Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Helmet! and another TWT Pie Run

Yesterday was yet another TWTexans Pie Run. This one was held in Hutto, TX, just a little NE of Austin.

I've been wanting to visit Lone Star BMW in Austin for a while, mainly because I'd heard a nasty rumor that they carried Caberg brand flip-up helmets.

My trusty 3 year old Arai had been damaged in the crash in Nashville in June, so I was in the market for a new helmet and really wanted to try a flip up. Dante's Dame had a Caberg Justissimo (link goes to a review) at the STN WV meet, and I really liked the features. Unfortunately her head is a bit smaller than mine so trying on her Xtra Small wasn't going to work. I don't like buying helmets without trying them on, so I've been delaying my purchase and just wearing my Arai.

According to Mapsource, it was 130 miles from my door to the pie run location in Hutto. Figuring in the 20 miles from Lone Star BMW to Hutto, I determined that if I gave myself 3.5 hours to get there, I'd have time to shop a little in Austin.

Well, after slabbing out to Austin on 290, they had Cabergs, but the only medium was a glittery (not flat) black. I kind of wanted a silver, but all my previous helmets have been black, and I'd rather reward the dealership for carrying these rare helmets. The sales assistant seemed knowledgable and was able to demonstrate the features of the helmet. A cheaper version of the Schuberth flip ups, the Caberg has an integral smoke shield that drops out from the helmet internals (no more extra shield to carry!) and the clear main visor has a fog-free coating. The flip up catch is metal (supposed to be better than the plastic ones seen on cheaper flip ups). It seemed to have adequate vents, but I don't generally sweat that much. My only concern at this point is that the Caberg is reputed to leak in rain, but we'll see how much of an issue that is.

I wore the helmet in the dealership for about 20 minutes to make sure the fit was correct with no pressure points. The price onthe box was $299... but again, I was able to try it I figured on paying for that convenience. Happily, it only rang up to $250 at the register, much more inline with online prices. I got out of there in the $270 range including tax.

I walked out of the dealership and sat in the parking lot to transfer my helmet speakers from my Arai (note - I will need to buy an open-faced Starcom speaker kit with a boom mic). The Arai and the collapsed box for the Caberg all fit snugly into my trunk. I headed off to the pie run to show off my purchase.

After being social and consuming a pretty good mushroom swiss burger and some very rich peppermint patty pie, I decided to ride home on a somewhat twisty route. Rebecca had made her own way to the pie run, and wanted to ride back with me. I was fine with that, but didn't really want a large group since I knew I was the one with the route on my gps...and would be leading.

Somehow rumors spread and we ended up with 6 people total. Grrr.

I was feeling a little off during the first part of the ride. My new helmet was feeling weird - the noise was different and I somehow felt taller on the bike. At one point, I was thinking to myself that I'd had more fun slabbing out there alone that morning than on twisty roads leading a group in the afternoon.

I think I started to relax and have fun when we hit FM696 and I asked Rebecca to lead the 16 miles to Lexington. I waved everyone forward and got to have some stress-free time in the back.

From there it was more of the trading off lead that I'd enjoyed so much during the hill country ride. I'd guide us through complicated road turn-offs and then Rebecca would take over during the fast twisties.

At a turn-off about 80 miles into the ride, I asked Rebecca if she thought the others needed a break. I usually don't take breaks except for gas and food, so I didn't need one. She didn't think they did, so we continued on. About 20 miles later, Debbie passed the two of us and pulled the group over in a shady turn out, complaining that she "thought we'd never stop!"

I was able to rate the day's ride as thoroughly enjoyable by the time we hit US290 and started going separate ways.

I really didn't take any pictures today, but Rebecca posted a pictorial report on her blog

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Are you in a rut?

From Bamarider's latest trip report (link in sidebar):

"I think folks go in a comfort zone, and get stuck in a "rut." I believe you have to break out of it to live a full life. Go to work, come home, rub the kids, eat, pass out in front of the TV each evening. Riding a motorcycle across America, solo, certainly qualifies as a means out of Rutville. Not always easy, lots of uncertainty, but NEVER boring, I can't measure how it has enriched my life the last few years.

Take a rat, put him in a cage, with no interaction with the outside world, and see how long he lasts.

If you long to ride cross country, but talk yourself out of it by, "I don't like being by myself, I get nervous when I'm too far from home, I might get wet, it gets too hot, what if I have a breakdown, and the list goes on- just go do it. All of those things might happen, and all on the same day, but so WHAT?" Overcoming those things will make you better, you will walk in some cafe in podunk and folks will feel your confidence in the air, anything bad I might get on the road is far exceeded by the enjoyment."

Reading this brought to mind several friends who WANT to go out on that great American road trip, but seem to keep finding reasons to postpone it. I firmly believe that you just need to throw all those thoughts away and GO! It'll always work out.

I've been reading Guy's trip reports for a few years now. They are wonderfuly detailed, with great pictures. Guy has somehow magically found a way to slow it down and talk to people while still getting some serious mileage in. He's retired and takes his ST1300 and R1200RT on frequent multi-day trips. His packing tips page has several great ideas that I've adapted.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

My GPS has set me free.

I had an epiphany this evening as I swooped through the forest to get to a local bike night.

My GPS has set me free.

It used to be that I was locked into a predetermined route, too scared of getting lost to dare to explore. I rode along, encumbered by traffic and freaking out at the thought of missing my exit or making a wrong turn.

I know that some people can handle and even enjoy riding off into the complete unknown, but I never have. Always, I must have a plan.

Case in point:

My usual route to this particular bike night is straight up I45 with a left on Highway 105. It’s simple, easy, and absolutely boring. But it’ll get me there every time. I *know* this route.

The problem is that I45 is currently under construction between The Woodlands and Conroe. It narrows down to a very slow two lane that is torture on my clutch hand.

Tonight I decided to try something different. On a whim, I exited at 1488 and headed west. I knew that somewhere along that highway would be an opportunity to go north. I knew this because I had a dim recollection that I had crossed 1488 on a recent “fun” ride.

Sure enough, a few miles in I came to the intersection with Egypt-Honea Rd. I’d been on it before and I knew it was curvy and scenic. It wouldn’t get me all the way to Montgomery, but it would get me close and connect to a road that would.

Sure enough. I arrived safely and within my desired time frame.

If I hadn’t had the gps, I doubt I’d have dared to try something different, too afraid of being late to the event. Thus, the GPS has set me free to explore new territory without stressing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Maps from the Hill Country Trip

These maps are really wide, so I didn't want to just post them in the blog. Click to view full scale.

Day 1 Map

Day 2 Map

(right click, save-as)
Garmin Mapsource File

Rebecca's ride report is posted here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Tale of Two Beccas - Day 2

Sunday, July 16, 2006
Kerrville to Houston
530 miles

I’d been agonizing over Sunday’s route for over a week. Essentially, we had half a day to enjoy some hill country highlights before turning back toward Houston. At the preceding bike nights, I asked for tips and road condition updates. I corresponded with Bushwhacker on TWT to improve my route.

I’m told that the Hill Country has a hundred little roads that are twisty, nicely paved, and virtually deserted. They’ll still be there for me on future trips. I finally decided on a 545 mile base route that included the “Holy Trinity” of hill country roads (335,336,337) and several other highly rated connector roads before heading back to Houston on some more fun roads. I was hoping to complete the entire planned route, but was careful to create “escape hatches” where we could break off and hit the interstate if we ran out of daylight.

With this optimism in mind, Rebecca and I agreed to attempt to pack the bikes before sitting down to our free continental breakfast at 7AM.

6AM came waaaaay to early. I stood dully in the shower, waiting for the warm water to wash away my exhaustion. When I emerged, dressed, at 6:40, Rebecca denied a desire for a shower. I knew that she’d planned on it before I’d sucked up all our time. I told her to get in and stop worrying about making us late. We left the hotel and gassed up around 7:45.

Bushwhacker had suggested starting the morning by visiting the Stonehenge replica in a field just outside Kerrville. Rebecca had been to the hill country before and never seen it. Slightly smaller than the real thing in England, the Stonehenge II replica is made of gunnite instead of stone, and not oriented in any way to the sun or stars. It would have been so much cooler if they hadn’t built an ugly metal fence around it. The fence really ruins picture composition.

Turning back toward Hunt, TX, we headed down highway 39 for our first sweepers and creek crossings of the day. We passed but did not stop at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum near Vanderpool before turning onto 337.

337 rocked.

I’ve been pining for the tight, switchbacky mountain roads I loved so much in California, and 337 fit the bill. At first I kept the pace easy, watching to see how Rebecca did. Between her fear of heights (which I share) and her inexperience with these kinds of roads (TX doesn’t have many), Rebecca was very nervous. I’d feared that she’d slow down so much that we’d fail to make any time on these roads, but after she followed me through the initial curves, I realized that she was doing fine.

I relaxed and flowed through the tight curves at my normal pace, enjoying the rapid transitions required. Each time I came to a long straight, I slowed down until Rebecca’s headlight appeared. She was right behind me when the one real switchback of this section appeared. I flashed my brake lights at her as I shifted down to first and “dropped” the bike into the switchback. Sooooo much fun! I used to be afraid of those kind of curves. Practice and experience really are the only factor between immobilizing fear and enthusiasm. (now if I can just apply that to dirt roads?!?!)

We reached Leakey around 10 and stopped for a photo op at a large turnout next to a river swimming area. Rebecca eyed the water, wondering if she could get her V-Strom into it for a picture. I wished her luck and informed her that if she dropped her bike getting it into or out of the river, she was on her own. I planned to stand on dry land and laugh at her while documenting the fiasco.

She wisely decided to save the river photos for a time when BSG’s (big strong guys) were more readily available (earth to Scott?).

We stopped at the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop in Leakey. I bought a t-shirt at the gift shop and Rebecca bought a pin to join the others on her jacket. It was early in the day, so the parking lot was deserted.

336 and 335 were fun, but not on the same level as 337. Rebecca passed me at one point on 335 and pulled over by another river swimming area. She was finding it hard to keep her eyes open, so we lingered for a while, sitting on the sloping wall of the bridge and idly snapping pictures of the landscape. When we got back on the bikes, I suggested that Rebecca should lead, hoping that the extra challenge would keep her more alert.

I don’t think that strategy worked, because when we pulled over briefly before turning onto highway 55, she claimed not to have seen the camels at a game park 3 miles back. You snooze, you lose!

Back on 337, we found a repaving project underway just east of Camp Wood. I was leading at the time, but waved Rebecca forward as soon as I saw the “Pavement Ends” sign. She sailed down the gravel road at a good clip. Initially I tried to follow her speed, but found my rear tire beginning a dangerous oscillation. I backed off the throttle and slowed down to a more comfortable pace. The gravel turned to hard packed dirt after about a mile, and I was able to relax and speed up. Rebecca was waiting for me a mile later where the asphalt started.

The unpaved area was not nearly as bad as some I’ve been on. I knew that it was coming and had been nervously anticipating it all day. It wasn’t as awful as I’d expected. I think my successful traversing of the unpaved road upped my confidence for the next few hours. The hill country had thrown it’s worst at me and I’d survived!

After going through a few more enjoyable very tight passes, we stopped in Leakey for lunch at the Frio Canyon Lodge. We both ordered the special, which was roast beef, hash brown casserole, and vegetables. Rebecca immediately pushed a piece of fresh looking broccoli to the side of her plate.

“I don’t eat broccoli.”

She continued to pick through the vegetables and asked me what one was.

“Yellow zucchini? I’m eating zucchini? I gotta get a picture.”
I had to laugh as she carefully photographed her lunch plate.

We’d planned to get gas after lunch, but I didn’t see any stations as I led us out of Leakey. The gps showed the next town to be within striking distance for both our tanks.

In retrospect, we should have gassed up when we had the chance in Camp Wood. We rode the entire length of Medina and didn’t find any open gas stations. The gps claimed that the next gas station was 14 miles away near Kerrville. Both of us were near the ends of our tanks, but I knew I had about a gallon remaining. Rebecca’s V-strom doesn’t have quite the range of my BMW though.

Highway 16 between Medina and Kerrville was everything I’d hoped for in Hill Country roads. Tight curves, steep switchbacks, and beautiful scenery. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so worried about the gas situation.

After the last switchback, I noticed that Rebecca was missing from my mirrors. I slowed to a crawl, fearing the worst. Just as I’d talked myself into turning around to go look, Rebecca appeared. I was still going slow, so I waved her past me. A few miles later a Shamrock gas station appeared. We pulled in and Rebecca bowed her head against her tank.

She told me that the V-Strom’s engine had cut out while going down the last switchback. She’d coasted through the turn and then managed to get it restarted after a brief pause. Rebecca had wanted to lead from there because she wanted me around if it happened again. The gas station couldn’t have appeared at a better time.

I can only imagine the fear she must have experienced with her bike malfunctioning through a scary turn. I’m so glad that my lack of planning for sufficient fuel didn’t result in a serious incident.

After refueling, we rode up to Kerrville and got on I10 to begin the trip back to Houston. It was already 2:30, and we needed to make up some time.

While circumventing San Antonio on highway 46, we stopped in New Braunfels for a break. Realizing that we were doing better than expected, Rebecca and I looked over a map to find a more scenic route back into Houston.

We decided to head up I35 and take 21 and 71 to Bastrop before retracing the GPS breadcrumb trail from Saturday.

Nearing Bastrop on 21, I noticed a sign for FM535. Somehow I recalled it as a fun road, so I honked and signaled Rebecca (who was leading at the time) to turn onto it.

This turn was pretty adventurous for me. I usually like to stick to a planned route, and I had only a faint hunch that 535 would get us where we wanted to go. Rebecca on the other hand was riding in the dark. All she knew was that I waved her forward whenever we hit intersections with other roads. I’m sure she was happy though, because 535 really is a FUN road.

Just as I’d hoped, FM535 dropped us near the eastern entrance of Bastrop/Buescher state park. We skipped the park road this time. From here on out, the roads were familiar and all within easy reach of Houston.

Rebecca and I swapped leader several times on the way back into Houston, enjoying the swoopy curves and prairie scenery. Once again I reveled in the experience of being totally relaxed and confident while riding with a buddy.

During this ride, Rebecca was constantly playing with her camera, and took some great shots of my bike on the move:

After a wrong turn in Cat Springs, we stopped at a McDonald’s near I10 in Sealy. After indulging in a mutual guilty pleasure (double cheeseburgers) we enjoyed soft serve ice cream while viewing the day’s pictures on my laptop.

It felt sad to be gearing up for the last time, but I was very happy that we’d had such a good, safe, and enjoyable weekend. Both of us had worked on eradicating our personal hang-ups and fears in motorcycling, and came out stronger for the experience. We’d made a lot of great memories together. Here’s to many more!

A Tale of Two Beccas - Day 1

A Tale of Two Beccas
Hill Country Weekend
July 15-16, 2006


This is a story of two Rebeccas in the Texas Hill Country, but it's also a story of a reunion of friends. Here's the backstory so you, the reader, can understand the reason for the trip:

From 3rd to 8th grade, Taryn was my best friend in the whole world. We did everything together….slumber parties, swimming in the pool, air hockey, reading books side by side on the schoolyard bench. I remember throwing her cat into the pool, getting pestered by her bratty brother Tory, and trying to stay out of the way when she threw tantrums about having to wear her retainer. We played air hockey, rode our bikes into the foothills, and walked to the local convenience store for ice cream cones.

At the end of 8th grade, she and her family moved far far away….to San Antonio, Texas. I may have written to her once or twice…it was so long ago (relatively) that I really don’t remember…but I never saw her again.

A year or two ago I was bored and typing names into google attempting to reconnect with past friends, when I stumbled upon her website and sent her an email. It was a lame little wave from the ether. I’m really bad at keeping in touch with friends that don’t use chat programs, so nothing ever really came of the contact.

Two weeks ago she initiated an email exchange which resulted in an invitation to visit her house in Boerne, TX for a Saturday afternoon party in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.

Normally I’d plan a long route and head out on my own for adventure and derring-do. This time, I decided that my friend Rebecca might enjoy the chance to go out to the Hill Country. I knew from other group rides that our paces were compatible. I was both excited and apprehensive to be heading out on an overnight trip with a buddy, something I haven't done in a long time.

Saturday, July 15, 2006
Houston to Kerrville
330 miles

The plan was to meet in Brookshire at 8am. Just as I was about to head out the door at 7:30, I got a text message from Rebecca that she was running behind and to “slow down.” Fair enough. I sat down on the couch and took advantage of the extra time to pet the bunnies and play with the dog. I dallied for half an hour before strapping on my camelbak and hitting the road.

Rebecca was already waiting at the gas station when I pulled in to fuel up. We stopped for a quick chat about the morning’s plan before taking some initial pictures and mounting up.

We started the day with local twisties to breakfast at Orsak’s in Fayetteville. A Goldwing group from Austin had tied up the kitchen, so we had plenty of time to sip iced tea and chat with a nearby couple who had spilled over from the Goldwingers table.

About half an hour later I found myself staring aghast at the GPS directing me down a distinctly unpaved road. I continued past the turnoff and pulled over to seek alternative routes. I felt very embarrassed that my gadgets had already screwed up.

When I told her the situation, Rebecca laughed. “Oh, I’ve come this way before. I’ll take my V-Strom down Post Oak Rd while you detour south to 77. I’ll wait for you at the other end.”

I watched her dust rise in the wind as she sailed confidently away down the dirt road. Yes. Must work on acquiring a dual sport.

After meeting back up and enjoying some more twisty roads together, we entered Bastrop/Buescher State Park. Park Road 1 is a unique road in the region. It’s a 1.5 lane nicely paved ride through a forest with lots of elevation changes and creek crossings. Uber scenic.

During the ride through the forest, we stopped to take pictures and swapped leader several times. The give and take felt natural. For once I was comfortable enough to relax into my riding with another person following. I didn’t worry about how bad my lines were, or whether I was going too slow. Rebecca seemed happy no matter how fast we went.

After the ride through the state park, we had several miles of local highway to cross I35 and get to the next twisty leg. About 80 miles from Taryn’s house I pulled over and asked Rebecca if she wanted to stop to rehydrate and get a snack in the next town.

As we pulled into Kyle, a Dairy Queen appeared on the right. I knew that Rebecca was probably puzzled when I didn’t pull into the parking lot, but I had other plans…

Swinging my leg off my seat in front of the Texas Pie Company (Life’s Short, Eat More Pie), I turned to see a big grin on Rebecca’s face. As we ate our individual pies and sipped water, she remarked that pie was MUCH better than Dairy Queen.

After crossing I35, we were officially in the Hill Country. The terrain had definitely changed. We rampaged through rolling hills and over low water crossings up to near Dripping Springs and then south to Wimberly.

While waiting for Rebecca to pass a truck that had gotten between us, I noticed a great photo opportunity. We spent several minutes goofing off at Rebecca Creek Rd. A fish and game ranger even pulled over to check on us, concerned because he’d seen one of us lying down on the side of the road.

“No worries,” we said. “Just taking a picture.”

We pulled into Taryn’s neighborhood around 4:30. It was somewhat rural, with large lots, so I was having a hard time reading house numbers. It was Rebecca that finally found her house. We pulled into the driveway and geared down while people watched from the back porch. I commented to Rebecca that “They’re probably wondering who the *biker scum* are.”

Hair brushed and feeling presentable, we moseyed up to the patio. A man wearing sunglasses greeted us and confirmed that it was the correct house. I introduced myself and his mouth gaped. It was Taryn’s dad and he hadn’t initially recognized me. Moments later a tall young woman who I immediately recognized stepped out of the house.

What do you say in a situation like this? We’d shared everything from 3rd through 8th grade, and then nothing for 14 years. I’m sure it was only awkward to me, but I’ve always been introverted. Yes, we hugged, and did the “How’ve you been’s?”. It wasn’t until later in the party that we had a chance to sit down over munchies and reminisce. I found out, for example, that I’d had a raging crush on her little brother (I really don’t recall this). Unfortunately, Tory was off carousing with friends and never made it to the party while we were there. Taryn’s mom Cindy was just as I remembered her. She too seemed glad to see me.

I was happy to see that Rebecca was having a good time. She played with Tory’s rambunctious puppy and sang along to the guitar music that Taryn’s dad and his friends were making. She was absolutely fascinated by the margarita machine that Tory and his friends had fabricated from a large thermos cooler and a garbage disposal.

Regretfully, we had to say our goodbyes and leave around sunset. We wanted to be on I10 to Kerrville before dark to avoid the hill country deer as much a possible.

It was only 330 miles, but I was exhausted when we pulled into the hotel porte cochere in Kerrville. I put the kickstand down and turned to see Rebecca struggling to hold her V-Strom up inches from the ground!

Entirely forgetting bike droppage etiquette, I ran to help her and held the bike up while she extricated her leg. We quickly got it upright. Because it’s a dual sport and has engine guards for stuff like this, there wasn’t a scratch on it.

Afterward she laughed, and reminded me that because I hadn’t immediately reached for my camera, “Without pictures, it never happened.”

We parked the bikes on the sidewalk in front of the lobby and got a snack from a nearby gas station before viewing the day’s pictures and collapsing into the beds.

Huge thanks to Rebecca for sharing her pictures. We're both in the process of writing trip reports, and I'm excited to see which pictures she chooses to tell the story her way.

Tomorrow - Day 2 and 530 miles of Hill Country Bliss!

Monday, July 10, 2006

A movie, a ride, and a night out with the girls!


I saw Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man's Chest on Friday night with a group of people that I met on TWTexans. What a roller-coaster!

I went into the theater expecting some great special effects and was not disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that even the plot was interesting and had me researching pirate lore as soon as I got home. Lots of reviews that I've read since compare it to "The Empire Strikes Back" because it's the 2nd installment of a trilogy and has a lot of neat effects, but it complicates more storylines than it resolves. Let's just say that I'll be spending the $15 (or whatever gawd-awful price) they're charging for movie tickets when the 3rd movie comes out.

After my late Friday night, I was a bit late to the Starbucks where people were meeting for the group ride I'd agreed to go on. Luckily, Rebecca, the ride leader, had just walked out of Bux with a large iced coffee when I showed up, so I felt fine running in for my own breakfast.

The ride was about 150 miles along some nice backroads with lunch at Kings Cafe in Montgomery. We had 4 girls and 2 guys, a very favorable ratio.

I had my camera along, but didn't take any pictures. There is a ride report (by others) posted at TWTexans.

That bike in the picture where I appear to be headless? It's a brand new FJR1300AE with push button shifting. It's a motorcycle with no clutch lever. Really neat.

After the ride, I went home to rest and do some chores before heading out to a downtown bar with Rebecca and Stacey to see a band that Rebecca knew the members of. There were several bands playing that night.

Alternative music is not really my favorite. It just sounded like the bands were puking into the microphones. Furthermore, after all the non-smoking bars in San Jose, I'd forgotten how hard it is to breathe when the entire club smells like an ashtray, but I had a lot of fun going out and wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again.

Coming next weekend.... an overnight trip to the Hill Country with Rebecca! Yeah. I'm excited. I finished planning the route last night. It's packed with some of the best roads in Texas!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

12k service completed

Just got home from picking up the BMW at the dealer. The service was $480. I'll be buying a service manual cd soon and doing my own services from now on, but I wanted to get it documented entirely through break-in.

It'll go back in a week or two to get all the insurance-covered parts installed and get the front brake rotors replaced under warranty.

The ride home was interesting. A nice rain system is going through today. It was fine when I left home, but raining on the way to the dealer. I thought I'd be clever and take the "northern" route home.

I. Got. Drenched.

Of course, I was wearing my mesh gear without rain liners. My hands are black from wearing unlined leather gloves. Arrgh. Part of the fun of owning a motorcycle, right?