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 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 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'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.