Thursday, November 20, 2014

Two Wheels, One Key: Git Yer Mojo On

Key Largo by Bicycle Old Settlers Park

Err… so the wheels are unmotorized, and the key is an island, but I’m making the best of it.   Marooned in Flastistan again, I am.  So today, after deciding I might possibly manage to not get rained on, I tossed a stale arepa* in my pocket and headed south.

There is nothing pleasant about bicycling the Key Largo segment of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.  I did not catch even a single glimpse of aquamarine waters as I pedaled next to the heavy traffic of US 1.  Five miles, 10, 15… still nothing but dive shops, gas stations, and restaurants with names like "Tower of Pizza." By the time I reached Tavernier Creek and the little bridge leading to Plantation Key, I knew enough to give up on tropical island scenery. Next time, I’ll pick a better starting point.  But for today, it was time to turn around. I’m only pretending to be a bicyclist, and 30 miles is plenty for these legs.

I could have easily ended up eating some “World Famous” Key Lime Pie, constructed from bottled lime juice and a tasteless hydrogenated oil crust, and gone home fully disappointed.  But no. I wouldn't have it.  The establishment I was looking for wouldn’t have a neon sign advertising its superlative status, or flags, or offer discounted snorkeling tours, or cater to tourists at all. It would be a little ratty, and no one inside would speak English, and…

BINGO: a Cuban grocery with a food counter.

Sunrise Cuban Cafe and Market Tavernier Key Largo
Sixteen miles pedaled by this point and $3.23 paid.  Arroz amarillo con chorizo y unos maduros. Que rico!!  If you happen to notice the unremarkable sign, you’ll learn this place is the “Sunrise Cuban Café and Market.”  Sounds way fancier than it is.  But oh my, this was positively delicious.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is mostly under water, but if you are not equipped to snorkel or dive, don’t want to shell out the money for a glass bottom boat tour, and left your kayak at home, you can, instead,  get your toes wet, walk some short nature trails, gaze upon the little aquarium, and watch a dated but fascinating movie about the coral reef.  The last activity will give your legs the opportunity to cramp up marvelously.  Plus, if you enter by bicycle, the fee is only $2.50!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Far Beach Area

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Aquarium (1)

On the drive back to Miami, I hobbled out of the car to stop at the Robert Is Here** Fruit Stand (discovered last spring) for a Mamey Sapote Batido (milkshake). Honestly, this thing was magically custardy-creamy good.  Scrape the bottom of the cup even though you’re shivering violently from the cold in your belly good.  Superlatively World Famous good.

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand Mamey Sapote Batido

If riding a bicycle 30 miles and change gives you an excuse to carbo-load the night before, boiled yuca with a Cuban Mojo will serve nicely.  Get yourself a yuca root (sold in every grocery in Miami), peel it (more like chip off the thick rind with a knife), cut it into big chunks, pull out the thin string of a core, and boil it until tender and translucent***.  Now get some mojo on it: a simple Cuban-via-the-Canary-Islands sauce of olive oil, bitter orange juice, garlic, salt, and perhaps some cilantro or cumin or... Sit down and eat the entire plateful.  I did exactly that last night.

*Arepas should be eaten still hot, or not at all, so don’t follow my example here.
**So named because Robert’s father (also named Robert) had Robert sit on a street corner to sell some cucumbers. When it didn’t work, Robert Sr. constructed a large sign proclaiming “Robert is Here” to attract customers.  It worked. More than 50 years later, Robert is still selling fruit (and shakes) on the same corner.
***Disclaimer: Don't eat it raw. They can have traces of cyanide if uncooked.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Humble Beginnings

You’ve got places to go, there’s gas in the tank, you set out your gear last night, and have your stuff in a heap by the door… you are ready to go!  But admit it.  It’s happened to you, too, rider-readers. The clock read nearly 11pm by the time you got home from work last night, you couldn’t quite wind down, the alarm went off before the sun lit up the sky, there’s a bit of a chill in the air this morning, and…  as much as you love to ride, despite the street cred you stand to earn by arriving at this particular destination on a red Ducati, well, 80 miles of super slab just doesn’t sound inviting this groggy, foggy morning.

So, yeah, I put on my lazy pants and took the car.  Make that, rode in Pilot Guy’s car.  He was driving, anyway.  It was just so… easy.  I even sort of dozed on the way.

But something about rumbling down Ak-Chin’s Regional Airport runway 04, tethered to a Dragonfly Ultra Light Aircraft by a slim cord, with face only feet from the pavement, woke me up.

My God, but we’re flying!

Sonora Wings Aerotow Take Off
The obvious question: could we be launched by Ducati?  I believe the answer might actually be yes.*

We’re not connected to the Dragonfly for long. Soon, the tow rope is unceremoniously detached – poof! - and our tow plane playfully spirals and spins down to earth below us.  We’re left to soar in silence on our own…

Sonora Winds Tandem Discovery Flight

I get to maneuver the hang glider a bit myself (“just like steering a shopping cart”), but the Sonora Wings instructor, strapped in a few inches below me, takes care of some “mild acrobatics,” and the surprisingly gentle touchdown.

A nearly 90 degree lean angle is not generally characterized by motorcyclists as “mild.”

Lean Angle
Me: “Whoa.”

Lunch? I think I forgot to eat.

I humbly dedicate this post, and our exuberant day of soaring, to Mark Knight, who died the very week I had hoped to meet him; to all those that lose their lives in pursuit of flight, whether it be skimming across the earth’s surface on two wheels, or flying a bit higher up, amongst the clouds; and finally, to those, including Marla VandenBerg, who are left behind to grieve their loss.  Some people’s hearts insist their bodies join them in flight.  Joy belongs to those that heed the call.

* It seems it is possible to “self launch” (code for “run off the side of a mountain”) in a tandem arrangement. But, not surprisingly, the first timers tend to stop running before it’s time, leaving the instructor in quite a predicament.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Grand Canyon North Rim, Utah Pink Sand, and a “Grilled Cheese Sandwich.”

I’ll tell you a little secret.  I was actually weirdly ambivalent about this trip.  I’d already crossed Arizona on these roads, what, 4?, 6 times this summer?  Ho hum, said the spoiled motorcycle tourer.  Truth be told, I really rather would have taken Li’l Burro to investigate the magical land of the best morel hunting I might ever see.  I could have taken him north, instead of the Ducati, and passed by the hunting grounds on my way home, but he’s not really made for 400 miles days.  And the Ducati is definitely not made for the many miles of rough road leading to the hunt.  But I had agreed to this group ride, and missed meeting these riders in Colorado back in June, so with little fanfare, I lashed the Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler* to the back of the Ducati, and set off into the Southern Arizona… fog?  Yes! Fog!  It’s an awful shame that misdirected the Finger Visor Wiper Three Pack I ordered** after my rainy return from Utah.  One of those would have been handy.

Anyway, I digress.

Oh, the magic of motorcycle camping! The wheels needed go ‘round only a time or two, before this trip that was barely on my radar became real!  And good!  Arrival in Arizona’s  Painted Desert - land of brilliant pink, green, and blue – was glorious.  The mild weather – 80 at most! - was a completely new experience for me.  And did I stop to capture those watercolors on SD card?  No. And did I replace the Go Pro camera mount that broke last month, so lazy I could preserve all the wondrous scenes passing by me without the terrible task of actually stopping my motorcycle?  No. Because – remember? – this trip was barely on my radar.  And spoiled little I had said to myself, “Blah, blah, been there, done that, don’t need no GoPro.”  Instead, right about now, I’d kick myself and be forced to dig around for an archival photo that doesn’t show what I’d like it to show and includes the wrong motorcycle, in order to insert it here as a poor substitute.  To be fair, this is quite close to where we camped our first night, so that's something.

Glen Canyon NRA Antelope Point Area (6)

I wasn’t even planning on writing about this trip, having not yet written about my first trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, nor the ride during which I actually met the Potato Ranch Riders.  But there are certain things that this conscientious investigative journalist believes the world simply must know.  This, dear readers, is the North Rim Lodge’s,*** with its "breathtaking views and great food,” “Coconino County Grilled Cheese: Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Sliced Tomato, Fresh Basil on Toasted Zero Carbohydrate Bread.”

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge Coconino County Grilled Cheese

I kid you not.  I was served tepid, most decidedly not melted, nor grilled, nor toasted cheese, surrounded by remarkably soggy for-all-the-world-looks-like-Wonder Bread.  And see how beautifully it was presented! The bill?  $12.94.  I am not a food-sender-backer, but this travesty really made the idea a distinct possibility. (I didn't.)  As far as I can tell, they made it a day in advance, stuck it in the walk-in refrigerator, and, upon my order, took it out to oh-so-slightly scorch it in the microwave without actually warming the cheese or removing any of the soggy moisture from the bread.  Had I been Bill, our waiter, I would have absolutely refused this from the line cook who handed it to me.  No. Try again.

Although I was suspicious about the zero carbohydrate bread, and requested that my bread have as many carbohydrates as possible, ordering high calorie items like grilled cheese sandwiches and bacon cheeseburgers was part of my very important Thermo-Regulation Plan B.  (Plan A entails the use of my heated vest, which stubbornly remained in-op for the duration of this trip.  And let me tell you, riding in 45 degree weather without one is not cozy.)

The Lodge did have unquestionably spectacular views. And even a Li’l Burro of its own!

Brighty of the Grand Canyon
"Brighty," maker of the Bright Angel Trail. For real!

But enough about my North Rim Lodge lunch. Sandwich not withstanding, this little October tour thoroughly shamed me and my blasé projections with its fantastic-ness.  Silly me.

Grand Canyon North Rim (1)

Grand Canyon North Rim (4)

Grand Canyon North Rim (3)

Did you notice that bit of fall color in the last photo? Oh yes, it was autumn on the North Rim and I rode that bright red Ducati with amazement under a veritable confetti of fluttering of orange and yellow leaves.  And I condemned myself once again for not having the Go Pro camera to record that unforgettable experience.

We found more childlike magic when leaping and bouncing down the slopes of the pinky, peachy, salmony - color varies by the time of day - sand dunes of Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  I got to know my new friends better over dinner and drinks at our campsite, as we admired each others' motorcycles and camping gear, shared stories of rides past, and dreamed of rides in the future.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (3)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (1)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (2)

The Potato Ranch Riders and I parted ways the next morning, and I soon slammed into the crushing reality of wind that so often whips across and through the mountains, plateaus, and valleys of the desert west.  But though the rattling and smashing of the wind brought to mind thoughts of a major structural failure of my vehicle****, it could not blow away the fullness in my heart for these skilled riders, who had so warmly welcomed me into their fold.   I do truly love touring by myself, but it seems group riding, at least with this group, now holds a place in my heart, too.

I wasn’t equipped to travel to the morel fields on my way back south, but I couldn’t help stepping just a teensy bit off the asphalt path on the way home.  This little guy doesn't seem to know it's way past porcini season!*****

Consolation Porcini Clint's Well Area
Good job, my little Italian Princess!  Porcini Trifolata: That's fancy talk for sautéed in butter, put on some crackers, and savored with a nice glass of wine as soon as I got home.

That night, I hid from the wind in Oak Creek Canyon. Soon thereafter, I hid from the Columbus Day crowds by wandering around this closed campground. (I camped legally, in a open campground, in case you're wondering. Wandering about the closed one seemed allowed.)

Oak Creek Canyon is probably, at this very moment, glorious with fall color.  Never enough time...

As it turns out, not all was lost on the morel front.   Look what was waiting for me at home!

San Juan Fire Morels 001
The writer of the Arizona Mushroom Forum took pity on me and generously shared his loot.  Here, I'm turning them into ravioli.

Notable Fact: I do believe this was the fourth (at least) consecutive break-down-free Ducati camping trip this summer/fall.  This could be an exciting new trend!  By my count: This trip, Hell and Back Again, Southward Migration 2014, and the August 2014 Mushroom Foray.

There's really not much you need to know in order to make a proper grilled cheese sandwich.  I'll list a few important points here, just in case the cook staff of the North Rim Lodge wants to take a look.
  • Use a heavy pan, if you have one, use your favorite bread (preferably with both gluten and carbohydrates), and - this is key - butter the outside of the bread, not the inside of the pan.  I'd tell you to butter it generously and to make sure you are, indeed, actually using real butter, but you already know that, right?   As long as the butter is soft enough to spread without tearing up the bread, that's fine. If you want, melt it and brush it on. Either way, just butter the bread, not the pan. 
  • Use any cheese you like ("processed cheese product" does not count).  If you want to get serious about distributing the cheese evenly on the bread, grate it rather than slice it.  Do realize that younger cheese melts a bit more nicely than super aged cheese. But super aged cheese tastes better. So best to find something in the middle, but if you do everything else right, it won't matter, really.  Gruyere, Swiss, Cheddar, Brie, a bit of goat cheese, a crumble of Bleu, or a sprinkle of Parmesan or Asiago mixed in, oh my!
  • Now, grill your creation (technically, you're sautéing it, not grilling it, but whatever) slowly, slowly, on both sides, so that the cheese turns into that gooey meltiness you're craving just at the same time the bread becomes crisp and golden. There. Perfect, right?  Crrrrrunch! Ooooze...
  • If you want to get fancy, you could season your butter (garlic? mustard? smoked chiles?), use a mix of cheeses (Four Cheese Grilled Cheese, anyone?), pulse the cheeses quickly with a splash of white wine (Bonjour, Fondue Sandwich!), add things like bacon, ham, salami, avocado, tomato, onions, chives... but not too much or too many! Yes, you could do these things, but you absolutely will love your sandwich even if you don't, for the simple fact that it's buttery, cheesy, and hot, and crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

*Typing that cracks me up.
**And didn’t offer to resend them to the correct address!  I’m not sold on that brand of customer service.
***The North Rim Lodge, in addition to falsely advertising this selection as a grilled cheese sandwich, has a problem with the correct usage of apostrophes, as indicated in its list of main menu items, headed “Specialty Entrée’s.”  Sorry, that was catty, and perhaps unnecessary, but I couldn’t help it.  Oh yes, and they had a hilariously fancy description of their Budweiser on tap, too.
****Okay, so I doubt my bike would blow apart, but the wind is so rattling, so powerful, it sort of feels like it could.  
*****I didn't included my usual mushroom hunting disclaimer this time, but you can see it at the bottom of this post.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Li’l Burro in the Forest

Poor Li’l Burro, confined in Pilot Guy’s shed ever since the Ducati and I crossed state lines back in June. “Let me out!” he brayed today, hooves clattering on the shed walls.  He’s been a good boy. “Let’s go see what we can find to eat in the woods,” I said.

Look! Pilot Guy tucked lunch in our top box!  Isn’t he the best?


Nice find, Li’l Burro!  He knows good things wait for those courageous enough to venture off the pavement

Oyster Mushroom Log
Oyster mushrooms! (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Someone’s been here before, but there are plenty for everyone.   Let's broil these up with a bit of blue cheese, just like Mushroom Mentor Nate does.  X marks the spot!  We’ll come back for seconds when the conditions are right.

No, no, Li’l Burro! Not that one!

Gomphus floccosus
Scaly Chanterelles are not for eating! (Gomphus floccosus)

Some are just for looking!

Amanitas stay far away from the dinner plate.

We’ll double check our work on this one, but couldn’t Elfin Saddles be delicious with a bit of butter, wine, cream, and fresh pappardelle?

Helvella lacunosa
Fluted Black Elfin Saddles (Helvella lacunosa)

Who says there’s no autumn in Tucson?  It came a day ahead of schedule, even.

Mount Lemmon Maple Leaves

Li’l Burro nickered in my ear.  “What’s that you say?”   He wants a mushroom basket to carry upon his orange top box for Christmas.  And so he shall have it.

XT225 at Bear Wallow 

KamperBob, if you're reading this, I have to say, I can't help but borrow Half Pint's voice for Li'l Burro sometimes. It's just the one for our XTs.  Hope you're both well!

Some notes on mushroom safety:
  • You can’t just go around taste testing mushrooms. Do your homework, including but not limited to: lots of reading, looking at a lot of specimens in the wild, and getting an expert to confirm your identifications, at least until you get awfully good at it.
  • Once you are comfortable identifying an edible species, perform a standard controlled edibility test to confirm that particular species agrees with you.
  • I’ve noticed it would be awfully easy to get lost in the woods while hunting mushrooms.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What the Rain Brings*… (and a Bonus Gear Review, for Those That Care)

So, yeah, it’s been raining a bit lately.  Our monsoon can certainly be disadvantageous when riding a motorcycle, but it does have its perks.  To wit:

Water in our rivers…

Salt River Canyon 008-Edit
Salt River Canyon


Salt River Canyon 011

…and… the King!

Boletus edulis-rubriceps
No, no, not that king, but Boletus edulis, aka King Bolete, known to you and me as a porcini (porcino in the singular, actually) mushroom.  Interestingly, since my return, the Southwest's red capped variety has been reclassified to Boletus rubriceps, or the Rocky Mountain King Bolete.  I’m no less pleased with my find.

Earlier this month, the Ducati, my Rough Rider Happy Pig Mushroom Hunter's Knife,** and I spent three days camping and riding roads I love (Salt River Canyon, AZ 191/Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, and Mount Graham’s Swift Trail Parkway), with a little stop to join a guided mushroom foray.  Not all my finds made the cargo cut (I’m going to have to do something about that!), but I did bring home a respectable little haul.

In addition to the prize shown above, the fruits of my labors included two types of porcini cousins, a big White King Bolete (Boletus barrowsii) and several Aspen Boletes (Leccinum insigne); oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), and that mycological two-for-one fungi, lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum).  When I think what they would have cost me at Whole Foods… well, maybe that Ducati is going to finally start paying for herself!***

Ducati with Russula xerampelina
Ducati with Shrimp Mushrooms (Russula xerampelina).  I wasn’t positive of my identification at the time I found this batch on an earlier solo foray.

Three days in a motorcycle top box doesn’t do much for mushrooms.

Spoils 004
These could use some food styling. Or at least some arranging.

What activity could be truer to the Eating on Two Wheels philosophy than tearing through canyons and across mountains, with an occasional stop to harvest wild mushrooms?

*Mushroomers will realize I’ve borrowed the idea of this title from David Arora’s excellent guidebook, “All That the Rain Promises, and More…”
**I am not making this up. Such a product actually exists, and turns out to be pretty useful.  You should see the box. It's hilarious.
Some notes on mushroom safety:
  • You can’t just go around taste testing mushrooms. Do your homework, including but not limited to: lots of reading, looking at a lot of specimens in the wild, and getting an expert to confirm your identifications, at least until you get awfully good at it.
  • Once you are comfortable identifying an edible species, perform a standard controlled edibility test to confirm that particular species agrees with you.
  • I’ve noticed it would be awfully easy to get lost in the woods while hunting mushrooms.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • If you happen to overtake the sheriff at well over the speed limit outside Eager, AZ, just give him friendly wave as you return back to your side of the road.  This way, he won’t pull you over.  (Oopsy!)
Dining Notes:
  • Elements Bistro Coffee Shop, Show Low, AZ: Wait, is it legal to serve burgers but not fries?  The burger was tasty, the salad a healthier option, I suppose, but, but... I wanted fries!  A splurge on the cinnamon roll for dessert may have reached the mythical point of too sweet, but was worth the calories.  I'd stop there again.

Gear Review with Preliminary Ranting:
About a year ago, I broke down and bought a textile “ADV” touring suit.  This was no small thing for me, because until then I’d only been willing to wear gear that was considered good enough for the track when riding on the street.  Call me crazy, but I’m pretty conservative about the sort of gear I trust with my personal safety.  But dirt and mud does not do much for leather, as it turns out, and at my equally conservative off-road speeds in the desert, one can argue that the danger of heat exhaustion quickly becomes just as clear and present as the danger of a “get-off.”  I really, really  wanted an Olympia X-Moto suit, and actually waited a season or two for one, but  - phooey on you, Olympia!!, - despite my hounding, they still won’t offer it for women. (I think the entire line is now discontinued.)  Until now, I’d only worn my new suit on Li’l Burro adventures, but I made an exception for this trip, and wore it on the Ducati. It’s simply easier to fit a hiking (or mushroom hunting, in this case) outfit on under this suit than my usual touring/track gear.

I’m going to take this opportunity to rant about a few "design features" of much of the all season gear available, first.  Hello?  Gear designers? Are you listening??
  • Why put the waterproofing layer on the inside of the jacket??  Honestly, do you have any idea how heavy and uncomfortable a soggy outer layer is?  Do you know how long it can take to dry?  (You can see how much I love an actual rain suit at the bottom of this post.)
  • Mesh on the outside, warmth on the inside.  Okay, I’ll admit I’m probably in the minority on this one, but I will never, ever buy gear with this configuration. No amount of quilting or wind resistance of the inner layer will make up for the fact that there’s an ice cold breeze screaming through that mesh when the temperatures drop.  If it’s mesh, it’s not all season gear. Period. (The X-Moto suit had a cool solution for this issue.)
  • Protection on the “impact zones.”  Who says I’m going to land on my elbow in a crash?  I’d like the entire suit to be made of the most protective fabric, not just part of it.  So there.  400D just doesn’t cut it.
  • Having a belt and calling the jacket “cut for women.”  Having to cinch up a belt and crumple a bunch of fabric around the waist isn’t exactly a good example of a streamlined hour glass design. Still, I like the belt option.  Both a belt and a tapered waist would be better.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’ll admit that, overall, I do like my Firstgear suit. Here are the details.

Firstgear Kilimanjaro Jacket (size WXS):
  • Likes: Gear that fits me is hard to find, but this jacket fits perfectly! Score one for Firstgear!  It may not be pretty or fashionable, but I’ll opt for a nice full high-viz color scheme every time. This one sings with color!  I was pleasantly surprised with the effectiveness of the venting. August in Arizona?  No problem.  For me, anyway.  (To be fair, on this trip I was travelling at Ducati speed. I’ll have to update next time I use it off-road.  It’s been a while.)  The pricing is beyond reasonable. The outer layer is waterproofed as well as the inner liner.  So clever!  (Nothing will stop me from packing that afore mentioned rain suit, however.)  Pockets, pockets, pockets!  No shortage of pockets! (I don’t even come close to using all of them.)   Removable winter liner and armor are both included: I almost forgot to mention those, since I would not consider a jacket without both of these things. 
  • Gripes: The phone pocket is just a bit too small for an iPhone with a cover.  Which means you’ll be fighting to get your phone in and out of your pocket. It’s annoying enough that I may have a friend with needle and thread skills adjust it for me.  Lord help you if you have a giant Android.  If it has a left hand zipper pull, it’s not redesigned for women.  (I am zipper deficient. Motorcycle camping involves an awful lot of zippers, as it turns out.)  400/640D dernier is wimpy.  Bump it up, Firstgear.  The shoulder vents are a bit tricky to operate while actually riding. And if you’re wearing a backpack, forget it.
  • Overall: I’ll admit it, I like this high-on-the-bang/buck scale jacket.  But I will probably continue my habit of using it just for dual sporting.
First Gear TPG Escape Pant (Size 6. I have an older model, and I’m suspicious they don’t make them for women anymore, but here’s the info, anyway.) 
  • Likes: Again, these actually fit me! (Happy dance!)  Again, the two little vents offer surprising air flow.  What? An actual pocket for your keys?  (Race track pants do not provide this nifty feature.)  The snapping/velcro liner cuff at the ankle keeps water and drafts out, and is much appreciated!  Like the jacket, the necessary armor is included.  There is a zipper connection between the pants and jacket.  It’s not full circumference, but it’s something.  They, too, are reasonably priced, especially since I bought an older model.
  • Gripes: They are designed for women in that the hips have, you know, hips, and the waist has, you know, a waist. But I think Firstgear forgot  that, when you put on pants, the waist has to fit over the hips to get to the waist. I have a bit of a struggle with this part, especially with the winter liner, but once they’re on, I find them quite comfortable.  Unless you get pants with a full leg length zipper, they will never be easy to get on/off over boots: there is no hasty escaping from the “Escape Pant.”
  • Overall: Yep, I’m happy with my pants, but will likely reserve them for dual sport use, or occasional commuting when I need to wear something other than UnderArmour beneath.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Return Migration: Gear Review, Canyonlands National Park

Aside from my top boxes, I’ve never had waterproof luggage.  And since I’ve been generally happy with the seemingly indestructible RoadGear  “Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler” that came with my Kawasaki when I bought it some nine years ago, I haven’t been able to come up with a good enough excuse to buy actual dry bag luggage. But there must be something empowering about knowing your tail bag is 100% impermeable to water, no matter how hard or long the rain might fall.  Pilot Guy has a Wolfman Expedition Dry Duffel, and I admit to being rather jealous of it.  In addition to the obvious perk of having your tent remain unmoistened by the fiercest deluge, you also have a confirmed drip free, dew free zone to store your riding gear overnight.  If you’re touring “a due,” as I occasionally do,  you’ll find that two sets of armored take up almost as much room as two people.  And four is definitely a crowd in my two-man tent.  So when Kiara Wilson, Marketing Manager for Motorcycle House and Viking Bags, offered to send me a piece of equipment to review*, the choice was obvious.  “Adventure Dry Bag, please!”  “Size Large!,” said my greedy little self.

And large it is!  It doesn’t just swallow my tent whole, but could be my tent.

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 010
My tent is not particularly small, and nearly fills my old Roadgear tailbag.  Plenty of room to spare in this spacious specimen!

As I’m loading the Ducati for my annual August return migration to Tucson, it occurs to me that I might just meet my still unrealized motorcycle packing dream: fitting tent, ground pad and essentially enormous zero degree Marmot Ouray sleeping bag, all in one streamlined and gloriously waterproof capsule.  About three seconds after going weak with the thought of it, I realize I have to get all 71.59 liters of this bag on my tiny little motorcycle.  Hm.

The modestly priced Nelson Rigg Adventure Dry Bag is designed to be mounted either along or across the seat, although the orientation of the straps undeniably favors the former arrangement.

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 002
Clearly this won’t work on a Ducati 696.  Not one with a topbox, anyway.

What about the other way?

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 006
I really didn’t think this through, did I? (Although the bag can be mounted in this manner, the provided mounting straps do not attach to the short sides of the bag, making it a bit of a trick on my bike, anyway.)

I’m not seeing a simple way to safely mount a bag this large on a motorcycle this small.  And it’ll certainly never fit on Li’l Burro.  I am going to have to make a decision. Spend a lot of time working on a solution that could quite possibly wreck this cool new piece of gear, or keep it in new condition, and exchange it for the smaller size when I get home.   Either way, I get to feel really dumb for not checking the measurements before ordering.  I hang my head, pull off the Adventure Dry Bag, and load up with the Jumbo Hauler.  I have no idea the amount of irony I’ll be feeling in just a few days.

But for now, I’m excited to be headed home, and looking forward to meeting a few new roads and places along the way.  First stop, the Uinta Mountains, by way of Flaming Gorge National Monument.  There’s a bit of a drizzle as I traverse the sweeping turns of the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway and I have to chuckle.  Now would be a nice time for that waterproof luggage, eh?  But aside from ruining my chances for some nice photos (see here instead), the rain doesn’t keep me from enjoying the descriptive road signs highlighting remnants from former geologic ages.   “Stegasaurus Walked Here!,” one declares.  I can’t really argue with that.

Did you know you can actually wander around the mountains of Utah and Arizona at certain times of the year and find wild porcini mushrooms? I didn’t, either.  At least not until just recently.**  After setting up camp, I poke around to see what I can see.

East Park Campground Uintas 003
Why, hello to you, too!  Genus Russula is all I know at this point.

East Park Campground Uintas 012
This one (a Grisette of some sort?), had a beautiful silvery sheen to it. And no, that's not bird poop on it, but a piece of the "veil" that covers many mushrooms at birth.

Never having done this before, I’ve no intention of eating any of my finds, of course.

East Park Campground Uintas 014
When your campsite water source is down, keeping you from making your Eating on Two Wheels proprietary instant soup, St. Dalfour French Bistro “Gourmet on the Go” canned dinners are actually a decent option.  If you pay attention and buy only those varieties without added sweeteners**. Unless you happen to like dumping honey or pineapple juice on your savory pasta.

The next day I make my way to Canyonlands National Park. I can’t help but notice, as I energetically brake upon seeing a big buck on the mountain pass I’m negotiating, that it’s raining a teensy bit more than yesterday.  That dry bag sure did look nice.  Hmph.

Canyonlands Sunrise 005
Ducati with Rainbow, Squaw Flat Campground, Canyonlands National Park Needles District

The showers don’t stop me from finding some interesting textures in Big Spring Canyon.

Canyonlands 028
Cryptobiotic Crust: It’s alive! And extremely fragile. Do not step here!

Canyonlands 030

Canyonlands Sunrise 011
Canyonlands Sunrise

My Day Three plan is a fabulous one.  I’ll ride UT 95 through that bit of Glen Canyon I liked so much last year, pay Highway 12 another visit  (It’s been too long!), dine at Hell’s Backbone Grill (still haven’t been!), and poke around Kodachrome Basin State Park.  I even reserved my campsite for the night ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have any “find a spot before dark” worries spoiling my fun.

But… there’s a pounding watery barrage from the sky, eliciting a sensation not unlike the feeling of having a waterfall on your head.  Surely it’s just a brief mountain cloudburst, right?  It's already clearing up, see?

The rain stops. But only for a minute. Dry bag, dry bag, why didst I forsake thou?

Not so, not so. This particular weather is the talk of the town.  “It’s like this over the entire state!” marvels one person at a gas stop. “It’s going to last for days!” celebrates another.  I consult the weather forecasts and radar images to find that these excited people are absolutely correct. Flash flooding and severe storms block my path in any and every direction, and my prior excitement about Day Three turns soggy. Try as I might,  I can’t seems to make a good case to seek out this kind of weather on technical mountain roads or river flood zones.  I try really hard, because I’d so been looking forward to this leg of my journey, but I simply can’t. I wrestle with the feeling of being wimpy, but I eventually point the Ducati towards less challenging terrain.   It looks like I’ll be home a day early.

Which is not to say I didn’t get wet!  I did. With a few brief exceptions, the rain did not stop for 325 miles.  Oh Adventure Dry  Bag!  How I long for you, a brilliant orange high-visibility beacon on the back of my motorcycle, proclaiming my presence to all around me!  Oh, for your electronically heat-welded seams!  Your air-tight roll closure!

Go Pro Monument Valley (5)
Ghosts in Monument Valley, during a momentary rain stoppage. Can you see them on the horizon?

Bless you Pilot Guy, for so thoughtfully using your free night to arrange a room in Flagstaff for me.  I’ll have a glass of wine right after I’m done wringing out my stuff. I’ve earned it!

Tomorrow, the cloud cover and occasional shower will be a blessing, bringing the normally three digit Tucson approach temperatures down to below the readout on my speedometer.  Home!

Go Pro Tucson Final Approach 009

*Disclaimers and Explanations: I received this bag at no charge.  I won’t review an item I wouldn’t generally be interested in using.  My reviews reflect my actual experiences. Just so you know.
**As luck would have it, my host this summer was a knowledgeable mushroom hunter.  I can not believe what I’ve been missing.
*** I’ll try not to rant, but… please, I don’t care if it’s organic cane syrup, I don’t want sugar on my dinner!!  It’s positively welcome in my dessert, of course.

Dining notes:
  • Flaming Gorge Café, Manila, UT: It’s so conveniently located that you can gas up, eat, and retrieve US Forest Service maps all with just one parking job. But don’t do it. It’s pretty hard to mess up a ham and cheese sandwich with fries, but they did so brilliantly.
  • Peace Tree Cafe, Moab, UT: What, burgers but no fries?  My camping caloric intake strategy requires I ingest nearly all my recommended daily allowance at lunch.  I don't skimp on my side dishes. A bleu burger without fries didn't feel quite right, so I momentarily pushed my pasta snobbery (demonstrated here and here) aside and ordered an alfredo dish instead. I don't expect pasta alfredo to be particularly good at a burger/sandwich/breakfast place, and I wasn't surprised by the specimen served me, but it wasn't terrible, either. The outdoor seating is pleasant, and even offered the Ducati table side parking.  As long as I wasn't craving fries, I'd stop in again. On the other hand, there are plenty of other establishments in Moab to try.
  • Cameron Trading Post Restaurant, Cameron, AZ:  I really probably would have done fine if I had ordered a burger or BLT.  But a warm bowl of Yah-Ahtay Chile sounded enticing after a day of riding in the rain. I should have listened to myself. The chile was simultaneously harsh and uninteresting.  The accompanying Indian Fry Bread was admittedly delicious and decadent,  although I don’t know how you could ruin fried dough.  I’ll give the place another try one day, I’m sure, but order differently.
Additional Rain Gear Notes:
  • This might be a good time to extol the virtues of my TourMaster Sentinel Rain Jacket and Pants.    It's been worth every penny, and every cc of cargo space it claims (which is significant).  While my stuff was sodden, *I* have been riding dry in any and every rainfall since the day I bought it back in 2007.   Not so for folks who buy those silly paper “breathable” numbers.   The key: you actually do have to stop and put it on for it to work.  The thin stretchy under the helmet hood that keeps rain from dribbling down the back of your neck is a nice touch, too.  If it had a second, detachable waterproof regular hood to wear when off the bike, the suit would be 100% perfection.  I find it useful as an extra layer when riding in the cold, too.
  • I feel differently about my Aerostich Triple Digit Glove Covers.  They are a fabulous idea, but even the smallest size is so ridiculously huge, I can’t possibly operate a motorcycle while wearing them.  Who wants two inches of extra fabric getting tangled up in the hand controls when it’s pouring out?  It just makes me angry. I haven’t taken them out of my rain jacket pockets for years now.  Pbbbbt on you, Aerostich, and your giant sizing.
  • The Roadgear Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler Rain Cover does not turn a canvas tail bag into a waterproof fortress, but could be useful if you could thread the straps located on top of the bag through the rain cover. As it stands, I can either use the rain cover, or strap my sleeping bag (in its own protective dry bag) on top of the Hauler. Guess which one I choose.
  • All that rain, and wouldn't you know it? I lost* my old visor squeegee earlier this summer.  If you've ever used one, you'll know they are indispensable for restoring your field of view by sweeping off all the pesky rain drops that land on your visor.  I've just ordered a Finger Visor Wiper three-pack. One for each motorcycle! Update: Turns out they shipped them to the wrong address, and didn't offer to resend them to the correct address. Not cool.
  • I don't own too many Wolfman products, because they are generally priced out of my reach. I do have the Express Tank Bag, though, and find its construction definitely above average.  It does slightly rankle me, however, that the Rain Covers must be purchased separately.  The extra $8.00 shipping for this featherweight item, if you order it after the fact, or if you lose yours (Arghh!*), stings a bit, too.  I'm pretty darn sure their tank bag rain covers used to have a velcro strip allowing you to attach the map to the outside of the cover, but that feature seems to have gone away.  Harrumph.  This cover doesn't offer full waterproof protection in a hard rain, but it helps a bit for a while. I don't recommend you trust it to keep your camera safe in a downpour by any means. That's what your locking, waterproof top box is for, silly. 
*During the Season of Wind, things go flying out of your tank bag, never to be recovered, at an alarming rate.  I also lost a neat solar iPhone charger.  Seriously, don't even unzip your tank bag in May and June.  At all.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Annual Migration

The Ducati wanted a battery? She got it.  Fork seals?  Sure thing, sweetheart.  Fork TUBES?*  I’m outta time, my dear.

“Old Reliable,” the good Kawi was happy to step up to the plate and carry me northward on my annual migration to Logan, UT**.  That Kawi, she has as much grit as my beagle, and all she ever asks for is a steady supply of zip ties, WD-40, and packing tape***.  After a few gentle reminders she has half the front braking power of the Ducati - aieee! – we were comfortable with each other again.

Kawasaki at Roosevelt Lake
Roosevelt Lake, AZ

June belongs firmly in the Season of Wind. Riding hundreds of miles in a 55mph crosswind? Situation Normal.   Three hundred miles of vigorous pounding feels sufficient for the day.  Sunset Crater National Monument is a good place to spend the night.

Jet Boil and Ducati at Bonito CG near Sunset Crater NM (1)
Jet Boil (new acquisition!) with… Ducati?  And Ramen?  Do explain!

Yep, that’s my Ducati in the photo background.  You don’t mind if I cheat by writing about both Annual Migration 2013 and 2014 in one post, do you?   Yep, that’s Maruchan Ramen in the photo.  It’s not my normal fare, as I’m sure you realize, but a hasty test subject for the then newly acquired Jet Boil.  They’ve since been replaced by Eating on Two Wheels proprietary instant soup mixes.  Just so you know.  Why am I not whipping up a crown roast with fingerling potatoes and wild greens over the campfire?  Because washing dishes at a campsite downright disgusts me.  Just one of those things, I guess.  I strive to minimize my clean up duties, but refuse to resort to a depressing handful of GORP for dinner, or something even more awful than campsite dishwashing: an “energy bar.”  Ew.

The wind bashes the sides of the tent into me all night, while the Friday the 13th Honey Moon drills a hole through its walls.   I’m awake in the wee hours trying to calculate exactly why the sun is rising at 3am.

The rippling sea of grass in  Wupatki National Monument is mesmerizing in the morning breezes.  I nearly miss a turn watching the invisible hand brush the desert grassland this way and that.  Last year, I stopped to visit some of the ruins.

Wupatki National Monument Wukoki Ruins
Wukoki Ruins

At a gas stop in Marble Canyon, a familiar sound from just across the street makes its way into my helmet, past the music in my headphones, and into my brain.  I snap a blurry photo with my phone to send to Pilot Guy.
Marble Canyon Airport L41 from Chevron
I’ve never noticed this airport before!  I guess little planes haven’t been on my, uh, radar, until recently.

Last year, the Ducati and I had time to check out the twists and turns of the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, which had eluded me for so long, and Cedar Breaks National Monument.  You don’t have to hike far to get a spectacular view.
Cedar Breaks National Monument Spectra Point Pano
Spectra Point, Cedar Breaks National Monument

After a rough year, several hundred miles on the Ducati were just what she and I needed to rebuild our relationship.  We were finally getting places!  It was just about the time I was starting to trust her again, of course…

Rescue by Corolla

… that I was rescued by my own fearsome Corolla.  Pilot Guy and I had arranged to meet that evening just a few miles away, so it was easy for him to skid in for the glamorous rescue.  “It’s just the battery,” we told ourselves.  All that southern AZ heat is so very hard on batteries, you know.  And – Lo! – after a long drink from the Corolla****, she came back to life.  But you know what?  It’s never just the battery, as far as I can tell.*****  And I was right.  What we don’t know yet is that the stator had all but melted away.

Ducati outside of Panquitch
Rolling again… for now.

Whatever the mechanical issue, the next day I was able to limp the Ducati 270 more miles, with the Corolla support vehicle not far behind. We had to stop over and over for long stretches to recharge the battery, we sipping endless cups of lemonade and iced tea, she sipping electrons.

Limping the Ducati to Layton
Traffic stoppage in Salt Lake City.  What will come first, a dead again battery or an overheat?

We made it as far as Adrian’s****** house before nightfall threatened.  Adrian just happens to live about 60 miles from my final destination, and has a very well equipped garage.  It was an obvious place to throw in the towel.

Beagle Helps Install Ducati VReg
The beagle watches while I optimistically install a new voltage regulator.  It's not going to do the trick.

Happy Sushi Logan UT
Sushi consolation dinner upon arrival in Logan via Corolla. 

But that was sooo last year. This year, the easy-natured Kawasaki and I ride along encumbered only by the swan song of my tent stakes*******.   After my lengthy and arguably painful absence, I’m falling in love with the Great American West all over again: majestic, brilliantly painted, and just plain big here; gentle, sweet, and abundant there, with everything in between.  Utah Route 89 between Panguitch and I-70 has none of the drama of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, and the areas further south, but it is so very beautiful in a simple gifts sort of way, that it still wrenches my heart on this, my twelfth migration.  The glassy blue Sevier Creek, hesitantly twisting its way through the verdant green grass, ever unsure of the proper direction, and later, as the Sevier River, briskly bubbling with intent, northward down the slope, touches me deeply and inexplicably.  The dreamy landscape is rhythmically broken by little towns from another era, sporting Lavender Festivals, baskets of flowers, soda fountains, and picturesque temples perched atop hills that call to mind storybook Transylvanian castles.  There’s something too special about this place for me to just pull the bike over, snap a casual photo, and be done with it.

I spend my last night out at Freemont Indian State Park, in quiet reflection and gratitude.

Freemont Indian State Park Castle Rock Campground

My final approach the next day offers little room for detouring, aside from a pass down Utah’s “Fruit Way.” The road is lined with trees visibly bursting with sweet cherries. It’s hard not to stop, but there’s no room on the bike for produce at the moment, and I’ll have a pleasantly difficult time keeping up with northern Utah’s cornucopia as it is.

Home for the summer is around the bend…

Blacksmith Fork River Backyard
My back yard - the mouth of this canyon.

… and before I know it, I’ll be packing for my August return migration.  Oh wait... ********.

*Turns out one of the new seals was defective.  For once, the easier answer prevails.
**Beagle, Toyota, and Ducati have since arrived under separate cover.
***It’s invisible!
****No, I couldn’t simply jump start and go. If only.
*****Recent victory!  As it turns out, sometimes it is just the battery!
******You met Adrian in Baja.
*******Quite problematic with the crazy wind, actually.
******** Posting about June at the end of August is also Situation Normal.  Have I broken a blog post asterisk record?
Cooking Equipment Review: 
The Jet Boil Sol Advanced Cooking System performs exactly as advertised, so I advise you not to turn your back on it for a second.   Jet. Boil.  Get it?  It's fast.  Despite the fragile plastic bottom cover (customer service replaced it with a smile,) and ill-fitting plastic lid, this thing has opened up a new camping culinary world for me. I can't believe there was a time I didn't want a camp stove.  The Coffee Press accessory is a neat little item, which I even used in the house in Utah, when I didn't have my usual press available to me.  I use the fuel modestly, but it's lasted so long that I haven't yet had the opportunity to try the fuel canister Crunch-It recycling tool.  You can use the stove to cook with an actual little pot or pan, too, but because of my camping dish washing aversion, I just use the provided cup to boil water.  The metal cup gets really hot (duh!), even with its little heat cozy, so take care not to burn your flute playing lips.  It's a bit tricky to disengage the cup from the stove itself, especially when it's hot, and I don't trust the cozy handle to keep me from spilling boiling water over myself, but neither of these things keeps me from loving my Jet Boil!  Not the cheapest stove in the shed, but worth it, in my opinion, especially since I got it as a birthday gift!