Friday, June 17, 2016

Myrtle Beach on a Motorcycle (and I lived to tell about it)


Part One: Eat your hearts out, couch potatoes
Okay, just to let all you skeptics and doubters of senior-
citizen capabilities out there knowI made it!

Yeah, it was about 300 miles to North Myrtle Beach according to the odometer in my 1300cc Viagra-blue chopper, a 2010 Honda Fury. I stopped twice for gas, both times in South Carolina, during which time I sipped some home-brewed coffee from my small thermos, took a few puffs of a Honduran cigar kept safely stowed in a metal tube, and enjoyed the interesting clientele come and go. One was dragging, no make that pushing, her tailpipe as she came in for a noisy landing at the here-to-fore quiet Corner Mart. After buying a large soda but no gas she went on her metallic, who-me-worry, merry way.

Another old fellow, obviously a connoisseur of fine motor sports said, "Nice bike," as he limped back to his car and almost in the same breath asked the lady in the car, "Do you want a soda?" I could watch this all day, I thought, but the call of the open road beckoned me to saddle up and move on. But first, I also had to go inside and ask for my receipt since the pump said, "See attendant for receipt." 

"What, no soda?" the mustached clerk inside must have asked himself after I got my receipt and used the restroom. Since I did buy two and a half gallons of gas, good for another hundred miles, I hoped I was now entitled to be considered a "customer" so I could use his precious "For Customers Only" restroom. What? Has this been a problem? Does the neighborhood come in to use his restroom rather than at their own home? Do they take their Saturday night baths in there? Well, at least there was no customary sign saying "Out of Order," for which I was grateful.

Anyhow, I know you are dying to hear how bad the trip was and how I suffered, but you won't admit it. Yes, I heard the jokes and all the prophesies like, "You won't get to the county line before you'll be wishin' you had towed your bike to the beach in your trailer," or better yet, "Why not take your car, listen to the radio, eat snacks, and be comfortable?" and "You better hope Myrtle Beach has a chiropractor." These loving comments were always followed by various guffaws, grins, and glances, as they were invariably made in front of an appreciative and responsive audience.

Shall I humor you? Okay, I will confess this chopper-style bike is aptly called a "street bike," not a highway bike. There is only one position for your feet. They must stick out in front of you like you’re trying to stop a bobsled. This does get old, at least that's what my calf muscles were telling me. But I tried to get creative. Even a slight change of position was a godsend and soon the cramps subsided and the violent trembling moved on to other body parts.

End of part One. More to follow when my fingers straighten out.

I could have stayed here all day.

The Myrtle Beach Bike Trip - Part 2

The trip began at 5:30 at dawn. It was a bit cool for merely my long sleeve red Sturgis T-shirt and breezy black leather vest so before getting on the Interstate I pulled over and slipped on my leather jacket I had fortunately stuffed into my tubular travel bag mounted behind me. I also added my homemade "neck protector" made from a swatch of an old pajama leg. Hey, it works. It matches, too. I also even carried a back-up—a nicer and heavier one I use in the winter. My wife made that one. It matches even better.

And I was wearing a helmet with a face-shield, but I don't have a windshield. Ballet dancers don't wear boots. Choppers don't do windshields. That's just not me.

So with only the face-shield to deflect a rock or giant Japanese beetle, not to mention the cool air, my neck would be the only exposed skin between me and a mobile tracheotomy. I was also wearing gloves. But the leather jacket was the ticket—no more worries about the cool air blasting me at 70 mph or more, sucking what little body heat I still have left at my ripe old age of three score and ten.

I love the power of the metric 1300cc twin and the throaty roar that the aftermarket muffler-free Cobra Speedster swept-up exhaust pipes make as it cuts a thin swath through the foggy early morning mountain air. Damn the torpedoes—and the sleepers—full speed ahead.

Being early Sunday, traffic was light. The road was mine. After about fifty miles my anxiety began to wane. As with any trip, some travel anxiety is normal. I remember John Steinbeck addressing this in Travels with Charlie. I guess there was some of that, but mine was more of, simply said, the danger: the unexpected, the two-wheeled ride on a tightrope at near ballistic speed, and—it can’t be denied—an instant ticket to death. At times, I would think about the pain that could be waiting, if only for a second, but my mind didn't stay there long as I had enough present discomfort to distract me from thoughts of future pain.

Still, with all these years of survival, one can't help but think of such things. Wisdom that only comes from experience reminds you of such thoughts as blow-outs, pot-holes, dislodged brake calipers, failures-to-yield, road debris, leaping deer, and low-flying turkeys, if only for a fleeting moment. But then, what thrill does a La-Z-Boy recliner offer? I'll get back to you on that.

Why does mankind purposely seek such pleasantries as wind, cold, rain, mountains, oceans, outer space, and walking on beds of red hot coals? Perhaps it was an easy step after all, for Adam to taste the Forbidden Fruit. I digress.

The miles ticked by pretty quickly but I'll admit I was always looking forward to seeing my odometer click on the hundred-mile mark, telling me I needed to pull over at the next exit for gas. I'm guessing I have about a 120-mile range on my three-gallon tank—one made for style, not function. Based on past experience on other motorcycles, I have owned five, I carried a quart of extra gas in a used plastic oil container mounted on the back in a little pink pouch, but didn't have to use it. It did give me a great peace of mind, however. With three gallons at about forty miles per gallon, that doesn't leave much room for miscalculation. I figured that the one extra quart would give me about ten extra miles if needed.


The curb--a welcomed change. 
Myrtle Beach Trip- Part 3
The final leg

After an uneventful second gas stop and brief break where sitting on a concrete curb was a welcomed change, I hit the road again. I was glad for this stop as I had been driving with reduced visibility from water and road grime on my face-shield. Although the rain had passed ahead of me, the roads were still wet. With every passing car, RV, or 18-wheeler, I got a spritzing of dropletsjust enough to keep me from seeing my GPS or speedometer clearly, not to mention the critical view ahead. The bottom legs of my jeans were a bit wet, too.

While stopped, I used my water bottle and face cloth to clean the visor. Normally, I use the face cloth, handily tucked under a bungee cord, to prevent droplets of gasoline from splashing as I refill the tank. One drop of gas on a hot exhaust pipe can ruin your day.

The threatening dark clouds passed to the north, and as I was headed east, I felt greatly relieved. Sure enough, as with each change of highway, the sun got brighter.

I dodged a snake along about here, barely missing it as it hot-bellied across the highway in front of me. It made it to the other side, along with the chicken who had already crossed, I suppose.

Soon I was seeing all the tell-tail signs of an approaching beach and a proverbial tourist destination. Along with pirate-themed billboards, exotic this and exotic that, there were sea-shell shops, souvenir shops and so-called Myrtle Beach "welcome centers." Yeah right.

At a busy crossroads with shops and fast-food restaurants aplenty, I pulled over for a change of wardrobe. It was getting too hot for the leather jacket. I stuffed it, along with my neck protector and leather gloves back into the bag. Keeping my vest on, I pulled up my sleeves to the elbows and headed on, now southeast to North Myrtle Beach, my last leg.

This is speed-trap hunting grounds, I thought to myself. Everyone's in a hurry to get to the beach or to get home. I throttled back in granny style, stretching out my aching left leg over the foot peg. Sure enough, there they weretwo of them—radar guns aiming, waiting for their next prey. It was not to be me, not today, fortunately. They must be the Myrtle Beach welcomers, I mused.

I had programmed my handlebar-mounted GPS, as well as my pocketed iPhone, with the storage company's address where I would house the bike during my stay at the beachfront condo. For whatever their reasons, the condo doesn't allow motorcycles, scooters or golf carts into their parking decks. I liked the security of the 10'x10' gated storage unit better anyway as I could imagine my bike being an attraction to climbing kids, visually challenged parkers, or the Hell's Angels procurement department.

My iPhone with the ear-bud arrangement had worked pretty well but I guess the Google Maps app depleted the battery pretty quickly along the way as it had quit talking to me some miles back. This was not a problem as I had the printed and laminated directions taped to the top of my tank with painter's tape, which was safe to use on the elegant tank’s painted blue finish. I did refer to it as well as the GPS's visual map and other info provided by the Garmin. I had it muted, as there is no way I could hear the British lady’s voice, even with the volume at 100 percent, which I had tested out before the trip. The ever-changing speed limits posted on the Garmin as well as my own speed was a great help, too.

Making my final turn to the right on US 17, and shy of five miles from needing to stop for gas, there it was on the leftResort Stor-All. I had the passcode and locker number written down, so when the gate rolled open, in I went, easy as that.

Jeff, the owner, put a ramp inside for my use so I could ride the bike easily onto the raised floor. I took my own lock and key. Dismounting, I took off my boots and socks, vest and T-shirt, and donned more appropriate beach attire: a Hawaiian shirt and flip flops. I extracted what was left of my cigar from its metal case, rolled down and locked the door, and headed for the gate. The trip, after all, didn’t seem that long of a ride—now.

Within a couple minutes, Debbie pulled in and drove me to the condo about a mile away. She had arrived Saturday afternoon. The trip worked out perfectly, I must say.

I returned to Resort Stor-All today, Monday, to pay the bill but chose to walk. Then I took the bike on a short ride in my flip flops (that's all I had, other than the boots), sans helmet, to get gas and cruise the neighborhood a bit. I certainly don’t recommend using flip-flops on a motorcycle, and I was quite nervous, but the station was just next door. When I returned, the gate magically opened in front of me, so I just cruised right in and up to E-39, my bike's room for the week.

In a couple of minutes, here comes Jeff in a golf cart and picked me up. He showed me around a bit, like where he parks trailers and RVs. He said he doesn't do auctions like on TV, but sells unclaimed property to an individual. He shared that his wife is a five-year cancer survivor and that he had cataract surgery just last week. We had a nice visit and shared some good stories as old men do, as you can tell. When I asked him about how the gate magically opening for me, he said with a wry grin, "We are a full service facility.”

The weather looks much better for my return trip Saturday, although tropical storm "Colin" is expected to pass over tonight and early tomorrow. If it floods, I'm pulling my motorcycle into the parking garage, I don't care what they say. We're on the fifth floor. 

Stay thirsty for adventure, my friend.

Steve Norwood

The Myrtle Beach Trip-Part 4-The Return

In my enthusiasm to tell you about my trip, I left out an important part. It was a fun part, too, and one where I spent a lot of time but found challenge and satisfaction; that being the pre-trip preparations.

Some say the anticipation is the best part. There may be something to that, but I will say that the planning, the preparation, and yes, the anticipation is definitely a huge aspect of the overall trip, and one which if properly executed will add to the fun, the success, and even the survival of any trip-taker.

I spent a year planning my sail from Puerto Rico to Florida back in the summer of 1972, accomplishing something almost daily toward that goal which, by the way, came off without a hitch. We successfully made the 1400-mile, seven-week trip alive and still afloat, and that was the primary goal. We visited 19 islands, made 28 anchorages, and averaged about 29 miles per day, although we didn’t sail every day. I think it was unanimous among the four of us guys, Harry, Don, my brother Grover, and me, that it was THE trip of a lifetime. Harry’s wife said the trip was always the first story Harry talked about whenever he found anyone who would listen, usually on the golf course. It was one I should have chronicled, but never did, other than notes I kept in my navigational log. Only two of the crew are alive today. Harry died at the helm while sailing with his wife. Don died in Puerto Rico, several years later.

But now back to the motorcycle.

On this trip, I must say, I began to make plans soon after Debbie made our reservations for the condo at North Myrtle Beach. This was five months in advance.

The first problem I needed to solve was the lack of stowage on the motorcycle. There were no saddlebags or luggage rack. Being a “chopper” wasn’t conducive to installing the traditional leather saddlebags. Custom fiberglass bags weren’t an option either because of the expense. I wasn’t planning to take much on the bike, however, as Debbie would carry my luggage in advance in her car. Nevertheless, I was thinking I might need some gear, tools, extra clothing and various odds and ends, like a tire gauge, sunglasses, a small first aid kit (this should bring a chuckle), and other items I didn’t want to keep in my pockets. I was thinking I may just have to spend the night somewhere should I have a breakdown or other problems. I may have a flat tire, who knows? Like on my sailboat, I tried to think of possible scenarios and what my contingencies might be.

I finally found a suitable round black leather biker’s travel bag on E-Bay. I also mounted a small tool bag to the frame in front of the radiator. Then my next quest was how I would handle my cell phone and GPS along with the necessary handlebar mounts. The route to North Myrtle Beach was circuitous and involved about ten different highway changes. The GPS situation was still a work in progress even on the trip to the coast, as I may have mentioned, but it did not present a problem.

I devised a good method of securing the travel bag on the buddy-seat behind me, which was another challenge in itself. I tested it out locally numerous times before my day of departure. It’s pretty handy, actually. What I didn’t want was it falling off, slipping to the side, or even worse, opening up and spilling the contents down I-26. I experimented with it quite a lot beforehand.

I had back-ups to the back-ups to secure the bag in place, using several small carabiner clips and screw shackles along with an assortment of bungee cords. Then over it I lassoed a regular backpack between me and the leather bag, also securing it to several points. I inserted a small back rest that came with the bag, extra clothing for cushion and attached a cup holder to the outside of that, along with my clip-on Leatherman and two ink pens. I slipped two pair of gloves and a wash cloth under one of the bungees. On the days of departure, I put a water bottle in the cup holder and a small thermos of coffee into the backpack. The water came in handy all along the way, but only when I was stopped, mind you. I used it for drinking, of course, but also for washing my face-shield, as mentioned, or even to rinse my hands. On the hot sunny day of the return trip and where I had more skin exposed, I assumed I was constantly in the process of dehydration. The air was hot and dry and at the speed I was going, there had to be a lot of evaporation, or “transpiration,” going on.

And I told you about the extra ten mile’s-worth of gasoline I carried on the back of the bag, in a used oil bottle and in its own pouch, also doubly secured, yet easily accessible. This virtually eliminated my worries about running out of gas and having to leave the bike on the side of the highway to walk or hitch-hike to the nearest filling station. Been there, done that.

The condo’s check-out day was Saturday, and I was the first in our group to leave. I was chauffeured to the storage unit by my son John and grandson, Liam, where I endeavored to make a few last minute preparations, despite being peppered with “Why” questions by the five-year-old concerning everything I did. He seemed to be most fascinated with my helmet but everything motorcycle spurred another question. It was hard to concentrate but soon I backed out and cranked the beast, much to Liam’s delight.

I stowed my leather jacket in the bag, as it was predicted to be a near record heat day, both at Myrtle Beach and in the mountains. So I just wore my same long-sleeved Sturgis souvenir T-shirt, sleeves pulled up, and the same leather vest, mostly because of the handy pockets, one of which I would use to store my iPhone. The other pocket would contain chap-stick, chewing gum and Tums-for-the-tummy, a shameful dependency left over from being a part-time driver’s education instructor.

So out of the gate I rolled, seeing John and Liam in my rear-view mirror. I imagined Liam was firing off whys like a machine gun: Why is Grandy going that way? Why does Grandy have to go? Why is Grandy driving a motorcycle? Now that’s a good question. I hope we can answer that in this final installment. But let’s get on with the trip and the 300 miles ahead.

It was a great day to be on a motorcycle. The sun was rising hot and was behind me, not in my eyes. The day was clear. The tank was full.  My equipment was riding securely with the wind, and the motor was responsive to the slightest twist of my wrist. The blast of the engine through those Cobra swept-up pipes was like music, the deepest bass notes on a powerful pipe organ.

My thick leather boots, especially designed for motorcycle riding, worked in unison with the clutch lever as I climbed the five-speeds of the transmission, left toe lifting the gear shifter each time.

My navigational worries were resolved using my Garmin GPS, my tank-mounted route summary, and the ear-piece audibly giving me directions via Google Maps. I solved the battery drainage issue by using a splitter I had previously packed for the trip. With it plugged into the charger mounted on the handlebars, I could keep both the GPS and my cell phone charging continuously. The cables were not in the way.

Now all that was left was the road in front of me and the trip ahead for the next five to six hours. As I accelerated up to legal cruising speed and employing my “cruise control” throttle lock, my thoughts while hanging on against the increasing blast of wind were simple: survive.

This was not the time to contemplate the yen and the yang. It was not the moment to critique the plausibility of ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It was not the place to find myself, and this was definitely not the vehicle for meandering thoughts of love, life, and the universe—not with less than six square inches of rubber barely contacting the road, two elliptical spots called the “contact patch.” Think even less in a curve.

Stay alert. Stay alive. That's the goal here. I periodically check the speed, the distance I’ve traveled, and sometimes the clock...the LED stuck to my right hand mirror, never having to glance down at my wristwatch.

The clock, by the way, was a great addition. I found it at Walmart and although small, it has large digital numbers making it easy to read at a glance. The throttle-lock was also a godsend, as was my ear-bud squawking directions, even though I couldn't always hear it clearly. At least there were no missed turns or dangerous U-turns I had to make and my wrist could relax occasionally. I could even take my right hand off the throttle for a few seconds to flex my fingers and to give my elbow and wrist muscles a break.

I dare not read the billboards or turn my head to see the river I was passing over or the fields and pastures to my sides, not for long at least, and not while doing “Mach 70” or more, and me with no airbag, seat belt or parachute. Again, your margin of mercy is that open distance of road in front of you. It could be a warning glimpse of debris or other hazards in front of you, allowing a small but critical change of course or speed, not to mention that critical breaking distance—that time and distance you need to stop, even if in a full lock-down skid. (I had to do that once a long time ago sliding sideways to a stop and came out smelling like a rose, the genus gasolina nervousa, although partially under a lady's rear bumper which, by the way Your Honor, I didn't even touch. Not her or the pavement. (Note to self: increase following distance from now on.) Oh, and yes sir: slow down a bit when in unpredictable city traffic. Got it.

The traffic was much heavier today, a Saturday, than the day I arrived—a Sunday. Saturday is the change-over day for hotels and condos that rent by the week. Cars, trailers and RVs were passing and swapping positions, like in a NASCAR race, anxious to get back to their waiting jobs on Monday morning. I was begrudgingly but purposely following at a very good distance an ugly fifth-wheel RV. Everybody was passing, as I knew they would when they saw the size of that RV up ahead, even though he was keeping pace nicely with the speed limit. He was my “front door” clearing the way for me, I strategized. Suddenly I smelled burning rubber. That’s panic-inducing but it’s not me, I quickly decided. Still, it's time for full alert mode: throttle back and prepare to evade possible tire debris or who-knows-what. The RV and I both began to move over to the left lane as we saw the source: a blowout on a boat trailer’s left side. He had passed us not long before. Rubber was flying as the unfortunate fisherman pulled over to the roadside in a cloud of smoke, dust, and humiliation. I was glad I had been protected by the ugly RV.

I haven't mentioned the word yet, but it needs to be said at least: anticipate. This is true wherever you are, regardless of the mode of transportation. I think this is why I am still alive today. Use the five wonderful senses God has given you, including your brain, to help you anticipate and predict. 

The sense of smell on the open road is lost to car passengers. It can be critical to a motorcyclist, but more often it is a source of pleasure. On this trip, I noticed the smell of freshly cut grass, honeysuckle, roadside flowers, cropland, cattle, a paper mill, and at one point, the strong smell of seafood—I guessed there was a seafood processing plant nearby. When passing the Beneteau sailing yacht factory in Marion, South Carolina, maybe it was my imagination but I thought I smelled new fiberglass and old money. I resisted a long envious stare at the large unfinished hulls in their boatyard as I passed. I had seen Beneteau yachts in the Caribbean. They’re beautiful.

Noticing smells puts you more in touch with the world around you. We miss that in cars. Maybe I’ll come back for a tour of the factory one day, and get to see and smell the gorgeous yachts up close. If I win the lottery, you bet I will.

The miles passed and the road numbers changed as I was making my way back to I-26 west. I may have mentioned already how I was always anxious to see my odometer click toward the one-hundred-mile mark, telling me it was time to find a gas station and fill up. Yes, I WANTED to stop. My ankles were uncomfortable, my hands got crampy, and the seat seemed to grow harder and narrower with each mile. My knees simply wanted to stretch. Eventually, however, most of these body parts simply resigned themselves to rigor mortis and that blissful state of numbness induced by the engine vibration and the inability to move to any other position. Tree-stand and duck-blind hunters know what I’m talking about, but at least they can nod off for a snooze if they want to; the deer and duck certainly don’t mind.

Because of the forward location of my foot pegs, as I have mentioned, I could not stand up on my pegs or lift my weight off the seat, even momentarily. I had no choice but to endure and ride on.

The blast of the wind required me to keep some steady inward pressure on my knees, too, lest I wanted to do the split. I read a handy tip on a motorcycle discussion forum about this issue while at the beach and which I had intended to take care of before departure, but for reasons previously mentioned, I was…distracted. I took care of it at the first gas stop, however. I inserted a coin into each foot peg hinge. This angled the peg somewhat more inward, which helped to keep my feet on the pegs and knees inward with a little less effort. I still wished for some pegs directly under my knees, however, so I could at least change positions once in a while.

So now you can understand why I was always looking forward to the next pit stop. The hundred miles couldn't come fast enough. That would be about every two hours or less.

Mounting after refueling could be compared to a cowboy mounting the rodeo bull, and him looking forward to his next shot of that famous 8 Seconds of hell. Dismounting at the gas station, although it beat getting bucked off, may have been similar in gracefulness and subsequent moans and groans. But oh it felt so good once the pain faded, which it quickly did once I walked to the restroom and back. Then it was time to get on the road again.

Being such a great day weather-wise, the beginning of summer vacation for many, I saw lots of motorcycles heading east, either to the beach or perhaps planning to make the turn south, toward Florida. Most traveled in pairs or small groups. I would see a few lone wolfs, like me, bombing happily down the road, presumably with not a worry in the world. If I cared to glance over, I’d see many give me this cool dude motorcycle wave. Years ago, it was a raised fist, but now it’s with the left, non-throttle hand downward, the arm is thrown down as they pass, as though pointing to the pavement. The fingers are, I’m not sure, maybe giving a peace sign? Maybe a finger, who knows. Call me conceited but I don’t do it. Sometimes, however, if I’m feeling neighborly, I’ll nod, but by darn, I’m keeping my hands on the handlebars and my eyes to the front of me. I’m not here to win friends, albeit members of the brotherhood, whizzing past me at eighty-miles-an-hour.

As a former school principal, I once had to call down a bus driver for doing the same thing. She felt she had to wave at just about every passing motorist. She would take her hand off the wheel and her mind off her driving and the road ahead to wave. “You are not the Welcome Wagon,” I had to explain. “Pay attention to your driving and the kids on your bus.”

I’ve mentioned about not day-dreaming, I think, and about the need to concentrate on the road ahead. Okay, there were a few moments of mental reverie I will confess: I would think, if ever so briefly, envisioning how fast the tires were spinning, rotating in a blur at seventy miles an hour or more. I would think how grateful I was that they were new and were top quality Dunlops, not some cut-rate brand with a name I couldn't pronounce. Would you want to buy the cheapest parachute? I was grateful they weren't the old tires which were showing signs of dry-rot and tread wear down to the marginal level. Even then, I would think with a mental shutter and gulp, what if there's a blowout, like just happened to that boat trailer a few miles back. Well, I knew what would happen. That's why there was a mental shutter and gulp. But then, isn't life full of what ifs? Shall we live it in a bubble?

I twisted the throttle a bit more and left those thoughts behind. I had, after all, prayed for my safety on this trip more than once. There's only so much one can do once you step aboard the boat, or into the plane's cockpit or passenger seat, or onto the motorcycle saddle. Time to move on from those thoughts to something more pleasant.

Then I would think how marvelous is the internal combustion engine. I'd think about the RPM of that V-twin-cylinder 1300cc, 67 horsepower engine; those hefty pistons doing their job, the valves working up and down in perfect concert, the oil and liquid coolant somehow keeping up with the immense internal heat; the lowly drive shaft swimming in heavy black oil relaying all that energy to the rear wheel. Think of all those moving parts. The engineering. The genius.

Okay, it's all amazing. Now refocus on the road ahead and pay attention. There will be time for reflection later, I say to myself.

The road can contain lots of surprises. Especially to a motorcycle, danger lurks with every mile, every foot even. June is the month turtles are on the move to lay their eggs. They can be a hazard. I saw several, large and small. Well, in fact, any animal on the road can spell disaster. I mentioned the snake on my trip east. Deer have killed many drivers, both in cars and motorcycles. A friend and former boss of mine hit a deer on his Harley and spent quite a while in the hospital. He was luckier than most, until he was later killed while walking for his health down the highway near his house. His Harley was still in the shop.

But there are other hazards I noticed in or near the road on this trip. I saw pieces of firewood, numerous chunks of rubber from car and truck blowouts and well, you’ve seen the assortment of garbage that litters our highways. Once in my younger days, I was doing a solid 100 mph on a dual-lane highway late at night on my Norton 750, when I missed a large pasteboard box in the left-hand lane beside me. I decided to never drive at that speed again.

Reading the road ahead, I was able to navigate around some serious pot holes, too. Sometimes there are pavement changes or grooves cut into the concrete which gives the motorcycle the feeling of fishtailing and instability. It probably is. The metal grating on drawbridges can be squirrely and frightening, too, for a motorcycle.

On I-26 around Spartanburg, I came upon a road-service truck and a couple of men unloading tires on the right side of the road, presumably to assist the broken down 18-wheeler parked in front of them. One of the tires got away from the guys and it rolled off the truck, fortunately away from the highway, down a small hill toward a fence. It could have just as easily rolled into the highway, but I was watching and believe I was ready to respond, at least the best I could, had it rolled into my path. Most car drivers would have never even noticed this near death drama as they passed.
Not only is it important to read the road, you need to read the other drivers. There are clues. It may be the type or condition of their vehicle. The way they are driving. Their attitude. While on a multi-lane with lots of traffic, a car pulled beside me to my right. It was “pimped out” with rims and all the trimmings. Reading the driver via the vehicle, I predicted what he would do next and prepared to at least ease off my throttle. Sure enough, he suddenly shot around, swerving to the left into my lane as he passed the car in front of him. You’ve seen this going through Atlanta, I’m sure, but you were probably in a car. I’m on a motorcycle.

My mantra is “A motorcycle never has the right of way.” Green light—proceed through, cautiously glancing in both directions. Intersections—the same and always be ready to slam on your breaks. A car approaching a stop sign—assume they won’t stop. Left-hand turns—avoid when possible.
Once, years ago, a car full of elderly people pulled out in front of me and stopped, blocking my lane. I was on my Honda Scrambler 250. I stopped, too, with my front tire inches from the driver’s door. It was a controlled stop, not a skid, as I had predicted what he would do. Finally, he moved on, turning left, and I continued on my way.

Then there’s the vehicle in front of you. It may be a boat trailer, as mentioned; it may be Sanford and Son hauling a load of scrap metal to the junk yard or mattresses for Aunt Ester. It could be a truck load of gravel, sand, or long logs of pulp wood. All these scenarios and more I saw on this trip and all have caused numerous fatalities on the highways, both among four-wheel and two-wheel vehicles. But guess who gets the worst end of the deal when it does happen? Stay alert. Stay alive.

At my last fuel stop I decided to eat lunch—a sit down burger and fries at a truck-stop McDonalds. I also gulped a couple big cups of sweet iced tea. While I was standing in line, a fellow diner must have noticed I was standing bow-legged and didn’t have any hair left on my arms or head, and who knows what was splattered on the front of my vest, as he asked if I was on a bike. I noticed him earlier struggling to get a few napkins out of the dispenser and frustrated that he was holding up the line, he finally opened the whole dispenser and took what he wanted off the top. “That’s a problem-solver,” I thought to myself, and then told him so. I immediately liked this guy for his resourcefulness, even though he didn’t appear to be the friendly or talkative type. It was later that he warmed up to me and said he was from Myrtle Beach and was headed to the mountains with his family. We talked about the hot weather and another topic or two. His family was waiting, seated at a nearby table. He was most cordial after all, and bid me safe travels. It’s always nice to be appreciated for your suffering, yet, as I departed the big truck stop, turn signals blinking, leaning into the turns, twisting the responsive throttle, hearing that familiar engine blast, I purposefully took the back exit, so he wouldn’t see me. I felt kind of embarrassed and thought that if he were watching he would be envious. I didn’t want that. It may look carefree and “easy rider” and all, but trust me, there are plenty of down-sides to riding the wind. Still, there’s enough positive to pull you back onto the bull for another 8 Seconds of hell. Patrick McManus, one of my favorite authors, titled a book, A Fine and Pleasant Misery. Most bikers, as well as hunters, know about this only too well.

I felt much better now after a good lunch and rest break, and was ready for the last leg, the upward climb into the waiting, distant mountains and the last hundred miles.

Before long and at the foot of the mountains, and even though I was not due for a pit stop, I yielded and took advantage of the final rest area before climbing the Saluda Grade and the Continental Divide. I just needed to stand up a bit. As I savored the good feelings, I took a sip of water, not that I was thirsty, but more as a toast. I’m almost home.

Finally exiting I-26, I soon rolled into the familiar side roads toward home but went into full alert mode again. I reminded myself of numerous stories, lessons, and caveats about the homeward stretch and how dangerous it is. I have a few of my own close calls I can tell about.

Most accidents occur within twenty-miles of home, you’ve heard it said. Many a ship has been wrecked coming into port and the same can be said of aircraft, both private and commercial. Some call it the “hurry up and get home syndrome.” The common factor here is that the captain quits navigating too soon, or the driver gets complacent and careless or in too big of a hurry on the last few miles. I heard about an NFL player who was killed in a sports car crash when he hit a tree within sight of his house. I purposely slowed down and increased my watchfulness, even on the final stretch up the driveway and into the safety of the garage.

Engine off, kickstand down. Home at last. I had made it.

You may now be asking, would I do it again? Speak up, my ears are still ringing. What? Do it again? On this bike? At my age? Are you crazy? Now offer me the trip on a six-cylinder Honda Gold Wing with the premium audio comfort package, faring, windshield, foot boards, heated saddle, cushioned grips, Navi and ABS, with computer-controlled hydraulic rear suspension, and I will consider it. 

Better yet, offer me the next trip in a seventy-foot Beneteau yacht and we’ve got an instant deal.

Now to answer Liam’s question: Why is Grandy driving a motorcycle?

Some can relate to the exhilaration of the engine, a veritable rocket between one’s legs. Others might relate to the element of danger and the personal challenge quotient versus the La-Z-Boy in front of the flat screen. It is, after all, fun, simply said, or at least it can be.

Adventure has long been my cup of tea. Not the skydiving, rock-climbing, death-wish kind, but the think-it-through, plan-it-out, then go-for-it variety. Well, at least most of the time.

It started out, I think, with me running away from home in Pueblo, Colorado, at the age of three or four, maybe, with my next-door buddy known as “Fatty-Cheeks,” a preacher’s boy the same age. Slipping away from our busy stay-at-home moms (his mother made the best bread), we crossed the busy boulevard, walked down the sidewalk and on our merry way over a big concrete bridge spanning lots of rail-road tracks. I remember it well. A cranky old lady gave us the evil-eye as she walked by on the bridge scolding us, saying, “You little boys better get back home right now!” I remember thinking, She needs to mind her own business! I’m serious, I remember this. We eventually decided to turn around and head back the way we came. That’s when we noticed the police cars parked across the street on the boulevard in front of our houses and began to realize, as best toddlers like us could, the seriousness of our adventure. The policemen were inside with our crying mothers when we crossed back over the boulevard, again all by ourselves, and into the front door, proud and satisfied that we had seen a bit of the world.

I won’t detail my mis-adventures and close calls with fire, which my brother well remembers and enjoys ratting on me about, during my exploratory years. Those were all accidents.

Fast forwarding to my older years: I’ve free-dived into sunken boats; explored caves; boarded and explored several abandoned shipwrecks, including the Antilles near St. Vincent; SCUBA dove on a shipwreck at the Outer Banks (I’ve never had a SCUBA lesson); SCUBA dove and snorkeled alone in the Caribbean; flown from Miami across the Gulf Stream to Grand Bahama Island and back with no navigational,  life-saving equipment, or radio aboard in a small two-seater airplane with a cracked and cracking windshield (pilot’s name withheld); sailed a twenty-seven foot sailboat 2700 miles, as mentioned, from Puerto Rico to West Palm Beach using only a compass, charts and dead-reckoning; made a similar trip in the same boat to Granada, off the coast of South America; jumped into the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Caribbean Sea miles from land wearing no life preserver; sailed between two water spouts near Saint Thomas; sailed solo numerous times; went to Honduras twice; Mexico three times; explored a WWII Nazi cave in Switzerland; slipped past security to board a nuclear sub in Puerto Rico; sat in a classified USAF pre-flight briefing in Germany (until escorted out by security); toured AFWAR (Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range) the underground war control facility in Puerto Rico; went on a short VIP day-cruise aboard a US Navy amphibious assault ship in Puerto Rico; visited death row more than once; held a live Fur-de-Lance snake; and have gone mano-a-mano with a giant green moray eel free diving into a cave near Salt Island, BVI, and several sharks diving Los Corrales (Hogsty Reef) in the southern Bahamas, grabbing one by the tail to impress my brother, and where my crew and I also boarded and explored a ship wrecked freighter, even swimming under it from starboard to port and landing several large lobster which we ate for supper.

My boat was boarded by several armed soldiers one evening while anchored in the Dominican Republic.

I explored the rarely seen attic and bell tower chamber of the chapel at West Point. I’ve had two boat fires, was burned in one requiring a couple days in the hospital, but have never had a car or motorcycle wreck. I flat-track raced my Honda Scrambler, finishing a 15-lap hot-shoe successfully at the Amboy Speedway in Asheville, N.C. with no brakes (brakes—as in means-to-stop—were not allowed.) I skidded into the median on I-40 in my Toyota Cressida on a snowy day, but driving myself out (in the opposite direction) with no assistance.

I’ve been shot at three times: once by my ambushing BB shooting “friends” (see below); once by a crazy classmate (a dubious friend) who was target practicing with me and on me with a .22; and once by a not-so-friendly shotgun-toting bootlegger.

At the age of 14, I explored the world of “grand-theft-auto” with said friends once again (names withheld to protect the guilty) and their mother’s car, bless her heart. After obtaining my driver’s license, and coincidentally in the company of the same two accomplices, was chased by security all around a large Christian conference ground teaming with beautiful young Baptist girls. This was before I knew tag numbers could be traced to the vehicle’s owner, which happened to be in this case, my dad.

I drove my Scrambler 250 into Elmer’s barbershop, feet on the pegs the whole way, did a 180, and burned a wheel back out the front door.

I’ve been adrift and alone on a cold morning, out-of-sight of land on the 30 mile-wide Pamlico Sound in a 14 foot power boat after the water pump burned out in a cloud of black smoke (no anchor and no life preserver on board).

I almost drowned the Methodist preacher and myself one rough night aboard the same ill-fated 14 footer as we attempted to cross the same Pamlico Sound back to Ocracoke Island. The preacher’s wife grew concerned at our lateness and called the Coast Guard which found us and accompanied us back as we entered the channel, but still under our own power. I never told him that we had been sinking the whole way. (The large bilge pump kept us afloat, thank the Lord.)

I held the foot-brakes on a commercial airplane at the end of the runway in Greenville, North Carolina, sitting in the co-pilot’s seat, engine running, while the pilot left the aircraft to close a cargo door.

I’ve been detained for further scrutiny by airport security in New York, Phoenix, and San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

I shot myself accidentally with a full dose of Atropine from an automatic syringe I found at the Navy base’s trash dump in Puerto Rico (The label, which I didn’t read, said “For Nerve Gas Poisoning Only”).

I gave a ride home to a known member of the…shall we just say an organized crime syndicate (now deceased) who had dead-stick landed a Cessna 172 on a rural Georgia highway. I’m sure he was armed at the time as he clutched a leather briefcase (probably full of money) and sat low in my passenger seat wearing a pulled down toboggan—yes, in the summertime. He had an aircraft runway in his back yard and radio equipment in his kitchen. By the way, he did not remunerate me for giving him a lift. I guess that was a good thing now that I think back on it.

I’ve visited four prisons and two execution chambers. When visiting Angola Prison (Louisiana State Penitentiary), I met an inmate serving life (now deceased) who was a former body guard and hit-man for Columbia’s drug lord Pablo Escobar and who was an accessory to the murder of Barry Seal, an American drug smuggler, aircraft pilot and dealer who flew for the Medellin Cartel.

I flew in a single-seat Grumman Ag-Cat crop-duster, but was not the pilot.

I flew a Beechcraft Bonanza (the pilot was aboard) from Bogalusa, Louisiana, with a worried buddy of mine in the back seat, to the airport in Valdosta, Georgia, and the pilot, who later died when he crashed this very plane, never knew I was not a licensed pilot nor ever had a lesson. He even asked me if I wanted to land it! (I declined.)

I quit my job and retired with two sons in college. I bought a house from an on-line auction company, never seeing or speaking to a real estate agent or the seller.

I got married when I was unemployed.

Now Liam, has Grandy answered your question? I hope so because I really have no further explanation of why I chose to drive a motorcycle to Myrtle Beach. Someday, and only too soon I'm afraid, you'll probably understand.

And between you and me, I hope there are a few more trips even like this one before I go on that last adventure—the longest, the greatest, and the best.

Sarasota, Florida, where I bought the bike (Siesta Key 10/14/15)


Steve Norwood

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Comfy Pants

QUALITY may not be important to everyone but it is to me. As much as I can afford, I like to buy quality products. I've found that quality usually lasts longer, works better, and in the long run, saves me money. Sometimes, however, I have a brain-freeze and forget. Not long ago I purchased a package of three lounge pants (aka "comfy pants") at a local big-box discount store at a great price. But even before the first washing, each one unraveled and came apart at the seams. My bad. I have similar pants I've worn for years but they're still in good shape, other than a few paint stains. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the label. Where is Bangladesh anyway? The price should have been a clue, too, although that's not an infallible indicator.

I even apply the quest-for-quality principle in cars and tools, and I notice which brands those in-the-know seem to prefer. I try to learn from them. When it comes to retail establishments and professional services, I look for quality here, too. When traveling, I've found that it's usually cheaper and more pleasant to eat at a nice sit-down restaurant than it is to buy a bag of junk food and a soft drink at the quickie-mart.

I also notice quality in other ways, too, and sometimes respond. It's sort of a game I play as I make mental notes. If I stay at a hotel and they send me a satisfaction questionnaire afterwards, I'm usually prepared. If I have any suggestions I try to give them my honest observations, both positive and negative, but do so in a cordial, constructive way. Years ago, I even sent a letter with some concerns I had to Paul Harvey about his radio broadcasts, and to my great astonishment, and in just a few days, he paraphrased my letter over the air. He began by explaining that a listener had some concerns about occasional vulgarities contained in his broadcasts, then stated my name and where I lived. I must admit, I was scared to death as I listened on my car radio. I didn't know how he would react and if he would get mad and tell me to go jump in the lake—or worse. Finishing the segment, he was not mad, but said in his classic voice, in a most kind tone, adding that famous pause of his, "Mr. Norwood...thank you...I mean it...thank you!" Whew. My heart was racing and still does as I think about it.

Even when shopping, running errands or traveling, I see quality, or the lack of it, all around. Sometimes it's impossible to ignore. I notice how clean the rest rooms are in an establishment (and if they have such novelties as paper towels and soap); how friendly and helpful the sales clerks are; if the walkway is clean leading to the entrance and even if the store's complete address or business hours are listed on their Website.

Don't you hate it when the shopping cart wheels don't work properly and go bumpity-bump, bumpity-bump with every step you take? And how many customers have to be offended by the perpetually rude clerk at the post office before the supervisor intervenes? Are the hours of operation convenient to those who work for a living? I like to think how things would be different if I owned the store or ran the business or was Postmaster General. Oh, I could go on and on, so don't get me started. Is it any wonder so many stores and businesses go bust or beg for government bailouts? Do they even know why?

Quality is why I go back to the same store, the same restaurant, the same dealership, the same church. Well, yes, there's always room for improvement and ways to make things even better, right? In fact, you'll notice that the top notch establishments, the successful ones, continually make changes as they seek to improve. At least they're trying, I think, even if I don't like the changes. They're never satisfied with the status-quo or the "we've-always-done-it-this-way" syndrome.

Don't get me wrong, I don't just focus on the negative but look at the good things and what I like, too. I'm usually swift to give a compliment to the deserving clerk, waitress, manager or store owner, giving them the specifics of what I like and appreciate. I've even done this at drive-up windows. It makes their day! Although I want to improve in this area, I've left notes to the hotel maid, sent thank you letters and e-mails, even gifts of appreciation. About five or six years after graduation, when I was teaching elementary school in Florida, I sent a belated letter to my anatomy professor, Dr. Knight, at East Carolina University, telling him how much I appreciated him and the job he did. I told him specifically why I thought he was one of the best teachers I had ever had. A week or so later, he wrote back telling me that in all his years of teaching, he had never received a thank you note from a former student. Mine was one of a kind, and a first. I also have a hand written reply to my letter from the late H. A. Rey, the author of The Stars and the Curious George series. It's wonderful. (I donated a copy of it to the H. A. and Margaret Rey Papers for the Ellen Ruffin and the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi). Even Lincoln said, "Everyone likes a compliment."

Being a connoisseur of quality has the responsibility, not only of an appropriate response, but a timely one. Don't wait. Still, I believe it's never too late to say "thank you," but why make the person wait for years to hear, to unwrap the words you've wanted to say—a gift which may mean the world to them? Even worse is having the burden of the re-occurring thought, "I wish I had..."

A positive word or a sincere compliment can change a person's day—even their life. There are so many opportunities each day and we should remember to appreciate the people we meet and the things they do, and let them know. The effort is minimal yet the results are huge. There's no excuse to hoard or try to economize on kindness, or a golden word of encouragement. That's how it's seen in us you know—quality, that is. After all, we're more than comfy pants.