Postcards from Kangolia

As I rode to work in this month of December, the temperature hovered in the mid-thirties. A full moon ahead of me, the sun rising over my shoulder, I can see the winter colors telling me we’re a few months away from the smell of Spring. Wait, do colors have a smell?

While the miles tick by on my commute, my mind wondered to spending longer days in the saddle and more consistent temperatures to ride every day. I’ve ridden many winters on my Harley’s but this winter I’m on my BMW GS. The view is different as the seat is higher, but my wishes of warmer weather will always be the same. I wonder what trips are in store for me in 2020?

I also just finished reading Ted Simon’s book Jupiter’s Travels for the third time, and as always, it makes me realize there is so much more world out there and at the same time, the world is such a small place. Heck, there are a few places and roads in Kansas that I have yet to see, so I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kansas/Mongolia. Kangolia.

I’m not real sure a trip through Mongolia is on my schedule for 2020. As I ride across the prairies of my home state, maybe I’ll just pretend I’m there. Kangolia.

I know, the modern day convenience of gas stations, fast-food restaurants and manicured roads can leave a lot to the imagination, but you know what? It’s the people. The people you meet and engage with are the true sights and sounds of an epic ride. Even with that dramatic scenery we all crave, and those lonely miles in the saddle where I find I do my best thinking, it’s those faces and the conversations I remember. The handshake or wave, sharing a connection with locals that always ends with a smile. That’s what Ted Simon speaks of and it’s so true. Even in my home country or my home state of Kansas. The motorcycle I’m on is a way of introducing me to perfect strangers.

While my dreams of riding around the world may never happen, it’s just nice knowing those that share the same feelings of adventure with me. Whether through print or video, or even in person, I know the experience is real, the people are real and the landscape is worth the ride.

While the riding this time of year leaves me longing for a big ride through vast territory, I’ll settle for whatever the weather will allow. Short days and shorter trips are enough for now.

Motorcycle Mentor

For early December, the weather was looking good. I had a list of things to do but mostly I just wanted to go ride my motorcycle. So in the early afternoon I put on my gear and took off, not sure of the direction I was headed I mostly wanted to put some miles on. Feeling guilty at first because walls won’t paint themselves, I hesitated but quickly got over that feeling as I rode off.

It felt good to get out. The weather hasn’t been the best but I figured an hour or so on the bike is what I needed to sort my thoughts. I hadn’t been on Humboldt Creek road for a while so I headed East towards Alta Vista to take Humboldt back North towards Junction City. I figured a big loop finding my way back home was a good bet.

It’s funny how the same road can look different based on direction, the time of year and the time of day. How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing during any particular season can make a familiar road feel different. This was one of those rides.

How the light casts shadows and the specific colors nature is wearing any particular season can make a familiar road feel different.

After a quick ride on the scenic Humboldt Creek road, I ended up at a park to take a minute and enjoy the afternoon. I pulled up and laughed at myself for hitting the kill switch to shut my bike off. I don’t normally shut the bike down this way, and for some reason I did – even wondering why I would do that. Oh well, I’m getting older and I do weird stuff some times.

While sitting there admiring the side view of my BMW GS from about 30 feet away, a couple of kids rode up on their bikes. As I sat there on the bench I remembered how I was at 10 or 12 years old, riding my bike and dreaming of owning a motorcycle. I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.

I noticed one of the boys kept looking at my bike as they were horsing around and I was sure he too had an interest like I did in motorized two-wheel motion. I smiled at the thought.

I’m sure it was only a few moments as all of these thoughts ran through my head. Then, out of nowhere, it appears this boy is coming over to talk to me. At first, I thought what shall I say? Is this my chance to influence a young man who shows some interest in how motorcycles can change your life? Am I up to it? And how cool would it be to bump into him in 10 years on some lonesome highway where he recognizes me and says “hey, you were the one who got me into motorcycling.” How strange, I was just thinking this and now he’s 20 feet away and closing.

12 year old boy; Hey mister, is that your bike?

Me; Yes, it is.

Now keep in mind, my brain is clicking along faster than the conversation. I’m anticipating where this is going and I’m trying to be helpful and attentive to his questions because after all, this is my chance! For the last 20 minutes or so, while I’ve been sitting on this bench, this boy has admired my motorcycle. Now he’s mustered up his courage to come over to ask what it’s like to be wild and free on two wheels. Pay attention Jeff!

12 year old boy; Your headlight is on.

57 year old me; Hey, thanks…

When I pulled up and hit the kill-switch, I forgot to turn the key off. That usually happens to new riders – and guys like me just trying to enjoy a ride in December. For 20 minutes or so my key was on while I admired the profile of my motorcycle in the afternoon light. Thanks kid, for letting me know. As I got up and walked over to my bike, the boys climbed on theirs and took off. I guess they already know what it’s like to be wild and free on two-wheels.

Bring It On

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And just like that, 2016 is behind us. Last year when I wrote Mind Over Matter I made some generic resolutions, much like everyone else around me – to eat better, exercise, appreciate stuff and be nice to others, blah, blah, blah. You know, like we’re supposed to do anyway. Well, I did some of those things except for the exercise and eating right. There’s just something about food…and furniture, that keeps getting in the way. This year I’ll try, I promise.

This was a year to remember for sure. I actually hooked up with three fellows from across the ocean and rode with them on their epic journey across the U.S. My part of it had me riding through Kansas and sharing some of the fine roadside attractions such as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. The Ride 50 at 50 crew of David, Adrian and Andrew made me feel welcome and not only took me in as one of their own, I also made some lifelong friends in the process. Thank you fellows! We also discovered Blip Roasters in Kansas City and Ian welcomed us with open arms as well.

But I did ride my motorcycle to the east coast.  A trip that came together at the last minute, it was something I didn’t think I would accomplish any time in the near future – but it happened. Along with the regular trip to Sturgis, it was a month full of miles and smiles. Somewhere in the mix I mamaged a ride out to Colorado Springs and that, combined with the usual commute to work, added up to a lot of miles. It was nice to get my head cleared a bit and see some different scenery. You know the kind, where although you’ve never been there it all looks eerily the same but just different enough to keep you wondering “have I been here before?”

You know the kind, where although you’ve never been there it all looks eerily the same but just different enough to keep you wondering “have I been here before?”

It’s hard to believe that we’re entering the year 2017. If I still wrote checks this would be that awkward time when every check for the next thirty days or so would have the wrong year written in and then scratched over with a 7. But that doesn’t happen any more.

So instead of making some other humorous resolutions for this coming year, I’m going to turn the tables around and challenge you to a few;

Be nice to a stranger. Not in the sense of just being a decent human being, but to actually put out the effort and engage with people you don’t know. This is easy for me as I don’t have a problem interacting with folks I don’t know.

Believe in yourself, and have the confidence that you can. Because when you believe the rest will come.

Take a moment for yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in everything around you, focusing on the needs of others and it’s easy to forget about stopping to breathe it all in.

Remember those we’ve lost, but also share that precious time we have with those standing around us.

Happy New Year!

Drop It Like It’s Heavy

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Some days. I guess not every day can start out with birds singing, the sun shining and a rainbow over your shoulder. This morning as I pushed my 890 pound motorcycle out of the garage, I almost dropped it. In a mad, desperate attempt I actually prevented it from hitting the deck. Oddly enough, earlier this week at work I caught another bike I was moving around from falling over. This is hard on an old man like me. Dropping my keys and then bending over to pick them up is difficult enough, but stopping a heavy motorcycle pulled towards hell by the earth’s gravity is not something I want to do everyday.

Dropping my keys and then bending over to pick them up is difficult enough, but stopping a heavy motorcycle pulled towards hell by the earth’s gravity is not something I want to do everyday.

So as a true motorcyclist, I shook it off, climbed on board and headed off to work. About a mile out-of-town as I settled in for my ride I actually smiled at my cat-like reflexes and superhuman strength. I laughed out loud at my own humor and down the road I went. The next few miles were very pleasant as the weather this morning was comfortable and the sky cloudy. My thoughts wandered about the trip to Sturgis, whether or not I was going to get wet in either direction for my morning commute and how all the cattle bunched up in the corner of the field are all shaking their heads at me because it’s going to rain.

So about halfway to work I stop at the stop sign at Skiddy West RD and highway 77 to wait on a car. Listening to the radio I was somewhat distracted but not so much that I wouldn’t wait on a car to pass. As I pulled out onto the highway heading north, I shifted up through the gears and set the cruise control letting my mind wander some more.

 I had my listening hat on trying to diagnose the strange sounds coming from between my legs.

I don’t know what it is about the weeks before a big trip, but I tend to get a little paranoid with my bike making unusual sounds and acting weird knowing I have some miles to travel. Weird noises or a slight hesitation may not bother me otherwise, but this morning the motor was making way more noise than usual. for the next 7 miles, I had my listening hat on trying to diagnose the strange sounds coming from between my legs. Approaching the construction zone just south of I-70 I kicked off the cruise and started down-shifting to prevent an expensive speeding ticket. It was then I realized I just rode those last few miles at 70 miles an hour with the cruise set while in fourth gear. Yeah, it’s going to be a good day.

 

Smoke’em if You Got’em

Living in the great state of Kansas, we go through a period in the Spring when farmers and ranchers burn pastures because it’s been proven to release nutrients into the ground, which help revitalize the prairie. It’s also a great method of brush and weed control. I love watching the fires at dusk as they give off a glow, reflecting off the smoke as it rises above the pasture. Beautiful.

But it is a little different when you pass by while riding a motorcycle. By the time I get home, I feel as if I’ve smoked a pack of Camel cigarettes with no filter. In my mind, I’m the well-dressed guy in the smoking lounge wearing my leather Harley-Davidson jacket as my Biltwell Helmet traps the smoke against my face. No second-hand smoke here folks. First-hand and fresh.

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I’m always glad when I pull over and become a participant in this thing called life. It sure beats just being an observer.

I’m always talking about how riding puts us bikers smack dab in the middle of the elements. Rain, wind and temperature swings are the most common elements I deal with but wild animals, debris and of course smoke can make any ride more interesting. While we spend our rides hoping for a babbling brook or a scenic tree line to capture on our phone, we often stop to take a picture where man and Mother Nature meet.

Living in this fast-paced world we often forget to stop and smell the roses, or smoke in this case. I’m always glad when I pull over and become a participant in this thing called life. It sure beats just being an observer.

A Sight for Sore Eyes

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If you read anything I write about my zany travels on my motorcycle you know there are many times I talk of wild animals, crazy drivers, Walmart bags and what appear to be flying squirrels coming at me as I roll down the highways and byways of Kansas. Although I make light of these things there is a seriousness to riding bikes. Nature and garbage are one thing because they know no better, but those drivers who refuse to notice me are another. I’ve never been the type to say “look at me!” but in this instance I am.

I can go on about my frustrations, but I won’t. But what I did do was reach out to the Kansas Highway Patrol through their twitter account explaining my experiences passing through the intersection Of I-70 and Ks. Hwy 77 every morning on my way to work. As a motorcyclist it was refreshing to see a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper sitting along the highway monitoring traffic exiting 1-70. With a big wave I thanked the trooper, but to me it wasn’t enough. As I pulled into a car dealership driveway to circle around, my intentions were to hop a barb wire fence to personally thank him. Okay, hop a barb wire fence at my age and in my full leather gear might be a stretch, but I would have found a way. This is an example to NOT look at me. By the time I got close enough to do so, Trooper Cameron pulled out to stop a motorist violating the law. Missing my chance to thank the trooper, I felt compelled to contact KHP through twitter.

 The vulnerability we motorcyclists feel at times can be nerve-wracking and although we ride defensively, it’s nice to know there are men and women out there helping not only our cause as bikers but by being there for all motorists as well.

Trooper Ben who has been instrumental in at least making me feel better. But he has gone above and beyond that. The vulnerability we motorcyclists feel at times can be nerve-wracking and although we ride defensively, it’s nice to know there are men and women out there helping not only our cause as bikers but being there for all motorists. Trooper Ben responded back today telling me it was Trooper Cameron sitting in the car as I passed, and I know as he pulled over the motorist, all they were thinking about was the anger they were feeling for getting pulled over. I’m sure they weren’t thinking about what could have happened by not stopping at the stop sign as they came off the Interstate ramp where I find myself passing each morning on my motorcycle.

Thank you to the Kansas Highway Patrol. Thank you to all who patrol our streets and highways, and to those first responders for being there in our time of need. At times you may feel its a thankless job but I’m here to tell you otherwise. Thank you.

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Brake Time

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It’s not often I ride after dark but for the last month or so I have been riding the roads of rural Kansas just before the sun has set completely. For all of those obvious reasons that riding at this hour presents, it is kind of nice to roll down the road with my headlight bouncing of the tarmac as my eyes dance side-to-side looking for those pesky critters that also enjoy coming out at night.

Keeping my speed a little below the posted limit on one particular night, I was soon passed by a car. This isn’t a bad thing as I don’t mind a vehicle running interference for me when I’m unsure if I will be greeted by one of nature’s finest. As I followed along behind my new best friend, I allowed myself to relax a little and let myself look around at the clouds as the moonlight reflected off the edges. A beautiful night for sure, and a guy could easily get used o this.

A couple of miles later I noticed the car in front of me tap his brakes. His brake lights caught my attention and I immediately knew based on my familiarity of the road, he was braking for a deer. But this is what I find most interesting about the driver in front of me; he not only tapped his brakes, but he did so multiple times letting me know that there was not only a deer in the road but a couple more waiting to cross. All of this information came through his brake lights. I thought to myself the person driving the car in front of me is surely a biker. I too have flashed my brake lights letting those behind me know of any dangers ahead. I’m sure this isn’t uncommon, but on this given night on this particular road the driver gave me a gift. Three more deer just stepping onto the road, no big hurry and not surprised of the motorcyclist coming up on them.

 I’m also known for my moves, but that is a completely different subject and besides it was the ’80’s.

Whether or not my friend in the car actually rides motorcycles or not, it’s nice to know that someone still thinks about the safety of others on the road. I had plenty of time to slow down and be prepared for any sudden moves that deer are known for. I’m also known for my moves, but that is a completely different subject and besides it was the ’80’s.

There are so many unwritten rules of the road. Some of these rules need to be written down and this is one of them. It’s the little things that can be so beneficial to the safety and well-being of others – especially motorcyclists.