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 16, 2013

It's Been a Beautiful August in Pennsylvania

The weather has often been stunning--70s and sunny at times.  On a few rides, the initial hours were actually cold.  Although I missed one weekend for #2 daughter's wedding, I've been getting in quite a few miles because of the good weather and the fact that I've been furloughed Mondays for the past month due to the absence of adult leadership in Washington.

On one of these, I took another stab at finding Pennsylvania's herd of wild elk.  Still no luck.  Maybe in the fall when they're most active.  I did get a lovely shot of Lurgan Mill at the start of the ride.

This was my odometer as I pulled in the driveway following an after work ride yesterday:

This was after three years and one month on the R1200R.  While I'm beginning to think about my next bike (probably a tourer), the R remains my favorite physical thing I've ever owned.

I do expect my mileage to decline soon.  Once college football season begins, my Saturdays will be centered on that.  My alma mater the University of South Carolina is expected to have the strongest team in school history.  Perhaps if they lose a couple my interest will decline.  And then having to begin working Mondays again, I'll have to devote Sundays to writing my weekly column for World Politics Review.  I'd like to take another stab at a multi-day Virginia/West Virginia ride in the fall but with the hit to my family income from the furlough, I suspect that's not in the cards. 


Late note on riding Route 555 looking for elk:  So maybe not such a good idea, at least when it's still dark.

Thinking back over the past few years, I think the biggest risk to me is not cars and critters--I haven't had a close call with either for a very long time, largely because of my hyper-vigilent riding style--but the incompetence of the Pennsylvania Highway Department.

Along this same line, I had two near wrecks in the last month.  One was when I was on a stretch of road under maintenance.    The road surface was black and it was very dark because I had just gone under a canopy of trees.  I was looking ahead at an upcoming curve and hit a huge pothole in the middle of the lane.  It almost jerked the bars out of my hands, but I kept control.

The next day I was on a road I'd ridden just a few days earlier.  I came into a blind curve and the highway department had decided to cut a rectangle out of the pavement in the middle of the lane and fill it with loose gravel. Luckily there wasn't any other traffic on the road so I was able to jerk the bike upright and slide into the other lane.  Had either of those caused a wreck, I would have explored a law suit against the state.  It might not have gone anywhere but I would have at least tried to make a case that the state has a responsibility to maintain the roads to a minimum level of safety, and PennDOT had failed in that responsibility.