Monday, September 12, 2011

Driving Rain

I awoke the next morning of my motorcycle trip- in no hurry to venture out into the rain.  I met two other couples in the dining room of the motel and we chatted about our routes over breakfast.  They had come from Seneca Falls and recommended it for the scenery.   Although the cabins they told me about would be something I’d enjoy, I really wanted to head south.  

The fourth patch I could earn on this trip was for traveling a trio of roads: 219, 250 and 220.  A glance at my map, revealed two options for this route- I decided to take 250 east to 220 then head south.  That would put me in southern West Virgnia, where I could sleep in one place for a few days and take short day trips on the motorcycle.

Before falling asleep the night before, I’d washed all my clothes and developed a strategy for getting through the following rainy day- a habit, by now.  I’d dried my gloves on the vent and let my pants and jacket hang to dry overnight.  That morning, I lined my duffel bag with garbage bags and packed all of my belongings inside them. I wore lightweight pants under my rain suit and tucked my feet into plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet again.  Then I slipped my rain jacket on over my leather jacket, put on my helmet and took off in the rain, headed for 250.

Within a matter of minutes, my hands were freezing.  I was going to be battling the rain and the cold.  I stopped at the mini-mall to find a pair of latex gloves.  The only pair available ripped as soon as I put them on.  I rode on further- determined to make a go of it.  I didn’t get far before I pulled over to gas up and change under the awning.  Water had managed to leak into my right boot and my foot was soaked.  I changed my socks, adjusted the plastic bag turned liner.  I also exchanged the leather jacket for the heated jacket.  Topped with the rain jacket, I would stay warm and dry, yet still have freedom of movement.  I also put on my heated gloves.  Newly armed, I ventured back out into the rain.

The rain lightened up a bit as I wound around and through the mountain roads past streams and forests growing from rocking outcroppings.  Riding in some mountain ranges, one can see the towering rocks pushing up into the sky.  Through this area though, it was the tree tops that formed the mountain range.  All the trees linked together created a great sea of green rolling across the edge of the sky like a wave.  At the base of this sea was a great golden “beach” of farmland dotted with farmhouses and barns.  As I rolled through each curve, I’d see this range and the farms below it through the breaks in the trees at the road’s edge.  It was like a little gift each time the trees parted to afford me that view. 

 I was riding my favorite kind of roads in beautiful country but felt like the ride had become all about dealing with the weather.  Instead of challenging my riding skills, the trip was challenging my coping skills. The rain was pouring down.  I felt like I was just hanging on for the ride.    The bike was holding up, the roads were in excellent condition but the rain was seeping into me and sapping my strength.
To get a break from the rain, I stopped in a quaint town for sandwich and tea.  My map made 220 look like a straight shot and I thought I’d pick up speed and cover some ground. 

Sure enough, the ride was fast and easy.  Covington, appeared to be one massive industrial plant.  Three separate driveways along a one-mile stretch lead into the plant.  It was like coming upon a scene in a sci-fi movie.  Semi’s turned out of the plant, one after another.  Piles of saw dust stood high as sand dunes underneath conveyor belts.  This town felt empty and sad.   I left it behind quickly by jumping on 64 west; I was on a mission to find lodging for the night.  There were several hours left in the day to ride, but my body was done.  I spotted signs for a visitor center and stood just inside the door, a pool of water gathering around me, as I asked for suggestions.   The B&B they referred me to, didn’t have any clean beds after the holiday weekend; she steered me “just 9 miles down the road” to Lewisburg, West Virginia with promises of an Inn and an attached restaurant.  Rain continued to poor down on my ride and my reserves were gone- I needed the charm of an Inn, rather than another Super 8 and marched on expectantly.

I pulled up to a 2 story white colonial with a circle drive and front porch that beckoned me in with its double-door entry.  Inside, an antique desk with a ledger and hand-loomed oriental rugs greeted guests.   A drawing room off to the left was filled with antique chairs grouped together around a fireplace.  I followed the hall around the corner down to my room.   Inside, a double bed stood so tall, I needed a stool to climb into it.  It was topped with a down comforter and 4 fluffy pillows.  Next to it was a small walnut desk and chair and beside that a narrow closet for my riding jacket and pants.  A television stood atop and antique dresser across from the bed.  In the corner, a narrow door lead into a crisp white bathroom just big enough to stand in.  I lugged in my bags, hung my gear up to dry out and filled the tub for a hot bath.  Although these accommodations were more luxurious than I’d intended for my trip- they were exactly what I needed.   I called the front desk and told her I’d take the room for two nights then I grabbed a book and settled into the tub to warm up and relax.

After cleaning up, I nestled in bed with my computer to write.  Up until that point, I hadn’t carved out any time to write.  I promised myself the next 2 days would be devoted to writing and enjoying the town.  I’d had enough of trying to get somewhere.    I wanted time to reflect on all I’d seen. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Take me home...

I awoke, on the 3rd day of my trip, in Winchester, Virginia to wet pavement and dry skies.  I expected rain, after the forecast but hoped I’d get lucky, like the day before.  There were clouds above with patches of sky and sunlight poking through.  My first route for the day consisted of a purple line at the top of my map - across route 50 from Gore, Virginia heading West to Grafton, West Virginia.  This is another RIDE club patch road.  I hadn’t intended to make my entire trip about getting patches but it was lining up that way.  From the map, it looked like it would be great route for views- it runs along the base of the mountains- as well as for curves – it squiggles across the page.

I gassed up and headed out, expecting to find breakfast at a little diner along my way.  I eased out of Winchester along route 50 which took me toward the mountains.  Misty clouds hovered along the peak just at the edge of town.  I slipped through a mountain pass and found myself on the other side of the mountains, beginning to wind my way up and through them.  About 40 minutes in, I rounded a corner and came down a hill into a town with a quaint diner posting a sign which read “Open Labor Day.”  While I’d been glad to gain an extra day by planning my trip over the holiday weekend, I hadn’t considered how many businesses would be closed on Sunday and Monday.  It made my strategy to acquire patches a good one- there wouldn’t be much site seeing off the bike.  I sat down for a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausage while I reviewed my maps.  After 50, I’d planned to head south for a 3-road tour and another patch.  I’d have to see how the weather held up first.

Filled up and warmed up, I hopped back on the bike and settled in for the ride.  I continued through the mountains, which meant the roads continued to climb up and up, while off to one side stands of trees flitted by.  A few were turning color here and there, so I’d be surrounded by green when a lone tree, dressed in red would appear, standing amid them.  I found myself once again lost in the road, trying to stay in the best lane position while it snaked back upon itself.  An occasional car would appear from around a bend in the road, alerting me to stay wider in corners than I’m used to.  Riding tight on a track, when I can see all the way through the turn is one tact, but the mountain twisities require another. 

I’d been a little afraid of this trip and what it would bring up for me.  I knew I’d see some beautiful things and hoped I wouldn’t mind too much seeing them by myself.  When I’d come around a corner to find a break in the trees and get a glimpse of the valley below- that’s when I’d pull over and grab the camera for a shot.  Taking my camera with me was a way to bring a friend with me- I thought of those back home who’d be waiting to look at them with me.  When Erica asked me why I was doing this trip, I told her it was because I really wanted to and was really afraid of it at the same time.  We have this common understanding, her and I, that our fears sometimes direct us to what we really need to do.  As I was riding along that day, the fear was gone.  I found myself narrating my route, eager to share it, but glad to be there alone. 

The road continued on, winding through the hills.  At one point, a great wind picked up some fallen leaves and swirled them up and around me as I passed by- it felt like a hug from the wind- I smiled and a song from John Denver came to mind: “West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.”

Route 50 took me from Virginia into West Virginia, Maryland and back into West Virginia, all in one straight stretch heading west.  It was a marvel riding through this area, marked into statehood by such strange boundaries- not a river or a mountain range or even a lake, as is Michigan.  It had me wondering how these territories came to be divided.  

The rain started in, sprinkling here and there and I hardly noticed it for the rivers sneaking along the roadway and the rocky outcroppings out of which the forest grew.   The sky above was filled with layers of clouds in all shades of gray until finally, they opened up and sheets of rain came down.  From Grafton, I headed south on 119 to 250. 

West Virginia is loaded with signs along the roadside proclaiming historic areas- the first farm, the site of a particular battle or the home town of a general.  So much of this state’s history seems to reside in its place in the civil war.  I remember very few details of the war from elementary school and don’t feel it’s pull on me.  In fact, quite the opposite- I felt repelled by the signs urging me to visit a battle ground.   This contrast was made even more stark as I pulled into Elkins to find a place to stay for the night.  Across the street from the Marathon station and the McDonald’s was a “trading post” selling “genuine Indian” artifacts, which most likely meant turquoise jewelry and moccasins.  How is it that current literature about the civil war proclaims victory in battle during the French and Indian War, while stores hock “artifacts” from cultures our ancestors denigrated and destroyed? 

The last hour of riding had soaked clean through my riding pants and jeans.   My leather jacket was soggy and gloves useless.  My feet were sloshing around inside my boots.  I found myself a restaurant in hopes a hot meal would warm me up enough to continue.  I thought I could use the dry table to spread my maps out and plan the rest of the day. 

Once inside the Applebees, I warmed up my insides with a few cups of coffee and some wings.  The manager was kind and gave me leads on a few places outside of town.  He urged me to head east toward Seneca Falls where I’d find cabins to rent ‘real reasonable like.’  I sketched out a few ideas on the map but couldn’t get a feel for how much further I wanted to go.  Once outside, I got the clarity I needed.  It was cold, still raining and I was still wet.  I decided to call it quits right there and headed, once again, for the cheapest place in town – the Super 8. 

The place had been updated recently and I found  a washer and dryer for a dollar a load in a room right off the lobby.  I parked my bike out back and lugged my gear inside.  I separated my belongings into 2 piles.  Wet and clean and wet and dirty.   I threw the clean pile in the dryer, the dirty in the washer and headed back to my room to dry out my gear.  

In planning this trip, I was looking forward to the roads I’d ride and the views I’d see.  I was hoping for a neat side trip or two and thought I might meet some other motorcyclists on the way.  I prayed I wouldn’t have to deal with any bike repairs, or worse, any damage to me, after taking a corner to hot.  What I didn’t expect to get out the trip, was a sense of achievement from tackling the elements.   Nevertheless, that was already shaping up to be one of the big “take-aways” from the trip.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

5 States in One Day

Riding through western Ohio reminded me a lot of Michigan.  The roads were straight with views of fields and farmland as far as I could see; it was beautiful.  Because the land was more flat than Grand Rapids area farmlands, I could see much farther.  Groups of trees were more linear, demarcating the fields of wheat from corn, from alfalfa.  The sky above was filled with whispy billowing clouds.  After 69 turned south, my body asked for a break from the pummeling it takes at high-speeds so I got off the expressway and I headed east from Auburn through Defiance into Findlay then south toward Columbus.  I passed through lots of small towns where the speed limit dips down to 35 mph.   It’s a welcome change of pace though it slowed me down.  I fought off frustration that I had turned off the expressway too soon and lost valuable time.  Then I caught myself- it was only day one and I was already feeling like I’d messed up.  I pushed those ideas from my mind and focused on the road in front of me.  I eased through the farmlands at a moderate pace with very little traffic.  I finally hit 270 around Columbus and made a push for Zanesville via I-70.  I crashed at a Super 8 right off the highway and grabbed dinner at the A&W next door.  I retired early knowing my next day of riding would be a long one. 

I woke on Sunday morning to hear that Hurricane Leo would be bringing in storms with expected flooding over the Midwest and South throughout the week.  As I packed my bags, I tried to fight off the frustration.   I wasn’t concerned about riding in the rain but I was worried about how well my rain gear and my spirits would hold up if it rained non-stop.   More than that, I’ve found that rain and cold are fatiguing.  I’d planned for 2 long days of riding with rests midday at roadside parks.  Without the option for a quick nap, I’d have to find a new strategy for getting down into southern West Virginia where the great roads were waiting.  I couldn’t count on covering a lot of miles if I needed to take frequent breaks to warm up.  And I’d need  a Laundromat to dry out my gear.  The weather radar showed rain was expected in every area I would ride in the next 2 days.  I briefly considered abandoning my planned trip and choosing another area to ride in.  From the radar, it looked like I'd have two days of rain no matter which route I took, so I dismissed the idea of riding out of it.

My plan for the day was to run the 555 from Zanesville through to Little Hocking and then ride through 4 other states.  That'd get me two RIDE patches in one day.  I'd expected to do the 555 the first day so I was slightly behind schedule and wasn’t sure if I could do it.  I reviewed my West Virginia map again and set up several alternate routes that could get me through each state more quickly if needed.  I didn’t know how long it would take me to get through the winding routes so I left the motel at 9:00am, fueled up, checked tire pressure and headed out.  Although, feeling behind, I knew I wouldn't enjoy the trip if I focused on the variables I couldn’t control.  I decided to take it one road at a time.  I wanted to get on the 555 and see where it lead me. 

A few turns out of town I found myself in the most beautiful country.  Eastern Ohio is hilly territory.   The 555 curves unlike any I’ve ever been on- even Deal’s gap.  It’s  nestled between hills that wind through tiny towns divided by farms.  Neighborhoods consisted of groups of houses clustered together between these farms.  I marveled at the twists these roads took- perhaps fashioned from old horse and buggy trails.  Not only did the road jog from side to side but it climbed up and down.  Riding along at top speed- only 25-30 mph- felt like riding a roller coaster.  I could not travel faster safely, because I could not see the road in front of me for the hills and the twists.  More than once, I’d slowed for a hill only to discover it took a sharp turn just beyond the crest.  I continued the route, slowly and took in the views.  I remembered requests from two friends to take lots of pictures so I found myself stopping every few miles to snap a photo.  I came upon only 3 other vehicles on that route- a car, a truck and an ATV – so it felt very isolated.  I often stopped right in the middle of the road to snap a picture.  I was riding at the edge of beauty. 

I felt myself staring into the landscape as though prying into another life.  What is it like to live for the land and the animals you keep on it?  The hillsides were dotted with cattle of every color- unlike the Michigan dairy farms I’d seen with black herds.  Whatever kind of cattle they were- beef or dairy- no doubt the signs advertising their products would say, “grass fed” for these small herds were spread over hundreds of acres of land.  I wondered what these hills and valleys, and the roads winding through them, meant for the people who live there.  How had it shaped them?  When I was riding through it, it felt like undiscovered territory.  I don't think that's just because it was knew to me;  I think that was the feel of the land.  When I ride along Michigan's western coastline, I feel an absolute sense of freedom- like I'm opening up inside.  When I rode this part of Ohio, I felt like I was coming upon a secreted place.  These homes and lives were hidden amongest these hills.

I finished the 555 and turned towards Parkersburg, West Virginia.  I didn’t know yet, if I could make all 5 states but I planned to work my way toward it one state at a time.  Crossing into West Virginia, the road continued to swerve around, this time through dense enough forest that I caught glimpses of a massive steel structure through clearings.  At first glance, I couldn’t imagine what it was, as I’d never seen anything like it before.  As I drew nearer, I noticed a river- a very wide Ohio river and realized I was seeing a bridge.  I’d have loved to get a picture of it - it wasn’t just a feat of engineering, it was an artist’s vision.   Because I was on a freeway, I couldn’t get a shot of it.  Crossing the bridge put me in state 2 for the day and I headed northeast to hit Pennsylvania along route 7. 

This part of West Virginia felt a lot like eastern Ohio without the hairpin turns of the 555.  I continued to marvel at the farms that stretched out before me that were placed amid such sloping acreage.   The road traveled alongside streams with slate stacked hills on the opposite side.  Between the stream and the mountains beyond, were plains that had become farmland dotted with rolls of hay.  I tried to imagine riding a tractor in this terrain.  It must feel as though you were leaning back in chair, riding up those steep hillsides.  

I made it into Pennsylvania without a hitch and found a café just off the expressway.  I just missed the first of the pouring rain as I settled in for lunch of homemade perogis in a butter sauce.  I pulled on rain gear before hopping back on the bike.  Each time I stopped for gas at a place right off the expressway, I found myself facing familiar fast-food stops and gas stations.  While the landscape was different, the businesses weren’t. 

I gained understanding of the term “Anytown, USA” because so many towns were edged by the same businesses: McDonald’s, Shell, Family Dollar, Applebee’s, Days Inn.  It was hard to feel like I was leaving anything behind, when I kept coming upon the familiar.  I recalled the fact that I have boycotted McDonald’s and Wal-mart for over 10 years, until recently.  I had avoided McDonald’s after reading Fast Food Nation and Wal-mart after watching a documentary about it.  I found the business practices of both to be unsettling and I determined that spending my money elsewhere was my way to take a stand.  Riding past another group of the same tired businesses, woke me to my naïve thinking.  Wal-mart and McDonald’s weren’t the problem.  They were only two examples of many who are part of our capitalist society.   It’s not that my boycotts were misguided, but I was seeing they were ineffectual.  

As I headed south into Maryland, thoughts flitted through my mind but then the landscape would jolt me out of my reverie and I’d be right back on the bike, on the road, making my way into a new world.  It felt like I was clearing away debris.  And as I climbed into the mountains, I looked up to see a huge thundercloud hanging in the sky up ahead.  It occurred to me then, that hurricane Leo hadn’t done what the forecasters said, or what I’d feared.  It hadn’t wrecked my trip.  I was nearly through my second day of riding and I had gotten caught in a few sprinkles, but not the serious downpour I was expecting.   At that point, I had only one more state to get through to earn my second patch of the day, and it was clear in my mind, if not the heaven’s above, that I would make it into Virginia before the day’s end.

Virginia greeted me with more twists around mountain curves.  I could rarely focus on anything around me except the road for all it's switchbacks.  At points, trees from both sides would canopy me in and I'd ride along as if in a tunnel of filtered light.  I'd clear the tunnel and sweep left, then sharp right up a steep incline.  Back and forth, I'd ride, the engine whirring faster, then slower, again and again.  Finally, the road evened out and I dared look out beyond it into the valley below where farmhouses nestled at the base of the mountains.  

Finally, hungry and tired, I headed for the expressway and the businesses I knew would be at it’s edges. While the rain hadn’t wrecked my trip, the long day of riding had sapped my energy.  I pulled into the  Super 8 at 9 PM, unloaded my gear from the bike and changed into dry clothes.  I dined on sushi and sake at the place next door and then settled into the bed for a little T.V. until my eyelids grew heavy.  Sated in every way from the riding, I turned out the lights and settled in for a restful sleep.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Planning My Trip

On Saturday I left for a solo motorcycle trip down south.   After much deliberation, I finally realized I really wanted to go alone, but was concerned about how to plan it.  The bookstore, riding friends, and two girlfriends helped me.

I’ve never ridden longer than 5 hours a day and I’d never taken a multi-day trip with overnight stays in more than one location.  When I’ve heard others talk about long trips, it was always broken down into miles as in, “we covered about 400 miles per day.”  Some of the best things I’ve seen have been by accident and I was hesitant to plan too carefully yet the distance I hoped to cover required some homework.  To prepare for it, I talked with several friends for ideas.  Michael had just come back from a solo trip of his own around two of the Great Lakes.   He told me he’d started with how many days he wanted to travel and then worked on a general route with a few ideas for day trips, should he decide to stay in one place more than one night.  That first conversation helped me realized I didn’t need to worry about being too rigid in my planning.  I could make this trip whatever I wanted and didn’t need to feel constrained by miles, hours, too specific a route or overnight accommodations.

I made two trips to the bookstore to review books written on “scenic byways.”  While there weren’t books specific to motorcycling, I found one that outlined scenic routes from Ohio, south to Kentucky and Indiana and west up through Illinois.  Ken leant me a motorcyclist’s guide to scenic routes in the south including West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.   After studying these routes on Mapquest, a general plan began to develop.  I found myself drawn to eastern Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.  I purchased state maps and started highlighting scenic routes from Ken’s book.  Finally, I met with Michael again, to review my route ideas.  He had ridden West Virginia a few years back with Geoff and Mark and said the roads there could keep me occupied for days.  He also told me it was easy to find motels near expressway exits and mom and pop places at the edge of town.  He taught me a thing or two about reading maps and reminisced about his own trip as we finger-traced routes.

I was also interested in challenging myself in another way on this trip- I wanted to incorporate some “best roads” and “challenge” patches from the RIDE club.   Once a RIDE member earns 10 patches he earns a “doctorate” from “Two-lane University.”  This is the playful part of RIDE membership that I really enjoy.   After this trip, I’ll be referred to as “Dr. Souldance.”  Michael and I mapped out a route I could take to earn the “5 states in one day” patch.  I also planned to ride Ohio’s 555 and a route in West Virginia and Virginia covering roads 219, 250 and 220.  With the 9 days I had available to ride, I was also hoping I might bring home the “2,500 miles in one trip” patch.   Planning around these patches helped me break the trip down into little bite-sized pieces and made organizing the ride less daunting.

The week of the trip, I set up final preparations.  I laid out all my gear including supplies for rain, cold, hunger, bright sun and bad hair: rain suit, heated jacket, granola bars, sunglasses, and a hat.  I also gave the bike a bath and an inspection.  Patrick changed my rear tire, which arrived just in time.  Anita agreed to watch my kitties and Amy volunteered to keep watch for me via text.  Armed with well-marked maps, a few changes of clothes and my camera for charting my trip, I set-out for Ohio.

In my excitement, I talked to several friends and coworkers and got lots of interesting responses: 

            “What are you doing that for?” 
            “Aren’t you dreading the drive?”
            “Oh, my!  All by yourself?”

Each answer lead me closer to my own understanding of why I was taking the trip.  I needed to be alone.  I needed to take stock of what’s important to me without the influence of others.  I needed a break from daily life in my home and at work.  I needed to carve out enough time for myself so I could reconnect with the part of me that has answers at hand, instead of those that come only after sifting through other’s expectations and desires.  I wasn’t just taking the trip alone, I was also tuning out email, Facebook, phone calls and texting.   I know I sometimes use these communication tools as a crutch when I’m feeling lonely.  And the irony is, I often don’t feel less alone after a conversation than before it.  I wanted to take enough time for myself so that lonliness, even if it crept in, was only part of all the many things I felt in a day instead of the feeling I kept trying to drive out.

As I pulled out of my driveway, I was undecided about which route to take to get out of Michigan.  I realized then that all the planning I needed was already done.  My Michigan map was laid out in my magnetic map pouch and affixed to my tank.  I just had to pick the first road to start out on and from there the rest would come.  My destination was Zanesville, Ohio where I would pick up the 555.   Tom was the last person I spoke with on Friday night before I headed out.  He encouraged me to quickly make my way east through Ohio as “there is nothing” in western Ohio.  I picked 96 East out of Grand Rapids  to begin my journey.  It turns south and heads straight into western Ohio.  Once I got into Ohio, I didn’t know if I’d jump on the tollway and run quickly east or stay on back roads and head south.  Once I got to the exit though, the answer was clear to both my mind and my body.  I headed south.  I was as eager to ride along the rural roads as I was to find out what “nothing” looks like.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Choices: Bonneville or Thruxton?

Months after the Gilmore Car Mueseum’s motorcycle show, I continued to fantasize about the Thruxton.  Because of that, I started searching for ways to transform the sophisticated Bonneville into the racey Thruxton.   While I adore my Bonneville, I’m determined to find a way to combine what I love most about each bike. 

An extensive study of websites selling Triumph parts reveals numerous options.  Through bike church, I met another Triumph rider who directed me to  This site revealed a variety of parts to customize my Bonneville that improve both function and style as well as performance.  My search also lead me to a few other sites including Cal-moto, Bellacorse and Pure-Triumph.   I love the simplicity of my Bonneville and have never before considered altering her appearance or performance.   Previous purchases included saddle-bags for convenience and gear for various riding conditions.  When I bought my bike, there were add-ons like colored cam covers, valve stem caps and seat cowls but I was surprised to see so many other options on these websites:  custom oil filler caps, brake fluid filler caps, colored sprockets, chains and brake lines.   A whole world was opening as I discovered all the parts available.  Next, I searched for photos of Thruxtons and Bonnevilles and zoomed in for ideas.  Hours later, my mind was awash with images and ideas.

It is possible to spend thousands of dollars on modifications, but since I’m still making payments on her, I didn’t want to spend another two grand on upgrading her  suspension with new shocks and forks or her engine performance with new cams or race carburetors.   While I believe some mid-range suspension upgrades will make a noticeable difference in the ride, that is a change I can make next year or the year after.   Delaying modifications is a simple choice when I consider other plans I’m saving for.   I don’t think I need that level of performance upgrade on a bike I already enjoy so much.  Besides, what I really like about the Thruxton isn’t her performance so much as the riding position and sportier feel.    

After eliminating the pricier options, I focused instead on cosmetic changes I could make while spending less than a thousand to achieve it.  After considering cost, my next decision was to determine an overall vision for the bike.  I have the 2008 Bonneville black with chrome accents.  Unlike Thruxtons, which have two-toned color scheme, my fenders, side-panels and tank are all painted the same color, and my engine is neither chrome, nor brushed metal, but matte black.  While I want a sportier feel, I want to be true to the Bonneville styling and the red or yellow seat cowl and cam covers aren’t to my liking.  I have no brushed metal on the bike so the brushed metal options were easily dismissed. 

To help me get clear on what options made sense, I gave the Bonneville a bath and then sat across from her and studied her.  I started with her headlight and moved toward her back end.  I considered fork gaitors, front faring and headlight accessories.  I looked past her engine to her side covers, foot pegs, chain cover, chain, sprocket and guard.  Finally, I examined her rear fender and lights.  I imagined changing out parts I’d seen on the various websites I explored.  Each part I changed in my mind’s eye, came with it an accompanying feeling of promise or disregard.   Using this approach, piece by piece, it became clear which parts I would change and which I would leave. 

This is also the approach I use when trying to make other kinds of decisions in my life.  For example, I’ve been yearning to take a vacation so set aside the week after Labor Day.  I had several options available for travel and I narrowed them by focusing in on one thing at a time.  Firstly, I realized I really wanted to take a motorcycle trip.  Secondly, I realized I didn’t want to do a trip planned around someone else’s schedule.  And finally I realized I wanted to ride more days than not.  What I ended up planning is a 7-day solo trip down south.  I’m making it sound easier than it was – I was nervous about up-ending plans with a girlfriend in California and 3 others I was planning on hanging out with Labor Day weekend.  There are a few new folks joining the Gap trip this year, which was also an option and while I knew it would be an interesting trip, what I realized was that the only person I want to please that week is me. 

As for the changes with the Bonneville, there’s a whole lotta things I could do that might make someone else happier with her performance- new carbs and even engine enhancements.  The thing is, those aren’t things that I really need or even value.  One friend laughed at my changes, which include some chrome accents, saying it was a waste to spend money on something that only improved the bling factor.  He said he doesn’t care much for improving the look of a bike.  My automatic retort: “a person doesn’t buy a bike like this if she doesn’t care about looks.”  And right there in that moment, I had resolution to an internal conflict I didn’t know I’d had up until that point.  I was feeling some reservations about spending money on this great bike that were only intended to improve her looks.  In fact, most of the changes would probably go unnoticed by most.  But there it was: I value the look of the bike as much as her ride.  I don’t need her to be the fastest production bike ever made and I don’t need shocks that offer performance perks I’ll never benefit from with the way I ride.

The fact is, I fell in love with the Bonneville because of her looks.  And then I rode her and I fell for the feel of her ride.  And I haven’t fallen out of love – I still turn around to look at her after I get off her.  I like how she pulls me through corners and powers from a stop.  I know she likes 4th gear more than any other and that she stumbles a little until I get her there.  I recognize her hesitation up around 100 miles on a tank of gas – 124 if I’ve ridden slower- when she needs her reserve tank. 

There may come a time when I want a little more power out of her.  But that’ll be after a southern solo tour, and after an adventure tour in Peru next Fall.  I changed out her handlebars, so they’re lower and a little straighter.   I replaced her round upstanding mirrors with rectangular bar-end mirrors for a little sportier look.  I also replaced the choke and idle knobs and the oil filler cap with chrome ones.   I'll be putting on the new fork gaitors over the Winter and I hope to find a deal on a black seat cowl and front fly screen, too.   For now, though, she done- and she’s as pretty as ever.