Ride On, Kentucky Kid.

“You doing all right? Just read the sad news from the MotoGP world.”

That’s the text that I received this afternoon, from a friend in Mexico City. I was surprised and touched that he’d reached out — after all, I was indeed sad today upon reading that Nicky Hayden had passed away.  Hayden was struck by a car in Italy last week as he was riding his bicycle, and the motorcycle racing world had been holding its collective breath for the past few days wondering if he would pull through. Today on my lunch break I discovered that the hashtags had drifted from #GoNicky to #RideOnKentuckyKid, and I couldn’t help but read the news and the memorial posts through a haze of tears.

And I wondered a bit at that. After all, I’ve really only gotten into MotoGP in the last couple of years. And it’s not like I was a die hard Nicky Hayden fan. What was this sinking feeling all about? And then the answer arrived in the form of the next text from my friend:

“It’s just as a long time sports fan, I know it can affect you when an athlete dies who you’d become familiar with.”

“Yeah,” I responded. “This is a new sensation for me.”

My friend is one of the biggest sports fans I know, and a great writer. I always felt, as someone who wasn’t a sports fan myself, that I could kinda get it when I read his work. But now, here I was on the inside of it, a fan myself now, and experiencing something I hadn’t anticipated. The excitement and joy of racing, sure, but not this surprising sadness. What is it about the death of a stranger that can set us to feeling adrift like this?

Maybe because athletes are more than just strangers somehow. They are representative of something we wish we could be, a level of greatness we long for. They’re larger than life to us, so when they’re unexpectedly cut down young, it feels like the void is larger, too. To fans, they are our gladiators, the warriors who head out into the ring on our behalf week after week, year after year.

And in this case, part of this helpless, hopeless feeling is the ironic futility of it all: here is a man who has raced motorcycles at 200+ mph for years, and he loses it all riding a damn bicycle, something the vast majority of us have been doing  our entire lives. It could happen to any of us, anytime. And the passing of the last American MotoGP champion feels like the end of an era, like we lost more than just a kid from Kentucky.

Ah… there it is. We. Maybe that’s what being a sports fan is really all about. I may be feeling unexpectedly adrift at the death of a motorcycle racer — but I’m not alone. And there’s a comfort to be found in that.

 

via Daily Prompt: Adrift

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Look Out Marquez, There’s a New Kid in Town

The MotoGP season kicks off with its only night race of the year. They race under the lights because they’re in Qatar, where daytime temperatures make it just too hot to race safely. So, it was a pretty unusual and unexpected guest that messed with the race weekend this year:

Oh, hi, you didn’t want to ride motorcycles, did you?

Yep, it actually rained hard enough on Saturday that they canceled Qualifying, which is where everyone’s starting grid positions are determined. Instead, the grid would be based on Friday’s Free Practice lap times.

And then on Sunday, just as everyone was in that grid and ready to start, guess who popped back in for an encore drizzle? Everyone trooped back in off the track. Then they trooped back out. Then they took a trial run around the track. Then lots of people stood around shaking their heads. For 45 minutes the MotoGP announcers, who rely on a hyperbolic trove of go-to phrases, tried to make the tedium into an absolute nightmare!

But once the race and the 2017 season was finally underway, it was worth the wait, for a whole slew of reasons.

  1. Everyone was waiting to see what Maverick Viñales was going to do. This was his first race for Yamaha, and he’d been blisteringly fast in all of the testing over the winter and in free practice. He was starting from the pole position. And the 22-year-old kid has already got bookies saying he’s going to manage to snatch the title from reigning champ Marc Marquez.
  2. However, in a burst of speed that surprised everyone, rookie Johann Zarco immediately shot to the front of the pack, shuffling Viñales back to 4th. In his first ever MotoGP race, the former two-time Moto2 champ held off Marquez and the Andreas (Iannone and Dovizioso) with an authoritative lead for the first six laps — until he crashed out of first place. (And yes, the announcers declared it a nightmare.)
  3. Now it was Dovizioso’s turn to blast ahead, while Marquez and Iannone fought for second place — until Iannone crashed out.
  4. Meanwhile, this was going on behind Marquez:

    Team Yamaha. Yes, Rossi snuck all the way up here from starting 10th in the grid. This is one of the reasons I love The Doctor.

  5. And then all of a sudden, there was Viñales somehow overtaking Dovizioso and swapping 1st place with him for the last few laps — until yes, he ultimately won the race, making him only the 6th rider ever to win his first race on a new team and bike.
  6. And finally, Valentino Rossi overtook Marquez for a spot on the podium in 3rd — which was an excellent start for the 38-year-old who hadn’t been having the greatest pre-season. I’m eager to see how he does next weekend in Argentina — which will be the 350th race of his career. Yes, that’s yet another world record for him.

 

And after the race? Viñales was all grace and good sportsmanship, handling victory  like a total professional. So yes, look out Marquez. There’s a new kid in town — and he’s got his eyes on your championship.  It looks like it’s going to be a mighty exciting MotoGP season.

Victory looks good on Viñales.

 

via Daily Prompt: Champion

Life on the Cusp

It seems like I spend so much of my life on the cusp of things, anticipating what’s right around the corner. I spend more time just about to start some new habit or practice, or restart something I’ve fallen away from, than I do immersed in the thick of them. The kid perpetually on the diving board getting ready to jump in.

Last October F and I went for our getaway, and I was in the process of writing about it, was just on the cusp of posting it, in early November. And then the election happened. And in the midst of all of that upheaval, writing about a motorcycle trip just seemed… too small. Who would want to read that when it felt like democracy was falling apart?

And then I got out of the habit of writing, and I started  a new job, and then it was the holidays, and winter hibernation months settled in, and, and, and. Until eventually, finally, I found that a little part of my brain was getting ready to start writing again. “March,” I told myself. “It’s okay that I spent the winter regrouping and relaxing, but in March I’ll get back at it.”Aaaand here it is April 4th. I guess I had one more month of hovering at the edge to do. But now it feels like the whole world is waking up, and I’m waking up along with it. Nature is on the cusp of something new, green fuzzing the tips of branches and poking up out of the ground, birds launching themselves into song, daylight hanging on a few minutes longer each day.

And, of course, that means that riding season is right around the corner, too.

So, it’s time to dust off the blog and get back to writing about all the things I love about riding. And there’s so much to say! I still have to write about the fabulous trip we took up north last fall. We’ve made a point of visiting new Big Boys to share, and even more are closing around the state. We have another great roadtrip planned for May. I got new gear for Christmas. MotoGP season has started.  And! I’m on the cusp of a mighty big new motorcycling adventure, a view that isn’t from the back of the bike…

Stay tuned!

via Daily Prompt: Cusp

PSA: Play Nice Out There, Drivers

It’s that time of year when lots of Michiganders head north on color tours to go leaf peeping. That means there’s going to be a lot of vehicles on the road. Plenty of those will be of the 2-wheeled variety, including us, as we’ve settled on an itinerary for our fall getaway and are heading out later this week. We’d like to stay “shiny side up,” so please, be careful out there, drivers. Here are some helpful hints for those of you encased in giant steel boxes with 4-wheels and rolled up windows and loud music to help you help us 2-wheels enjoy our time out on the road, too.

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The Silence Amidst the Roar

When I talk to people about riding two up, and particularly about our long weekend getaways, a question that often comes up is, “Do you have an intercom in your helmets so that you can talk on those long rides?” To which my answer is inevitably, “No. Absolutely not.” Which often gets an odd look. “You mean, you ride all that way together without being able to talk to each other?” So let me try to explain.

First off, on a practical, logistical level, the Concours is a sport touring bike. It’s not a big, noisy cruiser, and it certainly doesn’t have that extra distinctive assault on the ears that Harleys have. (Which is explained succinctly here if you’re interested. Also, that may be the most politely I’ve ever described the sound of a Harley).  So when we’re tooling around on country roads, we can absolutely have brief conversations if both our visors are up and the road’s empty enough for F to turn a bit and talk over his shoulder to me.

When we get out on the highway, clearly those conversations aren’t possible — but that’s okay. It’s actually kind of nice to have a bit of solitude inside your helmet, to be together with someone but also alone with your own thoughts. Since I’ve got the easy job as the passenger, I enjoy that time to relax and soak in the scenery, to find that place of silence amidst the roar of the engine and the wind. Sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I sing. (You can really belt it out inside a helmet at 70 mph.) Sometimes F sings, and I know by the way his helmet bobs about a bit when he does.

And besides, we do talk to each other, the entire time we’re riding. It’s the pat of my hands on his waist that means that I’m ready to go once I’ve gotten on behind him. It’s the tap on his shoulder to indicate we need to turn, or leaning forward to point to an exit sign when I’m navigating. It’s a point from him when there’s something he wants me to see, and a squeeze from my knees that says, “Yes, I see, thank you for sharing.” It’s the bike itself joining the conversation, and hearing what it says via pitch and vibration, like listening to a leading partner when dancing. It’s F putting his visor down before a stretch of curves or hills, a silent “Oh, this is about to get really fun.” It’s his left hand leaving the handlebars to clasp my shin, his arm snugged about my knee that says… well. I don’t think I can even translate that one into words, and even if I could, I think it would be words that are ours alone.

helmets

 

via Daily Prompt: Silence

The Great Fall Getaway

It was 90-some degrees and 200% humidity here in Michigan the first week of September. It’s like Labor Day hit and Summer said, “Wait a minute! I’ve got until the 21st, not so fast with your pumpkin spice, you’ve still got some sweating to do.” It’s hard to imagine that in 4 short weeks or so it will be 50 degrees, grey skies, and freezing rain. But it will be, because F and I are planning our Fall getaway together on the Concours.

It never fails. Every Fall sweeps in to Michigan all blue skies and crisp breezes and sun highlighting the magnificent oranges and golds of the trees as they turn.  It’s time for cider mills and pumpkins and sweater weather, but mainly just because you want to wear a sweater, not because you really have to. It’s perfect. And then whatever October weekend we’ve set aside to head north to enjoy it all, Fall suddenly says, “Sooo, I’m taking the weekend off, but don’t worry, Winter’s gonna pop in and cover my shift.” So, my apologies in advance, Michigan folks, but we’re planning our annual motorcycle Iditarod. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going or which weekend we’re going yet, but don’t worry, you’ll know. The morning the furnace kicks on for the first time, you can say to yourself from within your warm cocoon of blankets, “Ah, K and F must be on their way up north.”

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Slacking and the San Marino GP

I’m way overdue for a blog post. I know this. The whole holiday weekend/start of the semester thing got in the way for a bit. I’m working on one that’s requiring quite a bit of research so it’s taking a while to piece it all together. (And by “research,” I really mean “zooming in on Google maps trying to figure out places F and I have been because so much travel time on the bike blurs together and I can’t for the life of me remember which northern Michigan town is which even though I can remember that somewhere in one of those towns is a bar that doesn’t take credit cards but cures its own Canadian bacon so it’s totally worth it.”)

So while I get those memory knots untangled, here’s a quick MotoGP update.

Remember when I mentioned that Valentino Rossi was in the top 3 in the worldwide standings? Well, he’s now passed up Jorge Lorenzo and is in 2nd place (which has made Lorenzo a little salty — heh), trailing Marc Marquez by 43 points. It’s a hefty margin to try to make up in the remaining 5 races of the season, but surprises do happen in MotoGP.

Take, for instance, the San Marino Grand Prix in Misano this past weekend. Rossi snatched the lead from Lorenzo early on and set the pace for the majority of the race — but then out of nowhere, Dani Pedrosa, who hasn’t had a win since 2015, worked his way up from 8th place, overtaking Rossi in the 22nd lap to win the race. I would have loved to see Rossi win, of course, but if he had to miss out, I’m glad it was to Pedrosa. This way Rossi still earned more points in this race than Marquez (who came in 4th) or Lorenzo (who took 3rd). Plus, it’s just nice to see someone else on the podium for a change, especially another rider who’s been at this for a long time and basically just seems like a nice guy.

Aaaaaand this is where I was going to include a video of race day highlights — but apparently MotoGP doesn’t like that sort of thing, so you’ll have to head to their YouTube channel if you want to see Pedrosa’s surprise overtake of Rossi at the 1:22 mark. Thanks, Dorna.

 

So, here’s a Big Boy in a chef’s hat instead.

Charlotte Big Boy

This dude was not dressed like this when we were at this Big Boy in July. Where do you find a chef’s hat that big anyway?

 

Movie Review: Fastest

We’d planned to go for a ride on Sunday. At least, until we stepped outside and the air already felt warm and soggy at 9 am. I think F was surprised that my response to his “I’m sorry, but I really don’t think I want to go” wasn’t disappointment (after all, he gets to ride a lot more than I do) but rather, “Nope. Me neither.” The thought of being outside in all that gear made me wilt a bit. This was definitely a day to stay indoors. (And hey, bonus! We didn’t end up in a tornado!)

So that afternoon found us somewhere we never are during the day: on the couches in my living room in front of the TV. I’d gone on a bit of an interlibrary loan frenzy at work earlier in the week, and a DVD of a MotoGP documentary was the first thing to arrive. “Yeah, okay, let’s check out the first few minutes and see if it’s any good,” was F’s response when I showed him the case of Fastest.

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All Boys Are Not Created Equal

On our last weekend ride, F and I headed west on M-50 to the small town of Tecumseh. It’s a very tidy little place that clearly had some money back when it was being established — lots of big, old houses that sit back from the main drag, buffered by manicured green lawns. And an inordinate number of cupolas. Like seriously, almost every one of those big, stately houses had one….

…aaaand I just fell down the Google rabbit hole for a bit, because I wanted to find out if I was using the word “cupola” correctly to describe the square, windowed things on these roofs. Turns out that what these houses boasted was a specific type of cupola called a belvedere.

The More You Know

But I still don’t know why they were so prevalent in this small town. Or why two other things appeared prevalent in the history of this small town:

  • Millionaires — Apparently at one point in history, Tecumseh had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the U.S.
  • Mass murderers — Andrew Kehoe, who killed 38 children and 6 adults, and injured at least 58 others when he blew up a school in 1927 in the Bath School Disaster, was from Tecumseh. And Henry Lee Lucas kicked off his killing spree in Tecumseh in 1960 when he murdered his mother there.

 

But I digress. Bigtime. (Thanks, internet.) What I do know is that Tecumseh has one of the friendliest, busiest Big Boys we’ve seen on our travels. We were glad to see the place hopping, including a few other motorcyclists, and breakfast was great.

Tecumseh Big Boy

Even this guy was extra friendly.

 

Later that week, F texted me a picture when he stopped in at the Big Boy in Imlay City where we’d stopped the day we got the Concours. “Huh,” I said when I saw it. “This Boy… he looks a little devious. How is that possible?”

Imlay City Big Boy

Would you buy a burger from this guy?

And then it hit me: the eyebrows. I hadn’t realized that the Big Boy statues themselves could be different from each other — but clearly Imlay City Big Boy was in need of some manscaping.

Tecumseh eyebrowsImlay eyebrows

 

 

 

So now I’m curious. Why do restaurants in the same chain have different statues? How many different Big Boys are out there? Where/how do you get one of these things? Why had I never noticed Big Boy’s male pattern balding before? And is there really a Big Boy Graveyard in Northern Michigan??

I clearly need to conduct more research. Which means more breakfasts at more Big Boys. Which means more time two up on the bike. Oh, the sacrifices we make…

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

I’m sitting here trying to remember what I was doing 20 years ago. Generally speaking, I know that I spent a lot of time in my car that year. Back then there weren’t online classes, so “distance ed” meant living in one area code and driving to classes in another. I was going to library school at Wayne State in Detroit, and living and working in Kalamazoo. I knew I-94 way better than I wanted to. But if I try to think about what August of 1996 specifically looked like, I’ve got nothing. And this particular weekend of August? This specific date, August 18th? Forget it.

I’m also trying to think about just how many twists and turns my life has taken since then, how many different towns, jobs, directions… oof. I’ve never been the type of person to take the shortest distance between point A and point B. My path has meandered a lot, plenty of false starts and redirecting, detours and scenic routes. Some say that I’m fortunate that I’m the kind of person who has a wide array of interests and abilities, directions that my life could go — but really I’ve always envied those single-minded people who have that one thing that they do and do well, for whom there are no other options. The people who know exactly what they are meant for and spend their lives dedicated to becoming a master of their craft.

One of those people knows exactly where he was 20 years ago today: in Brno, Czechoslovakia, standing on the highest step of a MotoGP podium for the first time in his life, celebrating his first win in the world’s premiere class of motorcycle road racing. Continue reading