Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Longer than Average Commute.

First it was optional. Then it became mandatory. Okay by me. I was looking for a place to go for Ride to Work Day. The Seattle area was as good a place as any. My commute to work would end up being a bit longer than average, though.

The optional part was a sort of going away gathering for Erick. He had been a Regional Director forever before moving up the ladder a bit. Corporate rewarded him for his years of hard work by giving him a cushy position from which to wait until retirement. That time had come. Also had come the time to say farewell. Since most of us were planning on attending the social event the Boss decided it would be a good time to get everybody together for a company meeting. Thus entered the mandatory part.

With the meeting scheduled to start around 1:30 PM Elivra and I rolled out about 8. I know, nothing like getting started promptly at the crack of noon. Who says adventures need to start before dawn? Most of mine do, but that's beside the point. There is nothing in the official Guide to Having a Motorcycle Adventure that specifies a start time. On the other hand, the official Guide to Being a Grandpa specfically states that you spend time with the little one(s) while you can.

I tend to ride in 150 mile or so stretches. Somewhere around 175 miles Elvira's looking for fuel, anyway. The plan is tempered by the ease and convenience of certain stops. Like fuel, Starbucks, and a Subway sandwich shop in the same place. Woodland, Washington is only about 110 miles for me but qualifies as a good place to stop on several counts. Including the Starbucks and Subway thing. The bonus is the Safeway fuel station with 24 hour availability as long as you have a credit card.

Since I only needed fuel and a pit stop we moved next door to the McDonald's. I can't understand why this chain is spending so much on rennovations. Seems like their name would draw people no matter what. My only goal here today was to go in the side door and relieve some pressure without having to take my helmet off. A bit easier here than walking all the way to the back of Safeway drawing attention.

North of Centralia is the Scatter Creek rest area. It's not all that much farther North from Woodland. It is, however, the last "easy" stop until I get to the office.

Since I'd be pressing through for the rest of the journey I decided to grab a table and enjoy my lunch feast.

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich takes center stage. I made the sandwich and wrapped it myself. Can't you tell by the way the plastic wrap is so tidy? Fig Newtons, pretzels, and ice water round out the offerings. The sumptious meal is set off by table decorations specially picked for a motorcyclist on the road. As you can see, there is even a table cloth color matched to the helmet. No need for a napkin. If your hands get messy merely insert them into the gloves and nobody will see the food stuck to your fingers.

Unfortunately, due to extensive road construction projects and heavy traffic I was running a bit short on time. I snarfed the sandwich, took a swig of water, threw everything else back on the bike and rolled.

I really love the 70 mph speed limit in Washington. Elvira's speedo is a bit optimistic. Her needle is buried at 80, the GPS indicates 75, and the speed limit is 70. I get to feel like I'm running at a brisk pace while still being mostly legal. Good stuff.

We arrived at the Mothership with 10 minutes to spare.

I do want to share a visual snapshot from the trip up before we go on. It's about a guy on a small scooter.

Here's the setting. North end of the Olympia / Lacy area. Interstate 5 around exit 109 where the big Cabela's store is located. I'm rolling along in the hammer lane but there's a bit of traffic keeping us somewhat slowed. Up ahead in the middle lane I spot a small blue scooter. Little by little Elvira and I gain on the rider. As luck would have it, we end up side by side for a while. Vagaries of traffic and all. The situation allows me plenty of time to look the scooter and rider over.

I'm no scooter expert but I can see it's an Aprilia Scarabeo. Mostly because "Scarabeo" is written in large silver letters across the side panel just under the seat. Plus I know that Aprilia makes the Scarabeo so it's pretty easy to deduce it's an Aprilia Scarabeo. Other than that, I'm guessing. I figure it's about 200cc or so. Maybe 250. I know there's a 500 but it looks big and plush. This thing was small.

Riding the scooter is a thin guy about my height. Short, in other words. The scooter has a temporary permit taped where the license plate would go. The rider has a shiny new full face helmet, a black Joe Rocket jacket with matching pants, and office type shoes below light brown socks. I guess after paying for the rest the boots will have to wait.

Anyway, there we are riding side by side for a while. I look over at him trying to make eye contact. I wave. I wait. He gives me a quick sideways glance but immediately turns his head forward again. Both hands stay on the grips. Unlike me with my cool black Rayban sunglasses, this guy is seeing the world through just a clear visor. Which means I can see enough of his face to figure out what's going on.

He's hanging on for dear life. Freeway speeds. Heavy traffic. 15 or 16 inch wheels on a small scooter with sensitive handling. I wonder if he's a non-rider who's decided to try scootering as a fuel saving measure. I hope it all goes well for this guy. Above all I hope he gets to the point where he starts to have fun.

The vehicle on the left in the photo above is the Boss' fancy SUV. Here he is checking out Elvira and the famous Aerostich Roadcrafter.

I always enjoy celebrity status when I ride up. I'm the "bike" guy. Although the images tend to get a bit mixed up. The Boss calls me Easy Rider which I'm sure he means as a compliment. Although I'm not sure about the birthday card he gave me. A few old geezers on choppers inviting me to join the Older than Hell Angels. Oh, well. Small price to pay for being able to ride for work as much as I'm able.

By 3:30 our meeting was over and we headed to the Lucky 7 Sports Bar for libations and farewells.

You thought there'd be a picture of Elvira in front of the place, didn't you? It would be the one and only, I'll tell you that. Truth be told, I seriously thought about posting one. On the other hand, my last name isn't Weiner or Favre. Nor is my first name Arnold. That's a photo that I just wouldn't want out there no matter the explanation. My bike is kind of unique with the personalized plate and TEAM OREGON Motorcycle Safety program stickers on the back. With my standing in the motorcycle training community I know better than to post a photo that could damage my reputation. Unlike the first two guys I mentioned. Unlike the third guy, I know when to keep things in my pocket, so to speak.

Fortunately the Lucky 7 is in a strip mall so I parked far away. This is all you'll get to see.

I've seen bikes in front of bars and made a snide comment on what they're drinking.

"Sure, they're in there drinking iced tea, right?" Snide wink to follow.

In this case I really was drinking iced tea.

Here's the guest of honor.

The G11 does pretty good inside with a high ISO and slow shutter speed. As you know, the interior of these kinds of places are not brightly lit. The only things "lit" are usually the patrons and the restrooms. Restrooms, of course, need brighter lighting so the lit patrons don't miss.

Seven o'clock had come and gone by the time things broke up. I was amped from drinking iced tea on an empty stomach. Time to head home. For the record, I did have a Plan B which consisted of an overnight kit and a credit card. Just in case.

I have to say I was really disappointed with the HOV lanes this time. On the trip up you know which lane I chose. Unfortunately, it wasn't a rush hour. Still, though, I somehow had the idea that HOV is some sort of secret acronym for a mysterious term that loosely translates to "go fast". Not the case this time. People get into the commuter lane and drive at exactly the speed limt. Don't you hate being passed by someone in the regular freeway lane when you're in the go fast lane? What is it with these people? Self-righteousness? Entitlement?

HOV hours are something like three in the morning until seven at night. Since it was after 7 and the rush hour had pretty much subsided, this lane didn't do me much good. However, I used the lane anyway. After all, riding a motorcycle entitles me, right? I was cruising along enjoying the elbow room. Until I nearly got my ass run over by a guy in a tiny white Honda car. Holy crap! It was surely a go fast lane now but I just didn't have the guts to run 90 in a 60 zone.

What I did have a stomach for was food. It had been over nine hours since I'd shoved any groceries down my throat. By 9 PM it was time. The sun was going down and gave things a golden glow. This is South of Chahalis at exit 72. Just so you know, Mike, there's a Subway at this exit.

It was dark for the rest of the ride. Which adds its own interesting element to the ride. For instance, there's this stretch of freeway below the Kelso / Longview area where a train track runs between the two sides of the freeway. It was really weird to look ahead of me and see locomotive lights headed right at me!

Elvira and I rolled into Portland around 10:30. On the South side of the city we promptly encountered more road construction. Crews are repaving the southbound lanes through the Terwilliger Curves. Three lanes narrowed to two which, in turn, narrowed to one. Who would have thought so much traffic would be out at this time of night?

Stop and go traffic would have been a blessing. Instead, we were treated to crawling along at about three miles per hour. In preparation for paving the existing roadway had been heavily ground and grooved. After working out the throttle hand all day the clutch hand would get a chance to catch up. Tired muscles wanted to tense up. Eyes up. Relax. Let the bike move around on the rough pavement. Just what I needed at the end of a long day. The clutch was never at rest during my constant balancing act. A couple of times I actually stopped and kept the clutch in for a very brief time. Sorry to the person in back who had to wait a few seconds. This is a lot of work. This is where I expect to hear from the scooter riders about not having a clutch lever!

I found myself thinking that a rider without a lot of experience would have dropped the bike by now. Think about it. Riding at a pace that's too slow for the bike to balance itself while being fast enough you can't really stop and get stable. Add in being tired at the end of a long riding day. Fortunately, after a couple of miles, we started heading uphill. I was finally able to let the clutch out all the way and modulate the throttle for speed control. Easier said than done with fuel injection.

After a total of six and a half miles we cleared the construction. This weird thought crossed my mind. Who the heck has to set out all those cones? I will never complain about the cones we set out during a motorcycle class again!

We rolled home at a quarter to midnight after a round trip commute of a bit over 500 miles. The temperature was actually about ten degrees lower. By the time I got the G11 out of my jacket pocket engine heat had begun to seep upwards.

Katie was already in bed when I crawled in an hour later. She immediately rolled over and embraced me. I could feel her relax with relief knowing that I'm home safely. She worries about me but accepts my need to ride. God has indeed blessed me with her.

Thus ended Ride to Work Day. Coming up I'll share something I saw in Salem last night. It caused me some dismay and really shows why we need Andy's Ride to Work Day and other attention to motorcycle commuters. We also need more folks to use their bikes more and be visible. There's a lot of perceptions to correct out there.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 09, 2011

ART and Art ( sort of )

I taught an ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) course this week. This class was organized for a HOG chapter. Their Safety Officer also happens to be one of our instructors. She put the whole thing together and recruited students. A tip of the helmet to her. A double tip to the members who signed up. One or two had been through ART previously. Some had taken basic training when they got their endorsements. Riding time varied between a couple of years and three decades. What was really interesting is that, for some of the long time riders, this was their first formal training session.

Classroom was fun. What a great group of folks! They were obviously there to learn. Egos got put aside in the interest of skill development. As you can imagine all the bikes but one were Harleys. We had 17 Harleys and 1 Goldwing.

I had stashed a camera on the bike as I always do. For some reason I think I'm going to have time to make all these cool photos. What happens in reality is that we're so darn busy there's barely time for a snapshot. Like this one. Oh, well.

Dean W was also teaching. There were four of us on duty. While I taught classroom the other three were busy playing outside with a group of instructors participating in a cornering clinic. Since we have the track for the day we offer our instructors a chance to come brush up on skills.

Please don't tell Dean this, but I really value working with him. ( Don't want to make him have to buy a bigger helmet ) Many of us make it our goal to strive for excellence. I like to think I'm pretty sharp but Dean can sometimes out think me. I tend to make intuitive leaps while it seems to me that Dean is more methodical in his approach. It's a blessing to work with someone who can help me grow and also hold me accountable. Ok, you can tell Dean. If you value someone you should really let them know while you can.

Dean shared with me something one of our students had written about an ART class he attended. I thought it was worth sharing. Especially since some of you will know exactly what he's writing about, having been there yourself. Dean and I were both teaching this one.

Before I do, though, I wanted to make a quick mention of the other "Art" in the post title. Or temporary lack thereof. I'm playing with the backgrounds color and stuff. The goal is to find a combination that will help showcase the photos better. Since I don't seem to have time all at once to see it through, it has to be a work in progress. Bear with me. Suggestions are even welcomed.

Anyway, here is what the student wrote.

Team Oregon's Advanced Rider Training

Team Oregon's Advanced Rider Training (ART) is held on a go-kart track, with dedicated classroom sessions in the morning and riding drills in the afternoon. The ART is held at Pat’s Acres in Canby, Oregon (and a location in Medford, Southern Oregon) and is a 2nd to 3rd (touched 4th once, but only with a clear straight in front of me) gear challenging and technical little circuit. The ART’s syllabus is designed after mishap studies of Oregon motorcyclists; they found that crashes were not on the first, but the second or third corner. A training plan was formulated to link corners while giving a little bit of risk in the form of if you get the corner wrong, you get to play in the grass! With no speed limits, no left-turning cars, and a lot of really great technically challenging corners and professional instructors, this was the perfect place to learn how to link corners, and then polish those new found skills. The bike is not required to be track-prepped (tape off lights, pull fuses, remove mirrors, etc.), and the rider is required to wear armored jacket and boots.

The classroom sessions in the morning covered the basics of what motorcycle mishaps have in common: lack of cornering effectiveness. The instructors are straightforward, and relate how the material in the classroom can combat those trends. Delivery method is very professional and straightforward, with each subject clearly defined and how it impacted those in attendance. The material covered was applicable to on-street riding awareness, and the classic quote before breaking for lunch set the tone for the remainder of the day, “We want to drive the road; not the let the road, drive us.”

The track allowed different circuits for each drill, this way one could not get too comfortable with a layout, and have to really work the skills being taught to stay off the grass! The drills allowed for emergency skill polishing in a real environment, with real grass and trees, and the resulting risks associated with a real environment. Ever try maximum braking on a cambered curve staring at a three-foot diameter Douglas Fir tree? Hopefully you never will, but doing it during the ART sure makes the skill set that much more important. Throughout the day, the instructors offered ride-along’s where they’d point out when and where to look, when and where to be on and off the brakes, all while you’re sitting on the pillion!

The culminating exercise was an instructor follow-behind. An instructor would ride behind and critique you for two laps. This gives me the ultimate respect for the instructors, I’ve done this before and it is harder then you’d think, but the TO instructors handled this extreme multi-tasking job with professionalism and knowledge.

I found the ART to be everything it advertised itself to be, and more, the more being the environment of a closed-course, street-based curriculum.

You can find the website this came from here.

It's pretty cool to be involved in this kind of training. Right now, though, the sun is out and I have work to do. Get ready, Elvira, 'cause we're headed out!

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Ready for Duty

I was wandering about in downtown Portland on a grey and hazy morning recently. It was early even for the Big City. My immediate goal was warm coffee after a chilly ride up. Tucking the G11 into the big pocket on the front of the 'Stich has become a habit. I saw these bikes lined up down the street and was compelled to make a detour. A large number of motor officers from this department regularly attend our training sessions. I've probably chased one of these very bikes on a track.

One of the things I've finally learned to do with photography is to find different angles. In this case I tried several of them. This building is also the Multnomah County Courthouse. A couple of times I was under the watchful eyes of a deputy. Offering a wave and holding the camera up seemed to put them at ease. Although one looked a bit unsure when I wandered into the traffic lane to get this shot.

If you look closely or blow the picture up you'll see another bike at the end of the row of cars. Sort of a punction mark at the end of the sentence.

I struggled with the shot as a color photo. Suddenly it hit me that this would be a great black and white picture. Rather than just desaturate it I spent some time playing with levels and curves. I wanted to bring out the high contrast look fitting for urban photography. I think the angle of the bikes along with the various triangles really draws the eyes down the line.

It seems fitting this way, too. The bikes are beautiful, graceful machines. That facet seems to be symbolized by the light colors. These same bikes are called upon to do duty in not so beautiful tasks. The darker colors point to this side of things.

This is what I was trying to call attention to in the photo. Isn't it interesting how something we just happen upon can turn into something deeper?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 02, 2011

A Street Food and Photo Adventure.

By the mostly thundering silence from the last post it seems we're all a bit worn out with reading about the technical side of riding. I concede that reading about building skills can seem like work. Guess it's time to take a break and think about stuff that's more fun. Things like street life, food, and photography. Sometimes you just need to park the bike and wander around. I'm finding that candid people shots and street photography are the real draws for me. I just need to get faster with recognizing good composition and dialing in the camera.

In pursuit of those goals I've been taking some online photography classes. Somewhere in the process I became a member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer's Alliance. Those good folks sent me an official ID badge to wear proudly around my neck. It's even more impressive with half of it written in a foreign language. French, I presume. Of course, not speaking French, I don't know what it says. For all I know it's telling everyone that the wearer of the badge is a dufous. I'm not really sure what all this membership means or how I should take it. To quote Groucho Marx, "I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member!"

A couple of things happened in near coincidence to each other that inspired this post. Firstly, being a person who really likes to eat these days, I was watching the Cooking Channel. There's a program called "Eat Street" ( or something like that, I think ) that spotlights food carts all over the country. This particular show featured a food cart from Portland. Which just happens to be about an hour and half north of me. Secondly, I just happened to have a service call scheduled the next morning at the U.S. Bank Tower, a 39 story building three blocks from this food cart.

The beginning of a rather obvious plan took shape.

Wearing my ID badge over my pride swelled chest ( ok, not really, but it makes good story fodder, doesn't it?) I set out on my mission. I'd check this place out, eat one of their outrageous burgers, take some photos, and write about it. That's what travel writers do, isn't it?

The name of this place is the Brunch Box. It's one of several food carts living in this particular block. A young couple living slightly outside the mainstream of life run the place. The big draw is their imaginative burgers. I imagine the health insurance industry hates them. The Final Resting Place people probably love them. Oh, the food won't kill you on the spot. It's actually quite good. At least the beastly burger I ate was. If a person is a regular customer, though, better eat fast. One could drop dead at any time from clogged arteries.

Interestingly enough, the place has its own website. You can see it and the menu here.

The menu includes such monstrosities as the Youcanhascheeseburger. Or the Redonkadonk burger. The two have slightly different ingredients. For example, the Redonkadonk is an Oh My God Burger with a twist while the Youcanhascheeseburger is more like a traditional cheeseburger with a twist. What they both have in common, though, is the "twist:. The "buns" are actually made of two Texas grilled cheese sandwiches. That's right. Picture two grilled cheese sandwiches acting as bookends to other cholesterol laden ingredients. I'll tell you more about the Oh My God burger in a bit.

According to the owners the reason they picked the name "Redonkadonk" for the one burger is that it eating very many will give a person a big bedonkadonk. This term came from a song on the country charts. I believe it refers to the back side of a person. Particularly that section between the top of the thighs and the back of the belly button. In plain english, eating very many of these burgers will cause a person to grow a Giant Ass.

I bravely took my place in line and ordered an OMG burger from this guy. He's not the owner, just his loyal minion. This guy was pretty good natured for somebody serving death disguised as greasy delights. I explained why I was there and asked if I could take some photos of him. That's the second part of being a travel writer, isn't it? First you travel. Then you have to do something to write about and then take pictures to prove you did it.

I was prepared to wait for a while but the sandwich was served up quite quickly. Perhaps the burger was left by a previous customer who chickened out at the last minute. The burger felt hot in my hand which was good enough for me. I clutched my prize and went to find a place to eat it.

There's this ornamental fountain a couple of blocks away from the food carts. I had previously cased out the place and had a reasonable assurance that the fountain didn't actually spout water. Had that happened I can assure you that it would really have brought the enthusiasm level down.

Secure on a dry concrete step I savored my impending feast. The burger looks pretty innocent just sitting there in its yellow wrapper. With saliva flowing in culinary anticipation I began to unwrap my treat.

There are two regular hamburger buns marking the boundaries for the greasy goodness. The layers of flavor reveal themselves as I run my eyes over this creation. A gentle start is made with lettuce topped by a fresh slice of tomato. A hamburger patty acts as a stage for the other players to cavort upon. A layer of melted American cheese serves as a secure resting place for two pieces of crispy bacon. To bring a layer of softness as a perfect counterpoint to the boldness of the bacon some ham is added. Just to make sure the two differing porcine personalities get along some pieces of fried spam cover the bacon and ham. The spam brings its own character to the mix along as working as a catalyst. As a final touch in rounding out all the flavors a fried egg sits on top like a crispy crown. It actually makes sense. When I think of ham and bacon there is always a fried egg hovering around the edges.

I took a bite and pronounced it good. With a sense of quiet rapture I did utter the phrase "Oh my God" to myself. A bite and a photo wasn't enough. I felt this overwhelming urge to go to the next level. A simple photo was not enough. This creation called for some up-close and revealing food porn. Which proved to be easier said than done.

Grease is slippery as you may have noticed in your travels. The lense on my camera was a 70-200mm. Not an easy situation to work with. First I had to put the burger down. Then I cleaned the grease off my right hand with a napkin and some water from my bottle. Picking up a huge burger like this with one hand and holding it at arm's length without having the burger fall apart is a struggle, to put it mildly. While that is going on the right hand needs to hold the camera close to my chest after approximating a field of view. The final result is neither a technical or artistic masterpiece. I assure you, dear reader, that I did put my very best heartfelt effort into the venture.

The burger went down very well. I did, however, found myself with the urge to promise not to eat for the next two days. I sat in stuporous contentment for a solid twenty minutes afterwards. Culinary afterglow minus the cigarette.

Finally bestirring myself, I headed back towards the bike. Along the way I made some photos of the side dishes to street food.

One thing I have always enjoyed about Portland is the diversity among people. Like this couple.

This young woman had such colorful pink hair. I waited until she walked into a patch of sunshine then snapped the photo. I wanted to do justice to the brilliance of her hair coloring efforts.

There are times when a woman just can't decide which color she prefers. Pick some favorites and enjoy them all.

I met this young woman as she came out of a building. The contrast between the sexy way she was dressed and the utility of pulling this awkward hand truck intrigued me. I watched as the load tipped over on its side twice. By the second time I had caught up with her. Being every bit the gentleman I righted the load. Then I showed her how making sure the cargo was more balanced would really help her cause. They are hard to see in the photos but there are a couple of small elastic bands holding the load onto the cart. The young lady was impressed by my intelligence and manliness. At least I think so judging by the way she kept staring at my extended zoom lense. Being thus impressed she allowed me to adjust her bungies.

You can see that she still doesn't quite trust it all to work as she steps off the curb.

Reassured that my fix can be trusted she confidently heads across the street. I swear I only took this photo as a way to test my mastery of shutter speeds.

It's amazing to see how many people come out to obtain lunch from the food carts. There's a whole block of carts, each with their own cuisine. There's an equal abundance of willing customers.

There's more than one way to make an income from a row of food carts. This enterprising guy was offering music to eat by. A generous tip would not be discouraged, mind you. The woman looked like she was either going to make a personal request or show him how to finger a certain chord.

Something I find really interesting is that people always seem to notice the camera. The D7000 with the larger lense looks like a professional camera. I tried to keep some distance while using the zoom lense for my shots. For more personal photos I like to get close. For street scenes the zoom works well. Somebody's always staring at me, though. Like this guy.

Check out the guy with glasses to the left of the flag.

Also, this guy in the blue shirt. I don't know if it's simple curiosity, mistrust, or the hope of getting "discovered".

Not to be forgotten are two places around the corner. Got a hankering for Creole or Cajun? Check out the Swamp Shack. That's my idea of a food cart. Honest, I'm not lazy. The lack of exterior upkeep is simply a purposeful part of my decor! I didn't have the polarizer filter with me so I apologize for the glaring spot of sunshine. I'm actually just dang thankful there was some sun in the first place so I didn't want to do anything to insult it and make it go away.

Next to the Swamp Shack is a pizza place. Must be a hard choice. Hmmm, do I eat pizza or get some boiled crawdads? Chew through cheezy crust or pinch the tail and suck the head?

This is a Czech place, I think. Either way, I'm a firm believer in the "If you can't pronounce it you shouldn't be eating it" theory.

By the way, I'm now a professional photographer. I made a bit over thirty dollars for some downloads of photos I had uploaded to a stock agency. I expect the respect level from you all to go up accordingly. Notice how I used the word "up".

Hope you enjoyed my first travelogue and food review as an official member of the International Travel Writers and Photographer's Alliance!

Time to go ride some more. Maybe I should push the bike to burn off all these calories.

Miles and smiles,