Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What would you write?

I'm going to put Jon on the spot for a minute. A comment he posted spurred me to go ahead and explore something I've been thinking about for a while. Like I said, Jon, you gave me this idea for a post. Now you have to bear with me talking about you in the third person! Here's an excerpt from the comment:

" You don't want yours to be a posthumous memorial do you?"

This isn't meant to be morbid or fatalistic. I just figure that there's a good chance I could meet the end of my time on earth while riding. I do everything I can to avoid that eventuality. Everything, that is, except to quit riding.

The way I see it, regularly commuting on a bike ( which includes scooters ) is a mixed blessing. In some ways we're better off than the recreational riders. It really seems like it would be hard to keep skills sharp by just pulling the bike out on sunny days. Like any other aspect of life, skills will only remain at whatever level we practice them to. In that regard, we have a lot of time to sharpen and battle test our weapons. On a mile-per-mile basis I think commuters have less chance of getting into trouble. We're just better prepared.

Strangely enough it's those same miles that can get us in the long run. Increased exposure means an increased chance that the odds will catch up with us. Take the recent death of Steve the Crocodile Hunter.

Steve spent a lot of time fooling with wild animals. He obviously had skill and experience. At any point Steve could have quit doing what he was doing and would probably still be alive. He didn't quit and the odds caught up to him. Personally, I think he was a little "Over the top". On the other hand, there's probably those who look at me riding in nasty weather and heavy traffic who think the same about me. That's probably what spurred Jon's comment above.

What was interesting about Steve's death was that it came from a seemingly harmless creature in more relaxed circumstances. Facing obvious threats like poisonous snakes and other large reptiles, I'm sure his guard was up. It's when he relaxed that things caught up with him. What's even more interesting is that I don't think it was the actual sting from the ray that killed Steve.

I just read about another fellow who got stung by a ray that flopped into his boat. This guy had a similar wound to Steve's. This other man also happened to be much older than Steve. In this case the victim survived. The difference I see?

I'm convinced that Steve died because he pulled the barb out of his chest. That's an act that I and some of you would have done. Attack instead of retreat. Ponder it a moment. Don't we refer to ourselves as Road Warriors? How many of us think of ourselves as aggressors in traffic instead of as small creatures scurrying around hoping we don't get attacked? In my case I try to temper the first aggressive reaction. Choosing "fight" over"flight" can also get me killed or seriously injured. Most of my commuting time is spent in a careful balancing act between "advance" and "retreat".

Still with me? Good. Let's bring it back to motorcycling.

The threats to us out there are getting more real all the time. I firmly believe that the collective displayed intelligence and sense by humanity is taking a nose dive. No matter how badly people score on the "smart" test, they are still driving. My freeway commute puts me into a situation where I am constantly surrounded by these kind of drivers. Throw in days like this morning where it is dark, freezing, and foggy. My own visor is icing up. The roads are subject to freezing fog. Darkness and fog negate the ability of my radar to give me the advanced warnings I would like. So I play Starship Captain. Constantly going back and forth between Yellow Alert" and "Red Alert". At least I'm on Alert. That's what keeps me alive.

Riders can't and don't live on "Red Alert". It's those down times that pose the greatest danger.

Here's an example. Coffee shops figure into the commuter riding for some of us. How do you feel coming out of the shop? We're warmed up by the beverage. That scone was great and we can still taste how it blended with the coffee. Life's mellow at that moment. Gear gets pulled on. Still feeling mellow we start the bike into traffic. It's those moments that get us. Warp drive and Red Alert are still a few minutes ahead of us. Right now we're just sort of getting up to speed. A seemingly harmless old woman driving a Buick doesn't see us for whatever reason and changes lanes right into our bike.

Like I said earlier, I'm not trying to paint a depressing picture. On the other hand, riding is what it is. The world is what it is. With so many bodies in orbit at the same time, paths are bound to collide. More interaction with the moving bodies means more chance of an encounter. I spend a lot of time in the cosmic swirl. There's a real possibility that the odds will eventually catch up to me.

Which brings me back to the original point of this post.

What if one day I did perish on the bike? I've been doing this blog for about a year. It hasn't changed the world by any means, I know. Although I'd like to think that someone might notice if the posts suddenly stopped without explanation. I've played with an idea for a while. It hasn't actually come to fruition as of yet. The idea is to write a post ahead of time and just store it. When the post was ready I would show Katie how to publish it. "Just in case", you know. The post would be my way to explain in general terms what happened. It would put some sort of poetic closure to this venture.

Thus the question. What to write? These things would be in it.

I knew the risks. I accepted the risks and did what I could to manage them. There was never a question of not riding. The enrichment to daily life far outweighed any possible consequences. All of us meet death at some point. Many unfortunate folks ( although they may not realize just how unfortunate they really are ) spend the last days sitting on a shelf rotting away. Death comes as a relief to the pain or sheer boredom. Is just being alive really considered living? Aren't the last few days of life the worst time to have regrets about never having taken any risks? In contrast, how many die while feeling the most alive?

My intent is to live to the very end, whenever it comes. I sincerely hope I'm blessed with extended years to do this in. It would be good if Katie never had to publish the final post. Like they say, though, crap happens. These are my thoughts about it.

What would you write?

Miles and smiles,


ScooterGuru said...

It's been put a few different ways, but I like this quote from one of my favorite movies, Braveheart: "All men die; few of them truly live". I have been through some experiences with motorcycles and other two and three-wheel conveyances that some people can only dream of. I've done things that other people considered crazy and impossible. You just can't do that without a bit of risk. Some of the best things in our lives, like falling in love, following our dreams, learning what spirituality is about, involve risk of some type. Though I've gained and lost much, I wouldn't have it any other way.

dan_durham said...

You wisely put it as an "advance and retreat" balancing act.

Society thinks motorcycles are very dangerous for obvious reasons but few non-motorcyclists understand or acknowledge the advantages (ie. maneuverability, power to weight ratio, etc...)

I think awareness and using these inherited advantages when appropriate are what we can use to manage the risks.

chewy said...

You read my mind. My commute this morning was in upper twenties with frost everywhere. Yup, MInnesota fall. yours is the blog I read most. It seems to parallel my thoughts.

wise men arre always prepared.

Dick said...

The letting your guard down is what got me last summer. My mother used to call it "wool gathering" when we were not paying full atention to her. Result was a totaled bike and broken collar bone. There were other parts to it but that was the biggest contributor to my accident. And we all die sometime, it could be anywhere anytime so ride on!

irondad said...

This is a collective reply. I appreciate your sharing thoughts. One of the things behind this post was to find out if there are still "thinkers" out there. More and more I see people just living on surface. I guess that's why instant gratification is so important these days.

scooterguru, dan, chewy, and dick, you obviously still ponder, wonder, and reflect. How cool is that? I'm reassured to know that you and those like you are riding.


abob said...

I would rather die on my bike then at work from my bad heart, rather then in a hospital bed with tubes in me.I would just rather die at speed. By the way I'm 65 years young,been riding for over 35 of those years,can I please have 35 more?

Irondad said...

I am with you there. At the end of July I watched my biological father do just that. He had a bad heart, bad lungs, you name it. Went in for an artery bypass in his leg due to diabetes' having cut off circulation. At the end of the next week I watched him fade away on a ventilator at Intensive Care. How much better to just have gone doing something like riding?

As far as I'm concerned, you can have 40 years more!


Steve Williams said...

Dan: I don't think there is anything morbid about facing our mortality. Ignoring it or pretending it isn't there is more problematic.

I believe part of fully being human requires us to embrace risk. This covers everything from physical risk to spiritual and emotional risk. Our culture wants to insulate us from every possible danger in hopes of ensuring long life. But something seems wrong when only good outcomes can occur. It reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where a gambler dies and goes to heaven and can win at every game. He finds it an empty experience and begs to go to hell only to find out he wasn't in heaven afterall....

If we can only be safe, if we cannot take risks, if we do not face our mortality then how human can we be. Life is only sweet when we know death. All sounds a bit over the top as I write this but I think you are close to one of the most important ideas we can have Dan.

Keep riding, keep taking risks, and keep managing them intelligently and honestly and life will be rich regardless of the outcome.


irondad said...

You said it better than I could. The goods things are always better when one has a deep awareness of the unpleasant alternatives.