“Mid-Atlantic! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down both lanes…….”

As motorcycle riders we all love to be “in the wind”. Lately that phrase seems to take on a whole new meaning. Last year around this time, heading out for a ride involved constantly dodging raindrops. Now it seems like every other week I’m trying to stay upright in extremely heavy wind gusts. Unfortunately, this weather usually coincides with the garbage collection schedule once or twice a week, which leads to an annoying round of the how-many-houses-away-will-the-trashcan-be-today game. I don’t remember all these high wind warnings and advisories occurring as frequently or violently in the past. Actually before I got my own bike, I really didn’t consider how much the wind could affect a ride. It didn’t take long to learn that lesson.

I’d only been riding my own for a few months and was still on my first bike, a light little Suzuki Savage 650. When I met up with a buddy for a scenic ride in the country, he mentioned that the forecast for the afternoon was windy. We decided to head out anyway and although I don’t remember what speed the gusts were that day, I do recall feeling like the wind could blast me off the road or into the lane of oncoming traffic. At our first stop my friend asked how I was doing. Trying to keep my voice from shaking, I told him I didn’t mean to be melodramatic but I was truly scared of the wind pushing me into losing control of the bike. It was a huge relief when he reassured me that even with a heavier bike and more riding experience, he wasn’t comfortable either. Luckily, the breezes slowed throughout a lunch break and had gotten much more manageable before it was time to head home.

Several years and another bike later, I was again caught by surprise on a blustery afternoon. This time, the ride to work on my Sportster had been relaxing. The return home however, was quite a different story thanks to unexpected gusts from 45 to 50 mph. I tried to stick to the backroads in the woods where there was a little more shelter. Inevitably, a break in the tree line would send me out into the open again to be walloped with another gale. I weebled and wobbled for a good 30 minutes, wondering part of the time if the driver of the van behind me was going to call the police and report me as a suspected DWI! Laughing about it afterwards at a local bike night, a bunch of friends teased me and said I probably wouldn’t like riding in the plains or flat parts of Texas. One buddy reminisced about a day-long trip he’d taken, spending the whole time leaning into the wind almost sideways to keep from being blown away. I can’t imagine.

Still, I dream of eventually getting the opportunity to take a cross country trip- different weather included as it’s part of the adventure of different sights. This season, to one extreme or another I’m sure we’ll get lots of practice riding in all kinds of conditions here closer to home. Practice makes perfect? I’d say any ride makes for practice that IS perfect!

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Tired of winter? Here’s a band-aid!

A winter storm passed through this part of the country leaving everything coated with an icy glaze for a couple of days. Once the roads were cleared, people gradually got back to their normal routines. This time of year that usually means I’m commuting to work while it’s still dark. But a delay after a morning trip to the veterinarian’s with my dog meant driving my truck across a mountain as the sun was rising. I wish I could have taken pictures because I don’t think I can describe how truly incredible the view was. All the different hues of daybreak were reflected off the frozen trees, every branch sparkling as if thousands of twinkling lights had been strung throughout the woods. It was so breathtaking I’ve thought about it often, trying to make sure I’ll remember the scene and store it with other mental snapshots of mine. Small moments like this do so much to soothe the ache of waiting for better riding conditions. Even though I had to constantly watch for patches of black ice, and it had been several weeks since it was nice enough to get out on the bike, I realized how much I do love the beauty of all the seasons in the Mid-Atlantic.

Whether your winter downtime consists of a few weeks or a few months, at least it’s a good opportunity to get the bike ready for when it is riding season.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is value in taking a basic rider course from an organization like MSF. Not only will you learn important riding skills, but also tips on caring for your motorcycle. Although it’s been quite a while since I took the class, I can recall the acronym they gave for the pre-ride motorcycle inspection checklist: T-CLOCS, Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Stands. I will admit, I have to search that on the web to get into the full details of each category. It seems there’s no more room in my brain to store them between those photos committed to memory and about 1,583,033,206 different song lyrics. Oh, and of course, riding memories! So even if you have to refer to a list like I do, or you’re so familiar with your bike maintenance routine that it’s automatic, make sure you take advantage of foul weather days to give your ride the TLC it needs. Nobody wants to wait out the cold weather only to miss riding when a nice day arrives because there is something wrong with the motorcycle. The same goes for finding out there’s an overlooked issue with the bike that leaves you stranded on the side of the road.

When I first started riding I was guilty of taking off without spending-a minute to look over even just the basics.  During a break on a ride through Luray, my buddy “Skid” was checking out my bike and noticed some sort of blemish on the rear tire. There was a cut in the tread that didn’t appear to be leaking air, but he didn’t like it. The tear could have been made by running over something that day, but because I hadn’t given the tires a simple once over before I left home, I couldn’t be sure. There happened to be an auto-parts store next door, and he asked me to go over and pick up some Fix-a-Flat just to make him feel better in case we discovered I had a slow leak later in the day. His girlfriend walked with me, and after making the purchase we decided it was time to have a little fun. I stashed the can in my purse, and asked the cashier for a band-aid so we could introduce Skid to the latest and greatest in tire repair.

When we got back to the bikes and I appeared to be empty handed, he asked if I’d got the Fix-a-Flat. I told him I couldn’t because they were out of it, but they sold me something they said was better and even easier to use. Brandishing the band-aid and doing my best to stay serious, I explained how I was instructed to place the bandage over the cut on the tire. Skid took the strip from me, looked at it, looked at the tire, and back at me, “WHAT?”

“Yes”, I continued. “They said it would work even better if I spit on the pad first. And the best part is it only cost 8 bucks!” Poor Skid kept staring at the band-aid; he turned it over, inspected it, and turned it back again. Finally he looked up at me with an expression on his face that was all too easy to read. He was trying to figure out how to tell me I was the biggest moron on the planet without making me cry. I couldn’t take it anymore, and burst out laughing, letting him off the hook. With spring on the way, I’d advise you to invest in a service manual for your motorcycle. Do learn the basics of bike maintenance and perform them regularly. Do carry a first aid kit in a saddlebag, with band-aids included. Don’t expect them to patch a tire, but they could come in handy for minor situations like bee stings or pulling a friend’s leg!

 

 

What’s on your list of “firsts”?

Happy New Year! I’m not one for making resolutions anymore. It seemed to become this grade school-like exercise where the assignment is to list a bunch of your petty faults, along with a set of rules to follow to fix yourself. Oh, and if you’re not perfect by March then you fail! No thanks. I do love to reflect on my favorite adventures from the past year and look forward to all the new experiences and “firsts” to come in the next 365 days. There are roads to ride, places to visit, and people to meet for the first time. If riding your own motorcycle is on YOUR list of firsts, make this the year it happens!

I’ve mentioned the lady rider who inspired me to get my own motorcycle before, and with the I-can-do-anything-attitude my mom gifted me, I knew it would happen. But, where do you start? My advice to you is the same I received; take a motorcycle riding/safety course. Mine consisted of a classroom session on a Friday night, then a half day of training on the range Saturday and Sunday, with testing at the end. Passing the course, which met requirements established by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, meant I didn’t have to take an additional driving test at the DMV. Also, there were discounts available from participating insurance companies after receiving a completion certificate. Since it’s been… a while since that weekend, I thought I’d check with friends who are, or were class instructors to see if the experience is still similar. Ruth was an instructor in Central Virginia and confirmed that the course is still much as I remembered it. Like me, she’d ridden as a passenger before riding a bike on her own. She explained how that transitioned into becoming a RiderCoach:

I dated guys with motorcycles in my teens and rode as a passenger, but hadn’t operated a motorcycle until 1998, when I took the Basic Rider Course (BRC) in Charlottesville, VA.  A couple of years after taking the course, I got a job working in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ Community Education Department.  The Basic Rider Course was one of the classes offered through Community Ed.  I learned more about what a great service the DMV-sponsored course provided the public by the positive feedback from students.  Most raved about the course, the RiderCoaches, and what a great experience they had.  By 2007, I had enough riding experience and decided I wanted a better understanding of the course we offered, so I took the Motorcycle Instructor course through the DMV.  It was intense; a couple of very stressful weekends of studying, gaining and practicing skills that would assist students to safely operate a motorcycle.  I was the only woman in that group of 15 men to become a certified RiderCoach.

Coach Rod is still an instructor through this program and was inspired by Ruth to take a class and then go on to be certified as a RiderCoach right along with her:

My inspiration to become a rider coach started at the picnic table of my best friend’s bike shop. Several of my riding friends were talking about taking the basic rider course. It was a safety class I guessed but had NEVER heard of such thing and didn’t know it existed. They asked if I had taken the course and I was like NO, I’ve been riding 30 plus years, never been down what have I got to learn? They had ALL taken it and said you might be surprised at what you will learn. Ruth was one of those riders and she convinced me to take the class. It was a gorgeous September day on day one and it went well. It poured buckets on day 2 and was cold and miserable! What I learned about myself as a rider was amazing. I was a lazy braker, (usually just the rear and the front if needed), my cornering was marginal. There was just a lot I was not doing properly. After 2 days I was a better rider than I had been my entire life. At that moment I knew I wanted to teach this class. It was fun, exciting and it just might save a life.

Rodman also points out where you can get more details on taking a class, “You can pick a class by signing up for the weekend of your choice at opendoors1.org or visit the MSF website to find the classes closest to you. VA has 350,000 riders. We add about 7000 more each year through this program. For roughly 150 bucks you get great training and a chance to learn on someone else’s bike!!!  You only need a driver’s license and the proper attire. We provide helmets and bikes. Under 19 requires a parental signature. It’s a ton of fun and two days of great work.”

Rod’s brother, Clark, also teaches the course! He explains, “My Brother got me into being an instructor after he had been doing it for a while. His conviction on just how much one could benefit from the course did it for me. After taking the class myself, I realized that I wasn’t the rider I thought I was. Always room for improvement!”

If you have no experience on motorcycles, even as a passenger, don’t let that deter you from taking the class. One such student stands out in Clark’s memories as an instructor:

This student came in with nervous enthusiasm. She knew in her heart she was going to get that Ducati monster after getting her permit. She insisted on a bike that was a bit taller than we would have liked but handled it with determination. She did well all weekend and had a near perfect riding exam. When we handed her the permit and gave her her score she gave us a huge smile and said, “So I did ok for never having ridden before?!” That weekend was the first time she had ever sat on a bike!!

Maryann was also inspired by a family member to become a riding instructor in Northern Virginia:

I have been riding since my college days. The summer of 1969. We used to go hill climbing when we weren’t in class. I had a 3 gear 120cc Suzuki. It had a shifter that would cut the gear ratio in half for trail riding. I raced TT Scrambles in Lodi, CA – on a 100cc Hodaka. I didn’t ride after my oldest son was around 2 until my kids were grown. Then it was only street riding. My son-in-law was the one who wanted to become an instructor. I went along because it sounded like fun. And it was! We taught a lot together. Lots of mother-in-law jokes. It’s a great course. Within 3 days I watch people who have never been on a motorcycle become decent and safe riders. That is the most fun. Watching the light bulb go on. Changing from someone who is afraid to lean the motorcycle to someone who can ride a curve, or swerve, with good form.

Anyone else in the area looking for more information on this class can go to nvcc.edu, and search for the basic motorcycle rider course. No matter what state, once you do some investigating, you’ll find a course convenient to your location to suit you along with awesome teachers like Ruth, Rod, Clark, and Maryann. One thing these four instructors have in common is their advice to new riders. All of them stress the importance of practicing basic skills and riding your own ride. In other words, don’t get pushed past your comfort zone by other riders as you gain experience.

These coaches have also mentioned that a big part of what makes teaching fun is when a student is successful, and they see the rider “get it” for the first time when it comes to learning a new skill. Be that student! Worried about looking “foolish”? Check out Ruth’s recollection of a student who stood out for the wrong reasons:

My most memorable event as an instructor was when a student came back to class Sunday morning with a hangover and still a little intoxicated.  While attending a party, he had passed out in a theater and wasn’t sure what happened to his riding attire. He came to class wearing Shakespearean tights, mismatched socks, colorful slippers, and a see-through mesh shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.  He said he grabbed clothes from the costume closet.  He fully expected to finish the course in that state and seemed stupefied that we sent him away.  

After that example, I think it would be more foolish to stay home and not take a chance on yourself and reaching a new goal. I might see you on the range too, looking back on the fun I had in my own class, this might be the year I take my first refresher course!

‘Tis the Season to be Soggy?

Imagine you’re at one of your favorite biker bars and a man yells, “Uh-oh! Look what’s coming!”

What do you think you’re going to see when you look up? Maybe it’s this guy’s buddy, finally making an appearance at the ol’ watering hole? Do you expect to see everyone’s dream bike pulling into the parking lot? Or could he be pointing out that there’s a beautiful woman walking through the front door?

In the situation I found myself in, everyone turned to see someone staring out the window…at a nasty looking, black and gray line of clouds heading our way. Resembling a dropped bag of marbles, we scattered to our bikes and rolled out in all directions before the storm hit. I don’t think police sirens can even break up a party that fast!

I also don’t think I’ve seen a year we’ve received as much rain as this one! As I begin to write this, it looks like a trip to Colonial Beach, VA for Bikefest 2018 could be partially soggy. It makes me wonder if there will be ANY dry days for riding and watching the leaves fall, or more filled with rain and a transition right on into snowfall.

As winter and the holiday season draw closer, I can say some of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever been given involve riding with protection against the elements. One year, my dad gave me a rain suit. With a worried look on his face, he asked me if it was too big and if I thought it would come in handy. I told him I hoped not, but it was really going to be nice to have it just in case! Naturally it has been put to good use quite often. The larger size actually works well for layering if it’s cold. Plus, we know it’s possible for gear and leather to mysteriously “shrink”, especially after all those holiday feasts!

Whether you’re looking to give or receive, another great gift item that will elevate comfort and extend the riding season into cold weather is any type of heated gear. In the past, I had tried different tips and tricks I’d heard about in an attempt to keep warm. Then, my brother gave me a pair of heated gloves, and with a gift certificate from my mom I picked up a jacket liner to go with them. Simply connect it to the battery of the bike and it feels like riding with an electric blanket wrapped around you. This turned out to be the best solution for me, and really works to keep the ride pleasant enough to stay on the road when the temperatures drop lower. Particularly when that change is quicker and more sudden than expected, like during the aforementioned 5th Annual Bikefest at Colonial Beach.

The lingering effects of Hurricane/Storm Michael led a small group of us to delay the ride down by a day, not being fans of torrential downpours even with rain suits. With another look at the forecasted highs and lows and the chill of the heavy wind gusts that wouldn’t diminish for two days, I unpacked some of my lightweight clothes to make room for sweats and dug the heated gear out of the closet for the trek to the festival. Once there we made up for lost time, taking in all we could up and down the beach. Much like, as my friend Sharon described, a bunch of kids running amok at an amusement parkIMG_20181015_112206 desperate not to miss anything.

There were vendors and events to check out, foods to sample, and a steady stream of free live music all along this scenic stretch of the Potomac River. Area favorites like Blues Rebellion and Grindin’ Gears could be found at High Tides Black Pearl Tiki Bar and Dockside Restaurant, while The Artimus Pyle Band and Buckcherry took to the main stage at Town Hill during the weekend. The final day the breezes slowed, and I headed home with only occasional drizzle to deal with and a smile still on my face.

The best part of this rally was sharing the fun with good people and making memories to look back and laugh on. May Thanksgiving and Christmas be blessed with more of the same for everyone.

 

Summer Storms On…

“The strongest of bonds very often have nothing to do with flesh. Sometimes it’s longing that yokes people together, and in ways that are not understood but still endure all things.”

That quote is from Billy Coffey’s novel, “Some Small Magic”. If you enjoy a suspenseful story with plenty of surprises, you should check it out for yourself. At the time I read it, those particular lines really stuck with me. Although the plot involves an amazing journey, the book has nothing to do with motorcycles. Yet I feel those words come close to explaining the somewhat indescribable way some riders relate to each other- the tie that binds you to kindred spirits. That connection to those fellow adventure seekers who need to ride, yearn to take to the open road on two wheels, and who can become lifelong family through those experiences. I feel thankful and blessed for the friends I’ve made through a common love of riding.

For example, over 10 years ago, I “wandered” into an online motorcycle forum where you could find tips on maintenance and other repairs. What I also found was a virtual atmosphere so much like what you have in actual bike shops that it felt like home. Not only could you find valuable technical support there, but a lot of laughter too. At one point, a couple of “regulars” opened their home to everyone for an in-person meet. Reunions with this crazy cast of characters have been held once or twice each year in different locations since.

My first chance to attend in 2007 turned out to be one of my favorite road trips, not only because of the adventure itself, but the company. I’ve thought of it often this summer because it’s been a stormy season, and that vacation involved riding through the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever encountered. While getting caught in the rain is just a part of riding, getting caught in a rain-gear penetrating, frog-strangling cloudburst is admittedly not my favorite. In this case, a deluge hit four of us as we rode the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway into New Orleans. I’m not sure what made the visibility worse, the torrential downpour or the glare coming off my white knuckles as I held onto my grips for dear life. I spent my time on that bridge praying a gust of wind wouldn’t push me and the Sportster right over the side, and that I wouldn’t run over the buddy riding in front of me because it was so hard to see. Reaching the city was a huge relief despite flooded streets. We all put our feet down in knee deep water at the first stop, exhaust pipes gurgling bubbles just under the surface! Reminiscing on that and other memories from the trip during the latest gathering with these good friends in Bryson City, NC was a highlight of my July.

Gettysburg Bike Week is another well-anticipated July event, and this year was a blast. G'burgI think Gettysburg is a place everyone should visit at some point, and when you ride why not take in the town’s history, local businesses, and welcoming atmosphere along with with thousands of others on two wheels? The roads around the area make for gorgeous rides through scenic farmland and shaded mountains, depending on the direction you choose. Cruising through the monuments at Gettysburg National Military Park is a must. The town is full of vendors and activities to investigate, as are the grounds of Battlefield Harley Davidson. Conveniently down the road from the dealership is Earle’s Inn Pub & Grille, a great place to cool down and get a burger. Head to the Allstar Events Complex for more, including the Parade of Chrome on Saturday night and live music throughout Bike Week. The 2018 Friday night lineup featured Lita Ford who put on an awesome show. I noticed she’s making the rounds at other regional venues and bike events this fall and would recommend that you catch her if you can.

Meanwhile on a hot August day, I finished collecting the marbles I need for the ABATE of MD Marble Run! This may come as a shock, but after my last stop I had to race home to get there before the gathering black clouds started leaking profusely. (I did mention it’s a stormy riding season in the Mid-Atlantic, didn’t I?) Completing the run early cleared the calendar for other events coming up in the next couple of months, but I really had fun discovering new places and meeting new folks. There’s still time to try your own luck, get a book and check out the stops on the run. Prizes will be awarded at the After Party on October 6th at the Frederick Moose Lodge. See the Frederick County, MD Chapter ABATE page on facebook or email me if you need more details. While you’re at it, send me suggestions of any good books you’ve read lately. I always like to keep something handy in case I need to sit out a rainstorm and these days it seems one could come along any minute!

S’warm out…

SUMMERTIME! Just the word evokes visions of baseball, beaches, and cookouts. It’s one of the most anticipated times of year for anyone who loves the outdoors, especially if you ride a motorcycle. Everybody revels in racking up miles on long days full of good weather, either in the mountains or down by the water. No matter where you are, it’s likely you could wind up having a run-in with the butt end of a bee. It happens. I find baking soda and water can sap the pain instantly for some bee stings, while others seem to be neutralized better with an acidic approach like lemon juice. And while it might hurt, no matter what remedy you use to soothe the ache, you could also wind up with a little comic relief too.

My buddy Earl believed in the power of tobacco when I had my first pointed encounter. He was taking me on a tour of nice roads around White Hall, Virginia. It was early in the day, still a chill in the air, but I was comfortable wearing a denim jacket over my tank top as well as a pair of lightweight gloves. At least until I felt like I’d been stabbed in my upper back with a poison-dipped ice pick. I sped up to yelp at Earl that I needed to pull over, and once stopped, I jumped off the bike and tried to get my jacket off. This turned out to be impossible since in my panic I forgot to take the gloves off first. By the time poor Earl pulled up, I resembled a deranged bobblehead doll doing the Twist on the side of the road, jacket flapping behind me stuck at my wrists.

“GET IT OUT, GET IT OUT!” I screamed, convinced that the pain in my throbbing back meant the stinger was still there, along with the bee. A laughing Earl assured me nothing was there except a small welt, and we rode down to a little country store for an ultimately unsuccessful search of baking soda. Earl insisted tobacco would help ease the pain, so as he scrounged up a band-aid from somewhere, I picked up a cheap pack of smokes and a bottle of water. He proceeded to mix some water and tobacco together and before he could bandage it over the sting, I turned for a quick peek in my side mirror. The small welt he said I had looked more like a third elbow growing out from between my shoulder blades, and he admitted he was just trying to make me feel better by downplaying the damage. The makeshift poultice didn’t make me feel much better either, and I still wonder exactly what stung me.

Another time, that telltale burning jolt hit me on my left hand as I rode through Front Royal, Va. Looking down, I was shocked to see a bee staring back at me from one of the holes on the knuckle of my glove. Worried it was alive and would sting me again, I started punching my leg and shaking my hand to get rid of the bee. When I finally swerved to a stop at a red light, I ripped off the glove to make sure the bee was gone. My friend Debbie pulled up beside me and giggled, “What the hell was that?!”

“Oh sorry… you didn’t know whether to turn left, slow down, watch for railroad tracks, or do the Hokey *^$^&# Pokey did ya? I got stung by a bee!” After a stop at a watering hole in Culpeper for refreshments and to ice down my hand for a while, (no baking soda again), the rest of the ride was very nice. Pulling the clutch was tricky for the next couple of days though as my hand resembled a softball, and I didn’t really have any knuckles to speak of.

Finally, the biggest surprise from one of these little bzztrdz came while on a road trip with 3 girlfriends to ride the Tail of the Dragon in 2006. Luckily, it didn’t occur on one of the 318 famed curves of the renowned road, because it was hard enough to keep control when it did. Once we’d finished the Tail and were pulling into a gas station parking lot in Tennessee, I suddenly felt like someone had slugged me across my stomach with a 2×4. I did manage to stop and park the bike, although all the wind had been knocked out of me. Yanking up my tee shirt, sweatshirt, and leather jacket, I discovered A YELLOW JACKET CIRCLING MY NAVEL! Frozen in place, trying to catch my breath and figure out how it got there, I watched as my friend, Linda came to the rescue. She flicked the bee away, yelling, “Did that thing just sting you?!” It sure had. I honestly don’t remember if I found any baking soda to try on that wound, but I do remember that my belly button had its own pulse for the rest of the day.

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Tail of the Dragon: pre-bee!

While I’m hoping to ride lots of bee-free miles this year, I believe a future sting is inevitable. But if the 3 strikes I’ve recalled leave me out for the rest of this season, I’m OK with that.

Accidental Timing

I’ve used this photo as the background for various lines and captions. It receives lots of compliments from those who think it’s a cool shot. So I feel like I must confess, the picture wasn’t planned. I was riding my Sportster with my camera dangling by its strap from the left handlebar. If I saw an image I wanted to capture, I simply scooped it up and shot. In this case, I got lucky. I aimed where I thought my shadow was and clicked.

The result? A different perspective.

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The lesson? Always have your camera nearby. You never know what memory you’ll manage to save.

via Photo Challenge: Lines