Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I spent this last weekend at a place called Swan Island. I don't know where the "Swan" part comes in. The folks who named it must have been looking to the future. Right now, it's more like the "Ugly Duckling" thing. In all fairness, in kinder weather this place could look quite nice. In fact, here's a picture from the air.

I was standing to the left of the three cranes in the center of this picture when I took the opening photo of this post. Both of these shots are looking toward the Willamette River. Here's another view from up close:

Swan Island was once a natural area with the main channel of the Willamette River flowing east of the island. As the city of Portland grew in the mid-1900s, the channel was filled with river sediment to connect the island to the mainland. For a short time in the mid 1920's Swan Island was used as the city’s airport. Today this centrally situated property (located next to Interstate 5 within view of downtown Portland) is a major corporate center and hub for distribution, warehousing, and manufacturing activities. Freightliner has a manufacturing facility near our range. Right next door to us sits millions of dollars worth of Freightliner tractors.

I'll come back to some of this stuff in a while. The central theme of this post is how motorcycling can stir such passion in people. So much so, that on a weekend when we were getting pounded by the Pineapple Express students and instructors were still enthusiastically pursuing their individual goals despite the downpours and wind. We had 12 students, 5 "cream of the crop" instructors from another state, a regular instructor, our Training Manager, the Director, and myself acting as a trainer. Things were happening on several levels at once.

First off, we have our students. It's all about them, after all. Our goal is to serve the riders of Oregon as well as possible. Here's our group. There's actually twelve but a couple of them are riding out of camera shot. Darn little bikes hardly sit still for a minute! We're in pretty primitive conditions. There's just enough room to make things safe. What you can't see is how soaked they are! We urge them to bring raingear but most don't. Thighs and rear ends live in sopping wet denim jeans. Somebody made a comment during the last exercise on Sunday, which is a fun traffic interaction thing.

"Look at them, soaking wet in the pouring rain and still smiling!"

Our range is right next to the river. You can see it in my pictures. Sometimes it rained so hard it was difficult to know where you were. Once I saw a fish in front of my visor. It was either suicidal or I had strayed too far. With so much water who could tell?

Our students all come with their own stories and intended journeys. As a sampler, we had a gal who wanted to ride on her own. Her previous riding time was as a passenger. A guy and his girlfriend and a female couple were looking for something fun to do together. There was a man who works as a mechanic for a large city. He needed to get an endorsement so he can repair and road test police bikes. Two young men were from somewhere over in Snark's neck of the woods. They're here for some university time and plan to use bikes to commute. By the way, they were right at home on the small training bikes. In lands where bikes are truly utility vehicles, small displacement rules.

Despite their disparate backgrounds, all the students shared the same thing. Enthusiasm and passion that drove them to come out in the pouring rain in this primitive parking lot. It's contagious, let me tell you. What is it about riding that drives people to this kind of effort?

Primitive is the rule of the day here. Our location is on the property of a shipyard, as you might have guessed. Closer to the cranes are old props and screw shafts strewn in a lot. These folks have let us have this space out of the goodness of their hearts. We are quickly becoming encroached upon, though. The shipyard has been awarded a contract that is requiring some more room. The space next to our range is being excavated. Here's what the students were seeing on the West side of the parking lot:

This was taken in between dump truck runs. The scoop is about thirty feet off the range. You can just see the banners on the ground marking off our space. It sure didn't seem to bother the students. Construction and motorcycle safety training peacefully co-existed. On the other side of the range we had this:

This picture only shows a few of the trucks. Freightliner gets them almost finished and then stages them over here. Every little while one would be fired up and taken back to the mothership for finishing touches. Our students just kept on pursuing their learning in our own little world of a parking lot.

Another level was our instructors, including myself. Who would be crazy enough to voluntarily come out in this stuff to do training? Not only that, but start the day before dawn! Folks with a passion for motorcycling and sharing it. This isn't a job for us. We all have "real" jobs elsewhere. In fact, when we're talking to prospective new instructors we tell them that if they're looking for a "job" we have no openings. If they're looking for an opportunity, well, that's another thing entirely. When an instructor finds that they're no longer having fun and feeling the passion, it's time to go.

Yeah, it's pretty darn early. Just us instructors and the dump truck drivers. The four of us are here for a couple of reasons. Obviously, the first is these students. Carol is an instructor in her fourth year. I had the privilege of helping to get her on the way in the beginning. She will be the primary instructor for these students. She'll be joined by the instructors from another state. I'll tell you more about them in a bit. The other three of us are here to work with these visiting motorcycle safety folks. In my case, I'm also using this as a template for doing some "step-up" training for our own instructors in the next training year. Like I say, passion shown regardless of experience level.

This is starting to turn into a really long post. I think I'll leave you with one more picture and then finish it in the next post.

Another shot of the cranes at O'dark thirty! Man, those were early mornings!

Miles and smiles,


ScooterGuru said...

You know, I really enjoy seeing new riders learn the ropes and get excited about motorcycling. I have had pretty good success with teaching others in the past. Perhaps I should pursue being an instructor? I will have to show-up to a safety course one weekend here at the college and talk to an instructor!
Crawfordville, FL

gary said...

Dan, you've got me thinking about becoming an instructor. If I ever find myself with time on my hands when I could be teaching new riders, I think I'm going to take the plunge.

Ride well,

The Snark said...

My neck of the woods? Whatever are they doing there? Did you tell them about the Snark?

irondad said...

I love sharing riding skills with new riders. I'm sure you would, too. Check it out. Most programs don't have a huge commitment of time. Something like 6 classes in three years.

My Grandma always told me you become who you hang out with. See what happens? I've got the urge to check out scooters and you're talking about becoming an instructor. I guess she's right, huh? Just remember you can't shoot anyone in the classes!

It seems they're doing the same thing as over there. Riding small bikes. Except with more heavily enforced rules over here. Believe it or not, I did tell them about you and gave them the link. I'm pretty sure that no matter where guys are from they enjoy bikes and nekked women, to quote you.


irondad said...

I know you didn't spell things exactly the same but I had to add my "redneck" slant to it!

Steve Williams said...

Where do you find the time? Riding, teaching, writing, and all these photos. I know how long that takes to stop and look and make the exposure. You must have some supercharged time management system you're not sharing Dan.

I've thought about the idea of being an instructor but since all of my riding experience in this century has been on a scooter I'm not sure I'm the well rounded individual for the job. And where would I find the time anyway.


irondad said...

The time thing is accomplished by having no personal life!

As for becoming an instructor, let me share with you what I tell my students who may have an interest in teaching.

You don't have to be a great rider. After all, guess what business we're in? Yeah, we can help you with your riding skills. What we can't give you is a good personality. I've seen great riders who were assholes. Don't want them. We just need personable folks who are coachable and want to share.

I think you'd be a good instructor.

As to the time thing, you're on your own!