Thursday, March 30, 2006
I'm taking a couple extra days off work to let the past two week's tension drain. What does a hardcore rider like me do to fling off stress?
Katie and I took a ride. The weather was cloudy but it felt comfortable in shirt sleeves when I went out to get the newspaper. Remember the gravel road the old man in the pickup came out of? We decided to go see where it goes. Granted, the ST isn't really intended to be an off road bike but I've always felt more like it's not the tool, it's the man using it. I've had this bike in some pretty hairy spots before. I will have to tell you about some of those adventures in a future blog post.
What a contrast it is to just go for a ride instead of commuting to work. Don't get me wrong, riding is awesome no matter the destination. It's just that today we had no schedule. Serendipity is a word that has a lot of meaning to me. It refers to finding pleasant and valuable things even though you weren't looking for them directly. Our ride today was like that. We just set out on a leisurely run to see what turned up.
Backroads are so soothing. One of the roads that takes us to the really good stuff parallels the Interstate for a while. Looking to my right I see the freeway about a quarter of a mile away. Over there is where the chaos and frantic life runs. Over here there is peace and elbow room. I'm glad people are so easily caught up in the rush and choose the main arteries. That means they're not over here in my way. Katie and I are enjoying our own relaxed melody. Having a strong desire to go your own way instead of joining the herd can be tough. It means swimming upstream a lot of the time. The really good stuff don't come easy. That's what makes it so special.
We find the gravel road and turn onto it. Some is gravel but most of it is hard packed dirt. There are muddy spots and puddles. The road's fairly flat for a couple of miles. Then it turns right and starts up into some low hills. In for a penny, in for a pound. Like I say, the good stuff don't come easy. Up we go. I'm a little worried here and there but we do fine. One more short turn and we come out in an old gravel quarry with a pond. A pond on top of a hill. The quarry hasn't been used in a while. I hit the engine cut-off switch and we dismount.
Instantly we're surrounded by the voices of Nature. No human sounds except our breathing and whispered utterances. It just seems inappropriate to speak in a normal voice. The view extends a long way to the West and South. The East side goes further up hill into a heavy forest of Oak trees. We stand in awe and just soak it all in. The pond is full and some of it runs off down the hill in a small creek. You can hear the water laughing with joy as it runs down the hill.
We sat on rocks for about half an hour. At one point we saw a pair of Bald eagles fly away. They had been down in the long grass. I can only presume they had been there since our arrival. Had they not considered us a threat and so declined to interrupt their business? Had they hoped for entertainment and found these two humans boring? Maybe they just stayed to admire the bike.
Not long after that, a small group of deer worked their way down out of the trees. Three does and two fawns. The little ones were frisky. The older deer were on high alert but the fawns weren't shy at all. They were literally bounding. All four hooves would hit the ground at once. The hooves would stay down only long enough to build up energy for the big spring jumps. As soon as I slowly reached for the camera the does must have sent out some silent signal. In a flash of brown they were back in the trees.
We reluctantly mounted the bike and started back down the hill. Big black clouds were coming quickly. We headed South to get away but they caught us. Soaking wet, we stopped at a mall near where I work to seek shelter and dry off. Besides, it was getting close to lunch time. Understand, I'm a hardcore rider and not a slave to my belly. We only needed to eat because Katie was along. ( yeah, right )
There were hundreds of people in the mall. It's spring break and all. Lots of folks wandering with their kids. Out of all those people, we were the only two in wet motorcycle gear and holding helmets. That made me proud!
We ended up playing miniature golf. This new place came in where it's dark inside. The place has some low burning blacklights. The golf holes have flourescent paint so it's a glow-in-the dark golf course. Pretty neat, and fun, too. Have you ever seen a Hi-Viz Aerostich Roadcrafter jacket with a retroflective stripe under a blacklight? Darn interesting.
We took another route home. The bike's been put to bed happy, as are we. What better way to experience the wonders around us than from the seat of a bike? That's one of the wonders of motorcycling. What seems like a chore in a car is a welcome adventure on a bike. Who goes out and just wanders in a car unless they're disoriented? On a bike it's a natural and eagerly sought out thing. We're already planning where to go tomorrow!
Miles and smiles,
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
My name is Dan and I am a motorcyclist.
This was the opening sentence of my very first post on this blog. In some of the ensuing posts when I wrote about riding I used these words:
"It is who I am, it is what I do".
Have you ever noticed how easily verbage and slogans can roll off people's tongues? Sometimes people are just trying to fit in with a certain group or image. With some folks the oft repeated affirmations may even have good intentions behind them. It's just that I'm always left wondering how strong those stated convictions would be if really put to the test. Would they trade away their words for a price?
I have just emerged from my own time of testing. The last two weeks have been literally gut-wrenching. Last night I came out the other side. The battle was to see if I could separate myself from commuting by bike. The effort has left me wearied and bloody. In the end I found it was not possible. It is like a surgeon looking to remove an internal organ. One thing clearly defined. Imagine them being given the task of removing the circulation system. It would theoretically be possible but at what cost to the patient? Motorcycling is as intertwined in my being as are my miles of blood vessels. It cannot be removed for it cannot exist apart from me.
For me, riding is not a hobby. It truly is who I am, it is what I do. That statement has been tested in battle and proven to be true.
I'm not going to share all the details. It is like family vacation photos. Nobody can really relate except the family who've been there. I will share the skeleton of the story.
For the past three and a half years I have been faithfully flying this desk. It is not me. This is the first experience of my life in being an office rat. Chances to get out are fairly rare. It was time to seek a change. The opportunity was extended to me to become a manufacturer's rep. My current salary allows me to be comfortable. Money isn't rolling in hand over fist but we eat well. The starting salary offered to me is $10,000 per year higher yet. The job itself offers a lot more freedom to be out and about which suits me well. I would be required to move closer to the "Big City" which has a population of over half a million. Katie, bless her soul, was up for the move. I'm privileged to have a soulmate with a sense of adventure.
The problem came when I gave notice here. Now the deed was actually done. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach in a knot. I had the feeling I imagine one would get facing a messy IRS audit. You just have a sense of impending doom. A sense of something very unpleasant being forced upon you. After sorting everything out, I realized the knot was coming from one thing. It wasn't the move or the new job. I love adventure and new challenges. I realized it was because I would no longer be able to commute by bike. It would also mean the end of this blog. How can one write a blog about commuting on a bike when that's no longer happening? The new job would all have to be done in a cage. It would not be a matter of going to an office. It would all be on the road calling on current and prospective customers.
The situation clearly shows the difference between being a motorcylist on the surface and being one with the heart of a motorcyclist. Thinking about not riding didn't have a huge impact on me. I reasoned it might be time to "grow up" and move on. I guess that's how a lot of people look at riding. It's a pleasant hobby and a chance to socialize. The activity could just as well be playing cards or anything else. At this point it was only my brain involved. I had no warning of the pain to come.
Only after putting in notice did my heart get involved. Suddenly this was no longer a cerebral exercise. It was to become my new reality. My heart woke up to the fact that it was actually going to happen. That's when the knot and dark cloud moved in. Every day I rode home was one day nearer to The End. I rejoiced in the ride and cried over the loss.
I agonized for days. It made more sense to go but I couldn't give up riding. Once- in- a -while rides on weekends just aren't the same. At the same time my Welsh employer was horrified to lose me. Even though we had talked about the situation for the last year, I don't think he really got it. My resignation hit him hard. It seems we have come to terms and changes are being made. I feel like doom has passed me by. It was a learning experience of what direction to take in the future should things not happen here as promised. In the long term the turmoil was a good thing.
Now that the heavy, stressful, part is past, it is time to move on. I am estatic to still be commuting on two wheels! Spring and Summer are upon us and it's time to have fun. Time to write about great and happy things as seen from a bike's seat.
I can honestly say: "I must ride. It IS who I am, it is what I do". Things of real value have been left untouched on the table. It was a good trade. The treasure of riding is worth far more.
Smiles and miles.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The temperature is slowly creeping up. I've been riding in a balmy mid-40's (F) range. Having a variety of gear really helps to adapt as the need arises. I suppose it would be possible to find just one jacket that worked all year but it hasn't happened for me yet. I have managed to narrow the choices to one pair of riding pants and two jackets.
During the cold, icy, and rainy winter the Aerostich Darien with the heavy liner is the jacket of choice. I've said it before but it bears repeating. Nothing, absolutely nothing, gets through this jacket. No matter the weather the inside of the jacket is always warm and dry. I've worn it for about three winters now and wonder if it will ever get totally broken in. This thing could almost serve as body armor. You're supposed to be able to take the liner out and use the Darien all year 'round. The jacket is cut long to provide more coverage. The length that is a blessing in winter is sort of cumbersome to me in warmer weather. I also have a little issue with the way the inside of the jacket feels without the liner. The canvas feels a little stark if I have a short sleeved t-shirt underneath. I'm one of those guys who likes to feel cloth against my skin. This iron butt hardcore rider has sensitive skin, you know!
As soon as the mercury climbs above about 35 degrees I retire the Darien in favor of the Roadcrafter. I suppose I could wear the Roadcrafter all winter. It just feels like my arms get cold from the little bit of air that comes through. I've tried wearing a thick fleece under the jacket. The Roadcrafter fits fairly snugly which is great but then I feel too confined and bulky with the fleece. I find that a sweatshirt works about right. One of my instructor comrades has a heated vest with heated sleeves. He uses this under the Roadcrafter in the Winter. His commute is about 6 miles and this works for him. I have an electric vest but I think the sleeve thing is a little "over-the-top". The jacket is also a little shorter which, again, works great in warmer weather. The jacket is designed to zip onto the pants and make a one piece suit but I always have trouble getting in and out of it. Ever see a dancing Gorilla? Funny if you're the observer but embarrassing to the Gorilla.
The Roadcrafter pants are awesome no matter which jacket I wear them with. Padded enough to be warm but flexible after broken in. I bought the bib top for the pants so they can be worn independently with either jacket. The combination of the Roadcrafter jacket and pants is perfect for a commuter. The pockets on the jacket are obviously planned and placed by folks who ride a lot. Did I mention the Roadcrafter jacket is Hi-Viz?
For the long distance commuting I do this seems to be the perfect set-up. It's always hard to integrate useful gear with the work environment. With the stuff I have I can easily pull it on over work clothes. The vents and zippers allow me to adjust for a cold ride in and a warmer ride home.
This morning dawned clear and cold. The weather guessers had called for rain. It turned out that the rain came in on a storm later in the day. Mother Nature decided to offer a jewel as a peace offering for the tempest to come. It was one of those rides where I wanted to wriggle inside like a puppy's tail, I felt so good. There's something about a clear and sunny day that makes the just-above-freezing air refreshing instead of a trial. My co-workers are coming into the office and stumbling for the coffee pot. The Intrepid Commuter is light on his feet, chilled, but alive and exuberant. More than once a co-worker has almost been driven to homicide before that first cup of coffee hits home.
I'm expecting to see bikes on my commute, now. It's not happening very quickly. Did see a couple of hardy souls on cruisers and that's it. Looked like they were on the short route but, hey, commuting nonetheless. Why else be on a bike that early in the morning? Still, I'm asking myself "Where are all the bikes"? "Come on, it's Spring, already!!!"
There was an entertaining stretch this morning. Highway 99 is the old road from before the freeway days. Out past my house it's two lanes each way with a middle turn lane. This goes on for about 5 1/2 miles until the road goes back to just two lanes. Not long after I turn onto the highway I see this old woman in a white Buick Regal slowly creeping up on the left. She has that perfect "old lady" hairdo. You know the one? The hair is whitish-blue and in a perfect little round bunch around her head. She has a travel-type coffee mug with her. As she slowly goes by me the woman picks up the mug. I presume it is coffee but could be hot Geritol for all I know. After taking a sip, she puts the mug down. Her speed increases until she's a ways ahead of me. I keep a steady throttle. Little by little I catch up. Her speed has decreased. I notice her take another sip from the cup. Same thing. Sip and speed. I watch this cycle happen four times. Sip and speed. Sadly, she turns off onto Hwy 34 towards parts unknown while I continue South. I almost wanted to follow her just to watch!
The ride home was a lesson in fighting wind and trying to see through the blowing rain. Still beats spacing out in a cage anyday. Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!
Monday, March 27, 2006
Yesterday was my day to do whatever I pleased with. Katie spent the day with a girlfriend of hers doing whatever they do on their "shopping" days. The first thought to spring into my head was to just hit the road and go. There are some little roads I've been meaning to check out. Where do they go and what might I find on them?
The bikes in the small stable were vying for my attention. I had my mind on my ST. It's funny how I always seem to gravitate toward this one. I don't think it's a matter of the ST being more comfortable physically. While this is certainly a factor on longer rides, this ride wasn't going to be all that long. In fact, the lighter CBR is actually a more willing steed for buzzing up little roads to take a look. Not to mention the fun factor!
Here's my take on it. I am a dedicated commuter. My consistent choice of which bike to ride directly relates to what I face as a commuter. Firstly, a commuter needs to pick out a bike that works for the function. Most of the time we can only support one bike. If you have a short trip with little to haul there are probably more choices available. For me, I need to carry a certain amount of stuff with me. My ride is 44 miles one way. Weather protection and comfort become bigger factors. I also run errands on the bike. Which means I need saddle bags and they need to lock.
The bike also needs to be something I can use on weekends. Since I teach motorcycle classes frequently the weekend commuting duty is similar to what I do during the week. On those rare times when I ride just for fun, the bike needs to have some sporting capabilities. It also needs to be able to carry my sweetie comfortably when she comes along on weekend rides. For all these reasons I would chose the ST1100 if I had to have only one bike. With me so far?
Now throw into the mix the fact that there a few bikes sitting here. It's tempting to throw a leg over a different one every day. Something about variety being the spice of life, and all. I think it can be potentially deadly to do that on a regular basis while commuting. Here's why.
It's one thing to take a bike and just go for a ride. Traffic is just something to be dealt with for a short while on the way to the good stuff. At these times I think a rider gets their head totally into the ride and is tuned into the bike. That works for that situation.
Commuting is a whole different species of animal. One isn't always totally into the ride. For the most part the ride to work is in traffic consisting of other commuters. Everyone, even the rider, can tend to be distracted. Thinking about what is going to happen at work that day. Or, thinking about what did happen if it's the ride home. There's something about going to and from work that invites thoughts of family finances, vacations, or whatever. It's times like these that I see the huge value of always riding the same bike.
Muscle memory gets honed into that bike. Where are the controls, how much squeeze on the lever does it take, how quickly will this bike stop, what kind of feedback are we used to? All these things the inner rider knows through long familiarity. In high adrenaline situations it's important for habits to be the right ones. Our attention is too divided as a commuter to have to stop and think what bike we're on. Even worse, to make the mistake of doing something automatically that works on one bike but, wouldn't you know it, we're on a different bike today.
Does this make sense? There is an extremely high value in riding one bike and riding it well as a commuter. I guess that's why I find myself gravitating more and more to the ST.
We got our short ride. I stopped and talked to as many riders as I saw yesterday in gas stations and coffee stops. I was curious how many commuted and how many were just out for the nice day. I came to the conclusion that I've been right all along. Motorcyclists are like bugs. The nicer the day the more you see. It was still good to visit with them. Maybe the commuting thing will slowly spread.
There was still a little daylight when we got home. I treated the ST to an oil change and a bath. I always have mixed feelings about washing the bikes. One the one hand, a bike with road grime is like a badge of honor. On the other, a great bike deserves a little better. So the ST got washed. When Katie came home I had a nice dinner ready. A great woman is like a great bike, she deserves special attention once in a while!
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Looking vs. touching
It's interesting how things seem to come around right at the time you are searching for them. I've been trying to explain off and on what makes commuting on a bike so much more special than being in a car. It's so hard to paint the picture with my words.
At this same time Gary is wrapping up his blog "The Baron in Winter". He and I have exchanged comments. We've talked about how people live in boxes. About how so much of what people know and believe to be true comes from things like television. ( another box ) I've written about how a car shuts us off from the world. ( another box ) How a bike is so much the opposite. Riding allows you to be actually in your environment and not just an observer.
Then I picked up the March issue of Motorcyclist magazine. I've been so busy actually out riding that I haven't had much time to just sit and read about bikes. My magazine pile has grown. There's an editorial by Mark Tuttle Jr. ( by the way, Gary's blog is mentioned on page 19 ) Mark quotes from Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", which I read years ago. This quote is so perfect for describing what it's like that I'm putting most of it here.
"In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by 5 inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it's right there, so blurred you can't focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness."
Bam! It hit me. Looking at the world through a car's glass window or windshield is like watching a television screen. So much depth is missing. In a car you pass a field with a herd of cows.
"Oh, there's some cows".
On a bike you see the scene unimpeded as to sight and smell. The depth missing in a car is present in abundance. Sometimes the smell of cattle and the watered down cow dung they spray on the fields almost knocks my helmet off. So different.
"Wow, there's some cows!" as you wave your gloved hand in front of your nose.
The other strange coincidence ( what's that other word; synchcronicity?) is the situation with my boots. These are good boots. I bought them last March. That makes them one year old. Both boots have severely beveled edges. The right one, which I have provided a picture of, is worn through the seam of upper and sole. I have been looking around the last few days for new boots.
The pavement that Robert Pirsig mentions is, indeed, real. It's right down there to be touched. There is a very tactile feedback when the bike is leaned way over. It tells you that you are alive and in the middle of actually living this rush instead of watching passively. It is Reality. It is Good.
It is also that same reality that becomes our symbolic Saviour. I can feel the pavement under my boot. I can hear it scraping on my metal pegs. I can see the scrapes on my boot and bike. At the moment it is being done under my control. I realize there is a fine line between control and disaster. I am in the middle of the environment and it is very real to me. I live it deeply. To avoid crossing that fine line to disaster I must immerse myself in my surroundings. I fully understand the danger because I have felt it. The reality strengthens my resolve to avoid it.
I am painfully aware that the pavement that scrapes my boot and bike can well scrape flesh and muscle from my bones. It is this awareness that drives me to fully immerse myself in my surroundings. Every sense strains for clues of danger. Any sight, sound, or smell, can be significant, or not. It must be my option to decide, not have it thrust unexpectedly upon me. It is very intense. Yet, it is this intensity that makes me live on a bike like I live nowhere else.
With the clues for danger come pleasant sensations, as well. The intensity of awareness brings these rushing in to a degree not possible anywhere else. Nowhere else do I feel so alive. Nowhere else do I feel so much in charge of my own destiny.
It is so simple and yet, so profoundly true: Riding well equates to living well.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
I'm thinking, "This can't really be happening". Yet, my own incredulous eyes are beholding it.
The day's been totally awesome for riding. The thermometer has indicated 47 degrees (F) as I've been leaving in the morning the past couple days. There hasn't been sun but neither has there been rain. For some reason it's felt slightly muggy today. There's the usual cheerful anticipation as I start putting on my gear. I find myself whistling. My brain has just reached into the archives and pulled something out. Kind of like a jukebox on random play. The song my brain has chosen to whistle is "Blue Skies". You know the words? "Blues skies smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see". Weirdly enough there aren't any blue skies anywhere in sight. Just how my brain chose to express my cheer at riding, I guess.
The cheer was literally dampened by the time I got halfway to work. Have you heard the exression "loose as a goose"? Try this one. "As full as a Seagull". At least they were full until they flew over me. The flock snuck up on me from behind so I didn't see them coming. I sure heard them laughing as they made their flying getaway, though. Damn birds! All I can say is that I'm glad I ride in a full face helmet. Most of the time I keep the visor down. This was a juicy reminder of why. My poor splattered bike! The right saddlebag always contains an emergency visor cleaning kit and a couple of rags. I know I'm letting myself in for trouble here for telling you I always carry a "Wee Willy". That's the name of the product, honest.
After some cleaning in a convenience store parking lot we were presentable enough to continue our ride. To my dismay, I found I'd missed a big spot on the back of my jacket. I just hung the thing over the back of a chair in the lunchroom as usual. After a while I went in for coffee and noticed the big green stain. Wiped it off and hoped nobody noticed.
We rode over to a mall for lunch. Arby's has a good corned beef Rueben sandwich on swirled rye bread for a decent price. This time of year works out real well for doing this kind of thing. I like to leave at least my jacket on and carry my helmet with me. The temperature is still cool enough for the jacket. This does a couple of things for me. One, people see me with the helmet and know I'm a motorcyclist. They also see I wear protective gear when I ride. The helmet either distracts from or explains the helmet hair. Some people cross to the other side of the corridor when they see me. Riders will approach me. I've met some interesting people this way. Kids almost always notice me. I'm all for starting their interest early and I always return their overtures.
My afternoon at work was kinda rough. We'll just leave it at that. This is about happy things like riding. As usual, after a long day, my backroads were calling me. Like a fish on land gasping to breathe, I was longing to immerse myself and let the magic wash over me.
The first stretch of twisties is the tight, technical stuff. Not many drivers venture onto this road. There's just a few farmers and folks who live out here. I usually have the place to myself except for the flock of turkeys who live out there and a deer now and then. Oh, and the UPS driver who's out there a couple nights a week. He always cheerfully waves at me.
The quiet road "T's" into a little larger feeder road. It's called Gap Road. This one is used by more folks who are coming the back way into Brownsville. It's a little burg with a few hundred residents. If you ever saw the movie "Stand by Me" you saw a little bit of Brownsville. A lot of it was filmed here.
Not long after I turn and head East on Gap Road there's a tight left turn. I always have to be careful to apex way late here since there's a bunch of crack sealant right in the middle of the curve. Then there's a blind uphill corner. Right after the hill is a gravel road that comes in from my left. It goes out to some sort of bird viewing area or something. Sometimes a vehicle pulls off this gravel road. If I don't get past them pretty much right away I can't pass for a while. Which is a bloody shame because it really screws up some sweet corners that are coming up next. You set up to the right of an uphill corner. A quick flick left and you're on level ground for a second. Late apex on the right curve and speed downhill. Not too fast, though, because you need throttle to keep the weight off the front wheel for the next two curves. Quick left, quick right, and steam on for the next one.
Back to the gravel road. As I crest the hill I see a dark pickup pull onto the pavement. "Oh great!", I'm thinking. It's far enough ahead that I won't be able to catch it before the curves. I'm picturing some old farmer with their ageless sense of time. In other words, in no hurry to go anywhere. Boy, was I ever mistaken! This is when I start becoming astounded.
This pickup isn't destined to become a rolling roadblock. Quite the contrary, in fact. The thing's started to pick up steam and leave me behind! I admit to being shocked for a few seconds. Then the competitive urge kicked in. No way some farmer in a big pickup is going to run away from me. So I take off in hot pursuit. I'm watching the truck and see it's not being recklessly thrown into corners. The body of the truck moves from side to side under the G forces but it's more orchestrated than wild. Mind you, there's some corners where I totally expect to see the truck's brake lights flash but it doesn't happen. Remember, there's some serious curves which is why I love this road in the first place.
We keep gaining speed until I look at my speedo and see the needle getting pretty friendly with the number 80. I finally back off some. Not because it's too fast for the corners. I'm proud of my skills honed on racetracks. No, it's become too dangerous for the hazards. People live along here and there's driveways, cattle beside the road with only thin wire holding them in, plus whatever wildlife wants to cross the road.
Just before we start getting into town the truck slows down. At the stop sign I'm right behind it. Yes, the brakes lights do work. The driver is looking to turn right while I want to turn left and find some more twisties. On impulse I creep up beside the truck and motion the driver to roll down the window. The truck is a standard Chevy Silverado 2500HD. Club cab but two doors. There's a small diesel tank with a pump handle on either side in the truck bed nestled up against the cab. The driver looks slightly annoyed but cranks the window. I have tinted glasses and he can't see my eyes. The guy looks like he could be Dale Earnhart's grandfather. ( God rest his soul ) A weathered and permanently tanned face turns toward me. The hair is gray and full and covers the ears. A gray walrus mustache adorns his upper lip. The man is wearing one of those logger type shirts. Vertical small white and black stripes with a zipper in the front that comes about a third of the way down. There's a black Lab dog in the cab that looks to be about two or three years old and it's barking at me.
"I never knew a truck could corner like that", I say to the driver. His face lights up in a smile.
Off I go to finish my trip home. Life's certainly interesting commuting on two wheels!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Monday, March 20, 2006
There's a song out by Randy Travis called "Four Wooden Crosses". One of the lines in the chorus has to do with when a person's life here ends. The message is that it's not what you have, but what you leave behind that's important.
This is the other side of the rant about cage drivers. Gramp always taught me not to be critical unless I could do better. I was also taught not to complain unless I could offer a solution. Wherever you are, Gramp, I'm sincerely trying to follow the example you set for me.
At one point in my life I could do something about cagers. I had the power to issue citations. Even this wasn't really an effective tactic. There's just too much to overcome with drivers as a massive herd. Long ago I pondered how to best approach doing something meaningful with my life.
I've ridden two wheels since I was able to handle the controls. Motorcycling has undeniably given me spiritual treasures. I wanted to give back to something that has given so much to me. At the same time whatever I did needed to tip the scales in my favor in the final balance. Would I truly be able to say on my death bed that I was leaving something of value behind? Katie and I raised four fine kids who I hope will do good things in their lives. That would be a good legacy. On the other hand, it didn't seem to be enough.
In 1987 I was the Road Captain for a motorcycle club. I planned the rides for our group. A man came to our breakfast meeting one morning. His name was Stan and he was a representative of the state's motorcycle safety program. Stan explained that they were now offering an Experienced Rider Course and we were encouraged to enroll. You can imagine the slight disdain his suggestion was met with. Here we were, a bunch of macho law enforcement guys who had been riding for years. "We don't need no stinkin' training!"
Well, Larry and I ended up taking the class together. Larry was a Lieutenant for a county Sheriff's department. He had a Suzuki XS850 with a sissy bar. Coming to class, we found the parking lot to be cordoned off with flag banners strung between trees and light poles. Since we were going to be using our own bikes for the training Larry decided to ride under a string of flags. He ducked and his head cleared the banners but they caught on the sissy bar. Larry fell down while entering the class. Perhaps it was a good thing we were there!
Talk about an eye-opening experience! I didn't know what I didn't know. There were also things I thought I knew but was totally wrong about. Like the old, but never dying, fallacy about not using the front brake hard or you would throw yourself over the handlebars. I found out how much of a friend that front brake could be to me if used properly. The notion of using good head turns to get directional control over the bike was new to me. By golly, it works big time. The first time I realized that my newfound skills had probably saved my sorry hide I had my proverbial epithany.
I became a devotee of motorcycle safety training.
Here's how I still see it. It would take more effort than I am capable of to change the behaviour of the majority of cagers. They are pretty much a fixed hazard. In other words, they're a major hazard that I don't see going away anytime soon. On the other hand, could I help a group to avoid becoming victims of the hazard? Cagers hit other cagers all the time. Fine, let them feed on one another. Cagers hit bikes and the consequences are a lot worse. If I could help riders learn how to take care of themselves and avoid becoming victims of cagers and of their own ignorance I could fulfill both goals. Give back to motorcycling and leave my own treasure behind.
So that's what I've done. For years I just taught classes. I average about 25 to 30 classes a year. With each class having 12 students I could reach 300 to 360 students a year. Multiply that by many years of teaching and I have literally touched thousands. While it's true that we only give them a foundation and they have to construct their own buildings from there, it's also true that formally trained riders are under-represented in accident statistics. There is also the side benefit of the discovery process. Some people discover that they should not be on a bike in the first place. We give them a safe place to find out. Better than getting a bike and crashing in an intersection. It's meant giving up countless good riding weekends but the return has been well worth it to me.
A few years ago the invitation was extended to me to become an instructor trainer. For a while I suffered a sort of withdrawal. I really love the dynamics and synergism I experience with a class. Now I found myself stepping back and watching a new instructor enjoy this pleasure. It was especially hard when it seemed like the students could have had a little better class with me at the helm. I felt like I was missing out but slowly my perspective changed.
Over the years I've seen new instructors mature to become masters of the art in their own right. I now have a special connection with so many of them I've helped train. There's also the leverage factor. Personally I could reach a limited number of riders in a year. By training fine instructors and passing along my values I can indirectly reach so many more riders. It has become very satisfying. This last weekend I helped start another 11 down the road to becoming instructors. Two long twelve hour days. Not all stay with it but the ones who do are fine people.
Recently I've had a distinctive honor. It may well also make me a target. Until recently the only way to become someone recognized as being able to certify new instructors was to go through the MSF. ( Motorcycle Safety Foundation ) It's not news that our program, TEAM OREGON, chose not to follow the MSF. The MSF came out with a new program and told all the providers of training that it was either adopt the new curriculum or no longer be recognized by the MSF. Many states had no choice. The MSF wouldn't support the old program which meant no materials would be available. They also claimed copyright so the materials couldn't be copied. With no program of their own, the states went along rather than be unable to offer training.
TEAM OREGON went our own way. A task force was set up to evaluate the new program. I had the privilege of serving as the chairperson of that task force. We served for almost two years. Extensive field testing was done. Evaluations were done to see how well students who went through either program could take the skills and apply them to new situations. The final result was that we felt the new program seemed to be made easier. It looked like the goal of the program was more to produce new bike customers and not so much well trained riders. We just didn't feel like it really served the needs of Oregon's riders. The Oregon Department of Transportation, which administers Oregon's rider training agreed with our recommendation not to adopt.
So here we were. By not adopting the new MSF program we were left with no curriculum of our own. With some advance planning we were able to come up with one before the MSF ultimatum expired. Much research and consultation with experts went into the finished product. ODOT has certified that it meets their standards for the license exam waiver. I am very pleased with the course. We spend a lot of time training students on skills lacking in riders who have died on the road. Swerving, braking, and cornering skills. When a rider leaves our class I feel I did them justice. Interestingly, NHTSA ( National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ) just completed a study. They commissioned an independent organization to study rider training in 47 states. Oregon and their new program were rated number one in the nation for best practices. I am very proud to be a part of it.
Anyway, with the background established, I have had the honor of being the first person in the nation to be signed off by an organization other than the MSF. I am what the MSF called a "Chief Instructor". What will this mean? Will there be others? Only time will tell. There are other states that are not happy with the MSF. Quite a number have looked at our program. It looks like several will part company with the MSF when they have a replacement.
I look at it like the recent Olympic winter games. For the first time an athlete was awarded a gold medal in snowboardcross. There will be others but the first one will always be remembered in a groundbreaking way.
Only time will tell how long I will be able to stay actively involved in teaching motorcycling classes. I am totally pleased and grateful to be have been blessed with the chance to give back to the two-wheeled lifestyle that has meant so much to me. I feel good about the legacy I leave behind.
Friday, March 17, 2006
That's it. I have totally had it with the total lack of driving skills among the people I have to share the road with. Actually, I don't think we're even sharing the road. That implies that both parties are present. These people are "out there" someplace. The only problem is that there's a dangerous ton and a half of steel with no pilot. I heard an ad on the radio that was trying to sell people on some sort of hypnotherapy. "Come let us hypnotize you and we'll help you with whatever problem you may have". I'm telling you what. It had better be a lot of sessions because one session just won't cut it. There are just too many problems to deal with. Besides which, people carry and use their own Great Hypnotist, the ubiquitous cell phone.
The problem isn't in finding a way to put people IN a trance. What would really blow me away is if somebody found a way to take the general population OUT of their trances. Individuals have intelligence and ability. "People", as in the mass of drivers, are getting more stupid and oblivious all the time. Readers, I count you in the first group. If you're reading this you have a little more going for you than the masses do.
Let me go back and catch up. I've seen five bikes in the last few days. The 919 guy seems to be missing in action or we are on different times now. I'm waiting to see what happens next week. Are riders waiting for that magic date that officially starts spring?
The snow we were predicted to have didn't happen. The snow was a no-show. ( sorry, just liked the way that sounded to me ) The ride to the office was chilly but refreshing. I even got a ride in at lunch time. Just wandered around town in some sections I haven't been to for a while. Not all who wander are lost, you know. When it came time to leave for home there was a big rain shower going on. Made me want to put my helmet on BEFORE I went outside. You'd think I would learn but I seem to be some sort of Pollyanna. I always think things will be different this time. Yes, I hit the stinking freeway for the ride home.
I had a lot going on and succumbed to the time pressure. We have a class of a dozen new instructor candidates going through training this weekend. I needed a haircut, had to get all my stuff together for the training, and find time to eat supper. Silly me, I figured I could make a little time on the freeway. As soon as I jumped on I remembered why I HATE the freeway!
This ride was to bring a little danger, a ton of frustration, a little misguided flirting, and some livestock sitings. While the experience was varied, the overall score was still low for the enjoyment factor. Super-slabbing on the Interstate can suck at times.
There are so many drivers who think the left lane is their God-given inheritance or something. Maybe they just don't have lane changing skills so they stay in that lane. I don't know. It's so frustrating when the drivers camp out there. Where the heck did common courtesy go? Why can't they pass the vehicle in the right lane and then just GET OUT OF THE WAY??? My kingdom for a rocket launcher.
One of the trucks I passed turned out to be a cattle truck. It's hard to tell at first because the trailer is all closed in. The big silver metal slabs with slats cut in it are a clue. You have to be careful following these. A different kind of emissions, you know. This trailer was a double-decker. There was a black and white face looking out one of the slats. What must it be like for a cow to be on the top deck of a fast moving trailer?
A little later I came across a rental type moving truck. One of those big International models. I am passing but not at lightning speed. Normally I just go around quickly and then slow back down to legal speeds. There was a car in the left lane that blocked the quick option. So I'm passing this truck going about 6 or 7 MPH faster. To survive as a bike commuter you need to be looking out for yourself. Always looking for the clue that gives you warning of trouble before you see the actual hazard. It's a totally ingrained habit for me. So I watch front wheels and sideview mirrors. I can see the driver's face in the mirror. Seeing a driver do a mirror check can warn you of a possible lane change. The driver never turns his head. I am almost up to the cab when the front wheel turns and the truck starts to come slowly into my lane. So I give the throttle a little squirt and get even with the cab. This guy has a cell phone plastered to his head and is holding a cup in the other hand. God only knows what the dude was steering with.
Intentional or drifting the truck is still slowly coming over. I lay on the horn such as it is. I can get out of the way but I want this idiot to see my displeasure. When I see the guy finally look over to see what the funny noise was, I gave him a one-fingered salute with my left hand. I don't usually do this but hey, it happens. Here's the funny part. The guy shakes his head like he's waking up, his eyes get wide, and he drops the cup. The truck jerks back to the right and I figure he's going off the road on the right. It finally gets back on track after the right side wheels are close to the gravel shoulder.
I guess rental truck companies need to make a living but come on, folks. If any fool with the deposit money and a driver's license can go drive a truck without the skills required there's a flaw here. I think there should be some sort of short skill evaluation or something. It's almost as bad as some guy who can barely see and walk driving a monster motor home with a trailer behind it. Almost enough to make me crap my riding pants. Truly scary.
Don't even get me started on cell phones. I swear every other car has a cell phone impaired driver. They are in a trance. Sometimes I yell in my helmet. It's a car, not a phone booth! I'm sorry to bother you, but could you please HANG UP AND DRIVE???
There was a couple of lighter spots. At one point I slowly passed a Toyota Rav 4 filled with about six young girls that appeared to be college kids. There was a decal from a local university on the back window. As I passed they all waved, smiled big, and one gave me the peace sign. I noticed they didn't do this to the guy in the cargo van or other cars. Oh, they'll think I'm the cool guy on the bike. I could just see us coincidentally stopping at a service station or rest stop. As soon as I remove my helmet and they see the grey hairs the illusion will be shattered. Better to let them think what they want without seeing the reality, huh?
Off Hwy. 34 is a ramp that curves fairly hard. I caught up to a big pickup pulling a trailer. The trailer had about 4 foot high walls and an open back. The top and back were covered with fencing material. I could clearly see inside the trailer. It was half full of brown turkeys. It was so funny to watch the turkeys. The floor of the trailer was covered in runny turkey poop. The light rain added to the mess. I was careful not to get too close, believe me. It was just funny to watch the birds on the corner. Centrifugal force was making them slide in the poop. Some squatted but some tried to stay standing. Funnier than heck watching the poor birds try to deal with it.
So that was the ride. They say variety is the spice of life. I think I'm going to find my Rolaids to deal with the heartburn.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHH! Rain and more rain. Only one word to describe the ride today. WET!! Normally in this part of Oregon we have two seasons. Winter and Road Construction. Right now it's going back and forth between Winter and Monsoon. On top of it all the weather people are saying we could get snow again tonight and in the early morning.
The rain was vigorous this morning. Visibility was down to a little over a quarter of a mile. Picture a rain forest with heavy water mist blocking out the sky. That's what it looked like. Only this ain't no rain forest. It's the asphalt jungle and it's cold. The good news is that my waterproofing held up. I've had really good luck with the Nikwax products. They make a wash-in formula that does a good job of restoring water repellency in a garment. There's also a direct spray for spot treatments and for things you don't throw in the washing machine.
I think it's easy for people to get a slanted idea from reading this blog. Some folks still think I'm some sort of crazy thrill seeker. And that's ok. I'm not really put on this earth to make people like me. I try to be kind and help others as I can. It would be nice, at whatever final reckoning there is, to be regarded as having made the world a little better for having been here. At the same time, I'm dancing to my own beat. There's a saying that goes "Those that dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music".
That's all right by me. Not all will hear my music the same as I will not hear theirs. As long as we have no evil intent and respect each other life will be good.
I've already addressed why some of us "hardcore" people ride so much. I also discussed how we developed the skills to ride in such harsh conditions. What some people might consider to be "riding on the edge". The post was called "Know your limits".
That post covered the "why" and "how". Now for the "who".
Most of us are pretty much normal people from all outward appearances. We're family folks or have the qualities to be so. In fact, we care deeply about those who love and depend on us. That's one reason we take our riding so seriously. There's an inner urge that compels us to make whatever music we make on a bike. It's as deeply ingrained as is the need to breathe and eat. Therein lies the struggle. This urge needs an outlet. Our families need us. We owe it to our families to be as prepared and as skilled as possible. Some might say it's riding responsibly. That word means different things to different people. Depends on the limits of your skills and how you view risk acceptance.
Some people are homebodies. A friend of mine is like that. Content to spend his life taking care of others. Loving, sincere, sensitive, and reliable. God bless all people like him. The world desperately needs more like him. Most of us hardcore riders are slightly different than my friend. Wally drives a sedan to work. Whereas Wally is content to be sort of wistful about it, we have set out to actually FIND adventure. At the same time we know and honor commitment. Think about it. Riding in the weather we do, sticking to it despite adversity, staying with it until we master it. Isn't that perfect practice for committing to other human beings?
For me, personally, although I try to embody the qualities of Wally, I've never quite been able to BE him exactly. Wally's an innocent. I'm cursed with being a little bit of a rogue. It might be a fault on my part but I enjoy the feeling of being the Dashing Hero. It feels good to be the object of the wistful look or sigh. I don't use it to look down on others. It just makes me feel good about myself. That, in turn, better enables me to reach out in support of others. I've even had the privilege of being the defender and protector of the innocent in two countries. That has been even better.
All in all, we're pretty much like everyone else. We have families to support financially and emotionally. It's not that I live to ride. I just ride to where I make a living. We commute like everyone else. We just choose to do it with flair!
Speaking of which, time to tackle the wet ride home. Vrrroooom!
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
I have seen the future!
The ride today was pretty uneventful both ways. Oh, it was still most agreeable just not blog worthy. I rode to Salem this morning to show my fellow instructor and friend Al how and where to get fuel for our bikes up there. He is going to take over the site maintenance that I've been doing. I'll kind of miss wrenching on our training bikes but I have other irons in the fire with our program. Al will do a fine job babysitting up there.
The really good thing is that I got in about 180 miles riding. It was half an hour up there, an hour and a quarter to work, and a long ride home. Plenty of seat time.
Somebody sent me this picture. I decided this would be a good substitute for a tale of a ride today. This is Katie and I in about 40 years. I've always known there will come that day I've already described in a previous post. The day when my body fails to obey the commands from my heart. Eventually I won't be able to hold a bike up. Then I might think about three wheels. When my tired old eyes and reactions aren't up to the fast paced streets, this is a picture of my next option.
I will call Gary Charpentier, the dashing pilot of The Baron and brother in heart. He will be nearly as geriatric as I but still going strong, I'm dead sure. I'll ask him if he still has connections with the Baron or other scooter folks. Can he get me a good deal on one of their motors? A transplant will happen and off my biker babe and I will go. Not exactly tearing up the road but rebels to the end!!
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Riding like the Wind
There was one heck of a wind blowing today on the way home. Both Mother Nature and a Force of Nature. ( me, of course ) I had so much pent up energy from sitting at the desk all day that when the proverbial whistle blew I was off like a rocket. Sheep scattered, pavement rippled, and road signs bent. I decided to double back after this one and take this picture of it. Please be advised that there is no way to trace this photo that will hold up in a court of law!
Seriously, it was one of those afternoons that was a gem among the stones. It had rained earlier in the day but most of my back roads had dried off. The clouds were huge and puffy. One side of a cloud would be white and pure while the other side would be coal black and threatening. The sun was sinking down below the clouds and making everything glow like polished gold. I stopped to take several pictures. When I passed this sign I couldn't resist coming back and getting this picture. I don't have the real touch for this camera and software, yet, but I am playing with it. I prefer to paint my pictures with words but this digital picture thing is becoming fun. It was really hard to hold the camera still with the wind blowing. I still had my helmet on so I lifted the visor and rested the camera on the chinbar. Best tripod I could find on short notice.
The ride home was fantastic!!! How much richer the ride on my bike than the same old boring commute in a car! I arrived home refreshed and alive instead of tired and dragging. No drink required to get me relaxed. Life on the bike is my tonic.
It is a strange thing. I started this just to share my experience as a two-wheeled commuter. It was just for fun and to enjoy the connection with other like-minded individuals.
It seems this little site has attracted the attention of spammers. I do not condone their being here. I know only a few of you comment but there seems to more reading that do not comment. I want your visit here to be pleasurable. Feel free to comment as you are moved to. I would love to hear from you.
In order to deal with the spammers I have enabled comment moderation. All bona fide comments will come through intact. I am only doing this to delete the vultures and predators.
Not all who wander are lost.
Monday, March 13, 2006
One of the things I really love about commuting on a bike is the time to think. As we all know, being on a bike puts us right into the environment. We see and smell things that cagers miss. Here's some musings from today's ride.
It was well below freezing outside this morning. I know, not like the sub-zero stuff but still darn cold. The truck had frosted up windows. So did Cricket, Katie's little car. The bike had frost, too, but who cares? I just look over the fairing. I totally hate scraping ice. Don't know why, but I think it's because I can be a little impatient if left to my own devices. Ice is just one more thing to slow me down. Being a good husband, though, I did scrape ice off Cricket for Katie. I might freeze my rear end off on the bike, but at least I don't have to scrape ice.
My only concession to the cold was to pull out the balaclava. It's amazing how this thin material can block the cold air off my chin and neck. Katie told me I looked like I was ready to rob a bank. I thought about it on the ride. All bandits have nicknames vested upon them by the media. Remember the Cell Phone Bandit, recently? There's a guy going around robbing banks right now. He has his pants pulled down and crawls up to the counter. Katie reasons he might think he's below the surveillance cameras. Anyway, the media is calling him the "Bare Bottomed Bandit". What would they call me? With a balaclava and Hi-Viz 'stich? Maybe the "Conspicuity Bandit". If my gear makes me waddle a little maybe they'll call me the "Neon Duck Bandit". I could just see a TV announcer saying "Folks, it looks like the Neon Duck struck again yesterday. He got away with a bunch of money. Think how long he can run the bike on that wad!"
I saw sheep grazing in a field. The grass was obviously frozen. I could see it well from the bike. How does a sheep feel eating frozen grass? Does it give them brain freeze? "Ow, that's baaaad! My brain hurts!" "Just hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth and it will stop". Do sheep even know the difference?
Mental images were going rampant. Picture a lamb. "What's for breakfast, Mom"?
"Cold grass". Depending on the field she could say "Today we're having Frosted Mini Wheat" ( sorry, couldn't resist a bad pun ) Maybe the lambs like it. My kids always seemed to prefer cold cereal for breakfast.
At one point I slowed enough that I pulled my helmet shield up. WOW!!! Talk about an Arctic blast in the face. I was doing fine staying warm until I did that. I finally came to a stop sign. The wind chill stopped and I felt about 15 degrees warmer. It literally felt like a small rush of warm air. How many times do you feel small pleasures like that in a four wheeled box?
When I get to Eugene on the old highway I turn off onto a small freeway called the Beltline. It's basically an East-West connector. Just before I get to the street I crashed on, there's a ramp that brings traffic up from the Interstate.
The ramp curves up and around fairly severely. Today a log truck had rolled coming up. The logs all rolled onto the guard rail and down the hill. The truck ended up on its side smashing the guard rail even more on the way. I don't intend to be mean, but I just kept picturing what the driver's face must have looked like. The moment he knew the truck was going over. It's just not the kind of thing that's supposed to happen to you.
I have to park on the street in front of the office. Usually it's across the way. The lot is very small and there's very little space in front of us. So I go across. In a car this turning around thing can be very ugly looking. Pull in, back out, turn and park. On the bike it's just one graceful sweeping U-turn. A small pleasure to be sure, but very satisfying.
My lunch happened fairly late today. I took off about quarter to two. The day had been dry. Until I left for lunch, of course. I rode in the wind that signalled the edge of the front system. Don't you love how invigorating it is to be in this wind on a bike? I don't know if it's a particle charge in the air or what, but it stimulates me. Leaves are swirling around the bike. The breeze feels playful. I'm out in the open and play back with the wind. This period didn't last long. The rain soon came and it was down to business.
Even in the rain, it seems better on the bike. I stopped at Trader Joe's. It's sort of an old hippy type store. I buy different nuts and trail mix here. So I pull into the parking lot and dismount. I pull off my helmet and grab my baseball cap out of the saddle bag. All these people are scurrying from their car to the store and vise versa. In my gear I'm snug and casually stroll along. When I checked out in the store the young man asked me how I wanted things bagged. He had noticed the gear ( actually, who wouldn't? ) and wanted to pack things so I could more easily stash it on the bike. You appreciate these small kindnesses more, I think, when you're used to having to fend for yourself.
After stashing the goodies in the saddle bag I strolled around the shopping center. With the gear on it's hard for people to ignore you. Oh they try to. It's a very entertaining experience. Some really try to look like they're ignoring me but eyes always have to check me out. Some folks kind of smile. Some give me nasty looks. Very seldom is anybody really friendly. It's all part of the game and I enjoy it.
There's a picture of the bike. It's really dirty. Only on a bike is being dirty a badge of honor. This weekend at class my dirty ST was up there. Next to it was Pak Ho's gleaming Goldwing. The students were teasing Pak Ho about his "garage queen bike". On the other hand, I was getting comments about the high miles and road grime. You could see the respect in their eyes for a "real" road warrior.
Tonight coming home I skirted the rain storm. I got behind a farm truck at a rural 4-way stop. The thing ended up going on in the same direction as me. I muttered to the driver under my breath "You're going down!" This is said with utter conviction. It is so cool to know that all I have to do is roll on and go. In top gear there's an interesting feeling. The bike doesn't so much leap as surge ahead. There's not much immediate sensation but pretty soon I feel the big rush of air and off we go. Commuting by bike frees me up from being dictated to so much by other traffic. I love this two wheeled commuting thing!
I saw a Bald Eagle in a field not far out of a town called Shedd. It's actually a little burg. How many people in their boxes saw it? Probably very few, if any.
At the gas station I had an interesting conversation with the attendant. He looks to be fifty-something. All the questions about the bike. How big, looks neat, is that a stock fairing, and so on. Connections I would never have in a car. And talk about gas prices! I can bravely say "Let's fill it up" and not cringe. I love treading more lightly on the Earth and my pocketbook.
This is just pretty much one day of commuting. Each experience by itself isn't that big of a deal. They are like coins. Each day I continue to commute I drop several of these coins in the chest. Collectively they become my treasure.
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Hooray, class is out! I'm sure that's what my students were saying this afternoon. By the way, we finished up at about 4:10 PM. I just got home a few minutes ago. How does it take a little over 3 hours to go 30 miles? No, there was no mechanical problem with the bike. Katie had something else going so the ST and I headed for the "third star on the right and straight on 'til morning". ( From Peter Pan ). Something about a long-legged bike that begs to run.
Finishing up some business from yesterday. I took a look at the paper and saw there was a fatal accident early Saturday morning. That's why the intersections were closed off. Two young men lost their lives. The police were doing a thorough investigation. Sad news. To make matters worse, it looks like they were innocent victims.
My youngest son sent me a text message. He lives in the town I was headed to for class. His place of employment is in the town I live in. Seems we passed each other going opposite directions. Early morning for both of us. He saw me and waved. Then sent me a note saying "hello". Enjoy the family every day. The fatal accident shows we never know. Hope for the best but love deeply every day.
This started out being about my class. There is one man in particular I wanted to mention. This guy is middle to older-aged. He has an endorsement but has not ridden in over 25 years. I am sure he felt awkward in what is basically a beginner's class. Wisdom brought him to us. I could see the rusty parts of his riding. There were some things he didn't know in the first place. In the evaluation this student had a tip-over. Not serious, just the slow fall you want to yell "Timber" for. He came up to me later and told me he had figured out exactly what he had done.
What I really want to say here is that I have the utmost respect for people like him. This student put his pride aside and is totally better off for doing so. How sad it is that so many miss out on improvement because of pride. They seem to think they might look "silly". They might even say they don't need any training because they already know it all. My feeling is that it's a combination of two things.
Firstly, people get set in their comfort level. Letting go of what they have is too stressful. The trouble is that you have to let go of one vine to grab another. I once heard the story of a monkey who put its hand in a hole in a tree. Finding a coconut it latched on tight. Problem was that with the coconut clutched in its fist, the hand would not come out of the hole. Little monkey was trapped because it would not let go. The monkey became easy prey and vulnerable because of it. To me, reluctance to let go of a comfort level is the same kind of trap.
Secondly, and perhaps the biggest reason, is that people are used to having it easy. What I mean is that there's a culture of giving people a false sense of accomplishment. God forbid we should damage somebody's self esteem by telling them they need to work harder. You really see it in the schools now, but I think this reflects the trend in society. Everybody's told they're doing good but nobody has to really work for it. The problem is that the feeling of accomplishment rings so hollow. There's no real pride in it since it's based on a facade.
Truly reaching out for new skills means there's a chance for failure. Ironically, that's what makes actually reaching the new level so sweet. It will always be ours. If we fail, we learn from it and try another approach. That's what my student did today. I give him the best gift I have.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Today was a totally awesome day. I got up at 5 AM to go teach. The temperature was 31 (F). There was some ice on the street in the front of the house but I decided to ride anyway. Going through town I saw large portions of a major intersection blocked off with crime scene tape, flares, and cones. Department of Transportation rigs and police cars abounded. Don't know what was happening at this point but I will find out sooner or later.
It's about a thirty mile run up to the community college. At one point in my ride I saw a car that looked to have spun off the road. The road I was riding on had a dry track so I tried to stay there. Arrived with no incident. It was sort of cold for a while. Then the sun came out. The steam rising off the parking lot looked so neat. All of us had fun today. The students, my teaching partner Pak Ho, and me. Five of the twelve are female. There are some new riders who took a few times round to get it figured out. After that they took right off. This class is a little above average. We usually have one or two who really struggle all weekend. This group happily conquers. There's that certain chemistry that happens where the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I've included a picture of my crew above. They're just getting the gear back on after the break.
This is still so much fun for me. I build up this special rapport with the riders. Especially with the new ones. Here's my working concept. I call it the Circle of Success. In order to be successful on the streets a rider needs confidence. Obviously, new riders don't have this. My job is to help them find it. The only way I can do it at the start is to get them to trust me. Once they trust me I can show them success. Their success starts building their confidence. The success also reinforces their trust in me. My goal is to always keep this circle moving. In the process of earning the trust of the students there is a special bond built up. That student / teacher relationship is special to me.
Anyway, nothing deep today. I just wanted to share my joy with you!
By the way, here's a picture of my partner Pak Ho demonstrating proper cornering technique. Check out his head turn!
Friday, March 10, 2006
Snow about to be trampled by a VFR
I'm watching the clock hands slowly crawl forward. Quivering in readiness to get out of the office and go teach. Finally!! Gear's on me, I'm on the bike, and we're on the road. The VFR's running low on fuel. Dang. I'm so spoiled by that 7.4 gallon tank on the ST. The smaller tank on the VFR demands more frequent drinks. There's a Shell station kind of off by itself that's become a regular watering hole for the bikes. While I'm filling the bike a semi-truck pulls up. Something climbs down out of the truck. The driver is looking for the truck stop which is on down the road. I say "driver" because I'm not sure if this is a male or female. It looks like a beer bellied red neck going through a sex change operation.
Seriously, I'm laughing so hard I damn near spill gas on the bike. Picture it. About 5'8" tall. Big square head and jaw. Pockmarked face and a two day beard growth. Big arms and large thighs. A beer belly hanging down waaaaay past the belt buckle. I'm only reporting the facts when I say it had a black Harley Davidson t-shirt on. Now put a pageboy haircut, lipstick and eye makeup, and boobs on it. I don't know whether to laugh or be sad. This is either someone with entirely too much time spent alone or someone looking for the escape of solitude in a truck.
Still chuckling and shaking my head I zoom on up to meet my class.
The temperature's been climbing into the 40's(F) in the afternoons so the snow is gone. Just the rain remains but it does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. My group of 12 students is pretty much a typical class. There's a couple of noteworthy situations going on. There's a young gal who has never ridden before. In the introductions she says she's tired of waiting for "Mr. Right" to come along. It seems one of her requirements for this guy is to ride up on a bike. She's given up on the guy part but wants to learn to ride on her own.
There's also two middle-aged couples. There's a family thing going on. It's a brother and sister with their spouses thing. The one guy is a long time rider. The other guy has gotten the bug to ride and has a learner's permit. Both gals have never ridden to speak of. Their attitudes are fun to see. There's an increasing number of women coming through the classes. Some classes number up to a third female. Maybe this will help nudge manufacturers to take women into account more.
For me it's a special thing to see the enthusiasm that these mostly new riders bring to class. I love being a part of their beginning experiences. It's a great feeling knowing they're leaving my class with a solid foundation to build on. Witnessing the lights come on for them and seeing their confidence come up is like watching children grow in fast forward. The road runs both ways. I give them something of value and they stoke the fires of my enthusiasm for riding. Not to mention the fact that riders who have had training show up less often in fatality statistics. At least so far.
During class the rain starts coming down hard enough to make noise on the roof. In a short while the rain turns fluffy white. I'm not too worried about the 30 mile ride home. I am sort of bothered that I'm sending a conflicting message to my students.
The usual question comes up in class. "What do you ride?" I tell them about the bikes I ride and point to the one they probably saw in the parking lot. I park close to the classroom. Most of the time, and for sure this time of year, it's the only bike in the lot. So they know I'm on a bike and it's snowing. It's a fine line. On the one hand I stress to them that they need to know the limits of themselves, the bike, and the environment. That to truly manage risk they need to know these limits and stay within them. I really want to show that bikes are a totally viable alternative to four wheels. Showing up on a bike is how I "walk the talk". I only hope the students realize the situation. Hopefully the normal situation where the student expects the teacher to have greater skills will prevail.
Going home was no problem. There's a metal ramp in front of the classroom. I almost fall on my buttisimo walking out the door. Other than that, the only problem is visibility. It's hard to see what the road is like in the dark with wet snow blowing at your faceshield.
There's a white world outside this morning. All the schools down here are closed because of the snow. I tried to get a couple shots of the snow to put here. I guess I should have put the bike in the picture but I wanted to show a larger scene. It's too late, now. The snow all melted by lunchtime which is when I'm writing this. The picture's a little dark. I don't have Steve's wonderful way with a camera. I processed it through my Kodak software for size. Once I saw it I saw I should have lightened it up. Now I don't know how to delete it and do it again without losing the rest of the post. Guess you'll have to get over it. I'll learn as I go. This is about the writing, not an art museum! :)
The weekend will be interesting. What are we doing teaching a motorcycle class this time of year? And what about the students? They're as crazy as I am!!! At least in their case they mostly don't know better. What's my excuse?
Thursday, March 09, 2006
The "Big Blast" turned out to be more of a dull thud. There was a fair amount of wind which smashed the drizzling rain into my faceshield. Other than that the Weather Gods didn't put out much effort. I did see the guy on the 919 again. He has a pretty distinctively colored helmet. The helmet has a really long strap which blows behind him in the wind. This guy has a unique solution for long distance riding. His posture remains upright but he pulls his legs back and hooks the front of his ankles on the passenger pegs. My legs would be cramping but it seems to work for him. I've seem him do it for many miles.
I have to figure the guy is commuting. I've seen him on the trip down and last night on the trip up. It looks like he lives near Corvallis which is another eight miles farther West from me. Maybe I will get a chance to talk to him sometime. So the ride wasn't as troublesome as we were led to believe. I went to bed figuring this big blast was a tempest in a teapot.
That is, until I woke up this morning and looked outside. There was two inches of snow on the ground. Now it was decision time. The thermometer indicated it was 34 degrees (F). The street in front of the house looked more slushy than slippery. The people on the radio said it was worse farther South. I've found that these reports are slightly on the sensational side. With this in mind I decided to ride. It might be my last chance to enjoy this kind of contest.
I decided to take the VFR since it's a lighter bike. Looking at the ST and the VFR I felt more like I was choosing a victim. It was entirely possible that one of them would end up with war wounds. Actually, the CX500 would have been a good choice since it was sort of a "rat bike". We had recently sold it to the husband of one of Katie's co-workers. He used to ride and had taken our motorcycle safety class late last fall. They have several kids and only one rig. Mark really wanted to ride again and using the bike for commuting was the perfect sales pitch to his wife. He's happily ridden about four miles one way to work all winter.
Off we go. I've been riding the ST so much that the VFR feels slightly alien. Maybe not a good time to get re-aquainted but so be it. For the most part the roads are more messy than slick. The slush was melting from traffic and leaving big areas of standing water. Between them both it's really wet. So far so good. During a stretch of twenty miles or so there's nothing at all except wet road. I'm thinking we're done with it. Hang onto your hats buckaroos! The rodeo ain't over yet!
It really WAS worse down South. As I cross the big steel bridge the bike gets squirmy. There's a big white Ford 4 X 4 pickup spun out and smashed into a guardrail. Traffic is backed up a long ways behind it. The good news is that I am going opposite the backup. Several vehicles are in the ditches. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to ride today. For all my bravado I have to admit that I still get a knot in my stomach dealing with treacherous conditions. Careful is the word for this stretch. Interestingly, a rider can also get in trouble being too timid in these conditions. We do fine but have an intersting experience.
There are tracks in the snow where other cars have passed. I'm riding in the right side track to stay farther away from oncoming cars. On a sweeping corner the loose snow kind of takes charge of my path of travel. Now I'm out in the deeper stuff. I'm entering the curve and both ends of the bike are sliding. My first thought is "So that's what that feels like". I've watched top racers do this on a track. They call it "backing into a corner". I'm doing the same thing. Ok, ok, they do it on purpose. I just sort of slipped into it, if you know what I mean. At least I can say I've done it!
Now as I write this the sun is shining and most of the snow has melted. I'm teaching tonight about an hour North of here. We'll see what happens for the ride home. The snow here is supposed to be over. The mountain passes are getting totally hammered, though. As long as it doesn't freeze we'll be fine.
Maybe it's just as well winter is coming to an end. I can't resist a challenge. My big worry is that one day my spirit will over-ride my ability to pull it off. One day my body will fail to obey the commands from my heart.
Until then, Yee Haw!!!
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
The ride home last night totally reinforced what commuting on a bike does for me. I had a dinner date with Katie last night. Nothing official like a "meet you at 7" kind of thing. We were just going out for a bite. It's sometimes nice to get away from the house. The change of setting seems to enhance the mood for talking. I know I've been mentioning Katie a lot lately. After 27 years of being married to her I still really enjoy her company.
With the date in mind I felt like getting home a little sooner. The freeway entrance is literally just around a couple corners from the office. The ST and I jumped on the Interstate. After about 14 miles I'm feeling the squeeze and tension. Traffic is getting heavier as I go. We end up just cooling our tires in a slow moving gridlock. I have had more than enough of this! We jump off the freeway at exit 216, make a quick right and a left and taste freedom. We are back on the twisty backroads. It's totally amazing how my attitude changes for the better. What was a tight and tensioned face relaxes into a grin. On the Interstate we were hemmed in too tightly to move. Here we have elbow room. We have the whole dance floor to ourselves. What was clumsy and cramped is now graceful and sweeping.
The icing on the cake was coming into Tangent the back way. The country road turns into a small residential street. Both sides are lined with some sort of Japanese Plum trees. This time of year the trees are bursting with delicate pink blossoms. There was a typical afternoon breeze blowing through the trees. The blossoms were shaking loose and drifting thickly in the air. It was like riding through pink snow. For a few blocks it was a magic world.
When we got back from dinner I looked at the blogs. Steve Williams had made a comment here. His link "Scooter in the Sticks" is on the right. ( Here's another 15 minutes of fame, Steve! Although on this blog there's not much fame to be had. It's more like an "honorable mention" ). Steve's comment reminded me of a connection between two wheels and life. The comment was generally aimed at looking at life as a whole instead of isolated situations. Quit staring at the problem and look up at all the good things.
It's always amazing to me how what I discover by riding directly translates to the rest of my life. In this case I've been bogged down by a possible job change and how that will affect my riding. Isn't it so easy to look at one situation in life and let it color your whole world? Instead of being just one of many aspects in life it becomes the sole focus. If it's a stressful or unpleasant experience pretty soon it takes over. Soon it's all we see. The small picture becomes our big picture. Weird, isn't it?
Riding puts the small pictures back where they belong. To be able to manage risk effectively we literally need to look at the larger scene. You know, head and eyes up! Find trouble and deal with it before we are locked into its sights. The freeway almost demands you look closer to you. This can narrow our focus at the expense of missing pending disaster farther away. It's so much easier to broaden our view on backroads. There are more inviting things to look at. There's usually less traffic to look out for. The combination of room to run and curves puts me back into such a sweet rythmn. The graceful flow helps me think more clearly. My mood gets so much better that I literally feel more empowered to tackle the tough things. The freeway is like the daily grinding problems. The backroads are the good stuff in the rest of our life. Get off the freeway and choose the good roads!
A motorcycle is just a two wheeled vehicle at first glance. Those who know will tell you it is more than that. A bike is a portal. A gateway to a higher plane of existence. I personally would be a lot worse off having never found this wonder.
The ride home tonight will be interesting. We are expecting a blast from a cold front. Heavy rain and strong, gusty winds. There may even be snow. The lady from the Official Weather Service says this will probably be winter's last blast. I can feel the Old Mariner inside me shaking his fist and yelling "Bring it on, weather Gods!"
I'll tell you how it goes tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
The Big Interview happened yesterday. I think it went pretty well. The day turned out to be fairly interesting. The bike and I ( and Katie for some of it ) travelled 226 miles together. I got to spend some time with Katie. Good all the way round.
The ride to work was pretty routine. My interview was at 4 PM at a location 113 miles North of the office. Rather than push it to the last minute I left the office at 11:30. Yelling "I'm free, I'm free!" I took the long way home. The plan was to change clothes at home. Dressing up for the office would have raised suspicions. By the way, I clean up pretty good for a hardcore motorcyclist. At a little after 2 Katie got home from her job at the school. "Are you still planning on riding?", she asks. I thought maybe she was going to ask me to reconsider. "Can I go with you? I'm suffering withdrawal." Bonus!!!
I carefully wrap the 'stich around the slacks and off we go. The jacket and tie are in the saddle bag. I don't remember ever riding in a tie and don't want to start now. This next part is weird. The place I'm supposed to meet these guys is right off the Interstate at the South end of Portland. Portland is listed as having a population of around half a million. Big city traffic on a bike. We make our way into the parking lot which is teeming with cars. This place has banquet and meeting rooms that a lot of companies use, I guess. We're looking for a place to park. A dark haired guy with a goatee is driving a silver Buick. He cuts us off in the parking lot. So I do what any seasoned Road Warrior would do. I blast him with the puny horn on the bike. He looks at the bike and goes on his way.
The hotel has a nice lobby. We are in the process of pulling off the rest of our gear in a quiet corner of the lobby. Katie's got some stuff to read and plans to either sit in the lobby or go to the restaurant for tea while she waits. Hey, it was her choice to come along. This same guy walks by us. He's in a dark suit. I see the flicker of recognition as he looks at the gear. Off I go to the restroom to put on the tie and jacket. I'm supposed to meet the "possible future employer"'s representatives in the lounge. ( I drank iced tea, by the way ) There's three of them at a table for four. Since it's the only group I go there. It's them, all right. And there's the guy in the suit. Turns out he's some sort of Regional Sales Manager for the company I'm interviewing with. Sorry, I'm not kissing his butt. If he drives like a jerk I'll react accordingly. His name is Jim. He finally mentions the incident. It's just kind of passed off. Jim says "At least it proves you're not shy".
By the way, an unofficial offer was made. We go find Katie and introductions are made. I do not tell her I want her to meet the new boss. It's too early for that. I still have greatly mixed feelings. I've been told that the company will pay mileage so I can drive whatever I want. Just not sure how practical it will be to do this job on the bike. I guess I could carry an extra helmet. Then if I want to take a client to lunch I could invite them for a ride!
It's dark by now. We head back South. I've given Katie the retro-reflective vest. Better to have it showing at the back than covered. We've decided to stop in Salem at a mall food court. There's a Chinese food place there that Katie likes. So far the weather has totally cooperated all day. It's a refreshing ride. We pull in to the parking structure next to the mall. I back into a spot kind of off by itself. I really like elbow room and hate to be crowded. I'm taking a chance of getting ticketed by backing in. There are signs that state only head-in parking is allowed. Several of the parking enforcement folks have come through my classes. I carry a business card from our motorcycle safety program. This gets clipped to the fairing. I am left unmolested. Little by little they are getting the hang of living with bikes. Good for them.
As we're coming back to the bike I see a woman with a baby and a boy that looks to be about four years old. The munchkin is really taken with the bike. He keeps pulling Mom toward the ST. Mom smiles at us and pulls him back. It seems like she just doesn't want to be a bother to us. I tell her that it's fine if the boy wants to come look. In fact, I have no problem if he wants to sit on the bike. As long as it's ok with her. Since Katie's with me Mom seems more relaxed. I tell her that I want to be the one to lift the munchkin onto the bike. The pipes could still be warm. So up he goes. They always seem to know what to do, don't they? The arms go forward and he's practically prone on the tank bag. He doesn't make motor noises, though. The little mouth is too busy grinning. The little Cherub's face is beaming. I always love times like these. I'm sure we made the little guy's week.
To top it all off, we get home around 8:30 PM. Just after we get in the house the rain starts. Our ride has been blessed by the weather Gods.
This morning I leave as usual for work. I've taken to riding the old highway in the mornings. Today I seem to have fallen in love with the ST all over again. I feel so alive this morning. It's not the job offer. That issue is slightly stressful right now. No, I just seem to go through this off and on. It's always good to be on the bike. It feels like it's exactly where I belong. Some days, though, it's better than good. Today's one of those days when it moves up to "TOTALLY AWESOME"!!!!
In particular I seem to be in love with the throttle. Not top speed. Just feeling that special thing that happens when you twist a little and the bike leaps forward. So much power right at my control. I end up following a dark red Nissan Titan pick-up. I'm sorry but I find these trucks butt ugly. It's not long until I can use that lovely throttle and leave the ugly creature in the dust. Well, as much dust as you will find on a wet road, at least. Guess what? You guessed it. There's a woman driving and she has a cell phone plastered to her ear. Probably tellling someone how good looking her truck is.
About fifteen minutes down the road I come up behind a guy on a bike. It's a Honda 919 in that black color. You know that color with the unfortunate name of "Asphalt"? I find it funny since I was just talking about this bike on Mad's blog. There's a link to his blog on the right of this page. Anyway, I follow this guy almost all the way to work. Don't know if he commutes or is just riding. Once I see someone a couple of times at the same spot or time I know they're probably a commuter. This is a first encounter. I just follow. He's in no hurry. A true bike person. Just enjoying the ride. It is so good to have company.
We talk about being independent. How we are "rugged individualists". How we "do our own thing". Could it just be that us rough tough hardcore riders are getting a little lonely?