Thursday, January 16, 2014

Auritech Ear Protectors: The Earplug Roundup

Auritech Biker Hearing Protectors
Auritech packaging. You can see a small diagram
on of how the protectors are supposed to work.
A while back, I was approached by a representative at Allearplugs.com, who of sell "New generation hearing protection." She was curious if I would be interested in a free pair of their protectors to review or maybe give out as a prize. I replied that was indeed interested in free stuff that I could keep all to myself.

Auritech as a brand is produced in the Netherlands, tested in Germany, and sold through the website mentioned above. When I was approached by the representative, I was particularly interested in owning a pair as they're higher quality than any I've ever owned, and they're valued at £19.95 which is in the ballpark of $30+. So, seeing as how I make zero dollars running this website every year, I thought it a fair bargain. So, there you go - full disclosure on the scenario. That being said, I'm aiming for impartial.

They're called "Biker" New Generation Hearing Protectors for Motorcyclists. The "Biker" subline is a single variety amongst a number of targeted hearing protectors intended for various purposes from hunting to music - though the only actual difference I see between any of them is the color.

So, what does Auritech provide for $30? It starts with some (fairly) easy-to-open packaging, a small textbook on how the "protectors" work (including charts), a waterproof, anodized aluminum carrying case, and, of course, a silicone-free pair of protectors. 

The protectors themselves are shaped like a Blade Runner Christmas tree and differ from most others in that they have a cylindrical channel running through their center which holds a sort of ceramic plug. The idea here is that the channel/plug blocks certain frequencies while letting others through - thus letting you talk, listen to music, or (more probably if you're willing to spend more than a few bucks on ear plugs) use you $400 bluetooth headset while blocking wind noise.The first question, really, is "Does it work?"

The short answer is: Yes. It does. 

How do I know? Is this a shameless plug for Auritech? No. No it is definitely not. I know, because I spent a couple of days wearing them. Actually I spent a couple of days wearing one of them in one ear, and a different type of ear protector in the other (occasionally flip-flopping them to be sure I wasn't hallucinating results). Still, it's all subjective - but here's the impressions.

What was the competition and how did it stack up? 

The boxes tend to get stained when you leave them
in the garage.
My comparison product is my go-to hearing protector: The 3M tekk protection. These are the ubiquitous orange tubes that you can buy as a single pair from the hardware store for about $1. Or, you can pick them by the 200-pair pack for about the same price as a single pair of the Auritechs. ($30). Cheap. In fact, at that price, the tekk protectors work on the exact opposite principle as the as the Auritechs. (Here referred to as the Saturation Principle, which is the one I apply to guitar picks.) Stuff a couple pairs into your tank bag, into your jacket pockets. Put some into your toolbox, into your glovebox, or into your nightstand for when your "significant" other has too much to drink and you need block out the snoring. Why? Because they get the job done, and they do it well. On top of that, they're cheap and reusable...ish. (If you don't mind jamming the disgusting junk back into your ear.)


Are the orange tubes as nice as the Auritechs?

They don't look like much.
Absolutely not. Why? Well, I wouldn't say it's comfort. Honestly, I don't mind foam plugs - though I got used to them back when I made "cheese food product" for Kraft. Long story short, I find them both pretty comfortable. However, there is (and to my surprise) a drastic difference in performance. After listening to music with one of each in either ear, I can honestly say the difference is obvious. Both plugs claim to block around 29 dB, but the Auritechs only do it (according to the literature) at the frequencies that matter for hearing protection. Thus, the music sounded (more or less) like music. It wasn't perfect, but I admit, yes, the Auritechs were significantly better. 

Other than orange tubes are the other kind of foam ear plugs - there are many brands, but I've primarily used Leight Sleeper. I had pack of them in the compartment on top of my tank for quite a while. There isn't much to say when comparing this type of foam ear plug (or any similar varietie) to 3M's orange tubes except that I prefer the shape and foam properties of Leight Sleepers over 3M's OTs - I find them slightly easier to use, slightly more reusable, and slightly more comfortable. That being said, the result was basically the same. It sounds like your head is wrapped in wool.

A comparison shot of the cores used in the "blue devils"
and the Auritechs (right). You can see a small channel
through the center of the Auritech ceramic core - though
this channel does not run the length of the ceramic plug.
Unknown brand. Refered to here only as the "blue devils."
Perhaps a better test is to compare the Auritechs to other, cheaper, rubber(ish) ear plugs. There are many varieties - and I do not speak for all brands as they range from $5 to 170+. However, I did find a pair of cheap reusable, ceramic-cored earplugs in my collection.

At this point, I honestly can't remember exactly where they came from, but I can tell you with relative certainty that they were somewhere between $5-10, and likely came out of an interstate truck stop. These ear plugs have the same center channel and a ceramic plug similar to the Auritechs, but if I was offered a pair of these plugs in a room of 30 hungry 2-year-olds, I would turn them down and live with the permanent reduction in decibels. After about 15 minutes, these blue devils give the impression of someone probing your ear canal with dental tools.
After about a half hour, it feels like someone has got their whole thumb jammed in deep enough to scrape your ear drum.

In terms of overall performance, the blue devils work. Actually, they work pretty well - though the Auritechs do work better (according to my extremely subjective tests), and the blue devils hurt like hell. I guess you get what you pay for.

The second question is, are it worth the money? In short summation, I can only say that they are better than any of the other hearing protectors I tried - though I do not claim to have tried them all. I wish I could offer an opinion on the $15 price point protectors, but for the moment, I can't say how they perform.

So, I am very happy to have them. But, should you buy them? Well, that really depends on who you are and what you want. Like so many things, the Auritechs are a premium item and come at a premium price. Personally, I could not justify the $30 - but, I've had a bad habit of losing semi-valuables since my G.I. Joes started to disappear in kindergarten. I'm understandably apprehensive of spending quite so much money on anything so small.

Still, if you're the kind of person who appreciates the small differences between a Kawasaki Concours 14 and a BMW K1600 and you have the money to buy the latter, then you should definitely opt for the Auritechs. But, that's not the only case... if you happen to have Bluetooth in your helmet, or, if you're the kind of guy a hell of a lot and appreciates the small (more affordable) luxuries life has to offer, then the price, then I say yeah. They're worth the extra bucks, because they feel like quality, they do what they say they'll do, and I think they'll last










Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post at WalletEngineers (Credit Ghost Stories)

I helped to pen an article over at WalletEngineers. It has absolutely nothing to do with motorcycles. Drop by for a read as I fumble my way into the world of credit advice. Even if you don't want or need advice, it's worth checking into my feeble attempts to bring humor to a serious venue.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Moved Again - Now in Colorado

Near "Nederland" CO
I was recently chided by that balanced compromised character* at http://redlegsrides.blogspot.com/ for not telling everyone that we moved... again. I guess it's becoming such old hat to pack up all our stuff and truck it somewhere new that, well, I wasn't sure what to say. For those of you keeping track since 2011, our moving history looks something like this:

Virginia -> South Dakota -> Germany -> South Dakota -> Kansas -> Colorado.

Which means, that's right - Colorado. And it looks like this time we're here to stay. No more moving. Well - hopefully, at least until we buy a house and move out of our rental... house. For those of you actually interested, the town is Longmont, and we moved because Kelsie got a job with Seagate, and I, adventurer that I am, thought I would come along for the ride.

You might know Longmont from the news, it's in that area of Colorado that was absolutely shit on by flooding. We're just a short jump away from Lyons, the place where they were airlifting residents to safety not too long ago. Where the roads were carved away like sandcastle moats in the tide.

In spite of all that, it feels like the best move we've made in a long time. Since we moved to Virginia, probably. After waking to the sweeping plains of Kansas for the last year, visuals punctuated by the perpetual creak of wind against the house and the constant stream of tearing, brapping of undermuffled trucks, it's nice to wake to to crisp, quiet mornings, to the cat exploring yellow piles of fallen leaves in the back yard.

On top of that, it's pretty damned hard to argue with the mountains. We're literally 15 minutes from the foot of a mountain climb. (Or, we will be when the road through Lyons is reopened.)

As the old line goes: We're not in Kansas anymore...
It feels... comfortable. An odd mix of organic grocery stores and pawn shops. Subarus and rusted pickups. More than anything, though, it's beautiful. Not too far from our house is an east/west road named Mountain View Ave, which must have been named by the Literalist Club of America. When we head west, I'm still stunned by the sudden sharpness of the peaks to the point where I'll sweep my arm long and slow across the length of the dashboard (showcasing the scene outside like a the Price is Right girl) and say, "And then there were mountains."

Snow has started to dust the mountains, and the fall colors are peaking, if not past peak already. The sun sets so early, hidden behind the mountains by no later than 6:30 these days. While the weather is still good during middle of the day, the temperature swings wildly between highs and lows like a hormone disorder. The riding isn't over for this year, but once the weather gets like this, it's hard to get too far from home. Unless of course, you're that balance compromised character*. He rides like all winter. Chains on the tires, all that kind of stuff. Actually - now that I think about it, that might be a great way to spend the winter... build a hack rig.

Whatever happens, there's a real upshot here. There is a shed out back with my name on it. And by my name, I mean the name of the 1978 Honda which will likely live there when (if it makes it! Negotiations in progress). So, I guess that means the shed will have the name Shitbox, or something similar on it. Well, you can't win them all. Still, my own shed...

Alright - enough rambling. Tell me how awesome it is to live here! Or, tell me how awesome it is to live where you live!








*Dom. This of course refers to Domingo Chang. Do you get it? Domingo rides hack rigs. Sidecars. You know, you don't need to balance on them... Wink. Nudge. Sorry - I'll let myself out.

Actually, Dom's a great guy and outfits his Ural hack rig in chains to ride all winter like a true man. One who towers amongst the rest of us mere children who prefer to ride when the sun shines, or whatever. To prove what a great guy Dom really is, he even offered to let me drive his precious, orange Ural, Valencia - that is, if I ever made it to the Denver area.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Not-So-Secret Handshake

The Not So Secret Handshake
by Allan Karl, WorldRider
Canadian Ice Fields Parkway

There are no dues, no terms and conditions, no regular or formal meetings, but when you ride a motorcycle you automatically become a member of a club, an organization of men, women, boys and girls who share only one common activity — they ride a motorcycle. Don't get me wrong, one doesn't have to OWN a motorcycle to be in this club. No, one merely needs to ride a motorcycle. You could be a member for one day or a lifetime.
While there are no club rules, each member shares the common decency to treat each other with respect regardless of the type, brand, or model motorcycle he or she might own or ride. When a motorcycle ride comes to a pit stop, food break or a “call it a day” stop at a hotel, campground or way-by, one can expect gentle nods of acknowledgement, scanning eyes over the motorcycle or a simple exchange of pleasantries.

Even so, the real acknowledgement and recognition of a club member comes when riding the great roads and trails of our world. If you've never ridden a motorcycle you probably won’t understand this, but for us riders, we know and each of us has our unique style and delivery. Though this nod of respect and recognition is a signal—an acknowledgement—that you are a member of the club: you are riding a motorcycle.

Though there are often exceptions, this acknowledgement occurs less in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day city or suburban riding, than it does on the winding and twisting backroads or long stretches of interstate. Yet, no matter where I’ve ridden in the world, it is practiced by virtually every rider I've seen.

I am referring to our club's official, and yet, not so secret handshake.

It can catch you by surprise when you're concentrating on your riding or when your mind wanders and your eyes take in the scenery. Yet as one oncoming motorcycle approaches another, and each rider speeds toward each other, in the few moments that they pass, the motorcycles exchange a gentle wave of acknowledgment. It doesn’t matter who initiates the wave, there is always a reciprocal wave back. The not-so-secret handshake.
Baja California - (Labeled as "The Road to Coco")

This wave, or virtual handshake, comes in all sizes, shapes and flavors. For over 200,000 miles of riding, I've kept a mental inventory of the different types of waves.

For some, the rider simply lifts his left hand off the handlebar and with full 90-degree extension and turns his or her palm toward you. After you pass, the rider then rests their hand back to his handlebars.

Other riders are more creative. There's the low wave usually practiced by cruisers. The rider drops his hand below the handlebars and extends his or her arm at 45-degrees from the body and then brings it back to the handlebar. It’s a smooth and precise move, almost automatic. A pleasant variation of the cruiser wave is a show of gloved fingers forming a peace-sign. Sweet.

Keep in mind these subtle handlebar releases and hand motions happen at all speeds and all driving conditions. One day a rider, swathed in bright red leathers and a brightly colored full-face helmet, zoomed toward me while we both rounded a beautifully banked and decreasing-radius turn. He lifted his hand, bent his arm at the elbow and presented a formal wave from his wrist, that would have had the Queen of England in envy.

I personally like those who prefer to use the "I'm going to acknowledge I'm in the club but remain cool wave." This is when the rider simple raises his or her hand off the handle bar about six to ten inches and then slowly and surely drops it back down, resting it back on the grip.

Motorcyclists riding two-up have their own code of handshake or wave acknowledgement. Sometimes the rider does the work. While others it's simply the passenger. But when you get the double whammy—where both pilot and passenger extend their hands, often in sync, you hit pay dirt.

There's no training or induction into this club. Each rider, with experience, develops his or her style. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation doesn't tell you how. I'm sure the Harley Owners Group (HOG) or the BMW Owners Association (BMWOA) don’t offer a pictorial of styles in its magazines or online. One thing is for sure, the mutual admiration, and respect brings to each rider a feeling of belonging. It’s part of the motorcycle rider’s pride.

Perhaps no other group, whether its motor vehicle owners, sports fans, collectors or hobbyists, share and experience this feeling in such a random and offhand manner.

For me, I've been known to employ a few different styles and then mix them up—depending on how I'm feeling at the time. If you catch me riding toward you, you might get a peace sign, a two-finger scouts-honor type-gesture, or perhaps a gentle lift of my hand off my grip that is coordinated with a subtle nod towards you of my helmet.

What’s your style? Welcome to the club!



About Allan Karl
Allan Karl, who is also known as WorldRider, is known for his three-year solo journey around-the-world on his BMW F650GS. He is the author of “FORKS. Three Years. Five Continents. One Motorcycle. A Quest for Culture, Cuisine, and Connection. He is a professional speaker, photographer and digital marketing consultant. He lives in Leucadia, California but rides all over the world.


www.allankarl.com (professional speaker)
www.worldrider.com (travel and worldrider blog)
www.twitter.com/worldrider (twitter)
www.facebook.com/worldrider.pro (Facebook)



© 2013 Allan Karl, WorldRider Productions


Friday, September 6, 2013

Looking for Guest Posts

I would like to reiterate that I am looking for guest posts. I get these spam messages every day about how this-or-that company would love to make an infographic for me, or do some sort of link exchange where I tell you, the readers of genuine content, about the best websites for stock trading or something similar. I don't want any of that! What I want are your stories. I want to hear about what you did and to see your pictures! Have a blog and want me to link to you? Not a problem. Write a good story, tack along some solid photos and send it my way. Here's a great example of a writeup a fellow blogger did!  Did you miss the most recent post? Well, if you enjoy listening to music on the road, check here! 

You don't need to be Hemingway - just a rider.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What's you Top Five List for Road Music?

It was once written that music has charms to soothe a savage beast. This is, of course, true. Music goes waaaay the hell beyond this, though. Music to me is a motivator and a balm, music is inspiration, passion, heart, soul, and a gazillion additional cliches. Damnedest thing about cliches, though, is that they have a funny way of core holding truths, even if they're dulled by repetitive use. Since music, to me, is all of the above cliches and so much more, I'm dedicating a bit of space to music. Is it strictly motorcycles? No. It's what you use on the road. What inspires you.

Truth be told, I can barely ride without music. I don't know what the consensus of the community is, or how people feel about safety, etc., but if I'm going more than 10 miles, I pop in the earbuds, fire up the mp3 machine and jam. While I've often thought about the safety aspects of this situation, though I don't dwell on it. If I weren't listening to tunes, I'd be using earplugs. Anyway. I've been near Harleys that impede my hearing more than my jams, so, I'm not going to worry too much. Long story short, here are some of my favorites riding jams. I want to hear yours! Shoot me comments.

I want to make it real clear that my taste in riding music is no means a reflection of what's new and hot - though there's some overlap. You don't need to tell me it's all mainstream. Too poppy, too overplayed, too obscured. I don't care - because it makes me happy when I ride. Some people like to pretend that where (and even when) you find your jams influences what they do for you. What a load of shit. So, new or old, tell me what you love!

Here's my current short list for September of '13.

1. Macklemore - The Heist.


Can't Hold Us

Look, I don't like rap. I don't like it at all. It might be that I've never had an overabundance of cashmoney or hoes, so I just don't relate to the subject matter. So, if you don't like rap, hold onto your ass, because this might surprise you, it surprised me. I love this entire rap album. Which seems quite enigmatic. Well, maybe not really. Because instead of the usual stuff,  Macklemore, real name Ben Haggerty is partnered with Ryan Lewis on an album that takes on same-sex marriage, consumerism, and, of course, dancing your ass off. I bump to this so hard it's like my head's on fire. It's like my heart is all full up with the energy of a thousand concert-going fans. Yeah. It's pretty great.

Same Love

If you've been living under a rock or some other form of landscaping stone, or if you're just pulling the "I ain't gonna listen to that shit cause it's already all over the radio" shtick, I suggest you get the album, the whole album, or youtube it. Hook it up to your best stereo and bump. Bump hard. Once you know you love it, buy it. And by buy it, I need to reiterate that you buy the whole thing, cause it's full of gems. These guys built their own brand, I support paying artists who work this hard. Even if they've already earned $10M, (I don't know and don't care if they have) it's worth passing another tenbux their way.

When riding, this album goes on the radio right away. It's full of the kind of excitement found at the beginning of a new day.

2. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Yeah, it's been out for years, but this one just takes the idea of freedom and sunshine and spreads it all the hell over your face until you're smiling like a lobotomy. You know when something bad happens, maybe your dog dies, or your boss gets in your face full of the knowledge that you hate your job, or maybe it's just raining on the weekend. You can just put this on and open the garage door and roll. Or, hell, do the dishes. Some argue that this isn't their strongest album, but it's still my favorite.

Oxford Comma
As a writer, anytime I need to insert an oxford comma, I tune into this little ditty. This is a good midday album. Or, after you stop for breakfast/coffee and need the energy to get your ass, which has already begun to stiffen, back in the saddle. It's always worked.

As an addendum, I must say that if you're going to roll down the west coast, I prefer their second album, Contra. That album got me from Washington State to CA.

3. The Black Keys - Brothers 
There has never been any other album which made me want to take part in (if not start) a bar fight as badly as this one - even though I do not have a great record when it comes to bar fights (but you'll need to contact me privately about that). This album changed my perspective, it pulled me out of music/genre cycle I established somewhere in my early teens, it's that good. This is one of those badboys that I picked on vinyl because I keep going back.

Everlasting Light

Crank this bastard up when you want to hit the twisties. Careful not to turn it up too loud... or you'll probably fling yourself into a ditch... or off the mountain.

4. MGMT - Congratulations
Alright. This one never really took off in terms of popular opinion. I remember correctly if the band actually apologized for it's strange off-beat structure or not, but what the hell... I think it's their best album. The whole thing has this bizarro-world, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, surf music attack vibe. There was a point where I wasn't just listening to this while on the bike, I would put it on while editing grants and textbook chapters (exciting, and, boy oh boy, what a testament to it's greatness, right?) I would wind up listening to it 3-4 times in a row. If it went on in the morning, it played until lunch.

MGMT - Congratulations (Album)

I don't know how to pick a single song off of this album, so here's the whole damned thing. It's good for places like Kansas when you need a bizarro world theme song to spice up your interpretation of the world. 

5. Alt J - An Awesome Wave
Kelsie says this one, sometimes, melts her brain. But this another one of those that goes on and winds up running from start to finish multiple times. For me, it gets shit done. And sometimes "shit" means riding. The good kind of shit, I guess. Don't overthink it, it's a versatile word. 



Listen to this one when you're winding down. Use it at that point in the day, or the week of your trip where you start thinking of where you could hide the bodies of your road companions. It happens, too much time and too many miles makes you go crazy. Calm yourself down - but don't watch the Breezeblocks video if you plan to sleep anytime soon.











Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How do you keep the motivation to ride?

It’s been a rough year – not that there’s been any issues at work or home. No deaths in the family. Hell, even the cat is hail and healthy, though she does talk too much, and I think she is a bit insane (read: a cat). Resultantly, according to her, nail trimming is verboten. And, since all of those claws are regularly sharpened on the scratching post, I don’t press the issue. Anyway, she doesn’t really do anything with them. The only problem is that our carpet is the “loop” variety, which means that whenever Twinkle Toes (not her real name) walks around, it sounds like living Velcro. At 4 a.m. this is a problem.

I’m getting to a point. Overall, life is pretty good, my only gripe, after all, is my cat. This means, of course, that when I say I've had a rough year... well, it’s related to motorcycles. Two major issues have arisen on the that front, and both can be traced back to climatological phenomena. The first I would like to discuss is the ice age. It's been a hell of a kick in the motivation.

            Random? Not really. Please know that I live in Kansas (Flatistan). About 400 billion years ago (according to my understanding of time) a big block of frozen detritus worked its way through the area. This frozen hulk worked as a monstrous planer, and ground down all traces of terrain. This left the area with endless horizons, beautiful swaths expansive sky, and four-hour sunsets with colors richer than a hippy-painted microbus. The subsequent year-after-year lifecycle of prairie grasses which lived and died in each other's humus for thousands of years produced fertile topsoil so we could plant our high-fructose syrup, animal feed, and sweet corn. It also produced the popular consensus shown in figure 1. I don’t have any idea what kind of scaling they use here, but I’d like you to note that Kansas hands-down clobbers both Nebraska and Iowa in terms of negative aesthetics. If you want to place a persona to these states, Nebraska might be the barrel-chested combover that lives down the block, where Kansas is, apparently, the toothless 60-year-old woman you saw at Wal*Mart that one time (even after you pledged never to return), she of the pink tube top and cigarette-and-sunburn creases. Additionally, Kansas is just as flat.

            This brings us to the problem – after living in Virginia, Germany, and even Minnesota, the idea of chucking a leg over the saddle and riding off into the right-angle world of Kansas b-roads for a look at sorghum and high-fructose corn syrup is... less than compelling. 


Figure 1 – completely accurate and unbiased information. Obviously.

Maybe you think my review of Kansas’s scenery is a bit brutal. After all, different strokes for different folks and all that. Some people love the scenery around here, I’m sure of that, and I concede that this is personal preference. Remember, this isn’t my poll, and for disclosure, I grew up on the plains. I like big skies and long sunsets, but in terms of motorcycling, it’s uninspired. It’s no Mecca. Nobody plans their big, yearly trip with the words, "I want to drive all day and see some corn!" The impression one generally gets when driving through Kansas is that the Grand Landscaper who drafted this state “phoned it in...” maybe before a long weekend. It feels like someone grabbed a topographical map from some uninspired county (this could be from any of the plains states) then proceeded to stick that county into a photocopier and went for a long lunch. After laying the pages end to end, it was dubbed a state. So yeah, the first half of this last year, rough from a motorcycling perspective, comes down to the ice age and how it kicks motivation square in the balls.

The other half of this, part 2, is probably pretty obvious… climate change – which is, as a topic, a real “slippery fish.” Roughly one year ago (when I became too busy with my job to devote any time to this site) I wrote about my beliefs and convictions apologetically, taking inoffensive stances. However, in this case – or maybe from here on out – that’s not the plan, because in the humble words of my father, “Piss on it.” I believe climate change is “the real deal.” If you don’t agree with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, take it to a message board somewhere and leave it out of the comments. I don’t have time for it. It's summed quite well in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The great thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not."  

OK, I'm done. I think I just crushed my soapbox under the weight of my own ego anyway.

I get part of it, though, the argument, because for any single phenomenon, say a heat wave, is open to debate. Is this climate change? Honestly, who the hell knows. What I do know is that when we arrived in Kansas last year we slogged through a solid month of days in excess of 98 degrees, with the bulk of those days reaching beyond 100. Here I was, fresh back from Deutschland, ready and eager to get on the road and chew up miles like I had done back in Virginia – at least 15,000.

So, in spite of everything, the scenery, the heat, and with absolutely nowhere to go, I fired that red bastard up and headed to the grocery store. Now, the ’09 Kawasaki Concours is not known for its heat dissipation. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. The Connie does a great job of getting the heat away from the motor, the problem is where it puts it. I’ve mentioned this before, but the airflow on this thing is straight-up, infomercial. You know – iron your pants while you’re still wearing them. The sun felt like spiders of blisters crawling up my hands and arms. It was an open convection oven.

            I know, bitch bitch bitch – right? Tell me again, ye poor Kansan… how bad is it? Oh, thou, with thine pitiful lamentations... ye of the 104 degrees, please speak directly into mine arse, for we have it much worse here in Pheonix… here in Houston it’s… here in (name your location). Fine. I get it. But after dealing with that shit for a month. With the flat and the heat, the wind... and the drought  which left nothing but husks of brown, well, it was rough. Some of you crazies out there, I don't know how you do it. How do you stay so excited? Tell me, cause I'm not lying, around here it’s been rough, and here’s what’s on tap for the next few days.


Figure 2 – completely correlative and controvertible proof of climate change.
           
Last year did some longstanding damage, too. When spring showed up, I was left gun shy and busy (well, busy-ish). So, I rode a handful of times and neglected to do spring maintenance. This, in turn, kept me from riding even on the nice days Jeez, I really shouldn’t ride this thing without changing the oil… To top it all off, I got fat. Well, fat-ish. I hadn’t gained appreciable weight since my first semester of college, at which point I broke 140 on the scale for the first time in my life. Then I turned 30, and parts began to look more like wet laundry than washboard. So, any motorcycle time was suddenly devoted to bicycle time… and still, the maintenance needed to be done.

            Well, I finally got to it – the maintenance, and finally got some riding in. And I remembered why I enjoyed riding so much. But that forecast. Seriously. How do you keep your motivation up? 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Trip through the Austrian Alps

Alps on the left and Alps on the right and nothing but road up ahead. 





The Austrian alps and the A12/E45
The Austrian alps and the A12/E45
          So many things in life are ruined by advertising's highlight reel. Think of the last comedy you saw – one you bothered to see in the theater. How many good laughs were left out of the trailer? That same idea follows to other parts of life, and it's why I was less than bonkers to drive from our former home in Munich to the Alps, then spend a couple of days bombing around in the mountains. I figured, hey, I've already seen the Rockies, the Bighorns, the Blue Ridge, (and on and on)... what's to see? Nothing but variations on a theme. Plus I'd already seen the highlights every time I passed a box of Swiss Miss or bought a gallon of milk. If you've ever seen a postcard with a young lady dressed like Heidi or The Sound of Music, you might think the same thing – Nice view! (And not just on account of the associated ladies), but, Why in God's name would I need to go half way around the world? I've been force fed images for years. What more could I possibly get?


           This time, a lot. Because for once the advertised product far exceeds the snippet. Alpine peaks are so dramatic that they stick to your retinas to days, and the towns are so quaint you'll want to buy a felt jacket, herd of cows, and give up whatever life you have. And then there's the roads. They've got curves tighter than an Olympic sprinter's ass – and just as capable of making your blood pump.

Vistas can be a tricky thing with all the trees growing, at least for cameras.
More from the top
          It's like this: when I was a just thigh-high little man in elementary school, I loved gluing. (Non sequitur? Hold on.) I would hold a bottle of Elmer's three feet above a piece of green construction paper and let a long, white strand needle down. Invariably – no matter how steady my hands – the glue would sway and dance to form ribbon curls while I, as creator, would burble motor noises. In-tense. The point? Any of those young Steffl creations could have been a map, or blueprint, of Alpine driving.

Alpine houses and our descent from the mountains
I lied, not all the houses are white but this is the level of variation
that you get.
          We rolled south, out of the fatherland and entered on the A12/E45 – which is a real-deal highway that moves between Germany and Austria. That's about the time I warmed to this unplanned cruise. This kind of A-Road experience usually translates into distilled dull in the US, (at least for us Midwestern folk), but the this particular strip of highway not only took us from country to country, it split chains of mountains on either side, playing the role of referee at a cage fight – as if it were just there to keep peaks apart. The views captivated – sprawling swaths of country club green at the foot of bone-sided mountains dusted in white. We had to get onto B-roads. 
          Smaller roads – as in many mountain regions – often don't go anywhere in particular. These wander, they vagabond through villages with white stucco faces and rusty clay roofs. Places quainter than the syrupiest Hallmark postcard, beautiful and very European.


           In a way, each of those quaint villages is akin to a US planned community... you know, where the height of your mailbox is a big thing. Those places where you could never build a Frank Lloyd Wright clone or dare to use purple paint. These are places where homogeneity reigns supreme. Strange? Sure, by our standards. But that kind of smooth uniformity is what really seals the deal. These communities have the charm and elegance that US planned communities search for, but never find. Part of it is a complete absence of vinyl siding - but really, it's not in anything so 'skin deep.' It's something found in the people, too, and found in their culture. These are places where tiny cars fill the roads and average people bicycle to and from the grocery store, complete with baskets of produce. 

            But, as quaint as they are, as 'upstanding' and... formulaic as these places might seem, there's one more piece to know. They love the motorcycle.


           This part of the world in love with motorräder, which (like so many things, again by our standards) are regulated and deregulated in an odd mix. The houses may look as if they reproduce asexually, limiting variation, but remember that in Austria where prostitution is legal. It seems an anathema to their whole system, but it works. In a different vein, riders take gear and licensing very seriously, but the biggest rule for riders on the road is If you can do it, you can do it.

Up top, you can still get fine dining with one hell of a view.
          That rule might not jive entirely with the law, but often enough – particularly with motorcycles – that's the way it goes. Quite often as we wheeled toward the tiny burg of Pill, clusters of 2 or three bikes came from behind, and sometimes with as little as a two-second gap, they shot ahead like diving falcons. Our trip, however, was built for gawking and overcoming a Midwestern fear of heights, so we let this happen without any fuss, muss, or rev of exasperation.

Bodensee, the Alps
Bodensee, the Alps
         
          The quaint grew as we climbed, became exaggerated – (if it wasn't already) flourishes occurred. Stove-length wood was stacked in perfect rows next to houses. Wildflowers graced the hills with yellow and purple, a treat, I suppose, for the cattle -- which was surreal in its own right. On the hills, cows grazed, and clanked with (I'm not even lying) bells. 

          Then, the curves tightened so that mirrors became necessary across from the apexes of most corners - where we held our breaths at every one (Midwesterners, remember) while the natives passed us, fearlessly, flogging their four cylinders from their seats or saddles for all they were worth. We, on the other hand, were only able to pass trunk-thighed bicyclists, if only just barely.

          We climbed and gawked. We drank in the road, and wondered what life would be like in the Alps in winter. What it would be like to wake to a view of highway in the valley - the A12/E45 - and see people packed in cars headed to their lives (or what they called life) far from where they lived. We climbed until we  felt overwhelmed... by the roads, and country, and scenery of unspeakable beauty – and then, eventually, unfortunately, we met the end of that particular road, but not disappointed by what we found. A kind of top-of-the-world B&B with the world's best (there are a lot of "world's best," I think) view. Amazing. And the people? Just as amazing. So, yeah. Maybe I wasn't bonkers to get on the road, but Austrian Alps changed my mind, they made it into my book, or onto the ever-expanding 'short list,' because as we sat at that little B&B at the top of the world, I realized that this was just just one of many curving ribbons cut into the countryside, and that put me in my place.