Tuesday, January 11, 2011

For the right reasons.

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.

( This is a photo of the streets about a mile from my house. Things got worse from here. )

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.



This is a quick snapshot I took during a Rider Skills Practice course in the summer of 2009. The red VFR on the outside belongs to my son Clinton.

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,

Dan

43 comments:

Lucky said...

My thought process in these kind of situations goes something like this:

Is this totally awesome? If so, proceed.

If not, is there anything I can do to make it totally awesome?

If not, stop.


It's good that you have the insight to realize when you're pushing limits for bad reasons.

I don't think anyone is going to razz you for declaring it a snow day now and then.

I have no doubt having an Irondad has given Iron Bear similar insight. He seemed like a sharp guy when I met him.

...And, the only way to develop good judgement is by experiencing the results of a whole lot of bad judgement.

Allen Madding said...

I am clinging on to Lucky's statement, "...And, the only way to develop good judgement is by experiencing the results of a whole lot of bad judgement."

I am balancing the bad decisions I have made on the bike against the good decisions and think about the "whew that was close" decisions.

I think my wife respects my "not to ride" decisions after all of the "gonna ride" decisions I have made that she didn't agree with in the past.

And now, I simply want some 40F weather.

-Peace

Circle Blue said...

Thanks for the post. It is stuff to ponder. I try to ride to work every day. Snow and ice stop me. But, what about those frosty days? Or, when after a snow storm are the roads prudently passable? Those are the days I have to make a call to ride or not to ride.

I will admit, when a person asks me, "Bet you didn't ride that bike today, did you?" I really like to be able to say, "Yeah, I rode."

~Keith

SonjaM said...

Dan, I had to read your post twice, not because I am a second language speaker but because what you have to say is very important, and I am thankful for it.

I recently found myself more and more pushing my boundaries because I want to ride even when others don't. And believe me when I say I was tempted last week to get on the bike when we had the weather conditions you just described.

It was my better half who suggested that we should scout the terrain with the car first before I go saddle Nella, and I was smart enough to listen to him. The roads were darn slippery even for a car. So, instead of riding I went hiking with hubby.

But there is that little devil on my shoulder that wants me to ride even when it is prudent not to. Is there a treatment for it?

Ironbear said...

Looking back I think it was a bad case of "Get-home-itis", as much as I wanted to get a nice warm hotel room, take off my soaking wet gear and get a good nights sleep before finishing the journey home I knew that victory is sweeter when the going is tough.

If it weren't for your sound advice and reassurance that I could actually get traction in the pouring rain with little more than the racing slick tires that are on the VFR I may have actually called it quits.

I guess you could say it's a catch 22, being Irondad's son does make me want to prove myself as a rider but on the other hand I know I learned from the best and have a better chance for success than a lot of other riders out there, not to sound conceded or anything.

Plus, had I not pressed on I may not have earned my new nickname! I can say I made the trip and have a story to tell and to quote a shirt of Dad's featuring the Grim Reaper, "I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death."

As a side note mom and I both agree that you may be legally insane for riding in some of the conditions that you do, but that's part of the reason we're proud to call you Irondad!

Ironbear

Orin said...

You're not alone. There have been a few road trip occasions when I asked myself "what the @#$% was I thinking?!" The Oregon trek on the PX and the Spokane jaunt on the GTS come to mind. I guess the only thing that made me press on was the difficulty and expense of getting the bike there (or back) by any means other than riding it. So I rode on.

And as a result of staring adversity in the face and not blinking, I realized it made me a better rider. I learned early on in my racing days that a stomach full of butterflies just before you go on the track is a good thing. So were the rides...

__Orin
Scootin' Old Skool

Andrew said...

Great post and I can relate to the comments about ego & having to live up to your reputation.

I've done a reasonable amount of long distance endurance rides and I really enjoy them.

On the 2009 Grand Challenge (1,000 miles in 24 hours) while riding while tired and in poor conditions both myself & a mate with me pondered the sanity of what we were doing and later talked of that ride being our last GC.

Last year I still signed up and started the GC whereas my mate (a relatively new father of 2) decided against it. Early in the event I was first on the scene at an accident involving one of the other riders. Things were extremely tense for some time and it took the emergency services nearly an hour to get to us (in the middle of nowhere).

After this my head was just not right and I'm glad that I pulled out.

This was my 9th attempt at this ride and my first failure. Now I have the chance to rerun this ride so that I can go for my 10th later in the year - you get an engraved mug after 10 successful GC's.

The question I (and nobody else) now need to find the answer to is: is an engraved mug and a badge worth me putting myself through it all again (twice).

Personally I don't care whether people think I'm a hard core rider or not, or if I'm a wuss if I choose not to carry on with this sort of riding. You have to ask yourself these questions (especially as you get older - eek!), be honest in the answers you find and be comfortable with your decisions.

Ride safe everyone!

Geoff James said...

Dan,
That was a top post. When I was reading it, I was thinking about the 1000 miles in 24 hour rides I do, only to see that Andrew had already made an eloquent comment. I also received an email tonight along similar lines from fellow blogger Raftn.

I enjoy challenging myself because I believe it helps me to grow as a person. But I do it for me, not to get a reputation or anything like that. True satisfaction is internal and there's no need to keep doing it for its own sake.

Oh, and I grew up riding a bike in the snow in the UK. It's simply something I'd be too terrified to do now!

Cheers,

Geoff

bluekat said...

Great post and wonderful story. I'm glad it ends well.

Yeah, the ego enters into it. It feels good to be a little part of an elite group (of people with no sense to come in out of the rain). But there's also the love of riding that always beckons, the desire to keep skills sharp and not have to relearn in the spring, and how sweet the ride is when good weather returns.

I love the father-son name thing. Sort of a legacy, a family rite of passage, or something like that. :)

It's scary when your child is out there vulnerable to the hazards. I love that my son rides. It also scares me. Would he be riding if mom and dad hadn't started? Maybe. But even with all the risks, it's not in me to stop him.

He's also showing signs of riding in less than perfect weather. Hmmm...

cpa3485 said...

For me, I suppose that part of it is that I am out to prove something. I'm just not exactly what it is that I am trying to prove sometimes.
I thank you for your words because this topic sometimes really consumes my thoughts.

Am I out to prove that a person can comfortably commute on 2 wheels, in lots of conditions? YES

Am I out to prove that I am still young, or feel young? YES

Am I out to prove that I am a bit of a daredevil? Well, not really, but if someone else wants to think that, LOL, so be it.

But also part of it is a desire to be a bit of a non-conformist. To be a little different. As I gain experience, I know more about what my limite are, and they change a little over time, sometimes being a little braver or a little more conservative.

A lot of people, family, coworkers or associates are now used to me telling them I rode that particular day. I suppose their lack of surprise makes me feel good. They used to say "You're Kidding".

And I do have limits to what I will try and they are, to some riders, probably fairly conservative. But I am very comfortable with that. Maybe a little tiptoeing is a good thing.

Jim

Charlie6 said...

Irondad, good post...and I've been down that path many times.

They've an expression in the army, its usually said right after something unpleasant has happened while accomplishing the assigned mission: "it builds character".

My poor R1150RT and its several "battle scars" attest to my having gone through the thought process you describe but not quite making it through to the destination unscathed.

My refusal to quit riding though led me to the Ural sidecar rig, now the "interesting conditions" rides are not so challenging anymore.

And yes, I tend to learn my lessons the hard way.

Really, good posting!

dom


Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Redleg's Rides

Conchscooter said...

You can't get the experience unless you do the ride.

bobskoot said...

Irondad:

It's not good enough to be responsible for your actions. You can be the most skilled, cautious person and when you factor in the elements around you, over which you have no control then you will come to the same realization that I have . . . and it's just not worth it to take even the most educated chance that something will go wrong, because it will -- one day.

I also think rides of endurance, prove nothing except that you are a fool for pushing yourself and not necessarily under the best conditions. Most often it is just good luck that you can maintain your stride and arrive safely

bob
Wet Coast Scootin

RichardM said...

Another excellent post and food for thought. When someone asks if you really rode in this weather, there is some pride in saying yes. The same goes for just about any activity. I used to ride my bicycle in these double centuries (200 miles in 24 hours) just to see if I could do it. Or winter climbs up mountain peaks just because. Another way of looking at it is if you don't push yourself you'll never know where your limits are.

Richard

Bryce said...

Important Numbers…
-Five degrees either side of the temperature where freezing of moisture happens. Very chilling.
-the number of miles your children will ride in one shot to accomplish their goal;
-the number of times Iron Dad offered his son free accommodation;
-the numerical equivalent of knowing when your number is up and it is time to stop.

david said...

We were chatting about "hard-core" riders recently. Those who don't flinch when it's bucketing with rain outside ... fortunately we don't have the cold and snow you folks do.
I was quite startled when i realised i fell under this other person's conception of a hard-core biker.
The thing is, there is no "ego" for me ... i have no car. This forces the situation sometimes, like when i wake up in the morning and it's cold and wet and windy outside ...
I haven't backed out of bad weather yet, my only excuse so far is i was feeling like death warmed up. That and mechanical failure.
That being said, i have stayed over when it was late, got an early start the next day, the weather wasn't better, but the light was, and so was i.

peace!

BeemerGirl said...

Great food for thought. And no doubt a difficult thought/admission to yourself. I don't think there is an answer to this. Someone is pushing the envelope and developing skills...until one small thing goes wrong. That one thing can either be that person's making, or completely beyond his control. It will all still end poorly. Where is that fine line between riding hero and bad situation.

No dispersions and not casting anything. It is also a problem that I go over in my mind on a regular basis when faced with a decision on if I want to ride or not.

Hopefully we all can see each situation for its potential and make the decision to call something off despite ego. And be safe for when we just can't help it but take that ride anyway. :)

Sharon said...

Riding a bike is a combination of excitement and fear for me. Because you really take risks when you decided to ride on it. But the thrill of risks makes you braver. But during freezing season, I think it is best not to take risk on slippery road.

Chuck Pefley said...

Yet another humble and excellent post, along with good comments from others! Thanks, Dan, for digging beneath that hard shell you wear and telling it like it is. You and Iron Bear deserve to be proud of each other.

Stacy said...

I guess I should've known that you'd be out riding in that freeze we had. You probably don't have your electrics hooked up yet either, right? ;)

I didn't ride at all during the freeze and when I came back to the bike two weeks later I felt oddly refreshed, as if I were returning with fresh eyes to something I'd taken for granted.

irondad said...

Lucky,

Thank you for the totally awesome comment!

One would hope to be a good example to their offspring. I hope I have been.

You more plainly wrote what Will Rogers said.

"Good judgement comes from bad experience. And a lot of that comes from bad judgement".

Who needs him when I got you!!

irondad said...

Allen,

40 degree weather and peace are truly noble things to wish for.

Doing battle can make one very weary.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Circle Blue, ( Keith )

It seems you have reached the place I have. It is fun to shock but we have nothing to prove.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Sonja,

You ask if there is a treatment. I do not believe you are sick.

The reason I know that is because you used this wording,

"pushing boundaries"

It's ok to push boundaries. Push, but don't shove. Stand on firm ground. Push a bit. If you can take a step forward and find firm footing, proceed. If the footing isn't firm, step back to where it is.

Your car ride was a way to check the footing before you committed.

I like your attitude. It's getting more like mine all the time! Be brave but ride prudently.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Ironbear,

I'm both proud of both of us and blushing at the same time!

I'm okay with being legally insane as long as your mother doesn't try to have me declared legally dead.

Take care, my son

Dad

irondad said...

Orin,

I knew I had found a kindred soul when we got to know each other over lunch.

You may be even tougher than me, doing what you do on a scooter, even though it IS a Vespa!

It's nice to read on your blog that you are making lemonade out of lemons.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Andrew,

I think you summed up the gist of what I was getting at. It's not so much what you do or don't do.

As you so aptly put it,

Be honest with the answers you find and be comfortable with your decisions.

You totally get it, my friend.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Geoff,

Thank you for the compliment on the post. By your comment it's clear that you got it, too.

Personal growth means leaving our comfort zones. I think we are programmed to challenge ourselves into growing.

Maybe I'd find more mental clarity if I move to Australia / NZ!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

bluekat,

Describe it as you will, the answer is much simpler.

You are just plain addicted! Admit it and enjoy it.

I remember when you blogged about your son riding. As you can see, been there, done that. Yes, they ride because we do, but probably more safely because we do ride.

We give them the best start we can and then trust. That's the hard part, isn't it?

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

cpa3485 Jimbo, Jimbob, Bub, or whatever we settled on,

Trying to prove something is ok. Proving that bikes can play a big role as practical transportation is a good thing. Some of our blogs are listed on Ridetowork.org.

Look under community and then commuter blogs.

That's the reason I started my blog.

As to proving you are still young and virile, well, we all never doubted that so no proving to us required.

I believe I was one to start calling you a daredevil accountant. So you can ignore that one.

As to being a non-conformist, maybe it's a bit different than that. Sounds like you want to define who you are for yourself rather than have others dictate to you.

That's a righteous thing to go for!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Charlie6,

I've experienced the army version. Usually right after the C.O.'s face lost the shocked expression that we were still alive.

As much as I hate to admit it, there other ways to experience personal growth than by motorcycling. There is some wisdom in pulling back there to save energy for exploring those other avenues.


Thank you for your kind words about the post.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Conchscooter,

Well said.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

bobskoot,

Thank you for honoring me by clearly stating your opinion. My own opinion would be different, having done some of what you talk about.

Your viewpoint is 100% correct for you and that is exactly the point of the post.

Take care, my highly respected friend!


Dan

irondad said...

Richard,

Once again I have to admit that motorcycling is not the onl pursuit whereby someone can experience personal growth.

Bicycling is tough. Full of opportunity for challenging the rider. Except you don't need an electric vest as long as you are peddling!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Bryce,

I sincerely hope that last number stays extremely theoretical!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

David,

You exemplify what a local legend should be. Just quietly taking care of business.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Beemergirl,

I didn't take your comment as casting any dispersions. It is a very valid thing to think about.

A rider always needs a plan B to go with Plan A. Sometimes plan B means not implementing plan A in the first place.

I think a person should be selective about where and when they choose to explore limits.


As to riding for the sheer joy of it? You animal!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Sharon,

Spoken like a sage!

Did you know about Gary's original blog? He's from your area.

http://www.ridetowork.org/files/baroninwinter/index.html

Speaking of icy roads you may find it interesting.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Chuck,

Thank you so much for the kind words! As much as your photo blog awes me I feel a little less inferior!

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Stacy,

Crazy is as crazy does. I finally have electrics. Kind of a let down.

I know what you were up to. Messing the DR, weren't you?

Take care,

Dan

Krysta in MKE said...

So now when Clinton gets around to doing an Ironbutt, will he be IronBearButt, or IronButtBear, or Iron^2BearButt, or...?

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.
Thanks for the offer. I'll remember that! :D

Krysta in MKE said...

BTW - riding on freezing fog?
You're insane!!!!!
What were you thinking?
You could have been killed! (Or worse.)

Dar said...

I will never take it for granted again when my hub says "it's not you I worry about,but the other idiots" I jokingly rattle my hubs fenders when I gear up & ride to work everyday in all kinds of Pacific Northwest weather. He informed me he doesn't ride in the rain. I have learned a lot riding in all kinds of weather. Today however I left my bike parked, it was kind of snowing in the am & I decided I didn't want to take a chance. I am glad Iron Bear had a safe journey.