Saturday, September 26, 2015

The invisible man

It's how we feel when we ride sometimes. It doesn't really make any sense either. We're bigger than bicycles, but people seem to see them most of the time. We're louder than pedestrians, but still, they don't seem to get hit nearly as often as we do. What gives?

The normal response is: "I didn't see the motorcycle."

That's right folks, we're invisible. This past May, I was on a ride with seven others. The lead bike was a cherry red Goldwing, and all the other bikes but mine were big and loud. Even so, a lady in a Volvo pulled out right in front of the group. I'm sure, had she hit us, the response would have been the same tired answer...but the truth is, she didn't look. I watched her as we neared the corner. She never looked left and just pulled out across traffic. Thankfully, we were all able to stop since we were slowing to take a corner, but it was close.

The only thing I can figure to do is to make them look. I try to be so visible that there is no way the "I didn't see him" excuse can hold any water. We've just crossed the threshold into autumn, so warmer clothing is coming out. This means that many will see me wearing my blaze orange coverall. It cost 29.99 at Cabela's a few years back and may be the single best $30 scootering item I've ever bought. Yes, I do use it for hunting as well, so I'm really getting my money's worth out of it. I've noticed that people do seem to look twice when I'm wearing it. I've only had one person pull out in front of me while wearing this suit.

On warmer days, I have a vest, but it doesn't seem to grab the eyes as much as full body orange. It's cooler, which is nice, but I've still had plenty of close calls while wearing it, so it really doesn't seem to help all that much.

Then there's the helmet. Mohawks, horns, crazy helmets, and helmet covers seem to be eye catching. Rowlf certainly gets plenty of attention and Maggie seems to enjoy having another dog to ride with. It's funny to watch as people who were not at all tuned in go from a look of boredom, to recognition, to grinning. While traveling north on I-84 in New York, I chuckled as a mini-van pulled alongside then ahead, then fell back, then passed me completely, all while the passenger filmed the spectacle of a muppet on a motorscooter. Hey, they saw me. That's something at least.

It's a bit of a trade-off though. One afternoon, on my way to work, I arrived at a four way stop. The woman crossing the intersection in front of me was so intent upon waving, she nearly hit the stop sign to my right. At least she didn't hit me. That's a win right there.

It's not foolproof since there will always be people who just aren't tuned in while driving, but there are certainly ways we can try to catch their attention.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hay Creek Festival

So here I am, laying on the couch with my head pounding. I know, writing is probably not recommended, abut I despise doing nothing. Being hyperactive (or hyper-aware, as I prefer to call it), even when my head feels like Uncle Fester got to it, my mind still runs a mile a minute.

Sometimes, when the brain won't stop churning, I remember things I've done and places I've been, the beautiful things I've seen and other bits of trivia. While browsing through my pictures, I found some of the Hay Creek Festival from a couple weeks back. My lovely wife and I decided to finish my week off on a high note and went to Hay creek for the day.  

For starters, the setting is Beautiful. Add to that the sound of the clacking and clicking and brapping and fizzing and popping of hit-or-miss engines, and it's a lot of fun for those of us with a more mechanical bent who just like old stuff.

Many of the engines on display were working scale models.

Others were the real thing and were running anything from water pumps to corn grinders. My friend and pastor, Kevin, always attends the festival and takes his own engines along. One of the engines at his tent was interesting. I has a bronze lion's head on the flapper for the water pump. 

It's a bit hard to see in the photo but te nose of the lion can just be seen poking out of the water behind the red hose. The craftsmanship that went into making a lot of these things just doesn't seem to happen these days. No one wants to pay for the amount of time and work that goes into making thngs by hand and doing it well. That so much of this old stuff still runs is a testament to the dedication and pride of those who made it.

 There were also plenty of old cars, including this lovely T-bird with a "tomato soup" paint job. The car selection seemed thinner this year than previously. 

The festival also includes food of course, which we were too busy eating to take photos of. Just the same, the apple cobbler was a little slice of heaven. 

Up the hill a ways there are artisans selling anything from honey to flintlock rifles to hand-made sauerkraut. There are also vendors selling crafts and jewelry. 

If you're ever near Morgantown PA on the second weekend of September, Hay Creek is a great place to spend a day. . 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Like buttah!

There are many things that are good with lumps in them such as: Chunky peanut butter, gravy, tea (with sugar), ice cream. There are other things that aren't good lumpy including: mattresses, carpets, milk (unless you want to make cheese), and roads. Yes, no one likes a lumpy and bumpy road.

On my recent trip north, I found a back road in rural New Jersey that was so full of potholes I thought the Swiss had been by for a visit. In south-western Massachusetts, route 57 through Granville was so torn up for road work, it made me question whether World War III had started in the Berkshires. Then there's Lemon street here in little old East Pete.

Bumpity bump bump bump

About two years ago, there was a water main break on Lemon Street. Understandably, this kind of thing happens with older infrastructure; however, the road has since been torn up multiple times and the road surface is so bad, those times I can't avoid going north on Lemon Street, I ride in the opposite lane when I can, just to save my suspension. 

Things changed for the worse last week. There was more digging on Lemon Street, and they didn't patch it, just filled it in and topped it with gravel. There are no signs, no warning, not even a bit of orange paint to mark the spot. Late last week, I didn't realize this and nearly wiped out. Thankfully the patch is short enough that I was able to recover. Then today, I tried to go around the gravel and instead hit the northward edge of the poorly patched tunnel to China. The jolt of hitting the front wheel on the edge of the abyss nearly took me off my scooter and sent everything in my crate flying, including a $10 can of waterproofing spray for my rain gear, which quickly got squashed by an oncoming car (thankfully it was the can, not me). There was no obvious damage to the scoot, but I was doing less than the speed limit, which probably prevented such a thing.

The abyss by the light of day

I went to the borough office and explained the situation to the young lady behind the counter. She took my info and my number, and said she'd give it to whomever is responsible for the roads. This was around 10 am this morning. As of 8:00 pm this evening, there is still no warning, no sign, and the road is still unsafe for those of us on two wheels.

After visiting the borough office, I returned home, took a nap, then went to work to discover a delightful surprise: Fresh asphalt on route 897 just south of Lebanon. Oh, it was beautiful. Yes, I had to wait to be allowed through on the single open lane, but it was a smooth slice of road-heaven.

Upon arrival at work, there was another surprise. Yes, more fresh asphalt. At the time, it was still being laid down and smooshed into place by rollers, but oh, the finished product is smooth like buttah! So, despite a migraine and having to go home from work a bit early, at least the road home was pleasant to ride on.

Even more, when I got home, a lovely sunset was bidding farewell to the day. So, even with nearly wrecking my scoot, the roads improved and the ride goes on...tomorrow, after the migraine passes.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the hunt

It's that time of year again. The time where everything is starting to change from green to shades of red, purple, orange, gold and brown. Here in Pennsylvania, mourning dove and goose seasons have opened. This means long walks around fields of corn, alfalfa, or soybeans. It doesn't necessarily mean any dove or goose meat on the table though.

Some will call me cruel for hunting doves. I don't look at it that way. They are an animal like any other and are perfect game for someone like myself who doesn't have the ability to stand or sit still for very long. To be honest, the doves are nearly as safe with me hunting them as they would be without. I used to be a much better shot, but it seems time has changed that.

I put my Remington 870 Wingmaster 20 gauge in its travel bag, which was then strapped in front of the crate, and headed to the farm I normally hunt.

It was a lovely day for a walk. The fields of soybeans stretched away as I strode around the outer edge. There were dragonflies flitting this way and that above the green and brown plants, but the only birds to be seen were sparrows and a few raptors overhead. This was fine since I don't really go hunting for the wild game, but rather for the joy of being outdoors, besides, not shooting anything means I don't have to clean it.

Going hunting on a scooter requires a bit of minimalism. It also helps not to forget that there's a gun strapped to the bike. I kinda forgot until the the gun case knocked into my neighbor's truck. There was no damage to either the truck or the shotgun, but it threw me off balance which nearly made me dump the scoot. Even so, scooters are a perfect way to get out for small game. One doesn't need much to hunt small animals; just a firearm, some ammo, and a place to put the results of the day's hunt. Scooters or other small bikes can easily provide this.

The small things in life seem to have a healing power. Being alone has its own catharsis. The beauty of nature, time with one's thoughts, time with God, all alone with no one else around. It's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The long journey home

I spent two days in Massachusetts. On Monday, time was spent with my sister's family and with my Mom. On Tuesday morning, I went to visit the Christian school I attended from fifth grade on up; Pioneer Valley Christian School (now Academy). It was a little strange seeing all the changes. The building isn't much like I remember it, and many of the teachers are new to me. Still, it was good to see that the school is still going.

On Tuesday afternoon, my mom needed help picking out a new computer. That event. I love my mother dearly, but many techies out there will understand that no matter how old we get, our mothers (or sometimes our fathers), will always question our judgement, no matter how many degrees or certifications we have, which makes helping them shop for any kind of technology an adventure. Eventually, she settled on the computer I suggested and was very happy with it once it was set up and running at home.

The next morning dawned warm and bright. My intended departure time was delayed a bit by breakfast (Mom made me cheesy eggs with toast), but at 9:30 after goodbyes were said and hugs were given, it was time to go. Rowlf was removed from my helmet due to the heat, which allowed for better ventilation. The tent and sleeping bag were left behind to save a bit of weight.

I took a different course home as it was an all day ride. This took me over the dam at the end of the Barkhamsted reservoir. At my accustomed stopping place, an older gentleman had stopped for a smoke break and his lovely Nissan GTR sat shining in the sun. The contrast between the powerful supercar and the practical and perky scooter provided a brief chuckle. After a short car chat with the gentleman, it was time to get back on the road.

For the most part, I followed route 202 and 6 south and west through Connecticut and into New York state. This led through small towns and down into the Hudson River valley. I've ridden the same route to the Bear Mountain toll bridge, up 202 and 6 along the river. This is quite possibly one of the most enjoyable short stretches of road for riding a small, quick motorbike or scooter. There was a Triumph that buzzed past me at the bottom of the hill, but couldn't quite pull away, which spoke more for the Honda PCX150's abilities than for mine.

Of course, when my own abilities come into play, I overshoot hairpin turns just a bit. Thankfully, no one was coming the other way. The video shows 202 west on the other side of the Hudson from my favorite bit of road, but it was still quite good. Unfortunately, it was a wrong turn, so I had to backtrack, but it was worth it.

Somewhere along the way, I saw another car that caught my attention. Such a pretty thing and when the owner drove off in it, the noise was lovely. It's a Jaguar F-Type for those who don't immediately recognize it.

A few miles on, route 6 became a four lane, which wove its way through New York toward Rt. 84, which I got on for a short hop. After crossing into PA, it was back to the secondary roads for a while, then down through the Delaware Water Gap. Then the GPS tried to be funny again. It wanted to take me into New Jersey, which would have added more than an hour to the trip. I chose to ignore it and followed 209 south through the Poconos with a short hop on Rt. 80 west.

Small town USA seems to always have at least one small creek bubbling through. Some, like the one pictured, have trees and shrubs around. Others have had the flora stripped from their banks and have even been imprisoned between stone or cement walls.

Another commonality small towns have in the U.S. are churches. There's always at least one with a steeple dominating the landscape.

As one draws closer to Lancaster County, the churches become more and more common, sometimes being the only building nearby, or perhaps only surrounded by two or three homes.

Since I was returning home on a Wednesday night, and would be arriving around time for prayer meeting, I decided to pop by my own church in Terre Hill. I got there just in time to see a lovely sunset. So, having left Westfield Massachusetts at 9:30 am I arrived in Terre Hill just before 7 pm. About ten and a half hours on a 150cc scooter isn't too bad, especially with a little wandering along the way. After leaving the church, the last 18 miles to home were a breeze.

As I've said before, taking a scooter on a long distance journey is not for everyone. For me, it's cleansing. The time alone allows introspection, and the small engine forces me to take my time. The lightness of the bike makes the corners a delightful adventure, and as I've discovered, the Honda PCX150 is capable of highway travel, at least for a few exits at a time, though that's not nearly as much fun as the secondary roads.

More than three hundred miles in one day over mountains and rivers... I think the Honda has passed the test.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It doesn't have to be big and loud...

There is nothing so American as putting water in a can, adding some food coloring and a bit of alcohol, and calling it beer. This illustrates the American tendency for big results without subtlety. This translates into the vehicle world. Muscle cars are very American and go very well in a straight line, while sacrificing cornering. The American cruiser is much the same and glorifies big and bawdy with little in the way of practicality. Both vehicle types are big and loud, but don't need to be to get the job done.

The motor scooter dates back before the Cushman, which served the military in World War II, but the motorcycle took greater market share because America was blessed with material wealth after the war. Bikes and cars got bigger and bigger, louder and louder and costlier by the year. Other countries adopted the scooter and the small motorbike. They cost less to build, purchase and maintain than big bikes and cars, but they work well and are durable.

Both the Kymco People 150 and the Honda PCX150 have proven that such vehicles are underrated. Both scooters have shown themselves reliable and sturdy. As mentioned in a previous entry, the Kymco traveled more than 24,000 miles in my service, and the PCX150 has already done more than 1800 miles, over 800 of those over the five day trip to Massachusetts. It handled the trip with ease, even with a few longer stints on highways.

It's amazing how versatile these little machines can be. On the two days between traveling, the PCX became a runabout instead of a long-range tourer. It just works.

One of my nephews took the offer of a ride on the back and had a blast. It was different to ride two-up again after not having done so for a long time, but it gave him a little joy. I had stopped in at my sister's house for dinner and a movie. It was nice to take in the simple pleasures of life.

We could use, as a nation and a society, to get back to enjoying the simple things.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Solitary man

Sunday morning dawned with thick fog settled over the Delaware River Valley. Sleep had been good for the most part, with only one brief instant where the tent just felt too small, but opening up the inner flap and letting the stars shine in made a difference. There was dew on the ground and an abundance of wildlife again wandering around the campground and the local roads. A solitary man on a scooter crept away from the campsite.

Three doe wished me a good morning and a farewell through the fog. Unfortunately, the dim conditions and the foggy morning prevented a better photo. After carefully threading the scooter along the gravel drive, the road eventually came into view. Once out on it, the close encounters began. The first was another doe who decided to cross just a few yards ahead, the second was a flock of about ten wild turkeys (one of whom could not figure out whether to stay in the road or get out of it), and the third was a Muscovy Duck that decided he needed to stand in the middle of the road. This was all prior to hitting the New York line.

Port Jervis loomed out of the morning fog at 7:30, and the GPS said, go straight. This led through the second tunnel of the trip which returned the exhaust noise delightfully. After two miles, it seemed a good idea to check the GPS and see if this was indeed the best route, this led to a reverse course and a turn onto US6 East which was a fortuitous turn of events as a Dunkin Donuts was just a few blocks up the road.

While getting all the gear off and parking the scoot on its center stand, a man approached, noted the saddlebags and the obvious traveling gear and PA plate and asked about the scoot. He was incredulous that it was only a 150cc and it had come successfully up from Lancaster and was heading up to Massachusetts. This kind of conversation seems to come up at least once on every trip. "You're from Lancaster, PA? And you came all this way on a scooter? Are you nuts?" That's pretty much the jist of it. We chatted for a bit over coffee and he asked how long it would take to get to Mass. The estimate was at least by 2:00, but probably sooner and he seemed to think this was a low estimate.

After taking my leave and getting all the gear back on, 6 east rolled away under the wheels. about ten miles later, it seemed like a good chance to stretch the scoot's highway legs a bit, so we headed east on I-84 for a while, using the opportunity to get over the Hudson River. By this time the fog had lifted and the river was visible for miles in both directions. Once over the bridge, a short hop on one of route 9's many tributaries eventually led to the Taconic Parkway, which led in turn to rt. 44, then 7 north. After passing through Sheffield Mass and turning onto rt. 23, the Berkshires rolled past.

Through this time I'd been watching for a church to visit for Sunday morning service, but either the service was already done, or I was too early. It wasn't a bad thing really as a ride on a scooter gives plenty of time for prayer and meditation.

A short time following 23 led to the rt. 57 split off and it seemed a good idea at the time to take the road less traveled. It was quickly discovered why this was so. Winter is rough on roads in the north and few towns have the money to keep them up, so there are potholes that have existed since the time of Paul Revere. This was not so in Tolland, where the road surface had been recently paved, but crossing into Granville dashed all hopes that such a lovely thing to exist indefinitely.

Eventually, after more twists and turns and a couple more towns, we arrived at Mom's house. After greeting her, getting the gear off the scoot, and removing the grime of camping and the road, more family arrived with Pizza and lemon meringue pie to celebrate Mom's birthday. There were no further travels for the day and it was good to relax and be with family, even though the solitude of the long ride was over.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gone away, First leg of the trip

The computer that once served only this writer is now shared with his wife. So when it came time to run the PCX to Massachusetts, it did not go along. This means that all adventures shall be reported after-the-fact.

It was time to visit Mother again, and the decision between trying the PCX out on a long ride or driving the Jag was difficult, but eventually fell to the scooter. So, on Saturday morning, saddlebags (which were acquired for free!), a tent, a sleepingbag, and a backpack with sketchbooks and a Bible in it, were all ready to go.

The Purple Haze had hit 1000 miles the night before the trip, and was at 1005 miles upon departure. It had rained Friday night, so the scoot was wiped dry and loaded up and off we went.

GPS is an interesting thing. It seems at times to take one places one does not wish to go, and other times to exactly the right place. The "Here Drive+" app for Windows Phone has an option for disabling highway travel, which seems to give it the idea that only the most rural of back roads can be used. This proved problematic on the first leg of the journey as the gas gauge was insistent that fuel was urgently needed but the GPS app was equally insistent that all signs of human habitation be avoided at all cost! Even so, a jaunt through some of the seedier neighborhoods of Easton PA yielded a main thoroughfare with a Wawa! Fuel was acquired and the GPS gave directions to a short tunnel on the outskirts of Easton where it was discoverd that the PCX is decently loud for such a small engined scooter.

After crossing over into New Jersey, the GPS decided to pull another trick out its bag. It said the Bear Creek Campground was on the top of a mountain...three miles from its actual location. After wandering a while, a call was made to the campground and it turned out we were only 200 yards away.

The campground was beautiful. The campsite sat right next to what can only be presumed is Bear Creek, which was also lovely. The only complaint about the accommodations would be that the bed was a little hard (haha!).

It was nice to wander around and enjoy the scenery. Wildlife was abundant including many cottontail rabbits, Turkeys (which refused to hold still for the camera), and deer (which also decided to be uncooperative).

At least the flora held still, though it took several attempts to get this picture since the flower was only a quarter inch in diameter and the camera did not want to focus.

Having not brought any food along, a ride into the closest town produced a nice little Greek/American restaurant. The Layton Country Store and Cafe makes a decent Gyro, and the service was good. They have seating out on the front porch and an air conditioned dinig room inside. It was such a nice day out, it didn't seem right to eat inside.

A large family group had moved in a couple campsites over from my little secluded spot. Of course Rowlf got some laughs, but after that not much was said between the two campsites. After dark, glowing frisbees could be seen flying around the adjacent field accompanied by the laughter of children. It was comforting and the view of the stars was undiminished by light pollution. The screen kept the bugs out and sleep came eventually.

Camping has its own particular set of drawbacks. It's definitely not for everyone, but disconnecting from everything, even for one night, can have a tremendous effect on the soul.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Get a grip (Ram Mounts X-Grip IV)

It's getting to the point where having a camera on a bike is a necessity. With so many idiots on the road and road rage altercations. A lot of folks are getting "GoPro" products, which are, by all accounts, very good; however, they are also expensive. For around $50, it's possible to adapt a camera most of us already have for much the same purpose. There are certain trade-offs to be made, but if saving money and still having a workable solution is the goal, a handlebar Cell-phone mount is a viable option. 

There are multiple options on the market, and many look good on the surface but after reading review of phones slipping and being ruined, there was only one product that seemed to have a good track record. 

Enter the Ram Mount X-Grip IV. 

Pictured is the large phone version. 

There are many options for attaching the X-Grip, including a U-Bolt, which worked well for the handlebars of the PCX. Two ball joints allow good range of motion to put the phone wherever it is most ergonomically pleasing. After the adjustments are tightened up, the core components stay put and do not move about, which keeps devices from flopping around, which is obviously good. 

Round rubber nubs on a spring loaded circular doohickey (I believe that is the technical term), grip tightly around the phone. The mount has done over 100 miles now and the phone hasn't given any sign of slipping, even when doing 65+ on the highway. The HTC-One M8 pictured above does have an Otterbox on it, which probably helps with the grip as well. It should be noted that harder cases may not see the same results. Note that the phone can be turned vertically or horizontally.

There is the issue of vibration, which I think is something that would be difficult to solve and can be seen in the video attached at the end of this post. The vibration seems to be transmitted through the thin metal arms of the "X"; however, it seems most noticeable when at a standstill. It's likely that this will be problematic with any type of mount due to the length of the extension arm and the simple fact that most motorcycles and scooters vibrate. It is hard to fault the X-Grip for the failings of the machine to which it's mounted.

The X-Grip allows access to GPS, camera, even music up to a point. Of course this also makes it easier to see calls coming in, but answering them is complicated and not recommended while moving anyway. As mentioned, playing music is limited by speed: the faster one goes, the harder it is to hear.

All in all though, it's good, sturdy solution that does exactly what it promises to do.

UPDATE (09-15-15): I used the X-grip on my recent trip to Massachusetts and back again, over 600 miles round trip, with about 800 miles traveled total after touring around old haunts a bit. It didn't slip once. 

The following video was taken using the X-grip mount. It's just a nice scenic ride through Lancaster County. (original video has been replaced with HD version)