Monday, November 1, 2010

Fountain of youth

 Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle can tell you it's an exhilarating experience.  There are countless "WA-HOO!" moments that make your heart beat faster and plant a permanent grin on your face for the rest of the day.  More important than this, I think riding keeps you young.

Whether you ride a sport bike, a cruiser or some other iteration, the simple act of participating in the sport of motorcycling keeps you moving, out of doors and off the La-Z-Boy recliner.  The planning and preparation for any trip is an exercise in anticipation and it gives us goals to achieve in the near, or not-so-near, future.  That's why, with our season winding down here in New Hampshire, I'm thinking ahead to next year.  I want to have goals to achieve, mountains to climb.

I think I've mentioned this before.  In years past, at the height of winter doldrums, we've repaired to "The Bunker" with some cold beer and hot pizza, to throw out ideas for the coming year.  That was how we came to ride to Sturgis in 2008.  Someone put a stake in the ground, a target or goal, for us to achieve.  Mentally, we had already accepted the fact that we were going to embark on this cross-country tour.  Everything in-between became a step in that direction. Now, I think it's time for loftier goals. 

I recently read an article in American Motorcyclist magazine, the free magazine from the AMA, about a(n older) guy who visits all 49 contiguous American states with each bike he owns.  His latest acquisition is a BMW, perfect for the short "run" from Ohio to Alaska.  All it takes is planning, cash and some free time.  I'm still a long way from retirement age but, I like the idea of spending the next ten years or so, squeezing in great trips around work, until the time I'm free to travel the country (or planet!) like a wandering fool.

In the coming year, I want to get back to Nova Scotia, to ride the Cabot Trail again.  This time, I'll take my time and enjoy the ride and not try to break some sort of land-speed record.  I want to complete a Saddle Sore 1000:  1000 miles in 24 hours.  It would be great to achieve this one with some good friends.  Then, there's the Italian Alps.  How can one not drool over the prospect of riding The Alps, on a rented Ducati???  I also want to circumnavigate the continental U.S., taking in as many coastal areas as I can.  I have "a thing" for beach communities.  How about Australia, mate?  We could ride "down unda" during our winter, when the northern hemisphere is covered in snow and ice.  So many rides to consider, so little time!

Obviously, health issues will dictate when I will no longer be able to ride.  Interestingly enough, though I've often admitted to myself that at some point I won't be able to drive, I've never considered a day when I won't be able to ride.  I suppose, at best, those two days will come at the same time.

So, where are you going?  What will you do, in the coming year?  A cross-country tour of breweries sounds like a good start.  How about a New England perimeter ride?  What about a BBQ tour?  Or a covered bridge tour?  Or a state park tour?  Or Federal Park tour?

The season may be short, but my imagination is long and I can dream about all of the wonderful places that two wheels and a tankful of gas can get me.  Maybe you'll be along for the journey?

A low slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Do your own thing or, The Lone Wolf


It's been a long time coming and it's been preceded by the same actions of other club members.  I'm talking about leaving club riding and doing my own thing.

When I first started riding, as a newbie, I was also new to this area and had no knowledge of the roads and other attractions.  Then, astride my Kawasaki ZX-6, I would go out for an hour, at most, before returning home.  I had no idea of where to go or what to do.  I was lost half of that time, anyway.

Then, I heard about The Club.  Local guys with a wide variety of bikes, got together on the weekend just to ride.  Thanks to them, I learned a lot about riding, friendship and our part of New England.  I made some very good friends through the club and am grateful for that.  Within a year or two, a rift became evident and a small group splintered off, with harsh words and leaving bad feelings behind them.  They wanted to be bad-asses, but mostly just made asses of themselves, with the manner of their departure.

I enjoyed club riding for the next five or more years, as we made plans for long distance trips that I never would have undertaken on my own.  Each winter, we would meet and cast out ideas for reasonable destinations.  These would range from the reachable and achievable, to the ridiculous.  In the end, it came down to schedule and finances, but almost every year there was a multi-day trip for all to enjoy.

When we weren't planning long trips, the weekend rides would alternate between Saturdays and Sundays until we realized that almost everyone was available for a Sunday ride.  So, we defaulted to that day, for the group rides, but others would still get together when available, as a small group.  Somewhere along the line, I started returning from rides with a sense of dissatisfaction, but didn't realize why.  The LAST thing I should have done was to return from a ride, and report to my wife that I didn't have a good time.  Before she got her own bike, I was off with the guys, while she stayed home and tended to household chores and yard work.  I think they call that Double Jeopardy.

Still, I stayed on but growing more dissatisfied as the years went on.  Each year, towards the end of the riding season, I'd question my commitment to the group, after a series of unsatisfactory outings.  I realized that, what was happening was that the Sunday rides were becoming lowest common denominator rides.  That is, Steve needs to be back by 2, because the game is on, Larry can only ride for an hour, because his wife is pissed at him for not raking leaves, etc., etc.  Soon, our rides became the answer to the question, "How little can we ride to accommodate everyone?"  No longer were destinations chosen or planned in advance.  We started riding the same local roads again and again.  Boring.

After 10 years of club membership and participation (as unofficial social director) I said to hell with it.  I unplugged myself from the email group and rode occasionally with some of my closer friends.  I have no shortage of riding partners, now that the missus has her own bike.  After my experience on the Sturgis ride, I no longer have any qualms about riding alone.  Perhaps I am riding less but the quality of the rides are way up.  I don't need to put miles on my bike riding in circles, just to brag about my annual mileage.  I'm happier to have a couple of great rides each year, with close friends, where we put a pin in the map and head off for a couple of days.  Motorcycle camping is a relatively new acquired taste for me (over the past 3-4 years) as it allows us to leave our local area and see new places.

One of my favorite rides (despite Jerry's recollection) was a quick trip to Quebec City.  Yes, I did have some discomfort on that ride.  I blame that on some musculoskeletal problems and a lack of Motrin.  It wasn't the sport bike!  Okay, the seat could have been partially to blame.  In any event, a long weekend got shortened due to horrific weather, but we had a great ride and a great dinner in Canada, before returning home.

Last weekend, I tried the group ride once again.  Why?  Because I allowed myself to succumb to peer pressure.   The ride got off to a bad start.  We were split up at the get go and three of us got separated from the rest and tried hard to catch up.  We finally did, halfway to our destination.  You can read about that ride here, on Pat's Blog:

A bad ride got worse and my mood soured.  I realize that I hate to compromise these days and rather than suffer through a long lunch and a dull ride home, I punched out, in favor of some quality time with my wife.  She was happily surprised to see me return early and I was just as happy to be home.

The key to any good ride is planning.  Pat's blog touches on this and it's clear that a lack of planning is one of the reasons that some guys show up for rides but don't join in.  I used to take that personally but now I see it for what it is.  We all only get some many good riding days, no sense wasting them on a bad ride.

I hope anyone reading this takes this with the intention that it's written.  All I want is better riding.  I think one main component of that is the size of the group.  Smaller is better.  Three is good, two is better.  Sometimes, one is the loneliest number, but I'm okay with that.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When the rain comes, you run and hide your head...

Well, some of you do, anyway.

It's been said that, "If you don't ride when it rains, you're not a rider." I guess, to some extent, that's true. The same holds true for the owner of the show bike that rides a few miles to the nearest biker hang-out and watches from afar as others admire his bike and ask about it. That person is not a rider.

Just as a writer, writes; a rider rides. And when you ride and put in a good, long day of travel, you know that you're eventually going to encounter rain. Sometimes it's not too bad, a soft drizzle that makes the pavement just oily enough for you to crash. And other times, it's a torrential downpour, icy cold and laden with hail. Hail hurts! The only thing to do when you encounter that beastie is to find cover and wait it out.

Sure, you can ride in a gentle rain, depending on what gear you're wearing. So, you get a little wet, pass through some showers and then dry out on the other side. That's actually kind of fun (and cooling, too!). It's the day-long rain that you HAVE TO PASS THROUGH that makes a rain suit a "must-have".

But otherwise, riding in the rain does not have to be daunting or even miserable. Yes, you will want to reduce your speed. Yes, you will want to carefully watch your lane placement, so you can avoid the spray of oncoming traffic or to avoid getting clipped by the overwhelmed motorist overtaking you on your Six. A good rain suit makes all the difference in the world.

For years I put off buying one, assuming that my weather-resistant textile suit would adequately protect me. Until one day it didn't. And then, there I was, sitting in a cold pool that was my saddle. If you want to experience this for yourself, fill your tub halfway with cold water. Then, don your riding gear, boots and all, and climb into the tub. How does that feel after a few minutes? Nice?

We were coming South through the mountains a few years ago, when I had that unpleasant experience and it gave me pause for thought. So, when we were planning the Sturgis ride, with the prospect of 600+ mile days, I knew that we would be riding no matter what the weather. I invested in a good quality rain suit and I can count on one hand the number of times I've HAD to wear it.

If you can't afford rain gear, get a can of ScotchGuard and spray the heck out of your textile suit. Be careful not to inhale that stuff though, as it is quite damaging to your lungs. This will give you about a season's worth of wet weather, provided you don't launder your gear. If you do, re-apply the ScotchGuard.

Fair weather riders (or those who live in the high desert) won't need to read this post but, like a good helmet, a good quality rain suit will make living on your motorcycle a more pleasurable experience. And, while you're at it, invest in a pair of good waterproof boots, as well. There's no point in being dry from the ankles up, if you're feet are ready to fall off from the cold & damp.

A low, dry wave,

Joe Rocket

PS - I don't often put in a postscript but, I started this blog a week or two ago and then set it aside...Since that time, friends returned from a one-week trip down south. On the way, they encountered heavy rain, up to 4 hours at a time. After that daunting day, they agreed that they both needed to upgrade their rain gear. After doing so, at the nearest Harley-Davidson boutique (ka-ching!), it didn't rain again for the remainder of the trip. Oh well, they'll have it now, when they need it next...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FULL Throttle

I was lazily riding the lawn tractor early this week when my thoughts drifted off to the two very different rides I had this past weekend. Yes, I was VERY fortunate to get out and ride both days. Who knows when the weather will be as good again, right? So, I sneaked in a mow job before the torrential rains hit as reflecting back on the nature of the rides.

Both headed south from our home in NH. Saturday's was a straight shot due south, to Putnam, CT and Sunday's was a circuitous route around Boston, to take us to Westport, MA and the Massachusetts coastline. Both days were unseasonably hot. On both rides, there were multiple riders. In both cases, I lead the rides for a majority of the ride. What's the difference, then?

Saturday's ride was planned to be a back-roads scoot through small towns in MA and into CT. I had programmed my TomTom GPS to avoid highways and tolls. I was relieved when I found Gary (nickname: NeverLost) there for the start of the ride. Not only did he correct me on the destination I had in mind, he seemed to know the route we had taken previously and was agreeable to leading us. For an hour. "Okay", I figured, by then, we'd be so far down the road towards our destination that "Chad", my Rider GPS, would accurately lead us the rest of the way. Uh, not exactly.

Turns out, Gary punched out of our ride at the 30 minute mark when we were barely down the road. He took another rider with him, leaving me to lead four others. I have always had faith in Chad but, the device is only as good as the programmer. I'll cut this tale short and just say that it lead us into the heart of Worcester, MA, a very industrial city to our south. Yes, it DID avoid the highways, it just didn't provide the indirect, scenic route that I had taken once before and was looking forward to. It was a hot, sweaty, busy ride with lots of stops to allow others to catch up. It felt like we hit each traffic light in that entire city, many when we did not all make it through in one pass.

Sunday morning dawned and my supportive wife knew I was in favor of an additional ride. Friends called to say they were headed south and it took me scant minutes to get ready. The primary difference between these rides was this: SPEED. We rode highways around Boston to skirt Fall River and pointed ourselves at the ocean. We rode fast the entire way, in traffic, moving cagers out of OUR way. The motors thrummed as we hammered along. We finally arrived at Westport Point, finding it cool and foggy. A relaxing lunch at the Back Eddy restaurant was followed by an hour-long tour of the local scenery.

Visually sated, we clambered back aboard our scooters and pointed towards home. Once again, we zoomed through traffic and into the open lanes. At one point, I considered challenging Ken & Jerry to a race, but Jerry hung back, knowing full well what devilishness I was up to. At times, we were three abreast, owning the highway.

I know I miss my sport bike and the insane speeds at which I used to ride. But, I've only now realized exactly how much I miss the sensation of speed. Riding at 40-50 mph on back roads is a great way to see the scenery. However, riding at full throttle (or at the very least 9/10s) is a good way to put some distance behind you and make miles. It's also good for filling your soul with sunshine and happiness; at least mine.

There's no solution in sight, but now I know what I've been missing. That special ingredient known as SPEED.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Saturday, March 20, 2010

An ode to snow

With my apologies to the real poets in the world!

Ode to Snow
by Joe Rocket
March 20, 2010

Oh, last lonely pile of snow, hidden in the shade of the hemlock.
You are but the last remnants from the plow man’s efforts.
Down at the base of the driveway, a clump of dirty ice and compacted snow
You greet me on the way to the mailbox and welcome me home.
You have friends scattered about, I see deep within the woods.
But you are the solitary sentry to my home on this late March morning.
The weatherman predicts 70 degrees today. I’ll bet that makes you sweat!
All I can say is, you best not be here when I return from my ride.
Your time has come and gone. Be gone with thee, until next year.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

So you want to be a rock and roll star...

The Beatles led me astray.

If I think about bad influences in my life, I'd have to put the Beatles at the top of that list. If not for their influence on my malleable young mind, I might not find myself at this juncture in my life.

Music's always been a large part of my life. Unfortunately, I have zero talent and can't play a lick. My Dad played piano/organ and accordion and the house was always rocking. Well, swinging was more like it. Dad was a huge fan of jazz, before he got into rock music, which was in its infancy, then.

The Beatles come along and WHAM!, there I am with a plastic guitar, singing along to their records and putting on "shows" for the parents, while they sipped their highballs. I wasn't alone in this. I remember (and have photos, somewhere) of me and my siblings "jamming" poolside, where our folks were getting a little sun. Hey, it was 1966 and I was seven.

My red plastic guitar took a childhood hit one day as I jumped on a bed or couch without looking before I leapt. SNAP! went the neck and instantly my treasured hollow-body was now garbage. Into the trash it went. Years later, I begged my parents to provide me with music lessons, as they had done earlier, with my older brother. They consented and I proved unteachable and lazy. Practice? What the hell was that? Acoustic? I wanted to jack into a big Fender stack and crank it!

So, they soon pulled the plug on the lessons and it was many years later, on my own dime, that I tried again. There was only one problem, I CAN'T READ MUSIC. WTF? I had gotten well past the point of learning a new "language".

But I could sing and I had rhythm. I could keep time like Desi Arnaz, on his congas. So, I joined the boys chorus in grade school and sang my sweet, little soprano heart out. The songs SUCKED. One painful memory is "The New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students Conservatory Band". It was from some Broadway show of the era, or the era way before cool. God I hated that song. It went on and on. Didn't composers of that era know about a hook? Or a guitar solo? I wanted to sing catchy, rock songs.

One day, I heard a song on the radio that I thought was The Partridge Family. It turned out to be Queen, performing "You're My Best Friend". I was instantly hooked. Freddie Mercury had an impressive range and the songs were simple and melodic. Then came "Bohemian Rhapsody". I could sing it pretty well but I knew what a difficult piece it was. My next door neighbor Jeanine's greasy, little boyfriend Louie showed up and he could sing it a whole lot better than I did. Hmm. So, I knew I had my limitations but I didn't let that stop me from singing, though.

We formed a little band, of sorts. My neighbor Pete had a white Ibanez strat, Bob Wragg had a Gibson Les Paul, brother Bobby had some sort of drum kit and I bought a mic and stand, which played through one of the amps. And we jammed. We probably knew about three or four songs. That was it, our entire repertoire. I think we knew "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" all the way through. When I say practice, I really mean hang out in the garage after school, make some noise and smoke cigarettes. We had more discussion than actual playing. "Can you play this?" "No." "Can you play, this?? "No".

Of our little four-man combo, only Bob Wragg practiced and could actually play his guitar. Pete was a hack and I don't even think took lessons. His parents just indulged his expensive whims to placate him. Bob PRACTICED. He spent hours indoors when we were out running around, trying to get into trouble or trying to get one of the neighborhood girls to kiss us. So, we soon drifted apart and the "sessions" came to a halt.

My dreams of becoming a rock star took a back seat to more practical things. I did well in high school. I didn't have to work at all to maintain a B average. I played soccer and enjoyed it as much as one can, under the tutelage of a German Varsity coach, who took his training drills from the East German Army. There were girls and more ineptitude. The fumblings in the dark at school dances. Experimentation, education, learning.

College arrived, I put my thoughts of singing out of my head, with the exception of the Freddie Mercury and David Bowie posters in my room freshman year. Who knew back then that Freddie Mercury was gay, or that David Bowie was bi-sexual? Jeez, not me, seriously. Not that I'm biased, but the guys in the fraternity didn't get it and the posters came down. Besides, my roommate that first year was a big, puffy marshmallow of a guy named Scott and who knows what he did while looking at my posters, when I wasn't around. He could have been my first gay friend but chose to BFF my girlfriend instead. I wonder where he is now?

Years later, here I am, no talent, still torturing myself and others, with my guitar-playing. My voice is shot from age, booze and cigars. I don't sound like Tom Waits yet, but give it time. It's sad to see artists not progress from the adolescent sounds they can create when they're 20 and become "stars". I recall some rock and roll induction ceremony not long ago where John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful) CROAKED his way through "Do You Believe in Magic". Sad. Pathetic. I felt really badly for him.

So, there it is. I'll never have that dream fulfilled and I don't even know why I carried it along for so many years. I blame the Beatles for making me want it so much. If I'd had a more realistic role model (and achievable goals) then, who knows? Maybe I wouldn't be sitting here, wondering what I'm going to do today. Perhaps my career would have taken a different direction. I should have given more serious consideration to my father's offer to go into his business. Maybe I could have learned something at his feet, gone from apprentice to master. But I had pride. I was a college graduate. Manual labor was beneath me. I should have listened to Marsellus Wallace (to Butch, the fighter):

"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps."

Maybe soon, I'll get over myself and get back to work. I know I can't sing, unless it's in my helmet, at speed. They say, "In Space, no one can hear you scream". The same is true when I'm riding. No one can hear me sing.

Riding season is almost here. Time to put take the charger off and put the seat back on. Now where the hell is my iPod? Ride safe!

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

Saturday, February 13, 2010

In contemplation of the season's first ride...

Usually by this time of the year, I'm pissin' and moanin' about the winter weather and how much it sucks to live in NH and only ride for about six months out of the year. So, I'm quite surprised at the fact that winter has been particularly mild here and I've got nothing to bitch about! Still, it has been a few months since my last ride and I can't wait for the day I roll the bike out of the garage again.

With the dry and warm winter, I have a clear driveway and riding seems to be right around the corner. We had a few days that were sunny and near 40 and a few brave souls were out, on local short rides in the city of Nashua. Usually, I can spot members of BMW Nation, who tend to ride no matter how much salt is on the road. They don their one-piece riding suits and brave the elements because A.) They can and B.) It's the Germanic Superiority Complex at work. A little Freudian analysis would uncover the homo-erotic attachment to their bikes. As President Bill Clinton would say "Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar."

Despite what that furry, Pennsylvanian rodent Punxatawney Phil had to say this year, I predict an early riding season. With the absence of a layer of ice on my driveway, I'll be out well before the town gets around to sweeping up all of the sand and salt they dumped so far this year. The city mice fared even better, with warmer temps and less weather overall. The one challenge, as it is every year, will be the frost heaves. "Love don't show up in the pavement cracks." The roads in our area are a mogul-field of humps and bumps, threatening to launch you out of your seat and trash your suspension. It's hard enough driving on this with four wheels.

Still, in about two weeks (February 28, 2010) I'll be ready to ride, should the weather cooperate. One can hope and hope springs eternal. Hope Lang springs to mind as the Ghost & Mrs. Muir, but that leads us to Muir Woods and a bit North of San Francisco. How did I get clear across the country? How am I gonna get back?

Okay, I swear, someone put a roofie in my coffee. I'll be clear-headed and less addled with a few miles under my belt. Looking forward to riding soon, with or without you. I think this year will be a new adventure.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket