Wednesday, January 31, 2007
It's 1 AM. I've got a two hour drive to get to the airport and take an early flight to Florida. It's for work, seriously. If all goes according to plan Saturday night should see my arrival home. In the meantime, I seriously doubt I'll be able to post anything here. There's a lot coming next week, though!
See you then.
Miles and smiles,
Monday, January 29, 2007
Ok, I can see why people choose not to ride in really cold weather. I almost found myself wishing I hadn't ridden this weekend.
There's still snow on the ground in certain places in Portland. Mostly it's where the snow's been piled after clearing off parking lots. Then there's places where the freezing Gorge wind blows all the time. Suffice it to say I suffered a little. I'm told by those who know me that the reason I can ride in extreme conditions is a couple of expressions:
"No brain, no pain". "No sense, no feeling". Yeah, right, they're just in jealous awe!
Anyway, I'm busy trying to keep up. Instructor training happened this weekend. It was a lot of work but fun. There's a couple of stories I'll share later. Tuesday night ( or Wednesday morning ) I'm leaving at 2 AM to get back to Portland and catch a 6 AM flight to Seattle. From there it's on to Orlando. Thurday and Friday will be spent in corporate meetings. I get to spend most of Saturday coming home. In between I'm trying to catch up on the other blogs plus actually do my job. There's sunshine pleading with me to go take a ride. Lot's to do.
Speaking of riding in the cold ( or not ) here's a link to a video that one of my sons forwarded to me. It's about 4 minutes long. Turn on your speakers and enjoy. If it's too cold to ride here's another way to entertain yourself!
Miles and smiles,
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Thud! One second I was standing. The next I was sitting on the parking lot's blacktop. What's so ironic that it makes me sick was that I'd ridden over 80 miles in these conditions with no problem. Three steps away from the bike, and wham! My first thought was to hold my helmet up. The next was to look around to see if anyone saw me. Vanity must be built deep into our psyches. Did anyone see? Yeah, pretty much everyone at the coffee shop. I shot a quick glare towards Sophie. She was snickering, I just know it. Oh sure, she tried to disguise it. Sophie was doing her best to look innocent. Innocent? I could see her horns poking up through her halo. Sophie claims the noises she was making were just the ticking sounds of cooling metal. I know better. Oh, she's gonna' pay.
Wednesday morning was cold and foggy. There were promises of sunshine later in the day. I had a meeting at the Vancouver office early in the morning. Travelling 90 miles on urban freeway can take a little longer than one might figure. Just to be sure I wasn't late Sophie and I left pretty early. Dawn was still a couple of hours away. The thermometer indicated it was 33 degrees (f). My road test in front of the house showed only wet pavement. At this temperature freezing fog is always a possibility. On the other hand, most of the journey would be on Interstates. No problem.
This is my first winter doing the Northern route. For three and a half years I was commuting in the opposite direction. A person kind of gets to know the roadways. As in "this particular spot will be fine but I know this other stretch tends to get icy first". You know the kind of thing I'm talking about. It's quickly become apparent where the traffic jams are likely to occur. We're still discovering where the adverse roadway conditions will be. The process is complicated by the Columbia River Gorge. Portland and Vancouver are in The Gorge. Cold East winds do impish things to these areas.
A rider should never become complacent no matter how well they know the roads. In my case, I'm extra vigilant because I'm still learning. It's safe to say that there was no ice on my ride. Traffic on roads like the freeways will either melt ice or glaze it. One's good and the other's horrid! If there wasn't any ice how the heck did I fall down?
Blame a parking lot ( slow moving cars and less traffic ), Gorge winds, sunrise, and just the right temperature. In certain conditions a parking lot will be fine, only to ice up as the sun rises. Usually there's some frost to give a visual warning. Just my luck to find black ice on the slope I walked down. We were running early so we stopped for coffee. It would be a good opportunity to warm up and lose that "lobster look". You know what I'm saying. An hour and a half of riding in freezing weather quickly moves your face past "rosy glow" to "frostbite red"!
There wasn't any warning when I applied the brakes in the lot. Maybe I'm just so smooth it wouldn't of mattered anyway. ( nice self-aggrandizement, huh? ) Three steps later I went from "Cool Hand Luke" to "Court Jester". I'm happy to say that the only thing injured was my pride. I probably should have re-mounted Sophie and rode off. That way people would have been left asking "who was that man who came into the parking lot, fell down, and then rode away again?" As it was, either nobody cared or they were afraid to say anything. I had to sit a little crooked on the wooden chair but no biggie.
It was a very human moment that could have happened to anybody. It could have happened to anybody, couldn't it? The contrast between riding so far and then falling down in the parking lot was just too funny not to share. Even Warriors have their "oops!" moments.
The next week or so is going to be very busy. Tomorrow afternoon ( Friday ) I'm riding up to Portland for the weekend. The new training season's getting underway. It will be interesting to see who the twelve souls are that brave the cold to take the first class of the year. I'm participating in and conducting step-up training for some of our instructors. On Wednesday I'm flying out to Orlando, Florida for a corporate-wide sales meeting. Coming home on Saturday. Sunday will be spent trying to balance convincing Katie she's not really a widow and watching the Super Bowl. It will seem strange to watch them in Miami knowing that just the day before I was near there.
I'll try to sneak in some posts as I can.
Miles and smiles,
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Did you read Gary's recent post dealing with choosing a pill? In case you aren't aware of what I'm talking about, click on his link to the right. Rush Hour Ramblings will take you to a great blog dealing with all things two-wheeled.
The most recent post at the time of this writing has to do with choosing between a blue pill and a red pill. I agree that there are choices in life. Sometimes we are faced with having to pick one thing or the other. Most of us, that is. I hereby proudly thump my armor covered chest and declare myself a Warrior!!!
"Your terms are not acceptable. I do not accept your attempt to impose your will upon me". There are always alternatives. One must think out of the box. Thus I say I will not be chained or backed into a corner. Boldy reaching into my leather bag of weapons I pull out The Yellow Pill.
Behold the previously untold marvel. Point your browsers to this link:
Be aware that this is a video of 5 minutes and 53 seconds. Only those with courageous hearts and fast connection speeds should venture into this land of wonder.
Those with slower connection speeds or who wish to linger in this oasis will be welcomed here:
Enjoy. There are always alternatives, fellow Warrior.
Miles and smiles,
Monday, January 22, 2007
I'm travelling back in time a few days. We experienced a couple of heavy snowstorms. Heavy for us, at least. Cold, clear days followed on the heels of the snow. In places where the sun had touched the snow melted. Shaded areas stayed snuggled under their powdery blankets. For probably four days the mercury never rose above 30 degrees (f). When I took this picture it was 23 degrees. The high that day was 27.
I was going to write that circumstances allowed me to ride for fun a couple of times. That's not really true. I made my own opportunities. A person needs to steer their own ship as much as possible. Once in a while currents take us where we might not choose to go. We can fight them or not. Depends upon the cost of the fight. That subject could take up a month of posts. We'll bypass that option for now. These rides were my time. I would go with the flow but choose which currents to follow.
As time goes on I've noticed some differences in myself. Other than the physical deterioration, that is! I've become a lot less focused on "destinations". When I have the choice I tend to pick "directions". It's true that we have to be certain places. Why let the "destination" make us miss out on the "journey"? We'll get to where we need to be either way. Will we arrive with a chunk of our life lost? Or will we arrive with some new treasure? It applies on a ride. It applies in life. I think I'll write more about this in a future post. I've been doing some reading about Zen. Spent a lot of time thinking about how it applies to riding. Some of us talk about this relationship. I think I'm getting close to figuring it out.
Mostly there wasn't much to write about. Hours of enjoyment. That pretty much sums it up. So why post it? Think about not caring at all where you end up. The total purpose is to enjoy each and every experience of the journey. One's eyes and mind only look far enough ahead to successfully pilot the bike. Suddenly you have a whole new perspective. It's like looking at a rose as we're walking by. If our mind is on where we're trying to arrive, the rose will always be just another flower. Slow down, turn around, bend down, and really look at the bloom. Soon we're awed by the marvelous intricacy of the petals and parts. We notice how the color isn't really solid. Subtle shades and progressions are evident when we look closely. Weird talk for a Warrior, isn't it? Warriors don't have to be all "guts and glory", you know!
Riding has more and more become my way to slow down, turn around, and bend down. Society's getting more frantic all the time. Great haste goes into meaningless endeavours. Several of you have commented on this. This person cut me off. They endangered a bunch of other people. Why? To get to Wal-Mart two minutes earlier. Commuting on a bike helps a lot. Sometimes I need extra inoculations of vaccine. Rides like this one give me that proverbial "shot in the arm". I'm building immunity against "frantic"!
Back to the ride. Here's a couple of examples that illustrate my point.
I literally found a "fork in the road". I've always loved Yogi Berra. He stated that if you came to a fork in the road, take it. I couldn't literally take this fork. I do, however, own it digitally now. This thing is proportioned quite well. There's some intricate scrolling on the handle. I'm snapping some photos. A voice issues forth from the house across the way. This is the only house for a long ways. The voice belongs to a female. She's offering to take my picture with the fork. I explain that the bike is the star of the show. Next to her is a little Daschund sporting a bright green collar. His collar sports the logo of the University of Oregon Ducks.
The woman is around my own age. Standing in the freezing cold we talk. She starts out telling me how her husband made the fork. The conversation turns to deeper things. I soon find that this woman cares about what's happening in the world. She is intelligent, aware, well read, and articulate. It's refreshing compared to conversations with most people. It is only a small interlude in the larger picture of a day. Still, it was a jewel in its own right. Something that would never have been discovered had I been focused on a "destination".
Later on I stopped at Coastal Farm and Ranch Supply. You can guess by the name what kind of store it is. My cowboy heart is comfortable here. Parking my fiery steed outside I enter the store. First thing on my mind is relief. Morning coffee combined with a couple of hours of cold air. Well, you know. I lingered a while to warm up. My wanderings led me to the back of the place. This establishment sells pellet stoves. A display model was cranked up. To most people is was probably just a stove. To a freezing motorcyclist it was heaven.
I was afraid to spend too long soaking up the warmth. More time spent feeling the wind chill awaited me. Reluctance to face it was building with each passing moment. Oh how glorious those minutes were, though! A pellet stove is a simple thing. Simplicity can hold a universe of wonder and pleasure. I'm convinced most people never experience this. A bike is more than a machine. It is a portal, an entry point to another world.
Getting onto a bike doesn't automatically take us to this world. It wants to but needs our input. We are the ones who must seek out and specify the path. Riders will come to forks in the road. There will be two choices. Avoid the road labelled "destination". Seek out the one labelled "journey". You'll still get where you need to go. Only you'll arrive much richer.
Miles and smiles,
Friday, January 19, 2007
I'm taking a little side trip today. It wasn't on the regular schedule. Of course, as riders we've never taken a side road just to see where it goes have we? There's no picture as we aren't taking the scenic route. This particular sojourn was instigated by a comment a reader made a few posts back. I like it when people have enough fortitude to offer honest feedback. Even if I'm the one in the crosshairs. More on the comment in just a bit.
The main purpose of this blog is to encourage folks to view two wheels as a viable form of transportation. The word "transportation" connotes utility. One of the most utilitarian things we do is commute to work. In other words, I'm trying to encourage more people to use their bike to ride to work. I distinctly remember writing that we weren't taking the scenic route. This paragraph sort of seems like the long way 'round, doesn't it?
My goal is to pass along tips and strategies for taking care of ourselves out there. Being a professional trainer I can't seem to get out of that mode. If I find some new item or way of doing things that will help a commuter I'll pass it along. The comments section of blogs are great venues for interaction between readers. I'm sort of disappointed that more don't take advantage of it. On the other hand, not everyone's comfortable engaging. Some like to sit back and quietly take away whatever they find of value. I understand.
Besides their value in commuting, bikes are just plain fun. There's enjoyment and personal growth to be experienced on every ride. I've been trying to share that side of riding, as well. It's been great fun to keep this blog. My own personal horizons have been expanded. I've gotten to know some great personalities in this blog community. Something that would never had happened if it hadn't been for the internet. This blog has also served as a medium to just plain express myself once in a while. That process of self-expression may cause offense to various readers now and then.
While I never set out to purposely offend anyone, I'm not afraid to be controversial. I've even been known to stir the pot once in a while just to see what comes to the top. Conflict in the proper context can create growth. As far as I know, I don't have it in for any particular group. I've always prided myself on being an equal opportunity offender.
Speaking of offending, time to come back to the comment. I have written disparaging things about SUV drivers. I also alluded to the fact that I liked to see bad things happen to them. A reader posted a comment wherein they took exception to my statements. He perceived my writings to be a negative blanket stereotype. It was pointed out that there are good and bad SUV drivers. Some who ride motorcycles also own SUV's. It would be presumed that these were being operated in a sane manner. The comment also stated that not all motorcyclists can be presumed to be good riders. For example, those who buy expensive bikes with no idea on how to ride well.
Feedback accepted and noted. I do not subscribe to all-encompassing stereotypes, good or bad. I can see where I gave that impression. More detail should have been provided for clarity. Let the "Court of Fairness" decree that stereotyping shall not be used in this blog.
During my years of commuting I have observed that there does seem to be some basis for making general statements. One example is what I continually see on my ride up the freeway in the morning. The little "Rocketships" ( those who travel at 80 or 90 mph while darting in and out of traffic ) are invariably the same type of cars. Tiny cars like Geo Metros, Ford Escorts or Focus, and tuner cars like Hondas and Accuras. I seldom see any other type of vehicle involved in this behaviour.
The vehicles that I experience being cut off and tailgated by are primarily SUV's. Even more specifically, it has been drivers of Fords. When the roads are flooded, snowy, or iced up, the vehicles I see being most aggressively ( as in without regard for the conditions ) are the four wheel drive SUV's. That's not stereotyping. It is based upon my own actual observations.
As the comment stated, negative stereotypes are bad news. It makes no difference if we're talking about SUV's or motorcycles. I agree to a point. There is one huge difference. It's this difference that's the whole point of my statements. My point has to do with consequences.
An SUV driver rarely suffers immediate consequences for inappropriate actions. A bike rider surely will. I'm often seeing an SUV driver signal for one flash and then try to crowd me out. It's like they believe the turn signal light activates some sort of force field that clears the way for them. I'm sure they figure that I'm not going to be able to do anything about it anyway. After all, who's got the biggest vehicle? Whether you call it incompetence or rudeness, they get away with it a lot. Guess what happens to a person on a motorcycle, on the other hand? Riders don't get away with bad judgement very often.
You see the difference?
Perhaps I'm more sensitized to it. In the real world people don't really pay the immediate price for their bad actions. This is as close to a political statement as I'll ever come to here. Just take a look at the Justice System. Enough said. As a former cop, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to arrest someone for GTA ( grand auto theft ) at 2 AM, book them, then arrest the same person for the same thing at 7 AM. It's the same feeling when I continually have to give way for rude and/or incompetent drivers. They do me wrong and continue on their merry way. No matter what they're driving.
In my world SUV's are the major offenders. Not the only ones, granted. When I see or hear something where a bad driver suffers a direct consequence of their stupid or overly aggessive behaviour I am going to rejoice. There's too little of it to waste. I don't see my attitude changing anytime soon. In the interest of clarity and justice, though, I will rephrase my comment.
I love it when bad things happen to bad drivers! ( whatever they drive )
Miles and smiles,
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I recently put up a post dealing with getting additional training. We all need to keep working on increasing our skill levels. At least that's my humble opinion in the matter. It was gratifying to see that some of you pledged to "go back to school". Some of you have already done so. A perfect example is a new rider in my town. She reads this blog regularly. She took the beginner's class. Later on she came back for a skills clinic. You are wise, oh honored riders.
What I didn't specifically deal with was just plain old refresher training. I know some of you have quite respectable skill levels. There's a lot of a value in going back to freshen up under the watchful eyes of an experienced instructor. Despite our best intentions we tend to get a little sloppy. Sometimes our habits slowly drift away from what actually serves us best. Then too, we become more able to absorb certain subtleties that can make huge differences in our riding.
Think about it for a moment. If you took a beginner's type rider class think about how much you had to absorb. Imagine your mental "RAM" space as one of those whiteboards. As an instructor I've written a lot on your personal whiteboard. Basic skills are enough at the moment to pretty much fill up most of the space. I've seen the look in my student's eyes when I know for a certainty that they're "full" at the moment. I'm definitely not going to overload them by offering some advanced technique. It would do no good, at best. Worst case, I could cause the students more stress which would destroy the learning environment.
As an interesting side note, one of the things I teach new instructors is "content" vs. "method". I use a 16 ounce can of warm beer and a 16 ounce transparent or translucent cup. Yes, it's cheap beer as nobody's going to drink it. One would presume that 16 ounces of beer would fit in a 16 ounce cup. All you have to do is pour it. Not that simple. I commence to pour the beer but do it somewhat quickly. As you may have guessed, the beer foams badly so not all of the can's contents are transferred to the cup. A student's mind has a finite space for learning about riding. What if our delivery method is flawed by trying to cram in too much too soon? What if the beer still in the can were some critical street survival strategy? Delivery method is just as important as the content.
Bringing it back to the discussion, only so much information can be absorbed in the beginning. After the student's been riding for a long time, it's a totally different story. Now the more subtle nuances and techniques can be successfully understood and internalized. Have you got time in the saddle? Your whiteboard now has room for more knowledge. After the initial "rush" our learning curve continues on a gradual upwards path.
This applies to every rider on the planet. We can all improve. We can all use professional tune-ups. What caused me to do this post in the first place is the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. These folks offer a two day EVOC ( Emergency Vehicles Operations Course ) to civilians. It's pretty cool because now riders who aren't cops can benefit from the training. This is a condensed version of the 80 hour course officers attend.
Motor officer recruits and experienced officers go through the two-week EVOC. Recruits for initial training; experienced officers as a refresher. This policy went into effect a number of years ago. Statistics revealed that 70 percent of on-the-job police fatalities in California were due to motor vehicle crashes. ( two and four wheels ) By the mid-90's, that number had fallen to 46 percent. Having convincingly proven their value, refresher courses are being offered more frequently.
As one who's "been there", done that" I can assure you that you'll probably drop your bike once or twice. During initial "motors" training ( forever ago ) I dropped the KZ eight times the first day. I guarantee that you will bruise your ego. I'm not sharing this to get you to attend this riding academy. Although police motor training is some of the best in the nation. That last sentence is really the point. Cops get rusty, too. Even though they ride every work day. Even though they get plenty of opportunity to keep their skills sharp. Even though they are professionals. Rust happens. If it happens to them, it can happen to all of us. Interestingly, most of the motor officer accidents happen off duty. A lot of departments allow the officers to commute on the bike as a perk. It's when they're riding just like us that they have problems. Different job, same mentally stressed condition. The accident is considered "on-the-job" because it's a police vehicle with a uniformed officer on it.
I wanted to share this as food for thought. It's our responsibility as riders to do all we can to take care of ourselves out there. Hopefully this will reinforce the need to stay sharp. Rust happens. Oil the blade once in a while.
Miles and smiles,
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
This is a picture of Interstate 5 just South of Portland. Southbound traffic is on the left and Northbound is on the right. The Oregon Department of Transportation has now issued a bulletin requiring traction tires or chains on all the highways in the Portland Metropolitan Area. This is a once-in-a-decade thing. Surprisingly, there's only been about three inches of snow. We've been well below freezing for days. Snow on top of ice and frozen ground. People here just don't know how to deal with it.
I live about an hour and half South of Portland. We just got some snow showers. Mostly it was freezing rain. I admit I have limits. No riding in the freezing rain for Irondad today. I've done it, I hate to say. Really freaked out some truck drivers who watched me in astonishment. They were stopped to chain up while I crawled up the hill. I could do it again but I choose not to deal with incompetent drivers. So far I haven't driven, either. Katie has the day off. There is hardly a school or college around that's open for business.
At 6:30 this morning the Oregon State Patrol was responding to 17 freeway accidents in my area. They finally quit responding to any new ones except for injury accidents. There just weren't anymore personnel available.
Check out this web page. It's for a Portland news station.
Look on the right side of the page where it has videos. Click on the video that talks about 15 collisions. This was home footage taken by a Beaverton Schools teacher from his apartment balcony. An SUV takes a wild ride down a hill causing destruction along the way.
I love to see bad things happen to SUV's. This morning I had a thought about why people drive like they do. Besides basic stupidity, of course. Vehicle manufacturers have taken to putting instructions on the back side of sun visors. When a driver pulls the visor down there's directions on things like starting the rig, etc. Sometimes there's an explanation of how to engage four wheel drive. At the very top of the list must be something like this in big, bold letters.
The bigger your vehicle the faster you should drive in ice and snow!
Haven't you observed that most drivers take this to heart? They can all have fun with each other. I'm hibernating and drinking coffee this morning.
Miles and smiles,
Monday, January 15, 2007
Freaking out a tailgater: Priceless!
The last two or three days have been cold and clear. Not so cold by the standards of some of you Eskimos to the East of me, true. For the temperate Willamette Valley, though, it's frigid. Lows have dipped to 16 degrees (f). I've repaired my electric vest thermostat. Time to go ride and freeze my face off. I like to ride with the visor up but not during this weather. Too painful.
Friday and Sunday brought opportunity to go out and just wander for hours. The world looks so beautiful on days like this. The picture above is looking West toward the relatively low foothills of the Coast Range. I had a great time riding and came back both times feeling totally refreshed. Chilled to the bone, but refeshed. I took some pictures, found interesting things to check out, and put a couple of stories in the files for later.
This post is about a particular incident that stands out on its own.
Whenever I wander about I try to avoid any part of main highways. Circumstances just worked out so that I couldn't avoid one stretch of Highway 34. At least not without backtracking a long ways. 34 is mostly a commuter highway between Lebanon and Corvallis. Out West of Corvallis it eventually winds its way to the Pacific Ocean. That particular part is great bike riding when traffic's not too heavy. The 10 or so miles between Lebanon and Corvallis is pretty boring. Not to mention populated by brain dead drivers. Partway along this particular stretch there's a busy interchange with Interstate 5.
Just after turning onto the highway I picked up an unwelcome travelling companion. She was driving a cream colored Town & Country Chrysler mini-van. One thing I really love about Sophie is that her mirrors are so clear at cruising speeds. Combined with the really big windshield of the van, I got a great view of the driver. She looked to be around 60. Black hair stopped just short of her shoulders. She was wearing gold-rimmed glasses. And she was right on my tail. I wasn't going to let that happen too long.
Tailgaters are a hazard to everyone, especially motorcylists. I can hear your comments about telling you something you didn't already know. Besides the chance of being rear-ended, though, there's another factor to consider. Distraction. When we're riding we need to pay attention to operating the bike and managing risk. Which means we need to look mostly ahead of us. With somebody on our tail our attention's drawn more and more rearward. Pretty soon we can be missing important things up front. It's a risk to be aware of and adjust accordingly.
We have a few options for dealing with tailgaters. Things like rocks and ball-bearings come to mind but aren't on my personal list of acceptable actions. Not that I wouldn't like to, sometimes.
It might be tempting to speed up if we have the chance. Don't. Guess who's going to speed up, too? We'll just end up being tailgated at a higher speed. Not cool. Sometimes we can tap the brakes. I'd suggest using the rear brake as it has less effect on the bike. This isn't a road-rage thing. Some people tailgate because they're aggressively stupid and selfish. Others are just stupid. A flashing brake light can serve as a reminder. This option doesn't work too often but it doesn't cost much to try. In my case, this in combination with something else, worked spectacularly. More on that later.
What IS vitally important is to increase the following distance between our bike and the car ahead of us. We're going to need space to react for both ourselves and the tailgater. Should be pretty self-evident but it's often overlooked by riders. Another option is to let the tailgater go by. This has to be done carefully.
Don't ever just sort of slide to the right to let the offender go around. Think about it. There's a reason they haven't gone around us, yet. Limited room. If we scoot to the right we now have a vehicle taking up two thirds of our lane. Which relegates us to a small space between the vehicle and the shoulder. It makes me shudder to think about. Even worse, suppose something unexpected happens. Like a previously unseen semi-truck coming over a rise. Suddenly the passing tailgater has to make a decision.
"Hmm, big semi-truck, or your scrawny butt?"
You know who's going to lose that one, don't you? Don't let someone around until we can get safely out of the way. We might just have to deal with the tailgater for a while. In my case, I wasn't going to stay where I was for long. Until I saw a golden opportunity. Then I decided to stick around and have some fun.
I noticed that the woman had her head turned towards the passenger side of the van. There were some pretty views like the one in the picture above. It sort of ticked me off. She's tailgating me AND sightseeing? Holy crap! A plan crept into my head. Actually, it was more of a triumphant burst, but what the heck. I knew that eventually this stupid woman would turn to look back ahead. I counted on the fact that most people see what's immediately in front of them without seeing the big picture right off. Wait for it, wait for it. Now!
As soon as I caught the movement of her head, I started tapping the rear brake pedal. At the same time I took my left hand off the grip and frantically repeated the downward gesture associated with slowing down. I had already seen that nobody was close behind her. I wanted to scare her, not hurt her or someone else. My plan worked flawlessly.
It's been a long time since I've seen someone with their eyes and mouth open so wide. The front of the van did this impressive dive. Must have been four-wheel ABS. I'm also pretty sure she soiled the upholstery. By now traffic coming off the freeway had cleared. I moved left and fell in beside her. Giving her a cheery wave with my whole hand, I sped off. Whistling all the way home. Priceless!
Miles and smiles,
Friday, January 12, 2007
The serene tranquility of the holidays has passed. Work has not yet ramped up for the year. These are in-between days. They feel like those hours between night and day. Not really dark but not really light. On the one hand I am vexed by the forced inactivity. On the other, these days are a rare opportunity. I am free of the din of the "to-do" lists. Pounding reminders of all that needs accomplished drown out time for deep thinking. This week has been quiet. It has been filled with contemplation.
Tuesday brought a day spent working from home. Katie was working with the munchkins at the elementary school. By noon my attention wandered more and more outside. Windows revealed hazy winter sunshine. No rain, no wind. My resolve faltered, weakened, then shattered. Somehow I found myself standing next to Sophie with my gear on. Nothing to do but saddle up and ride. A lunchtime jaunt would become two hours.
Wisdom fills the air. Eons of living have spawned knowledge and understanding. Where does it all go when those alive pass on? Wisdom is scattered into small pieces. I believe it's all around us like radio waves. Tuned to the proper frequency we are receptive. If not, wisdom passes us by. So many people seem to spend their lives on the wrong channel. I have determined to search for the proper frequency. It has been a long hunt.
For me, the act of riding is like an antenna. Moving through the air on a bike causes a harmonic resonance. Ions align in my mind and soul. While riding is when I'm most receptive to the signals around me. It's feels like searching for a radio station. Off the bike I'm in the neighborhood. Getting on the bike starts the dial headed nearer to the sweet spot. Moving on the bike brings the final clarity. Reception is rarely perfect. Riding puts the tuner as close as it will ever be for me.
I've written about re-discovering perspective while riding. This picture shows what I found on this short journey.
I'm just over the crest of Palestine Hill, looking East. About 1200 yards behind me is the cemetery where my biological father is buried. He passed away at the end of July. At the bottom of the hill is where my widowed mother still lives. I'm looking after her and Grandma. I am now the family Patriarch. It is both my duty and pleasure. Sometimes it is tough. Both need physical help. Both need emotional support. I have my own family, as well. Look closely at the picture. There is a snow-covered mountain. Hazy clouds hide its glory. It is Mount Jefferson, part of the Cascade Range.
Front and back I face reality. Along with all it brings. Yet one has only to lift the eyes. There is a larger view to be taken in. Success in life is similar to success in riding. Eyes up, looking well ahead. Deal with the immediate path of travel. Remain focused on the projected path of travel.
A small coffee story
Wednesday brought snow. Wednesday night and Thursday morning brought more. For us it is a lot. Still, it is measured in inches, not in feet. By Thursday I could wait no longer. I had to ride in the snow. Katie was upset with me. Still, I could not resist the urge. Mid-morning saw the temperature rise above freezing. There was some ice but mostly slush. This is not about riding in the snow. It is about coffee.
I stopped at Starbucks for a cup to warm up. A man in raingear was there. His pants were bright yellow. His coat was blue with a hood. A friendly face was lined with age. Razor had not met skin for a week or more. White stubble covered his cheeks and chin. He stood next to me in line. On a whim I paid for his coffee. Just a friendly gesture. A short conversation followed. His name is Ron. We exchanged greetings and small talk. Nothing too deep. He hobbled on his way. One leg was stiff and not moving as well as the other.
Thursday night. Katie had a class. Due to weather I dropped her off. I like the small pickup so it saw duty. A book was due back to the library. I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes. Light relief through the eyes of a small boy. I saw Ron sitting on the sidewalk. His back was against the building. A young woman was squatted beside him. I put the book in the slot. I'm headed back to the truck. A female voice accosts me. She asks if I have a cell phone. I ask her for her name. It is an old cop thing, I guess. She tells me her name is Jessica. She looks like one copying a fringe element. Jessica is very concerned about Ron. She had driven by with her children in the car. Seeing Ron, she had stopped to help. Jessica is very concerned about Ron. Jessica is a cross between Marilyn Manson and Goldilocks. Strange looking with a warm heart.
Jessica tells me that she saw a man lying on the sidewalk. He is drunk and somewhat incoherent. She is concerned that he will freeze. Temperatures at night are to drop well below freezing. Her children are looking at me through the car windows. I tell Jessica I will see to the man. I tell her his name is Ron. That I had met him that morning. It is a strange coincidence. Jessica leaves but extracts a promise. A promise that I will do something to help the man. Jessica is a good samaritan. I hope her good nature does not bring her harm. Bad guys turn trust into traps.
I go talk to him. Ron is a little drunk. Thoughts take a while to come together. He is still friendly. I see his bicycle under a bush. His situation is slowly revealed. Ron is staying at a homeless shelter. His bad leg and intoxicated state have de-railed his plans to ride there. The shelter is four miles away. A long ways for a drunk, lame man. I put Ron's bicycle into the back of my truck. Ron is installed in the cab. He marvels at the heat. His day has been spent out in the cold. Warm air is a great blessing. Another case of perspective. This is not the place to discuss why some are homeless. It is only a true story. A man who has little to show. We take things for granted. To those with little these things are treasures.
Ron joins the others at the shelter. Interestingly, he does not ask for money. Ron tries to give me two dollars for the ride. It is refused. I cannot solve these problems. I can only make sure Ron has a warm place to sleep it off. I drive away thinking about perspective. I end up back at Starbucks. There is time to reflect before I need to pick up Katie. Starbucks coffee cups have quotes on them. They are called "The Way I See It". The quote on my cup is #187. It is credited to a customer. Jeffrey Kuchi from Wilmette Illinois. Let me share it with you.
"Life is a school for angels. Love is the Teacher, so do your homework without fear. Death is merely graduation".
I am no angel. However, it has been an interesting day. So much wisdom waits for us to embrace it. We just need to be receptive to its signal. Riding can be an effective antenna. My bro' Gary has written something similar. Riding well truly equates to living well.
Miles and smiles,
Sunday, January 07, 2007
A certain reader and accomplished blogger, an administrator at a university in a state starting with the letters PENN, has more or less asked for a happy story for once. Come on, for heaven's sake! I'm a Warrior. What do people think I'm going to write about? Tea parties and lace tablecloths? No!!! I do battle. I keep my sword sharpened. Some nights are spent pounding the dents out of my armor. Besides, I thought that all the growth in humanity, the intrigue and fascination, and the personal satisfaction came from the struggle. It's been the formula for countless centuries in literature and history. Good versus Evil. Red devil on one shoulder and white angel on the other. Powerful dynasties weren't built by trading "sunshine stories" over cups of hot chocolate. Some of my stories are happy. At least by my definition.
Admit it. Don't you feel happy when some mush-for-brains driver gets what they deserve? It sure makes the corners of my mouth turn upwards when their stupid plans are thwarted. There's no better joy than leaving them in the dust to wallow in their own miserable existence!!
I'll concede that people can get to the point where there's too much drama in their life. Most folks can't live on "Red Alert" all the time. Maybe a break is in order. I can do "warm and fuzzy". At least I'm pretty sure. I've been writing and communicating for a long time. Somewhere along the way I must have done "warm and fuzzy" at least a time or two. Yeah, that's it, I remember that time, now. I could do it again. Probably.
I know I'm going to end up like those plundering Vikings on the Capital One credit card commercials, but I'll give it a try. I'm going to work on being a little less of a Grizzly Bear and a little more like a Teddy Bear. I swear I've been looking for "happy" things to write about. It's just that there haven't been any jumping up in front of me. I'm suffering from writer's block. Not being one to quit once I've embarked on a path of travel, I'll keep looking for "happy". Stay tuned. There's bound to be something out there somewhere.
Miles and smiles ( and maybe "happy" )
Thursday, January 04, 2007
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that prohibits the use of handheld mobile phones while driving in the state.
Effective July 1, 2008, the legislation prohibits drivers from using a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle unless the driver uses a hands-free device. Drivers who violate the law will face a base fine of $20 for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense.
The law allows drivers to use a wireless telephone for emergency purposes, drivers of commercial vehicles to use push-to-talk phones until July 1, 2011, and allow drivers of emergency response vehicles to use a cell phone without a hands-free device.
California joins Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York, and some local jurisdictions ( as in counties, but not whole states ) in prohibiting the use of handheld mobile phones while driving.
Speaking of the "Governator", another thing he's pushing for is to have California residents take measures to help reduce global warming. One thing Arnold's asking drivers to do is to drive less or use more fuel efficient cars. Makes sense. That's one of the things we as motorcycle commuters are trying to do. Part of treading more lightly on the Earth is to emit less pollution. The word on the street, though, is that Arnold's usual mode of transportation is one of four Humvees or his private jet. Is this a case of "Do as I say and not as I do"? Let the little people bear the brunt of the sacrifice. Typical government. Anyway, I digress.
I'm not sure that using a hands-free device on a cell phone is going to help much. I had this brilliant idea while I was riding in the pouring rain the other day. I watched a person in a BMW car weaving around in their lane on the freeway. Guess what she had glued to her ear? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count. ( sorry, old redneck saying ) Anyway, here's my idea.
I think people going in to take the driver's test should be tested while talking on a cell phone. They should have to call into the DMV office and talk to a co-examiner. This co-examiner should do their best to be distracting during the conversation. You know, asking questions that require deep thought, telling jokes, etc. During the actual drive test there should be harmless but realistic hazards encountered. Inflatable dolls ( get your mind out of the gutter, I'm trying to keep a "G" rating, here ) could pop up in crosswalks, cardboard cut-outs of cars could be pulled quickly across intersections, along with other entertaining things we could all think of. If the student could successfully deal with these while carrying on a cell phone conversation then they could get their license. At least they would have shown an actual ability to multi-task. Not the imagined ability that most people think they have.
If a student driver would actually tell the examiner that they just couldn't see how it would be safe to drive and talk on the cell phone ( gasp! ) the test would be terminated and the student passed on the spot!
Here's a couple of questions for you all.
Do you think hands-free devices actually reduce the hazard a talking driver poses?
If a driver were using an ear piece you couldn't see the cell phone glued to the driver's head. As a motorcycle commuter would you prefer to see the actual phone, thus having more warning as to the hazard this driver represents?
Just some food for thought and a possible friendly discussion!
Miles and smiles,
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Should I cross the bridge or play it safe? It's a long ways around if I don't. I've walked over it countless times. The plank on the right wobbles a lot. To the left is where we want to be anyway to avoid that geared axle on the right. The only question is whether the left side plank will support our weight. It's a question of physics, not physical ability.
You see, I know I have the skill to actually pilot the bike over the little bridge. I've participated in training where we rode along raised beams with ramps at both ends. I've ridden planks set up like teeter-totters. Was it nerve-wracking to practice? You'd better believe it. The upside? I don't have to wonder if I can do it. There's no "I think I can". Fact is, "I know I can". Comes from paying the price to achieve the skill.
It's this fear of "paying the price" thing that holds a lot of riders back from achieving greatness on two wheels. Here's an example.
"I'd give anything to be able to ride like you do!"
This has come out of the mouth of a student in our civilian track-oriented course. For any training we do beyond the beginner's classes, instructors ride their own bikes. In this case, I'd ridden demonstrations of track lines, setting up properly for corners, high speed swerving and braking, stopping quickly in corners, etc. We also offer rides on our bikes to those students wanting to see proper cornering technique and lines from a different perspective. Students also spend some time following instructors around the track. This particular student has done this class once or twice a year for several years. This was not the first time this man had said those words to me.
Interestingly, his skills were adequate at best. Each time he came to class his skill level had never really seemed to step up any. I really respected him for seeking regular training. I could also tell that fear was holding him back from reaching the next level.
This time, against my better judgement, I answered him with a comment of my own.
"No, Don, you wouldn't."
"Wouldn't what?", he asked.
"You said you would give ANYTHING to ride like me. If that were really true you'd have the skills by now. You may have the desire but you're not willing to pay the price. How do you think I got my own skills?"
I think Don was a little miffed. I'm sorry for that. I should have kept quiet. At the same time, maybe I got him to thinking about things. Perhaps in the long run I did Don a favor. Don's not unique by any means. We train thousands of students in our beginner classes each year. Proportionately very few come back for more training once they get endorsed. Riders can improve their skills on their own. Sometimes it ends up being a "learn by burn" process, but skill levels can be increased. The learning curve is much better with professional training. My experience is that most riders don't travel either road.
In my humble opinion I think the biggest reason is fear. One thing a lot of longtime riders are afraid of is looking silly or inept in a class. It's rare for riders reaching out for more advanced skills to master it first time out. It's the nature of the beast. There's going to be a little stumbling until the techniques are understood. The same process is happening to all the students. The riders I'm talking about don't see the big picture. All they see is the narrow focus of themselves looking a little less than "cool". Pride holds them back. They may cover it up by making statements about how long they've been riding. Which is supposed to somehow mean they don't need training.
I'm sorry but I've got to make a little side trip here. I once read a column by Larry Grodsky. ( Mister Safety ) In an exercise undertaken just for the fun of it, Larry started scouring ads for motorcycles being sold. He focused on Harleys. Larry would call about the bikes and find out how many miles the bike had on it. Then he would divide the bike's age in years by the mileage. I forget the exact number of bikes in the informal study but it was a large number. Larry came to the average mileage figure of 3500 miles per year. Not that some Harley riders don't put a lot of miles on their bikes. This was just the average for all the bikes he inquired into.
Say a person's been riding for 10 years. That would mean a grand total of 35,000 miles. It would probably be safe to presume that most of the riding was in fair weather. Compare that to the conditions we face as commuters riding most of the year. I'll bet the mileage is a lot higher, too! What I'm stating is that a lot of years doesn't automatically equate to a lot of skills.
The second fear is summed up in the statement: But I might fall down!
Guess what? They're right! There's always a chance that bikes could be scuffed up some. I'd be the last person in the world to tell someone to purposely harm their bike. On the other hand, I'd be the first person to tell someone that it's a calculated risk. Risk has to be compared to the greater good down the road. Better to ding a bike now to avoid more serious consequences later. I think the last couple of sentences explain those of us who might be perceived as "risk-takers" or "thrill-seekers". We accept the risk of a crash as a price we're willing to pay in the pursuit of top-notch skills. I never go out to see how close I can come to crashing without actually doing it.
It's more like this. From past experience I know I can ride in this kind of weather. Or I can take a corner on a track this fast. Whatever. Now I want to know if I could go just a little faster, ride in a little bit worse weather. Not that I need this skill right now. One day I might, though. I don't want to have to spend time wondering if something's possible. I want to have already had the experience so it's there when I need it. Later on conditions might not be under my control. Right now they are. So I conduct an experiment. I push the boundary just a little. Growth comes from a series of small increases. Once in a while things go wrong. It's not a totally precise world. Roads, tires, weather, and my own physical being inject unpredictable variables into my equations. Instead of creeping to the edge we fall over it. Sometimes it's a pucker moment, sometimes it's a little worse. Always the rewards are worth the price.
The reason some of us appear to be risk takers is that we are. I've already described that process. To a lot of riders it might seem like we're thrill-seekers. It's because they have no frame of reference to speak of. Our boundaries are so far out there compared to theirs. No insult is intended. That's a common situation in life. It's the difference between those who fly radio controlled model planes and those who are commercial airline pilots. Different worlds.
We conducted an interesting test involving things that were holding riders back from coming to training. We offer a class where un-endorsed riders can come in to get some training. The class lasts one day. There's a skills test that, when passed, allows the students to skip the riding test at DMV. Not many riders were taking advantage of the class. We felt that one of the reasons was because riders had to bring their own bikes. One change we made at the start of the last training season was to allow students to use our training bikes. Guess what happened to the number of students coming through? It nearly tripled. We'd removed the fear of dropping their bikes as well as the prospect of looking silly trying to wrestle their big bikes around the parking lot. I think it backs up my statements really well.
I warned you that I was going to let this post have its head. It's got to finish in its own due course. If you're still here I respect your stamina!
Let's go back to the track oriented course. Don only saw one aspect of my track riding. Sort of a finished product. Have I run off the track while practicing? Yeah, more than once. Luckily I never fell down but did have a couple of thrilling rides across the grass. Most importantly I know exactly why and how to fix it. Except for the time I just totally tanked my entry speed and line in a sharp hairpin. Nothing there to fix except remembering not to be so stinkin' incompetent!!
Another aspect Don didn't see was all the hard work I've put in over the years. On top of all my real-world riding was a lot of time spent under a microscope. This part isn't meant as bragging on my skills. I'm only trying to show that even someone who could be considered a "guru" has had to pay a price to get there.
In our training organization all instructors start out teaching the beginner type courses. We have approximately 140 instructors. In order to teach the more advanced classes an instructor needs to be invited. Somewhere around a third of the instructors are certified to teach our experienced rider course. The track-oriented course is our premier class. It's called Advanced Rider Training. These instructors are hand-picked by the Director. There's about a dozen certified for this course. We serve an internship with Mentors. Our riding, our coaching, our ability to evaluate riders at higher speeds, and other things are carefully scrutinized. Only after receiving a final sign-off by the Director are we declared certified to teach on our own. It's a big price to pay but the rewards are being a part of an elite group. Not to mention the skill levels that come with it!
The top level is police training. There's 6 or 7 certified for this. You can imagine the skill level required to conduct high-speed pursuit training. This is done at Portland International Raceway. Instructors follow cops as they speed around the track. The idea is to observe and evaluate so we can give feedback back in the pits. Oh yeah, we're also rocketing around the track on our own bikes! Talk about multi-tasking. Then there's the dragstrip.
Here's where I have to share one of my own personal demons with you. Remember how I wrote about having to let go of your comfort level? Remember the risk of falling down part? Here's a story about both of those.
My first police training session at the drag strip. There will be twelve officers with their bikes. There's actually 24 officers. While one group is at the track one group will be at the drag strip. Then we'll switch. At the strip we're going to work on maximum braking from 45 mph, 60 mph, then 70 mph. We're going to work on swerving at those same speeds. Two things I know ahead of time. I'm going to be working with the Director. I'm also going to have to do the demonstrations.
None of my bikes have ABS. I decide to take Sophie. She's still pretty new. The cops will be mostly on BMW's. Riding a big bike like Sophie will help my credibility. Trouble is, I've never done maximum braking at the higher speeds. Done it at 35 to 40 mph. That should cover the 45 mph thing ok. 60 and 70 are totally different animals. The stopping standards go up dramatically at higher speeds. Not only do I have to avoid falling down, I have to show good technique and make a stop under standard for each speed. That means concentrating on the feel of the front tire, the front brake lever, the clutch, and remembering to downshift four times while resisting the urge to look down. Head and eyes up and well ahead, you know.
Sleep was fleeting the night before. Let's see. I could fall down. I could go way over standard. I could forget to downshift. I could look stupid in front of the Director, 12 cops, and the other instructor. I'd had plenty of practice stopping quickly at lower speeds. I was pretty sure I could pull this off. Still, I'd never actually done it before. It was tempting to call in sick but I wasn't about to quit. Besides, think how good it would feel to conquer it.
All too soon it was morning and time to set out. Having a 45 minute ride made it a little worse. Too much time to think. Riding in a slight rain drizzle made it worse yet. While setting up the strip I made another awful discovery. The swerve gate wasn't going to allow for any error. There was 23 feet of an approach gate leading to the swerve box. I was going to have to swerve to the right. I needed to move the bike exactly 8 feet. That doesn't seem like much but it's amazing how much pressure it takes to move a bike that far at 70 mph. 8 feet. Any less and I'd run through a whole line of big cones. Any more and I'd hit the cement wall that was the outside of the barrier. Ouch.
The rain drizzle had stopped. There wasn't much water on the track. It was enough to worry me, though. Rubber on the track. Water on the rubber. Sophie's tires on the water on top of the rubber. Boss Man said it was dry enough to ride. Ride, I would. In order to have enough room to reach 70 mph the start gate was way down the strip. From where I apprehensively sat and waited for the signal, it looked like the brake chute was a mile away. John waved an orange flag and off I went. I'm pleased to say that all three runs went well despite the pucker factor. Instinct honed from years of skills practice kicked in when I needed it. I also survived the swerve.
I faced my fears and paid the price. Since then I've done it several times more. Now I know that if I need to, I can successfully perform a maximum braking stop from 70 mph. As well as a swerve if braking won't work. Think you'll never need it? Do you ever ride on a freeway or fast road? Weird stuff happens.
So what's the take-away lesson here?
Like I wrote before I strongly believe that if someone's going to ride they have a responsibility to continually stretch their skill level upwards. A rider needs to care enough about themselves to make sure their arsenal is well stocked. I'm not going to delve into it here but there's also a collective scene that's much bigger than the individual riders. This scene includes public perception and legislation. Then there's family and loved ones. Fatalities and serious injuries affect them, too. Think about passengers. Katie regularly rides pillion with me. You can bet your riding gear that I want every shred of skill at my disposal to take care of her.
So we agree that we should keep working on skills. Good enough just isn't good enough. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is. It's time to let go of what we're hanging onto so tightly. Our feeling of comfort. Did you ever hear the story of the monkey and the coconut?
The essence is that this monkey reached into a hole in a tree and found a coconut. So he wrapped his monkey paw around the nut. Trouble is, with his fist clenched around the nut the monkey couldn't get his hand out of the tree. It was too big to come out of the hole. Our little ape was unwilling to let go and move onto bigger and better things. Like staying alive. While holding firmly to the nut in hand, the monkey was devoured by a passing lion.
Sometimes you just gotta let go! It can literally be life or death. The cost of letting go can seem high but consider the alternatives. There will be a price to be paid. Maybe it won't be as large as it seems up front.
Don't look too far ahead in the journey. Maybe this will help. The longest journey starts with a single step. The largest elephants are eaten bite by bite.
I would urge you to seek some sort of professional training in this coming year. Practice on your own in small steps. Find a quiet road and practice quick stops at 20 mph. Keep your eyes up. Concentrate on being smooth. Do it again. Work on smooth until it becomes second nature. Then bring the speeds up a few miles per hour. Go to 25, then 30. Step by step, always smooth. You'll be building good habits. Guess what you'll fall back on in high-adrenaline situations? Habits. Make them work for you. Do the same thing with cornering speeds. Get the technique for entry speeds and lines down as habit. First we get good, then we get fast. There's other skills but you get the idea. You'll amaze yourself at some point.
Riding well truly is living well. Good physical skills enhance the positive physical and mental experiences of riding. We'll feel more confident and comfortable. We'll feel more in control and less like a victim. Keep working at it. I'll try to keep sharing tips. There's so much more to learn. We've just gotten a sneak preview of the big picture. Oh yeah, don't forget to have fun!! Let's make this coming year one to look back on with pride.
Miles and smiles,