Friday, July 31, 2009

Going in Circles

Photo sent in by Michael Guilford - America Rides Maps fan

I've yet to break free of the vortex I've been caught up in. I feel like I'm paddling like mad but haven't really gotten anywhere. There's always today, perhaps I can finally break free.

Life's a changin'. That's the root of situation. As it does, we've had to make some adjustments. My wife has just changed jobs. After years of working from a home office and spending much of her life on airplanes and in hotels in cities all over the country and Canada, she's stepped down and taken a local position. It's a significant blow to our personal economy and we'll be making adjustments. She's looking forward to the 9-5 routine, at home in her own bed every night. Me, I'm going to have to work a bit harder.

She's taken a week of vacation between jobs and that's been my prime distraction. As her life transitions from living on the road to moving back into her home, she's been getting her house in order. Neglected chores have been tackled. The honey-do list has been whittled down. Her home office has been dismantled. Mine has had a makeover. Finally, the dust seems to be settling.

I've made little progress this week towards getting back on the road and there are new logistics involved. Next week will be the first opportunity to devise new systems to insure the animals are cared for, the household is maintained, and we adapt to me being on the road more while she keeps the home fires burning (that reminds me, it's time get this winters firewood layed in before the price goes up). That's a good thing overall, I should finally be able to move ahead more rapidly. As soon as this spate of rain passes, I'll head back to Virginia and wrap up this first of the new maps.

Just a few more chores to tackle today, and hopefully an afternoon spent laying out the routes for my travels. We've got company staying the weekend so there will be little accomplished then. I suppose I've had a little vacation myself though I'm eager to get back to work. The fall season looms on the horizon - got to be ready for it.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bending Genders and a Curious Vortex

For the most part, life flows along and you paddle with it as best you can seeking the most rewarding line downstream. Sometimes, you're stroking like mad to reach a goal, others you just kick back and drift. This weekend I feel like I'm circling in a strange whirlpool, not quite sure why I'm not breaking free of this confusion, though I'm still just kicking back and drifting along with whatever comes. Tomorrow, I'll pop back out into the current and be on my way.

Things took their first odd turn Friday evening. Weeks (maybe months ago), my wife informed me she'd made reservations for one of the summer concerts-on-the-lawn at the
Biltmore Estate in Asheville. It was dutifully filed away in my man-memory amongst the myriad of other tidbits, requests, and honey-do's that reside in that dark subterranean cavern where guys store such relevant information. Nothing wrong with a little culture now and then, and I do like a good performance of some classical or jazz music such as one would expect to enjoy in a venue such as the Biltmore house. Reminded of our impending appointment, I threw on some nice duds and we headed into Asheville.

On arriving, we picked up a pre-arranged wine and cheese picnic basket, and followed the crowds towards the concert grounds. The first hint my compass had been drifting was when I saw the stage set up. It was rather elaborate for the sedate and tranquil performance I expected. As we found our reserved seats, I finally asked about the show.

ABBA", my wife informed me. "Well not really ABBA, but a band that plays their music".

"Huh?" I'm sure my expression belied confusion.

"You know, with that Mama Mia movie, the music has become really popular again".

ABBA? Hmmm. Never saw them when the were actually playing. Never owned an album. Never really went out of my way for anything ABBA related. Still, they were innocuous on the radio in years past. I'd recognize some of the music.

"Come on honey, you're Swedish, you'll relate to them", she said. Yeah, in a "pass me another plate of
lutefisc" kind of way I thought to myself and summoned up whatever dregs of heritage I could muster to embrace the experience.

It was not quite the crowd I expected, though
Belle Chere, Asheville's big annual music festival, was going on downtown and I'm sure that drew away most of the usual suspects. That crowd had been replaced by another genre of ABBA aficionados - the John McCain Coalition. I know he said he enjoyed them, but I didn't realize it had become a gray-haired cult (if you had any hair left at all). I felt oddly young. Must be the venue.

All in all, it was not as painful as I expected. When they verified they were actually Swedish by performing "SOS" in their native tongue, they earned my respect. It actually sounded better that way and I hoped they'd sing more in the strange language. It made things far more interesting. And they did actually have some of the original band performers with them to give them more credibility, all whom had unpronounceable names to lend authenticity. I kept thinking through the show, "This is the whitest music I've ever heard", and had a strange urge to follow it up with a performance by James Brown or Rick James just to get my universe back in balance and harmony.

Saturday morning, I saddled up and headed over to the
Mountain Mamas Ride In in Maggie Valley where I'd offered to take a small group out for a tour. The "small group" quickly turned into 14 bikes and I had my hands full. I did get a second guide to help ride shotgun, though he bailed on us half way through the trip. To use the old cliche, it was like herding cats. It was an open ride, not a tour, so there were no ground rules or authority to maintain any semblance of order. We spent more than 7 hours doing a ride I normally make in 3, and we missed the best parts. Still, I wore them out and they had an experience to take home. I hope it was a good one.

Today, Sunday, I'm just bobbing around in the current. Need a day to recharge. I did finally start on the last portion of my office, the tables for production and processing. They are drying after being stained and a first coat of varnish in the woodshop. I'm just puttering around, addressing those little honey-do's and household repairs that have been neglected. Friends are coming over for burgers on the grill later.

Strange kind of weekend. Can't complain when things get a little weird. Just ride around in the swirl for a while, then it's back on course tomorrow.

Go To America Rides -

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Progress On The Virginia Maps

Image - The work in progress

I've got the basic layout done on the first of at least three Virginia maps. At this point I'm only going as far north as the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even so, I'm discovering a wealth of great roads, far more than I expected.

One of the greatest challenges has been to reset my criteria for selecting and choosing which roads will be featured on the map as the best rides. The terrain changes as you move from North Carolina into southern Virginia. You leave the 6000 ft. peaks behind and enter the rolling hill country. There are still some dramatic overlooks and long range views, those always make the grade. Without huge mountain ranges to block passage, there are more roads to choose from.

Traffic load is always a factor. I've ruled out several squiggly lines on the map simply because I've yet to experience them without getting stuck behind commercial traffic or some doddering old codger creeping around the curves. While these are pretty roads to look at on a map, they are the only connection between towns so they get heavy use. It's easy to eliminate them.

Others are nice rides once you're out in the country until you approach the major towns. US 221 has portions I really like, but once you get in and around Galax it goes down the tubes. Routing around Galax has been a challenge. Roads like these will probably end up being labeled in blue instead of red - good connectors if needed, but not outstanding rides.

The other frustration has been the lack of progress north. This map still contains a good portion of North Carolina due to the way the mountains run and thusly the Blue Ridge Parkway. I failed to recognize previously how much of the parkway follows along the border in this region. Still, the discovery of some really great roads makes up for it.

I'll spend the day working in the details, the road labels, gas stations, direction arrows, place names, and points of interest. Over the next several days I'll lay out the route for what I hope will be the last visit to complete this map. It's obvious I have a lot of area to cover both revisiting previous discoveries and exploring the few new roads I've identified as likely prospects. The challenge will be to try to do it in one day to keep down costs, though that is looking less and less likely. All it takes is one serendipitous discovery, something unplanned, a road which turns to gravel unexpectedly and slows progress to throw off the whole schedule. Still, those unplanned side trips revealed some fabulous rides on this last trip and are worth the effort.

I have come to realize one thing. All the planning must be done ahead of time. I'm typically on the road before 8 AM and don't roll into the motel until after 9 PM. I find I'm so exhausted I have no energy to revise or create new plans. It's all about the planning.

I'm looking forward to completing this map and moving on to the next. It will be centered on Roanoke, VA., and I expect the terrain will change again as I move north from the city. There are hints of some great roads close in, just as I found around Asheville, NC. No way to tell until I ride them. It's also a section of the parkway I haven't visited for some time. It will all be fresh and full of exciting new discoveries. If there are half as many good roads as I've found to the south, it will take more than one good trip.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Back Home & Back To Work

Photo - It's Good To Be Home

Came home Saturday evening. My niece was visiting Sunday so it was time to wrap things up. We spent the day whitewater rafting on the French Broad river north of Asheville near Hot Springs. It was the first time I'd been on that river. I look forward to returning in my kayak. The rapids are pretty challenging in a small boat, though they were fairly tame in a raft. There are bigger rapids further down the river, but the water is too low right now to raft them.

I got nearly all the mapping done, enough to do the initial layout. There is one small pocket I need to revisit and there is always one last trip to actually string together some loop rides. I found some really great roads, some in unexpected areas. There will be far more on this map than I'd planned.

I barely touched the second map, only one small corner explored. If the rest of it turns out half as good, there will be some fantastic rides on the next Virginia map as well. It's surprising what you find if you really go looking for it.

I covered just shy of 1200 miles in the 3 days. My new Blackberry PDA worked fine. I have copious notes to digest. I spent most of the day rebuilding the office. The computers and printers are back up, the new battery power source is installed. I'm adjusting to a new desk and chair. Tomorrow I'll get to the production area where I lay things out, storage, folding and packaging. I hauled out years worth of old junk and de-cluttered everything. I'm hoping to make things more efficient. We'll see how it works out over the next few days. I am eager to discover how this new map lays out once I start plotting all the new roads. I think it's going to be a really good one. Now, what to call it?

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Notes From The Road - Virginia - 7/17/09

Photo - Virginia Road

Surprisingly productive day. I didn't expect to find so many great roads in this area, but they're here.

I covered about 332 miles in a 12 hour day. That's not a lot of miles but it is a testament to the quality of the roads. The majority of the rides were on isolated back roads, many so remote they are devoid of any markings - no center line, just pavement. The area is full of them. It took a lot of riding to identify the best.

Photo - Virginia Road

The rain that moved through last night continued to follow me on and off through the day. I got my first good soaking around 9:30 AM. It came down hard and heavy for a while, then eased off to spit on and off until almost mid-day. As I moved south I moved out of it.

For a while the sun came out and the heat came on. Things were going well until around 4:30. I was headed south from Radford, VA. on a particularly nice stretch of road when all hell broke loose. I saw it coming, but didn't realize how severe it was until it was on me. The TV is talking about a potential tornado touchdown in the area. It was a least one of those "micro-bursts".

Photo -
Parked along a scenic riverside on one of the routes.

The wind picked up enough to blow me around the road, huge branches were crashing down in the road and I was concerned a tree might fall on me. I ran over several large branches and as soon as I broke free of the tree cover the rain got so heavy I couldn't see 15 feet in front of me. I caught a glimpse of an abandoned country store at the roadside, circled back, and pulled the front end of the bike up under the porch until things settled down. In 15 minutes the sun was shining again.

A lot the time was spent south of the border - in North Carolina. I found little there as the mountains have veered north and you're getting out into the Piedmont. There are still a few isolated outcroppings such as Pilot Mountain and the area around Hanging Rock State Park is very good. There are also some interesting areas still further east, but they are off the map so I'll have to come back and visit them on my own time.

Photo - Dam!

While the mountains which run through this section of Virginia are not as high and impressive as those found further north and south, the entire area is very hilly. It's the roads which thread through these hilly portions that hold some real gems. Some of them are amazingly tight and technical, when you get up on a hilltop you get views that rival the Blue Ridge Parkway, and there are numerous streams and rivers to add to the scenery.

It's a lot different from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia and I've had to adjust to it. Still, you know a good road when you ride it, and you know a great road from a good road. I think I've found several I can recommend.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Notes From The Road - Virginia - 7/16/09

The Hardware Co. Restaurant, Hillsville, VA.

I've returned to familiar ground. It was getting late, I hadn't eaten all day, and I'd planned for this eventuality. I laid out my routes so I'd make a couple passes through Hillsville, VA. It was one of the places I stayed previously on my scouting trips. I knew I'd get a good meal, go back to the same motel, and I'm ready to crash for the evening.

394 miles today. Not all that impressive. A little under 100 were spent on highway or major roads. I did spend some time on gravel roads which slow progress considerably. Easier to go on through than route around them.

More of the day was spent in North Carolina than expected. Due to the reconfiguring of the maps, more of North Carolina is included as I criss-cross the border. I didn't expect to find as many good roads as I did. Those I thought wouldn't be suitable proved true. Nonetheless, got to check them all. I still need to revisit some more of North Carolina to compare the roads I've discovered to the roads I already know. I should wrap that up in the morning then spend the rest of the time in Virginia. The only fair way to compare them is to ride them all and judge them fresh.

Amazingly, the predicted rain held off. It's now supposed to move through tonight. That would work out well. It's a lot hotter than I expected. Should have packed the mesh gear. Hard to relate to the lower altitudes when you live up high. Coming down a couple thousand feet has a big effect.

With luck, I'll reach Roanoke by tomorrow evening. I'm pretty tired. I'll get this first map finished up by mid-day and should knock out a good portion of the next. While it would be nice to finish two, I'm not so convinced it's going to happen. If I get inspired, I brought along the third. For now, I'm sure I'll get only one.

>> Go To America Rides -

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Curse Of The Gremlins

I've pushed back my mapping trip to Virginia until Thursday. The gremlins won out as one electronic device after another failed. The battery backup died and screams kept coming from my office as infrequent power glitches lost data as I was working. I still need to replace that. Will do when I return and rebuild the office. I installed a new printer only to lose Internet access in the process. That took a day to sort out. Then the wireless modem failed. My old card wouldn't sync with the new modem and that took another day to sort out and a new card. The straw that broke the camels back was when the PDA stopped syncing with the PC. Can't work without the PDA. I do all my road notes on it. When the workmen informed me they wouldn't be able to start until Thursday, the die was cast.

It's OK now. It was frantic while it was all going on. Looking back I realize it was all self-created. I'd set this arbitrary deadline of leaving Tuesday and was flailing about tyring to meet it. In hindsight, I realize the anxiety wasn't necessary. So what's the big deal if I leave a couple days later? Easy to say now.

So I've got a new PDA and it's taken a couple days to sort it out. I've switched from Palm to Blackberry. I have a box of Palm Treos that expired prematurely, time to switch platforms. Got the brand new Blackberry Tour. I'm getting used to a trackball instead of a touch screen. What a hassle to learn how to sync Word and Excel files. I'm sure I'll grow to love it with time and become a Crackberry addict like so many others.

I used the extra time to knock out a big project for the Motorcycle Mama's Rally in Maggie Valley. No need to rush the job when I get back anymore. I'll use the extra time to catch up on accounting (sales tax is due), manually update the files that wouldn't sync from my old PDA, and do a more thorough job routing my travels. In the end it will all turn out better. I hope I've seen the last of the gremlins. So long as they stay away the pressure is off.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chaos Reigns During "Pimp My Office"

The Paper Shredder - a.k.a. Fabio. Don't touch my box!

Half the office has disappeared and the place reeks of fresh paint. Only the computers and printers remain and their associated furniture (plus Fabio and his box of paper). The remainder will be disassembled tomorrow evening. It's all got to go for the new carpet. Seems like so much space with all the work tables gone. Won't get to appreciate it long. I'm leaving for a few days mapping Virginia on Tuesday.

It's been one thing after another lately and some time on the road will do me good. I'm infested with gremlins at the moment. Put in a new printer only to lose Internet access for a day. Wasted too much time working through that. Within a couple days the wireless modem died, the computer wouldn't sync with the new one, had to install a new Wifi card, lost another day. Now my phone has decided to stop syncing with the PC. I do all my road notes on my phone. Going to have to get that sorted before I leave. PS - did I mention the battery has died on the "uninteruptible power source" (as I've just finished rebooting after a power blip). I haven't even hooked the GPS up yet to program it, that's tomorrows challenge.

Monday will be spent running out last minute orders and getting the routing planned. I've got a lot of miles to cover, much of it virgin territory. Too much of it will be wasted time, I can already tell from the topo maps and satellite imagery. I just can't let go of a few isolated roads that show potential. A disappointing amount will be in North Carolina due to the overlap of the new map along the border. I'm also dreading the time around Roanoke. I have a feeling traffic loads will disqualify much of that area though I've got to check it out.

I was supposed to service the bike today but never got to it. It's due for an oil / filter change. I can't decide if the chain warrants tightening, it will at least get a thorough cleaning and lubing. Need to put on the luggage, fill the emergency fuel bottle, check the tires, lots of little details to run through.

Regardless, I'm hitting the road and will knock off at least one and hopefully two new maps. With luck I'll do the scouting for the third. It's about time.

>> Go To America Rides -

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Virginia Won - Wayne Zero

I thought I had things planned out. The roads told me different. That's what I get for trying to rush things along.

I had an ambitious schedule. Spend three or four days on the motorcycle finding the best map candidates. The rejects are usually quickly noted. I was hoping to hit two, maybe three maps worth of roads. Find the promising areas not identified from home - there are always undiscovered treasures. Just riding along, pass a road not on the list, and circle back to check it out. Occasionally you find a gem. Most times, you quickly know why it was left off the route list. Serendipity is rare.

Believe it or not it takes up to a week to plan out a map before I do the rides. Even so, the plan changes once I actually experience them. The goal is efficiency but is never achieved. I know ahead of time the majority of the roads I choose to investigate as potential candidates to include on one of my America Rides Maps will be rejected. I'm very selective. Just because a road appears as a wiggly line on the map doesn't mean it is good enough. There are lots of wiggly roads. Few of them meet my standards. I'm only looking for the best.

Of those few good ones, I need to plan to ride them at least twice. Once in each direction, and at different times of the day. The best roads often see up to four passes. If it's that good, I like it enough to work it in to my travels again. Revisiting a road is the only way to determine the traffic load. Just because it was devoid of traffic at 11 AM doesn't mean it stays that way.

Some roads are better in one direction but not the other. Views seen approaching and climbing the mountains are quite different from those leaving. The views are relative to others in the area. All these factors come into play.

Then there's the arguments with the GPS. She says there are roads where none are visible. Submerged the bike in a river once following her advice. Good thing she's waterproof. The trout were laughing with her that day. She-devil in a box.

Enough whining? Did I mention the rain that wasn't supposed to be happening? Both days? Karma. I've already logged more than a thousand miles in Virginia and I've hardly begun to get a grip on it.

Time to get serious. Back to the drawing board. More time planning. I'll return next week. This time with the precision of a military invasion. Focus on one small area at a time. Secure it and move on. No need to revisit. At least that's my new plan. Slow and methodical. You don't rush a masterpiece. I hope this is one when I'm done.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Boston Bans Aftermarket Exhausts - Comments

Photo: Is your bike next?

Discussion has been pretty widespread on the net re: the new law in Boston which bans aftermarket exhausts for motorcycles. Rising above the usual spew regarding such controversial issues I look for insight from within the industry. The issue has been posted on LinkedIn in the Motorcycle Industry Professionals group of which I am a member.

I posted my opinion as follows which may or may not agree with yours.

It's the handwriting on the wall guys, something brought upon us by a few who felt their "freedom" to enjoy loud pipes was more important than their freedom to ride in the first place. The city is taking the easy way out - easier and more effective than enforcing noise ordinances. I won't be surprised to see more of it. Now it's into the courts to spend the time and expense to try to reverse this before it spreads and comply with it in the mean time. More big brother telling you what you can and cannot do. That's sad.

Living in a motorcycle tourist destination I deal with this issue first hand. While there are those who welcome the motorcycle tourist and recognize the benefit of them, there are those who despise them for disrupting their solitude. I'm at the Chamber of Commerce meetings as events are opposed and cancelled. I see the "noise ordinance enforced" signs with motorcycle icons on them going up in the small towns. Loud pipes close doors and windows as well as minds.

I realize this rant will followed by others from the "loud pipes save lives crowd". It always is with all the examples and instances of prior escapes from catastrophe. Your bike already has an audible warning device - it's the button with the little horn icon on it. If it's not loud enough, upgrade. It's cheaper than straight pipes. How long do you think you'd tolerate or be tolerated riding around holding down your horn button? To many, it would be just as annoying as your thumping or screaming exhaust notes.

You want respect? You gotta show respect. Freedom comes with the burden of responsibility. Act irresponsibly and suffer the consequences. We're faced with a choice - we can either address this problem ourselves or others will impose their solutions on us. At this point the opposition has the upper hand. Choose wisely - your choice is affecting my freedom and impacting my wallet as well as yours.

How far are they from banning motorcycle traffic in the city when this fails? They do it with trucks, no "jake brakes", routing them around towns, etc. now in many locations. People don't want to hear them. You may be next.

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