Friday, December 4, 2015

Motorcycling Tips for Novices
(True stories delivered tongue in cheek)

I reached a milestone this year, 100,000 miles of travel on two wheels. If you couldn’t tell by the name of my blog, yes, I’m a motorcyclist and travel on two wheels is what I do. Now that I have some experience under my belt, I thought it was time I passed on some advice to you novices out there and for those thinking of taking up the sport. First, a few facts about motorcycles.

Number 1: They’re heavy. The weight averages between 400 lbs. to 800 lbs. give or take depending on model.

Number 2: When not moving, motorcycles don’t balance very well. So my first piece of advice for you is this; before you get off your motorcycle, make sure the kickstand is down, or learn the technique below.

Next: Riding in groups. One of the enjoyments of motorcycling, is riding with a group. You will need to learn a few of the hand signals used when riding in a group. For instance, (hand down) this means “slow down”, and this (one finger up) means single file. Another hand signal that is often used is this (finger pointing over the head). This means there is something or someone on the side of the road to pay attention too. But I found there are variations to this particular signal and I’m going to help you understand the nuances.

This (hand flapped lazily over the head) may mean “watch out for the old man and his dog.”

This (pointing vigorously over the head) may mean “check out the hot chick jogging in the short shorts.”

I’ve included an important hand signals below to commit to memory especially if you want to join the New England Riders.

It's All About the Pie

Next, let’s talk about personalizing. Motorcyclists love to pimp out their rides. Be sure to check out your fellow riders’ motorcycle for bling. You’ll be surprised at the amount of gadgets that can fit on a pair of handlebars. There are a few things to be aware of however, so read on.

My first year riding, I got a small GPS so I could find my way home if lost, and I wanted to look cool like the others. I purchased the special mount for it too. On my first group ride with it, not yet being accustomed to looking down at the GPS, I discovered that it was missing! Not knowing when in the last 50 miles it had vanished, I didn’t to stop the whole group, and just continued on. At the next stop three riders came up to me and said;

“We have some good news for you and some bad news. Which do you want first?”

“The good news” I said.

“We found your GPS!”

Me: Yeah! (Oh wait.) “What’s the bad news?"

“Three motorcycles ran over it before we picked it up.”

New riders, check to make sure items are securely attached to your handlebars. Don’t let this happen to you.

Many of the items attached to handlebars are also attached to the battery. One day, a few of us pulled over for lunch, and suddenly smoke began billowing from under seat and just above the gas tank. One thing I know for sure is that smoke and four gallons of gas is not a good combination. I became frozen to my seat! The only thought in my mind at that moment was “this is not how Dad envisioned me dying on my bike!” In the next moment my husband is yelling the seat is flying off and his hands are pulling every wire he can see from the battery. Lesson: If you’re going to add electronics, make sure you add the fuses too. The only smoke you want to see is on purpose.

Next were going to discuss riding in a variety of weather conditions.
One year we signed up for a fall foliage ride. When we left the thermometer was hovering just above freezing. But we had 50 miles to the start point and no time to wait for it to warm up a bit. When we arrived not only were my fingers frozen, so were my toes! In agony, I managed to get a boot off wanting to massage my feet between my hands. One rider seeing my thin socks, and having pity on me, reached into his saddle bag and handed me a brand new pair of thermal socks. My fingers were so cold I was fumbling and dropping the pair. The rider kneeled down, took off my thin socks, put the thermal socks on and even replaced my boots. Then he stood there a moment and said:
“I feel like I need a cigarette. I’ve never actually dressed a woman before.”

Lesson: Dress for the weather!

However, just because you start out dressed for the weather, doesn’t mean it won’t change. So be prepared for anything. For instance, a couple of years ago on one of our trips, the skies got dark and a few sprinkles began to spatter our face shields, so my husband and I stopped to put on our rain gear. I pulled over, (and put the kickstand down), got off the bike, reached into the saddle bag, pulled out the rain suit, put it on and remounted the motorcycle. The whole process took less than a minute. I’m ready to leave when I notice my husband has the contents of both his saddle bags strewn around the ground. Then, with a look of success, he pulls from the pile his rain gear. That began a 20 minute adventure in how to put it on! In the end I had to help him dress. I have a great tutorial video of all this I took from my helmet cam. Unfortunately, someone just out of camera view is using colorful language so watch the video at your own risk and with full disclosure.

Advice: Not only carry rain gear, know where you packed it, and practice putting it on before any trip.

Traveling by motorcycle is always a great adventure. It takes you to far flung places you wouldn’t otherwise have traveled. Some places have unfamiliar territory which can lead to excitement. Last winter we went to Florida as Dayton Bike Week was on my bucket list. One day, we decided to look at that piece of property we inherited but have never seen. The road was not paved, which on two wheels isn’t a very happy occurrence unless you have a dual or sport bike. But on we went. At intervals there were puddles across the road. My husband went through the first, and the second. But having just washed my bike, I wasn’t inclined to follow. At the third puddle I watched in horror as first the tires disappeared beneath water, then the tailpipes, and finally the saddle bags! He started to list to the left and I thought he too would vanish beneath the surface! This is when I finally understood what people mean when they say “time stood still.” First I thought, “Good thing we have road side assistance”. Then, “I wonder who will dive to the bottom to retrieve the bike?” With relief I heard his exhaust pipes gurgling under water as he opening up the throttle. His rear wheel found purchase and he popped out the other side. We looked at each other from across the abyss. It was the quietest two minutes of our marriage. My next words to him where. “Now what are you going to do.”

So my novices, next time in your unfamiliar territory, remember, things aren’t always as they seem. Those funny videos you see of vehicles vanishing into deceptive puddles are real.

Now that you are armed with all these important tips I feel you are prepared to begin your own motorcycling adventures.

Happy trails!

Monday, October 12, 2015

At Trails End

The Sunday before Columbus Day turned out to be perfect weather for us to complete the Whispering Giants Grant Tour in one 312 mile loop from NH, to RI, back up to Plymouth MA and home again. The tour has been quite the education. First, in learning about Peter Wolf Toth and his lifelong dedication to sculpting American Indians, to appreciation of the areas in which they are found. As for my claim that the tour is complete, it is as far as chasing statues. I may still have an opportunity for 10 more points if the weather holds out through October. If I can get a photo of the Massachusetts state flag in full furl, that is good for bonus points. It was surprising that we could not find one in our travels through Massachusetts yesterday. This was despite stopping at numerous schools and local government buildings and police stations. We found the American flag, the POW flag, and the Minuteman flag. No state flag. I don’t live too far from the northern Massachusetts state line, so a quick trip on another fine weekend just might do it. I have until October 31st, which is the close of the contest.

Why spend so much time joining such contests? Well, for me, it’s an excuse to ride someplace, anyplace I haven’t been before. Or as in the case of Plymouth, a place I have been to, but never knew what I was looking at. I enjoy any adventure that has an historical significance too. On some of our rides, we wrapped other adventures into the mix. The statues in Florida were part of my milestone birthday adventure and the Daytona Beach Rally in March. In May we went to see our new grandson, and took a side ride to Bar Harbor for statue # 46. On the trip to Laconia, the adventure was in getting home on the canvas that started showing on my rear tire. In Burlington, a place I have been to numerous times, it was my first visit to Battery Park; a gorgeous setting along Lake Champlain. Dunkirk, Sharon and Williamsport were part of a July 4th four day odyssey. We learned to trust the GPS, for when it told us to get off the highway and then back on, it was because the statue was at the east bound welcome center. It wasn’t a total waste of time. We did get a nice little ride through the neighboring towns in Ohio, and we didn’t argue with the GPS when it did the same to us in Springfield MA. This one we found without too much looping around the area.

Our one big disappointment was in Williamsport PA, when we discovered that the Giant there had been removed by the town fathers only two weeks before our arrival. A kind woman in the park told us of the uproar and many newspaper articles that ensued because town folk were not forewarned. Nor do the town fathers plan on restoring and reinstalling it at a later date which raised their ire further.

While in Rhode Island (a beautiful state by the way), we thought about two of our friends that live here, yet no time to visit. Why is life always so “on a schedule” that we don’t have time to stop and smell the roses? (Sigh) So on we went to Plymouth MA, were we did make time in our schedule to see our oldest daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren. For me, it was heartwarming to see those two little ones, as much as they seemed thrilled to see us. Is there any better way to end a tour than that?

Enjoy the slide show below:

Patnwilton's Whispering Giants Grand Tour 2015 album on Photobucket

List of Whispering Giants we’ve visited:

#44 Fort Lauderdale FL. (no name)
#10 Punta Gorda, FL, Calostimucu
#23 Charleston SC, Landing Brave
# 46 Bar Harbor, Maine, Glooscap
# 48 Laconia, New Hampshire, Keewakwa Abenaki Keenahbeh
#47 Battery Park Burlington VT. Chief Grey Lock
# 7 Dunkirk, New York, Ong-Gwe-Ohn-Weh
#6 Sharon PA (no name)
#65 Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Chief Woapalanee
#49 Springfield, Massachusetts. Omiskanoagwiak
#42 Narragansett, Rhode Island, Enishkeetompauog
#45 Plymouth, Massachusetts, Enisketomp.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Falling Into Just Riding instead of Writing...Whispering Giants Tour.

I've been meaning to post all about my mini vacation around Independence Day but so far, all I have managed to do is upload my pictures. Before much more time gets away from me, here are some photos from our 1400 mile adventure.

Whispering Giant in Dunkirk NY. Right on Lake Erie.

Enjoying the views of the lake on July 4th.

Lighthouse in Dunkirk.

More views along the lake.

Whispering Giant in Sharon PA on the Ohio state line.

Very disappointing to discover the Whispering Giant
in Williamsport PA was taken down
2 weeks before my arrival.
Nothing but a pedestal and metal bars. 

We had to get off the highway as there was a major traffic jam.
But we found some great byways and exceptional homes to admire.

 Since Williamsport was such a bust, 
we took a swing through Springfield MA
for this Whispering Giant. (seen in the background)

If anyone would like more details, just write. I'll make a list of questions and post another entry.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Star Island and the Zero Wheeled Adventure

Browsing the newspaper I see an article about an island in the Isles of Shoals. The Isles of Shoals are just off the New Hampshire coast and consists of nine islands. This island in particular, Star Island, is planning a centennial celebration of their incorporation complete with birthday cake and a tour of the island. Also planned for the day is a dedication ceremony unveiling their new power source said to be the largest off-grid solar array in New England. Well that sounded like a fun time to me so I held the news article up for Andy to see. With a nod of the head I go online and buy two tickets for the Thomas Laighton Steamship. While the party, tour, and dedication ceremonies are free to the public, getting there is not, yet I don't blink once as I purchase my tickets for the ride. After a short consideration, I opt out of the overnight stay at the hotel.

The Thomas Laighton behind me.

The day arrives with bright sunshine, calm seas and a boatload of people waiting to board the Thomas Laighton. Not all are visiting Star Island. Most are taking the narrated Isle of Shoals tour, which takes about 2 1/2 hours to complete. Our guide is very knowledgeable about the history of Portsmouth NH and Kittery Maine as we steam toward the mouth of the Piscataqua River. We pause a moment as we wait for the bridge to rise and we pass beneath. There is history here too. The bridge has been recently refurbished and opened, but the original Eagle on the NH side was saved and hoisted into it's place of honor where he has been proudly displayed for many years. We pass the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and our guide even knows which subs are docked and points them out. We pass the now abandoned Naval Prison, which to me is starting to look like a blight on the landscape. During his narration, our guide mentions to those staying overnight on the island, that they will have to wait an extra day to return. Bad weather is forecast for the next day and the Thomas Laighton will not be running. Nor will any other steamship be out on the seas tomorrow. I'm now glad I didn't fork out the cash for an overnight stay.

Going under the bridge.

See the sub near the dock on the left, just showing above the water.

The abandoned Naval Prison.

At the mouth of the river there are a few remnants from past wars. On the Maine side is Fort McClary and on the Portsmouth side is Fort Constitution. Both of these Andy and I have visited by land. And right at the mouth of the river are the caissons that once held the netting strung across the opening during WWII that was meant to keep German subs out of the river. (And not very successfully I might add.) We watch for minke whales that have been busy here this past week but while there is no sign of them today a seal does pop up and escort us for several minutes.

Fort McClary

Fort Constitution


We arrive at noon to the sounds of music and the smell of hot dogs and burgers on the grill. We take time for lunch enjoying the views from the island. Across we can see White Island. During winter storms the surf completely crashes over this light. Which is only one reason why it is no longer manned. Most lighthouses these days are automated, so no worries about ships running aground. Cake is next, served with fanfare and the local TV network recording it all. After our cake we walk to the solar array for the dedication ceremony. More speeches and photos. Back to the hotel there is just time for a short slide presentation on they why's and how's of the boards decision to incorporate solar power onto the island. Then we are off for the walking tour.

Click here to listen to a selection.

White Island and Lighthouse

During the walking tour we learn much about the islands early history, how the people survived, and how people live there today. Everything here must accommodate being earth friendly and renewable. Fresh water comes from many places; osmosis, one well, and rain water or carried in. Since fresh water must be conserved toilets are still flushed with sea water. They have their own treatment facility, grow vegetables raise chickens and recycle everything that can possibly be recycled. What they can't do for themselves is carried in or out by steamboat.

With the foot tour over we have just enough time to visit the marine lab. It's small and personal with lots of hands on. With a serious warning to be on time we make haste for the pier. Here the music plays and we enjoy some last minute tunes before returning to the mainland. Goodbye Star Island. We had a great time!

Don't forget to click on the link under the musicians to hear a selection of their repertoire.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Chief Grey Lock

With the remnants of hurricane Bill heading our way we decided to wrap an overnight trip into a one day ride. That ride became a riding odyssey that culminated at arriving home 12 hours after our departure and one hour short of  the torrential rain. My neck, shoulders and butt still ache which leaves me wondering how many half Iron Butt days are still in me.

The purpose of this ride was to visit yet another Whispering Giant. The day was so gorgeously bright and sunny it was hard to believe that by nightfall we would see rain. Our destination; Burlington Vermont. We took the "almost" direct route, which in NH is route 89. Since we don't live near any easy way to access 89 quickly there is usually a bit of back roads. Hence the "almost" in the direct route. We arrived and found the Giant very easily thanks to the GPS coordinates I have saved in my Garmin. If you go, you can find this Giant in Battery Park along Lake Champlain. Burlington is a very beautiful spot in Vermont. Yet Vermont is so full of beautiful spots it is hard for me to say it's the best. I did wish at the time that I had a few days to just sit by the lake and enjoy this place.

The Whispering Giant is in the middle of the park. There is no parking along the park side of the streets that surround it. I found a gas station across the way that had a view through the trees and parked Blaze in a side street right up against the intersection so I could see the statue through the foliage. I got a few decent pictures, but they didn't make me all that happy. I packed up and moved the bike to the gas station parking lot and went inside. Here we purchased our traditional riding lunch of premade gas station food to eat in the park along the water. While inquiring about restrooms, we were told there were public ones at the police station across the street.

After our yummy gas station food and soda pop (tonic if you're a New Englander) we wandered over to the police department to use the facilities. It was a busy little place with youthful looking people filing reports for this and that. Outside filling out paperwork for yet another person was a motorcycle officer. Once he was finished I approached him about riding Blaze on the sidewalk in the park to get a better photo explaining that the contest benefitted a children's charity. While not too friendly he was courteous and said it would be OK. To be fair about the friendliness he did have a lot going on. Before anyone could change their mind I had Blaze in the park taking a decent shot right in front of Chief Grey Lock.

Now we were to turn around and head back home the long way. The long way included climbing Mt Philo. Mt Philo is not a very tall mountain at just under a 1,000 feet, but there are a couple of switchbacks to make the ride interesting. The views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountain chain beyond in New York were stupendous! The Adirondack chairs placed strategically along the overlooks seemed fitting indeed.

We meandered south and then east until we came to route 17. Route 17 is a popular motorcycle destination along the Mad River over Camel's Hump and one I've enjoyed in the past. Most people head east to west. There is a great overlook about halfway. We were heading west to east. The westerly side needs some road attention with Andy describing the bumps as "moguls" and some cracks in the pavement that I consider fissures. One one mogul my phone leaped out of its holder. I still don't know how I managed to catch it, control the bike going uphill and pull over so I could put it in a safer spot. The ride down was better and we eventually reconnected with route 100. 

The rest of the ride was uneventful, but as evening began to creep in so did the clouds.  We had to stop and put more layers on too. An hour from home the windshield began to see its first sprinkling of rain. I have lived in New England all my life and it still amazes me how quickly the weather can change. The old adage about New England weather is certainly true, if you don't like it, wait a minute. Arriving home before the big downpours was an added bonus. If you haven't made vacation plans yet this year, consider Vermont. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Our New Arrival

The Henderson Clan continues to grow with the addition of little Xavier whom we welcomed into the world in May. Over the long Memorial Weekend, Andy and I took the slow way to Maine to lay our eyes on our new grandson. A trip that will take 4 hours by highway took 6 hours by back roads. That was perfectly OK with us. We made stops along the way, saw things you wouldn't see from a highway, and overall enjoyed just being on the road again.

Memorial Day was bitter sweet this year with tears of joy and sadness. Our sadness was in thinking of Dad, a veteran of WWII whom we lost in March, and tears of joy for the new life and the hope and promise it brings for the future. Xavier's birth in May added some comfort to us as Mom and Dad were both May babies. Xavier's birth falls smack dab between the two of them.

New Mother, Dad and Baby had appointments one morning, and with them otherwise engaged, we took a side trip to Bar Harbor, where a Whispering Giant can be found. This is number 5 for me, and each one is like finding a hidden treasure.

Other unusual sights you won't see on the highway are trees like this, with the power lines running right through the middle. We did a double take on that! Click on the image to get a better view. Now that is either love of the tree, or cost savings efforts.

And wouldn't you know, although it was the end of May, there are still snowbanks to be found in this part of the country. It was a snowball to the back that had me turn around and notice. (Not nice mister.)

And what adventure isn't made better than a souvenir to enjoy at the end of the day. Since Maine is a big producer of blueberries, it was nice to pick up this bottle of blueberry wine made right there in Bar Harbor. Then it was back home again, to dream about the next little road trip we will take.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

With Help From The Big Man Upstairs

The first really glorious day of the season dawns Sunday May 3rd. I roll Blaze out into the warm sunshine and give her a look-over. As is my habit, I work my way from top to bottom. Oil looks good. Now to check the tires. Gauge in hand I measure the pressure of each tire. They are a little low, so while Andy and I attend to adding air, I look them over sticking my fingers in the tread. The treads seem OK to me and I follow with my finger to the center of these Avons.  Nothing looks worrisome to me. Off we go to meet up with Lee and head to the Mountains.

Our first top is Laconia where we find Whispering Giant #48; Keewakwa Abenaki Keenahbeh. This is my fourth Whispering Giant and it dates to 1984. All of these Giants are in need of attention. So far the most well preserved one I’ve seen is in Punta Gorda. The worst is Standing Brave in South Carolina. The elements take their toll along with insects and humans. All in all Keewakwa isn’t too bad. I’m able to get some nice photos of Blaze in front with the rally flag. The commemorative plaque is missing and it’s not clear if the harsh winter or if human beings played a role in its demise.

 Since its noon, we follow Lee to the Meredith Docks to find a place to eat. None of the dock eateries appeal to us so we make our way along the boardwalk enjoying the buzz of activity in town. Folks are backing their boats into the lake and sports cars with the tops down are pulling into parking spots all over town. No one it seems wants to miss this perfect day. 

Along our way are various sculptures. We enjoy them to the fullest. Lee does his traditional handstand. What trip with Lee is complete if there isn’t a show? I try to get a shot no one has gotten before, but he’s shooing me away. I guess you can’t laugh and hold a handstand very well. 

We cross the street and find a place to eat in a refurbished old linen mill. The place looks fabulous with various shops and levels. Right through the middle are falls that long ago powered the mill. Three ponds and two lakes feed these falls. The canal is long gone and the feed pipe now runs under dwellings. Once a year, when the water is low, two divers one from one end, and one descending down from above, travel the pipe that now directs the flow of water to inspect and clear of any debris. People are fishing below and the size fish they reel in amazes me.

Lee is not heading home with us but staying at a Youth Hostel in Conway, farther north. Since Andy and I are curious about the hostel, we follow Lee there.  It’s nearly 4 pm, the time at which someone arrives to let you in, so we wait. We are rewarded with a tour of the place, and a nice chat with our tour guide.  We wave goodbye to Lee and head for home.

As we near the highway, Andy’ points his fender to a slower secondary road. I start pestering him about taking the highway as we are far from home and it’s already past 4:00 pm.” No no” he says, “this is better”. When I won’t stop pestering him he finally tells me he “saw something” on my bike and that the slower pace home will be better. A few more questions and I discover that on our way to Conway, he noticed a “spot” on my back tire. While I’m not happy with that news I’m glad for the information. I am now prepared to make choices of my own and ready for what might happen next.

I decide to get in front of Andy and he watches me as we continue in a slower but steady ride. I have not seen this “spot” and in my mind it’s a “spot”, so I’m relatively protected from the reality. However, as things go, we are required to make a stop before reaching home. I dismount and take a look at what I think is a “spot” only to discover it’s an ugly stripe that is running down the middle of the tire from fender to pavement! So much for my morning inspection. I am clearly not qualified enough to judge such things I guess. But back on the bike I go, and with the good grace of God I reach home unscathed. Three hours of riding with all senses on high alert take their toll, and I’m tuckered out. I am keenly aware of what could have happened. I have no advice on how to judge a tire or what to do if you find it wearing away in front of your eyes. All I can say is “don’t do what I did” and ride on such a tire, but it rings hollow I’m sure. The Avons are a curious tire to begin with and most of the tire looks great still.  I’m grounded for the time being until a new tire is installed, but grateful for the hand of God guiding my way.