Monday, July 31, 2006

You just got passed by a girl!!

Whoosh! What was that blur that sped by? Wait! It's slowing down and pulling back in front of me. Long blonde hair flowing out from under the lavender helmet with the white orchid pattern. From the patch on the shoulders I see it's a Vanson Leathers jacket. Some sort of racing oriented gloves. Boots and gloves are matching blue and white patterns. Following behind, I'm thinking "Nice rear end!"

Not hers, the bike's. It's a silver Kawasaki sport bike. I think it's a ZX-12. I love following a big bore sport bike. That trim rear fender hovering over the fat rear tire. Seeing that tire where all the power meets the ground conveys the essence of the bike's prowess.

My eyes are drawn up to the back of the helmet. There's a black sticker with bright green letters. The letters state what I've written in the title of this post. Did she pull back in front of me just so I could see the sticker? Does she have an attitude or is she just kind of "sassy"? I ponder that for a mile or so as we approach the I-205 turn-off. Morning traffic is pretty thick right here. The female rider is probably attracted by the open space I try to leave in front of me. Sometimes all you can do is get over early and ride the train to the exit. Sure enough, she takes the turn-off and then proceeds to leave me in the dust.

The encounter got me to thinking about who's commuting on bikes these days. In what was a predominantly male undertaking females are asserting themselves. I know a gal who's an emergency room nurse. She commutes about 25 miles round trip on a Honda 250 Rebel. There's other ones I know who commute on a bike, as well.

In the last few years the number of women taking our classes has increased. Where you might have previously seen only one or two, now 25 to 30 percent of classes are made up of female students. Just for fun I checked with Oregon's Department of Motor Vehicles.

There are almost 180,000 Oregon drivers who also have motorcycle endorsements. Nearly 22,000 are women. In 1999 there were 17,015 women with endorsements. Gives you an idea how their numbers are growing. How many are riding to work? Probably a small percentage but I know I'm seeing a few more as time goes on.

When you see a woman riding a bike be sure to wave. It's neat to see the girls find the joy we find in riding and commuting. Remember that she's also helping break new trails for other women to follow. I'm happy see the trend growing.

By the way, I saw a couple of interesting things on the way to the office this morning. Traffic was backed up because there was a VW Bug still smoldering on the side of the road. The real kind from years ago. Fire trucks were still on the roadway. Later on I saw a Hummer pulled off to the left shoulder with a shredded left rear tire. That sure tugged at my heart strings! (NOT)

At a stop light near the office I noticed steam coming out from under the hood of a Lincoln. Looked like it could be a heater hose. The driver seemed oblivious while waiting for the light to turn green. With steam billowing the car continued. Stayed in the left lane with no move to pull over. I thought I should ride up to point it out. The steam was so thick nobody could miss it, though. And still the driver kept on. Maybe the man driving thought he could get to a garage before the car expired. I decided to leave him to his own devices. Leaking antifreeze can be slippery, you know!

Miles and smiles,

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Missing in Action

I'm sorry to be missing in action lately. I have been on a long vigil at the hospital. The vigil ended at 2:30 AM Saturday.

My biological father went into the hospital a couple of weeks ago for what seemed to be a serious, but routine operation. He ended up going into Intensive Care Thursday morning to be put onto a ventilator. From then on he was heavily sedated and on life support. The struggle ended early Saturday.

I had the painful task of talking to him Wednesday night to find out what he wanted for life support options and how long. According to his wishes, at 1:30 AM Saturday we asked the doctors to keep the ventilator going but stop the drugs that were keeping his heart beating. Despite having not been sedated for hours he was comatose. His poor body had already shut down hours earlier. An hour later his heart stopped.

Since he wasn't actually the one that raised me I had no obligations other than what a man feels internally. My birth mother needs the support and I am able to give it. I will help her through the coming times. Blood looks after blood despite circumstances. That's what a man does. It was extremely difficult to watch her as she watched her husband of 49 years die little by little in front of her. I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between her situation and mine. Katie was beside me. She has declared herself to be a part of me and so had been with me the whole time. I held her on one side and my mother on the other. One woman would take a husband home and the other wouldn't.

I'm ok, although it has been a tough time for me in losing people in my life lately. The circumstances show so fittingly that life is a fleeting thing. Don't wait for some far off "someday" to start living. Celebrate life by riding if that's what you enjoy and have a passion for. Don't let anybody else dictate whether or not you ride for work or just fun. It's your life. Find what you love and enjoy it. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anybody.

The bad news for all of you is that I had plenty of time to think about what to write about in this blog pertaining to commuting and riding. I'll continue to share experiences while commuting. I'm more determined than ever to share the joy of riding. Celebrate life while we have it.

Miles and smiles,

Monday, July 24, 2006

Curse of the Freeway:

Traffic Jam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, July 21, 2006

Gems among the stones:

Ride to Work Day

3:45 AM. The alarm was set to go off at 4. I'd been awake for a while. Why did I decide to put myself through this? Especially considering that the days have been hot and I couldn't get to sleep at a decent time. Our little air conditioner in the kitchen window doesn't cool off our bedroom despite the fans.

The reason for this venture? It was Ride to Work Day and I had a plan. Sighing, I reached over and turned the alarm off. It's pretty much routine for me to wake up before the alarm goes off no matter what time it's set for. When she hears the "click" of the alarm switch, Katie rolls over for a goodbye kiss. I'm not sure if she really wakes up or if it's something like sleep walking. Either way, I always feel better knowing I've left her with a kiss. It's a holdover from the cop days. If there's a chance I'm not coming home I don't want to regret not kissing her goodbye.

Here's the plan my wild-man brain came up with. The purpose of Ride to Work Day is to promote commuting on two wheels, right?. Extending that thought, I figured that this meant making the number of motorcycle mounted commuters visible to as many as possible. My plan was to leave extra early and go to the office. Instead of taking the freeway, I would ride the main drags of the large towns enroute. I could go through downtown Salem which has a population of around 100,000. From there I could hook up to Hwy 99 which would take me most of the way North. That would give me Woodburn, Aurora, Oregon City, and West Linn. Then I would improvise as the whims moved me.

I confess that I didn't get quite the early start I planned on. The couch and coffee kept calling my name. My excuse was that I wouldn't be too visible if it were still dark when I left. That's logical, isn't it?

Finally I heaved my carcass off the couch and stumbled outside. Sophie seemed to sense that this was a special day. Maybe the washing, waxing, and polishing gave me away.

The first part of the trip was planned for an 18 mile stretch of freeway. This would take me into the Southern end of Salem. I have to say I was pretty excited to see quite a few sport bikes heading South. I never really thought it would be the sport bikers who would respond to Ride to Work. I always pictured the commuters as being more like me. Maybe a little saner, though. Since I was going North it gave me a chance to check them out and exchange waves. Something kept nagging at me in the background. Hmm, sport bike riders aren't usually this eager to wave. Why do they all seem to have packs or luggage?

It suddenly dawned on me what the deal was. I'd seen it a year ago but had forgotten. A conversation I had on Monday came to mind. The director of our motorcycle safety program had informed me he was leaving on Wednesday to go to Laguna Seca. Of course, these riders were going to the Big Race!!

The South Commercial exit into Salem soon loomed into view. Here it was, BIG CITY TRAFFIC! I steeled myself and remembered it was for a good cause. It could also be worse. It could be L.A. Here's a quote from the July 2006 issue of Motorcyclist magazine:

"According to, 982,735 people drive to work every day in Los Angeles, alone with their neuroses, cell phones, and Grande Frappuccinos. There are 2474 who commute on two wheels".

Are we outnumbered or what? I certainly felt outnumbered as I proceded into the heart of town. As I passed a Dunkin Donuts shop the urge to turn in was extra strong. It was really odd since I hadn't been to one since a stop in Atlanta, Georgia 12 years ago. Maybe it was a psychological craving for comfort foods. Maybe it was a premonition. I almost wish I HAD stopped. It would have altered my timing and kept me from meeting The Zombie in the Huge Ford Pickup.

Here's where habits become so deeply ingrained that you're hardly aware of them. A veteran two-wheeled commuter needs several of these. Years ago I worked on prying my eyes away from looking at storefront windows. It was just so darn tempting to keep checking out my coolness in the reflection in these huge glass expanses. Little by little I switched over to watching side-view mirrors to see if I was in someone's blind spot. I also started watching the front tires of vehicles around me. You can get clues about a vehicle's movements here faster than almost anywhere else. By the way, those new wheel covers with spinning centers drive me nuts. It always looks like the car is going to pull out in front of me. You watch, the day I ignore one it will turn out to actually be a car violating my space.

There are four lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. I am in the second lane in from the right. Beside me to the right is tightly packed traffic. Mostly little cars. Right behind me is a Toyota 4Runner who's trying to read a bumper sticker I don't have. I've been tapping my brake lights to get him to back off without success. Immediately to my left is the Zombie. He's driving one of the four door pickups with the long bed and a canopy. By the way, don't you find that a four door pickup is just plain wrong?

Ahead of me is space. It's the one thing I can control and I'm leaving about three car lengths. Suddenly, brake lights flash on ahead of The Zombie. I can see the guy's face in his right side- view mirror. His head and eyes never move as he suddenly moves into my lane. I was going to use the word "dart" but big pickups don't dart. They just "move" over. Fortunately, I'd seen the front wheel twitch. At least, my subconcious scanning had seen it and sounded the alarm. It gave me just enough time to once again flash my brake lights at the Toyota driver behind me. In an unbelievable coincidence, his attention must have actually been on surrounding traffic, for once. A little space opened up behind and to the right of me. No harm, no foul, but I could have done without the drama.

As I headed out the North end of town I shook my head. Today we're supposed to be visible. Interestingly, to most drivers, we're still invisible. Even when I pulled up beside The Zombie I could not get him to look at me.

The rest of the trip went pretty much as planned. A lot of slow traffic but we looked the part of a motorcycle commuter mixed up with cager traffic. Sophie and I did have an encounter with a man in a moving van. This time I'm sure the driver saw me. He just wanted our space and decided to take it. Might makes right. I was tempted to get him to stop and show him some Might, but figured it would reflect badly on the whole Ride to Work Day. I could just see this guy telling his friends ( if he has any ) about his adventure on Ride to Work Day.

"I'll tell you about commuters on bikes. Ban 'em. Make 'em pay". Of course, he'll be pretty reluctant to tell about how he got the snot beat out of him by a rider who didn't appreciate being nearly shoved off the road.

No, we just let the guy go. I will still take on anybody but I pick my battles more carefully. Drivers like this guy will always be jerks when surrounded by so much metal. He has to live with who he is. That's punishment enough.

Took some pictures around our business park. The Connie ( Concours ) and the Harley in the last two pictures are regulars. The dual sport is a "sometimes" visitor. He usually shares a spot with the Harley guy. The other bikes are ones I haven't seen, yet. Don't know if they rode because of Ride to Work or not. Either way, it's good to see them.

As a side note, did you see the gal in the car in the fourth picture? She was just sure I was taking her picture. She even looked over and smiled. Since she probably won't ever read this blog, she'll always remember the day the handsome and dashing guy on a bike took her picture. If that was Katie, she'd be over in the photographer's face and taking him to task for being such a pervert! Living with a Road Warrior has made her slightly aggressive, me thinks.

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Out the other side:

Living fully

"So you're still trying to kill yourself riding one of those murder-cycles, huh?"

Those were the first words out of the mouth of a man I used to work with but hadn't seen in years. We had a chance encounter at a gas station where I was refueling Sophie. I'd let the fuel run down lower than I usually do. This created a need to stop farther North. This guy's hometown.

Like a drop-down menu on a computer, a hundred possible replies scrolled in front of my mind's eye. Should I be defensive? How about offensive? Was there any way to explain to this man with limited capacity to understand? My redneck country raising stopped me. Grandpa always seemed to explain things to me based on horses or pigs. I could understand the horse thing. We rode, roped, and rodeo'd. But pigs? Never had anything to do with them except eating the things.

"Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig."

Here's the other favorite one. "Never wrestle with a pig. You'll just get muddy and the pig likes it."

Armed with my redneck wisdom I chose another answer. I would be philosophical with just a hint of a put-down.

"I may well die on a bike, but in the meantime I will have lived more than most of you!"

My voice expressed what was in my heart. After Russ died I spent a lot of time thinking about riding. I thought about the ever-increasing risks. I thought about my own increased exposure. I'm riding farther to work than I ever have before. For a while it was like being in a dark tunnel. I call it a tunnel because I shortly came out the other side. Riding is too important to me to quit. Life would be too empty without it.

What surprised me is that I even thought about these things at all. I've always had the attitude that no matter what happened I would find the answer at the right time. These times of contemplation are a new development. Is it because I'm finally outgrowing the youthful feeling of being immortal? ( twenty some years late ) Is it because the kids are grown and I know how alone Katie would be if I were gone? ( maybe she wouldn't be lonely, that's a scary thought ) Is it the coincidence of having several friends perish on bikes in a short time? People like Larry Grodsky who you think would be the last ones it would happen to? My friend and understudy Russ? Has Superman finally discovered that the effects of Kryptonite are actually real?

What I do know is that I will ride as long as I possibly can. There may an eventual price to pay. That price tag will still be less than what I've gotten in return. This post is a carthasis. ( look it up ) Take what you will from it. Encouragement, conviction, determination. Or just entertainment. Your choice. Allow me my passage out of the tunnel and we will move on to bigger, better, and fun things.

Commuting by bike IS more dangerous than driving. It is an undisputed fact. We are less visible, more vulnerable, and bad decisions hurt us much more. The situation is made more deadly by the shear numbers of idiots driving. I use the word "idiots" with the full connotation implied. It doesn't take brains to drive a big, fancy, SUV. Just money, it seems. It looks like it doesn't take any skill to commute in a car. Judging by what I see over and over, all you have to do is be good at juggling. If you can't actually "drive" but you can "aim" the car, you're good to go. To top that all off, if you can adopt an attitude that traffic needs to look out for you instead of the other way around, so much the better. It's no wonder that we get bummed out looking at how the odds seem to stack against us even more.

The physical hazards by themselves can be daunting enough. Then we have to be subjected to the mental hazards. These same people who have no driving skills and are afraid to do anything "different" have the audacity to condemn us. Can you imagine?

Some of it is the fault of riders. You notice I didn't say "our own fault". I acknowledge no kinship with some of the riders out there. The only thing we have in common is the fact that we are using two wheeled vehicles. Putting on a helmet does not infuse "smart waves" into a person's head. Some of it is that people are afraid of things that are different than what they know. If a person is brainwashed into a mold then anyone who breaks out makes them feel uncomfortable. Then there's those who are just plain envious. They wish they had the nerve to do what we do. Instead of being happy for us they try to make it look like we are "bad" in some way. I guess it makes them feel better about the fact they have no guts. Lastly, there's those who are like parrots. They repeat what they are told without any thought going into it. Someone said motorcycles are dangerous so that's enough for them.

Whoa! Looking at all that makes it look like a big problem, doesn't it? It's easy to just sort of get stuck there. Going 'round and 'round in some sort of endless spin cycle. I almost got caught up in the whirpool, myself. If it can happen to me than I won't think less of you for being there. Let me share with you how I pulled the plug.

First, the physical hazards. I don't believe in fate. My conviction is that we make our own luck. At the same time none of us are immune to "time and unforeseen occurrence". If I spend a lot of time on a bike, there's a bigger chance I'll die on a bike. It could be a boat, a plane, or anything else. We had an air show this last weekend. A 73 year old man brought a vintage fighter plane to show off. He was a flight instructor and had over 4000 hours in a variety of old planes. When the show was over he took off. Shortly afterwards the plane plunged to the ground, hitting a house. The fireball killed the man. Nobody was home at the house. This man pursued what he loved and died in the process. What do you think about the quality of HIS life? Is it fair that a skilled pilot would crash like that? It's like the old question of why the Grey Whale, the biggest creature around, has a throat opening so small they can only eat very tiny things like shrimp. IT'S JUST THE WAY IT IS! In some sort of strange way it's kind of comforting.

I'm determined to keep my mental and physical skills as sharp as possible. Fortunately, I'm an instructor which provides ample opportunity to visit the honing wheel. I would urge you to seek out any chance you can to refine and test your own skills. Battles will happen. How fierce your opponent appears depends in large measure on what weapons you are able to bring to bear. Idiots on the road are beyond our control. Available weaponry is something we CAN control. I face the hazards with newfound strength and resolve. The death of my friend Russ still haunts me but I chose to use it as a positive. For example, when Katie and I took a ride Sunday we came upon an elderly couple in a Silver Buick. They were doing 40 in a 55 mph stretch.

I'm sure I felt the same urge Russ felt to pass the slower traffic quickly. Thinking of Russ, I waited a little longer to pass. We were on a rural road with several houses on the left. The driver could have been going slowly waiting for a driveway. Or just because old people typically drive in less of a rush. It was a simple thing that didn't hurt me at all to wait until we were at a stretch with no driveways on the left. Patience was my weapon of choice. Thank you, and Godspeed, Russ!

Mental hazards are another thing we can control. Here's my take. What possible value can I get from something a barely skilled commuter in a car could say to me? How could anybody who's afraid to try something "daring" have any right to pass judgement on me for riding? The average commuter in a car tries to drink coffee, smoke a cigarette, and talk on the cell phone. All at the same time!! The same people who really should spit out their gum before they walk down the sidewalk. ( if you get the reference about walking and chewing gum at the same time ) Tell you what. I'm an intelligent person who daily puts my skill and wits to the test. Why don't they at least TRY to ride a bike? Then, just maybe, we'll have some sort of barely common reference point for a discussion.

I know it sounds harsh. Ponder it for a while. What possible reference point can there be that makes what they have to say mean anything at all to us? Any fool can flap their lips and make sounds come out. Doesn't mean it's worth anything. It's all about being Teflon. Don't let it stick.

There's my two answers to the obvious problems. Further musings reveal the fact that riding is just too valuable to give up. More than valuable, really. I'd use the word "precious".

One of these days I'm going to write a book entitled "Everything I Wanted to Know I Learned From Motorcycling". If I crash and die tomorrow it still will not change the richness I've known from riding. It would take too long to share all the good. Happily, I don't have to. Unlike the car commuters, you have the common frame of reference. You KNOW.

I want to leave you with a last thought based on what Grandma would tell me when I didn't want to finish a meal. I'm sure you heard something similar. She would tell me how children were starving in poor countries so I had the moral obligation to finish my food. As a child my reaction was to urge her to send this disgusting stuff to THEM. Now I realize the wisdom in that statement.

Recently we watched a young woman waste away and die from cancer. She was able to get a couple of rides on a bike from someone who was trying to help cheer her. The rides lit some sort of fire inside her. She found the joy we feel. She never got the chance to pursue it. A year or so ago my dear old friend Walter passed away. When I met Walter he was 84. This man was a teenager in the Mid-West during the Dust Bowl days. He told me of being on a tractor and seeing the sky turn black with dust. Younger days saw trips across the USA on an old Harley. Walter still wore the leather cap. I took him on rides with me on the back of a bike as I could. Eventually he got to the point where he couldn't sit on the bike anymore. Walter died in his 90's. You should have seen his face when he got off my bike. You should have seen the sadness when he could no longer even ride as a passenger. There are many more examples of those who would love to ride but can't for some reason.

I really think it's a sin to not enjoy what our hearts move us to do while we are able. So many have been robbed of the ability to even have a choice in the matter. It isn't limited to riding. Bikes just happen to be our heart's passion. I have a passion for riding and teaching others to ride better. To go with them I've been blessed with the physical and mental faculties to pursue that passion. I will not willingly turn my back on the gift I've been given. To do so would just be wrong. I have come out the other side stronger and with even more appreciation for riding.

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, July 16, 2006

Out the other side:
Two-up, again.

Today Katie and I took a ride together. Everything went quite smoothly. I'm back where I belong mentally. This blog is about commuting on a bike. Today's post highlights an "un-commute". At the same time this post is directly applicable to daily commuting.

Until today I had worked 11 straight days. Mentally and physically I was worn out. The new job is 6 weeks old. There's been a lot to learn and get up to speed on. Last weekend I spent both days in an "Instructor Prep" for 11 folks who want to become teachers of motorcycle safety. I mentioned it in an earlier post. Yesterday I spent a day with Mary Kaye, my training partner, involved in moving some instructors to the next level. They are starting on the road to mastering the classroom portion of the program. It's all fun and rewarding but very draining. If the current schedule holds, it will be another 30 days before the next time off. I know, it's my choice to work weekends. Right now is our busy time and my passion for motorcycling drives me on.

Katie's best friend has been pretty sick lately. This gal is alone and has some serious health issues. We spend a fair amount of time looking after her. It's ok. She's the kind of person that you're glad to help. Friday and Saturday were pretty intense. The friend is in a lot of pain and it was 1 AM by the time we got her settled and got back home this morning. Today, another friend is looking after her. Needless to say, it was time to take the free Sunday and unwind.

Inevitably, the subject of taking a ride came up again. Katie likes to cruise backroads at a leisurely pace all snuggled up behind me. I had turned down her last request. That request had come on the heels of the death of my friend and fellow instructor, Russ. His death slightly rocked my world for a while. I received a little more information about his death last Monday during the police training. After hitting the car Russ flew over it and hit the telephone pole guywire. I found out that Russ hit the wire with his helmet which the coroner says snapped his neck. Of all the chances of hitting something that thin at just the right angle, huh?

Today we had to go. It would be the last step in coming out the other side. I've been on the bike pretty regularly solo. Taking Katie along would seal the deal.

This isn't about our ride although it was absolutely wonderful. Five hours and around 160 miles. The magic is in the fact that the ride is the whole point. It's something we would never do in a car. We weren't riding to get anywhere. Our journey WAS the destination. Backroads and scenery until we decided to make a stop. An hour or so re-connecting over a double-shot Americano and an iced tea. ( Guess who had the double shot Americano? ) Sipping, talking, and watching the world go by. Back on the bike to become part of "that which goes by". More delightful back roads, some curves, and farmland. Temperature in the low 80's. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

I want to share some thoughts with you. I want to give you a glimpse into my heart and mind. This kind of thing has always been hard for me. As a soldier and cop the warrior's face was all people saw. Even now I seldom let people see past the wall. I will share my enthusiasm and knowledge. That's all. Katie says I'm really a nice, loving, kind, and caring guy. It's just that she's the only one who knows it. That's ok with me. I would rather leave this world having made a difference for the good in some way than having won a "popularity" contest. Motorcycling is the avenue I have chosen for making that difference.

Today I have the urge to share. Not emotion, just thoughts and convictions. There are some things I would like you to be able to hold as your own. I know you suffer some of the same things I've suffered. The rest of the world ( read: non-riders ) makes life harder for us. They present hazards and negative feedback. It can be daunting. I would like to offer you some reassurance that you're doing the right thing. I want to make you feel better about doing it. More specifically, I want to help you to better succeed in pursuing this thing your heart moves you to do.

It's too long for one post. I also want to finish sorting it out in my mind first. Out of respect for you I want it to be meaningful. Stay tuned tomorrow or the next day for the rest of this thread. Later in the week I want to spend a little time on cornering. We all love it but so many get it wrong. 75% of our motorcycle fatalities are riders in corners. We can all use some help in honing our technique. Wednesday is "Ride to Work" day. There will be plenty to write about in the next while. I might even throw in something about commuting. Have to justify the blog, you know!

I'm ending this day on a happy note looking back on a wonderful ride with my lovely bride. I hope yours ends as well for you.

Miles and smiles,

P.S. A big congratulations to Steve for completing the Experienced Rider Course on his Vespa!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The freeway seemed extra packed today. Part of it was that I left home at 6:30 AM instead of 6. That put me into the big city right at the 7:30 mark. The rest is probably tourist traffic. I'm really trying to soothe the Savage Beast that springs forth in these situations. Can't you feel yourself getting tensed up and frustrated when hemmed in by heavy traffic? If the Beast isn't brought under control I just know I'll do something I'll regret. Ok, let me put it another way. I'll probably do something that seems justified in my agitated state. All the while knowing deep down that in actuality it was stupid.

Part of my motivation was also knowing that there are only two days this week to do the long ride. Circumstances force two days of being in a box. ( the blogger hangs his head in shame )
Remember, though, that Monday was a commute to teach. That counts as riding the bike, just not to the regular office. If only my regular office were the race track. Rides are too precious to waste being aggrevated. They say that music soothes the Savage Beast. I turned off the portable radio and made my own music. Borrowing Gary's trick, I tried listening in my mind to a CD called "Weekend Getaways". This is some of the most relaxing music I know. Not being the most musical person in the world, I kept getting the thing wrong. That ended up frustrating me more. I'm doomed to make music on two wheels, which isn't all bad. Just don't ever ask me to sing for you!!

Switching gears, I tried to picture myself as Steve on the Vespa. There's a man who knows serenity, I thought. How would Steve's mind be as he rides serenely along looking for opportunities to make his meditative pictures? By golly, I feel myself relaxing. This feels nice. Also very foreign. Is this habitual madman actually feeling genial?

Managing to achieve a oneness with the traffic flow, Sophie and I were one stress-free pair. Oh, there was a little flurry in the karmic flow now and then. Always trying to leave a safe following distance ends up being like putting out the welcome mat. Cars would pull into the empty spot in front of me. Not so bad, actually. Three steps forward and one step back still netted me progress in the right direction. I was a little more put out when a moving truck pulled in front of me. Those puppies are really hard to see around, you know. Still, we were still hanging in with the calm attitude.

Cruising along, enjoying the ride, gently waving at people in cars to freak them out. Yes, life was good. My nose started twitching. Was that burning rubber I was smelling? You know how it is as a rider. First thing you do is look to see what part of you or your gear is sitting on a hot pipe. Nope, it's not me. Maybe it's that moving truck. Yes, it's definitely that moving truck. Yikes, the thing's smoking on the right rear! Back off, back off, Kaboom!!!!

The inside tire of the dual set literally blew up. The bad news was that it was the inside tire. No scattering to the outside for this shredded tire carcass. Everything came straight back out from under the rear of the truck. It was like someone was pitching ragged black rubber bits at me underhanded. Most of what went up into the air was little pieces. Suddenly the road ahead of me became very interesting to navigate. How can a tire have so many pieces? It looks like if you put all these pieces together the tire would be twice normal size. By now I had some space between us and was able to pretty much avoid the worst of it. Thank goodness for the smelly warning. But wait, the ride isn't over yet!

We were coming up to where I-205 takes off to the right. The truck and I are in the right lane. As you can imagine, the truck is slowing down fairly rapidly so I figure the driver has noticed the misfortune to his tire. Drivers behind me are slowing down as I have been tap dancing on the rear brake pedal to wake everyone up. With all the tire smoke and flying debris one would assume that EVERYONE is aware of what's going on. You would be stone wrong, Brother.

One driver in the lane to my left seems to be a lifelong member of the "No matter what, I will remain totally braindead" Club. This idiot is looking to take I-205 and actually dives between me and the truck. And he did it all without a cell phone crammed into his head! Remember, the truck is braking fairly hard, as am I. The fool in the car is seconds away from smashing into the back of the truck when he slams on the brakes. I swear the front of the car dives so far that the bumper touches the freeway. Feeling the pinch, I manage to hit the throttle and roll into the space recently vacated. I never saw a crash in my mirror so it seems everyone survived. Not to say that some cleaning of car seats wasn't going to be on the agenda soon.

I say you all can have this Zen stuff! I am going to stay tense and agitated. The only way I've ever known. This relaxing thing can be so stressful!!!

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ultimate commute!!

I wish I could say I was neglecting the blog because I was out riding in great summer weather. I have been in the summer weather but it was all work. Mostly it was watching someone else ride. Oh well, satisfaction comes in knowing it's for the overall good of riders. At least I keep telling myself that.

Yesterday I had this awesome commute home that few riders will probably experience. Before I get there, here's some background to lead up to the ride home.

Saturday and Sunday combined into one LONG weekend. My training partner, Mary Kaye, and I started a fresh batch of 11 apprentice instructors on their journey. These folks spent the weekend trying to absorb the concepts of range safety and coaching skills. I feel sorry for them in some ways. The program is shorter than what I went through, but still, some of them look pretty dazed and glazed by Sunday afternoon! Their first few classes will be spent teaching with a mentor at their hip. Things will sort themselves out for our new instructors as time goes on. Mary Kaye and I put in about 25 hours this weekend, our students about 17. A lot of it was spent on a parking lot in 90 degree weather. Needless to say, we're pretty tired. Not much energy for anything else.

It's different being a trainer than an instructor for me. I always enjoy the dynamics and interaction with the students. As an instructor I can only teach so many riders directly. As a trainer I can teach instructors who will, in turn, each touch a lot of riders. As hard as it is to step back from teaching, there's a lot of satisfaction in helping to grow our program. A shift in focus was required, but I'm glad to have reached out to be a trainer. Besides, I see my riding students once or twice but I have such long and happy relationships with fellow instructors. So many newer instructors are like my children, now. It's cool to watch their progress.

Monday I took a vacation day. I know, I've only been on this job for 5 weeks. This was too precious to pass up, though. I was invited to be an instructor for some police training. These sessions don't happen very often. The instructors who teach the police courses are hand picked and invited by the director of our motorcycle safety program. Like I said, too precious to turn down.

We ended up with 19 officers and their bikes. I knew several of them. One had taken the Basic Rider Training a while back and I had been his instructor for that. Interestingly, when I went down hard a couple of years ago two motor officer friends of mine had responded. They took good care of me and made sure my bike was treated correctly by the tow company. Their names are Shawn and Brian and they were among this group.

It's an interesting contrast to me as a commuter. Admittedly, there are times when I travel at a pace you might call "brisk". ( quit snickering! ) At those times I'm keeping a sharp eye out for "Johnny Law". As a commuter these folks are an opponent of sorts. Not in any sort of harmful way, more the game of hide and seek. In this setting, the cops are my students. More than that, most are friends and fellow bike enthusiasts. It's also my class and that gives me somewhat of an upper hand. I enjoy it to the full, but have to remember that these students are armed!

They all ride in full gear which includes sidearms, flashlights, cuffs, extra clips, batons, you name it. For most it's a work day. Gee, tough duty, isn't it? Getting paid to take training on a bike. At the top there's a picture of some of the students and bikes. Most are the new BMW's but there were a few Kawasaki KZ1000's and a Harley. My photos lack a lot compared to Steve's. I confess I take pictures, not make pictures. Besides, I was so busy it was lucky I had time to even snap this one.

Working with cops on bikes is a lot of fun. They are usually fairly skilled to start with. They follow directions with good understanding of the concept. This isn't just training for the sake of taking a class. Some have to re-certify every so often. Having great skills is important to all riders but to these cops it's critical. The job puts them in dangerous situations on a regular basis. Great skills can literally make the difference between going home at night or not. Needless to say, the students are motivated. To a person, they all have great courage. What little fear there might be is quickly swallowed up in the face of competition and possible ridicule by the other officers.

Speaking of courage, instructors who teach this course have the opportunity to test their own.

After a classroom session of about two hours, we split the group roughly in half. Ten officers went with me and three other instructors to a drag strip. The other half stayed at the track. After lunch the groups and their instructors trade locations. The drag strip experience makes one's senses tingle, to say the least. This time we had some extra entertainment.

The man who owns the drag strip lets us use it for free the couple of times a year we do police training. We do not use it for civilian training. This time he had sort of double booked the place. He snuck in some paying customers. We usually have it to ourselves and use both lanes. That gives us room to run drills in both directions which gives the officers more repetitions. Yesterday we had to use only one lane. Why?

Because they were running cars on the other one!! That's right. The owner had rented the track to some folks who were doing set-up type stuff. A couple of guys had alcohol burning cars that looked sort of like Camero's. Every so often the guys at the launch area would radio us to clear off. There's nothing like sitting on your bike next to the concrete wall and having a car zoom by at crazy speeds! Now that we mentioned crazy speeds, let me tell you about the exercises we run at the strip. Put yourself in the picture, riding your bike on the freeway, and see how you feel about doing this:

Approach a stopping area at 70 mph. Keep your speed steady until you reach two stopping cones then stop your bike as quickly as possible. Tell you what. You can start at 45 mph for a while. Then you can speed up and try it at 60. If you haven't crashed, yet, let's try it at 70. Did I also mention that the instructors have to provide demonstrations so the students can see the technique?

After that we move on to swerving. You will run up a chute of cones which stop 23 feet from the barrier. You will be signalled which direction to swerve just before you reach the end of the chute. By the way, there's a lot of room if you swerve to your left. Careful going to the right, though. From the cone barrier wall to the concrete wall there is six feet.

Once you've mastered swerving, which includes keeping a steady throttle all the way through the swerve, let's add some braking. You will now be signalled to either "swerve, then brake" or brake, then swerve". Still at 70 mph. Just to keep it interesting, you won't know which sequence or which way to swerve until you get there. We call it "The Decision Maker". The 'brake, then swerve" isn't so bad. You just slow, get back on the throttle, then swerve. If you are signalled to "swerve, then brake" you will have to swerve in the indicated direction, get the bike back up straight, then come to a stop as quickly as possible. That's why we need the drag strip. It takes room to get the bikes up to speed and more room to stop.

It's pretty amazing to stand to one side of the braking area and watch the bikes. They come in with motors singing and then haul them down.

Our police officer students did an awesome job. There was some tuning up required but none of them hesitated to throw themselves into the fray. Granted, the BMW's have ABS. The Kawasaki's and the Harley don't. Even the ABS bike riders improved a lot in their braking. At first you would hear the ABS hot and heavy. Pretty soon the stops were just as impressive with less ABS activation. The riders were modulating the brakes on their own.

These skills aren't just for motor cops. Think about it. How often as a commuter do you ride at 60 or 70 mph? Sometimes faster, you say? Do you ever consider that you may have to execute a stop calling for maximum braking? Like in "stopping right now"? How about a swerve? Stuff falls off trucks. Car drivers dive in front of us. We might have to swerve and then brake, or vice versa, at high speeds. You may actually be called upon to do these kind of things. How comfortable are you that you can do this?

You may have taken some sort of experienced rider course. Awesome for you! As great as it is to practice accident avoidance skills, it's at parking lot speeds. The fastest I've ever done a demonstration for maximum braking in a parking lot is about 35 mph. Think about doing it at twice that speed. Does it make you nervous? Let me tell you something. It sure did it to me! The night before I knew I was going to have to do this for a class I hardly slept. I had these dreams that bordered on nightmares. Yeah, I was nervous as, well, you know. Then it was time to actually do it. I'm sure my nether cheeks clenched the bike seat pretty hard. That's the only way I could explain that strange ridge in the middle of the seat. I thought I had a pretty good chance of sliding the front wheel as my bike didn't have ABS. Sophie doesn't either. Did you know that you actually have two chances to skid the front wheel? Once upon initial application when the weight hasn't transferred to the front wheel, yet. And another when the weight has started to rebound OFF the front wheel and is starting toward the rear tire again. Great, that's all I need. A chance for double jeopardy. Guess what?

I survived. Not only that, I actually enjoyed it after I nearly puckered myself on the first run. Ok, the first time I concentrated so hard on braking that I forgot to downshift. It was pretty tough trying to take off in 5th gear. The pay-off? I know I can do it if called on. My skills have been tested at the actual speeds I might have to use them.

Be honest. How many riders can truly say that? Oh, we know the theory. And that's way more than most riders can honestly lay claim to. The pressure required to swerve a bike and make it move a few feet at lower speeds is one thing. The pressure required to move a bike eight feet at 70 mph is a whole different animal. This is stuff we really need, especially as commuters. We mix it up with traffic, we encounter other hazards, and we often meet these hazards are highway speeds. Yet, speaking from personal experience, fear holds up back from practice. We assume we will be able to do what we need to do. Ah, can we really? How do we know? I would urge you to find some fairly sensible and safe way to try it out. You'll be scared. You'll also come out the other side supremely confident and proud of yourself. When the time comes to use the skills, you won't have to guess. You'll know for a fact that you have what it takes.

Here's an interesting little fact relating to speeds and stopping distances. These are for bikes without ABS. Check out the standards for stopping distances at a few different speeds.

At 15 mph the standard is 13 feet. At 20 mph the standard increases to 23 feet. At 60 mph the standard is 177 feet. Guess what it goes up to at 70 mph? It goes to 241 feet. That's an increase of 64 feet! Provided the rider is really proficient at braking! Think of how far 64 feet is. I know there's times we all ride faster. Still, stopping distances don't change with the fun factor. By riding 60 mph instead of 70 we reduce the distance required by 64 feet. If we ride faster, it should tell us something about following distances and the need for an aggressive scan.

Here's a question to chew on. How many times have we entered a corner at 70 mph and not been able to see at least 241 feet?

Enough of that. We spent a great afternoon circling the track and riding corners. Fast ones and slower ones, but all those lovely CORNERS!! On a track! Later on I'm going to do a post on cornering so I'll save our track time for that post. I do want to share a couple of fun things before I wind this up.

I'm happy to say that Sophie's front tire is now scuffed fully from one side to the other. Her pegs and centerstand got a manicure by scraping here and there. All in all, a happy day for her!

For the final evaluation on the track we cut the cops loose to run the track on their own. This time, though, we run it THE OTHER DIRECTION.
Now it's a whole different track. We give them some practice time to let them apply the principles we've worked on all afternoon. This time in new situations. Then we follow them for two laps to critique their riding. Each instructor ends up with about three different riders, one at a time. I have to tell you, it sure felt different jumping on Sophie and chasing the cops on their bikes!!!

My last rider to evaluate gave me the funniest moment of the day. I noticed while following him that his lines for most of the first lap were really sloppy. On the second lap the lines got much better. After his second lap he pulled into the paddock where the other officers were already dismounting. I went over and asked him about that first lap.

"I hate to say it", he said. "But I was so nervous watching you in my mirror and knowing you were following me that my riding went all to heck!"

I laughed and told him, "Welcome to the world of the civilian!"

Oh, and the ultimate commute? It had been a hot afternoon and we had required the officers to ride in full gear. The instructors do the same. It's our policy. This kind of training has more of a risk of riders going down and we much prefer it happen in full gear. One of the guys from down South made a comment about riding home at 80 since they needed to "do some serious airing out". I said I lived almost as far South as they were going and would follow them. They invited me to "jump on the pony".

Riding in a group of 9 motor officers is like being safe in your mother's arms. If we do 50 mph in the fast lane it is NOT AN ISSUE! If we do 85 so what? People get out of the way. Can you picture doing 20 mph over the speed limit and never feeling the urge to look over you shoulder? Of course, you're expected to ride in parade formation with them. Small price to pay, I say. Once in a while, giving up weekends and Mondays to teach in the hot sun pays off!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Musings on Mortality

It's been a tough stretch for motorcycle riders in this area. Things seem to go in streaks. This is one we could have lived without. Writing that last sentence seems oddly weird. You'll understand when you read further. The sentence just came out and I decided to leave it. Things happen for a reason, I guess.

We've had a rash of serious injuries and fatalities in the last couple of weeks. Saturday night I lost a friend to a bike accident. This one hit really close to home. Up until now I've managed to remain fairly detached. Not that I don't care when people are injured or killed. Far from it. Otherwise, why devote so much time and heart into teaching riders? It's just that, for the most part, the accidents were happening to strangers. On top of that after hearing about the wrecks I could usually point to a cause. More times than not evidence would point to a bad decision or lack of skill on the part of the rider. If there are a larger number of riders it stands to reason there will be more accidents. It's the statistical probability, right?

These latest accidents have rocked that platform. I'm also throwing in a few accidents and fatalities involving cars, as well. Even though this is a blog about commuting on two wheels, you'll see why I included the cars. Here's the deal.

Most people commute and travel in cages. Some of us choose to do most of OUR travel on two wheels. We thump gloved fists on textile covered chests and proudly proclaim ourselves to be "Warriors"! With a roar we charge off to do battle. Most folks deride us for exposing ourselves to the extra hazards of commuter duty. There's a degree of truth in this, to be sure. I choose to look at the other side of the coin. It seems like I'm forever sharpening Katie's kitchen knives. You know what, though? They're always ready for duty. In my opinion, those who commute on a bike are better off than those who ride more casually. The recreational rider sharpens the knife once in a while. Most of the time the blade lacks that "fine" edge. Commuters are always honing the blade. Daily conflict keeps skills and senses sharp. We are battle tested and ready. Letting the blade get "dull" can have dire consequences. Either way, surviving, or not, on the battlefield is usually tied directly to our own efforts. Lately I feel like the enemy has shifted tactics.

Based on what's been happening it looks like we're becoming overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Hordes of incompetent and distracted drivers have been recruited into the fray. They pour afresh onto the field. At times it looks like there is no hope of victory. Consider the contrast between two incidents.

A young man on a sport bike fails to negotiate a curve and impacts a guardrail. He is injured so severely that doctors have to amputate one of his legs. This happened North of here over the weekend. Looking at this wreck leads one to believe it was the rider's lack of skill to blame. We tell ourselves that we will just practice better technique and avoid similar consequences. Ok, I'll buy that. Enter the invading hordes.

In front of a casino on a major East-West route to the coast a man in a pickup drifts across the center line. He realizes what's happened and tries to get back where he belongs. A miscalculation makes him brush the side of another pickup. Back he goes across the line. This time his pickup collides with a man and woman two-up. Both riders are killed. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This was the SECOND such incident in as many weeks. Both times innocent riders pay with their lives. A woman passes a few cars going over a mountain pass. She completes the pass and comes back into her lane. Unfortunately she goes too far right and puts a wheel onto the gravel shoulder. She over corrects which sends her back into oncoming traffic. People in the other vehicle perish. There are a couple more stories but you get the point.

As I am contemplating this post I receive a phone call from my dear friend Al. I wrote of him in an earlier post. Al swears the only proper color for an "ST" is black. One day he shows up with an ST1300 that looks suspiciously like red to me. Al counters that the official color is "Black cherry". Flimsy, Al. My dear friend has spent a few days chasing checkpoints on a "Grand Tour". In the desert of Eastern Oregon Al has a really close call. A pickup with a long horse trailer is approaching from the opposite direction. Al spots a small pickup behind the trailer. He moves way right towards the fog line. The intent is to make sure he is seen and can keep an eye on the small truck. Al is wearing a bright colored retroflective vest. Noses pass. The nose of Al's bike and the nose of the pickup pulling the trailer. It was at that moment the small truck pulled out to pass. There was no time to even react. Luckily, Al had moved way over. The small truck passed between Al's bike and the big pickup. How could this driver have missed the rider?

How do you fight this kind of thing? More and more you hear of people who can't even keep their vehicles in their own lane, let alone drive competently. What skill can you point to that will be useful? A small voice whispers in my head. It tells me I am alone and vulnerable. The voice tempts me with visions of fine armor. Wrap the armor around yourself. You will have more protection. Give in, you know you want to. It is indeed tempting. My own voice offers a reply. Armor can protect on one hand. On the other, it can quickly become a prison. I do not wish to be trapped thusly. Besides, I crave what I find on a bike. So much personal growth has happened wrapped around a two-wheeled theme. Admittedly, other venues could have offered similar treasures. None would have found me to be such an eager and receptive student, though. I silently renew my resolve to remain in the battle. If I meet an untimely end it will still have been better than a life devoted to being "safe". Battle I will, using skills and good judgement.

Now I ponder my ability to unfailingly make good decisions. I tell myself that I know the difference between pushing limits and recklessness. Knowing and doing are two different things. I've done it. You know the feeling. Doing something that we say is "bold". Afterwards we admit to ourselves that it wasn't too smart. We called it bold but it was actually the result of too much aggression, or whatever. Luck was on our side but could just have easily abandoned us. This brings me to the death of my friend.

His death on top of everything else has given me pause. Ok, I'll just come out and say it. I'm a little rattled. The faintest smell of fear is in my nostrils. Not so much for me as for Katie. We had the chance to go for a ride on Monday. For the first time in as long as I can remember I said "No". It's one thing to make decisions for myself. Katie likes to ride. Sometimes, though, I know she agrees to go for my sake. Not that she DOESN'T want to go. I'm the one with the strongest drive to be on the bike. She comes along and has a good time. Katie would be just as happy doing something else together. Do I have the right to point her towards something that's getting more dangerous all the time? Will my skills and judgement be consistently good enough to take care of her? I have to say it will but now there's this little nagging doubt.

Two years ago I had my one and only "get-off" on the streets. I posted it a while back. There was a man working for our training program. He was a brand new rider. After I crashed I heard that this man was really shaken. I was urged to go talk to him. Here's what he told me:

"If Zeus falls off the mountain, what hope is there for us mere mortals"?

My friend is one of the last ones you'd expect to die on a bike. His death was as shocking as Larry Grodsky's. My friend was also a fellow instructor. The only difference between he and I was time in the saddle. I've been riding since I was a kid. He was fairly new. Maybe the last 6 or 7 years. I taught him as a new rider. I mentored him as a new instructor. He was an active teacher. His enthusiasm got his daughter involved in teaching. They were the first father/daughter team. Both became mentors to new instructors in their own right. Two individuals dedicated to sharing their passion and improving their teaching skills. What bothers me is the circumstances of the crash.

It is 6:45 PM. I'm recounting this from limited information. It's not meant as an accident reconstruction. I saw the crash scene today. Two lanes merge into one as a city street becomes rural. Two cars ahead of him. The lead car is a taxi. I'm told that my friend was passing both cars. The bike was gaining speed as the cars were slowing. At the worst possible time the taxi turned left to pull into a driveway. It seems the taxi driver spotted the bike and stopped. My friend almost cleared the front of the taxi. He ran out of room and his bike hit the front corner of the car. There was a lot of damage to the car. My friend's bike was one of those BMW boxer cruisers. They called it the Phoenix, or whatever. A heavy bike. The impact threw my friend clear of the bike. He hit a guy wire for a telephone pole. This is the story as near as I know.

Was it one of those bad decisions? Was it one of those things we all do that could have easily been just a close call? Something we look back on later and shake our head over? Or was it one of those "unavoidable" things? Just bad luck? I don't know and it's not the point of telling the story, I DO know how my mind perceives it. No matter how good I think I am, I'm no super-hero. I am flesh and blood. Subject to time and unforeseen circumstance. Or to bad decisions on days I'm not totally on my game. Tired, distracted, stressed, our humanity makes us vulnerable. If it can happen to my friend, my fellow instructor, it can happen to me. A sobering reminder.

Tomorrow brings the funeral. There will be a lot of bikes with their riders. It will be an outpouring of love for the family. Still, a man lies in the coffin. Life can be a fragile and fleeting thing.

Will I quit riding? No. Two wheels will remain my choice. It is who I am. It is what I do. I wanted to share these thoughts with you. Take from them what you will. Do not be discouraged. Just ponder life, living, and loving. I'll be extra reflective for a few days but will still be riding. My next post will be sharing something connected with riding skills. It will be my catharsis.

Miles, but no smiles today.