Archive for May, 2006

“Into the Great, Wide Open…”

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

Weather: Windy, sunny, and warm.
The Long and Winding Road
Out here, the road goes on forever…

It’s so hard to get back into the daily routine, after wandering free in the wide-open spaces all weekend.

This morning, I was still living out of my saddle bags. I walked barefoot out to the garage in the cold, wet morning. Toothbrush and toothpaste were pulled from their zip-locked baggie in one bag, and my last pair of clean socks was scavenged from the bag on the other side of the bike. Then I walked gingerly back into the house, to try and get back into my usual morning rituals.

For five days, I had gotten my body out of the cube, and my face away from the computer screen, to a place where I could focus my weary eyes on distant horizons again. Like being released from captivity, the thrill ran through my body like an electric shock. It felt so good!

For five days, Frogwing and I travelled together. For the first three days, we were on Business. But that business took us across vast distances, over beautiful roads, to places much friendlier than our wicked Twin Cities. Come the weekend, we were truly free to wander…and wander we did.

But now, I’m back in the cube, back to boxes-within-boxes, staring at this screen again as if the whole journey were just a daydream.

One look at Frogwing, however, will verify that we have Been Somewhere.

The evidence is in the scrap of tumbleweed, captured by the cotter pin on his front axle, somewhere west of Fort Pierre, South Dakota. It’s still there, proudly worn as a badge of Travel… and Adventure.

But I am getting ahead of myself here, as I so often do.

Wyndmere, North Dakota... Frozen in 1955
An abandoned truck garage, in Wyndmere, North Dakota.

Of course, the best reason to take a motorbike on a business trip is because of the mileage reimbursement. When you get fifty miles to the gallon, that forty-eight cents a mile looks mighty attractive. As long as you are prepared for anything the weather can throw at you, and as long as you carry the necessary tools and supplies to take care of routine breakdowns, you can do a business trip as well on a bike as you can in a rental car.

I know, that sounds kind of prohibitive. But it’s all a question of prudent prior planning.

For this trip, I talked to my friends at Kenda tires, and they sent me a full-grown set of the K761 dual-sport knobbies that I used on the Red Baron over the winter. With the help of my friend Paul Streeter, I had them mounted and balanced, and ready to go on Monday night, before our Wednesday departure.

I packed all the tools that I would need to deal with any routine mishap, and still had room for the standards and other materials that I needed to perform my quality audits at the remote plants that I would be visiting. My digital camera and notebook fitted into the trunk and made for a nice, tight package. By Wednesday morning, Frogwing and I were truly ready to roll.

And that’s where I’m going to leave you for now. It’s late on a Monday night, and I have to work in the morning.

Tomorrow, I will tell you about the trips between plants, and show you some more photographs taken along the way.

Frogwing, the Prairie Schooner

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Weather: Sunny and warm, at last! Winds 25 – 45 mph from the north.

Frogwing and I set sail from home at six a.m. this morning. We steered a course northwest on I-94, into the teeth of a stiff, quartering headwind. We were somewhere south of Sauk Center, a hundred miles down the road, before we settled into the groove. I attribute this to the brand new Kenda tires and the fact that I haven’t taken a long ride on the freeway in ages. The tires are much smoother than the knobbier IRC’s Frogwing used to wear. Gone is the Stuka shriek whenever we lean into a turn. But gone also is the vibration on pavement of those relatively aggressive tires.

We will have to ride on calmer days before I can draw any conclusions as to mileage, but my seat-of-the-pants estimation is that mileage will improve somewhat.

I have to apologize for the lack of a photo here. The computer in the lobby of the Ramkota Hotel, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, doesn’t have a universal port for me to download through. So you will have to settle for a short note, rather than a postcard tonight. I did make a couple of nice images today, and I will share them with you when the opportunity presents itself.

We made good time to our first stop in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The Business went well, and more quickly than I had anticipated, so Frogwing and I were back on the road by one p.m.

We stopped in Breckenridge, Minnesota for lunch, at a place called “The Wilkin”. The Steak Wrap there was marvellous.

After that, we headed out North Dakota Highway 13 to try an alternate route to Aberdeen. This was recommended to me by our plant manager in Fergus, and I have to thank him. It was much better than the banzai run along I-29 that sees 18-wheelers roaring up our backside at ninety miles an hour. Frogwing and I maintained a sedate 70 mph almost all the way to Aberdeen, and arrived in plenty of time to check in and prepare for tomorrow.

But now, Minerva’s is beckoning. The Ramkota’s excellent restaurant is right next to this computer, and the smells are drawing me in. I have to bid you all goodnight so I can go and enjoy my dinner.

I’ll update from the road again, if I can. Otherwise, tune-in on Monday night.

Road Music

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

Weather: Rain and cold. 46°F (<8°C)

Badlands, through the Gap.
This is what I see when I close my eyes…

It’s early on a Saturday morning. I’m sitting in my attic office, listening to the rain falling softly on the skylight above my head.

Some of that rain is still leaking, drip…drip…drip, into the big bowl I have placed on a box, underneath the skylight frame. My latest fix has slowed it down some, but it hasn’t stopped. I find myself typing to the rhythm set by the raindrops into the bowl.

Well, some of us know how to solve that problem. Just turn on some music to drown it out. Just like when the tappets started tapping on my old slant-six Plymouth.

This is as simple as the push of a button, for me. The same CD has occupied my portable stereo for the past year. As we used to say in the Marine Corps; I shit you not.

The Cadillac Hitmen are an instrumental band from the East Coast, but everything they play is evocative of the wide open spaces of the American West. This is where surf guitar meets spaghetti western soundtrack; Dick Dale meets Clint Eastwood. There are a few psychobilly riffs thrown in, from time to time, just to keep things interesting.

But the most important element for my purposes? No lyrics: No singing, no screaming, and for gawd’s sake, no rapping! Just the pure howl and wail of electric guitars, with the tight backbeat of a drummer who has truly mastered his art.

Surf Guitar meets Spaghetti Western Soundtrack.
…and this is what I hear in my helmet, when I’m on the road.

Now, some of you may be sharp enough to ask: If this CD has been sitting in my office stereo all year, how can it be my “road music”? Ah, well here we have to delve into the psychological a little bit.

You see, in my last post, I exposed my neo-luddite side by telling you that I don’t want to depend on GPS to tell me where I am, or where I’m going. I’d rather get properly lost, and then try to find my way out with a map and compass. We have got to keep these primitive navigation skills alive, because The Government controls GPS, and They can turn it on and off at will.

In the same spirit, I don’t want to depend on a battery-powered box, with fiddly wires and earbuds, to supply the music I hear when I’m riding down the road. Truly, I don’t want to “hear” any music at all, because I want to listen to the engine while I’m riding. The consequences of a bad mechanical sound are much more severe on a motorbike than they are in an automobile

Long ago, I trained myself to memorize instrumental music which I could play back in my head while I was riding. With no lyrics to hijack my thoughts, I could interpret the music however I wanted, to suit whatever situation I found myself in.

To do this, I would immerse myself in whatever my current favorite music was, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

At work, when I had to bang out a long report, I would slip on the headphones and listen to whatever I wanted to “hear” on the way home.

At home, I would play whatever music I wanted to accompany my morning commute.

This has always worked out well for me. But I never thought I would find a single album, from a single band, that would fulfill these needs for an entire year and beyond.

For those of you with a broadband connection, or for patient dial-up users; This is what plays inside my helmet as I hit the freeway for the morning rush hour. As you listen, picture in your mind what you see whenever you are doing the rush-hour slalom on the freeway.

That clip was from “The Assassin”. It comes from the middle of the song. If you go to the excellent Guitar9 website, you can hear it from the beginning by clicking on the “MP3″ icon in front of the song title.

The first part starts out slow, I imagine as the assassin makes his preparations for the job ahead. Just as Frogwing and I negotiate the sidestreets on the way to the freeway entrance.

Then it suddenly explodes into action about the same time Frogwing and I hit the freeway onramp. The rest of it just blends in with our ride, as we eliminate one obstacle at a time on the way to our objective. Ahh, synchronicity.

Other songs evoke visions of endless two-lane highway, disappearing at the vanishing point on some distant horizon. How a bunch of musicians from New Hampshire came up with this sound is still a mystery to me. But I like it. I like it a lot.

So, now you know what it’s going to sound like inside my helmet as Frogwing and I head out on the audit trail next week. The wide open prairies of South Dakota are the perfect setting for this soundtrack. As you can see, I am really getting psyched for this trip.

But now, it’s time for me to head down to the garage and mount Frogwing’s new Kenda tires. I think I’ll take the Cadillac Hitmen with me. That’s why they call it a portable stereo, after all.