Monday, June 12, 2006

Impairment!!

Groan! Did anyone get the license number of the truck that hit me? Not literally, thank goodness. I crawled out of bed at 4:18 AM. I had the alarm set for 5 but gave up trying to sleep. Crawled is the operative word, here. My lower back had started hurting last evening. This morning I could hardly stand straight up. My eyes were burning and fuzzy, both from lack of sleep and allergies. The back pain was new, the allergies were old enemies. Top it off with a headache and you have what resembles a shuffling traffic accident victim.

This isn't really about my aches and pains. Most of you have your own issues. There isn't much room for sympathy over mine. What this is really about is commuting 180 miles in the rain. Mixed in with freeway traffic. Definitely feeling impaired.

What a contrast from yesterday! Katie and I took a ride of about three hours. Admittedly, the allergy thing started then. Fields of grass are in full bloom. Yesterday the junk from the grass was blowing in the wind. It looked like there was a foggy haze hanging over the crops. By the way, having sneezing fits inside a full face helmet isn't much fun. I don't think the inside of the chinbar enjoys it much, either. You can only get the gloved hand inside so often.

Yesterday the Weather Gods smiled on us. During the night they changed the smile to a frown. Rain was falling when I went outside. They just neglected to turn down the thermostat. Muggy is the word that came to mind. After several less flattering words came out of my mouth.

Impairment is a serious thing to be aware of. Bad things can happen while riding impaired. These things can happen to all riders. It can more likely affect commuters who battle on that front every day. It's also a big factor for those who ride long distances. We're not talking impairment from alcohol or drugs. I'm talking about the impairment that comes from living life as a human in today's world. Take me, for instance.

I probably should have driven a car today. Sorry, I'm trying to be stubborn. Actually, Katie says I'm not really trying to be stubborn. No, she says, it just comes naturally. Whatever the root cause, I'm shrugging on gear and filling Sophie's saddlebags. Off we go at 5:30 with my fuzzy vision, aching back and head, topped off with a big helping of fatigue.

Some impairments should definitely keep us off the bike. Other impairments might mean we can go ahead and ride. It's vital to our risk management to recognize we're impaired and make the appropriate adjustments. How do we recognize the onset of impairment? In my case, I knew I was impaired the moment I fell out of bed. Other times it may not be so readily visible to us. In an ideal world we start the day at 100 percent. ( I guess I don't live in an ideal world ) As we near the end of a long ride or a long work day we need to evaluate ourselves.

One sure indication of impairment is shown in our inputs. Shifts get less smooth than normal. Inputs are not as subtle as usual. Surprises happen to us more and more. We have to be open to what we are being told by these things. Bravely pressing on may make us feel manly but it can also get us hurt or dead. Adjustments must be made.

This morning there was no gradual onset of symptoms. Physical inputs were smooth. Years and years of habit, practice, and teaching others were doing their job. Once I got onto the freeway I noticed the manifestation of impairment in a weird way.

I decided that since we were on the freeway in the rain I would just keep to the speed limit. A quiet backroad would be nice about now. That's out of the question at this time. It's already a 90 minute ride one way. I'm not willing to spend any more time than three hours a day commuting. Freeway, it is, until I move closer. Traffic seems heavier than normal. It always amazes me how many people are on the freeway so early these days.

Anyway, I decide to ride at the speed limit. This means I get passed a lot. My back aches and my vision is blurry so I'll live with it. Allergy medicines always carry the risk of drowsiness so I have stayed drug free. Trouble is, I can't seem to hold a steady speed. I start at 65 mph and notice that my speed has slowly fallen off to about 57. Rolling back on, I determine to hold steady. Despite my determination the speed goes back down. It's almost like I'm waking up each time I look down and see 55 to 57 mph. I don't remember slowing down. I do remember wanting nothing so much as to shut my eyes and sleep.

More adjustments are made. For the first time in as long as I remember Sophie and I stay in the far right lane and ride at 55 mph. Ego and bravado must be set aside. Survival takes center stage. I console myself with the old quote "Disgression is the better part of valor".

Riding home is better. All symptoms except the fatigue are just faint echoes of this morning. It hasn't helped that Ben Rothlisberger, the quarterback of the Pittsburg Steelers has suffered a bike accident. Riding a sport bike with no helmet, Ben become the victim of the classic left turning car. Or made himself a victim, as the case may be. Ben requires surgery to repair a broken jaw and other injuries. At least that's what the radio announcers are saying. Along with the usual rhetoric about how dangerous motorcycles are. I wish I had as much influence toward the good side as these celebrities have for the down side!!

There's some gentle ribbing coming from one of the guys I share the office with. The other fellow rides and knows the real score.

Did I say the ride home was better? I felt better but the ride had more adversity in store. The work day had taken it's toll and now I was getting cranky. Riding usually restores my good humor. Not today, for some reason.

Rain was falling heavily after a respite in the afternoon. Sophie and I started out at 4 PM. There's no avoiding the big city rush hour no matter how early you leave. We have to cross the Columbia River on the Glen Jackson Bridge. Five lanes wide and whipped by the East wind coming out of the Columbia Gorge. Extra entertainment was added by the presence of standing water. Can you spell "hydroplane"? The local Neanderthals ignored the peril and zoomed by unheeding.

At least until we got a couple more miles down I-205. It looked like someone asked that the word "hydroplane" be used in a sentence. Not being able to come up with one, someone offered to provide a real-world illustration. Five miles of stop and go traffic later we got to stretch our legs. At least the rain had let up a little.

Finally, it looked like clear sailing. The road was drying out and traffic thinned some. Turned out I wasn't home free. I swear I was jinxed by reading Gary's account of the guy in the big pickup. Only my encounter wasn't quite so dramatic as his.

This guy in a little Geo Metro came up behind me. My pace was dictated by traffic in front of me. Wasn't good enough for the man in the beat up little white car. He was following me more closely than I felt comfortable with. Tapping my rear brake pedal, I flashed the brake light. Most people would have gotten the message. Having only two brain cells and being a club-toting species of male, the guy came up even closer. I couldn't help wondering if he would tried it on an SUV. It's easy to be brave when your opponent looks smaller. How could he think he was threatening me when he would be involved, also?

Options came to mind as to what to do. I have a concealed weapons permit. At any time there could be a Glock, a five shot 38 revolver, or a Colt Commander 380 auto on the bike. The term "imminent threat" is open to intrepretation. I nixed the idea. Then another option for a weapon came to mind. I flashed the guy. Repeatedly.

Get that disgusted look off your face. The Roadcrafter suit makes that hard to do in reality. I always carry my cell phone in the right front pocket of the 'Stich. It is a camera phone. I never use it. All I know is that if you push this little button on the side of the phone it takes pictures. I have accidently taken pictures of walls, the inside of my pocket, my ass, and so on.

I stuck the fingers of the glove of my left hand inside my helmet. Yesterday's ride gave me practice in this move. Remember the sneezing? Pulling my hand out of the glove, I stuck the glove in the strap on the front of the jacket. With a bare hand I pulled the camera out. I discovered quickly that camera phones are made to take pictures in front of you, not behind you. Sticking the camera over my shoulder, I repeatedly pushed the button. There's a little flash unit on the phone. Acting like I was going for different angles I moved the camera around and flashed some more. My act was convincing and the guy backed off. As soon as he could the guy whipped around me and flipped me off. I took that picture, too!

I think I have that last picture. It seems there's another little button you have to push to save the pictures. Doesn't matter, I wasn't looking to put together an album. It was all for show. Mission Accomplished!

The down side was having to ride a while with no glove. A few miles down the road I pulled into the Wilsonville Rest Area and put my glove back on. The rest of the ride was dry and uneventful. I was so pleased to see Katie. She's feeding me supper and putting me to bed early.


No matter how hardcore or tough we are, all of us can fall victim to things like impairment. I should not have ridden today. Probably not even driven in that state, truth be told. I would urge you to always do your own assessment. If you find yourself becoming impaired listen to what your body is telling you. If you decide you shouldn't be on the bike make that choice. Sometimes riding "smart" can mean not riding. Live to play another day.

Miles and smiles,
Dan


3 comments:

Mad said...

Glad you got through a tough day rubber side up Irondad. I'm also impressed with your improvisation! At last a use for camera phones...

huh said...

Howdy Ironman,
I been reading up on your blog. I would like to comment on your choice of names for car drivers. You called them 'neanderthals' which is real nice. The thing is when they try to drive their cage up my ass. It takes a lot of either guts or stupidity to attempt to intimidate the driver of a car that's tailgating you. A biker never knows what kind of retard criminal puke is driving the car that is obviously trying to bully the biker. So the best thing I could figger out is this: I practice holding my loathing at bay and stay safe until we get to a point where the driver wants to pass the bike. When the dangerous asshole pulls his cage up even with the bike, the biker simply presses a small button on his handlebar and an old, concealed winshield washer motor whirls to life. Exiting from the concealed nozzle of the winshield washer is a fine mist of brake fluid. Now all the brake fluid wants to do as it exits the masher motor is land on the hiway, but the obnoxious prick won't let nature take its course and gets in the way of all that brake fluid mist. As such the prick's car is by now only a couple of weeks away from looking a little used. God bless all the cages that have intentionally come to closer than a foot from this bike while smiling and trying to scare the old fart on the bike. So if your cruising and see a cage with fish scales and rust all down the passenger side, just remember it ain't nice to scare bikers.

irondad said...

huh,
the solution you suggest is novel. I've just never been too sure of not having it backfire on me some way. I could just see having the wind change and spraying myself. I share your disgust with what they try.

Dan