Sunday, February 12, 2012

Winter Ride—Chapter 4 and Epilogue

I finally made it home around 5:30 after 8-and-a-half hours of “officially” being on the road. I spent the first hour-and-a-half searching for the Lubbock Harley, buying hand warmers, trying to find my way out of Lubbock, getting lost twice, and then finally getting back on HWY 84 heading to my first gas stop—Sweetwater, Texas. It was a helluva way to start the ride, given that all I was doing was wasting time and getting colder by the second.

Cold! Cold, cold, COLD! That’s the only way I can describe the first two hours of my trip back home. It was 23-degrees once I got on the road with a wind-chill of 7-degrees. Every part of my body was well protected except my hands and to a certain extent my face. Besides the helmet, I was wearing two nylon masks and my American Legion Riders knit cap. This had worked fine for all the miles previous, but as the temps got down to the 20’s it was apparent the wind was going to find every area that was not covered up. Face would survive the cold. Hands were the biggest problem for the first two hours.

Once the hands get cold, the ride is over. You must find a place to stop to warm them up. Unfortunately, the distance between stops on this trip seemed like 60 miles. The hand warmer packets I had wasted the first one-and-a-half hours of the trip on were useless. At times, I felt that my fingertips were going to fall off. At other times, I didn’t feel any cold on my hands at all (which seems to be a “bad” thing to me). Ironically, my hands got used to the cold. After the first hour on the road, and accidentally passing the first viable roadside stop in Snyder to warm up the hands, I felt “comfortable” enough to carry on to Sweetwater.

Did I also say it was windy? Between Lubbock and Sweetwater are literally thousands of windmills—part of the Texas green electricity project. On my way to Albuquerque these windmills were stationary except for the occasional one slowly turning. Coming home, all of these windmills were turning, and they were turning fast. I would look down at my road temperature gauge and see that it was below the 20-degree notch. Windy and Cold—wonderful!

I didn’t notice “many” bikes on the road this morning. In Lubbock, there were a few gathered at a restaurant and I speculated that they had gotten on their bikes, met up at the restaurant for a ride, and decided the better thing to do was get breakfast and then go back home. I did see two separate riders on BMW’s that looked as hugely weather protected as I was. We gave each other a high hand “thumbs up” (as opposed to the “peace sign” low wave) as we passed each other. Yes, we were the only motorcycle idiots on the road today. I sure hope they had places to go rather than just being out on a leisurely ride, but they were after all Beemer Riders and those folks can be down-right turned on by riding in inclement weather.

I gassed up in Sweetwater and parked the bike. I knew I was going to spend lots of time here to warm my hands up. My usual method to warm my hands up quickly is to go in the bathroom and turn on the hand dryer. Sure enough, the one in Sweetwater didn’t work. So I just meandered around the Travel Center store and did my best to warm them up on my own.

Truckers were coming up to me to say hello and that they had seen me on the road. That was really nice. The ones who own bikes were also reminiscing about their occasional rides either in distance or in cold conditions. Ones who knew the route I had taken to Albuquerque reminisced about that long stretch of highway between Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa and how great it felt to be on the open road like that. I had made a number of new friends at this Travel Center stop—all because they saw me on the road. That was very nice indeed.

I checked the temperature in Sweetwater and it was now 27 degrees. Wow, it had warmed up a whole 4 degrees in two hours. The temperature in Abilene, my next destination, was 27 degrees. But the temperature in Brownwood was now 33 degrees—at least I was riding towards warmer weather.

Perhaps I didn’t really notice it on the trip up to Albuquerque but the stretch of HWY 84 between Abilene and Coleman also has some incredible open road stretches. I am not prone to challenging the Texas roads too often as I am pretty aware of the Texas State Troopers and their radar guns and speed traps. But the temptation was too much, and perhaps I thought I could make up some time, so I found myself going a few miles over the speed limit on that road. I finally reached the 100mph level more than a few times over that stretch of road, and probably did a one-mile stretch at 100mph. I was very happy with the performance of my bike (who I have now named “Road Warrior”) as she pretty much perked up every time I accelerated from 80 to 100mph.

By the time I reached Brownwood, the temperature had warmed up to the 42 degrees. Summer-like conditions for me! I had been on the road for at least four hours, and had spent almost one-hour in two gas stations working to get my hands warm. Home was only two hours away, the temperatures were moderate, and I felt I had beat back Mother Nature on this trip. I was only one step ahead of her as I see this morning it’s snowing in Lubbock. But Mother Nature did kick my ass quite a bit on this last day, and all we can do as riders is compete with her knowing we can never beat her. When she beats us, we are in trouble.

I wouldn’t say that this trip marks one item checked off my bucket list. I really enjoy long rides on my bike and anticipate I’ll be making at least two more trips this year—one to Colorado Springs in June and one to New Orleans in August. What I can say is that I learned what not to do on long rides, how to be better prepared, and how my initial preparation helped me through 80% of my trip.

Things I learned from this trip:
1. I can ride in extreme cold weather for a short period of time. I ride my bike every single day unless its raining or below 35-degrees. I now have confidence that I can throw the temperature restriction out the door. I CAN ride to work even if the temps are below freezing. The only thing that will stop me from doing this is ice on the road.
2. Hand warmers are useless. I needed electric gloves or some glove insulation that would keep the cold off my hands.
3. I can never do an Iron-Butt. My maximum ride is probably 12 hours, weather permitting.
4. There are lots of beautiful places to see in this country. There is no better place to see them than on the seat of a bike.
5. There IS a fraternal order between bike riders and truck drivers.
6. I have a loving wife who more than tolerates my eccentricities!

This has been a great trip. I’m glad I was able to share a piece of it with all of you.

Now, when’s the next ride?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Winter Ride—Chapter 3

There is a 45 mile stretch of road between Santa Rosa, New Mexico and Fort Sumner on HWY 84 that is a MUST RIDE for any motorcyclist. It is pure joy. There are few cars, no police to speak of, and the road is wide open for anything you want to do. You can see for miles ahead of you so you know when to throttle down on the bike. This is my second pass through this area as I head home, and I finally did get the bike up to 100mph! I had a few moments like that, and I averaged over 80mph the whole way. I also discovered that the Harley cruise control DOES turn off once you reach 85mph, I guess to prevent a rider from doing exactly what I wanted to do—cruise at a speed above 85. So, I left it set at 80 and enjoyed the ride.

My 8am paper presentation was a success. Of course, 8am conference sessions are rarely visited, so I was happy to see my friend Allen and one other listener in the audience. The first paper was by Ms. Bernadette Murphy who is a professor of creative writing at Antioch College in LA. Her paper focused on two chapters in her new book about her riding experience. She is an excellent writer her paper emphasized the things riding does to her identity that I have also discovered in my interviews with women riders. She had recently lost her 2010 Sportster “Izzy” to a crash in the LA mountains between The Valley and Hollywood (her son wrecked it but was not significantly injured) and was lamenting the loss of her beloved bike. I could tell she was really attached to it, as many of us become as we learn to be one with our bikes.

My paper focused on the interviews I’ve completed to date on women riders. The one thing I have taken away from this research is how much the women become attached to their bikes. This is beyond just the love for a commodity—it is a love affair with something she knows how to control. It is like a relationship one might have with a riding horse you’ve had for years. You know that every time you mount her, she will be loyal, efficient, and take you to wonderful places. It is a reciprocal relationship, as with a good horse, in that your end of the deal is to love her and take care of her because she is a part of who you are. These women feel the same way about their bikes.

The final paper was presented by Dr. Paul Nagy, and English professor at Clovis Community College. He had ridden his bike to the conference as well. He knows that stretch of HWY 84 very well. His paper focused on Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy and the act of motorcycle riding. Two Jeffersonian thoughts motivate the rider: first, we must know nature and have a love and respect for it. As riders, we know climate, terrain, and seasons. To fully grasp the riding experience, we must never underestimate nature. The second thought is Jefferson’s ethos of individualism. Riders, through the act of riding, are rebelling against everyday bondage. The bike becomes a tool of cultural resistance. The difference between people who want to own a bike and people who ride is like the difference between wanting freedom and being truly free—the gap is huge.

As the session ended, I used my “Jeffersonian” sense of nature to get back to the hotel and pack. I needed to leave the conference early because of the forecast rain for Central Texas on Sunday. I don’t have a problem riding in the rain. I do have a problem riding in the rain for over 3 hours. So once packed, I headed back home around 12:30. It would take me 6 hours to make it to Lubbock, and I am convinced now that the ride from Albuquerque to Lubbock was the best part of the trip. The wide open road! A true rush on many levels.

It is now 7:00am and I’m about to decide whether I leave in an hour or wait until it “warms up”. It currently is 21-degrees outside (“feels like 7-degrees”!!!) and the temps in Sweetwater look the same. But if I leave by 8, I can take my time and get back into Central Texas where the temps are supposed to be a whopping 47-degrees. But that meets my “40-degree rule” and the sooner I hit that zone, the better the ride will be.

This trip is best characterized as a wrestling match between the bike, myself, and the weather. In December while traveling in Tennessee, Susan and I noticed there were not bikes on the Interstate due to the extremely cold temperatures. When we did see that lone rider, we felt for him. He was either crazy or on the road due to some necessity. Today, I am that rider, and I must say I am crazy. But it's been worth the ride!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winter Ride—Chapter 2

What I continue to be amazed with on this ride is the wide open road. I have probably logged less than 150 miles on the Interstate—the rest have been on roads. There are stretches on the road where you can literally see for miles. And, with no cops in sight (I’ve only seen 6 on this trip so far) you can really let the throttle out. I haven’t hit 100mph yet, but I’ve come pretty close. And the feeling of just letting it all go is incredible.

I got ready to head out yesterday to some rain. I knew it was coming, but as I watched to the weather coverage I could see that it wouldn’t last long. I just needed to wait for the rain to pass and then I could get on my way. Temperatures were still cold, but it seems I’ve gotten used to the cold. “40-degree” rule is what I call it—if it’s over 40 degrees, I’m not going to get too cold for the ride.

I headed out first to pay my respects to Billy the Kid. Fort Sumner is just a little dot on the map, and I’ve seen places in Central Texas with more personality, but they really hype up the fact that Billy the Kid was shot and buried there. I guess it’s like Hico in that way. The gravesite is 9 miles away from town and is behind the Billy the Kid museum (there are two in Fort Sumner—look up why on Google). The graveyard is small, with some other people buried there. But Billy’s grave is now protected with an iron fence so that the headstone won’t be stolen—its been stolen a few times, as one would suspect. I would have spent a bit more time taking careful pictures there, but I needed to get on the road.

Now, the road riding was incredible. But once on I-40 heading to Albuquerque, the scenery turned majestic. As you finally get through all the flatlands, you begin to see the mountain range surrounding Albuquerque emerge. I haven’t seen mountains like that since California. There was a trace of snow on the mountains, and quite a few shacks, mansions, brush, and small trees. I felt like I was riding my bike through the stretch between San Francisco and Marin County—and I haven’t done that ride on a bike since 1984. Beautiful, breathtaking, incredible. I will pass through there again later today.

I must say, once I settled in to my room in Albuquerque and did some exploring, I was unimpressed. The city itself looks like its either on the edge of recovery or deterioration. The burbs are where all the people live, and the downtown reminds me of a very slow Mobile, Alabama. I would have to say that Mobile has a better nightlife and live music scene. I was greatly disappointed.

The one thing I did get to do was go to the local Harley dealer for their “Mens Night Out”. They were serving free food, free beer, and had a free raffle for gift cards and other things. Their HOG chapter is huge, but you would expect that in a city this large. The Chapter President told me they go on rides every month, even in the cold, and they just had a ride with over 80 bikes! Now that is impressive. I had the chance to finally pick up my winter booties there so the ride home won’t feel so cold on my feet. I had a wonderful time at this event and wished we had things like this more often in Central Texas.

Well, I’ll be presenting a paper this morning on “Why Women Ride Motorcycles”. I’m in the process of collecting interviews with women riders, and the stories have been fascinating and wonderful. But as I look at the weather, I know I’ve got to begin my ride back home this afternoon to avoid the rain on Sunday. I’ll be heading out to Lubbock this afternoon. A nice 330 mile ride—just a ride around the block! It’s all good!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Winter Ride—Chapter 1

I left Harker Heights around 8am and budgeted to make stops every 120 miles or every 2 hours. I have found that when I go on long rides, the 2 hour mark is a good time to stop, stretch and recover. I was dressed in layers, with three pairs of long underwear (tops and bottoms), blue jeans, winter sweat jacket, leather jacket, two pairs of wool/nylon socks, and my outer rain gear. The rain gear helps keep your body heat and I am very happy with its performance today.

I “believe” the temperature as I left Harker Heights was in the 40’s. It was cloudy, though, and this probably brought the temps down a bit. As I got my first gas in Brownwood, I noticed that temps had dropped to the mid-30’s. My external temperature gauge on the Harley hadn’t moved past the mid-20’s, so this seemed to make sense.

I didn’t realize I was cold until I stopped….

The areas that seemed most affected were my hands and my feet. The air was just going through my boots. I could feel it go through my boot zipper and through my soles. I continue to be surprised at how little my winter gloves really protect my hands at really cold temps, even with a fairing helping guard them from the cold. I’ve got to get some better gloves.

All in all, the first 120 miles went well. Not too cold, beautiful country, and my first time going through certain places I’ve wanted to visit for years (Zephyr comes to mind). The second 160 miles, though, was a bit more uncomfortable. I had “added” my glove liners into the mix, and they were completely useless. By the time I got to Sweetwater, I was looking for a motorcycle shop to buy some boot covers and hand warmers. Amazingly, the sun came out and things began to warm up “considerably” (into the low-50s).

My original goal was Lubbock, but when I got there it was only 3:30 and it looked like I had plenty of sunlight left. New Mexico was only one hour away, and I knew the closer I got to Albuquerque today, the less of a ride I would have on Thursday. I decided to ride on and made it to Fort Sumner, home of Billy The Kid’s burial site (and not much else).

I now realize that riding with average outside temps in the mid-40s doesn’t bother me. Temps in the 50s are actually pretty wonderful. But riding in truly cold weather can be trying. It didn’t stop me from riding on, but I did question my sanity for a few hours.

Today, I’ll go visit Billy The Kid. This will be the first stop in my “Outlaw Tour” I’ve wanted to do for some time. Later this year, I’ll go visit Bonnie and Clyde, both buried in Dallas (though in separate cemetaries). I’m watching the weather and I must get out of here by 9am if I’m going to beat the rain forecast for today. Luckily, I’m looking at a line of showers. The problem is going to be riding in any weather with cold boots….

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Winter’s Ride

What better way to start the riding year off than a 680 mile ride to Albuquerque—in the winter—with road temps averaging in the mid-40s.

I'm heading to a conference to present a paper on Women Motorcycle Riders, and I can think of no better way to travel up there than on a bike.

Of course, it is going to be a cold ride....

Now I do know there are a few people who I’ve told about this ride who think I am completely crazy. I can’t say that Susan is too happy about my taking the trip either. But I dove head first into the planning for this ride a few weeks ago, and I’ve prepared myself the best I can to keep warm on this trip.

Or at least I think I am fully prepared. I’ll know more after my first stop today somewhere between Lubbock and Clovis, NM….

I’ll be wearing double-layers of everything—long underwear, t-shirts, socks, 1 sweatshirt, 1 leather jacket, and full rain-gear to keep the warmth in my body. I’ve got a balaclava, and may put my mask on top of that. I’ve got insulators for my gloves. I’ve got a full tank of gas. I’m mentally prepared for this trip.

My plan is to ride as far as I can today. My goal is Lubbock, Texas. But if I still feel good, I’ll stretch out and stay on the road for another two hours to Clovis, New Mexico.

What I’m looking forward to are the sights and the sounds of the road. I imagine I’m going to be the only bike on the road out there, but if I meet anyone else, I’m sure we’ll have some good conversations.

Flickr pictures to follow daily.