Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Quest for More Cowbell II: The Trip Around Lake Michigan Part 2

North (Cont)

This section of the ride was actually somewhat boring. There doesn't seem to be much between Milwaukee and Green Bay except for flat. The clouds did finally clear and we got some sun that warmed us up. Up to that point we've been riding and about 60° weather and with the riding wind-chill it felt like 50 or less.

One stop we made along the way was briefly in Sheboygan. As explained previously Sheboygan was almost a quest all of its own. The one bad part about being in Sheboygan was the lack of a sign that said "Welcome to Sheboygan". After a 20 min. search, I gave up looking for one and we settled for this sign in front of the museum as proof that we had been to Sheboygan. With that mission accomplished, we jumped back on the bikes and rode.

The sun went down, and we stopped for dinner. We enjoyed a nice meal and grabbed some coffee to warm up. After dinner, we made a brief stop to pick up an extra set of gloves for my son, as his hands were getting very cold.

This day of the journey was going to be the longest because there was no good place to stop what you get north of Green Bay and start coming back down the other side into Michigan near Mackinaw City. What we didn't plan for was how long it had taken us to get to this part of the journey. We were almost 200 miles from where we were going to stop for the night, the sun was down, and it was getting colder. Between where we were sitting and Mackinaw City there were few places and even fewer that would be open late.

There is a section of road as you move from going north to heading west, that is part of a National Forest. As you enter it in informs you that in the next 128 miles there will be only 12 places available for you to pass. As I said, it was dark and as we rode past that sign, I looked into the gully on the right side of the road and saw three deer bounding along in the same direction we were heading. My only fear was that anyone of them would make a left and go up onto the road. None of them did so it was just a nice observation. Somewhere in the first few miles, we went from going north to going...


As we cruised this part of the road, it got darker and the moon came out. The temperature continued to drop first to 50 then to 45 or so. To the right we could see through the trees and sometimes directly Lake Michigan. The moon was behind it and shining on the lake. It was actually very beautiful. If we had taken this part of the route during the day, we would not have seen that, nor would we have seen the stars when they came out. They were magnificent, millions of them since there was no city light nearby.

My son and I kept talking as we cruised through the night, occasionally he would want an update as to temperature and how much further until we were done with this section of our ride. At one point I told him it was 12:15AM and he wished me a Happy Birthday. I kept hoping for something to be open along the section of the road and there never was. Somewhere around three quarters of the way through, he asked if we could stop for a while so he could move around to warm up a bit. I looked out of the temperature it was now 38°. So, we pulled over to the side of the road.

There were no cars on the road as he did jumping jacks and other exercises on the side of the road trying to warm-up. I stretched my legs and arms and tried to get feeling back in my fingers. I was actually lucky because the bike had handgrip warmers and a seat warmer but the wind stole the heat as quickly as it came out. We were both wearing summer weight gloves, which also left our hands cold. He finally came up with an idea to put shorts on over his chaps and jeans to try to keep the part of his body that the chaps weren't covering warm. He said later it worked and helped a lot, although it did look funky.

We jumped back on the bikes and continued to ride. The road itself was very smooth and nicely laid out, the curves were wide and easy to navigate. It was actually fun riding except for the cold. Finally, the miles ticked away and we entered Mackinaw City. The first thing we had to do was fill up the bikes and directly in front of the station was a small café called "Family Food" that seemed to be the only place in town open. So, we went in and sat down.

Because the time zone change, it was way after one but even so, we both ordered coffee. I actually had to open up the creamer for Matt because his hands were shaking so badly. He held onto the coffee and warmed his hands and I did the same. We ate breakfast and drank about 4 cups of coffee each and finally the chill of the road went away.

We mounted our bikes and headed over the Mackinaw Bridge. This is one part that I'm glad we did at night because construction had taken it down to a single lane; I can imagine what the wait was like during the day. We crossed the bridge and then made a right to start heading...


As we were almost out of town, we came across two separate cops who had people pulled over with lights flashing. That warning kept us at the speed limit as we went from there to Cheboygan where our hotel was. We were just over 500 miles for the day.

While on the road, both here and during my Virginia trip, every hotel I ever stayed at was nice enough to allow me to park my bike almost anywhere I wanted around the lobby for security purposes. I always thought this was very nice and tried to be as considerate as possible when parking it so I didn't block any thing or anyone else. This hotel was no different as we parked our bikes just beside the main entrance.

We slept late the next morning and missed our free breakfast. My son had seen a big welcome to Cheboygan sign, so we went there on our way out of town to take a few quick pictures. From there we went to McDonald's and had breakfast, then we hit the road. This part of the trip was a little rushed because we needed to be home by specific time so we could meet up with some other family for dinner.

The rest of the ride was uneventful but also some of the best riding we did. The road was somewhat crowded with many people heading home after the weekend but the traffic moved at a fair pace and we didn't have any problems maneuvering through it. The sun was out, it was warm, and the road had enough curves to be interesting. I shot some video along this part of the route:

My son did this video,  a little more creative than mine and fun to watch:

Overall, this year's Quest for Cowbell was better than last year's. Next year’s will be even better. Isn't that what a quest is supposed to be? Oh, total miles: 1149.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Quest for More Cowbell II: The Trip Around Lake Michigan

Before I talk about how great, the trip was or what a fantastic time I had, I need to talk about the equipment that I used on this particular trip.

I did not ride my Silverwing, I chose instead to rent a GoldWing so I could road test it. What I got was a 2008 GoldWing 1800. It weighed in at just under 1000 pounds and had many toggles, bells and whistles to make a trip smooth and fun. The 1800 engine had power to spare during the entire trip. In addition, even though I did not take it all the way there, it boasted a top-end of 140 miles an hour. You would expect the bike that weighed that much and had that much power to be clumsy when it was sitting still. However, it wasn't. The weight was remarkably balanced and the bike handled at slow speeds just as well as it handled it fast. One additional "geezer guy” feature that the bike had was reverse gear which I found very handy when parked and having to back it out of his parking spot that was on incline. Overall, it was smooth, and quiet, and very easy to handle. Very enjoyable.

Recently, I had picked up a pair of Scala Q2 headsets. The headset allows intercom between up to three motorcycles, a hookup for an iPod, FM radio, and the Bluetooth for your cell phone. This was without a doubt the best accessory I have ever bought for riding with my son. This allowed us to carry on an almost constant conversation during our entire trip. It made the trip more like a joint journey than to individual journeys that happen to be going the same direction.

In addition, for the first time both my son and I would be wearing all of our riding gear. This means, that we were both wearing chaps and our leather vests in addition to our normal safety gear. Later in the trip, all of that leather clothing would come in handy not only to protect her skin but also to protect us from the unexpected cold.

Now on to the trip, once we got on the highway we headed…


The first major destination on our trip was Chicago. It was around 156 miles from the house to Chicago and he gave us a good chance to shake down the bikes and for me to get used to riding the GoldWing. A lot of the ride was interstate riding but it was very enjoyable just the same. The weather was clear and the temperature about 70°.

We were briefly in the state of Indiana; by briefly I mean I think that we were only in the state for about 20 miles before we entered Illinois. Nevertheless, we do get to count it out on our states visited board.

We entered Chicago just as rush hour hit. We actually got very lucky considering it was a Friday. The traffic never totally stopped and we continued to move even at its worst points. It was getting extremely warm though sitting still under the sun. Eventually we got to the far side of the city without incident. The next highway took us…


We exited Illinois and then entered Wisconsin. The biggest difference I noticed between the two states was the fact that we stopped paying tolls every 15 miles. I had been paying the tolls for both bikes whenever we hit one of these stops. However, at the last stop Matt decided that he would pay the toll for us. Therefore, after stopping at the booth I pulled through while he paid. That was when he discovered that he couldn't find his money. I pulled over and parked on the side of the highway then walked back to the toll booth as he held up all northbound traffic until I got there and paid the toll booth guy the three dollars. Fortunately, that was the last tollbooth we had to go through.

Our final destination for the evening was Milwaukee, but as we cruise northward, we passed by the most wonderful aroma of cooking over a mesquite grill and forced us to turn around, go back one exit, and sit down and have dinner. I am not sure why I thought that it would be quick for us to get into a restaurant on Saturday night, but somehow I thought it would be okay. However, when we got into the restaurant it was going to be a one-hour wait. So, we went to the bar and hoped for some seats open up. After about 15 min. to folks left, their chairs and we quickly moved into them.

We ordered dinner and somehow ended up in a conversation involving a pregnant woman and her family on the opposite corner of the bar (who was celebrating her birthday) and a couple that was sitting next to us. Because of the way we were dressed, conversation quickly turned to bikes and riding. With a couple next to assuring their recent adventures and a planned charity, ride the next weekend. Everyone that I have met while riding has been open, friendly, and very helpful. The lady that was sitting next to me had been at the bar for a while and had obviously had a few. It was a little embarrassing as she kept putting her arm around me and her face close to mine -- She didn't meant anything by it she was just being a little too friendly.  By the way,  this is where we spotted our one and only cowbell of the whole trip.  Anyway, eventually our meal came and we chowed down, then went back out to the bikes and headed north again.

The hotel we stayed at was on the south side Milwaukee by the airport. The first day we had written a little over 350 miles and had encountered highways, interstates, Chicago would rush hour, road construction, and tollbooths. At least we were getting some variety.

The weather report for the next day showed a 40% chance of rain. At some point in the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning as the bottom fell out of the clouds and drenched the city of Milwaukee. I woke up early the next morning but because I could hear the rain still falling I laid in bed until I went back to sleep and woke up at a more reasonable hour. Finally, I decided that rain or not we needed to get moving so I woke up my son and jumped in the shower.

We went down, ate our complimentary continental breakfast, and then asked the front desk for a couple of extra towels so that we could dry off the bikes. We went out to the parking lot and dried the bikes off. Neither bike seemed worse for the wear. After we went back, grabbed the last for stuff out of the room, and loaded it onto the bikes the rain started again. Therefore, we pulled up under the overhang in front of the hotel and went back to the Continental breakfast bar have an extra cup of coffee.

After about 15 min. the rain stopped, we mounted up, and went out to hit the highway to go north again. It seemed like the entire interstate in the Milwaukee area was under construction. As we were entering the interstate, my son hit a metal grate in the road, which caused his bike to slip. He and the bike were just fine, but it did cause a slight delay as he took some time to gather his composure before we continued. I remember trip so that we would avoid the interstate, and any more construction. As we were about to head out of town the routing did take us onto the interstate for one brief section. When we were on that section, we saw the sign for the Harley-Davidson Museum.

The Harley Museum was quite impressive and the buildings are beautiful. I liked the fact that if you were on a motorcycle you could park right up next to the front door. It surprised me to learn that there was a wedding going on in one of the conference rooms of the museum. However, I guess for some folks it is quite appropriate. We didn't have much time to spend there, so we didn't enter the main museum area but we did have lunch in the restaurant. Their chili is excellent. If you ever go by there, try it -- that and the peach cobbler. Anyway, with no more time to waste we headed out.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wind Therapy: Deep Reflective Insight into the Psyche of a Man and His Passion For Two Wheeled Freedom

Happy Birthday to me. Today I turn 51. I have been at this blog now for a full year and I have been riding again just a little bit less than a year. In that time I have added five states to the total number that I have ridden a motorcycle in, I have ridden about a dozen different types of motorcycles and I have experienced the thrill of several thousand miles of wind therapy.

This year I added Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana to the list of states that I've traveled through on a motorcycle. I could've added Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia by making a simple turn and going a few miles, but I wasn't going to take the easy way of crossing those states off. Each of these states has their own set of motorcycle laws covering things like helmets, safety gear, and pipe volume but other than that it was the road condition and the intelligence of the other folks on the road that made each one unique.

This year I rode these Hondas: Silverwing 500 & 650, Shadow 700 & 750, and GoldWing 1800. I also put a few miles on these Harley Davidson's: Elektra Glide Ultra Glide, Road King, Street King Ultra, Cross Bones, and Trike. Each bike had their own pluses and minuses. Each brand also had their own quirks. Most of this diversity in riding was not due to the desire of adding numbers but more to give me a flavor of what bikes were out there to help me choose my next one. The three bikes I had the most time on for my Silverwing, the GoldWing 1800, and the Road King. In the end my choice matrix actually adds a bike I have never been on into the mix purely for chrome reasons. So, my narrowed down list is: the Honda GoldWing 1800, the Honda Valkyrie, and the Harley Electra Glide Ultra Glide.

To the best of my estimation I am somewhere over 4000 miles of riding for this season. The variety of roads I've been on is massive. Busy cities (including Washington DC and Chicago), out in the middle of nowhere country roads, well-known motorcycle touring routes, not so wide known motorcycle touring routes, agricultural areas, historical sites, lakeside, oceanside, tunnels, bridges, and my own driveway. Surfaces I have ridden on include blacktop, pavement, concrete, cobblestone, chip and seal, and the one I hate: gravel. in all those miles I suffered one fall, at very low speed, and with minimal damage due to gravel.

I have met some really nice people both online and on the road who generously shared their knowledge, experiences, and advice. I have met a number of people willing to provide mentorship on-the-fly and to be supportive when I needed it. There are some really great folks doing it on two wheels in that environment by itself tends to create an immediate commraderie between riders.

I now ride in Harley boots, leather chaps, Cordura and leather jacket, have a leather vest with colors, a helmet with Bluetooth intercom and connectivity, and gloves. None of which I even owned a year ago, but all of which have proven their extreme value every time I mount Blue Highway Spirit.

I think one of the most remarkable comments I've had made to me in recent days was from somebody who's been reading this blog since the beginning, but whom I have never met face-to-face . It was after my Virginia Adventure when I got an e-mail from them that said that I had dramatically changed since I started all of this. They went on to tell me that I seemed more at ease, more relaxed, and happy. I thought that was a pretty deep perception for someone who's never met me but only read the words that I leave here.

So as I start my second year, I look forward to getting a newer bike with a bit more power and to the new roads that are waiting for me to discover them. But then, I still have at least a month left of this riding season for some really intense wind therapy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Got a Fever, and the Only Prescription...Is More Cowbell!!

A little big for a cowbell,
but we were desperate.
In a little over two weeks, my son and I will depart on the Lake Michigan Quest for More Cowbell, From Sheboygan to Cheboygan. However, before we get to that I think I need to take a minute to explain the East Coast Quest for More Cowbell.
If you have never seen the Saturday Night Live skit with Christopher Walken as the producer for Blue Oyster Cult, please see the links at the bottom of this entry.

In the spring of 2009, my son and I were considering taking a trip to visit my father over Spring Break. Somehow, during the planning we also added a side trip to visit my other son in Virginia. We also wanted to see things along the way and by the time we were done adding it all we were covering 9 states and almost 4000 miles in under a week. In addition, we were going to take a long MacBeth, who was about five months old time, because he had never been on a road trip. Finally, because our car was not big enough to hold MacBeth's crate, we rented a Ford Explorer for the trip.

MacBeth takes his turn driving
On the first day, we started calling our trip to Quest for More Cowbell. Therefore, as I posted updates on Twitter I started referring to it as the More Cowbell Trip or just the Cowbell Trip. Along the way, we took several pictures of real cowbell so we happen to come across.

Our first stop after leaving home was the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We happened to be there on induction day, so we got in free and had a great time looking at all the exhibits. We hid the road in ernest and all three of us shared the driving duties.  From there we headed across West Virginia and into Virginia to visit my other son and his girlfriend.

Asking Thomas Jefferson about
the location of more cowbell. 
TJ says he does not know of any.
We all had a great time and even discovered a new eatery Five Brothers Burgers. From there we dipped south and went to Georgia to visit my father. Then we headed back north and went via Gatlinburg to Indiana to visit family there.  Matt even took time to ask folks about where to find more cowbell.

From Indiana, where we spent Easter, we headed on home. It was a great trip all the way around. The car had a satellite system so we listen to comedy channels during the entire trip and even founded a request or two. We also decorated several locales where we stopped with stickers that said "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" or "AYBABTU". I will not begin to try to explain that here; you can look around the web to find out more about it. Suffice it to say we were saying that we had been there.

At the Hard Rock in Gatlinburg,
MacBeth picked out a souvenir
scarf that he was proud of.
Anyway, from that point on we started calling our annual road trips a Quest for More Cowbell. Therefore, as we come to the end of the riding season and it becomes time for me to do my last major test that I set for myself it is only appropriate that it become a quest for cowbell as well.

Our route will take us all the way around Lake Michigan covering a little over 1000 miles. Originally, I planned to do this 24-hour period. Nevertheless, when I gave it more thought, I decided I really was not trying to prove how tough I was but how well I had learned to ride under many different conditions. In addition, originally I was riding alone with my son trailing me in a car. Now, he was going to ride as my wingman. So, we will divide this up over three days and in the middle, we will stop and see the Harley-Davidson Museum as we pass through Milwaukee.
Cheboygan and Sheboygan? When my son was very young and we would watch cartoons together, he heard them refer to a place called Cheboygan. Now my son not being that familiar with American geography thought it was a made-up place not a real one. Since we are doing this kind of trip, I figured we would hit not only Cheboygan but also Sheboygan. I plan to look for a T-shirt only get there that says something along the lines of "I've been to Cheboygan, yes it is a real place".

Anyway, the trip is planned to take place over my birthday weekend so I will spend my 51st riding. How appropriate.

More Cowbell the Skit

Here is more background on the skit and the true background on the song.  This link is better quality than the one on YouTube,  but both have the full skit.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Wheels Go Round & Round

Can we take a look at the odometers Johnny....


Total miles:  2196 + 702 (Road King) = 2898