"The beaten path is the safest but the traffic's terrible!"
( Jeff Taylor, founder of monster.com )
That statement's probably the biggest reason I commute on a bike all year round. It's always special being on a bike but I don't always show the same level of enthusiasm. I know I come across as some hardcore Road Warrior and I truly am, I guess. During the Winter, though, my appetite for battle isn't always strong. I freely admit that I have days when I just don't want to be wet and cold. I'm not real thrilled at the prospect of riding in blustery winds, torrential rains, dicey traction conditions, or the multitude of other adverse things we face. Not to mention putting myself in a position where I'm more vulnerable to the cager idiots. A lot of people, including my own relatives, think I have some mental issues. They seem to think I'm some sort of masochist who likes pain and suffering.
Far from it. Dang right I'd like to be warm and comfortable. I'd love to eat Egg McMuffins and drink coffee during my commute. Heck, on Wednesdays I'd even order hash browns. At least until I couldn't fit underneath the steering wheel anymore! I'd like to know that if I made an error in judgement the consequences would be a little less critical than if I were on a bike. So why don't I just give in?
Like many of you, I'll fight being crammed into somebody else's mold until my dying day. I refuse to take the "beaten path" and become like all those people I see on the freeway every day. This is the essence of being a true Road Warrior. It's having the physical and mental toughness to battle for what you believe in. It's girding your loins by putting on the gear and saddling up the bike. Day in and day out through the Winter even though it causes you discomfort and possibly outright pain. It's who we are, it's what we do.
Winter can make riding a chore. We do it despite a feeling that we're just going through the motions. And then along comes a sunny day. Suddenly everything changes. The very same people who look at me all Winter like I'm crazy are now themselves crazy with envy. Sunshine and a bike is the recipe for the ultimate restorative tonic. Forget caffeine, chemical stimulants, or vitamins. Want a great mental boost? Ride in the sunshine! It's even better than Lucille Ball's "Vitameatavegiman"! God, did I just date myself, or what?
On top of riding to work in the sunshine, which made the temperature climb into the mid-seventies (f), add the chance to ride FOR work. As a cherry on top of the sundae throw in some pleasant surprises. What you'll have is my day yesterday which I've described in the title of this post.
On the way up the freeway I saw an Oregon State Police trooper working traffic. He was sitting at the side of the road on his new bike. They've switched from the BMW to this Honda ST1300. By coincidence, the same basic bike I spent a week and a half riding recently. I'm sure the Hondas came in a little lower in the bid process. One of the big differences in the police bike is that the output of the alternator's been ramped to 660 watts. I'm hearing, though, that the batteries are draining fairly quickly. The bike will be switched on but not running. With all the pumps, electronics, and extra police gear like radio and radar gun, a battery can be drained in about 20 to 30 minutes. There ought to be a key position where just the radio and radar gun are on. I'm sure that the techs will fix this soon.The officer and I exchanged a friendly wave and I continued on my way to the office. Our mission for the day was to run down some problems with electromechanical door hold-open devices at the Veteran's Hospital in Portland. A specialist had come down from the Kirkland, Washington office to help out. He and the sales manager from Spokane were taking a car up to "Pill Hill". That's the common name for the hill the hospital's on. There's also Doernbecher Children's Hospital, Oregon Health Sciences University, a fancy eye center, and who knows what else up there. Thus the name.
My task was to go by the Portland Airport to pick up some circuit boards that were being shipped in overnight. Once I had them I was to deliver them up to the VA Hospital. The boards would fit in the bike's saddlebags.
I had a little time to kill so I decided to go to a local Starbucks for coffee. It was 8:15 AM. Starbucks was packed and the line was long. I didn't need their coffee that badly so I left. Just as I was pulling out I remembered there was a Crispy Creme donut shop a little farther down. Their coffee's not bad so this was Plan B. I discovered a neat little trick when I walked in.
My plan was to just have some coffee. Crispy Creme has this endearing policy of handing customers a hot, glazed donut as they enter. I hadn't remembered this. I was just after coffee, after all. How, though, could I resist the offer? Therein lies the trick. Go in just for coffee and get a free donut to go with it. No charge for that tip, folks!
The ride to the airport was neat. Short, but fun. Parking was the only thing I was really worried about. Instead of using a regular freight carrier, the parts I needed were coming in as checked baggage on an Alaska Airlines flight. Don't ask me how that works. All I knew is that I would have to go clear up to the terminal. Being one to push limits slightly, I figured I'd head on up to where you can pick up passengers. I seemed to remember a sign when I got back from Orlando in February that 15 minute parking was allowed. If I hurried I could park the bike at the curb and go fetch my package.
Chewing on that option, I almost missed the sign that pointed to my salvation. Fortunately, I'm a trained observer. Right before I had to make the left turn that would commit me to going to the terminal I saw a small sign. The sign read "motorcycle parking only". Looking past that I saw a bunch of bikes hunkered down underneath the ramp. A quick flick to the right and I was in motorcycle parking paradise.
Here's a picture of a bike I thought you might enjoy. This rider has their own flair!
Yes, it's a Gold Wing. Speaking of 'Wings, maybe somebody who rides one can give me some input. I've seen several of them on the freeway this last week. Late eighties models and newer. In the early mornings when I'd think they'd be cold, the riders have had jackets but no riding gear over their jeans. If I ride without the Roadcrafter pants my lower half gets cold. These guys either have a short ride or the weather protection is that good. I'm not sure which. The lower fairings on the 'Wings seem wider so it looks like the wind is moved farther away from the rider's legs.
Being able to park Sophie in with this bunch of bikes totally de-stressed my mission. I got the packages, bid farewell to this bike sanctuary, and set off. There's an Air Guard base next to the airport. As I was leaving the terminal two fighter jets took off. Talk about power! I could see the twin tail nozzles spouting fire while the planes built up a little speed. Then they shot almost straight up. The visor on my helmet literally buzzed from the sound and power of the jets. These things must be the ultimate thrill ride!
It's a little over 15 miles to the VA Hospital. Once there, the road up the hill is a winding one. Gee, too bad. Do I have to ride this great road? I saw some bicyclists riding up the hill! These people are crazier than me. I'm not sure I'd even make it up the hill in the first place. I have a 15 speed mountain bike that I ride off and on. I've never tackled a hill like the one up to the hospitals. If one were commuting to work on a bicycle, the good news is that the ride home is downhill. Convenient after a long day of work, huh?
This was a perfect day of riding. At least, for a day spent working. By the time I arrived home there were another 271 miles on the clock. The only ripple in the current of motorcycling happiness yesterday happened on the way home. A Lexus SUV made a half-hearted effort to take me out. I'd been following the Lexus in the "A" lane. Sorry, cop talk. How about the hammer lane of three freeway lanes? The SUV driver pulled back into the middle lane. I was travelling a little faster and slowly started making my way by. For some unexplained reason the Lexus driver decided they really wanted to be back in the hammer lane. Over they came. Not abrubtly, but purposefully. I moved onto the shoulder but didn't reduce speed. After moving two thirds of the way into my lane the driver finally noticed me. How they lost me in the first place is what puzzles me.
It was partly my fault because I lingered in their blind spot. I was alert and ready so I wasn't as aggressive as I'd usually be about moving out of the danger zone. I know it sounds weird. Kinda like saying I'm prepared to run so I'll go up and slap a bear in the face. No harm, no foul. Both the Lexus and I continued on our ways unscathed. Both hands even stayed on the handlebars. It was too great a day to mess up by negative waves. Remember Donald Sutherlin as the tank driver in Kelly's Heroes? Dated myself again, didn't I? Enough of these negative waves, man!
Riders in general, and commuters specifically, need myriads of little strategies to survive on the streets. That's one strategy; namely, watching to see if we're in a driver's blind spot. How many riders look at a vehicle's sideview mirror to determine if they can see the driver's eyes? If you can't see their eyes they can't see you. I know it's hard to tear ourselves away from looking at storefront windows to see how cool we look. Still, it's our responsibility to make sure we stay out of other driver's blind spots.
That was my ride to work yesterday. My batteries are charged for a while. Once again I'm reminded of why we choose two wheels in the first place. As if we needed the reminder, right? The rain's coming back real soon. I'll still ride but you can bet I'll be thinking of my Spring Fling! By the way, I do really feel for those of you still getting snow and cold weather. I hope Spring comes real soon for you.
Miles and smiles