Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shark Week!

The subtitle to this site is “Because Everyone’s Entitled to My Opinion”.  Rest assured that despite the lack of recent commentary here, I have plenty of opinions to offer.  I just haven’t been inspired to put pen to paper…or fingertips to keys.

I’m most motivated when I have something to look forward to and lately, I haven’t had squat.  Despite changing roles at work, learning a new technology, and traveling far less than I used to, the motivation line on my CT scan has flat lined.  I need a muse.

The bands I’ve been playing with are stagnant.  I’ve learned to expect distractions in a band, but I still get frustrated when what appears to be potential gets derailed by addiction and its resulting personal strife (not mine, mind you) lethargy, or maybe a case of dissatisfaction and subsequent disillusionment.  I never had delusions of stardom, much less the chops to attain it.  But, working four limbs simultaneously and independently while singing, watching other band members for cues, and counting boobs is a dream come true for an ADD guy like me.

Bands notwithstanding, I must admit that my granddaughter provides me almost constant entertainment.  I love initiating conversations with her and seeing how her little mind works.  I’m constantly amused and often amazed at how well she articulates her thoughts and how fast her four year old mind works.  I don’t recall my sons being this quick.  Perhaps I just see it from a different point of view now.  So when I say I have no motivation, it excludes Brooke.  I’m anxiously awaiting the news on my next grandchild.  Details on that will be in another entry.

Most people know that the other passion in my life is my motorcycles.  Nothing settles my mind like having the wind in my face and miles to ride ahead of me.  The expression “riding a motorcycle makes you understand why a dog likes to hang its head out the window” is lost on cagers.

Cager: “Kay-jer” Noun. Operator of a four wheeled vehicle; Syntax: Cagers have no clue why a dog likes to hang its head out the window.

My riding experiences are well documented.  Indeed, riding inspires me to write. It’s easy to pour ones experiences out when the passions they conjure inside are as deep seeded as mine are when I ride.  My ride to the Arctic Circle was epic.  There isn’t a single day that passes that I don’t reminisce about that trip.  Now, I suffer from Armstrong Syndrome.  When Neil Armstrong returned from his Apollo 11 mission, he was reported to be clinically depressed from the prospect that there was nothing else in his life that could possibly top the experience of walking on the moon.  I look at a map of Alaska and think to myself “now what?”

My pipe dream is to one day ride south to southern Argentina and while the distance isn’t greater nor the terrain any more treacherous that Alaska was, the risk is far greater.  Mexico and Columbia are notorious for kidnapping and other violence.  I have read accounts of three riders who in the last two years who have attempted such a trip and disappeared. No ransom; publicity; nothing.  One made it all the way to the southern tip of Argentina only to disappear in Mexico.  His journal entries simply stopped after the published account of his crossing the border from Central America into Mexico.  The most recent casualty was found dismembered a few weeks ago; terribly sad.  I’ve been known to take risks, but always calculated (well, almost always).  There are just too many risk variables in a trip south of the border.  Perhaps someday, but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve had the fortune to ride my motorcycle through three Canadian provinces and in nearly all of the United States.  I’ve ridden the entire west coast from Alaska to California, rough the entire Midwest, and through the south to Key West.  However, I’ve only ridden as far north as North Carolina on the east coast.  All I have left to ride is up the eastern seaboard into Maine and perhaps across the Great Lakes.  Might this be a muse?

For the last few years, I’ve joined a group of Harley-Davidson Road Glide riders who gather annually at loosely organized week long mini-rallies.  Since the Road Glide front end resembles a shark’s nose when viewed from either side, many of its riders refer to it as “the shark”.  When the organizers were planning the first gathering, they decided that even a loosely organized event needs a name, so Shark Week was born.  Eat your heart out Discovery Channel.

The concept of Road Glide Shark Week to pick a location people could ride to over the weekend, arrive on Monday and then ride like hell Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday across popular scenic/historic routes favored by motorcyclists.  Most people leave Shark Week on Friday to get home in time to go back to work on Monday.  Others take extra time to ride other scenic spots more/less on their way home.

There were thirty or so bikes at the first event in Gettysburg, which was an impressive number given the majority of the attendees had never met each other in person before.  Word of the event was spread via the Internet on some Harley related web forums.   I missed Shark Week I (SWI) because it was held the week after I returned from the Alaskapade and I had no vacation days from work left to take.  Honestly, at that point, the last thing I wanted to do at that time was get back on the bike.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have probably made it.

In 2012, Shark Week II (SWII) was held in LeClaire, Iowa.  I remember thinking to myself, “What the hell is in LeClaire Iowa?"  The answer is, not much.  The original location for the American Pickers is in LeClaire and the Field of Dreams movie location is a nice destination, but spots bikers consider worthy require a bit of a road trip to get to.  Those spots are well worth riding to.  But more important than the rides, was the people.  I haven’t felt a sense of camaraderie like I experienced at SWII since I was leading Patriot Guard Rider missions from 2006 through 2010.  Bikers are generally loners, but there are rare occasions when the planets align and we’re most happy in our element.  Shark Week is just such a celestial event.  I left SWII with a fire in my gut for SWIII, a full year later.

SWIII was held in Saint George, Utah in 2013 and featured rides all over the desert including Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  Again, a blast was had by all.  Riders from all over the country converged on the tiny city of Saint George, including twenty or so who were three-peat offenders having attended all three Shark Weeks.

Each year at Shark Week, riders who want to host the next year’s event pitch their location and its benefits to the attendees who then vote to select a winner.  The votes are tabulated and the location is announced at the awards dinner and raffle drawing.  To the chagrin of many riders who don’t make it to the event, you must be present at Shark Week in order to vote for next year’s location.  To me, that’s a fair approach.  Some people have legitimate excuses for not making the event.  But there are many who buy into the hype when the date and location are posted on the forum, sign up, make reservations at the host hotel, and jump into the discussions all year long.  Then, a few weeks before the event, they start dropping off, canceling reservations, and go silent on the forums.  Most never had any intention of going for a plethora of reasons; it’s too expensive, it’s too far to ride, it’ll be too hot, my wife won’t let me go, etc.  There are always legitimate reasons; illness, job, finances, etc.  I give those guys a pass.  Again I digress.

This year’s event is being held in Maine.  “Shark Week IV – Insane in Maine” is the theme and I have been going insane in anticipation of this trip.  As mentioned above, the upper east coast is all I lack to attain my goal of riding to each of the United States; Hawaii notwithstanding.  It appears I might also miss Michigan and Minnesota.  As of this writing, they are too far off my planned routes and I just can't think of a good enough reason to make a special trip.
States & Provinces I've Ridden Before SWIV & Those I plan to Have Ridden After
The Insane In Maine organizers scheduled SWIV in August, which might be a bit cooler than July and allows riders to attend the Pappy Hoel Rally in Sturgis.  That’s the real name of the Sturgis motorcycle rally, by the way.  The timing is fortuitous for me, but I would have scheduled time off regardless.  I could care less about going to Sturgis during the rally.  I have no interest in riding among 500,000 others, a sizable percentage of which are drunks, posers, and newbies who wear leather chaps with fingerless gloves.  Explanation:  Chaps are generally for cold weather.  If it’s cold enough for chaps, then it’s cold enough for real (albeit less cool) gloves.  I also abhor riding parade speeds on roads that beg to be ridden fast and furious.  When there are half a million bikes, every scenic route is guaranteed to be packed with riders crawling along at a funeral pace with clutches burning and engines overheating.  I know plenty of Road Glide forum members who pass on Shark Week each year opting to go back to Sturgis instead.  Some people have the financial resources and a work schedule that permits both.  I’m not one of those people.  I also know plenty who, once having attended Shark Week understand what those who have not do not and make shark Week a priority.

I see it this way.  When you attend Sturgis - or any major rally for that matter, you ride the local roads, visit the vendors (many of whom sell the same crap), and you hang out at bars paying for overpriced beer and food.  You also pay a premium for hotel rooms and t-shirts that 500,000 other people all have.  Hell, camping in Sturgis costs easily over $50 per night.   When the rally is over, you ride home.  And in most cases, you arrive home knowing the same number of people/riders that you knew before you left.

Shark Week is different.  Most of us who attend have spent years on the forums interacting with other riders who share our appreciation for the unique features of the Harley Road Glide.  We’re not cult and we don’t chant, although some of us do mumble.  In those conversations, we get to know about each others’ families, occupation, politics, sense of humor (or sometimes lack of therein), etc.  Essentially, we become friends; electronic pen pals, if you will.  After months of preparation and interaction, when we arrive at Shark Week, it’s a reunion of sorts.  Look, most of us (myself especially) enjoy a bit of time away from our families and local friends.  It’s not that we don’t love them; it’s just a wanderlust that most people feel, but few are willing to articulate and fewer still ever get the opportunity to satiate.   The group dynamic is different when you’re with people you don’t see often.  When we roll into Shark Week, it’s a reunion of sorts.  Some of us ride solo the entire trip from our home to the host hotel.  Others ride in groups.  I usually ride to a meeting point along the way and hook up with others.  We then ride in to the host city as a big ugly hoard comprised of the same model motorcycles and yet each as distinctive as the riders piloting them.  It’s a great feeling and it’s one of the few times I really enjoy being part of a crowd.  To me, it’s a synergy similar to that which I feel when playing drums with a band.  Like rallies, we ride the local roads and see the attractions, but the hotels and restaurants are usually far less expensive and you don’t need to take out a second mortgage to fill your tank with high octane gas.  Among the best parts of Shark Week is the nightly bench racing bullshit sessions in the gathering areas outside the host hotel.  That’s when you really get to know the other attendees.  We swap riding stories, take photos, share beverages, trade t-shirts, prep our bikes for the next day, and talk about the people who didn’t show up.  Eventually, the crowd thins as we retire to our rooms to catch a few winks before the next day’s rides, which generally leave pretty early.

There are other details and events about which I will write in the days that follow.  I just wanted to give a few details about what makes this a special week for me.  I’m scheduled to ride on August 8th.  I’ve been preparing bit by bit for months and my preparations have escalated over the last couple of weeks.  Time seems to creep by until the last few days and I state thinking of all the last minute to-dos and try to think of what I might have forgotten.  As confident as I am in most aspects of my life, I find that I occasionally second guess myself when I’m preparing for these 5,000+ mile rides.