Monday, February 27, 2017

Southward Bound, Redux

After Philadelphia, we made another quick visit to Rocky Raccoon in New Jersey. From there, the plan was to split up for a couple of days so Rogue could visit a friend in Pittsburgh while I headed south again. Her friend had invited me, but there are more cats in his house than my allergies could handle, so I opted for the woods.

I was removing the GPS mount to move it over to Zee when one of the shims fell into the bike and disappeared. It's a stupid little piece of plastic, but it makes the mount fit our 7/8" handlebars, so it's essential. I ended up disassembling Bee's right side in the hunt. Rogue eventually found it nestled among some cables, but not before I spotted something that made my heart sink: a leaking fork seal.

Those seals, as you may remember, took us most of a day to replace at the beginning of January, the day before we left. They're supposed to last for years. They worked for just about five weeks.

"What's the plan now?" Rogue asked as we put Bee back together and mounted the GPS to Zee.

"Same as it was," I said with a sigh, trying to convince myself not to say, Go the fuck home and call it all off.

One of two things happened with the fork seal: either there's a scratch in the fork leg, which would have to be new because they were pristine when we reassembled them, or I dropped a metal shaving into the fork. While screwing them back together, I caught the wrench on the top of the cylinder and sharpened it unintentionally (the cylinder, not the wrench). I thought I got the metal bits out, but it's entirely possible I missed one.

So Rogue headed off to Pittsburgh and I turned southward into Virginia. There's a campground in Strasburg called Elizabeth Furnace that I stayed in back in August, and I pointed us there. The bathhouse was closed for the season but dry camping was still allowed. The weather was beautiful - 70 and dry during the day - and there was more dead wood in the forest than I could possibly burn.

The sun was headed into the mountaintop on my second night there when a couple of bikers rolled in and parked in a site on the other side of the grassy center. I wandered over and introduced myself, and ended up spending the rest of the night swapping road stories with Gary and Mike. They reminded me of myself and Rogue; they had clearly spent that much time together and more, and had a large stock of ridiculous stories to tell on each other. It was unfortunate that Rogue wasn't there to meet them, but I'm sure we'll find them again somewhere along the dusty trail. I do love the Virginia wilderness, and they're local to it.

Battle of the All-Stars, Philadelphia

Before this trip was ever planned, there were tryouts for Team Massachusetts. A bunch of the Furies went, and I was excited to be one of the skaters rostered. That meant a tournament in Philadelphia in February, but then we planned to leave in January...oops.

I spoke with the head coach and explained that I'd be away and that if he wanted to remove me from the roster, I'd completely understand and would still show up to support the team. But some injuries and other circumstances left us with just enough skaters to fill the bench, so I pieced together a set of gear borrowed from various other skaters and hit the track.

Photo credit: Sean Hale

It wasn't as strange as I thought it might be to return to skating after several months away. My endurance was low, but my skills were still there, and I performed better than I was afraid I would. It was wonderful to see a big chunk of my Western Mass friends again and to be part of a team once more, if only for a weekend.

We played four games, winning against New Jersey and Hawaii and losing to Texas and Maine. By Sunday, when we were finally able to kick back and relax, we were all bone tired and covered in bruises and grateful to be done playing.

Photo credit: Pablo Raw

Given the projected timeline of this trip, I probably won't be around when the next Team Mass tryouts happen, but I'd do it again, maybe in a couple of years. For now, it's back to the road.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Companion That Wasn't

"Hey, where are you going?" The guy was in his early twenties and seemed drunk, high, or possibly both. His words came out slowly and he appeared slightly wondrous at everything around him.

"North," I answered. "Everywhere." We had just left Schooner Wharf after dinner with Sam and Danielle and were organizing ourselves to return to the Everglades. "Where are you going?"

"With you," he answered, like it should have been obvious.

I laughed and gave him my standard answer to people who ask if they can come along. "If you can fit yourself on that bike, you're welcome."

At that, he threw a leg over Bee and sat in my seat. I was too surprised to ward him off, so I let him sit there while I zipped the liner into my jacket. He blathered about some weird family story that had just occurred in his life and how now that that business was finished, he was free to move on to his next adventure, which was accompanying me to wherever I was going. Then he picked up my phone from its holder and dropped it, reached to pick it up, and tilted Bee into a position that made me nervous. Clearly it was time to leave.

"I gotta go," I said, jerking my thumb toward the street to indicate where he should go next. "You're in my seat."

He seemed genuinely surprised, and I had to explain that my comment about fitting on the bike had been a joke.

"Come on," he said. "We'll both fit."

"No, we won't," I said.

"You don't even want to try?" he asked, looking disappointed.

"It won't work," I said. "My luggage and a passenger together are too heavy."

He reluctantly removed himself from Bee and wandered away. I wasn't actually ready to ride, but I was beyond ready to leave, so I drove two miles to a gas station and finished the rearrangement of my gear there. I can't even say he called my bluff, because he was definitely in MY seat, but I don't think I'll be making that joke again anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Dragon

The weather was warm and clear as we headed into the mountains. Eventually we found some clouds, just enough to keep the sun from blinding us. We were both excited about the Dragon. The last time I rode it was in August, and I'd been putting some work into my riding skills in the intervening time. Rogue had yet to test herself on the famously twisty mountain pass.

We made a brief stop at Fontana Dam, since we were passing by it anyway, and snagged some pictures from the bridge.

When we arrived at Deal's Gap, we were startled and disappointed to find it closed and locked. The parking lot was blocked off, with a sign saying it was closed for the season.

The season? What season? It was 75 degrees, dry and summery. Why would you close a motorcycle resort when such beautiful weather can still be had?

Fortunately the road itself was open. We set our iPods to our favorite respective riding playlists (Lindsey Stirling for me) and twisted our throttles.

I remembered the Dragon being a terrifying experience. When I took Bee through it the first time, I stayed in first gear through most of it, used my brakes a lot, and was fairly unhappy with my performance afterward. I was also very glad to get back to smoother, more open mountain roads, like 28.

This time it was like a different road. The study and practice I'd put into my riding skills paid off in spades. It was no longer scary and intimidating, but an exciting challenge and a wonderful space to play.

The upside of it being off-season was the small number of other vehicles on the road. Two tiny souped-up sports cars whined in ahead of us and were gone. A pack of sport bikes came screaming through from the north, their riders dragging knees along the yellow line. I passed two pickup trucks and a sedan, and waved to a pair of people on a large touring bike. A handful of people were photographing the scenery at the overlook, and other than that, we had the road to ourselves.

A few minutes in I scraped my left boot on the pavement and tucked my feet closer in to the bike. Then I scraped my right boot, and then my right peg. I was disappointed to find the 11 miles and 318 curves over so soon, and I idled in the pull-off at the far end in a cloud of tiny flies and waited for Rogue. When she appeared, we dove back in again.

If my run north was good, my run south was great. Sailing into a right switchback, I dipped Bee so low that she squeezed my foot against the asphalt and I yanked us out of the turn, startled. For a moment I was puzzled - I knew I hadn't reached the limits of the bike - and then I remembered Lee Parks' advice on lean angle and was able to troubleshoot myself. Through the remaining miles I hung off the side of the bike through every turn, pushing my skills into a new level.

I popped out of the south end and back into Deal's Gap with a huge grin on my face, knowing I had just leveled up. Between swatting flies and rolling out my shoulders, I inspected my back tire and was proud to see that I had finally reached its edge at least once. Those chicken strips will disappear yet.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Leak in the Bumblebee

Saturday was a 400-miler, covering the distance from Orlando to Flovilla, Georgia, where Rogue's friend Lucas lives. He had offered us camping space in his huge back yard, among the trees and the owls. The GPS dropped us at a random field on a country back road, and Lucas had to come find us. Fortunately we weren't far from the correct destination.

His two dogs immediately became our new best friends while we chatted about bikes with Lucas' dad, who had done quite a bit of riding himself before his bike was tragically stolen off his back porch. He assured us that we could put our bikes in the basement.

Two average-sized bikes could probably have fit just fine, but the touring panniers give Bee and Zee very wide badonkadonks, so Zee's rear hung out the door. Any thief would have had to run over our tent to get them out of the garage, though, so I wasn't concerned.

The run westward to Flovilla was a last-minute addition to our plans, and an idea had hatched during our day's ride. While Rogue and Lucas talked games, I poured over the atlas, finding familiar points and estimating distances. Satisfied that my idea was workable, I closed the giant book and grinned at Rogue until she asked what was going on.

"We're gonna have some fun tomorrow," I announced.

"She's plotting," said Lucas.

"Yes, yes she is," agreed Rogue.

I went to bed without enlightening her, but filled her in on the details the next morning. The Tail of the Dragon would have been a rude surprise.

Atlanta was a scant hour away, and the infamous section of 129 didn't look too far beyond that, but just before we reached the foothills we hit a snag.

Remember the first time I tried to park on Jessie and Tyson's sidewalk and dumped Bee in the lawn? That incident precipitated a strange issue where she smelled like gas for the first 50 miles of every tank. I looked for leaks and didn't find any, and texted a couple of friends for advice. One of them suggested there was grit in the throttle bodies, and the other mentioned the vent hoses. Not desiring to disassemble the Bumblebee, I let it lie.

Parked at a gas station with a full tank in the northern realms of Georgia, I glanced down and was dismayed to see gas dripping onto the engine bars. We had been gearing up to leave, but at that I hucked all my loose gear onto the sidewalk.

"We're gonna be here a little longer than I thought," I announced, removing the dry bag from the back and then the seat from the bike. Rogue supplied us with coffee while I got out the wrenches and set about removing Bee's various panels.

While I worked, Rogue took the opportunity to remove Zee's front fender, which was mysteriously contacting the tire. After some inspection, it turned out that the new tire that was installed right before we left was too large, and was actually wearing its way steadily through the fiberglass. Unfortunately there was nothing to be done about it.

Bee continued to dribble, making a stinky puddle around my feet while I worked. At last I pulled off the fuel sensors and vent hoses and removed the gas tank. The air box underneath was dry, so I picked up the tank itself and inspected it.

"Well. Fuck."

The spot between the tank and the front strut was seeping, a slow but steady stream of gas emerging from the weld line. There was nothing to be done about that either, so we put her back together.

Strangely, the only person who stopped to ask me if I needed any help just happened to be a welder. I already had the tank remounted, but I explained to him what the problem was. He made a chagrined face and said he wished he could help, then wished us luck on our journey.

"What now?" Rogue asked.

"I run half tanks until I can get this fixed," I answered. I already knew the leak was in the top 50 miles of the tank, which still left me 100+ miles per fill-up.

"You sure you want to ride the Dragon with a leaky bike?" she asked.

"Where should I ride with a leaky bike?" I responded, and off we went into the mountains.

Review: Ion Tank Bag

DuPuis had begun to feel like home, and leaving wasn't high on our list of desires; but we had a date to make in Philadelphia, so northward we went. Our first stop was another visit with Jessie and Tyson in Orlando. It was a bit more hurried this time, as we were back on a schedule and only had the one night.

I'd had some things mailed to their address, and was happy to find that along with a new rain suit and replacement cell phone, at long last I had all the correct and necessary parts to furnish Bee with a tank bag.

She came with one, but I stupidly forgot to reattach it one day after a gas stop, and it flew off and was never seen again. This was maybe a week after I got her, so I've been without for quite a while.

My uncle kindly got me a new one for Christmas, but the first one I ordered was the wrong kind for the tank ring that was already mounted on the bike. By the time I realized the mistake we were on our way out the door, so my mom mailed the incorrect one back and I had the correct one mailed to Tyson. It was waiting for me when we arrived in Orlando the first time, but had come without mounting hardware. That arrived while we were in south Florida, and I have to give credit to Twisted Throttle - even though they screwed up with the hardware, their customer service was excellent. They responded to all my emails immediately and overnighted me the new bag. I'd buy from them again with no hesitation.

Some assembly is required on these tank-ring bags, but fortunately Tyson had a drill.

I like the Ion bag, small though it is. It was mildly irritating to have to do construction on it to get it working, but the overall tank-ring system is clever. The bag doesn't touch the bike and thus can't damage the paint like magnet-mounted bags. The top has a clear pocket for maps (I tried to put the GPS in there but couldn't read it), and it comes with a neat little rain cover that's also clear on top. A handle on one end allows for easy carrying when I walk away from the bike.

I had to move all my bar-mounted gadgets around to accommodate it, but I'm very glad to no longer be using a shopping bag and a cargo net as my tank bag.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Pond at DuPuis

Our last night at DuPuis, we took a walk on the horse trails that lead off the back of the campground toward the pond. We walked for a good hour altogether, but the pond turned out to be over 5 miles away, so we resolved to take the bikes there in the morning.

After coffee and oats, we pulled the luggage off the bikes so they'd fit through the pedestrian gate and went dirt-roading. The roads were lovely and the pond at the end was utterly gorgeous. Photos will do better than words to describe this one, so I'll let Rogue take it from here.

Review: Zega Mundo Pannier System

When I bought Bee, she came with Triumph side panniers and a Coocase top box. Considered "day sized," they did the job until it was time to actually move onto the bike.

There weren't a whole lot of options for luggage that would fit my Tiger 1050; the newer 800XC is the more popular adventuring model, but Touratech had a couple of options. The Zega Pro pannier kit is modular, so that if one part of the box gets damaged, you need only replace that one part. For a difference of several hundred dollars, though, I was happy to go with the Zega Mundo, which are solid aluminum boxes that don't come apart.

I had a hell of a time mounting them. The left one slipped on with no trouble at all, but to fit the right I had to unmount the exhaust can. To unmount the exhaust can, I had to remove the seat and rear plastics, and to remove the rear plastics, I had to remove the Coocase mount.

When I had most of the bolts out, I discovered that the rear mount was actually broken. One of the feet that bolts vertically into the frame had snapped off. I didn't have time to replace it, so I just shoved it back together and hoped it wasn't too important.

The Zega mounts didn't play very nicely with the Coocase mount, but after 20 minutes of shoving and cursing while Rogue held up the platform for me, we got it cobbled together. The right Zega strut and one corner of the box touch the exhaust can, but not hard enough to leave a mark. There's one bolt missing that just utterly refused to fit, but it doesn't seem to have been an issue, as there are three more on that side and four on the other.

The boxes themselves are pretty great. I had to install the locks myself, which is a puzzling way to offer luggage - why wouldn't you want locks? - but they went in easily enough. I dented one of the boxes when I dropped the bike in Orlando, but it's not visible unless you're peering through the frame.


•Relatively inexpensive - two side boxes, locks, and mounting kit cost ~$1100
•Waterproof - the lids seal well into the bodies and don't leak
•Sturdy - dropped the bike fully loaded and only suffered a small dent
•Dual hinged - can open the box from the front or back, and the other latch acts as a hinge
•Removable lids - open both latches and the lid comes off to be a tray, seat, cutting board, or improvised corporal-punishment device
•Tie-downs - each lid has four tie-down points. They'd be better if there was another millimeter of space between the bar and the lid, because any bungee cord or cargo net with coated hooks doesn't fit.

•Difficult to install, at least if you're mixing manufacturers. Might have been easier had I bought a Zega top box system, but I already had the Coocase. The instructions are also awful, written in poorly-translated German with grainy grey photos that show nothing useful. The parts are unlabeled, so you figure out for yourself which bracket is left and which is right.
•Box mounting system - you have to open the box and leave the lid open or off while you screw the boxes onto the struts. They're secure, since you can lock the lid shut, but they can't be completely full while you operate the hand cranks. Those cranks also take up a bit of space in the box. I prefer the mounting system for the BMW GS panniers, which is keyed and operated from outside the box.

Overall I'm pretty happy with this system. These boxes will store a lot of stuff, take a good beating, keep the water out, and provide a great place for my growing sticker collection.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Little Things: Bandannas

The Little Things is a series of posts about tiny and/or cheap travel items that I've learned to carry because they make my life so much easier.

I wear a bandanna under my helmet, tied like a do-rag. It serves two or three functions depending on the season:

1. It keeps my helmet liner clean. A clean liner means I don't have to wash it, which means I never have to fight with getting it back in correctly.

2. It keeps my hair less tangled. Even in a braid, my hair has a mind of its own, and the bandanna makes a difference at the end of a long day of riding.

3. It keeps my neck warmer in place in cold weather. Pulling the fleece up over my mouth and nose doesn't do any good if it comes right back down when I put the helmet on.

A bandanna also serves as a backup dish sponge, a rag for messy emergency bike work, or a tourniquet if the day really goes to shit. I keep several with me on long trips.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Birthday Manatees!

February 7th was my birthday (the last one at which I am still not 30, if you wondered). Rogue took me to a movie, the new Xander Cage Triple X, and it was everything we hoped: completely ridiculous, cheesy, impossible, and awesome. I've been a big fan of the original Triple X* since it came out, and the sequel didn't disappoint.

*Funny aside: I was about 14 when 'XXX,' as it appeared on billboards, was released in theaters. I was on my way to see it with my friend Alex, and my dad asked what movie was on our docket. I responded "Triple X" and he roared in indignation while my mom laughed, because she already knew what it was, and also knew that Dad thought I was referring to the rating.

On my actual birthday we wandered into Jupiter, where I got a free bagel from Einstein Brothers (you can get one too if you join their email club; this was not birthday specific). Searching the TripAdvisor app for things to do in the area turned up something called Manatee Lagoon, and off we went.

The Lagoon is part of Florida Power and Light. There's a free museum with information about manatees and a cute little garden out front. FPL releases warm water from their steam cooling system into the bay, and the manatees are attracted to it in winter, because they don't survive well in cold water. There's a viewing deck above the area of warm water, and it was full of barracuda and triggerfish and a small handful of manatees. We saw four or five, which was quite exciting to us, although someone told us that when the water is really cold they can actually pile up in FPL's little square by the hundreds.

Another search of TripAdvisor turned up something called Northwood Village, which purported to be a artsy district with galleries and shops. A short ride dropped us right in the middle, and we walked around with increasing puzzlement.

There was some art, and there were some shops, but almost everything was closed, and the place had a strangely creepy feel. The website told me that the area was undergoing a renaissance, and reality said that the change was recent and still a struggle. Rogue compared it to Holyoke trying to become Northampton.

I always put, uh, sweaters on my trees...

When we returned to camp for the night, our neighbors had a roaring fire that consisted of one large palmetto stump. They allowed us to cook our hot dogs there, and we ended up staying a couple of hours and chatting about life. They're a band of roving antiquers from all over the country who wander around buying and selling interesting things.

Campgrounds contain an amazing selection of people. We've met fellow bikers, retirees, parents with kids, birders, and one drunken asshat who woke us up by hollering obscenities four nights running. He's still sharing a campground with us, and I'm sleeping with my harmonica under my pillow. I hope I don't have to use it, but if it's a question of self-defense, I'll do what must be done.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Little Things: Key Tag

The Little Things is a series of posts about tiny and/or cheap travel items that I've learned to carry because they make my life so much easier.

It may seem silly to add anything else to my key ring, as I have a vested interest in saving every cubic centimeter of space. But if you've ever tried to pull a key out of your pocket while wearing a glove, as I do multiple times a day, you'll understand the value of anything that makes the keys easier to find.

My friend Charlie gave me this ribbon keychain. I had to get used to the way it flaps frenetically when I ride (in darkness, it makes my instrument panel appear to flicker), but it's so worth it when I don't lose my key on a regular basis, and can still retrieve it from my pocket even after my gloves are on.

Goodbye, Rain Suit

We were headed south, possibly toward the Everglades, when Rogue pulled up and waved at me. She pointed at her saddlebags, and I glanced at my own in the mirror and was surprised to find my rain suit gone. We took an exit, returned north, and entered the turnpike again for another southbound pass. Since Rogue had seen it fly away and I hadn't, she led the way.

It was less than half a mile from the entrance ramp, but traffic was heavy and pulling over proved difficult. We parked in the delta of the next exit, and Rogue waited while I sprinted across the four lanes of traffic and walked north.

A few minutes a long, a police cruiser sailed by and wailed its siren at me. I expected the officer to pull over and give me a hard time for walking on the highway, but I never saw them again. I wanted to ask what the point was of making noise at me. I know I'm not supposed to go for a walk on the turnpike, but I'm not supposed to litter either, and the rain suit was expensive.

Unfortunately by the time I reached it, the pants and the bath towel that had been with them were long gone. The jacket I retrieved and walked back to the bikes, which were thankfully un-crashed-into.

After all that, it turned out that the jacket zipper had been broken anyway, so it was marginally useful at best. I ordered a new rain and had it sent to Tyson, hoping we wouldn't encounter heavy rain in the next ten days.

I loved that rain suit and had plans to write a glowing review of it. I'll probably still do that, using photos of Rogue's, because she has the same one. The replacement is a different model from the same company, though, because I was forced to go with the cheap option. On the bright side, I'll have two different suits to review when it arrives.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Little Things: Washcloth

The Little Things is a series of posts about tiny and/or cheap travel items that I've learned to carry because they make my life so much easier.


The washcloth is not for me; it's for Bee. Every time I wake up on a dewey morning and find the seat and mirrors dripping, I whip this out and don't start my day with a wet ass. It also comes in handy for wiping other people's spit off my seat, on those mornings when I leave work to find some disrespectful hooligan's calling card waiting for me in all its slimy glory.

Pictures from Florida

Near the DuPuis wildlife area on route 76 are these awesome-looking bee boxes. Bees already make me happy; a rainbow of bees is even better.

Key West has a healthy outlook on life.

When I was traveling in Ecuador in 2008, I found a dead rat near the train. It remained there, and I photographed it regularly over four months as it got flatter, and it became a running joke. Here, to continue tradition, is another dead rat, spotted in the Bight Marina.

This strangely creepy photo is of the Seven Mile Bridge. I have no idea why it seems to have been taken through a pane of wavy glass. I can tell you that Pigeon Key, which is underneath the bridge, is noticeably haunted.

This beautiful and impatient horse was more than ready to go adventuring at DuPuis.

A walk up Bathtub Reef beach collecting shells on our first day exploring Stuart, Florida.

Some Art... (Key West)