Monday, May 31, 2010

All Roads Lead To Our Past

Several years ago, when things were better with the economy, a few of my counterparts in other field offices, and I would suggest a weekend trip that would bring us all together and finally meet face to face. We did after all work together, share information and help each other with work related tasks. This is the way of the world these days. Those you work most closely with are not necessarily sitting in your local office. Then the tide of economic uncertainty set in, followed by the dreaded RIF that spread its dark cloud over us. When the dust settles, of the three of us, one has been felled.

I came to learn that Mary Jane, who got the ax in New Jersey had made her way back to her roots. She is living now, in Cornish Flat New Hampshire and this weekend I would finally meet her face to face for the first time. I check the map and realize that Saint-Gaudens Historical National Site is in Cornish as is the longest covered bridge in the world, which spans the Connecticut River between Windsor Vermont and Cornish New Hampshire. My excitement grows. Not only will I get to meet MJ, I will get two more check marks off my bucket list; visit another covered bridge in New Hampshire, and get a stamp in my National Parks Passport book. With waypoints downloaded in the GPS, Andy and I throw a leg over the saddle and head off.

The day is breezy and with each gust we witness visible clouds of pollen carried on the wind. Most of which it seems, finds its way directly into my eyes and under my contact lenses. No face shield or foam rimmed sun glasses can keep these fine particle from under my lids. I spend the morning riding in tears. It is the best solution. Let the eyes water profusely to wash away the pollen. For the most part that works, except that when the eyes water the nose runs. I am grateful for the full face helmet to conceal this mess!

This day has another first too. I lead the way, following my GPS to the first way point. I am overcoming my fear of being lost, misunderstanding the GPS directions, and having bikes make a million U turns. The new RAM mount helps in that the GPS is more easily visible, and my eyes are not away from the road too long. This may have been my biggest problem all along. The day is gorgeous with white puffy clouds scuttling across the sky, traffic is light, and the air a comfortable level. We arrive at the covered bridge in the time predicted by the GPS, with time for photos and a bit of enjoyment of the area. Then off to Saint-Gaudens just up the road.

It is Mary Jane who spots us first, and I know her right away. She leads us into Windsor for lunch at Dan’s Windsor Diner. As we chat it is as if no time has passed. We know the characters of our conversation and catch up on what has transpired in the year and half since she’s been away from the Company. We are barely beginning our tour of Saint-Gaudens, when a woman stops me and says “don’t I know you?” I shrug. “Did you used to sell real estate?” Well indeed I had! This woman before me is Kathy Byam! Of course I know her, but it must be more than twenty years since I’ve seen her. We chat a bit, and the realization that all roads do indeed lead to our past becomes more evident.

As the sun begins to make its way to the western horizon, we wave goodbye to Mary Jane. It is Andy’s turn to lead, and he takes us to Bellow’s Falls, where no ride is complete without a stop for ice cream. The sign we see here has us stop, and we are fortunate too, in being served by the Queen herself! Can a day end any better?

Enjoy the bridge and the National Historic Site here in Photo.

Monday, May 24, 2010

We Ride Our Own;
Otherwise, We're Just Luggage

One aspect of my personality is that I strive for deeper self awareness. It often reveals itself unexpectedly as epiphanies not to be ignored. The weekend women’s ride organized by Jan Halliday, serendipitously became such an epiphany for me. In addition to understanding that we do not enjoy being luggage; which is what you become on the back of a motorcycle, we came to understand that we, by varying degrees suffer control issues. We want to handle our own bikes, point the fender where we want to go, depart when we choose, and arrive when we please.

For Jan, her joy came in planning the route, organizing the stops, arranging lodging, leading the group, and in general taking very good care of us this past weekend. A complete and total one woman planned event, independent from the influence of men, yet interdependent, with us taking care of each other on the road. Of the waypoints she popped into the route, it was the Frog Bridge that grabbed my attention. In words made famous by a movie of same name, this waypoint was in my “bucket list.” As is often so true about life, on our way to checking things off our list, we stumble on forgotten truths that strike us like lighting bolts to the very heart and give us renewed appreciation of what we take for granted each day.

From the Frog Bridge we made our way to the Governor Jonathan Trumbull House, home of Connecticut’s American Revolutionary War Governor. As we came around the lane, two individuals, in period dress stood at the end of the drive, Steve Messier as Minuteman and Jody as a daughter of the American Revolution. Their presence stuck in me such profound feelings of grateful thanksgiving for the country we live in, that I was momentarily lost for words. Our group of independent women spoke more eloquently of our freedoms than could a group of our male counterparts. The independence in our lives not even considered, when the men in our lives waved us goodbye. They did not need to give us permission. We are not their chattel; property to manage and monetize if lost, but concerned over because of their love for us. Our very arrival on motorcycles, dressed in riding gear, speaking for ourselves, pointed squarely to the very fact that our present and future is firmly anchored directly to our ancestors who envisioned these freedoms for us. Thank you Steve, for the visual aid.

For this ride, Jan not only kept to New England Rider tradition (pie and ice cream), she also focused her attention to routes along waterways, which is appreciated by someone like me, born under a water sign. Not only did we travel along water, we traveled over water. With pie purchased at Panfili’s Farm Stand safely tucked away for later we boarded the Hadlyme Ferry. Our short ride across the Connecticut River offered up a view of the Gillette Castle that can only be appreciated from such a vantage point. Then on to enjoy twisties along Waterhouse Pond, sweeps along Forest Pond State Park, and of course ice cream near Southford Falls State Park. Then on to our evening digs at the Rocky River Motel and an evening of fun at the pub. This however, is hardly the end or our adventure.

We Ride Our Own;
Otherwise, We’re Just Luggage
Day 2

After breakfast at the Bank Street Coffee House, we head to Lover’s Leap State Park. Jan first finds views from below, and then takes us to the gorge itself. We have a bit of fun here and recruit a few locals, Leslie, John and Diane, to take photos of us. I ham it up by swinging my leg onto the railing. I realize then that a person would have to be serious about taking a leap as the railing is quite high. We spend the balance of our morning in sweeps and twists, my favorite being route 199. We arrive at Haight-Brown Vineyard in time for lunch. No, we don’t drink and drive but we do purchase bottles of wine, enjoy an array of cheese with crackers and of course; the pie.

Mid-afternoon after more great roads, we arrive in Riverton Connecticut. Here we stop at the old Hitchcock Museum. The museum no longer exists, but here is where the Hitchcock Chairs were made. The General Store is open and we refresh ourselves with beverages, take time to smell the flowers, and inspect the local colonial period structures. We spend our day leisurely riding the People’s State Forest, American Legion State Forest, Barkhamsted Reservoir and Enders State Park. By days end, I feel I’ve seen the best of this fine state.

Our ride concludes at Dresser Hill Farms in Charlton Massachusetts. Our loved ones have traveled here to greet us along with a handful of New England Riders. Jan had posted this as a Ride to Eat, a pleasure the New England Riders enjoy. The treat however, was all ours in seeing their friendly faces at the conclusion of our weekend adventure.


A special thank you to Jan, for organizing and planning this ride.

To Kathy, Sharon and Debra for their enjoyable company; I hope we will do it again.

To the accommodating folk at the Rocky River Motel, we will make sure everyone knows this is a motorcycle friendly destination, with group rates available.

For any of you who would like to take this weekend adventure, I will happily send along the Streets and Trips version of our route, along with Jan’s outline. Simply contact me through the link in the side bar.

Now take a few moments to enjoy all the photos taken during this great weekend adventure.

Photos Here

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lee Moves to the Dark Side

Moving through the underground is a group of motorcyclists who defy convention, reject well intended advice, and question authority. They find ways to circumvent tradition and find ways to use conventional wisdom in unconventional ways. They test the limits of their own skills, seek like minded souls, and point each other in directions that would cause others to quake in their motorcycle boots. Individuals with these characteristics are known to live on “the dark side.”

Last year Andy and I overheard a few whispers about those who had migrated to the dark side. I stepped away, fearful. Andy moved in to hear more. Men are more fearless after all. At home he is proclaiming his wish to move to the dark side. I ignore him for the time being, because I can see he is not yet ready. I bide my time planning ways to discourage him. Not that I am unwilling to challenge my fears. I just don’t know enough. I didn’t know Lee was considering this very thing. He heard the same rumors. In fact, he was investigating the possibilities. Then it happened. The rubber vanished from his rear tire in what he considered an inappropriately short amount of time. He’d had enough. Lee became a rebel!

In motorcycle terms, going to the “dark side” means putting a car tire instead of a motorcycle tire on the rear of your cruiser or touring bike. There are whole websites and subculture devoted to this very subject. You can research your own model; discover what car tire works best, how much air pressure you should use and volumes of other tips to help you defy the statistics promulgated by the motorcycle tire manufacturers.

Any motorcyclist knows that those rear tires do not last long enough! Most of them get 11,000 to 18,000 if you’re lucky! My stock Bridgestone lasted 6,000 if you can believe that! I was disgusted. So you can see how I would be interested in watching Lee. Gravitating to the dark side is not for everyone, and you have to do your homework and consider the warnings if you decide this is something you want to try for yourself. Read the literature, understand the challenges, talk with those who’ve been to the dark side. While you’re doing that consider some of Lee’s statistics below.

In Lee’s lifetime he has owned 7 motorcycles. (Motorcycle rider since 1992.)
Average number of rear tires purchased: 15
Total motorcycle miles: Approximately 212K.
Average motorcycle rear tire life: 14K
Average cost of a new tire: $185.
Amount spent on rear tires: $2775
Total cost of labor over time; $750. ($50 per tire x 15=$750)
The price of a new motorcycle tire this year had Lee selected that is $230. (Metzler 880)

Instead, he purchased a car tire; a Dunlop SP 5000 for $138. Lee purchased his tire locally. A tire purchased on-line would be less than this, and possibly as low as $80 to $100.
The tire life is expected to be 40K. With the Nomad already at 62K, Lee says this is the last rear tire he will ever buy for the Nomad. My cell phone is buzzing frequently these days. He keeps me posted on how things are going.

“I rode 20 miles this morning and I don’t see any wear!”

I’m glad he’s keeping me informed; now if only I can tolerate the blow by blows….or Lee may be seeing my dark side!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

"Bob Facing the Music"

Last summer we met Bob in Canada's Sault Saint Marie, when he wanted to make some change. I thought he was a con artist as he started with "I saw your bikes" and "so you are Americans?"; but Bob turned out to be an OK guy. He has been keeping in touch since then with those he met on his travels . His next big adventure begins soon as he plans to travels from his home in South Carolina up the coast into Canada, going as far as the bike will take him and back again.

I think Bob's love of motorcycle travels says it all when he sent us this, with one short comment. "I guess this is considered a natural consequence."

Just pack the bags Bob. Tell Chris we'll catch up with you and if you get delayed from home too long, we'll turn you around and point you home again.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Connecticut Weekend Ride Ends in Mexico

Our weekend ride started out with the purest of intentions; to celebrate the anniversary of our friend’s arrival into this world with a weekend ride along route 7. The plan unfolded nicely as we rode route 2 into Pioneer Valley. I inhaled deeply the scents along the way, amazed at the crab apple tree limbs heavy with blossoms. While nature let us know beyond doubt that spring was indeed here, the remnants of the harsh winter did not go unnoticed in the white birch that lay felled by the brutality of the season just past. Those that survive struggle to keep their slender trunks erect stretching their limbs tenuously toward the sky.

The masses turned out to celebrate this glorious May Day too. Kayakers bobbed by the dozens in lakes and rivers, anglers stood sentinel in their waders, cyclist in spandex gear filled our vision right and left. In Kent, the motorcyclists traveling the opposite side of the road out-numbered the cars so that it seemed we rode for mile upon mile with our hand held in greeting as they passed. We arrived tired but satisfied at our destination in Norwalk. It was there while removing our tour-paks that Lee noticed his worn tire was now cracked!

A worn tire is bad enough to be riding on, but Lee felt he had enough rubber for one more ride. He didn’t count on the rubber cracking. This is a serious concern. We retreated to our rooms, me and Andy to shower off the day’s grime, Lee and Debbie to begin research on where to find someone to change a tire late on a Saturday or even Sunday. Andy is familiar with this scenario as we all know and feels if he can find someone on a Sunday in a sparsely populated town in Maine, Lee should be able to do so in a vastly populated area such as Norwalk. After a bit it was clear that no tire changing would be taking place on a Saturday evening after business hours. Our minds turned to where to eat within walking distance.

The Italian restaurant adjacent to the hotel seemed convenient, but my gluten sensitive stomach wasn’t too keen on the prospect. In the end we selected a tavern Andy discovered on his reconnaissance mission, across and diagonal to our evening digs; The Tavern on 7. We were enjoying drinks on the deck, waiting for our orders when the owner, Dominic, approached us with an invitation to join the Mexican Fiesta; on the house. That's when we fell through the rabbit hole, and right smack dab into the middle of Mexico.

This Saturday special was plainly visible on the menu as a beer dinner. I do like a beer now and then but a whole dinner of beer? Top that with $45 per person and I was happy with the Angus burger (minus the roll) for my evening meal. So when you’re invited to the Fiesta on the house you wonder “what’s the catch?” We were escorted to a long table and the patrons already seated happily shuffled to make room for us. Dominic assured us we were only responsible for the drinks we consumed already, and soon, the waitress set before us the first course, cocktail de ceviche. Gulf of Mexico baby shrimp marinated in bloody mary mix with Cerrano chili, tomato, avocado, cucumber and cilantro; paired with Dos Equis Lager. Then it all became clear when Francisco Figueroa, Business Development Manager of Wisdom Import Sales, stood and told us all about Dos Equis. We were part of a sales promotion.

Our table mates did not seemed fazed at the addition of guests to their table. We introduced ourselves around, and began to party with Dave, Lerone, Eric, Bob, Denis, Lori, Joann and another Andy. As each course was consumed we showed our appreciation to the chef with the shaking of our maracas. Francisco quizzed us after each course on the beer we consumed and Lee, paying attention as he always does, won the first prize of the night; a great looking jacket with the double XX of Dos Equis emblazoned on the front. On the back is embroidered “stay thirsty,” a great saying for anything you do in life! Lee won this as he remembered that the source waters for Dos Equis come from the Kachuna Mountains in Mexico.

As the evening progressed we followed the appetizer with Ensalada de Nopalitos paired with Cerveza Tecate; Pollo con Mole Pablano, paired with Dos Equis Amber; and the grand finale, Chimichanga de Plantano paired with Bohemia. I particularly enjoyed the Mole Pablano sauce on the chicken. Francisco informed me that this sauce contains 52 different spices. We Frenchmen love our deserts so the banana and rum filled tortilla topped with vanilla ice cream slid down without a problem. Of the beers that were paired with our meal, I enjoyed the Dos Equis Lager the most. We had a great time with our table mates, enjoyed Francisco’s friendly personality, and Dominic’s hospitality. It was a perfect celebratory event for Lee’s special day, topped off by arriving alive and intact to our destination. The next morning it was clear we had climbed back out of the rabbit hole, and back to Norwalk, when we all took a closer look at Lee’s tire.

Rolling the bike slowly forward, the extent of this bad tire became even more evident when we spotted canvas. As the morning unfolded and all leads had been chased down, it became clear there would be no help in this town despite its size. We hatched another plan. Lee and Deb would ride two up, I would take Debbie’s tour-pak on my own bike, and we would follow them home. Tomorrow, Lee and Andy will ride back to Norwalk with the van and trailer and bring the Nomad home. However, despite the blip with our original plans we had more unplanned fun than one could have imagined. Lee is indeed fortunate too, that he’s able to plan ahead for more great birthdays to come.