fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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back in the saddle again (or, oops, I did it again)

It’s hard to pinpoint when I first decided that I wanted a motorcycle in my life.

There were the summer days zipping about family friends’ property in Nevada City on a now forgotten mini bike, weaving between blackberries and jumping off berms that then seemed to touch the sky.

Then there was the mid ’80s Kawasaki 454 LTD that went up for sale across the street when the kids were young. Impractical and unreasonable at the time but gleaming with well-cared-for chrome.

Over the years, when the brother would visit, we’d spend too much time ogling bikes at the local dealership. I loved the ’91-’03 CB750 Nighthawk and absolutely coveted the ’89-’90 CB500 TT, which now is worth twice as much as it sold for 26-plus years ago.

Finally, it was the lessons of life that urged following through – some might call it giving in – to the wish to experience the world on two wheels motivated by controlled detonation. My license was first stamped with an M1 endorsement in 2007.

Only by chance did I start riding sooner rather than later. It was late December that year when opportunity arose in the form of a 1983 Honda CB650SC. Parked in a neighborhood driveway, the price and condition were right. With my wife’s support of my aspiration, I bought it. I learned a lot about riding on it.

About a year later, my son bought the CB650SC from me and, again, opportunity led me to the bike I dreamed about a decade before, a 1997 Nighthawk. Bought on a whim by the original owner, it sat in his warehouse with less than 4,000 miles. I put another 10,000 miles on it. About half of those miles were commuting. The other half accumulated during local scenic rides that led to the annual trips over Tioga and Sonora passes soon after they opened in the late spring. There was just something about starting in warmish weather at 3,000 feet and climbing into the snow-chilled air of 9,000-plus feet.

The Nighthawk left me a couple of years ago. Being an adult requires accepting change. It was for the better and there were no regrets.

I did miss it. Mostly on those bluebird days, when each run into town or to a movie would, on two wheels and exposed to the world, become an experience. Occasionally, long-festering imaginings of longer trips bubbled to the surface.

It began with “just a stop to look” at a local shop and innocent conversations with salespeople. The main attraction was the new crop of smaller displacement motorcycles, with an eye to finding a bike that might fit most of my wants: fun, light(er), reliable, capable of handling a graded forest service road, and suitable for longer highway trips. The Nighthawk weighed nearly 500 pounds. Less weight equated to more fun. The Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is nice. The Honda NC700X is an interesting idea but was a heavy as the Nighthawk. While thought was given to the 200 cc Suzuki Van Van and Yamaha TW200, both seemed a tad small for everyday riding and much less highway capable.

Then there was the Honda CB500X. It fit right in the middle. It passed the ergonomics test. A mental note was made to arrange for a test ride in the coming weeks.

Then, opportunity knocked, again.

The new-to-me 2013 Honda CB500X.

There weren’t many used CB500Xs on the market. But that one Saturday night I decided to see what might be on Craigslist. There were four. The asking price on three was a bit higher. The fourth was priced right. The ad was simple: “2013 Honda CB500X in good condition.” No photos. It had been posted only an hour before. After a quick email exchange and urging from the wife, a meeting was set for the next day.

The original owner had taken care of it. It did have some scars: a nearly imperceptible ding on the right-side cowl and a snapped right rear turn signal. A test ride confirmed its handling, adequate power, and comfort.

With the knowledge that his wife wanted it gone – he now had two motorcycles – and the necessary fixes, the offer I didn’t expect to be accepted was. In the week since I’ve fixed the turn signal and installed a Vololights license plate frame. (Have to say, my clean installation almost looks OEM. That’s a story for later.)

While I tend to be a proponent of spending money on experiences rather than things, this is one thing that I hope opens up possibilities of many new experiences.


I spent a bit of time this last weekend getting the feel of the new bike by exploring the old Mare Island Naval Shipyard.

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the good side to a bad wet season

The '97 ready to roll.

An excellent combination: sun, clear skies and a motorcycle.

The separation between Northern and Southern California is customarily delineated by rainfall or lack thereof. But not so much this year. The hope of a Miracle March making up for a dry, spring-like January and February is fading fast. I’m just a little bit worried that not all of the recently tied flies will get wet this year.

Still, I shoved aside one hobby for another, rolled the motorcycle out of the garage, geared up, set the choke and pressed the starter. Spark plugs fired, the engine caught, then sputtered and died. I tried a second time, it sounded as if it were flooded. After more thought than it should have taken, it dawned on me that this March day was already warm enough that there was no reason to apply much, if any, choke.

My son and I hadn’t really decided where we might ride, just that we would. But Sean’s suggestion of the Russian River Brewing Co. had lodged in my head, so we headed out Hwy 37, skirting the northern edge of San Pablo Bay (which is part of and north of San Francisco Bay), through the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge — a significant destination on the Pacific Flyway — and along the southern reaches of the Sonoma and Napa valleys. A cloudless sky and migrating birds looked down upon us.

It was good to be in the saddle again, and though we’ve ridden together less than either of would probably like, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve developed enough awareness to anticipate each other and communicate simple messages through hand motions. A bit of this signaling after we passed Infineon Raceway (the old Sears Point) had us heading north toward Petaluma, past green fields dotted by sheep and their lambs. The last dozen miles or so were the least enthralling; this section of Hwy 101 just south of Santa Rosa is always at some stage of deconstruction, and the redwoods on either side of the road always seem dusty, dirty and thirsty.

Soon enough we pulled into the free public parking (bonus!) offered for motorcycles, which just so happened to be behind the Russian River Brewing brewpub. Winding out way past the bar and through the tables, it was immediately clear that this is a popular place. (I’d later find out that, unless you’re a diehard triple IPA fan, stay away when the brewery releases its ‘Pliny the Younger’ — some folks wait up to five hours in line for the new batch of BeerAdvocate’s top-rated beer for 2009.) We tossed our names at the hostess, stashed the coaster-style pager and gulped down a few glasses of ice water.

Russian River Brewing Co. Menu

The tap menu. We opted for the right side...and it was good. Very good.

The pub is appropriately dimly lit, and the dark wood throughout quickly absorbs any sunshine that makes it past the crowd drinking and generally carousing out front. We were seated about halfway between the front and back of the place, and I had an unobstructed view of the tap menu. We’d learn that the left side tended toward ‘aggressively hopped’ beers; the list to the right was comprised of Belgian-inspired ales and barrel-aged (sour) beers. Selecting the beers in your flight is easy: pick one list or the other or both. It was an easy compromise — I was paying after all — and we opted to try the ales and barrel beers, to be accompanied by a ‘Piaci’ pizza (mozzarella, marinara, gorgonzola and pine nuts) and some hot wings.

Russian River Brewing Co. Flight

The traditional thumbs up from Sean, and a well-deserved thumbs up it is.

The grub was pretty darn good. The beers were crazy good. Our tasting included Redemption (blonde ale), Perdition (bière de Sonoma), Sanctification (blonde ale brewed with Brettanomyces yeast), Supplication (sour aged in pinot barrels), Defenestration (hoppy blonde ale), Damnation (golden ale), Damnation #23 (golden ale, triple aged with oak chips), Temptation (sour aged in chardonnay barrels), Salvation (strong dark ale), Consecration (sour aged in cabernet barrels) and Collaboration (IPA style). Only the Consecration was not to our liking, mostly because the cabernet seemed give the brew an overpowering sweetness.

Our favorites — at least mine — included Sanctification (uniquely tart but crisp), Defenestration (a clean blonde with a hop finish that didn’t linger or kill the taste buds) and Damnation #23 (a full-bodied, semi-spicy golden ale offset with a bit of oak). Thankfully, the sample glasses were 2 ounces, and we lingered over bites of the pizza, the gnawing of the hot wings and discussions of each beer.

A few hours later, well rewarded for the hour-long ride there, we started up the bikes and headed east toward the Sonoma Valley, offloading some beer along the way. After a while, Sean peeled off the main road and I stopped to refill the tank (42 mpg) before the final few miles to home.

Perhaps it’s time to think about hunting steelhead on the Russian River; any unsuccessful day fly fishing could be brightened with a visit to this namesake brewery.