Saturday, July 30, 2016

Scenes from My Commute

I spent some time commuting to work this week. I knew it was going to be hot later, so I gauged where the sun was goig to be at the end of the day, and made sure my whip would be in the shade. It only took me a coouple of years of riding to figure this one out. 


I love these back country roads. Berks County, Pennsylvania. It always surprising to me how quickly Pennsylvania gets rural outside of her cities and towns.

The first rule of Italian riding: what's behind you doesn't matter. Unless it's miles and miles of beautiful winding roads. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


I got some FARKLES (Freaking Awesome Really Kool Likely Expensive) for the bike. Wings that are designed to improve airflow up and over the helmet, rather than directly blasting me in the face. That's an improvement.

The view from the cockpit. You can see them lower and to the sides of the windscreen.

I also added a Ram Mount to hold my phone, so I can use it as a GPS system.

I also added a cruise control. I can't understand how a Ducati Multistrada has a keyless start system and does NOT have cruise control. What are they thinking?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Southcentral PA Noodling

I went for a ride with my buddies Roger, Vern, and Brad. Roger showed up with his recently completed redo of his gorgeous Ducati 990. I love this bike!

Our crew is an eclectic group, to say the least. When you see groups of riders out and about, there is almost always a unifying theme. Harley riders, crotch-rocket kids, veterans, gangs, and the like. But we have Brad's long-distance sport tourer (Kawasaki Concours), Vern's cruiser (Harley-Davidson), Roger's 990, and my dual-sport adventure bike. I sometimes wonder what people think when they see the four of us, especially people who know riding. Truth be told, the thing that brings us togetheer is going to the same Bible study for more that a dozen years and a love of riding.

We took back roads down to a scenic overlook, King's Gap, which offers a spectaculaar view of the entire Cumberlandd Valley. It's funny, I used to live near there and never knew it existed until quite recently. We wound our way up to the top and looked out. It was amazing. Took a quick snap, and then we were back in the saddle for the next section.

From here we went to the South Mountain Restoration Center. This is an intriguing spot, once used to help kids with tuberculosis recover. It's at a higher elevation (1600 feet) and it help clear the patients. Today, most of it sits idle.

We rode down out of here, and shortly thereafter saw an 8+ foot snake in the road. I don't normally get the heebies with snakes, but this was easily the largest snake I have ever seen. I'm glad we all misssed it on our bikes, especially since it was World Snake Day.

We rode through Michaux State Forest and Caledonia State Park, out the other side to Waynesboro, home of the Frontier BBQ. This is some of the nicest riding in the region, and we were not disappointed. We got to the Frontier and parked in next to some likeminded BBQ lovers.

I think anytime you arrive at a place that has the words "hickory smoked" and "bullhawg sandwich" on the walls, you're in for something special.

I was torn. I wanted a brisket sandwich, 100% beef slow-cooked to absolute perfection. But, I also wanted a bullhawg,, a half-beef, half-pork, monstrosity of godzilla-like proportions, designed to be eaten/slurped/chewed/worn with reckless abandon. So, I did what any redblooded American would do. I ordered them both, with a coke.

I'm not mentioning names, but one of those fools ordered a DIET. Like that's going to make a difference.

On the way out, II saw an old street rod. It was really cool, but the last time I was here, the chainsaw artist had a 9 foot sasquatch. It was nowhere to be seen this time, and I was seriously bummed. Bigfoot is for real.

Here is a shot of me with my Squatchy friend. Better days - hope you are well.

Monday, July 11, 2016

One More Pixxor

I had to get the obligatory Tale of the Dragon photo, so here it is. Me on my Multi, absolutely loving life. 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Epic Motorcycle Ride Day 6: Wytheville, WV to HOME!

I woke up in the morning and it was raining. Again. Or is it still? I waited, and it let up a little, but it didn't show signs of stopping for a while, so I decided to ride through it. Checking the radar (I use the MyRadar app and it's a fantastic tool), it looked relatively clear 1-2 hours up the road, so I donned the Frog Togs and left. It seemed prudent to take the highway, at least until the weather started to clear a bit.

Finally, it began to clear, and I got off the highway. The roads turned "fun" shortly after leaving, but with the rain, I decided to take it easy.

The ride into West Virginia was still overcast, but the clearing had begun. 

Of course, there was the requisite wildlife for the region.

She's on the run!!!

West Virginia had been declared a disaster zone since the storms that fell on her the day I left. Entire towns were swept away, and there were videos of cars swept underwater with their headlights still on, and houses on fire being swept downstream. I was higher in elevation, for the most part, so I didn't see many signs of the disaster, but my thoughts were with the people of West Virginia ass they continued to clean up and recover. 

I also pulled into Hillsboro, West Virginia, home of Pearl S. Buck who wrote The Good Earth. It was one of the best and saddest books I read, required in high school, and this year it was also required reading for my daughter. The classics never die.  

That's her home behind the tree there.It was closed, probably on account of all the flooding. Notice the sun is shining again...finally!

Just beyond this, I went into Greenbrier, WV and this town was more impacted by the rains. Also, there was a near-gridlock situation as I rode further into town. I couldn't figure it out until I saw a Super Wal-Mart and realized everyone was going there to get supplies. Still, people were patient, with no one honking their horns, or yelling, or carrying on. Sometimes the worst things happen TO us and bring out the best things IN us. 

I got out of there and moved on, coming into Cass, WV an old mining (I think) company town decked out in white buildings with black trim. 

There was also a lot of mountain cleanup in the area, with crews clearing debris from the roadways as it was washed off the hillsides. On one stoppage, I looked to my left and saw this little oddity: a gnome home.  

I also saw HUGE satellite dishes at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. I was sorry I didn't have time to take the tour and see the dishes up close, so I will also add that to my "next time" list. 

I got lost again, and this time I hooked up a GPS. It took me the most convoluted way ever, including some "Enduro" time down a backcountry road that reminded me of a scene from Deliverance. Luckily, it's a fast-moving bike, and I was able to outrun the banjo music. 

I took a lot of great roads: 219, 66, 92, 250, and Senator Robert Byrd's US-48, a mammoth highway from nowhere to nowhere with no one on it. I think it was paved with Congressional pork. For a motorcyclist, it was perfect! I hit I-68 and sprinted for home, arriving as the sun set. 

In six days, I travelled 2,600+ miles, covering 12 states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Virginia. 

And still, Dorothy was right: "There's no place like home!" 

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Epic Motorcycle Ride Day 5: Lenoir City, TN to Wytheville, VA

I woke up to find that it had rained heavily the night before. I walked out to put my gear on the motorcycle and there were two towels sitting on it for me to dry the bike off. I dried the toweled it off, brought the towels in, and said to a woman behind the desk that someone had left them on my bike. "Oh, that was me. I thought you might want a dry motorcycle for your ride today." Best, most thoughtful, service I have EVER received from a hotel. EconoLodge for the win! Oh, and they had a continental breakfast, so I hit that too, then headed south toward the Tail of the Dragon.

I started out early and found a sweet, winding road to take me to my destination.

I was up early enough that I still caught a little of the sunrise while I was out there.

There is so much water in central and eastern Tennessese. Rivers, lakes, and dams. Throughout this region, the roads hug the shoreline and offer spectacular views.

Aside from winding back and forth, the roads in this area also rise and fall dramatically, the hills and mountains offering their own contour and character. At the bottom, the roads skirt the water, at the top they offer incredible views. It really is a non-stop, extravagant festival of nature's finest.

I jumped into a "scenic view" view pull-off. In this spot, the clouds were actually being blown up the mountain, and crossing over the road. People were passing where I had stopped, and driving through the clouds. Then, it was my turn to get on the bike and do it - So cool!

 I had to stop and take a selfie!

Some more maginificent (I am going to run out of superlatives talking abou this region) riding, and then I was at the Dragon. The Tail of the Dragon is an 11 mile stretch of road that features 318 curves, switching back and forth through a mountainous area. It is a "must-do" for motorcyclists, and I was finally here, five years after getting started in the sport.

I rode without getting a piece of my bike nailed to the Tree of Shame, a memorial for people who crash on the Dragon and thereafter attach a piece of the wreckage to the Tree. The best piece of advice I got was "Ride your ride" (this applies to all areas of riding, not just The Dragon) and I wasn't super aggressive on the road. Incredibly, I was there on a Monday morning, and had arrived early enough that I had the entire road to myself. I rode down, switching back and forth, in second gear almost the whole time, rolling on and off the throttle into and out of turns, feeling the rhythm of the road. I felt like I was just getting the true feel for it when I reached the end.

I pulled into the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort store at the end of the Dragon. I had promised myself one memento of my time there. I ended up buying something that would remind me of the expreience for a long time - a pair of Alpine Star gloves. I was going to head south from here, but the roads were closed due to a lot of recent storms, so I went north, right back up the Dragon. So nice, I rode it twice!

The mimosa trees were in bloom, too. I love riding beside water. It's just magical.

I rode a lot of great roads, including wandering (that's code for: I got lost and wound up in...) into Hot Springs, North Carolina. This is another great area for riding and, from the looks of it, fly fishing as well. I pulled into a gas station, fueled up and started talking with a hiker who was doing the through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. He told me about Max Patch, a bald mountain top in the area with spectacular views, but advised against it today because of lightning. I will add it to my list of things for next time I am here.

I had just finished fueling up when the first drops began. Looking up, Saauron's cloud that previously hung over Mordor had found its way to this little patch of North Carolina. I glanced aroud quickly and there was a restaurant next door, where I did a mad dash just before Heaven opened up. I had a semi-average salad and waited for the storm to pass, the cloudburst delivering pint-sized drops of rain, pummeling the tin roof of the place. Then, just as quickly, it had passed. Summer storms are crazy-wild, and I don't think I realized how much so until this trip. Being IN them, rather than just an observer OF them, changes one's perspective mightily.

Leaving Hot Springs, I got lost again because there was no cell phone coverage and I missed a turn. It served as a reminder that a tank bag and an actual map is a good thing to have. I rode north into Virginia...

...where I eventually got hemmed in by storms in Wytheville, Virginia, and had to stop for the day.

I was shooting for Pittsburgh but, between storms and my previous getting lost, it just wasn't going to happen. I stopped and found a place that offered LAUNDRY (no EconoLodge in this area)! I was so grateful to be rid of the dead-body stench coming frm my trunk everytime I opened it. And, one day from home, so I wouldn't have to do laundry when I got through the door, was a huge bonus. I had dinner at a steakhouse, and continue to wonder why it is so difficult to find a decent meal on the road.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Epic Motorcycle Ride Day 4: Little Rock, AR to Lenoir City, TN

I was planning to have breakfast with JP and Rosi then get on the road, but I woke up early. I kept evaluating the ride ahead, and decided to leave, because I had so much ground to cover. I thought about this, as I rode, realizing it was a metaphor for life, this thinking that our plans are solid we that we always have more time with the people we care about.

Hopping on the bike and gearing up, I found I had lost a glove taking JP for a spin yesterday. I am an idiot. Damn! I ran the route we took, but did not find it. Still, I had my throttle hand glove, and I was good to go. JP and Rosi told me to try Route 70 as an alternative to Interstate 40, and I was really glad I did it. What a beautiful road.

I stopped to get gas, and I had become so used to riding without a glove that I forgot to put the one I had back on. And, I lost that one, too. Are you kidding me? I am a total idiot. Double Damn! I stopped in an O'Reilly Auto Parts and bought a pair of $9 gloves to hold me over and provide some protection.

I was really surprised by Arkansas. I thought I knew what rural was, living as close as I do to Lancaster, PA, but I have never seen rural areas like this. Surprisingly beautiful, Arkansas' farms spread for miles and miles, with alfalfa, soybeans, and even rice paddies. The road kills were also unusual, consisting of armadillos and snakes. So. Many. Snakes. But, when I remember Arkansas, it will be the beauty of it that I remember.

I rode into Memphis, Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi on Interstate 40. There is a HUGE pyramid at the edge of the city, on the river, and it now houses a Bass Pro Shop and Ducks Unlimited. There is little attractive about the pyramid or the town, from the brief pass-through I did. Apparently, Danny Kaye is a big deal there, and I decided not to stop at Graceland, because I just could not do it without Mrs. Fish. It was something that we always wanted to do together, from the time we were dating. Still not crossed off, and that's okay. The King can wait.

After Memphis, I hopped on and off I-40, going back and forth, on and off. I hit Nashville and wished I had time to visit this city. It is, in my opinion, the prettiest city in Tennessee. I was there once, more than 15 years ago, and though I am not a country music fan, I really liked this city. I will definitely come back to Nashville, and would love to check out the music scene there.

Route 70 goes from town to town, with space inbetween to really get out and ride. You slow down in the towns, then let her go in the spaces between. One of the more interesting towns I went through was Ozone Falls. It actually lived up to it's name that day, and it smells and feels like a cloud has descended on the town. It's cool temperature and misty appearance, coupled with the smell of ozone, made it a multi-sensory buffet, like flying through a cloud.
Route 70 continued to weave through towns like this, and, occasionally, I would see a fire road shooting off to the side. I decided to take one, and was not disappointed. The road wound sharply upwards, then opened up to a view from the top of the entire valley.

At the bottom, you can see lakes, which I would wind down and down to, then ride alongside for many miles. Tennessee was probably the most beautiful state I visited, and Central Tennessee was the most beautiful area of that state.

Coming down the mountain, I saw a dirt road shooting off to the right. I switch the Multistrada into Enduro mode and went to investigate. I took a short, dirt road ride...

...and arrived at an overlook of the valley below, where I had just ridden.

 I eventually got to Lenoir City, Tennessee. I was riding the Tail of the Dragon the next day, so I was looking for a place that was close by. A quick web search showed the EconoLodge to be a bargain.

As I was checking in, I started talking with the lady behind the front desk. She talked about how "particular" the owner was about his property, and what a wonderful boss he was because he was demanding but a great guy. He empowered them to make decisions to help the guests. She talked about how he called her at home when she had surgery, always asking if he could do anything for her. He sounded like a nice boss, and it was clear she respected him.

Then, I checked into my room. I have stayed in a lot of hotel rrooms, but this was the most ordered, clean, and "particular" room I have stayed in. Everything was laid out perfectly. The bed was made with military precision. And, it was spotless. It turns out the guy does run a tight ship. I slept like a baby.