Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shark Week IV, Friday - Homeward

Anyone who knows me knows I'm not exactly strong on sentiment.  That trivial fact notwithstanding, I’m also not fond of goodbyes.  At the conclusion of most rider gatherings, it’s customary to hang out in the parking lot and hug it out with everyone, wishing them safe and pleasant travels, etc.  That’s just not me, although I genuinely wish them all well.  This will sound silly, but I've grown so fond of and look so forward to this event each year and to seeing all my friends that having to say goodbye to them really bums me out.  I’d rather just saddle up and quietly ride away. 
I almost made it out of the hotel parking lot when I rode by Pancho (the guy in the photo who didn’t like the pineapple moonshine).  “You just gonna ride off without saying bye?” “Um, yeah” I thought to myself as I grabbed a handful of brake.  As we shook hands, Pancho said he was going to go see some family in Michigan (I think) before heading back to south Texas.  I looked over at the main building and saw people walking or slow rolling their bikes to the back parking lot where the masses were loading gear and saying their goodbyes.  I mulled it over ever so briefly, turned sharply to the right, and quietly rolled out of the Town & Country Motor Inn onto westbound Route 2.  My sunrise route would take me through the northern edge of the White Mountain National Forest, towards Interstate 93, and over to Interstate 91 south through Vermont to Albany, New York.

When I created my routes, I planned them to include small, twisty highways that connect the interstates and run through small towns with their quirky landmarks and attractions.  These roads are great for breaking up the monotony of the interstate super slabs and they are usually just long enough to have me ready to get back to an 80mph interstate session before the next connector.  At a gas stop and bio break in the thriving metropolis of Chester, Vermont, I noticed my right turn signal red lens cover was missing.  It undoubtedly shook loose somewhere on the destruction derby backroads of Maine and New Hampshire.  Compared to some of the other riders' tales of missing parts, I felt fortunate that this was all I lost.  I shook it off (no pun intended) as I downed a 5-Hour Energy shot and shoved a huge wad of beef jerky pieces into my cheek.  I like to load up my jerky like a chipmunk and nibble away at it as I ride.  I chew, suck, and slurp on it bit by bit and can usually make it last until the next gas stop.  You only do this when you have an open faced helmet because beef jerky stewing in a hot 98.6° mouth for hours makes for bio-hazard breath that could convince Hans Blix he'd finally found the WMDs.  And God forbid If you should burp in a closed helmet.  But I digress.

Of course, immediately after loading up a face full of jerky, a somewhat attractive, albeit older woman in a classic 1970s Ford Mustang convertible parked behind and across from me at the full service pump wanted to strike up a conversation.  She wore a baseball cap, a bit too much makeup, and oversized bedazzled sunglasses, but she had one cool car.  I was about to don my helmet when she asked the question I usually get on trips like this: "Did you ride all the way up here from Texas?" Standing on the left side of the bike looking at her reflection through Hester's right handlebar mirror, I slid my helmet off, suavely removed my sunglasses, turned towards her and headshook the hair out of my eyes.  I was dressed in full leathers with my jacket, chaps, winter gauntlet gloves, and my black denim vest with the "Come And Take It" embroidered Gonzalez Texas flag across the back.  It was August, but the temperature was in the low 40s when I left the Shark Week hotel.  40 degrees at zero miles per hour is tolerable, but 40 degrees at 70mph is bone chilling misery for a thin-blooded Texan like me.  As I started to speak, I suddenly choked a bit and a thick black bubbly blob of jerky spit dribbled out of my mouth, ran down my beard and splatted on my vest.  It took all the composure I had to just nod in the affirmative towards her.  I'm not sure if it was the sight of the drool or if she could actually smell the WMD breath in my spit, but she immediately turned and addressed the service station attendant, ignoring me completely.  I grabbed a handful of paper towels from the pole near the pump, wiped my chin clean, and mounted up.  Gas cap? Check.  Saddle bags latched? Check.  Ego? check.

Cheese is the last thing I need after my jerky experience.
I fired Hester up, slow rolled out of the station parking lot, and continued west on Route 11 through the Green Mountain National Forest towards Albany New York.  The missing tail light lens was stuck in the back of my mind.  Now that I knew it was gone, surely I would be pulled over for it.  It's karma.  I decided that I would pull into the first Harley dealer I rode up on and buy a replacement.  Should I get stopped by the police, I would just explain myself and hope for the best. The route through Vermont into New York provided about two
hours of great roads chock full of elevation changes, switchbacks and twisty two lane blacktop that meandered through the occasional small town with a 25mph speed limit.  Slowing down in these towns offered a view of America I rarely get to see.  Even an impatient "get there now" guy like me enjoys an opportunity to slow my roll to take in the aging architecture and local flare.
Vermont eventually gave way to New York as I was enjoying the laid back pace of the sweeping curves and smooth roads.  I was in that zone that real riders understand and I barely noticed the New York welcome sign as I cruised past it. I often find myself stuck behind father time, driving at a covered wagon’s pace and thoroughly screwing up my curve carving ride.  But on this stretch, the only vehicle I encountered was a UPS truck, which I figured I could effortlessly blow past when the time was right.  After a few minutes, I realized that I wasn’t gaining on him; in fact, I was barely keeping up.  I thought to myself, “This won’t do” and grabbed a little more throttle.  After a few miles, it was clear that this guy was not your typical UPS driver.  He handled the curves as if he was driving a Corvette.  It was actually fun watching the lumbering landbarge expertly negotiate the terrain from a distance and it provided the added benefit of a preview of the road conditions as he dodged the occasional pothole and roadkill remains. Eventually, we came upon a long steep uphill climb for which his truck was no match for Hester’s comparatively light weight and horsepower.  I cruised past him in the left passing lane and caught a glance of the driver through the open left side door.  He was a big, bald dude with a full beard that seemed to just spring forth out of the baldness from his ears.  He wore wraparound sunglasses, the obligatory brown shorts, and Doc Martens style boots and his right arm was tattoo sleeved to his wrists.  I waved back in a respectful response to his “hang loose” thumb and pinky finger twist-at-the-wrist gesture.

A few minutes later and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I rolled up on a Harley-Davidson dealer; Brunswick H-D.  I usually only stop for gas, and was far from needing any, but stopping to replace the lens was better than tempting legal fate...and perhaps karma.  I was in and out in mere minutes, having dropped only $8.00 on the lens.  As I snapped it into place, it occurred to me that other than an oil drain plug rubber gasket, this was the least I've ever spent on anything at a Harley dealer.  I have friends who cant resist buying a Harley shirt from every dealer they visit.  With the exception of Alaska, Key West, and a few other landmark locations I've ridden, I refuse to pay H-D shirt prices to advertise for them.  Pleased with my frugality and my master mechanic parking lot installation skills, I stared at the sky and tried to predict the weather.  I was already wearing my open half shell helmet and my modular helmet was strapped behind me in the passenger seat.  Do I lose the leather or not?  Realizing that I am a much better wrench and shopper than I am a meteorologist, I opted to keep the leather on at least until the next gas stop.  After all, it was still early and the sun was just starting to burn through the mountain fog. As I saddled up to depart, I heard the roar of a diesel engine in low gear pulling into the parking lot behind me.  I scanned my mirror and saw the familiar brown bulk of a UPS truck; the same UPS truck.  The driver bounced out and came straight towards me. I noticed he was a lot smaller than he looked when I passed him an hour earlier.  Maybe it was the shaved head and sleeved tats.  We talked briefly and it turns out, he was also a rider and had a Road Glide.  He added that he was "between rides" at the moment.  I've heard that one before.  Then, he showed me the scar from a surgery he had after being run over on his bike.  He had been clobbered by a UPS truck!  His Road Glide was totaled and he was waiting on the new redesigned model that H-D had just unveiled at the Sturgis rally.  He scanned Hester with her dirt and scratches and said "Man, I bet this bike has been there and back."  That is the difference between a real rider and someone who just owns a bike.  A real rider recognizes road wear as the earned battle scars that they are.  We talked about the new Road Glide changes for a moment and quickly parted ways.  Looking back, it was odd for a UPS driver to take time for casual conversation.  These guys are even more driven to get where they're going than I am.

I rolled out of the dealership and found myself back on the super slab heading towards Albany with "Marathon" by Rush blasting from my stereo.  Whether you love, hate, or have never even heard any Rush, the profundity of their lyrics cannot be denied.  Marathon in particular, is one of those profound tunes.  Take five minutes to listen to it and read the lyrics pasted below.  As you listen, think of any significant personal goals or tasks you've ever endeavored to accomplish and then try to convince yourself it wouldn't be easier to realize or at least more clearly articulate to yourself with this tune circulating in your consciousness.

It's not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat

More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash

It's a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race

More than just blind ambition
More than just simple greed
More than just a finish line
Must feed this burning need
In the long run...

From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment's high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky

Your meters may overload
You can rest at the side of the road
You can miss a stride
But nobody gets a free ride

More than high performance
More than just a spark
More than just the bottom line
Or a lucky shot in the dark
In the long run...

You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don't burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you've got to last...

By this point, the morning sun rising in the east was creeping up over the mountains behind me as I rode south by southwest.  Despite wearing a full compliment of leathers, the warming effect of the sun beating through to my back and neck was a welcome feeling.  Perhaps I could shed some of my bovine habiliments at my next gas stop.

To most casual observers, a greybeard biker on the interstate is just sitting perched on a seat, sometimes with legs extended on highway pegs, with both (or hopefully at least one) hands on the bars.  Anyone who rides understands the reality that operating a motorcycle is a constant series of self protection actions on the part of the rider.  After all, one doesn't become a graybeard by taking stupid risks and leaving things to chance.  We constantly glance at our mirrors and scan the roads before us looking from our front wheel to the horizon watching for road hazards, clueless cagers, cops, and other bikers.  Busy as we may be, times like these are also among the best of times to relax and to think.

As I looked into my mirrors with Marathon playing, I found myself somewhat transfixed on the picturesque orange and yellow sky that appeared as two small, yet ultrahigh definition windows before me.  The clarity and contrast of the steady sky, the road, and the quickly passing trees and grass was striking.  This vivid wash of near mesmerizing color was contrasted by the grayness and semi-foggy view of the road and the sky before me, neither of which were yet bathed in the morning sunlight so brilliantly displayed in my mirrors.  When something strikes me as this did, surely there must be meaning to it.  Something this profoundly distinctive and attention grabbing certainly deserves further cogitation.

I passed from New York into Pennsylvania without fanfare and even missed the customary Welcome to Pennsylvania sign.  I'm sure it was there.  Maybe I was too busy pondering the previously described view from a few hours back.  There was one sign I didn't miss, however.

My route for the day took me 756 miles from the Town and Country Inn in Gorham, New Hampshire to the Hampton Inn in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, about forty miles south of Pittsburgh.  Because I was cashing in frequent stay hotel points, I was bound to stick to my schedule and stay overnight at the planned hotel or accept losing the hard-earned points I had prepaid.  Honestly, after 750 miles, I was spent to the point that not even Rush could motivate me to continue.  I needed food and a shower.  I enjoyed a leisurely pace riding Route 19 alongside the water on the Purman Run that dumped me out into Waynesburg.  I quickly found a Subway sandwich shop for dinner and a gas station to ensure Hester had a full tank for my morning departure.

What I didn't find was my hotel.  Using the address I was given when I booked it, my Garmin GPS led me to an empty field.  The trusty backup GPS in my phone led me on a circuitous route right back to the same empty lot.  I rode back to the Subway and was told by the lovely young lady with, green hair, gauged ears, a bolt through her nose who made my dinner that the Hampton Inn was brand new and "really hard to get to".  This was encouraging.  I finally gave in and just called the hotel for directions whereupon I was told that the Internet address had just been updated.  The girl at Subway was correct that it was difficult to get to as I rode past the only entrance twice before finally finding my way. Waynesburg proved to be neither neither party time, nor excellent.  But the bed was soft and the shower hot; so party on, Wayne!  Tomorrow's ride takes me through West Virginia and into southern Kentucky for one more night before riding the last leg home on Sunday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shark Week Thursday

I admit I needed a day off the saddle and yesterday’s rain ensured I got it.  Likewise, I have to admit that by Thursday, I was ready to ride again.  I had set my alarm for 7:00am and like other riding days, I was wide awake well before it went off.  I had experienced a cruise control failure on the way up to Maine from Dallas and while that might not sound like a big deal, trust me; holding the throttle to maintain a constant speed for twelve or more hours a day was at times a painful experience.  I was ready to amputate my right arm at the elbow at the end of each day’s ride.  Advil was my best friend.

A Nice, Dry Workspace
Yesterday’s rain afforded me the time to troubleshoot the problem and a convenient overhang connecting my room’s building to the main hotel gave me the place.  I was told on Tuesday’s ride that my brake lights were intermittently locked on.  This gave the appearance that I was riding them or that they were inoperative.  The turn signals worked properly though and they used the same bulbs.  Since the cruise control and the front brake lever were in the same housing, troubleshooting was easier.  And, since the geek in me convinced myself to pack a volt-ohm meter before I left home, it was even easier.  I had adjusted the angle and position of the brake lever in the days prior to leaving home and in doing so, had apparently tugged a wire.  A little electrical tape would do the trick until I could solder the connection when I got home.  The geek in me wasn’t convincing enough to make me pack my soldering kit.

Hester was gassed, dry (having slept under her rain cover), and ready to roll.  I hadn’t signed up for any particular ride today.  We were being hosted for lunch by a Widow’s Sons Motorcycle Club chapter in Rangeley, Maine and the majority of the Shark Week attendees were heading that way on one of the two primary routes.  I had talked with other riders about leaving a few minutes ahead of the scheduled departure so we could ride at least the speed limit and enjoy carving the corners a bit.  Previous rides had been led by some riders who apparently think no one can keep up with them, so to be safe, they ride at least 10mph below the speed limit.  This makes my skin crawl.  Few things frustrate me more when riding that approaching a corner at a speed slower than the posted speed for the corner itself.  I’m not in a hurry, really.  I just enjoy diving into a corner, scraping my floorboards against the concrete, and rolling on the throttle while hanging on for dear life as Hester rages out of it.  When I’m old enough to slow roll the corners, I’ll buy a trike or a Honda Gold Wing. I’m just not there yet.  I know I’ll soon hear from my Honda friends over that one.

About eight bikes headed out to the Logging Museum in Rangeley. Yes, they have a Logging Musem there.  The only other attraction was the Moose Alley Bowling Lanes.  I was leading our group following a route I had discussed with my friend Tim the night before.

Tim and I are probably polar opposites in most every other aspect except riding.  He’s a liberal union guy from Iowa and I’m a fiscally conservative right-to-work Texan.  But he’s a nice guy who doesn’t let political differences get in the way of a friendship and he’s one hell of a rider; one of few who rode up Mount Washington two-up (with a passenger) through the wind and fog.  I respect Tim as much as I like him and although we keep in touch through
the Road Glide Forums throughout the year, I look forward to seeing him and his wife each year at Shark Week.  The route to Rangeley was as rough and bumpy as any of the roads we had experienced before.  By this time, we were pretty much numb to its effects.  Too bad our bikes weren’t.  Nuts and bolts were vibrating loose and parts were literally falling off of motorcycles.  Not only did we have to try to avoid running over potholes and frost heaves, we were also dodging chrome parts.  The green aircraft grade Loc-Tite I used on Hester sure came in handy on this trip.  The road to Rangeley smoothed out a bit after a gas stop at about the halfway point and the remainder of the ride was pretty smooth and scenic.  The most alarming aspect of the rough roads is the lack of traction.  A motorcycle's contact patch is tine compared to cages and even a fraction of an inch of lost contact with the road can be devastating; especially when there are moose wandering about.  Every now and then, I would see fresh swerving skid marks in the road, sometimes on a straightaway. I assumed the drivers were dodging moose who weren't in the habit of  using crosswalks.  It was yet another obstacle to be on the lookout for.  I hate dangling participles, but that one couldn't be avoided.  But I digress.

We arrived at the Logging Museum about an hour early.  I suppose there’s something to be said for slow rolling it.  Actually, no, there isn’t.  Bumps notwithstanding, we enjoyed our spirited ride to Rangeley.  Despite our early arrival, our hosts were already there and had a nice fire blazing in an open pit.  It’s August, but the morning temperatures were in the 40’s and 50’s, so the fire and hot chocolate they offered were a welcome sight.  I’m sure the Widows’ Sons were concerned when just eight bikes showed up for their cookout, but we reassured them there would be plenty of bikes and mouths to feed.  By the time we were fully thawed out, clusters of Road Glides were rumbling in and within no time at all, there were easily a hundred bikes on premise.
First Wave of Road Glides at Rangeley
A True Robert Frost Moment
I noticed a sign in the trees indicating a trail leading to a canoe launch that was part of a 700 mile canoe trail that spanned Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and up into Canada.  I had time to kill and decided to follow the trail, hoping to get a few pictures.  The trail meandered and made its way back to the Logging Museum up the hill from where our riders were being served lunch.  I returned to several queries as to where the hell I had been.  So much for slipping away discretely.  I told some of the others about the trail and the next thing I knew, we had a leather clad expedition through the woods.

“A bridge has no allegiance to either side.” ― Les Coleman
Look Up Chris Daughtry
The Up Looking View
No, This is NOT a Maine/New Hampshire Road

Tim led us back to the host hotel following a different route that turned out to be much smoother than the route we took into Rangeley.  It also offered a picturesque overlook of Rangeley Lake at which we briefly stopped for photos.  There were quite a few bikes from our group there before we arrived and we made sure we hit the road before they did, lest we get stuck behind them riding 10mph below the speed limit.  We arrived back at the host hotel with time to spare before the group photo, awards banquet, and raffle extravaganza.  I used this time to reinstall my Tour Pak and start packing for my departure the next day.  I was either riding northeast to Nova Scotia or back home.  Prior to Shark Week, a few riders had expressed interest in riding into Canada and I planned to join them.  All of them had backed out by the time we arrived at Shark Week, but I wasn’t dissuaded.  It was almost 600 miles to the start of the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia and I actually prefer riding those kinds of distances alone.  The rainy weather we had experienced on my day off was heading to northeast Canada, so I had been watching the forecasts closely.  I repacked my clothes and kept only the essentials out for my Friday morning departure, whichever destination it happened to be.

After packing and a short nap, I joined my fellow riders in the hotel ballroom for the awards banquet and raffle.  When we made our hotel reservations, we selected either a lobster or steak dinner.  Shrug doesn’t do fish of ay kind, so it was steak for me.  The room filled quickly and was abuzz with people buying raffle tickets and dropping them into various prize bags.  Spearheaded by Tracy, affectionately known as the “Queen of Swag”, the annual Shark Week raffle has grown significantly in a very short time.  Tracy prods, pesters, and sometime begs vendors to cough up parts and serious discounts on just about everything imaginable that a rider could want.  To her credit and to theirs, the vendors never disappoint.

One Ticket Winner at Shark Week II

This years raffle included a bumper crop of goodies donated by companies and individual forum members that included complete bike stereo amplifier and speaker systems, $100 Shell gas cards, windscreens, $500 credit towards custom wheels, Bluetooth helmet communication sets, tools, a new battery, biker apparel, and tons of other items.  All of the donations were displayed on tables with bags in front of each item.  Shark Week attendees purchased paired raffle tickets for $1 each or 25 for $20.  When a rider wanted to win an item, they dropped as many tickets in the bag as they were willing to gamble.  I won a HogTunes speaker/amp system at SWII with just one ticket in the sack.  Drawings would commence after the dinner and awards with a portion of the money collected to be used to support a local charity chosen by the person or team who hosted the event.  Some of the funds are used to pay current event expenses and the remainder is banked as front money for next year’s event.  I have no idea how much was spent on tickets this year, but I saw several people buying $100 worth of tickets and stuffing the bags for the items they wanted most.  I think the gas cards received the most tickets this year.  Makes sense as they’re something everyone needs.

Since Shark Week was in Maine, lobster, or as they say up north “lob-stah” was the main
Xenomorph on a Plate
course (no pun intended).  Thankfully, they offered a beef substitute, because as I said, I don’t do fish.  Everyone had finished stuffing bags with tickets and folks were settled in at large round tables with settings for eight as the award presentations kicked off.  Recognition was given to three riders from California for the most miles ridden and attendance at all previous Shark Weeks was acknowledged for 16 riders.  Plaques of appreciation were presented to the organizers and to Tracy, as well as to the hotel owners for their cooperation and over-the-top accommodation of our needs.  Shark tooth awards were also handed out to those who had been spotted dropping their bikes.  If you tip over and someone sees it (and they always do), then you’ve been shark bit and are duly (and very publicly) awarded with a shark tooth necklace.  I had the dubious honor of receiving one of the first shark teeth at Shark Week II after I tipped over at a gas stop – in front of everyone.  I caught crap from the whole crowd as the near legend (their words, not mine) who kept his bike vertical on the worst roads imaginable to and from the Arctic Circle and then dumped it in a parking lot at the Circle K.  Two years later, I was in pretty good company as several teeth had been handed out to riders that I really respect.
Shark Tooth Early Adopter at Shark Week II
Gross. Just Gross.

A four course dinner was served as the awards and recognition continued.  It started with clam chowder, which I smelled and immediately handed off to someone else at my table.  The clams were followed by a bowl of steamed mussels, which, again were immediately handed off; this time without the need to first smell them.  Finally, some jalapeño corn bread was served.  This I could eat.  The main course of lobster (steak, in my case) with corn on the cob and baked potato came next.  People told me the lobster was great, but it reminded me of the Alien movies.  As dessert of blueberry cobbler was being served, everyone eagerly awaited the announcement of the location for next year’s Shark Week.  After some fanfare, it was announced that Shark Week V would be held in Texas and the majority of attendees seemed very pleased with the vote.  Personally, I prefer to ride somewhere for Shark Week and I can go to the Texas Hill Country any time.  Still. I’m looking forward to a Texas sized event that will show my friends a good time.  Finally, the raffle kicked off and people shouted, laughed, cheered, and jeered as tickets were drawn from the bags, numbers were called out, and items were won.  It should be noted that I didn’t win squat!  I was happy nonetheless to make my donation to the cause, especially given that some of those funds will be used for the Shark Week in my back yard.  The Texas team had mentioned the Medina Children’s Home as the recipient of their donation.  I had visited the home twice before with the Patriot Guard Riders at our annual event held in the area.  If a portion of my ticket money goes to the kids, I’m fine with that.

Once the last raffle item for which I had a ticket was won by someone else, I slipped out to check the weather forecast for Nova Scotia.  Much to my dismay, rain was predicted for most of the island Friday afternoon and all day Saturday.  I had little interest in riding an additional 2,000 miles and spending gas and hotel money to look at a foggy coastline. 
Without saying a word to anyone, I discretely made my way back to my room to finish packing and load Hester.  I had a contingency plan to ride back to Texas with some fellow Texans who live in the Dallas area, but they decided to change their route and take four days to get home instead of three.  So I was on my own, which, truth be told, is the way I like it.  I loaded the routes that I had worked up during the bingo game into my GPS and verified them on my laptop.  If you’re not careful, the GPS will lead you down some really crappy roads, dump you off at needless exits, and drop you way beyond the wrong side of the tracks.  Don’t ask me how I know.  Tomorrow’s route would be a 780 mile run to Waynesburg, PA; just south of Pittsburgh.   I validated the route to the hotel at which I planned to stay, set the alarm on my phone, and hit the sheets.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shark Week Wednesday - A Rainy Day Off

Wednesday in Maine was a rainy day that would have been downright gloomy anywhere else.  Indeed, it appears the northeast had record rainfall and flooding in some urban areas throughout the day.  Interestingly enough, it had no negative impact on my day whatsoever.  I had ridden about 2,500 miles over the previous five days and had planned a day off the saddle on Wednesday.  The rain just solidified my plans.  Some Shark Week attendees rented cars and drove to local sites; others did laundry.  Many like me just hung out and talked with others who were also on a day off, whether forced or planned.

I hung out for a while in the hotel lobby where I could get decent internet access and work on this blog.  I must admit that I also peeked at my work email for just long enough to realize I didn't want to do that again anytime soon.  While I was loitering in the lobby, I enjoyed an engaging conversation with Scott, the hotel’s third generation co-owner who races motocross in the area.  I don’t think I ever passed through the hotel lobby, bar, or restaurant when I didn’t see Scott working.  The reward for self employment has a high cost.

Later in the afternoon, an impromptu game of Shark Week Bullshit Bingo started up with about forty people playing in each of several rounds.  The rain, the game, and the fellowship gave everyone a much needed day of rest.  Many of us had been up until 2:00am that morning enjoying the previous night's festivities.  Sleep is a precious commodity at Shark Week.

The rain continued into the evening, which meant the hotel restaurant and bar were going to have a banner night.  I always do my best to avoid eating hotel restaurant food, but this time at dinner, I had no choice.  Always looking for the good in any situation, the company and conversation were great, but eating the restaurant food served as a reinforcing reminder as to why I avoid doing so.

After dinner, an impromptu hotel hallway party kicked off in the main building that was fully occupied by Shark Week attendees.  Well, I sure hope it was because this was a rowdy bunch.  When I got there, most of the people had dragged the tables and chairs from their rooms into the hallway and were using their trash cans as coolers.  At one end of the hallway, the Canadians had laid out some yellow police tape in a Canadian border effigy.  Gauging from the uninhibited crossing traffic, this border turned out to be as porous as the US southern border.  At least these migrants spoke English and brought beer, booze, and snacks to share with the indigenous population.  Among the bottles, cans, and bags of snacks were a couple of mason jars filled with fruit flavored moonshine.  The cherry jar looked appealing, but I abstained.  The pineapple seemed to be the most popular, although it didn't appear everyone liked it.

Kids in the Hall
Diligent Border Security on the Job
I knew all to well that tomorrow would be another early day of riding, so I scurried off to my room around midnight feeling glad that I was in a separate building where I could get some sleep.  As I quickly walked through the rain to my building, I replayed in my head several of the conversations I had with the folks in the hall, many of whom were Shark Week first timers.  The consistent comment from most of them was how warm and engaging this crowd was compared to other bike related events.  I can't count how many times I heard statements like "I wish I knew how much fun this was in previous years..."

At one point, a rider who goes by Northwoods Maine on the forum came strolling through the hall party.  He is also the official host for this year's event and was carrying the ballot box containing the votes for next year's event, Shark Week V.   On Tuesday night, the group met to see and hear presentations from prospective forum members vying for the opportunity to host Shark Week.  This year, pitches were thrown by North Carolina, Nebraska, and Texas.  Each forum member in attendance was given a ballot when they registered upon arrival and the ballot box was placed in the hotel lobby where it sat until Northwoods retrieved it for counting.  We would find out who pitched the successful bid at the awards banquet on Thursday night.  I mention all this now because when Northwoods walked through with the ballot box, damn near everyone in the hallway pronounced that they were going to Shark Week V regardless of where it was to be held.  Although I felt the Texas contingent's presentation was most complete, I also knew the vote would be close.  We would all find out just how close in 24 hours.  The anticipation didn't cause me to lose a wink of sleep.  I set my alarm, but knew that it wouldn't be needed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SWIV - Tuesday

Today was another no-alarm-needed day.  I signed up for a group ride to Mount Washington, but first we rode to the Laconia Harley-Davidson dealership for a sponsored lunch of burgers and dogs.  At very Shark Week I’ve attended, the local Harley dealer has stepped up and sponsored breakfast or lunch for the riders.  It’s a win-win for them because many riders load up on shirts and other goodies.  Even with the additional discounts these dealers offer us during their event, they make out like bandits on motorclothes.  I rarely buy shirts at dealers anymore because I have a closet full of them already.  I bought shirts in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and in Key West, but I can live without a H-D of Dubuque t-shirt.  But I digress.

The Tuesday morning rides were well orchestrated to have groups of riders traverse different scenic routes and yet wind up at the Laconia H-D location for lunch within an hour of each other.  My group was among the first to arrive (a bit early, actually) and I was thinking this might be one of those iconic H-D dealerships from which it would be worthy of buying a shirt.  The Laconia Rally is one of the larger annual motorcycle events in the country, but the dealership was just another cookie cutter H-D floor plan.  A cookie cutter H-D floor plan with free hotdogs and burgers, that is.  Group after group of Road Glides rumbled in as the smoke from the grill lingered across the parking lot.  As my group was saddling up to head out, it appeared as is all 175 Road Glides who had signed up for Shark Week had made it to Laconia H-D.  Arriving early proved to be beneficial to an ADD guy like me who doesn’t like lines.

We headed out from the dealership and made our way to the Mount Washington Auto Road in Pinkham Notch.  This would be a scenic ride through the twisties, over and around assorted mountains, in and out of shade, and most notably, over some of the worst road surfaces I’ve ever experienced.  I’ve ridden some extremely treacherous roads over the years, but they were hundreds of miles from civilization.  The roads we rode in New Hampshire and Maine were connector roads between the seemingly unlimited numbers of small towns that dot the New England countryside.  Undoubtedly, it’s the harsh winter conditions that make maintaining the roads difficult.  Nevertheless, knowing the reason the roads sucked as they did didn’t make negotiating them any easier.

Anyone who is accustomed to group riding knows the importance of maintaining a rider’s lane position.  This is especially important when riding through twisties because the riders behind me are counting on me to uphold my position relative to the riders in front of and beside me, and the riders to my rear expect me to signal them as to any road hazards that might lie in their path.  Signaling is as simple as pointing to the ground using the hand or foot on the same side of the bike as the obstacle that lies ahead.  Most rides require only an occasional signal to indicate a piece of shredded tire tread or maybe a piece of roadkill.  These New England roads made us look like epileptic mimes weaving seemingly uncontrollably in an uncoordinated attempt to avoid the seemingly endless array potholes and uneven sectional joints.  Eventually, most of us abandoned signaling altogether in favor of holding on to the handlebars for dear life and keeping both feet on the floorboards for added stability.  Dodging obstacles was only half the battle because some obstacles simply couldn’t be avoided.   Just as swerving tests one’s agility and riding prowess, plowing over the asteroid belt-like bumps was a bone jarring experience that tests one’s patience, stamina, and bladder control.  This is true even on bikes equipped with the most sophisticated suspension systems.  I found myself mentally reviewing the available group rides and hoping there might be one to a dental college so we could have our fillings and bridges reset.

Mt. Washington Road Entry

As rough as getting to the Mount Washington Auto Road was, this privately owned toll road was mostly smooth and well maintained.  Mostly.  The road is an eight winding mile stretch that climbs 4,618 feet from an altitude of 1,527 feet at the bottom to 6,145 feet at the top.  About six miles in, the smooth pavement gives way to a mile long stretch of gavel that winds along the mountain’s jagged edge with no guardrails whatsoever.

Brief Reprieve from the Fog
Riding up these mountain conditions on a bike in sunny, clear weather and with no
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Guard Rails
oncoming traffic would provide a significant degree of butt pucker to some riders.  Riding up with the conditions we faced was an entirely different story.  Rounding blind corners with cagers rapidly approaching on the wrong side of the narrow road raised the excitement a bit.  Add crosswind gusts exceeding 40mph, and dense fog and the butt pucker compression increased to a degree that would make Dr. Robert Oppenheimer envious.  I wasn’t bothered by the conditions because they were no worse than the road to the Arctic Circle where the potholes could swallow a bike whole and the 18 wheel transport trucks really do own the road.  I admired the other riders in my group for braving the conditions because many of them had never experienced them before.  A few even made the journey riding two up (rider & passenger).  I’m still not clear which was bravest or craziest; the rider or the passenger.

Scenic Parking Lot View
Once atop the mountain, we basked in the ten foot panoramic view.  The locals told us the view is normally spectacular from that elevation.  We'll just have to take their word for it because the fog was so thick.  For a brief moment, the 40mph winds either subsided or increased to the point where they blew the fog away and we did have a nice view of the mountains around us.  That moment was very brief.  There were several sharks already up there when my group arrived.  Riders were being entertained watching others try to figure out where to park among the cagers scrambling to get back down the mountain before it was too late.  It already was too late.

I dismounted and made my way up the winding steps to the obligatory gift shop at the peak. I had no interest in souvenirs, I just knew it would be warm inside and I could get a break from the wind.  Once inside, I was delighted by the aroma of cedar and noticed its sharp contrast to the scent of burning clutch plates I had breathed on the way up.  I wondered if the clutch plate smell would be replaced with burning brake pads on the way down.

While studying the gift shop architecture, I noticed that the building was physically chained and anchored to the ground.  I knew it was pretty gusty up here, but did it ever really get that bad?  According to the sign affixed to the side of the building, it did.

The trip down the mountain was uneventful, although it seemed to take longer than the trip up.  Maybe it was just me being impatient.  The gentle but ever alerting sounds of Motörhead filled my ear buds as I slow rolled Hester down the winding road in first (and occasionally second) gear in a slow procession of Road Glides.  Every thousand feet or so were cut outs with signs that read "Pull over and stop to cool your brakes."  We never did, but then we were smart enough to not use our brakes in the first place.  Once we hit the highway the ride back to the host hotel was only about eight miles.  We must have taken the scenic overland route to get to Mount Washington from the H-D dealership because that was an hour long rumblebump fest.

Reading the Fine Print
Once back at the hotel, important issues such as "where are we eating tonight?" had to be addressed.  The lucky local business that won our money was a small, mom and pop pizza place that offered wood fired pizza and microbrewery beers.  We tried calling them to alert them that a group of about twenty would soon be arriving, but there was no answer.  They seemed glad to see us and graciously offered to join tables for us.  A group of twenty was no big deal.  It was the additional twenty or more riders who popped in a few minutes later having seen all the Road Glides in the parking lot that stressed their small staff.  The table conversations at events like these are always interesting.  Generally, you have riders recounting day's riding in great detail to other riders who were there themselves.  Regardless, everyone joins in the ball busting.  The dinners after are almost as fun as the riding itself.

After dinner, we all made our way back to the hotel to hear the annual pitches for Shark Week V.  Shark Week as an event is fairly new, but one tradition that has already grown roots is the annual pitch for the next year's event location.  As spontaneous as these events might appear, there is considerable coordination and planning involved to make them happen; certainly more than just picking a location.  A night is carved out to see and hear presentations from prospective forum members vying for the opportunity to host and this year, pitches were thrown by North Carolina, Nebraska, and Texas. Everyone had compelling cases for their locations, but  I believe the Texas team was best prepared.  Most liked the location being central in the US, but many had an issue with the mid June dates they proposed, which were strategically planned for cooler weather, knowing that deep summer in Texas could be harsh on those not accustomed to witnessing spontaneous human combustion.

After the presentations, most of the people retreated to the parking lot to round out an evening of bench racing and bullshit.  It was great getting to spend time with and shake the hands of so many with whom I've messaged for years but have either never met in person or not seen since Shark Week III last year.  I crawled into bed about 2:30am.  Tomorrow's weather forecast was for constant rain all day long.  The forecast didn't bother me because I scheduled tomorrow to be my day off to just hang out and relax after five long days in the saddle.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


I don’t normally rise out of bed on a Monday looking forward to tackling the day.  This Monday was different because today I take a short 250 mile ride into Maine and New Hampshire and finally arrive at the Shark Week IV hotel.  Arrival day is probably my favorite.  It’s a rush to see all my friends ride in, some solo, others in groups.  Most I have met in previous years; others I’ve only corresponded with on our Road Glide discussion forums.  In any case, the shaking of hands, bumping of fists, and the man hugs are the icing on the cake after riding 2,300 miles to get here.

I rode off from Andy's place and met up on the road with two fellow Texans who also happened to be staying in   Massachusetts overnight on Sunday.  We coordinated meeting locations so we could ride the final leg in our own little shiver of sharks.  The skies were clear, the wind was almost nonexistent, and the temperatures were perfect for a long sleeve t-shirt half day in the saddle.  Somewhere along Interstate 95, I collided with something; an object on the road
This Vent; But on the Other Side
that was small enough to fit through my lower fairing vent, yet solid enough to shatter the plastic adjustable door that covers the vent.  The force of whatever it was combined with the turbulence of 75mph and 80lbs of inertia sent pieces of plastic sailing upward, one of which made its way between my glasses and socked me in the eye.  It felt like a bee sting.. Realizing there was nothing I could do about it and not wanting to be that guy who holds everyone up, I just ignored it and rode on.  When we finished our ride to the hotel, I could feel the cool traces of moisture constantly running down my cheek as my eye kept tearing up.  I was wearing sunglasses, so neither I nor anyone else noticed the swelling or the black spot.  I removed the glasses once the sun went down, but the evening kept my condition masked and I didn’t notice it until I got back to my room, although a few people looked at me funny (which I'm accustomed to) and even fewer actually asked me what happened.  My eye was irritated, but I chalked it up to excessive wind.  Once in my room, I removed my contact lens and noticed it was torn.  No wonder my eye was so sore.  The swelling started close off my eye, so I grabbed some ice from the machine in the hall.  Sure glad I always travel with my glasses and a spare pair of contact lenses.  For this trip, I brought two pair.  Here’s hoping I don’t need another replacement.

We arrived at the Town & Country Inn and Suites around noon and rode around behind the main building to the hospitality tent, signed in, and collected our goody bag consisting of patches, stickers, and other trinkets.  Many riders actually arrived on Sunday and were already out in the hills.  Still, there were plenty of new and familiar faces to greet and catch up.  The host hotel staff seem extremely gracious, accommodating, and seem to genuinely appreciate our presence.  The crew from Maine who put this year's event together did an outstanding job of setting their expectations and then managing them as the months passed and riders made reservations.  Some hotels will take a biker group's money and merely tolerate their presence.  I've been most impressed with their hospitality.

By early evening, the majority of riders were back from their day's ride or had arrived for the first day as we just had.  The meet & greet was on full steam and the parking lot behind the main building was abuzz with bikes rolling in at parade speeds with exhaust pipes rumbling as riders scanned the scene for familiar faces, or at least for name tags with familiar names.  With 175 bikes, we pretty much had the entire hotel property reserved.  Some riders were taking advantage of the bike wash area the hotel set up for us, complete with a high pressure hose and a pile of towels.  Despite the fact that Hester was a mess from 600+ miles of rain, I was not one of those people.  I was too busy playing social butterfly and greeter.

There were no official rides scheduled on the arrival day.  That fact, coupled with the free
kegs of beer from a local brewery meant it didn't take long for the bullshit to run as deep as the Androscoggin River, adjacent to the hotel.  By 9:00pm, I was dragging, despite the fact that I only rode about 250 miles that day.  I had signed up for a Tuesday morning ride that was scheduled to depart at 8:30.  Also, I was tired of people asking me why I was crying.

I made my way to my room, which was in a separate building on the opposite end of the campus from the
festivities.  This is probably a good thing; otherwise I wouldn't have gotten any sleep knowing there's a party outside my door.  Out of earshot, out of mind.

I finished unpacking and when I looked in the mirror, quickly realized why everyone was looking at me so funny.  My favorite comment was "Wow Shrug, sure didn't take you long to piss someone off!" I fired up my laptop to post some pictures and also quickly realized the Wi-Fi service in my room was as robust as the Sprint cellular service.  The wireless geek in me jumped into action.  The Wi-Fi signal strength was excellent, but it was as it the access point wasn't attached to anything that was connected to the Internet.  I ran through a dozen possible causes and solutions before the lazy vacationing sloth in me managed to beat down the geek and I just decided to let it go.  I found the service acceptable in the lobby, which is where I go to post after  writing.  First riding day is tomorrow, but for now, I need sleep.

Sharks Aplenty as Far as the Eye (or Camera) Can See
Kid Safe Cursing!

According to My Mirror, I Was Closer Than I Appeared.

What Eye Injury?