Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saturday's ride - Riding in Polk County, Florida

Their were seven of us on Saturday, various models of bikes - my Kimmy, a Honda CTX, a lovely 1978 Vespa P200 that was slowly but lovingly being restored and the other bikes.  We are somewhere on route 17 in South Central Florida heading towards a town called Frostproof.  The promise of "the best Onion Rings in Florida" and Ice Cream ahead of us.  I was looking forward to the ice cream.  We were cresting a hill.

"Oh Wow" I stated in my helmet.

Laid out before us was acres of Orange fields and a large beautiful lake.  The water glowed in the afternoon sun.  It's those moments that I love on a bike.  That was the only "Oh Wow" moment on the ride...but there were some interesting views.  We rode past old gnarled bushes that reminded me of something out a bad post-apocalypse movie.  An old water tower that was nearly eaten all the way through by rust, standing as a lonely sentential on the side of the road.

Generally all I use the bike for is commuting.  I don't get out very often to do a group ride, sure I have some adventures and I've done more than a few day trips on my own.  When I'm in a group and I see something like that lonely sentential I would love to pull over.  Maybe with this group I could of?  Who knows.    All I know for sure is...I was enjoying the trip.

There were mostly sweepers - those long easy turns - on the route.  A few twisties - which I define as a series of sharp, quick turns - but generally speaking the ride was not that challenging.  It started in Lakeland, then worked its way into Bartow...then snaked down the back roads towards Frostproof.  We didn't see to many other bikers, or cars in some areas.  I waved thanks to a farmer in a John Deere tractor that pulled aside to let our motley crew pass by.

We ended up at the Lake Arbuckle campground.  I was told it was a favorite with the local painters in the area, and as I looked at the ancient oaks and low hanging spanish moss, I could understand why. My curiosity was peaked by the signs saying "Air Force property.  Keep Out" across the road.  A chain link fence and unkempt vegetation as far as I as could see kept what ever secrets were there well hidden.

After that it was to the restaurant for lunch.  When I realized that the ice cream place did not take cards, I did have cash but not enough to pay for a milkshake and a meal, one of the other riders stepped up and payed for my meal.  He refused to take anything in return or even offer his address for me to send a check to cover it.   Thanks Ed.  I did appreciate the gesture.

I also got a taste of Lakeland, which I keep forgetting about.  It's actually a pretty big city in it's own right and is home to not only the largest collection of buildings by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright in one location but since Polk county has a agriculture history and a lot of swamp land however, it's considered "backwater" in a lot of ways.  The town has a variety of lakes in the town and surrounding the town, and as such is home to various waterfowl.  Including the descendants of Richard the Lion Hearted Swans.  The swan has become the symbol of the city and painted swans are found everywhere.   It's a place the deserves further exploration in the future.

Over all the ride was 159 miles (256 KM) for me.  I was not that hot, the lovely Sue gave me something that you soaked in water then "snapped" to remove the excess water.  It went around my neck and kept me cool (the jugular veins help to regulate body temperature).  I was surprised by how well it worked, sadly I don't have the name of it, but will get it somewhere in the future.  Of course, moving at a good pace and staying hydrated never hurt.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

It's finally getting real (group riding, Bobscoot and updates)

I have plans for the weekend, it's a free weekend for me.  No jobs, no projects that need done.  I was speaking on Facebook with some people I know, and at long last I'll be able to go on a ride with them.

The only concern I have is the heat index.  I refuse to ride without my helmet.  Where I've ridden in the past without a proper jacket, I'm not doing that again.  I will be in jeans and boots.  I'll be riding roads I don't know and frankly I would rather be safe than sorry in case something weird happens.  The group is talking about taking the back roads to Frostproof, Florida.

That is about 70 miles from my house in Zephyrhills but that is the direct route.  When has a motorcyclist ever taken the direct route?   So I'm looking at about 150 to 200 miles (241 - 322 KM) round trip.  I can do that.   The route as it stand now is mostly US 27 and US 17; which will take us close to places like Bok Tower and  Cypress Gardens.  This is the "hill county" of Central Florida and should provide some beautiful vista's and overlooks.  I just hope I can take some photo's.

At this moment the weather is predicted to be 93 F (34 C) with a 50% chance of rain.  If the rain follows the traditional Florida summer pattern of being late afternoon/early evening storms I should be home, safe and dry, before the first raindrop falls  Tropical Storm Erika should not effect Florida at all till Monday and is most likely to skirt to the north of the Sunshine state.  So it's a long ride in the heat and humidity that bothers me, not so much the chance of rain.

The last few times I rode the bike into work I thought I would melt in the saddle as the heat index hit 105 F (40.6 C).  It's got me seriously considering buying either a cooling vest or something from the Heat Out line of gear.  I've been impressed with the Freeze out gear that I have tested.  If I buy anything it's going to have to be soon.  I've used something like what's in the picture before, but that only lasts for an hour or so, from what I understand a cooling vest can be run under cold water and keep you cool for a few hours.   The "heat out" line works by wicking the sweat away from your body.   In any case, I've bringing a few bottles of water.

I'm also thinking that in the coming month or so I should finally get a visit from Bobscoot.  For those of you that may not be familiar with Bobscoot.  He is a avatar of the late great Bob Leong.  Bob was one of the first people to comment on my blog and encouraged me to continue to write about my adventures (and misadventures) on two wheels.   The fourth anniversary of the blog just passed on the 25 of August as a matter of fact.  The little wooden scooter that serves as his proxy has been around the world now.  England, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.   Of course, several states here in the US as well.  I'm honored and scared to be part of that tribute.  I don't travel as much as others.  I'm not one to ride 100 or 200 miles in a day.  I'm simply me.  I'm actually a pretty boring guy.

But that's sort of the point of this isn't it.  To have a celebration of life and riding.   To simply...go.  So I have some things in mind for Bobscoot.  I just hope I can fit them all in with a crazy ass work schedule, weather and life in general.

In a gesture I'm sure he would have loved, I'll be riding to the Jacksonville area to pass Bobscoot on to Bill L. who writes the excellent Rocket and Me blog.  This will be my first meeting with another motoblogger.

So it's going to be nice to get out for a bit.  To meet up with new friends and old.  To my travels with Bobscoot (I've a few ideas in mind).  I'm looking forward to that change of seasons.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Decisions....good and bad

We've been having the typical Florida summer as of late.  Hot mornings followed by even hotter afternoons, then a late afternoon or early evening thunderstorm.  The science teacher in me understands the the ground starts to cool we switch to warmer air coming in off the gulf.  That creates unstable conditions which results in rain.   Pretty simple really.

In the past my decision to ride was pretty much determined by the weather.   Fifty percent chance or higher of rain was a crap shoot and my cut off point.  Now with a commute that puts me at the end of rush hour and in heavier traffic...that percentage becomes even more important.  Suddenly forty percent of rain seems more reasonable.  More manageable.

I talk to people all day, I help them make decisions that can affect their family, their lives, their financial outcomes.  I train people to do this.  I work with everyone for 18 to 80.   I love my job at times...I hate my job at times.  Making decisions on risk, reward....opportunity.  So when I personally make a decision - for good or bad - it has a reason and it is not made lightly.

Rain....rain can not be taken lightly.  Especially in traffic.  Especially in a city like Tampa, with poor drainage, flooded roads and one of the highest incidents of uninsured motorists in the country.

A last minute decision in the morning to ride in despite a call for rain during the evening hours.  My decision to ride home tonight was a good one.   I had a little issue merging onto the highway; a road I generally don't like to ride home but with thunder booming in the distance and lightening striking the ground, I was looking for the fastest way away from the gathering doom.  I had my rain gear on, and was sweating my ass off in it.

Of course, not a drop of rain.

Yesterday however was a different tale, I left work under clear skies and took my normal way home.  On the way I had no luck and was caught at nearly every red light.   Then it started.  Light at first, actually almost enjoyable as the temperature dropped and the wind picked up.

That should have been my warning.

Before I knew it I was pulling off to the side of the road, hiding under a bank's drive thru window soaked and pissy.  That was within ten minutes after the storm started.  It continued to pour for roughy twenty minutes...and then I decided to move.  On went the rain gear even through I was soaked.

How far did I go since I left the bank...ten miles, fifeteen?  I was under the awning of a church this time thinking about why I made such a bad decision to ride to work.  I am looking out at a downpour so bad that I was unsure where the road was.  I'm cold.  I'm wet.  I'm unhappy.

Finally it lets up again, it's late and it's taking me forever to get home.  My hour commute that turned into a two hour plus ride.   When I finally do get home its a quick shower to warm up, a shot of whisky just to ensure my nerves were calm and off to bed.

Tomorrow's weather?  More of the same.  A forty percent chance which threatens me when I leave work.  A very good chance considering the pattern over the last week or so.  Maybe I'll take the car.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Seriously...when do you buy/replace gear?

It's a rainy and sad Sunday morning.   I've got Miles Davis on in the background, his Kind of Blue is fitting my mood.

It's been an uneventful week, which I suppose as a scooter commuter is the type of week you want to have.  No close calls, no idiotic drivers (well, none that caused a problem for me at least).  Sadly no travel either do to a wet and very busy weekend.

So what to write about?  I considered writing about the weather - which has been hot, muggy and wet most of the week - and how to safely ride in it.  I've considered how the cooler weather will soon be here, how my "winter" jacket has served me well and since I'm now working only till 6 or 7 PM most nights, how my Freeze Out jacket, gloves and my current mesh jacket should work well for me most of the year.  In fact, for only a few months out of the year the mesh jacket suites me fine.

Average Tampa temperatures 
High °FLow °FHigh °CLow °C
The Jacket from Xmas - 2011

My blood has not thinned out that much when I would consider anything to be cold.  Of course your body adjusts to the climate your in.  We've had some cold snaps that reminded me of early winters back home.

My "winter" jacket is your traditional motorcycle jacket.  It was made by Vulcan and it has served me very, very well.  It's been through a couple of "incidents."  Neither of which were technically my fault, but as a realist - I could have done things better, been a better rider.  Experience helps you grow.  Unlike a helmet, which I know should be replaced when ever it's been involved in a accident, I'm not sure about the jacket.

It's been beat up sure, scratched up in a couple of places but the seams are still holding up nicely.  It's a little snug now, much more so then what I remember it but the man is growing older.  It's four years old now.

The jacket was given to me as a gift, I still would have preferred, and still prefer something in a bright neon or orange.  But beggars can not be choosers and I love that my parents bought me a good jacket.  I added some reflective tape to it and later still added a neon yellow safety vest to it.  It still works...but honestly I'm a bit worried about the armour and how that holds up over time.

Gloves are easy to know when to replace.  Frankly I used to buy a pair of riding gloves from my local Wal-mart, but after wearing through the fingers on a few of them I bit the bullet and paid for a pair of Fox gloves.  It's been a world of difference and I'm going to buy a pair of gauntlet gloves for the winter.  I just need to go get a pair.  Color don't matter, just be windproof and waterproof.

I know I'm cheap, but the older I get the more safety matters to me.  I'm okay paying a bit more for something that may be the difference between a broken hand and a bruised hand.

Then their is my helmet.   I have mixed emotions about it.  When I bought it, I thought it was fine, but here we are some two years later and I'm not happy with it at all.

It's an HJC.  The little plastic tab broke off that opens and closes the top vents, it's been open ever since, not that it matters.  The face shield had a tendency to come out of its' grooves, meaning I've had to pull over and fix it at times.  The plastic seems cheap and I've often had to resnap the padding back into place.  I'm cheap like I said and it was a closeout.

I do have a few other helmets.  Sue has one for her noggin and we bought a second full face helmet for me at that time but it never felt quite right when I wore it, hence I bought the HJC and was happy with it for a short time.  A silver half helmet I've not worn in forever rounds out the equipment.

I've fallen in love with the modular helmets - wearing glasses it would be so much easier - and frankly if I go that route, I might as well pay for the phone/GPS and radio option.  One of the things I love about riding is the quiet, NOT having the radio or GPS or people calling.  Still though, if I'm serious about wanting to go on day trips to the Atlantic or put in 150 mile + days on a more regular basis, having that equipment built in only makes sense.  It's just a shame that Nolan is so damned pricy.  So do we put that off?  Or the jacket for now?

No matter what I do, I'm looking at getting my money's worth out of this equipment.  Good gear can be the difference between "Ouchie" and "We are here to celebrate the life of..."   I'll take the ouchie in the pocketbook before the "celebration of life" any day of the week.

So gentle readers; when do you buy gear?  What would you recommend?  I'm listening.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Exploring Brooksville - a pretty place with a racist history

It's your typical Summer weather pattern here in Florida, the rain was moving in off the Gulf coast and again I had to decide if riding was worth it.  The TV news blabbing about a 60 to 70% chance of rain. broke that chance down even further for me.  I could stay dry if I moved my ass and had a little luck.  If I was going to do this today, it would not be on Kimmie sadly.

My destination was Brooksville, Fl which lies about an hour north of me in Hernando county.  The roads in the area are twisty, the county is mostly rural which makes it one of the more popular destinations for riders in the area.  It has an annual Blueberry Festival in April that celebrates the area's agricultural roots.  I also learned that is also the geographical center of Florida although I could not find the exact spot anywhere on the map.
Confederate statue outside the courthouse.

It's a pretty city with roots dating back nearly 150 years.  It also has a violent racist history which sickened and interested me at the same time.  Brooksville was named in 1856 after Preston Brooks, a South Carolina Congressman whose claim to fame in the history books is that he beat a anti - slavery congressman with a cane on the Senate floor.  An act that may have indirectly lead to the Civil War. 
It also has a history of lynchings, of intolerance and trials.  

So here I am, riding a hour or so north to visit the courthouse.  To learn about how a deadly feud could erupt over interracial marriage (at a time when such things were simply not done), how the courthouse could "mysteriously" catch fire and destroy the evidence of the lynching that followed the death of a black Minister and former county commissioner.   How, for a brief time this county was lawless and filled with vigilantes called "regulators."
One of the old oaks dating back a few hundred years.

How a county of only 4,000 people at that time would have over 40 murders, many of which are still considered unsolved.  Many of the murders were related to race, but also included the death of a sheriff and two judges.  One of the area's sheriff's, W. D. Cobb, was even accused of killing two white men, one of whom was involved in a crime that Cobb supposedly took part in.  How and why this happened interested me although I still don't have an answer.

Two hotels were burned down during this period and house fires were common.  Even after justice was restored, Hernando county had the highest incidence of lynchings between 1900 and 1930, possibly second only to the entire state of Mississippi.  However those numbers are hard to come across, and frankly I'm not sure I want to.  

Brooksville still has racial tensions, brought to the surface recently by the Confederate flag controversy but also by the vandalization of a historic black cemetery, which according to local legend and myth; you can still see the body of a lynched man at night.  Or sometimes hear the screams of a baby.  Entering town there was a business proudly displaying Confederate items.  History they say, repeats itself.
May - Stringer House

How this town could have so many Confederate moments yet not one that even mentioned Brooksville African American community?  If they did, then I was unaware of it.  History moves on and in this pretty town it's hard to believe such things happened in the time of our great grandparents.  We have come so far in such a brief time, but at the same time we have so much further to go.  So here I am, looking for historic sites and information on this dark period of history. Then I'm reminded that I'm living in a dark time, as a Confederate flag burning was recently attempted in Brooksville.  It did not turn ugly but had the potential to, the pro flag side outnumbered the anti flag side and cooler heads prevailed.

Living in Florida it is easy to forgot that despite all the sunlight and natural beauty, that darkness still lurks.  That ugly things still hide in the shadows.  

In a way I wish the weather would have held off for me a little while longer.   The groundskeeper at the May - Stringer house was telling me about his ghost sightings.  I was hoping to visit the rail station and one room school.  The African - American cemetery was on my list.  It was to wet, to nasty...I was lucky to get the time I did to look about.  Frankly though...I'm not sure I go back.  You can't go in reverse, only forward.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Riding changes you.

I'm stealing this idea from Scooter in the Sticks, who stole it from Princess Scooterpie.  Basically, they wrote a piece about how riding changes you.

Lately I've been giving a lot of thought to changes in my personal life, but that is for another blog post at another time.  My personal life of course, leaks into this blog.  How can it not?  Generally speaking however, when I write a blog post, I try to just concentrate on my riding, my hopefully improving skills as a rider and the adventures that I have.

I started riding for a variety of reasons and frankly none of it was to explore.  Explore I have however as my bike has taken me to places that I would not have seen other wise; down roads that have surprised me with amazing beauty and odd little things that only exist if you go looking for them.  I've always enjoyed exploring.

I don't have a lot of friends.  Even fewer that ride.  I've always been the loner type, I'm not a joiner.  I've always felt a lot more comfortable in my head.  Yet I've found myself going to the Bahama's with people I didn't know to ride, simply to state that I've rode in another country to be truthful.  Or heading out to a restaurant to meet other scooterists.  Or as part of a ad hoc group of riders going down the road.  The three or four of us, each of us never speaking to each other, but forming a chain for mutual visibility and protection.  An unspoken bond of the motorcyclist.  The brotherhood of two wheels.

For me, the old mill with it's historical marker or horse in the field is interesting.   I rarely stop and take photos though.  I guess I would rather let that moment seep into my memory.  Not every photo I've taken ended up in this blog.  Nor has every moment or memory.  Like that time I nearly hit a car because I was more worried about checking the lane next to me and I took my eyes off of what was in front of me.   Or that time a distracted driver barely managed to get around me, ran the red light and somehow made it through a busy intersection unscathed.  Most times, the roads I ride are boring....and I've learned to keep my head on a swivel.  I've learned to be that much more aware of my surroundings.

Its okay to stop however, to read that sign or admire the flowers that grow along the roadside.  Or even to view the storm as it moves in across the bay.  Not for to long, but just long enough to remember that nature is more powerful and beautiful than we mere mortals will ever comprehend.  I've yet to find a writer that can describe that feeling of the sun shining down through the trees as we ride through the beams of light.  Perhaps it's not meant to be described.  I'm okay with that.  Riding teaches you to be humble.

Not a bad lesson to learn.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Me, the South and that damned Stars and Bars

I try to keep my personal politics out of this blog.  I'm a liberal and a dyed in the wool Democrat although I joined the Green Party back in 1996 because I didn't like my parties candidate.  I found the Greens to be a little in line with where I was politically.

Personally I have no "dog in the fight" in the debate regarding the Confederate flag.  I grew up in the north and the "Rebel" flag was something that that hung in dorm rooms or was associated more with fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd than anything racial.  Sure it was used by the KKK and other hate groups, I knew that...but my friends and I all went to colleges were we were exposed to different cultures and ideas and then went to work in diverse work places.  We all knew Jews, Blacks, Homosexuals and other minorities.  We may have had different thoughts on where this country went right or wrong (and still do) but the debates were mostly friendly.  The flag simply was not part of our heritage for good or ill.

Florida quietly removed the Confederate flag from it's government buildings, parks and memorials long before I moved here.  You still see it flying on private property but generally speaking, with one notable exception, it's not very prominent.  At least here in the Tampa/St Petersburg/Orlando area.

So why write about it now?  Because frankly I have mixed feelings about it and putting things down on paper is one of the ways I work out my feelings.

I've been doing a lot of reading about the flag, being the news junkie that I am.  Case in point, I did not know that most state flags did not include any Confederate symbolism until the late 1950's or early 1960's and that was done mostly as a reaction to the growing Civil Rights movement and the perceived interference in "States Rights" by the Federal government  Many states in fact tried to enacting laws to sidestep the Federal courts when it came to Civil Rights.  Many of these same states are trying to enact laws to sidestep the recent court decisions on Gay Marriage.   It's a fight they are going to lose but the same tired arguments are being raised again.

I've also been planning a ride to historic Brooksville - which was named after infamous Preston Brooks - a man who won fame for attacking fellow Congressman Charles Sumner with a cane; who at the time was making an anti-slavery speech.   The beating of Sumner may have lead indirectly to the Civil War.  Interestingly enough, it's not mentioned on the town's website.

The more I read about Brooksville and its violent past, the more it sickened and intrigued me.  More on that in upcoming episodes of this blog I promise.  If the weather ever cooperates with me (I was rained on consistency for two days straight).

I guess I just don't truly understand how a man with a different skin color should be treated as a second class citizen.  Not I'm not a saint.  There are neighborhoods where the windows are up and the car doors locked because of a perceived or very real threat.  I've quickened my pace at times.  Generally speaking though, I try to follow the Golden rule.  I've also witnessed the so called "Driving while Black" phenomenon first hand...and had the white officer look me square in the eye ignoring my black friend behind the wheel and ask me with a straight face if I needed help.  I like to think this would not happen in my hometown my Pittsburgh, but I know it would.

To a certain extent I understand why many see the flag as a racist symbol.   Years ago I was in a country called Kazakhstan, which was part of the old Soviet Union.   What struck me as odd was in the center of a square there was a huge statue dedicated to the thousands of Kazak soldiers that lost there lives fighting for the Soviets during World War Two.  The stone faces were European.   Kazakhstan is mostly a mixture of Asian and Middle Eastern faces.

It was explained to me that many Kazaks died during that war, but they never received was always the Russians.  A case of the powerful keeping the weak down.  The Confederate flag is no different.  It's just another symbol.  A symbol that for some does the same thing.

Truly I understand why some see it as "Heritage".  Our history is full of people that kept Native American traditions alive despite attempts to "civilize" them.  World history is full of similar examples...and where one tradition could not be replaced, it was assimilated.  To many, the flag is a symbol of their ancestors who fought and died for seemingly lofty goals and for that reason alone it's worth saving and celebrating.    For many it's a sign of rebellion, of the little guy standing up to the big guy.  On that I agree.

Was the Civil War about state rights?  Yes.  However to deny that part of the state rights movement at the time was the right to enslave another is rewriting history.  Living in 2015 I can not think like a soldier in the early 1860's, willing to die for either side and I know there were many who fought for the Confederacy who did not own slaves, or disagreed with slavery.  Still they fought for a ideal and in my personal family history, we have soldiers on both sides.

I've lived in the South in one form or another for nearly 20 years.  It's changing.  It's slow but it's coming.  Removing the flag is just part of that change. Sure it's part of the Southern culture and heritage just as much as sweet tea and grits but in the end it's got to come down.  The south is going to have to grow up and move out of the past, and part of that growing is accepting that the argument(s) to keep the flag just does not hold water.