Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My second novel is now available, Ohlen's Bane

Anything worth doing once is worth doing twice.

I just released my second novel, Ohlen's Bane, available as an e-book for Kindle and Nook. It will be available for iOS devices on the Apple iTunes Bookstore soon as well.

A free preview edition in PDF format is available for download here.

Ohlen's Arrow is the first book in the series, and Ohlen's Bane is the sequel. You can read about them here and here.

Yes, I intend to write a third book in the series, perhaps more. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing instead of Riding

Lately I've been pushing to finish my second book, Ohlen's Bane, the sequel to Ohlen's Arrow. My goal is to get it published and available for purchase by Thanksgiving. Because of this, I haven't had many opportunities to ride lately. To further complicate matters, highway 224 between Estacada and Ripplebrook Ranger Station has been closed because of the 36 Pit Fire back in September. It burned on both sides of the highway and ODOT is concerned about landslides. This effectively eliminated rides to Detroit as a possibility.

Speaking of landslides, there was a bad one on 224 recently, further complicating matters. It is possible 224 won't be available for riders like me until spring of next year.

In the meantime, I have been taking short maintenance rides on both my V-Strom 650 and GSX-R750 just to keep them running. Having my bikes stabled in a storage unit a half mile from my apartment makes it that much more of a hassle to hop on and go for a ride.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fast and hot ride in northern California

I just got back from a six-day, 1,500 mile trip to northwestern California. This trip included a rather vigorous and hot run on the black-diamond route of highways 36, 3, and 299, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees at the mid-way point of Weaverville, California.

To start, I rode south through the eastern side of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, then cut across from Lebanon to Philomath for my first bio and gas break of the day. Highway 34 from Philomath through Alsea to Waldport was in fantastic shape and I practically had the road to myself. When I reached the coast in Waldport, it was time to add a layer under my Aerostich Roadcrafter to fend off the increased chill.
2012 Suzuki GSX-R 750

Shortly after, a rider on a Yamaha FJR1300 whizzed by me, then another. Because of numerous members of the Anti-Destination League restricting their forward progress, I caught up with them. Then the race was on. The lead rider was rather assertive and stayed ahead, while the second FJR pilot and I maintained a brisk but safer pace a few hundred yards behind. One by one, we passed slow cars when possible. I was impressed by how quick and nimble the FJR can be.

We eventually stopped at a gas station in Florence and chatted. Bruce and Dwayne were out on a day ride from Eugene and were still getting acquainted with their new-to-them FJRs. Bruce was a bit high-strung and ranted rather colorfully about slow cagers, especially those driving the Toyota Prius. We mutually wondered why people who drive them insist on going so slow.

I needed to keep moving on, so I said my goodbyes and continued southward. Soon I was in Coos Bay, checking into the Best Western and unloading my gear. Dinner was Hungarian goulash at the Blue Heron a few blocks away.

The next day was a sedate run down highway 101 into Fortuna. Dinner was great conversation, food and beer at the Eel River Brewing Company next door to my motel. After the carb-only breakfast provided by the motel and a protein bar, I left the next morning heading east on highway 36. My pace was moderate and the ride started out with mist on my face shield and damp roads. After 20 miles of riding inland away from the coastal weather, the pavement dried out and my pace quickened.

Rider and GSX-R750 on Highway 36
I got into Weaverville by 10:30, and after getting gas, I ate breakfast at The Nugget. After parking in front of the restaurant, I didn’t even have my helmet off before a gray-haired gentleman emerged and started chatting me up about my bike. Then he began to tell me all about the numerous fast bikes he’s ridden and owned over the years. He seemed rather proud of the fact that a BMW S1000RR seemed a bit slow for his tastes.

After a nice breakfast, I backtracked on highways 3 and 36 toward Fortuna. I stopped at Grizzly Creek Redwoods campground and got chatted up by a mechanical engineer named Marvin, who was visiting the area from Arizona, doing some soul searching about his career and where he wanted to call home.

Back in Fortuna, I gassed up, then headed north on highway 101 through Eureka before heading inland once again, this time to my friend Mark’s house in Kneeland. Mark and I had met by chance at The Nugget in Weaverville back in 2009, and have been friends ever since. He had just purchased a brand new 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 so we spent a bit of time checking it out and talking about bikes in general.

On Wednesday, we met Mark’s friend, Jim, in Eureka. Jim was riding a Moto Guzzi Griso, Mark was on his new Strom, and I was on my GSX-R750. We rode into town and had coffee at the very cool Black Lightning Motorcycle Cafe. It was neat to see a write-up and pictures of the trip to Steens Mountain Mark, his wife Janice and I took back in 2010.

We then headed south on 101 to Fortuna before heading inland on highway 36. I was in the lead. Going past Grizzly Creek state park, three guys on BMW sport-touring bikes pulled out in front of us. One by one they pulled off and let us go past. Apparently our pace was a bit too fast for them.

By the time we reached Hayfork, the temperature was into the 90’s. We stopped for beverages and snacks, then began the really fun — and challenging — part of the trip, the section of highway 3 between Hayfork and Weaverville.

Mark led on his V-Strom, and although he was still breaking in his bike and didn’t want to get above 5,000 rpm, it took a fair bit of effort for me to keep up with him on the numerous 25 mph curves of highway 3. In the straights and faster curves, my Gixxer excelled and both the Strom and Griso had a hard time keeping up. But in the slower, tighter curves, the V-Strom excelled. I recall a few times when I was on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650, riding up the tail pipes of sport bikes in the tight twisties, and was reminded just how nimble the Strom really is.

We made it to Weaverville safe and happy, but knackered. The temperature had reached 100 degrees by the time we stopped for lunch at Trinideli. We went up to the Chevron after eating to get gas, and saw two guys on BMW GS’s hanging out. One of them came up to talk with us. They were on a big trip from Colorado and had gone through several break-downs. One bike’s fuel system had died and the throttle cable of the other had broken. They were waiting for a new part to get shipped overnight to a local repair shop.

We headed west on highway 299 and, although quick, we ran a more moderate pace due to the notoriously high law enforcement presence. We also got held up by slow cagers. California drivers tend to pull over and let you pass, even log truck drivers, but drivers from other states don’t seem to have a clue about this courtesy. We got stuck behind an ADL life member with North Carolina plates that refused to pull over and let the string of impatient cars stacked up behind him go past.

We stopped in Willow Creek and got some provisions from the local grocery store. I bet our sweaty and road-weary presence was quite a sight to the other customers. Our final stop for the night was Jim’s camp spot in a private RV park 25 minutes further down the road.

When we got up the next morning, we found fresh bear scat in two spots within 50 yards of our camp site. After breakfast, Mark and I took off on 299 west while Jim hung back to get some chores done on his camp site. At highway 101, I headed north while Mark headed south back toward his home in Kneeland.

My ride north was uneventful. Once I crossed the border into Oregon, I noticed a huge law enforcement presence along the highway. There were radar traps seemingly every five miles. Prior to that, however, my low fuel light began flashing and by the time I got into Crescent City, my reserve meter said I had only 5.2 miles to go before hitting empty. It took 3.48 gallons to fill my tank, making me wonder if my Gixxer has a 3.5 gallon tank; I had always thought it was 4.5 gallons.

I stopped in Bandon for lunch, then got into Coos Bay around 3 PM. The temperature there was 87 degrees, courtesy of hot east winds blowing down the coast range. Dinner was at Shark Bites in downtown Coos Bay, dungeness crab cakes and halibut fish tacos, with a nice Eola Hills chardonnay.

Friday, the last day of my trip, was intended to get home as efficiently as possible. That meant cutting inland on highway 38 from Reedsport to I-5, then boogying up the freeway to home. I was tired and was suffering from some kind of sinus infection or allergies or cold that developed the night before. But, I got home safely and with a big smile on my face. It was quite a ride.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Motorcycle Rider's Ten Commandments

1. No one brags about brain damage.

Does your riding gear consist of little more than a stylish black leather vest with a company logo on the back as you demonstrate your freedom and individuality just like everyone else? Is that outfit accompanied by a clam-shell helmet shallower than a grade schooler’s cereal bowl?

Or perhaps you wear a garishly painted full-face helmet with a plastic mohawk adorning its crest, while covering your torso with nothing more than an Iron Maiden t-shirt as you ride a liter sport bike with enough acceleration and top speed to make The Stig want to go work for NPR?

Looking good is great when you’re standing on your own two feet. But there’s nothing sexy about road rash on 50% of your body and no one brags about having brain damage after smacking their skull on the pavement with no protection.

Be a rider. Be proud of your bike and the crowd you hang with. But do it in a way that lets you live to ride another day if you find yourself with the shiny side down and the rubber side up. Safety trumps everything else.

2. Ride as if you are invisible.

Assume cagers don’t see you, because they probably don’t. There are a lot of well-meaning drivers out there, not all of them are distracted soccer moms texting their girlfriend while putting on their mascara behind the wheel. Motorcycles are rather small compared to SUVs and mini-vans, so people in cars just don’t see us as well.

Even if a cager locks eye contact with you, they still may not see you in terms of recognizing that you exist and have a right to remain upright. Be prepared for them to pull out in front of you, or turn left into your lane or any number of other disruptive possibilities. Have an escape path. Weave from side to side as you approach intersections. Wear a bright colored jacket or helmet. Do whatever you must to be seen, but never assume that you have been.

3. What you wear is based on crash protection, comfort, and fashion — in that order.

See #1 above. Safety trumps everything. But safety isn’t the only concern when choosing riding gear. Most riding jackets and pants will provide a moderate amount of impact and/or abrasion protection in the event of a slow-speed get-off. It’s also important to pick gear that is comfortable to wear and gives you adequate protection from the elements.

Even if you’ve got the highest level of crash protection surrounding your body, if you’re distracted by cold or rain running down your back, you won’t be focused on the road. Pick gear that is durable and flexible enough to handle changing riding conditions.

Once you’ve got safety and comfort squared away, find something that looks good and makes you want to ride because of how bad-ass you look.

4. There is plenty of time to drink after your bike is parked for the day.

Say what you will about multi-tasking, but it’s difficult to argue for the benefits of drinking and riding. There is plenty of time in the day to ride first, then drink afterward. Those that say they can ride unimpaired after having a beer or two only have their own subjective (and flawed) opinion to rely upon. Medical science and insurance statistics emphatically and unequivocally say otherwise — you can’t drink and ride without substantially increasing your risk of crashing.

Enjoy your cold beer or cocktail, just do it after your bike is parked.

5. You always have room to expand your skills.

Have you heard of an Italian chap named Valentino Rossi? He’s won a few races and a few championships. It’s easy to say he’s at the top of the motorcycle racing game, a guy that has nothing more to learn. But guess what? There’s a 21 year old kid from Spain named Marc Marquez that is teaching Rossi he still has a few things to learn.

Every rider, regardless of their experience or training, still has something more to learn. Be a student of the art and science of riding a motorcycle. Be aware of how you ride and practice your skills. Simply racking up the miles isn’t practice, either. It takes conscious, active effort to improve your ability. The more skill you have, the less likely you are to crash. And as we’ve already established, no one brags about brain damage or road rash.

6. Everyone on two wheels is your family.

Arguing over brand or bike type is splitting hairs. We are all riders, and traveling on two wheels (or three) is what bonds us together. We aren’t surrounded by a protective cage riddled with air bags and two tons of steel. We feel the motion of the bike and smell the air and sense the temperature changes as we motor forward. Regardless of brand, we all experience that and what motivates us. It is what we share. We are a family whether we ride a dual-sport encrusted with mud or a 100 cubic inch cruiser covered in chrome.

7. Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.

Be respectful of the communities you ride through and the terrain you ride across. Whether we ride souped-up metric sport bikes or loud-pipes-save-lives low-slung cruisers, we make an impression upon the communities we ride through, for good or for bad, that reflects upon our entire riding family. When we tear up the trails and fire roads with our knobby-equipped dual-sports, we make an impact on the environment and we make an impact on the perception of motorcyclists on the general public. When we wake up the neighbors with the brap-brap-brap of our after-market exhaust pipes, we give people an impression of our character.

Let’s strive to always leave a good impression wherever we ride.

8. Take care of your body and your bike.

Personal health and mechanical maintenance are equally important, both in terms of safety and comfort. Who wants to have a mechanical break-down in the middle of nowhere? Who wants to be physically wiped out after only riding for two hours or even two days? Take care of your bike and take care of your body and you will have a much more enjoyable ride — and a longer one, too.

9. Take it seriously.

Riding a motorcycle is fun, but it is also dangerous and demands respect. Never lose your appreciation for the risks involved. Flippant consumption of alcohol before riding with an off-handed dismissal of the danger is exactly how disaster takes shape. Many people ride as a form of rather effective mental or emotional therapy, but if you are distracted with thoughts of work or relationship strife you are not going to be focused on the ride itself. Take the ride and be 100% engaged in what that entails, and when you safely return home you will find your other woes are somehow diminished or at the very least put into better perspective.

10. Ride.

Ultimately, it’s all moot if you aren’t out there traveling on two wheels. The rest is just talk and posing. Be a rider, not merely someone that possesses a motorcycle.

Monday, July 7, 2014

$8.90 in Detroit

Over the holiday weekend I rode each of my bikes to Detroit and back, the V-Strom on Friday and the Gixxer on Saturday. There were a lot of vehicles on the road and a fair number of bikes as well, and Detroit itself was hopping.

Something interesting happened. I gassed up my V-Strom on regular unleaded at the small store in Detroit on Friday and paid $8.90 for the fuel bill. On Saturday I rode my Gixxer to Detroit and filled up the tank on premium unleaded. The bill?


Monday, June 23, 2014

Convergence of Two Nations

I recently got divorced and part of that process involved moving out of my house in the suburbs and into an apartment in the city. It also meant storing my two bikes -- 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and 2012 Suzuki GSX-R750 -- in a storage unit since my apartment complex had no garages available. It's somewhat of a pain having to drive a half mile just to get to where my bikes are located, as you can imagine. But, at least I still have them.

This past weekend I needed to get some time on two wheels and decided to take my Gixxer for an overnight trip to John Day in central Oregon. The route I take passes through some of the finest geography in the west and courses over some incredible riding roads. I'm leery of giving too many details because I don't want to get the word out. Before you know it, the route is crawling with motorcycles and the resultant law enforcement like remoras attached to sharks.

The weather was perfect, the road conditions were nearly flawless, and my Gixxer was running like an Olympic athlete. It was a wonderful trip.

I stayed at the Best Western John Day Inn and ran into three grey-haired gentlemen from Canada that were immediately familiar to me. We met in the same place a few years earlier as they were coming down from British Columbia to enjoy the roads in Oregon. Two rode BMW's and one rode a Yamaha FJR1300. The first time I met them, I was on my filthy and road-weary V-Strom on my way back from a very long trip. This time we chatted about my Gixxer.

It is fascinating that we should meet up in the same location a second time, so many miles (or kilometers) from home. They are really nice guys and I regret not getting their contact information. As I left Sunday morning I jokingly said, "I'll see you again in a couple of years." It just may happen.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Scenic Klickitat County, Washington

During a spring ride in April, I discovered some new beauty in Klickitat County, in south-central Washington State.

While visiting family outside of Goldendale, Washington, I often take Highway 142 from Lyle on the Columbia River north, then east, to Goldendale. That route is wonderful on a motorcycle, with good pavement quality, a wide variety of curves, and some excellent scrub oak, pine, and grassland scenery along the Klickitat River. This time I decided to take a different route to explore new roads.

The route began in Lyle as usual, but this time I took the Centerville Highway instead of 142. The road climbs steeply above the town of Lyle, with several tight switchbacks, and soon I was in pine forest with lots of green spring grass underneath. It looked like a well-groomed park.

Once on top at 1,700 feet above sea level, the road has wonderful curves and several small up-and-down hills that are a lot of fun to ride. This is deer country, however, so the rider must stay alert.

The road emerges out of the trees and heads mostly east toward Centerville across a prairie dotted with farms and giant wind turbines that generate a lot of renewable energy for the region. The town of Centerville itself is small and has no services (gas, food, or lodging) that I could find, but that's no matter. The road meets up with Highway 97 in short order, with the town of Goldendale just a few miles to the north.

Once I gassed up in Goldendale, I caught Hoctor Road heading due east from Highway 97, until I came to gravel Oak Flat Road under the rotating blades of several massive wind turbines. Oak Flat Road descends steeply through a narrow gulch lined with scrub oak. The gravel is in good shape, but if you take this route when it's raining, expect some slippery, muddy conditions. Oak Flat Road connects with Bickleton Highway, a paved rural two-lane road that joins Goldendale in the west with the tiny town of Bickleton to the east.

Hilleberg Namatj 3GT with 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650
I stayed at my relative's house and slept in my Hilleberg Namatj 3GT tent. As I have mentioned in a previous post, this is an outstanding tent with well thought-out features and long-lasting quality. I recommend spending some time practicing set up and tear down prior to use. It's a really nice tent, but it's big and takes a bit more time to set up than an el-cheapo dome tent from Walmart.

For the trip home, I wanted to continue the theme of exploration, so I headed east on Bickleton Highway through the tiny community of Cleveland and into Bickleton itself. I saw a card-lock fueling station in Bickleton and a tavern, but there didn't seem to be any other services available. Be sure you have plenty of fuel before taking this route.

My next leg of the journey home took me zigzagging south along East Road under rows and rows of wind turbines. The road has many straight stretches that are a few hundred yards to a quarter of a mile long, with a 45 degree or 90 degree angled turn to the next straight stretch. Although it sounds rudimentary and boring, it is actually a fun route. Eventually the Columbia River comes into view and the road descends down the hill to the small town of Roosevelt. There is a cafe there, but no gas.

In Roosevelt, I joined SR14 for the scenic ride west to Dallesport and the junction with Highway 197, where I crossed south over the Columbia River and back into Oregon. The Dalles has full services.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Involuntary Get-Off in the Snow

Adventure riding has its price, and it's easy to say that if you spend enough time riding off the paved stuff, sooner or later you'll find yourself in a situation where you need to take a deep breath, grip the bike tight, and lift with your legs.

Last weekend I had a slow speed get-off coming down a fire road in the Cascades foothills behind Timothy Lake. I was standing up on the pegs, riding down that 1" deep strip of snow in the center of the road. Suddenly my front tire cranked left, I tank slapped a few times, recovered, shot into the left tire track and across into the 5" deep snow on the side, then went down onto my left side. I was unhurt and the only damage done to my bike was my front left turn indicator got bent a little bit (but still works). The Touratech side case didn't have a scratch and handled the incident with ease.

I was able to lift my bike by myself, although it took several tries. Standing in snow doesn't make for good foot traction, and also the tires kept sliding away from me as I'd lift.

Some gas leaked out of the filler cap and I could smell the fumes as I rode home. I stopped at the Ripplebrook Ranger Station and exposed the underside of my tank bag to the sun to let it evaporate and that eliminated the problem.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Turn Around When You Hit the Snow

That's what my wife always tells me, "Turn around when you hit the snow." She should know. So should I, for that matter. A few years back, in the middle of June, her and I got stuck in a patch of snow that was only 20 yards across. It took us an hour of rocking the V-Strom back and forth and poking the snow with whatever sticks we could find. We dug with our hands, yanked, tugged, pulled, and pushed.

My V-Strom had Shinko 705 tires at that time. Although they are considered more of an 80/20 tire, and they do fantastic on rainy pavement, they aren't very good in snow.

I have new tires now. Heidenau K60 "Scouts", with a knobby 50/50 tread. They actually do very well in snow, but snow is snow and it's still a slick proposition on a motorcycle regardless of tread.

This past weekend, I rode up the Clackamas River Highway east of Estacada, and turned right across the river up Memaloose Road. It was paved the whole way (except for a quarter-mile stretch of packed gravel), which was kind of a let-down. I wanted to get some more off-road practice. Once I was above 3,400 feet elevation, I started riding through patches of snow with bare lanes of pavement where truck tires go. I came to a junction with NF 4550 and it was covered with snow, and both roads leading away had snow as far as the eye could see.

So I turned around and headed back down toward civilization. On the way, I saw a gravel road going up a steep, rutted hill. I cut a hard right, stood up on the pegs, and climbed the hill. My Heidenau's worked great and I navigated the ruts and slope with ease. It wasn't a long climb, maybe 100 yards, so at the top I did a four-point turn and headed back down. Again, the Heidenau's did a fantastic job of giving me good grip and control.

This off-road stuff is a lot of fun!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: Getting Heidenau K60's Muddy

I've put 300 miles on my new Heidenau K60 Scout tires, mounted to my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. This past weekend I got off-road for the second time and despite my limited skills away from the pavement, I managed to have quite a bit of fun getting them dirty.

I rode up the Clackamas River highway and headed off on an unpaved Forest Service road. There had been a big rain and wind storm the day before so there was a lot of tree debris everywhere. Soon the one lane paved road ended and I was on gravel and mud.

I practiced a few slow speed turning maneuvers, then started veering off the side of the road through big puddles and shallow mud bogs. The Heidenau K60's gave me tons of grip and really inspired my confidence in what the bike could do.

I went over some grapefruit-sized rocks, through puddles up to the axles, and up muddy slopes. Only once did I dab my foot down for stability, and that was because I did a tight left turn at really slow speed in the middle of a muddy slide. The tires themselves gave me good grip the whole time.

So far, I'm very impressed with these Heidenau K60's. They buzz slightly at moderate speed, but any knobby tire will do that and it doesn't bother me in the slightest. I look forward to seeing how many miles I can get on them with the upcoming riding season.