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 Motรถrhead 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.