February 27, 2005

EXISTING IN THE NOW OF TRAVEL AND MOTION

"On a motorcycle we are titans, roaming a new and beautiful world, unsuspecting, innocent, and uncaring of the changes we will see, moving forward along interlaced roadways, and existing in the now of travel and motion. Nowhere has this been truer than riding the BMW Montauk...."


I want to thank Neil Johnston, Senior Editor at OneWheelDrive.Net, for his observation on the spiritual aspect of motorcycling ("existing in the now of travel and motion") and for his appreciation of my motorcycle, the BMW Montauk.

February 26, 2005

Hybiscus of the Dominican Republic


Nature seeks balance in all things.





The Hybiscus blossom yields to a breeze, then springs back to its balance point a moment later.

A BALANCED LIFE

A balanced life is a good life.


I'm sure someone like Benjamin Franklin quoted a pithy phrase of similar intent long ago. Balance does of course beget equilibrium. In that sense balance is a state of being that presages harmony in all things.


My thoughts today are of balance. Balance is an essential component of what Dressage Riders call "seat." Even the best horsemen and women seek to perfect their comfort, seat, and feel on their horses. They seek to become one with the animal's movements.


Balance and "seat" are of equal import on motorcycles. We riders of the the two-wheeled machines enter into a lifelong quest for perfect balance and seat.


There are times on a cycle that your seat is so in tune with the machine and the road that each turn of the road is matched effortlessly, magically, seemingly as if all instructions to the machine were being telepathed through the thighs, into the saddle, and through the frame, on through the tires, and into the tar itself.


You are one with the bike, and the bike is one with the road. Equipoise has been achieved.


A balanced life is surely a good life.

February 25, 2005


The Krishna Road - 1973 Posted by Hello

THE TURNING POINT

Each of us experiences a Turning Point in life, a place or time where all things come into focus. It is then and there that future-altering choices are made.

My artist friend from Maine, Peter, visited last evening. He brought along an old photo of the two of us taken in January 1973 on our journey toward the fabled Taj Mahal, in Agra, India.

We were walking the "Krishna Road." And there it was, our Turning Point. [See photo above]

Turning Points aren't always so obvious. I want to thank the keepers of the Krishna Road for helping us out that day. Without their efforts we might well have missed the epiphany opportunity altogether.

February 23, 2005


The Quiet Man Posted by Hello

Famous folks who love cycling Posted by Hello

EVEN OUR WORDS ARE RANKED

While I pause between chapters of my stories, I think it worthwhile to note an incredibly cool site where the words of our English language are ranked according to usage. I thank http://www.wordcount.org/main.php for the following useful information.


The word "motorcycle" is the 15,969th most common word used in English today. The word is thus far less in use than the words "the" (# 1) or "a" (# 5). It is far more common, however, than the least used word, "conquistador" (# 86,800).


Interesetingly, the word "Zen" is ranked at # 12,408, while the word "motorcycling" is a lowly # 47,018.

February 19, 2005


Perseid Meteor Showers Posted by Hello

1973 1/2 BMW R75/5 Posted by Hello

1972 Triumph 650 Posted by Hello

1966 Yamaha 175 Enduro Posted by Hello

Jack Kerouac Posted by Hello

BOHEMIAN MOTORCYCLING AND THE ARTIST FROM MAINE

Passions draw like minded people together. Motorcycling certainly does. Some folks, for example, are mad for the game of Bridge. I have a Law Partner who took up Bridge about 10 years ago. He instantly adored it and was soon playing in Bridge Tournaments throughout New England. He got so good at it that he rather quickly became the President of the State Bridge Association, I suspect the youngest person to have held that august position. I have no doubt that he will someday be a Bridge Master (a title reserved for the truly great players). His closest friends play Bridge too. Like to like, passion to passion. (I’m now imagining that old calypso standard with the refrain, “Back to Back, Belly to Belly…..”)

I’m thinking back of friends and family with whom I’ve shared my most memorable times. Not surprisingly many are linked with road adventures here and abroad. Others are linked to grand adventures at sea. Each will undoubtedly afford me ample opportunity to write about when time permits.

I remember first meeting my first truly Bohemian friend, Peter Agrafiotis, in the summer of ’69. Peter seemed a “grownup” compared to me. I was a young and very na├»ve 17 year old. He was, I think, 24. (Forgive my poor memory Peter if I have your age wrong.) In any event, he had already graduated from college, and he had a real job. I was still “in school,” between my junior and senior years in high school.

Peter was unlike any of my contemporaries. He was eccentric. He was a painter of impressionist canvases with an eye for colors so vibrant one wanted to dive into the rivers and ponds his brush created. He was in the midst of a sad divorce from a woman he deeply loved.

He knew they were incompatible as husband and wife: She knew that they would remain lifelong friends. I believe that they have.

When I first met him, Peter lived in a huge army surplus tent in the woods of Cape Neddick, Maine. He was building a bizarre homemade house in which everything was hand-hewn from a patchwork of boards, doors, stones and posts purchased from the demolition sites of old churches, barns and country stores. No two angles were alike.

There were wooden ladders to lofts, stained glass windows that opened to other rooms, and a heavy wooden trap door in the kitchen that led below to a cozy sleeping room for guests. The largest room was his painting studio. Easels and paints were everywhere. This was definitely “Woodstock Nation meets Post-and-Beam meets Jack Kerouac,” I thought. Pete even looked a bit like Kerouac.

Peter was way cool. His paintings were hanging in the local galleries in York and Ogunquit. He also published a widely read Tourist Magazine that restaurants and hotels from York to Portland loved to advertise in. He was a talented writer with a knack for mixing fact, mirth and fiction, throwing in irony for spice, thereby creating a brew to bring smiles to those tourists lucky enough to read his pieces.

One evening, Peter and I dined at The Cape Neddick Lobster Pound. (Still one of the best seafood places to dine I might add). The restaurant had the standard Lobster Cracking Instruction Placemat that is common to such places. It was replete with drawings of each excruciating step in the lobster deconstruction process.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I suggested, “if we took these drawings and put them into you magazine as instructions on ‘How to Make a Lobster Talk.?” Peter loved the idea, and we spent the rest of the night co-writing an article about the secrets known only to Maine Lobsters and how one could get them to tell their secrets through the use of lobster crackers, etc. In the end we changed it just before printing to become the lead article, entitled “How to Revive a Lobster.” It turned out to be an instant hit, and the magazines sold out. Over the years we co-wrote a number of his humor pieces. I’m not so sure today whether the pieces were as funny as we then thought, but back then the monthly meetings to work on the articles seem some of the happiest days of my youth.

We wrote a number of humor pieces together over the next few years. I recall that we caused quite a furor amongst the summer tourists when we started writing articles about a pseudo-fictitious place called “Tatnic Maine.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is in fact a location known as Tatnic Maine. But it isn’t an official Town or City. It’s just an area known as Tatnic, with perhaps 7 houses along the old Dump Road to the west of Cape Neddick. Peter and I thought we should aggrandize the funny sounding place; perhaps write articles about the “Tatnic International Airport,” and the “Greater Tatnic Opera House.”

Soon Peter started getting calls from the local hotels and restaurants complaining that guests couldn’t find an airline that would pick them up at the Tatnic International Airport, “and where the hell is that airport anyway?”

We had to stop writing about Tatnic when advertisers started threatening to pull their ads. It was a sad ending to a creative series: we had even written a birth announcement for “Johnnie Tarbell, who was born to Beulah and Fran Tarbell, of 1179 East Tatnic Highway, Suite 300, weighing in at 14 pounds, 7 ounces.” That announcement was printed right after the report of the Tatnic Regional Winter Moose Hunting statistics, where every Bull Moose and Cow was reported as “weighing in at pounds.”

What, you might ask, does this have to do with motorcycling? I’m getting there. My main transportation in 1969 was a Yamaha 175 Enduro. It was a beautiful thing. It was freedom from the humdrum of -- and a lot more affordable than -- an automobile. It was as close to being a Bohemian as I then dared.

Peter loved motorcycles too. He had a Suzuki 400. We promised each other that we would one day go “On the Road.”

In the Fall of ’72, having dropped out of college to figure out what the heck I wanted to do with my life (trite, I know), I flew to England. I had not planned to take my European Tour solo, but that’s how it ended up when the friend that had planned to go with me changed his mind the night before our flight. I, however, felt the need for adventure too compelling. So I went alone.

This decision, second only to the decision to ask my wife to marry me, is one of the best decisions I have ever stumbled into.

In London I bought the motorcycle of my dreams, a Triumph 650. It was the bike of legends. It was driven by folks like Steve McQueen, Mick Jagger, and all sorts of pop-culture icons. How could I, a middle class, long-haired, Easy Rider wannabe kid from New Hampshire resist?

Leaving London after a week or so, I proceeded to tour Europe, the Mideast, and India for 7 months. I had a motorcycle, a sleeping bag and a harmonica. I could hum and sing hundreds of songs from my favorite bands, then The Byrds, Tom Rush, James Taylor, and of course, The Stones. I was set. I will tell tales of that adventure another time. For now, however, I want to get back to my story about Peter Agrafiotis.

I actually walked smack into Peter on the streets of New Delhi, India, in March 1973. I had returned to New Delhi, India, from a month spent living on a beach in a palm thatched hut in Goa. (Goa is in southern India, a magical and beautiful State lying on the fabled Malabar Coast.). [NB: If you’ve never listened to Van Morrison and the Chieftains perform “The Coast of Malabar,” do so immediately, as it is a hauntingly lovely song.]

I had dropped by the New Delhi American Express Office to see if I had any telegrams from back home. The clerk handed me a telegram that was dated 5 weeks earlier. It was from Peter. It said: “Heard you are in India. Wait for me. I’m coming over.” Five weeks too late, I thought. Too bad, it would have been fun to see Pete.

I walked out the door and turned south to walk toward the rooming house where I had a bunk. “Mrs. Dunklee’s Place” it was called. Mrs. Dunklee was a widow with a nice large house in a clean part of town. She had filled each room with bunk beds, which she rented out to similar wanderers at $1 a night. She served all of us a nice bowl of Rice Pudding every evening at 5:30 sharp. If you showed up at 5:40 it was gone.

I hadn’t walked more than a block when I was approached by a fellow in a long black coat, a broad brimmed hat pulled low so it was hard to see his face. Soemthing was odd. Here was this fellow wearing clearly Western garb, yet with palm outstretched begging: “Baksheesh,” he intoned. The man then giggled and lifted his head, allowing me to see his face for the first time. There, on the streets on New Delhi with literally millions of people everywhere was Peter. “I knew I’d find you, “ he exclaimed. “I can’t believe you did,” I laughed.

We spent the next 3 weeks traveling about India together. We visited Agra, the Taj Mahal, and the ancient Forbidden City at Fatipur Sikri. That’s where Akbar the Great enjoyed playing courtyard Chess with human participants and then watching the elephants crush the heads of the humans who were knocked off the board. That stuff really did happen back then.

Years later Peter and I again were motorcycling. In 1978, after I had taken the Bar Exam, we went on a wonderful cycling tour of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. I then owned an even better motorcycle, a now iconic BMW "Toaster," the 1973 1/2 R 75/5. It was a King of the Highway. By then Peter had sold his magazine and had become a full-time painter. His works were now shown in Boston and New York. He was getting quite serious in the art world, and I was getting fairly serious about becoming a serious attorney. The end of our extended childhood was fast at hand.

The ride around the Cabot Trail and about PEI was incredible. We camped out each night under the stars. No tent, just sleeping bags on the soft ground and, sometimes, on the soft sand of a beach. I recall the absolutely amazing early August night when we lay on our backs on a PEI beach watching the Perseid Meteor Showers flash across the blackened night sky.



We felt we could reach out and touch the stars if our arms were just a bit longer. That sense of infinite possibility and oneness in the chaos of the universe is quite overwhelming.

Today Peter is still a sought-after artist. His paintings hang in galleries throughout America, but all of his best stuff hangs in his studio in Cape Neddick. He still lives in his Cape Neddick artist’s mansion. He has added a waterfall, a Stonehenge array, and new rooms each year. The place is now five times the size of its original plot. You can check it at http://peteragrafiotis.com/background.html

One day, I know not when, I won’t be surprised if I look up and see a fellow in a long black coat, with a cycling helmet pulled down low, driving up my driveway. It’ll be Peter. We’ll go for a ride.

February 17, 2005


The BMW Montauk Posted by Hello

FALLING FOR -- NOT OFF-- MOTORCYCLES

It was 1967, a hot summer day at Ogunquit Beach, Maine. The waves were down, and we who wanted oh so much to be like the blond-haired surfers of fabled California were standing around the parking lot drooling over the muscle cars that the "cool guys" had.
A red, chrome ladden, Chevy Camaro convertible ripped its tires blowing tire smoke all around. The gorgeous bikini girl in the passenger seat squealed with laughter and waved at us younger boys as she and her handsome Don Juan shotputed away toward town. We "youngers,' most of us aged 15, retched with jealousy and the early hints of lust.

I too was 15. Not old enough to drive and certainly too young to even dream of such a macho machine as a Red Camaro with white vinyl bucket seats. Oh man how I wanted to be 18 and "rich" like those guys with the Mustangs and the 409's. The latter were the real dream machines. The Pontiac 409 was to 1967 what the V-10 Turbo Tuareg is to today. "A Man's Machine."

All summer I had worked washing dishes at a dump called "My Sister'N I." The two ladies who owned the place were hard workers and great cooks. But they were tough on the dishwashers. I think I lasted the longest at just over a month. They fired me when I refused to wash dishes during a killer Nor'easter that had lightning crashing all around. I mean, really, the lights had already blown, the restaurant had closed, and the lightning had just hit a tree outside the kitchen, and I told them I didn't want to have my hands in the water basin. They said, "Go home slacker and don't come back." I didn't go back. I went surfing as soon as the storm passed.

My surf board was a used "Ernie Tanaka" board. I had ordered it from a personal ad in the back of "Surfer Magazine." I didn't know who Ernie Tanaka was but I knew that I wanted a surf board as cheap as possible, so I ordered it for $49 plus shipping. Damnned if the shipping wasn't another $49. Pretty much took my entire June earnings to that point. But I was so proud: now I had my own surf board.

All my friends had really nice new boards. But I had one now too, and my name on the beach instantly became "Ernie."
(For years afterwards my brother, Mark, called me Ernie. He never actually saw me surf until late that Summer. He was in the Army and we were praying that he wouldn't go to Vietnam. But he showed up at Ogunquit one late August afternoon and asked everywhere for me. No one knew who I was, until he described my appearance. Suddenly everyone on the beach said to him, "On man, you mean Ernie. He's the guy out there real far out waitin' for a wave.")

My brother Mark was an amazing man, and I promise to write about his bizarre and too-short life another time. Right now, I think of him and I cry, because he loved me, my sisters, and my mother, more than I can muster to tell. He was stolen from us by that greatest of all thieves, Cancer. His story is incredible, larger than life, and I promise to tell it in bits and pieces in this Weblog.

It wasn't my brother who made me fall for motorcycles, it was that summer of 1967. I will admit, however, that it was my brother who later in life shared the love of motorycling with me to the point that I talk with him on every ride I take today. Every ride, whether just to the office or to a distant place.

You see, Mark and I crossed North America on bikes, lived together and rode bikes through heat and snow, carried eachother to the hospital when we'd have cycling mishaps, and tinkered together on our bikes through many a long New Hampshire winter. "Hand me the torque wrench," he'd say, "I'll set this mother just right for you." (He loved to call spark plugs, nuts, timing sets, you name it, it was a "mother.") Years later Mark died in my arms. He didn't cry, he just whispered, "You have to take care of Mom now."

In '67, nonetheless, I rode my first motorcyle in that parking lot on a hot July day in Ogunquit, Maine. The Camaro and its babe had "departed the house." A similaraly bright red 409 screeched a donut at the far end of the lot. We youngers felt impotent.
I think there were 6 or 7 of us, just standing there in our surf jams (long bathing trunks of floral patterns), looking at our bare feet now burning on the hot tar.

"Shit," Jackie K. said, "I could do three donuts if I had that car." Tommy joined in, "yeah man, you could do that even if you were stoned." Everyone agreed, cause Jackie was the cool kid in the group. I could not be the cool kid for several reasons. First, they all called me Ernie, which wasn't my name, and which didn't fit me at all. My name was Kim, a name my parents chose in honor of Rudyard Kipling's great Jungle Stories. Ernie didn't fit me, and Kim was a name that always made the girls laugh. "Isn't that a girl's name?" they ubiquitously inquired. I was doomed at 15 it seemed.

And then.................


All of a sudden, Tod W. rode into the lot on a shimmering, gleeming, sleek, sensuous, humming, and glider-like motorcycle. It wasn't a big bike. It was nevertheless the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a Honda 90. Today they would call it a scooter, but back then it was just like the Beach Boys sang about: "Go Honda Go."!

Tod pulled right up to our group. "How's the surf. dudes?" All of us instantly gave him the thumbs down sign. (Back then we actually believed that everything important could be communicated by hand signs. I guess today we all believe that everything important can be communicated by Weblogs.)

Everyone talked of surf and parties with Tod, but I just stared at his bike: brilliant bright red with a clean white fairing around the front. Tod was in sandals, no helmet, just the epitome of the "free man." I wanted to be Tod.

Tod wasn't 18, he was only 16. Tod wasn't rich like those guys with the 409's. He did make good money cleaning his parents' pools up at the Ogunquit Motel though. I had even helped him a few times.

My mother had always told me to help people when they need help. (I promise to write about my mother too, for she was not only the most Renaissance woman I have ever known, she loved that I enjoyed motorcycling though she was terrified of the machines.)

Todd saw the spark in my eye for his new machine. "You wanna try it Ernie?" he asked. I stammered out a weak, "Oh man do I." Without fanfare, without instruction, without hesitation, Todd stepped off his steed, and holding it by the handlebars with one hand, said, "Take her for a ride buddy." My heart stopped, but only for a second. I lifted my left leg and mounted the seat.

Looking back on that day I do believe that I felt as if I was mounting a Brahma Bull. Yet it was just a Honda 90, a little plastic toy of a motorcycle. An automatic transmission. A variable automatic clutch. A total dry weight of probably 125 pounds, max. But I felt as if on a Harley Hog.

I had no clue of how to ride a motorcycle at that moment. All I knew was that a cool guy had gunned a Camaro and he got a hot girl. A cool guy had gunned a 409 and he got a hot girl. So I gunned the Honda 90, and launched that little rocket into a huge wheelie that ended only (thereby saving my life) when I crashed the front wheel atop the hood of a brand new Ford parked about 20 feet in front of my starting spot.

"Holy shit," screamed Todd. "Holy shit," screamed the others. "Holy shit," said I. I quickly jumped off the bike, lifted it's front end off of the Mustang, and turned to Todd. "I think I destroyed the Mustang," I confessed.

"Get lost fast," ordered Todd who instantly jumped on the Honda and sped away. The rest of us ran in all directions I recall. In fact, I don't think Ernie went back to the beach at all that week . He found another dish washing job, this time at The Viking Ice Cream Parlor.

That was the ride, nonetheless, that made me fall for motorcycles. Then and there I decided that I wanted a motorcycle. Then and there I knew that I could master the art of riding. Then and there began what has turned out to be a lifelong (I'm now 53 and still motorcycling whenever I can) love affair with the two-wheeled machines called motorcycles.

I've crossed all of Europe on a Triumph 650, all of North American on a BMW R75/5 ('73 1/2 model for those in the know), and owned all sorts of other bikes for on-road and off-road pleasure. I now adore riding a 2004 BMW R1200 Montauk. Every motorcycle I have ridden has brought me peace, joy, and a feeling of being alive, one with the universe, a feeling that I find in no other endevour or activity. Skiing is close, but skiing limits one to the slopes of the particular mountain at hand. Motorcycling limits one to no more than the next day's ride and whatever is around the next corner.

There are those that ride motorcyles for thrills; there are those that ride motorcycles because that is what they can afford; and there are those who ride motorcycles because it is the closest one can get to their ultimate goal: the goal of truly Being Here in the Now.

Most of my friends today don't know about Ernie. They don't know about the Mustang whose hood I dented. Some know me as a successful professinal. Some know me as a loving husband and father of 2 wonderful sons, now grown and in college. Some know me as an Ocean Man, due to my other great passion, the sea.

On land, however, just give me a bike, a credit card for gas and lodging, and a map. The adventure can never end. Tolkein said "The Road Goes Ever On." He was right.