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.


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 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  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


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, 10,000 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  the 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 former 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 IQ 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 and 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.