Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Zen, mayhem, and soccer moms.

It occurs to me that I haven't written much lately about riding to work. Truth be told, there's not a lot to tell. I ride the interstate for an hour and forty five minutes, do some stuff, and ride the interstate for another hour and forty five minutes.

Oh sure, there's still all those weirdos I'm forced to share the roads with. Distracted drivers, those who can't or won't use turn signals, tailgaters, speeders, those seemingly blind, and probably aliens from another planet. What really bothers me is that this has become my normal world. If Katie asks me how my commute was I just tell her it was business as usual. I've made a personal vow to become "Teflon". I just quietly enjoy my own ride and let everything else slide off. It's either that or drop dead of a heart attack from getting too upset. That is, if I don't kill myself first by doing something stupid in reaction to a brain dead driver.

Weirdly enough, I do find my personal opinion of big touring bikes changing. My famous statement has always been "I'm not ready for a 'rocking chair' motorcycle, yet!" With all this interstate riding a Goldwing seems a better option all the time. No offense to any other brand. I'm just a Honda guy. More comfort, more farkles, and more space to haul stuff. Heck, I could even manage to hook up my cell phone to the intercom system. Somebody slap me upside the helmet! I must sliding into insanity from all this interstate commuting!

It's all this riding to work that led to my ride on Saturday afternoon. I couldn't help myself. I've had a bridle bit between my teeth for too long. I will finally get a day off next Sunday. I worked four weekends in February. The first weekend of March I had off. By the time Sunday rolls around it will have been another 20 straight days. To make sure you feel sorry for me, let me put it another way. In a stretch of 62 days there were four days off. One weekend a month on average. I just had to bust out. We were working at Lane Community College in Eugene.

You can see Sophie on the left. On the right is the ST1300 that the Director of our program rides. He was engaged in some site audit activities. Incidentally, I will probably ride his bike to Medford Friday night for an instructor update on Saturday. One of the things we're going to be covering is how to coach quick stops to riders on ABS bikes. Sophie doesn't have ABS. It doesn't appear we will have any instructors in the update who have ABS, either. Which means I will have to take a bike that does have it for demo purposes. The site is a little over 200 miles away. It will be a nice chance to check out the bike.

The students in our class are on their lunch break before they go to the classroom. You can see what a nice day Saturday was. Sunday, in contrast, was wet. That steady drizzle seems to soak everything so much more thoroughly than actual rain does. This day, though, the sun is out.

I wasn't directly involved in teaching the students themselves. A new instructor was teaching his first class. I was there to be glued to his hip for guidance, on the job training, and as a safety net. Normally a brand new instructor takes a lot of energy from me without being able to radiate any back. That's just the way it is. They have a lot to sort out. This new instructor beamed enthusiasm all weekend. On top of that, Phil's pretty sharp. Like many of us, motorcycling fills an essential role in psychotherapy to him. Phil's expressed desire is to share that joy and fulfillment with others while helping them be safe in the process. I found my association with him to be very rejuvenating. How awesome to have someone like Phil joining us!

Finally, class is done for the day. I have two hours or so to make my way home. I know some places where I can go to "let it all hang out". I have to do this. Things have been bottled up inside waaaaay too long. The ride would prove to be everything I needed with a couple of surprises thrown in as bonuses.

Making sure I am not easily identified as an instructor I set off. First task was to get to my chosen roads. Which meant a little trip through Coburg. When I first started this blog I mentioned Coburg. It's a tiny little place but you have to pass through it to get anywhere. At the North end of town's a tight curve to the West. In my case, it's usually a left turn since I'm heading North. I use this corner as a test of where I'm at as far as Rider Readiness goes. Am I right on or a half-click off? This time everything's right where it should be.

My first brush with mischief happens at the edge of town. A man in a small gray station wagon is holding at EXACTLY the 35 mph speed limit. I hate that. I also have less than warm feelings for those who tend to be self-righteous. Of course, I'm going to pass him. As I go by, the man toots his horn and points to the speed limit sign which, coincidentally, happens to be coming up. Sophie and I are beside the guy on his left. There's no other traffic in either direction as far as I can see. I should just ignore the man and zoom on by. Normally that's what I would do. Today, though, I'm after mischief with a capital "M".

I take both hands from the bars and feign surprise. I nod vigorously and fall back in behind his car. I'm laughing from thinking about what's going through his mind. Soon I see the sign coming up that says "End 35 mph limit". Amazingly, there's still plenty of clear space ahead. So I pull out beside the man again. Honking my horn while pointing to the sign, I wave goodbye and whack the throttle. I giggle for miles.

There's no traffic on my secret roads except for one gentleman. I presume he's a local farmer. He looks ancient. So does his Ford truck. The arm he extends in a friendly wave is deeply tanned and wrinkled by a lot of sun. I wave cheerily back. Salt of the earth. I'll bet he'd never talk on a cell phone while driving. My kind of people. I'm really pushing it in the corners. Very aggressive, stopping short of reckless. This kind of pleasure isn't worth dying for, after all.

Was it John in his blog that wrote about "chicken strips"? Hint, they're not something you'd find on the menu at a fast food restaurant. Here's a picture of Sophie's rear tire I took when I got home. I also took a picture of the front tire but I'll save that for a little later. There's a little story with that one.

I guess I inadvertently lied when I said there wasn't any other traffic. I forgot about the two riders on old bikes. Way up in the distance I spotted a couple of riders. It took me about two miles to catch up to them. Just for fun I followed the bikes for a while. The bikes were mid-80's vintage standards. As I got closer I noticed a couple of things. Both riders stayed in their staggered formation even through some pretty sensuously inviting curves. They also rode fairly slowly. Their corners were a series of small turns instead of one smooth line. Still, they stayed on their side of the road. I was wondering how can they ride a bike and not want to "whoosh" the corners. It's a reminder that not everyone's just like me. ( thank heavens ) We all have our own reasons for riding. I'm cool with that.

What I wasn't cool with is that I kept smelling a strong gasoline odor from one of the bikes ahead. It was time to pass. I'm sorry to say I sort of stuffed them in a left hand turn. Ok, there was no "sort of" about it. This section is an "S" turn that goes right and then left. If you look at a post from March 14, 2006 called "Riding like the Wind" there's a picture of a bent sign post. This is just before this particular set of curves.

I was just in a weird mood. Grandpa always called it "feeling your oats". Remember, we're of genuine cowboy stock. I was riding a horse before I could walk. With Grandpa behind me, of course! With clear visibility I showed the riders what corners were all about and went on my way with a wave. They waved back and used all their fingers. Good sports.

There was also an opportunity to use some of those "Zen" moments. All good things come to an end and I had to join traffic on a couple of more heavily travelled roads. This one road is still curvy and comes into the South side of Brownsville. It's the luck of the draw on Gap Road. Depending upon the time of day, etc., this road can be busy or quiet. There's very few places to legally pass. I know, what did I care today? A slower driver can bog a rider down for a long time. I can usually tell how my ride will go as soon as I turn onto it. My turn is to the right. I can see traffic coming from the left. Sometimes there's nobody there. Some days I'm forced to let a car go by before I can turn. I know I'm going to catch up to them pretty soon and resign myself to that fact.

Today the vehicle I had to let go by was a dark green Toyota Sienna mini-van. It was being driven by a woman. There were two kids with her. They looked to be somewhere in that "barely teen-ager" range. Typical soccer mom set-up. I had resigned myself to my fate. In about a half hour I'd be on roads where I could stretch Sophie's legs once again. Shocker of shockers! This woman was haulin' more than the kids. She was haulin' ass, too! The woman couldn't quite manage to stay totally in her lane all the time but there was nothing wrong with her pace and rhythm. Bonus!!

Unfortunately we both caught up to a slow moving Buick. Being on a stretch of road where I could see a half mile in both directions, I decided to do the Zen thing. I pulled off to the side to wait. Farm land is appealing in the sunshine. The sun itself felt warm. Better to hang out and enjoy some tranquility than worry about running into the back bumper of the van. Worse yet, being tempted to do something risky to get around both the vehicles. Properly calmed, I fired up the bike and continued on. I did eventually catch up to my fellow road users. The soccer mom never had gotten around the Buick. My choice to chill had proved to be the best one.

Periods of sedately joining traffic alternated with sections of riding hell bent for leather. It was a totally awesome and much needed release of pent up urges to raise heck.

Weirdly enough, my only close call happened at the other end of the block from my house. There's a retired man who lives across the street and down from us. He likes to put seed and bread out for the birds. Most of the time he just throws it into the street.

I saw the bread all smashed on the road. Never even thought twice about it. It was a bunch of dried up bread crumbs. How much trouble could it be? Lots, it turns out. Just after I came around the corner to the right my front tire encountered the bread. Said tire started to slide out to the left. Fortunately it grabbed traction before anything drastic happened but it certainly caught my attention! Who'd of thought?

After cleaning off the bike's seat I took this picture. You just never know about traction do you? This was totally my fault. I'd seen the bread. Instead of changing my line I'd dismissed the threat. Wrongly, it turns out. What's that old saying? "Physician, heal thyself!" How about "Trainer, coach thyself!"?

I feel so much better now. I'll be able to maintain for a while. I think.

Miles and smiles,



Jim Kane said...

Great ride report -- I most appreciated the bread bit at the end. I misread the surface at a pulloff point on Sunday, and it didn't end as well. Still, for a first getoff in 5 years of riding, I suppose it could have been worse.

Steve Williams said...

I often make use of the pull over technique to reset my temperment or to make the ride nicer by not having to worry about traffic behind or in front. That way I can travel along at my own pace out in rural areas.

It is amazing how a little bread (leaves, paper, crushed aluminum can, etc) can make a wheel break loose. It wakes me up better than an alarm clock!

And what's this about "big" touring bikes. You already have a big touring bike. A scooter is the rocking chair bike by the way. A Goldwing is more of a Barcalounger...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Combatscoot said...

That pullover thing really does help these days. Great that you could get out and unwind.
I had some really good rural roads to commute on when I lived in Virginia, but they weren't without some challenges, like absolutely no passing-zones, critters, and local yahoos who drive right down the middle of the road. I was "unwinding" one day, came over a ridge where there was a left-hand sweeper on the backside and nearly soiled myself because the whole road was covered in grass clippings. My tires kept traction, and I made the turn, but I was shaken. I don't think people should be allowed to put things on the road like that. And I shouldn't have been going that fast over a blind rise.

Aaron said...

A friend once said, "I'll never be old enough or fat enough to want a Goldwing." Long story short, a Honda salesman got him to take one around the block and he won't shut-up about it. :D

irondad said...

Reading surfaces can be tricky. You've given me an idea to do a blog post on traction clues. I hope at least there weren't a bunch of people watching!

I was recently riding hard to catch up with a motor cop I know. When he finally pulled off I asked him why he made me work so hard to catch him. His reply was that he looked in his mirrors and thought a sofa was chasing him. Guess you're right. Hmm, would a Barcalounger recline?

What can I say? You're coaching yourself, my friend!

Isn't it funny how the things that come so easily out of our mouths can just as easily come back to haunt us?

Take care,


Bill Sommers said...

Man, I'm glad you didn't retire this blog. I dig this stuff.

Have fun,

dan_durham said...

Really enjoyed reading your post tonight. Great job setting up the mental imagery for your readers!

dan_durham said...

Hey I just noticed you visited motercyclecommuter.com.

Cool! It's nice to see a "familiar face".


Giest said...

I was doing fine until I read this post, now I want to get out and ride!

Great post!

American Scooterist Blog said...

mrrmmm I'm gonna have to go with Steve on this one. Having ridden some bigger bikes (to some of you they would probably just be midsized) I found the fun level diminished as size of the bike increased. For me the real fun came back when I hopped on a scooter. Its like getting back on an old Honda CB400. You just cannot stop grinning.

I think you already have a great touring machine. The heck with rolling barcaloungers, these are motorcycles.


irondad said...

To tell the truth I would miss doing this, too. Like I wrote, this is a fine neighborhood to be a part of!

Thanks for the compliment. I'm going to do a little more of these kinds of posts. They're true stories and fun to write.

Sorry to do that to you!

The smaller bike thing is why I bought a 600 cc sport bike instead of a liter bike. One of these days when I'm not riding so bloody far I'll probably end up with a scooter to go exploring on.

Take care,