So here it is, Tuesday afternoon, at the tail end of November. With another oil change for my VFR only a few miles away, I have to figure out a way to get out of the office and head down to Conroe to the bike shop. It is a beautiful day outside and sitting inside watching it go by is driving me crazy. It is a slow day in the office so I manage to convince Dad to let me take off for a few hours with the promise that I'll be back in case we get busy right at 5:00pm as we often do. So with the keys to his new Z28 T-Top Camaro in hand, I am out the door and gone before the phone can ring!
Generally speaking, the ride between Huntsville and Conroe on I-45 is a boring drive. But it is late in the afternoon and the sun is already low in the sky. As I am driving along I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye and notice the leaves of the trees glowing with a soft warm fiery light. The sun is hitting them from behind and it makes them stand out against the backdrop of the dark pines like lit matches in a dark room. For a second I pause and wonder what I was thinking when I decided to drive the car? Then I remember that my bike is back at the office partially disassembled due to the recent install of the Hot Grips, which is another reason I am changing the oil a few miles soon, so I won't have to take the fairings off again. Hmmm, a bummer nonetheless.
The remaining miles to Conroe pass by in what seems like a brief moment. I appear to have slipped into one of those driving trances where you snap back a few miles down the road and wonder where the last few miles went? I vaguely remember them being spent gliding along familiar back roads on my bike... "SNAP" I get to the shop, chat with the guys behind the counter for a bit and then head back to the office. Amazingly, the drive back is just as short as the drive down. Go figure.
I get back to the office and finish the oil change and get the bike back together. As I sit back down at my desk, I flip over to the Weather Channel, the creaking gears in my head starting to grind. "I wonder what Saturday is going to be like? Maybe I can round up some folks for a ride so we can appreciate the beautiful color of the trees together?" Hmmm... cold is predicted, great for me and my Hot Grips but not good for encouraging a high turn out for the ride hehe.
I get home in the evening and crank out an email to all the local riders I know, inviting them up for a ride of about 250 miles. I have a route that I like to do that takes us out Hwy 190 into the woods Northeast of Lake Livingston. There is little traffic and lots of roads winding through the woods. It should be a great ride! It will be interesting to see if I go riding by myself.
Our last few bike purchases were all financed by my credit union. It turns out that my loan officer, Steve Richardson is an avid rider as well. We usually spend a few minutes talking business and then twenty more talking bikes. He is considering the purchase of a VFR to replace his 98 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-7R. It seems his wife is not too fond of the tiny little excuse of a back seat found on his bike. We tried getting together a few weeks ago but had to cancel because of the rain that has been coming down since late October. This time, despite the cold, as long as it does not rain, he plans on coming up to Huntsville so we can go riding and he can sample my VFR 800.
So out goes the invite, better late than never so they say. I figure I might get at least one or two other riders to come along. Dave Ramirez, a fellow rider that I met via the CMRA races at the Texas World Speedway, has been asking me when we are going riding again. It seems he has been getting restless as well. He's a die hard and I get a confirmation from him immediately. He's always the first to arrive and the first to be ready to ride. So we are up to four riders including myself and Beth.
I soon hear from Mike Guillory, a fellow VFR lister we had met previously on our ride to Marble Falls in the spring. He and Bill Bray, another VFR lister, are considering coming up for the ride but are concerned about the cool weather. Mike's wife, Charlene, has decided to forego the ride at this point. So it looks like there will be six of us, not a bad crowd on such short notice. Besides, riding with a smaller group is often more fun than riding with larger groups.
I spend the rest of the week sitting around the office watching the leaves fall off of the trees at an alarming rate! When I sent out my invitation, some were past their prime, but there were many still resplendent in their fall glory. I am beginning to wonder if that will last till Saturday? This year has been crazy. We had a long, hot and very dry summer, followed by a short wet fall (basically the month of November). So we are right on the end of the fall season looking at cold wet weather in the near future. It has to be this weekend!! I am going stir crazy. But I calm down by installing the Hot Grips on Beth's SV650S so that her hands will be toasty this weekend.
Friday night rolls around and I get calls from everyone confirming their attendance. The temperatures are supposed to be in the high forties to low fifties. Steve is riding up from La Porte, about an 85-90 mile ride starting at 7:30am. Dave, Mike and Bill are coming from the North Houston area, about 45-50 miles away. We have agreed to meet at my house by 9:00am. Mike calls and we decide that due to the cold weather, a short ride is likely to be more enjoyable. We agree to meet in Montgomery at a favorite Mexican restaurant, The Mexican Chef, at 11:00am. I figure that should give us just over an hour to make a 30 minute ride, that should be plenty of time to spare...
Dave shows up right on time. He is a bit slow getting off the bike and moving inside. Shaking his hand is like grabbing a block of ice. We get him inside so he can warm up. Some friends of ours came in the previous night to stay with us on their way through town, also bikers hehe. We all sit around visiting while waiting for Steve to arrive. Steve calls from Conroe on his cell phone around 9:30am. He "iiss onnn hiisss waaayyy", he just has to stop in at the Academy Sports store and get a sweatshirt hehe. He shows up shortly after 10:00am. He is even slower getting off his bike than Dave had been. Steve is made of stern stuff, he is in jeans and his FieldSheer Airblade perfed leather jacket with racing style leather gloves. Brrr...
Somewhere along the line, we lose track of time, between meeting for the first time, warming up, getting the other bikes ready to roll, suiting up, blah blah blah... It is pushing 10:40am and we are just getting out of the driveway! Doh! We stop at the local filling station to top off the bikes. Steve and I trade bikes for the 30 mile run down to Montgomery. The plan is to head down FM 1791 and pick up FM 149, which takes us right to the front door of the restaurant. My best laid plans have a nasty habit of getting tossed aside like the fall leaves blowing in the cold wind.
Dave and I are waiting for a break in the traffic so we can leave the gas station parking lot. I think Beth and Steve are coming right behind us. Dave and I pull out and take off. After going through the first light and not seeing Beth and Steve behind us, I look for a place to pull over and wait. I hear Beth ask me on the communicator if we were taking the FM 1791 route. I tell her yes, but I don't know if she heard me. After that I can no longer raise her on the communicator as she is apparently out of range. I should realize that means she is moving away from me, but I am convinced that they are behind us and should be getting closer to us, not farther away.
Dave and I pull into a parking lot to wait for them but they never show. So we head back to the gas station thinking perhaps something had gone wrong. We don't find them. Then I think, "maybe she took the other route to get to FM 1791?" Sometimes to beat the traffic heading out of town on Hwy 30, we will take the new bypass that skirts around the Northwest corner of town and crosses Hwy 30 becoming FM 1791. It is a smooth fun road. So Dave and I head north on the feeder road of I-45 to the next exit where the loop starts.
I am on the Kawasaki and find that it is far more comfortable than I had imagined. I don't think I'd want to do more than an hour or two at a time on it, but it's not bad. Dave and I go through the lights under the freeway and then we are greeted with about a half a mile of smooth wide asphalt. We do the only thing possible... We hit it wide open!
I thought the Kwacker was really moving out, even though I never got over 9,000 RPM. But then this black blur goes whizzing by me like I am standing still. Dave's riding his 2000 Honda CBR XX 1100 Blackbird, ie; FAST BIKE. Realizing I am hopelessly out testosteroned, I let up, and back down to sane speeds. Not feeling the need to rub my nose in his superior cc's, Dave backs down as well and we settle into a nice pace, carving up the wonderful sweepers on this road. I figure we are probably a good ways behind Beth and Steve, so we are running a pretty quick pace to hopefully catch them. The intersection of Hwy 30 and FM 1791 comes up real real fast. We cross the highway and head off into the woods.
Fm 1791 is a fun road. It heads out of town and into the woods. There is not a single curve on it that cannot be comfortably taken at 70 mph. The speed limit is 70mph anyway. The Ninja feels really good. Steve has the suspension a little tighter than I am used to, but I still feel right at home on the bike. His Muzzy pipe makes the inline four buzz like a mutant bumble bee on steroids when I roll on the throttle coming out of the corners. Dave is hanging back to watch me go through the corners as he is not real familiar with the road. Oh, and I do occasionally manage to take a look off to the side to check out some incredible looking trees!
We make short work of FM 1791 and soon arrive at FM 149. The last few miles of 1791, and the section of 149 we are about to take, all run through the Sam Houston National Forest. We head South on 149. this section of road is a blast. The posted limit is 60 mph. I think we ran it around 85mph most of the way, slowing for the occasional 30mph curve. The surface of this road used to be much more even. Now it has some nasty ups and downs in the middle of several curves. I have to stand on the pegs and let the bike move up and down under me as I lean it through the turn. There aren't a whole lot of straight sections on this road so my legs are getting a good workout. We make short work of 149 and get to the restaurant about 11:20am or so. No sign of Beth and Steve! Hmmm...
We see Mike and Bills' VFR's in the parking lot, and an additional surprise, Charlene's Honda 600 F3. Apparently, Mike convinced her to come along. I had not been paying much attention to the temperature on the ride down, but now that we have stopped, I realize that my hands are pretty cold despite my having worn my heavy gloves. We go inside to greet everyone. They have been there for a little over thirty minutes. This is not good. The last time we tried meeting Mike and Charlene for a ride, we were about thirty minutes late then as well. This is a pattern that has to stop.
We sit down at the table with them and start making introductions. Hopefully, Beth and Steve will be along very shortly. After about another fifteen minutes, about the time I am considering going to look for them, Beth and Steve roll into the parking lot. 11:45am! Arrgghhh. They come in and sit down with us to warm up. Amazingly, Steve's first comment about the VFR is how light it feels! And I was amazed at how light his bike felt hehe. Figure that one out. He did appreciate the heated grips though!
It turns out that Beth and Steve left the gas station ahead of us by taking a different exit from the parking lot. Dave and I were so focused on the traffic where we were that we did not see them go through the light ahead of us and I just figured they were behind us, Wrong! They waited for us at the crossroads of Hwy 30 and FM 1791, right where we came across after taking the bypass around town. Unfortunately, before we got there, they headed back to town to look for us, doh! Then they went down I-45 thinking perhaps we had gone that way. And then they cut over to FM 149 via FM 1375. At least Steve got to ride the VFR on some fun roads for a few miles.
Anyway, since it is already nearly noon, we decide to go ahead and just order lunch before we go riding. The Mexican Chef has pretty good food at great prices. I get some kind of sandwich that has refried beans on the bottom with scrambled eggs and bacon on top. It is huge! And it is really really good. After eating we all have that stuffed glazed over look on our faces. The prospect of a long ride in the cold is not very appealing. Mike's group decides to head back to Houston, but on the way will show us a back road we have never been on before. We head out to parking lot for a bit of tire kicking before we go.
At first Charlene's F3 does not want to start, but after some gentle coaxing, it fires up and we head north on FM 149. Just a mile or so up the road, we hang a left on FM 1097 heading west. I have never been down this stretch of road before. There is no traffic to speak of and the road is in pretty good shape. It is mostly gentle hills and sweepers. The sky has gone grey and it is getting colder. I am back on the VFR and really enjoying the heated grips hehe. Out of no where, we catch a left turn on a small narrow nondescript road. I try to memorize the area around it so I can find it later.
I don't know if the road even has a name. It is a narrow winding road that slips between pastures and over creeks. We come upon a small wooden bridge just prior to a tight right hand corner. Never having ridden on wood before, I am unsure of what to expect, especially under braking. The bike ripples across the bridge and I lean it into the corner, no sweat. The rest of the group has pulled ahead about a half mile or so. I hang back and wait for Beth to catch up with me.
The road dead ends onto FM 1486 (Dobbins Rd) about midway between Dobbins and Richards. Mike, Charlene and Bill turn here to head back to Houston. Dave, Steve, Beth and myself decide to head north towards Richards. Despite the cold we wanted to do some more riding before calling it quits. So with me leading the way, we say our goodbyes to the others and head north. I figure prior to getting to Richards, we'll cut across to Anderson on FM 2819. It is another road with a good surface and some fun sweepers. It soon hits FM 1774 which runs the rest of the way into Anderson.
We pull over at a gas station in Anderson so we can get rid of all the coke we drank at lunch. Beth decides to cut out and head for home. She did not bring her heavy gloves and her hands are getting cold despite the heated grips. Dave, Steve and myself are going to head over to one of my favorite roads in this area, FM 3090. Beth takes off towards home and we press onwards. We take FM 149 west out of Anderson, zipping over rolling hills. The temperature has become a bit crisper. There are some nice trees along the edges of the pastures, but without the bright sunlight to highlight them, they look a bit dull.
FM 149 becomes FM 3090 shortly after leaving Anderson. The entire stretch of 3090 runs from Navasota to Carlos, a small one gas station town on Hwy 30. I really don't know what the actual posted speed limit is on 3090, but I normally run it around 65-70mh on the straights and 45-50mph in the turns. For the most part the surface is excellent. However, there are a few curves, tight ones, that are almost guaranteed to have loose gravel scattered about. Today is no exception, in fact, it is worse than usual. Many of the curves are tight banked curves with gravel shoulders. Today it looks like someone has come along and shoveled the gravel out into the lane. I come into the first curve kind of hot, see the gravel, and get on the brakes, managing to scrub enough speed before leaning over that I can thread my way through the gravel without any problems other than a slightly elevated pulse level. I look back to see Dave and Steve come through the corner after me. I slow the pace considerably in light of the presence of gravel in almost every turn.
This road has a history of claiming over exuberant motorcyclists. It is a popular road with the Texas A&M Motorcycle club and residents of North Houston. On a previous ride one of my buddies blew a decreasing radius left hander and went off roading through the ditch on his brand spanking new 2000 Duc ST2. Unlike many others, he managed to keep his bike up and ride it back onto the road where we stopped for an underwear check. Miraculously, there is not a scratch on it! Dave has had a bad experience this curve on a prior ride and like me, he is looking for it this time. We cruise a bit farther and then I pull over at a driveway on the side of the road.
This particular spot brings back a flood of memories. It is here, between two curves, that my Dad experienced his riding career ending accident on his Kawasaki Nomad 1500 the last weekend of September. When we come to a stop, Dave and Steve excitedly relay their hair raising experiences with that first corner and the unexpected gravel. Both of them were caught off guard and had to swing wide to miss it. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic and there were no problems.
We finish the last stretch of 3090, a series of quick right/left "S" turns followed by some fast downhill sweepers. We drop out onto FM 244 and head back towards Anderson. From Anderson we head east on FM 149 towards Richards. This section of road is nothing special, but it is still fun. There are some large field Oaks in the pastures that are still covered in changing leaves. Cattle stand around lazily, lifting their heads to watch us go screaming along the road.
We slow down when we get to Richards, it has several very sharp turns that look simple but can be deceiving. On the way out of town, there is a sharp right hander that takes us across a slick railroad crossing. After that, the road is great all the way back to Montgomery. It winds through the woods, in and out of the trees, eventually bringing us to the Sam Houston National forest again. The pavement is smooth and predictable. The wind has not let up all day and is still providing a stiff crosswind. Coming out of the trees can be quite a surprise as I slip back into the crosswinds. We soon pass the turnoff for FM 1971 and continue on along 149. The stretch past 1791 is the best part. The curves come faster and are tighter. There are very few side roads. As we are zipping along, a large group of mostly Beemers goes by heading the other direction. We toss them a wave and keep on cruising. Dave and Steve are hanging right with me as I lean back and forth arcing through the woods. We get to the restaurant in short order.
Once again, Dave and Steve look like stiff old men as they try to climb off of their bikes. They are going to sit inside the restaurant for a bit to warm up before they head back to Houston. We say goodbye and I head back to 149 for the ride home. I am feeling great since my hands are nice and warm. My toes are starting to get a bit cold, but nothing really uncomfortable. The ride back up 149 and 1791 is even more fun when done alone. I don't have to worry about keeping track of other riders or setting a pace for everyone else. It is just me and the road. Trees lining the edges the whole way back to Huntsville. I really feel sorry for Steve, he has a long ride back to La Porte.
When I reach the intersection of Hwy 30 and FM 1791, I stop to take a picture of some trees. As usual, the picture never looks as good as the real thing. Then it is a short five minutes back to the house. I did just over 150 miles on the ride. By the time Steve gets back to his place he will have done nearly 300 miles, all under 50 F! A follow up call confirms that he had a great time but never wants to do it under those conditions again!!