Monday, October 29, 2007

Plan "B".

What's the difference between a racing line and a street line? A street line always leaves a rider a way out. I see a couple of things happening with regularity that aren't really good technique for the street.

One is the proliferation of sport bike riders. Most of these folks will never turn a wheel in anger on a race track. There's probably a little Walter Mitty in all of us. I can see how a rider on a powerful and agile sports bike wants to feel like they somehow match the mystique of the machine. In a blurring of realities track techniques are filtered into everyday riding. That's one scenario but not really the one I'm addressing here.

Another thing that happens is how human nature influences our riding without our being aware of it. If you think about it, a lot of the techniques required to survive on a bike are unnatural acts. In other words, our natural human reactions, if acted upon, can actually work to our detriment. Sometimes we're reacting to an emergency. Other times these things creep into our normal riding.

Take cornering, for instance. The vast majority of rider fatalities in Oregon are motorcycle riders failing to negotiate corners. These aren't multi-vehicle collisions, either. If another vehicle is involved, it's because the rider crossed the centerline and caused the impact. A lot of our efforts as trainers is in teaching riders the proper way to corner on a bike. As a result, I see hundreds of riders a year, from beginners to those who ride for a living. One of the natural reactions I see over and over is what we call "sweeping" or "painting" a corner.

What happens is that the rider follows the road instead of the proper bike line. They turn right to go left and vice versa. I wrote earlier about minimizing transitions, conserving traction, and so on. On top of all that, "Painting" a corner puts us in a bad spot because it takes away options when Plan A gets thwarted. In the world we ride in, there's often a need for Plan B. Once in a while I've even had to go to Plan C. Those times are memorialized in my "Pucker Moments Hall of Fame"!

Here's a drawing that will help illustrate what I'm talking about.

Ok, no grief about the road. Obviously the Highway Department went with low bid! I'm forced to ride there anyway. This only depicts our lane. We can have hazards coming from the right side of the lane. There's also traffic coming at us from the opposite direction.

At the bottom of the picture is a wide sweeper. We're coming up through here and headed for the turn at the top. The dashed line depicts where our line should be. The first turn's configuration and sight distance call for a late apex. Now we're headed for the next corner. Notice the difference between the dashed line and the solid line. The solid line depicts what I typically see from the majority of the riders that come through our courses. In this drawing it's the classic "turn right to go left" line.

What I'd encourage you to do is follow the solid line up into the corner. As the rider starts the turn look how close the bike gets to the right hand side of the road. Here's a photo I took on a recent ride. Look how close Sophie is to the edge of the road.

If a hazard appears there's not a lot of room to move. If Plan A goes awry the chances of successfully implementing Plan B are reduced. I came across a recent example in a conversation with someone who'd been riding in Southern California recently. It was just before the big fires. This rider was on an ST1300. There was a lot of wind. Gusts were reaching 35 to 40 mph. The guy was getting ready for a corner and did the classis painting thing. It put him pretty close to the right side of the road. There was a narrow gravel shoulder. On the other side of the shoulder the gravel sloped downhill . As the rider was getting ready to lean the bike a big gust hit the bike and moved it over. Right into the gravel. Because he didn't want to do anything drastic on the gravel, the rider tried gentle handlebar inputs. What happened is that he ended up riding down into the ditch that was several feet deep. Fortunately the bike stayed up on two but it could have been worse.

If his line hadn't been so far over the bike would probably have stayed on the blacktop.

Here's a picture of the bike in a better place. As you can see, there's places to go on both sides.

Looking ahead into the corner you can see that there's actually a lot of gravel strewn onto the road. It's not easily seen coming up to the corner. If the bike happens to move in the gravel a proper line is going to allow room for error.

I know the dashed line in the drawing looks pretty close to the other lane at the top corner. Just remember that we need to make sure all of us stays in our lane when we're leaning! We don't want little things like our heads and upper bodies hanging over the yellow lines, do we?

To avoid following the road and messing up a proper motorcycle line think of it this way. As you come out of a corner get your eyes up. Identify the proper entry to the next corner and ride right for it. Leave room for a Plan B, just in case!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunday afternoon and...The Game!

The teaching schedule is winding down. I'm getting more Sundays off. You know what that means? Yeah, Sunday afternoons. Kicking back with Katie. People have a lot of different ways to relax on a Sunday. Fishing, football, a long lunch with friends, sitting quietly reading, or engaging in a favorite hobby. We have one. What else would it be but a two wheeled adventure?

Riding to work is great. Riding for work is even better. Riding just for the pure enjoyment of it with no work involved? Priceless!

Thus early PM saw us out enjoying the fall colors. You're probably feeling sorry for Katie about now. It can seem like I'm often dragging her along on these rides. You might think I have no life outside motorcycles and poor Katie has become a victim of my obsession. You'd be right on the first part but wrong on the second. This ride was actually her idea. She had a plan in mind but didn't want to be too forward about it. She's become a master at making me think her idea is my idea.

Take this day, for example. I was perfectly happy to sit and watch some football. The pile of bike magazines is growing higher. It was turning out to be an overcast but dry day. Not exactly like sunshine warmly beckoning, if you know what I mean. Katie tried her first approach.

"You could go for a ride if you want. I know you haven't had many weekends to just go out and have fun on the bike. I'm okay with it if you want to go for a ride."

Notice the self sacrificing tone here. I told Katie I had actually wanted to spend some time with her. Hunkering down on our new recliner couch would work just fine for me. I even made a suggestion for a simple evening meal we could enjoy. Going back to my magazine, I waited for her next move. Oh yes, I knew there'd be one. She turned her face away quickly but I'd seen the gleam in her eye.

That's something I really enjoy about being knowing her so well. Some married people find the predictable little quirks boring. I find them fun. The pattern might be predictable, but the game is always fun.

Sure enough, the second move in her little chess game was soon played.

"I could come with you. That way you could be on the bike and still be with me", she proceeds to offer.

I toy with her a little more by telling her we'd be together but couldn't really engage in any conversation to speak of. All of this stated with my nose still in a magazine.

Pretty soon it was quiet and she was faking interest in the football game. Don't get me wrong, she likes football. She was staring at the screen but her brain was churning on something else. It was time for the next move in the game. This time it came from the kitchen. Our kitchen window faces West. I heard her voice and looked that way. Katie had the curtain pulled back and was looking out.

"I don't see any black clouds. It's probably not going to rain for a long time judging by how the sky looks over the hills. You've been saying you wanted to see what finally happened with Grandma's house."

The hills she's talking about are the Coast Range. Our weather comes from the ocean and we often use the sky over the hills as a short range weather forecast. I had been wanting to see what happened to Grandma's house. She sold it and moved into a single wide manufactured home out on my Mother's property. The guy who bought the house is a contractor and was going to make some changes.

My reply was that I supposed we could go for a little ride. It would be about 20 miles one way. So now Katie has us both on the bike but still has one more move to make. I know it's coming. Especially since we'd just watched that Will Smith movie called the Pursuit of Happyness the night before. At the end of the movie, Will and his son are at a park near the water. It wasn't the movie, it was the water.

"If we ended up anywhere near Sweet Home we could go to Foster."

Checkmate. She had us on the bike and now I couldn't refuse her request. The ride had grown to 70 some miles round trip. Katie loves water. There's something about the look and sound that speaks to her on some spiritual level. Of course, I'd honor her request. Katie had played her chess pieces well! She could have just asked me outright. I'd have been slobbering over the chance to ride some more. The Game made the process a lot more fun, don't you think?

Foster is a reservoir. There's a big dam up river called Green Peter. Foster's a smaller dam. Foster has a big campground called Sunnyside Park. It has a boat ramp. Along the back side of Foster there's another campground and a day use area. Despite being smaller than Green Peter, Foster gets a lot more use. Mostly because it's closer to the main drag. Highway 20 runs right out of Sweet Home and along the West side of the reservoir. Eventually Highway 20 goes over the Cascade Mountains into Central Oregon and then on to Idaho. To get to Green Peter takes more time as it involves a longer trip up twisty roads. Being right out of town, Foster takes the brunt of the recreational users.

Katie likes to go to Sunnyside and look at the river just before it becomes a lake. Then we ride the back side of the lake. She gets plenty of time to fill her eyes with the scenery. I resist my natural urges and ride slowly for her sake. You gotta do that for the woman you love from time to time! As painful as the wrists cramps are from holding back.

Here's a picture of the Water Nymph looking out and thinking who knows what?

I took some other pictures while I was roaming around. When you're not in a hurry you tend to notice interesting things more readily. Maybe that's why Steve makes such thoughtful photos! A scooter makes for a relaxed atmosphere so he takes time to really see things.

We spent a fair amount of time dodging these little red spiders. They were literally flying through the air on parachutes made of silk. Dozens of four and five foot long strands of spider silk were carrying their tiny passengers on the breezes. I guess even spiders get the urge to wander!

Here's some stumps that look like spiders.

Here's someone else enjoying the peace and tranquility of the water. Only not on a bike!

We picked up a little cold drizzle by the time we got back close to home. Our dry window had closed. I couldn't resist stopping for one more picture, though. These trees are so vivid!

Sophie was put to bed and gear hung up to dry. The Game had started the ride. Now it was ending with the game. Sunday Night Football was getting ready to rumble. Katie grabbed a blanket and snuggled up to me on the couch. I'm hardened to that chill a rider gets when the day turns cold and wet. Katie, on the other hand, has a ways to go. Seems she likes to look at the water but doesn't really care for it drizzling all cold and wet from the sky!

Recapping the day, we'd had a scenic motorcycle ride. I had a woman snuggled up to me who wanted thawed out. The snifter of Southern Comfort in my hand was warming my own insides, one fiery sip after another. It's ok, I was done riding for the day, remember! A pretty cozy arrangement from which to watch the Steelers and Broncos go at it. There's certainly worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, don't you agree?

Miles and smiles,



I'm working on two more posts this week. One's on cold weather gear and the other's on cornering lines. I know it's getting a little late for some of us to aggressively attacking corners, but not all of us are going to be cold this Winter! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Single track vehicles?

Riding to work can take folks places you might not expect. Here's a local story that illustrates the point.

Our local Sheriff's deputies had an interesting call recently. Somewhere about a quarter to five in the morning Dispatch received a report. You know how the escalating meth problem is leading to an epidemic of metal thefts. The caller reported a metal theft in progress behind Pacific Power's yard. As you might have surmised that's our electricity provider.

You need to understand the area first. It's called Millersburg. Old Salem Road snakes out of Albany proper on its way to more rural surroundings. Along the way are three major employers. One's a metallurgical plant and the other two are plywood / paper mills. There's railroad service to these locations. The tracks basically lead out of town towards the countryside. Now you kind of have the picture.

The Boys show up and start the search for a perpetrator. One of them, ( a cop, not a perpetrator ) takes a walk around the area. They see what looks like the world's smallest locomotive coming down the tracks towards them. Interestingly, it doesn't sound like a train either. Turns out to be a guy on a motorcycle. Let's see. There's a report of a theft in progress and someone riding a motorcycle down the railroad tracks. At 5 AM. A radio's used and the crew tries to stop the bike. Nothing doing. Our motorcyclist escapes.

A perimeter is set up. There's only a couple of roads to cover. If the guy's coming out, it will be easy to spot him. Sure enough, the rider's spotted approaching Old Salem Road from a service road. A cruiser's sitting ready with a cop sitting on the hood. No lights. At least that's how I picture it. More accurately, the officer is probably in a "cover" type position while keeping watch. Our rider finally sees the car and gets ready to turn around. If this was Hollywood, the motorcyclist would execute a dirt bike type corner and disappear the other way in a rooster tail of dirt and rocks. This wasn't Hollywood and our rider wasn't real skilled.

In our real life tale when the rider slowed down to turn around the deputy pushed him off his motorcycle. Needless to say, he was soon taken into custody. Can you picture this guy sitting in jail? If someone asks him how he got caught, what's he going to say? It won't sound too macho if he tells the truth. How he was on his bike and a cop on foot pushed him off onto the ground. Maybe we could help him come up with something suitably impressive!

The metal theft is still unresolved. Our rider turns out to have had a legitimate reason for riding on the tracks. Seems his driver's license is suspended. Keeping to the spirit of the law, if not the letter, he avoided riding on public roads. The railroad tracks were his pathway to work. He might miss a few days of work, though. Our rider is being charged with attempt to elude and criminal tresspass. Presumably on top of driving while suspended. Weirdly enough, that one might be hard to convict on since the rider was on private property.

I don't know for sure what type of bike it was. Had to be something capable of hopping over the rail and negotiating the tracks. Maybe I should try that with Sophie. Just in case of a natural disaster you know. All the main roads will be plugged up but a single track vehicle can still get around!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hair spray ride. ( or how I've risen to a new low! )

The swing's empty. That's 'cuz me and the missus are out on an adventure. On the bike, of course. Like any adventure, good or goofy, it started simply enough.

Katie casually mentioned that she was running out of hair spray. Like any product a person comes to like, she couldn't find it locally anymore. I think the manufacturers keep a close eye on sales. If something sells well it gets discontinued. My philosophy is to immediately go out and buy several once I realize I like it. Might explain my having 92 pairs of Levi's 517 boot cut jeans. Unfortunately, they still make these so I look a little silly right now. One of these days, though, I'll be vindicated.

Anyway, as soon as Katie mentioned the hair spray I had a flashback to being 16. Admittedly, it took a time machine to get me back there, but there I was. I'd just gotten my driver's license. I could finally drive ( or ride ) someplace by myself. On city streets, no less. All I needed was a reason to go. Those reasons were a little scarce as joy riding was prohibited. I was a Driver looking for Opportunity.

I was the most helpful person you'd ever hope to meet. Although the folks might have used a different word to describe me.

"We're a little low on milk. Should I go to the store?"

Suspicious looks were sent the way of the refrigerator.

"There was a full gallon there not more than 20 minutes ago. By the way, why are you sloshing when you walk?"

Any hint of a need for a run to town was quickly scooped up by my radar-like hearing.

"Hey, I got an idea! There's no bear repellent in the medicine cabinet. I know bear sightings are rare around here. But if one ever wanders into the house, you'll sure be glad I went to town and got some repellent!"

Most of my efforts went down to indifferent grunts. One day, though, I got my big chance. Some baking was going on and a shortage of corn syrup was discovered. I was sent to town. How was I to know that there was a difference between corn syrup and the corn oil I came home with? I didn't even get to go back for the exchange. Jeez, make one little mistake!

The years have passed but if something kinda worked back then it should still kinda work now. I suddenly became Extremely Helpful.

"You know, Katie, if we rode the bike to a bigger town we might be able to find it. Maybe their selection will be larger."

So off we went on the last sunny Saturday for a while. Granted, I'd have to be stopping at several large department stores. Oh, but the glorious ride up and back!

The morning had started grey and foggy. By the time we left, though, the sun was burning it all off. Despite the seemingly premature arrival of Winter, the trees don't know it. Fall colors are splashed everywhere. I even managed to get a picture of a hawk taking off from a field. Too bad I don't have a better zoom lense.

All too soon we were nearing the outskirts of Salem. Trying to draw out the inevitable as long as possible, I scanned my GPS like mind. Instead of going right into town, I hung a right at The Mansion. It really looks like a mansion. Should have taken a picture of it. This place is located at the corner of River Road and Croisan Creek Road. It's surrounded by a black wrought iron fence. The fence surrounds several acres. The owner must be a smart guy. With all the water surrounding the place ( go back and look at the street names ) the actual residence is built up on the hill. Maybe it's that kind of brains that helped him earn enough money to live in a mansion.

Just after turning onto Croisan Creek Road there's a stop sign. I turned left onto Madrona. This delightful road goes up and over a hill and then drops into town. The uphill portion I was headed for is a narrow road. Trees hang over the road on both sides. There's still enough leaves on the trees to make it seem like you're riding through a forest. A short forest, to be sure, but a forest nonetheless. Progress is slow because of several hairpin switchbacks posted at 15 mph. I hope you like who you are. On these corners you're bound to come back around and meet yourself!

At the bottom of the hill sits the South Salem Fred Meyer. Huge department store. I've mentioned them before in this blog. Getting into this place is a little tricky on a motorcycle. Especially on a big bike two up. You cross Commercial Street and then head uphill again on Madrona. Ok, I could have turned left on Commercial and gone into the main entrance. Along with all the other cars. Not for me. Humor me and be impressed by my finesse even though I chose the hard way. The back drive into the store is a little ways up the hill. On an unobstructed run a rider will be headed up hill when they turn left into the driveway. The parking lot is much lower than the street. So a rider makes a left then immediately goes downhill and at an angle back the way they came from. Tricky anytime but really difficult when you're following an old man in a bright red Toyota Camry.

His meds might need adjusted. Obviously he's seeing apparitions. Every 20 or 30 feet I reckon. How do I know? That's the only way to explain why he suddenly slammed on the brakes and came to a complete stop. Every 20 or 30 feet. Once I even saw him wave somebody across in front of him. Only there was nobody there. Katie says she never saw it but how would she know? She was behind me!

Our next stop was a large Wal-Mart Supercenter. I normally try to avoid these but this was about finding Katie's hairspray. We dismounted the bike and went in, still in our 'Stich's and carrying our helmets. Weirdly enough, nobody seemed to notice except the kids. Wearing the gear into a store proved useful at a K-Mart later. We don't go there, either. I hate being accosted by the photo and window sales people inside the store. Of course, this was about Katie so we went into one.

Sure enough, a woman approached with her window sales stuff. I turned to her and literally growled at her. Katie said she was ashamed of me for doing that. I noticed Katie wasn't too ashamed to laugh when the sales lady literally scampered away, though.

Anyway, back to Wal-Mart. I couldn't help but stop and stare at the sea of cars in the parking lot. There were two bikes parked a long ways apart from each other. Sophie and a cruiser. The parking lot pictured to me the larger world. Lots of cars driving around like crazy with nobody obeying any kind of common sense rules. Actually, it's the sheer numbers. Two bikes among hundreds of cars. What if they were all bikes, instead? In one way I'd like to see that. In another way, I wouldn't feel special anymore, either!

This Wal-Mart is right across the road from the Air National Guard base. A few of the helicopters were being used in training exercises. I'd love to be a pilot and receive my orders for the day.

"Pilot Irondad, your duty today is to put air time on every single one of those whirlybirds. Don't come back until you do!"

Now that's what I'm talking about! One bird in particular caught my eye as we were mounting the bike. The chopper was hovering about 30 feet off the grass. Suspended ( hanging down, in layman's terms ) from the belly of the chopper was a cable. A connecting buckle was at the bottom of the cable. The pilot was causing the chopper to ascend and descend ( go up and down in layman's terms ). The cable was being reeled out or in so that the connector stayed at the same height above the ground.

I'm sure there's a use for that kind of thing, I just can't think of what it might be. Probably just to play games with someone. I could see myself somehow ending up stranded in shark infested waters. A pilot shows up and lowers the cable to me. Sputtering in the prop wash driven water, I grab the harness. I feel the sensation of rising into the air. Only to stop when my feet are barely above the sharks. The chopper goes up and down but I never move. Looking up to see what's going on, my eyes meet the eyes of a man. I recognize him as someone I flunked out of one of my motorcycle classes! He's getting revenge by toying with me.

"I knew with an attitude like that you shouldn't be on a bike!", I yell up at him. "Uncle Sam entrusts you with a very expensive aircraft and look what you do with it!"

Shaking myself back to reality, I steady the bike while Katie gets on. I salute the men in the chopper. I have the utmost respect for our military personnel. God bless all of you and your families. You are greatly appreciated!

I planned our last store to be the Market Street Fred Meyer. Coincidentally, it was mid afternoon and this stop was about half a mile from the Lancaster Mall Starbucks. Not giving Katie a clue what my devious plan was, we came out of the store. Making a show of looking at Sophie's clock I announced the time.

"It's about coffee time. Let's see, where can we go?"

Pretending to think, pretty much a normal practice for me, I came up with the Starbucks idea. Katie gave me a look that let me know she saw right through me. That was accompanied by that little head shake of hers. She must be impressed by my firm grasp of the geography around me.

Soon we were comfortably ensconced at a black iron table across the hall from Starbucks. I like sitting over there so I can see more of the world go by. My coffee had a toasted Chonga bagel to keep it company. Before you give me a bad time about that, remember something. This is a guy who used hair spray as an excuse to go for a ride. I have no shame!

Speaking of folks going by, I saw a couple of fellow riders. Both female and by themselves, no less. Good for them! The first came in wrapped up in her Harley leather jacket and chaps. She ordered her coffee drink and went to the other end of the counter to wait for it. As she made the trip, she glanced over at us. The Harley lady seemed taken aback. She gave a very small wave and quickly turned away. I don't think she was being unfriendly. No, she was probably blinded by all the Hi Viz color sprawled over our chairs.

The second rider I saw was familiar to me. I won't expose her presence there. She can do it if she wants to as she graces my blog by reading it. This gal was as far from home as we were. A yellow helmet with tiger ears and tail are her trademark. I saw her walk by but she didn't see us, I think. Her and the Harley lady seemed to trade greetings so the attention went the opposite direction. I wanted to go say "Hi" but didn't want to be mistaken for a stalker!

We did see a couple of more riders on the way home. Heading out Cordon Road we passed a couple of riders waiting to turn out into traffic. One was riding a beautiful blue Harley V-Rod based bike. Waves were cheerily exchanged as we rode by. In a strange coincidence I had to wait at a stop sign and they rode by me. I had to fall in behind them. What happened? They were a ways behind me.

I think the difference was in our routes. They apparently went farther down Cordon Road and turned at Turner Road. I, however, turned off at Aumsville Highway. This road goes by the new Marion County Dog Shelter, the Marion County Work Release Center, the Marion County Sheriff's substation, the Marion County Jail, a state run minimum security prison, and the new Police Academy. Turning West, we went by Corban College, a bible based school of higher education. Get the point?

One road is owned by The Law, the other by God. Neither one takes kindly to speeding. What's a fellow to do? That's how the other two bikes got ahead of me. They took a road with a higher speed limit. I took a road with a higher calling.

We had a great ride home. Aren't they all great? We never found the hair spray despite several stops to look. Katie's going to have to switch brands, I guess. We did have a great adventure, though. Any excuse for a ride!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, October 15, 2007

Think Halloween's scary?

I can't seem to load photos onto the blog at the moment. So I'm postponing the post I had in mind. There's something weird about how that last sentence flows, isn't there? Postponing the post. Oh well.

I came across this the other day and thought I'd share it with you.

We all know how many bogies and hazards are out there. To successfully survive being a daily bike commuter we need to adopt a three part strategy.

1. Wear the proper gear all the time.

2. Always, always, work on adding to and sharpening our skills.

3. Know the enemy. Use that knowledge to develop strategies for dealing with them.

Here's an item under rule number 3. It's about truck drivers. Bear with me, Dave T.!

This is word for word from an article in our local paper, the Albany Democrat Herald.

Troopers: Too many truckers doing drugs.

The Oregon State Police say nearly 9 percent of truckers sampled last month flunked drug tests.

Sergeant Alan Hageman says it's unacceptable that so many commercial drivers are high when they're running rigs of nearly 80,000 pounds.

In all, 468 drivers on Interstate 84 at Cascade Locks were tested over three days, and 42 tested positive. Five tested positive for more than one drug.

Hageman says the drug of choice was marijuana, with 19 drivers testing positive.

( end of article )

The good news is that 91 percent of the truckers passed the drug tests. I've actually had very few problems with these big rig drivers. For the most part I've found that if I respect them I receive the same in return. This job has its jerks like any other, of course. My overall experience has been positive.

A lot of the problems bikes have with trucks is just physics. Small bike, big truck. Everyone knows about wind blast, suction, debris, etc. I personally won't just lollygag alongside a big rig. On the freeway I'll wait until there's enough room between me and the car ahead of me to pass the truck all at once. One time I was beside a truck when a tire let loose. I nearly soiled my riding pants, let me tell you. Besides that, though, I feel like it puts me at a disadvantage. I worry about getting lost in a driver's mirrors.

Once in a while a trucker's forced into making a sudden move. Sometimes a truck will be in the middle lane of a three lane interstate, for example. If I'm in the hammer lane beside the truck I can't see the right lane. Somebody in the slow lane drifts wide, etc., a driver in front of the truck dives in and suddenly brakes, there's a host of other scenarios. If the truck driver needs to make a sudden move I could escape notice during a quick glance. No matter how good the driver is or how skilled, my smaller bike can easily get lost. I saw an experiment where bikes were placed in a truck's blind spots. Guess how many bikes fit in the blind spot. 28. Yeah, that many. I figure it's my responsibility to stay out of these blind spots.

I won't even talk about the water spray on rainy days. Yikes!

In other situations I give them a lot of room and keep watchful. Interestingly, some of the things I've had to deal with involving trucks haven't been with the truck directly. It's been Idiots who try to crowd the truck, go around a backing trailer, or whatever. Yeah, I capitalized "Idiot" on purpose. Keeping a big space cushion can seem timid but it's actually pretty smart. Not much is really worth being in that a big of hurry over, anyway. Besides, isn't that one of the reasons we claim to ride? We shout "Freedom!!" I say part of that freedom is being free to not be like the Mindless Moron drivers out there. I ride my own ride dictated by my own needs at the moment.

Bikes and trucks don't mix well simply due to their opposite natures. Now there's another reason to be wary. When you're near a big rig there's no way of knowing if it's a driver like our fellow rider Dave or somebody not so competent. Be vigilant out there.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Field offices.

I hear music. It's muffled, but distinct. Even with ear plugs the strains of Henry Mancini's "Theme from the Pink Panther" can be heard. It's my cell phone. The phone's nestled deep in the right chest pocket of my 'Stich. Sooner or later I'll need to check it out. Living pretty much in a "Big Picture" world these days, there's no particular rush. I'm riding for work on a beautiful day. It's one of the two Fall days we'll have around here. Tuesday and Wednesday, I believe they were. Winter cut into line ahead of Fall, I think.

I spent three and a half long years chained to a desk. Like a wolf captured and put into a cage it was a new experience for me. I tried to make it work but I'm just not cut out for captivity. My commute home would be the ultimate contrast. It was like finding the cage door open and bursting out into the wild on the motorcycle. Chained to a desk versus the freedom of a bike. I needed the ride just to keep my sanity.

Now I have a nice office but there's no chain. As most of you know who've been visiting here a while, it's also 99 miles from home. I've also got hundreds of what I call "field offices" to chose from.

When I'm on the bike my office consists of any wide spot in the road. There's lots of choices. The one above's on Three Lakes Road. The middle "lake" is visible behind Sophie. They're more like fishing ponds, really. People around here call them the Freeway Lakes. Interstate 5 runs right over the top of the connecting channel between the middle lake and the one farthest West. Hence the name. A quarter mile from the interstate is rural tranquility. This is my second "field office" stop of the day. The arrival of the rainy season will limit my choices because I hate standing in the rain! Up until now, though, I've used a lot of different options.

Here's one from earlier in the day. It looked like a great spot. Just my luck, though, it was a dairy farm. Vivid and smelly reminders of my young days filled my nostrils. Isn't that one of the differences we claim to enjoy about riding? You know how we trumpet to non-riders that we're "oh so much closer" to our environment? Is it possible to be too close?

Car driver passing by a dairy barn: "Hmm, there's some dairy cows."

Motorcycle rider passing by a dairy barn: "Oh my God, there's some dairy cows!"

Speaking of cows I had a curious onlooker.

This calf was one of several residing in these little houses. It was probably looking at my bright yellow torso and wondering if I was some kind of giant dandelion. I could practically see the calf salivating. Speaking of the houses, you can see the whole row of these things in a picture below. When I first saw them, my thought went to recent scandals. Dog fights and cock fights. I'm thinking these must be some mighty big roosters! The residents turned out instead to be a few frisky Holstein calves.

I made a few phone calls and bid goodbye to the dairy farm. Interestingly, one of the messages was from my youngest son. He's storing that ugly looking VFR at my place. Clinton works three 12 hour days and then has four days off. He'd come to get the bike for a ride and noticed Sophie missing. Clinton called to tell me we were both riding today. It was sort of father-son bonding experience. Mounting up Sophie I headed on into Marion. This was a road I hadn't been on in a long while. Normally I try to use Parish Gap Road out of Turner. There's miles of sweeping curves on that road. Circumstances had forced me to take a longer detour. Not as many corners but more miles through farm country.

In Oregon we have two seasons. Winter and Road Construction. Coming through Turner I had to wait a while in a line of traffic. Not quite as long as some of the cars, though. The flagger was a rider. Looking at him, you'd think he came right out of a Hollywood movie. A casting director would love this guy if they were looking for men to play bikers. This flagger stood well over six feet tall. He had a scraggly sandy red beard. Some teeth were missing. He wore his construction hard hat like a beanie helmet. The flagger was flying his "colors" in the form of the bright orange construction vest. He even had an ear-ring. Typical Hollywood sterotype.

Sophie and I were well back in line. I'd shut the bike down and was just enjoying the afternoon. Being on a bike will do that for you. I noticed the flagger pointing my direction. I hate to admit that I did the classis "Who me?" In response, the flagger nodded and then beckoned me to come to the front of the line. What the heck. I'm supposed to obey their directions, aren't I? I rolled past the cars in line and headed for him. I resisted the urge to rub it in when I passed each driver. Wouldn't do to antagonize them, would it? When I got near, Flagger Guy flashed me a gapped tooth grin and gave me a big thumbs up.

Now at the head of the line, we briefly chatted. I told him I was headed for Parish Gap Road after I got through this mess. He told me that the paving crews had that blocked off and I'd need to find an alternate route. Okay, he told me I'd have to find another way. "Alternate route" was a tad sophisticated for this gent. I kind of liked the guy, though. Two riders from distinctly different styles linked by the commonality of two wheels. Flagger Guy told me how to go around the pavers ahead and sent me away. Only me. The cars remained in line. Sucks to be them.

So I found myself taking the longer way around. Gosh, how terrible. You mean to tell me that I'd have to resign myself to riding more? I'd just have to try to deal with it. That's how I found my little buddy at the dairy farm.

Like I say, the coming of the rainy season will probably force me into sheltered spots to do business. Places like coffee shops. I'll think of Steve Williams as I sip the hot beverages. I may even have a cup of tea in his honor. Blueberry muffins are going too far, though. Even for a guy like him! For now any interesting wide spot in the road will serve as a field office. I love the freedom of using a bike to work.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mile markers.

Katie and I went by to see our daughter's new house. Amanda and her husband, Russ, just purchased their first place. The man living there before was the subject of foreclosure. He never took good care of the place when he lived there. He didn't leave with warm fuzzies so the house suffered a little more. Still, the house is basically sound and just needs some cosmetic TLC. Despite that, this abode will always be special to them since it's their first. I didn't notice it at the time but you can just see the girl peeking out the front door. Probably wondered who the rowdies were in front of her new house. We'd just arrived and I was trying to get a quick photo. The sun's always in the wrong place for my pictures, it seems. My point and shoot digital camera doesn't let me do much to adjust for circumstances. Maybe I'll have to get a better camera that lets me change "f" stops, etc.

I've been more keen to record memories and images these days. Part of it's from hanging out in our blog neighborhood. Putting a photo in the posts became the desirable thing to do. Then Steve Williams showed up. You know who he is. Just in case you've been on another planet, check out "Scooter in the Sticks here. Gary and I sort of started this thing. Ok, I tagged along on Gary's coat tails. Now Steve's surpassed us all in the quality of his blog. Especially with the photos. I'm not planning to try to compete with Steve. I'd always be a technician while Steve is a true artist. On the other hand, I've had this urge to get better with pictures. Isn't it amazing how the internet can connect people from far away? I think the sharing that happens by means of our blogs helps bring out the best in each of us.

The other half of the equation is the fact that I'm getting older. I have to say that I used to get a little frustrated with Katie in our early married days. Every time I'd turn around she'd be wanting to take pictures. Relatives come to visit? Take a picture. Take the kids someplace new? Take a picture. School project? Take a picture. New vehicle? Take a picture. You get the picture. Pun intended.

I was an aggressive young man full of life and future promise. Deep inside I had this thought that we didn't need to keep taking pictures of today because we'd make plenty of new memories tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. You know what?

One day I woke up and reality crashed down onto me. The number of days under the "Yesterday" column started to outnumber the days under the "Tomorrow" column. Yes, we can still make new memories. The new ones will never be like the old ones, though. Kids grow up but once. Innocence and naivete fade, never to be seen again. Time doesn't rewind like it does on my Digital Video Recorder hooked to the cable. Thank God for Katie's pictures. What I feel when I look at the old photos could take up several posts, so I won't go there for now. This post is about marking the passage of time.

As you might imagine, I've been spending a lot of time cruising the Memory Trail recently. Something that struck me is that many of the times in our life are bookmarked by which motorcycle(s) lived with us. Back to that in a bit.

Like many who grace us by visiting the blogs in our neighborhood, I commute to work on a bike. As much as possible I use the bike for work, too. I didn't decide one day to start riding a bike to work as a way to save money on fuel. I didn't suddenly realize I could cut some time off the commute by using a bike. Riding to work is actually just an extension of what I've always done. I've grown up riding a bike and so a bike is what I ride to work. I've always lived on a bike. Except for a few years when my life wasn't totally my own and I couldn't ride. Long time rider, motorcycle safety professional, and a passionate devotee of all things two wheeled. Since they've lived with me, the family's gotten swept along.

A multitude of mile markers have been observed passing from the seat of a bike. Too many literal ones to count. I was a mileage junkie for many years. Much to Katie's chagrin, I'd inform her I was going for a ride. Telling her I'd be home about supper time, off I'd go. Too many times I'd call and tell her I wouldn't make it. How did a two hundred mile loop end up with me being four hundred miles away from home? There was this obsessive enthusiasm for unfolding a map at the end of a day. This morning I was "there". Now I'm "here". See how much distance there is between the two points? The longer the line the happier I was.

Next Monday will be our 30th anniversary. Evidence that I conquered the obsession before Katie ran out of forgiveness. Next spring I'm planning on putting a whole lot of distance between the "there" and "here" points. This time, Katie will be cuddled behind me. So much for literal mile markers.

We've seen many mile markers on life's highway pass by, too.

First time I piloted something mechanical to school? The other guys had cars. I had an old Honda Scrambler. First date with Katie? A Suzuki dual sport 185 in gleaming blue and white. When Amanda was born a new Honda CB900 graced the garage. It still sits with Sophie. Oldest boy born? A 1982 Honda GL500 SilverWing had joined us. Back before the SilverWing became a big scooter. When the other two kids were born I didn't buy new bikes. Hope they don't get a complex!

Have you ever heard people trying to remember when something happened? They'll mark events by which house they were living in, which car they had, when they started a new job, or whatever. Most of the references used in our family are either getting a new bike or around some bike related event. "Remember that time we took the Pacific Coast up into the snow at Breitenbush?" "It had to have been then because that's right after the time you and Larry showed up home on the bikes and Larry told the children he was God. Remember how they thought that was true for so long?" ( yes, that really happened ). "I'm sure it was then because it was the first summer we went camping on the Chetco River out of Brookings. You know the campground you found on that Memorial Day ride?"

That's the way it's always been for us. Always around bikes. A guy should be so lucky, I guess.

I know this isn't any great revelation. Like I say, I've been spending time in the past. I'm amazed at how intertwined bikes have been with the water flowing under the bridges. So many times we'd have some social engagement like a wedding reception, a party, a picnic, or something similar. Sometimes we'd all go together in a car. Often, though, I'd be teaching on a weekend, or working, or out on a ride. I'd join the family later. When this guy on a bike showed up, nobody was offended. Rather, people were intrigued. Like riding's done for my life, a bike added a new and interesting dimension to the proceedings. It's been a wonderful ride.

What's the takeaway? Is this blogger just sort of wandering aimlessly down some dark path? Pretty much.

What I've found on this dark path is that memories are treasures. Especially those of family, relatives, and loved friends, the years spent trying to raise and do right by your children, the memories of a man and woman struggling to leave the world a better place than they found it, and too many more to list. Make new good memories but treasure those gone by. Today's world is a crazy place. If you can stand it, I want to leave you with the wisdom from one more Starbucks cup.

This is a quote from Bernie Brillstein, a film and televison producer.

"In a world where celebrity equals talent, and where make-believe is called reality, it is most important to have real love, truth, and stability in your life".

This Road Warrior says that memories are elusive and solid at the same time. Don't let them fade into nothingness. Hold them tight. We need them. Nobody knows how many days are left for each of us to make new ones. Mile markers past are the foundation of what we are today. They give us stability.

As I rolled Sophie from Portland down the relative calm of Hwy 99W; literally the long way home, I found new resolve. Each day will be a blend of tomorrow's dreams and yesterday's cherished memories. Time to lighten up again and go find some adventure and mischief. Although I'm getting kind of fond of parking lot fights!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, October 01, 2007

Reigning in the "Anger Demon".

This has been a bad weekend. Riding a bike makes us feel things to an extreme, I think. Or maybe I ride because I want to feel things more vividly. Classic chicken or egg, huh? I had a very intense experience on the bike. In the end, in that strange karmic way things can happen, I was served notice of my error. Perhaps it wasn't an error. Maybe the message was only a reminder for future reference. Who knows?

In a soul-baring post, I'm sharing some things with you. Sometimes we hide behind a facade. Ok, most of the time. People seldom get to look behind the mask. Truth be told, we wouldn't want to see the ugliness hidden there. It's just as well it remain out of sight. Here's a small peek behind a mask. I share it because it's totally relevant to those of us who put ourselves at constant risk by commuting on a bike. In my case, I practically live on a bike. The risks are bad enough without adding to them by our own unwise actions. Yet, it happens. Such was the case yesterday. I'm going to share it. Take from it what you will. Perhaps you'll think less of me, perhaps not. This isn't about my ego. It's about the harsh reality of surviving on a motorcycle, which includes scooters. They're motorcycles as surely as anything else. We share the same road, literally and figuratively.

First a quick background. Last Tuesday morning a good friend of mine passed away. She was a long time part of our family. Her and her husband have been almost icons since I was a kid. They're salt of the earth folks. Charitable Christians and great people who spent a lot of time making life better for others. At 83 Kay passed away from chronic heart failure. Her husband lives on but is devastated and lost after sixty some years together. I'll come back to this.

On a less important note in the grand scheme thing of things, I discovered that my furnace vent pipe had rusted through at an elbow. On top of that, since the rain's come back, there was water running down the pipe. Both inside and outside. Replacing all the pipe is going to be a big chore but has to be done. This is a diesel furnace of World War II vintage. I bought supplies and did a temporary repair to the elbow. It's amazing what you can do with a pie plate, tin snips, really big hose clamps, and some high temperature gasket goop. On Saturday morning I was on the roof with a caulk gun and tar in a tube. For now we're ok but the big job is still pending. At this point it's an irritation on top of my feelings of loss with Kay. Grandma's pretty upset at her friend's passing and is having a really hard time dealing with her own mortality at 87. It's not easy watching someone you love trying to deal with her own advanced age. What do you say? I'm at a loss there.

Saturday afternoon brings the funeral service for Kay. It's held at a local high school. Like I say, these folks touched a lot of people. Over three hundred souls attended the service including a young man named Jamie. He's married with a young child. I'm particularly fond of him. Jamie is the age of my own two oldest boys and was a frequent guest in my house. I hug him and visit with the two of them. Sunday morning brings a phone call. Jamie had gone to bed Saturday night and didn't wake up. The paramedics tried to revive him but it had been too long. His wife had no clue. They were both sound sleepers and the youngster's sleeping through the night. She woke up and he didn't. I can't imagine making that discovery.

Katie had gone to church. I'd planned to cook a nice supper for her and saddled up Sophie for a grocery run. I'm on the bike in the pouring rain. Inside me there's a whirling cauldron of emotions.

Now some of you may have the impression that I'm some sort of genteel soul who's got all my negative feelings securely filed in the appropriate folders. Stashed safely where they can do no harm. Maybe some sort of wise man who uses philosophy instead of his fists to solve conflict. Well, you'd be wrong. I have my shining moments but I was raised by a Cowboy. It's capitalized because Gramp lived that to the fullest degree. I was taught to be gallant to women, defenders of those who needed it, gentle with children, and to never, ever, take any crap from any man. Don't look for trouble. If it finds you never back down from it. If you decide to fight, you fight to win.

Far from the philosopher's way, I live a life of controlled aggression. I get angry. I get mad. Sometimes I want to hurt someone. I'm definitely no Saint. Don't take this wrong. I don't go around losing my temper for no reason. I'm not a "hothead". Aggression is in total control. Almost always, at least. A person always has to weigh consequences. I can't always claim to hold back from altruist reasons. Mostly it's the fact that the price of unleashing the Anger Demon is just too high. Yesterday I let it loose.

I'm on the bike. It's pouring rain and I hate rain. I love riding more. So we ride in the rain. I'm annoyed about the furnace. I'm grieved and pained because I've lost far too many people out of my life to Death in the past year. Not to mention losing Gramp two years ago. People live out their lives and pass on, I know. What about a young man like Jamie? How do you explain my nephew dying in a fiery car crash? I'm lost in anger, grief, and frustration. On the bike. In the pouring rain. Where I probably shouldn't have been.

I don't need the idiot drivers who are out with me. With each passing block I'm seething a little more. Tailgaters, old people who are straining at their limits to drive 25 mph, drivers so damn selfish and impatient they take criminally stupid chances, as well as the just plain rude.

Like this guy in a big, dark colored, Ford pickup. One of those trucks so high off the ground you need a ladder to get in. There's no practical use in the world for a truck like this. Except to stroke the ego of an incredibly needy man. He's in the lane beside me. The road is rutted from years of wear and studded tires. Up ahead in the right part of my lane is a large puddle of water. Like I say, it's dumping rain. I move to the left track to avoid it. The driver of the truck stays beside me. When we reach the water he moves over so the big tires of his truck are headed for the deep pool. I see it and try to move over more but space is limited. I brake but there's a tailgater. We're travelling about 40 mph when the big splash starts.

For a brief bit I can't see a thing. When the spray clears this guy has the nerve to roll down his window, hang his head out, and laugh! I see that, all right! I flip him off with every ounce of venom, anger, and spite I can muster. I know it's a futile gesture but I don't care. My gear and fairing keep me from really getting wet but I feel the sting of the insult. Swallowing my bile, I pull into the parking lot of the store I'm heading for. Pulling off the gloves and then the helmet, I see the truck pulling into the lot from the other corner. This guy's circled back. I've managed to pass off the matter although it was difficult. Not worth crashing my bike trying to "get even". Apparently, the Ford driver isn't able to let go after my gesture. He seems to think the superior size of his truck over my bike will carry over outside his vehicle. He will find he's seriously mistaken.

The truck pulls up and stops a few parking stalls away. Thirty feet of empty space separate us. This guy gets out of the truck and starts yelling obscenities at me. He's upset after I made the rude gesture? I'm supposed to just accept being purposely drenched? People freeze despite the falling rain. I guess the urge to witness violence is stronger than self-preservation. He's coming my way. I silently watch him approach without saying anything. I won't play the mouthing off game. Now he's ten feet away and still closing. It's time. I've had enough. The lid of the Givi trunk goes down. Odd, even at that moment I'm thinking of keeping the rain off my helmet and gloves.

Still silent, I go for him. There's a look of total surprise on his face when he realizes the direction this is going. Between Gramp, the army, and police academy, I've been taught to fight. I hit him and hard. Angry, hostile, blows. All the pent up emotion explodes out the end of my left arm. The man goes down but gets back up. As long as he comes back at me I've no compunctions about hitting him again. For however long he wants to play. I never get to find out. Within the next few minutes there's no less than five police cars around us. Two officers roughly grab me. I don't resist. I'm briefly cuffed. I can't help muse on how that's a turnabout for me. I used to be the one snapping the bracelets.

Things get sorted. There's a few witnesses that tell how the Ford driver was the aggressor. The fact that he's some bigger than me also helps. So does the fact that we're really close to Sophie but fairly far from his pickup. Do I want to press charges? No. This has gone far enough already. The cops watch until the man climbs into his pickup and leaves. As the last cop leaves he gives me a "thumbs up". Yeah, right. This really isn't a good thing.

I consider riding to another store to do my shopping but veto it. Besides, I've got coupons! A few people are pointing me out to others. Hell with 'em. I get what I need and decide a strong cup of coffee is in order. Espresso sounds even better so that's what I get. When I pull the sleeve off the cup I'm floored by the message. There's a picture of it above. I seem to get these cups at curiously appropriate times.

There's no arguing the simple but strong truth in that statement. Some anger's good but most is destructive. Yesterday I let my anger out. I was lucky. I stood up for myself and emerged more or less victorious. Once you take being handcuffed in a store parking lot out of the picture, that is. How many times does it go the other way , though? How many times do riders unleash the Anger Demon only to have it turn on them, instead? It's a chance we can ill afford to take on a bike. At the same time, I can't see being a perpetual victim.

So that's why I'm sharing this. I'm not particularly proud or ashamed of it. I'm not looking for validation or criticism. Actually, before I saw the coffe cup I was going to let it fade quietly into the background. Then I realized that this is just too important an issue to let go. Even if it means giving you a glimpse of something in me that's less than noble.

As people get more rude, as the population as a whole seems to lose intelligence, as drivers get more distracted, riders are going to face these kinds of things more and more. Commuters, especially, are going to be exposed to it with ever increasing frequency. That ever fine line between self defense and self preservation. I share it because I want you to think about it. Better to be prepared mentally ahead of time. Luck won't always be on our side. As for me, I'll defend when attacked. If there's a price, I'll pay it. At the same time, I'll keep doing my best to let go of the rest.

By the way, dinner was a great success. I told Katie about the shopping when the meal was digesting. Women act shocked but I think they like knowing a guy would stand up for them, too. That brings up a whole other dimension, doesn't it? Would my reaction have been different with her on the bike? With my state of mind I most likely wouldn't have let her ride with me. What if I had? Lots to think about, isn't there?

Miles and smiles, ( forced though they may be right now )