Thursday, December 31, 2020

From Cool to Comfort - The Geezer Glide Path

2006 H-D Wide Glide

All Harleys are cool, although some are arguably more cool than others and there always those that stand out.  My first Harley was a 2006 Wide Glide.  I enjoyed customizing it and rolling into my favorite biker dive, Stroker's Ice House where it always turned heads.  After a few years, riding to Stroker's and around town had grown old and I started venturing out.  Before I knew it, I was doing 1,000 mile weekends, which in those days was impressive (at least to me) on a non-touring bike.

By 2010, I had the long ride bug and knew it was time to move to a more accommodating platform, both in terms of comfort and storage.  That's when I traded cool for comfort.  I had seen Road Glides, but never really paid attention to them.  I never paid attention to any touring bikes because they were boring to me.  In my eyes, they were one step from a trike and a trike was one step from a Gold Wing and a Gold Wing was one step from a wheel chair.  When I decided to "move up", I focused on the Road Glide because it was different.  Its pointed nose and stationary fairing stood out in a crowd and people called it "fugly". In September, I made a late night deal with a salesman in his end-of-quarter sales stretch and left my Wide Glide behind.  And just like that, I was officially a Geezer Glider.

Hester Has Been There and Back

That was ten years ago and I haven't looked back. I've ridden "Hester" through 49 states to amazing points of interest and across all the iconic and scenic routes.  She was totaled in 2016, only to be reborn with fresh paint and an over-the-top audio system and in 2019, she got a new 110" motor.  At eleven years old, she's as fresh as she was the day I brought her home. the Road Glide world, she's actually cool.

That's not to say I haven't added my share up updates.  I'm not much of a chrome guy and I haven't accessorized with every possible bolt-on part.  But, I do appreciate comfort.  Over the years, I've added Ohlins suspension, a super comfy custom seat packed with gel padding and hospital-grade memory foam, and a windscreen that works so well I can smell my farts at 70mph.  I suppose passengers might not appreciate that last part as much as I do.  I also went overboard with audio.  I usually listen to audiobooks through my helmet speakers, but let's just say that when I crank it up and listen to Led Zeppelin, everyone around me listens to Led Zeppelin.

On my long rides, I usually cash in hotel points to sleep in a comfy room and enjoy a soft mattress,  Wi-Fi and a free breakfast.  But this is not always the case.  I really like camping and I'm pretty adept at it.  In 2011, I purchased camping gear in preparation for my first ride to Alaska and took a few short distance practice trips to sort out suspension load adjustments, added weight handling, and optimal packing.  There wasn't much room, so I learned to pack very efficiently.  The gear I purchased was well-suited for motorcycle camping as it was both lightweight and compactable.  The trip to the REI store on the day of their annual "garage sale" was quite an interesting event unto itself.  You can read about it here.  But I digress.

I've used the gear I purchased in 2010 and 2011 many times and have gotten more than my money's worth out of it.  I most recently moto-camped in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which was a mere 600-mile lunch ride from my home to the west Texas/New Mexico border.  The tent, while generally serviceable, had a few holes in the nylon here and there, torn zippers, and the flexible fiberglass rods that form the structure had started to split due to age.  The sleeping bag was a super-compact Ranger bag rated to -5°F.  While that's nice, it's also a mummy bag, meaning it's tapered from shoulder width at the top to barely wider than the width of my two feet at the bottom.  I remember being very comfy in this bag over the years, but this time I felt like I was sleeping in a combined coffin and straight jacket.  Temple Grandin would love it.  The bag's zipper had been torn and I was forced to sleep with it unzipped.  While that gave me room to wiggle, it did little to keep in my body heat in the cool night mountain air.  To top it all off, the single-width air mattress I purchased in 2010 no longer held air.  It's time for new gear.

Now that I'm ten years older (if not wiser), I'm taking a different approach to camping gear.  The technology has matured over the last decade and I plan to take advantage of it.  As entertained as I was by the crowd in December of 2010, I will not be attending the REI garage sale.  I may have grown no wiser over the last tenth of a century, but it's a given that the eco-Nazi douche-nozzle crowd that frequents that place will have grown exponentially worse.  I'll buy elsewhere.

Chateau Shrug 2021

My new camping gear approach will prioritize comfort and performance over compact and lightweight.  For starters, I want a tent in which I can actually stand up.  My old tent was described as being able to comfortably accommodate three men.  My experience in that tent taught me that those three men would have to be extremely "close"...and possibly dwarfs.  While I was able to sit upright in it and it did hold the items I wanted removed from the bike overnight, it was oppressively small and confining.  For Christmas this year, my son bought me a new Coleman tent that is taller and also has a larger floor space.  Check one item off the list!

I also want a full-size sleeping bag.  In fact, I want one of those double bags for two people that is essentially two like bags zipped together.  While I foresee no chance of a second person ever occupying the extra space, I want to to be able to spread out in my sleeping bag.  This is especially important after riding for ten to twelve hours day-after-day.  Furthermore, I tend to flop around in bed and when I'm wrapped like a mummy, I wake up realizing I'm confined and then I fight to get comfortable and go back to sleep. Even if I repaired the zipper, he mummy bag simply will not work anymore.

Finally, I'll have a real air mattress with a battery-powered inflation pump.  Even as small as that old mattress was, blowing it up the old fashioned way made me dizzy back then.  I'd probably slip into a coma if I tried today.  I picked up a double bed-sized model and used it on my Guadalupe trip.  Now I'm spoiled and there's no going back to the slim  compact mattress that was barely wide enough to keep one skinny guy off the ground.  And since I'm spoiling myself, I might as well pack a real pillow.  Although the postage stamp-sized pillow that I used for the last decade compressed tightly and packed down to the size of a corn dog, if I'm being honest with myself, it never was really comfortable.

Hester - Packed for Action
Don't read me wrong here.  I have no regrets over the gear I purchased in 2010.  Indeed, it served me well on numerous camping trips.  Of equal importance to its longevity is the fact that it all packed neatly onto Hester in a single dry sack that fit on the passenger seat tucked between me and the backrest.  So given that fact, you may be asking yourself just how the hell Shrug will be able to pack all this larger gear and not look like the Clempetts when they loaded up the truck and they moved to Bever-lee...Hills, that is.  The answer is...I won't.  Although the new tent is compact, it still packs a bit larger than the old one.  That ranger sleeping bag could be rolled down to the size of a small coffee can, but the new double-sized bag that I plan to purchase comes with with extra padding and a thick flannel inner lining.  I'll be fortunate to be able to roll and compress this one down to the size of two BBQ grill propane tanks laid end-to-end.  And since we're talking comfort over compact, might as well make the new pillow a full-size memory foam one and a real chair to the mix.

The solution?  A trailer!  I've seen motorcycles pulling trailers for years and as it turns out, there's a plethora of models and styles available.  Once I decided to head back to the Arctic Circle, I also decided to find a way to bring more creature comforts this time.  I'd like to claim that my tastes have been refined, but the reality is I'm old and brittle and I just think I deserve it.  I started researching pull-behind motorcycle trailers and the first fact I learned is those damned things are expensive!  A company called Bushtec makes the Cadillac of motorcycle trailers.  Actually, make that the Mercedes Benz; way out of my league financially...even for the used ones  Besides the trailer itself, there's adapting the bike with a secure and robust hitch with witch to tow the trailer.  Even a moderately-loaded trailer will subject the motorcycle's rear end to torque and stress that it was never designed to handle, and negotiating the physics on two wheels is far more challenging than on four.  A good hitch kit is not cheap and a cheap hitch kit is probably not good.  Actually, it might be, but that's not a risk I am willing to assume on the roads and for the distance I will be riding.  Once the trailer is hitched to the motorcycle, it has to be wired to the brake lights and turn signals.  Research has taught me that this wiring is more complicated than just splicing the trailer harness to the brake lights like we do for cars.  The additional electrical load from the trailer's lights that can adversely affect the motorcycle's electrical system has to be countered.

I found a trailer that will do the job and that I can afford.  It's not the Cadillac by any means, It's not even a Ford.  I'd say it's somewhere between a Ford and a Yugo.  The bottom line is it is structurally sound, lightweight, and has more than enough room for the gear I plan to take; even with my full-sized pillow and super-sized sleeping bag.

Once I knew what I would be towing, finding a safe hitch system that would do the trick was easy and it turns out that hitch is manufactured by Bushtec.  I may not be able to afford their trailers, but I know I can't afford to use a cheap hitch and theirs is beefy and very well designed to distribute the stress on the motorcycle frame.  If the difficulty of installation is any indicator, the Bushtec hitch ought to perform like a Mercedes, although I suppose I'll settle for a Ford.  I was able to piece together and install a wiring harness that won't tax Hester's nervous system.  The trailer I bought has all LED indicators, so there's practically no measurable additional electrical load on the bike.  I registered and plated the trailer and am now fully prepared to hit the

Beefy Struts for Reliability & a Removable Ball for Invisibility

I have six months to play around with towing practice and to sort out loading and weight distribution, all while finding the ideal packing arrangement to keep the tongue weight down.  The storage area's clam shell design has plenty of room.  In fact, it may have too much.  I suppose I can also pack oil for a mid-trip oil change, tools, and some more creature comforts as long as I don't go overboard. Still, I will have to figure out a means of  securing things in their place once they're packed.  The last thing I need is for my carefully-planned and strategically-packed supplies to be moving about inside the trailer unbeknownst to me until I hit the brakes or dive into a corner.  I will also have to develop my trailering skills.  The good news is I can barely tell the trailer is back there when I'm towing it.  The bad news is I can barely tell the trailer is back there when I'm towing it.  I can see where I could easily become complaisant and forget to leave sufficient room for curbs when cornering or obstructions when fueling up at a gas station.  Speaking of fuel, after eleven years, I can predict Hester's fuel consumption and range to within a few miles.  Now, I will have to become acquainted with the reduced mileage per tank.  It may feel like there's no trailer back there, but the motor will be well-aware of the additional load and by the time I leave, I should too.  All of this can be overcome with practice rides around town and on the highway; and as I said, I have six months.

Those who know me know I name things.  My orange Kubota tractor is named "Bevo".  My Saab 9-3 is named "Saabrina".  I even named my zero-turn mower "Twister".  You know where Hester's name came from, so it's fitting that I name the trailer "Pearl".  Stay tuned for updates on my skills progress and perhaps an improved look for Pearl.

Friday, October 2, 2020

No Cat in This Cradle

This is a re-post of an entry from ten years ago.

My father would be 85 years old today.  The photo below was taken when he was 52 years old.  Hard living aged him far beyond his calendar years.

If I weren’t agnostic, I suppose I could lay a lot of blame on Exodus 20:5.

So much of this trip is about finally getting to see Alaska. But I’m self-aware enough to recognize that it’s also about answering that primal urge all men get to simply get away and (at least temporarily) shed our responsibilities.  I think all men get this urge. It’s part of who we are.  How we handle it is part of what we are.  My father had it in the worst of ways and I clearly have it now.  It’s different for me however because I know that I know I’m going back home.  Read on and maybe this will make sense.

My father died 22 years ago this week. He was 53 years old. His death certificate listed the cause as “complications from Parkinson’s Disease.” But, the reality is even the most highly functional of alcoholic, workaholic chain smokers can’t outrun the legacy of a lifetime of hard living, hard liquor, and unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Short, but Most Popular
High School Junior Year
My father was born in 1935. A kid of short stature, he was too small for most sports, but his Type-A personality made him a class favorite in high school where he was a cheerleader and performed in a singing ensemble. Back then, a boy could do those things and people wouldn’t wonder if he was gay.  He was also incredibly bright and graduated Salutatorian of his 1953 class at Diamond Hill High School in Fort Worth.  My grandparents were hard working farming people who also owned and operated a diner. My grandfather was also a Methodist Lay Preacher. My father inherited from his parents a sincere work ethic that would shape his life and ultimately mine.

After serving an enlistment in the Air Force, my father, now a married man with three kids, went to work for a defense contractor that would eventually become known as E-Systems. He was a brilliant electrical engineer whose efforts were recognized by name in a citation signed by President Lyndon Johnson. When the Vietnam War started, E-Systems offered my father something he had never known; travel.

I remember walking through Love Field Airport one day with my father, my mom, and my two sisters. I was so taken with the hustle and bustle and all the sites an airport offers a young boy that I barely noticed the tears streaming down both my sisters' faces as we walked. I remember being transfixed on a big Braniff airliner that was parked outside the terminal window where we were waiting when my father hugged us all, said goodbye, and walked through the door; appearing outside on the tarmac shortly thereafter. I recall my mom saying "wave  goodbye to daddy." as he climbed the stairs and boarded the jet. I also recall wondering where he was going and why as I suddenly joined my sisters' tear fest.  I was five years old.

That trip to Thailand was the first in a long career of multi-year expatriate travel on which my father would embark throughout his career at E-Systems. Over the years, he would write and occasionally call. But phone calls from a war zone across the globe were a tall order in the 1960’s.  He always mailed birthday and Christmas gifts to us at home from wherever in the world he happened to be.

My father came back to the States a few times as I was growing up - for what seemed like short visits.  One time he and my mother re-married, which was odd to me because I don’t remember ever being told they were divorced in the first place. After two marriages and two divorces (these were to my mother; but there were others), my father moved to Europe for E-Systems and lived in Greece, France, and Germany before returning home for good during my high  school senior year.  Our relationship was cordial.  He was busy. I was busy.

My mom and I had several deep and revealing conversations before she died. Despite all she went through alone, she was concerned that I would hate my father for “abandoning” us.  Truth is, I never felt abandoned. My mom loved and supported my sisters and I in ways my father never could (or would) have. As an adult, I recognize her sense of abandonment  because she was left to raise three kids on her own.  I learned later that she accomplished this with little to no financial support from my father.  Still, many times over the years, she would say to me “no one in this world loves you more than your father.”

Not only did I never feel abandoned, I never hated my father. After all, hate is too powerful an emotion to waste on someone you don’t know.  There were times when I didn’t particularly like him and wondered aloud just who the hell he thought he was to try to enforce fatherly discipline upon me as a teenager, when in my mind he had not earned the right to do so.

In 1984 at the age of 48, my father was diagnosed with cardiopulmonary stress syndrome.  His doctor told him that unless he had a heart/lung transplant soon, he probably wouldn’t live to see 50. By this point, he had accepted an executive position at E-Systems and was living minutes from where I grew up. I was in the Air Force, stationed in Austin, was married, and had two sons of my own by then. I remember him telling me he decided not to have the surgeries.  I also remember not being the least bit surprised or, strangely enough, even saddened by his decision.

In 1989, upon being notified his condition had taken a turn for the worst, and that this was probably it, I headed home to Dallas from Austin for the first time in almost three years.  On his last day, as I literally carried him to and from the toilet, his frail body twitching uncontrollably and him barely lucid from the effects of advanced Parkinson’s, I remember thinking to myself “I will never put my sons through this.”  He beat the doctor’s prediction by three years and he died, just as he lived, on his terms.

Despite his being gone most of my life, I’m pretty sure I loved my father because I still feel a strange sense of loss (or maybe just  a void) 22 years after his passing. In a sense, he made me the father and dad that I am to my sons. During my Air Force years, I was faced with a similar career choice that my  father had himself faced 30 years earlier. I was offered an opportunity to get involved with a clandestine field intelligence element within the Air Force; a career path that would have me globe trotting year round. It was at this time I had an epiphany of sorts that not only helped me arrive at the right decision, but helped me reconcile how I truly felt about my father.  He grew up in a home with both parents and never knew what it was like to not have a dad there. It was easy for him to choose career over family because he had no clue what the ramifications to others would be for doing so.  I had the foresight of knowing what effect the career decision I faced would have on my sons - and I chose accordingly. I like to think my father gave me some of his intelligence, but the willingness and insight to be not just a father, but to be a dad is something I know he gave me.

When I look at my sons and contemplate the men they’ve grown to be I quietly, yet proudly acknowledge that there are no cats in their cradles.  If I’ve done my job right, the feline population in their kids’ cradles should be nonexistent as well.

I win, Exodus; at least where the cat and cradle are concerned.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

From a Better Place

"Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance."
- David Mamet

(I wonder if anyone will get this reference)

Ten years is a long time.  It's almost a decade! 😃  In thinking this return trip through, it occurred to me that much will have changed from 2011 to 2021.  The roads up there certainly should be in better condition, shouldn't they?  There was a great deal of construction in 2011 along the ALCAN that should have been completed years ago and thus should yield a much smoother ride in 2021.  I suppose also that those improvements could have run full cycle over the years and the roads could be just as bad from wear, or possibly even worse ten years after.  Rest assured, I will be prepared for whatever the ALCAN throws at me.  I may be older, but I'm experienced and knowing what to expect is half the battle.

Hester Down
Hester is also ten years older. And while some may raise an eyebrow over riding a twelve year-old motorcycle into such unpredictable terrain, I have as much confidence in the old girl now as I did in 2011.  Just as Hester Prynne was older, stronger, wiser, and even admired at the conclusion of "The Scarlet Letter", Hester the Road Glide was rebuilt from the ground up after being totaled in a highway crash in 2016.  My injuries from the crash were minor and I was crossing the Australian Outback on a dirt bike a month later.  But I digress.

Hester also has a new stronger 110 cubic inch motor, Öhlins shocks, and more ergonomically comfortable handlebars.  All of these improvements yield a more comfortable and most importantly, a more reliable ride.  Over time, Hester Prynne also became a respected member of her 1649 Puritan Massachusetts Bay colony.  My Hester and I have become known as an iron butt long haul ride team in my motorcycling community.  We recently completed a 1,400 mile ride from Gettysburg, PA back to Texas in a 20 hour straight shot.

Thinking introspectively, there is another change in ten years; a significant one.  I have changed.  If you read my original blog post or watched the Alaskapade! 2011 video, you will recall that I was not in an emotionally healthy place at that time in my life.  Striking out alone to parts unknown on a motorcycle with no real itinerary was probably not the smartest of ideas.  But I was driven (no pun intended) to get as far away as possible and part of me honestly didn't care if I ever came back.  I was fairly certain back then that few others cared if I returned either.  I won't elaborate on the reasons or details here.  If you knew me well then, you understand.  If you didn't, it doesn't matter because my emotions were clear in the video and in my writing.  It's irrelevant at this point because those days are gone and I am not the same guy I used to be.  This trip will be different from the onset because I am coming from a better place in my life.

I have since moved to the country and adapted to a slower pace in life.  I am wholly content with my family and social life.  I probably interact with horses and chickens more than I do with people. I am starting to see the fruit of my lifetime of labor and savings to the point where there's a light at the end of the retirement tunnel and I'm fairly certain it's not a train heading at me.  Most importantly, I no longer feel financially necessary yet otherwise insignificant like I did a decade ago.  Whether or not that was actually the case, it was how I felt and it drove and motivated me.  I will head to Alaska this time with a focus on where I am going as opposed to looking in the rearview mirror and choking down the feeling that no matter how far I went, I wasn't far enough away.

Friends and liars
Don't wait for me
Cause I'll get on
All by myself
I put millions of miles
Under my heels
And still too close
To you, I feel
- Chris Cornell - Audioslave

That tune follows a prolific point in the Alaskapade! 2011 video where I started to open up about where I was emotionally.  But quoting the unnamed serf in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "I got better".

I have a request.  Take time to re-read my Alaskapade chronological blog entry.  I read it last week and realized that I really never had before.  I just wrote it and posted it.  Am I conceited to say that I really enjoyed my own writing?  I had been told by many that it was really descriptive and well-written and after reading it, I kinda agree.  Also, re-watch the Alaskapade! 2011 video.  I believe that while the video definitely compliments the written account, it doesn't tell the whole story as well on its own.  The tunes in the soundtrack to the video were selected specifically for the time in the video at which they appear and the lyrics matter.

Speaking of videos, I won't commit to producing a video for this trip.  The amount of work that went into the original was far more than I anticipated and I had expert help from a friend whose interest, time, and availability I can't predict ten years later.  The prospect of having other riders along for this trip further complicates things in terms of producing a video.  I was completely open with my emotions from start to finish in 2011.  They were mine and mine alone.  Putting the good, the bad, and the ugly out there for all to see was one thing when it was my good, my bad, and my ugly.  Broadcasting others' emotions, actions, achievements, and failures could potentially be an issue and I am not interested in seeking permission from others to express myself.  So while a video is possible, I make no promises.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Here We Go Again

So, yeah...I've made a decision.  For those living under a rock, I had dreamed of, planned on, and conditioned for a motorcycle riding adventure from Kathmandu, Nepal to Mount Everest in Tibet that was to take place in May, 2020.  I blogged about my preparation on my Daily Shrug page.  That adventure was squashed by the China virus pandemic and while there is a possibility of rescheduling sometime in 2021, I've thrown in the towel and decided instead to return to the Arctic Circle next June.

I'll combine this trip with the 11th annual Road Glide Shark Week pilgrimage, which will take place in Lake Tahoe next summer.  Doing the math on the dates for Shark Week has me departing Texas on almost the same date I left in 2011.  I can ride up to Prudhoe Bay and then catch the Pacific Coast Highway 101 south from Washington and across to Nevada on my return.  Knowing what I know now, I'll probably slow the pace a bit and bake in a few extra days.  If I ride with company this time, they might appreciate the relaxed pace.  Given that I will be 58 years old, I know I will.

There are but a handful of riders with whom I would make this trip.  I know I am not the easiest guy to get along with and when I'm focused, I'm even worse.  I'm not retired with unlimited time on my hands and I certainly don't have unlimited funds.

There are two stark realities at play here.
  1. I have to ride very long, hard days or I'll be on the road forever.
  2. The more days I'm out, the more financial expense I'll incur.
I was approached at Shark Week X by a few guys with whom I would be proud to share the road and the experience.  They know me and share my determination on the road. I have followed up with them and we shall see what shakes out.

In preparation for Everest, I had committed to a harsh conditioning and dietary routine and seriously shaped up; losing fifty pounds and slimming form a 38-40 waistline to a loose 33.  Despite knowing that trip was off since March, I kept up the routine and I feel better that I have in decades.  Now I have almost a year to keep up the regimen and keep the weight off.  Time will tell.

Stay tuned for updates.  I'm excited again.

Alaska 2021 & Shark Week XI Route

Ten Years After

No, This isn't a tribute to Alvin Lee.

I'm Going Back - June, 2021!

Details soon.