LONG TERM RELATIONSHIP

From the early 70’s through 1980, I had transitioned from a “dual sport” rider to a strictly Observed Trials competition rider, devoting all of my two-wheeled energy to the esoteric sport of beating a perfectly good motorcycle and its rider against large rocks, trees, deep boulder-strewn creeks and mud. Then in 1980, I developed the first of many auto-immune nerve problems, leaving my right arm extremely weak, nearly paralyzed, and therefore pretty useless for trials riding. Eventually I got some of the strength back in most of the arm, but not enough for serious trials riding and I began to think about returning to the street. “Not riding motorcycles” just wasn’t an option I wanted to consider. I purchased a somewhat derelict 1975 Suzuki 500 Titan two stroke twin and after some restoration, began exploring pavement again. While it was serviceable for the task, it left something to be desired for long distance two-up touring. A friend in Huntington, West Va owned this 1975 BMW painted Nurburg Green (or as a friend later came to call it, “Look At Me Green”) with just 10,000 miles on it. He loaned it to Brenda and me one afternoon for a test ride and when he later offered it for sale, Brenda was quick to take him up on it. Better seat, better shocks, almost no vibration and, perhaps most important, no chain lube stripe up the back of her clothes.

I bought the bike in the spring of 1981, as best I recall, and proceeded to ride it everywhere I went. To work, on evening “hamburger runs” with my son (we lived in Frankfort, Kentucky then and the burger of choice was in Madison, Indiana) and weekend trips. The gentle thrum of the boxer engine just suited me, fit some receptor in my body that made everything seem complete. Sometime that summer, I stopped in the motorcycle shop on Industry Road to pick up my copy of Classic Bike magazine and ran into a guy with another BMW, a Lexington firefighter and one of the early members of what would later become the Bluegrass Beemers. He told me about this group of motorcyclists, mostly BMW riders, who met for breakfast at Frisch’s on Harrodsburg Road every Saturday morning. I showed up one bright morning and met the group of riders with whom I would have breakfast once a week for the next several decades.

By fall of that year, I had decided that a career change was in order and I took the LSAT exam for entry into law school. Of course I rode the green bike to the test that morning and parked it across the street from the test center. When I stuck the key in the fork lock, it snapped off inside. Not exactly the stress free beginning I had in mind for the test.

When school started in the fall of 1982, I rode the green bike to Lexington from Frankfort almost every day, barring ice or deep snow. There was a long covered porch across the front of the law school building where I parked the bike each day. I think some of the professors didn’t like it, but no one ever told me to move it. The ride to and from school each day on scenic Old Frankfort Pike made a pleasant break from the pressures of learning a new profession. Since I was there, either in class or studying, 6 or 7 days per week, at 50 miles per day round trip, the miles began piling up.

Between my first and second years in school, I got a summer job with the Lexington office of of a Louisville law firm, the senior partner of which was Tom Cruise’s grandfather. On one occasion when the senior was in the library with us clerks, I heard him talking about his young grandson who was beginning to make a career in films. “I just wish he’d settle down and make something of himself and give up this actor foolishness” was the gist of the comment. My job included running real estate titles, mostly in surrounding counties, the perfect job for a motorcyclist. Brenda bought me an Eclipse motorcycle briefcase that clipped on to the same three point harness as my tank bag and off I went each day to remote county courthouses all around central Kentucky.

By this time, Brenda’s brother Jay had moved to Georgia with the beginnings of his military career and the green bike made a few trips to visit him there. On one of these, his wife Marimac gave me a large slice of chocolate cake for the trip home, which I placed in the top box. Later when I stopped to enjoy the treat, I found that the oscillation of the top box had disintegrated the cake into its individual component molecules inside. Still good, nonetheless and a lesson in proper packing procedure.

By my second year, my class standing had been high enough to qualify attending a job fair in Atlanta where students could get summer clerkships with firms all around the nation. I settled upon one in Albuquerque NM. In May of 1984, I loaded the bike in the back of my tiny, rusting, Chevy LUV truck and headed west for a two and a half month job. Once there, I found a one room “studio” apartment with a pull out couch for a bed, across the road from the office, and set about figuring out how to maximize motorcycle time while getting my work done.

Law clerks are “interns” who are expected to work all the hours in the day and half the night to get done the tasks assigned, which are basically the things the lawyers don’t want to do. Reading lengthy contracts looking for problem language, researching the law on various issues and writing memos, etc. Weekend work often is expected to get the volume done. I decided that since I was alone out there in the west, I could devote all of my time, except for eating and sleeping, to those tasks 5 days per week and spend my weekends, starting Friday night, traveling as far as I could on the bike, getting home on Sunday night in time for sleep. I had my son’s “backyard” tent and my old Boy Scout sleeping bag for camping. The green bike covered a lot of New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado that summer, spending a fair amount of time on dirt and gravel roads as well as pavement. Over the 4th of July holiday long weekend, Brenda flew out to join me and we toured the southwest for four days, camping in the desert, listening to the coyotes howl in the distance.

Back home, I continued riding to and from school until graduation in 1985. The bike made a post-bar exam trip into the eastern US, and down the Blue Ridge while I tried to get back to some semblance of normal thinking after the long summer of study for the test. There were a couple of trips to visit my parents in Florida. Jay and I continued our habit of one long trip every year, often without a destination selected until the morning we left. On one such trip, we took the Blue Ridge from bottom to top, then, not having anything better in view, turned around and did it again the other way. Once we visited Atlantic City on a wandering trip in the northeast, and left our bikes at the end of the pier in the care of some young boys who promised, for a small fee, to watch out for them while we went off to win our fortune at the casinos. They did their part of that assignment, we didn’t.

A couple of years later I bought another bike and the green one went into semi-retirement for a while. After the infamous “ slime” wreck in Illinois, a few years later, the new one was totaled (for insurance purposes…it lived on, passing through two more members of the breakfast group including a stint in Hawaii ) and the green machine returned to full time duty for a while.

It got a set of tubeless Lester Mag wheels after an incident when Brenda and I, at about 60 mph, picked up a large nail in the rear tire. The resulting sudden deflation caused the tire to come off both sides of the stock spoked rim, leaving me trying to control the bike with the back end now skating inside the no longer attached tire. I used up both lanes of the thankfully empty back road and a bit of the shoulder bringing the thing to a halt still upright. Though I carried a patch kit in those days, the tube was completely shredded requiring us to wait until a friend could bring me a spare tube. I vowed to go with tubeless forevermore.

Other BMW’s came and went over the years, including one of each iteration of the GS series from the R80 to the “camhead”, (except, for some reason, the 1150), several other airheads and now even a sidecar rig. Through it all, the green one has been a constant.

The odometer quit several times, as was common for instruments back in the day. I took it apart and fixed it two or three times, but finally it was beyond help at about 89,000 miles sometime in 1989 or 90. Since then the bike has seen enough use that I’m confident that it has well over 100,000 miles on it. I sent off the instruments for professional repair and now they work and look like new.

In all those miles, it has been extraordinarily reliable, never leaving me stranded anywhere. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its quirks and required some maintenance and a few minor roadside fixes. Regular services and my own curiosity about how things work and could possibly be improved, meant that over the years the engine has been out of the frame, the heads and pistons removed and cleaned several times, and nearly every part of the frame and suspension have been disassembled, poked and prodded by my own inexpert hands. The timing chain and rings have been replaced once, not because of any failure, but out of guilt for the long miles. The transmission was replaced after I found a metal chunk stuck to the magnetic drain plug, that proved to be a shift dog that had broken off the central gear shaft. I’d never experienced any shifting problems, but would have if I’d left it alone. Other than those things, it is pretty much as it came to me in 1981. Now a sedate and settled middle age, in it’s early 40’s, has gone through several phases of “finding itself”. It has been a tourer with large Luftmeister fairing, Krauser bags and a top box, it’s been a naked bike and a sort of cafe racer on several occasions, even for a while having “S” bars, rearset pegs and controls. For now it is established with a sporty but practical look, lower bars but not really “cafe”, no fairing and just the saddlebags for touring cred. I was told by my son and grandsons that I cannot part with it, an unnecessary admonition given my long history with the bike, and that it would be passed down among them and their progeny.

Now it has been passed along to my grandsons, 20 and 22 years of age, who have taken up street riding after starting dirt bikes at age three. Their uncle Jay has given them his 1983 R100RT, so we are starting another generation of airhead BMW riders to keep the baton moving forward. I hope it is for them, another long term relationship.

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BLOWN AWAY: MOTORCYCLING IN A HURRICANE

News item from September 15, 1996:

Hurricane Hortense, the first hurricane to directly strike Nova Scotia while at hurricane strength since Blanche in 1975, struck the Nova Scotian coast as a Category 1 hurricane. $3 million were inflicted to Nova Scotia by Hortense after strong winds, heavy rain, and power outages.[20]. After re-entering the Atlantic, Hortense began to substantially strengthen and peaked as a 140 mph (220 km/h) Category 4 hurricane early on September 13. “

In September of 1996 Brenda and I took off on our 1993 BMW R100GS/PD for a trip from our Kentucky home to Nova Scotia to sightsee and to ride the legendary Cabot Trail route. It was as good as it’s press. We circumnavigated the entirety of the island, poking into little towns and staying wherever we found lodging. When the time came to head back, we headed for Yarmouth to catch the ferry over to the mainland.

In those pre-smartphone, pre-ubiquitous-internet days, we didn’t have daily up-to-date weather information. Our traveling style meant that we took our rain gear and rode in whatever conditions nature gave us. (Brenda has said that it “wasn’t really a vacation if we weren’t wet and cold at some point”) When we got to Yarmouth we learned of the imminent strike of the hurricane and that the ferry was canceled. We, along with a lot of other folks, formed a long line to get motel rooms. I tied the motorcycle to a rail along a wall in an alcove at the motel and we waited.

For that night and the next day we sat in the motel room, listening to the winds howling, the rain lashing the windows and occasionally venturing out to see if the bike was still there. Finally the word came that the ferry would go tomorrow…but it wouldn’t take motorcycles which were more likely to be tossed around in the still-high seas. But, we learned, there was another ferry, a shorter crossing, leaving from Digby about 70 miles up the coast that would take bikes.

In what turned out to be one of the least well-thought-out decisions in my long history of such, we left in the morning, headed for Digby.

The hurricane wasn’t finished. The main storm may have moved out to sea, but the leftovers were still powerful. I should have noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road. Brenda, ever the best passenger, was clinging on the back, pressed against me so that we were as one unit on the bike. I found that the only way I could make forward progress was to tack back and forth across the road as the wind would take us from one side to the other and I could slowly turn and make my way back across , often with the tires skittering, rinse and repeat. The “rinse” part was very real, as the rain was still coming nearly horizontal from the left. At one point I briefly looked away from the wet asphalt in front of the wheel to see the waves crashing on the shore just off to our left, brown as mud and so high that I had to bend my neck back to see the crest. It was, in a word, terrifying. Other than that glimpse, my memory of the ride is only of the few feet of pavement in front, looking more like a roiling stream than a road, trying my best to keep us upright and moving without falling.

If I had possessed enough brain power to divert any away from the immediate predicament I had put us in, I would have mustered the sense to go back to Yarmouth….but I didn’t.

Several hours later, having sine-wave traversed perhaps three times the actual straight-line distance, at a snail’s pace, we saw Digby appearing like a mirage ahead. The rain was beginning to lessen and the winds had slacked off to merely “awful”. We took the first place that had a B&B sign and got a little room on the second floor of a house near a restaurant. Like many such rooms we have stayed in on our travels, this one had been reclaimed from an alcove beneath the slope of the roof, not much space and a bit short of headroom, but it was dry and close to food, which met all of our requirements of the moment.

That evening we ate Digby scallops (some say the finest of the genre to be had) in a little restaurant next to the pier where the boats come in to unload them. I recall it to be one of the best meals of my life, though it is possible that the memory is colored by the relief in being there alive after the journey. One of my favorite quotes, often attributed to Churchill, goes something like “nothing is quite so exhilarating as being shot at without result”.

The next morning at 6 AM we met the ferry to load up for the crossing. At the dock with us were two guys on Honda Gold Wings, “old guys” we thought, all the way up into their 70’s. They had waited out the hurricane here, now ready to continue their trip. We were inspired by their eagerness to get on with motorcycle travel in their golden years.

In 2019 we returned to Digby on a trip up into New Brunswick, but this time on a sidecar rig and in much, much better weather. Now retired, we are in the same age range as the Gold Wing guys we met at the ferry, and like them, still traveling. The ride from Yarmouth was uneventful and calm, giving me a chance to see the scenery that was totally outside my narrowed view in 1996. The beach where I saw the monster muddy waves is now as placid as a postcard picture. The restaurant where we ate the wonderful scallops is still there, but now expanded with a deck overlooking the harbor. The scallops are still wonderful.

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Crash !

“There are only two kinds of motorcyclists: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash.” I have heard that cliche since I began riding at age 14, but I still don’t believe that pavement munching is inevitable. However, I have done my share, usually caused by my own errors but sometimes by the kind of random chance that fuels the cliches about our sport. Below are a few examples from my experiences on the road.

The first motorcycle crash I recall clearly was on Carter Avenue in Ashland, Ky when I was 14. A friend and I were headed downtown on my 50cc Puch moped, with him sitting precariously on the rear fender rack, the heels of his Converse tennies on the ends of the rear axle. A large brown dog darted from between two parked cars directly in front of my wheel. Contact was immediate and we, the three of us went down on the pavement in a tangle of 4 arms, 8 legs, one tail and a moped. When the short slide stopped he and I were laying spread eagled on the asphalt, watching as the dog, apparently no worse for the wear, got up, barked at us, and ran off, no doubt thinking that these humans were unreasonably dangerous. We, however, were scratched and abraded, even at the 20mph that was our usual top speed two up, since our ATGATT of the day was shorts, t-shirts and canvas tennis shoes and none of these things had held up well. We retrieved the moped, banged the handlebars into a reasonable semblance of straight, and remounted to continue our important errand, which probably was just to wander around downtown Ashland to bump into others we knew would be doing the same thing. The road rash on our elbows and knees was no big deal for young teen boys in the early 1960’s and we may even have been proud of it. I don’t recall my parents even remarking upon it.

On another occasion, about the same time frame, I was behind the elementary school that was across the street from my house, using the steep hill that served for sledding in winter for jump practice. I would wind up the moped as far as it would go in first, twist the grip to shift into second and attack the hill hoping to get a little air under the wheels. Another acquaintance showed up to ride around on the school grounds and in the woods behind them on his “hardware store” minibike. It was one of those with a pull-start engine in a hardtail frame and spindly looking forks that offered minimal undamped suspension to an 8 inch implement style wheel. I swapped machines with him, each of us wanting to see what the other’s ride offered. As I came up the hill this time, a bit faster, I cleared the top with a few feet of clearance….and watched as the front wheel, still attached to the bottom portion of the forks, parted company and fell to earth. As did I a second later. I rolled and tumbled, along with the minibike, coming to a stop relatively uninjured…which was just as well since the minibike’s owner was interested only in the health of his machine. He did tell me that this had happened to him before (“did you not think to mention it to me ?”) and this time, like then, the bike was fine. We stuck the tubes back in the holes and he rode off.

Much of my riding in the 70’s and 80’s was done off road and in Observed Trials competition, both venues for more get-offs than I can recall or anyone would want to read about.

In the late 80’s I had acquired a 1984 BMW R80GS, one of the many bikes I wish I’d never parted with, and enjoyed the nimbleness, the upright riding position and the compliant, long travel suspension. I was in a neighborhood near mine in Lexington, just riding around to unwind after a day at work, and as I came around a curve, leaned over a fair amount, there was a car stopped in the road. I braked, lost the front end and went down, sliding on my shoulder and left side. As I was doing that, I watched as the GS bounced off of its crash bars, back onto its wheels and meandered slowly across the street to a nearby yard where it came to a stop and laid over on its side in the grass, engine still idling for a few moments, to wait for me to get up and join it. I was reminded of this crash when I saw a video of BMW’s new self-driving motorcycle. If only my R80GS had been fitted with this technology, it could have just gone home and waited for me in the garage.

In the mid- 90’s, I was on my way to a Reg Pridmore CLASS session at Mid-Ohio race course, riding my 1993 R100GS/PD when I stopped in at the ATM in Eastland shopping center for some trip cash. As I was leaving the machine, focused on the exit of the lot, I made a quick turn and then I was on the ground, sliding. When I came to a stop and walked back to the PD, I could see that there was a small spill of coolant from a car on the asphalt lot, smeared by my front tire. Only about 4 inches square, it was at the exact point where I had made my turn and with essentially zero traction, the front had dropped out, putting me down. No damage, really (this is, after all, a PD) but a decent scrape on the underside of the valve cover. Later at the track school, young guys were circulating through the pits after the first session, checking out each other’s tires for comparisons of lean angle . Mine were scuffed out to the edges, not that difficult on an “adventure tire” of the era, but they were really captivated by the scrape on the valve cover which seemed to suggest that I had been touching down hard parts at extreme angles. I mostly let the macho youngsters think whatever they wanted, but if asked, I ‘fessed up that I wasn’t still on the bike when the scrape happened.

The worst one, in terms of injury, happened in 1999 at less than walking pace, in Virginia.

Brenda and I were on the black 98 R1100 GS, my first brush with modern technology, a bike that whispered seductive things in my ear to make me ride like I was a lot better at it than I was, but that’s not what got me. The fuel injection on that bike was problematic, BMW not yet having perfected their system. At constant speeds it would “hunt “, never being able to maintain a steady RPM and sometimes at low speeds, just transitioning from closed throttle to open, it would cough and die. I had taken a wrong turn up an incline and, as I was making the U turn to go back, the engine died. Suddenly without power, the bike lurched to the right and I tried to put down my foot to stop it. Unfortunately that leg was about 24 inches shorter than what was necessary on the slope and over we went. Brenda slid off the back, landing in a seated position unharmed. She described to me later that she watched as I was launched in an arc down the hill, landing on the single point of my right shoulder with a loud cracking sound. I recall the arc, having time to think that I had shoulder pads, then hearing the crack and knowing that things had just changed dramatically.

I got to my feet quickly and turned to check on Brenda who was standing up assuring me she was fine. But when I tried to reach out for the bike, my right arm wouldn’t raise..instead, the collarbone popped up like the Alien in that movie, trying to escape through the skin. Though it really hurt, I had to do it a couple of times just to see what was happening.

The 1100 was on its side, facing downhill. With Brenda’s help, I backed up to it and with my butt against the seat and my left hand on a frame rail, walked it upright onto the side stand. It started immediately (NOW the fuel system decides to work !) and after taking my left hand to raise my right arm onto the grip, found I could use the right hand for the brake and throttle as long as I didn’t have to lift it. I managed to get on and maneuver the machine into a position pointed downhill, Brenda climbed on the back and we set off for the nearest town with a hospital about 15 miles away. How Brenda had the nerve and trust to get on the bike, I don’t know. But there was no cell service, no sign of a dwelling near where we were and no traffic on the road, so it seemed like the only option at the time.

We pulled up to the Appalachian Regional Hospital that served the area, parked the bike and walked in. I suppose at that point I was still, against all evidence, hoping that some sort of splint could be fashioned to allow us to complete the trip. Brenda was not so convinced and as usual, she was right. In the ER, x-rays confirmed that I had a “comminuted fracture of the clavicle” meaning that I hadn’t just broken it, I had shattered it leaving jagged ends instead of a clean break. No surgery was required, but I wasn’t going to be riding anywhere for a while. The arm would be tied tightly to my chest in a sling. The ARC folks told us that, because they served a wide region, they had lodging rooms available to stay in for the night. Soon we were ensconced in what looked like a nice motel room, making arrangements for supper. The hospital cafeteria was closed, but there was a Chinese restaurant nearby that delivered. We learned that it had a minimum order for delivery and the staff here had just finished their meal break, so quickly the two of us were supplied with enough different dishes for a party of four, spread out on the bed in front of us. I called our son to make arrangements for him to come retrieve us and the bike-the first and only time I’ve ever had to do that. When he answered, I said, “we’ve had a little accident..” and he interrupted with, “Mom’s dead, isn’t she !”.. I assured him that she was alive, well and eating Mu Shu Pork at the moment and explained our predicament. He came the next day with my pickup truck and we started the return trip in a very different manner than I had planned 24 hours earlier.

On the Blue Ridge Parkway, just past Pisgah, route 276 heads downhill toward Cruso twisting and turning its way off the mountain. My brother in law Jay and I turned down the steep side road, him on his 1983 RT and me leading on my 93 R100PD, one spring day in, I think, the early 2,000’s. As we left the Parkway’s perfect pavement to head downhill, I thought “wow, this road’s in a lot worse shape” then there was the noise, BANG ! Skritttttttccccchh, of crash bars scraping along the pavement, the scene in front of me suddenly jerking up and down as my head bobbled, eyes wide open to a changed perspective as I was now a lot lower than seconds before,, watching my bike ahead of me sliding on its side in a long arc to a bumping stop, nose down in a ditch. I remember having my left hand outstretched, as if I could use the Force to bring the bike back to me. I heard Jay yelling “Don’t get up” but before I could process that information I was up and looking around to see if a car was coming as I headed toward the fallen BMW.

We had been going fairly slowly, no more than 25 or 30 mph, being careful. It was a steep downhill left turn, not particularly sharp. From my memory, I had just begun the process of a lean when there was the noise and the “does not compute ” sensation that what I intended to happen wasn’t and something quite unexpected was.

Reconstructing the scene, we learned that my front tire had hit a fine mix of sand and gravel from the deteriorating blacktop just exactly as I had tipped the bike easily into the turn, losing all traction and tucking the front tire under, putting the bike down immediately. Jay said it looked like someone had pulled on a cable, yanking the bike out from under me. The gravel/sand patch was composed of a fine mix of black pebbles in the shade from the direction we were going, so that it was in effect, invisible, though it could be seen from the other direction, in the bright sun disappearing into the shadow as we stood there looking up the hill. I was looking through the curve, ahead to the apex, and not down at the area right in front of my wheel, so the dark gravel in the shaded area hadn’t caught my attention. I know I’ve been through hundreds, if not thousands of sand and gravel patches on roads in all sorts of places, without more than a twitch at the bars. This one, however, was exactly at the point of turning, just the spot where the tire needed some traction and there was none to be had.

I went down so quickly that I didn’t put out a foot or a hand. Jay said I was still seated when the bike hit the ground and it slid away from me, with my body in the position of a man sliding into home base, head up and left hand outstretched. The design of the airhead BMW meant that the first thing that hit the ground was the crash bar, then the saddlebag, so my leg was not trapped underneath a sliding bike.

The bike needed no repair. I shredded a perfectly good ventilated Fieldsheer jacket and put a few small holes in my Aerostitch Darien overpants, got a small abrasion on my left boot, but that’s it. Not even a bruise, no scratches, nada, zip, zilch. I was a bit sore and stiff, but in advanced age, that’s the way I usually am, so I couldn’t really tell any difference. From that point in the trip forward, whenever I saw a rider and/or passenger dressed in tank top, shorts and flip-flops, I wanted to stop them and point to the torn places on my jacket and pants. If I hadn’t been wearing all the gear, all the time, I would have spent the rest of my vacation in the skin graft ward of a North Carolina hospital.

These aren’t the only times I’ve had an “incident” involving getting off a street bike unintentionally. But I wear good protective gear on every ride and so far the Virginia episode is the only one where I sustained any significant injury. Two thirds of the broken bones I have had in my long life have occurred while tripping over my own feet. But no one ever tells me I should give up walking. I am under no delusion about the possibilities for serious consequences from doing what I love to do, riding motorcycles, but like nearly everything in life, risks are inevitable and, with care, manageable.

There is a story which goes something like this. The racing driver, Juan Manuel Fangio was quizzed by a reporter about the risks of driving racing cars. He asked the reporter, “do you expect that you will die in bed?” The reporter said he certainly hoped so, and Fangio replied, “then how do you have the courage to get in it each night ?”

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ADVENTURE. GO ON, HAVE ONE.

“For what is adventure, but inconvenience rightly considered?” (G.K. Chesterton, paraphrased, often attributed incorrectly to other writers.)

” An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered: an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered” G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered, 1908. (Often attributed to others, but it seems to be originally his)

Khalil Gibran wrote, “The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host and then a master”. It has long been one of my principles that a person has to get cold, wet and miserable sometimes so we can appreciate what comfortable feels like.

Everyone’s definition of an “adventure” is somewhat different, but most seem to have in common some aspect of pushing out of the comfort zone. I heard a speaker on the subject of “trust” talking about “a comfortable relationship with the unknown” and that seems equally applicable to the concept of “adventure”. For some, it can be extreme and most of us like reading the accounts of people who do extraordinary things in exotic places. But we know we won’t leave everything behind to follow those dreams. And that is a good thing, since if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be extraordinary and those exotic places would get really crowded. Many of us never get far outside of our home area. We can embrace adventure travel, all of us, in some form between the extremes.

Recently I heard an advertisement recently for a “scheduled and scripted adventure”. It seemed to me to be an oxymoron

Stories about a trip where everything went well don’t sell books, so we hear about the mishaps and overcoming adversity, leading to a successful conclusion. And then too, stories don’t get written by the guy who quits in the first two weeks. (One American writer admitted that his round the world trip ended in the first few days after colliding with a bus in Mexico). In 1912, Carl Stearns Clancy and another rider began what probably was the first ever round the world motorcycle trip. Clancy’s companion wrecked his bike on the first day of the “round the world trip” and soon thereafter decided this adventure wasn’t for him and went home, leaving Clancy to finish it alone. Some want it more than others.

On the “Adventure Rider Radio” podcast, (https://adventureriderradio.com/listen) one can hear a wide variety of accounts, from the McGregor/Boorman no-expense-spared excursions to the Englishman who started out on a little coddiwomple and returned home 14 years later. He used no maps,(in South America, he said he “just kept the ocean on me right”) spoke no foreign languages, and “made do” with his skills and whatever came to hand, including meals made with roadkill. I particularly like the segments with Graham Field, a fellow who travels the world on an old KLR 650 and is brutally honest in his misgivings and, mistakes.

In my younger days, the later 1960’s and into the 70’s I would go out on my 250 (several different ones, at various times) and find a trail that meandered off into the woods in eastern Kentucky or West Virginia or Ohio and just take it to see where it went. In those times there weren’t many fences blocking roadside trails and the power lines and gas lines were wide open, unfenced and mostly unused. It was easy to go for miles across counties without ever touching pavement except to cross a road. I realize now that I was “trespassing” for the most part. But then, no one seemed to care as long as the rider left little evidence of his passing. ATV’s as we now know them didn’t yet exist, there were few people with 4WD vehicles used just for fun and not many motorcyclists of that time in my area cared to do what I was doing. There was no formal concept of “dual sport” motorcycles then, one just rode what one had, for whatever purpose seemed to be a good idea at the time. So the trails were not overused, the landowner was not confronted with hordes of machines tearing up the ground. One skinny teenager every now and then was not a great problem. When I did encounter a farmer or pipeline worker, the typical reaction was bemusement, wondering just how did this kid get way out here on that thing?

“Adventure” to me then meant seeing what was down a road or trail I didn’t yet know.

Now, after nearly 60 years in the saddle, I have motorcycled in all but two of the continental US states (not sure how I missed Nebraska and Louisiana) and in 16 foreign countries, eastern and western hemispheres, above and below the equator, often with my wife Brenda on the back or in a sidecar. We have had a lot of fun, a few mishaps (usually my own fault), but we have barely made a dent in the “places I’d like to go” list.

In the present, “adventure bikes” are a huge slice of the market these days, a segment that didn’t exist as a named category until the 80’s, when BMW came out with the GS series, bikes roundly criticized at the beginning as being too big for off road use and too tall and too slow for sporting use. The 800cc bikes, weighing a bit over 400 pounds, proved to be excellent for just going anywhere a rider wanted to go. Though the category is now one of the largest in motorcycle sales around the world, the genre has morphed and stretched into inclusion of anything with styling that reflects an idea of the originals, even if the resulting motorcycle is unhappy on anything more challenging than a well-graded gravel road. Many are now heavier and with more horsepower than what we used to consider as big road tourers.

In my experience-based opinion we, motorcyclists and the non-riding general public, place far too much emphasis on the size of the motorcycle in establishing its “legitimacy “ as a “real bike” for travel and adventure.

World traveler Austin Vince, who knows a thing or two about adventure, says “You’ll never wish you’d brought a bigger bike “. After picking it up for the fourth time in an hour on a remote trail or dirt road, lots of horsepower and the latest style doesn’t seem so important. Lois Pryce, as she has recounted in several excellent books, has been on the road for years, all over the world, with a Yamaha 225cc dual sport. (See her TED talk, “In Praise of Vulnerable Travel” here. https://youtu.be/QucYuQx7jnA)

Most of the world travelers and writers agree that over planning and over packing are the things to avoid. You don’t need most of what you think you need and if you really need it, chances are you can pick it up on the road. Most of what you think will go wrong, won’t, and when something does, you can handle it. You can. Trying to adhere to a rigid schedule and route means you miss a lot of what serendipity can offer.

I still adhere to the old notion that the best adventure bike is the one you have. No bike is “too small” to travel as far as you want to go. Get on it and go somewhere, out of your comfort zone. It will be fun. Just try not to hit anything big and you’ll do fine

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THERE HAS TO BE A FIRST ONE

Watching our dog Simon tonight exploring his world, following an agenda that he has in his mind but which is largely opaque to me without his keen senses, I think of how humans have been coexisting with dogs for millennia. (Some say 14,000 years ago, some put it back to 30,000 or more.) In the beginning , around the campfire, there must have been tension while the wolves pondered whether it would be easier to get some of the food the humans were eating or to kill and eat the humans. The humans viewed the wolves as a threat or even a potential food source if they could kill one without getting killed. Over the course of perhaps 1000 or more years they are developed a symbiotic relationship that eventually resulted in what we have today, where both species are different because of each other.

But there had to be a first one. There had to be the first proto-human who thought something different than the others about these predators that were prowling around the campfire. One who said/signed/grunted a different approach to the problem. It always has to be a first one who thinks something new.

I recall several years ago in South Africa standing on the edge of a rift valley and seeing the other edge, a steep cliff, far away on the other side. It is easy to see why things could develop differently on the two sides when traveling between them would’ve been extremely difficult. But I had a vision of a single protohuman, male or female I don’t know which, standing on that other edge and thinking to itself in whatever manner that happens before formal language, “I wonder what’s over there ?” Not because it needed a mate or a food source, since those things probably were available on its side, but rather just to know what was on the other side. I think that one led to us.

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MABDR

(On the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route)

“Seven, not three” I was saying in my helmet as we paddled knee deep across what turned out to be the last water crossing on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route. The DVD we had viewed before leaving, obviously not made in June, said there were only three and showed riders happily splashing across what was no more than a wet spot in the trail, only a tiny spray from the tires visible for the camera. My boots were full of water.

This started on June 19th, 2018, as my brother in law Jay (68 years) and I (just shy of 70) left Winchester, Kentucky on our XT250’s for Damascus, Virginia where the first Backcountry Discovery Route (“BDR”) in the eastern US would begin. We had ordered the paper map, DVD, and the GPS tracks earlier in the year, though true to our usual “causal navigation” style, we hadn’t really studied them. On the morning of the 20th, we attached Jay’s BMW Garmin GPS to my handlebars and turned it on for the directions to the first leg of dirt roads and trail. “Acquiring satellites “ is all it told us for the next three hours. Using old school maps and dead reckoning, we found our way along the first bits of the trail high up into the mountains of Tennessee. At one point we stopped near a cabin where a woman was cleaning a deck. Seeing us poring over the map, she asked it we were “following that trail”. “We see you fellows up here all the time”, she said with a smile, confirming that we were on the route and pointing us to the next turn. Lots of wildlife up here, deer, rabbits, groundhogs and one black bear, curious about these strangely dressed critters invading their space, but we were worth only a moment of their time before they went back to the business of survival.

Late in the morning, the GPS awoke and reported for work, but only would give us directions back to our starting point at Damascus, no matter what exhortations and threats we threw its way. We carried on with maps, finding the Wyrick Trail, a rough gravel and dirt track that took us high onto a ridge overlooking a wide green valley. Though we could see from the maps that there were towns nearby, from the ridge top there was no sign out there that civilization ever had intruded on these woods.

Nearing the end of the day, we came out onto pavement and found a gas station near what the map showed as a turn back up into the woods. The numbers on the map and the road sign didn’t match, so we asked a local who was getting in his pickup about the discrepancy. He was perfect, as if Central Casting had received the order for “Old Farmer in Overalls, with Heavy Southern Accent” and supplied him for this scene where he encounters the lost protagonists.

He scratched his head through his feed cap, looked us over carefully, then opined that he couldn’t see why in the world we would want to go up that “road”, even though it did, he admitted, go to the destination we had inquired about. He stared at his shoes, shook his head, and then told us which turn to take, and slowly got into his truck from which he watched us wheel around and head for the trail. I’d like to hear what he told his buds down at the store about us.

After a few miles of standing on the pegs on the steadily rising path, we began to doubt our directions and as if on cue, there was a wooden board with hand painted wording proclaiming that the “Woods Hole B&B and Hostel” was up a side road. We detoured up to the hodgepodge collection of rough cabins on a hillside where an eclectic mix of what one might describe as aged hippies and societal misfits were gathered on a porch. They confirmed that we were on the right track, but if we couldn’t make it to our destination, they knew of a homeless shelter in Newport where we could stay for the night.

Sixteen dirt and gravel miles later the track ended at Rt. 100, where the map said it continued on the other side, straight across…..but on the other side of 100 was a high solid wall of rock, extending as far as we could see in either direction. We opted to spend the night in the BDR suggested lodging, the Mountain Lake Lodge in West Virginia a few miles away.

This lodge was the setting for the movie “Dirty Dancing” back in the 80’s and still has memorabilia displayed for the faithful who return to relive the experience of seeing the film. Since Jay and I are among the twelve people in the world who have not seen the movie (the dozen of us have a meeting every other year to share the experience of not seeing it), much of that was lost on us, but it was a pleasant place to stay. The desk clerk looked us over and gave us a cabin well away from the regular tourists in the main building, rustic but comfortable. The restaurant was excellent. Supper was trout with roasted Brussels sprouts and hash browns, washed down with a very good local porter, dark and smooth with just a hint of some coffee notes in the finish.

In the morning, we took the road from our cabin around the lake and straight on to the dirt path the BDR prescribed. The GPS, atoning for its recalcitrant behavior the previous day, was flawless, directing me turn by turn such that by the end of the day I had no idea where on the map I had been, knowing only that without the device, I never would have found the otherwise unmarked trail branches. I can say that nearly all of it was off pavement, with lots of trees forming a canopy over the trails. From yesterday’s rain and the frequent showers today, the surface was mostly mud, but so well mixed with rocks that traction was not much of a problem. Even on the downhill sections, we were able to keep up a second or third gear pace, while I wondered just what a rider on a 600 pound loaded 1200 adventure bike would be doing right about now. We have yet to see any other bikes on this route, but occasionally spot the telltale tread pattern of 90/10 “Adventure tires” in the dirt. There were several long uphill sections, steep, rocky, and a bit slippery that would have been challenging on anything much bigger than these bikes. I recall in my 50’s taking my then new R100GS/PD up a steep, rutted, (but dry) pipeline hill in eastern Kentucky and being impressed by how it handled the climb. Then I realized that I had to get the big beast back down. The bike and I made it unscathed, but I am sure it wasn’t pretty. Now, 20 years of advancing age make that seem like an impossibility.

Our second bear spotting came today, with the furry critter, probably a relatively new edition, running hard from the woods on one side of the trail to the other. From its speed, it is easy to see why they say you can’t outrun the bear.

We have encountered numerous turkeys, in flocks by the side of the trail and in one case, a large one who exploded from a tree right beside me, launching itself into the air in front of my face, struggling for enough altitude to avoid collision. We, the bird and I, were both grateful for its success. Several deer have wandered across our path, on two occasions accompanied by spotted fawns delicately picking their way exactly in their mother’s footsteps. Momma kept an eye on us, the fawns looked only at her.

The seventy nine miles of Section two were completed as the steady rain began by mid afternoon in Covington, Virginia. We took a late lunch at Cucci’s Italian restaurant where the thoughtful waitress put us in a distant booth so our sopping rain gear wouldn’t create a hazard for other diners.

Section three, the longest one at 193 miles, started just a few blocks away with a narrow blacktop road that quickly became dirt just a mile or two out of town, heading up into the mountains. I thought how nice it must be for an off road rider to live in a town such as this, where access is so close. The rain, which had politely paused while we ate lunch, returned and kept us and the trail dampened for the remainder of the day. We managed only a few miles before turning in for the night at the Warm Springs Inn at, no surprise, Warm Springs Virginia. The Inn is a former Colonial era courthouse, now converted to a lodging and restaurant with the bar in the former Clerk’s office, complete with the old vault that once held important records. They tell us that Thomas Jefferson frequented the hot mineral baths here to treat his rheumatism. If we had known what the next day would bring, we would have soaked in them ourselves.

There was more rain overnight, but we were able to start out in a brief period of dry weather. A short bit of pavement, then back on to the mud pathways leading high into the mountains. This is the kind of thing we came for, endless twisting trails with views of mountains and valleys at every summit, riding that was technical enough to hold one’s attention but still not too challenging for our old bodies to take.

Until we came to the water.

The trail ended, it seemed, rather unceremoniously as we came around a turn to face not mud but a rushing river, complete with whitecaps. It was about 60 feet wide and of a depth we couldn’t immediately discern. There were rocks, big rocks, on the approach, leading us to believe it wouldn’t be any more hospitable under the water. Still, on the DVD we had viewed, the crossings looked simple and surely it couldn’t be THAT deep even with all this rain, could it ? So I went in. The younger me, a lot younger, would have kept feet on the pegs, leaned back and gassed it to splash across. The now me is much, much more cognizant of what can go wrong and the consequences of old bones hitting rock. Abandoning any hint of style or ego, I put both feet down and went slowly into the current. Within a few feet, the water was well over the tops of my boots, filling them completely, and the engine was up to the bottom of the cylinder. No choice now but to keep on and soon I was on the other side, looking back at Jay who was contemplating which of us was the crazier…me for going in not knowing what I’d find or him for now going in knowing how bad it was. His bike stalled in the current, requiring the two of us to wade through the torrent to push and pull it out. It took only a minute or two to dry out the spark plug and get the bike going again and then another few for us to convince ourselves that this must be the worst one of the three that were predicted and going back wasn’t a good option. The next six crossings told us just how wrong we had been.

I don’t have pictures of the worst ones because I just didn’t think of it at the time. The “getting across this” took all of my limited attention span.

In between the “water features” there were the fallen trees (three of them in various places) across the trail, some of which required some branch removal to clear a space big enough for the the bikes to fit through, long uphills and descents that kept us up on the pegs in our soaked boots and provided plenty of moments to say bad words inside our helmets. It was late afternoon when we emerged from the woods to what the GPS told us was a numbered road that led to a town. We met a young man going in, riding a BMW 450X, and stopped him to warn of the fallen trees and water. He smiled and pointed to the SUV following him and said they were his support vehicle, complete with chainsaw and winch to remove such inconveniences as trees. We realized that we had utterly failed to consider including such vital things in our trip planning.

The GPS, no doubt in “protection mode” to keep two overmatched old geezers from committing further folly, refused at this point to give us any directions forward on the route, insisting now that we go back to our starting point. We put it in “time out” to consider its disloyalty and used the paper map to set off in the downpour to find lodging for the night. We were beyond tired, weary to the point of near incoherence, soaking wet inside and out. In Petersburg, VA we found an “interesting” motel with a vacancy and the amused proprietor of a nearby Chinese take out restaurant helped these dripping customers load an amazing amount of food onto two bikes for dinner in our room. Being sophisticated diners, we stopped into a gas station for a bottle of their finest red wine for accompaniment.

Things always look better in the morning and a bit of sunshine and blue sky gave us all the optimism we needed. After way too much breakfast in a local restaurant, we filled our tanks and set off on the next route. Section 4 is shaped like a carpenter’s square and is mostly tiny paved roads in the countryside, working its way perilously close to the Washington DC area. The squiggly black lines on the map were a welcome relief after the previous day’s travails (we still had our wet boots as a reminder) and the 250’s ate up the miles easily, swinging back and forth through the tree lined lanes. We were detoured a time or two as a result of flooding but managed to find our way back to the route eventually. The GPS again decided that it knew better what we needed and kept taking us to major roads near, but not on the BDR, so again we shut it down and went with the paper.

On this route is the Oldtown Low Water Bridge, one of the very few private toll bridges still operating in the US, requiring a 50 cent fee to cross the Potomac River from West Virginia into Maryland. The wooden structure, first erected in 1937, was not much above the fast moving water when we crossed, making our way to the tiny toll shack on the other side. A tin cup on a long handle comes out, the change clinks inside and a voice from the booth says “Thanks ! You’ve just made my day !”

By late afternoon we had finished the section in Shepardstown Maryland and stopped at a church to take advantage of their outdoor pavilion to spread out maps and figure our next move. Jay had a prior obligation that required him to be home in a few days and we could see that the next sections would take us high into Pennsylvania and would necessitate taking major roads on a forced march back to Kentucky. Since we were now only a few miles from Front Royal, the beginning of the Skyline Drive (and a motel we knew was across the street from a fine brewpub) we elected to shelve the BDR for later completion and head south. We will come back.

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In Tents Experiences

From the early days of my motorcycle travels, I camped. It was cheap and I liked the idea of being completely self contained on the bike. I enjoyed the experience of sleeping on the ground in a minimal fabric shelter that I could put up anywhere with a flat spot. I have motorcycle camped all over the US, in the east, in the north, in the south and in the west.

In my younger days I have started many a motorcycle trip without much of a destination. I have camped in a tiny worn out tent, the kind that lets water in but not out, with a million mosquitos inside. I used my flannel-lined Boy Scout sleeping bag well into my 30’s until a freezing night in the mountains above Flagstaff sent me into town for a modern replacement. I have turned up gravel or dirt roads in the dark and found a field to camp in, not knowing until morning where I was. I have lain in a tent in the mountains of southern New Mexico listening to the wind blowing, to the sound of things outside rustling in the leaves and awakened in the morning to find my tent collapsed on my face. I have shivered in my sleeping bag in the western desert and heard coyotes singing somewhere out there. I have camped at a BMW rally in Arizona next to a honeymooning couple who had gotten married there earlier that day and neither they nor I got much sleep. I have camped within a few feet of a lakeshore and on the sand by the ocean. I have ridden out of camps in the wee hours of the morning with only a thin white rim of sunrise on the horizon, not knowing exactly where I was heading except for a direction. I have often shaved with cold water using a motorcycle mirror wiped off with a sleeve for guidance. I have bedded down in my tent after a supper of salted peanuts from a cellophane packet and a swig of leftover red wine.

Gradually, as I aged and getting up from the ground became more difficult than enjoyable, I began to prefer motels with climate control and indoor bathrooms. One of my last motorcycle camps was in Colorado, in my 60’s, where the late-night getting up excursion had me peeing in a perfect lake, glass smooth with the reflection of the stars in the enormous western night sky spread out before me.

My final motorcycle camping experience was in a campground outside of Grand Teton national park, where I got the last available space as the late summer dark was closing in, the space near the office. For reasons I don’t know, cars kept pulling in and leaving all night, their headlights sweeping across my tent like the searchlights in 1950’s era prison break movies. The bath house in the morning should have been condemned by the EPA. I was 64.

Now I don’t camp.

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THE WOODPECKER

Often we get woodpeckers at our feeders in the yard. The little Downy Woodpeckers, black and white mostly, come frequently, visiting briefly and then gone. Once in a while, we see a Pileated Woodpecker, the behemoth of the genre, though more often we hear it drumming on a tree nearby. It sounds like a roofer has turned on his nail gun to “automatic” mode. Once I watched a Pileated attack an old fence post in our field, furiously banging away in a blur of red. When I went to see what he had left behind, I found a hole that looked as if a shotgun had been discharged at close range. Our most common visitor, though, is the Red-Bellied Woodpecker, whose belly is not actually red. While they sometimes go for the seed tubes, usually they are found upside down on the suet feeders put there mainly for their use. Other birds come to that feeder, including some that aren’t supposed to be able to feed hanging upside down (must not have read the book), but when the Red-Belly shows up, they all vacate to give room. Facing that beak must be like seeing the fastest gun in the west come into the saloon. While the other birds at the suet peck furiously in a seemingly random fashion for a few seconds and then drop and fly off, the Red has a more contemplative style. He or she hangs there, casually gripping the wire cage and contemplates for a moment or two, head cocking this way and that, then makes several very precise stabs, waits a bit, looks some more and then again the few carefully placed jabs of the sharp powerful beak. It makes me think of a sculptor finding the desired figure in an amorphous block of marble. After watching these birds for a while, I would not be too surprised to go out there and find a replica of Michelangelo’s David carved into the suet.

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HOT BIKE

I went to the community college in Ashland for my first two years, finding a job to support myself and pay for my schooling. This meant that often I had night classes, so I could work during the day. My principle transport was a well-worn Ducati Monza 250, (See previous post “Kind of a Drag” for some of its uses.) In those innocent, late 1960’s days, in such a small town, the few of us who rode motorcycles parked them on the lawn in front of the college building and left our excess books and jackets and helmets on the seat. Theft just wasn’t a consideration (perhaps because of those who would steal in a small town, books weren’t high on the list of desirables.) Bruce had a Ducati Mach 1 250, a race-replica bike I lusted after, but like many of us in those teen years, his maintenance of the machine was somewhat less than perfect. It had an oily film around the open bell-mouth carb, sans air filter, and wasn’t always easy to start with the awkward left side under-the-footpeg kick starter necessary to accommodate the rearset pegs. One late fall night as we left class, he put his books down and began the ritual of tickling the carb and swinging the short-throw lever to bring the single to life, as I did the same on mine. I looked over at him just as a tongue of flame shot out of the bell-mouth, setting fire to the oily residue. Bruce kept kicking away, oblivious to the fire developing under his leg . I yelled at him, but he was absorbed in his task, until the heat coming through his jeans finally got his attention. He leaped off the bike and began jumping around, screaming (in hindsight, he probably thought, with good reason, that his leg was on fire as well as his bike). I ran into the building and grabbed a fire extinguisher off the wall. I pointed it at the burning machine and pulled the trigger, only to get a dribble of white liquid falling on the ground right in front of my shoes. Note to self: check fire extinguishers frequently. I ran back in and pulled the fire alarm for the building, which brought quick results, if probably overkill. By then however the poor Mach 1, object of my desire, was but a shell with melted bits of seat and tires dripping on the ground. I helped him push it through town the next day, back to his home, where he began the slow process of bringing it back to life. It eventually Phoenixed as a blue metalflaked café racer….but still oily and hard to start.

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FROZEN FOOLISHNESS

It was a day much like we have had recently this cold winter, but in the mid-1970’s when I was young enough to stand it. Three of us “observed trials” riders were getting some winter practice in January in the abandoned strip mines at Hanging Rock, Ohio. (See an earlier post “Bad Day at Hanging Rock” for further goings on there)

The strip mines offered an utterly ruined landscape, making the moon look like a country club golf course, with jumbled rocks, deep holes and large ponds where the mined pits had filled up. After roaming around in the rock tailings and frozen cascades on the hillsides for a while , we ventured down to the low spots where the ponds had frozen over. Having more sense of adventure than any of the common variety, we rode out onto the icy surface after careful examination of its potential safety (which consisted of a glance over and “Yeah, that looks OK”)

We skated around for a while, low pressure trials tires skittering, doing donuts on the thin skim of snow, and then, being young men, had to line up for a race.

Trials motorcycles are specialized machines, built to crawl over obstacles and make incredibly tight maneuvers in difficult terrain….not, in any way, to race on ice. Had YouTube, or even the internet, existed back then, our efforts at staying upright, much less gaining any speed advantage would have become an instant sensation in the “Stupid Human Tricks” category. I recall one episode where the three of us tried to enter the same turn simultaneously and ended up locked together sliding sideways, utterly without control until we hit the opposite bank of the pond, where we were laughing too hard to pick up the bikes or ourselves.

The “racing” went on until Tommy broke through the surface at one edge, ending up with both wheels up to the axles in slush.

We moved over to another pond, where we found an abandoned grocery cart partially stuck in the frozen mud near the edge. With some effort we freed the cart and set about figuring out what possibilities for mischief it might offer.

Quickly, one of us was dispatched to the bike trailer, returning with a couple of the long, sturdy nylon tie-down straps. We placed one hook in the mesh of the cart, linked two straps together, and hooked the other end to a rear frame loop on one of the bikes, giving us about a 15 foot “ski rope”between motorcycle and the basket. The cart was intact, with all four wheels, though if one of them was typically stuck, it wouldn’t matter on the ice. A volunteer climbed into the cart and the experiment in Darwinism began.

With some careful effort, the contraption could get moving and then pick up speed. The fun part came when a turn could be achieved causing the grocery conveyance to “Crack the Whip”, flinging the cart and its occupant flying across the ice and at the same time pulling the back wheel of the motorcycle out from under the rider, causing him to fight for control (almost always unsuccessfully) as the cart now became the tail wagging the dog. The usual end was a crash of all parties into the snow bank at the edge. All three of us took multiple turns as driver and as cart passenger/unguided missile.

They say that Providence favors drunks and fools, and we were entirely sober. Our attempts at self destruction went on until the sun got too low to provide even minimal heat and sufficient light, with nary a broken bone to show for it, though we would all be sore for days to come. We packed up our bikes, leaving the now somewhat battered cart for the next group of guys (it is, sadly, most often guys who engage in such semi-organized lunacy) to experiment with and headed for home. I think it was nearly two weeks before the checkerboard imprints from the cart’s wire mesh left my skin. To this day, when I pull a cart out of its rack at the grocery, I get a twinge in my hip.

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