Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Dangers of Commuting

Some would argue that the dangers of commuting to work on a motorcycle arise from navigating through traffic that, in the best of conditions, does not acknowledge the presence of the cyclist. Undoubtedly, this is true. Each day the commuting rider subjects himself to distracted or short-tempered drivers using their vehicles to jockey for lane position even if it only means gaining a single car length before the traffic grinds to a standstill. The risk of physical injury during the commute home from work can be quite a great deal higher than the morning rush hour. Everyone wants to get home, but fewer people are in a hurry to get to work.

Every motorcyclist on the road, whether commuting or not, faces these risks. But the commuter faces a danger that often goes unrecognized. I'd call it a spiritual danger, or if uncomfortable with that notion, a philosophical risk. The danger is quite simply to loose oneself in the traffic, to focus so intently on the process of navigation from point A to B that the significance of traveling by bike breaks down. Almost every rider with whom I speak agrees that a fundamental link between the health of the human spirit and the act of motorcycling exists. As the old saying goes, "You'll never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist's office." While I don't necessarily agree with that statement, I'll acknowledge that one of the activities I anticipate throughout the work week is the opportunity to get out and get lost on some back roads over the weekend. Doing so replenishes me and allows movement at an undetermined pace. So much of my life, including my daily commute, can be measured by predetermined units of time and distance.

Lately, I've been stuck in the groove of the commute. The bike sits idle in the driveway on the weekends. I grease the chain and check the oil level in preparation for the ride into the city each day. My dedication to this blog slips away and before I know it, two months have past since I last posted. So I'm heading out this afternoon for a little undefined saddle time, a piece of uncrowded highway, and a renewal of the spirit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ride to Work Day

Tomorrow marks the 19th annual Ride to Work Day. During any given day of the week, motorcycles and mopeds comprise only 200,000 of the over eighty million vehicles people use to commute to work. On the third Monday of June, however, the number of motorized two-wheeled transport used during the commute rises remarkably. Considering that over eight million motorcycles and mopeds are registered in the United States, we have a lot of room to make a sound impression.

We illustrate that we can conserve energy and space. Most motorcycles consume far less fuel and produce fewer harmful emissions than even conservative compact cars. Commuting by motorcycle demonstrates efficiency in the way motorcycles convert that fuel to usable power. Only the world's fastest cars--and expensive, might I add--can produce the range of power available even to motorcycles in the 600cc bracket, and few of those cars, if any, claim the fuel consumption rates of their two-wheeled counterparts. Motorcycles can be parked just about anywhere. In the parking garage where I house the Ninja during my time at work, it shares a small out of the way corner with a Honda Helix. The space these two vehicles occupy isn't really a space, but rather, one of those lost corners completely unusable by even the smallest cars. Though only two of us have recently used this space, practice a little judiciousness and the space could easily manage two additional machines.

With the spill in the Gulf of Mexico pouring tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the sea each week, I can think of no finer demonstration of outrage than to utilize a method of transportation that has the potential to hit Big Oil where it can do the most damage. We can hit them in their pocket books. Granted, one day will do little to alter the grand scheme. My hope remains that if a fraction of riders taking to the asphalt tomorrow commute again the following day and then the day after that, the slow trickle toward a more permanent shift begins. While we're a long way from being free of the consumption of fossil fuel, we can find cleaner and more responsible methods of consumption.

There has been much finger pointing lately regarding just who is to blame for the Gulf spill catastrophe. Protesters call for President Obama to take action and Tony Hayward's head on a silver platter. Truth be told, if we really want to see who's to blame, we should all take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror before slipping our helmets over our heads in the morning. We create the demand and only we have the power to do anything about it. Ride safe. Ride free. Ride wisely.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Twist and Shout

The Kentucky Highlands, as they're known in these parts, contain roads that appeal to many appetites. Along any given stretch, one can find complex curves, rolling hills, and long, smooth expanse of unblemished asphalt. Referred to as the golden triangle by those who live within it, my favorite stretches of road run through country bordered by three interstate systems bridging the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati. It's easy for me to disappear for a day into the hills and loose track of time.

Just this past Tuesday, adding an extra day off to the holiday weekend, I decided I'd make a run to two out to a particular spot of roadway that I appreciate for the view and the turns. Rt. 22 pierces west into the very heart of Louisville, but the section that particularly concerned me lies just about a mile to the east of the hamlet of Gratz, positioned on the banks of the Kentucky River. 22 can be scenic once the city and suburbs are left behind, winding through farm country on it's way toward Owenton. While the road holds few surprises other than the scenery and can be ridden at a brisk pace, one particular section deserves closer inspection and a higher level of skill.

One or two miles after exiting Gratz, Rt. 22 makes a scenic but hard left out of the valley and begins twisting it's way up the hillside in a series of tight coils. It's as if a crew of road engineers were transplanted for a few days from the Appalachians and then whisked away once road construction crested the hill. This short section, perhaps only a half-mile long, nevertheless is worth a few passes. Due to the incline, descending the hill offers challenges not encountered in the ascent. The corners along the upward side will sharpen a sport bike's foot pegs during a spirited run. Guardrails and cattle fences line both sides of the road and missing a corner will result in fast descent down the gravel roadbed into barbed wire. I encourage keeping an eye peeled for rambunctious cagers crossing the center line in the turns, gravel trucks speeding to the nearby quarry, and patient clopping of Amish horse and buggy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Red River Gorgeous

Repairs completed and weather warming, I packed the tent and sleeping bag on the bike and took off for an overnight to the Red River Gorge Geological Area. Renowned for the well preserved sites of prehistoric peoples who lived and traveled through this area, the Gorge contains the largest concentration of natural rock shelters in the eastern United States. In more recent history, the Shawnee natives settled in this region prior to arrival of European explorers. The federal government established the geological area in 1974 by designating 29K acres and in 1976, the National Park Service declared the area to be a Natural National Landmark. The government established Clifty Wilderness in 1985, an eastern section of the gorge set aside for natural study and in which no modern development of any kind occurs. In 1993, U.S. Congress indicated that a 19.4 mile section of the Red River, after which the area is named, be set aside as a National Wild and Scenic River.

While there are many areas in which to camp in the Daniel Boone National Forest, camping in the Gorge itself is highly regulated. For instance, camping in the Clifty Wilderness requires leaving any motorized vehicle behind and setting out on foot. Established campgrounds, such as Koomer Ridge, lie just outside the boundary of the geological area and provide amenities such as flushing toilets and showers. I wanted something affording a little more solitude and decided to try John Swift's Lost Silver Mine Campground, a privately owned primitive ground located two or three miles inside the boundary on the bank of the river. Rt. 77 threads it's way through the Nada Tunnel, a 900 ft.-long, single lane road originally cut through the rock by hand and steam-powered drills, and is the only road looping through the area.

Preceding the tunnel and immediately after, Rt. 77 spans two-lanes and the tendency to open the throttle and play can be overwhelming. However, road conditions vary widely from mile to mile. Due to the large number of hikers and rock climbers accessing the Gorge, vehicles group on the shoulders of the road near trail heads, restricting the width of the road. These vehicles drag cinders from the roadside onto the tarmac and these patches of black gravel hide in the shade of the overhanging trees. As I entered the Gorge on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I rode through a group of Harley riders stopped by the roadside. A man and his wife traveling two-up rode through one such patch, lost control, and slid off the road. They dropped down a steep embankment into an area of boulders and trees along the river. Needless to say, the couple was not having as pleasant an afternoon as I. An ambulance was on it's way, but due to the limited access to the area, the couple were stretched on the grass of the embankment. A half an hour had passed between the crash and when I passed by. The twisted wreckage of the motorcycle glinted from amongst the rocks nearly twenty feet below the surface of the roadway.

Heavy rain inundated the Gorge and surrounding country the previous week. Sections of Rt. 15 running from just east of Lexington to the Gorge were closed due to flooding. This entire section of Rt. 77 cascaded down the hillside and into the river, tearing away the pavement and the trees. While the area surrounding the Gorge may seem like a motorcyclist's playground, the uninhabited sections are relatively small. Family farms and small towns dot these Appalachian foothills. It's not uncommon to encounter commercial traffic and farm machinery, and these industries take precedence in consideration for repair of roads.

I arrived at an empty campground and chose a sandy spot beneath shade trees toward the rear of the grounds. I carried a gravity fed filtration system with me and collected water from a stream feeding the Red River about 50 yards from my camp. Due to the flooding the previous week, drift wood swept down river and onto the bank piled against the upriver side of trees. With the temps ranging from 70 to 90 degrees during the day, I gathered enough dry firewood to last me through the evening and into the next morning. Forecasts for the region promised that overnight temperatures would drop into the upper 30's, what I consider to be perfect camping weather. I brewed a pot of coffee and settled down to read in the last of the golden, late afternoon light. A group of people canoeing the river passed through, stopping on the sandy bank to eat and take pictures.

I believed that I'd have the campground to myself as the sun set and the sky began to rust it's way toward twilight. As I was situating my supplies for easy access in the dark, the crunching of tires on the gravel access road alerted me to a group of guys approaching my campsite by car. While most folks visiting a campground are usually just searching for a little solitude of their own, I'm always a little leery of others when I'm camping alone. I've had the profound experience of being robbed, once at gunpoint, while camped in isolated areas.

The car parked in a spot on the edge of the small stream from which I'd drawn my drinking water. The four men in the car didn't exit their vehicle for a half an hour. When they emerged, smoke billowed out into the still evening followed by raucous fits of coughing. They'd paid for a trunk full of firewood, but by the time they'd finished getting high, full-on night shrouded the camp and made searching for kindling impossible without a flashlight. I started my own fire with flint and steel and a handful of dry pine needles. Great flashes of light blossomed amongst the trees as the men doused their pile of damp wood with charcoal lighter and gasoline. When it was burning well enough to shed a little light on the wooden cornhole game they were in the process of assembling, they took hiatus to complete the baking process. And then the fire went out. This process was repeated over a dozen times throughout the night.

They erected their tent in the dark with much cursing and fumbling. Due to the fire remaining unlit more than ignited, they positioned their car toward the game area and turned on the headlights and the stereo. The alcohol arrived. I considered my options. I could confront them, but with just myself and no weaponry, not the wisest of choices. At 130 pounds, I'm not perceived as much of a threat. Go figure. People become unpredictable and dangerous where mind and mood altering chemicals are concerned. The campground owners did not remain on the premises at night. Judging by the exorbitant rate of consumption, I decided to do nothing and await the inevitable. Their commotion reached it's peak around midnight and then quickly choked off. At least they remembered to turn off the car headlights.

In the morning, I emerged into a campground shrouded in mist. I rebuilt my fire from the smoldering embers of the previous night and brewed fresh coffee. My neighbors had crammed four adult men into a youth model tent that was now collapsed on one end, tent poles lying stretched out on the grass like a pair of splayed legs. Empty beer bottles were tossed in the undergrowth as far as 20 yards from their camp. I finished my coffee and was in the process of finding their ineptitude laughable when I paid a visit to the stream to rinse my dishes. One of the men had decided to evacuate his bowels sometime during the night in the shallow water; he'd left his soiled underwear behind as well. I found myself praying that they'd all come down with a raging case of pneumonia and croak.

Thankfully, I stayed only one night. I broke camp and jotted down the license plate number of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the ranger station was twenty miles away in Stanton and closed on Sunday. I spent the rest of the day visiting the area's stunning overlooks. I stopped for a home cooked breakfast at a hostel-style inn geared toward the rock climbers of the region before gassing up and heading north toward the horse country around Lexington.

Few things upset me as greatly as disrespect for the natural environment. I was taught as a boy that when I camp, I place myself in the care of that environment. I was educated to see my responsibility, my duty even, to ensure that those who come after me are not aware that I preceded them. This philosophy attracted me to motorcycling and eventually led me to unite these two passions. I pass through, just a flash of silver on twisting, country tarmac, and leave no trace, as water over the rocks, wind through tall grass.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chain, Chain, Chain

I alluded in my recent post on camping in the Smokies that I ran into some trouble of my own making while traveling this year. When it comes to maintenance, I've often had to learn the hard way that something needs to be completed in the interval specified in the owner's manual. The challenge when dealing with components that rely upon measurement of wear patterns arises when trying to extend the life of the component to it's maximum. My trip to eastern Tennessee this year taught me that when a chain reaches the end of it's natural life, it has absolutely, positively reached the end of it's natural life. There can be no wringing a few extra miles of usefulness out of a worn drive chain.

My preferred destination is Tellico Plains, the starting gate of the Cherohala Skyway. From my home in northern Kentucky, I must ride over 350 miles to reach this town. In March of this year, I set out with an already taxed drive chain for an extended weekend in the mountains. First let me say that my maneuver wasn't just foolish, but dangerous. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. What started as poor judgement on my part could have easily become a costly mistake. A worn drive chain can jump sprocket resulting in a crash and yet another trip by bus to the emergency room. In many regions of the Appalachian mountain chain, a rider could leave the road, disappear into the brush, and not be recognized for days, if at all.

At the least, worn drive chains no longer respond appropriately to adjustment and can damage other drive line, such as sprockets, or transmission components. Fortunately for me, none of the above incidents occurred. I limped the Ninja home after a single day and arrived in my driveway with a chain seriously binding in more than one location. I decided to spend the remainder of my vacation disassembling the final drive and thoroughly cleaning my machine. As the pictures indicate, a good bath was sorely overdue.

All body panels were removed and cleaned from each side. One of my least favorite aspects of chain-driven machines is the chain itself. While this method of drive is relatively simple to maintain and affords a tremendous amount of power to the rear wheel, I've never been able to keep one very clean with the type of riding in which I engage. Old chain gore refuses to be scrubbed away without a little labor. After several days accompanied by an ample supply of elbow grease and Simple Green, a motorcycle was discovered beneath the grime on wheels I'd parked in the driveway. I took the time to change my oil and filter, replace the rear tire, inspect the brake pads, and check the frame for breaks in the welds, a failing reported by several web communities on the first generation of this Ninja model.

And the chain needed replacement. While this requires a few specialized tools, such as the chain breaker and riveting tool pictured to the left, the procedure is relatively simple. Manufactured by Stockton Tools, the instrument I purchased came with simple instructions, and with the aid of several on-line how-to tutorials, I performed the job myself. Keep in mind that the last time I replaced a chain was with my father's assistance when I was ten. Very simply, the old chain needed "cutting" and it's replacement required that it be sized, which involved removing links to bring the chain to the proper length. In this case, that would be 114 links. The chain I purchased, of the x-ring variety, arrived with 120 links. Adhere to the old axiom, measure twice, cut once. An inability to perform basic math will result in...well...let's just say I measured once and paid twice.

The trickiest part of the entire process comes when placing and riveting the new master link. Rather than use a clip-style master link, which involves a retaining plate slid over the ends of the link pins to hold the master link together, I utilized a rivet link. The outer plate of the link is pressed into position using the riveting tool and then the heads of the link pins are mushroomed out to hold the outer plate in place. Much of this must be done by feel and careful inspection to avoid pressing the outer plate on too tightly. An over pressed master link will damage the tiny rubber x-rings and cause the new chain to bind. Needless to say, I learned my lesson from my first mistake and took my sweet time.

Another hotly debated topic contests whether the sprockets must be replaced at the same time as the chain and whether both sprockets should be switched out at the same time. I chose to replace the smaller drive sprocket due to wear, a slight forward lean of the teeth upon inspection. I did not replace the rear sprocket as the teeth showed an even and predictable decline. Several factors influence how fast a sprocket will show wear. Aluminum sprockets, for instance, usually wear faster than those made from steel, and the differing alloys used by various manufacturers can deteriorate at varying rates.

Averaging 15K-20K miles per chain is considered by most sources I consulted, including my regular mechanic, as high mileage. My old chain accumulated 25K miles, and when I think hard about it, probably should have been replaced between 20K and 22K miles. I sometimes fall into the trap of trying to extend the life of my machine's components. In reality, some parts are just designed to wear out and be replaced. This is the third chain fitted to the Ninja, and the first replacement I've undertaken myself. While not altogether complicated and a learning experience, I dream more frequently of shaft drive.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cat Tail

Mickey the cat taking siesta
in my Cortech Tail Bag

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Camping and Riding the Smokies, Part...Whatever

Last Spring, I began a series of posts to which I never returned. I'd envisioned a grand tour of the Smokies and surrounding environs all through the summer with episodic posts detailing my traveling exploits. My plan to supplement these ramblings with picturesque shots of mountain highway ultimately fell through. Instead of a summer throwing the bike into languorous curves, I spent a week in the hospital and another month in outpatient therapy, my vacation time whittled down to nothing more than splinters.

So, I'm returning to my grand vision now, a little more humble in scope. Better late than never, right? Well, maybe. My brief foray into the eastern Tennessee mountains nearly ended in disaster and disaster of my own making at that. But I'll get to that a little later.

From my earliest days of touring, back when I darted about the state on a 440 KZ, I preferred motorcycle camping to staying in motels. At first, camping was simply a matter of necessity. A $50 motel room meant less money for gas and, ultimately, a shorter period of time on the road. Spending $8 for a campsite allowed me to range farther afield. Then there are those times when I've paid nothing for a spot to throw a tent up after a day cruising lazy back roads. I've camped behind abandoned buildings, in vacant lots, and in farmer's fields, with their permission of course. For a starving college student on a shoestring budget, these situations are a dream come true. My motel experiences have always been dubious. I've rented rooms for $25 dollars and been treated like royalty. On the flip side, I've forked over $90 dollars and been ready to pack up in the middle of the night and slink away like a bad dog. By contrast, rarely have I had an unpleasant stay in a $30 dollar nylon dome from Target, and the experiences have always been memorable. I woke up in the middle of the night at Carter Caves State Park on a humid Wednesday in late June several summers ago to watch (and smell) a pair of skunks knock a plastic box containing donuts off of trees the next site to mine. Which just goes to show, all creatures love donuts.

In my mind, motorcycle touring and camping share many of the same traits. So many similarities, in fact, that the idea of staying in a motel after a long dusty day in the saddle, feels alien by comparison. Motorcycles embody freedom. Some would say freedom incarnate, really. The experience of freedom in the magnitude that motorcycling rewards demands vulnerability. As riders we're subject to the unpredictability of the elements. We're at the mercy of other vehicles, as well as the whims of the idiots who pilot them. A bad breakdown in a remote area often means hitching a ride or, more likely, a long walk to the next service station. Crashing, God forbid, usually results in a trip to the hospital. Our gear sits in plain view. I believe motorcyclists offer more fox-hole prayers than any other population. Riding into Atlanta during rush hour I recall myself saying, "Please, God, if I live through this, I promise I'll never do anything this stupid again."

These "drawbacks", as most motorists would call them, generate our solidarity. Stranded by the roadside with the whistle of a punctured front tire for company, cars whizzing by, its always comforting to hear the stumbling gait of a motorcycle engine gearing down as its rider prepares to slide onto the gravelly shoulder to offer, if nothing else, moral support. Motorcycle camping enhances this experience, indeed, can sustain the sensation indefinitely. At least, as long as one is willing to go without a hot shower.

I sometimes prefer the solitude of remote camping, as I described in Part One, to mirror a 450 mile day alone on the bike. For my latest excursion, I chose the possibility of a social venue by camping at Hunt's Lodge Motorcycle Resort. The southern Appalachian mountains are unique for motorcyclists in the respect that these types of campgrounds are plentiful. Hunt's Lodge offers sleeping cabins or free-range camping, hot showers, coffee, and the pleasure of company as a group of old road dogs relax around the fire pit swapping lies. In spite of the amenities, the spirit of freedom and the sensation of vulnerability required to sustain it, are preserved.

My suggestion is to begin slow and inexpensively. A $30 tent from Target will keep you just as dry during a thunderstorm as a $400 tent from your local plush outfitter. Which is to say, you'll be wet. Take extra cash with you for food in case that state-of-art cook stove refuses to light in the wind. Or in case you throw it into the woods in the dark and can't reacquire it. Buy a sleeping pad; its less expensive than a chiropractor. Don't skimp when it comes to sleeping bags. Make sure your cell phone is fully charged; plugs do not grow naturally in the woods. Above all, experiment. Take a brief trip to somewhere close by with several options in case things don't go as planned. This is a good way to test gear, to find out what actually works well. When you're sitting in the tent pondering what on earth possessed you to purchase that combination can opener-signal whistle-flash light, you won't regret as much tossing it in the dumpster on your way out than you will if you're deep in the forest and realize that this amazing device took up the same same space as a drybox of matches.

While camping at the Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground several summers ago, a BMW rider approached me and said, "I see that you're as compact as I am," meaning that I had developed over many years of stupidity, luck, and trial and error the ability to carry everything I need for several days on the road with limited need for human interaction. I couldn't help but smiling. That line from Spaceballs crossed my mind, "I see that your Schwartz is as big as mine."

Oh, and don't forget to enjoy yourself. See you in the woods.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Let Sleeping Dragons Lie?

The famous US 129 has reopened to traffic from the North Carolina side of the highway. According the article from Clutch & Chrome, motorcyclists may enter the corrider at Robbinsville, NC and turn back about two miles before the rock fall. Be careful out there, folks. I imagine that with the road only accessible from one direction, emergency services will have a more difficult job extracting injured riders.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Cheer for the Cherohala

Prior to my departure for the Cherokee National Forest, a fellow rider from work asked me what I was going to do there with the Dragon closed. I had to explain to him, with a more than a little sarcasm, that other roads do wander through that region of the country. Case in point is the beautiful Cherohala Skyway, a 36 mile highway bridging North Carolina to Tennessee. It crosses through two national forests, the Cherokee and the Nantahala.

Where the Dragon epitomizes the technical, riders on the Cherohala can expect solitude and some of the most profound scenic vistas to be found on any road in the region. During months like March, weather on the Cherohala can be unpredictable, and I've found that the best way to approach riding not just the Cherohala but the entire region is to dress for a wide variety of conditions. Being a fan of textiles, this usually isn't a problem. Temperatures in the Tellico River valley were near 75 degrees by noon the Saturday I started my climb into the mountains. Temperatures near the Cherohala's highest points favored snow. Even in the valley during the early morning hours, the temps can drop into the freezing range.

What I appreciate most about riding east Tennessee during the early part of the season is the lack of crowds. While I don't mind sharing stories by the fire with a few of my fellow travelers, the last thing I desire while trying replenish my spirit and take in the view is to constantly glance into my mirrors for the next rocket-boy attempting to race his way up my exhaust pipe. The Cherohala offers a clean ribbon of tarmac uninterrupted by commercial traffic, the glitz and glare of billboards, and stoplights. Plenty of pulloffs provide opportunity for photographs and space to stop and allow faster riders to proceed without the risk of dodging into oncoming traffic.

Home to the
Over-the-Hill tribes of the Cherokee prior to the arrival of white settlers

The Over-the-Hill Cherokee were so named due to the fact that this was the terrain one needed to cross in order to make contact with the natives

The natives treated the peaks and valleys of east Tennessee and western North Carolina as sacred. It only takes one pass through the Cherohala's sultry curves to connect with that sense of spirit, one moment to fall in love with this long, quiet highway.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Dragon is Dead, Long Live the Dragon!

I recently returned from a brief foray to the Cherokee National Forest, one of my favorite places on earth to ride and camp. While the entire area serves as a Mecca for motorcyclists, one road draws riders from all over the world more than any other in the region. US 129, named the Tail of the Dragon, actually refers more specifically to an eleven mile stretch of highway sporting 318 curves spanning east Tennessee and western North Carolina. The road crosses through Deal's Gap, a pass in the mountains likely named after white settlers, but used by Cherokee natives centuries before the arrival of white explorers.

A rock slide occurred on March 14 and Tennessee authorities closed the infamous Dragon at the state line on March 17. Efforts are underway to reopen the road, at least from the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort to the area of the landslide.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spokes Women

My wife and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning today when this segment on motorcyclists of the fairer sex aired. And there's always a little something for the guys; anyone who doesn't find Melissa Paris absolutely hypnotizing should have their head examined.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

And here are a few links to those organizations covered in the segment.

American Motorcycle Girls
Roar Motorcycles
Melissa Paris

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Do I Have Bugs in My Teeth?

Out here in the country, its hard to miss the coming of Spring. The air sweetens, and the green fades into the grass along my favorite twisting tarmac. The ice releases the chatter of the Little Kentucky River. The farmers turn earth and prepare for the first planting of the season, the smell of grave and good harvest.

Motorcyclists are emerging from their winter hibernation. One minute, I'm alone in frigid temperatures and the next, I'm surrounded by my own kind. Its as if they bloomed along with the first flowers and trees. The boar grunt of the Harley bounces off cars parked along the gentile boulevards of small town Kentucky as bands of roaming bankers and lawyers take to the streets. The farting bee-can of the elusive high speed squid filters down to me out of the hills as I settle the bike onto the side stand in my driveway.

Yes, we're all out again. And so are the bugs. If ever there's a surer sign that the deep freeze of winter is coming to an end, I have yet to experience one as disgusting. Due to the fact that I have a brain, I'm fortunate to own a cranial protection device. Inside, I take in the gentle pitter-patter of countless little lives being snuffed out against the protective shield. Its kind of like rain, only gooier.

To all my brethren only now emerging into the light, to all of those purchasing their first horses this season, and to those once lonely sentinels of the frozen asphalt, ride safe, ride hard, and ride free.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Seems like in the winter months I go into a state of suspended animation. Oftentimes, I'm leaving for work in the dark and returning home at night. Here in northern Kentucky, we've experienced above average snowfall this year, and the temperatures over the previous two weeks have been below average for this time of year. Not a good combination, if you ask me. While I don't find the cold daunting, the Ninja definitely wasn't built with ice in mind.

Fortunately, the county and state highway crew performed admirably following last week's snow. The sun slid out from behind the gray dome of an overcast sky and the mercury hovered at just above freezing. Good enough for me. I'll take time where I can find it in the cold months. An old rider once told me that any day I could throw my leg over the saddle was a good day. After tilting the horizon along icy byways in the eastern portion of Henry County, even the hope of distant Spring is enough to sustain my spirit.