Thursday, May 27, 2010


IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and a winter storm advisory has been posted for the foothills twelve miles east of here. Snow level down to 3,000 feet. Carry chains. Outside, the sky approximates the underside of an antique pewter serving tray. Mottled tarnish. Edward the impulsive black lab mix pup, who regularly finds delight in nipping Jax the Dog’s aging rear ankles, instead lies by my side as I read a winter book atop the quilted bed. The terminally nervous Aussie, Jax the Dog, rests uncomfortably at the foot.

IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and I am thinking I should either activate the furnace against this unseasonable foul blast, or set a log in the fireplace and add some cozy to the environ. Maybe pour a dram of whiskey into a glass and watch the weather advance across the neighborhood and through my back yard. But that would mean disturbing one or both of the dogs. So I continue to read.

IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and from somewhere inside that leadened sky, a roll of thunder reports. Distant. Subtle. Soft. Edward leans closer to my body. He sighs. I look up from my text and realize his eyes are fully shut: his body in still, peaceful slumber next to 'Dad.' Jax the Dog shudders at this first distant report and with the second, springs off the bed seeking shelter where there’s none better to be had. Jax knows what will happen if she’s not on her guard. If she’s not on her guard that thunder will shatter a window and burst through. It will clutch her wriggling, helpless body and drag her to a hell where she will spend eternity protecting her weary old haunches from being nipped by a million or more impulsive little black puppies. It will be worse than a bath.

IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and I stop my reading, rise, move to the computer and compose this entry. Edward disappears. Jax the Dog follows me to my desk and squeezes into the footwell. The rank smell of her nervous panting rises from the floor, past the keyboard and into my nose. Suddenly, there’s a muffled deluge behind me, just through the double-glazed windows. The thunder again claps. Closer now. Louder. Jax the Dog presses my ankles and emits an involuntary whimper. I want to tell her, “It’s all right, Sweetness. All dogs go to heaven,” but her fear constricts my throat and I am silent. I understand, but she doesn’t – and Edward doesn’t care. My shepherd’s shepherd, I run my fingers through thick, soft fur and hope her panting will subside.

IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and normally, on a date as late as this, I’d fancy myself exploring some road or canyon or vista on the motorbike. But Jax the Dog needs me. And really, there is nothing better than being needed.

IT IS FOUR DAYS UNTIL JUNE and as soon as I finish this sentence, I’m going to pour that dram of whiskey and watch this storm, all the while cuddling Jax the Dog.

© 2010
The Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I HAVE A HANDICAP. I’m tall. Six foot four, to be exact. Not tall and good looking. Just tall. I bump my head on the rafter inside the attic anytime I go up there and I can’t get a Miata for my wife because I simply don’t fit.

Last summer I traded my KLR 650 and my 1150 RT for the bike that was made for us long-of-inseam riders: a BMW GS Adventure. As advertised, it is truly the best of both worlds. Great on the highway and more than adequate after the pavement ends.

Unfortunately, for most of us, getting beyond the pavement means traveling on asphalt or concrete for at least some distance. In my case, the pavement is Interstate 80, a main east-west route across middle America. In my region it is over-used by people who drive too fast. So riding the GSA at a pace equal to others means a 75-mile-per-hour scream of wind that is fatiguing to the body and deafening to the ear. Owing to the fact that I would be riding from the Sacramento area to Jackson, Wyoming in late June, the thought of two or three days of wind howl was something I needed to remedy.

I STUMBLED ACROSS the Touratech “Spoiler for Windscreen” while thumbing through their inch thick catalog. Pricy at about $125, I did like the concept of clamping it to the existing screen and removing it when unneeded, leaving no mark on the BMW Plexiglas.

Out of the box, this windscreen extension measures about 3¼ inches high by 12 inches wide. The brushed aluminum clamp measures about 3½ by 4½. At first blush, I was afraid the clamp would prove to be a line-of-sight distraction, but after centering the lightweight little unit atop the stock windshield and settling onto the seat, it was clear that I’d need to be three or four inches shorter for this to be an issue, and if I were that diminutive, I wouldn’t need this after-market accessory. The spoiler clamped in place without adjustment needed to the locking nuts. Lucky me.

Within minutes, I am on I-80 traveling at speed when I notice something weird. Weird in a good way. From below me I can actually hear the thrum of the big GS’s motor. Something I’d not experienced at 75 before this. But there was wind noise. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be disappointed, so I conducted a little experiment. I stood on the pegs. Ah Ha! There it was. That windblast. The roar. The element that, whenever I returned home, caused me not to hear my wife ask, “Well, how was the ride?” Using my internal “Dav-i-bel” meter, I’d estimate the spoiler decreases wind noise by at least 60 percent. I can hear myself think, reason and make safer driving decisions.

My 85 mile test loop allowed me 40 miles of freeway, about 35 miles of sweeping curves and ten miles of deep-forest twists and turns beneath trees still dripping from the morning’s unseasonable May shower. At speed, the stock windscreen stayed rock-solid. On the higher speed sweepers, there was no impact on the bike’s handling physics that I could discern. And at 50 mph, the last of that rainsquall swept over the top of my Shoei RF 1000 as if I were tucked into a cocoon.

The plastic on the spoiler is of lesser gauge than the stock windscreen. The edges are not finished with the same polished smoothness as BMW’s plastic. And the back side of the aluminum clamp is not attractive. But, then, neither is a GSA, until one looks at function. The GSA does everything well. It handles the noise associated with high-speed travel even better with the Touratech “Spoiler for Windscreen.” Which makes the spoiler quite beautiful, in my mind.

Touratech Windscreen Spoiler as the wind might see it. Note brushed aluminum clamp. Stylish!

Touratech Windscreen Spoiler as the rider sees it. Close up of clamp. Works well because it is engineered so very well. But not particularly pretty from the driver's seat. Bottom line? Easy to forget it is there and really simply enjoy a less buffeted ride.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, May 20, 2010


ELIZABETH GILBERT speaks about genius. Genius, she says, is not embodied in a person who does something nonpareil. It is not a gift that some have and others do not. It does not exclude.

Genius partners with the artist/worker. Each day, both should show up, but some days, one does not.

After a day of non-productivity – a day of staring at the ream of paper, blank canvas or unmilled stack of wood – one can look heavenward and curse, “I showed up today? Where were you?”

Successful workers – successful artists – show up every day. And on good days, genius joins them.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


IN THE LATE SIXTIES, back when I was in high school, every Memorial Day Weekend, we’d journey to a place in the Coast Ranges called Simpson Camp. Used as a high country sheep camp some thirty or forty years before, we found this place because Zibe Simpson, a neighbor across the creek and long-time hiking buddy of my dad, was of the Simpsons of Simpson Camp.

The drive to the old sheep summer pasture was a grueling three-and-a-half hours across the floor of the Sacramento Valley, into the Coast Ranges at about Willows or Orland and up a twisty and torturous Grindstone Canyon through Alder Springs and Plaskett Meadows.

“Follow the signs to Covelo, but stop before you get to the pass,” were Zibe’s directions. “I’ll hang a bandana on a tree at the spur.”

The rock-strewn, windy road was not a place to be placed in the back seat of the ‘63 Ford Ranchwagon, but being the little guy in the household, my calling dibs on the front seat – even the middle of the front seat – had no pull. More than once, family paid a price for me sitting in back as it took a month to air my vomit out of the seams, creases and breathable pores of the vinyl upholstery.

JUST THIS SIDE OF MENDOCINO PASS, Simpson Camp was a place no one really knew about but Zibe and his wife Ellie, their kid, Eric, Jovanna their boxer dog, and us. Around a campfire Zibe would tell us stories of running sheep up the glade, herding them with Model T Fords that had to be driven in reverse up toward the steep summits because, in those days, fuel traveled from the tank to the engine using only gravity. No pumps. When the grades got too steep, the gasoline wouldn’t drain into the fuel line. “The damn things’d die and start coasting down backwards. I’ll tell you what! Helluva circumstance.” I have a picture in my mind.

I also have a picture of Jovanna, lazing in the mid-day sun curled amidst a clump of skunk cabbage as if God had provided this dog bed and this sun just for her. We had a slide somewhere.

We also had a slide of the stand of oaks, naked in the alpenglow just after sunset. The oaks, dad said, looked like a Greek chorus. Brother and I’d agree although, at the time, we had no idea what a Greek chorus was.

We had pictures of the campsite, cooking on the derelict cast iron stove that was left from the sheep-camp days, and of the cluster of cabins at Smith Camp, nearby, where each little house had its own intact iron stove – for a time. Last time we visited, the stoves had been “salvaged.”

SIMPSON CAMP can no longer be located on the Mendocino National Forest Map. I contacted the ranger who shared that the site is of archeological value and by removing the signs and taking it off the map, the Forest Service could be better assured that the artifacts there would be left alone. Terrific idea. I am grateful.

I told her of my frequent visits to the site and let her know that Ellie Simpson is still living and that she may have both pictures and stories to share. I’d try to arrange something. In exchange, I received very general directions to the site.

TODAY, I AM GOING THROUGH RACKS OF SLIDES – some racks from our family and some from the Simpsons. It turns out that when Zibe died five or six years ago, Ellie, whose vision was in decline, threw out all the family photographs and slides. Son Eric was dead, also, so there seemed no reason to hang on to flickers of those family times. She gave the empty trays to my mother who filled them with images of our earliest years. Mislabeled, or not labeled at all, each new tray is an adventure. No telling what image or memory will come up next. Me as a three-year-old. My brother at five. Both of us on the old Ford Ferguson tractor with a girl named Molly. The tree fort we built out back. Trip upon trip to the Ishi Wilderness in the foothills west of Lassen.

But no pictures of Simpson Camp. None of the oaks or the old stove or how we set our tents or the nearby cabins at Smith Camp. And none of that gorgeous boxer named Jovanna.

ELLIE’S APPROACHING 100, but I am hoping to visit with her soon. Mom’s going to arrange it. I want to get a little history that I can report back to the ranger. I’m also going to continue to search these thousand-and-a-half slides for an image. And I’m going to take a trip up to Mendocino Pass as soon as the snow clears so I can find the playground of so many Memorial Days so many years ago. I’d really like to go there again. Maybe take some pictures to go along with the ones I have lodged in my head.

Hopefully, someone’s hung a red bandana at the spur.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, May 8, 2010


AS THE WORLD CRUMBLES under environmental disasters and Wall Street catastrophes of our own making, I escape on the BMW to get away from – or make some sense of – it all.

Rounding a bend, lost in the El Dorado, a handsome cinnamon-colored black bear and her cub, dutifully having looked both ways, begin to amble across. I slow. They glance up and, seeing me, hurriedly rumble to the other side. Mama hustles baby up a fir tree and disappears into the underbrush.

I pass with a renewed sense that all is right with the world – at least in these reaches.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I’D GONE TO THE TACO BELL outside of Grass Valley because I knew they meant it when they said “fast food.” So after a couple of burritos, I am straddling the GS, securing the helmet and preparing to head just a mile or two further to my 6:30 writers group meeting.

A gentlemen with a few years on me towing a nine-year-old granddaughter, walks past where I am parked, shoots me a knowing look and says: “BMWs. That’s the only way to get around the world, I’d say.”

I nod.

He turns. “I gotta tell you a story.” Granddaughter rolls her eyes, longing for her kids’ meal and a toy more than the conversation she knows is about to take place.

“I rode an R-75/5 [circa 1969-73] down through the core of Africa back in the early seventies. Me and a buddy.” He grins. “Alexandria. Khartoum. Nairobi. All the way to Cape Town.”

I watch forty years evaporate in the Taco Bell parking lot.

“Got on the ferry in France all loaded up with our gear and a couple of damned jerry cans filled with petrol, as if there’d be no gas on the dark continent.” He laughs. “Old German fella come by us on the ferry and looked at our outfits and says:

‘You boys look like you gonna be driving in za desert. Vell, take it fromm me, you von’t get too far like zhat.’

My new confidant must have looked curious.

‘Back in da var, I vas the chief of ze motah pool for General-field-marshall Rommel. Ve could nevah get more than seven or eight miles before ze damned BMWs would seize up…’

The little girl tugged at Grandpa’s hand. Clearly, she was starving.

“Well, the old boy fetched up some porous medical adhesive tape – the kind that lets the skin breathe? – and by the time we’d disembarked in Tunisia, the little radiator that cools the engine oil on the R-75 engine he'd neatly wrapped so that air could get through, but the sandy grit of the desert couldn’t.” The grandpa points to the place on my bike where the appendage would be. “Drove the whole distance without so much as a hiccup.”

“Sounds like you took the same trip that Boorman and MacGregor talk about in their book Long Way Down,” I say, “only they took it on bikes like this.” I cock my thumb toward my wiz-bang 2009 BMW GSA. “And they had a support crew following them in two trucks.”

“Haven’t read the book,” the gentleman says, his granddaughter feigning weakness, about to collapse on the pavement for want of a Chalupa. “But we sure as hell didn’t have a support caravan. Just two stupid American boys on BMWs in Africa.”

FOR AN INSTANT I am only a few degrees of separation from the Panzer Division and the old Desert Fox himself – the heralded military genius whom George Patton and the Second Armored chased all over North Africa.

Then I realize I’ll be late to my meeting.

So much for fast food.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press