Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Project “New England Waterfalls”

              We have visited some amazing waterfalls over the years, from the most magnificent, Niagara, to those located in Letchworth State Park in NY.  The roaring thunder of water crashing over these falls is deafening, and their power awe inspiring. They make great destinations by motorcycle when you have several days to travel. We’ve also discovered some fairly magnificent falls right in our own backyard, and this has led me on a quest to discover them all. At least the one’s easily reached from the roadside anyway, and not after a long and arduous hike. I started my search for waterfalls on the internet, but it was a tedious affair. Fortunately, I stumbled upon this book, New England Waterfalls, written by Greg Parsons and Kate B. Watson.  This guide lists over 400 cascades and waterfalls in the New England area. The vast majority of them are easily reached from the roadway.

                The New England Waterfalls guide is very good with descriptions, ratings and directions. While the directions are great, there are no GPS coordinates listed. So began my New England Waterfalls project, to create POI’s (point of interest) or in other words, pinpoint using the directions available in the guide, the waterfalls listed in the book. My plan of action is to work my way out from “home”, finding and labeling all the locations that can be reached in a day’s ride and working my way out from there.

                I’m using software available for my Garmin. Early on, I ran into a question in my mind about the accuracy of my calculations. For instance when the guide instructs to follow a particular road for 7.2 miles, I used the measure tool available with the software. This gives you a “true” measurement. My understanding of “true” is the measurement in terms of straight lines. Yet I know that roadways curve left and right, and up and down. So I wasn’t sure if my calculations were correct. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to test two of these POI’s.

                The goal was to travel to Vermont, and using the POI alone, find two waterfalls within our day’s ride criteria. I selected Jelly Mill Falls in Dummerston VT and Hamilton Falls in Jamaica VT. Our first stop; Jelly Mill Falls.  I was pleased to discover my POI right on target! What I didn’t expect was that it was on a dirt road. Andy and I have traveled many a dirt road on the Cruisers and will do so even if we don’t care to. We had Lee with us though, and he would rather not ride his big Kawasaki Voyager up and down dirt roads. Thankfully, the falls were a short way from the intersection of the main paved roadway so we didn’t have a serious issue.

                Next up was Hamilton Falls. We had a little more trouble with this, but it was due to the GPS routing I discovered later, as the roads we finally found our way on were as described in the guide. What wasn’t described was even more dirt roads. Over a mile and a half of dirt that I wasn’t pleased about taking Blaze over. Lee didn’t say too much, although I suspected he had his qualms. Yet he took the Voyager all the way to the falls and back and did a great job at that. Andy rides his Kawasaki Vulcan like a trail bike. I never worry about him!

                After I returned home, I opened my GPS software maps and zoomed into these two areas. For Jelly Mill Falls, I noticed the dashed lines indicating dirt roads. However, for Hamilton Falls the lines are solid, indicating to me that these roads are paved. The experiment overall was a success. My calculations were accurate, we were able to visit the falls a short way from the road and I learned some valuable lessons. One; don’t assume the roads are paved, and two, make via points to avoid having the GPS take you through all the back country. While it might be the shortest distance as the crow flies, no one’s flying unless we’re on the slabs.

You can download the coordinates on my GPS Page.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

De-stressing on the open road: Tips for enhancing your next ride

By Guest Blogger Kiara Wilson

Motorcycling as a popular pursuit is already widely-celebrated for its abilities in clearing the mind and relaxing the soul. The internet is awash with a number of how-to’s, insight pieces and other-such articles on the subject. Before we get into things I’d like to inform you that this will not be yet another blog post on the subject of motorcycling and the ability to reset even the most stressed out. Instead, let us focus on a new topic; how to enhance the stress reducing procedure even further. 

Some feel pleasure in attaining the biker look. Panda motorcycle helmet covers, Chippewa motorcycle boots and tailed jackets are all good fun after all,  but do these skin-deep pleasures really capture the essence and freedom of a good old fashioned motorcycle ride? This topic may be suitable for different post altogether. So for now, I’ll get back on the topic of enhancing your experience.

For me, there a three methods for improving a motorcycle ride's potential to clear out the brain box and de-stress from your day. These are taken from personal experience and taste, you understand. Your experiences may be completely different. Feel free to make your own statement below.

#1 – Music
An absolute no-brainer, really. I’ve consistently discovered that all that’s needed for an extremely pleasant journey atop a motorcycle, regardless of weather, what you currently ride, or the amount of stress circulating in your brain at the time, is the right selection of musical accompaniment.  The reason for italicization of the word “right” in this instance is to imply that the choice of music is subjective. Only you know the kind of music likely to help you unwind and recharge your faith in this human circus we live in.

Although professional studies have shown that classical music is more beneficial in this capacity than any other genre in helping to de-stress, I’m not necessarily endorsing this for you. If heavy metal is what does it for you, then listen to some heavy metal. If you’re heart lays within the diverse world of funk, blast some James Brown as you belt around the countryside/city and unwind. Just make sure you choose a set of headphones that are going to fit inside that novelty skull motorcycle helmet, or was it panda?

#2 Let your mind wonder
There are many aspects to taking a long and pleasant motorcycle ride. For me, the thing that stands above most others is the way it can make you feel at one with your surroundings. Unlike travelling by car, motorcycling exposes you to the elements and provides you with 360 degree sensory experience. When in a car and looking out of a window, it’s as though you’re looking at a scene from outside- as you would a painting or movie; when atop a motorcycle however, you become a part of the painting.

With this perspective you will allow your mind to wonder at its own will. Though it certainly can’t be taught and may take some time to get there- once you do you’ll struggle to stay off your bike, even when you’re in good spirits!

#3 Choose your Locations wisely
In my experience the previous two snippets of advice for de-stressing work only if you incorporate this last piece into the mix. Choose your next ride carefully, taking into account your own personal tastes and preferences.

If you’re a city dweller and love nothing more than a blast around the slip roads and over the bridges of the particular concrete maze you’re proud to call home, then this is the setting you should probably shoot for. Similarly, if you’re a bit of a country bumpkin (come on, admit it) then you’re likely to be happiest, or at least able to attain your happiest state of mind when surrounding by, well, nothing! It’s worth noting that sometimes it’s a change of scenery that works the most wonders in mending an overworked psyche. So that’s about the long and short of it. Once again, if there’s anything you’d like to add then please feel free!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

History Buffs on Motorcycles

            I don’t often express this, but Andy and I just love to ride to historical places. First, they make great destinations, and second, we find them fascinating.  Any period will do from Native American, to our earliest settlers to present day. What better place to live than in New England where our country first got its foothold. The history abounds here, and is typically all in a day’s ride.

            One cold winter’s day we were driving home to New Hampshire along a stretch of highway I traveled every day for three years. Yet this day would be like no other daily commute, for on our drive home I spied a roadway sign I had never seen before, and haven’t been able to find since! (I think it was swiped.) The sign was white with large black lettering that read “Middlesex Canal”. Sure enough, with all the foliage missing because of winter I could see a very distinct pathway through the trees. The “canal” was dry but you could tell there had been something manmade there at one time. For the remainder of our travel I read aloud to Andy, from my smartphone search, the history of the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts. There we learned about the museum in North Billerica and the Middlesex Canal Association.

          Fast forward to Mother’s Day. The sun greets us upon awakening and the day is probably the warmest it’s been since last riding season. There is no way we are staying off two wheels today. We discover the museum is open this day and free to the public! First we hightail it via Route 3, which is packed as if it were a commuter day,  it being Mother’s day and all.  But we soon arrive and spend some time at the small but friendly museum. The museum itself is located in an historic mill building; Faulkner Mill, which in its heyday, produced cotton and woolens. The New England Baseball Museum is located here too if you are a New England Sports Fan.

Faulkner Mill
(burned down and couple of times)

Gears that work to open and close the gates of the dam.

Some interesting facts about the Middlesex Canal: It is the first civil engineering project in the US. Ground first broke in 1794, and the canal’s purpose was to transport goods from Boston to the interior. It took seven hours to travel from Boston to North Billerica, which today takes only 28 minutes to drive the 33 miles. Two oxen could pull a barge for what once used to take a team of oxen to move goods overland on wheels. Some areas of the canal are still visible, however, the Association was denied permission to clear other sections and they are now considered protected wetlands. Our visit in North Billerica is where the canal was fed by the Concord River. I don’t have any photos from inside the museum, but we were able to get a few photos of the mill artifacts.

           Not sure if you can see, but there are a ton of fish (carp) just below the surface. 
(Factory mill pond.)

For the ride home, Andy took us along some very impressive byways; sweeps and rolling hills. The trees are just beginning to leaf out, and the spring flowers are rich and heady with their fragrance. All in all a very satisfying Sunday ride that incorporated two of our favorite things.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dusting off the Cobwebs

It’s finally springtime in New Hampshire and Blaze and I have been out on a few adventures. It’s almost impossible to describe the sensation of finally being in the saddle after such a long cold (and I do mean COLD) winter. Of course there are still times when I have to keep to my four wheeled pal Isis, my Chevy Cruiz, and it’s at these times I have the opportunity to observe from a cager’s perspective the faux pas of some riders on the road. In fact I often cringe at what I see. In an article I once read in the AMA magazine, the AMA claimed that riders often don’t see the part they have played in an accident. With that I will proceed on with my own advice.

Dodge Ball:
                On a recent trip to celebrate Easter at my daughter’s home the traffic started to crawl at a particular point. It usually does, because she lives in an area that is tourist and vacation land. A rider came from behind us, and was weaving in and out of traffic. This might have been OK, except he was sliding terribly close to the front bumpers of the people he’d dart in and out from. We were on pins and needles for close to 30 miles. He wasn't wearing any protective gear except for the state mandated helmet; although I couldn't see a logo that said it was DOT approved. In the end, all his dodging was for nothing, as we ended up ahead of him just keeping to a steady pace. It could have ended a lot worse for him and I think that because it was Easter, the prayers of many people kept him alive. Don’t weave in and out! Changing lanes is one thing. Everyone is changing lanes trying to avoid the tie-up, but playing dodge ball with your life is stupid.

Zoned Out:
                Are you riding with a group of people? Even with one other person, you should keep a presence of mind that there is someone else riding along with you. I know, it’s a great day, the sun is shining, the air is fresh, and you don’t have a worry in the world. Yet, when you zone out to the existence of another person, it could make their ride not so fun. When you aren’t paying attention, especially if you are in the lead, you may begin to roam from one side of the lane to the other. The person behind has to either continually adjust their own lane, adjust their speed because you are daydreaming, or drop back so they too can enjoy the ride and stop worrying about your rear fender getting too close to them.

Know Who You’re Riding With:
                Are you getting ready for a pleasant day of riding with a group of like minded free spirits?  Are you sure you are familiar with their riding preferences? I sometimes jump into a local group to ride. Some of the members know me, and some don’t. Likewise for myself; there may be people I’m not very familiar with. I like to check with them on what their riding style is like. Maybe I don’t want to get stuck behind someone who is a newbie, and feeling a bit timid. Neither do I want to get behind the peg scrapper. I like a moderate pace most of the time but if going to new places I haven’t seen before, I like to take my time and look around enjoying the scenery. So I might enjoy being a flower sniffer that day. Knowing the riding style of the people you’re riding with will keep you from finding yourself out of your comfort zone, or heating up under the helmet because you find yourself on the brake more than the throttle.

Super Slabs or Secondary Roads:
                While you’re checking on the riding styles of your pals, be sure to check others’ comfort levels with different types of roadways. I agreed to a ride with another woman once to find she never goes on the slabs. She said “her neck hurts” from the wind speeds. I was surprised and while I don’t mind all secondary roads to my destination, picking up the pace on the super slabs and opening up the throttle is fun too.

Riding Invisible:
                This is one I see all the time; solo riders riding in the lane so that they are invisible to drivers. I personally experienced a rather startling incident on my commute home, when a young man on a sports bike “suddenly” appeared out of nowhere. As I observed this lad, I realized he was riding to the right of the lane, neither visible in the left side mirror, or the rear view. His small profile kept him invisible in the right mirror as well. Essentially, this young man was riding in everyone’s blind spot. I have witness this type of riding so many times already this season that is has me a bit dismayed. I want motorcyclist to enjoy their ride, not regret it not knowing why their accident happened.

Don’t Spit:
                I was riding with a group of friends once, when the person ahead of me, who was to the right of the lane, decided to spit. Well, that glob of unwelcome sputum made a lovely arch and hit me square in the face. I was not a happy camper. So please don’t spit in the wind.

Revving the Engine:
                Today’s motorcycles are fabulous state of the art machines, so why do some folks feel they need to rev the engine? Is it a guy thing? Do they think they look cool? Is there a chick their trying to impress or do they just think its bad ass? Do they know it’s annoying? Stop it.

                I’m sure you have a few choice pieces of advice. I’d love to hear some of the things that you've seen that make you cringe. What advice would you like to share with other riders as they dust off the cobwebs for another season of riding?