Monday, August 13, 2007


I never thought I'd ever say this. With my reputation as a hardcore rider it might even be considered treason. Blasphemey, at the very least. I finally encountered a situation where I would rather have been in a car. Painful to admit, but true.

It all started with a trip North for a company picnic. One of the guys who's worked for the company a long time has a house on a lake near Seattle. Steve had offered it for the company picnic. He's also known as quite the Bar-B-Q king. The picnic was scheduled for Saturday. Overnite accommodations were offered for both Friday and Saturday nights. Katie and I decided to go up Friday night. We wanted a little more privacy so we opted for a motel room. Knowing I could get a great rate at the place I usually stay when I am commanded to show up at Corporate, that's where we headed.

I should know better than to plan a trip up Interstate 5 on Friday afternoon anywhere near Seattle. I guess I'm one of those stubborn guys who thinks I'll make it work anyway. Since my ankle is back to normal we packed Sophie. I recently acquired a Givi tail trunk. It's like moving into a bigger house. When you find you have more room you suddenly find you "need" more stuff! Things weren't bad until we hit Tacoma. Crews have been working on the freeway by the Tacoma Dome forever. Between that and the sheer volume of traffic we made steady, albeit slow, progress. Little did I suspect what was in store for us a few miles up the road.

On the bike we have no radio. There was no forewarning. The first sign of trouble was that traffic was getting slower and slower. Figuring it was just the normal Friday afternoon rush hour thing, I stayed on the freeway. Big mistake. We got trapped.

North of Fife we came to a standstill. For a while it was stop and go. Soon it became mostly "stop". The freeway is four lanes wide in this stretch. Tons of traffic barely moving. Literally. Next to us a guy in a beat up old landscaping truck had his window down. I asked him if he knew what was going on. Unlike us, he had a radio and heard there was a big accident right where Highway 18 joins I-5. The good news was that it was only a couple of miles or so North of us. The bad news was we'd already passed the last exit that might have given us an alternate route. Now the ordeal began in earnest.

It took us a few minutes shy of two hours to cover those two miles. Looking back on it, I should have worked my way over to the right and hung out at the rest area until traffic cleared. Like I say, I've got this stubborn streak. Why would I want to just sit in a rest area when I could keep making forward progress? Even if it was at a snail's pace. Almost literally. It was progress but it came painfully and agonizingly slowly. A couple of times I seriously thought about riding the freeway shoulder. One time I even started to nose the wheel of the bike over there. At the same moment I saw blue and red lights in the mirror. It was the first of several law enforcement vehicles using the shoulder to get to the accident. Better not to take a chance. I don't know what the fine is but I really didn't want to find out! My Oregon plate probably wouldn't let me plead ignorance to Washington law. These guys play rough, too. I just read that the fine for unauthorized use of the HOV lane is over a thousand dollars for the first offense! So I suffered.

Imagine sitting on a bike. You're in traffic that moves forward about twenty or thirty feet and then stops for minutes at a time. It's not scorching hot but plenty warm. Being a believer in good gear, your body's covered by an Aerostich Roadcrafter suit. A full face helmet's protecting your head from direct sun but holding in a lot of heat at the same time. My Arai helmet's designed to vent but a key ingredient in the formula is moving air! Same formula holds true for the 'stich's vents. On top of it all, you have a passenger you care about behind you. As much as you love her, the extra weight's quickly becoming felt. Left foot down. Both feet down. Hot pavement roasting your feet. Sweat turning your t-shirt into a watering hole for all your wandering cooties. Clutch hand getting really tired. The needle of the temperature gauge staying right up towards hot. Electric fan running all the time. I tried shutting the bike down now and then to let it cool. I was worried that constantly starting the bike combined with the stop and go pace would drain the battery too much. Knock on wood, but the battery's the original from 2001 when I bought Sophie new. Sometimes I would put the bike in neutral and put the sidestand down to take the weight. Then I'd throw my shoulders out hefting it back up to move forward another few feet.

Somewhere in the middle of this these words blazed across the front of my skull:

"God, I wish I was in an air conditioned car right now!"

There. Shocking as it may be, I'd almost had enough. My tired legs would have nothing more strenous to do than work the brake and gas pedals. I could be listening to soft jazz on the stereo. Staying oh so cool in the meantime! It was entirely my fault, of course. Like I said, I could have pulled into the rest area and just waited it out. Us and the other hundreds of folks already there judging by the crammed parking lot. I'm patient with students when I'm teaching but I don't normally have that kind of patience otherwise. My first instinct is to attack, not retreat. I just kept thinking that it would end at any moment. I mean, how often does the freeway actually shut down to this extent? There was no way for me to know how long the ordeal would last until I'd actually finished it and could look back on it. By the way, Katie was really none the worse for wear. She told me she'd actually napped for part of the time! We are such polar opposites in temperment it's a wonder we get along so well.

Eventually it was over. Was it still the year 2007? My joy at being on the bike quickly returned. Once we got moving again, that is. We arrived at our hotel later than planned but intact. Having had more than enough sitting on the bike for one day, Katie insisted we walk over to the restaurant for dinner. How could I argue? I'm an Iron Butt. However, Katie's not. Besides, it was certainly true we'd avoid any traffic jams by walking the half mile!

This is a great place to rekindle the fun of riding. It's become sort of a rider's hangout. The owners encourage it by having provided a motorcycle motif. They also sponsor some motorcycle related events and keep up on the local "scene". Inside the restaurant are some vintage Italian bikes. They're not restored in the traditional sense. It's more like someone found some old bikes with parts missing, etc. Whatever was left was cleaned up and painted with standard paint. Still, though, it makes for a nice background as you enjoy a satisfying meal.

I wasn't real inspired to take pictures inside, being tired and hungry, but I did snap this photo just inside the front door. This moped's had a little more attention than most of the displays. If you want to look at more, though, click here for their website. If you arrive on a bike you get 10 percent off your meals. Since we walked over I showed them my instructor certification card. They were gracious enough to provide the discount for me. Good food and a little money saved in the process. Works for me!

Katie and I sat out on the patio. Since I wasn't riding I enjoyed a couple of cold beers. Guinness Stout if you want to know. I didn't take pictures of our food, thank you. I'll leave that kind of artistry to Gary and Steve. I'm much better at eating it than photographing it, anyway. Most of the riders were on the patio and we had some great conversations.

Feeling refreshed, and with our traffic nightmare now a fading memory, we called it a day. Suffice it to say that when we left for home on Sunday morning we studiously avoided anything remotely resembling a freeway. Our journey home had a coastal theme. Traffic was the usual summer tourist thing but not too bad. Until we got to Seaside, that is. Seems there were hundreds of beach volleyball teams, both male and female, in town for a yearly competition. This time I was more than willing to pull off and take in the "scenery", if you know what I mean. Katie slapped me up alongside the helmet and told me to keep on moving. Oh well!

Oh, that car thing?

I have no recollection of making any such statement!

Miles and smiles,



James - said...

You know there is an alternative to the comfort of an air conditioned car . . . Lane sharing. California traffic is like you described at all times, except from 2am to 4am so they let us bikes use the unused space to slip by. My 16 mile commute in the evening takes about an hour in a car. On a bike it is less than 30 minutes.

Bryce Lee said...

Have always felt? that air-conditioned motor vehicles are
great on hot days. Moreso if you're
stuck in traffic due to somebody's stupidity. Not to say you were stupid, however that Goldwing you looked at did/does have a radio.
Maybe one for Sophie? As to the traffic have one not travel
any distance on arterial roads on a Friday evening, ditto Saturday evening and Sunday afternoons. Too
many drunks, too many idiots, and
everybody is in a rush to get
somewhere, fast!

Anonymous said...

I think the HOV fine is more along the lines of $120 or so. If it was $1000 that would be great since it might scare more cagers that use it for a passing lane. Everyone is too darn impatient these days. The only thing I am guilty of is "filtering" at a particular off ramp I use in north Seattle. It' not officially two lanes, but the advantages of being on a bike cannot be ignored!

Additionally, note that there is intense construction happening on I-5 near seattle for the next 15 days or so. If you've got any more trips up here planned... well... PLAN accordingly :)

On another final note, I was wondering how many of us all-wise motorcyclists carry a rubber band to secure the front brake in cases of parking on an incline? I had an argument with gravity the other day and lost. Busted mirror and bruised pride. Leaving the bike in gear doesn't always work (although my incident was my own pure stupidity.) I read about the rubber band idea after the fact.


Bill Sommers said...

Ah Ha! You DO have a soft side. And you admitted it, even if you did retract a bit at the end of the post.

Considering that I know what was going on, and where you were hung up in traffic, a cage with a cool breeze would have been nice. But you still hung in, in your true warrior style.

Have fun,

Steve Williams said...

So, who really wrote this post? I didn't realize Dan you had multiple authors. You are going to need to get who ever it is on board and up to speed on the basic foundational ideals of the intrepid commuter.

Wishing for an air conditioned car. What's next? Wishing for a heated one in winter? Four wheel drive for a little snow? Tsk tsk.....

But I understand. We all have slips. You'll be ok. Just accept your humanity and ride another day.


Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

irondad said...

I'd be all for lane splitting if done prudently. It should be offered as another reward for using less fuel and taking up less space!

I used to listen to a small radio when I rode but I'm really enjoying the chance to be in my own head anymore. It's only rarely that I miss out on stuff like this traffic situation.

You're probably right on the fine. I heard it from a source in
Washington that might have been passing on hearsay. I checked the WSP site and the current fine for improper lane usage/travel is $124.00. That's effective 7/22/07.

I never thought of the rubber band thing, either. Although I tend to be real picky when it comes to parking on slopes.

Bill and Steve,
I swear it was all motivated by worrying about Katie! Actually it was the two hours spent holding the bike up with no help from forward momentum. I would surely hope that this particular aspect is not a standard part of commuting!

Bring on the snow!

Take care,


David said...

Been there, done that, usually in a big truck. BTW, it's legal to use an HOV lane on a motorcycle in Washington, even if you're alone. We're "High Efficiency Vehicles" now! Bout time someone noticed. ;)

Dave T.

krysta in milwaukee said...

"To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun. A time for a motorcycle and a time for a car,..."

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, mod.

Vespa said...

Amazing blog!

Just thought i would say hi

irondad said...


Hi, back! Thanks for the kind comment. Hope the blog is of use.