Monday, June 19, 2006

Taking it on the Road!

What an awesome weekend! It was time to "get out of town" so that's what we did. Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles requires all riders under 21 to take our class in order to get a motorcycle endorsement. Since the class is mandatory we are obligated to provide training all over the state. There's a formula for how often and where to provide opportunity based on population. Up and down the I-5 corridor we have fixed sites at community colleges. Other locations are serviced by our "Mobile Program".

Not everyone enjoys working "Mobiles". I happen to like them. Coming into town and setting up a class involves a lot of work plus a long weekend. What I like is that you never know what to expect. It's up to you to make things work despite unforeseen obstacles. Sometimes our ingenuity is tested to the max. The instructors who work these mobile classes are special to me. There's usually four of us. Two for a morning group and two for an afternoon group. Even though the afternoon people don't need to show up until 11 AM they're always there to help set up. The morning instructors stay late on Sunday to help take things down and load bikes. Nothing breaks down barriers and builds bonds like working shoulder to shoulder in sometimes adverse conditions.

We have three pick-up/trailer units. These see frequent duty during the peak summer training season. The trucks are either Ford or Dodge one ton diesels with dual wheels. The trailers hold 13 bikes. You can see a bike in the bed of the truck. With two bikes back there we have enough for 12 students plus three spares. Remember, we can be a LONG ways from any of our regular facilities. There's also cones, classroom materials, loaner helmets, water for students, and a gas tank in the trailer to refill the bikes. The pump even has a battery so we can just squeeze the lever. We're pretty much self-contained. We used to have fold-down chairs on the walls and used the trailer for a classroom. Now we have real classrooms in various buildings.

A few of us are certified to drive the trucks and deliver equipment. Sometimes the driving is split between two of the instructors. One will bring the unit down with their personal bike secured in the trailer. Another instructor will ride to the site. The first instructor rides their bike home while the second instructor straps their bike in and takes the unit to the next location. Three years ago circumstances dictated that I trailer the ST home. That was the first time a bike of mine had ever gone anywhere without being ridden. Katie said I was as nervous as a new mother leaving her child with a babysitter for the first time. Just because I stopped every half or so to check on the bike? Come on, now!

This weekend we descended upon the unsuspecting town of Coos Bay, Oregon. This is a small coastal fishing town. Like all towns it has grown and become more varied but it still cycles with the ocean tides. You might remember the ship called the "New Carissa" that broke apart and beached a few years ago. That was at Coos Bay.

I really like this town. It happens that I was born there but that's not the reason I like it. Coos Bay and North Bend are so close together it's almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other starts. Together they have a population of around 27,000 people. Despite having grown larger over the years, the small town atmosphere seems to remain. That's probably due to the isolation. The nearest town to the North is Reedsport which is about 30 miles. The next town to the South is Bandon which is about 50 miles.

We've always been welcomed into the town. More than anywhere else I've taught friends and family come to watch. The students I've taught down there have been quite personable. That is, with one exception which I'll tell you about later. Our usual range site is at the Pony Village Mall. You can see the back of the mall behind the trailer. If you put yourself in the picture and were to look left you'd see the back of the Safeway store. A nice little corner to play in. Incidentally, the lady who manages the mall took our class about three years ago. The same weekend I had to trailer the ST, as a matter of fact. I had the pleasure of being the instructor. Needless to say, the mall management is very hospitable to us. Our hotel is on the other side of the mall from the range. Southwest Oregon Community College graciously gives us classroom space about 5 minutes away. Very cozy, all in all.

Now that you have the setting, let me tell you about the class. Here they are:

Sorry the picture's dark. As you can see, the clouds were ruling the sky at the beginning of the class time. Besides, I'm still trying to make my battered and broken camera work. It's always interesting to take a diverse group of folks and help them blend into "my students". Diverse, they were.

A third of my class were females. Women are figuring more and more into the equation. Good for them! One had some riding experience. One had no riding experience. One had spent a lot of time on dirt bikes which is both good and bad. It's good in that the coordination and riding ability is there. It's bad because dirt bike habits don't always work well for a street bike. My dirt bike girl had a little extra to deal with this weekend. Her husband of 16 years had passed away seven months ago, leaving her with four teenagers. This was their first Father's Day without him. I saw teary eyes a couple of times.

The fourth member of the female quartet was hard to read. I'll call her "Allison". She is right at about 20 years old. This girl would not communicate with either me, the other instructor, or her classmates. Any question I would direct toward her would be met with a blank stare. On Saturday her Dad showed up. On Sunday he was joined by Allison's mother and sister. I would see her laughing and visiting with them. As soon as she left them the blank stare returned. It is so bizarre to try to teach someone like that. Once I saw a very faint smile under the full-face helmet when I complimented her on something she did. Otherwise, the blank stare stayed there all weekend. Allison passed the knowledge test at 100%. She barely passed the riding test, but she got her card. I'm usually pretty good at reading people but I still can't tell you if the stare was hostility, fear, or a mask.

One of the gals, the new rider, was fun to watch. She told me at the beginning of class that she was so nervous she was ready to throw up. Despite that, things went well. She listened, improved, and actually started to have fun. I never grow tired of watching the light come on for riders, whether new or not-so-new.

The guys were a mix of young and old. Pretty typical of a class. They all had fun and we had the usual hassling each other that goes on. With the exception of an older gentleman. He will be 75 next month. "Frank" was the typical example of what I see in other classes. Having ridden many years ago, Frank wanted to try it again. The physical skills were just enough. It was the processing which seemed to suffer. Frank is one of the nicest guys you'll ever hope to meet. It was really hard to tell him that he didn't pass. It was even harder to have to gently suggest that he probably should try another hobby. Whatever he decides to do next, I take comfort in the fact that we provided Frank with a safe place to explore a return to riding.

Not long after class started the sun came out. I happened to end up with the afternoon group this time. There seems to be a thing on our coast that the sunshine brings with it the wind. We had a pretty steady stream of air blowing in from the North. On Saturday it wasn't too bad. Just enough to make me deaf from having it blow by my ears for a couple of hours. On Sunday it got more interesting!

Having not exerted itself too hard on Saturday, the wind had plenty of energy for Sunday. My partner was wearing a baseball type cap and it blew off his head several times. Not only did it leave his head, the hat started blowing rapidly across the parking lot! Katie got pretty good at plotting intercept courses. Since I was riding the demonstrations I just kept my 3/4 face helmet on. I don't ride with anything but a full face but this makes a good range helmet. The open face lets me communicate with students. What was really entertaining about the wind was that it kept blowing junk from the back of the Safeway store across our range. Paper bags, plastic bags, you name it. Nothing stayed with us as it just blew across into some people's yard to the South of us.

We did have one special obstacle, though. Right as our dirt bike girl was coming around a corner in the skill evaluation, a flattened cardboard box whipped across in front of her. It just missed her front wheel. My student wasn't at all ruffled, fortunately. Oh, did I tell you that we were also on the final approach path to the airport?

The runway for the North Bend airport starts right across the main drag from us. Several times we had small planes buzzing us. Horizon Air runs commuter hops out of this airport. The jets can be quite distracting to students. Ok, to instructors, too. I still have funny mental pictures of my students trying to ride straight while staring up at the planes! The Coast Guard also has a facility there. Fancy turbo-jet helicopters provided variety in the aircraft overhead.

In a world that tries more and more to put people into preset moulds, working Mobiles provides a much needed change. There's just us, the trailer, and our wits. You never know what to expect when you "take it on the road"!

Miles and smiles,


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