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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being forced to slow down and take the road less stressful

It was shaping up that this week might be the last rain-free week in which I could ride the Honda to work every day. I’d not ridden enough this year and winter was closing in.

My commute is 27 miles, mostly on highway, and the traffic’s generally moving at the speed limit when I’m headed to work. This time of year the mornings are chilly enough to prompt a wish for heated grips but the afternoons usually offer perfect riding weather.

Nearing the off ramp that’d put me on city streets for about a mile before reaching the office, my CB750 started to get a little squirrelly; just enough to convince me to slow down. The last turn before the office required too much effort and I knew from previous experience that the rear tire was losing air. It turned out my year-old rear tire was going flat.

I’d made it to the office and there was nothing that could be done immediately. I’d later learned that it was puncture about the size of a 30-penny nail (that’s pretty big). I called a few shops near the office and tried Fix-a-Flat, but in the end my son — who luckily had the day off — was willing to provide transportation home and pick up the bike the next day.

The response to this event, mine and of those around me, was interesting, particularly when others realized that you usually don’t carry a spare tire on a motorcycle. My calmness in the face of this dilemma surprised me. Perhaps it was the friendless of the people at the local shops, who despite being unable to help me, wished me good luck (in a sincere manner).

Riding a motorcycle is a choice. Hopefully a conscious choice that include being safe. For me a choice that’s been about slowing down and worrying less; taking it slow not only when it’s prudent but also knowing that the places I’m going will probably be there whenever I arrive.


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the conundrum of working-class guy’s fly fishing vehicle

Ask around, do a little research and you’ll likely find that the question “what’s the best vehicle for fly fishing” is often answered “truck.”

But I’m still paying into social security so others can fly fish when they want a working stiff. I need transportation that is, first and foremost, reliable, and just as important, economical. I have to spend money on gas to make money, and the less I spend upfront the better.

During better weather, the Honda CB750 and its 45+ miles per gallon is a fine option. But it’s difficult to load the necessary fly fishing gear, and the cooler of post-fishing beer, on a motorcycle. I’ve tried.

Being a bit obsessive about conducting research on anything that will cost more than $50, I’ve been thinking — probably too much according to those around me — about the vehicle that, in about 1½ to 2 years, will replace my current 2003 Honda Accord. Since I’ll likely buy a certified pre-owned car, it’s going to be something currently on the market. My current car gets 30 to 32 mpg most of the time, and on long trips to fishing venues, I’ve seen 34+ mpg. But over 80% of my driving is commuting to and from work.

I’ve debated the merits of various models, including sport utility vehicles and all-wheel-drive cars. A hybrid is out of the question; too heavy and not enough clearance for the occasional Forest Service road. Subaru is a commonly offered up make as an all-encompassing solution. But I’ve noticed two things: most Subaru owners talk about the sportiness of the ride, the go-almost-anywhere capability, but rarely praise their cars’ mpg, and it seems to be a roll of the dice when it comes to build quality. That might be said about any make, but that’s my experience.

Despite the fact that I’ve been a Honda owner for well over 20 years, I opened up my consideration to other options, particularly now that the mpg on midsize sedans is edging up.

But, and a bit ironically, it’s fly fishing that helped firmed up my decision. At least for now.

I’ve driven my Honda on a good many, only slightly improved, Forest Service roads. Sometimes for miles, over the relatively soft dirt along the Upper Owens River, for example, or over rocks on my way to the Little Walker River, and on washboard roads in the hills behind the cabin.

Still, the doggone car doesn’t squeak or rattle.

I’m hoping this will still hold true for my next car, until that someday when I can justify a dedicated fishing truck.


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my early thanksgiving

Yesterday the shield on my helmet was dotted with mist. Clouds showed up early in the morning and again hover above today. Temperatures have noticeably dropped and the first reports of snow in the Sierras have filtered down to the lowlands. Tomorrow we’ll be making the annual trek to Camino, Calif., and the ranches that make up Apple Hill. It’s clear that fall has hit Northern California.

It’s a time of year that sparks in me some introspection. Though it’s far from over, there’s an almost instinctive looking back on the year; recalling the new friendships — however temporary they may be — as the days are filled with one activity or another. The opportunity for these friendships was the answer to a recent question, as I was beginning to adopt another hobby, if it might just be one hobby too many.

The answer is no. Whether motorcycling, fly fishing or shooting, a welcome sense of belonging emerges as I learn from, and about, those pursuing similar interests, or simply enjoy the camaraderie.

It may be a bit early, but that’s certainly a reason for thanksgiving.


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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.


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late summer lament, wife on the motorcycle, and a reminder from Churchill

"Four Seasons-Fenner Nature Center" photo collage by Aunt Owwee, used under creative commons licenseHi, I’m Patrick and I’m a fly fisherman. I cast my last fly…

Late Summer Lament

It’d soften the blow to say that I fell off the wagon this summer. The truth is that I nearly missed the wagon entirely.

There are plenty of excuses for not fly fishing as much as I’d have liked this summer. Sure, high water on many of the rivers for much of the summer is another lame excuse. Thankfully, I’m gainfully employed, which while providing the funds for fishing, also limits the time in which to do so.

I did squeeze in some quality and numbers of fish on the few trips I did make, but it’s been too many days. I’m feeling the shakes. The hope is to get in a quick fix next weekend.

But here in California summer won’t wane until late September, although the high country where I prefer to chase trout will have a light dusting of fall colors by then. That’s when we’ll expect to make up for lost opportunities. It’s the annual club trip and my time there this year will be nearly doubled. The chance of larger fish will also be raised with the hope of spending many of those days on a favorite lake that’s lately been giving up some big brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.

In between now and then, we’ll be heading to Alaska via a cruise ship, giving devoted attention to The Wife, and there will be no fishing. We’re saving up for a week-long fishing trip in The Last Frontier sometime in the coming year. Or the next.

More Adventure on Two Wheels

The Wife surprised me a while ago. “So, when are you going to take me on the motorcycle?”

There’s no telling if it’s the experience gained over a few years of riding or the miles, or maybe the idea of snuggling at speed, but it was clear she was serious after a little discussion. I knew she used to ride, back when rashness of youth focused on the “bad boys” with their Harleys motorcycles.

After buying a helmet last Saturday (not pink and no rhinestones, thank you), we rode on Sunday. Not too many miles, about 15, but enough for me to get the feel of having a passenger. All went well, no doubt helped along by The Wife’s previous riding experience.

Having a wife supporting her husband’s hobby is pretty near; to join in, definitely a bonus.

When Fly Fishing Wasn’t a Political Photo Op

During some general browsing of the web, I came across the article below from the Ottawa Citizen, dated August 28, 1943. It struck me as an illustration of the resolve of leaders not too many years ago. Despite the troubles of the world, time was taken to enjoy a favored pursuit (albeit during a secret meeting codename Quadrant). A reminder, despite the troubles of today, to slow down and savor that which we enjoy.

Churchill Goes Trout Fishing after Secret Confab, Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 28, 1943 (Google News Archive)

Churchill Goes Trout Fishing after Secret Conference in Quebec,
from the Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 28, 1943 (via the Google News Archive)


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a milestone and 10,000 miles wiser

By the time you read this it’ll be official. I’ll have ridden 10,000 miles on two wheels.

There are those who’ll say I was getting in front of a possible midlife crisis with the purchase of my first motorcycle just about four and a half years ago. I’d disagree. The idea of riding has bounced around my brain since riding a friend’s off-road bike, so long ago as a kid.

Like fly fishing, riding was one of those things that looked fun, but something I never truly could envision myself doing. And like fly fishing, choosing to ride any particular day influences planning, gear and even the pace.

To be clear, in both cases I favor a slower pace.

This pace was reflected in the process that led me to motorcycling, starting with a Motorcycle Safety Foundation class, just to see if I might possess the skills to ride and to determine — taking into account the possibility of dropping someone else’s motorcycle — whether it still offered the enjoyment I remembered from years ago.

I’d be remiss to not give credit to my wife, who works in the healthcare field and often used the term “donor-cycle,” for supporting my desire to at least try motorcycling. Even knowing that my dad had a decidedly unpleasant motorcycling accident that led to his not riding, I went ahead with registration for the class — with my oldest son joining me — with no particular plan to purchase a motorcycle. That’s not to say I didn’t have thoughts about something in the Honda CB series… Sean and I both passed the class with flying colors and by early December 2007 our driver’s licenses carried an M1 endorsement.

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The first bike.

Though I had no immediate plan buy a motorcycle, the universe had something else in mind. Only four weeks after getting my M1 endorsement I became the owner of a venerable 1982 Honda CB650SC with about 8,000 miles on it. Now owned by my son, this vintage Nighthawk gently taught me the basics. It was a great starter bike; easy and fun to ride. It also taught me that two-wheeled transportation, while giving one a true appreciation for highway speeds, can make one feel more connected to the world. Maybe it’s the safety-conscious swiveling of my head, but I seem to see more when riding.

I definitely feel more when riding. My commute is about 30 miles one way on a state highway that passes through reclaimed marshland of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, farmland and by a cattle ranch, all the time skirting the upper edge of San Francisco Bay. (Technically it’s San Pablo Bay.) Despite protective riding gear, the microclimates are readily apparent. When the weather’s warmer, the water of the marshes retain enough heat to create a “banana belt” that makes my early morning ride more comfortable. But once I drop over a small ridge, heading closer to the coast, the air temperature invariably drops 5 to 10 degrees.

Over a year and a half with the 650, I learned basic repairs, added a vintage luggage rack, overcame a fear of riding in the rain and took a good number of local trips.

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Two bikes, two fly rods, two reels and an extra gallon of gas.

It was sad to see that first bike go, but nice to know it’d still be in the family. Even more exciting was the fact that on July 24, 2009, I took possession of a motorcycle that through its production years (1992-2003) had been my favorite: the Honda CB750F/Nighthawk 750. Mine’s from ’97 and had less than 4,000 miles on it when purchased. It’s now fitted with a windscreen, luggage and risers. I like it and its average of nearly 50 mpg.

Sean and I took our first long motorcycle trip after I bought the 750, heading over familiar roads and fly fishing along the way.

So here I am, 10,000 miles later. Yes, there have been two close calls, both due to inattentive drivers. (And yes, my wife knows about them.) I’m thankful that whomever is watching over me is doing so and I’ve learned to ride within my limits. I’ve come to grudgingly accept that the buffer I put between myself and the car in front of me is often instead seen by “cagers” (car drivers) as an opportunity.

Those who know me know I take care of my vehicles. But the motorcycle is unlike the cars. Once and a while I find myself simply staring at the motorcycle, an old-school symbol of freedom, still not fully believing I own and regularly ride one.