28 June 2015

Awkwardness, Inspiration, and Mental Puking--All Because I Ride A Motorbike

Being in San Diego with the bike has been, for the most part, petty great. Once the weather got nicer, the commute is quick and easy, and the scenery is really gorgeous for riding in regularly. There have been a downside or two. One I hadn't really thought about came to light when I had an opening night to attend. It is a little awkward trying to dress for a nice event and for a chilly ride home after. I pretty quickly eliminated either of the two silk, summer dresses I had brought along (though this was partly because the weather just hadn't gotten warm enough to be comfortable in either of them, even if I wasn't on the bike), and settled on a shirt-dress with leggings underneath. Motorcycle boots and socks were left in luggage on the bike, and ridiculously girly high heels were donned.

After the show, changing back into the boots to go home while patrons were all leaving the parking lot had me feeling on display, like a monkey in a zoo. That was, of course, the night I met the person who rode the Honda Shadow Spirit that parked next to me three or four days a week.

Bending over, stuffing one socked foot in a boot and zipping it shut, I heard, "Hey, nice bike!"

I popped my head up over the seat, tottering on one four-inch spike-heeled suede shoe and one highly distressed motorcycle boot to say thanks to the voice which seemed to come out of nowhere.

"Ah, you ride the Shadow!"

I said this while yanking off my other shoe, wobbling on my right foot while trying to (ungracefully) pull on my other sock and boot, dress hem getting pulled into the boot as I'm not paying attention properly, and nearly falling face first to the asphalt. Thankfully, my shoulder hitting the seat of my bike stopped my downward progression, and I'm sure I only looked slightly stupid.

As we both got on our bikes and he motioned for me to go first, I backed my bike from the spot and really hoped I wouldn't drop the bike. Not that I should think that would happen, but if I were to ever do so, that would be the moment, no? That would just cap the evening.

In the end, neither my awkward self, nor my bike hit the ground that evening--success!

------------------------------------------

Ready to head up to Brea for the weekend.

The middle of June was my last trip north to visit family before I left San Diego. It was a really nice visit, getting a chance to be with my parents, my brother and his family, and some of my aunties. It was a warm weekend as I rode up the I-15 route to my brother's house on Sunday morning (hey, no rain!), but it was downright HOT as I rode back south the next afternoon. As I was coming into Lake Elsinore on the return trip, the temperature shot up to about 106 degrees. That was enough for me--time to cut over to the coast.

A quick stop around six miles up 74, heading into the mountains--lake in the background.
Lake Elsinore from Highway 74. It is a fun winding highway that leads you out of the city and over the mountain.

I had already scoped out more interesting routes than the interstates for getting back to San Diego, and I knew that highway 74, from Lake Elsinore over to I-5 in Mission Viejo, was a winding mountain pass. That seemed infinitely more interesting and cooler, so I headed west.

As the road took me into the mountain wilderness, there was a sign saying a left turn would take people to an OHV area, and also to this--a memorial for California Wildland Firefighters.

About 12 miles into that road, I blew past a spot that I just had to turn around and visit. It's called Hell's Kitchen, and was clearly a biker bar. Well, I'm a biker, so I pulled in. I sought out some shade for the bike, as it was still in the nineties there, and wandered in, trying to act completely nonchalant in my swooshie motorcycle pants amongst all the leathers.

Hell's Kitchen, sans Gordon Ramsey. But hey, this pic has a nice shot of the RMAR Silverton sticker on my top case! And my Saving Americas Mustangs sticker....

The food was great, the condiments "laid out" in a flaming casket inside. I ate outside and had a really nice conversation with a 73 year old man who bought his first motorcycle three years before--a Triumph Bonneville. He had put close to 10,000 miles on a year, and I could tell he rode with a smile.

When the waitress brought my lunch, she asked if I had been there before. When I said no, she let me know that inside was all the condiments, laid out in the casket. Well...of course they are!

After eating, I took my dishes back inside to pay my bill and ask about a ladies' room. The girl motioned to the key and told me it was around back, I reached to grab the key, and found it was attached to a sprocket the size of a steering wheel. Not awkward at all trying to use it to unlock the door....

On my hike back around the building to return the key, I was stopped by a group of five people sitting, and drinking around a trike parked close to the patio. They were a really fun group of people, and I enjoyed swapping stories with them. I soon realized they were hanging out around the trike, because the man who rides it had no legs below mid-thigh. I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty inspiring to see, and the waitress regularly popped out to see if he or anyone else needed anything. The group told me I needed to head to Cook's Corner, the most famous biker bar in Southern California--though the lone woman in the group mentioned I should do it early in the day, before everyone was drunk. When I asked how I would be received on a crowded weekend--girl, BMW, etc.--the man on the trike very emphatically stated, "You ride a motorcycle! That's all that matters!"

I smiled pretty big at him, then said I needed to return the key I was still clutching--my arms were starting to get tired. As I walked back past them to my bike, I waved and said goodbye. They called me Colorado, and told me to have a safe ride. I rode off, smiling, thinking what a great stop it had been.

There were only about ten bikes there on a Monday at 2, but my guess is it's packed on a weekend, with every inch of that parking lot taken up by bikes.

The rest of the ride was really enjoyable as I got to ride as I liked, without slow traffic in front of me, leaning into the curves, the temps cooling as I went.

At the end of the highway, I needed to get on I-5, so joined in with all the construction traffic and slowly moved towards the signal which would allow me to turn left and get on the on-ramp. The lanes were narrow on the bridge and traffic was bumper-to-bumper, two lanes in each direction. Traffic was too close to allow me to filter through to the front of the line, so I sat back and relaxed while waiting for the lights to change.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the red Chevy truck next to me inching forward, until the driver was close enough to me to initiate a conversation.

"Hey! How's it going?"

I turned off the music in my helmet, turned and said, "Pretty good, thanks."

Noting one of the stickers on my top case, he said, "Saving America's mustangs. Cool."

I smiled, a little surprised. Then he said:

"You wanna save me...? I'm a wild thing!"

Puke.

I stopped smiling, looked forward and tried to use "The Force" to make that damn light change.

Aaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh!!!

After getting onto the 5 and heading south a few miles, I pulled off at a view area. It was so much cooler here that I had to put my liner in my jacket and my heavier gloves on. I also took a deep breath of the clean ocean air.

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This is my last weekend in town, and as I write this, all devices are charging--iPad, phone, GoPro, Sena SMH-10. As of this morning, my chain is tensioned and lubed, and I also have new spongy grips! They showed up one day at work last week, a surprise gift sent from Josh. My old ones were in such bad shape, the left side had a hole where my thumb would press on it while pulling in the clutch. They are now fresh and new, spongy as ever!

As of Friday, I have some concerns about the bike...as usual. Tomorrow's ride to my brother's house will tell me if I need to get my bike to a shop before the trip, or if I just got a bad tank of gas on my last fill up. If it needs to get to a shop, I'll find one somewhere up the coast where I wouldn't mind exploring for a couple of days, make an appointment, and ride up, stopping at my parents' house for a couple of days.

The big plan is to ride north on Highway 1, and then cut over to Crater Lake, before bombing it for home. I haven't been north of the Bay Area on 1 in such a long time, and never very much further north than that on the route at all. I don't want to take a long time to get back to Denver, but I want to find a little adventure on the way--I'll keep ya posted!

 

23 June 2015

The Oh-So-Smelly World of Motorbiking

No, I am not talking about stinky motorcycle boots, or the smell of one's helmet padding after 3 days of riding in a hot desert, and directly before it is thrown into the washing machine with nothing else, simply because you are willing to waste the energy and water on a load all it's own and not taint anything else with its odor.

For those who ride, you totally get this and no doubt have great stories of your own. For everyone who doesn't ride, this may come as a bit of a surprise. On a motorbike, even with a full-face helmet, the scents that assault a rider can range from heavenly to horrific. Sometimes the smells are so good you want to ride in that spot forever. Sometimes they are so bad, you think time is actually standing still and there will be no end to it. Ever. You become certain the stench will never leave your nasal passages, that you may actually asphyxiate before you ride out of that malodorous mile.

On the heavenly side: (breathe deeply, smiling...)

My ride to work in Denver each morning encounters really good smells. Some mornings, at the junction of 6th Ave. and I 25, I smell the luscious scent of baking bread. I don't know if there is a bakery near where I smell it--I've searched and haven't seen one. It's a comforting, enveloping, yeasty scent. I suppose it could be beer brewing, as there are a number of breweries in that area, but it really smells like bread. On other mornings, in roughly the same area, it smells like grilled onions. So good! It is like being near an In N Out.

Riding through the Central Coast of California, and Santa Maria in particular, during strawberry season sits high on the amazing list. There is nothing like riding through fields of giant, red, perfectly ripe berries warming in the sun and sending their scent straight into my helmet. If you've never done it, I would have to say it is well worth seeking out. The other fields I love riding through are cilantro fields. I love the overwhelming fresh, soapy, cilantro scent!

Highway 101, between Santa Barbara and Ventura smells so strongly of the briny sea as the waves crash just below you at high tide. This can be found anywhere along Highway 1, as well as many places in Oregon and Washington. As soon as I get back to the west coast, it's one of my favorite things to do--ride the coast and breathe deeply.

Then, there are flower fields. Ahhhh...riding past fields of lavendar...so nice.

 

On the horrific side: (I remind you that holding one's breath on a motorcycle is not a good idea...)

Sometimes, riding past a restaurant is a happy surprise of scents coming out of the kitchen, making me feel hungry. But, sometimes you're on the wrong side of the restaurant, and you only smell the dumpsters...retch.

On the small back roads between Portland and Corvallis, Oregon, settled amongst beautiful green, gently rolling hills, is the foulest smelling dump I have ever ridden past. It's funny how it comes on quite gently at first, easily a mile before the sign for the turnoff. Maybe it was two miles--or two hundred--before the turnoff, I don't know. I just know there was something a little funny in my nose. Then, it was a little funky. Then it was really funky, and just when I thought I couldn't smell anything worse, it hit me full on. My eyes watered and I tried desperately not to open my mouth out of fear I would then be tasting it. Oh god, so bad.

Then there was the day I was out riding with Josh and Ian all day and I was leading on the last leg heading back to Denver. As we came into Evergreen, a truck pulled out in front of me and cruised along the road in front of me. There was no where to pass on the twisty two-lane mountain road, and what was in the back of that oh-so-slowly moving truck? Not strawberries. Not fresh bread or a thousand In N Out burgers. Nope. It was full of port-a-potties. Yup, an entire flatbed truck, pulling a trailer full of blue plastic outhouses. Honey pots. Port-a-shitters. Choose your favorite name, kill me now.

Then there are the days, riding in a group, when you suddenly begin to wonder who farted ahead of you...hahahahahahahahahaha! Sena headsets quickly blow up with people yelling and passing the blame, and you finally realize it's just the Coors Brewery. Not that that's ever happened....

 

Ugghhhh...San Diego

Look at all that green wilderness area. I had originally thought I would ride to the Salton Sea, but then I saw the forecasted temperatures for the desert and decided I stick to the green wilderness areas....

 

First off, I would like to say this is the map of part of the area I rode that day. You can see Santa Ysabel and Julian in the top left corner, and Ocotillo in the bottom right. Look at all that beautiful mountainous wilderness area! I couldn't wait to ride more alpine mountain passes that dropped down to a little desert in Ocotillo, then head west along the border, literally a stone's throw from our Mexican neighbors.

After I left Julian and headed east on the twisty road out of town, I kept my eyes peeled for the right hand turn off for the Southern Overland Stage Route. I thought it might disappear into the forest to the south of me, but as I rode and rode, there were no right hand turns. Eventually I dropped out of the mountain area into the desert and pulled over on the side of the road. I had missed my turn somewhere. Digging my phone out of my tank bag, I quickly realized I had no cell service. Shit.

For those of you who don't know, I do not have a separate gps unit. Somewhere between being too cheap and a technophobe, I have convinced myself and everyone else that I just like maps better. The truth is, I really do have a deep affection for maps--I always have. But being smart about going out and riding like this would mean actually carrying one....

Anyway, I turned around and rode back up the mountain, searching for my turn off. I rode all the twisties carefully while keeping my eyes peeled for anything that would be labelled Southern Overland Stage Route or Sweeney Pass, which the rode later becomes. As I get back to the outskirts of Julian, I still haven't found the road. I pull off into the parking lot of the high school and drag my phone out one more time. I sarcastically think to myself, "Wouldn't it be funny if I just had to go another mile from where I had stopped to find the turn off--hahaha," and nearly pitch my phone across the parking lot when I discovered that was the truth of the matter.

But that didn't make a lot of sense, due to the fact that when I pulled over, I was already in the heart of the desert, and I was going to have to ride another two miles or so to get to the turn off. I sat on my bike, looking at the map in front of me, trying to decide if I should turn around and ride that damn section for THE THIRD TIME, or if I should go a different route. Eventually I make up my mind to keep on with the route I had planned. I wanted to ride the Southern Overland Stage Route, dammit! You know, like my forefathers and shit. (Well, not mine. My people came to the east coast from England and Sicily in the 20th century, but you know what I mean.)

So I ride that section of road for the third time. I'm now so familiar with it, I'm leaning heavily into curves and would have given those sport bike riders a run for their money. I drop into the desert, pass the place I pulled off the road, and about a quarter of a mile later a sign tells me the turnoff I'm looking for is about two miles away. This would have been a face palm moment, but the full face helmet gets in the way.

All of the signs on this road look like this. It's an historic route, and just riding it to say it's been ridden is completely disappointing.
This is the Great Southern Overland Route of 1849--I'm guessing it didn't really look like this when stage coaches rattled over it. That is the road I was hoping for--this is not it.

I turn onto the road I'd been searching for, and 40 or so miles later, I have learned my lesson the hard way. Just beacause the iMaps picture shows green and says wilderness area, that doesn't mean there are trees. Or grass. Or anything green for that matter. The temps rose to well over 100 degrees, and I actually pulled off the road at the hot springs thinking even if I got in the water I would cool down. It was closed. You know why? Because it's the stinking desert and no one in their right minds go out there during the summer!!!

Sand, cactus, sand, and yuccas whizzed by as I rode, thinking there was no reason to stop. I can appreciate the beauty of the desert, but after a few miles of it in searing temps, I get over it. After the road turns into Sweeney Pass, and I know I am fewer than ten miles from Ocotillo, I notice a small drop in temperature. It's really small, but I can totally appreciate it. As I ride around a bend, I see the valley laid out before me, and there are windmills as far as the eye can see. So then I think, "Oh goody, wind."

This is bound to be my riding day from hell. But as I rode into the forest of windmills, I actually had to stop and admire them. They are amazing up close--beautiful feats of engineering with elegantly designed lines to make the most of what wind they can catch. AND THEY'RE HUGE!!! I cannot overstate this fact. Huge. With lifted spirits, I continued through the forest of giants and pulled into a roadside cafe/bar/ice cream place next to the freeway's single exit for Ocotillo. There were a few cars and trucks, four motorcycles with New Jersey license plates (eeeeee...fellow travelers!), and now my Thumper. I pulled off my jacket and helmet, dumping them both onto the ground in the shade, grabbed my wallet and headed inside in my tank top and KLiM pants that make me sound like a little kid walking in snow pants.

My stop in Ocotillo. Jimmie Johnson won the race, in case you were wondering. For the record, I wasn't.
Three of the fours bikes from New Jersey. You know, ridden by the guys too good to converse with me.

I walk into the mostly enclosed bar, the second entrance of which is blocked off with yellow caution tape, to see two young boys playing pool, several TVs with the Nascar race on, and maybe nine or ten adults, including the bartender. The one woman in the joint, a grizzled woman who could have been 40 or 70, who I can only assume is a local, turns and looks at me, and says, "Lady, you've just walked into a scene!" And she throws her head back and, I kid you not, cackles.

Shit.

I glance around as I make my way to a stool, noting the bottles of cold Gatorade in the coolers. Wondering what I'm going to encounter, and deciding, "Who gives a shit? I'm a big girl and can take care of myself," I ask for a Coors Light and a Gatorade. To be honest, the bartender was a nice guy, and nobody else paid attention to me. At least, not that I noticed. The Coors light cost $1.25 and the Gatorade was $2.00. I also got a bag of chips.

I realized the four guys immediately to my right were bikers, and as they were leaving, I said hi, and asked if the bikes with the New Jersey plates belonged to them. They were all somewhere in their fifties, with the exception of the one guy who was probably twenty years older. The two furthest from me smiled, the little old man seemed to not have heard me, and the guy next to me claimed ownership in a fairly gruff manner. I said something to the effect of that being a long trip, and asked if they were all friends or family or...? He looked at me and said they were blood brothers, then turned his back on me. Fucking shut me down. He made it clear that no matter how anyone felt about the matter, they were not going to talk to me. I don't know if it was because I was a woman, or if it was because I was on a BMW and not a Harley, or maybe he thought my pants were too noisy. I don't know, but since I don't know, I'm assuming it was all of those things. Rude.

I drank one Coors Light and two Gatorades. I was totally gonna have to pee on the side of the road somewhere later...

The ride home from there was along Old Highway 80 and 94. There are a few areas of these highways where the road runs right along the border--Mexico is just on the other side of the giant wall. On highway 94, just west of Tecate is an immigration checkpoint. I've been through it before, and it's sort of a pain in the ass on a bike. Traffic crawls, and this is not really a spot to go around traffic to the front of the line. In the past, I have been through on a Monday, and there is little traffic and a short line. They typically let me pass right through without stopping also. This time, it was a Sunday and there was a lot of traffic. It was hot, and about two hundred yards from the checkpoint, my temperature light came on. I turned off the bike and was fully annoyed until I finally got to the checkpoint booth and became more annoyed. They actually stopped me and walked the dog around my bike. Like somehow I was smuggling the tiniest Mexican into San Diego in my top case. And don't say they were looking for drugs. This wasn't ATF, or whatever the drug division is called now. This was immigration, and if we know nothing else, we know federal government agencies do nothing more than what they are strictly told and paid to do. On highways 80 and 94, I counted 22 separate immigration trucks or SUVs I passed, that were not part of the checkpoint.

By the time I got home, I had filled my tank twice, I was hot and tired (probably didn't smell like roses either) and my butt was sore. It was a good day's ride, and I was reminded of what lay ahead of me for my return trip to Denver at the beginning of July--hot deserts. I crawled into bed after a shower, and as I picked up my book to read, something flew into my ear. I leapt straight into the air, simultaneously screaming like a little girl and swatting at my own ear. I looked down at the black thing lying on my white comforter and there he was. The beetle from Julian. At some point when I had finally turned my back on him, he hitched a ride all the way through the desert with me. He even made it through the immigration checkpoint--way to go lazy immigration dog!

 

22 June 2015

Beautiful San Diego

As in so many other years, I left Denver for a couple of months to work in San Diego for The Old Globe Theatre. Well known for sending productions on to Broadway such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and, more recently, A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder, they are also known for their summer Shakespeare festival. I travel to California and work on this festival, giving me a chance to see friends, visit with all of my family in California, and stay employed.

This year, for the first time, I actually rode my motorcycle from Denver to San Diego, deciding there was no reason to bring along a car. Why spend the money and go through the headache of trucking my bike out? (And obviously, I wasn't going to be parted from my bike for two months. Duh.) It's summertime, and I'm going to California. The Globe always gives me an apartment with a garage so my baby will be protected, the weather will be beautiful, and I'll ride to and from work everyday in the California sunshine.

**in my mind, my morning commute looks like this...

 

though let's be honest, it really looks like this...

Getting started on that trip was an experience that had me full of apprehension until I put my kickstand up. Last year when I left for California, it was my first multi-day solo motorcycle trip. I was nervous about how the riding would be, who I would find along the way, and how well I would deal with any mechanical problem I might encounter. The prospect of this trip worried me for the morning hour between the time I awoke and the time I pulled out onto the street, and that was it. It has now become old hat.

I got to San Diego, battling non-stop, bike-toppling winds, a bike that wouldn't start the second day, and stop-and-go traffic which eventually just stopped due to a horrific wreck 4 miles further down the 100 degree two-lane highway in California (thank god for lane-splitting capabilities in California. My bike and I may both have died from heat exhaustion on that highway, though lane splitting always terrifies me a little when my bike is loaded with luggage and feels five feet wide). I stayed the night--after getting around that wreck by hooking up with a nice man from Irvine who had a working GPS and a huge, brand new Harley I was certain he was going to drop any minute--at an inexpensive hotel in Barstow. As I packed up the bike the next morning, a man who used to ride came over to me and the bike to tell me how cool he thought my bike was, and how surprised he and his wife were that it was a woman riding it. They had been certain all night it belonged to a man, or maybe a couple. All I could think was what a complete pig my bike would feel like loaded down with all that luggage AND two riders. I thinks it's fair to say that after our conversation that morning, he will no longer assume a bike belongs to a dude. Changing peoples' perceptions, one individual at a time!

I got into San Diego the next day, thinking about all the roads I would get out and ride in the coming weeks and all the food I'd eat along the way. Then it started raining. All the San Diegans I worked with danced around with joy, loving it. California, as you may have heard... (yeah, maybe)... is in a serious drought. I showed up to work, waddling through the parking lot, Alcazar Garden, and the Globe's plaza in full protective rain gear while they celebrated the 1.3" of rain they got over night. That's right, it didn't rain a little. It rained so much, my phone made that screamy sound to alert me to flash flood warnings.

I looked at my friends and said, "You're welcome, San Diego." Most of them had the decency to look sheepish over the fact they had no rain all spring and it didn't start until I arrived with nothing more than a motorcycle. But only for a moment, and then they continued celebrating. I couldn't blame them.

But it rained on and off the first three weeks I was here. Not enough, after that one night, to make much of a difference, just enough to get my motorcycle, and therefor my butt, wet every morning since this was the first year the apartment I was given had off street parking, but not covered... My life, people.

Since I wasn't doing much riding, I caught up with my favorite San Diego beers and all the good Mexican food I could handle.

Not long after I got to San Diego, I had a headlight problem. I quickly determined it was not simply a problem with the lamp itself--though after fucking with everything enough, I also broke that. There was a wiring problem. I didn't feel like I had the appropriate tools, nor the electrical know-how to deal with fixing it myself, though I realized I could buy and replace the part easily enough. Ha ha ha, Louise--you have discovered the one, ONE, part you can't just order from BMW! After a week and a half of trying to get my bike into BMW service--sorry, were way behind and can't get you in for at least a week-and-a-half--or any other shop in town--"BMW electrical problem? OH GOD NO. WE CAN'T DO BMW ELECTRICAL!"--I put on my big-girl panties and fixed the stupid thing myself. It took me about two hours. It would have taken anyone who knew anything about electrical about half an hour, and that includes taking all the plastics off and replacing them.

A wire going to the multi-pin plug had broken clean through. I could have easily re-wired a new one, but couldn't get one. So I set about splicing in a new piece of wire. It functions, but it won't be winning any prizes for beauty or efficiency.

So here I am, several weeks into my stay in San Diego and no motorbike ride. Memorial Day weekend I rode up to my brother's house in Brea and guess what? I got rained on. Contrary to what I assume is popular belief, I don't melt, but I don't really enjoy riding in the rain, either.

Finally, the following weekend, I hopped on the bike and headed east to Julian, and then further, which according to iMaps would find me riding some fun mountain twisties and through a couple of what promised to be lush, beautiful wilderness areas. As I pulled out of the gas station in Ramona and headed towards Julian, I fell into the last position of what was some sort of group out for a Sunday ride. There were eight Harleys and one sport touring looking thing which I can only assume was a Buell Ulysses--I don't think they would have allowed any other kind...--and wended my way up the Moutain road with what I assumed were like-minded people. There were two female riders on their own bikes, and I made three! They pulled off at a gas station about thirty miles later, and I continued on to Julian, where I got something to eat and was nearly run over by a giant dually from Alaska attempting to parallel park in the tiny mountain town. He eventually gave up and (this is where you think I'm going to say he drove away...) and parked on the sidewalk. Seriously, people. My life. I was so astounded, while running back and forth on the sidewalk trying to avoid being smooshed, that I didn't even get a picture of the finished product. Fail.

In the tiny mountain town of Julian. I really like this area!
I rode north out of Julian a few miles to check out the landscape and came upon this street sign. I apologized for my BMWness and took a pic.

I've stopped in Julian numerous times, both in the MINI and on the bike. I always enjoy it and this time was no exception. As I got ready to leave, I was gearing up as two women rode by--one on the BMW F800R and one on an Aprilia. Woohoo! More girls on bikes! Then suddenly, something hit me and fell to the ground. I looked down and saw it was a beetle, about an inch long, and he was crawling towards my motorcycle boot. I shifted myself so I was behind him, and the little turd turned around and headed for me. We played this game while I finished putting gear on, and I jumped on my bike and took off. I may not wear pink gear, but when it comes to bugs I am as girlie as they come.

I took off out east on huge twisty two-lane highway which wound down out of Julian in a direction I had never been. The road was amazing! It was pretty clear that groups of friends on bikes would ride to or meet in Julian, then ride out and back on that road just for fun. Many of them were sport bike riders, two of whom I pulled over for and let pass so they could have all the fun they wanted.

I couldn't wait to get to the end of that road, turn south on the next, and head through the next wilderness section. But it would not be that easy...

 

 

14 May 2015

How Not To Buy A Motorbike For Your Girl...

...or for yourself, if you fall into the same category as me. When I first started to ride a motorcycle, Josh bought me a vintage Honda. By "vintage" Honda, I mean it was a 1980 Honda CM200T--the Twinstar. Technically, it is considered a vintage vehicle, as it is over 25 years old. This was key, as there was no title for the bike, and it had never been registered. Being a "vintage" bike made it much easier and less expensive to title and register it in the state of Colorado.

The first night I had my first bike--so exciting!

 

This bike cost $400.00. Cosmetically, it was a mess. Mechanically, it was okay, and would need a little work. Work was put into it, along with a little money, and I had a bike to ride around town while learning and getting comfortable both with the machine itself and being in traffic on one.

The time finally came when I felt confident enough to venture out in rush-hour traffic, and ride to work. Choosing a surface street route, we set out on the six-and-a-half mile journey on a cool and cloudy day. I was feeling pretty good! Look at me, I'm riding a motorcycle! To work! I'm not going to have to pay for parking!! Woohoo!

Then the bike died. While sitting at a red light, just two blocks from my destination. Just died.

I pulled in the clutch and hit the button. Nothing.

I put it into neutral (oh my god, the traffic light changed and the people behind me are gonna be so pissed...), pulled out the kick start and tried to kick it. Nothing.

I'm pretty sure Josh was yelling at me this whole time, but you can bet your ass I was in full panic mode and ignoring him. I just wanted my bike to start.

It wouldn't, and I was not going to piss off rush-hour traffic anymore. I got off my bike and pushed the fucking thing onto the sidewalk, and yelled at Josh that I was just going to push it the last two blocks. When the light next changed, Josh went through the intersection and rode around the block to the loading dock where we park, left his bike and came looking for me. I was pushing my (thankfully not 500 lb.!) bike uphill along the sidewalk of the one-way street going in the opposite direction. When I got to the next intersection, I crossed with my bike at the crosswalk (like an 8 year old little girl with her banana seat bike) and continued pushing it to the loading dock.

On that cool and cloudy morning, I was sweating so badly, I needed a second shower at 7:45 a.m.

We never got the bike started, and eventually we had to load it into the pick-up, get it home, replace the bad battery, and do some other things to it.

THIS WAS NOT A GOOD FIRST EXPERIENCE! In case you were wondering....

A price tag of $400.00 may seem like a good idea for something a person is trying for the first time--not sure of whether it is going to be something they like or not--but that can backfire if one's thriftiness creates a bad experience.

So, we move onto my second bike. I continue to ride, decide I really like it, and my first trip on a motorcycle will be to Alaska with two guys who have dual-sport bikes. Well, I guess that is what I should get, so we can all go the same places and not be limited by the capabilities of someone's bike that is not like the others. (Oh yeah, I totally just sang Sesame Street in my head, "One of these things is not like the other...") Over the next couple of months, I sit on every dual-sport bike out there. We laugh about most, running down mental lists of everything we would have to do to make one fit me.

Then, I finally realize the easiest and best choice for me is the BMW F650GS. Josh rolled his eyes, made snarky remarks, and may possibly have kicked something. Where I saw a good fit and reliability, he saw dollar signs. And, rightly so. By a long reach, the BMWs were considerably more than anything else. Eventually we compromised on the idea of buying an older one, feeling we could put a little more money into it to make it "my" bike from the start.

Right after I got my new bike--the ever-so-much-newer BMW

You know how you should never buy the first model year of something--wait until they can work some of the problems out? Don't buy the second year either....

Actually, that's a little unfair. The first nine years of that bike's life were probably easy and reliable. It only had 20,000 miles put on over those nine years; few, if any of them, were dirt. It probably didn't hit the ground once. Then, I got my little paws on it, and rode the shit out of it for the next three and a half years.

I've had a few unexpected problems with it. I found out about some weird little quirks on the trip to Alaska. I have to say, that was tough. When speeding down a highway in Idaho in the pouring rain, and the speedometer cut out and the ABS light came on, I got a little freaked out. When riding through a campground in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and the engine kept cutting out as I would come to a stop, I got a little freaked out.

I do not like being in the middle of NOWHERE and not understanding why my mode of transportation does not work.

That fact brings me to Utah, less than two weeks ago. After stopping for the night after my first day of riding to San Diego, I decided to start the bike a bit later to move it a little.

Nothing.

I don't mean it didn't start. I mean NOTHING happened. No lights came on. It made no sounds.

I freaked out.

Mentally, I could not deal with it at that moment, so I left it until the next morning. I began tearing down my bike, thinking of two things it could possibly be. Did you read one of my posts back in September when I stopped on my way to Granby and my bike refused to start? Well, it wound up being the same problem; at least this time I knew what to look for. All in all, it didn't take me long to fix and return my bike to its whole state, and put the luggage back on. But it cost me some time, and some emotional drama.

I made it to San Diego without further problems. But...then my headlight went out. To the service manual on the iPad I went, Friday after work, and I pulled my headlight assembly apart. The light isn't the problem. A severed wire is. I realize I don't have the tools to fix the problem as it is, but if I can get a new multi-pin plug, I could borrow some wire strippers and re-wire a whole new plug. Off I go to the BMW dealership on Monday to get the part. It is un-gettable. Not that they don't have it in stock, but that it is not something that can be gotten. Period. But I am reassured, after looking at it with the parts guy, that the service department could absolutely fix it for me.

I love the first time I take something apart, squirreling different hardware to separate places, fervently hoping I will remember where it all goes, and put it back appropriately.
At least it was pretty clear what the problem was...

They aren't open on Mandays. They are open Tuesday through Saturday, 9-6. I work Tuesday through Saturday, 9-6. No worries, they have loaners. Call, bring the bike in, take a loaner, come pick up the bike when it's done.

I call Tuesday morning. Four times. No one answers, and the system won't allow me to leave a message. I finally get through in the afternoon and am told: 1--they can't get me in until the following Thursday (a week and a half away!), and 2--I can't have a loaner for that fix. They changed the policy and it's only for people having scheduled maintenance done. I tell them I will figure something out about getting the bike there and picking it up (hey, that's what Uber is for), but is there anything sooner as this is my only mode of transportation, and I kind of need a headlight. No. I can call everyday and see if there's a cancellation, but they overbooked and they are down a tech.

Now I'm super frustrated. With the proper tools and a garage with power, I could do this fix in, conservatively, two hours. But I don't have those things. I call around to a few shops in San Diego, and no one will touch it because it's a BMW.

I am one good sales job and 20 minutes away from buying a new bike. Oh yeah, I'd get a Beemer again, but I'd get a NEW ONE. I would buy one that for the next three years of hard riding, would be taken care of by the dealership.


$10,000 for a new bike. Adding up everything I've put into this bike, no I probably have not spent that on it. But the peace of mind in knowing that my bike would start every fucking time, and that, most likely, my headlight would work, would be well worth it to me. I don't want to be a mechanic. I don't. No desire. I'm glad to know that I can be, to a certain extent, when I have to be, but I don't want to have to be. And I don't want to worry every time I start my bike, about whether it actually will or not.

Pony up the money, and buy some peace of mind. There are many people who would not have made it past that first bad experience, and I totally understand that. I am so glad I did, and kept riding because I love it. But if you ride, and you are trying to get someone else interested in it, give them a fighting chance. If you don't ride, but you think you want to, give yourself that same fighting chance. My opinion is it's worth it.

My dinner the evening I realized I couldn't fix my headlight. I may have been consoling myself a little....

P. S. I know I owe you stories about Moab. I am slowly finishing them up. Between getting myself to San Diego to start a new contract, and trying to get my bike working properly...I've been a little busy. They're coming!

 

21 April 2015

Hello 2015 Riding Season!

Last week I got a PM on ADVRider, asking about my blog. It has been so long since I posted, but to be honest, I've barely been on a motorbike in months. This winter was particularly cold and snowy in the city of Denver. Since moving here, the winters have been comprised snowy days immediately followed by sunny days melting the snow away. This year, it seemed to stick around much longer, and I just rarely got on the bike.

The thing that kept me going through those long winter months was knowing the RMAR Rendezvous in Moab was coming up in April. I had one week after my contract at work was finished to get the bike and myself ready. I am in pretty good condition, having climbed regularly through the winter, but I had bike parts sitting around, waiting to be put on the bike. During the course of two weekends, I got Taz--my Tasmanian Dirt Devil--ready to go.

 

I pulled the wheels and one day on my lunch break, ran them to Peak Performance to have my 70/30 tires swapped out for much knobbier tires. Connor had my tires mounted and balanced in no time, and I was ready to put them on that Saturday. After riding with my friends Mark and Richard back in August, I did a lot of research on what people were riding on their XT 225s, and the IRC GP-1 tires were highly rated. I ordered them immediately, but since that was the last time I rode that bike, they sat in the garage with the new handlebar grips, chain, front and rear sprockets, helmet, goggles, and knee/shin guards I also purchased following that ride.

Installing the Rox Risers. Had to take the bike apart a bit to find extra length in the cables.

 

2" Rox Risers made a world of difference! Super easy to install, and they came with a sticker!

 

This was a great accessory to buy for a camping motorbike trip. I was able to charge my phone, GoPro, and Sena headset either over night or while I was riding.

After many trips to part stores and a few hours of labor, I felt my bike was ready for a Moab adventure. Just to check it all out and see how it felt, we headed out to Rollins Pass for a quick ride and gear test. The ride out Golden Gate Canyon and the Peak to Peak highway was gorgeous as usual. Hopping off the highway at Rollinsville and heading out the bone-dry five miles of dirt road to the start of the pass gave me good hope that the pass would be rideable.

About a half mile in, we hit our first snow bank. It was deep on the right side, and deeply rutted from four-wheel drive vehicles to the left. The left rut proved to be too soupy to get through. Rears wheels roostered snow and mud into the air. Eventually, we got through using the right rut. I only made it about halfway before becoming terrified I would drop the bike, slide and hurt myself. Because I had a big event I had been waiting months for and didn't want to hurt myself right beforehand, I watched my bike get ridden the rest of the way through. That was disheartening.

Nothing like a little slipping and sliding in mud and snow to get the heart going. This would prove to be useful training a week later....

Since the road looked pretty good past there, we kept going and came to another snow bank a little further on. This was harder packed in the ruts, and I rode through no problem. This boosted my courage a little, and when we came to the third, I was ready to go. Unfortunately, around the bend, we could see that it just got worse, and snow banks turned into a solid road of snow. We made the decision to turn back and call it done.

The nice thing about hard-packed, deep ruts, is that it's easy for me to touch the ground!

As we got back to the very first snow bank, we slowed when we saw a Jeep parked on our side with no driver. We pulled over, stopped, and got off the bikes when we realized a big Chevy Tahoe was stuck in the middle of the snow bank. There was no where for us to go until he got unstuck, so we pitched in to help move him. Completely high-centered on the packed in snow, it took four guys digging, another Jeep with a tow strap, and an hour of work to get him out. Everyone was super friendly and much head shaking and laughing accompanied the work.

Guy on the right had just bought his Tahoe--this was his first outing in it.
I feel like its a sight to see--a girl riding a motorcycle through snow they just couldn't get through with a big powerful truck.

 

It was amazing how happy I was to get back to mud. That just seems wrong.

That wound up being the end of our test riding. We headed back to Rollinsville, then to home. I figured my tires and chain felt good, and I was pretty happy with with the position of my handlebars. Though the mud and snow seemed like an unnessecary challenge considering I would be heading to the Utah desert in two days with sunny weather predicted in the 70s and 80s, it was still an interesting day, and one that reminded me how much I love two-wheel trail riding over four-wheel.

Stay tuned for my next couple of blog posts with pictures and stories which will blow-up most of what I said in that last paragraph....

 

15 October 2014

Fall Colors Tour 2014--Part 2 or...

...why I feel sorry for people who don't live here. I mean, look at this!

I took so few pictures. I know you think I'm going to say, But I took this one! I didn't. Photo--M. Landon

So, we started off from Red Rocks Diner in two groups that day. Our group of 5 slabbed it north and west about 40 miles to the spot where we would be meeting the 11 other bikes (led by Rick and Pat--one had the map, the other had the glasses with which to read it. This is how we do it, folks!) who chose to do the ~25 miles of dirt. We gave them a head start as it would take them longer, and rode mostly pavement to our meeting spot. Our group was led by Mark and included Matt, John, and Francis. Francis was the only one I didn't know, but we would have plenty of time to become acquainted....

Matt and I paired our Senas (buying a com system? Get a Sena. All the cool kids have them and they are the best) and chatted a bit as we rode past Grand Mesa and beautiful stands of Aspens. Matt, being a geographer told me all the geographical highlights of the area. You know, things like, "26,000,000 years ago, The Great Upheaval..." and I contributed to the conversation by telling him of "the great upheaval" that was happening in the ladies room of the restaurant when I had gone back in. I like being able to hold my own in conversations with educated, intelligent people.

Our group stopped off the road at the meeting place and relaxed a bit, waiting for the second group. After being there for ten minutes or so, Mark pulled out the map and we all looked over where our friends would be coming from, Mark pointing to road numbers and asking me what they said. (He had forgotten his glasses too...) Eventually, we realized there were two possible places the other group could come out of the hills--where we were waiting, and another spot about two miles back. We waited another 15 minutes, stopping people who drove by and asking them if they had seen a big group of motorbikers waiting back at the other road.

Our small group, waiting for the others--Matt and Mark consult maps....

Forty-five minutes in, and we hadn't seen them. We started to get a little worried, and Mark retold the story of the rider in that group from the previous year who had ridden that route, and broken his handlebars. Yikes! Matt said he'd ride back to the other spot and check for the group.

John and Mark sat on rocks, I sat on the ground. Francis pulled his tent out to dry out from the previous night. And we waited.

Matt returned after about 15 minutes and said he'd seen no sign, but thought he'd come back to where we were to see if they had come out our way. When we said no, he headed back.

Francis went and sat in the sliver of shade next to a sign. Mark went to consult his maps. I moved to his rock. And we waited.

I moved to the shade.

Matt returned again, and we all worried. Just a little. They are all fully capable riders, but you never know when something might happen. We knew that if something did, there were plenty of them to work through any problems. Mark decided he would ride out the road to see if he could find them and John said he'd ride along. No sense in sending a single rider.

Francis and I stayed sitting in the shade, leaning against the sign, and Matt lay down with his head in the shade. And we waited.

Suddenly, we heard them coming. And it was all of them--some completely painted in mud! Somehow, Pat and her F800GS were nearly spotless. They had a great story to tell of a large mud hole across the road, followed by another 30 feet of slippy, snotty, muddy road. Six out of the eleven made it through the mud hole. The larger bikes needed a hand to get them through and there were fantastic pictures of four people pushing one bike as it rooster-tailed mud into the sky. Besides being a phenomenal rider and making it through the mud hole, Pat had then found a water crossing and ridden back and forth through it enough times to clean herself and her bike! Brilliant!

The exhausted group were looking for a bit of a break, but in the hour and a half we had been waiting, we watched storm clouds gather over the area we would soon be riding, and Mark said we needed to move. For the first ten miles or so, which after a short pass of hairpins was flat and a not super interesting, I began to think I wasn't going to enjoy the day. It was a bit of a let down, and all I was doing was sucking down the dust of the riders around me. For the first time, I thought I might not like this whole group riding thing.

We were riding fast and kicking up a lot of dust. I dropped back a bit for a while to avoid some of it, and when I decided I was far enough back, I got on the gas again and cruised. I was moving fast enough that as I came around a curve I had to get on the brakes pretty good to avoid blowing by the turnoff where the riders in front of me had stopped. As I pulled up, there was much laughing. I wasn't the only one who had done that. Whoever was riding behind me was also laughing, telling me he would have missed it if I hadn't been in front of him. We sat and watched others do the same thing I did, and one person who realized too late and blew right by!

This was the start of McClure Pass, and our real viewing of GORGEOUS trees. We all took off as one group, but eventually as some people stopped for photos in different places, we broke into smaller groups. The last 15 or so miles of the pass, Matt, Rick, and I all stayed together. I led which was awesome because I wasn't riding in someone else's dust clouds.... We pulled up just outside of Paonia, to join a group of six. We had snacks, the boys had personal moments in nature, and we waited for the others, taking pictures of each other's filthy faces. Even wearing a full face helmet I managed to look like I had nothing blocking the dust. A shower was going to feel so good!

John! You're so dirty!! Oh wait, so was I....

We slabbed it the next few miles to Kebler Pass. It was a dirt pass which was so well traveled and had so much mag-chloride deposited on it that it almost felt like pavement. It was packed with traffic--people from all over the state, no doubt, who had come to look at the trees. The aspens in this area were very tall and colorful. Stunningly beautiful! People were everywhere on the pass, cameras out, smiling and enjoying. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was gorgeous. How had I waited so long to go leaf-peeping??

Hello! Beautiful! Photo--M. Landon

At the end of Kebler, we met up again and dubiously watched as storm clouds moved over our dirt road route. We would have another two hours of riding, most likely in mud, if we headed that way, and the decision was made to slab it. We had lost John somewhere near the top of Kebler, having some sort of fuel problem with his KTM, and a couple of guys said they'd wait for him and join back up with us at camp. The rest of us pulled out and headed for Crested Butte and on to Gunnison.

At the east (?) end of Kebler Pass. I really need to look at a map....

Somewhere just outside of Crested Butte, after we all decided we were fine on gas and would make it easily to Gunnison, my low fuel light came on. Oh shit. I had no idea why my gas mileage was so low, and I had no idea how far it was to Gunnison. I held my breath the next 30 miles, not wanting to be THAT girl, the one who ran out of gas, and breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled into the gas station. As it turns out, of course I had somewhat lower gas mileage, which I had expected, but my low fuel light also came on early. Real nice, BMW--way to scare a girl.

We rode east another 20 miles to the Tomichi Trading Post where we would camp for the night, and by the time we were done checking in, the other group of riders, including Matt who we had lost somewhere between Created Butte and Gunnison, all pulled up.

I had planned to camp that night, but then I discovered there was a teepee available! And it had a fire pit inside! For $30! After I went back to the cashier to change my spot for the night, I hit the shower. Oh god, it felt so good. I was so dirty. I had failed to pack shampoo, but the trading post conveniently sold some really nice, local beeswax products and I bought a small bar of lemongrass shampoo and a peppermint lotion bar.

Tomichi Trading Post teepee! They have propane fire pits inside!

When I left the shower and headed to the restaurant, everyone was there, in some state of being served dinner. The trading post had told Mark, when he let them know we would be coming, they would stay open for dinner for us. And though they don't usually serve breakfast, they told us that night they would do breakfast burritos for us the next morning if we wanted. Everyone was super hospitable, drinks showed up quickly followed by good food.

Our table of eight or nine people played the question and answer game of "How many years have you been riding?" and "What was your first motorbike?" and then moved on to talk of mining and fracking. One of the things I really liked about this group is that although there were differing opinions on these polarizing subjects, everyone was respectful of each person who had something to say. I enjoyed being able to sit back and listen to the conversation without being worried that someone might throw something. The respect that people have for others as riders seems to add up, often, to respect for that person as a whole. I totally dig that about this community.

Eventually, people slowly peeled off to head to cabins and teepees. As Pat got up to leave, she looked at me and asked how I had gotten so sunburned. I smiled and quietly said, "Waiting an hour and a half this morning...."

She laughed and headed for bed.