Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Rode a Harley in Ketchican, Alaska...

...and, (not to brag, just stating the facts) managed to stay upright the entire time!
We had seen an article for motorcycle tours in Ketchican way back in spring, right after we had booked our cruise. Oh, it sounded so enticing. So, we called up Panhandle Motorcycle Tours and booked two Harleys for September 17th. I talked to Mary on the phone, telling her how short I am, and she told me that they had just gotten in a Super Low that would be perfect for me.
I tried not to think about it too much in the days prior, just enjoyed our cruise. But, the day we decked in Ketchican, the butterflies began. We walked down the street a few short blocks to scope out the place, and then walked around the town a bit. A quick bite for lunch and back to the shop.
This is where fear really kicked in. Our tour guide, Shannon, showed me the bike: a lovely, shiny, new, blue Super Low. It looked and felt so much heavier than my Suzuki. While we waited for the other couple on the tour, I kept getting off and on the bike, rocking it back and forth to feel the weight. And, I grew more and more afraid. I did not want to make a fool of myself. Didn't want to drop the bike and scratch up the beautifully polished chrome.
Then, in came the other couple, right off their ship. They were wearing leathers (hers had fringe) and he had those little goggles Harley riders like to wear. In other words, they knew what they were doing. And, I felt even worse.
I came very close to backing out and just riding pillion with Doug. But, we had already paid our money. So, I was going to take my chances... One of my goals in life these days is to not let fear have the better of me; I knew that if I didn't even try, I'd be very disappointed in myself later.
So, we geared up and I faced my very first challenge: getting out on to the street. As you can see in the photo, the shop is right on the street. There was no place to get used to the bike by taking a few turns around the parking lot. No, it was get in gear and BAM! you're instantly on the road and in traffic. (Behind the shop is a cruise ship; this street is literally on the water, as the the back of the shop is over the harbor.)

I managed to get out on the street with only a few wobbles. We made our way through town, rather slowly, as the street was narrow and there were pedestrians from the ships all over. It didn't take too long to get out of town, as Ketchican is not very big, and we were on the open road. I tried valiantly to keep up with Doug and Shannon, who were in front of me, and not be a danger to the couple behind me by splatting myself all over the pavement in front of them.
Our first stop was at this inlet, which leads to a fish hatchery.

We walked out on this little bridge to get a look down at the stream.

It was filled, and I mean filled, with pink salmon. If they were to hold still, you could have walked over the stream on their backs, there were that many and they were that close. But, at a closer look, it was not so idyllic. They were all headed upstream to spawn. And, do you know what happens when salmon spawn? Yep. They die. So, scattered along the banks and the rocks were dead, dying, decaying fish. It stunk.

The birds liked the easy pickins'.

We got on the bikes and headed back the way we had come, stopping at an overlook.

These are the bikes that Doug and I rode, parked across from our lookout point.

Back on the bikes to head through town and out a ways on the other side. Shannon gave us a choice: either through town at rush hour (it was now 5 o'clock) and lots of stop-and-go traffic, or up through the neighborhoods. Did I mention that Ketchican is bascially on a hillside? Do you know that Long Beach is flat? And, if you think a stick shift car is difficult on hills...
So, of course, we took the hilly route... Yikes! But, I got through it.
Once out on the highway, it was wonderful. Our route took us along the coast for a while and then through a forest. Shannon was taking us to a beautiful little stream and waterfall in a state park.

Once again, the stream was full of salmon in their death throes. In the never-to-be-forgotten words of my darling daughter: "Nature is NOT nice."

Back the way we came a bit, until we turned off to this little harbor. Shannon has a boat that he keeps here, and he knew some of the fishermen.

These men had just come in with a very nice catch.

Back on the road, heading to Potlach Park, which is a totem pole studio/museum/gift shop. The parking lot was gravel, like most of our stops, so Shannon once again helped me turn the bike around. A heavy bike on gravel + an inexperienced rider = a dropped bike. So, we avoided that.

And, then back to town. The ride back was gorgeous. The sun was setting, the air was crisp, and the aroma of the sea and the cedar trees was nearly overpowering. We did get stopped for road contruction, and I was getting a little nervous about getting back to the boat on time. (Our tour had started at 3, and it was now nearly 7, and we were sailing at 7:30.)
I didn't even TRY to get the bike into the garage, but once again let Shannon take over. But, I got to the curb, put the kickstand down, turned the bike off, and breathed a huge, happy sign of relief.

Doug and I high-tailed it down the street to the ship, more giddy than is seemly for two middle-aged people. We went to the main dining room for dinner and we both had a glass of wine. To celebrate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Azusa Canyon

For weeks now, ever since talking with our neighbor, Jeremy, The Male has been itching to ride up to Azusa Canyon, in the San Gabriel Mountains. This past Saturday seemed like as good a day as any, so off we went.

I'm still not up to freeway riding, mainly because of the vibration at higher speeds. (More about that later.) So, that meant we had to get there via city streets. I wouldn't recommend it! It's grueling to ride that far with the traffic and the constant stop and go of the traffic signals.

It is a total of 41 miles from Long Beach to the reservoir where we turned around, and we went up the canyon road only about 5 miles. The views were lovely; we stopped at an overlook, looking down at the water. The only sounds were occasional cars and crotch rockets out for their zippy ride up the canyon.

We had a quick snack, I took some photos, and we headed back home.

A little ways into the ride back, my bike cut out starting out from a stop light (One of the 17,000 between here and there.) There were cars behind me, frustrated I'm sure at this woman who thinks she can ride a motorcycle. I got it going after the second try ---- whew!!!--- and I pulled into the first gas station I could find, a little shaken. We filled up the tank, and then when Doug started the ST, his battery was dead.

Oh, I prayed. He had mistakenly left the engine on while refueling my bike. We didn't panic, at least not too much, waited a bit, and Oh, Glory, it started up. We made it home without further mechanical incident.

Going down Beach Blvd. we were stopped at a light (sigh), with me just a bit off The Male's rear tire, when a big Harley pulled up next to me. I turned to get a look, and I see it's another woman! A very clean-cut, lipsticked, beanie-helmeted, jean-and-t-shirt biker chick! Really, she could have been a lawyer. She gave me a big smile and a nod and rode off into the sunset. I'm in the club now.

As for the vibration in my hands and feet, it seems that the new grips are just the ticket for my hands. I got a new pair of boots this week, too, and with their rubber soles, that should be much more comfortable. I have been wearing a pair of non-riding shortie boots I've had for years. Their hard soles don't dampen the vibration much. I'm hoping to convince The Male that a ride out the 22 to Cook's Corner is just the ticket for our next outing.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Catching Up

Well, despite the lack of blog postings in the past weeks, I have been out and about.
We took a 51-mile journey from Long Beach around the Palos Verdes peninsula, via Pacific Coast Highway. It wasn't terrible! Actually, once we got off PCH and on to the road that circles Palos Verdes, it was a lovely ride. We had beautiful views of the ocean and Catalina Island. We took a break at a lookout point for a quick snack and to give my hands a break.
On the way home, we took the 110 for a few miles, until my hands went to sleep from the vibration. Yikes! We got off ASAP, and I killed the bike at the stop sign at the bottom of the off-ramp, due to my hands not functioning.
We got off on a little side street, I shook off the needles, and we got back on PCH for the rest of the way home.
Soon after, The Male ordered me a set of vibration-reduction hand grips, with a throttle rocker, a little platform that enables you to control speed by pressing it with your palm. I call them my "old-lady grips." Now, I'm just waiting for my new boots with the rubber soles, which will hopefully cut the vibration to my feet. That vibration at higher speeds is the main reason I am steering clear of the freeways for now.
And, then to continue the tradition of holiday rides, we went out on Memorial Day, too. Friends had invited us to their annual Memorial Day Pool Party and BBQ, the The Male decided we should ride there.
So, we packed up the saddle bags with clothes to change into (from riding gear) and our picnic food to share and barbecue, and bungee-strapped our folding lawn chairs to the ST's back seat. Which we discovered, isn't a good idea, as the chairs stuck out on either side of the bike in direct line with his rear view mirrors.
I tried to sneak in and out without drawing too much attention to the fact that we had ridden our bikes there. But, all that was thwarted as we were leaving and a friend made an announcement, " Hey, they're leaving; let's go watch."
I was just praying that if we dilly-dallied around long enough they would all go back inside, which almost succeeded. We had trouble getting our headsets synced, and all but three of my friends went back to the action. As soon as I started my bike, three heads popped up from behind a truck.
At least I didn't drop it on my way out...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Our Graduation, of Sorts

This past Saturday, we headed back down to Oceanside for another session with Dorothy and Garry, our riding coaches. The weather was gorgeous!
We met at the DMV for some slow-speed drills: straight line, figure 8s, hill drills, and weaving. I will admit, I was quite rusty at first. It's been over a month since I've been on my bike (between one or the other of us being sick and the SoCal rainy season), and it showed. But, Dorothy and Garry are great coaches, very patient and encouraging.
After about an hour or so, they conferred and decided that we were ready for the open road. Yippee!
We drove back to their house and enjoyed just talking motorcycles for a bit, especially after seeing their stable. Nice!
Then it was time to saddle up. Garry got out his bike, Doug rode Frank, and I took little Ruby, and off we went. First, through the quiet streets of their neighborhood, single file to avoid car doors and kids. Then, off for farther reaches. It was so fun!
But, after the power of my bike, poor little Ruby really struggled. I had to twist and twist and twist the throttle to get up to 50-55mph. And, then the foot pegs vibrated so much that I couldn't leave my feet on them! Not good. Fortunately, we didn't spend too much time at freeway speed.
Here we are stopping for a stretch break and a little instruction on curves. As you can see, it couldn't have been a more lovely day.
Then, it was back on the bikes and through the hills. This is what riding should be! No stoplights every block, no multiple lanes filled with cars merging, andwithout the traffic of the greater LA area.
It was so much fun.
After about an hour and a half, and 35 miles, we were back at Dorothy and Garry's.
We both feel that we probably don't need to go back for more practice on their bikes. But, when we have the stamina, we'd like to ride ours down and have them give us some instruction particular to our bikes.
We got back in the car and were stunned to find that it was 6pm! We had started at the DMV a little after 1. No wonder we were exhausted by the time we got home!
I HIGHLY recommend riding coaches for new riders, especially women. Motorcycles can be so intimidating and so can the guys riding them, and lessons go a long way in gaining confidence. It certainly has been true for me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Bike Ride and Ice Cream: A Winning Combination

So, a few Sundays ago, The Male decided he needed a trip to the barber's and enticed me along with the promise of a stop at our favorite little ice cream shop. It's privately owned by a family with roots in Mexico, and all their ice cream is hand-made in the Mexican tradition. It is incredibly delicious. I'd go out in my jammies for ice cream at this place. It is that good.

This was actually our second ride there. Two weeks earlier, we also suited up, skipping the stop at the barber's though, and took three flavors to a friend for her birthday. That was great fun.

The flavors are so different: sweet potato, tamarind, guava, and more. They also have paletas, Mexican fruit popsicles, both with and without cream. They are a delicious treat in the summer. We usually bring a cooler along to keep everything cold until we get home, but we've discovered that saddlebags are a good substitute.

I think these trips were a milestone for me. The ride is just far enough to be challenging, but not so far as to be risky. There are enough traffic distractions to keep me alert, but not so much as to make myself a danger. We also had to stop at the gas station both trips, which was great practice in tight maneuvering.

Hummm.... I wonder what the weather will be like tomorrow afternoon? Perhaps I can convince The Male he needs another hair cut....

Safely at the barber's.

The mileage from the gas station, which is about a mile from our house.

La Flor de Mexico; go get some ice cream there right now. Seriously, they need your business!