National Trails Day 2007

Saturday, June 2nd was National Trails Day. I can’t say that I knew that, but I did “hit the trail” yesterday anyway. One of my motorcycles is a dual-sport bike, basically a street legal dirt bike, and I put it to both uses Saturday afternoon.

The trip took me to a few different trail heads north of Mandan. Not only did I visit the Square Buttes from the western side of the river, but I also stopped in to visit my friends who are setting up for the Price Hare Scramble race, which sadly I won’t be entering because of church. I wish those things were held on Saturdays! Then I ventured north to the Cross Ranch State Park for a bit, taking photos along the way.

The pictures I got were pretty cool, I’ll probably be posting them over the next few days. In my opinion, the land north of Mandan is some of the most beautiful country North Dakota has to offer, especially now that everything is so green. It’s a long drive on a thumping dirt bike, but that makes it easy to deal with the gravel road and the dirt trails! The last thing I wanted to do when I got back, however was sit down…

Ice racing to cure bike fever

Who says winter has to put a stop to motorcycle racing? This is a shot from a while back when I was turning laps on an ice course with several friends. (It was also before I went to Bob’s Photo and got a decent camera.) The location and identities of the guys will remain undisclosed because of one simple reason: lawsuits.

There are quite a few local guys who spike up their tires and race on the ice every winter. We plowed a course on a frozen body of water, put up cones to mark the corners, and then went nuts. Every now and then the racing would stop, people would grab shovels, and we’d go groom the corners. Those spikes shred the ice in a hurry, and we’d get drifts of ice in the corners that needed to be cleared for better traction. But it had to be kept secret…why?

The particular property we were using is privately owned. We had permission from the owner to be there, it was an invite only event, and that’s the way it has to stay. The reason is to protect the gracious landowner from a lawsuit should somebody come out uninvited, injure themselves, and suddenly decide it wasn’t their fault. It’s a shame, but in these 50 United Litigious States we live in, it’s a fact of life.

It’s a lot like the off-road course east of town on the MME hill. It’s marked No Trespassing, but for certain folks it’s open for use, as long as we keep a signed waver in the filing cabinet in the trucking company office. For most of us it’s a no-brainer…we try to go as fast as we can on a particular piece of dirt or ice, and any consequences belong solely to the rider. Sadly, many people don’t think that way, and for that reason a lot of fun has to be kept within a tightly knit group of riders.

HB1040 passes! Plus some musing as I’m prone to do

This was a bittersweet day for the families of fallen soldiers in North Dakota. Some of those giving testimony in favor of House Bill 1040, which prohibits protesting near funerals or related activities, have had to endure some pretty nasty circumstances. That’s what sadly made this bill, now law, necessary.

As I’m sure everybody knows, a group from Westboro Baptist Church (which is not a Baptist church, they just claim it) was up here to protest funerals in North Dakota. I don’t recall them having the guts to set foot on sovereign tribal land, however…hopefully they didn’t. These people claim a weird mixture of twisted and perverted Old and New Testament theologies with rancid hate and come up with the tactic of protesting funerals across the country. What they don’t tell you is that they’re also licensed attornies just waiting for some outraged patriot to lay a hand on them. Thankfully we haven’t had any such cases here, although it does require a lot of personal restraint.

That’s where the Patriot Guard riders come in. While this picture from last June doesn’t convey how many people actually stand in attendance for the Patriot Guard, at least it shows that the families of fallen soldiers do not stand alone. It just goes to show that patriots can band together and honor our nation’s soldiers and their loved ones with actions, not just words.

So now, with this bill becoming law, protests like the ones I’ve decribed and stood to block are illegal. Will that make them stop? I sure hope so. Regardless, I’m sure the Patriot Guard riders will still stand in attendance to honor and pay respect to fallen soldiers and their loved ones whenever they’re called to do so.

The photo above is part of the ND state gallery. I’m holed up at home with a sore throat – fever – chills – headache kind of thing today. In fact, I slept from 7am to 7pm! Photos owned by the government are public domain, as far as I know…if they complain, I’ll take it down. But I don’t think I’m engaging in anything dishonest by using their photo. I’m sure Governor Hoeven and the others involved in this law’s passing are happy to get the word out. Now I’m going back to bed – my head’s in Mississippi (kudos if you get that music reference)

What to do when there’s no snow

I’ve been in a mild funk due to the lack of snow this Christmas, but there’s one sure fire cure for that situation: get out and ride! Actually, that’s the cure for just about any state of bummitude. Besides, it’s a unique photo opportunity; it’s not often that I can take a picture in front of the Christmas capitol!

Having successfully performed an attitude adjustment, I burned tires back to the house, grabbed the family, and went out to look at Christmas lights. We were able to ignore the absence of snow, as were many others. Northview Lane was absolutely packed with constant traffic, as were other Christmas display hot spots. Bismarck-Mandan residents, including newly reminded ones like myself, don’t allow Christmas to be determined by precipitation totals; rather, by their good cheer.

Been missin’ the mountains lately

During a discussion with some other video graphic professionals, the subject of burnout recently came up. More specifically, how do we deal with burnout? My answers were simple: photography, my new hobby; writing again, which culminated in this blog; and triple-digit speeds while dragging knees on my motorcycles. This is a picture of the third; I fabricated an aluminum mount and bolted a video camera to one of my Kawasaki 750s to go blazing through the Smoky Mountains. Digging up this picture got me thinking how much I miss living in the mountains lately.

I’m a North Dakota native, but as a little kid I grew up deep in the Rocky Mountains. It’s a whole different experience: the schools have ski teams, kids learn forest fire prevention in the classroom, field trips involve hiking and visiting ranger stations. I lived near a proving grounds for Smoke Jumpers, firefighters who literally parachute into the site of forest fires to begin combat. Once you’ve lived in the mountains, they’re part of you for good.

One interesting point of view I got from moving back and forth from the Rockies to the North Dakota plains is that we have some beautiful, wide expanses here. When I lived in Big Sky, for example, I had the face of a mountain about 25 feet from my window. Moving back, I was thrilled to look out over the plains while cruising down I-94. But every time I make my way back west, I get the same thrill as those “purple mountain majesties” poke up above the fruited plain. We’ve got it pretty darn good in both places.

By the way, the video above was taken at Deals Gap, North Carolina. It’s in the Smokies along the TN/NC border and is the most fabulous motorcycle road in the country. It’s 11 miles long and boasts 318 corners! It’s quite a workout. One does not want to fly off the road, either…it’s an unfathomably long way down. Our internet motorcycle racers’ club has annual gatherings there, which I haven’t been able to attend in a while. That’s okay, now I spend my time blazing around North Dakota with my camera gear strapped to my back. It’s pretty inspiring to find all the neat places and scenery here in my own back yard, and report them to you here. That allows me to combine all three of my aforementioned “anti-burnout” activities into one great big one. I hope you enjoy the results.

Kudos to the Bismarck Public Works department

We all have our pet causes, and regular readers of this site are sure to recognize this as one of mine. I’ve been critical of the use of chip-seal gravel in Bismarck-Mandan over the years, especially when patches of it have not been marked by signage, endangering motorcyclists in particular.

Having addressed the City Commission and talked with Keith Hunke of BPW about the matter, I came away satisfied that they’d try to do better in marking areas of gravel on city streets, and I’m happy to say that they’re doing so. I spotted this sign on one of the streets down near Sibley Park the other day. This certainly is one of those areas I’d talked about previously, with no street lights and curves in the road. Thankfully it’s marked with a bright orange sign.

Good job, guys!

Dakota back roads

No, I’m not stepping on Tony Dean’s toes with that headline. I use TWO words to say “back roads.”  This weekend I was able to partake of one of my favorite activities: touring North Dakota on one of my motorcycles. There are few things so relaxing and entertaining and just getting out and exploring our state!

This weekend’s travels took me to Linton, and I’m sure I can get a ton of blog material out of this trip. ‘Twas along this route that I found the “artifact” I mentioned in an earlier post. I also got to enjoy a lot of pleasant scenery, as you can tell.

This is a nice time of year to get out and travel; despite the drought, the recent rains have greened things up a bit. The oppressive heat is (hopefully) behind us. The fall colors will start to creep in soon as well, and it’s a chance to have one last hurrah before winter approaches. Actually, starting now will likely guarantee several weekends of fun without a huge budget of time or gas money.

Tire fun

I forgot I had even taken this picture, I found it this weekend. This is what a tire looks after a race. One would think that it’s in awful condition, but that’s actually how they’re supposed to look. Race tires are vastly different than street tires.

One’s first impression of a “race tire” might be that it’s super sticky. Not at first; in fact, race tires are harder than street tires until they get hot due to high speed and extreme cornering. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see a race tire get hot enough on the street to look like this one, especially on North Dakota roads. I’ve gotten street tires close, but that’s a different matter.

The rubber balled up on the edges is also normal; it’s the balled-up gummy rubber on the edges that helps with traction at extreme lean, when I’m dragging my knee on the ground. The track surface at the edge of the racing line will typically have lots of little flung rubber balls on it.

Once these tires do get up to temperature on the track, though, they’re sticky like you wouldn’t believe. One time at Brainerd I crashed in the super tight corner nicknamed the “Bus Stop,” because that’s where everybody gets off at one time or another. While we pushed my bike through the gravel trap to transport it back to the pits, gravel rocks the size of quarters were stuck to the tire like sprinkles on a donut. Now THAT is a sticky tire!

I know this post didn’t really have a local theme to it, but I’ve really been pining for the track lately. Having a baby on the way really has me doubtful about returning to racing in the future, although I’m just about bursting with the need to turn some hard laps!

I miss Perman’s

This former Sinclair station fades into obscurity along east Main Avenue in Bismarck. While it’s not really in prime real estate now, this station had a long history. And, after paying six bucks a gallon for race fuel the other day, I miss it more than ever.

I bet that local motorheads all miss Perman’s for a variety of reasons, the most recent of which is the fact that they sold VP race fuel right at the pump. A guy could whip into the station with a trailer of bikes and gas ’em up right there, fill the spare cans, and put normal gas into the truck as well. And it was at a very nice price…of course, even regular street gas was priced pretty low the last time I was able to fill up at Perman’s.

Nowadays the options for race fuel are more expensive, and a guy can’t do it himself. I don’t know of many other store operators that would be willing to allocate one of their tanks to VP, Power 110, or the Turbo Blue that I use. The next nearest that comes to mind is in Brainerd, right outside the track.

I have a friend / former coworker who’s an old motorhead from way back… I suppose I can say the 1960’s if I don’t mention his name. He remembers the station from a long time back as well. While I don’t have the long chain of memories of the place, I share his sentiment in missing an establishment that provided a service for us performance-minded types that few would.

Say…if there are any Wannenbergs reading this post… does it give you any ideas? Please?

Aha…they DO still have some signs

This is what should be posted at every site where chip-seal gravel is applied to the road. Like I’ve posted before recently, this stuff is like marbles to a motorcycle. So far I’ve noticed at least two corners where no signs exist, but on brightly lit areas of straight road there’s a sign. It makes no sense.

First off, I think chip-sealing a road is a dubious attempt at street maintenance. Second, the city doesn’t want to spend the money to do it right; if they were to apply the tar, then the gravel, and compact it with a roller or something, then they could quickly sweep up the excess and have a finished job. But they’re too cheap to do so, relying instead on vehicle traffic to compact the gravel into the tar layer.

The problem with that is they have to spread it so deep because car tires throw the gravel to the side instead of compacting it. The deeper they spread this stuff, the more hazardous it is. They should either do the job properly or, as I prefer, not at all.