate hope of moving to Canada before Bush trashed what was left of the country and economy. So, the threat of not being able to “go home” was pretty weak. In the picture (above) you can see Michael doing the paperwork to cross from Canada to Alaska. When I rolled up to the window, the Border Patrol guy pretty much told me to go back to Canada.

I backed up to where you see me in that picture, hauled out a camp chair, my eBook, and a canteen and granola and proceeded to get set to stay awhile. Mike, now on the other side of the border was perplexed. Worst case, I’d ride back to Dawson, find a campsite (all the hotels were booked for the Dawson City Music Festival), and worry about my next move when I felt better. June 10 034I didn’t have to wait that long. There wasn’t a lot of traffic through that remote crossing and the border guy was curious enough to walk over and talk to me. When he realized I was there for a while, he started asking questions about my passport, where I lived, where I worked, and what the hell I was doing in his place blocking non-existent traffic? While we were talking, a couple of guys came through the border, twice, heading toward Canada and coming back an hour or so later. One of the guys had driven his Hardly off of a cliff and called a buddy to bring his truck and trailer to carry back the remains. I have no idea how they managed to rescue that half-ton hippobike.

So, while we watched the two guys and their load slide down the hill toward Chicken, AK, we continued to talk about my “predicament,” which was more of a problem, I guess, for him than me. At that moment, I hurt badly enough that I would have settled for a nice hole with some dirt tossed over me. My list, discovered several days later when I finally found a doc in Valdez, included several broken ribs, a separated shoulder, and a fractured index-finger metacarpal on my right hand. Pain focuses you mind, though. The stress from my situation was dramatically lower than it had been for the last year or so and I was beginning to put a lot of things in perspective. “Finally,” as Mrs. Day would say.

Growing bored with our stalemate, the border guy got more aggressive/inquisitive in his questions. His last question was “Where were you born?” My answer, “******,” (concealed to protect my personal data) was a godawful eastern Kansas town that I’m sure no self-respecting terrorist would know about or pick for any reason. He waved at the crossing gate, which did not need to be raised for me to get around it, and said something like “Get outta here.”

And I did.

June 10 055Michael was waiting not that far from the crossing and seemed to be relieved that we were still traveling together. I think my wife had somehow made him feel responsible for my welfare. He is that kinda guy. The US side of the Top of the World Highway is/was a mud trail. The Canadian side was a pretty decent gravel and asphalt road. It had been raining for days when we crossed and headed down that 4500-foot section of the mountains and it was slipperier than hell. I saw several trucks and motorcycles sunk to their axles and beyond when they had missed a turn. Usually, there was no stopping to help, either. Either because the road was too narrow, too slick, or the dumbass trucker behind me was intent on tailgating me until he slipped off into a ditch himself, I more often just had to keep going. With my injuries, there wasn’t much I could do to help anyone, anyway.

June 10 056The first stop on the US side is Chicken, AK. There isn’t much to see or do in Chicken, except in my case to borrow a hose and blast off a thick coating of mud and clay from my ‘Stich, boots, and the bike. The rear brake was totaled from being coated by mud, but the disk mostly seemed to be newly “machined” by the abrasive material. So, I put a new set of pads on the rear wheel and cleaned things up as best I could. We had lunch at the Chicken Cafe and headed out toward Glenallen. And Glennallen is where we spent the night in a converted railroad car that had been used as housing for the guys who built the Alaska Pipeline. The next day, Michael headed for the ferry to Juneau and I met up with my son-in-law’s cousin.

Jun 29, 2022

The High Cost of Being Stupid

Figure 1 - The basic graphAbout a year into the pandemic, I was marveling at the anti-vaxers willingness to test their own immune systems often followed by their panicked attempts to jump to the head of the line in healthcare and even begging for a vaccine after being hospitalized and even just before going on a ventilator. My friend said, “Stupidity should not be a death sentence.” And I disagreed. “Stupidity has always been an evolutionary driver behind large scale mortality and morbidity, have you not heard of the Darwin Awards?” “Yeah, that’s true,” he admitted.

In his “The Basic Laws of Stupidity," Carlo M. Cipolla defined a stupid person as “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” Keep that definition in mind as we take another look at loud and illegal exhaust systems.(In the illustration at right, you can see Cipolla’s 4 classifications of human intelligence: Helpless, Intelligent, Bandit, and Stupid. If you follow the link to Cipolla’s article, you can learn a lot more about the characteristics of Stupid.)

Several years ago (2008, to be exact), I foolishly and optimistically wrote a Geezer column for MMM titled “Hearing Damage and Motorcycling.” I had some wild hope that there was a rational way to get motorcyclists to think about how much damage they were doing to themselves while they were irritating everyone else on the planet. I thought this statistic would be an eye-opener, “My generation, the Boomers, is experiencing a higher rate of hearing damage than our parents suffer at their more advanced age and the generation following us is even worse hit by hearing loss. The reason is noise exposure.” Not a chance. When I wrote that article, I owned about $10,000 worth of professional audio test equipment and had access to multiples of that number through my employer (a music school), friends in the audio testing industry, and professional relationships. Nothing I experimented with gave me any significant different data than my own gear. Riding a motorcycle is tough on your hearing, even if you are careful: good quality full-face helmet, high quality ear plugs, and a quiet motorcycle preferably with a decent fairing. Change any of those 3 decisions and you are gambling with your hearing. Once you’ve damaged your hearing, you are unlikely to live long enough for medicine or technology to bring it back.

My wife, for example, is definitely not stupid although she often falls into Cipolla’s “helpless” quadrant. She worked as a professional sculptor for 40-some years, which means she spent a lot of time with a Sawzall and shop grinders. She stubbornly resisted hearing protection for at least 30 years. Today, if she’s watching a movie or television, captions are always on. She misunderstands practically everything said to her, often comically. In any kind of crowd, the conversations around her are worse than meaningless. In the last decade or so she became almost meticulous about wearing hearing protection, the big earmuff things, but it’s too late. It doesn’t hurt to start protecting your hearing anytime, but once there is damage it will only get worse.

I was goofing off in downtown Red Wing yesterday when a pack of biker goobers and a couple of unnecessarily noisy diesel pickups went by. As usual, the noisemakers got the disgusted stare from bystanders that they so desperately crave, but it struck me that as awful as those vehicles sounded at 100’, they were at least 10-20 decibels louder on the bikes or in the truck. The inverse distance law of sound pressure decay masks that one obvious even to the math-disabled. For the motorcyclists, it might even be worse because so much of the exhaust noise that they are so proud of is field-restricted by the road under the noise generator, which means substantially more sound pressure is directed upward toward the rider rather than omnidirectionally toward the intended bystanding victims.

Since I started riding street bikes in 1979 I’ve owned three motorcycles with illegal aftermarket exhaust systems. I bought them used and they came with that crap installed by the original owners: a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM with a Kerker exhaust and a 1999 Suzuki SV650 with an even noisier Two Brother’s Two-into-One M2-Oval Exhaust System and my beautiful Yamaha WR250X that came with a hacked up stock pipe. The TDM also came with the stock pipe, so I yanked the Kerker, sold it, and bought something useful with the money. The WR and SV’s original owners had tossed the stock pipe, but I found a super-cheap stock pipe on Craig’s List and sold the Two Brothers POS a couple of years later. I just tossed the hacked-up WR pipe. What I learned from those experiences is that all that noise did make me feel like I was going faster than I was (as The Marching Morons author predicted 70 years ago) and that riding either of those otherwise terrific motorcycles more than a couple hundred miles in a day was torture. The fatigue that kind of noise produces is uncomfortable and dangerous.

Which brings me to my point about the connection between illegal, noisy exhaust systems and stupid people. Yes, they are making a statement that they are untouchable by the law; which are often biker gangbangers themselves. Yes, they are irritating everyone they ride anywhere near. However, they are also driving themselves deaf in the process and deserve absolutely no sympathy when that bill comes due. So, in Cipolla’s terms, Stupid bikers are definitely doing lots of damage to the peace and quiet of every place they ride, and even causing some actual physical harm to those close enough for hazardous noise exposure. But bikers are “deriving no gain” from their noisemaking as every statistic on the planet demonstrates that loud bikes receive no safety benefit from their noise and, in fact, those same people are over-represented in crash, morbidity, and mortality statistics and for all of that the bikers are also making themselves deaf in the process.

That, my friends, is stupid.

Jun 25, 2022

I Am Jealous After All

While I was in my backyard working on one of my wife’s godawful honey-do projects, a couple of mostly bald, scroungy pony-tailed, noisy and blatantly incompetent Hardly goobers fell over in the driveway of the abandoned dump next door. For some reason, one of the geezers felt the need to adjust something, probably his truss, in this very large and pretty damn flat driveway and instead of parking he decided to fall over “Laugh-In Tricycle” style. The other Willy Nelson-wanna-be followed his bro into the driveway, bumped into the first downed bike and fell over in the opposite direction with his pony tail dangling well into the outside tire track on our country road. I listened to them bitch and moan and struggle to get out from under their hippobikes and after about ten minutes they were back in Greasy Rider mode and on their way to the nearest bar. Not only did they not look even a little embarrassed during the whole episode, but they kinda had that arrogant, biker-badass scowl on their faces as they wobbled down the road.

I, for one, am jealous. If I were that oblivious to how ridiculous I look, I’d fuckin’ wear a Speedo to the damn grocery store. Nothing else. My wife said if she had that kind of self-confidence she wear a see-thru blouse and a mini-skirt to City Council meetings. These guys really think people are looking at them thinking “Wow! That dude sure is cool!” Trust me, they aren’t especially if they have shout to hear themselves think.

I know bikers think I look like a “fuckin’ spaceman” in my Aerostich gear, but who cares what they think? They are more often bloody grease spots littered all over our country roads and city streets, so their sense of style is mostly a comedy act as best I can tell. But it is hard to top that kind of oblivious confidence.

Apr 29, 2022

A Dog's Life

I began writing this piece on 4/19/2022. I plan to work on it until our close friend, Gypsy dies. It isn’t a journal of those sad days. It is intended to be an obituary of the most amazing non-human life I have ever experienced. Gypsy died on 4/29/2022 at about 12:30PM. In death, as in life, she did her best to be as thoughtful as possible.

This week, as I begin to write this essay, which is very likely to become an obituary, Mrs. Day and I are watching the last days of our 15-year-old best friend, Gypsy, play out. She joined our family, often as the smartest member, a little more than 14 years ago, near Mrs. Day’s birthday in September, 2007. She was a shelter dog and she and a sister had been caged convicts in a puppy mill that the Minneapolis SPCA had raided a few weeks earlier. Gypsy looked like a cross between an Australian Shepherd and a Blue Heeler, so that’s what we described her as her whole life. Her sister appeared to be a classic, black and white spotted Australian Shepherd. Both dogs were being treated well by the adoption agency where Mrs. Day found her and they appeared to be calm, friendly, and intelligent. It could have been a quarter-flip as to which dog we picked, but Mrs. Day really liked the Heeler color and markings. So, we went home with Gypsy (the name Mrs. Day gave her, not the name the shelter had given her). Our previous dog, Puck, who had lived with our daughter’s family for a few years, had died a few days earlier and Mrs. Day was convinced our granddaughter needed a dog to live with. I still hadn’t finished mourning the dog before Puck, a chow mix who had died 5 years earlier. I doubt that I would have ever brought another animal into my life if Mrs. Day weren’t so resolute that we “needed” one.

The ride home was a warning of what the next 15 years would be like. Gypsy whined, shivered, and paced frantically in the back seat of the car all the way home. As soon as the car stopped and she jumped out, she was “normal” again. For at least 15,000 miles of our lives, Gypsy put on that same show every time she was in a moving vehicle of any sort. She was terrible to travel with by vehicle. If we’d have wanted to walk from Minnesota to California, Gypsy would have been all for it.

The first day Gypsy was introduced to our household, she knew she belonged there and did not ever want to leave. We had a cat at the time, Spike. Spike was a neutered male who pretty much thought he owned the house. When we first got him, Puck was already part of our household. Puck accepted that kitten as if they’d known each other their whole lives. Likewise, when Gypsy arrived terrified, shy, and confused. Spike took a good look at her and walked away, back to his usual routine. Until the day Spike took off on us, after about a week living in our camper, they were the closest of animal friends. I am not lying here, but I wouldn’t believe it if you told this story to me: Spike would catch and kill rabbits, squirrels, and other wildlife in our Little Canada backyard and deliver them to Gypsy to devour for the cat’s entertainment. I really wish I’d have taken a picture of that behavior. Spike would just drop the dead animal at Gypsy’s feet and she’d make the prey vanish as if it had never existed. Barely a puff of fur left over, at most. When our most recent cat, Doctor Zogar, came into our family, Gypsy gave that nasty little brat the same kind of generous welcome Spike had given her. Gypsy played with both cats as energetically as if they were all kittens from the same mother, but she was always careful not to hurt them. I can’t say that care was repaid with any sort of kindness by Zogar. (Who I always called “Stinker.”) Zogar regularly spiked Gypsy’s nose and tried for eyes occasionally. I never hit Gypsy in anger, ever, but I batted that damn cat across the room fairly often when he hurt my dog.

Mrs. Day took her for a walk in our Little Canada neighborhood that first afternoon and Gypsy slipped her collar and ran off several blocks from home. Mrs. Day was convinced her $300 “investment” had run off and vanished on the first day, but Gypsy was waiting on the front porch when Mrs. Day came home. For several weeks, Gypsy didn’t want to leave the house and had to be forced out the door into the backyard to relieve herself. If we weren’t quick enough, she had decided the area in front of my office closet was a satisfactory “bathroom.” In a few days, the carpet and floor under the carpet were ruined.

We had a fenced yard, but she was unhappy inside that fence. So, I bought a “wireless fence containment system”: essentially a transmitter with a shock collar. I sent the collar to the lowest shock setting and walked her around the wireless fence perimeter, which I’d marked with flags. She freaked out at the first shock and we only stayed near the border long enough for the collar to beep after that. We did the same routine the next day, without the shock and she had it figured out. From then on, she was the smartest animal any of us had ever known. She marked out exactly the boundaries of her electronic “fence” and patrolled that area like a military guard. She did discover, much later, if she ran through the border and kept running down to the lake shore she’d either escape the shock or it would be brief enough not to be a problem. She rarely did that, though.

In December of 2011, I had a full hip replacement. I was determined to be mobile again in time for the 2012 motorcycle safety training season, which would start in mid-May for me. I had even loftier, less realistic goals for before that deadline and I was slowly failing to meet any of those targets thanks to pain and Minnesota winter. By then, Gypsy was a spectacular Frisbee dog along with several dozen other amazing tricks and behaviors; including being able to jump into my outstretched arms on command, leap head-high (to me) to snag any object out of my hands in a running, flying leap, and jump on to any reasonable object around 5’ high from a standing start. One of my favorites was called “go ‘round.” On that command, Gypsy would run the perimeter of our yard full blast, which was as fast as I have ever seen any animal run. I’d seen something like that in the sheep dog demonstrations at the fair and Renaissance Fairs. My grandson helped teach her the trick by running ahead of her until she figured out the routine. Then, no one alive could have kept up with her let alone lead her. She was the dog I’d dreamed about when I didn’t even know I liked dogs. (I delivered newspapers as a kid and read water meters for the City of Dallas for 3 years. At the end of those experiences, dogs were never high on my list of interests.)

So, as I was struggling with maintaining my rehab discipline I kept up our afternoon walks and tried tossing her the Frisbee. The problem with the Frisbee was that I had initially trained Gypsy to drop the Frisbees at my feet. We would sometimes do a kind of relay toss where I’d flip her a Frisbee 15’-20’ out and she’d return it on the run, drop it at my feet, and keep running in the same direction where I’d toss her another Frisbee. (I wish someone had video recorded us doing those things, but I’m the only person in my family who knows how to use a damn camera.) After the hip surgery, bending over to pickup a Frisbee from the ground was close to impossible. Gypsy figured that out on her own and started handing me the Frisbees about waist-high. That became a huge, incredibly distracting and enjoyable part of my daily physical therapy and, thanks to my dog, I was back walking 11 miles a day and teaching a full schedule of motorcycle classes in early May of 2012. My dog was my best, most dedicated, most sympathetic physical therapist and I can only hope I never need that kind of help again because she won’t be there to take care of me.

If you are one of those unperceptive, species-centric goobers who believes that animals do not have a sense of humor, Gypsy would have laughed in your face and you would have to be a complete fool not to know it. She had a wonderful laugh and a smile that was, literally, ear-to-ear. Her joy in running, jumping, wrestling, and performing her many tricks/behaviors was undeniable. On my worst, darkest depressed moments, Gypsy could make me smile and laugh. As happy as she often made me, I don’t think I ever realized how sad I would be at the end of our life together. As I write this, I feel like my head is overfilling with tears and sorrow. It physically hurts as badly as the worst headache I have ever experienced. I can’t imagine being willing to go through this ever again.

Gypsy had so many tricks (“behaviors” for the politically correct crowd) and she’d taught herself most of them. Speaking of the sense of humor, one of the first things she did was when someone would say “cute face,” she’d cover her face with both paws and act shy. That unmistakable guffaw would often follow that if someone would pet her and talk baby talk at her. She had the most gregarious hand-shake of any animal on the planet. She would raise her right paw even with the top of her head and swing it into your hand to shake. It looked like she was someone almost impossibly happy to meet you. The usual “roll over,” “sit,” “lay down,” “stay,” “speak,” and dozens of other words and actions were almost naturally in her vocabulary. We had to spell words like “walk,” “hike,” “go out,” “outside,” and anything else that might imply going for a walk or she would be whining at the door, looking up at her leash, waiting to go for a walk. Like most dogs of her breed, “heel” was a tough command to obey. She could do it, but she’d much rather take off to the end of her leash and nose about. Early on, she was a plow horse but she learned that obeying “don’t pull” got her a lot more freedom. She also understood “right” and “left” even off of the leash.

While Gypsy might have been the worst traveling companion possible, whining in spectacularly irritating and painful ways non-stop for whatever the length of the car ride, she was the best camp dog imaginable. She was fearlessly protective of Mrs. Day (as seen at left worrying about Mrs. Day on the back of a horse) and kept us aware of everything and everyone who came near our campsites 24-hours/day. She slept at the foot of our camper bed, every night, and always seemed to have one eye open for threats. Once, when she was tried to the bumper of our camper, a coyote had the gall to try and cross the outside edge of our campsite and Gypsy nearly pulled the camper uphill to get at the coyote. The coyote ran away with the knowledge that he’d have been in a fight to the death if Gypsy had gotten loose. People, however, were automatically given a pass unless Mrs. Day seemed nervous. And she was always ready to go for a walk, on a leash or not, and delighted to do it.

She liked everyone and loved many. For most of her life, she was free to roam our backyard and when delivery people came into the yard to drop off packages, she was always quiet and friendly. Many of them came to like leaving packages at our home because they got to visit with Gypsy. Deer, rabbits, and squirrels, not so much. One of my favorite indoor activities was, when I would spot a squirrel attempting to mangle one of my bird feeders, I’d let Gypsy out into the yard and say “squirrel!” She’d dash into the yard, looking for squirrels, and chasing any who were dumb enough to ignore her into the trees, over the fence, or up the hill into the woods. She loved terrorizing squirrels and rabbits and would not tolerate deer or other large wildlife in her yard. Mrs. Day’s hostas will likely be substantially less lush without their guardian.

Her will to live is inspiring. As of today, April 25th, she can’t eat or drink anything without throwing it back up. Her energy is a microscopic fraction of what it was a week ago and she was a shadow of herself then. Every morning, she drags herself out of bed and walks to the back door to be let out. (Yes, she has always been smart enough to know where her home is and did not need a fenced yard or tether until the last couple of weeks.) She is mostly operating on habit, since she isn’t ingesting anything she rarely expels anything. It is very much like she doesn’t want to inconvenience us with the process of her dying. If you are one of those who believe dogs are incapable of love, I can’t imagine what I could say to you. Even when she is on her last legs, she would rather sleep on the floor near Mrs. Day than in a comfortable bed in the living room. She has a bed in the bedroom, too, but in these final days she wasn’t to be closer.

Gypsy died today, 4/29/2022, at about 12:30PM. She had a rough night, mostly waking up and thinking she was alone. She didn’t seem to be in pain. For the 2nd time in the life we’ve known her, she soiled herself last night and when I carried her outside to lie on the deck bench she was still responsive but had no strength at all. She couldn’t even hold her head up and I had to carry her like a baby, supporting her head when I laid her down. We went for our last walk 10 days ago, it that one didn’t last long due to her strength. The day before, we walked almost a mile and she was slow but still moving well at the end of that walk.

Her will to live throughout all of this miserable week was inspiring and humbling. She did not want to give up and we did not feel that we had the right to make that decision for her. She was struggling out of her bed and staggering to the back door to be let out up to Tuesday evening. Wednesday, I carried her out after she was able to get up but couldn’t walk without falling down. We stood in the backyard for a while, listening to birds and night sounds, but she needed to lean on his leg to stay upright. Thursday, she soiled herself and wet the bed overnight. She was conscious most of yesterday and responded to being touched and our voices, but we think she was in a coma most of the day.

Last night, we left her in a bed we’d made for her in the living room but about midnight just as I was going to bed she started whining for the first time in a week (Gypsy whined a lot, that was her “voice” for communication, so the silence over this past week has been weird.) and we laid down beside her. That was what she wanted. I carried her into the bedroom where she had a “bed” and she was fine most of the night, but she woke up twice afraid and I comforted her until she was quiet. I honestly think Mrs. Day’s snoring helped keep her calm for most of the night. Me, not so much.

She seemed to be comfortable on the outside bench and she was there for about 4 hours before I discovered she had kicked off one of the blankets and died. She had been alone for about 5 minutes. I guess she was being considerate to the end.

Life is short, precious, and painful. And if you are as special as our dog, when you go your loved ones will miss you desperately.