A Ride to Remember

March 18, 2013

It was a cloudy day when we awoke at the Best Western in Meridian Mississippi after driving the day before from New Orleans. We were en route to Robbinsville North Carolina to ride the “Tail of the Dragon”, one of the best-known motorcycle roads in North America. Yesterday it threatened rain most of the day so we dawned our rain gear, all to no avail.

The forecast was for scattered showers and grey clouds could be seen approaching from the west. Today, we would travel from Meridian to Chattanooga, TN, an almost 460 km ride, so to err on the side of caution, we again dawned our slickers.  

Richard, our Road Captain, wanted to stop by the local Harley-Davidson® retailer; so after a hearty breakfast, our first stop was at Chunky River Harley-Davidson®. We managed to drop a fair bit of coin there after buying jackets, T-shirts, halogen lights and helmet locks.  Regardless, by 10:30 am we were all in formation as we moved north on Interstate 59 toward Birmingham, Alabama.

By noon we had reached Birmingham, still being chased by ever increasing dark clouds and humid temperatures, which made the ride somewhat muggy and sticky.  Still no rain and I wondered if it would be another one of those days where I had over reacted and was sweating needlessly in my rain suit.

About an hour past Birmingham, still on Interstate 59, we pulled into a service area for gas and bathroom breaks. By this time, storm clouds could be seen percolating on top the hills on the other side of the Interstate. Richard, James and I agreed it might be in our best interests to wait this one out as sharp bolts of lightening began to flash from the approaching clouds. So, we rallied out bikes in a sheltered area of the parking lot and waited for the rain to hit.  Well, it never did, except for a few sprinkles and after 15 minutes we decided to get back on the road. After all, we still had another three-hour ride if we were to make Chattanooga by dark.  Anyway, if the weather turned bad, we would just pull off at the nearest exit.

As we entered the highway, Richard was in the lead, followed by Shirley, Madeline, Art, James and Aida, Earl and Jocelyne and myself.  We all headed up the Alabama Interstate which, unlike southern Louisiana’s sprawling river delta, was becoming increasingly hilly.  Richard, James, Earl and I had CB radios, which proved to be one of the “saving graces” of our trip.  Richard, as Road Captain, was able to advise the group when to pass and alert us of safety issues ahead.  I, as the Sweeper, in turn was able to give a “heads up” when vehicles were passing from the rear or if we were impeding traffic. On this afternoon CB radios were to significantly contribute to our safety.

After riding for about a half hour, the divided highway split to where you could not see the two south bound lanes because of the tall, bushy Alabama pine trees lining both sides of the road. As we rode, we could feel wind gusts pushing at the sides of our bikes and it was becoming increasingly dark.  Suddenly the heavens opened as rain, unlike I had ever experienced, pounded on us from all sides as if it were coming from a fire hose. The wind continued to push our bikes from side to side as we moved ahead. I heard James on the radio ask Richard why he was moving to the shoulder (thinking he was going to stop) when Richard answered: ” I’m just trying to stay on the road”.  By this this time visibility had diminished significantly because of the wind gusts and the pelting rain.  We couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead and I, as the Sweep, could no longer see Richard just six bikes ahead. No time to look for a safe place to pull over, we now simply had to make an emergency stop on the side of the Interstate.

Richard gave the order to pull over and we moved to the shoulder not knowing if we would stay on pavement or hit soft gravel, luckily there was a wide paved shoulder.  We all dismounted, except for Shirley who feared the wind would blow her bike over. The rest of us huddled together on the side of the highway and chatted about what we should do next. Well, there was no disagreement – get off the road at the next exit – wherever that might be. We could hear approaching truck traffic going very slow but could not see it because of this thick hazy mist that had engulfed us. Then, with the wind gusts, came snapping and cracking sounds. They were those of the stately pines being uprooted and breaking off in the intense winds. With that, we decided to mount our bikes and proceed ahead as best we could with our four way flashers lit.

As we slowly rode up the highway, I could hear the engine of a big truck approaching from behind. Suddenly, there it was, a big red 18-wheeler moving into the passing lane.  I radioed ahead to alert the others just as it was along side me, then it dropped back.  This was not something I wanted on my tail in this weather.  I wrongly thought he must have wanted us to take the lead until Richard radioed back that there was a big tree blocking the highway and to keep to the right shoulder.  I couldn’t see the tree until it was almost in front of me; a big bushy pine right across the interstate. Going single file we were all able to manoeuver around it by using the shoulder. I was happy to leave the big rig behind.

As we continued on, the rain and wind diminished enough to improve our visibility.  A good thing because Richard radioed that there was another tree on the highway and like the last time, single file, we were able to get around it.  After about another kilometer, we came upon an exit and, as planned, we took it.  The basic amenities were there, a gas station, a greasy spoon restaurant and what appeared to be a run down motel called Travellers Inn.

Richard wasted no time in leading us up the long bumpy driveway to the front office.  He was off his bike and in the front door before some of us were able to dismount.  I couldn’t help but chuckle a little as he made a command decision that we were going to stay here regardless.  By this time the rain and wind had somewhat diminished.  James, Earl and I waited outside and pondered if we should wait a bit and try to make it to the next exit in hope of better facilities.  It wasn’t long before we saw the ladies checking out the rooms. They came back with a thumbs up so we all checked in.  In all fairness, the rooms were clean and had the basics including TV and Internet service.  I thought to myself: “the owner will certainly have a smile on his face with us taking six rooms”.

My GPS registered 3:15 pm. We were in a rural community near Collinsville Alabama about an hour from Chattanooga.  For the next hour or so, we could hear the sounds of sirens as emergency responders including police, fire and EMS, as they passed from every direction.  I guess that was an indicator that this storm was bigger than we imagined and Richard had made the right decision.  Well, right decision or not, we weren’t going further.  As we watched the news, we learned that the highway was closed meaning we could have been stranded had we started out.  A tornado had touched down just south of us and to the north a truck had flipped over. Thousands were without power.

However, by this time the weather had changed significantly.  There was no wind, the rain had stopped and blue sky could be seen breaking through the clouds.  Everyone had settled in their rooms and had their rain gear hanging to dry.  We were also getting hungry but we certainly weren’t kin to riding anywhere.  The hotel owner offered to get us pizza but that wasn’t something all were in favour of. Instead we opted for the fast food place across the street.  As we ate, we could still hear the sporadic sounds of sirens in the distance.  The waitress told us that she might as well work a double shift, as she had no way home because of the road closures. She wasn’t even sure if her house was still there.  To some degree she seemed passive about it all as if this was a regular occurrence.  In all likelihood, I suppose, it wasn’t unlike the nor’easter snowstorms we sometimes get in Ottawa.  I guess it is all relative depending on where you live.

The next day we awoke to blue sky and got back on the Interstate.  As we rode, debris could be seen strewn everywhere.  Because of the storm, we had to reassess our time-line.  You see, the following day, some riders had to load their bikes at trailers in Hunterville NC while Earl, Jocelyne and I were to travel back to Florida, this meant we would have to ride the Tail of the Dragon today.

Well, after riding seven more hours we finally crossed into Tennessee and then into North Carolina to the start of the 11-mile, 318-curve rollercoaster ride known as the Tail of the Dragon. With good weather and a little riding skill, we all safely completed the challenge and made it to our separate destinations on time. I’m unsure of which challenge was greater, riding through a tornado or maneuvering the Dragon’s Tail but regardless this will be a ride to remember.

Our group has logged thousands of kilometres together and had a lot of fun without incident.  I suspect this is in part because we ride under the premise of “safety first” and the rest might be a bit of good luck.  We have developed our own in-house rules based on mutual respect, experience and knowledge of each other’s riding skills and habits.  I can tell you during these days, many of those rules withstood the test. The events of these days served as a learning experience for us all.  We are already planning next winter’s ride.

   – Brian L

Harley-Davidson vault of exhibit

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Milwaukee – With more than 112 years of history, Harley-Davidson is bound to have some interesting pieces buried deep in its Archives. Even the most dedicated motorcycle enthusiast is in for more than a few surprises when the special summer exhibit, Collection X: Weird, Wild Wonders of the Harley-Davidson Museum.IMG_0109.
The motorcycles, leathers, and accessories for which the Company is known make up just a small fraction of the hundreds of artifacts that will be on display in the 10,000-square-foot Garage exhibit space at the Museum.
The never-before-seen prototype bikes that were created as concepts but never manufactured or sold are sure to get bikers and engineering enthusiasts talking. History buffs will revel in the early 20th century motors – Harley-Davidson made motors for everything from lawn mowers to military drones – as well as the vehicles, old photographs, and riding goggles, belts, and other accessories.
IMG_0102Harley-Davidson-Leaning-Trike-Prototype-Drawings   And fans of pop culture and anything that’s out of the ordinary, interesting, and offbeat will enjoy the huge variety of unearthed items, from t-shirts, belt buckles and folk art, to inventions like the brake light helmet.

“Harley-Davidson’s rich heritage is filled with many unique and little-known business endeavors,”

Thanks to Steve T for some of the great pictures from his visit to the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Attached are a few images of how the clay concepts are created before they up for final approval before any production starts.

 

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Alice in Wonderland

It all started with an email between strangers.

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I had planned for this weekend to be a jammie weekend. I had laundry to do and ‘fall’ things to do around the house that I have neglected because I have tried to squeeze in a bike ride with my friends at every chance I got. It is, after all, the end of October and our riding days are numbered.

All of this changed after I logged on to my computer Saturday morning. Oh….I did manage to get my laundry done, the plastic put up around our screened deck windows and the pool winterized, all of this on Saturday, because my Sunday was certainly going to be a day to remember.

So, I logged onto my e-mail and there was an email from a ‘Keith Sheach’ and in the subject line it said, “An odd request, possibly”. I didn’t recognize the sender and the subject intrigued me. Something told me to have a look at it before I deleted it, and I’m so glad I did. Keith had his mom (Alice) visiting from Scotland. He went on to say that she has lived her life as a shepherd’s wife and is a feisty ole gal who loves to try new things. One of her ‘life’s ambitions’ was to ride a Harley. He wondered if there was anything I could do to make this possible for her.

So much for my jammie weekend! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Sunday than to help Alice scratch something off of her bucket list. Thanks to social media, I forwarded Keith’s email to some of my friends our Chapter and I posted his email on my Facebook Home page. It took mere minutes for the responses to come flooding back to me. People wanted to know where and when we were meeting for this ride. They wanted to know what gear they could bring so that Alice would be geared up properly for her ride. (it was only 11 degrees out, and on a bike, you can drop that temperature substantially). I asked bikers if they had a spare seat so that Keith could join his mom on this memorable ride. Everything was falling into place nicely.

Then I called Keith on the phone number he had given on his email. All I got was his voice mail. I recognized it as a cell phone number, and from past experience with my darling daughters, usually when this happens it means one of two things. Their phone is dead or they have left it somewhere. So I did a little detective work via 411 and found his home phone number. I called his house and we made plans to go for a ride on Sunday. He was so thrilled that we were going to make this a reality. He decided to keep it a secret for his Mom.  Now what I neglected to tell him was that I would be bringing a friend or two. He was expecting just Shaun and myself.

Shaun and I met all of our biker friends a few blocks from Keith’s house. Shaun and I proceeded on to his house while the rest of them held back. When I got to the door, Keith greeted me with “you must be Sue?”. I said “yes, and you’re Keith?”. He stepped outside for a moment before letting me in and told me that his mom didn’t know a thing about what was about to happen. I went inside, introduced myself, and said, “Hi Alice. I’m here to take you for a ride on a Harley”. She was both shocked and excited. I told her that my husband was outside and we had gear that she had to put on before we could head out. Christine, Keith’s wife, already had her camera going and I think her son was getting all of this on video.

When we came outside, that was Shaun’s cue to radio Richard and tell him to lead the rest of the bikes down the street to the house. This is a moment I got on video and it will be treasured forever. Shaun said “I hope you don’t mind, but I invited a few of our friends” ……. 17 bikes did a drive by and Alice was smiling from ear to ear. I could have just kept the email to myself and Shaun and we could have taken Alice out for a ride, but I thought, to get the real feel of a Harley, you HAVE to ride in a group.

Now was the time to get Alice suited up. I stood back while those who brought gear for Alice to wear, helped her into her many layers. Sharon brought a heated vest, and the decision was made that Alice would ride with Sharon’s husband Dave (so she could be plugged in). Shirley brought a helmet, Madeleine brought a biking jacket, and Sharon also brought a pair of chaps. At this time I told Keith that we brought gear for him too and that he could join his mom on this ride. He was almost jumping up and down with excitement. We got him suited up with Shaun’s chaps and JP’s helmet and he hopped on the back of Shaun’s bike for the ride. We were all set to go now.

Christine and the kids bid us farewell and our ride began. We had to make a stop before too long to re-adjust Alice’s helmet which had become loose, but that was the only mishap in our day. We rode to Almonte and stopped at Tim Horton’s for a bio-break. We checked in with Alice to see if she wanted to go home now or continue on and she said, “let’s ride”! So we did. We continued on to Carleton Place where we had lunch at Subway. Ride to Eat, Eat to Ride, remember?? I got to chat with Keith and Alice a little more here. I learned that Alice had rode in a glider and Dan George (one of the kids at Keith’s house) was Keith’s foster child. I knew then that these two were amazing people.

After our lunch, we headed home to Keith’s. By now, Alice was getting on and off the back of Dave’s bike like a pro. We had ourselves a new biker babe!

Many of my friends gifted Alice with mementos to remember this day. JP gave her a Harley scarf. Dick gave her a “Gremlin Bell” and 4 helmet stickers and Shaun and I gave her an EOO Chapter t-shirt, a cap and a Harley Davidson key chain.

I’m not sure who came away feeling the best about today. I know all of my friends I have talked to said that they enjoyed the day immensely and that they are so happy that they took part in it. They all spoke about the wonderful feeling of seeing Alice and Keith smiling. Keith told me that his teeth hurt because he was smiling so much and it was cold out. I thought this was funny and that’s why when you see a biker they look so serious. It hurts to smile in the cold.

Shaun and Dave rode next to each other the entire ride so that when we came to a stop, Keith and Alice could chat and check in with each other. I loved these moments because all I could see were the smiles they were sharing. It was then that I realized how much I take riding a motorcycle for granted. It truly is a feeling like no other.

Alice now knows that feeling. We made one of her ‘life’s ambitions’ come true and I am truly thankful I was a part of it.

A story of the Biker Family

As a passenger, there is nothing more worrisome than hearing a loud POP! coming from the road under you, followed by numerous explicatives and the words “We have a flat” coming from the seat in front of you. This past Friday night, that is exactly what happened to my husband and I on the 417 here In Ottawa. To be honest, my first thought after hearing the pop was, “What the heck is wrong with the road? Moments later, we had pulled across two through lanes and a merge lane full of traffic and were sitting at the bottom of the Vanier parkway on-ramp, looking at a flat rear tire wondering “What now?” “Who do we call?” and “What do we do about the Group Ride tomorrow?” Of course, we couldn’t have gotten a flat on our original route which was the quiet, scenic Ottawa River Parkway on our way to pick up some vests in Gatineau.IMAG0766

Note to self: sometimes it’s better to stick with the original route plan. No, we had to be stranded on a 400 series highway, right across from a noisy, hammering, drilling, dirt spewing construction site at the bottom of one of the busiest on-ramps in the city, tucked in under the over pass with a dying cell phone. Note to self: bring your own cellphone and buy some orange vests. Well, I have to say we belong to a truly incredible group of people. IMAG0758We put out a call for help on the EOO Face Book page and 20 minute later had a flood of offers for assistance. It was Steve who came up the hero, when he pulled up in his half-ton with a trailer, loaded us up and got us home. We are forever grateful, Steve.

I can’t thank everyone enough who went out searching for us, including Don and his friend, and to our Director, James. Unfortunately where we had stopped was probably the worst spot to be seen. The highway rises slightly and curves just before that spot and in addition it is one of the busiest on-ramps in the city and it was just past sundown. All this to say the Harley family is a true family. Some of these fellows spent a big part of their Friday evening looking for a couple in need of help who they may have never met and whose only common bond is the bike they ride. I cannot say enough to thank you.

– Katherine G

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This is not a motorcycle story, but it is about Road safety.

I learned a valuable lesson last week while driving on the 417 westbound 5 ish kms from the Quebec border.
I learned that “the unexpected” is exactly That! Unexpected!
I never thought I would ever encounter what happened, but I did, and it shook me up a bit. It could happen in a car, on a motorcycle, anything…

I am westbound on this 4 lane highway… 2 lanes going my way and 2 going east separated by 100 yards of bush. I had my cruise control set to 110, not much traffic at all… as I approached the back of a transport truck slowly (I estimate he may have been doing 105 ish) while going around a sweeping right handed curve I got ready to pull out and pass, I checked my mirror, put on my signal, started to pull to the passing lane, glanced over my left shoulder for a final check…

As I was glancing over my shoulder the adaptive cruise control on this car slammed on the brakes, I instinctively pulled right very fast (back in behind the truck) as a Chevy Blazer came at me and missed me by inches… Yes folks, this vehicle was travelling eastbound on the westbound 417 in my passing lane. When I say we missed by inches… I mean exactly that, and if the adaptive cruise had not slammed on my brakes we would have had a head on.

What did I learn that day?

1.I should not have waited until I was so close to the truck to pull out to do my passing… had I not been in this close blind area for several seconds I may have seen around the curve on our right side and noticed the Chevy Blazer.
2.The unexpected really can happen no matter how “tune in” you are while driving.

Be safe my friends!

     – Dick C.