Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mt. Greylock

Yesterday started out kind of overcast and threatening rain, although by the time I left my house to go to Mirage it was starting to clear up a little bit. Within a few hours the sky had lightened up enough that I felt it was worth trying to do something I've been wanting to do for the last couple of years -- ride up Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts.

For two years, there has been a project underway to improve the condition of the two paved access roads to the summit, which -- for as long as I can remember -- have typically been quite bumpy and potholed in places. During this process, the roads have been closed to the public... which is a bummer, because it's a great ride or drive to the top, with wonderful views.

Jim Lawson informed me a few days ago that he had ridden up to the top, and reported that the new pavement was a huge improvement. And he was right -- I rode up the Pittsfield side and came down the North Adams side, and not only had they removed virtually all of the bumps and potholes, but I could swear they widened the road a bit. They also added new guardrails in places which were pretty scary before.

Here's a shot of the bike I rode -- the Honda Fury -- about halfway up the Pittsfield side of the mountain.



And here's a panorama made from photos I took near this location, looking west.



Further up, abut a mile from the summit, I stopped and took some more photos to make this panorama of the view looking east, out over the town of Adams.



The weird kinds of distortions you can get when making panoramas with this method are evident in this image -- check out the wooden guardrail on the left, which is actually the same one as on the right (not the one closest to the Fury) and where I took the photos which make up this panorama, that guardrail is actually almost straight.

On the last leg of my ride home, I stopped near a little beaver pond. I always check it out as I ride by, hoping to see one of its Castor canadensis inhabitants. This time I was lucky, and even managed to get a little video of the action. -- PL

video

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ice storm damage

Today I took the Fury out for another ride, this time out to Pittsfield via Route 20 -- one of my favorite afternoon trips. It was sunny and slightly cool -- perfect conditions. After stopping at Barnes and Noble, where I picked up some new motorcycle magazines and an interesting hardcover collection of stories by H.G. Wells titled "A Dream of Armageddon" (most of which I don't think I've ever read), I headed back towards home on Route 9.

Along the way, I stopped to do something I've been meaning to do for the last couple of months -- take some photos of the damage wrought by one of the ice storms we had last winter. This storm knocked out power to thousands of homes for several days, and caused all kinds of headaches. I remember standing out on my front porch one night after the storm, and listening to trees cracking and splitting off in the distance. It was kind of creepy -- you could easily imagine some sort of large creature smashing trees out in the dark woods.

In all my years of living in this part of Massachusetts, I've never seen it this bad -- mile after mile after mile of trees either snapped in two or bent almost to the ground. In some places it seems like roughly every tenth tree has been damaged in some way.

Here's one view -- not the worst example -- along Route 9.



Birch trees seem to be especially hard hit -- I saw many of those bent almost horizontal. Of course, maybe they just showed up more clearly, given their white bark. I'm very curious to see how the woods recover from this damage over the next few yesrs. -- PL

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ride to Worcester

As some of you may be aware, partly from reading about it on this blog, our friend Eric Talbot has gotten into motorcycling in a big way. He's been putting in as many miles as he can on the Honda Big Ruckus, and I would not be surprised if the dude gets his license before the summer is over.

Eric has been doing a lot of research into various brands and models of motorcycles, trying to figure out what bike would be best for him when he's ready to move on from the Ruckus. He's been intrigued by a BMW, the 650GS, and found a dealer out in Worcester -- Wagner Motorsports -- that he thought mught have one he could look at.

So we -- Eric, Jim Lawson, and I -- made a plan to ride out there this morning, leaving from Mirage at 10AM. My friend Rick joined us as well. It couldn't have been a much better day to ride -- sunny, warm, with a slight breeze. We decided to take the scenic route, heading out through Amherst to Route 202, then north to Route 122. That would take us all the way to Worcester (arriving just around the corner, coincidentally, from "That's Entertainment", the comics shop where we have done signings before), where we would pick up Route 9. We'd follow that for about five or six miles and until we got to Plantation Road, and then only a mile or two up that to get to Wagner Motorsports.

The first part of the ride was great -- Route 122 especially is a beautiful road, moging around the north end of Quabbin Reservoir. There are also a number of other, smaller bodies of water along the way... a lot of eye candy. Here's the crew (or 3/4 of it, anyway) at our first rest stop along Route 122, getting ready to get back on the road.



That's Jim in front on his Yamaha FJR 1300 (or "Feejer", as he likes to call it), Eric on the Honda Big Ruckus, and Rick on his Yamaha 1300.

We got to Worcester with no problems, though once there the ride changed dramatically. I don't really care much for riding in cities -- too much traffic, and on warm days you often aren't moving enough to stay comfortably cool. Bt we did make it to Wagner Motorports, after a small digression (a.k.a. getting lost) due to poor signage.

They had lots of bikes, but unfortunately no 650GS. Eric did sit on this Ducati Multistrada, which he kind of liked.



We were also disappointed that this dealership had just decided to stop selling Moto Guzzis and replace them with the new Indian motorcycles (yes, another attempt at revival of the fabled brand... wonder if THIS one will succeed!).

We decided to head back the way we came, and on the way we stopped at the Victory dealer in Barre, MA. They had a bunch of nice bikes, including this Victory 8-Ball which Jim sat on...



... and this big new full-dress Kawasaki touring bike, here with me trying out the saddle.



Rick liked this Victory cruiser (the "Kingpin Tour" model) with a full set of leather-look hard luggage.



After checking out these bikes, we wandered into the center of Barre (a smallish town) and had a nice lunch at the Quabbin Pizza and Seafood restaurant, before heading back home. All in all, about 150 miles of great riding! -- PL

P.S. I forgot to mention the bike I rode today. It's one I just got last week, and this was the longest ride I'd taken on it yet. It's the new Honda Fury. This is Honda's first attempt at a kind of "chopper"-style factory custom. It has the 1300cc motor from the VTX cruiser. It's not my typical style of bike, but I really like it. It's got a great sound, handles well, and its power is -- as Jim put it after trying it out -- "very grunty". (That's a good thing.)

Here's the Fury posing with some lilac bushes. -- PL

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Coolest motorcycle trailer... EVER!!!

People who know motorcycles are aware that big bikes like Honda's Gold Wing have power to spare, and can pull small trailers with no problem. You will often see long-distance touring riders hauling these rigs, sometimes with small pop-up campers as part of the trailers.

Well, last week I was coming back from a coffee break with the Mirage dudes, and as we were crossing King Street heading back to the studio, we saw this amazing Gold Wing/trailer rig stopped at the lights. I was able to whip out my digital camera and snap a couple of shots before the bike took off.





In my opinion, this is without a doubt the coolest motorcycle trailer I've ever seen, both in conception and in execution. -- PL

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

View from Mt. Sugarloaf

I took the long way home yesterday, and decided to check to see if the access road to the top of Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield was open yet. It was, so I rode up to the top to check out the view.

There's an observation tower on top of the mountain, and I climbed up to the top level of it to take the photos which I stitched together to get this panorama.




It's quite a lovely view from up there. Off to the left is the bridge crossing the Connecticut River into Sunderland. To the right is the quiet town of South Deerfield. And if you look real close at the left third of the image, you can see off in the distance the towers of the University of Massachusetts, my alma mater. -- PL

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Day in Look Park

Longtime readers of this blog may recall my tenth installment back on May 18, 2008. I wrote about discovering, by accident, a cool show of vintage Japanese motorcycles while bicycling in Look Park.

Well, it happened again today, although this time I knew about it in advance (thanks to Jim Lawson), and this time I rode a motorcycle there. The weather wasn't quite as nice as it was last year, so fewer people showed up. But there were still some neat bikes.

I think my favorite was this little Bridgestone twin -- I think it was a 200. It reminded me of my old Bridgestone 100 trail bike that I had in high school -- the gas tanks are almost identical.



Nearby was this intriguing Honda dirt bike. At first, I thought it was an XL model, but looking at it more closely in the photo, I realized it's not a four-stroke, which all of the XL's were, but a two-stroke. Which makes me wonder if it might in some way be related to Honda's ground-breaking Elsinore two-stroke motocross bike -- the first two-stroke that Honda ever made, I believe.



Speaking of Honda XL's, here's one in a pretty orange paint job and in great condition.



I was at the show for about ten minutes when Jim Lawson showed up on his "Rat Wing".



That's the affectionate name Jim has given to the old Gold Wing which he is slowly customizing to his particular tastes -- I think he's trying to get that perfect "rat bike of the Apocalypse" look.

Jim and I both dug this old Yamaha twin with custom exhausts and a cool "flat tracker" look.



Here's a panoramic view of all the bikes:



All in all, a nice way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon. -- PL

Friday, May 15, 2009

Blast from the Past #180: Angry Dwarf

I can't recall exactly what fanzine this was drawn for in the 1980's, but I'm pretty sure that I actually got paid for it (not much, but still...!). I think this was one of several drawings done to illustrate one story, something very Tolkeinesque (hence this somewhat Gimli-like dwarf). -- PL

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"My Mother Threw Mine Away"

Yesterday was such a gorgeous day -- sunny, cool -- that I decided to take a ride that I had been thinking about for the last week, since I discovered (from a comment left on this blog) that the comic book store that Kevin Eastman and I used to frequent in Torrington, CT -- the one with the great name, "My Mother Threw Mine Away" -- hadn't actually gone out of business, but just moved to another town... in this case, from Torrington to Bantam, CT, which looked on the map to be no more than twenty miles to the southwest of Torrington. So I jumped on the Gold Wing and headed off.

Aprroximately 110 miles later, I was cruising through some beautiful countryside looking for 103 Bantam Lake Road. I missed the turn once, but only wasted a few minutes correcting my mistake, and soon found myself parked in front of the unassuming facade of "My Mother Threw Mine Away". Upon entering the store, which was full of stuff (very much like its original incarnation), I wandered to the back where a guy was working with some boxes of comics. "Is your name Jack?" I asked him. It was, and he recognized me from all those years ago. (Actually, come to find out during our subsequent conversation that we had met again at a show in Philadelphia several years back -- something I had forgotten completely. Not an unusual experience for me at busy shows.)

Jack and I chatted for a while, catching up on what we'd been doing. I learned that "My Mother Threw Mine Away" had actually moved twice before, to different locations in Torrington.

He showed me his two Saint Bernards -- I think he said their names were "Little" and "Trouble". Here they are posing with Jack in front of his store.



I took some photos inside in the front half of the store and put them together in this panoramic view.



I didn't realize until I got home and looked at the photos that the panorama is bracketed by some TMNT products. Can you pick them out? There's another whole sizable room in the back, packed with boxes of comics... a lot of stuff to look through.

Jack and I discussed a possible signing at his store sometime this year, probably in the summer. I mentioned that I might be able to get a few of the Mirage dudes to come with me, and he was into the idea. -- PL

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

Star Drek

Months ago, when I read quotes from J.J. Abrams, the director of the new "Star Trek" film, wherein he professed to not being a fan of the original show or, really, the whole "Star Trek" franchise, I took it with a grain of salt. It sounded like a little bit of clever misdirection, a kind of "Don't worry -- I'm not a hidebound, anal retentive "Star Trek" geek who is afraid to do anything new" message. I guess you could say I didn't really believe him.

Well, after sitting through two mostly painful hours of his version of "Star Trek" at the local Cinemark, I have to admit that I believe him now. It's difficult to think that Paramount would entrust their most valuable property to someone who clearly does not "get it". This movie is not "Star Trek". It's some kind of busy, noisy space adventure with some characters with the same names, and with vaguely similar personalities, as the ones in "Star Trek", flying through space in a ship that kind of looks like it belongs in "Star Trek", and even bears the name "U.S.S. Enterprise".

But it's not "Star Trek".

From Spock making out with Uhura (really... and more than once!) to scenes supposedly set on a 23rd century starship but looking all too much like the redressed 20th century factory where they were really filmed (complete with bulky steel pipes and clunky valve wheels), this is a movie calculated to annoy and depress anyone who had hoped for a respectful "reboot" of a beloved and well-established franchise.

With forty years of "Star Trek" history to draw on, it's astonishing to me that this is the best that we could get. And it's almost a year late! (What, exactly, were they working on all that time?) There's a wonderful movie waiting to be made which tells the story of how the U.S.S. Enterprise crew first came together. It's a movie I'd been waiting to see. I guess I'll have to wait some more.

The only saving grace in all this is that Abrams' "retconning" of "Star Trek" history is just another movie, and -- if the powers that be will it -- can be effectively erased from continuity and be looked at as what it essentially is... an alternate universe "Star Trek" exercise.

I will say that it was not entirely without merit -- some of the key cast did excellent work with their interpretations of the established "Star Trek" characters, and some of the visuals were very impressive.

But it is still (at least to me) a HUGE disappointment. I think the most depressing thing is that if this movie makes a lot of money (which it seems poised to do), this could be the future of "Star Trek": lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing. -- PL

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pat

Years ago, when my wife Jeannine and I (and some months later, Kevin Eastman) moved to Sharon, Connecticut, I would occasionally make trips to a town about thirty miles away. This town -- Torrington -- was the only place within relatively easy driving distance that had a copy shop with a really good black and white copier. In those early days, before Kevin and I made enough money to buy our own copier, we would make that drive to make archival copies of various artwork, often times the inked pages of the TMNT comics before we did the tone work.

One thing we discovered in Torrington -- aside from the copy shop -- was a funky comic book shop with probably the best name I've ever heard for such a business: "My Mother Threw Mine Away". I think the store owner's name was Jack, and when we introduced ourselves as the Turtle guys, he was happy to buy TMNT comics from us. We'd go to this comic shop to get our regular "fix" of comics, maybe once every couple of weeks.

"My Mother Threw Mine Away" is gone now. I don't know when it closed. But today I was in the neighborhood -- in fact, at a church across the street from where the comic shop used to be. I was at this church to attend services for our dear, recently departed friend Pat, who -- I think it is safe to say -- was probably my wife's best friend. They met about twenty-five years or so ago when my wife taught English at the high school where Pat taught Special Ed students. It's the same high school that graduated Jim Lawson.

When Jeannine and I moved back to the Northampton area in 1986, after our two years in Connecticut, she and Pat stayed in touch. Eventually, Pat and her husband Ed came up to Northampton and I got a chance to meet them for the first time. I liked them both. Ed and I hit it off over a shared love of motorcycles (he's a Gold Wing man from way back). In fact, when Jim Lawson suggested riding out to San Diego about seventeen years ago, Ed signed on to make the trip with us. And it was great to have him -- not only as a friend and good traveling companion, but also for the increased confidence and comfort level which came with having someone along for the ride -- Ed -- who could actually FIX motorcycles. I got my first experience changing the oil in a Gold Wing somewhere out in the midwest, thanks to Ed's tutelage.

Over the years, Pat and Ed became closer to our family. We invited them to join us for Christmas, which they did for every year since our daughter was little. They'd join us for other holidays, like Easter and Thanksgiving, as well as spend time with us during our typical two weeks vacationing in Maine every summer. Ed worked on the construction of our house, and later started working for me to keep all of my bikes running smoothly.

About twenty-five years ago, Pat was diagnosed with lupus, and some years after that, with cancer. She fought both of these deadly ailments with more courage and grace than anyone I have known, and probably through sheer will lived several years longer than most people with the same conditions might have. But the cancer finally got the best of her, and this past Friday -- the day before we did our Free Comic Book Day thing in Rochester, NH -- Pat passed away at her home, in the company of several of the many people who loved her, including my wife. Jeannine didn't tell me about it until I got home on Saturday night -- I think she was holding off doing so as to not put a damper on my spirits during the signing for FCBD.

So today we gathered with a large group of her friends and family to say goodbye to Pat. My brother Bruce and his son Ben were there, with their wives Catherine and Kelly, as well as my sister Chris and another of Jeannine's longtime friends, Karen. My daughter Emily was there, having flown home for this funeral. Pat had been almost like a second mother to her, and Em loved her dearly. Jim Lawson was there, and Gary Richardson and his wife. During the service, Jeannine got up and said some moving words about Pat and what she meant to us. I could have listened to a lot more.

Pat, you were one of a kind... and you'll be sorely missed. -- PL