Friday, December 31, 2010

New Toy!

I got a 1080p HD helmet cam from Drift Innovation for Christmas. It came with several attachment options and mounts. I bought it for the Alaskapade! and took it out yesterday for a test drive. So far, I really like it. It has a rotating lens so it can be mounted on the side or the top of a helmet. The articulating mounts are nice in that they allow you to maintain level framing regardless of where or what angle the camera is mounted. Another great feature is the remote control that can be handlebar or wrist mounted for instant start/stop recording without fumbling for the right button while riding. There are Drift user forums on the Internet that offer techniques that I will be trying to reduce the wind noise and I haven't figured out the remote control zoom yet. I have plenty of time.  I hit 110mph on the bridge, but had to dial it down because the local municipal revenue generation patrols hide out at the end of the bridge as you cross back into Dallas county.

This, along with my handlebar-mounted video camera will provide some great footage for my Alaskapade! documentary.   Look here for occasional interesting videos (or at least what I consider interesting) between now and June. Here's a sample of my first ride.

If Blogspot porks it up, you can see it here.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Riding Partner

Those of you who know me know that I keep my cards close to my chest when it comes to my personal life. So, it may be news to some readers here that there's been a new girl in my life and she's been in my heart for about a year now.

There are countless ways to demonstrate one's feelings for another, especially when it comes to the gifts you buy them. That said, I considered two facts when I was looking for the perfect Christmas gift.

  1. I love riding and consider the hours I am fortunate to enjoy in the saddle to be among the best in my life.
     
  2. Few will dispute the fact that girls are cuter on a motorcycle. Many look kinda hot riding bitch, but most all chicks look hotter riding their own bike.
That said, what better way to demonstrate my love for her than buying her a bike of her own. She refuses to wear a helmet and proper riding boots, but I'm not worried about her getting hurt. She's confident, well-balanced, and eager to try new things and take risks. She's my kinda gal.

I managed to get a photo on her first outing. She'll be hell on wheels in no time.  Blogspot is acting screwy again, so scroll down to see the image.











































Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Well that Was a Disaster

My sincere apologies for the disastrous attempt at another ad revenue stream.


Hopefully, the video answer (below) to the age old question will entertain. More quality posts to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day

Well, Christmas has come and gone.  I have to admit I was dreading it for a number of reasons.  I also have to admit that despite all those reasons, it was the best Christmas I've had in years and I credit my granddaughter for the turnaround.  At just thirteen months, her enthusiasm was infectious.  She had no clue what was going on and therefore, had no expectations whatsoever.  She was simply thrilled at everything she saw, everything she got, and everything everyone else got for that matter.  The boxes, bows, and wrapping paper proved to be the best friend a baby girl could have on Christmas day.


















In a few days, I can concentrate on a six-month countdown to my trip.  It seems like an eternity now, but I suspect I'll find myself scrambling to sew up loose ends during the last week or two.

Ads...Again

I'm experimenting with another ad agency in hopes to offset my trip costs.  Google AdSense never bothered to reply to my appeals after they cut me off.  After a little research, I learned that AdSense apparently makes a habit of cutting people off with no regard to their content providers' concern.  Interestingly enough, my site hits increased over 150% since they axed me, proving the hits are content driven.  Google AdSense can get in line behind Ned Ludd and TomTom.

Please be patient and I'll tweak the ad settings to be as minimally invasive as possible.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas


After weeks of unsuccessfully trying to convince her that he isn't scary, my thirteen month old granddaughter finally sat with Santa Claus...at least long enough for a photo  I usually loathe the holidays and wish only for them to pass quickly.  But after seeing this and having her around to brighten things up, this year just might be the turning point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bug Off!

I'm told the bugs in an Alaskan summer are fierce.  That seems odd to me; I mean it's Alaska, not Texas. But I accept what the locals and others who have been there tell me and I'm taking steps to prepare accordingly.  Hey, at least I don't have to get shots!

Years ago, I was in the Air Force.  I served seven years and spent the last few working indirectly for an organization some refer to as "No Such Agency". As such, I frequently found myself south of the border in some pretty interesting garden spots, all of which required numerous inoculations before I could operate there. I remember asking one of the medical techs what a particularly ominous-looking gel in a large syringe was supposed to prevent.  He looked at a piece of paper and then back at me, sighed, and said "You don't wanna know".  He was probably right.  I remember the needle was so long and thick that they had to inject me at the top of my butt pointing the needle straight down parallel with my leg.  It looked like a liposuction tool.  I limped for two days after that one.

One aspect that made these trips unique was the secrecy of the missions.  These events took place during the Reagan/Casey/North days, so use your imagination.  There were times when we didn't know where we were going until we got there, and even then we questioned it. We would often depart from known US operating locations in Honduras aboard helicopters and fly south to said garden spots.  The helicopters never landed (for plausible deniability?), so we always hopped out from a few feet above terra firma and sought out our targets.  We referred to ourselves as the "Noun Patrol" because our typical role was to search out people, places, or things.  We were rarely armed with more than a radio to call for extractions, a GPS receiver, and a satellite up-link kit. Even for military applications, this was some pretty weighty gear. Tools like these were smaller than their Vietnam-era predecessors, but were far from the electronic miniaturization marvels we enjoy today. Once we acquired our target, we would paint it with an electronic compass-equipped scope and its coordinates were collected.  Those coordinates were up-linked to a satellite and stored so that the target could be tracked if it moved.

On most missions, my team would receive location details only moments before our deployment.  We would collect the coordinates and the helicopter navigation system would be programmed by a technician operating a special console in the Intel office.  We would then carry the newly-programmed nav box to the waiting aircraft for installation and immediate departure. The aircrew was usually as clueless as we were with respect to the mission details and our destination.  I'm amused by the fact that the Garmin GPS unit I have today is probably more sophisticated than the navigation system on board those helicopters, especially since the government removed the induced error to non official receivers and eliminated Selective Availability.

On one particular mission, we were airborne well before dawn for an hour's flight "south".  It was still dark out, so the aircrew had to rely heavily on the navigation system and terrain following radar. This was always  a hair raising experience for me because we usually flew just above the jungle canopy.  Somehow, the aircrew always knew when we were near a village, despite the darkness and lack of prior knowledge of the flight path and ultimate destination.  On this flight, after hearing one of them mention it, I piped up and asked over the headset intercom "how do you guys always know that?"  The co-pilot shined a flashlight on the lower forward starboard window and replied "because of that."  The outside of the window was almost completely covered with a thick, deep red coating.  Before I could ask WTF, he spoke up again and said "the mosquito swarms we're flying through are full of blood. Gotta be people near by."  That image and explanation gave me more nausea than the roller coaster terrain following flights ever did.

I expect my Alaska trip to be at least somewhat less traumatic.  I've picked up a great tent and sleeping bag with mosquito netting.  I'm hoping a few citronella candles and some DEET will help do the trick.  One thing is for sure; I don't anticipate any liposuction needles.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In a Perfect World...

In a perfect world, cagers would only occupy the right lane.

In a perfect world, holiday rookie air travelers would have their own airport, leaving the rest of us to negotiate our airports without delay.

In a perfect world, our dogs would live as long as we do.

In a perfect world, there would be no cats.

In a perfect world, lost loved ones would still be around and the holidays might actually be bearable.

In a perfect world, Obama would have never become President and Republicans wouldn't have behaved in a manner which facilitated his rise.

In a perfect world, John Galt would be president.

In a perfect world, the hearts we affect would only be affected positively.

In a perfect world, people who didn't share or even understand your dreams would at least accept and respect the fact they they are yours.

In a perfect world, our emotions would be boundless and could be expressed without inhibition.

In a perfect world, the sense of entitlement felt by those for whom we provide would be matched by a sense of appreciation.

In a perfect world, tomorrow would be June 18th, 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The People of REI


Have you seen the web page PeopleofWalMart.com?  After Saturday morning, I believe there ought to be a People of REI web page.  As noted in a previous entry, a local REI store was having their annual garage sale and I stopped by in hopes of scoring some inexpensive camping gear for the Alaskapade.  The sale, which consisted of returns and outdated items at fifty to eighty percent off, started at 10:00am.  I figured I would beat the rush and get there early in case there was a line.  I pulled into the parking lot at 9:00am and realized I was way too late.  The line ran around three sides of the building and was comprised of some pretty colorful characters.  As I hunted for a parking spot, I began to wonder if I was at a garage sale or a Toyota Prius convention. The lot had the usual suspects - tiny cars with anti-everything bumper and window stickers.
Cars with Causes






















It was a friendly crowd, and a happy one given the early hour and the temperature. Honestly, with all the dreadlocks, Frisbees, and tie dye, it looked more like a line for Grateful Dead or Phish concert tickets than it did a camping gear sale.  This was definitely a Save the Whales, seals, Darfur, Earth, and [insert your cause here] crowd.  There were people stretched out on cots, sitting in umbrella chairs, and others standing next to portable heaters - all of whom appeared to have been there all night.  It was like an overnight tailgate party for the eco-Nazi crowd.  All night.  For cheap camping gear.  Insane.

Somebody Has Sense!
I parked my gas guzzling full-sized Chevy pickup truck in between a couple of Mini Cooper Matchbox cars and wandered around to the back of the building to get in line with all the other losers who slept in. On the way, I managed to snap a few photos of the vehicles.



"Lady Who?"


I was quickly joined in line by some pretty interesting characters.  One guy apparently wearing his sister's lime green hoodie and birth control glasses kept talking to himself aloud.  This guy probably has never heard of Lady Gaga, but could probably tell you Mr. Spock's mother's name back on the planet Vulcan.  The fact that I happen to know Spock's mother was T'pau is irrelevant. At least I've heard of Lady Gaga; so there.  Anyway, I thought he was talking to me and I responded, but he just kept staring at my leather jacket, which in this crowd was about as welcome as a Tea Party candidate in a union meeting hall.  I looked to see if he was wearing a bluetooth headset or something, but gave up and assumed he was just talking to others of his species from his native dimension.  After looking him over briefly, I pondered the necessity of the birth control glasses and then considered the fact that I still had my appendix and tonsils, neither of which would ever serve any real purpose on my body either.

"Let me think on it..."


Also near me was a woman (I think) with her head wrapped in some sort of multicolored native American ceremonial garb. Upon closer examination of the photo, I think it was actually Meat Loaf attempting to be incognito.






Hey! I like this hat!!

 Once the line started moving, we were all corralled upstairs into the REI attic where the sale items were tagged and laid out on tables. At this point, the compassionate saviors-of-all-things-liberal transformed themselves into the stampeding mob from that Cincinnati Who concert back in 1979.  People were frantically swooping up handfuls of stuff - anything - as much as they could carry - and then dragging it to a corner to inspect it and see what they got.  Some of the items were unidentifiable crap and yet people still scooped them up.  I figured out that some of the shoppers were working in concert ,with one person guarding and evaluating their stash while others from their pack foraged for more.  When one woman placed a sleeping bag back on the table, two other people grabbed it simultaneously.  One looked at the other and said "Rock, paper, scissors?"  I rolled my eyes and wandered away.  We all know that in the real world, a rock would always win.

Damn! Too late.
I managed to score a nice tent that was returned because the zipper was reported to be malformed. I proudly carried the tent around a while - much like a dog does with a toy, challenging anyone to take it from me.  With a death grip on my kill, I looked at the remaining piles of crap, which by this point were scattered from Hell to breakfast throughout the REI attic. Several people asked me "are you going to buy that?" and then "what is it?"  They didn't seem to care what it was as long as it was a good sale price. In my case, it was. I examined the zipper and with a little effort, tugged it past the bent teeth, straightening them out in the process and rendering it completely serviceable. It was a $155 tent for $49. I Googled the make and model and found many excellent reviews, some of which were from motorcycle campers.

Do I look fat in these?
I made my way out of the land of misfit toys and back downstairs to pay for the tent.  Along the way, I observed people changing into pants, trying on socks, erecting tents, and blowing into inflatable mattresses that were clearly labeled as unable to hold air.  Now it was time to stand in line with the others and gloat over what we scored upstairs.  One guy offered to trade the Yakima bike rack he was carrying (that was missing all the nuts and bolts and one mounting leg) for my tent.  Turns out, he was offering the trade to everyone in line for whatever they had.  Tempting as his offer was, I opted to keep my bounty, paid for it and made my way out to my truck.  Finding my truck was easy as it towered above the eco-friendly ultra compact cars in the parking lot.  I headed home and set up my tent to admire the fruit of  my morning's efforts.  I'm still on the hunt for a good, tightly-compacting sleeping bag and an air mattress.  There are other REI stores in the Dallas area with garage sales scheduled before year end.  I think I'll just sleep in and check Amazon and Ebay.
Happy Tent

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Dare You...

I dare you to watch this till the end.  It actually made me cry.  Those who know me know why.

Sound on.

Mind open.

Pass it on.

Friday, December 10, 2010

4000

Obama Administration Ohio Headquarters

I spent this week working in the frozen tundra that is Mansfield, Ohio.  The project was in a steel mill that was built in the 1930's.  I gotta tell ya.. There are times when I think my job is tough because of all of the travel and multitasking.  My hat is off to the guys who work in this mill year in and year out.  The temperature inside was below 20 degrees and at times, it seemed to snow inside the building.  It was in the town of Mansfield that I took the photo of the Obama Administration's Ohio headquarters building shown above.

This blog busted the 4,000 hit count yesterday.  I'm not sure who is reading my drivel, but I'm appreciative nonetheless. I promise the content will improve as the Alaskapade departure gets closer.  I've found a way to upload images and texts directly from my phone to the blog page as long as I have cellular coverage.  Granted, there won't be much coverage once I get into Canada, but I'll do my best to find places where I can get on line and send updates.

Tomorrow is the REI garage sale in Dallas.  I'll eat some sprouts and drop by in search of a sleeping bag, tent, and some other goodies.  Rest assured I'll have my camera!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Under the Bridge


Sometimes we get a sample - a taste, if you will - of something we want, but that we know we can never have.  Whether or not we deserve it is irrelevant. I sometimes wonder quietly to myself if the taste is enough to sustain me when I know in my heart of hearts I can never have it. I wonder also if it s better to know what you're missing and long for it, or to have never known at all...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One Dog Night

We've all heard of the band Three Dog Night.  Well, anyone from my generation probably has.  "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" and "Out in the Country" from their 1970 LP It Ain't Easy are timeless classics.  The band name "Three Dog Night" was explained in the liner notes inside the CD set Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1965-1975.  It states that vocalist Danny Hutton's girlfriend suggested the name after reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians, in which it was explained that on cold nights they would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground whilst embracing a dingo, a native species of wild dog. On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs and if a night was especially cold, it was a "three dog night".

At this point, you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with planning and executing a trip to Alaska.  Well, for starters it's cold up there despite all the hysteria created by the global warming crisis Although I do plan to camp where possible on my trip, I don't plan on sleeping with any dogs. Of course I never planned such a thing the night before I crossed Death Valley last summer, but that's exactly what happened.

I think I'm a reasonably bright guy.  I scored a 131 on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) last year.  Despite that, I can't fix a sink or nail two pieces of wood together, I'm planning a, 8,000 mile motorcycle trip from Texas to the top of the world, and I decided to cross Death Valley from California to Nevada on August 1st.  I suppose that's proof that intelligence quotient and common sense aren't always aligned.
                                                             
While planning my itinerary, I figured I could outsmart Mother Nature and zip across the desert really early in the morning before the temperatures hit their 130 degree forecast.  So I studied potential routes, reviewed weather history, and researched the cheap hotels closest to the Death Valley border.  Through these studies, I learned that there is really only one good, scenic route, that it's hot as hell on the desert in August, and that there are no cheap hotels in the area.

I reserved a reasonably priced hotel room in the thriving metropolis of Lone Pine on the California side of the desert.  I planned a scenic ride from San Francisco to the Yosemite National Forest, over Tioga Pass, and down highway 395 before stopping for the night in Lone Pine.  That route was breathtaking and somewhat exhausting.  The weather was perfect, but the cager traffic consisting largely of rental campers and trailers with clueless and inconsiderate drivers made for more than a few tense moments.

Lone Pine proved to have all the splendor and excitement that I imagined it would. One thing it did not have was my hotel reservation.  I found the streets to be considerably crowded for a town so small that it probably only had one horse to match the one pine.  It turned out that most if not all these people were out-of-towners like myself, meaning every hotel room in town was booked.  At one of my unsuccessful attempts to secure a room for the night, I learned that there is a great deal of protected land in the nearby desert, the access to which is restricted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  Apparently, the BLM has a lottery and its winners are granted access to these restricted areas. This weekend was apparently one of those events.  As usual, my timing was impeccable. The street (singular by design) was teaming with earthy nature lovers sporting fringe jackets, backpacks, knit hats, and reusable aluminum water bottles. It was an REI crowd for sure.

After trying unsuccessfully at a few more hotels, I figured I had better look for someplace covered and reasonably secure to bed down overnight.  I planned to keep looking, but the Boy Scout in me instinctively knew it was best to be prepared.  I found an abandoned gas station at the south end of town with an accessible side door wide enough for Hester to ride through. With no luck securing a room in town, I went back to one hotel where the desk clerk told me to check back at 10pm and if he had a no-show, I could have the room.  Suddenly, the requirement for cheap accommodations was no longer a priority.  Out of luck and out in the cold, I headed south of town to my posh digs at the abandoned gas station.

I have to admit that when it comes to travel, I've been spoiled. Traveling for my work at IBM means I'm on the road somewhere nearly every week, but it also affords me decent hotels.  As such, I hold uranium level or moon rock status on most hotel frequent guest plans.  But when I checked into Hotel Hester, there was no priority check-in line, no mini bar, no complimentary popcorn and sodas in the kitchenette; no kitchenette for that matter. There were none of the little shampoo bottles or mini soaps in the bathroom.  In fact there was no bathroom.  It did have a floor with adequate gravity for me to lie on it for the night though, so I figured I'd make the best of it.  I laid the small bean bag pillow and an airline blanket that I had packed on top of my bike cover and anything else I could find for cushion between me and the concrete floor.  I then gingerly pulled Hester through the side door next to my "bed" and worked her back and forth repeatedly, eventually making a u-turn and parking her straight up on the center stand facing the front wheel towards the door through which I had just passed.

I laid down, stretched out, and actually felt very relaxed despite the circumstances.  Doffing my riding boots after a sixteen hour day in them provided - at that moment - relief equal to any adjustable bed in any hotel on which I've slept in years.  Looking upward from where I stretched out, I had an excellent view of a star-filled sky provided by a window-less hole in the wall directly above my right side. I cued up the "go to sleep" play list on my iPod, but then thought better of it figuring it wiser to be able to hear whatever might be going on around me in my impromptu accommodations. Megadeth's "Rust in Sleep" would have to wait.

My ADHD brain has a habit of keeping me awake when I go to bed.  When voluntary thought on my part ceases, random involuntary thoughts start parading across my consciousness competing for brain cycles and keeping me awake. I knew that despite my fatigue, this night would be no different and I'd probably lie awake for ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I awakened to the same view through the window above me looking at an amazing sight of the eastern sky which was awash with a feathery painted mixture of deep black space and fire red clouds.  It was pre-dawn in the desert. There was no wake-up call, no alarm clock, not even a crowing rooster. With the exception of a light snoring sound, Hotel Hester was bathed in pre-dawn silence.  It occurred to me as I lay there that at if I was awake, someone or something else must be snoring. I sat up slowly, partly out of caution, but mostly from old age.  Across the floor from me right next to the side door was what appeared to be a large dog that had wandered in and was now sound asleep. I sure hoped it was a dog.  The cobwebs that had occupied my brain only seconds before were now replaced by random thoughts of the possibility of roving desert wolf packs.

Rational thought took over and I remembered just how much I love dogs and how much they always liked me.  I stood upright keeping a cautious eye on my guest as I donned my boots.  The sound of the first zipper was all it took to rouse the animal from its sleep. I was startled and somewhat envious of how fast he sprang up compared to how long it took me. I was equally startled at how little he appeared to like me compared to most other dogs.  In fact, based on the drawn back ears, the tucked tail, the display of teeth, and the increasingly loud snarling, I felt about as welcome in that station as as a pork chop at the Wailing Wall.  Keeping a close eye on Cujo, I slowly and deliberately gathered and packed my gear (re: wadded it up into a ball shoved it into my saddle roll).  The dog seemed content to keep its distance while keeping both eyes on his target, which was fine by me.

This stare-down standoff went on a minute or two when I remembered  seeing Caesar Milan say that dogs interpret staring as a sign of aggression. I also remembered how Caesar would make a sharp "psst" sound while snapping his fingers and pointing at the target dog. On TV, the dog always looked away and submitted.  Apparently, this dog had never seen The Dog Whisperer because when I psst'd, snapped, and pointed it just seemed to embolden him.  His stance grew wider and his growl was now mixed with loud barking.

I decided to start Hester, figuring the exhaust note in the enclosed concrete room would surely frighten the dog.  I slowly reached over while taking one step towards the bike, turned the ignition switch and hit the start button.  Hester roared to life with an especially concussive bang from a top dead center start as I twisted the throttle in short bursts (because that's what we do with Harleys).  I'm always impressed with and amused by that sound.  The dog, however was neither impressed nor amused. He just stood there looking first at Hester and then at me with an expression that seemed to say "really? - is that the best you got?" and adding "I like the deep, throaty sound.  Now hold still while I chew off your leg."

The sun and the temperature were both rising and frankly, I was out of ideas.  Mr. 131 was being outwitted by a homeless dog.  Adding insult to injury, the dog fixed the sink and repaired the wood on the window sill while I tried to figure out what to do next.

The last thing I wanted to do was injure the dog, but I had a desert to cross and he was literally standing in my way.  I decided to mount up and ride towards the door directly at him.  If he moved, fine.  If not, so be it.  I was on my way regardless.  I threw my left leg over the seat and reached for my helmet which was laying atop the right mirror.  My helmet on this trip was a Shark Evoline modular model.  Modular helmets have a face piece that can me adjusted over the helmet transforming it from a full-face helmet to a 3/4 style.  This style of helmet isn't for everyone, but for long trips like this, it's for me. It will also save me a bundle if I ever decide to dress as the black Power Ranger for Halloween.

I slid the helmet on, cinched the chin strap, and grabbed a handful of throttle.  The dog just stood there, no more impressed than before. Before dropping Hester into gear, I figured I should close the face shield.  I reached up and slid the face shield over and latched it closed.  Suddenly, in the first hint of apprehension, the dog ceased barking and his head sideways like dogs do when you whistle off key at them.  I then reached up and lowered the inner visor, covering my eyes completely.  Maybe it was the transformation in appearance or maybe the dog just didn't like the Power Rangers.  Whatever the case, articulating the helmet apparently intimidated or frightened the dog because he suddenly turned and ran out of the building.  He stopped and turned to peek back in at me and without hesitation, I dropped Hester into first gear and lunged forward.  As I rolled forward, I kept the motor revved as I wedged Hester through the doorway, which seemed much narrower at that point than it did the night before.  Walking backwards as Hester and I rolled towards him, the dog eventually fell backward off a small retaining wall, barking all the while.  Nevertheless, Cujo was finally on the move and so was I.  I managed to snap a souvenir photo with my phone before rolling out of the small parking lot and on to the desert.  Purely by coincidence, as part of a favorites play list, the Three Dog Night tune "One" played on my mp3 player about  an hour into my desert crossing.  I suppose in my case, one wasn't the loneliest number after all.

The ride across Death Valley was breathtaking and the heat never felt very oppressing., especially compared to the tension earlier in the morning  This video link is a time lapse shot of the trip.  Sound on!  Hit play and give it a few seconds to start.








Saturday, November 27, 2010

The People You Meet Out There

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a people person; definitely a type A personality.  The cliche phrase "never met a stranger" could have been coined for me.  Besides the ride itself, meeting and talking with strangers is one of the main aspects of the Alaskapade I really look forward to.  I believe most people respond in kind when greeted by a stranger as long as their personal space isn't violated and the greeting genuine.  Still, not everyone is friendly.  Not everyone wants to be friendly.  In fact, some people should just be left alone.  An example of this happened to me on my west coast trip last summer.

I was stopped for gas in Arizona and I observed a kid on a Sportster who appeared to be waiting for customers to drive off and then squeezing the pump handle for whatever extraneous fuel might be left in the hose. (Does that even work on modern pumps?)  It was August in Arizona and it was really really hot, even in the shade of the gas station.  I watched him as I was filling Hester's tank.  He looked at least purposeful, if not hopeful.  I briefly wondered how long he had been there trying.

I’ve been broke a few times in my adult life, so the type A in me piped up and offered to fill his tank saying “hey buddy, you need some gas?” Without looking up at me, he shook his head and declined.  My tank full, I called over to him and said "I'm gonna roll...last offer".  This time, he looked up, seemed to scan the horizon for other options, and then reluctantly agreed. I filled his Sportster's peanut tank and went in to buy a couple of bottles of water for us. When I got out of the store, he was peeling off. I noticed the word “PROSPECT” on the bottom of the back his vest. I couldn't see what club he was prospecting.

I headed out and rode a good 230 miles before stopping to gas up and cool down again. As I was filling, I noticed a large group of bikes parked under the awning of a rest stop adjacent to the gas station. I was sitting on Hester doing the squeeze-drip-squeeze routine with the nozzle to top off the tank when two from the group approached me.  One was the kid for whom I bought gas. The other was a cliche looking biker type with "1%" and “13” patches among other severely faded insignias. I found myself wondering how the kid got that far ahead of me on such a small tank of gas rather than being concerned that they were clearly walking toward me.

As they approached me, the elder asks the kid something that I couldn't hear, but I heard the kid say “yeah, him”. Before I could dismount, they were standing inches from me and the elder shoved a $5 bill into my shirt pocket saying “He ain't your brother!.” For some reason, as they walked away I piped up and said “I said buddy, not brother and I didn't see a patch". Without looking back at me, the elder said “he won’t ever get one if he don’t figure his way out of his own shit.

For those who don't know, members of hardcore motorcycle clubs ofter call each other "brother".  It's a fraternal right they feel they've earned in the process of earning their club patch and in their eyes, no one outside the club has the right to call them that. I knew the rule, but never associated this kid with a 1% club. Turns out these guys were Mongols. The Mongols have a long, somewhat sordid history, especially in Arizona. Other than PGR missions, that was my first encounter in 32 years or riding with a 1% club. They pretty much ignored me as I rode off.

I related this event to some riding friends who told me that the kid was prospecting (trying to join) the Mongols and that I had probably interfered with a test the club was putting him through.  Reading some of the stories about the Mongols on the Internet, I suppose I should feel fortunate that all I got was a five dollar bill out of the deal.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Security Theater


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Now excuse me while I go way off the Alaskapade topic and bitch a moment.

I know I've already whined about the TSA here, but this week I've been subjected to airport travel twice. Actually, this isn't out of the ordinary for me. What is out of the ordinary for me is dealing with airport hassles four times during Thanksgiving week with the TSA's new "enhanced" screening measures. Apart from watching Ma's Roadhouse on TruTV, air travel during Thanksgiving week is the closest thing to cruel and unusual punishment to which I have voluntarily subjected myself.

Commercial air travel in a post 9-11 world sucks.  I can't think of another industry to which the public not only volunteers, but actually pays to be subjected to government-induced ineptitude and personal violation. It wouldn't bother me so much if I were not convinced it was all just window dressing.  Bruce Schneier's book "Beyond Fear" aptly labels the TSA and its actions as "Security Theater".  I have on many occasions passed contraband items (a jeweler's screwdriver, a fork, etc.),past the eagle eyes of the TSA screeners - purely by accident, of course.  I once accidentally carried four ounces of hair gel on a flight, no doubt subjecting millions of American citizens on the ground under my flight path to unimaginable peril.  The reality is this: If I can unknowingly fool the TSA, then the "terrorists" with intent certainly can also. So just who is the Department of Homeland Security trying to fool here; the uninformed public who aren't going to fly anyway?  Security Theater, indeed.
Now, just in time for the holidays, we have the previously-mentioned Enhanced TSA Screening procedures which include personal full body x-rays that would be R-rated in a movie theater and physical groping to an extent that if done by anyone other than the government, would be considered sexual assault.  The x-rays are very revealing and the TSA has promised that the images would never be made public.  Look at the image below and take that promise to the bank!








Since President Obama and Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano are so supportive of the new procedures, I think it only fitting that images such as these should make their way on to the Internet also.









Personally, I fly way too much to subject myself to x-rays every time I fly.  I don't care who sees my junk.  I just don't want that much radiation from a device that was seemingly rushed on to the market without any significant testing as to its effects on human tissue and DNA.  So, on my last few trips, I opted for the personal pat down.  Yes, it adds time to the screening experience and holds up other passengers, but honestly my concern for other passengers' schedules can be measured in micro give-a-shits. 

Fortunately, as evidenced by the photos below, the TSA only selects passengers for Enhanced Screening who appear to pose a true threat to the rest of the flying public.  The image of the Muslim woman screening a nun is rich.  But hey, at least they're trying to make it fun for the kiddos!  Janet Napolitano went on record this week saying that Muslim women might be exempt from the process because it is offensive to their faith.  I'm actually offended by their faith.  Nevertheless, how considerate of you, Ms. Napolitano.  Did you ever stop to also consider that the very reason the country is debating this issue is because of Muslims in the first place? 
The first time I was groped, I was actually shocked at how invasive the procedure is.  The guy actually grabbed and squeezed my inner thighs and my crotch. I'm a licensed Massage Therapist and I don't get that personal with clients who are lying naked on my table under a sheet and who are paying me to touch them.  It got me thinking though. If I have to be groped so personally, at least make it worth my while and have the procedure performed by a gay guy who really knows how to touch a man.  I might as well get something out of it.

I imagine the Enhanced pat down procedure is even more time consuming for women when you consider the time it takes to dim the lights, put on some Barry White music, and light some candles.  Call it Security Theater...with foreplay. There may actually be a revenue opportunity here when you consider how many people would pay to watch the girl-on-girl action of female TSA screeners groping female passengers.  I see a new cable TV channel in the works.  Too bad Security Theater is already taken.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pearls and Swine


Some people just have no sense of humor.  Apparently I’ve offended someone at Google AdSense because they cut me off last week.  I received an email from them notifying me that they had deleted my AdSense account and that there would be no more ads on my blog pages.  They didn’t just not give me a reason; they actually stated in the email that they were not giving me a reason.  They also stated that the $200 in ad revenue I earned over the previous two weeks would not be paid to me.

The notice came almost immediately after I posted an account of my visit to the REI camping store in Dallas.  If you haven’t read it, I’ll summarize here for perspective.  If you already have, pardon the history lesson and skip to the next paragraph. The entry detailed my encounter with an REI sales person named Zach. I commented on his attire and on the relatively left wing political nature of the bumper stickers adorning the vehicles in the REI parking lot.  I do not believe my statements were mean spirited, nor were they insulting.  I simply attempted to put a humorous spin on the things I observed. 

Welcome to all of you who skipped to this paragraph.  A few days after my post, I received an email from someone claiming to know Zach who expressed major displeasure with my article and stated that it was their goal to have my blog account deleted. The email droned on about the perils of global warming and how REI and their customers were among those fighting at the front lines in the effort to save our planet from people like myself.  I’m not going to get off track here and express in detail my views on the Global Warming hoax because this sentence alone makes my opinion clear.

The interesting part of all this is that “Zach” was just a pseudonym for the real sales person. I would never go on line and smear someone’s name simply he acted like a tree-hugging pansy and dressed like a douche.  I stated in that entry that he offered me great insight into the products I was seeking for my trip and even told me how to save significant coin when I do buy.  So, the writer clearly had an agenda against my take on what I call the “eco-Nazi” movement, meat, or maybe they just really love the Lilith Fair.  Nevertheless, in a spineless move typical of eco-Nazi fashion, someone in position to screw people over screwed me over without even having the balls to tell me why.  I never clicked the ads on my pages.  I played by the rules and used various Internet forums I frequent to drive traffic to my blog page. Honestly, I am as surprised at Google’s actions as I am that people actually read the crap I write.

I suppose it serves me right for attempting to earn gas money for my Alaskapade trip off of the things I write. That said, if the pearls I tossed are the words I wrote, then perhaps Google AdSense is the swine and they just didn't get it. If none of this makes a lick of sense to you, do a search on “pearls and swine”.  In fact, just Google it.  Why be as spiteful as they are?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Unproductive" Time in the Saddle

I have no idea why this post was published in all caps. I tried many times to get it published properly.  Apologies if it appears as if I'm yelling at you...


Only A Biker Knows Why A Dog Sticks Its Head Out Of A Car Window

Many of us have heard that, but it's true that only bikers get it.  Cagers never get the value of saddle time either.  I suppose I understand their mindset.  The goal when driving a car is to get wherever there is.  The goal for a biker is the experience of getting there.  Granted, for this trip I have an obvious destination in mind. But the sights and the sounds long the way are among the things that will make a trip like this memorable.

For those who have asked me how I can just sit in the saddle for twelve to fifteen hours a day for days on end, refer to the first line of this entry.  I think that for me, it's a control thing.  When I'm on my bike, I feel like I'm in control.  In my work, I travel almost every week and fly 50,000 to 70,000 miles domestically each year. People tell me that I'm George Clooney's character in that movie "Up in the Air" although unfortunately, women don't tell me I look like him. I admit that I'm definitely a seasoned traveler, but I think Clooney is a liberal tool. He can keep his looks.

In the course of all my travel, the only control I have over any aspect of my trip is when I get to the airport.  From that point, I relinquish control over my life to what I refer to as the "travel machine". The parts this machine include the airline ticket counter and its overworked/under-appreciated attendants, the gate agents, the aircraft and its aircrew, and even the guy on the tarmac with the glowing flashlights who is usually on break when my flight arrives.  The worst part of the travel machine is what I refer to as the Thousands Standing Around.  Little annoys me more than the bloated bureaucracy that is the TSA. In terms of genuine passenger safety and security, it's little more than window dressing.  I liken it to a WPA for the new millennium.  Yep...FDR's New Deal legacy lives on under the guise of passenger safety.  I try not to begrudge the TSA agents on the front lines in the airports, but I admit that at times it's very difficult to separate them from the shortsighted and inept policy makers for whom they work.  As a seasoned traveler and (way too) frequent flier, I know how to efficiently navigate through our Nation's airports.  I'm always fully prepared whenever I enter the screening line.  But it never fails that regardless of whichever line I get into, Helen Keller will be sitting behind the x-ray screen and my stuff will sit in limbo inside the x-ray conveyor. I usually travel with two laptop computers, each of which are necessary because they serve specific purposes.  On a recent trip, I was cramming them into my carry on bag when a TSA agent with a dark coffee stain on his white uniform shirt who looked like Chris Farley playing a disheveled character on a Saturday Night Live skit piped up and asked me why I needed to travel with two computers.  I bit what was left of my tongue and chose my words carefully.  I just said I needed them for my work and asked him if he had more than one uniform shirt.  He answered "yes, but I don't bring them both to work" as he shrugged his shoulders.  I pointed to the stain on his shirt and replied "well maybe you should".  I wasn't sure if he was more embarrassed by my comment or by the fact that his fellow TSA agent laughed out loud and gave me a high five.

Once I arrive at my destination, my time is pretty much controlled by my clients' agenda.  When I land and get back to my car, I feel free again.  I'm not complaining here.  I feel fortunate to have a job - especially in these days of hope and change.  Honestly, I think my line of work is far better than driving an hour to and from a job to do the same thing day in and day out for years on end.  My projects change, making my work dynamic.  Again I digress...

When I'm on the bike, it's like time stops.  Well, it doesn't stop...it just doesn't matter.  I can go as fast as I feel like risking or as slow as I feel like tolerating.  It took me a few days on my last trip to catch on to this.  I was pretty focused on getting to Seattle on schedule.  Once I hit Canada on day three of the Alaska trip, I plan to dial it down, ignore the odometer, and take it all in.

As I write this, I'm sitting in DFW Airport having just passed though the TSA screening and dealing with the Thanksgiving holiday rookie traveler rush.  Today more than ever I'm counting the days until I cross the Canadian border, ignore that odometer, and begin heading northwest.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Camping on Top of the World?

I'm sitting on about half a million Hilton hotel points.  On the one hand, that's pretty cool. On the other hand, it means I live in hotels every week for my work and that I have no life.  I used a butt load of points when I did my Throw Momma ride. It was nice to have a soft bed after ten to fifteen hours in the saddle, but I can't count how many times I woke up during the night to peek out the window to check on Hester.

For my Alaska trip, I think I want to camp as much as possible once I'm outside the United States. My first two stops will be in Denver and Billings and camping there doesn't have much appeal. Hello Hilton Points.  Once in Canada however, I plan to avoid hotels wherever possible and enjoy the natural beauty that Canada and Alaska have to offer.  In that pursuit, I went looking for gear last weekend.

My family and I used to be Olympic caliber campers.  The four of us could make an entire troop of Eagle Scouts look unprepared.  We used to tent camp everywhere, cooking dinner over an open fire and then playing in said fire later that night.  I once almost burned down the San Isabel National forest at a dirt bike Spodefest.  We graduated from tents to a pop-up camper and eventually to a toy hauler when we got into the enduro scene and were racing all over the southwest almost every weekend.  In short, we became pampered.  To us, roughing it was a night when the microwave oven interfered with the satellite TV receiver in the last lap of the live Supercross race we were watching from Las Vegas. It's different now.  The boys are grown and gone, I no longer race, (Evel Knievel thanked me for leaving his broken bone record in tact), and My KTM-520 collects dust in the garage.  I guess the reality is I just got old!

This trip will be a return of sorts to my past and as luck would have it, I no longer have any camping gear.  So, I stopped by an REI store in Dallas to see what's what in hardcore camping these days.  I've always heard REI was full of eco-Nazis who worship mother earth and hate anything that burns carbon fuels. When I arrived, the parking lot confirmed the above and that they also hate George W Bush, Fox News, guns, and SUVs.  They apparently also don't like meat which makes me wonder...If we're not supposed to eat animals, then why are they made of meat?  Anyway, if I were a betting man, I'd bet they aren't fond of Harleys either.  I was safe in my pickup truck with my Springfield .45 in my pocket.

Once inside, the guy who assisted me was a post middle-aged beer-gutted pony tail earth child named Zach.  I know Harley guys with beer guts and pony tails, but they wouldn't be caught dead wearing Doc Martens with black knee socks and camping shorts with a belt and suspenders, and an unzipped quilted vest. The piece de resistance to Zach's camping supply salesman ensemble was his Lilith Fair t-shirt.  I am dead serious.  I thought for a moment that it might have been a father's day gift or something.  I took another look as Zach and thought otherwise.

I have to admit though, for all his universal harmony and cosmic color wheel vibration nonsense, Zach knew his product. I was impressed at all the cool new stuff and how small and lightweight it all was.  He gave me some pamphlets with all sorts of interesting information describing the various grades of goose down and the nylon thread count in a quality -20 degree sleeping bag.  He joked that genuine goose down was better for a bear's digestive tracts. He also deftly explained why I needed a two-person tent instead of a single.  I knew I would be off loading packed items from Hester when I stopped, and they would need to be under cover.

I left the store thankful for Zach's assistance and wondered which of the sticker-laden hybrid matchbox cars in the parking lot was his as I made my way to my full sized pickup.  I have to admit that instant, I wished it was a diesel.  I also have to admit that the entire time I was there, I secretly planned to just collect part numbers from the gear I selected and to look for it on line.  Zach told me to hold off on buying anywhere because this REI store was having their annual "garage sale" wherein returned items would be 50% - 80% off.  So now I find myself actually excited about going back to REI next month and rummaging for bargains among the flower children.  Look for an update here on this topic after the event.  In the mean time, maybe I'll break out my old Docs and quilted vest.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Making Time

“It's ironic that in our culture, everyone's biggest complaint is about not having enough time; yet nothing terrifies us more than the thought of eternity.”  - Dennis Miller


I'm getting quite a few comments about taking up to three weeks to make the trip.  I was impressed with myself just for having three weeks vacation to take until I spoke with a friend who has seven weeks this year.  I can't imagine that.  At my job, I have a quota to bill time against client accounts.  Of course that quota doesn't take into account vacation time and holidays.  Some of my peers have five or six weeks vacation and I can't imagine how they take it all and still meet their quota.  It's like the company gives us all this vacation and then dares us to take it.  But I digress...

The counter on the upper right of this blog is counting down to June 18th, 2011.  I've already scheduled the vacation time off.  I pick and choose the projects I work, so embarking on the the trip on that date should be doable.  I'll be slammed with work and other projects from now till then.  Trust me, Ray Charles' dart board has more holes in it than my day planner does.  I'll take no vacation from January to June 18th, and then none from July to December.  Fortunately, I have five or six floating holidays (I call "sanity days") outside the compulsory Federal holidays many of us get.  I know the anticipation of the trip itself will see me from January to June.  I'm counting on the experience and the memories therein to get me through the rest of the year.
 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Tiny Taste

I rode to Houston and on to Galveston this week.  It was only 300 miles/four hours, but it was the first ride of any real substance I've taken since I returned from my Mom's trip.  Funny, but I haven't been so enthusiastic about riding nowhere in a long time.

When I was doing 800+ miles a day on my way to Whidbey Island, the hours in the saddle seemed to disappear faster than a high school girl's virginity on prom night.  (When I was in high school, some people of that age were actually still virgins.)  When I stopped for the night, I would look at a map, bristle at my accomplishment, pat myself on the back, and sleep like a baby.

My point is that the short ride to Houston rekindled my desire to be on the road. The four hours in the saddle passed like 30 minutes.  It's difficult for a non-rider to understand how relaxing a long ride can be.  The Alaskapade can't get here soon enough.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sage Advice from Experienced Alaska Riders & Locals

I've received numerous encouraging emails from people who have made the trip as well as hospitality offerings from some who live up there.  In those messages is some sage advice on how to get around the land of the midnight sun.  Here is a sample of some of the advice I've received with respect to navigating the Dalton highway, aka "the Haul Road".  More to come... 
  1. Truckers rule the road (or at least they think they do)! Being able to communicate with them is a huge help. If your scoot has a CB, use ch19. If you get behind a slow one, let him know you have a radio and he'll let you know when it's safe to pass. If you rip around them unannounced, they get pissed and tell their friends.
     
  2. When you encounter an oncoming 18 wheeler, slow down and pull over to the side of the road and basically put as much distance between you and them as possible. It'll stop or at least reduce the amount of gravel you will be hit with. In that vein, a full face helmet and quality safety glasses would be a real good idea.
  3. When behind a slow semi, don't tailgate them. Particularly one towing an open trailer/low boy. It's quite common for parts to rattle off their load.
     
  4. If you see safety cones/flags along the road side, slow down!  That's our DOT's way of marking road hazards like frost heaves, big potholes, etc....They usually only do this on really bad spots, and it pays to head them.
     
  5. If you're going slower than the normal flow of traffic, pull over and let them by.
     
  6. Flat repair gear: The only tire service between Livengood and the Arctic Circle is at the Yukon River bridge. I doubt they have bike tires, but don't know that for a fact.
     
  7. A head net/bug net and or "bug dope". If you have a break down, and conditions are "buggy" they will drive you nuts without some kind of protection. Also, if you get the really good dope that contains DEET, be careful with it around your bike...it eats plastic!
     
  8. There's one place to eat after Livengood. Just past the Yukon, at a place called The Hot Spot. They make a decent burger.
     
  9. When you cross the Yukon River bridge, take it easy. It's surfaced with wood planking, and can be missing one here and there.  The void could grab a tire.
With the cautionary crap now out of the way, you're going to be awed by the scenery....it's beautiful up there! Actually, if you go as far as the Circle you're better than halfway to Coldfoot and the road is mostly chip sealed between the two. Coldfoot is a truck stop/hotel. The rooms are pretty humble, and about $150 a night. Food ain't bad. It sits at the start of the Brooks Range and is some of the most beautiful country in AK. An overnight there may be something to consider?

I will DEFINITELY consider that! I want to spend a night at the top of the world.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Work & Travel, Travel for Work

I'm being pounded with travel for work lately.  Alaska is on my mind, but unfortunately my hands aren't on the keyboard.  More soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time is a Double Edged Sword

As of this writing, I have 239 days till my trip.  The great part about this is that I have eight months to prepare and work out the logistics.  The bad news is I have eight months to wait before I can go.

I've considered so many in-bound and out-bound routes that I bet Google Maps wants to start charging me for bandwidth consumption.  My in-bound route is pretty much set and validated by others who have made the trip. I don't want to ride the same path back that I rode out, although to a certain degree 'll have to.  I'm thinking after the Circle, I'll head back on the Alaska Highway and then south near Watson Lake to Prince George, passing through Jasper National Park in Alberta.  From there, riding west to east across Canada is appealing.  I can ride to Regina Saskatchewan and then south to Sturgis and Dallas. I want to see Sturgis and its surroundings, but not during the Rally mayhem.

This return route makes sense.  At least it does today.  I have 239 days to change my mind. 

Sorry Google.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Explanation Needed



Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we'd like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee...
- Neil Peart/Earnest Hemingway 



Friday, October 15, 2010

Received the New Milepost

video

My 2010 edition Signpost arrived Thursday.  The Milepost is an excellent guide to getting around in, as well as to and from Alaska. It has a nice section dedicated to the Dalton highway that includes details about turnouts, grades, and sights at specific mile markers.  I know it's silly, but things like this get me psyched for the trip.  I've already identified several spots in Alaska I want to visit.  My goal is to arrive in state with enough time to spend a week up there.

No more time to opine right now.  Work calls; gotta pay for the trip.