Monday, July 31, 2006

AmeriVespa in Denver; Westward Ho

This weekend we had about 500 scooterists convene in Denver for the annual AmeriVespa and Lambretta Jamboree. (Lambretta is the Avis to Vespa's Hertz of Italian scooters, except that the Lambretta manufacturer is long out of business.) It was a blast, and it got front-page coverage in the Denver newspaper today. More about that later, but first about the ride.

In the morning I am going to ride west through Colorado and Utah and Nevada with Rolf, Peter and Rich. They rode their scooters here from Northern California. Rolf is a legend in the US scooter world, and his brother Peter started the Vespa Club in Hamburg, Germany 40 years ago! It was tempting to mosey through the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming on my own, and to ride through Jackson Hole, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone. But I was really lucky riding solo for the first six days and I don't want to push it. There is safety in numbers, and we are all riding the same kind of scooter, so we should be able to keep a nice pace. We'll take I-70 until US 50 breaks off from it in Utah, and then take that all the way to Sacramento. We won't go through any big cities, but we'll skirt Lake Tahoe.

I don't know whether we'll have internet access tomorrow night from Utah, but I'll post again as soon as possible.

Of course, seeing as how I rode here from Miami, I did win the prize for riding the farthest to get to the rally. It is a big flat tile, and it barely fits on the scooter, but if I ship it home it might break.

I saw a lot of old friends and made some new ones at the rally. As expected based on my earlier journey, the folks I met from Portland and Seattle offered to roll out the red carpet for me on my journey. Last night I found out how lucky I was when I broke down in Oklahoma City. Someone else was riding the same model scooter as mine from Connecticut, and it had the same part fail in Indiana. Well, that scooter is still stuck in Indiana as I write this. The one person I forgot to thank last night at the banquet was Chad, the mechanic at Vespa Oklahoma who got me back on the road.

Checks for Canine Partners For Life continue to come sporadically, and I got a few cash contributions here in Denver. I got to talk about CPL for a couple of minutes at the rally awards banquet last night. As you may be able to tell from the picture above [once I get pictures uploaded; the software is balking tonight], the banquet was held at Wings Over the Rockies, an Air Force flight museum.

Sorry, I have to get some sleep. I can't set my schedule any more because I'm with a group now, and we are leaving at 5 am. Even making allowances for "scooter time" it will be early.

Song for AmeriVespa: The World, by Brad Paisley.

Friday, July 28, 2006


It's back to Denver in the morning after a few days at the office, and before that a few days with the family in Colorado and Wyoming. At Cheyenne Frontier Days, we saw the rodeo, a parade, Keith Urban and Martina McBride. We went whitewater rafting and horseback riding. Tonight I am going to try to get some sleep (a little at least) instead of pulling an all-nighter , which I did before Day 1.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Day 6: Oklahoma to Denver

Folks, I rode 657 miles since leaving Oklahoma City at 11 pm last night. I made it to Denver safe and sound tonight! Thank you for your support!

I lost my main cell phone somewhere in Oklahoma City last night. It fell out of my riding jacket. I have a backup phone on a different carrier, but all my numbers were on that phone. I couldn't even call Earl, my Denver host, to let him know of my progress.

Between the breakdown and the lost phone, I had a lot of bad luck in Oklahoma, but the people there were fantastic! Vespa Club of America President JD Merryweather graciously suffered through many unplanned extra hours with me. At Vespa Oklahoma, Michael the manager and Chad the mechanic bent over backwards to get me back on the road. They pulled a brand new exhaust system from a new scooter in the showroom to fix mine. Also I have to give credit to Piaggio USA (the national distributor), which sometimes deservedly gets darts for poor and slow customer service. They gave the local dealer permission to strip the new scooter with a promise to replace the part.

As I gained altitude through the Texas Panhandle and then northeast New Mexico today, the air got cooler and drier. The ride became a delightful change from the oppressive heat since Miami. I had to laugh because when Earl met me to lead me to his house, we were in a blinding hail storm. I had never even donned my rain gear on the whole trip, and had managed to not get wet since a brief shower in the Florida Everglades on Friday. We met at the exit for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which is ground zero for fundamentalist Christianity in the USA. The hail storm was there and only there. I have to wonder if there is a message in that somewhere?

What happened to my scooter in Oklahoma? As far as we can tell, the metallic gasket between the two parts of the exhaust system blew out. We don't know why the oil was low, but we'll be watching it closely and I'll carry some oil. That's something I can monitor without being a mechanic. It's even simpler to check the scooter dipstick than one in a car -- there's no hood to open.

Earl's daughter Kristin from the Denver chapter of the Scarab Scooter Club had a delicious dinner waiting for us. And I finally got to meet her husband Randy and their adorable son, Hudson. We viewed a slide show of my pictures and they gave me feedback about which ones to post. Thank you so much.

Tomorrow I need to replace the cell phone, and also the Canine Partners For Life magnets which fell off the scooter in the rain. I want to give the cause as much visibility as possible. Also most of my family arrives in Denver tomorrow for a few days vacation, so these days will be all about them. And, we'll have to settle for riding in a car ... long sigh.

By the way, I am still going to flesh out the blog with some pictures from the road. So please check back tomorrow. And thanks again for your support!

The score:
Cost of my delicious cheeseburger in the rural Texas panhandle: $1.19.
Number of stops by highway construction crews in New Mexico: 8.
Miles today: 508.
Miles total: 2407 (time for new scooter tires!).
Times I got wet: 1 today, 2 total.
Times I got stoned (by hail): 1.
Today's Song: Amarillo By Morning, by George Strait

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Day 5: On the Road Again

OK, it's Tuesday evening. Thanks to everyone for your support and concern. My scooter was fixed about 7:30 pm, and it seems to be running well. Thank you so much to Chad the mechanic and to the owners at Vespa Oklahoma, and to JD for putting me up! I had a nice sushi dinner with JD and his wife Erin so I'm on the road again to take advantage of the coolness of the evening. I hope to make Amarillo, Texas tonight, but I'll stop when I get tired. I'll add more later, but, honestly, it was probably a good thing that I got a partial day of rest.

[Added later: I only made it to the Oklahoma-Texas border (100 miles short of Amarillo), but that still saved me 3 hours of riding in the hot sun of the day and let me roll into Denver at a reasonable hour.]

The score:
Miles today: 147.
Miles total: 1899.

Day 4: Oxford, Miss. to Oklahoma City

Here is a quick update; I need some sleep.

The ride today was long (530 miles) and 105 degrees hot, with not a cloud in sight. After 10 p.m. I was 30 miles from Oklahoma City. The scooter had been sounding more like a Harley than a Vespa for a couple of hours. The red oil pressure light went on and the scooter died, right on I-40. I coasted to the shoulder and called AAA.

I waited 90 minutes by the side of the road and counted my blesings: I was in cell phone range, I wasn't baking in the sun, and the shoulder was wide so it did not feel unsafe. In the end I made it to JD's house, and the scooter is at the local Vespa dealer awaiting attention. But my plans to ride to New Mexico tomorrow will have to change.

The score:
Miles today: 522 (plus 41 in a tow truck).
Miles total: 1752.
Songs for today: Oklahoma Borderline, by Vince Gill and Break Down, by Tom Petty

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Day 3: Atlanta to Oxford, Miss.

First, what's on my mind. Atlanta friends Zac and Steve (who showed up to greet me at the Highlander last night) were in a serious scooter accident this morning. It was the classic nightmare for bikes, motorcycles and scooters: a sudden left turn in front of them. Zac was unconscious for a while. He's in ICU with serious neurological concerns. He was wearing all of the right protective gear but he hit the SUV hard. My prayers are with Zac and his family. Steve is hurting but he's going to be OK.

Today I rode from Atlanta to Oxford, Mississippi. Mostly I followed US-278 through northern Georgia and Alabama. I had a nice 40 miles on the Natchez Trace Parkway near Tupelo on the home stretch to Oxford. It was a very hot day, almost 100 degrees in the afternoon. Unlike yesterday, I did not dump water on my t-shirt to stay cool. I just drank lots of water. At 385 miles, my ride was a lot shorter than yesterday. My neck was getting more stiff and sore. A little ibuprofen made it manageable. I need to find a gym in the morning to get some aerobic exercise; it's been 3 days without a workout, and I'm feeling a bit sluggish.

Northeast Alabama is a very economically depressed place. When I entered Alabama, the first 4 structures I drove by were uninhabited.

Top sightings today:

7. Boats and off road vehicles everywhere. It was a summer Sunday in the south, and everyone was in church, fishing, boating, or four-wheeling.
6. The $2.97 pork barbecue sandwich for lunch in Alabama. I love Red, Hot & Blue at home, but this was even better!
5. The "Bull Evaluation Center" sign in Alabama farm country. With teenagers, I could use one of those at home.
4. A bevy of "new homes" signs next to the "Travis Tritt Highway" sign in metro Atlanta. Somehow I doubt Travis would approve.
3. Pawn shops in every third town, even ones without McDonalds.
2. Family Dollar Stores in every second town.
1. Dollar General Stores in just about every single town.

Thank you, Helen, for rolling out the red carpet in Oxford, Miss. tonight. Also thanks to my niece Emilie and Shawn in Atlanta for last night. Peachtree Street really hops on Saturday night! And thank you Loriann for holding down the fort at the office and with the kids. Too often you don't get enough credit.

On the fund-raising front, it's hard to run a tally from the road because some donations are coming to my office and some are going right to CPL. The tally is growing. Thank you to all our generous sponsors!

Thanks for reading; comments are welcome. I am finding it's hard to run a good blog from the road when internet access and time are in short supply. There is time for stream of consciousness, but not for the careful editing that makes for a good read.

The Score:
Miles Today 385
Miles Total: 1230
Got Wet: 1 time total (lucky me, I have been dodging rain clouds the last 2 days)
Cheapest gas: $2.66 in Gadsden, Alabama
Dog bites: 0
Snake bites: 0

Day 2: Tampa to Atlanta

Made it ... 517 miles, my longest day on a scooter ever. There is a lot of beauty in Georgia and north Florida, but very little of it is by the side of the main roads. Highlights of the ride: dodging all of the rain successfully, the ripe peach at the roadside stand, seeing another pair of Vespas near Crystal River, Florida, and hitting no traffic jams today. Lowlight: it was hot, hot, hot. At stops I'd pour water on my t-shirt to act as natural air conditioning for the next 30 miles or so.

I am getting the usual questions from gawkers at gas stations. (I am at gas stations a lot because the scooter goes 120 miles on a tank.) Here are the answers: 80, 65, no, and never. Here are the questions: (1) how fast does that thing go; (2) what's your gas mileage, (3) can I ride it, and (4) when are you getting a Harley?

I am giving out brochures about the ride and Canine Partners For Life as I go, but I need to get the logo magnets that were on the scooter fenders replaced. They fell off the scooter in the rain on Friday. Ineed to find a craft store that has the magnet paper.

Thanks, Kieran and Amy for putting me up in Tampa, and Emilie and Shawn, ditto for Atlanta. Thanks, Hallie, Cathy, Florian and Steve for hanging out last night.

Sorry no pictures yet, folks, having a little technical difficulty. The pictures are being snapped, but the SD card reader is giving me fits.

This morning it's on to Oxford, Mississippi. That's all for now. I need to get to Oxford in daylight. Today should have some pretty country riding.

The score:
Miles today: 517
Miles total: 847 more or less
Times I got wet: 1
Dog bites: 0
Snake bites: 0
Bites of ripe peach: 9

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day 1: Miami to Tampa

The rough start had to get better. After an all-nighter to get ready, I headed to the Baltimore airport for the flight to Miami. On the way, Loriann asked if it was safe to ride all day after being up all night. No problem, I said, but I wasn't so sure. I carried the heavy chain link scooter lock through security ... or so I thought. Nope, I'd done it before, but this time they made me race back out, check the thing in a bag, and go back through security. After that, everything went well and we got to Miami on time. My scooter was waiting for me in the free motorcycle parking garage.

After a delicious cafe con leche to perk up, I packed the scooter and zipped over to Casa Lambretta so Alex could ride to the beach with me for the start. Alex is a great guy; he was busy but graciously jury-rigged a mount on the scooter for my GPS navigation device. We rode over the Venetian Causeway to the beach, snapped some photos, bottled some sand and sea water to carry west, returned to Miami and said goodbye. Thanks Alex!

I wolfed down some delicious Cuban food and headed west down Calle Ocho and Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. Usually you don't see many alligators in the summer, and I didn't. I pulled over often to rest because I fatigued from being up all night.

As I readied myself for this trip, I wondered how long it would take to get wet. The answer: two hours. It was a quick three minutes of hard rain, and it felt good in the heat. I did not bother to put on my rainsuit. As I reached Naples and turned north toward Tampa, I was able to dodge the rest of the showers.

I got to Tampa at dusk and found Kieran and the Tampa Two-Stroke scooterists hanging out in a cool neighborhood gelato store quaffing Peroni beers, and getting ready for a midnight ride. It was a blast! I met a nice couple of Lambretta owners who are moving to Baltimore. They will make a great addition to the local scooter scene.

Earlier post: Hi, I'll publish more later but I want everyone to know I made it OK from Tampa to Miami yesterday. Today it's on to Atlanta. Thanks Kieran and Amy for hosting me in Tampa. We had a great midnight ride with the Tampa Two-Stroke Scooter Club.

The score:
Miles today: 330.
Miles total: 330.
Times I got wet: 1

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Night Before

Thanks to everyone who came out to Frazier's in Baltimore for the sendoff gathering tonight! I really appreciate it. I have way too much to do before the 6 am flight to Miami, so I have to run. Stay tuned for an update tomorrow after Day 1: Miami to Tampa.

The Baltimore Sun will publish an article tomorrow (Friday), but only in the Howard County section, so if you live elsewhere, go to the website and click on Howard County under the Maryland menu to view it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Three Days Until ...

I got up early for a breakfast interview with Janet, a reporter with the local Howard County section of the Baltimore Sun newspaper. It was fun! They are taking photos on Wednesday. The story will run on Friday as I am leaving.

Actually, before breakfast I worked out at the YMCA around the corner. I love the Y! I need to be in good shape for the ride. Two years ago I rode for 4 days straight; I found it takes a physical toll on the back and arms, etc. I am going to have to find some gyms along the way. I start to feel sluggish after more than 2 days without aerobic exercise.

Interest in the ride is building. We have been getting calls and emails now from friends of friends. I love that! Now we're going for friends of friends of friends! Six degrees of separation ...

The final logo arrived tonight, one version in 2 bright colors, and one in 4 candy colors. I love them both! Thanks, Carrie.

I arranged to hang out with Tampa scooterists on Friday night and Atlanta scooterists (including some relatives) on Saturday night. I'm looking forward to that.

At the office each day is busier than the next as I get ready to leave. Thanks to the wonderful team at the office!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Graduation Day at Canine Partners For Life

Only four more days until I fly to Miami to start the ride. The number of things I need to do to get ready for the ride at home and at work is astonishing! The family is getting short shrift, but except for Hank, they will fly out to Denver for a few days when I get there. I think we'll have fun.

Twice a year Canine Partners For Life graduates a class of dogs and people. It's quite an achievement because it takes 2 years to raise and train a dog, and then 3 more weeks with its person.

Today I went up to a graduation. I had not been to one since my nephew's graduation several years ago. Darn, I forgot to take the camera. But I did have a beautiful 2.5 hour, 90-mile warm-up ride from home to the CPL farm in Cochranville, PA on my green Vespa ET2 scooter.

Graduation was long, but amazing and emotional. Many of the graduates spoke of what their dogs are already doing for them. CPL graduated a class of about 12 today. This makes a total of 200 dogs placed with people during the 18 years of CPL existence. The kennel where dogs are raised is the cleanest and most spacious I have ever seen. It's nothing like the mall pet store! It's cleaner than my kitchen. The dogs seemed so happy, too. Every single one was curious and eager to meet people. Most are retrievers. They have obviously been carefully selected.

I met many people and put names with faces: the founder Darlene (who graduated with her own dog today), Jennifer who raises funds, Susan in administration, and Kim in special events. Jennifer was happy to receive the first batch of checks that I delivered. Thanks everyone, you know who you are! Lots of checks have come in, but I need to get corporate sponsors to make my ambitious goal.

We scheduled a kick-off gathering in Baltimore for this Thursday evening before I go. I'll be busy packing but I need the moral support from friends.

Tomorrow I have an interview in the morning with a reporter for the local paper, and a really busy day at the office.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

2 Weeks to Go ...

On Thursday, I trailered the scooter to Tampa in one long, solo 1,000 mile day in the car. Then I took it to Miami the next night after my meeting. That all went according to plan. I got to play with the new GPS unit that I bought for the trip. The Garmin Nuvi worked well on the ride down. It even found me a place to call ahead for carry out dinner in Orlando so I could minimize my time stopped.

In Tampa I got an email from the logo artist. She has revised the logo, but it's still not done. I got some t-shirts to screen print at American Apparel in Coral Gables. I got some laser printer transfer paper at the fabric store. Worst case, we can do some laser-printed t-shirt tansfers and iron them on, and put some printed logos on magnets for the scooter. I want to make it look as professional as possible for fund-raising, though.

Loriann emailed out a fund-raising appeal a week ago to some friends. That's the difference between us: I want it right, she wants it fast. I was furious because it was not ready to go yet. It got some response, but there were some things about it that CPL rightly wanted to change, and I hope to get a lot more when we send the completed appeal.

I passed out my flyer at my lawyer coaching class in Tampa. Karen wrote a check on the spot. Thanks! Steve gave good suggestions about how to position things to get more sponsors, and checks from clients. Everyone agreed that the most powerful factor is the story of my nephews, Myron and Corbin, who have service dogs. Max and Coaty go to school with them. The dogs carry their backpacks, pick up dropped pencils, and open doors. This picture resonates with people. I need to get corporate sponsors, because the math is simple: $21,000 = 210 $100 checks!. I don't even know 210 people.

Logistics are falling into place. I called our friend Helen in Mississippi, whom I haven't seen since her wedding many years ago. She'll give me a place to stay out there. JD will put me up the next night in Oklahoma City. Earl will put me up when I get to Denver before my family arrives. I still need to contact the folks in Atlanta and arrange that; there are lots of options there. In Tampa, I have to choose whether to stay with starving scooterists for an authentic experience, or with retired clients for a good night's sleep. What would you do?

The scooter is running well. I met Darren who's a trained GTS mechanic at Vespa Tampa. He says it's not worth putting the Bitubo shock on because the GTS shock is already beefed up from the GT shock. I called GEICO to make sure the scooter is on the insurance policy.

Here are a few sobering details. I signed up for MedJet Assist, which ships a person and their motorcycle home after an incident, alive or not. I got a few hundred thousand of accidental death and dismemberment insurance, which is usually wasteful, and a long-term care policy, for which I might otherwise be a little young, to supplement the life insurance.

On my return trip tomorrow, I'll be visiting Myron and Corbin's family in Augusta. I am bringing the smaller green scooter home from Miami on the trailer.

The score:

Miles today - 0
Miles total - 0
Snake bites - 0
Dog bites - 0
Interesting characters met - 0
Times I got wet - 0