Friday, June 09, 2006

Rocket Man!

This is something I wish I had on the bike. Unfortunately, the saddlebags are too small. The thrust of the launch sequence does bad things to the bike's handling. At least the missles would be aerodynamic. The extra weight will surely degrade my gas mileage. Oh well, I'll just have to keep relying on the manueverability of the bike to get around weird drivers and left lane hogs!

I needed to go to Kirkland, Washington for a couple of day's training for the new job. This is a 'burb of Seattle. The actual ride up was fairly uneventful. Most of my long rides start at 5 AM and this was no exception. The timing was such that I avoided rush hour at the larger metropolitan locations. Washington has a lot of road construction happening north of Tacoma. At least the Department of Transportation thinks about bikes. There were signs up all along that warned motorcyclists to use extreme caution. They didn't leave good places to ride but at least they gave us fair warning! I hit I-405 about 9:15. Sophie was feeling a little extra excitement as we passed Renton. It was in Renton that her and I first met. Salem Honda did a dealer trade to get the ST for me. I handed over a check to the dealer and rode Sophie home from there.

About the time I was feeling like I had breezed through the trip traffic slowed waaaay down on 405. Thank goodness for the fact that motorcycles are allowed in the carpool lanes! It was so cool to go breezing by the slow traffic in the other lanes. We did get sort of suckered into missing our exit, though. Washington has this weird pattern of having the off ramps parallel the freeway for a ways before they branch off. Signs that are actually on the off ramp appear to be on the freeway farther down. I should have trusted the directions I had printed. The sign confusion made me think my exit was actually farther down than it was. No biggie, we made it back.

One of the guys at the office took me out to lunch. We ended up at an Italian restaurant called Cafe Veloce. This place not only had good food but there were vintage Italian bikes on display. There must have been 8 or 9. Display cases hold other vintage racing memorabilia. Thursday night my new boss took me to dinner. He didn't realize I had been there for lunch and I wasn't going to object, anyway. I like this place! Sometimes they have gatherings of riders on Italian bikes. Here's a link that shows one of the bikes:

Dealing with traffic up there on a bike is murder. As an example, after work on Thursday I was going to check into the hotel before going back for dinner. All I needed to do was turn left into the parking lot. It was a little after 5 PM and the two lanes were crowded. Nobody would let me in. We didn't have the bulk to crowd our way in. So we ended up aborting the left turn. Managing to get over to the right we went around the corner and turned around. Two left turn lanes take traffic in front of the space where my driveway target is. I figured that by getting in the right hand of the two lanes I could get to where I needed to go. Never discount the stupidity, rudeness, and inattentiveness of commuters. A large silver Ford pickup was in the lane to my left. The idiot cut right across our front tire like we weren't there. Good thing my skills are honed enough that we avoided contact.

Friday afternoon at 1:30 saw us itching to get on the road to home. It was a 5 hour ride up and I figured we'd get home at a reasonable time. I had to be up at 4:30 AM Saturday morning to go teach a motorcycle class. ( I know, what was I thinking?) Right after we pulled out of the parking lot the skies opened up. I swear the lightning was so close I could feel my hairs stand up. The thunder almost knocked me off the bike. Oh goodie. This was not promising but we soldiered on. Remember I left at 1:30? The ride home was 252 miles. By 4:30 we had covered a dazzling number of miles. 52 to be exact. 52 miles in three hours. Aaaargh!!!!

All people seem to know how to do up there is to run into each other. These people run nose to tail at 70 mph or more. Literally. I had one gal so close to me I could not see her headlight in my mirror. I just got out of the way and let her go close up on the next car. At times it felt like we were going backwards. If you leave a proper following distance drivers are pissed off that you're not going fast enough. So they whip around you to tailgate the car ahead. They act like there's a big neon sign saying "Dive in here"! Everybody drives the same bloody way.

Washington freeways have signs that tell drivers to pull over to the side of the road if they have fender benders. Four times I saw sets of two vehicles pulled over. This was just in the first 18 miles. The front of one and the rear of the other mashed up. Gee, guess what happened? For God sakes, people, GET A CLUE!!

At least we were moving at those times. Not long after getting onto I-5 Southbound we were sitting in stop and go traffic. Oh, did I mention the rain was still coming down hard? After half an hour we passed the wreck. If you figured it was another rear-ender collision you would be exactly right! Finally, we got to run at freeway speeds. For all of 11 miles.

I had a bad feeling when I saw the signboards telling us the freeway was closed at milepost 123. The Washington Highway Department was kind enough to warn us early and suggested using alternate routes. Yeah, right. Here I am in a place I'm not familiar with. I'm supposed to find some other way to go South? The only way I know involved going almost to the coast and down. Just another 400 miles. In the rain and thunder.

Traffic was still moving very quickly so I figured this was just a leftover from earlier. Hoping that was the case I kept riding. Turned out my hopes were dashed. Took me 90 minutes to go 9 miles. We would move 25 feet and then stop and wait. 25 more feet and stop and wait. Lane splitting isn't legal. As thin as everyone's patience was, I'm sure somebody would have gone for me if I had tried. At least the rain turned into just showers here and there. I have to say that the crotch of my Aerostich Roadcrafter pants held up despite the puddling there.

Several hours earlier there had been a serious 18 vehicle pileup initiated by a pickup that rear ended another pickup. The impact forced the second vehicle under the back of a semi that was slowing down. One thing led to another. What do they expect driving nose to tail at freeway speeds? I called on my deep Zen skills and survived with only a very sore clutch hand. I'm lucky that the constant running of the electric fan on the bike didn't run my battery down. State Patrol officers had opened the hammer lane. Using the shoulder and the hammer lane two lanes were created for traffic to pass. Five lanes filtered into the two and we crept along.

Eventually we got through. I risked a severe speeding ticket running down the freeway looking for the next rest area.

Seven hours after leaving Kirkland we pulled into the driveway at home. Whew! As much bravado as I project as the Intrepid Commuter, I don't think I could handle freeway commuting in the Seattle area. We'd find a place to live that was accessible by back roads and had lighter traffic. Trouble is, I don't think there is such a thing up there. If I'm ever offered the chance to transfer to Kirkland, my answer will be "Thanks, but no thanks"! It may be a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.

Miles and smiles,


Steve Williams said...

52 miles in 3 hours. Those are humbling speeds---I out perform those even on the Vespa, but not by much.

My last 100 mile ride covered three hours. Granted I was stopping to take pictures, get gas, and generally meandering without a care in the world. But even with focused riding in the Central Pennsylvania mountains I would be hard pressed to average 45 mph unless I stayed on a reasonably flat valley road. The scooter is fine for my short commute but for every other ride it requires that I not care about speed or time. It is a challenge to continually surrender that cultural imperative!

Your ongoing posts about the drivers out in Washington are bursting my bubble. I thought questionable driving and discourteous drivers were confined to the East. I have this picture of a more perfect world "out West". There bursts another bubble....

Sounds like a hellish ride. Glad you made it in once piece. Sounds like the kind of day that would have me pull into the nearest motel and take a nap...


irondad said...

Typical case of hare and tortoise! Except I was both. I had some flashes of speed unfortunately followed by stopping. Rude and stupid knows no geographic boundaries, I'm afraid.

You will be richer for immersing yourself in the journey and not the destination.

dan_durham said...

Read the bit on your trip to Kirkland, WA and I must comment as I am from WA and have been reading yours and other's blogs from

I commute 4 days a week from Marysville to Seatac airport (50 miles) or downtown Seattle on my Ducati 900SS or CBR600 rain or shine- and I totally relate to the absolute crazyness on WA freeways here. The only relief I have is I work nights so I am somewhat going against traffic - and of course the carpool lane is my friend.

I swear I've seen it all - the latest is the female Volvo-driver applying makeup the other morning at 65mph weaving into my lane... amazing anyone travelling on 2 wheels out there can stay alive...


irondad said...

thanks for stopping by! I get to go up there again next Tuesday. Good luck on your daily commute and stay sharp. I tried the old 45 minute commute on my CBR600 and it was a little less comfortable than I wanted to experience. You must be a tough guy!


dan_durham said...

Dan - thanks for all the detailed posts! I have to say I enjoy reading them - at work we have lots of down time at night... I'll be back frequently.

I hear you on the old comfort factor...actually the cbr is slightly more relaxed than the Ducati and it has a corbin seat, which helps too. The Duke has "the sound" which is addicting however :) In any case, I am thinking more and more of selling one for a dedicated commuting bike. That ST I read so much about on your posts sounds mighty practical - and fun too.