Monday, September 17, 2007

Creepy stowaway!

At first it was just a tickle. Sometimes the wind does that in my HJC flip up helmet. My helmet had been sitting on the grass most of the afternoon. Maybe it was a stray piece of grass. I'd taken the helmet off again to check. Seeing nothing, I put it back on. Now I'm following a third rider on the track. My objective is to keep my own lines clean, evaluate the rider, and try to formulate it into helpful feedback.

The tickle's back. It's moving around my ear and cheek. By now I'm pretty sure it's not wind or grass. There's something alive in my helmet besides me. There's two more laps to go in this evaluation ride. I try my best to keep focus but can't help but wonder what's in my helmet. That side of our human nature that makes us want to avoid co-habitating with creepy crawly things is rising strong in me. I want nothing more than to stop and get this thing out of my helmet. The Warrior side of me keeps me on task. Whatever this thing is, I will not yield. I have a task to finish. So on I ride, jaw clenched and eyes on the rider ahead.

It feels so good to be back on the track. I'd had a long trip followed by a whirlwind of work. For the record, the trip to Sand Point, Idaho wasn't a vacation. I was required to be there at the staff retreat. Sophie and I left home at 4:30 A.M. on Wednesday. We went to Madras in Central Oregon where we investigated a problem at the new minimum security prison soon to open. Look for an interesting story about that in an upcoming post. At 6:30 we finally arrive in Idaho. I sent off a quick post to the blog on Thursday. We had one afternoon to relax and I tried to make the best of it. We hit the road Friday after lunch, arriving home at 9:30 P.M. 1100 more miles were showing on Sophie's clock. Six-thirty Saturday morning saw me starting a weekend of training for a batch of instructor candidates. Monday brought the Advanced Rider Training course. What we call ART for short. It's the one civilian course we offer on an enclosed track.

I met Ray and Steve early Monday morning at the K-Mart in Albany. Riding side by side with Ray, I was looking forward to hitting the track. Between riding with Katie over Labor Day weekend, riding to work, and riding for work, my butt had been in a bike saddle for nine of the last 10 days. Averaging the total mileage over the ten days, it came to over 170 miles per day. So why was I looking forward so much to more riding? A truly skilled Warrior is always holding back on the streets. At the track I could let it all hang out during the morning while the students were in the classroom.

My vision didn't match the reality, unfortunately.

Oh, I got a few hot laps in first thing. The three of us stopped, opened the gate, and proceeded down the gravel road to motorcycling paradise. The dust from the gravel hadn't even settled when the sound of three Hondas in full attack mode could be heard. Seemingly on the same cue, we all pulled into the paddock. Steve, the Director, let out a huge "Yes!" His ST1300 had been shod with Dunlop D205's until just recently. He'd had good luck with these but this last pair had done weird things for wear and grip. Now there was a set of Avon sport touring tires on his bike. We're pleased to announce that these tires were gripping satisfactorily. The Metzler Z6's on Sophie and Ray's VFR were doing just fine, too, thank you. You know, there's worse ways to start a Monday.

Students started trickling in not long afterwards. There are two instructors starting their apprenticeships to become qualified to teach this class. One is my good buddy Jeff Earles who finished 4th in this year's Iron Butt Rally. He can certainly ride far, let's see how he does riding and evaluating fast! Steve took Dean and Ray took Jeff. The new guys needed to spend time working on lines and technique. Which left me to run Lead. Which means I ended up in the classroom.

Do you know how hard it is to be in the building and have to hear bikes roaring by on the front straight? Wishing it was me out there? Two and a half lovely hours to be streaking around the track. Calling it work but in reality it's pure bliss. The lunch break finally came. I'd brought a sandwich which I quickly wolfed down. There was precious little time to go ride. The rest of the guys were sitting in the shade eating. Best place for them to be. OUT OF MY WAY!!!

Somebody must have sped up the clocks because all too quickly it was time to start the track portion. The students were eager to go. The other instructors were ready to ride. I, on the other hand, had to wistfully look away and pull out my range cards. I'd be doing plenty of coaching but little riding.

By the way, it was hot. A new temperature record was being set for Canby. The mercury officially climbed to 94 degrees (f). I'd moved my gear and Sophie's saddlebags out of the sun and into the shade in a grassy spot. At the end of the course we run the track backwards. The students get to ride a whole different track. It gives them a chance to apply what they've learned to a new environment. Instructors circulate and help with lines, technique, and offer passenger rides. I, meanwhile, just watched. Then a glimpse of salvation came.

The last exercise is an evaluation ride. Students ride with an instructor behind them for a few laps. The instructor offers helpful feedback at the end of the ride. Because the other two guys were brand new, they needed the Mentors to ride behind them and listen to their evaluations. Which meant it would take a long time to get through all the students. I could do some evaluations and cut the time down. It was finally time for me to gear up and go ride!

So I grabbed my helmet from the grass. I felt like a tied up dog that's finally released. Being so eager to go, I didn't even think about checking my helmet. If your helmet's been sitting in the grass for hours, by the way, you really should check it first!

After about the fourth rider I finally pulled off and checked the helmet for the second time. My first check hadn't revealed the presence of the stowaway. This time I found it. A large spider crawled out of the ear portion. It was what we call a Daddy Long Legs. Not really a spider, technically, but a member of the Arachnid family. There's a wive's tale that says this spider is one of the most venomous in the world but it's fangs aren't long enough to bite humans. That's not really true. This creature is an opportunist. It eats decayed leaves, etc., and the occasional small creature it can get away with attacking. Some biologists call it a harvester type Arachnid. Pretty much harmless to humans, either way. Thank goodness. Although I certainly had no idea of that when I felt it crawling around in my helmet.

I let the poor thing go without killing it. Wonder what it thought of its hot laps around the track?

Miles and smiles,


Scott Thigpen said...

Hi Dan,

I'd have pulled over ASAP. Two laps left or not.

As for your question, I thought the grille on my scooter was for the radiator. Of course, I admit I haven't exactly taken my scooter apart to make sure.

Kano said...

LOL, good safety tip, to check the helmet before putting it on. Yep, a bug in the old helmet is almost as distracting as a bee splattering on the face at 70mph!

irondad said...

Sorry, I should have enlarged the picture so the grill showed more clearly. Thanks for bearing with me!

At least with the bee I had the satisfaction of playing tough guy when I stopped and pulled the stinger out of my nose. With the spider in my helmet I might have been more like a frightened old lady!

Scott Thigpen said...

Hey, no problem. Most people usually think small scooters are air cooled.

I have to keep reminding myself that it does everything I need and want to do, but I keep looking at motorcycles. It's a good thing there aren't too many 500cc bikes out there....

Biker Betty said...

I'd have to pull off if something was crawling in my helmet and fast, lol. I'm a wimp, but have been bitten by a bug a few summers back that flew down my shirt while riding my motorcycle. It was summer and I only owned my winter jacket at the time and left the zipper open more then usual for venting. Gave passing motorists quite a show, lol.