Saturday, July 31, 2010
We had a destination, sort of. The first half of our journey was to culminate in Butte, Mont. Steve’s cousin, Doug, and his cousin’s wife, Diane, live in Butte; they extended an invitation to us to stay for the weekend - to see the sights, ride their horses and generally recoup after riding for four or five days. Neither of us has had any experience with riding that far, riding horses (a couple of times for each of us, but not really), with Butte, with Montana or with most of the roads that would take us there. As an added bonus, the 9th annual Evel Knievel Days festival was also taking place in Butte that weekend, an event that turned out to be far more fun than I imagined it would be. Butte is not exactly a tourist town, but like any old city it has a colorful and rich history. Our resident tour guides showed us Butte like only a local can. In many respects, Butte’s founding on copper mining is not unlike Sacramento’s history based in the California gold rush. And Montana’s geographic beauty is equaled only by its expansiveness – indeed, the view from Doug and Diane’s deck is enough to earn the state’s unofficial nickname – “Big Sky Country.”
But getting to and from Montana was where the true magic of this vacation took place. Because it was just the two of us, we were free to make route decisions on the fly – and we did so regularly. The plan was to stay off of the major interstates and freeways as much as possible, but as far as plans go, this one was seriously open-ended. We left Sacramento going east to Truckee, Calif. on SR 49, SR 20 and old US 40, hopping on Interstate 80 occasionally before heading North on SR 89 towards and through Lassen Volcanic National Park, finally arriving in Klamath Falls, Ore. via US 97. We were delayed by road construction at various points throughout our 11-day odyssey and this initial leg was no exception. After getting some much needed overnight rest in Klamath Falls (our initial day was a 400-plus mile ride), we headed north on US 97 to Bend, Ore. before turning east along US 26 though numerous small towns scattered in and around the Ochoco and Malheur National Forests. This route took us through largely empty roads, long sweeping turns and magnificent scenery. Our second day took us nearly 500 miles and into Boise, Idaho for the night.
We left Boise the next morning with the intent of riding through the Sawtooth National Forest along SR 21, but our original plan changed several times along the way, taking us to what turned out to be some of the most exciting riding, challenging roads and breathtaking natural landscapes so far. We missed the portion of SR 21 that would take us north and altered our northward byway to SR 55 and then east to Banks-Lowman Rd., which took us through the Boise National Forest. Our missed turn turned out to be one of the greatest surprises as this little road offered not only some of the most challenging twists, but also some contact with other motorcyclists and their emphatic suggestions to take a mountain pass that lay a little out of our way. The same suggestion came from one of my Facebook friends and the decision was made to alter our route to access Beartooth Pass – but that would not take place until two days later on our way (and a little out of our way) to Butte. As we approached Idaho Falls, the weather towards the east was threatening and we saw lightning strike in the mountains we had yet to cross to get to our next destination, Jackson Hole, Wyo. We managed to miss the bulk of the thunderstorm, but still hit a little rain and very wet roads as we descended SR 33/22 into Jackson Hole where, just prior to our arrival, the city received ¾ of and inch of rain. We had light rain as we crested the summit, but the view of the dusk sky and clearing storm clouds over Jackson Hole was worth every ultra-cautious mile on the rain slicked road.
Day three came in at more than 400 miles. We were ready to find lodging and rest our weary bodies and minds after a day that ended in extremely dangerous riding conditions. Descending into Jackson Hole was slow and painstaking and at this point our plan (that was not a plan) revealed a major drawback: There were no rooms to be found in Jackson Hole during the mid-summer tourist season. Fortunately we found a lone vacancy, it was pricey, but so is everything else in this tourist mecca. The next day we headed north through Grand Teton National Park before entering the south entrance of Yellowstone Nation Park. At less than 200 miles, this would be our shortest riding day. We did not plan to camp anywhere along the way, but brought sleeping bags and a tent with us just in case. Somewhere between Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, we decided that camping in the park was an opportunity that should not be missed. Our intentional lack of planning again presented an issue in that the campgrounds were all full, but a ranger suggested that we check with the people who run the reserved campgrounds for a cancellation and one came in moments before I arrived at the head of the line. We pitched our tent and rode around the park for the remainder of the day.
In both Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, congestion – the kind of congestion we were trying to escape – was present everywhere. It was not until we left early the next morning, before most of the sightseers hit the road, that we escaped it and headed for the northeast gate of Yellowstone towards Beartooth Pass on US 212. We gassed up in Cooke City, Mont. and started our climb up to the summit of almost 11,000 feet. Although the ride up Beartooth Highway was everything we heard it was, we did not fully understand why so many so strongly recommended it until the descent towards Red Lodge, Mont. The grade, the switchbacks and the desolation were beyond description; the terrain surrounding the road was surpassed in grandeur only by the road itself. At one point, the road (which is closed in the winter due to snow) passed the top of a ski chair lift. We were literally on top of the world. Once we arrived in Red Lodge, we mapped a route to Butte that would take us on more empty and easy riding roads, many that went for miles without a single turn... or another vehicle. Montana is somewhat liberal when it comes to speed limits – you can fill in the rest. Day five was another 400-plus mile day.
After two days of R&R in Butte, we decided to completely alter our plan (again, that wasn’t a plan) and go back north, west and south rather than south and west through Utah and the Nevada desert. Although we wanted to ride back through Utah, we were not at all looking forward to riding through an entire Nevada wasteland to round out our ride. We headed north to access US 83 through the Rocky Mountains to Kalispell, Mont. and then east along US 2 to the Idaho panhandle before turning south onto US 2/95, just 13 miles from the Canadian border. Our goal was to reach the Harley Davidson dealership in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and then spend the night in Spokane, Wash., but just prior to an eastern detour into the city, a phone call revealed that the dealership was closed on Monday, so we just went straight to Spokane for the night. Crossing the Washington state line, we reversed a small celebration we enjoyed so many days earlier when we crossed the Snake River from Oregon into Idaho – we put out helmets back on. Every state we rode in except Washington, Oregon and California does not require adults to wear a helmet – a form of respect for personal liberty that the nanny’s in these Pacific states don’t recognize. Our eighth day away and fifth day of riding yielded more than 500 miles.
From Spokane we went north on US 395 into the Cascades. We spent the bulk of our day on SR 20 riding again on some extremely challenging roads with nicely banked and well-marked turns. At many points on this journey I had felt as though I was one with the bike, a Zen-like state where everything falls perfectly into a naturally balanced rhythm in which the mind goes quiet and the senses are tuned to the road and nothing else; on this particular leg, that experience was at its most profound and seemed to never end. I rode my Harley Davidson Road King - sometimes in front of Steve and his Heritage Deluxe, sometimes behind - like it has never been ridden before. Some of these series of linked turns on this magical day reminded me of my younger days on my (much smaller) Kawasaki GPz 550. More than an individual oneness between us and our machines, the two of us were in tune with each other such that our coordinated attack of the road resembled a intricately choreographed dance… beauty in both form and function. We finished the day by crossing the Deception Bridge to Whidbey Island on Puget Sound and crossed the sound by ferry to stay in Port Townsend, Wash. for the night. At just more than 400 miles, it felt like much, much more.
We got a slow start the next morning – by this time we had been gone for nine days and ridden hard for seven of them. We still had more than 1,000 miles to go and planned to reach Coos Bay, Ore., by nightfall. Part of what slowed us down was the number of other vehicles occupying the road with us down the Washington and Oregon coast. We also made a small detour to Tacoma, Wash., for a short visit to Steve’s mother and graciously accepted a homemade lunch from her and her husband. Although this detour did not cost us many miles, it did eat up about two hours of daylight. In addition to the congestion, the temperature along the coast was just south of tolerable – we had to stop in Tillamook, Ore., not for the cheese, but for some long johns to keep our legs operational. We fell about 100 miles short of Coos Bay, stopping for the night in Newport, Ore. Our room was cheap, but nice, and it was within walking distance of the waterfront and world-famous Mo’s seafood. It was one of many fabulous meals (along with too many consisting of fast food), but this one was at least as good as those that cost twice as much. Despite the slow start and the less than comfortable temperatures, we still managed to cover more than 400 miles on what turned out to be the second to last day.
But for the last day to be the last day, it would mean our longest riding day of the entire journey. From Newport, the only reasonable route was to continue south along the coast on US 101. Our plan for the day was to continue down the coast along US 101 to California SR 1 and turn east at Fort Bragg on SR 20, but by the time we arrived in Crescent City, Calif., we had had enough of the cold and, furthermore, we decided that we would finish the ride that day. We had to change our route to accomplish two goals: Get inland where it was warmer and cut miles (and time) off our last leg. That opportunity came in Eureka where SR 299 cut east to Redding; we would finish the final 150 or so miles on Interstate 5. Darkness would fall before we arrived home, but this route did not present any danger from deer or other wildlife intersecting our path after dark (bugs do not count as wildlife…).
One of the things that struck us during the many miles we rode the inland states was the fact that the roads were generally in excellent condition, extremely empty and went on for not just a few miles of uninterrupted serenity, but, in some cases, for hundreds of miles. We couldn’t help but notice that in California, where these quintessential motorcycle roads exist, they are either crowded, in sad shape or short. Though I realize this is a generalization and that there are exceptions, it is also true that those roads in the other states were not some kind of hidden gem - they were everywhere. Imagine our surprise when we found SR 299 to be long, in excellent condition, largely empty and as challenging as anything we had ridden up until that point. And what better way to finish off this journey than to ride like the wind on a road in our very own home state. That Zen-like state found me once again. By the time we reached Redding, the temperature was beginning to cool from a high of around 90 degrees making for perfect t-shirt riding weather all the way back to Sacramento. The final day of riding was by far the longest, coming in at a little more than 630 miles and a total of 13 hours on the road.
When Steve approached me with this ride, I was apprehensive, skeptical and not sure if it was something I really wanted to do. As time wore on and the others who said they were in dropped out, my mind was reeling through numerous excuses why I could not go. None were valid, but the uncertainty on many levels had me questioning the wisdom of taking on such a long ride. Steve shared that he was experiencing some similar sentiments, but he and I share something else besides a passion for riding: we both have sons fighting for our country in Afghanistan. Steve explained it this way: If our sons are brave enough to go to war and be shot at, we can walk through any apprehension we might have about this ride. Besides, I made a commitment and I surmised that if I didn’t do this now, I might never ever do it – and it has been a dream of mine for some time.
As little as 10 years ago, both Steve and I were not only not in a position to attempt anything like this, we probably were not even able to dream it. I know it was out of any realm of possibility for me. In the ensuing years, we have both found that elusive purpose and value in life that makes dreams like this a reality. This was a lifetime experience that, if not for some major life decisions I made about six years ago, could not have happened – and Steve’s story is similar. I think I can speak for Steve… we are definitely doing this again.
Maybe Alaska next year?
Don’t bet against us.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Anyone want to buy some Steve Miller pictures?
Sure? There are some great shots, and they’re only a few hours old.
I didn’t think so, but apparently Steve Miller or someone within his organization, his promoter or someone within the hierarchy at the concert venue, Raley Field in West Sacramento, thinks there is some kind of demand for pictures from his concert tonight.
How do I know? The following concert review-turned-rant should explain. But first, I promised a concert review, so here it is.
It was a good show. Miller played many of his hits, spewed some political opinion and made a lengthy solicitation for donations to his pet charity. All in all, his show lived up to my (lofty) musical expectations and went well beyond what I expected in those other two aspects. I didn’t pay $75 (including service fees and parking) to be solicited, no matter how worthy the cause. But at least Miller delivered when it came to the music. It was a good show.
Okay, now that the review is out of the way, here is the rant. Although Miller’s show probably deserves more words than the highly abbreviated review above, it is lucky that I was able to write anything at all. I almost had to leave before the show began - you see, I was carrying contraband. I didn’t sneak in any alcohol or outside food nor did I try to bring in any drugs, although judging from the odor wafting through the air I must have been in the minority. I was not armed and I was not fighting.
I had a camera. Not just any camera, but a so-called “professional” camera. Nowhere on any of the numerous signs listing the items not allowed was the fact that cameras, professional or otherwise, were not allowed. The security guard who checked my camera bag for all those other banned items didn’t say anything and, furthermore, if you include cell phone cameras, virtually everyone had a camera and was taking pictures. When Miller took the stage, I pulled my Canon 30D out of my bag and squeezed off four shots before an oversized security guard stopped me. He wanted to know where my photo pass was. I didn’t have one. I didn’t think I needed one. I wasn’t working for anyone; I was shooting because I take pictures.
My camera is a notch above a consumer model, but it’s not exactly a professional model either. Regardless, after explaining how no one said anything about this policy to me, how it is written nowhere and if I had known I certainly could have obtained a photo pass, the guard told me that if I took my camera out of my bag again he would take it. I put my camera away, but I was not about to leave it at that. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you what the next couple of songs were because I was pissed off and trying to figure out who was going to answer for this. My opportunity came when another patron found himself in the same predicament. He was shown to a supervisor and I made my way over there to plead my case as well.
This particular photographer had his press-pass with him (mine is no longer current and I didn’t have it with me anyway), but he, too, was informed that he needed the necessary photo pass to use his “professional” camera. I didn’t see what he was shooting with, but it was also a dSLR, not a point-and-shoot like most everyone else had. When I explained my situation to the supervisor, she informed me that, though not publicized, the lens I was using was not allowed and that I would have to leave. Leave? Things went from bad to worse; then I realized that their concern was the size of my lens. I told her I had a smaller lens and would be happy to switch it out. Bingo. But I did have to check in my “large, professional” lens with guest services. Reluctantly (not because I thought I would need it, but because I was not too keen on leaving my lens with anyone) I handed my lens over to guest services. But I safely retrieved it after the show and the people working in guest services understood my frustration, though they had no control over whatever policy was in effect. It would appear that the score is now photonazis-1, Mike-0, but appearances can be deceiving.
The lens I gave up was a 28-135mm zoom with an aperture range of 3.5 to 5.6. It’s a good lens, but not particularly effective in low light – and the sun was just setting. The “smaller” lens I put on was an 85mm with an aperture of 1.8. It is, in fact, a shorter lens, but in terms of the size of the glass – the determining factor in how much light is let into the camera - this lens is much, much bigger. And it was the lens I planned to switch to once the sun went down. Score change: Photonazis-1, Mike-2. Now I was free to take pictures at will; the jumbo-sized security guard was informed and left me alone. And I got some good shots – several hundred, in fact. Once edited and compiled, there will likely be a good deal more than a handful that are worth keeping – but not worth anything more.
There is no market for Steve Miller concert pictures. Furthermore, a Google search will turn up more than any die-hard Steve Miller fan’s heart could desire. Forgetting about egotistical paranoia for a moment, I’ll concede that Steve Miller has a right to limit or restrict photography, recording or any other use of his likeness, name or image and that the “professional lens” policy is a legitimate way to control such use, but not arbitrarily and not without notification. The policy, as my “small” lens use proves, involves a complex array of parameters not understood by those enforcing it and regarding the total lack of informing the audience of this policy, there is no defense.
I went ahead and edited a few shots for publication here. They are copyrighted – if anyone, especially Steve Miller, wants to use any of them, it will require my permission.
For Steve Miller, that permission is available – at a price.
Friday, July 16, 2010
But I love my Macs and iPhones, past and present. I don’t have to ever think about my Apple AirPort wireless router. AppleCare has always delivered on the rare instances when I did have a problem and even though my iPhone also serves as an iPod, I still use my original iPod Shuffle MP3 player when engaged in certain activities where I’d rather not expose my phone to any unnecessary risk. Every one of these products has worked for me over a considerable length of time with almost no problems, and when contrasted with the comparable non-Apple products that they replaced, the difference in reliability, durability and performance is noticed on a daily basis. Although the empirical evidence supports these claims, my own considerable experience is the clincher.
To those already on the Apple bandwagon, I’m preaching to the choir. For those who are Windows devotees, nothing I say will make any difference and I know too well the arguments they would cite. For some, there are technical reasons that keep them bound to the Windows platform. And when it comes to the service structure of the various hardware brands that use Windows, the service aspect ranges from one similar to Apple’s excellence to nonexistence. But as a package and as a company, Apple is a one-stop shop for this exceedingly average user. None of this is new and none of this will likely influence one towards Apple or away from Windows or, in the case of smart phones, from Android. Furthermore, Apple does not need my help. This is not about that, but it does lead into a particularly interesting public relations phenomenon that Apple is currently facing.
Maybe because Apple has never faced a PR challenge of this nature, the company was ill prepared to deal with it. For three weeks, the response to what has been termed “antennagate” has varied from inadequate to dismal. In today's press conference with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, those issues should have been put to rest. But it is naive to think this will end the controversy. However, Jobs did succeed at putting the issue into context and focused attention to solving customer complaints – not media reports or quips like, “It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm OK with that” from Microsoft COO Kevin Turner. How many complaints? Of more than three million iPhone 4 customers, only a little more than one half of one percent (16,500) have complained about anything regarding reception, signal strength, dropped calls and all other antenna related issues since the phone’s release. The return rate to AT&T is less than one third that of the iPhone 3GS and a presentation of internal and external data showed that the iPhone 4 is no worse than any other smart phone on the market. Forgetting all of that, just try to get one - the demand still exceeds supply.
But the really noteworthy thing about this press conference is that Steve Jobs and company, only 22 days into what has become Apple’s biggest PR challenged, has learned a few things very quickly. They did not role over, but at the same time they took responsibility not so much for a hardware issue, but for the happiness of their customers. Apple is far more than a hardware manufacturer and much more than a software developer – it is a customer service organization. Apple is in the business of making and keeping its customers happy. Where do you think this almost cult-like loyalty comes from? Rather than gleefully bash Apple for some perceived hardware glitch, those in the business of serving customers might follow their lead and treat their customers appropriately. They just might try a little harder to make their customers happy.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I used to thrive on how many hits this site received, how many comments my writing generated and how my thoughts inspired reaction from others. It would be a lie if I said that was not still important, but at the same time this type of external validation comes and goes – an evolutionary process is present in the Internet community itself and the rise and fall of various platforms has a key effect on how our thoughts are distributed. I have become far less attached to how and whether my thoughts are received than I used to be. I used to sit down and force myself to write even when there was nothing really inspiring going on in my life and in many of those instances what came out surprised me, both in terms of content and insight. Writing, like other artistic expressions, can produce introspection and revelation not ordinarily accessible in my day-to-day life. But I rarely ever force myself to write just for the sake of writing anymore. These words, however, are an example of such a rarity.
In some respects, I feel as though I have said it all, though I know that can never be. When I title these pieces, I usually have to do a search of my archives to be sure I don’t replicate a past title. It seems that I have used up all the common “catch” phrases, but there is always something unique about every new set of words that can be captured in an equally unique title. And I almost always write the title last. I have written about writing, about publication, about politics, about life, about nature, about spirituality, about education and about everything else that strikes me as needing further exploration and that happens most effectively right here. These literary assemblies help me understand the world I live in and, more importantly, my place in it. The extent to which others relate to my musings has clearly become a bonus, not a goal.
It is odd how certain past events dovetail with current events. Not so much on a geo-political scale (although that certainly happens as well), but on a personal level. New bits of information come to me that help explain or expand on prior experiences. In some cases it sheds new light such that some old, almost forgotten life event becomes brand new again. It happens all the time and the best way for me to process these epiphanies is to write about them. One such experience is founded in the act of writing itself. Although the vast majority of my work has been produced in the past ten or so years, writing has been with me for my entire life. Through a series of life-altering events, I rediscovered this latent ability to string words and punctuation together in a mosaic that conveys more than just a collection of dictionary definitions. And, perhaps more importantly, I found much greater value in all manner of artistic expression... and artistic expression in places I never expected it to be.
As much as I have recently found myself at a loss to compose, it is still very clear that the well has not yet run dry. Indeed, I am far from tapped out – what is left to say far exceeds what has already been said, by others or myself. The pool of human knowledge, of human experience and of human understanding is infinite. The process of discovery will never end. It comes not just in words, but also in a vast and ever expanding array of media that is conveyed with the diversity reflected in each and every individual expression of what it is to be. Though far more is unknown than known, today I feel just a bit more enlightened.
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Our founding fathers would likely not recognize the nation they created as it is today; however, I doubt they would be surprised at the prosperity we have experienced. That is, no one 200 years ago could have foreseen the technological advances that this world has experienced, but it would not surprise our founders that the United States would become the engine for much or that advancement. It is, in fact, how they set it up. This nation was founded on the principle of freedom and although there have been considerable inconsistencies with that principle and the actions of our government over the years, the foresight in the structure of our constitution with the overarching principle of equality and freedom has always, eventually and ultimately risen to the top. The dance of the three branches of government with its checks and balances is at the same time complex and beautifully simple in that the power that rests with the people cannot be easily wrested because of considerable and potent oversight.
And it’s not as though some individuals and groups of individuals (referred to by our founders as “factions”) have not tried. It continues today; political parties, interest groups, labor unions and many other organized and disorganized groups have tried to impose their will on others and have done so with varying degrees of success, but the structure of our government has an innate way of weeding out what is right and what is wrong, even if the process takes some time. Corrective measures have created not a perfect union, but absolutely a “more perfect union,” one that enjoys the kind of peaceful diversity and equality that even 100 years ago was only a dream. And although there are very vocal groups that would have us a racially pure nation, those groups are spitting into the wind – we are moving more towards our founders’ words in the Preamble than even they could have foreseen.
In my 47 years as a citizen of this nation, I have lived through a number of potential crises – all of which threatened this county’s very existence, but the strength of our founding documents have bound us by a principle of freedom that, at the end of the day, we all embrace. And prior to my time, the obstacles we have overcome are written into our heritage. We are currently facing another time of trial, but I am not one to say that this nation is “heading in the wrong direction.” We are, however, experiencing growing pains and if history is any indication, we will emerge stronger and more evolved, more experienced. In 1776, no one expected this experiment in democracy to succeed. Allowing the seat of power to rest with the people was considered folly - it could not last. And in the big picture, 235 years is relatively young for a nation, but the end is nowhere close to near. This is still the United States of America and for all of our warts and scars, we are still that “shining city upon the hill,” a beacon of freedom that still epitomizes what our founders so painstakingly set out to make us.
I leave this tribute to my country with a quote from the Ronald Reagan, acknowledging the sacrifices of my son and all the other men and women of our Armed Forces who are celebrating our nation’s birthday in far away lands - protecting our freedom:
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."