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!

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.

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