Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010: Not in California. Not on a Kawasaki. This Time by Choice

I've been really, really busy.  Call it a work deadline, if you will.   The light at the end of the tunnel, the one I had been aiming towards for almost two months, was Thanksgiving.  I had SIX DAYS OFF, and no deadline looming afterward.  I was going on a moto trip.  Yes, yes I was.  No matter what.  The original plan was Baja - the whole darn thing, all the way down to Cabo.  3000 miles in six days?  Without riding at night?  And actually seeing (and eating) a thing or two along the way?  Um, that's not going to work out.  Ten days (or more) would be better.  So that was scrapped.  I turned down a number of lovely holiday invites as well. I was GOING ON A TRIP.  Where?  Honestly, I didn't do much planning or thinking - I really didn't have the time or extra mental capacity - but I finally and hastily settled on a loop taking in Joshua Tree National Park, Salton Sea, Anza Borrego State Park, and the Algodones Sand Dunes.  Not great riding perhaps (800 miles of highway and not much else) but it was A TRIP.  The week, the day even, before I left I was still scrambling with work and general catching up with life tasks that had been swept aside in the previous weeks.  I had the sum total of one hour of daylight to make a final adjustment to the luggage capable Kawasaki, (Ducati to gain luggage capability in December - hurrah!)  and no daylight hours to actually test it before departure.

My self-imposed nighttime riding restriction dictated I hit the road at first light.  It's too dim for me to ride by 5:30 this time of year,  I had 350-400 miles of riding ahead of me that day (someday I'll explain why it takes longer to get anywhere on a moto, no matter how fast you like to ride), I like to leave room for error, (remember my "error" of September?), and I was informed getting a campsite was going to be quite a trick.  Who knew camping was so popular at Thanksgiving?  The alarm went off before dawn and I piled on every possible layer.  Silk base layer, turtle neck sweater, heated vest, motorcycle jacket with winter liner, and even my rain suit.  It was 40 degrees, and that is c-c-cold when you factor in the motorcycle wind chill factor.  No matter.  I hit the road - no way was I going to squander six precious days off.

Cruising westbound on I-10, I finally had time to think.  Let's do the math, shall we?

The pros:
  • I finally get to check out places I've passed by a number of times and have always been curious about.
  • I'd probably take a cool hike in Joshua Tree.

The cons:
  • 700-800 miles of highway riding  - borrrring! - and little to no "fun" riding
  • Temperatures projected to hover around freezing each night.
  • I'd probably be twiddling my thumbs at a really cold campsite or cheap and depressing hotel from 4:30pm to 7am each day.
  • Kawasaki (which, as it turned out, was still not performing optimally despite my many attempts to correct it) vs. new Ducati
  • Granola bars for Thanksgiving Dinner
  • Speed traps seemingly every mile, and the Kawasaki has given up the radar detector set up to the Ducati. (It's more complicated than you would guess to switch it back.)
  • Wearing "safety gear" with a big hole in it (um, that sort of defeats the purpose, to some degree), while my new jacket would likely be delivered that very day.

And if I stayed home?
  • Mountain roads every day on my Ducati (in my new jacket!*)
  • Plenty of as-of-yet unexplored hiking here in Tucson
  • Good eats and socializing after dark
  • Warm (relatively speaking) house for sleeping

After 60 miles, I turned the bike around.  I admit, it was hard to do.  I was swearing loudly in my helmet as I reversed direction.  Silly, maybe, but I felt like a bit of a quitter.  Wisdom prevailed (for once) though, and I realized that, purely out of stubbornness, I was about to squander my vacation by trying too hard not to squander it.

So, instead of looking like this:

(Archival photo of me being miserably cold.  In July.  In Utah.  Imagine me waking up to a 33 degree campsite.)

and this (blech):

My Thanksgiving vacation looked like this:

Daily "training runs" up and down (and up and down, and up and down and up and down) Kitt Peak on my awesome Ducati.  No traffic, no police, and now (hurrah!) no more loose gravel!

and this:
Bread hot from the oven.  (Potato Bread, except as an experiment that I will most definitely repeat, I used turnips!)

and this:
Brown Mountain Trail

and this:
Arugula parmesan thin crust pizza.  Tomato sauce source described here.  So good!  So easy!

and (not shown):
Angus Burgers with Double Truffle Fries, lounging in sunbeams while reading books, watching movies, catching up with good friends and good wines, long walks and warm snuggly time with my beloved three-legged Dalmatian, sleeping in, real coffee, warm bowls of my miso soup after chilly morning rides...

I'm not the only foodie who isn't particularly enamored with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  Turkeys should really be disassembled before cooking to get every bite done just so, even if you do brine them, and there are just too many too heavy casserole-ish side dishes.  All too often it's a quantity over quality meal.  It can be done well, but, sadly, usually isn't.

My Thanksgiving dinner?  Osso buco** over polenta.  Hah!  The picture isn't pretty (neither is Thanksgiving dinner, once it hits your plate), but the sauce left me swooning in my kitchen like a lovesick 15 year old.  Don't worry, I had apple pie for dessert.


Don't get me wrong.  I am more than ready and willing for some motorcycle camping "hardship" when the time is right.  But this week I was surprised to find that turning my bike around and going home would be the best decision I've made in a long time.

*Miscommunique about the jacket.  It's projected to arrive this  Wednesday, not last Wednesday.
** Except I used grass-fed, humanely raised CSA beef shanks rather than conventionally (i.e. cruelly) raised veal.

Friday, November 26, 2010

That "Self-Imposed Night Time Riding Restriction" I keep talking about.

When it's dark, I can't see. For real. I'm not particularly confident driving a car at night, but one does what one has to do. (I recently had a car passenger gently suggest he take over the driving, after sensing his life was in danger with me at the helm after nightfall.) But you need a heck of a lot more visual input to ride a motorcycle than to drive a car. ONE time I tried to ride my motorcycle after dark. It was frighteningly similar to riding with my eyes completely shut. Where does the road go? No idea. When do I put my feet down? Um, now? No, now! So I am quite confident in saying I would be much safer hitch hiking or sleeping in a ditch by the side of the road than riding after dark. Since I wish to do none of these things, I allow myself plenty of room for error when riding, and plan to arrive at my destination an hour, or, even better, two hours before sunset.

No one really wants to ride at night. The problem of your visibility (other drivers seeing YOU) is compounded many times over. But it would be nice to have the option in a pinch, when hunting down a campsite, for instance, or after a nice dinner. But despite the ophthalmologists and hundreds of dollars on special glasses and contact lenses, the fact remains the same. Cinderella must be in well before sunset, or Cinderella likely becomes one smashed up pumpkin.