“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. I 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!
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.
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.
“When you drive a car, it’s like watching a movie. When you ride a motorcycle, it’s like being in the movie.”
I can’t remember where I’ve heard those words, but it’s a decent analogy of the difference between riding on a motorcycle and traveling inside a vehicle. It’s not easy to describe that feeling of heightened awareness, especially to someone who’s never been on a bike. There’s more of a sense of being in the moment, and a connectedness with your surroundings when you’re in the wind as opposed to driving in something with more climate control. It all adds to the excitement of a ride and the suspense of what could happen next. Especially if a wild animal is involved.
In my last column, I mentioned a black bear sighting while riding on Skyline Drive. Here are the details of a slightly unnerving, yet awesome experience. In the summer of 2009, I rode up into the mountains with my friend Debbie to take advantage of the cooler temperatures at that elevation. I was in the lead as we enjoyed Skyline’s big sweeping curves and scenery, mostly by ourselves since it was a weekday and the traffic was light.
Our ride was interrupted when I noticed a man on a bicycle pulled over on the side of the road. While passing him, I realized he wasn’t just waving, but signaling for us to stop. When I did, he came up alongside me and asked if he could ride through with us. As I wondered exactly how fast this guy could pedal, the confusion must have shown on my face.
“There’s a bear up there, I’d just feel more comfortable going past it with you guys”, he explained. I looked where he pointed, up ahead on the mountain slope to our right. Sure enough, I saw a bear peeking out at us from the tall weeds before it lowered its head back down and was hidden from view.
Thoughts of oh, wow and cool flew through my head. I told him I understood and asked if he was ready to go. He nodded, then suddenly screamed, “NO! NO! THERE HE IS!”
I focused back on the hill to see our furry friend now lumbering down to the pavement, and that was the last I saw of the bicyclist. Don’t worry, he wasn’t attacked and eaten. I have no idea how long the bear had kept him engaged in this standoff, but that man was DONE! I caught a glimpse of him in one of my side mirrors making his escape back the way we had come. It occurred to me he probably COULD pedal fast enough to keep up with a motorcycle! With his knees pumping so quickly they became a blur, he resembled a big pink hummingbird in a helmet, and managed to whiz away in seconds.
I turned my attention back to the bear. Long and lanky, apparently an adolescent, he ambled his way onto the road in front of us. An oncoming pickup truck stopped in the other lane as the bear continued to cross in front of it. I watched in awe as it climbed up on the stone wall on our left. But instead of disappearing over it and down the side of the mountain, he turned back to face the road and sat down.
I wondered if this bear was young enough for mama to be nearby, and started to worry that if so- would she see our idling motorcycles as a couple of snarling enemies she’d need to attack in order to protect the baby? With the bear simply sitting and checking out his audience, I turned to see Debbie wearing a kid-at-Christmas-grin. Disappointed that neither of us could reach a camera quickly, we decided it was probably a good idea to get moving anyway.
Even without a picture I’ll always remember the way the bear looked as we eased by, at one point just a few yards away, keeping the bikes as quiet as we could. I hoped if it decided to chase us we’d have enough time to react and speed ahead behind the vehicles now lining up from the other direction. But it only leaned forward from its perch, head nodding and nose twitching as it sniffed at the air between us. That is one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had while riding a motorcycle.
Memories are part of what makes the winter months more…well…bearable! Over the past few weeks, days that were nice enough to get out on the bike were few and far between. Spring is on the way though, full of much better riding conditions. Let’s just hope it gets here as fast as that pink hummingbird guy could.
A light rain fell all morning during my niece’s recent lacrosse tournament. While the mist didn’t seem to dampen any of the players’ spirits, it did manage to turn the fields used as parking lots for the event into slimy mud pits. “Look at this mess,” my boyfriend muttered as he maneuvered the SUV back onto the slick road to leave. I have to admit I was relieved not to be on two wheels that day, even as my mind wandered down a very slippery memory lane to another time when I was.
It happened during an impromptu ride to explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Vacation in the summer of 2009 was supposed to consist of a group road trip to Kentucky to reunite with a bunch of friends. You know how plans go sometimes…they don’t. With only about a week left before the departure date, a few of the participants had to cancel, a few decided to reschedule for later, and that left me and my friend Debbie with time off from work and a need for Plan B. We started naming places we hadn’t been yet, but wanted to visit, and agreed on Chincoteague as our destination.
We had a blast; over and through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, straight to Chincoteague to find a place to stay and check out the town, then on to continue our adventure by heading south and making stops in places off route 13 that had captured our interest on the way up. During one break in Onley, imagine our surprise to discover a bike rally was just getting started nearby. We checked into a hotel, then rode over to the event grounds to investigate. We met some great folks and found out the schedule for the weekend included games, wrestling matches, bands, and vendors. We also learned camping space was available and while we hadn’t brought any supplies, we could rent a tent from the organizers. We took them up on that when we returned the next afternoon, especially considering bottomless mugs o’ beer would be available throughout the rally.
It was so much fun I really didn’t pay much attention to the on-again, off-again showers throughout that night. I didn’t really think about the rain until the next morning when I ventured out of the tent looking for coffee. I was distracted by a bit of commotion at the lone entrance/exit to the rally site, as those attempting to leave slipped, slid, and wiped out on their bikes in the mud. It was like watching some sort of bizarre biker rodeo game going horribly wrong. Wet weather had taken its toll on the short driveway from the road onto the soaked property. The event organizers had tried to help fix the problem by spreading shells and gravel across what was becoming a huge mire, but too much traffic had come and gone leaving deep trenches of glop to try to navigate through. As I stood there, another rider made it through the muck at the gate only to flop over on the road, and I cringed at the sound of chrome scraping pavement. Then I noticed a vendor we’d met during the previous night’s live music waving me over closer to the action.
“Ain’t this a mess?! Me and most of the other vendors with RVs and trailers have sank down into the field and are waiting on trucks to come pull us out. I’ve been watching this all morning, and here’s what you gotta do to get out of here.”
I paid attention as he explained we’d have to approach the gate from left to right. He pointed out the track most riders were following to find success in staying upright, and told me to approach the gate almost parallel to the opening to stay where the mud was the shallowest. He warned that we would have keep heading right once we were on the road, because a thin layer of mud had been smeared up onto the surface. That coating was hard to see, like black ice. He’d seen many make the mistake of thinking they were good to go once they reached the asphalt, only to roll on the throttle and have the bike shimmy out from under them. Aha, that’s how the peg-crunching topple I’d witnessed a bit earlier had happened. It was now understood that not only would we have to head off in the wrong direction, we’d have to ride far enough to reach bare pavement to keep from taking a spill in a U-turn, and pass over the film of mud again to point ourselves home. I thanked him for the tips, and went to fill Debbie in on the details.
“This has the potential to suck,” I announced.
“What’s the matter, are you afraid you’ll drop your bike?”
“No, I’m afraid if I drop it there’s no way to get any footing or leverage for me or anyone to lift it back up.”
I finished packing my bike with disturbing visions of it on its side in ankle-deep sludge flashing through my head. I could just imagine a half-dozen well-meaning people trying to help me upright it. And instead, we’d all wind up in a Woodstock-inspired, grime-coated pseudo game of Twister on a motorcycle instead of the usual multi-colored gumball-stamped mat.
Finally, we were ready to try and make our escape. We putted our bikes around to the left side of the gate and paused to watch a rider with his dog in a sidehack ease his way through the exit. A guy waiting for someone to come tow his camper out yelled, “Good luck, honey!” I thanked him and then tuned in to hear my inner voice chanting:
NOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVESNOSUDDENMOVES, as we slowly squiggled, wiggled, and painstakingly churned our way to solid ground. Once I was sure I was on dry pavement, I glanced back to see Debbie still following, and thankfully still vertical. We turned our bikes around, and carefully crossed the slimy patch of road in front of the gate to start the ride home.
A couple of days after that we rode up on Skyline Drive and encountered a black bear, but that’s a story on its own for another time. No matter what jogs your memory, here’s hoping you can reminisce on beautiful rides and laugh at the stickier situations. And as you look back at the old year and anticipate what the new one will bring on this strange trip of life, my wish is that you’ll find more smiles than tears. Cheers and Happy New Year!