It’s that time of the year. Sometime tomorrow evening we’ll all be singing Auld Lang Syne, embracing our loved ones and friends and wishing Happy New Year to all. And over the past week, journalists from every beat have done their “Tops of 2011” lists. So without adieu, here are my favorite motorcycling memories from 2011:

Rider Insurance comes through.

Smoke rising from the underground fires of Centralia, PA; one of the spookiest places on earth.

It was a weekend late in the summer. I had no plans. The weather looked good. So as a lone wolf like me is apt to do, on Saturday morning I loaded up the camping gear and headed out on the Rocket towards Central PA. I stopped at Hermys to peruse the inventory and test out a few bikes, then headed up 61 through the ghost town of Centralia (spooky, spooky place) and then West and North with no particular destination in mind. Just a plan to ride until I was tired, then camp somewhere, and head back on Sunday morning.

It was a perfect day, the Rocket was humming, and my spirits were high.

 

I started to run low on gas and look for a gas station, eventually pulling into a Sunoco somewhere near Elysburg, PA. First problem: every pump had a cage next to it. And I’m an impatient SOB. Looking around, I saw a pump where the car was parked but nobody was fueling up. It looked deserted. The car was an 80s-vintage Suzuki Sidekick that looked like it hadn’t moved since…well…the 80s. And like whoever owned it had been living in it just as long. I assumed that the cage-driver had fueled up and headed into the c-store to get some cigs, so I pulled as close as I could to the pump and went ahead and filled my tank.

When I was done, I geared back up, threw a leg over the Rocket, and pushed back. As I looked up, I saw the most hideous looking hag stalking towards me, giving me the maloika eye, and muttering something incomprehensible under her breath. I mean, this woman was scary looking. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I high tailed it outta there. As I rode away, I thought, “Was that a witch??” I literally had that thought. I have no idea what language she was speaking – it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Perhaps an incantation? Perhaps she was putting a curse on me?

I pulled back onto the highway, and was thrumming along, when a cute chick in a Mitsubishi Spyder pulled next to me and clearly wanted to play. She pulled a bit ahead and slowed down. I twisted the throttle, zoomed past her, then slowed down. Then she passed me and slowed. And so on. Game on.

When suddenly my front end started to wobble. “Wind?” I thought. It was suddenly windy. “Road conditions?” Perhaps.

I slowed down. Sped back up. More wobbles, and worse. With a heavy heart, I let the babe in the Spyder roll on and I pulled to the side of the road.

Sure enough, my rear tire was going flat. WTF? What the f’ing F??”

This was my first flat on a bike, ever. And it was late in the day on Saturday so no motorcycle shops would be open. They wouldn’t open again until Tuesday, in fact. And I was in Central Pennsylvania, hours and miles from home.

Long story short, Rider Insurance came through. With my policy I got free roadside assist, and the team in their call center couldn’t have been more helpful. It was hard to find a towing company that would haul a bike, since I was stuck in what we Philadelphians affectionately refer to as “Pennsyltucky” (the no-mans-land between Philly and Pittsburgh) but they found one. I had to wait three hours but the dude who came to haul my bike couldn’t have been more careful with my ride. While I was waiting, I enjoyed my Mountain House Chili Mac and Beef by the side of the road, read a book, and made the best of a bad situation. I was really grateful for the helpfulness and kindness I experienced from everyone involved – the folks at Rider’s call center, the tow truck driver, and especially my friend Dave who responded to a plea on Facebook and drove out the following morning to pick me up and bring me back home.

Steel Steeds campground comes through.

On the same trip, once my bike went flat, I needed to find a place to stay and fast. I remembered reading about a motorcycles-only campground on the banks of the Susquehanna near Lewisburg, and so I looked them up on my iPhone. I called and spoke to Bob, Steel Steed’s owner, and explained my plight. I had expected the campground to be full, but in fact it was completely empty because it had been swamped by floods from Hurricane Irene just a week earlier. It hadn’t even officially reopened yet.

This was under 6 feet of water the week before I camped there.

Bob let me know that he would wait up until I got there. When I arrived at 10pm, he had a fire going for me, some refreshments, and a good spot where I could pitch my tent. I thanked him profusely and fell asleep quickly.

The next morning, by daylight, I could see how devastated the campground was. It had literally been under 6 feet of water, and every structure had been evacuated to higher ground (Bob had the foresight to make sure every one of his structures – even the bathhouse – was portable and built on wheels, envisioning a day when the Susky would spill over its banks and onto his property.) He had a lot of work to do to get the place back in shape. But he had taken time to take care of a stranded biker. And a good thing too, because literally every hotel room and every campground in the area was completely full all summer with Marcellus Shale gas workers. Were it not for Steel Steeds, I would have been screwed.

Bob went above and beyond the call, even trailering my bike to his mechanics when they opened back up on Monday. I gave him some extra scratch for his trouble, and hope I’m paying back a bit of my debt by spreading the word about his campground. If you’re in Central PA, look him up.

Rules rules rules rules rules. On our fall trip, Al, Ernie and I found ourselves at nightfall nosing around for a campground in Fayetteville, West Virginia. We stumbled into Chestnut Creek Campground, which should be renamed The Official Campground of Obsessive Compulsives.

The owner is a nice enough fellow. But wow. Does he have his rules. There are rules plastered on just about every surface of the campground. The office windows, where you would expect rules to be posted. But then the bathroom doors. The paper towel dispenser. The soap dispenser. The urinals. Yes, the urinals.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling. (I apologize for the photo quality, there’s only so much you can do at night using an iPhone as a camera.)

We had a lot of laughs about this, and will probably tell stories about the Obsessive Compulsive Campground for many years and many trips to come.

Best. Mexican. Restaurant. Ever. Every once in a while on these motorcycle trips you find a restaurant that goes beyond description. It’s usually a hidden gem, hole-in-the-wall, off-the-beaten-path place that will never make a Zagat’s guide. But with incomparable food that would make it a go-to reservations-only location if it were in a big city. For me, on the Fall trip, I found the Best Mexican Restaurant In The World, Jalisco Mexican Restaurant in New Market, VA. We decided on Jalisco after cruising Main Street in New Market and declining the many down-home southern restaurants lining the street (we’ve had bad experiences with the fried foods at such places, one of our crew even had to pull the trigger after a meal at one a few years back.)

I knew Jalisco was a winner when I walked in the door, and my eyes and mouth immediately started watering from the smell of hot peppers in the air. It was so good, we actually circled back to New Market on our return trip to eat there again. I can still taste the Chili Verde and we all decided that Jalisco would be one of our regular stops on trips down south.

 Last ride of the season. I dunno. There was something about my last riding day of the season, November 27, 2011. It was a terrific fall day, weather in the 50s. I met up with Art and Tom and some other guys at Fran’s in New Hope for lunch. We sat around shooting the shit for a couple hours, then hopped on the bikes and went off for a two-hour jaunt on the back roads of Central New Jersey. We made our way to Van Sant Airport, where we hung out shooting the shit some more and admiring the other bikes.

While at Van Sant, I chatted up another Triumph owner who was riding a modded-out Speed Triple. Found out he lived close to me, so I decided to head for home straight from Van Sant and ride with him and his crew rather than go back to New Hope with Art. Another nice, semi-spirited ride back towards home.

I fueled up at the Gulf station around the corner from my home, pulled the Rocket onto the porch, poured some fuel stabilizer into the tank, took out the battery and connected it to a trickle charger in my garage, threw the cover over the bike and called it a season. Five days later I was scheduled to have shoulder surgery to deal with an old skiing injury. Good weather or bad, my riding season was over.

My country club.

I went about my business in high spirits. There was nothing remarkable about the day. And yet, everything was remarkable about the day. The fellowship. The riding. The bikes. The fun. The friendship. The passion I feel for riding. There are guys who spend their money on country club memberships and fancy golf clubs. They play 18 and then hang around the grill room playing cards and drinking and talking smack about business or the stock market or their game. Once upon a time I aspired to that life. But today the road is my country club. Fran’s and other biker hangouts like it are my grill room. And I prefer to talk about bikes than business or the stock market or golf.  And it lifts my spirits. So I can return home after any given Sunday – even an ordinary Sunday – of riding and feel like I’m on top of the world.

Is it March yet?