It's 27 degrees (f) outside. A nice brisk morning except for the freezing fog that has settled into our valley. The roads are white. In some places it looks like it has snowed. As you'd expect, the streets are a little slick. And I'm out on a big sport touring motorcycle. My destination is 30 miles north. As I ponder for the second time turning around and going home, an unfamiliar question enters my head and lights up like a rescue flare.
Why am I doing this? The answer will prove a bit unsettling to me. I finally have to admit something to myself. I'm sharing it with you in the hope that you will find some value in it.
This is a really bad photo from my ancient cell phone but you get the idea. Cold and frosty. It's not the cold, it's the freezing fog that acts as villian. Here's what our local newspaper had to say about the day. This is an excerpt from an article on the front page of the Democrat Herald published on Wednesday, January 5.
"Freezing fog greeted some in the mid-valley Tuesday morning, and there was heavy frost at the Santiam Rest Area on Interstate 5, at points east, and around Albany, where in some places it looked as if it had snowed.
Despite Tuesday's slippery roads and streets, only a handful of wrecks occurred, and no injuries were reported."
I live in Albany and my travel route put me on Interstate 5 northbound. Right past the Santiam Rest Area. So named because it sits beside the Santiam River. This was the second place where I seriously considered going back home. The first was in the busy commercial district of Albany. In the first case the roads looked really treacherous but got better after a mile or so. Imagine my disappointment on encountering the bad spot by the rest area. It looked bad as far as I could see and the elevation climbs from there.
Yet I pressed on, thinking about the guy who tried to swim across the ocean. He got halfway across, decided he couldn't make it, and swam back. I'm this far, let's keep going.
It pleases me to say that Elvira and I arrived at our destination without incident. In fact, once at the top of the big hill, we were rewarded by clear roads and bright winter sunshine. I sent Katie a text telling her of our safe arrival. She had been really worried. Heck, I was concerned! I wanted to reassure her that things were fine.
I could see the worry on Katie's face when I left. She won't say anything to me. I don't know if that's a testament to her personality or a condemnation of mine. Katie knows my skill and experience level. On the rare occasions she does say something, she tells me that it's not me she's worried about. Katie's concern is the brain dead drivers out on the roads at the same time. There's a lot of merit to that statement, I'm sorry to say.
By the way, has anyone ever expressed a similar sentiment to you? They'll say something like,
"It's not you I'm worried about, it's the other idiots!"
Wait a minute. OTHER idiots?
This is just another among thousands of times I've ridden in bad conditions. I rode again in freezing fog again yesterday, now that you mention it. In fact, it's become sort of a running joke with Katie.
"Dan never seems to ride when the weather is nice. He's not interested until there's nasty weather of some sort."
There's more than a little truth behind the joke. During a lot of my rides Katie's worried. Once in a great while I'm a little concerned, myself. I can tell by the tense muscles and slight pucker factor. So, why?
That's the question begging attention. Why ride when it can seem smarter not to?
There's a smaller answer and a larger answer.
Ego plays a part. That's the smaller portion. I think it's perfectly fine to have a healthy ego. That's what drives us to excel and to be proud of our accomplishments,.
Take a rider that's worked hard on their physical and mental skills. Combine that with the experience gained from countless miles on a bike in all conditions. Why shouldn't they enjoy the fruitage?
Why not enjoy the feeling of doing what so many others can't or won't? Why not get a kick out of seeing drivers shake their heads in wondering consideration of our sanity? You can supply your own examples. Like I say, a healthy ego is a good thing as long as it doesn't replace reason or interfere with good judgement.
A larger portion of the answer, in my case, is this.
I believe that my reputation, in my mind, has become a monster demanding to be fed.
It's not healthy. I'm uncomfortable confronting it. Even more so sharing it. I'd like to just think of myself as a swashbuckling road warrior with a lot of bravery. Yet, the serious consequences of getting it wrong on a bike demand that we all make honest evaluations. Part of that "getting it wrong" is being on a bike when we shouldn't. I debated about writing this post for a long time and finally decided to offer this peek under the armor as a way to break the ice. I'll go first in order that others may feel more comfortable to follow. Your thoughts don't have to be public, of course. ( If you don't care to look feel free to use the big red X at the top right of the page. I won't be offended )
The pressure on me doesn't come from thinking about what others expect. Rather, it's more what I expect. I've been hardcore for so long now. It's become a case of,
"I can't NOT ride. Think of who you are."
Up until lately I think it was more innocent. I just loved to ride. Anything that threatened to keep me from doing that was simply regarded as an obstacle to be surmounted. The old, there's no bad weather, just bad gear thing. Extreme cold, nasty weather, big city traffic, you name it. I used my skill and experience to conquer it. If I got to enjoy bragging a bit about it, big deal. If I took pleasure in seeing somebody's jaw drop when I rode up on a bike, no harm. I'd earned the right.
So what changed?
At the risk of making this post too long to suffer through, I need to share this story from last fall. I'm pretty sure that my reputation, and the desire of somebody else to emulate it, probably put somebody I care deeply about in danger. That's been sort of nagging at me for a few months.
Last September Clinton decided to ride this same bike to Aberdeen, Idaho to see somebody special. He rode straight through on the way there. It's around 700 miles and 11 hours. Quite the trip and his first really long ride. The weather was fairly warm and by the time he got to Boise it was nearly hot.
I knew Clinton's plan was to stay a few days then repeat the straight through ride on Friday. Since he had to be at work on Saturday this gave him the most time in Idaho. In the meantime, though, the weather was expected to make a turn for the worse. Heavy rain storms were forecast to roll though the area. I sent Clinton a text and told him I'd pay for a hotel if he wanted to break the trip up into two days. He politely declined my offer.
Long story short his ride home was very tough. He got a later start which meant a lot of his ride was in the dark. Heavy rains at night are bad enough without the added adversity of the battering and gusty winds in the Columbia River Gorge. If you think I was concerned about Clinton you'd be absolutely right. Not so much in his riding abilities per se. I'd taught him to ride, after all, and I'd seen his physical control of the bike. In fact, I had let him ride Elvira when she was brand new.
My concerns were his lack of experience and the really bad riding conditions. Fortunately he called in to give me an update and ask for some advice. Here's a hint towards what I'm referring to. During one call Clinton said,
"I'm sure glad I have Irondad to call and get advice from!"
At least his calls gave me a reading on his location. During the coming hours I was constantly running calculations in my head. I've traveled that route a lot and know it well. So much time to here where there's a gas station, or fast food, or something. Clinton called in about every hour and a half. So far so good. I repeated my offer of a hotel.
No matter how close to home, when it's time to get off the bike it's time. Don't fall victim to "get-home-itis". Find a hotel and call me. I'll give the desk a credit card number. Even though Clinton said he came close to taking me up on the offer he pressed on. Safely, thankfully.
Here's another clue that I may have had an unhealthy influence on his epic ride. It will probably embarrass Clinton so I offer you my apologies in advance, my son. It's for the greater good.
When Clinton was young we gave him the nickname of Pooh Bear. You know how parents are when the kids are cute. When Clinton completed his ride under very trying conditions I told him I was changing his name. From now on he would officially be known as Iron Bear. He had earned it.
You think the kid was proud? He only uses that signature on every other text and e-mail. He should be proud and I'm certainly proud of him. We've never talked about it, but I'm pretty sure a part of the reason he pressed on was me. Oh, he probably wanted to prove himself like a young man will. I can't help but wonder, though, how much living up to me was on his mind?
I've never put that kind of pressure on the kids. Still, a young man will often want to be like his father. I can't help but wonder if that unspoken pressure put my son in extra jeopardy. Guess we'll have to talk about it sometime.
So, there you have it.
There are a lot of reasons for riding as well as for not riding. Same goes with gear, the way we ride, and who we ride with. I'm always floored by how much influence pressures like peer groups and other things have on riders. Or potential riders. Toward both positive and negative actions. I would just ask you all to think about it. If it's not the time to ride that's okay. The ones who really matter will respect you. Not that I matter, but you will certainly have my respect, as well.
So much of being safe and successful on a motorcycle depends on good judgement. Don't let anyone or any pressure compromise that judgement.
As for me, I will admittedly keep pushing some boundaries when appropriate. My resolve is to make sure I'm doing it for the right reasons.
Miles and smiles,