Where Thought and Riding Meet

There's a weird, strange thrill riding in the sticks that's hard to describe. Part visual, part physical, part spiritual. The ride is important, an anthem to living, a meditation on feeling blood and breath course through the body. Problems, opportunities, secrets and answers unfold on the road. Those discoveries fuel my ride.

Managing Risk While Riding in Fog

Vespa scooter along fog shrouded highway

Morning rides to work of late have been made in fog.  As much as I love the visual and emotional appeal of the mist, I never lose sight of the risk associated with poor visibility.  Riding in fog, like riding in snow requires thought and practice to understand and manage that risk.  My advice to anyone considering a trek in pea soup?  Don’t.

Much depends on where you ride — how much traffic, the nature of the traffic, the road surface and likelihood of unexpected holes or debris, that sort of stuff.  Riding in central Pennsylvania on a scale of 1 to 10 with the Nevada desert being 1 and the DC Beltway at rush hour being 10, I give our in town roads a 4 and the rural ones a 2.  If there were no deer they would be a 1.

I wouldn’t ride in heavy fog anywhere beyond a 5.  Each rider has to gauge their own skill and risk acceptance.  It’s the key to managing risk while riding in fog.

Vespa scooter in fog

Thinking about special skills or abilities related to riding in fog the following come to mind:

  • Choose time and route carefully — look for ways to minimize interaction with traffic.
  • Adjust speed to account for acceptable stopping distances while not becoming an obstacle to be run down from behind — not always an easy calculation but one worth working on.
  • Don’t tailgate — what is it about motorcycle and scooter riders that makes them want to follow a tail light on a car?
  • Learn how to pull over — there are times and situations you should not be on the road and you need to pull over and let the noise and chaos pass.  If your ego or stubbornness won’t allow this then leave the scooter or motorcycle at home.
  • Know how to keep your visor clear while riding — this is harder than it sounds, especially in heavy fog.
  • Keep in mind the road surface might be slippery — especially fog when the temperature drops towards freezing.  Maybe just stay at home and if not, slow down.  Really slow down.
  • Just take the bus — don’t ride.  This is the best choice.

Riding provides more than fun, it offers an opportunity to engage a personal puzzle that involves personality, common sense and problem solving abilities.  In a world bent on reducing risk to zero riding in general is an act of rebellion to that part of our culture.  Pushing into fog, rain, snow and dark of night, that creates a completely different character of rebellion.  Make sure you know what you’re getting into.

Ride safe.

Mount Nittany

Mount Nittany at sunrise from the air

State College, Pennsylvania photographer and videographer, Mike Houtz, sent me a magical image he made on Sunday morning of Mount Nittany at sunrise with the valley shrouded in fog.  I’ve been riding in that fog for the past couple weeks and posting pictures on Scooter in the Sticks so with his permission I’ll share the image to give you a bird’s eye view of the place where all my rides begin.

Mount Nittany rises out of the Nittany Valley and serves as an icon for Penn State.  I first set eyes on it 45 years ago and has become a welcome sight as I make my way home.  My Vespa and I live in the fog on the right side of the picture.  For Penn State Alumni and the Penn State faithful I figured you would appreciate this majestic view.  For the rest, this is one view of central Pennsylvania and a great place to begin some great scooter, motorcycle or bicycle rides.

I’ll let Mike decide if he wants to share how he made this photograph in the comments.  I’ve seen other aerials of the mountain that are just as good.  Now if I can just get him to make a picture of my Vespa…

You can see more of his work at Michael Houtz Photography. If you are interested in a print for your Penn State collection I’m certain Mike can oblige.

Hauling on a Vespa

Gordon Harkins with his Vespa scooter

Meet Gordon Harkins.  He owns a red Vespa GTS 300, has a folder full of action photos from Penn State football team’s losing effort against Northwestern, has his parking permit on the wrong side of the scooter, and utilizes the Vespa in much the same manner as I do — for utilitarian purposes.  Like transportation to our Sunday morning get together at Saint’s Cafe.

A Vespa scooter is marketed as a chic, urban mode of transportation but for many of us it also has a different role — the utility Vespa — a functional mode of transportation capable of all sorts of duty.  Thought I would share one of the more common roles mine takes as a grocery hauler.  Here’s the store list this morning:

From WalMart:

Journals
Pointy Q-Tips
Dental sticks

From Wegmans

Loaf of bread
Butter
Bagels
Cream cheese
Red pepper
Potatoes
Cuke
Lettuce
Frozen fruit — blackberries and mangos and raspberries
Mango and Lemon Sorbet popscicles
Red onions
Asiago cheese
Frozen pie shells
Tomatoes
Half gallon of milk
Pine nuts
Frozen dinners
Evaporated milk

So here’s how the Vespa handles the assignment…

Journals in Vespa topcase

First stop at WalMart.  The journals, pointy Q-tips and dental sticks go in the topcase.  Still plenty of space for groceries.

Vespa scooter with groceries at Wegmans grocery store

Five bags of groceries after shopping at Wegman’s in State College, Pennsylvania.  I make sure things are bagged carefully so nothing frozen goes under the seat.  The Vespa has a number of carrying options:

  • Topcase
  • Underseat
  • Pursehook
  • On top of the seat using bungee cords
  • Front rack

Barely scratched the surface of capacity today.

Groceries in topcase of Vespa scooter

Three bags of groceries were stuffed into the topcase on top of the journals — the milk, butter, cream cheese and frozen stuff.

Groceries in the under seat storage on a Vespa scooter

Everything else except the loaf of bread went under the seat.  The bread hung from the purse hook where it would be away from any engine fumes.  I have great respect for good bread and don’t want a Sunoco version.

So there you have it, a little sample of the utility Vespa.  I could have carried six more bags of groceries without any problem.  Nine if I had my backpack.  Even more if I had more than my normal assortment of four bungee cords.

Ain’t life grand…

For a more romantic example of things you can haul on a Vespa check out BRINGING HOME THE CHRISTMAS TREE

Experiencing the World

Soybean field in morning sun

A crisp fall morning, dew clinging heavily to soybean pods as sunlight works to burn away morning fog, these are the things that kindle the desire to be riding into a new day.  The journey from bed to the road isn’t always easy; the desire to sink into bed just a bit deeper, a while longer is strong.  Following my disposition I would probably never see a sunrise or experience the mysteries of  dawn.  This morning I had chores to do but was glad to be out on the road to be experiencing the world.

Writer Joyce Carol Oates has commented on the concealed benefits of chores:

As a farm girl, even when I was quite young, I had my ‘farm chores’ – but I had time also to be alone, to explore the fields, woods and creek side. And to read.

I have to agree — riding my Vespa to do chores and errands almost always provides those things.

Vespa GTS in the fogA longer than normal walk with an insistent dog got me on the road later that I would have liked.  The sun had already burned off the heavier fog that can completely shroud this area.  It did not diminish the quiet though to be alone with my thoughts and explore the place where I live.

Cornfield in fog

Autumn is screaming.  Farmers are chopping corn and the leaves have already dropped from the ash trees next to my house.  Before long there will be snowflakes in the air.  Still, it’s worth stopping and looking around.  I remember the first time I make a photograph of this particular field nearly twenty years ago and it still holds the same visual attraction.  I’ve parked the Vespa here many times so I could walk around and wonder what I’m seeing.

Vespa GTS in a foggy field

Opportunities to explore and make photographs were hampered this morning by the influx of traffic into the valley for Penn State’s homecoming football game.  I didn’t want to cope with the tens of thousands of vehicles that fill the roads and streets during the run up to the game so I put the camera away and turned towards State College, Pennsylvania to take care of a few errands.

Farm field near State College, Pennsylvania

Had to stop to make one last picture before heading into the gauntlet of football traffic and hopes of a loaf of Gemelli’s french country bread.  No luck on that score then on to Wiscoy for Animals for a back of bird food and on home to relax.  It’s dark now but the effects of the ride linger.  Can’t wait for the morning and one more chance to move through the world…