Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Getting even.

This post is going to be short and sweet. Take a look at this public service announcement from the AMA.

Ain't it great?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

First snow.

Curses! Suddenly I'm as blind as a fish swimming in oatmeal. It's my own fault. I shouldn't have laughed. Not out loud, at least. It was just too funny. Two very large human beings crammed into a Subaru station wagon. Looking like two watermelons in a fruit cup. They were coming at me in the opposite direction. This was farm country. I did what was appropriate. I offered a friendly wave. Two unbelieving looks pierced my visor like lasers. I felt like a tentacled Martian waving at the hapless humans. The effect was the same on these observers.

That's when I laughed loudly in my helmet. Then went blind. I suppose it would be good to mention that it was snowing. By now very little was sticking to the ground. The air, though, was saturated with swirling flakes. Just like when you shake one of those snow globes. I was wearing photochromatic Ray-Bans. Snow increases the glare, you know. I'd been wiping slush off my visor frequently. When I laughed out loud everything fogged up until I couldn't see. The visor came up in a hurry. Now I faced triple jeopardy. The fog cleared. Snow flakes landed directly on my glasses. Both sides of the visor were collecting slush. Time to stop and figure out how I got here in the first place. Actually, I know how it happened. Just like it does every other time.

Katie and I woke up to snow. There was a layer of white on everything. Like someone had dusted confectioner's sugar on a cake. I was slated to telecommute to work today. Around nine it was time to thaw Katie's car. Got her off to work safely. I watched the flakes coming down. Now it was warm enough that not much stuck. Paperwork and reports screamed for attention. I'd missed the really fun time, anyhow. Still, snowflakes softly called to me. Sophie wanted to go out and play. I could hear the scuffle of her tires as she pawed the ground. I'm sorry. I'm busy. You're not really supposed to ride a motorcycle in the snow. I tuned out the distractions. Tried to concentrate on work.

Finally I did what any sane and reasonable motorcycle commuter would do. I rode. In the snow. Some areas had a lot. Some had a little. All the while I can hear Sophie revving her motor in glee.
"Let's go freak people out!", she'd begged me. It seems we'd done it to the station wagon guys.

I think I did it to a cop, too. We passed a County patrol car coming the other way. I swear I could see the cop shaking his head. Would he pull me over? Would it be a VBR? ( violating the basic rule ) I rather think it would have been for "Very Ballsy Riding"!

The snow melted as fast as it fell. We made the most of every minute. Riding in the snow is great fun. As long as you don't crash, of course. Crashing wasn't on the menu today. The snow finally quit. It was back home to my trusty laptop and more reports.

Katie got home from work. I didn't tell her about the ride. Not until later. We settled in to watch the football game. Green Bay at Seattle. It was snowing in Seattle. Looked like Wisconsin. Brett Favre was making his 242nd consecutive start. I finally told Katie about my ride in the snow. She asked me why she wasn't surprised at that. Her voice was scornful. Her eyes radiated admiration. Maybe that was aimed more at Brett.

I spoke to Brett on the phone once. We have a small connection. It was thanks to Aerostich. I'd finally sent my jacket in for repairs after a get-off. Just after Christmas came a call. A man named Michael had left a message at the office. The note said Michael had my jacket. An errant address label had sent my package to Green Bay. I called back. Michael turned out to be an equipment manager for Green Bay. I'd watched Brett play the Bears on Christmas Day. I told Michael that after the game I figured Brett could use some cheer. The Bears had won. Michael told me that Brett was sitting nearby. The phone rustled and then came "The Voice". It was either Brett or a great impersonator.

Andy helped me get my jacket back. Thanks, Andy!

The game announcers talked about how Brett was superhuman. Extremely high pain threshold. Never quits. Sickness and injury don't stop him. He does things he's not supposed to be able to do. A couple of days after his Father died, Brett played. He played his best. The day after my Father died I taught a class. Filled in for a sick instructor. I understand how the therapy works.

Katie looked at me. Then she floored me.

"You and Brett have a lot in common. You know you shouldn't do things but you do them anyway. You're both freaks of nature. Nothing stops either one of you. You're the Brett Favre of motorcycling!"

Katie's frustrated and mystified sometimes. Beneath it all is a grudging respect.

I'm flattered and humbled by the comparison. I don't know about Brett! We're both driven to do what we do. Passion drives us to excel. Being stubborn keeps us from admitting we can't do something. You know what's sad? Some of you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

As you can see, more storms and snow are coming. The next few days should be interesting!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, November 27, 2006

What a concept!

Take a ride just for fun? What a concept! After having worked seven days a week for who knows how long, I've either been riding to work or to teach. You can blame the gal on the right for it. The ride that is, not the working.

Our Instructor Banquet was on the 18th. I was also teaching my last class of the year that weekend. One of the things that happens at the banquet is some recognition of instructors who teach a lot. Turns out that between actual classes and instructor training sessions, I had worked somewhere around 34 weekends this year. Considering how there's only 52 weekends total, it was no wonder I was feeling a little tired by now!

I discovered over Thanksgiving weekend that I'm no good when left on my own to just relax. Specifically, when there's a lot of leftover food involved! After so much rushing about and wolfing food down, can you imagine what a treat it is to be able to take time to enjoy your food? Katie decided I'd been doing too much of that. Her big clue was my painful groans as I sprawled on the couch clutching my belly, I guess.

"We need to get you out of here before you kill yourself!", she sternly told me. I asked her if she'd changed her name from Katie to Jenny Craig. Knowing that the only thing I'd really be tempted by is riding ( as opposed to Christmas shopping or something ) she convinced me to take her for a ride. We'd ride just for the sheer enjoyment of being on the bike. Something that has, unfortunately, become far too infrequent of late.

Saturday was a weird day weatherwise. There were some spots that were soaking wet while others were bone dry. As much as possible we tried to dodge rain showers.

As we rode I thought about a post that Steve Williams had done on his blog, Scooter in the Sticks. Progress is creeping in no matter where you go. Part of the reward of riding is finding places to sort of isolate yourself from the rest of the frenzied world. I've found roads over the years that serve this exact purpose. Kind of a "escape the zoo and find peace" thing. During this ride I sought out some of these places. Even here, the craziness of the world isn't totally out of sight.

Here's an example. The picture right above is of a winding farm road. Yes, we found some rain here. This road pretty much goes from "nowhere" to "nowhere". In a five mile stretch there's maybe 10 houses. They're all farmers. In the picture below is how the bridge was until just recently. Just a small bridge about as wide as a lane and a half. It passes over a pretty little creek. Visibility was great at both ends. If you saw someone coming the other way you could just wait a minute for them to cross and then have at it. I've ridden over the bridge for years and seldom encountered anybody coming the other way. Now somebody's decided it's a problem.

Have a look at the new concrete and steel monstrosity that's replaced the old bridge. Another piece of history and character bites the dust just so people can have another place to blindly drive with their heads inserted someplace.

Each little thing by itself isn't a disaster, granted. Yet each small assault chips away at the whole. Before you know it nothing's the same as it was. What really makes me sad is that it won't be long before the young generation will have no idea how things used to be. In my humble opinion the problem with society today is that nobody has a connection anymore. There's no community roots because commercialism encourages the pursuit of one's own interests. Every place starts to look like every other place. There's nothing to distinguish anywhere as "our" place to take pride in. Families pursue separate goals. It's easy for people to be self absorbed, rude, and selfish. Once in their cars the effect is magnified. Cars are just another way for people to cut themselves off physically from others.

Wow! I really didn't mean to go off onto that tangent!

Back to the ride.

Here's another example of the insidious creeping of modernization on our rural landscape. This is a lovely motorcycle road. It winds through farm land worked by several Mennonite families. There's a few young boys in the clan. Many times in the late afternoons I'd ride this way on the way home from work. The boys would always wave as they played in the trees. If you look closely in the background you can see a big truck. Right smack dab in the middle of this peaceful landscape is the Interstate. It won't take much. An interchange here, a little shopping plaza there, and another dot springs up. One of a string of dots that soon become connected by urban sprawl.

The end of our ride saw us stopping at a little coffee shop in an out-of-the-way cluster of small buildings. We'd been trying to avoid any road bigger than one lane in each direction. When we pulled in and saw the three state patrol cars I figured somebody had seen me coming and made a call. False alarm. It was just three officers who had gotten tired of busy roads and were looking for the same peaceful respite we were. The proprietor was trying to unload some of the day's pastry. Buy a pecan sticky roll and the coffee was free. He'd even heat up the roll! Such a deal. Take that, Jenny Craig, I mean, Katie. I'm getting more food!

The photo of Katie taken by the bike was just this side of the patrol cars. I'm actually standing by the bike as I photgraph the cars. Notice how dry it is by the cars? If you look at the picture of Katie you can see a water puddle right in front of the bike. It was like that all day. Wet here, dry there. Made for some interesting contrasts in judging how much traction I had to play with. Like I say, a weird weather day.

Sunday brought another heavy storm so we huddled up and watched football all day. Accompanied by more heavy eating, of course. You'd think I'd learn. At least I had pleasant memories of our ride for fun and relaxation on Saturday. So far we can still find peace on our favorite roads. I just wonder how long it will last.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

One more thing to make you laugh!

If you're sitting around with relatives digesting a good meal and you're having trouble explaining just how warped commuting motorcyclists are, here's a story. Maybe it will help. I came across it on a forum in Edmonton. Just wanted to share it with you. This is a time for happiness and fun.

The story:

Once a man found himself stranded on a tropical island. Years and years passed and still he was stranded and alone.

One day he was watching the horizon and saw a small dark spot. First he thought it was a ship but the spot just didn't seem to be large enough. So he figured it was a boat. Either way, it would work for him if he got off the island. Still, the spot seemed to stay small even though it was getting nearer. The man decides to just wait and see what emerges from the ocean.

Turns out to be a beautiful blonde woman in a wet suit and scuba gear. He watches as she walks onto the sand and pulls the diving gear off. Looking at him she asks,

"How long has it been since you've had a cigarette?"

"Ten years", he replies.

The blonde reaches for a zipper on the left side of her wet suit. She slides it down and pulls out a waterproof pouch with a package of cigarettes in it. Handing one to the man along with a lighter, he lights up. His eyes roll with the pleasure of the smoke as he exhales.

"How long has it been since you've had a drink of whiskey?", she next asks.

"Ten years", he replies.

The blonde reaches for a zipper on the right side of her wet suit. She slides it down and pulls out a waterproof pouch with a flask in it. She offers the flask to the man who takes a long swig. His eyes roll with the pleasure of the whiskey warming his insides on the way down.

Now the blonde reaches for the top of the long zipper of her wet suit. As she slowly slides the zipper down the front of her suit she looks into his eyes and asks the man,

"How long has it been since you've had some real fun?"

The man's eyes get wide and an excited look crosses his face.

"My God, don't tell me you've got a motorcycle in there!?"

Miles and smiles,

Holiday humor!

Work off a few calories by having a good laugh. This is not of my origination. A comment on Gary's blog sparked me to blow the dust off this story and share it with you. Some of you may have seen it before but it's always good for a chuckle and some mental imagery. Have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy family as you're able!

Written by Daniel Meyer, author of a book called "Life is a Road, the Soul is a Motorcycle".

DISCLAIMER: If you're drinking something, put it down for the duration.

You've been warned. All punctuation errors, format, etc. are as I found 'em.


I never dreamed slowly cruising through a residential neighbourhood could be so incredibly dangerous!

Studies have shown that motorcycling requires more

decisions per second, and more sheer data processing

than nearly any other common activity or sport. The

reactions and accurate decision making abilities

needed have been likened to the reactions of fighter

pilots! The consequences of bad decisions or poor

situational awareness are pretty much the same for

both groups too.

Occasionally, as a rider I have caught myself starting

to make bad or late decisions while riding. In flight

training, my instructors called this being "behind the

power curve". It is a mark of experience that when

this begins to happen, the rider recognizes the

situation, and more importantly, does something about

it. A short break, a meal, or even a gas stop can set

things right again as it gives the brain a chance to

catch up.

Good, accurate, and timely decisions are essential

when riding a motorcycle, at least if you want to

remain among the living. In short, the brain needs to

keep up with the machine.

I had been banging around the roads of east Texas and

as I headed back into Dallas, found myself in very

heavy, high-speed traffic on the freeways. Normally,

this is not a problem, I commute in these conditions

daily, but suddenly I was nearly run down by a cage

that decided it needed my lane more than I did. This

is not normally a big deal either, as it happens

around here often, but usually I can accurately

predict which drivers are not paying attention and

avoid them before we are even close. This one I missed

seeing until it was nearly too late, and as I took

evasive action I nearly broadsided another car that I

was not even aware was there!

Two bad decisions and insufficient situational

awareness, all within seconds. I was behind the power

curve. Time to get off the freeway.

I hit the next exit, and as I was in an area I knew

pretty well, headed through a few big residential neighbourhoods as a new route home. As I turned onto the nearly empty streets I opened the visor on my full-face helmet to help get some air. I figured some slow riding through the quiet surface streets would give me time to relax, think, and regain that "edge" so frequently required when riding.

Little did I suspect.

As I passed an oncoming car, a brown furry missile

shot out from under it and tumbled to a stop

immediately in front of me. It was a squirrel, and

must have been trying to run across the road when it encountered the car. I really was not going very fast, but there was no time to brake or avoid it-it was that close.

I hate to run over animals.and I really hate it on a motorcycle, but a squirrel should pose no danger to me. I barely had time to brace for the impact.

Animal lovers, never fear. Squirrels can take care of themselves!

Inches before impact, the squirrel flipped to his

feet. He was standing on his hind legs and facing the

oncoming Valkyrie with steadfast resolve in his little

beady eyes. His mouth opened, and at the last possible

second, he screamed and leapt! I am pretty sure the

scream was squirrel for, "Banzai!" or maybe, "Die you gravy-sucking, heathen scum!" as the leap was spectacular and he flew over the windshield and impacted me squarely in the chest.

Instantly he set upon me. If I did not know better I

would have sworn he brought twenty of his little

buddies along for the attack. Snarling, hissing, and

tearing at my clothes, he was a frenzy of activity. As

I was dressed only in a light t-shirt, summer riding

gloves, and jeans this was a bit of a cause for

concern. This furry little tornado was doing some damage!

Picture a large man on a huge black and chrome

cruiser, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and leather

gloves puttering maybe 25mph down a quiet residential street.and in the fight of his life with a squirrel. And losing.

I grabbed for him with my left hand and managed to

snag his tail. With all my strength I flung the evil

rodent off the left of the bike, almost running into

the right curb as I recoiled from the throw.

That should have done it. The matter should have ended

right there. It really should have. The squirrel could

have sailed into one of the pristinely kept yards and

gone on about his business, and I could have headed

home. No one would have been the wiser.

But this was no ordinary squirrel. This was not even

an ordinary pissed-off squirrel.

This was an evil attack squirrel of death!

Somehow he caught my gloved finger with one of his

little hands, and with the force of the throw swung

around and with a resounding thump and an amazing

impact he landed square on my back and resumed his

rather anti-social and extremely distracting

activities. He also managed to take my left glove with him!

The situation was not improved. Not improved at all.

His attacks were continuing, and now I could not reach him.

I was startled to say the least. The combination of

the force of the throw, only having one hand (the

throttle hand) on the handlebars, and my jerking back unfortunately put a healthy twist through my right hand and into the throttle. A healthy twist on the throttle of a Valkyrie can only have one result. Torque. This is what the Valkyrie is made for, and she is very, very good at it.

The engine roared as the front wheel left the

pavement. The squirrel screamed in anger. The Valkyrie

screamed in ecstasy. I screamed in, well, I just plain screamed.

Now picture a large man on a huge black and chrome

cruiser, dressed in jeans, a slightly squirrel torn

t-shirt, and only one leather glove roaring at maybe

70mph and rapidly accelerating down a quiet

residential street.on one wheel and with a demonic

squirrel on his back. The man and the squirrel are

both screaming bloody murder.

With the sudden acceleration I was forced to put my

other hand back on the handlebars and try to get

control of the bike. This was leaving the mutant

squirrel to his own devices, but I really did not want

to crash into somebody's tree, house, or parked car.

Also, I had not yet figured out how to release the

throttle, my brain was just simply overloaded. I did

manage to mash the back brake, but it had little

affect against the massive power of the big cruiser.

About this time the squirrel decided that I was not

paying sufficient attention to this very serious

battle (maybe he is a Scottish attack squirrel of

death), and he came around my neck and got IN my

full-face helmet with me. As the faceplate closed

partway and he began hissing in my face I am quite

sure my screaming changed tone and intensity. It

seemed to have little affect on the squirrel however.

The rpm's on The Dragon maxed out (I was not concerned

about shifting at the moment) and her front end

started to drop.

Now picture the large man on the huge black and chrome

cruiser, dressed in jeans, a very ragged torn t-shirt,

and wearing one leather glove, roaring at probably

80mph, still on one wheel, with a large puffy

squirrel's tail sticking out his mostly closed

full-face helmet. By now the screams are probably

getting a little hoarse.

Finally I got the upper hand. I managed to grab his

tail again, pulled him out of my helmet, and slung him

to the left as hard as I could. This time it

worked, sort-of. Spectacularly sort-of, so to speak.

Suddenly a large man on a huge black and chrome

cruiser, dressed in jeans, a torn t-shirt flapping in

the breeze, and wearing one leather glove, moving at

probably 80mph on one wheel, and screaming bloody

murder roars by and with all his strength throws a

live squirrel grenade directly into your police car.

I heard screams. They weren't mine...

I managed to get the big motorcycle under directional

control and dropped the front wheel to the ground. I

then used maximum braking and skidded to a stop in a

cloud of tire smoke at the stop sign at a busy cross street.

I would have returned to fess up (and to get my glove

back). I really would have. Really. But for two

things. First, the cops did not seem interested or the slightest bit concerned about me at the moment. One of them was on his back in the front yard of the house they had been parked in front of and was rapidly crabbing backwards away from the patrol car. The other was standing in the street and was training a riot shotgun on the police cruiser.

So the cops were not interested in me. They often

insist to "let the professionals handle it" anyway.

That was one thing. The other? Well, I swear I could

see the squirrel, standing in the back window of the

patrol car among shredded and flying pieces of foam

and upholstery, and shaking his little fist at me. I

think he was shooting me the finger.

That is one dangerous squirrel. And now he has a

patrol car.

I took a deep breath, turned on my turn-signal, made

an easy right turn, and sedately left the neighborhood.

As for my easy and slow drive home? Screw it. Faced

with a choice of 80mph cars and inattentive drivers,

or the evil, demonic, attack squirrel of death...I'll

take my chances with the freeway. Every time.

And I'll buy myself a new pair of gloves. ___________________________

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, November 21, 2006


I started to post about something else today. When I sat down to the keyboard suddenly everything went horribly wrong. Stuff from this morning's ride to the office just wanted to come tumbling out. I found myself really trying to type what I had intended to post. Sentences started out one way but finished up as something totally different. Finally, with an exasperated sigh and a shrug of my shoulders I just gave in.

This isn't any news to you all, but Turkey day is right upon us. As a result I'm not having much luck hooking up with customers. No harm, no foul. There's a ton of little stuff just begging me to sit at a desk and take care of. After spending three and a half years chained to a desk I've become understandably "desk shy". Biting the bullet, I decided to come to the office and resign myself to my fate.

On a lark I decided to ride the CBR. It's a totally awesome bike. The comfort level's not up to regular 180 mile commutes, though. I bought a Corbin seat not long after I purchased the bike. That helped a lot as the stock seat was a board with a thin piece of vinyl on it. Ok, maybe it's not the bike so much as my aging back. Whatever. Bring on the "old guy" jokes. Just remember that old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill every time! Since most of my riding has become either long distance, utilitarian, or both, the little 600 sits way too much. Too bad I didn't pick a better day weatherwise to ride.

I think what I really needed today was a jet ski. Better yet, an amphibious vehicle with armor. Even more satisfying if it had a roof-mounted RPG launcher.

Another storm was pounding us last night and this morning. When I say "pound" I mean that literally. The wind was blowing the rain sideways. Hoping to avoid as many idiots as possible this morning, I left a little before 6 AM. It was still very dark.

I had to laugh at our poor cat as I left home. She's old and stubborn. They say pets become like their owners after a while. She's been in the family for over seventeen and a half years. This cat's always insisted on being let outside when we go to bed. I finally built her a little house-type shelter outside. We're never sure what she's up to all night but she's always there making a ruckus to get back in the house early in the morning. That sort of takes me on a side track here.

Cats are a lot different than dogs. Just about anything a dog does you can watch. Intimate stuff and all. Cats, on the other hand, are a little more furtive. You can hear them but really never see them. Come to think of it, cats are a lot like commuter motorcyclists. You know they're raising hell but you can never catch them at it!

So back to my cat. As I''m leaving I see her walking up to the porch. The wind's coming from her tail end. It's a strong wind, full of rain. Have you ever seen a cat with all the fur going the wrong direction as it's being blown toward her head? Pretty funny sight.

I quit laughing as I face the wind's fury myself. You've probably noticed that the weather protection's a little more sparse on the CBR. It's a light little bike. Honda claims a dry weight of around 370 pounds. My 180 pounds help anchor the bike somewhat. Not enough, it seems, this morning. Not long before I reached the freeway I got hit by a strong gust of wind. I really mean it when I say "hit". One second I'm tooling along in the left lane minding my own business. The next second I feel this huge impact on my left side. I'm also now in the right lane. Seriously. It was like someone just swatted me aside. Thank goodness nobody else was already there! I have to admit I almost turned around and considered other options. Did I say my cat was stubborn like her owner?

Figuring the wind would be at my back for the trip North, we continued on and went for it. If only Mother Nature was all we had to contend with. Is there something about nasty weather that pulls all the idiots out of hiding? Is it like wet ground that brings out nightcrawlers? Is it like a light that attracts bugs? Whatever the reason, idiots abounded.

There's too many examples to list here. Yes, it was THAT kind of morning. How do these drivers figure they can do 85 and 90 when it's raining so hard you can't see? What is it about standing water on the freeway that makes them think they can plane on top like a boat if only they get up enough speed? Why do they look so stinkin' surprised when they inevitably crash? Why can't they crash someplace out of my way? It's bad enough to deal with them when they're moving. Now I gotta sit in a traffic jam while they pull your sorry ass out of your crumpled vehicle?

Did you ever think you could wear out your brakes on the freeway? Stop and go. Stop and go. If the air flow from riding isn't there because you're not actually riding, guess where all the water running off your helmet goes? If you guessed down the back of your jacket you win the prize. One of the casualties actually caused me to cheer, though. It was a light blue mini Cooper with a white roof. The guy driving went from tailgater to roadblock. I didn't enjoy either role he played but he sort of made his own mess. There were two accidents in the first 18 miles. We're just getting started.

Say what you will about listening to music while you ride, I had tucked a little radio into my tank bag. A small bud speaker was in one ear. On days like this I like the extra information about the route I'm headed for. In this case, I got a little advance notice about a truck wreck. Seems this truck driver had managed to find himself with something other than the shiny side up. As you can see, the tractor ended up separated from the trailer. The freeway's three lanes in either direction. The carnage has two lanes each way blocked. These photos are from a news station's website.

Thanks to the radio station I was able to avoid being stuck in this mess for more than a little while. Since I know some back roads I got off the freeway and joined back up farther North. By the way, if you were looking for some topping for your Thanksgiving pie look at the cargo.

That's cases of whipped cream in spray cans. Whether you wanted dessert topping or fuel for erotic adventures, there was plenty scattered over the roadway!

I imagine the road would have been a little slick if I had gone through. If I'd have fallen over I could have licked the pavement while I was down there. Hope it was low fat! Ok, I know that's weird but whipped cream does that to me.

Needless to say, with the population and traffic getting denser the farther North I went, the worse the situation got. There will never be a shortage of idiots. Lost a couple? It's ok, we got lots more to send in. Send in the next wave!

It ended up taking me almost three hours to travel the 90 miles to the office. Today was a little on the extreme side. Maybe I should have travelled by car. No. Battled tested skills and reflexes only get that way by actually being in battles. It will be an interesting winter for commuting on a bike. I'll try to stay sharp and prepared. This is the kind of stuff we face when we decide to commute. It's part of the calculated risk we accept. Besides, we can't always predict what's going to happen. Nor can we avoid bad weather entirely. Better to embrace the chances to hone our skills while we can.

Consider this. Suppose we decide never to ride in really inclement weather. For the most part we might avoid the bad stuff. What if the weather's decent in the morning but turns nasty while we're at the office? If we've purposely sought out the learning experiences on our terms then it's no big deal. Much better than having to just jump in and cope with very little practice.

Here's a couple of tips for dealing with really inclement weather like the heavy rain and darkness.

It is critical to be visible to other drivers. If you're having trouble seeing, cagers are having it just as bad or worse. Retroflective gear like a vest works great. Standard reflective stuff will reflect the light at an angle equal to the attack plane. Retroflective sends the light right back to the source no matter which direction it originated from. Much more effective. I know a motorcyclist's favorite color is black. We're hard enough to see, so let's camouflage ourselves. On the other hand I know folks don't want to go around looking like Big Bird. I can hear you telling me that you still need to have your style. I also know it's critical to be visible. There's ways to keep the style and still be visible. There's vests, halos for helmets, etc. Some of the new retroflective things look like carbon fiber in the daytime. Check them out.

In heavy rain stay away from standing water as much as possible. Can you say "hydroplane"?Ride in the tracks where the vehicle's tires ahead of us have pushed the water aside. Just don't get too close because it takes longer to stop.

When you pass big trucks, don't linger unless you can hold your breath and steer blindly for long periods of time. Hold back until there's room to quickly go by. Being on the receiving end of truck tire induced showers isn't a great way to stay safe. When they pass through puddles a lot of water flies. Also remember that trucks have huge blind spots and it's worse in heavy rain and darkness. We did a test once with a truck pulling a 53 foot trailer. We were able to hide 28 bikes in all the blind spots of the truck. Even though the 28 bikes were there, sitting in the cab and looking in the mirrors, not a single one was visible! If you can't see a driver's eyes in their sideview mirror they can't see you. Get around quickly and cleanly.

In case I don't get a post in tomorrow, Happy Thanksgiving!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, November 17, 2006

Random stuff
A break from the rain.

The Weather Gods are showing some benevolence for a while. Wednesday night brought another nasty storm. It was a tough ride home, but, hey, the good stuff never comes easily, does it? Thursday brought some clearing of the skies. It's almost like the Gods felt badly about what they'd done and were trying to make up for it. Not that they care about us, so much. It's more like they're trying to do some image repair work. Either way, I'll take it.

There was actually some sunshine on Thursday afternoon! I had a meeting in Portland which got over about 2 PM. The only other thing I really had going was to teach class in Salem at 5. Took advantage of the time to go explore. This is a picture of Peterson Butte near Lebanon. It's the highest point around. From this distance the butte looks serene. If you look more closely, you'll see all the cell phone and other communication towers.

A lot of life's like that, isn't it? If you don't look too closely things appear ok. Only when you look more deeply do you see the faults and troubles. Maybe that's why so many people choose to be oblivious. They just don't want to see the unpleasant side of things. It's kind of like one of those "If I don't see it, it's not real" kind of things. Personally, I find that a shameful way to live. On the flip side, not looking too closely also blinds one to the good stuff you only find after a good hard look. One of my probably worn out expressions is "A lot of life happens beneath the surface". My kids are tired of hearing it but I still think it's good counsel!

Those of us who are serious commuters have chosen to be involved. We insert ourselves more fully into what's around us. So much of riding carries over into life. We want to live fully and make a difference during the journey. A motorcycle is a vehicle in more ways than one.

Commuter traffic.

I'm getting pretty sick of the herd mentality among the cagers. So many times lately I've had drivers just pull out in front of me like I wasn't there. I've watched them do it to each other, as well. It's like there's no conscious thought going on at all. Every day I see things over and over again that confirms my belief that people are getting stupider all the time. Individuals are intelligent. People as a group, however, are acting more like dumb cows all the time.

Don't believe me?

Did you see the news about all the people waiting in line for days to buy the new Playstation? How much more easily manipulated can they be? Isn't there anything useful or intelligent they need to tend to?

Did you hear of the case in Spokane, Washington?

A 56 year old man named Clifford Lee Helm has pleaded not guilty to five counts of vehicular homicide and one count of vehicular assault. Evidence is pretty conclusive that he was talking on his cell phone when his pickup crossed the centerline on Highway 395 North of Spokane. He drove 244 feet in the wrong direction and smashed into another truck coming the other way. The other truck had a father and his five children in it. The kids were from 2 to 12 in age. All five youngsters were killed and the father was seriously injured.

Washington State Patrol investigators say there's no evidence that alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medicines, medical conditions, or mechanical failure contributed to the crash. It was just some dumbass driver without any sense talking on his precious phone that caused the tragedy. Oh, and get this; the dude's free on bail pending trial. One of the conditions of his release is that he not have his cell phone turned on while he's driving! If those were my kids that cell phone would inserted in his cranial cavity and Mr. Helm would be a resident of Hell. I wonder if they have cell reception down there? Can you hear me now, Clifford?

Sorry, I shouldn't have gotten started. It just hits me so wrong that people show such little regard for others in the course of their own selfish journeys. The bad news is that we're out there with these creatures so much as we commute. Keep your swords sharp. Stupidity is more dangerous than anything else, I think.
By the way, Jimmy Buffet has a new album out called "Take the Weather with You". There's a very humerous poke at cell phone users in one of the cuts.

Enthusiastic students

I just can't believe how many people are still coming through our classes. It looks like we will have over 7,000 students between all our courses this season. Last year we were at 6,736 students. That's with about 130 instructors. None are full time. We all have other jobs or college to attend to.

Where are all these students coming from? Classes fill as soon as they're on the schedule. We're having a hard time keeping up. Interestingly, I don't really see that many more bikes on the road. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty much alone at the moment. You'd think that putting several thousand new riders on the streets every year would swell the number of bikes out on the roads. I just don't see it. Maybe it's one of those things where the initial enthusiasm wears off quickly. Only those who really blossom into riding stay around.

That happens with our instructors. We run between 36 and 40 new instructors through the process each year. Some stay and some wander away. Life happens to the rest and things change. Little by little our numbers are growing, but it's a slow process. I'm pretty sure the same thing happens with riders.

This is my last class of the year. Last night was the first classroom session. Twelve more folks to share the experience with. It's almost the end of November, for crying out loud! Doesn't matter. Smiling faces show up in class ready to go. The end of the season is kind of a bittersweet thing. On the one hand, it's a letdown to be done for a few months. On the other, I have to admit I'm getting tired!! The very last classes this year are scheduled for the first weekend of December. They're full of students, too. Maybe I can find a way to sneak into one. Any instructors wanting time off or feeling a little sick?

Our banquet's Saturday night so that should be fun. We always come away with something new like sweatshirts or jackets. I'll have a chance to enjoy some time with the kids and Katie over the holidays. For the first time in forever I'll have the whole week off between Christmas and New Years. I wonder if they remember who I am? January will bring planning for the next season's training. Classes will start up sometime in February. So the break won't be too long! Just long enough for us to forget how tired we are from this year.

This class is shaping up with some intersting stories. Maybe I'll post some of those later.

Military casualties on bikes

Capping off the Veteran's Day weekend thing, here's a couple of links that make interesting reading if you have some time.

Kids are coming back from battle and dying on bikes. In large numbers.

Coming attractions

I've been taking some pictures of different things for later. It's probably about time to do a post or two on braking. I was going to finish the cornering post but decided to wait until spring. It would be better to have it closer to when more riders are actually out strafing corners in better weather.

In the meantime, I want to do some stuff on dealing with conditions we face this Winter as we steadfastly and happily commute.

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oh, sh#*t, Sunday!

My blogging days almost came to an end late Sunday afternoon. Actually, that wouldn't be the only thing that ended, if you catch my drift. Much to the dismay of my detractors, I'm still here. A lot of luck and some deeply ingrained skills helped save my sorry butt. The reason I put it this way is that it was sort of my fault. Not the circumstances themselves, but my lack of awareness as to exactly what was going on. I always stress to my students that when a rider's on a bike their head's got to be focused on managing risk. I violated my own rule. It was Veteran's Day Weekend. I had been involved in a mental trip all day. A mental trip that took my head away from riding. It was nearly a one-way trip.

This will be long journey. Please use the restroom before we leave. It may be dark along the way. War and things related to war can be like that. Rather than avoid the unpleasantness, the best thing mankind can do is remember and reflect. Those who paid the price to serve their country shall not have done so in vain.

Saturday had dawned on a rare weekend off. Our town has one of the largest Veteran's Day parades in the West. Katie and I had gone to watch and then done some errands together. Sunday was my day for what's become a yearly ritual. This blog isn't about war and the Military, though I have pretty strong feelings. A certain war will be burned into my psyche until I die. I believe strongly in our country and duty. But I won't write of such things here. This is a motorcycling blog, after all. Sunday the two came together to form bad chemistry.

Sunday's ride wasn't to work. It was actually a ride to forget work and lose myself in something else. I had rounds to make and respects to pay. It started off dry but conditions deteriorated all day until the skies opened up. Our local weather guessers had predicted torrential rains with a high wind warning. Gusts up to 50 mph were expected. All this was supposed to happen about 10 PM. The guessers were wrong.

In a fit of mischief the Weather Gods brought the storm much earlier. It was to be much worse than predicted. In the morning hours as I set out on my mission I was blissfully ignorant of what was in store. It would not be my only sin of ignorance that day.

Sunday started as early as possible considering how late the sun comes up these days. Official sunrise isn't until 7:10. I wanted to take a picture at Gramp's grave so I lingered over an extra cup of coffee. The sun's low in the Southern skies. Surprisingly, it was even peeking between clouds when I arrived at the gravesite.

This was a weekend to remember veterans. Gramp had been in the military. I think it was a case of the army or jail. I heard a lot of stories about how he and assorted young bucks tried to out "macho" each other. Being soldiers and cops was something we could share that gave us an extra bond. HIs grave was first on my list of stops to pay respect and honor memories.

There really isn't any hidden symbolism in the picture of my helmet by the headstone. Nor is there any particular artistic merit in the picture up top. Actually, the idea just kind of came to me after I'd cleared out some leaves and put some new flowers down. The grass was pretty wet so I put the towel down under my helmet.

All I can say is that I wanted to capture images of two things dear to me. Gramp never personally made the switch from horses to bikes. Still, he helped me find opportunities to ride when he saw how hooked I was. I still have riding in my life but miss Gramp terribly.

I had to hit the road. There was a little over 80 miles to my next stop. Plenty of time to reflect on memories. Too much time, actually. With the memories came some strong emotions. The mental state was starting to go someplace at cross purposes with riding. Nonetheless, I brushed it off. I knew what was coming mentally. I'd been there before. The mental state was the purpose of the ride. Four decades of riding combined with commuter battle experience should compensate, right? Radar scans are so deeply ingrained that habit should carry me through. Today there would be a bogey on the radar screen.

Next stop was Willamette National Cemetery in Clackamas. WNC was set up under the Department of Veteran's Affairs. Veterans and their families could be interred here. Some here were K.I.A. ( killed in action ) but most came out of the service and lived civilian lives until their death. The first burial happened in 1951. Today there's over 125,000 at rest there. WNC covers about 249 acres of a hillside. A relative and a couple friends of mine are buried there. I've had a few students in my classes who wanted to be a part of the Patriot Riders. These are the motorcycle escort folks made up of vets who keep war protesters at bay during military funerals. I looked up a couple gravesites. Russ is here. You may remember that he was my friend and fellow instructor who died on his bike this year.

By now the rain had started. I was planning on taking a picture or two but was stymied on a couple of counts. How do you take a picture that does this place justice? When the weather's clear this cemetery is a beautiful place despite its purpose. The Big City of Portland can be seen down the hill. Today the rain and clouds made it all look so depressing. The rechargeable batteries in my camera showed fully charged but had expired after the few pictures I took at Gramp's headstone. Screw it. This really wasn't a photo-op ride, anyhow. Wandering among the markers and thinking about how many people had been laid to rest here was mentally staggering. I was falling farther into the emotional state that started earlier. I don't know why it was hitting me so hard this year. There's just been too many tragic deaths around me lately, I guess. Some you read about here, some you didn't. You put on a brave front but inside things aren't as tough as you'd like others to believe. The pump was primed and the flow started.

Coming off the hill I headed over the river into the Big City. Sophie and I were on the far East side. My next stop was clear over on the West side near the Portland Zoo, a trip of around 30 miles. There's a replica of the Vietnam Wall. The difference is that the names inscribed are of Oregon soldiers who were killed in action. There is a power to this wall that pretty much pushed me off the edge mentally.

I know it seems impossible if you haven't felt it for yourself. Just the sheer number of names can be sobering. Here in the rain there were few visitors. Those of us there were quiet and somber. It's not a place of cheer and happiness. I put my hands on the wall and shut my eyes. Before long I was in another time and place. Intense, intense, intense. I had to shut it down.

A fat man with a straggly beard came over to me. I was still kind of dazed and sort of brushed him off. He looked like one of those panhandler transients. When I looked into his eyes they were blank. Not blank like a lack of intelligence. More like he just didn't give a damn about anything anymore. He told me his name was Charles Bronson. Seriously. Drafted in 1967. We walked back to the parking area. His car was a rusty old Cadillac. From a bag in the seat he pulled out two Silver Stars, a Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, and an Air Medal. Most who served in-country came out with Purple Hearts. It was a dangerous place, after all. This guy paid his dues and then some. He was within 10 days of being rotated out when a RPG exploded and blistered him with shrapnel. Charles got a helo medevac ride out then shipped home a little early.

The guy didn't look like he ever really got past the experience. He's got plenty of company. I was thinking about him, those like him, their families, those who didn't come back, and more. What makes the difference between coming back and moving on or being forever scarred like Charles? Beneath it all ran the haunting melody of war and the dark things that come with it. I shouldn't have been on the bike. What did I do? I made it worse.

Rumor had it that there was a display in a place on the North side of the Big City. This one was dedicated to Operation Enduring Freedom, the mid-east conflict. After Sunday it would be packed up. The weather was getting far worse. Sundown wasn't all that far off now. Official sunset is at 4:45. Despite that, I felt compelled to go. This was a trip to pay respects to veterans. Especially to those who paid the ultimate price. There was no choice. The mission must be fully carried out.

This display was the most haunting of all if you have any capacity for empathy at all. It was a simple affair of a few standing partitions. On the partitions were neatly arranged white cards. They were about the size of a standard sheet of paper laid on its side. The cards were arranged by month and year. Each card bore six pictures; face shots from military ID's. A brief bio ended with a date of death. All were considered to have been killed in the line of duty. Altogether there were 2,801 photos. I looked at each and every face. It was hard to describe seeing those faces and knowing that they were no longer with us. Large numbers are one thing. Looking at a face makes it much more personal. For the most part they were kids. The age of my boys. As a human and a father it was disturbing. I'm a patriot, I just hate the costs involved.

One boy in particular caught my eye. His name was Tyler. In one of those strange things that work out in life, his family had lived next door to mine when Tyler was a little boy. My two oldest boys were just a little older than Tyler. Tyler would stand on top of his parent's car and call over to the house. "Hey boys! Can you play?" Many years and one state later we ended up within a few miles of each other again. Who ever thought that hyperactive little nut would turn out to be such a fine young man? A young man who took a sniper's bullet to the head in Iraq.

So now you know my mental state when I set out for home on the bike. I was lost in another world. This year things had become so much more personal that I was totally absorbed. I set off home and then I met The Bridge.

Meet Portland's Marquam Bridge. The Willamette River bisects Portland. There's a series of bridges that span the river and connect the city's halves. This one also happens to carry Interstate 5 across. Sorry for the blurry picture. I came back later to try to get a photo. Northbound traffic uses the top deck. Southbound uses the bottom deck. North is to the right in the picture. My experience started over there. Here's a closer look at the road surface.

It's from a building next to the bridge. You can't imagine how hard it was to get a clear shot with no cars! Traffic flows from right to left. Just after this stretch the road opens up to four lanes and heads up over the arch of the bridge. Just before this stretch is a place where traffic bottlenecks. Like many big cities, a lot of traffic has to cross to get where the drivers need to go. In front of the Rose Quarter where the Portland Jail Blazers, er, sorry, I meant the Trail Blazers, play, traffic from downtown needs to get onto the freeway. Right at the same spot freeway traffic needs to cross over to hit Interstate 84 which takes them to the suburbs out East. Which means that traffic crawls there.

By now the rain is quite heavy. As my friend from Wales says, "It's tipping buckets!" Not only that, but the wind's gusting along the river. Big gusts. It's dark. I'm crawling in traffic lost in my mental state and miserable in the weather.

Finally, the road and traffic start to open and we can go. I'm impatient to move and make up time. I've been later than I intended. I smell something that kind of burns my nose but figure it's coming from the paint plant under the bridge. My brain's too busy where it's at to really take time to figure out the reality. All I see is open space and I roll on the throttle. Suddenly, I'm fighting to keep the bike upright. The back end's way out there to the left. It's so bad I put my right foot down by reflex. I wrenched my hip and it still hurts to walk. Now my attentions' focused but I'm right in the middle of the battle zone without really being prepared. You see, it wasn't paint. It was a heavy fuel spill. Only now do I really focus and see the sheen on top of the water. Dumbass! Where was your head? You know where it was and it wasn't here, buddy! I'm not the only player in the game. There's cars spinning out all around me.

That's when I say "Oh sh#*t!!" What the heck do I do now? Traction is almost non-existent where I'm at. Not with rubber on water with a thick diesel fuel filling. I'm trying to get out of the way of the spinning cars. Visibility's horrendous with the rain and the darkness. Three rigs have hit concrete barriers. One little silver car looks like it's going to get me. I can't brake hard and I can't run. I brace myself to get hit. I figure it's going to hurt but I'm not jumping off the bike. In my mind I'm determined not to leave poor Sophie to her fate. If we go it's going to be together. By some miracle the car stops an inch short. I can barely see the driver's face but I can tell it's a woman.

I've been moving trying to avoid becoming a sitting target. Slowly and shakily. There's no place to go anyway. There's no shoulder to speak of. Just four lanes of traffic hemmed in by concrete and guardrails. Once over the rails it's open air and then the river. My salvation comes in the way of a dark colored small Toyota pickup. The driver's just ahead of me and seems to be moving along ok. I aim for the tire tracks where the water's been somewhat squeegee'd off. At the top of the bridge we see the tanker pulled off. The driver's doing something underneath the truck. I'm surprised the driver's even noticed the leak. A connection somewhere in the belly of the tank is leaking. Fuel's running down the bridge toward where we had come from. No wonder it hadn't washed off. A new supply kept running down the bridge.

I'm shaken up more than this tough old warrior cares to admit. I stay behind the Toyota for a while and follow it into the rest area down the road aways. There is an audible popping noise as I pry myself off the bike seat. The Toyota driver comes over and tells me he rides. He can't believe I made it through. He had put the little truck into four wheel drive. I was just really lucky. I made it home without further incident but fought the high winds and heavy rain all the way. I was totally wiped out when I got there.

Truth be told, I don't know for sure what I would have done had I been more tuned in. There was just no place to go. I could have tried to pull over to the small shoulder but it's about two feet wide. That stretch is a concrete canyon full of traffic. I do know for sure that I wasn't ready because my mind was far away. I was doing exactly what I've admonished countless students not to do. Don't ride if your head can't be in the journey. At least with more warning I wouldn't have rolled on the throttle so aggressively and gotten out of shape so badly. Bad enough to be in it without doing something to make it worse by your own actions.

I'm not proud of this. Even if it costs me some professional credibility I wanted to share it. Take this moral away with you. There's some basic truths involved in riding. None of us ever get too experienced or wise as riders to ignore these truths. I guess deep down I thought I could get away with it because of my experience. I almost didn't escape the consequences. It was an apparently much needed wake up call. We push and push the envelope sometimes. That's ok. Just don't forget to take the basic truths with you while you push on. There's a reason they're carved on stone tablets!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. I checked with ODOT later. The final score was 8 wrecked vehicles. Half had contact with each other, half with the guardrails. Sunday night the wind knocked down over a hundred trees on Hwy 18 which closed the road. One of my neighbors had a tree come down on their SUV. This storm caused a lot of damage all over. Gusts at the coast reached nearly 80. Cape Blanco had gusts up to 102 mph!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Passions, Part II

Last week I was writing about my trip to Swan Island. Despite pouring rain and primitive surroundings the enthusiasm level was unabated. What is it about riding and being a part of motorcycling that stirs such deep feelings?

Our students were on their own journeys which started in this parking lot. For the rest of us it was a chance to sharpen our swords. We're a group of long time riders and instructors. Like the students, all of us have our unique reasons for being on this pathway. What we have in common is our desire to strive for excellence in this journey. I'm there get a head start on a training program for our program's instructors which we'll implement next year. The out-of-state instructors are here to investigate a program that may be more useful to their riding students.

I guess I should go back to further clarify one statement I made in the preceding paragraph. I should say I'm STILL here because I found I couldn't give up teaching. You may remember recently I mentioned that I applied for a position with the Washington State Department of Licensing. The folks who administer Washington's motorcycle education programs work under the auspices of the DOL. I was actually offered the position. It would have been great to be working full time in motorcycle safety. The only catch was something I found out later in the process. So I turned it down.

Since Washington contracts out their training programs, as a representative of the DOL I would not have been allowed to teach students directly. There's that old favoritism thing when an administrator participates in a contractor's program. To avoid that situation, the DOL people can't teach, even for free. I found that I couldn't give up the teaching. The passion still burns too brightly, it seems. There's just too many things I'd miss.

Today I stopped at Safeway on the way home. Full gear and soaking wet. Katie's been filling in for someone and working longer days. I had a lighter day and decided to put a roast in the oven for supper tonight. Rhonda works in the floral department. As soon as she saw me she called out for me to come talk to her. Rhonda was one of my students in 2005. She's telling me about all the riding her and her husband did this summer. Rhonda was on her own bike. She started on a 650 V-Star and now has the 1100. Since she took the class she has 14,000 miles of riding. Her co-worker's husband was also one of my students. Now the co-worker wants to start riding, too. Their enthusiasm made my day. How could I give up this kind of thing, I ask you?

Our program is a single entity with a central administration. It's a lot more work for our Director but the situation makes it easier to keep reaching for higher standards.

Speaking of higher standards, passion's driven us to offer the best we can to our students. This is a brief history lesson in how Oregon's program got where we are today.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has been the entity to administer rider education. By this I mean that they are the ones who developed the programs and materials. States could purchase their materials and deliver the MSF's classes. A few years ago the MSF announced that they were coming out with a new beginning rider course. The way this announcement was delivered was to the effect that a state either needed to adopt or be left out in the cold. Materials for the previous courses would no longer be available after a time.

Oregon decided to check the new course out rather than just blindly adopt it. I had the privilege of being the chair of the task force that did the study. We field tested the new course and compared it with the course we were currently offering. Long story short, the recommendation of the task force was to not adopt the MSF's new curriculum. After studying the data it was clear to us that Oregon's riders wouldn't be well served.

Now we're between the proverbial rock and hard place. We can't stay with the old course because materials wouldn't be available. The new course just didn't cut it for us. The logical next step was to develop our own curriculum, which we did. Timing was such that we had a couple of years or so to do it in. The task was a heavy one but extremely interesting. Passion kept us going. We wanted our creation to serve the riders of Oregon to the best level possible. I sort of think we succeeded.

Despite some interesting exchanges with the MSF, the change has been a good one for us. Oregon has also been recognized nationally. Take a look at this link:

Being rated number one in the nation isn't a bad reward. Still, though, we're driven by a passion to serve our riders. They're still what's it all about.

Other states have expressed an interest in our curriculum. We're making it available with some stipulations on how it's implemented, etc. That's why these instructors were standing in the rain with us. These folks are the ones who will take this and make it theirs if it happens. It was fun to watch them step in and teach with Carol. The program was new to them but teaching surely wasn't. Their passion for sharing was extremely evident. For three of them, being administrators, it was the first time they'd been able to actually teach students in a long time. Picture a fine horse that's been hobbled for what seems like forever. Then picture taking the hobbles off and watching the horse revel in the pure joy of running again. It was so cool to see.

You know, we're so lucky to be a part of motorcycling in whatever capacity we find ourselves. There's riders who ride once in a while and decide that's not "good enough". More opportunities are found to go wear off some tire rubber. There's those who decide that commuting in a cage just isn't "good enough". We ride to work as much as possible. There's those who decide having a few skills just isn't "good enough". These ones seek out more training. There's rider trainers who decide that being average just isn't "good enough". Instead of settling for "good enough" they strive for excellence. Passion's a powerful force.

Like I asked before, what is it about motorcycling that stirs this passion in so many riders? There's no simple answer as you fully realize. Whatever the reasons, though, we're extremely fortunate to have found something to feel so deeply about. May you continue to find your passion for many more years and miles!

Miles and smiles,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Familiarity breeds....complacency?

I know I was supposed to put the conclusion to "Passion" in here. This just seemed too important to pass up. So I promise not to leave you hanging too long for part 2. Just let these couple of items give you some food for contemplation over the weekend.

Due to my involvement in motorcycle safety I have a lot of information forwarded to me. One of the things I've been seeing is a number of public service announcements from the U.K. dealing with motorcycles. Most are aimed at making motorists more aware of riders. This one is aimed squarely at us.

Commuters mostly ride the same routes every day. We see the same people, cars, bikes, and other things. Haven't you found it's so easy to see and yet not really "see"? Have you ever heard someone say they've ridden the same road so much they could do it blindfolded? In a figurative sense that happens more than we like to admit. Here's a link to the latest PSA I came across. The video is fairly short so it should load quickly. It has sound so listen as well as watch. It's not full of blood and guts but it can make you squirm a little to watch.

My purpose in sharing it is to remind all riders, and commuters most of all, to always stay on high alert no matter how "routine" the ride seems. It's literally the little things we miss or take for granted that can kill or mangle us.

On a lighter note, check out this link to a blog. It's for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. They have officers on Hyabusa's!

Take care. Ride safe and arrive alive. Have a super Veteran's Day weekend. Katie and I are going to our parade tomorrow. I'm going to spend some time living in old memories.

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Raining pineapples!

I may never be dry again. The other thing going through my mind is, "What in the world am I thinking?"

We are having a visit from what the weather guessers are calling "A Pineapple Express". Do they think that by calling it something tropical it will be more pleasant for us? Does it make you picture sitting on a beach with a drink that has a toy in it? Let me tell you right here and now. There's nothing pleasant about it. If you really stretch it I guess you could say that the fact it's not cold is a blessing. Some jet stream with a wicked sense of humor has gathered up a bunch of water along with warm air and dumped it on us. The very small good news is the mercury is sitting at around 65 degrees (f) in early November.

Five days now have seen heavy rain dumping on our heads. After working up to it for a couple of those days, things got serious. The 24 hour period ending Monday morning brought two and three quarters of an inch of rain. Then the storm put out a record-breaking effort. The next 24 hours ending at 8 AM this morning brought three and half inches. That breaks a record that's stood since 1906! The Pineapple Express is bad enough. Do you know what's even worse? I've been out in it for all five days. On a bike and in a parking lot. Three of those days were spent doing some training at a place called Swan Island. I'll post that pretty soon. Two of the days have been spent trying to navigate high water on a bike. Willingly, no less. You'd think some guys would get smart, wouldn't you?

These are a couple of intersections near my house. The one with the truck is one block South and one block West. Things just get worse from here. I can hear you thinking. What in the world is he doing in high water on a bike? Coincidentally, that's the very same question I keep asking myself.

It's, uhmmm, research. Yeah, that's it! I teach riders how to deal with treacherous conditions. How can I talk about it if I haven't done it? That makes it sound almost noble, doesn't it?

It wouldn't be because I'm crazy would it? Why are all these people in their cars looking at me like that? Haven't they ever seen a motorcyclist wading in the water to see how deep it is and what the pavement underneath looks like? I'm crazy but not stupid. I'd never go charging into high water with no attempt to know what's down there. The hardest part is finding a good place to park the bike while I look. Not all the roads are this flooded, of course. Still, there's a lot of standing water. Just enough to make you hydroplane, the Weather Gods say with an evil smirk.

I've spent some time taking pictures of different road conditions. Some I decided to save for a future post on how to deal with some things we find confronting us. I do have a couple of pictures of a wreck, though. Some of you are right, I do seem to attract drama. I was following this van.

You may be wondering how the front of this van got like this. The answer's pretty simple. No matter the weather or conditions, people still drive the same way. That would be with their heads inserted where the sun don't shine. As an example, yesterday I was sitting in my office listening to the radio. Some gal called in and said she was on I-5 near Centralia, Washington. She said it was raining so hard she couldn't see and that traffic was crawling along at 25 mph.

My first thought was wondering what in the H-E-double toothpicks she was doing on the cell phone!!!!

Here's the other participant in this chance meeting. I'm following the van at a reasonable distance for the circumstances. To my right I see this black SUV pull up to a stop sign. My SIPDE process is always in high gear. Here's a tip. Look at the front tire of a vehicle. You'll get the quickest clue as to what the cage is going to do. The front wheel will give you an indication of movement faster than other part of the car or truck. That's why those "spinner" type hub caps drive me absolutely freakin' crazy!

The front tire of the SUV starts to move. It seems like I'm the only one actually seeing anyone else. At the last minute the van driver starts to brake hard but it's too late. BAM!!! She hits the SUV hard enough to move it this far. You can just see the sidewalk on the left of the picture. The street is to the left of the sidewalk. Of course, the wet and slick road helps lube the SUV's slide pretty well. Amazingly, after stopping to help, I discover that neither driver is complaining of any sort of injury. The airbag of the van deployed which I'm sure helped a lot.

I was actually concerned about my own braking. Even though I was at a reasonable following distance and saw the event in its early stages, braking was tricky. There's been a few times when I've really wished I had bought an ST with ABS. Proud me, I didn't want ABS because it wasn't available without the linked brakes. Thumping my chest I proudly declared that I didn't want some damn computer dictating how my brakes would be applied! I use the rear brake as a rudder quite often, especially at low speeds. Sort of a leftover from racing. Next time I will go for the ABS in a heartbeat. To heck with trail braking. I'll get over it!

Riding this last few days has been an adventure, to say the least! Let me pause here to give you permission to park the bike in really adverse conditions. Nobody will think the worse of you, especially me. We all need to recognize our personal limits, the bike's limits, and the limits of the environment. Sometimes we just need to opt out of riding. Limits change day to day and it's ok to not ride if we aren't comfortable.

In my case, I've been pushing limits so long that I'm just in the habit. Maybe I'm just too proud to accept defeat. Am I really that good or just not gracefully accepting the limits that time is imposing on me? Long ago my boys hung the nickname of "Irondad" on me. It made me proud that my sons looked at me this way. Many men want to be considered as "tough". I've always had the reputation as a tough man cowboy. Time is slowly robbing me of some of that edge. Although I really don't care for Toby Keith, ( I think he's way too cocky for someone who just sings about things instead of doing them like we do ), I can identify with one of his songs. You know the one that says we're not as good as we once were but we're as good once as we always were? Sometimes I find that I'm still trying to be the reputation, if that makes any sense.

So far I'm still able to pull it off. I know one of these days my spirit is going to write a check my body can't cash. It's worth thinking about. We all have to ponder where that line is for us personally. Each of us has to make a personal decision in the matter. Other folks will have to respect that decision. In my opinion, this matter of declining abilities is what's fueling the surging popularity of trikes. They allow some of the same feelings of riding without having to worry about things like holding up a heavy bike.

For me personally, I just can't see a trike in my life. It would be more like hanging onto the fringes for me. Sort of there, but not really there. I don't do anything half way. I'll ride as long as I can. I just hope I have the wisdom to hang it up at exactly the right time. Not a minute too soon and not a minute too late.

In the meantime, I have to go dry out my gear. There's going to be a bunch more puddles to ride through tomorrow!

Miles and smiles,