Saturday, April 30, 2011
My dog Junior watched with a forlorn look as I rolled the Vespa out of the garage. The language barrier kept me from explaining I would only be gone a few hours, that there was work to do today that would keep me from riding longer, that I would be home soon to offer treats and tennis balls. Riding lust effectively inoculated me from any battered baby seal looks that Junior can muster. I'm immune to canine manipulation.
The riding plan was loose, almost non-existent, a general direction and time constraint with plans to limit my stops for pictures. Charlie6 of Redleg's Rides inquired about the appearance of the Vespa GTS with the GIVI E370 topcase. That request haunts some of these pictures.
From the moment I twisted the throttle I could feel a vague, mental discomfort about the road ahead. Familiar, and not unlike what best-selling backpacking author Colin Fletcher describes as "Fletcheritis", the anxiety a hiker feels before a big trip.
A recurring and scurvy condition (typically, a horrendous slump with variegated symptoms, uniformly exhausting and dire, or semi-dire) that oozes into existence at such moments of crisis.
And though I was only planning a trip of a few hours I could quickly tell my heart was elsewhere. Too many thoughts in my head, too many stories swirling in my brain.
A ride is a series of decision points, at least for me when it's no longer a question of where to go but what to do. A turn off into a field would offer a chance to consider the options. The summer tires on the scooter are not nearly as good off the road as the winter tires I have been using for the past few months. Made a note to be careful.
Another stop, another picture, and I surrender the riding plans and decide on breakfast instead. I can ride another day.
Parked across the street from the Cafe on the Park in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, a familar breakfast stop. By this time my stomach has taken control from my brain and I'm nothing more than an automaton.
Only one biker in the place. One of those bikers, the kind that have nothing in common with me. And wear clothes with far more words on them than I'm comfortable with. I have a black T-shirt on with the word "NO" in white letters across the chest. It's a work related thing.
Bacon, the candy of meat. Breakfast erases just about any concern I have. The only way this could have been better is if I was eating it after 120 run that was just the first of four riding legs before needing to be home at 4pm. But that will have to wait for another day when I'm not suffering from psuedoriding relucto wimpism.
After renewing membership in the clean plate club I made plans to ride to the local farmers market to visit a tame animal the owner of the cafe described. Seemed appropriate to visit a petting zoo since I didn't appear too thrilled with riding.
In the park beyond the Vespa a group of Tai Chi practioners moved in slow motion. For a moment the Vespa seemed overly powerful. Just for a moment and then it returned to it's utilitarian state.
This is Bentley, a 17 year old American Bison and his owner indicated he is tame, that she raised him by hand from two days old. I inquired on the life span of a bison and was told he cold live for 40 years. Since the owner was at the farmer's market selling bison steaks and roasts I wondered to myself about his longevity until she interjected that Bentley isn't worried. He won't end up on the table.
She shared another interesting factoid -- the American Bison is the only land mammal that never gets cancer. Did not know that.
Bought a sirloin steak and headed for home. All plans for a nice long ride evaporated in a cloud of mental resistance. Oh well, I had to go to work anyways...
Thursday, April 28, 2011
J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.
I don't often post non-riding items on Scooter in the Sticks but this video warrants a look. Early this morning I watched author J.K. Rowling deliver a powerful message on the lessons of failure and the power of human imagination. I expected Harry Potter but heard something more striking. Rowling talked about imagination as a unique and special power.
At the end of her address she offered a challenge to graduates that is equally appropriate to riders and their journeys. Rowling invokes the words of the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca:
"As is a tale, so is life, not how long it is but how good it is."
So I guess I'll continue to focus on the good trips.
I found this video quite by accident at Alison Day Designs.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
After years of riding, writing and taking pictures it's easy to loose track of individual rides. I went through Scooter in the Sticks and picked out some of my favorite or more memorable experiences. They aren't Vespa reviews or anything like that. Just reflections of the kind of experiences I have had.
I didn't include any winter rides on the Vespa or motorcycle rides. These are the rides that any Vespa owner could undertake without concern for rain, snow or ice.
In my estimation riding is a little miracle accessible on a daily basis. Hard to describe if you've never ridden before. And if you have you probably have a collection of your own favorites.
Monday, April 25, 2011
I finally broke down after six years of Vespa riding and bought a topcase. This one a GIVI E370 with a holding capacity of 39 liters -- big enough for my fullface helmet, raingear, digital SLR, gloves, and a jacket. Carefully packed mind you. The thing locks and is will keep the contents nice and dry. There is a quick release button that allows me to remove the case from the mount if I decide I want to haul something unusual.
Not sure why it took me so long to get one of these things. Their utility was apparent immediately. I'm slow to adopt new things. Maybe I will get a motorcycle in another five to ten years.
The quick release came in handy today for attaching two new Kenda K413 tires to the back of the scooter. Time to remove the Heidenau winter tires and get ready for snow and ice free tires. I won't be amused if it starts to snow again.
This Vespa GTV 250 was parked outside. Spent a few minutes talking with Duke who I thought was the owner but it turned out the scooter belonged to his wife. He said they would be trailering the GTV to the Mid Atlantic Scooter Rally in New Holland, Pennsylvania in late May. I tried to convince him that he and his wife should ride to the rally. It's only 120 miles.
Hopefully tomorrow evening I get pick my own scooter up with some new shoes. I've tried a half dozen different brand tires and they have all performed well. Now I am just trying to find ones that last a little longer.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
As a child Easter meant coloring eggs, going to church, and waking up early to see what treasures were left by the Easter Bunny. As the years passed holidays took on a more reflective quality. While they continue to be opportunities to connect with family and friends, more often for me they become reminders of what is important.
Not long ago I watched Highlander, the 1986 film by Russell Mulcahy about immortal warriors and was unnerved by the scene in the in the above YouTube clip -- a potent reminder of the clock marking the minutes and days of my life. It follows an entire lifetime in a few minutes with one character immortal and the other not.
Sitting in the living room typing this note, looking out the window at the greening landscape, the spring flowers, the birds busy finding materials for nests and family, I can't help but think every moment has is precious and I should act accordingly.
Life flies past in a dazzling array of experience and memory. As hard as I try to pay attention I continually get swept up in the noise of living. A holiday can allow me to step away, slow down, and see what's in front of me. So can a movie. Riding remains a reliable pathway to attention, focus, and appreciation of living. When riders utter the word freedom this is what often comes to mind. The road sets me free.
This morning I took a lazy, meandering ride to meet my friend Gordon. As the Vespa flows through the landscape I have a chance to think about the paths, options, and opportunities available to me. And all the people who make the journey rich. My wife Kim, her fire and spirit, love and support, kindness and compassion... She helps keep me pointed in the right direction. Family and friends fill my world in ways they'll never know.
The clock is ticking. It makes everything precious.
Be careful on the road. Warm wishes for your own experience, family and friends. To the embrace of the time each of us has ahead...
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Last Thursday evening I rode into State College, Pennsylvania. The sky was clear with a few wispy clouds made pink by the lowering sun and the temperature was hovering near 50F. Perfect conditions for riding after a miserable winter. Here's the scene at the motorcycle parking spaces across from Schlow Library -- three Vespa scooters. So far this year the motorcycle riders are scarce to non-existent. As I was riding home I knew there had to be a reason. Maybe a helpful motorcycle rider can indicate the right choice.
10. Earth Day is approaching and I want to do my part for fuel conservation by staying off the road.
9. My Roadcrafter suit is at the dry cleaners.
8. Didn't want to risk a breakdown and miss The Office because my Tivo is on the fritz.
7. I just hate waving to all those scooters on the road.
6. Fifty degrees is too cold to dress like a pirate.
5. The battery is dead on my GPS.
4. My wife says I'm not allowed to go out.
3. My husband whines like a little baby whenever I go for a ride in the evening.
2. I thought only scooters were allowed on the road until June 1.
1. Fifty degrees??? Are you nuts???
Maybe there are other reasons. But I know as soon as the temperature hits 70F motorcycles appear like flies.
And just so you don't think all scooter riders are tough or something. I saw this Honda Ruckus at work yesterday with a rain coat. Isn't it just wrong to cover your machine when it's not at home? I think the BMW MOA rescinds membership rights if someone does that with a BMW.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
That's Tom Christensen, motorcycle mechanic.
Whenever I leave my Vespa for service at Kissell Motorsports I didn’t really know what was happening to it or who was doing the work. The scooter would be left behind and then, as if by magic, it would be returned with whatever mechanical needs addressed. For some people that would be enough. I got it into my head that I wanted to know the people who were evaluating my machine, turning the wrenches, and actually working on the Vespa. Or maybe I had a desire to enter the Employees Only realm, pull the curtain aside, and become part of the secret world of motorcycle service. So I suggested to Craig Kissell that it would be a good idea for me to interview the technicians, put a human face on that part of his business. About six weeks ago I took a step over the line and told Tom that I was going to interview him.
Meeting your mechanic is sort of like going to the dentist. You know you have to go but you’re afraid of what he’s going to say. They have a special power of life and death over motorcycles and scooters and I treat them accordingly. Something short of a blood sacrifice. My friend Paul would offer a box of Dunkin Donuts. I completely drop the ball and show up with a camera and the voice recorder in my iPhone.
One thing I tell would be riders when asked the ago old question, “What kind of scooter or motorcycle should I buy?” is to buy something you can have serviced by a local mechanic. Everyone can define local in his or her own way. For instance, BMW riders feel a local mechanic is someone within a day’s ride. So about 1000 miles. My definition puts them a bit closer. Either way, make sure you have a mechanic who can work on your bike before you buy it.
Having a good mechanic means more time to ride and less time involved in transporting a bike around. No one needs to remind me about the notion of spare bikes.
So I’m talking to Tom, trying to act cool and knowledgeable and hoping he doesn’t remember my unfortunate attempt to change the drive belt on my LX150. Detecting no smirks I move ahead with the interview. He’s putting a new, high performance exhaust system on a shiny red Ducati.
STEVE: So, how did you become a mechanic?
TOM: Everyone in my family is a mechanic. I started when I was five years old. My brothers and dad taught me. That’s how I learned about engines and stuff. I went to the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Arizona to get the credentials.
(At this point I’ve run out of questions. Tom seems content and isn’t offering anything more. Just as I prepare to wind up the interview he continues.)
TOM: My dad’s blind. He’s the local lawn mower repairman and is pretty good at listening to engines and fixing them by what he hears.
STEVE: How does listening fit into motorcycle repair?
TOM: You feel things through listening. The sounds tell a story. I end up making a lot of motorcycle noises.
(He starts making some remarkably mechanical sounds.)
TOM: That’s a Ducati.
(I hear a couple snickers from other guys in the shop and wonder if I am about to be the punch line to a joke. Tom must have sensed my complete and utter mechanical incompetence and would believe anything he said.)
TOM: Like those guys on CarTalk, Click and Clack, they’re always asking people to make the noise their car is making.
(He makes another noise that sounds like a transmission problem.)
TOM: You can figure out a lot of things about a problem if you learn to listen carefully. It’s not all about computers. That’s where the passion comes in. For a mechanic to diagnose a problem he often needs to hear the sound, whether it’s a clank clank clank, a clunk clunk clunk or a boing boing boing. That’s where my noise making comes from.
(The other guys in the shop have stopped what they were doing as if something was about to happen when one of them tells me to ask him about Karl. Tom stops what he’s doing and his face transforms into another person, someone I recognize but can’t quite remember until he suddenly breaks into a perfect rendition of Karl Childers, the character made famous by Billie Bob Thornton in SlingBlade.)
TOM: I like them French fried potaters.
If you don't know of Sling Blade check out the video below. The main character, Karl, is an engine expert, hence the connection to a mechanic:
(Everyone cracks as he continues. Standing in the shop I feel like I have entered a David Lynch film and look around for Frank Booth. After a couple minutes of Sling Blade I ask another question.)
STEVE: What’s the easiest bike to work on here?
TOM: A Triumph is probably the easiest bike to work on. Straightforward, simple, reliable engineering. But my favorite bike to work on is a Ducati. I love the sound, the feel, the passion that goes into their creation. Every nut and bolt and fastener is well thought out and engineered. Every connection and cable and wire is chosen with excellence in mind.
(He begins speaking in tongues.)
TOM: There’s nothing like the sound of a Ducati.
(He shows me the new exhaust he’s installing on a Ducati 1198S.)
TOM: These pipes are all hand made stainless steel.
STEVE: I think they’re the same diameter as the exhaust on my Ford Ranger.
TOM: Come on, let me show you something.
(We head across the shop and go outside. I’m trying to think how to segue from the Ducati to the Vespa as we stop in front of a Ducati 796 with a newly installed exhaust system. I can tell he’s passionate about motorcycles and what makes them tick.)
CLICK HERE FOR THE AUDIO.
(Back in the shop I shift gears.)
STEVE: So, what should riders be thinking about now that’s its spring. What should they be doing to get ready to ride?
TOM: Well, other than checking the air in their tires they should have done everything last fall when they stored their bike for the winter. This time of year I’m busy with carb cleaning and spark plug changes because gas was left in the motorcycle over the winter and when they started it up things got fouled.
STEVE: What do you suggest?
TOM: If you did leave the gas in all winter it would be a good idea to drain the float bowl before you try and start the motorcycle. Because once you try and burn that bad gas, well….
(I’m still trying to move the conversation towards the Vespa when it dawns on me that maybe Tom rides one himself!)
STEVE: What do you ride?
TOM: I have a SuperMoto conversion bike, a Honda XR650R liquid cooled Baja bike. (To some this bike is known as the biggest, baddest dirt bike ever) I put on Supermoto wheels, made it road legal, custom suspension, new bars and bar ends, lowered the front…
(I’m wondering what he must think of the scooter I’m riding. Just outside the shop door are a lot of Ducati motorcycles. BMWs, Triumphs, and Vespa scooter too. Just in case you need one.)
TOM: It’s the bike I always wanted; I like the dual sport, moto bikes. Sometimes I wish I would have waited for the Hypermotard but the one I have is great. Light, flickable. A SuperMoto bike is ideal for the kind of back roads we have here in central Pennsylvania.
(He’s putting a muffler on the Ducati and I’m looking around, searching for a way to bring up the Vespa.)
TOM: I can’t believe how many miles you put on your Vespa. Not many people do that.
(As if by magic my spine has straightened. I think I hear trumpets echoing in the distance.)
STEVE: It’s a good machine. It’s been pretty reliable.
TOM: You make sure it’s serviced properly. That makes a big difference.
STEVE: Yeah. You guys do a good job with it.
(And that’s how we ended the interview.)
I got to finally talk with one of the mechanics at Kissell Motorsports for more than a minute or two. When I was riding the BMW R100 GS last week Tom personally checked it out and provided his assessment of the bike – a big thumbs up. When I returned it he seemed as surprised as everyone else that I was going to remain a scooter rider.
Some things defy human understanding.
Regardless, Tom can work on the Vespa anytime.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Can't believe there are no motorcycles at work today. With the temperature near 50F I thought I would have trouble finding a parking space today. Once the days get warm only the early bird riders will find spaces here. Had to go look at my calendar to make sure there wasn't some big riding event somewhere that I missed.
Who's riding to work? Has the normal riding season started yet? Is it still too cold to ride?
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Yesterday evening I stopped to inspect the artillery pieces that would be part of some Civil War event at the Pennsylvania Military Museum today. The light was nice, drew out the Canon G9 to create the quintessential Civil War Vespa image only to find the SD card was absent from the camera. Luckily the iPhone was in my pocket so I was able to satisfy my photographic hunger at some level.
It was just starting to rain so I hurried home to the warmth and protection afforded by middle class living.
This morning Junior and I visited the men huddled under a tent awning trying to stay warm and dry. Weather makes friends of the worst enemies because I saw Union and Confederate soldiers in that group. I asked how they keep their powder dry and was told the cannon charges were inside plastic bags and then wrapped in aluminum foil. With aluminum foil not being invented until 1910 and who knows when the first plastic bag appeared I wanted to ask a question. But Junior insisted we move on to the ball throwing part of the day.
He remains impervious to the rain, wind, and creeping cold that these kind of days deliver.
Anyways, I have been getting a lot of grief lately about passing on that 1988 BMW R100 GS. Some of it from myself too. One thing that comes up over and over is the limited capabilities of the Vespa. Having put over 30 thousand miles on modern Vespa scooters I can find only two limiting factors:
1. It is impossible to ravage the speed limits on the Interstate highway system. Just not enough power.
2. Stream crossing ability is limited.
3. Riding over big obstacles is problematic.
Other than that you can pretty much go anywhere and do anything that time, money, and skill will allow. And I won't go into the many other things a Vespa can accomplish that I don't ever see anyone on motorcycles doing around here.
Whenever I hear the limitations argument I always think of Walter Muma, the fellow who rode his Honda moped from Detroit to Alaska and back -- 11,500 miles. And he did it in 1978 when those Alaskan roads really were adventure territory.
I understand why people want big cushy bikes -- it makes things easier and more comfortable. And it allows you to compress distance when you have limited time. And specific machines can enable to to pursue certain kinds of performance if that's your goal.
Calgary photographer and Vespa rider Sergei Belski recently completed a 4400 mile trip on his GTS 250ie. Looks a lot like mine. And he travels light. Check out his site. He makes some nice riding pictures.
It's stuff like this that makes me smile a bit when guys pigeonhole the scooter as an "around town" thing. It's that kind of thought process that has them thinking a Harley 883 is a "girl's" bike or that anything less that 1000cc is underpowered. Exactly how much do these guys weigh?
So, just sitting here, eating, wasting time, watching the rain come down, and waxing philosophically about riding and adventure. Hell, I should gear up and go for a ride. We're only supposed to get another half inch of rain in the next hour or so.
How bad can it be? I've got those great German tires on the Vespa after all...
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
A couple days after seeing my Consumption Therapy and Moto-Porn post Craig Kissell told me he would be taking a BMW R100 GS on trade and it would have my name on it should I want to buy it. It seemed as if the universe was conspiring to have me become an owner of a BMW. Who am I to argue with fate?
I took the afternoon off from work and despite the rain decided I would have to take the BMW (cover your ears Mr. Riepe) Airhead for a ride. It had already passed the visual test. All that was left was the road test.
After Kissell Motorsports mechanic Tom Christensen went over the bike and made sure it was ready for the road I left the Vespa and headed out in a light mist. The bike was, well, amazing. Started easily, idled perfectly, sounded amazing, and shifted with ease. Sales Manager Nate Mattern said the transmission had been rebuilt and the circlip and other issues corrected. You could tell it was ready to hit the road and ride for a long way. After some experimenting with the brakes and controls I stopped on Skytop Mountain to make a picture.
The two aluminum side cases were sturdy and functional -- just like the rest of the motorcycle. I was completely impressed by the mechanical feel of the bike and the sense of purpose and capability. For a 1988 machine with 60K miles on it I would have thought I was riding a much newer motorcycle.
The BMW R100 GS is pretty. As a photographic subject I could make use of it on Scooter in the Sticks. It seemed like a natural partner for my Vespa and would lend itself to a new variety of riding. Or so I was trying to tell myself.
Standing near this church I wondered how often I would fill those sidecases and take a long trip. Or how often I would make use of the power and capabilities of the motorcycle. Didn't much like the answers I was coming up with.
On the highway the power of the big boxer engine is apparent. Even with the Metzler Enduro tires which were a tad too aggressive for a lot of pavement riding the bike was smooth and stable cruising at 70mph. And there was plenty of throttle left. If I had any concerns at all it would be the older brakes -- disc up front and drum on the rear -- I tested them on several high speed stops and while they worked well it's definitely not the same as modern braking systems. It would not let this stand between me and the BMW though.
In dirt, mud and gravel the R100 GS was perfectly comfortable. The bike feels heavy compared to the Vespa and takes a bit more manuevering to get around. It was about this point in the ride that I began to sense something wasn't quite right. Not with the bike. There was something amiss in regard to my riding needs.
In a flood of recognition the following realities presented themselves:
1. I ride to explore, look around, and take pictures. This occurs at generally slow speeds, without destinations or geographical goals, and entails endless stopping and starting. From this point of reference the BMW seemed like far more motorcycle than I needed. And it is not nearly as functional in making quick stops, parking on the road in a manner than won't cause problems.
2. The BMW would not be my first choice to ride to work. Man, I tried hard to rationalize around this one -- imagining all the times I would ride it to work. I couldn't. Bottom line -- the Vespa is just too damn functional for my 8 mile commute.
3. Last disappointing realization -- it would probably sit in the garage most of the time. This motorcycle is designed to travel. To ride. And ride far. Why else does it have a gigantic gas tank and all that luggage. Who was I kidding? My long rides are in the 200 - 300 mile range. That's scooter territory. It would almost be embarrassing to this noble steed to limit it to such short jaunts.
With my head hung low and feeling sad (Irrationally I still want the bike) I ride back to Kissell Motorsports to tell Craig and Nate I am not going to be joining the ranks of motorcycle riders. The BMW R100 GS is up for grabs now but others were waiting on my decision so I'm not sure how long it will last. Better call fast if you need it!
It could have been a classic pair. The temptation was strong but in the end I felt like Galadriel passing up the One Ring offered by Frodo. I passed the test and will now fade into the West.
There is always something positive that comes out of this events and this one was no exception. I learned something important -- I am not a scooter rider by accident. I ride a Vespa because it is the right machine for me. And if there is any purchases to be make it would more likely be to trade the GTS on another Vespa when the time comes.
On the way home I saw Kim making pictures. The Vespa is quiet and and I was able to stop and make this picture without her knowing I was there. When she turned around she made a picture.
*NOTE FROM KIM* Steve wants to believe this photo expresses my feelings about his machine which he described as "powerful and filled with machismo" but I am sorry to inform him: the dark feeling is related more to the experience of all of the cars and trucks bearing down on my ass while I was trying to make pictures of the weeping willows.
The last time I had seen Steve he was on his way to pick up a bumblebee. How peculiar? I figured the buzz didn't last very long. That silver Vespa was already back on the side of the road and he was smiling in a way that seemed like relief inside his big shiny spacesuit.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Monday, April 11, 2011
Of all the names ascribed to me Curious Toddler might be the best. Or at least I’ve convinced myself of this after a long weekend. Stacy Bolty, author of Bolty.net for some reason chose me to bookend a wide range of riders as a curious toddler. Cool – my 15 minutes of fame promised by Warhol. He never said it would be a heroic or magnificent 15 minutes.
Curious Toddler. Curious.
By the end of the first evening I was talking to myself and standing in front of the mirror flexing my biceps. At least until I remembered being called Weenie Arms Williams in second grade. Pouring through websites for BMW, Ducati, Triumph and Ducati and commenting out loud, “I could ride that. Oh yeah, that one too, piece of cake.” And on and on until it occurs to me that I might need to renew my subscription to Guns and Ammo. I let it lapse in ninth grade.
Part of the evening is spent dusting off the free weight set in the basement. Hairballs from the last three dogs we’ve owned encase them under a workbench. Back in the living room I busy myself designing appropriate tattoos that utilize flames, lightning bolts, and mythical creatures. By bedtime Kim is stroking my hand and whispering, “You’re my man…”
Curious. Is that a polite way of saying odd? Or weird, strange, eccentric? The mind plays tricks with the ego. And toddler. Does that make me an infant, a big baby, or is it code for infantile? Or stupid. By midnight I’m standing outside with Junior peering up at the heavens asking, “Why?”
And the answer strikes deep inside – I am a curious toddler.
Ice water sparkles in a red plastic glass, a welcome hydration after several hours on the road. The narrow, white Formica counter top flecked with gold transports me back to dinner with my mom and dad at Danny’s Restaurant on Neville Island fifty years earlier where I marveled at the riches spread out before me.
Diner 22 just outside Alexandria, Pennsylvania on US 22, a stop for breakfast and a chance for my toes to warm. No riders here. None seen anywhere during the morning – the chill air still keeping most motorcycles and scooters at home. A few old men sit to my right lapping up chicken parmesan, the daily lunch special -- $6.25. Overhead is a sign, “J-EET-YET”. Soon my predictable plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast will make the answer yes.
That meal is probably more dangerous than anything I encounter on the road.
I work methodically through my breakfast presented neatly on a heavy white plate. Taped to the glass door on the refrigerator in front of me is a hand-lettered sign on peach colored paper announcing fresh baked cinnamon rolls for $1.75. The crisp bacon looses flavor as I contemplate the snaps on my Tourmaster Overpants. A cinnamon roll sitting close to the door whispers my name just as a harmonica begins to wail on the overhead speakers. The waitress crashes two of the red plastic glasses into the ice chest. The Vespa keys are lying on the counter. I look up and catch her eye. It’s over, I’ve lost. I close my mouth tightly for fear drool might escape.
Defying reason I stand up and pay my bill and escape without the unnecessary weight of a cinnamon roll.
The ride started hours earlier as I explained to Junior that any long walk would have to wait until I got home. The sight of fog on the mountain coupled with a strong desire to ride the Vespa overcame the dog’s insistent suggestions of taking a ride in the truck to all his favorite destinations.
Traveling towards weather makes route choices easier. The temperature display indicated 35F as I rolled out of the driveway towards Rothrock State Forest and a maze of dirt and gravel roads. Eight miles from home and I’ve already stopped six times to take pictures. Curious Toddler comes to mind as I wander around the roadside looking for treasure. It begins to seem an appropriate title.
I can’t help being swept away by the gloomy landscape, as if walking through a Charlotte Bronte landscape.
Climbing towards the top of Thickhead Mountain, another stop, more wandering around, searching for a rock for the garden. Winter hasn’t been harsh on the road. Gravel still mostly in place and very little mud to deal with.
Despite the greater risk of riding in fog I am mesmerized by how things look. It’s hard not to give up riding and just make pictures. And there are no bad pictures when fog is involved.
The road and landscape merge to form a continuous picture that compels me to stop despite oaths to ride onward and allow the passing scenes to fade into memory.
Standing in the road I see possibility, recall memories from youth, scenes of Barnabas Collins or passages from Edgar Allen Poe. Twelve miles now and I’ve stopped nine times to make pictures. Riding has become incidental, a means to another end. I am the Curious Toddler.
Proceeding down the mountain reveals a shortcoming of a scooter with an automatic transmission. A constant velocity transmission (CVT) for engineers or the mechanically minded. What this means is there is little engine braking available. Roll off the throttle, the RPMS drop and before you know it you’re freewheeling at increasing speed. Braking requires a sensitive touch and complete understanding of what is about to happen when the throttle is twisted. Applying power suddenly engages the powertrain and, depending on speed and road surface, can yield a sudden lurch as the transmission is engaged. On snow it can be a catastrophe. On loose gravel or mud it’s a wait and see thing. Motorcycle riders have it much easier with their endless features and capabilities.
Lichen covered rocks in a woodland setting. Gleaning ideas for a Japanese garden installation. Distant, almost insignificant in the photo, the Ves pa asks if I want to ride. At times I feel it deserves a better home. I keep promising to leave the camera and iPhone at home and just ride, explore on the road and not on foot. An attempt to rein in the Curious Toddler.
If you find yourself wandering in a similar environment make a note – those damp rocks are slippery. Crashing down on your head slippery.
Earthly magnetism. I’m drawn to the edge of landscapes where one place ends and another begins – a canyon rim, seashore, overlook. Places to peer into infinity. Places found on rides. The road surface here is mostly sand and clay, damp, and prone to make the tires track sideways as times. The Heidenau winter tires perform well in this environment.
White pines suffocate the road. Descending towards pavement and civilization I stop to make a few photographs. The scent of pine and decaying needles fill the air. It’s hard to see more than 50 yards in any direction. Even the sky is cut off from view. I can begin to appreciate the terrible challenge European settlers had when they traversed these mountains in the early 1700s.
A few miles further; more toddling, more curiosity in play. Lost in a dark wood, the big bad wolf can’t be far off.
The moment the front wheel touches pavement I swear an oath that’s I’ll not stop for another picture until after breakfast. A twist of the throttle, I begin humming Sugar Mountain, the landscape sweeps by in an endless series of images. This is the freedom of riding.
Jane Stewart was born not long after the American Revolution and now rests with her husband James near Saulsburg, Pennsylvania. Each time I visit a cemetery I leave with a renewed sense of time and a reminder to make use of it.
The old graveyard and church stand in disrepair. Decaying forms of wrought iron fence and gates offer ideas for home. Kim and I both embrace the subtle grace of things being overtaken by nature. A quiet growl beneath my riding jacket reminds me of my mission.
On long smooth roads the Vespa is completely at home and can run all day at whatever legal speed I choose. Or some illegal ones as well. Roads lead south to Maryland, Virginia and beyond. Or north through New York and New England. When anyone asks about a scooter make sure you remind them that you can travel as far and wide as your time and resources allow.
What is it about train tracks vanishing into the horizon that’s so alluring? I stood here a long time before leaving. Not a care in the world; just the Vespa and the road. Everything else burned away.
Breakfast at Diner 22 marks the beginning of the end of my ride as I turn towards home.
The open landscape along PA Route 453 near Water Street. Thirty more miles until I’m home, relaxed, smiling, a curious toddler.
Another track leads off through a farm field that I have to explore. I’m tired and don’t fully pursue the opportunity.
The Vespa is silent as I pull in the driveway. Junior doesn’t wake and I walk up to the window to see Kim working in her studio. It’s good to be home.
Junior soon demands some action himself and we take a walk to the park where he and Buddy chase tennis balls.
Thinking about the ride later as I worked on this post I understand more fully the meaning of being a curious toddler. It fits, it works, and I think I will have a T-shirt made…