Friday, June 23, 2006

Thanks For Stopping By

This pretty much ends my motorcycle adventures for the foreseeable future. I somehow made it through the last month without ending up in divorce court, and as I like to say, I'm brave, but I ain't stupid. In an extended summer engagement, my face will be shown exclusively at home while I catch up on my honey-do list and my own responsibilities that have been building up for so long (Welcome to KevCo, home of the 8,000 mile oil change.)

This, then, also pretty much ends the regular blog updates. As fun as this was, blogging is kind of a girlie thing, number one, and number two, with precious few exceptions, most blogs end up being either gossip, ranting, or incredibly boring drivel. I'm not real big on either gossip or ranting, and my life is no less boring than anybody else's for 50 weeks out of the year. So, I'd say if you liked the road trip story, check back next year and see if I'm going anywhere. (We have a very tentative idea so far.) I might throw something up here in the meantime if it's really noteworthy, but otherwise, hey, it's been real.

Hope y'all enjoyed the ride!

Monday, June 19, 2006


I don't like surprises. Especially when it comes to me holding up my end of a promise to other people, I like to have a plan, a backup plan, and then a contingency or two. After Jim and I announced our New York City ride to the chapter, my first order of business was to seek professional help. Who better, I figured, than the NYC chapter of HOG? Calls were placed and e-mails were sent.

Bless their souls, the NYC gang was willing to not only provide advice, but meet us and escort us through the city. From the word go, Vinny (their director) treated me like we grew up together. "You tell us what you want to do, and we'll make sure you're taken care of." This was great, of course, but I never really did get an exact itinerary or a whole lot of details. "We'll take good care a you. Fuggedaboudit."

The day came, and Vinny was good as gold. I never thought a ride through the city could be so stress-free. His crew was zipping around us, behind us, between us, seemingly everywhere at once. Once our guys got the hang of ignoring traffic control devices and kicking cab fenders, it was a piece of cake. From muscling into parking spaces directly in front of Ground Zero, to merging onto the BQE from the Brooklyn Bridge, to riding right down Broadway into Times Square, they had everything under better control than I thought was even possible.

They even provided security. Whenever we got off the bikes, Bill would dismount, extend his telescoping cane, and stand menacingly in front of the 30 bikes. Bill is a solid, bulky Oriental man, and he looks like he came straight out of a James Bond movie. If you walked back to your bike for something, he'd say, "Your bike is OK. Go. Enjoy. Take pictures. I am watching your things." Priceless. If you look closely, you can see him on duty in the photo of the bikes lined up at Ground Zero.

I had to take the lead of a sub-group after Vinny and some of his boys had to take off, but I don't think there was more than a minute or two where I couldn't see the last bike of the group ahead. These guys are good! During the time we were planning our visit, one of their members got notice that he was being redeployed to Iraq. They set up a big send-off for him, but Vinny remembered his commitment to us and made sure we were in good hands. All for some guy from PA who called out of the blue and asked him for a favor.

The neat thing was, as fast as our passengers were snapping pictures, the other tourists were taking pictures of us. You don't see a lot of bikes in the city, so we were part of the sights that day, I guess. All told, it a great day all the way around. Even the weather was cooperating; the sun was obscured most of the day, and it was 10 degrees cooler than the forecast. Eventually, we made our way uptown to West Harlem, where our tables were waiting for us at the Dinosaur BBQ. You could see the GW Bridge from the front door, and soon we were on the highway home, with everyone present and accounted for.

So, Kevin came through, although it was due entirely to the help of our brothers from the five boroughs. We all had a great day, and I suppose we'll have to do it again in a few years.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

And Now, For My Next Trick

Just when you thought the fun was over...

Come back Monday and see how this weekend goes. This Saturday, Jim (pictured) and I are leading a club ride into Manhattan. We had done this ourselves last year and didn't get killed, so we thought we'd invite the gang and do it again. I looked up the NYC chapter and recruited some help (Yo, Vinnie!) but people are really coming out of the woodwork for this and I was starting to get a little stressed. Herding 30-some bikes through Manhattan promises to be tough enough when you know all the people you're doing it with. Throw in a bunch of people who have never ridden with us, and it could get pretty interesting.

Vinnie says they've done this plenty of times, though, and if they can get people from England through the city intact, we shouldn't have a problem. He's bringing a bunch of his gang to look out for us, and after everything I went through last week, I'm really not too worried about it anymore.

Famous last words...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Jerry's Final Thoughts


Like every road trip, my adventure to the Gulf Coast has become its own story, unique from all the others. Having had a little time to reflect on everything, I'm left with a few thoughts...

Things I've learned:

  • 1,000 miles in 24 hours ain't all that bad, even when things don't go perfectly.
  • America is slowly becoming homogenized. Blame satellite TV and the internet, but every place is starting to look like every other place, and areas that retain their unique local flavor are shrinking into smaller and smaller pockets. Places where that flavor remains are often intentionally preserved, and sanitized for your protection.
  • It's colder than you think up there.
  • No two bartenders make a hurricane the same way.

Things already learned, proven again:

  • A problem that goes away by itself, will come back by itself.
  • Nothing ever goes as planned.
  • Reward and risk follow the same curve. Little risked, little gained.

In the end, it was a an interesting week, just not quite like I expected. Some people thought I was crazy to travel alone. Some think I'm crazy for traveling on a motorcycle. I could have had 10 friends, a nice safe Volvo station wagon, or maybe just waited two weeks and walked down to the pool every day and stayed in the shallow end. But the shit *did* hit the fan, and although it certainly could have been much worse, I did survive and I'm much richer for the experience.

Would I do it over again, knowing what I know now? It depends.

If I knew the whole story and how it ends, yes. You betcha. Worse than the sitting, the waiting, baking, and begging was the uncertainty that hovered for days. Not knowing if my bike was being stolen while I lay in bed, not knowing when (or if!) I would ever get picked up, not knowing if it was really fixed or was about to die before the next mile marker --that was what really ruined a large chunk of my vacation. I wouldn't go through that again.

But life itself is uncertain, and your number could come up while you read this. I understand that while these things do happen, they're the exception and not the rule. If you told me that I would get stranded once every 50 times, I'd do it 100 more times.

Tune in next year and find out where!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Heading Home

Saturday morning, and I'd planned to get home tonight for a day of relaxation Sunday. It will be another long day, but I'm accustomed to that by now. Besides, I have to get home today: I used the last of my toothpaste this morning!

All I can say about today is that it was fun spending it with Mom & Dad, and that the scenery is absolutely stunning. I could have filled 100 pages with postcard photos. It's tricky to sneak a peek and keep yourself on the road, so we pulled into lots of overlooks and idled past a few more. Yesterday, I was disappointed getting back on the Parkway, but things quickly improved today and reached a nice happy medium. Fun to ride, but not overly tedious, and breathtaking views around every bend. I cannot recommend enough that you take this drive yourself one day, whether by car or whatever. It's gorgeous.

We reached the end in Front Royal, Virginia around 5:30 and gassed up for the remaining 225 miles of interstate. It was still windy as hell down here, and we were getting blown all over the place. In my mirror, I saw Dad's big Ultra Classic swap lanes once or twice, and I was fighting pretty hard at times as well.

Things calmed down soon after we entered PA, and after a quick food stop, we were one more gas stop from home. We got to Coplay around 10 under the light of the full moon, and Mom and Dad split off onto Third Street.

I unpacked the pint of whiskey first. It had travelled 3399 miles in 9 days, (but not the 8 miles on the flatbed truck), through rain, sun, cold and heat, swamps, beaches, and mountain ridges, through big cities and a hundred one-horse towns. I opened it up, and there was just enough left to toast myself on another successful journey. It's good to be home.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Friday: Blue Ridge Parkway

After loading up and leaving Deal's Gap, I headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance in Cherokee, NC. This is a tourist trap at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but a significant one. It's the Cherokee village from which the Native Americans were moved, and I believe now it is an official reservation.

The Parkway is an engineering marvel, a strip of asphalt clinging to the side of a mountain range a mile in the sky. It took about a half hour to reach 6,000 feet, and by then I was freezing. I pulled over to add a sweatshirt, and ran into the Gettysburg HOG chapter I'd met the night before, doing the same thing! We took some photos, and the thermometer on one guy's bike read 50 degrees. After days in the 90's, it felt good to bundle up a little. I said goodbye again (got to make Roanoke today to meet Mom & Dad) and took off.

Since reaching the Cherohala Skyway on Thursday afternoon, I'd been seeing more bikes than cars. After about another half-hour of 15-mph turns, tunnels, dips and ridges, I came across a bunch of bikes parked all willy-nilly with flashers on, signaling me to slow down. I quickly spied a mangled Sportster (100th Anniversary, just like mine) that had been retrieved from the woods. I stopped to see what I could do, and saw a body lying there. Ugh.

The body was having a conversation with somebody, though, and was making sense. She was a weird pear shape (don't ask me why I remember that) and didn't remember what had happened, but was alert and her leg was in a lot of pain. I said "y'all have phones, right?" but was informed that they were all useless up here. Someone had gone for help a while ago, and I took off with a guy from Wisconsin to make double sure.
I was reading my Parkway guide indicating where gas was available, and at the next opportunity, I headed down the mountain while Wisconsin streaked on toward the ranger station.

What they didn't tell you in the guide was that it was 20 minutes to scale the mountain, and another 15 miles to the nearest traffic light. I stopped at a park point of interest near the bottom to see if it was staffed, but nothing. I heard sirens, though. By the time I got to the gas station, it was a half-hour later and I sheepishly figured everything was under control up there by now.

Realizing that it was lunchtime and I still had 300 miles of this after I climbed back up the mountain, I got out the map and looked for a way to cheat. I was meeting Mom and Dad in Roanoke and wanted to get there in time to eat dinner. I found the straightest route to the interstate, and ran almost two tanks of gas out at 75 mph.
Getting back on the Parkway south of Roanoke in Fancy Gap, I was shocked at what it had become. It was "only" about 2500 feet in elevation, and in many places was a fairly straight country road past farms, people's backyards, etc. I was disappointed that I'd likely missed so much, but I still had 75 miles to my stop and it was already suppertime. I got to Roanoke and found out where they had gotten our rooms, and headed for the hotel. I missed dinner, so mom and I went for take out and a six-pack.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the final leg.

Deal's Gap, NC - Tail of the Dragon

It turns out Deal's Gap not only didn't have internet access, there was no cell signal, and no phone in the room! And the payphone wouldn't let me make collect calls. Talk about getting away from it all!
This is what I've been talking for the last couple days:
And this is the placed I stayed:

I got there after 7pm so, as promised, Room 1 was unlocked with the key inside. Directly next to me were a half-dozen crotch rockets, and a few doors up was a bunch of Harley tourers. I struck up a conversation, and it turns out they're the Gettysburg, PA HOG chapter. I'd hung out with some of them at NJ Bike week last year.

Friday morning was surreal. I got up at the crack of dawn, packed my gear (but didn't load it), and went to "check in." The office wasn't open yet at 7:10, so I cranked over the bike and set off into the twisties.

I can guarantee that I used up more front brake pad in those 20 minutes than I had all week. Wide open throttle, hard on the brakes, pitched over till the footpegs hit. Over and over again 100 times. What an awesome ride! The protocol is that if you get someone behind you, move over and let 'em by. That worked for me a few times, but I caught some guy on a Harley who would NOT let me by. There's no place to pass safely without some help. So I slowed to walking speed to give myself a little room, and was quickly caught by two sportbikes. They go by me, and I see the Harley give 'em some room. So, I nailed it, and slipped right through along with them ;-)

Like the song says, I'm not as good as I once was. This is supposed to look smooth and flowing; finding out you overcooked a turn and and grabbing a fistful of brake to save your ass is neither graceful nor fast. But if it works, it's better than bailing and hanging crashed parts on the Tree of Shame. By then, I had gotten into a little rhythm, though, and believe it or not, these guys didn't run away from me. Most of the time, it looked like ballet. Three of us, in sequence, dropping hard down into a turn, one, two, three. Then in an instant, snapping up past vertical, and settling into a hard bank the other way, flashing out of view, one, two, three. Not that they couldn't have outrun me on their FZ1's if they really wanted to, but we were definitely rockin'. My Sportster is by no means a fast sport bike, but if there are a set of conditions in which it can at least hang, those (relatively) slow, technical sections are it. If I could get into the corners just right, the wide torque range of the H-D engine is ideally suited to shoot me out of them in hot pursuit.

We reached the end, and the reward was a peaceful view over Calderwood Dam, with about 8 other bikes, in the crisp morning air with the fog breaking up over the water. One of those once-in-a-lifetime things. If I were a girl, I would have cried.

I turned her around and made another banzai pass past the motel and back to the other dam (Cheoah Dam, which Harrison Ford jumped off in the movie "The Fugitive") then went to have breakfast and check in/out. The next leg would be the Blue Ridge Parkway, which will be a separate post.

Thursday: Through Tennessee

The bike still has not even hiccupped. That's two in a row, and I am relaxing a little.

I got out of Tennessee, but not by much. Aside from Sunday night, this is the only room reservation I had; it's just over the North Carolina border in Deal's Gap. This is the sweet part of the ride, coming home through the Appalachians. I knew I'd be cooler, enjoying incredible scenery, and throwin' it around on the best sportbike roads this side of the Mississippi. --an interesting note is that the only time I actually crossed the Mississippi was on a flatbed. I rode back, though :-)

Today was supposed to be a make-it-up as you go along day, with not much ground to cover. Or, as it turned out to be, a makeup day. I needed to get fairly far today, but I'd have something to look at and some curves to go around as the day went on.

Sometime in the morning, I rolled through Lynchburg, but I didn't see Jack Daniels or any of his kin. After a late lunch, I took off in the wrong direction and didn't figure it out for about 45 minutes. Again, with a running engine, I couldn't be too pissed about the little things. I completeley rerouted the next leg, and as often happens, I was pleasantly surprised. TN 30 in some places is almost as much of a roller coaster as I as expect the Tail of the Dragon to be. Which means it's fun, but you're not covering lots of real estate in a hurry. Also, it turns out it is part of the real Trail of Tears, where the US marched the entire Cherokee nation against their will to Oklahoma.

The last leg of Tennessee was the Cherohala Skyway, which crosses the ridge into North Carolina. It quickly rose over a mile high, and I had to stop and put my jacket on. I'd been looking forward to this every time I had to un-bungee it to get at something else in 90-degree heat. As you would imagine, the scenery is incredible. The speed limit is 35, but a lot of the time even that is pushing it. What a great way to end the day.

I found out for sure that Mom & Dad won't be meeting me tonight due to bad weather up north. My hotel is just up the road, and it's motorcycles only, right at the tip of the dragon's tail. I wouldn't get there with enough light left to unpack the bike and make a run, but it's right outside my door first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

What a Difference a Day Makes

Although it did end up getting later than I wanted it to be by the time I got checked in, today seems a world away from Monday. With a problem-free day under my belt, and the laid-back Trace Parkway for the whole day's plan, I woke up a new man today. I even put the earbuds back in and fired up the MP3 player.

I was buzzing along the shore of this huge reservoir, banking through lazy turns just a foot or two above water level, under a blue sky, when the random song picker thing cueued up "Just What the Doctor Ordered" and I had to smile. Sometimes music can really create a mood.

The parkway is 50 mph, no stop signs for 444 miles, no trucks, no guardrail, and almost no traffic at all. I saw more cars in the 10 minutes on the interstate from the hotel in the morning than I saw the rest of the day. I got off for gas in this country crossroads in Mississipi and the town was a 4-way stop sign. There was a little store with one gas pump that had the reels to watch your money go by, and two old black guys in overalls and long-sleeved shirts sitting on the porch eating their bologna-and-mayonnaise sandwiches. I pumped my 2 gallons (at that pace, I was making over 50 mpg and didn't realize I still had over a gallon left) and went in to pay. The cashier had about 7 teeth and was as sweet as pie. Said "y'all come back," but I didn't tell her not to hold her breath.

Back at the bike, one of the guys asks me how far two gallons of gas gets me, but it sounded like "owfadem dugan gazgicha" the first two times. I told him, we chatted a few minutes, and I got better at it. He said dat gitme Tupelo, eazy. Which was what I figured.

The scenery was nice; forests, meadows, the reservoir, a cypress swamp here and there. All sorts of Choctaw burial mounds. With righteous road music in my ears, and that steady Milwaukee rumble uninterrupted below me, life was good. After cutting the corner of Alabama and getting into the hills of Tennessee, the combination of altitude, latitude, and shade -itude had me downright comfortable.

I got off well before Nashville and ran into a couple on a Road King parked at the exit. We also chatted for a while, and I find out that just 20 miles down the road in the direction I'm heading, is Lawrenceburg, where I'll find a steakhouse, 3 motels, and a main drag with all ya need - I just hang a left on 43. Beautiful. And what a nice little town it is, except there are only two hotels, and they tell me Lawrenceburg is full. I need to go to Columbia, or Florence, Alabama.
I call another place on their recommendation, but I can't understand a word the lady says. I'm pretty sure they don't have rooms. So I call the magic "choice hotels" reservation number (they own a dozen chains) and end up heading 45 miles closer to Nashville, and that's the direction where it looks like it might be fixin' to let loose a gullywasher. It's sunny every other direction.
I made it, though, and it still isn't raining. The forecast for tomorrow is 83 degrees, 0% chance of rain, and I'm heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have a room reserved at Deal's Gap, and I want to check in as soon as I can so I can unload all my crap and get out there for a whle and put the Sport back in Sportster. I'll spend the rest of the day bombing all those awesome motorcyle roads with much less fear of breaking down, then spend the night right at the Tail of the Dragon.

I have a feeling my mom and dad will show up there tomorrow. I had told Dad about the reservation when I made it,and gave him the room number before I left. Odd to have that information already, I know, but this place is a little different. If they're there, I'll have it made for the ride home out of the Smokies and up the Blue Ridge Parkway. That's a legend among biker folk, and should make the Natchez Trace Parkway look like a mall parking lot.

I'm pretty sure this place tomorrow won't have internet access, so you probably won't see a post. One less thing I'll waste an hour on tomorrow :-)

One other thing: Just when I thought I was out of New Orleans, there were gangsta boyz hanging out at the motel last night in Jackson. Tonight is much better. I've seen enough for a while of people wearing those condom-looking things on their heads, getting out of $150 cars with $5,000 worth of wheels and tires on them. I've stayed in a motel full of Pagans and felt better about my chances of seeing my bike in the morning. I hope this doesn't make me politically incorrect. I guess if you have a condom on your head and a gun in your pocket, I don't care what your background might be. And if you're sitting on a porch eating a bologna-and-mayonnaise sandwich in coveralls in 90 degrees, I won't care then, either. I'll still leave the keys in the bike while I go inside.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Highway 61 Revisited

Getting right to the point, the bike ran all day without so much as a sneeze. I'm in Jackson, MS --checked in, fed, and my clothes are in the dryer. I'm not out of the woods yet, but today was definitely a better day. I was "writing" this post in my head on the ride today, so the comments left on yesterday's post are interesting.

Originally, the plan was to take a first-hand look at the flood damage, which was the start of a really bad chain of events, and then, on the way to Natchez, ride the Louisiana bayous and the west river road. Because a wise man once told me it's always a good idea to figure a spare day in a weeklong bike trip, I still could have done those things. Wednesday, instead of covering just those 30 miles, will now be a regular day. I'm not at the point of putting in any more 600-mile shifts yet.

But I got directly out of there and up to Mississippi for two reasons:

One, rescue concerns. I didn't want to be stranded on the interstate, but I absolutely was not going to describe what part of the boondocks I'm in, or what part of which flooded-out ghetto.

Two, bad ju-ju. In addition to bacchanalia, N' Awlins is known for voodoo and witchcraft. Lisa (hi baby!) has always been fascinated with that stuff, and she bought a souvenir voodoo doll when we were there last year. I think it's interesting, but don't really get too concerned about it. Well, for whatever reason,

I just suddenly had the feeling that I was getting my chance and I needed to get my ass out of there pronto. I suppose that's understandable anyway, but it really felt weird. I did ride a few blocks down Bourbon St, though.

So, US 61 was the perfect answer. I took that up through Red Stick to Natchez, Mississippi, but aside from a few huge refineries and some murky green water here and there, there wasn't much to see. I'm all kitch and Americana, so I figured that route would really be the flavor of the deep South. I was disappointed that it was not. I couldn't really feel sorry for myself with that beautiful sound of a running engine in my ears, though.

Natchez is where I was to pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway (what are the odds?) and since I was feeling pretty froggy after 175 succesful miles, I allowed myself an hour to search my list of antebellum houses in town. That was the Old South I was looking for. What a neat place. By the river, I ran into two guys on Harleys from Florida, taking the same pictures that I was. We shot the breeze for a minute, and, hearing my story, one of them gave me the name and number of a friend of his in Robbinsville, NC, where I'll be Thursday.

I have covered 100 miles of the Trace Parkway so far, and it's really nice, but that's another post. It ends 350 miles from here in Nashville, but I might cheat a little to the east before I get to the music city to instead play in the Tennessee River Valley and get a little closer to Thursday night's stop.

My clothes are dry, and I gotta roll 'em before they wrinkle ;-)

Monday, June 05, 2006

What a Day

I didn't have a friend in the world today. I called New Orleans H-D the minute they opened this morning and got nowhere. I was supposed to call back in a half hour when the service mgr got there. When I finally got to talk to him, they were shorthanded, how was I going to get the bike there, blah, blah, blah. He finally tells me that I'm closer to the Gretna shop anyway. Now, mind you, I had looked them up and they're both owned by the same person.

The other shop isn't really any more enthusiastic than the first one, and they don't know if they'll be able to look at it, and they can't pick it up either. They have a truck and a ramp, but nobody to drive it. And their pickup / delivery charge is $180 anyway, so why don't I call Dale's Towing, who will do it for $60. Um, thanks.

So I call Dale's, who are no more enthusiastic than any other people I have dealt with so far. They can maybe get a truck out by lunchtime; I should call back around 11:30. Jesus H. Christ. My next move is to write down phone numbers of both dealers, 3 cab companies, and some more towing services, pack up my gear and check out. The bellman was kind enough to store it for the day, and out into the sunshine I walk to grab a cab.

On the way over there, I tell the driver I need him to hang out for a minute. We get there, I head for the underpass, and this is what I see:

There she was, right where I left her. I actually smiled, although my day would have probably been much simpler had it been stolen. Now I wanted to see if it would start, which it did. I go back and tell Mr. Cabbie that I need him to follow me to Gretna. I paid the fare to that point and told him to keep the meter running. Get back over to the bike, unlock everything, start it up, and... go 5 feet. Damn. Now I give the cabdriver his tip and send him on his way. Lock everything back up and go sit on the street.

Yesterday I was sticking out like a sore thumb sitting there all biker with a tank bag and a helmet. I figured somebody would have done the math and gone looking for the bike, but I guess they didn't. I wasn't taking that chance today, so I left the helmet and headed across the street to a Burger King, which I saw someone go into. Turns out it was a construction worker. OK, I thought it was closed anyway. So I do my own math, and get "construction workers + active job site = lots of pickup trucks." I went in and explained my plight and wondered if anyone wanted to make a couple bucks driving me over the bridge on their lunch break.

Not only didn't that fly, I couldn't even stay inside the building (a/c was working) while I waited. I ended up sitting against the wall trying not to look helpless until enough hours went by that my shade was gone. In the meantime, I had called HOG roadside assistance back to re-open my case, and sat waiting for the next available representative while my cell phone battery slowly drained.

I called back a half dozen times, and I did eventually get through, and was promised to be picked up by the end of the day. Meanwhile, I walked back across the street to get me some new shade and saw there was a body shop open, with a fenced lot. Mental note. Next came a Eureka moment. Next to the body shop was an Enterprise car rental! I sauntered in and asked if they had pickup trucks. No, but they do have a cargo van on hand. Very nice. I'm going to give my boy Dale until 2:30, then I'm taking matters into my own hands. Rent the van, head to Home Depot for some tie-downs and a 2x10, and get back before all the body shop people leave so I could maybe get some help. I was walking back out when the nice lady told me I needed to wait inside in the air conditioning! God bless her.

John eventually showed up driving one of Dale's trucks, and at about 3:00 or so I found myself at Gretna H-D unloading a dead bike and charging $96 to my credit card for an alleged $60 tow --more than the van would have cost me. The service guy was much more helpful in person, and said the next guy who finishes what he's working on will take a look. Probably an hour. We get to talking, and we both agree it's probably the ignition coil. He can't just let me change it without testing the old one first, because if it isn't the problem I'm stuck with it. For $40-some dollars, I say I got a couple tools and I'll take my chances. He says, if you want to do that, you can use whatever tools you need. Now we're getting somewhere.

The only catch here is that I again try to start the bike just to make sure that whatever I do is actually solving the problem, but of course this time it starts and stays running while I ride it around the parking lot to my heart's content.

At the end of the day, I replaced the coil and the plug wires and rode it back to the hotel, which I'd wisely called hours earlier and re-booked for tonight. I'd like to think my problem is solved, and if it were anyone else I'd be confident that it was based on all the information I have. But I'm still 1200 miles from home, and a little uneasy. I guess I just plan my day for tomorrow and see what happens. The weather looks decent, anyway.

It's quarter after 8, and I'm going to see if I can't scare up a well-deserved cocktail. I'd probably pass out asleep after two of them, so I'm going to call it a day after one hurricane.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Big Uneasy

Well, the fun came to a screeching halt when I headed out toward Lake Pontchartrain where the flooding was worst. Literally. Well, not actually screeching I suppose. See, I had this intermittent electrical problem a month or so ago where the bike didn't start a few times when it got hot. Cool it off and it was fine, so you couldn't really troubleshoot it. We did find a questionable coil wire, and I put probably 500 miles on it since then without a hint of a problem.

That all changed when I rolled back up onto I-10 and hit 70 mph. Just like that, done. Like you turned the key off. I made it over two lanes before I became a sitting duck, and parked it on the shoulder. Sunday afternoon at 6:00; this oughta be good.

I called HOG roadside assistance, and they asked me a thousand questions. THEY WANTED TO KNOW WHAT COLOR THE BIKE WAS! I shit you not. So they tell me they're going to see what they can do and they'll call me back w/ the particulars. Well, the towing company was an hour away (bikes, remember) and the H-D dealer was closed, so they had nowhere to take it. THEY ask ME what I want to do. I want to get the hell off I-10, that's what I want to do. "Would you like it towed to your home?"

"Sure!" I say. "That'd be great!"

"OK, is it nearby?"

"No, it's about 1200 miles. Don't you remember that being one of your 1,000 questions a half hour ago?"


So now it had been long enough to cool down some, and just for giggles I hit the starter button while I ask her if I can have it brought to the hotel. Don't you know it, she lights right off and I hang up the call.

I got about 3/4 of a mile, off the exit, but that was it. So there I sit, thumb up ass in a neighborhood where I do not wish to spend any more time than I have to. But I also know if I wait another half hour and try to start it again, I'll probably end up stuck on I-10 again, this time in the dark.

So after some quick analysis of the situation, I call the hotel, and have them call me a cab. My baby is pushed behind an abandoned Auto Zone, under an overpass with a dozen filthy, flooded-out cars. Chained to a drain pipe. I don't have a good feeling about this.

I kissed her goodbye and hopped in the cab.


Today I made it into Biloxi around lunchtime after a ride through southern Mississippi. Didn't see any "sugar shacks" and not really much storm damage along the way. That changed in a hurry when I hit the beachfront and headed west. That 20 mile stretch of US 90 on through Gulfport is beyond words. You've all seen the pictures, but they really don't do it justice (but I'll post some anyway!) Signs stand in front of buildings long gone, spray-painted rubble serves for address markers. There are still boats next to roads, and debris piles stacked everywhere. That must have once been a beautiful ride with a strange mix of magnolia and palm trees lining the road, but it's almost a trail of tears now. You know that going in, I guess, when you build on the water, but you still have to feel sorry for these people.

Got into the Big Easy around 4 (local time) and checked in. I took a dip in the pool and was headed out to take pictures of flood damage, but that's another post.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Laurel, Mississippi

It turns out I'm exactly where I planned to be, although if you'd have asked me 14 hours ago I'd have bet against it. I didn't have any room reservations, because if the weather didn't cooperate I knew I might not make either one. As the week went on, the forecast was proving that was a smart call.

As it would play out, scoring these hotel rooms with no problems would be the two things that did go right, and allowed me to be a happy camper right now. The story is long enough that you'll have to get it in person (I have a lot of those) but the weather did suck, and weather wouldn't be the first thing to go wrong. Plan A was to get as far as I can as fast as I can, because the ride home would be rushed by every extra hour spent getting here. So I decided to shoot for 1,000 miles in 24 hours, and document it.

It worked, I'm fed, showered, and having a beer in the air conditioning. Today was a LONG day --I washed Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi off me tonight. I'll sleep well and have a good post for tomorrow. I won't be on the interstate, and I should be in Gulfport way before lunch with plenty of time on my hands. You should start seeing pictures with the next post.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Let's Roll

OK, looks like I'm about ready to head south here in a few minutes. Destination: Mississippi River Delta. The weatherman says I'm in for some tough sledding right off the bat; although it's not raining now, it doesn't look like I'll get far before suiting up. Tomorrow is supposed to be a 90 degree Mississippi day. By Monday, though, the forecast looks flat-out perfect for the rest of the week. I know, never bet on the weather.

If everything goes right, I'll be in Southern Mississippi by supper tomorrow. I had planned to ride until around midnight tonight. But riding in the dark in the rain is kind of unsettling for me, and I don't scare easily. Looking through wet lenses during the day is a challenge, but at night it's an altogether different story. I'm not going to fight that battle for long. We shall see...

Monday, May 29, 2006

All Gave Some. Some Gave All.

In the previous post, you read that our Memorial Day weekend excursion included Washington, DC. That visit to our nation's capitol was the real reason for our trip --to join a half-million of our closest friends in honoring those who put their lives on the line for the freedom we sometimes take for granted. Rolling Thunder is a demonstration organized by vets to draw attention to the thousands left behind in Vietnam, remaining in POW or MIA status to this day. Over 20 years, it has evolved into a gathering of riders whose numbers total, depending on who you listen to, between 350 and 750 thousand. In the group photo, you can see a pedestrian bridge to the right behind all the bikes, rising to treetop level. We are parked 2 lots beyond that bridge, and only because we were able to sneak forward one lot during the day. We finally moved out from the Pentagon staging area about 2-1/2 hours after the noon parade start.

If I remember my frame of mind in 7th grade correctly, I'd say that a large part of it may have been lost on Katrina. Still, I think the spirit of the day and the staggering number of names etched into that granite wall will leave a lasting impression on her, as it does to me. While I'm neither a veteran, nor an activist, I am an American and I respect what that means.

Freedom isn't free.

Dora the Explorer

OK, we wouldn't have named the kid Dora even if we had known, but Katrina is turning out to be quite the explorer. We love road trips; she's been as far as Florida in the car, and is racking up some serious miles behind Dad on the bike now that she's getting older. On Saturday, we added Virginia and West Virginia to the list of states she's ridden to, and also DC on Sunday, although we didn't get a "welcome" photo. This was far enough to be an overnighter, and our stop was Frederick, MD.

In PA Dutch country, we waved to the horse and buggy drivers, then had our lunch delivered to us by a girl on roller skates. We had never seen a Sonic before, and Katrina picks the stops when we ride. Pretty cool, except Dad was EXTREMELY disappointed to learn that nobody goes inside the store, and there are no restrooms! We then rode past the H-D factory in York, and past a dozen thoroughbred farms on the backroads of western Maryland. After checking in and taking a little break, we decided to shoot for West Virginia. Funny thing about these pictures; you never know what conditions you'll find when you take them. Our picture from Maryland last summer is on a peaceful road with an apron that was wide enough to have a picnic. Here, we're sandwiched between a busy US highway and the banks of the Potomac River, camera staring into the sun. The photo at the bottom is framed to exclude the NO PARKING sign just to the right of the shot :-) Interestingly, we learned that Memorial Day weekend must be National Yard Sale Week. We saw, without exaggeration, at least 20 of them. Katrina's inner shopper must have died a thousand deaths knowing we couldn't fit anything else on the bike with us even if we wanted to. Poor kid...

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Who'd Have Thunk It?

Previously in this spot was a post celebrating my 16th wedding anniversary. In it were some thoughts about how a couple gets that far, and how by that point it's sort of a given that it's a forever kind of thing.

I guess nothing is forever.

Lisa and I made it another 2+ years since that post, but then seem to have come to a fork in the road. As I write this, events are fresh in my mind and I have to be careful what I say. Lisa will always have a special place in my heart. If I live to be 75, she will have been my girl for 1/3 of my life. That's pretty serious stuff. Yet, when you think about it, we each could still end up with a mate who could at that age account for nearly half our lives. Always stay positive, right?

Here's hoping we both end up happy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What's this "Speedy" crap all about?

When I first got hooked up with this interweb thing, I had to come up with an e-mail address for the account to which my blazing fast 33.6k modem would connect. Not wanting to delay the process, I put a solid 9 seconds worth of thought into it, and thus was born TF499 at aol dot com. Naturally, it didn't take me long to tire of hearing "WTF is TF?" So, having had some time to think about it, I replaced TF (which is the designation for Top Fuel dragsters, by the way) with Nitro when creating a Yahoo! account. That account still exists, along with a shoddy homepage that explains the 499 and 689.

Fortunately, it didn't take me long to tire of AOL, either, so that was soon nixed in favor of The nitro thing, while an improvement, just wasn't quite doing it either. So, I evolved into speedemn at fast dot net, which I just thought was the coolest thing ever. I also created a speeddemon account with Yahoo! because they hadn't come up with their spam filter yet and my box was just getting killed. is now history as well, but from then on, my online identity has been some form or other of speeddemon, and I think that pretty well sums it up.

When they ask you in kindergarten what you want to be when you grow up, all the boys say "astronaut," "police officer," or "race car driver." For most boys, that changes over the years, but for me, unfortunately, I'm still a firesuit monkey trapped in slacks and a cotton dress shirt. Six numbers plus the powerball would fix that, but until then my weekend wear is a black t-shirt with some Harley dealer's logo on it. And ya know, that ain't so bad...