Monday, July 24, 2006

Curse of the Freeway:

Traffic Jam.

Hot enough to fry an egg on my forehead. 103 (f) on Friday. 105 on Saturday. 102 on Sunday. Today it's 99 degrees. That's close enough to 100 to call it that for me. I've been on the bike all those days. You'd think I'd be smart enough to avoid the heat but I worked this weekend. Well, I really can't blame Saturday and Sunday on teaching. We started at 6:30 AM which meant we had to be on site at 5:30. Some of us are crazy enough to go riding after class.

Katie had things going on and I felt like I just wanted to ride for pleasure. I hooked up with Laurie who was coming back from doing a site audit two hours South. Rode down to meet her then we found an interesting ride home. When I dropped her off she took her helmet off.

"Damn, I feel like a hamster in a hot air dryer!"

Pretty much summed it up except I'm not sure I fit the cuddly image of a hamster. I'd have to say I felt like a rat in a hot air dryer.

Monday brought the ride to the office. I'm spending a couple of days there regrouping. I'm having to be really careful in my riding. With the heat comes less sleep and what I do get isn't as restful as it could be. We've been sleeping on the living room floor since it's the coolest place available. For some reason I don't remember the floor being that hard! On top of it all, it's not cooling off at night. Saturday morning at 5 AM it was still 83 degrees.

Anyway, the lack of sleep is affecting my personality for the worse. I'm getting cranky. A lot of the drivers are probably feeling the same way. It's something to beware of before it gets me in trouble. Makes for an interesting combination to concentrate on staying alert and mellow at the same time.

On the way up I had the opportunity to help a fellow rider. I could see a bike on the shoulder to the right side of the freeway. Getting closer I could see it was a red Valkyrie. Off in the shade sat a man just sprawled out and waiting. I pulled off ahead of his bike to check on him. The bike had just quit running. He had checked fuel and wires that he could see. The lights worked so he figured he had a good battery. Problem was, the guy had picked this one day to forget his cell phone. Being a philosophical sort of fellow he had hit the shade. He was a couple miles from an off ramp but there was no way he was going to push that big bike that far. Somebody was bound to stop sooner or later. Turned out to be much later than sooner. I lent him my cell phone. Help was on the way so I continued on.

You can imagine how hard it was to leave the air conditioned office in the afternoon. Nonetheless, one can't claim to be The Intrepid Commuter without being intrepid. The ride home would prove to be Very Interesting!

Why do traffic jams happen at the most inconvenient times? Come to think of it, is any time convenient? We're about 30 minutes from home and traffic comes to a stop. Here I am in gridlock, full gear, and nearly a hundred degrees. I actually laughed out loud. Katie watches a cable news channel. It's based out of Seattle but has a sister station in Spokane, Washington. The other morning they were showing highway department cameras. The announcer was urging drivers to avoid '90 since it was slow. Average speeds were about 40 mph. I wished I was doing 40 right now! If they wanted to see slow they should be here with me.

Slow is when you look at the car next to you and can read the recommended air pressure on the tires! We're moving at a snail's pace. I am rapidly becoming a crispy critter under the blazing sun. I can't decide if I'm being fried or boiled in my own sweat. Speaking of which, you know how they tell you to stay hydrated in extreme heat? I've been faithfully doing that all weekend. On Sunday I drank 164 ounces plus two cups of coffee. Running around a parking lot made sure I sweated off the liquid. Somehow it doesn't seem to work the same sitting in an air conditioned office.

A creeping concern is thrusting itself onto my consciousness. If you don't sweat out all the liquid guess what happens to it? Now I'm not only a cripsy critter, I'm rapidly becoming a crispy critter with a desperate need to pee!

Finally, we get rolling. It's been 8 miles of very slow going. Or not being able to go at all, if you know what I mean. I never did see a probable cause of the slowing. We were going through a construction area but nothing looked amiss. I read a formula once that ODOT uses. On Interstate 5 in the valley, for every minute the traffic is stopped or nearly so, it takes six minutes to clear up. This must have been the residual. The good news is that there was a rest area another 10 miles down the road. We made a quick stop and I guess you could say everything came out all right.

Now I'm about 10 miles from home. It seems we're not through Having Fun, yet. Sophie and I find ourselves up to the axles in alligators. In case you're not familiar with the term, it's redneck speak for those big pieces of tire tread in the road. This heat has taken more than it's fair toll on truck tires. The freeway has been littered with pieces of tire, big and small. I've never seen so many scattered all over the roadway. So far we've managed to avoid them. That sterling record won't last long.

There's a sign that indicates my exit is 1/2 mile away. That's my clue to slide over into the slow lane. We're usually "oh so smooth" as we nonchalantly change lanes. It doesn't go quite as smoothly tonight. Just before I commit to the press on the handlebar I finally see a very large alligator. It's laying in the freeway pretending to be one of the white stripes. Somewhere about six feet long. I'd chosen to slide in behind a semi-truck. With the sun shining from the West and the alligator being on the East side of the truck, it was completely hidden in the shadow of the trailer. I totally missed it until I was right on top of it. It's no excuse, but the fatigue of the extreme heat and lack of sleep had dulled my normally razor sharp scanning skills. Seriously.

Fortunately, the angle was enough that it just gave the front wheel a really hard jerk instead of trapping it. We passed over it on the end closest to us. As the front wheel cleared the back end of the tread piece curled up and smacked Sophie's saddlebag. I thought from the sound that the bag cracked. Turned out it just left a big black mark. All's well and we kept the shiny side up. Still, it was close. Even battle hardened Road Warriors can get chinks in their armor. There's very few days when our armor is perfect. I'm glad my defensive weapons were up to filling in the gap. I know we hate to practice skills over and over instead of just going out and having fun. Do it. You never need the skills until you need them. And then you REALLY need them. You'll be glad the skills are there.

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

Too hot! Give me freezing temperatures anyday. I have ridden a couple times in humid mid 90's temperatures and I see how it degrades my ability to pay attention. I don't drive on the freeways like you do but there are still enough hazards around to do damage.

Glad you posted about the road alligators. I am always concerned about stuff laying on the road that would be a challenge for the little scooter tires. I have managed to navigate around bricks, tree limbs, boxes, and other assorted things that I have seen ahead of time, but I am not sure what I would do if I didn't see them. Take them head on and hope for the best I guess...

While riding my mountain bike I once took a spill when my tired was trapped against a garden hose. How lame is that? Lame or not I went down because I didn't repsect the principle and take it at a better angle.

I should have paid more attention in Geometry class....


Gary said...

Dan, that's hot... We flirt with 100°F here in Minnesota, maybe a couple times a summer. But we rarely get there.

I wouldn't have had your patience in those conditions. I'm afraid I would have taken to the shoulder, if filtering isn't legal in Oregon.

To this day, I still can't make myself sit in a gridlocked traffic jam. If I am stopped for more than a couple minutes, I WILL find a way around it.

As long as I keep up my cop-scan and watch out for idiots who try to impede my progress, it works for me. On Frogwing, it is a simple matter... but the scooter has certain limitations.

Well, stay cool brother, and...

Ride well,

DaveT said...

Heat kills, sometimes directly, sometimes from the affects of dehydration and brain fade. We're suffering the same kind of heat here in Spokane (That's SPO-can, not cane for you non northwesterners). It's been tough putting on that leather jacket to come home at night, and my helmet liner is like a sponge after the ride home. Still, beats the alternative, i.e. road rash and head bash.

To help you sleep at night rig up a redneck air conditioner. That's some big blocks of ice in a washtub/bucket with a fan blowing over the ice and towards you. It's not perfect, but it works in a pinch and will help cool it down enough to sleep better.

Stay cool, stay hydrated, and ride safe.

P.S. My wife passed her basic rider course, on her Yammie 50cc Vino scooter. Highest score in her class too! :) Yes, I'm a bit proud of her.

irondad said...

extreme heat IS an impairment that we need to be aware of and make adjustments for. I've seen those skinny tires on mountain bikes and understand how the hose thing could happen.

filtering is not legal in Oregon. I have been known to ride up the shoulder although I feel the responsibility to set a good example as an instructor. You never know who might see you that was or is a student. In this particular case, there was a very narrow shoulder with those cement barriers common to construction zones. Wasn't too comfortable threading Sophie through there.

I know from my days in Yakima about the high desert heat. Will I need an umbrella for the redneck air conditioner?