Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Horses, buggies, and bikes.

I originally started this blog to illustrate how bikes could be a viable alternative to cars. A lot of us ride for fun and recreation. My goal was to do a little evangelizing on behalf of expanding the role of bikes in our transportation needs. My posts have been somewhat varied lately. First and foremost I have a passion for training riders. I'm sure that's shown a little in my blog! We all have things worth sharing. I believe that part of what we're here for is to add to the collective treasure vault of humanity. All contributions, large and small, are valuable. It's not so much that we're measured by exactly what we share. I feel we're measured by the simple fact that we give back. Like I say, we all have different talents and passions. Mine happens to be the two-wheeled world.

Recently I read a post by Steve Williams over at Scooter in the Sticks. The name of his post is The Plain Ride. Here Steve stated that a lot of his rides were uneventful. If he wasn't careful, they'd get downright boring. That really got me to thinking. In fact, I made a comment you can read there. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to write further about the subject. The idea of splitting this into two posts crossed my mind. I realize there's time constraints to blog reading time. Rather than interrupt the flow, I decided to let it go as one. It might be long. Sorry. I think you'll enjoy it, though. Maybe even find a further basis for contemplation.

It's time to come back to the very root of why I started this blog. My hope is to encourage everyone I can to use a bike as everyday transportation. Andy Goldfine and his crew have an organization devoted to commuting on a bike, Ride to Work. If you go there and click on the "Community" header, you'll find several blogs listed. These are written by my fellow evangelizers.

First off, nobody should have to suffer comparisons to anybody else. Favorable or otherwise. I'm hardcore. Not everyone is. Some people enjoy slowly puttering around the countryside. Others like to cover long distances with very few stops. I often see great divisions instigated by brands. I understand that humans like to hang out with others who share similar interests. A putterer is going to be frustrated riding with someone who wants to keep going. And vice versa. That's all well and good. My problem is when that goes too far. Everyone should ride for what they get out of it as long as it's not damaging the universal karma. Let that which we enjoy in common draw us together. Let not our unique differences tear us asunder.

Jumping off my pulpit, I return to using a motorcycle as everyday transportation. I took a few photos from my day Thursday. I'll use those to illustrate my message.

I strongly believe that not every ride is going to be "exciting". In fact, there's many times that I'm thankful to arrive home and be able to call a day "uneventful". Nobody can live on Red Alert all the time. There is such a thing as too much drama. Not to say that there will never be excitement. There's close calls. Conflicts with other road users will always exist. Opportunities to get away from traffic and wick it up a little will hopefully never cease to present themselves. Going out and expanding our skills will always offer a chance to scare ourselves in the name of growth. Not to mention those times when we jump on the bike and go out looking for adventure.

Mostly, though, my rides are what I call "mundane". Here's what Webster, you know the dictionary guy?, says about that word:

"Concerned with the practical details of everyday life".

What I'm really trying to say is that if we're using a bike as everyday transportation then a lot of rides are going to be mundane. Uneventful. Not exciting. Ok, maybe I wouldn't go so far as to say boring. Life on a bike is never boring!

I've seen comparisions here in the blogs to things like horses and Amish buggies. These were common modes of transportation. As were covered wagons.

I'm personally grateful to not have to hitch up a team of horses or pull all the tack out when I need to go somewhere. Enough time was spent around horses when I was younger. I've never had to scoop up after a bike. Somewhat like horses, though, bikes tread more lightly upon the earth. I take no end of satisfaction in that fact. That's wonderful by itself. I really like buying 7 gallons of fuel for the bike rather than 12 for our car to cover the same 300 miles. On top of all that, riding puts us in a position to experience the fulfillment of this statement:

"You never know when you'll be making a memory".

Mundane riding is more a matter of letting adventure finding you than actively seeking it. The key is that on a bike you're in a position to experience it. Gary Charpentier used to write about boxes in boxes. A car is a box. The artificial environment coddles the driver. It also greatly insulates them. Like on a horse or wagon, being on a bike puts us right out in the open. Nothing is hidden or withheld from us. I admit that also includes being wet and cold a lot. Even that makes for small, golden, moments.

Take this stop in the photos above, for example. It was below freezing when I left in the morning. Being stubborn, I left the really cold weather gear home. By afternoon the temperature was supposed to reach the upper fifties (f). My reasoning was that I'd be warmer later so why bother with all the stuff in the morning? Of course, there was a fatal flaw in my reasoning. I had a task later that could well last until after the sun set. Which meant I'd have to ride 45 minutes home in the cold. I totally forgot about that. What an idiot!

So here I was, freezing in the morning. My day was to be spent in Portland, a hundred miles North. I'd actually end up with close to 250 miles for the day round trip. After an hour on the road, I needed to stop and thaw. Right near I-205 is this historical site. As you can see from the signs, it's marking the end of the Oregon Trail that was used by settlers coming West. The special memory wasn't being at the park. No, it was finding that little spot of sunshine on a bench. How do I describe the delicious sensation of the sun slowly heating my blood and making me feel alive again?

What was even better was the reaction of a person coming to work there. He asked me if I was cold. I told him I'd just ridden an hour's worth and was totally freezing. He shook his head all the way up to the entry doors. Another memory that wouldn't have been made in a car.

I eventually thawed and made my way to Vancouver, Washington. As you go over the Glen Jackson Bridge, you're right under the approach to Portland International Airport. How to describe looking straight up into the belly of a big jet coming in to land? With nothing around me, I could feel the full rumble of the monster as it thundered over me.

We moved out of our office in January. Until we find a more suitable location we have a storage unit. Our mail is also being delivered here. The elderly gentleman who runs the office loves to talk about bikes. More than once I've seen customers forced to stand and wait until he finished his story to me. On the bike, I'm a royal visitor there. I don't know how many stories are actually true, but the telling of them is entertaining!

I needed to purchase a couple of small notebooks so a stop at a department store was in order. Don't you love the varied reactions from people when you stroll through a store in your gear? I really love it when a child is all wide-eyed and excited to see the helmet. They know exactly what that's all about, don't they? Commuting on a bike isn't growing a lot, but the number of recreational riders is increasing. Motorcycling is becoming more mainstream. Negative reactions are becoming fewer. I kind of miss that, to tell you the truth. I still get the stares like I'm crazy in bad weather, though!

This is a middle school parking lot in McMinnville. By now I have 200 miles on the clock so far. It's time for school to get out. I had just come from Quizno's where I had a late lunch. The store manager had asked me how I was. His conclusion was that I must have had a great day since I was on the bike. I had to agree. This parking lot is becoming a motorcycle training site. I was waiting for Ray and Ron to join me. We were going to lay out the range and make all the markings. This was going to take place to the left where all the cars are now. We'd first have to wait for the teachers to leave so we could have the parking lot to ourselves.

I thought that where the bike was parked would be out of the way. It was clear across the parking lot from the school. A couple of buses pulled in and them came all the way around. There was enough room behind Sophie that they went around her. Two more buses joined the line. By the time the fifth came around, I decided it was time to move. We went over to the left and took up residence by the light pole. The guys called and were running late. Nothing was going to happen for a while, anyway, so I got comfortable on the bike.

With my calves on the handlebars and my head on the Givi's backrest, life was great. It was the warmest I'd been all day. Having been chilled, my gear was still on. By the way, be sure to put the bike on the centerstand. I almost fell asleep waiting. The buses started leaving. I heard a young man's voice come from a bus window.

"Is that guy still alive?"

He and his buddy had a small discussion about it until I waved at them. A lot of the kids waved as they went past. It wouldn't have happened had I been sitting in a cage.

The three of us worked like gerbils on Speed and got the range completely laid out and marked. We were up against a long rainy spell. At 9 PM I saddled up Sophie and set out for home. Ray was in front of me in his Toyota truck. Somebody had to haul the paint and tools! Now it was just a run for home in the dark and cold. One more surprise was still in store.

Ray was continuing on to Corvallis. I turned off at Coffin Butte. Really dark, country roads lead into North Albany and then towards home. My plan was to run down Palestine Hill so I could take a look at my mother's and grandmother's place on the way home. That part came to pass but I had a little trouble with my headlight.

As I turned off I flipped the lights to high beam for a second to say goodbye to Ray. When I flicked them back down, they went out totally. Now I'm in the dark. Back to high beam and I had lights. As soon as I flicked back down to low beam I had nothing. So I rode with high beams for a while. Wouldn't you know it? Way out in the boonies there would suddenly have to be traffic. It's the middle of nowhere at 10 PM for heaven's sake! I did the honorable thing and rode in the dark while the cars passed. After working the switch repeatedly, I finally got low beams back. Some maintenance is definitely in order. Sophie's got a lot of miles. Who can blame her if she has little age related problems?

Looking back on the day there wasn't really anything that would have grabbed me and excited me to write about. Well, riding with no headlights for a bit might qualify. My mileage total was almost 250 miles. A casual observer would classify the day's travels as uneventful. That's pretty much par for the course for mundane transportation. When a bike's a regular mode of travel that's going to be expected. It's really as it should be. We run errands, we ride to work, we ride for work, it becomes a part of our daily activity. My wish would be to see a lot more of that kind of motorcycle use here.

Practical, but far from routine. Where else but on a bike could we make a million small, but precious memories! Plenty of stuff to fill in the uneventful times between big adventures, no?

Miles and smiles,



agoldfine@ridetowork.org said...

Thanks for all, Dan. This one was extra great.


irondad said...

Thank you. I'm honored you're reading.

Charlie6 said...

sounds like a great day of riding to me...with the exception of leaving your extreme cold weather gear behind...I am too wimpy for that.

Lucky said...

mmmm, riding. Maybe I'll do some of that tonight.

Say, the headlight problem could just be a burned out bulb. The same thing happened to me with my VX, except I found out about it around 3 in the morning, so I only annoyed a few cars with my high-beam. Good times!

Desert MotoRat said...

Nothing wrong with mundane. Another advantage I've found with riding to work is that it keeps my riding skills sharp. No more "rusty" feeling or "wobble" at stop signs. I've also noticed I enjoy my recreational rides more.

Stacy said...

I've been riding to work almost every day since I got my endorsement last April (wow, it's been a year already!) I agree with desert motorat: the daily riding sure helps keep the rust away.

My commute pales in comparison to Dan's epic treks, but I feel much more confident in city travel since that's where most of my riding has been. The irony is that I almost prefer riding in town -- I still feel a bit shaky out on the country roads. Perhaps I need to give myself some homework and ride Hwy 34 up to the Mary's Peak turnoff every day. :P

Steve Williams said...

As one of your distance education students I felt I should chime in on this excellent post.

I think you and I are on the same page save for the language difference between boring and mundane. It appears we both used a word to mean the same thing though your's is the better choice.

You touched on what I think is the key essential element that makes riding special and without it not so special, perhaps not even mundane. It's in these words:

"Mundane riding is more a matter of letting adventure finding you than actively seeking it. The key is that on a bike you're in a position to experience it."

I almost agree except I don't believe just being on a bike puts you in a position to experience it. Physically it does but if your head isn't on right you'll miss it. Thoughts of taxes, work, bills, health, and anything else that can grab you, if you don't let go of that for awhile you will miss everything. You can have a ride that seems like a cage, you get somewhere and don't remember anything.

I'm a putterer and don't need wild rides to find intense satisfaction. Any plain ride will do as long as I am paying attention. A commute, a trip to the grocery store, a ride down the road to nowhere. They may be mundane, but if my head is on right they are special. That's something I just can't get in a car no matter where my head is...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Allen Madding said...

One of the best parts of my day is now my commute. Four years ago that remark would have been cause to have me committed. But since I started commuting on my motorcycle, that all changed. No matter how rough the day might have been, no matter how bad traffic is and how long we may inch on the highway home, riding the 30-45 minutes home on the bike is like therapy.

Most days are uneventful and probably not blog worthy, but I'm in a good mood by the time I get home, and I'm grateful I didn't have to sit in a cage :)

Even if I cannot say I ride to work (copyright/trademark acknowledged).

irondad said...

It WAS a great day of riding. Business and fun all rolled together. When I decided to leave the gear behind Katie told me it was pretty bad if I still needed to prove something to myself. Maybe there's a whole philosophical road to travel there!

Hope you got your riding in. Thought of the bulb thing but no go. It's in the turn signal / headlight switch.

Desert Motorat,
You're exactly right in that you gain valuable experience every day.

Thanks for the reminder! I haven't been out Hwy 34 for quite a while. There was a time when I'd ride over almost every night just to go up and down those sweet twisties. What an awesome homework assignment. The key is to keep looking as far ahead as you can through those curves. There's a couple where you will feel you're looking back over your shoulder. Just watch the bike come right around when you do, though.

"Distance education student". I like that. Makes me feel kind of special. We're on the same page. You summed it up when you said any plain ride will do as long as we pay attention. The reason I said that adventure finds us is that we need to keep our heads in the ride. That makes us focus on our surroundings to a far greater degree than in a car. We don't miss out on things, as you pointed out.

Enjoy your plain rides, Sir!

I know exactly what you mean. For three and a half years I had a desk job that nearly made me insane. Truly the best part was the 44 mile ride at either end of the work day. Especially the one going home. I think the biggest advantage was being able to arrive home in a good mood once more. Not fair to the family to come home and still be fuming, you know!

Take care,

Conchscooter said...

Ha! I stole my wife's vespa 150 to come to work to avoid driving the car. A 150 with a top speed of 65 takes patience on the highway as I can't pass the middling slow pokes.Talk about mundane. But I still look forward to the ride home.

lobsterman said...

I commute 8 miles one way to work, on the scooter. Today I rode to work despite rain predicitons, that's what Frogg Toggs are for. Blew my Stebel horn at a pickup who wasn't paying attention on the way in, no drama. At 10 o'clock they changed the weather forecast to "possible severe weather this afternoon" with tornado conditions possible. I decided to leave early and finish the day working from home, then the sirens started blowing downtown. I rode home in rain and some wind with very dark clouds but no drama. I sit at my computer now listening to rain and thunder and I am still glad I rode this morning. To think, I could have taken the bus.

Bryce said...

Moved out of the office?
I assume by this comment you're
now working out of home for your employment? Or is this in regard
to the motorcycle courses?

I do have one question though Dan,
what have your ridden as a daily commuter prior to Sophie?

And what lead you to select Sophie?

Just askin...

irondad said...

Sounds like a good challenge in using treachery instead of force!

Like I said, you never know when you'll be making a memory. Where would we be without adventure?

Correct. I have no office now. My phone, fax, and computer at home are now the office.

As to daily commuters, for most of the eighty's it was an '81 Honda CB900C with a National Cycle windshield on it. During the late 80's and early 90's it was a Honda GL500 Silver Wing. Still had the 900 but the 500 was more nimble. It wasn't the Interstate version so I again purchased the fork mounted windshield.

There was a brief flirtation with a Yamaha XS850 triple with a frame mounted fairing. That got replaced with a Honda Pacific Coast in 1998 that I bought new. Then, in 2001, I bought Sophie new.

I like the ST1100 because it was a sport tourer. My commute got longer and the ST was long legged. Yet, it was still sporty. Sophie's been all I've hoped for.

Heinz & Frenchie said...

Really enjoyed this post. We remember when Steve said that and we wrote him that we never found his post mundane. An we never find yours mundane either. When one loves riding then one loves to hear about others riding. The simple pleasures of life are often the greatest. Riding is such a sensuous experience and being able to share that is special. So keep on sharing with all of us.