Friday, February 27, 2015

Celebrating a great motorcycle

johnk100rsMy 1991 BMW K100RS was born/assembled 24 years ago today in Berlin.

It was a fabulous motorcycle. It was pearl silver, just like the one some Japanese design institute hailed as the most beautiful motorcycle in the world in 1991. I remain in full agreement.

On June 24, 1991, when I rode my new bike out of the parking lot of BMW Motorcycles of Indianapolis, I vowed that one day I'd see the odometer turn over 100,000 miles.

I remember chuckling at the audacity of BMW to put an odometer on their K-bikes that would read so high: Most bikes are junk long before their odometers need a sixth digit. But I knew this bike could do 100 grand and lots more.

I really wasn't in the market for a new bike back in the spring of '91. I had 80,000 miles on my 1981 R100RS and still had big traveling plans for that elegant graphite twin that had shown me so much of the country. I figured I'd eventually replace it with another R100RS, since the RS riding position suits me so well.

One afternoon, just to humor dealer Greg Polzin, I took one of his new 16-valve K100s out for a demo ride. In less than 15 minutes, I was utterly seduced by the power and the handling of the new K. As I headed back to the dealership, I was doing the math to buy one of these amazing machines.

Luckily, this seduction came at a time when my finances made the purchase possible and the new bike was soon mine.

A few weeks later, I headed west for a week in Breckenridge, Colo., with Indianapolis BMW Club friends and then on to the Top O' the Rockies Rally in Paonia, Colo., then down through southern Utah to the BMW MOA National Rally in Flagstaff.

I remember how proud I was riding into the rally at Flagstaff. Heads turned. Riders gathered around to ogle the bike whenever I stopped. This was, after all, the new flagship of the BMW line - the latest example of the legendary BMW engineering prowess.

Over the next 12 years, the bike carried me through 40 states and two Canadian provinces.

We climbed the highest paved road in the United States to the summit of Mount Evans and we screamed across the Nevada desert at just under 150 mph.

It performed reliably in temperatures ranging from 20 below zero to 115 above.
Together, we've carved twisties from Deal's Gap to Big Sur, endured savage Kansas crosswinds and Wyoming hailstones. We split lanes in Los Angeles freeway rush hour traffic and passed solitary hours cruising the Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We raced thunderstorms across the southern Utah wastelands and probed California redwood forests so deep and dense it was dark at midday.

This magnificent machine carried me across the Golden Gate and down Highway AIA to Key West and up the backbone of the Canadian Rockies from Banff to Jasper.

We rode the entire length of historic U.S. 50 from Sacramento, Calif., to Ocean City, Md.

My memory is flooded with images from the saddle:

  • Endless fields of North Dakota sunflowers at sunrise, each turning its golden face to the rising sun that warmed my back.
  • The haunting tragic sadness of the Shiloh battlefield.
  • Riding the white sands of Daytona Beach.
  • The incredible intoxicating sweet aroma of desert flowers after a Wyoming thunderstorm.
  • Mount Hood shining at the western end of the Columbia River Gorge.
  • An unseen Ponderosa pine forest filling my helmet with fragrance as I rode into Flagstaff at midnight.
  • The snow-clad majesty of the Colorado Rockies as I-70 ascends to the clouds west of Denver.
  • The hellish sulfur pits of Yellowstone.
  • Dodging rubber shrapnel as the car in front of me shredded a rear tire on a California freeway.
  • Climbing to the snowy summit of Independence Pass before attacking the twisty road down to Aspen and lunch at the Woody Creek Tavern.

To be fair, there were problems. This bike, like many of its generation, had chronic exhaust system problems. It liked to break welds between the header pipes and the muffler and did so in the summers of '92, '94 and '95. In the summer of '93, it broke a baffle in Nebraska.

Each time, BMW replaced the $1,800 exhaust system under warranty.

Finally, when a weld failed at Mount Rushmore in 1995 and BMW couldn't get a replacement to me quickly, I rode to California BMW at Mountain View and stepped up to a Staintune.

A year later, the Staintune ripped itself apart 60 miles west of Oklahoma City. It was replaced under warranty with what was touted as a more robust version.

In '97, the header pipe developed a spiral crack a few inches forward of the muffler. Naturally, I was on my annual Mid-Life Crisis Tour at the time - the Fourth of July weekend in Silverthorne, Colo., to be precise. I spent two extra days waiting for BMW of Denver to open on a Tuesday before I could get welded, ride on to the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America rally in Missoula, Mont., and then to Portland and finally to Mountain View to get a replacement.

That was the bike's final exhaust crisis and the Staintune held together for the rest of the bike's life.

The top end of the engine, found to have a bad exhaust port, was replaced at 30,000 miles. I replaced the alternator in Portland, Ore., in 1996. The fan quit in Tennessee in 1997, shooting a geyser of coolant out of the right side cover.

When I took delivery of the bike, I only made two minor modifications: I added a front fender extension to protect the radiator and belly pan and I installed a luggage rack.

I loved the clean, sculpted look of the bike and took care that subsequent tweaks preserved the look. I upgraded the headlight with a 100/80-watt bulb, added a Hyperlite flasher to the brake light, replaced the right bar end weight with a Wrist Rest cruise control, swapped the stock clock for a Fuel Plus clock/fuel calculator and replaced the wrung-out stock shock absorber with a Works shock. I also replaced the stock black saddlebags with custom painted matching pearl silver bags.

I estimate I went through 42 tires - 26 front and 16 rear - and filled the tank about 900 times.

I could go on to tally the quarts of oil and how much I've spent on service, but that's stuff for the bean counters.

And I hate bean counters.

The odometer reached the 100,000 mile mark at 5:10 p.m. Oct. 19, 1997 in the 2900 block of North Meridian Street in Indianapolis.

But, like the Energizer bunny, the bike kept going and going and going.

I was at the BMW Riders Association rally in Red River, N.M. in July, 2002, with about 153,000 miles on the odometer when I noticed a rattling noise that sounded like it came from deep inside the engine.

The noise didn't go away and, when I had it checked by the guys at BMW of Santa Cruz a few days later they opined it would cost too much in labor to dig that deeply into the engine and suggested I have it checked when I got home.

The final verdict came months later from Phil Forgey, head technician at Revard BMW Motorcycles in Indianapolis. The bushings on the output shaft were disintegrating. By now, the bike had 159,698 miles on it and, considering its age and mileage, the cost in labor and parts to fix it would be greater than the value of the motorcycle. Dealer Bill Revard said I'd be lucky to get $2,000 for a bike with nearly 160,000 miles on it.

I decided to ride it the remaining distance to the 160k mark and then think about parting it out, concluding that there ought to be at least $2,000 worth of saleable parts.

Finally, just before Thanksgiving, 2003, with 160,124 on the odometer, I got out my tools and started removing parts, photographing them and listing them on Ebay.

Over the next two years, I stripped off the gorgeous pearl silver fairing, removed the starter and alternator, handlebars, engine and antilock brake computers, fuel tank and other stuff, cleaned them up, photographed them and sold them to BMW riders all over the country.

The saddlebags are in Sheffield, Ill.; the seat is in Chelmsford, Mass.; the fuel gauge went to Lusby, Md.; the temperature gauge to Tampa Bay, Fla. The headlight and rear wheel are in the Florida Keys and the tailpiece in Washington, Mich.

The Staintune Sport Exhaust is singing its song up in Wayzata, Minn. Parts of my bike are as far northwest as Bainbridge Island, Wash. I sent the Bosch Motronic Computer to Pierrefonds, Quebec, Canada. The Fiamm horns can be heard in Banner Elk, N.C. The left footpeg is in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., and the right one is in Tiverton, Ontario, Canada.

Every July, when I go to the BMWMOA where about 5,000 BMW riders gather, I wonder how much of my old bike is there.

Searching the internet, I found and downloaded an Adobe Acrobat version of the K1100RS/LT service manual. I was a huge help in the more complicated stages of disassembly, since I'm pretty inept mechanically.

The day I shipped my first parts, I told the folks at my local post office, "You're going to see an entire motorcycle come across this counter over the next couple of years."

I ended up selling the engine, frame, front wheel, front brake calipers, front and rear brake rotors, centerstand-sidestand combo, transmission and drive train and other odds and ends to Galen Perry, who runs a BMW motorcycle salvage operation in Carroll County, Ind.

And my auction proceeds totaled $3,504.92, which was a big help in making the payments on my next bike - an '03 BMW K1200GT.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Early History Lesson re Radical Islam vs US in the early 1800's.wmv

Seasonal whiplash

pool stuff at sams

Killing time while the Sam’s Club pharmacy filled a prescription, I cruised the aisles and was stunned to discover it’s already summer at Sam’s Club.

The mercury is struggling to get above freezing, but inside the big box store there is every kind of equipage for summer – patio furniture, camping stuff, coolers, grills, barbecue smokers, pool and beach floats and umbrellas.

All this at a time when I’m having serious doubts about the weather warming enough for a run to Daytona and back in a week or so.

Minor cognitive dissonance.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Back on the treadmill

john treadmill
I was back at St. Bernards Health & Wellness this morning to shake off the depression and inertia that goes with being held hostage by winter weather.
Well, maybe that’s a little too dramatic. I quit going to the gym last month after I abraded my right knee in a tumble at the post office because I’m wary of exposing an open wound to an environment where bad bacteria might be lurking. I’m all healed now and fresh out of excuses to not exercise.
This was my first time at the gym using the Kinivo BTH220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones that Maria gave me for Christmas, paired with my iPhone 5. It was a much much better experience than working out with wired earbuds. It’s really infuriating to yank one or both earbuds out of my ears because my hand hits the wire on the way to a water bottle or a towel.
Plus the control on the right side of the headphones lets me change the song, adjust the volume and answer phone calls. Bluetooth wireless makes things a lot easier. The Kinivos wrap around the back of my head, which is a more comfortable arrangement than across the crown of my head like conventional headphones fit.

Monday, February 23, 2015

70 years ago today

This is the first flag raising on the top of Mt. Suribachi. The famous flag-raising photo was taken when the second flag was put up later that day. This photo was taken by Leatherneck's Lou Lowery.

The first of the two flag-raisings atop Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima took place on Feb. 23, 1945.

The second flag-raising, which resulted in the iconic image shot by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, occurred when a second, and larger, American flag was sent up the mountain a short time later.

Weather or not

bike-week-2015Daytona Beach Bike Week starts at the end of next week and I’m still undecided about whether to go.

Our driveway is still a mess of sleety ice, even though the main roads are all clear. I would be hard pressed to get a motorcycle out of our subdivision today and am mindful that we may not have seen the last of this ugly winter weather.

To assume that it couldn’t happen again in March would be to ignore an even worse sleet/ice event that happened the night of March 2-3 last year that had us pretty much frozen in place until March 8 when our neighbor used his pickup truck to pull the Subaru to a place where it could get some traction.

As I have said several times before, the weather is a huge factor on whether Bike Week is a do-able thing for me.

I got a text message yesterday from my old Indianapolis News compadre Skip Hess saying I am welcome to visit him and his wife at their new home in suburban Tampa, Fla. I could ride there, hang out with him for a couple of days and then cruise over to Daytona if it looks like any of the Indianapolis BMW Club crowd will be there. If not, I could just come on home.

If I go at all.

We shall see.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A photographer looks at Third Reich color photos


Most of the images we have from the historic events of the 1930s and ‘40s are black and white, so I’m fascinated when I come across pictures shot with early color films.

Like this photo of a torchlight parade of Nazi Storm Troopers during the 1938 Party rally in Nuremburg.

A little Internet research revealed Agfa applied for a patent for its first color film – Agfacolor – on April 11, 1935. Four days later, Kodak in Rochester, N.Y. applied for a patent for Kodachrome. Kodak won the ensuing patent fight to become the first commercially available color film.

Agfa introduced  Agfacolor Neu (New Agfacolor) in November, 1936. As best as I can determine, the early versions of Agfacolor had an ISO/ASA rating of 5, so slow that it couldn’t be used to photograph athletes in action at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Agfa was able to boost the ISO/ASA rating to 25 in 1938 and that’s what I think was used to make the photos here.

Judging by the sharpness of the buildings, relative to the SA men, I think the camera was mounted on a tripod.

I also ran across some color photos from a Storm Trooper Christmas dinner in 1941 where the main light source was candles on the tables.

sa christmas 1941 - 01

sa christmas 1941 - 02

Here again, the photographer got remarkably good images in very low lighting conditions on extremely slow film.

I was able to tease out more detail with Photoshop, showing that the film recorded much more than was apparent at first glance.

sa christmas 1941 - 02a

I suspect the images were made with a camera fitted with a very fast (for the day) 50-55 mm lens capable of f/1.8 or better, but that’s just a guess because I haven’t found any information about lens speeds from the 1930s and ‘40s.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Calamity averted

spotty sleet

It looks like the forecasters got it wrong again.

We were expecting freezing rain beginning about 9 a.m. and continuing until maybe 10 p.m. when southern winds would turn it into plain rain, and lots of it.

So far, the sleet/freezing rain has been light and spotty as the weather system moves off to the northeast and it looks like the heavy rain will arrive around 8:30 p.m.

The rain, coupled with rising temperatures to a high tomorrow in the mid-50s should melt what sleety ice remains.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Semper Fi!


Seventy years ago, Phil Ward of Crawfordsville, Ind. and six other Marines raised the first American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. The moment was recorded by Marine photographer Lou Lowery.

Seconds after the flag went up, they were greeted by cheers from the men below and by a chorus of horns and whistles from the ships lying offshore.

Semper Fi!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The future is here

radio shack ad

My slightly obsolete iPhone 5 can perform the functions of all of the products in which 1991 Radio Shack ad.

Saving the FedEx driver a slippery trip

We got a dusting of snow overnight and awoke to another day of sunny and cold weather.

En route to the post office, I found the downhill grade from our subdivision to the main county road was so slick that the Lexus’s antilock brakes couldn’t stop me before I reached the pavement. Fortunately, there was no traffic coming, so I let it slide until I was on dry asphalt.

I was expecting a large package from the Amazon Vine Program via FedEx and wondered if a FedEx truck could make it up the slope. I wasn’t sure my car could handle the icy incline and was prepared to go hang out in town and hope some melting occurred. I was also concerned that the FedEx driver might get hurt trying to mount our ice-buried front steps.

So I was happy to see the FedEx truck pull into the post office parking lot right behind me.

After she hauled a bag of packages into the post office, I told the driver I had a package reported “out for delivery” and asked if it might be on her truck.

She checked and handed it over, expressing gratitude and relief at being able to avoid our subdivision’s icy entrance.

Coming home, I punched the ECT button and was pleasantly surprised to see the Lexus chug up the slippery slope without a problem.

Emboldened by my newfound mobility, I’m going to take Dora to the vet for a routine exam this afternoon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Staying put

lexus shifterThe sun is out in a cloudless sky, but the temperature is only 22º, so the snow-dusted crust of sleet isn’t melting to any significant degree.

I say not to any significant degree because the sun causes a little bit of sublimation in which the snow and ice turn into water vapor, but it’s negligible.

Unfortunately, the roads are still mostly covered with the sleety glaze, making it necessary for me to activate the ECT feature on my Lexus RX330. I have no idea what ECT stands for and haven’t found an explanation in the voluminous owner’s manual.

As far as this Hoosier in exile is concerned, the most dangerous thing about the roads is the unskilled winter drivers who seem astonished when they get in over their heads and slide into oncoming traffic or a ditch or tree.

The Weather Channel web site forecasts a Friday high in the mid-30s and a very melty high of 50 on Saturday, accompanied by a 100 per cent chance of rain to flush this stuff away.

As miserable as cold rain is, I’ll take it rather than freezing rain.

In the meantime, I have no further travel plans for today.

Monday, February 16, 2015

No big deal


Dire predictions of several inches of sleet and snow from Winter Storm Octavia proved wildly inaccurate last night and this morning.

As expected, the sleet arrived about 9 p.m. yesterday, but it was intermittent and light. We ended up with an inch or two – not enough to cover all of the leaves on the ground, but enough to freak out the schools and businesses in the region.

I warmed up the Subaru for Maria, melting the light coat of ice from the windshield and windows, and she motored in to work in Jonesboro. Being a native Hoosier, she learned long ago how to drive on snow and ice, so the only real peril was from Arkansans who are clueless on slick pavement.

So Octavia wasn’t even a storm worthy of a name around here, although she may gather momentum as she churns eastward and up the Atlantic coast.

No need for our generator and the cable TV and internet stayed on.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My snow storm preparedness kit

jack daniels honey

Lassen Sie es schneien!

Lassen Sie es schneien!

Lassen Sie es schneien!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

It’s sunny and 53º now, but this could be Monday’s weather


The weather is so pleasant at midday Saturday that I’m thinking of going for a motorcycle ride.

But the forecast calls for the first significant snow of the winter, starting sometime late tomorrow.

The Weather Channel web site says there is a 100% certainty of snow and forecasts accumulations of 5-8 inches.

Since it’s Presidents Day, I suppose most of the schools will be out anyway, but a snowfall of this magnitude is a real game-changer for northeast Arkansas where our county owns two snow plows. Two.

And it looks like the snow will be around for awhile. The forecast highs for the next 10 days are all below 40º.

I didn’t have anyplace special to go anyway.

The photo is from March 8, 2008 when we got a couple of inches of snow that was gone in a day. I don’t think we’ll be so lucky this time.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One of my favorite rides


I haven't posted anything interesting for awhile, which is not to say this will be either, but I was pleased with the way it turned out.
This is a piece about the Lost Coast of California that was published 13 years ago in
Motorcycle Tour & Cruiser magazine, which later mutated into RoadBike magazine.


The golden eagle came at me head-on, the California morning sun glinting yellow in his right eye as he pierced me with his gaze.
Framed by ancient oak trees that overarched the empty two-lane blacktop, his brown wings extended a full seven feet as he held a motionless glide about 10 feet above the pavement.
A moment earlier I had glimpsed a large shadow flash across my path from the right as I leaned into a gentle right turn among brown grassy hills. Glancing up and left, I saw nothing but blue sky.
But now, there he was, squarely in front of me. Regarding me sternly with his golden eye, the eagle welcomed this wayfarer to his wild domain with a magnificent show of confidence and authority.
I cut the throttle and pulled in the clutch, then held my breath as our shared momentum drew us together. He flashed over my helmeted head and was gone.
I smiled as I re-engaged the engine of my ’91 BMW K100RS.
The Mattole and Silkyone Indians who once peopled this wildest stretch of California’s north coast regarded the eagle as a bearer of messages from spirit to man. They would have seen my encounter as a very good omen.
I considered myself officially welcomed to the Lost Coast.
This rugged place where 4,000-foot peaks meet the Pacific 160 miles north of San Francisco is the least-visited segment of the more than 800 miles of California coastline. Here the mountainous terrain so intimidated the road builders that they swung California Highway 1 and U.S. 101 inland just south of Eureka to penetrate the redwood forests rather than force a route through the King Range. Much of the Lost Coast lies within Humboldt County where, even with the communities of Eureka and Arcata, the population density is just 34 persons per square mile. By comparison, the state of California averages more than 212 people per square mile.
I live in Indiana but I visit Northern California almost every summer as a happy consequence of having a son on the West Coast. Over the years, I’d wondered what adventure I was missing by taking the redwood route south and skirting the mysteriously named Lost Coast.
A little research revealed at least one good streetbike road into the area. The route from Ferndale down to Shelter Cove is mainly two-lane chip-and-seal blacktop, although Marilyn Machi, who took my reservation for a room at the Beachcomber Inn at Shelter Cove warned “there’s one place that’s unpaved, but you ought to be able to make it.”
Fresh from a good night’s sleep at the Eureka KOA, I struck camp in the foggy darkness, wolfed down a quick McDonald’s breakfast and rode south to pick up the road to the Lost Coast in Ferndale.
A worthy destination in its own right, the Ferndale is five miles off the beaten path of U.S. 101 and a century behind most California architecture. Its elegant Victorian main street and residential facades are a legacy of a prosperous dairy industry that made Ferndale a melting pot of Scandinavian, Swiss-Italian and Portuguese cultures.
I marveled at these ornate “butterfat palaces” as I idled through town. The road to the Lost Coast awaited me at the south edge of Ferndale, snaking up a fog-shrouded hillside and marked by a sign pointing to Petrolia and Honeydew.
It’s a nondescript little road. Without the sign, it might be mistaken for someone’s driveway. Fog and rough pavement kept me in second gear as I steadily climbed through the misty forest, gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation in the four-mile ascent to Bear River Ridge. The fog that told of the nearby ocean was heavy with moisture, forcing me to wipe my visor with a gloved finger every few minutes.
Finally, near the crest, I broke into bright sunshine. A tongue of marine fog filled a valley to my left with billowy white, transformed into glorious white cloud tops by the morning sun.
I kept a wary eye out for deer and other wildlife. I’d read in that morning’s Eureka newspaper about a small commuter plane hitting a deer at the local airport. An airport official said deer have become so accustomed to aircraft, people and machinery that they remain on the runway while pilots try to land.
Descending toward the coast, I was in treeless grassy hills now and presently the sunlit sky yielded again to fog. A sharp right turn and I caught sight of a line of surf pounding a misty beach, marked by a massive rock, barely visible a few hundred yards offshore. A switchback down and left and I was riding south along the shoreline, looking for a place to pull over.
A bronze plaque informed me this was Cape Mendocino, once the site of a 422-foot-tall lighthouse that guided mariners from 1868 through 1951. Despite the navigational aid, the offshore rocks claimed nine ships over those years. The lighthouse has been dismantled and now sits in pieces down at Shelter Cove, awaiting restoration.

lostcoast1This six-mile stretch, devoid of human habitation, is the only part of the 80-mile ride from Ferndale to Shelter Cove with an ocean view. Pressing on south, I soon discovered I was not alone. A herd of cattle fanned out across the steep hillside to my left, some eyeing me, some gazing out to sea like cud-chewing sentinels. I overtook three of their number on my side of the fence, strolling along the road and looking perplexed with their newfound freedom.
All too soon, the road bent left, back up into the coastal hills and a few foggy miles on I found myself in Petrolia. This crossroads village is so named because California’s first oil wells were drilled about 3 miles east of here on the north fork of the Mattole River. A dog barked at a passing cable company truck as I read how the Union Mattole Oil Co. made its first shipment to a San Francisco refinery from here in 1865.
By now, the road surface had improved to the point where I was routinely managing fourth and fifth gear and 50 mph. I made quick work of the 24 miles to Honeydew, pausing once to accommodate a road resurfacing crew and again to chuckle at a homemade sign warning of “Road Cows.”
It was just north of Honeydew that I received the golden eagle’s benediction. Golden eagles are common here, favoring rugged terrain that creates abundant updrafts for soaring.
As the road wound past ranches and farms, I noticed a large number of “No Trespassing” signs. I thought, “These folks sure like their privacy.”
The route isn’t well marked and there were several junctions where I stayed on track only because one road choice looked slightly better traveled than the other. Even so, I made one false move. Taking what looked like the most promising route, I found myself dead-ended a few hundred yards later in a barnlot.
The village of Honeydew offered me the option of continuing southeast in search of Shelter Cove or taking the twisty Bull Creek Road to the north. This narrow paved road climbs about 2,000 feet over the ridge to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and continues for about 23 miles through old-growth redwood forests east to U.S. 101. I decided to save that ride for another day.
A few miles south of Honeydew, I found the unpaved section – a rough washboard stretch of perhaps a half-mile, full of steep 180-degree uphill switchbacks that called for first gear and lots of concentration. I was grateful it was an uphill run because I suspect I would have felt my ABS kick in had this been a downhill ride. The official Bureau of Land Management map warns, “This Section Not Recommended for Travel Trailers.”
I stopped about 11:30 a.m., three hours into my ride, to check my maps at a crossroads offering a choice between Ettersburg and Briceland. The road bearing to the left looked slightly better maintained and I chose it in the hope it would lead to the Shelter Cove Road before it turned to dirt or worse. I later learned I’d chosen well. Turning right would have taken me down the challenging and unpaved Kings Peak Road. As it was, I had good pavement the 11.5 miles to the road junction that pointed the way west to Shelter Cove.
By noon, I was poised at Paradise Ridge, the last mountainous rampart before the road slaloms down nearly 2,200 feet to Shelter Cove. The seven-mile descent to the coast is marked with dire warnings to RV drivers about fatal crashes over the last decade.
“We’ve had quite a few tragic accidents,” said Carol Sullivan, who lives in Shelter Cove and works for the Bureau of Land Management. “In fact, there’s even a t-shirt that says, `I survived the Shelter Cove Road,’ with a picture of an RV with its brakes on fire.”
Shelter Cove, built on a grassy marine terrace overlooking the Pacific and flanked by mountains on three sides, is a picturesque fishing village that is home to about 200 permanent residents. Much of the town’s economy is based on charter fishing and tourism, with eco-tourists representing the latest wave of visitors. Shelter Cove offers several headlands, bluffs and beaches that make the place an ideal vantage point to watch for the flukes and spray signaling the spring and fall migrations of the California Gray Whale. You can also pass countless hours watching the birds, seals and sea lions. Deer are a common sight throughout the town and Roosevelt elk occasionally wander in from a nearby meadow called Hidden Valley.
lostcoast2Many visitors to Shelter Cove arrive by light plane, using the 3,400-foot-long airstrip that forms a kind of centerpiece for the town. Some come to hike or fish and others fly in for a day of golf on the course that wraps around the asphalt runway.
I followed the convenient signs at the north edge of town and easily found the Beachcomber Inn where Marilyn Machi checked me in and advised me that, this being a Tuesday, the only restaurant open was the deli at the nearby campground and RV park. After unloading my bike, I cruised the short distance down to the deli. In no time, I was relaxing on the patio with a tasty lunch of clam strips and chips under the covetous gaze of a dozen or so noisy seagulls.
lost3The patio affords a spectacular 220-degree panoramic view of the ocean and I could hear sea lions barking as I watched charter fishing boats bobbing on the gentle swells offshore. While I dined, four other motorcyclists rode into town and cruised past.
I caught up to them later over a mocha latte at Cheryl’s Coffee House. Riding a mix of touring bikes and cruisers, these four friends were up from the San Francisco Bay area for a couple of days and had ridden down from Ferndale about 90 minutes behind me.
One of them, who had been down this road before, observed that the “No Trespassing” signs we’d passed suggested some of the locals might be marijuana farmers. This, after all, is Humboldt County – one of the prime pot-growing counties in all of California and the United States and we were there at harvest time. They said they noticed folks smoking dope in their yards as they rode through Honeydew that morning.
“People here are very independent and private,” said Carol Sullivan later, but she wasn’t eager to brand all of her Lost Coast neighbors as dope-growers. “It’s very common for people who live close to public land to keep up signage. Mostly, it’s a liability issue and they’re concerned about people getting hurt while on their property.”
Sullivan, who grew up in southern California, fell in love with this remote area while studying natural resources at nearby Humboldt State University in Arcata and moved to Shelter Cove about three years ago.
“I like the fact that it remains pretty wild and untamed. The forces of nature haven’t been completely conquered by human beings here,” she said. “The King Range is one of the fastest rising mountain ranges in North America. A lot of mountain chains uplift maybe 10 feet in 1,000 years. Our uplift rate is considerably higher: the King Range rose three feet in a matter of seconds in the 1992 Petrolia earthquake.”
While some maps show Chemise Mountain Road and Usal Road winding south from Shelter Cove to link with the Pacific Coast Highway north of Fort Bragg, it’s no through-route for street bikes.
Usal Road is a narrow, winding remote dirt road that gets minimal maintenance, Carol said. “That means it is passable to high clearance vehicles in the summer when it is dry, but usually quite bumpy due to erosion caused by the wet season. There are usually some really deep ruts, lots of washboarding and many times downed trees block the road for a few days at a time… there are no services in the area.”
lost4I spent the afternoon exploring Shelter Cove and walking on Black Sand Beach at the north edge of town. Dinner was a burger and fries at the deli.
Returning to the Beachcomber, I was drawn into conversation with a pleasant young couple from Marin County who were overnighting at the inn after a couple of days down at Mendocino. They shared conversation, cheese and champagne with me on the patio outside their room as night fell.
I awoke the next morning smelling eucalyptus from the grove outside my window. Loading my bike in the soft misty light of morning, I could hear the barking of sea lions as they greeted the day from the rocks offshore. Their voices, a strange delight to my midwestern ears, carried clearly through the moisture-laden air.
Even though I had a full day’s ride ahead of me, with plans to ride down through San Francisco to Big Sur, I was in no hurry to leave this remote pocket of serenity.
I rode my loaded bike down to the deli, bought a styrofoam cup of coffee and walked over to the launching ramp to watch the charter fishing captains ease their boats into the cove for another day on the water. Squadrons of gulls kept an expectant vigil from nearby rooftop perches.
On my way back to the bike, I exchanged morning greetings with Tom, a cell phone sales rep from San Francisco, and his friend Ray, a Shelter Cove resident. Noticing I was about to ride out of town, they regaled me with their favorite Shelter Cove Road story: A local couple, the story goes, were involved in a romantic interlude in a pickup truck, parked in a turnoff somewhere this side of Paradise Ridge. Somehow, the parking brake got released and the truck rolled forward, launching off of the cliff.
“They were topping trees on the way down,” Ray recalled. He added that the man was killed and the woman survived with serious injuries, draining most of the humor out of the situation.
So, mindful of runaway pickup trucks, I saddled up and took the only streetbike road out of town, climbing the ridge and savoring the 24 miles of redwoods and twisties to Garberville and the U.S. 101 freeway. I was sorry to see Shelter Cove and the Lost Coast recede in my mirrors, but something tells me I’ll be back.
Shelter Cove Resources
Here are some handy names and numbers if you visit the Lost Coast:
Bureau of Land Management King Range Project Office – 768 Shelter Cove Road, Whitethorn, CA 95589 707-986-5400
Shelter Cove Information Bureau – 707-986-7069
The Tides Inn – Spacious oceanfront rooms and suites just a short walk from the day use airstrip, golf links, restaurants and local services, 59 Surf Point, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7900, Beachcomber Inn – Six rooms and a hillside ocean view, 412 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 800-718-4789
Mario’s Marina Motel – Rooms and bungalows close to the beach, 533 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7595
Oceanfront Inn – Suites on the beach, 26 Seal Court, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7002
The Lighthouse – One luxury suite, 62 Seal Court, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7002
Shelter Cove Motor Inn – Spectacular cliffside ocean view, 205 Wave Drive, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 888-570-9676
Shelter Cove Ocean Inn Bed & Breakfast – Four suites with excellent ocean views, 148 Dolphin, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7161
Shelter Cove RV Park, Campground & Deli – Tourist information, cold deli foods, a grill and steam table, the market has a variety of drinks, 492 Machi Road, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986-7474
The Cove Restaurant – Fresh seafood, steaks, pasta, vegetarian specials, 210 Wave Drive, Shelter Cove, CA 95589 707-986- 1197

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Liese’s back with Jack and Dora

liese is back

Liese’s dad is in the hospital in Little Rock, so she’s spending a few days with her old friends Jack and Dora.

We still had her kennel from the last visit, so we were able to make her comfortable with very little effort.

We hope she can rejoin her people soon, but she’s welcome here as long as she needs us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Getting better

Maria’s back problem flared again last week, most likely triggered by her decision to lug a heavy antique sewing machine from her car to a repair shop counter.

That was around Wednesday. By Friday noon, she was in such pain that she had to come home from work and get horizontal.

She soldiered through the weekend on muscle relaxers and bed rest and I took her to the clinic Monday morning where she was seen by a nurse practitioner who prescribed steroids.

The prescription worked quickly and she got a good night’s sleep and feels significantly better. I dusted off our garage treadmill and she’s on it as I write.

Chronic back pain is a horrible thing and I thank God it’s not among my ailments.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Keeping them safe



An expensive set of headphones needs more protection than the cloth carrying bag that came with them.

So I invested about $60 in a GOcase hard case that is a perfect fit for my new Bang & Olufsen H8 wireless headphones.

Now I am an utter and complete geek.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

I expected a check

john money

Our Thorntown tenant used Western Union to pay his rent this month.

I drove down to the Jonesboro Kroger store, which has a Western Union connection, this afternoon to pick up the payment, which I supposed would be in the form of a cashier’s check.

Instead, the girl at the service desk opened the cash register and gave it to me in enough cash to make it uncomfortable to sit on my wallet.

We’ve become so reliant on plastic, that I rarely have any cash with me, not even change, so this is a particularly odd feeling.

And when did the U.S. Mint start making $100 bills with a blue tinge?

Friday, February 06, 2015

Still amazed by the Bang & Olufsen headphones

b&o in bed

Here I am, at 2:20 a.m. today, exploring my iPhone music library with my new Bang & Olufsen H8 Bluetooth headphones while lying in the darkness in bed.

If someone had told me there could be headphones that would make every song in my more than 11,000-song library sound fresh and new, I wouldn’t have believed it. And if they told me I would own such a fabulous pair of headphones, well, I would have dismissed it out of hand. This time last year I was asking my musician sons to recommend a good set of ‘phones under $100.

So far, four other Amazon Vine program reviewers have evaluated the H8s and the verdict is a unanimous five stars.

My review is informed by a life of listening to all kinds of music with average to cheap consumer grade speakers and headphones, so it’s pretty subjective. It’s gratifying to see that reviewers with serious audiophile credentials are blown away with the H8s as well.

One guy who edits video and audio headlined his review with “Near perfect headphones!” and gushed, “Over the years I've product-tested close to a hundred headphones from $20 - $1000 and thanks to B&O I have a new favorite!”

So, educated ears or not, I guess I know a killer set of headphones when I hear them.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Face Time with Lisa

facetime lisa

I just made my inaugural iPhone Face Time call with the Bang & Olufsen Bluetooth headphones and they functioned perfectly, thanks to a very well-engineered built-in microphone.

Steve is spending his days home schooling Lisa and five nights a week playing bass in the orchestra at Steve Wynn’s musical extravaganza in Las Vegas.

Lisa would have been a fifth-grader if she had stayed in school this year. Steve says she’s deep into seventh-grade math and excelling at everything far above her old grade level.

Chatting with her is like chatting with a young adult. She has a rich vocabulary and poise and confidence to burn. She’ll be 11 at the end of May.

At last! Headphones I can love!

b&o headphonesThanks to the Amazon Vine program, I have the opportunity to evaluate the newest, best headphones from Bang & Olufsen.

The BeoPlay H8 headphones are scheduled to be released on Feb. 26 with an MSRP of $499. Expect to offer them at a lower price eventually.

They’re wireless Bluetooth ‘phones with Active Noise Canceling and a built-in microphone making it possible to use them for iPhone voice and Face Time calls. In short, they do pretty much everything I can imagine headphones doing.

I’m listening to Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Fourth Movement at the moment and the sound is phenomenal in its range and subtlety. The sound reproduction is what I would call “neutral” without the amped up bass so common with ‘phones aimed at the younger hip-hop crowd. These are headphones for grownups.

And I am a grownup.

The controls on the right earpad are highly intuitive and it took me no time at all to navigate them with ease.

I’ve been a headphone junkie ever since my first encounter with a pair at a listening post in a Lafayette, Ind. music store around 1958. The ability to hear the music with proper dynamics and spatial imaging blew me away like no experience with speakers ever could.

And the Bang & Olufsen H8s are the best I’ve ever heard. They are showing me things in my music I never knew were there.

Bang & Olufsen is a Danish company known for high quality audio products with distinctive design features. So far as I know, this is their first Bluetooth headphone offering and it sounds like they got it very very right.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Once in awhile, the Amazon Vine Program gives me an opportunity to review some really cool products.

This is one of those times, but I’m not going to say what it is other than to say I am extremely excited to get my hands on it.

The UPS Surepost tracking site says it arrived at the Jonesboro UPS facility about 3:30 a.m. today, but it wasn’t scheduled for delivery until tomorrow.

I called UPS in the hopes of driving down to their customer center on Industrial Drive and picking it up myself, but that was not to be.

Under the Smartpost scheme, packages are turned over to the U.S. Postal Service for final delivery. In this case, it means they gave it to the Jonesboro post office for delivery tomorrow to the Brookland post office.

So I have to wait until tomorrow.

I’m not good at waiting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Deer Jack

deer jack01

I still haven’t decided where to hang the $10 eight-point buck head I bought over the weekend, so it sits in our black leather recliner, surveying the living room with its dusty glass eyes.

Jack and Dora ignored it for a couple of days, then last night Jack suddenly became fixated on it with what appeared to be a mixture of fascination and fear.

Aussies notice changes in their environment and are wary of new things, so this didn’t really surprise us.

deer jack02

59 years ago

6th grade me circled

Here I am with 30 other members of the Delphi High School Class of 1963 as sixth-graders.

Our teacher was Kenneth Bell, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II who regaled us with a story of an anaconda wrapping itself around a mast on a vessel he was aboard traveling on a river in Brazil. He also taught us to count to ten in Portuguese.

I recognize most of the faces, but have no idea who the blonde on my right was. The guy on my left was Harold somethingorother. I think most of these folks are still alive, although the fourth girl in the second row – Marcia Hunt Matlock – died Dec. 26.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Workplace violence

john darth

Sometime in the late 1970s, when I was still working in The Indianapolis News City Room, I strolled over to the photo studio, which was down the hall and a half-flight of stairs down, and came face-to-face with a guy in a Darth Vader costume.

I have no idea who was under that helmet, but one of the staff photographers was quick to record the moment.

You never knew what was going to happen next at the newspaper in those days.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Deer John…

john deer

I’ve wanted a stuffed deer head for a long time. But not enough to go out and murder a deer.

I have no idea what the attraction is. Maybe it started when I provided a temporary home for an enormous moose head for a coworker who was moving into smaller quarters. He reclaimed it a couple of years later, but I really liked seeing it on my wall.

Fast forward to yesterday afternoon when we were driving home from visiting friends. Maria spotted a sheet of plywood sign announcing “Basement Sale” in front of the Pine Log Road house that had been the home of neighbor David Head’s mother.

basementWe turned around and went back, finding David and his brother with a trailer full of trash. They were clearing out their mother’s house, some two years after her passing, and put the sign up about an hour earlier as an afterthought.

They took us on a tour of the house and offered us generous deals on a few items we (mostly Maria) fancied. I got the deer head for $10. She got an antique Japanese-made sewing machine for her collection for $25.

Now I have to figure out where to display my new trophy buck.