Tuesday, August 28, 2012


About 16 years ago, I purchased something for around 200 bucks that I still use today.  Think about that.  What have you purchased that has stood the test of a decade and a half?  Probably not your refrigerator.  Perhaps your laundry pair?  Your car?  Carpet for the house?  Your cell phone or computer? 

A now out-of-business retailer (Barbecues Galore!) sold me a smoker built by a bought-out-of-business manufacturer.  I’d seen one of these cookers at a small commercial eatery in Old Sacramento and after a bite of smoked brisket, I knew I had to have one. 

A smoker differs from a grill in that there is one chamber for fire and another for cooking.  A traditional smoker is really a barbecue.  A grill is not.  Smoking food – or barbecuing it – is a process of long cooking times using low heat.  Here’s how to do it.

The night before – if I’m planning ahead which I’m usually not – I either apply a dry rub to what is to be cooked, or immerse the product in a marinate.  Sources abound for rubs and marinates although I look for products or recipes that minimize the use of corn syrup and/or white sugar.  About the time I’m going to fire up the smoker, I pull the meat out of the frig. 

Dried hardwood (oak, almond, pecan, fruitwood, hickory) is a more flavorful fuel for barbecuing than most commercially obtainable (and chemically laced) charcoal.  Filling a large bucket with water, I soak the firewood for 30 to 60 minutes prior to throwing it on.  Most of my fuel I’ve harvested from the oak trees in my back yard, but I’ve been known to purchase a downed peach tree during orchard removal or swipe a few chunks of almond from my brother.  Particularly when smoking pork, the smoke from different woods impacts the flavor of the finished product – always in a distinctive and positive manner.

Compromising my disdain for charcoal, I do light a small pile.  Once ashed over, I toss the wet log on the pile, open up the chimney and wait for the cooking chamber to achieve the temp I want – usually between 220 and 250 degrees. 

I place the seasoned chicken or marinated tri-tip in the middle of the smoke chamber and wait – sometimes forgetting to monitor the heat which is easily adjusted by allowing more or less air into the fire chamber.   

The aromatic smoke wafting through the neighborhood invites more questions than the purchase of that new Rav 4 sitting in your driveway.  And the new Toyota will only be new for about a week. 

Because it takes between 3 and 5 hours to fully smoke a chicken, this is when a nice cigar with a smooth bourbon over a little ice comes in handy.  Your “customers” will think you’ve been slaving out in the hot sun for that entire time so act worn out when you bring it in the house.  A couple of “Sen Sen” will mask your foul cigar breath and cover up the whiskey so you may continue the ruse another day.

Enjoy your meal and accept the accolades you will receive for your cooking prowess while the rest of the household was mashing potatoes, steaming the green beans, baking biscuits, brewing ice tea, setting the table, and on and on.  Your guests will think you did all the work.

The New Braunfels Smoker Company, out of the hill country in Texas, sold to CharBroil, a competitor.  In the transition, the new company “improved” the old smoker by reducing the gauge of the steel and swapping out wooden handles and shelving for plastic making the unit lighter and more readily able to rust through.  In short: they improved on it until it didn’t work as well.  It costs less, however.  [If anyone sees a New Braunfels “Black Diamond” still in a box, contact me.  I’ll buy it in a heartbeat.]


The Smoke and Spice Cookbook, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press) is a terrific primer on smoking food.  The Jameson’s provide information on smoker types, woods, food preparation, recipes for sauces and rubs and recipes for foods that will complement a nicely smoked entrée.  My copy was © 1994, but I see an updated and revised is still available at your local bookstore. 

The Jamison’s website may be accessed at http://cookingwiththejamisons.com/cookbooks.html
© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Re: Bike Shop in the Shopping Mall:
Originally posted April 26, 2012

Passing through Sacramento’s Down Town Plaza shopping mall recently, I noticed that, while the signage is still up, the backsides of the PowerSports display windows are papered over.  Inside the displays still rest (as of late June) a Vespa 150, a Piaggio three-wheeler and a motorbike or two, along with related clothing and gear.  Unfortunately, not being able to sell machines out of the site – due perhaps to poor test riding conditions on city streets – a sign in the window indicates the mall store will reopen for the holiday season and invites people to visit their main store in Elk Grove.  While still a boffo marketing idea, I’m sure it is tough to staff such an outlet on the proceeds from t-shirts, ball caps and the occasional Shoei helmet or logoed leather jacket.  I look forward to seeing them again in November.

In the meantime, if some entrepreneur were gutsy (or foolish) enough to open up a Fiat-studio-pizzeria-restaurante-gelato-Italian-dress-and-shoe-shop and Moto Guzzi outlet in western Placer County, CA, I’m sure something there would entertain my lovely spouse while I drooled over the bikes.

Re: Celebrating Arnold Horshack:
Originally posted August 15, 2012

Early on in my teaching, the woman who had been my fourth grade teacher years before (we’ll call her Nasty Ol' Mrs. Smith), was part of a visiting Monitor and Review Team on our campus.  [Back in that day, MAR Teams visited campuses to peer review the practices of neighboring elementary schools, ensuring compliance with state and federal regs and providing feedback on the teaching and learning witnessed during the visit.  Under a different acronym, the practice is still in place today.  It’s a good thing.]  My old fourth grade teacher saw me sitting in the staff room and asked: "What are YOU doing here?"  I said, "Teaching."  She flushed and replied, "Oh my God."  I guess I was her Arnold Horshack.

Re:  Clearwater Krista Running Lights: 
Originally posted August 18, 2012

I took a little dusk/evening ride home from a meeting the other night - first opportunity to check out the Kristas. Here are my "findings":

·      With the GSA's Hi beam on and the Kristas at full, more than a few drivers flashed.
·      With the GSA's Hi beam off and the Kristas at full, same result.
·      With the GSA's Hi beam on and the Kristas ratcheted down about half way, no one seemed annoyed.
·      With the GSA's Hi beam off and the Krista's off, I felt at a disadvantage against the lurking, inky blackness. EEEK!

At about half strength, the Kristas give what I would estimate to be about 150 yards of illumination to the shoulders of both sides of the road. Full blast, as someone on Pashnit (a fabulous motorcycle touring forum) commented, you can see a great distance. I'd estimate 1/4 mile. The Pashnit response said 1/2 mile. Not sure.

Degree or width of beam? Someone suggested 30 degrees. Can't say for sure. Just know that there is greater illumination than I experienced with the stock running lights on. I like being able to see what's going on on the shoulders of the roadway. I think the Clearwaters are a great improvement over what came on the BMW, however, it will take some time to learn to reach for the dimmer dial on the Kristas - which requires moving the left hand from the grip - than moving a thumb to dim the Hi beam.

These get a thumbs up from me.


PICTURE/POST CROSS-REFERENCE! Again: by popular demand (well, actually, one reader asked if this could be done) I have linked many of the pictures in the right hand column to the story in which they first appeared. By simply clicking on the picture, magic will happen, and that story will pop onto your screen. To quote Gomer Pyle: “Shazam!”

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Initial Product Review

As a rider who’d never used running or fog lights on any of my previous 35 plus years of motorcycling, my first experience with the stock runners on the GSA was less than overwhelming.  Perhaps I didn’t know what to expect, but riding at night seemed little more illuminated with the supplemental lights on than when off.  Likewise, in fog, things were still foggy.  My mental resolution was that when the lights were on, others could undoubtedly see me better even if I wasn’t convinced that I could see better myself.

Then came the spill and one of those puppies snapped off in the gravel, ta hell and gone up in the mountainsCursing this misfortune was something I engaged in because I knew the BMW light would not be cheap, but I knew I needed to restore it in order to “make things right.” 

At the fix-it counter, the salesman suggested an upgrade.  “It’ll cost a bit more to replace both lights with these,” he said, “but replacing the one with stock will cost you more than half what the new pair will cost.  And they’re much brighter.”  I did some quick trigonometry in my head.  “Okay,” I said, even before he handed me the brochure.

The promotional material for “Clearwater Krista” lights is pretty compelling.  They were “born out of frustration with existing incandescent filament bulb technology.”  The brochure goes on to explain about old style bulb light being a bi-product of heat.  I recalled something about this from high school physics.  I don’t need heat, I need light, I’m thinking – which is why I don’t like presidential campaigns.

The aftermarket lights are high-powered LEDs inside “machine or forged” aluminum billet brackets.  While I’m not planning on another biff, when it happens, these babies should survive, even if I do not.

The existing auxiliary light switch turns them on and off, but a supplemental knob allows the rider to increase or decrease the brightness – easy accomplished with gloves on.

It took five or six weeks for me to coordinate installation with my local dealer (my fault - not the dealer's) once I’d ordered the lights even though they are manufactured in Northern California only a few miles from the dealership.  During that period, I considered cancelling my order because I’d not felt running lights offered me much and these were going to be a new Shoei Neo-Tec helmet’s worth of dough.

Glad I didn’t.  When the GSA rolled out of the shop, it was apparent I had upgraded to a new level of touring capability.  The physical body of the light is light years more advanced than the plastic of the OEMs.  The trio of LEDs is far bigger than the original singles.  And the illumination, I found out that evening in my otherwise darkened garage is incomparable.  I looked for some fine print to read – and read it.

The tech noticed that my spill had rendered out of adjustment the stock bar to which the lights are fastened.  He didn’t straighten it but provided me with tips if I felt I needed to make amends.  At home, bike on the center stand, I had the impression I was looking at Igor’s hump.  (That’s Eye-gor, mastah!)  It was clear something had been tweaked in the fall.  Don’t know how I’d missed this before.  The right hand light was higher than the left one.  Plying a stout screwdriver, I gently bent things back to square.  Allen key fitments on the pivots points of the Kristas made adjusting them so as to not blind on-coming traffic easy.

As the summer wanes and the evenings grow earlier, I am looking forward to some casual rides at dusk and beyond.  People will more readily see me and, after a very quick spin that first evening, I’ll be more confident about the road – and what lurks at its edges (deer!) – at night.

The downside of busting a critical part off the bike is having to replace it.  The upside is the opportunity of replacing it with something better.  I think I’m going to like these things.

Resource:  Information on Clearwater Lights is available at: www.clearwaterlights.com  (916) 852-7029

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Arnold Horshack was a student of mine.  Every year for thirty-plus years, Arnold was there.  It’s true.  My first teaching assignment was in a small school district just south of Chico, California.  Using some specially earmarked Federal funds, I was hired to instruct two sections of twelve or fifteen seventh and eight graders.  They were selected because, now days, we’d call them “at risk.”  Back then, my colleagues used words like troubled, undisciplined and disruptive.  I was too young and unfiltered to realize my classroom was the dumping ground.  I simply had a group of Sweathogs that I was determined to teach.  No kidding.  I called ‘em Sweathogs and soon, so did the staff. 

My first Arnold Horshack was a roly-poly seventh grader who couldn’t tuck in his shirt.  He read and re-read Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.  He produced an excellent oral book report and full color poster at the end of the year.  As a newbie, I’d forgotten he’d also produced an excellent oral report on the book back in October. 

My second Arnold Horshack appeared the next year.  Also a seventh grader, his parents were engaged in a nasty divorce.  The dad was abusive.  The kid showed up dirty – even with twigs and leaves in his hair from sleeping in the orchard rather than in the house.  He didn’t produce an oral report before he left unexpectedly in March, but I missed having to shoo him out of the room at lunchtime so I could hit the men’s room.  (Ten years ago, our paths crossed.  He is a sheriff’s sergeant in a nearby jurisdiction.)

In my third year of teaching, I was given a regular classroom.  The Federal dollars had disappeared and with it, the Sweathog classroom.  Still, Horshack showed up in the guise of a little farm girl who didn’t shower and was obsessed with a minor character on “Happy Days” called Pinkie Atascadero.  She wrote endless stories about Pinkie.  At one point, her mother, who’d missed both parent conferences, stuck her head in my classroom only to say that her “Susie” certainly likes school this year, and that was out of the ordinary.

Moving from the classroom to the school office, from Durham to Jamestown to Chester to Granite Bay – four distinctly different communities economically, socio-economically, geographically, and politically – Arnold Horshack always seemed to show up.  In Jamestown, he appeared as a Kindergarten student who, wearing his much older brother’s jacket one winter day, reached in a pocket, pulled out a bag of marijuana and asked me, “What’s this?”  Cause for immediate expulsion under the education code, I tossed the stuff out as I walked him to class.  Up the hill in Crystal Falls, he appeared as a fifth grader whose given name was Jupiter.  The young man wrote and illustrated stories in my office at lunch when the teasing of the kids on the yard became too intense.  Soon a couple of kids who saw his work asked if they could join him and equally soon, I didn’t have a lunch hour.  In Chester, Arnold was a sixth grader whose mom turned tricks for the landlord in order to make rent on a mobile home with broken windows.  In Granite Bay, Horshack appeared as a first grader who I more than once saw rocketing out of his teacher’s classroom – upon her demand – because he could not/would not sit still for whatever activity was planned.  “I think I had too many cookies for breakfast,” he told me one time as he simmered down in my office.

The greatest calling is that of a teacher.  Over the centuries, teaching has been the means by which we forward our culture, our mores, our truths and our fables to the next generation.  Beginning with the oral tradition, passing through the age of print and now, transformed by the digital age, the objective is the same.  Prepare our youngsters for a productive, cooperative, literate and happy existence.

My wife is continuing to teach as I do this something else.  The school year starts in a week, but many of my educator buddies began as early as today.  Most of them, I hope, by the final bell of the first day will have identified their Arnold Horshack.  He (or she) is there. The Arnold Horshacks of our classrooms test our mettle.  They force upon us the need to be compassionate, creative and flexible while maintaining both curricular standards and a healthy sense of humor.  They’re the ones that will keep us on our toes, wear us out, cause us to drink and then reward us by doing something incredibly unexpected or noble.  They’re the ones we can’t help loving – the unexpected gift we received when we got into the business.

Teacher buddies:  Thanks for what you are about to do.  I wish you the greatest success.

Note:  Ron Palillo played Arnold Horshack on “Welcome Back Kotter” in the 1970s.  He died the other day at the age of 63.  In 2010, he moved to Florida and became a teacher.

 © 2012
Church of the Open Road

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Discovering McKenzie Pass

McKenzie Pass, OR
In LaPine, OR, it was decided that our trip would be abbreviated.  Family called: declining state of a grandpa.  The further north I might travel, I reasoned, the longer it would take to return if needed.  We decided we’d cut over from Oregon’s high desert to make I-5 in Eugene and, tomorrow, go our separate ways.

It was a hot run from LaPine through Bend and onto Sisters.  There, a leg stretch and hearty cup of frozen yoghurt seemed in order.   

Stitchin' Post, Sisters, OR
Sisters claims one of the greatest quilt stores in all of captivity.  When travelling with my wife, her internal GPS seems to locate these mercantiles.  Fittingly, the Stitchin’ Post stood adjacent to the yoghurt shop.  (I’ve always felt like a good cigar store or perhaps a motorcycle dealer adjacent to a quilt store would be boffo, but have yet to find such a geographical circumstance.)  After a look at the map, we ambled over to check on the merchandise and e-mail a photo home.

Oregon Route 242 appeared the most direct route to I-5.  We’d traveled to these parts before for week-long family stays on the Metolius, but somehow hadn’t discovered the McKenzie Pass route.

Clue one that we’d stumbled across a gem was the cautionary sign reading “Vehicles Over 35 Feet in Combination Prohibited – Last Turn Around Point ¼ Mile.”  A grin stretched across my face. 

Past that wide spot, Route 242 splits forests of ponderosa pine. The road switchbacks and climbs inviting frequent use of low gears.  In places the asphalt seems to tunnel beneath the pine canopy.  In places it openly runs though verdant meadows. 

Cascadian Lava Floe
Closer to the summit, thick floes of basalt have congealed into massive black chunks.  I think it is referred to as "aa," a Hawaiian or Polynesian term.  (Perhaps dental, come to think of it.)  We see nothing of this chunky nature in northern California, only a few hundred miles south and part of the same geologic chain.  Many of the trees appear to be rooted in the solid volcanic rock. 

BMW GSA with Moto Guzzi Stelvio
A slow moving pickup-trailer combination (undoubtedly of less than 35 feet in length) graciously pulls over to let us race by, but we find his pull out is an ideal spot for a picture.

'09 Moto Guzzi Stelvio at McKenzie Pass
Only yards further we arrive at the pass.  Ample parking allows us to enjoy one of those 360-degree top-of-the-world views, even though we’re barely a mile high.

A roadside placard details the region’s geomorphology and pre-European history.  The lateness of the hour – and the number of miles we’d already come – precluded us from climbing up to the Dee Wright Observatory located at the summit.  The good news is that we have yet another item for our ever-expanding bucket list.
North and Middle Sister

 The ride west continues the narrow, windy adventure.  About 40 miles from Sisters, 242 joins Oregon Route 126 for a delightful descent along the McKenzie River as it explores the western flank of the Cascades.  Soon we are in Eugene marveling at our own good fortune – that which led us over McKenzie Pass.


The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department http://www.oregon.gov/OPRD/PARKS/BIKE/MPSB_main.shtml has this to say about McKenzie Pass:

'09 Stelvio
The 38 mile McKenzie Pass ride is without a doubt the most spectacular ride in Central Oregon. The ride begins at the Village Green Park in the center of Sisters, Oregon.  The vast majority of the route is on Oregon Route 242 (selected to be on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, March 2011). The route heads west past hay meadows and ascends 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests.  The road follows an 1860s wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and revealing a view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.  The 25 mile, 4,000 foot descent snakes down exhilarating switchbacks to the dense, verdant Cascadian forests and rushes out over the McKenzie River. It is these dramatic transitions through such diverse natural environments that define the uniqueness of this bikeway.

Also, Oregon.com http://web.oregon.com/byways/mckenzie.cfm offers more information and an enticing map.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, August 9, 2012


US 395: Alturas to Lakeview

Alturas Dawn
The southern-most stretches of US 395 in Oregon can be desolate.  We knew we were headed north but we had no destination in mind.  It was going to be 100 degrees later on so an early(ish) start seemed in order.  We figured we’d knock out an hour or so before stopping for breakfast to figure out the rest of the day.

C'mon!  Let's load up!
By about 7:00 my buddy cranked up his Stelvio, and I, my GSA.  The sun had crested the Warners but temps were brisk enough to require a layer between the t-shirt and the mesh jacket.  US 395 is wonderfully maintained with a smooth surface that rises and falls and sweeps this way and that through gentle high desert topography.  Ranches east of the highway back up to the mountains; to the west they border Goose Lake.

In the high and dry country
Morning rays glint through arcs of Rainbird sprinklers endlessly rotating in an effort to provide silage in this drought stricken region.  The aroma of damp alfalfa fills the helmet.

Revisiting an old friend
Cattle graze the flats out toward the lake and the land is dotted with hay barns, pump sheds and farmhouses.

Nice place for forever
A quick detour and a short climb on County Road 9 (Fandango Pass Road) offers an expansive view of the basin that Goose Lake dominates.   The Willow Ranch Cemetery offers comforting views for eternity. 

Old Barn.  Old Ford.
Nearby, barns built century before last still offer shelter to hay bales, livestock and implements.

The romance of the west is not fiction
A small group of horses gallop across a field, stopping suddenly so I could record the continued existence of the Old West.

Davis Creek School
Returning to 395, the run in to Lakeview continues the morning’s delight.  The old Davis Creek School House reminds us of those simpler days when children walked to school – seven miles – up hill both ways – in the snow.

Always on the lookout for suicidal deer, the first encounter we would have was a young buck, antlers still in felt, ambling across the highway in Lakeview.

Waiting for winter in Lakeview
We ordered the Traveler’s Breakfast at Jerry’s – lots of sausage and eggs and potatoes – viewed the map and hoped the rest of the day would be as glorious as its beginning.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

Thursday, August 2, 2012


…farewell, sweet Nikky. 
Our time together was so fleeting…

The conversation last Sunday went like this:

“Oh, you’ll love the Nikon point and shoot.  We have one and it takes great pictures.”

“Terrific.  How much did you pay for it?”

“Oh.  Ha.  Ha.  We found it in a dumpster out behind the apartments on Oak Street.”

“You found it in a dumpster?”

“Yeah.  All we needed to do was go on line and find the charging system and we were set to go.”

“How do you know it wasn’t stolen?”

“We figure someone just was cleaning out their apartment or something and accidentally threw it out.”

“That’s what you figure?”

“Yeah.  We find all kinds of good stuff in dumpsters.  Clean it up and take it to the Flea Market every Saturday.  You’d be amazed.”

Amazed indeed.

The following Wednesday, four days and two hundred plus miles away from the previous Sunday:

Knowing that carrying my beloved Panasonic camera in a handy pouch on my belt proved to be its demise when I dumped the BMW last month, I replaced it with a damned-nice Nikon.  The Nikky had great zoom, more mega-pixies, video capabilities and a ton of features I would have no interest in ever using.  But the price was unbeatable.  And she would live in my tank bag.

My buddy from Washington had cruised into town on his brand new ’09 Moto Guzzi Stelvio [insert photo here] and we were eager for a side by side comparo as well as a couple of hundred miles of high country blacktop.  His Guzzi is a wonderful machine.  It has the quirky character I appreciate in my Breva, with the take-on-the-world attitude of my BMW GSA.  When we swapped, I was in no hurry to swap back.  The only two downfalls I could discern were that a) the mirrors buzz enough to make what’s happening behind look as if it is smeared in Vaseline, and b) Piaggio doesn’t promote these wonderful machines nearly enough.  There is a great market for big, competent duel-sport motorcycles that don’t come with a blue and white roundel.  At least so thinketh Yamaha, Triumph and soon Honda.

I’d taken a number of shots of the red Beemer and the black Stelvio against backdrops as varied as the brick buildings of old town Auburn, CA, the black crested buttes of the highest Sierra and the deep blue waters of her alpine lakes.  They were outstanding photographs: nicely composed and perfectly exposed.  I just know it.

At a lunch stop buddy opted to leave his helmet and jacket unsecured because our bikes would be within view of the outdoor eating patio.  Seemed safe to me.  Later, at an I-80 rest stop, while off-loading some of the Coca Cola I’d only rented, I left my bike and its gear unsecured as well.

Arriving home I was eager to download my Pulitzer-quality moto-photos.  I opened the tank bag to find Nikky had gone missing.  I searched jacket pockets, the Jesse panniers and even places I knew I hadn’t been with the camera.  Within moments my heart felt two bricks heavier and my wallet about two hundred and fifty bucks lighter.  I would have a stupid tax to pay if I were to be prepared for next week’s ride into Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Somebody has my Nikon.  They will find it useless once the battery dies unless they go on line and replace the external charging system.  Short of that, I expect Nikky will end up in a dumpster and, perhaps eventually, at a Flea Market.  The perp or the dumpster diver will earn about fifteen bucks.

I’ve paid my “stupid tax,” replacing the two-week old Nikon with another point ‘n’ shoot.  I’ll need to remember that my trust in humankind does not preclude me from being smarter about the desperate or just dastardly nature of some of my species.

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press