Friday, June 19, 2009

Rider In The Storm - Inside the Helmet

Remember that great Doors classic, Riders On The Storm? Well today I was the rider IN the storm. Into the storm I was thrown. OK, it was a concisous choice...

Riding in the rain is no big deal to me. In fact, one of my favorite rides was during an evening thunderstorm; lightning all around. It was like the most amazing July 4th celebration I could imagine. I was in awe of beauty of the night and in some odd way I felt secure even though I was fully exposed to the elements on a two wheel journey.

This morning, however, was a bit tricky. Certainly exhilarating, still enjoyable, but definitely tricky. If you don't mind let me take you on a brief journey through the mind of a rider, I hope you enjoy it.

It's Friday morning on another muggy Ohio morning. I wake up to a weather report that included a severe thunderstorm watch, in our area, until noon today. As I'm making breakfast it's getting darker outside. It's 7:00am but you would think it was midnight. As I'm wondering if someone had played a dirty trick on me and changed the time on the clock I'm suddenly startled by a series of lightning strikes near our house. By this time, the thunderstorm watch has been changed to a warning and Madie, our nervous dog has already run to the closet in the master bedroom as she's afraid of thunder and most any sharp noise. Caleb feeds the dogs (part of his morning routine) and Madie, of course, comes out for a quick meal as eating IS her passion. Then its back to the closet.

Caleb comments that the thunder is "weird". It's loud, yet short and crisp; not echoing as it usually does.

Lemon water and a fruit shake, that's the typical weekday breakfast for Misty and I. We eat and continue our normal morning routine, all along catching the light show out of the corner of our eyes as the rain pounds on the kitchen skylight.

Misty and Caleb have dentist appointments this morning so they hit the road first. I finish some cleanup, start a load of laundry and start dressing for the ride. Rain suits are a must on a motorcycle and they do work most of the time. So I suit up attempting to cover any gaps in my clothing where rain could enter. The full faced helmet is in order today, I'd better pick the on without the tinted visor as it's still very dark outside. I open the garage door and Macie and Teagan, our brave dogs, follow me into the garage as the usually do. This time, however, they stop at the open garage door. They're not about to head out in the rain. I think I heard Macie ask "are you stupid?"

All bundled up in rain gear I roll the bike into the driveway and head to the office. I think, this isn't bad. As I weave through the neighborhood and make the final turn to I-270, I'm happy that I only had to stop once. I'm always leary of putting my foot down during a lightning storm. I guess it's that grounding thing, like that's really going to matter.

Entering the freeway is like hitting curtains of rain as the drops hit harder and the cars kick up a mist from the standing water on the road. The speedometer reads 45 the 50, 55. Looking through the windshield is futile as the water sticks to it like a clear gelatin. I sit up higher so I can see over it. Visibility is fair at best, but I trudge on. I slowly make my way over to the next lane to the left making sure as I look into my convex mirrors that no one is sneeking up in my blind spots. I look down, then up, then down, then up. You can concentrate on the mirror too long for fear that traffic ahead has stopped. Normally I'd ride in the far left lane, but today second from the left will do for if there is pooled water, it's deepest in the left lane. Last year a hit a pool of peg deep water going 60 mph. That's a thrill I care not to repeat.

As I approach the 315 interchange, traffic slows to 40mph. This area is tough to navigate in the best of weather. Too many drivers doing too many things, while trying to merge. I welcome the slowed speeds and make it through fine, but now it's uphill into an area with a 4 lane shift for construction. Traffic speeds up. With the faster traffic the spray gets thicker. There's an idiot ahead without his taillights on so I can barely see his him. I try to give myself a little room but when I do another car inserts itself into the space I created. Thankfully the cars behind me are being respectful and staying back. Ouch, what's that, hail? I guess not, apparently just another large rain drop at 55mph.

The weather's getting worse. Between the dark the wind and the rain I think, CRAP! Just hang in there, 5 miles to go. The lanes shift back to their normal position. I need to make my way over one lane to the right. Take your time, look up, look, down. I think it's ok, I'm going anyway. Just go slow and if you made a mistake hopefully someone will honk or at least let me in. I made it, good guess, I guess. The water thickens on the road surface. I can barely see the white lines. Cars ahead repeatedly hit their brakes like a red marquis on the theater sign. I can't tell if their really stopping or not. I tap my brakes from time to time just to light my taillights. I figure it's a good idea in case someone didn't see me ahead of them. Oh yeah, and that rainsuit you spent all of that money on, well it just sprang a leak, but that's the least of my worries at the moment. Temperature changes have now fogged up my visor. I open it up a little to let in some air, whoa that's too much - the rains pelting my face. By now I visibility is almost zero, no kidding. I'm guessing as to where the lane boundaries are but I've traveled this road many times so I think I'm ok. At least no one has complained yet. Finally I'm approaching my exit. One final curve and then a nasty merge to negotiate. As the speedlimit slows my merge is easier than I expected so I take the options of the 3 lane crossover and hit my first option to turn. Piece of cake... Yeah right!

A couple more turns and I'm in the parking garage, rain dripping from my gear like I just drove through the carwash. Looking like a sewer rat that just stepped out of the sewer I enter the elevator and head to my office, all along trying to decide if what I did was cool or just plain crazy.

Those who ride motorcycles certainly subject themselves to a greater level of risks than the 4 wheelers we share the roads with. Many think of riders as having a death wish. I prefer to see it as a life wish. A desire to experience the most out of life at all times. So the next time you see a biker, hopefully you know a little more about what's going on Inside the Helmet.

See you next time!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Road Home

Last night I stayed in Salina Kansas, so it was a short 50mi ride to Junction City to have one more breakfast at Stacys Restaurant (see day 2). I arrived at the restaurant around 9:00a. At that time it was apparent that this was the Saturday breakfast spot as the place was packed. Today the front of the restaurant was full of farmers talking about the day ahead. Since there were no seats available in the front, I went to the back room which was mostly families. I'm sure that the lone biker dude was a topic of conversation that morning. After a quick breakfast of biscuits and gravy, bacon, two eggs and hash browns, I was ready to say goodby to this cute little town.

So I hop on the bike and fire up the GPS, programmed for the final leg of my journey. Arrival time shows 8:43p, although I know that's a generous estimate as that didn't include any stops for gas, food or rest. Today ride would take me through 4 states; Kansas, Illinois, Indiana an Ohio. The weather was starting out cool and cloudy, but fine for riding. Little did I know that just one state behind me they would be expecting severe thunderstorms that even included a tornado in Denver. Other than some cold weather here and there, I've been very fortunate with the riding conditions.

For those who have made the long drive (approx. 9 hrs) across Kansas, the scenery is basically hills, wheat & cows. Perhaps in an odd way this feels very confortable to me as I lived in Wichita from age 3 to 12. I have lots of fond childhood memories from here. Regardless there was no time to stop and remenisce as my mission was to get home as soon as was safely possible.

One treat that I did take time for was to stop at a barbeque place called Bandannas for ribs. With the Kuamoo's Ribfest coming up July 18th (yes this your first notice) I needed to get a tast of midwest barbeque. It was well worth the stop.

The rest of the day was pretty much 'hammer down'. Good weather & good traffic, much better than expected. I only had a few moments of tiredness, but I found that a mouthful of sunflower seeds kept me alert quite nicely. I rolled into the driveway at 10:40p and by that time I was ready for some sleep. It's great to be home!

So let me summarize my trip:

The final tally, as shown below, is 4556 miles. With each rotation of the tires taking me 7 feet, that's 3,436,525 tire rotations. I'll never doubt the significance of a good tire.

So now that my journey has ended, let me share a few things that I have learned:

  • I like riding more than I thought I did (I wouldn't hesitate to go on another ride of this distance.
  • Plan for all weather conditions (it was much colder than expected)
  • Flexibility is good (it's about the journey, not the destination)
  • There's a lot of beautiful country out west (lots of it)
  • People drive real fast out west (gotta love the 80mph speed limits - you know what that means)

I was able to visit 4 national parks while in Utah. Here's a quick summary of each in order of my preference:

1) Bryce - Awe inspiring sandstone structures. Take one of the hikes to see the scenery from within the canyon. The view changes continuously with the light of day. Perhaps the most picturesque of the parks.

2) Escalante (Lower Calf Creek) - A challenging drive through some very rugged country. The hike itself is a great combination of red cliffs and wildlife, culminating in a view of a very nice falls. This park had it all.

3) Zion (The Narrows) - A challenging hike through the river bed that is carved deeply into the canyon. Impressive surrounding rock structures. Initially a bit crowded, but the further I hiked into the canyon the more the crowd thinned out.

4) Arches (Moab) - Picturesque and ever changing. Certainly a must see as what you see today may not be there tomorrow.

In closing, I'd like to thank the readers of this blog for the many nice comments. I hope you enjoyed reading the blog as much as I enjoyed talking about my trip. Over the upcoming weeks I'll be putting enlargement quality pictures on my website (, should you like to see more.

For you bikers, if you've been thinking about taking a road trip like this, but aren't sure if you can do it, I think you would find that it's easier and more rewarding than you think. My reason for taking this trip was more of a personal 'bucket list' thing. But I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Last but certainly not least, I'd like to thank my wife who put aside her personal fears and anxieties and supported me in my quest even though her mother was constantly trying to convice her to talk me out of it. Thanks goodness Misty shares my belief that if you gotta go, go doing something you love. Misty, I know this was hard for you, even though you didn't show it (much). I'm a very lucky man!

This journey has come to an end but there's plenty more coming this year. Until then, happy trails!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 9 - Colorado to Kansas

After 4 hours of sleep it was back on the road. Today my journey took me from Frutia, CO to Salina, KS.; a little over 900 miles all in all. That leaves me with just over 800 miles for tomorrow's final leg. My original plan was to go all the way to Junction City so that I could eat breakfast at Stacey's, the place I spoke about on day 2, but I decided to stop a little short of Jct. City so that I could catch the final period of the Stanley Cup from my hotel room. Perhaps I'll still hit Stacey's tomorrow. It's that good!

The weather was good today although the Colorado Rockys got a lot of snow last night which made it quite cold passing through the Arapaho Basin. Although the scenery was exceptional (sorry no pictures) needless to say I couldn't wait to get to lower elevations so that I could finally warm up. I also made a few more gasoline stops so that I didn't repeat yesterdays incident, although I am now carrying a small gas can, just in case. I was also a bit tired today, so I needed to stretch more often.
Unfortunately, the timing of when I passed through central Kansas was such that I was not able to stop in Wichita for a Nu Way burger (maybe next time).
Due to the pace that I was trying to keep, I didn't take many pictures. Tomorrow I'll wrap things up with my final post for this trip. I'll provide some general trip statistics, travel trips, and general comments.
Off to bed now so I'm ready for an early start tomorrow.

Day 8 - Escalante Then Home

It's 1:15a and it's been a very active day so I'll be keeping this post short so that I can hit the road early tomorrow and cover some freeway. The morning ride started with rain and temperatures in the 50s, so needless to say, it was a bit chilly. My goal was to ride to Escalante, Utah and take the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike. The trail head to the falls was about 7 hrs. from Ogden, not so much because of the distance, but primarily because the last 40 miles to Escalante was full of twisties that reduced my average pace over that stretch to about 30mph. The trail followed the Calf Creek, a small tributary that meandered through a valley surrounded by tall rock structures, equally impressive as those in other parks in Utah.
The path to the falls was 5.5 miles in length. And of course, the falls was touted as the highlight of the trail. I would have to agree that the falls was very impressive and nice to photograph, however, to me the falls was only one of
many highlights that this trail had to offer.
Calf Creek Falls Trail was a peaceful place where wildlife and vegetation were abundant. After hiking about 2 miles in, I couldn't help but stop and listen to the many birds singing all around me. I've captured a few shots of these birds in the following shots at the end of this post.

Another beautiful aspect of the park was the wonderful blooming cactus and other flowers. If you stood still long enough you would see the hummingbirds drink nectar from the cactus flowers. It was a really cool site.
After the half day hike, I was back on the road and headed for home. The route out of Southern Utah that I took was 12 North to 24 East. This took me through the remainder of Escalante, where the road was a winding two lane road with a 3 foot of shoulder on each side, and a thousand foot drop either direction. Exhilarating to say the least. Next I weaved in and out of the Dixie Forest where deer lined the road as if they were watching a parade. Finally I entered a park called The Capitol Reef. This was a impressive area of large rock structures of most every color. Once again, the road twisted in and out of the canyons and made for one of the most scenic and challenging rides that I've ever been on. I definitely put this on my must ride list if scenery and twisties are your thing.
After leaving the park area, it was a 40 mile straight shot back to I -70. While taking this final road to 70, I noticed that the star were filling the sky so I couldn't resist but to pull over and turn off the lights for a few minutes. What a humbling experience, total darkness around me and a sky full of stars. I kept thinking that this is where the UFO would come in, however, no UFO but I did see a shooting star.
Other than running out of gas on my way back to Grand Junction, it was a great day. Even that experience wasn't all bad as a very nice gentleman saw that I was stranded and took me to the gas station.
Now I'm beat so I'd better catch some shut-eye.
See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 7 - A Day of Pampering

With a couple of days off the bike to rest my weary behind, today was a day for my wife and I to pamper ourselves by doing some of our favorite things in northern Utah.

First stop was Park City, playground of the rich and famous (but they even allowed us there). The number one order of business, BEER!!!

We went to our favorite micro-brewery, The Wasatch Brew Pub. Here we sampled a couple of local brews including:

Raspberry Wheat - a nice wheat beer with a very light hint of raspberry.

HB-51 - A copper colored beer that commemerates the passing of the Utah law that allowed home brewing of beer.

Polygamy Porter - A dark beer that looks like a stout, has a smooth creamy texture, but has absolutely zero bite or bitter aftertaste.

While enjoying our beer and nachos, we couldn't help but take a few pictures of our enjoyment and harass some of you back home who couldn't be here to join us. Sorry...

Next pleasure, chocolate covered strawberries at the good ole Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.

For those of you who have not been to a RMCF, they have some of the most sinful chocolate covered treats available. We got a couple of strawberries, to go, and started on our hunt for some High West Whiskey.

High West Whiskey was actually a request of one of Misty's work associates, but after some research we find that it gets rave reviews as a Whiskey that is hand made in small batches, right here in Utah. It turned out that their Park City Distillery was still under construction but we were able to find some at a state liquor store, so we picked up a few bottles. Mission accomplished.

The final stop of the day is a must do, any time you are in the Ogden area. It was the Shooting Star Saloon, the oldest bar west of the Mississippi to maintain the same name and home of the 'Shooting Star Burger', arguably the best burger in the world. This massive burger definitely rivals the well known 'Thurman Burger' (for those of you in Columbus). It's nearly a pound of hamburger topped with bratwurst, onion, cheese and of course, that special sauce. Since Misty and I had eaten a few hours prior, we split a small Shooting Star Burger which still satisfied us.

In my last post I had mentioned that inclement weather would prevent me from making the trip to Yellowstone, so as a substitute I bring you some of the wildlife inside The Shooting Star Saloon.

First there was the wild moose. A giant beast that I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley

Next, it's the 5 point buck. A thing of beauty in the forest.

Then there's the St. Bernard. Legend has it that this is the actual head from the bar owners pet dog after it passed away.

Then, last but not least, there's this beast... Don't Ask!

Well, off to bed now. My trip home begins early tomorrow.
See you tomorrow night!

Day 5 -Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon was my third stop and I found it to be one of the most awe inspiring sites to date. Multi-colored sandstone carved over time by wind and rain have created a garden of massive walls, columns and spires that truly boggle the mind. These mystical sand castles change color with the light of day providing an endless array of photo opportunities. The hike down into the canyon takes you to the base of the massive sandstone structures, forming slots of varying shape and size. In one of the slots is where I found this group of Ohio State fans. It seems like the Buckeyes were well represented.

All along the trail you look up, hundreds of feet and you feel as if the spires are alive and looking down on you, watching every move you make.

At the base of the canyon cedar, holly and plumrose are abundant. The cedar trees take many intriguing shapes as their growth is influenced by the dessert climate.

This cool tree made a great location to pose for a family picture.

The trail continues for many miles in many directions until you begin to zig-zag back up out of the canyon. Tunnels, carved through the rock act as doors to the next chamber. The view again changes as you gain altitude.

Finally as we exit the canyon we are blessed with a beautful moonrise over the canyon walls. It's time to just watch and listen to the solitude of the
ensuing nightfall.

Oh to be a tree blessed with the duty of standing guard over this hallowed ground. I would love to hear the tale of what this tree has seen.
This would normally be the end of my tour of Southern Utah, however, inclimate weather in Wyoming and across the Dakotas have altered my plans. Tomorrow I will head south again to Escalante Canyon to view the beautiful Calf Creek Falls. I look forward to some warmer weather as it's been quite cool here in Ogden.
I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 4 - Zion National Park

Zion is a diverse park that hosts a rich display of huge rock formations, as you enter the park, with one of the main highlights being a slot canyon hike called 'The Narrows'. The rock formation display a vast array of colors as the many mineral layers are in full view. While driving through the canyon you will come across numerous mountain tunnels, the longest of which is over a mile long. Watch out though, due to the limited height in the tunnel, some RVs may not make it through, or at least the 2-way road will be restricted to one-way to allow the larger vehicles pass through.

Headed into 'The Narrows' prepare to get wet as at least 70% of the trail is in the river. Typically river depths will range from ankle high to chest deep. Today the water temperature was 62 degrees, so after the initial shock of hitting waste deep water, we had no problem adjusting to the temp. We were fortunate to be able to take this hike as the weather this week as included intermittent rain. Threat of rain in this area would make the hike a no-go, due to the high risk of flash floods. Flash floods are a big threat when hiking a slot canyon as any rain water coming from up stream will quickly pick up depth and speed bringing with it literally tons of debris. So if you are stuck in the canyon and a flash flood is coming, hopefully you can hit higher ground since outrunning it is impossible.
While in the canyon be prepared to see lush vegetation, sheer rock cliffs, an array of colorful rock. But I hope you don't feel clostrophobic because the slot canyon can get pretty tight.
I'll leave you with a few more pictures to enjoy as I prepare to show you what has bee my favorite park, to date, Bryce
See you tomorrow.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Back to Civilization

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to provide a trip update but it’s not for lack of activity. I’ve had a very busy three days with, unfortunately, no means to access the Internet in order to post to my blog.

While in Southern Utah I visited Arches, Zion and Bryce. With over 1200 shots from the three parks, there’s no easy way to share them all with you. Therefore I’ll just pick a few shots from each park, trying to pick ones that best represent the characteristics of each.

Since I will now spend a few days getting some R&R with the family in Northern Utah, I’ll introduce each park on separate posts so that I don’t flood you with “TMI” all at once. That being said let me start with Arches National Park in Moab, UT.

Day 3 - Arches, as the name suggests, is known for the many natural arches that are formed by the erosion of the sandstone that is the basis for much of the park. Perhaps the most notable arch is Landscape Arch, which is a massive arch that is so thin that it is almost hard to imagine that it remains standing.

Many other arches also exist in the park, each of different size and configuration. As the arches age and erosion continues to take its toll, the park is continually changing as older arches collapse and new arches are formed. It's an amazing evolution that in its own way reflects the frailty of our own existence.

One other interesting aspect of the park is its red rock structures, again formed out of a mixture of clay and sandstone. These shapes can vary from complex conical shapes to huge mountains of red rock, each of which are impressive in their own way.

A final aspect of any Utah park is it's wildlife. Most prevalent are the Yak (according to me) but really an antelope (according to my wife), deer, squirrels and of course, lizards.