Archive for June, 2009

To Hell and back?

Sunday, 28th June 2009; 2:36 pm - Location: , ,

I could use another practice ride before the big one, and an interesting idea has occurred to me.

The Michigan Comics Network (a group of cartoonists and would-bes) is meeting in Brighton in the evening of Saturday July 11. Not far from there is the Pinckney State Recreation Area, which is just south of Hell, Michigan. I could ride to Hell, set up camp, then go to the MCN meeting. After that, spend the night at the campground, explore the area a little the next morning, then scoot home.

I’d get more travel practice, add four counties to my tally, travel to the meeting on less fuel, and get to visit Hell!

Stations of the cross-country ride

Friday, 26th June 2009; 10:26 pm - Location: , , , ,

The best-laid plans for a cross-country ride can be thwarted by technical problems. I’ll never forget watching the rear wheel of my friend Adam’s bicycle self-destruct, one spoke after another, as we rode through Northumberland. Or the feeling of Cam’s beatermobile sputtering off the interstate at a small town in northern Michigan just as the only garage there was closing up for the weekend.

I figure I can fix pretty much any of the ailments likely to befall a bicycle. But I’ve never been interested in automotive mechanics, so even though I understand the principle of internal combustion, I’ve remained ignorant of the workings the vehicles that use it. So if I have scooter trouble, and it isn’t something that can be diagnosed from theory alone and then fixed improvisationally, I’m screwed.

Or maybe not.

As it happens, there are three scooter shops along my route who are Genuine dealers. If something goes wrong that’s covered by warranty, they’d not only be able to fix it, they’d fix it for free. They are Bayside Cycles of Frankfort (about the middle of the ride for Day Two of my trip), Practical Power Sports of Charlevoix (at the end of Day Three), and Riverside Rides of suburban Green Bay (near the end of Day Eight). (There’s also Vespa Holland, where I bought the scoot, but even though they’re near the lakeshore, they’re not quite on my way… and if I had serious problems that early in the ride, I’d consider aborting.)

There are no Genuine dealers in the UP. Not that this is surprising, since the population is so much smaller, and the scooting season is so much shorter. But even so, there are cities here and there and villages in between. If I have a break-down somewhere, there’s bound to be someone driving by before too long. And AT&T claims coverage in… well… most of the areas I’ll be driving through.

But seriously: People live there. If I can’t find someone in any of these parts who can get a simple engine like my Buddy’s working again, that’ll be very surprising. Plus, Genuine offers roadside assistance as part of their warranty package. I don’t know how well it works that far from a dealer, and I hope not to find out, but it’s part of my safety net.

Packing list

Monday, 22nd June 2009; 8:43 am - Location:

One of the things I’ve agonized over when planning a trip, especially a kind I haven’t been on before, is knowing what to pack. I know from backpacking how to pack lightly, but this trip will have some important differences: no food and cooking gear, additional tech gear, the need to be presentable to other human beings (for when I want food), etc.

With my shakedown cruise I got a pretty good confirmation that I was on the right track, so here’s what I’m planning to bring on the big trip, and how I’ll be packing it:

On my personutter essentials:
Riding jacket
Pocket camera
Wallet: cash, debit/ATM card, papers

Tactical Bail Out Bag (on seat behind me) health and safety:
Good camera, charger
Frogg Toggs (rain gear)
Rain cover for rear rack
20oz bottle of spare gas
Swiss army knife
Tire repair kit
First aid kit
Bug dope
Sun screen
Toothbrush, paste
Paper road map(s)

Pet carrier (under the seat) clothing:
T-shirts 3
Underwear 3
Socks 3 pair
Hankies 3
Camp shoes
Detergent (for doing laundry 2x)
Plastic bags
Tie downs (for scooter on ferry)

Rear rackcamp gear:
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Tire pump

Glove bucketetc:
iPhone charger
Extra bungees

As you can see, there’s a kind of general logic to what goes where, which is helpful when trying to find things, or to figure out where to put something when repacking along the way. I’m a fairly “relaxed” person at home, but when I’m on the road like this, out of necessity I become very anal-retentive about keeping things orderly, to make sure I don’t leave anything behind.

A nice thing about the packing arrangement I’ve worked out here is that I don’t have to strap anything down on the seat behind me. This makes it easier to get things out of the pet carrier if needed, and – more importantly – allows me to pop the seat up to refuel. Plus, it leaves more room for me on the seat.

Test results

Monday, 15th June 2009; 6:45 pm - Location:

The excursion to Southwest Michigan’s Harbor Country was intended as a learning experience in addition to just being an experience, so here’s a review of how it went from a technical perspective.

packbuddyThe packing of my steed worked well. I’d originally thought I’d need a topcase to go on my rear rack, but I did fine without one. I put my clothes in the pet carrier under the seat; strapped my sleeping bag, tent, etc. on the rack; and carried my rain gear, camera, emergency fuel, and assorted stuff in an over-the-shoulder Tactical Bailout Bag which I let rest on the seat behind me. I might still get a case, but then I’d have to shift the camping gear to the seat behind me.

I was concerned about there being too much wind on the rear rack, especially for the waterproof cover (designed for a backpack) that I put over the camping gear. I secured it with a bungee cord, and it didn’t appear to be catching too much wind, so I think that’ll be OK.

Because of the imminent threat of rain, I tried on my Frogg Toggs® over my riding jacket before I left, and they fit well.

I had no trouble with finding my way, but this wasn’t really a great test for that, because the route was so easy. I checked Google Maps several times to confirm whether I was getting close to an upcoming city, and that sort of thing. The only real navigation assistance I used was when I was running low on gas: Mike’s GPS told me there was a station about a mile ahead, and gave me a couple other options within a few miles as well.

The iPhone worked pretty well. There were some places where I couldn’t get a signal, or it was too weak to stay on the internet, but most of the times I checked Google Maps or tried to post a blog entry, it worked. The darn thing even alerted me a couple times of some new spam that had landed in my inbox. Coverage up north will probably be more spotty, however. The 12V outlet on the Buddy worked well enough. Even though the outlet is “live” when the engine’s turned off, it doesn’t charge the iPhone very effectively in that state. I left it sitting like that for 15 minutes but the phone still wouldn’t power up. So I started the scooter, connected the charger (didn’t want to risk a power spike during start-up), put the phone in my pocket, and rode that way. An hour or so of that – with a gas-fired generator behind it – did the trick.

The scooter itself performed fine. It reaches and maintains 40mph without any difficulty… unless there’s a strong headwind, or I’m climbing a hill. Even then, my slowest top speed was 25-30mph, which is OK for short distances (and should be good enough for the slow lane going over the hump on the Bridge). I had a headwind much of the way home, which was annoying but only cut my sustained speed to 35mph. There were times when I had a car or two on my tail, waiting to pass me, and I didn’t really like that, but it is what it is. The only “solution” would be a faster scooter, which would result in me continually riding at 60mph to stay ahead of those cars… and I simply don’t want to go that fast. I actually liked the four-lane stretches of highway better than the two-lane, because I didn’t have any cars getting stuck behind me.

(The only really unpleasant experience I had with vehicles passing me was when there was a truck and then a motorcycle behind me: the truck pushed past me kind of close, and was immediately followed by the racing motorcycle, going wide-open and passing both of us with a deafening roar as soon as he saw an opening he could squeeze through on the left. The latter moron deserves to smear himself across the pavement, but no such luck.)

I found that the center stand for the bike doesn’t work so well on wet ground. Fortunately all it did was sink into the dirt, so the rear wheel was back on the ground but the scoot was still standing. I just need to be careful, because one leg of the center stand has a smaller footprint than the other, so it might sink more quickly.

The camp gear all works, just like on my backpacking expeditions. The only issue was that the tent’s rain fly was covered with dew on the underside in the morning, and I had to put it away wet.

Wet clothes were a bigger problem. My late-night expedition to the beach and back left me rather sweaty, so I took a shower before going to bed, and that left me with damp clothes and a damp towel. When backpacking, I’d just hang the wet stuff on the outside of my pack and let the sun dry it. I can’t do that as easily on a bike going 40mph.

So, some minor issues but no major problems: a successful test!

Returned home

Sunday, 14th June 2009; 5:42 pm - Location: , , ,

The rest of the trip was mostly unremarkable, since I was just covering ground I’d ridden before, only in the opposite direction.

9999The biggest excitement was when my odometer rolled over! Well, not completely. I reached 1,000 miles at 114th Avenue, south of Saugatuck. Considering that I’ve had the scooter for only two months, that’s quite a bit of riding. With nearly a quarter of it done in the last 36 hours.

I also got some use out of my friend’s GPS on the way between South Haven and Saugatuck. The route was easy enough, but I was running low on gas and it helped me find a place before I ran out and would’ve had to tap into my 20-ounce bottle of emergency fuel.

I considered stopping at Saugatuck, but they’re having the big Waterfront Film Festival this weekend, and I’m sure downtown is swamped, and even scooter parking hard to come by. The time I arrived there didn’t line up with any of the movie starting times, so I figured I’d just keep going.

Passing by Saugatuck I got a chuckle. You see, motorcyclists are a kind of informal unofficial fraternity, and one of its rituals is that they wave at each other. It’s a “cool” wave, usually down-low or just a flick of the fingers. (Some are just way too “hardcore” for waving, of course.) Scooter and moped riders sometimes get snubbed by “real” motorcyclists, but for the most part, we’re included in “the wave”, and we especially wave at each other. Because it’s fun. Well, I passed this kid going in the opposite direction (no helmet, shorts and a t-shirt, probably rented scoot), who looked like he’d waited his whole life of 15-25 years to be able to wave at someone from a scooter, and now he was on one for the first time ever. He sees me, sticks his arm way up, his fingers spread wide, big grin on his face, and waves at me like the biggest dweeb you’ve ever known. Of course, I waved back with the biggest wave I could manage on short notice.

From Saugatuck to home was pretty much all anti-climax. At that point I was in the gravitational pull of Holland and then Grand Rapids, the two cities I’ve spent the most of my life in.

Somehow I neglected to record my starting odometer reading, and I didn’t really pay attention to how much time I spent on the road. Google maps the non-expressway route at about 230 miles return-trip, and I stuck pretty close to the obvious sequence of Chicago Drive, Blue Star Highway, and Red Arrow Highway so that’s probably accurate. I filled up the tank three times, and there’s half a tank left.

I made it home at about 4:30. Not exhausted, but definitely tired from a long day on the road. In the final analysis (at least as “final” as I can say at this point), it was a successful excursion. No major “gotchas” but a few minor lessons learned that will help with the Big Trip in a couple more months. As far as I’m concerned (and really, that’s all that matters), my goal of “100 or so” miles per day is just about right, allowing plenty of time for stops along the way, which will in many ways be heart and soul of August’s expedition.

Indiana wants me

Sunday, 14th June 2009; 1:49 pm - Location: , , ,

dune-overlookThe night was rainless but dewy, so everything outside was damp. I woke this morning around 6:00 to the sound of birds -lots of them – chirping. I took my time breaking camp… because I could. I went for a short hike which started with a climb up one of the big dunes, right by the campground. I did it barefoot, figuring I’d be coming right back down. The slope was at least a 30degree incline, and I admit I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. The view from the top immediately took it away again. I could see forever to both east (behind me as I climbed) and west (over the Lake). But I couldn’t work up the nerve to go back down the way I’d come. I can handle heights when I don’t have to look at them, so the climb up with my face in the sand was OK. But the climb down… no go. As I stepped closer to the slope, and still couldn’t see the path down (making it look like a sheer drop), my acrophobia kicked in. Rather than stress myself out, I turned around went down the other (much gentler) side.

buckAfter retrieving my shoes I kept walking, and had a pleasant surprise. I stopped briefly on a bridge through some wetland, turned my head, and there was a buck staring at me, motionless. He couldn’t have been much more than 20 meters away. He was so still that at first I wasn’t 100% sure he was real, then he moved an ear. He stood perfectly still long enough for me to get out my camera, fight with the autofocus (which kept locking onto plants in front of him) and take a couple decent shots before he abruptly leaped out of view.

Around 9:00 am I pushed the loaded scooter from the campsite to the ranger office rather than upsetting the quiet of the morning for my fellow campers. Two-stroke engines are annoyingly noisy. After leaving the state park I continued south, just past the Indiana border… so I’ll be able to say later that I’ve covered the whole way from Indiana to Wisconsin. On the return trip I went some distance on a local access road which runs along the Red Arrow Highway, which has itself been superceded for most travel by I-94. Two degrees of separation from the expressway, but still going my way: perfect.

I’ve stopped in South Haven again, this time for lunch, at Subs ‘n’ More on Phoenix Street, the “main street” that runs directly from the interstate to the harbor, and loaded mostly with tourist-focused shops for the last few blocks to the waterfront. It’s sunny today which means watching out for sun when I stop. My protective riding gear does a good job the rest of the time.