Monday, June 29, 2015

Rocket and me

Bill Leuthold is on my must-meet list of riders, bloggers, and characters.

Bill is a Cannonballer, a serial and multiple Vespa owner, and he knows how to make a 200 cc Vespa GT fly like a rocket.

Bill’s GT is so fast, it got the testosterone all riled up because he was making such incredible times on various legs of the Hyder Alaska to New Orleans 2014 Scooter Cannonball. Suspicion fell on his trusted mechanic Boris.

Remember Boris and Natasha? Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. Cold war era cartoon spooks. When your mechanic’s name is Boris, and he’s got talent, and your Vespa GT blows the GTS’s away on a cross-continental odyssey, and there are points for each leg, suspicion is natural. And totally misplaced.

Bill is living testament to the wonders of the Vespa GT.

I remember when I was shopping for my first Vespa. I went to a dealer who was selling a GT. I looked at it. Very nice. Portofino green or something like that. It was on a battery tender tucked away with the other scoots and motorcycles in winter storage. “How fast is it?” I remember asking the dealer. He looked at me like I was missing a screw. “Oh, it’s fast” he said, in a kind of Seinfeld-Kramer-ish way.

In the end I didn’t buy it. It got nixed by the finance minister in favour of a somewhat less spendy dragon red Vespa LX150.

Seems hard to believe that a 200cc bike can travel like that, but Bill and Rocket are proof positive that the Vespa GT is one fast bike.

Check out his blog, and go back and follow the 2014 Cannonball. Time well wasted, to be sure.

Now what was the point… Oh yes.

I was looking in on Bill’s blog, Rocket and me, as I strive to do, making the rounds of the moto-bloggosphere, and I saw he had a T-Shirt done up to celebrate his blog.

I’ll buy one” I thought, more or less instantly. As I read on, I was gobsmacked, as they say in Blighty, Bill said he was sending me one, unsolicited.

Now it takes an extraordinary amount of time for the postal services of Canada and the U.S. to ferry mail between us, so the package only arrived the other day. But arrive it did.
I am tickled pink.

What better garb to don as I wrote the article on my retirement.
Thanks Bill! I am indebted.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A last commute


That word has been daunting for the last twenty four years. “You have to start paying yourself”. Wise words from my accountant. That’s how it showed up on my radar. A tiny, faint, scary blip in what seemed back then like a distant, dim, uncertain future.

I couldn’t afford to save much. “We’ll retire to a trailer park…” I thought, without any idea how Susan and I might actually avoid that as our eventual fate.

I was a young partner in a law firm. Three kids, a mortgage, a lawn to mow in the burbs, and no pension plan.

Friday was my last commute. I had choices. I opted for the Honda Shadow - Black Betty to Sonja, Thunderbird to me -  though I don’t name my rides, really, I don’t. Not exactly a ScootCommute. The only constant is change.

It turns out retirement will be fine. I plan to earn some money. Traveling money. That’s what it will be.

For the next little while Susan and I will coast, enjoy summer, as we begin the graceful descent to a retirement lifestyle in Toronto. Gradually less altitude, some flaps, ease up on the throttle, wheels down, and a three point landing in a new town, new home.

We’re clearing the table, wiping the slate. Out with the old, in with the new. We’re exchanging our plodding caterpillars for butterflies.

Thursday’s commute was nostalgic. I took the Vespa along the route of my first two-wheeled commute. That was six years ago. Man I love that Vespa. Smooth as silk with power to spare. Beauty, and a beast.

That morning the sun played with the lake shore route, dappling the winding road with warm patterns of bright light and cool shade. Casting glittery flashing diamonds here and there on the lake. I rolled into the underground garage at 10:30. Not a care in the world. I left the office at five-ish, came home the same way, savouring the slow path home.

Friday, June 26, 2015.

The last day of work. A last commute.

My first day of work was in the spring of 1980, immediately following my last Bar exam. Thirty-five years. Three employers. Fourteen offices. 36, 19, 44, 17, 75, 19, 37, 40, 5, 6, 5, and 19 are the floors I worked on. All in office towers, all downtown, most in Montreal, a few in Toronto. Never a dull moment. Quite a lot of high drama. Serious stuff. Many hours spent in knee-length black robes, a handful of all-nighters. A life spent learning, crafting, honing, pitching, deflecting, defending, writing, speaking, losing, but most often winning, arguments. A lawyer’s lot.

In keeping with the vibe, Thunderbird was the only logical choice for my last commute. Blues playing in my helmet, cruising on the 20, rockin’ my way downtown on 750 burly cc’s of raucous thundering adrenaline-fueled fun. With a devil-may-care attitude, greeted  by waves from guys on badass cruisers (my new ‘brothers’) many of whom I would almost certainly steer clear of on the sidewalk while avoiding eye contact, I headed straight for the office.

The remaining work was dispatched in a workman-like way. Hands were shaken, backs were slapped, there were heartfelt hugs and kisses, smiles were beamed, memories relived, personal contact information exchanged. In the process, my co-workers had hidden my helmet while I was roaming the building to ensure I couldn’t leave without final adieus to those closest to me. It worked.

I abandoned my credit card, put my access card on a colleague’s desk, and walked out the door in the company of one of the kindest, smartest, and most charming lawyers it has been my pleasure to work with. He knows it. I believe in telling it like it is.

No regrets, happy, confident, released. I think those I left behind felt the brunt of the departure. I had to fight and struggle to leave on my own terms. Like a child leaving the womb, in a way. I was striking out, breathing fresh air, free to roam, to be myself, care free, no work obligations.

I won.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jim's Adirondacks

Sorry to disappoint right from the get go, but sadly, Adirondack National Park in upstate New York, all six million acres of it, with its 6,970 miles of roads, 3,000 lakes and more than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, does not belong to Jim Mandle.

It sure seems like it though.

Having spent a day touring the park with Jim as my guide...
... I think it's fairer and more accurate to say that the Adirondack National Park owns Jim.

Jim and I had been conspiring for some time.

These things have a rhythm. A comment on an article, a couple of e-mails, a phone call or two. That's how it goes.

My Adirondack tour started as a very ambitious plan hatched by Jim.

I say ambitious, because that's what it was, honestly.

Jim, myself, Ken Wilson, and Sergei Belski, hailing from Calgary, Northern Florida, Montreal, and upstate New York in reverse order, would assemble some place, like say New York City, then ride up to the Adirondacks, all on Vespa GTS's, crash the Americade Harley/cruiser extravaganza in Lake George, and have a blast along the way.  Something like that.  Jim pitched the idea to Piaggio SpA as a unique marketing ploy for Vespa North America in which Piaggio would pony up some sponsorship cash for travel expenses. We all thought it was crazy.

In the end, Piaggio didn't take the bait, and the project sputtered. But I firmly and truly believe in the 'go big or go home' approach that Jim took. He actually got Piaggio to listen, to give him the time of day.  That's an amazing achievement and speaks to Jim's advertising and marketing expertise.

The plan Jim hatched didn't die though, it just morphed.

First it changed into a slightly less ambitious meet up among Jim and I, and Stephanie Yue.

That plan was torpedoed by... very good fortune, if you can believe it.

First Stephanie was invited back to L.A., interrupting her quest to cross the U.S. from the southwest to the northeast corner on her continuing 48 state odyssey, but landing her an advertising and promotion gig that was just too good to pass up. That meant pushing her arrival in upstate New York into July.  No big deal.  But... the final bit of good luck that sealed the fate of that moto get together, was that Jim got a buyer for his house in Lake Luzerne. That meant that Jim and Grace had to pack up and leave for Florida.

See how amazing good fortune can spoil a great moto party?

That left Jim and I.

I knew Jim and Grace were frantically packing up to meet their unanticipated end of June closing date. Could Jim tear himself away from the preparations for lunch, I enquired?  If so, I would jump on my Vespa and truck on down to Lake Luzerne.

Do I have to keep you guessing on Jim's response?

I left the house at 8:30 last Wednesday morning, an hour later than I had hoped, so I made a beeline for the border.

That meant a first for me, crossing the Mercier bridge, one of the massive bridges that span the St-Lawrence river to Montreal's south shore and the only one I had yet to cross on two wheels.
Just to the west of the Mercier's twin spans there is a railway bridge.
In no time at all I was over the border and cruising south on I-87 bound for Lake Luzerne.
One of you loyal readers (I won't mention names) wondered why I would need both GPS and iPhone mounts on my bikes.  Well the answer came no sooner than I was off the Interstate and headed west towards Lake Luzerne.  You guessed it.  No cell coverage.  Nada. Zip.  It stayed that way for the better part of the day.  Thank heavens for my Garmin. It took me to Jim's front door without a single bad turn.
I knew I was in the right place as soon as I saw Jim's GTS.  Rarer in these parts than... well as rare as a Vespa in upstate New York.  That explains the U.S. border guard's odd questions about my bike, like, was it highway legal, did it have a license plate, and how would I cope with the daunting super-scary 18 wheelers on the big bad Interstate.  When I said "I just pass them", he seemed incredulous.
What a nice balcony Jim and Grace have...
... a view to calm even the most restless spirit...
... and more than enough room for Vespas.
In no time at all we were ready to roll.
It was high noon and time for lunch. I had skipped breakfast and was famished.
Jim led the way to the centre of town to the Upriver Café, a delightful restaurant right on the banks of the Hudson River. We ate on the veranda out back.  What a delightful place it was.
We grabbed a bite, Jim started planning a grand tour of key Adirondack must-see sights, we paired our Sena helmet headsets, chatted with some locals explaining the wonders of Vespa travel, and set out.

I was concerned that Jim would mess up his packing schedule.  But Grace insisted he take the afternoon to show me around, and I got the feeling that Jim needed to break free and enjoy some time off from the moving chores.

Our first stop was at an overlook that no casual tourist might easily find, other than by dumb luck.  I knew instantly when we got there that I was in the hands of a very experienced Adirondack guide.
There in the distance was Lake George.  Jim pointed out the paddle wheeler, barely visible, plying the vast lake no doubt with a boatload of spellbound tourists, their imaginations adrift with thoughts of the great Mississippi and Mark Twain's epic yarns.
The first major stop was the Adirondack Museum.  I knew nothing of this marvel.
I was impressed by the huge Adirondack chair.  Jim offered to sit in it for a photo, but I felt that would be unbecoming.  I had already sensed I was privileged to have Jim as my guide.  Like getting a tour of Buckingham palace from Queen Elizabeth, or a guided Vatican visit from Pope Francis.
Jim had a chat with the lady manning the reception desk, quickly negotiating a waiver of the admission fee so that he could show me the view from the museum's café.  Being with Jim at the Adirondack Museum was like being at the Guggenheim with Guggenheim, or the Getty with Getty.
 More "Wow!".  This where Stephanie, Jim and I would have had lunch had good fortune landing on Steph and Jim left and right not robbed us of the opportunity. No biggie. There will be equally good times to be shared I'm sure.
We were destined to travel all day long in the park.  Jim estimates (actually more of a dead-on calculation) that we covered 186 miles in all from the time we left his place in Lake Luzerne until we parted ways in Keeseville.  And all day long, I heard myself utter "Wow!" like a dumbstruck numbskull hamstrung by a limited imagination and even more limited vocabulary.  Sorry Jim, but the ever increasing numbness in my bum must have been traveling northward to affect my speech.
Not only is Jim a certified Adirondack guide, but Jim and his family are benefactors of the museum.  Seriously.  His name is engraved there.  Honest.

See that canoe in the photo above? The one on the left? It's famous. Jim has one. He allowed in all seriousness and genuine humility that his is a better specimen.
The Adirondack Museum is to canoes and all things Adirondack-related, as the Museo Piaggio in Pontedera is to Vespas and all things Vespa-related.
The museum is truly a gem.  Anyone who finds themselves in upstate New York must pay the museum a visit. I promise it won't disappoint. Even if you won't have Jim to show you around.

There was no time for any more loitering in the museum, even if the exhibits were fascinating and the views breathtaking. We saddled up and shoved off.

Jim had more sights to show me.

We came to a stone bridge.  We stopped so I could snap a photo.  Jim rolled on a bit, and I heard him speaking in the headset but he was out of sight. At first I thought he was speaking to me. But no, he had stumbled on some local fauna.

Artistic fauna to be precise.
Jim must count his friends and acquaintances in the thousands. He has irrepressible good spirits and a genuine love of people. And shyness is not in his nature. I guess that's what made him a success in the advertising business.

Jim wanted to show me this place because more than any other place, it is his favorite in the park. Clearly the local artists' colony would agree because they were out in force capturing the scene in all its natural beauty.
As you can see for yourself, it truly is a uniquely beautiful spot.
We crashed the party and took a group photo.
This is Jim's special spot in the park.  Right there.
Here is Jim making new friends.
And then the pièce de résistance.  If you look carefully, you'll see that this artist has a vintage Vespa poster adorning her palette.  Vespa = art. As if you needed more proof. I rest my case.
As pleasant as Jim's favorite spot is, and as pleasant as the company was, and it was, there was more to see.  So off we went.
The next stop was to be Paul Smith's College.  Located in the park, the college offers programs in natural resources, fisheries and wildlife science, forestry, recreation, biology, hotel and restaurant management, culinary arts, and business.
The campus is simply stunning, located on the shore of one of the park's 3,000 lakes.
We may have cheated just a tiny bit by taking our Vespas where only pedestrians are truly welcome.

The clock was ticking and we wanted to be home by dusk.  So we rolled on, headed east on the way back to the Adirondack Northway, which is how upstate New Yorkers refer to I-87.
Along the way we stumbled on this raging spillway that Jim had not seen before.  That's how vast this park is.  Bigger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Great Smoky Mountains combined, so say WikiPedia, and Jim Mandle.
You can see the spray from the spillway on the road, and on my mirror.
We were cutting across the park now, taking smaller roads, trusting Jim's Garmin and his knowledge of the park. At one point we were on a truly secondary road that seemed to be getting more and more rustic shall we say.  We had our eyes peeled on the lookout for loose gravel, massive potholes, for deer or other unsuspecting wildlife.

At one point, some turtles were making a mad dash across the road. Yikes! With incredible skill and agility, aided by Jim's alert via the headset, we swerved each in turn and avoided disaster, sparing the turtles.

At long last we made it to Keeseville and the Northway.  We indulged in some celebratory ice cream cones, refueled, and went our separate ways.  I headed north, and Jim swung south.  By nine that evening, we were each snug in our homes, our fuel tanks dry, and our minds swimming with the memories of time very well spent.

Thanks Jim! 

Depending on the way the future unfolds, an opportunity may come my way to spend more time here, at a more restful pace, and see even more of what Adirondack Park has to offer.

The tally for the day: 12 hours traveling time, 1.5 to 2 hours in lunch and other small breaks, just under 500 miles.

And that my friends is how my bum became numb, even on a very comfortable Vespa GTS.

Live your lives!  Break free!  Ride till it hurts!
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.