Sunday, September 30, 2007

Half way there!

Spending the night in Louisville with my friend Michele -- this is the mid-point to the Dragon. Unfortunately had to leave my friend Marc about half way between Cincinnati and Louisville because his oil light kept coming on ... we couldn't figure out why. His oil level did seem a little *high* -- but his bike (a K1200R) wasn't overheating or anything. He decided to stop and call BMW in the morning, rather than continuing with me to Louisville, just in case.

Will connect with him in the morning after he finds out more. Hope it's not too serious. He looked seriously bummed when I left him.

Weather was perfect for today's ride -- just warm enough not to fill chilled in perfed leather and just cool enough to be refreshing. I have also finally figured out how to pack everything I need for a week into one tail bag and a tank bag. That's no mean feat, considering that includes a laptop, a digital camera, a camcorder and a *large* bag of crudites (that's raw veggies to you non-Quebecers) for snacks.

Oh, and a trickle charger. After allowing leaving my parking light on all night last week at Marc's and letting the battery die, I intended to be prepared.

The camcorder comes with a separate lens that I have to figure out how to attach to my helmet so I can record our rides on the Dragon.

One more day and we're there!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sleepless in Ann Arbor

Can't sleep tonight -- and couldn't sleep last night, either -- too excited because I'm finally heading south to ride the Tail of the Dragon -- a section of US I 129 that has 318 curves in only 11 miles (almost 18 kilometres).

I've wanted to ride it for years and was finally supposed to go down in August with my friend Marc but he had to bail because of a family emergency. But I rode to his place today (Saturday) -- just arrived an hour ago. And we're heading down tomorrow.

I've been looking at a Google map of the Dragon and it's really scary-looking. That's the southern leg in this Google map. The Cherahola Skyway (the east-west leg on the map) isn't shabby, either. I'm going to be a total grandma during the first run.

I'm testing a camcorder that has a separate lens that can be used as a helmet cam -- so we're going to try to record each other riding it.

We're doing the ride down in easy stages -- stopping Sunday night to stay with my friend Michelle and her partner Sherry's house in Louisville. On the way back, we're crashing at my cousin Kathy's place in Clarksville Indiana -- just across the river from Louisville.

Come on, sleep... join me now -- so I'll be fresh for tomorrow's ride to Louisville.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aminal & Fozzy's annual BBQ

Another first for me yesterday: went on a ride with a VERY large group -- 54 bikes! Yikes! I know some of the charity rides are larger and I've not joined them because I found the idea of riding with that many other bikes somewhat intimidating.

We didn't have to go very far as a group -- from the Elmvale Jungle Zoo on Highway 27 (about 20 kilometres north of Barrie) to a private residence in Midland -- less than 25 kilometres in total, by my estimate.

Here is a shot another rider (djltoronto is his nickname, or screen name, on took of the group parked outside the zoo. After taking some shots myself, I spotted Ron (aka Fiji, his nickname on GTAM), whom I'd met on the ride to Ottawa the last weekend in August and again on lil red bird's ride the first weekend in September. And Bambata, whom I'd met on lil red bird's ride -- and who rode with me down to the 401 after the ride was over. I was so excited to catch up with fellas I'd enjoyed riding with that I didn't think to take pictures of the zoo animals we could see through the fence while we chatted. We spotted flamingos and some kind of horned beast with very pointy things poking straight up from their heads. Gazelles, maybe?

In this photo that djltoronto also took, I'm talking to Ron and Bambata. We're almost all the way to the far right corner of the shot. I'm the short one.

Because many of us had come so far that getting to Elmvale had emptied our tanks, the group stopped for everyone who needed to to fill up. Finding a gas station with enough parking for 54 bikes must have been a challenge! Here's a shot of the group waiting for everyone to fill up.

This is Trina Scott (TS on GTAM) and John Reed (JohnCBR) talking at the gas stop. I'd met up with them earlier for a ride. More on that below.

Here's Ron (aka Fiji) in the middle, and Bambata (with his helmet on) on the far left.

A fellow rider (who has now identified himself as XLOR8T) is checking out Baby at the gas stop.

And here's Rodel (RVA 1), with his R6 at the gas stop. When I first filed this entry I'd tentatively identified him as Rob (G60), who'd introduced himself to me later and actually rides a grey GSXR. Rodel was kind enough to email the correction to me.

The tops of some of the trees are already starting to change colour that far north of Toronto. I guess summer really is over.

The route was pretty, tree-lined, twisty in spots and, if memory serves, had to cross only one intersection. The latter was fortunate, because the group was so large that we had to stop traffic (see shot above, also by djltoronto) to cross that intersection in order not to split up the group. Whoever planned the route (Aminal, I suspect -- more on him below) did a good job.

What made it particularly outstanding was that the purpose of the ride was to end up at a barbecue hosted by a couple with the nicknames Aminal (yes, Aminal, not Animal) and Fozzy. Aminal, a long-time member of the GTA boards and (I can now attest personally to this) a fantastic chef, had extended the invitation to anyone who was a registered member in good standing of

That's incredibly brave, considering there are more than 15,000 registered GTAM members. Aminal told me this is the 8th year he's done this.

Look at the fantastic food Aminal and Fozzy prepared. Note how the salad is sitting in a specially crafted gas tank in the middle! And there was lots of food for vegetarians, which is quite rare at barbecues.

Here are some of the fellas at the barbecue. In the rear of the shot, on the far right end of the tent, is Bambata and Ron (Fiji), in that order.

And I found a shot that captured Lynn, the elusive lil red bird -- that's him, the tallest one in the middle in the background ('lil bird, indeed!), talking to the host and hostess (in the foreground), with his husband Shawn sitting beside him. Don't know the details, but Shawn's still recuperating from a car/bike accident three years ago. He was on the bike. When lil red bird saw me taking snaps with my Nikon Coolpix 995 he grinned, nodded and pointed to his camera -- identical!

I'd had to miss the annual ride and barbecue with my Southern Cruisers chapter while I was in Oregon visiting my friend Kevin for the first two weeks of September, so this was a treat.

Here's our host, hard at work at his barbecue, feeding a lot of hungry boys (and gals -- there were eight women with bikes on the ride).

This next one is of Fozzy, Aminal's bride, giving out "Fozzy prizes" to guests with the oldest bike, the smallest bike, the bike that had to come the farthest to get to the barbecue, etc. Fozzy was a very generous and enthusiastic hostess.

When we got to Aminal's house in Midland, all the bikes -- even tightly packed at a diagonal to the curb -- took up every parking spot on his side of the street for an entire block. The space had to have been reserved -- Aminal and Fozzy must be incredibly good friends with their neighbours! If you click on the image (as with most of them on this blog) you'll get a bigger picture that shows more detail. Some very nice bikes here.

You can see Baby better in this lineup -- to the right of the driveway.

While we were taking pictures of all the bikes, Ron (aka Fiji) told me that an event such as this could never be held in his neighbourhood. His neighbours once called the police to complain when he came home with two of his friends and his friends parked their bikes on the street. Ron had already moved his bike into his garage when the cops arrived. There's nothing illegal about parking on the street (although some streets have postings limiting how long you can park), so it's interesting that the police would have responded to such a call, I said. Ron shrugged. I wonder if his neighbours equate bikes (even sport bikes?) with some kind of gang activity? Kind of odd, I thought.

I came close to forgetting the Aminal and Fozzy barbecue was coming up because I had a lot of work to catch up on this week after getting back from Oregon and hadn't checked in on the board, but John Reed (whom I met on Facebook and is CBRJohn on GTAM) reminded me and invited me to join him on a ride to the Elmvale zoo with Trina Scott (TS on GTAM) and Paul Rogers. Paul is the co-founder of GTAM with a gal nicknamed Cutiekill, who asked that her real name not be used.

I met Trina, Paul and Rob (aka d00dz on GTAM), along with another fella named Dave, one named Vic and a guy on a brand new red Ducati (I *think* his name was Steve -- but he's called Sticker on GTAM) at the Tim Hortons near Mayfield in Brampton. In the photo above, there's Trina and Paul facing Sticker in the middle of a shot, with Vic standing on the right.

Left to right, here's Rob (d00dz), Dave, Vic, and Trina at the Timmie's meetup in Brampton. Trina led us on a lovely ride up to Orangeville, where John then led us on the next leg up to Elmvale.

John warned us before we took off that one of the legs of his ride would include twisties that had gravel spilled onto the road, so I was riding somewhat conservatively. Nonetheless, I almost went into a ditch. On one curve, gravel was far enough out into the road that I didn't want to lean into that turn. I've been given to understand there is a way of doing that *without* going down but I don't know how. So I straightened up halfway through, which sent me wide into the other lane. I leaned again soon enough to not go into the ditch on the other side of the road, but that was close. I rode even *SLOWER* the rest of that road. I really do need to take a dirt-biking course.

At the barbecue, I lobbied Paul for an interview (that's him on the right, fueling up at the buffet), and Cutiekill laughed and joked that he's not allowed to talk to anyone without supervision. Starting in 1997 with just a few hundred members, GTAM now boasts of more than 15,000 members, a healthy growth for an online community. The number of active users who post every day is smaller -- Cutiekill estimated that number at about 1,500.

She also says the demographic has changed considerably since the early days, when the largest age group on the boards was mid-20s to early 40s. Now it's 16 to mid-20s, which would explain why there seems to be more sport-bike riders on GTAM than cruiser riders. Entry-level sport bikes start around $6,000 new, and used ones can be picked up for as little as $1,500, which makes them attainable for cash-strapped young people trying to finish school and get their first jobs.

Not to mention the heart-stopping capabilities of some sport bikes, which makes them particularly attractive to young men who are at the point in their lives when they have to battle surges of testosterone to live long enough to acquire some common sense. But then, I started riding in my 20s and didn't acknowledge I was mortal until I hit 29. So the phenomenon affects both genders.

My son Shawn, who's a sport rider who's far too wise for his years, warned me when I bought Baby that it was going to require discipline to keep my licence, and he was right. She doesn't start to purr until she hits 140 kph (no point in even nudging her into 6th gear before then) and it *IS* a temptation not to reserve that for track days.

I'm a fairly conservative rider on twisties. I know I'm a newbie on this kind of bike and try to ride within my ability. The thought of ending up in a ditch is sobering.

But I have to restrain her on highways.

The topic of which brings up a curious incident on the way home from Aminal and Fozzy's barbecue. John and Trina planned to go for another ride after the BBQ and after getting up at 6 am with only four hours of sleep to meet Trina and Paul in Brampton at 8:15, I was starting to fade. I didn't think it would be a good idea to do any technically challenging roads while tired. My long day with lil red bird reinforced that wisdom with me, since I was so tired I'd jumped a curb exiting one of our last gas stops.

So, when a young fella named Mo (Harley_in_TO on GTAM) volunteered to navigate me back to the 400 (thanks, Mo!) so I could get back downtown, I gratefully accepted.

Mo rode lead and led us down Hwy 27 to the 400, and once there set a pace that matched the speed of the middle lane of traffic. We pulled out to pass only a couple of times; I think we averaged about 110 kph. Which was above the posted speed limit, but there were lots of cars passing us, moving much faster.

About three-quarters of the way to Toronto I noticed an Ontario Provincial Police car keeping pace next to my position in the traffic in the passing lane. I couldn't tell if Mo saw it, but he didn't change his speed. That's when I looked down at my speedometer and made a mental note that we were going about 110.

The OPP car passed both of us, merged into the middle lane, and changed lanes until it was driving on the shoulder. There it kept pace with with Mo's traffic position for several kilometres. I think -- not sure if I remember this part exactly -- it then dropped back into the slow lane behind us.

Before taking off I had told Mo I probably had enough gas in my tank to go about 150 kilometres, and we were approaching that distance at this point. He pointed to a sign indicating a gas stop coming up, and we got off at the next exit. As we did, we noticed two other bikes had taken the same exit, as had the OPP car. As Mo and I pulled up to the pumps, we saw a female officer get out of the OPP car to talk to one of the other bikers at his pump. I filled my tank as the OPP gal finished her conversation with the other biker, and told Mo I was gonna pull up in front of the store because I had to use the washroom. He nodded and said he was going to do that, too.

The other biker entered the store at the same time I did, and I asked him what the conversation with the OPP officer had been about. He said she'd asked if he knew the other bikers (us, I guess), and he'd said no and he thought that because we'd all pulled into the same gas stop she seemed to be testing him to see if he was lying. (????)

When I got out of the washroom there were four bikes close to mine in front of the store, one of them Mo's. When Mo came out he said the OPP gal had come over to talk to him and, pointing at my bike, had said that I was the only one who wasn't speeding. Hunh? Since I was following Mo, if one of us was speeding, the other had to be, too.

The owner of one of the other bikes (who, as it turned out, had been at the barbecue but hadn't left with Mo and I) exited the store then and joined us. He said he'd been three or four cars behind us when the OPP officer was keeping pace with us on the highway and she had come over to him at the gas stop and told him he was speeding, too. Is there some kind of interesting OPP math that requires input for whether the rider has ovaries?

This was all very strange. Although we weren't going any faster than the pace of the rest of the traffic, if she wanted to stop us for speeding and had evidence of it, she would have (should have?) just given us all tickets. As the courts are fond of pointing out, even one kilometre over the speed limit is speeding. But giving warnings to the boys (and trying to put us all together in a group when only Mo and I were traveling together) -- while holding me up as an exemplary example -- struck me as just plain weird.

She may not have had equipment to record whether or not anyone was speeding. But for the life of me, I can't figure out what her intent was.

From a law enforcement perspective, which has a mandate to increase safety on the roads, there might be strategic value in warning bikers not to speed, for sure. It is true that there are lots of bikers who push it on the highways. My friend Steve told that, me one night as he was travelling home from his Wednesday night baseball game, a guy on a sport bike zipped past him at what had to be close to 200 kph -- one second he was there, the next he was gone. Steve said it was just after he'd signalled an intent to change lanes, but before he did. If he'd moved into that lane even one second earlier, Steve said, that rider would have been a dead man.

But almost everyone drives faster than the 100 kph speed limit posted on major highways. If you drive the speed limit you end up with people tailgating you or honking at you. It's "common wisdom" that as long as you're traveling only 10 kilometres over the speed limit, the OPP doesn't bother with you. Whether or not that is true (I once had a Surete Quebec officer tell me that *IS* unofficial policy in Quebec), I personally have never been stopped for going only 10 kilometres over the speed limit on the highway -- and don't know anyone who has.

But it was a very strange end to a wonderful day.

Postscript: Apparently two of the people who went on a ride after the barbecue ended up in a ditch. One of them was Sticker, the fella with the brand new red Ducati who rode up to the barbecue with my group. Cutiekill and Isis, two of the GTAM moderators, had warned me off going on that ride because it was on Southdown 13, which is a rough road with lots of sand, gravel and broken asphalt.

In his post on GTAM today, Sticker said he was glad he was wearing full gear when he lowsided into the ditch because he'd been hurt worse falling off his mountain bike. The Duc, on the other hand, netted a destroyed rim and a flat tire. Had to be towed.

Apparently the other rider who went down in a separate incident on that same road ended up at a Bracebridge hospital, but from what I gathered from the board discussion his injuries weren't serious.

Correction, as of Wednesday, Sept. 26: Riceburner just informed me that the Duc didn't go down on Southdown 13. Never made it that far.

Nonetheless, be warned. Southdown 13 eats motorcycles. And isn't particularly kind to their riders.

PPS -- this just in: fellow rider djltoronto also took individual photos of *EVERY* bike on the ride (wow - thanks!) and posted them online. Click this link to see a pix of *ALL* the rides. He said he thought he missed a few that left early, but there are 54 photos there, so I think he got 'em all.

An Oregon interlude

The day after lil red bird's marathon ride I was supposed to ride Baby to Ann Arbor so I could get in a ride on Labour Day with my friend Marc before he drove me to Detroit, where I was hopping a plane to visit my friend Kevin in Oregon. That morning, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to climb into the saddle, because I every muscle in my body ached and I still had no feeling in either of my thumbs.

But I ate some naproxen sodium (generic Aleve), cleaned and lubed my chain, checked the tire pressure, and took off. By the time I got there I was zonked, but we had a wonderful ride around Ann Arbor the next day. Michigan really has some nice twisties. Marc turned me onto a massage therapist at his athletic's club, so I got some work done on that fire between my shoulder blades left over from lilredbird's ride.

Got on the plane the next day (Wednesday), and took my gear because I planned to take Kevin's Silverwing out for a ride while I was there. But was still so sore when I arrived (and my thumbs were still numb) that I took it easy for the first week. Took three days to get any feeling back in my left thumb and two more after that for my right thumb to stop being numb. The massage therapist in Ann Arbor told me I must have compressed the nerve for too long on the ride and it got inflamed. Only thing I could do was to take an anti-inflammatory and give it a rest.

We did some travelling to the coast, and visited the sea lion caves. The sea lions must have all been out to lunch when we arrived, because we didn't see any. But got a couple of great pix of the caves. and nearby beaches -- see the pix all along this entry. The first one is inside the sea lion cave, reportedly the largest sea cave i the world. The second is a lookout from the top of the cave, and the other three are beaches a bit south of the cave.

By the time I got the feeling back in my right thumb (although there's still a patch about a centimetre and a half square that is still numb) the weather wouldn't cooperate, so I never got to ride while there. I at least wanted to get a pic of Kevin on the bike, but weather didn't cooperate for that on the day we thought of it, either. So he said he'd take one and send it to me. I'll post in this entry later after he sends it.

Since I'd brought my running shoes to Oregon, instead of riding I took the opportunity to take some great runs on the dirt roads around Kevin's place. He lives about 40 miles west of Eugene in Walton, population 350 -- so I could run for miles without seeing or hearing a single car. The disadvantage of this remote location was that it was so far from the nearest phone line routing station that Kev can get only dialup Web access that is SO slow it took up to 20 minutes to load a Web page. Even grabbing email from Yahoo was painful. So I was almost completely off line for 10 days. I was going through withdrawal.

Flew back to Ann Arbor last Saturday night and Marc and I went on one last ride around rural Michigan. I was supposed to ride back to Toronto last Monday but left my parking light on all night (that snick on the ignition is TOO damn close to the parking lock snick) and even a boost couldn't get her started the next day, so I bought a trickle charger small enough to travel with (figured I needed one in case I did something this stupid again) and hooked her up. Took 18 hours to recharge the battery! So I didn't ride back to Toronto until Tuesday.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Exhausted, sore, and in love

Should have packed along a spare set of wrists for the ride I took yesterday around eastern Ontario with another group of fellas I met on At least three of them I'd met on the ride to Ottawa the weekend before.

Every muscle in my body aches today and I plan to spend the entire time I'm in Oregon soaking in my friend's hot tub. Today, as lil red bird (the ride leader) observed in an after-ride post: "pain killers are my friend."

The ride was a real marathon for me. Longest number of hours in a row I've ever been in the saddle. Left the house at 7:30 and, thanks to a 401 debacle (it was closed between Markam Road and Brock Road because of an accident), rolled into my driveway just before midnight: 16.5 hours.

I forgot to check my odometer before setting out yesterday morning -- but think I clocked more than 750 kilometres. Some who lived farther west clocked 800 and more, so that sounds about right.

Vkhamphi, who rode sweep for the last part of the ride, observed that I'm scrubbing off too much speed going into the turns. I was braking less this weekend than last weekend, though, and hope next time it will be even less.

I'm also fighting the urge to brake mid curve, which lil red bird pointed out I'm still doing sometimes. My brain knows it's stupid and will get me into trouble but, as I said in a post on the board, my brake finger gets twitchy and sometimes thinks for itself. Have to over-ride it by imprinting new body memory, which is only going to happen with more time on roads like those. And Vkhampi says I need to push/steer.

It's very useful getting this kind of feedback. Great group of fellas.

Click here to read the after-ride posts, if you're interested.

When I got home last night, that spot between my shoulder blades that's always given me trouble (I've been at some kind of keyboard for many hours a day since I was seven years old -- starting with playing piano and culminating with 60-80-hour work weeks during the dot-com boom) was burning like fire. My wrists felt like they were gonna fall off, and discovered muscles in my thighs I never knew I had from gripping the tank with my knee(s) for that many hours in a row.

But I'm blissed. It was almost tantric. I told lil red bird he must be a male version of a dominatrix or somesuch. (laughing) We all got home sore and limping and we love him for it.

But I think I'm gonna eat some aspirin, clean my chain, and take Baby to Ann Arbor today so I can ride there with my friend Marc tomorrow before hopping that flight to Eugene in Detroit.

Forgot my camera yesterday (should have packed my tank bag before falling asleep the night before instead of doing it in a 6 a.m. haze), but took some pix on my cellphone.

Don't have time to transfer them (still have to pack for Oregon), but will post them as soon as I can.

I'm very grateful to these guys for letting me tag along and for offering me riding tips.

And, as lil red bird posted:

"You can now say you have ridden:
(Highway) 507
Glamorgan Road.
Elephant Lake/Peterson Road
Have boogied on the Calabogie boogie
and stomped down the Ompa stomp.
In one day."

Wanna go back and do Highway 507 and Elephant Road again, especially. I'm in love.

We deviated from it somewhat, but click here to see the route we took.


Postscript: I didn't get the photos off my phone until I got back from Oregon and I have to tell ya, the HP iPaq takes *terrible* photos. Only one had enough definition to even tell who and what is in the photo. Here it is: a snap of lil red bird (in the red leathers, of course) checking the map with Vkhamphi. That's Bambata on the far right. If the fella giving the thumbs up cares to email me and remind me of his name, I'll add it.

But you can click here to see some better photos that Regenmeister took with a real camera and posted on Picasa. I'm waiting to hear from him whether I can copy one of them that he took of me on Baby so I can post it here in my blog. Thanks, Regenmeister!