A Much Needed Escape

I’ve been “sheltering at home” with my family for over two months now. This is not a real hardship. This is not a generation that sent their sons to war, or endured the dust bowl, or the possibility of a nuclear attack on US soil. Still though, for a loner like me this has been surprisingly difficult. Ordinarily I’d have a commute to work, or a lunch out to get some me time. Not with COVID19 – they’re always there.

I figured motorcycle camping would be a great way to “social distance” while getting away – buy groceries at home, ride, pay at the pump, camp, eat over a fire, talk to no one. It seems like I got a different answer every time I talked to someone at a state or county park though. Yes we’re open. We’re open but not for camping. We’re open for camping but only if you already had a reservation in February. I’m down for adventure but I’m not going to risk showing up to park to be turned away, and then a campfire on random land in Northern WI.

Luckily ABATE of Wisconsin owns 80-100 acres in Greenwood. I was told there would be wood there and otherwise didn’t know what to expect since I’d never been to “Abate Acres”. This is private land I couldn’t be turned away from. Despite the prediction of severe storms all over the state, I packed a ribeye and all my camping gear and hit the road.

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Packed and ready to camp! #motorcycleCamping

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My plan was to visit Sturgeon Bay in the “thumb” of Wisconsin, but I had packed for warm weather and it was wicked foggy and cold in Two Rivers which is still quite a ways south. After checking the radar again I decided flexibility would be key and cut off the thumb to head for Abate Acres.

Despite severe storms all over the state, I was pretty lucky with sunny weather in the 80s until after lunch. Keeping with my social distancing theme, I’d packed couple PB&J along with my prized ribeye for dinner by a campfire.

Oddly enough one of the brackets for my windshield had rattled out, yet not fallen on the ground somewhere on the road, so I got very lucky and was able to make a field repair at a gas station. Thread lock and torque wrenches are your friends, folks.

I stopped and had lunch in a rest area in some tiny central-WI town I’ll never remember the name of and then proceeded to get rained on like crazy. I’ve been caught in the rain dozens of times, and it seems I’ll never get used to it. If there’s rain gear that’s not a huge pain to put on and wear I have yet to find it.

Arriving and Camping

There’s maybe 1/2 mile of gravel to get to Abate Acres. Wow. The land is 80-100 acres, and because I only had a cell phone and GoPro with me I wasn’t able to take a picture that really shows it off. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, I miraculously had a cell signal and a little bit of data so I could keep an eye on the weather. I had the whole place to myself.

There was wood, as I was promised, but it was all insanely wet. Part of my camping kit includes a hand axe (I own several) and a 13″ knife along with my pocket knife. My secret ingredient for fire is dryer lint. I carry a bag with a couple of handfuls in it to help with fire. I also have hand sanitizer and Gorilla Tape (burns like crazy) but I’ve never had to move beyond dryer lint.

I also had a good length of aluminum foil to try to preserve some fire when it started pouring.

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Wet wood is no match for patience and dryer lint.

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I post a lot of food pics on Instagram, but very few steaks as my family just doesn’t like steak all that much. My go-to campfire meal is a ribeye and mushrooms. This was as good or better as nearly anything I’ve ever made at home.

Just as my steak was nearing medium rare, the sky OPENED UP. I’ve been caught out on the bike in storms, and I’ve camped in the rain, but I was totally surprised that my rain fly actually kept my tent dry inside: this was some green & black movie storm shit.

Thanks to the power of my aforementioned cheats, I was able to get a fire going again after that storm passed. I was able to sit by the fire, have a couple of cold beers, and enjoy hours of solo mindful time. Mercifully the bugs mostly respected my fire smoke and my Cutter insect spray.

Cold beers? Yes, I added a Bison cooler to my gear. It’s great, but it takes up a ton of space. I continue to tweak my load-out.

It stormed again at 1am and 3am, and I was warm & dry.

Mother nature woke me up at 5am with sunlight, which in addition to being woken up super early by The World’s Most Mistreated Dog the day before left me in rough shape for the ride home. It looked like the Great River Road was going to be partially flooded again due to the storms, so I went home sooner than I thought and only did 400mi the second day.

It’s not clear what the rest of the 2020 riding season holds, but this was some much needed solo time. Luckily all ABATE of WI members have a place to hide in Greenwood.

Dreaming of Adventure … Bikes

Here in April of 2020, we are on a government mandated “Safer at Home” order. Riding a bike is a great way of “socially distancing”, and we have many county parks nearby that are still open, so I’ve been able to pack a lunch and sit by myself during what little good weather we’ve had.

I have a trip booked with my father and other close family for a fishing trip in Alaska. A log cabin lodge For both my father and I, this would be the 50th state we’ve visited (though not ridden in, of course). If we don’t get some good news soon, that’s getting kicked to 2021.

Talon Lodge & Spa Southeast Alaska, Alaska fishing lodge vacation

The Power of Anticipation

You may not appreciate the power of anticipating trips like that until you’re suddenly unable to. The planning, the packing, buying gear, making sure your gear is in top operating condition. Telling people about the trip and promising to bring back pictures and stories.

My wife and I are both, thankfully, able to keep working right now as unemployment skyrockets across the country. There’s still still food in the stores and I still have money to buy it. I’m an introvert anyway so I’m doing OK – but I don’t have those big bright spots that help me get through the day. Am I getting away with my wife? Am I really going to be able to ride to Maine in July like I’d planned? I don’t know, so I’m doing the next best thing – I’m doing tons of research and planning trips, and more than just trips.

Another Kind of Riding

Many people who love two wheels grew up riding in the dirt. I really didn’t. Like many people, I was given my first real look at adventure riding when I watched The Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor. Yes, these are rich famous guys with a support vehicle, but it was everything I love about motorcycling write large: off the gird, but more. Isolated with just a friend or two, but more. Camping, making your own food, but more. Strange lands, but more. I thought of the many State & National parks I’ve ridden through and wonder what it would be like to just point the bike and go thatttaway off into the dirt & woods.

I told my self that if I could swing the time & money that some day I’d be an adventure rider. Not the way Ewan and Charlie do it, to be sure, but there’s a lifetime of adventure in North America. I want to sleep on BDR land in the middle of nowhere, I want to ride the Dalton Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay, and to ride the Trans American Trail. In The Man Who Would Stop at Nothing, Melissa Pierson describes long distance riding as the purest form of the activity, but I wonder if it’s really this on & off road blend with a healthy mix of dispersed camping thrown in.

I don’t know when I’ll have room (or money) for a BWM or KTM adventure bike in my garage (or a Harley Pan America?), or time for yet another calling that takes me far from home for days at a time. This is something I can fantasize about, when COVID19 is in the rear view.

 

The Road Won’t Leave Without You

I had the joy of traveling for work recently: Milwaukee, WI to San Jose, CA. It had been a while, and I forgot how much I hated air travel.

It’s not that flying bothers me: it’s amazing to travel thousands of miles in a few hours. It’s not that packing bothers me: indeed I rather like planning and compressing my needs for a week down into what I can carry. Rather, I hate the ceremony and the complete loss of control that comes with modern air travel.

“The Ceremony” is simple: if you fly in America today you have a taste of what it’s like to live in a police state. You need various identifiers and identification; if your name does not appear exactly on your driver’s license as you booked your flight, you may not get to fly. The US Government can put you on a “no fly list” without telling you, and without giving you any due process of law that would allow you to see why you are on the do-not-fly list, and without a clear legal path to getting off of it. Furthermore, in the United States you will soon need a “Real ID”, much closer to- or equivalent-to a Passport in order to fly.
All this to fly domestically. In the “land of the free”.

So you need “your papers” in order to fly: something the average middle-class traveler in Soviet Russia would certainly understand. But wait, that’s not where your privacy violations end. You are going to get SCANNED.

Consider first the “millimeter wave” scanners deployed at almost every US airport now. Depending on which article you read, this may or may not present TSA officers with a high resolution contour of exactly what you look like naked. The thing that people forget about TSA officers is that they are just like all other officers: they are just people. That means they are no better or worse than the average American. Some of them will be ethical and honest, with their mission in the forefront of their minds as they do their jobs. Others will behave as though they were a 14 year old boy who suddenly had X-ray vision into the girls’ locker room.

The TSA can also simply embarrass you. Suppose you, like my father, have various iron and titanium pins in your legs due to severe injuries from motorcycle accidents. The metal detectors are going to alarm as you walk through. You’re going to have to explain yourself at the very least. Maybe you’ll get “extra screening”.

Finally, the TSA can search your luggage at any time and for any reason. If you have a diver’s computer, a special piece of hardware for work, or maybe a particularly flashy pack of condoms in your luggage: someone with close to zero training is going to be flagged that they should look through your luggage. Did you bring a pair of fuzzy handcuffs on your vacation with your wife, or did you bring something to clean your CPAP, or are you traveling with a few things to spice of the bedroom while you vacation in the Caribbean? The TSA can poke, prod, and confiscate any of that.

Here’s the thing: once you reach a certain age, a doctor is going to poke around your most private parts and ask you uncomfortable questions. This is a part of getting older: we get pap smears, testicular cancer checks, breast cancer scans, prostate checks, and so on. But being a doctor is not easy: when you drop your pants for a doctor you are doing so for someone who has gone through 8-12+ years of school and has seen it all before and has everything to lose from being accused of sticking their finger in the wrong place. A TSA agent is different from a doctor in all the wrong ways.

Once you are physically on your flight, you lose even more freedom. You must obey a US Air Marshal or any random Southwest employee or face felony charges. Sure, nearly every flight goes well, but how do you feel about the idea of being beholden to someone who didn’t like the political message on your jacket? Remember, people are just people

If, by Odin’s grace, you don’t make your flight, you are likely fucked. Did you get trip insurance, or did you get the kind of tickets that will not be refunded? You see, Americans have decided over the past 25+ years that all they care about is the cost of a flight. It doesn’t matter if they are sitting literally on top of someone who is hand-pumping their colostomy bag out into their neighbor’s coffee, if they can get to Vegas for $50 less they’ll deal with it. They will not remember this experience and vote with their dollars to have a more dignified flight next time. So, you are likely missing a day or more of your vacation if you miss that flight. Does it matter that it’s Spring Break and Airline X didn’t staff their counters enough? Nope, go back home loser.

Maybe you get bumped from an overbooked flight. Maybe you have to hand over a prized pocketknife you had in your jeans out of pure habit. Maybe the counter was too busy and they leave without you…

But the Road Won’t Leave Without You

Now, suppose you are instead packing for a motorcycle trip. Assuming that everything you’re packing is legal, you have nearly zero concern for anyone looking at it. The chances of you getting pulled over and searched are, anyway, incredibly small.

Suppose it’s spring break for some local schools and you start out a little late?

Oh well, you sit in traffic a little bit. You don’t miss your flight, you don’t lose a whole day of your vacation.

Suppose a tornado tears across the road a few miles in front of you? OK, you wait, and you move on when it’s safe.

Suppose the thunderstorm of the century tears across the state you’re riding through and you find yourself stuck in a rest area in Knoxville?

Fine, that’s great. Survive. There is no large insurance company who will not let your bike take off without considering a billion variables: you can leave whenever you feel like you can ride. If you take off and discover that the roads are really terrible, you can pull off on the side of the road and sleep anywhere you’re equipped to sleep. Sure you shouldn’t build campfires on someone’s private property but you can judge for yourself. You are in control. Maybe you do pull off the highway and park your bike in a ditch and throw your bivy over yourself. Rain pours, lightning strikes. Thunder follows. A man who is shurely Clint Eastwood reincarnated rides a horse near the tree you’re camped under and politely but firmly asks what the hell you’re doing on his property. Flustered, you explain how you’re on a motorcycle trip and you pulled over to escape the storm and you meant no disrespect to his property rights…

There was a time when he might have said at best “Why don’t y’all come up to our cabin” and at worst “Y’all take care, feel free to camp on my land, but ride up and tell me if you’re staying past tomorrow.” The way we treat each other today, that’s a topic for another day…

You see, the Road won’t leave without you, and the Earth won’t refuse to let you sleep there. When you are traveling on your own steed, you have so much more freedom. An airplane cannot decide to camp underneath an overpass. An airplane cannot ask the bar owner if you can pitch a tent out back. Your saddlebags know that anything packed in there is not for anyone else to know about. You can pull over to the side of the road and wait out traffic if that’s what makes sense. If not, you roll on by in your rain gear.

If you make a mistake, you leave a little late. If the road is unsafe, you choose another road. You decide how much risk to take, you decide how long the “layover” is. You travel with your rights and dignity intact. You can even carry a bottle of water if that suits you.

The airlines will leave without you, they’ve already got your money and quite frankly you dropping dead in the check in line or not is all the same to them. Out on the road, though, you’re in control. There may be challenges and decisions to make, but the road won’t leave without you.

 

Another New Indian Rider

In A Tale of Two Test Rides, I talked about riding two 2019 baggers back to back and riding one home. What I didn’t mention is that my buddy Spaz (formerly known as Corvus) came with me because he had never ridden an Indian before and was curious. I’ll let him tell his whole story when he gets his act together and gets his own blog, but to cut to the chase he bought a bronze 2019 Chieftain Dark Horse a few days later. I asked him if he’d submit to a brief interview here.

You rode Harleys for a lot of years. How did you land on Harley? Did you start there or did you ride other bikes first? Did you grow up in a Harley household?

I landed on Harley primarily due to my father. He rode Harley’s when I was young and before he married my mother. He rode a lot with the Hell’s Angels when he lived in California as well. After hearing story after story over the years I think it just set me in a place where I had to eventually land on a Harley. The first bike I owned though was a Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Cruiser. Close to a Harley look wise but not what I wanted to land on. It also was the first bike I dumped. I didn’t even make it 24 hours and I crashed the bike.
How important is “Made in America” for you when it comes to motorcycles? How important has it been to you that Harley is a big employer and local icon in the Milwaukee area?

Being a Military Veteran I want to continue to fuel American jobs as best I can. This of course is becoming harder and harder today as more and more manufacturing goes over seas. Being from Wisconsin Harley is sort of part of our culture too so I sort of felt I had to support the home team. I feel the same about Indian which is also manufactured in the US. I do have to say though as of late I am looking more broadly at other manufactures as well.

Talk a little bit about your riding style. Mostly 1up or 2up? Poker runs and bar hopping? Camping? Commuting? Cross-country touring?

I am a bit of a mixed bag as far as riding styles. I used to do a lot of 2up riding until my wife got her license. After that it is mostly 1up unless I put a kid or one of my wife’s friends on the back of the bike. I’ve done a bunch of Poker runs as well as bar hopping. I’ve only really camped once from the motorcycle although I’m yearning to do this a lot more now. I commute as much as I can depending on the weather in Wisconsin. As for Cross Country touring I’ve made several 1000+ trips on my dressers over the years. Primarily only to the East Coast and the South. I’m looking forward to a West Coast trip in the future.

I’ve noticed you do a lot of performance tuning work, what’s the allure of fast cruisers for you? Do you have a similar obsession with fast custom cars?

I am an adrenaline junky in general. I’ve had tuner cars and performance vehicles a lot throughout my life. Once I got into bikes I started messing with them from intake to exhaust to now engine work. My ideal world is to have a bagger that can blow the doors off most crotch rockets. It will take time to get the right setup. Not sure if I’m going super charger or turbo yet :).

Comparing an Indian Chieftain to your batwing-style fairing Harley is a much better comparison than the Road Glide I rode. What differences stood out to you right away between the Chieftain you rode and your Ultra classic when it comes to the ride, handling, power, Infotainment, and engine/exhaust sound?

My first impressions of the Chieftain was that is was more agile right out of the gate. In my stable at home we have not only my Ultra Limited but my wife’s Street Glide as well. We actually swapped bikes a week or so ago so she could try mine. The big difference to me is the leg space and agility. Stock the Indian sounds better than any of the Milwaukee Eight bikes I’ve heard. My wife’s comment when she heard it was “do you even need to put exhaust on it.” My answer of course is yes though… Handling wise as I said earlier the Indian is more agile out of the box. On the Harley navigating a round a bout at speed I tend to scrape my foot boards. I have yet to hit them on the Indian and I take a much faster and tighter turn. On the power front the Indian is not much behind the 114ci motor I have in the Ultra limited. I am about to get my bike back from the 116 upgrade so we will have to see what I think after that. As for the infotainment side the fact that bluetooth works out of the box including when you introduce a bluetooth helmet to the mix is awesome. My Harley you have to spend $300 on a WHIM Module and then buy a HD stamped Sena helmet or headset as you will not get stereo without it. I just found that out and the more I get into this chapter of my riding life the more the HD logo is starting to wear off from me.

You’re jumping right in to customizing your Dark Horse. How has your experience so far been with Indian aftermarket vs. Harley aftermarket.

Right now my primary upgrades I’m doing to the Dark Horse have been Indian certified components. As I’ve started to look for more aftermarket parts it is evident that industry isn’t supplying much still. I hope that changes over time but I can understand why vendors may be reluctant still. Harley Davidson on the other hand has a very large aftermarket industry. There are just so many things you can do to your Harley without needing to by Harley direct parts. I am hoping that the market changes though as I do love this new bike.

What on earth possessed you to add a Chieftain Dark Horse to your garage?

I’m a bit of a spontaneous person. There was something about the feel of the Dark Horse that called to me. The other problem was I couldn’t get the dang Bronze color out of my head. I then thought I could convince myself not to get it by bringing my wife to the dealer to see it. Her comment after seeing the bike was “Well it does look like you…”. That sold it for me. It wasn’t just me but my wife also saw something about that bike. At that point it was just how much stuff can I buy. I do have to give credit to Metro Milwaukee Indian for putting up with me. I came near close and they stuck around to finish off financing and answer all of my questions. I’ve been very pleased with their service so far.

What are your motorcycling plans for the future?

My wife and I are now talking about our new house and how we need a larger stable. We are actually talking about a real stable now so each bike gets it’s own stall. Motorcycles are part of our family. My oldest daughter is now looking to get something soon as well. The big things for me is my boys are big enough to ride on the back so we will be setting out to do some riding and camping with them this summer. I plan to make my first trip to Sturgis as well this year. I’m looking for more adventures and different styles of riding to look into so we will see how that goes.

 

Goals for 2019

Like in 2018, I have some goals for 2019: Goals for what I’m going to do for the good of motorcycling in 2019 and goals for myself and my love of motorcycling.

  1. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get a new bagger. Why? Nothing’s wrong with Red Sonya except that Polaris is no longer making Victory. Plus, well, who doesn’t love the excitement of a new bike when they can afford it? Once the dealers are doing test rides, I’ll be picking a new two-wheeled freedom machine and writing about the experience.
  2. Get one person their first motorcycle: I have someone in mind who’s very close to joining the life.
  3. Participate in ABATE Bikers in the capitol day. More information coming in a podcast soon.
  4. Take lots of video: watching bikers on youtube helps get me through the winter months.
  5. I need to get Mrs. Roadrunner on her bike. Like, a lot. Why should be obvious, but additionally…
  6. Late in 2019 I will start planning motorcycle trip around Scotland in 2020, riding its famous NC 500.
  7. I’m going to camp more than I did in 2018.
  8. This year I’m planning to ride:
    1. To either Colorado Springs or Pocatello to visit family. On the way could be Deadwood, Needles Highway, Cheyenne, Beartooth pass…
    2. The Hurricane Highway in the UP of Michigan
    3. US 2 in Northern Wisconsin
    4. The Hoka Hey off year event.
  9. And of course I’m going to keep spreading the idea that motorcycling is mindfulness.

That’s a lot of fun for a working guy with kids at home, but I’m willing to try. Additionally I’ll probably hit some of the yearly motorcycle events like the Slimy Crud Run, Momma Tried, Brewtown Rumble, The Milwaukee Rally, and other small scale goofing off.

Looking forward to a great 2019. I’ll see you on the road.

Cool Camping in Buckhorn State Park

It was 37 degrees the night before, but I was still excited to get up on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 and ride towards Mauston & Necedah, WI to camp in Buckhorn State Park. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/buckhorn/

If there’s not snow on the roads, I need little excuse to ride somewhere. My friend Beefy has had a rough time of late, and he’s taking a rare and amazing space of time for himself. 7 days camping in a remote location alone; alone except for me joining him for one night. I had just come back from camping at the Tomahawk Rally and had a couple of new pieces of gear I was eager to try out.

I already carry a small complement of survival gear in my bags at all time: tactical flashlight, husqvarna hand axe, emergency fire starting materials (dryer lint, etc), towel, emergency hand warmers, and various other crap. The new gear I was bringing was a hand chainsaw and a Klymit sleeping matt.

You can see the chainsaw here. This comes from some experiences camping with just my hand axe and getting worn out trying to harvest deadfall. The good news is, the thing works well. The bad news is, it will make you overly confident and you’ll spend way too much time sawing through a 12″ log.

The Klymit sleeping pad is my second new addition. Compared to my ancient self-inflating Coleman sleeping pad, it’s a huge improvement. It packs up into about 1/3 the space, but you have to blow it up. Well, this non-smoker can inflate the Klymit in about 30 seconds and it is more comfortable and keeps you off the ground and warm. A good upgrade for sure. It still takes < 5 minutes to set up my camp.

We had an outrageously wet August & September in Wisconsin this year. Closer to Lake Michigan in places like Port Washington this mean roads washed out and homes flooded. Out in North-Central Wisconsin, it just meant standing water all over the place. Standing water means mosquitoes. Unbelievable plagues of mosquitoes. I just utterly hate any “real” bug spray with Deet in it, it makes me sick. I’ve tried a lot of natural repellents such as various kinds of wood (peña wood is a popular one) , lemon-eucalyptus bug sprays, and the like. The fact is, out in the north woods I can spray the organic shit directly on the mosquitoes and they lap it up like catnip. Only fire, tons of smoke, and/or extreme cold will do.

No problem. We’ll just make a fire. But everything is extremely wet. It’s been raining like crazy for a month. No problem: I’ll just cut wood in half, saw deadfall in half with my new hand chainsaw. Trim tiny slivers off with my Coupon Cutter. Shave magnesium filings off the primitive firestarter.
Fine, bust out the lighter.
Fine, bust out the bag of dryer lint I keep in my saddlebags for emergencies.
Fine, bust out the bone-dry peña wood I brought up just in case.
FINE. Pour the kerosene meant for the camp lamps onto this fucking mess.
I consider myself pretty good with fire, I can usually get a fire started with pretty primitive means, like careful knife work and a magnesium fire starter. It took us two hours to get a fire started. Still, when it’s a couple guys in the woods, what else do you have to do besides drink beer while you work on the fire?

Food acquired, we set about the work of cooking steak and mushrooms in a large cast iron pan. I’m a pretty handy cook at home, and I love primitive cooking. It was made easier this time by Beefy bringing his cage and more kitchen gear than I can usually fit in saddlebags. Glorious ribeyes and beers by an open fire are among the great simple pleasures of being alive.

Speaking of Beefy’s cage: I have a poor track record of converting cagers to riders. My wife is the only one I can claim credit for. However, we talked at length about how things were changing for him and that it was reasonable he could get a two-wheeled freedom machine soon. Another brother of the road? Yea, life is good.

My 3-layer military sleep system of nested bags can be a bit difficult to get into after a lot of beers, but waking up in extreme cold provides the necessary clarity. Beefy made eggs over a campfire that, once again, took too long to get rolling, and I rolled home and left him in his solitude.

As we enter the very cold months

I just went out and started up Red Sonya. It’s 18 degrees outside but she fired up, so I have hope that on a day where there’s not snow on the ground I can still get out and get some miles.

As we enter the cold Northern months, I reflect on the year. At the beginning of the year, I set some goals for rides. I did 4 out of 6 of those rides, not bad. I still fell 4,000 miles short of my riding goal for various reasons not the least of which is being injured for a good chunk of the prime riding weather. I went to the Slimy Crud Run, Momma Tried, the Brewtown Rumble, and lots of other small events. I went on several small day trips with the Lost Motorcycle Riders of Milwaukee.

I rode with a local MC on a Fallen Brother ride and I took my longest trip to the Moonshiner 28 and camped at the Tomahawk Fall Rally, a fantastic trip. There’s really nothing like motorcycle camping for a getaway.

Over the warmer months, I collect a lot of random thoughts that I intend to circle back around to write about. I do this to keep myself busy and fight off the cabin fever. Keep reading, and we’ll welcome the spring together.