Admittedly, I’m not much of a tourer. I’ve made it a bit of a habit throughout the years to drift right on past the sport-touring bikes and Gold Wings at the dealerships to lust after motorcycles far less practical and comfortable. To my twisted logic, there was always much more appeal to bikes that would get me absolutely nowhere (circulating a track) over those that would make for ideal companions of worldly exploration.
Instead of road hogs, this year our rambling man’s cohorts were riding lighter, more agile machines such as the Suzuki SV650 (pictured) and the BMW F800GS.
There are, of course, a few times per year that this fact comes back to bite me, and early autumn just so happens to be one of them. As is tradition for my small band of riding cohorts, the cold mornings of fall inspire one final planned group ride for the season (impromptu gatherings on unseasonably warm days don’t count); an unofficial farewell to summer if you will.
Traditionally this final ride of the season has found me oddly out of place when the distances really start to increase. Overweight cruisers and faired sport-tourers with hard luggage that seemed like overkill all summer long while carving canyons suddenly make a whole lot of sense to me as I tag along, stretched across a bulbous gas tank reaching for a pair of tiny clip-ons while my stuffed backpack presses me further against the tank.
This year, however, it seems the economy has influenced my buddies into going smaller and lighter. Where once there was an H-D Road King and a V-Max, there is now a BMW F800GS and a Suzuki SV650. Suddenly my 2000 Honda CBR600 F4i doesn’t seem quite so out of place.
Without the collective desire to head too far from home base this year, we agreed that we would use the trip as an opportunity to do a weekend tour of some of the area’s renowned wineries and camp out for two-nights at my family’s cabin afterward. Required luggage would be fairly minimal and since each day’s travel would hover only around 50 miles, the ability to return home, if necessary, was never an impossibility.
We met up Friday after work at the local coffee spot under dark skies and cold drizzle that started on Thursday and refused to abate. The roads were pretty greasy with a blackness that seemed to insatiably gobble up headlight illumination, but we pressed on toward the cabin. The real touring wouldn’t begin until the following day anyway which allowed for a relaxed pace through the low-hanging tunnel of foliage. The F4i seemed to be taking the ugly conditions in stride, so long as its grumpy operator kept the RPMs below 5,000 (anything over and the rear tire began dancing a jig). But it was the BMW that seemed most at home here. Its ability to find traction on the slick road was apparent in the trail it left behind complete with individual knobby prints that parted the layer of water atop the pavement.
We arrived soaked to the core and with a chill that no fire, regardless of how much wet wood was added, could fully chase away. We huddled around the wood burner in silent reflection, each surely feeling sorry for his bike outside as the drizzle transformed into all-out rain. We slept lightly in air so cold and damp that the sleeping bags themselves felt wet and awoke to the sound of rain that had transformed into a downpour.
While the final trip was miserable and cold, it was a good way to end the season and hold our rambler over until next spring.
Saturday was equally depressing, and plans to set out early were then postponed to plans spent indoors in the hopes of waiting out the rain. We ate donuts, drank terrible instant coffee and reminisced until the morning became afternoon. In all that time the rain refused to let up. Plans of sampling some sweet red wine from grapes grown locally followed by going out for a hot dinner afterward slowly morphed into plans of simply making it home okay in the nastiness.
We dressed in gear that hadn’t dried from the night before and battled shivers as we mounted up. The weight of our bodies in the saddle was enough to send brown water rising over our rims. Much longer here and we would have been better off with jet-skis. The ride back was slow and extremely uncomfortable, this time limited to throttle application below the 3,000-RPM mark. Each shift, up or down, was an exercise in panic with a back-end attempting to slide out and corrections at the bars made with numb fingers. We parted ways with mere head nods through steamy helmet visors rather than the usual-parking lot gathering.
That evening was spent in the succession of hot showers followed by cups of hot coffee until strength came to clean up the CBR and park it in its winter-hibernation spot. It has been a week and two days since the return trip, and the rain has yet to let up for more than 45 minutes – evidently our penance for one of the drier summers in recent memory. As is so often the case with less than ideal rides, as time goes on I’m feeling less and less regretful about the experience. In fact, I have a suspicion that as winter replaces fall I’m going to find myself wrapped up in a blanket indoors with a cup of coffee and a magazine while the snow accumulates outside thinking fondly back on this very disappointment. There is something undeniably charming about that ride celebrating a farewell to summer, even in those instances where summer says farewell before you could get there.