Sunday, October 30, 2011

Gateway to the Gorge

Over the weekend, I took the Beemer on a short excursion to the Red River Gorge Geological Area located to the southeast of Lexington, KY. I was hoping to catch the last of the fall foliage. Traffic through the area was minimal. The temperature may have had something to do with it. In the sunshine, the temps rarely crossed out of the upper 40's. At night, they dipped into the high 30's. While the leaves have passed their peak, enough of the fire of Autumn still clings to the branches to make the ride worthwhile.

The Nada Tunnel runs an east/west route into the heart of the Gorge. Originally cut through the rock with steam-powered drills, dynamite, and hand tools, the tunnel was completed in 1911 and was the only through way to the Gorge's interior. The tunnel was designed to accommodate 25 and 35 ton locomotives used to haul timber from the interior to the saw mill at Clay City. The Clay City mill, at one time, was the largest in the eastern United States.

According to local lore, only one man was killed during the construction of the railway tunnel. Apparently, he attempted to thaw several sticks of frozen dynamite by the heat of his campfire and well. . .

The tunnel is 900' long, around 20' in height, and 15' wide. The excavation crews began the project in 1910 and completed it in a little over a year in 1911. Given the tools of the times, the tunnel is a marvel of early 20th century engineering.

As a gateway into the Red River Gorge, the Nada Tunnel prepares the eye for the stunning vistas of the rock formations and blaze of Autumn color that lies beyond. The valley in which the Red River flows has been home to human beings for over 14,000 years; the earliest evidence of people living in the region can be found in the artifacts they left behind in cliff shelters. As I threaded my way along the narrow road under fading trees, listening to the river shush it's way through the valley, I wondered what I would leave behind for others to find. Perhaps only an echo of my passing, lone horse and it's rider.

Rescue Attempt

This video arrives via my wife who discovered it posted to The footage illustrates how, even in the midst of an endurance rally in South America, a Beemer rider will stop to perform a little charity work.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Riding the Ridge, Part One

In the early part of July 2011, I decided to test the BMW's worthiness on the road and embarked on a journey that would ultimately take me down the Blue Ridge Parkway from it's northern to southern terminus. The first day of the trip I spent on the interstate heading north through Cincinnati and Columbus where I turned west on interstate 70 through Wheeling and into Western Pennsylvania. After spending a few days at my father's house, I turned the bike south through Maryland and into northern Virginia and Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive.

I slept that first night in the park at Mathew's Arm, a campground positioned at about the 22 mile mark along the Drive. I wish I could say that the stay was pleasant, but the gnats along the parkway must have been holding their annual world conference. The winged pests were in such thick numbers that all of my photos along Skyline Drive contained the dark flecks of their pulpy little bodies. While the bike was in motion, the windscreen deflected most the bugs, but as soon as all forward momentum ceased, they descended on you in a horde. Stopping to converse with other riders at one of the plentiful and otherwise beautiful overlooks was always accompanied by constant waving of limbs.

My first day along the parkway was spent in the good graces of the weather gods. I always seemed to be where the rain was not. At one particular turn off, I was standing in the sunshine when another rider heading north stopped to inform me that the sky had opened just a few miles south and a deluge had commenced. He advised me to use caution; it was raining hard enough that he was having trouble navigating. When I resumed travel, I never encountered anything further south than wet pavement, the vapor already rising into the hot July air in thin wisps.

The storms diminished the gnat population. Even being near the tumultuous weather provided a relief from their incessant buggery. I have yet to be able to explain the reason behind their disappearance, but the gnats just ceased to exist the further south I traveled. They didn't gradually dwindle away; they just stopped altogether. I don't know if this was caused by weather change, elevation, a change in habitat. Whatever the reason, I was glad to be rid of them. It would mean more agreeable environment while off the Beemer.

I'm always surprised at the mini wasteland accompanying the transition from Skyline Drive and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It appears as if there was once a gas station and perhaps a small hotel just at the convergence of these two roads. They've been abandoned for years, just shells left from a different time. I always mean to stop and snap a few photos of the place, but never manage it when I pass by. It still strikes me as one of the loneliest places in the world. It's the type of emptiness created by distant, fading memory.

Skyline Drive, according to the guard manning the gate upon my arrival, was undergoing maintenance, mostly repaving. Much of the blacktop looked fresh enough to worry me in areas where the pavement was wet. I suspect that the rider who warned me of heavy rain earlier in the day experienced oil skimming the road surface following such a sudden downpour. The speed limits along the Drive demand a more sedate pace than I normally prefer, but with wet areas and fresh paving, I kept the RT only slightly over the mandated limits.

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers numerous points for quiet reflection. During my first day of riding, I passed through the highlands of northern Virginia on my way to my second camp in the lower elevations of the Virginia midlands. The country isn't the only thing that changes. Life, along with the accents of the people I had the good fortune to meet, slowed as I rode south. Toward my second stopping point, grits began to appear on the menus of the small town restaurants in which I sought respite from the heat. As I turned off the Parkway in the late afternoon, I could feel my spirit leaning West like a compass. Somewhere across the misty ridges of the Appalachians, the old bones of the mountains tumbled down into the foothills of the Bluegrass State. But the high elevations of North Carolina awaited before I would turn the bike toward home. For now, it was time to camp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Essence of Machine

Every now and again, I come across something on the web that exemplifies the spirituality behind riding and wrenching on bikes. This video is one of those somethings.

MACHINE from matt machine on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Tools: Google Maps

As a way of peaking my interest in roads a bit closer to the city, I've been tooling around with the Terrain function on Google Maps. It's been a useful way of locating the twisty roads within a stone's throw of the homestead. Prime examples are Route 1526, Route 1020, and Route 44 snaking through the hill country just south of Louisville and the Jefferson Memorial Forest.

View Larger Map

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fall Fever

I finally managed to squeeze a little cash out of the monthly budget to replace the dead battery in the Ninja. After a bit of coaxing, the bike fired over and settled into a smooth idle. Since the bike's been sitting for a while, I worked my way through the preflight checklist. The oil level seemed fine, and I had filled the tank prior to parking the bike one month ago. Brake fluid and light checked out. Turn signals were operational. Time to ride.

Manslick Rd. skirts the southern edge Iroquois Park in South Louisville before topping a ridge into the St. Andrews area. For a brief four or five miles, this road twists through some marvelous fall foliage inside the Louisville city limits. And while the curves tempt a rider to push the envelope, the sheer number of mailboxes decorating the roadside provides a warning as to the possibility of vehicles entering the traffic around blind corners.

I'd forgotten about how much fun the Ninja can be on a piece of blacktop threaded through the woods. The 650, particularly following a few months on the much heavier BMW, makes me feel like a fighter pilot. The Ninja dives into the corners. The bike encourages me to hang a knee off the side. After sliding through a corner, the Ninja seems to say, "Now let's turn around and take it again like we're supposed to."

I used to believe that I didn't have room in my life for more than one machine. Today, dodging through the dappled shadows under the fading leaves, I realize that I have enough room in my life for whatever awakens that desire to see what's around the next bend in the road.

Ride safe.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kein Kraut für Mich, Bitte

I spent most of the month of April 2011 searching the Cycle Trader ads for used Kawasaki Concours 1000's. I'd decided after some discussion with my wifey that a dealership bike would be preferable. We learned that we might still stand a chance of financing a later model through Kawasaki. Therefore, I limited my selection to bikes ranging from 2004 to 2006. What I located was a 2004 near Canton Ohio. The dealership was a 350 mile trip from my residence and I had the weekend to do it.

I called the dealer. They had the bike and assured me that it was a remarkable specimen of the late model variety. I asked them about the price (around $3500 with under 20K on the meter) and they indicated they'd be willing to negotiate provided I could slap down a significant down payment. I could. I called on a Friday and told them to expect me on Saturday morning.

I saddled the Ninja late Friday night and shot north up the interstate. I left at around 9:00 p.m. and slid into the parking lot of a motel just shy of Columbus at 11:30 p.m. This was one of those trips born out of necessity more than the pleasure of riding or travel. No pictures on this run. The motel was attached to a night club and had several abandoned gas stations located just across the road. When I inquired about the room rate at the desk, the receptionist asked in return, "How much you got?" I told her I had 30 bucks. "Sold," she said. The water in the shower smelled of cabbage, and my mattress had a blood stain on one side. In the morning, I turned in my key to a bleary-eyed young man at the desk. He asked me if I wanted a cup of complimentary coffee. Remembering the scent of the water the night before, I declined and rejoined the flow of traffic northbound on the interstate. I'm still not sure the hotel actually exists; if I went by that particular spot off the road, would I only find an empty gravel lot and the haunting smell of leafy green vegetables?

I reached Canton by mid morning and faced some disturbing realizations. The dealership was having a Triumph open house that was being coupled with some sort of radio show. The place was crawling with people. I guess I'd hoped that I'd have a rather pressure free shopping experience. The Concours in question turned out not to be a 2004 but a 2002, and was in decidedly less than pristine condition; much of the right lower fairing was crushed and badly bondoed back together. The 2002 had over 30K on the clock rather than under 20K. When I asked about the 2004, I was told that the particular bike about which I was inquiring (and had received photos of, mind you) had been sold the previous week.

Me: "What about a test ride on the '02?"

Dealer: "Can't do that."

Me: "I was told a test ride on the '04 wouldn't be a problem."

Dealer: "That bike's been sold."

I was self-consciously aware of the odor of cabbage that wafted from me now and again.

Disgusted, I left and rode through a light drizzle the remaining miles between Canton, OH and West Alexander, PA to visit with my father, cutting across the northern panhandle of West Virginia in the process. I spent that evening visiting with my father and set off down Ohio Route 7 the following morning. Route 7 follows the Ohio River all the way to eastern Kentucky and remains one of my favorite roads to travel. I picked up U.S. 60 in Kentucky and stayed with it into Louisville. With the detours, the trip stretched nearly a 1000 miles in the span of 48 hours. By the time I arrived at home, my anger toward the dealership had abated. I imagine the older model Concours don't receive much prestige in dealer's eyes these days, especially in light of a Triumph open house.

I opted out of making any further 1000 mile weekends, and wifey and I discussed the purchase of a motorcycle from a local dealer. This meant that a Concours 1000 was out of the question, but opened the door for the purchase of a used Concours 14. There were several of these machines, mostly '08's, available at reasonable prices from the local dealerships. Maybe a Check Engine light wouldn't be such a bad thing.

On the way home after work the next week, feeling a little discouraged, I stopped by the local Harley dealer on Arthur Street here in Louisville. I still enjoy looking at Harley's, the Sportsters in particular, and some of the new models really stir the soul. While I've moved past the Harley stage of my life for the time being, I can still appreciate their machines. There isn't another cruiser manufacturer out there that does what HD does as successfully or as consistently. And I've always admired their sales strategies, just not enough to purchase another one.

HD Sportster Forty-Eight

But the important detail of this little story is that HD of Louisville is also BMW Motorcycles of Louisville. I hadn't even considered a Beemer as an option. I test rode an R1200RT several years ago and found them absolutely fantastic, just what I'd always wanted in a touring rig. Plenty of power, mostly on the low to mid-range. Great suspension, actually a marvel of the motorcycling universe. Lots of nifty little doodads like heated grips and electric windscreens and powerlet adapters all as standard equipment. Wanted one until, that is, I happened to glance at the price tag. I figured that I'd have to sell one of my kidneys on the black market to afford a new model and banished the idea of owning one from my mind. In the meantime, the HD dealership had acquired the BMW franchise and were now carrying a wide variety of used models by the Bavarian manufacturer. While I went into the dealership to drown my sorrows in leather and chrome, I emerged with this.

So now I've officially sipped the Kool-Aid. But as I discovered in my recent expedition down the Blue Ridge parkway, this 2004 BMW R1150RT more than lived up the mystique of the Marque, and as far as I'm concerned, the reputation is well-deserved. After climbing off the Ninja following my 1000 mile weekend, my spirit felt refreshed but my spine wondered why I ever bothered to own a motorcycle in the first place. A thousand miles on the Beemer and I'm ready to stop for lunch. Well, dinner anyways, and hold the cabbage please.