Sunday, September 23, 2018


The sequel

Reader take note...

The following reflects something I decided I never was going to do: Get hold of an old motorcycle and try to fix the damned thing up.  Among my many limitations, I know, are mechanical skills.  Even the most basic ones.

Recall this Church of the Open Road entry from only last March:

Except this old BMW– the one now in my possession – I rather inherited when my brother’s throttle hand came out on the losing end of an industrial accident.

The model he wished to unload, I had a history with:  In 1982, as recounted in the above link, my first real motorcycle was a 650cc naked BMW. Naked refers to it having no fairing or wind protection for the rider.  In those days, none of ‘em did.

Two years into my ownership, when it was time to bring the R65 in for service, Ozzie, the owner of the local BMW franchise said, “Why don’ chu take dis new mahdel out for a schpin.  Go ahead.  You can have fun mit it.  I’ll call you when your bike ez rrready.”

Even through his thick Bavarian accent, Ozzie didn’t have to repeat himself.

The demo was a red BMW R80RT.  It had everything my little black bike had and more. It had wind protection.  Sailing under a canopy of oaks and through the gentle curves of Chico, California’s lower Bidwell Park I thought, “Why don’t I get one of these?” The R80 retailed for about $1500.00 more than my bike and I didn’t have $1500.00, that’s why.  Still, the memory of that little tryst in the park lingers.

Fast forward about 30 years into a new century, add in Bill’s terrible accident, and here I am: toting home a 32-years-ago fantasy.

The new-to-me RT is not new.  It’s going to need some work, not because it wasn’t cared for, but because it’s three-plus-decades old.  Automotive-type  things just don’t last that long.  Quick, go out to your nearest major through-fare and count how many 32-year-old vehicles pass by.  See what I mean?

Although I’d trailered it home from Chico, I took it for a shake down around nearby Lake Sonoma today.  Fifty miles of variable curves and variable speeds would help me assess just what I’d gotten myself in to.

Visually the thing looks fine.  The instrument dash is cracked and broken away from the windshield – probably something I caused while trailering it home.  I’d gone over an unanticipated bump at too high a speed and the bike – secured though it was – took a pretty good jolt.

The front tire is new but the rear needs to be replaced.

Two tiny oil spots have developed on the garage floor where it’s been parked for a month, so it’s gonna need seals.  Fork seals as well, I noticed.

The light patina on the finish looks okay.  Who am I to be critical of how some other old thing has aged?

Firing up the horizontal twin engine with less than 32,000 miles on the clock, the motor chortled to life and after about five or six minutes of easy warm up riding, hummed along Dutcher Creek Road almost begging me to twist the throttle just a bit more.

Living in the era of anti-lock brakes, the stoppers on this machine are not.  Longer distances and a more nuanced squeeze will be necessary in order not to lose rear-wheel traction.

Driving through the twisties, up over and down some of the hills along Lake Sonoma, I am faintly reminded of the “death wobble” sometimes experienced on my old ’82 R65.  It is a curious phenomenon that happens as you pass through a band of speed.  Once on the other side of it, everything smooths out.  San Jose’s BMW shop developed a fork brace to alleviate this concern, but I think they’re no longer in business.

So, there’s work to do.  And I’m not a wrench.

A small company out in Point Arena repairs and restores classics and near-classics.  I am eagerly scheduling an assessment visit as you read this.

And today’s fifty-mile ride?  It was like one of those blasts from the past one usually experiences while listening to the oldies station or a when woman walks by wearing a certain fragrance.  Arriving home, I concluded that this acquisition may be both a money pit and a simple pleasure.  

But since I am pretty certain that I only get to go around once, I am happy that part of that once will finally be astride the R80RT.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, September 22, 2018


Cruising the Danube: Part 1 of 3

The Danube River originates in Germany’s Black Forest, courses through ten European countries and past several UNESCO World Heritage sites before tumbling into the Black Sea.  

Some of these photos may be worth clicking on to expand for a bigger view.

Catholics and Protestants warred here, as did Russians and Nazis.  In between Mozart and Strauss found inspiration.

On the other hand, some may not.
I’d only visited Europe once before.  There’s so much yet to see in the United States and the west, I have often averred.  Yet, when the Viking Cruise Line long boat river tour catalog somehow arrived in the mail, within minutes that thought was forgotten.  And it’s a good thing that it was.

Here are a few photos and thoughts:

Days 1 and 2:  We arrived in Budapest (pronounced BU-da-PESCHT) Hungary a day or two early in an effort to combat the nine-hour time difference.

The city is really two cities with the historic Buda part on the hilly west side of the Danube and the flatter, larger Pest portion on the east.

The historic Chain Bridge links the two sections. Bombed to destruction during the pitched battle between the Russians and the Nazis in WWII, the span has been rebuilt in a manner that captures its historic beauty.

Dominating the western portion is St Stephan’s Cathedral, also refurbished since those dark days.

Of note: Franz Lizst (Hungarian Rhapsodies) lived and worked here, founding a school attended by Bela Bartok who inspired Richard Rodgers – or was it Oscar Hammerstein? – to produce at least one song nearly all school kids in the world probably know.

Heading upstream to our next destination, we find ourselves sharing a lock with a ship sailing for another company called the Vivaldi. Viking, I know, operates on this river nine months out of the year.  I am left to wonder if the Vivaldi runs all Four Seasons.  (Pause for rim shot.)

Day 3: Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, the tiny country formed when, as a result of the bloodless Velvet Revolution, Czechoslovakia split in two.  We would visit the Czech Republic later in the week.

Bridges crossing the Danube can be graceful, historic or simply utilitarian.  Through this example, we see Bratislava’s signature historic castle.

A walking tour introduced us to monuments dedicated to those who won and those who lost through time…

… and those who ridiculed those in power.  

(What about this tribute to Hans Christian Andersen’s tales looks painfully familiar today?)

Day 4: We arrive in Vienna, Austria in the morning: a new port with new things to explore.

Viking offers many bus and/or walking tours of the ports of call.  Our touring Vienna, we visited the opera house wherein the works of Mozart and Strauss likely premiered.  Under renovation, its exterior was cloaked in canvas.

This historic European capital houses embassies from countries throughout the world, with only the US embassy dramatically encircled by steel barriers and fences and with an imposing modern checkpoint in front of an 18thcentury facility.  Unlike the diplomatic posts for Japan, Mexico, Argentina, Great Britain, Italy and so many others, I didn’t feel I could just walk into my own and say “Howdy.”

We could, however, visit one of the many Hapsburg Dynasty castles that dot what used to be the domain of that family.

Evening found us swept away by the music of Mozart and Strauss, incredibly in the very city where these two accomplished much of their work.

In the darkened hall, my right hand’s hidden orchestra conductor began to direct this talented group of classical musicians until Candi gently grabbed it and slipped it under my seat.  (I must admit that I direct the orchestra often from the front seat of the Subaru while listening to the local classical station.  It’s a curse known as D.U.I.M. with the M standing for Mozart and it is not a vehicle code violation, but it should be.)

Day 5: Krems is a delightful village located in the Wachau Valley.  

Towering above is the 900-year-old Benedictine Gottweig Abbey.  

The view from the abbey is astounding and its presence reminds us of the long history of the Catholic Church along the stream course of the Danube.

While most of our river travel occurred at night so we could fully enjoy each next day’s adventures, we disembarked Krems at 2:00 in order to enjoy a scenic cruise through a pastoral stretch of the Danube.

History abounds, but I must admit that I was wearying of castles and churches.

Commerce along the river is interesting and I wonder if the captains of the tugs that push barges up and down the river realize how beautiful the place is where they work.

Or is this simply an early iteration of what we now refer to as an interstate?

Day 6:  Linz would be our jumping off point for a bus excursion behind the Iron Curtain. Imagine that!  As a child of the Cold War era, to me, it still seems impossible.

Crossing from Austria into the Czech Republic was as easy as crossing from Butte County into Glenn, and easier than passing from Placer County into El Dorado because there’s less traffic.

Just a single strand of wire paralleling a dirt track.

Our destination would be a 13thcentury village the name of which spell check won’t let me type.

Nestled along a river bottom with a castle atop a nearby hill, Cesky Krumlov was spared during WWII due to its dearth of economic or strategic value.  Falling under the fist of post-war Russia, development – at least in the western sense – was stunted.  

Strolling the streets, we get a little more genuine feel for pre-westernized Europe may have felt like.  But development is on the way, we are told.  Not sure whether to cheer that.

Day 7: Passau, Germany is our terminal port.  The city rests at the confluence of three rivers.  We are shown that in years of heavy rain, flood waters can rise to incredible heights and have since the mid-1500s.

First floors are routinely flooded although most low-lying building have flood control panels that can be inserted into window sills and doorways to prevent water from entering.

The high ground church has nothing to fear in this regard.

What we did have to fear, however, was a drought that hasn’t allowed meaningful rain in the Danube drainage since last April. An unheard-of record.  Mid-summer voyages along this route found the river too shallow for navigation and had to be bussed from one long ship to another.  Certainly, just part of the adventure, but one we gladly did not have to realize.

Ironically, the about 175 of the 192 of passengers on the Viking Hermod this trip were citizens of the only country in the world not to sign on to the Paris Climate Accords.  Woulda served us right if we’da had to walk.

Day 8:  With an early wakeup, we are bussed from Passau to Munich where, after leaving an iPad at security by mistake, we embark on a 20-hour journey home.  Note to self:  See if this travel can be broken in half if there is a next time…

I do not consider myself a world traveler.  There’s so much to see right here at home. But stumbling onto that Viking Tour catalog and settling on this trip proved to be a most delightful experience.  The cruise line plans every detail.  The accommodations are clean and comfortable.  The staff seems never to tire.  The number of fellow travelers is relatively small.  The food is terrific.  They never let you run out of wine.  And you only have to unpack once.

Viking’s Danube Cruise may be the trip of a lifetime. Or, it could just be one of many more similar trips to come.


Part II of this little series will be a retelling of the dramatic transitions through which citizens of the Czech Republic were drawn from about 1938 through the early 2000s as shared by two lovely and strong women we met along the way whose families lived it.

Part III may be a US/Europe compare and contrast essay.  

Thanks for visiting and stay tuned.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Patience is Rewarded!

Texas Pitmaster James dropped by suggesting that one morning “We should have Brisket Tacos for breakfast.”

“Oh,” says I, “I’m not too successful smoking brisket.  I’m too impatient.”

“Stick with me,” he said.  And I did.

A thirteen-pound hunk of choice beef cost about fifty bucks at Costco, the only sorta-local store to stock the cut we were looking for. Upon arriving home, we coated the beef with The Salt Lick (out of Driftwood TX) Dry Rub.  I’m not a big fan of peppery-hot spices.  I was cured of it when I was a kid.  So, I was a little apprehensive about the ingredients listed in the rub. Particularly the Cayenne Pepper. But I wasn’t going to let on to the Pitmaster.  Thus prepared, it would sit in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

At 4:00 PM, I gathered and soaked some prunings from the cherry tree out front and set a small charcoal fire (using the charcoal only to start the fire – the cooking would be done entirely with hardwood) in the New Braunfels smoker.  Sadly, this company was purchased by a larger concern and the 25-year-old pit that I have can no longer be purchased.
This barbecue has been my go-to for a long, long time.

Bringing the temperature to just north of 200 degrees, we placed the brisket on the grates at about 5:00.

Then, fortified with wine, whiskey, whatever tonight’s repast was going to be – remember, tonight we were cooking tomorrow’s breakfast – we tampered with the smoker’s firebox adding cherry wood as needed and adjusting the air as needed.  We weren’t particularly accurate with the temperature for the entire process, but, as it turns out, we needn’t have been.  As dusk settled, the neighborhood filled with a tantalizing aroma – or, at least, no one has yet complained about it.

[The Pitmaster suggests – well, more than suggests – that the following secret step is the one you don’t tell anybody about.  So, if anyone asks, you didn’t read it here.]

At 11:00 PM, with the kitchen oven set to 200 degrees, we placed the brisket in a deep dish, covered it with foil, shoved it in and konked out for the night.  

[Some pit masters will wrap the meat in foil at this point and return it to the smoker and monitor the heat at 200 degree for the remainder of the process.  Seems to me that the kitchen oven is an okay alternative to staying up all night.]

The house filled with a sweet smoky ambience and it was tempting to take a 2:00 AM peek, but I didn’t.

Morning rolled around and the meat, now slow cooked for about 14 hours had transformed into a dark, succulent, fall-apart mass. Smoky. Sweet. Pull-apart-with-fingers tender. And that spicy rub wasn’t all that spicy.  Just right. The low temp and cooking time allowed things to dissipate, nicely complimenting the natural smoke flavor.

Home-made tortillas were piping hot and a sweet broccoli slaw served as the perfect garnish.

We ate and ate and ate but still have enough for an army.

My past struggles with preparing brisket have centered on not realizing that the size of the cut doesn’t matter in terms of how long it takes the thing to cook.  It takes the same amount of time/energy for the appropriate breakdown of stubborn tissue to occur so that one arrives at this tender, moist work of good-ol-boy, Southern edible art.  And it can’t be rushed.  Key is low and slow.  At two hundred degrees, you aren’t likely to overcook it.

Patience is rewarded.

Thank you, Pitmaster James.


For tips and recipes on barbecue – if you aren’t fortunate enough to have a pit master drop by, check out Smoke and Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.  Harvard Common Press.  In 1994, my copy cost $17. 

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press