Thursday, May 25, 2006

May Pie Run & Leading a Group Ride

The TWTex May Pie Run was held last Saturday up in Hico, TX. With the location over 200 miles away, only two riders (me included) from Houston were initially signed up to attend. I planned a nice route and sent map files to the other rider for review. The night before the event, two other riders PM’d me asking for the location of the meet point. I replied with that information as well as gps files of the planned route.

Thus it was that at 7AM on a sunny Saturday, I found myself leading a group of four to a far-off destination. Reason: no one else knew the route.

I. Don’t. Like. Leading. Groups.

And for the most part, I haven’t ever really had to. I mean, how much directing do you need to do when the route is 80 miles, turn left, 50 miles, reverse? Even when we did more complicated rides, like Napa/Berryessa, I (the planner) always led from the sweep position with bike-to-bike radio to the leader.

But Texas is more complicated. You seldom spend more than 15 miles on a road before needing to turn onto something else. That is, if you want to find the twisties.


So I sucked it up and led the way there and back. I can be very self-critical sometimes, and there were a lot of things on my mind during that ride. Let’s just say I had a hard time staying relaxed, and consequently was much more sore than usual after a mere 500 mile day.

I was constantly looking back. I was also analyzing every situation ahead and how it might affect my group. In the forefront of my mind was every action by the leader that I’ve always hated having to deal with when on a group ride.

- On single lane, passing every car in sight and then charging ahead before the group is finished: It means that the last people in the group must speed to catch up. I hate that because I’m usually that last person.
- Not selecting a side of the lane, making staggered riding awkward: The leader doesn’t have the visual clues to remind him/her to stagger, but it’s even more important that he do so. When a leader can’t stick to one side, the rest of the group will have to adjust constantly. Dangerous. And the leader looks like an ass.
- On multi-lane, lane changes that split the group: If the leader puts his signal on, the sweep is supposed to move over and make room first. If the leader just charges in, it tends to split up the group. And then the last people have to speed and make lots of lane changes to catch up.
- Consistent speed on the superslab: If you go too slow, the riders behind will wonder what’s wrong. If you go too fast, they’ll think you’re a crazed speed demon. If you do both, you’ll drive them nuts.

Actually, Bluepoof did a great post on this a year or two ago (a much more entertaining read than mine). I admit I was thinking about it both last Saturday and that day several months ago when I was on a ride with her and a few other ST.Ners. The leader on that particular ride was particularly bad.

With all this on my mind, I'm sure I was a pretty good leader as far as being considerate to the group, but they weren't the only things bothering me. Another reason that I don’t like leading is that I’m not that fast in curves. Furthermore, I absolutely hate it when someone is behind me to observe my awful lines and “parking” whenever I fear gravel or other traction issues.

But really, I had a great time on Saturday. The ride up was uneventful and the twisties on the way home were a lot of fun. Compared to most sportbike riders, the group (a R1150GS, V-Strom1k, and a VFR) had pretty iron butts. We took breaks only every 80 miles and I’m told they could easily have gone longer than that. I focused on keeping a smooth, relaxed pace with only a few hiccups (read “parked it”) on a section of gravelly chip-seal. When we got closer to home, one of the other riders took over because he knew the route from there better than I did. This helped my state of mind immensely and I was able to have even more fun following him.

Do try the banana-blueberry pie at the Koffee Kup if you’re ever in the area. I’ll post a photo or two later.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I had way too much time on my hands...

So I spent some time today gathering pictures from the 2+ years I had with my yzf600r and compiled them into a photostory. Enjoy!

It's Been Nice (hosted on Putfile for better streaming)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Another great place to visit

I've been collecting other blogs on my blogroll lately and this one is particularly enjoyable right now. Deloeste is a motorcyclst from Detroit taking a cross country trip and posting pics and reports daily. It's always fun to wake up in the morning, grab the laptop, and see where this traveler is. He takes pretty good pictures and has an enjoyable writing style. He crossed Nevada yesterday heading westbound. It was fun to get another take on roads I've ridden in the past.

Deloeste's Journal

It's a funny thing, riding alone... I never feel like I *need* to stop, but my mood and attitude definately take a downswing when I haven't eaten or rested in a while. I always find that if the trip isn't any fun, stopping at a gas station for a balanced ration of jerky, chocolate, and some other convienience-store item lik cheese & crackers or trail mix makes me fel 100% better. I was complaining to myself when I got off the freeway, but happily singin along with Kool & The Gang as I got back on the on-ramp 25 minutes later."

I'm totally with you there, man. Cheese and crackers from the gas station rock to force yourself to take a real break. I'm often guilty of "200 miles, gas, repeat" when I should really stop and let circulation restart in my legs and butt.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Acquired a new camping stove

At the end of a long day on the road, I usually can't face getting back on the bike and searching for a place to eat.

Therefore, on each multi-day tour or camping trip, I carry a backpacking stove, lightweight metal pot, and several packets of freeze-dried backpacking food. BTW: "Backpacker's Pantry" makes the best food. They have interesting, great tasting entrees. At the end of the day, I boil a couple of cups of water, pour it into the foil packet, and wait a few minutes before eating, usually accompanied by water from my camelbak. I've even done this in a hotel room, after a very wet day when all I wanted was to get warm and go to sleep.

Unfortunately. the camping stove I've used for the last two years wasn't actually mine, so I left it in California with it's owner.

No fear! This last weekend, REI had a 20% off one item sale for members. I've been eyeing the Jetboil camping stove system for the last few months. This was my opportunity to knock a significant chunk off the purchase price.

I haven't actually tried it out yet, but I unpacked it to see how it all fits together.

The neat thing about the Jetboil is that the stove, fuel canister, and pot (insulated metal cup actually) all fit together for light and compact transport. It will trim the size required to stow my cooking system by half! It's easy to use too, with an ignitor button and little black knob to control the flame. To cook, you just screw it on to the fuel can, turn the knob to get the gas flowing, and press the button. Presto! Hot water in minutes. Caffeine junkies can even buy an accessory that lets you brew coffee in the cup (not my thing).

The stove + a fuel canister came out to ~$60 with the sale. Check out Jetboil's Official Website for more info.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Update on the R12ST

The ST clicked over 7000 miles yesterday. I had been getting 40-42 mpg, but since my 6000 mile service, I've been seeing slightly better fuel efficiency. It's now easily making it to 200 miles before hitting the one gallon reserve. I calculated yesterday that I'm now getting 45 mpg.

It's still using a quart of oil every 1000 miles. With the mpg improving as it continues to break in, I'm hoping the oil consumption will taper off. It's going to be a pain to haul along 3 or 4 bottles of oil on my upcoming trip to West Virginia for the national meet.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Grey Day in East Texas (and LA!)

What with weather, work, and life, it’s been a few weeks since the R1200ST has seen anything but commuting. I needed a good ride too.

I really enjoyed the “East Texas Group Ride” of a few weeks ago, so I scoured the net for a good description of one of Scott Friday’s infamous E. Texas rides, finally found here. I adapted it slightly to my requirements and loaded it up into my Quest 2 GPS.

I like to say that anytime you make it into another state, it’s been a good ride. This was no exception.

I started by heading toward Huntsville and it‘s Starbucks for breakfast. My GPS acted up a few times. I think it doesn’t really like routes with more than 50 waypoints, because once I deleted a few from the beginning of the route, it stopped locking up after every turn.

Next I crossed Lake Livingston and headed for Colmesneil. I really love the swoopiness of the East Texas forest roads. I feel like I’m flying along and can really gun it out of the curves. The frequent elevation changes add immensely to the fun.

I lunched on fried catfish with hush puppies at the Elijah CafĂ© in Jasper before crossing the border. It was recommended in Scott’s route. I must admit that I was surprised when I saw it. While the food was good, I guess I was expecting something with a little more of a local feel.

The sky was very overcast and never really heated up. Many times I considered putting the liner into my jacket.

I found myself reluctant to stop for photos along the roadside in Texas. The scenery was somewhat monotonous. I mean, how many superior photos can an endless tunnel of piney woods provide? Louisiana was a little more interesting, I stopped beside a bayou to document the presence of some large water birds and snapped a shot of the ST beside the reservoir.

The day was waning, so I tried not to stop much on the way home. My new beaded seat cover seemed to help although my butt was definitely complaining as I pulled into my garage. 536 miles according to the GPS with an moving average speed of 70.1 mph.

My route: ( MS S&T File)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Las Vegas *Business* Trip

Somewhere between rooming together in $500 a night rooms, the Disneyesque architecture, and being completely sober yet managing to throw-up in front of my boss in a posh Bellagio nightclub, it was an incredible experience!

Each year my firm takes a few days off work and sends everyone to Las Vegas, NV for the Hospitality Design Expo. I was just lucky enough to be hired approximately 6 weeks before the show.

We all arrived at work on Wednesday, April 26 with all our luggage ready to go and left for the airport around noon after working a few hours. The flight went by quickly. Continental seems to be one of the few remaining airlines to provide amenities during flight. I especially enjoyed seeing the Grand Canyon through my window.

Upon our arrival in Las Vegas, we took a shuttle to our hotel, The Wynn, and quickly changed into “going out” clothing for the evening’s events. We started by heading downstairs for cocktails with a products rep and then went to dinner at the Wynn Country Club with another rep. My swordfish was good, but the corn chowder I had as a starter was truly memorable. From now on when I make corn chowder, I will be adding arugula and cilantro. Mmmmmm.

The Wynn is one of the newer hotels in Las Vegas. It was built by the same person who built the Bellagio and other newer upscale hotels. There is fine art in the lobby, a golf course ($600 to play a round), and special touches everywhere. For a my firm, which specializes in hotel design, it was like Disneyland.

After dinner, a group of us went and saw a show, La Reve. It’s a water show, designed by the founder of Cirque D’Soleil. It was beautiful, and at times thrilling, but would have been better if we hadn’t gone so late. The show started at 10:30pm, which was after midnight to someone running on Central time. I was having a hard time keeping awake by the last half hour of the show.

When we got back to our rooms (on the 24th floor - great view of the city lights!) we found that the Wynn has a turn-down service. Housekeeping comes in sometime in the evening and turns on soft lights, turns down the beds, and even folded our toothbrushes into little towels. The next morning we found that they’d even filled the ice buckets. You don’t find that at Motel 6!

Thursday was designated as the “Day to go see the Expo”. We got up early to have breakfast with a rep before walking around the Sands Convention Center, attached to the Venetian Hotel/Casino. The show was huge, and more than a little overwhelming to me. I’ve only been in this industry for month, so it was really neat to see all the possibilities out there. I latched on to two of the more experienced people in my firm and tried to ask questions about the products to get an idea of how or if we’d use them. Lunch was with another rep. Really, I barely spent money except on cabs.

After the show we had cocktails with another rep before heading out to various parties hosted by companies at the show. We started the night at Pure, a nightclub at Caesar’s Palace. I was told about various celebrities who had parties there, and that normally I would need to spend several hundred dollars just to walk in the door. Drinks and food were on the host and the music was great for dancing. After that party started to wind down, we headed to The Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

The Hotel is a newer addition to the Mandalay Bay Resort. It is uber-modern with very stark and clean design touches. The Mix nightclub on the top floor was our destination. I was pretty tired at that point, so I spent a lot of time standing on the balcony viewing the city lights.

Each of the nightclubs we visited was decorated with bleeding edge interior design. It was what we'd do if we had unlimited budget, so the best part was seeing all the things we'd always dreamed of doing. Also, many of them were very expensive to enter, and normally we'd never have bothered to go out to so many clubs on a visit to Las Vegas. All these sponsored parties made high design affordable for us to see.

The next morning I had breakfast with a few people from my firm before heading out on my own to see the hotels. I took a cab down to Mandalay Bay and started walking back, checking out restaurant designs in the various hotels along my way. I spent time in The Hotel, MGM Grand, New York New York, Paris, and finally Bellagio where I had a late lunch.

After lunch I took a cab back to the Venetian for a scheduled manicure at the Canyon Ranch Spa (paid for by a rep of course!). Others in my firm were getting pedicures, but those are just a little too weird to me. I’m waaaay to much of tomboy. However, I must admit that all this wining and dining was a huge amount of fun.

The fun continued as the evening got underway to two clubs in the Venetian. I walked around admiring the decor and enjoying the lobster and exotic cheese hors d‘oeuvres provided by the hosting company. Then we got into a cab to head to The party of the year, held at Light at Bellagio. The host that evening were Lighten Up (lighting manufacturer) and Valley Forge (various wall-coverings and textiles). In keeping with the theme, every drink had a plastic ice cube with a rapidly blinking led inside. All the glasses in the place were glowing. The music was great too! For some reason, I hugely prefer dancing to music that I can sing along to, and I knew pretty much every song that played. Several of the other people from my firm were busy getting drunk, but I was having too much fun dancing so I switched to water after 1.5 Midori Sours. Somewhere in there I started feeling not so well and decided to sit down. A few moments later I was running for the bathroom with my hand over my mouth.

Not long afterward I took a cab back to my hotel to try to get some rest. I ended up throwing up til 3 in the morning, getting very little sleep. My Las Vegas experience became an ordeal with my bed at home being the light at the end of the tunnel.

I felt somewhat better in the morning but my stomach was very empty and my appetite non-existent. I tried eating some fruit and drank water. Our plane was delayed due to weather, so I spent most of the morning in the airport trying to sleep. I slept the entire flight. As we waited in baggage claim several people from my firm commented that I looked much better. I felt better and able to drive home safely from the airport. I got home and went to bed, skipping dinner and only emerging the next morning.

Kneeling at the toilet in the Bellagio nightclub, I said to Jenne (person at my firm) that thowing up around the people I work with (especially my boss) was hugely embarrassing. She reassured me with, “You’re just making memories.“

Good and the bad, I’ll remember this trip. Oh... and I think it was food poisoning.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

6000 mile service completed!

And the ST is running great!

I dropped the R1200ST off at BMW North Houston yesterday morning. They didn't have the promised loaner bike available, so a tech dropped me off at work and then picked me up in the evening to get the bike back.

While I waited for a tech to finish doing the Texas state inspection (so I can get Texas plates) I chatted with the other mechanics. They were impressed with the rat's nest under my seat. One guy said he'd never seen so many electronics installed on a motorcycle. When they heard that I'd installed them all myself, one asked if I needed a job. :)

And the bike is pretty again. I'd washed it only a week ago, but they washed it again and even polished the wheels (I watched). No pics though. Cost for the service and inspection was $302. I think the service alone would have been $270.

Immediately after picking it up, I rode over to Clay's Restaurant and hung out with the TWTexans tuesday night meet, which was pretty well attended this week.