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!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Aside from an earthquake, it was a beautiful day today. Upper 70s and sunny in August is a bit of payback from nature for putting up with winter.

During my afternoon ride yesterday I found a cute covered bridge on an isolated stretch of road in Juniata County, but didn't have my camera.  So I went back today for the shots.  I later found out this is the longest covered bridge in Pennsylvania.  It's beautifully restored and maintained, but there are no signs drawing attention to it so you'd really have to be looking or, like me, just stumble into it by dumb luck.

Nearby was Tuscarora Academy, a 19th century girls school that is supposed to be haunted.

There are places within 25 miles of my house so isolated that I wonder if I'm still in the United States.  Even though it was late in the afternoon when people would have been coming home from work, I'd often go for miles without seeing another vehicle on the road.

And the now obligatory video. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Just Another Pennsylvania Saturday

Since I'm constantly looking for new ways to challenge myself on the bike, I toyed with the idea of doing my first ever 500 mile ride on Saturday. But the weather forecast called for a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so I postponed that idea and opted for a normal Saturday ride of about 300 miles.

I went to the west, including the wonderful section of Route 30 between Fort Loudon and Breezewood. I then cut north, zig zagging across Raystown Lake, then back via a southern route.

 In the morning, there was dense fog in the valleys. It wasn't as bad as a couple of years ago in the same area when visibility was maybe 20 feet and I had to pull off and wait it out, so I just pushed through it. Luckily I'd thought to take along a Gatorskin shirt and a high visibility vest and threw those on when I hit the fog bank.  The sky was clear and vivid blue on the mountain ridges, with the peasoup in the lower lying areas.

As usual, I got stuck behind wallowing cars and trucks on about half of the twisty mountain crossings. At one point, I got into an excellent groove and was so focused on the road and slicing the curves as hard as possible that I missed a turn. Rather than backtrack, I decided to just keep riding, knowing eventually I'd end up somewhere I knew. Because of this, I saw some new roads I'd never ridden before. I stumbled across this interesting old house. It was unoccupied, but there was no sign of who, if anyone, owned it.

When I got back, I threw together a video, so here it is:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

September Ride

I'm so excited about the big ride I'm planning for September that I dream of maps with squiggly lines. I've gone over my routes time and again. I've planned what to pack. If this gets cancelled, I'm going to be very annoyed.

View September Ride Plan in a larger map

Friday, August 12, 2011

West Virginia

We hit a beautiful stretch of summer weather but the weekend was bringing thunderstorms, so I took Friday off and rode through Maryland and Virginia to Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.  This was my longest ride of the season and included some roads that were new to me.

Here's the route:

View Seneca Rocks in a larger map

While it warmed to the mid 80s by the afternoon, it was mid 50s at the beginning--the first time it's been truly chilly for several months. Luckily I anticipated it. At the start, I wore elkskin gauntlets and changed into my perforated summer gloves after lunch.  And I threw on a Gatorskin shirt, which kept me toasty. It made me look forward to fall (but not what will follow).

For the first couple of hours, I took the interstate to Winchester, Virginia, then cut into West Virginia.  The morning was great as the roads were almost deserted.  By mid-day, though, the traffic built up to the point of annoyance.  I had lunch in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, at one of my favorite spots--the Temptations Cafe.  There were hundreds of Harleys around Berkeley Springs, so something was going on.

As I cut back into Maryland, I stumbled into a very weird little place that I'd ridden through a couple of years ago: the bridge over the Potomac at Oldtown.  My GPS had routed me that way.  I was riding down a very tiny little road in the woods, then came to the bridge.  It was a single lane, wooden structure that is only a few feet above the water.  Getting the bike across it was a challenge since the planks where the tires go are raised above the center of the bridge.  Then on the other side, there is a toll booth with a lady in it.  Now keep in mind that this is absolutely out in the middle of woods, a half mile from any real road.  The toll was a quarter and paying it took some gymnastics since the booth is on a steep incline.  I absolutely cannot figure this out because given the location and the amount of the toll, the lady in the booth can't be collecting more than $10 or $20 a day.  It's hard to figure.

I then cut back through Pennsylvania and home.

Here's the video, but it's disappointing for two reasons.  One, I had a hard time knowing when the camera was on.  As I result, all I got were helmet shots.  I filmed two sequences with the camera mounted in other locations on the bike for a change of pace, but both times the camera wasn't on when I thought it was.  The other problem was that I kept getting stuck behind slow pokes in some of the most scenic stretches of road, particularly the twisty mountain crossings.  So I ended up throwing out those video sequences.  But, here's what I got:

In any case, the route was fun, coming it at about 430 miles.  And the weather was perfect.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Amish Hunting

For my second stab at a riding video, I rode through Amish farm country on routes 997 and 75, crossing the mountain ridge on routes 641 and 74.  This is one of my favorite short rides--I do it three or four times a month.

I'm learning what works and what doesn't with the video.  I've added a second camera angle here, and will put in more in the future.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Let There Be Video

My Hero GoPro camera has arrived.  I'd had no luck filming with my regular camcorder mounted to the bike.  There was just too much vibration.  So I bought the GoPro, which was designed for this sort of thing.

So far, I'm taking baby steps.  This is the first video I shot and edited using Windows Live Movie Maker.  It's pretty rough, but I'm hoping future ones will be more polished.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nothing Terribly Exciting or Photographable Lately

I've passed 23,000 miles on the bike.  I continued to ride my favorite stretches, always trying to get in some new sections of road when I can.  And I continue to work hard on my riding skills, particularly pushing hard through curves.   I've realized that when I'm not hitting the curves like I should, it's usually a result of either lowering my head (which I do instinctively if I've hit unexpected gravel) or starting my turn in.  To do it right, you need to go so deeply into the curve that you think you're going to hit the yellow line (on right curve) or run off the road (on a left curve) before initiating countersteer.

And I've ordered a GoPro helmet camera so I can start making videos.  I have my first one all mapped out in my head.  Stay tuned!