Monday, April 16, 2007

The long commute.

I'm sitting in traffic and muttering to myself. It's I-405 between Kirkland and I-5. Friday afternoon rush hour. Nobody's going much of anywhere. Except for the HOV diamond lane sitting tantalizingly to my left. For some reason my twisted psyche has deemed this a time to work on building "character".

Part of me is talking to the other part of me. That's enough to weird me out already. The part that's talking is trying to convince the rest of me that we need to work on our "Zen".

Just because it's there doesn't mean you have to use it. Going there would be the easy way out. You're tougher than that. Isn't it enough to be on the bike in the first place? You're always talking about how great you feel on the bike. Now's your time to sit back and enjoy it. There's no rain at the moment. This is your chance to look around you. Think "tranquility".

Tranquility, my ironbutt. Nerve endings are starting to tingle. All I can see is that lane next to me beckoning so invitingly. I need to be moving. Like a shark, I feel like I'm going to expire if I don't keep swimming. Where's Katie when I need her? When she's with me on the bike I'm calm. Alone, I crave action. Altruism isn't working. The part of me that's talking tries appealing to my competitive nature.

You aren't going to let Steve, Gary, and the other scooter folks show you up, are you? They must be mentally tougher than you. After all, they deliberately choose to ride scooters. Maybe they're more secure than you. They know they don't need to engage in battle to prove their strength. Scooter riders have more self control than you, don't they?

It's true that I have the utmost respect for those who willingly choose to commute on a small scooter. Most of the ones I'm aware of don't run scared. Instead, they use skill and brains in place of brawn. I'm almost starting to believe the voice in my head. For a brief moment I feel slightly shamed. Suddenly a mental picture springs forth which I use to counter this insane attack from my "gentle side".

I picture myself standing defiantly in front of an oncoming pickup. You know, one of those trucks with four doors, a full-size bed, huge tires and wheels, and lots of chrome. The kind driven by those trying to compensate for their own personal shortcomings. I'm holding a scooter over my head in upraised arms. With a battle cry I hurl the scooter through the windshield. Yes! Born a Warrior, we are Warriors to death. I feel so much better. Although I'd probably never do such a cruel thing to a scooter. It is a bike, after all.

All this discussion's made me crazy. I'm salivating and trembling like a wolf with a lamb chop draped over his snout. Snap!! The jaws close and I'm off into the HOV lane. I've lasted exactly 22 minutes.

The HOV lane has its own perils but at least I'm no longer doing the stop and go thing. For the last 22 minutes the fastest I've ridden is 9 mph. Mostly it's been a matter of moving thirty feet followed by trying to wear out the brakes. We're doing much better than that now but I have to watch out for the drivers who literally dive into this lane. HOV or not, any driver will suddenly pull out in front of faster traffic to gain a little advantage. The speed differential and lack of intelligence makes it kinda scary sometimes.

Let me set the record straight here. I do have patience. It's not the kind of patience associated with tranquility, though. No, it's more that associated with the hunt. I patiently wait until my opponent shows me their weakness. I wait to make a move until it's more advantageous for me. I have the kind of patience associated with a stalking lion. I love fly fishing and bass fishing. I hate just sitting in a boat watching a bobber. I was born that way. I accept my role. Brains and brawn; I'm loaded with both. The secret is to balance them into controlled aggression. I AM A WARRIOR!! Now get out of my way!

How I have the patience to teach new riders, I'll never know. It's probably because there's a challenge in and of itself in getting them from point A to point B. That journey intrigues me.

My morning had started pretty early. Sophie was saddled and rolling at 4 AM. There was frost on the windshield of my S-10 pickup when I left. Scoffing at the cold we began the long commute.

A little after 5 AM my trusty STeed and I found ourselves in Portland traffic. Even at that time of day, things were busy. At Foster Road another rider merged onto I-205. I followed for a while. The bike looked like a KLR but was smaller. It was still dark and I couldn't see any badging on the dual sport. Judging by the general condition of the bike it was either older, well-used, or both. Didn't Kawasaki make a bike called the Sherpa back in the day? Wasn't it a 250cc street legal dual-sport?

What I noticed most about the bike was how hard it was to see. Like I say, it was still dark. There were some street lights along the freeway but they didn't pierce the gloom very far. On top of it all, there was some light fog. The rider was wearing what looked like good gear. It just wasn't doing much to help his visibility. A dark red helmet sat on top of a dark red jacket. Covering the bottom half were dark colored pants. Notice the theme, here? There was no reflective material to be seen. A very small tail light and a dim license plate bulb were the only signs of his presence. Sometimes following somebody else can give us a good clue as to what we look like to drivers.

Somewhere around Tacoma I had the urge to stop and stretch my legs before the final leg of the trip to headquarters. I also couldn't resist playing with someone's mind. Whipping off at Exit 128, I headed for a Starbucks I know about. Katie swears I navigate by Starbucks. I think she may be right! I only drink plain drip coffee, though. This particular one has a drive up. I opened up the flap of the tank bag at a fuel stop. Moving stuff around, I created a little crater type nest. I stashed a couple of dollars in the clear map window of the bag. It was so cool to roll up to the drive up and order a tall coffee to go. I thought the barista's eyes were going to pop out when she saw me put the coffee in the bag. She probably spent all day wondering how I drank the coffee while riding the bike. The truth was that I only went as far as behind the strip mall and then stopped to drink the hot brew. Fun times. I love making people's days more surreal.

Most of the rest of the ride was just interstate droning. Here's a couple of other tidbits from the commute.

Firstly, here's an obversation or two about vehicles on the road. Toyota seems to be hugely represented out there. The new Jeep Commander looks a lot better coming than going. A maroon colored specimen dove in front of me and I was forced to follow it for a long ways. I eventually passed it again and got a good look at the front of the rig. Not too bad. Following it was another story. This vehicle suffers from the ugly wazoo syndrome. That being said, nothing out there is as ugly to me as the Pontiac Aztek!

Secondly, it always blows me away how many people are driving the freeway and talking on the cell phone. Most barely have the divided attention to drive, let alone talk at the same time. So many get into the left lane and travel below the speed limit. It reminds me of behaviour that established probable cause for a drunk driving arrest. Weirdly enough, I discovered that trying to count the number of drivers talking on a cell phone can be as distracting as actually talking on the cell phone!

Washington State will probably have a hand-held ban in place come Janurary 1. It would seem that the drivers up there are trying to cram in as much cell phone to the head talking as possible before then. In an effort to pass time and amuse myself, I started counting the number of drivers using cell phones. Not only that, but I studied body language. After all, I've always wondered who the heck they were all talking to! The study of body language has been both a useful tool for survival and a fascinating endeavour.

I saw everything from big smiles like you'd see in passing along gossip to dark looks common to heated arguments. I was really getting into my research. Almost too much. Traffic in big cities has this nasty habit of coming to an abrupt halt on short notice. I almost missed one such incident. Actually, to be more accurate, I should say I almost didn't miss one such incident. No harm, no foul. There was plenty of time for me to react. The takeaway is that distractions can take many forms!

Seat time ended up being nine and a half hours. Total miles were 528. Not a bad day of riding. Yes, there was a fair amount of rain here and there. I don't care. I hate being wet but hate even more not being able to ride. I arrived home 15 1/2 hours after leaving. My bride welcomed me with a warm smile and hug. Just before we went to bed, Katie mentioned that since this was the last weekend I'd have off for a while, maybe we could work in a motorcycle ride. Aye, carumba! But that's the next post!

Miles and smiles,


Steve Williams said...

Dan. If you look up mental toughness in the dictionary you'll see a picture of yourself.

If anyone is tough it's you. The things I do on the Vespa are just anemic compared to the almost daily adventures you embark on.

Maybe when I'm retired I can stretch towards the example you set.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

The Snark said...

Goddammit. I spurted coffee all over my laptop screen reading that. WARRIOR! BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!

I'm moving house, changing jobs, and coping with being a single dad to 2 hyperactive monkeys, all in the space of a month. I need to ride, and ride I will. 2 weeks before the new job. I'm dumping the monkeys at the zoo (daycare) and going riding for sure.

Combatscoot said...

I've used the drivethrough and amazed the workers several times. Always gets a smile and shake of the head.
A cell phone measure just narrowly failed here in Florida. I'm not happy about that. Way too many yakking yahoos out on the roads.

irondad said...

Thanks for the compliment, I'm actually a victim of my genetics and upbringing. Gramp was one of those old time cowboys. A man never backs down. Never. It's been tempered some but I can't take credit. It's just the way I am.

GO FOR IT!!! Good luck on everything else.

It's fun to step outside of the box. Sometime you should go back and find Gary's old posts about boxes in boxes. He describes it well.

Hand-held cell phone bans are gaining momentum. I think what will happen is that the Feds will step in and make compliance be tied up to highway funding.