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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Product Review: Scala Rider Q2 Bluetooth Headset

In a word -- awesome!

I purchased the Cardo Scala Rider Q2 Teamset (I know, I know -- the name's bigger than the device..) to allow D2 and I to communicate while riding around town. Sure beats the heck out of yelling at each other over the engine noise and traffic. Besides, we both wear full face helmets, so really, yelling is just silly.

Cardo Scala Rider Q2
The Scala Rider system is basically a pair of Bluetooth-enabled headsets, each with a boom microphone. The devices attach easily to the outside of most any type of helmet, and allow you to communicate. Simple.

However, the Scala Rider is just frikken awesome at doing this simple task. The 2 units that make up the system are designated Primary and Secondary.

In our usage, I use the Primary device. It's connected wirelessly to my Garmin Nuvo 660 GPS, and is usually plugged into my iPhone. D2's device is, of course, paired to mine, and she too has hers plugged into her own iPhone.

So, when we're riding around, I can be listening to my own tunes, and D2 can call me with the push of a button to chat. There is a sort of rock-paper-scissors thing going on with the priority of the channels.
Chat interrupts music. Incoming phone calls can also interrupt music. Instructions for the GPS seems to trump the phone, but not chat.

From my end, I can call D2 by simply speaking loudly to activate the chat mode.

Oh yeah, there's also an FM radio built in. It's REALLY tricky to tune in the 6 station presets -- so much so, that I have the same presets as when I left Toronto. So unless I ride into a area where they're broadcasting on 88.1 or 99.1, I don't hear much radio.

Battery life on the units are excellent. I left Toronto without my charger, but didn't realize it until I got to Chicago 3 days later. I arranged for it to be sent in a care package to Atlanta - but I wouldn't be getting there for at least a week. So I started actively avoiding using the headset very much. When I finally got to Atlanta after 2 weeks on the road, it STILL wasn't dead. But I still begged the clerk at WOW International motorcycle shop (in Marietta, GA) to plug open of of the boxes they had for sale, and recharge my device.

All told I probably got over 40 hours of use before recharging.

These product reviews are for items I am actually carrying and using on this trip. Together we'll discover how good they really are out in the real world. Please feel free to post comments or ask questions below.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Memphis, Tennessee

Let me begin this post with a note to some of the wonderful people I've met on my journey so far: For future reference, if your hometown/state/region happens to be the site of a popular story about intolerant, inbred, sodomizing killers, please resist the urge to share this fact with any future travelers you may come across. Some of us travel with a willful, highly selective amnesia, and like it just like that.... :)

Ok, so with that out of the way, let me say immediately I have met the most wonderful people here in Tennessee.

After holing up for 3 days in the Scottish Inns near Graceland in Memphis, I figured I should at least try to visit the famous Beale Street and the Lorraine Motel.

Beale Street --- what can i say, meh. I much prefer Bourbon Street.

The Lorraine Motel, on the other hand, loomed large in my memory. Being the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I've seen a thousand times the picture of Rev. Jackson and others on that balcony pointing immediately after the shot.

I did not know what happened to the motel. Was it even still there. Was anything special done with the site, or had it been neglected and allowed to run down?

According to my Garmin, the site's now caller the Civil Rights Museum. That's got to be a good thing, right?

As I approach, the sign post is immediately recognizable to me. 

As I cruise by looking for a parking spot, I notice a protest. Jacqueline Smith has been set up in this location for over 22 years. Basically since she was forcibly evicted from the hotel before it's conversion to a museum.
One of her many signs reads "You are entering the $10 million shrine to James Earl Ray". 
Well .. really.. I'm not trying to support that.

Her basic premise is that to honour the vision of Dr. King, you need to look forward, not backwards. She says honouring his legacy means opposing the gentrification of downtown Memphis around the hotel, and the subsequent dislocation of poor Black folk.
Jacqueline Smith

She makes a powerful point. 

All I really wanted in any case was to see the balcony where the good Rev. Dr. last stood...

I decided not to go inside. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010


After spending the night at the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park campground, I had to go take a look-see at these actual Shut-Ins. At this point, I still had no idea what a "shut in" was, but I figured for a state park it must be something other a bunch of cabins built by some in-bred reclusive clan. 

Turns out the phrase represents a geological feature where a river is severely constricted "shut in" into a narrow channel of really hard rock. It makes for an interesting landscape of multiple rapids, tiny waterfalls, chutes and slides. I spent a couple hours hiking the riverbank, cliffs and woods above it. 

Route A in rural Missouri - our first bit of true gravel 
I tried to make the run down to Memphis, but ended up spending a couple nights at a truck stop in southern Missouri to handle some issues that came up at work. As much as I'd like to ride all day, everyday, the reality is I have to still work for a living.

I'm thankful for the option to be out on the road doing this though. As long as the wifi is decent, I'm straight.

After a couple days at the truck stop, I'd had enough and needed to move on. I caught the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, apparently one of the last regular service vehicle ferries still operating across the Mississippi. Their web site says when you reach the landing, you can push a button to summon the ferry to come pick you up. Now how cool is that?!

Unfortunately, the ferry was already on it's way to the dock when I showed up. They don't have a landing of their own, so we had to wait for a local fisherman to haul his boat up the ramp before the ferry could dock.

Still from video - The ferry landing

Crossing the Mississippi - just me and 'becca
On the way down the ramp I realized another item needed to be added to my packing list -- tie-down straps. Thankfully, the Mississippi, though huge, is a pretty gentle river, so the there was no rocking or swaying on the crossing. Rebecca and I were the only passengers for the $5 15-minute ride.

The ferry lands in Hickman, Kentucky but I was soon on the road south into Tennessee. A couple hours south of Hickman, I passed a road sign announcing the Alex Haley Museum. What? I wondered if that was for the same Alex Haley I'm thinking of? The sign was pointing to the access road for a really tiny town. Since I have no idea when I'll next be out this way, I did some quick calculations and figured I had enough daylight to spare an 1 hour on this side trip and still make Memphis before night fall.

Alex Haley's tomb lies next to his Grandmother's porch
This turn out to be a very happy detour. The town of Henning, Tennessee was the boyhood home of that great African-American author Alex Haley. In this home that they've converted to a museum, Haley first heard the oral histories of his family from the grandmother, and great-aunties. Sitting on the porch with these ladies on summer evenings as they recounted their family stories as far back as they knew, to the man they called "The African". It was here that the first seed of discovering his "Roots" began.

The rest of the day was quick shot down route US 51 into Memphis. Even though I fought with myself about the entire way down there, I did actually go to Graceland. Well what can I say about Graceland?
It's interesting .. with fairly high kitsch factor. It is a MAJOR tourist attraction. They've got a super-streamlined process for separating you from your money while touring you through the mansion and onto the grounds.

I was most impressed by the details of all the civic charities and associations Elvis contributed to, mostly silently, while he was alive. Also impressive is the racketball court they've turned into a second trophy room 

Panorama of Elvis' lifetime sales awards
Roadside melons for sale
One thing I was not expecting, Memphis is a chocolate city. I can hardly find anyone other than African-Americans here. I don't have the sense they've been weathering the storm of recession very well though. Today I'm going to see if I can find the Lorraine Motel - 450 Mulberry Street

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Missouri in a glance

St. Louis was fantastic. Crossing the Clark Bridge across the Mississippi River from Illinois brought a huge grin to my face. Once again I was reminded about why yelling in one's helmet, with the visor down, and no one except yours truly within earshot, may not be the best idea.

But I couldn't help myself 

Just the place to be wearing ATGATT
I finally broke my rule about riding at night. Well actually, I revised the rule about 4 PM to"disallow riding at night in rural areas without street lights"

I made a beeline right across the top the top of the city for my the S. Carmody Photography Studio in Maplewood 

This was the entire reason made the detour to this city -- to catch Shawn Escoffery's "Distant Dreams" exhibit. This man is a phenomenal talent behind a lens. I got to know him when I spotted a photo he shot of me last year during Caribana 

Shawn's phenomenal work
After the show, Shawn invited me to crash downtown with him at the Westin. So far, these are the best digs Rebecca has seen on the trip. No one was willing to valet park here though :)

That night we trolled the local club district on Washington Street, but couldn't scare up any trouble worth getting into.
The closet we came was the Irish pub where staff kept dropping things, and the patrons kept slamming themselves hard into the furniture. Out waitress was a perky young thing who "needed" to drink to handle the boredom of her job. She got all the orders correct, I must say.

The next morning was breakfast at The Rooster, a small eatery that's part of a mini-enterprise being built by some rather forward-thinking and industrious owners. Even with not being a foodie, I knew their food was magnificent!
Two forks up!

Shawn got a local friend to drop him to the airport (this man makes friends like nobody's business!). I hung out in the lobby if the Westin soaking up the free wifi to do some work.

That night I went to the north-east side of the city looking for cheap accommodations. I stayed at the First Western Inn on North Broadway. Do NOT under any circumstances stay there. It's full of families who've recent lost their housing, guys off on benders, runaways and the type of folks that feed off that population.

If you ever find you have no other options than to stay at the First Western Inn in St. Louis -- stop reading this blog right now and go get a proper job.

My final day in St. Louis began with a pleasant breakfast at the Soulard Coffee Garden in the historic Soulard district. It a nice quaint section if town - lots of artists, coffee houses and a huge Saturday farmers market. (Of course I was there on a Sunday :)

S. Carmody and family
I breakfast'd with Sarah and her little family unit - hubby Jans and daughter Fiona, the violinist . They gave me the tip and general directions to visit the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

I know .. cool eh?
Several hours later after getting detailed directions from the super helpful staff at the REI, and spending an hour doing work at a Starbucks en route, I finally made it to the major landmark along the way - Elephant Rocks State Park

There was a sweet piece of twisties on the last stretch of Highway N before I reached the campgrounds. [link to video]

I had a nice chat with some older motorcyclist couple on a big ole Harley trailering a pop-up tent. Brilliant! (Wish I was bright enough to have taken a picture). The whole rig folds down onto a trailer about 10 feet long, that only weighs about 250 lbs, fully loaded. On a 1300cc bike, that's nothing.

So wet in the mornings
The next morning, after the dewiest night I have yet to experience (by 8 PM everything was soaked), I was treated to a pancake breakfast by my new neighbours.  

Patrick, the man to my right, is an Arkansas-born and raised self-taught musician and jack-of-all-trades who has picked the art of making and tuning steel pans from scratch! Old school to new school methods.

Patrick, if you're reading this, you MUST make it to Trinidad! :) or Toronto.

Finally I reached the Johnson Shut-Ins. It's a rather nice geological formation where the Black River is constricted by some super-hard ancient rocks to stay in a tight channel. They say in that case, the river has been "shut in".

Chillax at the Elephant Rocks
Johnson's Shut-Ins of the Black River

Next stop - Memphis

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chicago After Dark

First, let me apologize for the misleading title of this post. Yes, I did spend last night roaming the Chicago after dark with my good friend Julie.

Thing is, last night was a school night, so we had to cut out the planned after-dinner drinks on a patio, and of course the follow-up pub crawl and the always popular dancing 'til dawn.

So what did we do?

Authentic Mexican dinner at Nuevo León in Pilsen;

a quickie tour of murals inside the 18th Street CTA elevated train station;

touring of the classic icons of Chicago;

and a viewing of the latest additions to their magnificent waterfront greenspace.

Ummm.. yeah.. I just have a VERY bright flash!

Next stop -- Springfield, IL

Sunday, October 3, 2010

And we're off

I can hardly believe that the trip has already begun.

I can hardly believe how tired I am.. The hours were long (from 1:30 PM to 7:00 PM), but with an extremely low mileage (285 KMs)

For tonight I'm in Windsor staying with an old friend University. When I got to town, I was to send a text and await further instructions. I was directed to the corner of Riverside and Glengarry. Turns out, that the Casino... :)

Before I left I enabled the SPOT messenger, so you can follow my progress on a map here

We had a nice little send off at the building this afternoon. I left with an escort from 3 other riders, Charles, Ben and Case. Charles and Ben rode down from Ajax to be a part of the send off. They rode with me until Burlington. Case lives in my building, but couldn't stay long with us. He peeled himeself out of the pack while we were still in Toronto.

Between the biker escort and having Dian film the whole send-off on her camera ... I fell like I'm starring in my own little reality show ...

I didn't take an photos today, but *may* have some video worth posting. I feel a little silly because in all the commotion of actually loading all the gear onto 'becca, I forgot to actually turn on my head-mounted Contour HD video camera. I flicked the switch to Record, but you've got to have the device powered on in the first place .. Doh!!

I rode through some lovely twisties in the Russell Woods / Lakeshore area along the coast of Lake St. Clair, before Highway 2 comes south to meet the 401.

The day ended with a peaceful ride into Windsor. They have such a simple, and beautiful waterfront.
Thecla and Rebecca

My first hostess for the trip was a friend Thecla from my days at the University of Windsor
A road warrior's desk and essentials