Jun 28, 2009

Ride a KTM Day

Every once in a while an extra cool reason to teach MSF classes comes along. June 28th was one of those days. Some time ago, I signed up for a day of riding new KTM bikes at the DTCC police driving range. I'd almost forgotten about it in preparation for my North Dakota trip. Good old Outlook reminded me the day before the event that I was supposed to be riding motorcycles the next day.

I haven't had much exposure to KTM since the KTM logo was practically hidden under the Penton brand. When I was in Bismarck, ND, I stumbled on to the Cycle Hutt, a huge KTM dealer, and saw more KTM bikes than I've seen in 25 years. It wasn't that long ago, that every enduro and motocross would be jammed with Penton/KTM two strokes. Ok, it wasn't that long ago by my timetable. Since KTM yanked the Penton name from their motorcycles, regaining the momentum their motorcycle brand once had has been a long, slow struggle. Obviously, from the 2004 KTM screw-up in The Long Way Round and after alienating their diehard Penton fan base back in the late 70's, KTM's marketing department has demonstrated a serious lack of capability.

With events like the "Ride Orange" promotion, the company may be finding a way to make up for their checkered past. I had a chance to ride a bunch of KTMs: the 990 Adventure, the 990 Super Duke, the 690 Duke, and, my favorite, the 690 SMC Supermoto. It was a lot of fun in a great setting surrounded by really nice people

Jun 27, 2009

One State Tour Recapped

Obviously, from the dates on the previous posts, I'm home and have been for a while. Probably the aftermath of being soaked for 6-out-of-8 days, I'm trying to throw off a flu or cold. Actually, I wasn't soaked, but I was damp all of that time. My Aerostich gear held up fine, my Thor boots were worthless as water protection, and my camping gear was flawless. My 25-year-old North Face tent works as well today as it did when it was considered modern gear. However, I'm a 61-year-old asthmatic with a long history of bronchitis and damp is wet when it comes to testing those ailments.

The little bike didn't work out, it's still dead in the garage while I wait for replacement seals and hope nothing major was damaged when the oil dumped past the countershaft seal. The 650 did fine and I'd have to add some bonus points for the ELKA shock review, since all of the stuff that plagued me in Alaska was there in North Dakota but the bike tracked beautifully. Dirt roads were easy work and deep sand didn't send me into tank slapping conniptions.

The single state tour concept was a total success, in my opinion. Obviously, some states wouldn’t be worth the time or effort, but North Dakota has plenty to see and I could have spent at least two or three more days in Bismarck alone. I wish I had. That city has a terrific motorcycle and music community and it would have been fun to explore it more. A week in TR’s spectacular National Park wouldn’t have been excessive. I didn’t really do much in the southwestern corner, so I could have spent a couple more days in that area without feeling stalled out or bored. Doubling back to resolve the rear tire problem sort of tossed a wrench into my trip route and I didn’t have the energy to restart that section. Old people are easily worn down. I have always hated retracing my steps and wish that defect were more easily overcome.

I think, from now on, this may be the way for me to go on tour. I met a lot of people, saw a lot of stuff, had time to think about it all, and left when I felt like I was ready to leave. I could still go back for more.

June in ND is pretty amazing. My first time through the state, in 2007, I was impressed. This time was more of the same. In June, the bugs are barely evident, the desert is wet and beautiful, traffic is light, there is no competition for camping, the campgrounds are still clean and the porta-johns are practically empty, and the place is green and as allergen-free as it is likely to get. Getting out before the kids are out of school is the way to go, if you can go that way. June may be my favorite month.

Homeward Bound, ASAP

Monday, I woke to the sound of rain on the tent. I went back to sleep. At 8AM, I gave up waiting out the rain and struck camp wet. It was a little chilly, about 58F, as I packed up but it warmed up quickly. It didn’t dry out, though. I drove a couple hundred miles before breakfast. It rained all the way.

On my way south, I hit a couple of museums and took pictures of myself next to Minnesota stuff, but I was ready to be home by noon.

My route took me through Hibbing, mostly out of Bob Dylan curiosity. The town is amazingly devoid of anything Dylan-esque. There is one street sign, hidden by a business awning, announcing “Bob Dylan Avenue.” The library has a “collection” of Dylan stuff, but every Dylan fan I know has more stuff than that library. There is a bar called, “Zimmies” that announces some connection to Bobby, but I failed to see anything interesting and their window neon signs are probably the proudest the place gets to showing its association.

Here’s what The R&R Hall of Fame has to say about Bobby, “Bob Dylan is the uncontested poet laureate of the rock and roll era and the pre-eminent singer/songwriter of modern times.” Before they discovered Dylan, the Beatles were singing “Love, Love Me Do.” After Dylan (through the Byrds), they became interesting. Dylan invented the singer/songwriter category and made us all expect songwriting from any pop artist deserving respect. I could go on, but to cut it short I’ll just say Hibbing embarrasses itself.

Minnesota is notoriously ashamed of or jealous of its famous people; especially entertainment people. Dylan, Garrison Keillor., Johnny Lang, the Cohen brothers, Terry Gilliam, Vince Vaughn, and others have described nearly becoming social outcasts because of their success. I don’t think any of those people still live in Minnesota. In fact, the only celebrity I know of in Minnesota is Kevin McHale, the ex-Timberwolves coach, and he’s regularly savaged in the media and by fans. Homer loyalty doesn’t seem to be a big issue in the state.

It’s pretty easy to imagine Dylan’s ex-high school jocks taking over the town and demonstrating the famous Minnesota jealousy at Dylan’s massive success and world-wide influence. A “damn guitar-playin' geek” who became more famous than the state's most famous football or hockey player?

When I dropped into the Duluth/Lake Superior Valley, I could have sworn the temperature fell near freezing. I zipped up everything and considered putting on my liner. It was only 48F, but it felt much colder. I stopped at RiderWearHouse and got a tear in my jacket repaired and bought a fix for the weak link in my riding gear, my leaky “Goretex” lined boots. Aerostich makes an “Emergency Boot Cover” that does for my feet what their Triple Digit Glover Covers did for my hands. Better late than never? We’ll see.

The End of North Dakota

Nothing is open at 6AM in northeastern North Dakota, so I put in a 110 miles before breakfast. The bike was barely warmed up before I passed Rock Lake. That town’s campsite is on the lake, in a pristine location, with a decent john and showers. Freakin’ perfect.

I have a couple of ND roads to hit and a historic site and a scenic highway or two: Pembina Gorge, the Rendezvous Region Scenic Byway, and the Icelandic State Park. I’ll be back in Minnesota before the day is over.

I ripped through the recommended northeastern scenic byways, both of which were nice but required traveling through an awful lot of boring farmed plains to get to. Considering the pain required to see those spots, the phrase “fly-over territory” comes to mind. Stepping disks or teleporting would be a nice alternative to flying.

There is nothing to experience in the in-between territory and way too many opportunities to be dosed by commercial farming chemicals. I ought to repel or kill bugs and be weed-free for a couple of years now. Anyone who doesn’t think farming is industry has not spent time near farms. Between the animal factories (feed lots) and the plant factories (corn fields), there are enough chemicals, pollutants, and environmental hazards to make General Motors and 3M executives to feel good about themselves.

To test my luck and to get a picture, I went right up to the border crossing before turning south and east to go into Minnesota. After hitting the absolute northeastern tip of North Dakota, I crossed the river into Minnesota. My target for the night is the nation’s “ice box,” International Falls, Minnesota. When ever friends in other places hear about Minnesota, it’s almost always during the winter when International Falls sets the nation’s cold temperature records. It’s often colder in International Falls than most of Alaska. -50oF is sunbathing weather in January.

A clue to the area came at Roseau, a small college and tourist town that I hear about occasionally as part of the state’s MSF program. On the western edge of Roseau, I passed a really nice off-road motorcycle park, complete with big jumps, triple whoops, and some water crossings. Now I’m jealous. Roseau appears to be a healthy, middle-class Midwestern town. Much larger and much more urban than I expected.

I’ve wondered what this area would be like since moving to Minnesota. In January, when International Falls is regularly the coldest place in the States, I often get calls and email from friends asking, “How the hell can you live in that place?” International Falls is regularly 40oF colder than where I live. Their summer lasts about 2 fewer months. Their mosquitoes are a couple of pounds larger. They are on the boundary of Canada and the States, which is why their national park is called the Boundary Waters National Park.

I anticipated International Falls being like most of the small towns I know in Nebraska, especially the dying part. International Falls appears to be a prosperous, lively town with a decent middle class, industry (Marvin Windows), and a strong tourist and sporting trade.

It began to rain the moment I entered the city limits, at about 8PM. My butt was sore and I was in no mood for playing tourist. I found a cheap campsite on the edge of town, set up camp, and died for the night at 9PM.

Jun 23, 2009

Cruising through Oil Fields and Forests

I did the tourist bit out of Roosevelt park, took some pictures, walked some distance, and had fun owning the park road at 6AM. Heading north. I got up close and personal with a small herd of buffalo who weren't particularly intimidated by me or my motorcycle.

I took in a collection of ND scenic roads and crossed a hell of a lot of boring plains (sorry, if I’ve offended boring plains lovers).

I ended up passing the International Peace Garden without seeing a sign announcing its existence. That put me in Rolla at quitting time. Rolla is one of those “boarder towns” that is on the edge of vanishing or growing. Unlike Bottineau or Langdon or a few other places I’ve passed that seem to be immune to small town entropy. I haven’t made the slightest attempt at keeping score, but it feels like North Dakota is mostly holding its own, rather than dying as some have reported. Some of the northwestern oil towns are booming, which could be good and could be bad since the oil reserves are pretty shaky for a long term bet.

30 years ago, a geophysicist used a bowl of spaghetti noodles to explain oil resources to me. He said, “When the bowl is full, you can stick a fork anywhere in the bowl and you’ll get spaghetti. When it empties out, you have to get creative with the fork to pick up a noodle.” North Dakotans brag that the “new fields” in the northwest are being drained by “drilling down two miles and across another two miles.” First, they aren't new discoveries. Oil geologists have known about the Bakken Formation reserves for a long, long time. We just didn't have the technology or need to drill for anything that complicated. I’d say a 2x2 mile drill routine is about as close to extremes of getting “creative with the fork” as I can imagine. The next tactic must be really close to swabbing down the bowl with a piece of bread to completely sterilize the bowl/planet of that resource.

When we are that desperate, it’s pretty obvious that the end is in sight. I wonder if there is any thought at all of saving some of this material for future generations? I wonder if we even consider our own kids a “future generation?” We seem to be desperate to strip the planet in a single generation. I suppose that's always been true, though. Clearly the Pennslyvania, Texas, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas fields have been worked dry with the same "efficiency."

Rolla was an experience. The only campground in town is the town camp at the fair grounds. It looks pretty desolate, with 8 camper hookups and no provision for tent camping. A sign says, “Pay for the site at the Sinclair station.” I found the station at the edge of town and paid my $15. The kid at the station said there was a “white building with hot showers and bathrooms near the campground. I went back, set up my tent, set out my gear to dry in the twilight and set out to find the showers. I struck out. I was about to explore another corner of the fair grounds when a cop came through the parking lot. I asked him where the showers were and he pointed at a pile of dirt and a backhoe, “It was there until yesterday. I don’t know what they’re planning to do with the campground.”

I’m hot, sweaty, and shower-less. The cop offered to open up the town hall for me to use the sink. He did. I did. Afterwards, I tried to cool down by doing a little camping maintenance and writing and was constantly interrupted by a group of kids who seemed to think I was there to entertain and supply them. I gave up and hid in my tent, reading, until the sun went down and I was comforted to sleep by a halogen light that blasted through my tent walls all night. Now that's fine camping. No wonder my wife always finds something else to do when I want to hit the road with her.

The Arrogance of Blogging.

The whole journaling/blogging thing is really arrogant, isn’t it? It’s a pretty New-Agey-sort-of-idea-gone-mid-tech; which makes all the right wing journals seem funnier than usual. “Journaling” is the kind of crap that English majors substitute for actually writing something that others might want to read. I have first hand experience, trust me. Once a writer turns into an author and mutates even further into a “famous author,” wannabe writers expend a lot of energy reading the famous author’s journals looking for a clue into becoming one themselves. I’ve found that to be pretty fruitless work. With the “advent of the blog,” any damn fool can pretend to have passed Go and moved right into having something worthwhile to say. And here I am.

While I was at the North Dakota Heritage Center (a pretty New Agey title itself), I read a collection of journal entries from a private at one of the remote North Dakota forts (Is there any other kind, “remote” I mean?). When he was first posted to the fort, he wrote quite a bit. He introduced his audience to the other soldiers. He described the fort, the daily tasks, the occasional sightings of Indians, the wild life, and the weather and the bleak scenery. After a couple of months, he was down to “this guy is in the brig, this guy is on watch, it’s cold as hell today.”

One of the reasons I do these sometimes-painful solo trips is for inspiration. As I crossed the great North Dakota plains, an entire story wrapped around that soldier’s journal played out in my head, complete with soundtrack. I’ll let you know how that works out for me. Maybe it will be my route to “famous author.” Hell, I’d settle for author-of-anything at this late date in my life.
I can sympathize with that private. At the two ends of a life, boredom and excitement, it’s hard to talk about what’s going on in your day because it’s either too boring to think about or taking the time to write takes time away from doing that exciting thing you’re on the road to be doing. I write while I’m eating. It slows down my usual digestive habits and there is usually nothing interesting to look at in a restaurant. Usually.

Jun 20, 2009

Got Friday on My Mind

I don’t even know how to begin describing this day of the trip. It started nicely--clear sky, light wind, and dry—and went so far uphill I thought I might be dead. Fats Waller supposedly used to say, when he was really rockin’, “Somebody shoot me while I’m feeling good.” Friday, I should have been shot.

I hit the road with a questionable back tire. It was good enough to get me home, for sure, but I hoped to rack up another 1500 miles before going home. It is, maybe, not that good. Probably not.

So, I decided to try for Lee Klapprodt’s favorite shop, the Cycle Hutt the internet home for all things KTM, and see if they had a tire that might work. I’d take almost anything that would fit, if it’s not adventuring touring it will be a perfectly fine road tire and I’ll just stick to the road. I am such a retard, I hooked up on the Interstate and managed to stay on the long worm about 20 miles, I got bored, got off, and aimed for a frontage road that paralleled the freeway. In about a dozen miles, that road degenerated into a knarly, wet clay path that put an exclamation point on my failing tire. It also hurried the failure a bit, I’m afraid.

I arrive at Mandan at about 7:15AM and drive by the Cycle Hutt just to check out their opening time and someone is there, Tami Bohn the co-owner of the shop. Mentioning Lee’s name is like flashing a $100 bill at a New York cop. After describing how much everyone at Cycle Hutt “loves” Lee, Tami tells me the store isn’t open, but it will be at 9AM and she’ll have the mechanic look for a tire for me then. She sends me to a great place for breakfast (another place Lee recommended) and I lose a half-hour zoning out eating, writing, and reading.

My waitress asks the guy at the table in front of me, “Are you looking for a tire?”

He says “no” and I say “yes.”

She tells me, “They have a tire for you.” She doesn’t know what that means, but I do.

Now I’m solidly relaxed and absorbed in my reading. I show “patience” and don’t leave for the shop until 8:30, a half hour before they open. This is obviously one of the places where everyone likes to work because a good bit of the shop is there when I get there.

Tami asks if I got the message, and apologizes, “We don’t have a tire your size.” But she tells me I can look at their stock and see if something might work. They might have a half-dozen tires to choose from. One of them is a 150/70-R17 Metzler Tourance, exactly the tire I need. It’s set aside for me and the mechanic, Chad, will install it when he gets to work.

I’m set, so I screw about in the store looking for stuff to buy that I don’t need. The other owner, Justin Bohn (Tami’s husband), and I get into a conversation about work in Antartica, the dismal economy, motorcycles, and . . . music. When he hears about my other life, he insists I call an occasional customer of his, Denny Delzer. After wasting an hour of Justin’s and a good bit of his employees’ time, I am ready to go.

Almost out of obligation to Justin, I call Denny. He invites me to his shop and that digression was the second really good thing to happen to me that Friday. Denny is a connoisseur of all sorts of collectible objects: hot rods, go-carts, Hammond organs, and motorcycles. He is, in fact, a fairly famous Vincent collector. He is also incredibly generous with his time. He gave me the $1 tour around his shop, let me ogle his motorcycles (you’ll be disgusted to know I particularly lusted after a mid-70’s Yamaha IT200 dirt bike, not the Vincents), and he was exceptionally generous with technical information about his Hammond organs. I have always loved the sound of the Hammond and I’ve wanted to hear more about how they work from an expert for decades.

Denny has four B3’s crated up and ready to ship to Hong Kong. He does a fairly brisk internet business and Billy Joel and Greg Allman are some of his more recent well-known customers.

Denny described the collector’s mindset as an attempt at explanation, “Once you have one, you may as well get another.” This was how he described how an otherwise reasonable person having collected several Vincent’s, a couple of Yamaha IT dirt bikes, a few go-carts, fifty or sixty Hammond organs and even more Leslie speaker cabinets. If you’re going to collect something, you might as well make some money out of it, which inspired Denny’s business: B3Hammond (http://www.b3hammond.com/).

After the shop tour, Denny invited me to his home to see his priced Dick Busby-built Egli-framed Vincent. Denny was between hanging out with his grandkids from Florida and setting up for a gig with his band later that evening, but he blew another hour with me showing me his hot rods, his Vincent, another 70’s Yamaha IT, and . . . sending me off for a short ride on the Egli. Before leaving and after I returned, Denny took pictures; one of which is to the right.

If he knew me better, he’d have asked for a huge security deposit. I’m renowned for my kultziness around expensive things. I managed to struggle through right-side shift and one-up-and-four-down Euro-ness, but I got tricky and tried to swing back to his place through the neighborhood, instead of simply turning around and coming back the way I’d gone, as Denny had advised. I got lost in the zillions of cul de sacs and, finally, gave up and tried to turn around. In a car-jammed deadend street, on a hill, I stalled the Vincent. The bike will absolutely not idle. Luckily, it is electric start. Not so luckily, it took a bit of figuring out to make the electric start do its starting thing. Fortunately, due to the Cheap Bike Challenge, I’d recently dealt with a vintage electric starting routine on the Honda 450 and we got going again. After what must have felt like a decade to Denny, I made it back up his driveway and returned the Vincent to its more capable owner. Now, I can say I’ve ridden a Vincent. And I didn’t crash it. You guess which of those two was more important to me.

The ride out of Bismarck was sort of a letdown. I was going through some terrific territory, but I didn’t do everything I should have done in the city; especially visiting the offices of Vintage Guitar Magazine. Oh well, a reason to return someday soon.

Once I’m out of town, I’m in the plains heading northwest. My target is the north Teddy Roseveldt park, where I’ll camp tonight. My route is too convoluted to describe. I’ll put up a map someday. I had a collection of suggested roads and historic highlights that Denny and Lee had provided and I hit about 2/3 of them. It was a great ride, I’ll have several scenes stuck in my mind for the rest of my life, and after setting up camp and taking a short sundown walk through a tiny section of the park, I was out like a deadman.

Jun 18, 2009

Waking Up Pissed

First thing (5:30AM), Thursday morning I wake up to the sound of a small motor. Just my luck, I’m two sites away from a sump pump. I put in my ear plugs and sleep till seven. The day started clear and warm, but cooled off by 7:30AM and clouded up quickly. So much for a second sunny day in North Dakota.

Turns out, it wasn’t a sump pump. It was a pair of douchbags firing up an ancient generator for some brain dead reason; probably wanted to watch old VCR tapes of their favorite Oprah shows. These same geniuses yakked late into the night, jabbering like a pair of old drunken hens. If you know who these trailer trash yokels are, smack 'em in the head just to hear it rattle.

Before leaving, I took in the reconstructed Mandam village and a bit of the old fort, especially the lookout towers at the top of the park. The reconstruction of the Abraham Lincoln Fort is a little sterile, but the Mandam houses are terrific.

Going south on 1806, I was washed in a constant hard rain all the way to the Cannon Ball River. As usual for long trips, I over-estimated the condition of my rear tire and it’s vanishing quickly. Instead of the route I’d planned, I decided to head west to catch the Enchanted Highway back to the Interstate and, if the tire looks really bad, I’ll go back to Bismarck and get a replacement.

At the Enchanted Highway, the sky looks like hell about to drop on earth. There is a dark grey wall moving east fast and pouring rain as hard as I’ve ever seen in the near distance. I found a café in Regent and parked the bike so I could pretend to be hungry and hide out the storm. I got myself inside with about two minutes to spare. The sky did, in fact, fall. Probably because it was holding a few million too many gallons of water.

I'm going to have to look up "enchanted." The highway is pretty interesting, these bird sculptures are 20-30 feet tall. You can see them from a mile away, literally. Somehow, I thought enchanted meant something a little different, though. It's the hillbilly coming out in me.
My back tire is wearing out incredibly fast. I could probably get home fine on it, but I can’t do the other 1500 miles of ND that I’d hoped to see. I’m going back to Bismarck to see if I can snag a replacement.
I’m cold and my freakin’ boots leak like a mosquito net. Why is the only Goretex that works the stuff I get in my Aerostich gear? ND has received more than double the normal rainfall and I suspect I’m lugging a good bit of it in my gear, especially my boots. Tonight, I’m going high tech and I’m going to be spending the night in a motel. I need to warm up and dry off. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to have access to a collection of outlets to charge up all my electronic crap.

A Day at the Museum

Pun intended, get over it.

Third day out and I’m up and cruising by 6AM. At first, I thought about going north to Bismarck and hanging in the big city for a day. Some of the “ghost towns” were disappointing and I wasn’t up for more of that. It was drizzling as I got out of the tent and everything was soaked outside of the tent and bike cover. More motivation for city life, but I decided to head south and west, skipping the three ghost towns on that leg of my trip plan and getting as close to the Missouri River as possible. That turned out to be a killer plan.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"

Ah, beautiful downtown Linton. A city with one stop sign and a full-time cop watching over it to make sure no motorcycles try “something fancy” and make a stop without putting both feet on the ground. The car in front of me didn’t even slow down for the sign, but the cop whipped around behind me and fired off his lights because I made an “unsafe” stop without touching a foot to the ground. In the end, he seemed satisfied with screwing up my rhythm and let me go with a brilliant, well-informed warning about motorcycle safety.

Every encounter I've ever had with a cop reminds me of Junior and Senior High School. Does every school bully eventually end up with a badge? It's too easy to stereotype these guys, but stereotypes are often easy to believe because they turn up in reality so often.

The river valley was wet and spectacular. My camera seemed to be stuck on blue overtones, but it was probably accurate. There was a lot of blue on the horizon, on the water, and in the air.

At the end of my north-bound route, I came to Bismarck. I spent the afternoon checking out ND history at the ND Heritage Center and the original Govenor’s mansion. At 4:30, I met Lee Klapprodt at the capitol and we went for a 180 mile ride north of Bismarck.

Most of his favorite roads are a little “stressed” by the 14” of rain the Bismarck area had received during the last 3 days, so we stayed on pavement for most of the ride. Lee is on a new KTM Adventure and he cuts a pretty quick pace, which I don’t work hard to maintain. I have to make my back tire and the rest of the bike last another 1,500 miles, so I’m not as excitable as Lee. I keep him in sight, though, and we stop often for him to explain the topography, economy, development, and history of the area. He’s a committed North Dakota booster and gives me some insight as to why people live where winters often drop below -40oF.

North Dakota’s economy is clearly not echoing the rest of the country. The state has a lot of energy; coal, oil, wind power, hydroelectric, and biofuel. At least for the next couple of decades, the rest of the country is going to be depending on those resources and that puts the state in a pretty good position. Oil rich places tend to end up being wastelands when the oil is gone. It would be nice to believe that North Dakota can avoid the mistakes of the past. To do that, they better get serious about teaching history to avoid repeating it. I wonder if any state money is going that direction?

At the end of our ride, we came back to Mandam, a Bismarck suburb. Lee took me by his favorite bike shop, the CycleHutt (http://www.cyclehutt.com/). The shop is a KTM-only dealer with a huge lot surrounding the building. They hold events right at the shop; supermoto races, stunter events, and they are building a super-enduro track behind the shop.
Lee ferried me to the Abraham Lincoln Fort State Park where I camped for the night. My first opportunity to set up camp in the dark. A real thrill. It was hot and muggy and the tent was still wet from the past two nights. I haven’t gone to sleep hot for almost a year and don’t know if I can do it, but it cools off fast and I’m out like a light.

Doing the Sheyenne River Valley

Tuesday, I’m up with the birds and out of camp at 6AM. I don’t go far, though. I stopped in Lisbon for breakfast and to watch the first hour of the day’s long rain. I gave up after doing everything I could think of, reading until I was bored, and taking an accounting course via email.

Later, I was in Valley City where the river probably isn’t as prized, since the town was swamped by the Sheyenne in April. There were still sandbags stacked against houses and businesses.
It took me a while to figure out what was going on in Valley City. I stopped at an information center/museum for a map and learned a little about the area. On advice I got at the museum, I went north to the edge of town to see the giant railroad bridge. It's pretty impressive, don't you think?

I ended up the day in, believe it or not, Napoleon, ND. This is truly Mayberry. The main drag was being dredged for new water mains, so the town wasn’t looking its best, but it’s a cool little town with a city pool, a city campground, a couple of good restaurants, and a park full of doves to sing me to sleep. $6/night for “primitive camping” which includes a shower and a couple of bucks and you’re in the pool, too.

Product Review: Oregon Scientific ATC-2K

My experience with this product goes under the heading of "what you should expect to get for little-to-nothing."

The upside to the ATC-2K is that it is inexpensive (~$80 sans memory). The downside is that it is a flaky, unsupported product that works intermittently. The "works intermittently" bit is the motivation for this review.
My ATC-2K problems haven't been as serious as other users and my review will be slightly different due to my application:
My application is as a helmet-cam on a motorcycle tour. The most important thing about any touring gear is reliability. The ATC-2K gets a 2-out-of-5 score on that count. Lots of other users have had problems with formatting the SDRAM card and outright failures of the camera. I have intermittent loss of the data files. For example, today I was riding a particularly cool North Dakota road and I wanted to document a bit of it for a video I'm hoping to make with a friend's music. At the end of the road, the camera was displaying "ON." I don't know what that means, but I'd initated the record function and waited to see the counter ratcheting up before mounting the camera on the helmet. After several attempts with the power button, the camera turned off. When I got to camp, I tried to download the video and discovered the file was nowhere to be found. The really pitiful users' manual suggests that problem might mean the camera recorded the file on the internal RAM, so I pulled the SDRAM and discovered there were two small files in the internal storage. Not my file, though. Windows Explorer said there was 1.4G of used space in storage, but nothing I tried could uncover the data. So, once again, I reformatted the disk to get back the data space.

So much for reliability.

Ergonomically, the ATC-2K is pretty old guy hostile. The setup icons require a microscope, at least for me. My grandson could read them, though. He just couldn't figure out what they meant. After wasting a good while on initial setup, I got pretty much what I expected. The audio is terrible, but it was easy to turn off, once you figured out the microphone icon. Are these guys from 1940's radio? Since I hope to use the video for television production, I had to use the high res (640-480), 30fps mode, which is a RAM burner. Dumping the audio doesn't seem to save any data space, either.

At least from my perspective, there is no way to find any of the buttons wearing gloves. It's hard enough bare fingered. So, setting up a recording session is a bit cumbersome in motorcycle gear. All of my videos start with the same routine; start the camera, put on the gloves, get on the bike, start it up, get going, start doing something worth filming. Gotta love routines.

The upside is the camera is pretty damn water resistant. The mfg claims 50m, but I'm just testing in the rain; a lot of rain. The tiny lens resists gathering rain drops, but it doesn't take much of a drop to distort the lense. The mounting hardware is well thought out and works perfectly on a motorcycle helmet. An additional mounting kit is only $13.

So, it's cheap, hard to use, marginally reliable, and when it works, it's pretty good. Here's a sample, you decide about the "pretty good part."

Jun 15, 2009

Into the Farm

Going into southern North Dakota is nothing like going into the wild. ND is wilder than, say, Kansas, but pretty tame compared to Montana, Wyoming, the Yukon, or Alaska. There are farms everywhere, trucks most places, and little towns in good shape or not all over the southeast corner of North Dakota.

Selfishly, I'm disappointed that ND appears to be doing pretty well. I had a collection of ND "ghost towns" on my route sheet that I'd collected from the web. I don't know where they found their information, but most of the towns appear to be doing ok to pretty well. My first stop, for example, was Dwight; a town that appears to have weathered the worst of its losses and is rebulding. I did, however, find that Garmin's road information (especially the dirt roads) could use a little updating. Trying to get to a couple of these towns via dirt road taught me some useful lessons about turning around in a nasty spot. A lesson I never seem to get enough of.

This mediocre photo is of the third dead end I ran into on my first day. There was a very nice jacuzzi next to the river, but I didn't feel like heating 200 gallons of water with my camp stove, so I didn't take advantage of it.

This was a spot where the 250 would have been really fun, but most of the ride has been better suited for the 650. Even the 100+ miles of dirt roads were mostly better suited to the big bike because of the strong side winds and the generally decent condition of the roads.

Jun 13, 2009

The Best Laid Plans (and mine)

Last Friday, I was feeling confident. I'm a week away from the coolest LD trip I've ever taken and I have everything lined up and set to go. I'm going to explore the backroads, ghost towns, and out-of-the-way places of North Dakota. I've been looking forward to this trip for a year, maybe two. I've installed new everything-that-matters on my 2000 Kawasaki KL250 Super Sherpa (chain and sprockets, tires, brakes, changed the fluids everywhere, rebuilt the rear shock, checked and tightened every bolt, fastener, and clamp). I built a custom touring seat, installed a larger off-road tank, wired up a GPS, sorted out luggage and camping gear, and installed a tweeky-cool headlight. When all that was reassembled, I thought the little bike was ready for a 400 mile shake-down cruise to Duluth.

The North Dakota ride was supposed to be a point of honor demonstration that a little bike can do big things. My route sheet lines out 2500 miles of dirt roads, limited access trails, and tractor ruts, along with a few hundred miles of two lane pavement. After checking everything twice, I fired up the Sherpa to check my new brakes and made it about 5' before the countershaft seal let go, dumping the engine oil out practically instantly. Nobody local had any parts for the Sherpa, so I ordered the seal and other bits on-line. Kawasaki didn't have the parts nationally, so it took all of the week for the seal to arrive. In the meantime, an internet Sherpa expert suggested that I should have replaced the o-ring, too. All I could do was hope he was wrong, since that advice came too late for the parts order.

In the meantime, I started to get my Suzuki V-Strom prepared for a modified version of the trip. No nearly as much dirt, no tractor rut trails, and a way pared down version of the original plan, mostly on two-lane roads.

Two days before the takeoff date, the parts arrive. The seal retention design leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, there is no retention design, other than slipping the seal into the seat and hoping it stays. I'm less than impressed. I install the seal and go for a bicycle ride with my dog, while the Permatex cures.

About three blocks from home, I turn left and the dog goes right and stops and I end up on the asphalt with a two-max-sized bandage rip in my elbow, a road rashed knee, and a severely chastened dog.

After doing a half-assed first aid job on myself, I decided to give the Kawasaki seal a test; it leaks. The expert was right, I should have replaced the o-ring, too.

To be honest, I shouldn't have been surprised. My "luck' with Kawasaki machines has been mediocre, at best. My first Kawi was a 1971 350 Big Horn, one of the lamest, heaviest, worst designed two-strokes in Japanese history. It and I battled out way to the end of the Canadian River Cross Country in 1972, crossing the finish line stuck in 2nd gear, with the forks all but seized, and various bits of the Big Horn littered over the last 100 miles of dry river bed. I sold the bike to a high school kid who promptly took off the silencer and the air filter and siezed the motor in less than 25 miles. He even asked me for a refund afterwards.

My second Kawasaki experience was with the original KLR600, the 1984 model. I didn't have any particular problems with the KLR, but it was the lamest excuse for a motor I've ever experienced and the least dirt-capable dual purpose probably ever built. The German kid who bought the KLR hung on to it for less than 100 miles before he tangled the kickstarter behind his leg, grinding the starter gear for several miles before the transmission blew up. He sued me for the repairs in small claims court and was disappointed when the judge disagreed with his view of responsibility.

My opinion of Kawasaki is only slightly above my opinion of military-industrial manufacturers, especially since Kawasaki Heavy Industries makes products for aerospace, oil tankers and other big ships, and all kinds of equipment where the buyer is often spending someone else's money and is less concerned with quality, reliability, and such things. If the Sherpa hadn't fallen into my hands for a relatively reasonable price, there is no chance that I would have gone looking for a Kawasaki. In fact, I was looking for a DR350 or an XT350 when I fell into the Sherpa. When I get back from North Dakota, I'll be looking again.

The Sherpa is going to have to wait a couple of weeks or more for me to get back to it. In a couple of weeks, I'll have a pair of seals and a pair of o-rings waiting for me and I'll try the repair again. I have to admit, I'm disappointed enough in the bike to be a little soured on it. That's not rational, but there you go. I don't remember claiming to be the only rational human on the planet.

Jun 10, 2009

My Top Ten Bike List #6: 1977 Yamaha IT175D

This list has been a while in construction, mostly because I'm procrastinating. So far, I've listed:

1988 Honda NT650 Hawk
All versions of the Montesa Cota trials bike

All models of the Honda Transalp XL600V
Yamaha's SRX Series (250, 400, & 600cc)
1992 Yamaha 850 TDM

And I'm half-way done. The list is in no particular order, so don't try to invent significance from the fact that I started with a street bike and have ended, so far, with another street bike. Most of the bikes I've loved over the years have been dirt bikes and regardless of how this list plays out, that will always be true. The older I get, the less in love I'm falling with specific motorcycles and the more I look at two-wheels as transportation rather than something more emotional. That means I'm having to drag up those old emotional attachments and apply some kind of value to those memories. Laugh, you damn kids! Wait 'till you're ancient and barely getting around without the help of Jack Daniels and an afternoon nap.

Anyway, number six: the 1977 Yamaha IT175D. This bike was the first motorcycle I'd ridden that I could wheelie easily and long. Don't ask me why, I couldn't explain it to save your life. The IT175D is a lightweight, two-stroke, reed-valved, mono-shocked, six-speed, drum-braked, dual purpose from the days when a bike like this might end up with a license plate in many states (such as Nebraska). No turnsignals, no electric start (no battery), no horn, and I don't remember if it had a brake light, but I suspect it did not.

The ride ripped. Of course, I was still riding a 1974 Rickman 125 when I test rode the IT175, so my opinion was moderated by the mediocre bike I regularly rode. However, the motor was way cool, once you got it off of idle. Maybe the first 1,000 rpm was a little mundane, but the next 10,000 wound up and got the bike moving incredibly quickly. The suspension, by today's standards, was pretty old fashioned but it was amazing in 1977.

Today, I admit the IT looks pretty mundane, but in 1977 I thought the all blue, uber-functional cosemetics were totally hip. Everything about this bike says, "Take me somewhere dirty and let me go fast." My firs ride on the IT was outside of Hastings, Nebraska when a dealer foolishly let me take the bike out for an afternoon under the crazy assumption that because I had a job in 1977 (unlike most everyone in Nebraska that year) I might buy a motorcycle. There was no chance that I would cough up the one-thousand-something it would have required to buy that bike brand new in 1977, but I didn't have the heart to tell the dealer that because. . . he wouldn't have given the bike to play with if he'd have known.

Anyway, I headed out of town via residential streets until I hit a dirt road borded by a nice wide ditch. Once I dropped into the ditch, I started playing with the throttle and discovered I could do a long, balanced wheelie in 2nd gear. I did that for a while until I actually got bored doing something that I'd never been able to do before. So, I shifted to 3rd and kept going. I must have burned up a 1/4 tank doing ditch wheelies. I don't want you to think this bike, all by itself, taught me how to wheelie. I could consistently pull the wheel up and get over large and small objects comfortably on everything from my Rickman ISDT to my godawful Suzuki RL250 trials bike. However, I couldn't think of a reason to do long, obstacle-free exhibition wheelies, so I never bothered to do them. Until the IT175 test ride. That bike pulled the front wheel up and kept it up so easily that I became infatuated with wheelies for part of an afternoon.

After the wheelie experiment, I ended up at a local motocross practice track and took advantage of the IT's monoshock suspension and low weight to turn times close to what I could have managed on the Suzuki RM125 I usually rode at the track. The IT was a lot more fun, though. The extra horsepower on a similar frame made for bigger berm busting, consistently double-jumped whoops, and less time on the pegs as the monoshock sucked up the ripples on the straights and the impact of landings after jumps.

Everything about the IT175 said, "Buy me." I would have if I could have. My long-term allergy of short term credit was all that kept me from putting my name on a dotted line. If I'd have become an IT175 owner, I'd have riddend a lot more enduros, figured out adventuring touring a lot sooner, and I'd have probably hurt myself going over backwards showing off my new wheelie technique.


Jun 4, 2009

Motorcycle Accident Statistics

There are some articles that need repeating. If you haven't seen the Motorcycle Accident Statistics article on webBikeWorld, you should. The original article was well-written and researched, but the reader comments are often far better considered than the source. In fact, if you don't want to take the time to read the original article, skip to the Reader Comments and Owner Feedback near the bottom of the article. Readers such as "J.W.", "E.C.", and "P.S." contributed valuable insight into the cause and effect of motorcycle crashes and deaths.

Jun 2, 2009

Who Wears What on Their Head?

I know, stereotyping people is politically incorrect and the people who most hate political correctness seem to scream the loudest for it when their ox gets gored. Helmets, being the personal and fashion statement that they are are prime candidates for an exercise in profiling. Being the crotchety old bastard that I am, I can't resist the opportunity.

My first and most consistent observation about helmets is, "Those who need it the most object the most strongly."

In a typical basic motorcycle training class, "students" are supposed to show up with their own, DOT-approved helmet. Anything with "DOT' stamped on the back will suffice and the DOT will stamp any damn thing. I have no idea what criteria the DOT uses for coverage, but I suspect the top of the head is all they bother to protect. If a very soft space rock were to fall from the sky and land on top of the owner of one of these sad jokes, it might protect him/her. If the same sad jokester were to flip from his motorcycle, landing on top of his head, skidding to a stop while still balanced on top of his head, this helmet might provide sufficient protection. In any real crash, you might as well be wearing a plastic beanie. Want to take a guess what kind of prospective "motorcyclist" (other than Carrot Top) wears this kind of comedy paraphrenalia?

I'll save you the effort. The owner of this comedy prop is usually 50+ years old, 150 pounds overweight, as uncoordinated and physically incapacitated as South Park's Timmy and missing a mental connection or eleven million. If it's true that a crash is 49% likely to result in a faceplant this kind of helmet is all but worthless. Every once in a while, someone looking just like the dude in the picture makes an appearance. He's always totally confident of his riding ability and is only in class because he can't get his hippobike through the DMV's course. Remember him?

Dropping the bar to ludicrous, we have the Nazi bowl fans. Even dumber, some of the clowns piss on patriotism by putting an American flat sticker on their facist totem. If my father were 40 years younger, I'd like to introduce these clowns to someone who sacrificed a good bit of himself to stomp out this symbol and the evil it represents. As it is, I make it a point to remind them of who they are celebrating and my best guess why and let them babble their excuses for worshing evil. Honestly, I'd rather these characters didn't take a training course because Darwin ought to have a clear shot at them. Enough said.

It's hard to say anything seriously bad about a half-helmet. We've probably all owned one, especially those of us over 40. They've probably saved our asses and brains a few times, if we've put any miles on at all. They are protection and they protect some of the most vunerable areas. If claustrophobia is your problem, this is the helmet for you. There are some really good half-helmets and they provide most of the protection that you need.

Lots of BRC students show up in a half-helmet and many of them are ready to be convinced that a real helmet would be a better bet against injury. In the classroom, I always offer bo smash my face (while encased in my helmet) against a table while a student does the same wearing their toilet bowl or half-helmet. Nobody takes me up on it, though. I'm not kidding, I'm up for it if you are.

Of course a "real helmet" is a full-face helmet. Anything less is a compromise. Flip-ups included, since the hinge is a clear weak-link. A full-face helmet provides all the protection a helmet can give. racers wear nothing less. Today, even trials riders are wearing full-face hats. Mine saved my face from being ground into hamburger on the Dempster Highway two years ago and I will always remember the look of that fiberglass ground down to where bits of foam was showing through the shell. That could have been bone.

A few years back, a friend's boyfriend bragged that everything about a helmet prevented him from being a safe rider. A few weeks later, he parked his face on the freeway at 40mph and is still undergoing reconstruction surgery. I'll put my opinion and experience against his any day.

Thomas Day