Tag archive: Neel Guest
Ducati Test Rides and Revelations
This whole thing – test riding other Ducatis – started because my friend Michael practically wrestled me to the ground and forced me to ride his Panigale.
He’d ridden behind me a few times and determined that I am a stronger rider than I believed myself to be. Make no mistake, I do feel confident in my riding, but not so much that I have a false sense of bravado. It was truly a high honor and strong validator of my skills when he insisted on making me ride his incredible machine. Not gonna lie, I was scared at first. It was so much more machine than I was used to. But when I was done, it put a huge smile on my face and it got me to thinking: it’s time I expanded my range of skills and possible motorcycle options. The next weekend I headed off to my local Ducati dealer in search of enlightenment. After spending about 30 minutes each on two brand new 2017 Ducatis last Saturday, I’ve come away with a greater understanding about motorcycles in general and learned something valuable about myself in the process:
- Motorcycle models are designed differently for a reason, and
- I am a hell of a rider.
I’ve reached the 2nd anniversary of bringing my Scrambler Ducati Icon model home (lovingly dubbed the Falcon) and in the past 2 years I’ve put over 20,000 miles on it in a wide variety of conditions, both on road and off. It’s been an incredible bike for me. I’m as in love with it today as I was the day I drove it off the lot, perhaps more so since we are now so intimately acquainted. But after my first test ride of the day on the new Scrambler Ducati Café Racer a light bulb went off in my head alerting me to the possibility that I have underestimated and undersold my own riding ability. Shortly after heading out on the Supersport S a little later I was practically banging my head and laughing because I finally fully grasped for the first time that I’m a much more accomplished rider than I had previously given myself credit for. AND I understood that I’ve literally been forcing my bike to perform maneuvers it was never designed to make with any kind of grace. It’s obviously capable of corner carving at the speeds with which I tackle them but certainly not without a great deal of effort and manipulation on my part. But, like the bumblebee who has no idea that it’s not supposed to be able to fly considering its design, I had no clue my bike is not supposed to flit around the twisties at high speeds alongside my more experienced fellow riders on R1s, GSX-Rs, Panigales and the like. I’ve just figured out how to make it work.
My sweet husband Neel, who is my main riding partner, has been signing my praises for a long time and I have poo-pooed him and downplayed his compliments because, while I feel like I’m a strong and intuitive rider, I wasn’t ready to claim any sort of proficiency in the presence of our more experienced riding associates. I mean come on, how can a 50-year old woman who’s only been riding motorcycles for 3 years, with her only formal training being 2 MSF courses and no track time, consider herself to have legit riding prowess? In the spirit of full disclosure, however; I am compelled to reveal that I’m an experienced and excellent rider – of horses! I grew up riding and breaking horses on a cattle farm. I rode barrels and other competitive gaming events and in general my ass has seen more time on the back of a horse than most people’s asses will see in a lazy boy in a lifetime. And my ass has seen a lot of time on the ground from being unseated by a mistake in my reaction to, or misjudgment of, the next twisting buck of a young colt or by not paying attention to a perceived threat which might cause a horse to suddenly shy away. We had lots of horses to ride and by switching mounts often I felt that I became a better overall rider. A person can appear to be a top rider on one horse, but if that’s their only horse, they’ll get lazy and complacent. That rider will learn that particular horse’s habits and quirks and adapt to their way of going. But throw that rider on a different horse with different conformation and mannerisms, and you’ll quickly find out if that rider has real skill or is in fact a one-trick pony themselves. To be a better horseman, a person must be able to sense subtle changes in their mount, observe upcoming obstacles, and make lightning fast and equally subtle changes to their body positioning to avoid a disaster or to simply elevate the quality of the ride in any particular situation. Not unlike riding a motorcycle.
I’d like to think that a lifetime of riding different horses has prepared me for the world of riding motorcycles. I seek to continually better my riding skills – with horses in my past and now, in motorcycling. Every ride is an opportunity to test and stretch my abilities or those of my mount; finding little maneuvers that work and revealing ones that don’t. Even short trips to the store gives me opportunities to build on my foundation and practice things; more time in the saddle hopefully translates to faster skill acquisition.
But I’ve spent 2 solid years on the same mount. I’ve only occasionally ridden a couple of other bikes, but not often enough for my liking. I’ve been worried I’ve gotten lazy and complacent even though I work hard at challenging myself on my Scrambler. When my local dealer got in a couple of demo models of interesting brand new bikes, I eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to ride them. I’ve sort of been thinking for a while that I need a second bike to handle the sport bike riding I like to pretend that mine does. Having another bike would save wear and tear on my Scrambler, which is set up perfectly for my long-distance riding on variable terrain, and I am at a point to which I feel I could give quality riding time to more than one bike. I know there is no one bike which is fully capable of peak performance in multiple riding disciplines, although, I must say that my Scrambler is as well suited to being a one-size-fits-all bike as just about anything out there is. If I could only have one bike, this is the one for me. It does a variety of things quite well but can’t really complete with style-specific bikes when pushed to their limits. So my search for a sport(ier) second bike commenced with a trip to Garcia Moto last weekend.
Scrambler Ducati Café Racer
First up on my agenda was a ride on the Scrambler Ducati Café Racer. This one seemed like the logical choice to ride first as I feel I’m more than qualified to sort out the subtle nuances that Ducati incorporated in the new model. To quote the words of my salesman and good friend Steve Rakes, it felt “intimately familiar yet seductively new”. I had already done a bunch of homework on its specs and done a side-by-side comparison between it and my 2015 Icon so I had some head knowledge of the differences. At first glance it looks like the same bike with some cosmetic changes but if you dig into the finer details you’ll see they’ve made seemingly small changes which effectively equates to significant changes in how the bike handles and performs. I discovered within a few blocks of driving off that the smaller front wheel, shorter rake, shorter trail, lower clip-ons, and higher seat, all combine to give this bike great advantages over the Icon for carving corners. This bike practically BEGS for an opportunity to dodge and weave. I hardly moved my butt out of the seat in the turns when taking some of my favorite twisty roads at the same speeds I normally ride. In comparison, I have to glide from side to side on my Icon, never really sitting down, and hanging off like a GP rider to sling it around tight turns at speed. Combine the more aggressive riding position, greater agility, and more user-friendly levers with the new fuel mapping and smooth-as-silk throttle response, and we have a wonderfully refreshing new animal in the Café Racer. It’s so different that I could EASILY own this bike as my second ride regardless of the fact that it looks so much like my main ride. However, because of the more aggressive riding position, I wouldn’t keep this bike as my #1 all around rider. I still enjoy having my Icon for that.
Ducati SuperSport S
Second up was the Ducati SuperSport S. While I had been marginally interested in it prior to riding the Café Racer, I was now only riding it as a matter of due diligence. I was THAT enamored with the Café! I don’t have much sport bike experience so it was a little intimidating at first. But when I threw a leg over it and felt the (slightly) more upright position than say a Panigale or R1, I felt more at ease. In fact, just sitting on the SuperSport S without even moving felt very comfy and cozy. While the cockpit was gently spooning me, I fired it up and its purring motor whispered to me to drop into gear and go. I took it out around the same roads as the other ride (roads I’m intimately familiar with) and again, within blocks I could feel the differences between this bike, the Café, and my bike. I instantly fell in love with the way the tank and seat formed a cockpit to hold me securely in place. And again, that smooth-as-silk throttle response which is so different from my clunky, on-off throttle, was a pure delight to roll on. BTW, I was in touring mode and kept it there – I can only wonder what race mode feels like. The S model comes equipped with a quick shifter which could spoil a person in no time. I acclimated to it so fast that had to keep reminding myself to pull in the clutch at stops! The Öhlins suspension is a highly coveted upgrade to the Scrambler suspension and boy did I feel it! Not a single bump threatened to unseat me. Speaking of which, in the turns I never once moved out of my seat to sling into a corner. It is THAT smooth and confidence inspiring. So much so, that several times I checked my speed thinking that I must have backed way off and must be only going 35 but in fact the speedo read 65. (I NOW get why my friends can go soooo much faster in the chicanes without looking like they’re expending any effort at all. While they’re seemingly putting through the turns I’m performing gymnastics just to keep up!!) Many people have reviewed that they hate the digital bar tach, but I found it to be in the perfect position, just in my periphery so I never had to take my eyes off the road to check RPM- which I was doing often. I then took the SuperSport S on the highway to see how it performed there and it was nothing less than stellar in my opinion. I left the adjustable windscreen in its lowest position and was quite comfortable with the amount of wind blast but I should have raised it to the higher position to see how it felt. My bad. When I wheeled back into the dealership, I honestly was ready to plop down a deposit on it if it weren’t for one major drawback: the inferno-like heat coming off the engine scorched my inner thighs. The heat was so blisteringly painful I was almost teary the whole ride! That was kind of a deal breaker and I’m not sure how to overcome the flame-thrower effect. The rest of the ride was so incredibly enjoyable though, so if anyone can offer a viable solution I might consider going into serious debt to buy the SuperSport S!
So, there you have it. Getting out of my comfort zone yielded valuable revelations about myself, my personal motorcycle, and the prospective ones I rode. That little exercise gave me a greater appreciation for, and inventory of, my current riding skills. Now I also understand more about how different motorcycles are supposed to perform according to their designed purpose. I’m making a vow to test ride many different brands and styles of motorcycles this year, as I feel much more confident in my ability to make an educated and informed decision!
Let the games begin!!!!
Please share your own experiences or recommendations!!Details
I love the company of my fellow Earth dwellers. What a privilege it is to share in their unique journey through life; it always gives me a feeling of immense connectedness. I think we all long to be connected to someone. No matter how much we claim to be independent and self-sufficient, we are not meant to be solitary creatures. Often we just need a single other being to call a best friend – someone who will commiserate with our hurts, fears, failures, disappointments, and sorrows as well as someone who will share in our joys, achievements, laughter, pride, and contentment. That person doesn’t even have to be a “person” – for many folks, that “best friend” void can be filled by a beloved animal companion. God surely fills that void on so many levels, but I’m not talking about spiritual fulfillment. People also NEED a living, tangible, someone they can touch and be touched by.
In addition to a wide array of loving family and friends, I’m fortunate to have (for the second time in my life) the most amazing life partner/soul mate anyone could ask for. I know not everyone is in that position even once in their lives much less twice, but I think most folks can relate to the idea of an exchange of mutual love. Not the gushy butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of feeling, but REAL love – the kind of love where you know that you’d give your life for someone without a second’s hesitation and you know that they would do the same. If you’ve ever looked into your dog’s eyes while you rub his ears or seen your kitty smile while scratching her neck you’ve experienced that warm fuzzy feeling for which there are not enough (or the right) words in your lexicon. (If you truly have never known any kind of love, then my heart is burdened for you and I want you know that I am moved to pray for your heartache.)
As you’ve suspected, I love interacting my friends, family and animals. They each have so much to teach me and I’m a sponge when it comes to learning. Even if you think you’re not offering anything of substance, I’m soaking it all up and formulating ideas about who you are and what brought you to where you are at this particular juncture of your life. A casual conversation about your trip to the grocery store on your way home can yield a plethora of intriguing information you have no idea you were imparting to me. By the way, nonverbal communication is perhaps more important than all the words thrown down. For instance, the way my horse nuzzles me while I groom her or shows her backside to me after I haven’t visited in far too long tells me volumes about her mood and needs. I love paying attention to what the creatures around me are trying to communicate.
BUT despite being drawn to people like a moth to candlelight, I’m also very much a loner. For the most part I honestly prefer my own company and am satisfied with my own thoughts for conversation. There are many times I’d rather withdraw into a cocoon and wish the world would quit knocking on my door. My mom can attest to the many times I would seclude myself in my room for 3 days at a time and requested that she “hold my calls” – even the calls from my best friend whom I had no reason not to talk to. Nothing much has changed in that respect. I think there’s a certain bi-polar nature to creatives. We (creatives) are either on fire and immersed in our pursuits or we are in re-charge mode. There’s no compromise for either. I have come to grips with the fact that I am either “on” or “off” and I have finally come to know when I need to flip the switch for my own health and sanity. Being “off” means I don’t even have the energy to think or verbalize. Nothing. It’s a blank slate up there – for real. For a Chatty Cathy like me (as my public personality would suggest) it may be hard for you to imagine that I can go for days without uttering a single solitary sound or thinking substantive thoughts but it’s true.
Unfortunately the timing of my on and off modes don’t always coincide with the needs or expectations of others. So I do my best to work within the realm of reality while conserving my precious downtime as much as possible. It can be disconcerting to others when I’m secluded and non-communicative. I’ve learned that people tend to interpret my walled off times as an affront to them when in fact it never (or rarely) has anything to do with anyone else. It can seem like I’m mad or put out, but I’m just on re-charge mode. Not everyone “gets” my modes or knows what to do with them. So I have learned to live with that and I try to be overly extroverted in situations where I would otherwise isolate myself if I had my choice. When I’ve had to exert more energy to be social than I really have on tap, I simply must find time for a deeper re-charge, leading to an extended “people vacation.”
My husband, Neel, and I were just talking about how we were “peopled out” after last weekend’s flurry of social activities. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the moments of flitting around rooms, making friends and enjoying stimulating conversations, but after 3 days and nights of non-stop social events, we were spent. By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, we sat silently and limply in our favorite chairs, our critters in various stages of repose around us, and beverages of choice in our hands with the afternoon football games on TV. At one point, he looked over at me after an hour or more of no conversation and said, “I love our life together,” and reached his hand across to mine. I looked over into his eyes, smiled, said “me too,” and stretched my fingertips out to meet his for a brief loving touch. Then we turned away from each other and sank back into our quiet reverie with no misgivings about what we could be saying, or could be doing. Just being in each other’s presence was enough. Having someone in my life who gets the dichotomy of my needing to be a super social butterfly (and performer) but also needs an equal amount of “off” time and doesn’t get offended or take it personally is priceless.Details
A Dragon’s Tale – Part 2 of 3
Heroes are born from adversity
Being extremely organized (not OCD!), I was up early to consider my needs and re-pack my provisions for the day. I would need some basic items like food, water, and rain gear but not all my clothing and toiletries. I could forego the unwieldy (and obnoxious) tail bag if I carefully filled the precious space in my tank bag – NOT that I wanted to carry that ugly thing either, but a full day’s ride meant I needed to pack like a prepper. My buddy Greig Hochreiter (of Devolve Moto) had assembled a fine team of superheroes to mount an assault on the winged, fire-breathing beast slumbering in the mountains so my partner David and I were obligated to arrive with a complete arsenal of weapons of our own. Feeling satisfied that all was in order, I got dressed and strolled downstairs with all my gear in hand. We ate a leisurely breakfast and killed time chatting with our gracious hosts until the riders up call was sounded. Our meetup was at high noon in Bryson City, about an hour and twenty minutes west of our current location, so if we left at 10 AM we would have plenty of time to get there and dally along the way. While David was outside checking the oil in his bike, I frittered away some time playing with Charlie, who was intent on ferociously shaking and “killing” her favorite toy: a dragon no less.
I contented myself with a cursory T-CLOCS inspection not being overly concerned as the Falcon is practically brand new and it was in fine shape last night when I kissed her goodnight. Eh, it all looks the same as ever – turn signals work, brake lights work, nothing puncturing the tires, oil is good, hey is that a little bubble in my brake fluid reservoir? Nah, it’s probably always looked like that. Well OK then, all good to go! We mounted up and launched off down the ski jump driveway. Wheeeeee … hmmm, do my brakes feel funny? Well, that was a heck of a hill we just came down; I probably had to squeeze the lever harder than normal to stop … I’m sure it’s my imagination … Gee, I don’t remember David’s bike smelling like that yesterday … Is that smoke? OK, yes, that is most definitely a huge plume of black smoke. What in the WORLD??? By now I’d figured out there’s something seriously wrong with his moto which is blowing oil like the Exxon Valdez. I backed waaaaaay off to keep from getting splattered and choked to death by the geyser spewing forth from his bike but I had to find a way to get him to stop. Fortunately at the next intersection as I wheeled up to him frantically trying to get his attention he had figured out there was a problem, especially seeing as his right pant leg, now sopping wet with oil was the only thing stemming the gushing tide of black gold. A look down and – DOH – he had forgotten to replace the oil cap.
<Deep sigh>. Back to square one we went. While David got busy hosing down his now slick and glistening motorcycle, Michael, kindly went to the store to buy him more oil. Have I mentioned that our hosts are the most gracious people EVER??!! With our early head start blown, instead of killing time, now we were going to be late. We texted Greig and he was running behind too so no worries, we were OK. For real? Whew, dodged a bullet there. I shook off the anxious feeling that this was a bad sign.
An hour and a half later, bike and man were good as new and here we go down the ski jump again…. Uh-oh, I am NOT imagining it, my brakes feel really spongy. Ignore, ignore ignore, lets just get on down the road. Um… that bubble in the reservoir is most definitely getting bigger – it’s like taking up half the tank now. UGH, I do NOT want to deal with another delay, especially one that requires a mechanic to fix. CRAP, I can’t ignore this any longer. So I blew David off on the highway and took the next exit knowing he’d follow. We pulled into a gas station and inspected the situation. There was indeed a leak and you could see fluid spurting out the bottom banjo bolt with every squeeze of the brake lever. It was nothing we could fix ourselves so now I had to face the fact that I had a real problem. My hopes for meeting the guys and riding the Dragon were dashed. I was just praying I could locate a motorcycle shop that could take me in on the fly at noon on a Saturday and patch me up good enough to get back home. If not, I figured I might be able to buy some brake fluid and keep refilling the reservoir as it leaked out and at least limp home praying nothing broke loose for real and left me with no brakes at all. “Go on without me, I’ll only hold you back – Save yourself” I dramatically cried and offered myself up sacrificially like the damsel in distress whose twisted ankle struck her down amidst a zombie horde hungrily clawing at her legs. Or maybe it more like a stoic admission that I was doomed but there was no reason he couldn’t at least accomplish what we set out to do – someone has to survive to slay that dragon!! AVENGE ME….. (Hey, it’s my story – there’s room for zombies, Vermithrax, and Wolverines.)
But in true loyal, hero fashion, David refused that notion outright and stuck by me. He was magnanimous enough to accept that if nothing else, we had an adventure in just getting this far. Another text to Greig to tell him that I had a breakdown and we probably couldn’t make it at all was answered by, “Get it fixed and hit the road, we’ll wait.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? These are some patient and good-hearted fellows I’m surrounded with! Feeling emboldened, I started Google searching for motorcycle shops on my phone. The first shop that came up was the one I called: MR Motorcycle in Asheville. They are not a Ducati dealer, but after explaining my symptoms it seemed like something they could repair and they could get me in immediately. Thank you Jesus again! It was only 6 or 7 miles away and as long as there weren’t too many stops I could manage by engine braking – I do that most of the time anyway, which is why my leak probably didn’t show itself more than it did before now. Pulling into their lot was a bit like pulling into Motorcycle Mecca. They had a separate building for service and their showroom eclipsed anything I’d ever seen at least in regards to non-Harley shops. Jason in service was kind and easy to work with and Tex, the mechanic was incredible!! He finished his lunch early so he could get me fixed up. While we waited we strolled through the showroom in what I called the Candy Store. OMG they have EVERYTHING… I want one of those, one of those, two of those… I honestly wasn’t too disappointed to be stuck there, but my bank account might have suffered irreparable damage if we lingered too long. Fortunately the guys were quick and efficient and got us out in no time. And yet there it was again – that nagging feeling this was another bad sign …
By now it was well after noon and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. There was a little bar/restaurant nearby so we swung in there to regroup and refuel. Upon leaving we had to wait on a little uphill incline before we could jump out into 2 lanes of fast moving traffic to our right. We waited forever it seemed and finally David settled on a wide enough gap in the oncoming cars to make his move. I released the clutch to fall in and BAM! In a blink of an eye the Falcon and I were suddenly and savagely slammed to the ground. She had bucked me off like a bronco stung by a bee in the belly. Who the? What the? How the? My elbow was in immense pain and I was lying in the middle of a street with a 400 lb motorcycle on me, so I couldn’t take time to ponder how we got there. I had to get my horse back on her feet – NOW. I tried the backwards lift thingy I’d seen demonstrated on videos, but holy cow, that’s not as easy as they make it look. I got her about up to my calves and was about to go for another heave when a red Jeep Wrangler came screeching in behind me. The guy jumped out, picked my bike up like it was a 10 speed and asked if I was OK. I told him I was fine and before I could hardly thank him, he and his girl sped off out of sight. Thank you Jesus for sending angels to my rescue yet again.
Right about now, David had figured out that I’m not in his mirrors so he’s thinking there might be something amiss. Ah, there he is, I knew he wouldn’t leave me. After a U-turn, he arrived on the scene and was clearly shocked to find me standing next to my bike and not on it. He took charge and calmly helped me to a nearby parking lot and I tried to make sense of what in the hell just happened. I could feel my wobbly, adrenaline filled muscles begging me to just sit down quietly but my elbow was screaming in pain and I was torn between crying like a little girl and kicking the ever living shit out of something. I opted instead for objectively assessing the damage to my body and the Falcon before giving any more thought to why or how it happened. I took off my jacket and made a visual inspection of my right arm. Oooh, that’s gonna leave a mark.
I’m pretty tough though and have survived much worse (like my horse brutally breaking my nose with the back of her head causing a fountain of blood to spew down my front as I tumbled to the ground writhing in pain. Not once, mind you, but on three separate occasions). My current injury wasn’t that gruesome and nothing appeared to be broken or in need of stitches, so while this was going be sucky, it was far from sidelining. The Falcon suffered only minor, superficial injuries: the tip of the brake lever snapped off (no big deal, my hunny had already ordered me hot new sporty, shorty racing levers for my birthday!!), the right mirror was scraped up and loose but fully functioning with a little tightening, and there was a scuff on the muffler cover. Like every warrior, my Falcon obtained some battle scars to add to her character and charm. I could live with this.
Unlike the earlier brake line failure or great Gulf oil spill, there was no blame to pin on another party for this setback; it was all on stupid me – on soooo many levels.
- First, I chose my riding attire based upon two things – warmth and looks. It was easy to justify: It’s chilly in the mountains and I should be wearing my warmest gear, and, everyone knows you’re going to get some cool professional pics while riding the Dragon, so I should be sporting my best Fonzie leather look, duh. Buuuuut this is my only jacket without elbow armor. — Oh believe me, I mulled that over before I left my home and still went with that choice anyway. I even mentioned my misgivings about lacking those crucial pieces of protection to Michael, David, and Wendy before leaving the mountain side retreat this morning. Karma??
- And second, the Falcon didn’t just decide to violently throw us both into the pavement. Nope. I popped the clutch and stalled her. BTW, stalling an 803 cc Ducati is nothing like stalling my little 250 cc Suzuki. Not. Even. Close. And why did I pop that clutch? My only defense is that I was holding it in the friction zone to keep from rolling backwards on that little incline and I needed to be able to gas it and go when a sliver of an opportunity presented itself. I didn’t reckon on sitting there so long though. I guess I just forgot where my hand was and when I let it go it was already so far out that the little bit of throttle I rolled on wasn’t nearly enough. As my dear, dear friend Pastor Jim Gillespie always says, “more throttle.” Apparently there’s no problem big enough that more throttle can’t fix; so far in my experience he’s been spot on with that advice. <Bigger Deep Sigh>
So just how thick did we have to be? There was no mistaking it now, this was surely a sign from God telling us to just turn tail and skip the ride altogether. The day was getting on and we still had 3 hours to go just to get to the base of the Dragon, then we had to somehow survive that storied monster, and ride back to Asheville the same night. How many more demons could we withstand? It seemed insurmountable.
Hold on a minute – – I’m not a sacrificial maiden. And I’m not a quitter dammit – even when I should be. David isn’t either, God bless him. So with all the resolve we could muster we beat a path to Bryson City where our cohorts were (not so much now) patiently waiting for our arrival. We had a beast to tame and wussing out was not an option!
The final chapter is about to unfold.
A Dragon’s Tale – Part 1 of 3
Hitgirl meets a worthy adversary
It was 6 PM or so on a Thursday evening when I saw a Facebook post from my friend Greig Hochreiter of Devolve Moto looking for folks interested in meeting up for a ride on Saturday. No big deal, just a little jaunt through the western Carolina mountains culminating in a saunter down a widely known and well traveled country road which promised splendid views and exciting curves. Sounds like a perfect afternoon excursion right? Except that the starting point was 6 hours away. And the country road? It was another 3 hours farther and is none other than the infamous Tail of the Dragon which winds though the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee! What’s that? You’ve never heard of this not-so-mythical beast? Let me enlighten you:
“Sure, I’m in!” I enthusiastically (and hastily) answered up. Then it hit me that in order to arrive at the meetup time I would have to ride most of the day on Friday to get there AND I would need to stay the night on Saturday AND I would need all of Sunday to ride home. Very quickly, an impromptu little ride had turned into a 3 day mini vacation with all kinds of expenses. Oops. I’m nothing if not impulsive. I called my husband and asked if he wanted to go, but he couldn’t get the time off work and he so kindly gave me his blessing to go it alone. I googled lodging choices as fast as I could and called what appeared to be a good one. My skill (luck) in picking out decent places was getting a workout lately. I made my reservations then I ripped off a short email apologizing to my co-workers for the sudden notice, but I would be out of the office and unavailable until Monday. Then I ran to the grocery store to load up on supplies, came home, boiled some eggs and organized the chuck wagon. Before I can hardly get the grime off my gear from the last road trip, I’m repacking for the next one. I didn’t have time to wash any specific clothes but fortunately most of my intended garments were already clean and fresh, so right before bed I quickly and carefully packed my tailbag.
The next morning, while going through emails and taking care of last minute work items online my good friend and fellow filmmaker, David Aman (he shot and edited our hilarious JDRF Egg Crack Challenge video) hit me up and asked me if I was going on the ride. He had just found out about it but thought he could make quick (REAL quick) arrangements and go too, and if I could wait for him we could ride together. I was happy to do that. It would be nice to have a partner on a long ride for a change. Fortunately for us, both David’s wife Wendy and my husband Neel are secure spouses who understand that our partnership only extends to film making and traveling. When I met up with David in Durham, he asked me where I was staying and offered me a place to sleep at his friends’ house in Asheville where he was going, saying that he’d already cleared it with them and I was welcome. I didn’t think I could get out of my reservation so late but I gave it a shot because I would love to save on that expense. I called and they let me off the hook with no penalties or charges. Yippee! Now I was on the road to an unknown destination. I smell another adventure….
Speaking of smell, I’m not really a clean freak (if you’ve been to my house you are nodding your head) but I have my weirdnesses like anyone. I don’t mind sleeping in a barn, in a horse trailer, or under the stars on the ground, but I have an aversion to sleeping in a stranger’s house. I’m not so much a germophobe as I am a smellophobe. I have an extremely sensitive olfactory organ, so much so, that I’ve bandied about taking up a career as a drug sniffing dog (don’t laugh, I can smell your weed a mile away even in a lead container buried in a landfill). And speaking of dogs, do these people have a pack of smelly, mangy curs who want to bowl me over and sleep in my bed? Do they even know what that toilet brush is used for? Do I dare sit on that couch (ew, what are those stains)? I should have been concerned about the ferocity of the Dragon and my ability to endure 3 days of riding, but noooo, my mind was now occupied with horrific thoughts of sleeping on a filthy mattress and sharing a bio-hazardous bathroom. My inner delicate diva was having a serious cat fight with my outwardly badass persona.
Kind of like a cage match between
Scarlett O’hara and Sarah Connor.
Other than my private anxiety regarding my (surely) dubious accommodations, we had an extremely enjoyable, if not monotonous, ride on Friday. It got a bit dicey, however, the closer we got to Asheville in the mountains. It begin raining enough to cause us to pull over and put on rain gear on the side of the highway and the traffic was simply dreadful. Oh, and the highway in that area was under construction to boot. Lots of cones, barrels, lane shifts and those diagonal rut-like grooves in the road that cause your motorcycle tires to track them right into the concrete barrier if you’re not careful. I found out later that the traffic snarls were mainly a result of college dorm move-in weekend for all the big schools in the vicinity like UNC Ashville and Western Carolina. So there we were, right smack dab in the middle of Hormonal Highway in the pouring rain, dodging construction obstacles surrounded by lane hopping minivans laden down with ALL the essential college survival gear (kitchen sink anyone?) carrying pimply faced passengers in high hopes of encountering the opposite sex without supervision, moms who can barely keep their emotions in check as they verbally vomit every life instruction ever to their eye-rolling fledgling, and piloted by white-knucked, exasperated dads who know better than to say anything to anyone. David, who was wearing a Bluetooth unit on his helmet, was getting audible GPS turn-by-turn directions in his ear so he had just enough time to adjust his course to the next lane or exit ramp as needed, but I did not, so I stuck to his back tire like a sticky booger you can’t flick off your finger and watched for any indication he was going to make a move while keeping my eyes peeled for other drivers making an un-signaled dart into my lane. All of this was a bit unnerving, but oddly exciting too. Just another day in paradise…
We finally got off the highway and began the hunt for the dwelling of these so-called friends of David’s. The winding country roads were just what the doctor ordered after 6 or so hours of highway nonsense. Ah, Asheville, what a stunning locale – when you can look at it properly instead of scanning for an unobstructed path of travel that is. I’ve never been here before so it was a treat to get to see it on a motorcycle. Pretty soon we were well out in the country weaving down rural roads. “Ooh look, there’s a field full of wild turkeys, and look over there, a herd of deer. Oh right, he can’t hear me – I don’t have a Bluetooth system in my helmet. Oh well, I’ll have to remember to ask him if he saw them. Hey wait….just how far out are we going? Do I hear banjos???” Yeah, those were some of the thoughts rolling around up there in my attic.
After a brief stop and phone call to verify our location and get final directions we approached the entrance to a GATED COMMUNITY on the side of a mountain and were met by our lovely hostess Wendy (don’t get confused – not David’s wife – this is another Wendy, but not Peter Pan’s Wendy – another one). You heard right folks, it appeared that we were headed to an honest-to-God palace – not a rundown, leaky shack with a thatch roof and flea-bitten mongrels slobbering on me. Thank you Jesus! Wendy informed us that she had a very steep driveway so be prepared. Yeah, I’ve seen steep, you’re not gonna surprise me, I thought. The gate slid open and onward and upward we rode into a most magnificent neighborhood of homes complete with a country club and golf course. The roads were so narrow, twisty, and steep that the center line was more of a guideline to keep you on them rather than a divider between lanes. In fact, the roads were almost single lane width and there were no guardrails protecting anyone from plunging down the mountainside and no reflectors or lights in place to help you even see the road. Which wasn’t a problem as it was still daylight….now. It was a fabulous ride to get to our hosts’ home. And then the driveway suddenly loomed up out of the earth in front of me like Godzilla rising from the ocean. Did she say steep? She was being modest; she meant VERTICAL!! Not even exaggerating. Think ski-jump ramp. I waited until she made it up in her car and David made it up on his bike, and then I held my breath, gunned it and flew up it to the top all Robbie Maddison Las Vegas style. (C’mon, it’s only a minute and a half long – you know you want to click this video and honestly you only need to see the first 11 seconds.)
“Hot diggity dog, that was fun! Let’s do it again!” I thought after I quelled my fibrillating heart. Upon removing my helmet and getting a better look at my residence for the weekend I could see that the appearance of civilization wasn’t deceiving. Our hosts Wendy and Michael were extremely generous and their home was as splendid as any bed and breakfast I could have stayed at. And keep in mind, they had virtually no warning we were coming. David called them only this morning, so they didn’t have time to spiffy up for us. They had a complete floor of their house reserved for guests and were not just welcoming, but they were grateful to share their secluded abode us. My room was filled with all the niceties you would expect in a fine B&B: complementary toiletries, freshly laundered linens on the bed, candle burning on the dresser next to brochures hawking local attractions, a TV, and a bathroom fit for a queen. The whole house was scrupulously clean and inviting. They did have a dog, Charlie (a lab mix who was just the sweetest, most well-behaved, non-smelly girl) and an ancient kitty who reminded me of one my own babies. With a cathedral ceiling and windows on the whole wall, their living room extended through to a deck that overlooked the valley and mountains in the distance. Other than the fact my whole house could fit in one of their rooms, I felt right at home!
Our hosts gave us some time to unpack, settle in and freshen up and then provided us with some yummy fresh fruit and adult beverages. Michael, as it turns out, is a bit of a tequila connoisseur (yay me!) and kept quite a selection of fine beer as well. David easily found his drink of choice as did I. Once we were all relaxed they took us to dinner on the town at the Texas-sized estate of the Sierra Nevada Brewery. I’m not a beer drinker but if I was, you know I’d have found myself in a little slice of heaven. In addition to the brewery, they have an enormous restaurant/bar both inside and outside, a giant herb garden you can stroll through, an amphitheater, a gravel path leading off somewhere in the woods (we didn’t get too far before we were called back to our table), and they’re dog friendly. They’re also bicycle friendly. The bike racks in the front parking lot (which is hardly a lot – more like tree-lined, paved paths to park your car) have tools hanging from cables in case you need to make any repairs or tweaks. They’ve thought of everything!
We whiled away a few hours chatting over tappas style foods and drinks. I normally go to bed by 9PM and it was a bit later than that when we finally wound our way back up the mountain to their home. Although I was tired, it was a lovely way to cap off the day! I nestled into my luxurious (and fresh smelling) bedding and thought that tomorrow’s adventures are going to be AMAZING if today’s ride, our accommodations, and tonight’s events are any indication.
Bring it on Dragon, I’ve got you in my sights!
What I didn’t bargain for, was that it knew I was coming….
Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 6 – Lessons From the Road
It sounds great when you say it like that , but all that stuff was luck – I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help –
~Harry Potter, The Order of the Phoenix
1794.2 miles later I successfully completed my journey (read Part 5 here) and picked up lots of tidbits of wisdom.
There’s a lot to be said for taking a solo road trip on a motorcycle and there’s a lot that cannot be said; some experiences must be, well… experienced. You have to live them, ponder them, and reflect upon them later with a wistful smile and nod of your head knowing that no matter how hard you try with your pictures, words and gestures you’ll never be able to adequately relate your personal perception of all the (tangible or intangible) aspects of your journey. Despite the fact that I actually rode solo and completed my journey alone, I in fact, was given a great deal of assistance along the way and can in no way claim to be the independent warrior my escapades would lead you to believe I am. With this final installment of my 6-part blog, I’ll do my best to wrap up my thoughts on what the journey meant for me, give you some practical information, and share accolades with the folks who deserve it.
Some pros and cons of solo road tripping:
PRO – Have it your way
You can plan as much or as little of your trip in advance as you feel comfortable doing. You aren’t held captive by an anal partner who feels a complete itinerary with exact expected arrival times is the only way to prepare. If you’re the free spirited adventurer type (me), you can loosely make a plan and then wing it as you like. Sometimes the most amazing memories are made from those unplanned, off-route adventures.
CON – Not enough forethought
On the other hand, if you’re going all Wild West style (I don’t need no stinking plan!), and you fail to leave yourself enough viable options you could find yourself in big trouble. And be all alone. What if you’re in the boondocks and dump your bike and there’s no one there to help you get it upright, or you have a mechanical failure or a medical emergency, or you find yourself in a less than friendly situation, etc. AND there’s no cell service so you can’t even call for help. Yeah, a buddy sure would be helpful now…
PRO – Talking to strangers
I’m a people person; I love to hear people tell me their stories. As an actress, I pull from these folks’ experiences when I need to use them in creating a similar character. There’s no better place to hear real-life stories than from strangers you meet on the road. That dirty homeless looking guy? He’s actually taking a break from his labor job to get some refreshment and has a loving wife and kids at home. That creepy guy with the backpack? He’s on his own self-discovery pilgrimage and revels in the fact you took time out to listen to him. That stuck-up looking woman with the bratty kids waiting in line for the bathroom? She’s escaping some personal demons and trying to give her children a nice vacation away from the drama. Every person you meet has a story and they are more than grateful to tell it to a sympathetic ear. You will be blessed and enriched for taking time out of your scheduled itinerary to inquire, listen, and acknowledge your fellow human beings.
CON – Crossing paths with unsavory characters
While I was completely blessed and had no dealings with such, I’m not unprepared or naive enough to think I couldn’t be faced with a potentially dangerous confrontation. The Lord had his guardian angels working overtime for me and I never once felt the need to use my weapons (yes I had them – multiple ones stashed in multiple locations) to defend myself or the felt the urgent desire to flee. But those situations can and do occur on the road. No road partner means no one has your back – literally.
PRO – Pee breaks/leg stretches on your own timetable
Going it solo means you can take breaks when you want, for as long as you want, and you set your own pace because you are your own boss and the best judge of your capabilities. If you gotta pee – LIKE RIGHT NOW – you don’t need to clear it with anyone while you do your best to keep your bladder from exploding; you just pull over when it’s convenient for you and take as much time as you want – No toe-tapping impatient partner pushing you onward. OR if you want to keep riding through, you aren’t stuck breaking your stride to pull off so your partner can stretch their legs while YOU now find yourself being the frustrated toe tapper.
CON – No one to share the memories
Not having a partner to share in the journey kind of sucks when days/months/years later you excitedly exclaim, “Remember that time… Oh wait, no, of course you don’t…” as you hang your head and drop your shoulders with the dawning comprehension that your comrade wasn’t there and they are sick of hearing you recount adventures they had no part of. ~Heavy sigh~
Planning, packing, and hindsight lessons:
I don’t want to call this section advice. Advice makes it sound like I know what I’m doing. You’re smart people, you think smart thoughts, and you haven’t made it this far in life without being able to make critical decisions on your own. So here’s list of some things I did that made my own ride better (or worse) in no particular order:
- Helmet Hair – My Schuberth C3 Pro Women’s helmet ROCKS! It really does, but there’s no extra room in it for bunched up hair. I have long hair so I braid it to keep it from getting tangled in the wind (you know what I’m talking about – those wind knots that leave you crying in pain and considering just shaving your head rather than go through the torture of the de-tangle). Before I took this trip I experimented with different configurations for the most comfort, and lets face it, least hideous look when the helmet came off. Single french braid down the back, single dutch braid down the back, single regular braid down the back, two tight braids on either side, etc… Turns out, in order to avoid having my helmet drill into my forehead causing excruciating headaches within minutes to hours, leaving my hair completely down was the best option. This however was not a practical solution (tangles remember?) so I figured out that loose braiding (either single in the back or two pigtails) was the only way to go. I HATE a loose braid, but gosh darn it, it works for this application.
- Food – I have lots of food intolerances and allergies so in addition to packing my bags with the necessary clothing/tools/gear, I have to make room for ALL of my food for as long as I think I’ll be on the road. I cannot stop at a restaurant and grab something along the way. This adds to the prep time and weight and bulk of my bags, but I’ve gotten pretty creative over the years and know how to pack enough nutrients, calories, and liquids to last me for a very long time in as small a space as possible. (BTW, eggs are nature’s perfect protein for a journey! If you hard boil them and leave them in their unbroken shells they can literally last for weeks without refrigeration.) Some of my medical issues require that I take in more salt than most people and my all-natural diet means that I do not get hardly any unless I make a point to add it to my food. Even if you don’t need to do the same, do not underestimate the power of salt in your diet! Oops, I failed to pack any – absolutely none! On my return trip I happened to purchase a bag of fried pigskins (weird that I can eat those, but yes I can!) and it was while ravenously devouring them that I understood how much I had been lacking this precious compound. My foggy brain got clearer almost instantly and my body was better able to process the water I was drinking.
- Comfortable Gear – As I talked about in Part 3, my knees took a beating from ill-fitting knee armor and continuing to ride while ignoring the pain actually created an unsafe situation. The day after I arrived at my folks’ house I got right online and ordered some flexible Forcefield Net replacement armor for the return trip. BIG difference! Also, I didn’t mention this before, but the day before I rode out, I purchased an in-helmet speaker system so that I could plug into my cellphone to listen to GPS turn-by-turn directions if I wanted to. It was a brilliant setup and worked great until 2 things happened: 1. my ears were squashed into the bars of my glasses and caused even more excruciating pain than the knee armor, and 2. having my phone running GPS for so long caused it to overheat and shut itself down to keep from exploding. Midway through day 2, realizing I knew the way and could check my GPS sporadically if I needed to, I ripped out those speakers and felt waves of relief spreading through my tender ears. I think a Bluetooth setup is in my future and well worth the expense.
- Things you can’t have too many of – Plastic grocery bags, ziplock bags, water, and paper towels. I found myself grateful each and every time I dug one of these items out of my bag. I can’t even remember what I used them all for, so you’ll just have to trust me and be sure to pack more of them than you think you’ll need. With the exception of water, the other things squash down to an almost non-existent size, so you don’t have to worry about taking up valuable real estate in your bags.
- Products worth carrying – Chain lube, helmet shield cleaner, flip flops, spare gloves, and lock. I didn’t need the spare gloves but I had them. Mine dried out enough on the road between rain bursts so that I didn’t have soggy hands the whole time, but it sure would have been nice to put on a dry pair if I needed them. I also never used my cable lock on my bike, but if I had to spend the night in a questionable place I sure would have been glad to be able to lock my bike to something sturdy. Can you imagine coming out the next morning to find your ride had been stolen? I did, however, make good use of the other things. The chain lube was important since I went through lots of rain and wanted to keep my chain in tip-top condition, and the helmet shield cleaner (and paper towels – rags tended to smear) was a God-send. I use Plexus on my shield and it acts as a rain repellent in addition to cleaning the bugs, tar, and gunk off my shield. Get yourself a mini can and keep it on your bike! Also, having some sort of footwear besides the riding boots was pretty nice on my tootsies at the end of the day!
- Places of interest – I’m not just talking about plotting out picturesque twisty roads, quaint villages, and roadside attractions. Those are valuable things to plan for to make the most of your journey for sure, but what I mean specifically here is knowing where your essential places are located. The two most important being gas stations (I needed to know where my last possible gas stop was before entering the Shenandoah National Park and exactly how much fuel I was likely to burn through before I got to the next fuel up) and possible lodging choices (I had multiple ones scoped out along with their contact information so if my plan A didn’t work I had a few more options to burn through before I really had to wing it), and I carried an honest-to-God paper road atlas in my bag just in case my GPS failed and I needed to sort out my route.
- Battery charging – Of all the amazing features on my Scrambler Ducati, I think the one I love the most is the on-board USB port. I NEVER have to worry about running out of charge on my phone. Having a charged cell phone could have meant the difference between life and death (as long as an emergency happened within range of cell signal or free Wi-Fi of course). The USB port on this bike only charges the device plugged into it as long as the motor is running meaning there’s no chance of draining my bike battery by leaving a device plugged in. And speaking of battery charging, I always keep a charger with all the pertinent connections under my seat so if I happen to run into the situation where my bike battery fails, I could either jump it off another bike (NEVER off a car!) or plug it into an outlet to recharge.
- Endurance and Stamina – I learned early on that taking short breaks more often was way more refreshing than trying to ride longer spells and take longer breaks. Even just getting off the bike, walking around for 30 seconds and getting back on was enough to last me for another 45 minutes to an hour on the road. Getting stiff is your enemy – especially on demanding roads in rainy, cold, weather. Take time to eat, use the bathroom, drink, etc. Sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me, you can actually forget or ignore those signals from your body. My comfort and awareness was greatly enhanced by getting a little nourishment or having an empty bladder. And take your vitamins. I take lots of Vitamin C but, while on the road, knowing the added stress my body would be under, I made a point to pop several more than I normally would throughout my day. I didn’t get sick once and for those who know me, you know what an accomplishment (and testament to my diet/exercise plan) this was.
I’ve likened my trip to zombie hunting and by now you know I didn’t actually get to slay any real-life ones along the way. That’s not to say that I didn’t meet any un-dead creatures waiting in ambush or tearing after me in hot pursuit, metaphorically speaking anyway. Anything can be a zombie. Walkers, like the classic style zombies (Night of the Living Dead, Walking Dead, or my personal fav Shaun of the Dead) come at you slow, stumbling, and relentless so that it’s easy to dismiss their real danger until it’s almost too late. Runners are more like the modern style zombies (Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland, or 28 Days Later) who rush at you in hyper speed and there’s no time to formulate or debate your attack plan. For me, my zombies came at me in the form of physical pain, sudden bad weather, emotionally resounding memories, obstacles in the road, other (stupid) motorists, and all around endurance testing. Some of those zombies were walkers and others were runners, but all of them were real enough to me and they served a valid purpose of keeping me on my toes and mentally alert. You cannot ride for 8-10 hours at a stretch and allow your body or mind to be lulled into complacency. That’s when accidents happen and shit gets real. On a motorcycle, I learned the zombies are always out there, waiting for you to drop your guard. Constant vigilance!
(Thank you Professor Moody for those two little words of wisdom!)
When I initially set out to ride to NY it was simply for the fun of riding. But through the process of planning, preparing, testing, and doing, I learned an awful lot and self-discovery was inevitable. I might have expected to stumble upon a few things on such a journey. Things like “damn, my pack job was great”, and “next time I won’t wear X article of gear/clothing”, or “holy cow I’m a better rider than I thought I was”, or “crap, I’m not that good of a rider”. But I also gained personal insight into my physical and mental strengths and weaknesses, my ability (or inability) to quickly recognize, process, and take action in the face of dangerous situations, my unexpected visceral emotional responses to people, places, and things, and how well (or not) I was able to keep a level head and ride through adversity, and most poignantly, how much I simultaneously absolutely loved being alone and despised not having my husband with me to share in the experience.
My blog wouldn’t be complete without recognizing that, like Harry Potter, I didn’t do this alone even though it was a solo adventure. I almost always had help! I would like to thank the following people, products, and companies who helped make this journey not only possible, but immensely enjoyable. Each of you helped in your own special way whether you realize it or not and I’m grateful for your advice, assistance, motivation, inspiration, kindness, and prayer.
- My husband, Neel Guest
- Johann Keiser, Motomotivo
- William Vaughan, DMC Motorsports
- Neale Bayly, Neale Bayly Rides
- Robin Dail, Moto Girl Cafe
- The Flying Vs
- Do The Ton Triangle
- Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)
- Joanne Donn, GearChic
- Genevieve Schmitt, Women Riders Now
- Alicia Mariah Elfving, TheMotoLady
- Joan Krenning, Steelhorse Sisterhood
- Steve and all the guys at Garcia Moto
- Dime City Cycles
- Greig and Clark, Devolve Moto
- Lackawanna Bed and Breakfast
- Zion Springs Bed and Breakfast
- My best friend Jean Graham
- My crazy, lovable family, but especially my parents and my brother
- All the random bikers and friendly people at every gas station break
- Tequila, specifically Lunazul Primero and Milagro Añejo
- And most of all, Jesus Christ – without the Lord’s help, grace, and mercy in everything, I would be lost!
But the fun doesn’t end here! Stay tuned faithful followers, another exciting adventure is on its way – Zombies aren’t the only villain in Hitgirl’s sights! There’s a certain Dragon taking up in residence in the Great Smoky Mountains calling my name. Superheros are always on duty and sometimes it’s not pretty….
Next up, A Dragons Tale…Details
Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 2 – Hitgirl Hits the Road
Sunday June 12 – 354 miles/10 hours
After the preparation (read Part 1 here), it’s time to roll…
Early Sunday morning, my husband Neel watched me struggle to carry all my gear outside, strap it all on the Falcon, then tear it all off and strap it all back on because I forgot to plug in my USB cable under the seat. He kept quiet (good man!) but I could see he was straining hard to keep from proffering his much-needed help. I politely (that’s the way I remember it) acknowledged his intent and declined assistance as I was all too aware I wouldn’t have him in the coming days and needed to be sure I could do it on my own. When I was finally all packed up and ready to roll for real, he hopped on his Bandit and rode along for about the first 20 miles to be sure everything was OK. It was going to be our last ride together for a month and though I was more than ready for my solo adventure, this made me feel a little sad and quite sentimental. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but the open road was calling to me with her alluring whisper and a promises of delights. Who can resist her beckoning hand? We made a quick stop to pee and re-adjust my tail bag straps, then with a mixture of trepidation, pride, and sadness of his own, he kissed me one last time and bravely waved me off. (Goodbye sweet prince….)
The first 50 miles or so, I traveled roads I was familiar with, but once I got off the last recognizable path, my excitement began in earnest. Now I was on an adventure! I wound through country roads and small towns having delightful conversations with interesting people at gas breaks along the way. One such fellow was this gentle soul and his dog, Repo and Rocket, who were journeying on foot.
After about 6 hours of leisurely riding and taking long breaks I reached the lower entrance to Shenandoah National Park. At this point I had to take a gut check and realistically inventory my mental and physical reserves to determine if I was up for riding the entire length of Skyline Drive. I had taken the precaution of filling up on gas at the last possible stop before the park just in case I decided to continue. BTW, that was the only gas station I actually scoped out in advance on my route planner. I knew I’d need a full tank to get through the park so I wanted to know exactly where my last chance for gas was. Alternatively, I had given myself an optional stopping point here and could have stayed at what looked like a delightful bed and breakfast, lazily rehashing my day and plotting my next course of action. But of course, being ever the optimistic (hard-headed) adventurer that I am, it took me all of 5 minutes to scarf down my lunch and give myself a virtual chest bump and verbal “hell yeah, we ride!” before charging into the park entrance.
Not gonna lie – it turned out to be a mentally and physically demanding 4 hours. Luckily, I am one tough cookie and what my body lacked, I made up for in sheer willpower. It was soooo worth it though. The vistas were beyond incredible. I figured out early on that I couldn’t possibly stop at every overlook or I’d NEVER get out of the park. The speed limit is only 35mph tops and the cars in front of me were intent on sticking to it.
In addition to navigating the crazy twisty roads, I got caught in one a hell of a rain storm high up in the mountains. Many times that day I was grateful for my carefully thought out trip-specific purchases and superb pack job with easy access to helmet shield cleaner and rain gear. A little tip I gleaned from reading other blogs on the internet was to put the rain gear on BEFORE you need it. Wise advice indeed. I put that gear on and off 3 times in the first day alone and I was glad I did. However, even with all my research, I somehow missed the fact that about halfway into the park is a welcome oasis for tourists – a restaurant with real bathrooms (not outhouses like the rest of the park), intermittent cell service (one bar, maybe), and a GAS STATION! I was prepared to not need the fuel, but gosh darn it, it was a thing of beauty to behold and I stored that little nugget away in my brain for future reference. Also, of note, cell service in the entire park is almost non-existent; let that sink in if you’re planning on riding alone in the park (again). Lots of motorcyclists were holed up at this little hotspot after just riding through the same storm. We exchanged greetings and commented on park conditions while waiting to dry out (some had more drying to do than others – not me, hehehe) and with only a short break, I rolled out of the civilized area and back on the drive. Upon making the final descent out of the park and seeing the ranger station entrance booth, I coasted down the incline with both arms raised in victory like Rocky Balboa conquering the steps at The Philadelphia Museum of Art. I did it!
The next item on my list was to locate lodging for the night. While I picked out several potential places to retire in advance, I hadn’t actually called and inquired about availability or even made contact with any of them. The day before my trip, I could see some available rooms at the B&Bs I selected, so I figured I’d just wing it. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I would be stopping before Skyline Drive or after. I didn’t want to be forced to ride more than I was able, nor did I want to be grounded when I could have kept riding. I could have used my now-working cell phone to call someone to secure a room when I stopped for gas in Front Royal, but heck, where’s the adventure in that? I had directions to my number one pick, so I tooled on up to the front door of the historic and secluded Lackawanna Bed and Breakfast, road worn, wringing wet with sweat, and probably smelling like a rotting corpse. Ding Dong, do you have a room to let? Once the gentle innkeeper composed himself and suppressed his gag reflex, he kindly showed me in and booked me in the last available room. You caught that right? LAST AVAILABLE ROOM. Someone’s got a guardian angel…
Before I could unpack my motorcycle and scrub the road grime from my suddenly weary body, the innkeeper wanted to give me a tour. I LOVE tours of historic places so, what the hey, if he was willing to put up with the smell, I was willing to walk, listen, and learn. Fascinating place. A variety of factors went into my decision to select the Lackawanna as my number one pick of B&Bs for this leg of the trip. Perhaps the least important, but most sentimental, was the name. Growing up in the Southern Tier of NY, I’m more than familiar with the word Lackawanna (meeting of two rivers, or stream that forks) so I found it oddly enticing that a place in Virginia would have a name from my home territory. Turns out the original owner of the home was from Scranton, PA. SMALL WORLD! While playing the role of the impeccable docent, the innkeeper became aware he’d forgotten to turn on background music, so he paused to play, wait for it, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, before continuing his tour. A warm glow filled my heart and a wistful smile spread across my face. I hadn’t even told the man where I was from or where I was headed – he had no idea that both the history lesson and the music selection were just more signs that this is where I was meant to kick back for the night. After a much needed hot shower, I could be found relaxing with my feet propped up on the front porch, sipping on a complimentary glass of wine, and watching rabbits gamboling in the front yard as I desperately tried to articulate in 10 minutes everything that had occurred since our parting to my darling husband. He’s no stranger to my excited blathering and overwhelming information vomit following my exploits, so I imagine he might have been a wee bit happy to get me off the phone, although he’s WAY too kind (smart) to let on.
A man and his son, also staying at the charming B&B, were road-tripping on their BMW motos so when they returned from their dinner outing we chatted the evening away, swapping stories, and scratching the ears of the innkeeper’s two sweet standard poodles until I begged off and hit the hay. It was a perfect end to a perfect first day. I drifted off to sleep, blissfully nestled in my comfy bed, oblivious to what awaited me in the morning.
Next up…Part 3 – Will the fun continue?Details
JDRF Egg Crack Challenge
When your best friend has insulin dependent diabetes, you have to do something – besides freak out and cry with her; though we’ve done our share of that over the years. Nope, a best friend has to take action.
So, when Jean Graham took the Will Hauver JDRF Egg Crack Challenge and nominated me to do it too, it was a foregone conclusion I was going to support her, take the challenge, and donate to the cause!
My bestie is an amazing woman who has bravely navigated the diabetes waters with a smile on her face (mostly) and a desire to be a strong role model to her daughters and others. She takes on the 24/7 challenges of this disease with grace and style in spite of her desperate wish she didn’t have to – there are no breaks or vacations from diabetes. She recently created a blog to help other newly diagnosed diabetics feel a little less alone: lifeandthesweetlife. But behind her winning smile and helpful blog posts lies a tender heart beating madly to keep her emotions in check while the infuriating numbers on her many devices occasionally tell her she’s over or under estimated the amount of insulin needed to cover her food intake or exercise output. When things don’t add up, it’s not that her calculations are wrong, but her metabolism plays insidious tricks on her, putting the perfect dose elusively just out of reach, while she plays a Price Is Right sort of bidding game with the bolus. I can hear Bob Barker shouting into his mic “Higher, Lower, Higher, Lower,” while she furiously tries to compensate for something entirely outside of her control. Yet, she puts each episode quickly behind her – no looking back – and readies herself for the next dance with diabetes. She’s got a life left to live and she truly is an inspiration. See for yourself:
So what’s a best friend to do?
Why make fun of her of course! She couldn’t possibly have thought I was going be mediocre about this “challenge” could she? I mean does she even KNOW ME??
I hope you watched through to the end including ALL of the credits – it’s worth the time. If not, go back and finish watching! See? Told you it was worth it! Special thanks to my husband Neel for being a the best straight man, Chesney and Cambree for being roped into the action at the last minute, David Aman for his tireless work filming and editing and to Grace and Tony and The Black Feathers for the use of their songs.
Now, if you care at all about trying to knock out this disease that literally destroys bodies and takes lives, help us make this thing viral!! LIKE, SHARE, and REPOST far and wide!! Then take the challenge yourself. Take a video and share it using the hashtags #EggCrackChallenge #EllenEggCrack #JDRFeggcrack #T1DEggCrackChallenge for the most exposure! Don’t forget to donate too or you’ve missed the point of the whole thing.
It’s YOUR turn to Crack, Nominate, and Donate!
If you take the challenge, I would LOVE to hear your story!
PLEASE share a link to your video in the comments below
Finding Kindred Spirits in Unlikely Places
“I used to ride for many years when I was younger,” she said to me with a wistful look in her eye. When she was “younger”, I thought – how old could she possibly be with her waist-length, gorgeous blonde curls, and her trim athletic build?
Outside the post office, I was getting back on my bike (a 2011 Suzuki TU250 that my husband artfully chopped into a killer café racer!) when this vision of a woman approached me, imparting the camaraderie that passes between riders. I couldn’t have known by her manner of dress (blue jeans, sneakers, flowing button down blouse), or by her breezy way of sauntering up to me, that she was going to start a conversation about motorcycling. Most women don’t approach me when I’m on the bike (men, however, can’t contain themselves – biker or not… ), so I just assume most women aren’t riders and I don’t take an interest in the ladies I cross paths with unless they too are on a bike or dressed in motorcycling gear.
“Why don’t you ride now?” I asked her. With great pride, she told me that she’s 64 years old (NO WAY!), still surfs and participates in other physically challenging activities, but faltered when she couldn’t put her finger on why she hung up riding. I could see her contemplating and questioning it in her mind. So I let it go, letting her think that her “I’m 64 years old” answer was sufficient, and we chit-chatted a bit more about riding, outdoorsy things, and enjoying life to its fullest. Naturally I also had to fawn over her age/appearance disconnect. I REALLY wish I had taken her picture – she was that stunning!
As she walked away, I called after her, “You know how it feels; get yourself back on a bike before you regret it.” She turned her head over her shoulder (the wind catching her luscious, long locks like a scene out of a Bo Derek movie), smiled wide and called back, “I could you know….I still surf…”
She walked away and I sighed. She gave me hope for my future. While putting on my gloves, still grinning to myself about the exchange with that beautiful woman, another woman – this one quite professionally dressed – came out of the post office. Imagine my surprise when she too approached me and started talking about my gear, specifically asking about my gloves.
“Are those Icons?” she asked as she nodded her head towards my hands, which at that moment more resembled twigs having a wrestling match with leather and nylon straps than graceful fingers skillfully putting on gloves. I looked up at her in disbelief (which was hopefully well-hidden behind my sunglasses and full face helmet) and said, “No they’re not but Icon makes great ones; my husband owns a pair.” Instantly disarmed for the second time in a matter of minutes, I excitedly conversed with her about cold weather gear and the pros and cons of different materials, some of the great deals she’s gotten over the years, and her extensive helmet collection. Prior to this conversation, I would never have guessed by her attire or demeanor that she was also a moto rider (or even a passenger) but indeed she was. She told me she loves to ride her bike all year but that her husband doesn’t like the cold. She laughed and said, something to the effect of, “you can’t keep me off the bike.” And I whole-heartedly agreed with her! We chuckled about our mutual hard-headedness, passion for the ride and said our goodbyes.
Basking in the glow of these brief, back-to-back encounters, I rode off with a smile on my face and a warmth in my heart. These ladies made my day. It was endearing and encouraging to have two women stop to talk to me about their experiences. As I reflected upon the scene later, I realized a few other things:
Firstly, neither one mentioned my bike. At all. Nothing!
And that is the first and usually only thing men ever talk to me about when they see me riding. It was refreshing to have meaningful conversations about the riding experience and not the particular machine under me for a change. Not that I mind talking about and showing off my TU – she’s my little mountain goat and I LOVE her – but it was unique that they not only didn’t broach the subject (even though the bike was sitting there big as life), but that I didn’t even notice the lack of it until after I got home.
Secondly, neither one of them felt the need to tell me to “be safe” or convey some other cautionary parting remark. That too was powerful. As if they both knew there was no need to state the obvious.
Thirdly, I am guilty of making assumptions based upon circumstance and appearance. Had they not said anything to me first, I wouldn’t have given those women a second thought. They would have disappeared into obscurity as far as I was concerned and I certainly wouldn’t be blogging about them now. We should all take a risk and just randomly begin conversations with strangers more often. We could learn a lot about the people we pass every day and by listening to their stories and watching their eyes sparkle as they talk about something special, we come away blessed, if not richer, people in return.
Fourthly, neither one of them apologized for anything. In any way! There wasn’t even a hint of verbal or visual communication that smacked of excuse, concession, or justification. I often find myself making self-deprecating remarks following a compliment bestowed upon me. Take my bike for instance. Instead of simply saying “thank you” when someone shows interest and proceeding to talk about its merits, I always feel the need to apologize for it’s diminutive size.
I am grateful for these two empathetic and kindred spirits who, by sharing something more than a passing nod today, taught me several life lessons and gave me something I hadn’t felt before on the bike.
Today, I was a peer.Details
Sights and Smells of the Season
While being infirmed with the flu this past week, I have not showered and haven’t even changed my clothes. In a week. A whole week. Let that sink in a minute….Eww, gross I know!
But in my defense the thought of droplets of water hitting my fevered skin seemed like it would feel like someone peppering me with bird shot, not to mention how totally exhausting the whole taking-a-shower ordeal would have been. Changing my clothes meant I would have had to drag the fabric across my skin and that sounded excruciating. So I tried my best to ignore how icky I was getting. The greasy hair, the oily skin, the unshaven pits, etc . . . I ignored it all. With a hopelessly stuffed nose and super polite husband, I can’t even speak to how I must have smelled. I did however, muster up the courage to “wash up” and brush my teeth daily, but it was a quick affair and didn’t do much to scratch the surface of the growing oil slick taking over my body.
Late yesterday afternoon, my fever finally broke! Oh what a glorious moment, for I knew the creepy, crawly, skin prickles were on their way out the door soon! I woke up this morning still feeling sick, but without the fever – so I determined TODAY would be the day to reacquaint myself with that corner of my bathroom which holds the BB-gun shooter known as “the shower.” I admit I was a little scared. With trepidation I turned on the water and thought . . . Do I REALLY want to do this? Maybe I’m being a little premature. After all it’s really only been a week . . . I turned away from the shower and one look in the mirror convinced me to turn right back and get in.
Fast forward…I survive the shower, blow dry & flat iron my hair, get dressed in some comfy CLEAN clothes, and make a cup of tea. About this time Neel gets home from church. He comes in the door talking about how great the service was and how glad he was that he made the effort to go even though it would have been easy not to since I didn’t go. All the while he is talking I think how odd that he hasn’t even said anything about how much better I look (and surely smell). He then says he needs a hug and will be careful because he knows how painful my neck, back and skin feels from being sick. So he comes in for the hug and I think – here it comes – he’s gonna hug me tight but gently and sniff my hair and say how nice I smell and say something about how great I look . . . and. . . he hugs me ever so nicely . . . and . . . here it comes. . . and . . . I even hang on a bit longer than normal . . . and . . . and . . .
Nothing. . . He breaks away, makes some random small talk and then starts talking about putting up the Christmas tree. Are you kidding me??? I had hit the all-time low in personal hygiene just prior to his leaving the house and performed a miraculous overhaul in time for his return and he doesn’t notice?? Which is odd because he ALWAYS notices even the minutest details in a person’s appearance. I begin to wonder if he is not feeling well . . . Or if the body snatchers got him while he was out.
But I let it go and he goes about the business of vacuuming and putting up the tree. The hideous, falling apart, fake Christmas tree I bought for $10 about 10 years ago, which he doesn’t fluff up the individual branches so they just hang in terraced flat layers, stuffs a string of lights on it so all the colors and bright spots clump together, and there will be no further decorations added, and, and . . . and my OCD is about to explode – – but (deep breaths) that’s fodder for another blog.
About an hour later, after he’s done “decorating,” I finally engage him in the following conversation:
ME: Honey, didja notice anything?
HIM: Whaddaya mean?
HIM: (looking bewildered) About the tree?
ME: No. About me (smiling my best)
HIM: (looking panicked and scrutinizing me) Um . . . Your hair is getting longer?
ME: NO Dummy, I took a SHOWER!!!!!
HIM: Oh. . . No, I didn’t notice.
ME: ARE YOU KIDDING??? I was a greasy, nasty, filthy mess and I must have stunk to high heaven and you, Mr. I-can-spot-a-lip-sore-on-a-midget-from-100-yards-away, DON’T NOTICE????
HIM: Well, you looked fine and you honestly didn’t smell bad at all so, nope, didn’t notice.
I love this man!
I smile with marital contentment as he heads down the hall to put away the tree box; I pick up my tea cup and begin to sip while reflecting on the moment.
Then, in mid sip and with sinking realization, it hits me! So I shout after him down the hall . . .
“DANG – I could have gone another week EASY!”
Ginger Lime Veggies – Grain Free, Vegan and Yummy!
I constantly post on facebook or twitter about my grain free living but rarely do I take the time to post recipes of what I eat in place of all those poisonous grains. Today I’m going change that. I will share an amazing ginger lime veggie bake I just whipped up on a whim this afternoon but first,
Grain free eating and living is a way of life for me. It has to be! Grains are poison to my body and most likely they could be to yours too. But when people turn up their nose at the thought of not being able to eat pizza or give me the sad puppy eyes of pity, I just laugh to myself. They have NO IDEA how well I eat or how tasty my food is! My husband and best friend have been lucky enough to experience my cooking and they will tell you – it can be restaurant quality AMAZING!
This week my husband has voluntarily chosen to give up grains for one week to see how it makes him feel so I’ve had to think a bit more creatively to keep his interest. He’s on day 4 and hasn’t cheated or felt deprived; on the contrary he’s LOVING IT! So far so good… Today I offered to make some roast vegetables for him since we totally pigged out on eggs and grass fed pork sausage from our local farmer’s market yesterday, but I wanted to change up my usual veggie bake. Normally I throw some veggies in a casserole dish, drizzle them with olive oil and shake some Italian spices over them and let them bake for about an hour. Walking around the grocery store on my lunch break, I had a stoke of brilliance! I was going to make a ginger lime Oriental flavored dish…but I didn’t know how. But how hard could it be? All I needed was ginger, lime, and veggies right? Easy! Well, I got a bit more creative than that and I’m glad I did. The results were worth it.
Now “Recipe” is a VERY loose term in my world. Keep in mind that I don’t have a culinary degree and I don’t measure. I just wing it but I usually make out OK. You’ll have to be brave and trust yourself to add just the right amount of spices and ingredients if you choose to replicate my creations. I rarely replicate them myself!
1 sweet onion – cut up
1/2 bulb of garlic – peeled & pressed
2 red bell peppers – cut up
2-3 heads of broccoli – cut up
1 bunch of asparagus – woody ends cut off
sliced raw almonds
red pepper flakes
coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup or more olive oil
Saute the onions and garlic in a frying pan with some olive oil until soft and a bit caramelized. Place the broccoli and red peppers in a casserole dish and add the onions and garlic. Place the asparagus on top of the other veggies, keeping them all lined up in one direction (I don’t know what that does for the flavor but it keeps my OCD from spazzing out!). Sprinkle plenty of sliced almonds on the top. Mix together in a bowl about 1/2 cup olive oil, and the spices – I cannot begin to tell you how much; I don’t measure remember?!. Squeeze the juice from the lime into the mixture and then zest the lime over the veggies. Pour the oil/spice mixture over the veggies. Place in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.
My husband RAVED over this dish and I honestly was pretty impressed with myself too. I imagine a few sesame seeds would be a tasty addition too. So if you try it yourself, you’ll have to let me know how it turns out!
As for me… I’m stuffed! Where’s my glass of wine….