Horror for Horror’s sake: Not

Having just watched the original Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein I realized great horror is timeless. More importantly the tales of the undead shed light upon the human condition, our humanity or lack of it. Ironically enough, the Frankenstein monster turns out to be more human than its creator or any of us for that matter.

Great horror does more than just frighten and entertain the reader. It should also enlighten. I have written four extremely dark and gruesome novels, all with truckloads of gore and imagery that is hard to shake. But is that the story? No, far from it. All of my writing has a firm foundation in friendship, honor and the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do for you. Without it the story falls apart. My protagonists are not pillars of society, but rather part of the evil that writhes through the pages. They eat, burp, shit, doubt themselves and basically have all the frailties of everyman. The antagonist, my monster, is more the darker side of humanity than some slime dripping creature with insane teeth. Greed, ignorance, envy, power and hatred are far more haunting than what lurks beneath your bed.

The horror hits home when the reader sees himself reflected in evil. We all have a little of it in us and once you get a glimpse, a certain morbid curiosity compels you to keep reading. Like a zit in the morning mirror, you have to look close, taking in the disgusting details before the final squeeze. Splat! Yes, we are that freaky as people.

My characters are human thrust in to a super human situation. It is who we are, not what, that makes the leap of believability of my novels that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt that first few pages set a cruel hook and you won’t be released until the final pages are finished. The pace is wicked and action non-stop and gore, over the top. But it is not horror for horror’s sake. The violence and blood-drenched scenes serve a purpose. But remove them and you’ve torn the heart out of the work. It is the nature of the beast.

The readers of horror novels are probably the best judge of what works and what doesn’t. Thus far the ‘anoxic zone’ series and my new breakaway novel, ‘Out of Stone,’ have received the nod of approval from readers and reviewers around the world. I will admit to being criticized a few times for excessive violence and the use of disturbing imagery. I stand guilty on all accounts. Only the readers can sentence me for what I have done. At this point I can live with the verdict. They would like some more.

Tired of pablum horror? Sink your teeth in to something that might bite back!
Check out the links below.

www.promotehorror.com/2013/04/out-of-stone.html

 http://www.blackwaterbooks.com

Aloha john g

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THE FOURTH NOVEL: Into The Depths Of Hell

The initial edit completed as well as the follow-up rewrite for my new novel; working title –Tears of Stone –and is now being formatted to send to my editor and readers. Having sailed into uncharted waters with my first three books, anoxic zone, Halocline, and Black Tide, and setting new standards for gore and violence, the fourth could to be no less than a horrific ride into the gaping mouth of hell.

Tears of Stone(working title) revolves around a young character we meet in Halocline. Twenty years have passed since the revolution that created a free country. Freed from the yoke of Megacorp and a tyrannical, cruel and insane despot, the country grew and prospered. Slavery and slaughter during the revolution however left the country with nationwide epidemic of PTSD. Most dealt with it. A few unfortunately, did not. This opened the gates of hell once again. A metaphor, for they had actually never really been closed.

Our protagonist, against the odds, survived the barbarically horrendous revolution, at which she had a front row seat. What was witnessed in those early years hardened the tender areas of youth. The seeds of hatred fell upon the fertile soil of her mind, giving her strength to endure the madness.

In a twist of fate the girl is saved from the nightmare her young life had become, but not before her hatred had taken root. Her life on the run from the madness of the revolution was replaced with one of privilege, education and art. Through her art, the girl turned woman, and was able to relieve herself of some of the memories life had bequeathed her. Notoriety and fame would come from her ability to carve stone, touching her life, changing it forever.

As her talent blossomed so did the darkness that so early in life reached out for her. The hatred, anguish, and horror at seeing her family and community brutally tortured, slain, and placed in chains, wanted to live amongst men. This thing, this hatred, this evil would use the girl it bonded with so long ago to bring it to life.

The first few pages set the hook of the story. Then, until the end, we get deep into our characters’ heads to understand the nightmare their lives have become. More than one antagonist exerts pressure on the tale. Hatred, evil, greed, revenge, are my usual nemeses. Once again they rear their ugly heads to wreak havoc on mankind, being truly the sources of all that ails us. Our tale takes us on a ride into the macabre, literally. If you have read my previous works you know how wild things can get. And they do get a tad outré. Not to disappoint my readers, the action and intensity is up to par. My wife, Mara, after doing the initial read, aside from being grossed out, said that ‘this may be the best thing you’ve written.’ I’m good with that, because she is right. Though Tears Of Stone is a stand alone read, the story is related to anoxic zone, Halocline and Black Tide, therefore reading one of the previous will shed some light on a few of the inside jokes and characters. Hold on as I take you where few readers have gone before.

The Wheel Turns: A Matter of Safety

 

The windblast coming over the fairing would push your head back. White lines down the center of the road become a blur as you roll the throttle, pushing the rpm’s towards redline. A right hand sweeper is ahead. You tuck in, starting the bank for a high-speed corner.

A half hour before, at this same spot, a beater truck had a blow out sending it onto the graveled shoulder, the tires spitting a couple shovels full of crud onto the road. After affecting repairs, he returned to the road the same way he left it – spinning gravel.

After setting the line for the curve you hold tight. The world is coming past you at an insane rate. Gravel ahead, the front tire shifts to the left while the rear jumps to the right. SLAM! You’re down and sliding along with the machine. Rocks gouging your flesh before the asphalt rips your skin off. The bike flips and you’re flung to the side cracking your skull against a rock. Broken, bleeding, and your brain drips into the black surface of the road. You die, staring the bike wondering if she’ll start.

Road Ready!

 

 

It’s just a beautiful day, sun shining on that sparkly new scooter Amy just got to commute with. The little machine will save tons in gas money, easy to park and kind of fun and perky to ride. Flip flops, shorts, sunglasses, bikini top and sunscreen to protect her skin from the harmful rays. She was going to the beach to meet up with Janey and the girls then do some scootering along the waterfront. ‘It’ll be so much fun’ Amy was thinking just before being hit by a car that was exiting a fast food joint. The driver had a burger stuffed in his mouth and was trying to get the big gulp into the beverage holder that was too small for the cup. He looked away from the road to get the cola into the hole. When he looked up, it was to see Amy bouncing off the hood of his car. Amy won’t be going to the beach any more. The head trauma has left her a little slow and she drools now.

Here are two prime examples of how an accident happens. Sure, there are a million variations. But mostly, it was folk just out to have a good time. In both cases, neither rider had done anything really wrong, besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So what happened?

Kimo, our first rider, had been laughed at by his friends the first time he wore his new helmet and Day-Glo jacket with his new bike. Since then, he disregarded the advice given by the salespeople concerning protective gear and let his pals call the shots. None of his buds wore anything beyond a pair of cool shades.

Amy, though concerned about the side effects from too much sun, didn’t buy any safety equipment. The helmets were so big and the clothes so bulky. Not a very sexy, carefree look.

What is it about safety equipment that intelligent people shun? Amy would still be going to the beach if she just spent some of that gas money she saved on a helmet, any kind! There are enough brands with colors and styles to meet anyone’s expectations of cool and budget. Of course, the gear doesn’t work worth a damn if you don’t wear it, as Kimo unfortunately found out.

The phrase, ‘you don’t appreciate protective gear until you need it,’ comes to mind about now. That helmet and jacket don’t do anything if they are still hung in the closet. I, too, have been guilty of not wearing gear on short runs. To the store or post office, it’s just a few miles. The warm breeze blowing through your hair, ruffling your tee shirt and toes naked, catching a few rays. It felt good, fun. But the fun can stop pretty damn quick. It’s one thing to dump your bike, it happens. Scratched paint, bent stuff, basically customized by crash. A few grand into the bike and it’s now lying on the ground and you feel like shit. Your helmet has big gouge and fingertips of your gloves are ground through. The jacket kept your skin intact. Sure you’ll get a few nasty bruises in the next few hours and tomorrow you will really feel it. Right now you’ve got to shake it off and get the bike upright to access the damage. A new turn signal and handlebars are needed and you’ll learn to ignore to the damaged paint. The second most important thing is you learned is never to touch the front brake when on a loose surface such as gravel. The most important is that the safety gear lets you walk away from the crash, which beats an ambulance ride any day. And if there is a need for emergency care, you will have less damage than no gear at all.

 

Versatile motorcycle apparel also protects on levels you don’t think of. The elements, e.g. Yesterday my wife and I went for a cross-island ride to visit some friends. At home it was 85 degrees, sun shining with a light breeze. I think we both growled a little when we were putting on the riding suits. I mean it was soo nice out. Thirty miles into an eighty-mile run, the sky opened up and the rain started coming down. We pulled over, zipped up and pushed on, certain it would end soon. It didn’t. Coming over the volcano, the temperature dropped thirty degrees and it was getting downright cool. We knew it wouldn’t last. The temp that is. Dropping down the eastern face brought the mercury back up. There was nothing we could do about the rain but laugh.

Had we left that morning dressed for the sunny day we thought we had coming, the ride would have been aborted at thirty miles or been one miserable soaking wet and cold ride. I have seen it happen hundreds of times. You stop at the nearest convenience store and buy some garbage bags. Now we’re looking good.

The same goes for the reverse of weather conditions. It’s a blistering 100 degrees, not a cloud in the sky with the black road too hot to touch; you are riding in an oven. Your jacket and pants serve as a layer of protection against the sun’s rays. They’re also keeping the wind from sucking every drop of water out of your body.

It’s a win-win type of deal. From leather to textiles, there is safety motorcycle apparel for every budget and style, from one-piece jumpsuits to pants/jacket set. Mix and match, create your own look and let it be seen on the road.

All Suited Up!

 

 

 

I wear an Aerostitch One-piece Roadcrafter. They are made in America and considered the finest gear around. Cost is relative as the suits last for twenty years or more. For a long time I wore mis-matched gear, mostly knee-pads over jeans, sweatshirt, jean jacket, work gloves and ratty helmets. It was something and something is better than nothing. Times change and I saved to get the best I could buy.

Think about it! Wear it! What have you got to lose, a little pride, a few bucks? “It is better to lose a little face than leave it smeared along the road.” A couple hundred bucks on a helmet beats a couple hundred thousand dollars in medical bills.

Ride safely. Protect yourself.
Aloha!

The Wheel Turns : Decompressed

Before leaving on what turned out to be an epic journey, of both an outer and inner nature, I finished my fourth novel. The working title is ‘Tears of Stone.’ That title however has been overworked to death. I had hoped to complete it so my wife, Mara, could read the manuscript while I was motorcycle riding.

It always comes as a surprise to finish an idea in written form. You can tell when the end is near, 100 pages, 50 pages, but when it comes – WOW!!! Suddenly the writing is over and the rush of a ‘high’ is on; a somewhat sublime rush that is. Sure there are details that need attention, there always are, but they do not spoil the moment. Having the novel completed emptied the mind of worry, allowing the call of the road to come in loud and clear. That and the excitement of what Mara would say about the story when I returned. A month later I got the green light. After a rough edit the manuscript is ready for a rewrite, which I am doing now.

The tale revolves around a character you meet in Halocline, my second novel. Her story takes place twenty years after the revolution. She is now a grown woman with her own savage history and dark destiny to contend with. In dealing with horrific memories of childhood, that assault her constantly, an artist was born. Her art was a cathartic to relieve the conscious mind of the cruel and hideous visions.

As therapy the art worked in a psychiatric kind of way, creating what appeared to be a normal, though somewhat driven, personality. The unconscious mind, however, has a way of undoing the neat little knots we tie things up with. Life began to unravel when she finished the last piece for an exhibition.

Hell was just about to be unborn through her art.

It is a rather twisted little story about hate, revenge, ignorance, greed and the little things you never see that go on right behind the eyes. You just never know what someone is actually thinking. Trust me, most of the time you don’t want to know either.

You have to dig deep to come up with a tale like this. Although related to the previous novels, it is also a stand alone read. Of course, reading the first three novels is recommended as they are as ‘rip your throat out’ as it gets and… you’ll get a few more of the inside jokes. Like the others – anoxic zone, Halocline and Black Tide, you are grabbed on page one and ripped through a ride of terror and the macabre that will leave you gasping at the end… and wanting more. From the coast of Romania on the Black Sea, to Istanbul and the Transylvanian and Carpathian mountains, a journey into the darker parts of our minds and souls is about to be published.

Actually it will be a few more months until we print. Worth the wait to be sure and a chance to catch up on your reading. It’s back to work for me. When you call yourself a writer you better be doing just that. A little concentration, a little discipline and a lot of being able to sit there for hours at a time, waiting for blood to flood the page as you try to contain it, turning the crimson flow to words. And tuning out the unimportant distractions, aka, the cell is off. That’s what voice mail is for. Running with the ball for as long as you can each time you get it. But mostly it’s just doing your best that makes all the difference. It’s that ‘your best’ part of the equation that makes anything possible.

When you are doing your best there is always time to help others do it, too, but that’s another blog.

Aloha!

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride:; Thoughts, Observations and a Retrospective

 

Okay, what do you want first, the good or the bad? Well then I guess we’ll just toss it up a bit. I guess what amazed me most was the people across this great country of ours. What a mix up we have. Yet no matter where you were or the color of your riding apparel, there were smiling faces always willing to take a moment and show human kindness in whatever form it took. When you’re lost, a long way from where you are supposed to be and not a clue as to how to get there, it comes as a great relief when some good Samaritan gives you directions. The roles would change from time to time as well. I always travel with a pretty well stocked tool kit and it’s surprising how something like a Phillips head can make someone’s day. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Camping in the Badlands

We saw extremes of wealth and poverty. What community spirit can do and what happens when there is none. The towns that industry built and what remained after its departure. Enclaves of gentrification surrounded by slums. The unsurpassed character of older architecture next to stucco, glass, polished aluminum and plastic.

Then one leaves the urban surroundings and heads out into the countryside. From the farms to the forests, mountains to the deserts of the southwest, beauty runs rampant across the land. Yes, we saw fracking, strip mining, digging coal straight from the ground along the roadside, oil rigs – it happens. The vast tracts of green forest however had me mesmerized. So many acres, so many trees. It was good for the soul to ride amongst them. But there is something happening to the trees from the west coast to the east coast. They are dying by the millions. At first glance you don’t notice. Then you begin to look closer. The nation-wide drought has weakened the forests along with an infestation of wood-boring insects, taking advantage of the crippling effects of drought. The campgrounds we stayed at, all of them, were very strict about not transferring wood from one location to another, in an effort to slow the migration of bugs. At more than a few camps there was no burning at all due to the drought.

Rivers are streams, streams are creeks and creeks are dry. Man, it’s been a rough summer. Still the sights, sounds and smells of the country never cease to amaze you. Even the smells of a refinery caught on the morning breeze in some town in Wyoming had a certain something. One passerby took a deep breath and quipped, ‘Smells like independence!’ Oh the irony!

Perhaps that is what I had been inhaling the whole ride; independence and the very foundation on which our country stands. We take these things for granted, but think about it. You have the freedom to do what you want to do. Even jump on a motorcycle and ride across the country any time you feel like it.

Speaking of freedom, there is one thing. Sturgis. We were lucky to be passing through that area of South Dakota a few days before the opening. It was easy to see why the Sioux held this land area as sacred. Sometimes in your face, at other times, more sublime, the beauty of the land was truly remarkable. I was blown at so many Harley Davidson’s on the road. (Remember I live on an island in the middle of the ocean.) From ancient iron to brand new just off the assembly line, the variations and styles staggered the imagination. It’s quite a cool, noisy sight to see a hundred bikers riding in a pack down the road. Rolling thunder indeed! In a way it’s kind of a freedom rally.

This year though I was shocked by numbers after the rally was over. Nine dead and forty three injured in motorcycle accidents. Those are pretty rough numbers by anyone’s standards. I would hope some of the Sturgis organizers and Harley Davidson kind of step up to plate on this one and do some promotion and education on biker safety. It’s just a party. Nobody should be dying.

 

A motorcycle ride like this one is a once in a lifetime kind of deal. Oh sure, I have made a few in the past, and hope for a couple more before the ‘big ride’ is through. But there will never be another quite like the 2012 X-Country Ride: Wheels on Fire. The journey became epic as it progressed, tapping all the requirements necessary for a real adventure.

We pushed ourselves to the limit of endurance and beyond. It wasn’t the machines that were of concern. They could certainly withstand far more than we were asking of them. Nevertheless they were part of the equation requiring due diligence and attention. It was the human factor that was the X amongst the numbers, unknown yet pivotal in the outcome. Physical hardship became a tool for human growth. Digging deep and finding out just how much you’ve got, comes at a cost. Cheap it is, compared to what you get out of it. Learning your limits, not by staying within them, but by stretching them to the limit. If one snaps, you will have learned your limit by going beyond them and surviving. Having goals, meeting them and sometimes surpassing them. There are always obstacles, physical, mental, heat, cold, distance, light and dark, that will try to get in the way of the goal. Only by meeting each handicap and coming to terms with them do you succeed. As long as you do your best the real goal is always met.

Badlands Sunrise

 

 

7843 miles of

ALOHA

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: California Bound; 620 miles of Hell and Irony.

Morning in Wendover was hot, even before the sun rose. All that concrete couldn’t dump its heat during the night, so the place just gets hotter and hotter. A camp breakfast and cup of hotel coffee and we were on the road. This is perhaps the earliest start of the trip. It would also be the most miles covered in one day, thus the carpe diem. The throttle was rolled and once we hit 80 mph you settled in the seat and assumed the position. Our stops were limited to gas and go. As the day came on in earnest, they would become more frequent.

Road Shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada has a unique beauty to it. Sure the land is desolate and bleak, but if you can see past the veneer it rivals any of the sights we have seen on this trip with mountains and high deserts, windswept expanses of nothing in all directions. The vistas were used as a distraction as the heat of the day poured it on. Before noon we had broken the ride’s temperature record at 107 degrees while moving. You had to laugh; I mean this was getting ridiculous. Nevada stretched on, horizon after horizon waving in the heat. Long hours later the Sierras loomed before us. Visions of riding in the cool mountain air gave a jolt to keep the wheels turning.

After an unending brown, the tree line greeted us with green. Dry but still lush to these eyes. The rivers and lakes were low yet sparkling clear blue, and cold. The temp didn’t drop so much as we would have liked. Kale reminded me to ice up as we were headed down the mountain into the Central Valley. He didn’t mention the current temperature in Davis, Ca. He didn’t have to.

Surely at some point the tires of the bike have to melt and end this madness. Especially now. We crawled through Sacramento, Ca. at rush hour. Eight lanes of solid cars supposedly heading east greeted us. ‘What the hell is that?’ I thought when tail lights started going on ahead of us. For ten miles we clutched the unforgiving stretch of asphalt surrounded by talking heads on cell phones. At least we were moving. The eastbound lanes had turned into a parking lot.

Then suddenly free. The lanes ahead opened and RPM’s came up. The wind, even though hot, was still refreshing after sucking exhaust fumes for a half an hour. The sun beat down on us, but somehow it wasn’t a killing blow. Putting together all the things learned over the course of the ride came into play, keeping you alert and responsive.

Davis, Ca. was gasping for a breath of cool air when we pulled off for our final fuel stop. I needed re-icing and a good douse of cold water. In paying attention to the ambient heat, I missed something Kale was saying about weather just ahead. The joke would be on me. Another half hour of the blistering heat and we crossed the San Gabriel Mountains into the Bay Area. The temperature plummeted with the altitude as fog rolled in across the Berkley Hills.

115 degrees to 54 degrees in a matter of minutes. Moments later I was shivering. The iced bandana, wet shirt, and salted body from sweat soaked up the cold moist air. At seventy miles an hour, it was not time to fiddle with the knot on my bandana. Turn on the heated handgrips instead and start laughing was about the only appropriate response I could think of. Having dreamt of a moment like this for thousands of miles I certainly wasn’t going to bitch when the dream came true.

A stop at a grocery store for fresh salad and ice cream. Then through the streets of Oakland to Kale’s house. Kickstands went down, a pause. Engines shut off, another pause. We both just sat there for a moment, in mindful thanks before swinging down off the saddle. A high five. A robust hug. I think at that moment, all we wanted to do was get back on the motorcycles and keep going.

As Kale put it, “It was a blast, I tell ya, a blast!”

John’s Bike

Next: 2012 X-Country Ride; Thoughts and Observations, a Retrospective

Kale’s Bike

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: Frying our Way across the West at a Blistering Pace.

Never one to make Kale wait unduly, we broke camp. Unfortunately my one cup of coffee was finished. I would have to deal on my own. With an altered plan of attack, we hit the road with a mission; get me back in one piece. Backtracking thirty miles got us to US25 south. We booked it, eating up the cool of the hot morning. At 85 mph, the pace was still slow. Huge pickups blasted passed us. You could only guess at the speed. The high plains began to roll more and the surface of the road, excellent. A few herds of cows and bison went by in a blur of speed. The bikes held tight. After a leisurely pace across the country, they finally had a chance to run. High speed, well not high speed, but really fast, sweepers, rights, lefts, rises and dips. I think we all enjoyed the experience.

We spent the night in Casper. A short day for us that allowed for some time to watch the Olympics and hydrate in the cool of a hotel room. Ahead was a big stop. Independence Rock. The outcropping of stone got its name from the early pioneers who arrived at this point in their journey on July Fourth. A portion of the original trail is has been saved. A bridge crosses it for viewing and imagination. The rock itself is a massive blunt of stone rising from the floor of the plains with nothing around except the sage, gophers and distant mountain range that was appropriately out of place.

As the pioneers must have been thankful for making it this far, so was I. Even more thankful to have such a good friend and riding partner as Kale. There are only a few who enjoy long hours of riding everyday. Six to eight is tops for most folk and more than enough for anyone. We are the exception. Considering the next few days ahead…

Through the Green Mountains, Whiskey Peak and down to our old friend Interstate 80. After a lunch that was best left forgotten, we did on 80 what 80 was made for, making time. The heat pressed down on you like one of those weights they put on bacon to keep it flat. There was just no escaping it. Water, lots of it, and don’t let it get to you.

If you want to think, the road gives you plenty of time to do it. You have to remain alert enough to ride and keep the mind active, somehow. For one stretch of road I sang ‘ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall’ until reaching the next fuel stop.  A little crazy I will admit, but whatever it takes to stay on the ball is what it takes. The day rolled on relentlessly, waves of heat warping the road, melting reality. Everything you saw had that Dali look to it, like wax sagging in the heat. Kale looked like a lava light, his helmet that big glob that’s just about to break free. A turn signal, a rest area, shade and cold water. Whoo, that was close!

From here on out it would be one’s ability to endure that would make the difference. It’s just heat. Stay hydrated, iced down, and don’t lose your cool. You can endure longer if you keep your head. Lose it and it’s over.

Mountain ranges loomed ahead. The thought of cool alpine air gave you something to look forward to. We pulled off for gas and supplies in Park City, Utah. The drop in temperature was a mere five degrees. There would be no relief as we dropped down into the Salt Lake valley. The pancake flat land stretched far beyond the horizon. The famous salt flats are but a small, brilliant stretch of this level plain.

We gassed again at the beginning of Bonneville Salt Flats, watered up and iced down. This last push of the day was going to be brutal. At least the sun was still high in the sky and not burning holes through your eyes. The bright glare of reflected sun off the salt crystal however made up for what would have been a small relief. Thoughts of being out on the flats without water or shade were not happy ones. Having mentioned the flats in one of my books it was nice to see memory served well when describing them. The white hot flash of an arc welder would give you an idea of the brilliance of the land. There were no plumes of salt grit rising from the raceway at the western end of the flat. The rooster tails of racing cars or motorcycles would shoot high off the rear tires describing its path across the flats. There were no tails today. It must be the heat I thought. They would race in the early day before everything melts or in the evening after it solidifies again.

The mountains on the western edge seemed to be dripping into the valley. There was no respite from the heat but there was Wendover, Utah. A border town half in Utah, half in Nevada. We spent the night in a hotel on the Utah side for the quiet. Step over the state line and its casinoville. Tonight was the last night of the trip. The moon was full as it was the day we left. Though not home yet we were coming full circle. Unbeknownst to me at the time tomorrow would be the final exam, testing all the skills we gained over the course of the last month and push us to the limit.

Next: California bound. 620 miles of Hell and Irony.

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: Cool Mountain Riding, Molten Roads

 

A near full moon lit the Badlands that night. The rugged landscape took on a surreal atmosphere. The night was bright enough to walk and get lost if you were not paying enough attention. I wandered a bit in the buscus light and though the campground was always in sight, it was task to find our campsite without disturbing the other campers. I laughed at my ability to get turned around so easily. The moon set a few hours before dawn, so there was a little time for some shuteye. Sunrise came too soon along with our time in the Badlands. We stretched the morning’s cool until it was memory before hitting the road.

We took the scenic route out of the Badlands. The freshly oiled and graveled surface of the road kept us spaced a hundred feet or more apart. Rock chips and bits of congealed oil flew off the treads of our tires at a wicked speed. Getting pelted repeatedly hurts. Bypassing Wall, So. Dakota on 44, which was a more scenic route (Wall was already packed with the Sturgis crowds) we came into Rapid City through the back door. The local motorcycle dealer was open on a Sunday to handle all the bikers’ needs and ours. We were out of chain lube. I ogled all the fancy machines and those plush seats, absorbing the ac before rolling on out of Rapid City again on 44 into the Black Hills. From the heat of the high plains to the cool of the forested mountain roads that followed the river towards Spearfish, South Dakota, we shared the road with more Harleys than you can imagine. There were always friendly faces when pulling over to enjoy the views.

 

After watching the mountains for a while you could see where the artist who designed Mt. Rushmore got his inspiration. The natural rock formations are full of faces. For hours we leaned, throttled and braked our way along the pine covered Black Hills.

At Spearfish we discussed the route. The plan was to ride to Yellowstone before jamming back to the Bay Area. To do that we needed to reach Sheridan, Wyoming or better by night fall. By this time the Black Hills were behind us, the high plains resumed. The heat of the day was full on as we blasted west on interstate 90. If you were going 80mph, you were going slow. Even 90 mph didn’t cool it down. Ice lasted twenty minutes before evaporating. Shade. Shade. Shade at every stop. Without it you were alone in the sun. Drenched yourself and the gear in water for a brief respite. Suck your air in from pursed lips to create a venturi cooling of the incoming breath. It all helps but the only thing that will get you through is will power. Give until your abilities are being compromised.

Sheridan was within reach. You could almost feel it. Just over the next rise or around the next sweeper, always the next. The sun was dropping towards the horizon but not fast enough. It bore into your eyes like a red-hot ice pick. You tilted the visor, put your hand up to block the sun, but it always returned, frying your brain with a spear of molten light. Sheridan was still a few miles away. I had stopped watching the signs and was paying more attention to the road. I was pushing it. Beyond pushing it even. My limit was miles behind and had been over it for some time now. Kale had said, ‘know when to park the bike.’ It was now but there was no place to pull over that had shade. Just had to tough it out, carefully.

The exit came. All I saw was Kale’s turn signal. I was beyond perceptually narrowing. My focus was too tight and all I wanted to do was put that kickstand down, safely. Kale kept heading into town after the exit while I pulled into the first gas station with a mini store. Plunking a twenty on the counter I peeled the suit off and started slamming ice cold sport drinks to bring the body temp down. The pee was clear but I was cranking 451 degrees on the inside. I had had it. We were still a thousand miles from home.

Kale found me soon enough after not seeing the F650 in the rear view mirror. I was still shaky but coming around and leaned heavily on the cane he got for me in Sandusky.

“How you doing?” he asked seeing the pained expression.

“I don’t know. The sun. Think my brain started to boil.”

“Yeah, it is a hot one.” Kale was always good with understatements. It wasn’t until now that I realized he hadn’t been giving the whole weather forecast for days. Always staying away from the temp. Of course there wasn’t much to forecast with the exception of exceptionally hot weather and occasional thunderstorm. “You good to camp or you want to hotel it?”

“Let’s camp. Is it close?”

“Couple miles that way,” he pointed.

“Okay, I can make it.”

I wasn’t really sure about that last statement. The thought of getting on the bike and making it safely was in serious question. As long as we didn’t go fast, or far. Wobbling off the tarmac onto the gravel road that serviced the KOA gave a final rush before parking for the night. The sights and sounds of the last few days whirled phantasmagorically around my brain. Somehow a shower was taken, the tent set up and dinner eaten before the crash came on.

Morning came on slow and sluggish. Coffee cleared the haze only to find Kale with the map open. He had decided last night that we should start heading back. He could see the limits I tried not to. A very wise rider. We were still a thousand miles from home. I didn’t argue. Next: Frying our way across the west at a blistering pace.

Sheridan Finally!

 

 

 

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: North and West, Into the Fires of Hell, the Badlands

After a night of sleeping through a classic mid-western thunderstorm, we woke to the evidence of its passing. Trees, already damaged by bug infestations, had toppled during the night with a few crossing the driveway. Nobody was going anywhere for a while. Large branches, like so much straw, were strewn about the open yard and gardens. It had that disaster look about it but no damage to the home or out buildings. It could have been worse.

These types of storms do little to alleviate the drought conditions. Though everyone is grateful for the water, the drop in ambient temperature and temporary fire hazard reduction, most of the water just runs off. The ground is just too dry to accept it when dumped all at once. There is generally more damage than benefit as evidenced by the work crews hard at it to clear the roads and high wires.

The work of cleaning up was one of those chores that give gratification at the cost of a little elbow grease. Good neighbors making the rounds of checking on their neighbors after the storm lent a hand in the effort. You gotta admire those young strong farm boys and the work ethic that comes along with them.

We took an extra day to put things in order before answering the call of the road. Kale’s mom and dad helped once again with the loading of the bikes with love and the best of lunches. This is one of my favorite places on the mainland and hope to have done it some wee small justice for its beauty and the people who live there.

US 30 got us across Indiana, Illinois and the Mississippi. Across central Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska. Falling barns that were remembered from previous tours were gone. Not due to development, but time. Others are taking their places, yet there was always something peculiar about the old ones. The wheel turns. Iowa was an oven on preheat.

A cool night at the Cobbler Inn, we always stop at the Cobbler when in the hood, helped to prepare us for the extreme temps that waited in South Dakota. Well rested, hydrated – though personally I could go for another six cups of coffee – we seized the day early, heading north along the Missouri River. Today would be a Sioux – Sioux run. Get to Sioux City, Iowa; keep going until Sioux Falls, South Dakota, keep going some more!

We had ridden far enough, reaching the surface of the sun. The term ‘hot’ no longer applied. One small mom and pop gas station asked that I pay for the ice that was put in water bottles and bandana. The bill was gladly paid. Ice doesn’t just appear. From then on I asked at each stop whether there was a charge for the ice. That’s how thankful you can be for something we take for granted. Without the cooling, hard can easily be turned into miserable and I knew that going there wouldn’t serve. There was too just much mindful enjoyment to be had in the miles ahead. The intense heat was taking its toll. How much longer it could be tolerated was a good question. Kale asked often, ‘How ya doing?’ There were times I wasn’t sure. As long as the riding skills aren’t compromised, there is a good chance you have a few more miles in you, if you want it. Then again there is no shame in calling it a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The word ‘spectacular’ doesn’t go far enough for the sites and sounds of the country. The high plains of South Dakota are no exception. The expansive ‘barren’ landscape stretches the imagination to grasp its size. ‘Barren’ is a relative term. Let’s say it was barren of concrete, man-made stuff. The plains themselves are quite alive, if you look. It was an endless undulating dun brown landscape strewn with tumbleweeds and sage. A place where a run to a big box store is an all day affair. Abandoned wrecks and vehicles dot the hills, their patina of rust a few shades different than the surroundings. They look more like art than garbage and serve as a pleasant distraction to the endless road.

After hours of being mesmerized by the high plains, they suddenly start to break up into an unnavigable riot of small canyons and steep peaks more barren than the plains. We reached the Badlands. Flashes of Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen from the movie ’Badlands’ reel across the brain. The film catches some of it, but until you are standing in the middle of the eroded landscape do you really get a feel for the land.

Like the Arikaree Breaks in western Kansas, no doubt the Indians used the Badlands to elude their enemies. It was also sacred ground for the Sioux. For them this place was the heart of their heartland. We respected the beliefs and tread lightly on hallowed ground, leaving no trace. Do believe the underside of my chin had road rash from hanging my mouth open in awe of the scenery.

The campgrounds for the Badlands National Park is situated in a valley surrounded by the ragged peaks of eroded sedimentary rock. Perfect, keeping the people impact limited to a couple of low outcroppings. There are trails for hiking. Due to the fragile environment and dangerous slippery slopes it’s best advised to stay to the trails. Quiet, clean, potable water, bikers and bathrooms, what more could you want?

At midnight the roadway was still dumping its heat and over 100 degrees. It would not cool much before dawn.

Next: Cool mountain riding, molten roads.

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: The Calm Before the Storm

This tired biker woke to the smell of the sea coming in through open windows. The breeze was chill and the morning sun had just crested the eastern horizon. Everyone else was still in bed. Time to figure out the coffee situation and have a few before the day kicks in. Normally on tour you get one big cup of joe in the morning and that’s it. A worthwhile sacrifice to stay hydrated. Anything beats bonking. But we weren’t riding today, or the next few for that matter. It was time to rest and recuperate in a 1924 beach house that hadn’t changed much since those days. Our hosts were generous. It was nice to see the Aloha spirit alive and well on the east coast. Good company and comfortable surroundings made the time pass all too quickly. It is perhaps the kindness I will remember most of all, and the lobster, of course!

We crossed Maine, clipped the corners of New Hampshire and Vermont, and dropped into Connecticut for the night at Black Rock State Park. Clean campsites amid the pines and ash were perfect for our needs. A thunderstorm that was the vanguard of some serious weather passed through in the night, cooling the temp and washing some seriously dirty equipment. The plan was to stop at Max BMW and have oil changes and a routine service. The BMW’s have more than two hundred thousand miles in them if you keep up on your oil changes. It was also not a bad way to spend a few hours surrounded as we were by some of the best bikes ever made.

Our destination was Baltimore, Maryland. It would be a push to make it by a reasonable dinnertime. We did. If it’s one thing the east has, it’s an incredible highway system. Tolls were paid and time was made. Our impromptu sunset tour through Baltimore was an eye opener on so many levels. A heavy inner city that is that is in desperate need of funding, to the gentrified neighborhoods around John Hopkins University. A mighty cross section of American lives and lifestyles existed here.

After some pub grub we got a hotel in the heart of downtown. The Oriole’s had a home game, won, and the locals were spilling out into the streets in celebration. It looked like a lot of fun but this biker needed rest.

Across Maryland into West Virginia, the low green mountains, and history. This was Civil War country. The pride in their history is evidenced by the preservation of the sites of skirmishes and battles. We stopped often to read the brass plaques and learn of the place’s moment in time. It was as humbling as it was awe-inspiring and not to be missed by anyone.

West Virginia and southern Ohio is also coal country. It showed. Tough to hide a chopped off mountaintop. And tougher yet to disguise the lives created and destroyed in the process. Never the less, the countryside was beautiful. One sight was the Rushing Wind Bikers’ Church in South Ohio. It was next door to the god of motorcycles, a Harley dealer. We wondered if they were open on Sundays. That night we camped along the Ohio River, as sweet a spot as you can think of. Another thunderstorm in the middle of the night was hinting at the weather to come.

We kicked it up a notch the next day to cross Ohio and returned to the farm in Valparaiso, Indiana. After lunch we were both eyeing the weather. It was a coin toss. Kale had already tossed his.

“Let’s suit up, we are going to be hitting some weather.”

I looked at they sky again thinking ‘no way.’ Long before this moment in the parking lot I had learned to follow his advice. Even though I had a couple of tours already over the years, he still had way more experience. The learning never ends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No sooner had we pulled out of the parking lot, the first drops hit. By the time we rocked the throttle onto the highway entrance the thunderstorm was full on. Kale’s theory is that if you keep on going, you will punch through the other side of the storm. A little water never hurt anything. The theory holds, however there is one exception. If lightning bolts are dropping around you, forget it and get under an overpass or gas station awning and wait it out. You don’t want to be a rolling lightening rod! Chances are you will see some other bikers standing around talking story, so the time is not lost. And you get to meet some really good folk.

This is the way the rest of the day went. Most of the time we rode right through the storms, other times, talk story. On the final push, around sunset, we hit a mother of storms that threatened to stop us ten miles from the farm. No lightning, so we rolled on. Speed was dictated by weather conditions and the amount of water on the road. There was no punching through this time, just a never-ending down pour. No complaints here. We put our kickstands down in the dark and driving rain, grabbed a few necessities and headed for the mud room to dump the wet gear.

Home is where the heart is. It was good to be at a home away from home. The previous days had brought some wicked weather to northern Indiana and with more due in the very near future there would be plenty of storm damage clean up to pass the time.

Next: North and West, into the fires of hell, The Badlands