20 September 2009

The first leg (Journey of a thousand miles)

This old road is graceful and familiar.
I travel it often.
During this time of the week and at this hour of the morning, the traffic is light. There are seldom any distractions.

I ride north on the old Route 195 and pass intersecting dirt roads named after the farmers who tamed the land; Babb road, East Whitman, South Hardesty, then Whittier, Davis and Bradshaw.

The green expanse of the Palouse in June stretches out from horizon to horizon, tumbling across the landscape like waves on the ocean; unencumbered by the harsh constructs of man.

There are no grid-like street patterns, no buildings or sky-scrapers tearing up the rhythm of the hills like a dissonant chord.

The hand of man has been here though, laid down by his plow. A soft concerto, easy on the soul, things are tended here, not developed; Pianissimo.

As I ride, I take in the scent of turned earth and wildflowers in bloom.
The wind is cool and soft.
My anxieties relax.

This is the beginning of my Vacation.

Ride Well


07 September 2009

Symbol of an Era

If you know me, then you know that I do this sort of stuff all of the time.

A few months ago, while working on my blogsite, I had inadvertently deleted an entry that I had posted last winter titled “Symbol of an era”.

When I discovered my error, I tried to find a copy of it that I had stored in Word perfect. Usually I file it as the title, this time I didn’t. To make a long story short, I couldn’t find it and gave up my search to repost the entry back onto my blog.

This morning while working on a new entry, I found the old post. As it turns out, I forgot to file it as a Title so word perfect just named it as the opening sentence of the entry. Like I said, I do this sort of thing all of the time.

A lot of you have already read this, but some of you haven’t yet, so here it is. This post was kind of special to me, I'm glad that I was able to find it so that I could share it with you again.

F.Y.I.- The blue helmet that is mentioned in this post still resides up on the shelf with all of the other helmets that I have worn through the years. So here it is again, the lost posting................

Symbol of an era

I wasn’t really in the mood to get started on it, but I had no choice. I had family flying in from New York in another week and my guest room was in no condition for accommodating guests. I don’t receive overnight visitors all that often and as a result the bedroom that I reserve for that purpose always ends up as a storage room for all sorts of stuff. I tried to reserve this chore of straightening out the room for a rainy day, but the weather turned out to be perfect for the past couple of weeks and the rainy days never seemed to present themselves; I woke up Saturday morning to another perfect day for a ride only to start putting the things that were in the guest room back where they belong.

The room wasn’t necessarily that bad, but it did have stuff in there that didn’t belong; one of my workbenches that I use for doing trimwork (base/crown moldings and the like), a couple of different carpenters bags with special tools in each bag for specific tasks, a chop saw, clamps and an assortment of hammers. Most of this stuff belonged in the back of my truck but it has been in the body shop getting a new paint job for what has seemed an eternity.

Then there was the other stuff that I brought out of storage about six months ago; an assortment of boxes collected over the years, which I had intended to sort through and decide what I did and did not want to keep.

I began the ritual of re-organizing my various tools and then transporting them from the house out to the shed, making several trips back and forth. After that, came the stack of boxes that I had pulled out of storage, old corrugated produce containers of all varieties, Potato, Tomato, Apple and Orange, some in better shape than others; many of them followed me to the Northwest when I moved out here from New York almost twenty years ago. I had some space still available in the shed, a corner where they wouldn’t get in the way of more important tools should I not be able to cull through them anytime soon.

I began stacking them in fours and fives so that I could use my hand truck to carry them to the shed quickly, it was during this process that I picked up an old and rather musty smelling Navel Orange box when one of the contents inside let out a clunk and rattle. It was a familiar sound, one that I hadn’t heard in a number of years, but one that I recognized instantly. I stopped what I was doing and sat down on the bed, placing the box beside me, I pulled off the telescopic lid. There wasn’t much inside, three old pictures from High School of girls that I lusted over back then, an old checkbook register and one of my old motorcycle helmets. The familiar sound was that of the tinted face shield rattling where the buttons connected to the helmet. This was the helmet that I wore back in the early 80’s, back when my family lived in Montana, I was somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14.

It was a dark metallic blue with an orange and white stripe wrapping around the back and that ridiculous looking dark tinted bubble-face shield that I thought was so cool, there weren’t two square inches anywhere on the helmet or face shield that didn’t wear a scar from any number of mishaps I may have encountered while wearing the thing, back in those days, disposable helmets didn’t exist, helmets were considered an accessory and Dad only replaced the helmets that I outgrew in the same fashion that my sneakers were replaced. At some point I got a hold of a label maker and tattooed the back and face shield with the things that were most important to a 12 year old boy; the kind of bike that I rode (Honda) the name of my horse (Babe) and the name of my dog (Pancho).

The bike during those years was a Honda XL125 that Dad bought right off of the showroom floor for me for my 12th birthday; My first brand new motorcycle.

Earl circa 1983

Babe was the Chestnut colored Arabian mare that adopted me, a disinterested young man who loved only dogs and motorcycles and eventually through the years, made me absolutely crazy about her.

Technically, Babe was my sister’s horse. Though we were all raised “horse people”, my little sister Andrea was the serious equestrian in the family, she still is, and even though all of the horses were considered Andrea’s, I was Babes “person”.


Anyone who has been raised around horses or has spent any quality time with them might agree with me when I explain that it is not uncommon for these animals to pick a person, and I was Babes. I was the one who fed her, brushed her down and tended to her hooves. Babe preferred that I was the one who cared for her, and over time, I was the one who preferred to do it.

Pancho was a large pure bred Collie that my father brought home one day when I was around 9 or 10 years old, from the moment Dad brought him home, we were inseparable.


In 1983, we moved from our home, up in the foothills of the Highland mountains of Southwestern Montana, to a new place out in the Jefferson Valley at the base of the Tobacco Root range. The Tobacco roots are an immense mountain system located on the eastern slope of the Jefferson valley separating the Madison and the Jefferson Rivers, at least 30 miles wide and 50-60 miles long, the range holds more that 40 peaks that rise to elevations greater than 10,000 feet. The Highland Mountains are a smaller system out on the western slope of the valley; though they covered only a fraction of the land mass of the Tobacco roots, the Highlands also soared well above 10,000 feet.

Despite the fact that I missed living up in the mountains, I appreciated our new place down in the valley because of the reasonable distance that I lived from my two best friends, Ben Sholey and Chris Anderson.

Ben lived 5 miles south from my house and Chris was 8 miles to west. Both were an easy ride by motorcycle along the graded county roads. A couple of things to note about growing up in Montana;

1. As long as we stayed on the county roads that were not paved, an unlicensed youth rarely received a second look from any Sheriff’s deputy patrolling the roads, mainly because of reason number 2.

2. Montana is a huge state with a low population density, in other words, folks were spread out. A lot of the kids on motorcycles were actually working the large family owned ranches and bikes were the only reasonable way of getting around. To see kids riding or even driving (farm vehicles) was quite common and as long as you didn’t take off down the paved highway or through town, nobody complained.

Moving out to the valley also presented the opportunities of new found freedoms and responsibilities.

Almost every night after school, the bus would stop to drop me off at the end of my driveway and I would sprint, duffel bag full of books clutched in my hands, towards the garage to jump on the Honda and beat the school bus to Ben’s house. Ben and I would do our homework together at the dining room table and then run out to the old dairy barn that we converted into an indoor basketball court to play our own version of basketball that we named “Basket brawl”; 3 point shots were counted if you were able to shoot the ball over the guy wires that held the outside walls together and “body checking” the opponent into the wall was well within the rules and was actually quite an effective tactic at getting rebounds under the net if your timing was right, come to think of it, I can’t recall what we had to do to draw a foul.

Sometime after dark, I would ride the 5 miles back home, the only rule that I had to obey was to be home before dinner. Even at 13 years of age, I understood the privilege of riding my bike alone at night and the responsibilities that went along with that privilege, I rarely abused it.

During the summer months, when school was out, Chris was allowed to stay with me for extended periods and we would ride two-up on my Honda every morning over to Ben’s house.

Those Montana summer days were usually filled with fishing in any number of the rivers and streams around the Jefferson valley, intense games of basket brawl, playing catch, or swimming out at the old railroad trestle that spanned the Jefferson river. Some days found the three of us just lying out on the roof of the old dairy barn idling away the hours in the warm sun like three flies on a window sill, gazing into the clouds and dreaming about our futures.

All three of us had similar dreams to be pilots. Ben was going to fly helicopters and Chris wanted to be a fighter pilot, and as for me, I just wanted to fly, the specifics weren’t important. None of us had ever actually flown, that didn’t matter, as our imaginations took us up into the sky often enough just lying on the roof of that barn. In reality, years later, Ben became a miner at a large Gold mine down in Nevada, Chris became an Electrical engineer in Alabama and by some strange fate I became a pilot here in Washington State.

By summers end, Chris would return home, and Ben and I would resume our after school activities through the autumn months on into winter and then spring, my motorcycle, a constant vehicle of my freedom, both in reality and metaphor. One of those rides does stand out a little more than many of the other rides that I had made between my house and Ben’s.

I had tied down my duffel bag on the rear of the seat and removed the tinted visor from my still new metallic blue helmet with the white and orange stripe and tucked it under my jacket (this was the normal routine when I rode home in the dark). During the ride home, there was a pair of railroad tracks that I had to cross; the tracks had an access trail alongside of them that led to our swimming hole at the old trestle on the Jefferson River. From the trestle, another trail turned north and followed the banks of the river, through a forest of Aspens and Cottonwoods, up to a series of irrigation ditches that intersected the main county road that led to my driveway. I had taken this route a number of times during the day, but never at night, until now.

It was a different experience, riding beneath the canopy of Aspens alongside the Jefferson at night. My single headlight illuminating a forest of ashen trunks and branches, casting shadows off of one tree and onto another. The white of their trunks contrasting with the autumn gold in their leaves; to my right was the inky black of the Jefferson wandering gently to the south; looking over and beyond the river, the majestic Tobacco root range soaring almost straight up out of the valley floor, up into and then well beyond the timberline, at their summits, a nearly full moon reflecting in a silver glow off of the snow covering their peaks. It was the first time as a young motorcyclist that I felt Goosebumps form on my arms and the back of my neck simply by the experience of the ride; I rode on, humbled by the experience.

I had not thought of that evening ride through the aspens that lined the Jefferson River for decades until that moment where I was sitting their on the bed in my guest room with the now musty old blue helmet in my hands.

I carried the old helmet out of the guest room and placed it upon my shelf with my current helmets and riding gear, that blue helmet serving as a reminder of my youth, of growing up in Montana, of independence and responsibility; it sits there to this day, a symbol of an era in my childhood.

I went back to the guest room and finished storing the stacks of boxes out in the shed; new linens on the bed, polish on the furniture and a quick vacuuming; once again, I had a suitable guest room.

With my chores accomplished, I still had a few hours left in the day for a ride. All geared up, I loaded my camera on the bike and headed south out into the Palouse, hunting for sunsets.

I wandered the back roads down through the small farming communities of St. John and then Endicott and further south still, through endless harvested wheat fields laying fallow until next spring, where I crossed the Snake River into Garfield County. Following Rte. 12 east towards Lewiston, Idaho, I eventually found myself riding along the banks of the Snake River on my approach into the Lewiston, Clarkston area.

There were no soaring mountain ranges beyond the river nor were there any Aspens, the moon had not yet risen and the road was well paved, not a dirt trail. None of that mattered; all that mattered was that I found myself once again alone with my thoughts riding beside a slow moving body of water on my motorcycle in the crisp autumn evening.

Leaning into the long sweeping curves of the highway sidled up against the canyon walls, my thoughts began to digress to another time; back to a time of shiny new blue helmets and Chestnut Arabians, my childhood dog and of lifelong friendships; three friends daydreaming together on the rooftop of an old dairy barn on a warm Montana afternoon and for that moment, as I made my way east in the waxing hours of darkness on my return home, I dreamt like a 13 year old boy once again, and imagined what it would be like to fly someday.

Ride Well


29 August 2009

Journey of a thousand miles

It’s early.

I don’t need to look at my alarm clock to know that. The annoying little device on the bed stand can’t bother me with the time for the rest of the week anyways. It’s unplugged from the wall, rendered incapable of disturbing me during my time off; just one of those little things that I like to do when I am on vacation. No wearing of watches, no alarm clocks and no cell phones (whenever possible).

As I was saying though, it’s early. The room is still dark; everything outside my open bedroom window is silent, save for a garbage truck somewhere on the other side of my neighborhood, plucking rows of full cans from the street. Flicka, my German shepherd, is passed out somewhere in the mass of king size pillows next to me, she loves those pillows; I get one pillow, she gets the rest. Generally, if I wake up before the dog then I know it’s early. I’ve got to get up though; there are places that I have to be.

Rolling lethargically out of bed, I am visualizing a restless Charlie out on his front porch with his riding gear already on, protesting my tardiness, and his KLR in the driveway, loaded up and ready to go, both bike and rider anxious for my arrival. That’s probably not the case, but that mental picture helps stir me from my bed.

It’s the third day of my vacation, and the first day of a long awaited ride that Charlie and I have been planning for a while now.

A friend of Charlie has a cabin up in Northwestern Montana, hidden from view, tucked away in the wilderness of the Cabinet Mountains. He offered to let us use it, free of charge; we couldn’t say no to that. The plan is to use the cabin as a base camp to explore the Montana backcountry for the next four days.

There shouldn’t be any tourists in this neck of the woods, no paved streets or store front windows filled with bumper stickers and shot glass souvenirs to bring home as trivial evidence that we had once been there, that’s all reserved for places like Glacier National park a couple of hours to the east of where we would be staying.

Our souvenirs will be different.

There’ll be a few days of living with stiff joints and sore muscles and if we play our cards right, we can bring home with us, memories of our experience; endless stories that can be embellished as time passes, the personal accounts of two friends who spent a few days on an expedition through the high country with their motorcycles.

Then again, as motorcyclists/bikers, aren’t these anecdotes a part of our Raison d'ĂȘtre, regardless of what we ride? Yeah, I’m sure that we will have stories to tell afterwards.

But we have to get there first.

I begin by picking items out of the dresser that I’ll need for the ride up north this morning. Socks and a pair of jeans, a faded and yellowing Nike T-shirt that I can’t bring myself to part with just yet and a light sweater to wear under my riding gear. The German shepherd, still laying in her mass of pillows, is awake and completely engaged in what I am doing; she knows something is up.

Shuffling past the bed towards the living room, my clothes tucked under my arm, I give a few clicks of my tongue and in an instant, the dog is out of bed and following me close at my heals, so close that her cold wet nose is poking into my exposed calves; the two of us stumble to the back door to let her out.

A quick bit of “business” and then Flicka races off to the corner of her yard where she left her toy, her “toy” is a basketball sized piece of hard plastic called a Jolly-ball. She loves that Jolly-ball more than she loves those king-size pillows.

Running at a full sprint towards the ball as if it were prey, she hits it with the intensity of a blitzing Running back, driving it into the fence and chasing it around the yard. She is in full frolic now, growling and barking, pushing the ball across the yard with the tip of her nose, something like a seal might do with a beach ball in a pool. Standing there in my early morning head fog, I am amazed at how a dog can go from R.E.M. sleep to full throttle in an instant; God I envy dogs!

Once outside, the darkness that consumed my bedroom a few moments ago is beginning to dwindle. As morning takes over, ominous purple clouds to the north draw my attention. There is a good chance that Charlie and I will get wet at some point today. I won’t get wet, but perhaps my gear will.

With the exception of the camera, tripod and rider, my KLR is loaded up and ready to go. All that’s required of me is to gear up and hit the road.

Gearing up is a basic ritual that takes less than a minute, after that, the sound of dog food hitting a large plastic dish is all that is required to draw Flicka’s attention from her Jolly-ball in the backyard and back into the house.

I give her a German Shepherd sized hug, put her food dish down in front of her and assure her that Nana will be here this afternoon to entertain her for the next few days. One more quick peck on the dog’s forehead and then I head outside to the bike, grabbing my helmet, the camera and tripod from the dining room table on the way out.

With the few remaining items mounted on the bike, I swing my right leg high over the tail-bag, slide the helmet down over my head, thumb the starter and then pull my dragon skin gauntlets over the cuffs of my riding jacket.

Sitting here, waiting for the engine to warm up, I take a moment to think about the ride today. Where I am now, idling in my driveway and where I will end up by days end.

Palouse steps

Charlie and I will be in a very different place from where we began; the dark northern spring wheat blanketing my Palouse country will be replaced with Douglas fir and Tamarack pines and mountains that disappear into the clouds. The air will be heavy with the scent of backcountry pine and the crackle of our campfire will echo beneath the canopy and carry through the forest. Over by the cabin will be our two bikes, resting on their stands, waiting for tomorrow’s ride......... and there will be dirt on their tires.

With the needle on the temperature gauge beginning to rise from its resting pin, I pull in the clutch and toe the transmission into first gear, my KLR is ready to go and so am I.

There is a popular quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu which states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.”

With my front tire pointed north towards Montana and a smooth release of the clutch, this is where my journey begins.

Ride Well


22 July 2009

Help! I need some advice from my two wheeled friends.

So lately my wife has been working alot of evening shifts, and for the past couple months has been carpooling with a male co-worker. At first I didn't mind, I would rather have someone with her in case she has car trouble or something like that, but it seems that they have become a little bit more than friends. You know the scenario, the phone calls that hangup, she starts wearing nice clothes to work, talking about him all the time, etc. I don't know what to think. If I'm out in the garage when she gets home (usually after midnight) he just drops her off and leaves, but if the lights are off in the garage and I'm in the house (they think I'm sleeping) they sit out in the car for like twenty minutes. I asked her once what they were doing, she said "just talking"....whatever. So last night I decide that I'm going to see what really goes on out there. I leave the garage door open, but turn out all the lights. About the time she usually gets home, I go out and hide in the garage and wait. In a few minutes, his car pulls into my driveway, and I'm hiding behind my bike. When his headlights shine through the garage and onto my bike, I see some thing that I just can't believe. The rear sprocket is already worn and hooked but the chain looks OK. Do you think I should change just the sprocket or the chain and sprocket?

This is not my post, I took it from one of the members of a riders forum that I belong to. Some of you may have already read this one, I think that he got it from someone else.

Ride Well and remember to always maintain your chain and sprocket.......if you have one.


19 July 2009

No rest

I can’t seem to stop grinning. All the way home this evening, from Shannon’s house to mine, I couldn’t stop it. Why? Well.........

Montana stream

We’ve been pretty busy lately, Charlie and I. I noticed that he has been as delinquent in his posting as I have. But rest assured, we are both still around and kicking, and riding the wheels off of the bikes. In time, as things slow down, he and I will both have the time to get back to the blogs and the ride reports; I can’t believe that the summer is already half over. It always flies by.

Back to the grinning.

I’ve received more than a few comments and emails in the past few weeks from folks regarding my lack of posts and ride reports and I wanted to be sure to let everyone know that I am currently working on the ride into the wilderness that Charlie and I took about a month ago.

My goal this evening when I got home was to give a quick report on our ride; 600+ miles of Idaho and Montana’s finest wilderness over a four day trip. As I reflected on the trip and how I would report the events, I couldn’t stop grinning. We had a blast.

Our wilderness accomodations

I have a lot to share and in time, I will. I’m just waiting for things to quiet down before I get back to my normal routines.

There will be reports of remote Mountain Vistas, and the wildlife. The back country locals both human and insect and even a report about ear wax (Trying to figure out how to fit that one in tastefully).

One of the locals

There were the frequent challenges of navigating through snow and mud, a flat tire and the subsequent theft of a bicycle pump by yours truly to get back to camp.

I am grinning as I type this.

Charlie navigating yet another flooded road

Hang in there, Charlie and I will both be back as soon as our schedules permit, until then.......

Ride Well


15 June 2009

Into the Wilderness!

Montana High Country

Charlie and I are off! As I type this the KLR is loaded up with gear and we will be in the High Country soon. We'll be exploring the backcountry wilderness of Northwestern Montana near the Canadian border. Reports to follow.

I can't stay and keep posting, it's time to roll!

Ride Well


24 May 2009

Tech day

Tech Day
A unique opportunity presented itself for me and the bike this weekend.

I recently joined a KLR650 forum (there seems to be a forum for just about everything nowadays) and one of the local members hosted an Eastern Washington Tech day in my neck of the woods. I decided that this would be a great opportunity to drop in to meet some of my fellow "KLRistas".

99% of my rides in the past have been mostly solitary; I don't expect many folks to log the non-stop saddle time that I have an addiction for, therefore, most of my rides end up as lonely affairs, just me and the bike and 500 or so miles together before the day is over.

My bike socializing with some of her own breed

I arrived a little late to the tech part of the day, because of this, I missed out on most of the "fun" of watching the various valve and chain adjustments and a couple of doohickey replacements (doohickey:KLR slangterm for the cam chain tensioner or something like that, I'm sure that I will be corrected by somebody on this).

At the end of the day, we took a quick ride south up to the summit of Steptoe butte (big friggin hill in the area).

We did okay for a spell, me and my bike that is, until we got about 15 miles into the ride. I don't know if it's the thousands of miles of solitary time that I am so comfortable with that coaxed me into breaking from the pack of Kawasaki's or the challenge of taking a shortcut to get far enough ahead of the group to buy enough time to dismount, pull out the camera and get a shot of everybody riding together. In the interest of not appearing to be a total social introvert, I will go with the group photo excuse. Whatever the reason, that's what I did and yes I did get stopped and the camera out just in time to get the shot.

The group riding south to Steptoe butte

More of the group

My bike is obviously not quite used to social situations like these just yet, I think that must be why she was sitting a little bit away from the pack.

More pictures of the event can be found on this link


All in all, I had a great time getting together with this group of folks, I would like to thank Joe for hosting the event, it was a fantastic experience to be able to spend the afternoon with a group of riders who all share a common interest. As a lifelong solo rider, I look forward to more days socializing like this and if any of these guys are as stubborn as I am and have developed that special callous (where the sun don't shine) that's neccesary to be able to drain that legendary "ship of the desert" tank two or more times in a single day, you are more than welcome to join me and my bike.

Ride well


03 May 2009

Third gear

I’ve left the city some time ago; I have abandoned the combative motorists and tailgaters, cell phone users and all of the seemingly ubiquitous texting that goes on behind the wheel nowadays.

That’s all a memory but still fresh in my mind, those frustrations are behind me, and I can relax on my country road, riding my bike in a peaceful third gear canter. In only twenty miles, life has slowed down a thousand times; the muscles in my neck are relaxing, the aching conflicts have withdrawn. It’s just me, my bike and the Palouse.

It’s all about to happen. The annual flood of wheatgrass, blanketing countless rolling hills and valleys in a mantle of green; by the end of June, these fields will be waist high with ripening wheat.

Dismounting the bike on the side of a hill, I follow a game trail that leads to a cliff, facing west; looking out, far across the valley, I spot the barn that I took a photo of on Christmas Eve.

There is a sympathetic and cool breeze on my face, climbing up from the valley floor below, carrying with it, the clean scent of fresh soil recently turned over by a farmers plow.

I have returned to my bike to write down these thoughts and decide to stay awhile and decompress a bit more on the side of this hill.

This has been therapeutic; living life in third gear for a spell, the greening fields, and the scent of turned earth carried on the wind.

I believe that I will ride the rest of the way home in third gear as well.

Ride well,
Whatever gear you choose to ride in.


23 April 2009

What can brown do for you?

The U.P.S. guy walks up to my desk a couple of days ago, I think his name is Chris. He knows that I am a pretty active rider and he just bought a Honda CRF450 and likes to share his experiences and ask me questions............I try, the best that I can, to answer intelligently.

At any rate Chris walks up to my desk with a smirk on his face and said, “You looked pissed!”
Confused, I reply, “What are you talking about?”
“I found your blog, and the picture of you on your profile, dude you look pissed off!”

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to place a picture in my profile, I don’t know why, to be friendly I guess. It never occurred to me that I appeared brooding or sullen. Truth is I took that picture last summer at the tail end of a 14 hour ride that took me into the Idaho wilderness in 95 degree weather. Go ahead, you spend 14 straight hours in the saddle of a KLR and step off grinning. I always thought that the picture was a look of contentment, what do I know.

It had been about a week since the U.P.S. driver made that observation about my picture and every time I came over to my little blog here, I thought of what he said. “What can brown do for you?” Well it can give you a little bit of a complex, if you let it. I decided that I should do something about it, lest you folks think any less of my brooding mug shot. I loaded the camera on the bike this weekend and took off into the Palouse to get a picture of myself that was a little more apropos to my personality. I’m really not a bad guy.

So here you have it Chris, a self portrait, Mr. Thomas in the flesh himself. I hope this mug doesn’t scare you off. I think I’ll beat U.P.S. to the punch and say that I look Sanguine not Sullen. I’m not exactly a pretty face so this is the best that your gonna get, and yes that is my girl in the background waiting for me.

Mr. Thomas

Ride Well


18 April 2009

The Long way home in the soft April rain

With the clouds in the sky not looking nearly as threatening as the weatherman had warned on the morning news, I decided that I would ride the bike to the Gym on Sunday.

I had been without my girl for a couple of weeks while Kawasaki resolved a few of her recall issues (Wiring Harness and Muffler bolts and such) and had felt a strong desire to make up for the lost time with her, whether it meant riding in the cold driving rain or not.

The ride to the Gym on Sunday afternoon was a non-eventful highway ride under cloudy skies. When I arrived, a girl who was walking to her car queried as to whether or not it was a little too cold to be riding today...........I assured her that it was not.

With the workout done and suited back up, I decided to take the long way back home, the clouds had just begun to spit a little, but it wasn't the toadstrangler that the forecasters had warned me about earlier in the day.

"The long way" consists of mainly 20 or so miles of country dirt roads wandering through the more remote areas of the Palouse country; an occasional farm every few miles and that is about it, very little traffic.

There was a building that I had ridden by on this route once before, I didn't have my camera at the time and had promised myself to visit the building at sometime in the future so that I could take a few pictures. Today was a good day for that.

Originally, I had mistaken the building as a church, upon my return, I believe now that it was once a schoolhouse.

Built at the crossroads of two dirt roads deep in the Palouse, I was left to wonder what this area was like when it was originally built. Considering how remote it's location is, the building is huge.

Schoolhouse maybe?
Notice the radius walls, there were no home centers back when this structure was built, I imagine that there were no power tools at the time either. As a carpenter, I was impressed with the attention to detail and the apparent pride that these folks displayed in their craftsmanship.
The Belfry at the top of the structure. This building, whatever it was, once had a voice.
After shooting a number of pictures, I stayed awhile and kept the building company and imagined what this place must have been like, back when the structure was in it's prime.
We parted ways a few moments later and I rode the rest of the way home navigating the quiet backroads of the Palouse in the soft April rain.
Ride Well

09 April 2009

Backroads near Canada/Northeastern Washington State

29 March 2009

Mr. Leonard's Big Round Barn

The view outside my front window this morning

I wish I had a ride that I took this weekend to share with you, but I don’t. You see, outside my window, it’s snowing.....................again. The endless winter it seems. It’s all just as well I suppose; if the weather was perfect, I would be lamenting the fact that I don’t have a bike to ride this weekend anyways.

The Kawasaki is in the shop getting some recall work done.
The 2008 KLR was discovered to have a flaw in the layout of its wiring harness causing it to wear against parts of the frame and over time, internally hemorrhage its electrons. I experienced this event on Friday. Reflecting back on the moment, I must confess that it’s rather unsettling, the sound that can come from the depths of one’s stomach, when they first smell and then observe an acrid black smoke belching from behind the gauge bezel of their love.

A frenzied removal of the windscreen revealed the source of the fault. The wiring harness leading to the Temperature gauge and Tachometer rubbed against a part of the hardware that supports the headlight/fairing assembly, cutting first through the loom and then insulation eventually exposing the copper conductor.

So there she sits this weekend, in the service bay of the local Kawasaki dealership, stripped down to her frame and gutted. The entrails of her wiring harness resting in the bottom of a recycling bin in the corner of the shop. Ughhh, I’d rather not think about it. So let’s talk about something else.

Last week, Webster’s world commented on the photo of the round barn that I currently have on the side bar of this site. While I don’t have a complete history of the barn, I do know a little about its past, and I suppose that while this brief post about the barn is not necessarily related to motorcycles, I did take that picture while I was on a ride to the seven devils area of Idaho.

What I know.

I first learned of the existence of the barn when PBS ran a small piece about it in “A Northwest Minute”.

The barn stands just east of the town of Pullman, home of Washington State University and the WSU Cougars, all of you Oregon Ducks fans out there know of the place. It was built by T.A. Leonard, a local farmer sometime between the years of 1914 and 1917.

What I thought was most interesting about its design was explained in the PBS interview with the now elderly daughter of T.A. Leonard. She explained that even though she was just a little girl at the time, she could remember her father insisted that his barn should stand out from all of the others in the area, that is also why the barn was painted green instead of the ubiquitous red; all in the interest of originality, I think I would have liked this old T.A. Leonard fellow.
Mr. Leonards Big Round Barn

I am not sure of the height but it is a twelve sided structure with a 60’ diameter.

The Daughter went on to explain in the interview that the barn has been somewhat of a celebrity in the Palouse ever since. For as long as she can remember, folks have been stopping in front of her father’s farm and taking pictures of the structure, “That’s been going on ever since it was built.” I thought of that quote while I was standing in the center of that country lane last July taking my picture of the barn.

I shot the picture at about 6:30 in the morning, I remember a dog protesting my company from somewhere on the property. I decided that out of respect, I would keep my distance and appreciate the building from the roadside. I didn’t stay long, the dog’s continued disapproval was sure to bother somebody eventually, this must happen to these folks all of the time.

The barn was restored about 10 years ago by the current owners who felt that it would be a tragedy if the aging barn were to succumb on their watch, they are good stewards, the barn is in beautiful condition.

If I remember correctly from the PBS interview, the farm was originally a dairy farm back when T.A. Leonard owned it; the current owners raise Llamas.

The average "T.A. Leonard era" farm on the Palouse

As I rode away that morning heading south for the mountains of Idaho, I thought of Mr. Leonard and his desire for his dairy barn to be different, a singular green structure that would stand out from his neighbors. I also thought of the current owners and the responsibility they felt to preserve Mr. Leonard’s building and the new peculiar looking livestock that was being raised there.

Palouse Country July, 2008

Riding south into the Palouse, observing the slant of the morning sun raking off of the rolling buttes and spilling into the valleys and the strength of its ray’s already penetrating my riding gear at this early hour, I knew that it was going to be a hot one that day.

“Llama’s on a dairy farm.” I thought of this oddity for a spell in between my early morning hunger pangs and thoughts of breakfast in Lewiston. I don’t know if T.A. Leonard had ever seen a Llama back in those days, let alone entertain that thought of raising such a peculiar breed on his farm. But in the interest of peculiarity, I believe Mr. Leonard would have approved.

Ride Well


24 March 2009

Charlie finally got a motorcycle!

Finally!! After all of these years and who knows how many Ford Mustangs (I’ve lost count), Charlie has finally come to his senses and bought a road (and trail) worthy motorcycle! If you get the chance, hop on over to his site here and say “Hey!”

In addition to his posts about his work, I can expect more riding reports and observations from his blog in the future from now on. Personally, I think that he should name his blog with a motorcycle slant; I don’t know maybe “Two wheeled Charlie” or “Charlie Two wheels?”.................nah those are both a little upsetting. If you visit his site, maybe you can come up with something a little more creative than that and leave a comment. Trust me, he has a sense of humor, even though he packs a gun and taser for a living, I doubt that he would use it on any one of us......................well, maybe the taser, I'm not sure.

KLR anyone?

That's Charlies bike on the left (reminiscent of Gary Charpentier's frogwing I believe) and of course that's mine on the right looking like baby huey with it's tall windscreen and aluminum bags (post coming up in the future on the new saddlebags). We took the two bikes out last Saturday for a quick ride to the valley so that I could buy a Montana backroads atlas for some upcoming rides into the high backcountry this summer.

Be sure to stop by and finally welcome him to the wonderful world of motorcycling...............finally!

Ride Well


21 March 2009

Beware!! The Vampire Duck!!!

I always kind of wondered if anyone ever noticed the URL to this blog, at least one person did. A couple of weeks ago, Fasthair had wondered in a post, how I came up with the name “the vampire duck” for my blog site. I wish that I had an interesting story to tell here, but I don’t. Anyways, here’s the story.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was thumbing through a box full of my old notebooks that dated back to when he and I were in High School. They were filled with random entries and thoughts that I had written down over the years, basically my own version of journaling, if you want to call it that.
Some of the entries were just one line sentences while others were fairly long essays, some were a little poetic, and some were total nonsense, and then there were a few others that I kind of found myself a little impressed that such thoughts ever tripped out of my head and fell onto a piece of paper.

At some point he suggested that I should try blogging.
I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about so naturally, I googled it. That’s how I came across “blogger.com.”

It was during the registration process while I was creating my blog that I had to come up with an original domain name for my site. What I thought were original names, all turned out to be taken by someone more original than me. A little annoyed with this, I thought, “what interests me that most people wouldn’t have a clue about.” Vampire ducks of course! “Blogger.com” seemed to agree with my request and the domain name was accepted. So what in the world is a vampire duck? In a nutshell “Duckula”. Okay, so what in the world is a Duckula?

photo taken from Wikipedia

Duckula was a wonderful (to me at least) adult humor British cartoon that aired back in the late 80’s. I never got too offended when some folks confessed to not understanding the humor, for me, I thought that it was brilliant and to this day it ranks right up there with “The Big Lebowski” for its ability to make me giggle like stoner from beginning to end (You don’t have to be a stoner to giggle like one, you'll just have to trust me on this).

I have to admit that I have tendency to play out in right field a little too deep; most folks don’t always quite “get me”........ I’m okay with that.

When I originally created this blog, I didn’t know really what I wanted to do with it, so I spent about a year looking at other blogsites and found that I really enjoyed visiting the motorcycle blogs, all of them, from the scooter sites to the ones that focused on the big American Iron. That’s when I decided to focus this site, “thevampireduck” on motorcycles and my own personal experiences and changed the name to “Two Wheels and an Engine”.

Since then, I have created another site, kind of a ghost site at the moment. Currently it is used as an experimental place where I can try different things, a learning tool of sorts that if I totally screw things up, I can always start over and try something else. Kind of like a parts car that I brainstorm with. Not surprisingly, I named that site “Duckspotting”; can you see a trend here?

I’ve been considering opening that site up and using it as a conduit to some of my other interests, things like my recent curiosity in photography and for some of my non-motorcycle related posts (I journal about all sorts of things, that tends to happen when you play deep right field). Well see, I’ll keep you posted.

So you see, in a nutshell, “the vampire duck” has nothing to do with motorcycles and more to do with a glimpse of one the peculiar interests of a motorcyclist who likes to play the outfield a little deeper than most might be used to.

Ride Well


01 March 2009

Wild Geese that fly with the moon on their wings

In the April 2009 issue of Rider magazine, nine staffers revealed their favorite goodies that they just couldn’t do without when they rode. I thought that it was interesting their differences of preference. This morning, for some reason or another, I woke up thinking about my favorite things. Here’s a list of them.

Heated gear- When I moved out here from the East Coast to the Inland Northwest almost twenty years ago, I thought that heated clothing was for the older and somewhat retired set of riders who just couldn’t handle a little bit of a chill from time to time.

It was on a midnight ride in the middle of June while riding from Spokane Washington to Bozeman Montana that I had an epiphany. It can get really cold out here in this neck of the woods even in the middle of summer. The temperature on the truck stop sign confirmed this, 36˚ in the middle of June!

Out here on the Palouse, it is not uncommon for the temperatures to linger somewhere in the 40’s all summer long during my early morning commute. Heated gear makes all the difference. My electric vest only takes up a fraction of the space in my bags compared to the clothing that I would need to otherwise stow when I wasn’t trying to stay warm.

My personal choice is the Tourmaster Synergy vest with the heated collar. I prefer this over my old Eclipse because I have a choice of temperature settings. When the temperature is in the 40’s, I keep it on the lowest setting, but if the ride is long or drops lower than that, I can always turn up the heat.

Turtle Fur- This is nothing more than a tube of fleece about six or seven inches in width that protects the exposed portion of my neck between my jacket and helmet, it cost less than $10 at Cycle Gear and has been well worth the investment. I always make sure that this simple little piece of fabric is in my bags before I go anywhere. If you don’t have one of these things, I recommend trying one out. For only $10, trust me, you’ll get your money’s worth. You’d be surprised the difference a warm neck makes.

Storage- My bike is one of my main sources of transportation (if I lived in a warmer climate, I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were my only source). Because of this, I need storage and quite a bit of it.

Recently, I discarded my old KLR soft saddle bags and Charlie and I installed a new pair of Aluminum touring boxes from www.klr650.com. Now I have a secure place to stow my belongings without having to worry about any dismal creature that possesses the ability to manipulate a zipper to rifle through my stuff whenever I am away from the bike.

Storage makes all the difference on a daily rider.

G.P.S/Delorme charts- My riding takes me to some pretty remote places and 9/10’s of the time I don’t know exactly where I’m at, and I prefer that. When I need to find my way out, even the most basic G.P.S. when used with one of my Delorme charts will tell me exactly where I am. I’ve given a lot of thought about buying something with an on screen map, but for my type of riding in the wilderness, the limited information that I would receive wouldn’t be sufficient.

All I really need are Coordinates and a chart, with my background in aviation, I am very comfortable with Pilotage and Dead Reckoning, I don’t need arrows telling me to turn left or right and in the wilderness I don’t think they would work well anyways.

I’ve been lost in a lot of big cities before; in that case a product like a Garmin Zumo would be a perfect tool. But most of the places I ride, I am not limited to paved roads and right angles and to quote Martha, “that’s a good thing.”

Tire Repair Kit- I never go into the wilderness without one of these; it’s a long walk out, enough said. It should be noted that one should know how to use one of these as well.

So there you have it, my list of Favorite things. I’m curious now, what are some of your favorite things.

Ride Well


07 February 2009

Call me Ishmael

I’m still here.

January has been an exercise in trying to remain occupied with various tasks around the house. Tasks that take my mind off of the inevitable fact that it is still winter, as a result, this is one of the first times that I’ve approached my computer since my last post.

There have been changes that Charlie and I have made to my KLR, changes that I’ll post in the future. Most of my time for the past month, my two wheeled activities have involved planning things that I would like to do this year on the bike.

Here are some of the things that I have been scheming.

1. Never been to Moab, I’d like to say that I have.........we’ll see.
2.More camping this year, considering that I didn’t do any last year.
I live at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains, it shouldn’t be that hard. Anywhere from Priest lake to the Seven devils will do just fine.
3.After writing my previous post, I think that a trip back to the Jefferson valley and a very special time in my childhood is in order. I feel that I will fail to describe in words what is like there, pictures are in order.
4.Aftermarket pipe, possibly. Nothing too loud though.

I’ve been stealing away on the occasional weekend ride here and there. The weather has been too dramatic to brave commuting to work just yet. Weekend rides help, but honestly, they are not enough. I’m getting moody.

The other night, I was reading some Herman Melville before bed, I read this passage that I felt accurately reflected my mood, I’d like to share it here; perhaps it’ll strike a chord with you as well.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago-never mind how long precisely-having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people’s hats off, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Lines from Moby Dick.

I think that pretty much sums it up for me............hold onto your hats when you see me approaching; you’ve been warned.

The other evening, on my commute home, I noticed a lone bare spot in a wheat field that was predominately covered with snow, in that spot, was a patch of green. The first evidence of the approach of spring! The next morning on my return to work, I searched for this small patch of early wheat, but found it covered with a dusting of snow that had fallen over night. That’s alright, I can’t see it, but I know it's there.

Riding season 2009 is getting near. I can almost taste it!

For those of you who have been able to cast off from the depressing “Shores of winter” and return to the sea, Ride Well, I envy you.

As for me, my ship is just about ready to raise her sails once again!