A Young Tradition
While riding solo is fun, there's nothing like gathering up a group of good buddies and heading out on the open road realizing that the destination isn't half as important as the ride itself.
It's tough to argue with tradition and even tougher to get a tradition started from the ground up. My small band of weekend riding buddies and I have been doing our best to get a farewell to summer annual ride going over the course of the last three years. The logic behind the ride is simple enough; to head out on a Saturday morning, grab breakfast, then to spend the remainder of the day enjoying a brisk-paced ride to a superficial destination. The Western New York area we call home isn't exactly renowned as a tourist destination, although attractions like Niagara Falls and half a dozen casinos keep it from being a total slouch either. We've been rotating a few end-point choices with the understanding that the destination isn't half important as the ride itself. This year it was decided (via a vote of the available options) that we would travel a few miles north to Canada for our annual tour.
The biggest problem with this area is that it is nearly impossible to accurately predict the weather's performance in early autumn, meaning it is all the way impossible to determine exactly which ride will be the season's last. Part of the tradition has become throwing the ride together in a moment's notice on account of the wild climate swings. Last year we experienced a freak snow storm during the second week of October. This year we've spent the first half of September enduring high humidity and temps in the mid 90s. If ever there was an area for an aspiring motorcycle insurance salesman to make a fortune, this would be it. Nobody ever takes their bikes off the road here! It's just too risky.
This year the day happened to fall on a muggy Saturday in the middle of September. The weatherman had been calling for a weekend filled with rain but some late night/early morning showers had dissipated shortly after dawn. Phone lines were alive and buzzing with groggy voices attempting to confirm the ride. The conversations went something like this:
"Are you up yet?"
Giacchino's riding group usually adds a member or two annually. This year, they were joined by a guy named Mike on an older V-Max who would prove his worth later in the ride with his MacGyver-like resourcefulness.
"Um, sort of."
"Should we go for it today?"
"Yeah sure, sounds good."
"Okay you call Mike, I'll call Dave."
"Wait, what should we go for?"
We met up, as is also tradition, at our regular coffee shop in what was certainly the motorcycle-riding equivalent to an episode of Seinfeld to onlookers. Each year our modest crew seems to increase by a member or two and this year was no exception. My cousin Mike managed to recruit an ex-coworker (also named Mike) for this year's ride. He showed up on a late 90s Yamaha V-Max with a knocking starter and a rear tire that refused to stay beaded. I was then told over breakfast that he had actually purchased the bike from his brother-in-law a day earlier just so he could partake in the ride - nothing like a little additional pressure to make this run memorable for the first timers.
The five of us departed into the misty morning fog that hung low in the still-shimmering grass fields. The air was damp and earthy as a result of the first steady rainfall in over a month and the wind chill, even at highway speeds, was nonexistent. We put the rural fields and open flats behind us by 9 a.m. and zipped along the Niagara River toward the Peace Bridge. Having lead the journey, I would like to think that we were traveling in that perfect balance between letting the bikes howl and enjoying the scenery. Traffic slowed to a halt just before our exit to the bridge on the American side. We waited for several minutes of rough idling and engine heat felt right through our leathers until the wail of emergency vehicle sirens was heard from behind. The traffic jam parted to allow the ambulance and fire trucks to pass before slowly funneling forward through a single lane.
As feared there had been a wreck up ahead causing the delay. As we approached the mess of flashing lights and rushing paramedics, there was a disturbing lack of crunched automobiles or broken glass. Once past the ambulance the vehicle in question finally came into view. It was a newer looking R1 which was leaning ominously against the center median facing oncoming traffic. It appeared to be a solo crash, perhaps an inexperienced rider who ran out of real-estate and brushed the concrete wall separating the four lanes. A somber chill washed over our posse, temporarily eclipsing the uncomfortable humidity in the stagnant air as we passed by.
Niagara Falls served as the backdrop for The Rambling Man's 'farewell to summer' ride. Too bad we don't all have such a scenic surrounding just down the road to go for a spin around.
Once across and out of the U.S., we made a slow scenic loop around Niagara Falls and headed back toward home in the early afternoon. The sun never actually broke free from the haze and an even layer of sweat had managed to gather on each of our foreheads as we stopped to grab an early dinner. The rear brake on my Suzuki had been dragging a bit and was smoking like a character in a J.D. Salinger book by the time we parked the bikes. I also managed to lose one of the bolts holding my silencer in place which required Mike (the rookie) to step in with little MacGyver-style roadside repair that included a length of grape-post wire and a really big stick.
The rain had held off although the forecast still insisted on impending rainfall. It began with a light drizzle that same night then continued to pound down for 24 straight hours. The stifling humidity was pushed out with the rain, although each of us was quite certain the last of the good riding days has yet to pass for this season. Mike confessed a thorough enjoyment of the trip and assured us that he would like to attend our annual run next year. We can't help but wonder if his bike will last that long. And if it doesn't, I suspect this guy could repair it with nothing more than a piece of gum and a paperclip.