Monday, August 10, 2009

Motorcycles, mountains and maps

Lake Placid, NY -- Before taking the ferry across Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York on Sunday morning, I headed to the Shelburne Museum near Burlington, which includes an exhibit of historic, custom and racing motorcycles called "Full Throttle."

This giant red silo housed the motorcycle exhibit

One of the highlights was a custom bike and sidecar built by "Monster Garage" star Jesse James for his wife Sandra Bullock. Named "Airstream," it's styled like one of the polished and rivetted aluminum travel trailers popular in the 1940s and 50s. An unusual feature, the bike carries five gallons of fuel in a tank built into the tail of the sidecar.

Jeasse James' "Airstream"

For me, a motorcycle that really stood out was a chopped KLR 650 -- not something you see every day. Polished stainless steel cylinders replaced the over-size KLR fuel tank and the minimalist seat was enticingly low to the ground -- climbing on the stock KLR seat remains a challege for me, especially when it's loaded up. With no chrome, airbrushed paint or pull-back handlebars this KLR chopper remained true to the spirit of the beast.

What my bike would look like, boiled down

The racing bike collection included several pristine Bultacos and Ossas. I spent some time in Spain in the 1960s, when the Bultaco and Montessa factories were turning out these beautifully simple, well-proportioned, fast and powerful two stroke singles. While the dirt bike models were the most popular in the U.S., in Europe the road bikes also stood out.

A classic Bultaco dirt racer

The Italian bikes on exhibit included several Ducatis and Laverdas, but I had to take a picture of the classic Moto Guzzi V7 for my friend Jim Niermann. The company is still making a retro version of the big V-twin, shaft-drive machine, but its drum brakes marked this as one of the originals.

This one's for you, Jim

The Shelburne museum also features an historic paddle-wheel steam ship, the Ticonderoga, which plied local waters in days of yore and now sits on dry land. The steam-driven collection also includes a locomotive.

The steamship Ticonderoga is now high and dry

The ferry from Charlotte, Vt., to Essex, N.Y., had none of the Ticonderoga's elegance, but probably a lot more carrying capacity. The wind was wipping up from the south when I arrived for the $6 ride across the lake. Thinking of how the ocean swell in Hawaii would toss things around, I asked the man who sold me the ticket if they tie motorcycles down. He looked at me like I had a screw loose. The answer was no.

Aboard the ferry to New York

I'd arrived just five minutes before the scheduled departure and lines of cars were waiting, but mine was the first motorcycle and, therefore, the first vehicle on board. A couple on Hondas followed and we chatted about where to go in the Adirondacks and how to get there, which was great, since my map of New England didn't include much of the Empire State and I didn't have a New York road map.

The New York shoreline

From Essex, I went north to Au Sable Forks and then headed west into the mountains through Jay and Wilmington and past Whiteface Mountain, which was blanketed with clouds. It was a gray day, but the ride up into the park was along winding roads that followed rivers set with pools, rapids, granite crags and towering evergreens. It reminded me of the nineteenth century etchings of the wonders of nature that captured these same scenes for past generations.

The weather forecast was rain; so, I looked for a motel when I got to Lake Placid. There were many to choose from and plenty of vacancies. The lacrosse fans and teams that had the town booked solid were headed home on Sunday.

I unpacked the bike, plugged in my computer and phone to recharge and rode to town to walk Main Street and do a little shopping. I needed that New York road map and a spoon to supplement the “spork” I had in my camping gear – a pretty useless utensil.

When it began to drizzle I went back to the motel to watch the end of the U.S. Women’s Amateur Golf Championship, which was followed by the first NFL exhibition game of the season. The Titans beat the Bills and I got a good night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, the weather report isn’t great, but I plan to head south west toward Syracuse and Utica on Monday. The route includes a long stretch on NY 28, which my fellow bikers on the ferry said is the best motorcycle ride in the Adirondacks. Here’s hoping the weather will cooperate.


  1. I want to go to Lake Placid and take the ferry across Lake Champlain.

    What are you doing posting at 4:54 am? I hope your weather holds and tomorrow is an even better day.

    It was HOT here today. We have been so lucky to be on the north side of the Gulf stream all summer. I hope it goes south of us again before you get here.

  2. John,

    I would have posted sooner, but that Guzzi muddled my brain - which was already softened up trying to reckon the KLR bobber. I don't understand how they did what they did to it, but I like it. Makes me want to experiment on a TW200 Yamaha. But that Guzzi - oh boy.

    I sympathize with your weather forecast. Felicia just dragged her wet, tired butt to Oahu this evening and is now loitering outside making a gentle mess of things. I might take the truck in tomorrow - or I might find inspiration in your brave engagement with the elements and hop on scoot. The streets should be plenty clean at any rate. Sounds like you have good contingency planning.

    Time to read the latest installment. Aloha