Getting Back on the Bike

Twenty-plus years ago, I rode a motorcycle. I used it to commute, have fun and occasionally travel. The bike itself was a ’79 BMW R100/7, which was a combination project, time machine for many people I encountered (I remember when…), and semi-reliable way to get around. I sold it a few years after moving to North Carolina.

The pandemic got me thinking about riding again, as a means of getting out of the house for a few hours and visiting sites around the Piedmont I’ve been wanting to see and photograph. I’m old enough to know that riding a motorcycle is a perishable skill so I decided to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider class again. Finding a class nearby that wasn’t fully booked was a challenge, so I used that as an excuse to take the class at the BMW Rider Academy in Greer, SC. If you’re thinking about taking the MSF class and are anywhere near Greer, I can recommend it.

I rode a nearly new BMW G 310 R instead of the clapped out Honda from my first class. It’s a light, agile bike with a single cylinder engine, six-speed transmission, TFT instrument display, inverted forks, rear mono shock and ABS. It’s not ideal for a person six-plus feet tall, but it wasn’t uncomfortable to ride.

My bike for a couple of days.
No dials on this bike.

I mentioned that motorcycling skills are perishable? Mine were. The class starts with very basic skills – finding the clutch friction zone, balancing and manipulating the throttle before moving on to actual riding. Most of the exercises happen at relatively low speeds (under 30 mph), so spills (and a few classmates had them) aren’t serious. U-turns, figure-8s in a confined box, braking (and panic braking) in different situations, swerving and other fundamentals kept us busy for most of two days.

Another thing in favor of taking the MSF class at BMW: Fantastic food for lunch. I had baked cod the first day and pork chops the second. And no, the class isn’t any more expensive than taking it at a community college. Plus, BMW offers some financial perks for those who choose to follow up by purchasing a new BMW motorcycle.

The conclusion of day two is the skills test. Those who lack a motorcycle endorsement on their license can pass this in place of some states’ skills tests. We quickly went through five tests to assess our ability to control our motorcycles. Drop the bike, stall more than three times, or rack up 16 penalty points and you fail. I’m happy to say I didn’t stall or fall, and had plenty of points to spare.

What’s next? I need more practice, but I need a bike first. And I kind of miss having a BMW boxer, which was a lot of fun and easy to ride. Maybe I’ll look for something like this R nineT.

Chincoteague Island, Pandemic Style

The family and I have been traveling to Chincoteague Island, on Virginia’s eastern shore, for several years. It takes us about seven hours to drive there but it’s convenient for Beth’s sister, who typically joins us. We picked it as our pandemic vacation retreat for a few reasons:

  1. Socially distanced beachgoing isn’t too difficult. The beaches – an island away on Assateague – don’t see the kind of crowds we get on the NC and SC coasts. Plus, because the beach at Assateague Island is a National Seashore, there aren’t any condos and houses crowding the waterfront.
  2. Fresh seafood is bountiful and good. There’s no reason to go out.
  3. It’s cheap. House rentals can be surprisingly affordable.
  4. The eastern shore has good places to explore.
Island Theater

A few highlights and lowlights from our week on Chincoteague Island. I’m going to rate each of the businesses mentioned from one star (lousy) to three (good job!) based on how well people were behaving themselves, distance and mask-wise.

It was hellishly hot. Too hot to go to the beach hot. Too hot to go running before dawn or after dusk hot. Yeah, that hot. Only one day did the temperature dip to the point where we were tempted to go back to the beach, following a brief trip early in the week after which we returned worn out and savaged by sand flies. We gave into temptation and had a great time – temps were in the low 80s and the ocean felt nice and cool. We swam and swam some more. It was glorious.

Swimming

Janes Island State Park is a jewel. It sits on the Tangier Bay side of Maryland and has one of the most beautiful campgrounds I’ve seen in a state park. Yeah, it’s seven hours away but I’ll drive seven hours to camp there, do some fishing, and go kayaking on the canals and bay.

Janes Island State Park

We explored a small park on the Atlantic side of the eastern shore, as well as Deal’s Island, which answers the question, Who’s ready to sell their house due to rising water? (Answer: Every other person, it seemed) Rising seas at Tangier Bay threaten local communities, including Tangier Island, and on Deal’s Island this was on full display.

Deals Island Deals Island

Eat & Drink on Chincoteague Island

I mentioned seafood, right? Gary Howard Seafood*** and Ricky’s** were our go-to places to get fresh seafood. We had tuna steaks, shrimp and scallops from the former, and a giant pile of local oysters from the latter. We tried to shop at SeaBest Seafood*** but the owner got wound up and shouty when I said the word “ceviche” while scoping out some fish. We got the hell out of there.

There’s a small market*** on Maddox Avenue (the main drag). I didn’t get the name, but if you look on Google Maps for the Banana Hammock you’ll find the location. Apparently, frozen bananas are less appealing than a great selection of seafood, meat, and produce. I bought some pork chops and the ingredients for killer gazpacho. We shopped there several times and the owners treated us right.

Chincoteague Island has a newish brewery and it’s good. Black Narrows*** brews some tasty beers. I’ll vouch for their Sit a Spell IPA and Salts tart oyster wheat (that’s right). They offer crowlers to go, as well as indoor and outdoor seating. I didn’t take advantage of this, but they deliver.

Beach vacations demand ice cream and Mr. Whippy*** is my place. Chocolate, vanilla or a swirl are the only choices and that’s the way it should be. The family likes Island Creamery*** and it’s good, too, if you prefer your ice cream fancy.

Amarin Coffee*** serves, you guessed it, coffee. The beans are from Vietnam and you can order a perfect Vietnamese coffee. The only thing bad about them is that they don’t have an outpost in Greensboro.

Lilly’s Little Mexico*** is in a food truck park on Maddox. If you are in a hurry you might want to go elsewhere. If you are patient and like good food, it’s a great option. And if you’re with someone who loves BBQ and COVID-19, you can send them across the way to Woody’s*, where the owner’s not a fan of masks. Plenty of people were waiting a half-hour plus to get their orders from Lilly’s, while I saw two customers at Woody’s.

SeaStar*** is a reliable take-out sandwich shop. I’ve eaten many sandwiches there and have never had a bad one.

I don’t know how we missed this place during previous trips, but Beach Road Roundup*** has a hell of a breakfast. They have great food, and funny and cheerful service.

There is an outdoor tiki bar* in Chincoteague. We checked it out. I won’t name it but it’s the only tiki bar on the island and trust me, you can skip it unless you like mediocre, watered-down drinks.

Scorecard

Books read: 1

Movies watched: 0

Heat index: 108

Delmarva fox squirrel sightings: 0

Times I went running: In that heat? Are you kidding?

An Artifact from a Journey Years Ago

I developed a roll of Kodak TriX that had been in my Minox 35GT for several years. This was taken in 2015 along Lake Champlain during a two-day bike ride from Burlington, VT to Alburgh, VT and back.

Lake Champlain

Day one was a straight shot up the greenway out of Burlington, across the bike ferry to South Hero Island, then along the lake to the Ransom Bay Inn in Alburgh.

Day two included a lovely detour onto Isle la Motte. I rolled back into Burlington just as heavy rain began falling.

Social Distancing in the Countryside

Beth and I got out of the house yesterday and drove southeast from Greensboro. We didn’t have a destination in mind, but eventually found our way to Cedarock Park in Alamance County. Crowds of people hadn’t been watching the news, I guess, or are weirdly optimistic about their immunity to the virus that’s rampaging across the world. We avoided them, drove to the end of the park where there were few people, and walked down to the river to take a look.

Afterward, we meandered toward and over Bass Mountain, with an obligatory stop at the Original Hollywood Horror Show.

We were in the Snow Camp area, and Beth wanted to see the old Cane Creek Meeting House. We found it, next to the Snow Camp Outdoor Theater (closed tight for the last couple of years) and the remains of Ye Old Country Kitchen. We’ve never eaten there, and I guess we’ll never have the chance.