Jul 30, 2015

Sturgis Stories

Some of the MMM folks were swapping Sturgis stories today. So, I plugged in a couple of my own.

I don't have much for Sturgis stories. Back in the mid-70's, before the gangbangers took over (one year before, in fact), I rode in a two-man team cross-country race at Sturgis. There were flat track, motocross, scrambles, and, probably, road racing events. The following year, I was out due to broken ribs and missed the cross-country. My teammate found another guy and went. They barely escaped with their bodies unbroken and bikes unstolen when the Texas and Oklahoma Harley gangbangers showed up and trashed the races and racers. Before that, I competed in quite a few South Dakota cross country races, including some 24 hour events, but that was my last year for all of that. By the time the ribs healed, I was on my way to my first engineering job and racing turned to a couple years of riding Midwest trials around the Omaha area and a lot of non-competitive off-road stuff along the Elkhorn River valley.

My last year in Denver, one of the sleazier pacemaker salescritters and two of the absolute worst cardiologists I ever watched botch surgeries decided to play "motorcyclists." Being rich assholes and more into pretending than doing, they bought new Harleys and had the dealer deliver the bikes to a custom shop for repainting, loud pipes, and a few thousand bucks worth of other stupid shit. Then, the bikes were shipped to Rapid City where another shop "prepped the bikes for the Black Hills." The pack of make-believe bandits bought fake pony tails and beards and hired a makeup artist in Rapid City to make them look "real." I have no idea how that all played out, since I went to the Steamboat Vintage Bike Week and moved to another department (managing massive product recalls) when I came back.

When I first moved here in '97 I still had the habit of riding to Denver to hang out with friends at the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week. Steamboat ended about the time the Sturgis thing began, so for a couple of years I had the pleasure of riding back home through clouds of the dredges of society on Harleys or, more likely, pulling Harleys on trailers. The last year of the Steamboat event, I got caught up in the cloud of dumbasses between Rabbit Ears Pass and Laramie and by the time I stopped for lunch in Laramie I'd decided to dirt road the rest of the way through Wyoming. At the time, pretty much all of the roads between Laramie and Chugwater were gravel or farm-to-market roads and that put me out of the path of the pirate parade for about 80 miles. I stuck with the county roads all the way to Edgemont, SD, which was pretty cool except for the fact that the chain on my Suzuki SV was pretty much wreaked from 300 miles of gravel.

The chain wasn't in great shape when I'd left home 3,000 miles earlier, but now it was running hot and making clunking noises unless I stopped and dumped oil on it every hundred miles or so. Just past the SD border, I was pouring cheap oil on the chain when I noticed a small puddle of oil forming at the front of the engine. It took a bit to find the source, since the whole bike was coated in a coarse layer of dust, dried clay, and chunks from occasional strips of freshly oiled or tarred gravel. I found the leak, which was pretty disappointing. The SV's front tire had been tossing bits of rock at the oil filter for 300 miles and had drilled a hole right into the top of the filter. I had a spare filter with me, but not nearly enough oil for a change. I wrapped the filter in duct tape and limped into Edgemont. A few quarts of automotive oil and a really messy spot on the side of the road a few miles out of town and I was back on the road. For the rest of the ride, I stuck with pavement and kept up the 100 mile chain lube interval all the way home. You might not think a centerstand on a 1999 Suzuki SV 650 would be a hit accessory, but I was pretty happy having one on that trip.

The pirate crowd was still heading in the opposite direction all the way through Sioux Falls and the weather behind me was dark, windy, and hot. Good thing they all had air conditioned follow trucks to hide in, because it was a nasty day to be crossing SD.

Jul 27, 2015

Being Stupid Is Not the Same Thing as Having an Adventure


All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

(First Published in Rider's Digest December 2014)

"An adventure is only an inconvenience, rightly considered." G. K. Chesterton

"Adventures are what you have when you screw up." Virgil Flowers (John Sanford, Shock Wave)

On the way through Montana a couple of years ago, I found myself at a service station surrounded by a dozen Harleys and a slightly larger number of middle-aged folks all duded up in biker outfits. One of the women asked if I was hot in my gear and my usual reply is, "Not as long as I'm moving." It was a hot day, closer to 100oF than 90. The pack was through for the day. The bump in the road where we'd met had an air conditioned bar and a small motel and, by early afternoon, they had had enough of riding for the day. I still had a few hundred miles left to cover before looking for a campsite.

Nosing eastward into the nearly abandoned two-lane, I couldn't help reflect on the fact that there wasn't a stitch of motorcycle gear among that group; no helmets, no armored or weatherproof riding gear, no decent boots or full-fingered gloves. Just patches of Village People leather and yards of road-rash waiting to happen in a place where there won't be any emergency assistance in less than an hour. My wife's comment on this behavior is, "Being stupid is not the same thing as having an adventure."  

The line between an adventure and a pointless risk that may be so fine that it is only recognizable from an external perspective. My father was convinced that everything I have done in my life was filled with pointless risk; from leaving my first "secure" job to whatever adventures I have had; and all actions between. Everything is relative and most of my Midwestern relatives would argue that adventures of any sort are excessive risks. I come from a long line of farmers and, supposedly, English sea captains and sailors who drowned at sea. I lean more toward my waterlogged relatives than the salt-of-the-earth crowd. However, I suspect that the sailing bunch didn't just jump into a leaky boat and charge into hurricanes. That would be stupid. 

An adventurer heading into uncharted territory takes reasonable precautions based on what can happen. Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies or yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Riding a motorcycle is a lot like going to battle. The universe is not on your side. The "enemies" are the road, the laws of physics, other highway users, fate and chance, and every varmint with working legs and an inclination to wander on to the highway. No one is looking for you and nothing is looking out for you. It's war out there and you better come prepared.

A life without adventure is good enough for most humans. A few can't deal with a single day that isn't filled with adrenaline-generating risk. I'm somewhere between the two. Someone clever said, "Live passionately, even if it kills you, because something is going to kill you anyway." I'm good with that philosophy, but there is no sense in looking to get killed.

learn to ride
A recent safety promotion used the slogan, "If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing could do." That's the first step in motorcycling self-awareness. Training and exercising riding skills goes a long way toward learning about the boundaries of control and performance. By "performance," I don't mean 0-100 mph gibberish, I mean braking, turning, knowing your bike's suspension capabilities, traction, and being ready for imperfect surface handling characteristics. Regularly practicing basic and advanced skills is the best way to learn about yourself and your motorcycle. 

Knowing your enemies involves understanding momentum, velocity, acceleration (and deceleration), mass, stress, friction, shear and tear and abrasion strength, elasticity, and some basic biology. Once you have a slight grip on those concepts, all of the anti-helmet and anti-AGAT arguments appear as unobservant and half-baked as neoclassical economics. When you know that enemy, you will equip yourself accordingly. Putting on a bandana and a pair of leather chaps and heading into heavy traffic is not an adventure. Ignorance and stupidity are the same character in this situation. 

Knowing your enemies means being ready for what the enemy can do. Cagers can do any damn thing you can imagine. Rarely, they are homicidal. Usually, they are incompetent, distracted, and unpredictable. Either way, you have to pay attention to where they are looking, what they are doing, and you have to be constantly mapping out your escape routes. Every foot of the road you travel has to be part of your survival strategy. In my opinion, you are having an adventure when you plan your route and make a backup plan and pull it off as cleanly as possible. If you think a "start seeing motorcycles" sticker and a noisy exhaust is going to get you anywhere, you are just being stupid.

Jul 22, 2015

Who Are These Guys?


I guess you could assume they are characters from Sons of Anarchy, based on their dopy biker stares and idiotic costumes. I’ve had more than a few of them in my so-called Experienced Rider Courses (appropriately if insultingly renamed the BRC II) and I can tell you a lot about them.

Like the ABATE crowd, they are at least 70% responsible for every motorcycle crash. Between their single-vehicle silliness and their drunken riding and their general inability to maneuver their motorcycles, they are one of the most entitled groups on the road. apes3_zpsf1064f13As this silly ad indicates, they refuse to do anything about their contribution to ridiculous motorcycle crash statistics and continue to blame drivers for their problems.

Every time I see one of these clowns on a motorcycle, I think they are barely more than streamers dangling from the handlebars. On an unmodified bike, these dudes can’t turn, stop, or even accelerate competently (loudly, but not competently). Once they’ve applied their customizing touch, braking is totally out of the question. They have to “lay ‘er down,” as in scream, panic, and fall over because they have no clue how a motorcycle (or a car) stops.

Jul 21, 2015

We’re Getting’ Old

RiderCoach demographics is a lot like the information we get from the media about American motorcycling. Sitting in the classroom before this year’s PDW(Professional Development Workshop, in MSF confuse-speak) the conversations were about surgeries, complaints about kids expecting their inheritance early, spouses dying or being put away for Alzheimer's, diabetes and the associated paraphernalia, who died, who moved to Arizona, grandkid stories, and the usual stuff you’d expect to hear in an old folks’ home. Of the lot of us, three of thirteen were under fifty. Not much different from the crowds at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show.

apMotoUsaReadersChartIf I were a motorcycle manufacturer counting on the United States as my future market, I’d be worried. I don’t know of any other recreation, other than golf and gambling, that is so overrepresented by senior citizens. If you believe industry statistics-- and I absolutely do not--even internet magazine readers are largely seniors. At left is a chart of MotorcycleUSA.com readers; when 53% of an internet website’s readers are over 40 you’re looking at an odd “sport.” I looked, but I couldn’t find real rider demographics, just lots of motorcycle death statistics. As you might expect, us old guys (and a few old women) are overrepresented in death statistics.

If no one is planning for the future of motorcycling, you’d have to suspect that they either know there isn’t one or they are too stupid or lazy to do the work necessary to create one.

Jul 20, 2015

Two Wheel Therapy

Motorcycling is supposed to be one of those things you only do when you're in the "right" frame of mind. I get the concept, but I'm not (apparently) a big believer. I jump on the bike for all sorts of reasons; including working out stuff that gets stuck in my head and won't come loose. Today, for example. I worked almost all day on sealing up this damn garage roof. That means I was scraping and scrubbing and vacuuming up crap from the small space under our front entry way (which is the back 4' of this garage's ceiling) so that I could stuff hydraulic concrete into the space to close up the hundreds of cracks in that portion of the garage roof. My arms are scraped and bleeding. My hands barely work at all. My back is humped and hunched and feels like I should have the whole damn thing fused into a post. My damn right foot is still screwed up and I have two days to get this job done before it rains again. I'm running out of summer and I still have way too many projects yet to start and finish.

So, that's when my wife decides to dredge up old crap that should be left lying in the ditch where it last was seen. A domestic dispute ensues. You don't stay married for 50 years without building up some resentment and pressure. The beauty of not being the "head of household" is that you always have someone to blame for your disappointments. The disadvantage of being that guy is that blame is a limitless resource. Days like this remind me that the best thing about life is that it does not last forever. I decided to give myself an evening off.

I tossed on a jacket and my usual light-duty riding gear and hit the road for as much gravel as I could find. These are the times when my favorite bumper sticker ("A hermit has no peer pressure.) strikes a chord that sounds good and true. It would take almost no more pressure than a light shove to push me in a southwesterly direction that might last for a few hundred, or thousand, miles. I've been craving a South American trip for 20 years. Maybe I need to take another shot at learning Spanish?

Red Wing is blessed with dozens of great dirt roads barely a couple of miles south of my house. The jacket is rubbing the gashed up places on my arms raw and the irritation goes nicely with my mood. I snagged a vein on my right hand on the steel siding of the house and my glove reopened that wound, staining the leather in pretty much the same shade it probably was when it came off of the steer. My foot throbs from the bunched up support sock, caught between my boot and my socks. I banged my head against a nail when I was pulling up the rotted wood to get to the cracked and leaky concrete under the porch. My list of dinged up body parts grew substantially today and all of that crap will be hard to ignore when I get home and try to sleep tonight. On the bike, it all goes away for a few hours.

My winter in New Mexico, riding on the deep sand at Elephant Butte Lake and out in the country around the Rio Grande River and out near the Rockin' Ass Ranch, put me back on top of the kind of road I'm taking out my frustration on today. Piled up sand and gravel is just gruel for my back tire. I'm on the gas more often than not, daring the road to go somewhere I can't follow.

This may not be the right frame of mind for a safe ride, but it is absolutely the right mood for hammering a sandy back road. Nobody on this path but me and I'm not slowing down until I feel like it.

#118 Why Cover the World with Asphalt?

All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

My wife was recently infatuated with a poetic phrase: "Why cover the world with leather when you can wear shoes?" I suspect it's an argument against excessive consumption. I also suspect her enjoyment of the phrase is a hint regarding some behavior of mine. I'll wait until it becomes an obvious criticism before I worry about it.

A while back, I heard two old guys in my local hardware store worrying that all of the local budget problems were going to result in some cities cutting back so far on their street maintenance that some streets would return to gravel. I would say to that, "Why cover the world with asphalt when you can ride a dirt bike?" When our state government became dysfunctional and they spent a summer bickering over which services are essential and which are discretionary, I think they should have rethought the whole paved roads concept.

When we first moved into our current home, I got hit with a $10,000 tax bill for widening and paving the road in front of the house. It was a perfectly good gravel road before the city hosed it up with asphalt, curbs, and sidewalks. The old road required a dose of gravel every couple of years, but the new road gets torn up and rebuilt on the same interval at about ten times the cost. Now morons can whip past my house at 40mph, shredding my mailbox at least twice a year, and turning our neighborhood into a Whack-A-Kid amusement park. I miss the skinny gravel road and the ten feet of front yard I had to give up.

I'm not kidding, we've given the "pave paradise, put up a parking lot" crowd almost 100 years to prove their point and they have failed miserably. We have allowed "roadway planners" to mindlessly waste energy, mangle communities, turn productive land into polluted wastelands, and, worst of all, pavement allows the mass of "marching morons" access to vehicles they can't possibly learn to maneuver competently. So, I think it's time to tear up the parking lots and return to off-road paradise. Any real Libertarian would want the liberty of being able to ride anywhere someone isn't growing food and the responsibility of knowing that if you can't ride through the mud, sand, and mangled terrain, you should take the train.

Damn, that rhymes. I should buy a guitar and write a song about it.

Honestly, I'm not kidding. When I started riding a motorcycle in western Kansas, I discovered the local rednecks had about as much respect for my right to the highway as they had for my right to be a long-haired, hippy freak. So, I yanked the lights and the fenders from my brother's 250 Harley Sprint and started riding to work in the ditches where the rednecks could only throw beer cans at me and shout the usual crap that oozes from pointy redneck heads. A few weeks in the ditches and I discovered routes to work that didn't even involve ditches and rarely required road crossings. All of a sudden, I was a dirt biker.

When I moved to west Texas, I bought a Kawasaki 350 Big Horn, we rented a house in the country, and, when I wasn't driving the company pickup, I was cross-country on limited access roads, plowing up the back fields of my employer's property, or following a couple generations of motorcycle trails around that grubby little town. On weekends, there were spontaneous hill climbs, rough scrambles (motocross, later), and some of the best cross-country racing I've ever imagined possible.

One of the Texas old guys, Karl the Machinist, told stories of his family of Indian motorcyclists riding all over the countryside off road before the highways and freeways existed. For that matter, these guys were riding to Amarillo when the farm-to-market roads were barely more than cow paths that had been originally cut with wooden wagon wheel traffic. Talk about the good old days of self-reliance and American ingenuity, those kids learned to be garage mechanics and machinists because they didn't have the hard cash to buy factory repair parts. Karl made a pretty good living from the skills he'd gained forging his own engine components, brazing busted frame parts, and hammering out bodywork from abandoned car sheet metal.

For 40 years, when someone asked me if they should ride a motorcycle, I've recommended riding off-road enough that you can earn your way out of some kind of novice class; motocross, supermoto, enduros, or trials. Get that far and, if you're still interested, you have a pretty good chance of surviving public roads on a motorcycle. If you don't, there is always the bus, light rail, and Amtrak.

The more I think about it, the better I like this kind of austerity. We don't even have to spend more tax money turning back the clock. Just lay off all those guys-leaning-on-shovels and let the roads deteriorate. While they're decaying back into the earth (the roads, not the guys or their shovels), rotting roads will be just as much fun to ride as they would be if someone tore them up and plowed them into a decent track surface. It's not like this isn't the perfect time to make a change in motorcycling's direction. All the garage candy manufacturers are going broke and their customers have handed the keys back to the finance company from whence they came. From here on, let's insist that all motorcycles have at least 10" of suspension travel and if you can't pick it up and drag it out of the mud when you crash, you better have good friends who will help you do it.

Now that's public policy I can live with.

Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly June 2013

Jul 18, 2015

Never Trust A Bike Review

SBK-Panigale-R_2015Popular Mechanics’ Alexander George wrote one of the worst, most shallow reviews of a $25,000 motorcycle, Ducati’s Panigale, that I have ever read (10 Days on the World's Angriest Street-Legal Motorcycle). He hit rock bottom on the last page with his “analysis” of the Panigale’s reliability: “But the Panigale, with all its precision engineering and moving parts, requires little maintenance. Change the oil and filter at about 600 miles and you're free to continue thrashing the bike until the odometer hits 7,500. A Japanese-tough Suzuki V-Strom, by contrast, needs attention 1,500 miles earlier.It's strange to have that reliability on this type of bike because every component on the Panigale is as expensive, sophisticated, and often complicated as you can buy.” Unlike every other Ducati, the most expensive, complicated edition of their models is somehow going to overcome the usual Italian suspects’ flaws and faults? I don’t think so.

Like marketing literature, anyone can paste together an owners’ manual with random numbers attached to inspection or maintenance intervals. The proof will be when the 7 people who buy a Panigale use those suggested intervals successfully for 100k miles. I’m betting the Ducati never sees that kind of use, ever. Hell, Ducati could probably have make the oil change interval at 10,000 miles, since only one out of the 7 purchased will ever see that much use.

Like most motorcycle magazine reviews, this was just a wall-to-wall gush festival. George loved everything about the Ducati, including how stupidly the bike’s power and handling influenced him, as a rider. I have no idea how competent George is, but if he’s a solid rider (as you’d expect a magazine writer/reviewer would be) his experience and example should be multiplied a few times for the sort of person who would be inclined to buy this bike. The man simply rode massively over his head and counted on Ducati’s electronics to save his ass. That might work for a near-pro rider, but it’s going to be messy when the ordinary, mostly-unskilled up-scale American rider gives it a shot.

Jul 17, 2015

Bike Review: Honda NC700X

2012-Honda-NC700X-Beauty_04_LROne of the side bonuses of my trip west with Scott Jarrett was a brief opportunity to ride his well-broken-in Honda NC700X. We swapped bikes for a brief period crossing northern Nebraska and that gave me the chance to play with the bike and get a feel for its handling. This isn’t a real review. I didn’t beat Scott’s bike up at all, like I often am accused of doing when MMM gets a test bike. The “test” was on Nebraska/US20 and, if you’ve been there you know it’s pretty straight and level. I didn’t have a chance to mess with cornering much and I really didn’t put the bike to any sort of handling strain. So, this is more of an impression write-up than a test. [I didn’t take any pictures of the bike while we were riding, so all of the images in this write-up are from the WWW.]

First, right from the start the NC700 feels small (especially compared to my 2004 V-Strom). You sort of perch on top of the bike, rather than being seated “in” the bike. In that way, it reminds me of the Buells I’ve ridden. With a 60.6” wheelbase and 474 pounds wet, the NC700X feels a lot lighter and smaller than it is. Small or not, the bike is plenty stable at speed and the handing is predictable. It just takes a little getting used to, if you’re familiar with a different style of rider position. Thanks for the under-seat fuel tank and low-slung in-line twin engine layout, the weight feels really, REALLY low. My V-Strom, in comparison, feels heavy and awkward at low speeds.

NC700X wheelThe first thing I always test before I get going is the bike’s brakes. The single front disk, for example, seemed conservatively cheap compared to the dual disks I’m used to. The disk is mounted close to the center of the wheel, which allows for a bit more leverage on the wheel and probably a lot less flex in the wheel during hard braking. It is not a small disk, although the pads are about the same as my V-Strom’s dual disk system. Regardless, you get a suitably aggressive front brake action, in spite of the single disk. Scott and my bike have similar miles and his brakes were easily as solid feeling as my V-Strom’s. I’m on my 3rd set of pads and I suspect Scott is still on his first, for whatever that’s worth. As usual, a strong application of the rear brake provides pretty much non-existent stopping power. Any time I try this “test” I have to wonder how people who rely on the rear brake live through a day.

Lots of early reviews complained about low power and sluggish response from the NC’s motor. I didn’t notice the absence of power, although it doesn’t accelerate like the V-Strom. It’s plenty quick enough for practical travel. Scott had his bike loaded up with luggage and I’m not light, but the bike provided plenty of practical passing power and pulled 6th gear up the grades we travelled without problem. The economy, on the other hand, kicked ass. While I turned in a series of 45-53mpg tank fills, Scott was regularly in the mid-60’s to low 70mpg zone. Obviously, we were travelling at the same speeds, so it was all in the motor making the difference. The NC’s super quiet engine and exhaust noise was a pleasure on the road. The main highway noise was the tires and wind. The transmission is despicably Honda; so good it makes all other motorcycle brands seem inferior. You can fumble through all 6 gears without a lick of skill, barely considering the clutch, and every shift will be flawless. Neither my Yamaha or my Suzuki hold a candle to the Honda’s transmission operation. That has been true for every Honda I’ve ridden or owned (except for one massively abused exception).

NC700X cockpitThe rider’s vantage-point is, as I mentioned before, not really “in the bike.” There is not real fairing protection and the cute but worthless windshield doesn’t offer much of a break from the wind. Scott had added an extension to the windshield that he thought provided a little more of a helmet noise buffer. All I can say is that I felt a lot more exposed on the NC700 than on my V-Strom with a Madstad bracket and the stock windshield. If you’re going to ride an NC in the rain or cold, bring good gear or you’ll be wet and frozen.

The NC’s 32.7” seat height is respectively low, which is a good thing for shorter riders. The only thing I would have changed, right off the bat, on the NC is the seat. It is, to put it politely, cramped and uncomfortable. The slope tends to stuff your nuts into the tank and the position feels restrictively limited. Sargent, for example, makes a decent looking replacement for their usual bucket-full of cash. Long days in the saddle will be uncomfortable until you fix this shortcoming.

In all, I liked the NC700 as much as expected I might. If I were replacing my V-Strom, the NC700X (with ABS) would be at the top of my list of options.

Jul 16, 2015

Day 4: The Corps Disappoints Again

I stayed in Platte, SD because I planned to explore the Missouri River from there down, possibly as far as a good bit into Nebraska before turning east and homeward. I could have hammered it home in one shot Thursday, but stumbling on to Fort Louisborg in 2009 forever set my sights on that sort of historic opportunity. So, when I saw “FT RANDALL HIST. RESTORATION” on the official South Dakota map, I put that destination on my route. Up at 4AM and on the road by 5, I zigzagged down a series of SD highways and county roads to US 281/SD18 and across to . . . a huge disappointment. There is nothing restored about Fort Randall. It wasn’t even worth taking a picture of the bullshit the Corps of (awful and incompetent) Engineers calls a “restored” fort. Once again, Canada is infinitely cooler than the US.

That, and the fact that the ride along the river doesn’t get close to the river often, sort of finished off South Dakota for me. I turned back up US 281 and headed for I90. I90 to MN 60 (again), 60 to MN 19 (and the incredible mess MNDOT has made of that great road in its effort to burn up tax money inefficiently and incompetently), 19 to home.

One of the hallmarks of arriving in Minnesota after being in other states is the reappearance of lethargic stop lights. We are one slow-witted state. Even Nebraska lights change faster than Minnesota’s. A side effect of slow lights is slow-witted drivers. Or maybe the slow-wits came first? MNDOT’s dumbing down of Minnesota drivers has to be making a contribution to the conservative turn in the state. Between the stop signs on free entrances, 4 minute stop lights, a complete ignorance of reasonable signage placement, and construction tactics that put drivers in miles of single-lane traffic so the “men leaning on shovels” can contemplate working on a pothole, we’re being trained to be stupid.

Now I gotta go work on replacing my V-Strom’s front wheel bearings, fix that busted front fender, replace a couple of tires, change the oil, and see what shook off of the bike last week.

Miles Travelled: 492 Miles sound-tracked with bitching about either South Dakota historical sites or MNDOT: 428

Jul 15, 2015

Day 3: Banging the Black Hills and Badlands

Thursday morning, we did our usual song and dance about getting breakfast first or hitting our separate roads and getting on with our two return trips. Scott took a bit to sort of make-up his mind that he wanted to keep moving and grab breakfast later and by the time he’d made his decision, I was on the bike and ready to go. Sort of. We said goodbye and I took off while he did the usual stuff he needed to do to get on the road.

I’d done a full bike inspection while Scott was getting up and around on Thursday and I found that the V-Strom was suffering from “old oil syndrome.” Every time I’ve let the oil change slip past 3,000 miles, my bike starts to use some oil. It’s burning it, not leaking it. The oil level was at the add mark and I decided to grab a quart before I left Chadron. The problem was that I was an hour ahead of opening time for about 90% of the city. They were on Mountain Time and I was still on my Central Time internal clock. In other words, it was 6:15AM and nothing was open, but Walmart.

I usually avoid Walmart, but no choice. Thanks to Chadron being on the Sturgis route, this store had a variety of motorcycle oil to chose from and a good selection of chain oil, too. Topped off and ready to go, I headed north into the Black Hills.

Breakfast in Custer and a weird loop up 385 and back down through Roubaix, Benchmark, and Nemo to 44 and under Rapid City and I was out off the hills and back into the plains. For years, I’ve driven through South Dakota like it was one long drag race. Just hammered down 90 until I could escape the damn place and that miserable road somewhere in Minnesota. Scott had tried a northern route through Pierre and found it as miserable as the freeway.

This time, I decided to find out what is below the freeway. I grabbed gas in Rapid City and stuck with 44 down into the badlands. It is a good road but there are damn few places to find fuel. The first stop was a crossroads with a town name I have forgotten. $3.10 for regular and enough panhandlers hanging around the station to make you believe you’ve slipped into LA. A “town” called White River was the next stop and I was warned not to let the bike get out of sight while I was in the grocery store. I had some weird insights on the reservation life on the way out of town and I might write about them someday. The badlands go on for a lot longer than the national park’s acreage. It is entirely worth seeing and a lot more fun than the freeway. I didn’t take nearly enough pictures to give you any idea how incredible this place is, but I have a brain full of great shots that I’ll carry with me for a while.

44 deadends into US 183 and I ducked down to US 18 for the route into the Missouri river valley. The river valley is more dramatic, wider, and a lot more fun on 18 than I90, too. 44 picks up again at Winner and I stayed on it to Platte, SD where I snagged a motel for the night. Obviously, the freeway route was picked to make life easy for trucks.

There were a few decent camping places along this route and I carried my hammock tent and sleeping bag, but the SD parks permit plus a camp site was damn close to the $40 I paid for a motel and I’m nursing a bum foot that really improves with ice followed by soaking in a hot bath. At 67, I’m suspecting that my camping days are either over or in short supply. That sucks, because I have the best camping gear I’ve ever dreamed of having and it will be tough to get rid of it all after almost sixty years of sleeping on the ground.

I found a terrific pub in Platte, thanks to the motel owner’s suggestion, had a prime rib slathered blu cheese burger, a couple of local beers, and a long walk back to the motel which put me in the mood to sleep at about 8PM. So I did.

Road Miles: 581 Foot Travel: 2 miles

Jul 14, 2015

Day 2: Crossing the Great American Plains

IMG_7051Getting from Minnesota to New Mexico is a long, boring haul; at least by popular opinion. You either have to get through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, or (dead last resort, Oklahoma and Texas). The Black Hills are an upside to the South Dakota route, but the rest of the state is generally considered to be painfully boring. Personally, I have a preference for Nebraska since I lived in that state for a dozen years and know a good bit of it pretty well. US 20 through Nebraska’s wide open and mostly-undeveloped plains and a good bit of the sandhills is a really special trip. The downside is usually that northern Nebraska in July is a windy oven. We lucked out and the day was cool to warm with enough precipitation in the air to provide us with air conditioning and a cool breeze.

We had breakfast in Atkinson (I think) and a fuel stop in Valentine. Being the arrogant asshole I can often be, I decided to blow off the mandatory 100 mile fuel stop just out of orneriness. About 200 miles into that last section of the ride, I began to regret that crabby decision. We stopped for Scott to get fuel and I made up for forgetting to bring a water bottle with a quart bottle of orange juice, which I chugged and refilled with crappy tasting local water. I would regret that in about 100 miles as I discovered that orange juice is a vicious laxative. About 50 miles from our destination, I made a panic stop at a filling station bathroom and barely made it out a live. The filling station, on the other hand, probably put out a warrant for my arrest on vandalism charges. Scott was pissed, so I didn’t bother with fuel and we hit the road before anyone else used that bathroom. Lucky for me (‘cause Scott would never let me hear the end of that story), I made it to Chadron without running out of gas. When we finally stopped, I put 4.97 gallons into the 5.8 gallon tank, in fact. I coulda made it another 50 miles at 55mph, which is what I’d dropped down to in the last 30 miles to save fuel.

IMG_7057Chadron is a gateway to lots of stuff: the Black Hills, the Rockies, and in the other direction most of the central portion of the country. It’s bigger (about 6,000) than most of the towns in that territory. There is a lot happening, especially during the “Chadron Fur Trade Days” (Nope, I didn’t make that up.) It was a good end destination and one that took us a while to settle on.

Between Atkinson and Chadron, I was wrestling with deciding what route I would take home and how far I’d take this trip. Scott was going home, to Santa Fe, and had his path picked. I was torn between taking an extra day or two to get into Colorado and touch on the Rockies, taking a mid-Nebraska route back through Nebraska Highway 2, or going up through the Black Hills before turning back.

With that Monday deadline hard and fast, I would absolutely have to be home by Monday at noon but since I would only have 24 hours to hang with the friend who was visiting from Atlanta Sunday would be a more practical “latest” arrival and Saturday would give me some margin of error in case one of the many problems I’d spotted on the V-Strom turned into a game stopper. If I went further west, into either Wyoming or Colorado I’d have a half-day at most to get to and into the mountains before turning back. The more I thought about that, the less I liked the idea. Scott was wrestling with stopping in Chadron or continuing on to Alliance, NE that night. We made Chadron about 5PM, so we could keep going either together or separately and make other stopping points by dark. I decided to flip a coin, north or south, when we stopped for fuel. I hit heads for north and that decided the Black Hills for me.

The last decision to make was dinner and a motel in Chadron or move on separately. Either way worked for me. We were tired and a little hungry. Scott took a bit to decide, but we ended up going for one more motel and another evening of bullshitting and hanging out. We found a killer coffee shop, world class in fact: Bean Broker Coffee House and Pub. We wandered the downtown area, talked to a few folks about fur trading and other bullshit, and spent a couple hours hanging out in front of our motel room talking to a guy who had lost all of the fingers on his right hand in a farm accident when he was 13 and all of the toes on his right foot in a motorcycle crash when he was 17.

Distance Travelled: 366 miles Distance Walked: 3 miles

Jul 13, 2015

#117 Parental Responsibility

All Rights Reserved © 2008 Thomas W. Day

[When Guido picked this essay, I choked a bit. I have tried to write about my daughter, Genya, and her incredible rescue at least a dozen times. I have the notes and the intention to write a Reader's Digest sort of article, honoring the firemen, EMTs, police, medical staff, and bystanders who saved her life. I can't even read the notes without reliving that trauma and it may never become anything more than a painful reminder of the worst moment in my life. In many ways, I wish Guido had passed on "Parental Responsibility" and moved to something more gonzo and holligan-ish.]

You have to admit that is a pretty arrogant title for a column like mine. Parental responsibility; as if I know something about that subject. When our kids were little, almost 40 years ago, my wife and I were as careless about seatbelts and how our lifestyle affected our kids as any pair of dumbasses ever recorded by history. On a motorcycle and in my kids' lifetime, I have always worn a helmet, gloves, boots, and some kind of jacket when I ride, but I am not an AGAT (all the gear, all the time) kind of guy. I should be. I try to be. But I'm not. In the car, I still neglect the seat belt more often than not. I treat my riding lawnmower like an ATV. I often bicycle without a helmet. Sometimes I don't wear safety glasses when I use power tools. I've even been known to tack weld a spot or two without eye protection. I just squint. I've raced motorcycles, competitively, and for recreation. I used to love crossing Wyoming and Montana in the "safe and reasonable" days when you might get passed by a black-and-white while cruising across the high plains at 100mph. I'm not bragging or even a little bit proud of these things, I'm just setting the stage.

My perspective has always been that, "It's my life and I'm going to live it the way I want to live." I don't expect to, or want to, live to a ripe old senile and incapacitated antiquity. As Hunter Thompson once said, "I'd rather be shot out of a cannon than squeezed out of a tube." Even knowing the end result of the necessary and unpleasant landing after the cannon shot.

In a demonstration of what a dumbass I really am, it has taken me most of my life to realize that my kids have taken cues from my attitude. I'm lucky, probably because I've provided such a fine example of the results of risk taking, that my kids are alive and far more cautious than me. My daughter once told me that she wasn't tempted to ride motorcycles because she saw me limping, on crutches, bandaged, or in a sling for so much of her childhood that motorcycling didn't seem like much fun. Maybe my kids would have been a lot more foolhardy if I'd have had a lick of talent on the racetrack and more luck on the trail.

It took most of 60 years for me to get a wake up call. Like most humans, I'm most affected by my own faults when I see them in someone else.

For example, a pair of really nice people brought their son to a BRC a while back. He came to the class with great gear; an expensive and well-designed perforated armored jacket, a Snell-approved full-face helmet, quality riding boots, and racing gloves. He and his dad had spent a lot of time riding off-road and his skills were pretty good and heading toward excellent. He is a great kid, an excellent student, and left the class a better rider than I was at twice his age. If our kids are a reflection of ourselves, I imagined his parents might be approaching national role models.

To bust that bubble, on the last day of the BRC, his proud parents came to watch in full Hardly-hardcase costumes; bare-headed, sleeveless leather vests, tennis shoes, and torn jeans. And it hit me how strong a message that was for their son. It's, obviously, the same message I often sent to my own kids when I ignored seatbelts, played crazed hillclimber on the lawnmower, or tested the depth of a river by jumping from a 20 cliff into the rapids. Again, don't mistake what I'm saying for pride in my behavior. If anything, this is the ranting of a reformed whore (or a street-walker who would like to have the self-discipline to attempt reform) rather than anything resembling conceit.

I do, however, speak from experience. The worst thing I can imagine is outliving my children. Maybe outliving my grandchildren would top that. Just after her 20th birthday, my youngest daughter was in a terrible crash. She, somehow, ended up on the wrong side of a Colorado two-lane and her Toyota pickup smashed head-on into a Ford F250 pickup at highway speeds. To say "the Ford won" would be the understatement of the century. Her vehicle was unrecognizable and she suffered a half-dozen injuries that could have been fatal. Incredible good fortune and near-perfect execution of her rescue by the Denver Fire Department and 14 hours of surgery at Denver General Hospital saved her life. During the week that she was in a coma and the weeks of her painful and recovery, my heart broke so many times that I thought I'd collapse in a quivering heap for the rest of my miserable life. I don't know any words that can describe that feeling and I'm not going to try to find them. Writing this paragraph has revived a tiny part of those emotions and I've probably ruined an otherwise fine day. Genya recovered and she has gone on to be a better person than her father, in every way. Our story had a happy ending, although we could have done without that plot twist.

Whenever I see a parent (always a father, in my experience) with a kid on the back of his bike wearing an adult's helmet and no protective gear, or worse, I think about how badly that kid will be injured when Dad screws up. Let's face it, anyone dumb enough to risk their kid's life so thoughtlessly is going to screw up, sooner or later.

The obligation we take on when we become parents is the responsibility of constantly setting an example. Saying "do what I say, not what I do" is a waste of breath. Our children either look at how badly we've failed, and try to do better, or accept our actions as the definition of how life should be lived and emulate us. How would you feel knowing that your example led to your child's terrible injuries or death? Even indirect responsibility is a terrible burden. Believe me.

MMM May 2013

Jul 12, 2015

Day 1: On the Road to the Music Museum

Just what you’d expect from a pair of musicians, we got out late and slow. We left Tuesday “morning,” way after any start time I’ve ever experience on a long trip. The “plan” was to make it to the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota either on time to check out the museum or find a motel and check out the place the next morning. Yep, I said “Vermillion, South Dakota.” Who knew?

We left Red Wing about 9AM on Tuesday, after putting off our original start day, Monday, due to complications entirely within our control. We’re just lazy and disorganized. I intended to spend Monday going over the V-Strom, since I haven’t really done much with the bike for the last couple of years. As soon as I headed for the garage, Scott decided he wanted to do an oil change and some service on his bike. There is no room for two mechanical projects in my new garage, so the V-Strom got left out of the party. (I’d regret that for the next four days and 2,000 miles.) With the knowledge that I’d be traveling with old oil, mediocre tires, and no serious inspection of anything we headed southwest toward Vermillion, South Dakota where a friend of Scott’s had told him we’d find the National Music Museum. Our initial route was pretty much scrambled by the usual MNDOT mess of detours and half-hearted “maintenance,” so I’d be hard pressed to reproduce our route until we hit Mankato. From there, it’s pretty simple, we took MN 60 to Le Mars, IA and turned west on IA 3 until that joined IA 50 and into Vermillion.

Scott has some fixed habits about riding and taking breaks that were a bit inflexible and that made the trip a good bit longer (time-wise) and odder (fuel stops every 100 miles, regardless of fuel availability). I sucked it up and lived by his rules as best I could. We haven’t had much chance to hang out in the last few years and after our RV plans went to hell, we were both looking forward to long bullshit sessions at meals and after we’d parked the bikes. Most likely, we’d only be riding together for a couple of days before I needed to head back because I was expecting another old friend to show up in Red Wing the following week.

Before we went into the museum, Scott decided to do an impromptu bike inspection and maintenance. He discovered that he’d lost the chain link retaining clip and went into full panic mode. I figured that we would check out the museum, find a motel, and mess with the chain at our leisure, but he wanted a solution “now.” So, while I prowled the museum he spent an hour on the phone chasing down Honda dealers who had either a replacement clip or a whole new chain. He kept asking me if I’d ever had this problem and I kept saying “no.” It didn’t occur to me to consider why that was the case.

Master Link WiredHe found a shop in Sioux City that was open till 6PM and, supposedly, had either a clip or a suitable chain and he sort of relaxed for a bit and took in the museum. About 4:30, we’d done the museum and he decided that he wanted to berserk it to Sioux City for the bike shop before they closed. We were about 40 miles from the show and should be able to make it on time. As I followed Scott down the road, I worried about his chain coming apart and the resulting damage. Suddenly, I realized why I’d never had this problem before I bought my chain press and went to riveted links; I always safety wired my master links, rather than using the supplied clips. From my dirt bike racing days, I have always tossed the clips and wired the link. I know some people think this is a temporary fix, but I’ve used it as my primary routine for a lot of years and never had it fail. I haven’t been riding on riveted links long enough to be able to have the same confidence. So, we turned around, found a hardware store and I tied up his chain link (see photo for an example).

Chain problem solved, we headed for Yankton and a place to spend the night. Scott picked a 50’s style motel that turned out to be golden and we found a great place for dinner near the river. In the background, we heard a band (as in orchestra) playing and after dinner we wandered back to hear the Yankton City Orchestra play a variety of tunes from the past and way, way distant past. After a long, but slow (thanks to my screwed up foot), walk around the park we headed back to the motel and I was asleep before my eyes closed.

Miles Travelled: 376