Archive for April, 2010

What a difference three days can make. (Parse that for a second, eh?) On Tuesday, Holly and I took a short run down to Bergen. The weather was sub-45 and windy, pardon my French, but il fait froid.

Tonight was in the high 60s and the last day of a sale at Stan’s. Having discovered a hole in the seat of my riding jeans, it was time for

Map picture

a run on the Fatboy. What a beautiful ride in the late afternoon sun! I love this time of the spring, when the leaves are still forming.

The hues fascinate me. In summer, the leaves are all the same shade of green, and the grasses turning from deep green to brown. Now the leaves range from lemon yellow to yellow green to deep green. The sunlight hits the tree-tops and the colors seem to dance like an impressionist landscape.

The green fields are variegated with blazing yellows—mustard, dandelion—and the light umber of broken sod, like strokes of a palette knife across the canvas.

You can see it from a steel cage, but on a bike you sense it. The air is fresh and alive with smells of new growth, manure, fresh sod, and blossoms. The air passing over the skin is moist but warm, not hot and sticky like summer and not clammy and raw like late autumn. The solstice is still six weeks away, so the air is not as turbulent as it gets when the sun bakes the asphalt and the tar snakes ooze forth. One glides through the air, like through the water in a swimming pool. In another month or so, it will hit like waves and tides on the beach, pulling this way, pushing that.


Teeth-chattering poetry

Posted: April 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

cold wind blows
muscles stiffen in legs
cross wind gust
solid wheels like sails

counter the counter-steer

fingers numb
can’t feel my thumb
no insects
at least, today

ride free in the cold sun

Today as I was cruising home from the CMA Pig Roast at Stan’s, I was thinking that I have lived in this area for nearly 22 years. Over that time, I’ve gotten habituated to taking certain roads to get from hither to yon.

So many roads I’ve passed by. Maybe that comes from driving a steel cage to work for too many years. I don’t get in a car just to drive, but with a goal of getting from A to B, thinking of what I have to do, where I have to be next.

I came upon a road I had driven past several times before, and decided to see where it led. Forget the Google Maps and GPS (I used  to get around just fine without them).

You might think this is a Robert Frost style metaphor A view from the top of the "Million Dollar Highway," San Juan Mountains, Coloradofor some deeper meaning about life. Some roads lead to wonderful discoveries. All I encountered this day was the smell of manure and a few people mowing lawns. At the end of the road, I found I had backtracked, ending up on the same path I always drive to get hither from yon.

Nevertheless, I found it a welcome reminder that taking a break from routine can be like  a breath of fresh air. For a few miles,  I drove for the sake of driving, and I enjoyed the ride.

I have driven everything from dirt and gravel to six lane interstates,  Southeastern Utahbut my favorite ride will always be the two lane country highway, with a yellow stripe down the middle and a white stripe down the side.

They say the safest road is the interstate, because the travel is all going in the same direction and there are limited entrances for traffic. Yeah, safe like NASCAR—they all drive the same direction too. When every other steel-cager drives like he had a restrictor plate, and a turn signal is viewed as a sign of weakness, safe is not  a word that comes to mind.

Gravel roads are just no fun. Slow to a crawl, worry about stones dinging the chrome, and try not to let the front end hit a hole or a pile of loose soil. In fact I just found out I have a small stone embedded in my belt and it’s going to have to be replaced.

The single lane country road can be nice, but very slow going. Okay for a leisurely afternoon cruise, but one always has to watch for potholes, frost heaves, broken shoulders (when there is one), blind turns and blocked driveways.

Arches National ParkThe two lane highway is my favorite. I love watching the lines seem to weave back and forth as I shoot the curves. Making good time on most  stretches, from 55 to 65 mph, makes up for the slower parts. I think what I love most is working through the gears. For the same reason I always preferred road racing to NASCAR. Oval tracks are all about suspension geometry and tuning. Road courses are more about timing of the shift, out-braking the other driver, trying to get the inside line without losing too much speed. Read the turn, light touch on the brake, shift down at just the right moment  and lean into it, roll the throttle as I pass the apex and kick it up a gear as the V-Twin rumbles; there’s no more exciting feeling on a bike.

Map picture

The trip from Elmira to Ithaca took us over roads new to me. We drove west bound on Rt 17 / I-86 for a few miles and exited at Route 13 to head north.

Forty five minutes later we came to a four corners in the Cayuta Creek valley, where Rt. 224 crosses Rt. 13. Ithaca Harley Davidson is located on the west side of Rt. 13, on the east side is a small truck stop. The dealership was closed for the holiday but we pulled in at the truck stop for water.

2009 HOG ABCs of Touring ContestIthaca

The late afternoon ride from Newfield into Ithaca was gorgeous. The trees still had their full green, as we passed Robert Treman State Park and down shifted for the descent into Ithaca. We were looking for our “I” and time was winding on, so we passed by Buttermilk Falls State Park without stopping. That’s on my list for a day trip, however.

Unlike many Western and Southern Tier New York communities, which have fallen on hard times with the decline of family farms and New York’s infamous state and property taxes, Ithaca is thriving by comparison. I have never visited Ithaca before (another of those places that I knew I’d get around to some day) and expected a college town, but small city would be a more apt description. Very hilly too.

Map picture

We took a few wrong turns looking for an official “I” sign, and wound up and down the hills in the city near Cornell. They must be great fun to drive in the winter!

I stopped to check Google Maps on my Blackberry, still trying to locate an official sign, and we wound our way through downtown again. Still not seeing a sign, and detoured by construction, we decided to leave town and head further north to the Ithaca / Tompkins County Airport, where, finally, we found our photo.


After a nutritious McDonalds dinner, we headed for Cortland to pick up I-81 toward Syracuse. The drive through the farm country, as the sun was working its way toward the western horizon, was absolutely Tully, NY Post Officegorgeous.

We exited I-81 at Tully, just south of Syracuse, as the sun was starting to set. Just past the Best Western where we would spend the night, we found our “T” at the Tully Post Office.

The Best Western was a bit on the no frills side for the price, but the beds were comfortable and we slept well. The complimentary breakfast of bagels and pre-packaged sandwiches was digestible, but the fruit was fresh and the coffee OK.

Route 20, Homeward Bound

Rather than take interstates home, we ducked under I-81 and followed Rt. 11A up to US-20. Route 20 parallels the NY State Thruway across New York. I’ve always found it ironic that while I-90 is one of the most boring drives through Western NY, but just a few miles to the south, US-20 is a scenic delight, especially the stretch from Bridgewater through the Finger Lakes. 2009 HOG ABCs of Touring Contest

After a stop at a Dunkin’ Donuts near Seneca Falls for some real coffee (and to warm numb fingers), we continued to Canandaigua, then north on Rt. 96. By now the sun had warmed up the air, and we stopped at the Victor Fire Department for our final photo-op of the trip.

Fall seemed to come early in 2009, and on a crisp Labor Day morning we headed out of Silver Springs, south on 19A toward Castile.

The Harley Owners GroupWarsaw, NY (HOG) holds an annual contest, called the ABC’s of Touring. The objective is to score points by taking a photo, one for each letter of the alphabet, in front of an official sign of a municipality whose name starts with that letter. We were making our last big push for points in the 2009 contest.

The contest is a great excuse to get out and ride, and for us it was a nice father-daughter activity as well. We picked up a “W” the night before, as the sun was setting in Warsaw.

Map picture

From Castile we planned to head to Portageville to take Rt. 436 across the Genesee River into Nunda.

The sun was out and it was starting to warm a bit as we approached the river. Crossing the bridge, I noticed a Livingston County sign, and, needing an “L” pulled off to get a photo.

This nearly ended the day early. On the east side of the river was a gravel area where motorists park to hike up into the Letchworth Gorge. Handling 1100 lbs of bike, riders and gear on loose soil is challenging enough, but the problem came as I tried to re-enter the road. Holding the Fatboy on the uphill grade, and stopping at the edge of the asphalt to check for traffic, I failed to notice the soft gravel shoulder had eroded about 6 inches below the edge of the asphalt. As I released the clutch, my right foot got caught against the road edge and the rear passenger foot plate dug into my calf, twisting my knee and tearing the rand of my boot along the instep.

Quick reactions, a heavy measure of Grace, and my leather boots saved me from serious injury. Had I been wearing sneakers or moving 2009 HOG ABCs of Touring Contestfaster, the situation would have been much worse than a sore knee.

We followed the road up out of the Genesee valley on 436 without  further incident. After getting our “N” in front of the Nunda Post Office on a nice, smooth, black top parking lot, we drove east on to Dansville.

Getting our “D” photo proved to be a bit of a challenge. The brick building made a wonderful backdrop, but framing the shot to get the bike and the tiny lettering on the edifice was difficult.

Shot taken and camera packed away, we headed over to I-390 for the trip to Bath. As we turned the corner, we passed a big “Dansville Police Station” sign that would have been much easier to photograph. 2009 HOG ABCs of Touring Contest

We stopped for lunch in Bath and then found our “S” in front of the historic Steuben County courthouse, and we were off for Elmira in search of the letter “C”.

Elmira, once home to Mark Twain, is the Chemung County seat. We found the county building, which occupies a city block. First we passed the county jail side, but opted not to take a photo there. We rounded the block and passed the Court and Clerk’s offices, but nowhere on the beautiful old building could we see a “C”. Search as we might, we saw no “C”. Convinced a “C” must 2009 HOG ABCs of Touring Contestbe seen somewhere, we rounded the block again, and found a tiny sign for the “Chemung Real Property” office. As this was the only “C” we saw, we seized the opportunity, foreseeing no other possibility, but it meant no one would see the building’s  beautiful facade in our photo, as you can see at the left.

After getting our “C” we both needed to pee, and headed to a nearby McDonalds. From Elmira, we went down to the Pennsylvania state line for a “P” of another sort, then north to Ithaca, where I hoped to see an “I”.

To be continued…

A “Hog” is slang for a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Legend has it that a race team in the 1920s used to carry a piglet as a mascot. When a member of the team won a race, he’d do a victory lap with the piglet, and folks took to calling them “hog riders.”

A “Fatboy” is the classic Harley Davidson cruiser, part of the “Soft tail” family of motorcycles. Early Harleys were known as “hard tails” for their lack of rear suspension and rigid frame. The “Soft tail” line was introduced to resurrect that classic Harley look, but it has a rear suspension hidden underneath the bike.

My first three vehicles were motorcycles. I learned to ride in the fields on the farm where I grew up. When I got my driver’s license, a Honda in the 300 to 550 CC range could be purchased for a few hundred dollars in good used condition. They cost very little to insure. So I learned to eat bugs and dodge rain drops, wore a big orange insulated suit in extreme cold, and I got around on two wheels for 8 to 10 months of the year.

After I started my family I decided to play it safe, sell the bike, settle down. I missed riding and the relaxation it brought, but life was busy between school and work and kids and Little League.

When gas prices hit $4.20 a gallon in 2008, I started looking at bikes again. Here in NY we pay primo gas taxes—the same day 87 octane was $4.20 here, it was $3.36 in Springfield, MO. My wife will tell you that’s my excuse for a mid-life crisis. I tried a bunch of Sportsters but found them uncomfortable. Then this great looking used Fatboy showed up at Stan’s Harley Davidson in Batavia. Three days later I owned it.

My youngest daughter, I learned, harbored a secret love for motorcycles. Every time I tried a bike, she’d hop on behind me and let me know how the seat felt. So she was ecstatic when I bought the Fatboy for, in her words: “Dad, this is nice.”

So we started touring around together on the bike, taking photos of the places we visited, and I got to thinking it might be fun to blog about small town America.