Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the Cold Dark of Morning

The nice thing about having a semi-heated garage is that the transition from indoors to outdoors is more gradual than, say, going from a warm house to a freezing cold garage at 5:30 in the morning on a cold December day.

And so, as I backed the bike out of the garage, I was actually working up some body heat which held me well until the Warm 'n Safe heated jacket liner got fully up to the task. It is 40 degrees outside in the unheated space.

This first part is easy, even in the dark, as Beltway 8 is so well lit, one doesn't even need headlights to see. Then it was over the Ship Channel Bridge and next thing I knew, I was on I-10 heading east. Next stop is my favorite Valero station east of Baytown. Steve's yellow Gold Wing was parked in front of the C-store and we greeted each other and took a few minutes to have a coffee before getting on with the task of riding 500 miles to Milton FL for the night.

I was in a nice comfortable cocoon of heated gear, neck buff, full-face helmet and quilt-lined riding pants and admiring the silvery streaky sky ahead of me as the sun pushed its light through the low layer of clouds. But then Steve pulled up along side of me and signaled his need to pull over by taking both hands off the handlebars and making motions like someone who's freezing to death. There was a rest stop right there and he pulled ahead and exited, pulling over into a parking spot with me behind him.

When he came to a stop I saw him throw his arms up in the air and I wasn't sure what the deal was. But when he walked back to me, the news was a surprise: 1) his heated jacket liner never heated up after our Valero stop; and 2) his motorcycle died as soon as he stopped and now there's no power at all. It didn't take him long to figure out the dead motorcycle problem (loose positive cable on the battery) but the lack of heated gear was going to tough for him. He pulled on a fleece layer under his jacket and knew he'd just have to suck it up. I saw temps as low as 39 degrees in some sections of I-10 going across far eastern TX and western LA.

My first planned stop was the second exit in Rayne but as we neared, Steve pulled up along side and indicated need for gas. I knew he would probably be about on reserve at that point so exited at the first Rayne ramp, rather than the planned exit 5 miles further down. It was a fast gas stop and we got back on the interstate with the agreement that the next stop would be just east of Covington, since my originally planned stop in Gulfport was beyond his bike's gas range.

I never tire of riding across the Atchafalaya Basin on the causeway. The light reflecting on the water is ever-changing, always giving the swamps a new look each time I ride by. I didn't see any geese - it's that season - but did see a small squadron of egrets take off, flapping their way slowly into the air, and a large heron balancing precariously on a highway speedlimit sign.

In Covington it was a Texaco with Domino's Pizza so we used this Covington stop as our lunch stop. It was close enough to lunchtime at that point! We're still on track for a 4:00-4:15 arrival at the hotel on the east side of Milton. I wanted to get there before dark, and it was looking good for us to accomplish this.

Traffic got heavier as we neared Mobile and both lanes were filled nearly bumper to bumper with cars. Fortunately, many of those cars headed north on I-65 in Mobile and the road opened up again, as the packs of cars loosened up and we could return to some semblance of lane discipline.

I stay at this hotel in Milton often when I make my many treks across the FL panhandle to various events if it's a winter trek, when the days are shorter. If it's summertime, with longer days, I usually make it to Marianna. When I checked in today, I learned that the desk clerk is an alumnus of my old high school here in Milton. We chatted a bit about how different things were when I went there (school was 1/2 the size it is now; it was segregated; the football team went to state my sophomore year). He was bright, articulate and very professional for such a young man: Class of 2008, MHS!

An uneventful (for me, anyway) first day of the trip. Tomorrow morning should be warmer by almost 10 degrees and we should arrive in Lake Buena Vista before dark tomorrow.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Too Hot, Now Too Cold...

Too hot, too cold, too wet, too much traffic, too this, too that. All excuses given by the new motorcycle rider. Anything to avoid the inevitable dread of those first few hundreds of miles on two wheels. I know these excuses well, having used them myself for about the first three or four months of motorcycle endorsement in my own life, 8 years and 220,000 miles ago. Here's a photo of me in Riders Edge Class, August 2002:

I had the endorsement on my drivers license for about a month before I screwed up the courage to even shop for a bike. Once the new bike was in my garage, I used every excuse in the book to avoid having to back it out of the garage. I had this ongoing internal dialogue: "I really want to go out and practice but I really don't want to go out and mix it up with cars but I really need to get out there and practice but I really don't want to screw up. It's too hot. It's raining..." and on it went. Sort of a love-hate relationship: I loved the idea of riding my own motorcycle; I hated the anxiety and nerves I was suffering from inexperience. Here I am, September, 2002...brand new Yamaha:

I would have butterflies in my stomach and the sensation that I was about to cr** in my pants every time I would force myself out the door. Of course, the more I forced myself out there on the bike, the easier it became but, like running, it just takes persistence and a lot of discomfort getting past those first hard miles before it becomes an effortless activity. Here I am, I'd moved up from the little Virago to a V-Star 650 about 4 months after getting my license:

The "break-through" moment for me was taking a trip with a local HOG chapter to Big Bend, 18 months after getting my first bike. We rode non-stop to Marathon TX the first day. Then, two months later, I rode solo to Pensacola Beach FL for a long weekend. After that, the fears were gone, replaced by a healthier respect for the risks involved and skills needed to successfully overcome a variety of riding and road conditions. I sold the V-Star 650 and bought a V-Star 110 Silverado a year after I got my license:

I've come a long way from riding a cruiser-style bike, minimal gear (check out those fingerless gloves!) to riding a sport-tourer bike and wearing full gear all of the time (ATGATT). I've now ridden over 220,000 miles and traveled all over the country, on many multi-week trips, traveling solo. So now I'd like to "pay it forward" by helping a new rider get her mojo.

I've offered to meet up with a brand new rider who's really struggling. I've offered to go riding with her - follow along behind her - as she gets out on her new V-Star and practices. She says she's having a hard time turning right from a stop, and haven't we all been there at one time?? She got her license endorsement in June, went out only a few times to practice with her husband in her neighborhood and to a nearby church parking lot. Very soon after that she quit riding, claiming it was too hot. Then she got the bike out earlier this month and it wouldn't start after setting up for so long.

Now she has the bike back from the shop - after having the carbs cleaned and tank flushed - and has asked for some help. Wednesday was out because she had other plans. Yesterday was out for the same reason.

Today she begged off, saying it is too cold. Tomorrow should be cold in the AM but warm up to the high 60's or low 70's. So we'll see...

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Friday

Feeling some "weight" bearing down on my shoulders, I decided it was a good morning to go for a ride. My little red FZ6 was out in the garage, calling to me: "Come out and play, it's a beautiful day, the sun is shining, let's make hay." She's so sweet, I couldn't resist! It was a short ride, just enough to top off her battery and use up the stale gas in her tank.


I'm retired; anything that starts to look like the bad side of work is no longer fun for me. Some things I'm involved in - that should be fun - are beginning to take on that complexion. When the pressure is on and there's a paycheck involved, well...heck, those kinds of challenges I relish, and will tackle with zeal. When it's my volunteer time...and I'm not getting paid...then those pressures translate into stress.


Time to re-think my priorities and how I want to spend my retirement days and how well I want to sleep at night and how few worries I want to carry, like a ton sack of potatoes, everywhere I go.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One Honkin' Big Bridge!

It's finished! Opening ceremonies were held October 16, 2010 and the bridge was officially opened to traffic on October 19, 2010. So of course, being only 130 miles away, it would be a shame not to go see it, drive over it, photograph it.

U.S. 93 is a four-lane highway from Kingman AZ all the way up to near the Hoover Dam. Construction of the bridge creates a fast route to Las Vegas, eliminating the two lane stretch of road and bottle-neck as it passes over the dam itself. Guess when the dam was built in 1935 and U.S. 93 was routed over it, traffic was quite a bit thinner than it has become today.

They're still finishing up the 4-lane sections of the straight stretch leading up to the bridge from the south, but Boy! what a difference it makes!

The bridge deck is very ordinary...4 lanes, 2 in each direction, with high concrete walls on the edges, which block any chance of a view and keep traffic moving. Signs warn drivers not to stop on the bridge.

Access to the visitor center is gained by taking the first exit after crossing the bridge from the south, so I took that exit and followed the original US 93 roadway down to the dam and visiter center. Along this stretch they've built a small parking lot and a switch-back pedestrian path up to the bridge where there's a pedestrian walkway which affords an apparently excellent view of the dam and Lake Mead beyond.

I pulled into the parking lot but immediately became trapped in a line of cars waiting for parking spots to open up. It was a no-win situation since, as I sat there, halfway 'round the parking loop, spots were opening up behind me and folks arriving long after I had were zipping right into those recently vacated spots. I said to hell with that view and fought my way out of this no-win situation to continue on down the roadway to the parking garage at the dam.

Lots of photos later, I got back in the car and drove back up to a viewpoint turnout which gave a good view of the lake north and west of the dam.

Worth the trip, to see this very recently opened bridge, get some photos.

I spied a funky little spot on U.S. 93 on my way up, so decided to stop there on my way back to Havasu to have a late lunch. Sort of a biker spot, and nothing special as far as the food was concerned but it did look interesting from the outside.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Donkeys of Oatman

Ever since an acquaintance of mine reported on her trip to Oatman AZ several years ago, I've had it in the back of my mind to go there one day. Even when I was in Sedona last May I toyed with the idea of driving to Oatman, but had too many great attractions closer by to keep me occupied for an entire week. And that didn't even scratch the surface of all there was to do in that area of Arizona.

So now I'm in Lake Havasu City AZ for the week and Oatman is just an easy drive north from here. I woke up Monday morning and decided that this would be the day for donkeys. After a short run along one of the paved paths skirting the edge of this section of Lake Havasu, I had breakfast, got cleaned up, and grabbed my DSLR, hat and sunglasses, and headed to the car.

The road north out of Lake Havasu City - AZ-95 - is short and fast, slightly scenic, and connects to I-40. 8 miles west on I-40 to Topock, and I got off the interstate and headed toward old Route 66, which would get me to Oatman AZ.

The first few miles of roadway were lined on one side by trees, the other side by mounds of sand and driftwood. The signs along the side of the road warned of the potential for flash flooding and I couldn't help but think that these mounds along the west side of the roadway sure looked like bulldozed detritus from a previous severe flood or "wash out" since this road runs along the Colorado River for a few miles.

Once through the tiny little town of Golden Shores, a sign along the side of the road declared this an historic National Byway: Historic Route 66.

The road is very primitive by today's standards; it follows the "nap of the earth," rollercoastering up and down, over and around each and every hill and mound. Many of the hills are steep, with peaky crests that block the view of what lay ahead until the peak is breached. And then the road might take a sharp right or left twist and plummet down to another low "wash." Signs all along the way warned to beware of possible flash flooding at these low spots. If I took one of these dips too fast, the car's suspension would bottom out and I imagine that if a driver took the peaks too fast, they'd catch some "air" at the top. The road bed is narrow, the edge of pavement having no definitive edge, just blending into sand and gravel and, in many areas, seemingly became one with the sand and gravel where washouts had been imperfectly patched. But it was all fun! I imagined what it would be like to be on the motorcycle on this road and knew that, while it could be a real hoot, I would take it cautiously.

The hillocks became more serious and more twisted and I could tell that I was gaining some serious elevation - from 900 feet at Topock AZ to 2800 feet at Oatman - even though the road took me through some deceptively open terrain. The views off to the left became more dramatic as the road brought me further up out of the desert floor, and the mountains to the east loomed nearer, jutting up sharply as the road seemed to zig-zag around their bases.

Once near the town of Oatman AZ, I began to see droppings in the road. Donkeys? Yep! And here is the sign to warn me of them!

Signs of civilization began to show up in the hills and along the side of the road as I drew near to Oatman. Derelict shanties, abandoned mining operations, an occasional vacant shed-type building. Then, before I knew it, I was pulling into town.

Though I never once saw another car on the road getting there, I could see that there were already a number of cars parked along the main street. There was a large open gravel parking lot just at the start of the little downtown, so I pulled in there, parked, and then marveled at the brand-spankin'-new toilets the town had built right next to the parking area. How convenient!

Camera, hat, and hiking pack, and I was soon on the street and spying my first donkey of the day, a pretty gray one that was walking toward me with great purpose. She/he gave me the once over, decided I didn't have any food on me, and continued on to the next tourist.

I wandered up the street, peering into the various buildings, taking photos, until I came upon a wheel-chair bound woman who was surrounded by donkeys! As I neared, I could see why. She had purchased some hay-like pellets from one of the shops and was feeding them. And they loved her for it!

The donkeys milled about in the roadway, oblivious to the occasional car trying to pass through. I chatted with a couple in a KIA while they waited for the traffic "congestion" to clear. "I bet you never imagined a traffic jam like this one," I said to them, as they waited. They laughed and replied that it was truly a unique experience. I moved into the blocking herd and they eventually broke up their "jam" and wandered toward the sides so that the KIA could get through.

Walking to the top of the hill, near the north end of the main street area, I saw a post office and a sign that showed a really great cancellation stamp, so I wandered back down to the shops to find some postcards to mail off to friends and family. Sitting on a bench in the shade, I addressed the cards and then went inside the post office to mail them. This time I mailed one to myself, too! I kicked myself for not doing that from Hana, Maui last month!

Lots of photo opportunities with the donkeys! They were so docile; one particularly cute youngster followed me around a bit, no doubt with expectations of a treat. The youngsters have stickers on their foreheads warning us tourists not to feed them carrots. Apparently they cannot digest them when they're young.

A few more photos, some petting and admiring, and I was ready to get back on the road toward Lake Havasu City and some lunch. A pleasant way to spend a relaxing day.
See all of the photos here: Day Trip to Oatman AZ