Thursday, November 29, 2012

First Weekend In December

Guess what this means??

It could only mean this....

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Current 32 - Feels like 24"

Take that Mr. Blowy Snow!!


Changed Riding

A few weeks ago my stop at a nearby overlook/Historical Marker had me remembering my rides of long ago, when I'd stop for a photo of the very same marker, including whichever bike I was on at the time.  During those years, I was based in the St.Paul/Mpls suburbs and would have been on the road for an hour or more to make the same stops along the river.  Too far away for a ride after my high school classes, those treks that were my favorites had to be executed on the weekends.  Now, from up on the hill behind our barn we can literally see the marker across the river (magnification required) and it would take almost the same amount of time to get there since both upriver and down crossings involve a fair distance and yet it feels for all intents and purposes like those spots directly across the river are literally in our neighborhood.

My brother and I started riding our first motorized two-wheeler at grandfather's small rural town Wisconsin 1 1/2 acre home.  We wore an honest path in his yard, putting countless miles through and around his 'large' estate.  It didn't take us long to start wandering a bit further on the quiet roads in the area; some of them sand or dirt, though most of them were paved.  So those were our first miles, on a mowed lawn and before long, we both were spending summers on our relatives farm which meant almost no pavement and for much of the time, no gravel either.  During the day we worked; fencing, running errands (seemed like there was always a bearing or other parts that needed to picked up from the Implement Dealer), shuttling tractors/wagons or grain trucks, cows and/or their calves that needed to be found in their distant hiding places, etc.

There was hay, lots of hay and if you know your hay, it is never made when it's cool and wet outside.  Hot, dry and dusty is what constitutes hay weather.  Morning and evening dew bookended most hay-days and whenever we possibly could get the last wagon unloaded for the day, we'd then finish our chores and hopefully squeeze in a cooling ride through the damp and musty valleys......I still remember how they felt as well as the smells those deep oak valleys delivered. No helmets, no gloves, no jackets, though we did have relatively new, soiled Implement caps, the fresh air 'washing' our dank T-shirts clean, the area's gravel roads our playground.  We could finally get up into those mostly unused 4th and 5th gears.  I don't remember a single deer ever during those days but I recall very well (and where) the many dogs were that would give chase.  At least we could predict and pinpoint those potential disasters.

We fell.  We fell showing off, we fell trying to climb rocky hills that provided no traction, we went down chasing errant cows that suddenly lost their sense of hearing and sight, unable to find the hole in the fence that they had most likely created.  We had no idea there would someday be Stoppies, but we were huge fans of Wheelies. Sometimes a creek crossing tried to swallow us and then we didn't only fall, the fear of drowning was something we could laugh about.  I'll never forget my ride through a construction area where they were moving a gravel road that had run right through a farmstead to a bypass that instead went around their buildings.  One of the belly scrapers had scraped up the gravel to 'recycle by moving' it to the new road.  My Yamaha 125 Enduro was a capable dirt bike, me a skilled, 'seasoned' rider and what harm could a few grooves in the road cause me??  The teeth on the front of the big scraper had left a perfect pattern of grooves in the road and instead of picking the high ground in between, my eyes and then naturally my front wheel were drawn to that groove.  That mean, nasty groove grabbed my wheel and then my handlebars so severely that it felt like someone had reached up and pulled me into the ground.  I went down hard and lucky for me, I wasn't using those precious 4th or 5th gears at the time.

So where am I headed with all of this?  The majority of my early riding was done on grass, dirt, gravel....anything but pavement.  Wanderlust was hitting me and coming hard in my late teens; the freedom that riding was giving me was soon making it a challenge to not start pushing on my boundaries.  Always a map lover, I was slowly realizing that actually getting out further and expanding my world was simply something I needed and finally able to do.  Bigger and soon very much faster street bikes came along, maps that included places outside the township, state and finally country were being spread out and distant rides planned for.

On the Mall, Smithsonian......

I often rode down the Mississippi River, both sides, having always felt a certain bond to Big Muddy.  I was born less than a mile from it and there must have truly been something in that water.  My brother and I while still in high school essentially followed it down to Arkansas.  Texas was our, or rather, my goal but we didn't get that far, not that summer at least but it wasn't long before I saw the Gulf and our southern border while on two wheels, numerous times.  Arkansas was later re-visited, more than one long weekend found me in Hannibal, Missouri to better connect with one of my favorite authors.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a not-too-hot January day (Honda was tucked in at home)......

All (most) of this 'wandering' was taking place on big bikes, on bigger, main highways and time spent on smaller County roads was rare. Corpus Christi in a day and a half for Easter, around Lake Superior for a 'nice long weekend' were typical rides.  I avoided any gravel if I could and almost always only rode lines that appeared on State-level maps.  Fast bikes, Sport Touring, weekends spent living with what I could carry in a tankbag were the norm.

Galveston Bay, Easter Sunday....

Peg and I got married and did a fair amount of riding together.  She got her m/c endorsement, we rode around the Midwest and then explored Southern California while we lived there.  Once our second daughter was on the way, I was anxious for other things, my interest in time away from family, our new home, the garden, wood projects, etc. waned.  The bikes were sold and I didn't really miss them....for a long time.

Almost 20 years later, the riding bug bit me again.  The ST2 Ducati was retrieved from its Indiana Ebay seller and one of the very first rides I took on it found me on dirty, dusty roads.  Not only were they not paved, they were narrow, officially closed to most normal traffic and saw so little traffic that it seemed like they were there solely for my benefit, waiting for me or anyone really, just to use them.

That's where all of this was headed......I'm now very often finding myself on roads that almost seem to be waiting for me only to enjoy; they see almost no 'necessary' traffic.  Sightseers, hunters in season, those crazy ADV-types and once in awhile local folks that need a shortcut when their vehicle hasn't been recently washed.  Roads that once saw families on small farms, steeply wooded hillsides that were left after the prime, more open farm land had already been settled.  Just like the kids picked last for ball teams, these small farms on often marginal land are now abandoned, their grown-over homesteads "scenic".

As I ease through these areas, I find myself imagining the many stories the places could tell and how well they'd match up with the shared remembrances and documented photographs that have been passed down through our family of lives lived with time's constant change.  Exploring these areas and connecting them together on my rides bring me lasting pleasure, a major part of my riding experience.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My Annual Game Of 'Chicken'

Today was finally the day.  The snow fence section along our most vulnerable section of driveway is up.  This low spot is very prone to the accumulation of blowing snow and the fence loosely catches the blowing flakes, slows them down and piles them up on the leeward side rather than letting them build up on the driveway.

A short number of weeks ago, there was an almost record-setting crop of corn on this ground, of course preventing a bright orange fence from being erected.  Once the crop is gone, more years than not, fall field work and the fence would be in the way for that.  Depending on whether the year's crop was corn or soybeans, a late fall application of anhydrous ammonia may get knifed in; our farmer always says that he'd just drive around my fence if it's in his way but I do my best to wait until he's finished.

So, nothing happens until the farm operations have been completed.  Today the wind was only about 5mph according to the weather man and that's about as windy as it can be to do a reasonable job of erecting what is essentially a big 100' long sail. I had hoped to put the fence up yesterday but the winds were gusting to almost 30mph.......hopeless fence building conditions.  Of course last weekend would have been ideal but I had Major Riding to do then, a simple matter of priorities.

The last hindrance to snowfence building is frozen ground.  Frost an inch or so deep is still easy to penetrate with the T Posts but if the soil is frozen any deeper, the posts not only pound hard but the welded anchor plates like to break off once the post is deep enough for the flange to start entering the ground.  One winter all of the above conditions had not been met and I decided that I'd just not put the fence up..... a very big mistake and we paid for it all winter long.  The driveway can drift shut, even on a day that doesn't snow; blowing snow from up the valley is all it takes, picking up speed as it moves across the fields, just looking for a place to anchor in.

A relief and a nice task to have complete on a 25 degree, faintly breezed day.

The wood lath and Industrial Strength cable ties in place.

The last section to go up.  I always wait to put the last post in since there's normally'shrinkage', especially so on windy days when I don't get the full benefit of 100' of orange plastic.

Standing on the driveway, in the low spot and looking 'up wind'.

What it looks like without the fence (and every so often, even with!) after a minor snowstorm though major wind.

This was a few years ago, I had foolishly gone to work without my boots and there was no way I'd have been able to bust through the drift in the car.  You can see there isn't that much snow on most of the driveway, only deep where 100 acres of open, windswept land has dumped it.

A future Marine and a Corgi (Milford) rescuing me, bringing boots so that I can walk in and come back with both better equipment and proper dress.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Last Ride Of The Season?

We're running on borrowed time now.  Dave and I got out for a really nice Sunday ride and this might have very well been it for a ride with any distance.  I'll often take out the TW200 for some very local backroad riding but the rides are short, both in time and in distance.  Once the first snowfall arrives and the roads get salted, my riding is over on the paved roads.

Anxious for one more ride on the new-to-me RT100, Dave and I agreed to meet back in Alma for lunch.  We both left home a bit earlier than necessary and wound up meeting at the gas station on our side of the river by chance.

Justin, peaking out of his carrier, on the back of the Elefant.

Dave had pup Justin along and wanted to stop prior to lunch at Reich's Park to let the dog get some exercise before we ate.

Reich's Park is where over the last decade the migrating swans have often stopped in the Buffalo River/Mississippi backwaters to rest on their flight to Chesapeake Bay.  Through the years it has been a gathering place for tourists to see what once was thousands of big white birds landing and taking off from their momentary resting place.  The migration was later this year than what seems to be normal and in recent years, the number of birds stopping for our viewing pleasure has gone way down.  We did manage to see a few of them though in among the Canadian Geese.  The white birds in the center of the photo are Tundra Swans.

After this stop, we mostly rode, finding many quiet gravel roads mixed in with those paved, hunters and their recently fallen prey were everywhere.  We made one more stop to let Justin run and roam a bit before heading back towards MN.  Gas mileage for the RT yesterday was a fraction over 49mpg and I most likely made almost that kind of gas mileage again today.  I put on about 20 miles more than yesterday for just under 145.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Some miles on the RT100

Today's plan had been to head (drive) to Minneapolis early for coffee to help Mike with some computer issues, then a quick stop at mom's to both pickup and drop off some things, hurrying home to take advantage of the predicted "mid-50's" day for a ride.  Perceptive Mike suggested that since the day was going to be so nice and that we'd have more Saturday's ahead far short of nice that I should just stay home to get an earlier start to the fine day.  After seeing wife Peg off for her week-long visit east, I finished some chores, did some shopping and rigged up a temporary Powerlet pigtail for my GPS on the BMW.  I was pretty sure I had an extra one around and I did though it's a bit short and won't be adequate for a permanent installation.

The bike started well at 46 degrees after sitting for a couple of weeks and I managed to keep it running now that I've got a bit more experience with the choke operation.  Out the driveway, watching for running deer and the orange people chasing the deer.  Our hunting season is in full swing and I saw many, many hunters on my ride today as well as a fair number of deer harvested.

Lunch at Pier4 in Alma.....

(Edit 11/18 - Couldn't find this yesterday)
The 'Special' - Pulled pork, 1/4 rack of ribs, fries and slaw

In the old days, every trip or almost every trip I made through Alma necessitated a ride up the hill to Buena Vista Park, the city of Alma's overlook above the river.  Realizing I'd not been there even once this season, today was the day.

The short walk out to the overlook....

Alma, the Lock and Dam, Minnesota bluffs in the distance......

Now it was time for some riding and to start with, a trip down one of the nearby steep gravel roads.  This was one of the first places I took my Ducati when I first brought it home back in 2004 after my nearly 20 year hiatus from riding.

That was then, this is cows today, maybe the hunters got them all??

Down a bit further, the 2nd switchback......

The road ahead, continuing downhill.....

Later, here I am on Hanson Road, the first time I've gone up rather than down.

I was the only motorcyclist at the Pepin coffee shop this afternoon though not the only two-wheeled vehicle; the pedaller enjoying a cup as well.  Normally we sit outside but resting inside felt pretty good today, at least until the coffee started doing what it does.

From Pepin I decided to head up the Wisconsin side of the river this time rather than down and around, making today's Lake Pepin route a counter clockwise version.

Here's one of the waysides; there are numerous overlooks and Historical Markers along the Wisconsin coast.  The river (and lake) makes a huge right angled corner here, flowing from almost straight east to straight south.  The bluff in the center of the photo is called Point-No-Point due to the fact that the riverboat captains can't seem to get 'past' it as they round the corner.  We live in the valley beyond it; close and yet so far away.

And for some perspective, another Historical Marker nearby in 1979; Lake Pepin and a tugboat w/barges on the water.  This is the 850 Suzuki I rode to the Maritimes that summer.

1981, the Moto Guzzi SP1000.....

After this stop, it was up to Hager City, across the river and back in Minnesota to Red Wing, then home.  Just a bit over 120 miles today and I didn't fill the tank again this afternoon.  I hope to get out once more tomorrow and if I take this bike, I'll be able to find out what kind of mileage it gets with today's combination of highway and narrow gravel use.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

To Cafe Or Not?

That my friends is the question.  I've gone back and forth with this one; there are days when I'm sure and then again there are days when I've got second thoughts and am not very committed.

Here's the machine (after pressure wash)......

It is a 1975 Honda CB200 that I got from a friend.  The bike had been sitting for a few years in his dad's pole barn, had been used most of its life by farm boys and wasn't in the best of shape.  It actually didn't look so bad once I powerwashed the major dirt off but there were definitely issues here and there that needed  some work.  No ignition switch, broken taillight/fender, broken gas cap, missing kick starter, torn seat, plenty of rust and old dirt.

When told about the bike and the sale price, I honestly thought that it would be an easy machine to part out, the gas tank alone worth most of what I paid to bring it home.  Once I got the dirt off though, she really started to grow on me.  I towed it home last April, put it up on the rack right away and pulled a few things off to get a better look and feel for its real condition.  It's been on the rack all summer, trying to tempt me (I don't work on them during riding season).

Splines, schmines......who needs 'em??

Mouse nests, one on each side, in the air boxes, a mostly rusty tank w/rotten gas, wiring bypassed, dirty carbs......all the normal things from a bike once used and then 'stored'.

I invested in 'new' Ebay coils/wires, cleaned the carbs, gave the mice a different place to live and bought a battery.  With the corrosion removed from the points, it fired right off once I jumpered the special wires.

So, what to do??  There is no way that I'd restore this or anything else; I have neither the patience nor the desire.  With a few parts, lots of elbow grease and a slight mod here and there, this thing would be a mostly stock runner I'd be proud to ride with an age ED sort of patina, even if no one else would.  Since I'm a machinist with the ability and the sometimes-desire to make things I'm not paid to make every day, I could see myself really having fun fabbing some very interesting one-off parts for this, ending up with a machine totally unique; a mine-only.  I've got some nice chunks of titanium lying around.......

There's a (big) part of me that feels it's a shame to cut this machine up and do much of any changing.  My friends know that I much prefer riding bikes to working on them and yet there's something about this one that keeps calling me, begging for a new look.  At least I think that's what it's asking.

I've joined numerous forums dedicated to making these old 200's into some very special rides; the Aussies seem to be especially gifted at silk pursing these old Honda's.  There are ideas aplenty; many of my friends have offered many helpful suggestions, while helpful, only adding to my confused decision process.

It may just be time to put this old '75 in the corner, wall it off in it's own secret area and surprise everyone with my version of a Skunk Works Machine sometime in the future. It's not like I'll need it next week to get to school.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Looks Like A Fun Bike

On my way to the local License Center to get the BMW Title transferred, I spotted this out in front of a local business and it really caught my eye.  Concerned about priorities, I hustled past on my way to complete my task of official ownership of the Beemer, promising myself that I'd stop and take a look on my way back.  Lucky for me, the bike was still parked in front when I returned.

I gave it a quick once-over, then went inside to first inquire who's it was, then needed to know more about the machine I'd never heard of before.  The styling was what I really noticed and as I expected, it was a Chinese bike with the name Cleveland Cycle on the tank.  A 250cc single, I'll admit it wasn't a perfectly executed Cafe Bike, but I found it very attractive none the less.  The owner filled me in on where he got it (locally), how much fun it was and how well it kept up with traffic.  The attribute I understood right away and found very believable was the 'fun' part; it sure looked like something I could have fun with.

A Mid-November Ride

This morning started out wet and warm (for November) just as predicted.  I was up early, planning to do coffee with the crew in Northeast Minneapolis, then a brief spot of shopping and a quick return home so that I could get out for a decent afternoon ride.  The mist and almost-rain looked quite dismal in Mpls but by the time I got near home, the sky was brightening and the rain had stopped.  It was obvious the day wanted to be warm and dry, doing its best before tomorrow's cold front arrived.

Home by noon, the Helix took a bit of cranking but fired before long; its 'bystarter' definitely adding extra fuel which caused our outside barn cats to abandon me, sneezing with their speedy exit.  GPS on, with enough clothing on to make me almost sweaty.  As almost always happens though, once on the road I got it just about perfect; 45-46 degrees was feeling just about right.

We live near the upriver side of Lake Pepin, a wide spot in the Mississippi that separates Minnesota and Wisconsin, the lake almost 3 miles wide at its widest.  I believe it is roughly 20 miles long before it narrows down again into a navigable channel with wide areas of shallow backwater.

Here I am near the southern, downstream end of the lake at roughly 1PM, the Wisconsin bluffs in the distance on the right.

Down to Wabasha, across the river and into the adjoining state.  Barely out of Nelson and up Mike Varenick Road.

The Mississippi River valley in the background, just a bit of actual water visible above the scooter's nose.....

County I, Center Creek Road, Johnson Hill, County V, the always fun County B loop, BB, A, H, Albany, ZZ and finally Z (never done this one before, can't say that very often within 100 miles of home).  Down through Mondovi and then Double T, for some reason still and always a favorite.  It's rougher than a cob, but there's just something about it.....

County TT's cemeteries, one outside the corner, one tucked inside the corner.  The rough School Road climbing the hill in the distance....but I didn't take it this time, instead headed south on Hagness Road.

Just before I stopped for this photo, I came upon what must have been the largest Buck I've ever seen.  He was crossing the road as I rounded a corner and I caught him mid-stride about 50 yards ahead.  We both stopped.  I did my best to fumble my camera out but there was too much for two hands to accomplish.  The road was steep, the parking brake needed to be set on the scooter and in those long 15 seconds, he ran out of patience and hopped into the woods.

This was just a few hundred yards south of there.....

There are some very interesting road names in the area; from Hagness it was onto Moy, then Pfund Bros and finally German Valley.  On into Modena, then another favorite (was there not long ago on the TW200), Serum Road.

Here's Serum's east end, the only section that's paved.  It turns to gravel at the base directly in front of me, then winds around to the left as it goes up that distant valley.

On to County KK, McDonough, Deer Creek and then Marke Bluff, the gravel climb with a couple of switchbacks to get up on top.

Marke Bluff Road, headed down the other side.  The Mississippi backwater shining in the distance.  If the river had been at normal levels, there's be a lot more 'shiny'.  I set the scooter's parking brake more times today that I think I ever have over the course of one ride.  I was hesitant to get off here, wondering if in fact the brake would hold it.

The bridge to Wabasha, MN is normally visible in the distance but the afternoon's warm, moist air and reflections were hiding it today.

Just a mile or so back into Nelson and a mandatory stop at the Nelson Cheese Factory for some ice cream and a pound of Aged Swiss to bring home.

The Helix fits right in....

Back at Lake Pepin, 4:30PM......

Home by 5PM, 140 miles in a little over 4 hours which is just about right :)  Our home thermometer said 62 degrees when I got home.  The warm afternoon almost made me feel guilty about stopping early but dusk and the 5 deer I had to 'push' out of our driveway made me glad I was home and in the garage.