In the Beginning

Driving a car, your relationship with the road is like that with a friend. Bumps are softened. On a motorcycle, the relationship is much more intimate, like that with a lover. You feel every small bump and dip.

Me, November 2011

This is the unfolding story of motorcycling and me. While I'd toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I'd never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school so I considered myself expendable. I'd just spent two years with every waking moment was consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.

My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So I gravitated to riding.

As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was that riding a motorcycle would save money given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was that royalties from the book would pay for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed that having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles, and manual transmission cars for years, I'd pick up motorcycle riding easily.

These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn't sell enough books to cover the costs. And learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life, I've always wanted to be where I'm not. And I'm rushing to get there.

In the few years since I began riding, I've fallen passionately in love with it. The average American motorcyclist rides 1800 miles per year. I did 16,000 my first year, 18,000 the second, and over 20,000 in the third. I've continued to average 15,000 to 16,000 miles per year even when I began writing a weekly column that eats up much of my Sundays. At night I often dream of squiggly lines on a map. Seriously.

When everything is clicking--I'm alone on a winding country road, I've got my "A" game, the music is in a groove--I sometimes forget the motorcycle is there and feel like I'm simply flying. If you don't want to take my word for it, trust Alton Brown.

Luckily, I live close to some fine riding, with twisty roads over mountain ridges, large state forests, miles of farmland (which often requires dodging Amish buggies), charming little towns (each different from all the others), and lots of historic sites. There's always somewhere new to see. (Here's a map of my favorite routes and road food). I particularly like combining riding with photography--one of my other passions.

When I began this blog I was riding a 2010 BMW R1200R. In BMW jargon, this bike was a "hexhead" (named because the engine cylinder covers are hexagonal). So these are the "Hexhead Diaries." I'll update them regularly with stories and pictures. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 26, 2011

It was cold, but I badly needed a mental health ride.  So I bundled up--a process that is a lot like an astronaut preparing for a space walk--and headed off.

I have two very large playlists on my Ipod that I use for riding.  One is mostly classic rock and rockabilly (heavy on the George Thorogood).  I use that for the ride home when I'm tired and need a boost.  The other includes New Age/space/techno/soundtrack instrumentals (lots of Tangerine Dream).  I use that on the way out.  Early in the morning on isolated country roads it makes me feel like I'm in a movie.

The sun peeked out and I had a nice time on Route 147 which runs along the eastern edge of the Susquehanna River.  This has been one of my favorite roads since I began riding.  But it's also one that seems to have gotten straighter over the past few years.  (I now don't even notice or slow down for curves that once frightened me--I just dive deep into them and countersteer).

I crossed the river and cut through the cute little historic town of Lewisburg, home of Bucknell University.  I took Route 45 west, dodging a few Amish buggies. Even though I was only 75 miles north of home it was much colder, the ground was still covered with snow.  (All had melted around Carlisle).  I went through Mifflinburg--another cute little town with a lot of Victorian houses.  One of these days I need to visit the Buggy Museum there.

I was then going to come back to the south on Route 235.  I love this road, particularly the two mountain crossings through beautiful state parks.  But on this day taking it was a mistake: the road was absolutely covered with the gravel that the highway department puts down during snow, particularly the tight climbing curves.  There is just not enough traffic on that road to blow the gravel off.  So I bailed out after the first mountain crossing and took farmland roads home. At least the deer aren't as much of a threat as they'll be a few months from now when this year's fawns begin tottering around.

Despite the cold temperatures and gravel in the road, it was a nice day. I always laughed at bumper stickers that say, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day of anything else," but that does apply to riding. I ended up with about 175 miles.  In my way of keeping track of the length of a ride, this one was rated three Red Bulls.

I'm still breaking in the Italian-made seat that I bought about a month ago.  After four hours in the saddle, I was still fairly comfortable.  When summer comes and I go back to longer rides (often 8-10 hours), I'll throw on my Airhawk cushion for the return.

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