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 23, 2013

The Silence of the Hexheads

During the past six months I've ridden the least since I began almost five years ago.  A number of things have caused this.  In September 2012, I began writing a weekly column called "Strategic Horizons" for World Politics Review.  Since this is moonlighting, I have to do it on weekends, so it fills much of every Sunday.  Then during the autumn I had a few lingering health problems.  None were major but they did keep me off the bike.  Once winter got here we've had month after month of cold, grim weather.  We haven't had any huge snowstorms but there have been enough small ones to keep the roads covered in gravel, making all of the fun mountain roads very dangerous to ride.  Finally, there's Fritz.  He's an absolute sweetheart but very needy and takes up a lot of time.

Because of all of this, all I've been able to do is an occasional hour ride just to make sure I still remember how.

As winter grinds to an end, I'm hoping this will change.  I'm already plotting a two day ride through Virginia and West Virginia for late April to try and make up for the two failed attempts I had last year.

View VA WV April 2013 in a larger map

I'm tingling with excitement about this but it remains contingent on weather and my job conditions since like hundreds of thousands of other civil servants, I'm being used as a political plaything by Congress.  If I'm furloughed, I'll have to cut my riding back dramatically.

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