Friday, December 28, 2007

Slippin' in the rain...

'Twas the day before Christmas,
And Dan's on the bike.
All who know him are sayin',
"Yes, that's about right!"

This half-assed attempt at poetry has very little to do with this post. Yes, I was on the bike. A couple of the pictures were taken on that day. That's not the point. Rather, it's an exercise in control. The letters do my bidding. Upon my command they form themselves into words. The words, in turn, create the structure of sentences. I am relieved that I can still make them say what I want them to. I still possess a modicum of control.

Control. How I love the sound of that word. I relish the way it rolls off my tongue. The two syllables flow so well together. They make a lovely sound as the combination of vowels and consonants create a melody. Control. Say it slowly. Savor it. My ownership of it is fading. You see, I am slowly going mad.

It's the rain. Weeks of rain feels like years. Pictures of a swollen river taken a month apart look nearly identical. The first is of the river by itself. In the second Sophie poses. Water levels are practically unchanged. My yard is a swamp. A week and a half of vacation that should have been spent riding for the sheer joy of it. Spent, instead, in a constant dance not entirely of my choosing. On the one hand, a nearly desperate need to ride. On the other, an increasing hatred for the constant wetness around me. What should be a time of cold and clear is, instead, a deluge. Except for one brief glimpse of sun. Of which, I shall write another day.

The Great Wetness is endangering me beyond the impending loss of my sanity. My enemies on the road have become more menacing to me. It has been said that there is nothing more dangerous than incompetence. Hah! Add rain slicked roads, fogged windows, and less visibility to cell phones, eating and other distractions. Ride a bike among these people strained to the breaking point of their abilities. Then tell me about dangerous!

The Weather Gods have tantalized me at times with snow flakes. Rain is suspended momentarily. Beautiful, fluffy, white morsels of snow dance in the air. Like downy feathers freed from the birds, these angelic apparitions descend slowly to earth. Aware of their eventuality, nonetheless they gently play in the air. Small breezes become playgrounds for the snow. It is wondrous to behold.

I plead with the Weather Gods for more than a taste. Please, let it snow instead of rain. I will show my gratitude for the change by playing in it. I'll ride in it, I'll make snowy statues of cheerful countenance. Just bless us with something besides this rain. With a sneer I am handed sleet and hail. What could be sensuous beauty is replaced by evil and treachery. How much can a rider take before the veneer of civility begins to crack? Always, it comes back to the rain.

Water. Clear, clean, and life-giving. It is an element essential to our survival. I'm told that we're physically constructed of mostly water. A steady supply keeps us who we are, then. In dark contrast, when reduced to droplets, water can rip a person's sanity from them. Water used thusly makes one become someone else. Cunning and evil tortures using water drops have broken the bravest of souls. Is a Road Warrior any less immune?

Drops of water by themselves amount to little harm. A splash here and there is casually brushed off. Like one brushes off a small gnat that rests upon one's skin. In a more imaginative moment, one could picture Gulliver. His hand idly scratches at a small irritation. A Lilliputian arrow has caused nothing more than a fleeting sensation. There is no hint of the mind rendering doom to come.

Doom in the form of thousands of tiny arrows, gnat swarms of Brobdingnagian proportions, and water drops in uncountable numbers.

Drops plunging from the sky are joined by their eager brethren. Each knows this attack will not mean the end for them. Water strikes then flows to the ground. Nature's cycles will see the water drops at full strength once more. It is this cycle that provides the ammunition for the nefarious warfare we experience. Sheer numbers and relentlessness enable this sodden army to claim its victims. There is no shortage of zealous kamikazes. The attack has continued for weeks. There is no end in sight. Not in the foreseeable future, at least. How much longer can I hold out before the last vestiges of control wash away with the water?

There are those who say I should retreat. They try to make a case that I am contributing to my own growing insanity by continuing to fight. I am told I have only to stay indoors or leave the bike at home. Away with them, I say! I have signed on to bear the King's standard. We ride to work. We ride for work as much as possible. Two wheels are emblazoned on our Coat of Arms. A true Warrior does not fight only when things look favorable. We are trying to affect a change in our world. Greatness does not come without sacrifice. The more cheaply a thing is acquired, the less it is valued. Retreat is not an option. I will continue despite this adversity.

Each day will bring a new assessment of my diminishing control. It will be a race to see which resource expends itself first. The liquid ammunition of the Weather Gods or my own mental strength. I shall either prevail or go quite mad. Time will tell. For now, I am back into the rain. My sodden cat is out of food. Her belly and mine drive me to the store.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 20, 2007

There are no words for this!

I kinda hate to share this with you all. It's not politically correct. Some might even say it's in poor taste. Yet I find myself inexorably drawn towards this fate. It is your destiny, Luke! Just make sure you haven't eaten yet. Don't worry, it's not about blood and guts. No, it's far worse! Read on if you have the fortitude.

You encounter all kinds of things on the freeways. Recently I saw a railroad boxcar being transported on its side on a flatbed truck. Was that you Dave T? Then there are sights you just can't describe.

There I was, doing 65 mph ( the legal speed limit ), when there suddenly appeared a huge crack in my windshield. I swerved left, then right, but the crack remained. Have a look for yourself.

Like I said, sometimes words just can't be found. I pretty certain, however, this can't be too safe. Both for the passenger or other drivers!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. This was actually passed along to me by a fellow instructor. He's as warped as I am!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's not them!

Since we were talking about drivers who slam into school buses and fire trucks it seemed like a good time to dig a little deeper. As motorcycle commuters we face having to deal with drivers every day. We're literally competing for a space on the roads. In this case the competition is cell phones, inattention, the inability to have divided attention, rudeness, stupidity, and the list goes on and on. In yesterday's paper under the "Court records" section, there were 12 people listed as having been sentenced to driving under the influence. Yikes! We all know what it's like out there. The real question is "Who's responsible for us out there?" To find the answer we go look in the mirror.

Maybe the fact that we ride motorcycles as alternate transportation makes us just a little bit smarter about taking our skills seriously. Maybe it just makes us smarter, period. Today I both experienced some pretty rough riding conditions and had some time to think about things.

A trip to Eugene was in order today. That's about an hour South as the Honda flies. It was pretty wet this afternoon. Due to time constraints I hit the Interstate. Have you ever noticed how much water the big trucks launch into the air? Yeah, I'm pretty sure you have! When you're in the spray it feels like the middle of a monsoon. One particular driver really riled me. There's a 16 mile stretch between the Highway 34 exit and the Highway 228 exit at Brownsville. This driver was doing 62 mph. Doesn't sound too bad until you hear the rest of it. He was in the left of the two available lanes. In the right lane was a string of other big trucks. 23 of them to be precise. They were doing about 60.5 mph. We were stuck in spray forever. I say "we" because I'm including a jackass in a white Chrysler who insisted on tailgating. My kingdom for a rear facing rocket launcher! I'd take a front facing one for that matter!

Despite the bad weather, drivers were doing exactly the same things they do all the time. Speeding, tailgating, changing positions without really being able to see, all of it. I shake my head at them so often I have a permanent sloshing sound in my brain. I even had a close call in a parking lot. I'm parked, sitting on the bike, getting ready to dismount. Still in the pouring rain. This man in a Ford minivan started backing out of his spot. And kept coming. I had my helmet in my hands and was looking for a plan. I flipped the key back into the ignition and gave him a blast ( relatively speaking ) of the horn. The brake lights came on and the van jerked like the driver had been really startled. Jeez!

Night time found me still on the bike, doing my own personal business. Here's a sort of abstract picture.

I put my point and shoot digital camera on the night setting and let it fuzz a little. Or maybe my photo just turned out badly. No, it was on purpose. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The photo is supposed to illustrate how we are mostly lone riders in a sea of cars. Pretty good, huh?

Back to the question of who's responsible for us. Some states have tried to educate drivers about sharing the road with motorcycles. Other states, like ours, have put a big push on to get riders trained. Training drivers just doesn't work. What it boils down to is that we're the ones who need to develop whatever mental and physical skills it takes to protect ourselves. I'm alluding to skills used in mixing it up with other traffic. In multi-vehicle accidents, our data gathering here in Oregon shows that the other driver was only at fault in 13 percent of the wrecks. I'm not saying that the drivers didn't initiate situations more often than that. What I'm saying is that the ultimate reason the rider crashed was by doing the incorrect thing or nothing at all.

I recently came across an interesting contrast between our state and another. In Oregon we concentrate on giving the riders what they need to protect themselves. In the other state ( which will remain anonymous here ) the big push has been on trying to make drivers more aware of motorcycles. Their driver's manual has sections on sharing the road with bikes and there are a lot of public awareness campaigns. It's a noble cause on the surface. How do the two states compare?

As of the end of October we had 44 motorcycle fatalities. That's 44 too many. In the other state, though, there had been 147 to date. The number of endorsements and registrations are nearly identical. Both states have similar populations and traffic congestion. The only thing we can't track is the number of miles traveled. That's the only really accurate way to measure effectively how things compare. Unfortunately, that's not easily tracked so we make do with whatever parameters we can track.

We know we're not going to change drivers. It's just going to continue to get worse. If they can't see school buses and fire trucks, how can we expect them to see motorcycles? Might as well be pissin' in the wind to reference a song by Jerry Jeff Walker.

The one thing we can improve is us. I know you all are serious about your riding. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading here, right? We can always improve. Look how your riding has improved over the last five years. And you were a competent rider then, weren't you? Ray's our Training Manager. I've mentioned him before. Ray's also a pilot. So a lot of feedback he gives me is couched in those terms. On those rare occasions when I get cocky, ( not often, I swear! ) Ray lays some pilot talk on me. He tells me that no matter how high the number is on the altimeter, it could always go a little higher. Point taken, Ray!

Where experienced riders can make a real difference is in setting expectations for newer riders. These newbies need strong mentors. We all know of someone who comes to us for riding tips or advice. By all means, reach out and share. They need all the help they can get because the deck's stacked against them. Ride safe out there. By the way, don't forget the number one rule I have for my new instructors. It applies, too, to any rider.

Don't forget to have fun!!

You just knew my day would end up here after shopping, didn't you? Do you see my protective strategy for this situation? Yeah, the big Givi trunk isn't mounted. Sound thinking, huh? Actually, there's three small, but expensive items secreted on the bike. I will bar you from this site if you tell, but I bought Katie diamonds. You now those things they call Journey Diamonds? A necklace and earrings make up a nice set. Katie hasn't read the blog in a long time and I'm hoping she continues the pattern for a while longer. It's just a good thing my credit card is Platinum. I hear that has a higher melting point!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Frost and freezing fog.

I worked from home Tuesday and Wednesday. Weird as it may seem, I did my early morning 45 minute or so ride. It's just something I need to do. Last night I had a meeting at TEAM OREGON headquarters. A nice brisk ride home from Corvallis in the dark and foggy air ended my evening. Tonight on the way home I killed something.

Other than the cold and the killing there really hasn't been much drama to report. Isn't it strange that we say we want to avoid being victimized by rude and stupid drivers but find it boring if we aren't? At least it seems so to me from the blogging viewpoint. How interesting would you find it if I just reported another routine ride? Day after day. The classic formula for great literature has been that of struggle and conquest. It makes for great reading doesn't it? Unlike literature, though, I'm not writing a novel. I just tell it like it happens. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

I'm happy to say there's just enough struggle to keep things interesting without being crazy. Like Tuesday morning, for instance. This is a picture of Sophie's windshield after I came back from the ride. By now it's just past daylight's emergence. We're at that time of year when I wish the weather would "shift or get off the lot" to amend a popular phrase. The temperature is right at freezing or a little above. With the cold comes a lot of fog. I'm tired of riding around in foggy mid-thirties conditions. I know it's not like what some of you are dealing with, of course. I counting my blessings not to be experiencing the ice storms and heavy snows happening farther East. Still, though, I wish it would either warm up or get a lot colder. These foggy days in the thirties feel much colder. The cold seeps right to the bone. Must be the moisture. As a bonus, we're dealing with freezing fog.

What looks like frost in the grass becomes black ice on the roads around here. Tuesday morning, in particular, there were several accidents blamed on the slick conditions. Personally, I think the problem is stupid, speeding, and tailgating, drivers, but what do I know? I guess it softens the blow to fragile egos to say it was the fault of the weather instead of driving with one's head up one's ass. Although I'd like to know how the driver of the car that rear-ended a school bus up by Newberg on Highway 99 this morning would explain it. How DO you explain the fact that you rear-ended a big yellow school bus with flashing red lights? Not only that, but hit it so hard it shoved the front of the car well under the bus?

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of dicey traction but I go anyway. Actually, I haven't had much of a problem with it. I just watch for clues like shiny spots in my headlights or those of other cars. I know which areas are more likely to be affected. Plus, I leave plenty of space cushion around me. Not so much for my reaction times, but to avoid being like a pool table bumper for cars sliding around me.

Yesterday morning I was out by my Mother's place. While sitting at the stop sign and waiting to turn back towards town, I made the acquaintance of a woman in a big black Chevy Tahoe SUV. The pleasure was all hers, I'm sure. She was turning onto the street I was on. A phone was glued to her ear. Long, painted fingernails contrasted with the silver of the cell phone. Her blonde hair was done up in a fancy hairdo. Bright lipstick adorned her lips. She looked like a class act. Sort of like a knockout dame you'd read about in a Phillip Marlowe novel. Curse you, Gary, for getting me started on those! Problem was, her driving skills fell far short. Her attitude seemed a bit aloof, but that was just an impression.

You see, the blonde was trying to turn this big SUV with one hand and not doing a very good job of it. Her approach speed was a little too high. That was either arrogance or ignorance induced by being on the phone. Her left hand was occupied with the phone. Her right wasn't too good working as a single instead of a pair. The SUV was taking a really wide corner. With me sitting at the widest spot. As she got close I moved up a few feet. Kinda like a matador with a gleaming black four wheel drive bull. What really annoyed me was the lack of reaction on her face.

Usually a person's eyes will go a little wider, their face will briefly register chagrin, or something. There was no change in her expression. Did she not care? Was she so occupied that there wasn't room in her processing circuits for anything else? Did she deem me so low that I wasn't even on her radar? Who knows? I don't really care, actually. I just sort of wondered, is all.

Today was a bonus. I rode 186 miles in the cold and fog and I got to spread some cheer. It's that time of year when I deliver goodies to distributors. Today I was delivering boxes of smoked salmon like the one below.

By putting the boxes up on one side I can get just enough for a day's worth of visits into the bags. Some places get several boxes, depending upon the size of the company. It's kind of neat to pull up at a place on the bike. I shake off the cold, grab some salmon, and play Santa in a Hi-Viz and black suit. It's the one time when everyone's really happy to see me. Imagine that. If only I could figure out how to get those big desk pad calendars on the bike!

At the end of a great day today I was riding home down Interstate 5. By that time it was already dark. I think we get about eight hours of daylight right now. The fog makes it worse. Not far from my exit, I was behind, and to the right, of a faded red Oldsmobile being occupied by a couple of Mexican guys. This car caught my attention because it had entered the freeway a few miles back. Some people have absolutely no idea of how to get onto a freeway properly. What part of "accelerate into the gap" can't people seem to understand? That certainly doesn't mean get right to the freeway and then slam on your brakes!

Anyway, I watched this car sort of swerve onto the left shoulder and then come back. At the rear of their vehicle I saw what looked like a black plastic bag fluttering in the air and coming closer to me on the bike. Right as my headlights illuminated it, I saw it was a large bird. The thing was flying in a bizarre pattern and just up off the pavement. Then I hit it with the front tire. Two big thumps later I looked in the sideview mirrors and saw a flurry of feathers surrounding a rolling body. It was either a duck or a hawk. I'm really sorry to have probably been the one to finish it off. On the other hand, I'm not going to swerve a bike on a dark and foggy freeway inhabited by speeding drivers. I still feel bad, though.

I want to leave you with a quote. There's been some discussion of whether a person should ride due to risk, is it irresponsible, do we have an obligation to try to survive longer, and so on and so on. All I know is I like to ride. I can't fully describe what it does for me and what it adds to my life. Even in the cold and rain. I love riding and try to do it as skillfully as possible. This quote was in Men's Health magazine.

"Don't do things to not die, do things to enjoy living. The by-product may be not dying". Bernie S. Siegel M.D.

It applies to a lot of things, doesn't it?

Miles and smiles, ( and live well )


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who are these people?

The first weekend of December saw the last training class of the year being presented. Who would be crazy enough to take a motorcycle class in December? On second thought, who would be crazy enough to teach a class then? To the second question I proudly raise my hand. My partner was new to this teaching thing so he didn't know any better. Besides that, he's a fireman. They're almost as crazy as cops but more well loved!

As you can see, we got some snow on Saturday. Sunday brought gusty winds and a lot of rain. Sunday was the first day of the two day storming that brought so much flooding and damage to the Northwest. We didn't have flooding in our parking lot. With all the rain, though, I did catch myself a couple of times looking over my shoulder for Noah's ark!

I like teaching class in conditions like this. That probably sounds weird when it's unquestionably more pleasant to teach in dry conditions and comfortable weather. I won't let a group ride if I deem it dangerous to them, of course. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most of these are beginners. Where I personally would keep riding these folks aren't at that point, yet. It's good for the students to be exposed to difficult conditions right off the bat. Here's why.

The classes we teach, especially the basic classes, aren't about pass or fail as far as I'm concerned. It's about the discovery. People come to us for a lot of reasons. Some want to join others in the social aspect. They've never ridden before. We provide a safe place for them to explore. Some find that motorcycling isn't for them. If they have the wisdom to accept that fact, then Score! Much better than buying a bike and crashing in an intersection.

Other folks want to ride to work, are coming back to riding after a long absence, as well as a variety of other reasons. I prefer not to make it too easy for them. Not that I'm harsh with them. I just want my students to get a realistic picture of riding. When the weather conditions are difficult a lot more of this kind of learning goes on. This group learned a lot about themselves this weekend! Some prospered while some quickly found their limits.

This idea of a realistic picture is why we made a change a few years ago to the requirements for new instructors. As a first step they need to come and watch two complete classes. That includes standing on the pavement beside the range for the entire weekend. They experience what it's like to be in the sun, the rain, and on their feet. When they take the next step they have a better idea of what they're getting into.

The same applies to the students. They're going to ride in the rain. Especially where we live. They're going to be cold. Sometimes it will be hot. That happens here like on July 27th. Students discover their limits. Can they be cold and wet and still concentrate on riding skills? Most find that they can't really handle the adverse conditions well. I'm great with that. A person who declares themself a "fair weather rider" based on experience is being honest about their limits and desires. I respect that. My goal is to give them a chance to make those kind of personal discoveries in a safe environment.

Wet pavement delivers another kind of bonus. Despite a rider's best efforts, we're going to get caught in occasional rain storms. Having been exposed to riding in the rain, a new rider isn't going to get as freaked out as one who's never faced it before. Sometimes in our classes a rider makes mistakes with braking in the rain. They fall down, we pick them up and brush them off, then send them back out. No harm, no foul. Next time be smooth on that front brake. Precious learning moments in a safe environment made possible by difficult conditions.

I'm suddenly feeling the urge to share something in the Father / Son category. While students have a chance to learn about themselves, I have the chance to learn about the students. Mostly it doesn't affect me once the students leave class. In some cases it does. Katie took a class that I was teaching. She's not actively pursuing riding. Her preference is to snuggle behind me. A couple of my boys, however,are eager riders. I've shared Clinton's adventures in his bike purchases in the recent past. I also had the privilege of having him as a student. Or maybe he had the privilege of having me as an instructor!

Anyway, Clinton took a class about four years ago, I'm thinking. Things blend together, you know. I do remember it was very cold and rainy all weekend. At one point I thought all my students had died. To a person they were laying forward on the gas tanks. Turns out they were holding their hands next to the motors desperately trying to eke out some warmth! It was a perfect example of difficult conditions. At the risk of it seeming like bragging, I have to say Clinton handled things well. Despite the cold and rain he maintained concentration both during practice and for the skill evaluation. If I remember correctly, he was one of the very few, if not the only one, who actually stopped within standard on the braking chute. Of course, it's really my doings, you know. I lent him my Aerostich Darien lite riding pants for the weekend. By the way, I never realized the waist on those could be adjusted for "slim"!

The point is that I feel better about his riding having seem him under these conditions. I can hardly tell my boys that being on a bike is too dangerous for them. How could I ride for so many years and then tell them I don't want them to do the same? Being a father, I naturally worry some when either one of them is on a bike. Yet, I've seen how both of them react to adverse conditions. I'm reassured by what I've observed. Insights that would never be possible if all the riding was done in "perfect" conditions.

Hey, I'm know I'm rambling somewhat. If you haven't noticed the title of this blog, yet, that's not my fault. The word "musings" is there. Don't say you weren't warned! Besides, sometimes the best insights come, not from scripts, but conversation. Once the conversation's allowed to go where it wants to, real communication starts to take place. All right. Now that I've marked my territory in the best Alpha Male tradition, I'll get back on track.

Like I wrote earlier ( was it that long ago?) the students learned much about themselves. This group was really like any other group. Maybe a little hardier but pretty much the same as all the others. Each had different reasons for being here.

I won't give you a rundown on everyone. This post is getting too long as it is. Here's some highlights.

A couple of the guys in class were coming back after thirty some years away. Both found out that if things were "just right" they could ride. Riding conditions are seldom like that, are they? It's a particular quirk among humans that our hearts and spirits never seem to age as fast as our bodies. As a result, they write checks our bodies can't quite cash. I see it so often. As a man, I deeply feel their disappointment. As a professional trainer I sleep well knowing I helped them discover the truth. I only pray they can accept it gracefully. It's sad, but safer. We experience the same type of discoveries in many aspects of life as we age. Ignoring the truth won't harm us in a lot of things. In riding there's very little forgiveness for mistakes.

One man was in class because he'd gone to DMV and couldn't pass the riding test. After watching him for a while, I could see why. He ended up passing our skill evaluation but never really made any big gains. We only managed to knock off some of the really rough edges. I'm afraid he'll always be what he is. A rider who is basically competent but with no ambition to progress further. He'll have a lot of company out there, unfortunately.

Another man was more of a success story even though it didn't look like it at first. He was there because his daughter was taking the class. He made no secret of the fact that he'd been riding a long time, didn't expect to learn anything, and was just there to support her. I love these kind of guys! You might as well slap my cheek with a glove and challenge me to a duel!!

I let him alone for the first day. Towards the end of that session some glaring deficiencies in his riding surfaced. Day Two brings more complex exercises based upon the basics covered in Day One. As I would coach this guy he had a million excuses. Sometimes it's risky to get into someone's face. At least from an instructor and student viewpoint. Ok, maybe anytime. I'm really good at reading people and decided to take a chance. I got on his case hard. I told him I wasn't buying his excuses anymore and he had better apply himself. He was cold to me until break when he came to see me. He apologized for his attitude. I told him I was sorry to have been so direct but we didn't have time to sit over tea and have a cozy chat about things. Sometimes I just have to cut to the chase right away. He was a changed man after that.

The rest of the day saw tremendous improvements in his riding. Years of bad habits were crumbling under what he was learning. As he experienced success he was even more eager to be coached. It's a perfect example of what I tell my new instructors. If you can teach someone one thing they didn't know you've captured them. What's really cool is that if this man takes what he showed us to the streets, he'll be leaps and bounds ahead of where he came in. I find that really satisfying!

Another student went from enthused to whiny and pouty when her socks got wet. Chalk up one more discovery moment!

One last story was the biggest surprise to me. During the first night's classroom session this woman seemed to be timid. She'd only ridden as a passenger with her husband. Her neighbor across the street happens to be a dear female friend of mine who's also an instructor. That might have influenced this woman somewhat to explore riding for herself.

I didn't know at the time that this woman knew this other instructor. I simply took the time needed to make her comfortable like I would for any student. There's this thing we call the Circle of Success. A new rider needs confidence to succeed. The only way they can get this is to trust the instructor in the beginning. That trust allows us to show them success. That success, in turn, builds their confidence and makes them trust us more. The goal is to keep that circle moving all the time and not break it.

It worked perfectly with this woman. She trusted, succeeded, gained confidence, and had a ton of fun. Despite the bad weather I literally had to talk her into taking breaks. She didn't want to get off the bike! I love seeing my own enthusiasm reflected in some of the students. On Monday night I got a call from my instructor friend. She told me how her neighbor came over and gave her a big hug. My student had all kinds of wonderful things to say about the course and how much fun she'd had. That call was the first time I'd heard about the neighbor thing. Doesn't hurt my reputation much, either!

So crazy as it seems, when you have a passion there's rewards to be reaped no matter the weather. It applies to both training and riding. Which I did both of that weekend. That's one of the reasons I commute and ride all year. Besides, the worst weather conditions make the best war stories, don't they?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Storm rider.

I'm sure you've heard the news by now. We had some pretty intense storms pass through here. Actually, not just one, but three. The Weather Guesser on the news station said we had the remains of three typhoons dumped on us by the jet stream. He likened it to being at the end of a firehose. Days of torrential rain, tropical air that melted a lot of snow, and hurricane force winds that battered us for a couple of days combined to wreak havoc. Now these same storms are bringing heavy snow to the East. What an amazing amount of power!

The brunt of the attack fell upon the Northern Oregon Coast. There were hurricane force winds for two days. Near Tillamook the sensors recorded a gust of 129 mph. Winds near the 100 mph mark were common. Tens of thousands of people are still waiting for phone and electrical service to be restored. As the waters recede people are returning home to houses full of silt and mud. How discouraging to be dealing with that. Most of the roads from our Valley to the Coast have been shut down. A couple of main highways are just now being re-opened. Hats off to the ODOT folks who worked round the clock to end the isolation the coastal residents endured. There was an unexpected benefit to me from a flooded freeway.

Interstate 5 has been closed near Chahalis, Washington. Ten feet of water cover both lanes for a distance. I have been spared a trip to Kirkland. I am free to ride for my own pleasure.

My neck of the woods wasn't as affected. I slept in a dry house every night. That didn't mean I didn't go out and about in the storms. I rode to class Saturday and Sunday through snow and rain driven by high winds. Look for the next post where I'll tell you about this special group of students taking the last class of the year.

I couldn't resist going out and about on Monday. The storms were still in full cry. Some would call that irresponsible. Even a fellow blogger or two might decry what I do as reckless. Far from it. This Road Warrior has seen over forty years of two wheeled battle. If one cannot or will not achieve something do not say it is wrong for another to do so.

Sophie and I were thoroughly soaked by the time we returned home for the day. On the other hand, there's a sense of adventure and victory only achieved by facing the enemy. His name is Risk and he can be a formidable foe. There is a minuscule margin for error. One cannot afford at all to be careless or reckless. However, if properly prepared and girded for the battle, victory can be won. It's all the more sweeter for the struggle. Even if my victory cry can scarcely be heard by me. No sooner is it uttered than it is swept away into the wind. Only to echo into someone else's ears far away.

The cheaper something is obtained the less it is esteemed.

There's a tremendous amount of flooding in our area. We live in an area surrounded by rivers. I didn't encounter any water over the roadways I travelled. There was, however, a variety of botanical specimens that littered the pavement.

You never know where these "gifts of the wind" are going to be. Risk has scattered them around like little booby traps. His hope is to catch the rider unawares. This Road Warrior is ever vigilant.

Looking as far ahead as I can see, there is no respite from the downpour. I can literally see the next wave coming at me. This Road Warrior is not easily discouraged. Some survive until the next sunup by thinking what good things will come on that day. It's the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" hope. One could hurry towards it only to find the light is the front of an approaching locomotive. The trip down the tunnel will have been completely wasted. A person can either wish their life away waiting for something else or learn to find what treasure they can in "Now". I do not wish to waste any part of a precious day and thus I ride this day. I see ads for motorcycles that say they have never been ridden in the rain. Where I live that translates to many wasted miles that could have been spent enriching themselves upon that bike. Then again, perhaps it's best that riders with no heart for adversity not expose themselves to added risk. It's a personal decision based upon one's own philosophy. I wish not to speak disparagingly of these ones. May they go in peace.

Their philosophy, though, is not shared by me. I choose to make my own path in the hope that others will follow. It is not in me to follow the path already shared by so many.

Wet and windswept though we may be, Sophie and I revel in this day's ride. We know how fortunate we are to be riding this day. While others suffer badly from this storm we are free to move about in it. Where good hearted people are kept from riding by bodies that have betrayed them, I enjoy good health. There is a bitter sweet element to riding. I feel the pain of those whose hearts are screaming to ride but they cannot. Do I honor them by holding myself back from riding? Like a Warrior I choose to honor my fallen comrades by conducting myself bravely in battle. Our kind must remain ever visible to the world.

Risk had one more surprise attack in store for me. There is a wonderful series of curves on the Old Corvallis Highway. The approach speed is very fast coming off a long straightaway. Just before the need for a quick press on the left handlebar, the bike descends into a sunken grade. Crack the throttle open to climb up into the turn. One is barely out of the curve before it's time to flick the bike back to the right. Once more to the left, to the right, back left, and then wait a few seconds to make the last turn to the right. My steed is continually leaned through this stretch.

What the road engineers have given Nature complicates. Tree and brush covered banks line this roadway. Visibility is mostly blocked. An age old song of the spirited rider lilts through my mind. It is a song that speaks of a common struggle. How fast can one ride battles with how much room one needs to respond to the unexpected. The Siren Song lures me towards the rocks while the Old Mariner's hard gained wisdom holds me back. It is good that the Old Mariner is persuasive today. My speed stays lower and my line remains towards the outside. I will not commit until I can see what lies ahead.

A truck the size of a large moving van is coming towards me. Is the driver distracted by a cell phone? Does food being conveyed to his mouth cover his eyes? Perhaps he is not comfortable that he knows where the truck is exactly. Maybe a frenzied schedule makes him push the limits. I am not certain of anything except that the truck is a third or more of the way into my lane. I am prepared. Risk has not scathed me with this attack. Rather, I am forced to smile broadly as the truck passes close.

On the side is painted a large green Oak tree. It is a familiar logo. A certain fabricating facility in Batesville, Indiana sports this logo. It is that of the Batesville Casket Company. Risk has a sense of humor, after all!

This Road Warrior is aging. Though as fierce as ever, home and hearth call more loudly than in younger days. It has been greatly invigorating riding in this storm. Still, though, I am weary as I dismount for the last time this day. To do battle is good. Hanging up wet gear and snuggling in with sweet Katie for the night is a great thing, too. Sohpie and I have survived heavy rain and 60 mph wind gusts. We are ready to call it a day. Am I slowly becoming more a creature of comfort? I think not.

Maybe it's just that this Warrior feels he no longer has anything to prove. Four decades or more of hard riding stand by themselves. He rides for the sheer joy of it. He chooses to face risk on his terms. Few have travelled as many miles and in the variety of adverse conditions as he. His passion is sharing what he's learned with other riders. This Warrior gladly extends a hand to invite others to join him. If he wishes to face Risk, let none call him out as reckless or irresponsible. When a day comes and he passes up riding for sitting by the fire, let none call him soft. Leave him in peace and go in peace yourself.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, December 03, 2007

An advantage to no gear?

There may finally be an advantage to not wearing
motorcycle gear.

This is from the November / December issue of
American Cop Magazine.

"They Do Things A Little Differently There"

In Bath, England, a guy whose motorbike was stolen, had insult added to the injury when he kept seeing the thief riding his scooter around the area. This happened several times, and each time, he reported it to the local police.

Then one day he spotted the thief riding his scooter again, and this time, there were officers present! He gleefully pointed out the suspect, quickly explained that it was a stolen motorbike, and waited for them to take off in hot pursuit. Instead, they watched the scofflaw tootle away.

Officers explained they could not pursue the suspect as long as he was riding the scooter because he wasn't wearing a helmet. If officers gave chase, they explained, this could upset the rider and he might crash and be injured, perhaps even severely. Then they'd be liable for his injuries, because they'd knowingly precipitated a dangerous situation. They promised to regain possession of the scooter - if they could find it sitting stationary - and even chat with the miscreant - if he made himself similarly available. Now, if only he were wearing a helmet and appropriate protective gear. Well, then, by Jove, they'd give him "the what-for", wouldn't they?

That humming sound: it's Winston Churchill turning over in his grave - like a dynamo.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Just a little more before I let go of this.

I had an experience today that I found quite interesting. It involved one of my students from early this year. His wife is in the class this weekend. She's a driver's ed instructor, by the way. I'm not really trying to put anyone down by relating this. It's just a real life experience that happened to cross my path. By the way, we got snowed on for a while this morning but it didn't stick. Cool to watch the bikes among the snowflakes.

Anyway, this guy showed up at lunch time to visit his wife. He's the proud owner of a new Harley Glide series. I don't know all the models and I don't apologize for it. I commented on the guy's gear. His full face helmet is yellow. His jacket is black on the lower part with yellow and black mixed in the upper part. It's good looking and provides some visibility.

The reason the guy took the class in the first place was to ride with some of the guys from his place of employment. They had gotten him enthused about riding. Since they all rode Harleys he bought the same brand. Today this former student of mine expressed his disappointment to me.

Seems that when he showed up for a ride with his new bike and gear, he was promptly told he'd not be allowed to ride with them. Here's his quote on what they said,

"We wear black. Nothing else is allowed. We also don't wear full face helmets. If you want to ride with us, you have to look like us."

To my student's credit, he stuck to his guns. He told me he just didn't think it was worth it. If his gear made him visible to one in a thousand drivers he was better off than these other guys who were visible to one in ten thousand. ( his statement )
He also didn't want to wear a half shell helmet. What was the use of saving the top of his head while his face got ripped off if, God forbid, he crashed?

So his wife is taking the class and they are going to do their own thing. I'm sure they'll find other riding companions soon.

I wish you could have heard this guy tell his story. He sounded like a child who'd been rebuffed by one of his heroes.

This sort of reminds me of an old ballad. I've slightly changed the words of this line. To the tune of Streets of Laredo imagine this line.

"I see by my outfit that you are a biker. I see by my outfit that I'm a biker, too!"

Just thought I'd share this for whatever it's worth. I was amused by the situation.

Have a great rest of the weekend.

Miles and smiles,