Monday, May 22, 2006

One road; two rides.

Friday turned out to be a much better work day than expected. Two thirds of it was spent on the bike. No picture this time. I figured I had plenty of time to find something photogenic. As it turned out, the circumstances turned rough and I got out of the mood for pictures.

We did a project a while back in Medford. This is a city with a population of around 66,000 inhabitants. More pertinent to this post is that Medford is a little over 200 miles from my home. There's been a nagging problem with a product we supplied. In the typical endless loop, fingers point in a circle as to who is responsible for the repair costs.

You know the story. We supplied it. The Contractor installed it. The problem appeared to be a manufacturer's defect. We sent a replacement for the first failure. When more failures were reported it became a manufacturer's area of responsibility. However, the manufacturer always wants to blame the installation. Around and around it went until it now became critical. The factory rep said he would make the trip but there would be a hefty bill if it turned out to be an installation problem. Just as an aside, this is the same manufacturer's rep agency that I almost went to work for earlier this year. That fact shows they have a little confidence in me. I figured they would take my word towards resolution.

Thursday afternoon saw a heated discussion come about as regards to taking care of this problem. Customer good will seemed to be shoved aside. Now, I haven't always claimed to be the sharpest razor in the package. I am, however, pretty crafty when it comes to sniffing out opportunities. Let me tell you, I had the scent of this one firmly fixed in my nostrils.

"Tell you what. Let me make a quick run down on the bike. I'll take a look, troubleshoot the problem, and take pictures for documentation. My experience will let me determine if the product is installed properly. If it's a factory issue my credibility will convince them to take care of it."

I tried to look innocent of any ulterior motive. My face attempted to take on a pained look that said this would be a great bother but I would do my best to take it in stride. Not sure how it actually came across. There's a high probability that my horns were protruding above my halo!!

That's how I came to find myself waking up Sophie at 5 AM to go for a ride. It was admittedly a little disappointing to find that rain had come overnight. We had enjoyed several days of very warm temperatures in a row. Until the day I had the chance to go for a long ride, of course. Let me state in no uncertain terms that I HATE THE RAIN!!! Always have and probably always will. Why I live in the Willamette Valley where the rainfall is so plentiful is a mystery. The only reason I ride in it is because the alternative is not being on the bike. Having my riding time dictated by the weather is intolerable. So I ride and grumble about it.

Seriously, we get a LOT of rain here. It's always amusing to see bikes advertised for sale in this area. The ad will state "Never ridden in the rain". One can count on the fact that this will be a bike with few miles on it. Most of the riders around here are fair weather and recreational riders. Proof lies in the contrast between Friday afternoon and this morning.

I'm getting a little ahead of my plot layout here, but it was raining Friday afternoon while I rode home. Nonetheless, being the day before the weekend, I saw a great number of bikes headed South. Many were in groups. In contrast, this morning the weather proved to be rainy once more. During my whole commute to work I saw absolutely no other bikes.

Back to the story. Like I said, it was drizzling when I left home. The drizzle turned to rain farther South. Sophie and I needed to stop off at the office to get supplies. I would have taken them with me Thursday night but the saddlebags were already full. Thursday night was the first night of the weekend motorcycle class so my materials were taking up all the space. Not long before we turned off the freeway we had passed a flatbed semi with plywood side boards. We also passed a white Ford pickup truck with Washington plates. It was pulling a small trailer. I had noticed the trailer in particular because the tail lights seemed extra bright. Almost like the brake lights were stuck.

Sophie was loaded with what I needed and I was back on the freeway at 6:02 AM. Twenty miles later the skies cleared and the sun emerged. Yes!!!

Just after we broke out into the sunshine we passed the same semi with the weird side boards for the second time. The driver should have recognized us. I had chosen a darker colored jacket and put a retro-reflective vest on over it. The vest has the TEAM OREGON motorcycle safety program logo on the back. Thirty miles later we passed the white Ford truck with the trailer. The trailer lights still looked bright.

It was absolutely glorious riding in the early morning sunshine! One of the best parts is that the freeway climbs up and out of the Southern end of the Willamette Valley. That means sweeping curves as we climb. First comes Rice Hill which starts the climb upward. Next up is Canyon Creek Pass. The top of this pass is at 2015 feet above sea level. Stage Creek Pass peaks at 1830 feet. We actually have a pass called Wolfe Creek Pass topping out at 1725 feet. Southernmost is Sexton Mountain Pass at 1956 feet.

What always amazes me is how something that can be so much work in a car can be so much fun on a bike. Trucks were literally crawling up the hills. Many move over to the shoulder on their way up. Cars do a little better. I've been up these passes in a cage before. It's a series of long, lumbering, climbs any way you look at it. Unless you're fortunate enough to be on two wheels. Sophie and I were partners in a graceful dance up the hills. Traffic was still light enough that our progress was largely unimpeded. Slow cars were easily dispatched. It would be a totally different story on the ride home.

One quick pit stop was made after the hills. One dance partner is mechanical and the other human. It's a bad sign when the mechanical one loses fluids. The human side of the partnership, however, desperately needed to "drain the radiator" as it were. There's something about pulling into a rest area on a bike that seems to be an invitation for company. An older man came over to share some of his stories of past riding adventures. There was no rush on my part. These days people seem to be too divided into age groups. We miss out on so much richness in life by pushing old folks off to the side. Maybe it's because I was raised by my Grandpa, but I've always found much of value in my interactions with my elders.

All too soon we arrived in Medford. By the way, we passed the Ford truck with the trailer one more time. Wonder what the driver was thinking seeing me go by for the third time. Being totally engaged in the ride made time pass quickly.

Having had no breakfast, I looked for the nearest fast food place. A sign indicated that there was a Burger King a mile off the freeway. It's 8:15 AM. Commuter traffic was fiercely heavy. As we pulled into the driveway of the Burger King I had to both laugh and shake my head. One man's choice of commuter vehicle was a small scooter. I'm sorry to say I couldn't tell which brand it was. The rider had a three quarter face helmet, t-shirt, shorts, and deck shoes. What was both sad and funny was that he held a cup of coffee in his left hand. With the throttle and front brake being on the right grip I guess it would work. Just didn't seem like a good idea, you know?

As usually happens when I'm on the bike, life seems simpler. I went inside to order a breakfast sandwich. Eschewing sitting inside at a table, I took my meal outside. One of Sophie's saddlebags held a thermos of hot Starbuck's coffee. I called Katie to say good morning while I sipped my coffee, one foot resting on Sophie's peg. High dining, indeed! I was totally content. A bike will do that for you.

Business got taken care of. Just to put closure to it, the problem actually turned out to be the factory's. Go figure.

By now it's close to 11 AM. Medford has sort of a high desert climate. With a higher elevation and being surrounded by hills, the weather is drier. I've taught classes there in past years. It's not uncommon for the afternoon sun to bring the thermometer over 100 degrees in the summer. Friday morning saw the first rain in a while. For the first few minutes the air had that smell of water drops on hot cement. Then it changed to a wet dust smell. You might describe it as refreshing. Refreshing lasted a few miles and then turned into its ugly sister named "Oppressive". With the advent of the heavy rain I abandoned my plan to take a more rural route home. From this area, the "long way" is literally that. Hours longer.

Moving briskly along sent most of the water to the sides. This wasn't always possible as we are now solidly into the road construction season. I guess those big machines can grind pavement in any weather. Being motionless in a line of stopped cars doesn't do much for shedding rain. More adventure was to follow.

The same sweeping curves that were so fun on the way up the hills became treacherous on the way down. Sophie and I were now steadily making our way to the lower elevation of the valley. The North side of the passes consist of long stretches of 3 or 4 percent downgrades. Just as you get good momentum the road takes a literal turn. The corners are posted at 50 mph. Shouldn't be much of a problem for a nimble bike, right? Wrong.

Standing water combined with a heavily loaded front wheel of a bike headed downhill makes for issues with traction. Adding to the thrill is the fact that the road is heavily rutted from the traffic. There's no great line available. The dashing and daring pilot of the wondrous ST is reduced to being very careful. Oh, no so much, at first. The second curve found the front tire drifting out from under us a little.

"Ok, wheel, you can come back under the bike any time, now!"

I quickly became a convert to being a conservationist. Conserving traction, that is! There was a couple in a little Saturn Ion who must have been real tired of me. On the straights we would pass this car. On the curves they would pass us back. It must have happened eight or nine times. Oh well, you do what you have to do. Standing rain, ruts, curves, and limited visibility made me a careful man. The Saturn had four wheels, after all.

Sophie and I arrived home sodden but satisfied. Our little field trip totalled around 430 miles. It beats being chained to a desk any day. It was a day of one road and two very different rides.

Miles and smiles,


Steve Williams said...


Sounds like a great trip through some wonderful landscape even with the rain. Thinking of the front wheel of the ST starting to move out from under you on water weighted roads sounds unnerving. Glad you were able to manage without incident.

Had you been carrying a cup of coffee in your left hand at the time---who knows. I have to confess I have done that myself with the scooter transporting a fresh cup of Cafe Latte to Kim from the Coffee Shop down the street. Two-tenths of a mile at 15 MPH is about all I would want to do. I actually sort of sit the cup on the right grip with a few fingers on the grip. Figure if I actually need to brake with that hand I'll let the coffee fly. You also need to put tape or a bag over the lid. Bernoulli siphons coffee out of the little sip hole once you start moving.

For a guy who doesn't drink coffee its a really stupid thing to do regardless of how slow or short a ride....

So when is the next big ride? Surely there has to be other equipment issues that need your attention.

Mad said...

I had a similar experience recently. I was on a ride out with buddies from a biking forum I frequent. The ride went down a really steep winding hill road which normally I would have enjoyed but on this occasion a storm had washed silt and gravel onto the road. It was on every line where I wanted to put my tyres. I had to take really weird lines... not a pleasant experience.
Good post Irondad, I enjoyed that. Oh and you're not the only person who's said "oh ok, I guess I'd better go, I'll take the bike if I must" with a heavy sigh, whilst inwardly going "yipeeee."