Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An awesome Sunday...


Sunday saw a return to my wandering ways. This time my better half and myself took the van on a little road trip. We left Orleans at about 0830hrs, under skies that looked anything but threatening. We decided to take the 416 and cross over at Ogdensberg, NY where there are virtually never any lineups. By 1015hrs, we were stateside and cruising West along Rte. 37. It's funny but no matter how many times I go through this area, I never tire or become jaded with the bucolic beauty that I find there.

As we reached Morristown, we branched off onto Rte. 12 which would skirt the St.Lawrence and take us to Alex Bay. We decided to forego the A/C and roll along with the windows down, despite the heat and humidity outside. Motorcycles were everywhere along this route. We stopped at one of the overlooks on the way, to take a couple of photos. As we were preparing to leave, we heard a low rumble which steadily filled the air. A procession of bikes, perhaps a hundred or so strong, thundered by. It took a couple of minutes for them to pass where we were.

I pointed out to my wife that it was likely an organized ride which had been laid on by the event promoters. These are always worth attending at an event, notably when it's held in a strange locale that you're unfamiliar with. They will normally have a couple of locals head the ride and it will lead you through some favorite roads, normally chosen for the natural scenic beauty and technical nature (twisties) of the roads. Once the phalanx of steel had passed, we left the overlook and continued on our way. Before long we had reached Alex Bay and were slowly toodling down the entrance road. As with Saturday, the bikes and riders were everywhere.

We wound our way to the end of town. down by the waterfront where the tour boats dock and the charter sportfishing entities thrive. We found what must have been the last van-sized parking spaces to be had. The sidewalks were busy with riders and other tourists. We slowly made our way along the street, stopping into the many shops and boutiques that compete for both space and attention along this stretch. Many of them carry pirate-related gear, clothing and accessories. Sure, a lot of it is kitsch aimed at the 'touristos', but there are some very good deals to be had there as well as some pretty unique items. And of course, it's just a lot of fun.

I'm just a big sucker when it comes to things nautical. Go figure... And our section at work has long been regarded as the "most likely to swashbuckle"... So yes, I picked up a couple of 'pirate-related' items. We took our time sauntering up the street, as there were plenty of gorgeous bikes to admire along the way. My favorite had to be a Boss Hoss Trike. It was done in fire engine red and had a back end which mimicked a '57 Chev. It was a real showstopper... Every so often, you see a bike that stands out from the rest of the hoi-polloi. Usually a paint job or the custom parts employed are the reason. In other cases, it is because it is different from the frame on up. There was no lack of skill, creativity or talent in many of the bikes we got to see that day.

By about 1345hrs, we were starting to get a little peckish. I reckoned we could safely bypass all the vendors' stalls under the lookoff area. My better half not being an actual rider, there would have been very little point in revisiting that area. So I suggested that we grab a little something to eat. We looked at a couple of places, but ended up at the 'Chez Paree' yet again. Once more, the food did not disappoint.

Once fed and watered, we made our way back down towards the van, but on the opposite side of the street this time. There were just as many shops to check out... We bumped into a couple who had to be in their early seventies. She was still straddling a Harley Heritage Classic, with a great paint job in golds and browns, depicting waterfalls on one side of her tank and wolves on the other. My better half just had to stop and get a picture of her and her ride. She asked her how long she had been riding for. "I've been riding for 15 years", she said matter-of-factly. "And I just love it!", she added. As though she needed to. You could plainly see on her face, the joy that riding held for her. Her male counterpart was riding an Electra-Glide Classic, done up in basic 'midnight blue'.

I was kind of hoping my wife might draw the lesson, that it's never too late to learn how to ride and that it's a pursuit you can really follow until later on in life. "As long as you can swing your leg over the saddle", as they say. We finally reached the van and decided to head out further West, to Watertown. The traffic provided a constant eddy of motion around us and it took a few minutes before it was clear to back out and start heading out towards James Street. Roughly 10 minutes later, we were leaving the sounds of bands and bikes behind us, as we swung right onto Rte. 12. There was a Valero gas station just a little down the road where we had stopped before. It had a grocery outlet attached to it and we decided to stop and get some cold drinks to take with us.

As we stood in line to check out with our items, I noticed a rider who was checking through his purchases. He was kind of hard to miss, as he must have stood a good 6 feet eight inches tall. He was also sporting a three piece patch (full colours) in green and white. I recognized these colours instantaneously. They were the colours of the Boozefighters, MC. His chapter rocker read : Ontario, which I have to admit, kind of took me aback. He departed ahead of us and I eyed my wife. "That there is a very old organization", I told her.

http://www.alr573.com/images/BoozeFighter.jpg

We made our way to the parking lot after having paid for our drinks. The rider was packing his provisions into his saddlebags. "You ride safe out there, young feller", I told him. He looked at me and smiled. "Thanks, Bro!", he replied. We clambered back into the van and my wife asked me who he was. I then proceded to tell her the story of the Boozefighters, probably one of the oldest organized motorcycle clubs in North America, if not the world. I related how they had been founded in 1946, pre-dating even the Angels. I also told her about a 4th of July party (The Gypsy Tour) that had once been held in a little town called Hollister, California in 1947. How there had been some drinking and racing, nothing terrible of out of the ordinary for young fellas in the post-war years. But the most visible club at Hollister in 1947 was the Boozefighters: a group led by the charismatic “Wino Willie” Forkner. At the time, the Boozefighters consisted of chapters in three cities: Los Angeles, San Pedro, and San Francisco.


Barney Peterson, an opportunistic photographer from the San Francisco Chronicle, saw the potential for some vicarious titillation as the bikers enjoyed themselves. He staged an ominous photograph with an unknown drunk (not a club member) on a motorcycle surrounded by broken beer bottles. The photo never ran in the Chronicle but Peterson managed to get it onto page 31 of the July 21, 1947, edition of the popular Life magazine. When the issue hit the stands, the nation was greeted by a disturbing full page photo accompanied by the screaming caption: “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and his friends terrorize a town.”

http://theselvedgeyard.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/hollister47.jpg

From this one incident, came the negative connotation which has forevermore been associated with bikers. Hollywood seized upon this totally fictitious story, which became the basis for the 1953 movie "The Wild One", starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin. This of course only reinforced the stereotype and was the first of a wave of 'biker trash' movies which would subsequently flood the big screen in the sixties.

We reached the turnoff for the bridge to Canada, which also led to the on-ramp for the I-81. We headed off to Watertown, some 35 miles down the road. The ride there was sedate and restful. We were passed by just about every other vehicle on the road, but I was unperturbed. I had the cruise control set at 95kmh and I couldn't care less. Let 'em all navigate around me. I happen to know that NY State Troopers are a dedicated lot that you don't wanna mess with. They're not gonna cut me any slack simply because I have out-of-state tags.

We arrived in Watertown at about 1545hrs. Plenty of daylight left and our last stop for the day before winding our way back home. We browsed through both the Kohl's, Target and finally T.J. Max outlet stores, before deciding it was time to start on the road back. Once more we took our time, enjoying the weather and the countryside around us. We took Route 12 at Alex Bay and carried on towards Ogdensburg, where we would take the bridge back over to Canada.

As we came across the bridge, I related the crossing from the previous day, where my daughter was a little freaked out by the water down below and the feel of the bike skating around beneath us. I told her that I had never noticed the water, or even knew that it in fact visible, as my eyes were usually otherwise occupied by the act of driving or riding. The last thing I had time for while negotiating this narrow, slippery, truck-laden bridge deck, was looking down.

We breezed through customs at the other end and were soon travelling along the 416. We took the second exit for Kars, which would bring us out on the Rideau River Road by The Swan on the Rideau restaurant. As we neared that intersection, I asked my better half if she felt at all peckish. I offered to treat us to supper out, as I pulled into The Swan's parking lot. Now, we always have misgivings about eating at The Swan. Don't get me wrong... the food is usually great. They serve up a particularly good fish 'n chips. The service however, is usually bloody awful. As in you can time their wait staff with a calendar and they regularly forget about you...

Feeling lucky this evening, we decided to chance it. I had a hankering for spaghetti, for some unknown reason. My wife ordered a single portion of their famous fish 'n chips. The food didn't disappoint and the service was good. We were acknowledged upon entering and our drink orders were taken within a reasonable time frame. My spouse regularly times the period between the time our order is taken and the time we actually get our food. I believe it was a half-hour this time around, which if you're not ordering one of the specials of the day, is actually not bad.

Happy and sated, we continued our trek home. We stopped off at Blockbuster to pick up a couple of movies as well. All in all, it was a very enjoyable day and wrapped up an active and thoroughly enjoyable weekend.


"Standing knee-deep in a river..."


I was looking at Spider's photograph on the weekend and my mind carried me back to a period in time. It was the summer of 1993. It was a period of extreme highs and extreme lows in my life. And Spider was there for all of it. One of my favorite songs from that period, is one that still reverberates with me. I was very big on the "new country" back then and many songs I had adopted from that period, now occupy space on my iPod today. Not only because their lyrics were actually intelligible, but because they conveyed values and beliefs that I continue to share.

Artists such as Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Aaron Tippin, Alabama, The Judds, Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless and many others.

One of my very favorites was and still is, Kathy Mattea. Not simply because I found her to be a hauntingly beautiful woman at the time, but because she possesses a very strong, rich and emotionally convincing voice. 'Lonesome Standard Time', which had been released in 1992, was her banner album that year, which featured many songs that did very, very well for her. Not least of which was the title track...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSGm_hOU7fw

Among my favorites on this album, is the following which I am sure, many people out there will be able to relate to...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWyFW1siCwQ

Standing knee deep in a river (Dyin' of Thirst)

Artist: Kathy Mattea
Album: Lonesome Standard Time
Writers: Bucky Jones, Bob McDill & Dickey Lee.

Friends I could count on,

I could count on one hand,
With a leftover finger or two.
I took 'em for granted,
Let 'em all slip away.
Now where they are, I wish I knew.

They roll by just like water,
And I guess we never learn.
Go through life parched and empty,
Standin' knee deep in a river and dyin' of thirst.

Sometimes I remember.
Sweethearts I've known.
Some I've forgotten, I suppose.
One or two still linger,
Oh, and I wonder now,
Why I ever let them go.

They roll by just like water,
And I guess we never learn.
Go through life parched and empty,
Standin' knee deep in a river and dyin' of thirst.

So the sidewalk is crowded,
The city goes by.
And I rush through another day,
And a world full of strangers,
Turn their eyes to me,
But I just look the other way.

They roll by just like water,
And I guess we never learn.
Go through life parched and empty,
Standin' knee deep in a river and dyin' of thirst.

They roll by just like water,
And I guess we never learn.
Go through life parched and empty,
Standin' knee deep in a river and dyin' of thirst.

**********************************

This song serves as a good reminder for me, not to take those who share (and have shared) this life of mine for granted. To appreciate all my friends and loved ones. As has been proven time and time again, just like that... they are gone.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A great Saturday...



As Friday evening wore on, I was was very much anticipating the 3rd Annual Thousand Island River Run, which I had pre-registered for back in May. Then again, I also wanted a chance to spend more time with my eldest daughter, prior to her upcoming deployment overseas at the end of July. Then it hit me. Why not do both...? Saturday was supposed to be the only day actually declared 'rain safe' by the folks at Environment Canada. As anyone will tell you though, this type of garantee doesn' mean spit.

I reckoned she just might enjoy a chance to get out on the road with her ol' Dadders. So I called her up and sure enough, she was pretty keen to go along. Great! I was very excited about this. Her bike was still in storage, so that meant we would be only taking 'Baby' and she would ride with me. Now, I didn't mention this to my better half, as I knew she would ask me if I was nuts. My re-built arm and shoulder are still a work in progress, as far as strength training and development go. For these reasons she still refuses to ride 2-up with me on the bike and I suppose I can understand her trepidation. I miss her and I travelling together, but I believe in time she'll come around hopefully.

Still, I knew I was more than ready for this. If I needed to stop a little more often for rests, then so be it. Any extra effort required for riding 2-up on a bike, is pretty much relegated to slow speed manoeuvring in town and through traffic. With an experienced passenger onboard who knows how to behave, it's really not an issue. Besides, I would never think of jeopardizing the safety and well being of my daughter. I was ready and this was just the opportunity I needed to prove it.

Saturday morning, I rode out Winchester way to meet up with her. Now normally for this leg of the trip, I would meander along the Rideau River Road to the 416. This time I hooked up with the 31 (Bank Street) at the end of John Quinn Road and headed South. The skies were overcast and regardless of the weather prognosis, I had made sure to pack my JR rain pants as well. I didn't start this riding stuff yesterday...

I stopped to top up the tanks at Winchester, just across from the Timmie's. I could see a wall of darkness in the direction I was headed and had observed that the roads here were in fact wet from the precipitation that had just come through. I was literally chasing the weather. Dang!! I paid up and then headed back onto the road. As I crested the overpass outside of the Winchester town limits, I began to see raindrops materializing on the windshield. As I came down the other side of the overpass, into the big sweeping left-hander, the rain began falling a little harder. I rode down the stretch towards the right-hand bend, cussing under my breath. Up until then, Baby had looked immaculate...

I finally arrived at the little cheese shop adjacent to the Nation River Road, where I pulled into their parking lot. The lower legs on my jeans were pretty well soaked and of course, Baby looked a sight. I phoned my daughter to give her a sitrep on my progress, as well as a weather update. I then hauled out the rainpants and put them on. I had faith that we'd be able to ride our way into good weather, if only we could start headin' West. I shoved off and within minutes the rain had stopped. Shortly thereafter, I was pulling up at the top of their driveway.

We chatted for a bit while she got herself sorted and ready to go. I advised her that her place was the only locale in all of Ontario which actually had rain, thank you very much. I was introduced to the new chickens on the property (yes, my daughter and her man are getting into homesteading mode and will be raising chickens) and soon it was time to go. We headed out to rejoin Rte. 31, intent on riding South to hook up with Hwy. 2, which ran along the St.Lawrence River. On the way to Morrisburg, we came across two baby raccoons who were busy investigating the double yellow line in the middle of the road. We slowed down and I beeped the horn a couple of times to get their attention. They scampered off the roadway, just in time. I was happy they did, as we had a large 18-wheeler hot on our tail.

Arriving at Morrisburg, we swung right and onto Hwy. 2. The weather was clearing and it felt really good to be cruising along with my 'little girl' behind me, enjoying the sights and smells. I kept our speed down as it is far more relaxing and we really weren't in any kind of a rush. We trundled along past Iroquois and Cardinal, Johnstown and Prescott, Maitland and finally Brockville. At Brockville, we took a little break at the Timmie's there. I told her that a road trip is simply not a road trip in my books, without a stop at Timmie's for a coffee and a doughnut. I decided to strip off my JR rainpants there, so I could dry out the legs on my jeans after their morning soaking. There was a long lineup at Tim's and it took some time to finally get served. This Tim's, as with all others I'm sure, is terrifically popular with the locals and passers-by as well. Some twenty-five minutes later, we were cruising out of Brockville towards the beginning of the 1,000 Islands Parkway.

That 1 mile run or so along the 401, from the outskirts of Brockville to the exit for the Parkway, is always a little bit of excitement. You come off a downward-sloping, winding onramp with a speed of 30kmh, onto this expressway where the traffic has a median speed of 120kmh. Add to that that you have to cross all 3 lanes to your left to get to the proper lane for your exit, which comes up in less than 2km. Baby is always up to the task though. We hurtled along, quickly gaining our desired position. Before you knew it, we were easing onto the offramp as the remaining hordes whizzed by to our right. I rolled off the throttle and Baby fell into her usual loping burble as the sun came out.

I learned to my great surprise, that my daughter had never travelled the 1,000 Island Parkway. I was stunned! "Well then", I said to her. "You're in for a treat!!" It was unfortunate that we would not be able to cover all of it that day. Hmmm... I would save that for a future ride. We sailed along, past Mallorytown Landing and on to Rockport, taking in the sights and smells. My arm and shoulder were fine and for most of our ride along the Parkway, I rode one-handed, resting the other hand on my knee and releiving any pressure there might have been. It is a method I perfected during my trip to the Shenandoah National Park. She marvelled at some of the beautiful properties, both on the mainland and on several islands in the middle of the stream, the lush green spaces. I was so pleased to have been able to introduce her to this area, which has long been one of my favorite rides.

All too soon, we were at the 1,000 Island Bridge which would lead us over stateside. We had sorted out the bridge crossing fare beforehand and she was all ready when we pulled up to the booth. Next stop... US Customs. By this time, the sun was now blazing and there was a bit of a wait to go through Customs. We amused ourselves by whining and making casual observations of our fellow travellers who surrounded us. I noticed that there were indeed a few bikes that were waiting to go through. Finally it was our turn and we pulled up to the booth, shutting the bike down. Fortunately it was a covered position and therefore in the shade.

The agent was a good natured fellow, contrary to the norm. "Where are you both from?", he began. We answered him. "Where are you going today?" I replied that we were going to the River Run in Alex Bay. He asked if we had anything to declare. My daughter answered: "Well...it's f*#%*ng warm!" He then asked: "And how do you two know each other...?" I sighed and said: "She's my little girl...". "And you let her swear like that?", he smiled. I looked at him and said: "You realize once they turn 14, your job is done. There's nothing else you can teach 'em...". My daughter countered: "Him? Swearing? Jesus...he was in the Navy". He then asked my daughter: "And what do you do for a living?" "Oh... I'm in the Army", she replied. He handed her back our passports, shaking his head and smiling. "You two have a good day, now...". And off we went.

We rode out a short distance from the gates and parked on the shoulder behind a bunch of other bikes, to sort our gear out. I removed my JR jacket and bungied it to the starboard saddlebag, opting rather for a grey hoodie I had brought along. I grabbed some water from my saddlebag, as the wait at the border had been a hot one. Feeling a little cooler, we got back on the road. The breeze felt wonderful after our prolonged wait. I reminded her that if she stayed on this same road (I-81) for 596 miles, she would then be in Front Royal, VA... the start of the Skyline Drive.

Within 2 miles or so, we were looping off the I-81 and onto Rte.12. The ride to Alex Bay was wonderful. The weather couldn't have been nicer and we were finding ourselves surrounded by more and more riders, as we neared the village. We arrived at the lights just outside the arch and the left-hand turn which would bring us down the main thoroughfare. There was a good-sized line of bikes in front of us, as well as streams of them arriving from every point of the compass.

The light changed and we slowly made our way into town, the bikes in front of us dispersing as they found parking spaces along the roadway. There was an almost continuous line of bikes heading out of town as well. The street was lined on either side by rows of gleaming bikes, of all makes, colours and sizes. We were just about at James Street when I noticed that the parking lot for the local diner "Chez Paree", was just about empty. We deeked across the street into the lot, where I turned Baby around and backed her into a spot. We had finally landed in Alexandria Bay and the place was hopping. We shed our riding gear and struck out to find the registration booth.

As it turned out, we only needed to walk the one block down to James Street and there was the registration tent. We both stopped in to have our names checked off the list and to pick up our run t-shirt, patch and pin. It was so cool... being there with my daughter at her first run! I know she would have rather rode into town under her own steam, but hey, this was a pretty good second choice as it was. We wandered along the streets, checking out the many bikes that had shown up. Announcements were being made over a PA system, though the announcers had to compete with the constant rumble and bark of big-inch engines. Somewhere at the end of James Street, just beyond the registration tent, a local band was warming up.

I wanted to find where the vendors were set up. I had been itching to find a set of 'vest extenders', to affix to my parade jacket. I enlisted my daughter's help in finding some. I wanted to show her the overlook section by the river, as well as the memorial erected to young Private Sweet and his mates of the 10th Mountain Division. We reached the top of the hill and turned left towards the old church and the overlook. Once more, there were bikes parked everywhere you looked. The vendors' lot also featured many local builders who had shown up with some mighty fine samples of their bikes. There were some very impressive machines there, I have to say. Very nice craftmanship! I snapped a couple of photos while we were there.

We spied a vendor's tent which had vest extenders hanging near the opening, in plain sight. I made a beeline for them and picked up 5 at $4.00 each. The outside snap features the POW/MIA logo, which I chose out of many other designs available. Happy with this long-anticipated purchase, we headed off to the overlook.

The overlook section itself is a large covered area, almost like a huge, rectangular bandstand. It was now packed with all manner of vendors and motorcycle-related wares. We ascended the stair leading to it and strolled through to the other side. It was marvellously cool under the roof and a breeze was blowing in from the water. There were so many different items to see. From ride bells to Baker 6-speed trannies and everything in between. Chaps, vests, gloves, boot, lids, headwraps, bandanas, chokers, bracelets, belts, miniature motorcycles, fer chrissakes! Everything!!

I guided her to the exit leading to the river and them little park they had there. We looked out at Heart Island and Boldt Castle, then together we walked over to the cenotaph for young Private Jack Sweet. We stood there for a moment, out of respect. I have no idea what was going through her head, but we both got kind of emotional. We turned on our heels and climbed the stairway to the vendors' section.

We spent a good while gawking at the various goodies for sale. After a bit, my stomach began to remind me that it had been a long while since that doughnut. We figured we might as well go eat at the diner, outside which we had parked. We slowly made our way back, enjoying the sun and the general chaos around us. Stepping into the diner's air conditioned interior was a true blessing. We were both ready for some 'cool' by that time. I ordered the Bar-B-Q sandwich while she opted for the Philly cheesesteak sub. Both of which were pretty tasty by the way...

With lunch over, we did a little time-appreciation check. It was about 1420hrs. Somehow we had initially figured that we'd be back near home by 1300hrs. Once we stopped laughing, we decided that as our lunch was finished, we probably ought to start heading back along the 12, towards Ogdensberg, where we would then cross over onto Canadian soil. We hauled our carcasses to the bike and prepared to remount. She had been sitting out in the sun for a spell, so the saddle was pretty hot. My little girl let me know this as she resumed her perch in back. We trundled out of town and very soon, after making a short left turn at the lights, were cruising Eastbound with a wonderful cooling breeze along Rte.12.

Every minute or so, we were crossing paths with groups of riders, who were headed back towards Alex Bay. We did not get to see too much wildlife on this trip, outside of the ubiquitous earth-pigs, but the scenery was grand and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. I crossed the centreline at one point, so that we could enter one of the many lookoffs which have been built along the route. They all afford a beautiful, elevated view of the St.Lawrence. We stopped for a fill-up just outside Ogdensberg, prior to crossing the bridge. Once again, my daughter was ready for the bridge toll and we began our crossing. I warned her in advance that she would feel the bike 'skating' around underneath us.

The bridge surface here is steel grating and creates that wonderful 'humming' sound. It feels as though you are rolling along on marbles. As I related to her: "The only things to remember are to take it slow, don't make any sudden corrections and let your body just relax into the saddle." I told her it was not my favorite bridge to cross, but that I rode it on occasion, "simply because you have to know how to". As we got halfway across, she told me that her biggest problem was looking down. Now I have been across that bridge many, many times. I have never had the occasion to look down. So I did... Sure enough, if you look down you can see the water way-yyyyyy below you. Impressive! :)

We reached the other side without incident and then cleared customs in a matter of minutes. No big lineup here... We looped around to the right after clearing customs and made our way back to Hwy. 2. We retraced our path along the river's edge. As we made our way closer and closer to Morrisburg, we could see a familiar dark wall which seemed to be lurking over Winchester, as per the norm. Still, that was a ways off in the distance and it was too early to tell. Right...???

We were occasionally sprinkled on as we made our way back East. As we hit the junction with Rte. 31, we hung a left at the lights, heading North. We crossed the overpass spanning the 401 and coming down the back side, it began to rain yet again. I pulled over and told my daughter that we ought to change back into our rain gear. She scoffed and said that it wasn't really going to rain. I growled and looked at her, grinning like some demented hyena. "Fine", I said. "If you're happy, we'll carry on". And so we did...

Heading North out of Glen Becker, she stated that she wanted to take an alternate route back to her home. At one point as she leaned out to speak, a large insect, possibly a bumblebee (as she later related it was "large and fuzzy"), hit her cheek right beside he open mouth. It was a bit of a wake-up call for her, I'm sure. She may be thinking about purchasing a larger windshield for her bike in the future... We deeked right along a route which she believed was the 7 (?) though I didn't really think so. As we carried on down the road, the skies opened up on us. I could hear her cackling in back of me as the large, fat drops of rain pelted the bike and us. I saw a spot out front of a farm residence ahead, which had some shade trees overhanging the road. I parked under them for a spell as she dismounted. I fetched my rain gear and put it back on, though my daughter said that she didn't mind the rain. I just laughed and we both got back onboard and headed out again. The rain lasted perhaps another 10 minutes before deciding to pack it in.

It was probably just short of 1700hrs by the time we arrived at my daughter's place. We unpacked her gear and her souvies and I thanked her for such a wonderful day. I gave her a hug and then flashed Baby up for the last leg of the trip. The rain held off until I made it back home. I pulled into the driveway at 1815hrs. Baby must have been in stealth mode or my better half must have been totally absorbed in her TV program, as she claims to have not heard me arrive. I related the story of the day's activities and at that point, told her that I had in fact conspired with my daughter to take her with me. My spouse had the expected reaction, but not to the extent I would have thought. As it became apparent that all had gone exceedingly well, she seemed relieved. Who knows, maybe she will consent to join me for a little ride sometime soon...

She also went as far as to suggest that perhaps we should plan to take a trip together to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q in Syracuse, before she left for Afghanistan. 6 months is a long time to be gone. I would like to give her some fun memories to look back on while she's over in the sandbox. We'll see what materializes in the meantime... But Saturday sure did rock. Sunday was just as good, but that will be a matter for another entry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

On the demise of Michael Jackson...


So it has come to pass that at the ripe old age of 50, Michael Jackson is dead. I am as aware of anyone else, of the amount of music that this individual cranked out over the decades. But I'm here to tell you that it is not as an "entertainer", that he will be judged by the sentient members of society, nor how he will be remembered.

Michael Jackson was a train wreck as a human being. How else can you describe him? There are doubtless millions of people out there who, caught up in this orgy of celebrity worship, will tell you that what he did in his personal life did not matter, because he was such a "great artist". How detached from reality do you have to be to formulate such a hypothesis??? Hitler was a pretty fair illustrator and a Hell of an orator, but come on... That doesn't absolve him of anything. They will wail for anyone who will listen: "Michael and his music changed my life...". Surely they can't be serious? It's rather a case of them simply seeking to associate themselves with him so that they might share, however fleetingly, in his fame/notoriety.

Fortunately, I am not a person that worships celebrities, or who even considers them to be all that noteworthy. Therefore I can see beyond the hype and the bullshit. Michael Jackson was a freak and a pedophile, who used his fame and fortune (Neverland) to lure and prey on children. End of story. That is his legacy. You would be amazed at how many people are actually angered by this simple statement of fact. Perhaps because for the first time in their life, it holds up for them to see, who they have chosen as their hero. It bursts that little insular bubble that keeps them from seeing the hideous. Michael Jackson is not a human being that an educated and even remotely well-adjusted person would look to as a role model or 'hero'. In the end his looks fairly approximated what must have been going on inside him. Thanks to repeated, unnecessary and botched plastic surgery, he was resembling more and more Lon Chaney Sr. in his role as the original Phantom of the Opera. He truly was a modern-day portrait of Dorian Gray. At best, he might have approximated, however hideously, a white Diana Ross.

Oh yes, the radio stations and other media outlets will sicken us for years to come with music marathons to commemorate the date when he finally cashed out. They will continue to bore the fuck out of us with how Michael was the "King of Pop", just as they did and still persist in doing with Elvis, the so-called "King of Rock 'n Roll".

In these politically correct times, Michael Jackson's only true claim to fame was that as a black person, he managed to succeed financially (for a while anyway...) in what is still laughingly considered to be "a white man's world". The same as O.J. And just like Simpson, his final years saw him become less of a legend and more of a pariah. Both of them will forever be remembered, as those criminals who bought their way out of a just conviction. Jackson's publicist stated that he was on the verge of a comeback tour, which he had planned to begin next month. Sure there are some out there who would have attended, but on the whole, it would have been the final nail in any professional aspirations he might have had.

The only positive thing in all of this, is perhaps a ray of hope for those children, whose parents would otherwise have been all too willing to offer them up to "The King of Pop", in return for whatever monetary favours he might deign to send their way. Imagine how sick and addicted to fame you would have to be, to pimp your own children to some 'superstar'.

So yes, yet another 'king' is dead. And thank Christ for that...


Thursday, June 25, 2009

A treat for the weekend...



Sometimes the Gods of Fate conspire in ways that end up actually being beneficial to us. Take this coming weekend for example. My better half is required to work on Saturday. Saturday is the only day this weekend which has been declared safe from any type of precipitation, by our local Weather Witches. Saturday is also Day 2 of the 3rd Annual Thousand Islands River Run (T.I.R.R.), to be held in Alexandria Bay, NY.

http://www.alexbay.org/

http://www.alexbay.org/upcomingevents.php?date=06/26/2009

So... here is the plan of attack. Baby and I will leave Orleans bright and early on Saturday morning (early departure, early return...), bound for the 1,000 Islands. I am pre-registered for the event and simply have to bring my official receipt to the registration booth on James Street, to receive my run t-shirt, patch and pin. Ostensibly we will be back before my Honey returns from her appointed shift at work, therefore allowing us to spend the entire period of her time off together. Yay!

Sunday, we will both return to Alex Bay, this time in the van. She will then pick up her run t-shirt and we'll schmooze with the locals for a bit, weather depending, before heading out to Massena for a trip to the Malls (St. Lawrence Centre).

http://www.stlawrencecentre.com/html/index18.asp

This way, everyone is happy. Baby gets to romp along the seaway, I get my knees in the breeze and both my Honey and I will get in a little shopping and strolling through this beautiful area, before enjoting the drive along Rte. 12, then Rte. 34. Yes, this promises to be quite the treat for the weekend, regardless of what the weather decides to do. We always carry our bright yellow rubberized wet weather gear, so we're ready for any eventuality. Bring it on!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Great start for a Wednesday...


I arrived home yesterday, after a sweltering but still enjoyable commute. The self-generated breeze felt good and nobody tried to kill me, so all in all it was a pretty good ride. On the kitchen table sat a small parcel, perhaps 6" x 6". The sender's address was somewhere in Calgary, AB and initially I could not fathom who it could be from, not recognizing the sender's name. I opened the box and began unwrapping the items therein. There staring up at me, was Spider's face.

His sister Karen had been so kind as to send me a small photo album with pictures of him, a memorial card from the funeral services in Alberta and his Toronto Maple Leafs Zippo lighter and case. I was very touched by this. She had also included a wonderful and very heartfelt letter which at one point, actually caused me to laugh out loud as I read one of the passages.

Spider had always been a die-hard Leafs fan. "Aren't those the only kind of fans they have...?", I would often kid him. Like many others, he espoused this fervent, if somewhat misguided belief, that the Leafs would eventually triumph and vindicate their fans' unshakable faith in them. I of course, would placate him as though he were my mildly-retarded younger brother. It was one of our many 'shticks' that we would perform for anyone within earshot.

Myself, I had gradually lost interest in the NHL or indeed anything having to do with hockey, after having moved from Montreal to the Maritimes. For me, the initial expansion beyond the Original Six, was pretty much the death knell of hockey as the purists knew it. Since then, it has become all about the money and very little to do with the game itself. It's just another big business clusterfuck. The final nail in that coffin, was when I decided to give up drinking. Hockey games were after all, just another excuse to drink... So I was never really a big fan of any hockey club, by the time Spider and I first met. Let alone the Leafs. As I used to tease Spider: "Why the Hell would I cheer for the Leafs of all teams, 'specially now that I'm finally sober???"

He'd keep telling me: "I think you need a program!" and I'd reply: "Not one that endorses cheering for a losing team... this is supposed to be my recovery, not backsliding!" So when I read this particular passage that Karen wrote, you'll understand why it struck me as absolutely hilarious:

Karen wrote: "I am enclosing his "Toronto Maple Leafs" lighter and case. I know he would want you to have it, as he was always telling me what a great fan of the Leafs you were".

It was at this point that I simply howled with laughter. How very much like Spider to spread such hilarious disinformation about me. It's like having your best friend over for an evening with your family, but telling them beforehand that he's gay and dyslexic, then sitting back and watching the fun as the evening unfolds.

She continued: "I don't know if you still smoke, but if you do please think of Eric every time you light up".

Well, I finally gave up smoking a year ago as of last October. So, it's now been a year and eight months. No matter. Having Spider's Leafs lighter is an honour, as it surely was one of his most prized possessions. I will take it on the road with me, as you never know when you're going to need a source of fire...

I probably think of Spider at least 20 times a day. He is forever tied to my own sobriety and even though we never rode a mile together, he will always be my best riding buddy. He owned that lighter case for longer than I knew him and any time I might catch sight of it or his Zippo, they will always bring back the fondest memories of conversations enjoyed and laughter shared.

I am ever so grateful to Karen for this kind gesture.

I thought of all this as I rode in this morning. Not in a preoccupied way, or anything like that. But enjoying it, letting it flow through me as we leaned and swooped our way through traffic in the wonderfully balmy morning air. As we engaged the Rockcliffe Parkway, crossing the overpass which spans the 174, I spied a doe grazing in the field to my left. The tall grass left only it's back, neck and head visible. We leaned into the right-hander and down the stretch. Head pivoting, eyes searching, I countersteer ever so lightly and she settles into the big left-handed sweeper leading to the bridge. Just before reaching the bridge, again on the left-hand side, another doe grazing near the road this time. Two sightings within a minute or so... and no traffic ahead.

What a great start to a Wednesday.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A final word on the Harley fiasco...


As promised, I have done some ferreting around and here is the upshot of what I found.

True: The purchase of said motorcycle was agreed upon and a down-payment made, at a pre-determined price.

True: Just before final signing, the potential customer was informed that the price had changed.

True: There was an initial recalcitrance to refund the down-payment.

True: The sales agreement fine print states the dealership's right to change the price at any time they see fit, up until the date of delivery.

True: Our young service member nowadays is a far happier camper.

Final analysis? What Ottawa H-D did... was it 'legal'? Yes.

Was it morally questionable? In my humble opinion, absolutely. Did it show a total lack of respect for the customer? Again, fuck yes! And to leave it at that is being charitable, believe me... But hey, you're all big boys and girls... you can make up your own mind as to how you think you should be treated when you walk into any place of business. And I say this because I cannot view this as anything other than a military person. To do so would be to miss the point entirely. I am patently incapable of viewing this as a civilian. Now, as someone who also worked in the motorcycle industry (and NOT as a salesman), I can also say that I find their conduct reprehensible.

Perhaps not a fair analogy (?), but when I worked in the industry after leaving the Navy, we would never dream of arbitrarily upping the cost of a machine that we had built or were building for a customer. That's right, we weren't just middlemen for an end product. We were an independent, 'aftermarket' shop, which not only serviced and customized existing rides, but would build custom bikes. This was years before the recent rash of 'high end custom fabrication shows' that now swamp the airwaves. We provided an actual service to our customers. And a damn good one at that. We built them from the frame up, to specifically meet the rider's taste, budget and physical build. Each bike was like a tailored suit.

Now if a customer opted for different components as the build progressed, the price would obviously vary depending on the parts selected. The difference being, we wouldn't soak a customer simply for having changed something. If he wanted to use a less expensive part, the price of the bike would actually drop correspondingly. Nice touch, huh? It's called having integrity and providing first rate customer service.

In the USA, the Motor Company as they like to be known, sells H-D units to servicemen serving overseas at BELOW MSRP through the American PX system.

http://www.encs.com/vehicles.aspx?id=183

Here in Canada, the price discrepancies between US and Canadian units in the motorcycle industry has always been retarded and incomprehensible. That includes the brand that I ride, by the way. Pretty much the same as for all other motor vehicles. And no it has bugger all to do with either currency exchange of customs/duties. The last four years have borne that out, as thousands of Canadians went stateside to shop for cars, boats, trucks and bikes. They had finally discovered that for all these years, they had been getting properly raped by our own Canadian dealers. In our blind effort to support our own local economies, we had totally missed the glaring truth of the matter. How gullible were we...? Seriously???

Does Milwaukee dictate what a Canadian model ought to or will sell for? What do you think...? Think Trev Deely... Think monopoly... Think greed and "whatever the market will bear...". And for all the verbal assurances that the dealerships have or know local riders who are also service members, maybe even customers of theirs or members of their own family... you know they just don't get the insult if they're civilian. If you're not military. And trust me, they're not.

They can say that they have nothing but the highest respect for them, but the bottom line is the bottom line. Money talks and bullshit walks... You won't see that type of program up here ever. You won't see that kind of respect or support. Not from Harley Canada and probably not from any other dealer up here, while we're on the subject. Though I'd give my eye-teeth for someone to prove me wrong here...

So... As with all transactions, it is a matter of 'caveat emptor'... let the buyer beware. Read the fine print, shop around.

After all, it's your money and your pride... At least if you reckon that you're worth more than the sum of the parts that you ride into town on. I can see any number of people attempting to buy an image that isn't them, for the sake of hopefully impressing others. I'll be damned if I can see a Canadian military member feeling the need to do so. As if we have something to prove. To anyone...


Monday, June 22, 2009

On re-shingling The Lantern Inn...


This weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to help out some friends of ours. They had been neighbours of ours at our previous address. Like many of us, they are of limited means and he has some physical limitations as well. They have a little cabana which they built in their back yard, some 12 years ago now and which they christened: The Lantern Inn. From this vantage point, they enjoy surveying 'their little kingdom' and interacting with their neighbours. The roof which had been constructed of aspenite sheeting and cedar shingles, had pretty much had it.

My better half and I had volunteered to help them rebuild it. We picked up the materials we would require for the first half of the job, prior to coming into town that morning. So the first part of Saturday was spent stripping off the old roof and removing any old nails from the trusses. Our neighbour had already cleared a good quarter of the roof away, from a pretty inaccessible spot which has a maze of cherry tree branches directly overhead. As I mentioned, this lad has some physical limitations, but he never lets them stop him from doing what he sets his mind to. We then laid on some brand new 5/8" tongue and groove plywood sheeting and covered it with tar paper. Halfway through the day, they treated us to a marvellous little lunch. We started a little after 0915hrs and ended the day at around 2030hrs.

Arriving home that evening, my wife was sweet enough to fill the whirlpool bath for me and we both enjoyed the luxury of a nice soak. We were both a little sore and stiff and she had not brought knee pads for our bout on the new roof. Our bed felt even more comfy than usual that night.

Sunday was spent simply shingling the roof. Again we started around 0900hrs, but due to soreness and some stiffness occasioned by the previous day's efforts, I wasn't quite as nimble as I might have been. I would have to say that neither of us were. Still my better half acquitted herself very well, as she single-handedly shingled most of one side of the roof. I simply cut the pieces for her while standing on a stepladder at the roof's edge and helped her align them properly. Once more, they provided a delicious lunch for us, which again provided a very welcome break as well. We ran a chalk line for the cap at the end of it all and I set the pieces in place while my wife tended to the cutting chores. By 1630hrs we were done and ready to call it a day. Just in time to make it to my step-daughter's, who along with her hubby, were putting on a Daddy's Day supper for me.

I will probably be feeling the effects of this weekend's work for the next couple of days. But the physical exertion was good for me and the biggest payoff was the look in my neighbour's eyes as we shook hands before parting company. The sincerity of his words of thanks and the knowledge that we were able to assist in maintaining the integrity of "their little kingdom", was all that I could ask for in exchange for our time and effort.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

There and Back Again - Day 5...



Tuesday, 09 June 2009

0444- Sleeping fitfully as my back doesn't much like this bed. Was awakened by a huge peal of thunder. Got up and went to the window to check outside. Am noticing some spits of rain on the window. Went to the bathroom while outside, the thunder continued. (**) Returned to the bedroom and began jotting this down. Looking outside right now, it's pouring! Hope this passes soon and I'll be able to leave around 0600. :(

(**): Originally this passage read: "Went to the bathroom and the thunder continued." My wife read it and laughed herself silly. It has since been edited to read: "Went to the bathroom while outside, the thunder continued".

0620- They are forecasting showers and severe T-storms for the N.Virginia and D.C. areas this morning and again later in the day. I have no idea what the WX is going to be for Pennsylvania or New York State. Guess I'll find out as I go. No real place around here for a good cup of coffee. I'll have to try to grab one along the interstate somewhere.


0730- Baby is dried off and packed. I can feel the humidity out there already. Time to shove off!

0845- Stopped in at the Pennsylvania welcome centre. The WX cleared on the way up from Front Royal. It's overcast but that just makes for better riding. Had an exciting moment while riding through Maryland. A pick-up truck in the opposite lane (Southbound) had it's truck bed liner sucked out and it went sailing up probably some 30 feet in the air, before floating down to the grass median which separates the 4-lane section of the I-81. I have to say I've never seen that in my life! No breakfast yet... Maybe when I stop for gas in Harrisburg, PA.

0900- Guess I lied... Thank God for vending machines. I scored a coffee and a couple of packaged strawberry flavoured donuts for brekkie, right here at the welcome centre. Okay, so it's not the greatest, but it'll be enough to keep me going. :)

0906- Time to roll. As a sidenote, nobody dresses like Americans do. That's all I'm gonna say. :)

1150- Stopped in Hazelton, PA for gas and a coffee. Heavy overcast. Changed into my JR rain gear before heading back out onto I-81. Don't know how far to Binghamton yet... (NY State). By the way, there seems to be a Steve & Barry's store here. (?)

1310- The rain continues to hold off. I'm about 30 miles from Binghamton, NY though still in PA. Nice rest stop here. The next one is in 33 miles (inside NY State). Am taking the rain gear off as it's now sunny again and hotter than Hell. Need water and a butt break.

1430- Stopped for fuel and a burger in Binghamton, NY. (It was actually 40 miles from the last rest stop in PA). Syracuse is only 69 miles from here!! :) The winds here are ferocious! They have to be topping 40-50mph. It's a bit of a strain on the ol' bod but being this close, there's no way I'm going to slow down my pace.

1500- Lunch is over. Time to go...

1600- Took the I-481 and bypassed Syracuse proper. Stopped on the ramp where it rejoins the I-81 and turfed one of my pairs of riding glasses. The foam has come unglued at the base of the lense on the inside and it renders them a nuisance and a liability. I pitched them as far as I could throw them into a field on the side of the road. I'll get a better pair once I get home.

1635- Am now past Watertown. Only 35 miles to go to the 1,000 Island Bridge...

1715- Have just cleared customs and am back on Canadian soil. The winds have finally abated somewhat. Contrary to my expectations, I did not have to go through every piece of kit and clothing that I had onboard Baby. I related my travels to the Customs official, enumerated the list of souvies I had picked up, their approximate value and was waved through. Nice... :)

1835- Landed at Tim Horton's in Brockville, after having traveled the 1,000 Island Parkway and then Hwy 2. You know I'm stopping for a small double-double. Called home to let my Honey know where I was. She sounded very happy to have me so close. :)

I decided to stay on Hwy. 2 and roll along the riverside for a while. I will take the 416 when I get around Prescott.

2000- As I pulled off the 416 onto the Rideau River Road, I stopped to put my rain pants back on. There was a fine rain falling, softening the contours of the greenery around us and giving everything this amazingly fresh smell. We're taking this last stretch real casual like. Nothing over 80kmh. It's a nice, lazy kind of pace. That seems to be what I've gotten used to from my recent trip. Slow and easy. Before long we were nearing Manotick and we banked right onto Mitch Owens. I am reliving the day I started out on this journey. I passed the intersection of John Quinn Road, where my wife had met up with me in order that I might have my tunes on this trip...

2045- I have arrived home. The garage door was open and my Honey was waiting for me. With 57,013km on the clock and a total of 3,308km traveled, it has been the best road trip of my life so far. I can hardly wait to go again...

*********************************

Epilogue.

Thursday, 11 June 2009.

- As I was straightening out the garage this morning, finishing the unpacking of tools and saddlebags, I looked at Baby as she sat there. She is dirty, bug spattered and in need of a good wash and some TLC. How fortunate I am to have her. She is much more than a simple vehicle of conveyance. She is a time machine.

I thought back to only days ago now, when she was resting atop the Skyline Drive as we both took a break from yet another wonderful stretch of roadway. What a marvellous adventure we have both shared... There can be no more compelling reason for someone to learn how to ride, or to get back into it after a long hiatus, than the description of these last few days of travel and adventure. This is what these marvellous iron steeds are made for. There is so much to see out there. So much to discover...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

There and Back Again - Day 4...



Monday, 08 June 2009

0654- Now where else but in the South, does the Holiday Inn serve up a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, biscuits and gravy??? Breakfast was delicious!! Going to clean Baby's windshield and other bits, before proceding. I'll load her up and then we'll head to Roanoke where we'll get back on the BRP. Probably do a few more miles on her before getting back on the I-81 for good.

0720- Finished giving Baby her pre-departure clean-up. Time to pack and hit the road. Many more sights await us.

1055- Stopped in the James River Valley parking space on the BRP, for a water and butt break. I've decided that I'll stay on this road until the end...

1130- Stopped at the Peaks of Otter for a water break. Just as I pulled in, a female deer and her fawn crossed the roadway and approached the outbuildings. They were joined by another female which approached from the opposite direction and all three of them congregated around the Peaks of Otter sign. The fawn was just adorable. I managed retreive my camera from the back of the bike and squeeze off a couple of shots of the moment, before they hightailed it back into the forest.

1215- Went off-mountain at Steele's Tavern, looking for gas. Went 5 miles down roads which are surely worse than anything the Tail of the Dragon could ever throw at me. Seriously!!! To add insult to injury, there was no fuel at the bottom of the run and I had to climb back up, which was even hairier! There were several occasions where my heart was in my mouth. When you have to gear down to 1st to take on an uphill grade, you know it's serious... Made it back and carried on.

1307- Stopped off at the visitor's centre about 6 miles inside the BRP. My arm is killing me. The Northbound lane of the BRP is in bad shape in spots. Some pretty major potholes. I took a couple of pictures of this early-sixties woman, who is driving a 1913 Rolls-Royce. She is driving it solo along the Parkway and then down to Louisiana. Quite an adventure! The car is one of perhaps 500-600 ever built. It's truly a million-dollar car!! There are many vintage cars which can be seen cruising the BRP and the Skyline Drive. Some of them really take you back... old Chevs, Thunderbirds, Cords, Caddies...

1330- Leaving Rest Stop. Will gas up at the end of the Parkway and then strike out for the Skyline Drive. May stop over in Front Royal overnight.

1440- Short break at Trayfoot Valley Overlook on the Skyline Drive. Very hot!! Thank God for shade in many parts of this area. Gassed up in Waynesboro at the end of the BRP. Only 3 miles off-mountain and into town.

1500- Stopped at the Loft Mountain Comfort Station. Had a cheeseburger and a Pepsi. Got another bottle of water for the road as well. Trying to stay hydrated as the heat is brutal. Time just seems to melt away here. I look at my watch from time to time and am always amazed by what time it is. I am close to Mile Marker 82 by now and it is simply as beautiful as it was on the way South. I have to admit that I am sad to be leaving...

Loft Mountain is the same place I stopped in on the way down South. I had picked up two small peanut butter cups, which I ate for dessert at the Holiday Inn in Salem, VA last night. There are these two older Southern ladies who work the confectionary counter there. They are just as charming as can be and with their Southern accent, can get a man to buy just about anything from them. I told them before leaving: "Madam, you have me at a disadvantage. Surely you know that no Northern man can resist a woman with a Southern drawl...". They were just tickled pink by this. One of them gave me a wink and said blushingly: "Oh well now you just hu-uuush!!"

I have noticed the buzzards here. They are ever present and everywhere. It is almost magical to stand at an overlook, 2,800 feet high, and watch them hover there just in front of you, at eye level. The lush green valley a tapestry below them. You can see their spread wingtip feathers fluttering, as they are borne aloft by these massive thermal updrafts , created by these sheer mountain faces. It's absolutely fascinating.

1520- Left Loft Mountain. Headed back North.

1630- Left Big Meadows Wayside centre after a fill-up and a bathroom break. Had a stare-down with a deer on the second bend, 2 turkeys a half-mile later and another deer in the middle of the road, 500 yards after that!

At Mile Marker 43, 2 more deer in the middle of the road. At Mile Marker 42... my first bear!! Black bear, probably a yearling. He was climbing up the side of the hill, maybe some 20 feet from the roadway. NOW I can pick up that bear pin they have here. I wasn't going to get one unless I actually saw a bear in my travels... There were two cars pulled over to the shoulder, their occupants taking pictures. Being on a bike, I opted to carry on a bit further, stopping at the first overlook I found to jot these notes down.

Was following 2 bikes and had another 4 following me, as we were doing the final 12 miles of the Skyline. I pulled off at an overlook, to let them pass. I have a very heavy heart as I near the end of this part of the journey. I want to ride the last few miles to the end, with just Baby and me. I know it sounds maudlin, silly even, but as I stood there gazing of into the distance just one last time, I could feel my eyes welling up. How I didn't want to leave this enchanted place... But all good things must come to an end. I began thinking of an old Patty Loveless' tune: "How can I help you to say goodbye". That really didn't help. If you've ever heard it, you'd understand...

1750- Stopped at the Dickey Ridge Visitors Centre, just inside the Skyline Drive. They closed at 1700hrs. No bear pin for me on this trip... :( Back on the road...


I climbed back aboard Baby and we continued our slow, downhill journey. As we were in the final mile and the exit gate came into view, I patted her tank and thanked her for this most amazing journey, to such a magical place. I recalled how only days ago, I had entered through this very same gate. I knew then that I would emerge from here a changed man.

1810- Landed in Front Royal, VA. Fuelled up and rented a room at the Shenandoah Motel on Commerce Street. Super seedy but at $44.00 a night, it'll do. I could have found better I'm sure, but I'm just lazy today. I got the only non-smoking room and the only room with a bath. I'm thrilled. What a change from the uber-swank Holiday Inn in Salem last night though.

1905- Baby is unpacked and I'm sitting here sweltering. Time to check in with home.

1930- No luck reaching home from the room. Apparently their phone system isn't made to do that in these here parts...

2116- Showered and fed. Great little Chinese food place next door. Had their Colonel Tao chicken and it was fabulous. Chinese tea, bropccoli and sticky rice too. I was the only customer who didn't dive into their buffet and who actually asked for a set of chopsticks. Go figure. Took a half-hour walk afterwards and it was great. I'm now sweating again but the room has A/C, for as scuzzy as it is. Well... ya get what ya pay for. I've promised myself to do better next time around. My better half would shudder at this... :)

Tried again unsuccessfully to place a collect call home. Finally hooked up with a live operator who advised me all in a huff: "Well... we don't do collect calls to foreign countries!" Well excu-uuuuuuuse me!!! Finally left a message home via my cell phone, which is now recharging.

2230- Last phone call to home for tonight. Still no answer other than the machine. Maybe she was working late and zonked out when she got home. I reckon I'll catch her tomorrow...

********************************

How can I help you to say goodbye?

Artist: Patty Loveless
Album: 16 Classics


Through the back window of a '59 wagon
I watched my best friend Jamie slippin' further away,
I kept on waving 'till I couldn't see her
And through my tears, I asked again why we couldn't stay.
Mama whispered softly, Time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It's OK to hurt, and it's OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

I sat on our bed, he packed his suitcase
I held a picture of our wedding day,
His hands were trembling, we both were crying
He kissed me gently and then he quickly walked away.
I called up Mama, she said, Time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It's OK to hurt, and it's OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

Sitting with Mama alone in her bedroom
She opened her eyes, and then squeezed my hand,
She said, I have to go now, my time here is over
And with her final word, she tried to help me understand.
Mama whispered softly, Time will ease your pain
Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same

And she said, How can I help you to say goodbye?
It's OK to hurt, and it's OK to cry
Come, let me hold you and I will try
How can I help you to say goodbye?

How can I help you to say goodbye?


There and Back Again - Day 3...




Sunday, 07 June 2009.

0640- Have just taken a little wander around the grounds outside. My Honey would definitely approve. There are about 5 young colts in the paddock to the right of my room's doorway. They share this space with several mares. They are jumping about, playing and acting silly in a way that would make my wife go: "Awwwww...bless!!" There are a multitude of bird species out there, creating a mountain morning symphony. I can recognize cardinals, orioles, woodpeckers and the odd variety of finches, but that's about it. This region of Virginia, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, is home to over 200 species of resident and migratory birds.

To describe the sounds is like trying to describe the fragrances and aromas that assail your senses, as you scoot along the Parkway. There are so many scents I cannot even put a name to. The bushes that line the BRP are heavy with bougainvillas and rhododendrons in full bloom. Honeysuckle grows everywhere around these parts, as does mountain laurel and dozens of other blooming plants. Just outside my door, there are two large honeysuckle bushes and the air is heavy with all manner of natural perfumes. Ron told me last night that we would probably be having breakfast outside on the patio at the rear of the house. The patio is directly below my veranda. I hear sounds of motion in the main house, where I am quartered. Outside, I can hear the horses softly whinnying, as well as the call of mourning doves. Yes, my wife would so love it here...

0820- Ron and Kathleen are making the final preparations for breakfast. I am now on my second cup of coffee, after having had my first while chatting with Bill and two other local guests a little while back. We had spied another couple emerging from the main kitchen, with steaminmg mugs in their hands. It wasn't long before Bill and I made our way down there for a mug of our own. I walked the driveway, trying to pick a path which would be the easiest/safest. It oughtta be okay, I guess. As long as I can keep Baby's ponies in check without sliding her. I'm getting anxious to get underway. The places are set on the patio. Time to have breakfast, I reckon. I'm wearing one of my new shirts today: "The Mountains are Calling and I must Go". So true... So true...

Breakfast at the Reba Farm Inn, by the way, consists of the following:

- Poached pears in a lemon sauce
- Warm homemade cinnamon loaf with fresh creamery butter
- Eggs Mornay (hard-boiled eggs, halved and served with potato slices and carrot shreds in a cheese sauce)
- Country sausage patties
- Apple juice
- Coffee.

0920- Bill and Sandie left while we were all having breakfast. Shame. He stopped by to say goodbye before they left. I reckon we'll meet further down the road some day. He was a likable sort... Guess I'm on my own for makin' it down that hill. Well... It's time to load up Baby and take her down the road.

For all that I had sweated it, Baby performed admirably on the way down. I promised to keep my hand off the front brake and she promised not to throw me on my ass. It was nip and tuck, notably with the last 90 degree turn at the very bottom of the bad section, but she sailed through with grace and poise. Heaving an enormous sigh of relief (and vowing to never do anything like that again), we set out to climb our way back onto the BRP.

1015- Stopped at the Peaks of Otter for a water break and to pick up a fresh one.

1215- Stopped at the Meadows of Dan (Mile Marker 178) for some gas and fresh water. I also picked up a wonderful miniature fiddle and case. It may well go to my wife's niece back in Cape Breton, who is a pretty fair little fiddler in her own right. This is a beautiful area. Very lush and green.



http://www.meadowsofdanva.com/



1400- Stopped for a break at Rake's Mill Pond (near Mile Marker 158). Long way to go. Less stops today for sure.

1548- Crossed the North Carolina State line. Don't know about making it to Asheville tonight. Will see if I can hook up with the I-81 to Asheville and continue on tomorrow. If not, I will begin heading home tomorrow, as there simply won't be enough time.


1644- I'm at Mile Marker 230 on the NC side of the BRP. I have decided that I would not have enough time to complete this trip as I wanted to. So... I have turned Baby around and am headed back North, to home and to my Missus.

2000- Pulled into Salem, VA about 6 miles from Roanoke. Fuelled Baby and rented a room at the local Holiday Inn just off I-81. Very nice!! And cheaper than the Reba Farm Inn.

http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hotel/saewr?PID=3120733

Have eaten over at the local Burger King and finally picked up some Vaseline moisturizer and a hairbrush. Haven't contacted home yet as there is no answer there so far. Will try later on. Can't wait for a shower and a rest. The attendant had me park Baby under the portico outside the front door. Awful nice of him...

Came off-mountain and took the I-77 North until I hooked up with the I-81. Turns out the I-81 starts heading West and goes nowhere near Asheville, NC. I can jump back on the BRP anytime I want to as there are many access roads that lead onto it.

2054- Just got off the phone with my wife. Let her know where I was and what I was doing (coming back early). Told her I ought to be home by end of day on Wednesday. Time for a shower and to turn in. May try to watch a little TV, but doubt I'll be able to last long.


There and Back Again - Day 2...



Saturday, 06 June 2009.

0700- Feeling rested. Showered and now looking for a coffee before I begin finding a source for a new headlight for Baby.

The lobby offered up a continental breakfast. Two coffees later and I was ready to re-pack Baby. It may seem like a convoluted evolution to have to unpack and re-pack the bike, but we don't refer to our machines as 'iron horses' for nothing. Just as cowboys must tend to their steeds at the beginning and end end of a long day of riding, the same applies to bikes. There were a couple of truck parts stores in our immediate area, but not surprisingly, none of them offered up a standard H4 type bulb. I would have to wait and look further down the road.

0720- Departed Hagerstown, MD. Cruised along I-81 past exits for Boonesboro and the Battlefield of Antietam. At 0800, Baby and I thundered across the Potomac River, entering West Virginia.

0830- Stopped in Winchester, VA. Was coming off the Interstate for some fuel and spotted this bike shop as I negotiated the off-ramp. Decided to investigate. Parked Baby outside Winchester Motorsports and went on inside to meet the folks. Their staff were friendly and funny. The young fella behind the counter invited me to have a cup of coffee with them, while the older gent (one of their senior wrenches) went to see if he couldn't scare me up a new headlight bulb. I enjoyed a good conversation with these lads, just spending the time of day.

http://www.winchestermotosports.net/

I finally had to get down to business, so I took my new bulb and went off to change it. It dawned on me as I approached Baby, that in order to get the face of the headlight off, I would have to remove or at least drop substantially, the light bar which was mounted under it. Great! No such thing as an easy job... Fortunately I had brought all the tools that I would need for this and any other minor work on Baby. Investing in that tool roll before leaving, was a great idea. I finally got the bulb replaced and fired the bike up to verify all my systems. The headlight worked great, but my running light on the right-hand side was out. Hmmmm... Oddly enough, the turn signal on that lamp worked, but not the running light. Curiouser and curiouser. Luckily for me, I always travel with spares. So I changed the lamp and flashed up the bike again... Same thing. Turn signal works, running light doesn't... Hmmmm...
Not feeling particularily analytical at the moment and happy to have a headlight and two functional turn signals, I decided I would let it go for the moment. I went back inside and picked up a t-shirt from the place before leaving.

0945- Departed Winchester, VA. Had to remove windshield and light bar to change headlight. Noticed right side running light out as well. Changed bulb too. Running light still out but T/S operating (?).

I arrived in Front Royal, VA at about 1030hrs. I gassed up and then rode through town, looking for the entrance to the Syline Drive. Pretty little town. Had to transit right through (speed limit 25mph). Took out a $10.00 bill and tucked it under the strap of my toolbag, between the risers. That way I'll have it on hand when it comes time to enter the Shenandoah National Park.

http://www.frontroyalva.com/

1051- Entered Shenandoah National Park. I am sitting on Mile 0 of the Skyline Drive. I feel exalted, excited and humbled to be here, at the beginning of something I have longed for, for so many years now!

http://www.shenandoah.national-park.com/

1201- Stopped at Little Devil's Stairs lookoff. Took a pic of Baby with this gnarly tree in the background. Kind of reminded me of the 'Joshua Tree' song. Have taken a few other shots so far. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking. Jess (my step-daughter) would smile at my usage of this word but it's the only word that fits.

1220- Stopped at Elkwallow Wayside store. Had a pork Bar-B-Q sandwich and a Pepsi for lunch. Friggin' deeee-lish!! Bought some souvies too. :)

1250- Back on the road!

It is impossible to accurately describe the views, the scents, the feeling of traveling the Skyline Drive. It is simply the most beautiful road I have ever ridden. How the Hell is it that the mere sight of some of this scenery, is enough to give me a lump in the back of my throat???

1520- At Rip Rap Gap lookoff. 13 miles left until I'm on the BRP. Took a photo of these wild lilac bushes growing here. My God this is going way too fast...

At about 1545, I reached the end of the Skyline Drive. Words fail me to do it justice. I took a couple of pictures, one of the signpost showing directions to both the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and another showing Baby poised to enter the BRP.

1615- Stopped at the BRP visitor centre. Picked up some souvies and met some riders. Good conversation. Back on the road. Don't know how far I'll get today...(?) No cell phone service here. Will have to call home from hotel tonight.

http://www.blueridgeparkway.org/

1715- Stopped for a break and to put my JR jacket back on. I'm at Yankee Horse Ridge parking area, about 30 miles into the Parkway. It's slow going with speeds of 45mph and curves that you have to take at 25mph. It's a huge roller coaster. Up and down, twisting and turning as you go. Will stop at about 1900hrs tonight. I still have tomorrow and Monday to make it to Tellico Plains. I miss my Honey...

The elevations here are really something. I feel my ears popping constantly as I climb into the sky, then feel them decompress on the way back down again. It's just like flying or sailing on subs. At times I'm basically partially deaf, with everything sounding all muted and fuzzy as we burble along. On the long downgrades, I just ease off the throttle and coast downhill in 4th, Baby merrily burbling along with her characteristic: "Ffnnnn-rrrrrrrr..." sound. It seems as though she is enjoying this experience as much as I am. :)

2030- After being turned away from the Peaks of Otter (they are full up owing to a large D-Day anniversary celebration around these parts...), I landed at the Reba Farm Inn Bed & Breakfast, about 8 miles off-mountain. It is located in Bedford, VA. Owners Ron and Kathleen have over 40 rescued horses, colts, foals and of course, dogs. This place is so charming, although I almost lost the bike on the way up their steep gravel driveway. Tomorrow leaving will be something else...

http://www.peaksofotter.com/

http://www.rebafarminn.com/

Coming off-mountain, I saw so many deer it was incredible! Now I know where they all come from, when you see them less than a foot off the road. I passed so many on the mountain that were so close, I could have reached out and slapped their ear as I scooted by. Also passed a skunk bimbling along the side of the road. Like the deer, he was totally oblivious to my presence. All the animals appear to be totally relaxed... totally unconcerned.

I met another couple here, Bill and Sandie. They're both native Virginians from Charlottesville and are riding a big black Yamaha Star with hardbags. I reckon I'll try to follow him out tomorrow. We started chatting and I related the story of my spill last year. So he pulls up his t-shirt and shows me the same scar that I have. This happened some 7 years ago and he can move his arm just fine. Over his head, behind his back... no problem. He's been a real inspiration. We talked physio and he said:"Why I'd just use them pullies until it brought tears to my eyes. Then I'd stop, have a couple of whiskies and start right back up agin'...".

Bill oddly enough, is 55. Same age as me. He kinda even looks like a Southern version of me. It's eerie...

My wife would love this set-up. Particularily with all the rescued animals. It's so odd that I should end up here. Everything happens for a reason, I guess.

2110- I'm feeling a little panicky right now. There is no cell phone service here and I have yet to call home. Must contact the owner and see if there is a land-line I can use to call collect.

2145- Just finished talking to my Honey. Let her know where I was and that everything was just fine. Recounted spotting so many deer coming off the Parkway, relating how the scenery is simply stunning. Also told her the story about getting here, meeting Bill & Sandie and of course, the driveway from Hell. She almost lost her mind when I described the surroundings I found myself in. I promised her that we would both come back here so she could enjoy it for herself. Ron has suggested using Rte. 11 to take on the way back, just to escape from the madness of I-81. I may look into that.

My supper then arrived. Ron and Kathleen had overheard my wife asking me if I had eaten anything for supper yet. It was pretty late by now and I had not, so I told her I still had some energy bars stashed in my saddlebags. After I had finished my call, Ron asked if I would like some supper brought up to my room. I told him that would be extremely nice of them if they could manage it. Ron has just brought up 2 barbecued chicken breasts on a large bun, w/lettuce and tomatoes, a large dollop of homemade potato salad, a large bunch of green grapes, a homemade chocolate-walnut brownie and a Dr. Pepper on ice.

2219- I'm stuffed!! And I haven't even touched the chocolate-walnut brownie yet... I'll sleep very soundly tonight.

0320- Having a hard time staying asleep. Too much food, too late in the day. I won't be doing that again... Am still fretting about getting Baby down that hill in one piece. Yeah... I'll let Bill lead. There are brief, isolated times during this trip, when it feels as though I am diving down to the bottom of the ocean. I keep thinking I should stop, turn around and make for the surface before I run out of air. I have no idea why I would feel this way...