Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Skipper Gets Her Iron Butt

It's October, and New Hampshire is calling. I've got friends to visit, family to meet, and I'm going to enjoy some cool weather and beautiful foliage while I'm at it. I thought about flying, but wanted to have my own transportation while up north and didn't feel like paying for a rental car, which means I'm taking the bike. Which means I'm doing a hell of a lot of miles.

Which's time to get Iron Butt certified!

On October 10th, I was up at 5am. Everything was already packed; I got dressed, attached the luggage to the bike, and waited for my housemate Scott to get up so he could sign my witness form. When that was done, I put in my earplugs and rolled down the street to a gas station. Normally I would have filled my tank the previous day, but the certification considers your first gas receipt to be your official beginning. The pump at station #1 didn't print a receipt; I had to go inside for it. I hoped that wouldn't be the story of the day.

It was dark and pleasantly cool as I rolled through Houston, already building its daily allotment of traffic jams, because you can't have traffic all day if you don't start in the morning. Merging onto I10, I realized I'd left my tool kit in the carport. Oh well. I hoped fervently for no problems and continued east.

A beautiful sunrise was followed shortly by rain. I pulled into gas stop #2 (Vinton, LA) just as it really started to pour. By the time I'd sucked down a coffee, the weather showed no sign of letting up, so I put on my rain suit and hit the road. For the next couple of hours we played a fun game of "find sun, get warm, remove rain suit. Find rain, get wet, apply rain suit." Over and over. One shower was so intense I had to drop my speed to 30mph, but it was gone in less than three minutes. Just Louisiana saying good morning.

Stop #3 was in Baton Rouge. Stop #4, 409 miles from home, was in Poplarville, MS. Somewhere in Mississippi, a butterfly splatted against my face shield. I've killed a lot of bugs with my helmet, but never one that made that wide of a mess. I wiped it with my glove.

By stop #5 (Meridian, MS), I was over 500 miles into the day and still feeling good. The seat on the NC700X is rock hard, so I brought a bath towel to use as a chair pad, and it was working wonders. It's a little slippery, but that's only a problem if I stop hard - and even then, I don't slide as long as I pinch the gas tank with my knees.

Somewhere on the ring roads around Birmingham, AL, my left knee announced itself with a sudden sharp pain. I propped my foot up on my highway peg, then went over a bump in the road, and the sudden pressure made me knee pop in a really alarming way. I probably said a bunch of nasty things, but traffic was heavy and moving fast, and it wasn't a good place to pull over. By the time the road opened up again, my knee had had its say and fallen quiet.

Stop #6 (Springville, AL) saw 713 miles on the odometer. Hina's odometer is actually slightly inaccurate, about 3-4% above GPS measurements, which is normal for Japanese bikes. For this reason, the Iron Butt verification is based on GPS and not on the odometer.

It was dark when I crossed the Tennessee state line. A wave of awful stench hit me and continued for at least half a mile, longer than I could hold my breath. Rising Fawn, TN? Smelled more like Dead Fawn. Stop #7, in Cleveland, TN, was at 861 miles. It was still pleasant outside, and I felt good, better than I'd expected to feel after 15 hours on the bike.

I'd been planning to get a hotel in Kingsport, TN, but decided to push a little farther to Bristol, VA. Just as I was rolling over mile 900, a rock or something flew off the road and hit me in the finger. I yanked my hand off the throttle and shook it, swearing repeatedly, hoping my finger wasn't broken. On we rode, northbound in the deserted darkness of I81, Hina purring happily and me with tears in my eyes, occasionally still yelling "Fuck!" and shaking my head. I really wished I had storm guards to protect my hands.

Stop #8 was at 993 miles, in Baileyton, TN. It was frustrating to pause so short of my goal, but I didn't know how far it was to the next gas station and Hina's empty light was blinking. I was 50 miles from Bristol and the fatigue was starting to set in. I tried to use my phone to book a hotel, but kept getting an error, so I just headed for Bristol and hoped.

I made my final official gas stop in Bristol. We didn't need fuel, but I had to get a receipt to prove where I was. Then we headed for the Red Carpet Inn down the street. I woke the lady who worked the front desk, but she was very kind, and even agreed to sign my witness form. The room was old, broken, and dirty, with unrepaired flood damage on the walls and at least one large bug that ran under the fridge when I approached. I didn't even change my clothes or remove my contacts - I'd only be getting four hours of sleep anyway.

My alarm sounded at 5:30am, and the rubber was on the road at 6am. It was chilly but not miserably cold. I stopped after the first hundred miles for breakfast at a Bo Jangles. Their coffee is always too damn hot, but the food was amazing after more than 24 hours without a proper meal. I'd spent the previous day alternating between granola bars and beef jerky, supplemented with cans of double-shot espresso, my standard road diet.

I knocked off more than 180 miles on my next run, stopping for gas in Woodstock, VA. There was a storm hovering, and I couldn't tell how wet it would be, so I put on my rain suit just in case. It was too cold to risk getting significantly wet.

By Enola, PA, now a total of 1,459 miles into my second-day goal of 1,500 miles in 36 hours, the rain had wicked up my sleeves to my elbows, up my boots and pant liners to my knees, and I was cold. I dug into my luggage and found dry clothing, then rolled up my sleeves and put my dry socks in plastic bags to protect them from my wet boots. I swapped the light gloves for the heavy waterproof gloves.

In Dunmore, PA I stopped for gas at 1,580 miles. I grabbed my witness form, now unfortunately wet and limp, and went into the station. There I found two Dunmore police officers. I explained my quest, and officer Taylor was only too happy to sign my form. I'd been aiming to make New Hampshire that night, but the rain was still coming down and my waterproof gloves weren't and I was freezing. The officers recommended a good hotel nearby, and when I was confused by the directions, they got into their cruisers and led me over there. The Sleep Inn was beautiful, and after throwing all my gear and clothing into the dryer, I jumped into the hot tub with glee.

When the socks are dry but the boots are wet.

Warm and dry again, I followed the officers' other recommendation up the hill to The Loading Dock, where I took a seat at the bar next to a guy in a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Five of us at the bar were travelers, mostly on business, and one was a local. The company was entertaining and the burger was excellent. I even drank a Russian Porter, because apparently my housemates' love of unusual beer is rubbing off on me.

With my paperwork in order to get my Saddle Sore (1,000 miles in 24 hours) and my Bun Burner (1,500 miles in 36 hours), I slept well if not long enough. The next morning's 300 miles to New Hampshire were cold but efficient. I showed up in Mom's garage after 1,858 miles in 54 hours, 14 states, 14 tanks of gas, 10 hours of sleep, and about 250 miles of rain.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rogue: Sulphur, OK

Thursday morning, I woke up and made breakfast and watched a half dozen deer eating and gamboling at the next site over, not 100 feet from me. It was amazing. They knew I was there, they just didn't care.

I wandered over to the nature center nearby, about a mile walk away, and then past it to the natural springs. Buffalo and Antelope were north of the center, both having very different types of beauty to them. Buffalo looks like it belongs in a fantasy RPG video game.

Hungry now, I trekked back to Zee and we rode up into the town of Sulphur, which is button cute and full of history and smiling friendly people.

I ate a giant burger at a tiny diner called the Poor Ladies Cafe and it was glorious, even if the interior looked pretty generic.

On my way back to my tent, I stopped at Vendome well, which is where the locals stock up on water. It tastes a little too much like sulphur for me, but I guess the minerals are good for you.

Leaving the town, I headed down route 177 towards Buckhorn, the camping area Skipper had initially recommended. It was a lot less... wild than my area, it had showers! Which is always exciting to me.

So after chillin' by Lake Arbuckle for a few hours and watching the sunset, I returned to my campsite and my tent, intent to reach Illinois the next day.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Rogue: Houston to Sulphur

Rogue, reporting in. I pulled out of Rosalie for the last time at 10:30 am on Wednesday morning, October 4th (I'd been aiming for 10, but who's counting), leaving my wife and a whole life behind in Houston.

A few people have asked why I left, if I love it so much and it's a hard answer to give. The short answer is that Houston was never my goal. I hate cities and city life and i was never going to be happy there, even if Rosalie was an oasis of calm and magic in the midst of the bustle. I never bothered to make an effort to find more of a life there, though I'm still not sure that was the right move. I'll never know.

I admit that I cried through most of the ride up 45 to Dallas, knowing that Twist and Zoom was breaking up for a little while. All things, of course, must end, hard as it is.

Some hours after a final stop at Buc-ees, I crossed the state line into Oklahoma and was pleasantly shocked to find that it's an absolutely gorgeous state. Route 35E North (I can't figure it out either) took me past a massive wind farm and towards Sulphur. After a wrong turn into the wrong part of Chickasaw, I finally found a campground.

Skipper had recommended that I camp here, as she'd stopped on her way down from Colorado. And I'm really glad she did. On my way in, I saw both a turtle and a wild tarantula crossing the street at various points (I saved the turtle and wished my best at the tarantula). I finally pulled in around 6pm and set my new tent up, the old one having broken at the LGG rally.

I'd forgotten how much I love camping, even if it was a little too lonely and a little too quiet, despite the coyotes surrounding me.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Going Our Separate Ways

All of this "let's live on the motorcycles" nonsense began when I got fed up with the state of my life. It was July of 2016, and I had almost simultaneously had a bad breakup and discovered adventure bikes. I'd always had the sense that I should move far away from home someday - I didn't do it after high school, and I didn't do it after college, but suddenly I found a point in my life where the roots I had left were no longer significant enough to keep me local.

Rogue, I believe, went through a similar process, but I won't presume to tell her story for her. The long and short of it is that she jumped in on my insane plan and off we went. The stated goal: to live on the bikes for about a year.

Unfortunately, that was the only goal we thought to state before pulling up all our stakes and riding away. Where were we going? South, where January wasn't full of snow. But where? Ehh, we'll figure it out when we get there. How long would we be gone? Maybe a year...but that would bring us back to New England in January, which would be stupid, so maybe more than a year. We'd cross that bridge when we came to it. What were we going to do while we were away? Um, travel, obviously. Sleep in a tent. Ride motorcycles. Take pictures.

We were sitting in a campground in Florida when I realized I'd made a huge mistake: I'd deleted all my life goals and replaced them with nothing. I had no direction, no plan, no ideas; just an equally crazy friend and a couple of motorcycles. If you'd presented me with that idea a month earlier, I would've said it sounded great. But once I was living it, it was crazy-making. Goals are a huge part of life, whether you spend a lot of time pondering them or not. They give direction and purpose, and without those, what the fuck is the point of anything?

We had a few things to do in the short term, and a general idea to go west across the bottom of the States until the weather warmed up. But we ran out of money around the time we hit Texas, landed in Houston to find work, and were quickly reminded that even the cheapest of fleabag hotels get costly fast. We signed a lease on a room in a co-op house to stop the financial bleeding and then had to start saying, "We live in Houston now."

We'd had some idea from the beginning that when it was all over, Rogue would return to Massachusetts and I probably wouldn't. That potential split had been unimportant until Houston, when suddenly the trip was over. I fell in love with co-op life, joined a band, and decided that the city could be tolerated for a while. Rogue hated Houston and wanted to go home.

Plan B, then, was for us to ride to Oregon together and then split up in Colorado. But Rogue broke her shoulder and had to stay in Houston for a while longer while I went traveling. When I returned, I moved into another room in the house, because we both needed space. We had always planned to go to the next LGG rally, so it only made sense by the end of August for her to stay until the rally. Plan C: after LGG, it was go time.

On Wednesday morning she packed up and rolled out, and this adventure duo came to an official end for the foreseeable future. She's now on her way back to Massachusetts, and I'm going to turn the blog over to her for a bit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lace, Grace and Gears 2017

A year ago last summer, I saw a post in the LadyBiker Facebook group for the first annual Lace, Grace and Gears women's motorcycle rally. I shared the post and asked if anyone wanted to go with me. Rogue said yes, so I taught her to ride and we took our first long bike trip together from western Massachusetts to Beaumont, Texas.

Fast forward a year and we've ridden all over hell's half acre, spent months living on our bikes, moved to Houston, and are coming up on the second annual Lace, Grace and Gears. This year's event was moved to Bandera, where there are better riding roads.

We left Houston early on Friday afternoon and spent several hours buzzing peacefully west on I10 toward San Antonio. Forty miles out of Bandera we found rain. I wouldn't have minded except that I left my rain suit and jacket liner in Houston, thinking I wouldn't need them. Those last forty miles were a bit chilly, but we made it to the rally grounds at the Twin Elm Guest Ranch. I was excited to see a large field full of tents alongside a park full of RVs - last year our tent had been one of only two. There were also more adventure bikes, including a Tiger that belonged to the guy camped next to us.

Apparently Bandera had seen three solid days of rain. The entire place was a mud pit, and everyone's bikes and boots were caked in slimy, sucking goo that became tough as nails and impossible to remove when dry. Oh well, I have an adventure bike for a reason. I bounced off the asphalt and dove gamely into the tenting field, skidding through the mud and eventually parking under a tree near the middle. Rogue followed, a bit more hesitantly after her last experience riding in rain, but she made it. Spirit, the Tiger rider, warned us that he had initially camped in the spot where we had set up, but found his tent full of ants and had to move. We kept an eye out, and by the end of the weekend we had a few visitors, but since it stopped raining they weren't as numerous as we feared.

Through the RV park was a row of vendors, and a short walk beyond those tents was a sound stage, a beer tent, and a row of food trucks. We got some tacos for dinner and then found Layne and crew at the bar. She was clearly stressed about the rain; it seemed some people had let the mud ruin their party and seen fit to complain loudly about it. The forecast for the rest of the weekend was clear, though.

Sleep was scarce for us both that night. Someone nearby thought that 2am was a great time to use an impact driver for nearly an hour, and I got cold because I'd brought my summer sleeping bag, which is literally just a fleece blanket with a zipper. I didn't realize how much temperature difference there would be between Houston and Bandera.

Saturday morning we got breakfast at the OST diner in downtown, then wandered over to the parade lineup. By chance we were right next to Sherry, Rogue's doppelganger that we had met at LGG 2016. After a couple of hours chatting with everyone around us, a quick walk to the nearby river, and a lot of sun and sweat, the parade rolled out. A pair of horses and riders led us through downtown and back to Twin Elm. The streets were lined with locals waving and taking pictures. We totaled 732 lady bikers, not enough to break the record, but almost as many as last year. Considering the recent toll from Harvey and the three days of rain, it was hardly a disappointment.

732 lady bikers get ready to roll

We returned from the parade to find that our tent had collapsed. One of the poles, already held together in one location by wire ties, had split in two more places. I used a knife and some pliers to remove the broken bits, cobbed it back together as best I could, and accepted that it would probably end up on my face in the middle of the night and shit happens. Rogue ordered a new tent for her upcoming journey to New England.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet. There were supposed to be bike games (slow races, keg rolls, a weenie bite, etc.) but they were cancelled. Whether that was because of the state of the ground or because there had been some complaints about the sexist nature of the weenie bite game was unclear. With no plans to ride anywhere after that, I went to open my bottle of wine - and realized I didn't have a corkscrew. I tried the "hammer it with a shoe" trick but my boot didn't do the job. One tent stake and one screwdriver later, I managed to push the cork into the bottle and the problem was solved.

We were walking through the vendor tents when a woman with a pamphlet gestured at me. I paused to see what it was, expecting a sales pitch for something I didn't want. When I saw that she was advertising the Hoka Hey, a cross-country distance riding challenge rumored to only have one female finisher in its history, I stopped and gave her my full attention. It turned out that Junie, standing in front of me, was that woman, and not only had she completed it once, she'd completed it all six times. My heroine.

I was on the verge of putting the dates in my calendar for next year, determined to be the next female finisher, when she told me that only oil-cooled bikes are allowed to participate. That means a Harley, an Indian, or a Victory. My water-cooled adventure Honda would not be permitted at the starting line. Disappointed, I walked away. I'm not in the market for a new bike.

Half an hour later, Junie flagged me down again.

"I talked to the Indian rep," she told me, "About getting you sponsored. You should talk to the dealership. We want more young people involved in this."

Now that sounded like a plan. Excited about the renewed potential to face the legendary challenge, I bounced away to check out the band. We ended up following Toni to the other end of the ranch, where there was a brief demo of barrel racing and rodeo. Unfortunately few people showed up, but it was fun to see an American rodeo - I'd only seen bull riding live in Ecuador, despite having arrived in Houston during the famous annual rodeo festival.

With everything up in the air, no one knew exactly when we were supposed to be doing our fire performance. Once dark fell, we spent a few minutes rehearsing, then gathered our props and fuel and showed up at the sound stage. Our timing was perfect. The bands were between sets and we were able to hook up our music to the main sound system. Rogue spun poi to a remix of the Halo theme, and I did an eating and contact staff set to Halestorm's song I Am the Fire. We finished the set with a partner breath off each end of my staff. I'd been concerned that we weren't rehearsed enough, but it came off without a hitch, and everyone said it was a great show.

Getting ready to burn it down

With Toni in the beer tent

On Sunday morning, we ate at OST again, then wandered into San Antonio to see the River Walk. At Ripley's Believe It or Not, we got pulled in by a pair of circus performers. When Red realized that we're also performers, he invited us to join his show. Rogue was scheduled to return to Massachusetts starting the next day, but I said I might be interested, and we traded phone numbers. So maybe I've got some sideshow fun in San Antonio now. I just wish it wasn't five hours away.

At the San Antonio River Walk

Monday, September 25, 2017

Harvey: the Aftermath

As soon as the storm cleared town, it was time to assess the damage and start putting it all back together. The dryer, oven, and one fridge had drowned, and there was a circuit out in the kitchen. Overall, though, it wasn't so bad. The house remained livable if a bit moldy, and everyone's vehicles survived. The dryer even fixed itself once it wasn't full of water anymore.

The first thing we did, after mopping the main floor a couple of times to get the dead frogs and roaches out, was help Scott clean out his gym. It had gotten just enough water to be gross but not enough to need renovation, so an afternoon of moving mats and gym equipment and mopping with bleach got the job done.


We didn't want to wait for a contractor to be available and demolition doesn't require much skill, so Rogue and I immediately started ripping out the bottom 18" of drywall and insulation from the first floor. The amount of mold we found indicated that this was not the first flood the house had experienced, although legend says it was by far the worst. Scott and I made an excursion to Home Depot to acquire cement board and drywalling supplies.



When that was done, we began a larger-scale demolition of bedroom 5, the room with the roof that we had tarped with marginal success. All of the drywall and insulation was removed from the walls and ceiling, and then we sprayed mold killer on the remaining structure. Danny, who had been trapped in Denver during the hurricane when the Houston airports closed, returned home and joined in on the messy fun.

Not only is this cheaper than therapy, I get paid to do it!

Everyone in the neighborhood was doing the same. Over the course of the week, the stacks of contractor bags and drywall and ruined boards piled higher along the sidewalks until most of Houston looked like a construction zone. Trash pickup couldn't deal with all the debris, making only their regular rounds to pick up a single can of garbage a week, which was laughable next to the stack of forty or so brimming bags of junk at the edge of our driveway.

The new Houston

Somehow we stuffed ourselves into the schedules of multiple contractors, and the professionals took over the upstairs room, installing a new roof, spray-in insulation, and new drywall. The contractor dealing with the main floor was a different story.

The landlord was paying us hourly to work on the house, but none of us have professional training in construction, so we had planned to limit our participation to removal of drywall and eventual repainting. But one day the contractor disappeared, and it was eventually discovered that he'd had trouble with his driver's license and been arrested as a result. His truck was impounded and his dog taken to the pound. As a personal favor, Scott picked up the pup from the pound and brought him home to us. And then we had an 8-week-old deaf pit bull to add to our list of difficulties.

You can tell I complained loudly.

Shithead, as his owner named him, was adorable, and well-behaved for a puppy of that age. I learned something about bathing a puppy, namely that I get at least as wet and soapy as the dog does. We weren't prepared to have a house puppy, though, so after a little over a week, Andrew drove out and delivered him back to his owner, who was out of jail but had no transportation.

But there was still the wall situation to deal with. I have some experience with mudding and taping from other peoples' DIY projects, so with no contractor in sight and money on the table, I dove in and did my best, teaching Rogue what little I knew along the way. One of the contractors from upstairs took time to hang the boards for us but didn't use shims, and the cement board was 1/8" thinner than the existing drywall, so we had the added problem of trying to make them match.

As of this writing, it's been five weeks since Harvey left. The fridges are both running. The oven still doesn't work but the stove does. We're on the last round of mudding, except for the front door and coat closet areas, which need structural work that we can't do. The damaged bedroom is fixed although not painted, and another bedroom is in the process of having its floor replaced, since the contractors discovered that it was at risk of collapsing into the driveway below.

The stress of living in renovation is getting to all of us, but I have to give my housemates credit for being amazingly tolerant of the whole situation even though it's obviously a major upheaval. I'm glad to be going through this knowing that all these awesome people have my back. To wax sappy for a second, in a way I'm grateful to Harvey, as it's brought us closer together and forced us to prove that as a team, we accomplish amazing things. Much love to Rogue, Scott, Danny, Mike, Andrew, Teresa, Ash, Joseph, and Austin for making the absolute best of a bad situation. I could have washed up from the road in any of a million places, and I'm really happy I landed here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I'd been home for about a month, sweating in the seemingly endless Houston summer, when we started hearing predictions for a big hurricane coming up from the Gulf. We stocked up on water, canned soup, and whiskey, just like blizzard preparation in New England. The predictions for Houston wavered with the track of the storm but got steadily worse as Harvey approached. The day before it was supposed to hit, we brought what we could of our furniture to the second floor, propped the rest up on bricks, and unplugged our appliances.

Those who had cars brought them to various garages around town. Rogue and I put our bikes on the porch, flanking the front door like gargoyles showing off their asses. We secured a tarp over the section of balcony on the third floor that was known to leak in heavy rain. Then we held our collective breath.

This hand signal says Teresa does not approve of what's happening.

Friday afternoon was so quiet we wondered if it was all a joke. In the wee hours of Saturday morning I woke to howling wind and driving rain, pounding my window and flooding off the balcony. I went back to sleep, knowing we had made all the defensive maneuvers that we could and the only thing left to do was wait.

By the time dawn arrived, the air was still and dry. Saturday was as quiet as Friday and I started to think the whole thing had been a bit overblown. But the predictions for flooding were still coming, so we behaved ourselves and stayed home.

Saturday night we were into a game of Munchkin when the rain came in again, accompanied this time by constant lightning and deafening thunder. Several of us went out onto the front porch to watch the show. The water was over 18" high in the street, and Andrew playfully tried to shove me into it. I grabbed him and dragged him with me, and we went running down the road, kicking water at each other and howling. I'd never experienced such drenching rain before - it sheeted down like a bucket had been upturned over Houston. There weren't individual drops, but instead a wall of water cascading westward so hard that if I faced east I couldn't even breathe.

Ash and I went on a walk around the neighborhood, helping people who were stuck in their cars. Just around the corner from the house, we found a police cruiser drowning on the sidewalk. The officers who had been in it were standing in the open garage door of the house behind, watching it helplessly.

When we eventually returned to the house, we found water seeping in under the walls and doors. We picked up the few things that were left on the floor, and then I showered off the muck and invited everyone up to my room on the third floor. I own very little furniture, so there was room for everyone, even the dogs. Ash and Mike took the kayaks out into town, and when they returned, we were all well into the wine and the whiskey. We whiled away the rest of the night with card games, occasionally creeping down the stairs to admire the several inches of water sloshing around the first floor.


Mike promises that he used his blinker.

Sunday was a repeat of Saturday - deceptively quiet and dry during the day, with floods pouring in as soon as the sun went down. The water got up to about 8" in the living room this time. On Monday we took a walk to route 59, which was under more than twelve feet of water and smelled like gasoline.

Route 59 from the frontage road

Routes 10 & 59

The only time I've seen no traffic in Houston

By the middle of the week, things were back to remarkably normal in Midtown and Downtown. Most of the businesses were open, the cars had been towed from the street (and from our neighbors' garages, which are below street level), and the sun was shining. The only clue that anything had happened was the layers of silt and grime on the sidewalks and the water stains on the walls.