Commuter Noir

March 8th, 2006 by mnscooter

08 March, 2006 Temperature: Becoming Irrelevant

When I stepped outside this morning, the fog swirled around me like a shroud. The streetlights wore pale halos, and you could barely see the pavement from forty feet away. The gorgeous blonde dame reached for me through the doorway, whispering, “Be careful out there…”

I looked into her deep blue eyes, bright with fear, and said, “Don’t worry about me, doll. I’m bulletproof.” I gathered her into my arms for one last embrace before I disappeared into the mist. The truth was, I really would have to be careful. But there was no sense in troubling her with my problems. I ride alone.

Well, that’s not exactly true. My partner on this dark, murky commute is a tough little hombre called The Baron. He has been with me since the first snows of winter, but our partnership is almost at an end. He’s supposed to retire in twelve days, and I feel a special obligation to see that he makes it in one piece. This is always the most vulnerable time; winding down towards the end of a long and dangerous career. You get caught daydreaming at an intersection, and some clueless mug with a cellphone in one hand and a latte in the other drives a tank right over the top of you, and never looks back. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty.

The Baron was waiting for me in the garage, as always. I thumbed the starter and he fired right up. He always did wake up a lot quicker than me. His headlights shot beams out into the misty morning, and he seemed eager to hit the road. I let him warm up a bit… for his own good. “Steady there, partner.”, I said. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

Finally, I twisted the throttle, and we rolled out into the street. I could see maybe fifty yards in front of us, so I kept our speed down to avoid any unpleasant surprises. The traffic light turned green at our approach, almost as if it could sense our presence. I began to get that creepy feeling at the nape of my neck, like somebody walking over my grave.

Old Man RiverBut we made it safely to the Old Man River Café. I parked the Baron at the curb, and ducked inside for a cuppa joe. He waited patiently for me outside, I swear I could hear him whistling. What has he got to be so darned cheerful about?

The waitress poured my coffee in her sleep, then walked back to a chair in the corner. I slugged it down hot and fast, and left a buck on the counter. No sense wasting time; we had an appointment with destiny. Outside, I got the camera out from under the Baron’s seat, and walked across the street. I wanted to get an image of him in his natural environment before they hang him by cables from the ceiling at Baron HQ. Night and fog, baby. This is our beat.

After I took his picture, the Baron seemed anxious to move along. So I climbed into the saddle without another word and we motored on into the gloom.

The sky lightened up a bit as we neared the end of West River Road. The Red KLR Guy was riding the other way, and we waved to each other. He’s been out here other mornings, when there wasn’t ice on the roads. I’ve got to find out who he is. Seems like a straight shooter, a real stand-up joe.

We made it to work safe and on time, as usual. All that foreboding this morning was just atmospheric tension, I guess. Gives a guy the willies.

Work was work, as they say. I earned my buck and then some, `till it was time to ride back the other way. In daylight, the mood was lighter, but the traffic was heavier. I kept my head on a swivel, and The Baron never missed a beat. On East River Road, just past Summit, Tom Lindsay was riding the other way on his Ice Mint Green Stella… and wouldn’t ya know it? He waved! Some of that Scooterati gang ain’t so bad, once you meet them face to face.

We passed a few gin joints, but never stopped. For some reason, I didn’t feel like wandering tonight. Must have had something to do with the fire in the dame’s eyes when I left her. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It looked like I was in for a warm welcome home.

Random Ramblings

March 6th, 2006 by mnscooter

06 March, 2006 Temperature: 25 degrees F (-4°C)

Old Man Winter stopped by last night, and left an inch-thick blanket of white on the ground. It was only a dusting on the roads this morning, but they were still slippery in spots. It’s nothing we haven’t dealt with before.

Good Scooter...It was almost dawn by the time we left. This happens earlier every day now. We are slowly emerging from our Winter gloom. The Baron runs well in this weather, with nary a lurch or hiccup. We have travelled 9,286 kilometers together, and he is still going strong.

The Scooterati were wrong. This is a good scooter.

I spent the weekend finishing the Scoot Quarterly article, and my reservoir of words is running low. I’m kind of tired, but it is a happy tired; the kind of satisfaction you get from a job well done. I sent the text in today, and I will edit and mail the photos on CD tomorrow.

Brilliant!The ride home tonight was equally pleasant, though the skies were rather grey. I thought about stopping in at the Longfellow Grill, but the pull of home was stronger. Here is a photo I took there a couple of weeks ago. I have promised to try the food next time. They have an interesting menu.

See that hat I was wearing in the photo? That is an original “Velocity Ferocity” hat from my café racer days. I believe a company called Dangerous Design owns the copyright to that red, barking dog icon now, and they don’t sell hats anymore.

Well, I lost that hat on my way home from work tonight. It was in the milk crate on the back of the Baron, in a plastic bag along with my paperback book of Mickey Spillane pulp fiction. Somewhere along the way home, that bag levitated out of the milk crate, past the bungee cords stretched across the top, and out onto the street somewhere. I’m thinking Shephard Road, as that is the only place with high speeds and bumps big enough to launch my stuff out of the crate. What a drag. I really liked that hat. The book wasn’t bad either.

If a miracle happens, and somebody reading this actually finds my stuff, I am offering a reward.

Speaking of rewards, the entries to the “Name My Blog” contest have stopped trickling in. There have been some good ones, but nothing that jumps out at me as The One. Please keep them coming. You have until March 20th.

Remember, I will be riding various Baron scooters, and my KLR 650 “Frogwing” on my commutes. Reading through my earlier work in “Backroads Diary” and “Diary of a Café Racer” will give you clues as to what might win. I’m sorry I’m no good at html, but those links are here:

http://www.motorbyte.com/mmm/pages/cafe/cafemain.htm

http://www.motorbyte.com/mmm/pages/archives/diaryarchives.htm

Once again, this is a real contest. The prize is a $100 gift certificate for Aerostich Rider’s Wearhouse. Thanks Andy!

That’s all I have for you tonight, folks. I’m tired, and I’ve got to spend some time with my girls. See you tomorrow…

Ups and Downs

March 3rd, 2006 by mnscooter

03 March, 2006 Temperature: 30 degrees F (-1°C)

The morning commute was strange today. It being a Friday, I expected the usual early-risers to be out in force, aggressively forging ahead with their minds on the coming weekend. Much to my surprise, our route was virtually deserted. It was as if everyone who usually drives here on Friday morning took the day off. I checked my calendar at work, and it isn’t a government holiday. What gives?

I’m not complaining, mind you. The ride this morning went beautifully. We flowed around corners, from stopsign to stoplight, with no wasted time or motion. We arrived at work in about an hour, and I was happy and ready to roll. Today was the day of our Scoot! Quarterly magazine photo shoot, and we were going to do it out on Medicine Lake. I’d been looking forward to this.

Yes, all the snow and ice is gone off the roads, and the only place one can really experience the total lack of traction is out on a frozen lake. My photographer, Tracy Mayer, is also one of the engineers in our R&D department. She knew where we could gain access to Medicine Lake from a public boat ramp. Perfect.

Synchronicity…

Steve Williams reads my blog. He has a blog of his own, called “Scooter in the Sticks”. The link is in the sidebar on the right side of this page. He also rides his Vespa scooter to work in the Pennsylvania Winter. Today he rode it on snow and ice. What kind of lunatic would do a thing like that?

This morning, cresting a hill at 20 mph, he rode down the other side on a sheet of glare ice. Dragging both feet, he squeezed his rear brake, the wheel locked up, and he started to slide sideways. This was probably as far as his thinking went on the subject, up to that point. He was all out of tricks. Unfortunately, physics had a few more cards left to play.

Steve and his Vespa fell down, gently. They were able to get right back up again and complete their ride to work, stopping enroute to take a wonderful self portrait, apparently none the worse for their adventure.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

My workday went slowly. Existential Gravity was in full effect, the ticks separated from the tocks by what seemed like a full minute. I think I got carpal tunnel from drumming my fingers on my desk. It was agony!

But finally, we escaped. We fled the building under a flat, grey sky. The clouds had moved in, spoiling our beautiful light, and we would just have to make the best of it.

The boat ramp was bumpy, and the ice around it was rutted and treacherous. The Baron and I rode slowly out towards the snow-covered plain where we would perform our little stunts for the camera. Tracy walked gingerly after us, cradling her expensive camera and taking no chances.

We practiced for a bit, spinning donuts and trying our flat-track turns on a surface quite unlike the slushy-snowy-sandy mix we encounter out on the roads. I went for one balls-out donut, full throttle, and ended up on my ass with the Baron laying on top of me. Score one for Medicine Lake.

Getting up from that, I began my runs for the photographic record. Accelerating across the snow, when we reached bare ice I turned the bars and gassed it, dropping my foot and drifting sideways, looking right into the camera lens. Well, it sure felt like we were sideways. What the camera saw was perhaps less dramatic than what I had imagined. The fact is, out on this slick surface, if you really get sideways like we do on the road, you get horizontal soon after. The front tire just doesn’t have any grip out here on the lake, and I didn’t want to run over my photographer.

We finished up with the Baron and I spinning more donuts, throwing snowy roost at the camera. Tracy captured dozens of images, some of which have got to be good enough for publication.

Afterwards…

I thought about Steve’s fall today, and how he must have felt after trying everything he knew to try and save it. Then I compared that to my sheepish grin and chuckle, as I pushed the Baron upright, after we tumbled on the ice doing stupid scooter tricks. Falling down is just something you accept when you try to tackle these conditions on two wheels. You wear the proper safety gear, so that a mishap doesn’t turn into a disaster, and you take your lumps in stride. This is all part of having fun on a motorbike. It still beats driving around in a cage, living in a box, and trying to insulate yourself from the big, bad world.

Our Last First Thursday

March 2nd, 2006 by mnscooter

02 March, 2006 Temperature: Above Freezing

Riding to work this morning, I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering. The Baron and I have covered over 9,000 kilometers in our four months together. Today was the First Thursday in March, and you know what that means… This is the last First Thursday we are going to enjoy together. The Baron is going to be retired in eighteen days, and I will move on to new rides and different adventures. So tonight was going to be special.

Of course, in order to get to our First Thursday festivities, I had an entire workday to get through. I charged into my workload with a vengeance this morning. As one task stalled against someone else’s schedule or agenda, I moved on to another. Today I worked the way I ride: fluid and agile. I didn’t let anything stand in my way for long.

After lunch, the sun was shining, and I had to find a reason to ride!

Easy… we needed a special piece of glass cut for some lab equipment I am working on. I rode around the neighborhood, to the local hardware store, and then to a specialty glass company, until I found a solution to the problem. It was absolutely glorious to be out of the cube farm and under the bright blue sky. The Baron and I scooted through traffic with an easy grace, and nobody seemed to mind.

We returned to work and finished out the day with energy to spare.

It was a beautiful ride to Dulono’s, where the best bikes and riders in the Twin Cities converge to celebrate the First Thursday of every month.

The Baron and I were practicing our third-world scooter tactics on an unsuspecting rush-hour gridlock population. Sure, some might get pissed off, but how the heck are they going to catch us? We’re talking six lanes of bumper-to-bumper cages, creeping along, and one lone scooter with a milk crate on the back, threading the needle between them. Let me tell you, it really blows their minds. But this is their future, like it or not, and they had better get used to it.

So we finally arrived at Dulono’s, and there weren’t any other bikes in the lot. It was 38 degrees F (3°C), the sun was shining, but nobody else rode to First Thursday?

Well, to be fair, it was a bit early. I showed up at four-thirty, and some people don’t even get off work until five. Then they have to drive home in their cages, to pick up the bike and make sure it runs. Then they must check the latest weather report to avoid any nasty surprises. Finally they can decide it is just too late, and nobody is going to show up anyway, and they have an acceptable excuse to stay home.

Where IS Everybody?As you can see in the photo, which was taken around 6:45 pm, only two other bikes showed up tonight. One was ridden by a couple on an FJR, who I am told came down from Cambridge, about 40 miles away. Good for them!

Jack Was HereThe other was an old Motobecane moped, ridden by my friend Jack. I call Jack my friend, because I have seen him everywhere I ride for the last ten years, and we have talked many times. We never seem to talk for long, and we never seem to ride together. But I’m told Jack rides through the winter on a variety of bikes, and he is always there when I attend a motorcycle event. Someday, I should make it a point to learn his story, because right now I would have to admit that I Don’t Know Jack.

After this mediocre photography, the Baron and I headed out onto the very busy Lake Street, where rush hour still seemed to be in effect. We tried the same traffic-beating tactics as before, but this crowd was quite a bit nastier.

A young fellow, driving a BMW sedan with the Wisconsin license plate “LAIDY”, tried several times to run me into parked cars, whenever it looked like I was going to pass him in the right-hand lane. It seemed terribly important that I not get in front of him. Why? His girlfriend in the passenger seat looked embarrassed by his aggression, and I was laughing the whole time.

Eventually, he just stomped on the gas and ran redlights to get ahead of us. By the look on his girlfriend’s face, I’m betting that he’s not going to get “LAIDY” tonight.

Looking Forward

March 1st, 2006 by mnscooter

01 March, 2006 Temperature: 31 degrees F (-1°C)

The Baron and I left a half hour late this morning. It takes time to lose an argument with a proud, stubborn woman. Amy insisted that she already feels good enough to go to work today. I insisted she give the antibiotics more time to do their job before she tries to go and do hers. But the only way to win this argument was to stay home all day and stand watch over her while she recovered. I have more respect for her than that.

By the time we hit the street, the sky was turning twilight blue in the east. The Baron seemed to have a little extra torque this morning, probably due to the new variator. The forecasted freezing drizzle must have fizzled, because the roads were dry as a bone. I didn’t even turn on the Kanetsu vest, because I had all the insulation I needed. We rode to work in comfort, as I looked around for a photo op.

I found it on the Lake Street Bridge. Getting ready to make the usual right hand turn, I looked up at the old-fashioned streetlamps on the corner. I have always liked these, ever since I watched them passing by, while lying in the back of the family station wagon as a child. These were the days before mandatory child restraints. It’s a wonder we all lived through that, isn’t it?

Anyway, my Grandma lived on Marshall Street, in Saint Paul, and these were the lamps that lit the way to her house, under a cathedral ceiling of elm tree boughs. Most of the elm trees are gone now, and so is Grandma. I miss them terribly, sometimes.

Halfway There...But this morning, I decided to take a few moments and see if I could capture some of the magic I was seeing in a digital image. Scooters are wonderful vehicles for photography, because you can basically park them anywhere. I positioned the Baron, left his motor running to power the lights, and set up with my camera steadied against the stopsign pole. That’s the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon.

While I was concentrating on taking the shot, I didn’t notice the nice lady in the Honda Accord waiting about twenty yards back as I focused and pressed the button. Those cars are so quiet and unobtrusive. When I pulled my face back from the camera, I started, and said “OH! Sorry!”

She rolled her window down and said, “That’s alright. It’s a beautiful morning.”

“That it is.”, I said. “Thank you!”

She smiled, waved, and drove off. She will be out here on a scooter someday soon, I just know it. Or maybe a bigger bike. I could see it in her eyes. Not all who drive are box people. Some just haven’t gotten here yet.

The rest of my day was rather pleasant routine. During my “blunch”, I answered some of your wonderful comments. Steve Williams’ reply got me thinking about my blogging future, and the germ of an idea was planted. Well, that germ grew very quickly, and I made some inquiries with my Ride to Work sponsor, Andy Goldfine. Together, we have come up with…

The Contest:

We have nineteen days until “The Baron in Winter” blog comes to an end. After that, I will still be blogging about riding to work, but it won’t be in winter, and it won’t always be on a Baron scooter. My own beloved Kawasaki KLR 650, named Frogwing, has watched jealously while I have ridden the Baron for these past four months, and I’m sure he is chomping at the bit to get back on the road. At least I hope so.

But I am having trouble thinking of a name for my Ride To Work blog during the normal riding season. So I have decided to enlist the help of my readers in coming up with a suitable title.

The Rules:

I hate rules, but sometimes they are necessary. These will be very basic.

1) The name “Baron” will not be in the title of this blog, because Amy and I will be doing another occasional blog on the official Baron website called, “Baron Family Scootering”, once she gets her own scooter this Spring.

2) The title must reflect the nature of my commute, and the style in which I usually complete it. (Hint: Here is where research into my previous writings might come in handy…)

3) Employees of Aerostich, Baron Motorcycles, Kenda USA, and Bob’s Cycle Supply must be ineligible, because every other contest I have ever seen has this rule. I figure there must be a good reason for it.

4) I will be the primary judge, but I will also consult with Andy Goldfine and Shane Stillwell, to make sure the winning entry fits well with the Ride To Work mission. I might even ask Amy what she thinks.

The Prize:

Here is where the contest became real. I had suggested maybe a T-shirt or stickers or something. But Andy wrote back:

“Put up a $100 gift certificate for Aerostich/Rider Wearhouse catalog merchandise.”

So let it be written, so let it be done.

We will choose the name for my next Ride to Work blog on March 20th, 2006. Send your entries to the comments section. Good luck.

Back on Course

February 28th, 2006 by mnscooter

28 February, 2006 24 degrees F (-4°C)

Well, just as I feared, Amy wouldn’t let me stay home today to take care of her. She had all the help modern pharmaceuticals can provide, and kept the telephone close in case she changed her mind. I think all the positive energy coming from my readers probably helped as well. You know who you are… Thanks.

So the Baron and I rode out into the darkness once again. We needed an early takeoff, so we could leave work in time to make our last checkup at Baron HQ tonight. The ride to work was routine, with dry roads and little traffic. I rode slower than I did last night, and had some time to look around at the city lights and the stark shadows of bare trees along the parkways. There isn’t much snow left, and what little there is seems to be stained and dirty, ready to melt away into the brown grass and dead leaves.

But there is danger in the forecast. Freezing drizzle is supposed to start after midnight tonight, and keep on through morning. I could awaken to streets of glare ice again. The Iceman cometh back? We’ll know in less than ten hours.

My workday was actually pretty interesting. I am setting up some new lab equipment, and learning how to operate it at the same time. A job like that makes time pass pretty quickly, and keeps Existential Gravity at bay. Soon enough, it was time to leave for the five mile trek to Baron HQ. This was to be our last checkup before the end of winter. So of course, the Baron was running flawlessly in 38 degree (3°C) weather.

As well he should, I suppose. He is quite well-sorted by now. He has stood up to these conditions much better than I expected. The salt has corroded things, but not nearly to the extent that I had feared. The variator was a bit worn, as were the roller weights, but not enough to warrant replacement yet. However, since we had everything apart, we did it anyway. I get the feeling that Crew Chief Loren would rather not see me again this winter. He is a busy man, what with Spring on the way and scooters to assemble.

CEO Lev was there, and we talked about the future. My services as R&D consultant will still be needed come spring, as they bring the new 250cc models online. I’m not sure how that is going to impact this blog, but it looks like I will be commuting on a variety of different models of scooter, as well as on my KLR “Frogwing”. All-in-all, it looks like an interesting season to come.

But Lev has thrown a curveball my way. He wants the Baron back sometime after March 20th, as a display piece and promotional tool. We talked about hanging him from the high ceiling of the warehouse/showroom, sort of like a Smithsonian exhibit. How cool is that? I’m going to miss the little fellow, though. He is a real trooper, and I was actually hoping to modify him somewhat with hotrod parts from the aftermarket. Alas, it is not to be.

We have twenty more days together, and then the future is uncertain. Whatever happens after that, I still have to ride to work. So I am going to keep on blogging here as long as Andy wants to let me. The title may change, but the song remains the same.

Poking Around...I leave you tonight with a photo that I took in my wanderings on Saturday. It kind of illustrates the gnarly places I like to poke around in, even on a scooter. That old power plant in the background is abandoned, but for awhile there it was home to a bunch of “River Rats”. These were nomadic folk who sailed the river in various kinds of live-aboard houseboats, and docked wherever they could without getting hassled by The Man.

If you view Saint Paul on Google Earth, look to the Southwest of downtown. You will see an older aerial view of this powerplant with several boats moored around it. They are gone now. The Man got `em, as he eventually gets anyone who isn’t paying him rent or protection money. It’s a sorry state of affairs in a country that still calls itself Free.

Best Laid Plans…

February 27th, 2006 by mnscooter

Well folks, I have to keep this one short. I have a sick wife to look after.

Amy called me at work, about 2:30 this afternoon, crying. Her head hurt so bad, she couldn’t drive herself to the clinic. I had planned to take the Baron in for a checkup tonight, and a meeting with the Baron staff to determine where our R&D efforts were going after this project. Nope. As soon as I heard the pain in her voice, I had a new mission. Definitely time for some controlled aggression.

My ride home was both the quickest, and the longest I have ever had on the Baron. Even with my heightened sense of urgency, I realized that it wouldn’t be safe to take the freeway. We were going to take a close look at the drive belt and variator tonight. They were OK at normal 30-45 mph speeds on sidestreets, but a flat-out run on the highway could result in a broken belt. I just couldn’t chance it.

So I rode the sidestreets, at the highest speed I could get away with, and we made it home in about 55 minutes. I passed cars where I normally wouldn’t have, and rode around corners dragging my foot on dry pavement, just in case we hit sand or a rogue ice patch.

The fear I was feeling was something new. In the fifteen years I have known her, Amy has never been seriously ill. The thought of losing her because I couldn’t ride fast enough was unbearable. So I pushed the limits beyond reason, and was lucky to get home in one piece.

We are home from the clinic now, and Amy is resting. The doc thinks it is a particularly vicious sinus infection, but doesn’t know for sure. If she’s not feeling much better in the morning, I may stay home with her. She’s done that for me, more than once.

Good night, folks.

Dr. Saturday

February 26th, 2006 by mnscooter

26 February, 2006 Temperature: 28 degrees F (-2°C)

Spring Fever ought to be listed in the medical journals as a debilitating affliction. It certainly was for me last week.

As I review what I wrote, I remember how tired I felt, sitting here at the keyboard night after night. I see that I was talking about spring and the end of this project, and returning to my big bike, Frogwing, for another season of backroad adventures. I was starting to mentally prepare myself for the transition, too soon. As happens at this time every year, I was not sleeping well. Going to bed only meant that I would be alone, in the dark, with my feverish thoughts of Springtime rides to all points of the compass.

Take Thursday night, for instance. I went to bed at nine, but it was no good. I tossed and I turned, glaring at those red LEDs on my alarm clock, until I gave in and got up. Trudging back to my computer, I stopped at the fridge along the way to grab a beer. Logging in, I called up Google Earth and Mapquest, and planned some rides for real. I exhausted myself mentally this way until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Then, finally, I could sleep. Four straight hours was the best I could do.

Finally it was Friday. Somehow, I survived the workday, taking off a half-hour early to attend Emily’s school carnival in the gym. We got home at six p.m., and I pounded out a blog entry. Then, living better through chemistry, I took a little green pill and slipped off into the land of nod for twelve blissful hours.

I awoke Saturday morning feeling disoriented, like one of those lions who gets shot with a tranquilizer dart on the Discovery channel. Caveman thinking, the words “Get Coffee!” blazed like neon inside of my eyelids. Luckily, Amy had already brewed some, and all I had to do was fill my cup. Then I settled down in front of the tube to channel surf while my brain booted up.

After my second cup, I was up-to-date on the weather forecast and all the latest propaganda that passes for news in this country. I did some writing on the Scoot! article as the temperatures warmed outside. Then I suited up and headed out to the garage.

The Baron and I rode out into heavy traffic along Robert Street. We were headed for the do-it-yourself carwash, where you pull into the stall and use the pressure wash to blast all the winter sludge off your vehicle. With the Baron all clean and shiny, we took off to wander around the neighborhood a little bit. I was well-rested and felt so much better.

River BaronWe rode about ten miles, down along the river on roads that we don’t take on our daily commute. I shot this photo on the aptly named Water Street, southwest of downtown Saint Paul. We stopped at a place on Highway 13 called Bogey’s, where I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. It was a beautiful, relaxing day. I was feeling human again. Doctor Saturday to the rescue!

The first World Superbike race of the season is going on Speed Channel as I type this. I am not such a rabid fan as I once was. Back when I roadraced a Ducati, and that same brand was dominating WSB, I was riveted to the screen every time they televised a race. Now it is just agreeable background noise as I sit here and type. But this has always been a reliable harbinger of Springtime, and the end of our long, cold ordeal.

According to the forecasts, the high temperature on Wednesday, March first, is supposed to be 44 degrees F (almost 7°C). Well, if you live in a northern climate, you know what that means. If March comes in like a lamb, it must go out like a lion. We have had some of our most memorable blizzards in March. But maybe March will go out like I did on Friday night: a lion certainly, but tranquilized. We can only hope.

Omens

February 24th, 2006 by mnscooter

24 February, 2006 Temperature: 18 degrees F (-8°C)

Well, it’s been an interesting couple of days. Fatigue has been stalking me lately, as I just can’t seem to sleep through the night. I don’t know if it’s spring fever or what, but my mind races after the lights go out. I keep thinking of the places I want to go and roads I want to ride once I get the KLR back in the wind.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much connected to the Baron. We have reached an almost nerve-level communication over the course of this winter. I can feel what is happening with the tires and suspension in my own skeleton. The drivetrain speaks to me through my ears and my ass; I can tell immediately when something just isn’t right. I am definitely “one with the machine”.

This is why I was going to bring him in to Baron HQ last night. I wanted to check the drive belt and variator for wear. After riding to work in the -6° F weather last Friday, and experiencing a loss of twenty miles per hour off the top end, I was worried that we had flat spotted the roller weights or somehow damaged the drive belt. So every single vibration, lurch, or shudder in the machine took on ominous significance. We have just turned over 8,400 kilometers, and I don’t feel like taking any chances. Crewchief Lorne to the rescue, once again… or so I thought.

At about 1pm yesterday, I received a call from Ivan at Baron. He told me that Lorne had cut his hand, and was on his way to the hospital for stitches. So my scheduled maintenance would have to be put off. I could do this job myself, if I wanted, but it requires special tools that I don’t have yet. I agreed to wait until Monday, when Lorne would be back on the job. It would be no problem for me to do the work under his supervision.

So I revised my route home to ride only on parkways and residential streets, until the unavoidable stretch of Shephard Road. There, I kept my speed down to 40 mph all the way. The Baron seems to smooth out and run just fine in the warmer temperatures. It is only the extreme cold which adversely affects the CVT mechanism.

We made it home with no drama, and I began to worry a bit less. I awoke this morning to weather reports that predicted 35+ degrees under partly cloudy skies. I took the time to eat breakfast, and made sure the camera was charged up and ready for any photo-ops which might arise. Little did I know…

Old Man Winter Hisself...The sunrise this morning was glorious! At least it appeared so in my rearview mirror. However, when I stopped on the Lake Street Bridge to take a photograph, I was stunned to see the furious face of Old Man Winter himself, scowling at me as if to say, “I’m not done with you yet!”.

All of my bravado here on the blog must be coming back to haunt me. Either that, or I am hallucinating. You be the judge. What do you see in that image?

I’m not a superstitious man, normally. But this vision kind of shook me. We are so close to Spring, and the end of this project, that I can’t afford to let my guard down. That, my friends, is when excrement happens.

River Ride

February 22nd, 2006 by mnscooter

22 February, 2006 Temperature: Getting warmer…

It is snowing outside as I type this. I feel good about that. I don’t think we are going to see any accumulation, but I don’t really think it’s time for OMW to throw in the towel just yet. OMW, of course, is my abbreviation for Old Man Winter. You know, kind of like OBL was for the Hairy Plotter himself? Oh, I am stepping out onto thin ice there. Never mind…

I’ve called this post “River Ride”, but of course, every time I commute to work it is a river ride. The Mississippi River is the reason that these Twin Cities exist. Saint Paul and Minneapolis are defined and constrained by this river. The river is the reason our roads wind so beautifully. You can choose to follow it’s contours on the freeway, where you are almost completely unaware of it, or you can get right down next to it and appreciate it’s powerful presence and beauty. I always choose the latter.

This morning, the Baron and I rode in darkness, yet again. I was present, in the moment, but there wasn’t anything to really challenge me. We didn’t stop for coffee, because I wanted us to get to work early, so I would have time to hunt around for some photo ops on the ride home, before the light faded.

Well, the light faded around one o’clock, when the clouds moved in. By the time we left work, there were light snow flurries in the air. We stopped in at Doolittle’s, where I saw some of my friends and brought them up to date on my winter riding adventures. I was teased about the red spot of frostbite on my nose. Everyone seems to be calling me Rudolph these days. But they just won’t let me play in any reindeer games! How frustrating is that?

River BaronOn West River Road, there is a place called “Bohemian Flats”. This used to be a city or county park, with free parking, where you could just go and hang out and watch the river roll on by. These days, it is a parking lot, with a couple of excursion boats tied up. These can be chartered for whatever, by people or corporations with enough money. You have to pay to use the parking lot now, and the boats block your view of the river. This is called Progress.

Progress means: Nothing cool ever lasts, and nothing ever changes for the better. Somebody richer than you will always buy the things you like and take them away from you, then make you pay to enjoy them later.

Of course, there will be lots of folks whose opinions differ, and these statements aren’t always accurate. But I put them out there because they are true a lot more often than they should be in a compassionate, civilized, human society.

See what happens when road and weather conditions are not trying to kill me? I have time to think about Other Things. This is a dangerous distraction.

I took this photo alongside the boat that looked the oldest. The other one was so modern it hurts my eyes to even look at it. The Baron and I rode brazenly over the curb and across the grass so we could achieve this proximity. A bunch of young men who were up to who-knows-what in the parking lot, looked over and loudly heralded our transgression. We were being cheered on in our violation of private property statutes, or whatever it was we were doing. It didn’t feel like crime, but I probably wouldn’t have chanced it in the presence of a police battle cruiser. You have to be careful about such things these days.

So I took a picture, and we rode along home. No animals or humans were harmed in the capturing of this image. It’s not that great of a photo, but what do you expect this time of year? It would have been much more dramatic if I could have showed a single-track trail leading up to the scooter, next to the boat, across a field of snow. If we get a suitable snowfall before winter ends, I might just do that.

Tomorrow, I am going to stop by Baron HQ and take care of some scheduled maintenance. I haven’t seen crewchief Lorne in awhile, and I’m sure he misses us (yeah, right). It will be quite late, by the time we get home, so don’t expect an update tomorrow night. Check this space again on Friday night.