Monday, March 30, 2009

Short Sleeves!

I took my first ride of the season with short sleeves yesterday after supper! Okay, so it wasn't exactly 90 degrees in the shade, but the sun was quite warm. Of course once I started moving the wind chill kicked in and I felt it, but not enough to make the ride unpleasant.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast and the sky looked ominous in the west so I didn't stray farther than a few miles from the house. I did fill the tank and I'm still getting right around 65 mpg as I have been. By the time I started riding up our street the raindrops were starting and while I was dismounting under the deck the thunder started. Perfect timing!

Because it was windy this morning I took the car to work and with no reason to go out after that I didn't plan to ride anywhere. Oh, it isn't that I mind the wind for fear of blowing over, but it's cold on the bike when the temperature isn't warm and there's a wind blowing.

After sitting around for about an hour after work the phone rang. It was the shop letting me know that my nipple was in. I didn't know that's what they call it, but now I do and I'm the proud owner of a brand new one!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back in the Saddle

After taking my spill on Tuesday afternoon I experienced a strange emotion for a while. Once I got the bike home and had parked it under the deck I went through a "Fox and the Grapes" kind of stage where thoughts of riding seemed a bit sour. I didn't want to think about the scooter, about the fact that it might need to spend a few days in the shop, about when I might get back in the saddle. In the past whenever I had a potential issue that might have needed mechanical wizardry, I couldn't get the cycle to the shop fast enough so I could get it back to ride. This time, though, when my wife got home and asked if I wanted to take it right down to them, I didn't. I didn't even want to think about it though I knew that my delay would most likely keep the bike in the shop well through the weekend. I'm guessing it was my own self disgust that was behind that oddness of feeling. I'd gotten foolhardy and a little reckless. I'd let my guard down. It wasn't that I was afraid of riding again; it was more that I needed to forgive myself and to remind myself again and again and again that if I don't remain hyper-vigilant on two wheels, the next time I might not be so lucky, and I needed that to sink in deep.

On Wednesday I took the picture of the BV to the shop to show them what was missing and was assured that it was perfectly safe to ride with the missing part. On Thursday it rained and I took the car to work again. Friday was warm and sunny with a good forecast so off to work I went on the scooter, but I rode like an absolute sissy second guessing myself at every turn and at every stop. I found myself riding at a more moderate speed than just last week as well as taking corners much slower and braking way sooner. It didn't feel natural at all and my commute seemed more of a chore than a pleasure.

I had not gotten deliberately foolish in my riding, but I had been getting casually careless or self confident to the point where I wasn't really paying attention. I was habitually darting in front of oncoming traffic to make left turns, rushing out for right turns on red, and practically waiting till the last minute to hit the brakes when I needed to stop. Saturday arrived with a comfortable sunny warmth and a beautiful forecast. It was to be my day of reckoning with the scooter and I would have hours to reconcile with it. I plotted a course and off I went.

On my way I did a double take as I rode past this place which I'd passed hundreds of times before but never truly noticed. I turned around at the next intersection and rode back to get this shot. I love old buildings like this one from businesses that were probably in their heyday when my grandparents were raising my mom and dad. They look like they should be miniaturized and posed inside a model Lionel train layout, and they evoke a sympathetic yearning in me to be a little boy again even if only for the minute it would take me to ride past them.

Most of my Saturday ride took me across and over the mountain in the background. I thought I knew where I was going and where I'd end up, but it wasn't to be this time because the sign that told me which way to go the last time I was out that way wasn't to be found. I picked a fork in the road and followed it for many pleasant country miles. Eventually I reached a place where, if I'd continued forward, I'd need to come home on the interstate or retrace my steps. Because I don't like to make more than one major turn when I'm in uncharted territory, I turned myself around and enjoyed the same road back.

As I cycled past this old cemetery and church it felt for a few seconds like autumn was once more upon us rather than the beginning of spring. I was on a slight incline when I stopped to take the picture and didn't want to dismount because it would have required me to bump the bike off its stand against gravity's incessant pull. Instead I leaned my weight forward with my feet angled slightly backward as I took off the gloves, got out the camera, and made the snap. If anybody had driven past it might have appeared that I'd stopped to get rid of some gas and that I was lifting myself from the saddle to work it out.

When I got back to where I'd diverted from the main course to take the side trip up the mountain I was halfway to Scranton and decided to continue on my way - to the Steamtown historic site to be specific. I like it there, especially before the park officially opens for the day and there's hardly anybody there. Few places give me the feeling that I'm in a sort of outdoor cathedral; this is one of them with its behemoth locomotives perched like so many demigods fallen from Olympus when the diesels took their places. It's peaceful and it invites quiet introspection.

Even though their mighty driving wheels are frozen in place on the rails it's cool to stand on the tracks in front of these all too tamed beasts if for no other reason than to make a picture in which one can later admire his noteworthy case of helmet hair.

The last stop before heading back to the ranch - the trolley barn. I like the scooter posed with the trolleys which were sort of like the scooters of their own day dashing to and fro between the towns while the thunderous freight trains rolled over the mainlines with much more noise and power.

I thought all the while I was out about what I was doing as I rode and it made me somewhat batty. If you've every been to a studio piano recital where some of the kids play with a natural finesse and fluency while others take to the ivories like mechanical hurdy gurdies - well, I felt like I was one of those latter kids playing all the right notes but disjointedly. I had a lot of fun and restored a major portion of my confidence on the bike but with my own brain watching over me like some kind of overprotective mom. Maybe that's the way we need to ride all the time.

(I fully intend for this to be the last piece of writing that has anything to do with my falling last week.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


One of the brothers at the dealership said it was likely that the "explosion" that I thought I heard coming from the scooter was a backfire which would have resulted in the missing thing being blown off. As it turns out, as suggested by Paul, it's only a little cap to catch excess oil from the air filter and I can run the bike without it until a new one comes in and can be put onto the cycle.

As for my wobble and fall, I revisited the same spot in the car. There is a chunk or two of the roadway missing in the form of small potholes in the transitional line between the asphalt and concrete. I know I was looking to the left as I approached the intersection anticipating my turn to the right and not watching where my front tire was going so my best guess is that I hit one of the bumps which turned the wheel enough so that in my distractedness I couldn't correct it fast enough.

The swelling in the foot is going down. It's not throbbing constantly. If not for the rain today I'd have brought the bike to work.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't Even Want to Admit It

I dropped the darned thing again today and I have no idea how it happened. The two times I've done it before I knew immediately and instantly what I did wrong, but today I'm clueless and a little scared.
To begin with I was about a half mile from the house this afternoon when I heard a loud POP that sounded like it came from the scooter. I pulled over into a nearby driveway and gave it the once over, especially the tires because my first thought was that I somehow blew one though I never heard of a tire going out with a literal bang. Everything looked fine so I continued on my merry way, dropped off the chainsaw blade that I was taking to get sharpened and returned to the house.

A half hour or so later I was off again to attend the wake of a friend's dad. On my way back, while driving down the exit ramp from the bridge that crosses the river, I was nearly at the stop sign when I felt my front end go wild on me. It felt as if some giant had taken hold of the yoke and wrenched it from me. I wobbled for a second or two straining with all my might to regain control of the front tire before I went down, this time to my left; the first two times I'd dropped to the right.

Luckily there was nobody behind me because at that spot, if there had been, he'd likely have been on top of me. Much to my chagrin there was a long line of folks waiting to turn left in the lane beside me and all of them no doubt got the full show of me losing control and going over.
I pulled my left leg out from under the bike, jumped to my feet, and gave it another once over before starting to upright it. As I remounted it I heard somebody from the other lane ask if I was okay or if I needed help. I felt fine at the time, but was horrified to discover that I couldn't turn the engine over. Being only about a quarter mile from home I prayed with fervor that I could hobble it home if I needed to rather than have to call for assistance and my prayers were answered as the motor caught on about the fourth or fifth attempt.

I'd intended to ride it tomorrow to the dealership where I get all my work done on it to have them go over it, but after parking it and then checking on it a little while later I discovered a small oil puddle starting to form under it. When I knelt to see where the oil was coming from I discovered that a little plastic cap is missing...

I'm wondering now if the explosive sound I'd heard earlier could have been that cap blowing off. I'm wondering too if that in any way might account for the wobble and fall I did later. Of course I might have lost the cap in the fall itself and the sound might have just been a coincidence. The sound might not have come from the scooter itself, though I'd have sworn that it did. In any event, I have to see now about getting the bike to the dealer. I'll visit them tomorrow with this picture to see if they can give me a cap to replace myself so I can top off the oil and drive it down there or if they'll need to pick it up. And I'll visit the place where I toppled to see if there's anything about the roadway that might account for the wicked wobble and loss of steering control I experienced.

Oh yeah... The small ache I felt in my left foot when I righted the cycle has become a significant swelling and a throbbing pain. Apparently I bent my toes beyond normal bending range when I was going down. Being a guy I won't be going to the doctor nor to the E.R. We'll give it a few months to see if it heals by itself. Meanwhile, just call me old four wheels till I get my baby back.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Missing Jim Et Al

Before "Internet" was a household word and a virtual necessity there were the 1200 baud modem and local BBS operators who provided simple online services for the cost of a phone call. "Bear" was one of them who operated "The Den BBS" which I hooked up to almost 20 years ago. One day while I was posting something on one of the chat boards Bear popped into live chat with me. He liked my style, he said, and as we typed back and forth we discovered that we practically lived around the corner from each other. I visited his home later that same day and within time he and his wife became very close friends with us. We spent a number of New Years Eves together with them and throughout each year we traded off hosting dinners and evenings of just hanging out.

The four of us heralded 1998 together never dreaming that by summer Jim would be taken from us after fighting a hard and futile battle with a fast moving cancer. He was 53, only two years older than I just turned last week, and on the night he died the task of shutting down The Den BBS forever fell to me. Though I'm not much of a cemetery visitor, now and then I need to visit the top of that hill where five of Jim's other friends and I carried him to his final resting place. I still need to talk to him and ask for his advice and although he can't provide it as soundly as he once used to regularly, I find the same kind of peace when I'm there where he's interred that I used to find in our conversations. My words to him now are punctuated with my tears and the kicks of the toe of my boot into the dirt. More than anybody else I've lost to death, I miss Jim and the unique kind of friendship we shared. It can't be replaced.

It was on the way back home from the top of Jim's hill that I realized what I miss so much about riding at this time of year - the people. During the summer when I'm bopping around the valley on the scooter there are people everywhere doing all sorts of things, and I love watching them and exchanging frequent smiles with them as I ride by. Now mostly I see people moving between their cars and wherever it is that they're going and the joy of my rolling about on two wheels is diminished by their haste to get indoors. I miss the little kids with ice cream cones, the old folks who walk hand in hand together, the goth kids who are always good for a chuckle, and even the skateboarders who have to be admired for falling more than they ride but getting up time and time again and trying to stay upright. Soon may the winter of my discontent be made glorious summer!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Warming Up!

I got in an 80 or so mile run last Saturday doing a loop down to Berwick and back. I stopped at a roadside picnic area on Route 11 which I passed many times before but never visited. It was empty, except for me, and I liked the solitude as I do when I'm actually rolling alone on two wheels with nobody but my own thoughts to keep me company. It was peaceful there. Quiet, and almost other-worldly. The sun was bright and warm. It was the kind of day you wish you could bottle up for when the worst of what winter whips you with needs to be tamed even if only in wishful thinking and memories of days like this one.

A green shed stood at a distance from the parking area. It was about the size of a portable potty, though obviously permanently fixed in place. The door was open only a few inches and curiosity got the best of me. With some degree of trepidation that I might be opening a portal to a hibernation den of something with claws and teeth I drew at the edge of the door with the tip of my boot. There was an old straw broom inside, a few shelves, and some rotten cardboard boxes. Considering that there's nothing at all there in the middle of nowhere that might need to be swept but for the inside of the little room itself, it seemed odd that the broom was there. After peering inside for just a moment or two I almost felt as if I were violating somebody's private space so I backed away and made my way once more toward the parking area.

The serenity and stark beauty of the glen needed to be shared and I paused by a pavilion to call a dear friend. When I'm on the scooter I always wear the the earpiece that tethers me to my cell phone and I've grown so accustomed to talking without having to hold the phone that it's second nature for me to do so even though to others it often appears that I'm one of those old eccentric guys who never shaves and talks to himself. There was nobody here, though, to give me queer looks and I talked merrily away, sharing the details of the gorgeous day with somebody whom I knew would appreciate it just as much as I did.

Toward what I knew would be my outer limit that day I stopped at the nuclear power station's watershed area along the Susquehanna River more or less just to get this photo of myself posed with the twin cooling towers in the background.

So far the weather's looking promising for this weekend as well and while I don't have a destination in mind I am anticipating a long ride to somewhere. I am getting a bit weary of riding the same roads up and down the length of the valley. Perhaps it's time to do some serious work on rigging up a sufficiently sturdy mount for the GPS on the scooter so I can go out and get lost but with an electronic trail of bread crumbs to lead me back to where I started. Then again, isn't that where most rides end? I suppose it's a good thing that they do, especially when there's a hot bowl of soup and an extra crusty hunk of bread to be had there.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Darn Me Anyway!

For 19 years the Mrs. and I shared a car. I worked a block from where we live and walked there and back just about every day. She had two years of college to finish when we got married and then worked farther from the house than I did, so most of the time she had the car. My dad did a lot of running around with us and for us during those years, especially with the girls, and I spent much of my free time sitting around the house because of not being able to get around. I think some of the joy riding I do, even on the scooter, is still in making up for all those years of being house bound.

The first car I owned that was all my own is still the one I drive - a Neon. Like my bike, there's nothing fancy or pretentious about it. It's a good little car, it gets me to all the places I want or need to be, and it maneuvers nearly as easily as the BV. I don't typically think of it as "the cage" because even though I prefer taking the scooter to wherever I can, I like the Neon!

I was out a few evenings ago just killing some time when I noticed that a few cars were building up behind me because I had no particular place to go and all the time in the world to get there. I looked down at the speedometer and noted that I was cruising a few miles per hour below the posted limit. I really didn't care if a few of the folks behind me were speed demons or persons who should have left a bit earlier for their destinations. I was rolling along comfortably and enjoyably and I wasn't about to go any faster.

As I became more conscious of the fact that I was moving along relatively slowly I came to a realization that left me with some food for future thought. What I realized was that if I were on the scooter going the same speed and noted that some cars were trailing me, I'd have increased my speed at least to the speed limit and maybe even a little more, and it disturbed me just a tad because I'm not generally very concerned about what others might think about me. Maybe that tendency to speed up is because of the time I spent on the Fly50 when I couldn't go faster than 40 mph except down a significant grade, and even then not much faster, that I'm self conscious in thinking that the guy behind me might think that I can't go any faster if I'm slugging along. Or, perhaps, it's because of feeling more vulnerable on the scooter if I think the guy trailing me might get impatient and do something stupid that tends to get me moving faster - sometimes even when conditions are such that I'm pushing myself outside of my own comfort zone.

I lament from time to time that I miss the slow speed that the 50cc engine demanded even as I realize that much of the time I'm allowing the guy behind me to set my pace when I'd rather be moving along a little slower either by choice or out of a sense of prudence. Maybe when the weather finally breaks and I'm out every day I'll need to work on that. I do miss smelling the roses when I'm flying past the bushes.