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!

Monday, September 19, 2011

More Adventure Than I Bargained For

We're getting an early whiff of fall here in the Northeast--the temperature was in the mid 40s during the early part of my Sunday ride. But I refuse, as a matter of principle, to hook up my electric gloves and jacket when it's technically still summer. With my Roadcrafter suit and Gatorskin shirt, I was OK.

The route was mostly one I've done a number of times: south through Maryland, across the Antietam battlefield, across the Potomac at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, pick up the very nice Route 9 at Martinsburg, stay on it through Berkely Springs, and eventually turn back north, picking up the outstanding route 26 to Everett, Pennsylvania and the nice section of Route 30 between Breezewood and Fort Loudon.

Everything was on track. I was able to work my way past the wallowing geezers in
pickups and vans--which is not easy on the very short passing areas on West Virginia roads--before hitting the twisty section of Rt 9 just east of Berkeley Springs. I merrily scraped my pegs in several of the turns. And then it all went downhill.

West of Berkeley Springs I came to a big sign across the road that just said, "Road Closed." No detour, just road closed. And this was on Route 9 which is a fairly major road in an area without many of them. After making a few comments on the intelligence and parentage of the West Virginia Highway Department, I noticed a small road off to the right at this point which my GPS indicated ran parallel to Route 9. I figured it would eventually cut back into 9 and give me a way around the closed section. So I took it. Mistake #1.

Once I was off of my planned route, the GPS asked me if I wanted to recalculate. I told it yes. Mistake #2.

The side road quickly became gravel and turned up the mountain instead of back toward 9. But that was the new route my GPS calculated, so I continued on. Riding a motorcycle not designed for offroad use on a twisting, climbing gravel road is no fun.  But I crawled onwards.

The road eventually became sort of paved. It was more of a single lane trail than a road. The paving must have been done decades ago and any potholes that emerged since then just had a crappy patch plugged on them. It was slow, tedious, tough going.

I then came into a development of sorts where about every 1/4 mile, there were summer houses or nice cabins back in the trees. They clearly weren't intended for year round use, but I figured the road into them would be decent. Wrong.

As I continued following my GPS route up the side of the mountain, I came to an electric gate across the road. I stopped the bike and got off. On the other side of the gate was a sign that said "No trespassing--residents only." "Sorry about that," I thought, since there was no warning sign on the dirt road I'd used to get into the development.

But now I was trapped. I certainly didn't want to backtrack down the mountain on the gravel road. So I tried to figure out how to get around the gate. I noticed that there was a small opening between the end of the gate and the metal fence beside it. I thought I might be able to slip the bike through there. But I knew it was risky. There was only about a 15 inch gravel shoulder there. And if I slipped into the ditch, I probably couldn't pick the bike up. If I did, I couldn't get it out. It could be hours or days before anyone came along. Even if I could get cell service up there (which I doubted), it would be hard to call for help since I had no idea where I was.

I took the side cases off my bike and hoped I could squeeze through the opening. I cranked it up and began power walking it up to the gap. Then the gate went up. I guess you need a card or transponder to get into the development, but not out. I scooted to the other side of the gate, put the side cases back on, and continued following the GPS.

As I continued up the side of the mountain, the road got worse. At that point I was totally in the woods--no houses or anything else. But retreat was not an option since I had no way to get back through the gate. So again, I pressed on very slowly.

Eventually the "road" came back down the mountain and intersected Route 9. So I was free! Funny thing was, at the time I estimated the detour through the woods and over the mountain had been 10-15 miles. When I got home and pulled up Google Maps, I saw that it was three miles at the most, maybe closer to two. But time passes slowly when your butt is on the line.

Soon after, I made another error. When I'd ridden that route before, I'd cut through Cumberland, Maryland. But this time I'd added a detour on a little country road. Based on my previous experience, I avoid small country roads in Pennsylvania or West Virginia because they're so poorly maintained and sometimes turn to dirt without warning. But I'd found Maryland country roads to be well maintained and very pleasant. I guess that only applies to country roads in the central part of Maryland. Western Maryland country roads are more like their West Virginia or Pennsylvania kind.

I should have known something was amiss when I noticed that the speed limit was 25 on the country road I'd taken. As it turned out, that was generous--I seldom hit 25. It was fifteen miles of bone jarring, rutted, pot holed road unpaved for decades and torn up by trucks and farm machinery. The ride made me need to pee but I couldn't stop because all the land along the road was posted and I didn't want to encounter an angry farmer with a shotgun.

But again, I pushed through and eventually hit the very nice Scenic Route 40 then cut back into Pennsylvania and picked up my old friend Route 26. At that point, I felt that I'd been beaten up, so I jumped on Route 30 back to Chambersburg and took Interstate 81 home. It was more adventure than I'd planned on but was still better than whatever else I could have been doing that day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Road Food

I thought I'd compile a list of my favorite motorcycle road food spots.  I'm always looking for something funky or unusual, and have stumbled on a number of them.  You'll notice that the themes for my selections are BBQ, German, fish sandwiches or reubens.  As that great philosopher Popeye said, "I yams what I yams and dats all dat I yam."

Acme BBQ
Williamsport, PA
Some of my favorite Yankee BBQ.

Andy Nelson's BBQ
Cockeysville, MD
Where else can you say your server actually played in the greatest NFL game ever?  Mississippi style barbeque.

Chubby's BBQ
Emmitsburg, MD
It's not North Carolina, but pretty good for Q north of the Potomac

Chap's Pit Beef
Baltimore, Maryland
It's no fun riding through Baltimore but worth it for this place.  Featured on "Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives"  

Cafe Bruges
Carlisle, PA
Believe it or not, a Belgian cafe in a small Pennsylvania town.  Great mussels and frites.  Extensive Belgian beer list.

Jean Bonnet Tavern
Bedford, PA
Historic, 18th century tavern on the excellent Rt 30.  The Whiskey Rebellion plotters met there.

Appalachian Brew Pub
Gettysburg, PA
Just east of Gettysburg

Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen
Columbia, PA
Very nice place run by a nephew of Paul Prudhomme. Between York and Lancaster.

Denny's Beer Barrel Pub
Clearfield, PA
When you're in the mood for a 6 lb. hamburger. If not, you should be able to find something on their 11 page menu.

Elk Creek Café
Millheim, PA 16854
A hidden gem in an unlikely place. The walleye is to die for.

Cruiser's Cafe
Mt. Pleasant Mills, PA
The food is just OK but the fifties style drive in ambiance is cute.

Flannery's Tavern
Mercersburg, PA
Mercersburg is an interesting little historic town.  Very good take on pub grub.

Boxer's Cafe
Huntingdon, PA 16652
We used to go there a lot when #2 daughter was attending college in Huntingdon.  I like it but parking is all on-street and it can get pretty crowded.

Boiling Springs Tavern
Boiling Springs, PA
Excellent food in an 18th century building.

Market Cross Pub
Carlisle, PA
English style pub grub.  Very nice but parking can be a challenge.

RoadHawg BBQ
Duncannon, PA
Small place that fills up fast on the weekend but better than the fast food joints along Rt 11

Alibis Eatery
Carlisle, PA
Very good pub/tavern food.

Bavarian Inn
Shepherdstown, WV
Kind of upscale but I've worn motorcycle gear during lunch. 

Dobbin House Tavern
Gettysburg, PA
Goes for an 18th century vibe in a very historic building.

Carriage House Inn
Emmitsburg, MD

Shamrock Restaurant
Thurmont, MD 
A bit of Irish, a bit of seafood.

Red Horse Tavern
Pleasant Gap, PA

Wellsboro Diner
Wellsboro, PA
Near the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.  Classic old diner.  The waitress assured me the chili dogs have no calories.

Doan's Bones
Whipple Dam, PA
On the nice Rt. 26 south of State College 

Curt's Smokin Ribs
Mill Hall, PA
Just outside Lock Haven.  Good but not great, but happens to be located at lunch time in many of my best routes.

Texas Lunch
Lock Haven, PA
Standard burgers and dogs chow but worth a stop.

Abbottstown, PA
Between Gettysburg and York

Rick's Hog Wild BBQ
East Berlin, PA

Black Hog BBQ
Frederick, MD

Forksville General Store and Restaurant
Forksville, PA
Grab a Philly style hoagie before riding through the gorgeous World's End State Park

Bloomsburg Diner
Bloomsburg, PA
Carbo load here before heading over to Bill's Old Bike Barn

Hecky's Sub Shop
Hamburg, PA

Mamie's Cafe and Bakery
Martinsburg, PA 
It's all about the reuben

Santino's Italian Cuisine
Jersey Shore, PA
Good rendition of the standard checkered tablecloth Italian American stuff.

Mifflinburg Hotel
Mifflinburg, PA

Skeeters BBQ
Shamokin Dam, PA

BJ's Ribs
Selinsgrove, PA

Waterfront Tavern
Lewistown, PA

Frontier BBQ
Fairfield, PA
Rustic BBQ, a bit south of Gettysburg

Bandit's Roadhouse
Berwick, PA
Typical roadhouse food--a big spot for the motorcycle crowd.  First time I went there were no other bikes around when I arrived and at least thirty by the time I left.  Plenty of parking.

Bad to the Bone Smokehouse
Gainesville, VA
I'm always skeptical of barbeque joints in strip malls, but this one was impressive.

Shakedown BBQ
Grantville, PA
Another darn fine example of the BBQ revolution in the North

Cashtown Inn
Cashtown, PA
Historical inn that played an important role in the Battle of Gettysburg

Fairfield Inn
Fairfield, PA
Historic inn just south of Gettysburg that's been around since 1757.  Only does lunch on the weekends.

RoadHawg BBQ
Duncannon, PA
Very small place that fills up quickly on weekends but sure beats the usual fast food places on Rt. 11

The Waynesburger
Waynesboro, PA
Nice, old fashioned burger joint.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I've cancelled my planned Blue Ridge Parkway ride.  I don't need a vacation this year--as my daughter reminded me, it's not like I actually work.

Friday, September 2, 2011


I've owned my R1200R exactly 14 months yesterday.  I had some work related stress to burn off, so took a quick afternoon ride to Gettysburg.  I like hanging out on Culp's Hill because there are usually not many people there.  I hit the 25,000 mile mark on the way down, which means I'm over 60K for my riding career of 39 months. 

There's a three day weekend coming up, but the weather forecast isn't good.  I've really wanted to do a 500 mile day that I've been thinking about and may take a shot at it even though the chance of rain is 30%. One reason is that I'm near the end of the life of the tires on the bike now.  I have a service plan with my dealer where they replace them for a year if they wear out or go flat.  (That's been a great deal for me since I typically go through three sets a year).  But the dealer only replaces them when they are below the state mandated minimum: 3/32" of tread.  I'd really like to kill this set and have it replaced before my long ride at the end of September.