Friday, December 29, 2006


In the last post I wrote about how the process of making New Year's resolutions for self-improvement is a flawed process. This, of course, is just my own opinion. However, I feel like I presented a logical basis for saying so.

Since this blog is called "Musings of an Intrepid Commuter" and not "Musings of an Intrepid Philosopher" one would expect the subject to come back around to motorcyles and riding. I finally accomplished that in the last part of the post. We talk about "surviving" as a rider. Staying alive and unscathed is a great thing. There's just so much more to riding.

It's that "so much more" part that keeps me motivated to keep working as a trainer. I have a full time career apart from teaching. I make a comfortable living. I could be enjoying weekends off. What it must be like to just go ride for pleasure every weekend! My kids are grown and out so Katie and I could be "footloose and fancy free". Yet I'm still drawn into teaching. I went to a meeting at a pizza parlor last night. It was held by the Operations Manager of our training program, Ron. Ron is the one who oversees the scheduling of teaching assignments. I know I'm wandering here but bear with me. Isn't that part of the awesome adventure of riding, anyway? Detouring down a little side road just to see where it goes?

The purpose of this meeting was to get the instructors from our Mid-Valley together for some fellowship and to sign up for this coming season's classes. Pizza was furnished by our program. By the way, I seemed to be the only one crazy enough to ride last night. I'd been out on the bike all day just enjoying being in the saddle. We're getting temperatures in the upper twenties and fog. Some of the roads were a little slick yesterday morning, but not too bad. So many people asked me if I was cold.

"Yeah, ain't it great to feel so alive?"

There was ice on the bike when I left for home about 9 PM after the meeting. This all had a point at one time, didn't it? Right. I've been meaning to scale back on the teaching. I say that every year. The time must not be right for that option, yet. Between my already-scheduled instructor training weekends and the classes I'm signed up for, it amounts to about thirty weekends in 2007. That doesn't include police or track training, either. Even so, I'm happy about it. I'm still passionate about sharing and feel something of a responsibility at the same time.

For me motorycling has been more than physical transportation. My various two-wheeled steeds have been conveyances into a richer and more meaningful life. I really want to help others find the same wonderful experiences I've had. Here's what I consider an important point, though. In order to be able to take advantage of the intangibles, mastery of the tangible is critical. Physical skills have to be developed to the point that they almost take a background role. If a rider has to concentrate so hard on just controlling the bike there's no room for anything else.

It reminds me of a GM truck commercial. Here's a line from the ad.

"Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong."

Cops have to reach this level. In order to successfully function while on patrol the physical skills really have to become second nature. Theirs is a special world unto itself.

Not everyone will take their skills to that kind of professional level. That's ok. I do think that everyone has a responsibility to keep improving upon their skills, though. It's like everything else in life. If you accept the role you accept the responsibility. Whether it involves parenting, medical careers, teaching, or whatever, the principle holds true in my mind.

Some people respond like Popeye in the picture above. The full expression goes like this:

"I yam what I yam and that's all I yam."

In Popeye's case, I think it's meant as being unpretentious. He's not putting on "airs" or trying to convince people he's something besides what he is. The same phrase can be used as a cop-out, too. Haven't you heard people say that others will just have to accept them the way that they are? That could mean that people need to learn to be more tolerant and understanding. It could also be used as an excuse for not trying in any way to make personal improvement. As a trainer I've heard so many excuses for why someone can't improve skills. It really should be phrased as "won't" improve. In most cases, it's because they aren't willing to pay the price.

This post is taking on a life of its own. I try to beat most posts into my own picture of what they should be. In this case, I'm compelled to let it have its head. ( that's a horse riding term ) I guess that means there's going to be one more part in this series. Next time I'm going to finish it up by writing more about the responsibility to improve our riding skills. We'll also explore the fact that there is, indeed, a price to be paid. The tender required takes many forms. Most people aren't willing to pay up and so remain forever mediocre. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Musings on Resolutions
This is an enhanced photo of the sun setting over Lake Superior.

It's that time of year again. With the sun setting on this year, folks are looking ahead to the New Year.
Out comes that list entitled "My New Year's Resolutions".

I've tried to warn you ahead of time of what to expect in this blog. That's why I chose to name it what I have. Sure, the blog's about riding to work. There's practical tips from a motorcycle commuter who's ridden a long time and is still here to tell about it. There's some street survival and riding tips from an experienced and seasoned professional trainer. I've tried to include some tales of adventure, some humor, and hopefully, some wisdom. That's the Intrepid Commuter part of the blog name.

Then there's that word: Musings. Here's some thoughts from Webster. ( you know, the dictionary guy? )

Musing: Thoughtfully abstracted: meditative

Muse: to become absorbed in thought, to turn something over in the mind meditatively

I like this statement in the dictionary: "a guiding genius." That's me, a guiding genius!

The long ride to work gives me plenty of time to think. We ride to work because being on the bike helps us to shed stress. Not only that, but it's a heck of a lot of fun! We ride because it puts us into an empowered state to understand this life. We find the perspective that helps us decipher what's really important. We find enrichment and enlightenment. It's from the resulting enlightenment that I offer this particular musing.

Every year about this time people start thinking about all the things they'd like to do or become. These are converted to "resolutions". Grabbing pen and paper, a list is duly created. The list is entitled "My New Year's Resolutions". Maybe it's shown off for a couple of days. It's usually based upon good intentions. Whatever. By the end of January or mid-February, the list has somehow gone out with the newspapers for recycling. Never to be seen or referred to again. I stopped participating in the process a long time ago. This kind of process for change just doesn't work. Think about two very important questions.

1. Am I wanting to do or become something to fit a mental picture that someone else has for

2. Am I wanting to do or become something to fill in or clarify my own mental picture?

The answers to these two questions are the crux of why New Year's resolutions don't work. If a person's answer to question number 1 is "yes", then it's doomed. Sooner or later the incongruity of being what someone else wants us to be will start a collapse. It may be sooner, it may be later, but the rebellion is inevitable.

On the other hand, what if the answer to question number 2 is "yes"? Chances are that we've already started the process to incorporate whatever qualities we desire into our life. In my own case I set long term goals. Then I back-fill in the steps needed to get there. I'm sure most of you do the same. So I'm already doing whatever it is I feel I need to do at the appropriate time.

You know darn good and well what my answer to question number 1 would be. Probably the same as yours. Isn't that another reason we ride? Thinking about being forced into someone else's ready-made "box" for us is totally unacceptable. Choosing two wheels over four is our way of proclaiming our independence in a civil but assertive way.

Read these quotations and see how you respond inside.

"Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth." John F. Kennedy

"Like all weak men he laid an exaggerated stress on not changing one's mind." W. Somerset Maugham

"In any great organization it is far, far safer to be wrong with the majority than to be right alone." J.K. Galbraith

How did you feel when you read these? I rest my case. Since we've already set our own course and have no intentions of conforming to someone else's pressures, there's no reason to bother with New Year's resolutions.

The desire to become a better rider starts a journey of self-improvement. There's some pitfalls and keys to success one should become familiar with in order to succeed. Stay tuned for the next installment.

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Eclectic offerings.

I've been gifted a few days to kick back and catch up on some time with Katie. Since the factories are closed down during this week for inventory, we've been given the week off as paid vacation. Still planning on doing some blog posts but just as I feel like it. This seems like a good chance to do a little catch up. There's a few things I've been saving back. Here they are for whatever benefit or amusement they provide for you all.

Anatomy of a high side.

This file is a pdf concerning a high-side incident suffered by an individual in the Armed Forces. Take away from it what you will. I can't stress enough the importance of good gear. By that I mean gear designed specifically for use while riding a motorcycle.

This incident was track oriented. As a street rider you probably won't find yourself sliding the rear wheel sideways in corners. At least you shouldn't. Using proper cornering technique, which includes setting the correct entry speed, will do a lot to keep a traction reserve. I'm not saying it will never happen. What I am saying is that most high-sides in street riding result from skidding the rear tire by over-applying the rear brake and then letting off again.

High-sides can happen at surprisingly low speeds. Have you ever heard the old wive's tale about not using the front brake hard for fear of throwing yourself over the handlebars? Motorcycles are not like bicycles. It's very hard to throw yourself off the front of a bike. Usually the front wheel will slide first. However, a high-side in an intersection incident can look like the rider came over the bars. This adds fuel to the dogma by those who don't understand what's really going on. Interestingly, it's a REAR brake thing, not a front brake thing.

In an ideal world the bike would skid with the front and rear wheels aligned. Unfortunately, things like crowned roads, weird handlebar inputs, looking to one side or the other, road surfaces, and so on, will cause the rear wheel to step out to one side. The bike continues to travel in whatever direction it was headed in before the rear tire locked up. The reason the rear tire hooks up again and causes the high-side is because the rider lets up on the rear brake. If this happens when the rear wheel's out of alignment with the front wheel, a high-side is likely.

The secret to reducing the likelihood of high-siding, then, is to keep the rear tire locked up and sliding. Keep your eyes up and looking well ahead. Keep the handlebars straight. Continue braking with the front brake. Leave the rear brake mashed until you stop.

It sounds simple. Riding has a way of throwing in complications. How much directional control does a rider have over the bike if the rear tire's skidding? Absolutely none. The bike may flop like a dying fish but will continue to travel in one direction. So what if we locked up the rear tire while setting up for a corner? We're going to have to let go of the rear brake at some point so we can make the corner. If we don't we'll just slide off the road. At higher speeds and in dicey traction situations, ( like wet roads ) the rear of the bike will tend to fishtail back and forth. When's the magic moment where we'll have the least chance of high-siding? When the front and rear wheels are as closely aligned with each other as possible.

Been there on a police motor during a pursuit. Got into a corner too hot on a wet road. Hard braking was inititated. I remember sitting there feeling the bike move under me and waiting for the wheels to align. Back and forth. Back and forth. Wait for it. Now! Knowing what to do and when to do it kept the shiny side up.

This is information to file on your mental index cards. Hopefully you'll never need it. If you ever do find yourself rapidly flipping through the cards looking for a quick solution, I hope this will help.

The ubiquitous "left-turning car".

Here's a link to a video that's now available on Oregon State DMV's website. It's aimed at drivers. The purpose is to make drivers aware of looking for motorcycles. You'll see the thrust when you watch the video.

Remember. No matter how imcompetent drivers are, it's our responsibility to take care of ourselves out there. Don't hide in traffic!

Just for fun.

Here's a video about Japanese motorcycle police officers. They're competing in a rodeo-type event on Honda VFR 800's. Some of the lack of technique makes me shudder as a professional trainer. It's still fun to watch. At the end of the video it shows a couple of crashes. The video's close to 7 minutes long but seems to load well.

Enjoy. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year's, and Seasons Greetings to everyone!

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Out in the storm.

8:20 PM. I hear "uh-oh!" and the line goes dead. Fast reverse to last Thursday when the big rain and wind storm hit. I'd been on the phone with Grandma. Our power went out a little before 6. I'd called Grandma to see how she was doing in the storm. Trouble is, she takes her hearing aids out and doesn't hear the phone. I'd finally made connections around 8. Now I'd lost her.

I was pretty sure where the problem was. Not long ago she'd gotten a new cordless phone. Don't ask me why. This woman has resisted any technology newer than the 50's for years. All of a sudden she had the urge for a cordless phone. We had some teething pains with it. There were just too many buttons to account for. For the first few conversations she'd been trying to make friends with the earpiece volume control. I'd hear a series of beeps and clicks. Then she'd say,

"Can I hear you now?" I don't know, you'll have to tell me!

I'd cautioned her to keep the old phone plugged in somewhere. With the cordless phone she'd be out of touch when the power went out. I was pretty sure that was exactly what had happened now. Still, I had to be sure. Grandma lives in Lebanon which is about a 25 minute ride for me. She's nearly 90 but insists on remaining in her house. So far she's doing ok. Who am I to tell her differently? I just make frequent trips over there.

The heaviest of the rain had stopped but the wind was still gusting fiercely. I decided I was going to ride anyway. Our old CM900 got called into service. Just in case it ended up in a position other than upright there was no real bodywork to worry about. I can hear you thinking,

"Who in their right mind would ride a motorycle in 65 mph wind gusts?"

You may have gotten a glimpse into my personality by now. I have some deep seated urges to do things that most people think I can't. Over the years I've learned to control it somewhat. I no longer cross that line into what you might call "foolhardy". On the other hand, if you mention taking calculated risks for a good purpose, I'm all over it. I love the idea of being the man that comes bursting out of a blizzard in a big four wheel drive truck bearing hot coffee and supplies. I've actually done that several times for family stranded in the snow and with no power.

Haven't you ever pictured yourself as something similar when riding? You can see yourself as a wooden sailing ship's Captain. Braving the wind and spray while expertly tendng the helm. You can picture yourself as a person of adventure. While most of the world says that riding's too dangerous you're out there riding. Heck with them. They'll just never know how much enrichment they're missing by playing it safe. We're not being reckless. We just know that there's rewards that can only be gained by taking risks. Once we reap those rewards we feel pretty darn special. It's addicting to me.

Are we attracted to riding because we have these personality traits? Or, does riding create those traits in us?

Katie understands my needs but tries to help keep me grounded. She finds these humorous little ways to remind me not to get carried away. Here's an example of a beer she brought home for me.

I guess her point is to go have all the fun I want but don't ever look down on anyone else who isn't comfortable pushing as far as I do. Not everyone is a freak of nature like me. Point taken, my dear bride.

Off I go to Grandma's house. Gusty winds are fun to ride in. Like I said earlier, most of the rain had stopped. This storm had brought the temperatures up. It almost felt balmy. I find it so invigorating to ride in these conditions. Ok, the wind was a little too much to be ideal. You know those times when a storm's blowing in? The air has that eerie look to it. The wind's swirling the warm air around. I love riding during those times. This night was real similar.

I made it to Grandma's house with little problem. It's harder in the dark because the visual clues of wind activity are hidden. You have to hang on and be ready. I knocked on her door but she didn't answer. I finally let myself in. She was sitting in the dark looking out the patio doors. No hearing aids, of course. She turned around and looked so surprised to see me.

"What are you doing clear over here?", she asked.

I asked her what she expected after being cut off like that. Grandma's Old School. Not much ruffles these folks. I guess I worry about her more than she worries about herself. Her electricity had gone out like I suspected. She'd figured to look out the window a while and go to bed early. After making sure the old phone was plugged in, I kissed her goodbye and rode off into the wind again.

On the way home I decided to stop and check on Katie's little sister. Her husband had gone to Seattle earlier in the day. He does a lot of work for a big department store chain and has to go where they send him. Cindy and the kids were home alone. I pulled into the driveway and was immediately hit in the helmet by a flying roof shingle. There's a huge open expanse to the South of their house. Plenty of space for the wind to build up speed unimpeded. It had ripped shingles off the back of the house and thrown them onto me. How many riders can say that they've been attacked by flying roof shingles?

That was the wildest part of the ride. All in all a fun time. Was it risky? Sure. Was it worth it? Definitely. People could spend a lot of time trying to "psycho-analyze" me to find out why I take risks. It really comes down to a couple of things. I still crave adventure. Maybe there's some sort of lack in my personality. Maybe I have some deep seated need to keep proving myself. Probably not. I think it's fear. The fear of getting to a point where I'm living but not really alive. That's my scariest nightmare. Slowly becoming less active mentally and physically. Rotting away little by little until there's a body but no fire. That fear keeps me pushing.

Speaking of being alive, I finally feel alive again. I've been down with the flu these past few days. This is the worst I've ever had it. I seldom get sick. Guess it was time to make up for all my good fortune. I was so sick my hair hurt! It still feels like a family of farm owls is living in my head. Sorry if this post reflects that. I'm hoping to be in good shape for torrow afternoon when the kids all come by for Christmas Eve.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mermaid resuscitation and an errant finger!

8 PM. Still three hours from home in Lacey, Washington. I've just flipped off a couple of cops. I shouldn't be surprised or offended that they didn't accept my offer to buy them coffee. So I'm drinking alone. I'm holding a cup of Christmas Blend in my shaking hands. Right now I'm having a discussion with the mermaid on the cup as to what to do with the hot liquid. Two choices are clamoring to win. Either gulp it or pour it down the unzippered front of my Aerostich jacket. Actually, the Roadcrafter pants are unzipped, too. That was necessary to fish around to find my wallet. There's where I keep the money and the driver's license the cops wanted to see. The coffee would be able to run a long ways down inside my gear. There's just enough sanity left in me to realize one can't always go with the initial instincts. Considering that the coffee brews at a temperature well over 200 degrees (f) either choice would have had unfortunate consequences. Like any victim of hypothermia the warming process would have to be taken slowly.

This is easier said than done. I'm s-s-s-o c-c-c-old! It wasn't supposed to be this way.

One of the cardinal rules of long distance riders, especially those riding the Iron Butt, is to never use the ride as the first tryout of equipment. I had broken this rule. This ride was the first time I'd used the electric vest this season. Maybe if I'd done some shorter runs the problem with the controller would have manifested itself sooner. Then again, maybe not. Since the failure happened right away I'm thinking I should have tried it on a shorter ride first. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Fact is, I'm without the electrics for the ride home.

There were people I met that had just had electricity restored as late as Saturday and Sunday. A few were still without power. I stopped at a Safeway store Monday morning to pick up some more AA batteries. All the places where perishable things had been were now empty. The long power outage had caused it all to spoil. A mile away there was still no power. This had been a terrific storm, indeed. I guess being without the electrically heated vest was small potatoes compared to what these folks were still enduring. At least that was my thinking then.

Now all I can think of is the cold. I left Kirkland just after 5:30 PM. The sun had already set. My trip up had been done mostly in daylight. This trip would be made entirely in the dark. Under clear skies the temperature was plummeting. I know it was a crazy time to hit the road. It being rush hour in the Seattle area, and all. On the other hand, I was going to sit somewhere either way. On the bike or in a restaurant waiting for things to clear up some. Since rush hour isn't actually confined to the space of one hour, I decided to saddle up and go. It's only twenty miles from the freeway entrance on I-405 to where I would join I-5. No big deal, right?

That part of the trip took a little over an hour. There was good news and bad news. The good news is that motorcycles are legally allowed in the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. The bad news is that traffic in these lanes was hardly moving, either. I was crawling along with everyone else but at least I felt more special about it. After all, I WAS in the HOV lane! Our lack of progress was both a blessing and a curse. Wind chill is less at slower speeds. On the flip side, my visor kept fogging up. My hot warrior breath was too much for the air flow at slow speeds. I'd flip the visor up as long as I could stand it. A lighted sign on a nearby building indicated 30 degrees (f).

At even a few miles an hour that cold air would cause my head to feel like I had brain freeze. It felt like there was a knot in the middle of my forehead. From there it spread to the rest of my face. Then my eyes would water. I wondered what my face would actually look like if I could see it in a mirror. Flashes of an old television commercial came to mind. Do you remember "Bitter Beer Face"?

If you drank any beer other than that advertised, the storyline went, your face would look like someone had just hooked up a vacuum hose to your nostrils and turned it to high suction. I'm pretty sure I looked just like that. Dropping the visor would bring relief for a while but then I couldn't see. So the cycle continued. All the while the warmth was slowly being sucked out of my body.

Sophie and I finally made the junction of Interstate 5. Our celebrations were somewhat premature. The heavy traffic continued all the way down past Tacoma. Somewhere around 50 miles. By now we'd been on the road well over two hours and only come this far. I kept wondering how people who live and work up here deal with this every day. Do they just accept that their work day has to expand by another four hours to allow for commuting time? What kind of people put up with this?

Oh, wait! I do that a lot, don't I? Let's see. 90 miles one way makes for 180 miles round trip. Even at an average speed of 60 mph that makes three hours of commuting. I'm just thankful that the traffic jams I encounter are just in spots and not a steady thing like up there.

Once past Tacoma it's about another thirty miles or so through to Olympia. There's finally elbow room and I'm ready to roll the throttle and blast through the night. I'm almost giddy when I see the speedometer needle climb past 35 mph for the first time in what feels like forever.

It's so tempting to just keep rolling through the night. There's lost time to make up. It wasn't that I was really under a tight time schedule. I just wanted to get home. Have you ever noticed that when you're freezing, or wet and cold, that the ride seems to drag on? Not that we don't still love being on the bike. There's a slight change of focus that happens for me. The destination starts to become more important than the journey. It's all good; some is just better than others. I want to get home where it's warm and get off the bike.

My body's talking to me. I've noticed that my head is starting to ache from the cold. Opening the vent on the front of my Arai helmet's not enough to keep the visor defogged. Cracking the visor is the only way to keep vision going. Pressing left seems much harder than pressing right. It feels like the bike doesn't want to go left. There's also a little bit of cramping going on in my left hand. Must be the combination of the cold on top of the clutch work needed during two hours of crawling traffic. Come to think of it, the right hand's also cramping up. I'm always so smooth on the bike. Now I'm starting to feel slightly at odds with the bike and the ride. It's time to stop and warm up.

Exit 108 was coming up. Years ago I did some training up here. There's a Fred Meyer with a Starbucks in the strip mall out front. Katie and I would go there to enjoy the summer sunshine after I got done around 4 each day. I was close to my destination when I almost hit a police car.

Slaeter-Keeney Road is two lanes each direction with a refuge lane in the middle. I'm in the inside lane as my intended stop is a couple of lights up and to the left. There's a City of Lacey cruiser with two officers in it to my right. They're waiting to turn right and merge into traffic. The driver's setting a bad example for the rest of us by not using turn signals. The gap that's open to the police car is next to me and slightly ahead. The cop goes for the gap. It's amazing how much traffic is still out. Must be the big mall in the neighborhood. This is when my freezing brain makes an incorrect assumption.

I assume that the cop is going to keep going in the right lane. After all, there's still no turn signal. About the time I roll back on the throttle the police cruiser has started over into my lane. It's a pretty severe angle of attack on the part of the cop driving. Due to the clumsiness of cold hands and fatigue, my throttle roll ends up being a little more than anticipated. I almost run into the driver side front door. A big handful of front brake saves me. Then I momentarily forget who I'm dealing with.

Somewhere deep inside of me a primal scream of rage takes hold and comes surging out. Blame it on a whole combination of circumstances. I was cold, tired, and now pissed off. The scream came raging out of my left hand. I leaned on the horn button and flipped off the cop car before I could squelch the impulse. No, they weren't blind and deaf. Yes, the street lights were very bright. I arrived at Starbucks under police escort. I soon had an armed officer on each side of me with a blinding spot light glaring at me from my rearview mirrors. The glare matched the stern looks from the cops. Now that I'd sort of gotten things out of my system I remembered the number one rule of police stop encounters.

Do not, under any circumstances, be guilty of what cops call F.A.T. ( failing the attitude test )

I calmy explained why I was stopping in the first place. I also pointed out how the sudden move by the cop driving caught me by surprise. I told him that when I went through police academy we were taught that existence of policy does not negate liability. In other words, even if we were engaged in official "police business", even if we were running hot by order of dispatch, we were still responsible to do what we could to mitigate the potential of crashing with civilians. Diving into my lane without a signal or any warning didn't seem to align with that philosophy. It could even be construed as an attack on me. So no wonder I was upset with them. I could also understand their pulling me over. After all, when a cop gets flipped off they're obligated to respond. It's the Old West Code of Honor. At least I think that's what I was saying through frozen lips. After a quick check of my papers they left me alone with the admonition to make sure I was in shape to continue before I hit the road again. I think they were tired of my babbling and actually had something else important to do somewhere. I'm sure I'll be marked on their F.I. card ( field interrogation ) as a harmless nut case.

Of course now the person working the counter at Starbucks was looking at me strangely. She'd seen the cops talking to me but was too polite to ask anything. I could see the curiosity in her face. I just shrugged and told her I was a professional driving instructor. The cops had stopped me to ask for some tips while they were on patrol. I was pretty sure she didn't believe me when I saw her put my cup on the counter then back away instead of handing it to me. She hadn't warmed up when I asked for a refill. My plan was to ensure I would have to stop a time or two more on the ride home. Two cups of coffee and ice cold air would see to that.

The remaining three hour ride passed without incident except for the black ice in Wilsonville. At the South end of town is a bridge over the river. Once I'd hit Portland the fog had come. It got thicker as I moved South. The air over the bridge was cold enough that the fog froze and fell like snow. I pointed Sophie for the cleaned off tire tracks. We hit ice and slid what felt like a long ways but was actually only enough for a small sideways drift. It started at the left third of the lane and ended in the right third. Not serious, just enough to raise the pucker factor and snap me alert again. The last forty miles were spent in the right lane travelling under the speed limit. I was getting fried and just wanted to make sure I got home in one piece. At 11:30 we did just that.

Here's the moral of the story. The reason for the telling. It's a lesson in recognizing when you're becoming impaired and listening to your body. Ignoring the little signs and pressing on is what gets riders in trouble. Sometimes the impairments sneak up on a rider. It's a lot like becoming slowly intoxicated. Recognize the signs and make adjustments. In this case, it wasn't normal for me to react the way I did. I could have shrugged off all the signs and kept on rolling down the superslab for home without stopping. I do that a lot. My brain was saying I've done much longer rides in much colder conditions and never had a problem. It was telling me that I was a pansy for feeling what I was feeling. Under normal circumstances it would be true. There were some extenuating factors this time.

Sleep was scarce the night before. I was in a motel room. There was a family with fussy kids in the room next door. One of them was still going on well after midnight. People above me seemed to be pacing the floor all night. I'd had breakfast but no lunch or supper. For whatever reason my stomach had been queasy all day and I couldn't eat. I'd spent the day sitting in a chair around a conference table listening to people talk. My night ride started out at freezing and got colder as I went. I had planned the ride counting on an electric vest. Without the vest the cold just kept draining me little by little. The time involved was greatly stretched by the traffic around Seattle and Tacoma. Small thing heaped upon small thing. I truly wasn't my usual self and had to face that reality. As far as flipping off the cop car, I won't go there. It would take too long.

Listen to what your physical being is telling you. Recognize the signs of impairment. They can come on cold days, hot days, long days, or short days. They can come any time of day. Especially when commuting home after a long work day. Make the needed adjustments. Live to play another day. Oh yeah, it's really never a good idea to flip off a cop!

Miles and smiles,

P.S. Sleep wasn't any better last night. Turns out I was actually coming down with the flu. I spent all night trying to turn myself inside out by heaving. I think I had a fever running during the ride home but it was so cold I couldn't tell!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

News flash!

I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled broadcast for this bulletin. The plan was to finish the tale of riding in the big storm that just passed through. That was an adventure all its own as I rode around to check on family. I'd never been hit by a flying roof shingle before while riding. Can't say that anymore. There's more but it will have to wait a day or two.

As I write this I'm in Kirkland, Washington. Home is now 286 miles South of me. We have a big meeting at headquarters first thing in the morning. It will last until around 4 PM. Which means I would have had to get up at about 3 AM, travel for hours, sit in a meeting for hours, then travel home for hours. The worst part is commuter traffic up here. I-405 between I-5 and Kirkland is horrendous. The last time I was up here I left at 1 PM. Three hours later I'd travelled the great total of 53 miles. This time I thought I'd come up the night before. There's a Comfort Inn about two miles from the office. Good thinking, huh?

Maybe, maybe not. I'd planned to leave home about 2 PM. That would allow for a somewhat leisurely trip up with time for a bite of supper and all that good stuff. When I got up this morning everything was frozen solid. Some people were coming to look at the Oldsmobile which is for sale. At 9 AM I was scraping ice off the windows and trying to thaw out the door locks. The folks ended up buying the car. Later on the sun came out. It was still pretty darn cold but it doesn't seem so bad when the sun's smiling on us. The sunshine led me to what might be my big mistake.

With my understanding of the weather forecast, it looked like it would be cold and clear for the next couple of days. Since this was just a trip up and back for the meeting, I figured I'd ride. It's only natural, right? After all, it's who I am, it's what I do. Cold weather is easily handled by my Widder electric vest and an extra layer or two. You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

The trip started out real nice. It seems so easy to deal with freeway traffic when you're riding during a somewhat sunny afternoon. It was actually pretty awesome. No rush, no hurry, no worries. Until the sun started going down. I reached down to turn on the vest. Widder makes this really neat thermostat that's really more of a rheostat. You can turn the knob to get exactly the temperature you want. Unlike the other thermostat they sell. That one works like your home furnace. It gets hotter than you want then turns off. After it gets colder than you want, the vest kicks in. The average is supposed to keep you comfortable. That doesn't work for me. I like the precision available with this particular thermostat. Noticing that there was a handy hook and loop strip on the leg of my Roadcrafter pants, I put a corresponding piece on the back of the rheostat. Presto! I have only to reach down to my thigh to adjust the temperature. Today the temperature didn't adjust. It didn't do anything at all.

Checking connections as best as I could while riding, I was pretty sure I was wired properly. Just no action. So for a while I played stoic and dealt with the cold. I'm a tough guy, right? Still, there was a perfectly good vest under my jacket. This little voice in my head kept telling me that I actually could be more comfortable if I stopped and messed with the thing. So we ended up in a rest area for some troubleshooting. It's not real easy to take the body work off Sophie that accesses the battery. After a little struggle made worse by the cold, I found a blown fuse on the connector. Having the foresight to carry a spare I figured my problems were over. Not.

There was still no heating action. I know it seems weird, but I carry a little multimeter with me. The rheostat isn't doing anything at all. It's broken somehow. Oh well, I'll just deal with it. Riding in the dark, freezing my "you-know-whats" off, and dealing with heavy freeway traffic is altogether a different experience than in sunshine. It was hard to get off the bike when we got here. I managed without falling off. That's when I experienced a different kind of fallout from this storm.

As soon as I stepped into the hotel lobby the clerk told me they were sold out. I told him he better have my reservation or I would sleep in the lobby. Turns out they had a room for me. The place is full of refugees. I'd seen a lot of evidence of downed trees on my journey North. Some places looked like they'd been logged. The freeway was covered in evergreen shrubbery. Up here a lot of people are still without electricity. It's been long enough that quite a few are holing up in hotels. This particular hotel is nice without being too spendy. I'm on the bottom floor. There's about five rooms on this end of the hall that are inhabitable. The rest are hanging open with carpet ripped out. Seems this storm brought some heavy flooding down here.

There's other things to deal with, as well. I put my stuff in the room then went out to find food and fuel. The Shell station across the way has a sign that says they're out of gas. The Chevron has about half the pumps working. The lines are long and people are not patient. Some woman in a brown Volkswagon micro-bus pulled into the pump ahead of me. Which means she squeezed around the bike. Then she proceeds to back up. She's within about 18 inches of the front of the bike and still coming. I let go of the pump trigger and literally banged on her back door. Then she had the audacity to be mad at me for hitting her van. I stayed calm, finished my fueling, and just got out of there. By the way, I like Washington's self-serve. Oregon is one of two states left in the nation that doesn't have it. Just insert card, pump gas, take receipt, and go!

Next on the agenda was food. I didn't want a sit-down meal out. My search for a Subway or fast food yielded nothing in a couple mile radius. So I tried the Denney's next door. They were packed like cargo in a shipping container. The Pizza Hut next to Denney's said they stopped taking orders because they were 30 pizzas behind. So it is back to the room. I have some Gatorade, some Bar-B-Q jerkey, some nuts, and some dried banana chips. It's going to have to do. Was it Thoreau that said:

"I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet couch"?

I feel for all those hit by the storm. We got some of it. Our power was out for about 36 hours. I saw a lot of devestation. To still be without the electricity we've become so dependent on after all this time has to be tough on everyone still affected. It feels like somewhat of a madhouse up here. It actually feels good to take refuge in this little room.

Now the guy on the radio is saying there's a small chance of rain. Temperatures are supposed to dip into the low 20's. The high tomorrow is something like 34 or 36 degrees (f). I can always hike to the office from here. Who knows what it will be like going home tomorrow night? Does the weather forecast mean there will be freezing rain or ice? I always claim to crave adventure. One should be careful what they ask for!

Now it's time to see what this Hunter S. Thompson is all about. Gary's got me curious. I'll crack open "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" until I fall asleep.

Miles and smiles,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Storm Rider

Bodacious: Blatant, remarkable, audacious, impressive, or attractive.

This is my street. Actually, it's only a small lane going to the back of Grandma's property. It's Grandpa's legacy to me. A street sign that sums up a former inhabitant, namely, me. I plead guilty to all of the above except the attractive part. Although I shaved my beard Wednesday night. For the first time in a long time people can see my face. It was probably better off covered up!

Yesterday was a day of contrasts for me. The Weather Gods had more fun planned for us mere mortals. On the menu were two inches of rain with wind gusts up to 65 mph. For once the prognosticators were correct. Newport is on the Coast and a little over an hour away from me. Gusts there reached 125 mph which is the same force as a Class 2 hurricane. I'm not sure what happened to our mild winters. It's either global warming or a long term weather pattern. Interesting things are happening around here.

Transportation for the day was the subject of debate over early morning coffee. I'm playing Santa and visiting distributors right now. Bearing boxes of smoked salmon, calendars, and good cheer, I've been making the rounds. With proper planning for saddlebag space the bike's made a good substitute for a sleigh. Yesterday's complication was the fact that I was visiting distributors in the Portland area. For one, I'd need to haul more goodies with me than would probably fit on the bike. Secondly, I wasn't all that enthused about negotiating Big City traffic with booby traps like standing water and high winds. Four wheels won out over two.

After the drama I experienced in a car I'm glad I wasn't trying to do it on a bike. I don't need to go into more detail on how people drive; you know it as well as I do. What I will tell you is that there was hardly any dry pavement to be had. My definition of dry: pavement that didn't have an inch of standing water on it.

It would have been a mess. I saw wreck after wreck. One was a six-car chain reaction. One of the "cars" was a motorhome. Moving vehicles were throwing up curtains of water that totally obscured the windshield. Throw into the mix some high winds and the volume of cars in a Big City. I don't care who you are, that's crazy and dangerous to navigate in.

Still, though, I had to think about things. Am I committed to commuting on a bike? Which includes not only riding TO work, but riding FOR work? I've long preached the gospel of riding as much as possible. Where do we draw the line? Is it actually possible or realistic to expect to entirely replace two wheels with four? Everybody's got to make decisions and choices based on their own personal circumstances. Obviously large families can't be transported all together on a bike. There's safety to think about. You could make a list as long as mine. I just don't think it's possible for people in general to totally commit to two wheels. In some cases, yes, but in most not. Living in the world we find ourselves in requires compromises to achieve balance. When does the "need for balance" slide over into the "excuse" category? I'm sure I was right to not ride yesterday despite my chest thumping about being a Warrior. Salem had a wind gust of 80 mph while I was there!

Every once in a while I go back to ponder on my own reasons for riding. Those of us who commute to work on a bike make much of the economics involved. We like to talk about how we're treading more lightly upon the earth and using fewer resources. These are certainly important aspects. On the other hand, if they were the only reasons to ride I'd don't think I'd be noble enough to do it. Would you? I love being able to say I'm helping the global cause by riding as much as I do instead of driving. In all honesty, it's just a way to make me feel more noble and maybe to justify my desire to ride. I should be honest and just tell people I still crave adventure. Economy and ecology are just slices of a larger pie for me. Here's a quote I came across recently:

"A life of unremitting caution, without the carefree-or even, occasionally, the careless-may turn out to be half a life." ( Anna Quindlen in Newsweek )

That's what riding helps me to do. I literally throw "caution" to the wind passing by my helmet. There's things I do on a bike that could be called "careless", or even "reckless". Not stupidly reckless. Not "felony stupid". More like taking calculated chances. There wasn't any gain in riding in heavy traffic, high winds, and pelting rain. Not that I didn't ride in the storm at all. After I got home there was a need to go out and about. Which I did on a bike. I faced the storm on two wheels and survived intact. The difference? There were definite and measurable gains.

I'll share the rest in the next post.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on replacing four wheels with two? Is it feasible to do totally? What are your boundaries or limits?

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Where's the fire?

Which one will get it there faster?

I was presented with a chance last week to test my Christian Charity. Did I pass? Well, noooo. Did I tank it? Yeah, pretty much. After you read the narrative you may or may not agree with me. Bookmark it; we'll take a little detour and come back to it.

The weather guessers told us we were supposed to have a cold and clear stretch last week. I love cold and clear. We were told we were going to get some. Yeah, right. The Weather Gods love to play games with us. Their latest game was called "Layering". It seems the objective is to put a layer of really cold air on top of the somewhat cold air already here. I woke up Wednesday morning to cold and foggy. Looks like we had ourselves a genuine thermal inversion, a.k.a. an "Air Stagnation Alert". The man on the radio told us we were being cautioned not to drive any more than necessary. Hey, isn't that one of the reasons we ride to work in the first place? Less pollution and harmful effects on dear Mother Nature.

My schedule called for sitting in a coffee shop and doing virtual paperwork on my laptop. Somewhere along the way I had some paperwork that needed to be sent to Salt Lake City, Utah. Since it needed to be there the next day I was going to hand it off to FedEx. So chosen because I have an account with them. The only question that remained was how to get the package into their network.

Let's see. I could go about four blocks and drop my package at Staples. Or, I could ride about ten miles or so and take it to their facility in Corvallis. It's on the South side of town right near the airport. Convenient, huh? Total trip would be around twenty miles instead of eight blocks. Which should I do? That choice was like asking a tiger if he wants steak or hot dogs. The carnivore demands steak! By now we'd actually gotten a little bit of tentative sunshine. What were we waiting for? Off we went.

The road that heads out of Corvallis to the South is also known as Hwy 99W. Running parallel but a few miles away is Hwy 99E. Both converge much farther South at a place called Junction City. Catchy, isn't it?

Cops are always finding fresh victims on this stretch coming out of Corvallis. There's two lanes in either direction. It seems like it should be a fast stretch of road but the 35 mph speed limit seems to extend forever. On the bike I feel like I'm crawling along. I'm in this for the ride so I'm not in a hurry. Being on two wheels is too good to rush. A driver in a black Corvette doesn't share my philosophy and passes me on my left. About the same time a City of Corvallis black-and-white's coming at us from the other direction.

It's obvious that the Corvette driver's seen the cop as the brake lights flash. It's also pretty evident the cop's seen the Corvette when the overheads light up. The cruiser pulls a quick u-turn. Then, in a puzzling move, the cop turns off the lights and tucks in behind the 'Vette. They say the best safety device in the world's a cop in your rear view mirror. The 'Vette driver's the model of good behaviour. I can almost see his halo. Nonetheless I'm sure he's busted and so is he. Weirdly enough, the cop passes on the right and tucks in behind another car before passing it, too. This time the cop pulls over a pickup. I could hear the sound of long-held breath being released. These were two relieved drivers!

Now we'll take the fork in the road that turns us back to where we started. Speaking of speeding drivers, have you noticed that everyone's driving like they're going to a fire? It's getting so bad that I'm even seeing it from stop light to stop light. Mash the gas. Stomp the brake. Over and over. No matter how fast I'm riding anymore it seems like there's always someone on my donkey and tailgating who wants to go faster. It doesn't make any difference what the weather or other conditions are like. Stupid's no longer contained by any boundaries.

You'd think that slowing down and allowing a little more room would be such a no-brainer that even drivers with no brains would be able to figure it out. Wrong!! The Oregon State Police says that the leading cause of accidents here is following too closely. For "fatals" it's the same thing with a dose of excessive speed thrown in. It's like there's something in the air that infects everyone. It's not just a local thing. Check out these lyrics from a song by the country group Alabama. Here's a snippet:

I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why

Don't know why I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove
It's not new
But it'll do zero to sixty in five point two

Sometimes speed has a purpose. Like FedEx. But as a lifestyle? This isn't really meant to be a dissertation on bad drivers. It's all been done before. I'm merely setting the stage for what comes next.

Wednesday night. Supper's done. Katie's off with her sister. They're shopping at our mall. I have some shopping of my own to do for Katie. You know, it being that time of year, and all. Salem's a city about forty minutes North of here. Shorter by the freeway but longer via backroads. You know my preference, don't you? Salem's population is roughly double ours. There's some specialty stores I want to visit. This time Sophie's staying home. It's totally dark and extremely foggy. During the preride check earlier in the day I'd noticed that one of Sophie's low beams had failed to illuminate. That was ok for the daytime but not on a foggy night. She'd have to look like the CBR for a while. It always drove me nuts with that bike. ( I recently sold it )

On the front of the CBR there's two headlights sitting side by side. One side illuminates for low beam. Both light up for high beam. I wish I had a nickel for every time some well-intentioned but bike ignorant person told me I had a headlight out. Interestingly, on my ride to FedEx I'd passed right by Fred's Honda. Why stop there when there's a perfectly good Honda shop in Salem? Back to the short ride vs long ride; steak vs hot dog thing.

This time it's the VFR with the soft bags thrown over the seat. I hope the VFR's not jealous but it doesn't have a name. We head over the bridge into North Albany and then into the countryside on Springhill Drive. It's technically a country road but there's a lot of houses along it. Once you turn off onto Buena Vista Road you're truly into a rural area. This route more or less follows the Willamette River. Most of the curves are fairly gentle but there's a couple of technical sections and some really sharp corners. On a sunny day it's an awesome ride. Tonight I can hardly see but I know the road really well. No problem and I've pretty much got it to myself. Except for the fool behind me.

Not long before it was time to turn off onto Buena Vista Road I'd picked up an unwelcome travelling companion. All I could see were two bright headlights and some even brighter running lights. The headlights were fairly high. Like on a big rig. And uncomfortably close. I swear I could feel the heat of all the lights through my jacket. The stripes on my retroflective vest must have been glowing under the assault of the light beams. For a while I lived with it. My turnoff was coming and I figured I'd lose my tail. Most folks stay on Springhill. Not to be. It followed me onto the new heading. Still tailgating. I'm talking to the phantom driver in my head.

"Hello! Did it ever occur to you that there's a reason a guy on a sporty bike's riding this slowly?"

I consider speeding up and trying to lose this guy. ( or gal ) No, it's just too risky. I'm not willing to put myself in that position. Next choice is to force them to pass. This is the best chance to do it in. Soon the straight stretch will end and we'll be into the curves. Flashing my brake lights I signal right and move over while waving my left arm. In all that electron activity in the front of the vehicle they should see the sleeve of the Hi-Viz 'stich. The driver seems delighted to take the cue and starts to roar by. I get a good look at the vehicle as it passes. It's a Hummer. Not the new, more petite ( for a Hummer ) versions. It's the original. Wide, big, dark-colored, ugly, and totally offending my sensibilities. All I'll say is that I have some real issues with Hummers and the people who drive them. As it goes by I mutter under my breath,

"See you in the ditch somewhere!"

Have you ever wished for something off and on but never gotten it? Until that one day when the stars and planets align just right? For once my ship came in and I wasn't at the train station. A few miles later I see the rig and it ain't on the road, folks!!

What a bummer for the Hummer. It's quite a ways off the road. Seems that there's a blacktop ramp leading out into a field. Of course, it's only for loading and unloading farm equipment so the paved part stops after about twenty feet. The real road makes a sharp left. Too bad the Hummer driver didn't do the same. I pull onto the apron and see these deep ruts in the mud. All this rain on top of ground plowed into fine powder has created a farmer's version of quicksand. I hear the motor revving and can sort of see mud flying among some rising steam. Best I can figure, the rig's buried to the axles and the driver's making it worse. I thought these things could go anywhere. Guess you have to be smart enough to know how to use the tool.

Maybe it's the accumulated disgust for bad drivers. Maybe it's the revulsion I feel for people who drive rigs they have no business driving. In-your-face vehicles that are obviously compensating for some serious personal deficiencies. Maybe it's the anger I feel for all the drivers who are so willing to put me and others in danger to satisfy their own selfish agendas. Maybe it's a swirled mixture of all-the-above. I don't know for sure. What I do know is that I wasn't about to offer any help. The driver was well enough to gun the motor and further bury the Hummer in the mud. Everybody's got a cell phone these days. I'm sure a Hummer driver's got an especially fancy one. There wasn't any way I was going to pull the thing out of the mud. I was tempted to go say some things to the driver but there was a lot of mud to cross to get there.

So with a couple of cheerful beeps on the puny horn and a salute ( a real one, not the one-fingered kind ) I left the driver to their fate and continued on my ride. As far as I'm concerned the pot was right. Justice was served. An idiot got what was coming to them with no innocent victims involved. How often does that happen?

Right or wrong I felt good about it. Maybe I flunked my test. Maybe I'll pay a price down the road, Karma being what it is. It will be worth it. I rode home via a different route. Didn't want to spoil that perfect picture in my head. I'm still smiling!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. For Steve: I am a Warrior. Always have been and always will be. Trouble finds Warriors because they spend a lot of time on the battlefield and they're far from shy. We seldom back down. However, I shall, for your sake, try to find a HAPPY thing to post! It reminds of my favorite movie, Men In Black. Agent K ( Tommy Lee Jones ) has a device to wipe out a person's memory and then plants a new one to cover up the activity of the agency. Agent "J" ( Will Smith ) entreats K to use some compassion. Later K orders a fellow to give a medical examiner/coroner lady a new memory. J gives K a look. K amends his order to "Ok, make it a HAPPY memory."

I'll see what I can do, Agent "S"!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ridin' in the car wash!

It's back. The Pineapple Express is once more pelting our little corner of the world. Interestingly, I talked to one of my counterparts in Florida today. When I told him I was trying to stay dry despite the Pineapple Express blowing through, Mark said he'd never heard of that term. It must be due to the fact that Florida's a long ways from Hawaii. That's supposedly where all this is coming from. It actually is a little warmer than normal right now. Considering it's early December, 50 degrees (F) isn't so bad.

Mark told me his car thermometer indicated it was 71 degrees. Hm, I wonder if they have any openings down there?

I've always wondered what it would be like to ride a motorcycle through a car wash. Haven't you ever spent a little time musing about this yourself? What if your bike and riding suit were really soiled? Wouldn't it be cool to just ride through the tunnel? Take away the brushes and it could possibly work. Ok, maybe you're nowhere near as peverse as me. Or maybe you just won't admit it!

Well, here's a carwash with no brushes. Come on in. No thanks, been there, done that, didn't like it. I didn't literally ride through a car wash. It just felt that way. Picture a tunnel eighty miles long. Now imagine that it's three lanes wide. You're not alone. The proprietor has recruited hundreds of lunatics to keep you company in a variety of vehicles. That describes my ride home today.

First off, I know I should be really happy that it's early December and I'm still riding to the office. None of this "winterization" stuff. Unlike some of my fellow bike commuters I'm rarely dealing with snow. On the other hand, there's plenty of fog, freezing fog, some ice, and rain. Lots and lots of rain. I should be used to riding in the rain by now. Truth be told, I accept it as part of the cost of riding all year. This however, is starting to be a bit much. What's weird is that every year seems to bring more rain than the year before. They talk about global warming in the media. That may be happening elsewhere, but what I'm dealing with is local wetting!

As you may have gathered, it was a wet ride. "Wet" actually doesn't do it justice. "Soaked" doesn't cut it. I'd have to say that "Drenched" is the word for the day. The rain was literally blowing sideways and was so heavy that visibility was down to about 1/8 mile at times. Sometimes much less than that. At one point, for example, I started passing by a UPS truck pulling three trailers. I took a deep breath, aimed for the open spot ahead of me, and pulled the trigger. It was literally blind faith that I'd make it. If you've been there you know what I'm talking about. I'm pretty sure there were a bunch of guys in brown uniforms standing on top of the trailers dumping buckets of water down on me.

Did I mention the idiots? You'd have thought it was a sunny summer day the way they were driving. What is it with people? This is my first Winter doing this really long commute. If this is a taste of the Winter ahead, it's gonna start getting real interesting soon! The weirdest part of all is that it was already soaking wet when I left home this morning. I could have driven a car. Days like this I ask myself, "Remind me. I'm doing this...why?" Yet I keep riding. Maybe I'm afraid to give in to creature comforts.

It's like my cat. When the weather turns cold she wants to come into the house and sack out under my computer desk chair. She loudly protests when we have to leave and put her out. Maybe I'm afraid I'll be like that. Don't let me get too comfortable or I'll never want to go back to the hardships. Inertia is a foe, momentum is a friend. Right now I still find it repugnant to be thought of as "soft".

Remember the expression "Most accidents happen within 25 miles of home"? Today it was more like 25 blocks. As I'm topping the rise of an overpass I'm watching traffic at the bottom. To my right a street from downtown feeds onto this main drag. People act like they'll die if they have to wait just three more seconds to merge. Instead of waiting for a safe gap they'll pull out pretty close to the cars coming down the overpass. I'm always expecting this and adjust accordingly. It's one of those things that piss you off and yet you know it's going to happen. So you prepare for it. You know how you sort of set a point in your mind? When you reach that point you're pretty sure it's too close for even a really stupid driver to take a chance? Not that you can ever let your guard down completely, but you kinda figure you're almost home free.

As soon as you make anything idiot-proof somebody creates a better idiot. I met one today. Almost intimately. Two women in a mini-van. The one driving could barely see over the wheel. Not only did she want to merge, she wanted to go clear across to the turn lane. I'm doing about 35 mph. My speed limit's 45 but I'm hedging my bets. The space between us is closing down. 500 feet. 400 feet. I see her face. 300 feet. 200 feet. She seems to be looking right at me. I'm at about 150 feet when she pulls out. Still looking right at me. You'd think the first thing on my mind would be stopping. What actually came to mind first was trying to figure out if she was purposely doing it because I'm on a bike. Or is she just not registering the fact that I'm there?

Bottom line is that because she wanted two lanes I didn't need to come to a complete stop. I'd briefly considered a swerve but cancelled that impulse when I saw the nose of the van cross the center line. I was in the right lane with a lane beside me. One of my strategies is to always keep a running inventory in my head about where all the vehicles around me are at any given time. There was more time and room than it looked like there was. Under favorable conditions a competent rider should be able to stop a bike in 60 feet from 35 mph. These conditions were a little less than favorable with everything being so wet. Still, the good news is that if you don't hydroplane and lose traction, the rear brake is more effective in the wet than the dry. That seems weird but there's less weight transfer to the front wheel due to the reduced traction. The rear wheel thus keeps a little more weight on it which gives a little more traction for braking.

Which basically means that since the front tire was already pointed downhill I could use the rear brake more which meant less chance of a front wheel skid. The bike itself squatted more than dived. I guess I'm going to have do a post on how weight transfer in different conditons affects braking and how to use it to your advantage. Maybe it will be a little more clear then.

The second thing I had going for me was that Katie was behind me in her car. She watches my back as well as allowing some following distance. I'd stopped by the school where she works so we could come home together. The elementary school kids love the motorcycle guy! Actually, I think a couple of the female teachers do, too. You know how ladies love outlaws! I was able to scrub off speed and go around the back of the van. Besides worrying about myself, I was more worried that Katie would have problems. Turns out that by the time Katie had reached the same point the van was out of the way. While it all came out ok, I'm still incredulous about the people we're forced to share the road with.

My Roadcrafter pants are draped over the shower rod. My jacket is on a hanger dripping onto a towel. It's amazing how a driving rain eventually works its way through just about any gear. The 'stich is better than most stuff but still seeps a little after long exposure. It's time for some food and Monday Night Football. We'll see how my Bears do tonight. It will be fun to watch a different type of Warrior do battle.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, December 08, 2006

What HTML skills?

I spent hours working on a post tonight. I had a couple of humorous stories. There were some nice pictures of my Get-Back-In-Touch Ride. Pictures are great but seem to be my curse!

I put in a photo and suddenly everything's double spacing. I've sort of figured out how to fix that. Next everything decided it needed to be blue and underlined. That had something to do with trying to put a caption on a picture. I fixed that by deleting the html for the picture and reloading it. Then all the print decided it should be large and bold. So I worked on that. Everything finally looked good and I hit the "publish" button. Guess what? It published large and bold. It looked like a typewriter threw up all over the computer screen.

So I tried to fix it again. It looked good until I hit "publish". Then it decided it was going to publish the same stupid way no matter what I told it. Things went from bad to worse and I ended up losing the entire post. I thought the button that says "Recover post" actually meant it went back to the last saved version. It should say "obliterate post".

I'm sure if my html skills were better I would know which little alien looking letters or signs make these big differences. I went out and bought a book called html 4 dummies. I have much to learn although I thought this blogger site was supposed to do most of it for me.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know what happened. Laugh if it makes you feel better. All I can say is that I WILL conquer this. Even if I have to put handlebars and pegs on my computer. I actually have great computer skills. It's my programming skills that need a little work.

It's a good thing my mastery of riding isn't like my mastery of html. You'd be reading:

Musings of an Incompetent Commuter!

Tomorrow's another day. I'll start fresh. Katie's going to be gone all day. She won't hear me swear at this inanimate object. It's supposed to rain. I'll stay away from the bikes. Hunkering down in front of the keyboard with my book and a bottle of Southern Comfort I will engage in the Battle of the Blog.

Frustrated but still fighting,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How in the #@#* did this happen?

Monday morning. An early morning meeting in the Big City has me out of the house before the roosters even think about stirring. This meeting's about a complicated subject with people who've never done this sort of thing before. I fire up Sophie and set out on the 80 plus mile trip. It's barely shorter than a regular trip to the office.

Up the freeway in the dark. With the steady drone of Sophie's motor and the usual wind noise as a backdrop, my mind chews on the upcoming gathering. There's several large hospitals in Portland. The one I'm headed for is a Catholic hospital with two very large campuses. One's on the East side and one's on the West side. I'm headed for the one to the East. I'm worried about time. There's a stretch of the Interstate called the Terwilliger Curves. Most mornings traffic crawls for miles through here. After that I've got to cross the infamous bridge where Sophie and I had our brush with the fuel spill on that nasty, rainy, Veteran's Day weekend night. Then there's the Banfield Freeway, otherwise known as Interstate 84. There's a big chance I'll get hung up in any or all of these spots. That's the reason for departing three hours early.

Once at the meeting I'm faced with trying to bring some sort of order to chaos. We're dealing with the Hospital's attempts to establish a viable security system both electronically and through their physical key and lock system. It's a monumental task with a facility this large and complex. All this is churning through my mind as I rumble down the road like any other morning commuter. That's when it hit me like a wood beetle on a fairing. Smack! Any other commuter?

A voice in my head suddenly sounds out with haunting clarity. It tells me that I'm not feeling the ride. Don't get me wrong. I'm still paying attention to traffic. I still have situational awareness. My SIPDE process ( see May 6, 2006 ) is functioning in the background like the well-honed tool it is. This is something else entirely. Something I'd felt every time I got on the bike was missing. It was that feeling of how wonderful it was to be on two wheels. Kind of like slipping into a hot tub, the sensations surround me. Each ride had me saying to myself "This is so stinkin' awesome!"

The ride would be a marked contrast to the day. Hectic day? Soothing ride. Discouraging day? Riding would bring back the cheer. In other words, I never failed to notice and appreciate that special experience that was my ride to or from work. Until lately. Holy crap!! What in the Sam Hill happened?

All I can figure is that I've found an unexpected downside to a really long freeway commute. I found the other drawbacks I thought would be there. All the nasty effects of heavy traffic and stupid people. I never saw this one coming. The hour commute I enjoyed previously on my cherished backroads refreshed me. An hour and a half to two hours of freeway each direction is numbing my mind. God forbid, but I've ceased to become a motorcycle commuter. I'm a person on the way to work totally disconnected from the journey. Disturbingly, I've realized I'm becoming just like the other commuters with the only difference being the number of wheels. It's a horrible place for someone like me to find oneself. I've always thought I was better than that.

The good news is that I woke up to the fact before it became too late. Recognition will bring counter-measures. I've decided to take a Mental Health Day this week as a first step. The sole purpose being to remind myself how to live in the moment. Moment after moment of relishing that special privilege we have to ride a motorcycle to work. The few, the proud, the Motorcyclists. I know it sounds like the Marines. I hold both in extremely high esteem.

There's supposed to be a few cold, clear days this week. I'll tell you how my Get-Back-in-Touch day goes in the next post.

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Looking ahead.

There was a comment a few posts ago that got me thinking about this. Some wag stated that I need to reserve a certain name for a future blog. The implication being that I won't hold my youthful good lucks and awesome physical stature forever. Whatever.

However, just to be fair and humor this wag I will entertain the thought that eventually it could be possible that I will actually show some slight signs of aging. With that in mind, this is a purely hypothetical posting. I'm going to die at a hundred years old; shot by a jealous husband!

A suggestion for naming the future blog was "Musings of a Decrepit Commuter". Since this wag will also eventually need a new name for his own blog, I'm offering the following possibilities:

"Rush Hour Doddering"
"Rush Hour Drooling"
I hope these suggestions help. It's my desire to be of service whenever possible, you know.
Again, in the very unlikely event I actually do need to change the name of my blog, I've prepared my first post for that future work. Hope you like it!


If my body were a bike, this is the time I would be thinking about trading it in for a newer model.

I've got bumps and dents and scratches in my finish and my paint job is getting a little dull, but that's not the worst of it.

My headlights are out of focus and it's especially hard to see things up close.

My traction is not as graceful as it once was.

I slip and slide and skid and bump into things even in the best of weather.

My fork legs are bent and rickety.

It takes me hours to reach my maximum speed.

My fuel rate burns inefficiently.

But here's the worst of it --

Almost every time I sneeze, cough or sputter .....either my radiator leaks or my exhaust backfires.

Miles and toothless smiles,


Friday, December 01, 2006

Why am I here?

Happy Harry's finally off work and riding home. A driver on his right tries to use some of Harry's lane to go around a slower car. One of the main streets in town Harry rides on has some pretty heavy traffic. Literally and figuratively. There's a lot of vehicles on this stretch during rush hour. Anytime, as a matter of fact. Quite a few of those are big trucks since this is a straight shot to the freeway. Suddenly Harry sees the brake lights of a truck in front of him come on brightly and solidly. Looking to either direction Harry sees he has no place to go. Somehow as he's been thinking about something that happened at work today, he's gotten a little too close to the truck. There's a car in the left turn lane next to him. Harry narrowly avoids rear-ending the truck. With a nervous giggle Harry wonders if the truck driver would even have noticed the impact.

Now Harry's behind a pickup with a canopy. A car turning left almost hits Harry. He wonders why the driver didn't see him. Harry chalks it up to the fact that bikes are invisible to car drivers. Harry lives just outside of town. There's a short stretch of rural road to get to his house. Another large truck looms. This time it's coming towards him from the opposite direction. As the truck goes by a huge wind blast hits Harry. It's enough for him to clutch the handlebars harder in a near panic.

Harry parks the bike and goes into the house. With his nerves twitching a little from the ride, he thinks about his journey home. Was it possible that he could have done things somewhat differently? Harry wonders about his lane positioning, for instance. He's heard other riders tell him to always ride in the left third of the lane. These riders tell him it's so they can avoid the grease spots in the middle of the lane. Other riders tell him to strictly ride in the middle for various reasons. Still others warn that he should stay far away from traffic so the right part of the lane is best. Harry's confused about the issue and wishes he had some answers that would help keep him safer on the road. Is there one best place to ride?

The good news is that there are strategies for lane placement. As a rider navigates their environment they need to ask this question: Why am I here?

Here are some answers to that question. There are certain things we need to accomplish with our lane position. If we can do these things we're in the right place. If not, we need to move. These aren't necesarily listed in order of importance. It was just a handy system for me.

Goal number 1: See and be seen.

Here you see the view from the bike. In the top picture we're over to the right. Guess who we can't see? On the flip side, who can't see us? There's two cars coming the other way. Car #2 might be deciding to pass car #1. All the driver sees is an empty spot behind the pickup. Surprise! In the bottom picture we've moved more to the left. The world around us looks much different from this position. More importantly, we now see the things we need to in order to make better decisions.

This is common at intersections, as well. If we're behind a vehicle that blocks the view of oncoming drivers it's no wonder they think it's ok to go. Rigs like motor homes and delivery trucks can hide us from other drivers. I know, some drivers are just oblivious no matter what. It's our responsibility to look out for the idiots. Don't unthinkingly hide in traffic or rob ourselves of the chance to get vital information early. See the zombies before they cause you harm.

In accidents where a car and a motorcycle collided it might interest you to consider this fact. 75% of the time the car came from between 10 and 2 o'clock to the rider. In other words, the car that hit the motorycle came from right in front of the bike. Blows you away, doesn't it? Make sure you have the best chance to see and be seen at intersections. Use your lane position to your advantage.

If this was a freeway and all the cars were going in the same direction, I'd be more to the left to see down the alley. Remember, how soon do we need to get critical information like brake lights, etc? Real soon, you say? Bingo. Use your lane position to See and be seen!

Goal number 2: Maintain a space cushion.

Sorry for the fuzziness of the pictures. It's a first attempt at this kind of work. You see the bubble around Happy Harry, our rider. It could also be Happy Harriet! Our rider's got an equal cushion around them. Since the truck's an obvious hazard, our rider's moved to the right. Things fly off of trucks, tires rupture, and road debris gets launched. Not to mention the wind blast from the truck itself. Moving away from the truck's a wise move. Remember that the worst buffeting is often found at the rear of the truck.

The air is splitting pretty cleanly at the front of the truck. Right behind the truck is the vacuum left by the movement of the vehicle. Air that's running down the sides of the trailer's boiling into this empty space. After passing a large vehicle hang on just a little longer. That's when you'll likely get the most forceful blasts.

Once past the truck notice how our rider's positioned themselves back in the middle of the lane. Now they're ready for whatever's next. Why not stay to the right for the next time?

Go back to the See and be Seen rule. Besides, is the left side the only direction hazards can come from? You got it. Hazards can come from any direction. Being in the middle provides sort of a compromise. There's no clear hazard at the moment but our rider's got space all around from which to react.

Goal number 3: Maintain an escape route

Here lane positioning also involves where we put ourselves in relation to other traffic. Keeping an adequate following distance combined with an awareness of where the other cars are gives the rider on the left three choices for an escape route. That's an ideal situation. In the middle picture our rider's gone off on a daydream and finds themselves in a bad place. If the trucker suddenly slams on the brakes, our rider's got nowhere to go. That's a real bummer!!

In the picture on the right our rider's a little too close to the truck but has managed to keep an open space to the left. It's not ideal but at least there's a place to go. I realize that it's frustrating to try to keep a safe following distance while riding the freeway. It can seem like there's a big neon sign that says "Dive in here!" to other drivers. It can even seem like we're going backwards! Keep the faith, folks. Don't give in. Who's responsibility is it to take care of ourselves out there? Just keep doing what you need to do.

Goal number 4: Protect your lane

Use the position of the bike in your lane to discourage other road users from trying to share. For example, if we were to ride in the far left third of the fast lane on the freeway during rush hour, guess what's going to happen? I see a lot of little cars on the freeway that I call "Rocket Ships". These little cars with small-brained drivers are continually seen dashing in and out of traffic. God forbid they should have to slow down at all! Rather, they use little spaces and gaps in traffic to whip around other cars. Some drivers aren't quite so blatant but might still be tempted to use the space you're leaving to make a pass. Don't share!

Move the bike more towards the other lane so you don't leave a big, inviting gap. What if the other driver moves over like they really want your space? Back off and let them have it! I'm not saying to protect your lane at any cost! Best to live to play another day. Use the position of the bike to create a psychological barrier in what little minds the other road users have.

Goal number 5: Avoid surface hazards

This one's pretty self explanatory. Choose a lane position that allows you to move around something in the roadway. This goes back to an earlier post, but Keep our eyes up!!! The sooner you see a hazard the more time you'll have to react before it becomes a critical situation.


Happy Harry ( or Harriet ) has done some research into how to choose a good lane position. These are the things that a rider needs to accomplish when figuring out where to ride:

Harry knows that if he can do these things with his current lane position, then SCORE!! If not, he'll have to move until he can. Now Harry knows that there's no one best place to ride all the time. His lane position's always going to be changing depending upon circumstances. Armed with good answers to the question "Why am I here?", Harry's much more confident that he'll be able to avoid some of the bad situations he found himself in on the ride home tonight.

Miles and smiles,


P.S. I know the story telling style sounds a little like David Hough. I personally find his style an easy read and very educational. David's The Man for this kind of thing. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So Dave, I "borrowed" your style. The information's mine, at least!