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!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


I wanted to get in one more long ride to north central Pennsylvania before the days get too short and the rural roads are covered with Highway Department gravel.  It was colder than I expected for the first few hours--I was getting temperature readings as low as 23 in the low lying areas.  The mountain crossings were mercifully a bit warmer.  With my electric gear, the only thing uncomfortable was my feet and I fixed that when I put on my boot rain covers at the first stop.

Some of the roads still had gravel from the snow a couple of weeks ago so for the first couple of hours, I rode much more slowly than I normally do, at times as low as the speed limit. 

I followed routes 144 and 44 through Snowshoe, Renovo, north to Ole Bull State Park and back through the town of Jersey Shore.  Since the leaves are past peak, there were fewer wallowing minivans than a few weeks ago.  I often had the road to myself and only got caught in one long string of cars behind a crawling water truck working for the gas fracking operations that are so common north of Interstate 80.

I had to dodge a deer herd once and then almost ran into an Amish buggy coming around a blind curve in a state forest.  I wasn't expecting a buggy there.  I also set my personal motorcycle speed record on one of the deserted straight sections where I do such things.

It turned into a gorgeous day once it warmed up into the 40s and 50s.  Unfortunately, though, I forgot my camera bag so have no pictures.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


So I thought I'd pop down to Gettysburg after work--something I do often.  I particularly like it on weekdays outside of summer when the crowds are smaller.  But this turned into one of those rides that was more adventure than I'd planned.

Last week we had the earliest snow I've experienced in Pennsylvania.  As a result, the back roads, including the wonderful Route 233 through the Pine Grove and Michaux state forests, were covered with the nasty gravel that the Highway Department spreads.  It accumulates in curves, leaving me terrified of having the bike slide out from under me as I leaned.  Between the gravel and watching for deer which are rutting this time of year and particularly active (and particularly stupid), I was going 15-20 MPH slower than I normally would.

But then I took a little rural road I'd never been on toward the battlefield.  The way it looked through there, I thought I'd accidentally ridden all the way to West Virginia.  But that road, in addition to being tiny, twisty, and badly in need of repair, was even more covered in gravel.  I was crawling through the curves so slowly that I was holding up pickup trucks behind me.  That never happens.

I finally did make it.  It was overcast by then so I didn't shoot any photos as I rode across the field where Pickett's Charge took place, but did take this one at Sach's covered bridge which is right outside town.  Both armies crossed it during the battle.