Monday, May 25, 2009

Ferry Tales

Relaxing is hard work. This evening, belatedly realizing how low my energy tank had been drained by my Canadian sojourn, and unrefreshed by an hour-long nap midday, I succumbed to the inevitable and took to my bed at about 5 p.m. It’s now 9:30 p.m., and thanks to that peculiar filtering process that enables writers unconsciously to distill their thoughts into a semi-coherent whole before committing them to paper, I feel up to jotting down some notes about the trip for those who haven’t already turned up their noses because I drove my car instead of riding my bike.

A word about that first. “To travel is better than to arrive” is a sentiment I’ve never fully accepted. I guess that makes me some sort of philistine, but the truth is most journeys bore me. I travel in order to arrive, and the way I look at it, the less time the traveling takes, the more time I have to enjoy the place I’m traveling to. The only reason some people remember so much about how they got to where they were going is that it took so damn long to get there. Mark my words—if they ever develop a practical Star Trek-type transporter, I won’t be the only one using it.

All that said, there is one form of travel—necessarily slow, and a bit complicated, and fairly expensive on a dollar-per-mile basis—that I find absolutely charming, and that’s ferries. British Columbia has an excellent ferry system, imaginatively named B.C. Ferries, that is the primary carrier between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada, and across a couple of bays on the western shore of B.C., which is called the Sunshine Coast. There are also ferries that run farther up the west coast, and I plan to take them one day.

I rode two ferries on this trip. The first took me (and the car) from Port Angeles, Washington, over to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and reacquainted me with the reason why I’ll never make a good sailor. The rain had been bucketing down for most of the previous day; in the morning it was windy as we left the dock, and once truly under way, the waves got choppy, as well. To look at the ferry from afar you wouldn't guess something of that size could be tossed around that much, but I swear there were times when we were headed in three directions at once. I won’t say the sight of other passengers eating breakfast made mine want to come up, but I had a few moments there when the deck seemed a better place to be than inside the cabin.

Victoria, the largest city on Vancouver Island, and the capital of the province of British Columbia, has been called a city of “newlyweds, nearly deads, and flower beds,” which neatly encompasses its reputation as a holiday destination, its high percentage of resident retirees, and its beautiful gardens, including the famous Butchart Gardens. The British influence is evident everywhere, enhanced by a constant parade of people of all ethnic and national backgrounds. For reasons I can’t fathom, I felt instantly at home there.

I spent two days in Saanich, north of Victoria, at a Howard Johnson motel staffed by individuals hell-bent on living up to the rest of the world’s notion that Canadians are excessively polite people. Even the local buses were apologetic (“Sorry, I am not in service”). I walked around Victoria far more than was good for my weak ankle, and reflected on the idea that had I come here on a bike, I’d be chafing to get back on it and go looking for good roads. But the road wasn't why I was here; it was where the road took me that mattered.

On my third day in Canada I drove to Nanaimo, on the east coast of the island, home to the ferry that would take me to the mainland the next day. Nanaimo has a neat little downtown, full of cafes and pubs and artsy shops and—here I bare my geekiness to you, gentle readers—used-book stores, which I dearly love to browse through. Leafing through an obscure volume that hasn’t seen the light of day for years, or a forgotten copy of a book I love, with the musty smell of old paper and cracked binding glue wafting up from the pages, does for me what meditation does for other people.

The ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver suffered none of the directional indecision of the first one. It was a huge and impressive and well-appointed vessel, and before it even left the dock, people were sprawled on deck in the sun, or unwrapping sandwiches in the covered solariums in the bow and stern, or napping inside on one of the padded benches. There was a video game room for the youngsters, and TVs showing Coronation Street, a long-running British serial drama, and several snack bars. Out the window the sea slid by, and the snow-capped mountains across the strait grew larger, and finally we sidled into Horseshoe Bay northwest of Vancouver and I was back on the continent.

That night I had dinner with my friend Michael and his wife, Sharon. I first met Michael in 1995 (I think) when we had both come to a checkpoint of the Iron Butt Rally to see the riders arrive, check in, plan the next leg, and grab a few winks before setting out again on that 11-day, 11,000-mile exercise in self-abuse. Michael would later ride the Rally himself, proving that even the nicest, most rational-seeming people can fall prey to strange and dark urges.

Michael and Sharon fed me lavishly, Michael and I talked into the night, and after our goodbyes I checked into a business hotel nearby and slept soundly.

On my final day in Canada I went to Trev Deeley’s Harley dealership in Vancouver, also home to the Deeley Motorcycle Exhibition. There, contrary to my expectations, I found no Harleys on display, but instead a collection of rare and classic British bikes in an exhibition called End of Empire, about the decline of the British motorcycle industry (“A cautionary tale eerily reflective of today’s near collapse of the US automotive industry!”). If you’re headed that way soon, don’t miss it.

I managed to tear myself away around noon and headed south. The GPS said I had a long drive ahead of me if I wanted to get home that night, but every time I thought about stopping a little voice said, “Go on, just a few more miles, then get a motel.” That, of course, turned into an all-nighter, and I got home just before 11 p.m., after an 11-hour drive that probably explains why I haven’t been fully awake for the last two days.

I have a vague sense of dread that the credit-card bill for all this will beggar me for the next year. But it was worth it. And in a year I’ll be ready to go back. Hell, I’m ready now.

But first, I'm going back to bed.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ferry tales can come true

The view out my hotel window, Nanaimo, B.C., Thursday, May 21. If everyone could wake up to this there'd be no need for blood-pressure medication.
(click to enlarge, then say, "Ooooh!")

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Saturday, May 23, 2009


I just got back from my Canadian adventure. Yes, even though I drove a car there, it was still an adventure. And I even did a little bit of long-distance riding...sorry, driving on the way home. Today was my sixth day on the road, and I was really getting tired of motels and restaurant food. I left Trev Deeley H-D in Vancouver, B.C., about noon today, and rolled into my driveway in Oregon just under 11 hours later. Mapquest says I logged about 550 miles.

Anyway, it's tired and I'm late. Wait, that didn't come out right...but you know what I mean. More later. Pictures, too. First sleep. Then some more sleep. Then a dog, who's probably sitting in a kennel right now wondering, "Where's the human, and who's supposed to be entertaining me while he's gone? And where are my cookies?!"

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Old Business

“If you can’t get to 70 by a comfortable road, don’t go.”—Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s observation on aging has been on my mind lately. In 1986 I threw a 600 Ninja away in turn 1 at Willow Springs while testing a group of bikes for a story in Cycle Guide. I was running about 140 down the straight and grabbed a bit too much front brake at the end. I hit the deck hard, blacked out for a while, and when I came to I realized, among other things, that I wouldn’t be riding home that afternoon.

In fact it was several weeks and a couple of operations before I got out of various hospitals. The full catalog of my injuries isn’t important. In general, though, it affected my right shoulder, the ribs on that side, and my back in ways that I still feel every day, more than 20 years later.

In 2006 I was driving my car when I was hit head-on by a guy driving a pickup truck. I came away from that one with more rib fractures—bringing the lifetime total on the right side to 10 or 11 so far—and a titanium plate in my left wrist.

The cumulative effect of these misadventures is catching up with me. Lately I’ve had a hard time getting comfortable on my motorcycle, a 650 V-Strom that I’ve tricked out with everything you’d want in a long-distance/adventure touring bike. The problem is I can’t seem to ride it more than an hour without getting a burning sensation between my shoulder blades that gets worse and worse and then spreads over my entire back until I just have to get off the bike.

I saw my chiropractor the other day. He rides a GL1800, and understands what I mean when I say the bike doesn’t fit me any more. (Regular doctors just shrug and say, “So quit riding.”) So we talked about my problem, and looked over my charts—I’ve been patient of his for years—and what we came up with, stripped of medical jargon, is that I need a different motorcycle.

A cruiser, to be specific.

Apparently the laid-back seating position will take most of the strain off that area of my spine where all those shattered and poorly healed ribs connect to it. I sense he’s onto something, and not just because he has a diploma on his wall. Some of the best and most memorable rides I’ve ever gone on were on Harleys, big baggers with floorboards and wide, scooped-out seats with a backrest for the rider, and a handlebar that leaned back toward me.

I’ve done all I can to the V-Strom to make it better—different seat, seat pads, bar backs, bar risers—but it hasn’t helped. It angers and saddens me, too, because I finally have that bike just the way I want it. It’s just not the way I need it.

All of the above is by way of saying that, regardless of an earlier post, I won’t be riding to Vancouver Island after all. Instead I’ll be driving my car. Before you shout “Blasphemer!” and send for the torches and pitchforks, let me point out that I need a vacation—really need one, do you hear me?—and the reservations are made, and the plans are planned, and the time off work is already arranged. So I’m going.

While I’m gone I’ll be thinking a lot about motorcycles, and how much I love riding them, and how I’m not ready to stop just yet.

And how making it to 70 aboard a comfortable motorcycle is the best way to get there.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Flashback Friday

In 1983 motocrosser Steve Wise rode a converted Honda MX bike in the Houston Astrodome TT. Rumors flew that Honda had spent $12,000 on the bike, a phenomenal amount in those days, despite clear evidence that there wasn't enough bike to spend that much on, unless some hidden parts of it were made from gold.
(photo by Jerry Smith)

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Get Outta Town

I was never a Scout, but I’m pretty much always prepared anyway. My V-Strom’s panniers contain a very complete toolkit, a tire repair kit, a 12-volt tire pump, fuses, a roll of wire, terminal ends, assorted zip-ties, small rolls of electrical and duct tape, a back-up electric-vest controller, some spare SAE connectors, shop rags, nitrile gloves, hand cleaner, a bungee net, some cargo straps, and a few other things I’ve forgotten.

This explains to some degree why I seem to wear out rear tires faster than most people. I think it also explains why I’ve never been stranded by the side of the road, except for one time when my ST1100 blew a radiator hose, and another time when I bent its front rim running over a wooden four-by-four post, which was lying in the middle of the lane I was merging into, and which I didn’t see until the car ahead drove over it and flipped it into my path where I hit it dead-on—at 75 mph. It’s the only time I ever got a 600-pound bike completely off the ground. Once was enough. Trust me on that.

Anyway, I’m getting ready for a ride up north to Vancouver Island, and I was out in the garage a while ago checking the stuff in the panniers to see if there was anything I didn’t have and should take along. There wasn’t. All I need to pack for my trip are clothes, a passport, a camera, and sunglasses.

I need new tires, though, and I’m getting them put on next week, a few days before I leave. In my road-racing days I learned how to scrub in a set of tires in two laps of any racetrack. It doesn’t really take much longer on the street if you approach the task with the appropriate respect.

On Friday my friend Larry is heading out for a ride to Nova Scotia (read about it here). He’ll be riding through town on the way and I’m going to join him for an hour or so. I haven’t been on a long ride for several years, and it’ll be good to get out there and taste that excited/queasy feeling that marks the start of a big journey.

And it’s odd to think that at some point during the next couple of weeks, we’ll both be in Canada at the same time—except at the extreme opposite ends, so the chances of meeting up for a cup of coffee at a Tim Horton’s are pretty slim.

At around the same time that Larry and I are Yanking around in Canada, two other riding buddies, Ron and Dick, will be riding around the Southwest. Monica’s coffee shop will be awfully quiet in the afternoon with all of us out of town, but at least there’ll be somewhere for the other patrons to sit that isn’t covered with spread-out maps surrounded by a bunch of motorcyclists hunkered over them, tracing routes with yellow highlighters.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Flashback Friday

Your faithful blogger on a TZ250 at Ontario Motor Speedway, in...well, let's just say a long time ago. Note the treaded Dunlop triangulars, the Mike Hailwood-replica racing boots, and the ponytail escaping from under the Bell Star. Make that a long, long time ago.
(photo by the great Mush Emmons, wherever he is)

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