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.

Motorcycling is Mindfulness

“An hour on the bike is better than an hour with a therapist.”

-Unknown

A lot of us have heard or repeated this quote, but what does it mean? How many of us have actually experienced both the therapist and the knees in the breeze and can talk about the differences? I have, and it took me more than 20 years to figure it out. I’m a slow learner.

An hour on the bike is better, that’s true, but why is it true? We do our thinking on the motorcycle, we feel at peace afterwards, we crave this peace at the first sign of trouble. We miss this peace all winter.

We all kind of know what that quote means. It resonates with us. The simple pleasures of sunshine and the visceral experience of watching the asphalt go by are amazing, the feeling of wind on your body letting you know that time (and miles) have gone by. The feeling of rolling down a street you might have been down a thousand times in your cage, but it’s so much more real and immediate without anything between you and it. The smell of fresh cut grass that you wouldn’t have gotten with the windows rolled up. The sound of people talking on the sidewalk. A feeling of being in the world and not simply going through it.

For some of this, science is starting to come up with “the why”. Humans were meant to see green and blue and brown and thrive in an environment that looks nothing like the cubicles or assembly lines many of us work in; even our houses most likely clash with nature. Why do you think log cabins remain popular? Think about the difference between a primitive shelter or a tepee or a log cabin and your house: when you look around do you see a lot of wood grain and natural colors or a lot of linoleum and carpet and drywall? Why do you think hardwood floors and ceramic tile are so expensive and sought after? Why do you think a log cabin is so romanticized and sought after? We want to be comfortable, but we also want to see the colors and textures and feel the sensations that our ancestors did.

So, no matter what else happens or whatever we figure out about our grey matter, outside-y things are good for us. Still, being on two wheels is unlike anything else and there must be a reason for it.

The reason is that motorcycling is mindfulness.

Mindfulness

Mull that over. Can you drift off into inattention the way you can in a car? No. Are you alone with your own thoughts? Yes. Do you continually feel the wind on your face, the sun on your skin, your knees in the breeze? Yes. Do you notice sensations like smell and sound in ways you would not in a car? Yes. Thoughts and sensations are the contents of consciousness. The simplest action, such as stopping at a stop sign, takes on a significance that’s missing from many of our experiences. You don’t just press the stop button, you coordinate your front and rear brakes, downshift, allow the weight of the bike to lean ever so slightly to the left as your right foot remains on the brake, your left hand pulls the clutch, your left foot holds you up. You are present, moment by moment. The felt presence of immediate experience. Existing “now” in simple actions and the thoughts that gave life to those actions is surprising pleasing.

So why does that basic shit matter? Because it’s your life going by moment by moment, and that used to matter. So many of our experiences in the digitally-assisted world remove us from one, two, or all of the steps and experiences that used to keep us anchored to the moment, to our life. When you ask Alexa to add eggs to your shopping list, your are robbing yourself of context and experience. You perform an action without seeing what else is on your list, without thinking of the meals you’ll make with your family.

In addition to proper mindfulness, this is why the excitement and challenge of packing for a long trip has always made me feel happy and at peace.

When you have to pack your saddlebags and back pack for a 4 day trip, you are forced to remember that Amazon Prime won’t help you on the side of the road if you have to take shelter from a storm.

When you throw some beef jerky in your jacket, you are forced to remember that the things necessary for human life don’t magically appear when needed, and humans took over the planet because of our ability to think ahead and change our environment to suit us. Yet, we did it without a moment-to-moment anxiety storm that rendered us unable to act.

When you have to put on sunscreen at every gas stop, you are reminded that “the Earth” doesn’t give a shit if you live or die and keeping breathing only happens if you are ever vigilant.

When you carry a fix-a-flat kit because you know you’re buddy’s back tire is about to go, you are reminded that humans only took over the planet because we were more powerful in communities.

I have, at various points in my life, been prescribed pharmaceuticals or self-medicated with chemicals. That means: things my doctor prescribed me and over-the-counter drugs like “enough bourbon to not have to feel any emotions tonight”. I have sat with a PhD psychologist who tried to help me figure out my issues. You know what? I will never touch psycho-cocktails again, and I consume in moderation in favor of the only thing that’s actually maintainable and works. There’s a place for the head-shrinkers as we used to call it, but I’ve busted my ass getting to a place where I can look within and find answers on my own.

I meditate every day. Right now I’m on a 420-something day streak. I leave reminders for myself at work in subtle ways. The reminders say “Stop and breathe”. You have to learn the difference between things you think are relaxing and great because they are better than work/chores/screaming kids and the things that are therapeutic because they are allowing you to be mindful.

Mindfulness is Good for You

The health effects of mindfulness are hard to overstate. This is not hippie bullshit, this is what the hard sciences have to say:

  • Reduced rumination ( affects depression and generally stewing on things)
  • Stress reduction
  • Boosts working memory
  • Boosts Focus
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • More cognitive flexibility
  • Relationship satisfaction
  • Many other bonuses…

Head on over to a page maintained by the American Psychological Association to read more about the specifics of these benefits. Take a look through that list again. How many people are living on chemical cocktails with the hope of getting some of those benefits?

We all like to read things that we already agree with. Many of us have made the argument to an impatient wife or girlfriend that we had to ride to work through something or quiet our mind to the point where the stress of the work week is no longer haunting us.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts

Once you understand mindfulness, and how motorcycling is mindfulness, it makes all of your time on two wheels even more valuable. Adding some simple breathing, reflection, visualizations, or resting awareness into a ride amplifies the effects.

You’ll notice that there are experiences that naturally compliment this two-wheeled mindfulness. Experiences like camping, sitting down on a vista and appreciating nature, enjoying primitive cooking. Talking to people all night without iPads or Netflix in sight. Having great moments that you don’t instantly put on social media because you understand breaking out of that flow to get “internet attention” would defile the experience. Simply understanding that a great experience can be cheapened in the rush to instagram it is a huge leap forward.

This is Two Wheeled Thoughts. I rode for 20 years on and off before I began to understand the why of it all. This is what this site is all about. I don’t just throw this shit in people’s faces: a Saturday poker run is not the place to get on a soap box about examining the contents of consciousness and changing our relationship with anxiety or grief.  I am slowly doing the work though, I have a small circle of disciples and like-minded leaders that expands a little bit each year. If you come on a cross country trip or go motorcycle camping with me, you’ll wind up in front of a fire and we’ll be talking about things, getting real. You’ll wind up eating food I cooked over an open fire and taking a hit off my bourbon flask. Every year there’s a couple more people I convince to give me a few days of their time, and afterwards they get it. I hope they go on to show others. I am no guru, just a fellow traveler, and I try to show others that there’s something worth exploring here.

Motorcycling is not a “sport”, or a means of transportation, it’s a brotherhood and a way of life.

– David “Chubby” Charlebois, Executive Director ABATE of Wisconsin

You’ll find yourself at work, months after the trip you took with me, and find that you heart hurts horribly with the need for an experience like this. You’ll look at a calendar, the snow on the ground, and despair at how much calendar-space stands between you and the next chance to taste reality in a different way. To get you through it, practice mindfulness formally.

Motorcycling is mindfulness. You know what to do: go get healthy.

October Leaves in the Kettle Moraine

Wow, it’s been a very crazy month for The RoadRunner, and although I’ve been riding I’ve needed that riding for mental health and have not been writing about it. Don’t worry, I have a lot of words coming as weather cools off in Wisconsin.

As I wrote previously when riding to the Tomahawk Fall Rally, I’ve been appreciating the natural beauty of Wisconsin. Since Mrs. RoadRunner got me a GoPro Hero6 Black for my birthday last month, I’ve been experimenting with mounts and video modes, and I thought the fall leaves in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin would be a great place to take some footage. Make sure you pick the highest video resolution, and watch this:

For a mount, I got the official GoPro suction mount. I hate the way the helmet mounts look (I reserve the right to still use one later) and with a fairing on a bagger handlebar mounts aren’t going to work easily. Once you put this mount on, you realize it’s not going anywhere. I may have… broken the speed limit a bit taking this video and the camera was super secure: rated for up to 155mph.

This was a short video but I hope to do more like this in the future. Enjoy and keep the shiny side up.

An Interview with a First time Road Tripper

As I mentioned in the last article, one of the folks I just traveled with had never done a multi-day bike trip. I thought it might be fun to ask a few questions. The responses were lightly edited for grammar.

Q: What did you first think when I approached you with the idea of this trip?  A: Honestly I didn’t give it much thought as it wasn’t likely my wife would give me a pass. Once she did I was excited for the most part, but things didn’t sit in until a week prior. With my job change this trip was a need to have so getting to go was wonderful timing.

Q: How did your family react when you told them you were taking a 5 day motorcycle trip?  A: My wife has many trips a year for her own personal reasons. When asked she immediately said go for it you need it. My mother in-law said I deserve it!

Q: What gear did you buy for this trip that you hadn’t previously thought of?
A: I bought a cell phone external power source, a towel, a jacket, rain gear, highway pegs, & sunscreen

Q: Was any of the new gear surprising for you?  A:I hadn’t thought of the power source, my bike has outlets, but it’s still a good idea if your not near your bike or power and need it.

Q: Do you wish you’d gotten anything else, and was anything you got a waste of money?A: I really wish I would have bought a proper mount for my phone and water bottle, they are both now in pieces at the side of the road or in the garbage.

Q: Were you nervous about turns, speed, mileage, expense, anything?
A: Most certainly turns and speed were the largest frustration of this trip. While the boys I was with have 10’s of thousands of miles on two wheels I have had more miles on a bicycle than a motorcycle. I was constantly cursing to myself: “Why do we need to go 20-25 mph over the speed limit in a work zone?”, along with white knuckling the turns trying to keep up. So much so my fitness watch said I’d completely my daily workout by 10am (heart rate and what not).

Mileage wise I discovered my comfort point is 100 miles at a time before I need to stretch my legs and move about off the bike to feel fresh for the next leg. There were 1 or two times we did 130 or so and I was in rough shape after those.

In the beginning of the trip I was worried about the biker stigma of “you’re not tough” or “your a pansy” but the guys kept telling me to “Ride my own ride”… If I really did that they’d be waiting an extra hour at the destination for me to catch up lol.

Q: You lost a saddlebag north of Indianapolis, what was going through your mind those first few minutes, what about the next day after you’d had some time to think about it ?A:The first few minute were “flight” feelings and “I just want to go home”… After realizing we were safe, and especially after finding my ID, and credit cards, I had started joking about it as if it was meant to happen. Overall I’m just pissed HD wont do anything to help in the matter.

Q: Thursday you went through the tail of the dragon, the moonshiner 28, Oscar Blues brewery, and we ended the day at a B&B, in front of a bonfire, telling stories. with beer, bourbon, and fireball. Can you share what some of your thoughts and feelings were at that time?  A: The Tail of the Dragon was honestly, well, disappointing. I grew up in some of the most beautiful parts of this country in New England. We have quite a few twisty and turny roads similar. Maybe not as dangerous, or consecutive, but anyway. Mostly I felt like I was in my back yard with a bunch of idiots going too fast for their britches, surrounded by photographers to make sure they caught you being an idiot to post for public shaming. I’d still like to go back and do it a few hundred times just so I get to know it and gain more confidence in my skills, but it’s a bit overplayed if you ask me.
Moonshiner 28 on the other hand, this is a hidden gem for Motorcyclists. This 103 mile stretch is wonderful. It is calm, technical, and not overplayed. This was by far the height of the trip for me.
As for the stories and brotherhood, this reminded my of many nights with my fraternity brothers back in the day or a camp-out with good friends. I enjoyed not worrying about the next day’s plans or really any worries that night.

Q: As a husband, friend, and father: what did you learn about yourself from this trip? What surprised you most?  A: It has been a while since I’ve been able to hang out with complete strangers. I miss being able to do that as if we’ve been friends for decades. In terms of learning most certainly I’ve learned I need to work on my technical skills and confidence in riding prior to taking another one of these trips. From a family standpoint I’m glad to have such a loving family at home willing to let go for a few days so I can relax.

Q: What advice would you give to veteran riders, during trip planning and during a trip, to make a newer rider feel welcome?  A: Pick a small technical part of the ride and let the newer riders lead to get an idea of their speed and comfort. Perhaps not to ruin that part of the ride for the veterans, just to give an idea.
Get an idea of comfort over breaking the law with speed limits in and out of work zones.

Q: What advice would you give newer riders when contemplating a 5 day trip?
A: I don’t think the 5 days is an issue, it’s 12 hours on and off a bike for 5 days. A newer rider should do at-least one of these prior (100+ miles 8+ hours.)

Q: What are your plans for future multi-day trips now that you’ve had this experience?
A: It’ll be a while just due to work and family commitments, but I’m looking forward to what ever is next!

Q: Anything else you want to say?
A: Thank you to the boys that pushed me and gave me a great experience!

A Kinship with the Sea

I’m sitting by the ocean in the Caribbean, thinking.

Mrs. Roadrunner is amazing for any number of reasons, but particularly useful to a biker that spends a lot of time in his own head is being easy going. I come and go and all she asks for is that we find ourselves on a beach from time to time. And so, I find myself on a beach in mid June.

I was sailing across deep blue water when I looked down at the side of the ship cutting through the waves, our velocity clearly visible as we quickly left foam and debris behind. Suddenly the blues and greens of the sea were juxtaposed in my vision with black asphalt and white stripes that disappeared one after another. I had never before considered the kinship between the mindful freedom-seekers: some in wooden boats and some on two wheels.

As we packed to get on a plane and head down here, I got grumpy as I always do at the mere thought of air travel. You can’t carry a bottle of water, take off your shoes and belts and prepared to be groped or naked-x-rayed with the full blessing of the government. Herd yourselves like well-dressed and well-behaved cattle through these lines and hope you and your possessions get where you’re going without incident. I never feel this way before heading out on a bike trip. I’m excited to pack, excited to start, and never worried about weather or mishaps. I’m in control: maybe I booked a hotel, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I change my mind and take radically different routes.

This feeling is Freedom.

Freedom comes with the responsibility to act. If I break down, I have the tools to fix minor things or patch a tire. I can sleep in a rest stop if it’s dark and raining and there’s no rooms to be had. I eat whenever, I start and stop whenever, I get where I’m getting.

We know that the romanticized images of Pirates/Buccaneers/Free spirits shown to us by Hollywood are greatly exaggerated in their scope and longevity. Jack Sparrow probably never existed, and the heyday of men like Blackbeard was briefer than the history of the American V-twin. It’s easy for some bikers to understand. These men were outlaws. Many of them, we can imagine, turned to piracy not out of a desire to harm but because they found themselves unable to function in the role the world had for them. Some, like the rum runners and moonshiners that would inherit their mantle in America years later simply found that the “legitimate taxes” extracted at the point of a gun were just too much. Many, no doubt, were simply thieves and murderers unworthy of our adoration.

Back to the freedom. The wind on your face. The sunset on the horizon, racing towards it or away from it as you see fit. Doing only as much as the responsibility to act demands, only as much or as little as your crew agrees to. Spending a lot of time away from “normal” life, and treated suspiciously like gypsies when you hit town. Accepting that a life without luxuries won’t be understood by most, and that doing without those luxuries enriches the spirit. Grateful when you find yourself traveling with a few like-minded folks who understand.  Existing in the moment as the foam disappears behind you, sometimes existing just a little outside the law. Yea, this is something a biker might understand.

Lost Power in an April Snowstorm

It’s April 15th in Wisconsin, and it’s 30 and snowing. It’s not unheard of, but it’s pretty rare. We’ve had enough ice and incredible wind that we lost power at 7:30pm and they don’t think they’ll have it back on for several hours.

My kids instantly bemoaned the loss of the internet and their screens. I had work to do for Abate that had to wait. Within minutes, though, we had lit candles and were talking.

We had 8 candles lit. I wonder how many people even have candles in their house.  Matches or lighters? Bottles of water or canned goods in the basement? Does your family talk, or would an hour of no-internet quiet time be really uncomfortable?

As I prepared to tell ghost stories Mrs. Roadrunner had the idea to get some dessert for the kids at s nearby restaurant that had power, so we left, and it was DARK. Most of us are so used to light pollution that s truly dark night is shocking. A tremendous number of kids have never seen, and may never see a starry sky.

Our Technology filled world isn’t without bugs. It doesn’t always work, and when it does work it can ruin our relationship with the universe: hot and cold, light and dark, noise and silence. It creates families who can’t endure a moment of silence together.

Get outside, make a campfire and tell stories , get away from the city and look at the milky way. If it’s warm, do it on a motorcycle. Leave almost everything behind and come back richer.