Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Laya's first ride

Soon after my wife and I began dating, I asked her if she'd be interested in going out for a ride on my motorcycle. She had never been on a bike before. She decided she'd give it a try. I told her I'd start out slowly and on local roads. If she didn't like it, we could quickly head back for the barn. I showed her how to put on a motorcycle helmet, and where the footpegs were. I also made sure she knew that the motorcycle turns by leaning. When I leaned to the left, she needed to lean with me. Some people get very nervous, and lean the other way. This can actually cause the motorcycle to go straight!!

She was doing just fine on the local roads, so I kicked it up a little bit, and headed west, towards the mountains. After about an hour, we stopped at a gas station to have a bite to eat and to stretch out. I took a look at my tailpipe... what was that on there? Melted rubber?? "Ummm, Laya, did your foot feel warm at all?" Yep, turns out she didn't realize her foot wasn't on the peg. Instead, it was on the tailpipe. So her brand new shoes then looked like this:

(She still uses these shoes today!)

After leaving the gas station, we continued on to the Shenandoah Mountains, going up Rt. 211 to Skyline Drive. This stretch of 211 is a biker's dream, heading up the mountain, very twisty, left, right, left, right... Wow!!! But as soon as we got onto Skyline Drive (located just before 211 started going downhill) I could feel Laya's head bobbling around a little bit. I pulled into the first rest area, which also was a picnic area. Oh wow, I guess the road got a little bit too twisty... Laya was dizzy. We stayed there for about 45 minutes or so, resting, letting Laya get her balance back, and eating some pre-packed sandwiches.

The speed limit on Skyline Drive is only 35 mph, so even though it was twisty, it wasn't enough to get Laya dizzy again. Plus I took my riding back down a notch. After exiting Skyline Drive, we continued heading back to my place. About half way before we got back, we pulled into another gas station, and got some ice cream and again sat down to relax and talk. (While I have done 1,000 mile days, this was Laya's first time on a bike, so I didn't want to push it by any means!)

While we were talking, I congratulated her on her first motorcycle ride, and had a gift for her to remember it by. I knew that she loves to collect key chains (I didn't know how much so until after we were married, and I helped to move buckets of them into our new home!) So I got her a keychain with Popeye and Olive Oyl riding on a motorcycle together. (all together now... aaawwwwwww...)

From there, we rode on to a gathering of motorcyclists in the DC area at a bar near my office (shooting pool, kicking tires, etc.) After all that was done, we arrived back at my place. It was a long ride, and she did a great job on it! Now, with the two kids underfoot, it's hard to get away for a ride together. Hopefully some day this summer will find a nice day where someone can take the kids for a few hours, and get out for another ride somewhere. Or actually, now that they are at camp some days, I might even take a morning off of work. The mountains keep calling...

Oh, and it only took about 2 hours to scrape off all of the dried up rubber from the tailpipe. :-) At least she never did that again!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Last weekend my wife's brother (Y-man) was in town, so we all went to Maryland to grab lunch before he left for home. First one funny story, then the main crust of this post. My wife ordered Moo Shu Chicken. While we were eating, Tikvah asked if she could have some of mommy's "mushy chicken." Oy, kids!

Later, during the meal, the manager came by and asked if everything was okay. We told him everything was very good. Tikvah then asked "Why do they always ask us if it's okay?" Good question my dear. I gave her the simple answer, "If something is wrong, they want to be able to fix it, so that we enjoy eating here." But after that Y-man and I were talking about it more. I told him about a kosher restaurant that opened in the area almost 2 years ago. The food there was pretty good, but the service was spotty, at best. One time we went there and I never got a soda that I had ordered. When the waiter asked if everything was okay, I told him about the soda. He said that he thought they were out of it, so I asked for a refill of my water. I never received it. Another time we were there, I ordered a side of fries. Not only did they never bring the fries out, but no one came up to the table to ask if everything was okay. They only came to the table when it was time to clear the dishes and present the bill.

Because we liked the food there, and there are so few kosher restaurants in the area (one had opened up the year before, but went out of business after about 9 months), I decided to send a letter detailing these issues to the owner of the restaurant. I explained that the purpose of the letter was not to beat them over the head or anything, but because I truly wanted the restaurant to succeed. My family went in a few months later. There was a new waitress working there, and service was excellent. When I went to pay the bill, I mentioned to her how impressed I was with her services, and how things have really changed. She said that she used to be a customer there as well, and thought the service needed improving. I then mentioned that I sent a letter in to the owner. Her eyes grew wide and she said "That was you??" I guess they got the letter... Afterwards (as we were getting our jackets on) the manager stopped by and asked if everything was satisfactory. I told him that the service was great, and I appreciated the changes. We have been back several times, and have never had a problem since. Sometimes the little things, like asking "Is everything okay" (and acting on it if the answer is negative) do make a difference!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Skyline Drive: Experienced on a motorcycle

Several years ago (winter of 1999-2000 to be exact) I took a course in travel writing. All of the articles that I wrote were motorcycle related (big shocker there, huh?). Below is one of my favorite articles, written about a ride I took on Skyline Drive the summer before. It's a trek to get out there, but once there, the scenery is so beautiful. In fact, the first time I took my wife (then girlfriend) for a ride on a motorcycle, I took her out there. I'll have to write about that another time, if she doesn't tell me not to. (a few interesting things happened on the ride)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the write-up.

"Sorry folks, it’s going to be another hazy, hot and humid day." I rolled my eyes, the weatherman may be sorry, but he didn’t know just how bad it would be. After a long, hot week at work, I was itching to get out and ride my motorcycle. It gets warm enough on the bike without the help of the heat wave toasting the East Coast. His sympathy wouldn’t help to cool me off. If only there were some place cool to ride. That’s when I decided on a day trip to Virginia’s Skyline Drive.

Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park is always a great road to ride. I often feel sorry for the people whose only encounter with the road is from the seats in their car. To truly feel the full effects of Skyline Drive, they need to experience it from a different perspective, two wheels instead of four.

The Front Royal entrance of Skyline Drive is just 50 miles west of the D.C. Beltway on I-66. This was the only stretch of the trip where I envied the people in their air-conditioned cars. However, I kept my patience, I knew the fun would soon begin. Once I reached Front Royal, I quickly found my way to the northern entrance of Skyline Drive. After paying my entrance fee, the festivities began.

Skyline Drive travels through the Shenandoah Mountains, part of the Appalachians. (In fact the famous Appalachian Trail follows Skyline Drive through the park) Therefore, as I started this leg of my trip, the road had to go up. Up is where it’s cooler, approximately four degrees cooler, Fahrenheit, for every 1,000 feet higher in elevation. More importantly, to go up, the road starts to take a series of switchbacks, right, then left, then right again.

This is what separates a motorcycle from a car. As a car turns back and forth, the driver simply turns the wheel in one direction, then the other. At most, the occupants feel some centrifugal force, pushing them in the opposite direction of the turn. But a motorcycle only has two wheels. To turn, I have to press on the handgrips, press left, press right. This action causes the motorcycle and me to lean, and thus turn. Lean to the right, lean to the left. I’m not just passively feeling the turns; I am a part of the turns.

I soon reached the Range View Overlook, 2,810 ft above sea level. Every one of these overlooks is breathtaking. It is said that years ago, before the modern day pollutants got into the atmosphere, on a very clear day one could see the Washington Monument from Skyline Drive. Unfortunately, all I could see in the distance was the haze that I had come to escape. But below me, above me, and around me, were the trees of the forest and the grass of the meadows. Neither was experiencing the heat wave, instead they displayed their brightest green. I knew I would have to come back again during the fall to see the trees when they change into their multi-colored autumn coats.

As I rode through the trees on the bike, I was not separated from them by a four-sided steel cage with windows. Instead I was a part of the environment, out there, feeling the wind, the change of temperature when I rode out of a shady area into the sun, able to smell the fresh mountain air. I raised the visor of my helmet to let more of the cooler air in, to cool my head. At times, when passing a section of road where both sides sloped downhill, it felt as if I was actually flying over the mountainside.

If you look at a map of Skyline Drive, you will see that as it weaves its way through the Shenandoahs, there is almost no stretch of the road that is straight. The constant curves are a siren call for us motorcyclists. As I rode the curves, all the tension of the long week of work started draining out. Now it was just my bike and me, working together as a team, leaning to the left, leaning to the right. Sometimes tilting so far, I felt I could reach down and touch the road, but I wisely decided not to test this.

As I came around a right hand sweeper, I looked ahead to a breathtaking view. Three deer grazing by the edge of the road. The animals here have learned that the traffic on Skyline Drive is mostly harmless, the deer were content to stay where they were, and only one interrupted her meal to look over and admire my motorcycle. Having seen the deer munching their meal, I decided to make a quick stop at the visitor center in Big Meadows and have a meal myself. Checking the time, I noticed it was starting to get late, so rather than head further south, I turned around, and started back north, to the Thornton Gap exit.

As I exited Skyline Drive, I picked up Rt. 211, a perfect road to end the day with. As 211 worked its way down from the mountaintops, it was extremely twisty, with several hairpin turns keeping me at full attention. I felt so good I had to let out a “YEE-HA!” while curving through back-to-back switchbacks. As I got closer to sea level, I could feel the surrounding air get slightly warmer, but since it was late in the day, it didn’t reach an uncomfortable level. As I pointed the motorcycle home, I realized how lucky I was to have a naturally air-conditioned, twisty, yet scenic road within reach to help me keep my cool on those hazy, hot, and humid days that mother nature kept throwing at me.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Pictures from the NYC's "Salute to Israel Parade"

As part of the Ride to Remember, the Jewish Motorcyclist Alliance rode in NYC's "Salute to Israel Parade." Here are some of the pictures. (All photos taken by my wonderful wife)

Lining up in NJ, waiting to go.

Crossing the Hudson, over the GW Bridge. They closed the top deck to all but us. A totally awesome view!

Ack!! We had to wait on the FDR... turns out the 5 Boro Bicycle tour was holding things up!

The police escort turned us around, and took us down the Hudson Parkway. We waited for a while near a home for the elderly, then went to line up for the parade.

Heading up the FDR, I believe that's the Empire State building in the distance.

Our last waiting point before turning into the parade.

Then into the parade itself!