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.

Ducati vs. Vespa

Comparing anything, motorcycles and scooters included, invariably leads many to the mental trap of “which is better?”.  As I think about all the times I’ve engaged in that pointless battle — which is the better camera, tripod, paint, microwave oven, car, faucet, tile, window — you get the picture, it’s been a complete waste of time.  I will battle on though to rationalize my decision making process though.  I’m that dumb.  And so it goes with the Ducati vs. Vespa as it turned in my head during a ride to breakfast that my friend Paul and I undertook over the weekend.

Ducati Hypermotard and Vespa GTS

Before delving into anything related to the machines or the ride I need to say something about the photography, or more specifically, the camera used.  I’ve misplaced my trusty Canon G15 point and shoot and was left with only the iPhone to make images.  Normally I would have gone to great lengths to find something to shoot with but on this morning I decided to let go of image making.  It was not easy but well worth the struggle.

The iPhone 4 makes reasonably good images and I put it to use a few times during the ride.  But mostly I found myself riding unencumbered by any concerns to document or illustrate what I was seeing or thinking.  Many rides are filled with a mental narration that can consume the experience as I commit more and more mental resources towards photography.  On this day I found that I got to a point where my mind was, well, empty.  I was just on the Vespa flying down the road.

Paul’s Ducati Hypermotard is a pretty thing.  He got rid of his Ducati 1198 to make room for this one in the garage.  A lot more fun and more comfortable to ride in my opinion though each rider has their own taste in machinery.  He acquired it on eBay and had to go to Mobile, Alabama to pick it up.  He really wanted the Hypermotard.  It does have a nice, throaty engine sound and can easily leave the Vespa evaporated in it’s rear view mirrors but on a ride through the countryside for breakfast it didn’t come up.

Soybean field in a central Pennsylvania autumn

As fall approaches the world starts to change.  The soybean fields are turning yellow in preparation for harvest and the atmosphere is just perfect for riding. There’s a trade off to keeping the power of the Ducati in check — foregoing dazzling speed for the dazzling scenery.  The Vespa isn’t capable of dazzling speed but I suspect you can’t pay a lot of attention to the roses when you are dazzled.

Vespa GTS making a U-turn

During a stop for pictures Paul had me ride circles around him so he could get an action picture.  I reminded him to make the scooter and I look heroic.  He succeeded in making me look like the circus bear riding a bicycle.  So much for heroics.  I will say the scooter looks really clean — a testament to the dishonesty of photography.

Vespa GTS 250ie under a heavy sky
When we left State College, Pennsylvania there were a number of options for route and breakfast eateries.  Paul left it to me to choose so I thought I would surprise him by deviating from our normal 20 mile ride to breakfast by increasing the distance to 60 miles.  For a moment I thought rain might intrude despite the forecast calling for sunshine.  I didn’t care though having not been on the Vespa all week.  And the Ducati, nice and shiny as it is, could use a bit of rain to humble itself.  Turned out things remained dry.

Ducati Hypermotard and Paul Ruby
The official Ducati portrait for Paul’s website.  I’ve been photographing him with his scooters and motorcycles for 20 years or so.  He has quite a collection.  I’ll try and get him to pose again when I have a real camera available.

It is a nice bike.
Paul Ruby Ducati and Vespa rider

This portrait was made just a few miles from one of the breakfast establishments Paul has trying to get me to for the past couple years — Mamie’s in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania.  Luckily, the surprise remained intact until we pulled into the parking lot because for all the riding in Pennsylvania Paul possesses a common talent of not really being aware of where he is.  Or so it seems to me.

Mamie’s has great food and the fresh baked donuts are to die for.  I forgot how good they were.  If you pass anywhere near this part of Pennsylvania you must stop for breakfast or lunch.

The Ducati vs. Vespa question surfaced a few more times on the way home.  Once on a three exit run on Interstate 99 as I watched the Ducati in my rearview mirror as we tooled along at 70 mph.   Even though he could go a lot faster the beating by the wind wouldn’t be any better than what I was experiencing on the Vespa.  Those naked bikes stick you right in the middle of things.

And a bee in my helmet and subsequent sting brought the Vespa to a rapid halt along a rural road with Paul following closely.  The Hypermotard seems able and agile in negotiating pavement to gravel in a hurry.

Damn bees.  It’s been awhile since I had to content with that stuff.

All in all a great ride.  First time with the new (used) Ducati.  At this point I’d say the score is Ducati 1, Vespa 1.  Arrived home with just shy of another 120 miles added to the clock and a smile on my face.

Can I ask for more?

Riding a Vespa Scooter is Different for Everyone

Vespa GTS 250ie scooter along Spring Creek

The first late summer morning where the temperature dropped to 50F, chilly enough to use the liner in my winter riding jacket, the bright sun adding just enough warmth to temper the cool air making its way inside jacket and pants.  The leaves are starting to fall as the fall equinox approaches.  Before long the warm, sleepy summer rides will give way to the more bracing rides of fall. Over the years a pattern has emerged showing my riding mileage increases as the temperature decreases.  Riding a Vespa scooter is different for everyone I guess.

Vespa GTS 250ie scooterFor me, riding continues to be a solitary experience taking place in the quiet, empty places in central Pennsylvania.  At one point in time the ride was about the machine but that faded a long, long time ago.  Now it’s become a form of meditation, at times simple and free and others difficult, puzzling, and moving into the unknown.  There is an element of self-surrender and introspection, probably the closest I’ll come to mysticism in this life.  Strange what a ride can become.

Vespa scooter in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

I’ve ridden enough motorcycles to know that the experience would eventually move in the same direction.  On the Vespa I just get there quicker.  Still, those moments of mystery are short lived and fleeting.  One moment I’m flying and the next I’m so hungry that all I can think about it finding somewhere to eat.  And this day I ended up at Cool Beans Coffee House in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.  My bad luck that they are closed on Sunday.  And worse as I did the mental gymnastics of the next best food stop my phone rang sending me off in another direction all together.  And so it goes, even the most innocent rides on the most mundane days can swing from sublime to routine, sometimes in moments, others in miles.  Regardless of what the experience is for me I want more, an undeniable craving to be in the world, on the road, air rushing by in a shimmering shaking of living.

Honda motorcycles in shipping crates

As I worked my way home I came upon this odd collection of covered shipping containers, a motorcycle wheel revealing the cargo.  The eighteen motorcycles, or I suppose there could be some scooters too, are waiting to provide their rider with a jumping off point for the body, mind and spirit.  Riding a Vespa, or anything else for that matter, will be different for everyone.  But ride long enough and the machine will vanish and something else will creep into your mind, a flight of fancy that’s unlooked for but mesmerizing.

At least that’s been my experience…


Riding Joys

Vespa GTS 250ie scooter parked in State College, Pennsylvania

Not every ride is in the sticks and regardless of planning or intent you never really know what you’ll discover.  Riding joys can be found anytime, anywhere, and as Allen Funt of Candid Camera used to suggest — “…when you least expect it…”. Today, during an unremarkable ride through remarkably familiar ground, I learned I’m going to be a grandfather.

The same smile I get while riding is still stuck to my face…

Thin Grey Fog

Vespa GTS 250ie scooter near Penn State's Beaver StadiumThin grey fog, one of many types from pea soup to frozen fog, each with their own character, every one whispers, calling me away from my appointed rounds. Diverted, delayed, distracted, I banked the Vespa from the pavement onto the gravel and into the fog.  I can’t resist, in honesty I don’t desire to resist.  In the dim mist a boy’s dreams of mystery, suspense and adventure come to life.

The little ride to work has a bit more bite, a little more grit.

Life on a Vespa is sweet.  A ride in the fog is magnificent.

Just watch out single strands of fence wire strung across open gates…