Friday, December 26, 2008

The Old F O R D

The one I fell in love with—a 1976 Ford F150 Super Cab.

This is the one. The one I learned to drive. The one whose tailgate I caved in. The one whose starter failed countless times in parking lots, but never on the back roads. It hauled firewood, mulch, canoes, and countless apartments full of junk. This is the truck that my father owned, but I loved.

It had a four-speed transmission, power steering, power breaks, and an extended cab—which the guy on TV made it longer by puling effortlessly on the tailgate. How clever. Did it collapse the same way? I was ten, and I wanted it.

Dad had bought it for his tree business so there were no extras. Pick-up trucks in the days before the SUV were utilitarian. Everything was optional. Dad opted out.

There was no AC. If it was hot, you put the windows down or you rode in the back with the dogs. Cold? Wait until the engine warmed and turn on the heat. Seat warmers? We would use old seat cushions from hunting season. The Lava Buns brand worked the best. And there was no radio.

Between here and there we talked when we drove. If my grandfather or my uncle were with us, they would tell stories about York County and childhood. If I was with the guys from the tree crew, I was privy to the kinds of filth—that when repeated later in the school year—would earn me the awe and respect of the 8th grade school yard, and the wrath of Sister Anna. If it were only me and Dad, I would be subjected to his stylings of Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. His truck. His rules. My penance.

Dad had others over the years—newer, smaller, sportier models that had better curb appeal, but the green Ford was my favorite.

When I moved to Seattle he offered it to me. “Take it across country,” he said.

I didn’t. After working all of those years, I denied the Ford one last road trip. I was too proud. I wanted to start fresh and leave home behind. And now that I see it sitting next to what once was the Big Trout Inn on 144, I feel that I let it down.

There would have been back roads, dirty jokes, and renditions of “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Midnight Rider." Gas was cheap. We would have made it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Last Day

This is the closest thing I’ll get to the peace of riding until the spring thaw.

Today is the last day of deer season in Pennsylvania and the back roads near my father’s house are filled with hunters. Pick-up trucks and men in safety orange prowl the gravel lanes and fire roads that push deep into the backsides of local the townships and state game lands. These are the roads that I like to find on the bike.

Last night brought the kind of weather that leaves a quarter-inch of ice on the trees and a crisp white crust on the ground. The deer, now deep in the stands of hemlock waiting out the cold, will not move until later in the afternoon—if at all.

I didn’t spend a lot of time hunting when I was a kid. Something about predawn hours in the damp and bitter cold kept me in doors until the sun warmed the day. And to be truthful, the idea of killing an animal frightened me. Even today, it is something that I do not take lightly, and I occasionally argue with myself about the ramifications of my act.

But in the end the bitter beauty of a cold December morning—along with the promise of fresh venison—outweighs my reservations. On still days like this I sit and wait, watching the sunlight play on the landscape, hoping for deer, and enjoying the solitude.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ghost Buildings

Traveling through small towns, I find the remnants of old buildings. Some the victims of neglect, arson, or worse—gentrification. They remind me of the faded wall signs advertising local hardware stores. At one point relevant, but now re purposed and forgotten. Replaced by box stores and townhouse living.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bale Out

Another Saturday at Dad's.

The good riding days are slipping away and I've decided at this point to pack it in. I have put the bike up and am tending to my much neglected yard and lending the occasional hand at Dad's. Today we cut wood and ran down to Fred's for a few loads of hay.

In Central Pa. I don't have to go far for a country road. Every trip to the mountain where my father lives puts me in touch with what I missed most while living in Seattle. Saturday mornings spent preparing for winter, a roadhouse lunch with a pint of ale, and an aching upper body that comes from throwing bales.

The remaining weeks of good weather sends the farming communities that surround my home into a flurry of activity. Farmers bring in the last of their hay. It will be baled or made into silage. Feed corn is harvested. Winter fields are tilled. And on a day like today—with the car windows down—I can smell every last sweet drop of fall.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

On the Ridge

My favorite stretch of road.

The colors aren't as intense this year. Clinton County had light rainfall in August and September, but the view from the ridge road was still as beautiful as ever.

I work for Penn State's College of Ag Sciences, and I am constantly amazed by the breadth of topics that are covered in our education and research. Marc Abrams in Forest ecology, and Cooperative Extension's water resource specialist Bryan Swistock sum it up nicely in terms even a marketing director can understand. Now if they could only tell me how to get that tapping sound out of my valves, my day would be perfect.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Better Than I Deserved

The bike has served me well this summer.
It's time to return the favor.

A summer of riding is beginning to take its toll on the bike. The maintenance I’ve been putting off is starting to mount up and it’s becoming not a matter of if, but when. When will the clutch cable go? When will the tires stop holding the line? What is that pinging? Is it getting louder? It is. I’ve noticed spots on the garage floor that were not there before. I suspect the oil pan gasket—or a squirrel with a serious bladder infection.

I’m not mechanical by nature, but I am curious. This is why I bought a vintage bike—to take it into the garage in the cold months and tinker. To fix what I can and leave the heavy lifting to the pros. The trick will be not to turn it into a basket case.

Last June, my friend Tom gave me some advice. Only do one thing at a time and keep it ridable. Finish small, manageable projects instead of taking the whole thing apart at once. Keep the frustration level low. As a master at half finished restorations, he’s right.

Old projects like this haunt all of our dreams. The ’72 Ford pick-up with the missing heads. The vintage Chevy tarped up in someone else’s garage. Several baskets of parts that at one time made a Carmen Ghia. We’ve all been there.

For me, it started when I took apart my first bicycle during a snow day in the fifth grade. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and summer was months away. Getting it back together? That’s another story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Don’t Pick Up the Phone

Living within twenty miles of your father means you can never sleep late again.

October has arrived and with it the last of the warm days. The days that remind me why I bought the bike in the first place. I should be riding. Instead I’m on the mountain cutting wood with dad. He likes to start early.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Avoiding the Inevitable

My summer of procrastination is coming to an end.

Despite an ever-lengthening list of home maintenance duties I manage to sneak in the occasional ride. Last week I went to Clearfield, home of Bob’s Army Navy and Grice’s Gun Shop. Both are must-sees on the edge of the of the Pennsylvania wilds. You could outfit the legendary hunting camps of Pennsylvania’s golden age with combined inventory of these two stores. They supply everything but the pancake breakfast.

The end of September begins my favorite time of year in Pennsylvania. The colors begin to change, the air cools, and I keep a closer eye on the edges of the road. Deer and turkey lurk in the mottled sunlight waiting to spring on unsuspecting motorists. Small game hunters in safety orange will soon begin to appear at the intersections of the gravel and the hard road, their dogs at the ready.

My return trip from Clearfield took me through a series of long and winding strips of blacktop with names like Old Erie Pike and Crooked Sewer. Back roads that trailed past ice cream stands and bar-b-cue shacks with the last of the summer customers hoping to hold on to one more sunny day. Traffic was light, and there wasn’t a car for miles.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ride More. Think Less.

This is the time of year when things come into focus.

The air has been crisp lately. Unusual for mid august. Blue skies. Endless visibility.

Heavy thunder storms have been rolling in after dark, clearing the air for long morning rides. The kind that start with a cup of coffee and end with a late lunch. The kind of rides that lets me forget why I bought a motorcycle.

Passing through the back country, time is marked by changes in the road. Slowing for curves. Stopping for intersections. The occasional photo. There are no distractions. No work. No bills. The bike has forced me to stay in the moment and focus on the road.

I'm riding more and thinking less.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Roadside Profits

Buy Fresh, Buy Local

The small town where I grew up had a brick a market building. On Saturdays, it housed local farmers selling their produce from behind whitewashed plank stalls with sea-green tops.

Tomatoes from Washington Borough, sweet corn from Hempfield—no need to squeeze or strip—it was all fresh and ready to eat. Refrigerated cases housed cuts of meat from local butchers. Eggs that were under chickens the day before sat on counters by the dozen. Neatly stacked in pressed cardboard cases, no factory labels, just the words ‘fresh eggs’. There was no truer advertising.

There were Utz potato chips, served warm in paper bags gritty with salt, and Hassebach’s soft pretzels. You can still get Utz chips in local groceries, but their not fresh from the fryers. And the soft pretzels? They were made by a very local mom–n–pop business that made nothing else. As it goes with most local flavors, they disappeared when the owners retired. My mother still mourns the pretzel vendors that would linger on the steps of the local banks and churches downtown. The warm pretzels wrapped in oil stained towels and stuffed in wicker baskets. You could get two for a quarter.

Buying local has become popular once again. But in Lancaster County I don't think it ever went out of style. The Central Market in Lancaster has been in operation since 1889, and if you keep your eyes open, you can still find a good road side stand.

I love local.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chips and Stones

Part of the Pennsylvania Wilds, my favorite run to date is Pa Route 144. It begins in Potters Mills at the Eutaw house and ends 100 miles later on the northern tier at the intersection of U.S. 6 in Galeton, Pa. I usually pick it up in Bellefonte then ride it through to Renovo where I can grab a late breakfast. The best section of this leg comes after the straight away at the top of the ridge road. Twists, turns, mottled sunlight and no services—it has everything.

Currently it’s being chipped and oiled. Nothing sucks the fun out of a ride like loose gravel and hot tar. Sometimes this process is a harbinger of a complete overhaul—and the promise of a new surface. A quick look at the PennDOT site tells me otherwise. Time to find a new section of road and let the chips fall where they may.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Magic Hour

Summer has been good this year. The light before sunset is warm and soothing, and an hour ride after dinner took me through a series of narrow back roads that hug the tributaries of Spring Creek.

Little hamlets with names like Linden Hall and Axeman straddle the roads that twist and turn with the creek bed. No traffic. Plenty of rain and temperatures in the 80s have filled the fields with the sweet smell of cut hay and fresh manure.

My recent trip to Seattle reminded me of how much I miss the Northwest. This evening reminded me of why I moved back to Pennsylvania.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Happened To the Sunday Drive

The day is full and the roads are empty.

Tiger lilies, corn flowers, and daisies boarder the summer roadside in Central Pa. Even in the midday light, their colors are deep and inviting. I found this stretch on the way to Bald Eagle creek. I was driving the shuttle car for one of our summer canoe trips, and I made a note to ride through here on the bike later in the weekend. It was good. So good that I turned around and rode it again.

One of the many things I enjoy motorcycling is the solitude and simple beauty. The rush of wind in the helmet and the quiet presence of mind that an empty road brings has turned out to be everything I expected. However, I miss traveling in a car with friends.

My father and grandfather were Pennsylvania State Troopers. They knew all of the back roads and diners. As we drove, they would point out the roadside attractions and local stories. Pop was the history ace. When he would visit, he and our neighbor Harold would prowl the roads in an old Impala and swap stories. If it happened in Pennsylvania, Pop or Harold knew the back story.

Dad on the other hand was all about local color. Years spent hanging out with old coots left him with the secret locations of the best diners and roadhouses, late summer trout streams, and vast blueberry fields. Most of the good stuff is gone now, but I remember names like, The Star Garden, The Big Trout, and the Renovo YMCA. And when I'm in the mood for a two mile walk in, Spruce Run is still good for native trout in all but the driest of summers.

There was a time when my wife and I would spend hours off the beaten path. We would share stories of what this region was like when we were growing up, or tell tales about the local history we learned from our parents. These are things we had planned to do with our daughters. Pennsylvania's lost highways and their history were to be a staple of our children's summer days.

With gas at $4.00/gallon, our car time is now spent running errands. Family rides with no particular destination have fallen by the wayside. If the traffic I saw today is any indication, the Sunday drive has already become a thing of the past.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Motorcycling Has Killed My Yard

The good weather, and the neglect of three months of yard work has taken its toll.

What was once a somewhat shabby and overgrown plot has now matured into the kind of yard that causes committees to form and ordinances to be enforced. The culprits: An old sink from the kitchen renovation, two charcoal grills, and the middle row of seats from a 1990 VW Vanagon—sold by the way, to six kids from Leeds who are currently making their way across the U.S. and Canada. These items are, as the hosts of HGTV inform me, “the focal points” of my landscape.

The regular afternoon rains that have killed my riding schedule have also encouraged the creeping vines to run unchecked through the garden. So, in an effort to make up for past indulgences, I decided to face this monster head on.

It is amazing what you forget as you get older. Apparently the little section of memory—once reserved for the information that keeps me from hurting myself—has been cleared out. It has been re-purposed to store the names of my youngest daughter's stuffed animals, their location, and ranking within the royal hierarchy. The space in the back of my mind which once reminded me of what poison ivy looks like is gone.

It was bad. The idea of stuffing my foot into a leather boot for a ride was as appealing as a trip to the vivisectionist's. I missed days of riding in warm light that lasted until nine. My skin was crawling.

I am on the last two days of a prescription steroid. Things are on the mend. My right foot no longer frightens small children. The vines however, continue to be a menace.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Locals Only

A road by any other name would ride as sweet.

Most roads have numbers, but when you’re out riding look for the local names—Hawstone, Axeman, Ridge—the ones you need to ask for. Some of their names appear on the maps. Others are local designations with no real beginning or end, just a section of blacktop between here and there.

When I first started road tripping, there was a certain alchemy to finding your way. You asked your dad and his fishing buddies, or old guys at gas stations. In my case, they were one and the same. After a while, you wise up, keep a topo in the car, and hope for the best.

Now every spleen rattling mile of back road is on the Web—packaged neatly along with distances, estimated trip times, and recommended restaurants. If there was anything that ever sucked the fun out of being lost, it’s Google Maps—and the GPS chip in your phone. Throw them both away and enjoy the ride.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Summer Classic Has Arrived

I stopped at a little restaurant in Renovo for a late breakfast on Saturday. Blueberry pancakes, a side of bacon, and a cup of coffee—my usual road trip fare. It wasn’t until I was ready to pay my bill that I noticed the jugs of tea brewing in the window.

Sun tea always reminds me of summer. You couldn’t go to anyone’s house after Memorial Day without seeing a gallon jug brewing on the back porch. Sweet, lemony, and strong, and when mixed with just the right amount of Kool-Aid, it became a deadly combination of sugar and caffeine. It was the high-octane mix that fueled our summers.

My taste for sweet drinks has lulled over the years. A good drink on a hot day now means a slice of lime, a jigger of gin, and a little tonic. Let the kids suck up the sweet stuff. I’ll keep cool with the other summer classic.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Mail Pouch

This is what the old guys at camp chewed.


Nearly every back road of my childhood had one of these signs on the side of a barn. Renovo has two. Painted on downtown buildings, the advertisements have nearly faded out of existence. I miss advertising like this.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Choose Wisely

Your choice of ride is a direct reflection of your personality—most of the time.


Pink. Fun. Retro. I’m thinking cat-eye glasses, rind stones, and a leopard print scarf. Of course I could be wrong. I wonder who owns this little gem, and what she—yes, I'm gender stereotyping here—thinks it says about her.

I like it.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dust

Take the back roads here in Centre county and you'll come across a quarry or a lime stone processor like this.


From the amount of lime dust on the factory, you would assume that we haven't had rain for quite a while. Not true. It's been exceptionally wet this spring. It takes more than a few April showers to scrub away decades of crud like this.

I've photographed this building once before when I was playing with long exposures and night photography. In the harsh light of day the romance dies. Still, I love the contrast of white on rust.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Drek In the City

I’ve just returned from ten days in Seattle. That’s where I found this. The helmet and goggle combination, although questionable in their protective value, are deadly cool.


My detailed research—which consisted of loitering in sidewalk caf├ęs—has revealed that, despite the miserable weather, Seattle has a great bike and scooter culture. Although I lived there for a while as an undergrad, the whole bike thing passed me by. I was aware of the Alki Tavern that hosted a bike night on Thursdays. And the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill always played host to a few Fat Boys on Fridays after the bicycle messengers cleared out. Some of the older guys I used to work with remembered the Comet to be one of the local hang-outs for the North West's home-grown MC, the Gypsy Jokers.

Now that I have a bike of my own, I can't stop looking. I spotted the usual suspects: street fighters, choppers, and the occasional classic. When I was there in the ’90s I saw my first Indian that wasn’t in a museum. It was powder blue with full fenders—the ones that cover nearly the entire wheel. It must have weighed a ton. My favorite this trip was the BMW 60 with the sidecar, I saw it twice, but was never quick enough with my camera to catch it. Bikes like that just materialize from the traffic then drift away.

Scooters were everywhere. Vespas mainly: the new, the vintage, and the quirky are all equally represented. Lots of leopard skin prints, retro colors, and hipsters wearing loafers.


This little beauty was on Capitol Hill. I love the wind-screen. It adds a great retro finish. Again, they’re just too fast capture. Or perhaps they’re just too cool to appear on film. They are moto-world’s vampires. But that would imply that Vespas have no soul. And we all know that’s not true.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Inevitability

It was bound to happen.

We had a huge storm roll through. Wind. Heavy rains. Flooded alley-ways. Animals lining up two by two. Needless to say, I didn’t get out for my ride. But that wasn’t what ruined my weekend.


Yeah, that is a huge gash. The bike fell over in the wind that accompanied the storm. I'll spare you the details, but the following day, I had to rehang the garage door.

Like most new(ish) things, it's only a matter of time before they get scuffed and dinged. I was hoping that I would at least make it through a riding season without any major mishaps. I'm just glad it happened without me on its back. There are far worse ways to damage a bike.

The good news is that it still fires right up. Nothing is broken. The oil pan gasket looks like it's leaking a bit. It did sit on it's side for about 10 minutes before I realized what had happened. The tank will need to be banged out and repainted. I'll take it for a spin around the block tomorrow to make sure everything is in order.

Looks like I have a few more things to add to the list.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Maintenance

Now that I have the first few rides of the spring out of the way, I’m beginning to think about maintenance. There is the routine—tire pressure, oil, lights—and the list the previous owner left for me.

The clutch cable will need to be replaced before the end of the summer as well as three headlight plugs. There is also the issue of cables, boots, and relays. A thirty-year-old bike needs a little love. Right now it’s running fine and I’ll take on the list as the parts come in.

I guess the next step is getting it ready for longer day trips. Currently, I’m strapping things onto the back of the seat. Not the best option, but it will do for now. I have a set of soft bags, but I’m looking for some hard cases. The question is, do I go vintage with the Krauser bags or something modern?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Geezers, Live Bait, and Ice Cream

My favorite thing about back roads is the general store.

Rebersburg in Penn Valley has two directly across from each other. The one on the south side of the street has hitching rings on its porch for the Amish horse and buggies. Another in Moshannon sells hunting gear and ammo. At one time you could outfit an entire hunting camp from that store—including guns. Some have lunch counters; others are attached to garages.

Waterville’s has a large, sweaty wheel of white cheddar under a glass bell. The bell is attached to a string and counterweight. The girl at the counter cuts large slabs and warps them in wax paper. Another in Cobern comes complete with rocking chairs and geezers on the porch. All have live bait.

These are the places I look for when I ride. They remind me of childhood road trips with my grandparents. Lazy summer days spent at produce stands and evenings out for ice cream at dairy stores and roadside drive-ins. These are the places that close early in the winter but stay open late into the night once summer arrives. Places that get swallowed up as rural America becomes gentrified. These are the places I love.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Runing Dry

I logged somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 miles on Friday—two mountain passes, a ridge road, and some straight lines through farm country. Redbuds and cherry trees were in bloom. Farm fields were freshly plowed. It was perfect. I ran the tank dry.

I didn’t think much about it at first. I was more concerned about finding a gas station than marveling at my mileage. After filling up, my total was $16.00. In 2000, that same $16.00 filled my Golf. In 1984, it filled an old F-Series flatbed that I drove.

When I first thought about driving around Pennsylvania’s back roads, I had dreams of an old Ford truck similar to those I grew up driving. In fact, the one I learned to drive on sits outside what used to be the Big Trout Inn in Bellefonte, Pa.

With gas at $3.65 per gallon, I’m glad I got the bike.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Allergies

Don't sneeze in the helmet. Hold off if you can. You're going to have to trust me on that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Everything Counts

Each time I ride I learn something new about my abilities and the bike. This past weekend I learned about wind. Not the headwind that crushes you on the straightaway, but the gusting crosswind that kills your line.

I was in a long curve—not unlike a cloverleaf—heading uphill on a steep incline. I could feel the wind hitting me hard on the inside. The bike remained stable, and I never felt out of control, but the wind was pushing me into the outer passing lane. As I continued to accelerate through the curve the crosswind seemed to have less of an effect, and my line corrected itself.

Little things like this remind me that everything in the riding environment is a factor, and that I ride at my own risk.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Opening Day

I skipped the opening day of trout season this year. For those of you who don’t know, Central Pa. has some of the best trout streams on the East Coast. Browns and rainbows lurk in deep pools, the water is clear, and on a day like yesterday, you could see the fish lining up. My choice not to fish would be considered heretical by some—or liberating.


The roads were clear and dry. The air temperature was in the high 60s. Not bad for a day that was supposed to be rainy and gray. With my mother-in-law due to arrive in 48 hours and the spare room still not finished—I realigned my priorities and rolled the bike out of the garage. Did I mention that liberating feeling?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Smells Like Spring

For one brief, beautiful day spring took hold, and I took to the road.

In rural Pennsylvania early spring is lush and deep. The air is filled with earth. It surrounds you with anticipation and the promise that better things lie ahead.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Trout? What Trout?

The bike started. The weather has moved from dismal to passable. I’m on the road. It’s a week before tout season, and I’m more concerned with road conditions and wind chill. This is not me in spring.


Usually at this time of year, I’m one of these guys—hip deep in 58-degree water—but not this year. This year, I hit Fisherman’s Paradise via Houserville road—rolling through the ess curves that hug Spring Creek. The trout can wait.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not Quite Spring

After nearly eight weeks the stars aligned. The day was warm enough. I had no meetings. It was Saturday.

This time of year is one of my favorites. The colors of the late winter landscape are made from muted grays and browns punctuated by the occasional spike of blue sky. The chop in the fields from last fall is tinted black with manure. The smell drifts into my helmet and stays. The joy of being on the road again makes up for the sting.

It’s been a long winter. I’m looking forward to finding my way back to lazy weekends and roads to nowhere.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Remnants

One of the things I like about central Pennsylvania is the uneasy relationship between old industry and the wild. Foundries beside trout streams and dusty limestone plants nestled in tight to mountainsides—all are remnants of an earlier time in our history when small towns boomed around coal, timber, and limestone.


Outside of Bellefonte there are several limestone plants—juggernauts of industry where mountains are crushed to grade. Piles of stone sit next to the road, covered in the white dust that cakes the surrounding buildings. Mercury-vapor lights illuminate the process late into the summer evenings. When I was a kid, I wanted to slide down those piles and run back up again.

Farther north are shale fields where the vegetation and topsoil was stripped away. Stretches of forest—already denuded several times over—were put to the not so gentle touch of draglines in search of coal. As a teenager, my cousins and I would comb through these fields for fossils, and practice our marksmanship with .22s on old cans of PBR and Genesee that littered the dirt roads.

Several of these old strip mines to the north of Snow Shoe are now being reclaimed. I passed by one late last summer on my way to a back-country trout stream that runs late into the season. Once the weather clears I’ll ride up there again and see how it looks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dreaming of Riding

My dreams of hitting the road late into the season remain unrealized. Gone are the fast days of fall, the blur of color on a warm day, and sneaking out for an afternoon ride.


Winter is here and even though the days are getting longer, there is no end in sight. Only February lies ahead—a month of cold, of gray, of Groundhog Day. It is truly the dead of winter, the time of year when the more literary among us read the Russian novels that delve into the bleak realities of the human condition. I’ve opted for a regular pint at Zeno’s.

I dream of riding, of quick turns and lazy afternoons on back roads. I keep a list of small towns and promising diners. Of the places I remember from childhood and last week. I map them out on my topo, the same one where I log trout streams. Spring—or warmer weather, I don't care which—can't get here soon enough.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Break In the Weather

Last Tuesday opened with blue skies and temperatures lingering near the 70-degree mark. For a moment January had been put on hold, and after a long working weekend at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, I escaped.

I picked up a trickle charger a few weeks ago in order to maintain the battery and up my chance to get out and ride on a day like this. Thirty dollars well spent. After six weeks sitting idle, the slash-7 started on the first try.

The road conditions were good, but varied in dryness depending on how long the surface spent in the sun. Corners were quick when the surface was dry, but a wet and oily sheen coated them if they sat in the shade all day. I remained cautious.

This was the first time I took the bike off the paved road. A road of gravel and dirt mix between the backside of the airport and Fisherman’s Paradise gave me a new appreciation of the words ‘flat’ and ‘dry.’ Speeds slow, awareness increases, and every little pothole is cause for concern.

Slowing down brings the landscape into perspective. The temptation to stop every quarter-mile to make a photograph is hard to resist. I am beginning to understand Steve Williams’ love of the Vespa and the way in which it has opened his appreciation for the passing landscape (Sorry Steve, I’m still not buying one).

The cold has settled in again, and I don’t see any relief in sight. The long range forecast remains in January mode. It looks like the warm weather won’t be around for a while. Time to hunker down and chip away at everything I’ve been putting off until winter.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Line Quality

The temperature rose on Tuesday. A quick 50 miles through dappled sunlight and changing surface conditions took the edge of a week loaded with deadlines and pressure.

As I become more familiar with my abilities and the bike, the ride is turning into something much different than it was in the fall. I’m hitting the corners with more confidence—pushing through, leaning hard, and twisting the throttle. There is a heightened sense of purpose. It’s exhilarating.

The challenges for me at this point are to find the best line in a curve, and when to shift in order to accelerate smoothly out of the other side. Then there’s the timing— when to lean, and when to shift my weight to the other side as I move through an ess curve.

So far I’ve been sticking to familiar roads—the ones that I know well in a car. I don’t want any surprises. I’m surprised to say that I haven’t been tempted to over do it on the speed. I like the thrill, but right now mastering the basics and understanding how the bike reacts are my biggest priorities. I'm looking for that perfect line.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Why Cake No Longer Matters

Looking back on my holiday break I realize that I missed at least one, possibly two good riding days where the mercury rose and the roads were clear and dry. But I was in the car and heading to grandmother’s house, and all the while wondering why I wasn't riding.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I enjoy traveling with family to see the relatives. And regardless of whatever awkward silences or sweaty in-laws each of us might have to cope with, a holiday meal with the family is one of the few times where it all works out. It is the one thing that keeps civilization from drifting into chaos.

However, there are times when we get a glimpse of what the world really looks like when we didn’t have rules, when communications break down. Times when we hold in our hand that crispy piece of skin that we stole before the turkey was presented or that last piece of cake promised to the children. Family moments like these are when the holiday meal becomes a one day seminar in micro-diplomacy.

But now that I have a bike in my garage, the civil war that brews over who was responsible for ruining Christmas dinner falls by the wayside. My biggest concern at this point is the long-range forecast on weather.com and when will I ride again.

Next Wednesday is looking pretty good. With any luck I might be able to stop off at a diner and get my own slice of cake.