We were behind schedule, but not enough to keep us from savoring the first of many awesome breakfasts. With a bat of the eyelashes and no small amount of jokes, we cajoled the waitress into giving us the early bird specials (logic: Even though we weren't seated til 8:35, I had been there before 8:30). The waitress honored my request on the condition that I order immediately, which was no problem for me. 10 minutes later and I had French Toast, eggs, bacon, and sausage. I'm not the most easily satisfied diner, but when I asked the waitress for ketchup and she replied that she had a bottle just for me in her pocket, I almost proposed. A woman with ketchup at the ready is one of the greatest gifts in this world.
To keep to schedule, Adrock and I blasted up I-95 to Rt. 2 towards Looneyburg. I was leading, since I knew the way to motomuffin (Kate)'s. This was complicated by the fact that my right-hand mirror had decided this was the morning it just couldn't get up. I was later heard to remark: "I need mirror-Viagra!" It had come loose at the handlebar and the wind upwards of 45mph was enough to knock it most of the way to horizontal. My boots had an excellent view of themselves, I'm sure. So I'm weaving through traffic, dodging roadkill, and watching the clock while trying to remember which exit would get us to Kate's; all while straining to see Adam behind me and to the right—in my left-hand mirror. That I only made one wrong turn was a feat (and that one was thanks to MA's "no goddamn road signs" policy). We made it to Kate's before 10:30; plenty of time to perform basic checks and so on before clutches out at 11:00.
Or 11:30. Tyson sent word that he would be late. So we had time to kill. I tried to fix my sagging mirror. Folks checked their gear, their packing jobs, their oil, etc. Fortunately, things still looked good with regard to beating any unpleasant weather. Tyson showed at 11:32 and we were rolling within a minute.
We were blessed with sunshine, but cursed with police presence all along our route. Finally, we yielded to the gods of Law Enforcement, and found an eatery with not one but two cop cars parked out front. How could the food at such a place disappoint? It was the first train-shaped/-themed place we would eat that weekend, but not the last. We piled in, all biker skum and gear, and were seated next to the boys in blue. Seated, in this case, means led over to a table; whereupon we all remove our various suits and exoskeleta, helmets, gloves, and assorted other layers; which are then deposited in a pile next to the table which we shall call the Eigear (the pile, not the table. The table was called Steven). Let me just say this about the food. It was goddamned cheap. Now, I've gotten flack (and recently) for using cheap differently than others use it. Many people assume that when I say cheap I mean "shoddy" or "poorly made" or "of low quality". Wrong. Cheap for me means "not costing a great deal of money." Heaps of organic matter shoved in front of your drooling maw, served on chipped china but tasting like ambrosia used to (before they changed the formula). Plus, Storyland cups.
After lunch, where we discussed handedness, medication, and stories from Spring Flings past; we geared up again. I scored a zip-tie from lionstar (Misty) and used it to fix my mirror. And yes, it worked and was all kinds of clever. Now I could see the people behind me to make sure they hadn't crashed, gone missing, or found a better route and turned off. So we took off and entered what can only be called God's Country. I'm not religious—not in the conventional sense, anyway. I don't believe there is such a place as "God's Country." It's not that simple. God's Country is a place and a time. And it almost certainly involves being surrounded by friends new and old while doing something you all love enough to sacrifice all safety, sanity, and hope of dryness (and non-monkeybuttness). Alone time is wonderful, but too much is poison. This was that rarest of commodities; shared alone time. Each rider isolated from those fore and aft, linked by sight and some small number of hand signals. You're joined to a machine that cannot stand let alone move without you astride it. All of you together are fundamentally alone. If that doesn't make sense to you, you probably aren't a motorcyclist; or if you are, you're not doing it right.
I would describe our progress as "adequate, in the best possible way." There are some who believe that anything worth doing is worth doing 110%. If you're not going balls out, you're going without balls. I would disagree. Commuting to Boston on my motorcycle has honed my skills; possibly made me a better rider (or worse, depending on your perspective). But it's also made me a harsher rider, living on the redline and flying from lane to lane in the spaces your huge car is too fat and slow to utilize. That our pace was less than "spirited" does not mean it was dispirited. We were by no means going slow, but roses were smelled, and they were sweet (the pollen, not so much). Vistas were savored. Corners were caressed, not attacked. It was not an adversarial relationship; it was cooperative. This is one thing I strive to preserve on my daily commute by listening to the road, taking greener routes, and by finding the perfect gear for every curve. But this weekend, there was no struggle. Thanks to Kate and MT for finding The Pace, often whispered about, but seldom seen by those who pretend to know what motorcycling's about. I was there and I still can't tell you. It's ineffable.
We stopped at the hotel first, where smart folks who planned ahead checked in. Then it was to the Club, where I'd be spending at least one night. By the time we hit the dirt parking lot behind the club, my Leaning Tower of luggage was more of a Sagging Mess. The backpack and sleeping back had decided behind my back (literally) that gravity was right and that they'd much prefer to be horizontal relative to each other. But fuck 'em both; I made it to North Conway with my shit intact, more or less, and I was ready to party. And by party, I mean stand around awkwardly while people who've known each other for decades get reacquainted. It was enough to just soak in the lore. The Spring Fling has been going on for 16 years; a eon of time for a group primarily assemble on the Internet. Folks were there with grown-ass kids. And there was more white hair than any other kind (and not all on the tops of heads). I could sense the accumulated wisdom of literally millions of miles of riding. And suddenly, the essence all of NEDoD was laid bare to me. It was like watching the cells of a great brain assemble, then get drunk and fight with each other. Good-naturedly.
I didn't count, but I heard figures like sixty-two and seventy-five used to describe the number of bikes, and I believe it. And then there were those who drove, for whatever reason. Some had come thousands of miles to see the last Fling as organized by its present custodians. And at the end of the day, the sun was still visible in the sky, the ground was dry, and the breeze was soothing. Even the fickle New England weather had decided to cooperate. This weekend was special. God's Country.
As per the plan, I grabbed a bunk in the same room as the only other member of our contingent who wasn't at the hotel that night. Once settled, I headed downstairs for some food and company. Both were in abundance. I wish I could remember a tenth of the conversation that night because I'm pretty sure I heard the secret of the universe, the ultimate question to the ultimate answer, and a really great recipe for potatoes au-gratin. After the food, we headed across the street for drinks, where I discovered that my limit is two pineapple juices. The conversation continued, with no dearth of insults, implications, and imprecations hurled to and fro as can only happen amongst friends.
Nighttime found me at the clubhouse again, and in dire need of sleep by 9:30. I hung on as long as I could, watching Tom and Amy "play" ping-pong (and using me for target practice), before heading up the men's bunk area to use the facilities and so on. I figured I'd have the place to myself that early on in the evening, but there was already someone asleep in our room, so I read by flashlight until sleep claimed me. The earplugs I'd put in as a prophylactic against the noise of the party downstairs turned out to be useless against the power of a snorer in my own bunk room. Sleep was fitful and uneven, but surprisingly refreshing. But yeah, I was totally decided to either get my own room at the inn or to take Kate/MT/Misty/Demi up on her offer of the cot in their room. My sleeping bag was trashed (huge hole in the lining when I washed it pre-trip), so I hurled it into the dumpster behind the club first thing in the morning. If I played my cards right, I might actually be returning home with less stuff than I'd arrived with.
A couple of folks were up as early as I was, so I headed to breakfast with them rather than my usual crew. It was nice to spend some time with different folks than those I usually hang out with. I'm still an FNG, so I don't know a lot of folks on the list F2F yet. Every little bit helps. Or hinders, depending on your opinion of my personality. Folks were still willing to be seen with me in public, even after it was revealed that I was the one singing in the shower that morning (gasp!). Breakfast was, by the way, at another railroad-themed place, complete with model trains circling the walls overhead. I ordered the Conductor's special, and yes, I ate the hell out of it, as it was all sorts of delicious.
After a somewhat amusing and unconventional walk back to the clubhouse ("You forgot your cane, Jim!"), I called the inn to reserve their only remaining single room. Then it was time to go to the Whitehorse Press Open Haüs. I love Whitehorse because they are one of the only places I've seen to have a whole section devoted to my bike. I rewarded them for such consideration by throwing huge sacks of cash at them. I had remarked in Kate's driveway that I was the only one in our adventuring party without a centerstand for my bike. So I bought one of those. I bought not one but two manuals for use in restoring my dad's GL1200 GoldWing. And lots of other junk, which I then shoved into the box for the centerstand and had them ship to my home (free shipping, in addition to the 10% off for the OpenHaüs and no sales tax since it's NH). This, too, was according to my plan to travel home with less crap. Throw in a free lunch and you have a happy boy. And there's still tons of stuff I want to get for my bike, like new and improved switchgear (passing lights and push-to-cancel turn signal!). And so many bikes in one place! KLRs of all kinds, including one painted with Rhino liner and with a custom-built sidecar. Love! Joy! Happies!
The route home from Whitehorse took us past all sorts of outlets, so there was more shopping to be done. While the ladies looked at lacy thinks, MT and I merged with a pair of ridiculously marked down massage chairs in the Brookstone outlet. When the womenfolk found us, I said: "We belong to the chairs now." MT: "We are one with the chairs." It was all kinds of funny, if you were there. Because it was totally one of those chairs where you slide your arms and legs into places and get massaged in ways your S.O. either can't or is afraid to. And if anyone out there wants last year's mid-to-high range model massage chair for only $500, I know a salesman in New Hampshire who'd be very happy to sell it to you, and with only about $200-250 in shipping if you can't pick it up.
We debated going to either Radio Shack or Coldstone Creamery next (did we mention that while the Red Sox were being rained out in Boston, it was like 80 degrees Fahrenheit in North Conway, New Hampshire?), and since I had seen the Radio Shack, I was elected to lead the ride (gimpy mirror and all) the one block to Radio Shack. Whereupon it was discovered it was in the exact same fucking place as the Coldstone. It was decided that since no one got lost, there were no crashes or speeding tickets, and we found everything we needed in one place, that I had led the very best ride of the weekend (or of any weekend, I think). It was so hard to be so very tongue-in-cheek when my cheek was full of delicious cake. That's right; after finally finding a stand for my new soldering iron in Radio Shack, I joined the gang at Coldstone and ordered a Cake'n'Shake: Cake Batter-flavored ice cream blended with real bits of cake in a delicious milkshake. I pronounced that the very pinnacle of society; I was drinking cake. The downfall of society can only be so far off; we really have nowhere to go from here.
We saved bikes from sinking into the asphalt of the parking lot (it was really hard to get used to how fricking warm it was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, given that almost every Spring Fling has been drenched) and then stopped for drugs at the Rite-Aid. It was decided then that we would split up, since some were done shopping, and others of us were not. Demi and I headed to the LL Bean outlet the next block over, so I could finally replace my 10-15 year old blue backpack. I found one within minutes and we then headed to the EMS so Demi could find bootwarmers/dryers and I could look for handwarmers to slide into my glove liners. Each of us had business across the street (I visited a hat store which had an awesome hat but not in my size) and then we returned to our bikes and rode back to the hotel. I got checked in and proceeded to migrate my belongings first from the bike then from the clubhouse, to my hotel room. Then we all piled in a cab and headed back to the Club so that we could drink with impunity and not have to ride anywhere afterwards.
We arrived just in time to get food. It was literally: pour out of taxi in front of kitchen door, food is announced, presto! we're right there to be first in line to go through the kitchen door and get food. How awesome is that? Remember what I said about luck? So I went about cramming as much delicious food in me as would go, sitting outside with beautiful and smiling people of all ages and stripes, fending off bitey insects, and cracking every kind of wise imaginable. Awards were awarded, jokes were told (mandatory, under penalty otherwise unspecified), and toasts were raised. The festivities put most family reunions/get-togethers/weddings I've been to to shame. Just goes to show you what happens when you get a bunch of people together who not only have known each other forever, but actually like each other (despite what they might say to one another's face). And after all that, there was more ice cream. Did I mention God's Country yet? Just checking to make sure you're still paying attention. Because: ice cream. Again.
It had been planned for a bit that Misty would bring Tourist Trophy and volta (Mike) would bring his PS2 so that we could get drunk and (safely) race motorcycles. So yeah, 127mph later, we're sitting there, riding TMax scooters around a track, legs out motard-style, tucking in frantically to try to reduce our wind resistance. It was every bit as stupid as it sounds. I broke off from that for awhile to actually be social (huge accomplishment for me, no joke). I met some fellow tech writers (we really are out there!), one of whom was on what I would consider the only other true dual-sport bike there. The funny thing is, I was talking to one of these guys for like 30-45 minutes before career ever came up; it was just that much more we had in common. It's nice to just *click* with folks like that, and let the conversation and serendipity happen. It's a Pace of a sort, in its own way. More than one person complimented my bike's exhaust note, comparing it to the sort of whistle underlying the sound of the original VW Beetle. I've never gotten so much adoration for my bike as I did this weekend. Parked in a group of 4-6 bikes, my bike was, for the first time ever, picked out by random passersby as THE bike to stare at. Well, cool. Just to keep it real, I snatched up some grass and dirt and smeared it into the engine case. Can't let my dirty beast get to thinking it's pretty. It might start turning its nose up at dirt roads or complain when its paint gets scratched or bleached by errant coolant.
After a little more motardation, I went outside to enjoy the fire and meet some different folks. I ended up sitting next to Max, whose Russian accent is ever-so-reminiscent of my high school physics teacher's. So a good amount of time was spent mimicking him, until he asked me what I did for a living. And I answered what I could never say to my teacher, in his voice: "I follow you around, and do your accent after you leave the room. Is very funny, people pay quite well for this." The catchphrase for the night and the rest of the weekend became: "Fahq you ohl, in de worrest possibull wey." Or just "...in the worst possible way" tacked on to whatever someone had just finished saying; e.g. how they had to take a piss, how they thought your bike sucked, etc. Bonus points if you used the line to impeach someone's already questionable character (and let's face it, everyone there was of questionable character; that's what made them all so awesome). We had fun doing all kinds of accents (coincidentally where I tend to shine), and generally pissing the night away until it was time for sleeps. I sincerely doubt anyone's feelings were hurt; and if they were, they were too drunk to remember it the following day. I know I for one have never enjoyed being insulted so much as I did that night. Shit, I worked hard to get insulted as much as I did.
That night at the hotel was fairly miserable (only low point of the weekend, really), between indigestion and drunk rednecks smoking outside my room. Suffice to say, the police were called, but neither I nor my bike came to any harm. The police came by again in the morning to make sure everything was okay and the officer was totally cool. We talked about riding for a bit and he gave me some road recommendations to try the next time up. I checked out and the counter attendant (manager/owner?) was similarly friendly. I think he was frankly also fed up with these folks as well. And shoot, me and a dozen friends every year is a heck of a lot of business in a time outside the winter ski season and the summer vacation period. He did everything in his power to assure me that stuff like this didn't happen often and so on. Was really genuinely nice about it. Given the discount I was offered up front (~25% off, before any unpleasantness and not because of), I'd probably stay there again. But I couldn't wait to get out of there that morning.
Amazingly, I packed up (as planned) with less stuff than I'd started out with. I transferred my things from my old backpack to the new, throwing away a lot of junk within that I didn't need. My bike looked almost sane on the way home, and not like something out of the Hoover Dam episode of Pete & Pete. I need to get a seam-ripper to remove the initials, but other than that, it's pretty slick. My mother's been bugging me for half of a decade to replace that bag; wait til I tell her (I found her misplaced Mother's Day card cleaning out the old bag; how's that for irony?). Once the group was assembled and checked out, we headed to the Choo-choo place for more breakfasting. I stopped to get stuff for my stomach, and folks were super-generous with their toast in feeding me so that I wouldn't feel sick or hungry. I later paid them back by sharing my Pepto tablets; seems like I wasn't the only one to have nasty food the day previous. Then: back to the club for final route planning and cat-herding for the ride home. It was so sad to go. We knew we would be riding into rain, and the weekend was, well, ending.
But fuck it; we were still determined to make the most of it. Armed with various GPSen, compassi, and vague internal senses of direction, we set off in search of the weekend's final adventure. And we found, if you will, the back room in the dance club called God's Country. Roads that twisted every which way including loose. Roads that subjected you to positive g, negative g, and lateral gs of all different vectors and magnitudes within seconds of each other ("G[ee] whiz!" quipped Tyson when I opined on this later). Roads made of dirt, of asphalt, and degrees in between. We carved our way between mountains, snuck under covered bridges, and danced over rivers. We gained altitude and lost body heat, feeling temperatures swing and climate happening. We were alive, experiencing the earth and nature in dynamic ways unaccessible at human running speeds.
But the length and depth of our revelry had taken its toll. We needed to stop more frequently. The air was noticeably colder, damper. Eventually, we had to don our rain gear. The roads became slick, and our progress became slower. As I later said to Kate: the further we got from vacation, the worse the weather got, as if Mother Nature was sending us a message. The message was not, "No, don't leave, come back!" but rather: "Enjoy what you have, while you have it, for it is mine to take away again." I didn't begrudge the rain. Aside from the chill, it was refreshing and nothing my Aerostich couldn't handle. I did eventually need my fleece, though.
Eventually, we made it to Kate's. With help from MT and Demi, I was able to fix my mirror properly. After that, we set to serious decompression, watching The Prisoner until Misty returned with Chinese food. Then it was time for Hot Tub. OMG, hot tub. You don't realize how cold you are until you can really, truly return heat to your core. It was hard to leave. Demi and I headed out towards our respective eastward homes, riding for time rather than pleasure (at least in my case). The rain had stopped and now I just wanted to get home. And home I did get.
For three or more hours now, I've been typing these words. Trying to capture the joy, the magic, the sheer blind luck of this weekend. I haven't done it justice. You can't trap the warm laughs of soulmates you've just met. But you can try to share them with the folks who were there, and some who weren't. Who knows? Maybe they'll be there next year, or the year after, inspired by my words. Eh, I won't hold my breath. But my deepest and sincerest thanks go out to Mike and Laurie, who organized the event, hosted, arranged everything and were just the nicest people when I finally met them and put a face to the e-mail address (really; Mike just has the most genuine, warm, and unassuming smile, and Laurie is sweeter than anything made from sugar). And everyone who attended brought their A-game, as far as having fun, ripping on people, and drinking are concerned. It was my great (and humbling) pleasure to meet you all.