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)