Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dear Santa

These are a few of  the things I'd like to see this year. I've been pretty good most of the time and kinda bad once in a while.

CEOs that run banks which receive federal bailout money need to go to prison. It wasn't complex derivatives that led to the worldwide financial collapse, it was greed. Lenders gave money to uneducated customers for short-term gains. They gave lines of credit to people that would have been turned down for video rental cards, "Sure, buy the bigger house, you have five years to figure out how you'll make the payments described in the fine print on page seventeen of our agreement. Besides, we're going to sell your mortgage tomorrow so it won't be our problem."

Give money to the auto industry? Maybe but only if the folks in charge resign. It isn't enough for them to agree to work for lowered wages. Capitalism, which they believe in, is about survival of the fittest. A three-legged crippled deer doesn't deserve protection from the wolves because its survival would weaken the whole herd. Clearly these people lack the ability to run these corporations without help.

Raise the standard of behavior expected of professional athletes. Shoot yourself in a club, choke a dog to death, or spout off about the flaws of your exes, and lose the privilege of making millions of dollars to chase a ball or puck around. Make it clear that if you are a less than stellar member of your community in college, you will not be eligible for future consideration at the professional level.

Let anyone marry anybody, once. You can marry a man, a woman, a man that used to be a woman, a woman that used to be a man or a man that wants to be a man but thinks he's a woman. Do what ever you want but it really means till death do us part. Get a divorce if you need, but realize that you will be ineligible to try again. No more practice marriages. Everyone deserves a chance to be as miserable as the straights. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Free the free market

It's great that the Big Three auto execs drove to Washington instead of flying in corporate jets the second time around. But they still didn't carpool and they still don't get it.

Working for a dollar a year is a nice gesture, but if they really want to take the companies in a new direction(toward profitability, which they've been veering away from for decades) then the folks in charge need to go. Not just the top dogs, I say everybody with an office gets his or her walking papers. Some of those trapped in the cubicles will step forward with fresh thinking.

The bailout package needs to come with severe oversight from the folks writing the check. You don't like the idea of oversight? Tough titty, little kitty, you asked for the money because you can't stay afloat in the free market you've been so fond of. 

Put the EPA in charge of the whole thing. Insist that the way to save the US auto industry is not through raising the CAFE standards. The Big Three have said that Obama's mpg goal of 40 by 2020 is impossible. Other companies around the world already reach that "impossible" goal.

Our auto industry has been passed  by the rest of the world. Instead of playing catchup on mileage, we need to become the next fuel leaders.

Ethanol, hydrogen fuel cells, solar, whatever. The internal combustion engine powered on gasoline has run its course. Let's use government oversight of the bailout to bring us back to the forefront of the auto industry.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Save the Swordmakers!

Congrats to Ms. Pelosi and the rest of Congress for sending the Big Three back to Detroit to come up with an actual plan. All three of the companies sent their representatives to Washington in corporate jets to ask for a handout. They weren't even smart enough to jetpool. Poor babies may have to fly first-class someday soon.

Detroit automakers have been falling behind for decades and it has little to do with the unions. They hyped new models so effectively that people used to dress up to go to the showrooms each October. Retooling just to change the angle of a tailfin makes little sense. That's why you can't tell what year a Japanese vehicle was made, they find a design that works and stick with it.

Speaking of the Japanese, Detroit laughed when that little island started cranking out small, efficient cars that last for decades. While "ricegrinders" continued to improve fuel economy, US autos took a step backward.

Lee Iacocca gained the respect of ordinary Americans when he paid the US Government back ahead of schedule. Remember how he did it? He put a mini-van on a truck frame to get around CAFE standards. He used soccer moms while the spirit of the law was to benefit family farmers. The other two companies followed his lead and that brought us the SUV boom. 

Should we help them retool? Nope, if retooling makes sense venture capitalists will take up the slack. What about the defense of the nation? Well, this country is fighting two wars right now without the help of the Big Three so that argument needs to go out the window.

The fall of the auto industry will surely affect the rest of the nation, like a wave it will sink some boats in Michigan but lose energy by the time it reaches the coasts.  When firearms came about, sword makers went out of business. It's the way of the world, adapt or die.

Even if they agree to give every member of Congress a Hummer, our representatives should tell them, "Too bad, so sad."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wrapped up

Our half of the group made our way through the dam construction project on our way to Rampur. Water trucks kept the dust down and the ride was more enjoyable than the first time. 

Jason got a flat just as we got through the construction zone. Matt and I stayed behind to help him repair it while the rest of the group (our half, that is) pushed on the last 50 km to secure lodging because it didn't make sense for everyone to ride in the dark, especially when Anthony didn't have a headlight.

Riding in the dark was worse and better than I'd imagined. Worse because of little things like being unable to see holes in the road until you were on top of them, praying that your forks would hold together and marble-sized pebbles raining down occasionally on your helmet, making you wonder what else might be falling. Some traffic didn't use headlights, so you wouldn't see them until they were right on top of you.

Driving at night naturally gives you tunnel vision so you only see a sliver of the madness. Who knows how many cows you drove by or how big that drop was if I'd have missed that corner? Never mind, keep riding.

The rest of the group caught us in Shimla. We made our way to Chandigarh for the final push to Delhi. The drive into Delhi was pretty easy compared to leaving. We were hardened by a month of motoring around. It wasn't scary, it was, 'Oh yeah, I remember this.'

We lost Anthony by the Outer Ring Road,  the highway that circumnavigates the city. We waited as long as we could but traffic was so thick that he may have ridden right past us and we'd never have known. We kept our fingers crossed that he had a good back up plan.

A crowd gathered when we pulled up to the C Park Inn. Several Indians asked how our journey was. The rockstars of the neighborhood had returned. We unloaded our bikes, giving our spare petrol cans to two women gathering recyclables(while officials debated banning plastic bags, some suggested making the bags thicker so they would be more attractive to the city's recyclers because they would weigh more and therefore be more valuable. Recyclers pick through the swept up trash piles, grab the plastics and corrugated cardboards before the sweepers burn the piles.)

We'd only been there about forty-five minutes when Anthony showed up. He had hired a tuk-tuk driver to follow into our neighborhood, Karol Baugh. So we all made it safe and sound.

Now I'm back home in Girdwood, where it's in the twenties, there's a bit of snow on the ground, and more trees than people. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Death Ledge Again

I had my bags on my bike by half past six to be ready for a 7 a.m. breakfast of bread and tea. We planned to be clutch out by 8 so we could get at least as far as Recong Peo, maybe Rampur 200 km away.

People were warming engines and it looked like we might actually make it when we noticed that Kagen's bike had a rear flat tire. The pit crew got after it and quickly found the problem, a nail most likely picked up at the welder's yard the day before.

OK, so it was clutch out at nine. The roads were dry, the air brisk, the traffic non-existent. The only folks on the road were highway maintenence people. Women were shoveling sand onto burlap. Three ladies would grab the ends of the burlap and carry it to a pothole. They would dump the sand into the hole and head back for another load. Without any binder, that sand would only stay in the hole until the second tire hit it and spread it to the four winds.

All the jobs seem to be that way, too many people working harder than they need to, but I guess the government is trying to provide as many jobs as possible. We watched a group of what can be described as the first wave of road builders. We were on a road that was slated to be flooded upon completion of a hydroelectric dam looking up and across the valley as they trundled material down until it reached its angle of repose. Think about that for a career option, rolling rocks down a mountain in the hot sun, all day, every day, for the rest of forever.

We climbed the last of the switchbacks and made it to the beginning of Death Ledge, the steep, narrow, muddy section of road with women rolling rocks in front of you as you pass.

Bill, Phil, and Mariska were a bit behind, but we pushed on hoping to reunite for a tea break in Nako. We had to wait for a dozer to do some work. He had two spotters looking up for falling rock as he worked. It was obvious that he was sending some sort of vibration upslope because a constant shower of pea gravel came down around him with the occasional baseball size piece.

They waved us through as soon as he had the pile flattened. Rocks rained down, workers yelled at us to go as fast as we could, and we struggled to keep the bikes upright on the sand and sharp rock combo.

After that short stretch, it was smooth sailing to the watercrossing. We were in the shade once we crossed the water. I could see ice and frozen mud in the left lane(or the left side of the only lane), but that still seemed safer than the sand on the outside, at least if something goes wrong you can dump your bike into the mountain instead of off a thousand footer.

A truck sat at the top of the icy mudded section. One man told us that they had been working on the truck for two hours to get it running. The truck started up, he put it in gear, let out the cluth, and moved six inches before it died.

The same routine played over and over. Men hurried to put rocks behind the tires each time the truck died. The twelfth time's a charm in Incredible India. The truck stayed running and kept moving. We were off the ledge and drinking tea in no time.

We turned on our radio because we thought that no matter how much lollygagging the other three were doing, we should have seen them already. Sure enough, Mariska answered our query. His bike would only run at full throttle the last time they had it running, which was a while ago. We sent Kagen back over Death Ledge to save the day.

They radioed that they were up and running. We waited and waited. No traffic moved on either side of the ledge. We heard several explosions and assumed that the road was temporarily closed for blasting.

A couple that we met the day before in Kasza pedaled down the last switchback to Nako. Carl went to see what they knew.

Two trucks were stuck at the apex of Death Ledge. One looked like it may roll over the edge. The bikers were able to carry their bikes around the chaos. They said people were getting out of their trucks and making fires, like it may be some time before the situation was resolved.

We decided that the only thing waiting for them would do is give us another night at altitude, so we headed to Pooh. Josh called the place we stayed in Nako to see if they had any idea about the other half of our group. It was a small place, once the goats were in for the evening nothing went on. The whole place would know if four crackers rolled in on Enfields.

The manager handed the phone to Phil and he and Josh made a plan for the next day.

4551 Meters

We rode across a wide open plateau before we started the switchbacks. The bikes struggled with the steepness and the altitude. I had my throttle goosed the whole way to the Khuzumla Pass.

Josh greeted each of us with snowballs at the top. Someone built a shrine ontop of the pass. We took photos and tried to catch our breath as it started to snow.

Going down the other side was just as steep. The snow intensified a little and began to stick on the pass. We got out of the switchbacks and the road detoured because landslides had covered it.
The detour took us through round rocks the size of volleyballs. You could barely make out the ruts as the road weaved along. The rockfield trail brought us back to the good road and we began to climb again.

I brought up the rear and was on the first switchback when I saw Carl coming toward me. His headlight was covered and his riding jacket was caked with snow. He said the storm continued to intensify and that we needed to turn around before we got stuck between passes for anywhere from overnight to all winter. I agreed and turned my bike around.

Returning to the rock trail was surreal. It started snowing about an inch an hour. I couldn't really see the road, so I concentrated on following the bike tracks in front of me. Each time I looked ahead, bikes weaved to and fro appearing to turn back on each other.

Two inches of snow covered the road by the time we got to the switchbacks. You had to keep the throttle up to keep the bike running, but each time the rear wheel slipped on a rock, it tried to force the back end around. When you had to help a buddy pick up his bike, yours would start sliding backwards because the front brake couldn't hold on the steep pitch. Eight of ten riders went down, some of them several times, before it was all over.

We made our way back to Losar and stopped for the night. We were cold and hungry. The woman that ran the guest house let us gather round the woodstove while she got us tea and quick bread.

The snow gradually slowed and had stopped by the time we went to bed. Carl cleaned two inches off the bikes in the morning. We loaded up and headed to Kasza to see the welder.

He sat on his heels smoking a bidi and banging on a piece of rebar when we showed up. The welder grabbed his sunglasses and layed a piece of metal that ran from the bike he needed to weld to a pile of scrap metal to act as a ground.

We pointed to a broken spot, he zapped it with the stick and we pointed to another until each bike was semi-solid again. The whole affair took less than twenty minutes so we pushed onto Tabo.

Nako to Kasza

I walked around taking photos just after six. The stone work was incredible, walls, water channels, fences, terraces, and homes. Many, many hours of hard labor. But they make it work, the little bit of water becomes the lifeblood of a village.

The women going onto the roofs early in the morning to carry in some hay for the evening when the goats will be back inside to provide heat and as a defense from the snow lepoard. Hay,dung, and firewood piled high on every rooftop to lay in against the coming winter.

They let the goats out en masse just when the sun hits the plateau. We ate our warm milk and muslix, followed by two fried eggs, sunny side up. The bikes started well and we set out.

Two kliks out of town the road turned scary. One lane talcum powder sand with road crew folks, mostly women, rolling rocks and making sand and carrying gravel that other women were making from bigger rocks using hammers with bamboo handles while you're trying not to hit them, stall your bike, slam into the mountain, or go off the 1700 foot drop on the left.

It ended with a short downhill to a water crossing on a hairpin. After that, bam, incredible India, we were back on sweet tarmac. There was a shrine about three hundred meters onto the tarmac. We gave thanks.

Shrines are everywhere you look. Try to find a peak without prayer flags on it. You can feel the love of the land here, mountain people. Pastural people, connected to the seasons in a way most of us have forgotten.

They make the most of a harsh environment. It must take a hundred acres or more to grow a goat here. Aside from the redirected water, there isn't much for grazing. They raise lots of wheat and maybe a lentil or two. Apple trees fruit if they get enough water.

The air got cooler as we rode, reaching mid-fifties, maybe. Wind cranked through the valley, picking sand from the river banks in mad tempests. We ate a breezy lunch of cashew cookies and marsla madness cheetos. Finally, we had the breakdown.

Marisa's rack fell apart. We rerigged it, strapped it, and hoped for the best. When we got to Kasza, they found a welder. He fixed Mariska and Josh's rack and Jason's foot peg for seventy Rupees. Now we're fueled up for a ride over a pass and down to a plateau full of firewood and good views.

Brokebrake Mountain

The shortcut to Kullu turned into a longcut. The road turned into a pair of ruts as soon as it began to climb. Josh got a brake pedal caught on the side of one ruts and ripped it off. Kagen ran ahead to catch Anthony so we could turn around.

We chatted about the road with some locals. We pointed ahead and said, "Kullu?" They gave us the sideways head nod so Phil asked again. One of them showed his fingers doing the walking. Phil returned with invisible handlebars and asked, "motorcycle?" The local rolled his hands rapidly over each other. We got it and planned to turn around as soon as Kagen and Anthony returned.

Anthony had his own adventure up ahead. He broke his brake pedal in a rut. He sat stuck in the rut wondering what to do when a local on a Yamaha 100 came over the hill in Anthony's rut. Anthony couldn't move and the local couldn't turn or stop so Anthony braced for the collision.

The smaller bike broke Anthony's headlight but glanced off and jumped out of the rut and over the side of the road. Luckily, some trees caught the local and his bike so he only tumbled a few feet.

Anthony dropped his bike and went to see if the non-helmetted flip-flop wearing rider was alive. The local smiled up at him. Anthony helped him get his bike back on the road. The local helped Anthony get his bike up and turned around then they parted ways.

We had to find two different welders to get the brakes fixed. The repairs took three hours so we spent the afternoon watching a family move a pile of sand down river and festival goers from all over the valley walking to the beat of their drums.

I can't quite figure out the sand moving. The pile was one of many dumped over the edge along a retaining wall. What the piles do as far as reenforcement is a mystery.

India has 82 nationally recognized festivals so it's common to see a group of men decked out in regalia carrying altars of some sort. Even festival walkers are horn crazy here. Two men run ahead and blow these four foot Dr. Seuss tubas at each intersection.

Chillin' in Manali

Mariska's clutch incident gave Anu another day to get the correct wiring harness, so Bill's bike is ready to roll. We took a rest day while Anu had a look at Mariska's bike. Our tentative plan was to leave the next morning with Mariska on Anu's Enfield. We would do the loop in reverse order. That way we would be able to return to Manali and Mariska's bike would be fixed so we could do the switcheroo.

I spent the morning on correspondence and laundry. Once the emails were sent and the socks and boxers drying I set out on a ride to have lunch somewhere down valley. I ran into Matt and Carl instead. They had scouted a shortcut(which in India means narrow, steep, mud-filled trails) to Recong Peo and were headed to chat with a local that had invited them for tea.

I decided to join them. We drove up valley about 10 km past Manali to meet Himal. He heads up the Himalayan Ski Village project. They hope to be operational by 2010. Office buildings and a patrol/equipment shop dot the base area.

A gondola will rise two thousand meters from the base to the summit. Himal pointed to the beginner terrain and Matt raised his eyebrows at me. They either need to do some serious blasting or they consider advanced intermediates "beginners."

The project began in 1990 as a heli-ski business. Heli operators from all over the world, including Theo Minor of Valdez came to explore the opportunity. The company ran the heli operation until 2003. Himal wouldn't elaborate as to why they no longer heli-ski.

Himal and his staff have been sent all over the world to learn the ski industry. The investors want all the key staff to understand the whole business from instructing to snowmaking to real estate development.

Himal has what he calls "the alpha team" that will serve as the patrol/snow safety crew. He brought AMGA instructors down for an entire season to teach snow science and to augment their rescue skills. The alpha team serves as Manali's rescue squad and deal with landslides and buses full of tourists on a regular basis.

I looked up at the mountain and all its starting zones while I sipped my lemon tea. I asked Himal how they planned to do their control work. They will not use artillery or explosives. They think they can do it all with forecasting and area closures. I think they've been drinking too much bhang lassi.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rhotang Pass

We headed to the shop at 9, loaded for a go at Rhotang Pass. Bill rode two-up with Matt and we split his gear. Getting to the shop required a moderate water crossing with traffic that would serve as a prelude to the day. The part for Bill's bike arrived after eleven. Anu tore off the newspaper and said that it was the wrong wiring harness. So we turned to plan B.

Classic British bikes shift on the right with a one up, four down pattern. Phil took one of Anu's Enfields and after switching gear we got at rolling quarter to one. Phil realized by the second corner that if he pushed down on the right pedal going into a corner, he sped up because he was in neutral.

The road ran along the valley floor for a couple of kilometers before climbing. A rock slide closed the road just past the Rhotang Pass Avalance Center. The road was diverted onto the dry river bed. Volleyball size rocks jut out between the sand for a half km. before we got back onto the tarmac.

We drove through the village where one-piece ski suits go to die. The road rose quickly with a series of switchbacks on good pavement. We saw a road crew patching asphalt. Two women carried a couple of buckets of tar suspended from a stick between them down to some men that were chipping rocks and bricks to fill the hole. The women wore scarves over their faces and kerchiefs down low on the forehead so only the slits of their eyes were visible. The asphalt plant, a barrel set on bricks with a wood fire under it, was one switchback up.

The smooth tarmac gave way to the occasional hole over the next twenty km. The views up and down valley were spectacular. We caught glimpes of the climb on every switchback. Traffic was light with easy passing opportunities.

The pavement deteriorated to mud over the course of a couple of km. First you could string together a solid line if you only had two wheels to worry about. The tarmac disappeared when the switchbacks steepened. It had been paved at one time but the broken pieces of asphalt got pushed into the goo and vanished.

Sharp hunks of granite stuck out of deep holes. Hundred foot water crossings with trucks and buses on the right and thousand foot drops on your left became common place. We soon realized that those spots were the safest places for motorcycles to pass. The four-wheeled vehicles needed to stay in a track while we could piece a decent line together on either side of the "road."

Imagine taking a Harley Sportster up a muddy logging road with slick tires through deep water holes filled with helmet-sized rocks around blind corners in heavy traffic and you'll get the idea.
Rain fell and made anywhere but in the packed rut a dicey proposition. The front tire pushed the mud rather than cut through it because our bikes were loaded with all we'd need if we got weathered in. One had to stay on the gas or the peanut butter would get you.

The rain turned to sleet, then hail. Traffic increased because all the day-trip buses started going down. The temperature dropped and the road became gooier. The first wave of us reached the pass at 3:15.

We swung the blood back to our fingers and did jumping jacks while we waited for them. The wind blew a consistent 15 with the occasional gust to 25. The hail began to accumulate. Carl tried to raise them on the radio after a fire-roasted ear of corn. Mariska answered that his bike was down.

He lost the clutch some time ago but was able to speed shift and keep it going. Braking uphill without a clutch meant that he needed to maintain a speed much faster than traffic. Jason ran blocker for him, clearing passing lanes, forcing folks to wait, and the like.

Even with the help, Mariska had to kill the engine a few times. Eventually it refused to start or shift. We decided to go back as a group and get the bike down. Mariska's bike had the good graces to die in a widespot.

Kagen had a look at the gear box. The clutch accuator was sheared off. The problem doesn't have a roadside solution. Phil, Josh, and Anthony headed off to secure shelter in Manali while we set about flagging down a truck.

The second one stopped and said he would do it for 500 rupees. We agreed and pointed for him to pull over. He misunderstood our pointing for a finger shake and left. We couldn't believe it. Mariska said he would coast it down as far as he could.

After watching Mariska negotiate the first corner, Matt ripped off to catch the truck. We set up a tow rope from Kagen's bike. The slipknot kept sliding from under Mariska's boot so progress was slow. We sure were glad to see Matt had the truck pinned by his bike and was throwing ropes and a Ralph Lauren tarp out of the back.

We loaded the bike. Bill wanted to set it on the center stand. The driver signed that they would poke holes in his bed. I believe it because I could feel it flexing under my feet while we tied the bike down.

Mariska bounced off with the same three songs from the driver's mix tape playing all the way down. Every time he turned around he could see his bike shaking and rattling apart. The rack broke off in the first km.

We caught up and passed our tow truck once. He would manage to pass all of us again while smoking cigarettes and making cell phone calls. The holes and mud seemed easier on the way down because the traffic lightened. It didn't get slippery until we got back on the sleet covered pavement.

Several of us had brake issues on the way down. I didn't take it out of first gear for fear I might not be able to downshift. Pumping worked but I decided to save it for something really scary.

I turned on my headlight as dusk fell. The beam pointed at the sky so all it did was blind me. It worked better once it got dark.

Meanwhile Phil and company led the pack. They were able to get around a dead truck jack-knifed on a corner so they had smooth sailing down to the river bed.

Josh came to a stop on orders of a little kid waving a red flag tied to a stick. Ten minutes later an explosion to clear rocks went off and the kid waved them through.

We got to the shop and unloaded the bike, had chai, and learned that Enfield, along with all Indian manufactures, exports their quality goods and keeps the inferior products in country. That makes sense in a country that uses bamboo for both scaffolding and rebar.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Run to Manali- Stage Two

We woke up just south of Kullu. The map said 54 km to Manali, so a leisurely start was the name of the game. It started pouring about 9 a.m. The northbound lane had six inches of running water. The brief burst turned into a steady rain, so we loaded up.

Rain and wet roads didn't make the riding any more relaxing. The road isn't as busy but is of lower quality so the going is the same, except with splashing.

I guess except the only noteworthy thing besides the novelty of riding in the rain is that Bill's bike caught on fire. We all made it to Manali but Bill's wire harness is a melted pile of spaghetti goo. And he has another story about loading an Enfield in a truck.

The bike is at a shop right now and may be done this evening. If so, the mad dash to Leh begins tomorrow.

The Run to Manali- Stage One

We stayed in Shimla two nights so we could get our inner line permits. Each man we asked pointed us to another building down the hill. We finally found the right building and filled out the forms.

While we wrote, the six or seven government agents argued amongst themselves as to which permits we needed and whether the road was even open. They decided that we should get the permits in another town, ripped up our completed forms, and thanked us. Classic. Turns out the extra night being chewed on by Hotel Victory's bedbugs was all for naught.

We woke in the morning to no water which meant no shower and no breakfast. We loaded the bikes with Manali the day's goal. Kagen's bike needed a bump start then we were off and running.

The map showed our road turning from primary to secondary at Kiar, where we decided to get fuel. Traffic was thick and dusty to that point but thinned considerably. The nice boys on motorcycles formed a line to the fuel pump. We were quickly corked by all the locals cutting us off to jockey for position. It took about half an hour to fuel up. I saw an empty petrol station three hundred meters down the road.

As soon as we turned on to the secondary road the riding turned into what I had imagined. Narrow, winding roads climbing up and down valley after valley. Steep hillsides terraced with corn, barley, or rice and sprinkled with homes and two thousand foot drops to the valley floor.

Road conditions were a mixed bag. Asphalt(some of which was being repaved using a wood-fired furnace), gravel, and sand. The sand turns to peanut butter with just a small amount of moisture. The sand and gravel come from landslides which seem to happen every time it rains.

Road crews constantly work to replace what the rains have taken away. They fill gabions with rock they chip by hand from the uphill side of the road. Several corners have rocks piled to guide you to the inside lane because the outer half of the road has undercut and sunk.

People are everywhere, it's almost impossible to look at something and not see a person. The men repairing roads, women in bright attaire cutting hay, hauling ridiculously large loads of said hay, or moving goats and cows to new pasture, or just sitting on a corner watching the day go by.

I saw such a man on a corner and we made eye contact. I let out a toot of my horn for the blind corner and had to hit the brakes because a backhoe loaded some of the sloughed hillside into a waiting dumptruck. At least the shovel leaners in the states will give you some sort of a slow down wave.

Most intersections aren't on our maps so we point and shout out the next town. After six or so decisions using this method I asked a woman standing by a shack at a paved intersection. She seemed confused so I tried a bigger town. She pointed two directions, one of which was the way we had come.

We flagged down a twenty-something on a bike for a second opinion. He agreed with her, we could get there each way but the way we had come would take eight hours, the other only four. Apparently we missed a turn somewhere and took a two hour detour.

We asked the biker to point where we were on the map. He couldn't but was adamant about which way we needed to go. We thanked him and stopped a truck full of park rangers. They couldn't find us on the map either but agreed with the man on the bike. They were also headed to Manali so we figured it would be safe to go the same way they did.

The detour took us over 3233 m high Jalori pass. The road up was steep, I kept wishing I had a lower gear to shift into, and rocky, like driving up a dry riverbed. We met some great folks at a little store/shrine at the top. We snacked on cheeto-like chips and hard-boiled eggs before the downhill.

We made it back to the highway and the madness picked up right where it led off. We could have pushed another hour to Manali but decided that after a hard ride it would be smart to stop at the first town with a decent place to stay.

Into the foothills

Chandigar to Shimla-elephants, vespas, monkeys and more. We got a leisurely start because we only had to go 150 km. Judging by the day before we thought it would take three hours max so we'd roll into town about 1600, get our bearings, acquire shelter, and find a great place for dinner.

Traffic refused to thin out even though we were driving away from the bigger cities. Roads narrowed to exacerbate the issue. We had a lot more pedestrians to deal with because we went from village to village.

I thought the smog would be better because we were leaving the city and gaining some elevation. The tuk tuks in Delhi run on natural gas, but that isn't the case outside the city. Every tuk tuk I saw needed a tune-up. I've been waking about 3 in night to have a ten minute sneezing fit/pollution cleanse and last evening was no different.

Whitey is becoming more and more rare. Our lot is obviously traveling together and heads turn, people wave with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old, and practice their English as we ride by. Men come up to shake our hands when we pull over for breaks.

A man approached me at one such break(while we waited for Jason to film the elephants) and said, "These bikes are from Sunny Motors?" I nodded and took his outstretched hand. "I am Soni." Senior that is, he was returning from guiding the last trip of the season on the route we hope to complete.

He gave us some inside information on road conditions, accommodations, petrol and the like. Soni, sr. also told us to find his mechanic at the Radisson so he could give our bikes the once-over before we leave Shimla.

Josh and I were the first to reach Shimla and the rendevous point, Hotel Victory. I guarded the bikes (got hounded by salesmen trying to get us to stay at their hotels) while Josh checked out the rooms and prices.

When he returned I drove to check out another place. Apparently I took a wrong turn because a few guys chased me at a corner. I ignored them, assuming they wanted to sell me something. The road climbed and when I rounded the bend a group of five men ran at me waving their arms. The ones behind caught up and I was surrounded.

They told me I needed a permit to be driving that road. I have no idea if it's a park, religious/holy site, or a gated community. I just apologized and turned around. Then they chased me all the way down the hill offering hotels.

I flipped on my headlights. Maybe I should explain; in the states headlights on bikes can not be turned off for safety reasons. In India people yell or flash lights to let you know that your lights are on. Pedestrians stop and flip your lights off for you as if you'd be driving a motorcycle in Delhi if you didn't know where the light switch was.

I turned on my lights because it was dark, the road was potholed, pedestrians were everywhere, and earlier in the day I thought I was gonna smear bacon all over the highway when a black hog made a poor decision(perhaps he thought he was a cow). But people flashed me all the way back to Hotel Victory. Maybe Shiva lights their path, who knows, but I need lights at night, call me crazy.

The gang was all at Victory when I arrived and taking turns driving bikes up a steep, narrow sidewalk with a hairpin in the middle to park on the patio. Jason explained why he, Anthony, and Mariska were so far behind.

He couldn't get his bike to start after the elephant stop, it turned over but wouldn't catch. He assumed it was the spark plug. Jason rolled the bike down the hill until he found a mechanic only three storefronts down. The man looked up from the headlight he was wiring and Jason pointed to the plug.

The mechanic put down the light and went to work on Jason's bike. He gapped the plug, checked that it was firing, and since it wasn't, replaced it. No go. So he took apart, basically peeled back the wire casing and found a break at the point where the wire attaches to the plug. He didn't have a new wire to sell Jason so he rewired that one by taking a little slack out of the line.
The mechanic mimed that Jason should take it for a test drive. It worked just fine so Jason asked how much he owed. The whole thing took about half an hour and the guy wouldn't put the old spark plug back in. He asked for 70 rupees, about a buck seventy. It would've been a hundred bones and two days in the States, easy.

While we watched the helmet cam footage of a Vespa driver falling into Phil(don't worry Phil's fender cushioned the blow) we heard an Enfield. They are as distintive sounding here as a Harley other places. Carl looked out the window and saw Bill and Kagen. We were ten again.

Their side adventure involved dinner at a religious festival, riding three-up on an Enfield, loading a motorcycle into a tuk tuk, a tuk tuk tow truck pulling the bike which was being piloted by an Indian in flip flops, and a professor that was so excited to meet foreigners that they had to lose him in traffic to be rid of him.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

No wonder this hasn't been done before

Today was hectic and dirty but most of us made it to Chandragargh.
We packed last night and woke early. Mariska and Bill walked over to Soni's at six a.m. Wrenchs and hammers flew, but the bikes weren't ready. As soon as they finished a bike one of us ferryed it to the hotel to be loaded. We loaded three bikes by 8, but didn't get the last one until 10:30.

Traffic was mad by the time we attempted to drive out of the alley. Anthony's bike quit because it was out of gas. Soni offered to send a boy to get a can of fuel, but the heat was already oppresive so I siphoned some fuel out of my tank just so we could get going.

We rode the same route to the gas station as yesterday, which was nice because there was plenty to think about aside from where the hell I was going. Bill pulled up to me at the petrol station asked how it was.

I told him, "My front end is fucked, I think the boys forgot to tighten something."
He said, "Mine too, I think it's the way they are." They aren't so bad once you get moving. It reminds me of driving a jet boat. You can't turn until you get up on step. Then it isn't so bad it's just that you need to fight the instinct to slow down.

Too bad it's almost impossible to stay on step if you ever get up there because traffic is utterly insane. One good thing is that now that the bikes are loaded they are about 18 inches wider. That doesn't seem like alot until you realize that we are splitting lanes, wedging tuk tuks, dodging cows, and rubbing concrete barriers.

Soni agreed to lead us out to Highway One. He was happy to do it because we are the only customers since his dad started the business that have even seen his shop. He supplies the bikes for companys like MotoHimalaya and none of them want their clients to ride in Delhi because leading a tour out of that city would be all but impossible. All Soni's clients start and end their trips in Shimla. If all goes well we will reach Shimla tomorrow.

I was toward the end of the pack, constantly chasing to get to the next intersection so the group didn't get spread too thin. We had a harder time because we were fatter than yesterday, the holes were harder to find, and closed sooner.

After a roundabout Soni took us on a shortcut the wrong way down a one-way. Two blocks felt like two years worth of riding. I saw Kagen turn down a dusty alley. We made eye contact and he took off.

I waited till I was sure Phil saw me and rode away. The alley bent to the right and when I came around the corner, Kagen took off.

Phil should have been twenty seconds behind me but showed up two minutes later. Mariska was MIA. Phil went back to look for him and I checked my watch, 10:53. Phil and Mariska were back in just a couple of minutes. Phil gave the thumbs up and I merged in a hurry.

I hoped to see one of the gang waiting on a corner or the beginning of a roundabout. Even standing on the pegs, I couldn't see over the mass of traffic. It didn't take long to realize that our group was split in two. I made my way to the edge of the road so Phil, Mariska, and I could have a pow wow.

Phil felt confident that if we beared in a westerly direction we would run into Highway One. Mariska and I wanted to go north because that was the shortest way out of Delhi, distance-wise. But Phil was more adament than we were confident, so we agreed to give Phil a chance and stay as close together as possible.

We let Phil follow his nose and he brought us to the Outer Ring Highway. It took what seemed like forever to get out of Delhi, trucks, buses, scooters(with four people on them), cars, bikes(that's pedal bikes loaded with vegetables,plywood, rugs, etc.), and tractors fought the heat and each other to get onto the main road. I might fly down to L.A. when I get back so I can have a leisurely rush hour experience.

After a bit of sand riding, we skirted a concrete embankment and found ourselves on Highway One, northbound. We pulled over to have a drink, a pee, and to make a phone call. We left a message on Bill's phone to let the rest of the group know we were all right.

Traffic thinned substantially the further we got from Delhi. That's not to say that it ever got slow enough for us to relax. When you mix trucks, tuk tuks with up to four people standing on the bumper, scooters, motorcycles, cars, pedal bikes with carts full of rebar, and walkers on a road full of potholes where cows have the right of way, you can't let your guard down.

Phil signaled that he wanted to eat and I gave him the thumbs up, not so much because I was hungry but because I needed a break. We found a roadside stand that serviced truckers and ordered lunch.

They probably don't get too many whiteys. All eyes were on us. But they were nice, the food tasted good, actually damn good, sphinter challenge be damned.

We saw the group go by and ran to the road to wave them down. Carl saw us, turned around, and made sure we were all good. We hustled into our riding gear. It's not to fun to put all that stuff back on when it's well over ninety degrees, let alone hustling into it.

I saw them on the side of the road and waved but carried on. We didn't get out of the city as early as we liked and had to think about darkness. Chandragargh is a million souls strong and I wasn't looking forward to arriving at night.

The group caught and overtook me. We headed to a fuel station. I counted heads and realized that we were still missing two folks. Kagen and Bill were last seen in Delhi. But the agreed upon meeting place was Picadilly's in Chandragargh so we carried on.

Somewhere along the way we lost the Brits but they turned up at Picadilly's. We called Bill on the off chance that he may be on the side of the road. He was and he was standing next to Kagen and Kagen's blown up motorcycle about fifty km north of Delhi.

They are 200 km behind us waiting for Soni's boys to bring a new cylinder head. We will see Bill and Kagen in Shimla.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bad News First

We will not be leaving Delhi today. The truck bringing the bikes got delayed by floods, fire, locusts, an old friend coming in from out of town, traffic, landslides, or a flat tire. Whatever the case, they won't have time to give the bikes a once over until mid-afternoon. It doesn't make much sense to start packing bikes at three or four because the sun sets about seven and this isn't a place to ride in the dark if it can be avoided.

But the good news is that we will have an opportunity to take the bikes on a test ride today without loads. If something is amiss, Soni and his minions can fix it and they will meet us tomorrow morning right bright and early.

Speaking of bright and early, the city has quite the alarm clock with an automatic snooze feature built right in. The call for morning prayer goes off at five a.m. sharp. Roll over and slap the nightstand if you like. Twelve minutes later(a perfect length-it gives you enough time to get back to sleep and into the dream about the tuk tuk race) you'll hear bark-a-bark-a-roo. That's the dogs being driven quite mad by cows strolling up and down the streets. Not as pleasant as a rooster but very effective.

Yesterday morning was spent banking or walking from bank to bank and then giving up and using the cash machine rather then changing money because contrary to what the last bank said and the fact that there was a electronic currency exchange rate board on the wall, "I am sorry sir, but we do not change money here.

Phil arranged for five of the finest tuk tuk drivers in all of India(not just Delhi mind you, the patriarch of the group was quite clear) to meet us at 1300 hours outside our hotel. When the conversation began Phil tried to be vague about where we were staying but one of the drivers knew we were at the C Park Inn. I guess we don't blend in very well which really suprises me.
Our goal was Conault Place, a big open air market. Armed with head cams, video cams, and a mess of stickers we peeled out. My driver did a Bollywood Roll at the first stop and we jumped to an early lead. It didn't last long. Triple lane changes, no look turns, and wrong way on one ways were the name of the game.

The drivers really seemed to dig all of it. Not only did they put stickers on their rides, they stickered other vehicles while we were zipping past. They didn't take us to Conault Place however, insisting it was closed. Besides they knew a better place, best place, very fine goods.
Welcome to India and its kickback society. The market was upscale and packed with pressing salespeople. No definitely means, 'please show me three more of each color here.' We walked around looking, feeling, and pricing while being hounded. No matter the excuse you throw at them, they volley back a counter.

We escaped souvenir free and spilled onto the hot sidewalk. Our tuk tuk drivers were waiting. I asked one of them if he knew where to find a good map. He said he did and led me to a store three doors down. The map was a postcard. When I didn't want that one, I was offered a calendar. I was pretty happy when Mariska suggested that if they were going to take us to places just to get their kickback, then they should take us to a place that sells beer.

After a leisurely lunch, we asked them to return us to the hotel. They insisted on taking us to one more market. The patriarch leveled with us and we thought, 'why not, these guys will benefit, we have nothing better to do, and the place will have ac.'

I'm glad we let them cuz it was far and away the best of the emporiums we've visited. If we can't find what we are looking for on the trip, that's the store we will return to. Ideally, we buy our Kasmir in Kasmir from the villagers that made it so they get all the money and therefore the benefit but who knows.

Josh and I got shaves and haircuts with the locals a couple of blocks from the hotel. The shop had enough space for two chairs so they put in six. It was pretty funny to watch them push each other for position until I realized that doing that with scissors is dangerous. But if yer gonna let a man at yer neck with a straight razor you gotsta relax.

In the morning, Matt and I went to acquire a few more maps before the paperwork/test ride. Tuk tuks are pretty mellow.

The paperwork and payments took place over chai teas. The office fan blew things around the room and it was still too hot. We signed our lives away and walked to a nice quiet spot and the bikes.

Four mechanics worked furiously on the side of the road. The mechanics worked on clutch handles, bent pegs, blown exhaust pipes, and cracked tanks. We stood in the sun and sweated while they gave our bikes an Indian once over.

After about 45 minutes all the bikes were running somewhat smoothly. We went up and down a quiet alley once. Two of the bikes needed help but after fifteen minutes we were up and running.

We took a right and the madness began. Soni ripped away and it was all I could do to keep up. The bikes don't have mirrors. You wouldn't want them anyway. There's no reason to know what's right beside you and you don't have time to check.

We bobbed, weaved, and juked our way through the traffic. Soni blew red lights, did u-turns, and passed buses on the shoulder. He pulled over a couple of times and we were always with him. He'd smile, tear out, and step it up a notch.

Halfway through the check out ride Soni pulled over and took off his helmet. We stripped our jackets. Soni said it was time to talk about the bikes. He showed us how to start the bikes, work the lights, hit the kill switch, and lock the steering column. Seems to me it would be better to do that before we made an eight bike wedge to split tuk tuks.

Tomorrow we will get an early start to miss as much of that as possible.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Let's go shopping

Just returned from a morning stroll with Phil. We went down a side street full of parked of bicycle rickshaws. Each rickshaw held its operator, so doubled as the apartment. Something has struck me each day and this day it's the sheer magnitude of homeless folks. They are everywhere. The sidewalks are full of them until work begins for the day.
These aren't homeless in the sense I am used to. They have jobs, families, and normal daily routines. There just aren't enough roofs to go around.

Now it's a tuk tuk race to the busiest market in the city. Might get a machete and a haircut.

Where motorcycles go to live

Woke at 4 a.m. got sick of staring at the ceiling by five and hit the pavement with my camera. I only got a few pics before my battery ran out(rookie) and I could concentrate on watching the city wake up.

It didn't take long after the 5 a.m. morning prayer call for the hustle to catch up with the bustle. I took a leisurely stroll across intersections to get to the middle of a roundabout so I could set up a tripod and get some shots of the 108 foot high statue of Lord Hanuman. Ten minutes later I was out of battery and decided to move on with the morning. My easy walk had turned into Frogger Level Five.

I made it splat free and got to watch three dogs chase a cow through the streets of Delhi. As forecasted, vehicles gave the cow a wider berth than they had given me.
Now we're chilling in the room waiting for shops to open so we can buy some pigstickers and get a haircut or the Brits that arrived at 3 am to get up so we can go to a Triumph restoration shop, which ever comes first.

The Brits got up so it was off to the motorcycle rescue farm. The van driver told us that it would take two hours to get to that neighborhood. We drove for at least two hours in the same direction and the city looked the same, packed dirty neighborhoods over and over and over. The drive gave the city a sense of scale.

Finally it was time to take a left but each intersection was barricaded and sandbagged and guarded by army soldiers with the world's most popular firearm, the AK-47,because of yesterday's bomb blast. Our driver asked soldiers at one roadblock how in the wide world of sports we could get into the neighborhood.

It took a couple hundred rupees and some time but they sent us to a side gate and as soon as we were on the other side it became apparent that we were in a nice neighborhood. It was all one lane, twisty, and gated homes.

We found the place and asked our driver to wait while we got the tour and Jason did the interview. Turns out it wasn't really a restoration place but a manufacturing shop for classic bike geeks all over the world.

For example: Johnny Gumchewer has a 1968 Norton that he's rebuilding in his garage so he doesn't have to spend evenings with his wife and he needs a gas tank. He calls Rocky in Delhi. Rocky goes out to his motorcycle graveyard, finds the tank, takes it to the shop, makes a jig, and manufactures 1000 of them. Then he calls Johnny and asks him what color he would like and if he needs the cap or not. If Johnny needs the cap, he'll build a thousand of them too.

Pick a bike, pick a part, and the Mad Bull Motor Works division of Eversure Auto Agency has it or will make exact to spec. We walked past mountains of tanks, piles of sprockets, buckets of bolts, rooms and rooms full of bike geek drool.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Get in the van, man

I've been on organized tours in Amsterdam, New York, London, and Paris. Compared to today one word comes to mind- mothergrabbinboring. We started our day by checking in with Soni at Soni Motors. They sent a boy to bring us right from our hotel to the shop. Turns out it was roughly 350m from our door. Funny how they have so many people that there truly is a person for every job. Open your room door and you hear, "Good morning, sir. You like breakfast?" One person is assigned to every hallway and is immediately relieved when he gets a mission.

Soni had all his ducks in a row so we hired an air-conditioned van to take us around the city. First stop, temple, check. Off with the shoes, leave your water bottle, iphone(Phil), and camera at the door. No shorts, sir.

I liked the contrast between the temple and all the cathederals I've visited. Bright colors and open, active prayer. The masonry was incredible, tight and beautiful. I missed a turn and spotted a group adding a sidewalk for a rear entrance.

Two young men smashed old bricks into inch or so rounds to form a base. Another man spread sand while a man, clearly the master mason spread grout in already placed stones. When he finished he signaled to a man that yelled to the back and a young man brought another 3 foot square stone(I know from experience that it was about 75 lbs.) perched on top of his head. Two others took it off his head and placed it under the master's direction. Each person did one thing and one thing only. It's understandable when you realize that this hamlet has 17 million people and it was 33 degrees celcius(double it and add 30, kids.)

After the temple we had lunch in a pretty nice place. We decided to have Indian food and these people do it pretty well. Watched a man make a cobra dance after lunch, then it was off to a State-run emporium. It's good to hit these first because there is no haggling, the staff is knowledgeable, and the atmosphere relaxed.

They sat us down and tried to sell us Kashmir rugs. Poor bastards had no idea that all we could think about was what our dogs would do to those beautiful pieces of art. Upstairs to the fabrics and all that visual noise, amazing what skilled people will do for 70 or so dollars a year.

We headed back to the van and our driver said, "Bomb go 3:30, we go now." We spent the next hour and a half or so trying to get out of the Muslim district. Police had roadblocks set up and search a vehicle or two but their main response seemed to be to create the traffic jam from hell so people would be too frustrated to blow things up in the future.

We are chilling in our rooms for the evening and waiting for the Brits and the Canuck to show.

You can only plan a plan

Ride from New Dehli due north to Leh. Then backtrack a little bit and swing west before heading south to the Taj Mahal and back to New Dehli. Cross through disputed lands and wave to Pakistan(or India depending on one's point of view) while avoiding folks with Karishnakovs. The route takes one over the highest driveable pass on the planet and past one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Sounds simple, right?

We need to complete the first leg of the trip before the fifteenth of October or before snows close the road for the season, which ever comes first. And we have to do it while avoiding altitude sickness and the other dangers(avalanches, mudslides, yetis, etc.) that come with riding a motorcycle through the Himalayas.If we happen to get into Leh and the road closes while we are there, that's where we will spend the winter. Should be easy to find work if we get caught on the wrong side of the pass. I'm sure there's great need for arborists, patrollers, rec department managers, fish guides, and BBC cameramen.

Some reports indicate that a fifty-year flood complete with landslides may have closed parts of the road prematurely and we won't even get the opportunity to be snowed in for the winter. If that turns out to be true, ah well none of us has been to India before so it'll all be new and cool.

The disputed lands will offer their own set of challenges, both social and environmental. Some folks don't look favorably on peoples passing through their territory and fun words like hostage and kidnap come to mind. The most popular rifle ever made keeps an uneasy peace while men in opulent buildings thousands of miles away debate lines on a map. Water and petrol are hard to find.

We landed in New Delhi and after a quick trip through customs, went to find our transport. Oodles and oodles of Indians offered to help us with our bags. By help I mean take the carts from our hands and push them out to the van for us. I declined to let someone who's help I did not solicit push my gear to Shiva knows where when we already had transport arranged.

Once at the van, the crowd of twenty or so demanded gratuitys for work they not only did not perform but were specifically told not to do. We tossed most of our gear up on to the top of the van where it was secured with one piece of frayed cord about twice the diameter of a spaghetti noodle while they tried to figure out why we weren't tipping them.

One piece of cord for twelve bags. "Back up your back up" probably isn't heard much round here. Seven Americans didn't fit so well in the little van so our driver acquired another taxt to follow us to the hotel. A horn honked at us incessantly and I could see the angered driver. After two or so minutes waiting for our driver to return, the "dollar waiting on a dime" driver hopped into our vehicle, fumbled around for the parking brake, engaged the transmission and backed our load the hell out of his way without some much as a word or nod to our presence.

We had the typical scare the shit out of you ride from the airport. Pretty excited to drive a motorcycle round Delhi. The rest of the guys want to get out of town ASAP but I think I may stick around and cruise the strip just for the hell of it. There's plenty to see and wonder about right around town. Why do the commercial vehicles paint "stop" below the left brake light? How does he steer with a child on the handlebars? Is everyone pushing the horn with wild abandon or does it actually mean something?

Our rooms are clean and well-kept and there seem to be three Indians for each of us. Water? Right away sir. You want to eat even though the restaurant is closed? No problem. You would like to enjoy a beer on the lurker deck and watch the street folk cook over the trash fire and wonder if that rat is going to wake up the old dude in the striped shorts sleeping on the sidewalk while you wait for your dinner? I will send a runner to hire a tuk-tuk and return with seven beers immediately.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What happens in Bangkok

Forty hours and counting and still a plane ride away from New Dehli and our motorcycles. We had to overnight in Bangkok. Our hotel shuttled us and our bags all the way to the fourth floor for the equivalent of five U.S. dollars each. The Thai boys refused our help until they picked up a few of the bags. Once they realized that our bags held heavier items than flower shirts and flip-flops, the eighty-pound men were happy to let us carry some of the bags.

We bought a bag of week-old bread and some beers from the hotel lobby and took a seat on the river. Each hunk of bread made the water roll and churn with catfish of some sort. The smallest fish were thirty inches long and five to six pounds.

A taxi dropped us off in the city center. The ride was a good warm-up for what we face once we try to leave Dehli on bikes. Lane lines and traffic lights are merely suggestions.

Phil led us on a sweet shortcut to a restaurant he knew on the river. It quickly turned into quite the detour down alleys that don't see many tourists. Giant vats full of curry, meat on a stick, and other taste delights fought with human waste and wet dog for entry into our nostrils.

The restaurant was nice though I didn't eat because the heat stole my appetite. After dinner, a river taxi gave us a little tour. The three-twenty-seven small block really made the boat move. I kept my sunglasses on even though it was dark to keep the river water and whatever little creatures live there from getting into my eyes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Funding the fun

I leave tomorrow morning for my second ten-day stint in Aialik Bay. Alaska Wildland Adventures plans to open a remote lodge on the site. There is plenty to do before guests show up beginning on the first of June, 2009.

This is the second remote job I've worked. I love the challenges these projects offer. Logistics and supply chains are a big part of it, "Sweet, a boat-load of 2x8's. What can we build with 2x8's?" or "I guess the plane isn't coming. Anybody up for another pancake, no butter or  syrup?"

Broken things need to be mended on site or done without. Spare parts and mechanical know-how are what you have around you. If you can't fix it more drastic measures need to be taken. "We're gonna set the tail of the plane in the wheel barrow. It only has to roll a little ways till I get the tail up." "But what if it doesn't work?" "It'll work, it has to." And it did, what a beautiful thing to see the wheel barrow rolling into the fireweed halfway down the runway and the Citabria turning to the south toward Yakatat. I remember wondering how the hell Jim was gonna land and then shrugging my shoulders, out of my control. I had other stuff to do.

The power of the Now grows in the wilderness. Being present is easy because the distractions of modern day are far away. A paper comes with the boat and is devoured by the crew, than largely forgotten or at least put aside. Brittiany and Sara take a back seat to masturbation jokes and whether you have enough bracing in place to stop for lunch.

Meals consist of great-smelling piles of high calorie foods, all you care to eat and then some. The kitchen keeps the groups of boys from slipping all the way back to the cave.  From defending the food against cross-contamination issues to keeping the eff-bomb "out of the kitchen," the cook is key to a successful project. Working men need to eat and eat a lot. Tasty and nourishing foods keep boys happy and focused on the task regardless of the weather, the bugs, the distance to the nearest single woman.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stones or Beatles?

Brooke and I watched "Across the Universe" last  night. Yep, it's a musical and at times it is sickly sweet. But if you're even half a Beatles fan, you'll be happy you spent a couple of hours watching this flick.

A boy by the name of Jude leaves Liverpool to find his father on the other side of the pond. He meets a Princeton student and they become fast friends. The friend has a beautiful sister...But it isn't the plot(which is somewhere between as thin as a porno and thick as a Jim Jarmish film) that makes this movie.

A big part of what makes this movie great is hearing someone else sing John, Paul, and George's words, sorry Ringo. I found myself really listening to the lyrics rather than singing along or letting the music fade to the background the way known, comfortable things do.

The movie begins in the mid-60's and carries through to the mid-70's. The music sets the pace, from burning draft cards to the Kent state shootings. Lyrics come alive without music, too, but may be lost on casual fans, and that's o.k. It's what they do with things like "She's so heavy" that make this musical brilliant.

Yep, there is a psychedelic scene but mostly it's just a fun yet critical look at things that were happening around the world while the boys from Liverpool were letting their bad haircuts grow out. Sadly, it's also a commentary on what is happening today and maybe a dig at what isn't happening today, but should be.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Make that two apples a day

America is the only industrialized nation without universal health care. America holds 29th place worldwide in life expectancy. This country follows only Latvia in infant mortality rates. We spend 31% of our healthcare funds on administrative costs, Canada pays 3%. What are we clinging to?

"Socialized medicine" was first coined in 1917 by Otto P. Grier, chairman of the Preventive Medicine Section of the American Medical Association. He said that would be a "fundamental contribution to social welfare." By Truman's presidency the AMA was distributing fliers to doctors in an effort to get them to speak out against it.

When I was growing up, adults used to talk about all the "friends of friends" that knew someone from Canada or France coming to the U.S. because we had superior care. Now we hear about people traveling to India to have procedures because they can't afford to have them in the States.

My father lost his left leg 14 centimeters below the patella in the mid-80's. Our family had health insurance, but plenty of stuff wasn't covered and six weeks in a medical facility  left Mom and Dad with a pile of bills.

One of the first things my parents did when Dad got home was to change their insurance plan to be better covered the next time disaster struck. This April, Mom went in for a checkup at Dad's urging. He had noticed a change in her demeanor and stamina and was concerned.

Turns out that Mom's kidneys were functioning at six percent. That's a great rate for a savings account these days but a terrible rate for organs that filter all the blood in one's body every eight minutes. The doctors kept her in the hospital and health insurance again became a concern.

Mom signed up for Medicaid because one of the non-rejection drugs for transplant patients costs $5000 a month (that seems pretty high, I bet I could buy it from unsavory types on the street at a substantial savings) and Mom won't know which drug will work for her until after the surgery. 

It's bad enough that we don't use the metric system (I feel a rant coming on) but it's disgusting that this country doesn't have universal health care. The state run systems in the rest of the industrialized world prove that it works. The leading cause of bankruptcy in this country is unpaid medical bills.

Wanna stop the bleeding in the housing market? Wanna increase consumer spending? Wanna bolster consumer confidence? Wanna give your newborn a better chance than someone born in 
Slovenia? Universal health care would help.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Git yer 'but in the boat

I went down to Ninilchik with some friends to fish for halibut last Friday. The best fishing on Cook Inlet is tide dependent, so we drew a 3 p.m. departure. The boys picked me up in Cooper Landing. We stopped in Soldotna for some supplies(beer) on the way to Ninilchik.

Captain Dave Gillickan has been chasing 'buts for awhile. I met him my first winter in G-wood. I asked him how he was able to snowboard through the bumps so well. "You bend your knees and grit your teeth."

Dave's 32 foot custom aluminum boat, Big Iron, cruises at 30 knots and comfortably holds six clients and the crew. Dave's crew consists of a 68 year-old Vietnam vet that flew a bomber in the war that he named Big Iron. They met in Ninilchik. The universe is a funny place. Dave gave him the afternoon off because we told him we'd do those duties.

Our drive down through rain gave way to sunshine. The weather on the water couldn't have been better. Dave set up the rods after a hour or so motor to a "hotspot." Every cast yielded a hit. We landed lots of fish and limited out in short order.

Everybody threw five bucks in for biggest fish and that went to Josh for a 24 and a half pounder. The last time I went 'but fishing(a decade ago) the biggest fish was 94 pounds. Dave talked about how the fish have been getting smaller and harder to find over the years.

The discussion turned to where the fault may lie. Is it the commercial long liners and their fathoms of hooks bringing in piles of fish, many of which are tossed back because they are unwanted or non-targeted "by-catch?" Or maybe it's the sport fishermen, cuz they try to get the big ones which are breeding females.

The answer: all of us. The fish and catches have become smaller, harder to find, and further from the ports. Both sides agree on this. Failing fisheries are well-documented the world over since way back when the secret got out about the Moors going to the Grand Banks for cod.

Halibut fisheries will likely follow some of the tuna species by becoming "commercially extinct" within our lifetimes. It's human nature to harvest all the easy things till they're gone and then lament the loss. Shoot the passenger pigeons, there are lots of them.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America

This holiday always makes me think of my Grandma Patrick, the way she used blackcats to wake up my uncles or call my grandfather home for dinner, the big bags of fireworks the came one after another out of the house on the 4th, and that crisp day in February when we said goodbye to her by throwing lit firecrackers into her grave instead of roses. She loved explosions of all kinds and passed that love  on to me.

The Chinese invented fireworks. Their most respected minds mixed and burned the explosives for festivals. Marco Polo brought that technology back to Europe. The Europeans used the technology to make weapons. Reflect on that for a sec.

Done? All right. Here in AK fireworks are mostly just loud in the summer. The ever-present sun fades the burning of the magnesium and calcium so everything looks yellow. We save most of our fireworks displays to brighten up our winter nights.

Instead on Independence Day, Alaskans honor what may be the coolest bar bet ever. A couple of sourdoughs were having a pint in Seward. One of them said he could run from the tavern to the top of Mount Isabelle and back in under an hour. Word spread, bets were placed, and a tradition was born.

Today is the 81st running of the Mount Marathon Race. Our hero finished the first race in 62 minutes, which is damn impressive. He climbed a 3022' mountain over a distance of 3.1 miles in heavy boots and woolies. He lost the bet though, and had to buy drinks for everyone in the tavern. 

Top finishers usually finish in the high forties or low fifties these days. Bill Spencer set the course record in 1981 with a time of 43 minutes, 23 seconds. The record may fall this year because there is lots of snow on the course. 

The race is won on the downhill section by the person with the biggest balls. Scree and rocks slide along with the competitors as they try to haul ass and keep control. I got a scouting report from one of the competitors, Kyle Kelly, last night. He said that there is a virtual luge course cut in the snow from people practicing. Whoever can put fear the furthest back in his mind will win this year barring a fall on the bottom third of the race.

People scatter all along the course to watch, root, cheer, and hand out waters. But the best place to get a feel for the race is the first aid tent. Runners hold dressing on cuts that won't stop bleeding while EMTs pick rocks out of gashes with huge forceps. Good luck, Kyle.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Urban Wildlife

Summertime in Southcentral Alaska can be magical. The sun officially shines for over nineteen hours, which means you can always see well enough to go for a run or even raft a river. Many people take full advantage of it, teeing off at 10 p.m. or participating in 24 hour races.

One such race started in Far North Bicentennial Park and ended in Providence Alaska Medical Center for fifteen year old Petra Davis. Campbell Creek runs through the park and is chock-full of king salmon and that means bears.

Ms. Davis was mauled by one of those brown bears shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday morning. She's damn lucky to be alive. One of her fellow competitors noticed a bike way off the trail and stopped to have a look.

Shotgun-toting officers from APD stood guard while paramedics packaged Ms. Davis for transport to Providence where she underwent emergency surgery to repair her carotid artery. She has punctures and lacerations along the right side of her body but is expected to make a full recovery. 

Municipality of Anchorage Wildlife Biologist Rick Sinnot has said that he would not kill the bear even if he could find it. He believes the bear was either suprised(which can mean scared) by Ms. Davis or defending his piece of the creek, rather than looking for a tasty bite of mountain biker. 

Many in the community want to have the bears exterminated or thinned out. There are less than 40,000 grizzly bears in the entire state of Alaska. Several are killed in defense of life or property each year. Life is often someone fishing late to avoid the crowds(which is when bears tend to do it too, for the same reasons) that gets charged on a creek bank and shoots the bear. All too often, property is garbage on the back porch or a bag of dog food in the garage with the door open.

Others would like to see the parks or certain trails closed when bear activity is observed. What level of activity would close a trail is difficult to pin down. Unobserved activity isn't mentioned. Don't even think about the liability the Municipality would be open to if someone were mauled on an open trail.

I fall into the other camp. I wouldn't wish a bear mauling on anyone and I mean no disrespect to Ms. Davis or her family, but I don't consider it a tragedy that someone got bit while in bear territory. 

The folks that want bears out of the city or trails closed are of the same mind as those that took monkey bars and merry-go-rounds out of the playground. They would have us helmeted, padded, bubble-wrapped, and otherwise hog-tied before we left our homes each day. I encourage all of them to find a place where all the bears are already gone.

Anchorage adopted a new city slogan recently, "Big Wild Life." Bears in the city are part of that life. Mingling with critters bigger than squirrels is just one of the things that make this a great place to live. 

Sunday, June 29, 2008

God bless NASCAR

Here we sit in that uncomfortable purgatory between basketball and football seasons. I bet more than a few of you will turn your attention to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Tools 301 today and the Coke Zero(not regular) 400 next week in Daytona.

More than 75 million U.S. adults, or 1 in 3, are NASCAR fans. The sport has had steady growth since Bill France, Sr. held the first meeting of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in December of 1947. The first sanctioned race was held on Daytona's beach on the second of February, 1948. NASCAR incorporated five days later. It's now viewed in more than 100 countries in at least 21 languages each weekend.

R. J. Reynolds changed the face of racing and indeed all of sports by providing corporate sponsorship via the Winston Cup Series in 1971. Cars and uniforms became plastered with logos. Winners made sure that the biggest patch(biggest sponsor) was visible to the camera during post race interviews, paving the way for the likes of World Cup skiers to hold both skis up to the camera right after going across the finish line.

NASCAR fans are considered the most coveted in the marketing world because they have fierce brand loyalty, with 85% saying the NASCAR endorsement adds value to products and 66% saying that they will pay more for a NASCAR endorsed product.

That's why I think NASCAR can save America. There are fifty drivers on the circuit with 40 races a year. They use 450-700 tires each weekend or six-teen to 28 thousand tires a year. That's a lot of  burnt rubber.

America burns an estimated 366 million gallons of gasoline everyday. NASCAR racers use average 4.5 miles to the gallon and burn about 200,000 gallons for the races. In the grand scheme of things, a couple hundred thousand gallons isn't even one strawful from the milkshake.

But NASCAR still uses leaded fuels in its races. Indy cars use biofuels exclusively. Wouldn't it be great if NASCAR stepped up to be the force of change in the energy race? Minimum mileage standards would improve technologies that would trickle down(apologies to Adam Smith whose economic theories have been bastardized. The folks always spouting about "trickle down" forget that Mr. Smith also said, "No honest man could make a million dollars.") to consumer models.

Imagine the folks in the doublewide saving up for a Prius instead of roll-bars and straight pipes.  Maybe Billy Ray Redneck would encourage his son go to MIT after winning the seventh-grade science fair instead of calling him queer. Perhaps someday infields will be powered by methane burning plants fueled by the Flatulence Forager 5000. Race fans can use the cheese-filled sausages in the fridge to run the generators after they run their course through the large instestine. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

City of the Future

"We don't have any bears, but watch out for the trolleys. They kill tourists every year."First morning in Amsterdam. Two-stroke scooters buzz outside the window along with trucks and all sorts of traffic. This city is more cosmopolitian than I remember. Part of the difference is how different I am. Twenty-year-old males get lost in the tolerance of the city and miss out on what else it has to offer.

The first thing one notices are the bikes. Bikes against fences, trees, lampposts, street signs, bikes against bikes. Stacks and stacks of bikes. And of course bikes moving through the city. Men with raincoats billowing behind pedal with traffic. Old women with paniers and baskets and big brimmed hats mingle with teen scooter drivers. Women with knee high leather boots and vinyl jackets criss cross past pedalers with denim mini skirts. Parents hold small children(never with training wheels or helmets) as they pedal side by side through higher traffic intersections. Mothers have babies or small children sitting on seats mounted to the handlebars, often with a wind screen that can be flipped down when riding solo.Friends converse as they ride side by side until saying in motion goodbyes before their routes diverge.

One million bikes, 750,000 residents, more than a bike for everyone. A constant stream of bikes, a few scooters, the rare automobile, and the trolleys flow constantly through the city.The city is quiet and the air is clear, due to the bikes and an ocean breeze. People are stylishly dressed. Men in Italian suits zip past on scooters. Women tuck crisp jeans into green leather boots and carry oversized bags slung across the shouder if biking.The scooter drivers wear fashionable helmets, usually half-face with the google cut visor up.

The sinks are deep welled and motion activated. Paper towels do not exist and the hand driers blow unheated air. Light is fluerescent or candle. Stairways are lit enough to be safe but still quite dim. Ditto with hotel rooms, restrooms, hallways. Parking is expensive and foot/bike power is encouraged, in fact, bikes have the right of way over autos or peds. It feels like the way all cities should/will have to be. The population appears healthy and in shape. Huge parks provide green space amidst the brick. Asphalt is not common in the city centre and is a reddish tone where it does occur to blend with the clay of the bricks. The most crowded country on the planet (473 people/kilometer squared) doesn't feel crowded at all.

Amsterdam is full of parks and museums. We had a look at most of the parks when we rented bikes. What better way to wind down from motorbikes than to pedal awhile in the city of bikes? Bike traffic was intimidating at first but we figured it out quickly because as the Dutch say, "It's just common sense."

The only museum we hit was the Rijksmuseum. We went on Father's day and were given free passes for being male. Most of the Rijks was closed for rennovations, we were only allowed in about 35 of the more than 500 rooms.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is the most famous artist whose works are housed in the Rijks. His most well-known painting is "The Dutch Masters," you know, from the cigar box. He differs from most artists in that he had success as a young man. Rembrandt became well-known for his portraits and as a result, ended up teaching nearly every Dutch artist of any import that lived in his time.

The works of Rembrandt and his students are considered, "The Dutch Golden Age." Because Rembrandt was a realist, walking through the exhibit one felt like the pieces on the wall were photos not paintings. People with eyes that followed me around the room, flys on the counter I wanted to swat, a man praying over bread and a bowl of soup that I swore I could smell.

It was great to come back to Amsterdam. The city has done a lot of work on its image with great results. The city is much cleaner than it was fourteen years ago. They seem to have toned down the blantantcy of their tolerance image. There are still coffeeshops where one can buy marijuana or hash on every street, but they no longer hang Rasta flags outside the shops for all to see.

The Netherlands has zero tolerance on hard drugs like cocaine and heroin, but taxes and tolerates others. What I find most interesting about their tolerance policies is that they decriminalized cannibids and some hallucigens the same year that Nixon declared a "War on drugs" in the USA, 1971.

It seems to me that honesty is the way we should approach drug use. Aspirin is the gateway drug, "Take this, you'll feel better," and it habituates Americans to a lifetime of drug use, from children's chewables to the blue ones that give the old men boners and everything inbetween. We like drugs so much that we put up with listed side-affects like, "oily discharge." Rather than outlaw all but three(alcohol, caffiene, tobacco), why not educate honestly? Kids try coke because nothing bad happens to them when they smoke pot and they figure people have lied to them about coke, too.

Don't get me started on the way the Dutch teach sex-ed, give away condoms and oral contraceptives, have the highest average virginity age in Europe, and teen pregnancy is virtually non-existent. Honesty.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Winding down

We're in Marlborough, England. About two more hours of saddle time and we'll be right back where we started twenty-odd days ago in Bournemouth. This is always the hard part of travel for me. I don't want to ride the last little bit even though I could easily do it if it were a thousand miles away. It reminds me of hauling moose hindquarters.

You groan and twist to get the thing up and onto your back. It takes a bit to get the load situated and the thought of lugging that hunk of bear bait two miles over uneven terrain is almost unbearable. But you take the first step and it isn't so bad and pretty soon you're in a zone, whistling or maybe singing, Sugar Magnolia(shutup hippie) and you could go on forever. Then you pop over a little hill and see the plane a coupla hundred yards away.

Your shoulders and hips ache, you're out of breath, and sooo tired. Only five loads to go. Pretty soon you only carry the rifle the first hundred yards or so, if the bear munches you anywhere in the remaining mile and seven-eighths, so be it.

Holy tangent batman. Where was I? Hell if I know. After a coupla thousand miles, several pints, and a near-miss each, I can say the following: This trip was much better than I anticipated. The rolling hills and mile upon mile of tarmac make it a biker's paradise, the people are outstanding and except for Scotland the language barrier is easy to deal with.

Awards: The best riding was in Scotland. The best scenery goes to Wales. Worst food England, everyone else tied for second, we're talking shit-tee everywhere(You chat with folks and they love to put down the other country's food. We were damn proud of ourselves that we never laughed out loud.) Most obnoxious Americans-golfers in Ireland. Best street signs-England("Disabled must pay" was the overall favorite.) Best whiskey-Wales. Best beer-tie. Biggest disappointment-Ireland(some pretty scenery, sure but not the overall biking experience we were looking for. People blame the influx of money from the EU and the fact that an additional 12 million passports have been issued in recent years for the building spur.) Best city-Dublin.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rob to the rescue

Phil and I were finally able to touch base via text messaging. He spent the afternoon asking people at gas stations and emergency rooms if they heard, saw, knew anything about a down motorcycle while I spent the afternoon trying to get in touch with Phil, AKRider, or anybody.

All's well that ends well, but holy hell what a stress ball each of us had become. Me, cuz I got knocked down by a semi-tractor and thought I was gonna get run over. And Phil cuz he couldn't find his wing man and went from hospital to E.R. looking and thinking that he might have to call my wife and tell her something that no one wants to tell anyone.

I guess the hotel has a bunk payphone cuz I called Phil a bazillion times and it just rang and rang. I emailed cuz that was to be the back up to the back up. Then I tried to text message from a computer to a cell phone, which you can do if you know the cell provider. Guess what I didn't know. Then perhaps the adrenaline left my bloodstream cuz it occurred to me that I could approach someone about using their phone to send a text to Phil. It took him two shakes of a lamb's tail to get back to me, and there was much rejoicing.

Meanwhile I sent an email to ace motorcycle mechanic Rob and he was able to troubleshoot from AK. And lookee there, the clutch whatchmajigger's messed up. Plug that in, cross your fingers and kapow, we're back in business. Now we're chilling in a hotel and planning tomorrow. Crazy.

Off to Dublin, off the Isle

With all we'd seen on the northern half of Ireland, we decided to try to make a southern half only itinerary. There were a couple of problems but mostly that the ferries simply don't work well or often enough from the Isle of Man and that there is too much traffic and poor riding inbetween the good stuff. So Phil decided that we would take Ireland out of the equation.

We beelined to Dublin to book a ferry to Holyhead, Wales the next morning. It sure was fun to be driving in an unfamiliar city of 2 million people at quitting time. I can't fathom doing that commute daily.

After booking a ferry, we secured lodging for the night and went off to have a pint. Our guesthouse was in the city center which is one huge pedestrian mall. The streets are still the narrow cobblestone of the city's founding.

It was suprisingly clean, few homeless, no beggars, and no litter. It was also packed. I'm sure it would be easy for a half-way decent pickpocket to make a respectable living cuz you couldn't help but get bumped once in awhile.

We stopped off in the Temple to enjoy a pint while Dublin walked by the window. The pub is just under 200 years old and the dingy sort of place one imagines the likes of Joyce writing in/about. And man, was it hopping.

We spent the rest of the night walking around and ducking in here or there to soak up local color. By local I mean international. People from all over obviously call Dublin home. We heard many different languages and it was easy to tell the locals from the tourists.

An early ferry put us in Holyhead, Wales by 1100 hours. Our plan was to get to the Liverpool ferry dock and start a GPS route from there(because that's where the ferry would arrive from Isle of Man in the new itinerary.)

We ran into lots of road construction on the way. They often had one lane closed for several miles with no visible sign of work occuring. It is legal to split lanes with motorcycles here and that is what we were doing in the stop and go traffic.

Things were going swimmingly until a semi-tractor hit me at slow speed but hard enough to knock my panier off and my bike to the ground. I was unhurt. I picked the bike up and parked it in the closed lane so I could grab the panier. The trucker didn't bother to stop and lots of people yelled really sweet things to me.

Once I had the panier reattached via webbing, I learned that the bike wouldn't start. That's how I came to be in this hotel lobby waiting for Phil to come and rescue me.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pot of Pyrite

We took the ferry from Cairnryn, Scotland to Larne, Northern Ireland. Irish ferries are immaculate and spacious. I tried to find a way to the upper deck but every access was locked, blocked or roped. Phil explained to a Latvian crew member that we needed to get to the top to do some filming(kiting on top of a ferry) but that we had lost our paperwork. Would she go check with the captain for us? Of course, I'll be right back. And she did come right back and said no way jose. So we napped.

The northern coast was breath-taking; cliffs, oceans of blues and greens, stone fences, ruins, quaint sea-side towns. We stayed in Portrush with Phil's dad, who happened to be in Ireland for a golf tourney. Golf is huge here as one may imagine. One American that joined us for dinner told me that, "God is a genius, this land is made for golf." I left that one alone, it seemed pointless.

We left Portrush early the next morning and are now in Galway, a little over halfway down the west coast. It suprises me, but this is the most disappointing area of the whole trip.

The landscape is littered with new tract housing, straightened roads, tour buses, and blah scenery. The place has been Californicated.

We haven't given up yet. Today we are going to beeline to Dublin and make a southern loop. I know we will find good stuff on the ring of Kerry cuz I been there. But that is only one day's ride. Keep your fingers crossed.

Sidenote on the health of the Isles. We spoke with folks in England and Scotland about the changing waistlines in their country. They are quite concerned, but just on the cusp from what I saw. Maybe fifteen or so years behind us according to my untrained but fairly observant eyes. But Northern Ireland is a different story. Obesity has more than a foothold there.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Thicker accents, better food

Had a look at Hadrian's Wall. The Romans built it between 122 and 128 a.d. with a combination of turf and stone and big stretches of it survive today. These Brits really need to get it together, don't they see the potential of Hadrian subdivisions, shopping malls, action figures and dessert toppings? It was three meters high and more than four meters high across the narrowest part of the island(73 miles.) They had a small fort every mile and two observation posts in between forts.

The Scots tell the story that the Romans sent troops up and they were never heard from again so the Romans built the wall. There appears to be a bit of myth in that version. What seems closer to the truth(though more boring) is that because they were able to control the flow of traffic, the Romans were able to collect taxes. Either way it looks like a big waste of public funds to me.

On to Scotland complete with man in a kilt blowing bagpipes at the border. The riding is better. There are less people, more hills, more flowers, more bugs, and more sheep. All the sheep are in need of a haircut. The price of wool is only 30p(60 cents) a sheep so most farmers won't bother to shear this year.

Are those peas on your mashers?

We had to catch the 8 o'clock ferry so it was an early morning. We had one last run across the mountain road. What a great way to say goodbye to the Isle of Man. The road was all ours. Same story everywhere, the early bird gets to rip around 37 and 3/4 miles of sweet tarmac.

The ferry back had quite a different feel. Instead of a lounge full of leathers and sliders(replaceable kneepads that you see scraping the asphalt as they corner-most were scratch free which suggests they are posers) spouting off about John McGuiness on the gooseneck this, and Guy Martin around the hairpin that, it was families with kids fighting over their etch-a-sketches. Kids still have to shake theirs here which probably helps them from turning into the tubs of shit like American kids. It certainly isn't the food cuz they give you fries on top of your mashed potatoes here.

We had to rein it in once we got off the ferry. The grey circle with the black line through means 60 mph again instead of as fast as you like. The riding continued to be abfab as we headed north.

The countryside has become more varied. Rolling hills gave way to mountains. We crossed over the highest pass in England and the temps were in the high thirties at the top.

We stopped for the night in Haydon Bridge. It lies in a lush valley surrounded by pasture land with a trout stream running through the middle of it. We saw lots of them hitting the mayflies and asked a local why no one was fishing. "Cuz it's Friday night, mate. It's for drinking. Saturday's for fishing."

We figured we had better have a look at the drinking scene for scientific purposes or research and development or what have you. They really go for it. Both pubs were full of folks that have been slurring and spraying spittle with arms around shoulders every Friday night since time out of mind.

Last of the racing

The weather broke on the 29th. Beautiful sunshine and five more ferries full of bikes have created palpable excitement. The mountain road is just zoom, zoom, zoom. We had a lot of fun watching the public zip around. Locals set up on most of the corners to watch the action all day long. The police hung out on every corner through the town bits to keep people honest.

The course road was too crowded for our liking so we set about trying to line up accomadations for next year. Everywhere we went said, "Thanks, but no thanks." The TT is so popular that they only accept reservations if you're willing to book the whole two weeks. We'll find a place but no luck yet.

After a nap, we bought picnic supplies and headed up to the top part of the course for the night's action. Phil and I hiked up to the highest bit of land on the island and found a spot where we could see about 3 miles worth of road.

The bikes hit over 200 mph on that stretch. There are a few curves but it's mostly straight and ideal for passing. They use the draft and slingshot method. Even though the bikes are started every 10 seconds, they were stacked up nicely for our viewing pleasure.

Watching the sidecars pass was good as well, but we were too far away to see the monkeys so we moved down the hill to one of the corners. They didn't disappoint. Willie was wrong, cowboys are fine, don't let your kids grow up to be sidecar monkeys.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's just a hobby

The B+B folks arranged for us to have a look at their neighbor's bikes. We had no idea what a treat we were in for. David came out and said, "All right then, let's have a look."

We walked in and he introduced us to his asisstant, Allen. Allen barely looked up from the piece of metal he was tooling. I have no idea what he was making on the lathe but he was checking his work with a micrometer.

David spoke a little about the bike currently sitting on the motorcycle lift, a 1901 something or other, then he took us into the other room. Old bikes packed and stacked everywhere. This is a 1903, this is a 1911, there are only three of these, one of these, one of these, etc.

After he'd answered all of our questions about the bikes he said, "Would you like to see a few more?" Of course we said yes and he opened a side door on the shed and we walked out into the drizzle. I noticed a turn of the century motorbike next to the riding lawnmower, but that wasn't what he had in mind.

He opened the door and bright light spilled out, angels began to sing and I realized that the other room had just been a setup for these bikes, his pride and joy.