Archive for March, 2007

Ridin’ Green on St. Patrick’s Day

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Weather: Sunny and 38°F (3°C)
Road Conditions: Sure and it’s just a wee bit of salt and sand ye have to watch out for.

Frogwing poses by the Sign O’ The Snake, near Prescott, Wisconsin.

Saint Patrick was celebrated for driving the snakes out of Ireland. I don’t know why he had to drive them out, since no species of snake that that I know of eats potatoes or cabbage, or Irishmen, for that matter. Perhaps it was all a mass hallucination brought on by early attempts at distilling whiskey, who knows?

Be that as it may, the legend persists to this day, and on March 17th every year, people who are not even the tiniest bit Irish use this as an excuse to dress all in green and talk like the leprechaun from the Lucky Charms commercials.

Well, I don’t hold with that nonsense. My ancesters came from France, and the bloodline has been here in the United States long enough that we Charpentiers have even dropped the proper pronunciation of our name. What was once a very classy-sounding “Shar-pon-tee-yay” has been whittled down to “Sharpen-teer”, probably because of the constant whining of Anglo Americans who can’t wrap their mouths around a proper French name.

But, as usual, I digress…

For the past several years, it has been my custom to ride to Wisconsin whenever Saint Patrick’s Day occurs on a weekend. Not only does this get me away from the Irish madness of the Twin Cities on a day when the roads will be filled with drunken amatuers, but it also allows me to reconnoiter my favorite local roads in preparation for the regular riding season.

Just as Saint Patrick chased the snakes out of his homeland, I go abroad into the Land of Cheese to search for snakes of the tarmac variety. These are well marked by signs such as the one pictured at the top of the page, and they abound in the bluff country along the Saint Croix River.

This year, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday, I rode my green motorbike, Frogwing.

We found lots of sand, plenty of salt, but for the most part the roads were dry and in good condition. We didn’t venture onto the Rustic Roads yet, because many of these are in shaded areas, and I’m sure they still have lots of ice on them.

Frogwing and I rode a 90-mile loop of the roads on both sides of the border, stopping here and there to see what’s new and inquire about how many bikers are on the roads this early in the season. We encountered only three other motorbikes during our short ride, and they were all going in the opposite direction. The guy on the BMW waved, but the couple on Harleys did not. From the look of them, they were probably either frozen stiff, or suffering the effects of too much “anti-freeze”.

Enrique’s Tacos has also become a tradition for that first long ride of Spring.

Now, I’m not a big fan of corn-beef and cabbage. My tastes run more in the spicy direction. I first wrote about Enrique’s Tacos last April, so you have seen a photo like this one before. And, like last time, I neglected to get a good shot of the food. I was so hungry by the time we stopped there that I forgot to bring the camera inside. When my tacos arrived, I wolfed them down in record time without a thought of capturing them for posterity. Maybe next time…

On the ride home, we explored some side roads that bypass Highway 61. Taking the first right over the Prescott Bridge, we rode down Saint Croix Trail to 70th Street, which becomes Military Road, and then Bailey Road, and at some point Maxwell Street. These roads wind through mostly rural/suburban terrain, and it was here that I took the photo in the last post by the side of the frozen pond.

Arriving home, I tucked Frogwing into the garage, plugged in the battery tender, and went in to assume my duties as Mr. Mom. I wish I could have taken a longer ride, but my wife Amy is still recovering from her surgery, and I am still in charge of most of the domestic chores. This situation will prevail for awhile, but it shouldn’t prevent me from Rambling home from work most nights.

Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to rise into the fifties. Sure, and that’s Ramblin’ Weather now, lads and lassies, make no mistake.

Secrets of the Solitary Rider

Sunday, March 18th, 2007

Weather: Sunny and 38°F (4°C)
Road Conditions: Dry and salty in most places, icy brine in others.

Riding solo requires a different approach from the group experience.

The Winter of Twenty-Ought-Six/Seven has been a long one, but for Frogwing and I it is finally over.

Yesterday, we took a ride typical of our solo weekend rambles. Across the border and into Wisconsin, we rode a simple ninety-mile loop along both banks of the Saint Croix River. The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and my spirit soared higher than it has in many moons.

But I’m saving that tale for later in the week, because this whole question of solo vs. group riding has been filling my thoughts lately, and I can’t write about anything else until I clear these mental buffers.

In the image above, you will see a number of items that seem to suggest a journey of some sort. The vehicle might be an antique aeroplane, motorbike, or a classic roadster. The devices pictured here are timeless, as useful now as they were “back in the day”.

Sure, they are being rapidly eclipsed by modern inventions, but it is nice to maintain one’s acquaintance with these analog items, because they don’t require batteries or a network of satellites in order to work properly.

Underlying everything in that image above is The Map. Gone are the days when I would just hop on my motorbike, after a hard days work, and ride anywhere just to be in the wind. With the responsibilities I have now, there is no time for that anymore. I cannot explore dead ends and blind alleys as I have in the past, so I resort to the bird’s-eye view provided by a good map like the DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer.

Once a general route is sketched out, I may go on the Internet and research any points of interest along the way. Riding solo, however, does not preclude me from stopping to investigate anything intriguing that didn’t appear in either of these two references. I can stop where I want, when I want, for whatever I want. I believe this is called “Freedom”.

The compass is there to help me find my way back to the original route, should I get lost. Given my inquisitive nature, this is not an infrequent occurrence.

You will also see a pair of goggles in that image. These were the eyewear of choice for motorized adventurers from the Golden Age of Speed on land, and in the air. I include them here because I want to be sure to See Everything along the way.

This includes paying utmost attention to the various threats we face in an unfamiliar environment. Traffic hazards can come at you from unexpected directions on roads you have never ridden before. You have to be ready to react, which means slowing down to increase your options when something happens.

Finally, we come to the book. This isn’t any book in particular, but it is very important nonetheless. It can be anything from the Bible to a murder mystery, and it is there simply as an erstwhile travelling companion. Let’s face it; there are times on a solo ride when, despite all the wonderful freedom of action and beautiful scenery, we find ourselves in a diner somewhere, waiting for our meal, and the waitress is too busy to talk. Other folks are keeping to themselves, and we are left sitting there with nothing to do.

Open the book, and you are instantly transported somewhere else, where exciting or interesting things are happening, or where you are learning something profound. This applies to the lonely hotel room, on a long road trip, or even to the picnic table at a wayside rest or city park. I always have a book along with me when I am riding, and it has saved me time and again from boredom on the road.

Frogwing pauses beside a frozen pond, on our first ride of the season.

Another positive thing about the solitary ride is your ability to learn more about the places you visit. If you ride into town in a group, the people running the roadhouse are going to be focused on all the money they are about to make. They are not going to waste time chatting about local history except in the most general of terms.

But when you ride into town alone, you can often catch them in a bored and contemplative mood, which then leads to some of the most wonderful conversations I’ve ever had on the road. It is for this reason that I usually carry some sort of notebook along with me, so I can get the facts, news, or popular local legends straight for later embellishment…er, I mean dissemination here in the blog.

When it comes right down to it, I think that is the biggest reason why I like riding solo. It makes for better writing. But there is another reason why this is important to the mission of Rush Hour Rambling…

Riding to Work is, by necessity, a solitary endeavor. I don’t know of any workplace, anywhere, that the workers all meet and start from the same place, and ride to work together. If I am mistaken in this, please enlighten me. Most of the time, the motorbike commuter is a solo rider, simply by geographic and demographic necessity. That being the case, I hope this little bit of wisdom helps to smooth your journeys. For it is not necessarily the Ride to Work which motivates us, but rather the Ramble on the way home.

Here’s wishing you Happy Ramblings in Twenty Ought Seven…

Be Patient, Curbhopper… (Rust Never Sleeps!)

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Weather: 48°F (9°C) Under Partly-Cloudy Skies
Road Conditions: Rivers of corrosive salt-water.

Rust never sleeps. Especially when you park your Chinese motorscooter in the garage after riding it around on the salty, sloppy city streets. Last time I took Scarlet out, I rode her hard, and put her away wet.

For over two weeks, she sat there in the dark, while all of her ferrous metal parts slowly crystalized into a red-brown patina, and the throttle cable has stuck so bad that no amount of WD-40 is going to restore it to safe operation. Scarlet is grounded until I can procure a replacement.

Which still left me with Frogwing, so all was not lost, right? Well…

Minnesota motorcycle registrations expire in February. All of them, including Frogwing. I know this, but for some inexplicable reason, I did not take care of this little detail in time. Since it was Saturday morning when I discovered my blunder, there was no way to rectify the situation until Monday. So, unless I wanted to be a tax-dodging outlaw all weekend, I would have to leave Frogwing in the garage alongside his little sister.

The weather was gorgeous; Fifty-some degrees under sunny skies. Wisconsin was calling. But I have a clean driving record now, and would rather avoid any legal entanglements if possible.

That doesn’t sound like me, I know. But as I get older, and hopefully wiser, I am also acquiring some small measure of patience. Other moto-bloggers are starting to influence my thinking, you know who you are, and for that I should be thankful. My past is too full of close calls and needless conflicts, brought about by my need for speed and a near-total lack of patience.

While that kind of behavior may make for exciting reading, it does nothing for my peace of mind.

This year, I am going to try a new approach. Instead of pursuing the visceral thrill of the motorbike at speed, I will be seeking the visual feast of the slower ride. Hopefully, I will be able to restrain my urges enough to notice things I have missed before, and take better photographs.

I will try this approach on Ramble Plans which I have ridden before, and with the new ones I discover over the course of the season. I’m sure the people who will be loaning me Fine Machinery for Rush Hour Road Tests will be happy to read this.

Although I never really damaged a test bike when I was writing for MMM, it really wasn’t necessary to grind down the floorboards on that Indian Chief in the corners, or to log top-speed runs with every single bike I tested. I get that now, but it surely caused my editor some grief at the time.

So, here it is Tuesday already. The weather is going to be gorgeous again today. What little snow is left from our last blizzard should be gone by the end of the day, but it will melt and mix with the salt on the roads to make a gritty, briny soup which attacks both metal parts and my helmet visor. I’m not going to ride in that. I don’t have to.

Frogwing has his new `08 tab, and needs only an oil change to be ready for the road. If the weather cooperates, and the roads dry up, we will get out there this coming weekend. Be patient, curbhoppers, the Good Stuff is coming…