Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Horns and Halo's

I ride in a glass arena. What I mean by that is I have to be careful what I do on a bike. One never knows who's watching. I'm not talking about law enforcement. It's my past students and those who know I'm an instructor. I usually wear a retroreflective vest with our program's logo on the back. I'm proud to fly my "colors". It's great to have the reputation as a motorcycle safety and skills "Guru". On the other hand, it comes with the responsibility to set a good example. Even more important is protecting the credibility of our program and fellow instructors. It wouldn't be so good to preach the gospel and then not live it.

Encounters with students are common. Katie's gotten used to strange women coming up and warmly greeting me. The greetings are usually accompanied by hugs. Guys and gals both ask if I remember them. Mostly I do. Being pretty active, I see around 500 students a year. That's in addition to the instructors I train. Extend that over just the past ten years and you have over 5,000 riders. The vast majority of the classes I've taught have been within a hundred miles of home. I'm surrounded by my trainees. Not all are on bikes when they see me.

During this last really cold spell I got a call from the Director of our program. He said that a friend of his who also rode had seen me. Not that he knew who I was, per se. It seems he'd followed me in his pickup and seen the vest. After hearing a description of the bike the Director had realized it was me his friend had seen. When asked why he wasn't riding, the friend had replied that it was way too cold. There was some light ribbing about being a "lightweight". I really had no idea who was in the truck behind me. It was just another vehicle to be accounted for and dealt with.

Don't get me wrong. I like my status as a teacher. I'm all for living what I preach. Credibility is really important. There's just "those times". My skills are pretty decent. Things that some people might consider risky or crazy are well within my personal limits. I try to be a clean living fellow but my heart craves adventure. There's an outlaw beneath that clean cut exterior. Something deep inside me starts to rumble. It becomes ever more difficult to suppress. I know it's kind of a crude way of looking at it, but think of it as being at a dinner party.

The meal's started with a couple of beers. Then there were those little sausage appetizers. They're a little spicy but seem to really hit the spot. A frightening number disappear past our teeth. All of this is going on top of the big hamburger with lots of onions that was downed at lunch. Now it's time to sit down with the other well-dressed guests and enjoy the main course. Deep down a little rumbling starts. We try to ignore it. All during the meal pressure builds. If we were all alone there's no doubt we'd just relieve it. We're in polite company. We mustn't. We musn't. Everyone's so near. The insistent urge is becoming overpowering. Finally, we try to escape off by ourself and just give in.

I try to be good. Really. Despite my best intentions, the pressure builds. Oh sure, there's race tracks where I can satisfy my urges. That's definitely the best place for it. Still, we're here, no where near a track. Besides, it's just one little thing I want to do. Pretty soon, despite all the pleas from the good guy on my left shoulder, the devil on the right shoulder wins out. I just have to be, er, you know, BAD!

Monday was the day. Beneath the helmet horns were beginning to stick through the halo.

While a lot of the country is enduring cold and snow, we had a day with blue sky and clouds mixed together. Some sunshine was smiling down. At mid-day it was 53 degrees (f). Sorry, I don't create it. Instead of riding to work, Sophie and I ended up riding for work. A trip to Salem, the state's capitol, was on the agenda. As usual, back roads were the choice. After heading out through North Albany and into the country, we had a choice of two routes. I chose Buena Vista Road, which more or less follows the Willamette River. Sophie countered my countersteering. She wanted the other road. Her road has more plentiful and technical corners. Underneath, though, we both knew that wasn't the reason she defied me. Sophie was headed for The Thrill Ride.

I resisted but realized it was futile. Having no choice, I surrendered and became an eager participant. After all, it wasn't my fault was it? If it was going to happen either way I might as well enjoy it.

The Thrill Ride is on a straight stretch of Corvallis Road. Once upon a time this was the way to go from big town to big town. Now it's just a sleepy country road. The frantic travellers currrently inhabit Hwy 99 a couple of miles to the West. It's a good thing this is the road less travelled. I was going to need it.

In the picture above you can see the stretch that has me captive. The camera somewhat flattens out the angle of the two hills. There's a steep descent, a rise in the middle, and a steep ascent. Do it right and you'll feel weightlessness over the small hill. The suspension totally unloads, your stomach rises to your mouth, and for a second gravity lets go. There's only a couple of small problems, though.

One, to do it right, you need to be doing at least 80 mph. Triple digits work even better. Two, there's a blind hill waiting at the end. Fortunately, the steepness of the hill lets you scrub off speed before you crest. Sometimes you just have to go for it. In case one should get too comfortable with these kinds of hooligan acts, there's a reminder just over the top of the hill.

A picturesque little cemetery overlooks the countryside from the top of this hill. It's a reminder of sorts. Things have consequences. Choose well. Don't take needless chances but don't waste the opportunities you have, either. We'll all end up here eventually. We can arrive hardly used at all or with a big smile on our sleeping faces. I choose the latter. I'm always a fan of treading the fine line between reckless and too cautious. I'll leave you at the end of this post with a line from a Jimmy Buffet song called "We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About"

"I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead"

I just have to make sure none of my students are watching!

And so the sun sets on another awesome day of two wheeled commuting!

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

Triple digit speed on that road? Looks like a great area for Bambi crossings. They love those fields. I'm just a slow old coot I guess...

Even if your students don't see you, they may read about you here!

I wish we had some of that 50 degree weather here. It's snowing hard right now with more to come. No riding for awhile I fear. The skiers will be happy though.

irondad said...

How weird is that? At the same time you were commenting here I was trying to comment on your site. I'm not sure my comment actually successfully posted.

I guess my students are going to have to get a taste of realism. Maybe they'll connect better if they know I'm human, too!


Aaron said...

Nice photo. Reminds me of a mile-long stretch on HWY 136 here in Georgia. Definately a place where it's hard not to wind it up for a quick thrill.

Loved the quote. Reminded me of a conversation I had with my Grandmother regarding hiking/backpacking by myself:

"Aaron, are you looking for a place to die?"
"No Mi-Ma, I'm looking for a place to live."

Bill Sommers said...

That would be tough knowing that whenever you decide to wick it up a little, one of your students might be there saying "Hey, I know that guy", then ZOOM, you go flying by being "bad" for a moment.

But darn, that moment of badness sure feels good some times.

Have fun,

Combatscoot said...

I remember talking to an instructor once, him telling me about the early days of the MSF, when things were strict, and a man could lose his instructor's endorsement just for a simple mistake observed by another instructor. I think an example of being realistic now and then is healthy.

gary said...

Dan, that's one of the biggest reasons I have never applied to become an instructor. I would find it awfully hard to practice what I preach. Nice post.

(Sometimes, ya gotsta Heed them Horns!)

Ride well,

Anonymous said...

Nice post, but I would like to have seen a photo of you and Sophie airborne!

irondad said...

I've always wanted to live the carefree lifestyle that old Buffet depicts. Can't do it but I get glimpses once in a while.

Sometimes you just gotta let it out!

We're all human with all the things that brings, aren't we?

You're a born wild man and you know it, don't you?

Next time I'll take Katie along and see if she can get a picture!

American Scooterist Blog said...

Want to try something interesting the next time you're on that hill? Even throttle until you're at the base of the rise, pour it on while rising and just as you peak at the crest reel in all the throttle you can the instant the bike's momentum is about to shift. Then pour it on on the way down. I think its a better and more active rush than just plowing up the hill for a little butterfly-in-the-stomach action over the top.
If doing this reminds you of something you might've done in the past... as a kid... on a different type of bike... hehehe

I also think the rider is in more control throughout the sequence than just blasting up one side to sail a few inches off the ground on the other [blind] side of the hill. But that's just me.

The Roadbum