Sunday, December 19, 2010

Season's Last Ride

In New England, no one can predict exactly when it's time to pull the plug on the riding season because the weather is so unpredictable. Just when I think the season's over, along comes a day that is both sunny and relatively warm for this time of the year, and I will hear the rumbles of Harleys, or perhaps the whine of a sport bike.

Yesterday, it was close to 40 degrees, which is not that warm. But, since it followed some frigid days where high temperatures struggled to reach the 20s, it was warm enough to entice several motorcyclists to come out of hibernation. I was not one of them.

When I got my first motorcycle, I was so excited that 40-degree weather was not enough to deter me from riding. Now, don't get me wrong - I still love to ride - but I also like to be at least somewhat comfortable while I ride. And for me, any temperature below 45 degrees quickly becomes uncomfortable. My fingers are the limiting factor. Even with heavy, insulated leather gloves, my finger tips turn white and become numb. The rest of my body is fine well down into the 30s without heated gear, but until I buy heated gloves, I will limit my riding to days that are close to 50 or above.

So, for all intents and purposes, I'm done riding for this year. My last ride was four weeks ago, and even that was just a short ride to warm my bike up enough to change the engine oil and transmission oil. I added some Sea Foam fuel stabilizer to my gas tank before filling it up, and that was it. I had hoped to wash and wax my motorcycle before I parked it for the winter, but it doesn't look like that will happen because of where I am storing it.

But, if there is a silver lining to not being able to keep my bike where I am living, it's that I will not be able to look at it over the winter and wish it was warm enough to ride ... to some extent, it's out of sight, out of mind, and hopefully that will make "parked motorcycle syndrome" easier to bear.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

West Virginia Road Trip - Day 4 - Saturday

After we woke up Saturday, Anna's sister Tonya took me, Anna, Ricky and Little Jimmy out for breakfast at Suzi's, which Tonya insisted had better biscuits and gravy than Tudor's. Suzi's looked like a fast food restaurant, although it is not a chain. After tasting Suzi's gravy, Anna and I agreed we liked Tudor's gravy better, although Suzi's biscuits didn't crumble as easily as Tudors. But then again, having been born and raised in New England, I'm not really qualified to be a critic of southern cooking.

Suzi's drew a brisk business, and a wide variety of customers, including some guys in camoflague jackets. "Look, there's a Skoal ring!" Anna said, pointing to the back of some dude waiting in line, where she could see the outline of a can of tobacco worn into the back pocket of his jeans.

On the way back to her house, Tonya accomodated my request for some Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and we got some hot from the oven. These light, airy and sticky-sweet treats practically melt in your mouth! Although Krispy Kremes are all throughout the south, you cannot find one in Rhode Island (and, vice versa, you will not find a Dunkin Donuts in Charleston, W. Va.).

Like many houses in the area, Tonya's house, which is in South Charleston, sits atop a hill overlooking the Kanawha valley. The street to get to her house is extremely steep on one end (it seemed like a 45-degree incline, but it was probably not quite that much). Then, once you park on the street, you have to walk up a steep set of concrete steps to get to the house. A gutted deer hung in the nextdoor neighbor's carport.

Anna and I decided to go home on Saturday, after hearing that highway traffic would be much worse on Sunday. We left at 3 p.m., while we still had some daylight left. Along Interstate 79 in West Virginia, one can see groups of three crosses in the mountains along the highway every so often. They were placed by a West Virginian, Bernard Coffindaffer, who became a Christian at the age of 42 and began putting up the groups of crosses in 1984 (see http://www.christiancrosses.org/). Since there were no leaves on the trees, we could also see where people lived on the sides or tops of the mountains. Some were rundown trailers with winding dirt roads leading up to them; others were luxury houses. But many of these houses were alone, with not a neighbor in sight. I also saw at least three dead deer on the side of the highway.
I don't think there is any significant straightaway on Interstate 79 in West Virginia. I was constantly driving long, sweeping curves either to the left or right. Then, when we got on Interstate 68 and rode into Maryland, we contended with steep grades. The temperature was cold, and there was some snow on the side of the highway. My tires felt skittish, so I slowed my speeds considerably; at a rest stop, I confirmed the road was definitely slick, so I kept my speeds to 45-50 mph. Going down a steep grade is worse than going up - I felt like I was descending into an abyss, and doing it on an icy road only intensified the white-knuckle experience. (Later, I noticed that my black car had the telltale white residue of road salt.)

Fortunately, though, the roads dried up after about 20 minutes of driving, so I could relax a bit. Once near Hagerstown, Md., the highway flattens out, and it was smooth sailing through the rest of the states. We stopped at the same highway service area off Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania where we had stopped on the way up. At the McDonald's there, three members of the Hell's Angels from South Carolina saw the writing on Anna's hooded sweatshirt that said Federal Hill, Providence, R.I., and told her they had just been in Providence to pay their respects to a brother who had passed away.

After a quick dinner and gassing up the car, we were back on the road. Traffic was relatively light. We went back the same way we came, but it seemed like we were in New Jersey forever, so I had to pull over for a map check. I was on course alright. After crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, we were soon in Connecticut. After we stopped at a highway service area in Fairfield, Conn., I let Anna drive the rest of the way home. We arrived home an hour or two before daybreak.

I'd like to visit West Virginia again, preferably in the summer, but definitely not in the winter - the roads are difficult enough in dry weather. Anna can't see me living in West Virginia. "My baby don't like the mountains," she teases me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

West Virginia Road Trip - Day 3 - Friday

Anna wanted to do several things during our trip to Charleston, West Virginia, where she had not lived since 15 years ago. Tops on her list was getting biscuits and gravy - a quintessential southern meal - at Tudor's Biscuit World. Her sister, Tonya, said Suzi's had better biscuits, but Anna persisted, so Tonya, Anna, Ricky and I ate breakfast at Tudor's on Friday. I ordered one biscuit with apples, and one with ham, and dipped my biscuits into the white gravy with chunks of sausage. At the end, I was more full than any traditional bacon, egg, homefries and toast breakfast I've ever had.

After breakfast, Tonya's car became a virtual time machine, taking us to places from Anna's past. We began with a stop at the site of a house on MacCorkle Avenue, next to the Kanawha River, where Anna lived as a young girl (the house was demolished years ago, and another building was in its place). Next we drove over the Dunbar Bridge, headed for Tyler Mountain, where Anna grew up. We saw where her grandfather ("paw paw") used to live. That house is also gone, although some concrete steps and metal handrail that used to lead up the steep hill to his house still remain, partially covered by brush.

We stopped at a convenience store called the Cold Spot, where Anna used to buy candy and soda as a kid, and, when she was a teenager, "hang out." She even got to see Bill, who is still the owner.

Then we drove by the site of a house where Anna lived from her late teens to early 20s. The ramshackle house, which had been owned by Anna's mother, was a "party house" where friends often crashed. "Everyone stayed there at one point or another, even my paw paw," Anna recalled. "It was kind of an 'in between' house for people." Eventually, the house was sold and demolished, and a bus shelter now sits where the house used to be - that's how close it was to the road.

Continuing on Tyler Mountain, we drove up Slaughter's Drive, a steep road that led to a group of houses and trailers clustered on the side of a mountain. Anna lived there with her mother (who is now deceased) from about ages 9 to 17. A house was built over the trailer they used to live in, but the shed she used to play in still stood. Anna stopped at the house next door to her old house, "just to see who was living there," and was pleasantly surprised to see the mother of her childhood best friend, Tammy, who was living in the next house over.

Anna went to the house next door and saw Jack - Tammy's father - cooking eggs. Tammy was sleeping after hitting the early-morning after Thanksgiving sales, but woke up, excited to see Anna, as the two hugged. Tammy said she had tried to find Anna on Facebook, but now they could catch up in person on 20 years of lost time. Anna was equally happy to see Jack, who she calls Jackie. "He was like a father figure to me," Anna said. "He would always say to me, 'If you ever see me on a plane, don't say "Hi Jack!"

Jack teased Anna for losing some of her West Virginia accent. "You sound like you're from New York," he teased Anna. "Don't forget your roots, girl!"

Next, we stopped at a bar called the Wagon Wheel, where Anna's mother, uncle and grandfather used to frequent. Anna said the bar, which has been around for decades, is virtually unchanged from how she remembers it. I actually have a Wagon Wheel tee shirt that Anna's sister sent us (since mine is getting faded, we asked if they had more, but they didn't).

Then we stopped at the 7 Eleven in where Anna used to work (7 Eleven and Go Mart are the two predominant convenience stores in the Charleston area), and rode around an upscale neighborhood in Cross Lanes.

Lastly, even though we were still somewhat full on Tudor's biscuits, we stopped at a local institution, Skeenies Hot Dogs, located in a small shack close to Sissonville Road. Skeenies serves West Virginia-style hot dogs, with steamed buns, spicy chili and finely-chopped cole slaw. In my opinion, they put the New York system weiners, which are prevalent in Rhode Island, to shame. Anna and Tonya were laughing at me because I was going "Mmmmm!" after every bite of my Skeenies hot dogs (I didn't even realize I was doing it, I was so busy savoring those dogs). What was even more cool was that the original owner, a woman in her 80s (sorry, I can't recall her name), served us.


Tonya took us back to her house, but had to leave us because her husband Jimmy had to go to the hospital. He had difficulty swallowing at Thanksgiving dinner and the problem had not gotten better since then. She stayed with him at the hospital until late that night as doctors ran a diagnostic test and found he had a swollen esophagus.

Meanwhile, Anna and I had another situation to deal with at the homefront. Someone clogged the only toilet in the house and I, a master plumber, could not unclog it with the funky-looking contraption with plastic bellows that was there. So, Anna and I had to take a drive to buy a real plunger at K-Mart, which did the job.

Later, Anna, Ricky and I had to drive Anna's daughter (who was also staying at Tonya's house, but rode there separately) and the father of her daughter, to a relative's house in nearby Nitro, W. Va. There, we somehow got talked into taking a sixth person into my car, which only fits five people, so Ricky had to sit on his sister's lap, which degenerated into a major shouting and wrestling match. Fortunately, it was only a short ride to where we had to drop off three passengers, so Anna, Ricky and I could return to Tonya's house for the night.

This blog would not be complete without a bit more about Gawnjie, the 120-lb. Bouvier, who resembled either a black bear or a poodle on steroids. The Belgian dogs are bred to herd cattle, but Tonya had to constantly herd this dog around the house, shooing it out of the way or off of the couch. The breed is known for being smelly to begin with, but this dog was also in heat, which made the odors worse. "Gawnjie, you stink!" was a constant refrain of Tonya, as she followed the dog with air freshener spray.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

West Virginia Road Trip - Day 2 - Thanksgiving Day

Today, I got to meet Anna's sister Tonya's family: her husband, Jimmy; her 3-year-old son, little Jimmy (also known as Bub-Bub), who wears his hair in a mullet; and the family dog, Gawnjie, a 120-lb. Bouvier that resembled a black bear.

Jimmy is a big, soft-spoken man who is into Harley-Davidsons and racing cars. Anna got him the perfect gift: a Harley tee shirt from our local Harley dealer, Ocean State Harley-Davidson, that read, "I'm wearing this tee shirt until they come out with a darker color than black." Anna brought her sister, who recently re-dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, a personalized Bible.

Before Thanksgiving dinner, Tonya and Jimmy drove us to downtown Charleston to see the capitol building and governor's mansion, which is right near the Kanawha River. The capitol's crowning feature is it's 293-foot gold dome, plated in real gold leaf. To my surprise, the doors to the capitol were open, and it was staffed by a capitol police officer, who was on duty until the early evening.

After the capitol, we drove to see Jimmy's mother, Minnie, who had prepared Thankgiving dinner for us and Jimmy's sisters. Getting to Minnie's house at the top of Spring Hill Mountain meant driving up a steep, narrow curvy road, with only a metal guardrail separating the road from a steep drop-off into the woods. Minnie's street was also very steep, and neighboring houses were not only surrounded by steep hills, but all of the houses were on hilly lots themselves. But that is typical of much of West Virginia. If you are not on a hill, then you are surrounded by them.

Minnie was a gracious host and wonderful cook, and after dinner, I was too full to do anything much more strenuous than make conversation. Anna's 11-year-old son Ricky, however, was full of energy and wanted to ride a four-wheel ATV, which he flipped over, ripping his jeans in the process (he only suffered minor cuts and bruises). "Now I'm officially a redneck," Ricky joked. At one point, Little Jimmy raided a tool shed in the yard, using a golf club as a shovel, and opening a gas can. I feared he might drink gasoline, but, as Big Jimmy ran toward him, Little Jimmy said in a southern drawl, "Don't worry, it's empty!"

Before the trip, Anna had hoped to find someone in West Virginia who would let us borrow a motorcycle so we could go riding. She had pinned her hopes on one Jimmy's friends, Slick, but he did not hook us up with a loaner bike. Too bad, because it was actually quite warm on Thanksgiving Day, around 65 degrees. "He (Slick) is the president of a motorcycle club, and he still couldn't come through," Anna joked.

After dinner, we went back to Tonya and Jimmy's house. Anna, Ricky and I were alone because Tonya had to work that night, and Jimmy, who wasn't feeling well, stayed at his mother's house. Being tired from my long drive, I wanted to just chill at the house, but Anna was itching to go out. "I have to get off this mountain, baby," Anna said. "I feel like I'm trapped." Besides being tired, I was also afraid of getting lost, since I didn't have a GPS, and Anna was not entirely confident how to get around, because it had been many years since she lived in Charleston. But she persisted and I gave in. We stopped at the hotel, where Tonya was working the front desk, to find her relaxing on the couch with her shoes off, which drives Anna crazy.

"Sister, people who come here and see you with no shoes will think we're a bunch of hillbillies," Anna scolded her.

Tonya replied, "I feel like I'm at home."

As the two sisters went back and forth, a woman came through the door to check in, and Tonya did not put her shoes on as she got off the couch and walked barefoot past the woman to go behind the front desk. "I don't care if you don't wear any shoes," the woman told Tonya, ending the debate.

After hanging out with Tonya (and enjoying free coffee), Anna Ricky and I went to 7-Eleven to get some snacks. Ricky, who is not shy about approaching strangers, walked up to a customer and said, "Dude, I like your accent!" That was enough to start a 10-minute conversation; people in general, even strangers, are quite friendly in West Virginia. Armed with snacks and Slurpees, we headed back to Tonya's house. It was so warm that I took my shirt off, sipped my Slurpee and sat outdoors on the front steps, watching the sea of lights from the chemical plants in the valley below. Train whistles blew. Crickets chirped. This must have been what country singer Glenn Campbell had in mind when he wrote the song, "Southern Nights."

Several minutes later, after I went back inside, Anna came and got me. I stepped outdoors to find that the weather had changed completely. The calm, clear sky had been replaced by an overcast drizzle, driven by a strong, continuous wind (as opposed to gusts of wind). It felt like I was in a wind tunnel. "Welcome to the mountains, baby," Anna said.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

West Viriginia Road Trip - Day 1 - Wednesday

This past summer, Anna and I considered riding a motorcycle 700 miles to see her sister in West Virginia, but scrapped the idea since we only had four days available. We decided we didn't have enough experience to ride that many miles in one day.

With Thanksgiving approaching, both of us had four days off again, and really wanted to go to West Virginia. This time, we did - the difference was we were on four wheels instead of two. We found out that travelling some 750 miles continuously is challenging, even in a car.

Anna and I had to work Wednesday, so by the time we left Rhode Island, it was 5:30 p.m. My car is a 17-year-old Nissan with 142,000 miles and a non-functional radio, so I brought my iPod for Anna's son, Ricky, and loaded up on snacks. A guy I work with also let me borrow his Dewalt battery-operated jobsite radio so we could have music in the car.

I had wanted to buy a GPS, but Anna said I shouldn't waste my money, since she printed directions on Mapquest (I'm not too keen on Mapquest, but, okay). Traffic on Interstate 95 was heavy, but flowed well, even when we reached New Haven, Conn. Anna said she usually goes over the George Washington Bridge to get past New York, but Mapquest put us over the Tappan Zee Bridge instead. We took Interstate 287 into New Jersey, and then got on Interstate 78 west, crossing into Pennsylvania. We stopped for gas and food at a highway service area in Shartlesville, Penn. around 10:30 p.m., continuing on 78 west until it joined Interstate 81 west, which is a lonely stretch of road through the wilderness. About the only traffic in the early-morning hours was the occasional 18-wheeler.

It was around this point that the driving became more challenging, because it began to rain and the terrain became very hilly. We were continuously climbing or descending long grades. Anna had wanted to give me a No-Doz pill to help keep me alert, but I was not feeling tired at this point (I had been relying on caffiene). The driving was, however, very stressful because of poor visibility: unlike most of Rhode Island, the highway here was unlit, and the paint on the lines in the road was very faded. Also, the rain made it harder to see. I had meant to replace my wiper blades before the trip, but I kept putting it off, so I relied on the reflectors just to stay in my lane. I had to keep my speeds between 45-50 mph. To say the miles dragged by slowly was an understatement. After crossing the West Virginia state line, we stopped at a welcome center before we tackled the longest leg of our trip, about 150 miles on Interstate 79. Like I-68, that highway is also hilly (and constantly curvy). Some hills are so steep that there is a "runaway truck" lane.

By now, I was becoming too tired to drive safely, so at the next rest area, I let Anna drive for about 50 miles. That was enough of a break for me to revive a bit, so I drove the last 50 miles or so into Charleston, the capitol city of West Virgina, as day began to break. We arrived in South Charleston, W. Va. around 7:30 a.m. and met Anna's sister, Tonya, at the hotel where she had just finished working the overnight shift. Then we followed Tonya back to her house, where we we got a few hours of sleep before we had to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

"Try doing that on a Harley," said Andy Beaulieu, our friend and member of the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.

The trip up took us about 13 hours, not counting bathroom, gas and food stops. It can be done in 10-12 hours, Anna said, but between the poor visibility from the rain and the anemic hill-climbing power of my four cylinder Nissan (gettting it to go faster than 60 or 65 mph on some of the steeper hills was impossible), I was thankful we got there safely instead of quickly.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Caught By Surprise

Sad as it is, for all intents and purposes, the group riding season is over. There are still a few individual riders here and there, holding out as long as they can, as morning temperatures have dipped into the 30s the past couple weeks.

For the most part, I've been fairly busy with work over the past several weeks, so I did not log much riding time as the riding season dwindled. My riding was mostly limited to once a week, usually on a Sunday. The last time I rode was Oct. 31, and that was about as late into the season as Anna could stand (at least without a full-face helmet); her lips and face were chapped. She's done for the year as far as riding is concerned, but I wasn't ready to call it quits yet.

This week, I had no work planned, so my goal was to get some riding in on one or two weekdays, and change the oil on my bike before I put it up for the winter. But this morning, I was caught by surprise when I looked outside and saw snow on the ground! Argh!! It's probably occurred at some time within my lifetime, but I'll be darned if I can remember it snowing this early in November. Anna says it's the start of what she believes will be a long, difficult winter .... sort of Mother Nature's payback for a near-perfect summer. Only one or two rides were rained out, and it never got excessively hot.

It's only an inch or two of slushy snow, so it will likely be gone in a day or two; I'm more concerned about the possibility of salt on the roads, although temperatures are not expected to be below freezing. In any case, I'll be keeping a watchful eye for the telltale white residue. If crews did not put sand or salt on the roads, I may still have hope of riding this week, since the forecast calls for sun with mid-50s temperatures by Thursday and Friday. If they did apply salt, though, I would have to wait for a good rainfall to wash the salt off the road. The end results of salt on chrome ain't pretty ....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Leader of the Pack

Once a year in the fall, my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association holds elections for chapter officers: president, vice president, road captain, secretary, treasurer and chaplain. Chapter members nominate candidates, who have a chance to decline, before the secret ballot voting.

Last month, I learned that I had been among a list of people nominated for the position of road captain (it was decided that there would be co-road captains). But, most of the half-dozen or so people nominated for road captain declined the nomination, so my chapter president, Spike, said the position was mine if I wanted it. I was a bit hesitant, since I have only two seasons of riding experience, but Spike said he felt I was up to the job. Besides, I would be sharing road captain duties with Richard "Pappy" Desjarlais, who is a veteran rider.

The road captain leads the chapter during group rides, riding in the left front position, next to the chapter president. Besides being responsible for the safety of the group on the road, the road captain will do a 'dry run' of the ride's route prior to the day of the ride, checking for anything that would affect the ride, such as road construction, detours or road hazards, and check for fuel, rest and food stops. Road captains also give a report during our monthly chapter meetings.

It was decided to have two road captain positions so there would always be a backup in case one person could not attend a ride, Spike said. If both road captains attend a ride, one could lead and the other could ride sweep.

I assured Anna she would still be able to ride on the back of my bike when I am road captain. "My baby's the leader of the pack," she said, referring to the oldies song "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las.

My term starts in January.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Right In Our Backyard

Warm, sunny days and motorcycle runs are becoming more and more scarce this time of year. Anna and I haven't ridden with a group since the big Rhode Island Motorcycle Association toy run three weeks ago. The last two weekends, we've ridden solo, and practiced with her new video camera. But, we were both hankering to ride with a group again. We had an opportunity today, and it happened to be another toy run, the 5th Annual fundraiser to benefit the Sgt. Brian R. St. Germain Foundation and U.S. Marine Reserve Toys for Tots.

This toy run was much smaller than the one earlier this month, and a much shorter ride (actually, it was billed as a "ride-in" and "toy drop" by the Patriot Guard Riders, who led the ride). What was cool about it was that it was practically right in our own backyard - we actually rode by our apartment during the ride.The foundation was created to raise money for renovations and improvements to the West Warwick High School track. It was named in honor of U.S. Marine Sgt. Brian R. St. Germain, a WWHS all-state track star who lost his life in 2006 while serving his country in Iraq.

It was cloudy and about 45 degrees as we rode to the ride's staging area, the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Coventry, R.I. We arrived around
8:30 a.m. and a few minutes later, five other members of my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association arrived. After a period of greeting and chatting, a total of about 30 bikes began the five-minute hop to the West Warwick High School track. It was practically a straight shot - New London Turnpike, which becomes Main Street, to New London Avenue - although our speed was slow, since it's a congested area with busy intersections. We did have a police escort and blockers, though.

At the track, where there was also a Walk-A-Thon as part of the fundraiser, we parked our bikes and handed our toys to the always impeccably polite
Marines. No motorcycle run - no matter how short - would be complete without food, but they were serving a full breakfast at the high school's cafeteria for $8. The track, which we parked near, is a decent walk from the cafeteria, so some riders rode their bikes over, but our CMA chapter decided to walk, which, we conceded, looked a bit out of character for us. Manny joked, "If you turn the letter 'M' upside down, we could be the Christian Walking Association." Manny and Cameron held their hands up like they were holding onto ape hanger handlebars, while walking. Said Anna, "You guys are in the same boat I'm in - bikers without a bike."

Breakfast was indeed hearty: pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, plus juice and coffee. Anna and I bought a $20 raffle ticket for a chance to win a new 2010 Harley Street Glide or $10,000, plus a few tickets for smaller raffle prizes.

As usually happens on group rides, a solo female rider inspired Anna. This time, it was an older woman named Clare from Warwick, who said she bought a new motorcycle after she survived cancer. Manny and I talked with a guy from the Elks Riders chapter in East Providence, R.I., which is Manny's hometown.

Not long after we finished breakfast, my fellow Romans 8 Riders decided to go to a barbecue fundraiser in Warwick for the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. I was still full from breakast, so Anna and I stayed where we were until they held the raffle drawings at noon. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, who drew the winning ticket for the new Street Glide, joked, "I may lose a lot of votes," but one man in the audience shouted, "you'll gain at least one vote." (I'm still riding Annabelle, my 2002 Wide Glide, so I was not the winner.)

After the raffle, Anna and I decided to go on a longer solo ride, since the four-mile group ride that morning didn't satisfy our appetite to ride. Anna had the foresight the night before to buy some of those hand warming heat packs you unpackage and shake to activate, and they kept her fingers - which are very susceptible
to cold - toasty warm. I hadn't used mine, and by the time we rode from West Warwick to Narragansett, my fingertips were going white and numb. Even though it wasn't that cold (low 50s), it was damp, and that combination is enough to affect blood flow to my fingers. But, a stop at Panera Bread in Wakefield was just the ticket to thaw them out.

(Below is a video clip of our entrance into the West Warwick High School Track)


video

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Highway Hogs ... and, a HBHB First ... Video!

As a biker, how many times have you wished you didn't have to share the road with cars or trucks? Well, Anna and I enjoyed that rare opportunity Sunday, when we rode in the Rhode Island Motorcycle Association's 2010 Toys for Tots run. Traffic was completely blocked off on major state and interstate highways, as more than 1,000 motorcycles made their way from the Community College of Rhode Island in Lincoln, to Shipyard Steet near the Port of Providence. It was the largest motorcycle run either of us have ridden in so far.

It was also the first time Anna got to use her new digital video camera (NOTE: you can see a short video clip at the end of this blog entry), which I bought her for her birthday. "There's a million motorcycles on the highway, baby," Anna said as she aimed the video camera behind us on Interstate 295, capturing a stream of motorcycle headlights against the grey sky as far as we could see.

Actually, it only seemed like a million motorcycles.

"We'll get about 2,000 to 2,500 bikes," RIMA President Buddy Cardoso told me before the run. "When we get down there (to Russo's Trucking on Shipyard Street), there will already be a bunch of people who didn't go on the ride."

This was RIMA'S 34th annual Toys for Tots run, which is also sponsored by the U.S. Marines, who collected the toys at the end of the run. The route was changed recently, Cardoso said. "This is the third year we've done a little longer ride, to make it a little more interesting, versus just shooting right down Route 146."

Chris, a guy I used to work with, who rides a Suzuki GSX-R1000 sport bike, said he went on the run a few years back and saw some other riders take advantage of no traffic on Route 146, riding at speeds approaching 100 mph and doing wheelies.

My experience was much more sedate, however. The group we rode to CCRI with, comprised of three chapters from the Christian Motorcyclists Association, was in the second wave to be released, so we were toward the front of the pack - close enough that I could see Santa riding on the back of a motorcycle. With police or civilian motorcyclists blocking at every intersection, we never put our feet down until we reached our destination, although our average speed varied between 30 and 40 mph, and even our highway speed never broke 55 mph, as I recall. I didn't witness any shenanigans, but at the end of the ride, rumors buzzed through the crowds that there had been at least one mishap during the run, including a rumor that a rider lost control while doing a wheelie with a female passenger.

I could not confirm that rumor, and the only official account of any accident I could find online was through WPRI.com (affiliated with local news Channel 12). According to WPRI.com, an accident occurred on I-295 south, near Exit 8 (the Route 7 exit), when a motorcyclist on the toy run swerved to avoid a crash and ran into four other motorcycles. Two people were taken to a hospital; others declined treatment, according to the report, which contained no further information.

Anna and I, however, had a pleasant experience, and we felt the run was well organized. The run started with a left turn on Route 246 and then continued on routes 123, 116 and 7, before we got on Intersate 295 south. It was quite a sight to see cars held back from entering the highway as we rode by, and onlookers at many bridge overpasses. We then took Route 6 to Route 10 south, before getting on Interstate 95 briefly, exiting at Allens Avenue. There was some of the 'slinky effect,' but that is to be expected on large group rides.

We rode through the campus of Johnson & Wales University before parking our bikes along Shipyard Street, and then handed our toys to the Marines, who were putting them into their large truck. Anna had bought some Legos, and I bought a Barbie doll. I figured that since bikers tend to be macho, girls' toys might be under-represented; besides, every time I tell someone my name is Ken, there's usually a 10 percent chance they'll say, "How's Barbie?"

The day was also eventful for Richard "Pappy" Desjarlais, another CMA member from my Romans 8 Riders chapter, who spent part of the run videotaping the riders. He said he stopped at the Route 44 overpass after getting permission from a Smithfield police officer. Then, Pappy said, someone in an unmarked car told him to move out of the way, to which Pappy replied that he was almost done recording. A moment later, he felt someone grab his collar, and he was handcuffed by a state police officer, he said. "That just about ruined my day," Pappy said. But, he was quickly released, and joined us at our CMA booth at the truck yard.

Anna was amazed the sheer volume of motorcycles and bikers at the trucking yard, where there was a rock band, food vendors and clothing vendors. "I'm over-stimulated," she admitted, as she grooved on a cover of The Doors song while on a mission to find a hat. The clam chowder and clamcakes we ate warded off the chill nicely. Our CMA booth, which had literature about Jesus, Bibles and even kickstand pads, drew little attention, to Anna's dismay. "Other booths, you have to buy stuff, but everything here is free," she said.


But my fellow Romans 8 Rider, Bob Levesque, said it was a positive day, since our CMA chapters were given a reserved spot closer to the front of the pack this year, and our booth was in a prominent spot.





video

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Havin' a Blast?

My girlfriend Anna, who is learning to ride a motorcycle, has been researching possible choices for her first motorcycle. This summer, before she even took her Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider course, she had her sights set on a Hyosung GV250 Aquila after she saw a woman riding one during a charity ride. With its full fenders and saddlebags, it looks like a mini-Fat Boy. But the price range of $2,500 to $3,000 for a used late-model Hyosung was daunting.

Then, when she took the MSF course last month, she turned her attention to the Honda Rebel 250, which she rode for the course. Weighing in at just over 300 pounds, the Rebel 250s are light, low to the ground and easy to handle. But late-model examples of this bike are also in the $2,500 range, although older models can be found for $1,500 or less.

Anna can't see paying $2,500 for a 250-cc bike when you can buy good, used 500 to 750-cc bike for the same money, and, truth be told, neither can I. Also, some people have said she would outgrow a 250-cc very quickly. On a recent ride, Anna met an older woman named Donna, who, as a new rider, started with a Hyosung GV250 Aquila, only to return it to the dealer two weeks later to exchange it toward a Yamaha V-Star 650.

Sometimes, inspiration comes where or when you least expect it. I was doing a plumbing job at a Dunkin' Donuts in North Providence, R.I. a couple weeks ago when I met Matthew Correia, an operations manager, who rode a 2002 Buell Blast to work. He parked it behind the building, near my van, so I couldn't help but notice the bike and strike up a conversation. The more I looked at the Buell, the more I thought it would be a great first bike for Anna, especially since they are light (about 360 pounds) and low to the ground. They feature a single-cylinder, 492-cc engine.

Buell, which is a subsidiary of Harley-Davidson, introduced the Blast in 2000, and ceased production in 2009. It was targeted toward new riders. It turns out that used Buell Blasts, on average, are cheaper than Honda Rebel 250s. A search on our local Craigslist found several Buell Blasts for around $1,500, in good condition. Parts are relatively inexpensive, according to Matthew Correia, and the bike is easy to work on since everything appears to be easily accesible.

Anna and I looked at pictures of Buell blasts online, but the bike didn't look familiar at all to her. "I've never seen one on the road," she said. And the only one I've seen was the one I mentioned above. Then, on a charity ride last weekend, we both spotted a yellow Blast, and the owner, a somewhat stocky dude, was kind enough to let Anna sit on it (I also learned that the Blasts come in two seat heights, but even with the taller seat, Anna was able to keep both feet firmly on the ground). But, Anna saw a woman on a Suzuki Boulevard S40, and was attracted to that bike also (the 650 cc, single-cylinder bike was formerly known as the Suzuki Savage, another popular beginner's bike), so time will tell what will be Anna's first motorcycle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moving Forward

So far this year, I've taken Anna on several charity motorcycle runs, so she is a veteran. But, I don't think she has ever looked forward to any run as much as the 4th Annual Station Education Fund Charity Motorcycle Ride. Anna lives and works in West Warwick, R.I., where 100 people lost their lives in a fire at The Station nightclub in 2003. The fund was created to help the 76 children who lost one or both of their parents in the fire, which started when pyrotechnics from the rock band Great White ignited soundproofing foam.

"This is emotional," said Anna, who, at first, was unsure if she wanted to participate, since the run is organized by the two brothers who owned the nightclub, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian. Some people still harbor anger toward the Derderians. But Anna spoke to a victim of the fire, who escaped phyiscal injury but was emotionally traumatized. She said the woman advised her to go on the ride because it is for a good cause. "Don't hate the Derderians," Anna said the woman told her.

The run began at Toll Gate High School, and we joined Cathilee DeLorto, the only other member of my Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association who participated in this ride. A total of about 60 motorycles and 100 people showed up. Cathilee said the turnout was signficantly lower than past years, although that could be partly due to the fact that this year's ride had been postponed from last month due to rain.

Today's weather was sunny and so warm that I left the leather jacket at home. As we registered, there were reporters from two local television news stations. I saw Jody King, the education fund's director, and brother of Tracy King, who died in the fire. I told Jody that I used to be a newspaper reporter, and had interviewed his brother Tracy, who became a local celebrity for his feats of strength, which included the ability to balance heavy objects like a canoe on his chin. Although Tracy was a bouncer at The Station nightclub, "he was a big teddy bear," Jody said.

It turns out Anna had also met Tracy King at Lakis Pizza, where she saw him balance a stool and a knife. "I told him, 'You should go on David Letterman,' " Anna said. "He said, 'I already was.' "

This was not a traditional group ride, but a poker run (my first one). We drew our first card at the high school, and we received a score sheet with directions to three checkpoints along the 76-mile ride to our final destination, Motorsports Nation in Plainfield, Conn. Event organizers did not let the group leave all at once, but in groups of six. I ended up at the front of my group, but I asked to switch places with the rider behind me because I was confused. I could not remember a Mobil gas station on Route 2 in Exeter (which surprised Anna, since I used to live near there). "Sorry, I'm having a brain fart," I said to Anna as I shrugged my shoulders.

Our small group got on Interstate 95 south, then to routes 4, 1, 102 and 2, riding past Schartner Farms, to the Oak Harbor Village plaza, where lo and behold, there was a Mobil station I'd ridden by countless times - I was thinking it was an Exxon station instead. We met the first two waves of riders, drew our next card, and waited as more riders arrived. As the sun beat down on us, Cathilee got restless and tried to prod everyone to hit the road.

"Anybody wanna go?!" she shouted. "I'm standing here sweating!" But nobody responded, even after she started and revved her motorcycle. A few minutes later, other people started their motorcycles and the group headed for the next checkpoint, Breezy Acres Mini Golf on Route 1 in Charlestown. I had to accelerate to beat a red light at West Beach Road, and then suddenly had to jam on the brakes to turn into the gravel parking lot of the mini golf, as I apologized to Anna. "It's okay, baby, I'm still on the back," she said.

We drew our third card and most of the group hung out several minutes. The next leg of the ride was down curvy back roads and there were several turns. "Nobody wanted to lead," Anna said. "There's no blockers, no road captain." Pulling out of the mini golf parking lot was dicey, to say the least. I thought I was going to collide with another motorcycle, so I couldn't concentrate on whether any cars were coming on Route 1, where motorists routinely travel at 60 mph or more. I just stayed near the breakdown lane and prayed. Many riders got into the left lane, but then had to make a last-minute lane change to turn right onto Route 216. Then, on Route 216, we had a near-collision with a bicyclist, who thought he was going to cross the road in the middle of a large pack of motorcycles. I heard him drop the F-bomb and he abruptly aborted his attempt. I swerved, and then looked over my shoulder, because I thought he was going to dump his bicycle (I couldn't tell if he did or not).

Things settled down a bit as we enjoyed some early-fall scenic riding on back roads in Charlestown and Hopkinton, and crossed the border into Connecticut, riding past some farms on Route 49, before we arrived at our next checkpoint, at Town Pizza in on Route 165 in Voluntown, Conn. Anna and I had weak poker hands, but strong thirsts by this point. After a few minutes rest, we headed out for the last leg of our ride, as a girl stood in Route 165 and blocked for us. We continued north on Route 49, through more scenic farm country, and ended up at the back of the pack, as some of the larger group got separated in traffic. "This is our road, baby," Anna said. "I like it in the back. I feel safer."

At the end of Route 49, we turned left on Route 14, heading toward Plainfield, Conn. We turned left on Route 12, and then chaos ensued. "It was like ants - everyone scattered," one of the riders said afterward. Some riders turned into a Shell gas station, so at first, I thought it was just a fuel stop, but then other riders turned right into a church parking lot, while still others just made U-turns. I decided to turn into the church parking lot, and followed others, who were cutting through the parking lot to regroup on Route 14. But soon, the group stopped at a market, and I saw one of the 'leaders' dismount to ask a local for directions. We ended up going back toward the Shell station, which was the right direction after all. (It turns out that one of the riders up front, from the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club, saw a poster with an arrow that he mistook for one of the direction markers for our ride.)

Thankfully, we soon arrived at our final desination, Motorsports Nation, a motorcycle dealer, where we ate hamburgers and hot dogs. "At least we're here," said a rider who was up front. "I kept telling Tony, everything is a left turn." The Derderians and Jody King drew and presented the raffle prizes, which consisted of gift certificates (a smarter idea than gift baskets, which are kind of hard to carry on a motorcycle). Lisa Walsh of Warwick, who had the best poker hand, won the grand prize of $500 cash. "This was my first group ride, and it exceed my expectations," she told the crowd, "so I'm donating the money to the Station Education Fund."

Jeffrey Derderian said the fund so far has helped 21 students with school expenses up through college, including tuition, books, supplies and laptop computers. When possible, the Derderians said they meet personally with the recipients.
Anna said the theme of the event was about moving forward from the tragedy that occurred in 2003. Brenda Wilmot, Jody King's sister, who said a prayer before the ride, said the purpose of the fund is to "help these kids realize their full potential." From the pre-ride prayer (which Wilmot made in Jesus' name), to our group's safety on the ride, and mentions of God during the post-ride presentations, "I felt God's presence the whole day," Anna said.

After the raffle, we were treated to a motorcycle stunt riding demonstation, with a finale ramp jump over a large dump truck by Doug Danger, who was trained by Evel Knievel and who was once in a coma for six months after a stunt accident. Even Doug Danger, with all his skill, appealed to God to calm the winds that could throw off his jump. I'm sure that I was not the only one who prayed that he would complete the jump and not get hurt. God was faithful and answered those prayers, because he nailed the jump.

Anna, Cathilee and I were among the last riders to leave, so we took mostly back roads home, riding at a nice, leisurely pace, including a stop at Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and brownies. After leading Cathilee back to Warwick, Anna and I decided to keep riding since the weather was perfect, and opportunties to ride in a tee shirt this time of year are becoming increasingly scarce. Said Anna, "I don't want to go home."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Pleasant DMV Experience

Although my girlfriend Anna successfully completed her Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic rider course last month, she had few opportunities to take her certificate to the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, since she has a full-time job. I promised I would accompany her to the DMV to get her motorcycle permit, so today, she took some paid time off, and I scheduled no work.

Since it was sunny and warm, we decided to hop on my Harley and turn what would otherwise be a mundane errand into a pleasant local ride. We started out from Coventry around 10:30 a.m., so there was light traffic as we rode Route 3 to Route 102 through West Greenwich and Exeter; then routes 4, 1 and 138 through North Kingstown; over the Jamestown Bridge; over the Newport Bridge; and to the DMV branch in Middletown on Valley Road.

Until recently, the DMV headquarters was located in Pawtucket. It was notorious for long wait times, often several hours. The headquarters moved to a new building in Cranston, but I suggested that we go to the Middletown branch since it's seldom crowded. My advice proved correct on this day.
We arrived at 11:20 a.m., got ticket number B-438, and then made a beeline for the bathroom, before my bladder exploded. There were only seven numbers ahead of us.

I used the bathroom first, and Anna went next, while I listened to numbers being called on the P.A. system. In the short time she was in the bathroom, four numbers were called. I was worried we might miss our turn, so I knocked on the door and told her to hurry. "I didn't think we'd get out of the bathroom fast enough," Anna said as we sat on a bench and watched an LCD screen with interesting facts (did you know that if you are traveling 65 mph, it takes the length of a football field to stop?).

Soon it was our turn. Anna showed her course certificate and driver's license, and paid a $26.50 fee. In return, the clerk gave her a motorcycle permit, which she must hold for at least 30 days, and then return to the DMV and pay another $26.50 to get her motorcycle license (or, more accurately, an operator's license with a motorcycle endorsement). We were in and out in less than 30 minutes.

We had a few more hours and the weather was perfect, so we decided to ride to Bristol, a scenic town on the bay. There was some heavy traffic on Route 114 in Middletown due to construction, but we soon were moving at a nice, easy pace, with no cars breathing down our neck as we enjoyed views of Narragansett Bay. After going through downtown Bristol, we stopped at a Ricotti's sandwich shop and got lunch to go, bringing it to Colt State Park, where we sat on a bench near a boat launch.

"This is the perfect day, baby," Anna said. "I actually enjoyed going to the DMV."

After lunch, we lingered on the bench (which was dedicated for someone's 90th birthday last summer, according to a plaque that read, "Please rest for a while and enjoy the view") as we soaked in the sunshine. Neither of us wanted the day to end. But we had one more errand to do: renew my plumbing license at the Dept. of Labor & Training in Cranston. We continued through Warren and Barrington before getting on the highway for the ride to Cranston. Even the highway ride was good, since we beat the afternoon rush.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Price of Freedom


Citizens of our nation enjoy many freedoms, but some take freedom for granted. Freedom is not an entitlement, but something that was purchased with the lives of men and women who fought for our country. The city of Attleboro, Mass., is one community that wants to make sure that the sacrifices made by those who served in the military are not forgotten. Last Saturday at Capron Park, about 100 people attended a POW/MIA 9-11 remembrance ceremony.

Our Christian Motorcyclists Association Romans 8 Riders chapter president, Spike, who has a heart for veterans, urged our chapter members to attend the ceremony. Anna and I first met up with Bob Levesque at a Dunkin' Donuts in Coventry, R.I., for the rush-hour highway ride to our staging area, the parking lot of Cardi's Furniture in South Attleboro. About 50 motorcycles converged at Cardi's. Riders consisted of various CMA chapters; military and veterans riding clubs; and unaffiliated riders.

There, Anna met a woman named Donna in her late 50s, who recently earned her motorcycle license. She bought a 250 cc motorcycle, but ended up returning it to the dealer a couple weeks later and buying a Yamaha V-Star 650 instead, which made Anna re-think her plan to buy a 250 cc bike for her first motorcycle.

Around dusk, our group hit the road for the short ride to Capron Park, where the ceremony had just begun. Rick, a member of my Romans 8 Riders chapter, had lent Anna a camcorder, but Anna and I caught by surprise when the crowd under the pavilion at the park stopped, turned around and applauded us as we rode up. In the parking lot was a 30-foot-by-50-foot black POW/MIA flag. An American Legion honor guard fired a rifle salute.

Besides remembering prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action, the ceremony also remembered citizens who lost their lives in the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

After a candle lighting, prayer and bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," the ceremony broke up and it was dark. Spike and some other Romans 8 riders had planned to go out for a late dinner, but Anna and I were tired and hit the highway home, enjoying another kind of freedom - feeling our knees in the wind.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

There's Peace at The Cross


With Labor Day weekend being summer's last hurrah, there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to ride. Our Christian Motorcyclists Association chapter had two rides scheduled, on Sunday and Monday. Anna and I chose Monday's ride, since it was preceded by breakfast.

Our rendezvous point was a place called Jumbo Donuts in Whitinsville, Mass. I was unfamiliar with the area, and so was Cathilee DeLorto, the only other Romans 8 rider from our area who was going on the ride, so I took on the responsibility of going on Google and Mapquest to get directions. I copied directions by hand, since no printer was available. Anna and I arrived at Cathilee's house around 7:30 a.m., an hour before we were due at Jumbo Donuts, which I figured would give us plenty of time. Things went smoothly until we got off the highway; then I had to pull over to do a map check.

I've often grumbled about Mapquest, yet, I continue to use it. Many modern motorcyclists use GPS navigators, but, until now, I've resisted them. This trip, however, had me wishing for one. The streets I was looking for eluded me, so I swallowed my pride and pulled over to ask a couple of joggers for directions. Less than a mile later, I was still lost, so I thought I'd have better luck at a gas station ... turned out no luck actually. The attendant was of Middle Eastern descent and spoke in broken English. When we asked if he knew where Jumbo Donuts was, he asked, "You want breakfast?" We backtracked, and then Cathilee, who was riding behind us, spotted the street we were looking for and frantically waved for us to turn. I have to admit the reason we missed the street was because I wrote it was a right-hand turn, when it was actually a left turn. No wonder I rode right by it. We reached the intersection with Route 122 where Jumbo Donuts was supposed to be, but we saw no sign of it, so we stopped for gas. I was just about to go inside to ask for help again, but I spotted the Jumbo Donuts sign across the way, tucked behind another gas station. Our excitement was short-lived, though. A woman behind the counter said we missed our fellow bikers by five minutes.

So now we were in the same boat, having to find our way to the next stop without anyone to follow. I had enough foresight to write down directions to the church where the breakfast was being served, but my writing was chicken scratch (Anna works with doctors who she says have better handwriting), so one of us asked a guy at the donut shop for directions. Even though he was a local, he actually made me more confused the more he repeated himself. Cathilee did not look happy at this point. We decided to just start riding in the direction the donut shop employee had seen the other bikes go, and then I saw a police car parked on the side of the road, so I stopped to ask him for directions. I think he sent us the same way the donut shop guy did, but I was able to follow the officer's directions much more easily. In about 10 minutes, we found our pre-ride desination, the First Congregational Church in Sutton Center. My fears of our of fellow CMA riders finishing their breakfast and heading down the road before we could even find the church disappeared as we rode up to the church, which had a crowd of people outdoors lined up for an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $8 (the church has been hosting this breakfast fundraiser for more than 50 years).

We saw CMA riders from other chapters, as well as Roland and Sue Caron from our chapter. Roland's brother, Mike, arrived several minutes after us, since he had gotten lost too. I had pancakes, ham, eggs, home fries, juice and, of course, coffee. After breakfast, a family was admiring our bikes. One boy who looked about 10 years old said he didn't want a motorcycle when he got older. "They look dangerous," he said. There were about 20 CMA-ers from
various chapters, but they decided to split up after breakfast. One group was riding to New Hampshire and another contingent was riding to Connecticut. Anna and I decided to ride with a third group on a shorter ride to Barre, Mass. to a place called "The Cross."

Our road captain for this leg of the ride was Kathy Hubbard from the Victorious Riders chapter. Anna remarked, "A woman is finally the leader." Kathy rode hard and I was a bit out of my comfort zone keeping up. We rode north on Route 146, and as we approached Worcester, Mass., we had to jam on the brakes due to an accident on the highway involving at least two vehicles; the mishap had probably happened just moments before. Shards of debris covered every lane as we rode by very slowly (a decision was made not to stop, since all the people were out of their vehicles and did not appear to be seriously injured, plus we deducted from the sirens that help was on the way).

Downtown Worcester, especially Chandler Street (Route 122), was not much more hospitable. Road construction in progress left several raised manhole and water curb stop covers that could ruin a motorcyclist's day. Pedestrians seemed to come at us from every direction. "Welcome to the jungle, baby!" Anna said.

We stayed on Route 122 for several miles, eventually leaving the city for more rural, scenic environs in the towns of Paxton, Rutland, Oakham and Barre, where we ended our ride at John P. Harty Sr.'s farm, also known as "The Cross," so named for its asphalt cross 200 feet long and 25 feet wide, with the Ten Commandments neatly painted on the asphalt in block letters three feet high. Harty began the project in 1989, when, while he was praying the Lord's prayer, he heard a "loud, firm and clear"
voice instruct him to clear some land and build a cross to those specifications. As of 1992, Harty had spent about $100,000 on the project, according to an interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Since then, additions to the site have included a stone wall and shrubs planted to spell out "God's wisdom."

As our group walked around the site, which includes a pond and benches, I felt an incredible sense of peace. Anna and I got to meet Harty, a hospitable man now in his mid-80s, who passed out ice cream sandwiches. Anna asked if he had to maintain the property himself, but Harty said a man who lives about 45 minutes away has faithfully volunteered to mow the rather substantial amount of grass. Another man provides his services building the stone wall.

Romans 8 Riders Vice President Roland Caron said Harty often feeds visitors to his site on holiday weekends, and this weekend was no exception, as we got to enjoy hot dogs, hamburgers and numerous side dishes plus desert. I would have loved to stay longer, but others in our group had to be home by a certain time, so Roland led the ride back to Rhode Island. At a gas stop, I noticed what appeared to be a Buddhist monk across the street, sitting on some steps, staring at our group. I stared back because I could not tell if it was a person or a statue. Anna, however, said she saw him move his hand.

"I thought he was jinxing us," Anna said. "I had to put voodoo on him," she joked.

We made our way back through downtown Worcester (where I think the exhaust system on my bike set off a car alarm - and that's with the Vance & Hines 'quiet baffles') and the rest of the ride was smooth sailing in perfect riding weather. And yes, the peaceful feeling lasted the rest of the day.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds s in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)